Outdoor Sprint and Kettlebell Workout

My first topless picture on the interwebz woooo!!!! Anyways…..

Do you ever get bored doing the same old workouts at the same gym at the same time week in and week out?  Squats on Monday, bench on Tuesday, deadlifts the rest of the week.  Well, deadlift err day, who am I kidding?  Well, no one is as much of a stickler to a program or routine than myself.

Being the type-A person and coach that I am it is hard to break away from a program that is getting results and do something that is not strategically planned out.  Heck, I don’t think I’ve missed a planned training session in years and even drive 30min to train at powerlifting gym on the other side of Boston.  Oh yeah, there’s traffic.  grumble grumble

But one thing that I believe needs to be said is that training is NOT all about the results.  Sometimes you just gotta have some fun, let loose and break the routine.  Do something fun, different, get out of your comfort zone.  We all need a mental break every once in a while.

Lindsay and I did just that this afternoon and got outside for a sprint and kettlebell workout in the sun with my new stash of bells that we picked up Monday for the new studio.  Gotta test out the new gear, right?

Gives the car that new kettlebell smell!

Here is our workout:

The Warmup

The Workout

A) 20 Yard Sprints @ 85-90% max x 8

*recovery is how long it takes to walk back to start

B1) KB TGU 3×2/side

B2) KB Swings 3×20

C1) KB Bottoms Up Clean and Press 3×5/side

C2) Tree Pullups 3xmax

C3) KB Snatch 3 x 10/side

C4) Rotational Medball Throw Against Wall 3×10/side

The Recovery

All in all it was a solid workout and the best part was training with my beautiful wife…who totally smoked me in sprints.  Bahahaha, just kidding. (yes, that last comment means I’m cooking dinner tonight)  It was, though, hands down the most fun training session I’ve had all summer!

Salmon and fresh dill from the farmshare for dinner then back to work setting up AMP Fitness!  Try this workout and since you can do it indoors at your gym as well there are no excuses!  Talk soon :-)

I Strength Train….Why Does My Back Still Hurt??? (Part 1)

This was the the subject line of an email I opened this morning from an athlete with whom I have consulted in the past.  I’m sure this is a question that many people have as it is a common misconception that back health is directly related to core strength.  It is not.

In the email he went on to share his numbers for the big lifts and mentioned that he foam rolled religiously as I recommended.  ”Shouldn’t that be enough?”

Well, it is a start but in my experience both isometric and dynamic core strength has little to do with predicting low back pain.  Foam rolling may help to release tight tissues but there is a big chance that this in’t the underlying issue.  So much so that I have to turn this into a 2 or 3 part post.

I could write a book on the subject, er, well maybe I’m not quite there yet but some great books have been written on the topic of back rehab and performance.  If your interested (I know you are!) then I recommend checking out both Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance by Dr. McGill.  For coaches who work with real people, this is a must!

What I have found to have a profound impact on backs is posture which is a combination of both muscle function and endurance as well as mobility in the hips and shoulders.  Programming for both rehabbing a bad back and prevention should include components of both.  I would even go as far as to say this type of programming should be included in anyone’s regimen that works at a desk.  Just sayin’.

*Please note that I did not mention back flexibility.  Did you make a note?  Ok, good.  Stop trying to stretch your back.  It typically makes things worse by temporarily masking pain.  

Function

Contrary to what most people believe, functional training is more than ‘doing what you do in real life’ and definitely not one-leg squatting on a balance board while pressing a 3lb dumbbell overhead with your eyes closed (don’t laugh, I have seen this done).  In general function refers to proper motor patterns (think computer hardware but in your nervous system).

For instance, many people with low back pain “forget” how to use their gluteal muscles.  All this means is they generally use their backs more and their hips less.  As simple as it sounds, this is common in anyone who sits at a desk all day and/or neglects properly using or training those muscles.

This is where most conventional training methods lack.  Here are 3 common exercise modalities that may contribute to your low back pain:

  1. Machines - If you look around the gym, most of the ‘functional’ training equipment requires you to sit.  Forget about dynamic stability, your glutes are taking a back seat.  The leg press machine may be one of the worst as it flexes your spine under load which can lead to even bigger problems!
  2. Ellipticals – These boast less pressure on your knees put most people in a position where they never really have to fully extend at the hip or knee.  I would argue that walking on a treadmill (although less intense) will go a much longer way to protecting your back muscles!
  3. Cycling or Spinning – I call this the silent ‘ass’assin (trade-marked) since most avid cyclists don’t realize the damage they are ultimately doing.  Not only is the back typically fully flexed but the hips are in chronic flexion as well which inhibits proper gluteal function.  What happens here is you have someone with piss poor glute function, overly dominant quads and hams and chronic back pain.

With the above examples, many of these people continue to train this way with no relief.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for doing something and I may get some hate-mail for bashing spinning (I really didn’t) so I want to let you know there IS a way to continue doing these things.  It is by doing other things!

Simply supplementing your training with extra glute work to ensure that those buns are firing on all cylinders.  It can be as easy as adding various glute bridge exercises to your warm-up and spending a day or two doing some actual strength work.  I am biased but deadlifts and squats always work here provided you are not dealing with any pain.

I will also recommend adding direct glute work such as barbell glute bridges and hip thrust variations to your strength training and preventative program.  Please not that these exercises should be used for strengthening and preventative measures and may aggravate an already bad back when done improperly.  Rehab first, train second.  That said, here are some great videos to get you started:

Single Leg Glute Bridge

Single Leg Hip Thrust

Barbell Glute Bridge

Barbell Hip Thrust

The other half of the functional equation is motor patterning.  As sexy as that sounds this is the basis of how we move whether it is doing a deadlift, picking up a penny off the ground or reaching for a glass.  Your body has patterns that sequence the muscles you use to perform these tasks.

For instance, lets take someone picking up a penny off the ground.  If their glutes aren’t firing properly they will probably bend from the back and use their hamstrings and sensitive back muscles to return to standing.  Someone who uses their glutes will sit back (maintaining a more neutral spine) and use their glutes, hams, and to a MUCH lesser extent their back.  This would be the basis of the deadlift pattern.  Now do you see why I promote a steady diet of deadlifts, meat and veggies?

The correct pattern would be this:

Not this:

That covers some of the basics of the functional side of preventative training for your back but remember that this is only part of the puzzle.  Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 where I will go over mobility and posture to rehab and prevent back pain.

Dead Bugs Are the Best Core Exercise You’re Probably Not Doing

Happy 4th of July everyone!  I know I’m a few days late but I was off the grid all last week celebrating Lindsay and my honeymoon in Aruba and I can neither confirm nor deny working out.  We did use the hotel gym one day and did some Turkish Get-Ups, dumbbell snatches, lunges, pullups and ran on the beach once but that was about the extent of it.

We did however impress the passengers on the Jolly Pirate with our rope-swing-double-back-flips.  I even piggybacked on Lindsay as she swung us into the abyss with a standing ovation… we’re totally considering running away with the circus!  I guess all that core training over the past couple years has come in handy!

Before I get into today’s post I also want to share one of the coolest things we have ever done together.  We decided to do a bit of wreck diving and spent a day with the fishes exploring reefs, wrecks and having staring contests with moray eels.  This may become a new hobby!

Lindsay was wondering if she could squat the boat....

Lindsay was wondering if she could deadlift the boat…. she totes could!

Before you go into post holiday panic mode about the lack of workouts coupled with the mass quantities of grilled meats, chips, beer and other BBQ fare you indulged in last week I want you to remember one thing: it happens.  For your own sanity (and that of your trainers) you are not derailed nor did you gain 10 lbs of fat.  I promise.  Just get back to your normal strength training routine and eat something green!

Chances are you did something active over the weekend that burned just as many calories as a workout if not more!  The truth is that you only burn so many calories when you work out so in many cases that number is arbitrary.  If you have been following this site for any amount of time you should at LEAST know 2 things:

  1. Abs are made in the kitchen.  If you want to get lean you MUST train your diet by consuming the right amount of calories (usually less than what you are now) and nutrients (e.g. protein, healthy fats and vegetables).  This is non-negotiable.
  2. When you go to the gym, train to get better at something.  Think: get stronger, move better, counteract sitting at a desk all day, master an exercise, survive the zombie apocalypse.  Anything works here and no, you are not getting much done on an elliptical or doing bicep curls with 5lb dumbbells.

