Exercise, Other, Progress

Deadlift Your Way to Better Movement

The overall strength movement that gets the biggest negative reputation anywhere besides the fitness industry is the deadlift. There are plenty of deadlift fail videos out there, with the lifters fainting, falling, rounded/breaking backs, you name it. But what if I told you that there is no other movement as effective for total body strengthening than the deadlift? Along with that, did you know that the deadlift directly relates to everyday movement? Let’s dig deeper into the deadlift:

Deadlifts 101

The deadlift is a total body strengthening movement. It begins with a hip hinge, training proper lifting from the floor, as well as core strength and stability, upper body strength and stability, and posterior chain (glutes and hamstring) strength and stability. The biggest fear with the deadlift is that the lower back is in danger, but, with proper form, the deadlift will greatly reduce your risk for lower back injury and reduce lower back pain. The stronger your core is, no just your abs, but your actual deep core, the less stress that is placed on your lower back. As well, the main imbalances many people have include weak glutes/hamstrings and weak mid backs. These imbalances tend to be the leading cause of both lower back and knee pain. The deadlift actually trains these weak areas, increasing the strength, stability, and endurance of these muscles, helping to alleviate the imbalance.

There are many different deadlift variations, all with similar, yet different outcomes. The conventional deadlift involves feet around hip width apart, with toes pointing forward, and hands on the bar outside of your feet. The conventional deadlift is more of a true hip hinge, and recruits more glutes, with also more lat and mid back engagement. The sumo stance deadlift involves a wide stance, with toes pointing out. Your hands will be inside of your feet on the bar. The sumo stance deadlift recruits more glute, quads, and less back, as you are more upright in the starting position. The romanian deadlift, and stiff leg deadlift, are also true hip hinge movements, with more of an emphasis on hamstring strength, as the knees stay straight, but not locked out. Depending on the intention of the movement, each variation is incredibly efficient in strengthening the intended muscles. Deadlifts tend to be best programmed for strength (3-6 sets, 1-6 repetitions), as they can be loaded, and the load helps to translate to everyday life. However, deadlifts can also be programmed for hypertrophy (3-5 sets, 6-12 repetitions), which also helps lead to overall movement and strength gains.

To begin to learn the deadlift, learn the hip hinge. Once you properly learn to hinge from the hips, rather than bend from the lower back, you can continue to progress in the movement. As well, begin to learn the deadlift with a dumbbell or kettlebell, as there is less chance for form slips. Once you can easily do a hinge with a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can progress to a hexagon barbell or a barbell, as long as you are sure to maintain proper form.

The movement itself is not flexion/extension of the lower back, but a drive through the hip hinge, using the legs as the main movers. This helps to teach the movement pattern that you should lift through your legs, not your back. The deadlift also teaches you how to properly brace your core, and pull your shoulder blades back, helping to reinforce proper posture. The deadlift is not a scary movement, and should be incorporated into programming for a healthy, strong body.

Tips for a Successful Deadlift

1: Start light! Learn the movement first, then begin to progress in weight or volume.

2: Keep feet as close to the barbell as possible to begin the movement.

3: Keep core braced the entire time. Pull your belly button in towards your spine (while still breathing) to fully brace your core.

4: Vary the set and repetition amounts to get all the benefits from a proper deadlift.

Conventional Deadlift:

Sumo Deadlift

Romanian (Stiff Leg) Deadlift

Exercise, Nutrition, Opinion, Progress

Surviving the Holidays

Here we are! It’s the most wonderful time of the year! From October to January, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the various December holidays in between, there are parties and celebrations galore. Each celebration may be unique in it’s traditions, but they all share a common characteristics: lots of food and drinks. Before we go any further into this topic: Enjoy the holidays! Do NOT let your diet get in the way of family time or enjoying your time over the holidays. Each holiday (minus Hanukkah and Kwanza) is one single day. Just like one day of eating salads won’t make you skinny, one day of indulgence won’t break your progress. The point of this post is to make you aware of the choices you are making, especially when holiday parties start popping up like zits.

