Strong Abs: Parallel Woodchop

When it comes to selecting exercises for clients’ programs, I’m pretty picky.

Because my clients are busy (and you are too), to not be as economical with their (and your) time would be a shame, and a disservice. I don’t like shames and disservices-es, so I try to not to do them.

I also try to choose exercises that do at least a few good things for the body.

That’s why Parallel Woodchops have been a staple in my clients programs for over a decade.

Here’s what they look like:

While their primary function is to train the abs, they also work the hips/glutes, and promote a healthy relationship between the abs, glutes, low back, and hips. Those things working together in harmony is a really good thing.

CUES:

  • Start with a wide stance, and grab a handle attached to a cable column, or band.
  • Brace your abs tight, and rotate away from the the cable column, or where the band is anchored.
  • Keep your hips, torso, and chest in line throughout the entire movement.
  • You should feel almost all of the work in your abs. If you start to feel it in your arms/shoulders, reset and try to brace your abs tighter.

I like to have clients do these in the 6-10/side rep range.

Give them shot!

15 Minute Body Weight Blast

Maybe you don’t have an hour today to hit the gym. That’s understandable.

Maybe you don’t have much equipment at home. That’s understandable too.

Don’t worry. I gotchu.

Below is a 15 minute (and 30 second) body weight routine you can do in your living room. Or bedroom. Or back yard. But not your bathroom…unless you have a really big bathroom. But still…maybe not there.

This routine has 7 exercises. You will perform each exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds rest. Once you’ve gone through each exercise once, rest for 60 seconds, and then repeat one more time.

If you have more time, you could certainly perform this for an additional set or two.

Here are the exercises:

Bear Crawl

Crab Toe Touches

Inchworm

Reverse Lunge to Squat

Shoot Outs

Body Tap Plank

Jumping Jacks

Give this a shot the next time you’re short on time, or just up for a quick butt kicking! Do you know someone who would like to have a quick workout at home? Pass this along to them, or feel free to share on your social media feed.

Making Progress When Life Happens

You’ve probably been there.

You’re clicking along with your goals. You’re in the gym on a regular basis, and killing your workouts. Your nutrition is on point, and everything feels just like you want it to feel.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, life rears it’s ugly head, and throws a wrench (or hand grenade) right into the middle of your previously smooth sailing journey.

Maybe it’s a parent who fell ill, or extra responsibilities and stress at work. Maybe it’s a divorce, or just a bunch of little things that happen at once. But whatever it is, it threatens to bring your momentum to a screeching halt.

That’s what most of us do…we don’t pump the breaks, we slam on them, throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I guess this was a waste of time!”

And you know what? If that’s your response when life happens, then you’re probably right…it probably was a waste of time to work so hard and then abandon everything completely.

But, is there another option? Is there a way to keep progressing when life explodes, gets messy, and stress levels go through the roof?

Did you already guess that I’m going to say yes? You did, didn’t you? You smart little cookie.

When life goes boom, we often evaluate our ability to continue to make progress against what progress looked like before life went boom. In other words, we decide if we can maintain our current level of investment in our health, and if we can’t maintain that same level, we quit.

Lets imagine you’re in the middle of some good momentum. Over the last few weeks you’ve been hitting the gym consistently 3 days a week. You’re getting in some extra movement on a few other days during the week. You’ve been making quality breakfasts, packing all your lunches for work, and have planned and prepped for all of your dinners for the week. Physically, you feel really good. You’ve dropped a few pounds in the last two weeks, you’re sleeping better, and you have more energy.

Things are awesome.

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Then on a Monday morning (of course it’s on a Monday morning), your boss puts you in charge of a project. This is great for work, but since it’ll require several extra hours a week, it’s not so great for that momentum you’ve got going. That afternoon, you get a phone call. Your mom fell, and broke her hip. She’s in the hospital. She’ll be there for a few days before she gets moved to a rehab facility. As you hang up the phone, a notification dings, reminding you that your son’s basketball season starts tonight. That means two practices and two games a week. You had kind of forgotten about that.

Oh, hi life. Thanks for reminding me how tough you can be in a not-so-subtle way.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this is where you subconsciously make the decision to put your plans for self care on hold for a few days.

This is understandable.

After the dust settles a bit, you accept the reality that things suddenly got much busier. You will be spending more time working, more time visiting your mom every day, and more time getting your son to and from practice, as well as attending his games.

Wow. A whole just got dumped on your plate.

