Train Legs on Mondays and Take Your Workouts and Weekly Productivity to the Next Level!

When I was growing up, one of my Aunts and I used to have a funny expression for the sadness we’d experience about mid-afternoon on Sundays- “Sunday Sorrows” as we called it, always crept in just before dinner time, as I felt the sun metaphorically set on my weekend. As I grew older, I assumed this feeling would just dissipate with age, but it never fully did. I continued to feel these mixed emotions on Sundays well into my twenties.

Then I came to a realization- that my lackluster attitude towards beginning the week, was directly impacting my exercise routine on Monday mornings. I’ll be the first to admit, in my late teens and early twenties, Monday was Chest Day. Period. Myself and every other “meathead” across America would cope with the fact that it was Monday, by sliding under our favorite bar at the gym for copious amounts of sets and reps of a bench press variation. If I ever “mixed it up” I would always substitute chest for some other upper body combination- because it was comfortable. It was fun to get a pump in and do exercises that I greatly enjoyed.

After a point though I realized a serious change in my routine was needed. My weeks lacked a mental edge and my workouts were stale. I decided to make a change to my routine. Beginning several years ago, I decided that Monday should be ‘Leg Day.’ It has the perfect analogy for the week ahead.

No matter how much you love your job or your co-workers, if you enjoy spending time with your friends and family, Mondays are undoubtedly initially uncomfortable…So is lifting legs! Many individuals (especially males!) will go weeks or months without squatting or lifting legs, and it’s usually associated with some BS excuse- but the reality is legs are skipped over because they’re extremely challenging and puts you well outside your comfort zone if you’re training them properly.

Why Should I Train Legs on Mondays?

The Mental Edge

Training Legs on Monday (morning especially!) is “embracing the suck” as the military would say. It’s the first action of taking control of your week. This is a positive example of going against the grain- doing something others won’t do- which will lead to a shift in your mindset regarding the entire week. Being able to do something as uncomfortable as lifting your lower body on a Monday will give you the confidence that you can handle any challenges coming your way that day or week.  

The Physical Edge

Your full body strength all starts with your legs. Similar to building a house, you must lay a solid foundation and start from the ground up. There’s been a decent amount of research over the years that by doing big compound moves such as the Squat and Deadlift have the greatest hormonal release out of any exercise- which will directly benefit your total body strength. In addition, to guard against knee pain and even lower back pain, you need to fully train your glutes, quads and hamstrings, through various planes of motions. As long as you program your exercises properly to achieve your strength levels, strong legs will ultimately help prevent knee and lower back injuries.

The Practical Edge

Have you ever tried to perform a bench press on a Monday at peak hours in an overly crowded gym? The reason Mondays are often referred to as “International Chest Day,” is because almost every generic workout program in a bodybuilding magazine starts with “Monday: Chest & Tri’s.” Do yourself a favor, and the next time you’re struggling to get on a bench, look over at the squat rack in your gym. As long as there isn’t someone doing Bicep Curls, there’s usually practically cobwebs hanging off it on Mondays. Therefore, from a practicality standpoint, I know if I train my lower half on Mondays, I will basically have free-reign on whatever equipment I need to hit my workout.

Does This Mean I Must Squat?

This is a topic I plan to spend a lot of time on in future posts, but the cliff-note version is: find the squat pattern that’s right for YOU! Every single person that walks through a set of gym doors is different- from mobility issues, to femur length, hip angle, muscle weaknesses/imbalances- every trainee is different. Therefore, traditional BB Back Squats or Front Squats, may not be right for you- at this time- and that is OKAY! You don’t have to fit the square peg in the round hole and force squats upon yourself for it to be an effective workout program.

Some people, traditional BB Squat variations are just not right for- at this time. That doesn’t mean you can’t work towards them (if you have the goal of squatting ‘traditionally) nor should it mean you avoid training legs altogether. I encourage you to find a squat pattern that’s right for you- whether that’s adjusting your range of motion away from an “ass to grass mindset” and focus more on achieving a 90 degree squat. Or, maybe it’s performing a unilateral squat, which puts much less stress on your lower back and knees.

Put the onus on yourself to find the perfect balance of an exercise that pushes you outside your comfort zone, while remaining anatomically safe on your body. When I say ‘you should train legs on Mondays,’ I’m not talking about doing 3 sets of 10 on the leg extension machine and calling that a good leg workout. I always encourage clients to push themselves with intensity (whether that’s by added volume or added weight depends on the client) when it comes to lower half training. The key to making the connection between the mind and body with leg day, is to ‘conquer the workout,’ as opposed to just going through the motion. 

Sample Leg Day

Everyone has different requirements, so my disclaimer is, “this workout may not be for everyone.” If you are unsure of how to make leg day work for you, within whatever limitations you may possess, I highly encourage you to hire a credible coach that will put together an individualized workout routine. For anyone looking for a simple yet effective workout template, it goes as follows:

Example Leg Day

1.Squat Variation (i.e Back Squat, Front Squat, DB Goblet Squat, Split Squat, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat)

1a. Choice of Core exercise

1b. Choice of Mobility exercise

2. Hinge Variation (Conventional Deadlift, Trap Bar Deadlift, BB RDL, DB RDL, KB RDL, Single Leg RDL)

2a. Choice of Core exercise

2b. Choice of Mobility exercise

3. Hip Thrust Variation (BB Hip Thrust, BB Glute Bridge, Single Leg BB Hip Thrust, Single Leg BB Glute Bridge)

3a. Choice of Core exercise

3b. Choice of Mobility exercise

4. Lunge/Step Up Variation (Reverse Lunge, Front Lunge, Lateral Lunge, Straight Step up, Lateral Step up etc.)

4a. Choice of Core exercise

4b. Choice of Mobility exercise

5. “Isolation Work” (Swiss Ball/Sorinex Hamstring Curls, Eccentric Glute Ham Drops, Miniband ABDUCTIONS, Froggy Glute Bridges etc.)

5a. Choice of Core Exercise

5b. Choice of Mobility Exercise

*There is a ton of room for variation within this template, to find the exact right exercises for you. The core and mobility aspect of the “Tri-Set’s” are optional, but I love them because it takes my workout productivity to an entirely next level by using them as “rest.” You also don’t need to do core and mobility on every tri-set. Mix and match with what makes the best flow for your workout.

*The variables you choose to use with this template are totally dependent upon your goal as well. For example, if your goal is to lose some weight, you’d want to keep each of these tri-sets to only about 3 total working sets, with absolutely minimal rest time in between sets. You’d look to keep the reps anywhere between 6 and 15, with the lower reps being for the bigger compound moves (Squats and Deadlifts) and the higher reps occurring as the workout progresses.

*Conversely, if you were looking to put on muscle, you’d look to increase your volume. So rather than only 3 sets, look to perform 4-6 working sets of each tri-set. The rep range would look similar, 6-15 reps, but you’d add a little to your rest time and you’d also be looking to increase weight almost every set, so that by the last set you’ve almost reached failure at your prescribed rep-range.

*As I always advise, write down your workouts and chart your weights so you can look to improve in some way from week to week. This is how you’ll fully ensure growth and development of your lower body!

Final Thoughts

Falling into training ruts is one of the easiest ways to lose motivation to go to the gym. Especially if you’ve been using the same training routine for the last several months or even years, I highly encourage you to consider shaking up your training schedule in the new year.

As we approach 2020, there are an innumerable amount of ways you can adjust your workout regimen. By making Legs a priority and training them on the first day of the week, you’re taking a step to positively changing your workout routine from a physical perspective as well as improving your mental edge on the week ahead. Especially as gyms across the country start to get extremely overcrowded in the early months of 2020, consider going against the grain and train your lower body on Monday’s!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

5 Tips to Successfully Navigate Thanksgiving Day Nutritionally!

Thanksgiving Day is usually characterized by a full afternoon and/or evening of eating until you hit your ‘Turkey Coma’ and pass out in front of the nighttime football game. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, twice baked potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls with cinnamon butter, carrots with a honey glaze…these are some variations of the nutritional choices you’ll most likely encounter this Thursday. The question is, how can you enjoy your absolute favorite foods and drink on Thanksgiving, and have it still work towards your fitness goals?

Here are my top 5 ways for you to guilt-free enjoy every morsel of food on Thanksgiving- from appetizers to dessert and everything in between!

  1. Keep your nutrition on point until Thursday
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Workout like a beast Thursday morning
  4. Resist laying down after dinner
  5. Contain your leftover take home

Keep Your Nutrition on Point up to Thanksgiving

Make sure that you are pretty spot on with your nutritional choices leading up to Thursday. If you have 9 main meals between Monday morning and Wednesday evening, that minimally 8 out of 9 of them should be nutritiously wholesome- meaning you should be eating your lean protein, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and limiting your beverage intake to water, black coffee or tea.

