Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Tools for Getting Big

Sorry it's been so long in between posts the last few weeks.  I've had to put a lot of the time I normally spend blogging into prepping and programming for my joint venture with the Jiu-jitsu school.  We've got some really exciting things in the works, and it's taking quite a bit of my time right now.

Anyway, let's take a look at the tools you need for getting big.  One of the key differences between lifting to get strong and lifting to get big is that isolation of some individual "show" muscles becomes important.  To assist in this, it is important to add some dumbbells to the list of equipment we bought for getting strong.

The dumbbells will allow you to add in some unilateral exercises like single arm dumbbell: rows, bench presses, overhead presses.  They will also allow you to get some better curl variations like reverse, hammer and Zottman.

For home dumbbell purchases, I like to recommend the power block, if you can swing it.  They are expensive, but you'll be set for life with a full range of dumbbells from 5 - 90 lbs. in 5 lb. increments.

If the power blocks don't fit into your budget, I recommend that you start with 3 sets of dumbbells.  Pick a weight that you can curl for 5 reps, overhead press for 5 reps and bench press for 5 reps.  Once you grow out of a weight, pick up a pair of plate mates to save some dough.  This way you can reduce the total number of dumbbells you need to purchase.

Until next time:

Train smart; eat right!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Exciting Announcement

I'm very pleased and proud to announce that I will be working with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Juliano "Banana" Coutinho to help him prepare for his first MMA fight.  Juliano recently placed first in his weight class in grappling at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH.  He holds his black belt under Daniel Gracie, and is the owner of The Daniel Gracie Academy of Cape Cod, located in Hyannis, MA.

MMA presents a new challenge to Juliano's conditioning, as it is much more explosive and involves many more muscle groups than the jiu-jitsu that he is used to.  I am excited at the opportunity to help Juliano rise to meet this new challenge.

I will also be working with Juliano's classes to revamp their warm-up process, making it both more efficient and and more sport specific, as well as providing some conditioning work one night a week as part of the class.

Juliano and I are also in the process of putting together plans to expand his studio to include a conditioning room where I will work with both fighters and non-fighters to improve their strength, conditioning and body comp.  There will be times for private sessions, as well as open gym time, with coaching.

Juliano has developed a great environment at his school, and I am looking forward to helping him enhance that even further, while expanding the services he provides to his members.  We are also looking to open the conditioning area up to new members, who may not be interested in the fighting side of the business, but would like to do their strength and conditioning training in a small, supportive, family environment, where expert coaching is provided at no extra charge.

Train smart; eat right!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Tools for Getting Strong

Honestly, this couldn't be any more simple. The number 1 tool for getting strong is the barbell. If you want to get really strong, you can't mess around with this purchase. You are going to need to be deadlifting, cleaning, squatting and pressing. You need a full size olympic bar with the large diameter plates. The 45# plates that come with this bar are going to set you up at the right height off the floor for your deads and cleans, and no other bar is going to support the kind of weight you are going to be lifting a year from now.

The second most important tool for building strength (and this comes before a bench or a squat rack) is a pull-up bar. You are going to need to match all of the pressing strength you'll build with the barbell with some pulling strength.

Once you have your barbell and pull-up bar, you can go ahead and buy yourself a bench and a squat rack. For the novice lifter, these four tools will keep you busy for the next 3-5 years before you even need to think about making another purchase.

Train smart; eat right!

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Fat Burning Tools

In a previous post, I addressed the difference between using exercise equipment effectively and ineffectively.  The next logical question is when looking at different exercise goals, what are the best tools for each specific goal.  I consider myself an equipment minimalist and am always looking to see how I can get the most bang for my buck with my equipment purchases.  For the purposes of this series of posts, I'll be addressing the four most common fitness goals and the equipment that correlates to each.  The goals are:

  1. Get Lean.
  2. Get Strong.
  3. Get Big.
  4. Get Athletic.

Today, we'll start with "Get Lean."  Many people feel they need to join a gym to get results from a fat burning program.  They think that the access to all the machines is going to get them in better shape faster.  THIS COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.

In fact, all the equipment in the average globo-gym is exactly what is preventing many people from achieving the fitness they desire.  Fat loss is driven by short, super-intense workouts.  This requires you to use as much muscle mass per exercise as possible.  This is impossible if you are moving from one machine to the next on a gym designed circuit.  These machines are specifically designed to isolate individual muscle groups.  They are the enemy of fat burning.

For a solid fat burning program, you need three pieces of equipment. 

  • Pull-up bar that is 1 inch higher than you can reach from your tip-toes
    • Cost:  <$10 for a piece of pipe, 2 2' 1x2's and hardware to screw into ceiling joist in basement or garage.
  • A pair of dumbbells anywhere from 15 to 30 lbs. in weight (depending on your strength levels)
    • Cost  approximately $25 at your local sporting goods store.
  • An open section of flooring 4' x 8'.
    • Cost FREE!

Your total cost here is less than 1 month's gym membership!

Now this is not to say that you will not find other pieces of equipment valuable, but anything else is a luxury.  Having too much, or the wrong types of equipment is only going to hamper you in achieving your goals.

If you really wanted to go all out, you could add:

  • A medicine ball (6 - 8% of your bodyweight is a good weight to start with)
  • A kettlebell (10 - 20% of your bodyweight is a good weight to start with)
  • A sand bag with 60 - 100 lbs. of sand

All of this can be kept in a closet or garage and can be purchased for less than the cost of a 3 month gym membership.  It will also give you plenty of variety in your fat burning workouts.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Want Abs!

So I started teaching a new small group class at a local high school last week. As always, when doing a class, I asked for feedback from the members before, during and after the session. This gives me an opportunity to assess there knowledge level (how educated are their questions and comments?) as well as to probe about their individual goals.

One of the women was very interested in what we would be doing for ab work. The workout that day was a circuit of 8 bodyweight, kettlebell and dumbbell exercises. She was confused because there were no crunches, no bicycles and no swiss balls in sight. Each time, I explained to her that the deadlifts, kettlebell swings and push-ups we were doing were all great ab exercises, as well as full body fat burners. At the end of the class, she was still hung up on this point, so I talked to her for a little bit about planks, bird dogs and the dark side of lumbar spine flexion and extension under load. She seemed to be grasping these concepts and tracking with me through the conversation, but was still skeptical that what we were doing was going to give her the coveted six-pack she wanted.

At this point, I realized that debating the finer points of the latest research on spine health was not what she wanted to hear. (Damn the facts regarding functionality and health, make me look good!!) So I changed course. I took the conversation back to diet. This took all the responsibility off of me as the trainer, and placed it where it belonged in the first place, squarely on her shoulders. I told her that if she didn't clean up her diet, it didn't matter how many crunches she did, she'd never see her abs. At this point, she gave me a sour face, but acknowledged that she knew this to be true.

I then explained to her that if she cleaned up her diet and focused on performance related goals, like a 300 lb. deadlift and 16 kg kettlebell swing intervals, she had my personal, money back guarantee that she'd get the abs she wanted so badly.

