Basic Warm-up Flow

Has your pre-workout warm-up gotten long and haphazard? Do you sit at a desk for hours and hours every day? Do you barely have any open space in your home? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, we’ve got a video for you!

The Basic Warm-up Flow is a series of movements with roots in strength training, yoga, and athletic performance. This combination of stretches considers every major joint, muscle, and movement pattern without the need for lots of open space or any extra implements. True to its name, this pattern utilizes basic moves that accommodate different levels of mobility and ability. The great minds at OTSFitness also worked on having smooth and logical transitions to make it easy to remember, and cut out excess movements for expediency. It’s short and sweet so you can repeat! This pattern can be done quickly, during a break in your work day to counteract hours of sitting still, or slowly, as static stretching on rest days. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Note: After the last position (Frog), just walk your hands back towards your feet, stand up again, and you’re back to the beginning.

*The ‘Bretzel 2.0’ was created by Gray Cook, MSPT, OCS, CSCS

System Malfunction. CTRL to Recover….

If you happen to have checked in on my training log, you would notice that it has not been updated in quite some time.  The reason is twofold: 1) I fully admit to having dropped the ball as far as logging on and entering the info for a while and 2) I suffered an injury that significantly altered my ability to exercise.

So what happened? I rather ambitiously attempted to do 2 workouts in one day.  A lower body workout in the morning involving squats and a 380 pound yoke walk, and then a sprint workout/rugby practice in the evening.  I had planned to ease into the sprints (as it had been some time since sprinting) and go light at practice.  This is an approximation of how well I stuck to this plan:Hamstring Strain




This injury occurred just over 5 weeks ago.  Self-assessment led me to believe it was a strained right rectus femoris (aka I “pulled” my quad/hip flexor).  It is also possible it was a strained right sartorius (also a hip flexor of sorts).  muscles of the anterior thighIt is hard to distinguish on oneself because it is difficult to both resist and assess the parts you are checking at the same time.  Also, the injury was located up by the proximal (near) tendon, not down in the muscle belly or by the knee.  Since the rectus femoris and sartorius muscles have similar functions, it is not really necessary for rehab purposes to distinguish further.  Either way, moving my right leg made me very unhappy.  🙁

My training was derailed!  All my gains in the squat and deadlift, the yoke walk and atlas stone lift, the farmer and sandbag carries: ERASED!  Plus, I would have to find another reason to ingest abnormal amounts of calories each day….

With the injury located at the hip, it not only precluded all lower body exercises, it also prevented me from doing any “core” assistance exercises.  “What will I do?!” I asked myself in a panic.

I decided to train my upper body 3-4 days a week.  Generally, I benched at the beginning of the week, overhead or incline pressed toward the end of the week, and worked associated pulling exercises in around those lifts.  This is what I’ve been doing for over a month.  And I am bigger and stronger.  Case in point, my new numbers: bench 175×3, overhead press 111×3, chinups 215×2.  In addition, my mother noted I am “too big up top”.  When your own mother looks at her female child with disappointment like that, you know you’ve reached some awesome upper body goals. thumbs up

So, unless you’ve had a very serious injury, there is always something you can improve, something you can work on or work out.  A sprained elbow is no reason not to go to the gym.  A sprained ankle is no reason not to go to the gym.  A strained hamstring is no reason not to go to the gym.  There are endless modifications that can be made to accommodate a temporarily gimpy body part.  If it’s lower body, work upper body.  If it’s upper body, work lower body.  If it’s one side, work the other side and everywhere else.  If it’s not bad and it’s one small muscle, work the antagonist (opposite) muscle.

As long as your modification is still bio-mechanically safe, there’s no reason to skip out on lifting.  Don’t let yourself fall into a “this is the end” mindset and give up.  The only thing that has kept me from giving up and letting all my hard work fall to crap has been going to the gym regularly and figuring out everything else I CAN do.  It’s keeping me in a routine and it’s keeping me motivated.

If you are unsure how to work around a troublesome body part until it heals, feel free to get in touch and we can discuss what you can do to keep yourself on track and motivated.  Happy lifting!