This is the point where you look at the reality of life now, and compare it to how life was before that dreadful Monday. “There’s no way I can keep up that pace”, you tell yourself. “I guess I just need to stop for now, and I’ll try to get back at it when things calm down a bit.”

You’re right.

But you’re also wrong.

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It’s true that you can’t be the employee, daughter/son, and parent you want to be, and continue with the same level of energy you’ve been giving your personal health and well-being. It’s not true that things need to come to a halt until things calm down.

People feel like they have to stop all their momentum because they’re comparing their ability to invest in themselves in a time when life is very busy, to a time when life had fewer time intensive responsibilities. This is a very common, and detrimental mistake.

If you only evaluate your ability to make progress by weighing it against a time in life that had exceptionally favorable conditions, you are almost always going to feel like you don’t have the ability to make progress in any other conditions.

You’ve set yourself up to fall into a cycle of continually stopping and starting your goals, only to never really get anywhere with them.

That’s a crappy situation.

Let’s put your progress on a scale of 0-10, 0 being no effort or progress is being made, and 10 being a situation where everything is going incredibly well. If you’re honest with yourself, there’s a good chance you only operate at a “0” or a “10”. It’s either perfect, or nothing is happening.

But guess what? There are a whole bunch of numbers in between 0 and 10. And ALL of them will help you continue to move forward.

If you’re clicking along at a 10 and life goes boom, a 10 is probably no longer possible. But what about a 6? Or maybe a 2? Can you do that? Most likely, you can still do something. We just have it in our heads that if it’s not as much as we were previously doing, then it’s not worth it at all.

That all-or-none thinking can get us into a lot of trouble, and can keep us stuck in the same spot.

Giving yourself permission to do less, but still do something can be a real game changer. It’s also an incredibly important skill to have for long term success. If you only allow yourself to operate at a 10, you will perpetually be in a cycle of starting and stopping.

That cycle will get you absolutely nowhere.

Maybe doing less, but still doing something, looks like cutting your workouts in half, or in quarters. Maybe you only focus on planning dinners because that’s your most problematic meal. Or maybe you just focus on getting a certain amount of water, and going for a 5 minute walk each day.

All of these options, and countless others, are much better than doing nothing. They not only help keep you moving forward, but they are an act of self-discipline. And training that self-discipline muscle will come in handy when things settle down and you have the chance to ramp things back up. Your other option is to start from zero. Yet, again.

So, the next time life happens (or if you’re in the middle of life happening right now), instead of throwing in the towel, ask yourself what you can continue to do. Ask yourself how can you do less, but still do something. You might find that simply doing whatever you can goes a long way to being a healthier person, and keeps you out of a cycle that leaves you frustrated and never making real progress.

Build Stronger Abs and A Stronger Back: 3 Point Row

Christmas is less than three weeks away. Holy crap!

It seems like that is coming up way to quick.

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That doesn’t have anything to do with this post…I just realized that and thought I’d share it with you.

So…

The movement I’m going to share with you today is currently one of my favorites. It does a lot of things in a lot of places. Most notably, in your back and abs.

Two areas of the body that you most likely aren’t going to train too much.

For starters, does anybody not want definition and strength in their back and abs? Maybe some, but probably not too many.

Beyond that, back muscles and ab muscles tend to be weak points for most people, due to a variety of reasons. Making them stronger is a good idea for being healthy and for longevity.

3 Point Row

While the 3 Point Row has the same mechanics of any dumbbell row, the positioning of the arms and legs provide a unique challenge to the abs that most other rows don’t.

That’s some good stuff.

CUES:

  • Start with your feet wide, and brace your abs tight.
  • Pull the dumbbell towards your hip, while bringing your shoulder blade in towards your spine.
  • Don’t let your hips rock back and forth. If you do, you’ll lose most of the ab work this movement should provide.
  • Keep you torso fixed throughout the entire movement.
  • If you need to make this exercise more challenging, you can bring your feet closer together, which reduces your base of support.

Doing these correctly should hammer your abs and back at the same time.

I like to have clients do these for 8-12 reps per side. You could definitely up the weight and go with lower reps, but only if you can maintain very strict form.

Give them a shot, and feel free to share this with someone who would love to try them as well!

Five Ways To Boost Your Metabolism

Metabolism.

You want it cranking high and running hot, right? But how exactly do you do that? And what is metabolism, anyway?

I don’t want to get too deep into the complexity of metabolism in this post. Perhaps a dive into what metabolism is, and understanding it well, is something I will tackle in a future post. But for this post, let’s just go with the understanding that metabolism is all of the chemical processes that occur to keep you alive.