I can't emphasize enough, that there are two pieces to our work here. If we train smart all the time, but neglect our nutrition, we will never reach our goals, whether they are performance or appearance related. If we eat right all the time, but are not thoughtful about matching our training programs to our individual goals, we are simply sabotaging ourselves.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The Pistol

I was reviewing our single leg series this morning and realized that I neglected to discuss the pistol, so here you go.

The Pistol is the king of single leg work.  It is an extremely athletic movement, requiring high levels of strength, mobility and flexibility.  Essentially, it is a single leg squat with the non-working leg sticking straight out in front of you at the bottom of the movement.

As far as loading is concerned, some people find it easier to learn the movement while holding a moderate weight kettlebell in the goblet position.  This can help with your sense of balance and groundedness while performing the movement.  I would recommend trying it loaded and un-loaded to find which works better for you. 

Start the movement by balancing on one foot, with your weight going straight through your heel into the floor.  Push the hips back.  As you descend into the squat, raise the heel of your non-working leg, keeping it just an inch or two off the floor, throughout the entire movement.

The bottom position of the movement is when your non-working leg is parallel to the floor.  At this point your tail should be within inches of the ground.  Keeping your weight through your heel, press back up into the starting position.

At the outset, it is unlikely that you will be able to get into the bottom position at all, much less press back up out of it.  The best way to regress the movement is to perform it to an increasingly lower box or step to give you support and a depth finder in the bottom of the movement.

As you are working toward progressing to the full pistol, it is important that you hammer away at your hip mobility, hamstring flexibility and glute strength, as these are the key factors which will affect your ability to perform a pistol.

I'd love to hear about your progress in the comments section.

Train smart; eat right.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Implements and Tools vs. Toys and Gadgets

So I was at the gym the other day, and there was another trainer there working one of his clients. He was a new client, only his second session with the trainer. I'm on the mat doing my foam rolling and mobility work, and I look up to see the client doing push-ups with his hands elevated on a bar inside the squat rack to make it easier. At the same time, he is wearing a 20 pound weight vest to make it harder.

I think to myself, "That's odd, but maybe he needs the added weight of the vest for his next movement." Nope. The next movement is bodyweight lunges, and the guy can't do a single one with a full range of motion. Now I'm puzzled. When they are done with the not push-ups and the partial lunges, they move on to front squats. The client does not have the range of motion in his wrists and shoulders to use an olympic fronts squat grip, so he is using a cross face grip. Now the weight vest is restricting his grip and causing the bar to slide down his chest with each rep.

To me, this is a classic example of a trainer not knowing the difference between a toy/gadget and a tool/implement. A weight vest is an outstanding tool when used properly. In this case however, it was hindering everything the client was trying to do. Having your clients wear a weight vest during a workout is a great way to boost metabolism and progress bodyweight movements. But if the client can't do the movement(s) without the vest, then the vest is just a toy that hinders their performance and their opportunity to make gains.

So now the question becomes, why would a trainer do such a thing. The only answer I can come up with is that the trainer wants other gym members to see his clients using his toys so that they will want in on the action. It's an advertisement. "If you work out with me, you'll get to do this fun stuff too." To the uneducated eye, it can look very appealing.

The same can be said of all of the other tools trainers have at their disposal: medicine balls, Bosu balls, swiss balls, suspension systems, kettlebells. The list goes on. These are all great tools when used with the right client for the right exercises and with the goal of increasing performance in mind. Too many trainers don't know how to properly use these tools, simply because they have not looked at the research, or have chosen not to educate themselves properly.

If you are a trainer who uses UST (if you need me to tell you what that stands for, you should probably turn in your certification, but for the non-trainers in the audience: Unstable Surface Training) with your clients, do them a favor and pick up a copy of Eric Cressey's Unstable Surface Training. Read it before your next session. Your clients will thank you.

Train smart; eat right!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Safety in the Gym

The single biggest mistake I see people making in the gym is this:

They imitate what they think they see other people doing.

There are a few key factors here that can add up to any combination of injury, ineffectiveness and frustration.  They are:

  1. Unless you have a solid understanding of exercise kinesiology, the movement that you saw and the one that you re-produce when you attempt it yourself may be very different.
  2. The person you are imitating may have no idea what they are doing.  This can even be the case if they appear very fit, are well-built or (gasp) they are a trainer themselves.
  3. Your training goals are different then the training goals of the person you are imitating.  This happens most often when a person training for fat loss imitates the training of a bodybuilder.

This is one reason that I advocate everyone invest in a few weeks worth of training sessions with a qualified trainer when they first begin working out.  I also recommend buying a few sessions every 3-6 months, just to help you with form checks, exercise progressions and matching goals to programming.

The issue of safety in the gym becomes and increasing concern, now that movement based exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, cleans and overhead presses are coming back into vogue.  On the surface, they appear to be fairly simple movements to imitate.  In practice however, the difference between performing them properly and going through the motions, or performing them improperly has huge ramifications with regard to:

  • Your safety.
  • The metabolic advantages of the movement
  • The development of the muscles each movement is intended to target.

Train smart; Eat right.

Monday, March 16, 2009


So, in real life, I'm a big time ranter.  I've actually been quoted as saying "That purple dinosaur has no idea what he's talking about," in the middle of an anti-Barney rant.  I love the catharsis at the end of a good rant.  Having said that, I try to keep my professional and ranting lives distinct and separate.  Sure, I see trainers in the gym doing stuff that I disagree with all the time.  I try not to comment on it, because they are professionals, and I try to work under the assumption that they have the best interests of their clients at heart.

We all have our limits though.  I've reached and passed mine with the trainers on The Biggest Loser as of this past week.  If you poke around the world of fitness blogs for any amount of time, you are bound to find that most of us, as authors and professionals do not like the show.  You'll also find that many of us watch it religiously.  Why would we watch a show that we don't like, you ask?  Because we know that our clients are watching it.  Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper have an incredible platform to push the positive agenda of health and fitness to a largely sedentary America.

Here's a short list of the things I could talk about, but won't:

  • How I disagree with Bob when he talks about the need for carbohydrates in the diet.
  • The fact that they push jello pudding loaded with fake sugars and instant oatmeal loaded with processed grains.
  • How there is hardly a mention of the fact that these people are working out about 8 hours a day, when you include all of the walking and hiking they do.
  • How the fact that they don't talk about the above sets unrealistic expectations of every weight loss client I talk to.
  • That they have people who are morbidly obese sprinting on treadmills, regularly falling off and crashing to the ground.

These are things that drive most of us crazy, but we know that once we get hold of a new client, we can work to correct these misconceptions.

What drove me over the edge the other night (or more colorfully, in the words of Tony Gentilcore

, made me want to punch myself in the face with a pink dumbbell) was watching as Ms. Michaels had a client doing lateral step-ups resisted by a band on parallel benches.  As soon as the scene started, I cringed.  This was an accident waiting to happen, and sure enough, before the set ended he mis-stepped, landed on one of the bench's feet and sprained his ankle.

