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21 Feb

This is a question that comes up often.

Before I get into a long explanation of technique and what not, let me answer the question:

No. Kettlebells are not dangerous.

It’s funny to me that the types of equipment and training that offer the most benefit are also demonized the most. Resistance training, kettlebell training, Olympic lifting all get a ton of unnecessary hate and people stay away because they heard part of a bad story.

On the other hand, I have yet to hear of someone that avoided running, spin, or another form of aerobic exercise because they suffered a knee injury or heard a story from someone they know.

I’ll stop before I go full rant, but context is important. Remember these words:

There are no bad exercises, just bad applications.

Even the most simple exercise has the potential to cause injury if you aren’t paying attention. For this reason alone, good technique is an absolute must.

Learning correct technique will keep you safe and enjoying the benefits of all exercises, kettlebells included!

Swings are not an upper body exercise!

When using kettlebells for the first time, it is common to want to raise the weight by lifting with the upper body first. This is incorrect and will definitely lead to problems.

All popular kettlebell exercises (swings, cleans, snatches, etc) are lower body exercises first. Yes, your hands and arms are involved, but they are mostly there to hold and control the weight. Your lower body, specifically your glutes and hamstrings, are the muscles mostly used. Understanding this will keep you safe with any kettlebell exercise you attempt to learn.

After teaching for about 10 years now, these are the issues I see most often with kettlebells:

  • Squatting
  • Using the upper body
  • Too much range of motion
  • Not using a heavy enough kettlebell

No squatting with swings!

Kettlebell swings are NOT squats. They are It’s a completely different move that’s similar to a deadlift, but with less weight and range of motion. Commonly called a “hinge” because you are only moving at one joint (think of a door hinge). When I teach this to clients, I tell them to imagine they are folding themselves in half at the waist. Think “hips to the wall, keep back flat”.

The goal of the hinge is to teach you to move using your hips first. This is the basis for the swing, so make sure you get this move down!

I like to use a wall and start with a small range of motion. Within a few minutes, clients usually feel confident doing this and move away from the wall, increasing range of motion. You can see this in the video above (ignore the single leg version).

From the bottom of this movement, you want to flex your glutes to return to the start position. Since there’s no resistance it will take several reps before you start to “feel” it in your glutes. If you don’t feel it right away that’s ok. What’s more important right now is that you don’t feel fatigue, pain, or strain in your lower back.

When learning any exercise for the first time, GO SLOW! You cannot learn and correct yourself at full speed.

If you feel this where you shouldn’t or have a difficult time holding a neutral spine position, take a step back and start with an easier exercise. Bridges are a great exercise for learning to use your glutes.

Bridges allow you to focus on hip extension without worrying about much else. Keep your abs braced tight and use your glutes, making sure that you aren’t using your low back to arch up and down from the floor. There should be no flex or bending in your middle throughout the range of motion.

Once you can do this easily, go back to the hinge.

Once you are comfortable with the hinge, you can add some resistance.

The only difference between this exercise and a full swing is the speed. We’re still learning the movement so it is best to keep the range of motion short. Don’t worry though, this will still get your heart rate up and you’ll definitely feel it!

With most resistance training exercises, we put emphasis on lowering the weight slower than we lift it. Not the case with kettlebell swings. This is one situation where we want to use the momentum to our advantage!

Stay with the hinge, but now move faster! Start by just moving faster on the way up. Feel how the weight starts to move away from your body? This is how you get the kettlebell up! Once you have a feel for the “fast up” part, try lowering faster too. Don’t pause at the bottom, or you’ll lose the momentum. Once you hit the end of your range of motion, extend your hips and immediately return to the start position.

And that’s it. Congratulations, you just learned how to swing a kettlebell!

Don’t be afraid to use a heavier kettlebell. Remember, you aren’t using your arms to lift so it won’t feel as heavy as you think. This also reduces that tendency to want to lift with your arms. If you’re looking to use kettlebell swings as a conditioning exercise, 5, 10, or 15 pounds aren’t enough to get that effect.

The RKC  recommends 20kg for men and 10kg for women. If you want to start a little lighter to get the technique right, that’s fine. But don’t be afraid to push yourself once you feel confident with your form.

07 Jan

It’s that time of year where getting a fresh start, the excitement and possibilities of a brand new year, and the idea of a “new year, new me!” are at the top of everyone’s minds.

New Year’s resolutions are a popular topic this time of year, as many see the start of a new year as the perfect time to start fresh and tackle goals again. 

Unfortunately, they’ve turned into somewhat of a joke. Resolutions went from a positive way to start a new year to an annoyance to deal with for a few months until people quit and go back to their old ways.

As catchy and exciting as they may sound, resolutions and the “New Year, New Me!” concept miss the mark in a few ways:

  • You don’t need to change or reinvent yourself every year.
  • There’s no extra benefit to waiting for January to start something new.
  • You don’t need new goals every year.

If you’re the type to make resolutions, don’t fret. Let’s take advantage of that energy and put it to good use!

Since the start of the new year is all about change, I think it is time for a big change in how we think about goals and resolutions!

I’m changing “New Year, New Me” to “Same me, Different Approach.”

 Here are four ways to change your approach for successful 2019 and beyond!

Don’t give up because it didn’t work out the first time you tried.

For almost 10 years I had the same goal: to have my own training facility so I could train and teach people in a nonsense-free environment. I wrote it down for the first time in 2008 and finally got the chance in 2017.

 It took about nine years, a billion mistakes, three “almost had it” situations, multiple attempts at partnerships, and exhausting every possible option for the right opportunity to present itself.

Setbacks and failures are not fun, but they happen. It is the price you pay for stepping out of your comfort zone to do something great. The point here is that it takes more than one try to get it right. Learn from every attempt and use that to do better in the future.

It is tempting to quit when things get tough, but don’t give up! Take a break to collect your thoughts, recover, and adjust your approach. There’s no time limit and your goals don’t expire, so take as much time as you need and keep trying until you have the success you want!

If it’s important today, start today!

Whether it’s a new month, new year, or the “beginning” of a new week, they are just dates on the calendar. There’s no benefit Monday has that Wednesday or Friday don’t.

If a goal is important to you, today is as good a time to start as any other day. Start taking steps toward your new goal as soon as you can. You may not be able to give 100% right now, but you’ll have the idea in your head and be able to give more effort when the time is right.

Take going back to the gym, for example. Let’s say you wanted to drop a pants size and build a little muscle in your lower body. Instead of trying to do everything at once:

  • Getting to the gym 3-4 times a week
  • Adjusting to a new training program
  • Changing your eating habits
  • Learning new exercises
  • Getting past the soreness
  • Getting more sleep
  • Not dropping the ball in other areas of your life

Start with one or two things that you can easily add to your routine. You could join the gym before the new year and get a feel for the place before it gets crowded. This way you’ll know your way around and have a “Plan B” for when it gets busy.

Or you might start training and get a feel for the new program before going all out. These are examples, but the point here is to start sooner rather than later and add to your list as you go.

I guarantee you’ll have a much easier time approaching your new year’s goals this way.

Fill in the gaps.

Even though it sounds cliche, there’s some truth in the “New Year, New Me” mantra.

It’s all about the word NEW!

You’re going to have to learn and try new things to reach your destination.

There is no way you’ll know everything you need to when you first start. The good thing is that you only need to know what you want to achieve. Learn the rest as you go.

Instead of trying to create a new version of yourself, build on the great person you already are! Enhance your good qualities and abilities. If you’re not getting the results you want from a training routine or anything else, figure out what’s missing or what’s holding you back, learn about it, and figure out how it fits with what you’re doing.

No fitness program, training routine, or diet in the world fits “as is.”

The “figure out how it fits” part requires you to experiment until you find what works and how it works for you. This is important, because this is where most people get it wrong.

Filling in the gaps is part knowledge and part experience

Don’t throw last year away. Learn from it.

