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Category Archive Training for Athletes

Pull-Up Progression

Intro

Last week’s article stressed the importance of pull-ups and the need to do them correctly. Hopefully the details of my success with a pull-up program motivated you to consider doing pull-ups more often. If so, you are going to want to try out the following tips to ensure you make progress with your pull-ups. In the following paragraphs, I will cover how to do a correct pull-up followed by helpful exercises to progress pull-ups.

A Correct Pull-Up

As I stated in last week’s article, a correct pull-up starts with straight arms in an elbow “locked” out position and ends with your chin above the bar. Anything other than this is not a complete pull-up. There is really nothing else to say about this except to do it. Every rep!

Swinging back and forth and kicking of the legs should not be part of a strict pull-up. Here are a few things you can to do stop:

  • Straighten your legs and have them side by side
  • Point your toes towards the ground
  • Squeeze your glutes
  • Lock down your core and ribcage
  • Pull through your elbows

These points are easy to follow. However, that last point may be hard to comprehend for some people. Pulling through your elbows should feel like you are pulling your elbows straight to the ground. This is helpful because if it feels like your elbows are moving in a straight path towards the ground the rest of your body will follow. Read on for exercises that can help progress your    pull-ups.

Inverted Rows

Inverted rows may be a step down from pull-ups, but they are certainly not easy. It is a bodyweight exercise that is great to add to your workout program, especially beginners. The great thing about inverted rows are that they allow people to experience pulling their bodyweight before they can do a pull-up. It is also a horizontal bodyweight pull which combines nicely with the vertical bodyweight pull that a pull-up offers. In my experience, inverted rows help improve pull ups because it helps people become accustomed to pulling their own bodyweight, strengthens the upper and mid back, and improves grip strength. All of which are major factors in completing a pull-up.

How to do them:

  • Start with the bar at a height that when hanging from it your body is parallel to the floor.
  • Place hands in an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width, although this can vary. (Bench press grip for those of you that bench.)
  • Start with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Bridge your hips so that your stomach is flat across and your core is tight.
  • Pull yourself up so that the bar touches the middle of your chest and not your collarbone or throat area.
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Return to the starting position by lowering yourself until your elbows are once again locked out.

 Video Here:  IMG_0825

Notes:

  • If you find that these are too difficult simply raise the bar to increase the angle but be sure to maintain the rigidness of your body.
  • If you find these easy with your legs bent and body parallel to the floor straighten out your legs so that your heels are on the ground.

Hangs

Hangs are just as they sound. You simply hang from a pull-up bar, rings, etc. The reason hangs make this list on how to progress your pull-ups is grip strength. As mentioned in the inverted row paragraph, grip strength is a big factor in the ability to do a pull-up. Your upper back and lats may be strong enough to pull your bodyweight but if your grip is too weak to hold your bodyweight you won’t be able to hang long enough to do many reps. To progress with hangs you can simply hang for longer and longer periods of time. You can also start by doing a dead hang where your arms are stretched out like in the starting position of a pull-up or you can try and hold your chin above the bar for as long as you can. Either way will challenge your grip, eventually strengthening it, allowing you to better be able to pull your own weight. It should also be noted that hangs are a great way to get a full upper body stretch. They feel awesome!

Negatives or Eccentric Pull-Ups

The negative or eccentric portion of a lift is occurs when the muscles is lengthening. It is the opposite of a contraction, when the muscle shortens. It is usually the part of the lift when the weight, or in this case, your body is lowering back to the starting position. Training the negative portion of a lift can be a very successful way of strengthening the lift as a whole. However, because the muscles are lengthening, this is the portion of the lift where the most muscle fibers are tearing, which can cause soreness the following day. Negative or eccentric pull-ups are a great way to improve pull-ups. In my experience, I have had much more success at improving people’s pull-ups through negative reps then I have using assisted pull-ups with a band or machine.

 Video Here: IMG_0828

How to do them:

  • You need to start at the top, with your chin above the bar. So either jump up so your chin is above the bar, or use a bench or box to stand on so you can start high enough.
  • Slowly lower yourself until your elbows are in the locked out positon.
  • Return to the starting position using same method used in step 1.
  • Progress by lowering yourself slower and slower.

Do Them Often

I want to end this article by giving my last piece of advice regarding pull-ups. To get good at pull-ups you have to do pull-ups. I know, groundbreaking stuff. This goes for anything in the gym. So many times I hear people say that their goal is this or that and then they do something to achieve that goal one time a week. It may work but it will take a long, long time. There is no rule stating that you can only do pull-ups on back day. Do them a few times a week if you are serious about getting better at them. Refer back to last week’s article and the program at the end. I was doing pull-ups 4-5 days a week and it worked! So go ahead and give these tips a try. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to share this article and comment on any topics you would like to learn about in the future.

My Experience With a Pull-Up Program

I am continually searching for ways to improve my training. Some things work and some things don’t. I try not to get frustrated at the things that don’t because it’s all part of the process. However, occasionally I make a decision that is a game changer. Something that exceeds my expectations and makes me wonder why I didn’t try it sooner. This is what occurred recently when I started a pull-up program. It was something I wanted to try for months but for one reason or another kept putting off. Finally, when a mentor of mine sent me a tactical training book that contained a pull-up program, I had no more excuses. I started the program that week and it has been the best training decision I’ve made in the last six months.

Yes, They Are That Important

I consider pull ups the very close step child of the barbell movements. If the barbell movements are 1a, consider pull-ups 1b. The first thing I recommend to anyone seeking advice in training is to learn the barbell movements. The hinge, squat, and pressing movements can be done with the bar using heavy weight in a variety of ways that resemble natural human movement. Even though pulls, or rows as they are commonly called, can be done using a barbell, there is not an exercise that is easier to learn and arguably more effective than a pull-up. This is why doing pull-ups and doing them often is the second thing I suggest to people seeking advice. A program that emphasizes the barbell movements along with pull-ups sets a great base for whatever your goals may be.

Although Difficult, Do Them Correctly

Pull-ups are hard. This is commonly the reason people don’t do more of them. However, this is exactly the reason you need to do them. In training, you will make the greatest improvements when you focus on the things you don’t enjoy or the things that are most difficult. In my experience, people are intimidated by the pull-up. They get discouraged from trying and failing and simply give-up and move onto something else. Or they hear people say that they can accomplish some ridiculous number of pull-ups and get more discouraged from trying to get their goal of one. Well, first off let me say this, if someone tells you that they can do twenty pull ups they are either very strong, very light, or very much a liar. I am not talking about whatever they call those things they do in CrossFit, I refuse to call them pull-ups, or the half-way reps that you see most people do in the gym. I am talking about a full, strict pull-up. Elbows locked out at the bottom, chin above the bar at the top. This type of pull-up shouldn’t be exception, it should be the rule.

Not Just a Back Exercise

The full, strict pull-up will test strength throughout your entire upper body. It’s not an isolated back exercise by any means. Besides the muscles of the back, pull-ups challenge your grip and core strength unlike many exercises. If someone can crank out 15-20 strict pull-ups they most likely have a six pack. Even though your lats get most of the attention from doing pull ups, it is easy to feel your biceps, forearms, and shoulders working. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do many of them, you are well aware of the pump you experience throughout your entire upper body.

My Experience

I want to end this article by telling you a little bit about what I experienced going through this program. The complete program was 108 days long. You had two days on and one day off of pull-ups. The program starts off by having you do eccentric or negative reps. However, since I have been doing pull-ups regularly I was able to start on day 55. Each day you would do five sets. And each day the program would have you do one more rep than you did the previous day. It would add the rep to different sets depending on what day you were on. For example, if on day 55 I did five sets of 9,8,7,6, and 5 pull ups the next day I would attempt 9,8,7,6, and 6. This goes on and on with two days on and one day off until you reach day 108.

When I started the program I was able to get between eight and ten strict pull-ups. Also, before starting the program I was doing pull-ups one day a week completing as many sets as I had to get to 50 reps. It was taking me about 8 or 9 sets to complete 50 strict pull-ups. Now that I am finished with the program I can complete somewhere between 14 and 16 strict pull ups and I completed 54 pull-ups in five sets. At a body weight of 265.

Things I noticed:

  • Grip got stronger, then worse (from fatigue), and ended stronger then I started.
  • The pump I got from doing that many strict pull-ups was insane, felt like I was training arms.
  • Lats got wider.
  • Forearms got bigger.
  • Abs were more sore than ever before doing pull-ups.
  • Form got better.

I’ve attached the pull-up program to the bottom of this page.

Stay Tuned

This article was a PSA for the need to do pull-ups. Stay tuned for next week’s article where I will go into detail about how to do a correct pull-up and how to progress pull-ups. Anyone from someone who has never done a pull-up, to someone who thinks he can do twenty is going to want to read and try out the tips in next week’s article. As always, thanks for reading and please share and comment on any topics you may be interested in the future.

 

This program comes from the book Built to Endure, Training the Tactical Athlete by Mike Prevost. I highly recommend it to anyone looking into programs for bodyweight exercises.

Consistency

By now, I hope that I have written enough of these articles to convey my passion for this field. I can discuss different training philosophies for days, go over cues for teaching techniques with anyone, and I’m a nerd when it comes to programming. I absolutely love the tangible part of training,. Equally interesting to me are the intangibles of training. The things that aren’t always evident from across the gym. I think that my love for the intangible aspects of training can be traced back to my athletic career where I believed from an early age that I could gain a competitive advantage by mastering the intangibles.

This has carried over to my own training experiences, where I firmly believe that what has helped me the most are taking the intangible parts of training seriously. When talking about intangibles there are different aspects that all fall under one larger idea; mindset. I believe that mindset is the single biggest factor that sets people apart that are after the same goal. Regardless if that mindset is deemed positive or negative there are different traits that arise from it. A few of those traits are consistency, or lack thereof, resiliency, intensity, and accountability to name a few. I plan on writing articles on these different traits but I will start with one that I believe has helped me the most; consistency.

I find it interesting that people ask me all the time what I eat, or what program I am doing. I get asked, “how much do you bench?” almost weekly. But no one has ever asked me what is the one greatest thing that I attribute to my success in training. If they did, my answer would be a boring one, consistency. I’m sure people would expect me to go into detail about a complex training program and talking about an extreme diet that I am currently trying. I doubt that anyone would expect my answer to be a single word.