Now, to be realistic and fair to Ms. Michaels, it is expected that from time to time, when seeking high levels of intensity with out of shape clients, injury is inevitable.  However, it is the primary responsibility of every trainer to provide the safest possible environment for every client.  When designing workouts, we need to always be looking at the risk-benefit ratio.  Additionally, we must always be looking to reduce the risk, while maintaining the benefit.

I have no problem with a trainer who puts a client through a workout or exercise that could be viewed as "dangerous."  Some people say that the squat and deadlift are dangerous.  Yeah, well so is walking across the street.

The problem arises when the trainer does not think far enough down the road to see if there is a way to maintain the benefit while reducing the risk.  Clearly lateral step-ups onto parallel benches with feet that extend into the space needed for performing the movement for a 300 lb. client who is likely to lose his balance at some point in the process was a bad idea.  I saw this as soon as he started, Ms. Michaels should have too.

Now, before you call me a Monday morning quarterback, think back to what I said about the sprinting on treadmills.  Also, think about the fact that it took them 5 years of producing this show (with multiple seasons per year and production in multiple countries) to realize that having these people jump up onto benches instead of legitimate plyo boxes was an accident waiting to happen.  (Bernie from Season 5 anyone?)

The biggest problem here is not even that the people on the show get hurt.  One sprained ankle 9 weeks into the season?  Not a bad injury rate.  The real problem begins on Wednesday mornings in gyms across America, when untrained individuals, not under the supervision of a trainer, begin to perform the exercises they saw last night on t.v.

As I stated above, Michaels and Harper have a great opportunity to educate the American people on health and fitness.  Their words and actions hold great sway in the minds of overweight people every where.  I'll let my final words on the matter be the final words of Ben Parker in the movie Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Train Smart; Eat Right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Single Leg Deadlift

Sorry for my lack of posting in the last week, I was out of town with my wife Lisa. Actually, we were in the rainforest in Puerto Rico celebrating our 10th anniversary. Technology wasn't quite what we were expecting and ended up with no internet access for the week. Expect some great quality content over the next several days.

The single leg deadlift is an oft neglected movement. Unlike the two legged version, it is not a great movement for building raw strength or hypertrophy, but when it comes to improving athleticism and movement quality, I view it as a must use tool. It is outstanding for training balance while opposing large external forces. It is also useful for training the glutes in the transverse plane (that is while twisting,) something they are often subjected to in sport.

This movement can be performed with one or two dumbbells or kettlebells. Kettlebells will give you a starting point which is higher off the ground, which can be advantageous when first learning the movement. If you don't have kettlebells in your equipment arsenal, you can get the same effect with dumbbells by placing them on an aerobic step or at the bottom of an open platform. When first starting out, I would strongly advise against using a barbell or hex deadlift bar. The risk of losing your balance and your inability to recover from a potential fall is significantly increased with either of these implements.

To perform the movement, set up on one leg, with the other foot held just a couple of inches off the ground. While maintaining a neutral spine, push the hips back and down, allowing the knee of the plant leg to bend. Grasp the weight and return to the starting position. Points to focus on:
  • Drive your weight through your heel. Do not come up on the ball of your foot.
  • Force your scapula down and back before lifting the weight. Maintain that position throughout the movement.
  • Keep your spine in it's natural, neutral position throughout the movement.
  • Start with light weights for several sessions until you get a real good feel for the movement.
  • Use one heavy dumbbell on the side of the plant foot to challenge the anti-rotator muscles of the core.
  • Use one heavy dumbbell on the side opposite the plant foot to challenge the anti-rotator muscles of the core in a different manner.
  • Add a small hip rotation at the top of the movement. Be certain not to twist so far that you feel a pull in the knee. The knee is a joint that is designed for stability, not mobility.
Train smart; eat right.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Bulgarian Split Squat

One of the great advantages of the Bulgarian Split Squat over lunges is the ability to go below parallel. This is important, because in a squat based movement (which the lunge is) the gluteus maximus does not fully engage until the knee and hip are bent at 90/90.

Now some of you may have noticed that while I covered several progressions and variations for the lunge, the Bulgarian split squat is the only split squat variation I have covered, leaving out the regular split squat. This is because, as a general rule, the split squat is a lame exercise, providing little in the way of challenge and benefit. It is the same basic movement pattern as the lunge, only with a shorter range of motion, and it is in the end range of motion (Full hip flexion and full hip extension) that we see the real benefits of these movements.

To perform the Bulgarian split squat, place one foot behind you on a bench, or 18" jump box. With your weight driving through the heel of your front foot (are you noticing a pattern here?) squat down as far as you can, while maintaining an upright posture in the upper body. Press back up until the hip is fully extended. Ideally, you will be able to squat down to where the hip is bent to an angle less than 90 degrees. Keep with it, as it may take some time to develop the strength and mobility to do so. The deeper you go, the more benefit you will see here.

Once you can get to full depth, you can progress the difficulty by adding weight: first with dumbbells held at your sides, then with a barbell on your back and finally with dumbbells held overhead.

One last thing: I need you to promise me that you will never perform your Bulgarian Split Squats (or any other exercise) in a Smith Machine. I know, I know, everyone else at your gym does, including the trainers. I could write a whole post on the reasons the Smith Machine is one of the worst pieces of equipment, and I promise that sometime in the next few weeks I will. For now, I'm just going to ask you to trust me when I say that it inhibits performance, while setting you up for injury.

Train smart; eat right.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is a great movement for developing glute and hamstring strength. When weighted, it is also a great progression towards the holy grail of single leg movements, the pistol, or one-legged-squat.

To perform it, simply step back and drop down by bending your front hip and knee until the rear knee grazes the floor. Return to the starting point, by rising up and bringing the rear foot forward. Do not push off the front foot and come up to a new position one step back from where you started. You want the leg that carries the tension on the down portion of the movement to be the same one that carries the tension on the return.

Train smart; eat right.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interesting Commentary on Single Leg Movements

In this post from Ground Up Strength, we get a great breakdown on some common misconceptions regarding our current topic of conversation: Single leg work. His other points are well taken as well.

Train smart; eat right.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Forward Lunge (corrected version)

NOTE: Due to technical difficulties (read: I'm a newbie and a techtard) this post was originally published in a significantly truncated version. Here's the whole shebang.

The forward lunge is the most basic of all of the single leg movements. It is also the easiest place to start for single leg movements, because while it does begin to activate the glute, it is still a quad dominant movement, thereby playing to most people's strengths, while working on their weaknesses.

It has many variations, including, walking, goblet, traveling, overhead and spiderman. Any of these can be weighted, to increase the level of difficulty. Each of them places different demands on the body, while increasing performance. Depending on loading, each of them is also a top performer for increasing strength or mobility: your choice.

