In Part 1 we talked about why I hate machines as the main component of any training program – if you haven’t read that, you need to (don’t worry, we’ll wait.)
Now, here are some suggestions [read: laws] for making your strength training routine safe and fierce.
- Split stance & single leg anything
- Training unilaterally (one side at a time) vs bilaterally (both sides) is a great variation for beginners, but is also something that shouldn’t be neglected by advanced lifters. A lot of people have very tight hips, ankles, and thoracic spines which makes squatting and other bilateral activities VERY difficult to achieve successfully from the beginning. Athletes also have a tendency to be asymmetrical for a lot of reasons, particularly if they have a dominant side. The split stance is a GREAT alternative because it teaches the proper pattern, establishes balance, strengthens the right muscles, and increases mobility [its like magic, except real]. Basically it is very hard to screw up and still gets the job done. Examples of these include (but are not limited to) the split squat, lunge variations, step ups, and single leg squats. You can also use this same approach with upper body work including single arm chest presses and single arm db rows – particularly if you notice that one side is weaker than the other.
Major points: the knee of the front leg doesn’t cross the toe (forms a 90 degree angle when flexed), the back knee hovers above the ground but doesn’t touch, and the arms remain straight – squeeze your shoulder blades together like you’re trying to keep a marble lodged between them. For the split squat, the movement is up and down, for a lunge, it is obviously forward or backward.
This following photo is a split-stance reach – it helps teach the proper hip hinge technique on both sides and is the foundation for many exercises. It is great for a dynamic warm up and provides a killer hamstring stretch.
Notice the neutral spine position (no arch or curve) – truthfully, my torso should be more parallel to the ground but I only had 3 seconds to run into position 😉 Also: you want your hips to remain FLAT (aka no tilting to one side – we are not swimming and gasping for air a la Michael Phelps)
2. Overhead movements
- Putting the arms overhead is a great way to increase flexibility throughout the latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis and pectoralis muscles while simultaneously activating the mid & lower trapezius. In most people, including athletes, these muscles are common problem areas due to posture or overuse of the internal rotators. Using a split stance position while putting the arms overhead allows for more mobility through these areas than you would achieve bilaterally. The added bonus of using overhead movements? It can create a huge challenge for the dynamic stabilizers of the trunk (these are an abdominal workout worth doing). Try holding both arms up in the air while doing lunges – even without weight, the change in the center of gravity will illustrate my point. (refer to the above photo as an example)
3. Combination moves
- Wish you could have your cake and eat it too? (which is a stupid expression, if I have cake, I’m going to eat it, that’s the point) – but in terms of your workout, where cake is not an option, the next best thing is a movement that combines patterns and uses a lot of different muscles. Whether you’re looking for calorie blasting moves, or you’re just trying to be more dynamically efficient, these are awesome. This is where you can get creative – some of my favorites are the step up into a reverse lunge, the split squat into a push press, or if you’re really really awesome – the burpee into a jump pull up. yes please.
4. Plank variations
- Contrary to popular belief, the point of your “core” is to keep your spine stable during motion- not to constantly flex your lower back. The best way to build a solid foundation is to master different variations of the plank exercise. The good ol “hold the plank position for as long as possible” is great, but its not the only way. There are a lot of progressions that are great for every training program. Try getting into the plank position, reaching out your hand, and tapping it on the ground 10x. Then switch hands. Then each foot. All while keeping your spine neutral and your hips straight.
Again notice the flat spine – you achieve this by keeping your chest elevated, squeezing those shoulder blades together, sucking in your stomach and squeezing your glutes. Also, my legs aren’t touching the ground – my shorts are just baggy 😉
The athlete’s plank is the most challenging variation – you want to maintain a neutral spine and keep your hips flat while dynamically changing the center of gravity. The leg and arm shouldn’t cause your back to hyperextend – you want to remain in a straight line. The wider your stance, the easier it is to maintain. I kept my feet just outside of my hips in this example, which is a good place to start for this one. The stronger you get, the narrower the stance should be.
Currently I have some variation of all of these things in my training program. I spent a lot of time last semester working bilaterally on deadlifts, front squats and hang cleans, so for the next couple of weeks, I’m focusing on fixing some imbalances and changing up my routine.
Videos will be up in the next few weeks when I get back to Miami and have some assistance, but until then, give these moves a try. Thanks to everyone who has hit me up with feedback – please keep it up, and share this blog 🙂