Why I Don't Wear Workout Gloves

When I was in high school I got a pair of gloves to wear for lifting weights.

At the time I thought the gloves looked cool and since I had just gotten into working out, I wanted to have all the gear. I was probably concerned about preventing callouses too, but like most teenagers, looking cool trumped that.

Funny thing is, I wound up getting callouses anyway! Turns out there was still friction between my hands and the gloves when I would hold a heavy barbell or grasp a pull-up bar. Once I realized this, they started to look less cool to me.

Less is More

I’m a minimalist in most aspects of my life and this is a great example of that. For the same reasons I enjoy running with minimal footwear, I find working out barehanded to be a superior technique. If you’ve ever had to use a cell phone in the winter while wearing gloves you already know that having a glove in between your hand and whatever you are gripping acts as a barrier. Your coordination suffers and it’s harder to get a sense of what you are doing.

Get a Grip
Once you start going barehanded, you’ll likely see an improvement in your grip strength and your body awareness. I want to feel as connected as possible to what I am doing with my body and gloves just get in the way of that.

One exception is if you are going to be moving on your hands in an urban setting where there may be broken glass or other tiny, sharp objects on the ground. When that is the case, gloves can be a safety precaution. A callous, on the other hand, never hurt anyone.

Yes, you’re going to get callouses if you do lots of pull-ups or lift heavy weights – get over it. Nobody but you cares if you have callouses (even you ladies). Learn to see your callouses as a badge of honor – you earned them!

We're Working Out! (A Preview)

My long-anticipated fitness book, We’re Working Out: A Zen Approach to Everyday Fitness, will be available on June 30, 2010.

Some of you have asked to have a peek. Here’s a little of the introduction (the first line may look a bit familiar).

I was a tall, scrawny kid growing up in Brooklyn and I didn’t want to get my ass kicked, so once I was thirteen I decided to start lifting weights. I still remember my mom taking me to a store called Consumers to get my first set of weights and seeing the man wheel the box out from the stock room on a hand truck. The set was so heavy that we needed him to help us get everything in the car! I got more serious about lifting throughout high school and opting to take weight training as my phys. ed. credit was a great way to get out of playing actual sports (like I said, I was lanky and unathletic).

When I was eighteen I was desperate to bulk up and a crafty salesman at GNC took advantage of that emotion. I purchased a product called Testrogel, an exercise supplement that claimed to increase testosterone production when rubbed onto your skin prior to exercise. This (supposed) testosterone boost would not only give you extra strength during your workout, but also claimed to help with muscle growth and the recovery process. Finally there was something that could make me big and strong! My days of being puny were over, at least in theory. The reality of the product was that it did absolutely nothing, except teach me a valuable lesson about gullibility.

In college I got interested in bodybuilding. At that time, I was still just concerned with aesthetics. I wanted to get diesel! This led me to do research about how the body works. As I got more and more into fitness, a career in personal training seemed like the obvious choice. It was also around this time that I first discovered Zen Buddhism. Over the years, my interest in Eastern philosophy has greatly impacted the way that I approach fitness. Instead of living in a fantasy world of musclemen with flawless physiques and perfect smiles, my focus was now grounded in reality. I wasn’t a hulking bodybuilder but that didn’t stop me from becoming a successful trainer. I’ve trained many people, including athletes, models, the elite business class and even an Olympic medalist.

I’m not going to bullshit you: getting fit isn’t easy. We live in a society that relies on consumption and encourages abundance. People drive their cars to the end of the driveway to pick up their mail. We super-size our meal and then eat it in front of the TV. In short, we live in the FATTEST country in the world. Yet in spite of all this, millions of Americans are in fantastic shape. That’s right, millions of Americans are fit! Surprising, right? But it’s true – lots of us are lean and mean, and you can be, too. Seriously. That’s why you’re reading this, isn’t it?














Running the Williamsburg Bridge

Running hills has long been a cornerstone of serious running programs. Whether you’re doing threshold training or running intervals, running uphill is a great way to “ramp up” your cardio session. For city dwellers, running over a bridge can offer a nice variation on the classic hill run.

If you are in the NYC area, I recommend running the Williamsburg Bridge as it’s generally less prone to foot traffic from tourists as compared to the Manhattan or Brooklyn Bridge.

The Williamsburg Bridge runs from Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood into Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Wikipedia, the Williamsburg Bridge is 7308 feet (don’t worry, I did the math and it comes to about 1.38 miles.)

When you’re crossing the bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn, the pedestrian crossing splits into two sections. Staying to the right is steeper on the last downhill portion so I generally prefer to stay to the left; very steep downhills take practice. (It’s still pretty steep on the left.)

I brought my invisible shoes (and my camera!) with me on a recent running excursion into my native Brooklyn.

Watch the video below to see how it went:

Jumping Jacks and More!

Jumping jacks are one of the most well known bodyweight exercises out there, but when was the last time that you actually did any?

Just like jumping rope, the jumping jack (technically referred to as the “side-straddle-hop”) is a low intensity plyometric exercise that involves your entire body. And like jumping rope, jumping jacks can turn into a serious cardio workout if done for a long enough period of time.

Jumping jacks are typically performed for a set number of repetitions. You can also do them for time, as counting can become a burden once you get into higher rep ranges. Jumping jacks make for a great warm-up exercise but they also work well as an active recovery exercise in the context of circuit training. Using them in between sets of pull-ups or dips, for example, is a great way to keep your heart rate up while letting your arms recover.

The Basic Jumping Jack
Most of us did this in gym class when we were kids. The basic jumping jack involves clapping your hands over your head while jumping in the air and opening your legs. This action is immediately followed by bringing your arms down while jumping back into a standing position.

Jumping Jack Variations
The “seal jack” involves clapping your hands in front of your chest instead of over head. This is a good variation for people with shoulder problems or other mobility issues.

Another variation is what I like to call the “monkey jack,” in which you jump up and down while alternately raising one arm and lowering the other. The foot movement on the monkey jack is different as well; instead of jumping with both feet together, the leg movement is more like running in place.

Star Jumps
If you want to really challenge yourself, I recommend the “star jump”. A star jump begins with a deep squat in which you wrap your arms around the front of your legs. From there you simply jump as high as you can while spreading your legs and reaching your arms up over head.

