Never Stop Learning

As I’m still working on the second part of the recap of our west coast trip, today’s post will be quick. I just want to share a few thoughts I’ve had lately on continuing to improve your craft.

Whatever it is you do, whether you are a fitness professional, an educator, a medical professional, or anything else in the world, there are always new things to learn about your specific field. Yes, some fields change more rapidly than others, and some of us need to stay on top of continuing education for our professional licensure, etc. but beyond that, there is so much value in continuing to improve whatever it is that you do.

I don’t want to hire a plumber who hasn’t done anything to change or improve his trade in 30 years, so why would I want to hire a trainer who hasn’t done anything to change or improve theirs? I know of fitness professionals who meet their continuing education requirements who don’t necessarily put a lot of emphasis on the “education” portion of that, completing only easy online continuing ed “courses” to meet the criteria. But if all they’re doing is meeting the criteria, and not really trying to find things that will help to make them a better, more educated, more equipped professional, are they really doing any good?

There’s a huge difference between doing enough to get by, and doing enough to get better. 

Yes, as an athletic trainer and CSCS, I have to do continuing education to maintain my license and certifications. But I try my hardest to take advantage of CE opportunities that will not only keep me legally practicing, but that will directly help my patients and my clients.

Last weekend, I went to a really great workshop at a local studio, Iron Body Studios. This studio is owned and operated by the dynamic duo, Eric Gahan and Artemis Scantalides They have built this studio from the ground up, and their passion and expertise are apparent as soon as you start a session with them. This particular workshop was called Kettlebell Fundamentals (I’ll probably be doing a separate post to talk about some of the great things that I took away from the workshop). We went over the fundamental KB movements (deadlift, goblet squat, swing, and turkish get-up), specifically how to do them properly, as well as how to coach them. As soon as I heard about the workshop through Eric’s Facebook page, I knew I had to be there. The two of them are pretty much KB masters, and with my love of KB training, I knew that some specific instruction from Eric could help me to not only better utilize them myself, but to also better utilize them with clients and with patients in rehab.

iron-body-logo

[Source ]

The group at the workshop was mainly athletic trainers, personal trainers, and strength coaches. However, there was one stand-out participant, and he is the main reason why I’m writing this post today. There was an older gentleman who turned out to be a local policeman. When asked what his goal was for attending the workshop, he answered that he just “wanted more knowledge”.

It turned out that he runs a bootcamp for his fellow policemen, and wanted a little bit more knowledge to bring back to them. Now, maybe I’m wrong, but he probably doesn’t need fitness continuing education. He probably didn’t need to be at that workshop, but he was. He was there because he wanted to be better, in order to help his colleagues to be better. How’s that for motivation?

Not only was he there to learn, but he was on the floor with the rest of us, going through the motions of KB swings and turkish get-ups, and he was doing them extremely well. I can only hope then when I’m in my 60s, (I’m just assuming he was in his 60s here), I can move half that well. Heck, I hope that when I’m at that point, I’m still motivated enough to want to keep learning about all this stuff.

The workshop was wonderful, and I came away with a lot of great information and new ideas to use with my patients and clients. But more importantly, I came away with a view of someone who takes the “never stop learning” mantra very seriously. There are plenty of trainers out there who have been training clients for a while, who may think that they know everything. In my opinion, those are the most dangerous ones.  This guy, although not your typical personal trainer, is actively going out of his way to learn more information that will help his “clients” (his colleagues). That is exactly the type of person that I want teaching a bootcamp that I’m taking — someone who realizes that there is always more to learn, no matter how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing.

So the take away today is if you’re a trainer or strength coach, what are you doing to better yourself on a regular basis? And if you’re in the process of looking for a trainer or are one yourself, a little humility goes a long way; someone who knows that there is always more to learn is almost always the smartest one in the group.

Take Your Workout To The Next Level

As much as I love heavy weight training and feel that it’s something that most people could benefit from, I do have an appreciation for the importance of cardio.

whatdidshesayCardio? 

Now, when I say cardio, please understand that there is a lot more that falls under the broad umbrella of “cardio” than just slogging away on the elliptical or treadmill. As in all types of training, what type of cardio you do really depends on the goals that you have set for yourself. Want to run a marathon? Well, then, you probably should be running, with some speed work and long runs thrown in there. Want to climb Mt. Everest some day? Running stairs, hill training and hiking will probably do you some good. Want to be strong as hell but also lose some body fat? Strength training plus metabolic conditioning is the answer for you.

