Maintaining the health of the gut and the digestive system is essential to boosting training performance, increasing health, and maximizing immune system function.
Majority of my training is based around compound, multi-joint exercises.
Those that provide the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
Within these, I find the inclusion of body weight exercises (such as pull ups and push ups) extremely beneficial for promoting good quality movement and enhanced trunk stability.
One bodyweight exercise that I don’t believe gets the recognition it deserves is the Inverted Row.
The inverted row is the bodyweight equivalent of a bent over barbell row, but arguably less complex, as it’s easier to maintain a solid neutral spine.
Pretty simply, you lie flat on your back and reach up to a bar (or a TRX), and pull your chest towards the bar.
Why the Inverted Row?
There a few great reasons for incorporating the Inverted row into your training program;
They require minimal equipment – no dumbbells, weights or benches are required. They can be done outside or inside any gym, and they are really easy to set up.
They can be progressed and regressed really easily – you can either increase the height of the bar or TRX, or bend your legs to regress the exercise, or add load to progress the exercise.
The also improve trunk stability – During the inverted row you are required to maintain a neutral spine while, as such it directly works the muscles of the trunk. Maintaining a neutral spine also requires strong glute contraction to keep a neutral pelvic position.
They crush the upper back – As the rowing movement is fairly horizontal, the muscles of the upper back (think romboids, traps rear delts) really drive the movement. These muscles play an important role in maintaining good postural alignment (and are often missed in a lot of other exercises).
They aren’t particularly technical – they are safe to perform, and as such can be performed to failure safely. As such, inverted rows are Ideal to incorporate into your program when training for hypertrophy
Keep the spine neutral. Really squeeze abs and glutes to hold a tight, neutral spinal position.
Keep the chest up tall and really drive the middle of your chest towards the bar (or TRX).
Keep the elbows relatively close to the body. The grip is likely to be closer than that of a bench press.
These should be done on your upper body days, either before any pressing to warm up and activate the muscles around the rotator cuff / shoulder girdle. This will promote greater stability to the shoulder joint during pressing. Or at the end as a way to really fry the muscle of your upper back (for those back gainzzz).
I typically like to aim for 2 sets of 8 (not to failure) if done at the start of a workout, or 3-4 sets of 10-12 when done at the end of a workout.
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The other day I was at the gym training and got caught watching an individual perform TRX push ups with god awful (I mean GOD AWFUL) form. We’re talking severe hyperextension of the lower back, scaps winging all over the place and approximately zero stability anywhere.
Not that TRX push ups are a bad exercise, it’s just they were obviously far to advanced for this particular individual. It got me thinking though. I wonder how many people see an exercise on youtube, at a seminar, or on a site lie t-nation, and go and try it out the next day, and see no improvements in themselves because the exercise is far to advanced for them to complete properly.
I know that advancing exercises is nice. It’s a measurable way of seeing progress, and allows us to keep clients interested by introducing 'new' exercises that train similar movements and muscle groups. But what if they are not ready to progress? It would be silly to move onto a more difficult exercise for the sake of variation alone, because they are not going to see any improvement if they can’t perform it properly.
It is OK to regress. In fact, in some scenarios a regression is progression.
Say you have someone who can’t goblet squat to depth without significant pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion. Regressing them to a goblet squat to box would be appropriate, allowing you to manage depth safely. As their capacity to perform the exercise improves (through simply performing the exercise, with additional mobility and stability exercises) you could gradually lower the box until they can perform a deep box squat without compromising spinal position. Once they are at this stage you can progress to a goblet squat, which they should be able to perform deeply and safely.
This is a fairly simple example but it shows how by regressing an exercise that someone can’t perform properly, we can progress safely and effectively.
Now I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t progress exercises, but should do so only when we are ready. And it’s a pretty simple concept. If an exercise looks like trash despite your best efforts to coach the movement, regress it. If the regression looks acceptable start there and slowly and safely build up.