Check out the video below for more:

Pistol Squat Tutorial

PistolonTable

The pistol squat is one of my favorite bodyweight exercises. Pistols are challenging on many levels, requiring core strength, leg strength, balance and flexibility. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with two-legged squats, you’re ready to learn the pistol. I like to break it down into three phases.

Pistol Squat – Phase One

Begin by sitting on a bench with one foot flat on the ground and the other extended out in front of you. Reach your arms forward and simultaneously press your foot into the ground while tightening your abs. Don’t let your heel come off the ground. If you’re strong enough, you should be able to lift yourself off the bench. Once you get to a standing position, try to lower yourself slowly and repeat. You will likely lose control during the lowering phase and wind up plopping down onto the bench at the bottom. That’s fine for now. In time your control will improve to the point where you no longer need to sit on the bench.

Take a seat during Phase One.

Pistol Squat – Phase Two
Stand on a bench with one foot hanging off the edge, then squat down so that the opposite leg drops below the level of the bench. You’ll be aiming for a larger range of motion than you did during Phase One, so make sure you lower all the way to the bottom. Sit back from your hips, reach your arms in front and lean forward from your waist in order to maintain your balance.

If you’re having a hard time with the balance, you can hold onto something to guide yourself at first. A broom handle works well if you are doing these at home. If you have a training partner, you can have them assist you by either holding your hand or standing near you so you can grab them if you lose your balance. Take it slowly with one and be patient.

Work your way up - Phase Two.

Pistol Squat – Phase Three
Get down into a deep squat with both feet flat on the ground. Try to reach one leg out in front of you while balancing on the other. You’re now at the bottom position of a pistol squat. Get comfortable with your balance here; it will come easier to some than to others. Once you can balance in the bottom position, try to stand up. It’s okay to use assistance until you can perform the move independently. With practice, you will build the necessary strength and stability to perform the pistol with confidence – then you can move onto advanced pistol squats!

Watch the video below for more:

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Manual Resistance Training

Instead of using weights to do resistance training, try using a buddy!

Manual resistance is a great way to add a fun, new challenge to a workout. Manual resistance simply means that instead of using weights to oppose your muscles, you are using another person. So grab a friend and let’s go!

Here are 3 exercises that you can try using manual resistance:

Partner push-up:
Have your partner place their hands on your upper back to provide additional resistance on your push-up. They can vary the amount of pressure in order to make it more or less challenging. If you get strong enough you can even try having your partner lie down on your back!

Fireman’s carry: Get your buddy up on your shoulders and try to walk or run a few meters while carrying them. Start with a partner who is of a comparable body weight to your own and remember to lift with your legs. If this sounds crazy, remember that when firemen do it they have the added challenge of a burning building!

Once you get comfortable with carrying your partner, you can try to do squats or lunges with them up there!

Manual resistance leg raises:
Lie on your back, holding your partner’s ankles while they stand over your shoulders. Raise your legs up by engaging your abdominal muscles and have your partner push them back down when they reach the top. Try to lower your legs slowly, resisting your partner’s push. Focus on using your abdominal muscles instead of your legs.

These three suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Get creative with manual resistance training and have fun!

It All Starts in the Mind

Photo courtesy of brightroom.com

You can have anything you want. It all starts with your mind.

Exercise is the most clear cut example of how we can use our minds to manifest the reality of our choosing. Once you put that mental focus into action and start a consistent workout routine, your body starts to change right before your eyes.

If you have the mental focus to be in tune with your body, and you practice using that body, you can actually effect physical change in yourself. How cool is that? Really think about it.

The amazing thing is, everything else in life is pretty much the same way. Anything that you give your full mental focus to can be yours. That doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy, but if you want it badly enough, and you take the necessary steps towards that path, things that may have seemed impossible can become possible!

There were many challenges I once deemed out of my reach, but have since overcome; muscle-ups, human flags and one arm chin-ups were all exercises that once intimidated me. When I doubted my ability to perform these feats, I shut myself off from my potential. Once I realized that, however, I began to adjust my beliefs and start taking action to manifest my dreams. With practice and discipline I have since trained my body to do those feats and many others. And you can too!

Want a better body? It’s yours for the taking.

Muscle-ups on Rings

Last year, I posted a muscle-up tutorial that explained how to perform the muscle-up on a pull-up bar. Since then, several people have inquired about learning to perform this skill on gymnastics rings.

Performing muscle-ups on rings may at first seem a lot harder to someone who is used to doing the exercise on a bar, but once one acclimates to the subtle differences in technique, the disparity should balance out.

Why Do the Rings Seem Harder?

The main difference between the bar and the rings is that the rings add a stability component. The other big difference is that because the rings are not in a fixed position, they allow you to rotate your wrists as you pull yourself up and over. While this may seem like an added challenge at first, the rotation actually makes the move less difficult.

The False Grip
While utilizing a false grip to perform a muscle-up on a bar is helpful, using the false grip to muscle-up on rings is essential.

A false grip involves cocking your wrist and putting your hand through the ring, so that the tip of your ulna (the bottom bone in your forearm) is in contact with the ring. This will likely feel uncomfortable at first. (You may get some bruising on your wrists, consider using wraps if it is an issue.)

The Technique

As you pull yourself up, think about bringing the rings towards your armpits and reaching your legs forward. Once the rings are below your shoulders, begin pushing your chest and shoulders in front of your hands while rotating your wrists so your knuckles wind up pointing towards the ground. From there, simply press yourself up, just like you would if you were doing a dip.

Watch the video below for more:

Thanks to Nimble Fitness for letting me shoot in their facility.

Parkour Part Deux

A few months back, I started learning some beginner parkour moves, such as precision jumps and underbars. I’ve been practicing a lot since then and I recently began incorporating some more difficult moves into my repertoire, like cat jumps and rail walking.

Cat Jumps

Cat jumps involve jumping up onto an obstacle like a fence or a wall that is too tall to climb. When the traceur (a parkour practitioner) is separated from an obstacle by a body of water or other uncrossable terrain, a cat jump becomes a necessary skill. For practice, however, it’s okay to cat jump without clearing any hurdles. After cat jumping onto an object, it is typical to continue climbing the rest of the object or to push off and reverse direction.