Even though it’s a short work week for most, still do your grocery shopping, get your meal preps done on Sunday and plan for healthy meals Monday-Wednesday. You will totally shoot yourself in the foot if you chalk the whole week up as a ‘holiday’ or ‘special’ week and start eating whatever you want- this is how nutritional benders occur. If you want to minimize the caloric influx you’ll most likely have on Thanksgiving, be on point with your nutrition starting Monday.

Drink Lots of Water

A healthy lifestyle always involves drinking water as opposed to sugary drinks. The adage of 8 cups of water per day is largely being scientifically debunked because everyone has individual requirements, however, the fact is: the more water the better (The CDC doesn’t officially have a “water only” intake guideline- only liquids in general). Aside from hydrating you, water also provides satiation- meaning it gives you the ‘feeling full’ effect.

Being hydrated upon arrival to Thanksgiving Day is imperative- so when you wake up on Thursday, start drinking water! Rather than set guidelines for the amount of water intake (because again, everyone is different), the best barometer for proper hydration would be when your urine turns clear you can claim to be hydrated.

Once you get to Thanksgiving dinner, be sure the H2O consumption doesn’t stop. Especially if you’re drinking any type of alcohol, you will feel infinitely better the next day if you match your alcohol intake with water- every 8 oz of alcohol should be matched with about 8 oz of water. Being satiated, doesn’t mean you’re going to bypass all food, however, the “feeling full” effect from drinking water may prevent you from circling back for round 3 or 4 of your favorite dish.

Workout Like a Beast Thanksgiving Morning!

Using your workout as a way to channel a cheat meal is a great way to find yourself in the gym on a day you wouldn’t normally – such as Thanksgiving. Take advantage of the fact that most gyms are open on Thanksgiving, rather than just writing it off as a holiday. No matter how your workouts are normally broken up, or what your goals are, your holiday workout routine should have 2 components: relatively high volume and a metabolic finisher.

High volume means more sets and more reps- so anything from 4-6 sets and 5-20 reps per exercise, with 45-90s. rest would fall under this category. Personally, I almost always do a lower body workout on holiday lifts because the compound moves (Squats/Deadlifts) have such a great metabolic effect (in other words they cause you to burn fat long after you’ve left the gym).

Even though Squats and Deadlifts are classified as lower body moves, you’re also engaging your upper body and core to perform them properly, so they provide more bang for your buck than if you were to just do isolation moves. After my compound move(s) are done, I hit a wide variety of single leg work, which again, has a much greater metabolic effect. When the workout is all said and done, a good goal volume-wise would be 20-30 total working sets…excluding the finisher!

Your finisher can involve anything from kettlebells, battle ropes, medicine balls, tire flips, TRX straps, bands or even light dumbbells. Whatever exercises you choose, you should arrange in a circuit and perform for a set time for a set number of rounds. The benefit of a finisher again is metabolic. You’re going to be burning fat hours after you’ve left the gym by doing a Tabata style finisher..I usually recommend the following parameters:

  • 6-8 exercises
  • 20-30 second working sets
  • 10-15 s. rest between exercises
  • Repeat 2-5 rounds
  • 60 seconds rest between rounds

Walk it Off!

As badly as you want to lay down on a couch after you’ve devoured your Thanksgiving meal, I urge you to resist it- at least until you go for a short walk.  A German study in 2008 found that a walk as brief as 15 minutes after a meal increases the rate at which food moves through the stomach. And a 2009 study found that a 20-minute walk, 15 minutes after eating, led to lower blood sugar levels across the board.

The benefit of lower blood sugar levels is that you will avoid the full crash that usually comes with a carb filled meal. Now this may be difficult to implement in a family setting such as Thanksgiving, however, my recommendation would be after you’ve done the bulk of your eating, get outside and move around a little bit. It doesn’t need to be a full 20-minute walk, but even something as simple as tossing a football around will be better for you than just immediately succumbing to your ‘turkey coma.’

Limit the Leftovers!

The nutritional rabbit hole that is Thanksgiving, is rooted in the abundance of leftovers that usually result from Thursday. That usually carries over at least into Friday if not further into the weekend. Be aware of how many leftovers you either take home or keep in the house, because one of the simplest nutritional laws is- if it’s in your house, it’s only a matter of time before you eat it. The easiest thing would be to politely decline leftovers and get back on track nutritionally on Friday.

If you do wind up with taking food home, be sure to limit your consumption to normal, healthy portion sizes- as opposed to the Thanksgiving mindset of: ‘fill your plate up until you can’t fit any more food on it.’ The more you can contain Thanksgiving to just Thursday, the more successful you’ll be in staying right on track with your fitness and nutrition goals!

Final Thoughts

Being able to fully guilt-free enjoy Thanksgiving Day, starts with the groundwork you lay for yourself beginning on Monday. Take the proper steps with grocery shopping and meal prep to ensure your meals leading up to the holiday are healthy. Resist the temptation of treating the entire week like a holiday.

Next, make sure you are properly hydrating all week and especially on Thanksgiving Day itself, because this will make all the difference with how you recover on Friday. Before you hit the road to travel anywhere, try your best to get a high-quality workout in, hitting some of the parameters I laid out above. The better your workout, the better your body will absorb the abundance of calories.

After your meal’s concluded, resist the food coma as hard as you can and get outside- go for a walk or throw the football around- which will immensely help with the digestion process. And finally, be careful with the leftover take home, as this will extend some of the poor Thanksgiving eating habits far longer than your body needs. Keep in mind, the quicker you can get back on track nutritionally (hopefully first thing Friday morning), the less of a negative impact Thanksgiving will have on your fitness goals.

Follow some of the guidelines I laid out above, and enjoy the holiday absolutely guilt-free!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your friends and families from the bottom of my heart!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Don’t ‘Throw the Towel In’ on 2019!

Beginning with the leftover Halloween candy that may or may not be in your house still, we are entering arguably the most challenging time of the year from a will power perspective. With a short lead up to Thanksgiving, followed by a week of leftovers, countless Holiday parties and an abundance of Christmas cookies in the office, nutritional choices tend to become extremely difficult this time of year. With that, also comes a lack of motivation to get into the gym (especially if you haven’t been on a consistent routine up to this point).

This time of the year is a prime example of the “What the Hell Effect.”  If you haven’t achieved your goals at this point in the year, most will chalk up 2019 as a loss and look forward to January where they can start “fresh.”

I urge you though, to consider the fact that you can still save your 2019 fitness goals, and springboard yourself into a BADASS 2020 over the course of these next 6 weeks. Let’s throw the brakes on and explore why it’s so important to make a lifestyle change right now.

It’s Not Too Late

6 weeks is a lot of time to make a positive lifestyle change. According to a study done by Phillipa Lilly in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes about 66 days for an action to become a habit. That’s a little over 9 weeks- which proves that the time is now to make a positive change in your lifestyle- because most New Year’s Resolutions only last about 3 weeks. If you make a positive change and stick with it the next 6 weeks, and you combined that with the natural ‘3-ish week’ motivation window post-New Year, you’ll be at your 9 week mark- and you’ll have yourself a positive habit for the entire year!

Granted, you must be realistic with your expectations, and understand that 20 pounds isn’t just going to melt off- nor should you want that either. Remember, we should always strive for sustainable change, which usually occurs more slowly. Over the course of the next 6 weeks though you can make the following positive changes that will easily carry over to 2020:

  • Get on a solid gym routine
  • Start a new workout program
  • Evaluate your nutrition, leading up to the Holidays
  • Start thinking about your 2020 goals and use this time as a buildup

Get on a Solid Gym Routine

If you’ve been lackadaisical with getting to the gym after summer ended, or maybe even all year, now is the time to get back into the routine. These next 6 weeks are absolutely key, because if you can get yourself rolling now, then you can ride the tidal wave of motivation in January much longer into 2020. Outside of peak hours, almost across the board gyms now aren’t insanely packed because so many people have thrown in the towel on the year. Avoid trying to establish your routine amidst the New Year’s chaos in the gym- that causes such intimidation and anxiety- and get yourself established on a good routine now!

Tip: Get Up Early!

Try to put aside the excuses that have been plaguing your 2019 gym attendance for the next several weeks as well. Prioritize yourself and don’t let “I don’t have time to exercise,” define your year. The way to combat this is to get yourself to bed earlier in the evening and consequently up earlier in the morning- if you exercise first thing in the morning, usually the only thing that gets in your way is YOU. The danger of waiting to train until later in the day is life always seems to get in the way. If you’re not already on a consistent gym routine as it is, you are much more likely to allow life events to interfere with your gym time. 