I don’t believe I was genetically gifted or predestined to be good at training. I was a decent athlete growing up, by no means anything to brag about, and am more athletic now than at any point in my life thanks to training. What sets me apart from people struggling to see improvement in the gym is consistency. I do what I am supposed to do more often than most people. Yes, I read and I experiment and I talk to my mentors. Yes, some programs and techniques work better than others and it is important to learn them. But you can gain all the knowledge you want and if you don’t apply it consistently you will never reach your full potential. This is why consistency is a trait of mindset. You must possess a certain mindset to realize the importance of consistency. When I wake up in the morning I know I am training that day. I don’t even think about what if this or that happens. I’ll get those outside factors taken care of without letting it affect my training. I think the reason consistency comes so easy to me is because of my, Why.

Yes, let’s not forget the first question I asked of you all. I know my Why, it may change from time to time, but I always have a clear understanding of why I am doing what I am doing. By knowing my Why I have a reason for consistently going to the gym, for consistently eating the way I do. Without having a Why, a purpose, failing to be consistent is an easy thing to do. Where I see most people fail in the gym is when adversity hits them. I guess this can be life in general. It is easy to be consistent when everything is going great. I see it all the time. People are consistent when their schedule works out and no outside stress is affecting their training. They have no nagging injuries that make certain exercises impossible to do. Everything is running smoothly so of course they look forward to going to the gym and to eating right. However, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as an injury pops up, or a new responsibility takes away some of their free time, things begin to unravel. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. It can be as simple as they aren’t seeing results as fast as they first did and they become frustrated. It’s difficult to be consistent when it’s not as fun, when you aren’t seeing the results. But that is exactly the time you must keep consistent because it always comes back around and you will start seeing improvement again, your injuries will heal, and your schedule will lighten or you will simply get better at time management. Knowing your Why will help you possess a mindset that will allow you to push through these adversities. It will be that driving force that keeps you consistent.

As always, thanks for reading and make sure to subscribe to this site and share this article. Also, comment if you like this style of topic choice. Thanks!

Its a Kettlebell, Not CrossFit

It’s a Kettlebell

One of the most underutilized tools in training is the kettlebell. I love using kettlebells in my own training, and it and the barbell are my favorite tools to use with my clients. Over the last decade or so kettlebells have become synonymous with CrossFit. Few things get under my skin as bad as when I show someone a kettlebell and their response is, “oh, CrossFit.” The kettlebell has been around since the 1700s and CrossFit has been around since the year 2000.

Many people see the kettlebell as something CrossFit uses and nothing else. People do not realize the benefits the kettlebell offers to people no matter their reason for training. I use kettlebells when training athletes, people rehabbing injuries, and the general population just looking to get healthier. I hope that this article will shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and why people with all types of goals should consider adding kettlebell training to their regimen.

Strength

Kettlebells are great way to build strength. With kettlebells, you can become stronger in the squat, pressing, and hinging movements in a variety of ways. This variation allows you to test movements in a way that is hard to do with other tools, including barbells. By testing these movements in different ways, you can find weak points that could be holding you back from making strength gains. For example, you can perform the squat by holding a kettlebell in a goblet position (as pictured below), a single rack position, and a double rack position. Each of these offer different benefits that help improve your squat overall. The same can be said for presses by pressing kettlebells overhead in a strict, push press, or bottoms up position as pictured below.

Lastly, two great exercises for the hip hinge using kettlebells are the deadlift and the swing. Using a kettlebell for the deadlift can be a strength exercise for novice lifters or for rehabbing injuries and is also a great way to teach the hip hinge in a safe manner. The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that offers a lot of different benefits such as flexibility, power, and conditioning. You will read more about the swing in the following paragraphs. What is important to remember is that you can do these movements with very heavy kettlebells. This will obviously make you stronger directly but it will also carry over to heavier barbell lifts. Training with kettlebells enables you to use heavy weight unilaterally, meaning one arm at a time, and this will help with any strength imbalances that may be holding you back.

 

Pictured above is the Goblet Squat (Left) and the Bottoms up Position (Right)

Conditioning

I hate conditioning. It’s no secret to those close to me that I don’t do a lot, if any, conditioning in the traditional sense. You probably won’t see me out jogging around town anytime soon. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I know conditioning is a necessary evil. I try my best to avoid it as much as possible, at least traditional conditioning anyhow. So, I find different ways to implement conditioning into my training. Kettlebells are one of my favorite ways to do this. The previously mentioned kettlebell swings will get you huffing and puffing like few exercises can. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and do twenty-five of them in a row. Then after you catch your breath come back and tell me that didn’t get your heart rate up.

Carries are also a great conditioning tool. I could have put carries in the strength section also. This exercises is exactly how it sounds. You carry heavy weight for either distance or time. This will challenge you in more way than one. Heavy carries will build grip strength, build a bigger upper back, and keep your shoulders healthy, but you may be surprised how out of breath you are when you finally set the weight down. I’d much rather go for a walk carrying kettlebells then go for a run around my neighborhood. In fact, to this day the most humbling feat I’ve ever attempted was carrying two heavy kettlebells through town and back. It took roughly an hour to complete and I was surprised and embarrassed about how exhausted and out of breath I was. Now, before you go telling everyone you know that I said all you have to do is swing and carry a kettlebell and you will be able to run a marathon, conditioning in this section referrers to general conditioning. If you want to be able to run a 5k, you still must go out and run.

