Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

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:

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!

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
Australian Pull-ups

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:
Dip (Bench)
Australian Pull-up

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

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

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

Level 5 skills:
One-arm Pull-up
Front Lever
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!


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:

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.

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.

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: