7 MOVES THAT WILL REVEAL HOW FIT YOU ARE

If someone were to ask you what your definition of being fit is, what would your response be? Strong core/abs? Be able to squat your bodyweight? Run a mile? The toe-touch test? While these are all ideal indicators of being fit, they don’t necessarily provide an accurate measure of one’s fitness. A lot of guys think they are fit because they can bench press and squat the world (I used to be one of such people) and have washboard abs. The fact of the matter is how fit a person goes beyond physical strength. Don’t get me wrong, being strong is a renowned gift and warrants acknowledgement. There is more to fitness than being able to Deadlift 300 pounds.

There are several assessment protocols that measure fitness and plenty enough to chose from. But the following are 7 simple tests that can reveal how fit you are and can be done pretty much anywhere using just your bodyweight. These tests will identify strengths, weaknesses and limitations while measuring upper/lower body strength, core strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and mobility.

OVERHEAD SQUAT: Using a PVC pipe or a rolled up towel held at slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bring your hands over your head with elbows fully extended. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width. Take a deep breath, brace your core and sit your hips back as far and low as you can while trying to keep your torso rigid.

Things to look for:

-Do your knees cave inward as you descend? (This is caused by weakness and/or poor activation of gluteus medius and other hip external rotators)

-How deep can you squat? Are you able to bring your things to parallel? (Could be a result of tightness in hamstrings and hip external rotators)

-Do your arms, along with the PVC pipe or towel, drift forward during descent? (This could be caused by tight shoulder internal rotators and weak core/trunk stabilizers)

-Are your heels rising off the floor? (Tight/weakness in dorsiflexors and/or ankle instability)

The Fix: Exercises like band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping are ideal for activating and strengthening gluteus medius which is responsible for knee function and hence better squatting. Regular stretching and foam rolling of the hamstrings and hips can improve depth. Working on external rotation/retraction exercises like band pull-apart and face pull will keep the arms from dropping forward.

 

SCAPULAR WALL SLIDE: Stand wit your back about a foot or slightly less from a wall. Establish three points of contact against the wall : head, shoulder blades and tail bone. Bring your arms full extended in from of your then pull your elbows back to touch the wall. Point your left and right forearms towards 11 ‘o’ clock and 1 ‘0’ clock. From there, extend your arms up against the wall while trying to keep your wrist and forearms pressed against the wall (creating the letter ‘Y’) . Hold for a second and then bring them back down to your starting position.

Things to look for:

-Were you able to extend your arms up against the wall while maintaining your 3 points of contact and keep them pressed against the wall?

-Did any of your body parts come off the wall during ascent and descent?

-Did you feel any pain/ache during the movement?

The Fix: If you answered ‘yes’ to the first question, congratulations! You have excellent shoulder mobility and flexibility. But if you answered ‘yes’ to the lat two questions, your shoulders are internally rotated thus causing limited mobility in external rotation. This can sometimes come with rounded shoulders or a slouch posture. Interestingly enough, this very test can also be used to correct the issue. Externally-rotated targeted exercises and practicing pulling the shoulders back are the best remedies.

 

PLANK: I don’t consider the plank to be the best measure of core strength given the fact that it requires a great deal of shoulder strength and endurance. But it can be a good indicator of how strong the anterior core is. With a stopwatch timing you, hold a plank for as long as you can.

Things to look for:

-Are you able to maintain a neutral spine all throughout? (lumbar hyperextension, dropping the head)

-Did you hold for longer or less than 30 seconds?

-Did you hold for longer than 60 seconds?

The Fix: Being unable to maintain a neutral spine during a plank not only means the anterior core is weak. It also means the posterior chain isn’t activated enough to keep the body upright. The gluteus muscles and lumber stabilizers must be strengthened to help correct this. Although not universally accepted, holding a plank for less than 30 seconds could be a sign of a weak core. I believe 45 – 60 seconds is a moderate standard to aim for. The only drawback to the plank is it can be quite difficult for people with preexisting shoulder injury and chronic pain. Either way, gradually work your way up to 1 minute.

 

TOE TOUCH: Arguably the most premier assessment flexibility test, the toe touch has pretty much been eradicated from many fitness testing protocols. I still consider it a good measure of hamstring and trunk flexibility. So many people have tight hamstrings and not even know it. This simple test will tell you. Standing with your hands along your sides, bend at the waist (trunk hinge) and reach your hands as far as you can towards your toes.