Start a New Workout Program

Once you’re on a solid gym routine, now it’s time to look at the workout you’re currently doing. If you’re not confident in writing your own workout, this is when you’ll want to turn to a coach. Whether it’s a personal trainer at your local gym, or a coach you follow on social media- almost everyone sells workout programs. Granted, some are certainly better than others and you’ll have to use your discretion when choosing- but the bottom line is find yourself a slightly different workout routine to follow.

Your ‘new workout’ doesn’t have a to be a complete overhaul either. If you’ve been following the same basic workout routine for several months, or even years, I urge you to take the next 6 weeks and change something up about it. Even if you just change something as simple as the exercise order, or the even the day you perform a certain workout, you’ll naturally feel a little bit more motivation to go through the exercises …in other words, if you’ve been doing Chest on Monday’s the last 2 years, switch it up the next 6 weeks!

The advantage to having a plan in the gym-especially a new one- is it will give you something to work towards. Rather than just showing up to the gym and throwing some weights around a few times a week, a structured program will allow for you to have a sense of purpose when you get into the gym. Find something to work towards these next 6 weeks, and it will give your workouts a little extra spice to get through the holiday season!

Evaluate Your Nutrition Leading Up to the Holidays

It’s not Thanksgiving Day that’s the problem relating to poor nutritional choices. Or even Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. The issue is the days and weeks surrounding the holidays that cause everyone to fly off the handle bars with their nutrition. I am a big proponent of living a full life, so I would never recommend sacrificing your favorite dish on a holiday in the name of a ‘diet;’ however, I would highly suggest you take a hard look at your nutritional habits as we lead up to the Holiday season.

Rather than sampling a pie or two a week to try to decide which one to bring to Thanksgiving dinner- leave that temptation alone. Embrace the holiday spirit without fully submitting to letting it hijack your health. If you want to taste test a dish or two before Thanksgiving, by all means, do so! Just make sure to contain it and don’t let the flood gates open.

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blogs, focus on the 90% rule. If you can keep your meals nutritiously wholesome 90% of the time, you’re going to get great results. Breaking down our meals per week that comes to 19 out of 21 meals should be healthy (based on a 3 main meal per day model). On the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, maybe that ‘19’ turns more into 13 or 14, however, the key remains, still getting your high quality meals in. Just because it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas week, doesn’t mean we should have Christmas cookies for breakfast every day.

The better handle you have on your nutrition leading up to the holidays, the easier you’ll handle the special nutritional occasion. Conversely though, if you’re in a “screw it” mode with your diet at this point in the year- which is very common, don’t be upset- then the holiday season will be particularly challenging. Again, use this 6 week period to get into some great habits nutritionally so when you feel the rush of motivation in the New Year, you already have your habits set.

Some very simple areas to look at nutritionally in the next 6 weeks could be:

  • Eat more vegetables
  • Be aware of portion size
  • Drink more water
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat less cardboard carbohydrates on a daily basis (crackers, chips, cookies, etc.)
  • Focus on the 19/21 good meals – 90% rule
  • Begin practicing meal prep for your weekly meals

Never Too Early to Start Thinking About 2020 Goals

If you need a little extra motivation to finish the year strong, tie the next 6 week’s workouts and nutritional choices into an overarching goal(s) for 2020. A perfect example would be simply signing up for a 5k or Half Marathon for Spring of 2020 and slowly beginning a more aerobic based workout routine over the next 6 weeks to build towards that. Or maybe you want your New Year’s goal to be consistently hitting an extra day in the gym per week- get in that routine now, so that by the time January comes, it’s already a routine that you can sustain all year long.

Keep in mind, even the most unmotivated individuals will feel a sense of renewal in the New Year. This wave of motivation typically lasts only about 2-3 weeks before reality sets back in. The best way to capitalize on this wave of motivation is to get your goals in order now, and lay the ground work for achieving them. The better your routine is heading into the New Year, the more likely you’ll be able to achieve your goals year-round; rather than yo-yoing back to your ‘normal-self’ come February.

Final Thoughts

I challenge you to go against the grain over the next several weeks. Resist the temptation 0f rationalizing your actions with “I’ll start fresh in January.” If we’re being realistic, you’ll most likely try to make some changes in the New Year, but next year at this point you’ll be in the exact same position. If you want to make sustainable change, do it now. Stop waiting for the New Year.

Grind through the next 6 weeks until January, then ride the wave of motivation right into 2020 and you’ll be amazed at how your New Year’s Resolutions will finally be realized!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Don’t Let Muscle Soreness or Sweat Be the Determining Factors of a ‘Good’ Workout

I believe there’s a slightly sadistic side to anyone that’s experienced success with working out; we tend to enjoy the “Jell-O legs” after a great lower body session, or not being able to itch your head after a grueling upper body lift. These are topped off by the satisfaction of having to practically wring your t-shirt out from sweat before you toss it in the laundry. It is totally okay to enjoy these side effects- full disclosure I certainly do as well. However, it is imperative to not prioritize soreness and perspiration as actual goals when creating a workout.

One of the most troubling aspects I find in the fitness industry today, is how so many average gym goers determine what a “good” workout is. For many, a ‘good’ workout is determined by the amount of sweat expired and subsequently the amount of muscle soreness they experience a day or two after the session. Muscle soreness actually seems almost like a badge of honor to some- and even drives the programming of the workout. (Meaning, exercises, sets and reps are performed in order to make yourself sore the next day)

Letting perspiration and muscle soreness determine the effectiveness of a workout is wrong- because neither remotely begin to tell the full story of whether a training session is “good” or not.

Keep Muscle Soreness and Sweating in PERSPECTIVE

Consider this- I can have a client perform burpees for a full 60 minute session, and I guarantee they will be dripping sweat leaving the workout and extremely sore the next day or two or three. An hour full of burpees is absolutely the most ridiculous workout you could ever imagine, yet, for some it would qualify as a ‘good’ workout because there was a ton of sweat and they couldn’t even get out of bed the next day.

When there’s no rhyme or reason as to why you’re doing an exercise (aside from trying to make yourself sweat and sore) you are creating the perfect scenario for a serious doctor’s visit- because it’s only a matter of time before you get hurt. Muscle soreness and sweating should be byproducts of an effective workout- not the main goal. In other words, if your goal is general health and functionality- which should be the main goal of most non-competitive athlete gym-goers- then your workout goals should look like this:

  • Proper exercise selection for your goal/body
  • Train in all 3 planes of motion
  • Maintain joint integrity through each exercise
  • Seek full range of motion on each exercise with perfect form
    • Improve flexibility on exercises you cannot execute full ROM
  • Seek to maintain and improve strength levels over time

Why Muscle Soreness Doesn’t Work as a Workout Barometer

In the sports and physical therapy worlds, the S.A.I.D principle basically lays out why muscle soreness is not an accurate measurement of the quality of a training session. This principle stands for: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. In very simple terms, this means that the body will become accustomed to the load placed upon it relatively quickly. After the first full week or two of training, the body has already adapted to the imposed demands placed upon it- a lot of times this adaptation will even occur within a set! (ever notice that the first set of an exercise feels particularly heavy, even though it’s a warm up set, then your second set, with heavier weight, doesn’t feel nearly as heavy? That’s the SAID principle in practice).

Everyone is different regarding muscle soreness. Some people will experience soreness the day after a training session and others have more of a DOMS effect (delayed onset muscle soreness) and will be more sore 2 days later. There are numerous variables that will contribute to muscle soreness:

  • Occupation– if you train in the morning then go sit at a desk for 8-10 hours with your only movement being going to the water fountain, you’re not going to feel great the next day.
  • Recovery methods– Are you rehydrating enough? Are you consuming the proper amount of protein to aid in muscular recovery? How much sleep are you getting at night? If you’re chronically sore then you may want to consider this area.
  • Consistency of training schedule– do you train at 8 PM then follow it up with a 6 AM training session? Or do you go to the gym on a Monday and Tuesday, then miss till the next Wednesday? Because that is a recipe for muscle soreness as well.
  • Newness of workout– Did you just start a new phase of a workout program? Because new workouts will inevitably create muscle soreness initially.

Due to the SAID principle though, muscle soreness for many will not occur much after the first week or two of a new workout- which is FINE! This doesn’t mean the workout’s quality is any less. All that it means is that after about a 4-week cycle, it’s time to switch some variables of the workout.

