With the right plan, home workout success can be yours! Coach Sarah Walls shares tips on how to design an effective training program for at home workouts. Beginners and advanced trainees alike can get great workouts in their home workout training space.
My wife and I just returned from an amazing trip to Guam. In case you're wondering where exactly Guam is located (I didn't know where it was initially), it is located somewhere in between Candyland and Heaven. In other words, it's in the middle of freakin' paradise. The picture below is a photo I personally took while we were on one of the private beaches; pretty cool huh? The trip was incredible, to say the least, and all fears of experiencing a "warm Christmas" were completely defenestrated. We also got to spend a fair amount time of exploring the Guam backcountry, during which we came across these freakish spiders every ten yards (not kidding). As much as I hate spiders, I couldn't resist taking a video of one of them. Check it out below...as a defense mechanism, it intentionally oscillates its web back and forth as if it's being blown by the wind.
Not to mention, we had snake (brown tree snakes) and hog traps lining the border of our backyard, as, apparently, they run around with reckless abandon in Guam.
Anyway, back to the point of this post. When it comes to working out on vacation, I find people often fall into one of two camps:
1. Exercising like a maniac. Heaven forbid a week pass by without running one's self into the ground. After all, if you take time off, you're lazy and a slacker, right?
2. Doing absolutely nothing, along with sitting, eating, and drinking as much as possible. You've earned it anyway, no?
As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While I feel it's EXTREMELY important for exercise-aholics to learn to relax for a change (they'll often find their body needs the break anyway), it's also important to not abuse your body on the other side of the spectrum through sedentary living and consuming alcohol until your eyes bleed. Given the fact that vacations often entail copious amounts of eating rich foods, sitting (especially during the travel portion), and a disrupted/abnormal sleep schedule, nixing exercise entirely may not be the wisest choice.
As such - and while I'd be remiss to claim that I'm a perfect example - I thought some of you may like to see how I made my best attempt to find a balance while in Guam. Enough exercise to keep my body (and mind) moving in the right direction, but so much that I failed to enjoy the vacation for what it was: A freakin' vacation!
Here's what I did:
Workout 1 (in a gym)
A1. Weighted Chins, 4x3 A2. Front Squat, 2x3
B. Barbell Stepback Lunge with a Front Squat Grip, 3x5/side
C1. Barbell Glute Bridge, 3x8x :2
C2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Farmers Walk, 2x60yds/side
Workout 2 (in a gym)
A. Speed Deadlifts, 6x2 @55%
B1. Feet-Elevated Pushup, 10x5
B2. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row, 10x5/side
B3. Single-leg Hip Thrust, 10x5/side (Performed circuit fashion with minimal rest)
Workout 3 (outside)
4 mile descent and climb down and up Sanders Slope. The entire road/path was on an incline. While not physically grueling by any means, it provided a nice change of pace with beautiful scenery, wild hogs on the path (no, I'm not messing with you), and a fair challenge as far as walks are concerned.
Workout 4 (outside)
My wife and I decided that, on Christmas Eve, we'd much rather complete a bodyweight session outside to enjoy the beautiful island weather, as opposed to remaining cooped up in a windowless gym. We found some pullup and dip bars outside and improvised as we went along:
A1. Pullup, 5x8 A2. PUPP, 5x :30 (immediately following each set of pullups) A3. No rest, go straight back to pullups
B1. Supinated-Grip Inverted Row, 3x6x :5 hold at top B2. Tiger Crawl with Pushup, 3x 30yds
C. Squat Series "Finisher:" Squat Jump x20 seconds Bodyweight Squat x20 seconds Squat ISO Hold in Bottom x20 seconds Repeat 3 times
Workouts 1 and 2 Given that I was on a Pacific island, I didn't want to spend too much time indoors. As such, only the first two workouts were performed inside a gym. I went full body on both those days, as I knew they'd be the only two days during the week I'd be able to use the iron. I also kept the volume fairly low, so that I could get in+out of the gym within 45 minutes, as well as give my body a break. The circuit on Day 2 was a way to get in a fair amount of joint-friendly work, while spreading out the volume over ten sets.
