Grips and angles | two simple ways to progress your workouts

One of the keys to making progress in the gym is, surprise, progression. Continuously challenging your body to do a little bit more than it did last year, last month and even last week.

progress your workouts - pushups

The most obvious way to progress your workouts is to add more resistance to your exercises; take knee pushups to your toes, add dumbbells to your lunges, move the weights from the side of your body to shoulder height during your squats. [Incidentally, if you’ve been doing the At Home Beginner Strength Workout I shared a couple of weeks ago, it’s time to start making at least a few of the exercises a bit more challenging ;) ].

But progression doesn’t always mean upping the load.

When we focus on increasing the weight that we can move while performing a particular exercise, we’re still stimulating the same group of muscle fibres through the same range of motion. While this approach will initially reward you with strength gains, at some point you may plateau due to weakness in the adjacent muscle fibres and the smaller muscles that assist and stabilize the lift.

Two simple ways to jumpstart progress (or just keep it interesting if you’re easily bored by your workouts ;) )? Vary your grips and angles.

Get a (new) grip

‘Grip’ refers to how you hold the weight. Do your palms face up (below on the left) or down (on the right)? Forwards or back? The same way or in different directions (a ‘mixed’ grip)? Switching your grip is the easiest way to work your target muscle from a different direction; both engaging more muscle fibres and recruiting stabilizing muscles to assist.

progress your workouts - vary your grip

Take, for example, the dumbbell bicep curl. The basic movement requires that you start with dumbbells at your sides, palms facing forwards. As you curl the weights up towards your shoulders, palms will be facing the ceiling (and eventually, you). This exercise is great for building the largest muscle in your upper arm, the Biceps brachii, but not so great for building the smaller, Biceps brachialis and Brachiradialis. Change the grip to ‘neutral’, or palms facing your sides (aka a ‘hammer’ curl) and presto, the Brachiradialis get a chance to shine, as do your forearm flexors (which, for most women, are quite weak and often limit the loads we can press and pull). Combine both into a ‘supinating’ bicep curl (start with palms facing in at the bottom, rotating to palms facing up at the top) and you’ll hit all three. Win-win-win!

progress your workouts - biceps in progress

A bicep in progress :)

Other examples of exercises that can benefit from a change in grip?

  • shoulder presses (palms facing forward vs. palms facing your ears)
  • barbell bent over rows (palms facing up vs. palms facing down vs. mixed grip)
  • lat pulldowns (palms forward vs. palms facing one another; you’ll need the triangle attachment to make this one work)
  • barbell dead lifts (palms up vs. palms down vs. mixed grip)

I like to vary my grip from workout to workout and often find that the weight I’m able to lift varies with the grip I’ve chosen. Try it yourself and feel the difference!

What’s your angle?

Many traditional strength training exercises are performed on a flat bench, either face up (chest press, lat pullovers, tricep skull crushers) or face down (reverse flys, YTWL’s).

Increasing your load on flat bench exercises will certainly increase the size and strength of the target muscle, but because the ‘line of pull’ remains the same (the force of gravity always pulls the weight directly downward), your muscles will only get stronger at this particular angle (fitness peeps call this the ‘principle of specificity’).

By simply changing the angle of your weight bench, you can target your muscles from a different angle, recruit adjacent muscle fibres and stabilizer muscles and promote a more balanced, symmetrical physique (which, in addition to looking great, also functions better during the activities of daily life).

progress your workouts - change your bench angle

Incline bench at approximately 60 degrees

Most benches offer a variety of inclines, ranging from 30 to 60 or 70 degrees. Make sure you choose an angle appropriate for the particular exercise you’re doing to get the most out of the exercise while preventing injury. Always ensure that your feet are placed firmly on the ground and your back remains in contact with the bench throughout the entire exercise. If you find your back arching away from the bench or your feet lifting up off the floor, try perfecting the move with a lighter weight.

