A DIY 30-minute whole body workout

Despite what we personal trainers would like you to think ;) , workout design isn’t rocket science.

30-minute whole body workout

Sure, you need to know about muscles and joints and planes of motion. A bit of information about reps and sets and loads doesn’t hurt either. Throw in a cursory understanding of the types of movements our bodies were designed for and the patience to demand good form of yourself and creating a 30-minute whole-body workout is within almost anybody’s reach.

Note that I’m NOT talking about a PROGRAM designed to meet specific and individualized goals (that’s when having access to a personal trainer’s education, knowledge and experience comes in handy), but rather, a fill-in-the-gaps workout when you don’t have time to get to the gym, don’t know what to do once you get there or just need a change to your regular routine.

A DIY 30-minute whole body workout

Most of the programs I design are based on a finite number of basic movements; squats, lunges, hinges, pushes, pulls, rotations and static holds.

Each of these basic movements has a nearly endless number of variations; variations which differ in complexity, difficulty and the equipment required to perform them.

By simply choosing one of the exercise options from each of the basic movement categories listed below, you’ll have created your own 30-minute whole body workout. Make sure the choices you make challenge you and reflect your current fitness level. If something hurts, don’t do it.

Instructions:

  1. Spend 5-10 minutes warming up. (See this post for my favourite warmup exercises)
  2. Choose one exercise from each of the categories listed below.
  3. Perform 10-15 good form repetitions of each of your chosen exercises, one after the other, in the order listed.
  4. Make sure you choose a weight or variation that makes it difficult for you to complete the last few repetitions.
  5. Rest when necessary; both between exercises and at the end of the circuit.
  6. Repeat the entire circuit once.
  7. Spend 5-10 minutes stretching. (See this post for a video-guided stretch)

Note: Exercise options are listed in order of increasing difficulty, with the least challenging option first and the more challenging options last.

whole body workout

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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.

Pre-strength training warm-up | favourite warm-up exercises

We all know how important it is to start each and every workout with a proper warm up.

Yet many of us, myself included, often rush through, excited to get to the fun part before we’ve really prepared our bodies for the work to come.

favourite warm-up exercises

Me, before a workout!

Goals of a warm-up include:

  • gradually increasing your breathing rate. Lungs provide oxygen to your muscles. During exercise, muscles increase their demand for oxygen. Gradually increasing your respiration will allow you to continue meeting your body’s oxygen demand without the premature accumulation of lactic acid. ‘Feeling the burn’ is great, but not at the beginning of your workout.
  • increasing blood flow to your muscles. Blood carries oxygen from your lungs to your muscles. In order to meet their increased demand for oxygen, blood flow must increase as well. Rhythmic, low intensity movements stimulate the increased flow of blood to muscles and extremities.
  • elevating your heart rate. Your heart serves to pump oxygenated blood from your lungs to the rest of your body. An elevated heart rate is often the most obvious sign that your body is starting to work a bit harder. Aim to increase your heart rate to 60-65% of your heart rate maximum by the end of your warmup.
  • increasing the temperature of your muscles. Warm muscles are more efficient at contracting than cold muscles. They’re also less likely to be injured. I’ll do just about anything to prevent repeating past injuries.
  • lubrication of your joints. As you begin to move, your brain signals the release of synovial fluid within your joints. This fluid acts like a lubricant, allowing the joints to move more smoothly and through an increasingly larger range of motion.
  • enhancing proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space. It’s a fundamental requirement of strength training, particularly when you’re performing single-sided and balance exercises.
  • rehearsing the movements that you’ll be performing during the workout itself. Performing body weight versions of the exercises you’ll be doing during your workout proper is a great way to prepare your body for the work to come. Not only does it help to create a mind-to-muscle connection, it also gently stretches the muscles and ligaments around the joint, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.

My favourite warm-up exercises:

I always begin my warm-up with 4 or 5 minutes of light, whole body movement.

Typically, I hop on the ARC trainer or the rowing machine because they require both my upper and lower body to move in synchrony. I keep the tension low and remember that the level of intensity I work at shouldn’t leave me sweating or out of breath.

