Forefoot Running

When I tell people that I love distance running, I often get reprimanded. “You’re going to blow out your knees,” people warn me.

I don’t know if they genuinely think they are going to save me from the perils of ACL surgery or if people just like to get on a soapbox, but it’s getting old.

Distance running is not inherently bad. When running injuries occur, it is often due to improper training and/or running with bad form.

I might get in trouble for saying this, but we are each responsible for our own fate. If you take good care of your body and you know how to safely progress, there shouldn’t be an issue. Too many people get it in their head that they want to run a marathon, but they can barely even run a mile! If you don’t build up to longer distances gradually (the general rule is to increase your total mileage by no more than ten percent each week), you are setting yourself up for overuse injuries.

That, and for crying out loud, stop landing on your damn heels!

In the book Born to Run, Christopher McDougal suggests that modern running sneakers (Nikes in particular) are to blame for Americans’ poor running technique. He points out that the over-cushioning prevents people from realizing that their form is detrimental to their joints. Ironically, the very footwear that was designed to prevent these injuries is often the culprit behind them.

If you try running barefoot, you’ll quickly see for yourself how unpleasant it can be to land on your heels!

While I do like to run in sneakers sometimes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mindful of proper form.

Running on your heels isn’t only risky for your joints, it’s also not a very efficient way to get the most out of each stride. By leaning forward and landing on your mid-foot and toes, you keep your momentum and allow gravity to do some of the work for you. Whether you are a recreational jogger, or a triathlon competitor, proper running technique is key.

Several different names for the technique of leaning forward and landing on the forefoot have been used. A Russian doctor named Nicolas Romanov coined the term “pose running” in the late seventies and has written a great deal about it.

Many other books have addressed the problems with landing on your heels, such as Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.

Before you decide that “running isn’t for you,” make sure you fully explore all the evidence. Don’t be in a rush to get to the finish line, instead try to simply enjoy each step along the way.

All About the Human Flag (Part One)

Human Flag on Vertical Pole

The human flag is one of the greatest body weight challenges of all time. When someone can hold a full human flag, it always attracts the attention and admiration of onlookers. It’s one thing to be strong–it’s another thing to be a human flag! However, brute strength is not the secret to success with the human flag.

Most people assume it’s strictly an issue of upper body strength, but there are other things to consider when training for the human flag. Achieving a full human flag begins by having a thorough understanding of these considerations. From there it’s simply a matter of practice, dedication, and patience.

Different Approaches
There are basically two different methods to performing a human flag. The one most people tend to picture involves a vertical pole, both hands grasping the pole with an overhand or mixed grip. This is the textbook position (photo is shown above).

Human Flag on Parallel Bars

Human Flag on Parallel Bars

The second approach is to perform the human flag between two parallel bars. Not the type of parallel bars that you would use for a dip, but rather bars that are stacked vertically in a parallel fashion. This allows you to put your hands into a neutral grip (with your palms facing each other), which I find a bit easier to control (as seen in the photo to the left).

Watch the video below for a tutorial on the classic human flag and check out part two of my human flag series for more.

Other human flag posts:
Convict Conditioning 2
Human Flags Everywhere!
Clutch Flag Tutorial

Water Jug Workout

When training at home, it can seem daunting to try to implement a successful workout strategy that doesn’t involve lots of expensive equipment.

However, you don’t need to feel limited by the fact that you might not have a lot to work with at home. The key is to get creative–an everyday object like a jug of water can be a useful workout tool. (A gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds.)

Using a water jug for resistance training is efficient, practical, and it can also make for a damn good workout!

I recently did a water jug workout with my client Armen at her apartment. She doesn’t have any workout equipment (or a ton of space) but that didn’t stop us from getting it done.

Water is readily available and relatively cheap. After all, it’s the world’s most abundant resource. As a resourceful trainer, I’m happy to take advantage of that fact.

Watch the clip below to see highlights from the workout:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8eOSh60780

What to do First–Weights or Cardio?

When clients ask me about how to organize their exercise regimen, they usually want to know how to break up their strength training and cardio sessions appropriately.

There are basically two questions that come up: first, do I think it’s a good idea to do them on the same day; and second, which one do I do first?

The simple answer to the first question is, yes, it’s fine to do them on the same day. However, it’s a matter of priorities. This brings us to the second issue–what to do first?

Think of it this way; after you run 5 miles, you probably won’t have as much energy to devote to your strength training. Conversely, if you lift weights for 45 minutes first, your cardio session is not going to be as productive.

