Feeling Down

When I work out, I feel good about myself. After a good workout, I feel accomplished and stay productive for the rest of the day.

The day after Thanksgiving I got sick. So sick that for the next 4 days, I wasn't able to do anything other than cough, be exhausted, and have zero motivation to do anything. So obviously I didn't work out at all over this stretch.

But then I started to feel a little better. My cough went away, I was less tired, and I even felt motivated enough to try working out. 

I knew that if I could force myself back into my workout routine, I would bust out of the slump that I had fallen into.

So I went to the gym, warmed up, and started to work out. I tried to use weights I used before getting sick...and I wasn't even able to complete my first working set. The weight felt way heavier than I remembered. It was so discouraging that I scrapped the entire workout. 

I tried to workout the next day as well, but achieved the same result. 

The silly thing is that I knew my first several workouts back were likely to go this way.  Yet for some reason I expected to be able to pick right back up where I left off before my setback. 

The amount of stress our bodies experience through times of sickness, injury, and periods of inactivity, is much more than we realize. It's hard to understand how far and fast you can fall off the path in such short time.

It is very frustrating to deal with setbacks. It's frustrating that there is only so much we can do to avoid certain circumstances. It's frustrating that we can't get back to where we once were as fast as we'd like. 

If you find yourself in any kind of a slump, unfortunately I don't have advice for you today as to how to get out of it. But it should make you feel better knowing that we all experience down times.

It's natural, but most importantly, it's temporary.

Gymtimidation

Are you uncomfortable in a gym setting?

Are you intimidated by some of your gym peers?

There's no need to be. No one is paying attention to you.

And if someone is, the joke's on them. They are the fool for concerning them self with your actions over their own. 

The truth is that most "fit" and "intimidating" people you see in a gym are there for themselves. They don't notice much going on around them aside from their task at hand. This is good for both you and them. For you, you won't be judged. For them, they are remaining focused on their goals.

Everyone at the gym is there to get better at something. Everyone wants you to succeed along with them. 

Don't intimidate yourself by putting others on a pedestal. Make yourself comfortable while at the gym. You have just as much of a right to be there as everyone else, (unless you skip leg day.)

Bench Pressing: Don't Relax on the Bench!

There is much more to bench pressing than just lying on a bench and moving a weight up and down. If you don't care about getting stronger, or prefer to injure yourself while bench pressing, then sure, go ahead and simply lay down and start pressing. But if you would like to bench press safely and effectively, you need to learn to set up on the bench correctly. 

I come across many benchers who use too relaxed of a set up. The incorrect images in this post could be described as "casual", "lazy", or "slack". We want to have a "deliberate", "active", or "tight" set up. You may get by with a lazy set up for a while, but if you want to keep adding weight to the bar, you will need to put more effort into setting up.

It should feel like work before even un-racking the weight. You will be pushing your feet into the ground and your back into the bench. Your entire body will be tensed up. If you feel like you could stay in position for longer than the duration of your set, (usually 30-45 seconds) you aren't set very well.

Tension and Leg Drive

Most people consider the bench press to train the chest, shoulders, and triceps. While it is true that these muscles are the prime movers, there are many more muscle groups involved during the exercise. 

A good bench presser makes the bench press a full body lift. They are able to produce muscular tension throughout their entire body. This is what allows force to be transferred from the ground - through their body - and into the implement being moved. The first step to generating tension is by producing leg drive.

To create leg drive, simply push your feet into the ground and contract your glutes (as if you were going to push your hips up and off the bench). Once the hips are set, the torso can tighten, from which the arms can press off of. This must be maintained throughout the entire set. If you allow your feet to slip or lift off the ground, you have lost leg drive. This alone takes some practice and conditioning.

Think of bumper boats. When two boats collide, the force dissipates, and both objects move away from each other. When we are lifting weights, we want to be able to move a load with our body staying anchored in place. 

If you aren't tight enough, the force you are attempting to apply to the weight will dissipate throughout your slack body parts. Good leg drive is the first link in the chain to creating and maintaining total body tension.

 A good indication that you aren't creating sufficient leg drive is that your feet are placed directly below or in front of your knees. They should be planted on the ground back toward your shoulders. Your knees should be bent at an angle less than 90 degrees. 