Training Log

I realized I’ve been talking about what everyone else should or could do, without much talk about how I apply these principles to my own situation.  Therefore, I decided to put up a training log from the last several months.  This is what I have been up to since I wrote a year-long “program” for myself in order to better stay on track and focus on the right areas at the right times.  This all started somewhere around the end of November, early December with some GPP work, then I progressed to weeks of hypertrophy, during which I actually FINALLY grew some visible leg muscles.  From there I went to strict strength training, where I am now, which is a third cycle of Jim Wendler’s 531 program supplemented by various strongman lifts.  At the end of this cycle, I will transition to a more power oriented program design, and then to an in-season maintenance design in the Fall.  I’m still looking for my GPP and hypertrophy logs so I can put them in at the beginning of this page.

5/13/2013: box jumps 3×5 @ BW; KB swings 1×10 @25, 1×10@35; power cleans 4×3 @ 89, 1×3 @ 100; push press 3×5 @ 89; board press 3×5 @ 135; rev sled drags 3 laps @ 3x45plates

Transitioning to more power oriented programming.

5/9/2013: still recovering: OH press 531 up to 90×10; DL 531 up to 245×8; incline axle press 2×10 @ 79; front squat 2×10 @ 89

5/6/2013: various injuries from rugby prevented full workouts this week: bench 531 up to 130×8; squat 531 up to 180×7

5/3/2013: DL 531 up to 232×7; sandbag carries from ground 5laps @ 100; side lunges 1×10 @ 25; glute-ham 1×7@ 15; lunges 1×10@BW

5/2/2013: OH press 531 up to 85×10; KB cleans 3x4ea @ 50; BB row 3×8@111; pushups 3×5 @ BW+45; pulldowns 3×8 @#10

4/30/2013: squat 531 up to 170×8; atlas stones warmup 106×3, 44″ platform, 150stone x3, 175 stone x 3; BB split squat 3×10 @ 67#; leg press 1×10 @ 200, 3×5 @ 250

4/29/2013: bench 531 up to 125×10; KB cleans 3×4 @ 50; cable rows 3×9 @ #11+2.5; incline axle press 3×10@ 80; skullcrushers 3×10 @ 25; 1A DB row 3×9@ 50

4/27/2013: DL 531 up to 220×7 (groin acting up still); front squat 2×10 @ 67; tire flips 3×3 @ 450

4/26/2013: OH press 531 up to 80×11; KB cleans 2×4@35, 1×4@50; pushups 1×10@ BW+22, 2×5@BW +44; NG pulldowns3x8@#11; dragonflags 2×4 @ BW; rev crunches; anti-rotation planks 2x 20

4/24/2013: squat 531 unable to finish due to R groin strain previous night at rugby practice – did 140×5 before stopping; yoke walk 1x80ft at 250, 300, 340, 350

4/23/2013: bench 531 up to 115×10; KB cleans 3x4ea @ 35; BB press2x10 @ 45; pullups x40@BW; 1A DB OH press 3×10 @ 40; battle ropes 3x30s, 1min rest

4/18/2013: recovery week – light OH press, light DLs, some pullups, pushups, glute ham raises

4/16/2013: recovery week – light bench, light squats, some incline bench, BO BB rows, good mornings, side lunges

4/12/2013: OH press 531 up to 85.5×10; DL 531 up to 238×7; 1A DB row 2×10@45, 2×10 @ 50; side lunges 3x10ea @ 20; jump rope 3x1min/30s rest

4/9/2013: squat 531 up to 170×10; BB split squat 3x8ea @ 72; atlas stones 3×5 reps @ 106# stone, 48” shelf

4/8/2013: bench 531 up to 125×10; log push press 3×10 @ 78; DB rev fly 3×8 @ 15; battle ropes 3x30sec/30s rest – had to stop due to elbow issues this day

4/5/2013: DL 531 up to 220×7; sandbag carry laps x 7 @ 100# from ground; leg press 2×10 @ 200, 1×4 @ 290

4/4/2013: OH Press 531 up to 80×10; BB rows 2×10 @ 95, 1×10@ 105; 1A DB OH press 3x9ea. @ 40; pulldowns 3×10 @ #10.5

4/2/2013: squat 531 up to 160×10; farmer carry 220×2 no release, 300 x1 release, 320×2 release; rev hypers 3×10 @ BW

4/1/2013: bench press 531 up to 120×12; pullups x35 @ BW; pushups 3×10 @ BW+5; jump rope 3×1 min on/30s off

3/28/2013: DL 531 up to 210×8; front squat 3×7 @ 111; speed tire flips125# tire 4×10 flips, 1 min rest between sets

3/27/2013: OH Press 531 up to 75×12; wide NG lat pulldowns 3×10 @ #10; narrow NG cable rows 3×8 @ #11; 1A DB rev flys 3x10ea. @ 10#; dragonflags 2×5; 1L bent knee hip ext 2x10ea.