You wouldn’t start doing cleans with someone who couldn’t perform an acceptable Romanian deadlift? It would be dangerous and unnecessary. And I have a feeling that those cleans would probably look like trash.
Regress to Progress.
Most people have a bit of a love hate relationship with their foam roller. They seem to make you feel and move better, but tend to also cause a fair bit of discomfort. In the following little post i hope to take a brief look at foam rolling, and what the recent research tells about it
Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release therapy (self-massage) that has been suggested to break up adhesions between layers of fascia (the connective tissue sheath that surrounds our muscle tissue). It has also been thought to reduce the neural tone of hyperactive neural receptors within the muscle tissue, and also rehydrate muscle tissue at the cellular level through the equal redistribution of fluid. And what does that mean exactly?
Pretty much all of that is thought to lead to an acute, and over time, chronic return in Range of Motion (ROM). This ROM has often been reduced by the muscle stiffness caused by heavy exercise and repeat sedentary activity in altered postural positions (AKA sitting).
Now I need to mention that this is merely a brief overview of the POTENTIAL mechanisms that have been suggested in regards to what foam rolling MAY actually do, and this is by no means a definite description on how foam rolling works.
For starters, does foam rolling actually work? What the science says.
Research on foam rolling is fairly minimal, as an intervention protocol it is difficult to regulate. How could you ensure each individual undertaking the foam rolling is actually rolling the exact same spot as everyone else, applying the same amount of pressure as everyone else, and applying that pressure for exactly the same amount of time as everyone else? Exactly, you couldn't. Despite that a couple of studies have been published looking at the effects of foam rolling on flexibility.
Foam rolling has shown to improve flexibility acutely in a number of papers (Macdonald, 2013; Button, 2014; Halperin, 2014; Jay, 2014: Grieve, 2015), in a variety of situations, suggesting that foam rolling does have the capacity to improve passive range of motion in the short term. Interestingly, one of these studies (Jay, 2014) showed increased range of motion only lasted ~10 minutes, which means you might have to use the new found ROM or you will lose it pretty quickly.
It has also shown to improve measures of ROM chronically (Ebrahim, 2013; Mohr, 2013), with as little as two weeks of consistent foam rolling required to improve chronic flexibility.
As for the practical implications of this, we could foam roll tight, restricted tissue and expect to see immediate improvements in ROM, and if which we continue to perform consistently over time, chronic improvements in ROM.
Building on this, if we incorporate foam rolling into our warmup, and then begin to move in a way that uses this ‘new found’ ROM, we create a need to maintain these seen improvements. This is more likely to create long term changes in ROM.
An example of this would be stiff adductors limiting squat depth. By rolling our adductors we would see an increase in ROM and therefore an increase in squat depth. By proceeding to train, using this new found depth, we would begin to build stability and strength at the ‘new’ end ROM, creating a demand to maintain it. By now improving our capacity to squat deeply whilst maintaining stability through training, we become more comfortable in this position, and are able to achieve it more comfortably over time, resulting in a reduction of chronic stiffness. If we continue to foam roll consistently during this period, we are likely to further contribute to improving ROM and reduce tissue stiffness, making more permanent changes.
Anecdotally, whilst the improvements in ROM are apparent and beneficial, it is the way that people tend to feel immediately after foam rolling stiff and adhesed tissue that I think has significant benefit. Releasing restricted tissue feels good, and performing movement unrestricted feels really good. This sense of improved and unrestricted movement starts the session on a positive, and makes movement in general more enjoyable. Don’t discount the way someone feels when performing exercise, if they feel like they are moving well and enjoy it, it can go a long way to improving adherence and performance in the gym.
Ebrahim, A. W., & Elghany, A. W. A. (2013). The effect of foam roller exercise and Nanoparticle in speeding of healing of sport injuries. Journal of American Science, 6, 9.
Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 92.
Jay, K., Sundstrup, E., Søndergaard, S. D., Behm, D., Brandt, M., Særvoll, C. A., & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Specific and cross over effects of massage for muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 82-91.