A good indication that you aren't creating sufficient leg drive is that your feet are placed directly below or in front of your knees. They should be planted on the ground back toward your shoulders. Your knees should be bent at an angle less than 90 degrees. 

The Back

The back plays a major role in any pressing movement. The back muscles will properly align the spine, set the shoulders, and help control the load eccentrically. In the case of any pressing done on a bench, the back muscles will also create a firm base to dig into the bench.

When setting up, your back shouldn't be relaxed. Pull your shoulder blades back and down (retract and depress). Arch your upper back as you do when puffing out your chest. Throughout the set you will be driving your tight back into the bench. 

 Left: Chest is puffed out, shoulders are set back, and the angle of my knees suggests I am creating leg drive. Right: Chest flat, shoulders not set, no leg drive.

Left: Chest is puffed out, shoulders are set back, and the angle of my knees suggests I am creating leg drive. Right: Chest flat, shoulders not set, no leg drive.

I want you to remember what I said at the beginning of this article...a good set up should feel efforted. If you could just as easily grab your iPhone and flip through Instagram, you're not prepared to make bench pressing gains!

Pre Workout Nutrition

Protein and fat consumption is important in a well balanced diet, but when it comes to working out, carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient to keep in mind.

In order for you to have enough energy to workout, you need to have enough glycogen on reserve. I wrote about what glycogen is here. If you are running low on glycogen, you will feel low on energy throughout your workout.

Glycogen is just stored glucose. There are two primary ways your body accesses glucose...

1. By eating carbohydrate rich foods (the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose).

2. Through the process of Gluconeogenesis, which is the body's ability to generate glucose from non-carbohydrate sources.

Your body would much rather be fed glucose than to have to create it on its own (through Gluconeogenesis). So this means, be sure to eat enough carbs to fuel your workout.

Everyone will have their own preference as to how they carb up and prepare for a workout. People have differing preferences of carb sources. People will also time their carbs different from others. As I usually say, find what works best for you.

Overall, I like to consume whole carb sources (such as fruits, rice, potatoes, oats, and vegetables,) and stay away from carbs that have been refined and processed (such as pasta, bread, cereal, protein and energy bars, and sugary foods/juices.)  

Keep in mind that I'm not a proponent or practitioner of eating 6+ small meals per day. On average, I eat 3 meals per day, and some days I eat as few as 1 meal per day.

I like to have a pretty emptied stomach when I work out. What I mean by this, is that I like to work out at least 2 hours after my last meal. 

This is what I consume for carbs on a typical training day...

Breakfast Carbs

Oats and a banana

Lunch Carbs

Sprouted bread, and a serving of a fruit and a vegetable (which varies from week to week).

Pre Workout

No carbs immediately pre workout. I rely on the glycogen stored up from the previous day's post workout eating, and from the current day's breakfast and lunch. What I do like to have immediately pre work out is some caffeine.

Post Workout Carbs

Chocolate milk and a banana

Evening Carbs

Potatoes, vegetables and fruit

As I wrote in "Post Workout Nutrition," most of my carbs are consumed after my workout for the day. After a work out is when your body is primed to absorb and store carbohydrates to be used for the next day.

If I were to suggest anything to you it would be this...

1. Eat clean, wholesome, and light foods most of the time, but especially before you work out for the day. Eating a huge and highly processed meal will put you right on the couch. 

2. Have a starchier carb source (potatoes, oats, rice) earlier in the day. This will satiate you and help get glycogen stored up and topped off.

3. The closer to working out, consume more fruit. It's easily digestible so you won't feel full or bloated when it's time to workout. It also provides a fast acting source of energy to your body. 

Principle of Overload

In order for your body to continually adapt, you must work the body beyond what it is already used to. This is the principle of overload. The lack of consideration for this principle is what slows, and even prevents progress in many people's training.

If you go from using a 0lb. dumbbell to using a 15lb. dumbbell, you are going to make some adaptations. But the body will soon have the capacity to work with an even heavier dumbbell than 15lbs. If at that point you continue to work with the 15lb. dumbbell, you will make no more progress.

Essentially, your body's capacity continues to go up as you get stronger and more fit. This is why you must work harder in order to achieve enough of a training effect (the more conditioned you become). If you don't continue to work to your full capacity, you won't continue to progress. In fact, the lack of stimulus can lead to regression

There are other ways than just increasing weight to overload the body. If you want to know other ways just ask. But what I ask of you is to get out of your comfort zone and keep trying to work harder than you did during your last work out. 

