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.

Advertisements

Fitness Apps

Recently a good friend asked me about fitness apps and I think this is a good opportunity to talk about what to look for. The first thing to consider is what do you want from an app, what do you need from it? They can do a number of things. At a basic level, a good one will allow you to enter data so you can keep track of your workouts. Keeping track is essential to your continued progress. If you don’t progress, you don’t change. If you’re not changing, it won’t be long before you’re frustrated.

A useful app will have a good library of exercises. It’s even better if there are demonstration videos. It will allow you to enter data for your training, specifically the exercises, weights used, sets and repetitions. Some will have pre-designed training routines which you may find valuable if you prefer that to creating your own. This can be especially helpful if you’re just starting out. It should also allow you the flexibility to create and edit your routine if that suits you better. The variation in the ways each app is laid out will largely determine its appeal to you.

Another useful feature is a timer/clock. Your smartphone probably already has this, it’s nice if you don’t have to use separate apps. I’m a big believer in keeping your workouts to an hour or less. An app that keeps track of rest periods for you will ensure you stay on point. The length of your rest times will depend on your fitness goals and schedule but it’s important to stay consistent. A workout with rest periods of 30 seconds is going to feel very different than one with 2 minutes between sets.

A good app will be able to show you the trends of your workouts so you can easily view your progression over time. This is another instance where your preference comes into play. You may like a numerical listing of your personal bests (a.k.a. personal records, a.k.a. PR’s) or a line graph, or a bar graph. It’s up to you. Who doesn’t enjoy taking a second to reflect on your accomplishments?

I use this one but obviously there are many to choose from*. I just like the layout and the ease of use. Maybe you’ll like it too, or perhaps you prefer another one. (Help out other readers by leaving your favorite in the comments section)

Apps where you can track your calories and macros can be instrumental whether your goal is losing fat or building muscle. It’s convenient if it has the ability to enter foods by name or scan barcodes. It should also allow you to create and store some favorite foods or meals, which is a great shortcut. There are a few things to be aware of with just calorie apps. First, their databases may be slightly off with the calories, which is frustrating because it defeats the purpose of having it. Next, understand that no matter how you’re tracking calories, it’s an estimate. So don’t get too hung up on whether it’s 43 calories or 48 calories, okay? Third, make sure when you enter meat in the the app that you specify whether it’s raw or cooked. A raw 4 oz. chicken breast is about 117 calories. A cooked 4 oz. chicken breast is about 184 calories.

I like this and this for tracking calories*. (Let other readers know which ones you find most helpful in the comments)

I want to say is that it’s absolutely not necessary to use an app to track your workouts or you food, but they’re both certainly really helpful.

Thanks for reading!

*I’m not sponsored or endorsed by any app or company. These are just my personal opinions.

Best Shoulder Exercises

Best Shoulder Exercises

Most of us know how training biceps and triceps builds impressive arms and helps us look better from a profile perspective. We know that a well-defined chest makes us look better from the front. But a set of well-developed shoulders helps with both.

Let’s talk about how to build up this often neglected body part.

First a little anatomy. There are three main parts to the shoulder (deltoid or delt) from a muscle standpoint. There’s the front (anterior), middle (medial), and rear (posterior) parts of the shoulder. Under these are the smaller, stabilizing muscles commonly known as your rotator cuff muscles.

They all work together for the functions of the shoulder: basically to rotate the upper arm, to move the arm away and towards the side of the body, to move the arm laterally from front to back.

From a joint standpoint, the shoulder is kind of amazing. It has a tremendous range of motion, more than any of our other joints. This flexibility is both a strength and a weakness. We’re able to use our arms in myriad ways but the shoulder is also particularly vulnerable to injury. It’s vital to keep this in mind as we discuss how to train.

The most basic shoulder lift you can do is the Press. The cool thing is there are a bunch of ways to do this lift. Try them out and see which one that suits you best. You’ll probably find that over time you’ll get better results from switching up after a while.

Standing Press

With the standing barbell press , you’ll start with the bar around the height of your collar bone. Grip the bar with your hands a little bit wider than shoulder-width. The exact position will depend on the individual. You want to be comfortable, with your forearms approximately perpendicular to the ground.

Unrack the bar, brace your core and keep your lower body tight. You want a solid foundation as you raise the weight above your head. Now is not the time for wobbly legs and soft abs. Press the bar in straight path above your head. The path should be right in front of your face. Move your head back to avoid hitting yourself… or you know, learn the hard way. Once the bar is past your head, you bring your head forward again. Extend your arms fully. The weight should be directly over your center of mass. If it isn’t, you’ll be able to tell ‘cause it will be pulling your forward or backward. Lower the weight back to the starting position under control. That’s one repetition. In terms of breathing, you inhale and brace at the start, when you unrack the bar. Keep your core tight (as if you’re expecting to get punched in the gut). Exhale slightly at the top of the movement. Don’t let all your air out or your core will relax too much. You can fully exhale at the bottom of the movement.

This is a great exercise for shoulder strength and size development. In fact, it’s a really good total body exercise since your entire body works to maintain your position.

The standing dumbbell press is very similar. It works the same muscles. Benefits of using dumbbells are they allow for a greater range of motion and each arm has to work independently. This means you’ll have to use less weight and it helps prevent or address any muscle imbalances. Usually one arm is more dominant.

You will have to raise the weights to the starting position, shoulder height. Begin with the dumbbells at your sides. For lower weights you’ll be able to curl them up to your shoulders to start the press. Once you’ve built up to heavier loads, that won’t be the case. A good way to get them from waist level to the starting position is to start with the dumbbells at your sides. Slightly bend your knees and hips for a quick moment. Then explosively extend your hips and knees to generate momentum to help you curl the weights to shoulder height.

Seated Press

The seated barbell press gives you more back support, which means you should be able to press more weight. You still want to brace your core and press your feet hard into the ground. When using a barbell here, a main difference is the rack position is near the top of the movement, so you unrack, lower the weight to your collar level and then the lift begins.

The dumbbell variation of the seated press is slightly tricky. You may be able to just lift the weights to your shoulders early on. Once again, when you get to heavier dumbbells you’ll need to use momentum. Start standing with the dumbbells at your sides. As you carefully sit down, rest the dumbbells to the top of your knees (the dumbbells are still in your hands), right where your quads and knees meet. One leg at a time, kick your knee up to raise that dumbbell to shoulder height. Then use the other knee to help you raise the corresponding dumbbell to the starting position. When your set is over, lower the weights under control and raise your knees to gently meet them. This all sounds way more complicated than it actually is. Do it a couple times and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

There are also seated shoulder press machines you can use. The benefit is they’re easier to use. The drawback is they’re not as effective at training the the smaller stabilizer muscles in the shoulder as free weights.

The press is the lift that will give you the most shoulder strength and size. If you’re a guy, once you get to the point where you can overhead press a weight equivalent to your body weight, your shoulders will be impressive. For women, getting to the equivalent of half your body weight will have your shoulders looking right.

The exact number of sets and repetitions will vary according to the individual, but 2-5 sets of 5-10 reps is a good place to start. Take 1-2 minutes rest between sets. However, start on the low end of each and gradually increase the volume. Remember though, the main driver is going to be progressive overload. If you go from 5 sets of 5 repetitions at 95 pounds to 5×5 at 145, you’ll really see the difference.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

This is probably the next best exercise for building up your shoulders. Dumbbell lateral raises really work your lateral delt hard. The standing and seated versions are pretty similar. You may find the seated version feels more stable or you may be more comfortable standing. Either way, make sure you keep your core braced and your spine tall.

Begin with the dumbbells at your sides. With only a slight bend in your elbow, raise the weights away from your sides in a controlled fashion. Avoid using excessive momentum. Once your arms are about parallel to the ground, pause for a beat and lower the weights under control back to the starting position. Start with really light weights. You don’t need to lift really heavy in order to get results from this exercise.

The most common mistake with lateral raise is using momentum to raise the weights. Right behind that is using too much of a shrug to the movement. If you feel your traps working more than your delts, this means you. The fix for this is to focus on keeping your shoulder blades down and close together. You’ll probably have to use lighter dumbbells. That’s okay because now you’re working the muscles you want to be.

Besides dumbbells, you can do this lift using your gym’s lat raise resistance machines, or cable machines, or even resistance bands.

I recommend 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions with about 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

Rear Delts

The rear delts are the most neglected of the big three shoulder muscles. Developing them will help give your shoulders a fully rounded look. It will also help fight imbalances that accentuate bad posture and can lead to injury. There’s probably a greater emphasis on upper body pushing training than upper body pulls. This and the exercise that follow will help you balance that.

The Dumbbell Reverse Fly (a.k.a. Bent-over rear delt fly) is a great way to train the posterior delts.

Start with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your knees “soft”, not locked but not too bent either. Hinge forward at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. Of course you know by now to keep that core braced. Now the weights should be hanging straight down with your palms facing each other. With only a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights under control to the side until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. (At the top you’ll look like you’re pretending to be an airplane!) Lower the weights back to the starting position.

Avoid bouncing or using momentum to move the weight. This is another exercise you’ll use light resistance.

