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.

 

 

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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.

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 Swiss ball hip extension/hamstring curl. Thanks to Molly Galbraith the co founder of Girls Gone Strong for the video.

You should do this because– we tend to forget about the muscles that we cannot see because we sit on our butt a lot, which can lead to weaker glutes and tighter hip flexors. Besides, the hamstrings and glutes need all the love they can get, right?

hip flexors
Hip flexors.

Makes your everyday life easier because– Strong and mobile hips means less back pain and this (and other things) can make your partner very happy person indeed. 🙂

Form tips – Watch the video below for form tips. I like to program this at the start of my training to get blood flow to the knees, hips and hamstrings before doing squats, deadlifts and lunges. Sets of 8- 15 reps work best.

 

Posture

Remember when your mother told you to “stand up straight” or warned “don’t slouch”?  Well, as usual, your mother was right.

Posture is defined as a position of a person’s body when standing or sitting, and good posture will protect your spine. Good posture can prevent aches and pains in our upper and lower back, and shoulders and neck.

Those nagging aches and pains you have maybe due to your posture.  Look at the picture below. Which one do you look like?

1425796_250882118397687_1310934491_n
Are you good or evil?

How our posture looks today is a result of years of our daily living activities.  We spent a large part of our lives looking down. We sit down and look at our computer screens. We look down when we are playing with our smart phones.

We walk with our hands in our front pockets.  We look down when reading our books and newspapers. This and more over time can cause poor posture. (We look down when eating, also, and too much of that can lead to more than just posture problems…but that’s another column.)

Other than annoying our mothers, what exactly does bad posture do? There are serious side effects for those with poor posture. First, it can worsen our stress levels. A study form Harvard University concluded that people who adopted proper posture had a 25% drop in their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

High cortisol levels have been associated strongly with weight gain and your sleepless nights.

Second, bad posture can block your digestive system. Hunched shoulders, like the picture above, can lead to sluggish digestion according to Steven Weiniger, author of Stand Taller, Live Longer. “When you sit in a crunched position, your intestines are folded and that slows everything down.”

Third, poor posture can affect your attitude says Dr. Mladen Golubic, Center for Lifestyle Medicine at The Cleveland Clinic. “We do know when you slouch, you project an attitude of depression and low motivation. When you sit up straight, psychologically your attitude is better.”

I’ve seen my fair share of people with poor posture.  However two poor postural positions stand out: Forward head posture, where your head is forward from your shoulders, and rounded shoulders where your shoulders are rotated inward and you have a C- shaped upper back. .

FORWARD HEAD POSTURE

You can recognize this in yourself or other people when your ears are forward of the shoulders rather than sitting directly over them. Here is a simple test that you can do for forward head posture.

Stand with you head, shoulders and back against the wall with your heels six inches away from the wall. Determine how many fingers you can fit between your head and the wall. If it is more than 3, you likely have forward head posture.

Forward head

With the average human head weighing 8 pounds, this posture puts stress on neck head and shoulders. Forward head posture has been linked to tension headaches and decreased lung capacity, which can cause problems with inhaling and exhaling air.

So what can I do, I hear you ask?  Here are some everyday things you can do right now to help minimize this posture.

1. Sleep with one pillow– this will reinforce better alignment for your head and neck when you sleep.

2. Be more aware- sit up straight and maintain a normal curve in your low back. This keeps the low back in proper alignment and will help keep your head from drifting forward.

3. Do the lying down chin tuck: Lie on your back with nothing behind your head. Tuck your chin towards your chest without your head leaving the ground. Hold that position for 5 seconds. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.

Rounded shoulders

Take a good look at yourself, side on to a mirror. If your chest look smaller and your shoulders look narrower and you have an ‘ape like’ appearance because of your arm position, you have rounded shoulders.

what-causes-rounded-shoulders

Rounded shoulders tighten the chest muscles, which may restrict rib cage expansion and result to difficult and labored breathing. It stretches our upper back muscles, causing them to weaken, leading to back, and shoulder and neck problems.

This condition makes our stomach and backside appear larger than normal, so it is in your best interest to do the following.

1. Sleeping on your back– this will improve your posture because your spine gets support from your bed and also puts your shoulders in a better position.

2. Sit on your sit bones- to find your sit bones, feel with your hands underneath your bottom and find the two boney protrusions at the base of your pelvis. Once you have done that, rock your pelvis slightly forward to bring yourself into neutral spine.

This will reinforce good posture whenever you are sitting down.

3. Do outward rotations– Stand up tall with your arms by your side. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, with your palms facing inward. Keeping your upper arm against your side, slowly rotate your forearm away from you, only using your shoulders for the whole movement.