If you do experience slight muscle soreness after a workout that you’ve been doing a few weeks- that is fine as well. Just be mindful of the fact that if you get extremely sore after weeks of a familiar workout, it may be time to look at your recovery methods. (As I mentioned before: Are you ingesting enough protein post-lift? Drinking enough water? Getting enough sleep? Moving around enough outside of your workout? Etc.)

The Story with Sweat

Everyone is different regarding perspiration. Some people start sweating when they walk in the gym doors and others can train vigorously for 90 minutes and have a little sweat build up on their upper lip. It is for this reason that you CANNOT judge the quality of a workout based on how much sweat poured off your body. Gender, age, genetics and gym temperature/humidity will all impact the amount you sweat during a training session.

If you do sweat, don’t necessarily chalk that up as weight just melting off you either- because the few pounds you lose through perspiration is almost immediately gained back through rehydration.

ONLY as a byproduct, is sweating a great aspect of a workout- it maintains your core body temperature and acts as a detoxification from heavy metals and bacteria in our bodies. There is also undoubtedly a tremendous sense of accomplishment associated with finishing a great workout dripping with sweat. While that will boost your mental imagery of yourself, just be sure to always let perspiration be a side-effect of a great training session, rather than the goal. Otherwise, you’ll be programming your workouts for the wrong reasons, and potentially setting yourself up for injury.

The Danger Behind Chasing Sweat and Soreness

When your main goals are to make yourself sweat and sore, that’s when exercise logic goes straight out the window. The best coaches can go through their entire program and explain why every single exercise is being performed- and a great coach’s answer is NEVER to make a client sweat or sore. If a workout is framed around variables such as perspiration and/or muscle soreness, in all likelihood the exercise selection is illogical and dangerous for most- let alone the volume that is usually prescribed as well.

Unfortunately, with the rise of various fads in the fitness industry, the concept of “Muscle Confusion” has become one of the most bastardized terms in the industry. On its most basic level, muscle confusion means changing certain variables of a workout in order to avoid plateauing. Once your body becomes accustomed to a particular workout, you run the risk of halting progress…however, this rarely occurs because most don’t progress the basic exercises far enough to even experience plateaus.

The concept of muscle confusion has sadly allowed for bad coaches or individuals lacking the proper knowledge- to put themselves through completely random workouts with illogical exercise combinations, sets and reps- all in the name of ‘muscle confusion’- AKA bypassing the SAID principle and artificially chasing muscle soreness.

While a lot of people have made substantial money on this claim, even more people have wound up unable to exercise again because of the injuries sustained following this method of training. Muscle confusion is the fallback reason for creating completely random workouts with no rhyme or reason- usually with the goal of making an individual leave the gym in a pool of sweat and unable to walk up steps the next day…which ultimately is not going to lead to long term health and function.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is sweating and muscle soreness are very normal in the average gym-goers’ life. They both provide a lot of intrinsic value to the training experience- the satisfaction associated with both phenomena keeps many people highly motivated to keep showing up day after day. What needs to be debunked though, is the lens in which both these side-effects are being viewed. Stop walking into the gym with the determination of making yourself sweat out every bad nutritional choice you made the last week. And lose the goal of making yourself ‘can’t get out of bed’ sore the next day; instead create a workout that is geared more towards your overarching goal- be it, fat loss, muscle gain, strength improvements etc. Judge the quality of your workout by variables such as:

  • Exercise Selection– proper movement patterns for your goal, age and ability
  • Exercise Order– were you doing compound moves first? What exercise combinations worked or didn’t?
  • Overall Volume– do your sets and reps match up with what your training goals are?
  • Intensity Level– How much rest are you taking between sets? If your goal is burning fat, how much time did you spend elevating your heart rate

IF you do walk out of the gym dripping sweat or experience muscle soreness the next day or two- GREAT! If you don’t experience either of these things, but still logged a quality workout based on your own parameters, GREAT! Either way, quality workouts that are in line with your goals can occur with or without a positive correlation between sweat and muscle soreness.

Keep this in mind with your training moving forward, and ultimately it will assist in keeping you clear of exercise induced injuries!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Eliminate “Traditional Rest” Between Sets and Take Your Workout Productivity to the Next Level!

When I was 13 years old I got my first job working at a local hardware store in my hometown. Before my first shift, my mom gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me to this day. She said, “Never let your boss find you doing nothing. Even if you take down and put up the same display a hundred times, always be doing something.” This advice served me well with that first job, and is still present in my current work ethic. It has also spilled over into my mindset surrounding workout construction as well.

Never get caught in the gym doing nothing.

With “time” being cited as one of the main reasons for lack of gym adherence, I always am seeking ways to make workouts more efficient. Like I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, lack of time is also used as an excuse by many who do go to the gym, but have areas of weakness. Such as:

  • “Why do you lack flexibility?” ….. “I have absolutely no time to stretch or foam roll.”
  • “Why do you lack core strength?” ….. “I can barely fit my entire workout in the time I’ve got, without doing abs.”
  • “If you want to tone up and burn fat, then why don’t you implement some high intensity cardio to your training?” ….. “By the time I get done with my workout, I’m too exhausted to get on the treadmill, plus I can’t spend all that extra time in the gym.”

These are simplified examples of very common exchanges I have as a fitness professional. There is one aspect of these answers that I very much agree with- the value of time. I’m not advocating individuals to stay in the gym any longer than they already are. If anything, I’d recommend most people spend less time in the gym! But the key is maximizing the minutes you are in the gym.

There is one principle that must be ingrained in your thought process to start maximizing your time spent training- and may seem like a shock at first:

“COMPLETE REST between sets is unnecessary”

Regardless of your training goal, there is always something you can be doing in between sets aside from sitting on your phone or wasting time talking to another gym member- that WILL NOT impact your next set. You are technically “resting” your working muscles, but you’re vastly improving areas of weakness by being active during your rest periods. In between sets you can perform the following, without spending an extra second in the gym!

  • Stretch (work on flexibility)
  • Ab work (increase core strength)
  • Implement a high intensity cardio move (burn fat)  

**Just as a reminder, here is what your “rest time” parameters should look like based on your goals:

  • Muscle Building: 45-90 s.
  • Fat Loss: 30 – 60 s.
  • Max Strength: 2- 3 minutes
  • Max Power: 3 – 5 minutes

If you don’t necessarily fall into any of these categories, in other words you’re seeking general fitness and overall health, 60 s. of “rest” is usually a great place to start. **

Misnomer Surrounding Rest

In one of my first posts, I talked about the value of active rest on your off days from the gym. Just because you’re not working out that day, doesn’t mean it’s a hall pass to literally do no activity. The same concept applies to intra-workout “rest” as well. There is this misnomer that “rest” can only occur when the body is doing absolutely nothing. I would argue this is only partially true, because your body can totally recover and rejuvenate for the next set while still working on areas of weakness you may have.

What to Do Instead??

Regardless of whether we’re talking about a professional athlete, a fitness model or an average Jane or Joe, there are 3 areas that EVERY person in the gym needs to work on:

  • Flexibility
  • Core Strength & Balance
  • High Intensity Cardio

Therefore, after you complete your strength set or superset, you immediately transition into an option from one of the 3 categories listed above- and coincide the length of the activity with your training goal. (For example, if you’re in a hypertrophy [muscle building phase] you’d do a stretch, core exercise, or cardio move for anywhere between 45 and 90 seconds in between sets of your strength exercise.)

In order to determine which category you fall under, the first thing you must do is be brutally honest with yourself with what your biggest weakness is. If you say: “all 3” or you’re utterly confused, I’d start with making flexibility the main priority- because it’s universally the most neglected area of training- and will vastly improve the way your body feels on a daily basis. But if you’ve got a glaring core weakness, or you just can’t get yourself motivated to go on a treadmill after your workout, then pick the option that best suits your needs.

A lot of us may have weaknesses in all 3 categories- which is perfectly okay! This presents a great option as well, which would be: to have specific days designated as “Flexibility focus day” or “Core focus day,” so you switch up your “rest period activity.” This tends to be a great option for body-split days in particular, because doing core work fits in perfectly with lower body work. Whereas, when you’re working upper body, you can truly give your working muscles a rest by working on mobilizing areas such as your hips and hamstrings. As always though, there is no right or wrong answer- find what works best for you!

