Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

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

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!

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

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.

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

One Arm Australian Pull-ups and More!

When doing a one arm Australian pull-up, you are down under the bar

When you do a one arm Australian pull-up,
you wind up down under the bar!

Last month I gave you some tips to get started on building up to one arm pull-ups. Here are three more tools to have in your arsenal along the way.

The One Arm Australian

The one arm Australian pull-up is a worthwhile exercise in its own right, though it’s never been one of my favorites. However, it can be a useful tool to help build towards a classic one arm pull-up. Since at least one leg stays on the ground, it is a little easier to perform than a regular one arm pull-up.

When attempting the one arm Australian pull-up, concentrate on engaging your abs and your back muscles–don’t just focus on using your bicep strength. Remember that when you do a one arm Australian, it’s natural for your body to roll a little bit in the direction of you arm.

Keep your whole body tight when performing a one arm flex hang

Keep your whole body tight when performing a one arm flex hang


The One Arm Flex Hang

The flex hang, which involves holding your body at the top of a pullup position, is commonly used to build strengh and endurance in the upper body. Female marines are required to perform a flex hang in order to prove themselves worthy of that title.

The flex hang can also be performed using only one arm. At first, I recommend keeping your legs tucked close to your body as it will allow you to engage more core strength. As you get better you can try practicing with your legs extended.


Weighted Pull-ups
Weighted pull-ups are another great way to build the strength that you’ll need to perform a one arm pull-up. Just like the one arm pull-down, pick a weight that you are only able to get around 3 reps with. Going for a one rep max on this is also beneficial, but make sure that you are warmed up first!

Don’t assume that you need to be strong enough to pull double your body weight with two arms in order for it to carry over into a one arm pull. Once you can do weighted pull-ups with around 65-75% of your body weight, that will roughly translate into a one arm chin-up.

Keep in Mind
It’s important to mention when discussing one arm pull-ups (of any kind) that your secondary arm does not touch your primary arm in any way. It can be stiff against the body or it can be out in the air, but if you are holding your arm or wrist you are not doing a true one arm chin.

The one arm pull-up (or chin-up) is a very elusive move and requires a lot of patience, consistency, and dedication. So the question you need to ask yourself is this: How badly do you want it?

Watch this video for demonstrations and more!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmiv4tkyxK8

Plyo Pistols

Fire that pistol!

Fire that pistol!

I am always seeking out new physical challenges and the pistol squat is one of my favorite exercises. So when I came across this video of Steve Cotter doing jumping pistol squats onto a ridiculously high step, I decided that was a skill I wanted in my arsenal.

Of course there’s only one way to make that happen–practice!

The box that I am jumping onto isn’t nearly as high as Steve’s, but I am just starting out! Gotta keep practicing–It’s always a work in progress!

Keep in mind that doing this sort of thing at all is still a very advanced technique. The more difficult the physical challenges get, the more careful you need to be of the risks involved. You should probably first get comfortable with plyometrics and pistol squats on their own before combining the two.

Check out the video below for more!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg8Wkj9rZMo

The Double Kettlebell Get-Up

Two Kettle Get up Last month I introduced you to one of my favorite exercises, The Turkish Get-Up.

In today’s video, I attempt a new feat of strength–performing the Turkish get-up with two kettlebells in one hand–The Double Kettlebell Get-Up.

Just holding on to both kettlebells at the same time is a challenge in its own right!

The combined weight of the two Kettlebells is 70 pounds. I weigh around 165 pounds, so it’s not quite half of my body weight. I’d love to eventually build up to doing a get-up with my entire body weight!

There’s always a new challenge out there–don’t get complacent with your workouts!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdDGh0pku2A

Running Accessories: Heart Rate Monitors

I'm in there somewhere In life, there are things that you need to have and there are things that are nice to have. You need basic things like food and shelter–we can’t survive without them.

On the other hand, luxuries like cell phones and elevators fall into the category of nice to have. Sometimes we feel like we need them–but we wouldn’t die without them.

In running, the only thing that you really need is your body itself. For me, that simplicity is part of the appeal of running.

Hopefully you have a body already, so let’s focus on some of the other things, the ones that are nice to have. Afterall, there is nothing wrong with having nice things.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors allow you to gauge your intensity by telling you your average heartbeats per minute.

This can be be helpful if you have a tendency to sell yourself short and not push yourself hard enough. It can also be helpful if you are bad at pacing yourself and push too hard at the start.

The biggest drawback of wearing a heart rate monitor is that it can be uncomfortable, especially during longer runs. They often have an elastic band that wraps around your torso, which can get sweaty and start to feel heavy after several miles. Many heart rate monitors have other features as well, like calorie counters (which don’t always give accurate readings).