Life is like that though, there is no one best way to do anything. All situations have pros and cons.

This is why I typically like to alternate my strength training and cardio workouts. (Although that system isn’t perfect either!)

If you want to experience the best of both worlds, another possibility is to combine strength and conditioning at the same time by doing circuit training or kettlebell workouts. Just don’t get limited by only doing kettlebells or circuit training. They’re great ways to maximize your time, but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all of fitness.

If you are training for improved performance in a given activity, be it a one rep max on a deadlift, doing 50 pull-ups, or running a race, you need to train specifically towards that goal and make it a priority. However, if your goals are more loosely defined, then feel free to experiment with different approaches to see what works best for you.

Like I always say, there is no better way to learn than through your own firsthand experience.

Threshold Training

Threshold training is one of the best ways to improve performance in middle distance running. Sometimes called tempo running, threshold training involves trying to take your body right to the edge, without falling off the cliff.

If you were to rate your intensity on a scale of 1-10 during a run, a comfortable jog might rank as a 6, with an all out sprint being a 10. While interval running has you alternate between those two extremes, the goal of threshold training is to stay at an 8 or 9 for as long as possible, remaining on the brink of exhaustion without crossing over the line.

Some people like to use heart rate monitors during threshold training to monitor their intensity. You can also use a stop watch, or simply use the honor system and go by your perceived level of effort based on the 1-10 scale.

After a 5-10 minute warm-up, your threshold run should last between 20-45 minutes. Most people cannot maintain a high level of intensity for much longer than that, though really fit people might be able to push it to an hour.

Threshold training is a great way to increase your lactic acid threshold, which in turn will increase your speed. Lactic acid builds up as a by-product of muscle contraction during exercise. A person whose body has been conditioned to intense training runs is better able to handle the build up of lactic acid and therefore doesn’t experience the nausea that can be associated with it.

Over time, speeds that used to seem fast can start to feel comfortable. When used once or twice a week in a program that also includes high intensity interval training and active recovery workouts, threshold training can be a great tool to increase both your speed and your mental toughness.

Your Trainer, the Exercise Broker

If you were looking to find a new apartment, but you didn’t have a lot of spare time, you would probably hire a real estate broker to help you. The broker would listen to what you wanted in a dwelling, do the leg work for you and arrange for a time when you could meet with him so that he could show you the apartments he found that fit your needs.

A personal trainer can do the same thing for you with exercise. A good trainer will assess your needs, listen to your concerns, and do the leg work for you (not literally of course–you still need to do those lunges yourself!).

Having a trainer select safe, effective exercises for you can save you the hassle of a lot of trial and error. The same way that a good real estate broker knows the neighborhood and knows of the best deals without having to look at a million places, a good trainer knows how to give you a challenging and effective workout without wasting a lot of time.

Just like that real estate agent will ideally save you both time AND money in the big picture (time is money after all, right?), having a personal trainer can be a valuable investment in your health. So if your time is valuable, then it’s worth your while to work out with a qualified personal trainer.

However, if you do have the time and inclination to explore for yourself, I encourage you to do so. There is something to be said about having first hand knowledge which can only come from real life trial and error. There is no substitute for experience, and experience only comes with time. Remember, every fitness fanatic or personal trainer had to start somewhere–just like you. Perhaps in time you’ll wind up becoming the broker yourself.

Plyos at the Park

Today I am going to show you three great upper body exercises (with variations) that you can try without a gym membership.

All you need to do this workout is a little warrior spirit and a park with some monkey bars and/or a jungle gym area. You can get creative with where you choose to work out as long as you get it done.

With springtime (hopefully) around the corner, I think you’ll find getting outside for plyos at the park to be a lot more fun than another go around on the stationary bike.

Giuliano Stroe: World's Strongest Boy

I first came across child prodigy Giuliano Stroe a few months ago when he started getting attention for his record breaking hand walking performance.

Then Giuliano set another world record last week for planche push-ups.

Now Giuliano, at just 5 years old, is also the unofficial world record holder in one of my all time favorite feats of strength, the human flag.

While I am impressed and inspired by the strength and skill of this gifted young gymnast, it’s hard to watch these videos without being reminded of the story of Richard Sandrak, aka “Little Hercules,” a child prodigy who got a lot of attention for his physique and feats of strength a few years ago. It was later revealed that Richard’s father was abusive and also gave the boy steriods.

I know very little about young Giuliano Stroe, but I hope his story ends up differently. The issue of kids and strength training is complicated and I’m not really sure where I stand on it.