 Other exercises that can be performed on an incline?

  • chest press and chest fly (a moderate incline, 30 to 40 degrees, shifts the emphasis to the upper chest)
  • reverse fly (a 45 to 60 degree incline can reduce the lower back pain some people experience while performing this exercise in the fully bent over position)
  • bicep curls (try a 45 degree incline to shift the focus to the long head of the Biceps brachii; you’ll also be able to extend the range of motion of your curls in this position)

I alternate between flat bench and incline bench with my own upper body workouts. The incline sessions, although performed with slightly lighter loads, are helping me to progress my workouts and improve my upper body strength through a bigger range of motion. 

When was the last time you changed your ‘grips’ or your ‘angles’?

Do you have a favourite incline bench exercise?

New to strength training? Terms you need to know

Like most sports and creative pursuits, strength training has a language of its own. Learning the lingo is sometimes as difficult as learning the exercises themselves (except for dead lifts; they’re definitely more challenging than simple vocabulary…).

RepsSetsRest

What the what?

Becoming comfortable in the gym requires not only learning how to operate the equipment, but becoming familiar with the terms that you’ll hear your trainer and fellow gym-goers bandy about. Reps, sets, load (knit, purl, SSK ;) )…

The following is a list of terms that I always spend time explaining to new clients and new-comers to my group fitness classes. How many are you already familiar with?

  • Reps. The number of repetitions of an exercise to be performed before resting or moving on to another exercise. Most strength training programs will provide a ‘rep range’; the minimum and maximum number of repetitions that should be performed. If you can do more than the maximum with the weight you’ve chosen, pick up a heavier weight. If you can’t quite complete the minimum number of reps required, go lighter. Different rep ranges are prescribed for different strength goals. 
  • Sets. The number of times you’ll perform the required number of reps. Sets can be performed ‘straight’ (complete all reps, rest for the amount of time indicated, complete all reps again etc.) or as ‘super sets’ by alternating one set of exercise A with one set of exercise B. Rest time is usually minimized when super sets are used.
  • Load. The amount of weight lifted for a particular exercise. Sometimes varying the load requires performing a different version of the exercise. For example, to increase the load on a pushup one can place a sandbell across the upper back or  elevate the feet on a step or stability ball.
  • Rest. The length of the break taken between sets. Usually, the fewer the repetitions in a set, the heavier the load lifted and the longer the rest between sets. Rest breaks typically range from 15-30 s for a high repetition/low load set to 2-3 mins for a low repetition/high load set.
  • Circuit. A circuit is a series of exercises, performed one after the other, with little or no rest in between. Some circuit programs specify the number of repetitions of each exercise to be performed. Timed circuits require you to perform as many good form repetitions as you can in the specified period of time (for example 45 s or 1 min).
  • Range of motion. The angle through which a joint allows its segments to move. As a consequence of taking your time with each repetition, you’ll be more likely to work your muscles through their entire range of motion, thereby maximizing the number of muscle fibres recruited.
  • Tempo. How rapidly one performs the working (concentric) and non-working (eccentric) phase of an exercise AND how much of a pause one takes between the two. Beginners will typically use a 2-0-2-0 tempo for most exercises. For example, when performing a bicep curl, both the curling and the straightening phase of the exercise will take about 2 counts, with no pause at either the top or the bottom of the move. More advanced exercisers may shorten the working phase and lengthen the non-working phase to increase their time under tension (and facilitate faster strength gains).

Think you’ve got it figured out? Why not test yourself by performing the following workout?

March7_FBWorkout

Are there other terms you’ve heard mentioned in the gym that you’d like me to clarify?

Need a lower body program to complement the above workout? Check out my new book, Ultimate Booty Workouts; a 12-week, progress-resistance training program for legs, glutes and core.