3/26/2013: squat 531 up to 150×8; yoke walk 80ft 1×250, 1×290, 1×340, 2×320; glute-ham 3×10 @ BW+15; rugby practice

3/25/2013: bench press 531 up to 110×12; pullups x30 @ BW; pushups 3×10 @ BW, battle ropes 5x30s on/1min rest

3/22/2013: deload week: some light lower body work: squats, deadlift

3/20/2013: deload week: some light upper body work: bench press, OH press, BO log row, DB rev fly, lat pulldowns

3/15/2013: DL 531 up to 224×4, 243×1, 265×1, 281.5×1; DB lunges 3x9ea @ 25#; assist. 1L squat 3x5ea @ BW; physio ball pike 2×12; side stars 2x30s ea.; treadmill nonsense 13′

3/14/2013: OH press 531 up to 80×10, 95×1, 110×1; 1A inverted row 3×10@ BW; floor DB OH press 3×10 @ 30; lat pulldowns 2×10 @ #10; DB fly 2×10@ 20

3/13/2013: squat 531 up to 160×8, 190×1, 220×1; BB split sq 3x8ea @ 78; glute-ham raises 3×10@ BW+11

3/12/2013: bench press 531 up to 120×12, 135×1, 155×1, 165×1; pullups BW x35; 1A incline pushups level #12 2×8, level 11 1x6ea.; 1A DB row 3×8 @45; 1A DB OH press 3×8 @40; 1A DB rev flys 2×10 @ 8; roman chair 2×10 @ BW+5; hanging leg swing 1×10

3/9/2013: DL 531 up to 215×6, 248×1, 270.5×1; front squats 3×10@100; 1 hr massage hell yea

3/6/2013: OH press 531 up to 75×12, 89×1, 104.5×1; seated cable rows wide bar 3×10@#10; floor seated DB OH press 3×10@ 25; DB bench press 2×10 @ 45; physio ball pikes 3×10.  pretty much sucked at life at the gym today.  Woo.

3/5/2013: squat 531 up to 150×10, 177×1, 210×1; BB static split squat 3×10 @67; good mornings 3×10 @56; leg press 2×10 @200; 1L rev hypers 10@BW; 1L DL 2×5 @30#; dragonflagx5; 1L leg raises 2×16@BW

3/4/2013: bench press 531 up to 115×12, 135×1, 155×1; 1A incline pushups 3x6ea.; 1A DB press 3×10 @ 35; cable face pulls 3×10 #3; BW pullups x 30; roman chair BW 2×8

3/1/2013: DL 531 up to 6@200, 1×248, 1×259; front squat 2×10@ 100; 1L squat 2x5ea. BW; rev hypers 2×10 BW; curtsy lunges 2×10 BW

2/28/2013: OH press 531 up to 75×11, 97×1, 102×1; 3×10 of assist. pullups @ or. band plus; 1A landmine press @89; wide bar NG seated rows @ #10; 5 dragonflags; 10 physio ball pikes; 1×10 BW pullups

2/26/2013: squat 531 up to 145×10, 176×1, 200×1; 3×10 of glute ham raises @ BW+10, BB static split squats @ 67, good mornings @ 45; tred sled 3x20s

2/25/2013: bench press 5/3/1 up to 110×12; 3×10 of assist. pullups @ or. band, knuckle pushups @ BW, 1A DB rows @ 40#, 1A DB press @ 30#, DB rev fly @ 15#; jump rope 2x3min

2/21/2013: sled drags 5xlap @ 160; sandbag carries 3xlap @ 160 & 2x2laps @ 110; band resisted side shuffling 4x5ea.; 4 cone drill 4x20s; treadmill jog @ 4.0 inc incline every min from 0-10.0 then my feet went numb  🙁