Things to look for:

-Did your hands get past your knees and/or shin?

-Were you able to touch your toes, or better yet the floor?

-How much did you have to bend the knees?

The Fix: If you were only able to reach to your knees and shins, your hamstrings are tight and most likely your lower back too. Being able to touch the toes or the ground indicates great trunk and hamstring flexibility. Although the knees can bend slightly during execution, too much bend devalues and diminishes the test. Correcting the above miscues is simple : lots of passive stretching and foam rolling.

 

PUSH-UP: Probably the most ancient exercise of our time, the push-up remains a staple in fitness programs. While it can be used as a workout, it can also assess upper body strength and muscular endurance. Perform as many push-ups as you can. When you start getting tried, drop to your knees and continue until exhaustion.

Things to look for:

As with the plank, so many standards exist for the push-up. The way I look at it is the more push-ups you can do without having to kneel, the better and stronger you’ll be. The modified push-up, though a regression of the standard push up, can help build some upper body strength. But it’s alway going to pale in comparison to the regular version in terms of improving and developing strength and endurance.

The Fix: Incorporating lots of anterior core work can help improve push-ups. Doing push ups on higher surfaces like a bench or Reebok STEP can be a precursor to the push-up. Strengthening of trunk stabilizing muscles like the shoulder and triceps can be beneficial also.

BODYWEIGHT SINGLE-LEG RDL:

The Romanian Deadlift is a popular exercise for targeting the posterior chain but can also a good way to assess balance and strength in both legs when done unilaterally with just the bodyweight. With your hands resting along your sides, stand on your right leg and lift the opposite left foot slightly off the ground. Hinge the trunk forward while reaching your hands towards the ground as your left leg lifts up. Aim to perform 6 to 10 reps.

Things to look for:

-How much shifting is occurring at the hips?

-Is the balanced foot/ankle wobbling and/or pronating too much?

-Does your hamstring fatigue enough so much you’re forced to stop?

-How high is the non-balanced leg when fully hinged? Is it in line with the trunk?

The Fix: Hip shifting and lateral movements could be traced to weak and under-active hip external rotators. Band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping will help with that. Another challenge with this test is wobbling and pronation at the foot and ankle. Doing inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion and plantar flexion with a Thera band is a great way to address this. Generally speaking, single-leg work like lunges, step-ups and single-leg squat variations are vital for strengthening the legs individually. Keep in mind that traditional squats done on both legs, while associated with tons of perks, do not identify which of the legs is working the hardest and and the least.

STAIR CLIMB:

Find a stairwell with lots of floors and climb up 3 to 4 flights at your regular, walking pace.

Things to look for:

-Did you get out of breath?

-If you got out of breath, how soon did it happen?

-Did you find climbing these flights of stairs overly exerting?

The Fix: Stair climbing can be a good way to measure cardiovascular endurance and VO2 Max. The latter is the amount of oxygen available for use during activity. Here’s a simple way to look at it: If after walking 2 or 3 flights of stairs you found yourself breathing heavy, it indicates there wasn’t enough readily available oxygen in your body which means your V02 max and cardiovascular endurance are low. Obviously there’s a limited number of stairs we all can climb before we get tired. Assuming the knees and hips are in good condition, I believe we all should be able to climb a minimum of 4 flights of stairs without getting out of breath. Strength training the lower body and doing a wide variety of cardio activities like HIIT, bootcamp, cycling will surely help improve cardio endurance and VO2 max.

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5 exercises you should stop doing

For a lot of us fitness enthusiasts, working out is an integral part of our lifestyle. We enjoy the sweat, the burn, the pump and more importantly, those endorphins that we release and stay with us long after we leave the gym. By now we know resistance/strength training is essential for weight loss, muscle gain and strength. But with a plethora of exercises out there, it can be overwhelming to find the right ones. The fitness industry is always evolving and newer exercises continue to hit the scene.

But how do you know you’re doing the right exercises? I’m not talking about proper form but rather the selection. While any resistance training exercise is better than none at all, some have better bang-for-your-buck value and will yield more dividends. As a fitness professional/fitness enthusiast who’s been a part of fitness for nearly 15 years, I can say confidently that there are some exercises better left alone.