Flexibility

The flexibility you can gain from training with kettlebells is probably my favorite reason for using them. The way the kettlebell fits around your hand and rests against your arm in what is called the rack position (as pictured below) allows for freedom of movement that you can’t get with a dumbbell. The kettlebell becomes an extension of your arm, it becomes a part of your body, allowing for natural movement to occur. This freedom of movement that a kettlebell allows is why it is a great tool for improving flexibility. You can move naturally and improve flexibility while performing “strength” movements. For example, by holding the kettlebell in the rack position and pressing it overhead, your shoulder can move freely and naturally as the weight travels overhead. At the top of the movement you can focus on placing your extended arm over your head utilizing its full range of motion instead of the arm being too far forward and sacrificing the end range of movement which is commonly seen. The previously mentioned goblet squat is also a great example as it is an easier and safer way to teach the squat than with the bar. It allows you to practice achieving great depth in the squat, gaining flexibility in your hips. Also, there are many corrective type exercises that are great for rehabbing or preventing injuries. There will be an article coming soon on how to use kettlebells for injury prevention.

Pictured above is the Rack Position

Not CrossFit

The strength, conditioning, and flexibility benefits of kettlebells are priceless. All three are a great reason to include kettlebells into your programs. This article didn’t even go into detail about the corrective exercise benefits or the teaching benefits of kettlebells. Rehab or injury prevention for any type of person could have also been a section in this article and will be an article in the future. I touched a little on the teaching benefits of kettlebells when discussing the deadlift and squat and it really is a great tool for teaching the basic movements in a safe manner. I hope that this article shed some light on the benefits of kettlebells and maybe next time you see one you won’t automatically think CrossFit! Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can continue to reach more people.

Sports Performance Training: Don’t Outsmart Yourself

“What are you doing in the gym today? Arms? Shoulders? Chest? You’re not doing legs, right?”  “No, I did legs last month.”

 That is usually the exchange that goes on between two gym buddies when discussing their upcoming workout. Focusing on one or even two muscle groups a day is a great way to achieve mass and an aesthetic look while also giving you a great pump. These are your typical bodybuilding style workouts. As an athlete, however, the training needs to be different to fit different needs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of young athletes over the past few years and it can be challenging at times to explain to them why they don’t train in this classic bodybuilding style. Most athletes, especially when they are young, start working out because their older brother or friends are doing it. They learn quickly that bench press and curls look and feel awesome. They soon realize that girls dig arms, and no one cares about training legs. They view every exercise in terms of what singular muscle it is focusing on and sometimes breaking that muscle down into an even smaller portion (i.e. upper chest.)

When training for athletic performance you can’t look at the body in terms of muscles or even individual body parts.  Instead, think about everything being interconnected.  I like to think of the human body as a big computer; a complex system where seemingly unrelated parts have an effect on how well each other performs. An athletic feat is rarely the result of a single muscle or body part and the training should represent this. Instead of thinking in terms of training a certain muscle, start thinking about training a movement.

The four basic movements are a press/push, a pull, a squat, and a hinge. You’ll find that these are not only the movements of training but these four movements comprise the movements athletes use most often to perform. These are compound movements meaning to perform each of them correctly you will use more than one joint. This coincides with athletic performance in which you use multiple joints at the same time. Because compound movements use multiple joints and therefore multiple muscle groups, you can move the most weight with these exercises. The best way to move those large amounts of weights is with a barbell. As I discussed in one of my previous articles, “Become Strong,” the barbell is simply the best tool to increase strength. The four barbell exercises that best represent the basic movements are the bench press, strict press, squat and deadlift.  Bent over row variations and pull ups are the most common exercises representing the pulling movement.

These compound movements with a barbell have benefits besides increased strength that cannot always be seen with an untrained eye. One of the major benefits is increased neuromuscular coordination. Neuromuscular coordination is how our nervous system coordinates with our muscles and is one of the biggest contributors to athletic success. Other benefits include improved balance, core strength, power, speed and so on and so forth. I will write separate articles for each of these benefits, but for now, this article will simply bring awareness to the fact that the body is a system and that system works as one unit in athletic performance.

A good example of the difference between the typical bodybuilding style workouts and training for athletic performance would be to compare dumbbell raises and the strict press. If you are unfamiliar with the strict press, check out part two of the four part series “Exercises You Aren’t Doing but Should” on this site. Okay yes, you will get a great pump in your shoulders doing dumbbell raises and if done regularly you will start to develop boulders for shoulders. No doubt a great exercise for building an aesthetic look. However, this exercise isolates only the deltoid muscle (isolation being the goal of bodybuilding). On the other hand when performing a standing strict press the body acts as a system. Anyone who has ever done this exercise feels this right away. The tight glutes set a base for pressing the weight; the spinal erectors and core muscles brace the back and transfer energy from the lower body to the upper body; the deltoids and upper chest help initiate movement of the barbell and the triceps help lock the barbell out over head. All of this occurring while neuromuscular connections are making sure you don’t fall over. With one exercise you just became stronger and improved neuromuscular efficiency, core strength, balance, and transfer of energy. All of which will improve athletic performance.

