How do build your own training routine-Part one

Long before I was fitness professional, I’d follow training programs from glossy men’s magazines because I thought

  1. They knew what they were doing.
  2. I was hoping it would transform me from a geek to a freak.

And like Dr. Phil used to say, ‘How’s that working out for you?’

Men's Fitness

It didn’t, Dr. Phil, it didn’t.

What I didn’t consider is what works for the guys on the covers doesn’t necessarily work for you or me because we all have different starting points, different genetics and different reactions to exercise.

The people on the front covers are probably in great shape to start with and most likely didn’t do the program they’re advertising.

They just rocked up to the photo shoot looking awesome.

However, having a training program ripped out of a magazine is better than having no plan at all because going to the gym without a clue is not the best idea and can lead to some unusual behavior

No idea 3

Nonetheless, you’re better than that. You don’t need to blindly follow the masses. All you need to do is read this, put your thinking cap on for a minute or two and then you’ll be writing programs that will get you great results without the need for google or me. ☹

Note- Writing programs is a mixture between science, guesswork and good judgement.  This article will be keep it as simple as possible so you will not get lost in the details and can concentrate on getting great results.

Please consult your doctor if you’re starting exercise after a long break or have any health or orthopedic problems.

The questions

Before you get into the nitty gritty of program writing, it’s time for you to answer a few questions honestly.

1. What is your goal?

You’ll start by sticking to one goal. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is chasing too many goals simultaneously.  You’re more likely to have more success if you stick to one goal, so decide if your goal is

  • Fat loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Getting back into shape

So, take a moment to decide this before you read on. This has a huge bearing on the program you will write for yourself.

2. How many days a week can you exercise?

 For best results, you need to set aside 2-3 days a week for exercise. Exercising 3 days a week gives you a little more leeway than training 2 days a week.

3. How much time can you dedicate to each training session?

 You have a busy schedule like a lot of other people. You need to look at your week and decide of much time in your day you can dedicate to the gym because this is going to dictate the length and the intensity of your program.

 4. How advanced are you?

 You don’t want to pick exercises that are too hard or too easy for you because the point of going to the gym is to get better, not to stay the same or get worse.

If you’re unsure on how advanced you are, err on the side of conservatism and go with a regression of the exercises below before moving on to a more advanced version.

Answering the above questions honestly will help you stick with your exercise program and allow you to get the results you deserve. Now, let’s move on to the exercises you will be using in your programming.

The exercises

A coach called Dan John has broken down exercise into 6 fundamental human movements which are

  1. Squat
  2. Pulls
  3. Pushes
  4. Hinge
  5. Carrying something heavy
  6. Groundwork

Although there are many other exercise movements, these are a great place for you to start on your programming journey. Click on each link to familiarize yourself with the regressions and progressions for each exercise.

Wrapping up

You have a little ‘homework’ to do before Part Two, which will come out next week. Take a pen and paper and write your answers down and become familiar with the exercises above. This will make your program writing experience a successful one. Stay tuned.

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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 a ball foot massage, which is one of my favorites.

You should do this because–  It helps improve your circulation as your feet rarely get any exercise due to the fact they’re cooped up in shoes all day.

Makes your everyday life easier because– it can help with stress, lower blood pressure and when combined with feet strengthening/ stretching exercises, can reduce foot and ankle injuries.

Form tips – Sitting makes the exercise easier for balance purposes and standing make this a little more intense. You can vary the amount of pressure you apply to the ball to make more or less intense also. Do 50 rolls on each foot daily and before each training.

What you should be doing on the gym- Part six – Groundwork

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 six 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

There’s more to groundwork than just lying on the ground and crunching like a mad monkey. Being on the ground is how we learned to move as infants and returning to the floor can help you reactivate neglected movement patterns such as squats, pushing and hinging.

Pretty good for a monkey, right?

The ground provides you with stability, balance and feedback and is an ideal place to start your warm up before you crush the weights. Or you can incorporate this into your resistance training for some added spice and sweat.

Groundwork exercises cover a wide spectrum that includes core work, rolling, crawling, rocking to the Turkish Get -Up. It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into all types of groundwork exercises. However, the moves I’ve selected below are the ones I program for my clients on a regular basis.

These exercises will help improve your technique with squats, hinges, pushes and pulls as well as improving your stability/mobility and your ability to burn fat. These moves may get you some strange looks on the gym floor but you’ll be the coolest person in the gym.

Trust me, I’m a trainer.

trust

 

1. Deadbugs

With all the big compound movements (squats, pressing pulling, carries etc.) you’ll require good core stability and the ability for your core to resist movement while lifting weights. This is where the deadbug comes in. The low back and your anterior core should remain stable as your moving your opposite arm and opposite leg. This is a must in most people’s exercise programs.

2. Push up plank

Planks are not the sexiest exercise and are usually avoided by gym goers at all costs because they suck.  Experienced exercisers often think they’re “too advanced” for the plank because they feel that there are other core exercises that are more effective.

However, before brushing this exercise off, here’s a little challenge for you. If you can hold this plank for 2 minutes, then go ahead and train your core with all the other cooler exercises. If you cannot, you’ve still got some work to do.

3. Six-point rocking

This exercise is like a squat with your toes, knees and hands on the ground. Therefore, it’s great to include in your warm up before you squat. And if this feels great, then squat to your little heart’s content. However, if it doesn’t, you should reconsider your squat workout and dial it back.

4. Crawling

Although crawling on the floor makes you look like a baby, this movement ties together your hips, core, shoulders and helps in grain our natural contra lateral movement (opposite arm/opposite leg) pattern that you need for walking, running and sprinting.