Here are 5 exercises you should stop doing:

LEG PRESS: A lot of guys are going to balk at me for this but the leg press has zero functional or core value. The seated, upright version may be ideal initially for elderly and deconditioned individuals. But the traditional, incline version can be hard on the knees not to mention its high risk of injury because of the angle. Although most guys, especially bodybuilders who want to build extreme mass, may be able to load a lot of weight, they also risk knee pain and back injuries later on.

ALTERNATIVE: The traditional barbell back squat offers way more bang for your buck while utilizing your core and trunk stabilizers. Also, because you’re moving a load through space, as opposed to your back fixed against a chair, you’ll build more strength and power. As an added bonus, how’s this for a fit nugget: There are over 600 muscles in the body and the squat is known to work at least half of them!

UPRIGHT ROW/BEHIND-THE-NECK LAT PULLDOWN: The upright row is a popular shoulder exercise that made its name during the early era of bodybuilding. It is thought to work the rhomboids and other mid-trap muscles. The behind-the-neck lat pulldown is kind of a modern modification of the traditional lat pulldown. Those who do it routinely claim it targets the mid-trap region very intensely. However several studies have linked these two exercises to acromiclavicular joint injury. The clavicle and acromium make up the AC joint. When the aforementioned exercises are performed, the ligaments around those joints stretch further away causing laxity. This is what ultimately leads to AC joint injuries like a fractured collarbone or torn labrum.

ALTERNATIVE: Face Pulls and Band Pull-Aparts (front or behind the body) are safer bets. They put very little pressure on the AC joint and don’t require a lot of weight to feel the burn.

SEATED HIP ABDUCTION/ADDUCTION MACHINE: I really wish fitness manufacturing companies would stop making these machines. Ladies, you can’t spot reduce! It’s virtually impossible. What’s more alarming is these are two of the most popular and utilized machines in every gym. Yes you may feel a burn when you’re on these machines but the muscles you’re targeting (hip external rotators/adductors) are not getting the proper challenge they need. Being glued on a chair with a back support robs the trunk stabilizers and glutes of adequate firing.

ALTERNATIVE: Band-resisted clamshells and band-resisted side stepping are arguably the two most effective exercises for working the glute medius and other hip external rotators. The sumo squat, sumo deadlift and various lunge variations all do a great job of targeting the inner thighs and several other hip adductors.

DUMBBELL SIDE BEND: I still don’t know why people think the dumbbell side bend target the obliques. Simply put, it doesn’t. In a nutshell, the anatomical motion of the side bend is lateral flexion of the spine. When this movement occurs, the primary muscle that is targeted is a deep muscle on the side of the lower back called Quadratus Lumborum or QL for short. Although there’s nothing wrong withe using the dumbbell side bend to work your QL, you’ll get more perks and benefits with compound movements like the squat and deadlift.

ALTERNATIVE: The side bridge, in my estimation, remains one of the most effective exercises for the obliques. If you have preexisting shoulder pain or just weak shoulders, try doing the side bridge with a hip drop to the ground.

DONKEY KICK-BACKS: Popularized by Jane Fonda in the 80’s, this exercise was the premier movement women used to shape their butts. I still see many women doing it today with ankle weights or resistance bands. The problem with this exercise is 9 out of 10 women I see doing it grossly compensate lumbar hyperextension for hip extension, thereby making it counterproductive. Also, it takes an insanely number of reps to be able to feel a good burn.

ALTERNATIVE: I don’t know if the donkey kick-back will ever be extinct but current literature shows and endorses the hip thrust as the most effective exercise for pure glute activation. Unlike the squat, the hip thrust relies a great deal on the gluteal muscle than the hamstring and lower back during maximal contraction.

Bodyweight Essential : The Plank

The pull-up & push-up exercises are without question two of the premiere movements in fitness. They remain a staple in building lean muscle and strengthening the upper body. Although not definite but if a third exercise were to follow the aforementioned movements, it’ll be the plank. Arguably the most universally preferred choice for developing the core and abdominals, the plank has been around for years and is as ancient as the squat. Planking requires virtually no equipment and can literally be performed anywhere thus making it a favorite for working the abs amongst many fineness enthusiasts.

