10 Lessons in 10 Years of Fitness- Part 2

What separates those that achieve their fitness goals, and those that consistently do not, are most likely found in my top 5 lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. These lessons have become pillars and have shaped my own training habits, as well as the routines of thousands of clients I have worked with. Similar to lessons #10- #6- which I shared in my last post– none of these are particularly ground breaking or original to me. Despite their simplicity, most of these top 5 lessons are found in countless individuals who routinely achieve their fitness goals.

I implore you to take the time to evaluate your own fitness lifestyle and overall health, and objectively analyze whether any of these lessons can positively impact your daily training habits!

Top 5 Lessons

#5 Chart Your Workouts to Tangibly Measure Progress

Are you old school? Or head over heels in love with technology? Or are you like me and like a blend of both? I personally love technology for monitoring my heart rate, my daily step total, tracking distance for runs and walks; but I love being old school for charting my workouts. From my first workouts that started this journey over 10 years ago, all the way up to the present day, I have charted my workouts in a marble composition notebook, with each day separated by post-it notes. (The reason I organize it like that, is so week to week I can just look directly above and see what my weights were.)

Part of my need to chart my weights is most likely rooted in the fact that I was a college athlete, and getting stronger was a necessity. Add in the fact that my sport in college was baseball, and it’s no wonder why I love analyzing my “stats” from the weight room. It is perfectly fine to not be as in love with this aspect of the process as I am, however, I do feel it is an extremely valuable component to your fitness routine, for 2 main reasons.

First, charting your weights will tangibly allow you to see your results. Are you having these types of conversations with yourself? “I’m pretty sure I just hit a PR for “x” rep total” or “I think I just finished that HIIT workout 1 minute quicker than last week.” By charting your weights, you take the guessing out of the equation, and you can tangibly see your results- or lack thereof! If you notice you’re not progressing in the right direction, then it’ll give you a quicker clue to get back to the drawing board and make an adjustment!

Secondly, I can personally say that having 10 years-worth of exercise journals on my book shelf is one of the most satisfying components of my fitness journey. There is certainly a pride factor in filling up a composition notebook, cover to cover with literally thousands of pounds worth of weights charted. No matter how successful you are in achieving your fitness goals, everyone has down days where you question what you’re doing and/or why you’re doing it- having these journals sitting on my bookshelf though has served as a source of motivation. Almost like an imaginary gym partner, the charting of my workouts has held me accountable for 10+ years and I don’t ever plan on changing.

*Side note- there are plenty of great apps (My Fitness Pal being one of them) that allow you to chart your workouts on a device of your choice. My preference is pen and paper, however, I know that is abnormal in 2020. Find an app that works for you, and you will still be able to reap the exact same benefits I outlined, just on a different platform!

(To see an in-depth look at the benefits of charting your workouts, click here)

#4 Don’t Major in the Minors

Regardless of whether your goal is to build muscle, burn fat or exercise for general health, there is one principle that holds true- do not major in the minors. In other words, you must spend the bulk of your time focusing on compound moves, as opposed to isolation work. (Reminder: compound moves are those that are multi-joint, versus isolation exercises, which are single joint.) Unless you are one of the fortunate few without a busy, structured, daily schedule, time is usually of the essence when it comes to working out. Your goal should be to spend around 45-60 minutes training, and that (combined with proper nutritional habits) should put you well on your way to achieving any goal. If there’s only a 45 minute window to train, you would be best served choosing exercises that provide the absolute most bang for your buck, to maximize every minute you’re in the gym.

Compound moves include:

Not every one of these movement patterns needs to be in every single lift. It very much depends on how you choose to organize your training days. For example, if you have a Full Body Training Split, 3 days per week, then you’ll want to hit each (or minimally most) of these in a workout. Conversely, if you’re training in an Upper/Lower split then you would break it up accordingly. Even if you break your workouts up into a Bodybuilding Style Split, you still need to put the emphasis on the compound moves. In other words, you shouldn’t be focusing on the Pec Deck or the Leg Extension machine until you’ve completed your Presses or Squats/Deadlifts respectively. Regardless of what muscle you’re aiming to build or develop, a compound move will almost always still develop it best. For example, a Supinated Grip Chin-Up is one of the best exercises for building your biceps. Similar, to a squat or lunge with proper depth being ideal for developing glutes.

Social media has done an incredible job connecting the world, however, it makes it extremely difficult for an individual to maintain a consistent routine, rooted in the basics. If you follow a decent amount of fitness pages, you can’t scroll through an Instagram feed without seeing several “new variations” of exercises. While this can be great for adding spice to your workout, it can also completely hijack your consistency in performing the basics. Like I mentioned in my last post regarding ‘growing your own personal Exercise Encyclopedia,’ it’s so important to know and be comfortable with variations, however, they should never take precedence over the major moves.

Objectively look at your workout and the exercises you are currently performing. Compare that with the amount of time you have to spend in the gym and ask yourself: ‘are you fully maximizing your time?’ Remember, compound moves build the most strength and muscle, burn the most calories and subsequently positively improve your metabolism the best. Never major in the minors!

#3 Supplementation is Extremely Overrated

There’s an adage regarding weight loss that says, “You’ll never out-train a bad diet.” The same is true regarding supplementation- you’ll never be able to use supplements to replace poor nutritional habits, or a lack of training. Over the years, I’ve been asked hundreds of times by clients and every day gym goers, what’s the best pre-workout/ post-workout/fat-loss/BCAA supplement etc.?

It’s admirable to ask a fitness professional this question and not just type it in on google, however, the answer has always been the same and most likely disappointing to them- it depends. Every single person is different and responds differently to supplementation. I usually recommend that before they start jumping off the deep end into the wild west of the supplement world, take an objective look at your training and nutritional habits first.

If you’re not eating or hydrating properly surrounding your training session, and you’re only doing 3 sets of 10 with sub-maximal weights, with your rest times being wildly inconsistent, then supplementation is not going to fix your lack of results.  This is the “magic pill” syndrome, where most people are looking for the quick fix. They want that supplement “stack” that is going to just catapult them towards the results they want. Unfortunately I have bad news- there is no magic pill, or supplement stack- it begins and ends with YOU and the effort and commitment you put into training hard and eating right, most of the time.

Over the years I’ve taken many different pre, intra, and post-workout supplements, and yes I have some preferences that have certainly assisted in my performance and then recovery, however, when I first started 10 years ago, I did not take any supplements. I also always cycle off supplements as well- the bottom line is nothing you see in GNC or Vitamin World is FDA approved, and we don’t really know the long term effects on even the safest products on the shelf. The supplement industry (and fitness industry in general) are still in its infancy stages, so to be taking any supplement long-term, I feel is risky.

There are natural (and cheaper!) ways to achieve the same basic effects as some of the supplements you pay $30-$60 for. In lieu of a pre-workout, you can have an apple with peanut butter and some black coffee. Right there you’ve got some natural sugar (from the apple), protein and a little carbs from the peanut butter, and caffeine from the coffee. Yes, most pre-workouts have varying amounts of BCAA’s in them to assist in “muscle buffering capacity” (in other words, prevent the build up of lactic acid, and thus enhance performance). However, the research on BCAA’s is relatively inconclusive with their actual benefit in regards to supplementation. We produce essential amino acids continuously in our body, and ingest the rest through proper nutrition. I would argue, you’re need for a pre-workout would be more placebo-based than anything else.

Post-Workout (depending on the time of day you train) you can have a recovery meal, rather than a recovery shake. Eggs and oatmeal in the morning will give you protein and complex carbohydrates, while grilled chicken and brown rice give you an afternoon or evening option. The main purpose for taking a post-workout shake is to assist in the process of muscle recovery- helping to repair the broken-down muscle fibers. However, eating a meal high in protein with a side of complex carbohydrates, will just as effectively assist in muscle recovery- again without spending the large amount of money on a product that may or may not have the advertised ingredients! (Any supplement that is not 3rd party tested, has often been debunked on not having the amount of protein advertised on the label)

In conclusion, supplements can certainly assist in your fitness journey. However, they must be viewed strictly as supplemental to great training and nutritional habits. If you don’t have either of those, then there is no legal supplement in the world that will fix your issues. If you do find some supplement combinations that work for you, be sure to cycle off them for at least a month at a time to let your body reset. Listen to your body honestly and if you feel any sort of chest fluttering or GI distress, immediately stop taking the supplement and turn to a more natural option.

(To see more on supplementation, click here)

#2 Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

There is no magic exercise combination or one special diet that will make your fitness dreams a reality- in order to get your body to change, you must get yourself outside of your comfort zone. This should occur in the gym through vigorous exercise, in the kitchen by making proper nutritional choices and with recovery, by turning off the TV and getting the proper amount of sleep. (For my purposes, I want to focus on the training benefits of getting comfortable being uncomfortable!)

When you initially begin your fitness journey, doing 3 sets of 10 for sub-maximal weight for 6 or 8 exercises, each training session will yield results- especially if you were doing little to no weight training previously. However, after several weeks, your body will stop adapting and you’re going to start blaming things like genetics, or you’ll think you’re doing the wrong exercises. Your commitment will naturally start to wane, and next thing you know, you’ll be back to an inactive lifestyle, falling well short of achieving your goals.

In order to get your body to change, you must give it a reason to change. For example, if you want to break a PR on an exercise, training sub-maximally at higher rep ranges will not help you achieve your goal- you must train with your max weights, and push yourself beyond the point of failure (with the help of a spotter of course!). If your goal is to build muscle, then you can’t do individual exercises with just 3 sets of 10- you have to get outside your comfort zone. Add in volume by pairing exercises and perform additional sets, making your sets more like 5 x 12 or 6 x 10. In order to lose weight, there has to be components of your workout where your intensity is through the roof- whether that’s through a HIIT circuit, metabolic finisher, or sprint workout. Look at your workouts and honestly ask yourself, are you pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone?

Physical change will never occur comfortably. You’ve got to feel your muscles on fire at times, your lungs burning so bad your doubled over, or have a spotter help you complete a set. These are examples of living outside your comfort zone within the gym. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable will be initially challenging mentally. The key is being able to turn your brain off and push through the imaginary pain.

I say “imaginary” because when your muscles are burning from lactic acid, or your lungs are on fire because you’re sprinting or going so hard with an exercise- that’s pain that will immediately go away once the exercise is stopped. It’s important when you’re pushing yourself, to distinguish between this imaginary pain and “real pain.” Real pain would be a shooting sensation in your joints (knees, shoulders, elbows, ankles and lower back)- if you experience that type of pain- that is grounds for not pushing through. Understanding this key difference is essential in living outside of your comfort zone. Know that the burning of imaginary pain is only temporary, and once the set is concluded you’ll feel better, but not before your body has been given a reason to change!

Keep in mind, you cannot train exclusively outside of your comfort zone though- this would certainly be grounds for injury. You must pick your spots, whether it’s the last few sets of a sequence, or a metabolic finisher to the workout- those are great times to go beyond the point of failure. Having these moments within your workout will exponentially improve your mental state as well, because you’re performing a perfect simulation of life. You’re imposing controlled adversity upon yourself, understanding that it’s only temporary so you’ll continue to push through until the set is complete!

When people ask me how I’ve achieved the physical goals I’ve set for myself, my answer is extremely simple- when everyone else stopped at rep number 8, I’ve developed the ability to turn my mind off and push to 15. When everyone else was jogging for the last 30 seconds, I was all out sprinting until I couldn’t take another step. I implore you to give your muscles and your body a reason to change- and watch the results take off!

#1 Consistency is KING

In each of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last 10 years, there’s been one single underlying element, that has made all the difference: the ability to consistently repeat healthy habits. Every training goal I’ve set for myself, or clients, has been achieved through a commitment to consistent and positive action. Being capable of repeating healthy habits will make any fitness goal you set for yourself attainable.

Over the years, I have routinely fielded variations of the following questions:

  • “What is the best workout?”
  • “What is the best diet?”
  • “How many days per week should I be training?”
  • “How long should my training sessions be?”
  • “How can I lose weight/build muscle/gain strength?”

While there are individual nuances that go with each of these responses, there is one truth that is present in every single answer- CONSISTENCY IS KING. Whatever goal you have, and whatever route you chose to take to reach that goal, is your own individual decision. There may be a more efficient way or a safer way to reach your goal, however, there is really no wrong method- as long as you can be consistent.

In order to achieve your health and fitness goals you must be consistent in each of the following areas:

  • Recovery
  • Nutrition
  • Training Frequency

Recovery

Being consistent with your recovery starts immediately after your training session. At the conclusion of your workout, it is imperative to rehydrate, and consume a protein filled meal or a shake. From there you must continue to stay hydrated throughout the day, and also take advantage of recovery methods such as foam rolling, extra stretching, a massage, hot bath, etc. The last piece to your daily recovery should be a commitment to getting a great night’s sleep.

Everyone is different regarding the amount of sleep they need; the old adage of adults needing 8 hours of sleep is not necessarily true (or sometimes realistic- if you’ve got a new born especially!). Some need 10 hours of sleep to function highly, while others only need 6. The biggest challenge for you, is to find the right amount of sleep that works for you, then work to consistently hit about that hour total every night. It will take diligence to turn off the tv and miss the end of a sporting event or show, BUT, consistently getting the proper amount of sleep will do wonders for how your body responds and recovers to vigorous training!

Nutrition

As I mentioned in my last post, it is important to view your eating habits as a nutritional lifestyle as opposed to a diet. Diets are short term, and often present a “restrictive mindset” regarding what you can’t eat. You don’t need to be perfect with your nutrition to get great results- you just need to be consistently good! My recommendation that I’ve used for years is make your goal to have 19 out of 21 meals per week be nutritious and wholesome meals- leaving you 2 flex options, that ideally you’d have on non-consecutive meals. If you make the proper nutritional choices 19 out of 21 times that leaves you at a 90% success rate- which combined with proper training habits, will over time yield sustainable and lasting results!

Also aim to be consistent with your meal timing- don’t bounce from intermittent fasting, to 6 meals per day to 3 meals per day- let your body get into a routine nutritionally as well. Commit to a style of eating, and stick with it for at least 4-8 weeks to evaluate the results and if it worked for you. Remember there’s no universal right or wrong style of eating; individually it depends on what you can do consistently for 6 months, a year, 5 years etc.

Training Frequency & Exercise Selection

I’d rather see a new client walk in the gym doors 3 days per week for 6 months than 6 days per week for 3 weeks. This is the ultimate test of slow and steady wins the race. The natural tendency, based on the type of society we live in, is that we want our fitness results yesterday! That desire must be put on the back burner- let it fuel your passion to keep showing up week in and week out. However, resist that temptation to hit two a-days 6 days per week. That is a recipe for burning yourself out, through either mental exhaustion or injury.

If you’re going from no activity to deciding it’s time to go to the gym, I’d start with 2 or 3 days per week. Especially if you’re resistance training, this will allow for the proper amount of recovery between sessions and it will also keep the entire process fresh (Remember, don’t confuse this recommendation with me saying you’re only getting 2 or 3 days worth of activity- I want you to have “Active Rest” on your days off from the gym as well). Gradually after a month or two of consistently hitting your 3 days per week, then maybe consider adding in an additional day. The worst thing you can do though, is go to the gym 6 days one week, 2 days the next then 4 days after that. Start small and work yourself up in gym frequency so your body can get into a routine as well as avoiding burning yourself out.

Once you’ve got your gym frequency down pat, it’s time to evaluate your exercise selection. It is important to always having your training sessions centered around fundamental movement patterns- regardless of your goal! The compound moves I mentioned before- squats, deadlifts, presses and rows- should be the basis for every training session. In order to achieve your goals, you must consistently perform these movement patterns with the proper variables (reps, sets, rest time). If you constantly are doing “new” workouts, with no emphasis on the fundamentals, then your body will never get stronger or progress in any one area. Essentially, you’d be spinning your wheels in terms of reaching your goals!

How to Become Consistent?

In order to become consistent in all 3 aspects of your fitness journey, you must fall in love with the process. As difficult as this might be, if you’re truly committed to your fitness goal, you must be invigorated to walk through those gym doors, or roll out your yoga mat, or meal prep your weekly meals. Some ways to help embrace and ultimately love the process, would be to clearly identify your “Why?” Are you exercising to fit into a wedding dress? Because a doctor showed you blood work results? You want to live a long and healthy life for your spouse and children? Your “Why” should give you goosebumps when you think about it, and should put some pep in your step when you think about the journey you are on.

The next key to being consistent is to set a workout time that is non-negotiable for you. As I’ve mentioned previously, I feel early morning workouts to be superior- mainly from a consistency standpoint. If you want to consistently complete your workouts, perform them early in the morning, before life can get in the way. If your fitness goal is important to you, you’ll make the lifestyle adjustments to make that happen.

The final aspect to making consistency king, is to always start small. In an instant gratification society, you must have patience and not burn yourself out. 10 years ago, I started exercising with a 3-day split with each workout being only 45 minutes. I did that for almost 3 months, before I only added in 1 more day. For years prior to this, I had been a yo-yo gym goer, where I was notorious for hitting 6 days per week and then I’d lose interest after about 3 weeks. Doing only 3 days per week, with quicker training sessions was perfect for me. It was enough time in the gym to start achieving short term goals, but it was also infrequent enough to keep everything fresh and not burn me out. When looking to build your consistency, start small and build a sturdy foundation in all aspects!

In Conclusion

There are many aspects of my actual training style that have been tweaked and changed over the years. I’ve gone through different phases of bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, kettle bells and multiple Half Marathon Trainings.  The lessons I’ve learned though have been intrinsic and present through each of these stages. These pillars have allowed me to achieve every fitness goal I’ve ever set for myself and help countless clients achieve theirs.

As I’ve mentioned multiple times, prior to 10 years ago, I was a Yo-Yo gym goer. These pillars have allowed for me to make fitness a priority in my life and never wander far from my goals. Since the health world is constantly evolving, I’m very much looking forward to the new lessons I will undoubtedly learn over the course of the next 10 years in the fitness industry!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

10 Lessons in 10 Years of Fitness- Part 1

Last month marked a full 10 years that I’ve chosen a lifestyle with fitness as the center piece. I look back on where I came from and where I am today, and there are very few things I would change. For every mistake I made over the course of the last 10 years, it’s led to the trainer and fitness enthusiast I currently am. I’ve been extremely blessed to have worked under, and alongside some incredible strength coaches, that helped me harness my love and passion for fitness. I’d like to share 10 lessons I’ve learned in 10 years in the industry, that may in some way help shape your own routine, and lead to a prolonged period of commitment to a healthy lifestyle as well!

(In this post I will delve into #10 to #6 and next post I will finish with my top 5!)

#10- You DO NOT Need a Gym to Have a Quality Workout

This is the most recent lesson that I’ve learned in 2020. CO-VID 19 has had countless drawbacks on individuals from a health and wealth perspective, however, one positive I’ve taken away, is the ability to not rely on a gym for a great workout. I didn’t realize how “lazy” I had gotten with my workouts until the gym was taken away from me.

By “lazy” I don’t mean I was missing workouts, but instead I was choosing the cable, machine or hammer strength variation of exercises, as opposed to the barbell and free-weight option. There were a few reasons for this- one being, I lift anywhere between 4 and 5:30 AM daily, so my willpower beyond that is occasionally lacking. Also, due to my personal training schedule, I’m always looking for efficient lifts, and sometimes the setup of a machine is just purely quicker.

When CO-VID shut down gyms though, I was forced to get back to the basics- left with a barbell, a pair of power block dumbbells, and a set of kettle bells, I was AMAZED at the increase in quality of my workouts- and the results!

I understand I was extremely fortunate to be a fitness professional and have my own collection of equipment prior to the virus hitting- this ability has put my home workouts on a level that not many people have access to. However, until I set my space up to exercise, I was just using my power blocks in a space no bigger than my wingspan- and I was getting great workouts in! It highlighted the fact that a gym is not necessary- if you have the internal motivation and the creativity to make safe and effective workouts, you can train anywhere and get a great workout in! Don’t get caught up in thinking you can only have great workouts at the gym, because it’s simply not true!

(For some examples of home workouts, click here)

#9- Continuously Grow Your Personal Exercise Encyclopedia

This is a skill that has benefitted me the most as a trainer, and is rooted in my own personal experiences in the gym. I can always tell a trainer that is not used to exercising themselves, when they have limited knowledge about exercise variations. I’ve always prided myself in dabbling in different variations of every movement pattern. This has ranged from Olympic Lifts, to Kettle Bells, to traditional strength moves- at various points over the last 10 years I’ve sprinkled in every kind of variation you could think of.

My initial exposure to the fitness industry was a subscription to the magazine, “Muscle and Fitness” back when I was in middle school, so I’ve always had a fascination with “new twists” on traditional moves. The one thing to keep in mind though is, I’ve always stayed rooted in the traditional movement patterns. Any experimentation with new exercises always occurs as accessory work, rather than having completely different workouts every time.

The value in having a giant exercise encyclopedia to draw from, is seen in a private sector gym most frequently- but has been highlighted recently due to CO-VID as well. The ability to substitute exercises at will, because a piece of equipment is being used or unavailable, will allow for a more effective workout. This knowledge base will also eliminate feelings of frustration when you try to exercise at peak gym hours. 

The best way to enhance your variations, is to start with the basics, then find a reputable and trusted source and experiment with the variations they publish. From there, if you feel the move to be potentially beneficial to you, at the end of your workouts, safely try out a few new variations. Some you’ll never attempt again, however, others you might keep practicing until they get worked in as part of the routine. Learn to walk the fine line of being utterly committed to the “basics” while simultaneously having a multitude of variations to substitute up your sleeves.

(Check out this write up to see 5 exercises that are unique, safe, effective and can be performed at home!)

#8 Nutrition Can’t be Thought of in Terms of ‘Dieting’

The term “diet” usually denotes a period of time that some fashion of restrictive eating occurs. Whether that’s a subscription to a traditional “Fad Diet” or simply a caloric restriction, when you approach nutrition with a “diet” mindset, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Dieting is not conducive for long-term success- very rarely can an individual sustain commitment to a Fad Diet for extended periods of time. (I’m not discrediting the value in following a specific nutritional plan, by any means- if that works for you, then keep up the great work!)

The majority of people should be searching instead for a Nutritional Lifestyle instead of the perfect diet. Through portion control, slow and mindful eating, and the infusion of lean protein, veggies, complex carbohydrates and fats at each meal, will lead to a healthy and sustainable nutritional lifestyle. Dieting can ruin your relationship with food– anytime you feel deprivation, at some point you will likely have a binge eating episode on whatever food you feel restricted from having. This is not a healthy nutritional lifestyle. Instead, learn to accept the fact that we’re human and it’s OK to not be perfect- as long as you avoid making it a habit, a binge eating episode or overly dwell on it, then embrace nutritional slip ups as a part of a lifestyle and move on.

