Challenge Yourself…Take the Push-up Challenge!

Fun, challenging and effective strength training workouts are an important part of producing fitness results. A favorite component of my chest strength training workouts is push-ups.

It may surprise you to know there are a lot of different ways to perform a push-up. Most often, push-ups are performed with momentum and little attention is given to body position or targeting a specific muscle group. People often drop their hips, scrunch their shoulders, or over-arch their lower back in order to squeak out a few more reps. This is because push-ups are often tested against time or the exerciser is attempting to do the maximum number they can before failure.

The form you use for push-ups should be dependent on your specific goal. For chest workouts, I teach clients to do push-ups while holding a neutral spine, stabilizing the shoulder girdle and isolating the chest muscles. Using this form is an effective way to use push-ups as part of your chest strength training workouts.

I used this push-up workout with a few clients to add something new and different instead of the standard flat bench or flat dumbbell press. I call it the 100 push-up challenge. The goal is to perform 100 (women 70) push-ups at the beginning of your chest workout.
Step 1: As many push-ups as you can do starting with perfect form and control, and allowing your form to slip only a little. Use your form as a guide: if you cannot hold decent form, then you’ve worked until failure.


Step 2: Perform 25 sit-ups as a recovery.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2 until you’ve done 100 total push-ups.

Note: If you’re accustomed to doing push-ups, you may need to set your number higher than 100. Generally I’ve found that getting to 100 requires at least 3-4 sit-up breaks for most people.

Real Life Example
Set 1 = 40 push-ups; 25 sit-ups
Set 2 = 25 push-ups; 25 sit-ups
Set 3 = 18 push-ups; 25 sit-ups
Set 4 = 10 push-ups; 25 sit-ups
Set 5 = 7 push-ups

Push-ups are often overlooked as an effective means for strengthening the chest because they are such a simple body weight exercise. The truth is body weight exercises are an excellent addition to any strength workout and can also be used in substitution for traditional strength training workouts.

When done correctly, body weight exercises are challenging, realistic, and relevant to real world movement including functional movement and athletic performance. They require you to stabilize yourself, activate your core, and control your body position as the target muscle group becomes fatigued.

Even if you opt out of the 100 push-up challenge, I recommend incorporating some form of push-up into your chest strength training workouts as part of a super-set or as a simple warm-up before you being your standard workout. If you do decide to take the challenge, report your results back to me here, I would love to know how you did!

Single Arm Chin-up How To

Let’s jump right in…here is one method for training yourself to be able to do a single arm chin-up.

Start by testing yourself on how many chin ups and pull ups you can do unassisted.  If you can do 5-10+ chin ups, but no pull-ups, set a goal of 5-10 pull ups as a next step before trying the single arm chin up.  

As you incorporate pull-ups and chin-ups into your routine, start changing the grip you use during the pull-ups and chin-ups in order to increase overall strength.  Also, start integrating single arm movements into your weight training routine as well.  Remember to always focus on the target muscle group when performing body weight exercises (it’s very easy to attempt using only the arms during pull-ups and chin-ups).  As I’ve said before, this can be achieved through focus on proper posture, form, and technique.  If you can incorporate proper form and technique into your workout and training, your progress toward a single arm chin up or pull up will be a lot faster.

Incorporating Pull-ups into your workout routine
If I were creating a plan for a client to achieve the single arm chin up, I would use a variety of techniques, starting with the easiest (such as machine assisted pull-up) movement and build around that.  The trick is to take an assessment of what you are actually capable of doing and then build from that point.

For chin-ups, that means having a day or two per week during which you target back muscles and focus on incorporating body weight exercises into each set.  You can vary the type of pull or chin up you do by changing grips, using a towel for a grip, reducing or increasing assistance, challenging total reps achieved, doing single arm weight training exercises, isometric holds, and more.  All of these will work together to build the strength and core control you need to reach your goal.

Personally, my next goal is to do an actual 1 (1 ½) pull-up (instead of chin-up).  If you’re wondering whether or not you are capable of a single arm chin or pull up, don’t worry.  There are plenty of methods for building strength and performing body weight exercises (even if you always use assistance).  Remember to a) vary your grip and hand position, b) use different rep ranges and resistance, c) use different types of grips such as a towel, bar, or rope.  Finally, always keep setting new and higher goals for your training.  Make it fun!  

If you have your eye on getting super fit, the single arm chin up is just one of the cool goals I can help you achieve.  I can help you either through a monthly workout plan, personal training, or both.  Just contact me and we can get started.

One Arm Chin-up Demonstration

A few weeks ago I published this photo on Facebook of me in the process of doing a one-arm pull-up.  The truth is, what I am demonstrating is basically a 1 ½ arm chin-up.  In a true single arm chin up my right arm would be hanging down instead of putting the death grip on my left forearm.  But since this is my blog and I am all powerful when it comes to writing my own articles, I feel my 1 ½ arm chin up is challenging enough and looks cool enough to be labeled a single arm.  In this post I thought I would go over the basic progressions hows and how-to’s necessary for building up to being able to perform a 1 ½ (or a true 1 arm if your lucky) arm pull-up.

