Learn the Benefits of Strength Training

(Repost from a loooong time ago but thought you would enjoy)


If any of you know me personally, you know I love to tell people what to do, and the two things I enjoy telling people to do most are stretching & strength training (when it comes to fitness anyway). Today, I’ll list 17 benefits of strength training so you know I have good reason for being so bossy…

1. Improve overall body strength
2. Increased lean body mass (muscle)
3. Increased metabolism (a pound of active muscle burns 50 calories a day. If you gained 10 pounds of muscle through strength training you would burn an additional 500 calories per day.)
4. Decreased body fat %
5. Improved confidence & appearance
6. Improved tendon & ligament strength
7. Increased joint stability
8. Improve coordination of neuromuscular system
9. Improve circulation
10. Increased aerobic capacity
11. Decreased cholesterol
12. Decreased in blood pressure
13. Reduced stress
14. Increase your quality of life by living independently as you age
15. Slow or reverse the effects of aging
16. Improved posture
17. Increased bone density & bone strength

Just imagine what you can do for yourself by making the commitment to strength train on a regular basis! Not only will you become leaner and feel better right away, you will be investing in long term health and quality of life for years to come.  If you want help developing a personalized strength training program send an email to jes@jesreynolds.com and we can set up an appointment!  Or, if you would like to learn more about strength training and general fitness guidelines, become a fan of Jes Reynolds Fitness to stay in touch!

Exercise Demo: Side Plank with Medicine Ball

In my experience, some of the most simple exercises can be the most challenging.  Since the exercise I’m demonstrating here, a side plank with a medicine ball only requires body weight and a medicine ball it looks pretty straightforward and kind of easy (ok maybe not easy…easy-ish?). Noooo, this one is, I would say, pretty challenging (and fun!).

I’d like to start by saying that I didn’t invent this exercise or anything (at least I don’t think), but I haven’t seen it demonstrated very often, nor have I seen it documented. But one day I just decided to start doing it. I had already been incorporating the basic side plank (from yoga) into some of my strength training routines, and had clients doing it as well. Then at some point I decided that I needed an additional challenge into the core strength portion of my workout. And a new exercise was born (haha!)

In order to perform this exercise, you need to have totally mastered the basic side plank.  And by mastered, I mean, you need to be able to hold it easily for quite a while, without wobbling around AT ALL.  You need to be able to keep your leg up in the air and be able to totally balance and control your body, lining up both feet and hands along the same plane and maintaining the neutral posture throughout the designated time.

 
Even once you have the ability to do this, adding the ball is very challenging and should only be attempted with guidance from a trainer or fitness expert who has both the ability to perform the exercise and teach you how to progress yourself safely from the basic side plank into the side plank with a ball while using appropriate form.  Use of the ball puts a dramatic demand on the wrist joint and also requires the ability to grip the ball really well.  In addition, the movement of the ball during the exercise requires quite a bit of control in the forearm and can put some torque on the elbow (do not attempt this exercise if you have tennis elbow).

Building up the ability to perform this exercise correctly takes some time.  Start with the basic side plank using a straight arm and progress to lifting and holding the leg away from the body.  Once you have mastered that, I recommend seeking guidance before adding any type of unstable surface into the movement as the element of risk can cause minor injury to wrist or elbow.

This exercise is part of my core strength training routine.  I typically use it during a back & core workout or during a total body workout.  Since it’s a rather unique movement, there is no rule as to when/how you could incorporate an exercise like this into your routine.  The main thing about this and other similar exercises is to have fun and challenge yourself when creating workouts.  Remember to work within your limitations and then push slightly beyond without trying to catapult yourself to far ahead (as this often leads to pointless injuries).  If you would like help learning how to do this or other core strength training exercises, send an email to jes@jesreynolds.com and let me know.

How (and why) I learned to Stand on a Stability Ball

How (and why) I learned to Stand on a Stability Ball

As an athletic and performance oriented person, I’ve always got my eye on new athletic challenges that would be fun to achieve.  I’ve had a fascination with fitness, especially functional training, balance, stability, and athletic performance for years.  I also get a lot of personal satisfaction out of achieving personal triumphs even if I am the only one who understands why I set the goals I do ;).

My progression to being able to go from the floor to standing on the stability ball started back when I was learning to be a trainer.  It’s not like I decided one day long ago that I would eventually be able to stand on the ball.  It’s more like I just knew some day I would do it…and then eventually I did.

Meeting the Challenge
Just like any goal, there are elements to it that seem hard, and elements to it that seem kind of easy.  Standing on the ball with no assistance is a step-by-step process that takes patience, focus, core strength training, and some talent (at least a little anyway).  The core strength training program I’ve used for years is what allowed me to develop the balance, stability, and focus necessary to achieve this personal goal.

Core Strength Training

  • I use a core strength training program that includes using the stability ball.
  • I progressed myself from the most basic sit-up to advanced sit ups, push-ups, and weight training movements that include the ball.
  • My workout program trained my nervous system to activate all the muscles necessary to allow me to stand on the ball.