Everyone’s different, so find what works best for you in terms of macronutrient loading. Some people perform and feel better on less carbohydrates, while others have such an active lifestyle, a reduction in carbs will greatly hinder their daily performance. Consuming lean protein is a must- even if you’re vegan or vegetarian find the option of protein that’s right for you, because having protein at each meal will vastly assist in muscle recovery. Fill the gaps with lots of veggies and curb your sweet tooth with some fruit. Keep it simple, because simple is repeatable and therefore sustainable.

(To read more in depth about some specific recommendations I have regarding a ‘nutritional lifestyle’ click here)

#7 Overtraining is Overblown

If you are a competitive athlete at the high school, college or professional level, overtraining can certainly occur. Between practices, games and training sessions, strength coaches have lost their careers over causing athletes to have Rhabdo (short for rhabdomyolisis, which is the death of muscle fibers and release of myoglobin into the blood stream, which can cause extreme kidney dysfunction).

If training volume and frequency isn’t being closely monitored in high level/competitive athletes, overtraining can easily happen. However, for the general population, who work 9-5 jobs for 40-60 hours per week, getting an hour of activity every single day, will not cause overtraining. That said, you don’t want to make that hour of exercise the same exact movement pattern for 7 days- that will definitely hinder your ability to recover. However, having 3-5 days of well-programmed resistance training with the remaining “off days” treated instead as “Active Rest Days” you can safely and effectively hit 7 days of activity.

I am not a proponent of resistance training 7 days per week for most people. Even if it’s an extremely well planned program, I think it’s grounds to get burnt out mentally more so than anything. The issue is, for most individuals an “Off Day” is literally a “do nothing day,” which is not conducive for a fully healthy lifestyle. On days that your traditional workouts are not occurring, active rest options such as: brisk walks, bike rides, hikes, pick-up sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer), yoga or a foam rolling session, all present themselves as great recovery options. Any of these will moderately elevate your heart rate and provide you with high quality activity, that will assist in your recovery- and is different than your normal workouts!

(To read more in depth about how to transition your “off days” to “active rest days” click here)

6. Early Morning Workouts are Superior

There is plenty of research that states, as a male, I would be better off resistance training later in the day, because my testosterone levels are higher as the day progresses. I don’t doubt this science one bit, however, whatever advantage I have in hormonal levels, is negated if I let ‘life’ get in the way and I don’t even exercise. I found out very early on in my 10 year journey, that there’s one way to almost guarantee you won’t miss workouts due to life getting in the way- that is, workout very first thing in the morning. When you wait to exercise until after your workday is done, you’re allowing for the potential of a “bad day”, spontaneous social plans, family responsibilities or unforeseen work obligations (like having to work late), to prohibit you from training. Early in the morning, when most of your community is still asleep, usually the only thing that will get in the way of you and your workout is your own feeling of being sleepy- and that is purely a battle of willpower that you must win.

Yes, you may be initially tired going into the session, however, if you train hard you will feel invigorated by the time you’re done. This feeling of vitality will naturally keep your energy levels much higher throughout the day. Exercising in the morning also sets the tone for subsequent healthy decisions through your day as well. You’ll notice that by training in the morning, you’ll be naturally more health conscious with your nutrition choices. Additionally, one of my favorite aspects of exercising early, is that any activity you get later in the day is bonus! All the sudden the walk after dinner seems less like a chore and more like a great way to unwind and get some extra steps in for the day.

Committing to an early morning gym routine will give you a mental edge for the upcoming day, but also your physical goals will become more quickly attainable. Especially if you are usually inconsistent with your workouts, implementing a regular early morning workout routine will ensure consistency- which is the number one variable to achieving any goal.

(To read more about how to make an early morning exercise routine work for you, click here)

In Conclusion…

In my next blog, I will delve into my top 5 lessons I’ve learned in the first 10 years of my fitness journey. None of these lessons are particularly groundbreaking, nor are they gospel, however, they’re things that I’ve picked up along the way that has exponentially aided my overall fitness level. These lessons are applicable to all ages, genders and goals, and can take any exercise routine to the next level!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Save Your 2020 Health by Taking These 3 Steps!

At any point during the last few months, have you caught yourself thinking: “Once this pandemic is over, I’ll get my health back under control”? This has been an extremely common -and scary – justification that has presented itself since March.

Since the CO-VID 19 outbreak, individuals have gone a few different directions with their health and fitness routines. For a small percentage of the population, the pandemic has allowed them to get their health and fitness seriously on track- they were given an opportunity to focus on aspects of their health that a crazy, hectic lifestyle had forced them to neglect. Others lost the ability to maintain a consistent exercise routine, but stayed on point with their nutrition. While still others kept their workout routine, but failed to keep any semblance of a healthy nutritional lifestyle. And finally, many individuals have completely abandoned a healthy lifestyle altogether these last 4 months.

The question is, if you’ve completely lost your way on the path to a healthy lifestyle, how can you get back on track? The good news is there is still 5 months left in 2020- along with gyms slowly reopening, fitness equipment is starting to become accessible again as well. Below, I will outline 3 ways you can save your fitness routine in 2020- with or without a gym- and get back to living a healthy, wholesome lifestyle!

#1- Find Your Workout Space, Set a Workout Time- and STICK TO IT

The key to having success towards attaining a fitness goal is incredibly simple- regardless of your goal, the workout program you choose, how many calories you take in per day, etc. there is only one thing that truly matters- can you consistently repeat the action? I can write you a picture-perfect workout routine with whatever equipment you have access to, but if it is not easily repeatable, then the routine is useless. The same can be said for a nutrition plan- low-sugar, low-carb, high fat, Keto, Paleo, Carb Cycling, Atkins, Weight Watchers- all of it can be great for certain people; but if you can’t repeat the lifestyle day in and day out, then it’s not conducive for you.

The best way to ensure a consistent exercise routine (especially at home) is first designating a space in your house/condo/apartment as the spot. Your workouts can only happen there. I understand everyone has different situations. Not everyone has a full room they can dedicate to exercise, or a shed that can be transitioned into a home gym. It can be as small as a corner in the room dedicated to storing your yoga mat, dumbbells and mini-bands. The key here is not necessarily leaving your equipment out- but rather taking the first step of demonstrating consistency- by repeatedly performing your workout in the exact same place every day. (Also keep in mind, the space does not need to be more than your wingspan wide and the length of your body long. Any quality coach should be able to make you an effective workout with only that amount of space)

When choosing your space, take the time to manipulate the room or area to require as little setup as possible for your workout. If you’re struggling to hit your workouts right now, there’s a part of you that purely does not want to exercise- and that’s totally normal! It’s very common to have that feeling when you’ve lost touch with your goals, or fallen out of a fitness routine. When you have a negative aura surrounding your workout- before it’s even started- then you must make the setup easy. If every workout session, you need to move a couch, coffee table, TV stand and a potted plant- just in order to get your workout equipment out, the task already seems daunting. Pick a spot and prepare it so that when it’s time to workout, all you need to do is set out your dumbbells, minibands and yoga mat- and start exercising!

Exercise at the Same Time!

This can be tricky to maintain now that schedules are ramping back up, and lives are becoming hectic again. However, I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of consistently exercising at the same time most days. Small variations of a few hours one way or the other is totally fine, however, what you want to avoid is the flip flopping between early morning and late afternoon/evening workouts. You want to avoid this manner of training because it cuts down on your recovery time, and also doesn’t allow you to fully get into a groove. The workouts will feel “different” at different times of the day- so try to pick one time and stick with it the best you can.

There’s no right or wrong time to exercise, however, I’m a huge proponent of early morning workouts. Especially considering if your gym is not open, you do not have to leave the house! If you’re a parent this is particularly clutch because your children are hopefully asleep, which provides the perfect opportunity to train with zero distractions.

It’s easy to avoid early morning workouts by telling yourself “I’m just not a morning person” however, you’ve got to train yourself to ignore that sentiment. Inconsistency to a fitness routine usually happens because individuals allow ‘life’ to get in the way. What I’ve found is that early in the morning, life doesn’t usually throw too many curveballs at you. Typically the only thing in your way is your own inability to get out of bed. When you push the workout back to late afternoon/evening, that’s when you start letting your bad days at work, happy hour drinks with friends, or your children’s impromptu play date, disrupt your workout schedule.

Take the time to completely map out your daily schedule to the best of your ability. Take a fine-tooth comb to it, and really think about a time that you can consistently exercise 3-5 times per week. While I recommend early morning workouts, your schedule may only allow for you to train later in the day- and that’s fine! The key is making your training schedule non-negotiable. Be selfish, put it on the calendar, and commit to putting your health and fitness first!

#2 Start With Making Small, Sustainable Changes!

Regaining lost strength levels, losing fat or reestablishing an aerobic base, can each seem like daunting tasks. Many of us are feeling like we need to do all of these things at once. Regardless of what CO-VID 19 has done to your personal fitness levels up to this point, it needs to be set aside. Whether you’ve lost 10 pounds of muscle or gained 10 pounds of fat, it doesn’t matter now- it’s in the past, and the only thing that should be focused on is developing a plan to regain a healthy fitness routine.

The key is, you cannot recklessly jump back into a fitness routine without a well thought out plan of attack. Exercising like a maniac and eating exclusively grilled chicken and rice for 2 weeks will not all the sudden turn your fitness levels back to normal. A great way to develop a plan is to make small, sustainable changes to your daily routines. Ask yourselves questions such as these:

  • Are you exercising consitently?
  • Are you eating nutritiously wholesome?
  • Are you sleeping the proper amount?
  • Are you properly hydrated throughout the day?
  • What is your alcohol intake like?

The answers to these questions will provide you with your plan to get back on track!

For example:

  • “I’m not exercising any more than 2 days per week with zero activity on my off days.”
    • Add in a daily walk (regardless of whether it’s a workout day) and add in one more 20-30 minute workout, to bump your total to 3 days of exercise. As stated earlier, consistency is the first key to successfully making a change.
  • “I do well with breakfast- oatmeal with blueberries and I usually meal prep healthy lunches such as dry tuna salads or grilled chicken and rice. But I’ve been eating out 5 nights per week, and the 2 nights I stay in are microwave dinners with daily dessert.”
    • When you order out, at least 3 of the 5 nights be sure to order a salad and eat that first. When you have your microwave dinners, add in a side of colorful veggies as well. To curb your sweet tooth, have some fresh fruit or a protein shake after dinner before you have the dessert- see if you still have the desire to indulge in dessert after either option. If you do, don’t beat yourself up over it- just limit the damage!
  • “Some nights I go to bed at 9:00 PM and others I’m awake until midnight because I get engrossed in a TV show, and I always wake up at 5:30 AM, regardless of whether I’m working or not.”
    • Set an alarm for yourself to turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed. This will help unwind yourself and keep you from getting sucked into binge watching a TV show. Try out activities such as reading a casual book, or taking a hot shower or bath, to relax yourself and get ready for bed. Aim to be asleep within 30 minutes of a target time each night. Consistently getting the same amount of sleep will optimize your body’s recovery, and provide you with great will power to exercise, and make proper nutritional choices the next day!
  • “Some days I’m able to drink water all day, but others I get distracted and may only have one glass.”
    • It’s extremely common to be inconsistent with water in-take. Many of us only drink water when we’re thirsty- which is a recipe for being chronically dehydrated. A general rule of thumb is, women should be having minimally 6, 8 ounce glasses of water per day, while men should be having at least 8. Your water needs may vary slightly off these numbers but 6 and 8 cups of water respectively is a good baseline. A great way to stay consistent with water consumption is to set hourly reminders for yourself on your phone. It’s easy to get distracted during the work day and only consume caffeinated beverages- which will further dehydrate you. Being dehydrated will cause you to feel lethargic, have headaches and be irritable- therefore it’s imperative we are consuming the proper amount of water!
  • “Since the pandemic has hit, I’ve been having between 1 and 3 drinks 5-6 nights per week.”
    • Over caffeinating during the day usually leads to a need to knock the edge off with alcohol at night to properly unwind. This is extremely common- especially during high stress times. If you feel like you’re having a problem with a dependency on alcohol, you should talk to a professional about it. However, if it’s more of a lack of will power, do your best to cut back by one day per week, until you’re having a few drinks only 2 nights per week. Don’t try to cold-turkey the alcohol, because that could potentially lead to binge drinking scenarios- instead, focus on cutting back slowly, from week to week.