What is metabolic conditioning? 

Metabolic conditioning, or metabolic “finishers” are fairly short bouts (10-20 min) of non traditional, high intensity cardio that is typically done at the end of a workout — and generally done with body weight or relatively light weight. However, when crunched for time, a quick and dirty MetCon session can leave you gassed after just 10 minutes of work, which is a lovely alternative for those of us who don’t have hours set aside for the gym every single day.

Who can benefit from metabolic finishers? 

Basically, anyone looking to decrease their body fat or increase their cardiovascular conditioning (without logging endless cardio hours). Heck, even steady-state cardio-ers should give these a try — you may not see a ton of results riding the elliptical every day, but add a 10 minute finisher to that workout, and you may notice a difference quite soon. Strictly speaking for myself, I find long, steady state cardio to be absolute torture. I will run a mile or two at a time periodically, but beyond that, I really hate it. And that is an understatement. But adding in a 10 or 15 minute bout of “cardio” to the end of a workout? That I can do, and usually enjoy, especially when it involves fun things like burpees and squat jumps.

Yeah, I kind of have a weird thing for burpees. So sue me.

How often should people add these to their workouts?

As with many tweaks to a training program, it depends on the person and their goals. If you have been doing the same training routine for a while, no matter what it is, and haven’t seen the fat loss results that you want, try adding in 1-2 short finishers per week. I usually stick with two, but will do three on some weeks depending on how I feel. If after adding in one to two you are still not seeing results after a few weeks, add in one more.

Although just be aware that fat loss results do not happen over night, and they also depend a lot on dietary intake (maybe more so than exercise, but that’s a different blog post).  Also keep in mind that you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you’re doing two heavy leg days plus three intense lower body finishers during the week, your legs may not be getting the recovery time that they need in order to get stronger.

What are some examples of finishers?

The possibilities are pretty much endless here, but here are a few examples of things I’ve been doing lately.

1. Plyo Pyramid Set 

PlyopyramidgraphicThis mini circuit looks innocent enough, but it kicked my ass last time I did it with a 14 lb medicine ball. Following up a moderate weight squat day with this circuit left me sore for days, so don’t let it deceive you! 

2. Battle Ropes Finisher 

Battle Ropes Finisher

If you have access to battling ropes at your gym, give this a try! The whole thing will take you less than 10 minutes, but will leave you sweating and with arms shaking. Check out this post for descriptions/video of all of these moves. 

3. 100 Kettlebell Swings for time. This one doesn’t get a fancy graphic because it’s pretty self explanatory, but these should be heavy KB swings, with as little rest as possible. My best time for 100 swings so far is 3:53, and I’m hoping to get it down to 3 minutes! Remember to pay attention to your form with KB swings, and please don’t do these if you are too fatigued to keep proper form. An injury is never worth a few more calories burned! 

Readers: Do you ever do metabolic finishers at the end of your workout or do you tend to stick to more traditional cardio? What is your favorite exercise to include in a quick, high intensity circuit? 

 

 

The Three Most Important Parts of a Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is a great component to add to any strength training program,  when done correctly. However, if you step foot inside any gym in America, it’s very common to see this exercise done incorrectly, leading to inefficient workouts and possibly injury.  This really is a shame, because when done with proper form, kettlebell swings are an excellent tool, not only to build strength, power, and explosiveness, but also a way to get some cardio and conditioning in without having to step anywhere near a treadmill or elliptical.

I use kettlebell swings often in my own workouts, sometimes as the main portion of an at home workout, and sometimes as a “finisher” after a weight room session. Not only is it an exercise that can be used in different ways, but it’s also an extremely efficient exercise for those of us who are crunched for time.  Just ten to twenty  minutes of KB work can leave me feeling like I’ve been working out for at least an hour. Try just five sets of 20 heavy kettlebell swings, and you’ll see what I mean! Sweat city. Another plus side of KBs is that this is a piece of equipment that takes up very little space, but still allows for extremely effective workouts at home. This is perfect for those of us who don’t always have the ideal amount of time, but still want to get in a good strength/conditioning session. And when it comes to different exercises, there is so much you can do with a KB; swings are just the beginning.

