Tag Archives: exercise

Big Rocks and Show and Go

In the past, I have talked about proper warmup, soft-tissue work, mobility, stability, strength training, flexibility, power (explosiveness), plyometrics, agility and the list goes on.  These are all great characteristics of a sound program but how the hell are you going to fit them all in your 60 minute “no more, no less” workout?

Seriously, if I tried to fit every aspect of training into one of my clients training programs their head would probably start to spin and they would start doing a backwards crawl up the stairs like in The Exorcist.  There is simply not enough time to get it all in and why would you want to?

A good program at some point should have all of these components, just not all at the same time.  It is hard enough to improve on an area of your fitness that may be lagging, nevermind all of them.  So what I tell all of my clients is to prioritize and start with the “big rocks” before starting to remove some of the smaller ones.

When I say big rocks I am talking about the exercises that you suck at.  You know which ones I’m talking about too.  The ones that you have difficulty doing becuase your body just doesn’t want to “move” that way such as deep overhead squats, leg raises, and other mobility exercises.

Hint: Do these first by including them in your warmup.  That way you can’t use the excuse “I didn’t have enough time.” 

For example, lets say you have the hip mobility of a 90 year old woman.  What good is it to avoid doing squats and lunges (or even worse by using the leg extension maching) and ignore lower body training?  A) Your hips are going to get tighter than Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears a Catholic nun.  B) That dysfunction is going to affect other areas of your body such as your head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.

Once you identify and remove the big rocks everything else you do will become cake whether your goal is strength, athletic performance, weight loss, speed, or just overall fitness. 

One program that I swear by for myself and my clients is Eric Cressey’s Show and Go training program.  This program was created for anyone interested in getting stronger, faster, and moving, looking and feeling better. 

Eric provides a progressive 4 month program that includes a 2x/wk, 3x/wk, or 4x/wk option which are each packed with a proper mobility/activation warmup, strength exercises, fat-loss circuits, interval training progressions and tons more.  He also provides a complete exercise database with videos of each exercise along with modifications depending on your fitness level.  This alone is worth the money.

Whats more is the program is completely customizable depending on your ultimate goal whether it is athletic performance, to get stronger, burn fat, get ripped or move better.  The whole time it will be helping you to bulldoze over those big rocks with the addition of effective mobility exercises.

I have seen the results in both myself and my clients and can’t speak highly enough about this program.  ===> Check it out.


Rules for Weightloss

The holidays are a time when most people are “social feasting” as I like to call it  and in doing so creating internal conflict on whether or not to try to stick to a diet during the holidays.  Their usual train of thought is: I’ll just wait until after New Years to make a resolution.

The scary statistic is that 92% of New Years resolutions will fail.  That means only 8% will succeed!  See, I can do math.

Here is some more math, the average American gains .4-1.8 pounds during the holidays and gains 1.2-3.6 pounds per year.  In some cases that means most of your weightgain happens between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Maybe it’s time to put down that reindeer shaped surgar cookie.

How is it that I am single handedly able to consume a 11 pound turkey, small village of Pilgrims, and 2 pumpkin pies  in 3 days and still maintain a 6 pack you might ask?  If you say by doing a million crunches you are going to get an Undertaker tombstone by yours truly.  The truth is I don’t do crunches, I probably spend less time working out than you, and also probably consume more calories.  So what is the secret?

The secret is that there is no secret.  But there are rules that you must follow in order to lose some of that excess gravy and keep it off.  Now, this isn’t a set of rules you should follow sometimes, it is something that you should make a habit if you are serious about getting the body that YOU want.