Imperfect Training

Too many get caught up in doing an exercise completely perfectly. Sometimes so much, that it deters them from even doing an exercise.

If you are new to an exercise, you should expect it to feel imperfect. Just get doing something. Over time, you will refine it into a more and more perfect movement. 

The only way to get good at something is to first be bad at something.

Crossing The Jump Rope: Use The Arms

For regular rope skipping, it is preferred to generate rope speed by turning only the wrists, and refraining from involving the arms. 

When you move to crossing the jump rope, it is exactly the opposite. If you are still expending effort trying to turn your wrists as you cross back and forth, your crosses will be too slow, and eventually the rope speed will get out of synch with your foot speed.

Watch this video...

Cardio: Part 2

In Part 1 I wrote that exercise that is typically referred to as "cardio" should actually be known as "aerobic exercise." It pretty much pisses me off when I hear someone say "I've gotta go do cardio." The main reason this type of thing bothers me is because the same people who say it are not after the health benefits of the "cardio". Instead, they think they need to be doing it to get more lean.

The truth is, there are superior ways to losing body fat other than jogging on a treadmill for 40 minutes. The truth is also that aerobic exercise does provide health benefits. So unless you are truly doing aerobic exercise for the health benefits, stop making it such a priority to do your "cardio".

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic

If you want to quickly understand the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise, take a look at this, and this. And then associate aerobic with low intensity and high duration, and anaerobic with high intensity and short duration.

Aerobic Exercise

Forms of exercise that require immediate access to oxygenated blood. Examples are running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, etc. The primary factor that will make an exercise aerobic is if it's done for a long time. And remember, in order for you to sustain any effort for a long time, the intensity will need to be fairly low. This low intensity does not require much muscular effort, so low-threshold motor units and Type I muscle fibers will be used to complete the task.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

  • improved oxygen uptake
  • improved cardiac output
  • improved stroke volume (heart learns to pump more blood)
  • improved circulation
  • improved endurance to working muscles
  • improved VO2 max
  • increased capillary density
  • increased mitochondrial size
  • decreased resting blood pressure
  • decreased resting heart rate
  • decreased breathing rate
  • decreased body fat

While I am mainly a proponent of anaerobic exercise, you can see that there are many benefits to be had from training aerobically (mainly benefits to the circulatory and respiratory system).

Anaerobic Exercise

High intensity and short lasting forms of exercise in which the body's demand for oxygen exceeds its available supply. Examples are sprinting, jumping, high intensity resistance training, interval training, plyometrics, many sports, etc. The high intensity of these types of exercise requires high muscular effort, so both low and high-threshold motor units, as well as both Type I and Type II muscle fibers will be used.

Benefits of Anaerobic Exercise

  • increased strength
  • increased speed
  • increased agility
  • increased vertical jump
  • improved functional flexibility
  • improved neuromuscular sensitivity
  • enhanced reflex response (ability to produce more force in less time)
  • more efficient motor unit recruitment
  • creation of new neuromuscular connections
  • utilization of all muscle fiber types (Henneman's Size Principle)
  • increased connective tissue strength to locally trained areas
  • improved bone density
  • increased hormonal sensitivity
  • faster clearing of lactic acid
  • heart becomes stronger
  • elevated metabolism
  • decreased body fat
  • increased muscle mass
  • no adverse effects to aerobic performance

The last benefit is worth repeating...

Anaerobic training will have no adverse effects to aerobic performance, but the opposite is not true. To unlock your anaerobic potential, you must train to a high enough intensity. Anaerobic exercise is (without doubt) the best way to achieve better physique and performance.

I will leave you with two things to consider....

1. Car Analogy

 

Much of body composition (ratio of lean mass to fat mass) comes down to energy expenditure. When done correctly, anaerobic exercise expends more energy than aerobic exercise.

Think of your car. What burns through fuel faster? Cruising for a long time at a steady pace? Or bursts of acceleration and deceleration? The answer is the latter.  

Now compare your car to your body. To be in control of your body composition, you will want to burn through more fuel, not conserve it. Cruising steady = aerobic. Accelerating and decelerating = anaerobic.

2. Which Would You Rather Look Like?

People that normally do long, light intensity cardio strive to look something like the subject on the left, yet train like the subject on the right. 