I hope that this article shed a light on why athletes need to train a certain way. Yes, I know that it sounds basic of me to tell athletes to lift heavy weight with a barbell, but if you have read any of my previous articles you know that I believe the simplest ways are the best ways. I too can come up with five different balance exercises that will look cool and make me sound really smart and I could distract you with new and shiny pieces of equipment that wobble and are brightly colored. Or, I can save you a bunch of time and energy and have you pick a heavy barbell off the ground and press it over your head. Did you fall over? No? Good, you can thank me for your improved athletic performance later. Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can reach more readers who may be interested in these topics. Thanks!

 

Minor Things, Bigger Impact

Is It Minor?

              As I am warming up or resting between sets I often study my surroundings. Even as intense as I train, I still find it difficult to turn off my coaching senses. I watch people perform exercises and judge their technique. This is helpful because it is always possible to find people doing things differently, whether it be a technique, exercise selection, or something else. So often I want to pull people aside and educate them on proper form or technique. I have been doing this for so long now sometimes I must remind myself that there are things that come as second nature to me, but some people may have never thought of before. This article will cover both, things that people haven’t thought of before, and things they might have undervalued or overlooked. The title, “Minor Things” speaks to how people may know some of these tips , but do not realize the importance of them. I, and any experienced lifter, knows the benefit of taking the minor things seriously.

Warming Up

            Warming up is something that everyone knows should be done but almost no one does it or does it properly. I’m not talking about the stretches that probably entered your mind when you saw the heading. You certainly won’t find me in the gym stretching for fifteen or twenty minutes. I never stretch in the conventional static stretching sense. I think most of the general population is starting to realize that static stretching (i.e. toe touches, hamstring stretches, etc.) is not the best option when warming up. Foam rolling is one of the best choices you can make both before and after a workout. Besides foam rolling to relieve some soreness and/or tightness, when I talk about warming up in this section I am talking about warming up an exercise, particularly a strength exercise.

            It drives me nuts when people walk into the gym, rack weight on a bench, and begin their sets. I understand people have limited time and they want to get their workout complete. But my opinion is, you pay for a membership and drive to the gym, why you can’t take the three to five minutes to warm up properly? Exercises that take some technique to perform, talking about barbell exercises, should be warmed up properly to see the greatest results. I always stress to my clients to start the exercise by performing a warm up set with the empty bar. This is not only to warm up your body but also to review technique and feel it out on that day. The empty bar set and about two to three warm up sets with gradually increasing weight is usually sufficient. I guarantee that if you don’t normally warm up in this manner but go and try it after reading this article, you will feel stronger throughout your sets.

Rest Periods

            Rest periods is something that is enormously underrated. Paying attention to your rest in-between sets takes discipline. Use the stopwatch on your phone or pay attention to the clock in the gym. I guarantee that if you have never timed your rest periods then you really have no clue how long you are taking between sets. It happens to the best of us. You start daydreaming, or talking to your lifting buddy and five minutes pass without you performing a single rep. When you finally do finish a set, you walk over to the water fountain, see another friend, and talk for another five minutes. Next thing you know, twenty minutes has passed and you’ve only completed three or four sets. It is less likely, but it can happen the other way also. Your lifting by yourself, dying to get the workout over with and you rush every set. At the end you wonder why you weren’t as strong as you were the other day. Paying attention to your rest between sets will dramatically change the type of workout you do and how you feel during it.

            When your goal is strength and you are lifting heavy weight, you need to make sure you are as rested as possible. Resting for two to three minutes between sets will ensure that your strength has returned before trying the next set. When you are trying to build endurance, you want the rest to be shorter; no more than a minute and half. If you are performing exercises that isolate a muscle or muscle group, bodybuilding type exercises, the goal should to keep the “pump” in that specific area. Shorter rest ensures that the blood, which gives that “pump” feeling, will stay in that muscle, and give you the feeling you are looking for. Rest periods of no longer than a minute and half is sufficient with closer to a minute being ideal.  

Exercise Order

            The third and final tip this article will cover is exercise order. Exercise order is something that most people don’t understand the importance of. The order of your exercises is important because it can affect the value you get from each exercise. Exercises in which the focus is on strength or explosiveness should be at the beginning of your routine. You want to be as fresh as possible for these exercises. This is also true for exercises that are a bit more technical. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most exercises that are technical in nature are strength or explosive movements. Combine this with the correct rest periods and you should be as strong as possible for each set.

Following the strength exercises, you want to next perform exercises that are still compound exercises, or exercises that challenge stability. These could be dumbbell exercises, exercises that involve you standing, etc. From there you want to perform exercises that focus more on a single muscle or muscle group and where stability is not an issue. These are your typical bodybuilding style exercises. This can be easier, seated dumbbell exercises, machine exercises, etc. The main takeaway is to go from heavier, more challenging exercises to exercises that are less challenging.  

Just Takes Some Effort

          Now that you have some ammo on how to attack an efficient training routine the next step is the easiest. Putting this new-found knowledge to use isn’t hard to do but it does take effort and discipline. Warming up can get boring, counting your rest periods can seem like a hassle and thinking about the order of your exercises does take time before you begin your workout. However, these techniques are a small cost for a much larger increase in workout efficiency. Take the time to put them to use and I guarantee it changes the entire dynamic of your workout for the better. If you liked this article be sure to take the couple of seconds it takes to subscribe to this site. Also, comment on what types of articles you would like to see in the future. As always, thanks for reading!