Here they are:

  1. Take a holistic approach towards diet and exercise.  Have you ever heard the expression “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”?  Numerous studies have shown that a combination of proper nutrition, strength training and cardiovascular exercise is the most efficient way to lose weight both short and long term.  I recommend 1-3 days of bodyweight or resistance training and 2-3 days of cardiovascular exercise to lose weight.
  2. Know your calories.  First and foremost, if you want to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume (a caloric deficit).  This is an absolute must, no exceptions.  The basic way to find your daily caloric consumption for weightloss, multiply your bodyweight by 1.1 -1.3 depending on your exercise habits.  This is your target calorie intake each day, eating too much will prevent weightloss and eating too little will slow your metabolism.  (This number might be lower if you have a high MBI or high percentage of body fat percentage)
  3. Feed your metabolism regularly throughout the day.  Regularly consuming small meals will keep your metabolism revved up and allow you to burn extra calories throughout the day.  Lets say your daily calorie consumption from tip#2 is 1,800 calories per day and you are aiming for 5 meals per day.  You should divide 1,800 by 5 which would give you approximately 360 calories per meal.  Taper your meals throughout the day eating a slightly larger breakfast and a slightly smaller dinner.
  4. Perform whole body exercises.  Research shows that whole body exercises such as squats, lunges, pushups, bodyweight rows, and numerous core exercises that challenge your entire system are the best way to increase your metabolism.  If you are not able to move properly it makes it hard to exercise and in turn lose weight or reach your goals.
  5. Incorporate circuit training into your workouts.  A great way to burn a ton of calories is to perform bodyweight and/or resistance exercises back to back for a certain amount of time or repetitions.  This is known as metabolic training, circuit training or turbulence training.  This type of training is a fun and exciting way to challenge your whole body physically and cardiovascularly and will surely help you reach your goals.  Group training and/or group fitness classes are a great way to get in these type of workouts.
  6. Use interval training to rev up your cardio.  High intensity interval training has been shown to not only increase your cardiovasuclar health but will also help you burn more calories.  I recommend using the bike or rowing machine and starting slow with 10-20 second work intervals and 40-60 second rest intervals and decreasing the work:rest ratio as you become more fit.
  7. Have a program and stick to it.  Would you try to fix your car on your own or would you bring it to a mechanic?  Why wouldn’t you do the same with your body?  I recommend programs such as The New Rules of Weightlifting (for men or women), Core Performance, Maximum Strength, or The Female Body Breakthrough.  You can get most of these books from Amazon for as little as $10-$20.  For a program that is custom tailored to you then I recommend contacting a certified health and fitness professional.
  8. Write it down. One way to see results is to write it down.  Use a journal, a notebook or your Iphone.  Whatever you do, make sure you are writing things down such as your goals, your diet, your exercise program, your weightloss, or maybe even gain.  If you look at things on paper it will help you see where you are going wrong or could possibly improve.

Happy Christmahanakwanzmakuh!

Post any questions, comments, concerns below.  I will answer.

AAAHH!! Real Core Training

Working in a commercial gym I lay witness to some pretty horrific training practices.  Some so terrifying that I have nightmares of pink dumbbell monsters tying me to an eliptical and forcing me to watch Sweating to the Oldies as everyone around me is doing crunches and 1lb bicep curls.  Trust me, I have had this dream before and woke up in a cold sweat.

I know it is part of my job to educate and inform of the benefits and proper practices of exercise and strength training but there are many who are unwilling to trade in their beloved crunches for stability exercises such as planks.  There are some that I have converted to the faith of core training but they have done so begrudgingly.

Now, keep in mind that I am not bashing the crunch.  Just like any exercise there is a time and place as well as a right and wrong way to do it.  The problem is that most people lack the internal hip mechanics to properly perform a crunch as well as neglect their nether region (glutes) to keep their hips in proper alignment.  Most people sit all day in the flexed position and doing crunches may will add insult to injury.

I’m also not saying that the plank is the end-all-be-all for core training either.  Just like the crunch, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.  If your ass is up in the air (insert joke here) then your hips are in that deleterious flexed position and you are neglecting the proper posture.  When I have my clients plank, I make sure that they are squeezing the shit out of their glutes the whole time to maintain alignment and train glute function.  Believe me, this is a whole different ball game.

Now that you know where I am coming from it is time to maybe shift your paradigm a little when it comes to core training.