One thing is for sure, though–this kid is definitely inspiring me to step up my human flag game!

Pain and Posture

This is a guest post by Jamie Nischan.

Old “Doc” Plume, the local hardware store owner, who was known for his miraculous cures for arthritis, had a long line of patients waiting outside the door when a little old lady, completely bent over, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.

When her turn came, she went into the back room of the store and, amazingly, emerged within half an hour, walking completely erect with her head held high.

A woman waiting in the line said, “It’s a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you’re walking erect. What did Doc do?” She answered, “He gave me a longer cane.”

It’s funny, most of the people with bad posture or pain syndrome that I run into want to know a miracle exercise that will cure their dysfunction. Sure, exercise can help and be a big part of a program designed to deal with pain and posture, but more often than not, it is the little things in our everyday lives that could use some adjusting. With that, here is a short list of activities to be mindful during:

Driving
Do you slouch, or lean to one side more than the other? Maybe you keep one hand high on the steering wheel and the other low, causing you to shrug one shoulder more than the other. The point: try to shift and change positions often if you spend lots of time in the car. The best position will always be hands at 10 and 2, holding your back tall and flat against the seat.

Desk
You should know by now that posture at the desk is important. You’re in this position for several hours at a time and it can have BIG repercussions on your health. Get up often and be aware of any favoritism to any particular positions you might find yourself in. Reaching and twisting from a seated position is a big no-no. Try to organize your desk to be more spine friendly by putting often-used folders and materials within arm’s reach.

Sleeping
Our sleep posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of our life. You spend 8 hours (hopefully) a night in either one or various positions that could have a large impact on your posture during the day. Do you pile the pillows high? This leads to excess stretching of the extensors in the neck, possibly contributing to a forward head posture. Do you pull the bed sheets tight over your feet, pulling your toes into a pointed position? This can lead to limited ankle mobility, which then affects your entire body mechanics, from walking to sitting. Do you sleep on your side with one leg bent and across your body? This can lead to an imbalance between your left and right spinal erectors, which then could be contributing to your back pain. Paranoid yet? I didn’t even mention how sleeping on your stomach can contribute to an excessive lordodic curve, which may then lead to excessive compressive forces on your lumbar spine!

Final Thoughts

We need to pay more attention to our bodies when they’re NOT in motion. It’s the little things like these that add up and contribute to a life of constant, nagging pains. Practice a technique known as mindfulness. Every once in a while turn your attention inwards and ask yourself, have I been in this position for too long? Could I do something to make my current posture more comfortable and back-friendly? Before you know it, the pain that once prevented you from doing normal everyday tasks will have disappeared and become a thing of the past.

Jamie Nischan owns and runs a successful fitness coaching business in Stamford CT. Through the use of posture correction and exercise he treats pain often associated with excessive use of computers. More about Jamie can be found at www.thebuffgeek.com.

Active Recovery

After a hard workout, you might be dreading the soreness which will inevitably ensue over the next 24-48 hours. Your instinct could be to take the next day off from exercising altogether. Not so fast!

Active recovery allows you to keep the momentum in terms of your fitness AND can potentially decrease the lactic acid build-up that’s partially to blame for muscle soreness.

Instead of taking the day off, try following your high intensity training day with a low intensity workout. For example, if you did sprints on Saturday, you might just want to do an easy jog on Sunday.

The principle behind active recovery can also be applied within the context of a single workout. When used this way, active recovery refers to following an intense exercise with a less intense one.

Rather than simply resting in between sets of pull-ups, an active recovery workout might have you alternating pull-ups with a lower intensity exercise that allows your arms to rest while keeping your heart rate up, like jumping jacks.

While I am a proponent of daily exercise, that doesn’t mean that every workout has to be an all-out balls-to-the-wall effort. Varying your intensity is the key to maintaining a daily workout regimen without over-training.


Trainer Tip:

Remember to listen to your body–use active recovery when it feels appropriate–but don’t start using it as a rationalization to slack off.

High Intensity Interval Training

track signInterval training is often touted as the best way to burn fat and expend high amounts of energy during a workout. It is also great for people who don’t feel that they have a lot of time to devote to fitness. A high intensity interval training session (sometimes called HIIT) can be completed in under 30 minutes.

HIIT alternates between rounds of high intensity exercise immediately followed by a low intensity recovery period. That recovery period allows you to renew your focus (both physically and mentally) before having to go all out again. While interval training can be done using any cardio modality like running, biking, or stair climbing, I’m a runner, so I’ll use running as an example.

