The Barbell Isn’t For Everyone

Just because there’s a barbell in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to lift it.  If there’s one tool in the gym that has gotten more attention than any other, it’s the barbell.  And for good reason as you can load it with considerable amounts of weight.  Far more than you’d be able to do with something like dumbbells or kettlebells.  However, for many of us hitting the gym, it may be the wrong choice.

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One of the drawbacks, depending on the exercise, is that you can be locked into a certain range of motion or joint motion/angle. This can be potentially hazardous for those who don’t necessarily fit that mold of that position. It’s unnecessary to put yourself through that stress when there are so many other ways and tools to reach your goals.

“Just because something has always been done a certain way,

doesn’t mean that YOU have to do it that way.”  

But people tend to be dogmatic in their approach to fitness.  It’s either one way or nothing, and it’s hard to convince them of anything else. People will argue that it’s the ONLY tool suited for exercise, no matter what. Everyone must deadlift with a barbell from the floor or it doesn’t count, which ignores a myriad of variables that are suited for another article. It’s time to wake up and realize is that the tool is only as good as the user. If the user is unable to manage the tool effectively and safely, then how effective is it going to be?

 

What can you use instead of a barbell?

  • Dumbbells
  • Bands
  • Cables
  • Kettlebells

Each of these tools can be substituted for just about any exercise, and when it comes to our fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, and single leg movements, we can easily adjust to accommodate a different tool.

Push

Typically we thing the bench press or overhead press, which requires a barbell for either lift.  However, like we mentioned earlier, you get locked into a certain movement pattern, especaially at the shoulder joint.  And we want to avoid cranky shoulders where ever we can. Enter any of the tools previously listed.  More freedom to move which can mean less probability of injury.

Pull

The most common barbell pull is a bent over row, but again it can put some people in a compromising position.  This is especially true for anyone that has ever suffered from low back pain.  Enter the dumbbell, where you can perform just about any variation of row you can think of.

Squat

Everyone can squat, it’s just a matter of finding the right variation that suits your needs and abilities. Squatting with a barbell, whether front or back, presents some challenges in terms of mechanics that some are just unable to achieve. So why force it? Because it looks cool in the weight room when you have the bar loaded with plates?

Pick a variation, like a goblet squat and hammer away at that.

Hinge

The hinge or its most associated exercise example, the deadlift, can be one of scariest exercises to do.  More to do with images of guys picking up 100’s of pounds on a barbell, than the actual exercise itself.  But it can be an easy swap to use a kettlebell and learn in that capacity to keep you safe.

Training comes down to producing enough of a stimulus to elicit change in the body, whether the goal is more strength, more muscle, or less fat. However we need to be able to train smarter, which sometimes means steering ourselves from tools like the barbell that may not be a great choice for us now, to ones that are more manageable, like dumbbells.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but to do it smarter to avoid injury.

 

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Technique Tuesday: Ab Rollout

Technique Tuesday: The Ab Rollout

The Ab Rollout is one of those exercises that you’ve likely seen on late night infomercials when you’re up waaay past your bed time.  For 3 easy payments of $19.99, you too can have the abs of your dreams by using this fitness wheel.  The fitness wheel will give you all the ab gainz you could possibly want.

If you’ve read previous articles on core training or the plank, you’ll remember that the role of the core is to resist movement.  You want to maintain spinal stability in a neutral position while moving.  That is one of the great things about the plank.  It’s an isometric anti extension exercise.  The Ab Rollout is at its base level, a plank, but with movement, which will make it significantly more challenging.

In order to perfect the Ab Rollout, there are a few steps that you’ll need to take to get there.

  • Perfect the Plank
  • Avoid Common Mistakes
  • Earn Your Next Progression

Perfect the Plank

The first step in doing an Ab Wheel Rollout is hammering down the technique of your plank.  If you are unable to maintain a plank with a neutral spine, then you must master this technique before graduating to something more challenging.  .

Common Mistakes

There are a few breakdowns of the rollout that we want to avoid in order to get the most out of the exercise.

  • Leading with the Arms
    • Performing the movement by leading with the arms will put the rest of the body in a less than optimal position.  This could be due to strength issue.  A great cue to remember is to think about initiating the exercise from the hips, while keeping the glutes contracted.  Then letting the arms and upper body following.
  • Low Back Arching/Caving
    • This is a result of not enough bracing, or just plain not being strong enough to perform the exercise.  You have two choices.  Brace harder through your abs and glutes, or pick an option that you can perform.  We want to avoid putting the back into a compromised position.
  • Hips Shifting Back
    • This is more of an issue on the return to start.  Rather than pull the wheel back while keeping a neutral spine, there’s a tendency to just shift the hips back up.  This disengages your core and leads to 1/2 an exercise, which could be another sign of some core weakness.

Earn Your Next Progression

Much like you wouldn’t jump from a stationary lifestyle to squatting 200 pounds on your first day of training ( I haven’t seen a couch to 200lb squat program yet) you wouldn’t try a rollout before conquering the basics.  This means we don’t advance until we’re ready.

  1. Physio Ball- In the kneeling position, place the stability ball in front of you. Reaching your arms out at a 45 degree angle, place your hands flat against the ball. Once you have braced your core you can begin extending. Be sure to contract everything, if you keep constant tension through your body it will make the movement as well as maintaining your form through the exercise much easier. Once you have extended as far as you can while keeping that modified plank position, you can start retracting your body to the start position under control.
  2. Glide Disc Negatives- from the same kneeling position, place each of your hands on the glide disks. With a tight, contracted core and glutes, extend your body to that modified plank position. While maintaining that good form, continue moving your hips toward the ground as your arms extend further overhead, until you are completely parallel to the floor. The key is control. Once your form begins to suffer or you have reached the end point of the extension, collapse to the ground, sliding your hands to your sides and push-up off the floor and return to the start position.
  1. Ab Wheel Rollouts- This is it! All your regressions and practice have lead to this exercise. Begin in the same manner, kneeling on the floor grasp either side of the Ab Wheel and begin in that kneeling plank position and once again think about bringing yourself into a plank while the hips and arms extend out to the floor.  Once you have extended out parallel to the floor or as far as you can while maintaining control and proper form, you will engage your lats while keeping your glutes contracted and return to the kneeling plank position.


Core Exercises You Should Add

 

When you think core exercises, you might think this image here:

Image used under license from Freestock.com

<a href=”http://www.freestock.com/photos/man-at-the-gym-doing-abs-9791299″>Image used under license from Freestock.com</a>

Or it might be the person on a mat somewhere in a gym in Anytown, USA doing endless amounts of crunches in all sorts of various positions.  How many ways can you do a crunch? The world may never know.  The hope is that by doing those crunches you’ll achieve that aesthetic “6 pack” look.  But that’s largely dependent on low body fat, which is an entirely different post.  What we’re really looking to do is train our core to resist movement and to provide stability.  In other words, they’re meant to resist forces acting on your body.

There is a lot of research, mostly done by Dr. Stuart McGill, on spinal biomechanics for flexion exercises and how much compressive force there is on the spine.  Most of the exercises listed below are going to look like they don’t do much, but they will have a tremendous impact.  These fall under the categories of anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion and anti-rotation.  Additionally there are drills like get-ups, crawls, carries and breathing that play an important role in core training.

Speaking of the core, have you ever seen that movie, The Core?  It’s freakin epic, who knew the middle of the earth was a giant geode?  Go watch it…seriously go now.

Basic Anatomy of the Abs

Think of your abdominal muscles like a cylinder or a box.  You have your front (rectus “the six pack”), your sides (obliques), the back (multifidus/erectors), top (diaphragm) & bottom (pelvic floor, which is severely underrated).

When training the abs, we stick to flexion exercises like crunches and sit-ups because that’s what we know.  However, that only trains one aspect or one muscle of the abdominals, rectus abdominus.  There are other muscles that need to be engaged as well.  We need to start thinking of training our abdominals as a unit if we want to strengthen all of our movement patterns and actions while exercising, as well as in everyday life.

Unfortunately, the importance of such training is severely underrated in a typical gym setting.  How often do you see people  If we think about how power and force runs through our bodies, the wave of contraction in all exercises and movements runs from our center, out to our extremities. So let’s take a look at some essential methods to train our abdominals as a whole that everyone can benefit from by adding to their routine.

Anti Extension

  • Rollouts- Can be done with a number of tools like the TRX, glide discs, or an ab wheel (yes those actually do serve a purpose). A great variation or regression to this exercise is performing slow negative rollouts where you resist the movement all the way to the floor.  This can increase your core strength and stability through a full range of motion till you are able to do a full rollout.   Make sure you’re engaging your abs and your glutes.  This will ensure your spine stays in neutral.

