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Exercise As Punishment

I’m annoyed.

Sometimes it is such an uphill battle fighting all the nonsense in the fitness/nutrition world that I just want to wave my white gym towel and say ‘Ok biggest loser…you win’. Obviously, I won’t ever do that, but the things people put on the internet – and worse, what people follow and share – is just mind boggling.

Take this little gem, for example.

Really?

Now, to be fair, this truly looks harmless enough. It gives a realistic look at what the calories in these items are comparable to, and sometimes that is necessary when deciding if something is really “worth it”. AND, frankly, the items listed are definitely treats that shouldn’t be consumed 24/7. But that’s as far as the compliments go.

First of all, whether we realize it or not, this attitude and behavior is the beginning of a very slippery slope to food restriction and over-exercising. If you literally think in terms of how many minutes you need on the stairclimber per piece of pizza, do you really think it will stop there? Every time you see a calorie label, your brain is automatically going to convert it into some ridiculous exercise plan that is going to have you going above and beyond the necessary (and safe) recommendations. Not to be offensive, but it is SO easy to rationalize poor decisions and putting junk in your body if you use exercise as your “morning after” pill.

Further, we are humans – not animals. And, contrary to popular belief with all this Paleo nonsense, I’m willing to bet most of us aren’t struggling to survive between meals. This adds an important component in regards to diet and exercise. You have control over what you eat, how much you eat, and why you’re eating it. You’re also in control of what you like to do for activity and what makes you happy. Using exercise as a “guilt trip” makes you resent food, and view working out as a punishment instead of something that can make you empowered and all around awesome. As well meaning as these charts might be, this really promotes the wrong kind of thinking. Dogs use the reward/punishment system. A brain as sophisticated as a human’s should be beyond that.

Lastly, just because you DO indulge occasionally, does not mean you have ruined all your efforts in the gym. This is a journey, and it doesn’t get ruined by a few cookies. It is so easy to get sucked into such negative thinking (ahem- refer to the above chart) when really you should be feeling proud of your efforts each and every time you eat something healthy, or spend time getting active. If you really made an effort to count your triumphs instead of your failures, by the end of the month, you’d actually see progress. This progress might inspire more progress, and then before you know it, you’re setting higher goals.

I’m just a big fan of everything in moderation. I also can’t stress enough that no matter what they look like on tv or on the competition stage, compensating social activity and occasional indulges for strict caloric intake and aesthetics is not healthy either. There are a lot of extremes out there, and too often we fall for them and then punish ourselves when we can’t keep up with ridiculous standards. Instead, take a step back, and start appreciating your body and yourself. Find people that motivate you, but don’t tear you down. And PLEASE don’t eat cookies and then do jumping jacks, because nobody wants to clean up after you.

Behind the scenes programming: #StrengthCoachProblems

Putting together a training program can be a daunting task, even when you know what you’re doing.  You can write the greatest program in the world, with every awesome exercise in the PERFECT ORDER ….but its almost a guarantee that you’ll be forced to deviate from it at some point.  That goes for anyone, whether you’re programming for yourself, a client, or a whole gaggle.

My peeps

There are tons of things to throw you off course: equipment (or lack of), weight room/gym hours, illness, crazy schedules…or, with teams: attendance (this is a big one with high school kids), coach’s requests, varying degrees of ability, small groups/big groups, etc.  Since punching most of these things in the face is not an option, you have to be flexible. When I finally wrote the workouts for lacrosse last semester, I had to make a lot of adjustments to accommodate the restrictions.  I wanted to share some of my experiences with this because too many times the emphasis is placed on “ideal” without a concept of “reality” – and part of being a coach/trainer/teacher is being able to adjust on the fly.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) since there is not a head strength coach at the high school, I was able to have full control over the days we worked out and the program I wanted the kids to follow.  It was cool because I already knew a lot of their strengths and weaknesses, so I went in there with a few clear goals.

