Monthly Archives: February 2014

Less Workout Time, Greater Benefits

In addition to at home workouts simply saving time from preparing for and driving to and from the gym, you can further cut time in those exercise sessions done in your comfy confines.

It’s called supersetting, and it’s also a very sensible approach to training, because it helps ensure much better body balance, which not only looks good and provides greater functional fitness, but even more importantly acts to prevent injuries.

You do, however, need to be highly familiar with the home exercises you’ll be using, since you will be moving more rapidly and switching movements frequently. This will require concentration, familiarity, and decent cardio capabilities, especially the faster your pace.

The basic concept is to work a particular muscle group for a set, for instance, the chest press (eg, dumbbell bench press or pressing laying back on an exercise ball–more on chest exercises here). Since your chest needs a little time to rest in order to effectively handle another set, shift to the opposite side and work that, in this case your back.

First stage of push-pull superset

You can do dumbbell rows, for example, or use exercise bands, creating a pulling movement; the exact opposite from the pushing done with the chest exercise.

After doing one “round,” (a set of chest followed by a set for the back), do a second and then a third round of this same combo before going to two totally different body parts.

Another superset example would be doing an exercise that works predominantly your quadriceps (front muscles of your upper legs) followed by a hamstring exercise for the back of your upper legs.

great exercise for your lower backside, an area often neglected

great exercise for your lower backside (hamstrings and glutes), an area often neglected

For the front, you can do squats, either bodyweight or holding dumbbells (or even adding a weight belt if desired). These do hit the back of the leg some, but still work the quads more. Follow that up with doing something like a glute-hip raise (see pic immediately above), as the movement has various names), where you start off lying on the floor, elevate your feet on something like a bench or exercise ball, and then raise your hips off the ground by utilizing those hamstrings.

After doing one round of squats followed by glute-hip raises, you should then be ready to do another set of squats, followed by the glute-hip, etc, for a total of three rounds.

This front-back concept also would apply for the arms, where you can do a set of dumbbell curls, followed by tricep extensions or kickbacks.

front-back concept diagram for biceps and triceps

front-back concept diagram for biceps and triceps

Another superset can be shoulder presses matched up with pull ups or a lat pulldown (if you have a home machine; if not, you can use exercise bands for the same effect).

Yet one more superset would include your all-important core, where you’d do a set of crunches followed by a set of hyperextensions (note pic below). I’ve found personally the most readily available way to do this is with the ever portable exercise ball.

Here’s an example superset workout for the whole body, albeit a fairly abbreviated one. Remember, in this article, we’re here to save time!

3 rounds of each superset

Superset #1:

Dumbbell bench press (or pushups) followed by dumbbell rows

Superset #2:

Shoulder press followed pull ups or lat pulldown with bands

Superset #3:

Bicep curl followed by tricep extension or kickback

Superset #4

Bodyweight squat (or holding dumbbells for added resistance) followed by Glute-hip raises.

Superset #5

Exercise ball crunches followed by Hyperextensions

excellent instruction on hyperextensions

excellent instruction on hyperextensions

*If you have done three rounds of each of these supersets with minimal rest between rounds and supersets, you should be reasonably tired. However, if you still have something left in the tank and feel the desire, re-do Superset #4 (legs), since the first three supersets were upper body.

Hopefully, you’ll find this type of home workout both challenging and refreshing, especially considering the amount of physical activity and resulting health benefits you can achieve in a relatively short amount of time. Home exercises allow for many possible superset combos, so you can obviously modify based on what you have available or simply what you feel like performing at the moment.

I have plans for a new article soon that lists many at home exercises to choose from, virtually all of which can be used in some combo with another to create any number of possibilities for superset based home workouts.


Simple home workout

As an in home personal trainer, this is a very basic, fairly abbreviated workout that I prescribe for some of my clients, especially if I’m unable to be there at the time while he still desires to do home exercises in between sessions with me.

Ideally, you would do this home workout at least twice, maybe three times a week, with at least a full day rest in between any two workouts (eg would be Mon-Wed-Fri, or at least Mon-Thurs).

Since this is for an overall workout, I’ll keep instruction to a necessary minimum. Other articles will be a good bit more detailed for specific at home exercises.

Warm-up the whole body first, as always, for at least five minutes–longer if feel need to loosen up a little more and/or get body further warmed.

