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.

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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.

The Upside of Sucking

When you first start anything new (walking, reading, a sport, a musical instrument) you will be terrible. You will suck. And that’s good.

It’s good for several reasons.

Perspective – even if you are an expert in one area, you will be a know-nothing in most others. Keeping perspective will keep you in the mentality of the student.

Learn Fast – when you’re first acquiring a new skill, you learn fast. It doesn’t feel that way, but you do. Going from zero to one is a bigger jump than from one to two.

Application – The stages of learning: novice, beginner, intermediate, proficient are the same for any skill. You can’t skip. Going through them is how you gain experience. This experience is indirectly transferable as is the accompanying confidence. You probably don’t remember learning to walk. Perhaps you can recall learning to swim or ride a bike. You start off totally unsure. You have to think about each action before you do it. The task seems really complicated. As you practice, you get better and you have to actively think less. This happens each time you try to learn something new. But, you don’t start exactly from scratch even if the new thing is totally different. You have the experience of having gone through the stages. You know that you can learn. You’ve learned to learn.

Become comfortable being uncomfortable – The best way to grow is to struggle. This is an important concept. Obviously there are times where it’s valuable to be comfortable. Being uncomfortable is stressful. Staying in a stressful state for a long time clearly isn’t ideal. But neither is never challenging yourself. The edges of discomfort is where we find our limits. We can’t push our limits if we don’t know where they are and test them from time to time. It also reminds us not to take our comforts for granted.

Inoculation – falling off the bike. Before it happens, it’s terrifying. When it happens it’s scary. It might even hurt a bit. But not forever. The next time it’s much less scary. Going through the process of being bad at something teaches you it’s really not so bad to be bad at something, at first.

Process is the thing – Learning to persist is priceless. This goes hand in hand with intentionally placing yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable. The achievement of goals is kind of like signposts. They can tell you where you are but that’s about it. The process of getting there is the real value. Having a skill is great but learning a skill is growth. And growth is everything.

So learn something new.

Thanks for reading! 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.