Let's start with the most basic, the walking lunge. From a standing position, take one large step forward. Pressing your weight through the heel, come down by bending the front leg until the knee is bent to a 90 degree angle and the back knee touches the floor. Keeping your weight through the heel, drive back up to a standing position, so that you've taken one step forward. Repeat with the opposite leg. That's one rep. This will test:

  • Balance - did you wobble?
  • Glute strength - did you have to add a little extra movement in the upper body to get the momentum to get back up?
  • Hip mobility - was it difficult to get all the way down because of a stretch in the front of your back hip?
The traveling lunge is just a slight variation, in that the lead leg remains the lead leg until the prescribed number of reps are completed, then switch. The benefit here is that it allows you to place more stress on each leg by reducing the rest time between reps. When doing traveling lunges, I recommend that you perform with your non-dominant leg first. This will keep you from wearing yourself out on the dominant leg, and not having the energy to complete your reps with the non-dominant leg.

The goblet lunge is a weighted variation that allows you to work the legs harder without placing too much stress on the upper body. Simply hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest, close to your body. Focus on keeping your chest high so that you don't bend forward and over-stress the low back muscles.

The overhead lunge can be performed weighted or unweighted. As an unweighted movement, it challenges hip flexibility and low back stability. Simply raise your hands straight up, with the palms facing in. Now perform a walking lunge. Resist the temptation to allow the upper body to fold forward. If you add weights, in the form of dumbbells, a barbell or a keg, you will add a shoulder stability component to the movement. You will also place an excellent stress on the entire core (the girdle as it is often referred to when talking about engaging all of the muscles in a wrap-around fashion.)

Finally, the spiderman lunge is a great mobility movement, challenging range of motion in the front of the hip. It is performed unweighted, similar thot he walking lunge. The difference here is that instead of having the arms down at your sides, you put them in front of you, so that at the bottom of the movement you can touch the ground with both hands. This forces you to focus on getting low in the front in order to be able to reach the ground.

Start adding these variations into your routine to see great improvements in strength, mobility and athleticism.

Train smart; eat right.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Single Leg Work

I find that a common misconception among guys in the gym is that single leg work is somehow not manly. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's because we have images from the covers of yoga magazines of women in leotards doing single leg deadlifts with 3 lb. pink dumbbells.

Thankfully, this is changing. As the training industry makes a shift to more functionally based, athletic type movements, lunges and the other single leg lifts in all of their glorious variety are making a return to training programs everywhere. If you've never done any single leg training, you've been missing out on a great way to:

  • Expose left/right imbalances.
  • Activate and strengthen weak glutes, improving posture and reducing back pain.
  • Improve your hip range of motion.
  • Strengthen your ankles and improve balance.
  • Eliminate front/back muscle imbalances, one of the leading predictors of muscular and joint injuries
  • Boost your training poundage on the two leg squat and deadlift.

If that list doesn't convince you, then clearly training to improve health, lifestyle and athleticism is not on your list of goals. I recommend that you go back to reading Muscular Development for your training advice. Have fun making gains on that 5 day split at 2 hours a day. I'm sure your back will be bigger than Dorian's by this time next year you hypertrophy freak.

One of the beauties of these movements is that they follow a nice progression in difficulty level. With each new level you reach, you will improve mobility, strength and balance. They are also fantastic for anyone who is rehabbing from a back injury, in that with many of them, there is no need to load the spine, as bodyweight is sufficient.

Over the next few posts, I will review the finer points of and coaching cues for the following single leg movements, along with their corresponding progressions and variations:

  • Forward Lunge
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Single Leg Deadlift
  • Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
  • Pistol

Until then - Train Smart; Eat Right

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Forward Lunge

The forward lunge is the most basic of all of the single leg movements. It is also the easiest place to start for single leg movements, because while it does begin to activate the glute, it is still a quad dominant movement, thereby playing to most people's strengths, while working on their weaknesses.

It has many variations, including, walking, goblet, traveling, overhead and spiderman. Any of these can be weighted, to increase the level of difficulty. Each of them places different demands on the body, while increasing performance. Depending on loading, each of them is also a top performer for increasing strength or mobility: your choice.

Let's start with the most basic, the walking lunge. From a standing position, take one large step forward. Pressing your weight through the heel, come down by bending the front leg until the knee is bent to a 90 degree angle and the back knee touches the floor. Keeping your weight through the heel, drive back up to a standing position, so that you've taken one step forward. Repeat with the opposite leg. That's one rep. This will test:
  • Balance - did you wobble?
  • Glute strength - did you have to add a little extra movement in the upper body to get the momentum to get back up?
  • Hip mobility - was it difficult to get all the way down because of a stretch in the front of your back hip?
The traveling lunge is just a slight variation, in that the lead leg remains the lead leg until the prescribed number of reps are completed, then switch. The benefit here is that it allows you to place more stress on each leg by reducing the rest time between reps. When doing traveling lunges, I recommend that you perform with your non-dominant leg first. This will keep you from wearing yourself out on the dominant leg, and not having the energy to complete your reps with the non-dominant leg.

The goblet lunge is a weighted variation that allows you to work the legs harder without placing too much stress on the upper body. Simply hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest, close to your body. Focus on keeping your chest high so that you don't bend forward and over-stress the low back muscles.

The overhead lunge can be performed weighted or unweighted. As an unweighted movement, it challenges hip flexibility and low back stability. Simply raise your hands straight up, with the palms facing in. Now perform a walking lunge. Resist the temptation to allow the upper body to fold forward. If you add weights, in the form of dumbbells, a barbell or a keg, you will add a shoulder stability component to the movement. You will also place an excellent stress on the entire core (the girdle as it is often referred to when talking about engaging all of the muscles in a wrap-around fashion.)

Finally, the spiderman lunge is a great mobility movement, challenging range of motion in the front of the hip. It is performed unweighted, similar thot he walking lunge. The difference here is that instead of having the arms down at your sides, you put them in front of you, so that at the bottom of the movement you can touch the ground with both hands. This forces you to focus on getting low in the front in order to be able to reach the ground.

Start adding these variations into your routine to see great improvements in strength, mobility and athleticism.

Train smart; eat right.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Simple, Not Easy

So I was talking with a client about her weight loss progress recently, and we got to talking about the head games we all tend to play with ourselves when trying to overcome old negative thought patterns about food, our weight and our current progress towards our goals.

She mentioned that she had been watching The Biggest Loser recently and had heard trainer Bob Harper saying that weight loss is simple:  Calories in - Calories out = weight loss or weight gain.  She was then lamenting that it didn't seem so simple to her.  Now, while we could easily go down the rabbit trail of quality calories, versus the crap in many of our cupboards, I think Bob's point is by and large valid.

Those of you who are currently struggling with this are thinking, "What?  Yeah, I get the equation, but it's not that simple!  Weight loss is hard."  Yes, you are right.  Weight loss is hard, but you're missing Bob's point.  He didn't say it was easy.  He said it was simple!

Here's an example:

Simple = you know if you don't pack your own lunch, along with some healthy snacks every day, you will give in to negative, but easier behaviors like getting something from the vending machine at work, or grabbing McDonald's for lunch.