That being said, one of the most popular questions I get asked hands down is:

“What is the best exercise to train my core?”

Without making this a debate about what the ‘core’ and your core muscles actually are I think most of you can agree that a strong core will protect your back and help you move better.  Am I right?

Dead bugs are the answer.  Plus it is fun to go home and say “I did dead bugs today, I think I am going to bare-hand wrestle an alligator later.  Beast mode on!”

Key points:

  • keep your hips neutral
  • move opposite limbs simultaneously
  • tuck your chin into your neck…find neutral
  • keep your lower abs engaged (gently squeezed)….do this for your mid- back and other trunk muscles as well while your at it
  • slowly exhale when you are fully extended then SLOWLY <—–(pay attention to this) return to start
  • do NOT let the non-moving limbs more towards your center.  This is compensation.

The long title of this post is true for most people and even if you have done dead bugs before there is a chance you aren’t doing them right.  Read the rules above.

I always tend to see simple and basic exercises like this butchered worse than Lindsay Lohan’s career because people want to upgrade to the cool new progression on YouTube (usually crap) or speed through it thinking they need to burn calories with other ‘stuff’.

Try this regression to keep everything tight!

The truth is that when dead bugs are well done you will almost automatically feel better, move better, perform better and be able to do most other exercises better.  I put them in 99.9% of my client’s warm-ups and periodically stick them in  strength programs paired with pretty much anything.  They even work well in a cardio or metabolic circuit or whatever you want to call them.  They will make you sweat more if you are already sweating.  Promise.

Remember, we do core exercises to move and feel better (e.g. protect your lower back).  If you want a 6-pack train your diet!  Don’t worry, I will keep reminding you. :-)

Before You Clean and Jerk….

Okay lets get the giggles out now.  Yes, for some reason whomever named the olympic lifts had a sick sense of humor that immediately brings out the dirty little kid in people.  All “that’s what she said” jokes aside though, the olympic lifts can be hands down some of the best weapons in your arsenal to building a strong, lean, athletic body as well as keep your mind sharp.

If you are an avid reader of my site I’m sure you already appreciate the functional side of training and enjoy everything from heavy deadlifts to farmer carries to joint mobility work.  You understand you are not only meant to move but you are meant to move well and move heavy objects.  This is what will keep you strong, young and toit like toiger.

I know you already squat, deadlift, press, squat, do pullups, and more squats followed by more deadlifts so why should you bother with the olympic lifts or their alternatives?  Besides doing things that no one else in the gym is doing (you know you love doing that!) they have some added benefits that traditional strength exercises don’t.

  • Build explosive strength (e.g. moving weights/bodyweight faster) which translates into sport as well as IRL IMO.
  • You get quite strong without bulking up. (note: this shouldn’t be a factor but it holds some truth)
  • Stay mentally sharp.  Just practicing the olympic lifts creates an environment for your brain to problem solve which will, uh, make you wicked smaht.  (Yes, I am from Boston)
  • Stay neurologically sharp.  This is a littler harder to explain but your body’s neurological system will increase connectivity (via increasing myelination….think the rubber coating around electrical wire) which will thus increase strength, balance, coordination, and your ability to do Gangnam Style.
  • You like making people stare at the gym.  This is inevitable due to your sheer awesome factor.

The challenge here is really learning how to do the Olympic lifts well in the time period most trainees are accustomed to: NOW.  Well, speaking from experience it just doesn’t happen like that.  Especially when things like mobility, stability and coordination all come into play at higher speeds than most people are used to lifting at.  This is a recipe for ‘oh shit!’ if ever I saw one.

