1. Organize your training around a goal
I mentioned this in the first post on ways to improve your workouts, but let’s take it a step further!
When done right, organizing your training around a goal gives purpose to everything you do in the gym (hopefully outside too). This brings focus and eliminates a lot of guessing about what to do. It also saves time and leads to better quality workouts.
Here are two examples:
Client A – “I want to get a good upper body workout today”
Client B – “I want to be able to do an unassisted pull up”
There is nothing wrong with either goal, but the first is very general and could mean anything. What does “good” mean? Which upper body muscles are we talking about? This could be a long workout…
Client B’s goal is is very specific and tangible. Training for this goal means improving strength in the upper back and lat muscles. Not only is it more specific, but Client B gets to watch herself progress and get stronger along the way, keeping her motivated and working hard!
Whether its building muscle, fat loss, more strength, or increased flexibility, having a goal, especially a clearly defined one, will lead to better training, better results, less frustration, and save lots of time!
2. WARM UP!
Do you warm up before you train? No? Well it’s time to start!
Imagine you just got out of bed. You’re barely awake, your eyes haven’t adjusted to the light yet, and the only thing you can think of is getting back into bed!
Have you ever felt this way in the morning? I know I have more than a few times.
Now imagine someone comes rushing into your bedroom. They throw the door open, they’re shouting at you, ordering you to pay attention, get dressed, and brush your teeth while making coffee.
Sounds a bit overwhelming, right? You’d probably say something like “I’m not ready for this. I’m barely awake!”
This is kind of what you’re doing to your body when you train without warming up.
Warming up gives your muscles, joints, and nervous system a chance to “wake up” and get ready for what you’re about to put them through.
Not only does this help reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll have better training sessions!
Have you ever noticed that the first set of an exercise feels tough, the second set feels better, and the third feels better than both? Imagine how you’d feel and what you’d be able to do if all your sets felt as good as the third one.
There are many ways to warm up for training, but to keep this short and sweet let’s focus on the easiest one: adding more sets.
As I mentioned above, it sometimes takes two or three sets of an exercise before you feel good and ready to push yourself. Normally, you’d stop here and move on to the next exercise.
Don’t make this mistake and leave progress on the table. This is where training begins!
Instead of stopping at that third set that finally starts to feel good, consider that your first working set. You’re now doing 5 (or more) total sets: 2 to warm up and 3 work sets.
But wait, there’s more!
Be smart about how you use these warm up sets. Take your time, focus on good technique, and listen to your body.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in the gym is using too much weight too soon, then struggling through a handful of bad reps for one or two sets before moving on to something else.
You’ll have much better training sessions and see more progress by gradually increasing the weight and focusing on your technique and form over 2 or more warm up sets. For more examples on why and how you should warm up before training, check out these articles on my Learn to Lift blog:
3. Change it up!
We all have our favorite exercises and movements in the gym. Some of my favorites are pull ups, rows, and squats.
While it is a good thing to have stuff you look forward to in the gym, there is a downside:
The more you perform an exercise, the less effective it becomes as your body adapts to it.
Fortunately, you have several options to keep making progress. You can:
- Add more weight
- Perform more reps
- Perform more sets
- Shorten the rest period between sets
- Change the exercise
- Change the angle or range of motion of an exercise
These are just a few options for adding variety to your training sessions. Trust me, there are many more to keep your brain occupied and your muscles stimulated for a long time! I’ll dive more into this in a future post.
As most of my clients would quickly tell you, I’m always in favor of adding more sets, more weight, and squeezing out a few more reps with most exercises. Hey, if it works why change it?
To keep with the theme of short and effective training sessions, changing exercises and changing the angle or range of motion are the easiest ways to go about this.
When I update or write programs for clients I have a list of guidelines I follow from what I’ve learned over the last 15 years. Here are four that I consider the most important and helpful for everyone.
1. It needs to make sense.
Any changes to exercises in your training program should move your closer to your goals. This is the most important guideline and will keep you focused when deciding what to add or change.
Take the pull up example I used above. If this were your goal you’d want to spend the majority of your time strengthening your back muscles, forearms, and grip with exercises like rows, modified pull ups, and other challenging variations that move you closer to your first full pull up. This approach makes the most sense. More on this a little later…
What doesn’t make sense for this goal? Spending your time doing biceps curls or arm only workouts. You might get a good arm pump and some soreness this way, but you’ll never see over the top of a pull up bar.
Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t include “fun” exercises that you enjoy but aren’t part of the plan. Save that stuff for the end of the workout or another day. Just remember that when training for a goal the majority of your time is best spent on what is likely to make that goal a reality.
2. Give the change time to work.
In or out of the gym, progress takes time and change doesn’t happen overnight. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or something like that…
This means that you want to do two things:
- Stick with whatever changes you make long enough to give them a chance to be effective. How long is long enough? 3 to 4 weeks is a good starting point if you’re training at least 2-3 times a week.
- Keep a record of your training to measure how you’re progressing. Note the exercise, weight used, number of reps, and sets. At the 3 or 4 week mark you should have enough notes to notice a trend. Are you still making progress? If yes, good! You might want to continue for another week or so. If you’re progress has stopped or you’re starting to feel beat up then it is definitely time to change that exercise.
3. Small changes = BIG results!
Changes to exercises don’t need to be massive to be effective. Something as simple as a different hand or body position on an upper body exercise or going from a parallel stance to a split stance on a lower body exercise are more than enough to make an exercise feel completely different!
Here are two videos to show you small ways to change exercises to keep your training effective and the progress coming:
I find it is best to start with changes like this because they target the same muscles in different ways but don’t require extra space or equipment. This allows you to focus on improving technique while still training the same muscle or movement pattern. You don’t have to learn a completely new exercise, but you’re still using a more targeted or more challenging version of the exercise you started with.
4. If it hurts, STOP!
Always remember that training is NOT a toughness competition. You’re not going to get any better forcing your way through exercises that cause pain and keep you out of the gym.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of discomfort that comes with exercise. This comes from exerting yourself and is temporary. This is the “good pain” or “burn” people talk about. While uncomfortable, it is part of the process and can be managed over time.
Pain or discomfort in the joints, sharp pains, or anything that doesn’t go away or improve while warming up is a sign that something isn’t right. This is your body telling you to stop and do something else. The best thing you can do is LISTEN!!
It isn’t about how much time you spend, but how you spend your time! Make it count!!
Check out part one of this series for more ways to improve your workouts without spending all day in the gym.
What makes a great personal trainer?
Is it looks and having an amazing physique? Popularity? “Celebrity Trainer” status and a huge social media following? Being a high energy cheerleader or drill sergeant type?
Some of these might help, but just because someone looks great, knows how to workout, or yells a lot doesn’t mean they will be good at teaching others.
I’ve worked alongside trainers who looked amazing, had high-profile clients, and played the “hardcore” role well but were terrible professionals. On the other hand, I’ve been lucky enough to work with very smart and successful trainers didn’t fit the stereotype at all.
So what actually matters? What qualities does a good personal trainer have?
This isn’t a full list, but here are three of the most important qualities I feel every good personal trainer needs to be successful.
While many feel jealous of personal trainers’ ability to wear comfy sweats and workout clothes to work, there are still responsibilities and a job to do. Whether working in a big gym, private studio, or traveling to clients’ homes, all good personal trainers conduct themselves in a professional manner.
This means showing up to appointments on time, being prepared, coaching clients, respecting boundaries, handling other job responsibilities, and following up or through with any requests or questions.
If they are constantly late, regularly miss appointments, more focused on their workouts than the client, or spend most of the time on their phone instead of coaching and instructing, that’s a pretty good indication that they don’t take their job seriously and don’t care. Does that sound like the kind of person you’d want to work with?
I know I wouldn’t want to.
Good personal trainers also know to “stay in their lane”, meaning that they don’t give advice or opinions in areas other than fitness. A trainer isn’t a physical therapist, physician, psychiatrist, or anything else. When clients ask questions or need advice in other areas, a good personal trainer knows to step back and refer the client to the appropriate professional.
I would also add that “practicing what you preach” falls under professionalism. In order to coach others on how to live a healthy lifestyle, get fit, strong, build muscle, or any other fitness goal, a trainer needs to live that life. They don’t have to be a fitness model or the world’s strongest man or woman, but they need to understand the process and all that comes with it.
Fitness is confusing and intimidating for many. The ability to communicate and help people figure it out in a way that makes sense for them is an absolute must.
