Workout Wednesday: Rethink Your RDL

My oh my, it’s been a little while since a Workout Wednesday post appeared here on I Train Therefore I Eat!

(Side note, I just realized that I could call this ITTIE… and while it’s kind of cute, it kind of reminds me of another word that I’d rather not have my blog called. So… yeah.)

Get ready, because we’ve got this one and then another one all lined up for next week already. I know, I know: Steph planning ahead? What is this about? Turning over a new leaf my friends.

At least momentarily.

Anyway, today I have a new lift for you. I’m certainly not saying that I made it up, but I haven’t seen/done it before so it’s new to me! I popped this into my workout a couple of weeks ago on a whim, when I wanted a little bit of extra glute/posterior chain work but my SI joints were a little too angry for heavy RDLs, deadlifts, good mornings, or any of the usual posterior chain lifts.

And for some reason, I hate doing SL RDLs with dumbbells. There is no explanation for this, I just would much rather do them holding on to a barbell than the DBs, so this was a perfect substitute for me while keeping them relatively light.

Introducing the Cable Single Leg RDL (with optional row). 

This is an accessory lift to your lower body or posterior chain days, primarily targeting the glutes and hamstrings, and also challenging components of your adductors/abductors and hip stabilizers.

The Setup

Stand facing the cable machine with the rope handle attachment set down low. Grasp the ropes with your palms facing each other. Step back so that you’re in a hip hinge position with your arms extended out in front of you, weight stack still resting so that there is no external load yet.

The Action

Brace your core, ensure your back is nice and flat, and raise one leg straight behind you. Hinge up to top, bringing top leg down towards ground leg, as in a traditional RDL. At top, add in optional horizontal row, bending elbows and bringing hands to sides, palms still facing in. Reverse the motion. Complete all reps one one side before switching to the opposite side.

Keeping those SI joints happy at 29 weeks pregnant is a bit of a challenge! 

Special Notes

It is extremely important in this lift to be conscious of your back position throughout the movement. Because the weight stack will be pulling your center of gravity further out in front of you than you would normally have with an RDL, it is not recommended to go extremely heavy with these. Form is key to keeping this a healthy movement, and it’s a great lift to help groove your hip hinge movement pattern, particularly with single leg variations.

As mentioned above, this is simply another accessory lift for your lower body. This is not better or worse than dumbbell RDLs, but rather provides your body with a slightly different line of pull, thus challenging the muscles in a slightly different way. You could certainly do this as a traditional RDL as well, which would essentially be the reverse of a glute pull through (another of my favorites).

To program these, as I mentioned above I would keep them relatively light, especially if it’s a new movement for you. I would recommend adding these in to one or two lift days per week, starting with an 8-12 rep range. Increase weight as tolerated, and utilize them in addition to other accessory lower body lifts.

Readers: Give it a try and let me know how you like it! I’ve done these a few times now, and they’re pretty quickly turning into one of my favorite posterior chain accessory lifts, so hopefully you feel the same! Has anyone done this variation of an RDL before? 

 

 

3 Exercises I Won’t Program For Online Clients

While today is not exactly a Workout Wednesday post, it is something important that I think is worth going over.

These days, there are tons of fitness professionals offering online training (myself included!), or distance coaching programs. These can be excellent if you can’t afford personal training, or if you want to work with someone who is outside of your geographical area. The internet has allowed us to be able to reach clients just about anywhere, no longer being limited to those who live in our general vicinity.

But with this, comes some pretty serious responsibility. If you are doing a program that has been created by someone and has been sent to you without an in-person assessment (as is the case with most online programs), there are certain things to know ahead of time in order to keep yourself safe.

How should you properly warm up? How do you know when to back off or take a rest day? How do you know when to push yourself harder? But most importantly — how do you know that you’re doing the exercises correctly?

Some coaches will send you a program and you’re on your own. Some coaches will send you descriptions and/or videos of exercises so that you can make sure your form is correct. And some will even go so far as to schedule video/skype sessions to monitor your form on specific movements, noting ways in which you can improve to make your workout safer and more effective. I offer the last two of these options (both PDF descriptions and skype check-ins, as either of these can be beneficial depending on the client). Click [HERE] for more info.