You will end up with your elbows still on your sides, but your hands now out to the side of your body. Return to the starting position and do 2 sets and 10-15 repetitions.

bilateral shoulder external rotation

Wrapping up

Fixing a poor posture will not happen overnight. This has happened a long period of time. However, being more aware of your posture, focusing on your body movements from head to toe and using the suggestions above will go a long way towards improving your posture.

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 Foam Roller Assisted 1-Legged RDL (mouthful I know) courtesy of Zac Gabor and Tony Gentilcore.

You should do this because–  balance, balance and did I mention mention balance? This single leg hinge movement (without the foam roll) is the perfect way to pick light stuff off the floor without hurting your lower back.

Makes your everyday life easier because–  better balance and less stress of your lower back is a good thing. This makes for a great warm up exercise before you train legs too.

Form tips –  Soften the working knee and lock in the foam roll by pointing your toe up and then pushing it down with your hand.  Do 8 reps on each leg when you have a foam roll handy.

 

Spice up your core training

Google core training and you get over 4 million hits. Every man and his dog has an opinion on core training.

Make it 4 million and one. 🙂

So what is “the core”exactly? Think about this for a moment.

The answer you’re likely to get is “it’s my six pack, dude.” However, the core is more complex than that. The core is essentially a set of muscles that extends far beyond your six pack and includes everything except your arms and legs.

Yes, that includes your chest, shoulders, back and butt.

So if you’re crunching away like a mad man (or woman) you’re doing yourself a huge disservice and should stop right now. Pretty please.

Doing crunches is just one wrong way people go about building core strength. Other mistakes include

  • Hold their planks for too long or with poor form
  • Spend too much of their training time admiring themselves in the mirror
  • Wasting their time doing pointless exercises and totally skipping their core training altogether

Plank funny

So let’s avoid these mistakes by

  • Putting core training into the main part of your training
  • Adding movement and tension to your core stability exercises
  • Using the entire core and not just your “abs”

There’s no need to rush off to a gym or buy one of those shoddy infomercial ab machines. All you need is you and your towel to wipe off the sweat.

Use the following tips to get the core you desire.

1. CORE INTERVAL TRAINING

Stuart M. McGill, PhD, Professor of Spine Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, knows a thing or two about the core. If you don’t know who he is, look him up here.

Back in 2013, he improved the core stability and hip explosive power in NBA players by having them perform front/side planks after a treadmill sprint.

You can do something similar at home by using timed bodyweight movements combined with plank variations. Combining your strength, cardio and core into one training is something you’re sure to enjoy.

Trust me, I’m a trainer.

Instructions

Perform the bodyweight exercise as quickly as you can with good form for 20 seconds. During the 10 second rest period get into your plank position and hold for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds.

Alternate between the two exercises for a total of 4 rounds of each and rest a minute between supersets.

If you’re game, complete the routine below.

1A. Bodyweight jump squat

1B. Front plank

2A. Ice-skaters

2B. Side plank

3A. Triple extensions

3B. Front plank shoulder taps

4A.Reverse lunge with kick *

4B. Side plank rotations *

*For the side planks and reverse lunges, one side = one round. Alternate sides

 

 

2. UPGRADING YOUR WARM UP

 Your warm up is a perfect time to insert some low- medium intensity core exercises into the mix because

  • You’re fresh and more likely to perform the movements correctly
  • It turns on muscles responsible for spinal stability to help keep you injury free
  • Your core training will be done and you will no longer have to dread it

Insert the following three exercises into your warm up to set yourself up for a fantastic training.

Heel touch

Perform these at the beginning of your warm up after foam rolling. Make sure to keep your low back in neutral and your chin tucked. Do for one-two minutes.

Deadbug

Silly name, great exercise. Perform these right after your heel touch following the same cues as the heel touch. Do six-eight reps on each side. Feel that? You’re welcome.

RKC front plank

This is not your everyday front plank. This is a total body challenge from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Maintaining this plank for longer than 10 seconds calls for your all-out effort.

Perform right at the end of your warm doing five sets of a 10 second hold with 20 seconds rest in between sets.

3. CORE FINSHER

 If you have something left in the tank at the end of your training, try this diabolical four minute plank finisher.

Front plank/Side plank finisher

Hold a front plank for 15 seconds and then transfer into a side plank for 15 seconds. Then go back to the front plank for 15 seconds then transfer to the other side for a side plank for 15 seconds.

This is one round. Try to make it to four……… if you can.

Wrapping up

Thinking outside the crunch can really benefit your core training. Now get after it and train that core!