2/20/2013: Find 5 rep maxes: OH press 90; DL 234 (only because Hans yelled at me the whole time). 4 rounds jump rope

2/19/2013: Deload week: find 5 rep maxes: bench 125; squat 166.  various light exercises; 3 tred sled

2/14/2013: supine med ball throws 3×10 @ 6; BB OH press 3×12 @ 61; assist. pullups 3×10 or. band; BO log row 3×10 @ 95; battle ropes w alt rev lunge 4xHR ranges (170-140)

2/13/2013: warmup: banded side lunges 3x10ea. or. band; then squats 3×8-12 @ 144; glute-ham raises 3×10 @ BW+8; side lunges 3x10ea. @ BW+25; 1×10 angled roll outs small wheel; 1x30s ea. side star plank; 1×15 leg raises; 1×10 plank touches; tire flips 1×1/1/2/3 @ 450# tire

2/11/2013: yoke walk 80ft @ 1×250, 2×300; bench press 3×8 @ 115; incline axle press 3×10 @ 85; assist. dips 3×7 or. band; treadmill push sprints 5x20s on/20s off

2/8/2013: warmup: banded side lunges 3x7ea. or. band; then DL 3×8-12 @ 177; front squats 3×10 @ 78; alt lunges 3x10ea. @ BW+30

2/7/2013: warmup: power cleans 3×4 @89; then OH BB press 3×8-12 @ 55, assist. pullups w med. orange band 3×10; 1/2 kneel landmine press 3x7ea. @ 89, 1A DB BO row 3x7ea. @ 35; calf raises off step 3×15 @ BW+30; sandbag runs 3x2laps @ 105# bag

2/5/2013: warmup: box jumps 3×6 @ BW; then atlas stones 4×1 @ 150 to 44″platform; squats 3×10-12 @ 133; glute-ham raises 3×10 BW+8; side lunges 3×10 BW+25; roll outs small wheel 3×10 @ BW

2/4/2013: warmup: power cleans 3×4 @78; then farmer’s carry 4xlaps @ 320; flat bench 3×12 @ 95; circuit of 3×10 incline axle press @ 55, 3×10 BO log row @ 111, 3x1min jump rope; tricep rope pull downs 3×10 @?


Some Suggestions

Recently a friend of mine presented me with their workout plan and asked for some feedback to make it more appropriate and productive. They gave permission for me to post our exchange. There are quite a few times where I say “it depends”, mostly because it really does depend on having a more detailed discussion of goals, weaknesses, etc. But take a look at the overview and suggestions/corrections to see if any tips help you with your own workout design.

Original Email
I’d love your input on this program I wrote. My goals are to just gain strength/some power and get back into a routine for lifting. I haven’t done anything super structured for awhile. Worried I didn’t give myself enough resting days. I’m only doing Active Rest (AR) twice a week. Let me know if you can’t get some of my abbreviations (used by default bc of my Pt office sorry). Thx!

Monday- Upper Extremity + core
Shoulder mobility warm up
Pull ups (5×6)
Push ups (5X6)
DB shrugs (5×6)
Bench Press (5×6)
Cable Column Face Pulls (5X6)
Cable Column PnF (5×6)
DB on bench Ts, Ys, Is (5×6)

Hanging Toes to bar (3x 30)
V ups (3x 30)
Mountain Climbers (3x 30)
3 way planks (4x 1 min each way)

Foam rollstretch/lacross ball with cool down

Tuesday- Cardio
Active warm up
Run (treadmill)- 5% incline, intervals 40 secs on/20 off) for 20 mins
Bike for 20 mins
Erg for 10 mins
Jump rope for 5 mins

Foam roll/stretch/lacrosse ball with cool down

Wed- Lower Extremity
Active warm up
Deadlifts (5×6)
DB Step ups (5×6)
Barbell snatch (5×6)
Single leg wall sits (5×1 min each leg)
DB Sumo Squat with calf raise at bottom (5×6)

Foam roll/stretch/lacrosse ball with cool down

Thursday- AR
Swim (30 mins)

Friday- Upper Extremity + core
Shoulder mobility warm up
OH Press (5×6)
Bent over Barbell row (5×6)
Flys (5×6)
Incline bench (5×6)
Dips (5×6)
Diamond push ups (5×6)
Farmer Carry (5 laps)
DB Scaption, Flexion, ABD (5×6)