It’s Nutrition, Not Rocket Science

What’s the Secret?

What should I eat to lose weight? What should I eat to gain muscle? What do you eat daily? These are all questions that I get asked frequently. In this information saturated age, it can be almost impossible to know what to believe and what to ignore. A person can drive themselves crazy trying to interpret all the different information. There is new information almost daily. New fads come and go and everyone is looking for the next best thing. I’m going to be as blunt as I can be because I truly believe that what most people need to hear is the truth, even if they’ve heard it a million times. What has helped me in my professional and personal life regarding fitness is to keep things simple. I do this by having principles. When someone has principles that they follow it makes decision making that much easier. Something either falls under your principles and you take it in or it doesn’t fall in line and you toss it aside. I will talk about my principles regarding training in another article as this article is about how to make nutrition simple.

It’s a Lifestyle Change

First, let me begin by saying there is no magic food or recipe. There is no quick fix. Please read that first line again. Read it as many times as you need to because I know some of you may have brushed over it without fully taking it in. I am not going to give you tips in this article that will give you a six pack tomorrow, or next week, or the week after that. None of this information is groundbreaking, but it does work, with time and dedication. The mistake most people make is that they set themselves up for failure from the beginning. They expect, hope, and pray that something will work right away. They want results now. When those results don’t come as quickly as they would like, they get frustrated and give up. Most of the time, these are people looking to lose weight for a wedding or reunion coming up in a few weeks or months. From my experiences, looking at things in the short term rarely works. Instead, I try my best to guide my clients into a lifestyle change. Looking at things long term, or as lifestyle change, puts things in a much more realistic view. For most people, it is unrealistic to give up entire groups of food, or even a macronutrient like carbohydrates for example. That way of thinking is usually not sustainable and we want this to last. Instead, make things simple.

Unless you are training to compete in a competition, keeping things simple works! If you want to lose weight, eat less. Don’t go from making bad choices all day every day and try to cut everything out cold turkey. Cut back on things in small steps. Are you drinking soda or tea every day? Start by drinking it five days a week for a few weeks and then four and so on and so on. You might be able to last a few days or even weeks making extreme changes to your diet, but it likely won’t last. Thinking of it as a lifestyle change will also ease some of the stress from your life. It allows you to have that cheat meal after a long day at work, or to reward yourself after a good workout. Gaining weight is the same way. I know it is harder for some people to gain weight than others. But I hear all the time “I’m eating so much and I can’t gain weight.” My response is always the same, “well if you aren’t gaining weight you have to eat more,” and then they usually look at me like I just said the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard. No, it’s not dumb. It’s the truth. Just because something is simple and you think it should be complicated doesn’t make it wrong. I know this because I have lived it. I gained seventy pounds in college after not being able to gain weight in high school but it didn’t happen until I told myself that no matter what, I was going to gain weight. I made the lifestyle change, and then I did it.

What to Eat?

Now to the part I know most of you were waiting for. What should you eat? Well, no matter your goals, this paragraph is for you. This information should be followed by anyone looking to eat healthier, lose weight, or even gain muscle. This will help with all those goals. A great rule of thumb is to ask yourself two questions. Was what your about to eat at one time living? Did it grow either out of the ground or from a tree? If your food falls under either of these categories then we as humans, were meant to eat it for one reason or another. Remember, it was put here on Earth for a purpose. If your food doesn’t fall under these categories, then it is processed and probably not the best thing to be eating. If it was living at one time or grew, then it is what we call a whole food and whole foods are ideal. Like I said, not groundbreaking stuff.

The reason whole foods are good is because they are nutrient dense. This means they have many beneficial nutrients compared to calories. This is important because hunger is caused by the need for nutrients. So, one can infer that if you are eating food packed with a lot of nutrients you won’t be hungry as much. Someone can also infer that if their muscles need nutrients to grow then this is probably a good plan to follow. If you are trying to be careful about your weight, make sure you are eating when you are hungry and avoid eating because of boredom. Nutrient dense food will help with binge eating because of the full feeling it will give you.  Meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit sounds boring but there are many more options then might pop in your head at first. Explore new foods, fruits, and new recipes. Again, it takes time and effort but if you are truly serious about your fitness this is necessary.

There is No Magic Formula

For those of you that clicked on this article hoping for the magic formula I am sorry to disappoint. If you do find a miracle diet that works in a few hours or a few days please let me know. I’ll be waiting. Fitness is tough, to use another cliché “If it was easy everyone would do it.” If it was easy to have a six pack or to be built like the hulk, then it wouldn’t be the thing many people strive for. But that is exactly why those things are the goal of so many, because it is something most people don’t have. You must work at changing your habits with consistency being the key. Eat what you know you’re supposed to eat and do it consistently and I promise you, you will see results.

I can write about nutrition all day long so there will sure be more articles coming soon! If you liked this article, please subscribe to this site, and leave comments on what you would like more information on. Thanks!

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 4 of 4)

The Pendlay Row

The last exercise in the four part series of “Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should” is the pendlay row. We have covered a hinge movement with the goodmorning, a press with strict press, a squat with the zercher and now a pulling exercise with the pendlay row. The pendlay row is a pull from a dead stop. This is what makes it a strength and especially a power movement. The dead stop is also what differentiates the pendlay row from most other rows including the more conventional bent over row.