The Food

Halloween has millions of pieces of candy by the bagful, Thanksgiving brings multiple dinners, and the December guys brings work parties, family gatherings, and celebrations out the wazoo. How is someone supposed to stay on track during a time like this? Simple: we do our best. If we just gave up from October-December, then we need to start over in January (holla resolutioners), and then the cycle begins again. Let’s break the cycle. The biggest thing to remember with Holiday food is moderation. Snag an appetizer as it’s passed around the office party, snack on a fun size candy bar from the community bowl, and have a slice of pumpkin pie. All of these snacks can be part of a healthy lifestyle (and they should be, nothing is off limits with a healthy life), as long as we practice moderation. The problem comes when we can’t stop at one piece, one slice, one drink etc. Again: one day won’t ruin you. However, if you decide to indulge, keep it to one day. Multiple days of going over calories and macros will add up come January.

One of the best tips that I can give you to deal with the Holidays is to keep your routine. Maybe lighten up your earlier meals a bit (one egg and two egg whites instead of three whole eggs or 1/3 cup oatmeal instead of 1/2 cup, etc), but mostly just stick to what you know. If you decide to starve yourself all day in hopes of “saving up” for a big meal or party, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to go way overboard because you’re, you guessed it, starving. It’s much better to go into a big food situation satisfied and blood sugar on track, than ravenous and cranky. Except for your occasional all out day (plan that one in advance, make sure that’s the day you want), keep tracking your food. You’ll be surprised what you can eat, while still staying within your goal ranges.

The Alcohol

Even more dangerous to a healthy lifestyle than party food, is alcohol. Not because alcohol can’t be in a healthy life (moderationnn), but because the calories in alcohol don’t fill you up, are devoid of any nutrients, and can cause you to eat foods you usually wouldn’t after you indulge. One gram of alcohol contains 7 calories (as compared to 1g/4cals for carbs/protein and 1g/9cals for fats), but contains no nutritional value. To track alcohol itself in a food tracker, either take from your carbs (alcohol cals divided by 4) or fats (alcohol cals divided by 9), depending on which works best for your preferences. The other tricky part about is alcohol is, unless you’re sticking to beer and wine, the alcohol is usually mixed with something to make it more appetizing. Those mixers add sugar and calories, making that 140 calorie shot of vodka into a 350 calorie vodka cranberry. The lowest calorie mixers include soda water/seltzer, diet soda, and fresh fruit juice. I would say to tweak your drink order itself if 1) you know you’ll be indulging a lot tonight or 2) you know you have a lot of alcohol based events coming up. Otherwise, enjoy what you enjoy (and fully enjoy it) and move on.

As well, be sure to keep your stomach full before a night of drinking. You need to make sure your body is able to metabolize the alcohol, and slowly enough (due to food) so it’s not too much too fast. Another issue with drinking is the after drinks snacking. I don’t know about you, but pizza after happy hour is my jam, even if I planned on eating a healthier snack when I get home. Try to keep yourself full and happy before drinking, so hopefully you don’t feel the need to get snackage on the way home. Have some satisfying, yet healthy, snacks waiting for you when you get home too, and hide the not so good for us snacks. The easier it is to access, the more likely you are to eat it.

What do we do?

Halloween is known for it’s candy obviously, and Thanksgiving has the feast to end all feasts, and Christmas is a time of overindulgence with a rich family meal on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and they are only a month apart (if you celebrate Hanukkah, as I do along with Christmas, it is celebrated by frying foods in oil, not any better health wise). If we do nothing, and just overindulge until the cows come home, January is going to be a rude awakening. The biggest thing to remember: consistency is key. Even with your parties and events and meals, stay on your normal workout routine and nutrition. Do not try to “make up” for the extra calories with less food or excessive exercise. That won’t do anything but make you miserable when you aren’t partying. This season is all about fun and enjoyment, so don’t let you fitness goals stop you from enjoying your life. Health is an all around state of mental and physical well being, so being obsessive over calories during the holidays impedes on the mental health aspect. Take a deep breath, plan out the next few months, and continue to smash your goals. Holiday goal: maintain your routine and enjoy the season.