You must really work to be able to breathe, keeping your head up while keeping the contra lateral pattern of crawling. It’s tougher than it looks because it is a subtle form of strength training.  However, just brush off the weird looks you’re bound to get because you’re too cool for school.

5. Rolling

This is how we used to move as babies but rolling has real benefits for grownups, too. Rolling combines the use of the upper body, core, and lower body in a coordinated manner to move from your tummy to your side and to your back while being safely on the floor.

There are many movements that require the coordinated use of our arms and legs, which is why this is a great movement to include in your warm up. Furthermore, rolling will help improve your shoulder/hip mobility and will help roll out those sore spots without the use of a foam roll.

6. Getting up and down

Here is a little test for you. Stop reading now and sit down to the ground and then stand back up without using your hands or knees. Don’t worry I’ll wait. It sounds simple but there’s a catch. You will subtract a point from 5 each time you use a hand or your knee during this test.

For example

Get down  (- 1 for each hand/knee from 5)

Get up       (-1 for each hand/knee from 5)

Total         (Your score, up to 10)

If you get a score of 8 and above, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you score 7 or below, you have some work to do, so please keep practicing. This exercise is great to insert into your warm up or as an alternative for traditional cardio. Don’t believe me? Do it for 2 minutes straight and then check your pulse.

Wrapping up

Rolling, rocking, crawling and deadbugging on the floor may seem a little nuts to you. People may look at you funny and you may feel like your one-year old without the diapers and drool.

However, none of that matters because you will be improving your strength, mobility, stability and your cat like reflexes. Move over Cat women.

Catwomen

 

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 belling breathing. Thanks to Tony Gentilcore for the video.

You should do this because–  Breathing correctly ( belly breathing, not chest) can mean less pain and less stress on the muscles that usually pick up the slack if  (or when) you’re a chest breather.

Less stress is always a good thing.

Makes your everyday life easier because–  spending time in this position can help with your hip and shoulder mobility which can mean better movement  in and out of the gym.

Form tips –  Watch the video below. Hold on to something sturdy at around hip height and sink into your squat and get your head in between your arms and your belly against your thighs.

Breath in through the nose and breath out through the mouth for 5 deep breathing reps.

 

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.

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.

Compound your results…….

Have you seen that person who goes to the gym year after year and never changes? The last time I checked, seeing change is a major reason to go. They do same exercises with the same weight and get the same results, zero.

In some circles that could defined as insanity. Please, don’t be that person.

insanity

A good training program should always include squats, pushes, pulls, deadlifts and single leg exercises.  These give you the biggest bang for your buck.  However, something special happens when you pair two of these exercises.

They become “super” combination exercises.

Combination exercises work the lower and upper body simultaneously, so you’ll be hitting the showers in no time while that other guy is still grinding through his tenth set of bicep curls.

When you’re looking to change things up, build muscle, burn fat or all three, combination moves are just the ticket.

 Combination exercises guidelines

  • Use these movements at the start of your training.
  • Start with a light warm up set
  • The weight you usually use for the upper body push or pull is the weight you’ll use for the entire combination move.
  • For strength, do three-five reps.
  • For muscle/fat loss, do six-eight reps.
  • For muscular endurance, 12-15 reps.
  • Rest 60-90 seconds between sets. If you need most rest, take it.

Note: These exercises are advanced and you should be accomplished in all the major movements listed above before attempting combination exercises.

1. Deadlift to bent over row

(Muscles used: Hamstrings, glutes, back, biceps and forearms)

Instructions

A. Stand with feet hip width apart and grip the barbell shoulder width.

B. Hinge hips back until the barbell is just below your knees while keeping your back straight from head to butt.

C. Pull the barbell towards your sternum, hold for a second and then slowly return barbell to below your knees.

D. Then hinge hips forward keeping the barbell close to your body and squeeze your glutes at the very end of the deadlift. Repeat for your desired repetitions.

Coaching cues

Keep your shoulders down and chest up through the entire movement. The bar should scrap your legs during the down and up portion of the deadlift.

 2. Squat to shoulder press

(Muscles used: Hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, shoulders and triceps)

Instructions

A. Stand tall in your squat stance while holding a barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height.

B. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

C. When rising from the squat, start pressing the weight overhead until your elbow are straight and standing tall.

D. Hold the weight overhead for a count of three and slowly return the weight back to shoulder height. Repeat for your desired repetitions.

Coaching cues

While lowering into the squat, rip the floor apart with your feet and keep your chest puffed out. Use the power of your leg to press the weight overhead and during the hold, keep your biceps by or behind your ears.

3. Walking lunge curl to press

(Muscles used: Hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, shoulders, triceps, biceps and forearms)

Instructions

A. Stand tall while holding a dumbbell in each hand on the outside of your thighs.

B. Step forward into a lunge while leaning your torso slightly forward.

C. Curl the dumbbells to shoulder height and then press overhead while remaining in your lunge stance.

D. Reverse the dumbbell movement and then bring your feet together.

E. Alternate legs for the desired repetitions. Make sure the repetitions are even for each leg.

Coaching cues

If you have no space to walk in the gym, this exercise can be done stationary.  During the lunge make sure your back knee doesn’t touch the ground. By taking a bigger lunge forward you’re working the glutes/hamstrings more and by taking a smaller lunge forward you’re working the quads more.

Wrapping up

Combination moves are a great way to challenge the body as you’re working twice as hard. As a bonus, they will also test your lungs, which is a sure sign of a good time.

Now get after it and have fun.