When it comes to exercises like this, it requires some talent, dedication, persistence, and strength in order to actually do it.  For most people, and especially women, body weight exercises can be extremely challenging.  So if you aren’t currently able to do a one-arm chin or pull-up, you should develop a plan that will lead you to building the strength and body control to do it properly.

The Basic How-To
The obvious first step in being able to do a single arm chin up is first mastering an actual chin-up.  If you have trouble with chin ups, you can use a band to assist you while doing them.  Using a band will make doing chin ups and pull ups more manageable because it ‘assists’ you with the movement by reducing the overall body weight you are pulling up.  If you feel hesitant about using a band on your own, most gyms also have a Gravitron/assisted pull up machine.  This machine allows you to adjust the amount of assistance to as much or as little as you want while letting you go through all the different motions of pull-ups, chin-ups, and dips.  A good intermediate goal would be to perform 5-10 unassisted chin ups.

So there I am doing one of the exercises I love, a one arm chin up.  It’s a fun goal to achieve, mostly because of the strength and confidence you build within yourself while training to do it.  Even if you never quite get there, the journey towards goals like this are always inspiring and fun.  You can really learn something about yourself too.  If you are interested in developing your own plan for achieving things like this, send an email and I can help you get started on your own path to success!  In my next post, I will suggest one technique that can be used to work towards the one arm chin-up.  Of course this is a generic plan and there are many ways to achieve this goal.  Email me if or leave a comment if you are serious about it and we can talk.

Strength training workouts with Minimal equipment: Part 1

Strength training workouts with Minimal equipment: Part 1

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, when you are on the road it can be difficult to find a workout facility that allows you to maintain your fitness routine.  Either the hotel fitness center is being fumigated with chlorine gas from the pool, it’s in total disrepair with only one working exercise bike (the kind with the moving arms and a fan for a wheel) or the room is being used to store overflow tables and chairs from the banquet facility.

With the holidays around the corner and traveling at it’s peak, I thought it would be helpful to suggest a few workout plans that required minimal equipment.  That way no matter where you are, if you have enough space and just a few pieces of equipment you’ll still be able to have a good workout.

Legs/Chest/Shoulder Workout
For this workout, you’ll need a fairly large space for the warm up as the lateral x3 is meant for you to move down and back laterally across about 15 yards or more at a brisk pace.  You will also need 2 sets of dumbbells at two different weights, one for shoulder press and one for lateral raises.

Equipment Needed:

  • Box, Step or Bench
  • 2 Sets of Dumbbells, 2 different weights
  • Jump rope

lateral/shuffle 3 x down and back
jump rope 2 minutes
burpee/squat thrust 10 x

Set 1
Single leg squat with dormant leg supported by bench 20 reps
Box Jumps 20 reps
Step up/Shoulder Press

The single leg squat is demonstrated in the slide show below.  When performed correctly, you perform a movement similar to a squat while supporting most of your body weight on the leg in front.  When performing box jumps be sure to choose a box height that is reasonable for you.  As fatigue sets in make sure you stay focused as people can often trip towards the end of sets.  The step-up/shoulder press is a combination movement that I plan to demonstrate in a later post.  Basic instructions include stepping onto a box with one leg while performing a shoulder press at the same time.

Set 2
Lateral Raise 10 reps
Incline Pushup on box 15 reps
Decline Pushup on box 15 reps

The lateral raise is a straightforward shoulder exercise.  When performing box push ups, place feet on the box for the incline version and hands on the box for the decline version.

If you don’t have access to the space necessary or the exact weights needed, you can perform more reps with lighter weight, or adjust the lateral movement to jogging in place, running on a treadmill, or riding an exercise bike.  Whatever you have access to will work.  If you don’t have access to a box, you can use the first step in a staircase or a sturdy chair.  You will get the most benefit out of the workout by knowing what you need as substitutions ahead of time and having it all set up before you get started.  This way you can keep your intensity fairly high throughout the entire routine.

I often recommend this type of workout for my clients who travel and they find that having a plan allows them to stay on track even while on business trips or holiday vacations.  In my next post, I will show you a workout for legs/ back/ and bi’s and will include demonstrations of more exercises as well.

Squat Demonstration and Performance Tips

Squat Demonstration and Performance Tips

As I stated in my previous post: Strength Training Workouts and Biomechanics of the Squat, the squat is one of the foundational exercises used for almost all types of training and for each of the various training styles people use, there are numerous methods of performing the squat. In this post, I’d like to offer photo demonstrations of me performing the three types of squats I’ve seen most commonly used: functional/power lifting, bodybuilding, and deep barbell squats.