SAMPLE FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST

  • Half Kneeling Adductor Stretch
  • Hockey Stretch
  • Pigeon w/ T-Spine Extension
  • Band Hamstring Stretch w/ Leg Lowering
  • Toe Sweeps

SAMPLE CORE EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST

  • RKC Plank
  • Reverse Crunches
  • Swiss Ball Toe Touches
  • Swiss Ball Pike to Rollout

SAMPLE BALANCE EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST

  • Single Leg Hold
  • Single Leg Hold + Down & Up
  • Single Leg Hold + Abduction

SAMPLE CARDIO EXERCISES TO USE AS ACTIVE REST

  • BW Step UP
  • Explosive Lateral Step Up
  • Jumping Jacks/Seal Jacks/Run In Place
  • Jump Rope (This is my absolute favorite intra-set cardio, however, it’s very gym dependent- if you don’t have a separate room to jump rope in, I wouldn’t recommend trying it in a crowded gym)
  • Treadmill Sprint/Airdyne Bike/Jacobs Ladder etc…is dependent on how close your strength set is to the cardio section of the gym. If you have to go up the stairs, or into an entirely different room completely, this probably isn’t the best option for you.

SAMPLE WORKOUT CONSTRUCTION WITH ACTIVE REST

(This client’s goal is general health so each “rest” exercise would be for about 60 seconds)

Flexibility:

1.DB Goblet Squat- 3 x 10, 8, 6

1a. Push-Up w/ Lateral Crawl- 3 x 5 e. side

1b. Band Hamstring Stretch w/ Leg Lowering- 3 x 30 s. each side

Core:

2. Incline DB Chest Press- 3 x 12

2a. Incline DB Row- 3 x 12

2b. Reverse Crunches- 3 x 30 s.**

**Most clients are not advanced enough to do a core exercise for 60 seconds without beginning to feel it in places other than their abs- so if you can do an ab exercise for 60 s. great! If not though, it’s perfectly fine, perform as many quality reps as you can, then grab yourself some water, adjust your weight for the next set, and get back to the strength work!

Balance:

3. DB Push Press

3a. DB Goblet Reverse Lunge

3b. Single Leg Hold w/ Abduction- 3 x 30 s. each side

Cardio:

4. Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown- 3 x 10

4a. Wide Stance Palloff Press- 3 x 6 e. side

4b.Explosive Lateral BW Step Up- 3 x 30 s. each side

* The idea with this move is to have a high tempo with the reps- you want to keep the heart rate elevated, so with QUALITY form, move through the reps at a quicker tempo than usual- the high tempo is what will give you the cardio component.

Stay Disciplined

The whole goal with implementing an exercise as your “rest” is to make the workout more efficient while simultaneously working on a deficiency. You will completely miss the benefit of this style of workout programming if you finish your active rest exercise, then mess around for an additional minute or two. Resist the social media, the text messages, music change, etc. and dive right back into your strength piece and continue with the workout. Aside from adjusting your weight, and grabbing a quick sip of water, get disciplined in not letting anything else distract you from moving through your workout.

One of the main reasons I began implementing active rest moves is because I realized “rest” is the variable that will hijack your training goals completely. If your goal is fat loss/muscle toning, but at times, you’re taking a full 2 or 3-minute break between sets, you’re metabolically shooting yourself in the foot. Most people don’t realize it but they rest far longer than they think they do; because they get wrapped up in a thought, or they talk to another gym member or worse, start scrolling through their phones. By getting a timer out and performing an exercise for a specific amount of time as your “rest,” it forces you to be extremely aware of exactly how much time is being spent between sets.

Final Thoughts

It’s not comfortable organizing your workout like this- I’ll be the first to admit it. But here’s the thing: while the majority of people are running away from their deficiencies, you’ll be focusing on them on a daily basis. The reality is no one likes to do things they’re not good at it- which is why Flexibility, Core/Balance and Cardio are absolutely thrown to the side during training sessions. Use the method I laid out to hide them within the session, to make them more palatable and less daunting.

Rather than having a treadmill session hanging over your head at the end of the workout, throw the cardio in throughout in lieu of rest. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels knowing you don’t have to stay an extra 10 or 15 minutes to do abs because you just hit core work throughout your entire workout.

In addition to spending less time in the gym, you’re most certainly going to take your results to the absolute next level by eliminating the traditional notion of rest!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Activate Dormant Muscles to Bulletproof Your Lower Back

Last week we touched on the importance of mobilizing the hips/glutes and thoracic spine to improve lower back pain (To read more about that, scroll all the way down below this article). Once you’ve experienced improvement in your lower back discomfort by implementing the Quadruped Mobility Flow I laid out, it’s now time to take the next step- which is adding in MUSCLE ACTIVATION sequences to your routine.

The perfect storm for any joint pain is tight and weak muscles. This phenomenon is particularly true with the lower back. If your glutes are tight and weak (which is often the case), combined with tight and weak upper back muscles, then you’re a sure-fire candidate to have chronic pain in the lumbar spine region.

Even though I’m about to lay out an activation sequence, it is absolutely imperative to never lose sight of the importance of mobility in conjunction with muscle activation. These sequences will certainly activate muscles surrounding your lower back that are dormant, however, you must keep your hips and thoracic spine mobile in order to continue dissipating your back discomfort.   

How Can I Activate Dormant Muscles?

Mini-bands have become more common place in gyms across the country in recent years. However, I question whether individuals realize the true value in using a band. Performing mini-band exercises is not going to build muscle or vastly increase strength numbers in your squats, deadlifts or bench presses. They will not magically melt fat off your body just because your heart is pounding during the set. What mini-band use is going to do though is bulletproof your body by activating underutilized muscles.

Using bands will allow you to specifically target muscles that traditional resistance training (with free weights or cables) fail to activate. The key to proper mini-band use is: leave your ego at the door. Keep in mind, this is about muscle activation, so the tension should not be a competition with anyone else except yourself. If you have extremely under-active muscles in your glutes and upper back, a tighter band will merely result in movement compensation, instead of proper muscle activation.

We live in a more is better society, that has been highlighted by various fads in the fitness industry that unfortunately create a “keeping up with the Jones’ ” mentality. I can unequivocally say though that more is NOT better when we’re dealing with improving back discomfort. Therefore, it is imperative to choose a band with the proper tension FOR YOU that allows activation solely in the muscles that should be getting activated. In other words- if any of the exercise combinations I lay out below cause any discomfort in the lumbar spine, it is almost certainly not a question of form or exercise selection- it is a matter of needing to reduce the tension, and after a certain point potentially reducing the volume as well…therefore, I’ll say it one more time- if you want long term lower back health, leave your ego at the door when activating your muscles with a mini-band!

Why Do the Glutes & Upper Back Impact Lower Back Health?

The Glute musculature (glute maximus, medius and minimus) are directly responsible for hip extension and hip abduction. It’s most important function as it relates to lower back health though is it assists in the support and stabilization of the lumbar spine. Basically when the glutes are extremely under-active – which is EXTREMELY common based on the amount of sitting we do- activities that would normally be loaded through your butt go right to your lower back. The perfect example of this is when an individual feels lower back pain while squatting. A squat of any kind should load up the quads and glutes, and if the glutes aren’t firing properly, the compression of the squat will undoubtedly flare up the lower back.

Activating muscles in the upper back is equally important to improving long term lower back health as well. When an individual has poor posture from prolonged periods of sitting at a desk or being on a technological device, they not only have tight muscles surrounding their thoracic; they also have weak muscles in the rear delts, rhomboids, scapular and lats.

Weak muscles in the upper back makes it difficult for individuals maintain proper posture- thus keeping pressure on your lower back constantly. The more we can activate the small muscles behind your shoulders, the easier it’ll be over time to maintain proper posture. Until you mobilize and strengthen the muscles surrounding the thoracic spine though, it’ll be extremely difficult to achieve consistently good posture.

The Exercises

Lower Body

Mini-band Foot Fire

Get completely loaded up on the leg you’re not moving. There should be about a quarter of a knee bend to create some tension in that quad as well. Then you begin to move your active leg outside shoulder width then back to the mid-line of your body, as fast as you can. The key here is not letting the feet touch together. When the feet touch together, you lose tension and you’re not getting nearly the quality of the work in.

Mini-band Lateral Walks

When you perform lateral walks, you want to push your hips back and stay as low as you can while still being able to move laterally. The quality of this move again has to do with keeping tension on your glutes and quads by not allowing the feet to touch on each step. Your lead foot should be able to step outside shoulder width, then your back-side foot should again only come to about your mid-line to ensure tension stays constant on that band.

Mini-band Monster Walks

Stay wide and low, sinking the hips again like you’re trying to sit down. The steps (both forwards and backwards) should be short and choppy, but not necessarily fast. By keeping the steps short with your toes straight ahead, the hips will remain square, thus maintaining tension in your glutes and quads.

