What you should be doing on the gym- Part five – Carries

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part five of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym. If you’ve missed the previous parts, please click on the links below.

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five – Carries

Part six – Groundwork

PART FIVE-CARRIES

Think about how many times per week you carry stuff around in your hands. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  Twice, five, ten times?  Now doesn’t it make sense to train this ability in the gym to make your life easier?  I’d thought you’d see it my way.

see it my way

 

The farmers carry will:

Improve Posture. Trying to carry heavy weights with rounded shoulders is almost impossible.

Improve Breathing Pattern. It’s hard to be a chest breather when you’re carrying heavy weights around.

Improve Shoulder Stability. Your rotator cuffs will work like crazy to keep your arms in their sockets.

Improve balance. Every step of the farmer’s walk is a single leg stance.

They are quite possibility the biggest bang for your buck exercise, providing numerous benefits and are relatively simple to perform. Notice I said simple, not easy.

The carry variations listed below go from easy to more difficult. If you’ve never performed this movement before, please start at the beginning and progress slowly. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next challenge.

Note on loading and distance- For the dumbbell carries start with a load of 25% of your body weight in each hand and for the barbell (two-handed) carries start with 40-50% of your total bodyweight unless noted otherwise.

You should be able to carry the weight for 20-40 yards. If walking 40 yards is easy, the weight is too light and if you can’t walk a least 20 yards, the weight is too heavy.

1. Dumbbell farmers carry (easier)

Just think of this exercise has carrying the groceries in from the car except the groceries are really heavy. The  exercise cues that work best here are shoulders down and chest up, but if you want to think sexy, just walk like a supermodel.

 

 2. Suitcase carries

Although this variation is less weight, the offset load makes it more difficult to maintain upright posture because you’ll tend to tilt to one side to counter the weight you’re carrying. When starting this exercise, check your posture in the mirror to circumvent this.

Please make sure to do both sides or you’ll be walking around in circles the rest of the day. 😊

3. Goblet carries

Holding the weight under your chin and by your chest adds extra emphasis to your shoulders, biceps, upper back and anterior core muscles. Walking with an upright posture is essential because tilting forward could mean dropping the weight and making a mess.  And you don’t want that.

4. Rack carries

Dumbbell rack carry

Kettlebell rack carry

 These are similar exercises, it just depends on what equipment you have access too. This variation hammers your upper back region which is essential for good posture and for good technique for a lot of the exercises described in this series. But be warned, other gym goers may admire your rack.

 5. Overhead carry (difficult)

 Everything I’ve mentioned up to this point will build your overall strength and enhance your results.  However, the overhead barbell carry is the cherry on top in the world of carries. Every single step is a challenge for the whole body.  One false step and you, the barbell and the floor become one.

Be sure to start with an empty barbell and then experiment with a load that you can carry for 20 and 40 yards. And remember, a little fear in your training can be a motivating experience.

Wrapping up

This exercise does it all. It builds muscle and strength, enhances cardiovascular endurance and it will turn you into a person who no one wants to mess with, including Chuck Norris.

Just kidding. Chuck fears no one.

 Chuck is sleepy.

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What you should be doing on the gym- Part four – Hinge

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part four of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym. If you’ve missed the previous parts, please click on the links below.

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five – Carries

Part six – Groundwork

PART 4- HINGE

Using the hips like they were intended will make you a boss in the gym and your partner a happy person. Yes, the hips can be that powerful. A lot of athletic movements on the sporting arena have hip hinging/hip extension as their base.

Furthermore, incorrect use of the hips is one of the major causes of lower back pain and hinging correctly will keep the lower back happy. And as a bonus, hinging will help you look great in your favorite pair of pants.

butt female

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you girls.

butt male

This is the most difficult of all fundamental human movements to teach and perform because

1. We sit on it way too much which leads to weak glutes

2. A lot of people have a hard time disassociating their hips and their lower back

3. It’s a hard move to “feel” when you perform it

The hinging variations below are listed from easy to more difficult. If you’ve never been taught or performed this movement before, please start at the beginning and progress slowly. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next challenge.