Rail Walking
Rail walking is a balance challenge that involves walking across a narrow bar or rail. It’s best to practice this on a relatively low surface, so that if you lose your footing, you can safely jump down.

360 Underbars

My parkour mentor, Rick Seedman, has also given me a new variation on the basic underbar – the 360 degree underbar, a fun “spin” on the basic move that involves rotating your body as you pass in between two parallel bars.

In addition to these new challenges, I’ve continued practicing the fundamentals; my precision jumping is getting better, although it’s still a work in progress!

Watch the video below for more!

Running the Brooklyn Half Marathon 2010

The morning of the race. The sun was just starting to come up as I got ready in my apartment.

You don’t need fancy sneakers to run long distance. This past Saturday I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon in my beat up, old Vans and it was a great experience. Finishing the race with a time of 1:53:33 (8:40 per mile) felt pretty good, too.

I started my day before the sun came up, making my way to Prospect Park just in time to line up for the 7am start. After running two loops of the park, we hit the streets of Brooklyn, going down Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island, finishing on its famous boardwalk.

When you run a distance this long, there are inevitably moments when you just want to stop. I usually have music with me to help with those times, but without my ipod, I had to rely on my own intrinsic motivation to keep pushing forward.

I used safety pins to affix the D-tag to my shoelace-free Vans.

Wait…You Ran the Half in What?
It doesn’t matter if you have $200 sneakers or $20 ones, as long as you have comfortable footwear and a good understanding of proper running mechanics, you can train your body to take care of the rest.

With the popularity of barefoot and minimalist running starting to spread to the mainstream, I expected to see a lot of minimalist runners out there. Instead it was the usual sea of Nikes. With the exception of one friend who raced in Vibrams (and a few people I saw in Nike Free’s), everyone else was running in the conventional stuff.

There were a lot of ups and downs during the race, but the best part about the Brooklyn Half Marathon was that I’d already expended a full day’s worth of calories by 9am. I had a lot of fun making up that deficit!

Split Routines

Split routines are exercise programs that involve working different body parts on different days. The idea is that by breaking your workouts up by body part, you allow adequate rest time for your muscles without having to take a day off. If your arms are sore on Tuesday from working them on Monday, then work your legs that day, giving your arms some rest. Since you’re working fewer muscles per training session, the amount of volume done on each body part increases, and since the volume has increased, those muscles may require additional rest.

A simple way to split things up is to have one upper body day and one lower body day. This is often referred to as a “2 day split.” Another common way for people to mix up their routine is by breaking the upper body down into two days: one for pushing movements (which emphasize the chest and triceps) and one for pulling movements (which emphasize the back and biceps), with a leg workout on the third day. This is often referred to as a “3 day split.”

Bodybuilders typically follow split routines because high volume workouts have sometimes been correlated with higher levels of hypertrophy (muscle growth). Some bodybuilders will break their splits down even further, doing 5 or even 6 day splits in attempts to achieve maximum growth.

Here are examples of 2 day and 3 day splits:


2 day split:

Day 1 – Upper body day – Push-ups, dips, overhead presses, pull-ups, barbell rows
Day 2 – Lower body day – Squats, deadlifts, lunges, steps ups

3 day split:

Day 1 – Upper body pulling – Pull-ups, pullovers, Australian pull-ups, barbell rows, reverse dumbbell fly
Day 2 – Upper body pushing – Push-ups, dips, overhead presses, tricep extentions, dumbbell fly
Day 3 – Lower body day – Squats, deadlifts, lunges, step ups

Related links:

Squats and Deadlifts
Pullovers
Australian Pull-ups

Pain and Discomfort – Knowing the Difference

When conducting a personal training session, one of the worst things to hear from your client is, “this hurts!” After all, I am there to help them, not to mess them up!

However, a lot of the time when a client complains that something “hurts,” what’s really happened is that they’ve confused pain and discomfort. Pain is something to avoid; discomfort, on the other hand, is something to accept. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

Experiencing a burning sensation in your muscles (and/or lungs) during exercise is common, and should not be mistaken for pain. Once you can accept this and get on with what you need to do, you can really start to get somewhere. A common characteristic amongst great athletes is a high tolerance for physical discomfort.

Soreness following a workout – even extreme soreness – can be unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean that you are injured or over-training. When people experience the severe soreness that results from doing a serious leg workout for the first time, it’s not uncommon to be concerned that something has gone wrong. Rest assured this is not pain, just discomfort.

Real pain, if you are ever unlucky enough to experience it, doesn’t leave any vagueness as to its nature. True, you’ll hear the occasional story of the guy (or girl) who walks around on a broken foot for 3 weeks without realizing it, but those stories are exceptional because when bones break and muscle tears happen, it’s usually painfully clear what has occurred.

When performing a given exercise, you may get a twinge of something minor that has gone awry; this can usually be fixed with adjustments to your form or changing the resistance. However, there are certain movements that can be problematic due to contraindications that may exist from previous injuries – which is one reason why it’s great to hire a trainer if you have special needs or if you are particularly concerned about injuring yourself. Otherwise, use common sense, just don’t wimp out when the going gets tough.

Exercise Vs. Skill

Hand walking is a skill, but it can also be exercise

This is a guest post by personal trainer and fitness expert Eric Bergmann.

I’ve long been a fan of a dangerous and irritating word: “why.” I’m fond of applying it when people tell me about their new “fitness” quests. Outside of making me a social pariah, questioning people’s motives has led me to an interesting discovery:

Many people build their fitness goals around a skill, not around exercise.

I’ll explain what I mean more in a moment, but first two caveats: 1) there’s nothing wrong with using a skill rather than exercise to improve fitness, and 2) all fitness regimens have some degree of risk. That said, it is crucial to realize that when using a skill rather than exercise, the primary goal is no longer fitness – it is skill enhancement. The reason this is so important is that skill enhancement comes with a significantly greater degree of inherent risk, and may require an additional exercise regimen to offset the higher injury potential and to achieve peak performance.

“What the heck is he talking about?”