After a 5 minute warmup (a brisk walk to a light jog depending on your fitness level), you would begin your first high intensity interval, consisting of running as hard as you can for at least 30 seconds. You can push yourself hard for 30 seconds, right?

Following that, your intensity goes back down to where you were during your warm up. Psychologically, you can use this rest to help get through the hard part. Repeat this process several times and end with a 5-10 minute cool down (and some stretching).

The thing with HIIT that a lot of people tend to overlook is that it only works effectively if you really push yourself on the high intensity portions. When you get to the recovery portion, you should be out of breath and totally gassed. You also have to be prepared to turn the heat back up right away once you are recovered, which can be very demanding mentally as well as physically. Remember, though, you can’t get fit without doing the work.

HIIT is one time when I do advocate the use of treadmills because of the convenience of the timer and the ease of measuring speeds and distances. Nothing beats doing an interval workout at a track with a stopwatch, though, if you have that option.

Trainer Tip:

While HIIT cardio is a great way to maximize your time, it should not be the only type of cardio in your routine. Threshold training and active recovery days are also important components of a well rounded running program.

The Caveman Workout w/ Lenny Lefebvre

Tree situpIf you’ve been keeping up with me, then you’re probably already aware that it doesn’t take much equipment to get a great workout.

People in the know have been doing “caveman workouts” in parks and playgrounds for years, mostly going unnoticed, until recently. Now the idea of keeping it paleolithic is starting to catch on–and not just in New York.

Last week, an Italian reporter got a hold of me (and my good buddy Lenny Lefebvre) to find out more about how we do it in NYC.

We showed her some caveman workout basics, like climbing a tree, throwing rocks, and some good ol’ fashioned running around.

Here is the segment as it aired in Italy:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNpsEJqV02k

Dead Hang Pull-ups w/ Danny Kavadlo

Danny and IIf you’ve ever had a pull-up contest (or been asked to judge one), then you know how hard it is to ensure fairness. There are a lot of things to consider, such as technique, range of motion, hand placement, grip, etc.

I’ve heard a lot of people boast about how many pull-ups they can do only to find out that what they count as a rep is barely half the range of motion.

Last month, when I took the 20 pull-up challenge, a few readers even criticized me for “cheating.”

Using the dead hang pull-up is one way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

A dead hang pull-up involves fully locking out the elbows at the bottom of every rep. No momentum is involved during a proper dead hang pull-up. It’s a total 180 from the kipping pull-up.

I stopped by to see my brother Danny last week at his gym (he’s the personal training manager at NYHRC’s flagship location on 23rd street), and we decided to have an impromptu dead hang pull-up contest.

I went first, making sure to proceed slowly and deliberately between reps. Danny went second, and seemed more focused on trying to beat my number, rather than doing every rep with total precision.

Alas, I feel as though our pull-up contest ended ambiguously, but we both got a great workout, so in that sense we’re both winners.

Watch the video below to see for yourself:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9pofy0WWWk


For more information about muscle-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

Fitness Classes–Pros and Cons

Spin ClassGroup exercise classes are one of the most popular ways to work out. (C’mon, you’ve watched them through the glass.) They may be jumping, spinning, or standing on their heads, but whatever they’re doing, they are in it together. But is group exercise right for you?

Like everything in life, group fitness has its pros and cons.

The pros are pretty obvious, working out in a group gives people a feeling of camaraderie, and having the instructor around assures that you will be doing a safe, effective work out, right? Not always.

I can tell you from first hand experience that it is very hard to lead a class that will be ideal for all the participants. There are always a few people who will need extra attention and instruction. However, if the class is crowded, the instructor might not be able to give the proper attention to newcomers without alienating class regulars.

Another pro is that the structure of having a class format can help you stay consistent and motivated with your training. Just don’t get too dependent on that one class, or your motivation might change along with the new fall schedule at your gym.

Trainer Tip:

Group classes are great, but it’s also important to be able to get a workout in on your own. Don’t forget to mix it up and keep your workouts challenging.

Training to do a Planche

Planche with bent armsJan. 2011 Update: Check out my new strategy for training the planche

The planche, like the human flag, is an advanced body-weight challenge that requires strength, balance and stability.

While it’s commonly seen in competitive gymnastics, few people are familiar with the planche and even fewer have thought to try it themselves. I’m hoping to change that!

The textbook planche position is almost the same as the push-up position–except your feet are not touching the ground.