1. Wall hip hinge (easy)

Having a reference point will shorten the learning curve because the wall will tell you whether you’re doing the movement correctly or not. Perform this exercise with soft knees and by keeping your chest up and shoulders down.

Doing more reps is important here so do 3 sets of 15 reps. If your back, not your hamstrings, is sore the next day, something is amiss.

2. Hip hinge with stick

Once you’ve mastered the first move, having the stick behind you makes sure you’re using your hips and not any part of your spine when you hinge because your spine will lose contact with the stick if you’re doing it incorrectly. If you struggle for feel while doing this, get side-on with the mirror to receive more feedback.

More reps are important here also so perform 3 sets of 15 reps. If your back hurts the following day, go back to the drawing board.

3. Wall hip hinge with stick

This variation will teach you to keep the weight close to your body which in turn trains you to keep the upper back tight and strong when you hinge. Additionally, having the two reference points will dial in your form before you add load. Please use the same rep and set ranges as the exercises above.

4. Cable pull throughs

Did you notice the close up😊?

The pull-through provides resistance for the entire range of motion which trains you to maintain full-body tension throughout the entire exercise.  Furthermore, having the resistance behind you make this variation lower back friendly.

Choose a resistance that allows you to complete 3 sets of 8-12 reps with the form described in the video.

5. Romanian deadlift (difficult)

This exercise can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbells but the technique remains the same.  With the load being in front of you, it’s important that you keep your chest up, shoulder blades in your back pocket so the weight stays close to your body.  This will save your lower back from discomfort and will load the hips and hamstrings as intended.

Start light and dial in your form and confidence with 3 sets of 12 -15 reps and then you can add load and do between 8-12 reps.

Wrapping up

Learning and performing this move correctly is a lower back lifesaver that will save you from pain, discomfort and from those long waiting times in the doctor’s office.

Did I happen to mention your butt will look great?

 

 

The best exercise you’re not doing…….

This is a weekly series on exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in and out of the gym. Today’s exercise is deep squat hold courtesy of Andy Van Grinsven. 

You should do this because– this exercise helps with hip mobility which is a use it or lose it scenario. And seeing we spent so much time sitting down, it always helps to train your hip mobility.

Makes your everyday life easier because– being mobile at the hips means you’re less likely to screw up your lower back because a lack of hip mobility is bad news for your back.

Form tips – Try to keep your head and chest up and push your elbows into your knees. Hold for 5 seconds in the bottom position and do 6-8 reps before a leg training or when you have been sitting a lot.

 

What you should be doing in the gym- Part three

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part three of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym. If you need to go back in time, click the links below.  This series will go as follows

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five – Carries

Part six – Groundwork

PART THREE- PUSHES

This move is installed in our hardware. Therefore, we already know how to push ourselves away from the floor when lying face down or push our friends and family out of the way when they’re bothering us, without even batting an eyelid.

Pushing is a movement that we do every day without even realizing it, so it makes perfect sense to strengthen this movement in the gym so we can remain injury-free and push aside anything this world can throw at us, just like Chuck Norris.

push ups 2
Don’t mess with Chuck

The pushing variations below are broken up into horizontal and vertical movements and are listed from easy to more difficult. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next exercise.

HORIZONTAL

1. Incline pushups (easy)

The incline takes gravity out the equation and lightens your load. This allows you to build upper body and core strength while perfecting your pushup form. This exercise can be made easier or harder by increasing or decreasing the incline. However, use an incline that allows you to do 8-15 reps for 3 sets.

2. Single arm cable chest press

With a narrow base of support while lifting unilaterally, this exercise  works on your core strength, balance and irons out any strength imbalances you may have. However, be careful and go light when first doing this move because it’s easy to lose your balance. And we don’t want that.

Use a weight that allows you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps on both sides with good form.