Hard = actually disciplining yourself to pack your lunch and snacks each day.

Many of us have a lifetime of negative thought patterns regarding food that we need to overcome.  They range from being members of the "Clean Plate Club" (my mom's favorite), to being wasteful (Here's a good thought on wasting food from my good friend Chuck Gianotti.  "If I eat too much food, and it becomes fat on my belly, didn't I waste it anyway?)  Overcoming these thoughts is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle.  It is also one of the things that makes weight loss hard.

What are some of the negative thoughts you have about food that are currently holding you back?

Train smart; eat right!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Garlic Stuck Pork Loin

Here's another great simple recipe that is quick and easy to prepare, while bringing plenty of flavor.


Pork Tenderloin (or a full pork loin if you're feeding the whole football team)

5 cloves of garlic

5 carrots

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon of salt

2 teaspoons of pepper


Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees

Slice each clove of garlic lengthwise into 5 or 6 pieces.

Stab garlic into pork loin like you're the witch doctor and it's the new missionary on the island.  (Descriptive enough for ya?)

Braise pork loin in frying pan until outside is browned (3 minutes per side), adding salt as it cooks.

Peel carrots and slice diagonally into 2 inch pieces.

Remove pork loin from frying pan and place in 9 x 13 baking dish.

Add carrots and pepper.

Place in oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until internal temperature of pork loin reaches 170 degrees.

The last time I made this, I added some sliced plantains to the pan for the final 15 minutes, giving it a nice Caribbean flavor.

Nutritional info (assuming a 5 oz. piece of the pork) courtesy of Fitday:

Calories: 450

Fat: 29

Carbohydrate: 5

Protein: 41

Add a salad, and you're all set for the night!

Train smart; Eat right!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

3 Reasons I Love the Kettlebell

You've all heard the old adage about the 3 most important things to consider when purchasing real estate:  "Location, location, location."  I always thought it would be fun to own a copying or printing center, because then I could tell you about the 3 most important things in that business:  "Collation, collation, collation."  See how it rhymes???

Anyway, on to the kettlebell.  My top 3 reasons I love the kettlebell, in no particular order are:

  1. Hip power.
  3. HIP POWER!!!


If you're wondering why I care so much about hip power, think of a frail aging 90 year-old.  Why are they bent over?  Tight hip flexors, weak glutes and low back.  What are they afraid of?  Falling.  Why do they often fall?  Lack of coordination and balance at the hip joint.  Why are they unable to recover and catch themselves when they start to fall?  Slow, weak hips.  Solution to all of the above?  Develop strong, powerful hips at a young age.  They will not forget you when you are old.


The kettlebell swing is phenomenal for developing fast, powerful hips.  There are some great movements out there for getting strong in the hip region.  There's the squat, the deadlift, and dozens of variations of each.  The problem with each of these is that they are by nature slow movements, which if not taught carefully often end with muted hip extension (to borrow a term from Crossfit co-founder and performance coach extraodinaire Greg Glassman.)  Because of the tight hip flexors and low backs mentioned in the past few posts, we often substitute lumbar spine extension for proper hip extension in the heavy barbell lifts.  This leaves are hip flexors and glutes under-trained, weak and slow.

When we add kettlebell swings to our repertoire, we are forced to open up the hips at the top of the movement.  There is no way around this.  If we try to pull the same kind of nonsense we've been doing in our squats and deadlifts, and hyperextend the lumbar spine, we will be flat out on the couch with low back pain after the first session.

Another key factor here is that with most movements, form often deteriorates as the weight goes up.  Don't believe me?  Check out youtube videos of elite level powerlifters deadlifting or squatting during competition.  Their form is atrocious.  I'd never let a client lift like that.

With the kettlebell swing on the other hand, the need for proper form increases as the weight goes up.  If you try to perform a 5 rep max kettlebell swing with improper form, their is no way you will lift your max weight.  Full hip extension at a high rate of speed is key to getting that weight up.  And that's where your hip power development is going to come from. 

Power = Work / Time

This means that when we increase the speed with which we move a weight through a range of motion, we have increased the power output.  Once we reach a maximum speed with a given weight, we continue to increase power output by increasing the weight.

For some great, free instruction on the kettlebell swing, check out the videos by Jeff Martone on this page.

Here's to powerful hips and a long life!

Train smart; Eat right.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Improving Your Squat

Following is a checklist of some of the most common problems with an individual's squat.

  • Leans too far forward with the upper body
  • Knees cave in as you descend
  • Can't get into the bottom position (below parallel)

Now let's look at how to correct each of these.

Leans too far forward

Commonly, this is associated with a lack of mobility at the hip joint.  As the hips descend, overly tight hip flexor muscles pull the torso forward, rather than allowing it to remain upright.  This can be fixed by dynamically stretching the hip flexors and quads.  In your pre-workout warm-up, begin to perform Rocking Hip Flexor mobilizations.  To do this, stand in a split stance, with one foot out in front of the other, as if you were about to perform a lunge.  Push your weight forward over your front foot, placing a stretch on the muscles at the front of the back hip.  Hold that position for a one-count, and rock back onto your back foot.  Perform 8 repetitions per side.

Knees cave in as you descend

This problem is generally caused by over-active adductors (the muscles on the inside of your thighs) and weak, or under-active, abductor muscles.  It is very common in women.  A nice little trick that I learned from Mike Robertson's blog is to take a piece of rubber tubing or exercise band and tie it around your knees as you squat.  By putting this little bit of pressure on the outsides of the knees, you cue the abductor muscles to keep the knees in proper alignment.

Can't get into the bottom position

This is generally a problem associated with the tight hip flexors.  If you've fixed those and are still having problems getting all the way down, then a few coaching cues might help.

  • Hips back - as you begin your descent, make sure that you are pushing your hips back first.  (As opposed to bending the knees first.)  Some coaches will cue you to think about closing the car door when you have two arms full of groceries.
  • Keep your weight through your heels.  In the squat, your weight should never be on your toes, or the balls of your feet.  You should be able to wiggle your toes through the entire range of motion.
  • Practice, practice, practice!!!

Good luck taking that squat form to the next level!

Train smart; eat right!


Monday, February 9, 2009

Quality Movement - The Squat

The squat has long been heralded as one of the best movements for mass gain, leg strength and core strength.  Arnold called it "The King of All Exercises."  It's one of the three lifts used in powerlifting.  You can't do the olympic lifts without it.  It's even been immortalized in poetry.  (Nods at snooty literature majors in the audience.)  Okay, let's call it a rhyme instead.

But, before we look at the squat as an exercise, we have to look at it as a movement pattern.  Why you ask?  Because if you can't do one properly with just your bodyweight, you have no business loading up your back with 6 big wheels and going for reps!

So what does a good squat look like?  Again, think of what a four-year-old looks like when they squat down to play in the water, but don't want to get their bottom wet.  The key points to notice are:

  • Weight is through the heels, they are not up on the balls of their feet.
  • The spine is neutral.  The proper "S" curve is maintained.
  • The shoulders are behind the knees.