There are several positions to practice while building up towards this, such as headstands, handstands and the crow (aka frogstand). It’s also helpful to practice planche variations with your legs bent or in a straddle position, as these are typically easier.

Before working on the planche, you should establish a solid foundation of core strength as well as upper body strength, through doing exercises like planks, push-ups, and dips.

The full planche is still a work in progress for me but after months of practicing, I can get my body mostly straight when my arms are bent.

I recommend learning a planche by practicing on parallel bars. You can easily (and inexpensively) build an apparatus to practice on using PVC pipe.

Watch the video below to see more:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi2x6eyWcRM

Working out in the Morning or the Evening?

Split legged front leverDo you have a hard time fitting workouts into your busy schedule?

People often ask me when is the best time of day to exercise.  Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a few different approaches:

Morning People
A lot of people like to exercise first thing in the morning in order to get it out of the way. If you do your workout before the stresses of the day start to pile up, then you don’t have to worry about life getting in the way and derailing your plans. I like this approach.

On the other hand, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Sacrificing sleep in order to get a morning workout might be solving one problem, but it creates a new one in the process. Besides, you’re unlikely to muster up the energy for a great workout if you’ve only had 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

The Lunch Crowd
If you can slip away from the office in the middle of the day, it can be a great time to fit some exercise into your schedule. Gyms are usually pretty quiet in the afternoon, which can let you get your workout done without a lot of distraction and wasted time. Just make sure you don’t skip lunch. Nutrition (especially post-workout) is a key part of the fitness equation.

After Work
The evening is generally the most popular time to go to the gym. After a stressful day, exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam. Plus you don’t have to wake up any earlier than usual!

The downside is that the gym can be very crowded and you may wind up spending half of your time waiting for the equipment you need. It’s helpful to have a back up plan and to be able to improvise in these situations.

Additionally, some people find that evening workouts rev them up too much and cause insomnia. If you are going to the gym in the evening, you might want to give yourself a few hours to settle down before bed.

Trainer Tips:
It takes time to make a habit stick–eventually early risers will go to bed earlier and it will get easier. But for night owls, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can allow for deeper and more restful sleep.

No matter when you get your workout in, the important thing is consistency. Get it in when you can fit it in, but don’t stop working for it or it might stop working for you!

More Human Flag!

Human flag with legs tuckedEditors Note: Click the words Human Flag Training for a newer, more thorough post on this topic.

The human flag is one the greatest tests of strength known to mankind. Some people would see that as something to shy away from.

I see it as a challenge!

The textbook form for a human flag involves keeping your arms straight and you body parallel to the ground. Like this guy.

On the way there, easier variations (flag with tucked legs, higher angle, etc) can act as precursors to the textbook flag position.

While I believe that everyone has the potential to perform at least some variation of a human flag, most people will be convinced that it is impossible for them upon their first attempt.

However, if you endeavor with patience and dedication, that which was once deemed impossible can become reality!

Watch the clip below to see more of my human flag training:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKeVMXiGAOo

Client Spotlight: Sam

Sam CardonaSam Cardona is one of the most fit people I’ve ever trained.

Sam has completed two Ironman triathlons, including last year’s Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where he finished in 12:41:47. You read that right–over 12 hours of exercise!

For anyone who doesn’t know, an Ironman is a triathlon that consists of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and then a full marathon–26.2 miles.

When working with an athlete of Sam’s caliber, my goals are to constantly keep him moving and to challenge him on different fronts. It doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment, though. Watch me give Ironman Sam a full body workout with nothing but a medicine ball and a pull-up station.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQX1hejpmZ0

Working your Biceps and Triceps

Gun showAnyone can get tickets, but if you want to be IN the gun show, you gotta earn it!

Biceps
The biceps curl is one of the most popular and famous exercises that there is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the most efficient.

Personally, I prefer compound exercises like pull-ups and rows. Funny thing is, if you do pull-ups or rows, you’re already doing bicep curls.

Think about the motion your arm does when you do a curl. Now think about a pull-up. The same activity is happening at the elbow joint: flexion.

The only difference is that when you do a pull-up or a row, you’re also working the muscles of your back and shoulders. That sounds more efficient to me. There are so many variations on pull-ups and rows (such as the Australian pull-up) that you can keep yourself busy for a while without having to concern yourself with isolating your biceps.

You can do pushups at home.  It's no big deal.

You can do pushups at home. It's no big deal.

Triceps
Triceps extensions are pretty much the same story.

The triceps muscles are activated any time you extend the lower half of your arm away from the top half.