The purpose of adding the pendlay row into a program is usually to build a stronger and bigger upper back. What I personally like about the pendlay row in addition to the size and strength benefits is that it adds power to a pulling movement, something that is rare to find. To clarify, power is the ability to generate force quickly and explosively whereas the term raw strength is more commonly used when talking about moving weight without regard to how fast you move it. Most pulls, such as the barbell or dumbbell row, are continuous movements that can be done with heavy weight. However, because continuous lifts do not start and end each rep at a dead stop it is difficult to build power with those movements. Power is built with the initial pull from the ground in the pendlay row. Many serious lifters add this to their program in order to improve their deadlift.

As with all exercises, if done properly, the pendlay row has a low risk of injury. The dead stop technique ensures that your lower back is not under tension long enough to be at risk, even though you will be pulling heavy weight and your lower back is in charge of supporting your spine. Again, that is if it is done properly! As always, stress technique first when trying this exercise before you try to move heavy weight and increase size, strength and power.

Instructions
1. Place feet about shoulder width apart with the bar over the midfoot (shoelaces).
2. Hinge hips in a slightly higher position than deadlift.
3. Grip bar using a double overhand grip about 4 inches wider than should er width.
4. Set chest in the “big chest” position tightening upper back.
5. Row the bar towards the bottom of chest .
6. Return bar back to starting position allowing weight to go dead.
7. Reset and perform another rep.

The setup for the pendlay row is very similar to that of the deadlift. You want your feet to be about the same width as the deadlift, maybe slightly wider. The bar should be over your midfoot (shoelaces). Your hips will be in the hinged pattern similar to the deadlift, but slightly higher. The raised hip position in the pendlay row versus the deadlift will ensure that your knees will not get in the way of the bar when you row it towards your lower chest. Next, place your hands on the bar using the double over grip (palms facing you). Your grip width is going to be slightly wider than your grip on the deadli ft. Remember, these foot and hand placements are guidelines, so feel free to play around with them a little until you find a position that is comfortable. I always prefer comfort compared to a set-in-stone guide on things like hand and foot placement.

Once your feet, hips, and hands are in place you can now set your chest. You want your back to be structured (neutral), meaning no rounding of the spine and your chest up. If you read the zercher or goodmorning articles this “big chest” position is the same. This ensures that your upper back is tight and not relaxed. I tend to make my chest big at the same time as I take in my breath. The breathing should be the same as discussed in the previous three articles and the same in every heavy lift you’re about to attempt. Take a deep breath in, breathing into your stomach and not your chest. Once the setup is complete and your breath is held go ahead and row the bar towards the bottom of your chest, clearing your knees. Think about actually pulling the bar with your elbows, resulting with your elbows pointing towards the ceiling. It may help to think of a rope tied around your elbows and someone standing above you pulling your elbows straight up. Return the bar back to the starting position being sure to let the weight go dead and then resetting your back before attempting another rep.

The pendlay row is a strength and power exercise so I tend to keep the reps between the 5-8 range. This exercise is supposed to be heavy but if you feel like you can’t do a certain amount of weight without raising your chest and using a ton of hip momentum then you need to lower the weight and focus on rowing the weight with your upper back. If you or your lifting buddy pay attention during the lift, it is usually obvious that the weight is too heavy causing your chest to rise.

Add the pendlay row to your program and watch as you develop the wide, dense, powerful back that you’ve been trying to achieve. I hope you liked this four part series. Be sure to let me know if these kind of articles are something you want more of in the future and don’t forget to subscribe to this site to stay up to date on the many new articles coming soon! Thanks and enjoy!

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 3 of 4)

The Zercher

            Now I know it’s rare to see someone squatting regularly in a commercial gym, so asking you to perform a different type of squat variation is probably pushing my luck. However, I’m going to do it anyway. The zercher squat is a squat variation that has been around forever and is most popular in the strong man community. Unless you are an athlete whose strength coach had you perform the zercher squat, it is not likely that you have heard of or seen this type of squat done. It makes this list because of the benefits it offers aside from increasing leg strength. A zercher squat is performed with the weight in front of the body.  It differs from a front squat in that it allows the weight to rest lower, closer to the body’s center of mass. I love front squats and they too can greatly improve many areas, but the zercher allows the weightlifter to rack the weight more easily than the front squat.  Racking the weight while performing a zercher squat may be uncomfortable for some, but can be done by everyone.  This is compared to racking during a front squat, which is nearly impossible for people with poor mobility.

The weight being racked in front of the core is a major component of this lift. A weightlifter performing a back squat is supposed to keep everything tight, structured, and full of tension. I say supposed to because many people never learn these aspects of a proper back squat. Some people may be able to get away without proper form, but until they learn to implement the tight, structured, and tension filled form, they will never reach their full potential on the back squat. You have to consciously think about creating tension in your core on a back squat. A major advantage of the zercher squat is that it eliminates any thought about tension in the abdominal cavity because it happens almost subconsciously.  Even though the focus during the lift will be on areas other than the abdominal muscles,  I can’t tell you how many times I have taught someone the zercher and then have them turn around in amazement about how much they could feel the exercise work their abdominal region. The tension created throughout the entire body and the pressure build up in the abdominal cavity is a major benefit of this lift and will positively impact you on everything else you do in the gym.