When it comes to exercise form, however, there are some lifts, particularly if you are involved in a heavy lifting type of program, that you should really have checked out in person by a qualified professional before attempting them on your own. Certain lifts can be extremely technical, and without proper form and real-time cues can lead to injury and/or inefficient training. And while obviously none of us want to get hurt, inefficiency in training is also a huge no-no. Why waste time on a program if you’re not going to get the results you want to see?

While most lifts and exercises can be “taught” via descriptions, videos, and video chat sessions, there are a few that I strongly believe should be taught in person. Does this mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars training with someone just to learn a lift? Not necessarily. Many gyms offer introductory PT sessions, and most personal trainers can be hired on an hourly basis. Find someone who is local and qualified, and have them help you with these crucial lifts before beginning a program on your own. Your body will thank you later!

Exercises that should be done WITH a trainer:

Deadlift

The deadlift is a highly technical lift that utilizes just about your entire body. From head to heels, there are important movement and stabilization cues that a trainer can give to you in real time that you just can’t get through video or descriptions. When this lift moves into the heavy weight ranges, improper form can be dangerous (although proper form makes this one of the most beneficial lifts you can do, period).

Without proper cues and corrections, an improper deadlift can lead to muscle strains (best case) or spinal injury (worst case). I’m not saying this to scare you, but I am saying this to let you know that if you have a trainer who has prescribed you traditional or sumo deadlifts and you have never performed them before, it’s essential to work with someone in person before performing this lift with any significant weight. Heck, even light weight deadlifts can pose a problem with horrific form.

Steph Deadlift

The deadlift incorporates different phases and essential movements, all of which are important to master before ever weighting the barbell (or picking up the barbell at all). Find someone who can train you on proper hip hinging, grip, core stabilization and lock out mechanics, and you’ll be good to go.

The exception to this would be dumbbell or lighter weight Romanian Dead Lifts or Trap Bar Deadlifts. Both of these can be performed safely with good instruction, but I would still recommend a video session with your trainer to ensure that your hip hinge is sufficient to be performing these types of lifts.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings, just like deadlifts, are extremely technical in terms of proper form. From your set up before even touching the KB, to the way in which the KB is placed on the ground at the end of a set (and every important aspect in between), there is a lot of room for error here. The swing is something that should be learned incrementally, with a trained professional before attempting it on your own. With the combination of the all-important hip hinge, plus the highly dynamic momentum of the movement, there is too much potential for injury if done incorrectly. Not only is this a technical lift, but it is also pretty advanced.

KBswing

If you are someone who has little experience with weight lifting and proper movement patterns, I would suggest staying away from this one until you A)have gained a little bit more experience in the weight room building your base strength movements and B)have perfected the hip hinge with a qualified professional.

Olympic Lifting – Clean/Snatch/Clean and Jerk

Olympic lifts are far and away some of the most technical lifts that you can do or be asked to do. Yes, your neighbor Susie does these all the time at Crossfit (at insanely high reps, usually with questionable form), and she’s never lifted before joining this gym! But that doesn’t that you should be doing them too. I am a firm believer in mastering the major lifting motions (push and pull for both upper body and lower body movements) as well as proper core bracing before attempting anything as advanced as a clean and jerk. Hoisting a heavy barbell over your head without first properly addressing strength and mobility concerns is just asking for disaster — whether that means injury or sheer embarrassment in the gym. Do yourself a favor, and stay away from these unless you have considerable time to work with a coach one on one. And this shouldn’t be just any coach — you should see someone who is experienced and trained in olympic lifting. Otherwise, it’s not much better than doing it on your own, to be honest.

These are lifts that I won’t program for my own clients if I’m not seeing them in person (and I don’t program olympic lifts in general). Please be wary of trainers who will throw highly advanced exercises at you without any sort of movement assessment or in-person session ahead of time. If something feels too advanced for you, check in with your trainer before charging ahead. Keep yourself safe, and worry about impressing others later. You won’t be impressing anyone when you’re sidelined from injury, so always remember: form comes first! 

