When it comes to building strength one of the most common questions people ask me if it is good to do machines, and if so which ones?
This question always makes me laugh because it sounds like something out of the Terminator.
The bottom line is if you are looking to lose weight and build strength free weights such as dumb bells, kettle bells, barbells and even our own body weight are better options over machines.
Lifting free weights require us force us to use more muscle groups than just the ones performing the movement in order keep our core and other joints stable.
Unlike machines which have us move on fixed planes and often times isolate a certain muscle group, Free allow us to move freely and train muscle groups and chains of muscle groups that allow us to mimic real life movements.
The thing is it can take a while to get proficient at free weight movements, and one wrong movement can lead to an injury.
This is where machines have the upper hand.
I believe machines are great for people just starting out and need to build strength.
Free weights have the ability to move all over the place if you lack proper form or joint stability. One bad rep where the weight is not controlled can lead to muscle tweaks and tears.
Machines operate on fixed patterns which work to stabilize the weight for you, keeping you safer.
The fixed pattern offers a low learning curve to strength building as well. Most machines are very easy to hop on and start going to work on with very little coaching required.
Everyone’s goal should be to work up to performing exercises with free weight. The problem is because machines are easier people stick with them and perform the same movements and never progress.
The lack of progression will cause you to plateau regardless if you are looking to lose weight or build strength.
If you are just starting out with strength training I suggest you start with a combination of machine exercises and body weight stability exercises. This will help to build strength while building core and joint stability for free weights.
Here is a sample beginner full body machine workout can follow to work their way up to free weights.
Well it’s official started week 1 day 1 of the program yesterday. Got through all my testing last week. Hit 280 for 5 on my deadlift and 125 for 5 on my over head press.
Now keep in mind these are not true 5 rm maxes.
With this kind of testing it is not about grinding through the reps. I am not sacrificing form to squeak out one more.
Instead I am looking/feeling for changes in bar speed and form.
Jim Wendler even suggests that it is better to start off lighter than try to push heavier. The hardest part is taking the ego out of it.
Yesterday started the program. I just got an airdyne (for $100) over the weekend. Did my first 20(ish) minute ride yesterday morning. Boy did that suck.
The first 10 minutes were OK, but needed to break a lot the second 10. Guess my legs are that out of condition. The airdyne is a necessary part of the program not just for conditioning purposes, but recovery as well.
Later on I hit the gym for my squat and bench day. Everything felt good lifting. Wasn’t sure how things were gonna go after working a double at my second job the day before.
I have also noticed that since starting to lift heavy again I have been wanting to nap more lately. Not sure if it is because of the humidity we have had, or if they are muscle growth naps.
Have my second day of riding the bike, which I am so looking forward too (sarcasm alert) and a body weight circuit lined up for today.
I will check back in next week to let you know how things are going.
I finally broke down and did something I never thought I would do again…… I joined a gym.
I swear I only did it because I need access to heavy weight.
I am starting my off season rugby training program. This is a time devoted to developing size and strength.
This means I’m getting back to the basic strength exercises of squat, dead lifts, bench press and over head press.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I am coming off a training phase based around a minimalist training program that used kettlebell and bodyweight exercises done either in a complex or a circuit.
The complexes allowed me to move fluidly and do a lot of work in a short amount of time.
That training style was more ideal for my in season needs. At this point I needed to make sure I worked good movement to prevent bad movement habits from developing.
Bad movement can lead to poor on field performance or even an injury.
The kettlebell and bodyweight movements were just what I needed to recover, and maintain strength to prevent those things from happening.
The kettlebell and bodyweight movements allowed me to address mobility, stability and retrain movement in ways I felt the barbell couldn’t.
At this point in my training I feel the barbell others me a better chance to increase my raw strength.
This doesn’t mean the kettlebell and bodyweight movements are completely out of my training, they just aren’t the focus.
The kettlebell and bodywright stuff are used on my non lifting days to help me recover, build volume, work as accessory exercises and keep me feeling athletic.
What I am trying to show you if that you don’t have to be married to one style of training all the time.
There is no “bad program” out there. But there is a time and place for everything.