The most important ones for our team were:

  1. Injury prevention/Technique – This should be the same no matter WHO is running the show, but I’m mentioning it anyway.  I have a group of high risk athletes, and a lot of them haven’t done proper strength training before.  It was important to me to assess them, teach them, and then have them doing exercises that would hopefully prevent major non-contact injuries.
  2. Dynamic movements – I wanted them to learn some dynamic warm ups and get used to the idea of preparing for a workout WITHOUT static stretching (see earlier posts).  Having them slowly get used to this idea would make for a smoother transition in the spring when the season starts. A-skips and walking lunges seem great *and easy* in theory, but if you’ve ever had inexperienced kids try to perform them…. its a hot mess. There’s a definite learning curve here.
  3. General conditioning – Both weight training days and field days had a component of conditioning built in.  I either programmed some metabolics after they lifted, or finished the field days with some form of interval training.  Lacrosse requires less endurance than soccer, but because of the number of speed changes and change of direction movements that occur, conditioning is a huge component.
  4. Variety of agility – I started every field session started with a few agility drills.  It is really important to program the agilities before anything else since they are the most neurologically demanding component of the program.  You don’t want them fatigued trying to cut sharply because A) the technique is atrocious [more than usual] and B) it just puts them at a higher risk for injury.  I had them doing T drills, L drills, short cone suicides, box drills, etc.  Simple but very effective and I was able to monitor technique.  We incorporated backward shuffles, lateral movements and also complete change of direction into these as well.

Now, logistically, I had a small group of girls – probably about 5-8 each session consistently – which worked out in my favor given the size of the weightroom and the lack of equipment.  The rest of the team plays soccer (a winter sport in sunny florida), so their conditioning and agility prep is already implied.  We spent 2 days in the weight room and 2 days on the field at the beginning, then, because of various school functions and vacation days, we transitioned to 2 days outside and 1 day in the weightroom.  Since I had to cut a day, I decided that the lacrosse specific movements/conditioning were more important at that point.  They were still able to do a lot of the dynamic/corrective work outside, so the important “prehab” stuff was still incorporated.

On weight room days, I programmed 2 tri-sets of corrective dynamic exercises for their warm up: all of the girls had similar issues [lateral sway in the hips, weak upper back, tight hamstrings, knees caving in, etc] so they were all able to perform these together as a group.  I had plank variations, split stance reaches, QL stretches, Y’s/T’s, single leg hip raises, etc.

Then it got crazy.  The 2 squat racks in the weight room are those ridiculous Hammer Strength/Smith machine contraptions (which, if you don’t know what these are, they are basically the US Air of equipment…. aka: a failure).

useless air

Knowing this, and also by seeing the issues the team had, I programmed almost exclusively unilateral lifts (overhead bulgarian split squats, step ups, various lunges, etc) and then used the excess amount of benches we had to do incline push ups.  The “squat” racks were used to do inverted rows and the pull up bars were used to do eccentric pull ups. It was all fine and good on paper, but when the girls were actually in there, it was like a traffic jam.

What else is new?

I had to change some of the pairings so no one would be standing around waiting for equipment.  I decided to partner them and go by stations.  I put 2-3 exercises per station using the same equipment (for example: bulgarians using the bench, push ups using the bench, then step ups using the bench).  I was lucky because we weren’t doing anything super heavy, so exercise order, while important, wasn’t as crucial as it might be any other time.  I knew going in that the workouts would be total-body focused, so there was no body part splits or other issues to deal with.  They needed to learn how to use their bodies as a unit, not in isolation, so for our goals this approach made the most sense.  It also gave me a lot of flexibility AND cut down on unnecessary “rest” time, which incorporated a bit of a conditioning.  I just had to be cautious about which exercises were more time consuming than others (step ups since they are done one leg at a time clearly take longer than push ups) so it was just something else to consider when making the stations.

The final part came at the end with a more conditioning focused circuit.  Typically I’d split the girls in half and have one group go through circuit A and the other through circuit B and then switch.  These were quick, intense, and used minimal equipment.  I had them do lateral jumps/skaters, snatch jacks, burpees, body weight squats, etc.  Sometimes I’d throw in a med ball to make it interesting, but I tried to keep it simple and effective.  This was a crowd pleaser since they were able to race each other through, which made it a “team” activity while keeping it intense.  Game on.

Exactly

As much of a self proclaimed meathead as I am, my favorite days were actually the field days.  I had more space, and all I needed for equipment was a few cones.  Agilities are one of my favorite things – you’re really only limited by your creativity.  This was also so much easier to plan – I would just split the group in half and have two drills going simultaneously.  I like to make them go through each one 3-4x: Why? I just noticed that after 4, they get tired/lazy/bored with it, but 2 times isn’t really enough.  After the agility section, I’d have them go through the main conditioning portion.  They ran field sections using the soccer field (sprint one, jog 3, sprint 2, jog 2, sprint 3, jog 1, sprint all 4) on some days, and various sprint distances on other days.  Then they’d finish with some stretching.