Pike roll outs on Physio ball (3×30 each way)
Russian twist with Medicine ball (3×1 min)
Hanging bar knees to chest twist (4x 1 min)

Foam roll/stretch/lacross ball with cool down

Saturday- AR
Swim (30 mins)

Sunday- Lower Extremity/Plyos
Back Squats with Theraband loop ABD and calf raise on top (5×6)
3- way Jesus lunge (5×6)
Clean and Jerk (5×6)
Single Leg Hamstring roll out on Physio Ball (5×6)
Back Extentions/Side dips (5×6)

Box jumps (3×5)
Lateral hops over hurdle (3×5)
Jumping Split squats (3×5)
Vertical Depth Jump (3×5)
Box march (3×5)
Long Jumps (3×5)

Foam roll/stretch/lacross ball with cool down

My Response
1) Your goals are not specific enough. Have more specific long and short term goals. “Just gain strength/some power” = too vague leads to poor motivation and not measurable. What weight do you want to move, which specific exercise do you want to improve, which body movement needs to be stronger, which range of motion needs to be fixed, what body fat are you aiming for, what speed are you trying to get to, how many hours are you going to dedicate to exercising, etc, etc?

2) General guideline: unless your goal is more specific (ie to improve your deadlift), most programming usually has a squat planned earlier in the week than a deadlift. Because people should be able to deadlift more than they can squat and it is a large taxation on the nervous system, it can be detrimental to your squat progress, but it’s not usually the other way around. This is a general guideline and you may choose to program differently based on your particular goals.

3) General guideline: Usually the exercises for which you are using heavier weight should be before the others. You put your bench press after your pushups. To get stronger, you need to move as much weight as possible. That happens on the bench, not the pushup, which is awkward to load. As I always say, this is a general guideline and if your goal happens to be focusing on your pushups/you are going to load your pushups/whatever, then they should be first. But if that’s not your goal, you are going to tire yourself out doing pushups and not be able to lift as much weight on the bench press. So focus on the exercises you can really load up. That means put them first.

4) Keep working your deadlift and OH press up to some legit weights. Shrugs are unnecessary right now.

5) General guideline: power/explosive exercises happen before strength exercises. You put your barbell snatch after deadlifts and other exercises, you put your clean and jerk after your squats and lunges. You are not going to be moving very fast by that point – defeats the purpose of a power exercise. Also, see #9.

6) It looks like you could use more upper body pulling. Seems like more pushing than pulling exercises, leading to imbalances. Should be the other way around.

7) “DB sumo squat w calf raise at bottom” = why?

8) Russian twists are likely bad for your lumbar spine. Replace them with anti-rotation of some sort.

9) Why is all your plyo work at the end of the week when you are tired and your muscles are shot? Regardless, I wouldn’t worry too much about power work until you get generally bigger and stronger. However high you can jump now, if you make your legs stronger, you will jump higher than that, even without doing box jumps, because you haven’t been training to your strength potential.

10) The extra biking, rowing, and jumping rope after your interval running is unnecessary and will make it more difficult for you to gain muscle and get stronger. Just work on extending your interval training time and don’t add the extra slow, steady stuff. Unless you are worried that despite all your training you will be incapable of jogging at a comfortable pace….

11) Once you get rid of all that extra slow stuff on the “cardio” day (call it interval day instead. all heavy lifting is good cardio), add one of the swimming sessions to the end of that day if you want to relax your muscles and remove lactic acid. That will give you a day of total rest.

Happy Lifting!

Going Raw

If you are expecting a post about food, that’s for another day. I was speaking with a colleague of mine about the different categories of lifter at a Strongman meet and he informed me that a new division was recently added. I found it extremely interesting and thought I’d share the info and get your opinions.

The variations of gear are numerous, as are the opinions on what constitutes specific classes. Historically, there have been “raw” and those wearing various pieces of equipment or suits, which we will refer to as “equipped”. But within those groupings, there are even further permutations. The labels “single-ply” and “multi-ply” refer to the thickness of any assistive clothing the lifter may be wearing. They don’t necessarily refer to the use of wrist straps, knee wraps, ankle braces, or lumber support weight belts. The latest division addition (HA!) was to split “raw” into “raw” and “raw classic”. “Raw” lifters will wear knee sleeves, while “raw classic” lifters will wear knee wraps.

