New Abs Exercise!

Here’s a quick hit post about a simple but tough exercise you can use to train your abs. Okay, I admit it’s not new for everyone, but there’s a good chance it’s new to you.

Shoulder Taps are harder than they look. You’ll work your entire core, including your obliques. It’s similar to a plank but more dynamic.

You start at the top part of a push-up position. Your arms are fully extended. Keep your back nice and flat and your core braced. Your feet should be slightly more than shoulder’s width apart.

From this stable position, just take your left hand and tap your right shoulder. Then return to the start position. Now take your right hand and tap your left shoulder. Don’t rush it, move smoothly and under control.

It’s harder than it looks, isn’t it?

It’s more dynamic than a plank because you’re balancing on three points of contact with the ground instead of four. You want to avoid twisting your torso during the reps. And of course, you definitely don’t want to end up kissing the floor, so be careful.

To start out, a couple sets of 5 is plenty. Remember, the idea is to work your abs so focus on that, not slapping your shoulder.

Try ’em out and let me know what you think!

 

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Great Home Workout!

I love working out at the gym (except when it’s totally packed). But you don’t have to go to the gym to have a great workout. You may not like the gym. It might not be cost effective for you. Whatever your reasons for not training at the gym, here’s how you can build strength and totally transform your body at home.

The key to improving your physique is adding muscle and subtracting body fat. Eating the right amount of food to support this goal is the driver of fat loss. Resistance training will help you pack on muscle. In the gym that resistance is usually the barbells, dumbbells and various implements. If you have that equipment in your home, That works, too.

If you don’t have that stuff, don’t worry, you can build a great body using just your bodyweight for resistance. You can adjust exercises so you’re sufficiently challenged. You have to keep pushing yourself in order to keep seeing results.

I like to structure bodyweight training for my clients to hit the total body 2-3 times a week. After a quick warm up to get them ready to go, they do 1-2 lower body exercises, 1-2 upper body exercises, and finish with 1-2 ab exercises. You don’t have to spend hours at a time in order to make progress.

  Lower Body Exercises

 Air Squats These work all the muscles in your lower body. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. You can go a little wider or narrow until you find a groove that’s most comfortable. Breathe in. Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to drive yourself back up. Exhale. You can fold your arms across like in the video. You can also have them at your sides as you start and descend, then raise them as you come back up. If you want a less advanced version of the squat, try Box Squats (you can use a chair). If you want to step up the challenge, try Split squats

You can’t go wrong including some sort of lunges in your training. Like split squats, you train each leg independently. You build strength and balance simultaneously. To do Reverse Lunges (you can do them without using weights) start with your feet about shoulder width apart. It’s basically a squat but working one leg at a time. Keep most of your weight on the leg you’re working. The other leg will slide back as your working leg bends. The thigh of your working leg should reach about parallel to the floor before you push through that heel to drive yourself back to the starting position. The knee of the back leg should come close to just touching the floor. You can alternate legs on each repetition or you can do all the reps for one leg, then all the reps for the other. Again, breathe in just before your go down, breathe out as you come up.
 Lunges are a variation where you step forward with your working leg, rather than just descending. This lead leg will support most of your weight. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up. Another option for you are Lateral Lunges which work your legs a little differently. There’s more emphasis on the inner thigh muscles than in other types of lunges. You step to the side and bend the knee of the working leg while trying to keep the lagging leg mostly straight. You may need to point your toes out a little bit. Breathe in on the descent, out on the ascent.

Want a nice backside? Include Glute Bridges and you’ll definitely notice a change for the better. You can scale these to make them easier or more difficult. Using both legs is easier than the single-leg versions.  Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels on the ground. Push through your heels to drive your hips towards the ceiling. Keep your your core nice and tight (as if you were bracing for a punch to the stomach). Squeeze your cheeks hard at the top of the movement for a second or two and lower your hips back down. Breathe in on the way down, out on the way up. As you develop your strength you can scale up to the more advanced versions.

An awesome way to train your balance and hamstrings is doing Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts. I warn you, these are definitely not easy. You can use a wall for balance until you get the hang of it. The key to this exercise is to think of it as shifting your hips back, not as you bending at the waist. If you’re just starting out you can try sliding your off leg back rather than raising it in the air. You’ll feel a good stretch in the hamstrings of your working leg. 

 Upper Body Exercises

 Push Ups  work all your upper body muscles involved in pushing (arms, shoulders, and chest). If you can do them regular, cool. If not, you can work on the bent-knee version. Keep your core tight the whole time. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lower yourself by bending your elbows, push yourself back up. Try to keep your back in a straight line the whole time. Breathe in on the way down, out as you drive back up. You don’t need to keep your elbows tucked tightly against your sides, but you don’t want them totally flared out wide like you’re doing a chicken dance either. Find a comfortable elbow position somewhere in between. You can make them harder by doing them with your feet elevated. You can also adjust the width of your hand placement.