Let’s use an example to clarify what the heck I’m talking about. Bob hasn’t been exercising but wants to lose twenty pounds of fat. Bob decides that he will start running to lose weight. However, Bob knows that he is unlikely to stay on track with his running, so he enters a race to force him to train. His friend at work is running a half-marathon in a few months, so he decides to do the same.

Distance running is a skill that must be developed

It would surprise me if Bob gets fit instead of injured. Bob is carrying 20 lbs of extra fat and hasn’t been exercising. He’s not conditioned to run a long distance. True, as he begins running, his cardiovascular system will become more efficient and he’ll be able to run farther without being out of breath, but will his core muscles be well conditioned enough to protect his lower-back? Will his gluteal muscles have enough strength and endurance to protect his knees? Will his posture be good enough to protect his neck? Most likely he’ll start getting some minor aches and pains after a while – a sore knee, a mild backache or some extra tension around his neck. He won’t think much of it, but as he keeps running and keeps adding on miles, the minor aches and pains will become full blown injuries. Ask around the office; you probably know a Bob or two — someone with the best of intentions who was derailed because of the gap between skill and exercise.

Where did Bob go wrong? Bob wanted to start exercising so he could get fit, but instead he tried to develop a skill he wasn’t ready to handle. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to run a half-marathon, but, for Bob, it crosses that line between skill and exercise. Bob’s goal to lose the 20 lbs of fat could have been handled with a combination of strength, cardiovascular and flexibility work paired with an improved diet (for the record, I believe that cardiovascular training is actually the least important of those factors when it comes to fat loss – yes, I put stretching above cardio when it comes to Bob’s fat loss). Running a few miles is exercise. Running a dozen miles is a skill. There’s no set point where exercise becomes skill – my rule of thumb is that if you can’t do it the same way two or three times per week, you’ve probably crossed that line.

I’ve chosen distance running because it’s a skill I see most often confused with exercise. If I said I was going to start cage fighting to lose some weight, people would laugh at me. They would laugh because of the high risk of injury to someone like me – someone without the skills and conditioning of a cage fighter. So why is it not hilarious when someone says they’re going to run a mid to long distance race because they want to lose some weight? They also lack the skills and conditioning requisite to the task.

To embark on a training program – be it for exercise or skill development, you have to first know what your real goal is. Only after that can you and/or your coach make sense of your assessments and create a plan. If your goal involves a skill, go at it and have an exercise program based around keeping your body healthy enough for the skill. If your goal is based around fitness, start exercising at a level where you’re comfortable, build slowly, and listen to your body!


Eric Bergmann has been a personal trainer for 9 years, working both in big-box and boutique health clubs, as well as in private in-home settings. With a specialization in corrective exercise, Eric blends traditional training methods with cutting edge performance enhancement techniques. If you have questions or comments for Eric you can send them to eric4string@gmail.com

Mastering Your Body Weight

Al Kavadlo One Arm HangWhile there’s no such thing as true mastery, it’s great to strive for ideals as long as we realize they are just that–something to reach for. On the road to superior fitness, it is good to have a sense of your place so you can determine the logical way to progress.

In gymnastics (which is just a highly advanced style of bodyweight training) skills are generally ranked A through F, with A skills being the easiest. The standards are quite high, as back levers and front levers are only considered A level skills and muscle-ups are simply listed under “basic skills.”

I thought a similar type of rating system might be nice for the rest of us. I decided to break down some of my favorite bodyweight exercises (and some that I aspire to one day have in my arsenal) using a 5 level system to assign them a difficulty rating. I’m not holding to the same standards that a gymnast might. Here is what I’m proposing:

NYC HandstandLevel 1 skills:
Squat
Plank
Dip (Bench)
Lunge
Push-up
Australian Pull-up

Level 2 skills:
Single Leg Deadlift
Hanging Leg Raise
Dip (Parallel Bars)
Back Bridge
Elbow Lever
Handstand
Pull-up

Level 3 skills:
L-sit
Pistol Squat
Handstand Push-up
Dragon Flag
Clutch Flag

Level 4 skills:
Back Lever
Shrimp Squat
One-arm Push-up
Human Flag
Muscle-up

Level 5 skills:
One-arm Pull-up
Front Lever
Planche
One-handed Handstand

It’s important to have a good foundation before trying advanced exercises like the planche and the human flag. Getting comfortable with basic skills allows you to progress in a safe and effective manner. Obviously, this list is not all inclusive so feel free to suggest additions. Furthermore, as different people have different strengths, you may find that you make quicker progress with some skills than with others. As always, strive to keep the beginner’s mind. No matter where you fall in the continuum, there is a new challenge ahead!

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Invisible Shoes

As part of my minimalist approach to running, I’ve been experimenting with various types of footwear. I’ve tried running barefoot at the beach and even at the track, but with all the things that you could cut yourself on in the streets of NYC, I’ve been looking for the next closest thing.

A lot of people have suggested that I try running in Vibram Five Fingers, but I’m turned off by the price tag. When I came across Invisible Shoes, which cost less than half the price of a pair of Vibrams (for a custom pair nonetheless!), I knew I was on to something.

Invisible Shoes are the closest thing that I have seen to actual barefoot running. They’re based on the famous “huaraches” that the Tarahumara Indians wear when they run. Putting them on made me feel like a Native American warrior!

They also offer a do-it-yourself kit, where you can make your own huaraches by purchasing the raw materials. Without the cost of labor, the price drops even more.

The first few times I went running in my Invisible Shoes, I had a little trouble getting the laces tight enough to keep the sandal on my foot without over-doing it and making them too tight. Once I found the sweet spot, however, the Invisible Shoe felt great.

Running in Invisible Shoes will keep you on your toes–literally! The few times when I lost focus and let my form get sloppy while running in them, I was immediately brought back to the hard reality of the pavement.

Like all things, it’s best to gradually transition to your new running style in order to let your body get conditioned. You’ll likely be using muscles in your feet that you’re not used to, and if you aren’t already practicing the forefoot running technique, you’ll need to get used to that as well.

I going to stick with my plan to run the upcoming Brooklyn Half Marathon in my Vans slip-ons, but perhaps at the next race you’ll spot me sporting Invisible Shoes.

Client Spotlight: Alex

Alex is the most recent addition to my roster of personal training clients. In only a few short months, he has seen huge improvements in his strength, coordination and energy level.