As I am not training specifically to be a powerlifter, my opinion with regards to my own lifting has been to not use any equipment of any kind if I can avoid it. I believe that this ensures my body is always progressively strengthening its weakest links and I have less chance of handling a weight that my frame, on its own, has not prepared for. I admit, though, that I have used wrist straps to assist my grip and a weight belt to give proprioceptive cues/support to my abdomen/lower back during my absolute heaviest deadlifts, so I do feel there is a place for certain equipment at certain times. But what are the limits of what counts as YOU being the primary mover of that massive weight or the equipment doing half the work for you?

A quick scan of the posts on T-Nation suggests, anecdotally, that wearing a squat suit can allow you to lift around 100 pounds more than otherwise.  According to strength coach Mike Robertson, squat suits vary in the degree of help they provide based on their level of stiffness, but, in general, help by adding compression and hip stability. A study on the kinetics and kinematics of squat performance in a suit vs raw found that the suit they tested did not significantly increase the concentric force of the exercise, only the concentric velocity. While it is true that increased velocity could be a factor in allowing more mass to be moved, there should be an upper limit to this relationship as the force curve decreases with increased velocity.

Force-Velocity Curve






Something that should be noted with the kinetics study, though, is that the same raw 1RM weight was squatted during non-suited and suited tests. A related study, one that focused on bench shirts instead of squat suits, found that the use of a bench shirt decreased horizontal displacement of the bar. Bringing things back down to simpler terms, a steadier bar path can lead to easier reps. So maybe instead of thinking of this relationship as the material of the suit compressing and springing back up to lift the weight itself, it might be more like the suit compresses your muscles and joints, making it easier for your body to have strong muscle contractions with less wobbling and wasted force vectors.

With all this said, a 98-pound weakling can’t just throw on a squat suit and squat 900 pounds – you’ve still got to be damn strong to get under that kind of weight. But do you actually get stronger if the mechanics of the clothing are helping you move the weight? Is it like having a “spotter” finish those last few reps with you, or popping your hips up on the bench press, effectively changing the angle of the muscles moving the bar and making the exercise ergonomically easier? Having not used lifting suits or shirts before, I open this topic up to you, dear lifters. What are your experiences with lifting equipment? And what are your thoughts on the legitimacy of the numbers that accompany such equipment?

Happy Lifting!

The 5 BEST Exercises for….

…ANYTHING! Read on for the 12 BEST ways to tone your whatever or gain muscle in your blah blah blah! All the answers right here!!

Do those lines seem familiar? I bet you see them all the time on fitness sites and muscle magazines. Where am I going with this, you are probably asking. After I finished my workout yesterday – I’m not going to lie – I was proud of myself for finishing with some anti-extension specific roll-outs. Most people would refer to that as “core work”. Are wheel roll-outs “the best” exercise for abdominal stability? That’s the question that gets asked often with regards to many exercises. And my answer is…

Who cares? Does it matter THAT much? I HATE most “core” specific exercises – the dangerous ones like sit-ups, that you can power and fling your way through until you throw your back out, and the relevant ones like planks that you have to grit your teeth and hang on through – so I can almost never convince myself to make the time to do them. I’ve told myself I am out of time, I am too tired, I did enough of the big 3 exercises to make up for it, I will do them later or at home or tomorrow. Everything. Every excuse. Being a personal trainer doesn’t make you flawless in your workouts or your will to push yourself with regards to your weak points. I work out alone. So, frankly, it was a big deal that I bothered. For some reason, I don’t mind roll-outs as much as other exercises. And it’s not because they are particularly easy to do correctly.

So what’s the point? I’m not saying that your workout plan shouldn’t try to get the best bang for its buck by including well-thought out, safe, relevant exercises (involve a lot of large muscle groups, motions, cross multiple planes of motion, are ergonomically non-detrimental, etc, etc). Of course you should plan as best you can for your goals. But you could have the most impeccably designed exercises that will turn you into a massive, shredded, sexy beast and it won’t matter one damn bit if you are never going to bother to do them. Perhaps I am the only person experiencing this situation but I don’t think I am. Exercises that you are motivated to do consistently (not just because of ease – they should always be challenging or you are wasting time) are going to be more beneficial to you than the best laid plan that you don’t mind talking yourself out of. Don’t forget to switch up and replace those exercises with variations after a while and you will be on your way to success! Happy lifting!