Instructions

  1. Place bar on crease of elbows (Use bar pad if needed)
  2. Put hands together with forearms pointed upwards locking the bar into place
  3. Make a “big” chest at the same time as you take a breath in
  4. Begin descent allowing your elbows to go between your knees at the bottom of movement
  5. Be sure to keep the bar pressed tightly against stomach (belly button region)
  6. Return to starting position while squeezing glutes at the top

 

The main reason people do not want to add the zercher to their programs is the rack position. I’m not going to sugar coat it, because, the truth is, it sucks. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and for some can be painful. The bar is racked on the crease of your elbows. I always give my athletes and clients the choice of putting a pad on the bar to lessen the pressure. Some people like the pad, while others, including myself, think that the bulkiness adds to the awkwardness.  A simple fix instead of the pad is to wear long sleeve shirts or hoodies that can help ease some of the discomfort of the bar on bare skin. But this is all personal preference, and you should do whatever feels best for you.  If you choose to go with the bar to bare skin, I recommend using lifting chalk on the crease of your elbows to prevent the bar from slipping.

Now that we understand that the rack position is awful we can move on to the actual lift.  Once you have the bar on the crease of your elbows put your hands together with your forearms pointing upwards locking the bar into place. Make sure your spine is tight and structured to support the weight, similar to the back squat.  Think about puffing your chest out to create a “big chest” to help tighten your thoracic spine even more. The key to the zercher is that you want to keep the bar against your belly. Allowing the bar to float away from your stomach causes the weight of the bar to pull you forward which will add strain to your back. A good point of reference is resting the bar close to your belly button. During the lift, keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible. Avoid shrugging your shoulders as this will cause the bar to rise upwards. I make it a point to tell all my athletes and clients to keep the same stance as they would in their back squat because consistency can help with overall improvement. When you feel ready with a sturdy stance, start the descent. Your elbows should slide in between your knees at the bottom of the squat. Position your arms close enough together in the rack position and think about pushing your knees outwards as you squat, to make sure the elbows between the knees position is possible. Start the ascent and return to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.

If you are brave enough to try this squat variation and dedicated enough to squat in the first place you will reap the benefits of this lift. I promise you that it will help with a number of other lifts in the gym. Be sure to check out the video below for a visual demonstration of this lift. If you do give it a try let me know what you think and also remember to subscribe to this site so that you can be notified of future posts coming soon. Thanks and enjoy the zercher!

 

4 Exercises You Aren’t Doing But Should (Part 2 of 4)

The Strict Press

            The strict press or more commonly known as the standing military press is usually a severely underutilized exercise. Seated military presses, dumbbell presses, and push presses are more likely to be seen than the strict press in most gyms. I have no doubt that the reason for its underutilization is because it is an extremely difficult exercise and is taxing on the entire body.  Although more weight can be performed while seated or with the use of the legs, the standing strict press position, without the help of the legs, is what makes this lift so beneficial. In my opinion, this is probably the most frustrating lift that I do. It is extremely difficult to progress with weight and I find that my performance varies more on this lift than any other. The strict press is commonly considered to be only a shoulder exercise, but go ahead and perform a heavy set, and you will see that your entire body is incorporated.  This exercise creates tension throughout the entire body and learning how to better use tension will benefit you on every other lift that you perform. This is also a great way to improve balance and core strength. When you think about the act of lifting heavy weight overhead multiple times without falling over it is hard to deny that you are improving your balance. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. The strict press is also a great supplemental lift for the bench press because of the use of triceps in the overhead lockout.

 

Instructions

1.         Start with the barbell in the rack  positioned at a height that is about even with your collarbone.

2.         Grip slightly wider than shoulder width while making sure your wrist and elbow joints are aligned.

3.         Un-rack the bar so that the starting point is your collarbone.

4.         Find a width between your feet that is comfortable. 

4.         Squeeze your glutes to set a good base and press the bar overhead. A major point is to keep the bar in a straight path close to your face both on   the ascent and descent.

5.         Lock out arms and push head through the “window” that the upright arms create.

6.         Return to the starting position.

 

Some aspects of the strict press will likely vary from person to person. When choosing your grip width make sure that your wrist and elbow joints are aligned.  Aligning your wrists and elbow should lead to a grip that is around shoulder width, but the exact width will vary slightly. Be sure not to allow your forearm to look as though it is leaning either inwards or outwards as this can lead to incorrectly performed reps and injury. Also, the width between your feet will likely vary. The tighter your feet are together, the easier it is to squeeze your glutes. However, a tight stance may also cause you to feel as though you do not have the secure base that a wider stance offers.  So with regards to foot width, find a happy medium that works for you.  While pressing the bar over your head, make sure to lockout your arms and push your head through the “window” that is made between your two arms and the barbell overhead.

 I make it a point to tell my athletes/clients to pause at the top instead of at the bottom. Pausing at your collarbone is a death sentence if you’re looking to rep out heavy weight. Lastly, try to breathe when the bar is locked out overhead. Take a breath in, filling your belly up with air, and hold it until the bar is back overhead. Breathing while the bar is moving will add to the instability that is already a major challenge in this lift. So go ahead and give the strict press a try. Let me know how you like it and be sure to check out the video below for a visual demonstration of this lift. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to this site so that you stay up to date on all the new articles coming soon! Thanks and enjoy!