Depending on whether I’m planning a upper body, lower body or whole body strength workout, I perform a series of body weight only exercises, working on form, keeping speed low, and increasing my range of motion with every repetition.

Currently, I’m loving the following five warm-up exercises.

Try performing 8 to 10 of each (on each arm or leg, where appropriate), in the order indicated:

1. Toe-touch-bum-drop-hands-up-squat-to-stand. Start by standing with feet hip distance apart. Bending at the waist (and slightly at the knees, if necessary), reach down to touch your toes. Lower your bum toward the floor. From this position, extend both arms straight up overhead. Push through your heels to return to standing. I don’t have a better name for this movement. Suggestions?

favourite warm-up exercises

squat to stand

 

2. Body weight squats. Start with feet slightly wider than hip distance, toes turned out just a bit. Bend at the knees and hips to drop your bum down and back. As you do so, extend your arms straight out in front of your, keeping your eye focus across the room and your chest ‘proud’. Push through your heels to return to standing, lowering your arms to your sides as you do so.

3. Arm windmills. Kinda like they sound. Stand tall, with feet under hips, a slight bend in the knee and core held tight. Windmill your straight arms forwards (one arm will be at the top when the other is at the bottom). Change directions and repeat.

4. 1/4-of-the-hour clock lunges.Start by standing with feet together and hands at your sides. Step forward with your right foot, into a high lunge position. This is 12:00. Step back to the starting position before stepping your right leg out to the side, dropping your bum into a lateral lunge. You’re now at 3:00. Step back to the starting position before stepping your right leg (still) backwards into a back lunge. 6:00 and counting. Step back to the starting position before crossing your right leg over your left and dropping into a x-over lunge. You’ve reach 9:00. Repeat several times with the right leg before switching to the left. (Note that the order of movements on the left will be 12:00, 9:00, 6:00 and 3:00 for the x-over lunge).

favourite warm-up exercises

1/4 of the hour clock lunges

 

5. Walk-out planks.Start by standing with feet together, hands at your sides. Bend at the knees, hips and ankles to place your hands on the ground, as close to your feet as possible. Walk your hands forward until they’re directly under your shoulders. You’re now in high plank position. Walk hands back in towards your feet, bending at the knees, hips and ankles to return to standing.

favourite warm-up exercises

I finish my warm-up by performing a warm-up set of my first lift or two (today, that means I’ll be starting with dumbbell chest presses and bent over rows). Try 10-15 repetitions at 50% of your working load before your start your set proper (and note, the warm-up set doesn’t count as part of your workout ;) ).

The whole routine takes me 10 minutes or so. Then I’m warm enough to move on to the ‘fun’ part of my workout!

What does your typical warm-up look like?

Do you include any of my favourite warm-up exercises in your workout?

Tips to break through strength training plateaus

We’ve all been there before.

strength training plateaus

Despite training regularly, giving yourself adequate rest and recovery and following a sensible nutrition plan, we stop making gains in the gym.

Identical weight on our shoulder press for weeks at a time. Can’t manage a single more pushup than we were doing a month ago. Leg day still leaves us limping and sore. Measurements not budging an inch (or even a quarter or an inch).

The good news is, sometimes all we need is a little change to our routine to start making progress, once again.

Below, you’ll find a list of suggestions for ‘tweaking’ your strength training program to push past plateaus.

Note that none of these tweaks will help you, if your primary reason for stalling out is lack of consistency. (Read more about the importance of consistency and progression here.).

Get consistency working for you first, then try one (or more) of the following (the easiest tweaks are listed first, with progressively larger  programming changes listed later).

Tips to break through strength training plateaus:

  1. Swap out an exercise or two. Stalling out on pushups? Try subbing in bench presses instead. Pull-ups still a pipe-dream? Lat pull downs may be just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, all our bodies need to break through a plateau is a slight variation on the exercise theme.
  2. Change the order of your exercises. Always finish chest before shoulders? Try reversing the order. Oftentimes, it’s the smaller, stabilizer muscles that limit our ability to progress with a lift. You may be fatiguing the muscles that stabilize and assist the lift with an exercise performed earlier in your program.
  3. Switch up the tempo of your lifts. Many people naturally perform strength exercises using a 2-0-2-0 tempo; 2 seconds to lift the weight, 2 seconds to lower the weight, with no pause at either the top or the bottom of the movement. Try slowing down the working (concentric) phase of your lifts or pausing for a second at the top. Both will change the amount of time that your muscles remain under tension; a critical factor in increasing muscle strength and size.
  4. Try using a different grip. When you change the grip you use to perform an exercise, you recruit new muscle fibres (and sometimes entirely new muscles); fibres (and muscles) that, when strengthened, may improve your ability to lift a heavier load. Here’s a more detailed description of grips and angles (with examples of exercises where this approach can be extremely beneficial).
  5. Switch your bench from flat to incline (or decline). Just like changing grips, modifying the angle of your weight bench will also lead to the activation of additional muscle and muscles fibres. Make sure to move the weights  perpendicular to the floor to get the greatest benefit from this approach (and to protect your shoulders during presses, flys and rows).
  6. Vary your reps, sets and load. If you always perform 3 sets of 10 reps using the same weight, your body will get used to the routine and stop being stimulated to change by it. Try periodizing your workout, changing reps, sets and load in a linear and progressive fashion. Or alternate high rep/low load and low rep/high load workouts. You can even combine low and high rep exercises within a workout. When it comes to varying reps, set and load, you’re only limited by your imagination.
  7. Change your training style. If you’ve stalled out on body part splits, change the way your pair them. Alternatively, try a whole body program for a month or two and see if that makes a difference. Vice versa works too.
  8. Overhaul your program. If you’ve been doing the same program consistently (there’s that word again) for a month or more, a new program may be just what your body needs to kick start progress. Not sure where to start? Hire a fitness professional to create a program that addresses your individual goals, abilities and training schedule.

I’ve had success with each of the above ‘tweaks’; both in my own training and when training clients in the gym.

I’d love to hear your success stories.

Which of the above ‘tweaks’ have you employed to successfully work through a strength training plateau?

Have you used a technique that’s not on my list? Please share it with me and my readers!

Let’s stay in touch! Sign up here for email updates and advance notification of my online training programs.

 

 

 

40+ Female Fitness Group Training | register now for June

40+ Female Fitness Group Training ProgramAre you a 40+ female?
Struggling with weight gain and muscle loss?
Usual workouts and nutrition plan stopped working?
Get up and go, got up and went?
Carbohydrate cravings out of control?
Looking for answers and accountability?
Need a support group of like-minded women that you feel free to share your successes and frustrations with?

 Let me help via Online Group Training

For the past six months, I’ve been offering a behind-the-scenes monthly training program for ‘graduates’ of my 10-week Online 40+ Female Fitness Group Training course (alas, the final session of this course is coming to an end and I won’t be running it again in it’s current form; sign up for email updates to be the first to receive details of a new, peri-menopausal training course to be offered starting this fall…)

One of the most surprising things to emerge from this program (besides abs, triceps and pecs ;) ), is the incredible sense of camaraderie that’s developed in the private Facebook group. Participants check in daily, sharing their workouts plans, clean eating recipe ideas, personal health challenges and struggles.

In an effort to help even more women feel strong and happy in their mid-life bodies (and with the blessing of the group’s current participants), I’ve decided to drop the ‘pre-requisite’ and open up the course. But I’ll be capping the group size at 35.

Usually, I ask for a 3-month commitment. But because you haven’t worked with me before, I’m offering a single month registration for you to ‘test the waters’, so to speak. I’m confident that you’ll love it as much as the rest of the group and will happily extend your membership at the end of the month :)

Check out what other participants of the program have to say about it here >>> Scroll to the bottom of the page to read client testimonials.

Group Training is appropriate for fitness levels ranging from advanced beginner all the way up to experienced lifter. 

If you’ve never lifted weights before or have physical limitations that require more individualized attention, you’d be better off with in-person one-on-one training. While the workouts I provide are customizable, you’ll need to be able to do that for yourself, within the options provided.

Workouts can be done at home or in the gym. If you’re planning on exercising at home, you’ll need an assortment of dumbbells, a stability ball and a yoga mat. Sometimes I provide extra options for those with additional equipment (e.g., Bosu, TRX, resistance bands).

What does the Monthly 40+ Female Fitness Group Training program include?

  • an individually customizable workout specifically designed for women dealing with the challenges of mid-life hormonal change (including modifications for varying fitness levels and abilities)
  • access to a participants-only video exercise demonstration library (so you can make sure you’re doing the exercises properly)
  • membership in a private Facebook group (to get quick answers to questions and to provide accountability and a sense of community)
  • summaries of the latest scientific research about fitness, nutrition, lifestyle and hormonal change (translated into every day language :) )
  • 24/7 e-support (or as close to it as I can manage given that one of the most important tools for dealing with hormonal issues is adequate sleep!)

How much does it cost?

Cost: $25
Payment: via PayPal only

When does it start?

Registration for June 2014 is now CLOSED. Watch for details about registering for July, August and September, towards the end of the month.

Note that no latecomers will be admitted as the turn-around time for completing paperwork and accessing the Facebook group is very tight.

 

5 training elements to include in every workout

Are you a Pinterest-addict? I’ll admit that I’ve spent more than my fair share of Friday evenings Pinning workouts, recipes and home decor ideas! Today’s post is part of a ‘Pin It Party’, hosted by Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean. I’d love it if it you’d join in by first, pinning any of the images below that you’d like to keep for later reference then heading over to Lindsay’s site and checking out all the other great images my healthy living bloggers have created, just for the pinning!

Most weeks I create a dozen or more workouts. For my group training clients, my group fitness participants and of course, myself!

In addition to including strength and cardiovascular components, each workout typically includes the following five training elements; power training, speed and agility work, unilateral (or offset load) exercise, core work and flexibility training.

Although the relative importance of each element varies with the type of class I’m teaching and each client’s unique goals, if functional fitness is your goal (and it should be if you want to be able to keep doing the things you love for another 20 or more years…) including a few minutes of each in your workout is the best way to ensure a well-rounded fitness program.

1. Power training

Power is the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction in an explosive burst of movement. Not something that you’ll need to do often, but when it’s necessary (like getting out of the way of an oncoming car or dodging a flying object aimed at your head) you’ll be glad you spent a little time training for it. In addition to improving your reaction time, power training is also a great way to increase strength, burn a few extra calories and improve your cardiovascular function.

Try adding in one or two power moves after your warmup, but before the strength component of your workout. I like to alternate upper and lower body power moves from one workout to the next.

Power it up workout from fitknitchick.com

2. Speed and agility work

Unlike power training, speed and agility work focuses on rapid, unweighted movements, most often forward and backward or side to side. If you have small children, you’ll recognize the value of being able to rapidly change direction so as not to trip over the toys that inexplicably get left on the stairs.

Aim for short bursts of intense effort, choosing simple movements that don’t require much concentration. For example, fast feet or lateral hop squats on the Bosu balance trainer. Even more fun? Grab a skipping rope and re-connect with your inner child.

Bosu balance trainer workout from fitknitchick.com

3. Unilateral or offset load exercises

Whenever you ask one side of your body to do something different from the other, you’re performing a unilateral or offset load exercise. Benefits include improved balance and kinesthetic awareness, reduced left-right side imbalances (we all have ‘dumb’ side…) and a little extra core training. Make sure to switch sides between sets so as not to exacerbate the difference between your strong and weak sides!

Offset load workout from fitknitchick.com

 4. Core or abdominal work

I have yet to meet a client who doesn’t want to firm up their midsection. Although many of the strength exercises I prescribe are core-based (for example, the unilateral and offset moves described above), adding a few isolated abdominal exercises at the end of the workout is a great way to cool down and transition from the strength component of the workout to flexibility training. Here are a few of my favourite stability ball core moves.

5. Flexibility training

For many, stretching is the reward at the end of a challenging workout. Time to slow down, focus on lengthening the muscles and enjoy the feeling of a job well done. For best results, ease into each stretch, hold for at least 15 to 30 seconds, avoid bouncing, breath-holding and pain. Choose at least one stretch for each of the muscle groups you worked. Add a second stretch for joints that are particularly tight (chests, shoulders and hips are the ones I typically see needing attention).

5 Reasons to Stretch more often from fitknitchick.com

What are your favourite training elements? Is there one that you always include in your workouts? One that you need to include more often? ;)

 

Baby it’s hot outside | tips to keep cool during summer workouts

We Canadians love to talk about the weather.

That would be degrees Celcius...

That would be degrees Celcius…

And what a weather week it’s been! Record temperatures up and down the west coast. Unseasonable heat and humidity. No leisurely stroll from spring to summer this year! No sir-ree. Straight into the dog days of summer and the extra challenges heat brings to our workouts.

When exercising in an environment that’s warmer than the body is accustomed to, tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin open to make it make it easier for heat to leave the body and maintain homeostasis. Consequently, both stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each beat) and venous return (the amount of de-oxygenated blood returning from the body to the lungs via the heart) decline. In order to satisfy the muscles’ need for oxygen, heart rate will increase above what it would if you were performing the very same exercise at a lower temperature.

The bottom line? Your workout will feel more difficult than usual and you’ll most likely tired more rapidly.

Oh, and did I mention that if you’re prone to peri-menopausal hot flashes, elevated body temperature often acts as a trigger? Nice, ‘eh? (Click on over to my resource page for ‘hot chicks’ to see how exercise, sleep and nutrition can help with your ‘favourite’ menopausal symptoms…)

Want to get the most out of exercising in the heat? Give the following ‘keep cool during summer workouts’ tips a try:

  • choose cooler times of the day to exercise; even if you exercise in an air-conditioned gym, as the temperature outside increases, the temperature and humidity inside will as well. Switch your workout times to earlier in the morning or later in the evening to take advantage of the coolest times of the day. Even more important if you exercise out-of-doors.
  • replenish fluids regularly during your workout; aim to drink 7 to 10 ounces of water ever 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. Cooler water is best as it empties more quickly from the stomach to where it’s absorbed in the intestines.
  • maximize the evaporation of sweat; sweating is one of the ways in which your body regulates its internal temperature. For sweat to lower body temperature, it must evaporate. Minimize clothing when exercising in hot weather to maximize the evaporation of sweat. Choose lightweight, wicking fabrics over cotton and rubberized materials. Light colours reflect heat better than dark colours. And wearing a light-coloured hat can help you from absorbing heat through the top of the head.
  • temporarily reduce your workout intensity; if your regular workout feels too difficult to perform when the temperature soars, reduce the intensity. That might mean slowing your cardio pace, performing few sets of strength training exercises with longer rests between sets or even reducing your weekly workouts by one. Remember that your heart is working harder than it would be if you were doing the very same workout on a cooler day.
  • swap ‘hot’ workouts for ‘cool’ workouts; if you have access to a swimming pool or ice arena, try changing your activity for the duration of the heat wave. Being immersed in water moderates your body’s internal temperature. And there’s nothing like the initial shock of entering a skating arena on a hot day to energize and invigorate. In addition to cooling you off, spending time in the pool or on the ice is a great way to introduce more variety to your exercise routine.

If all else fails, set up your sprinkler in the front yard and practice squatting, jumping and sprinting through the spray. Just make sure to tell the kids it’s your workout time and they’ll need to wait their turn ;)

Source: www.dreamstime.com

Source: www.dreamstime.com

 

 

From knees to toes | tips for progressing your pushups

Pushup_ProgressionsMany newcomers to strength training find it difficult to progress their pushups.

After weeks of performing longer and longer sets of knee pushups, they’re often disappointed when they finally attempt and are unable to perform even a single pushup on their toes. (Of course, sometimes progress takes longer than we think it should; make sure your expectations are reasonable… ).

This isn’t surprising, given that a standard toe pushup requires you to be able to press approximately 65% of your body weight; more than double the 30% required by a knee pushup.