"Workout" 3 See above. We also stumbled across a pretty cool beach at the bottom of the slope, along with experiencing plenty of beautiful scenery along the way.
Workout 4 This provided an awesome opportunity to breathe some fresh air, spend some time exercising with my wife, and also give myself a small training effect while leaving me feeling "invigorated" rather than exhausted by the end of it. This workout really counted more toward energy systems training, given the rest periods and sets/reps we used. And it was completed within 20 minutes. Sounds like a winner to me!
There you have it! Our total STRUCTURED exercise time didn't exceed two hours or so, and we still spent plenty of time swimming and walking along the beaches. I returned home not feeling like complete garbage from all the holiday feasting, while at the same time I certainly was able to indulge myself in "vacation mode."
I should have an article coming out on how to exercise while traveling with minimal equipment, so keep your eyes peeled!
First things first, let me put it out there that I LOVE the Olympic lifts (from here on out referred to as the O-lifts). I think they're a fantastic tool to develop strength, power, and enhance athletic potential. Not to mention, I can't help but tip my hat to those that have accomplished near-impossible feats of power with them, and there are few things I find more beautiful than a perfectly executed snatch. In fact, while I currently can't back this up with any scientific research, I'm convinced that Maximus utilized the O-lifts as part of his training arsenal to utterly own anyone who stood in his way in his quest to avenge the death of his family.
HOWEVER - and as Sarah recently noted in her Squat vs. Box Squat post - the O-lifts are an extremely complex movement that many ELITE athletes spend their entire lives perfecting. Not to mention, 99 times out of 100, the limiting factor in the athletes we work with at SAPT is simply a lack of strength. They lack the strength (and subsequently, joint integrity...) and neuromuscular control to produce and decelerate movement, and THIS is the primary reason that they can't seem to improve their change-of-direction speed, or throw that ball faster.
In fact, the interesting thing is that even if I wanted to start them off with O-lifting, the majority of them would lack the strength to do that, too! Walking someone, and strengthening them, through the squat and deadlift progressions will actually help them with the O-lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.), but performing the O-lifts WON'T necessarily have carryover the other way around and help them become better at squatting and deadlifting. It's just not a reciprocal relationship like that.
Nevertheless, this post isn't about sparking a "Should I O-lift or Not O-lift a New Trainee" debate. If you are a coach that has found this to work for you, then great. I respect that. We have just found that, especially with consideration to the fact that we often don't work with a given athlete for more than six months at a time, we can accomplish more in less time by working with other tools in the "strength coach toolbox."
And, while I may personally feel that the majority of athletes spend too much time on the speed-strength end of the spectrum and really don't need a whole lot of "speed and power" work (at least, initially) to enhance their athletic potential, I still feel it's important to incorporate explosive movements in training to teach someone how to control their body in space. Not to mention, these movements will often serve as a CNS primer for the squat and deadlift portion of the session, just like the O-lifts are often performed prior to strength work.
What do we use to accomplish this? Jumping!
Yes, jumping. Anyone from a beginner to an advanced athlete can utilize this powerful tool that is much more "dummy-proof" than the O-lifts. While I'm not going to list the specific progressions we'll use with someone, I just wanted to make a quick point.
Take, for example, two jumping variations we use; the box jump and the hot ground to tuck jump (the latter shown the video):
In both variations, if doing them correctly, you'll still be producing force through the "triple extension" motion that the O-lifts are frequently praised for working. This being, simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Essentially all this means is that the toes are pointing down, and the knees and hips are straightening out.
Note the similarity of the body position (specifically at the joint angles of the ankles, knees, and hips) during the picture of O-lift in the very beginning of this post, and my body positions during a box jump, and a freeze-frame of the same hot ground jump performed in the video above:
Hot Ground to Tuck Jump:
Crazy, huh? As an added bonus, one of the most difficult portions of the O-lifts is ACTUALLY achieving triple extension. If you youtube nearly any run-of-the-mill person doing an O-lift, and carefully watch their ankles/knees/hips, you'll quickly see that they're not even doing the very thing that makes the O-lifts so beneficial!