Well, that’s the rub.  But if you are interested in taking a step back to really hammer all the moving parts and work towards learning one of the most beneficial weightlifting exercises I will give you some things to master.  Try hard, you must.  That was Yoda in case you were wondering.  (P.S. the new Star Trek movie blows the newest Star Wars out of the water)

Components of The Clean and Jerk a.k.a. The Exercises to Master

1. Deadlift

Get good at conventional deadlifting as the first moves to master are the hip hinge and the pull.  Use all different weights, reps and speeds to really hammer technique and learn how to control the bar.  I’m a big fan of using both heavy pulls (such as sets of 3 with the most weight you can do with good form) and dynamic pulls (such as sets of 3 with lighter weight e.g. 1/2 of what you used in the heavy pulls but done fast) in the same training cycle or program.

 Note: The closer you can get your deadlifts to look like Eric Cressey’s deadlifts the more starving 3rd world children will be saved.  There is direct corrolation.

2. Kettlebell Cleans

If you are asking why you should clean with a kettlebell before the bar then you have realized it is basically the same exercise.  Using the kettlebell, though, is much safer, requires less time to master, is easier on the wrists (when done properly) and works on imbalances (done with one arm at a time).  I like to call these entry level olympic lifts for the business class.

Marianne’s accent makes it legit.

3. Front Squat

There are few exercises that make you as awesome at everything (including life) as good ‘ol front squats.  I think it is reasonable to recommend that most trainees move towards a comfortable front squat to depth with bodyweight or more on the bar.  This is a great start towards getting into the clean and jerk.  Even better is learning to do it with the olympic grip which becomes increasingly important if you want to get into weightlifting.

Here is a video for grip setup:

Front Squat Video (Molly Galbraith 210lbs x 3)

4. Push Press

If you are unsure of your shoulder and spine mobility (if you have no clue what that means then I highly recommend) then I recommend starting with the dumbbell version or even better the one arm dumbbell version.  This exercise is NOT a slow movement.  Done properly it will teach you how to transfer force from the ground, through your core and into your press.

It is challenging at first to get the move but think of pushing the weight up with your legs and punching the ceiling.  To do this you need a minimal bend in your knees.  Also, make sure to pause at the bottom and top of the exercise to make it more sequential.

Yes, that video is in Swedish.  Booyah!

One of my favorite super sets which I have come across in many different programs is pairing front squats with dumbbell push presses or one-arm push presses. It is a brutal combo to get you stronger in no time!

If you want to crush weights and look good nekkid then I recommend doing one or all of these exercises in a workout and progress towards increasing the weight and slowly learning how to incorporate them all into the clean and jerk.  To give you an idea of what that exactly is, here is video of my c&j attempts.  It definitely needs some TLC but not too shabby for not training the olympic lifts since college.  Practice, practice, practice!

Intermittent Fasting 101

Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the past several years (especially in the fitness industry) and consequently I have been getting more and more questions from clients and readers asking if all the hype is true.  That said, I decided to do my due diligence and research the hell out of IF and even start my own little fasting experiments.

First off, as crazy as fasting sounds it has been around for centuries and implemented by many different cultures in many different ways.  I’m sure most of you are familiar with the observation of such fasting holidays as Ramadan and Lent (there are many more) but fasting has long been used as a method for weight management and hormone optimization dating back to roughly 5th century B.C.!  In fact, the father of all western medicine, Hippocrates, used fasting and exercise as a cure for obesity (go figure).

Obese people and those desiring to lose weight should perform hard work before food.  Meals should be taken after exertion while still panting from fatigue.  They should, moreover, only eat once per day and take no baths and walk naked as long as possible.” – Hippocrates circa 471 BC

^ I totally agree with this guy!

So what exactly is “Intermittent Fasting”?

Simply stated, it is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting and, well, non-fasting (a.k.a. eating).  This can be done in a multitude of ways but the two prominent methodologies that are currently being followed are the Eat-Stop-Eat method developed by Brad Pilon and the Leangains  method by Martin Berhkan, both of whom are highly intelligent and respected individuals.

Here are the basics of each:

  • Eat-Stop-Eat consists of one 24hr fast each week.
  • Leangains consists of a daily 16hr fast followed by an 8hr

It may seem like a lot to some people but considering you fast every night while you sleep and there is a period between your last meal and when you hit the hay and then when you wake up to when you get your first calories in 16hrs doesn’t look so bad.  For most people what it comes down to is a more structured way of eating.

