It’s so weird to be back up north and suddenly have seasons to deal with – namely, winter. So with that, I figured I would defrost my workouts and write about some off-beat ways to focus on conditioning and still make progress while waiting for the snow to melt.
1. Ropes – Both battle ropes and traditional climbing ropes have always been useful to bust through plateaus no matter what the season. If you’re lucky enough to have access to either of these, make them work for you. Rope rows & pull ups with a traditional climbing rope are awesome variations, especially for the challenge in grip and stability. Using both have helped both my deadlift and my pull up numbers increase noticeably. I also love ending workouts with battle rope sessions because they’re high intensity and completely unforgiving. There is also a lot of variety in terms of work:rest ratios and movements.
2. Valslides – I invested in a pair of these bad boys, and they’ve added some major variations in training. They’re awesome because you can bring them anywhere and they fit into any program. I also love putting plates on them and pushing them across the ground. Normally you can get away with pushing the plates without them, but to avoid tearing up the gym floor/rug, the slides help. Plate pushes are great if you don’t have access to a prowler and/or if space is limited – in fact, they’re actually more challenging since they’re so low to the ground. I sometimes throw a couple of sets of plate pushes in at the end of a session or between exercises to keep my heart rate up. I also love adding the valslides to traditional exercises like reverse lunges, lateral lunges, and core work. They’re great add-ins for super sets, or perfect for circuits.
3. Super sets – Since my main goal has been to keep my strength but not increase body fat, most of my weight training has been using some form of a super set or contrast set method. My main goal with this is to do a strength movement (squat, deadlift, etc) followed by a total body cardio movement. For example: KB goblet squats s/s tuck jumps or OH bulgarians s/s snatch jacks. They keep your heart rate going the entire session, and you’re wiped out after 30-40 minutes. Amazing.
4. Treadmill pushes – Use with caution because I’m sure they tear up the machine, but again, if you don’t have access to a prowler, running against the resistance of the treadmill when it isn’t on is FIERCE. It’s a killer interval workout when you can’t get outside – I love running intervals and then finishing with some pushes to absolutely smoke a conditioning session. I typically go about 10-15 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 5-8 reps. I’ve also been experimenting with sprints on the treadmill using an incline of 10 & high speed running for 20 sec on, 40 sec off.
5. Jacobs Ladder- I know they’re not available in every gym, but if you have one, give it a shot. It’s perfect for intervals, and it is MUCH harder than it seems at first. I like the fact that it is a manually controlled total body movement that keeps track of your pace along with the time. Try to hit the same pace each time and mess around with different work/rest ratios (sometimes I just do a simple 1 minute on, 1 minute off, or 1 minute on, 30 sec off for example). It’s just something different from the same old stuff and it is fairly easy on the joints. All good things.
The past few weeks I’ve been preparing to move/moving out of my apartment. For anyone that’s ever moved before – whether its big or small – you know that a mission this really is. BUT fortunately, despite my aching shoulders and poor attitude, it gave me the perfect idea for a blog post. Every box I lifted, every load I carried and every awkward trash bag I tossed made me thankful for the type of training I do on a regular basis. So here are my top 10 moving-related exercises that made this whole thing possible!
1. Deadlift – This pretty much goes without saying, but the number of boxes that were deadlifted and put on trucks, in cars, or in dumpsters this past week made me thankful for every variation of this exercise and the good technique that comes with it. If you don’t deadlift – start. Even if its not heavy, just having the proper technique saves your back a ton in the long run when you have to do something epic, like move your life
2. Cleans & Clean/Overhead Press combinations – Since I’m a staggering 5’3″, the amount of lifting overhead I do in real life is probably more than the average person. Reaching to put things on shelves, for instance, turns into a Herculean effort. Most of the time, the momentum from a good clean & press helps me get the job done – but only because my CNS is used to that movement pattern.
3. Front squats – I included this for a few reasons – mainly the stability gained from the front squat, but also because of the rack position. Being able to hold that position is vital to holding really awkward boxes/loads and putting them on shelves or in cars (aka: in front of you). Front loaded split squats would also be appropriate to include here.
4. Farmers walks – This is another no-brainer. Holding a lot of things in both hands and power walking to the nearest place to drop it has become an Olympic sport for me. I recently added it to my training but I tend to do this on a regular basis with groceries, books, or anything else. Very useful & also helps with your grip.
5. Asymmetrical ANYTHING*** – This is triple starred because OH MY GOD. Even the most innocent looking box will shift and cause complete mayhem (trust me), so being able to stabilize is the most important thing ever. Also, there are a lot of times where something will end up on your shoulder, and another thing in your hand, and you have to walk (and/or probably squat down and pick something else up, because…of course) and being able to balance it all makes you a Gladiator. Asymmetrically loaded step ups, lunges, split squats, farmers walks, etc – they are lifelines.