3. Barbell bench press/dumbbell bench press

Barbell bench press

Dumbbell bench press

These exercises are similar but with a few crucial differences. The barbell locks you into the press movement while the dumbbells allows you a little more freedom. If you have any shoulder issues, go with the dumbbell press before trying the barbell.

The barbell allows more resistance while the dumbbells train the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder. Both movements are great but it depends of your comfort and strength level. Try both and see what works for you.

Use a weight that allows you to do 12 -15 reps and when you’re feeling comfortable, go heavier and do between 6- 12 reps.

4. Pushups (difficult)

Please watch this video because there is more to the push up than meets the eye. It’s a complete full body exercise that requires your full attention. The exercises above will help you build the required upper body/core strength to do pushups with good form.

Feel free to go back and forth between these exercises if you’re unable or even able to do a few pushups. They will all help you to build muscle and get stronger.

VERTICAL

Before pressing overhead, you need to be able to get your arms overhead without compensations from your ribcage or lower back. To see if you have the required shoulder mobility for overhead pressing do this test below.

Back to the wall shoulder flexion

 If you’re unable to touch the wall without compensation do a combination of weighted deadbugs and land mine presses to help improve your shoulder mobility.

Weighted deadbugs 6-8 reps

 1. Single arm landmine press (easy)

This is a hybrid movement, somewhere in between a vertical and horizontal press. Most gyms have a landmine but if they don’t, you can shove a towel and a barbell into a corner and that will work just fine.

The trick of this exercise is to reach at the very end of the movement. This will help with your shoulder mobility and health. If you’re new to this movement, start with a weight that allows you to do 8-12 reps for 3 sets.

2. Seated dumbbell shoulder press

I like the neutral hand position (palms facing each other) when pressing dumbbells overhead because it’s safer for the shoulders and it targets the triceps more. Also, being in a seated position makes this variation safer for the lower back. Make sure to sit up straight and to press until your biceps are right by your ears.

A good rep range to start with is 3 sets of 8-15 reps.

3. Half kneeling shoulder press

 The half kneeling position makes this press a little trickier because it narrows your base of support. So, if overarch your lower back while pressing, the floor and you could become one.

This is why it’s a good exercise to hone in your form. Furthermore, the half kneeling position helps strength your glutes and open up your hip flexors. Use a weight that allows you to do 3 sets of 8 reps on both sides with good form.

4. Barbell shoulder press (difficult)

Seated

Standing

 Whether you do the seated or standing version, the barbell allows for extra loading which means extra muscle and strength but it comes with a greater risk of injury, so be careful. Please do the regressions beforehand to bullet proof your shoulders and pressing mechanics before you do this one.

Start with 3 sets of 8- 12 reps and when you when you feel ready, try 3-5 sets of 3- 6 reps.

Wrapping up

Sticking with basics and following the progressions above will build a strong and bulletproof upper body that will have you leaping over buildings with a single bound.

Look out Superman. There’s a new sheriff in town.

If you need any assistance in your quest to get more awesome in the gym click here.

What you should be doing on the gym- Part two – Pulls

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part two of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym.  This series will go as follows

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five – Carries

Part six – Groundwork

PART TWO- PULLS

When we were little babies, we’d pull ourselves up on a stable object to a standing position to walk while using the object for support. Did anybody teach us that? No, because this movement is already hotwired into our brains.

Pulling something towards us is a natural movement that is often neglected in the gym because most people are working on their mirror muscles.  Hello, chest and triceps.

Posing

 

However, working on the muscles of your back will improve your posture, give you strong, stable and mobile shoulders and works the biceps, the most flexed and overworked muscle of all time.

The pulling variations in this article are broken up into vertical and horizontal movements and these are listed from easy to more difficult. Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next exercise.

 HORIZONTAL

1. Standing cable row

This is a staple in my clients’ programs, no matter how advanced they are. Working unilaterally while standing will train your core and strength imbalances between sides. Remember to keep your chest puffed out and to keep your shoulders away from your ear while pulling the weight towards you.

2. Dumbbell single arm row

This variation is a little harder because this tests your grip strength. If you’ve never done it before, keep the weight on the light side and do 3 sets of 15 reps.