These are all common, but hypothetical situations. Your scenario may be slightly different, but the big takeaway should be, you need to objectively analyze what areas you’re struggling with right now. Once you’ve identified those pitfalls, you need to make small changes in each area, rather than a complete overhaul. Drastic changes rarely yield lasting results; instead they usually cause a yo-yo reaction right back to where you were before- if not worse! Small, SUSTAINABLE Changes will always give you the best results long-term.

#3 Lose the Negative Mindset!

A huge issue many individuals struggle with- during non-pandemic times- is the notion that every workout needs to be perfect. As someone who is an avid fitness enthusiast, I can honestly say, that the majority of my workouts are not perfect. The results I’ve gotten over the last 10 years have not been because I’m hitting PR’s every workout. Rather, it’s because I train every single day that I’m supposed to- whether that’s with weights, kettle bell, going for a run etc.- I never missed a planned training session.

This mindset helped me smoothly transition into a pandemic exercise routine because I knew the perfect training session was simply not going to happen. Once you stop seeking the perfect workout, and instead focus on what is controllable- purely showing up and having a positive mindset regarding the workout- you’ll start consistently hitting your planned training sessions.

If you go into your workout thinking “this just isn’t the same as the gym.” Or, maybe you’re already back at the gym, but due to the restrictions you’re thinking “I can’t get my normal workout in, so what’s the point?” These are the negative thoughts that will automatically derail your attempt at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If this is an area you’re currently struggling with, I challenge you to keep your goals simple regarding your workouts: “My goal today is to move vigorously.” Who cares where that happens (home, outside, the gym), what equipment you have access to, or who’s around you?

In order to have realistic goals, they also must align with your current situation. In other words, if you only have a pair of 10 pound dumbbells, and a few minibands, then “building muscle mass” is not going to be a realistic goal- which is fine! Just because you can’t realistically achieve your usual fitness goal, doesn’t mean you should just throw the towel in on a healthy lifestyle. Adapt your goals to match what you realistically have access to, and understand that it doesn’t need to be your permanent reality. At some point, you will be able to get back to your normal fitness routine, however, until then, accept the fact that you may have to pivot your fitness goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It would be the easy thing to just throw the towel in on your 2020 health and fitness goals. No one would blame you if you justified it by saying “2020 just wasn’t your year.” I implore you though, to dig deep and realize that you can get yourself back on track. Yes, 2020 has been one wild roller coaster ride, however, you should not let external circumstances determine your own health and fitness.

This isn’t about aesthetics- fitting into bikinis or filling out t-shirts is beside the point- what I’m talking about is people walking away from healthy lifestyles, which will eventually cause a rise in underlying health issues. Blood pressure, cholesterol, Type II diabetes and even some forms of cancer have been scientifically proven to be warded off by consistent exercise and healthy nutritional habits.

Maybe your gym is still closed, or maybe it reopened but there is limited equipment available. Whatever the case may be, understand that if you develop a plan of attack, make small changes to your current lifestyle, and maintain a positive outlook towards your workouts, you will be able to achieve an effective exercise routine anywhere. Take those 3 steps and you will gradually steer yourself back on track for the remainder of 2020!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

5 Ways to Restart Your Gym Routine WITHOUT Getting Injured!

As gyms around the country begin to reopen, countless patrons will be clamoring to restart their normal fitness routines. One thing to be cognizant of though, is the danger in restarting an exercise program after an extended absence. Due to the layoff from resistance training, most individuals will be extremely susceptible to sustaining soft tissue injuries (muscle strains) as well as injuries surrounding joints. This is due to the likely atrophy of muscle fibers, in particular the small stabilizers surrounding joints. (Studies have shown that muscle atrophy, or the loss of muscle, can begin to occur after only 1 week of inactivity!)

Even if you did a great job of exercising during quarantine, more than likely you were not able to train with the same intensity or frequency that you would normally, in a gym setting. Therefore, it is imperative to be careful about the exercises you select, the intensity you use, as well as the frequency at which you attend the gym- minimally for the first 2-4 weeks- in order to avoid muscle strains or impact related injuries. While a return to the gym is so exciting for many, it should be made clear how physically vulnerable you are to an injury at this juncture. Enduring an injury now will only further delay your ability to be in the gym on a consistent basis.

Once your local gym reopens, I implore you to keep the following principles in mind to assist in keeping you free from potential injuries!

#1. You’re Not Going to Get It All Back in One Workout…or The First Week!

Unless you were fortunate enough to have a full home-gym set up with access to your normal equipment and weights, more than likely you’ve experienced some sort of regression in the last 8-10 weeks. Whether that has been strength loss, muscle loss or weight gain- it is imperative that you understand, you will not make up for 2 months-worth of missed or subpar workouts in your first session.

As difficult as this may be to accept, you’ve got to start back at square one with all aspects of your exercise program. IF you follow this principle, the strength/muscle gains and fat loss will happen before you know it. However, if you try to jump right back in where you left off, while also adding in 2 a-days for 6 days, you will more than likely be burned out or hurt after 2 weeks.

It is imperative you take it slow upon your gym return because when you perform resistance training, you are breaking down muscle fibers while also putting various levels of stress on joints, tendons and ligaments in your body as well. By taking a prolonged hiatus from resistance training, the small muscles surrounding your joints have most likely become weak and underactive. Therefore, it is imperative that you start slowly and give yourself plenty of recovery in between training sessions to allow for the body to begin the adaptation process again.

Strive initially to make small and sustainable changes to your fitness routine. If you were exercising 1-3 days per week during quarantine, don’t exceed 3 days per week at the gym initially- even if you were previously a 5 or 6 day per week gym-goer, I would highly recommend not jumping right back into that full schedule. Be sure to give yourself a full 24 hours between training sessions to allow for your body to properly heal and recover. In addition, you should also strive to make your workouts efficient and no more than 45 minutes. It doesn’t matter if before quarantine you spent 90 minutes-2 hours in the gym daily- by beginning with 45-minute workouts you will be able to focus on getting in high quality training sessions without having unnecessary amounts of volume.

Each week you continue going to the gym post-quarantine, you can add in a day of training or extend your workouts by a few minutes, but be sure to make your changes incrementally. Going from one extreme to another, will only cause a physical breakdown of your joints, tendons and ligaments that will eventually lead to a burned out feeling mentally as well.

#2. Don’t Forget What You Learned About Exercise During Quarantine

Just because you will once again have access to equipment you likely didn’t have in your homes, doesn’t mean you should immediately ditch the exercises that have gotten you through the last 2 months. The fundamental moves that you had to turn to during quarantine- such as squats, lunges, push-ups and planks- should not be discarded. These basic moves will provide you with foundational strength, expose mobility issues and provide a great metric for progress.  

Your bodyweight squats will likely turn into resisted squats and your push-ups will transition into a multitude of press variations, however, don’t discard the value of keeping fundamental body weight moves within your workout (A great place to implement them would be an extension of your dynamic warm-up).

In addition, hopefully these last several weeks you’ve also incorporated a degree of mobility work to your routine as well. It would be remiss of you to let any mobility gains you’ve made, fall by the wayside, because mobilization will allow for better movement- which in turn will help keep you free of injury. (If you didn’t add in mobility work these last 2 months, I highly encourage you to do so upon returning to the gym, to further assist in injury prevention) You should make a concerted effort to implement mobility work during warm-ups, rest periods or cool-down stretching periods- every training session! (To read more about a simple yet effective mobility sequence, click here)

#3. Be Prudent with Your Exercise Selection

When restarting your fitness routine, the basics should be your central focus. If you’re performing a full body training split (which would be my recommendation initially), each session should have the following:

  • Squat Variation (Back Squat, Front Squat, Goblet Squat, RFE Split Squat)
  • Hinge Variation (RDL, Conventional Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, Single Leg RDL)
  • Horizontal Press (Flat Chest Press, Incline Chest Press)
  • Horizontal Pull (BB Bent Over Row, Single Arm DB Row, Chest Supported DB Row)
  • Vertical Press (BB Overhead Press, Split Stance DB Shoulder Press)
  • Vertical Pull (NG Lat Pulldown, Pull-Up, Chin-Up)
  • Bracing Core (Plank Variations)
  • Rotational Core (Medicine Ball Slams, Rope Chops)
  • Loaded Carry (DB Farmers Walk)

The above categories don’t necessarily need to be in that order, and they can also be supersetted to assist in the efficiency of the workout. These parameters will help form the perfect outline for an effective and safe, full-body workout.

When restarting a training program, I feel that a Full Body Training split is especially effective because you’re maximizing the metabolic benefit of the workout. Rather than spending time performing isolation moves, your focus should be on exercises that give you the most “bang for your buck.” In this case big, compound moves will be your best bet.

Consider implementing as much unilateral work as possible initially as well. (Just a review- unilateral exercises are those that are performed either on one leg or with one arm) Unilateral work is superior to bilateral work when restarting your exercise routine for one main reason: unilateral work is less compressive, and you can easily put joints in safer positions.

(For a complete breakdown on the benefits of unilateral training, click here)

If you’ve been largely sedentary for the last 2 months, jumping right into Back Squats, RDL’s and BB Bent Over Rows, is a recipe for a tight lower back that could impact your next training session. Instead, choose the unilateral moves which have less compression through the spine- such as a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, Single Arm Single Leg RDL and a Single Arm DB Row. You’re still hitting a variation of each category, however, it’s a more structurally safe option- to start! (Just because I recommend beginning unilaterally, doesn’t mean you should never Back Squat again)

A Single Arm DB Chest Press, or Half Kneeling DB Shoulder Press will also allow you to press from a neutral grip position- which puts your shoulder at an anatomically more favorable position than with a barbell. When restarting your gym exercise routine, having joint integrity while pressing is crucial because of the potential loss in strength of the shoulder stabilizers during the last 2 months. Again, not to say you should never do a Barbell Bench Press again, however, taking the first 4 weeks back in the gym to press unilaterally from a neutral grip position will pay massive dividends in the long run for your shoulder health.

#4. Be Cautious with Volume and Intensity

This principle is an extension of small, sustainable changes. When you go from doing little to no resistance training to an excessive amount, you will undoubtedly set yourself up for injury. When you initially return to the gym, 3-4 working sets of each exercise will be plenty to get a high-quality workout, but also avoid traumatizing your body. If you normally train with high volume, you could certainly add a set or two in each week you continue your gym routine. The key is not jumping into a high-volume training program after you’ve been away from resistance training for 2 months.

The same caution should be used when considering what intensity you should be training at initially as well. If you haven’t been resistance training with your normal weights, you shouldn’t be anywhere near the 85-90% of a max at any rep scheme the first month or two. Even if you’re usually a “max strength” trainee, who spends most of their workouts in that percentage range, you should consider dropping down into more of a hypertrophy range of 65-80% to safeguard yourself against injury.