This is not meant to be a knock on the way the woman on the right looks. She is obviously in great shape and has the look that many people desire. But I do want you to understand that you'll never look like the woman on the left by going out for a jog every day in attempt to lose your muffin top.

The physique the sprinter displays comes as a result of countless sprint, jump, and heavy weight training sessions. The jogger likely does nothing in her training but jog, and some light, high rep "resistance training". The sprinter's training ensures she will never have a muffin top that she'll need to lose.

If you want to look like an athlete, you need to act like one. Move fast and apply high amounts of force. Then rest. Then repeat. And continue to repeat. Don't get caught mindlessly peddling away on the elliptical for an hour. 

This will be all for today, even though there is much more to say. Is there anything else you'd like me to touch on relating to this? Comment below!

Cardio: Part 1

You're obsessed with doing "cardio". 

You think that cardio must be done to get into, and remain in shape.

I think your infatuation with cardio is overrated.

And I think using the word cardio is your first mistake. 

When you use the word cardio, you actually refer to cardiovascular exercise. By definition, any activity that elevates the heart rate qualifies it as cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise trains the heart.

Pull ups raise your heart rate. Squatting raises your heart rate. Even standing up out of bed, and walking to the coffee maker in the morning makes your heart rate go up. All of these activities require the heart to function. Therefore, you are doing cardio pretty much all day long.

But still, you attach "cardio" exclusively to the elliptical machine, recumbent bike, treadmill, etc.

If you enjoy using these types of machines at low intensities, that's fine. But you aren't doing cardio.

Your training tip for today is to understand that machines like ellipticals, bikes, treadmills, etc., are (mainly) used for: aerobic exercise, not cardio, if being technical. 

Coming up....

  • why am I being a snob about the confusion of cardio and aerobic exercise?
  • what is aerobic exercise?
  • what is anaerobic exercise?
  • which of these is most beneficial?

Sleep Well With This Product

I won't get scientific as to what this product actually does, because I don't even know what makes it work. Something to do with the Epsom salt, I guess...

I have been using this for the last month or so, and have noticed that I fall asleep easier than I did before using it. I also feel well rested and ready to go when I wake up the next day. I think it helps me recover from my workouts too. 

Give it a try and let me know how you like it! (Make sure to get this exact bottle, I think they have different kinds).

 Dr. Teal's Body Wash

Dr. Teal's Body Wash

Jumping Rope: Add Velocity With Each Rope Turn

The key to jumping rope well is to successfully coordinate your jump speed with the speed of the rope. If one is faster than the other, the rope will eventually get tripped up. Something that is easy to overlook, is the need to continue to turn the rope once you get it going.

I often see beginning jumpers establish a consistent jump rhythm, but try to pair it with a "casual" rope turn. This isn't going to work for long. If you want to keep the rope going, you need to be "deliberate" with the turn of the rope. 

Make sure you are in control of the exercise by adding a little bit of speed to the rope with each turn. Take a look at the video below for more.

Why Squat Deep?

It is pretty well accepted by most that proper squat depth should be to slightly below parallel (thighs below parallel to the ground). I personally don't think it's even worth assigning this depth to the squat. I say to simply pull yourself down until your body stops you, then come back up. And if you are a well functioning human, that will set you well below parallel. 

The problem I see with aiming (for anywhere near parallel) is that the lifter will anticipate hitting only that depth so much, that they underestimate how deep they actually are. There should be no decision about wether or not you have to go deeper. Pull yourself down until you cannot go further, then you go back up. Leave no question about it. 

Now, there are certainly trainees who won't be suited to achieve the depth I describe. Certain anatomies, body geometries, and knee/hip injuries may prevent some individuals from being able to squat this deep. 

Even if you (knowingly or not) fall into one of these categories, it's not an invitation to assume that half and quarter squats are the best idea for you. In fact, your situation will introduce the need for specific adjustments. Adjustments that could render your squat to be performed more technically than the squat of a fully healthy individual.

I think it's fair to assume that many people who claim to have bad knees or hips are actually using it as an excuse to be lazy with their squat depths. If you have trouble getting into a rock bottom position, take these considerations before blaming the exercise for your troubles...

  1. Have you ever legitimately tried to squat as deep as you can possibly go?
  2. How often in your daily routines do you find your thighs arranged in the equivalent of below parallel?
  3. Are you sedentary most days of the week?