6. Lateral movement – Being able to stabilize in the frontal plane is also valuable because there are a lot of times, particularly when things get cluttered, that you have to side-step & shimmy around with huge boxes still in your hand. Lateral squats, lunges, step ups, etc – also helps to fight muscle imbalances.
7. Pulls/Presses – These are standard, but very useful, particularly compound movements like overhead presses, push ups, push presses, pull ups, inverted rows, etc. Just being able to activate all those muscles in synchronicity helps avoid a lot of problems & makes you mighty
8. Grip training – This is sort of a by-product of Olympic lifting & pull up variations that you might include in your training, but grip is super important when trying to move awkward things. Being able to carry things when there aren’t convenient little handles is a skill in and of itself, so give yourself a fighting chance and work your grip.
9. STAIRS – loaded, unloaded, walking, running, lateral, backward, whatever – You will encounter stairs. Lots of stairs.
10. Conditioning in general – This is kind of a cop out, but if you’re in generally good shape, you’re still going to be sore as hell after moving. Do yourself a favor and sprint a little.
Anyone have some exercises they would add to the list or fun moving stories for me? Comment!!
Once upon a time, at the beginning of this year to be exact, I set out to accomplish the awesome task of completing 10 unassisted [neutral grip] chin ups. Why? Several reasons: including (but not limited to):
A) Chin ups/Pull ups are bad ass.
B) They help in more ways than I can count [grip strength, core activation, lats/biceps/forearms/etc., energy transfer…..]
C) 10 sounded way better than 7
Now, even though I dominated my first real unassisted chin up a few years ago, I had finally reached a point where I wasn’t improving. I could manage 4-5 with various weights attached to me, I could do assisted and eccentric til the cows came home (which, they never did, so I just kept going) and I could do way too many sets of 5-6 reps with ~1-2 minutes of rest in between, but never more than 7 at a time. Hmmm.
Then it dawned on me. If I wanted to get better at pull ups, I should probably do more pull ups.
I realized that even though chin ups were my goal, I was treating them as an accessory movement and programming them into my workouts 1-2 times per week, [3x if I was really pushing it]. I also took note of the total reps being completed each session and saw that they were all in the ~25-30 rep range. So by the end of each week, I was totaling MAYBE 75 pull ups a week if I was lucky. Granted, I was using different methods (weighted, eccentric, assisted, different rest intervals) but not in the same week. I would go all assisted one week (different reps/sets/rest intervals) then go to weighted, then to bodyweight, and then back to assisted. Each variation still felt challenging and I would make little advances, so I was convinced it was working, but then I would go to test my regular chin ups and be stuck in the same spot. I realized that despite my variations in intensity, I was completing the same number of reps per week and therefore not overloading the movement anymore. SO my evil genius mind got to working…
Practice makes perfect, so if you want to get better at something, practice THAT thing. I changed my programming to focus exclusively on this goal. I was tentative before to overdo it on chin ups because I didn’t want to have angry elbows, tight lats, and/or overtrain my back. But, by varying the intensity, I realized I could cram lots of pull ups/chin ups into one week of training with very little consequence. I also made sure to program some overhead/QL stretches for the tight lats, and included asymmetrical work to keep my upper body balanced.
Each week looked something like this [I am only including the chin ups and not all the other stuff]:
Day 1: Bodyweight pull ups (never to failure – just sets of 5-6 reps) totaling ~45 total for that session. I bumped that up to 50, then 55, then 60, then 65, etc. each time
Day 2: Weighted pull ups (sets of 3-4 reps) totaling ~30 reps, 35, 40, 45
Day 3: Assisted pull ups (sets of 8-10) totaling ~50, 55 (I didn’t go beyond 60 for these – you probably can, but I didn’t)
Day 4: Bodyweight pull ups again (usually if I did sets of 5 on day 1, I would shoot for sets of 6. Sometimes I had it, sometimes I didn’t. This was a chaos day – I would mix the sets to try to achieve 50 any way I could. It was a great challenge)
Each week I would have a total number of reps completed, and for 3 weeks I kept that number increasing, and then by week 4 I would do a mini-deload and go back to week 1 numbers.
Then one magic day, I walked into the gym, walked up to the bar, cranked out 10 in a row, did a little dance (in my head) and that was that.
And that is how my dream came true and I conquered the neutral grip chin up.
Alright, you knew it was coming. This is my PSA to all females out there who are afraid to lift weights and get strong. I’m going to grit my teeth and make this as nice as possible, so just zip your lips and read.
I’m really just so so so so so so tired of hearing the nonsense girls say when it comes to fitness. As usual, I blame the Kardashians…. because I blame them for everything. In reality, though, anyone that endorses those stupid tone-up shoes and has a trainer [Tracy Anderson] that insists: “We don’t want to take away Kim’s amazing curves, so we just do specific movements to tighten the skin and to pull the muscles tight against the bone.” can just fall off the planet. Yes, she really said that (People Magazine – go ahead, click it, and then lets get #ThingsSmarterThanTracyAnderson to trend on twitter)
Guess what? There is no such freaking thing as tightening the skin around your muscles – that’s just gross and weird. Unless you’re talking some serious Nip/Tuck, you will not find that sort of nonsense occurring in the gym. That requires a scalpel and some Frankenstein stuff. Put it out of your mind.