Considering your strength numbers are most likely completely different now, a better way to think about training percentages currently is- you should be able to perform at least 2 additional reps for each set. This is considered sub-maximal training and certainly is not conducive for long-term strength gains. However, in terms of a safe reintroduction to resistance training, this is your best bet. Not so much for your muscles- which would be able to handle the load, and would adapt relatively quickly- the concern should be more about the health of your joints, tendons and ligaments. It is these areas that will bark and break down and lead to an even longer time away from the gym. Training sub-maximally at first will allow for you to ease back into lifting your normal weights- in time!

#5. Don’t Forget the Value of Exercising Outdoors

One of the most beautiful silver linings to CO-VID 19 is the amount of appreciation “being outdoors” has garnished. Whether you’re dragging your yoga mat and dumbbells outside and doing your workout in the backyard, or you go for a post-dinner walk to get some fresh air- outdoor activity is being yearned for across the country.

Just because your local gym reopens, I urge you to not forget the benefit of being outside. Physically, being outdoors and absorbing the sun’s UVB rays will enhance your body’s Vitamin D production, but it also helps you mentally as well. Getting lungs full of fresh air, hearing birds chirping, seeing neighbors (albeit from a distance) are all ‘normal’ aspects of life that you can maintain. The most common question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is “when will society return to normal?” The answer to that is so unclear, that you’d be best served mentally to instead look for aspects of life that ‘normal’ still does exist. Thankfully, this virus hasn’t altered our natural surroundings. Get in nature and revel in the normalcy and beauty of spring and summertime.

With the outline I’ve provided, I’m recommending maximally only working out the number of days per week that you exercised during quarantine. This will most likely leave a few days per week that would require some non-exercise active rest. These days would be your best opportunity to continue your commitment to being outside. Whether it’s a bike ride, walk, light jog or some stretching outside- do yourself a favor, both mentally and physically, stay committed to spending time outdoors, even when your normal gym routine resumes.

Final Thoughts

The reopening of gyms across the country is a great first step in a return to normalcy for many of us. Unless you’ve been injured before, many of the most ardent gym-rats have never been away from a gym setting for this long. Therefore, from novices to the most experienced weight lifters, returning to the gym after this 8-10-week layoff, should be treated as a very delicate process.

In order to remain injury-free, you must have patience regarding the results, persistence with consistently getting to the gym and hammering basic movement patterns, as well as prudence with your judgement on exercise selection, volume and intensity. The first month back into your gym routine will be the most arduous as your body readapts to the demands placed upon it. While the injuries you may be exposing yourself to are not overly “serious” (muscle/ligament strains and acute joint pain) they will hamper your return by potentially forcing you to miss training sessions, or alter your exercise technique to avoid pain- which will ultimately lead to more injuries down the road.

One of the best ways to be successful in almost any aspect of fitness is to “leave your ego at the door.” This will be especially true upon your return to the gym- if you get caught up in what weights you’re lifting, or how quickly you fatigue, you’ll most likely get frustrated and try to prematurely speed up the process. Understand that almost everyone is in the same boat- embrace the challenge of starting at square one, and rebuild yourself from the ground up!

Stay Safe and Be Smart!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

5 Ways a Fitness Tracker Will Enhance Your Fitness Journey!

While many parts of the country are beginning the process of reopening gyms or personal training studios, there’s still countless other regions with no light at the end of the tunnel. Regardless of what situation you may find yourself in, I believe something we’ve all learned first-hand these past several weeks, is how difficult it is to maintain consistently high levels of workout intensity at home.  

Without the social motivation, the music pumping, the class instructor in your face, it can be extremely challenging to get high quality workouts in. This is especially true, if you’re the type that struggles to motivate yourself. You may rely on an external force to provide your best source of motivation. Unfortunately, almost all our external motivating factors have been stripped away during quarantine workouts.

The question is, how can you safely increase your workout intensity without any ‘traditional’ external motivators? The simple answer is this:

Invest in a Fitness Tracker.

I’ve used a few different fitness trackers in the past and have found value in each- I’ve owned a Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Ionic and currently use a Garmin Vivioactive 3 watch as well as a Myzone Heart Rate monitor. There are several benefits to each of the products I’ve mentioned, however, the bottom line is this: regardless of the device’s accuracy or bells and whistles- the ability to track your activity, connect with others and generate movement, make a fitness tracker a must have during this time!

Why Invest in a Fitness Tracker?

#1 Fitness Trackers Offer Connectivity

During the CO-VID 19 pandemic, social distancing has unfortunately forced us away from our friends and family; by utilizing a fitness tracker, its capabilities will allow you to reconnect with a fitness community that social media cannot. Every fitness tracker is different, however, the fact is each company offers their own “challenges” and sends “awards” for achieving various fitness accomplishments throughout the day/week or month. While this can’t permanently replace the class instructor you love or exercising with your best friend, it will start to tap into the social aspect of training.

In addition, when I say “social” referring to exercise, I’m not necessarily talking about communicating with other gym members. Instead I’m talking more about the inner competitive nature we all possess. Whether you realize it or not, you’re naturally competing with the girl or guy next to you on the bench or squat rack- every single training session. This is an aspect of gym training that home workouts simply cannot mimic- unless you use a fitness tracker to compete!

#2 Generate Movement

While a fitness tracker will not help with your issue of lack of fitness equipment at home, it will most definitely generate movement. During these weeks in quarantine, more than likely you either continued living a mostly health-conscious lifestyle, or you let the wheels fall off and have been treating this time like a hall pass.

There’s got to be a middle ground between these two lifestyle choices though, or else the road back to your fitness journey is going to be uphill for a long time. The compromise that a Fitness Tracker will provide is that it’s going to be your reminder to stand up and move around- for those that have never owned a fitness tracker, you can usually turn on a “reminder to move” setting that will vibrate/beep or send a notification to your phone incrementally, letting you know it’s been too long since your last bout of movement.

This doesn’t mean you have to go for a run every time your device reminds you to move- maybe it’s just a walk around your apartment, a set of body weight squats, up and down your stairs a few times, or some push-ups. Remember, any movement is better than no movement right now.

We also live in a society that is reward driven; therefore, it admittedly feels very good getting a notification come across your device when you hit your step, stair or activity goals for the day!

#3 Fitness Trackers Will Enhance the Quality of Your Workouts

Several months ago, one of the most sobering realizations I came to when I had my first workout with my Myzone Heart Rate monitor, was discovering my actual exertion versus my perceived exertion. (While my Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Vivioactive 3 both had heart rate monitoring capabilities, Myzone Heart Rate Monitor is a chest strap that has been peer reviewed to be 99.4% accurate.) Seeing my real time heart rate zone on a screen in front of me, has challenged me every single workout to get well outside my comfort zone, thus vastly improving the overall quality of my workouts.

Even if other fitness trackers aren’t quite as accurate as the Myzone Heart Rate Monitor, keep in mind, it’s all relative. So even if the “calories burned” or the “peak heart rate” isn’t completely accurate, it will minimally be consistent. Therefore, the fitness tracker will provide you with the ability to look back on your workouts and compare your relative exertion from one workout to the next. Having this capability will assist you in getting outside of your comfort zone without the presence of a coach- accordingly, you’ll be able to maintain consistently high levels of workout intensity even outside the gym walls!

#4 They’re in Stock!

In a time when fitness equipment is virtually impossible to purchase online, I did some research and every fitness tracker I searched on Amazon or the product’s website, is available to be purchased. The common complaint regarding maintaining fitness levels I’m hearing right now, is some variation of: “I can’t workout right now because I can’t buy any dumbbells/barbells/kettlelbells etc.”

While I completely empathize with this unfortunate reality, I also feel that an alternative solution would be to instead invest in a fitness tracker. Investing in such a device will not only assist in your fitness levels during this period of quarantine, but also will continue to enhance your health once society resumes its normal function.

#5 You’ll Find Value in them AFTER Quarantine Has Lifted

Many of the fitness products that have been frantically purchased the last several weeks will unfortunately become dust collectors once quarantine has lifted. Individuals have spent considerable amounts of money on equipment, only to serve as holdovers until gyms can reopen. While your weight bench or pair of dumbbells will sit idly once gyms reopen, your fitness tracker certainly should not. If you get in the habit of allowing your fitness tracker to serve as an extra source of motivation, it will only continue to enhance the quality of your workouts and lifestyle once quarantine has been fully lifted.

.

My Personal Review on Fitness Trackers

I’m by no stretch of the imagination a fitness tracker connoisseur, nor am I speaking on behalf of any one company. All I can tell you is the benefits I’ve personally experienced with the fitness devices I’ve owned and used myself. The Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Vivioactive 3, each helped me enhance one main area of my health- my NEAT (Non-Exercise Active Thermogenesis- aka Active Rest). Having step goals in addition to the workouts I was already doing, vastly helped with my recovery from workouts. I noticed my fitness trackers’ benefit the most on weekends- where if I was being on the lazy side, having my device vibrate and tell me to get up and move was huge. (This generation of movement is the most applicable way that I feel a fitness tracker will assist in an individual’s health during quarantine.)

My Myzone Heart Rate monitor is by far my favorite fitness tracker I’ve owned though. It completely taps into my competitive nature by having my heart rate zone displayed on a screen in front of me. This has been a huge asset for me in continuing to push myself outside my comfort zone during quarantine. I haven’t personally used the function, however, you can also become completely connected with the Myzone community around the world, should you choose- this feature allows you to enter competitions and compare your workouts against thousands of other people.

I’ve only experienced two drawbacks with fitness trackers that I could see causing issues for some. First, no matter how many steps you hit daily, or how many floors you climb, your activity level will not give you a free pass nutritionally. Just because you crushed 30,000 steps doesn’t necessarily mean you can now eat whatever you want after dinner. This would be a dangerous precedent to set and would ultimately lead to you spinning your wheels. To maximize the benefit of a fitness tracker, it should be used in conjunction with proper nutritional habits.

Secondly, an issue I could see some having with the Myzone Heart Rate Monitor was the need to always have the heart rate in an elevated state- to improve the “score” of the workout. This can create the dangerous tendency to breeze through warm-ups or rush through reps, just so you can see your heart rate climb. Therefore, if you’re going to use a heart rate monitor to determine the quality of your workouts, you have to accept the fact that there will be peaks and valleys in the workout. Not the entire workout will be spent in the 80-90% range; just make it your goal to work up toward that point.

How to Know Which Fitness Tracker is Right for You??

With fitness trackers ranging from simple to fancy as well as cheap to pricy, it may be extremely difficult to determine which fitness tracker is right for you. A source of information I wish I had known about when I was shopping for a fitness tracker, is the Consumer Advocate website dedicated to fitness tracker reviews. In the link attached you will find reviews on their top 11 fitness trackers!

They rate each of these products on Features, Connectivity, Cost and Customer Experience, and my favorite part is their transparency with the product’s drawbacks. With over 200 hours worth of research, they have developed a comprehensive and exhaustive list of their findings that will undoubtedly lead you to a fitness tracker that is right for you!

In addition to the in-depth analysis of each fitness tracker, the Consumer Advocate group also lays out some distinctions between fitness trackers and smart watches, some pitfalls consumers fall into when purchasing a fitness tracker and some very helpful FAQ’s regarding fitness trackers in general. I whole heartedly encourage you to check out this website before you commit to investing in a fitness tracker!