I'll take the liberty of answering these questions as the majority of the population would...

  1. No, many people have never tried to actually squat to full depth. Out of fear of injury, fear of not being able to get back up, or fear of hard work.
  2. Not often. The most range of motion most people make their legs go through on a normal day is to sit down to a chair, which most of the time puts them a little above parallel.
  3. Many people don't exercise most days of the week. That, by definition, makes them sedentary. If you only exercise 2-3 days per week, you are one of the aforementioned "many people." Being sedentary is sure to bind up your joints (specifically the hips, knees, and ankles). This makes it difficult to perform a full depth squat. 

You may ask, how necessary is it to squat to full depth? Well, if you want to be taken seriously in a gym environment, that makes it absolutely necessary. Other reasons to squat deep include...

  • more strength
  • better mobility 
  • better movement
  • better body control
  • healthier joints
  • carryover to performance in other exercises
  • better overall health

Really, there are countless reasons to squat as deep as you can. I'll detail my 3 top reasons below...

#1: Your Body is Designed to Squat Deep

In the pictures below, you will see a baby in a deep squat position, and an elderly man in a deep squat position. This should be enough said. If you are reading this, I predict you to be somewhere within the age range of these two individuals.

If humans toward the beginning and end of their live's, respectively, have this ability, shouldn't you as well? If you continually train your body to be in a position, there is no reason you should ever not be able to get into that position. The body adapts to the demands it is given...

#2: Being Athletic

If you participate in any sport or competition, it should be obvious that you need to squat deep. During competition, you are sure to find your body in nearly every form of extreme position imaginable. How much better will your performance be if you train full range of motion, strength, and stability in something as important as your legs? The answer is a much higher level of performance.

Even if you don't participate in anything athletic or competitive, look at the training of a deep squat as an insurance policy. In your everyday life, Isn't it be better to have the ability to get in and out of an extreme position and not ever need to use that ability, than it is to find yourself in a position that you don't have the ability to get out of?

#3: Overall Health 

A door hinge that opens and closes every day won't ever get rusty. The same is true of the joints that make up your body. If you use them correctly, they will stay healthy for a long time. You must put your limbs through full range of motion to maintain strength in the musculature and connective tissues that surround and attach them to the rest of your body. 

It is fantastic for hip, knee, and ankle health to squat deeply. That is, if you are squatting correctly. The instruction to squat properly is not the emphasis of this post, so I will refrain from going over that right now.

If at this point you are still unsure if you are squatting deep enough, you probably aren't. You either know you're squatting to full range of motion, or you will question yourself.

If you are going to begin training with more range of motion, remember that this will be the first time you've ever asked your body to venture into the intimidating abyss of a full squat. Don't expect it to feel normal at first. But don't give up on it.

It actually means you should do the opposite - spend a lot of time getting comfortable in a deep squat position. You have exposed a weakness in your body. Something that you need to be capable of doing. Take working on this weakness seriously, and be patient with it. 

Step Ups: Get Your Entire Foot on The Box

This is something I often find myself needing to remind trainees about. When performing a step up, make sure to get your whole foot on the box, not just the front part of your foot.

The reason for doing a step up is to build strength and stability in the knees and hips. To build this strength effectively, it is important to apply force evenly throughout the foot. If your heel is not in contact with the box, it will be impossible to apply force through the heel. Instead, you will end up making the exercise too quad dominant. Over time this will under-train the glutes and hamstrings, leading to poor knee health. 

Post Workout Nutrition

In the fitness world it is pretty much considered dogma that you should drink a protein shake immediately after training. Some people seem to think that if their shake doesn't provide at least 30 grams of protein, and if they don't consume it within 20 minutes of their last set, they will shrivel up into a skeleton, and their workout will have been a total waste. 

Consuming enough protein is important, but a problem I often come across is people lacking the understanding of, and not implementing post workout carbohydrates correctly.

After a typical training session, my post workout "meal" is exactly this....

1 banana and 16oz. low-fat chocolate milk.

The macronutrient profile of this meal...

79 grams carbohydrate

5 grams fat

17 grams protein

(425 calories)

If your goal is to put on as much muscle mass as humanly possible, your post workout meal will be different than this.

But keep in mind that my goals are simply to be strong and healthy, stay relatively lean, and maintain some muscle mass. Basically to look somewhat fit and athletic. 