  • Dead-bug with Banded Resistance- The classic dead-bug exercise is great for creating anti-extension strength. Adding a band in, to fight extension of the arms will put a lot more demand on the abs, especially as you extend one leg.  One important tip is to make sure your low back keeps contact with the ground as you extend the leg.

 

Anti Rotation

  • Chops- Chops can be performed in multiple directions with different effects on how your abs will work. At AMP we have a wide array of tools in order to do chops, from ViPRs, to bands, to medicine balls.  The main two involve a downward chop and an upward chop.  In addition, you can perform these in a number of positions, including a standing position, to tall kneeling, to half kneeling.   In this variation demonstrated, we’ll start in a split stance while chopping from high to low with a ViPR.  The important thing to remember is you are trying to resist movement, not create it.
Chops and Lifts
  • Horizontal Pallof Presses- Just like the chops, these can be from different static starting positions. You can progress these static exercises to more dynamic ones by adding in movement patterns, but for now let’s stick with holds.  In this variation, the starting position is a half kneeling position with a band press out.  These were even a topic of a Technique Tuesday video that you can check out here.

Anti Lateral Flexion

  • Side Plank- The most basic form of an anti lateral flexion exercise, it will definitely challenge you.  Make sure you are lined up correctly, with the feet, hips and shoulders all in alignment.  Too many people stick their butt out and lose out on all the gainz possible.
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  • Vertical Pallof Press- Just as with the horizontal Pallof press, these can be performed with various starting positions. In the exercise shown, we’re going to be in a tall kneeling position, while pressing a band overhead.

Miscellaneous

  • Breathing- This is usually one of the first drills I teach to my pre-natal clients, but works well for just about any client. It has tremendous carry over to other exercises, namely the Banded Pullovers mentioned earlier.  This is an underrated and often overlooked exercise that can make your abdominals stronger.
  • Crawling- When was the last time you crawled around on the ground? This last exercise may not look like much, but requires stability throughout your entire body, especially your abs to perform.  Integrate your entire abdominals with these slow beast crawls.
  • Loaded Carries– There are numerous ways in which to carry heavy things around.  From Farmers Carries, to Offset carries, to Overhead Carries.  You can basically do anything you want here as long as you have the right technique.

 

Takeaway

Next time you hit the gym, avoid the line for the ab machine, steer clear of the crunch marathon going on in the corner, and use some of these killer exercises.

Remember this: An exercise doesn’t need to look intense in order to have an intense change on your body.

Simple movement, or in this case, the resisting of movement, can be a great challenge for your body and give you the change you’ve been looking for in strength and aesthetics.

The core serves a purpose, stabilizing the pelvis & spine.  If they can’t do what their intended purpose is, your body and your performance will suffer.  Don’t have abs that are “all show and no go.” Make sure they can function as well.

And remember, no matter how much abdominal training you do, you’ll never see them till you get your nutrition in check.


Prevent Shoulder Injuries With 5 TRX Shoulder Exercises

The shoulder is a complex joint that requires a lot of moving pieces to maintain some degree of health. To prevent pain and injury, the thoracic spine, scapula, gleno-humeral joint and upper arm all need to work together, without compensations and restrictions.

Many of these TRX exercises can accomplish that goal, training the muscles that attach at the shoulder to function the way they are supposed to.

A myriad of exercises will improve or maintain shoulder health, using bands, dumbbells, or bodyweight; but the TRX brings a unique dimension. A steeper angle means more resistance, making the exercise more intense, and vice versa. Bonus! Because every exercise has some degree of angle, your core musculature must constantly be engaged—leading to a better relationship for the whole body.  This equals way more gains.

While these exercises might look easy,trust me they are not.  Intention of movement is vital to the success of these exercises and your shoulder health.

After mobilizing and activating the areas that need the corresponding exercises, make sure the prehab drills stick by incorporating systemic strength exercises involving the shoulder joint. Exercises like the TRX Low Row and the TRX Chest Press will add strength to the newfound ranges of movement and engage newly activated muscles.

Check out the full article at Stack.com


Make Your “Bad” Knees Behave

 

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Achy Knees, the top structural complaint people have, second to low back pain.  However, is the problem actually the knees or could it possibly be something else.

The general public has a tendency to scapegoat ‘knees’ as the main reason they avoid squatting or lunging or just exercise as a whole.  Either that or years of running and sports has ruined abused their knees and the thought of exercising without pain is now a distant memory.  What they don’t know is the longer they go without doing any lower body exercise, the more their knees will suffer.

There is ALWAYS a solution

What’s fun about knee pain, at least it should be for trainers, is figuring out the root of the problem.  Whether its weakness, mechanics, hypertonicity or “tightness”, or injury history, the goal is to find exercises that will help lead to more pain free movement.

This article isn’t about why knee pain occurs. There are many reasons as to how or why pain develops at the knee.  What will be examined is how to go about building strength for the muscles around the knee.  Muscles like the quads, hamstrings, calves, and to a certain extent the glutes.

Let Me Tell You a Story

Back when I used to run…. A LOT, like I’m talking half and full marathons, my knees would generally ache once I hit a certain threshold.  Attempting to back squat was out of the question.  Even my own doctor said “you likely have arthritis.”  Seriously, at 25, arthritis.  So what’s a guy, that loves exercising

to do.  We go to work.

But First…

Start with checking mobility.  Issues with the knee can stem from a lack of mobility in the joints above and below the joint, specifically the hips and ankles.  The body is incredibly resourceful in getting what it needs and adapting to stress, no matter the cost.  That unfortunately means creating movement in an area that is not meant to move or defensively tightening to protect an area.

  • Ankle– Simple movements on creating dorsi and plantar flexion through the ankle are important.
  • Hip– Especially if you sit a good portion of the day, the hips tighten and develop a lack of mobility. When we run, there is a good deal of stress placed on the hip flexors.  The problem?  Muscles like TFL run down the leg and past the knee. When such muscles are trained all day to maintain a shortened position, it can cause excess pressure on the knee when you attempt to use the muscles normally.

Solution

  • Foam Roll- Back to my personal case study, implementing a fair amount of rolling to my program was key. Quads, glutes, TFL, Hamstrings, and even calves.  This helped ease some of the tension I would feel in my legs daily and allow better movement.
  • Stretch- Additionally I would stretch, but not arbitrarily picking muscles at random. Areas like the glutes and piriformis would ease tension on my legs.

 

Crush that Posterior Chain

Does anyone train the back of their body anymore?  We live in a quad dominant world, whereas glutes and hamstrings need more attention in order to bring balance back.  If you have knee pain and are not currently doing any of these, start.

  • Deadlift/RDL- Both similar in that they are hip hinges, which will build strength in your glutes and hamstrings. Most people have very dominant quadriceps, especially women. Including heavy movements like deadlifts or their slightly related cousin, RDL’s, in your training will help to undue that imbalance.
  • Hamstring Curls- Isolated hamstring work is amazing for several reasons, and there are various ways to accomplish this no matter what your strength level. Still, in terms of altering a quad/hamstring imbalance, isolated work is going to help a great deal.
  • Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust- Focused glute work is fantastic for making your butt strong, and also help you look great in jeans. Double bonus.

Isolate the Quads

  • TKE- Also known as Terminal Knee Extension, this is a “rehab” type exercise meant to force you to contract the quads. This can be performed with a band tied around a post, then looped behind the knee. The knee is then slightly flexed and then fully extended by contracting the quads against the bands resistance.
  • Leg Lifts- Similar to a TKE in terms of Quad activation, perform this seated on the floor with your back to a wall. Then with your leg straight, lift off the ground.  Sounds simple? It is, however it is a challenge to perform properly.

Groove That Squat

  • Patriot Squats/Box Squats– How many times have you heard “squatting is bad for the knees.” Well that’s simply untrue. Squats with POOR technique are bad for the knees.  Learning to correctly squat will make your knees strong and healthy, which in turn makes you healthy and strong.  A patriot squat regression can progress to a box squat as your body becomes adjusted to the movement and master it.

 

Lastly, if your technique sucks on anything above, find someone to help you.  Seriously!  When it comes to exercise in general, it pays to have an extra set of professional eyes.

Takeaway

Healthy knees are all about having the right amount of movement in the lower body, as well as a necessary level of muscular strength.  Without both, you may be suffering from knee pain.  Now knee pain is not a life sentence.  Believe me.  I was there. I used to not be able to squat at all without pain.  I took the time to work on some of the exercises above, and now I have no pain when it comes to movement.