Category Archives: Exercise

No Effort Is Too Small

We often get in a mindset that if we can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all? Nothing could be further from the truth. Pretty much doing ANYTHING is better than nothing when it comes to getting more fit, losing fat, getting stronger, etc.

Let’s use the example of my lunch time walk with my wife and dog today. Using a Garmin vivofit (basically a fancy pedometer), at the start of my walk I had 3,258 steps for the day and burned 1179 calories (resting metabolic rate + activities for the day so far). At the end of the 35 minute walk, I had a total of 6,421 steps and 1,347 calories. So that walk added 3,163 steps and 168 calories to my day.

If all I did was walk 35 minutes a day at a leisurely pace, I would lose a pound every 20 days. That would be 18.25 lbs a year! That’s no small number. Now those numbers would be different for you unless you’re a 210 lb dude, but I think you get the picture.

The moral of the story is tell the perfectionist in your head to be quiet and just do something.




Deadlifts…. Everyone can do them.

When people hear the name “deadlift”, they have one of two reactions: you either get excited like me, or you are intimidated because you think it means that you are going to do this:

Eddie Hall is a beast, Eddie also has trouble putting on his own shoes. I watched a documentary on him. His wife seemed to be a good sport about helping him with it.

Now if you have the second reaction (intimidated), don’t be. You don’t have to do them for a world record. Deadlifts are great for everyone. I often find that people with a bad knee that can’t squat without pain, can deadlift. When taught how to get into proper position, breathe correctly, and engage your core, I’ve had success with getting people with low back pain to deadlift (assuming they don’t have something serious going on). They can be done with Kettlebells, Barbells, and Trap Bars; there is a way that everyone can do them.

The deadlift is categorized as a hip hinge movement. It places the load on your hamstrings and glutes. There isn’t much change in the angle of your knee compared to a squat. After learning correct deadlift form and doing it for weeks, I’ve even seen women in their 60s with bad knees transition into squats, and then split squats. Strong hips help your knees from caving inward, providing better alignment of your knee with your foot when you squat or lunge. Working the hamstrings gives better balance of your muscles around your knee, making it more stable, and those cranky knees might just feel better (assuming no major underlying orthopedic condition like a shredded up meniscus).

How do you start? The kettlebell deadlift. It places the load directly under your center of gravity (good for those with low back pain), they don’t have to be very heavy (although there are very large Kettlebells), and they are the same height off the ground as a barbell. You can do the “normal version” where you bend your knees some, or the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) aka Stiff-Legged Deadlift with this.

Another variation:

With a barbell, you can also do the traditional deadlift.

But not everyone will have the same hip mobility to do so. If you cannot achieve a neutral spine at the bottom position, you may be better suited for one of these alternatives.

Semi-Sumo Deadlift. Placing your feet out wider, just a foot width each way might just be the trick (you have to move your grip to inside your stance). Some people can achieve more hip flexion out a little wider due to the orientation of their hip socket on their pelvis.

If you still have a hard time, I have had success with taller individuals using the trap bar, if you flip the bar so the grips are high, you can get more leverage because you don’t have to bend down as low. I’ve also had success with this for those with back pain for the leverage reason and because they can get the load through their center of gravity because they step inside the bar.

Did I mention that deadlifts can make you really strong???







Interval Training

A recent study was published that is now making its way around the news lately, and I thought I would touch on that. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The study had 4 groups:
    • Vigorous Resistance Training (RT) only
    • High Intensity Interval Training only (HIIT)
    • Combined light RT and moderate cardio
    • Control group (that did nothing)
  • The population was sedentary adults 30 or younger or older than 64
  • The study was done for 12 weeks
  • Variables that were measured at baseline and after 12 weeks:
    • Insulin sensitivity
    • Aerobic fitness
    • Mitochondrial respiration
    • Lean mass

So here’s what happened:

  • The group that did vigorous RT had more lean mass gains (duh)
  • The group that did HIIT improved their aerobic fitness the most (also duh)
  • The group that did both had modest gains in aerobic fitness and lean mass
  • Everyone experience better blood sugar levels (insulin sensitivity)

These were observed in both age groups

What was surprising:

  • In the HIIT group, the older group saw changes in over 400 genes, while the younger group saw 274 genes change. Most of this was due to changes in the number and health of their mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell). Aerobic fitness is heavily dependent on enzyme activity in the mitochondria, so many genes are involved. HIIT by far influenced the most genes compared to the other groups, see table below if you’re interested:


# Genes Δ HIIT RT Combo
Young 274 74 170
Old 400+ 33 19


So what is High Intensity Interval Training exactly? We hear that term thrown around a lot. Interval training is just alternating periods of work and rest. High intensity is a relative term. How intense the work is relative for the individual. What might take a 25 year old athlete to get to 90% of their max heart rate will be way more work than a sedentary 65 year old. The general recommendations are to start with a 1:3 work to rest ratio, and as you progress, work to 1:2 and 1:1 ratios if using time based intervals. So let’s say you sprint on the treadmill for 30 seconds, then hop off onto the sides and rest for 90 seconds, repeating for a set number of repetitions. Another method is to sprint as fast as possible for a given distance, time, or reaching a target heart rate, then resting until you reach 60% of your predicted maximum heart rate (or true max if you have had it measured), then repeating once we know from a heart rate monitor that you are recovered to go again. That is the basics of what it is.

Interval training does not have to be done with sprinting. You can also use an exercise bike, such as an airdyne or a spin bike, you can use the stairmill, rowing machine, swimming, etc. In fact, for most beginner clients with no real exercise history, I would not start them with sprinting. Same for people with orthopedic issues, I would use the rower or bike instead and even start with low intensity intervals. Interval training does not have to be done with just a traditional cardio method either. It can be done using other methods, or even combined. For example, you can use battle ropes, push-ups, kettlebell swings, burpees, etc., all combined in timed circuit.

So, we know that interval training influences a lot of genes with sedentary people, young and old, but why else do it? HIIT is far superior to steady state cardio when it comes to fat loss. HIIT is also very effective at improving aerobic fitness capacity. So if your goals include becoming more fit and losing fat, HIIT would be a great part of a well rounded workout program.

Home Gym Essentials

Whether you need to accumulate equipment over time, or money is not a concern, you can make a nice home gym on just about any budget.  In my opinion, this list of equipment is a must:

TRX Suspension Trainer

This is where I would start.  You can get the most versatility out of this “gym in a bag”.  You can work your pulling movements, pushing movements, squats or lunges, and work your hips and core with this.  You just need a good place to anchor it to.  You can get away with using the door anchor that comes with it, but as you get more advanced, you will need to have it anchored where you can be directly under the attachment, or go beyond the attachment point.  In my house, my basement is unfinished, so I use an I-beam.

PowerBlock Dumbbells

You pretty much need some form of external load to use with your exercises, so you need these. These are pricey, but think about how much money and space you save if you buy these instead of several pairs of dumbbells. Regular dumbbells are at least $1.00 per pound. If you are a woman, you can probably get away with buying a pair that go up to 40 lbs. per hand.  If you are more advanced, buy a set that can go heavier. If you are a man, you can start with a 50 lb. set, and then buy expansion kits that can make them go to 70, 90, and even 125 lbs. per hand.

Adjustable Bench

You need a bench.  It should adjust from flat to a few different angles for incline. You don’t need to get a commercial grade bench; it’s just going to be you using it so you won’t have to worry about meathead kids tearing it up doing stupid stuff. Just make sure it can handle a decent load. I’ve seen benches with stickers on them saying they could only handle 250 lbs., I weigh 200 lbs., so I could only use 50 lbs. when laying on it!?! I think that company is trying to keep you weak. I personally use the bench PowerBlock makes, it gets the job done and can hold 550 lbs. You’ll be able to do a variety of pushing, pulling, single leg squat variations, and hip thrusts with a bench.

Adjustable Kettlebell

Same reason as having adjustable dumbbells, you’ll save money and space if you have one of these.  Regular kettlebells average $1.50 to $2.00 per pound when you buy them.  Exercises that you need a kettlebell for are swings, goblet squats, and Turkish Get-Ups just to name a few.

Medicine Ball

These are a great modality for power development, and very versatile. If you have a concrete wall to throw against, you can do chest passes and rotational throws, or just use a partner. You can also slam them on the ground.

Adjustable Plyometric Box

For people more advanced, you can use a plyometric box for box jumps, single leg hops, and depth jumps. Just about anyone can use a box for step-ups. You’ll want something that at least goes as high as your knee.

Resistance Bands

If a cable machine is out of your budget, you can use resistance bands to do most of the exercises you would do with cables. These are also portable, so you can take them with you on business trips and vacation to get in your workouts.


You don’t have to buy the official “val slide” that was marked up because it’s fitness equipment. Just buy the set of 4 sliders at your local hardware store for $8. You can work your legs and core very well with sliders, and just like the resistance bands, they’re portable to take on your trips.

