30 Fitness Truths to Keep You Strong and Fit

I read somewhere not too long ago that the strength of the average person peaks at age 30.  Well, I turned 30 this past weekend and I’m out to prove “them” wrong.  Actually, at 30, I’m in the best shape of my life and still see plenty of room for improvement.  At the very least I still plan to dominate a 500lb deadlift since that goal has been on hiatus with all that is going on with planning my training facility.

My goal is to not only hit 500 but to crush it and prove that hypothesis wrong.  The fact is that I’ve only been serious about strength for the past 3 years or so but in that amount of time I have had a multitude of a-ha moments that changed my whole outlook on strength as well as fitness in general.

In no particular order, here are 30 truths that changed my strength and overall fitness for the better…

1. Training movements (eg. deadlift, squat, pull, etc)  trumps training individual muscles (biceps, quads, etc) for overall fitness, longevity, posture, athleticism, and aiding in injury prevention.

2. You can’t train through a poor diet.  Period.  Conversely, you can lose bodyfat with a stellar diet/nutrition plan and a poorly planned fitness program.

3.  Bicep curls are okay if you desire huge biceps.  If you have tight pecs and poor shoulder mobility (most desk jobs) you may increase the risk of elbow tendonitis if you do too many.  Just saying.

4. Deadlifting and training hip extension in general will help most people/athletes run faster, jump higher and prevent injury when done properly.

5. The best combination for fat-loss is 2-3 days of strength training for 30-45min sessions along with 1-3 days of cardiovascular work for 10-20min each week AS WELL AS regular activity daily (eg not sitting).  That is a minimum of 1.5 hrs per week and a maximum of 3.5 hrs per week of training.  Too little or too much will not provide great results.  Nothing will work without decent nutritional habits.

photo credit: Jalbus Photo

Jen Sinkler

6. Kettlebells are perhaps the best tool for the general fitness population when it comes to functional training.

7. It is important to squeeze your butt during most exercises for many reasons.  Safety, posture, strength to name a few.  And honestly, we all want nice butts! :)

8. It is easier for those who move well to gain strength, decrease body fat, prevent injury, and become more athletic.  Move well then move often.

9. Farmer carries are easily the best bang-for-your-buck exercise when it comes to both beginners and pros who haven’t learned to utilize this exercise in their training.  They will help you improve almost every aspect of your fitness instantly.

10. Most people have an irrational fear of dietary fat.  As long as you don’t consume too many calories (are in a caloric surplus), dietary fat WILL HELP DECREASE AND HELP YOU BUILD MUSCLE.  Eggs, dairy (as long as you are tolerant), nuts, oils and avocado are perhaps the best fat-fighting foods.

*don’t consume too much fat circum workout.  A little is okay.

11. If you can bench 2x bodyweight but can’t do a perfect pushup it may be time to go back to the basics.

12. Zumba should not be categorized as exercise, it is an activity.  It will not help you get stronger or lose a significant amount of body fat.  I’m not saying don’t do it if you have fun Zumba-ing, it can be a great mental release.  I did Zumba once….these hips don’t lie.

13. Strength training and joint mobility work trumps everything else.  Nuff said.

14. Sometimes less is more.  Diminished results will occur before over training which means if you DO over train you have wasted valuable time and energy and now have to take a forced break.  Not beneficial.

15.  It is easy to make yourself (or your client sore).  Getting ridiculously sore on a regular basis does NOT mean you are getting results.  It just means you are getting sore which will provide inferior results, risk injury and cause you to move less the rest of the week.  It is okay to be a little sore at certain times like at the beginning of a new program or after learning a new exercise.

16.  The most common thing I see done wrong in the gym is static stretching and how most people do most stretches is either completely useless and/or detrimental to health fitness.  Yes, most of the time you are making things worse.  If you haven’t been coached or trained stick to active mobility exercises and using full range of motion when training to get superior results.

17. Most daily activities promote pushing and reaching.  When in doubt, do more pulling exercises such as rows, pullups and pull downs.

*side note: make sure to pull your shoulders back, don’t just bend your elbows to ensure you train the proper muscles.

18. Healthy food will not necessarily help you decrease body fat.  Eating the right amount of protein, fat and carbs and not eating too many calories will, no matter what the food choices are.  Eating healthy food will, however, improve your health, prevent illness, provide energy and keep you looking and feeling young.  If I can’t sell you on that, try the Twinkie Diet.

19. The Turkish Get-Up wins for the best all around exercise.  Get good at doing these and you will get good at doing everything else.

20. You CAN lose fat by running.  It is not optimal but is possible.  It will work even better if you add in a few days of strength training.

21. Spending time before any program, whether it is strength or nutrition, to plan and set yourself up for success could be the one factor that determines whether you succeed or fail.  You can plan your own training program but I recommend buying an 8 to 16 week program from a reputable trainer or coach.  Many have written books.

As for nutrition, get all the crap out of your house (you know what I mean) and plan some healthy meals for the next few weeks.  Pick up a copy of Dave Ruel’s Metabolic Cookbook.  It changed the way I eat!

22. A 5-10 minute warm-up that focuses on your individual muscle imbalances is perhaps the most important thing you can do to move better, prevent injury, and keep getting stronger.  5 minutes at the beginning of a workout is way better than several months of physical therapy in my opinion.

23. Beginners need more core work and should focus on body positioning and control.  More advanced lifters probably don’t need to plank for 10:00 after each workout.

24. Sleep more.  Results on any program will be minimal at best if the quality and length of sleep are poor.  High stress levels are closely related.

25. The goblet squat is the single best lifting movement of all time.  This movement can be utilized by beginners and advanced lifters alike with great success.

26. The sled is not only of the greatest conditioning tools in history it is also good for rehabbing from injury and beginners to safely train hip drive.  Push, pull and drag!

27. The only supplement you NEED is fish oil (omega-3s).  The supplements you should take are whey protein, Vitamin D (especially in the Northeast), a multi-vitamin and a greens powder supplement.  An optional supplement to aid in building strength, muscle and fat loss is creatine.

28. Sprinting and box jumping isn’t the safest activity for MOST people.  Learn how to swing a kettlebell instead.

29. 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.  That 20% is usually deadlifting, squatting, doing push-ups, pressing exercises, pull-ups and rows.  Spend more time doing those things and you will get better results.  Period.

30. You can get stronger, more mobile and fit at any age.  I have had an 80 year old client do multiple chin-ups and a client in his 50′s deadlift over 400lbs.  Keep training!

 

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!