3. Dumbbell three-point row

 You go from hand and knee support to one hand, making this a trickier exercise. This demands more from your entire core, so please start on the lighter side. Start will 3 sets of 15 and when you get a little more confident, go heavier and do sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Inverted row/TRX row

Inverted row

TRX row

These are similar exercises with a few crucial differences. The inverted row allows for an overhand (palms down) or an underhand  (palms up) grip while TRX row allows for a neutral grip (palms facing each other). If you have elbow issues, go with the TRX row.

The TRX is a form of suspension training, so your core strength and balance come into play more. Both can be made easier by moving your feet further away from the anchor point (TRX) or placing the bar higher on the squat rack/smith machine.

To make each exercise more difficult, do the opposite.

VERTICAL

Before proceeding with the vertical pulling exercises, make sure you’re able to get your hands overhead without any compensations from your lower back or ribcage by doing the test below.

Shoulder mobility test

If contact is lost between your hand and back on either side or either hand cannot touch the floor behind you, you have limited shoulder mobility.

If this is the case, stick with the horizontal pulling exercises and work on you shoulder mobility with the exercise below.

1. Seated Lat pulldown

With your feet on the floor and your knees secure, this makes it one of the easier vertical pulling variations. However, easy doesn’t mean it’s simple. Make sure you let your back muscles do the work and avoid swaying back and forth to lift the weight.

If you’re new to the movement, go light and work with a weight that you can do for 3 sets of 15-20 reps. When you feel more confident, go heavier and do 3 sets of 8- 12 reps.

2. Half kneeling Lat pulldown

This is a great variation if you lack hip mobility because this exercise gives your hip flexors an active stretch. With only two points on the ground, this exercise trains your core and balance also. Work with a resistance that allows you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps on each side.

hip flexors
Hip flexors

3. Tall kneeling Lat pulldown

This variation prepares you for the granddaddy of all vertical pulls, the chin up (which will not be covered in the post because of its complexity) because it mimics the core strength needed to perform it. You’ll realize this when you perform it.

The tall kneeling position will also work on actively stretching the hip flexors and strengthening the glutes, making this a big bang for your buck exercise.   Do this for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

4. Tall kneeling single arm Lat pulldown

Doing this exercise unilaterally will provide more core engagement and strengthen imbalances between your left and right sides. And as a bonus, you’ll be the coolest person in the gym. Do this for 3 sets of 8-12 reps on both sides.

Wrapping up

Working on the non-mirror muscles is probably the most important thing you will do in the gym. Not only will I have your back, you’ll have your own back.

 

 

The best exercise you’re not doing…….

This is a weekly series on exercise that will give you the biggest bang for your exercise buck in and out of the gym. Today’s exercise is the table push away.

You should do this because– you shouldn’t keep eating until your plate is empty, you should stop when you’re feeling full.

Makes your everyday life easier because– it will stop the feeling of pain and guilt of overeating and will also help prevent unnecessary weight gain.

Form tips –  Put your fork down after taking a bite and fully chew and enjoy your food. When you start to feel full, stop, put any leftovers way and enjoy them later on.

 

pushaway

What you should be doing in the gym- Part one

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

This is part one of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym.  This series will go as follows

Part one- Squats

Part two – Pulls

Part three – Pushes

Part four – Hinge

Part five  – Carries

Part six – Groundwork

PART ONE –  THE SQUAT

This is a movement you’ve been doing since childhood and maybe even before that. Yet somehow between childhood and adulthood some of us seem to lose the ability to execute this fundamental human movement.

Why?  We sit more and move less due to the wonders of modern life and technology.

Why the squat is important   

  • It’s a full body exercise
  • Gives you great looking legs
  • Develops core strength
  • It’s a movement you perform every day
  • Builds lean muscle and burns a ton of calories

A good squat looks like this.

Baby-squat
I rest my case

The squat is a one stop shop when it comes to losing weight, building muscle and getting strong. Yes, it is that important. So, if it has been a while since you’ve squatted in a gym setting or you want to improve your form, use this article as your guide.