It’s tough to work on upper body pulling exercises without a pull-up bar. You can find a pretty inexpensive version that wedges in a door frame. Pull-ups and Chin-ups are a tremendous way to build a strong back and powerful arms. Grab the bar and use your back muscles to raise your body towards the bar. Visualizing yourself pulling with your elbows rather than with your hands helps ensure you’re targeting your back. If you can’t do a pull-up/chin-up yet, that’s okay. Jump up to the bar so you’re at the top position of a pull-up. Then lower yourself down by extending your arms as slowly as you can. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Training the lowering part of the exercise will build the strength you’ll need to do the pulling part over time.

Abs Exercises 

 To do crunches start by lying on your back. You can have your knees bent and your heels on the floor or you you can bend your knees and keep your feet elevated, it’s up to you. You can have your hands behind your head or crossed in front of you (again, your choice). You want to flex with your abs to raise your upper body, not use your hands to pull your neck.

Bicycle Crunches work your abs as well as the obliques, which run along your sides. Similar starting position as crunches. You raise your upper body and twist at the top. Instead of trying to bring your right elbow to your left knee, think about bringing your right shoulder towards it. This will help prevent you from pulling on your neck with your hands.

Planks You get into a push up position, only you rest on your forearms. Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the ground. You want to try to keep your body in a straight line (no shooting your butt in the air or letting your hips sag down). It’s a core exercise, but you should think of basically your whole body flexing. These are really challenging and they develop amazing core strength. Rather than do these for repetitions, do them for time. Hold yourself in the plank position as long as you can, with good form. When your form starts to go, you’re done. You’ll build up over time.
Side Planks This time you rest on one forearm. Keep your upper arm perpendicular to the ground. Make sure you keep your body in a straight line. Again, flex your entire body. Do this for time also.

These obviously aren’t all the exercises you can do for a home workout, but they’re more than enough to get you started on the road to an impressive body.

You can start with 1-3 sets of each exercise. When it comes to repetitions, start with a few and build your way up. If you’ve never trained before even 5 reps can be a challenge. If you’re consistent you will quickly improve the number of reps you can do. Remember you want to use good form for each repetition. The point isn’t to do x-number of repetitions, it’s to get stronger. Poor quality reps don’t get you stronger.

You can train bodyweight pretty frequently if you want to. I suggest starting with 2-3 times per week. If you’re untrained it won’t take much to start seeing improvements. As you gain strength and familiarity, you can increase the number of workouts per week if you want.

The Upside of a Fitness Plateau

You’ve been making gains and then all of a sudden they stop and you’re stuck. What happens now?

 You made a decision to get in better shape. You began a mission to shed some flab and build some muscle. Sure, you’ve started this path other times but this time it’s different.

 You diligently stuck to your plan. Your workouts and nutrition were on point and you hit them consistently.

 It took a little while but then you started seeing results. Your sweat and discipline were paying off.

 Your clothes are getting a little looser. You notice some more definition in your arms. The scale is moving in the right direction. You spend just a little more time in front of your bathroom mirror. Even people around you compliment your transformation.

 And then the progress just stops.

 What you’ve been doing isn’t working any more. Everything was going so well and now, for weeks, nothing’s changing. You’re stuck. You must work harder right? Less food! Longer training! That has to be the answer, right?

 No, not quite. First, take a deep breath. Relax. It’s not time to run yourself into the ground by adding hours more at the gym and dropping your food intake by half.

 Plateauing is normal. It’s part of the process of transforming your body.

In fact, it’s kind of a good thing. Seriously. Don’t roll your eyes.

 Reaching a plateau is a sign you’ve already made some progress. It means your body has reached a new normal state that’s an improvement over your old normal state when you started. Sure, it’s not where you want to be. That’s okay, you’re not done.

 Ask yourself this about this new plateau:

Do you feel better than when you started?

Are you happier with your appearance now than before?

Can you do more things?

Are you stronger, faster, fitter, more flexible?

Are daily tasks easier?

Do you sleep better?

Has your confidence improved?

  Even though we all want progress to be linear and straightforward, it’s not. It’s a jagged graph with some periods where you’ll feel you’re just running in place.

 A plateau gives you the chance to reflect and adjust. Often you may be in one for a few weeks and you’ll have a breakthrough if you just keep doing what you’ve been doing. I wish I understood exactly how that works. Sometimes it just takes a little more time sticking with your plan to start seeing results again.

