SAPT Exercise of the Week

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Sample Warm-Up Series

Here's a quick warm-up that won't take more than 5-10 minutes to complete, but will hit practically every joint in the body and prep you to effectively smash some weight around. These are a few of my favorite moves that I've found to personally be some of the best "bang for your buck" drills.

Note: When you perform the prone plank portion, try doing it "RKC style" as demonstrated in the video below. It really does make a big difference in terms of how much benefit you receive from the seemingly simple exercise.

While, yes, warming up can be an annoyance for some people, I find three reasons that simply won't allow me to skip it before my own training sessions:

1) It gives me a "feel" for how my body and nervous system and faring during a particular day. As I run through the various movement patterns, I have a chance to sense what areas may be sore/testy, and also if I'm feeling "on" or not. This can then help me further autoregulate my training session and decide how hard I'll push it based off what my body is telling me.

This takes some experience and practice, yes. But the rewards can't be overstated.

2) Warming up is going to help you run faster, move more weight, and reduce the likelihood of injury during your training session. 'Nuff said there.

3) It gives me a chance to "bridge the gap" between the workday and my training session. During the warmup I have a chance to clear my mind and leave any troubles/worries at the front door, so to speak. Then, by the time I've moved on to the main lifts for the day, I have all my focus in check.

While some of the drills in the video above may be old news to many of you, I'm still shocked to find how many people tend to spin their wheels when it comes to preparing for their training session. Hopefully some of you can glean a few things from the video and add them into your own repertoire.

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Standing Rollout to Wall

While I'd argue you'd be hard-pressed to find a better exercise for the anterior core than the standing rollout, the fact of the matter is that the exercise is way, WAY too advanced for most people. For example, when I watch someone do a standing rollout for the first time, one of three things happens: 1) They fall flat on their face. 2) Their lower back quickly falls into hyperextension (excessive arching, or "bowing"), thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise and putting their spine in danger. 3) Their spleen shoots out of their midsection, splattering the wall beside them.

Not to fear! There is still a way to receive the benefits of rollouts without your form looking like poo. Enter the standing rollout to wall; a fantastic variation for those who have mastered plank and stability ball rollout variations:

How to do it: First, be honest with yourself.  Only go as far away from the wall as you can without your low back sinking, or "bowing" toward the floor. Otherwise your time will be just as well spent doing something equally productive, such as throwing your intervertebral discs into a blender.

SQUEEZE your glutes hard, and posteriorly tilt your pelivs - aka, the humping motion....I apologize as that's not the most G-rated way to describe it but it seems to help the majority of people conceptualize it. Also, do your best not to fall into forward head posture, as people (myself included) tend to "reach" with their head on these more than any other trunk exercise.

Do 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps, beginning on the low end of the spectrum. No need to rush things here.

For the strength coaches in the crowd: Standing rollouts help with anti-extension of the trunk and assist in taking those who live in extension (primarily athletes) and drawing them out of that extended, anteriorly-tilted posture.

For the gym-rats out there: Nothing will get those abz a-blazin' (or sore) like standing rollouts will. Just be sure you've spent ample time mastering planks, fallouts, stir-the-pots, and the drills I outlined in this video:

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Zelda Plate Carry

I realize that many of our readers don't have access to special equipment such as prowlers, ropes, farmer walk implements, etc. so I've been doing my best to be cognizant this fact during these little "Exercise of the Week" bits. For example, while an alligator crawl with a prowler attached to you is certainly challenging, looks awesome, and will make your abdominals rip into two pieces....

it's most likely NOT the most practical option the majority of you due to equipment limitations.

This being the case, I hope you find many of the ones I do feature on here requiring minimal equipment (things like turtle rolls, bodysaw pushups, stir the pot alphabets, goblet squat to stepback lunges, etc.) useful for your individual scenarios.

Anyway, on to this week's featured movement:

Zelda Plate Carry

Why is it called the Zelda Plate Carry: If you don't know the answer to this, shame on you. Whenever Link (hero in the The Legend of Zelda series) picks something up, he holds it over his head and walks with it in a similar manner to the demonstration video. I suppose, technically speaking, this should be called the "Link Plate Carry," but more people are familiar with the name Zelda so I went with that one.

Giving full disclosure, this entire blog post may or may not be an excuse for me to somehow include my love for all things Zelda into a strength and conditioning website. I mean, come on, if you had played through Ocarina of Time six times in your youth, and eventually beat the game in under 24-hours in one sitting, wouldn't you want to find a way to incorporate it into your lifting routines?

Not that I did that, or anything, but just hypothetically speaking.


Okay, I might have totally done that. I'm not judging you though, okay?