If you do compound movements like push-ups, overhead presses, and dips, you work your triceps PLUS a whole slew of other muscles.

Pullovers are another great triceps exercise. (Plus they work many other muscles!)

In the world of bodybuilding/training for pure aesthetics, I will grant that curls and tricep extentions have their place. (Bodybuilders still do pull-ups, too, though!)

However, if performance is a higher priority, then you’re better off focusing on compound movements. Don’t worry–you’ll still be able to get into the gun show!

Do Shape Up Shoes Really Work?

Do Shape-ups really work?You’ve probably seen the ads for the sneaker that (supposedly) gives you a workout while you walk.

The manufacturers claim that their sneakers will tone and firm your legs just by walking. Finally–a way to get in shape without having to really work out!

Sounds too good to be true?

Of course that’s because it is!

In all fairness to Shape-up shoes, they do actually require that the wearer utilize more muscles than when walking in standard footwear–which over time could lead to increased fitness.

However, walking in Shape-ups is also harder and less pleasant than walking in other sneakers. So you still have to do some work to get any results.

I’ve also heard reports of people falling down and getting hurt while wearing these. That’s definitely not going to make you more fit.

The bottom line is this: a sneaker can’t work out for you! Some people need to find ways to trick themselves into exercising (or trick themselves into thinking they’re exercising) and that’s who this sneaker is intended for.

For the rest of us, just go for a run or do some pull-ups. It’s really not so bad.

There will always be someone trying to take advantage of people looking for a quick fix or a shortcut.

Don’t be a sucker. Just go work out!

Jumping Rope for Cardio

Jump Rope Cardio
Jumping rope is not just for kids. It’s a fantastic way to build stamina and athleticism, plus it’s a great method for burning fat.

In fact, it’s one of the best forms of cardio conditioning out there–way better than a treadmill or elliptical trainer.

Jumping rope can also have a huge impact on improving your coordination and agility.

You can probably expect to get winded and feel uncoordinated the first time you try jumping rope for cardio, but after a few sessions you will start to get the hang of it.

Basic Jump Rope Techniques
The first thing to learn is the standard two-foot jump. Start with the rope behind your heels, then whip in over your head and jump over it with both feet at the same time. If you are brand new to this, it might be best to just practice single jumps, resetting your rope after each rep. Eventually the aim is to transition from jump to jump as smoothly as possible.

Once you get that move down, you can try alternating feet like you are jogging in place while the rope passes beneath you on each step.

Crossovers and Double Unders
After you’re comfortable with the basics, you can start to play around with crossover jumps. This means you switch the position of both hands to the opposite sides, so your left hand winds up outside your right hip and your right hand is outside your left hip. It takes focus and coordination to get the timing right for this one, so be prepared to put in some practice before you will be able to perform them consistently. Also be prepared that you may need to jump a bit higher in order to stay in the air long enough to cross your hands back and forth between jumps.

A double under refers to a jump in which the rope goes underneath the feet of the jumper twice during a single leap. In order to perform a successful double under, you’ll need to whip the rope extremely quickly and jump higher than normal to make room for the rope to pass beneath you twice before you land.

Programming Your Jump Rope Workout
In the beginning, I suggest simply practicing the basic techniques before you worry about any specific programming. You can practice for a few minutes at the start of your workout as a warm-up, or do it at the end. You can also do it on a separate day entirely. As long as you get it in, when you do it is up to you.

Once can comfortably jump continuously for at least 60 seconds, you can try doing intervals where you alternate between one minute of jumping and one minute or rest. Keeping that pace up for 20 minutes can be surprisingly tough at first! As your technique and conditioning improve, you can aim to make your jumping intervals longer and your breaks shorter. You can also increase the length of your sessions.

For variety’s sake, I recommend practicing some crossovers and double unders, particularly during longer sessions. Be aware that these moves will be more tiring, however, so you may need to adjust your work-to-rest ratio to account for this. One of my favorite ways to practice crossovers and double unders is simply to pick a total number to aim for in a single session, then hit that target in as many sets as it takes, with as many breaks as needed. At first, you might aim to perform just 10 of each in a given session, as you will miss many of your early attempts and expend a lot of energy doing so. As you get more proficient, you can increase that number to 100 or more.

Check out the video below for more:

If you want to get a jump rope like mine, check out Crossrope.

My MMA Workout w/ Matt Ruskin

Kettlebell rowEverybody needs training–even me.

Luckily, I got to be on the other end of a training session recently–with Matt Ruskin, an MMA fighter, ex-marine, and all around badass.