The simplest way to get into a plank position is by first getting into a push-up position. From there, bend your elbows to 90-degrees and ensure that your shoulders are directly above your elbows. With your weight resting on your forearms and your legs fully extended, the exercise commences by holding that position for as long as possible. Ensure that there’s alignment from your head through your shoulder blades, butt and feet. The plank is an anti-extension exercise which means the lumbar spine will naturally want to ‘sag’ or go into lumbar extension and you have to resist it for the movement to be effective.

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When performed correctly, the plank develops the rectus abdominis, anterior core stabilizers, lumbar spine, quadriceps, glutes and shoulders. It requires major involvement of the shoulder girdle thereby making it difficult for those with preexisting shoulder pain. Individuals with chronic shoulder pain should seek out regressed versions of this movement (more on that later). Different metric standards exist for the plank making it difficult to determine what hold time is considered ideal. Some older individuals may not be able to hold a 1-minute plank while a 25-year old female could easily hold a 2-minute plank. As a rule of thumb, hold your plank for as long as possible and until your abs and shoulder start to burn.

For those interested in some challenge and competition, the world record for the longest plank belongs to Mao Weidong of China with a time of 4 hours 26 minutes and was set in September 2014.

If you enjoy doing the plank and would like to add some new challenges, here are a few progressions:

1. Body Saw Plank: This progression of the plank requires a TRX, stability ball or gliders. Set up the way you would for a regular plank but with your feet and legs placed on top or attached to either of the aforementioned accessories. From that position, glide your entire body back as far as possible while keeping your forearms stationary and then glide it forward as far possible again. If using a stability ball, the forearms should be mounted on a bench with legs extended on the ball. The advantage of the body saw plank is that it’s quick and it eliminates what could potentially be a long hold time. This is ideal for individuals pressed for time.

2. Plank on a Stability Ball: The unstable surface of a stability ball presents a unique challenge. Going from planking on the floor to planking on an unstable surface proprioceptively forces the body to adapt to new demands. Balance and motor control are enhanced thus forcing the abdominal muscles to react in a way it never did with the conventional plank. Variations include legs on ball/hands fully extended on the floor, forearms on ball/feet on the ground, hands fully extended on ball/feet on the ground and forearms on bench/legs extended on ball. Due to the advanced nature of this exercise, many people will have a hard time mastering it initially. Take your time in perfecting the old-fashioned plank before adding this progression to your routine.

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3. Lifting One Leg/One Arm Up: This is a very challenging progression of the plank so it must be carefully performed. This progression is performed by either lifting one leg up or one arm so you’re planking on only 3 of your 4 limbs. To plank on leg, simply lift either your left or right leg just a few inches off the ground. A higher lift will result in more gluteal activation. To plank on one arm, take one hand off the ground and extend it in front of your or place it on your opposite shoulder. The latter requires the hands to be fully extended. With either progression, the body will naturally want to rotate and you must resist falling to one side. The anti-rotation component coupled with anti-extension makes this progression ideal for strengthening the entire abdominal region.

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4. Plank Push-Up: This creative plank progression combines a traditional plank and a push up making it a great bang-for-your-buck choice for effectively targeting the abdominals, chest, triceps  and anterior deltoid. To perform this exercise, assume a plank position. From there, extend both your elbows one at a time until you’re in a full push-up position. Reverse the actions by bending both of your elbows and return to a plank. You can alternate hands or continually push off the same hand, though the former is more effective because both arms will be put to work. Intensity can be measured in reps (from plank position to push-up is 1 rep) or timed.

For those dealing with chronic shoulder pain, planking on a bench can be just as effective as planking on the floor. While holding until the abs begin to get a good burn is always recommended, the exercise should be discontinued if the shoulder region begins to flare up. Individuals with torn shoulder labrums and rotator cuff injuries should be especially conscious of this. This regression is also ideal for beginners who lack adequate core strength.

45-plank-female

 

If you routinely perform planks and have never done any of the progressions, trying adding some of them to your workouts. Most plank variations can be done anywhere which means you can do them in the office on a quick break or at home during a TV commercial break of your favorite shows. Exercises like Deadlift, Squat and Overhead Press can improve plank strength and hold time because of the recruitment of the lumbar muscles in the aforementioned exercises. It’s no surprise that individuals who are great at planking also perform compound movements.