#FatblasterFriday | A Badass Birthday Workout

“Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday to me,

Happy birthday, dear Tamara,

Happy birthday to me!”

badass birthday workout

Last week on Facebook, I suggested to some personal trainer friends and fellow FitFluential ambassadors, that, in lieu of a birthday present, I’d love it if somebody would design a workout just for me. Although I certainly know what exercises I should be doing, sometimes trainers need trainers too!

Less than five minutes later, I had two offers; both of whom I knew were fully capable of kicking my butt. When each asked me how old I was turning, the alarm bells started ringing. Fitness instructors love to design workouts around numbers.

I briefly contemplated lying and telling them I was turning 30, but my conscience got the better of me (and anybody who looks at my about me page and sees that I have postgraduate degrees and three kids could quickly do the math and see me for the liar I was) and I gave up my real age.

46 years young today.

Because I’d like to live to see my 47th birthday, I decided to do one workout with you this week and save the other for next (when the lactic acid finally dissipates and my DOMS is gone…).

Today’s #FatblasterFriday workout comes to you (and me!) courtesy of Shannon of badassfitness. (Now you see why I was afraid). She may look sweet, but man, she’s one tough cookie (just look at those shoulders!).

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 1.13.02 PM

To join me in the “badass birthday workout”, all you’ll need is a set of hand weights (don’t go heavy here; it’s an endurance style workout) and a bench, step or secure ottoman. Feel free to modify the workout by either performing a slightly easier variation of the exercises, or limiting your reps to YOUR age (if you’re older than I am, you can stop at 46 with me; you’re welcome).

Thanks so much Shannon! You know that I was feeling my butt for a good two days after I filmed this workout, right?

Make sure you check out Shannon’s YouTube channel for more challenging, but fun workouts :)

badass birthday workout

Up next Friday (once I’ve recovered…) is Dai from The Moose is Loose. Be warned, he’s an avid CrossFitter!

Did you like the “badass birthday workout”? Then PLEASE

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Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Hit a strength training plateau? Try pre-exhaust supersets

The other day I wrote about the pitfalls of high repetition strength training.

One of my commenters pointed out that done on an occasional basis, a day or two of high repetition workouts can sometimes help you push past a stubborn strength training plateau. (You know, that exercise that you just can’t increase your weights on no matter how hard you try).

While I agree that this is a reasonable use for high rep training, my go-to ‘strength training plateau buster’ workout  is a pre-exhaust superset.

Let me explain. Compound exercises (which we should all be doing….) require the use of more than one group of muscles. However, not all muscles are created equal. Some are larger, and hence, potentially stronger than others. Often times, it’s the smaller, weaker muscle required for a particular exercise that ‘exhausts’  before the larger, stronger muscle, preventing us from progressing on the lift.

strength training plateau

Take chest presses as an example. Although chest presses target the pectoral muscles, the triceps are needed to extend the arms fully and complete the lift. The smaller, weaker triceps are fatigued at a much lighter load (or volume of repetitions) than required to fatigue the pecs. Unless you work to increase the strength of your triceps, you’ll hit a strength training plateau on this exercise.

Pre-exhaust training offers a solution. Perform two exercises for the target muscle group, super-set style, in the 8 to 12 rep range. (Hint: choose a weight heavy enough to exhaust the target muscle by the end of the set, otherwise you’ll never get over your plateau).

The first exercise of the pair will be an isolation exercise; one that doesn’t require the assistance of the smaller, weaker muscle that’s inhibiting progress. Work to failure and then immediately follow with a compound exercise targeting the same muscle group. The larger muscle, although temporarily fatigued, will be assisted by the smaller muscle, allowing you to continue stressing it and ultimately, increasing its strength.

I use pre-exhaust training in my own workouts every few months, for a week or two at a time (caution, if you overuse the technique, like any other form of training, your body will adapt to it and it won’t have the same benefits). I’ve found it a particularly useful technique for overcoming strength training plateaus of the chest, back and biceps.

Try the following exercise combinations and see if the pre-exhaust method doesn’t make a difference in your training.

Chest: Incline dumbbell flys (isolation) followed by chest (or incline) chest presses (compound)

Back: Seated row (isolation) followed by barbell bent over row (compound)

Biceps: Preacher curl (isolation) followed by under hand grip chin ups (compound)

strength training plateau

Have you ever tried pre-exhaust training?

What’s your go-to strength training plateau busting technique? 

 

 

Ensemble of confidence | a strength training guest post from Contemplative Fitness

My friend and fellow personal trainer, Roy Cohen’s writing (and photographs) always makes me stop, reflect and CONTEMPLATE (guess where his blog name comes from?). Please enjoy today’s guest post courtesy of the author of Contemplative Fitness

strength training

“Music has the power of wings.” Mike Scott, of The Waterboys

Music to my nerves…

I practice strength training for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that the connection it fosters between the thinking me, and the physical me can be as soothing and as formative in my life as music has been. In a sense, the act of strength training is music – physical music.

The body in motion, acting as directed by the mind, cooperatively though under stress, is a kinetic ensemble which can blend to create a satisfying result. That kind of ensemble movement can be to feeling, what an ensemble of sounds can be to hearing.

Being strong is a good problem to have…

The utility of strength training in the modern era is unequalled as a form of exercise. That is just my opinion. However, as a person who has taught exercise beyond traditional strength training, and as an athlete who over a lifetime has practiced and participated in many more genres of sport and fitness, I believe my opinion is worth your consideration.

It may be called strength training, but practiced properly its value extends far beyond strength.

Sticks and stones…

There is no type of medicine that can reverse the inevitable loss of bone density which occurs in people beyond middle age. There are some relatively benign medications which can slow down the loss of bones density, and a couple of more harsh medications that can cease it. None of these medications though, can be taken without inherent vulnerabilities disclosed elsewhere.

The regular practice of strength training can slow down the onset of bone density loss in all ages. So long as the strength training is practiced properly, it comes with almost no vulnerabilities. Tension on muscles equals tension on bones, and regular tension on bones is what helps slow down the loss of density.

Love me tendon…

Strength training makes muscles stronger. And trees are made out of wood. What goes largely unrecognized with strength training is that it promotes tendon strength as well. Tendons are where muscles taper, become increasingly dense, and fuse muscles to bone – just above and just below our joints.

Having stronger tendons offers our joints greater support. For those who experience difficulty with joints due to injuries, arthritis, or other damage, having stronger tendons on each side of the joint can offer needed support.

The practice of traditional strength training, using lighter to more moderate weights, performed slowly, and through a complete range of motion will help tendons become stronger. The support increased tendon strength offers those with trouble joints can be summed up in one word; confidence.

In transition…

Of all the values associated with strength training, the one that goes the most unappreciated, underrated, and the one which is rarely maximized by the general fitness population, is the transition phase during the lift.

When one transitions from the eccentric phase of a strength movement (the lowering of the weight), to the concentric phase (the raising of the weight), and maintains absolute control of the weight during this transition, as he applies complete concentration to the muscles involved, true strength is developed. This is the kind of strength that generates confidence as much as it generates power – everyday life kind of strength.

Strength gained from mastering the transition phase of a resistance exercise is most applicable to one’s daily life – much more so than the bragging rights associated with how much weight was on the bar. This can be where mommy strength is created, where the might of a daddy is developed, and where the power of the employee can be cultivated. This is the kind of strength one will appreciate possessing – beyond the gym walls.

Beyond pop: melody, lyrics, and structure…

A pop song is often underappreciated – just something to be heard as background noise or to pass the time. However, there is much more behind a pop song than most people will ever recognize or appreciate. There are benefits to a pop song far beyond superficial entertainment. When one extracts the multitude of values contained in a pop song; the lyrics, the intentions, and the energy, and applies those values to their own frame of mind, a person’s world can be changed for the better.

Traditional strength training is often considered to be superficial, like a pop song. Lifting weights equals bigger muscles, and more strength – big deal.

Like music though, strength training can offer much more when accepted on a more visceral level. When one extracts the multitude of values, and better understands the reaching benefits of strength training, a person’s world can be changed for the better.

Of course the benefits of strength training don’t end there. With regular strength training, one’s blood pressure can be reduced, attention spans can be increased, and mental acuity can be heightened. Strength training can promote better balance, enhance flexibility, and of course, improve our appearance.

Of course all of that should be music to everyone’s ears. Be well… rc

Roy Cohen began his fitness career in 1981 as an instructor for Nautilus Fitness Centers.  He has competed in marathon running, competitive stair climbing, ocean-going paddle board racing, bodybuilding, and obstacle course racing.  He owns the Contemplative Fitness training studio i San Diego, CA, and holds a degree in Exercise Science. He can be found on Facebook at Contemplative Fitness.

#FatblasterFriday | Strength, speed and balance training on the BOSU

I used to teach a weekly Bosu class. Sixty minutes of balance training, core, speed, agility and strength. I gave it up because it conflicted with Sunday family time.

balance training

But I miss it (and my body misses it; the ‘use it or lose it’ principle definitely applies to balance training ;) ).

Never used a Bosu balance trainer before? Here’s what you’re missing out on:

  • improved balance (guess that’s why it’s called a ‘balance’ trainer)
  • better core stabilization (just standing on the dome activates all sorts of tiny stabilizer muscles; muscles you probably didn’t even know you had)
  • stronger knees and ankles (a must if you want to protect yourself from falling on ice or tripping over your children’s toys)
  • enhanced proprioception (knowing where your body is in space)

Today’s #FatblasterFriday workout combines upper and lower body strength moves with some plyometrics and a bit of fast foot work. Only 6 exercises, performed circuit style, 30 s on, 10 s off. Twice through the circuit and you’re free to get on with your day!

You’ll need a set of hand weights and a Bosu balance trainer (but don’t fret if you don’t have one or somebody let the air out of yours… I’ve included Bosu-less options as well).

balance training

Did you like this workout? Then PLEASE

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Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

#FatblasterFriday | Metabolic hotel gym workout

Often, when my personal training clients go on travel, they ask me to give them a hotel gym workout. Something short, whole body and metabolic in nature that can be easily adapted to the sometimes limited types of equipment available in hotel gyms.

hotel gym workout

In other words, nothing that requires a Bosu, TRX, chin up bar, Smith or cable and pulley machine ;)

Most hotel gyms have a couple of pieces of cardio equipment (a treadmill or two, perhaps a bike and an elliptical; alas, never my beloved Cybex ARC trainer), some dumbbells, a flat or incline bench and perhaps a stability ball or two. More bare bones than you might be used to and perhaps a little tight on space, but certainly enough for a whole body, metabolic style workout.

Last week, my family and I headed to Seattle for a few days away at the end of the Christmas break. I purposefully booked a hotel with a gym and packed my exercise clothing. My plan was to fit in at least one hotel gym workout in while we were there.

I did and I filmed it, just for you!

Yes, the film quality is less than great (recorded on an iPhone under glaring fluorescent lights), but just like doing a hotel gym workout, I worked with what I had!