Structuring your eating times or ‘window’ rather than haphazardly eating when you think you should be or when hunger strikes can be a much better approach for some people to keep track of their nutrition not to mention numerous other benefits when done properly.

Why do intermittent fasting?

Although IF may not be for everyone there are some serious benefits that could have some profound effects on your body composition, stress, hormones, strength, and ultimately on your life.  Build more muscle, burn more fat, balance your hormones, have more sex?  Sounds like a no-brainer but I’ll let you be the judge…

I won’t bore you with the sciency details and research but if you are like me and totally into that stuff I recommend reading through Leangains.com and checking out Eat-Stop-Eat.  And if you are really looking for a life changing experience then I highly recommend checking out John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein’s new book, Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha.  It will change your life and challenge anything you have ever known, consider yourself warned.

The benefits:

  • Reduce blood glucose and insulin levels.
  • Increase insulin sensitivity (this is good).  The opposite would be increased insulin resistance which is what causes things like diabetes.  Definitely not good for business.
  • Increase in fatty acid oxidation (via increased growth hormone (GH), glucagon and adrenaline.
  • Muscle tissue sparing.
  • Lower stress markers (blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neuro-degenerative diseases)
  • Increase leptin during times of caloric restriction.  Leptin is a hormone that basically allows for fatloss but decreases significantly during times of strict dieting.  This is why it becomes increasingly difficult to lose fat after the first couple months or so if dieting.
  • Decrease production of thyroid hormones T3 and T4 to allow for greater fat-loss.
  • Decrease/control production of ghrelin.  This is secreted in your stomance to signal hunger, typically during your normal eating schedule.
  • Lower/control cortisol levels.  Higher during your training to improve performance and lower during non-activity to prevent catabolism.
  • Longevity as there are several studies that show fasting will help you live longer.  Be fit and live longer, hmmm….

Other direct benefits to your personal life include not being a slave to eating all day long (face it, we all have busy schedules), having more energy and focus throughout the day, not stressing about all the crap you shouldn’t eat and actually enjoying the foods you want.

What, when and how do I eat?

Traditional or religious fasts typically exclude ingesting any substance which in some cases includes water.  That sucks.  So what most IF protocols allow for is the intake of any non-calorie beverages and some even recommend Green’s Powders.  That means green tea, coffee and of course water are all good.  Not a bad deal right?

As you can see, the fast is the easy part.  So what exactly do you get to eat during your eating window?  Depending on your goals and what IF method you are following you can really just eat as you normally would.  I will say it again: You can eat what you want.  This is NOT paleo although I do recommend eating mostly whole foods.

Obviously there are better foods that you could be eating to get unreal results but the beauty of intermittent fasting is in it’s simplicity; the devil is in the design.  As always, eating the right amount of calories and the right combination of macros (protein/fat/carbs) will go a much further towards helping you reach your goal than blowing your whole load on carbs throughout your whole eating window.  But that choice is yours.

Who is this for?

It may be better to start with who intermittent fasting is not for and no, it is not for everyone.  This is probably not for those who have terrible eating habits and those who still crush McMuffins, Big Gulps, and whole pizzas to their face daily.  For those people first things first and get your habits under control.  Other than that the only other people who may not do well fasting are those who don’t believe that they can fast without murdering their coworkers and significant other.  We feed those people regularly so as not end up on the 6:00 news.

That said, IF works the best for anyone with a busy life, has their nutrition somewhat under wraps, and wants to greatly impact their weightloss and fitness goals.  Not to mention live longer.

Those under the above umbrella may be:

  • busy professionals
  • busy parents
  • Mr. T
  • fitness enthusiasts
  • athletes
  • possibly you!

That’s it!

Since I’m already over 1,000 words I am going to cut myself off there but don’t worry, there will be a follow up to fill in some of the blanks.  I’m sure the big question is what should I be eating for my meals to get the best results so I will make that my next post.

Considering there are many variables to IF I’m sure you all have some burning questions about how you can incorporate this in your own plan.  ASK THEM!  I will answer below :-)