The first thing that I cannot stress enough is that your 6-pack (or lack there of) is NOT your core.  In actuality, there are two layers.  A deep layer that attaches to your spine and pelvis as well as a superficial layer that is targeted by doing things like crunches.  The deep core muscles which should be your focus are targeted by dynamic and stability exercises as they aid in spinal and pelvic stability.  You mean crunches don’t aid in stability?!  Hmm…

While we are on the subject of your superficial core and 6-pack muscles I cannot stress enough that you ALL have them.  The problem is that they are buried beneath layers  of processed foods, french fries and fried chicken.  Under this premise doing gazillions of crunches is doing little to no help in digging those bad boys out.

Actually, when it comes to core training it is more beneficial to focus on performing 10-15 repetitions with perfect form than to do 100 bobbing-neck crunches on a stability ball (I see this daily and a little piece of me dies each time).  Taking a minimalist approach and focusing on quality over quantity is much better than trying to impress your friends.  Slow controlled movement of the proper muscles will give you the results you are looking for.

Learning how to plank and control stability is only the first piece of the puzzle.  The rest is learning how to use that stability functionally during exercise and activity.  The core needs to be dynamic and ready to handle whatever is thrown at it in any situation to prevent injury and keep you safe.  With that in mind, do you think that just doing crunches or even just doing planks is enough to train your core?

The fact is that there is no single exercise that will train your core better than the next and you must integrate many different core exercises into your program.  There are specific core exercises such as planks, side planks, anti-rotation exercises, cable raises, cable chops, leg raises, and yes even crunches (but only if your good at the other stuff).

What most people don’t realize though is that exercises such as lunges, squats, pushups and deadlifts train your core and posture as well.  It takes a lot of core control and stability to perform these exercises and perform them well.  One of my female clients hit a PR on the deadlift yesterday of 165lbs.  Do you think she has a strong and functional core?  You better f*$#ing believe it!

One of my personal favorite core exercises (besides deadlifting) is the Kettlebell Turkish Getup.  It is one of the few exercises that trains the entire function of the core as well as hip and shoulder stability and control.  You begin lying flat on your back with a challenging weight above head and sequentially move to a standing position with the weight remaining above head.  Here is one of my 47 year old clients performing a getup as part of his metabolic circuit at the end of a session.  Do you think he has a strong core?  It is f*$#ing bulletproof!

A lot has changed in the world of core training in the past decade and even in the past 5 years.  Heck, I think it might be safe to say that the science behind core training has even evolved greatly in the past year.  One thing that has not changed though is the fact that crunches appear to be deleterious to your core if you don’t already have good core function and pelvic control.  I wrote more about that here.

My final question to you is “Has your training evolved?”  I mean, look at your technology: Iphones, laptops, Blueberries, Ipads, and Kindles.  Look how much it has improved over the past 10 years.  Why shouldn’t your core training?

Movement Wisdom

All too often people focus on strength and stability training as a way to improve their fitness and appearance.  But what happens when an individual’s  initial dysfunction is being caused by something other than  a muscular weakness?  What if that supposed weakness is actually muscle inhibition?  What if the weakness in a prime mover is the result of  a dysfunctional stabilizer?  What if tightness is actually protective muscle tone or inadequate muscle coordination?  What if Lindsay Lohan actually went through rehab and got clean?

Hopefully all of these questions have raised a few eyebrows (except the last question….we know that will never happen) because even today, there are very few professionals who look at movement as a standard for human fitness and performance.  The problem is that these sciences may be the key to unlocking the mysteries behind injury and dysfunction in the human body.

My industry as well as others that deal with human movement such as physical therapy, athletic training, chiropractic medicine, and orthopedics seem to be moving towards this direction as our science has evolved over the past decade.

What may seem complex atually takes a minimalist approach as we look at the body and it’s systems as a whole and break it down to the most primitive movement patterns.  The goal here is to allow your body to relearn the movement patterns that were available at birth and work from there.

As an attempt to create an industry standard, Gray Cook’s new book Movement: Functional Movement Systems begins to simplify many of these quandries in an attempt to create standard operating procedures for our science and industry.

I have been following Gray for a few years now and have adopted the Functional Movement Screen or FMS as a standard for working with all of my clients.  Although every one of my client’s goals may be different, the one thing that every human has in common is movement.  Our job is to not only locate faulty movement patterns but to bring back mobility and stability before attempting to build strength on top of dysfunction.