Matt took me a bit out of my element by giving me an MMA (mixed martial arts) style workout. As he points out, “MMA training challenges your equilibrium by constantly making you switch from being on the ground to being on your feet.”

The exercises we did all involve explosive changes in direction, and when all was said and done, I was pretty beat.

Watch the video below to see how it went:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wi59VOCM2JE

More of Al's Best Running Playlists

Running w MusicWhat makes for a great running playlist?

Well besides the obvious stuff, like picking your favorite genre (I like rock music) or finding songs with inspiring lyrics, I like to find songs that I can sync my pacing with rhythmically.

When I time my foot strike with the beat, it helps me to keep my footing even. It also enhances my focus when I match my movements to the music.

Depending on how fast I want to try to run, I can select songs with various beats per minute (bpm). The bpm of the song correlates with the amount of strides I’ll take in a minute. I usually take around 170 strides per minute, but I’ll sometimes go a bit faster or slower depending on the circumstances.

Here are some songs I like to warm up to:

Judith–A Perfect Circle–Mer De Noms
Long Division–Death Cab for Cutie–Narrow Stairs
Another Space Song–Failure–Fantastic Planet
I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)–Eagles Of Death Metal–Death By Sexy

Below is a playlist comprised of faster songs. I used this playlist for my recent 4 mile race:

Closer–Nine Inch Nails–The Downward Spiral
Heroes–Shinedown–Us And Them
Fill My Little World–The Feeling–Twelve Stops And Home
Elite–Deftones–White Pony
Dandelion–Audioslave–Out Of Exile
Sound Of Madness–Shinedown–The Sound Of Madness
Defy You–The Offspring–Greatest Hits
Blood And Thunder–Mastodon–Leviathan

Click here for my marathon playlist.

What are your favorite songs to run to?

Al Takes the 20 Pull-up Challenge!

Pull-upsAs you may know, pull-ups are my favorite exercise. So when I stumbled across the twenty pull-up challenge the other day, it was obvious to me what I needed to do.

For the purpose of this particular challenge, our pull-ups will be performed using an overhand grip on the bar, the legs will be kept straight and the movement will be performed with control.

There are lots of types of pull-ups, and I’m not usually a stickler, but I know some people are, so I’m hoping to avoid any confusion.

A couple months ago, I issued my own 50 pull-up challenge, but this challenge is different than that one. These twenty pull-ups must be done in one consecutive set.

I think that 20 consecutive pull-ups is an achievable goal for any able-bodied man out there. For women, 10 might be a more achievable goal. The potential to do incredible things is within all of us!

Watch the video below for more:


Update: One Year Later

I received some criticism on my first video from people who either claimed my grip was too narrow or that I didn’t complete a full range of motion. I took those criticsms to heart and made a new video:

Client Spotlight: Barbara

barbaraBarbara Roche Fierman is living proof that everyone can (and should) exercise, regardless of injuries, their age, or any of the other excuses that people tend to come up with.

Barbara’s list of injuries includes a fused ankle, a cyst in her lower back, and a torn rotator cuff.

She’s also 72 years old!

But in spite of all that, I meet with Barbara 3 times a week and she gives it her best effort.

Regular exercise helps her to continue working full time as the CEO of New York’s Little Elves, NYC’s #1 cleaning service, and do all the things New Yorkers need to do to get around.

Take a look at this video from one of our recent strength training workouts:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhYUfF91B-M

All About Australian Pull-ups

Australian PullupThe bodyweight row or Australian pull-up places you “down under” the bar in a horizontal position to hit your muscles from a different angle than the traditional pull-up.

By hanging below a bar that is set just above waist height with your heels in contact with the ground, you’ll wind up at an angle that’s almost like an upside-down push-up.

From this position, brace your entire body as you pull your chest toward the bar and be careful not to bend your hips or shrug your shoulders. Pause briefly when your chest is an inch or two from the bar, then lower back down with control.

Because it is a different plane of motion, this exercise works the muscles from a different angle than standard pull-ups or chin-ups, placing additional emphasis on the muscles of the mid-back, as well as the biceps, abs and upper-back.

Using the Australian for Beginners
If you aren’t strong enough to do a pull-up, this is a great way to start to build toward your first rep. Once you can do 3 sets of 10 Aussies without struggling, it won’t be long before a pull-up is within your grasp.

Trainer Tip:
The higher up the bar, the better the leverage, so if performing an Aussie on a waist-height bar is too difficult for you, then start with a bar that’s closer to chest height instead.