I’ll talk about the side plank (the sister exercise to the traditional plank) on another post.

 

One exercise only to do for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a question on my Facebook page asking my fellow fitness enthusiasts if they had to pick just one, what single exercise would they do for the rest of their lives. I received a lot of interesting responses including popular movements like squat, deadlift and push-ups. The fact of the matter is any exercise is good for the body so from that perspective any exercise is better than no exercise at all. But lets say, hypothetically, we could only perform one exercise for the rest of  our lives, which one would take precedence? Are there certain movements that are more impactful on the body than others?

Without a doubt!

Compound movements will obviously be favored because of their multi-joint actions. But as all-encompassing as compound movements are, they  don’t engage all muscle groups. Regardless, a few muscles will be left unworked. So how does one select the ideal exercise to perform for the rest of their lives?

I can make a case for 4.

1) A Case For The Deadlift: If you deadlift on a regular basis, you know it is one of the most whole-body engaging movements. Its functional impact on the body also makes it a staple in every workout program. The entire posterior chain gets worked from the upper trapezius muscles to the lats, erector spinae, gluteus muscle group and hamstrings. There’s also emphasis on the anterior core, quads, biceps, forearms and grip enhancement. Very few movements offer a barometer for strength like the deadlift due to its biomechincal physiology. The term ‘dead’ in deadlift essentially means picking up a dead weight from the ground which requires a great deal of effort and precision. It is why so many people hurt their backs when picking up items from the floor because their kinetic chain isn’t mechanically aware and alert enough. The deadlift corrects and addresses the problem while strengthening the body over time.

Although the chest, triceps and shoulders don’t get a lot of work, the fact that two-thirds of the body is engaged during this movement makes it an ideal exercise to perform for life.

2) A Case For The Squat: Widely considered as the premier exercise, the barbell back squat remains an essential component for weight loss, strength and lean muscle. It remains an assessment tool for many fitness professionals. Though I’d argue that the deadlift can and should replace the squat in assessment protocols due to the fact that preexisting knee and back ailments can affect a person trying to perform the latter. But I digress. The squat and deadlift are by far the two most functional movements in fitness, partly due to to their hip-hinging similarities  and identical muscle groups that are used. There are over 600 muscles in the body and squat is known to work about half of them! That alone is a good incentive to pick the squat as the ideal exercise to perform. Glutes, quads hamstrings, anterior core and upper back are some of the engaged muscles.

The only drawback, which I mentioned earlier, is knee and back pain can make back squatting difficult and unable to perform. Compressive forces from a loaded barbell on a weak lumbar spine could discourage an exerciser from doing squat. Although variations like the front squat (an ideal replacement for those with knee and back pain) and single-leg squat exist, they require near-perfect precision and execution and can take a while to master (the Bulgarian Split Squat being the exception). All things considered, the squat remains a great exercise and in my estimation, one of the two most important exercises (the deadlift being the other).

3). A Case For The Push-Up: By far the most popular exercise and best for working the upper body, the push-up is as ancient as Greek gods and is here to stay. Simply put, no exercise targets the pecs, anterior core, shoulders and triceps like the push-up. Keep in mind that the traditional bench press is a derivative of the push-up so both exercises are essentially the same. But unlike the bench press, the push-up requires no equipment and no set-up and can be done virtually anywhere so from that standpoint, it is more advantageous to many exercisers. Variations like the one-hand push-up, feet elevated push-ups, plyo push-ups, T-push-ups, atomic push-ups and band push-ups make for unique and interesting challenges, one disadvantage with the bench press.

There is little to no engagement of the lower body during a push-up which could come as a detriment later in life to someone who choses to make it their only exercise. That’s the only case against the push-up. Aside from that, it is the ultimate upper body builder.

4). A Case For Walking: As impactful and popular as the push-up is, not many people can perform it well or do enough of them. Walking is the one activity everyone can relate to. Barring any chronic knee or ankle condition, walking is the simplest and easiest physical activity to do. It is why so many health experts and professionals recommend it as part of an exercise regimen to lose weight, lower blood pressure and high cholesterol and promote a healthy lifestyle because all it requires is for you to just get up and move. Simple! So many people enjoy walking and have reaped benefits via weight loss, mood and overall positive state of mind. Believe it or not, walking can also be made challenging and walking programs do exist for its lovers. For an in-depth look at these programs, take a look at this blog post I wrote a while back.