Final Thoughts

While quarantining is protecting us from contracting a deadly virus, we are unfortunately setting ourselves up for a slew of health issues down the road by living largely inactive lives.  I urge you to consider investing in a fitness tracker and implement it as apart your fitness journey going forward.

If you already own a fitness tracker, and it’s just accumulating dust in a jewelry box, take this time to break it out. Research its functions to maximize the device’s usefulness and allow it to be a source of external motivation. Then once gyms reopen, keep it apart of your fitness routine in order to consistently execute and chart high quality workouts.

Continue to stay safe and healthy!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Top 5 Quarantine Exercises

As the weeks drag on, you’ve probably run your course of exercise variety within your weekly workouts. While exercise variety is usually vastly overrated, it does effectively combat boredom with workouts. At this point, you’re most likely extremely bored going through the various routines you’ve developed- possibly even resulting in you skipping workouts or just completely skimping on intensity.

Basic movement patterns such as, squats, deadlift variations, presses and rows, should still be the focal point of your workouts. However, here are 5 exercises that are tremendous accessory moves, that you may not have tried yet. You also need minimal equipment and space to perform them, and they will provide a little extra pep in your workouts this week!

#1 [DB] Lunge Matrix

If you have weights- even if they’re light- this sequence will absolutely light your legs on fire and get your heart pumping! This is one of my favorite lower half moves- outside of quarantine as well. The sequence consists of a front lunge, side lunge and reverse lunge, before going right back into your next front lunge on the same side. I usually do between 4 and 6 (depending on weight) of each before I move onto the next side. Be sure to take your time with the move and put a great emphasis on posture. To take it to the next level, hit a “ghost tap” when you bring your feet back together. This will put a premium on balance and also keep incredible tension on your working leg.

*PRO TIP- Pair this exercise with a Straight Bear Crawl and your quads and glutes will be on FIRE!

#2 Push-Up w/ Lateral Crawl

Normally this would be considered a supplementary upper body move- with a weighted press taking priority- however, if you don’t have an access to weights, this push-up variation will provide you with a tremendous amount of upper body work. Not to mention, you’ll also be working your core, balance, coordination and legs as well! The key here is taking your time with the initial move. Tempo-wise, your push-up should be explosive, while your lateral walk should be smooth. The crossover step should only happen with your hands, as your feet just step laterally.

Initially, you’ll find this move to be disjointed, however, eventually try to smooth out the move so you step with your hands and feet simultaneously. I feel this move spices up the traditional push-up because you’re getting significantly more time under tension for your shoulder stability and core. Depending on your ability you should perform between 3 and 10 reps each side.

**If you can’t do a perfect push-up, don’t force it! Just focus on the hand walk- being in push-up position with lateral body movement will still be a great challenge!

#3 [DB] Swing Lunge

Another lunge variation that will absolutely smoke your quads, glutes and hamstrings is the Swing Lunge. If you have light dumbbells, they will be plenty! Just body-weight is also a great challenge as well! Not only are you hitting 2 different lunge variations in the same set, but there’s also a huge balance component as well.

Be sure to focus on “pushing off” your front heel on the Front Lunge and “pulling through” your front heel on the Reverse Lunge. If you can, get in front of a mirror to perform this one, and make sure your knee tracks right in line with your toes at all time (always train to avoid knee valgus- the caving of the knee inward). Take this move to the next level, by not letting your foot tap in the middle. I’d recommend performing about 5-12 reps per side, depending on if you have weights. For a body weight challenge, try performing 30 seconds each side with minimal rest in between!

# 4 Glute Bridge Alternating DB Chest Press

With minimal equipment and minimal space, getting “bang for your buck” exercises can be challenging. Even if you only have light dumbbells, the Glute Bridge Alternating DB Chest Press certainly qualifies as a high value exercise. In addition to working your chest, you are also working your shoulder stabilizers (by alternating), your core and your legs. Be sure to keep your hips up-but not to the point that your lower back arches- with maximal glute activation throughout the movement. As you alternate your press, be sure to maintain a neutral torso, as you work your abs anti-rotationally. Depending on the weights you have available, 6-15 reps each side will be a solid working set.

*PRO TIP- If you have a band, pre-exhaust your “pressing muscles” with Band In Fronts and Behinds prior to your Glute Bridge Presses.

#5 Bear Crawl Position Renegade Row

This is another move that even if you only have “light” dumbbells, will light up your back, shoulder stabilizers, core and legs. Start by assuming a bear crawl position, with shoulders over top your hands and hips over top your knees. Then simply grab a single dumbbell and start rowing. Make sure you maintain a neutral position with your spine and hips- the back is going to want to arch and the hips are really going to want to open up. Fight to keep your knees apart to maintain tension in your quads. As you row, think about pulling your elbow back towards your hip.

*PRO TIP- Perform a set of Band Pull Aparts prior to performing your Bear Crawl Position Renegade Rows, to make the move even more effective!

Final Thoughts

In order to keep your home workouts from becoming extremely stale, carefully begin tweaking exercise variety. Training out of your element (the gym) is challenging enough, however, now that we are almost 2 months in, you’re probably fighting various levels of boredom with the exercises and routines you’ve been completing. A great way to fight this boredom and stale feeling, is to look at implementing new exercises.

Be sure to always practice proper movement patterns, especially when you’re trying out “new moves.” If something doesn’t “feel” right, then it probably is not. When possible, do your new exercises in front of a mirror, or take a video of yourself. This will provide tremendous external feedback with whether you’re performing the move properly!

Continue to stay safe and healthy!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Why Circuit Training, Complexes and Combo Moves Are Your Best Training Methods- Right Now!

If you are normally a hard gainer, whose goals revolve around filling out t-shirts or yoga pants, then this is an especially difficult time for you. If you were like the majority of the population who was a day or week late to Amazon, Rogue or Dick’s Sporting Goods, you’re most likely left with a Home Gym set up that doesn’t come close to including the normal weights you would use at the gym.

Maybe you have a single kettle bell, some bands, or a pair of light dumbbells- whatever you currently have access to, it most likely doesn’t compare to the variety of weights or machines you’re accustomed to using in a commercial gym. This is going to make it difficult to continue with your goal of strength, power or muscle gains.

Therefore, the first thing you need to do, is accept the following:

Temper your goals to align with your current situation.

In other words, if your goal was to hit a PR in Squats or Bench Press by June 1st, understand that this is most likely no longer a reality. Instead, focus instead on goals such as:

  • Logging quality workouts daily that elevate your heart rate
  • Perfecting basic body weight moves
  • Smooth movement patterns
  • Enhancing your mobility and flexibility
  • Adding an unfamiliar component to your workout- such as cardio

Unfortunately, 5 x 5 rep schemes just won’t work when you only have light weights to deal with. Therefore, you must display a level of adaptability with your goals and adjust to your own individual scenario. Understand that this period of social distancing will most likely result in [hopefully] maintaining the “gains” you’ve made in previous months or years in the gym- but you can also use this time away from the gym as a way to reinvent yourself by adding in new components that will benefit your future workouts.

3- C’s to Maximizing a Quarantine Workout- Circuits/Complexes/Combo Moves

#1 Circuit Training Will Make Up for Missed Intensity

If you’re not accustomed to circuit training, you may think it’s “stupid” or “only for people who are trying to be skinny.” Unfortunately, this is a very short-sighted and close-minded opinion on a style of exercising that will automatically give you intensity. With your normal intensity most likely lacking – due to not having access to heavy dumbbells, barbells or machines- it is imperative to figure out ways to mimic your normal workout’s intensity. Otherwise, you will certainly not make progress in any area, and you’ll also most likely lose interest in home workouts altogether because your workouts just won’t have the normal challenge that you’re accustomed to.

Why does circuit training possess the potential to make up for missing intensity? Because you’re quickly moving from one move to another with varying amounts of rest time in between. You’ll also be able to pre-fatigue muscles and get them working much harder than if you were to just do straight sets or traditional super-sets. By moving quickly through the workout, you’re going to be elevating your heart rate, and increasing the metabolic demands placed on your body.

The circuits you create don’t have to be full body- even though they possess a great option to alternate between upper and lower body throughout the sequence. You can do upper body circuits, lower body circuits or core circuits- each of these will maximize the minimal equipment and space you have access to.

In order to create your own circuit, you first need to identify what equipment you have. Is it just going to be bodyweight? Or do you have a few sets of dumbbells? Next, you have to determine how long you want the circuit to be (in terms of number of exercises). Anywhere between 4 and 10 exercises will provide you with a circuit that should match your ability. Then, you need to figure out your variables- specifically your work and rest time.

When performing circuit style training, the best results are usually seen when timing yourself and trying to perform as many quality reps as possible in an allotted time. These timed sets can be anywhere from 20-40 seconds long- depending on ability and the complexity of the moves. If you’re alternating between an upper body move and a lower body move, then your rest time can be minimal to nothing. However, if you’re doing high intensity, full body moves (such as a kettle bell swing, medicine ball slam, squat jumps) then you’ll want to lean more towards a 2:1 work: rest ratio. Finally, determine how many sets you want to do. Depending on time constraints, and how many exercises you’ve included, I’d recommend between 3 and 5 rounds to start.

Sample Full-Body Circuit (no weights):

Sample Upper Body Circuit (Light Weights):

Sample Lower Body Circuit (Light Weights):

Sample Core Circuit (Body Weight)

#2 Use Complexes to Maintain Strength Levels and Intensity

The next step on the difficulty spectrum would be integrating complexes in your home training. Complexes can be done with either dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or even body weight. For this purpose, though I’m going to focus on complexes that can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells. The idea behind performing a true “complex” is performing 3-6 strength moves and not putting the weight down until the set is complete. This is an off-shoot of circuit training but lends more towards strength training and possesses even greater metabolic potential- due to the ‘heavier weight’ being moved.

Complexes can be organized a few different ways as well. They can focus on one muscle group, or they can be full body. It’s completely up to you and how you’ve organized your own training split.

Not everyone will have the potential to do complexes right now, due to the variation in exercise equipment you currently have access to. If you do have some sort of external weights though, consider integrating complexes into your daily workouts because they will exponentially increase the difficulty of your workout!

Barbell Complex

Challenge yourself to not put the barbell down, and perform between 5 and 15 reps of each movement, depending on your ability and the amount of weight you have access to.

Dumbbell Full Body Complex

Challenge yourself to not put the dumbbell down, and perform between 5 and 15 reps of each movement, depending on your ability and the amount of weight you have access to.

Kettle Bell Complex

Challenge yourself to not put the kettlebell down, and perform between 5 and 15 reps of each movement, depending on your ability and the amount of weight you have access to.

#3 Combo Moves to Create Intensity

I’m notoriously leery of “combo moves” under normal circumstances. My main reason for this is because combination moves, generally mean you’re short changing yourself in one of the moves. However, due to the fact that these are extremely abnormal circumstances, you have to find ways to create intensity with your workouts- and integrating safe combo moves are a great way.

A combination move, is when you take 2 strength moves that would normally be done alone, and combined them into one move. This is extremely beneficial right now, because most people don’t have access to heavy weights. Combo moves will provide a method to make a pair of 15’s or 20’s feel significantly heavier.

I implore you though, when performing combination moves, be safe. If the weight feels like it’s too much for a move, shut it down and do something different. If you continue to practice perfect form with the optimal weight, combination moves will provide a tremendous boost to your workouts as well- especially by adding them into a circuit!

Lower Body Combo Moves

Upper Body Combo Moves

Full Body Combo Moves

Final Thoughts

While the training methods I’ve outlined above, may not fully align with your normal goals, they will provide the intensity that your current home workouts are lacking. By implementing these methods you will be able to maintain your strength levels and stay afloat during this time away from your full gym arsenal.