Mini-band Diagonal Walks

This move puts lateral walks and monster walks together into a hybrid exercise. Once again you want to stay as low as possible, click the heels and step “up and out” as aggressively as you can. The same applies to when you go backwards, except you’re thinking “back and out.” Be sure to try to keep your toe straight ahead on these as well.

The Sequence

For Lower Body, perform the set as follows:

  • Mini-Band Foot Fire (Left foot moves) – 10 seconds
  • Lateral Walks (Left foot Leads)- 10 steps
  • Mini-Band Foot Fire (Right foot moves)- 10 seconds
  • Lateral Walks (Right foot leads)- 10 steps
  • Monster Walks- 10 steps up & 10 steps back
  • Diagonal Walks- 10 steps up & 10 steps back

*Perform for 2-4 rounds depending on what your training goals are and whether this is an extension of the warm up or the workout itself. Start with 10-20 seconds rest in between moves (especially if you start feeling tightness in your lower back), but work towards zero rest in between exercises. Always rest for about 30-45 seconds between rounds. For best results perform this sequence minimally 3 times per week.

Upper Body

In Fronts/Behinds

Start with your hands about shoulder-width on the band, at hip level. Then proceed to move the band from your hips to your butt, pulling the band apart as you come over top your head. This shouldn’t be impossible, but it shouldn’t be easy either. Find the hand position where you can just keep your arms straight through the entire range of motion. If done on a consistent basis, this move serves a dual purpose of both mobilizing the thoracic spine, and activating the muscles around it.

Band Pull Aparts

Start with your hands about shoulder width and bring the band to chest level. Stay at chest level the entire set, and open the arms (keeping them nice and straight) bringing the band to your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and make sure you’re not arching your low back (Think abs down). Roll the shoulders all the way forward and knock the knuckles together in order to work through a full range of motion.

Touchdowns

Put a mini-band either around your wrists or palms (palms being more difficult) and begin with your hands about shoulder-width at hip level. From there raise your arms into a full front raise over top your shoulders, pulling your hands wide at the top- like a football referee making a touchdown sign. Then, return your arms to the starting position, never letting your hands get closer than shoulder width- keeping tension on all the muscles surrounding the shoulders. Similar to the “In Fronts/Behinds,” this move serves a dual purpose of activation and mobilization. **Tip: If you struggle with keeping your lower back from arching, perform these with your low back pressed to a wall.

The Sequence

For Upper Body perform the set as follows:

  • In Fronts & Behinds- 10 reps each
  • Pull Aparts- 10 reps
  • Touchdowns- 10 reps (slow and steady tempo)

*Similarly, perform 2-4 rounds based on your goals and workout days. You can even perform this sequence as a super-set with your lower body work, and basically bounce back and forth between the 2 with no actual rest in between. To start though, give yourself the same 10-20 second rest in between exercises- only if needed. Then work towards no rest at all. Same as the lower body, for best results perform this sequence minimally 3 times per week.

**To make both sequences more challenging, increase the reps BEFORE the tension. Once you’ve got to 15 for every exercise- using perfect form and without feeling any negative pain in the back- then it’s time to increase the tension of the band. Be sure to not jump right from 10 to 15 reps either. Do it incrementally by inserting 12, 13, and/or 14 rep sequences in between.

Final Thoughts

In a perfect world, we’d show up to the gym, hit a dynamic warm-up followed by my hip-mobility flow, then this activation series, then we’d jump into strength work. Using this template to create your workouts will yield improvements in lower back pain. Remember to never lose sight of the importance of mobilization and activation together.

Once the back starts feeling good, sometimes we lose sight of what got us feeling good in the first place. If you stop the mobility work, combined with the activation of your glutes and upper back, it’s only a matter of time before you’re right back at square 1. Sacrifice time spent on the gym floor doing exercises that are probably doing you more harm than good anyway, for more time spent in a corner with a yoga mat doing your mobility and activation work before your strength work.

It’s not sexy. It’s not going to break the internet with likes on social media. BUT IT WORKS- if done consistently. I greatly encourage you to fully commit to healing your lower back, and follow the mobility and activation flow I’ve laid out. Put your blinders on and ignore whatever else is going on in the gym, and turn your sole attention to YOU.

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Improve Chronic Lower Back Pain with Consistent Mobility Work

In the United States, an estimated 80% of the population suffers from chronic lower back pain. As a Fitness Professional, I’d agree that minimally 80% of my clients have suffered from some sort of lower back pain at one point in their lives. It is one of the most debilitating spots in our bodies to have pain and also try to lead an active life. Often times, exercises are deemed undoable because of the stress they cause people’s backs- then long term, back pain will ultimately be the reason they stop going to the gym all together. Fortunately for most, there are several stretches that if done on a consistent basis will improve back pain substantially.

Why as a society do we suffer from bad backs?

My theory is centered around this very simple fact: we’ve never been more collectively inactive as a society than we are right now. This lack of activity results in prolonged periods of sitting- not only at work but also on the commute and our leisure time as well. In addition, most of the time sitting occurs, we instinctively are on some sort of technological device. Whether it’s a phone/tablet or computer, the most comfortable position to assume while sitting is one with your neck down and shoulders rolled forward.

Sitting and/or being on a technological device results in two things that severely impact back pain:

  • Hunched shoulders
  • Tight Hips/Glutes

Individually, hunched shoulders or tight hips could each cause lower back discomfort. However, when these two symptoms are combined, it will almost certainly result in back pain.

How to Fight Lower Back Pain?

A lot of people make the mistake of training the lower back directly (with exercises such as back extensions), 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 Quadruped Mobility Flow

Quadruped means “hands and knees position.” 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 should take between 3-5 minutes. If you’re using it as a warm up then I’d only do everything once or twice. But if this is serving as an “active rest day” I’d do 3-5 rounds of these stretches- especially if you have tight hips and/or poor posture.

  • 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.

Final Thoughts

This mobility flow is something I’ve come up with and is 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.

While mobility is the first place to start, there is a lot more work to do after you’ve mobilized your hips, glutes and thoracic spine. Next comes learning how to properly activate your muscles then finally strengthen the muscles that keep your lower back healthiest. Improving back pain is like building a house; you need to lay a solid foundation first, and that begins with the mobility flow I’ve laid out.

If you suffer from chronic back pain, I highly encourage you to try this mobility routine minimally 3 days a week for the next month and notice the improvements that will occur!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Be Smart About Supplementation!

Amidst the current crisis the country is witnessing in regards to Vaping (E-Cigarette consumption), I see a lot of parallels to the wide-ranging supplement intake in the fitness industry. Just like we’re finding out right now with Vaping, we don’t really know the long-term effects on our bodies from taking the “cutting edge,” newest supplements. I am most certainly not a chemist, nor a supplement guru, however, I’ve taken my fair share of legal supplements and have a lot of experiences to draw on. I am not going to advocate for any one brand, rather I’d like to shed some light that never occurred to me when I was first trying different products.

The Purpose of Supplementation

Getting the proper amount of sleep, eating nutritiously wholesome meals, and working out vigorously are the keys to living a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle. Supplements should do just that- supplement your lifestyle. In other words, taking a supplement will not cancel out poor nutritional choices, or the fact that you haven’t properly exerted yourself in the gym in weeks. IF taken properly, supplements can aid in workout effectiveness, as well as muscle recovery, however, too often we are blindly buying products with the catchiest name or logo- rather than what is in the product.

For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on 3 different types of supplements- probably the most commonly inquired about.

  1. Pre-Workout
  2. Intra-Workout
  3. Post-Workout

What Is a “Pre-Workout” and Why Take It?

The purpose of a pre-workout supplement is to prepare the body for the impending workout by increasing your energy and focus as well as the expansion of blood vessels; thus allowing more blood to be pumped to working muscles. The increase in blood flow means you’ll have more quality sets and reps, accordingly increasing your strength and muscle gain. Ingredients often include various amino acids, such as Beta Alanine (which gives your skin the tingling sensation some crave) and Citrulline, as well as caffeine and occasionally Creatine (a future blog post will be done solely on Creatine).

The first pre-workout, Ultimate Orange, was developed in 1982 by bodybuilder Dan Duchaine. Since then, the supplement industry has seen countless lawsuits (including against Ultimate Orange) due to heart attacks sustained after extended use of products. (Most recently Jack3d, was the pre-workout that made headlines for the deaths of 2 soldiers in 2011). Much of the controversy surrounding pre-workout consumption is centered around abusing the serving size, combined with severe dehydration.

Most individuals take a pre-workout for the mental edge prior to a workout. There is most likely an element of the placebo effect to it, however, as long as you’re not abusing how many scoops of pre-workout you’re taking, and you’re hydrating properly, a pre-workout supplement can definitely positively impact a training session.