Patience

  • In the thesaurus, synonyms for patience include: endurance, staying power, tolerance, persistence & fortitude.  These are all elements of the mental attitude required to achieve any personal goal.  I applied these over the long term and it allowed me to progress toward standing on the ball.
  • Of course I didn’t stand on the ball on my first attempt, but I knew how to train over time to give myself the opportunity to achieve it.

Focus

  • Achieving this goal required long term focus.  I had to allow myself to be ready to do it.  I had to be open to recognizing when the time was right to try it.
  • Focus is also required during the movement.  I trained myself to block out other gym members and mental distractions that could cause me to fall.

Talent

  • When I felt ready I began standing on the ball with assistance very close by and the option to grab something in case I fell.
  • The main challenge was going from kneeling with hands on the ball to having both feet on the ball in the position that would allow me to stand up.
  • I tried going from the floor to standing position on the ball a number of times.  The first few tries I was very timid and I didn’t make it.  Then, one day while a client went to get a drink I had the thought to try it.  He walked away and I just did it without even thinking.
  • In fact, when he came back I decided I needed to do it again to make sure that I didn’t imagine the entire scene.  I didn’t.
  • Now I can just do it and it’s not really that difficult.

What purpose does it serve?

As I have said in many previous posts, if you want to achieve fitness results, you should have a goal.  You can have general purposes such as being healthy and looking good, and within those general purposes (goals) you can also have more specific challenges such as completing a 5K, racing a marathon, or mastering a certain sport.

One of my personal fitness goals is improved athletic performance.  I know that improving athletic performance requires challenging balance, stability, and core strength so I choose incremental goals that correlate with that.  Teaching myself to stand on the stability ball was an achievable aim that I can take pride in as I progress towards reaching my personal fitness goals.

When I work with clients I use the same approach to help them achieve their personal fitness goals.  For example, when I began training Bud Gibson, his goal was to master the two ball push-up (another difficult core strength movement).  I designed a step-by-step plan that allowed him to progress towards achieving his goal.

Everyone might not be capable of standing on a stability ball, but anyone can create a plan that allows you to set and achieve personal goals.  This is the key to staying motivated and excited about your fitness plan.

Including Medicine Ball Exercises In Your Strength Training Workouts

Medicine balls are commonplace at most gyms and workout facilities these days.  They are used for anything from push-ups and overhead throws to functional swings and twists.  For such a simple piece of equipment they are extremely versatile and there are a number of different types of medicine balls to choose from.

Most med balls come in various weights and diameters.  And depending on the type, some are made from soft mushy leather while others are hollow with a hard rubber surface.  Some even have handles to facilitate a better grip.  With so much variety available, sometimes I wonder if people know what a medicine ball is really for but are unsure of how to incorporate them in their own workout routine.

Medicine Balls & Core Strength Training
Similar to the BOSU ball, a medicine ball can provide an unstable surface that challenges both balance and stability.  By knowing how to perform movements properly, one can easily torture clients capitalize on the challenge provided by the unstable surface and use it to challenge the core during push-ups, abdominal movements, shoulder movements, and hamstring movements (and more).  Learning how to stabilize the body when an unstable surface is present is one of the main components of core strength training.

Medicine Balls & Sports Performance Training
Medicine balls are used a lot in functional training and sports specific training such as MMA and boxing.  Med balls are also used regularly in cross-fit style workouts.  Having various diameters and weights available allows the exerciser to perform resistance oriented exercises that would be awkward if attempted with a dumbbell.

Working with a variety of diameters and weights also helps to improve grip and forearm strength, mimic coordinated movements, and provide resistance for explosive movements.  The various weights allow you to progressively increase difficulty, strengthen target muscles, and increase overall demand on the body.

When using a medicine ball as part of a sports specific training regimen, exercises are most effective when they mirror movements you perform in your sport.

Do Medicine Balls Really Fit into A Strength Training Workout?
When I work with clients, one of the things I teach them is to create a circuit of strength training movements and medicine ball exercises.  By choosing the right combination of exercises, I use this method to effectively challenge both the core and the target muscle groups while increasing overall demand on the body and creating a more intense strength training workout.

If you want to learn how to use a medicine ball correctly, check out this video below. The video is a little dry, but also informative. It’s created by one of my favorite online companies, Perform Better.

Core Strength Training Equipment

In the world of fitness, terms such as core, core strength training, abs and stomach are often confused with one another even though their meanings are quite different.  As I’ve said before, I feel a lot of the confusion and misinformation is the result of the broad spectrum of professionals within the industry.

On one end are educated professionals including athletic trainers, physical therapists, strength coaches and some personal trainers.  On the opposite end there are marketers, publishers, and sales experts who excel in business in china but whose fitness credentials are uncertain.  These business owners are often the ones developing new products and equipment which are then linked with intriguing buzz words that draw buyers in and peak their interest.

Remember this:  while there are countless products on the market that claim to give you abs, strengthen the core, or flatten your stomach, very few of them are useful to athletes or those interested in functional fitness.