Prepping for Deadlifts

Here’s a quick tip to get you started back on the right track:

If you are having trouble with the mechanics of the strict deadlift, you can use this movement to help ingrain the proper pattern.  The key to a successful deadlift is a correct hip hinge.  This means you will flex (bend) at the ball-and-socket joint of your hip, and NOT through the joints of your lower back.

One way to practice a hip hinge is to begin by standing straight, with the balls of your feet elevated on a 2×4 or object of similar height.  This will initially help keep your shins closer to vertical during the movement.  Put the edges of your hands into the creases where your legs meets your pelvis.  Think about pinching your hands between your leg and your hip and then push your pelvis back to do so.  Keep your lower back straight (chest upright) and allow your knees to unlock naturally.  There is no need to actively bend your knees.  When you’ve reached a point where you feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of your thighs), come back up by squeezing your butt together.  Try to get a little farther each time.

This image is close, though your neck should be in a solid neutral and weight should be on the middle of your foot if you can keep it there.

It can also be helpful to perform this movement a few inches from a wall, with your back to the wall, and using the wall as a target for your gluteus maximus (your rear end) to touch.  Each time you touch, come back up and move a little bit farther from the wall to try again.  This emphasizes the motion of reaching back as opposed to sitting or bending down.  Always keep your lower back neutral or slightly arched, even though this might initially be tough for your hamstrings to handle.  It will improve with repetition.  If you are having trouble with balance, adding some weight to the front of your body will make a difference.  Try holding a weight plate against your chest.  Perform this movement prior to deadlifting or on its own to improve your flexibility.  More experienced lifters will recognize that this is also the movement for a “good morning” exercise and a Russian kettlebell swing.

Get to hinging!

Back on Track

Welcome back to all!  Happy New Year!

It’s been a long time away and many things have taken place since the last post here.  I am ashamed of myself for having such a long hiatus from the website.  In my defense, things have been happening and I am now the Head Women’s Athletic Trainer at Yeshiva University, providing sports medicine care to the DIII athletes on 7 women’s teams (and occasionally the men’s teams).  This has significantly decreased my availability for per diem athletic training coverage and, I must say, I miss the kids at BMCC.  But onward to new adventures!  We are currently pushing hard to get the women’s fitness facility revamped and up to par with the men’s facility and it is very slow going.  It’s a shame because what they currently have available to the female athletes, or anyone that wants to be healthy, is unacceptable.  Fortunately I have the help of another talented personal trainer, Mike Wolf, who is the Strength & Conditioning Coach for YU.  Hopefully we can make a dent.

Also, after too many months of d*cking around in the gym doing whatever, I sat down and wrote out a year-long, periodized training program for myself that will extend through Spring rugby and Summer 7’s up to next Fall rugby season.  I’m excited to see it all the way through and have been good about sticking to it (minus a detour for illness).  I got through some GPP for a few weeks and I’m still in the hypertrophy phase right now and – I’m not going to lie – can’t wait to be out of it.  It sucks.  Get me back to 5 reps asap!  I would love to hear what any of you are up to with your work out plans and progress.

welcome back!

To get things going again, I’ve posted a quick and easy tip for beginning your deadlifts.  Enjoy!

A Leg To Stand On: a look at single-leg exercises

As I sat down recently to design my post-injury-recovery workout plan, I had a moment of reconsidering my proportion of unilateral (one side) to bilateral exercises. Then I realized that many of you may have that same question. So let’s discuss the factors involved in adding or subtracting single-leg exercises from your program design.

Q: What is a single-leg exercise?
A: In most cases, it would be a movement in which only one foot (or other part of your lower appendage) is in contact with the ground or any other surface. As this significantly reduces the number of available options and excludes many common exercises, for our purposes we will include movements in which the other foot (or toe or knee) can touch the ground or bench but only briefly or not as a primary contributor. Now our list can include variations of lunges, rear-foot-elevated squats, step-ups, and many other movements.

