Top 6 Articles of 2017

top-6

2017 is coming to a close and it was a busy year in terms of writing for AMP’s blog, along with featured spots with Stack.com and other guest appearances.  It was one of my most productive in terms of putting out content, which means I’m writing a lot more.  Now whether or not its actually readable content is another story.

Hopefully you’ve found these articles to be informative and mildly entertaining.  Some of the articles were more successful than others.  This week, I want to take a look back at what were the top 6 articles of 2017, along with an honorable mention for a special article that made me feel good about the direction in which I’m heading.

Why 6?  Because everyone else does lists of 5 or 10 and I like to think I’m special.

  1. How to Build Strength Without Lifting Heavier Weights– If you’re looking to get stronger, adding more weight seems like the logical choice to increase intensity.  But as you’ll see in this article, written for Stack.com, there are other ways to increase intensity without simply adding more load.
  2. The Bubble of Awesome– I loved writing this article as it was something that dug deeper than just the technicals of fitness and exercise.  This was a labor of love to help the Strength Faction family that had helped me this entire year.  The Bubble of Awesome highlighted some of the mental hurdles we all have to get through on a day to day basis, and how we can create a safe place for awesome things to happen.  Hence, A Bubble of Awesome.
  3. Are You Strong Enough To Run– One of the top articles that was specifically written for the AMP site, this took a look at whether or not we are strong enough to run, and why runners avoid strength training.  Everyone can run, but not everyone should.
  4. Supersets to Improve Mobility & Train Without Pain– Supersets are great for increasing the amount of work you can do in a certain amount of time, but they can also be used to improve mobility, decrease risk of injury, or for combining strength exercises with rehab exercises should be have an injury.
  5. 6 Types of Exercises That Will Help You Get Faster– Getting faster has been misconstrued to mean just moving your legs/feet faster.  This is why you see speed camps for on foot speed, rather that doing what will actually make you faster; strength training.  Strength training leads to better force production which leads to longer strides and more power behind each stride.  All this equals faster sprints.
  6. 10 Smart Loaded Carry Variations for Safer, More Effective Core Strength– Loaded Carries are a great, undervalued core exercise, and about as basic as you can get.  Pick something up, carry it for distance or time, then put it down.  Repeat.  This showed 10 different variations.

 

There you have it, the top 6 articles of 2017.  Now about that honorable mention article…

Last year was the first year I hit my goal of an article hitting the Top Fitness Articles of the Week for thePTDC.com.  That was awesome, however it was always for a guest spot with another site.  This article was the first time something I put out for AMP made the cut.  It just felt extra special to have something from this blog make a Top Fitness Article list.

Hierarchy of Success– There’s a hierarchy to what we need to hit our fitness goals.  For some, exercise is on top, but when you really look at what is necessary and what is most important, exercise is not as high as you would think.

 

 


Bend The Knee

Yup, a Game of Thrones reference in a post about being in a half kneeling position.  One, because kneeling involves bending ones knee and two, because I’m just now getting into the show and am currently on season 4.  Yea, I have a long way to go.

Kneeling

One of simplest way to change an exercise and coincidentally make it slightly more challenging is to use a half kneeling position.  For the most part, our choices in exercises involve sitting, standing, or laying down on our backs.  But rarely do we challenge ourselves from a kneeling position.  Through kneeling, we bring in more stability challenges that will make “easy” exercises slightly more challenging.

Starting Position

No matter what the exercise is, there are a few key points to remember.  You want to stay up tall, keeping the ribs over the hips, and putting pressure into the ground using both feet.  You’ll also be creating tension through the glutes and core muscles so that you don’t fall over.

Why Do We Kneel?

The half kneeling position exposes the lack of symmetry between left and right sides.  We are usually only comfortable using one side of our body, or more comfortable turning to one side over the other.  Ask any rotational athlete, whether it’s a golfer, baseball player, hockey player, etc.   Let’s get more personal.  Take a look at yourself and your own training.  You most likely have a preference as to which side you use to press, pull or rotate, or perhaps a side that feels stronger or more capable.

 

How to Use Them?

While this isn’t a full list of all the exercises you can do in a half kneeling position, these are the one’s that I use most often.