For those interested in functional fitness, core strength training or sports performance training, there are simple pieces of equipment that can be very effective.  I use each of the following when I train individuals whose goals align with the previously mentioned categories.

Core Strength Training Chest Press

I prefer the simple pieces of equipment like medicine balls and stability balls to the often gimmicky and less effective products commonly sold in the fitness industry.  Medicine & stability balls are both easy to use and versatile.  They allow trainers, exercisers, coaches, and athletes to devise functional and sport-specific movements that require balance, coordination, stability, and core strength.

If you don’t have access to this type of equipment, you can use body weight exercises to challenge and strengthen the core just as effectively.  If you are focused on developing core strength, I recommend creating a workout plan that includes use of body weight exercises, medicine balls, free weights, stability balls, and a variety of different movements total body movements.

Proper Torso Rotation for Sports Performance and Core Strength Training Programs

Proper Torso Rotation for Sports Performance and Core Strength Training Programs

You might be wondering…what is torso rotation and how can I do it properly in my core strength training or sports performance training routine?
At first appearance, the concept of properly rotating the torso seems fairly straightforward.  Twist to the left and twist to the right, what’s so tough about that?  Actually, rotating the hips and spine or torso, is not so simple.  It involves flexibility and a coordinated effort of the core musculature.  And the majority of people, even those who are active, rotate incorrectly.

Why is proper rotation relevant to regular people?
Just think of all the times you bend and twist to pick something up off of the floor or lean over to grab the dog before she runs out the door.  Rotating through the spine is an unconscious movement we perform almost every day.  At the same, hasn’t almost everyone bent over to pick up groceries out of the car, twisted to reach, and then thrown their back out?   It’s not rotation itself that’s the problem, but the improper rotation form and the lack of flexibility most people experience with age.

Why is core strength training and rotation relevant to athletes?
Just think of all the different sport movements that require rotation.  From golf to football, almost every type of athlete needs to generate power by rotating the torso and by observing the elite athletes in our culture, you can see they have mastered the ability to twist, pivot, and rotate with power and seeming effortlessness.

The core musculature serves as a mechanism for mobility that both dissipates force and transfers energy.  Therefore the core must be both strong and flexible and all movements, especially strength training movements should be biomechanically sound.  Learning to perform movement correctly in the weight room will allow the athlete to use proper form and technique during athletic movements.

Depending on the sport or action, the core may or may not perform a twisting movement.  If rotation is required and the athletes’ core is weak or the twisting motion is biomechanically incorrect, the athlete will not perform at his or her highest ability level and the risk of injury is increased.

Optimal biomechanics for torso rotation are the same for athletes, core strength training program, and regular people.
Although the three purposes for rotating the hips and spine (torso) are different, there are basic elements common to athletes, core strength training enthusiasts, and regular people.  The most common mistake people make is compromising the lumbar spine instead of using hips and thoracic spine during movement. Unlike the lumbar spine, which is designed to flex and extend with almost no ability to twist, the joint structure of the hips and thoracic spine facilitate a range of motion that includes many different movements including rotation.

If you had the opportunity to hold a working model of the spine in your hands, you would notice the joints in vertebrae of the thoracic spine rotate and move far more easily than the lumbar vertebrae.  The reason for this is the design and structure of the joints between vertebrae called facet joints.  Facet joints of the lumbar spine have a rounded design which enables flexion and extension but not twisting while those of the thoracic vertebrae are flatter which allows for twisting and greater mobility.

Concepts described in this article will reduce your risk of injury in daily life and sports related activities.
If you are wondering why everyone doesn’t just do it right and avoid using their lumbar spine for twisting, the answer is tri-fold.  First, there is a lack of knowledge of how to perform movements correctly.  I mean seriously, I’m one of the only people I know who thinks about this stuff while working out or at all for that matter.

Second, most people aren’t aware of their diminishing flexibility.  Diminished flexibility comes with age and sedentary lifestyle and causes many people to compensate by using their lower back (lumbar spine) while performing simple or difficult tasks.  Third, sedentary lifestyle and work environments leads not only  to tight hips but also causes the upper back to round, the shoulders to slump, and the stomach to flop around.  Hours and hours spent in these flexed postures gives no support to the spine, results in limited mobility in the upper back, and causes people to compensate with the lower back.

To reduce your risk of injury, while twisting or improve your athletic performance and core conditioning, follow these three steps:
1.  Use your thoracic spine and hips to twist and rotate.
2.  Engage abs while performing all movements and even while sitting.  (no more flops)
3.  Work on flexibility and stretching, even if only 5 minutes a day.
These are some of the steps you can use to improve your mobility and form during movement and sports activities.  Depending on your age, you may not see instant results but I encourage you to stay diligent in these practices and you will see and feel a difference.

References:
1.  Functional Training for the Torso; Cook, Gray MSPT, CSCS; Fields, Keith MS, CSCS
2.  http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/facet-joints-spine-anatomy
3.  http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/thoracic-spine
5. http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/spinal-structure-body-mechanics
6. Loads on the lumbar spine; A Schultz, G Andersson, R Ortengren, K Haderspeck and A Nachemson