As ubiquitous as it is, walking just fails to address many of the musculoskeletal needs of the body. While fat loss can occur via walking, so can lean muscle. Power, muscle mass and raw strength cannot be achieved through walking, regardless of the distance covered. On a more encouraging note, walking is the only activity that has the lowest risk for injury and can be done by people of all ages.

5 Nontraditional Ways To Workout With Minimal Gym Equipment

By now we know that in order to lose weight, build lean muscle and get strong, resistance training has to be routinely performed. For many of us who resistance train, barbell and dumbbell exercises form the foundation of our workouts and rightfully so. However, there are some of us who may not always have access to a gym to perform a barbell squat or deadlift. Furthermore, there are also people who have to travel for work so much that they end up spending more time in hotels than at their homes.

Not having access to a gym can be discouraging for fitness enthusiasts and while a hotel gym is encouraging for those who travel a lot, many of them lack the basic equipment. The good news is that resistance training can be performed and even made challenging without the use of barbells, cable machines and dumbbells.

Here are 5 nontraditional ways to resistance train:

1. BODYWEIGHT TRAINING : This is unquestionably the easiest and simplest way to workout the body because all you need is your bodyweight and decent amount of room. The human body is designed to move in a plethora of directions and planes so multi-planar movements are made available. Keep in mind that in order to illicit a good physiological response from bodyweight exercises (Here’s my top 10 list), a structured program which allows for supersets, progressions and a short amount of rest is recommended. For example, if you can easily do 20 push-ups with minimal effort, try progressing to both feet elevated on a bench or lift one leg up.

Sample Bodyweight Training Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Bodyweight Squat

A2) Push-Up

A3) Plank

B1) Reverse Lunge

B2)  Pull/Chin Up (If no access to a bar, then substitute for Scapular Wall Slide)

B3) Side Bridge

C1) Burpees

C2) Jumping Jacks

2) TRX SUSPENSION TRAINING : TRX training has become a mainstream phenomenon and it’s here to stay. Just like bodyweight training, TRX training can be done virtually anywhere, however it allows for more progressions and challenges than bodyweight training. What I like about the TRX is that nearly all the exercises force the core musculature to work a little harder than in a traditional setting because the body will always try to resist movement in every plane.

Sample TRX Workout: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) TRX Squat OR Single Leg Squat OR Overhead Squat

A2) TRX Push Up

B1) TRX Bulgarian Split Squat

B2) TRX Inverted Row

C1) TRX Roll-Out

C2) TRX Mountain Climbers

3) KETTLEBELL TRAINING : Although Kettlebells have been around for quite some time and a bit popular than the TRX, it appears that the only exercise I see most Kettlebell users do is the Kettlebell Swing. The Swing is by far the most popular KB exercise and a great one too. But there are  a multitude of exercises that can be performed with the KB. It’s important to know that handling of a KB requires thorough practice and possibly  coaching so if you’re unfamiliar with some movements, take time in learning the nuances first.

Sample Kettlebell Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) KB Front Squat (Unilateral or Bilateral; If Unilateral, perform the same number of reps on other side)

A2) KB Row (45-degree trunk hinge. Unilateral or Bilateral; If Unilateral, perform the same number of reps on other side)

B1) KB Single-Leg RDL (Contralateral)

B2) KB Push Press (Unilateral)

C1) KB Clean

C2) KB Swings

4) RESISTANCE BANDS :  Another inexpensive way to workout from a nontraditional perspective is the use of bands. Although the resistance bands with handles are the most popular, other versions like the thera-band and monster bands also exists. The resistance and monster bands allow for the most variety. Bands have the biomechanical advantage of constantly keeping tension in the muscles due to the elastic nature of them. This tension inevitably puts more emphasis on the concentric portion on the lift because it discourages you from relaxing or resting too long during the eccentric phase.