Do they speak to impress or confuse you with terms you’ve never heard, or do they speak about fitness and nutrition in a way that you can easily understand?
Are they able to instruct you on how to perform an exercise or manage your week better? Do they yell at your for making mistakes or for not doing what they said?
Coaching is a large part of personal training, and involves communicating to help someone understand and figure out the best approach for them.
Many believe personal trainers are supposed to be “hardcore” drill instructor types that yell and belittle people. I’ve actually had people come in asking for this treatment!
This looks good on television, but it isn’t helpful at all.
A good trainer won’t talk over someone’s head or belittle them. At the very least look for someone that listens to what you have to say and makes an effort to help you figure it out.
Whether they’re brand new to the industry or have been training people for 10+ years, are they still educating themselves? Do they look for opportunities to expand their knowledge base and improve the training experience for their clients?
Are they willing to admit they don’t have all the answers and continue learning and growing as a professional? Do they attend seminars, workshops to learn from others in the industry? Do they apply what they learn to help clients achieve better results?
The answer to all of the above should be YES.
As the saying goes, if you aren’t growing you’re dying. If a trainer isn’t growing and evolving they’re going to have a difficult time keeping up in this industry. The most successful trainers and coaches in the industry are always looking for opportunities to expand their knowledge to improve their approach or understanding to better serve their clients.
There’s no excuse for anyone that doesn’t do the same.
Of course there are other factors to consider when looking for a personal trainer. But when you find one that has these qualities, you’ve found yourself a rock star and will most likely be in good hands!
“To get fit and lose weight, you have to exercise hard everyday, right? More is better, and exercising more often will get me to my goal faster.”
This is a common belief, but more is not always better.
There is no doubt that exercise is important, but its a small part of a bigger picture. In today’s busy and stressful world, most people don’t have the time or interest to build a life that revolves around working out 24-7 just to look and feel good.
More important than that, you don’t have to!
The good news is that you can get better results without spending more time in the gym or adding more workouts to your busy schedule. All you need to do is give a little TLC to something you’re already doing!
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep gives the body the opportunity to recover from exercise and grow. Your hormones, memory, concentration, and appetite are all affected by both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
While it is common to think “sleep is for the weak” and down another coffee to keep you going, you may want to reconsider this approach.
Sleep deprivation, a condition defined as not having enough quality sleep, is so widespread that it is considered a public health issue. Side effects of sleep deprivation include fatigue, adverse effects on brain and cognitive function, impaired immune system, increased stress hormone levels, increased risk of type II diabetes, and problems with attention and working memory.
In addition to potential health risks, all of the above can negatively impact your performance in the gym, ability to recover from training, and nutrition habits. If you want better results from training, don’t take sleep for granted!
What can you do to improve your sleep quality?
- Aim for the recommended 7-9 hours every night.
- Take naps if needed. Napping is a great way to stay focused, energized and sharp throughout the day. Make your naps 30 minutes or less to maximize benefits and avoid feeling sluggish after waking. If you have trouble sleeping through the night or find it hard to get 7-9 hours of sleep at night, napping is the solution!
- Keep the room cool and avoid extreme temperatures.
- Sleep in a dark room. Use a sleep mask or black out curtains to limit the amount of light.
- Limit use of electronic devices and social media before bed. Not only are interior and external lights the culprits, but also light from electronic devices (phones, tablets, TV, etc.). A common recommendation is to stop the use of electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
Elite athletes, top companies and some of the most brilliant minds in history all recognized the health and performance benefits of quality sleep. Let’s take a page from their playbook!
Dhand, Rajiv, and Harjyot Sohal. “Good Sleep, Bad Sleep! The Role of Daytime Naps in Healthy Adults.” Current Opinion in Internal Medicine 6.1 (2007): 91-94. Web.
“SSE #113: Sleep and the Elite Athlete.” Gatorade Sports Science Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
“How Many Hours of Sleep Should I Get | Sleep.org.” SleepOrg. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
It’s not how much time you spend, but how you spend your time!
More training… Longer workouts… Every exercise you can think of…
None of these are a guarantee of better results in the gym. More important, you don’t need a billion reps and every exercise you can think of for great results or to get a good workout!