So, why would we use a single-leg or unilateral exercise? Let’s discuss the characteristics that make it beneficial. The most significant aspect of a single-leg exercise is its increased demand on hip and core stability. If you only have one foot on the ground (forgetting about where your upper body may be for now), you have a decreased base of support. Even if your other toe or knee touches another surface during the movement, you still have less support than with two full feet on the ground. A smaller base of support makes it more difficult for your body to maintain balance by keeping your center of gravity within that base. This is an extra challenge for all the muscles of your leg, pelvis, and trunk. Another useful characteristic of single-leg work is the way it mirrors actual sports movements. Walking, jogging, running, jumping, bounding, leaping, and side shuffling are all single-leg activities. Can jumping be performed from a bilateral, even stance? Yes, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an example in competition. Finally, unilateral exercises offer a unique way to work on flexibility and mobility. They are a dynamic way to increase separation of the lower limbs.

That last characteristic was a major reason I decided to increase the amount of single-leg work in my own program. I noted a pattern of difficulty in both my split stance positions (one leg forward, one leg back – like a lunge) and my supine (lying on my back) active straight leg raise. I have no problem bilaterally squatting heavy weight, so it’s not a lower body strength issue. Thus I recruited single-leg movements to improve the hip-separation weak link in my chain.

One common misconception about unilateral exercises is that they are only a break from heavy bilateral lifts.  Don’t be mistaken – unilateral exercises are not necessarily less strenuous than bilateral exercises! Unilateral movements can be done for strength or size with heavy weights. This is a large part of the opinion put forth by Mike Boyle when he argued for the “death of back squatting”. Coach Boyle’s athletes do not back squat for all the reasons mentioned above and, instead, perform heavy, loaded rear-foot elevated split squats (Bulgarian split squats) and other squat variations. Coach Boyle even mentioned the research finding that the positive hormone changes occurring with heavy back squats also occur with heavy single leg work, so there is no reason to back squat.

The argument about this is too involved to get into during this post and you should definitely do your own research into the debate. The opinion at Only The Strong Fitness is that, if they can be, both bilateral and unilateral exercises should be done and the deciding factors are the individual’s needs and limitations.

You might add single-leg exercises to your program if you are experiencing trouble with your balance, your core activation, the symmetry of your lower limbs, or your mobility and flexibility. Single-leg exercises are often used in a dynamic warmup or as rehabilitation/pre-hab exercises. I prescribe them for clients or patients who have an imbalance in the strength or mobility of one leg vs the other. Let’s go over a few variations and what they might be used for:

  • Half-kneeling Cable Chop: Kneeling on one leg, other leg at ninety degrees of hip and knee flexion (bend), chopping the cable diagonally across the body with your arms. This teaches your body to stabilize itself in one of the key transitional lower body positions. Use to assist with core reaction time and strength, use to promote hip extension and posture.
  • Split Squat or Rear-Elevated Split Squat: Standing with one leg forward and one back, lunge down to touch the back knee to the ground. This promotes separation between the hips so it acts as a flexibility drill while it strengthens. Elevating the rear foot increases the separation to greater stretch the rear hip flexors and increases the difficulty. This exercise also challenges balance due to a reduced base of support. To challenge further, bring your legs more in line with each other. Be sure you can do the easier version properly before jumping ahead to a narrow base.
  • Single-Leg Deadlift/Reach: Standing on one leg, tip forward from the hips, back flat, rear leg rises as torso falls. There are many opinions regarding the proper forms for these variations. I instruct clients to keep their hips facing forward, the stance knee slightly bent, the back leg straight, and the chest up. Provides an excellent active stretch of the posterior chain on the stance leg, improves balance, and increases hip and core stability, so it’s a real multi-tasking movement.

Those are just a few of the multitudes of unilateral exercises you can add to your program. Remember, the proportion of unilateral to bilateral exercises in your specific program will be dependent on your stability/mobility needs and goals.  Sets, reps, rest, and other factors depend on the goal. Intensity is not dependent on exercise type! You can perform one or two sets of ten as part of your dynamic warmup or mobility drills, or you can use them in between sets of other exercises as active rest. You can fix an asymmetry in your lower body by using them in an assistance exercise pattern, or bulk up using them with heavy weights as a main strength movement. Always be sure to use a full range of motion (as with any other movement) and you should see great results from adding single-leg movements to your program.