In other words, the sum of all the energy it takes to do whatever it is you do.

There is a funny inconsistency we have when we think about metabolism…we tend to think of it as a static or fixed thing. We say things like, “she has a fast metabolism” or, “my metabolism is slow”. But we also tend to think of it as something dynamic or flexible. “I know eating more often will increase my metabolism”, or “I think my metabolism is in starvation mode”. (Both of those are false statements by the way, but they represent how we see metabolism as flexible.)

So, which is it?

Your metabolism is very flexible. It is constantly adapting and adjusting to the activities, both voluntary and involuntary, you are doing all day long.

This is good news.

This means you are able to influence and control your metabolism. This means you can increase your metabolism, and burn more calories.

(It’s worth mentioning that increasing your metabolism also means in increase in your appetite. The body likes you to fuel it’s activities. So if you aren’t actively working on self-control and new habits with food, an increase in metabolism may be a shot to the foot.)

Let’s look at a few (or five) ways you can increase your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the day.

#1. Move more.

One of the biggest contributors to your body’s metabolism is simply how much you move during the day. In fact, non-exercise activity can make up close to 15% of your total calorie burned throughout the course of the day.

That’s a lot!

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Simply being conscious of moving more throughout the day can go a long way. Play outside with your kids, clean the house, go for a leisurely bike ride, take the stairs instead of the elevator, just get off your butt a little more…these things can add up.

#2. Build muscle.

One way to increase your metabolism is to weigh more. The more you weigh, the more calories you need to maintain that tissue. You can increase your weight by putting on more fat tissue, more muscle tissue, or more of both. Of those two tissues, muscle requires more calories to maintain, pound for pound. So it would have the biggest impact on increasing your metabolism.

Gaining some muscle usually equates to increased strength, which is never a bad thing. It also gives you strong curves, and increased definition. If that’s something you’re into, adding some muscle to your frame might be a solid option for giving your metabolism a boost

#3. Stay hydrated.

If you’re dehydrated, things don’t work as well as they’re supposed to. You get headaches, feel sluggish, your body’s minerals are out of whack, and in general you feel like crap. Along with all of that fun stuff, your metabolism can get sluggish too. Staying hydrated can keep your metabolism running optimally.

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#4. Get stronger.

No matter what your goals are, I think getting stronger is a good idea.

But when it comes to keeping your metabolism elevated, it’s really important. Using our definition of metabolism above, we know that metabolism is simply the energy required to do what we do.

The thing about working out is that your body adapts to stress, load and difficulty. Your body adapts by getting more efficient at things. If a body weight squat is really challenging for you, but you do them every day, they’re going to get easier. This adaptation is how you get stronger.

Unless you make things more difficult over time, your body will become very efficient at doing whatever exercises you do. This means that, over time, any given exercise that isn’t made more challenging, will require less energy to perform.

On the other hand, if you’re focusing on getting stronger by pushing for a few more reps, or increasing weight, you’re constantly pushing your body to do things it is inefficient at. Put another way, you’re keeping the amount of energy required very high. And since metabolism is the amount of energy needed to do what we do, this is a very good thing.

Shoot to get stronger. Doing so will keep the work load high and your metabolism running hot.

#5. Eat your protein.

Protein is good for a lot of things. It’s the body’s building block, used for building and repairing skin, bone, muscle, blood, and cartilage. Plus, I think it’s delicious. It can also be really beneficial when it comes to keeping your metabolism up.

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There are three macronutrients (categories of food) – protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Each of these require a certain amount of energy to digest. This means that eating any food will elevate your metabolism, because it requires energy, and metabolism is the amount of energy required to do what we do…including digest food.

Fats require the least amount of energy to digest (roughly 3-7% of calories from fats ingested), followed by carbohydrates (roughly 5-15% of calories from carbohydrates ingested), and lastly proteins (20-30% of calories from proteins ingested). This is called the thermogenic effect of food. This is essentially a measurement of how much your metabolism has to increase to digest a given food. In this case, the greater the increase, the better.

Keeping a good amount of protein in your diet, can help your metabolism stay elevated, especially when trying to lose weight.

You might have noticed that none of these suggestions for keeping your metabolism running hot are anything you haven’t heard before. In fact, they are all pretty basic tenants to living a healthy life. That’s because doing the things you know to do to be a healthier person leads to a healthy metabolism. That’s the case with a lot of things…lower cholesterol, increased heart health, chronic pain…making healthier choices, and making them more often, tends to make everything work better.

Don’t over think this. Just do what you know to do. You might be surprised at how much some basic things, done consistently, can improve your life.

Get Stronger Abs: Plate Switches

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of people having strong abs. They help support and protect the low back from injury, and they can help undo the damage that extensive sitting can cause. Also, I just think that strong abs are awesome.

Cuz abs.

Today, I’ve got an ab exercise that I love. But I also forget about it a lot for some reason. Maybe because even though I love this movement, it’s also a killer and I don’t particularly enjoy doing it. So I “forget” about them…kind of like the dishes in the sink, or the full trash can. Sorry honey, I “forgot” about them.

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But, now that I’m remembering them in this current moment, I’ll share the love with you.

Plate Switches

CUES:

  • Set up in a plank position, with your feet spread wide.
  • Brace your abs, and squeeze your butt tight.
  • Reach one hand across your body and bring all the plates (one at a time) to the other side of your body.
  • Keep your hips from rocking side to side. This is really important. Rocking your hips will greatly reduce the efficacy of this exercise.

If you don’t have small weight plates, you can use anything else you have around in the 2-5lbs range.

I like to program these for 3-4 reps (1 rep=over and back with all weights).

You can make these more difficult by increasing weight, increasing the number of plates, increasing the number of reps, and slowing the movement down.

Feel free to share this move with someone who loves to have sore abs!

Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Ah, Thanksgiving…that time of year when we gather with our loved ones, eat delicious food, and reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for.

Or…

That time of year when we suck it up to deal with our crazy families, and deal with the stress by eating two full plates, and a third helping of pie. Because if you’re chewing, you can’t hear your families judgments about your life, and how you should or shouldn’t be living it.

Or…somewhere in between.

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No matter where on the spectrum of “excited to full blown anxiety” your Thanksgivings tend to fall, we all share one thing in common – Thanksgiving is a day we struggle with when it comes to feeling equipped to handle the amount of delicious food that will lay before us.

I have four quick tips to help you navigate the day, and reduce the stress that Thanksgiving might bring.

#1. Focus on protein and veggies.

There’s a good chance your Thanksgiving day dinner will include turkey. Cool, put a big ol’ pile of it on your plate. And then get some helpings of veggies on there too. Fill the rest of your plate with whatever you want.

Easy-peasy, right?

#2. Check your portions.

When you’re filling up your plate, take a little less of everything than you normally would. That’s it. That is the extent of this tip.

#3. Savor

Whether its turkey, sweet potato casserole, or pumpkin pie, savoring your food is a great way to eat less. If you slow down and actually experience the food you’re eating, it gives you much more enjoyment and tends to make less food more satisfying. Slow down. Enjoy it.

#4. CHILL. OUT.

Tips 1, 2 and 3 can really help. And if you’re stressed about overeating on this holiday, following those two tips could drastically reduce the amount of calories you take in. So, follow them, if you’re concerned.

However, this is one day. This is one meal. Do you think your progress will be stalled or irreparably undone by one meal?

Here’s a little perspective we all (myself included) can use. Let’s say you eat three meals every day. Over the course of a year, that means you will eat 1,095 meals.

Thanksgiving is one of those meals.

One.

Do you know what 1 out of 1,095 is?

0.00091.

Roughly .09% of your meals.

Do you know how significant that is? Incredibly insignificant. Like, ZERO.

Sure, if you’re regularly eating in a way that is very contradictory to your goals, than going overboard on Thanksgiving may feel more damaging. But, that’s more of an issue of consistency than it is of one meal having great significance. It’s also a whole different issue.

That’s the end of my advice for you.

Sure you can apply the first to tips, and that’s awesome. They will definitely help you eat less, if followed. And that self control can be a good thing to practice.

Or, don’t stress about it. Because not giving importance to things that aren’t important is a good thing to practice too.

How Your Long-term Goals Might Be Holding You Back

Qui-Gon Jinn: “Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.

Obi-Wan Kenobi: “But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.

Qui-Gon Jinn: “But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

The above is an interchange between Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi, from the movie The Phantom Menace, and was pointed out to me be my friend Lisa. Thank you Lisa.

What this exchange is saying is, be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment.

Cool, Mike. That’ll look great on a bumper sticker, but what about fitness stuffs?

When someone starts working with me, they almost always have some long-term goals.

“I want to lose 20 pounds.”

“I want to wear size X pants.”

They know where they want to get in the long run. That’s great. Having a clear picture of what you want in the future helps you know where you’re heading.

The above quote gives us an idea of when being future-oriented can become problematic…when your focus on the long-term keeps you from being present in the current moment.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone dismissing their daily efforts because they haven’t yet reached their goal.

