NOTE: This and all content in Faith & Fitness Magazine is for information only. You should consult with your own health care provider, personal trainer or other professional for all your health and fitness.Photos in this article were shot on location at Fit Bodies Unlimited in Newport News, Virginia with the support of owner and trainer George Gori.
RESPECT THE RULES AND BE CREATIVE
There are pros and cons to rules. Rules can show us a right way and a wrong way to accomplish something. For example a simple tricep extension is done right with a long spine and looking forward as compared to a hunched back looking down. Rules can also limit us and make us feel trapped in a system. For some people, rules offer relief to know exactly what is expected and required for success. For others, rules cause them to focus on what they can’t do, which can be very frustrating. There are two key factors to exercise rules: They can help keep you safe and injury-free and they can also affect your performance and results. My clients who have followed the rules the closest over the years have ultimately seen the most success with their fat-loss or strength goals.
I have to admit that I am somewhere “in between”. I respect the basic rules of training but I am always thinking of creative ways to push the envelope and come up with something new. In this article I define the “dos and don’ts” of some basic exercises and also give you some “rule-breaker” options to explore for fun.
Let’s start with some good news…the “dos”. All of the dos for each exercise can be summed up with the following list:
1. Do go through the fullest range of motion possible. There is a right and wrong way to exercise. Take the bicep curl for example. Having a full range of motion will help work the bicep completely. While there are exercises like kettlebell, olympic lifts and plyometrics that include momentum or jerky, fast motions, the bicep curl is more controlled and focused on the bicep only. Here are the ranges of motion for the exercises we will cover in this article: - Push-ups – from elbow lockout to the ground - Squats – from standing to hips on your calves - Lunges – from standing to working leg femur at least parallel to the ground - Pull-up/Lat. Pulldown – from hang with arms straight to elbows by your side (bar under chin) - Shoulder Press – from the top of the shoulder to elbow lockout overhead with arms by your head
2. Do keep your spine long. Here’s a simple saying that applies to every exercise – “A long spine is a strong spine.”
3. Do keep breathing, but don’t over-think it. Just remember to keep breathing. Some lifts will require you to brace and hold your breath to perform the lift. That is fine as long as breaths are taken between reps, and try to make it come from your belly rather than your chest.
4. Do hydrate. You are made mostly of water, so it only makes sense to keep it replenished. Load up before and after training and as needed during your session.
5. Do listen to your body and respond if it tells you to back off or stop. Fighting through pain often leads to bigger problems rather than good results. There are times to push and go hard and times to pull back and have a light session. Sleep, nutrition, stress, and seasons (amount of daylight, temperature, etc.) can all attribute to how successful your workout are so be smart and do what is best for you.
6. Do track your progress. The old adage, “You can only manage what you measure,” is very true. If you keep a training journal, notebook, spreadsheet, or other tracking device, your chances of achieving your goals go way up.
Here are some common mistakes we often see and correct with our clients.
6 EXERCISES: TAKE IT TO THE GYM - DO HAVE FUN
PUSH-UPS - Don’t line up your hands with your collarbone or above. They should be in line with your chest. There should be an imaginary straight line connecting the middle of each hand and it lines up with an imaginary line on the top of your chest (not collarbone or higher) when you lower down. - Don’t rotate your hands out (or in, but typically we see them rotated out). When placed on the ground or incline support, your fingers should be pointing up with thumbs pointing toward each other. Thumbs should not be pointing up. - Don’t let your hips get too high or too low. Your body should be in a straight line from your heels to your head. - Don’t let your elbows fly out. Elbows should be at 45 degrees from the body. - Don’t let your head "droop". Keep your eyes looking forward about 1.5 feet ahead of your hands to help with this, but not too much to create neck extension.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH PUSH-UPS
Try a new kind of push up. Try the Scorpion Push-up, Thread-The-Needle Push-up and Rolling Push-ups for some variety. If they are too hard on the ground, you can do them off an incline surface.
SQUAT - Don't push your knees out first. The hips should lead back while the knees bend and you "sit" in an imaginary chair. - Don’t let your heels come off the ground. Heels should drive through the ground. - Don't round the back. Remember, a long spine is a strong spine. - Feet should be slightly wider than hips and very slightly rotated out. Too many times we see clients in a full ballet stance with toes pointing east and west...not good.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH SQUATS
Try an unevenly loaded squat. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand (at your side, racked at the shoulders, or overhead) and squat. This is a sneaky core exercise because of the stabilization needed to maintain proper form.
Another mobility-oriented squat variation is to rotate and reach at the bottom of a squat. When I teach this, I actually say, “Squat, reach (left arm), reach (right arm), pop back up.” Think about trying to give someone a “high five” who is behind you, at the bottom of a squat.