Exercise, Other, Progress

Say Goodbye to Slouching

Hey, you! Yeah, you right there. Are you sitting on the couch or at your desk, or maybe even laying in bed, right now, digital device in front of you, shoulders slouching? I bet you are. Because of how sedentary our lives are now, with driving and sitting for work, our posture doesn’t need to work nearly as hard. Whether you try to prevent it or not, a mainly sedentary lifestyle (I’m guilty of slouching on the couch too, don’t worry) causes our muscles to develop some strange imbalances. The main muscular imbalance I see (besides those pesky glutes, read more about that one here) is an overactive upper back and chest, with no other muscle helping to oppose it. This causes that round in your shoulders, and that slouching that I’m sure you’re trying to break yourself of.

Of course, you can try and maintain a “shoulders back, chest up” posture 24/7, but that’s actually harder than you think. Especially when it is from muscles pulling your body into this position, just practicing good posture isn’t enough. We need to get to the root of the problem, which is the overactive and tight muscles. So what do we do for tight muscles? We try to lengthen the tissue that is tight, while also strengthening those muscles that aren’t doing so hot at holding your body in the right place. Lengthening tissue, such as with stretching and foam rolling, is only a temporary fix, not lending itself to any long term results unless the stretches are done daily. This, as well as many other aspects of fitness, benefits greatly from consistency over anything else. To help with upper back tightness, and those dreaded rounded shoulders, we need to stretch both the trapezius muscle (your upper back) and your chest and front of shoulder muscles. This will allow for your shoulders to have enough leeway to gravitate back down, instead of being elevated, and also allows for the shoulders to be able to roll back into their place.

The next step in correcting your upper back tightness is to strengthen some muscles. We are definitely staying away from any exercise that activates the trapezius or chest muscles. The first muscle we need to activate is your serratus. This is the muscle that holds your shoulder blades down flush against the rib cage. With the serratus strengthened sufficiently, you don’t need to worry about your shoulders rounding forward, as you have a strong muscle holding them back and against your body. The serratus is also essential to efficient overhead pressing (and healthy shoulders). Serratus exercises involve gaining control over the motion of your scapula, and they are very different from the normal exercises I show you (and awkward and hard at first, but please just do your best and stick with it. They get easier!) The one thing to remember is to perform these exercises with your shoulder blades as down and back as you possibly can!

(Each exercise is a progression on the first)

Exercise 1: locked shoulder blade rocking (20 reps)

Exercise 2: Scap Pushup (8-10 Reps) Squeeze shoulder blades together for a second and then spread shoulder blades apart as far as possible.

Exercise 3: Scap Pushup to Downward Dog (8 Reps) Don’t let Shoulder blades rise in the downward dog!

As well, the mid back muscles, such as the rhomboids, are muscles that will actively oppose the shoulders migrating upwards and forwards. The rear delts are the last muscle we want to strengthen to oppose the sedentary lifestyle. Rear delts directly oppose the forces of the front of your shoulder, helping to keep them upright, rather than rounding. Keeping these exercises between hypertrophy ranges and endurance ranges for workouts will help to build the muscle strength and size, as well as allow them to get used to working and holding for long periods of time.

Exercise 1: Face Pulls (12-15 Reps)

Exercise 2: Reverse Pec Dec (12-15 reps)

Exercise 3: Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly (10-15 Reps)

All rear delt exercises should be performed with shoulders down, and the motion lead by the elbows.

Exercise 4: Barbell Bent Over Row (6-10 Reps)

Exercise 5: Chest Supported Row (6-10 Reps)

Keep Shoulders down and back, and squeeze shoulder blades together to get rhomboids activated!

Exercise, Opinion, Other

Ladies, Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Your Weights

Year after year, female client after female client, it’s always the same. “I want to tone,” “I don’t want to get big and bulky,” and all sorts of variations. This blog is going to discuss the reasons why women won’t get bulk by accident, and it’s going to be short and sweet.