Here are a few pearls of wisdom from this epic book:

    • Pain affects motor control in unpredictable and inconsistent ways.  This, coupled with poorly planned and poorly  reproduced exercises, gave the average patient little chance of reestablishing authentic motor control.
    • What we see as low general fitness may be the extra metabolic demand produced by inferior neuromuscular coordination and compensation.
    • Mobility must precede stability.
    • Those with a weak core might develp tightness in the shoulder girdle or neck musculature as a secondary atempt to continue functioning. 
    • Those with chronic low back pain and stability problems may develop tightness in the hip flexors and hamstrings as secondary braces even if it reduces mobility.
    • As we age, grow and become self-sufficient-and then as we decline and lose some capabilities-we must always maintain some degree of our original functional movement patterns or we will be disadvantaged.
    • Breathing connects all parts of the movement matrix, but it remains the most neglected aspect of the Western approach to exercise, athletic conditioning and rehabilitation….Correct breathing provides power through a central drive of energy supported by the matrix.
    • Once appropriate levels of movement pattern function have been established, performance and skill can be investigated.  If these are prematurely investigated without an appropriate movement pattern baseline, poor performance and skill testes may actually be attributed to a faulty fundamental movement pattern.
    • Many rehabilitation approaches do not revisit the fundamental movement patterns that walking is built upon when older individuals lose balance or have difficultywalking. Instead, many seniors are placed on recombent bikes or given resistance exercises for their thighs under the assumption that weakness is the only problem. 
    • However, we must consider that coordination, patterning, reflex stabilization and timing also play a role, and these will not be reconstructed with generalized strengthening or cardio exercises.

I have barely scratched the surface on some of the wisdom that Movement  has to offer but hopefully this will help cause a paradigm shift on how you view exercise and movement rehabilitation.  As we move closer to a time that is ruled by science and logic, this field will continue to grow and evolve for the betterment of those we work with. 

The sad truth and the largest obstacle that I face is that the media and advertising interests have greater influence on the fitness culture than the professionals dedicated to fithess, athletic development and rehabilitation.  This is the only reason that anyone would ever buy a workout DVD from that asshat “The Situation” or a Kettlebell DVD from “actress” Jillian Michaels.

What is the world coming to?

The 3 M’s of Warmup

If you would have asked my 10 or even 2 years ago what I did to warm up before lifting I would have said either nothing or a few warmup sets before my working sets.  Looking back I believe that this approach is about as useful man with no arms with an itchy ass.

Although there is some validity to doing a few warmup sets I was missing other and potentially more significant aspects.  For one I was only randomly stretching in between sets which I found out years later would cause much male patter tightness from doing heavy bench and leg presses.  The other key ingredient I missed out on was any time of mobility work to help ensure I maintained proper stability and range-of-motion (ROM).

A great analogy to skipping a proper warmup would be starting your car in the dead of winter and hopping on the highway without giving it adequate time to warm up.  It’s a good idea to let the oil circulate and start down the road slow before taking off like a bat out of hell.

I believe that only temporary success can be achieved by taking shortcuts.  To that extent I have put together the 3 Ms of a good warmup:

  1. Movement
  2. Mobility
  3. Muscle Activation (Stability)

“To be ignorant of motion is to be ignorant of nature.” – Aristotle

Gray Cook wrote in his book Athletic Body in Balance that modern science tells us that the brain does not recognize individual muscle activity-it doesn’t need to.  Instead, the brain looks at movement patterns and creates coordination between all the muscles needed.

Movement defines us as humans and athletes and yet we are moving less and less.  We sit at during our commute, sit at a desk at work then go home and sit on the couch to watch prime time T.V. and Sports Center.  Even worse are those who make the effort to go to the gym then sit down on the machines and bikes.  No wonder your hips are tight, your back hurts and your ass is flat and/or fat.