Another thing I need you to forget about is body builders. You are all brainwashed into thinking that lifting weights = body building, and that if you start picking up weights you’re going to start looking like those tan bikini-clad mini-hulks. I’m not saying bodybuilding isn’t bad ass, because it is, but most of us aren’t training for that. To be brutally honest, the extreme amount of dieting, supplementation, discipline and volume of training that it takes to be a bodybuilder is completely out of the relm of possibility for just about all of us…so stop flattering yourself.
Instead of talking about celebrities who aren’t real people, I’m going to make this nice and simple. Did anyone watch the US women’s soccer team over the summer? If you didn’t – go sit in the corner. For the rest of you, did Abby Wambach or Hope Solo look like crazies on steroids? No. Would women kill to be Alex Morgan (or would men kill to be WITH Alex Morgan?) YUP. Do they all lift weights? You better believe it. And I’m talking real weights – not cute little colored dumbbells. They are soccer players. They squat more than you weigh.
Reality check: women do not have enough testosterone to become huge no matter how much they lift – and it does not change with the increasing intensity of your work out. You would need to supplement (legally, or illegally) your face off, and even THEN, you wouldn’t reach the status a man does because of those pesky sex hormones and their fluctuation. In fact, I DARE YOU to try to bulk up. Nia Shanks, author of the Beautiful Badass blog and part of the Girls Gone Strong movement (which you should check out, btw) claims to be so confident that you won’t, that if you start training FOR REAL and you get bulky, she’ll allow you roundhouse kick her in the face. I’m just as confident – so when you’re done kicking her, you can come find me. Be warned: I kick back.
I’ll even use myself as an example. Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I recognize that I’m actually in the minority. I put on muscle easier than most, and everyone knows I train with weights, so a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them they won’t get huge. Fortunately for all you doubters, I have photo evidence. (NOTE: I do not have access to photoshop or any other fancy editing tool and if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use it. All these pictures you can find perfectly untouched on my facebook.) Boom.
Before I lifted heavy weights, my body composition was relatively the same, but with higher body fat. Genetically, I am short and stocky, and I would be whether I decided to play video games, run marathons, or lift weights. I’ve always been a higher size in clothing, and my measurements have only changed slightly over the years. Ironically, though, what ended up happening once I started serious training was my waist size decreased, and so did my arm circumference, even though you can see visible muscles now. This is due to the corresponding decrease in body fat, NOT the excess growth of muscle tissue. Unfortunately, there was no increase in height despite my huge desire to dunk a basketball. Oh well, another life….
Here is a picture of me playing lacrosse during my freshman year of college. Besides playing lax and the occasional (awful) gym workout, I was not particularly in shape. I could do regular body weight push ups, but no pull ups, and I didn’t squat, deadlift, or do anything remotely awesome.
Notice my arm size (this is important) and the presence of a small gut (haha thats just funny).
Now, here I am junior year, after coming back from an ACL injury, completely changing the way I ate and after doing A LOT of heavy strength training. At this point in time I could complete a body weight pull up, over 30 push ups, and I was squatting around my body weight (which at the time was 160).
You’ll see that my broad shoulders are still the same broad shoulders they always were, they didn’t magically appear. My arms, however, are actually slightly smaller, the gut is mainly gone, and my legs have muscles peaking out – muscles that were there already, NOT ones that hypertrophied enough to warrant a jump in pants size. In fact, I dropped quite a few pants sizes between freshman and junior year.
Here is a more recent photo of me taken just a few months ago – at this point I can complete 5 WEIGHTED pull ups, squat 225 for reps and deadlift 235 for reps and you’ll notice that not much as changed in my body composition from 2009 to now. The only thing that has increased is my strength (and therefore, my awesomeness)
So here’s my main message: most of you are smart enough to know that not everything you read in the magazines is the truth. You know that celebrities are photoshopped, you know diet cleanses are stupid, and you know that being skinny isn’t always healthy. Well here’s a new one: women can (and should) lift weights without worrying about getting bulky. Use your brains, because I really want you guys to stop being so afraid to challenge yourself. You’re missing out on AWESOME workouts – and you’re missing out on GREAT accomplishments. No one said you had to enter a powerlifting meet, but I hope that by putting myself out there I have helped you realize that strength is something to strive for, not shy away from.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, or you just want to read into this more, please check out this article: http://www.stumptuous.com/lies-in-the-gym (its absolutely hilarious – if you like what I write, you’ll love this). Also check the blog & videos of Nia Shanks. You’ll thank me for it. And if you ever use the phrase “I just want to get toned” in my presence, I promise I will go out of my way to make you feel bad. 🙂