Also, with some of the jumping variations, you also receiving a bit of often-neglected hip flexor work at greater than 90 degrees of flexion, such as in the top of the hot ground jump:
Now, these jumps must be progressed appropriately, just as a skilled coach of the O-lifts would do with a trainee. And, the volume must be monitored, as mindlessly having an athlete jump around until their knees explode isn't going to help their vertical. Usually fifteen TOTAL reps will be more than enough to receive the intended benefit.
Again, what I am NOT saying is to avoid the O-lifts like the plague. Again, they are phenomenal tools, and there's no chance that jumping variations could take the place of O-lifting in the appropriate scenario.
But, like anything, one should be sure they understand where he or she (or someone they're coaching) is honestly at when taking into consideration what will be the most bang-for-your-buck training approach, given the time and resources you may have at your disposal.
I received this question from a friend of mine who is currently in physical therapy school and thought I'd share my response here. Q. Had a question. I know that at [X clinic he worked at] some of the therapists told me that overhead press was bad to do due to some impingement of the supraspinatus. This is also something we've learned in school but im not sure if this is specifically for those who just aren't strong enough or those recovering from injuries and such. Do you do overhead shoulder press w/ dumbells or BB and what is your take on the subject?
A. As usual, this is a question of contraindicated exercises versus contraindicated people. To make a blanket statement such as "no one should overhead press" would be both remiss and short-sighted. For example, if this is the case, should I avoid taking down and putting up my 5lb container of protein powder on top of my kitchen cabinet each morning? But I digress.
Getting to your the center of your question: Is the overhead press a fantastic exercise? Absolutely! Can the majority of the population perform it safely? Eh, not so much. In fact, this is a very similar subject matter to the back squat. The squat is arguably the greatest exercise to add lean body mass and increase athletic prowess, but may not be the wisest exercise selection depending on the person/situation. Chris actually addressed this very question in THIS post as to why he doesn't back squat the Division 1 baseball players he works with over at George Mason.
First things first: Look, I LOVE the overhead press. In fact, nothing makes me feel more viking-like than pressing something heavy overhead.In my personal opinion, the barbell military press is one of the BEST exercises to develop the deltoids, traps, serratus, and triceps, along with (if performing it correctly) the abdominals, glutes, low back, and upper thighs. HOWEVER, a lot of "stuff" needs to be working correctly in order to safely overhead press:
- Soft Tissue Quality
- Thoracic Mobility (specifically in extension)
- A Strong (and Stable) Rotator Cuff
- Upward Rotation of the Shoulder Blades
- General Ninja-like Status
Improved thoracic extension will positively alter your shoulder kinematics as you press overhead, a strong and stable cuff will help keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid (the shoulder socket) in order to free up that subacromial space (decreasing risk of impingement) , upward rotators will keep the scapulae in proper positioning, and I don't think I need explain how obtaining ninja status will help you overhead press like a champ.
If you can get all the things above up to snuff (via specific drills/exercises), then you're in pretty darn good shape. In reality, this comes down to ensuring you lay down a sound foundation of movement before loading up that very pattern. If the movement patterns and necessary kinematics are there, then chances are you get the green light to overhead press.
However, it doesn't stop there. A few other things need to be taken in to consideration:
1. Training Economy. If you only have X number of hours in the gym and Y capacity to recover, then you need to choose the Z exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck without exceeding your (or your athlete's) capacity to recover. Considering that the "shoulders" already receive tons of work from horizontal pressing movements (on top of horizontal and vertical pulling exercises), I really don't feel that most trainees - especially those that are contraindicated - need to overhead press if the primary goal is to further hypertrophy the deltoids and/or elicit some sort of athletic performance improvement.