Why I like it: See above. It resembles how Link carries heavy stuff around. Okay, just kidding (but not really). I like it because:

1. You can do it in virtually any gym. Heck, even if you live in the middle of nowhere you can perform it. Just pick up something heavy (a rock, backpack, whatever) and go with it. 2. It hammers scapular stability and shoulder mobility, along with providing a slight "cardiovascular" training effect. 3. You're practically forced to hold the plate in a neutral grip, which tends to be more "shoulder friendly" as it opens up the subacromial space within the glenoid.

How to do it: "Pack" the shoulder down and back, and don't allow your arms to drift forward or backward (think "keep them next to your ears) and keep the elbows locked. I also like to use this cue from Kelsey for overhead carries: "Think about shoving your shoulder down while simultaneously pressing your hand up through the weight. Like you’re trying to lengthen your arm." Brace your entire midsection, making a cognizant effort not to hyperextend ("over arch") your low back as you hold the plate overhead.

I would go for time ( beginning with :60-:90), or for a total number of steps (ex. 100 steps), and toss this in at the end of a workout for 3-4 rounds. You can increase the difficulty by adding the amount of time or steps you need to complete before setting the weight down. It's a great variation to toss in alongside other farmer walk exercises (dumbbells held at the side, in the goblet position, etc.), or in the middle of a conditioning circuit. You're only limited by your imagination in its application.

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Stir the Pot Alphabet

When it comes to training someone's "core," I'd often rather have them jump in front of a moving a school bus than perform endless sit-up and crunch variations. However, I've explained the "why" on this site multiple times (and most people are caught up to this information by now anyway), so I won't belabor the point here and now. Moving on, planks (and their variations) tend to be one of the best bang-for-your-buck exercises when it comes to training the "core," or - the muscles that control the pelvis and thoracic region with respect to the lumbar spine - to put it in "non-bro" terms.

This is why, once someone has mastered the basic plank, I'll progress them to something more difficult (and fun!) than just holding a static bridge for 60 seconds. This is where something like a move-the-mountain plank or a plank bodysaw will come in handy to make someone's abdominals hate life. Today I'd like to share another plank variation I love to use, that is challenging and also helps keep those with ADD a specified task to focus on.

Here we have SAPT's exercise of the week, along with allowing you to finally understand why I placed a picture of a random man stirring a large pot at the beginning of this post (don't pretend like you didn't doubt me).

Stir the Pot: Alphabet

What is it: This is a progression from the classic "Stir the Pot" exercise that Dr. Stuart McGill invented. It trains your core to resist extension and rotational forces, on top of improving core endurance, a key component in keeping back pain at bay.

The idea for the featured variation actually came to me after Coach Chris invented the Pallof Press: Alphabet back in 2010.

How to do it: Get in a nice plank position (abs tight, glutes SQUEEZED, yadda yadda yadda). Then, trace the alphabet in big, CAPITAL letters. Take your time here. and ensure that there is minimal movement taking place at your low back and hips.

I typically like to progress this by having someone start by tracing just a portion of the alphabet (ex. A-L) and eventually have them work through the entire alphabet. Perform 2-3 sets, working as far through the alphabet as you dare.

To make it even more difficult, you could have someone appear out of nowhere and samurai-kick the ball. I heard my friend Tony Gentilcore mention this for the original stir the pot, and I feel it is a fair progression.

Why I like it: As mentioned above, it's a good fit for us ADD folk in the crowd. Not to mention it will kick your butt. While an advanced athlete can make a plank very difficult if they put their mind to it and actually focus throughout the entire thing, I honestly can't always count on people to do this. Variations such as Stir the Pot practically force you into staying tight, as otherwise you'll fall over and/or snap your spine in two.

I also like this because those of you who train in commercial gyms can do it without any special equipment. Commercial gyms tend to have so many of those stability balls that I often feel like I'm a very small person in the middle of Goliath's equivalent of a Chuck E. Cheese's. This will give you something useful to do with those balls other than throwing them out the window. 

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Goblet Squat to Stepback Lunge

Here's a cool hybrid exercise that will work your lower body and smoke your core as well.

Goblet Squat to Stepback Lunge

How to do it: Pretty self-explanatory. Grab one or two kettlebells and hold them in the goblet or "racked" position as shown in the video. If you don't have kettlebells, hold one dumbbell at your chest as shown in the picture below.

One squat followed by a stepback lunge with each leg equals one rep. Perform 5-12 reps, depending on your goals.

Why I like it: I find this exercise to be useful for a few scenarios:

1) Travel. It's no surprise to most of you reading that hotels aren't the best-equipped when it comes to their "fitness rooms." The first thing you'll notice is the lack of a squat rack (which would cost less than the myriad machines they have, along with providing countless more uses, but I digress). You'll then quickly notice a bunch of treadmills, machines, and, if you're lucky, a dumbbell rack.