In order to be successful though, you must leave your ego at the door. If you’re someone who says “I only strength train, I never do cardio…” But you also only have access to 10 LB dumbbells right now, then your workouts are going to suffer tremendously. It’s perfectly fine to ditch every one of these training methods as soon as the gym lights come back on, however, in this moment these methods will allow you to maintain high levels of workout intensity with sub-maximal weights.

When performing any of these methods though, listen to your body. If something feels easy continue to tweak variables. Consider increasing the reps, the work time or decrease the rest time. Conversely, if something feels overly challenging, make the necessary adjustments so you’re still performing your workouts safely and with anatomical integrity.

Keep in mind, just because it’s “lighter weight” doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you. Allow Circuits, Complexes and Combo moves to increase your workout intensity while always maintaining proper form! Be a “fitness chameleon” and adapt to the environment you currently have access to; this adaptability will ultimately allow for you to hit the ground running with your fitness goals when society returns to normal.

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Back to Basics- Improve These 3 Areas During Quarantine Workouts!

There are so many ways CO-VID 19 has negatively impacted our fitness routines, however, one absolute positive we should all identify is the forced “return to basics.” With all the fancy machines, barbells and dumbbells stripped away for the most part, many are left with their body weight as the only option.

While body weight training is often viewed as rudimentary and basic, I can’t think of a better opportunity to re-build a faulty foundation as a collective fitness population. I look around at gym patrons (myself included) and I can immediately identify 3 areas that need improvement. Some only struggle in one area, but many are deficient in all 3 aspects, yet continue to try complex moves or are desperately seeking “harder” workouts- while ignoring their weaknesses.

If nothing else in your fitness journey comes from this extended social distancing, I implore you to please identify which of these 3 areas you struggle with, and make them a top priority in your body weight training routines:

  1. Hip Mobility
  2. Shoulder Mobility
  3. Perform a PROPER Push-Up 

Hip Mobility

Why It’s Important??

Everything starts with the hips. Pain free movement, both in the gym and everyday life starts with mobile hips. Tight hips will limit your progress in squats, lunges and deadlifts and cause chronic lower back pain. You will also put yourself at risk for injuring yourself in the gym, because tight hips make it challenging to achieve proper movement patterns in compound moves.

For example, tight hips will likely force you to have an excessive forward lean in a Back or Front Squat. An excessive forward lean, with an exterior load puts your lower back in an extremely vulnerable position at the bottom of the range of motion.

(The same can be said for deadlifts as well. Tight hips will prevent a proper hinge, and therefore make it difficult to maintain a flat back throughout the range of motion of a deadlift.)

How to Improve Hip Mobility??

Implement these exercises and perform them daily until you notice a marked improvement. The beautiful thing about mobility (especially with the hips) is: you get out of it, what you put into it. You can’t expect to do hip mobility drills once per week and expect your hips to magically loosen up. They have to be prioritized and taken seriously if you want to see improvement. When you perform these exercises daily for 2-4 weeks, you will notice your hips unlocking and the rest of your strength moves will automatically feel more natural!

Hip Circles

Hip Rolls

½ Kneeling Adductor Stretch

Pigeon Stretch

Hockey Stretch

Spider Stretch w/ T-Spine and Hamstring Flow

How to Implement It??

This hip mobility piece should be the beginning of every workout. Organize it as a circuit, in the order I’ve laid it out. Depending on your time constraints you can repeat through 1-3 times with about 60-90 seconds between sets. Always shoot for 30 seconds for each exercise (total) and keep the transitions fluid with minimal rest in between

Shoulder Mobility

Why It’s Important???

The shoulders are the most vulnerable joint in the body. It has the ability to extend up to 3 inches outside it’s socket and still remain uninjured. In order to keep the shoulders functioning at their healthiest, it is imperative to keep them mobile- in addition to being strong.

Due to the amount of technology we consume daily, many of our shoulders are naturally rolled forward resulting in extremely poor posture. Having bad posture will negatively impact not only your shoulder health- due to vastly under-active and tight muscles- but your lower back health as well. Anteriorly rotated shoulders will put a significant amount of pressure on your lumbar spine. (Combine that with the fact that you most likely have tight hips as well, and you’ve already checked off two boxes that will ultimately result in lower back pain and extreme movement dysfunction.)

Not only is bad shoulder mobility detrimental to everyday life, (brushing your hair or reaching for something on a top shelf) but it also poses an injury risk during resistance exercises. Poor shoulder mobility combined with an attempt to strengthen your shoulders by pressing weight overhead, is the perfect storm for an injury. If you are unable to achieve a proper overhead position without arching your lower back, then you need to focus on mobilizing your shoulders before you start pressing any kind of significant weight overhead.

How to Improve Shoulder Mobility??

I would add the following routine to any warm-up, but especially before I did any sort of pressing. Mobilizing and strengthening the small muscles in the shoulders before you do any resistance training for your upper body, will greatly protect you from potential injury. 

– Band in Fronts & Behinds

– Cat Cows

– Band Pull Aparts

– T-Spine Extensions

– Miniband Touchdowns

Each of these puts a premium on overhead mobility as well as correct postural alignment. The key to increasing your range of motion is first working within your current mobility. Don’t start forcing reps or compensating your movement patterns. If you feel your lower back arching to get your hands overhead, get yourself against a wall to perform Pull Aparts, and Touchdowns.

(*If you don’t have a band, just cut out the Band Pull Aparts, and use a broom stick handle for “In Fronts and Behinds.” Then grab cans of soup or veggies and use that as extremely light resistance to perform the Miniband Touchdowns*)

How to Implement It??

Perform these exercises in the exact order I laid out. You can either do these sets for time or reps. Perform each move for either 20-30 seconds or 10-15 reps for 1-3 sets. Give yourself minimal rest in between exercises and about 60-90 seconds if you do more than one set.

Proper Push-Ups

Why Doing a ‘Proper Push-Up is Important??

Do your Push-Ups look like this?

One of the first strength movements we are taught as children in elementary school is the basic Push-Up. It is a staple of many training programs- and rightfully so. Unfortunately it is taken for granted that everyone knows ‘proper form’ when executing this move. A Push-Up with good form, is a great indicator of upper body and core strength and compliments every resisted strength exercise.

The problem I see so often though is the quality in which Push-Ups are being performed. Just as I demonstrate in the video above, I routinely see elbows flared out, scapulars (shoulder blades) digging together and hips raised or dropping well below the upper body, preventing full range of motion- all in the name of completing a certain amount of reps. Each of these flaws will ultimately result in shoulder pain, back pain or both- without ever getting you better at performing Push-Ups.

For my clients, the focus is not on quantity, but rather high quality. Therefore, we work towards performing a Push-Up as follows:

Elbows at about a 45 degree angle. Hips in line with the upper body throughout the movement, shoulders directly over top your hands. The tempo is controlled on the way down and explosive on the way up. And the depth is about a ‘fist-width’ from the ground.

How to Improve Your Push-Ups

If you cannot perform more than 5 Push-Ups with the parameters I just outlined, you’d be best served to stop attempting full Push-Ups, and instead work from the Push-Up Position Plank. This is an example of giving yourself a sturdy foundation before you “build your house” … or attempt a full set of push-ups. The key to most body weight strength moves is being comfortable with your own body weight. Perfecting the Push-Up Position Plank and all its variations will set you up better for continuing a Push-Up progression down the road.

Push-Up Position Plank Variations

Push-Up Position Plank

Push-Up Position Arm to Side

Push-Up Position Arm out Front

Push-Up Position Opposite Shoulder Taps

How to Implement It??

The other downfall I see regarding Push-Ups is its programming. I’m not sure if it originated with a military boot camp mindset of “Drop and give me 50,” however, watching people painstakingly grind through a set of high repetition push-ups with bad form after the 2nd repetition, definitely makes me scratch my head and cringe.

Always strive for perfect reps with your push-ups. Put your ego aside (which should be easier now without the social aspect of a gym), and first set your sights on achieving a perfect Push-Up Position Plank hold for 40-60 seconds with proper form. Then start working through the progressions that I outlined. Only at that point would I start with an Incline Push-Up (performing a push-up with your hands on an elevated surface) and gradually decrease the angle until you’re on the floor performing a regular Push-Up.

When doing your Push-Up Position Plank variations, keep your sets to 20-60 seconds, depending on ability, for 3-5 sets. Once you progress to Incline or Regular Push-Ups, keep the reps maximally at 12-15 perfect reps. If you can do more than 15 perfect push-ups, it’s then time to start adding weight (via chains or a weighted vest) or hand and feet movement to create further instability.

Final Thoughts

I admire the fact that bodyweight training has jumped to the forefront of the fitness industry again. A return to basics is what so many people need, because for years they’ve been neglected. The issue however, is with more and more “online coaches” popping up every day on social media, I see bodyweight workouts getting crazier and more unrealistic as the social distancing continues. Since you’re not in a gym setting right now, and there’s no competition with the person next to you, I urge you to take this time and work on your areas of deficiency. If you work on improving in the areas I outlined above, when gyms re-open, it will pay massive dividends down the road with improvements in your resistance training, injury prevention and overall body function.  

As always, stay safe and healthy!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Increase Your Strength Levels and Home Workout Intensity by Adding in Isometric Holds!

If you are struggling with adding intensity to your home-workouts, consider adding in isometric holds that precede each of your strength moves. This method will pre-exhaust the working muscles, which will subsequently increase your strength levels (due to the added muscle fiber recruitment) and the overall intensity of your workouts.

A downfall of bodyweight workouts is, the natural tendency to make them harder is to perform them “faster.” While this concept can be great for increasing your heart rate, it more than likely just leads to form breakdown- which makes you miss out on increasing your strength levels. The quicker you go through most strength moves, the less you’ll pay attention to the details of the exercise. Therefore, consider adding in isometric holds, which will allow you to increase the intensity of your workout, without sacrificing the integrity of the strength movement.

What is an Isometric Hold?

An isometric hold is when there is no positive or negative to the movement. You are holding a position for a pre-determined amount of time. The key to maximizing the benefits of an isometric move however, is to focus on developing a great “mind muscle connection.” During an isometric hold, you should be extremely aware of what muscles you are working, and maintaining peak contraction of them the entire set- when you lose the ability to contract or “Flex” the muscle you should be working, that is when your set should be done.

For example, if you are holding a Wall Sit, don’t just go through the motion of loosely holding the position. Instead, focus on squeezing your glutes and quads during the entire set. This will greatly increase the intensity of the isometric hold, which will then increase the difficulty of your body weight strength move to follow. From a scientific perspective, this concept of muscle activation will also force you to recruit more muscle fibers during your subsequent strength move- ultimately resulting in greater strength gains!

The ISO Home Workout

You will notice this workout is different than every other Home Workout I’ve put out the last few weeks. There is an explicit focus on increasing strength in this workout, so accordingly this will not be done in a timed, circuit fashion. Each of the exercises are broken up into tri-sets (3 exercises in a row), with corrective mobility as the third exercise in each set. Rather than prescribe exact reps or times for many of these, I put a range. Find where you fit within that range, as it covers everyone from basic to advanced. Pay close attention to your form, and if the isometric holds get particularly ugly, stop the set. Remember, this is about muscle activation- not a contest to see who can hold the position the longest. Quality over quantity is KEY when training isometrically.

(As usual, some of the following moves might not be right for everyone, so if you need a regression, e-mail me, or comment on the blog below and I’ll offer you some suggestions!)

Parameters:

  • 15 Total Exercises (Perform in recommended tri-sets)
  • Work: Perform the sets, reps and timed holds as individually prescribed
  • Rest Time: 30-90 seconds between sets- NONE between exercises
  • Number of Sets- 4 (per tri-set- complete all 4 sets of each tri-set BEFORE moving on)

* (BE SURE to complete a warm up prior to jumping into this workout. For some bodyweight warm-up options, click here!)

Exercises

1. Split Lunge ISO Hold (Hold only one side per set- next set do the opposite) – 4 x 10-30 seconds

Assume your standard split lunge position, and drop to the point where your back knee is hovering just above the ground. Hold that low position, and think about driving your front heel “through the floor.”

1a. Split Lunge (FULL ROM- Same side you just ISO held for)- 4 x 10-20 reps

With your chest up and back straight, perform full reps in your Split Lunge position. The back knee should get as close to the ground as you can, and your front knee should remain soft at the top of the ROM. Keeping the front knee “soft” will allow the tension to remain on the front quad and glute.

1b. Pigeon Stretch– 4 x 30 s. each side

Pull your knee to your chest and slide your foot through to the opposite side. Focus on nice big breathing during this stretch and really try to “sink” into the glute that’s being stretched (in this video that would be be my left glute)

2. Split Stance Wall Push– 4 x 10 – 30 seconds (switch lead leg each set)

Get against a sturdy wall (or if you’re outside a tree would work too!) and assume a split stance position, and simply push as hard as you can. As you’re pushing, think about flexing your chest, shoulders and abs as hard as you can- almost to the point you’re shaking. (Next set, switch your lead foot in your split stance position)

2a. Push-Up w/ Lateral Crawl– 4 x 3-10 e. side

This move might take a few reps to get coordinated with, so TAKE YOUR TIME! First, hit a standard push-up- ideally with your elbows tucked at about 45 degrees. Once you’re in the top of your push-up position, crossover your outside hand IN FRONT of your inside hand and simultaneously step with your inside foot (so your feet never cross!). The key here is as you step, make sure you maintain proper Push-Up Position. The natural tendency will be for your butt to fly up in the air, to relieve some tension from your upper body. Fight to keep your hips down the entire time! For your tempo, focus on performing an explosive push-up, and strive to make the “handwalk” steady and smooth.

2b. T-Spine Extension– 4 x 30 s. each side

Put your hand behind your head then bring your elbow down to your opposite elbow- tap them- then open up as high as you can without “wrenching” your back to gain extra ROM. Think about “opening your shoulder blade” more so than opening your elbow- the goal here is to loosen your thoracic spine, so the elbow is just along for the ride. Also, be sure to follow your elbow with your eyes at the top of the move, which will allow for a less-restricted ROM.

3. Wall Sit– 4 x 30 – 60 seconds

Assume a 90 degree squat position on a sturdy wall and simply hold. As you’re holding this position be sure to focus on driving your heels through the ground, as well as flexing your glutes, quads and abs.

3a. Body Weight Squat (Full ROM)– 4 x 10 – 25 reps

3b. Bird Dog– 4 x 10 e. side (2 s. holds)

4. Single Leg Glute Bridge Hold (Hold only one side per set- next set do the opposite)- 4 x 10 – 30 seconds

Assume a single leg glute bridge position, making sure your foot is about 6 inches from your butt. Next, slightly raise the toes of the working leg off the ground, to full emphasize “driving through the heel.” Then, without arching your lower back, drive the hips up as high as you can, and simply hold that position. Maintaining the mind-muscle connection of driving through your heel the entire set.

4a. BW Single Arm Single Leg RDL’s– (FULL ROM- Same side you just ISO held for- If your left leg was on the ground for your single leg glute bridge, then your left leg stays on the ground for your single leg RDL)- 4 x 10 – 20 reps

Take your time with this move, and ideally get in front of a mirror to provide a visual form check. The key here is your Back position. Notice my back remains relatively flat throughout the ROM, with my shoulder blade retracted in place. My back leg works like a pendulum and is actually what drops my hand down- as opposed to thinking about “reaching” towards my opposite foot. Once you start “reaching,” as opposed to letting your back leg drop you, you will lose your proper back position. To aid in this cue, put a towel under your arm, which will force you to keep the shoulder blades retracted. Finally, don’t be obsessed with touching your toe, or your shin or anything like that. Just drop your hand until you feel like you can’t keep your back straight anymore. This ROM will improve as your hamstring flexibility and strength improve. (To make this move more challenging don’t let your foot touch at the top either- this will keep tension on your glutes and hamstrings.)

4. 1/2 Kneeling Adductor Stretch– 4 x 30 s. each side

5. RKC Plank– 4 x 20-30 s.

5a. Reverse Crunch– 4 x 30 s.

5b. Dead Bug– 4 x 30 s. (SLOW Reps)

Get your knees bent at 90 degrees and your arms up straight. Before you move either side, make sure your lower back is firmly in contact with the ground. Then SLOWLY, extend your opposite arm with your opposite leg, and bring them both back to your center position (breathing out as you pull back to center) before you move to the next side. Take your time with this move, it’s low-intensity core work, with an extremely high level of body coordination.

Final Thoughts

As your home workout routine starts to feel stale, it is imperative to add in methods such as isometric holds to not only spice up the workout, but also give your muscles an added stimulus. Avoid the usual pitfall of merely performing your body weight workout “quicker.” You’ll actually wind up getting less out of that method long-term, than if you employ a pre-exhaustive tactic such as isometric holds- where you’ll get stronger.

Also keep in mind, that implementing the concept of isometric holds as a pre-exhaustive measure, is a valuable tool to possess for when gyms re-open. This is a method that will serve you extremely well in the weight room as well!

Stay safe, healthy and tuned for more workouts to come!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Lower Back Pain with this 5 Minute Mobility Flow!

As social distancing and a general lack of activity continues, anyone that normally suffers from chronic lower back pain will most likely wind up feeling even worse than usual. Being confined at home will likely result in you assuming a seated position more than your accustomed- especially if your normal routine involves an active job or lifestyle. While being seated (which naturally tightens your hips anyway) you are also more than likely on a laptop, tablet or your phone- each of these devices puts you in an anatomical position where your shoulders are rounded. In addition to the tightness we are creating from inactivity, many are also suffering from extremely high levels of stress and anxiety due to the health crisis. When we’re stressed, our natural human reaction is to put our head in our hands. Again, resulting in hunched shoulders and furthering the thoracic tightness. A tight upper back combined with tight hips (hip flexors, adductors and glutes) will inevitably lead to lower back pain ranging from mild to severe.

How to Fight Lower Back Pain and Simultaneously Reduce Stress & Anxiety

A lot of people make the mistake of training the lower back directly (with exercises such as back extensions or cobras), thinking “my back hurts because it’s weak.” While that may be partially true, it is almost never the root of the issue, and shouldn’t be where you start.

The main problem is hip/glute and thoracic tightness. Therefore, before anything else is focused on, MOBILIZING is the first key!

5 Minute Mobility Flow

The first several exercises are done in a quadruped position- meaning on your hands and knees. When you are in this basic position always be sure your shoulders are directly over top your hands. As well as your hips should be directly over top your knees. Be sure to keep your back flat and most of the time keep your neck relaxed (look towards the ground) unless the exercise calls for different.

When performing this series of stretches, I perform each for 20-30 seconds and transition from one exercise right to the next. This series one time through should take between 3-5 minutes. Since we’re in state where we’re working out at home exclusively, you can repeat this circuit for 3-5 rounds for a great “active rest day” workout.

  • Hip Circles
Hip Circles: The key with this exercise is only experiencing movement at the hip. When we have tight hips, the tendency is to compensate by moving the entire back to get a nice hip circle. Instead work within your current range of motion without compromising your back position. For simplicity, just focus to start on shooting your leg back up and around into a nice big circle. Then once you’re comfortable with that movement pattern, you can perform repetitions in the opposite direction as well.
  • Cat/Cows
Cat/Cows- This is a Yoga move that can greatly benefit a stiff back. The goal with a Cat/Cow is controlled spinal movement. When you look down towards the ground you want to arch your back up towards the ceiling, then when you look towards the ceiling you want your spine to move back to a neutral position. Achieving spinal flexibility is important to improving back pain because the spine is hardly ever moved through a range of motion. The stiffer your spine is, combined with a tight thoracic is going to wind up keeping pressure on the lumbar spine.
  • Fire Hydrants
Fire Hydrants- The same concept used with Hip Circles applies to Fire Hydrants. Movement should only occur at the hip, avoiding any sort of back compensation. Work within your range of motion and seek to improve your hip mobility gradually- it’s not going to happen all at once!
  • Hip Rolls
Hip Rolls- Keep both knees on the ground the entire time as you lean from one side to the other. Give each side a solid 2 second hold before you switch. Everyone’s different as well- some can feel a fantastic glute stretch by leaning straight to the side, others have to sink back towards their heels a little to “feel” a glute stretch. Whatever you need to do, find your sweet spot that you feel a great stretch right on the outside of the hips. This is unequivocally one of my favorite stretches.
  • Hockey Stretch
Hockey Stretch- This is basically an active Deep Child’s Pose. The way you assume your positioning is to spread your knees out wider than hip width, then sink your butt all the way back as far as you can with the goal being to get your butt in between your heels. Bring your finger tips out in front as far as possible to lengthen your back out. Perform for about a 3-5 second hold then rock forward as far as you can, and transition right back into your deep hockey stretch. You should feel a great stretch in your groins the entire time.
  • Pigeons w/ T-Spine Ext.
Pigeons w/ T-Spine Ext- Bring your knee into your chest and slide your foot through to the opposite side of your body. Start by holding that low position and really sinking into the glute of the leg that’s pulled to your chest. Then, put your opposite hand to the leg that’s at your chest behind your head and perform T-Spine Extensions. To perform these, hold your glute stretch at the bottom still for two seconds, then open up (think about opening with the shoulder blade more so than just the elbow) and follow your elbows with your eyes. Keep the tempo steady and never wrench your back to gain added mobility.
  • Half Kneeling Adductor Stretch
1/2 Kneeling Adductor Stretch- This is another active stretch where you hold each position for about 2 seconds. The goal is to rock your butt all the way back to your heel, while keeping the opposite leg out straight with your toe almost perfectly straight ahead. After a 2 second hold down, simply rock it off and lose the tension, then go back into another 2 second hold.
  • Spider Stretch w/ Thoracic Flow ** (This is the absolute best stretch you’ll ever do- shout out to Head Sports Performance Coach at Washington College, Jonnie Jenkins, for teaching it to me when I was a student-athlete almost 10 years ago now!)

Assume a push-up position, then bring one foot up to your hand. Hold the elbow to instep position , striving to get your chest as low to the ground as you can. Then open up with the elbow that’s down, following your hand with your eyes, feeling your entire back open up. Then send your hand all the way through your opposite side. And finally, plant your hand outside your lead foot, and drive yourself up, striving for both legs to be straight with the front toe off the ground. (Hold each of the stretch positions for 2-5 seconds before moving through the flow) Repeat for 3-5 more reps before you switch sides. 

Final Thoughts

This entire mobility flow is something I’ve come up with and should be done in the exact order it’s been presented. It’s super easy to transition from one exercise right to the other, and if done on a consistent basis, you will begin to notice improvements in your back discomfort.

If you suffer from chronic back pain or you’re feeling generally stressed and full of anxiety, I highly encourage you to try this mobility routine- you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel afterwards!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.