Note: If you’re interested in in-person (Boston area only) personal training or online/distance coaching, please check out my page at Rondeau Heath and Wellness. I have several packages/offerings to fit any level and/or budget. Happy training! 

Fitness Myth Busting Part II: Long and Lean Muscles

About a week ago I posted Part I of this series, talking about the myth behind lactic acid. If you didn’t check it out then, go now! And then come back here of course.

Today we’re tackling another myth, and it’s one that seriously blows my mind every time I hear it. It’s something that you hear come from the mouths of many people in the fitness world, and I’ve never understood why.

Check out any women’s magazine, a million articles online about how to build/maintain the “perfect” physique, and in the press of many, many celebrity trainers and you’ll see 3 words that make me cringe like no other:

Long, Lean Muscles.

What does that even mean? If you’ve seen that before and wondered weather you too could turn your short, stumpy, unattractive* muscles into long, lean and lovely ones…

….well…

I hate to break it to you, but it ain’t gonna happen. And you’re in the right place to set that thinking go, let it be free to fly away and never come back again.

If you have long a long, lean muscular frame, then congrats! You win at life.** But if you’re one of us who wasn’t born that way, I can tell you with 100% certainty that you’ll never, ever reach that goal.

No, I’m not here to trample all over your dreams like a mad woman, I’m just telling you the simple truth. Muscle length comes down to one thing: genetics, and if you don’t have it, you can’t create it with any workout plan. No matter how flashy the marketing or how charismatic the spokesperson, you cannot create long, lean muscles. It’s impossible.

Not with yoga, not with barre, not with pilates or yogalates or whatever you choose to do.. and certainly not with 2 lb pink dumbbells.

pilates

#nope 

Let’s break it down to the science for a second.

Your muscles are attached to bones through tendons at each end. Some muscles have just one tendon at each end (origin and insertion), and others have multiple attachment points, such as your bicep which splits into a long head and short head, which attach within the same vicinity of your shoulder, but separate from each other to provide a more complex movement pattern for that particular muscle.

Each and every muscle has a muscle belly (the main part of the muscle), the musculotendinous junction (where the muscle fuses with tendon) and the tendon which then inserts into bone. These attachments form levers in your body, which is the reason we can move, jump, dance, wiggle, and any other type of movement your body desires. Without these insertions, our muscles would have no way to move our bones, thus, we would be left lying around like a bag of rocks.

Now let’s think about what people are implying by talking about forming “longer, leaner muscles”. They are, in essence, implying that through training, you can detach the tendon from one part of your bone, and re-attach it somewhere farther away. This is the only way you could form longer muscles (and I’m not sure where the leaner portion comes into this equation).

piyo lies

“The PiYo workout can in no way make your muscles longer, but through proper nutrition and exercise you could potentially become leaner!” There, fixed that for ya. 

Sound ridiculous? Of course it does! Because it’s pure nonsense. Without changing the positioning of your muscles and tendons, it’s impossible to make them longer than they already are. I hate to break it to you, but the length of your quad muscle is determined by the length of your femur, not the way you train it. Want longer thigh muscles? Get new parents. Before you were even born, your DNA determined how long your bones would be, thus how long your muscles would be. There is no way to change this through training, no matter how much Tracie Anderson tries to get you to believe otherwise.

But what about stretching? Doesn’t that make my muscles longer?

Nope, sorry. We’re not changing muscle length here. We can change elasticity to some extent through manual therapy, proper warm ups, and possibly stretching, but these things will not alter the physiological length of your muscles. You can get all of the soft tissue work in the world, stretch for 30 minutes every morning, and your muscle will still originate and insert on exactly the same points of your bones, and unless you suffer a tendon rupture (trust me, this is NOT something you want to happen!), these attachment points will never change. You will never, ever create a longer, leaner physique.

Let me say that again: Never, ever, ever will you create longer muscles through training.