When we progress our squats and shoulder presses, we rarely increase the load by more than 10% at a time. How then does one get from knee pushups to toe pushups? Below, I share my tips for progressing your pushups.

Tips for progressing your pushups

  • work on depth (or range of motion) before increasing the difficulty. I’d rather my clients be able to perform 5, chest to the floor toe pushups than 15 shallow, elbow bends.
  • add one or two reps of a more challenging version to the beginning of each and every set. If you can perform 10 or 12 deep, chest-to-the-floor knee pushups, try beginning each set with one or two toe pushups, then dropping back to your knees to complete the remainder of your reps. Increase the number of toe pushups gradually over time, until your entire set can be performed on your toes.
  • use ‘negatives’ to increase strength and endurance. Starting on hands and toes, bend your elbows to slowly lower your body to the floor. As you do so, you’ll reach a ‘sticking’ point; the point at which your muscles are no longer strong enough to support your weight. Let yourself collapse to the ground from this point, rest and try again. With negatives, the slower you go, the more challenging the exercise. Try adding one or two ‘negative’ pushups to the beginning of your regular set.
  • vary the position of your hands to challenge different aspects of the muscle. A wider hand placement will emphasize the medial chest (as well as the front of your shoulders). A narrowed hand placement will emphasize the triceps. Staggering your hands (one slightly forward of the other) will force the top-most portion of the chest muscles to work a little harder on one side than the other.
  • elevate your toes to increase the load you’re pressing and encourage greater participation of the upper pectorals. Toes can be placed on a phone book, low step, or even a weight bench. The higher they’re elevated, the more challenging the pushup.
  • add some extra core involvement by performing your pushups on an unstable surface. For example, place your feet on a Bosu or stability ball. Or in the handles of a TRX suspension trainer. Ensure that you keep your core and gluteals muscles contracted throughout to protect the lower back.
  • rest adequately between pushups workouts. Practicing your pushups daily is counterproductive. Like any other muscle, the pectorals need time to repair and recover before they’re challenged again. Try waiting 48 to 72 hours between pushups workouts; use those days to train the opposing back muscles for improved posture, muscular balance and functionality!

Watch the video below for an explanation of three techniques that I use with my clients to get them from knees to toes!

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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.

 

 

Progressing your at-home beginner strength workout

Congrats! You’ve spent the last month working through the at-home beginner strength workout I created for you way back in February, right?

You’re probably feeling stronger. A little less post-workout fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness. Maybe you’ve even increased the weight on your rows and shoulder presses.

It’s time to up the ante and progress your beginner program.

Why? Your body has likely become adapted to the exercises you’ve been doing. They’re just not challenging you the way they used to and if you want to keep seeing the benefits of strength training, you need to make your body work a little harder. You need to keep progressing your at-home beginner strength workouts.

Each of the six exercises in the workout below builds on the foundation you’ve created over the past month. Rather than teach you all new exercises, I’ve increased the level of difficulty of the original workout. I’ve removed the ball from the ball squats. Challenged you to advance your knee pushups and planks to the toe variation. Added movement to the lunges. Etc.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite ready to progress each and every exercise; toe pushups and planks are much harder than the knee variations. And of course, feel free to use heavier dumbbells than you did last month; increasing the load is a tried-and-true way to progress any workout.

at home beginner strength workout

1. Start with a light, 5 minute warmup. Include movements like walking, marching, arm swings, stair climbing, low impact jumping jacks and cross-country skis.

2. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise (except the plank; just hold it as long as you can), one after the other, with a short break between exercises. Move slowly and through as big a range of motion as is comfortable.

3. Take a quick break and repeat the entire circuit. If you’re ‘done’, skip to step 5.

4. If you have a bit more energy, repeat the circuit a third time, then stop and stretch.

5. Finish your workout by stretching the muscles of your thighs, chest, back, glutes and shoulders. Not sure what to stretch (or why you’re stretching at all)? Read this post and watch the imbedded video.

6. Perform this workout two to three times per week for a minimum of three weeks before trying to make the exercises harder.

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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.

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?