 Maybe it’s like driving on one of those straight roads out West. There’s a giant mountain ahead of you and hour after hour it doesn’t seem to get any closer, until suddenly you’re there.

 If you need to adjust, just tweak things a little. What you’ve been doing was working for a reason. Making a 90-degree change is more drastic than needed. Pick one thing and change it just a little. When you change several things, you may see some improvement, but you’ll have no idea why. Take one thing, tweak it maybe 5-10% and when it works, you’ll know there’s a high probability that’s the reason.

A few tweaks that can help: Try to manage your stress. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Drink more water. Focus on your form in the gym. When you’re lifting weights, change up your reps and sets.

 I won’t lie and tell you plateaus are awesome. They can definitely be frustrating. They’re also a sign you’ve reset yourself in a better place and there are more gains to come. Stick with it!

Front Squat

Front squats are an awesome squat variation. Because the bar is in front of you, they train your body differently than back squats do.

You maintain a more vertical torso throughout the movement which really works your upper back. This is a more quad-dominant exercise, too. Back squats put more emphasis on your hips, hamstrings and lower back. One version isn’t necessarily better than the other.

If you’re looking to train in the clean and the snatch, front squats more closely mimic those movements than back squats.

If you have adequate wrist mobility, you can hold the bar in your fingers. If not, that’s okay, you can cross your arms over each other. Either way, the bar actually rests in the natural groove between your shoulder and collarbone. Real talk: having the bar there takes some getting used to. It’s not the most comfortable thing at first.

The actual movement is the same regardless how you hold the bar in a front squat. Brace your core and unrack the weight. Take a couple steps away from the rack. Your feet will be about shoulder width apart, perhaps a bit wider. The exact width will vary from person to person. Find a comfortable stance and go with it.

Keeping your core tight, descend by bending at the hips and knees until your thigh is parallel (or slightly below parallel) to the floor. Drive through your midfoot to ascend back to the starting position. Repeat for reps. If you’re only doing a couple, you may be able to remain braced without taking another breath until you’re done. If you’re doing more than a few, you exhale a bit as you ascend. Inhale at the top. You still want to ensure you keep your core tight throughout the set.

More than likely you’ll use a lighter load for front squats than back squats. You can add them to your leg training in place of back squats or, if you’re really ambitious, in addition to them.

Don’t Go All Out!

You might be thinking why would a fitness blog tell you not to go 100%?

There’s a time and place when I think you should, but I think that’s on a very rare occasion. If you’ve been training for a specific event (like a 5k or a powerlifting meet), when the moment to compete arrives, then by all means, go all out.

But if your goals are more general than a specific event, I think the best approach is to push yourself but don’t spend much time with the pedal to the metal.

Basically, the harder you push, the more you’ll have to recover. If you treat your workouts like contest day, then you’re not actually training, you’re testing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with testing. It lets you know where you stand on a maximal effort.

But it’s not training. Say you go for your one-rep squat max and you hit a new personal record. That’s great you set a new PR. You’ve also taxed your muscles and nervous system. This is great if you were at a meet, not so much if your next session is in a day or two. You won’t be recovered sufficiently and your next workout will reflect it.

Training is building your capacity. You do that by stretching yourself a little bit at a time. Working in sub-maximal ranges allows you to do this without undermining your recovery.

A true one-rep maximum effort is going to tax you more than say a 3- or 5-rep max effort. Improving your PRs on sets of 5 means you’re getting stronger (and ultimately adding to your 1-rep max) while still allowing you to recover for your next workout in a day or two.

One way I like to think about it is comparing it to school. Testing for your max is like taking a final exam. Finals are a big deal (at the time) but it’s not actually learning. Your classwork, homework, and studying are when the learning happens.

You work on adding a little bit of knowledge and understanding while reinforcing what you already know. What this is for your brain is what train hard but sub-maximally is for your body.

Also like school, you can show up and go through the motions. Again, the results you’d expect this approach to have on your knowledge are comparable to what half-assing your workouts will do for your physique.

Beating this academic analogy into the ground just a little while longer: just like you need to make sure you’re well-fed and well-rested to do well in class, you need to do the same with your fitness.

And (last one, I promise), it’s also a good thing to take breaks. I’m not suggesting you take 3 months off from training in the summer, but your body definitely needs a bit of time away to fully relax and recover.

Okay, that’s it. You want to find out your one-rep max on the bench once every few months? That’s cool. But if you try to test it every week you won’t see as much improvement as you would if you just put in hard, sub-max work week after week.

Fitness Q&A

 

 Instead of the posts I usually do, this one’s going to be a little different. I’m going to answer a few questions I’ve been getting from clients and friends. Here goes!