All in all these sessions took about 35-45 minutes, and the weight room sessions about 50-60.  If you’re efficient, you shouldn’t have to train for more than an hour.  Anything longer than that and the kids get lazy/tired and their attention span is out the door.  Even if its just a 30 minute session but its at a high tempo and you get your work done, it is ten times more effective than a 3 hour block of torture.  I also didn’t do anything fancy – as much as I wanted to try to teach them really cool things, I needed to be practical.  You have to take into account the learning curve and if its really worth spending a ton of time learning one complicated move.  For my purposes, having them execute the basics at a high level was more important.

Obviously it is all a learning experience and some days went a lot smoother than others – but in the end, it was really successful.  My advice: write down everything, including notes AFTER a workout.  This is where I was able to make the best adjustments because I could see exactly where things needed to be changed and then could go in the next session with a better plan.  Even if you’re just programming training sessions for yourself, take notes of the sticking points – not just your performance.  Did you use too much equipment?  Did the circuit flow the way you wanted it to?  If the gym is crowded, do you have an alternative?  It seems tedious, but trust me, it makes a huge difference.

Lab Rats Can’t Squat – Research vs Practicality

For the first few years of my college career, I was overwhelmed with scientific information related to exercise science, kinesiology, and anatomy.  Research papers from all these notable scientists, physiology terms that made me nervous, and concepts that seemed way beyond the scope of my intelligence.  While I can obviously look back now and understand it a lot better, one of the most frustrating things in this field is the disparity between research studies & actual results.

Right dere???

Now this isn’t a rant against science (not completely anyway 😉 but it is a comment on how terms like “CLINICALLY PROVEN” and “SCIENTIFIC METHODOLOGY” need to be taken with a grain of salt.  I’m not even talking about the usual suspects (Hydroxycut, dexitrim, anything with a before & after picture, etc..those aren’t even worth my time…) but I’m talking about real, legitimate research.  Most of these studies, especially ones in notable publications like the American (or European) Journal of Physiology provide great insight into physiological mechanisms, but the results have a tendency to get grossly generalized.  You’ll see a lot of people out there writing articles and using research to back it up – which is great, because it seems to “legitimize” their theories – but how do you know what’s bogus and what’s for real without pulling your hair out over little details?

This is one of my favorite examples that a professor of mine uses every year when introducing research papers for discussion- and I’m sure a few of you have heard it too.  In the attempt to avoid correlation, he shows us a graph like this:

hide ya kids, hide ya wife

Clearly, based on the research, we see a rise in murder rates that seem to correspond with the sale of ice cream.  From this, it seems reasonable to conclude that ice cream causes murder…or at least contributes to it, right?  (Another case against sugar haha).  However – what are other factors here?  Ice cream sales tend to go up in the summer.  Know what else goes up in the summer?  Temperature.  Murder rates tend to rise when people are hot and bothered (and not in the good way).  See the variability?  It seems like a preschool example, but SO MANY TIMES I see people jump to the same absurd conclusions.

“These people showed insane increases in strength using the leg press.  EVERYONE MUST LEG PRESS!”

“But these people were beginners and had no strength whatsoever and had never trained before”

“LEG PRESS ONLY IT SAYS IT IN THE RESEARCH”

“but..neurological factors…beginners…”

“RESEARCH!!”

etc.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.  For a more appropriate example, let’s take something we discussed in a class of mine earlier this week.  It is commonly accepted in the research that interval training > long slow distance training, particularly when looking at improvements in VO2max.  But, is it REALLY fair to compare these modalities?  In a word, no.  The way we quantify training load (intensity x duration x frequency) is skewed with these two types of training.  You might run the same number of miles, but the duration and intensity are completely different.  So, when it comes to training load, it is almost like comparing apples to oranges.

advantage orange

 

Now, I know about energy system manipulation and I’m a huge fan of interval training, particularly for sports performance, but I’m not arguing which is right or wrong.  I’m just pointing out that there is a lot of variability here for us to jump to conclusions.  From an anecdotal perspective (which shouldn’t be discounted, because if it works, you should do it): a lot of endurance runners seem to feel that LSD training takes longer to achieve improvement, but these improvements seem to remain longer vs interval training which develops faster, but gets lost faster.  This isn’t confirmed by research, but is an interesting point.  Why else would runners that use primarily LSD training (i.e. Kenyans) be so successful? Just a thought.