To get started, let’s look into how you even get “bulky.” Muscle bulk is simply muscle hypertrophy, or the tissue getting larger from increased stress and volume placed on the tissues. As well, testosterone in the body plays a big part in muscle tissue increase, in both and men and women. Testosterone is the main anabolic hormone in the body, assisting to build muscle size and strength, along with human growth hormone (HGH). However, women have between 15-20% less testosterone in their body than men, and that testosterone is much less respondent to training stimulus. Estrogen and progesterone levels in women are also much higher than in men, with these hormones being catabolic, or contributing to tissue breakdown, they keep muscle at bay. With our body’s build and hormone makeup, it is actually physically impossible for women’s muscle size to get to be as large as a man’s.

I know what you’re thinking, “Molly, what about those crazy looking women bodybuilders?” (Also, those body builders have worked hard on their physique, and whether you agree with it or not, it should be admired.) As well, those bodybuilders can not achieve the size or definition that they have without artificial help. Anabolic steroids are artificial sources of hormones, such as testosterone or HGH, that push muscle growth further than the body could achieve alone. Even so, those female bodybuilders work incredibly hard to build that size, so even with anabolic steroids, being big and bulky doesn’t just happen.

So now, how do I get toned? Easy. We increase our muscle mass (naturally, by lifting weights and keeping our volume within 3-5 sets of 8-12 repetitions), and decrease our body fat. Being toned is nothing more than having a low enough body fat to see the muscle tone underneath. If you feel that you are getting too large of muscles from lifting, either decrease the repetitions to a strength range (1-6 repetitions) or increase them to an endurance range (12-20 repetitions). However you want to do it, lifting weights and increasing muscle size and strength has incredible health benefits. Resistance training has been shown to increase lean body mass, leading to better body composition, increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and also help increase stability and decrease the risk of injury. Don’t stray away from resistance training simply because you are afraid of getting big. It takes more energy and effort to get bulky than you realize, and I promise it won’t happen by accident.

Exercise, Progress

Spooky Shoulders

There’s a muscle in your upper body, one that assists with almost every movement your upper body makes, but is overall very weak unless focused on. What muscle is this? This magic, widely underactive muscle is your deltoid muscle! Also known as your shoulders, your delts are responsible for a multiple of movements, and assist in almost every movement. (It’s also October so we should talk about pumpkin shaped muscles, right?) Not only is strengthening your delts essential to proper (and pain free!) movement, but strong shoulders also give an illusion of toned and athletic arms, no matter the degree they actually are. That bump at the top of your upper arm sets you up for more shapely arms than just working arms, while also increasing your overall strength and stability.

Anatomy:

Your shoulders are actually composed of three different sections of the deltoid muscle, each performing different actions.

Anterior Deltoid: This is the front portion of your shoulder, attaching at the clavicle (collarbone) and inserting into the mid-upper portion of your humerus bone. The anterior deltoid is in charge of flexing your shoulder (or moving your arm forward, in front of your body), and, with the help of the pecs and lats, shoulder adduction (pulling the humerus towards your body). The anterior delt also assists in almost every chest movement, as it is the closest part of the shoulder to the pec muscles. Movements that target the anterior deltoids include front raises, overhead press, upright row, and chest flys.

Medial Deltoid: This is the middle portion of your shoulder, originating at the acromium process (where your shoulder joint is) and inserting into that same mid-upper portion of the humerus. The medial deltoid is in charge of shoulder abduction (pulling the humerus away from the body). Movements that work the medial delt include those that involve the humerus moving away from the body, such as lateral raises and upright rows.

Rear Deltoid: This is the back portion of your shoulder, originating at the spine of the scapula (top of the shoulder blade) and inserting in, you guessed it, that same mid-upper portion of the humerus. The rear delt is mainly in charge of extending your shoulder, or bringing your arm back away from the body. The rear delt is the most underexercised portion of the shoulder, which leads to upper back muscular imbalances. Having weak rear delts, and stronger front and mid delts, will lead to rounded forward shoulders, with a tight chest and anterior delt. Strong rear delts help with proper posture, and help to counteract the common tightness that accompanies a mostly sedentary lifestyle. This can lead to upper back pain, along with shoulder and neck pain. Exercises that work the rear delt include rear delt flys, face pulls, and wide grip rows.