Here are 4 ways to improve your workouts and get better results WITHOUT spending more time in the gym.
1.Organize Your Workouts
Want something you can do today to improve your results in the gym? Here it is:
Taking an organized approach to your workouts means you’ll spend less time in the gym, see better workout performance, and better results.
Instead of doing all the machines, only your favorite exercises, or trying things out of boredom, train in a way that makes sense for you to get the most from each exercise.
How you do this depends on your goals, but here are two general guidelines:
1.For general fitness…
Start your sessions with compound or multi-joint movements like rows, squats, or pull ups. These exercises require more energy, so it makes the most sense to do them early in the workout when you’re still fresh. Do your isolation exercises later in the workout.
You’re working from big exercises to smaller ones. You’ll be able to use more weight or do more reps in the big exercises, and you’ll “feel the burn” more with the smaller ones later in the workout.
2.For performance-based goals (strength, muscle, etc) or learning new movements…
Start with the exercise you find most challenging, or that requires the most concentration. You want to perform these exercises while you’re physically and mentally fresh so you can give them 100%. Learning how to squat or improve technique in any exercise while tired is not a great idea.
This may seem simple, and that’s because it is!
Ditch the “random fitness” and get organized!
2.Better Exercise Selection
To repeat the phrase I used at the beginning, more isn’t better.
Are you using the most effective exercises for your goals? Be sure to include exercises that challenge your “trouble spots”. Yes, training this way is harder. But that’s how you get stronger and more fit!
For example, take someone trying to increase upper body strength by doing biceps curls and push ups. These exercises work some upper body muscles, but they aren’t the best for building strength.
A better approach would include rows, dumbbell and barbell presses, and pull ups or pull downs, with curls added later in the workout if necessary.
Why are these exercises better?
Multi-joint or “compound” exercises like the ones mentioned above involve more muscle mass, allow for use of more resistance, and cause more metabolic stress. In other words, they’re harder and you can go heavier! Because of these reasons, you won’t need as many exercises in each workout.
Whether you’re a casual gym-goer or a competitive athlete, every training plan needs to include compound exercises.
Get more work done with less by adding compound exercises to your training plan!
3.Get Better Quality Reps
Now that you’ve picked the right exercises, its time to perform them as best you can. Remember, finishing as fast as possible isn’t your goal. You’re trying to get stronger!
Slow down your sets, give your muscles a chance to work, and get the most from each rep.
Concentrate and actively “flex” your muscles on each rep of every set.
“It isn’t enough to “go through the motions” and finish your workouts as fast as possible just to say you did it.”
If you’ve ever heard anyone mention the “mind-muscle connection”, they’re referring to the ability to actively contract and relax your muscles.
Sounds simple, right? Well, this is easier said than done. Some muscles and movements will be more challenging than others (the upper back muscles come to mind). That’s ok, decrease the weight and keep trying until you can do it confidently.
You’ll notice that you’ll be able to do lots of reps and not feel much when you first try. As you learn to contract a muscle and get better at it, the number of reps you can do will come down and you’ll “feel the burn” much sooner.
Once you have this down, you want to do this for every rep of every set on ALL exercises.
4.Don’t Train to Muscle Failure Every Session
Progress doesn’t happen in the gym, it happens when you rest!
If you’re going for broke and “chasing soreness” every time you step in the gym, you’re going to have a hard time recovering from training.
Your goal is not to be sore and tired. Your goal is to improve and get better!
You do not need to exhaust yourself in every workout to make progress. Remember that training and all forms of exercise are stress. You have to be able to recover from that stress in order to improve. Going all out every day, using soreness to measure your workouts, or going “#BEASTMODE” makes it harder to recover. This approach may also bring you closer to injury.
The best thing to do is learn how and when to push yourself. Pay attention to how your body responds and feels after workouts. This is a great way to find out if you’re doing too much or can push yourself a little more.
Stop your sets 2-3 reps of “all out” so you leave a little “gas in the tank”. This rule helps you push yourself but not overdo it.
Instead of using soreness as a guide, track your workouts to measure your actual progress.
Seeing your numbers improve (weight used, reps, sets, etc) is one of the best ways to measure how you’re doing and the effectiveness of your training plan. This also keeps you organized and moving faster, as you won’t have to spend time trying to remember what you did last week and where you left off.
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!