While heart rate monitors have their pros and cons, I think that they are overall a worthwhile accessory and can be a valuable performance tool. There are other means to track your intensity (like a simple wristwatch, for example), but the heart rate monitor is probably the most reliable, without being too much of a hassle.

Plyometrics: Jump! Jump!

Plyometric Push-up

Plyometric Push-up

You might not know what plyometrics are yet, but there’s a good chance you’ve already done them at some point.

The term plyometrics refers to explosive types of movement that involve speed and power. Sometimes plyometric exercises are also referred to as “jump training.” Jumping rope is an example of a low intensity plyometric exercise, while depth jumps and plyo pistol squats are examples of advanced plyometrics.

But don’t think that means plyometrics are limited to your legs! The jumping push-up (often accompanied by clapping) and the kipping pull-up are two examples of upper body plyometrics.

Plyometric training is great for athletes (serious or recreational) because sports typically involve dynamic movements. Practicing these types of movements in a controlled setting like the gym often carries over into improved performance in sports and other activities.

Land with your knees bent

Land with your knees bent

The box jump is one of the most fundamental plyometric drills. Many types of athletes do box jumps to build power and increase their vertical leap.

Start by standing in front of a sturdy box or step (most gyms have plyo boxes or you can do them outdoors with a ledge or step). Squat down and jump up out of your squat position onto the box.

When you are doing plyometric jumps, make sure that you land with your knees bent in order to absorb the shock. Try to rebound from one rep right into the next.

Plyometric exercises allow you to take advantage of the elasticity of your muscles to get more milage out of each rep.

Watch the video clip below to learn more about plyometric training:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlGJaq840bQ

The Turkish Get-up

Turkish Getup

Start by lying on your back with the weight straight up in the air

Want one strength training exercise that can work your entire body and get your heart pumping?

The Turkish Get-up is a classic exercise that involves pretty much every major muscle group in the body.

It’s the type of feat that you might expect to see performed in a circus act, but it is also a great way to give yourself a challenging workout!

The exercise starts with you lying flat on your back with one arm up in the air. Then you stand up.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Well, that’s pretty much what the exercise boils down to in the most basic way, but there is a technique that’s a bit more complicated.

While one hand is holding the weight overhead, you post off the ground with your opposite hand, using your core strength to sit up. Next, lift yourself up and slide your hips through until you’re on one knee. From here simply stand up like you would getting out of a lunge. You can practice with your hand empty at first to get a feel for it, but the idea is to perform the exercise holding a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.

There are a few different ways to approach this exercise but the basic idea stays the same: lie on your back holding a weight and stand up. The weight stays straight overhead and your arm stays locked the whole time.

Check out my video segment for a more detailed demonstration.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogo289xOic4

Squats and Deadlifts

KavadloSquatSquats are probably the single most common exercise that people need help with in order to achieve proper form.

The main thing to know about squatting with proper form is to go all the way down until the top of your thigh is below parallel to the ground. That might be lower than you think. You should ask someone to watch you to be sure.

Also keep in mind that your heels should not come off the ground at any point during the lift. Third, the movement should be initiated from the hips, not the knees. What I’m saying is, stick your butt out!

A deadlift, to put it simply, involves picking up a weight that’s on the ground in front of you. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back–that advice is talking about the deadlift! It is a great functional exercise for this reason.

Another way to look at deadlifts is that they are similar to squats except that you are holding a weight in front of you. The two most common types of deadlifts are the Romanian deadlift and the more traditional Olympic deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves less knee flexion than the Olympic deadlift.

Romanian deadlifts involve less knee flexion.

Squats and deadlifts are amazing postural exercises but you must really focus on good posture while you do them in order to get those benefits. Keep your chest held high and pull your shoulder blades together!

Deadlifts work your grip strength and lower back, but they also work your hamstrings and glutes. Make sure you don’t use your back too much on these and that most of your range of motion is coming from your hamstrings. That means just like squats, stick your butt out when you do a deadlift.

Muscle-Ups!!

Muscle-ups are one of the most intense body-weight exercises ever. They work so many different muscles and will get your heart and lungs pumping as well.

What is a muscle-up, you may ask? It’s almost like a combination of two of my favorite exercises: the pull-up and the dip, but way more intense than either of those on their own!

Muscle-ups are a pretty advanced exercise so I recommend that before you even try to work up to one, you get to the point where you can do 15 consecutive pull-ups and 20 consecutive parallel bar dips.

Close up of the false grip.

Close up of the false grip.

When doing a muscle-up it is important to note that the most effective grip is different than a traditional pull-up grip. Muscle-ups are typically done using what’s called a “false grip” which involves putting your hand farther over the bar, so that your palms are facing the ground and your wrist is cocked when you are hanging. This allows you a smooth transition from the pull-up phase of the movement into the dip phase.

If you want to work towards doing muscle-ups, it’s helpful to practice trying to get as high up over the bar as you can when doing pull-ups. Explosive pull-ups where you let go at the top can also be used as a precursor to doing muscle-ups.

When you perform a muscle-up, think about moving your upper body away from the bar on the way up rather than pulling straight towards it. Once you clear the bar, move your chest over it as you press yourself to the top of the movement. The arc of the body will create an S-shape pattern.

See my other muscle-up tutorial and check out the video clip below for more!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9w-xS2AudA

And if you’ve already got the hang of muscle-ups, check out my article on advanced muscle-ups.

Lunges!

Hey Ladies, listen up – this one is for you!

Lunges are one of the best exercises for toning and strengthening your legs and butt.

Fellas, don’t think this means you don’t have to bother with them, though – lunges should be a staple of anyone and everyone’s fitness regimen.

Lunges hit all the major parts of your lower body, they get your heart pumping, and they are great for revving up your metabolism.

Lunges can be performed in place, or by stepping forward and then lowering yourself down until your back knee is just above the ground. Typically, one might alternate legs, continuing forward with each step (often called a “walking lunge”).

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges can also be done by stepping backwards (“back lunge”), side ways (you guessed it–“side lunge”), or any other way you can think to do them. A stationary lunge is sometimes called a “split squat.”

When doing lunges, stay mindful of keeping your front foot totally flat and not letting the heel up (the heel of your back foot ought to be up, however). Also make sure to keep your posture and don’t allow your front knee to cross in front of your toes.

For added resistance you can perform lunges while holding dumbbells, resting a barbell on your back, using a kettlebell, or any other way that you see fit to. Get creative!

Watch the video below for more:

Client Spotlight: Armen Gemdjian

Armen GemdjianArmen is one of the toughest chicks that I know. When she first took me on as her trainer last December, she could barely even do one decent pushup–she has come a long way since then! Now that she’s made progress with pushups, we have been focusing on other challenges, such as kettlebell training.

Still gotta keep practicing those pushups though!

Two of Armen’s current goals are pull-ups and parallel bar dips. Armen also takes spinning classes regularly and she is planning on running her first 5K race next month.

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

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMzHaYdo7Rg

The 50 Pull-up Challenge

A lot of people have asked me about how to go about increasing their reps on pull-ups. There are a lot of ways one can successfully do this, but the method that I am proposing is probably the most simple and direct.

The 50 pull-up challenge consists of doing 50 pull-ups in one workout, no matter how many sets it takes you. Even if it means you are doing sets of one rep by the end. You are allowed as long of a break in between sets as you need.

For example, you might start out with a set of 10, followed by a set of 8, followed by a set of 7, then 2 more sets of 5, 3 sets of 3, 2 sets of 2, and end with a couple sets of 1. This could take a while at first, but over time the amount of sets that you can do this in should go down.

At first I would recommend only doing this once or twice a week, as it will be a bit of a shock to your body. Eventually, however, you can condition yourself to doing this just about every day.

After a month or two, you could have it down to 4 or 5 sets. Highly fit individuals can do this in one or two sets. After a while it could simply be your warm up!

This same approach can be used to increase reps on pretty much any other exercise as well, like push-ups, dips, or even pistol squats. Additionally, if 50 is just not realistic for you right now, then pick a smaller number (maybe 30?) and then build up from there. For women it might be better to do the challenge with modified pull-ups.

The 50 Pull-up Challenge is not for beginners or the faint of heart! If you are not ready for it yet, doing the challenge with pushups instead of pull-ups is a more modest task to approach first.

Kettlebell Training

kettlebellI first saw a kettlebell back in 2002, when a friend of mine introduced me to the one arm snatch. (No I’m not trying to make any inuendo here, that’s the name of an exercise that’s commonly done with a kettlebell!)

I thought the kettlebells were pretty neat but I was very focused on bodybuilding at the time. Kettlebells didn’t seem to have any place in a bodybuilding routine so I had no use for them. After all, I was pretty damn sure that anyone whose workouts didn’t revolve around squatting heavy, doing deadlifts, and going all out for 8 reps on bench press was surely wasting their time!

Obviously I had a very narrow view of things but I’ve learned a lot (and been humbled a lot!) over the years. I experimented with kettlebell workouts occasionally after that first encounter and eventually wound up becoming a certified kettlebell instructor through NYHRC in 2008. This past summer I met Shir Konas, one of the top kettlebell intsructors in NYC. Shir has helped me take my kettlebell technique to the next level.

There are a lot of subtleties to performing kettlebell lifts safely and effectively. Having experience in conventional weight training is a great foundation to start from, but I still advise anyone interested in working out with kettlebells (even an experienced lifter) to solicit a qualified instructor.

Check out this video clip of me doing a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0J5Z4LWgE