Sample Resistance Band Workout: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Band-Resisted Squat

A2) Band-Resisted Push-Up

B1)  X-Band Walk

B2) 1-Arm Band Row

C1)  Band-Resisted Trunk Twist

C2) Band-Resisted Plank

5) GLIDERS: If you’re unfamiliar with this accessory, it looks just like one of those plastic plates you eat from at barbecues and cookouts. In fact, glider training can be successfully substituted with paper plates and they work on just about any floor surface. However smooth, bumpy-free concrete floors allow for the most rhythm and variety. The unique challenge with glider training is that you’re forced to work a little harder during the concentric phase because your feet and hands must drag or move the glider each time.

Sample Glider Training Program: Perform the exercises in each group 3 times, completing a group first before moving on to the next.

A1) Glider Alternating Reverse Lunge

A2) Glider Push-Up Fly (Modified or Regular)

B1) Glider Supine Hamstring Curl (Unilateral or Bilateral)

B2) Glider Prone Crunch

C1) Glider Bodysaw

C2) Glider Mountain Climbers

 

  • Make sure you warm-up the body dynamically and via some soft-tissue work to promote the flow of blood and oxygen to working muscles.
  • Notice I did not include specific number of reps because I want you to use good  judgement in determining that for yourself. If you perform 15 bodyweight squats on your first set and feel little to no challenge, perhaps you should perform 20 on your next set.
  • Because you won’t be doing any max effort work, keep your rest time between exercises and sets as minimal as possible. I recommend no longer than 90 seconds.
  • Another great way to make nontraditional training challenging is by documenting your workouts. This allows you to set new challenges and prevent you from regressing. For example if you rested 75 seconds between your TRX sets in week 1, increase the challenge by resting for 60 seconds in week 2.

Machines Vs. Free Weights

If you’ve been an avid  gym exerciser for at least couple of years, then you must be familiar with the ongoing debate between free weights and machines. It is one of the most heated and polarizing topics in the fitness with so many biased opinions. When I was growing up, the older guys I lifted with made me use free weights and told me never to use machines. They demeaned machines saying it was for the weak and lazy. So many case studies over the years concluded that free weights are advantageous over machines when it comes to maximal strength, bone density, fat loss and muscle mass.

So machines are useless and should be extinct right?

Well, not necessarily. It’s scientifically true that training with free weights (barbells, dumbbells, body weight, etc) have more benefits than machines. The proof is in the pudding : Increased range of motion, development of maximal strength, best potential for hypertrophy, stronger bones due to increased tension and building maximal power are some of the great benefits of using free weights. An overwhelming part of my workout programs and that of my clients are centered around free weights. I’m a firm believer in them.

However, machines also have their benefits and can be incorporated into workout programs. Certain people may also benefit a great deal from machines. It is important to identify the fitness goal at hand and the training level of the individual when utilizing machines. While the use of machines will never be as popular as that of free weights, they can still be used in some capacity.

Here are  3 ways machines can be used:

1. Sedentary & De-Conditioned Individuals: These are people so inactive that walking up a flight of stairs can be a daunting task. Sedentary and de-conditioned individuals have little to no muscular strength and endurance. Their muscles are so weak and tendons very wound up. For these reasons, these people are better off starting off with machines, where there is easier range of motion and controlled directional force. As the body adapts over time, free weights should be used.

2. Isolating Muscle Groups: When it comes to lean mass, free weights is the undisputed king. No question about it. However certain small muscle groups may benefit a great deal from the use of machines. Small muscles like the gluteus minimus and medius, anterior deltoid, biceps and calf muscles can be individually targeted through the use of machines for better definition. Keep in mind, these muscles should already be activated via compound movements before being isolated for better accentuation. Examples are the hip abduction (gluteus minimus and medius) and seated shoulder press (anterior deltoid) machines.

3. De-Loading: The term ‘de-load‘ refers to lowering the intensity and volume of training for a period of time. It basically means, taking some ‘load’ off your current workload. Though not set in stone, de-load phases typically occur following 3 to 4 weeks of moderate to intense training and can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days. During this phase, a free weight exerciser can use machines to lighten and lower his/her workload. It’s basically a way of giving the body a break while still training it at a decreased intensity.

Remember, I’m not advocating the notion that machines are better than free weights. Both are effective and impactful for muscular strength, lean muscle, fat loss, increased bone density and decreased LDL. However, machines do offer some advantages that could benefit certain individuals. In my humble estimation, they should be routinely performed providing the fitness goals at hand are being addressed properly.

4 Popular Exercises With Progressions For Better Gains

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a blog post on ways to make your workouts more fun and challenging. In that blog I mentioned increasing volume, decreasing rest periods and changing the sequence of your workouts as some of the ways to achieve that feat. In this week’s blog, I’m going to dig deeper and show you how to make some of your favorite exercises more challenging.

So many popular gym exercises need to be fine-tuned every now and then to yield more bang-for-your-buck gains and to avoid boredom and monotony. If you’re an avid exerciser who works out at least 3 days a week, chances are you get complacent with your workouts regularly. It’s inevitable, even if you’re the strongest and most conditioned person at your local gym. The fact of the matter is the body needs continual challenges for continued upward progressions.

Here are 4 popular gym exercises that can be progressed to a greater degree of difficulty:

1. TRX Push-Up: Suspension training has completely taken the fitness industry by storm and has become an essential part of all exercise programs. The TRX Suspension Trainer is by far the most popular and most utilized amongst fitness enthusiasts. The Push-Up is arguably the most common exercise done with this exercise accessory tool.

The Challenge : TRX Decline Push-Up: Place a plyo box or aerobic step (knee-height high) 4 to 6 feet in front of a fully extended hanging TRX. Assume a decline stance by placing your feet on the box as you simultaneously reach for the handles with your hands. Perform decline push-ups. The extra elevation will force your anterior core to work harder due to increased contraction via anti-extension. Your pecs will also get a deeper stretch at the bottom of this movement. This is a very advanced movement so you must be able to perform regular TRX Push-ups before attempting this.

2. Hip Abduction Machine: A very popular exercise machine that works the glutes and used mostly by women who regularly work out at gyms. Although it’s not a ‘women-only’ exercise, majority of its users are women who are in relentless pursuit of a nicely, shaped butt. The term ‘hip abduction’ is a joint action that uses the gluteus minimus and medius, the muscles on the side of your butt.

The Challenge : Partial Squat On Hip Abduction Machine: Place your feet on the foot cradles on the hip abduction machine but do not sit. Instead drop down to a partial squat and perform the movement. The isometric squat stance will bring your, gluteus maximus, quadriceps and hamstrings into play, which you wouldn’t get sitting down. The added external rotation of the hip will force your gluteus minimus and medius to work harder also. You should try to achieve a considerable isometric squat stance to reap the full benefits.

3. Deadlift: I’ve talked about this exercise in many of my blogs so I’ll keep this short. The Deadlift is one of the important compound movements for building strength, power, fat burn, lean muscle and improving posture.

The Challenge : Deadlift With Strength Bands: For those unfamiliar with strength bands, they’re basically rubber bands in larger sizes and with greater tension. They are mostly used by elite athletes and powerlifters but can be incorporated into just about any workout program. Place a medium or heavy strength band over the middle of an olympic barbell. Step on the part of the band that’s resting on the floor with a hip width stance. The band should be right on the arches of your feet. Place your hands on the barbell, just outside the 2 points where the band is over the barbell. Explosively drive through your feet and deadlift. The tension from the band will constantly try to pull you down during both the concentric and eccentric phases. This forces the use of more power, force and speed which will yield more calories burned, improved strength and size. The tension of the strength bands is the key to achieving these benefits so the weight on the barbell should be kept to a minimum.

4. Reverse Lunge: The most knee-friendly of all lunges, the reverse lunge is the only lunge variation I do these days. We all know it isolates the muscles of the butt and thigh but it also stretches the hip flexor at the bottom of the movement. If you have back and/or knee pain, this exercise is ideal for you!

The Challenge : Reverse Lunge With Front Squat Grip: This is highly advanced progression that should be done with caution. You must know how to do a barbell front squat before attempting this. Using fairly light load, assume a barbell front squat stance in a squat rack. With the barbell resting on your fingers or shoulders (depending on the grip you use), do alternating reverse lunges. Because the center of gravity is being moved upward, farther away from the base of support, the balance challenge becomes much more difficult. The anterior core is engaged a great deal that you literally will feel a ‘burn’ in your abs while doing this movement. You’re going to wobble every now and then so be very slow and controlled on your decent.