If you look at your legs in the mirror and see some short, stumpy muscles, I hate to break it to you but that won’t change. Embrace the shape that you have developed, and embrace the shape that you can someday reach through training. But the present you needs to understand the realistic boundaries of the future you. If you’re not Giselle and have legs for days, you’re never going to have legs for days. But so what? Giselle is Giselle and you are you. And unless your life’s dream is to join the Radio City Rockettes, those legs don’t mean a thing. Seriously!

But what about becoming leaner? I can do that, right?

Of course! Through the process of decreasing body fat, which will come from a combination of proper training and proper nutrition (mostly nutrition here), you can absolutely become leaner. The problem here is when this is combined with “longer” in the original phrase, and then it becomes unrealistic. Training (and eating) for leanness is a commitment and a challenge, but it has nothing to do with the length of your muscles. In addition, training with certain weight or rep schemes to make your muscles appear leaner, as some fitness pros would like you to believe, is also not possible. You can become leaner through one means, and that is decreasing body fat. You can not change the shape of your muscles to make them appear leaner, and you can not train in certain movement patterns to alter their shape or form. 

Muscles are fairly unique from person to person, yes, but they are all built up of the same building blocks. We can not mold them into new shapes, we can only help them to become stronger, larger, smaller, or more defined, depending on your training and nutrition.

Next time a trainer or fitness personality tells you that they can help you change the shape and look of your muscles, stop and ask yourself if what they are proposing sounds like it is even remotely based in reality. And then ask yourself why you should be bothering with someone who wants to change who you are genetically, to change what it is that makes you really you? And then, last but not least, run away. Run far far away (whether that’s through internet clicks or through your gym door), and find someone who will train you for you. Someone who will train your strengths and help you reach your goals, not try to push some magical fairy dust on you just for a few bucks. You can do better, your body can do better.

Embrace your body for what it is, and train to reach your best potential every day. Forget the length of your muscles, and focus on the strength, the power, the ability to help you perform every day tasks with ease. That is what trainers should be pushing on you, because that, my friends, is real life. 

*that’s what they want you to believe. Trust me, even if your muscles are short and stumpy, they are beautiful because they are yours! 

**Also what they want you to believe. However, lovely as they are, it’s just the luck of the draw, folks. No winning here! 

Workout Wednesday: Build That Booty

Today we’re talking about, what else?  The booty.

Because who doesn’t want a good looking bum?

A while back I wrote a a post about the number one exercise you should be doing to build a bigger and stronger back side — you can check that out here. While that is absolutely the #1 exercise for glutes in my opinion, there are several others that deserve mention as well.

First of all, why is this muscle group so important to train? No, it’s not just about sculpting a J-Lo-esque backside, although who doesn’t want that? It’s about the health and comfort of everything from your low back on down to your toes. Yes, your glutes play a huge part in the health of just about every joint from the low back down, including your hips, knees, and ankles. Don’t believe me? That’s another post for another time (and one that is coming soon, don’t worry!)  But know this: just about all of the athletes that I treat for injuries end up doing significant amounts of gluteal work no matter what their lower body woe. Ankle sprain? Glutes. Hip muscle strain? Glutes. Chronic low back pain? Glutes. And do you know what? They get better.

There’s a reason that one of my athletes wrote me a card at the end of this year which said that the #1 thing that she learned from me this year was that “glutes save lives”. It’s probably my most beloved muscle group, as well as a muscle group that ends up severely untrained and underutilized in much of the population (yes, even the very active population that I see in collegiate sports).

And although they are a hugely powerful muscle group, in many people they become inhibited and underutilized, mainly due to hours spent sitting…and sitting and sitting every single day. What that means is that sometimes just doing squats and lunges isn’t enough, because if your gluteus muscles aren’t “awake”, other muscle groups such as your hip flexors and hamstrings will take over for them. Thus beginning/continuing a feedback loop of never ever using those muscles for much of anything. And that’s not good for anyone.

So what can you do? There are certain exercises out there that are just about guaranteed to activate and strengthen your gluteal group, as long as they are performed correctly. One of the best is the hip thruster, which was mentioned above. However, a glute exercise worth honorable mention is the Cable Pull Through.