Your training needs to reflect your goals. As your goals change, so should your training.
I am excited to be back in the gym and touching heavy barbells again. The time away from the barbell has me excited to get back to hitting a lifting routine.
Don’t worry though, those complexes will be back in time for the fall season.
Hey guys new feature. I am going to start sharing my daily training. I will be following the Classic Jim Wendler’s weighted vest 5/3/1 program from his new book 5/3/1 Forever. I will be following this for at least the next 10 weeks. I am looking to put on size and strength for the fall rugby season.
This program will require 2 days of lifting, 3 days of bodyweight/weighted vest circuits and daily airdyne riding adding up to 30 miles per week. I do not have an airdyne yet but am looking for one and should have one by this weekend.
I started the program yesterday. This week will be spent finding my 5rm in the lifts. Yesterday I found my 5rm for the squat and bench. This will help me determine my training max for the program. I did not work until failure, but once my bar speed slowed down significantly I did not go higher.
I built up to 245 on the squat and 205 on the bench.
Today I will be doing my first bodyweight circuit consisting of 5 rounds of 10 push ups, 5 chin ups, 10 kb snatch each arm with a 24lbs kettlebell. This first 3 week cycle I will train without a weight vest.
Rest day tomorrow then Thursday will be my dead lift and over head press testing day.
Exercise is not the most important thing when it comes to losing weight.
People who want to lose weight tend to think the more they move the more weight they will lose. This falls under the myth that our weight is controlled through the amount of calories we consume vs. the amount of calories we burn.
You can’t simply outwork a bad diet. The fact is if you want to truly lose weight, paying attention to the quality of your nutrition is essential. But that is the topic for a future post.
Exercise, while not the most effective weight loss tool, plays a vital role in living a happy and healthy life. Below we will take a look at the positive impact exercise brings to the table.
Increased bone density
Improves Cardio-vascular function
It is necessary for us to exert forces onto objects in this world. We require to generate force when we walk or try to lift a 300 lbs barbell. Hell we need to generate force just to keep our spine erect and stable.
Our muscles are what allow us to generate force. It is through exercise that we are able to develop the muscle strength so we can exert force to manipulate objects and be able to move.
Athletes require the most force production. Things like speed and power require athletes to be able to manipulate the ball, ground, their opponent etc. in a variety of ways. This requires a lot of strength and force production from their muscles.
I am not saying everyone needs to be on the level of an athlete, but we should have enough strength to perform everyday tasks like carry groceries or put dishes away in the cupboard.
Technically this could fall under strength as well. Strength is not just about how fast our muscles can contract and relax to generate force, but also the distance the muscle/joint can move.
When we talk about flexibility we talk about lengthening our actual muscles. When we talk about mobility we talk about taking a joint through a full range of motion.
If flexibility and mobility are limited so is our strength. Tight muscles prevent us from efficiently generating force.
Exercise is like the oil which helps us move. Proper exercise should take our muscles and joints through their full range of motion which in turn stretch and strengthen muscles.
Keep in mind, like strength, changes in mobility and flexibility are gradual and you should see results over a period of time.
Exercise helps our body learn how to move properly. Our bodies use groups of individual muscles to perform movement.
Muscle groups are activated by our central nervous system (brain and nerves) to perform movements. These are called motor patterns. The more a motor pattern is trained (muscle activation) the easier it becomes for us to do.
Many times I find that my clients have developed poor motor patterns from years of using wrong muscle groups. This often occurs for two reasons. One being muscle tightness that restricts movement. And two smaller muscle groups take over the workload of bigger muscle groups because the bigger muscle groups are not being activated or are weak.
This is most evident in the hip hinge (or dead lift) movement where people use their low back muscles instead of their powerful posterior leg muscles (hamstring and glutes) which are deactivated or tight from things like prolonged sitting.
Injuries can also effect motor patterns as we tend to compensate by using other muscle groups to perform a task that the injured area usually performs (i.e limping). This is why therapy is important after an injury to strengthen and relearn motor patterns.
Exercise is a way for us to create a controlled environment to re-develop good motor patterns and to relearn proper movement.