Isolation is all fine and dandy for gaining size and strength but the goal of training should be to improve how the body moves as well.  At the very least we should get the body moving in multiple ways to counteract all the sitting that we do all day.  Allowing your body to move before your workout (whatever it may be) is an integral part to warming up muscle tissue which has been shown to help prevent injury and increase the effectiveness of your workout.

This leads right into the next component which is mobility. Mobility can be described as freedom of movement through the intended movement or exercise without restrictions with strength and stability.  Your body is designed for mobility and due to a mostly sedentary lifestyle, muscles such as your hamstrings and hip flexors become tight and restricted.  Dynamic stretches and mobility work will help these muscles return to their original length to aid in posture, correct techniqe, and to help prevent injuries.

Mobility warm-ups can include soft tissue work, stretching and mobility exercises designed to increase joint ROM.  If you are not mobile during your workout, the risk for injury significantly increases.

Personally, I begin every workout by spending time on soft tissue work such as foam rolling and using other implements such as a soft tissue or tennis ball.  Not only are you enhancing the quality of the tissue but you are on the ground and moving.  Next, I include several mobility and/or flexibility exercises focusing on generally tight areas such as the hip flexors.

These exercises might include:

  • Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch or mobilization
  • Spiderman lung with overhead reach
  • Wall slides
  • Split squats
  • Leg swings

The final hallmark of a proper warm-up is muscle activation in which I will include stability work.  There are varying studies on whether or not muscle activation is necessary or even beneficial when done prior to a workout.  My own personal belief which stems from what I have seen with my own clients is that by warming up the stabilizers such as the glute medius prior to doing an exercise such as the squat will cause them to fire more efficiently.

I included stability in this category not only to make your exercise more efficient but to also aid in injury prevention.  If your smaller stabilizers are not doing their job then your prime movers are likely to take over causing a certain amount of stiffness.  If that made no sense to you then keep this in mind: if you are stiff during your workout you could end up like this guy

Some great muscle activation warm-ups include:

  • Lateral Mini-Band Walks
  • Shoulder-Tap Pushups
  • Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Overall, a proper warm-up should take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on your workout, time, and current abilities.  Your in the gym to move and feel better so a solid base is essential to your overall success and longevity.

Exercise of the Week: Sumo Deadlifts

If you all haven’t been able to tell yet I am a big advocate of lifting heavy things for a set number of reps and thus am an even bigger proponent of the deadlift.  As a strength coach, one of my main jobs is to get people stronger (duh) and there are not many lifts that compare to the deadlift for measuring overall strength.  Starting out though, there may be some people who do not possess the proper flexibility to get into the proper setup for a conventional deadlift.  Also, working with all types of clients I have found that some people are mechanically at a disadvantage from the start due to the relative length of their femurs and/or arms.  In this case I use the sumo deadlift.

The big difference between a conventional deadlift and a sumo deadlift is the stance and more specifically the position of the feet and legs.  Picture a large (very large) half-naked Japanese man setting up to do battle with another very large half naked Japanese man.  Sexy huh?

The Benefits:

  1. Strengthen your back, legs, hips, and forearms.
  2. Grip strength.
  3. Teaches you how to pick up heave objects off the floor without screwing up your back.

The Setup:

  1. Your feet should be positioned wider than shoulder width with your toes pointed out.  I have seen this done multiple ways so you will have to do some experimenting to figure out what works best for you.  I have seen obnoxiously long stance with the toes pointed straight out. I myself prefer a comfortable “reasonably wide” stance with my toes pointed out at about 45 degrees.
  2. NOTE: make sure the bar is close to your shins.
  3. Keep your chest “tall”, get your air and keep your abs braced (as if you were going to get punched in the stomach)
  4. Instead of squatting down, focus on pushing your hips back as far as possible so you can “sit” in the stance.
  5. Keep your shoulder blades back and down (I tell people to visualize putting your shoulder in your back pocket) to engage your lats and activate your thoraco-lumbar fascia to stabilize your spine.
  6. NOTE: you should feel tension in your hammys at this point.
  7. Keep your chin tucked and you should find a spot on the floor about  10-15 feet in front of you and stay focused on it.