Maybe they’ve made habits of eating three vegetables and two fruits a day, exercising on a regular basis, and have improved the quality of their sleep. But none of that matters because the long-term goal hasn’t been reached.

They’re not just being mindful of the future, they are living there and dismissing the present.

When you have a long-term goal, you have two options.

First you can put all your chips in the future. Literally go all-in on that future accomplishment or achievement and spend your days wishing, waiting and hoping for it to come.

This is what being mindful of the future at the expense of the moment looks like.

Your second option is to keep that long-term goal out in front of you, but put all of your energy into the present moment, by developing habits and behaviors that will lead you to the goal.

This is what being mindful of the future, but being present in the moment looks like.

Long-term goals are great. But if they pull you from the present, and cause you to dismiss each little step that brings you closer to them, those long-term goals might actually be the biggest thing holding you back.

Strong and Sexy Shoulders: Dumbbell Z Press

You know what doesn’t get enough credit?

Shoulders.

Butt’s are getting all the love right now. It seems like every trainer under the sun has a “get a bigger booty” program.

Everyone is always training their arms.

Same with chests and backs.

But shoulders, poor shoulders…they don’t get much attention these days.

And it’s a shame too, because not only are strong shoulders important for keeping you healthy, and making daily tasks easier (like picking up kids), but a pair of well defined shoulders just looks freaking awesome coming out of a tank top or sun dress. Even if they’re covered up by a t-shirt, they still make themselves known.

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Today, I have an exercise that will not only help keep your shoulders healthy, but will also help them look more awesomer. Plus, this exercise also smokes your abs and low back too. So, that’s pretty cool.

I give you the Dumbbell Z Press.

Before we get into the details of how to execute this movement, let me say that this isn’t a beginner exercise. It’s much more challenging than it looks. It requires a good amount of mid back mobility. If you can’t press a pair of dumbbells overhead while standing without arching your lower back, these aren’t for you.

If you can, these might be a good addition to your program.

CUES

  • Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you.
  • Keep your chest tall throughout the movement.
  • Brace your abs tight.
  • Drive the weight up through your shoulders.

This movement will most likely humble you. You wont need near as much weight as you normally do for a regular overhead press. And you will feel a good amount of work throughout your core.

I like to have clients perform these in the 8-12 rep range.

Looking for other awesome exercises to spice up your training programs? Give me a shout.

Try these out, and let me know what you think!

The Best Lunge You’re Not Doing

I like lunges.

Not in a “I’m really enjoying myself” kind of way. Because who likes doing lunges? A root canal might be more fun. Or maybe listening to hours of Nickleback.

Just kidding, that’s way worse.

But from a benefit standpoint, I really like them a lot. Single leg work is really important for just about everyone, and it can do so many good things for the body. Not to mention lunges are pretty great for making your legs and butt nice and firm.

However, both forward lunges and walking lunges can be pretty problematic for people with any kind of knee issues.

They can make the ouchies get ouchier.

Both forward and walking lunges require deceleration at the knee joint. When you step forward into a lunge your knee joint acts as a shock absorber when your foot hits the ground. That’s when things can get cranky for some people.

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This is where the Reverse Lunge can be very beneficial.

The Reverse Lunge is a common player in the programs I write for my clients. There’s a really good chance that if a client isn’t doing them in their current program, they’ll be doing them in their next one.

Reverse Lunges take care of the deceleration problem by stepping backwards instead of forwards. As you’ll see in the video below, instead of the front leg stepping forward, it stays static. This puts the knee joint in a much more stable position, and can take the issue of knee pain with lunges away completely for most people.

Beyond the science-y stuff, Reverse Lunges hit the hamstrings and butt more than forward or walking lunges do, which means they give the legs a better all around workout.

I use them for everyone, not just those with knee pain.

Let’s take a look at how to do them.

Reverse Lunges

I’m using dumbbells here, but I would suggest starting with body weight.

CUES:

  • Keep your chest high, and avoid letting your torso lean forward.
  • Step backwards, and bend your front knee to a comfortable depth.
  • Keep your front shin vertical.
  • Think of your hips sitting back and down.
  • Drive through the ball and heel of the front foot on the way up. This is a single leg exercise, so keep most of the work in the front leg.
  • Avoid launching yourself forward through your back foot.
  • Squeeze that booty tight at the top.

I typically have clients do these in the 6-10 rep range. But they can definitely be programmed at lower reps for strength, or higher reps if you want to be miserable.

Give them a shot and let me know what you think!

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