What Is an “Intra-Workout” and Why Take It?

Anything you consume while working out is technically an intra-workout drink. For most, this happens to be water or a sports drink. Others though will consume an intra-workout supplement. These drinks generally contain a combination of BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids), carbohydrates, proteins and/or caffeine.

The basic purpose of consuming such a supplement while training is to improve an individual’s muscle buffering capacity. In other words, this supplement will theoretically stave off the impending fatigue and acid build up in working muscles. As well as give you an energy kick either through a carbohydrate spike or caffeine.

Over the years, studies have been pretty wide ranging on the benefits of direct consumption of BCAA’s. Some studies say they vastly improve muscle recovery and aid in protein synthesis (thus resulting in muscle growth), while others say you’re best off consuming your BCAA’s naturally through whole food sources such as: beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, canned tuna and eggs.

Similar to a pre-workout, consuming BCAA’s while training is probably another example of the placebo effect. The biggest key to any training session is staying hydrated. Whether you do that through an intra-workout supplement, or just water, always make sure you’re replenishing fluids as you’re exercising.

What Is a “Post-Workout” Shake and Why Take It?

One of the staples in the gym bag of many gym goers includes a shaker bottle with a post workout shake in it. When you walk into your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe, there are entire walls dedicated to solely post-workout protein powders in massive containers. There is a great emphasis placed on the need to consume a post-workout supplement, however, it’s imperative to also understand why you’re taking it, and which type of protein to choose. 

After you’re finished with your workout, there is a window to take your post workout supplement that lasts almost 2 hours. It is crucial to get a source of protein and complex carbohydrate in your body during this time to aid in muscular recovery and glucose replenishment. Most people opt for a post-workout shake at this point, which should be some form of Whey Protein– whey is a fast digesting protein, so it will be absorbed by your body much quicker than any other form of protein, such as Casein.

Depending on what your training goal is and how much time you’ve got can determine how simple or complex you make your protein shake. If you’re looking to put muscle on, and you’ve got some time after you train, you can blend up a protein shake with whey protein, a banana, peanut butter, almond milk, etc.

If you’re trying to tone up or lose weight, simple is usually better, so I’d recommend taking the whey protein with just water (which is how I take mine daily due to time constraints). Or, if you’re looking to drop weight, but you still want to make a ‘calorie heavy’ protein shake like I just mentioned, treat that as a full meal replacement and fast for the next few hours. In other words, don’t have that type of shake as a beverage with a full meal as well- the excess carbohydrates will just get turned to sugar by your body and eventually stored as fat.

Questions to Ask Yourself!

Is the supplement(s) I am taking in line with living a healthy lifestyle?

I think this is the question that I’ve come face to face with most in my own training career. When I first started consistently working out about 10 years ago, I had zero interest in looking at labels or stopping to listen to any side effects a supplement was causing my body. As I learned more though and my goals have shifted, this is the question I always ask myself before I put a supplement in my body. If my overarching goal is to live a healthy lifestyle through exercise, then why would I potentially give myself a heart problem down the line because of a supplement? At the end of the day, you need to be brutally honest with yourself and how you feel when taking any kind of supplement.

What is my total caffeine intake?

I’m totally a coffee guy- I don’t just drink coffee for the caffeine either. I genuinely enjoy the taste of black coffee. So, if I’m taking a supplement that has a certain amount of caffeine in it, I need to be cognizant of the fact that I shouldn’t drink nearly as much coffee as I normally would. One of the scariest responses I’ll get from someone telling me about their new pre-workout is an “I don’t know” in regards to how much caffeine is in it. (There are pre-workouts out there that have almost 400 mg of caffeine in it!)

Caffeine isn’t solely in pre-workouts either. If you’re doing a full stack (pre, intra and post workout supplements) be aware of the ingredients in your intra-workout as well- because a lot of times they’ll contain some caffeine as well. Consider this, if you took a pre-workout with 350 milligrams of caffeine, then an intra-workout with an additional 100 milligrams, you’re almost already at 450 mg of caffeine.

If you exercise in the morning, that means you’ve already had the equivalent of 4-5 cups of coffee (approximately 80-90 mg per cup of coffee). Therefore, whatever coffee, or God-forbid energy drink, you consume the rest of the day is putting your caffeine content extremely high. Admittedly, everyone responds differently to caffeine, so some people can handle upwards of 700 mg of caffeine per day and not experience any negative side effects (fluttering heart, insomnia, anxiety, nausea). Just be aware of your caffeine consumption and listen to any side effects your body may experience!

Am I drinking enough water?

Regardless of what supplement(s) you take, your water consumption needs to be high. If you are in a dehydrated state, you’re only asking for issues in terms of negative side effects. There have been studies done that link potential kidney dysfunction to dietary supplements- one way to guard against this is to flush your system out with water, so there’s no potential deposits that could turn to kidney stones down the road.

How long have I been taking this supplement?

There’s two sides to this question. First, a legal supplement is not some magic potion. Just because you take a pre-workout, doesn’t mean you’re going to turn into Superman during your next workout. Allow for 4 weeks to see improvements in your various goals. Conversely, if you’ve been taking the same supplement regiment for the past 10 months (or several years for some!) it’s time to cycle off.

This is primarily because you lose the effectiveness of the supplement due to your body gets used to it (this is mainly in reference to pre-workout). But also, you’ve now become dependent on a supplement to train- and I don’t consider that healthy. At any point, you should be able to walk into the gym and have a quality workout, without feeling like you had to have a certain drink beforehand. If I take a pre-workout, I generally do 4 weeks on, 4-8 weeks off. A good rule of thumb is basically when you go through the tub of pre-workout, it’s time to cycle off.

How much money do I want to spend per month on supplements?

This is where the buck stops for me. I have a really hard time justifying spending several hundred dollars per month on supplements. Simple is always better for me, so I don’t get wrapped up in the different “blends” of protein (all I look for is my Whey Protein Isolate), nor the catchy logos on the $65 pre-workouts. Over the years, I’ve figured out what works best for me, and very much fits into my budget. Rather than spend a head scratching amount of money every month in GNC, I’d recommend simply hiring a good coach/trainer instead. I guarantee your results will be better.

Bottom Line

The supplement industry is NOT regulated by the FDA. It is a slippery slope sifting through the products in your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe, and you need to be careful with what you’re putting into your body. My biggest piece of advice would be read labels. Theoretically before you buy the product, but most importantly before you ingest anything.  Don’t necessarily go by what the wildly undertrained employee is telling you either. Look ingredients up online, and use the attitude of: if you can’t pronounce an ingredient then you should probably look it up and see what it is.

Everyone responds differently to different ingredients and products, and I don’t possess the expertise to list off what you should or shouldn’t be looking for. My simple advice is awareness. Be aware of what you are consuming in the name of being “healthy.”

Healthy Alternatives

Also understand there are completely healthy alternatives to supplements as well. Instead of a pre-workout supplement, go old school and drink black coffee with an apple and peanut butter about 30 minutes prior to your workout. Or, if you want to go with a hybrid approach, make coffee and buy a pre-packaged protein shake (I like Muscle Milk because they have a coffee flavored protein) and use it as a creamer. That way you’re getting your caffeine, carbohydrates and protein all together.

During your workout, just make your goal to stay hydrated. Sometimes, if I’m really dragging ass, I’ll bring a travel cup with coffee to sip on (along with water) during my workout. You can also drink a sports drink as well- if you go that route though, I’d do 50% water though to cut some of the sugar out of it.

Post-workout, rather than take a shake you can eat a protein filled meal with some complex carbs and get the same basic results. (The advantage to a protein shake in this instance is the rapidity at which Whey Protein is absorbed by your body as opposed to whole foods) If you train in the morning, then a great breakfast option would be a veggie omelet, with a Greek Yogurt and/or whole wheat toast- all in lieu of a post-workout supplement.

In Conclusion…

Regardless of what you choose, find what works best for you and always be in tune with what your body is feeling. Make the necessary adjustments and remember not to rely on supplements nor take them for an overly extended period of time. If you ever feel lost in terms of what supplement may or may not be right for you, reach out to a nutritionist or dietician. Or take the time to do your own research, because the information you get from a sales rep in a store may not be 100% accurate.

Keep in mind that the Fitness Industry as a whole is still in it’s infancy stage- let alone the supplement industry! We really don’t know the long-term effects of taking certain products long-term. Always keep that fact in the back of your mind. Remember to read labels and treat your body like a temple with what you choose to put into it!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Use Antagonist Supersets to Enhance the Overall Quality of Your Workouts

A “lack of time” is cited as the main reason so many people do not go to the gym at all. But even those who do go to the gym regularly use this excuse as well, to explain why certain things are “missed” in their workouts. I’ll tend to hear things such as: “I didn’t stretch today because I didn’t have time.” Or, “I didn’t have time for my post-workout cardio because I would’ve skipped too much of the strength portion of the workout.”