Having never done any strength training before, Alex and I have been spending most of our sessions focusing on the fundamentals of body-weight training. Alex has built the strength to do push-ups and dips and we’ve even began working some plyometrics into our sessions.

Alex recently remarked that even though he’s gained a few pounds since we began our workouts, his pants are actually looser in the waist. His T-shirts, however, are fitting tighter around his arms and chest. Alex is starting to get diesel!

Check out this video clip from one of our recent outdoor workout sessions:

The One Arm Chin-up (May 2010)

The one arm chin-up has been my favorite feat of strength since the first time I ever saw one performed. It’s a beautiful display of strength, power and control. Anyone who can do a one arm chin-up has automatically earned my respect, for to perform this move takes discipline, patience and determination.

No matter how strong you are, you simply cannot acquire this skill without lots and lots of practice. In previous posts, I’ve discussed some effective techniques to utilize while training for one arm chin-ups , like the archer pull-up and one arm negatives.

Last fall I was still working towards getting a single one arm pull-up. Now, after nearly 3 years of working on this move, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can do two in a row!

Check out the video below for evidence that if you set your mind to something and dedicate yourself to it, you can make it a reality.

The Myth of Over-training

Kavadlo Brother NoWhich is the most universal human characteristic, fear or laziness?

This is one of many thought provoking questions asked in Waking Life, one of my all-time favorite movies. Its relevance to the world of fitness occurred to me during a recent conversation that I had with one of my clients about the risks of over-training.

While over-training can be a real concern to elite athletes in competition training, it is rarely, if ever, something that is experienced by the average Joe. Yet I hear this concern brought up in the gym surprisingly often.

Whether we’re talking about a boxer getting conditioned to taking a punch or an ultra-marathoner building the endurance to run all day without resting, we humans have an uncanny ability to adapt.

Being sore doesn’t mean you’re over-training. Doing two workouts a day doesn’t mean you’re over-training. The problem is that most people are under-trained!

While you should generally avoid doing heavy resistance training on the same body part every day, you simply have to get yourself conditioned to exercise; your body will adapt. If your workouts are so intense that you actually manage to cross the threshold into over-training territory, you won’t have to ponder it–you’ll know it.

While the idea of daily workouts might seem overwhelming to most people, an individual who builds up their strength and endurance gradually should have no problem working out for an hour every day.

It’s okay to take it easy on some days (active recovery workouts have long been a part of my regimen), but don’t let fear or laziness stand in the way of getting fit. They are the two biggest obstacles to achieving any goal, be it in fitness or life, and it is up to you to overcome them.

The Best Gyms in NYC

As much as I love working out at home or my local park, gyms are a key piece in the fitness puzzle. While you can get a thorough workout with no equipment, there are some things you simply cannot do without the gym. Weight training requires weights and if you live in a small apartment like most New Yorkers, you probably don’t have room at home. Likewise, you’re even less likely to have a skating rink in your backyard. With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of NYC’s various gyms.

The Big Chains
Crunch, Equinox and New York Health and Racquet Club are three of the most popular gyms in the city and they all have many locations. Some of the facilities are nicer than others and some of the staff might seem more qualified than others, but generally these gyms are considered at the higher end of the spectrum. In addition to free weights, strength training machines and a variety of cardio equipment, these clubs all have amenities like towel service, toiletries and, in some cases, laundry services. As New York is the city that never sleeps, they tend to open their doors early in the morning and remain open late into the evening. New York Sports Club and Bally’s offer similar facilities, though the clubs are generally not as well maintained; they tend to have fewer amenities and older equipment.

The Mega Complexes
With over a million square feet of fitness options, Chelsea piers boasts the city’s largest sports complex. They have everything from weights to rock climbing to ice hockey (even in the summer). If you live in the area or if you’re staying at NYC’s landmark Hotel Chelsea, it’s worth checking out. There are many different activities there and they offer something for everyone–including kids!

The Reebok club on Columbus Ave. is another enormous, posh facility that has just about everything you could think of in terms of equipment. It’s also a frequent spot for celebrity sightings. Keep in mind that gyms like these, while fun and filled with variety, can get a bit pricey and may not be necessary for everybody.

Private Gyms
NYC has many private gyms where serious-minded fitness enthusiasts can have a personalized workout with a trainer or participate in semi-private group classes. Without a crowd of people or a bunch of useless machines getting in the way, gyms like Nimble Fitness in Union Square and Work in Soho have quietly become the top training facilities in the city.

With all the options that the city has to offer, there’s no reason to let yourself slack when it comes to fitness.

Rethinking Running Sneakers

The beach is a great place for barefoot running.

I’ve run many races over the years, usually wearing high-tech sneakers and my heart rate monitor, while meticulously selecting the best running playlist for my iPod. When I run the Brooklyn half marathon next month, however, I am going to try something new; I’m planning to leave all those things at home.


A few months ago I made this post about running sneakers, in which I proposed that high-tech footwear was ideal for safety and performance. However, I have since come to reconsider my opinion on the matter.

I’ve been a proponent of forefoot running for a long time, but my recent experiments with barefoot running have led me to realize how highly cushioned shoes decrease your ability to sense the way your foot is landing; this is potentially the root of most running injuries.

Of course barefoot running is great if you’re on the grass or the beach, but I’ve even gone barefoot at the track. I still prefer to wear something on my feet for road-running, but it doesn’t need to be anything fancy–just something comfortable and lightweight. In fact, the less cushioning the better. The same way that wearing thick gloves will decrease your dexterity with your hands, wearing overly cushioned sneakers can make your feet heavy and clumsy.

I'm planning to run 13.1 miles in these!

The reason so many people tend to get running injuries is more often poor form than poor footwear. Running barefoot or in minimal footwear will quickly improve your running form for the simple reason that bad form actually hurts when you don’t have an inch of padding under your feet. While that padding can be enough to desensitize you to the impact, it isn’t enough to protect your joints. Thin soled shoes will force you to be light on your feet, which will likely improve your speed as well as your safety.


Lately I’ve been running in Vans slip-ons, a casual sneaker that almost feels more like a slipper. They are very comfortable and as an added bonus, I don’t ever have to worry about my shoelaces coming untied! I might get some weird looks at the start line for the Brooklyn half, but I’ve never been one to let that bother me.