Using the Australian in a Superset
The Australian pull-up is a great exercise to use in a superset with push-ups, since they work opposite muscle groups. You will get a great pump from doing this and it also allows you to keep your heart rate up. Due to the fact that you’re allowing certain muscles to rest while you are using others, you can maintain that elevated heart rate without burning out your muscles too quickly.

The Australian pull-up can also be used in a superset after the standard kind if you are trying to increase your reps on pull-ups.

Plyometric Australian Pull-up
As you progress with this exercise, you can turn the Australian pull-up into a plyometric movement by switching from a wide grip to a narrow grip on alternating reps. You can also switch back and forth from overhand and underhand grips in an explosive fashion to further increase the difficultly of this exercise.

Watch the video below for more about Australian pull-ups:

SWBanner1

Pullovers!

Starting position for a pullover--note the open grip.

Starting position for a pullover--note the open grip.

Most of my clients tend to whine (to varying degrees) about doing exercises such as lunges, or step-ups. Today’s exercise, however, is one of the few that people actually seem to like doing!

Pullovers work your chest, back, shoulders, triceps, and abs, as well as other stabilizer muscles.

To do a pullover, start by lying down on a bench, with a dumbbell over your chest.

Lower the weight back behind your head in a slow, controlled fashion while taking a deep breath in. Exhale through your mouth while pulling the weight back up and over.

Lower the weight slowly and with control.

Lower the weight slowly and with control.

If you want to emphasize more of your chest and triceps, keep your elbows close together; to put more emphasis on your back muscles, keep your elbows out wider.

I usually like to do pullovers with a dumbbell, using an open grip, which involves putting both hands flat against the bottom of the dumbbell and curling your fingers around the edge. Pullovers can be done with a barbell as well, which allows you to experiment with a wider grip.

Pullovers are typically performed on a bench, although you can do them on a stability ball to add more of a core challenge.

Trainer Tips:
If you are more interested in putting mass on your upper body, then the bench is the way to go. When you do a pullover on a ball, you will have to use a lighter weight to account for the added stability factor, which makes the focus of the exercise less on building raw strength.

Pullovers might not be appropriate for people with certain types of shoulder injuries. Check with your trainer or doctor if you have a history of shoulder problems before doing this exercise.

Is Walking Really the Best Exercise?

This guy is not really working out.

This guy is not really working out.

Most doctors agree that walking is one of the best forms of exercise. But I think that’s bullshit!

Unless you are elderly or morbidly obese, walking falls into the category of what I like to call “physical activity”–it’s not a workout.

It’s certainly better for your body than lying on the couch (or slumping over at a desk–sit up straight!), but it doesn’t meet my standards of true exercise.

As far as I am concerned, in order for something to count as a workout there are three basic requirements: elevated heart rate, muscle fatigue, and sweat. Power-walking might fulfill these requirements, but for the average person, just taking a stroll ain’t gonna do it.

Don’t get me wrong, walking is great physical activity and most Americans probably ought to be doing a lot more of it. As a New York City resident, I walk just about everywhere. (I just don’t kid myself into thinking that it’s a workout!)

Walking can definitely add up over the course of the day, leading to weight loss, which is probably part of the reason why New Yorkers tend to be slimmer than most Americans–so I encourage you to walk as much as possible. Everybody should be getting at least an hour or two of daily physical activity. It’s just that you should also do some real workouts.

Getting Started in the New Year

outsideChristmas and New Year’s have come and gone and now the aftermath of all the partying and pastry eating is probably evident on the scale. Even if you haven’t needed to move down a notch on your belt, the new year is always a great time to renew your interest in fitness.

That’s right folks, it’s time to get focused on exercise again–after all, it is going to be summer before you know it. If you’re planning a trip to the beach when it gets hot, better start planning to put in some work at the gym now. Not that vanity is necessarily the best motivation, but I digress.

jumpingIf you’re reading this at all, that’s a good start. It means you must have a desire to improve yourself–and that’s the first step!

So maybe you have the desire to improve your fitness level, but you don’t know where to get started. Well you don’t necessarily need to join a fancy gym or hire a trainer (although those things are nice!), because I will show you some quick exercises that you can do without eating up a lot of your precious time or spending any money.

There is no excuse not to exercise!

In the video clip below, I demonstrate 3 basic exercises, with variations for different fitness levels, that you can do at a local park or even at home. Remember to dress appropriately for the cold weather when you are working out outdoors this winter.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxnCiXR3XFA

Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!


For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.