Lower body: 3 sets of each of these

Glute-hip raises: lie on your back on the floor, elevating your feet on something (ball, bench, or table, for eg) and raising your hips up while focusing on using the the hamstrings (muscles in the back of the upper leg) to do so. Contract at the top to help maximize muscle stimulation in hamstrings and glutes. (We are starting with these since so many people neglect the backside in their development)

finish stage of glute-hip raise

finish stage of glute-hip raise

Bodyweight squats: stick your tail out enough to ensure curve in lower back (as opposed to rounding your back), dropping down your upper body via the hips and not from your knees. As you start back up, try to drive more from your heels than the front of your feet. (if not used to these, start off by testing your abilities with a chair or couch behind you just in case you lose balance). Click here for in-depth info on how to get the most out of these.

Calf raises: do as many on two legs as you can do with good form (where not using body to jerk self up). If these become too easy over time, you can hold onto dumbbells to increase intensity, or you can do on one leg at a time (can lightly hold onto a rail or put hand against wall for balance). *doing elevated calf raises (placing ball of foot on, say, a stair step while allowing heel to hang) naturally increases the effectiveness.

for calf raises, find surface you can lower your heel from for greater development

for calf raises, find surface you can lower your heel from for greater development

Upper body: 3 sets of each of these

Chest press
with dumbbells (If you have a bench or exercise ball: if not, see pushups shortly below),  focusing on stretch at bottom while ensuring chest muscle activation as much as possible (not dropping too far down though, just to where you get a stretch, under control as you bring weights down). See this article for much greater detail on the most powerful way to benefit from chest work.
*Push Offs: If you want to change things up or have no bench, you can do this highly flexible movement, a sort of “push up-lite” (push-ups can be considered a granddaddy among home exercises). The same principle applies of focusing on form over numbers, getting some stretch as you go to the lowered position.

Dumbbell rows, one arm at a time. Find a bench or about knee-high table (or other reasonably stable and flat surface) to put your non-working side’s hand and knee on. Your leg on the working arm side acts as a part of a tripod with the other two limbs. Focus on form over numbers, just like always, by using your back muscles to pull the weight up instead of your arms. Keep the torso stationary and reasonably close to parallel with the ground.

Shoulder press (standing or seated) with dumbbells: remember to keep elbows pointed straight out to sides (as long as can do so comfortably) to help work more of the overall shoulder. No need to lock out totally at the top, just go up as high as comfortable, then come down under control. (see article for thorough instruction of seated version)

client using exercise ball in this instance, with spotting behind him for safety

client using exercise ball for seated press, with spotting behind him for safety

Pull ups/chin ups/exercise bands pulldown–you can use either a pronated grip (hands away) or supinated (hands toward you), depending on preference. As always, focus on form and feel, like you’re using your back muscles to pull you up and the arms are more or less secondary in the movement. Focusing on staying under control and not being as concerned about numbers will help go a long way toward both safety and getting the most out of the exercise for muscle building. An example of this is not bouncing out of the bottom. Rather, descend under control and without free-hanging at the very bottom.

(If you don’t have a chin up bar, you can use exercise bands, placing the anchor as high up on the door as possible, crouching on knees, grasping handles and pulling them downward just past your chin)

Bicep dumbbell curl (optional): the upper arm and elbow should remain in the same place, with the forearm being all that moves. This ensures the most activation of your biceps. Supinate the hand (palm of hand out/up from the outset if comfortable enough, as this gives you the most stimulation of the bicep. See this article for more info. For bit of variety, use a “hammer grip,” which will work biceps less but forearms more (see pic below)

for bicep variety, do hammer curls (palm of hand toward body) to hit the forearm more

for bicep variety, do hammer curls (palm of hand toward body) to hit the forearm more

Crunches: Finish with some of these for the core. There are many midsection exercises we will soon discuss, but at least that way you’re doing something for the core in the meantime.

In order to maximize your home workouts, always feel free to ask any questions or have something clarified


Treasure Chest: Creating Safe But Effective Movements For Your Chest Muscles

One of the most emphasized (sometimes overly so) muscle groups is the chest. In fact, Monday is often referred to as “National Bench Press Day,” since so many would-be bodybuilders and powerlifters robotically run to the gym the first day of the new work week to hit the benches.

They lie on a bench, grunt and groan to lift the barbell off of the rack, descend and hoist, descend and hoist, again and again and again. They’re dead serious about what they do, but their results don’t often show it. Instead, you might as well have this:

No clowning around with this exercise

No clowning around with this exercise

Despite such dedication by so many, few actually develop their chests to any satisfactory level, and some that do pay a heavy long-term price with shoulder issues and more as part of their badge for bench press bravery.