While KB’s themselves are relatively simple as far as gym equipment goes, there is actually a very specific technique involved with the KB swing, a technique that I see butchered all the time in the gym.  Screwing this up will not only make your workout less effective and efficient, but it could also lead to injury, depending on the mistakes being made. Below are the three most important components of the kettlebell swing, and ways that people often perform them incorrectly.

1. Hip Hinge: By far the most important part of your swing, the hip hinge is a basic weight lifting movement that needs to be trained with just your body weight before safely loading it with weight.  Basically, the lower body movement of your swing is not a squat, but rather a “hinging” of your hips.  When going into your bottom position, the initial movement should come from the hips pushing back, with the knees bending slightly only after the hips have moved. Many people want to squat down, dropping the kettlebell between their knees, when in reality the hips should push back, the kettlebell swinging between your legs (right in your crotch, really).

KBswingThe bottom position of my KB swing. Notice that my knees are only slightly bent — my hips are pushed back to create this movement, instead of squatting down. 

2.  Glute/Hip Thrust:  Contrary to what many gym goers believe, KB swings are not an upper body lift.  The swing movement of the arms comes from power generated through the hips and glutes; the arms are not actively lifting much weight.  When initiating the “up” portion of your swing, the core must be stabilized, and the glutes must be forcefully contracted to thrust the hips forward.  The momentum from this movement will help the arms to swing up to about shoulder level, letting the KB become just about weightless at the top of the movement. Keeping those glutes contracted at the top of your swing will help to prevent lumbar hyper extension at the top of the swing, which will protect against low back injury. Again, many people want to squat down and then lift the KB with their arms, essentially turning this into a squat/anterior raise. One thing to think about — if your shoulders are more tired than your glutes after a set of KB swings, you’re doing it wrong. 

KBswing2The top of my swing. Glutes are contracted, keeping low back from hyperextending. Also, note that it looks like my arms are doing very little work here — that’s because they are. 

3.  Keep a Flat Back – If you’ll notice in the first picture above, I’m in a hip hinge position (not a squat), and my back is completely flat, from head to tail bone.  In the second picture at the top of my swing, my back is still flat (no hyperextension of my low back — contract those glutes!).  Allowing your back to curve in the lower position or arch too much in the top position is the perfect way to end up with disc injury, nerve injury, debilitating back pain, or all of the above.  Doesn’t sounds like a good time to me!  Keeping your back flat throughout the swing may take some practice, depending on your fitness level. Start out with a light KB, or even better, practice the movement without any weight at all. As beginners often can’t feel their spine curving, have someone photograph or video your swing before you increase the weight, so that you can make sure that your back remains flat throughout the motion.

Kettlebell swings are an excellent exercise with many benefits, but doing them with poor form will drastically change the results you get from using them.  Remember that this lift is based around power, and that taking the power/momentum component out of it, you’re changing the workout entirely, decreasing the efficacy of this movement, and putting yourself at risk of very serious injury. Keep these three points in mind next time you try kettlebell swings, be mindful of your form, and most importantly, enjoy!

Readers: Do you do kettlebell swings? Do you use kettlebells as a tool in your workout toolbox? What is your favorite exercise to do with kettlebells?

Fitness Friday: Full Body Circuit Workout

As much as I love strength training days, sometimes a heavy session just isn’t in the cards, for one reason or another. This week, I had maxed out my deadlift (sumo) on Monday (for a 5 lb PR of 230!!). Needless to say, my whole body has been kind of tired since, so I decided to do a conditioning day yesterday, instead of my usual heavy bench day.

As much as I hate on steady-state, boring cardio, I really do love some circuit training and HIIT every once in a while. I put together this circuit workout, and I ended up loving it. I’ll definitely be repeating this one, and thought I should share it with all of you.

This workout consists of three separate sections: two circuits and a set of treadmill incline sprints. If you’re short on time, I would recommend cutting it down to the circuits only, as you’ll be able to complete these in about 20-25 minutes but still have an excellent workout. I was able to complete the entire workout in 45 minutes, including my dynamic warmup and rest time before the sprints.

The first circuit is more geared toward strength, and the second is more geared toward conditioning. By doing both, you’ll get a full body workout that will leave you sweaty and panting, I guarantee it!