What Exactly Is the Core?

When people talk about the core, they often think of just your abdominals.  It is not that simple.  The muscles of the core can be divided into three categories, the local stabilization system, global stabilization system, and movement system.

The local stabilization system is made up of muscles that attach directly to the spine.  They work together to achieve stability between vertebrae or segments of your trunk.  An example would be the transverse abdominus.

The global stabilization system is made of muscles that attach the spine to the pelvis. They work together to help transfer loads from upper extremities to lower extremities and provide stability between the pelvis and spine. An example of a muscle in this category is the external and internal obliques.

The movement system is made up of muscles that attach your extremities to your spine and or pelvis.  They are responsible for producing force during dynamic activities.  A muscle in this group is latissimus dorsi, or lats for short.

All three of these systems of muscles must work together to achieve stabilization.  When we refer to stabilization, we are talking about your body’s ability to distribute weight, absorb force, and transfer force efficiently.  In other words, all movements stem from the core and any inefficiency in these muscles lead to poor balance, force production, and increase your risk of injury.  The best way to train the core is with movement patterns.  Machines at the gym may be great for improving strength in isolated muscles, but they don’t load the core as well as movement based exercise.  Machines neglect to train how we move in everyday life.


rk, Micheal, Scott Lucett, and Donald T. Kirkendall. NASM’s Essentials of Sports Performance Training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010. Print.

Lasting Results

Every year when January comes, people think about changing something about their lives and it is usually related to weight loss.  As a personal trainer, it’s great for business, but I would also like to see changes to everyone’s lifestyles that make lasting results, year round so that the next year, you just keep doing what you’ve already been doing!

Here are a few habits I have noticed about people that have success losing weight and keeping it off:

  1. Make exercise or physical activity a part of your daily ritual, like brushing your teeth.  You don’t have to work out every day, just make more active decisions, like parking at the far end of the parking lot, get up from your desk a few times a day at work, take the stairs, walk the dog, etc.
  2. Make healthy foods convenient. Make meals ahead of time and keep it either in the freezer or refrigerator so that you always have something ready. Keep healthy snacks with you in the car or at work so that you avoid moments of weakness. When you’re in a hurry, make a meal replacement shake.
  3.  “Out of sight, out of mind” and “in sight, in mind”.  Keep unhealthy foods in your house put away, or better yet, don’t buy them!  Keep healthy foods where you can see them, like a basket of fruit on the kitchen counter.
  4. When you are browsing the fridge or the pantry, think first. Are you actually hungry? Don’t eat out of boredom, better yet go workout!
  5. Don’t justify eating ice cream because you worked out.  Just because you worked out doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want, you won’t gain any ground on losing weight.
  6. Don’t obsess about messing up your diet for one meal. Don’t beat yourself up; nobody is going to eat absolutely perfect all the time.  Don’t discourage yourself!

Deadlift vs. Squat

Many people don’t know the difference and some use these terms interchangeably. There is a big difference between these two powerful lifts. The squat is a more knee dominant movement, placing great demand on the quadriceps. The deadlift is a hip dominant movement, requiring strength and mobility of the posterior chain of your body and less demand on the quads. They are both great lifts for strengthening your whole body, however which one you do depends on the training goal, and the particular goal for each training session.

In the deadlift, the hips shift backward first, with some knee bend. This loads up the glutes Deadlift-300x195and hamstrings as well as the quads. Since you are holding onto a weight, it also engages your upper back and your muscles for your grip, not to mention your core is engaged because it connects your upper back to your hips. It’s a practical lift for everyday life. What kills me is when someone has awesome form on a deadlift, and then they set the weight down by rounding their back. Rounding your back under a load = bad. The deadlift is all about keeping your low back arched and your shoulders back, aligning the spine in a position that won’t hurt it under load. The deadlift is also a foundation to learn other exercises such as the kettlebell swing or the Romanian deadlift also called a straight leg deadlift.

In the squat, your hips move down first, creating an end position where your lower leg and singlearmfrontsquattorso are parallel to each other if you took a picture and extended lines out from those segments of your body. It uses the same muscles as the deadlift, but in a different way. The knee bends to a greater angle and the load is more on the quads.  The upper back is either supporting something or holding something up near your shoulders, different than pulling up on something like in a deadlift.

I often hear from clients that before they worked with me that their back or knees hurt when doing a squat or a deadlift. Doing a deadlift or a squat doesn’t hurt you, your form hurts you. Unless there is an underlying orthopedic problem, it is always due to poor form. I cannot emphasize enough on learning the right technique.