Neither of these discouraging outcomes needs to be realized. You just need to know how to make the most of your chest exercises, and do so in a safe manner in the process. You can do these as part of a home workout and avoid the crowded scenes at the public workout places.

Bench press-free home exercises that develop your chest musculature include push offs (using a counter top, for instance), push ups, dumbbell chest presses on an exercise ball or bench, and standing push presses with bands.

Lending "helping hands" of extra resistance to client's pushups

Lending “helping hands” of extra resistance to client’s pushups. Note his excellent form, keeping whole body rigid, not resting on the floor at the bottom of the movement

Regardless of your exercise of choice for the chest, a couple of basic instructions can both greatly increase chest activation and safety in your efforts.

Preliminary: The Focus

As we mentioned earlier, many folks attempt to work the chest but see very discouraging results. That’s often because the individual is overly focused on the end goal of moving the weight or resistance from point A to point B. With that tunnel vision, he/she is missing the key element, which is engaging the muscles in question, instead often throwing other bodyparts too much into the process.

The end goal of finishing the lift/rep should not be the main focus. That merely is the aftermath of what you’re doing through the movement.

a main purpose of chest (pec) muscles is to pull the arm across the body

a main purpose of chest (pec) muscles is to pull the arm across the body

You need to first focus on engaging the chest, and the best and easiest way to do this is to practice that sensation without any weight at all. While standing, raise your arms in a position as if you’re about to begin a pushup or bench press rep (elbows back, forearms facing forward, upper arms raised about 45 degrees from your torso, hands slightly ahead of your chest).

As you do so, pull back your shoulders and stick out your chest, as if you’re “bowing up to someone” like you’re going to intimidate them with your physical presence. If you experiment just a bit with it, you can feel when your chest muscles are activated. It may help also to think about pulling your arms back enough to stretch your outer chest area a little.

At this point, practice on slowly moving your arms forward while keeping those chest muscles activated. After a short while, you will likely be able to maintain that mind-muscle connection through a full range of movement while increasing your speed.

Lifting Details:

Accomplishing this and then applying it to the actual exercise provides two huge advantages: actually working the chest effectively and helping to protect the shoulders through keeping them somewhat back and down during your movement. When you allow them to round forward, that can, especially over time, cause shoulder issues. Shoulder injuries are among the most commonly cited among lifters, often due to abuse.

Regarding this emphasis on feeling the chest muscles engaged through the movement, a contrast may help provide why it’s important:

When many people do various chest pressing exercises or pushups, they think about pushing the weight or moving the arms out and away. This can be effective in finishing the repetition, but it often causes your shoulders and traps (upper back muscles near the neck) to become overly involved. The chest muscles only contract marginally in such a case.

exercise bands can offer a great way to ensure your chest is contracted thru the whole movement

exercise bands can offer a great way to ensure your chest is contracted thru the whole movement

By keeping the focus on the feel, a la the chest contraction, rather than the end result of completing the rep, you’re going to get a lot more muscular activity in the chest area, and you’ll avoid overworking the shoulders and traps.

One more detail to cite in this article regards the location of your hands to start the repetition (ie. where you begin before moving your arms forward). Regarding how close in or far out to hold the weights (or positioning hands when doing pushups or chest presses with bands); that’s somewhat personal preference, though it’s not recommended to be too far out away from your torso, as it can strain your shoulders too much. However, too far in becomes more of an inner chest and tricep exercise, less of a full chest one.

Generally, you want to have your hands positioned a little wider than shoulder width. *Tip: keeping your upper arm separated roughly 60 degrees from the side of your body will help determine hand placement (to an extent, this will be individualized based on your own structure).

Pic on right, note the angle of the upper arm from the body. Not entirely perpendicular to it. Helps increase chest involvement

Pic on right, note the angle of the upper arm from the body. Not entirely perpendicular to it. Helps increase chest involvement

You also don’t want to hunch your traps (muscles that blend to the neck) upward in order to be at a certain hand position (i.e. moving hands upward). That puts you back in a pattern of excessive use of your traps and shoulders, as cited earlier with many folks.

Speed Matters:

Finally, the speed of reps; the general rule is to go up controlled yet explosively and down controlled and deliberately. The deliberate, slower speed on the eccentric (down, withdrawal) portion will help you avoid bouncing out of the bottom or stretched position, which helps keep you injury-free. As a bonus, many studies have shown that a controlled descent creates greater muscle growth!

As always, inhale as you come down, exhale as you push up.

This may seem like a good bit to follow, but mainly just making that mind-muscle connection will provide you with a great home workout while giving you safety to boot.