  • Pallof Press– These are a great anti-rotation exercise, yet for the most part you only see them when in the standing position.  These further challenge core and hip stability than standing.

  • Landmine Press– If you lack overhead range of motion at the shoulder due to a mobility issue or an injury that prevents overhead movements, landmine presses can be a great alternative.  We get to do a little a vertical pressing without compromising in other areas. Additionally, the half kneeling position eliminates compensations from the legs or lower back when pressing overhead.   If you have good shoulder mobility, you can progress to dumbbell presses overhead.

  • Pull/Row Variations– We can also do horizontal and vertical pulling exercises from a half kneeling position that switches u

  • Chops & Lifts– A great teaching tool to maintain stability through the hips while rotating the thoracic spine, chops and lifts crush your core.  There is one subtle difference between the two.  A chop goes from a high position to a low one, where a lift is from low to high.

 

Added Bonus: Being in a half kneeling position can put the quads and hip flexors on a stretch, which could help with your mobility and flexibility. Progressing through these positions is ideal for those coming off some sort of injury, namely back and/or shoulder.  It reintroduces them to the idea of core stability, and synchronizing the glutes and abs.  Mostly for coaches and trainers; Both positions are a great assessment tool to see how much control a client has in bilateral and unilateral positions.

Adding stance variation to your exercise selection only results in greater gains as well as new adaptations for your nervous system to adapt to. In short, a stronger, smarter, more stable body.


Why We Use the Trap Bar

Deadlifts are awesome.  Studies show that they make you 100% more badass. In addition to that, they also have a tremendous carryover into sports and activities of daily living.  They are great for building the glutes and hamstrings and strengthening the back.  Unfortunately, not everyone possesses the ability to walk up to a bar and lift it with solid form and all the correct muscles engaged.  So in order to start pulling on a barbell, its necessary to regress in order to progress.  The Trap Bar is where its at!

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“It’s a Trap”

One of the many awesome lines from Return of the Jedi given to us by Admiral Ackbar.

Ever notice that awkward looking bar in your gym before?  Looks like a hexagon?  Commonly known as a trap bar, hence the above quote.   One of the most common exercises you’ll see done with it is a trap bar deadlift, although you could also do rows with them too.

The Trap Bar is a great “regression” from a straight bar deadlift, but it does not have to necessarily be a regression.  You can load it heavy enough that it packs on muscle and makes you a stronger lifter, but it’s benefit comes from the difference in positioning while performing a deadlift.

Good Teaching Tool

A good hip hinge is hard to come by especially with those who are unfamiliar with the deadlift; or just the movement in general, particularly those that sit all day.  In an untrained individual, the movement turns into a “bend over” hinging from the back, rather than using the powerful hips and glutes.  So regressions are necessary.  Think about what you do when you go to pick something up off the ground.  That’s your hip hinge.  Does it look like this:

 

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Or this:dq

 

Getting into the correct deadlift position using a straight bar can be quite challenging without proper coaching and some corrective work.  This is especially true for those that sit for multiple hours a day, trapping themselves in a posterior pelvic tilt, and likely a poor postural pattern.

Yes, I’m looking at you, mystery reader who’s probably doing exactly the above. Due to the location of the handles on the trap bar, it makes getting into a solid deadlift position a lot easier.  The trap bar allows a more upright position where the knees go forward and the hips can sink, much like a squat.

This position in turn makes it a great…

It’s A Back Saver

If just the word “deadlift” elicits tingles in your back, then the trap bar is for you.  The mechanics of the trap bar deadlift keeps the back in a much “safer” position than a regular deadlift.  This makes it a great tool for primary knee and hip dominant exercises.  Meaning it can replace or be an alternative to squats and deadlifts, especially if you have concern for you back.

And if you’re concerned about your back, guess what?

It’s A Back Strengthener

The great thing about deadlifts is their ability to strengthen your entire posterior chain, meaning all the muscles that you can’t see in the mirror.  This of course, includes your back.  Your back muscles have to fire in order to keep yourself in that upright position.  This is a good thing.  Most of the time, people with back issues have weak erectors (those two muscles on either side of the spine that run the length of your back).