 

 

It wasn’t until my senior year of college where I actually started interning with teams, coaching my own teams & training clients other than myself that I started to REALLY notice the gap between what the textbooks say and what individual results dictated.  There were times when scheduled de-load weeks were premature for some clients and too late for others.  There were times when clients who had very few issues during assessments couldn’t do simple exercises.  There were times when equipment issues caused me to change my programming, and I ended up with even better results than I had planned for.  Some clients could be pushed into the ground, and others I could barely train without some sort of issue.  It would frustrate me because a lot of people around me would be freaking out about “doing it by the book” and that simply wasn’t possible for me every single time.  While I think a lot of textbooks, articles and research papers lay the blueprint for success – and you should adhere to them as much as possible as a beginner – you can’t just be a drone.  You have to be aware of your surroundings, your capabilities, and your teams/clients individuality.

In the end, I’m a huge advocate of staying up to date on current trends and appropriate research, but the most beneficial pieces of advice I’ve received have been from people with true “under the bar” experience.  You can’t argue with concrete evidence (i.e. actual experiences), so don’t freak out the next time something doesn’t work exactly according to “plan”.  The human body is more complex than a lab rat- and FYI: lab rats can’t squat.

getting ripped bro

Dynamic Warm up – part 2!

There are a million ways to approach the dynamic warm up but let’s be real – its a quick 5-10 minutes in your work out, and therefore, the mental brain power it takes to write one shouldn’t tax you for the rest of the day.

My favorite ways to approach it are as follows:

1. Don’t get married to this number, but usually 6 exercises written in tri-sets and performed in a circuit style are great.  Depending on your issues, you can focus on one area a little more, but generally speaking, going through both these circuits 2-3 times before each workout goes a long way.  It also takes about 5-7 minutes, which is an appropriate time for a warm up.

2. Just like with anything else, start simple.  We didn’t go from crawling to sprinting, so take it down a notch.  Start with your exercises from the floor, then progress to exercises that are standing, then finally add the multijoint movements.  All 3 can be in the same dynamic warm up, but if you’re unsure, this is an easy way to categorize where moves should go.

  • ALSO: be mindful of your equipment.  If you know you’re going to use plates, bands or dumbbells in your warm up, try to group all the plate moves together, all the band moves together and all the DB moves together so you’re not scrambling for pieces of equipment in between exercises. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes we get over ambitious thinking about everything else that we forget stupid little things.  This is a fun tip that applies for the bulk of your workout as well – if you know you’re going to do a circuit in a crowded gym, you might want to consider this in your programming.  It isn’t “wrong”, it is just realistic.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to change my “perfect” program on the fly just because of space & equipment issues.  Save yourself the stress and plan ahead.

3. When possible, pick moves that cover multiple issues in one.  The more you can get from one exercise, the better.  For example: let’s say you have tight hamstrings, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi and internal rotators (aka you’re human).  Instead of doing walking leg kicks (frankensteins) for the hamstrings, you can do a walking lunge with an overhead reach into straight leg stretch. This takes care of MOST of those issues in one simple exercise. I have a whole bunch of these that I program simply because they are time efficient and work.

For more tips & ideas, check out this post from Eric Cressey.  He always has great mobility drills – a lot of which I’ve taken for my own program & for the lacrosse girls.

http://www.ericcressey.com/6-characteristics-good-dynamic-warm-up

I wasn’t able to film my whole warm up, but I did share a two of my favorites.  I used to have very tight hamstrings, lats and hip flexors (specifically the rectus femoris, which is the quad muscle that crosses the hip).  Aka this bad boy:

Rectus femoris muscle

With that in mind, I programmed a few drills into my warm up that have made me feel ten times better.

This is one I got from EC (yes, I’m still filming from photo booth – I was invited to the Golden Globes but I had to decline)- For this one, be sure to keep your chest up. (Even higher than I did, I’m leaning forward slightly)

This one I just combined the inchworm with a hip mobility drill (on tile, in socks, which added an extra stability component for your enjoyment)

Hope this helps – I’ll be posting better videos ASAP with the help of some friends.  Let me know if there’s some stuff you wanna see!

Real women lift REAL weights (3 lb dumbbells need not apply)

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)

Rock > Tracy Anderson

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.

Alex Morgan

Abby Wambach

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.

Me in 2007

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).

Me in 2009

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)

Me in 2011

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. 🙂

“Rage” part 2!

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.

  1. 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.
This is a photo set of what an overhead split squat might look like. (yes, this was taken in the house using photo booth. What do you do with YOUR free time?)

overhead split squat

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.

split stance reaches

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.

plank taps

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 😉

athlete's plank

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 🙂