Here's a great test that Gray Cook, designer of The Functional Movement Screen and author of Athletic Body in Balance recommends for checking your squat form:

While standing sideways in a doorway, holding a broom handle overhead in a locked out position, squat down as deep as possible.

You pass the test and may continue squatting as part of your exercise routine, if you meet all of the following:

  1. The heels remain on the floor.
  2. The feet do not slide or rotate.
  3. The knees are aligned over the feet.
  4. The hips are below the knees.
  5. The broomstick does not touch the wall.

You fail the test if any of the above are not met.

Some common reasons for not being able to squat properly include tight hip flexors, inability to activate glutes, lack of ankle mobility and lack of core stability.  Over the next few posts, we will look at teach of these issues and some corrective exercises for each.  In the meantime, one of the best ways to improve your squat form is to squat.

Here's a great method for correcting improper form:  Stand 6 or 8 inches away from the wall and squat as deep as you can without touching the wall.  Practice this a few times a day, until you can get your hips below your knees without touching the wall.  Once you are capable of this, move in 2 inches, until you can do it with only 4 inches between you and the wall.  If you can do it from a distance of 4 inches, your squat form is pretty solid.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Movement

When looking at movement quality, it is generally agreed upon by physical therapists, strength coaches and other movement specialists that gross motor patterns, as they apply to exercise, can be broken down into a few basic movement patterns:

  1. Squat
  2. Lunge
  3. Vertical Push
  4. Horizontal Push
  5. Vertical Pull
  6. Horizontal Pull

It is also generally agreed that there are several inhibitions we place on our ability to perform many of these patterns by living a 21st century lifestyle.  These inhibitions are generally related to the amount of time we spend sitting.

At its worst, sitting will inhibit the glutes and hamstrings, tighten the hips, cause distorted arching of upper and lower spine, and creating a stiffness in the lower back.  Think about how you used to squat when you were a little kid, or how a member of a primitive culture is able to squat down and sit back "on their haunches."  When was the last time you were able to do this.  The reason that you can't is that you spend so much time sitting in a chair, that you have developed many of the issues mentioned above.

If you are an endurance athlete or weightlifter, who is not currently performing a mobility routine, it is likely that these problems are even worse for you.  The reason being that not only have you developed improper movement patterns, but you are reinforcing them on a constant basis, under load.  Thereby further ingraining them in your central nervous system, the place where all of our movement patterns are stored.

At age 20, these problems are minor inconveniences for everyone except the highest performing athletes.  In our 30's and 40's, the stiffness starts to set in, and begins to inhibit our lifestyles (getting on the floor and playing with the kids becomes uncomfortable, shoveling the driveway leaves us stiff for a couple of days.)  By our 50's and 60's it's no longer "It's not comfortable to do that", it becomes "I can't do that."  By our 70's and 80's, these same inhibitions are what lead to many of the issues that lead to helath problems, including slipping and falling. It is also a large part of what leads to the inability to perform daily tasks, and the accompanying need for additional support from family or professionals.

The good news is that regardless of age, we can all make significant improvements to our movement patterns through a simple stretching and mobility program.

Over the next few posts, I will discuss each of these problem areas and give you some tips to help you improve them.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Prosciutto Chicken

One of the problems that people face when they are trying to eat healthy is that the chicken breast, one of the greatest sources of lean protein, can get awfully boring and bland if you don't mix it up once in a while.  Give this recipe a try.  I made it up on the fly last night for the family.  It has all the right mix for making it part of your regular menu:  simple, only a few ingredients, and takes less than 15 minutes of actual work time to prepare dinner for 4.


Boning knife (that's the one that's a little longer than a steak knife)


Large frying pan

9 x 12 baking pan, layered with aluminum foil


2 tablespoons of olive oil


4 large chicken breasts

4 slices of proscuitto ham (You can get this at the deli counter.  It's expensive, but you only need 4 slices.  DO NOT BUY A WHOLE POUND UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO WITH THE OTHER 90 OR SO SLICES!)

4 ounces fresh parmesan cheese, shredded

Fresh salsa  (This is nothing more than a mixture of fresh chopped onions, tomatoes and peppers.  You can find it in your local grocery store.  Stop & Shop keeps theirs at the back of the produce section near the hummus.)


Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

Pre-heat pan on stove top, over medium heat, with 2 TBS of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Using a boning knife, cut a pocket in the chicken breasts along the long slide, leaving 3 sides closed.

Stuff the pocket with 1 slice of ham, 1 ounce of cheese and round out with salsa.

Place breasts 2 at a time in pan on stove.  Turn after 3 minutes.  This will give the chicken a nice crispy, golden look.

Remove from pan after 3 more minutes and place in baking dish.

Repeat process with the other 2 breasts.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, pour remaining salsa over the top of chicken and return to oven for 15 more minutes.

Serve this up on a bed of spinach for a complete meal.

Including one serving of raw baby spinach, here's the macronutrient breakdown on this meal, according to Fitday:

Calories:  398

Fat:  20 grams (44% of total cal.)

Carbohydrates:  8 grams (8%)

Protein:  46 (48%)

Train Smart, Eat Right

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Great Content...This Time It's Men's Health

So this month, Men's Fitness gave us the box squat to help improve our squat by teaching us to activate our glutes and hamstrings.  Men's Health fires back by highlighting a single leg movement called the Wide Grip Overhead Split Squat.  The information for the article was provided by Alwyn Cosgrove.  This guy knows his stuff.  He is a top performance coach and is highly sought after as a speaker in the fitness industry.  He has also had articles published in just about every major fitness related magazine out there.  (As well as, oddly enough Soap Opera Digest.  What's with that?)

This is a fantastic movement.  For years, in the bodybuilding magazines, single leg lifts were relegated to the ladies side of the gym.  Big mistake, guys!  Exercises like the lunge and squat are a great way to develop the posterior chain, preventing many common sports injuries, including the infamous pulled hammy.  They essentially force you not to cheat, and make you include your glutes and hamstrings in the movement.

When you try this one, just make sure to secure the barbell in a position above the back of your head.  A cue I commonly use with people to make sure they have it in the right position is to tell them that if I am standing directly to their side, looking straight down the barbell, I should be able to see their ears in front of their arms.  The arms should not be obscuring the ears (unless you have 23" arms) and they should definitely NOT be in front of the ears.

By putting the bar overhead, you are also putting a strong emphasis on just about every muscle in the body.  Alwyn gets extra points for making sure to include the tip to perform the movement on both sides of the body.

Also this month in Men's Health, check out the bodyweight circuit included in the pull out section toward the back.  When you do a circuit like this with the rest periods (or lack thereof) prescribed, you'll be amazed at how effective your bodyweight can be as a conditioning tool.  The author, Jeff Csatari a contributing editor at the magazine, did a great job of describing each exercise in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.