There are a few variations you can try. You can do rear delt flys while seated. Or you can lie chest down on an incline bench. This is helpful if you find you’re prone to rocking or bouncing during the movement. And of course, you can use cable machines or resistance bands.

In terms of volume, I like 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps with 30-60 seconds between sets.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are another great exercise to bulletproof your shoulders. They also work your rear delts. You’ll need a cable machine and a two-handled rope. While facing the machine grab the rope and step back until you’re supporting the weight with your arms extended. Your legs should give you a solid base with soft knees.

Retract your scapulae (squeeze your shoulder blades together), pull the rope towards you so the center of the rope goes toward your face. Now you understand the name of the exercise. You don’t literally hit your face with the rope. At the midpoint of the movement, externally rotate your arms. Think about pulling the rope apart, not just backwards. Hold for a beat and slowly reverse to finish the repetition. It’s imperative to use a controlled tempo with this exercise. You’ll be using lighter weights again. Remember, these shoulder muscles you’re working are relatively small. You want to avoid involving the lower back to move the weight. Keep your elbows nice and high, close to parallel with your shoulders.

For reps and sets, 1-3 sets of 8-15 works.

 

Front Raises

Front raises work the anterior delt. They’re not a pulling exercise like the two previous ones. You can do them but they’re probably redundant as the front delt gets plenty of work with the press and if you’re already doing flat or incline bench presses.

The starting position for front raises is standing while holding the dumbbells at your sides. With only a slight bend in the elbows, raise the weights straight up in front of you until your elbows are about parallel with your shoulders. Once more (with feeling!), keep your core tight and control the weights as you raise and lower them.

Try 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions with about 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

There you go! Include these exercises in your training and you’ll build stronger, defined, healthier shoulders.

And for no particular reason other than why not, here’s a bonus exercise:

Push Press

The Barbell Push Press is similar to a press but it’s not strictly a shoulder movement. In fact, it’s a total body exercise. You create momentum intentionally here in order to work out developing power by using heavier weights. Since it’s a power movement, you want to keep the repetitions low, 1-5 is all you need. The number of sets can vary depending on your goals but 1-3 is good for most people.

It begins just like a barbell shoulder press. But to initiate the movement, you dip your hips and bend your knees slightly. Explosively extend them to get the weight moving up a little. Extend your arms up to keep driving up the weight fully. The end position is the same as a barbell shoulder press. Lower the weight under control. That’s one rep. Naturally, you can use dumbbells instead, if you prefer.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.

Halftime

It’s halftime 2017. We’re into summer now, time for beaches, barbecues, vacations and fun. It also means the year is halfway over. Remember six months ago when you decided you were going to do all these great things this year? Are you on track?

Most of us start the year off all fired up about all the changes we’re going to make. Then a few weeks or months in we let ourselves get sidetracked. Maybe this happened to you.

We have six months left to finish all the things we set out to do in ‘17. Perhaps you’re on track and you’ve been diligently marching towards your goals. That’s awesome. I suspect you’re in the minority though.

For the rest of us, this is a call to action. New Year’s isn’t the only time you can resolve to change for the better.

If your goal is to lose 100 lbs or 50 lbs or whatever, and it hasn’t happened yet, don’t give up. If you wanted to add 100 lbs or however much to your squat and you’re not on pace, don’t quit.

Each meal is an opportunity to get back on task to your fat loss goal.

Each day is a chance to have a great workout.

Progress never happens as fast as we’d like it. And it definitely doesn’t happen if we don’t put in the work consistently.

So, if you’ve let the first six months of ‘17 slip through your fingers, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get the time back. It’s pointless to dwell on feeling bad about it.

Instead, let’s regroup, refocus, and rededicate ourselves to take action in the right direction. Today.

Just like halftime in a basketball or football game, it’s time to game plan for the second half. There is nothing we can do about the score of the first half. That is done. Figure out the things that have been working well. Discern the things that areas that haven’t. And come up with a strategy for accomplishing our goals.

Swearing to eat perfectly and workout daily for the rest of the year is pointless. We just proved we won’t do that, didn’t we?

Concentrate on making a conscious choice to narrow our focus. Don’t worry about October or December now. You know your long term goals. But they’re often abstract and seem far away. It’s time to take daily action towards them.

Small, daily progress towards the target adds up over time. The steps we take daily are tangible and measurable.

Do one thing to put you closer to your goals today. One thing. Today.

If you’re trying to drop fat, maybe the thing is choosing to have a smaller meal for lunch today. Or going for a walk. If you’re looking to build muscle and strength, make sure you have a great workout today. Give 100% effort.

Let’s go!

Thanks for reading. Any comments or questions, leave ’em below.