Equipment you’ll need:

  • 1 medium KB (I used 16 kg) – for single arm KB swings
  • 1 heavier KB (I used 20 kg) – for two arm KB swings and KB split squats
  • 1 medicine ball (I used 14 lb. You could easily sub in a dumbbell or other type of weight if you don’t have a med ball) – for weighted lunge jumps
  • Battling Ropes (I’ll offer some other suggestions later if you don’t have access to these)

CIrcuit

Perform the first circuit 3 times, with 10-15 seconds between each exercise. Rest one minute following each completion of the circuit. Rest two to three minutes before starting the second circuit, and complete that one in the same way (three times through, with 10-15 seconds of rest between exercises).

Again, the weights listed above are those that I used. Please adjust accordingly to match your fitness level — just remember to challenge yourself!

For the treadmill sprints, set the treadmill at an incline of 10%. Complete 10 sprints, 20 seconds each, with 40 seconds rest in between. For the 40 seconds rest, just rest your feet on the sides of the treadmill — true rest in between reps. I did these with my sprints at a speed of 8.5-8.3, but yours may be faster or slower than that.

If you don’t have access to battling ropes, substitute either cable wood choppers or medicine ball slams.

After completing this workout, I was gassed. It was a good reminder that I may be able to lift heavy weights, but there is always work to do.  Let me know if you try it, and enjoy! And again, adjust the weights and treadmill specs to match your fitness level.

Readers: Do you enjoy traditional cardio or circuit training more? How often do you do circuit training? What’s the one exercise you love to hate in circuits work? 

Work Those Glutes: Kettlebell Pyramid Workout

I haven’t posted a workout on here in a while, so what better day than today?

This is similar to the Burpee Pyramid that I posted about a million years ago, with a few other things added in. When ever I have to work out at home, I love utilizing a pyramid scheme, as I can work up a great sweat in a shorter amount of time.

And with the KB swings and high rep, lightly loaded squats, this is a great plan to work on that explosive power from the hips and glutes, which will be very helpful for my weekly stadium runs! If I have any readers who are part of the November Project (or who otherwise frequently do hill sprints or stadium runs), give this workout a try on one of your days off. It’ll get those glutes ready for the stadium on a day when you can’t actually get out there (say, when everything is covered in 2 ft of snow).

Even for those who don’t do stadiums/hills regularly, doing a little glute focused workout will be good for you too.  The glutes are one of the most important muscle groups in the body, and getting them properly activated is so important for proper movement patterns, avoiding injury, and just plain old beasting your workout!

Here’s the workout that I did on Saturday, since I was snowed in and couldn’t get to the gym. Just another reason why investing in a couple heavy KBs is a smart idea — you can get a great workout in with extremely little equipment.  Plus, they make for excellent decor. 

Equipment Used: Heavy KB (24 kg, or about 53 lb), TRX (homemade).

KB workout

Notes: 

  • Form is imperative for KB swings. This is a hip-hinge movement, not a squat. The KB should swing due to momentum and explosion from your hips/glutes, not your arms.  Keep your back flat and your lats engaged.
  • These are HEAVY KB swings. If 10 lbs is heavy for you, than so be it. But most of you will be able to swing much more than this.
  • The Goblet squat is a lighter weight than you would normally do. Doing so many reps would be near impossible with a heavy goblet squat. These can also be bodyweight squats if that fits your fitness level better. I used a 15 lb KB which was very light for me, but it was all I had besides the heavy ones.
  • Take as little rest as possible during the pyramid set. 
  • For the weighted glute bridges, hold the heavy KB over the front of your pelvis, as you would with a barbell for a barbell glute bridge. Place a folded towel under the KB for comfort.
  • Want a challenge? Time yourself! Do this workout again next time you need a quick, in-home workout and beat your previous time.

That’s all folks, now go get strong!

#BeBetter

Do you have kettlebells at home? What is your favorite piece of at-home workout equipment?

Building a Home Gym on a Budget – Part 1

Anybody that knows me knows that I love the gym.

True LOVE.

Like dogs love cat poop.


wait..What?

But we all have days where no matter how much you truly love the gym (or truly loathe it, either way), a trip there just ain’t happenin’.

Sometimes your schedule just wont allow it in between work, trips to the grocery store, and other life events. Sometimes it’s closed, or, heck, it’s blizzarding (yep, I said that) outside and the last thing you want to do is risk your life for a good deadlift sesh. I happen to have a slightly different problem than most, in that I work out in the gym at work (at a college), so when the college is closed, so is the gym.