#FatblasterFriday Metabolic Hotel Gym Workout

Equipment required:

  • cardio machine of choice
  • incline bench (can also be done on a flat bench, if need be)
  • dumbbells (1 set of moderate weight, 1 single heavy weight)
  • med ball (the heavier the better; a stability ball can be substituted in a pinch)

Instructions:

  • perform 10 minutes of light to moderate cardio as a warmup
  • go through 3-exercise circuit 3-4 times (it took me 20 minutes to get through it 3 times)
  • rest briefly between circuits (NOT exercises)
  • if you’ve got time and energy, add your favourite body part strength moves at the end (I added chest and back and a bit of core work)
  • stretch and head to dinner!

hotel gym workout

Did you like this workout? Then PLEASE

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  • PIN the above WORKOUT PHOTO
  • GIVE me your FEEDBACK on YouTube or in the COMMENTS section below
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Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

#FatblasterFriday | The ‘snowed in’ home workout

As important as it is to plan and schedule your workouts (“failing to plan is just planning to fail”), sometimes life happens and you can’t get where you need to be when you need to be there. The key to success is being flexible. Change your plan to work with what you’ve got, rather than ditching your workout entirely.

Take this week. Tuesday morning I awoke to Vancouver’s first big snowfall of the year. (If you live somewhere that gets a lot of snow, please don’t laugh; this is a ‘big dump’ for us!)

home workout

As beautiful as it was, there was no way I was driving kids to school (2 miles and uphill all the way…). That also meant I wouldn’t be heading to the gym. Wednesday brought more of the same with the added bonus of a vomiting child. Children at home, a Christmas tree filled living room and too cold to work out outside meant that I needed to get creative.

While I managed my own limited-equipment-at-home workout, filming a workout video for this week’s #FatblasterFriday was out of the question. Rather than leaving you up to your own devices ;), I thought I’d share one of the workouts I did while snowed in.

All you need is a set of hand weights (I used 15 lbs, go lighter if you need to), the bottom step of a flight of stairs and your own body weight. Work through the circuit at least twice, stopping only after the burpees to grab a quick drink and catch your breath!

home workout

If you’re one of those people that really needs company when exercising, check out my #FatblasterFriday playlist on YouTube. I’ll be happy to work out with you if it keeps you from skipping your workout entirely!

Did you like this workout? Then PLEASE

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Does it snow where you live?

Favourite snowy day activity?

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

 

#FatblasterFriday | Best exercises for your back (and back side)

Everybody’s seen that guy  in the gym. You know, the one who loves to train his biceps, chest and abs? Bulging arms. Gorgeous pecs. A well-defined six-pack.

And forward sloping shoulders.

We all love to train the muscles we see in the mirror.

exercises for your back

But what about the muscles that everybody else sees when we turn and leave the room?

exercises for your back

Back of the body (or posterior chain) exercises not only improve how you look (think ‘posture’), done regularly they can also;

  • strengthen your core
  • improve shoulder and hip mobility
  • decrease or eliminate lower back pain
  • reduce your risk of sports-specific injuries
  • burn a lot of calories (when performed at a moderate pace with heavy enough weights)

Today’s #FatblasterFriday workout features some of the best exercises for your back (and back side). Exercises that you can do at home or in a small hotel gym with just two sets of dumbbells. (Exercise balls, UGI and stability are optional).

exercises for your back

Only 6 exercises, performed in superset format (two exercises, worked one after the other with no break in between, for 2 to 3 sets), to work your hamstrings, glutes, lower, mid- and upper-back, triceps and posterior deltoid.

Each superset combination has both a lower and an upper body move. Make sure to choose a weight that will challenge your muscles by the end of 10 repetitions! Watch the video below for explanations of the exercises and tips for making them more difficult (as you get stronger!)

‘Got Your Back’ Workout

What are your favourite exercises for your back?

And your front?

Did you like this workout? Then PLEASE

  • WATCH and DO the workouts with me
  • SUBSCRIBE to fitknitchick on YouTube 
  • CHECK OUT the #FatblasterFriday Playlist for more, real time workouts
  • PIN the above WORKOUT PHOTO
  • GIVE me your FEEDBACK on YouTube or in the COMMENTS section below
  • LIKE and SHARE my videos with your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter

More VIEWS, LIKES, COMMENTS and SHARES –>> More VIDEOS!

Disclaimer: Although I am a registered Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. Always adapt workouts to suit your body and fitness level. Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.