Essentially, due to workout organization inefficiency, important aspects of a well-rounded workout are skipped because of a perceived lack of time. By implementing Antagonist Supersets throughout your workout though, you can create a highly time efficient workout with a much greater metabolic output, thus allowing more time for exercises or activities that are usually skipped.

What is a “Superset”?

A superset is when two exercises are performed back to back with little to no rest in between. There are many styles of superset exercise combinations, however, the first one I’d like to focus on in this blog is antagonist supersets.

Antagonist Supersets

Training opposing muscle groups with little to no rest in between, is considered an antagonist superset. Some examples would be a Chest Press followed by a Row variation. Or, a Shoulder Press followed by a Lat Pulldown variation. Antagonist supersets are very common, but sometimes failed to be implemented. Regardless of your training frequency or goals they can be inserted into any workout.

Greater Workout Efficiency

There is absolutely no reason you can’t complete a phenomenal workout in 45 minutes to an hour. One of the best ways to create a more efficient workout is to look at how your exercises are being grouped together. While supersets can technically be done with any exercise grouping you’d like, opposing muscle groupings enhance your workout efficiency exponentially.

Antagonist supersets allows for the rest of one muscle group to occur while the other is being trained; meaning, your total rest time does not need to be nearly as long as it normally would. Therefore, you’ll be getting more work done in less time- leaving time for additional stretching, core work or cardio (3 areas that are most easily neglected due to not having time).

For example, if you’re supersetting an Incline DB Bench Press with an Incline DB Row, while you perform your chest press, your back muscles are resting and vice versa.  If you were doing just a straight set (no additional exercises) of Incline DB Bench Press, your rest time might be 60-90 s. By performing a superset with an Incline DB Row, almost half of that 60-90 s. rest time will be spent performing your row.

Improves Metabolic Output

The longer your body is working under stress, the more calories it’s burning due to the added intensity.  This phenomena is what’s known as time under tension and is one of the keys to muscle growth, but also to fat loss as well. Compared to doing straight sets, when you do 2 or more exercises in a row, you naturally increase your time under tension, which then accordingly enhances your metabolic output. Due to the added stress of performing a second exercise, your heart rate is going to remain higher for a longer period, also leading to more of a caloric burn.

No Strength Compromises

An additional advantage to pairing up opposite muscle groups is the ability to completely exhaust a muscle group directly. When agonist (assisting/similar) muscles are paired together, you wind up exhausting them indirectly. For example, if I paired a Chest Press with a Rope Tricep Pressdown, that is an example of an agonist superset- because the triceps assist in the bench press. The disadvantage of this combination is: because you’re indirectly already working your triceps during a chest press your set of pressdowns will be sub-par, further fatiguing your triceps. Subsequently, the additional fatigue the triceps endure doing a pressdown, will now negatively impact your next set of bench press.

While there’s nothing technically wrong with agonist supersets – they very much serve a purpose that will be touched on in a future blog- you just need to understand that it’s going to be significantly harder to progress your weight in either of those moves with assisting muscles paired together in a superset fashion.

Most importantly though you lose the advantage of workout efficiency. Because you’re training assisting muscles together, your rest time is going to have to remain relatively normal if you want any sort of quality out of the next set- therefore you lose the efficiency aspect that supersetting opposite muscle groups possess.

Sample Superset Combinations

  • Incline DB Chest Press/Incline DB Row : In this combination you’re working your Chest and Back which qualifies it as an antagonist superset. This is probably one of the easiest supersets in terms of set up as well. Usually you should row more weight than you press, so all you need is a second pair of dumbbells waiting underneath the bench, then with almost zero rest time, transition right into your rows. Depending on your training goal, your additional rest time shouldn’t be that much longer than grabbing a new set of dumbbells for your next set.
  • DB Push Press/ Half Kneeling Single Arm Lat Pulldown: In a push press your primarily working your shoulders while a pulldown is working the Latissimus Dorsi (the back). This is another relatively easy set up as well- regardless of what kind of Lat Pulldown variation you choose, all you need is your pair of dumbbells right next to the cable station and you can transition very easily from one exercise to the next.
  • Split Lunge/Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl: In this superset you’re working primarily quads in your Split Lunge then following it up by working your hamstrings during the Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl. Be sure on your hamstring curl to not overextend the lumbar spine (lower back) at the top position of the curl. This is an “easy set-up” superset as well because you can basically take your dumbbell and swiss ball and go anywhere in the gym.
  • Rope Hammer Curl/Rope Tricep Pressdown: Another extremely simple set up working your bi’s and tri’s and only needing one rope attachment at a cable station. On both exercises, always be sure to keep your elbows tight to your sides to effectively isolate your muscles.

Final Thoughts

When you’re creating your own antagonist supersets, keep in mind the ease of transitioning between each exercise. Each of my sample supersets I chose because you can basically do any of those pairings during the absolutely most packed gym. The hardest thing about supersetting anything, is doing so in an overly crowded gym at peak hours. That’s when you especially need to make sure you’re using the same bench, same kettlebell, same cable station for both exercises- otherwise your frustration levels will rise quickly, when people unknowingly move or use something you need for your superset.

Your entire workout also doesn’t need to be supersetted in order for it to be efficient. Many times, I’ll do straight sets for the big movements such as Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Presses, Weighted Pullups, etc…then as the workout progresses, drop into an antagonist superset fashion. Always keep in mind, there’s almost exclusively gray area in regards to “what’s the right way to do something,” so experiment with implementing supersets in a way that works for you!

Doing your workout with antagonist supersets sprinkled in will be a nice change of pace, especially if you’ve never done it before. Like anything, I usually suggest trying a change for minimally 4 weeks and see how your body responds. If you like the efficiency and how your body feels overall, then stick with it!

If and when your workouts get stale or feel slow again, that’s when you look for a different method to organize your workouts. Give an antagonist superset a shot this week in one of your workouts and see how much more quality work you can get done in a shorter amount of time!

And remember to hit important things like stretching, additional core work or a cardio piece with the extra time you have!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

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

Make It Heavy Mindset

While the phrase “make it heavy” is quite simple, there is profound meaning behind these words that I hope will positively impact your daily routines. I heard about the MIH mindset several years ago from Mike Rashid (who’s spent time as a boxer, bodybuilder, motivational speaker and trainer) and it resonated with me immediately. The following is my own interpretation of what “Make It Heavy” stands for, and I hope in the future when you hear this phrase, it means something unique and profound to you as well!

According to the MIH mindset there are two types of people- those that run towards adversity and those who run away from it. No matter your current job, financial status, relationship history, body composition etc., adversity will certainly affect your life in some way. When adversity comes, an individual can use it as a character building experience and grow from it; or withdraw and become weaker and timid because of it. MIH urges you to run towards adversity and embrace it, knowing the end result will make you stronger in every sense of the word.

Look to impose a “make it heavier” attitude in the gym on a daily basis. Whether that occurs by adding an extra set, 5 more minutes of cardio at a faster pace, or grabbing a pair of dumbbells that are 5 lbs heavier than you normally use- make something about your workout “heavier.” In other words, look to put yourself in controlled adversity, and train to conquer that moment.

During this controlled adversity, your body will be telling you that you’re tired and can’t complete the rep, set, session- you must train your mind to respond with a defiant “make it heavy” and push through. If you fail, and need a spotter to take the weight off, or you have to dump the dumbbells on the ground, or hop off the treadmill- who cares? That failure made you a stronger person [both physically and mentally] than you were before you got outside your comfort zone.  

Once you conquer your mindset shift in the gym, the next step is to translate MIH into your everyday life. When your boss gives you a job assignment that you absolutely hate, or your essays and exams for school all seem to be due on the same day- rather than pity yourself, embrace the moment and run towards the challenge of doing something temporarily unpleasant- knowing you will walk away ready for the next obstacle life will throw at you. MAKE IT HEAVY.

Growth of any kind only happens during moments of discomfort. You can’t expect your body to change, unless you’re truly giving it a reason to change. Adversity in your everyday life will continue to negatively impact your life, unless you embrace the challenge, and subsequently learn and grow from it.

This week I challenge you to make one aspect of your workout routine “heavy.” In other words, get outside of your normal comfort zone and safely do something that is challenging to you. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable will immensely benefit you well beyond the physical changes that will occur to your body.

Make It Heavy,

TC

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