Increased bone density
Loading the body with heavy weight helps our bones become denser. Dense bones mean less breaks, and also helps prevent conditions such as osteoporosis.
The combination of strength, flexibility/mobility, increased bone density, and coordination goes a long way to helping us prevent injuries.
Increased cardio-respiratory function
Excuse me as I get sciency for a second.
Exercise helps keep our cardio-respiratory function running efficiently.
Our cardio-respiratory system provides us with two functions.
Deliver oxygen throughout the body
Expel the body of acid (carbon dioxide)
Our muscles require oxygen to produce energy so they can exert force onto objects. Blood carries oxygen throughout the body
During exercise we place our body under stress. In a stressed state we need to get oxygen to the muscles quickly. This is why our heart rate increases, because we need oxygen rich blood to keep creating energy to complete our task.
The by product of using energy is acid. Our body doesn’t like being in an acidic state and therefore needs to get rid of the waste quickly through exhalation.
The stressed conditions work to help our heart and lungs work efficiently to get oxygen rich blood into the body, and acidic carbon dioxide out of the body improving the health of our cardio-respiratory system.
Exercise is also great at lowering blood pressure as it requires the muscles to absorb sugar out of the blood to create energy.
Improves metabolic efficiency
More science on the way.
As I already mentioned our muscles require energy to generate force. Oxygen is one way we create energy. Another way is through a natural sugar called glucose.
Glucose is the simplest way for us to make energy. We get glucose from breaking down carbohydrates. Glucose from carbohydrates are found in our blood, but get absorbed and stored in muscles and liver. If all those stores are full that is when they get stored as lipids (fat) in the body to be broken down when our glucose stores run dry.
After an intense workout our muscles need to refill their energy stores so we are ready to perform any task that might come our way.
Glucose can either come from breaking down carbohydrates that we consume, or from lipid stores.
The hormone insulin helps the muscles absorb glucose out of the blood.
Now I can already here you saying “but Steve if our muscles break down fat won’t that mean exercise causes us to lose weight?”
Yes exercise does help us lose weight. But nutrition plays a more important role.
While exercise increases our efficiency to absorb glucose, you can’t continue to overfill the glucose stores in the muscles because then they get stored as lipids. Controlling sugar intake is vital to keeping this in check and no matter how much you exercise you can’t escape this.
Exercise improves mood
Exercise not only helps us physically but mentally as well. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress.
When we exercise it offers us an escape. For a brief amount of time we are able to take our mind off of what is going on in our lives, and are forced to be in tune with our body to hit a PR lift or just get through an intense workout. It’s like a daily mini vacation.
On top of the mini vacation it offers a release. Exercise, especially of the intense variety, requires us to generate force. Exerting our force onto something does wonders to help us relieve stress.
This is why people love to hit the heavy bag after work or scream into pillows. These actions are forceful and help us to relieve pent up stress.
Exercise also helps us release endorphin hormones. Endorphins give us a euphoric feel. Some people call this a “runner high.” These endorphins are natural anti-depressants that allow us to develop more self-esteem and happiness.
Exercise is a great self-esteem builder by itself as well. Seeing ourselves progress by lifting more weight, or performing new movements (or movements we never thought we could do again) plays a major role in improving our mood and feeling happier.
Although exercise might not be the weight loss tool we all thought it was, it plays a vital role in keeping us healthy and happy.
Looking to spice up your routine? Well today I am going to tell you why training outdoors might be a great option for you and share with you a few of my favorite ways to train.
I absolutely love when it gets warm out. It means I can come out of hibernation and get back to do things outside like golf, grilling, and working out.
Training outside has many benefits. One being getting vitamin D from the sun. You can also kill two birds with one stone by getting fit and working on that killer tan (I can already here my mom telling me to just make sure I wear sunscreen).
Training outside can add a new level of freshness to your routine. No one ever said your training had to be all work and no play. The change in scenery can make your workout feel less like a work by turning the world into your playground.
Getting outside also provides me with so much more room for activities, and no we are not talking about aerobics and step class either. I love the freedom to be able to move. The more space I have the cooler things I feel like I am able to do.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to train outside.