When someone asks me what they should eat or drink after a workout, I typically recommend they consume something that is in the range of a 2 to 1, all the way up to a 4 to 1, carb to protein ratio. My banana and chocolate milk actually puts me closer to a 5:1 ratio. I also prefer consuming something closer to a whole food source, and further away from a highly processed protein powder.

With my banana and chocolate milk, I am working with only 17 grams of protein. To some of you, that doesn't seem like enough. But I have found this quantity to work well for the goals I have, and I have yet to shrivel into a skeleton. (It is worth noting that after some training sessions, I don't consume anything, intentionally). 

The reason I like such a high amount of carbs is to provide an insulin spike.

Insulin is your body's most powerful storage hormone. When there is too much sugar (glucose) in your blood, some of that sugar needs to be cleared out. Insulin is what takes care of that. It shuttles some of the glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells that can house it (fat cells or muscle cells). When glucose enters muscle cells, it becomes glycogen, simply stored carbohydrate. 

When you work out, your body uses glycogen as an energy source. When glycogen gets used up, your muscle cells empty. When muscle cells are emptied, they can be refilled with glucose brought from the bloodstream (to be stored as glycogen inside the cell). This is why your body is very "absorptive" immediately after training - your muscle cells easily take in the surplus of glucose and nutrients from the bloodstream.  

Having well replenished glycogen levels is what will cease muscle breakdown, allow you to recover from your training session, and most importantly, prepare you for your next workout. 

When it comes to post workout nutrition, I am more interested in replenishing glycogen stores than I am with protein quantity and timing. You can get enough protein throughout the course of the day. But the best time to get a surge of carbs (that will end up being sent directly to muscle cells, and not fat cells) is during the post workout window. 

I can go into greater detail on this. I'll leave it here for now. If you want me to elaborate on this, let me know....

Your Training is Art

I've written about my gym being un-categorizable The same is true about how I work out. 

In my workouts, I dabble in general strength and conditioning training, gymnastics, calisthenics, weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding and boxing conditioning. 

My training style doesn't fit into one category.

This doesn't mean that what I do is CrossFit. Actually, authentic CrossFitting doesn't appeal to me, personally. But if it appeals to you, that's great. Do CrossFit.

When I work out, I work at getting better at the things I care about. I want to be able to lift decently heavy weight. I want to be able to do cool things with my body. I want to feel good about the way I look, and stay healthy in general. 

I care about getting better at certain and specific things. Everything else, I don't worry too much about. 

I understand that I will never compete on the Mr. Olympia stage.

I understand I'll never be the world's most versed calisthenics master.

I understand that there are countless people in the world, that are half my age and are twice as strong as me. 

But I don't care about it. I just make sure to enjoy what I'm doing while working out.

I express myself by sculpting my body into how I want it to look.

I express myself by training my body to pull off certain feats of strength. 

You should express yourself too.

If you do want to be great at one thing, by all means train in that specific way. But also remember that you shouldn't feel pressured to fall into a certain training category. 

Add These 2 "Stretches" to Your Warm Up

Stretch #1

What:

Hang from a pull up bar.

Why:

  • To stretch the muscle groups that attach your arms to your torso, mainly the pecs, lats, and even the biceps and triceps. 
  • To force thoracic extension, (the opposite of a hunched back).
  • To become familiar with a good overhead position. A dead hang places your arms in the equivalent of a (proper) overhead press finish position.
  • To decompress your spine. All daily tasks apply a compressive force to the spine (walking, standing, sitting, etc.) Getting off the ground and onto a bar allows the spine to lengthen.
  • In summary, this is a good stretch to develop and maintain good posture.

How:

Reach or jump up to a pull up bar. With your arms completely locked out, allow your shoulder joints to fully relax. You should feel them slightly separate from your torso. Make sure your torso remains upright. Make sure your ribcage is pulled down and your chest is facing forward (not at all toward the ceiling). Experiment with leaning and rotating your body to feel the stretch in different areas. Also experiment with different grips.

Stretch #2

What:

Sit in a deep squat.

Why:

  • To stretch the hips, quads, hamstrings, and calves. 
  • To improve hip, knee, and ankle range of motion.
  • To become familiar with a rock bottom squat. 
  • In summary, this is a good stretch to develop and maintain a healthy lower body. This is also a great drill to learn to squat correctly

How:

Find an upright to hold onto. Stand with your feet somewhat narrower than your normal squat stance. Don't just squat your way down, pull yourself toward the ground into a full squat. If you only rely on your squat to sit you down, you won't be deep enough. You need to pull yourself deeper. As deep as you can possibly go. Once you are as deep as you can be, push your knees out using your elbows. Try to keep your chest up as best as you can. Keep pushing your knees out while simultaneously pulling your hips toward the ground. Experiment with tipping from side to side, and leaning forward and backward to feel different types of stretches throughout the hips and ankles.

FullSizeRender.jpg

What Else?

Include these in your warm up however you want. You can even warm up pretty well by doing only these two stretches together. Try going back and forth between the two in this fashion...

:30 hang

:30 squat

:20 hang

:20 squat

:10 hang

:10 squat

Good to go.

How To Do Your First Pull Up

A lot of people come to me and tell me that their goal is to do a pull up. That is a great goal to have! 

But then I notice that they are only making it to the gym several times (or less) per week. Practicing pull ups only 2-3 days per week isn't going to cut it if you want to go from zero pull ups to one.

I'm not suggesting that you need to be training at my gym a few times a week, but I will suggest this - if you can't do one pull up, you need to practice them every day...

That may sound extreme to you. I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do. And if after reading this, you still think it's too extreme, you just aren't cut out for doing pull ups. 

If you are absolutely serious about going from zero to one pull up, go to the store and buy a doorframe pull up bar. It will look like this...

After a quick google search, I see that this can be found at Target, Kohl's, Dick's Sporting Goods, and many other distributers. You can even order one off Amazon if you need to. There's no excuse for not being able to find one.

You will trade $20-$50 of your hard-earned cash for this piece of equipment. If you cannot justify making this small investment (one that will produce countless returns), set a different goal. 

Once you have your pull up bar, hang it in a door that you pass through several times per day. Everything that you read from here on is EXTRA-CURRICULAR. It doesn't matter what un-expected event popped up on any given day. It doesn't matter that you had a hard workout that morning. It doesn't matter that you feel "sore". Remember the rest of this post...

Here's the plan...

AT THE VERY LEAST, do ONE pull up EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Seriously, one pull up over the course of the entire day is all I need you to do. Of course you can start off by doing more than one. But I recommend making a small commitment to start. This will make it much easier to build consistency. 

Do one pull up a day, for however many days it takes you to become proficient. This may take 30 days or it may take 365 days. I don't care how long it takes you as long as you are actually following this plan and not skipping days. 

Once you feel you are getting good at doing one pull up, start doing two pull ups every day. And remember, that's two pull ups over the course of the entire day. It doesn't have to be (and won't be) two in a row. Do one while you're getting ready for work, and the second when you return from work. Done. 

Then do three pull ups each day.

Continue making progress in this fashion. You will look back and see that the biggest hurdle was going from 0 pull ups to 1 pull up. After that, your body begins to build strength pretty quickly. Soon you will be doing a handful of pull-ups. Once you can do 5 good pull ups, you are equipped to becoming a pull up wizard sooner than you think.

I'm leaving out an important issue. I didn't forget that you can't even come close to doing a single pull up. How can I instruct you to start with doing a pull up each day when you can't actually do one? This is what to do...

Jump, kick, scratch your way into the pull up. 

Use a stool to bring you to a higher position.

Even jump, kick, scratch your way off the stool to get yourself over the bar.

At the beginning, it won't feel pretty. But remember that Day 1 is the worst it's going to feel. Day 2 will feel microscopically better. On Day 3, you may be able to lower back to the ground over the span of .75 seconds instead of .25 seconds. You will gradually improve at doing pull ups if you attack it daily. Consistency is key.

It wasn't until I graduated High School that I got into lifting weights. At that time, I was in the same boat as you, I couldn't do a single pull up. I decided that I wanted to be able to do them. I committed to using this approach. I still remember beginning each of my workouts with one single jumping pull up, in the middle of the gym at the Kirkwood Community College recreation building.

If you have access to a gym, I invite you to use this approach as well. Every day you go to the gym, immediately find a pull up bar. Do your pull up(s) and then continue with your planned workout. And if you only go to the gym several times per week, YOU STILL NEED A PULL UP BAR FOR HOME so you don't miss a day!

One more time, If you cannot allot 5 seconds of your day to trying to do a pull up, you shouldn't expect to ever be able to do one. 

Give this plan a go, and let me know how it goes for you. I promise it will work!

High Reps vs. Low Reps (Part 2)

In Part 1, I explained the relationship between intensity and duration. Now I will explain what is actually happening in your body when performing higher and lower intensity work, respectively. 

Part 2: Muscle Fiber Types, Henneman's Size Principle, and Applying High/Low Reps to Your Training

The muscles in your body are comprised of tons of individual muscle fibers. Comprising these muscle fibers are two primary types of muscle: Type I and Type II. Every person possesses both types, and also have different proportions of each type. 

Maybe you have heard of "slow twitch" muscles and "fast twitch" muscles? Slow twitch= Type I, and fast twitch= Type II.

The table above shows that Type I fibers have great fatigue resistance, but their force production ability is low. Type II fibers are just the opposite. They can produce high amounts of force, but they fatigue quickly.

From Part 1, just as intensity and duration are always inversely related, so are the force production capabilities and fatigue resistance qualities of both fiber types. 

If you follow along so far, you can make the connection of slow twitch fibers being responsible for lower intensity exercise - for longer durations (lower weight, more reps), and fast twitch fibers being responsible for higher intensity exercise - for shorter durations (higher weight, less reps).

Having muscle fibers is great and all, but without your central nervous system, the muscles in your body would be rendered useless. Your nervous system is the control center that signals muscle fibers to contract. Muscle contractions are what moves your body through space, allowing you to live and perform all daily tasks (including exercise). Thankfully, you are a highly adapted specimen, and this signaling process takes place involuntarily, for the most part.

A motor unit is essentially what links the nervous system to muscle fibers. Henneman's Size Principle states that under load, motor units are recruited from smallest to largest. What does this mean? It means that your body will try to move a load with as minimal muscle activation as possible. Once your nervous system senses that it needs more help, it will activate more motor units. This process will gradually continue until enough motor units, and therefore muscle fibers, are working to overcome the load.

Consider that this motor unit recruitment sequence happens in a matter of microseconds. Your body is a highly advanced computer. It is very impressive to know that your body will instantaneously tap into its fast twitch muscle when exerting a maximal effort!

What is the purpose of training with high and low rep ranges?

I'll start with lower rep training. Please remember to respect the principle of intensity vs. duration. If you are not using enough load, you will have a difficult time recruiting fast twitch muscle! By the way, you don't always need to use a super heavy load to do this. Fast twitch fibers are also trained by moving sub-maximal loads, as fast as possible (speed work). But even speed work will adhere to the principle of intensity vs. duration. It is always done at a very high intensity, for a short duration.

Reasons to train your Type II muscle fibers...

  • increased speed, strength, explosiveness.
  • stronger connective tissues.
  • better nervous system response.
  • improved hormone function.
  • more agility and coordination.
  • better bone and cardiovascular health.
  • more energy expenditure. 
  • speeds up metabolism.

If your primary goal is to lose weight or "tone up", it is supremely important for you to lift heavy and move fast in your training. If you never stimulate these powerful muscle fibers, they will start to go dormant. If you have tissues in your body that are inactive, you will have a hard time reaching your fitness potential, and perhaps your fitness goals. The more tissue you stimulate within your body, the stronger you will be, the leaner you will be, the healthier you will be. Heavy and fast training works the system that is the human body far better than light and slow training does (that is, to train only Type I fibers). 

But high rep, low intensity exercise still have some benefits...

  • anyone can do it.
  • good blood flow to working muscles.
  • builds contractile endurance.
  • maintains joint and connective tissue health.
  • can help bring up lagging muscles.

To wrap up, I say you are better off spending more time training squats, deadlifts, sprints and presses, and less time jogging, doing crunches, performing lateral raises, and watching Real Housewives on the elliptical. There is simply much more bang for your buck with exercises that require more effort. 

Of course, a blend of all forms of exercise is preferred. I see plenty of Instagram accounts, and publications such as Shape magazine, that will have you believe that doing a circuit of bodyweight lunges and squats, 10lb. kettlebell swings, and some bicep curls while standing on a BOSU ball for 25 reps, will get you to where you want to go. I think that's fine, unless that's all you do. I think there needs to be some heavy training in there as well...

What do you think?