This is a lift that yes, looks quite awkward, and may make you a bit uncomfortable at first. But once you get over that, it’s a hell of a booty builder! You can thank me later. And hey — if you’re already on the hip thrusters bandwagon, there’s almost nothing more awkward than thrusting your hips up in the air while making eye contact with a perfect stranger. So you can do this, I promise!

The Set Up

You’re going to set up a cable machine with the rope handle attachment at the lowest level, and a light to moderate weight on the weight stack. Stand with your back to the machine, feet about hip width apart, hinge your hips, and reach through your legs to grab the rope handle.

The Action

Keeping your back in that nice healthy flat position, with your hips pushed back and knees slightly bent, pull the handle until you feel tension on the cable. You may have to step forward a few steps. Keeping your back flat the entire time, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward, bringing your torso to an upright position. You are essentially performing a very similar movement to the Romanian Dead Lift, just with a cable between your legs instead of a bar in front of your legs.

Cable Pull Through

If you’ve been following along, you’ll realize that this is where it makes most people uncomfortable.

At the top of the position, give your glutes a good squeeze to “lock out” the movement, taking care to not hyperextend or arch your low back at the top. Your hands, and the rope, will end up right between your legs.

Yes, right in your danger zone. 😉

Cable Pull Through 2

Here I am doing these last week. Not only are they a great glute accessory exercise, but they are a great alternative to super heavy dead lifts during pregnancy! 

Slowly hinge your hips back, and return so that your hands are between your legs, down at about between your knees.

Special Notes

As in all deadlifting and hip hinge type exercises, your back position is extremely important here. During the hinge phase, you must take extra care to make sure that your back doesn’t arch or round too much, and at the top position, you must again take care to not arch your lower back (which you might do if the weight is too much and you’re using your back to compensate for lack of glute strength). Don’t be the hero just to lift more weight — you’re not impressing anyone and you’re opening yourself up for serious injury!

If you are away from the gym or if your gym does not have a cable machine set up, these can also be done with a resistance band attached to something low and solid on the ground, such as a fence post or a post of a power rack.

glute pull through band

One of my awesome bootcamp ladies doing these last week with the band attached to a fence. Take your workout anywhere! 

Start with the weight quite low — try about 15 lb, and increase from there. Much better to start too light than to go too heavy and risk injury.

Build those booties people, glutes save lives!

Any questions? Do you include cable pull throughs in your workouts at all? If you try these for the first time, let me know how you like them!

 

20 Week Update: Halfway There

So here I am at 20 weeks! My, these past few months have flown by and it seems so hard to believe that I’m halfway to having this little one in my arms.

14 and 20 weeks

Here I am at 14 weeks (left) and 20 weeks (right). Things sure are changing quickly, but I’m still feeling pretty great! 

First things first, for those who don’t follow me on Instagram, we found out a couple of weeks ago that we’re having a little girl!! It’s funny because I was 100% convinced we were having a boy (for no reason at all, just a gut feeling), but I couldn’t be more excited to bring a strong little lady into this world. Let’s not talk about the fact that my mothers intuition is already way off — hopefully that gets a little better as time goes on.

itsagirl

At this time, baby is the size of a banana. That seems so big to me! She’s in the super fast growth phase now, so things will be changing rapidly from here on in.

How am I feeling?

Overall, I’ve been feeling great for the last few weeks — I’m still pretty tired overall, and forget about me being a functioning human if I don’t get at least 8-9 hours of sleep, but no real symptoms besides that. I’m just kind of cruising along at this point, fascinated by my growing belly and in awe of the fact that this baby will be here in just a few short months!

Cravings?

As far as cravings go, I haven’t really had any super strong cravings that I can think of. I’m still loving fruit, and tomatoes have really been on my mind lately as well, but there hasn’t really been anything that I just have to have. I must say, I’m kind of waiting for some weird cravings to hit, because right now my eating habits are just about identical to my non-pregnant eating habits. And that’s quite boring, huh?