Give the Wide Grip Overhead Split Squat a try and let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear you feedback.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Content from Men's Fitness

So the February issue of Men's Fitness has a couple of exercises in it that you might want to give a try.  The first is a T-Push-up.  to perform the exercise, you do a regular push-up, but at the top of the movement, you raise one arm off the floor, rotate the body and perform a side or "T" plank.  In the article, they demonstrate it with one hand on a medicine ball, and both feet firmly on the floor.  Alternatively, you can do these without the medicine ball, and, as you transition into the plank, roll one foot up onto the other in a stacked position to place greater emphasis on the core muscles.

If you do choose to use the medicine ball as shown in the article, be sure to remember these three points that they do not mention:

  1. For greater stability, use a ball that is not full of air and rolling all over the place underneath you.  (Unless you really want to spend 6 weeks with your favorite physical therapist repairing your rotator cuff.)
  2. Rotate your body at the hips and in the thoracic (upper) spine, not in the lumbar (lower) spine.  The lumbar spine was not designed for rotation rotation under tension, and should be exercised from a stability standpoint, not a rotational one.  (For further reading on this, check out Stuart McGill's Low Back Disorders or Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.)
  3. Perform the same number of repetitions on each side of the body!!  I know this may seem obvious, but I thought they should have at least mentioned it in the article.

The second exercise that they recommend is a squat assistance exercise called the Box Squat that has been used by powerlifters for years to help them increase their squats.  One of the objectives behind it is to train the oft under utilized glutes and hamstrings to fire during the regular squat.

Because most of us in our culture are quad dominant when it comes to our motor patterns, the glutes and hamstrings often need "encouragement" to fire at the right times.  The idea is that by sitting down onto a box at the bottom of the squat, you momentarily deactivate the quads (as well as other front side assisting muscles), when you then go to push back up, your glutes and hamstrings will jump in to do their fair share.

The key point that was not mentioned in the article is that, when you go to stand back up, be sure to keep your weight back and through your heels.  Do not lean forward, placing the weight on the balls of your feet, as this will counteract the benefit of the sit-down, throwing the pressure right back on your quads.

The author of this second article was Jason Ferruggia.  Jason does a lot of writing for Elite FTS, as well as creating his own information products.  He also writes a great blog, full of quality, well-researched information.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Men's Exercise Magazines

When I was in high school, the only magazines around that addressed exercise were the bodybuilding ones. So my friends and I would read them and copy the routines of the latest "presumably" (apparently it's politically correct to always say presumably before making this wild and crazy allegation) steroid induced Mr. Olympia contender. The results we got were reasonable, because an untrained physique will respond to almost any stimulus. They were not however, ideal for the lifestyles we were trying to live (athletes who also wanted to look good on the beach in the summer.) We were constantly over-trained and, as a result, our gains in both size and strength were limited.

During the 20 years since, much has changed in the world of fitness publishing. Currently, every bookstore in the nation has copies of over a dozen health and fitness magazines aimed at the general population that is looking to get or stay fit, while improving performance. "Performance" is a key criteria I use when looking at all types of fitness products. If a product (or exercise) will improve my performance then it has some value. If not, then its value decreases drastically, in my opinion. You might be surprised at how much of the exercise equipment out there is actually detrimental to your performance. (We'll be coming back to this theme many times in the future.)

For a while, much of the information in these magazines was repetitive, boring and run-of-the-mill. If you had a subscription for one year, you had read everything they had to say, and the value of a second year was significantly reduced. That is changing.

Men's Health, Men's Fitness and Men's Journal seem to be getting it right, by and large. They each have some fantastic contributor's each month. They are bringing forward some great techniques and cutting edge research, which are available for free on some of the author's blogs, but would take years to trickle down to your local gym population without them. Yes, you'll still see people doing dumb things, like single legged romanian deadlifts on a bosu ball with 5 lb. dumbbells, or using the smith machine for anything other than a place to hang their coat (more on both of those later,) but the trend is toward more athletic, performance based movements.

Over the next few posts, I'll share with you some of my favorite tips from this month's issues of these magazines, as well as links to some of the blogs put out by the outstanding author's of them.

Train smart; eat right.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Delicious Low Sugar (Not Low Carb) Granola

Here is a recipe for some great low sugar granola. For sweeteners, you can use either agave nectar (available at your local health food store) or honey. The nutrition information, provided by Fitday, is for the agave nectar and multi-grain cereal, but substituting honey and/or oats will only change the information marginally.


8 cups Multi-grain cereal or oats

.5 cups (42g) Pecans

.5 cups (60g) Walnuts

.5 cups (60g) Slivered almonds

.5 cups (66g) Sunflower seeds

.5 cups (53g) Flax seed meal

.5 cups (56g) Pepitas

.5 cups (53g) Wheat germ

3 TBS Canola oil

.5 cups Agave nectar

2 TBS Cinnamon

.5 cups Applesauce

.5 cups Unsweetened dried blueberries

.5 cups Dried cranberries

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix wet ingredients together in a small bowl.

Mix dry ingredients (except for the blueberries and cranberries, they will burn if you cook them) in a large bowl.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.

Spread mixture onto cookie sheets (preferably with sides) in a thin layer.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes, taking it out to stir every 7 minutes. Let cool on pans for 20-30 minutes; add berries; store in a large zip-loc bag.

Calorie and macronutrient breakdown per half cup serving:

Calories: 195

Calories from fat: 90

% of calories from fat: 46%

Fat: 10g

Saturated fat: 1g

Poly-unsaturated fat: 5g

Mono-unsaturated fat: 4g

Carbohydrate: 21

Protein: 5

While this may seem like a lot of fat to some of you, 9 of the 10 grams of fat are what are now being termed "healthy fats," and when combined with a good protein source, they will give you a great start to your day. For instance, I like to pair this with a cup of non-fat Greek yogurt, which brings my totals to: 315 calories, 10g of fat, 28g of carbohydrate and 27g of protein. This is a 41%carbohydrate,19% protein, 40% fat ratio. A fantastic ratio for my first meal of the day. I'll have to boost protein intake later in the day to bring this ratio into line for my daily intake, but I always want my breakfast to be my highest carb meal of the day.

Let me know if you like it!

Train smart; eat right!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This One's for John G. - Part II

In Part I, I laid out the concept of the Tabata Protocol and how it relates to cardiovascular health. Here in Part II, I will explain how these principles can be applied to strength workouts. The information laid out here is not related to Dr. Tabata's work, but is the result of experimentation done by many Strength and Conditioning coaches around the world.

There are a couple of key concepts regarding high-intensity strength training that must be understood before moving forward. The first is known as EPOC, or Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. This is the technical term for the amount of energy that the body burns AFTER you are done working out. This # is significantly higher with high intensity exercise (heavy lifting with little rest or cardio exercise similar to what was laid out in Part I) then with low intensity exercise. As a matter of fact, when it comes to fat burning (one of three major reasons we exercise) in a study done at Laval University in 1994, they showed that for every minute of exercise, high intensity work beat out low intensity work by 900%!!! Sound too good to be true? Click the link and read it yourself, then go to the sidebar on that page and read similar studies with similar results.