For example, over the Holidays, there is a period of time where I can’t go in and lift, and it’s not because I’m too busy stuffing my face with Christmas Cookies. This can be a little bit frustrating at times, but luckily I have a great set up at home that allows me to get in a great workout with out even leaving the house. All of my equipment is small, mostly portable, and relatively inexpensive, but certainly gets the job done as long as I am willing to get a little creative. Today I want to show you guys what I have in my home “gym”, and give you a few ideas about how to build your own home gym while still on a budget.

This would be AWESOME. However, not really realistic for most of us. 

While it would be nice, trust me when I say that it is not necessary to have a lot of weights, barbells, a weight rack, etc. in order to build a successful home gym. Read on for some of my favorite pieces of equipment, and also the things that are on my home-fitness wish list.

KettlebellsIn my opinion, kettlebells are essential for any home gym, preferably in a few different weights. Will and I happen to have several, only because he’s even more of a fiend for workout equipment than I am. We have them one 15 lb, two 53 lb, and one 70 pounder which allows for a great variety of exercises. Many people think that kettlebells are just for “swinging” exercises, but the truth is they can be used in many different types of lifts and movement patterns (much like dumbbells). I’m not one of those people that thinks that KBs are a magical gift from above, but they are an excellent, versatile, space efficient piece of equipment for any gym.

Price Point: If bought new, these can get extremely pricey, unfortunately. A good KB will run you about $1-2 per pound, putting you at about $20-30 for a 15 lb and upwards of $130 for a 70 lb.  Budget Tip: Buy used! The only one that we bought new was the little one, and that was only because I had a gift card. The rest we’ve acquired over time, but all from Craigslist. The good thing about buying these bad boys used is that they will seriously last forever. A giant hunk of cast iron is not going to break down any time soon, so used ones are virtually identical to new ones, besides a few scratches on the surface.

Our little KB family

Weighted Ball A medicine ball is another versatile tool that can be used for much more than weighted ab work. I use mine for med ball slams, throws, and different upper body movements, and it’s also a great tool for partner work. The possibilities are endless here.  A soft-coated one like we have may be gentler on your floors, but you can also get rubberized ones if that’s your preference.

Price Point: These can get pretty pricey as well. This 20 lb ball sells on Amazon for about $100.  Budget Tip: Again, buy used! We actually found this at a thrift store, believe it or not, for $15. A little sanitizing and it’s good as new!

Pull Up Bar This is one of the essentials, in my opinion. A pull up bar takes up virtually no space in your home (unless, of course, you are really short on space up in the tops of you door frames), is very inexpensive, and gives you the opportunity to do some of the very best upper body exercises out there. They’re also extremely easy to put up and take down, so you don’t have to worry about what it will “look like” when people come over. Personally, I think it’s a pretty badass decorative piece and is nothing to be ashamed of.  Can’t do pullups? YES YOU CAN. You can at least do negatives, use a resistance band to provide assistance, or even have a roommate give you a little boost or support throughout the movement. Who needs that silly assisted machine at the gym?

Price Point: This is where you’re gonna get the most bang for your buck. You can pick one of these up for about $30 at most sporting goods stores. Budget Tip: Really, you probably won’t find much better than that. $30 is darn good for a piece of equipment that makes you exponentially more awesome.

It’s nice to have a little foliage next to your head during pullups

Heavy Resistance BandThis one goes hand in hand with the pull-up bar, as one of these can be used to help you do assisted pull ups until you can build the strength to do them unassisted. That is certainly not the only use for this band though. You can grab a partner and use this for resisted runs, you can step inside it and use it for band resisted squats, and you can even use it for some pretty great mobility work (more on that in a separate post). Also, this is an excellent piece to bring with you for outdoor workouts since it is so portable and light!

Price Point: This one is about $20 and provides about 75 lb of resistance/assistance. Budget Tip: No big tip here, but shop around for sales, and make sure you know what you want it for. If you’ll be using it for assisted pullups/chinups, make sure you buy one that offers enough assistance so that it will actually be useful.

Now that I’ve given you a small glimpse of some equipment that I use, I’m going  to have to bid you adieu. In order to keep from writing a novel, I’m going to have to break this into 2 posts because otherwise I might bore your pretty little pants off.  Stay tuned  for the rest of my home gym, including something you can make yourself, as well as my wish list for the future, and some other fun tips about working out at home.

What do you have in your home gym? Do you workout at home, at the gym, or at a combination of both?