The Pull:

  1. Keep your core tight and drive through the heels, pulling the bar with your elbows locked.  Shoulders should still be back.
  2. DO NOT: bring your hips up first!
  3. Your hips and shoulders should rise simultaneously while keeping the bar close to your body.
  4. NOTE: remember to slowly breath out while lifting.  Think: hissing by letting the air out of a tire.
  5. Finish in the lockout position by firing your glutes and getting your hips into extension.  Many people fail here but it is very important.

The Descent:

  1. This part is very important as I see many people finish a great set then finish by bending over at the lumbar spine.
  2. To descend, start at the hips and push your but back (just like in the setup) while maintaining a slight arch in your lower back.
  3. Breaking with your hips rather than your knees (the knees can bend, don’t confuse this) and keeping the bar in contact with your body control the weight back to earth.

A Few Recommendations:

  1. You should pull frequently but only pull heavy once a week or once every other week.
  2. Find and fix your weaknesses whether it is your back, your shoulders, your glutes, or your core.  I wrote an article on this a few months ago.
  3. Go barefoot.  Your body will learn better neurologically and you will get better ankle mobility.  I think barefoot is the way to go but flat soled shoes work just as well.
  4. Get your ass into the picture by doing extra hip extension work such as glute bridges and barbell hip thrusts.
  5. Do speed work such as speed deadlifts or kettlebell swings.

My own deadlift PR stands at 405 lbs and is slowly rising.  If you want to get stronger then I recommend a great program such as 5-3-1, westside barbell, and Eric Cressey’s Maximum Strength which I highly recommend for beginners.

Happy sumo deadlifting!

Q & A: The Cleanse

Q: I have been wondering about cleanses lately- they seem to be very popular but are there actually any health benefits?  Aren’t you just better off not eating crap like processed foods?



A: Just to clear the air before I get into my feelings on cleanses, I want to state once again that I am not a nutritionist nor have I ever done a cleanse.  To that extent, the rest of this post is going to be purely opinion juiced up with some research that I am doing as I type this post.

First off, there are many types of cleanses, many of which include “fasting” of some sort and make all sorts of extravagant claims.  I’ve seen shakes, fruit only cleanses, lemon juice cleanses, herbal cleanses, and other magical potions that are supposedly aimed at banishing the evil colon trolls that inhabit your intestines.

The first thing I ask my clients or others who ask me if they should do a cleanse is whether or not they actually know what a cleanse is.  What is a cleanse supposed to do?  What are you cleansing?

I usually just get some silly response like it is going to help detoxify me followed by a blank start.  Cue crickets.  Or one of my other favorites is it removes all the gunk that builds up in my intestines over the years.  For one, how do you know there is anything built up in your intestines?  Simply eating plants should help take care of that but who am I to judge?

Another one of my favorites are the cleanses that promote fasting as part of their regimen.  Right off the bat you’ll notice that some of these cleanses include calories.  Ding, ding, ding.  McFly.  Fasting is supposed to imply that you are not eating and therefor not taking in calories.

“So I went on this fasting cleanse where I only drank one glass of maple syrup each day for one week and I could feel the stickiness pulling out all the bad things from my insides.”

WTF people?!  Are we really in an age where we believe everything we read without googling the subject or finding the answer in a research journal?  I mean this is something that is going to seriously impact your health so get off Facebook for 5 minutes and do a little bit of research.

The all-fruit cleanse is another one that I am skeptical about as it has you only eating fruits and fruit juices for 7 days.  In a culture that already has a sweet tooth lets feed you nothing but sugar.  What I believe that is promoting is your body to crave sugar.

One of the biggest problems that I see with most of the cleanses is that they are almost completely devoid of any type of protein which is an important part of our daily dietary needs.  If you persist with depriving yourself of protein your body will not be able to create enough amino acids to maintain your muscle tissue.  This means you may be looking quite starved and wasted by the time you have finished your cleanse.  Unless emaciated is the look you are going for I suggest sticking to good old fashioned whole food.

So instead of looking for a quick fix for all the processed foods you put in your body how about you just stop putting processed foods in your body?  I for one would rather stick to food than not eat and drink a shake that tastes like baby vomit and fermented peas.

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