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:
- Hip Mobility
- Shoulder Mobility
- Perform a PROPER Push-Up
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!
½ Kneeling Adductor 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
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.
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.
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,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.