2. Injury History. Partial thickness cuff tear? Labral fraying? Congenital factors? All these (and more) will come into play with deciding if overhead pressing will set you up for longevity in the realm of shoulder health.
3. Population. Are you dealing with overhead athletes? They're at much greater risk for the traumas listed in #2, and, not to mention, they already spend a large majority of their day with their arms overhead so you need to consider how mechanically stable (or unstable) their shoulder is, along any symptomatic AND asymptomatic conditions they may possess. Conversely, if you're dealing with a competitive olympic lifter, or an average joe who moves marvelously, then the overhead press may be a fantastic (or even necessary) choice to elicit a desired outcome.
4. Type of Injury. Ex. Those with AC joint issues may actually be able to overhead press pain free due to the lack of humeral extension involved (whereas the extreme humeral extension you'd find in dips or even bench pressing could easily exacerbate AC joint symptoms). Using myself as example, I can actually military press pain free, whereas bench pressing quickly irritates my bum shoulder. I don't have an AC joint issue (as far as I know...), but I've still found that my pain flares up when my humerus goes into deep extension (past neutral) in any press such as a pushup, barbell press, dumbbell press, etc. so the military press actually feels pretty good for me PERSONALLY. With regards to pushups and dumbbell pressing, I can usually do it fine as long as I'm cognizant to avoid anterior humeral glide.
As for pressing overhead with dumbbells vs. barbells, I find that, frequently, it's best to start someone with dumbbell pressing with a NEUTRAL grip (palms facing each other) as this will give your shoulder more room to "breathe" by externally rotating the humerus and lowering risk of subacromial impingement. From there, you can progress to the barbell as long as the items listed in the beginning are in check.
In the end, this comes down to how well you move, your posture, and your individual situation. With technology currently PWNING our society's movement patterns via increased time in cars, sitting in front of our computers, gaming, and overall sedentary lifestyle, we have to fight much harder than our ancestors to turn that "red light" to a "green light" in the sphere of overhead pressing.
Note: to conclude, feel free to watch the video below by Martin Rooney. Hopefully, you can read the central message portrayed:
On Wednesday, I touched on competing demands and how these will affect the quantity, and quality, of the training stressors appropriately applied to athletes and general fitness enthusiasts alike. I used myself as an example of making a major mistake in attempting to obliterate a great athlete while not understanding everything he was facing outside the gym walls of SAPT. You can read it here in case you missed it. Getting right to it, below is a sample lower body workout I may use with an athlete who is performing sprints and change-of-direction training with his or her sports team, throwing/hitting two days per week, and maybe getting in a lift or two under the watch of his high school coach. There are obviously countless scenarios that would affect the individualized programming of the specific athlete, but the one below should at least give you an idea.
A) Trap Bar Deadlift
1x3, then 1x3@90% weight used in set 1
B1) DB Split Squat ISO Hold B2) ½ Kneeling SA Cable or Band Row
2-3x5/side hold :5
C1) DL Hip Thrust, Back+Feet Elevated
C2) Sandbag Walkover C3) Side-Lying Wallslide with Slider
2x8 hold :5 2x6 2x8/side
D) Sledge Swings or EASY Prowler Push
2-3x10/side or 3 Trips
*Work up to one "heavy" set of three, and then do one more set of three at 90% of the last weight used. **Even though this session would be considered "lower body," I added this because I really feel people can't get enough horizontal pulling. Especially with the unilateral version you receive a bit of added core stability and thoracic mobility to boot. ***Your butt cheeks should feel like they're about to fall off the bone if you do these correctly.
B1) Split Squat ISO
B2) 1/2 Kneeling SA Band Row
C1) DL Hip Thrust, Back+Feet Elevated
C3) Side-Lying Wallslide with Slider
D) Sledge Swings
The above program will provide plenty training stimulus to elicit positive strength adaptations, while at the same time not fatiguing the athlete to the point of sending him or her backwards. Also, while I didn't list them, there would also be plenty of mobilization drills to help "undue" the crappy positioning and imbalances that the athlete accrues throughout the week.