That's two (cardiovascular health and fat burning) of the three major reasons (the third being skeletal muscle strength) we exercise where we've seen shorter bouts of high intensity blow away longer bouts of low intensity exercise. There is mounting evidence that when training for strength endurance (as opposed to maximal strength), performing a high volume of work over a short period of time, with minimal rest may be an ideal way to train for the general population, as well as for those involved in high endurance/high strength vocations and/or sports (fire and law enforcement pros, fighters, special forces.) This is the way that many of the best fighters in the UFC train; it is also part of a growing movement among the general public through the efforts of Greg Glassman of Crossfit. Many of the cast members of 300, the movie about ancient Sparta trained this way as well.

A sample workout might look something like this:

Using just your bodyweight for resistance, perform 3 - 5 circuits of the following exercises for 12 repetitions each. Rest 1 minute in between circuits.

  1. Push-ups
  2. Squats
  3. Plank to side plank (6/side)
  4. Reverse lunge (6/side)

Depending on your fitness level and how many circuits you did, this workout could take any where from 6.5 to 18 minutes. In it you worked most major muscles in your body. The ones you didn't work, you would be sure to hit in your next workout.

Another example might use the timing of the Tabata Protocol for each round. It might look like this:

With a 20 second work to 10 second rest ratio, perform the following movements in circuit fashion, completing each movement for 2 20 second sets in a four minute round. Repeat for 1, 2 or 3 rounds, resting 1 minute between rounds.

  1. Chin-ups
  2. Lunge walks
  3. Side planks
  4. Bear crawls

Now, I am not advocating that this should be the only type of workout you ever do. However, if a client came to me and wanted me to write them a program, but said that they only had time for one full length workout per week, and that the rest of the week they could give me 10 minutes a day on average, I would be very excited about the goals they could achieve in this seemingly limited amount of time. (Yes, I am the king of the run-on sentence!)

Lastly, it can be very helpful to have a timer that beeps for you when performing any type of interval training. Otherwise, you are constantly trying to look at the clock or count in your head while you are doing this. If you always work out close to your computer, try this one for free. It was written by a crossfitter. Unfortunately, it is only set up for the Tabata Protocol, and is not customizable, but still a good tool (and hey, it's free!) My favorite timer can be had for the low, low price of $19.95. It's called the Gymboss Interval Timer, and is completely customizable for continuous work and rest periods from :01 all the way up to 59:59. This thing is awesome! It has a beep low, beep high, vibrate, beep low/vibrate, and beep high/vibrate modes. I love the beephigh/vibrate mode. If I'm in a loud environment, I put it in a small plastic bucket, and it makes all kinds of noise when it goes off. It also has a little clip to clip it to your shorts or shirt as you're exercising. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Train Smart, Eat Right

P.S. I'm editing this post, because I just found a great new online timer. The timer includes the following features:

  • Standard timer
  • Countdown timer
  • Setup and execute intervals
  • Audio notifications of interval and countdown events
  • Pause timer by any key press
  • Simple, intuitive interface

The designer stated in his blog that this is only the beta version, and that he is looking to make it available as a download to be used offline in the near future as well.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Are you getting enough?

Protein. There is much debate in the media, as well as the nutrition, health and fitness industries over the amount of protein we should be taking in. The USDA recommends the ridiculously low 70 grams per day, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. That would be 14% of your total caloric intake. In her book, Winning by Losing, Jillian Michaels of NBC's The Biggest Loser recommends up to 50% of your calories coming from protein during an intense weight loss cycle. That would be 250 grams per day for someone on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (almost 4 times the USDA recommendation.) The body building community has been recommending 2 grams per pound of bodyweight for several years now. Many nutritionists on the strength and conditioning side of the fitness industry are currently recommending 1 - 1.2 grams per pound of bodyweight daily for individuals interested in building lean body mass and reducing body fat. This is the number I've been using for the last several months, and I am getting great results from it (along with lowering my carbs and increasing my fats, but that's another post.)

Suffice it to say, that if you don't know how much you're getting each day, you're probably not getting enough. While whole foods are considered best for many reasons, for the sake of convenience, you may want to try a protein powder. I highly recommend for their custom made powders. I use their Milk Protein Isolate, which is 80% casein and 20% whey, but you can create whatever blend you want under their custom solutions tab(they even have a beef amino acid formula for you Paleo/Primal guys & gals) in whatever flavor and with whatever sweetener (they have natural and chemical available) you want. The beauty of this is that if you don't want chemical sweeteners in your protein powder, you can just leave it out. This is not an option with most powders on the market today. If you choose to go with, enter my promotion discount code at checkout (PJJ303) to receive a 5% discount. And save that code, you can use it every time!

Train smart, eat right.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This one's for John G. - Part I

So after I sent out an e-mail to all my friends and family the other day letting them know this blog was up and running, I got a call from my good friend John. The voice-mail he left me went something like this:

Hey Pete, John here. I was wondering if you could put a program together for me that I could do during the 1/2 hour that I have around the dinner table every night with my wife and kids?

I think John's point was something like this: "Man, I'd really love to work out, but, Holy Cats, I just don't have the time for it." (Yes, John really says "Holy Cats" all the time.) I can understand John's point. He's a very busy guy between work, 3 children under the age of 7 and 1 on the way, researching a new business and managing a few properties he owns. So my first thought was to suggest that he saw the legs off his dinner table. That way while the rest of the family ate dinner, he could participate in the conversation, while lying underneath the table and using his arms and legs to press it. A full body workout, while the family eats! Exactly what he asked for. Who says I don't deliver what the people want???

My second thought was much better. Here it is: In 1996, Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese researcher showed that greater respiratory/cardiovascular benefit could be achieved from a 4 minute high intensity interval workout than from a traditional "steady state" 60 minute cardio workout. Basically, he compared 2 groups of athletes. The first group trained in the traditional manner, that is, long and slow. The second group trained for 3-4 minutes. During that 3-4 minutes, they completed 6-8 all out sprints, 20 seconds in duration, with 10 seconds of rest in between each sprint. The group that preformed the long and slow workout increased their aerobic capacity by 10% over a 6 week period and their anaerobic capacity (sprint power) not at all. The interval group increased their aerobic capacity by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by a statistically gargantuan 28%.

The Lesson

Work volume is not the key to improving our fitness. INTENSITY is the name of the game. And trust me 4 minutes will be plenty if you really go all out. When I do these on my rower, at the end, I unstrap my feet and roll of the rower onto the floor in exhaustion. If you're up for a challenge, give them a try. I do recommend a 10 minute warm-up first. You can do them on any piece of cardio equipment like a bike, rower or treadmill, or you can do burpees or kettlebell swings.

In Part II, we'll look at how we can apply this method to resistance training.

P.S. John, you can post your results (that is what %age of your breakfast actually landed in the receptacle upon completion of your 1st set of Tabata intervals) to the comment section at the bottom of the page.

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