Workouts?

My workouts have continued to be pretty normal in terms of frequency/duration, although the intensity has taken a hit. I am still running about once per week, spinning once or twice per week as well. I also have been walking a ton, and frequently head out to walk some of the super steep hills by my house. Since I’m not lifting quite as much as I would like, I’ve got to keep these glutes in shape some how, and hills do a pretty good job of that!

As for workout intensity, knowing when to rest is key. There are some days when I know I can’t push through, and there are some days when I feel totally “normal” in terms of energy. For instance, the hill I run near my house is very steep and pretty long. Pre-pregnancy, I used to run all the way up and down without resting, for anywhere from 6-12 reps. Now, I run about 2/3 of the way up, walk the rest of the way up, and lightly jog down. I do this for only about 6 reps now before my body says “ok, that’s enough!”.

It’s all about paying close attention to the cues I get from my body on a daily basis.

And while we should all always “listen”, this is more important than ever before since now I’m caring for a little one inside of me, and not just myself! There have been a few times when I’ve done too much, and I’ve paid for it in the form of being completely lethargic and feeling horrible for the rest of the day. Trust me, I’ve learned not to hit that point again.

As far as the weight room goes, I have been lifting 2-3 days per week, usually full body lifts. If I’m feeling particularly lethargic one day, I’ll skip lower body stuff and focus on my upper body as I feel that stresses my body less overall. I’ve learned to really listen to my body well, and it’s gotten very good at telling me when I’ve pushed a bit too hard or worked out too many days in a row. I’ve come to really appreciate off days, and always feel 100% again after taking a day to totally rest.

Since I can only do so much to control what my body is going to do from the chest down during this pregnancy, I figure the one thing I have a decent amount of control over is my upper body (arms/shoulders). One main goal that I have for myself is to continue doing unassisted chin ups for as long as I can…and I can still do a couple! I also do a few sets of band assisted chin ups/pull ups just about every day to maintain my strength in this area. And surprisingly enough, my strength has actually gone up in some of my main upper body lifts, which I’m pretty happy with. I figure the longer I can keep doing unassisted chin ups, the easier they’ll be after baby when the weight starts to come off.

Aches/Pains/Problems?

No consistent pain yet, although my SI joints do like to scream at me every now and then. I’ve found if I’m really diligent with foam rolling and also lacrosse ball rolling along my sacrum, I can keep it under control pretty well at this point. Other than that, my body seems to be responding pretty well thus far, and nothing has become too angry with me. I do get some pains every now and then if I don’t drink enough water or if I do a little bit too much, but I recognize those quickly and rest up when I need to.

Sleep?

Luckily I’m still sleeping well at this point! I haven’t invested in a pregnancy pillow yet, although I’ve had many people tell me that they’re totally worth the money. I’ve always been a side sleeper though, so I guess my body is used to sleeping in this position. I suppose as I get a little bit bigger a supportive pillow will probably be necessary, but I’ve been putting that off for as long as I can.

I think that’s about it right? Is there anything else to include in one of these updates? Anyway, happy Monday everyone, I hope you all have a great week!

 

 

 

Workout Wednesday: Full Body Lift for Beginners

Years ago, when I first got into weight lifting, I remember how aimlessly I would wander around the gym trying to figure out what the heck I should be doing. I knew I wanted to get stronger, and I had a great working knowledge of most of the equipment, but it was putting it all together that was giving me the most trouble. I found myself just doing things haphazardly — a few bicep curls here, some walking lunges there, and then calling it a day.

Sure, I was beginning my journey of building muscle and getting stronger, but I definitely wasn’t maximizing my time in the gym. And I certainly wasn’t getting the most out of my fitness experience that I could have.

Since then, I find that this is true for many people who are just starting to explore the world of strength training. Maybe they have been shown how to do a few lifts with good form, but without a program, what does that matter? Many women, especially, who are new to the weight room might be scared off because of this (maybe leading to the lack of women in the weights area, as discussed in this recent post). Even if they’re not totally scared off though, they  might just do a couple of things and then go back to what they are used to. A few exercises are better than none, but what would be even better would be to go in there with a plan, lift like a boss, and know that you’re getting the best work in.