With the trap bar deadlift, you'll receive a solid dose of work for the entire posterior chain while still giving the quads plenty stimuli (as the trap bar deadlift engages the quads a bit more than conventional deads), along with some healthy compressive stress (which the spine tends to handle better than shear stress).
The accessory work will hit most of the things that athletes fail to receive from their other spheres of training, namely:
- Glute strength and endurance (which, unless you're first name is Don, and last name Juan, there's about a 110% chance you lack these)
- Scapular retraction and depression
- Serratus anterior work
- The lateral subsystem (QL, adductor complex, and glute medius)
- Light conditioning (with the sledge or prowler) that should "wake-up" the athlete more than anything as opposed to some insane glycolytic session
In all honesty, I tried to come up with a clever way to end this post but...I got nothin'.
Confession: I have weak hamstrings. Very weak hamstrings. As such, I’ve needed to ensure that my training includes exercises that will bring up the strength of those stubborn muscles on the back of my legs. In the process of solving this dilemma, I came up with an exercise that will also help athletes improve their performance via stronger hamstrings. Now, one of the last exercises we would have one of our (healthy) athletes perform to increase their hamstring strength is the leg curl.
For most, they’re a terrible waste of time (yes, they certainly have a place in rehab settings and with older/deconditioned individuals, and bodybuilders could make an argument for them). While the majority of people understand that hamstrings function to flex the knee - which is what the leg curl trains - they often neglect that the hamstrings play a CRITICAL role in hip extension. The hamstrings are the body’s second most powerful hip extensor – just behind the glute max! (pun fully intended) For athletes, strong hamstrings can be invaluable as they play crucial role: resisting (eccentrically) knee flexion during sprinting. Take home point: stronger hamstrings make you faster!
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Enter the Band-Assisted Sissy Ham (or “Russian Leg Curl”). I came up with this exercise as I was helping some of our athletes perform pullups with band assistance. I had an “ah-ha” moment and decided to find a way to give myself (and others) band assistance during the sissy ham. In the video below, the first half will show me performing the sissy ham without the band. Then, I perform it with the aid of a band (attached above me). Notice there is now no arm push needed to help on the concentric (the “up”) portion of the lift.
(Note: Yes, upon looking at this video in retrospect, my pelvis is slightly tilted anteriorly and there's a bit of excessive low back arch. If I could travel back in time a year I'd go kick my own arse. Comon' Stevo! Get it right. Geez....)
This is such a fantastic exercise as it trains, simultaneously, both functions of the hamstrings: knee flexion and hip extension (which is how our hamstrings are utilized in athletics, anyway). It also makes for a more tangible progression than the regular sissy ham/russian leg curl. As you get stronger, you can lessen the band tension (as opposed to subjectively measuring "how fast you fall" during the regular sissy ham).
If you don't have a power rack that makes it easy to set up something like this, you could either just have someone manually hold your ankles, or latch your ankles under the pads of a lat pulldown apparatus (your knees would be resting where your butt normally goes). Then all you need is a sturdy 1/2" or 1/4" resistance band, which can be purchased through companies like Iron Woody, Perform Better, or EliteFTS.
As strength coaches, our mission (behind keeping people healthy) is to improve movement quality, performance, and strength and power. We also have only, roughly, 150 minutes a week to do this. This being the case, you won't find us filling 10 of those 150 minutes wasting time on an isolated leg curl. I could think of a million things athletes would be better off spending their time doing (placing their hand on a heated frying pan being one of them). Even if you're not an athlete, this exercise will still be wayy more beneficial for developing your hamstrings than the leg curl. It will also work well for the long-distance runners in the crowd!
This exercise isn't appropriate for everyone, as it's EXTREMELY difficult, even though it may not appear so if you haven't tried it. I definitely recommend a healthy dose of glute walks, slider hamstring curl eccentrics, and hip thrusts before attempting something like this.