(Editor’s note: Check out this post on running the Brooklyn Half Marathon in Vans to find out how that went.)

Front Levers and Back Levers

Back lever on pull-up bar

All of our body’s movements are performed through a system of pulleys and levers; your arms and legs are complex machinery, but they move under basic principals of physics and gravity. Front levers and back levers are an exaggerated example of that. What makes front levers and back levers unique is that instead of using leverage in your favor (like you do during a deadlift) you’re doing the opposite–using primarily your arms to move the rest of your body!

Front levers and back levers are two challenging exercises that require tremendous core strength as well as a powerful upper-body. Practicing towards these movements can build serious strength in your arms, chest, back and abs. Perhaps more importantly, levers train you to use your muscles to work together, which is how to utilize them most effectively.

Front lever on parallel bars

Front Levers
A front lever involves holding your body out in a straight line parallel to the ground with your hands grasping a bar(s) or ring(s). Your chest faces upwards. Note the placement of the hands is closer to being over the hips than it is to the shoulders. In addition to thinking about keeping your abs tight and extending your back, you need to be actively pulling your hands down towards your hips, engaging your lats, triceps and chest. A pullover is a great exercise to build strength for this movement.



Back Levers
A back lever is the same idea but now you are facing downward. These are also best performed with a pronated (overhand) grip. Keeping a narrow grip is also a good idea as it allows you to leverage some of your weight against your arms. A great way to practice performing a back lever is to lower yourself down into it slowly and/or use a bent knee position to progress to the full version. As you drop into position, pitch your chest forward to wind up with your hands over your hips.

Front lever with one knee bent

Variations
Like the human flag, front levers and back levers can also be performed on parallel bars. There are subtle differences between the two that I encourage you to explore for yourself. Also, remember that levers can be easier when using a bent knee position. Performing a front lever with a split-legged position or with just one knee bent also works as a great variation on the way towards the full lever position. Experienced trainees might want to challenge themselves by practicing towards a one arm lever–you can always find a new challenge!

Going Caveman in Mexico

Getting primal up on this bitch, er, beach.

I’m no stranger to caveman workouts and I love to keep variety in my exercise regimen. So during my visit to Mexico this week, I decided to take my primal training style to a whole new level.

Running barefoot on the beach, hiking through trails and climbing trees have been just a few of the activities I’ve explored during my time south of the border.

Since I began running, I have been a proponent of wearing high-tech footwear, but since reading Born to Run, I’ve been rethinking my stance on the importance of running sneakers.

It seemed fitting to experiment with barefoot running in the beaches and backwoods of Mexico–near the home of the legendary Tarahumara Indians, who are famous for their ultra-distance runs in minimal footwear.

Watch me play Tarzan in the video below:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhDoF7cFPFU

The One Arm Pushup

The one arm push-up is a classic bad-ass feat of strength. Master this one and you’ll not only impress your friends at parties, but more importantly, build monstrous strength in the process.

Big muscles are not necessarily the key to performing body-weight feats of strength–you need look no further than my 165 pound frame for evidence of that. The key is core strength and total body control.

It’s hard to get a consensus on what counts as the definitive one arm push-up. There are different variations, and like all other feats of strength from the pull-up to the human flag, everyone has their own opinion.
How Low Can You Go?
I like to go low on push-ups and I’ve even heard of trainers insisting that clients touch their chest to the ground on every rep. Other times I see trainers letting clients get away with only lowering themselves one or two inches. There needs to be a middle ground! You won’t benefit much from doing a one inch push-up but many people cannot maintain safe form while going chest to the floor.

I believe that the ideal range in somewhere between 90-110 degrees of flexion as measured along the OUTSIDE of the elbow, depending on the mobility of the individual. If you aren’t sure how low you are getting, have someone else watch you. Sometimes it’s hard to feel how your body looks when you exercise. People often think they are going lower than they actually are. I know–I was once one of them! In order for me to count a rep in any sort of competitive situation, I would need to see a minimum of 90 degrees of flexion.

Elbow in or out?
There are different ways to position your body when you do a one arm push-up. You can put your feet wide, you can put your feet narrow; you can put your arm out or keep your arm in. Most people will find keeping their legs in a narrower stance to be more of a challenge. Keeping the elbow in can be more difficult for some people as well, as it shifts the emphasis from the chest onto to the front delts and triceps. I don’t care which way you do them as long as you maintain control and keep your body straight (or mostly straight, a little rotation is unavoidable).

More Than Just One Arm
A strong midsection helps to get your whole body to work together. You also need to think about your opposite leg; If you are doing a one arm push-up on your right arm, your left leg needs to be engaged and vice versa. I find it best to practice keeping my whole body tight during the entire range of motion.

Progressing Towards A One Arm Push-up
Obviously you should have the strength to perform many two armed push-ups (at least 30 or 40 consecutively) before you even think about trying a one arm push-up. It’s also helpful to practice other push-up variations.

Another way to practice the technique for a one arm push-up is to perform it up on an angle using a bench or bar that’s a few feet from the ground. As you get stronger, you can lower the angle – eventually you’re on the ground!

…And Beyond
There’s a lot of new challenges that lie ahead once you get the hang of the one arm push-up, like plyometric one arm push-ups, one arm push-ups on a medicine ball and the one arm/one leg push-up. With so many ways to vary this classic, you can always keep your workouts fresh and challenging!

Note: Check out my new one arm push-up training tutorial for more info on this exercise.

Where to Run in NYC

I’m sometimes surprised by how often my clients tell me they can’t find anywhere to run in the city. I tell them, “If there is ground ahead of you and you can put one foot in front of the other, you can run.”

Having said that, there are some spots that are more conducive to running for fitness than others. Three of my favorite places to run in NYC are the West Side highway, the East River path and, of course, New York City’s famous Central Park.

The path on the West Side Highway was built fairly recently and runs along several miles of the city, from lower Manhattan up past midtown. If you head south, the path leads into Battery Park City, one of NYC’s hidden gems for runners. If you’re going in the other direction, you’ll pass Chelsea Piers and you can follow the path north for another few miles before turning back.