LUNGE - Don’t forget which leg is doing the work. The front leg does the work (pushing), and the back leg is just for balance.
- Don’t let your front heel come off the ground. The heel on your front leg is driving you up from the bottom of the lunge. - Don’t slump over at the waist. Your spine stays long from the hips through your head. - Don’t have feet pointing in different directions. Both feet should point forward...often the back foot will rotate away from the mid-line of the body.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH LUNGES
Speed (or lack of) is a great way to enhance lunging. Try slowly lowering into a lunge and holding it for a 20 to 30 second count. Or you could do speed lunge jumps. Basically, drop into a lunge with your left leg and jump up and switch legs in one motion and drop into a lunge with the right leg. This is advanced so be careful.
PULL-UPS AND LAT PULLDOWNS - Don’t turn this into a bicep exercise. Pull the bar down by squeezing your shoulder blades together, not by focusing on your arms doing the work. - Don’t round your back. Keep the spine long. - Don’t let your elbows fly out. Your goal should be to get them to your side. Even if you are doing a wide-grip pull-up or pulldown, still focus on getting your elbows to your ribs and as far back as possible.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH PULL-UPS
Use a band to counter against some of your weight, so you can do high-rep pull-up sets. I have clients of all fitness levels do Banded Pull-ups. This video demonstrates a variety of banded exercises.
SHOULDER PRESS - Don't sit down unless you have a lower body injury that requires it. This is a tremendous core stabilizing exercise that you need to be standing to perform. - Don’t limit the range of motion. Elbows should lock out overhead. The bar returns to under your chin or top of your shoulders for the next rep. - Don’t press behind your head if using a barbell. The risk is much greater than the reward because most people cannot perform behind the head presses without compromising good posture through their neck. I like that range of motion, but would stay with kettlebells or dumbbells and always be aware of keeping your neck and posture long and tall. - Don’t forget about your feet. Everything starts from the ground up, so make sure you have a good base with feet at least hip width apart and feet pointing forward. - Don’t forget about your back. Your lats stabilize the shoulder during the lowering phase so you want to fire them for more efficient lifting. I like the kettlebell technique with all pressing. Elbows are by your side and don’t flare out during the press. Think about stacking your humerus (upper arm bone) on top of your shoulder as efficiently as possible. Biceps should end up by your ears. When lowering, fire your lats again to help stabilize the shoulder. This is much safer on the shoulder joint.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH THE SHOULDER PRESS
Try pressing unstable objects like medicine balls, jugs of water, or sandbags. Once objects are overhead, start walking! You can either keep pressing it while walking or try leaving it locked out overhead and see how far you can go. This is a tremendous core, shoulder, and upper back strengthening tip.
RUNNING - Don’t run like a toy soldier marches…left leg and left arm move, then right arm and right leg. When your left leg steps forward, your right arm should move forward and vice versa. - Don’t have a different rhythm for the upper body and lower body. Continuing our first point, your arms and legs should move at the same pace and in sync. - Don’t let your arms cross the mid-line of the body. They should move from cheek to cheek (bottom cheek to face cheek). - Don’t “play the drums”. Arm motion for running comes from the shoulders not the elbows. Elbows should stay bent at 90 degrees and not look like you are playing the drums (constant flexing and extending at the elbow). - Don’t slump forward. Keep your spine long and keep breathing.
HOW TO BREAK THE RULES AND HAVE FUN WITH RUNNING
I love running up interesting terrain. Find grassy hills, gravel banks (be careful), or wooded areas to test your running technique while also adding in some agility and focusing skills.
HOW TRAINING DOS AND DON’TS RELATE TO YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
Most people don’t follow training rules for one simple reason. Rules make the exercise harder.
Doing perfect push-ups, squats, lunges, and every exercise is much harder than doing 2-inch push-ups, shallow squats, and lunges where you barely bend the knee. We often try to find the easiest route to take to finish a workout, even if the results are not what we want. We can say we finished it, checked it off the “to do” list, and move onto something else.
Your spiritual life is the same way. God will probably never “call you” to just lay on a beach or only associate with people like you. When I read the Bible or hear a sermon, I’m usually led to make tough decisions and follow a path that requires discipline. Let’s face it…really living daily with God, regularly studying the Bible and loving everyone around us can be very difficult. But just like doing exercises, the correct way produces the best results and keeps you safe. The same thing can be said for following God’s plan for your life. There is joy in knowing you are not alone and have Jesus Christ to save you from the sin in your life. There is peace in prayer and meditation. There is comfort in having friends with whom you can worship. There is spiritual strength to be gained when they pray for you and you pray for them.
One final “don’t”...don’t just check your workout and time with God off the list of things to do. Perform them with conviction and passion, and you will be amazed at the outcome.