How To

  • Load It
  • Step Inside
  • Squat Down and Grip Handles
  • Brace Abs (like you’re going to get punched), Tense Upper Back
  • Stand Up and Squeeze Your Booty

Takeaway

In short, the Trap Bar Deadlift is an amazing tool to teach you how to deadlift. It will help you build muscle, get you stronger, keep your back safe, and in general make you an all-around badass in the gym.  Seriously, as you pack more plates on the trap bar, people will stop and stare.  You’ll be the envy of all your friends when you start deadlifting some serious weight.

 

 


How Long Should I Work Out?

 

The most common question that we get in the gym is “how long do I need to work out for?”  And the generic answer is “It Depends.”  Really it does depend on many factors.  We just want the anwer spelled out in front of us so we know what kind of commitment we need to make.  But it’s not that simple.  There’s a common belief that there is this magic time in which there is success and any more or less, then there’s no point.  I wish the answer was a simple “X” amount of time.  But in reality it is largely going to be dependent on what your goals are, and what your program is going to look like.

According to ACSM, people should be getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week which calls for a mix of cardiovascular, strength, and mobility training.  Now if you break this down however you want, but the important part to remember is to make sure your training is tailored to you goals and also more importantly what you can afford time wise.

How long are your workouts now?  Are you making good use of your time?  Have you tried sequencing your exercises in supersets to save time?  Personally, sometimes my workouts are 30 minutes, sometimes they are 90 minutes. It depends on the goal of the overall program and of the day.  Recovery workouts usually take less time than say a heavy deadlift day. Now combine that with the fact that I can get easily distracted with things that need attention in running a business, and time just ticks away.  But that is just how my workouts are designed.  So I set aside time for that.  However, there are a myriad of other variables that go in to how long a workout is going to last.

  • Are you a beginner? Or more advanced?
  • Are you strong? You may need more warmup sets to get to a working weight than someone with a little weaker.  Take the deadlift.  It’s going to take me longer to work my way up to 400lbs than someone going to 200lbs.
  • Does your program call for more volume? Then it may take a little longer to finish your workout than if the volume is down.
  • Some people like to work in super sets as it’s a time saver, some like to individualize their lifts.
  • Are you doing a full body workout? A body part split? Upper/Lower?
  • What amount of time do you have to dedicate to your training?

Because in the end, that last variable is the most important.  If you can dedicate a lot of time, then you can get away with certain things.

So what about you?

Now the above applies simply to weight lifting.  Doing cardiovascular workouts is a whole different ballgame with its own set of variables.

  • Are you doing intervals or HIIT training? If so, what work to rest ratio are you using?
  • Are you training for an endurance event like a half or full marathon?
  • Are you sprinting?

Well that’s really it.  Intervals and HIIT training are going to take significantly less time than if you were training for a marathon.  Intervals are going to be short bursts with a fair amount of rest in between, so these can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on what you’re doing.  If you’re doing an intense tabata style protocol, that’s only 4 minutes, but its 4 grueling, intense minutes (and if it’s not, you’re doing it wrong).

Marathon training is intense in its own way.  It’s not one in which your heart rate will skyrocket and you’ll be out of breath constantly, it’s one that requires a great time commitment, think in the 60 minute plus area, especially on days where your program calls for a long run.  I remember when I was training for the NYC Marathon, and my Sunday runs towards the later stages of my program would call for 15-20 miles, meaning if I was keeping a consistent 10 minute/mile pace, 150-200 minutes.  That’s 2 ½ hours- 3 hours 20 minutes.

Sprints are going to be similar in time to interval training.  The actual amount of time spent exercising is going to be short, but overall time might be close to 60 minutes. Why? Because recovery time between sprints is going to be high.  If I’m looking to do speed work on a track, I know I need at least 60 minutes between doing drills, doing accelerations, and then finally getting to my actual workout, which usually requires a full rest because I want to devote a ton of energy to each sprint “rep.”

So when you really start to look at how long your workout should be, are you looking at actual time spent exercising, are you accounting for warm-up time, are you including rest time, are you including re-racking weights, or waiting for equipment?  There are a lot of subjective things to look at when figuring out this “time” thing.