For those of you closer to the Lower East Side or East Village, you may prefer to run along the East River. You’ll need to cross an overpass to get on the other side of the FDR expressway, but there are several entrances. Once on the other side, you have a few options. You can run on the path adjacent to the highway, you can run along the esplanade (which is still under construction) or you can check out the running track near the East 6th street overpass.

If you’re running south, you will eventually cross through the South Street Seaport and you can wrap around and come up the West Side. If you’re heading north, however, watch out! The path thins out around midtown and you could find yourself running on the highway if you’re not careful!

Of course, there’s Central Park–the granddaddy of them all. With its famous reservoir, over 6 miles of rolling hills and several trails off the beaten path, Central Park offers something for everyone. Whether you’re a resident of New York City or just visiting, make sure to take advantage of the city’s nicest natural resource.

Related Topics:
Best Hotels in NYC
Forefoot Running
Threshold Running

Zero Equipment Workouts

If you want to exercise at home but you don’t have much room or equipment, you might feel like it’s impossible to get a thorough workout.

However, as long as you have enough space to get in a push-up position, you have everything you need!

Besides push-ups, there are many other exercises that you can do with limited space and no equipment. Jumping jacks, squats, lunges and planks are a few basics that come to mind.

Fitness on the Road

When you travel, maintaining your fitness routine can get bumped down your list of priorities. If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have the best fitness facilities, it gets even easier to rationalize skipping a few workouts.

Here are 3 sample routines for various fitness levels that you can do at home or on the road with limited time and space using only the bodyweight exercises listed above (and a few variations):

The Routines

Beginner:
Jumping jacks – 20
Squats – 10
Push-ups – 10 or to failure
Stationary lunges – 10 each leg
Front plank – hold for 30 seconds
Side plank – hold for 10 seconds each side

Intermediate:

Jumping jacks – 50
Jump squats – 10
Plyo Push-ups – 10 or to failure
Stationary lunges – 20 each leg
Plank – hold for 60 seconds
Side Plank – hold for 30 seconds each side
Handstand w/ legs against wall – hold for 30 seconds

Advanced:

Jumping jacks – 100
Pistol squats – 10 each leg or to failure
One arm push-ups – 10 each arm or to failure
Jumping lunges – 10 each side
Handstand – hold for 60 seconds
Plank with one leg – hold for 60 seconds each leg
Side plank with one leg – hold for 20 seconds each side

Whichever level you do, try to get through the entire circuit with as few breaks as possible. When you finish the circuit you may rest up to two minutes, then repeat. See how many times you can get through the routine in 30 minutes.

Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg2f9pieTVI

Related links:
Failure training
Lunges
Pistol Squats

Performing Perfect Squats

I began training a new client recently who had been working out on her own for years. She realized that she was in a bit of a rut with her routine and that she would benefit from taking me on as her trainer. Smart girl.

There is always an assessment period when I begin working with a new client. The first session or two allows me to get a feel for what that person is already capable of in order to find out what challenges I can present to them, and what weakness they may have that we can work towards improving. (This assessment period usually works both ways–they are feeling me out as a trainer as well!)

One of the exercises that I typically have a client do during our first session is the squat. After watching my new client do a few squats I cued her to initiate the movement from her hips and also to go down lower. (These are two of the most common corrections that I give people on squats.) As soon as she began following my cues, she exclaimed “Wow-I really feel this now,” then added, “I guess I’ve been doing them wrong all these years!”

The second part of what she said bothered me. I told her, “You weren’t doing them WRONG–it’s just that now you are doing them BETTER.” Doing squats the way that she had been might not be as effective or efficient as the way I instructed her to do them, but it is way better than not exercising at all! I am certainly not suggesting that improper form is great for you, but it isn’t the end of the world either. This is a really important distinction to me and it comes up all the time–and not just with squats but with everything.

I generally do not believe in the concepts of RIGHT and WRONG. I find them to be a huge oversimplification. Like all things, squats are not simply a case of black and white–there are a lot of shades of gray in between. There is no such thing as a perfect squat–perfection is an illusion.

Having said that, there are certainly ideals that we want to strive for when performing a squat and there are ways to potentially injure yourself by doing squats improperly. Keeping good posture, making sure your heels stay in contact with the ground and initiating the movement from your hips are three key components to performing squats safely and effectively. But even if you fail to do those things, you’re still probably going to wind up okay. You might not get the results you want, but you haven’t done anything “wrong” as far as I am concerned. Just make sure you improve your form before you start loading up a ton of weight.

My point in saying all this is twofold. First, I don’t want you to beat yourself up over thinking that you’ve been doing things wrong. If you are making an effort to improve your fitness then you are doing something right. Second, it’s important to remember that in exercise, like all things in life, there is always room to expand your knowledge and see things from another perspective. Allow yourself to be open to growth, but try not to be hard on yourself when your weaknesses are made apparent. Being humble doesn’t mean throwing yourself a pity party. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Beginning Parkour Training

I am a big proponent of personal training–not just for my clients–but for myself, too!

I’m always eager to learn new ways to exercise and have fun, so when my friend Rick Seedman of the Bar-barians offered to teach me about parkour, I jumped at the chance. (Literally!)

About Parkour
Parkour comes from a French word meaning “obstacle course.” Basically, it involves navigating an urban landscape with quickness, efficiency and grace. As Rick says, “Parkour is about expressing yourself through movement.”

Parkour training is playful and less structured than most formal types of exercise, but there are a few basic moves that all traceurs (that’s what parkour practitioners like to be called) should be comfortable with.

Precision Jumping

One key aspect of parkour is precision jumping. Just like the name implies, this movement involves jumping and landing (often onto or off of an object) with the utmost precision–something I am still working on!

Underbars

An underbar involves passing between a narrow, horizontal opening by jumping through the obstacle and landing on the other side. The most common situations to use underbars are passing through rails, trees, or scaffolding.


Rolling

Rolling is used primarily to spread the impact of a jump throughout your body (so you don’t take it all in your knees and ankles). Rolling also allows for a smooth transition into the next movement.

All About the Human Flag (Part Four)

Human flag on bouldering wall

If you’re new to the human flag–welcome! Make sure to check out part one of my human flag series–it’s a great place to start!