Exercises

Your shoulders can be easily worked, either in their own workout day or mixed in with other push muscles, such as chest and triceps. Below are two sample workouts, one push focused and one shoulder focused. Your delts respond easily to volume and intensity, and grow best with a mixture of heavy compound movements, as well as isolation movements with higher volume (3-4 sets, 10-15 reps).

Shoulder focused:

A1: Overhead Press 4 Sets, 6-8 Reps

B1: Incline Press 4 Sets, 8 Reps

C1: Upright Row 4 Sets, 10-12 Reps

C2: Lateral Raises 4 Sets, 10-12 Reps

D1: Face Pulls 4 Sets, 12-15 Reps

D2: Single Arm Overhead Press 4 Sets, 10 Reps/arm

Push:

Warm Up: 10 minutes cardio, 1 set incline pushups, 1 set light overhead press

A1: Dumbbell Chest Press 4 Sets, 6-8 Reps

B1: Overhead Shoulder Press 4 Sets, 8-10 reps

C1: Incline Chest Press 4 sets, 8-10 reps

C2: Lateral DB Raises 4 Sets, 10-12 reps

D1: Upright Row 4 Sets, 10 reps

D2: Face Pulls 4 Sets, 12-15 reps

Exercise, Progress

Why Strength Training Won’t Leave You with Bulk

If you’ve even looked into starting a health and fitness journey, there are a few concepts I’m sure you’ve seen. These topics you see over and over, especially as a women looking to get in shape, include phrases like “light weight, high reps to tone” and “build lean muscle, not bulk.” They’re everywhere, and seem pretty straight forward, but are they even true?

Magazines and websites use terms that they know you will click on. Words such as “tone”, “lean”, and “shapely” come up the most often, evoking images of the body that you’ve always dreamed of. However, just because these terms appeal to you and your “ideal” image, doesn’t mean that they are anywhere close to what you need to reach your goal. These words and phrases are nothing more than clickbait for you to read an article about how weights will make you manly and bulky. Today, we’re discussing the king of reaching your goals: resistance training.

Right off the bat, resistance training will not, I repeat: will not, make you bulky. Unless that is your goal, and you are actively trying to build muscle mass, resistance training itself will not give you giant, veiny muscles. You will not magically look like Arnold himself if you pick up a dumbbell. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what will resistance training do for you, your health, and your body? I’m glad you asked, let’s take a look.

I know, you want to lose weight and get toned. Almost every client I speak with has a goal of getting “toned.” I don’t want to burst your bubble too badly, but “toned” isn’t really a thing. The look you’re after just includes increased muscle mass and decreased body fat mass. That’s it. Doing hours of cardio is usually the go to for weight loss, as it’s easier and less intimidating than resistance training, and you sweat quite a bit. That cardio you perform will cause you to lose excess weight, but I guarantee that a good chunk of that weight that you lose (30%) will be from your muscle tissue breaking down. So yes, you’ve lost weight, but no, you won’t be toned. Heavy resistance training, which means keeping the weight heavy enough that you can perform 8-12 repetitions of the exercise to stay in the hypertrophy (muscle building) range, along with some cardio, is your secret (or not so secret) key to sustainable weight loss, and a toned look.

To really discuss how resistance training is the key to your health and fitness success, we need to discuss lean muscle’s effect on metabolism. Metabolism is simply how efficient your body is at using energy. Specifically, we’re going to dive into your Resting Metabolic Rate, or RMR, which is the amount of calories your body burns at rest. Your RMR is proportional to your body mass, and according to the NSCA, muscle mass alone contributes about 22% to RMR. Excessive caloric deficit, with heavy emphasis on cardio and lowering calorie intake will cause mass loss, but 30% of that mass lost is muscle. The loss of muscle mass in the body will cause a decrease in your RMR, making it even harder to lose further mass. On the other hand, one way to increase your RMR is to increase the amount off muscle mass in our body. Not only does resistance training increase muscle mass, therefore increasing RMR, but resistance training also helps to maintain the muscle mass that you already have, while in a deficit. This means that, instead of breaking down muscle for energy while dieting, muscle tissue will be spared more often, causing your body to turn to glucose and fat for energy instead. Maintaining that muscle will again help to keep an elevated RMR, keeping your metabolism high and body running efficiently.