Functional or ‘Power Lifting’ Squat

· Stance is hip width or wider
· Movement initiated and controlled by hips
· Maintain neutral spine throughout movement
· Body weight starts and stays in heals throughout entire movement
· Knees stay in same plane throughout movement, knees stay behind the toes
· Hip, knee, and ankle move at the same rate of speed

‘Body building’ Squat

· Stance is slightly narrower than hip width
· Movement initiated by knees
· Maintain neutral spine throughout movement
· Body weight often shifts into balls of the feet, heels sometimes come up
· Knees stay in same plane throughout movement, often in front of toes
· Knees move at the fastest rate of speed while hip and ankle are secondary

Deep Barbell Squats

· Generally stance is wider than hips but not always
· Movement initiated either at the hip or knees
· Maintain neutral spine throughout movement
· Body weight can be in heels or balls of feet depending on form used (heels recommended)

While I certainly have my favorite type of squat (functional) and the one that I feel is most effective (functional), it’s true that one can justify using any of these (functional is best) as long as it is done safely, and with an element of progression that allows the joints to withstand the different types of tension each method of squatting presents. If you want to try each of them, I recommend doing so by starting with a weight that is light, and practicing the motion with perfect form. As you are able, you can then increase the weight to one that is challenging for you. Try them and let me know which one you feel is the most effective (functional), safest (functional), and improves your performance the most (functional). I have no bias to any of them in particular (functional) but I do recommend starting with the movement that offers lowest risk and highest benefit. In this case, that would be the functional squat (surprise!).

Strength Training Workouts: Variations and Biomechanics of the Squat

Strength Training Workouts: Variations and Biomechanics of the Squat

The squat is one of the foundational exercises used for almost all types of training including: athletic performance training, functional training, power lifting, bodybuilding, and even basic conditioning.  There are a variety of methods used to complete this exercise.  Some of which I would like to review here.

Biomechanical Variations of the Squat
From my perspective, there are three basic variations to performing the squat.  While other, more minor variations are used I consider the minor variations as general off-shoots from the three I have listed below.  Of these three, I prefer the functional, movement based squat, which presents the least risk while delivering the greatest benefit.  

Functional or ‘Power Lifting’ Squat

  • Stance is hip width or wider
  • Movement initiated and controlled by hips
  • Builds strength in hips and gluteal region; quadriceps secondary
  • Increasing speed of hip movement will build more explosive power through hips and gluteals

‘Bodybuilding’ Squat

  • Closer foot stance
  • Movement initiated by knees
  • Focuses on quadricep development
  • Often involves deep knee bend

Deep Barbell Squats

  • Variety of foot stances used
  • Movement initiated either at the hip or knees but generally the knees
  • Targets enhanced development of VMO (vastus medialus oblique) responsible for knee stability and extension

While it may seem to be the most effective, the risk of a deep barbell squat (extreme stress on joints, potential loss of stability to name a few) often outweighs the main benefit (development of VMO), especially when VMO can be targeted effectively in other, less risky exercises.

When attending a conference given by UM Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Barwis a few years ago, he recommended squatting to the parallel position and not beyond, for this same reason.  It was nice to hear that our theories of training were similar!

Potential Risks involved
Knee Pain
Any of the squat variations can cause knee pain.  If you experience knee pain you should first analyze the biomechanics of your movement.  Use the ‘function’ guidelines to perform the squat and a light weight.  If knee pain ensues, stop performing the movement and see a doctor.

Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain during a squat is a good indication that the weight is too heavy or that your biomechanics are incorrect.  If this occurs, you should first analyze the biomechanics of your movement.  Use the ‘function’ guidelines to perform the squat and a light weight.  If knee pain ensues, stop performing the movement and see a doctor.

People often experience lower back soreness the day after performing heavy squats.  As long as the soreness is reasonable and goes away in a day or two, it’s probably just a response to stabilizing the heavy load.

Torque on Joints when squatting heavy weight under fatigue (end of sets)
As you get fatigue at the end of a set, the body will naturally offer leverage in the form of compensation and poor biomechanics in order to continue moving the weight (knees often buckle and back often arches). Stay focused at the end of heavy sets and be mindful to train yourself to fire the same muscle groups and maintain the same form throughout the entire set.

Things to watch for

  • Ideally the hip, knee, and ankle joints move at the same rate of speed.  This will decrease tension in the knees and prevent undue stress on the low back.
  • Be aware that there is a load being placed on the spine and a demand is being put on the core and back muscles.  If you haven’t squatted in a long time it’s wise to progress from a lighter weight into heavier weight in order to safely train or re-train the nervous system to fire the correct muscles and reduce the general risk involved when placing a load on your back.
  • Exaggerated lordosis (an extreme arch in the lower back) shifts some of the load from musculature to joints, ligaments, and bones.
  • Head position.  Throwing head and neck up and back can cause a compensatory arch in the low back and may also shift the distribution of weight during the lift.
  • Foot or knee movement during the lift should be minimal.  The safest and most effective squat is performed in a position that is both safe and maintainable throughout the entire lift.

If you notice yourself tending towards some of these habits i.e.: knees moving medially (in and out) or heels turning in, the best decision is to reduce the weight and progress yourself forward once you have worked through these biomechanical deficiencies.  This will ensure a safe and highly effective lift.