I’m bringing squatting back. The other boys don’t know how to act.

Note- The squat variations below are listed from easy (six-point rocking) to more difficult (barbell squats). Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next exercise.

1. Six-point rocking

This is a squat with your hands and knees on the ground. If you can rock your butt to your heels without any problems, you’re ready to move on to more advanced verison. However, if you can’t, it could be a mobility or stability issue that’s holding you back.

If you’re having difficultly with this exercise try the following three exercises and retest. Keep doing these three exercise daily until you can rock your butt to your heels.

A. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch 60 seconds on each side

B. Passive leg lowering 10 reps on each leg

C. Push up position front plank 30- 60 seconds

 Note – With all the squatting variations below use a stance that feels comfortable for you and allows you to to get your thighs parallel to the ground. Use the picture below as a guide.

2. Assisted bodyweight squat

The above is one of a few variations that can help with your squat. Here is another one. When load isn’t part of the equation, you can concentrate on dialing in good form. And as Dan mentions in the video, this gives you confidence to execute the squat also.

Use this variation to groove the squat pattern or if it’s been a while since you’ve darkened the doors of a gym.  Try 3-4 sets, 12- 15 reps at 3 times per week.

3. Bodyweight box squat

Now that you’ve grooved the squat pattern with the assisted squat, use a box as reference point to get yourself into good squat position without assistance. Having the box behind you reinforces you to use your hips and not your knees to squat.

A common complaint of doing squats is “It hurts my knees.” Usually, it’s the way the person is squatting, not the squats themselves.  If that sounds like you, this variation is for you.  And when you feel more comfortable, you can take away the box. Try 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps at least 2-3 times per week.

4. Goblet squat

The Goblet squat has revolutionized the way the squat is being performed and taught throughout the world. But what makes the Goblet squat so popular?

Holding the weight anteriorly (in front) encourages you to stand up straighter, get that upper back tight and puff out that chest which sets the table for good squat. Furthermore, the weight acts as a counter balance that encourages you to sit between your legs and not over your knees.

It’s like squat magic and it could be the only squat you’ll ever need.

If you’re new to this movement choose a lighter weight (20-35 pounds) and do more repetitions (10-15). When you feel more comfortable with this movement, go heavier and do less repetitions (6—10).

5. Dumbbell Front squat

This exercise and the barbell back squat below require good shoulder mobility. Please perform the test below before doing either of these exercises.

Shoulder mobility test

1. Lie on your back with both feet on the ground and arms by your side.

2. Place your right hand between the curve of your lower back and the floor.

3. Take your left hand and raise it directly over your head, trying to touch your hand to the floor behind you.

4. Repeat test on other side.

5. If contact is lost between your hand and back on either side or either hand cannot reach the floor, you have limited shoulder mobility.

If you have limited shoulder mobility, stick with the goblet squat and work on you shoulder mobility with this exercise.

This front squat can also be done with either a barbell or two kettlebells, so please choose the correct tool for you. This exercise provides an extra challenge for your core and shoulders because you’re holding more weight in front of you.

Keep the reps and weight on the lower side when first starting out with this exercise. I recommend 3 sets of 8-10 reps and gradually increasing the weight when you become more comfortable with this exercise.

6. Barbell back squat

This is the granddaddy of squats and by far the most difficult to perform with good form. Before putting a barbell on your back you must have performed all the exercises above and passed the shoulder mobility test. Then and only then can you feel comfortable and confident in performing the barbell back squat.

There are many ways to program and perform the back squat which are beyond the scope of this article. However, I’ve found squatting 3 days a week progressing on the weight little by little each week is the best way to build leg strength and muscle.

Check this program out if you want to get stronger and conquer the back squat.

Wrapping up

It’s one thing to go to the gym but it is another thing knowing what to do when you’re there. One of those things should always be squats. They are difficult but when you look in the mirror, it will be worth it.

If you need any assistance in your quest to get more awesome in the gym click here.