What’s the best way to get lean for summer?

 If you’re looking to drop a few pounds for summer you’re going to have to eat a bit less. I know “a bit” is a little vague. In order to lose weight you must consume fewer calories than you burn.  Try to reduce your calories by 10-20%. It doesn’t seem like a lot, and that’s intentional. Cutting your food intake by 40% or more may get you some fast weight loss initially but there are serious drawbacks. You’re going to be miserable if you drastically drop your intake suddenly. After the initial weight loss, your progress will slow. You keep cutting your calories by 40% and soon you’ll be at or below the minimum your body requires just to function.

  A more modest deficit of 10-20% gets the scale moving in the right direction without making you miserable and leaves you some room to gradually increase the deficit if and when it becomes necessary.

  You can track your calories if you want. I’d recommend that for most people. But you don’t have to. It takes some discipline to stick with it, but consistency is imperative to achieve your desired results.

  In order to get really beach ready, include 2-3 strength training sessions per week. They don’t have to be excessive. Strength training cues your body to hold onto muscle despite your reduced food intake.

What’s your daily diet like and how does it affect your training?

 I must confess, I’m not a foodie. I like food but not the way a lot of you do. I know I’m missing out on all the joy that delicious food brings. I like to have a few go-to meals and basically eat them most of the time.

 I eat chicken or beef pretty much every day. I include plenty of vegetables daily as well, usually carrots, spinach, or broccoli. I don’t need a ton of variety but when I do get sick of having one thing, I’ll switch things up. I spend a couple hours on Sundays preparing most of my meals for the upcoming week. It’s more convenient for me than cooking daily.

 I don’t eat before I work out. You might feel your workouts suffer if you don’t have something before you train. That’s cool. As long as your total daily food supports your training, it’s not all that important when you eat.

  My diet is very consistent but it’s not perfect. You don’t have to eat totally clean in order to be healthy and make progress in the gym. I include room for things like burgers, whiskey, and ice cream on occasion. My goal isn’t to be single-digit body fat, super shredded. I can enjoy stuff like that in moderation without it affecting my training.

What’s a good pre-workout meal? What’s a good post-workout meal?

  If you’re going to eat before you hit the gym, that’s cool. Simple carbs like a piece of fruit can give you a little energy boost without making you feel sluggish. A heavier meal will take longer to digest. You don’t want your body focused on digestion when it’s time to workout.

  After a workout, you can refuel with some protein and carbs. Maybe you’ve heard about an “anabolic window” post-workout? Basically the idea is that your body is primed to use nutrients for muscle repair and growth right after a workout. There is some truth to it, but it’s largely overstated. The most important thing is that you hit your protein and calories targets by the end of the day.

Does it really matter how long you rest between sets?

 The short answer is yes. If you don’t rest long enough, your ability to do subsequent sets will be less. But you don’t want to rest so long that you cool down, either. Most of the time 1-2 minutes between sets is enough to recover. But if your workout is more strength-based, meaning you’re doing reps in the 1-5 range, you might need a little longer to recover, 3-5 minutes.

 If you feel recovered after 3 minutes, there’s no reason to take 5 minutes. Go ahead and hit that next set. If you’re new to training this may seem like eternity, but as the amount you’re lifting increases those few minutes will start to feel like seconds.

Thanks for the questions, keep ‘em coming!

Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about fitness can fit on an index card.

Everything you need to know about health and fitness can fit on an index card. Seriously. There’s an endless amount of stuff you could learn. A few of us happily dive down that rabbit hole. Most are just as happy with the bullet points, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

So here goes:

  1. For body composition (i.e., what you look like) the amount of food you eat is the main thing.
  2. For health (i.e., how you feel), the quality of the food is most important.
  3. Be consistent with your training. Base it around activities you enjoy most of the time. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to stick with it. Your consistency will drive your results.
  4. Focus on proper form and getting stronger at the compound lifts (such as squats, pull-ups, and bench press).
  5. 45-60 minutes per weight training session is plenty.
  6. Doing something is better than doing nothing. If you don’t have time for a full workout, do what you can.
  7. Sleep is vital. Prioritize it and you’ll improve your life in every way.
  8. Dietary supplements aren’t magic. They can’t make up for a terrible diet.
  9. Drink plenty of water. How much? More.
  10. Train hard, but not stupid. Listen to your body.

Obviously this isn’t everything there is to know on the subject but if you did nothing beyond this list, you’ll get great results. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to do more. There’s always going to be a “brand new” diet plan and workout regimen making outrageous promises. That’s marketing. No knock on it, they’re simply trying to get you to buy their product. Any good program is going to incorporate the tenets listed above.

Keep them in mind and go have a great workout!