Takeaway

So the answer to the constant question of “how long should I work out for” is this:  However long it takes you to complete your workout for that day.  It’s not like you can pick a magic time limit, throw a bunch of stuff in to fill that time and magically expect results to follow.  Find a program that works for what you want to accomplish and do it.  Because as long as you are getting your work done, then it doesn’t matter how long it takes.

Time is all relative.


Bust Through a Plateau!

So you’ve been training for a while and seeing awesome results then BAM, a plateau smacks you right in the face. Either your weight loss has fallen off and hit a stagnation period or your strength gains haven’t gone up.  It happens to everyone. From beginners to the most experienced lifters, plateaus happen often. The key is how you react to it and get through it.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

Charles R Swindoll

Your first instinct might be just to keep on chugging along and hope that you break out of the little slump that you are in.  However, that may not be the best option for you.  There are several routes you can take to bust through your plateau.

Change Up Your Program

Making a change in your routine can be a great first step.  You may have been doing the same thing over and over again each week, and by now your body has adapted to it.  The body is amazing at adapting to stressors like exercise programs.  That’s why it is important to alter your program every once in a while.  Now this doesn’t mean that every day or every week has to be this radical change, but small changes can make a big difference and you’ll bust past this plateau.

If you’ve been solely sticking to cardio, your body gets really efficient at conserving energy, so it will find pathways to use the least amount of  energy possible.  So that 30 minute run that you were doing a few weeks ago, is going to result in a less calorie burn than before.  Try switching up to a HIIT routine or if you want to keep your 30 minute run, try small intervals of 1-2 minutes of an increased pace with 2-4 minutes of a more normal pace.

The same is true for weight lifting.  There are many ways in which you can alter your weight training.  There are four variables you can pick from.  Altering the reps, the number of sets, tempo, and exercise selection can provide a big shift in training.  If you’ve been relying on higher rep schemes, then it’s time to switch to a program with lower reps and therefore a higher intensity (heavier weight).

Are you doing the same exercises week in and week out?  Then it’s time to put some variety in your program.  It is important to still follow some of the basic movement patterns, but instead of the back squat, switch to a variation like a front squat or goblet squat.  This way the movement stays intact, but the stimulus to your body changes slightly.

Additionally, within your exercise selections, vary the tempo.  Including a slowed down movement or pauses will without a doubt give your program a change.

Take Time Off

Rest is an important part of seeing results.  In order to see results, in order for your body to get stronger, recovery strategies are going to be just as important as your training program, maybe more so. This is quite often overlooked and underutilized. The common thinking is that when you’re in a rut or plateau, you want to add more exercise, because more is better.  However, that is not always the answer.

A few strategies to implement or to take a look at is how well and for how long you are sleeping.  If you’re not getting the requisite sleep your body needs, then your body, your muscles, and your nervous system aren’t fully recovering day to day.  Over time, this can take its toll, hence the plateau.

This is why I’m amazed by people that say they exercise every day.  Either one of two things are happening. They are either not training hard enough to get a stimulus or adaptation, or they are overworking their body and are constantly tired.

I had to take stock of my recovery strategies a few weeks ago as I hit a point in my training where I wasn’t getting stronger, and in fact my numbers were going down.  I had minimal energy for my training and it seemed like my body just wanted no part of any workout.  The best decision I made was to take a week off and solely focus on resting and recovery work.  I will say it was really hard to not do anything other than rest as I’ve always been active.  But I knew my body needed it.

Want to know what has happened since?

I’m pretty much back to where I was before my week off.  My strength is getting back to where I would expect it to be and my program is progressing smoothly.  Sometimes all it takes is a little step back to go two steps forward.

Takeaway

Plateaus are going to happen.  What is important, is that you take stock of what you’ve been doing and make adjustments.  Sometimes it’s a matter of your body telling you to slow down.  Sometimes it’s a matter of changing up what you’ve been doing.  Remember, the body is incredible at adapting to everything we throw at it.

It is also important to note that changing a million things at once will result in chaos.  Now that I have you looking at sets and reps and tempo and exercise selection and sleeping, I want you to pick one or two adjustments in your routine.  Avoid changing too much at once and avoid overthinking.  If you implement one thing that you’ve learned from this, you’ll be sure to bust through the plateau you’ve been in.