Finding Places to Practice
Being able to perform a flag in one place does not necessarily mean that you’ll be able to do it anywhere.

I’ve done flags on many different surfaces: a bouldering wall, a fence and even construction scaffolding! But I’ve also encountered potential flag sites that proved to be too difficult (like trees).

Edit: I have since done a human flag on a tree

Different contexts offer their own unique challenges. The little nuances in your flagging surface can make a huge difference in your ability to let it fly. The thickness of the bar (or whatever you are gripping) as well as the height and stability of the object are all factors to consider when finding places to practice your human flag. Keep these considerations in mind, but don’t be afraid to get creative.

Human flag with underhand grip

Gradual Progression
While you might be eager to learn this move, bear in mind that you must gradually introduce your body to the human flag. In the beginning, just holding a bent leg flag for a couple of seconds would leave my obliques sore for days afterward. Additionally, developing shoulder tendinitis can be a concern, especially early on. You want to be warmed up before practicing your flag and make sure to give your body proper rest between efforts. Eventually you may be able to practice flags daily, but in the beginning a few minutes every two or three days is a better way to ease yourself in. Be patient–anything that’s worthwhile takes time. If you want to acquire this skill, you can. You just have to really want it and be willing to put in the work. The human flag can be a lot of fun, but it ain’t a game!

Beyond the Flag
I know what you’re thinking: what could possibly be harder than the human flag!?!

Flag pull-ups of course!

All About the Human Flag (Part Three)

Another modified version of the human flag.

As you may already know from my previous posts on training for the human flag, performing this feat of strength requires your full concentration. It also requires just about every muscle in your body! Let’s break it down piece by piece.

The Bottom Arm
The bottom arm is the foundation of the human flag. The job of your bottom arm is to support most of your body weight. To do this, you’re going to have to press into the pole as hard as possible. Try to fully extend your elbow and keep it locked out. It is essential to have a solid grip down low in order to execute the move properly.

As I mentioned in part one of my human flag series, parallel bars are great for performing the flag because you can get a firm grip with a lot of leverage. However, it is important to note that the thickness of the bar can make a great difference in the difficulty of performing a flag. A thicker bar is much harder to grip, which can make executing a human flag even more of a challenge.

A thick bar can pose problems when attempting the flag on a vertical pole as well. When using a vertical bar, I’ve found that the best way to hold onto a thicker pole (one that you can’t really get your hand around), is to employ an open grip with your wrist bent back and your index finger pointing down. Think about spiderman when he puts his hand out to shoot his webs. This hand position allows you to press your palm into the bar and spread your fingers out. A full underhand grip with the hand completely turned over (thumb down, pinky on top) works well for some people on the bottom as well. Having your thumbs pointed down is generally a good thing for leverage regardless of which hand we’re dealing with–this is why the underhand grip is favorable for the bottom hand but not for the top. (Check out Danny’s full underhand grip with his bottom hand in the photo from part two of this series.)

A close up of what I like to call "Spidey Grip."

The Top Arm
Most people who can do the human flag are better with their dominant arm on top. This is counter-intuitive, since the bottom arm does more of the work, but it is the case for most people. The top hand has a lot to do with controlling the movement; if the bottom arm is the anchor, think of the top arm as the steering wheel.

Gripping with the palm of your top hand facing down is the way to get the best leverage. (Having the palm of your top hand facing away from your body during the flag is generally more challenging than this position.) I’ve also done the flag with my palm facing towards my body. Even harder still is having your top hand in an underhand grip. This is not a technique I’ve seen done often.

When going for a flag, you want your top arm to be stiff, but don’t think about pulling with that arm. If you pull, your elbow will wind up bending, which makes for a sloppy looking flag. Just squeeze the bar tightly while trying to isometrically contract your whole arm. The bottom arm winds up doing most of the work.


Core Strength

Core Strength is key to being able to hold a flag for any length of time. Your abdominals, lower back and obliques (especially on the side that’s on top) play a big role in holding the position. Exercises like planks, side planks and one arm/one leg variations on planks can help you build that core strength. Try to work up to doing planks and side planks for several minutes at a time to help build up strength for the flag.


Legs

Your legs don’t play a huge role in performing the human flag, but you still ought to be mindful of them. Think about contracting your whole body when performing a human flag, including your glutes and your quads. A stiff body stays in the air better than a limp one.


Trainer Tip:

When going for a human flag between parallel bars, make sure that your hands are stacked directly on top of one another. Having your hands staggered makes it much harder to maintain control.

Make sure to read the final installment of my Human Flag series!

All About The Human Flag (Part Two)

Danny doing a flag on a vertical pole (mixed grip)

A lot of people ask me how long it takes to learn to do a human flag. It’s natural to ask this question but I think the best way to approach training to do a flag is not to think about the end result. It is a long road to the human flag and people who go in expecting a quick fix will likely be disappointed. It takes a lot of practice–even if you’re already fit. However, if you focus on the process rather than the end result, I think you’ll find it a more rewarding experience. It also helps to set small bench marks along the way by using easier variations to build your way up to the full human flag.

The key to gradual progression is to practice similar positions where you’ll have better leverage. Part of what makes the full human flag so challenging is that you’re using a relatively short lever (your arm) to hold up a very long object (your body). Since you can’t really make your arms longer, you need to find ways to make your body shorter in order to make the flag more manageable.

A vertical flag is slightly less challenging.

Try doing a variation where your body is closer to being vertical than horizontal. Almost like a crooked handstand (handstands, by the way, are a great way to supplement your human flag training). Besides being easier on your arms, this puts a lot less stress on the obliques, lower back and abdominal muscles, allowing you to get a feel for having your body up in the air while you build up the strength to fully extend your legs horizontally.

Once you can get the vertical flag, you can work towards lowering your hips down with your legs still up. Then progress to putting out one leg, and over time both legs. Practicing with your knees bent also works well as a precursory way of working up to the full human flag. Remember, any modification that gives you better leverage is a good way to work towards this skill. The important thing is consistent practice.

Watch me transition through progressive variations leading up to the full human flag:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW9KdZyxqWk

Go to part three of my Human Flag Series!

Also make sure to read part one of my series on human flag training.