Swimming is a great workout conditioning workout that will also hit muscles you didn’t even know you had. For people who suffers from joint pain this might be a great option for you as the water takes some of the weight of your joints.
Plus it’s a great excuse to get to the beach….and who doesn’t love the beach.
My old friends. I love these things partly because I can take them anywhere. I drag them outside all the time for killer workouts anywhere. I even sneak one or two with me on vacation so I can stay on top of my training.
Sleds are a great tool that builds amazing strength and conditioning, but require a lot of space to use them. I love pushing them, dragging them, pulling them.
Sleds can do much more than just lower body movements. Add a handle to it and now you can work upper body exercises like rows, presses, curls, etc. On top of that you can even combine the two and perform full body movements for a whole new level of suck. One of my favorites examples of this is the explosive rows.
Usually sleds are big and bulky, but I love the magic carpet sled from Spud Inc. because they are light weight, and can fold up making it easy to store and take wherever it is you want to train.
The TRX originated as a way for Navy SEALs to train while out on a long mission. This is why it is light weight and transportable and also hooks around anything that can hold you.
Because the TRX allows you to move in some unique ways. There are countless ways you can twist your body, while at the same time staying focused on stabilizing your joints and core. This is a great tool for anyone looking to build strength and lose weight with body weight movements, but this tool can really help tennis players or golfers improve their game my mimicking movement patterns of their sport.
Sprints suck, but they are great muscle builders and fat burners. I often like to throw these in on leg days as conditioning/accessory work.
Sprints are equal to heavy lifting when it comes to intensity. Heavy lifting and sprints both require a max effort and because of that really taxes the central nervous system. That is why they are so effective in building muscle and burning fat.
Make your sprints extra spicy by finding a nice steep hill to sprint up. This will really crank up the fat burning and muscle building process.
Walking and hiking are at the other end of the intensity spectrum than sprinting, yet very effective form of exercise.
Walking and hiking are great for conditioning, active recovery, and fat loss (even more so than jogging). I also find walking to be very relaxing and helps me to clear my head and just enjoy the outdoors.
If you want to spice up your walk wear a weighted vest. This will challenge your back, core and leg muscles like you wouldn’t believe.
Loaded carries are awesome, and being outside gives you enough space to carry as far as your heart desires.
Carries provide strength and conditioning all thrown into one simple thing. Pick up something light and see how fast it takes for you to go a long distance, or pick up something heavy and go for a short distance.
There are really no wrong ways to do this. Double arm, single arm, farmers, waiters, over head, mixed carries. It’s all up to you.
Doing yoga is already relaxing for both the mind and the body. But there is something about doing it outside that relaxes the body even more and really let’s you become with nature.
Playgrounds aren’t just for kids. They make for great gyms.
I love showing up to the playground around the corner from my house with random equipment like resistance bands or my TRX. Sometimes I’ll show up with no equipment at all and just make a workout up on the spot using things like monkey bars for pull ups and a park bench for dips.
Using only the environment around makes things fun, challenging me to be creative, functional and different than the normal routine. Give it a go. It will be interesting to see what kind of things you can come up with.
Workouts don’t always have to be structured and tedious.
In fact breaking from the structure can help keep us fresh. Whether it be golf, tennis, baseball, softball, basketball etc just get outside and have some fun.
Personally I play rugby sevens over the summer and consider that my conditioning workouts. Nothing too complicated just running around with my friends and having some fun. Plus I like the feeling of using my fitness for something.
Do you have a cool way you like to workout outside that we missed? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Are you just getting started at the gym and don’t know what to do? Well I am here to help you out by providing you with this 10 exercise road map to help you get from fitness newb to fitness pro.
Starting something new is always scary. This is most prevalent at the gym.
The gym has a bunch of equipment and people people who might be intimidating because they are lifting heavy weight, make a lot of noise, and we have no idea what it is they are doing or what that machine is used for.
It an be quite overwhelming seeing other people doing a million different exercises, wondering if you should be doing that in your workout. I know that feeling. I have felt both as a trainer programming for clients, and when developing my own workouts.
As a newbie there are only a few things you need to be focusing on. You should be focusing on building strength, learning good form, and building up your ability to do work (work capacity).
When selecting exercises to include in your training you need to look at the type of movement the exercise is and not so much which body part it works. After all we are not put together piece by piece in a lab like some sort of Frankenstein monster.
We require our different body parts to work together to help us perform everyday movement. We need to view our training the same way. Putting the focus on movement will cover all of the body parts you wish to hit in your workout in a more efficient manner.
The movements you need to make sure you cover are pushing, pulling, squatting, hingeing (bending at hips), carrying and twisting.
The 10 exercises below will help you master these movements and progress to more advanced exercises in the gym as you get stronger and in better shape.
The plank is amazing for teaching us how our core should be engaged in our lifts. Focus on creating a straight line in your body from head to toe. You can do this by tightening your abs by pretending to brace as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach. At the same time you should be squeezing your butt tightly. If done right this should make your body feel as stiff as a board. We don’t want to see butts up in the air (not squeezing glutes) or any bellies sagging to the ground (not keeping core tight). I typically like to hold planks for a short amount of time (10-30 seconds) for 5-10 rounds.
Squatting is a must in any program. I mean without squatting we would never be able to sit down or get out of a chair.
The Goblet squat is a great way to build strength and work on form. Holding the weight in the Goblet position (holding a kB or DB at chest level with both hands) forces us to keep our chest up and engages your core.
I prefer teaching goblet squats over body weight squats because of the feedback the weight gives us. Holding onto the weight forced our chest into that up position. This is important because if your chest were to drop, the weight would fall to the ground. Therefore unlike a bodyweight squat we can’t get away with dropping the chest to get low and we are forced to learn good form.
This is probably the most famous body weight exercise. I am sure everyone has done a push up at some point in their entire life. I know when I was in school we had to do them every gym class.
Believe it or not the push up is more then just a chest exercise but can serve as a total body exercise.
I like to think of the push up as a plank with movement added to it. Everything must stay tight, like the plank, as we lift and lower our body to the ground.
As you master the push up you can make it harder by changing hand positions, adding explosiveness such as claps, add additional movement with other limbs, changing tempo and adding resistance.
Mastering the push up IS A MUST before bench pressing. If you can’t do 10 solid push-ups you shouldn’t be on the bench.
Many people just starting out may struggle with the push-up. There are plenty of ways to help scale the push up and develop that strength. Some of my favorite ways is to have people do burpees, add a resistance band to assist you out of the bottom of a push up, or start with incline push ups as you get more help from the shoulder muscles and have to push less body weight.
Sleds are amazing. They allow for us to get a lot done with very small learning curve.All you have to do is push, pull or backwards drag it. That is literally it. We all know how to do these movements making it an easy exercise to get started with.
Sleds build massive strength and work capacity, and won’t leave you feeling too sore after.
Our back and shoulders really love this exercise. Many of us have tight shoulders and upper backs from sitting over a desk all day. This can lead to imbalances that can be the cause of a lot of shoulder pain.
The pull apart is a great way to combat these shoulder issues. Pull aparts strengthen our back muscles while stretching our chest and shoulders. This helps or your body counteract the effects of sitting. I like to use a light resistance band and perform a lot of reps. This will help those shoulders feel much better and develop a bigger back.
Like the sled exercises, jumps and throws have low learning curves. Jumping and throwing are simple movements that we have been doing since we have been little kids.
Jumping and throwing are a total body exercise that helps us burn a lot of fat due to getting maximal force out put and is a great strength builder as our body absorbs force in the landing. Jumps and throws are sneaky and fun ways to develop proper form for squaring because our joints have to align correctly to absorb the force of landing.
Simple jumps you can do include Box jumps, squat jumps, and broad jumps.
For throws you can never go wing with chest passes, soccer throw or the backwards overhead throw. It is more important to get as much height and distance on your throws, that is why I recommend using a pretty light medball.
Make these fun. Make it a contest and see if you can beat your last jump or throw.
Rows are vital to any training. Rows are great for building your backs and arms, but also keep the shoulder healthy. The reclined row is a simple exercise that uses your own body weight. All you need is a barbell in a rack, rings, or TRX straps. Grab the barbell or straps, lay flat and pull your chest to the rings/bar. The flatter you lay to the ground, and the further out you put your feet, the harder the exercise gets.
Loaded carries are pretty much a walking plank that builds massive strength and work capacity. You can read more about the loaded carry here.
I have a love hate relationship with burpees. When done right (as in controlled movement) I love them as they can help people work toward the push up, work their core, develop lower body strength, increase mobility, and increase their work capacity. The problem is most people do them wrong by just flailing on the floor and getting up however they can. This causes people to miss out on all the benefits of the exercise.
1 squat down
2 hands on ground
3 kick legs out to plank position
4 lower body
5 push up
6 pull kick knees in
7 stand up
Control is greater than speed. It will add more strength than just flopping on the ground and trying to get up as fast as possible. As you get stronger and in better condition speed will come.
Just like the sled, carries and jumps we all know how to crawl. Hell we have been doing it since we’ve been babies. But let me tell you, crawling isn’t just baby stuff. Crawls develop great lower and upper body strength and mobility. It is also a huge core builder and a conditioning butt kicker. There are many crawl variations but I like starting with the bear crawl. At first focus on form by keeping a flat back and taking small steps. As you get more comfortable and stronger pick up the speed and experiment with different crawls.
When I program these exercises for a new client I like to pick 5 exercises (one from each category) and create a circuit.
Circuits are great because they allow for us to keep working while letting body parts rest. I generally set up my circuits for beginners by doing sets of 10 to build volume and familiarity with exercises, or doing reps for time (example 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest).
I generally have my clients do 3-5 rounds of the circuit. As they get stronger and fitter I usually move them into a more strength based program where we do less reps at higher weight, for more reps, and maybe some more advanced movements.
X marks the spot! Don’t be lost any longer. I can help you develop your fitness treasure map with online programming. Click here to get to X and collect your fitness treasure without having to take a million detours.
Did I leave out a movement you love to do with beginners? Let us know in the comments below.
Well then, this might be the best thing you read all day. Today I will help you cut through the nutrition clutter with these simple principles.
It’s no secret nutrition is a vital part to being fit.
You need to eat correctly if you are looking to lose weight, gain weight, maintain, or perform at your best.
There are so many diets that we get caught in the crossfire of them telling you why their way of eating is better than the other person’s.
If you stick to a few key principles you can dial in your own nutrition to meet your fitness goals.
Calories in/calories out
We require energy to move, think, and perform bodily functions. Food is our fuel. Depending on our activity level we all have a caloric range we need to hit just to maintain. If we eat less than what is required to support activity we lose weight, we eat more we gain. There are safe ranges to do both. If we eat too little out body goes into starvation mode which doesn’t burn the desired fat. If we eat too much we risk obesity.
As we mentioned above how many calories you eat matters. Now you can eat whatever you want and lose/gain weight. But there is something to be said about where the calories come from.
We need to better our calories and future out what gives us the most bent for our buck. Sure you can eat McDonald’s, but you should realize that in doing that it would cost a lot of calories and may be your only meal of the day.
I am a fan of getting more bang for your buck. Eating things with less calories allows me to eat more meals to help me reach my caloric goals. Fruits, veggies, and lean meats work great
Fats, carbohydrates, and protein are essential to provide energy and make tired and chemicals in our body. We need all 3 to live.
Our bodies are mostly water. It makes up or blood, and if found in our muscles and organs.
Many empty calories come from the like soda and juice. Water had no calories making it a much better choice for Weight loss.
Things to avoid
Trans fats- these are mostly found in fried and processed foods. This causes control to form in our blood which can lead to increased blood pressure and heart problems.
Saturated fat- We need some saturated fats. But just a tiny bit. This is often found in animal fat.
Processed carbs- there is nothing wrong with carbs in general. They are our main fuel source. But overly sugared processed carbs will cause us to put on weight and can lead to many health issues sutch as type II diabetes.
Let us know some nutrition outgunned you find helpful in the comments section below and be sure to follow us for weekly blog posts.