Today’s full body lift is for the person (man or woman) who has a basic understanding of movement patterns but isn’t quite sure yet what to do with them. As I’m a believer that beginners should start with full body days before moving on to upper/lower body splits, this will target the whole body and hit the major movement patterns that form the base for all of our daily movements.

Full Body Lift

One important thing to remember is that this shouldn’t take you very long! When I first gave one of my clients her first program, one of her early questions was “These workouts are only taking me about 45 minutes, shouldn’t I be doing more?” And the answer is no! At least at the beginning, many highly effective workouts can be done in an hour or less. There is no need for everyone to be spending two hours in the gym every day, and frankly many of us just don’t have time for that. As long as you’re working hard and doing the work you need to do, the time is really the least of your concerns.

Goblet Squat – Hold a dumbbell, upright, at your chest. It should be right against your chest, not out in front of you which can strain your shoulders and upper back. Starting with your legs at about shoulder width apart, sit your hips back into your squat, imagining that you’re squatting between your hips — not pushing your knees forward like many people want to do. Keep your core engaged and back flat during the entire movement.

DB Bench Press – DB = Dumbbell. Choose two dumbbells that you know you can lift. Start out on the lighter side for your first set to get the movement down and to warm your shoulders up a little bit. After this warm up set, then go into your 3 work sets. Lying flat on your back, feet flat on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Begin with dumbbells at chest height with palms facing in front of you. Raise up over your chest at an even pace, then lower carefully just to chest height — not below.

DB Romanian Deadlift – Again, this is for someone who has been shown the proper movement patterns, i.e. hip hinging. If this is not familiar to you, work with someone to practice this movement before trying to load it with weight. Standing with feet hip width apart and “soft” knees (not bent but not locked), hold 2 dumbbells in front of your thighs. Keeping your core engaged and shoulders pulled back (lats turned “on”), push your hips back until your torso bends forward. Dumbbells should be traveling right along your thighs, not farther out in front of you.  Keep pushing hips back until your dumbbells reach about knee level or you feel a tightness in your hamstrings. Allow your knees to bend slightly with this motion. Squeeze your glutes and return to the top position, being careful to not over arch your back at the top.

Bent Over Single Arm Row – For this you will be at a bench with one knee and corresponding hand resting on the bench. The other leg will have your foot on the floor, and you will be holding the dumbbell at that side. Bend so that your back is flat, and DB is down by the side of your down foot. Keeping palm facing in and elbow tucked towards your body, raise elbow so that dumbbell ends up next to your side. Squeeze your back muscles between your shoulder blades, then return to bottom position. It is extremely important to keep your back flat during this entire exercise.

Dumbbell Rear Lunge – Holding a dumbbell in each hand, step one foot back into a lunge. Make sure that you step back and then straight down, instead of letting your front knee fall forward over your foot. Alternate feet to complete set.

Standing Cable Row – Set the cable machine so that it is at about waist height. Holding the handles so that your palms are facing each other, stand with your core braced and knees slightly bent. Squeezing those back muscles between your shoulder blades, pull arms back, elbows bent, until hands are about at your sides. Slowly return to start.

Standing Pallof Press – Check out this post for explanation if you missed it!

Side Plank –Pretty self explanatory, no? For more of a challenge with this, stack your feet one on top of the other. For a little bit of an easier exercise, stagger your feet one in front of the other.

Key Points:

  • Know your abilities. If any of these are foreign to you, consider working with a professional in person to learn the specific movement patterns of the squat, hip hinge, push and pull.
  • Always begin with a dynamic warmup to get your body  moving properly before you load any movements. This is not optional! For a dynamic warmup, click here.
  • When working with weights, be conscious of form at all times. Yes, this includes when you’re picking up your weights from the floor — never let that back round out, especially when there is weight on the other end.
  • Take your time! Don’t rush through these. Make each movement slow, deliberate, and take care of your form. Rest in between sets and in between exercises.
  • Challenge yourself! If you go through this and don’t feel like you did a whole heck of a lot, that means you need heavier weight. Don’t go too far too soon, but use weights that are challenging, that you can’t just fly through each exercise without thinking about it.
  • Enjoy! You’re getting stronger today! 

Where Are All The Ladies?

On Saturday I tried out a new gym, just for the fun of it. I was able to get in a good workout, spending about 35 minutes on a spin bike and also getting in a good upper body lift.

Let me tell you — working out at my gym at work, I’ve forgotten what it was like to train in a public gym.

Lots of big, sweaty dudes crowding the weight area like it’s their job to just take up space, strategically maneuvering to use the equipment I need, and generally just feeling like the idea of personal space in the weight room is not possible.

liftthingsup

Maybe it’s for those reasons that my next observation comes into play: I was the only woman in the free weight section. Yes, in a crowded gym on a Saturday morning, there was not one other woman lifting weights. Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of women in the gym at that time — I could see them! I know they were there!

But for some reason, it was like there was a bubble around the free weight area, and I was the only one who had been able to cross to the other side. I honestly didn’t even notice it at the time, and it wasn’t until a friend (who was there) was joking later that I was in the “guys section”, that I noticed that I really was the only female in the vicinity of the weights. All of the treadmills and ellipticals had been full, I had noticed at one moment while scanning the crowd. There were people waiting on cardio equipment like vultures. And there I was, little old me, alone in the middle of the sweaty, grunting, men.

Steph Deadlift

This was not Saturday. This was me recently in my current gym, feeling at home among the power racks and the pretty even mix of males and females who frequent the weight room. 

I’ll be honest, I’m totally at ease in the weight room. Put me in the middle of a squat rack, a bench, and some dumbbells, and I could stay all day. Throw some extra barbells and specialty equipment in there and I’d be happy as pie. So yes, that does give me a little bit of a leg up when it comes to braving the “guys section”*.

*Yes, please know that every time I type that, my eyes roll so far in my head I’m at risk of going blind.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this afterward. Where were all the ladies? Why, in hundreds of people working out, were there absolutely no other females in the weight section? Over the past few years, I’ve been so happy to see a huge increase in pop culture writing about women and weight lifting. From popular women’s magazines, to celebrity workout features, to the insane popularity of the CrossFit games, we’ve seen women slinging iron at a much higher rate.  So while I’ve been sheltered and spoiled at my gym/weight room at work, I’ve watched more and more females enter the weight room, and yes, they even frequent the power racks and barbells. Winning!

But stepping back into the real world of public gyms and catching a glimpse of what I thought was a thing of the past makes me wonder: are we really coming as far with women and weight lifting as I thought we were? Has it really translated into the real world or do strength training women really only exist on the web, in the blogoshpere, and in your women’s magazines?

Of course, it was just one day, one small slice of time. Hardly a reliable sample size for any study. But I wonder if I kept going back to this gym, would I see the same thing day in and day out — women on machines and in group classes, and men wherever the heck they please? The only thing that I can think that it really came down to is comfort. Comfort in doing what you already know, and the possibility of serious discomfort when entering the “guys area” (or maybe just in trying something new).

Many women are probably very uncomfortable in entering the free weight area, especially if it’s in a separate room than the rest of the equipment. True, there are a lot of big, sweaty men in there, but truth be told, most of them couldn’t care less about who else enters the weight room. Sure, there may be some jerks who think that “women don’t belong” (it pains me to write that, but it’s true), but you’ll find a select few jerks in every walk of life, and we can’t be avoiding all new places just because of the unfortunate few.

So today is a call to women everywhere. Pick up those weights, use that bench, pick up a barbell to feel the weight of it in your hands (it’s powerful, trust me). Let everyone know that the weight room is not the “guys area”, it’s the weight room, plain and simple. We all belong, we all have a place in there, and we all have the right to better ourselves through strength. And if there is some jerk who makes you feel small for entering “his” area of the gym, pay him no mind. He is not worth your time, and your energy is better spent on the barbell, anyway.