However, more often than not, the dumbbells stop at 50lbs. This is all well and good....I get why they do that. Nonetheless, sometimes those who are a bit stronger run out of ideas with what to do with sub-55lb dumbbells besides doing thirty reps of everything. Since the goblet squat to stepback lunge demands more from you than performing a squat (or stepback lunge) on its own, you can get more out of the lighter dumbbells. Also, with the weight being held at your chest, your entire midsection is going to have work like crazy to keep yourself upright.

Another note here would be if you're in a normal gym with only a few minutes to train and the squat rack is being hogged by a dude doing shrugs for an hour.

2. To use on an "off" day. The more I train, the more I tangibly recognize the truth of Dan Gable's sage advice: "If something is important, do it every day."

Wanna know something that's important? Squatting! Toss in a few of these babies on your off days to get some bloodflow going, "unglue" yourself after a long day at the office, and ingrain some proper motor patterns.

Not to mention, the stepback lunge is the most "knee friendly" of all the lunge variations, on top of the fact that it doesn't typically invoke too much post-workout soreness due to lessened deceleration demands (as you'd experience during a forward lunge or walking lunge).

If you are using these on an off day, go light with the weight selection. No need to be a superhero, big guy.

3. Accessory Work. We've also programmed these for people as part of their main training day, for a few reasons. Maybe we're trying to give their CNS a break from the barbell (ex. if they're overwhelmed with in-season demands or are doing a lot of extra work outside SAPT with the military, their sports teams, etc.). Or, sometimes, we're just trying to deload their spine a bit and take some time away from barbell squatting/lunging. Or, maybe we just want to make them hate life.

4. Conditioning Work. As noted above, these things have the potential to make you hate life. Toss them in from time to time to develop that good ol' work capacity.

**Addendum: This also makes a great variation for sandbag work. See the video below in which me and a few buddies of mine did these for part of an outdoor workout.

SAPT Exercise of the Week: Turtle Rolls for the Anterior Core

Ever since Dr. Stuart McGill (professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo) unleashed his research on spinal health and published his book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Disorders, the fitness industry was awakened to the fact that the typical human sit-up places up to 3,300N of compressive force on the lumbar spine. For those who are wondering if this is a good thing: it's not. As such, when it comes to enhancing someone's "core" strength, I'm almost always going nix repeated spinal flexion in training (i.e. sit-ups), and opt for improving spinal stability. Think pallof presses, landmines, woodchops, single-arm farmers walks, and planks, to name a few.

Or, I may choose a host of anti-extension exercises to give someone their ab training fix, utilizing any of the 20+ demonstrations I give in the video below:


However, should ALL movements resembling a sit-up be avoided like the bubonic plague? I don't think so.

While I do believe that - nine times out of ten - one should train spinal stability in order to correct low back dysfunction, reduce the risk of injury, and morph into a healthy, high-functioning athlete; there are exceptions to the rule.

For example, if I'm training a number of mixed martial artists (which we're consistently doing at SAPT), are you telling me that I never need to help them improve their abdominal strength for guarding?

Or, if helping someone prepare for a military test, should I avoid having them do sit-ups even though the testing protocol calls for a very specific test in sit-up endurance?

(Disclaimer: What I am NOT saying is that you always need to train people in positions specific to where they find themselves in sport (Ex. If I'm training a boxer do I need to repeatedly punch him in the face?). However, sometimes a small dose of a particular training protocol is needed to maximally prepare someone for their respective event.)

Turtle Rolls

Enter the turtle roll. This is a brutal abdominal exercise that hammers the rectus abdominus, along with the internal and external obliques, to both maintain trunk flexion and resist trunk extension. See the demo below:

How to do it:

  • Wrap your hands behind your head and touch your elbows to your knees
  • Have a partner SLOWLY rock you up and down, touching your heels to the ground at the top
  • Brace your abs HARD. Try not to generate any momentum to "swing" yourself up
  • Perform 8-12 repetitions
  • A cat walking around you is optional

The beauty of these is that you can do them virtually anywhere, as long as another person is close at hand. It is much harder than it looks to keep your elbows in contact with your knees, especially if your partner is moving you slowly. After you master a bodyweight turtle roll, you can hold a weight plate on top of your head (you won't need much though, trust me).

A couple caveats:

  • If you have back pain, I'd avoid this one. You can receive plenty of good ab training via other means
  • If adding turtle rolls in a training cycle, be sure to do plenty of work for the erectors and include a healthy dose of thoracic mobility drills to prevent hyperkyphotic postural adaptations in the thoracic spine. You should be doing this anyway, though....GOSH!!
  • Don't get too addicted to these. They'll certainly fill your "I need to feel my abs burn" craving but be careful to keep your total volume of spinal flexion work in check

That's it, try it out and let me know what you think.