MacDonald, G. Z., Button, D. C., Drinkwater, E. J., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(1), 131-142.
Mohr, A.R., Long, B.C., & Goad, C.L. (2014) Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation
Grieve, R., Gooodwin, F., Alfaki, M., Bourton, A. J., Jeffries, C., & Scott, H. (2014). The immediate effect of bilateral self myofascial release on the plantar surface of the feet on hamstring and lumbar spine flexibility: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
Button, D. C., Bradbury-Squired, D., Noftall, J., Sullivan, K., Behm, D. G., & Power, K. (2014). Roller-Massager Application to the Quadriceps and Knee-Joint Range of Motion and Neuromuscular Efficiency During a Lunge. Journal of athletic training.
Deadlifts – 4 reasons Why you should be doing them
I’m not shy about the love I have for the deadlift. If I’d have to pick a favourite exercise it would be right up the top of the list (bit hard to choose one favourite, right?). Not because I’m particularly good at them, but because as an individual exercise they provide a huge amount of benefit. Seriously, in terms of bang-for-your-buck exercises, deadlifts are king.
You can’t cheat a deadlift. Either that bar is coming off the floor or not. Sure you can quarter squat a ton of weight, but a quarter deadlift doesn’t count.
So in this little post I am going to outline a few of the reasons why I think deadlifts are hands down the most beneficial exercises you can implement into your program.
They reinforce the hip hinge
The hip hinge one of our fundamental movement patterns. It allows us to lift considerable loads through the loading of the posterior chain. This loading (if done with a neutral spine) spares our lower backs from any undue stress.
Learning to hinge at the hips is important in relation to both pulling huge ass weights off the floor, and lifting things in day to day life. By learning to stabilise the trunk in a neutral position, while applying a concentric load through the hips, we can limit stress placed on the lumbar spine, and avoid any issues associated.
Dat Posterior Chain
The posterior chain refers to the back of the body (AKA spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings, calves). You know, all those muscles that tend to get missed during the third (or fourth? I can’t remember) chest and bicep workout for the week.
And the deadlift crushes it. Every muscle on the backside of your body is working overtime to stabilise the spine against flexion forces, extend the hips, and maintain retracted scapula. Both hitting muscles that often, and undeservedly, get neglected By training these muscles we can also reverse the negative postural deviations caused by the excessive sitting (something that a lot of us do too much of).
Not to mention the important role that the posterior chain plays in the explosive hip extension seen during sprinting and jumping. Increased strength of the posterior chain could significantly improve athletic performance by making an individual faster and more powerful.
Believe it or not, hanging on to a really heavy barbell increases your ability to grip stuff. Hard. Important when doing heavy rows, chins and presses, if your grip strength is not up to scratch it can limit your improvement in heap of other exercises by giving out before the target muscles do.
Not to mention the importance a firm grip can have in day-to-day life, from unscrewing the lid off a jam jar to shaking someone’s hand. Heck, deadlifting may actually improve first impressions by both improving your handshake quality and making you looked jacked.
They can be regressed and progressed to suit any scenario
The deadlift is extremely versatile. Want to teach someone to hip hinge but they lack the necessary mobility to deadlift from the floor? Deadlift from blocks or do rack pulls.
Have a solid deadlift but lacking single leg hip stability? Single leg deadlift variations can help.
Solid hinge but a weak upper back? Snatch grip deadlifts could be your answer.
Anywho, you get the point. Very versatile, with a heap of variations that can be implemented to target a heap of different goals.
You look like a boss ripping a loaded barbell from the floor.
Here are some interesting articles posted over the last week.
They are well worth a read!
A great article by Dean Somerset on anterior humeral glide, and what you can do to avoid it.
An interesting article that explains the positives and benefits of artificially sweetened soft drinks, and how they may or may not affect body composition.
A great article by Tony Gentilcore, published on T-nation discussing the positives of some exercise variety, and the negatives of too much.