It is tempting to start a new year by forgetting the previous one, especially if it was difficult or stressful.

Don’t throw it away before you take a look back.

What are the good things that happened? What are the bad things? What would you rather forget happened, and how can you put yourself in a position to head in a better direction?

Holding on to the past isn’t always a good thing, but learning from it is! Learn from your past experiences to set yourself up for a successful future. This ties back to filling in the gaps and learning as you go.

Instead of forgetting about that awful workout where you got nauseous, figure out why it happened so you can prevent it in the future.

Were you on a good streak with eating but got excited and cut your carbs too low, causing you to crash and binge for a few days? You can certainly learn from that too.

Whether you’re the type to make resolutions, or you’re someone that gets after a goal immediately, the most important thing to remember is to find a way to keep going.

The greatest resolutions, the best plan, and the most ambitious goals are only words and ideas until you do something about them. Start working when you can, adjust as you go, learn more along the way, and measure your progress against something.

It sounds really simple, and it is! It won’t always be easy, but this approach will take you very far if you stick to it.

03 May

The deadlift is getting more and more popular everyday…

 

Between “booty workouts”, CrossFit, increased interest in powerlifting, and resistance training becoming more accepted, exercises like squats and deadlifts are no longer just for hardcore gym rats. And that’s a good thing!

While a world where everyone deadlifts sounds awesome, resistance training has so many benefits that everyone should participate in some way. Yes, you can benefit even if your goal isn’t getting bigger, stronger, or faster.

Regardless of age or gender, everyone should be able to and needs to know how to lift something from the floor. This is what the deadlift is all about. Personally, I believe our standards for fitness are long overdue for an update and the deadlift should be included. That’s a long conversation for another day though. If you’re going to include this exercise in your fitness program (and you should, in some way!), make sure you’re doing it right.

Below is a list of the most common mistakes I see when people are first learning to deadlift. There’s a video demonstrating “right” vs “wrong” technique, and some pointers to help you get it right.

 

Quick Tips to Fix Your Deadlift Technique

 

Starting by extending the knees first

For anyone that trains to be healthy, reduce injury and feel better during day to day activities, make sure you learn this if you get nothing else from your time in the gym!

Lifting something from the floor by extending the knees first puts you in a disadvantaged position. Because your legs are now straight, you have to lift with your lower back muscles. This usually leads to an injury or a whole lot of unnecessary soreness.

Instead of straightening your knees then lifting the bar, work on getting your hips and shoulders to rise at the same time. You could call this “standing with the bar”.

This is the main reason I teach everyone that comes to my gym how to deadlift. It isn’t always about lifting heavy weights (Bravo if you’re looking to do that!). Learning how to properly lift something from the floor to a standing position is the end goal. One way or another this is something you’ll need to do at some point. Better to be prepared than sorry I say.

Pulling with your arms

This tends to happen when using something other than a straight bar or if the resistance is light. Yes, your upper body is involved in the movement, but a common mistake is to finish the top half by pulling with the arms. Think of your hands as hooks, as they are there only to hold the bar. Instead, keep your lats engaged and finish the movement by bringing your hips to the bar, kettlebell, or whatever you’re using for resistance.

 

Hyperextending or “leaning back”

Save your lumbar spine! The exercise stops when you are tall, so there’s not really any benefit to this. Again, finish by bringing your hips to meet the bar. Imagine there is a wall behind you, and stop when your upper back touches it.

 

Rolling shoulders back to finish

Once you set yourself to lift the bar, the position of your body shouldn’t change other than raising and lowering the bar from the floor. You can avoid this shoulder roll and shrug by “turning on” your lats before you start. Imagine putting your shoulders into your back pocket. If you have trouble or don’t know how to do this, read this.

 

Starting too close or too far from the bar

Start too far from the bar and you’ll be in a less than ideal position to safely perform the lift and find yourself off balance. Start too close and you can say goodbye to the skin on your shins! Best position is with the bar roughly over the middle of your foot but not touching your shins.

 

 

Squatting or letting the bar ride your thighs

A deadlift is not a squat. The main difference between the exercises, other than the position of the bar, is the hip hinge involved with the deadlift. This hinge gives the bar a straight path to the floor and makes the movement hip dominant. To fix this, push your hips back as you descend instead of “sitting” first. Improving abdominal strength, hip and ankle mobility will help too.

 

Whether it’s a bar loaded with 400 pounds, a sleeping child, a box, or groceries, learning to do it right will keep you strong and healthy for a long time to come. Use these tips to perfect your technique and enjoy the benefits of improved strength.

20 Feb

I recently went to a local rock climbing gym!

One of my friends goes from time to time and asked me to come. In the spirit of trying new things I told him to count me in!

As a last-minute surprise, his wife joined us. She’s an experienced rock climber, ice climber, and does a bunch of other stuff I find very impressive and would never in a million years think of doing. I like being outdoors, but they take it to another level! Much respect.

She gave me a brief “intro to climbing” talk and helped me understand how to climb and not wear yourself out.

 

As someone who spends a considerable amount of time every week lifting heavy stuff, it was tempting to rush right in and start climbing like is was in the gym for a workout. I know better than that though, and rock climbing is NOT an activity to approach with a “BRUTE FORCE” mentality. That is, if you want to be able to move and have hands capable of doing anything the next day.

 

My unexpected coach helped me have an enjoyable and successful first go at climbing. Thanks, coach! Luckily, I was able to somewhat return the favor in the same day.

 

During a break from climbing, explaining route markers, and the differences between indoor and outdoor climbing, she mentioned she gets pain in her forearms whenever she does a pull up. My turn to be the coach!

 

We went over a few stretches for areas she mentioned were tight, and I spent a few minutes teaching her how to engage her lats to help with her forearm issue.

 

The Moral of The Story…

 

Learning to engage and use bigger muscles before smaller ones (lats vs wrist flexors and extensors, in this case) will make you stronger in the gym and in everyday situations.

 

When learning pulling exercises in the gym like rows, pull ups, and even lat pulldowns, “engaging” the right muscles first is key. Bigger muscles can handle more stress and won’t fatigue as fast, allowing you to do more work. Improving intra-muscular coordination will lead to better results and less likelihood of injury.

 

 Learn to retract and depress your shoulders!

 

I bet you can shrug your shoulders and round them forward with no problem, right? The 2 movements below are about learning to move in the opposite direction. These moves are usually tricky when attempting them for the first time. Take is slow, don’t get frustrated, and practice often!

 

Retraction

This movement is challenging if you’ve never done it before. Often when you ask someone to “move their shoulders back” they will lift their chest and arch their back, which isn’t exactly what we want here. It’s a small movement. Start with 2 sets of 10 with a 1-2 sec pause on each rep. You can increase this hold as you get stronger. You can also change the angle of the exercise for an added challenge. The lower the angle, the more of a challenge to retract without shrugging your shoulders.

 

 

Depression

This is the opposite of “shrugging” your shoulders. A common instruction is to “put your shoulders into your back pocket”. This is also a small movement and tricky if you’re not used to it. Start with 2 sets of 10 with a 1-2 sec pause on each rep. You can increase this hold as you get stronger.

You do not need to hang from a bar to perform this exercise. I prefer this personally, but I’ve also worked up to the point where it is easy. You can start with your arms overhead, or by holding something light, like a broomstick if it helps to have something in your hands.

 

 

This is important for performance in and out of the gym, but also for healthy shoulders. Add these exercises to your warm up routine or do them on your off day. It doesn’t matter where you do them, just make sure you get them done!

 

You don’t need equipment to do these exercises either. If you’re stuck behind a desk all day you can raise your arms and do them with no resistance. You’ll still feel it where you’re supposed to.

31 Jan

I have a new little brother!

Well, he’s not actually my brother but that’s what he calls himself. I started volunteering with Big Brothers & Big Sisters last year and I spend roughly 4 hours each week with my 9 year old “little”. Entertaining doesn’t quite describe our adventures.

I try to find something different to do each week, and so far we’ve gone to the movies, the zoo, a reptile house, and a trampoline park. Actually, we did the trampoline park twice and the second one had a ninja warrior course! I think this big kid had more fun than the little one that day.

When the weather is nice we spend a lot of time in the park playing games.

He tries to turn everything into a competition between us and does everything he can to stack the odds in his favor, like not telling me we are keeping score until he is ahead. I have to give him credit because he’s clever. I’ve been around a lot longer though, so his sneaky attempts at winning never work out like he wants them to.

This leads to a lot of conversations about playing games, sportsmanship, and the concept of winning. He’ll often say something like “If I win this game, you have to take me to McDonald’s and I get extra nuggets!” I usually play along, but raise the stakes for him by saying something like “Ok, no problem. But if I win, we go for pizza and I get to eat yours.”

“What?! I don’t want to play then. That’s not fair!”

Funny how that fairness thing only comes up when he’s not getting his way.

I’m teasing him, of course. He always wants to win with everything, but there’s a problem…

He doesn’t know how yet.

I try to help him with this where I can, but it’s tough and I’m sure anyone with kids can relate!

When we play basketball, he usually starts running around the court, pretending to be LeBron James, then tries to make some impossible shot. When he misses (as anyone would), he gets mad and starts putting himself down:

“This is ridiculous! Why can’t I make a shot? I’m no good at this”

I usually step in at this point with the same approach I use with clients struggling in the gym. My goal is to get him to calm down, understand why what he’s doing isn’t working, and help him figure out a better way. I usually say something like “you’re not bad, but you’re taking shots that are difficult for someone my size. Move closer and try a normal shot like we practiced.”

As always, once he listens, he makes the next several shots and the all is right in the world again.

“I can do it when I pay attention to what you said.”

I explain to him that “winning” isn’t automatic. It takes a lot of work, and no one wins all the time. Even more important, EVERYONE wants to win, and nobody is going to let you win just because you want to.

If winning is important to you, then learn how to win!

Same goes for fitness and any other area of self-improvement.

  • Pay attention to what you’re doing instead of mindlessly going through the motions. This goes in the gym with exercises and at home with nutrition.
  • When you’re paying attention, you’ll start to notice what is working for you. Keep doing that until it stops.
  • For the things that aren’t working, change them. Make small changes to your approach, one thing at a time, until you’re getting the results you want.
  • Keep it simple until you’re confident and can handle everything easily.
  • Don’t quit because you’re frustrated or having a bad day. It happens to everyone. Your ability to manage this becomes important for future success, so hang in there!

Success and winning are not automatic, but you can be successful if you work at it. Put in the time to learn what works for you, pay attention to your actions, and improve them until you’re getting what you want. A simple and effective approach for almost guaranteed results!

07 Nov

 

It seems like it starts earlier every year…

For some, the holiday season starts with Halloween. For others, it’s the week or so before Thanksgiving. Whenever it begins for you, this time of year presents a challenge for your fitness routine. The holidays should be a pleasant time where we are thankful for the company of friends and family.

But…

It often turns out to be the most stressful time of the year! Holiday parties, family gatherings, traveling to or hosting relatives, and all that shopping for the perfect gift. That’s a lot to handle!

With all the food related celebrations, holiday weight gain is a particularly stressful topic for many. It doesn’t have to be though, and I’m here to show that you can make it through happy, healthy, and without gaining weight! Below are a set of guidelines that will help you make your way.

 

Your Trusty Holiday Survival Guide

 Rule 1: Maintain

If time is tight and you’re off your normal routine, trying to make progress while adjusting to all that is going on is a recipe for frustration. Focus on maintaining versus losing weight. This allows you to enjoy a few holiday meals without depriving yourself and removes any guilt associated with “falling off”. This is especially true around the holidays, but this rule can be applied to other hectic times of year as well.

Rule 2: Keep Exercising!

Time is tight and you may not be able to get to the gym for your usual high powered workout. That is fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop completely. Remember, the goal is to maintain. 20-30 minutes of exercise will keep you in the habit, improve your mood if you’re stressed, keeps your appetite in check, and helps maintain your current fitness level. If you don’t have 30 minutes, research shows that 10 minutes of intense exercise can be just as effective as 30 minutes of moderate activity. Have at it!

Rule 3: Stick to a schedule and don’t skip meals

A plan is helpful for most situations, so take a few minutes and make a new schedule for your current situation. Start by eating a good breakfast and eating throughout the day. This will make overeating at dinner less likely.

Rule 4: Get rid of leftovers

Freeze them, send them home with guests, do something with them, just don’t leave them sitting around for you to pick at over the next few days.

 Rule 5: Make one trip and make it count!

It is tempting to say “forget this, lets eat!” and turn every holiday dinner into a free for all. Just remember that you are in control here. If you are serious about staying focused on your fitness and weight loss goals, you can have your cake or pie and eat it too (what’s the point if you can’t eat it?). Use the “one plate” rule for parties and family gatherings. You are allowed one plate at dinner, no second trips. Choose your favorites and enjoy.

This is something I have always done during the holidays, Thanksgiving in particular. When I was in high school, basketball tryouts were always early the morning after Thanksgiving. Pigging out wasn’t an option, but I didn’t want to miss out on apple pie, mom’s mac & cheese and my other favorites either. I experimented with this idea and found it to be a perfect compromise between having a satisfying dinner and still being able to perform on the court the next day. It worked wonders for me then, and it will work for you too!

Rule 6: Enjoy yourself!

You’ve worked your tail off in the gym and been mindful about nutrition all year. Don’t stress out over a few holiday meals and a few missed days in the gym. There’s an entire year around the corner for you to make it up. It’s good to take a break from mentally and physically pushing yourself so you can recover and continue to reach for bigger and better goals. Consider this your break. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, so relax and enjoy the company!

18 Oct

Tired of Crunches? Use These Exercises to Strengthen Your Core!

Abdominal, or “core” training as it’s more commonly called these days, is more than crunches and planks. In fact, you’re missing out big time if you’re only doing these exercises!

When talking about abdominal muscles, most people immediately think of the “6 pack” (rectus abdominis) and the obliques. That’s it, right?

Not quite.

Yes, these are major abdominal muscles, but there are several more. If you want to talk “core training, then you also have to include the glutes and other trunk muscles that you can’t see in the mirror.

“But how? How do I train these muscles and give them the attention they need?”

Do more than crunches and straight planks!

Before I jump into the exercises, let me say this: abdominal training IS NOT complicated. You do not need much equipment, or impressive looking exercises that look good on social media but do little more than give you a nice “burn” in your stomach. Remember, your goal with these exercises is to improve strength and stability that transfers to other exercises and activities you enjoy.

It is also worth mentioning that abdominal exercises DO NOT make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. If your goal is to see these muscles, better nutrition needs to be your priority. One more time, for the people in the back:

Ab exercises don’t make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. Focus on better nutrition and fat loss if you want to see these muscles.

 

Okay, onto the exercises!

 

Chops

Chops are a great exercise to work your obliques. You can do them kneeling to focus just on the abdominals, or do them standing to get the glutes involved. Do them starting low and finishing high, or the opposite. I’d recommend doing one from each direction. One way or another, just do them, and do them right! Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.

Anti-Rotation Press

Your obliques are responsible for rotational movements, like the chop above. Did you know that they are also meant to resist rotation? They are, and that’s what this exercise is all about. Make sure your weight is even between your feet, and start with your hands about chest level at the center of your body. Push your arms straight forward, pause, and return to the start. Make sure you aren’t “stirring a pot” when doing this exercise. You can also hold for time, making this exercise kind of like a standing side plank. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 for the press, and 2-3 sets of 30 seconds for the hold.

Dead Bug

This exercise is very simple, but when done right it is very effective and challenging! Just like the obliques can resist rotation, your abs/rectus abdominis can resist extension (arching your back). The goal of this exercise is to move your arm and leg without arching your back or losing tension in your abs. This exercises tends to be a little frustrating at first, so be slow and deliberate with your movements. Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.

Bird Dog

Another simple but effective exercise. This is similar to the dead bug, but from a different position. Again, the goal is to move your arm and leg without arching your back, but this time there is the added challenge of balance. Try 2-3 sets of 15 each side to start.

This is not a complete list of different core exercises, but it’s a good place to start. Add some to your program today for more variety and stronger abs!

25 Sep

Pound for pound, pull ups are one of the most challenging exercises out there.

 

If you want to be “bad and strong” in and out of the gym, pull ups are an absolute must. Getting your first reps takes some work though, and it can be a real grind!

Don’t worry though. If you can’t do a full pull up yet, or you want to be able to do more reps, adding these exercises to your program will help make it happen.

 

Bodyweight Rows

 Get ready to pull a lot! The more pulling exercises in your program, the better. Rows are great for focusing on muscles involved in pulling, like the rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius. They are also easier than pull ups, which means you can get more reps to build strength and endurance in your hands.

The more upright you stand, the easier the exercise is (first version). To make it harder, walk your feet forward. The Inverted row is the hardest version of this exercise you can do without adding extra resistance. Start with 3 sets of 15-20 reps on the bodyweight row, and 3 sets of 10-12 reps on the inverted row.

Assisted Chin Ups

Lat pulldowns and machine assisted pull ups are fine for improving back development, but they won’t cut it if full pull ups are your goal. Band and partner assisted pull ups are also ok, but these two assisted versions are closer to the real thing and require you to work more. It’s all about the work!

Start under the bar with your feet on the floor. Pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar, but only use your upper body! You can “cheat” a little with your legs to get the last rep or two if you must, but use as much upper body as possible. For more of a challenge, straighten your legs, or get your feet off the floor like in the 4th exercise. If you want even more of a challenge, use gymnastics rings or TRX. Start with 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Eccentric Chin Ups

This one is a killer! Your muscles can lower more than they can lift, and this exercise takes advantage of that to build strength. Use a step or bench to get your chin above the bar. Come to a hang, then slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended.

When I say slowly, I mean SLOW! It should take 5-8 seconds to reach the bottom. Your reps will be lower on this exercise than the others because of the slower tempo. Try 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps.

 

A few tips to remember:

-You can change your hand position on these exercises to add more variety. Palms up (supine), palms down (prone), or neutral (palms facing each other) grip all target the back muscles, but with a slightly different emphasis.

-NO CHEATING! Fully extend your arms on every rep.

 

 

09 Aug

Question from a client: I have some equipment lying around and want to put together a gym I can use at home. Where do I start and what do I need?

Right behind “how do I get a flatter stomach?” this is the second most often asked question I get. While it may seem overwhelming or confusing, putting together a home gym is very simple. I’ll break it down and show you exactly how.

The amount and type of equipment you can use depends on 3 things: space, budget, and how much you plan to use it. If you have plenty of room, can invest in a decent amount of equipment and will use it often, build a full gym with a squat rack, bench, full set of dumbbells and a few other pieces depending on your goals. If your space and budget are limited, a few dumbbells and an exercise mat are enough.

This space is a storage room that holds most of the equipment I use day to day. With some rearranging, we can turn it into a nice little gym!

This room is pretty big, but I’m only using a small, 10×6 section for this demonstration. If you have more space, have fun and build a really cool gym! Just know that limited space won’t keep you from being able to train effectively and get good results.

space for home gym

Before…

simple home gym equipment

After, with some equipment.

As an in home personal trainer, I have a variety of equipment that I use to keep clients “happy”. I recommend equipment that has multiple uses. Dumbbells, kettlebells, bands and sandbags can be used for all resistance training and interval training exercises.

A bench is helpful, but it is not required since most exercises can be done on the floor.

 

Safety considerations

  • Clear the area of any objects so nothing is damaged or broken.
  • Careful with low ceilings for any overhead or jumping exercises.
  • If you are using a bench or squat rack, make sure you have enough clearance on both sides to easily load and unload the bar and move each exercise through the full range of motion. If you plan on doing barbell exercises like bench press, have a spotter for heavy sets.
  • For treadmills, make sure the area behind the machine is clear of any objects and not right up against a wall.

Time to put your new gym to use! Get some workouts in, get comfortable, and find a way around the home gym challenges. Happy training!

09 Aug

I had a conversation with a client recently that made me stop and think for a while. She commented on the advice and coaching throughout the session and how helpful she found it, both in and out of the gym. It’s part of the job and automatic at this point, so I tend to think nothing of it. I thanked her for the compliment and then tried to think of a time when I was in her shoes.

Sit back, put your feet up, and relax. Its story time!

Flashback to 1997 and a gym somewhere in suburban New Jersey.

About halfway through one of many basketball practices, the coaches split us up to practice free throws. Right behind sprints, this was my least favorite part of practice. I had a lot of work to do in this area and I was a very inconsistent shooter.

I must’ve missed several shots in a row, because our “shooting coach” felt the need to chime in…

“Jay, you’re a horrible shooter.”

And that was it. Nothing else. No help, no advice. Nothing. From the shooting coach. The coach who’s job it was to help us improve our technique. To say I was angry is an understatement. As an athlete, you get used to coaches pulling you aside to tell you where you messed up. I didn’t mind the criticism, but the other coaches would tell you something you could learn from and use next time. This guy gave me nothing. Thanks for the help, coach!

Here’s my question: if you’re a coach and see a player struggling with some aspect of their game, why open your mouth to criticize if you have no intention or ability to help them? To any personal trainer and coach, fitness sports or anything in between, I ask you the same question:

why criticize and berate your clients if you can’t do anything productive to help them?

This approach does nothing to correct or solve any problems It is confusing at best, and discourages people from trying at worst.

Stop.

There’s a much better way to go about it.

Compare that experience to my brief time practicing with the basketball team in college 2 years later. 

 

During one evening practice, the coaches had the big men together working on free throws and post defense. My free throw shooting was better, but not by much. After a few shots, the head coach came over and explained what he saw that was causing me to be so inconsistent. He told me what to do and what I should focus on while on the line.

Within 5 minutes there was a noticeable improvement. Mind blown! Even after I quit the team I continued to use his advice when I played or went to shoot around.

These two experiences stick with me to this day as examples of what to do and what to avoid when coaching people on exercise, nutrition, and daily habits that lead to better health.

Of course, fitness is much different than sports, but coaching is an important part of both.  In all my experiences with coaching, on the receiving end as an athlete and student and on the providing end as a personal trainer, these are a few of the things I believe make great coaches stand out:

1.Observe, listen, and do something helpful.

Being critical is fine, but also give them something they can do to improve. It’s silly to have to say it, but this is what coaching is! If you’re coaching a client with nutrition, don’t yell at them for having a bad day. Listen to them and discuss what they can do to get back on track and solve the issue going forward. Instead of “wow, your push ups look awful!”, show them how to do it right. Train them. This is what you’re there for!

2.No advice is better than bad advice.

Sometimes its better to just be quiet. The last thing anyone needs is more bad advice that doesn’t help them solve their problem. If you can’t help, keep it to yourself.

 3. Communication is key.

As a coach, you have an understanding of fitness, nutrition, sports, or whatever your chosen field is. Your knowledge is useless if your clients don’t understand you when you speak. Big words and industry specific terms are fine when talking to colleagues, but your clients most likely don’t care. Skip the buzzwords and learn to speak their language. The better you can communicate, the better their results will be.

4. Be patient.

It would be great if everyone was 100% on board and ready to go from day one, but that’s not how it works. People progress and learn at different speeds. Understand that it takes more time for some than it does for others. Encouragement, reminders, and even a little “tough love” are all fine, but don’t hold it against them or get mad because they aren’t getting it as fast as you want them to.

 

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