Resistance training clearly has a positive effect on your metabolism, but the rest of your body also benefits. Your body adapts to the demands placed upon it. With resistance training, not only do your muscles adapt by getting stronger and bigger (remember, we want a bit of size to look toned), but the tendons and ligaments that hold those muscles to the bones get stronger. As well, your bones build up against the resistance, increasing and maintaining density. All of these effects help to greatly reduce the risk of injury, both while exercising and just in general. As you get stronger, every day tasks will begin to get easier, as your body is more adapted to working harder. Resistance training also increases nervous system function, as it is your nervous system that is responsible for causing those muscles to contract in the first place! Resistance training will do nothing but increase your metabolism, increase your lean body mass, decrease your fat mass (when combined with proper nutrition), and increase your quality of life through brain function and energy. The question now remains, why haven’t you started lifting yet?

Exercise

Core

Abs used to be the ultimate fitness goal. If you had a six pack, you’ve made it. Congratulations, you’re officially fit. Maybe you’re reading this thinking that you’ll never have a six pack, maybe you’re thinking that this is post that’s going to tell you to do 1,000 sit ups a day, maybe all you do are ab exercises. Whatever the case may be, do you actually know what your abs do, what purpose they serve? Our core is in charge of many aspects of our movement and posture, but most importantly, it stabilizes us. Start to lose your balance? Your core strength is the reason you recovered. Standing up from a chair or sitting up in bed? Core strength is getting you up there. Lower back pain? Chances are your core isn’t strong enough to properly support it. So having a six pack means your core strength is A+ right? Not so fast.

As you see, there’s more to your core than just a six pack.

* The rectus abdominis is what you’re thinking of, that’s the muscle that superficially defines your core. It is in charge of torso flexion, or bringing your chest down towards your hips. The basic crunch works mainly your rectus abdominis, which is why crunches can help with definition, but not really with stability.

* On the sides, we have both our internal and external obliques, which wrap around your torso and help you out with rotation and bends. Exercises such as the Russian Twist and Side Planks helps to develop strength in your obliques.

* As well, your core is not just your abs, but your glutes as well! I know, always with the glutes, but your glutes actually help keep your hips posteriorly rotated, which is in it’s proper positioning, and strong, which ties into overall stability.

* Last, and most importantly, we have our deep core muscles, or our transverse abdominis. These muscles lie underneath the rectus abdominis and the obliques and really help to stabilize your body and spine against flexion, extension, and rotation. Strengthening your core, especially the transverse abdominis, will not only help to stabilize your body, but can also translate into stronger lifts, as your lower back is now more supported, and can handle heavier weights. Planks and Pallof Presses help to develop the transverse abdominis.

Before we can start to load our core, we need to develop strength in the transverse abdominis. So, in the beginning of our core training, the part we want to focus on developing most is stability, meaning anti movement and rotation. These include stabilizing core exercises, or ones that assist with keeping the body still and contracting the correct muscles, such as planks. Once some core strength has been established, we can focus on more specific movements, such as ones targeting the obliques and more superficial definition. Below, I’ve included three core circuits. The first circuit is perfect for those just beginning to build core strength and stability, with next two circuits being progressively harder. Ensure you have total confidence in the first circuit before moving on to the second, and again with the third. Aim to perform each exercise for 10-12 repetitions (or 30 seconds for a plank) and repeat for 3-4 sets. Go ahead and give them a try!

**I need to mention that doing all the core exercises in the world are not going to give you a six pack if your diet and nutrition aren’t in order! You can not spot reduce (AKA lose fat in a specific area), so to get visible ab definition, you need to have a low enough body fat percentage to see them. This requires an overall calorie deficit and a well rounded strength training program, as well as core exercises.**

Core Training Part One:

Core training Part Two:

Core Training Part Three: