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Top 10 Exercises for Outdoor Workouts

So with all of this wonderful summer weather, all I can think about is working out outside. And while I love hiking and biking and sprinting and stand up paddling as my outdoor “workouts,” I also do enjoy doing more “traditional” workouts outside.

And while basically any bodyweight move can be done outside, here are my 10 favorite moves to do because they are super challenging with only body weight. Some do require a bit of “equipment”…aka playgrounds or possibly stairs…or comfy grass…but all don’t require any additional weights.

Outdoor Workout Moves:

  1. Monkey Bars – So the monkey bars aren’t a move really, but they are a wonderful tool for any outdoor workout. I love to do pull ups off of them or even just swing across them. You can even do a pull up hold on them. (We have numerous different ways to use the Monkey Bars in the video below.)
    monkey bar

    Swinging on the monkey bars

  2. Knees to elbows or Skin the Cats – A great way to work your core, grip strength and upper body. You even work your quads and hips doing either knees to elbows or Skin the Cats. With these two moves, you hang from the monkey bars. With knees to elbows, you simply tuck your knees up to your elbows. You will need to pull up a bit with your arms and lean back to truly get your knees and elbows to connect. With Skin the Cats, you will actually bring your legs up and through your hands. You will then straighten your legs and reach your toes to the ground before coming back and up through your arms to return to the starting position.
  3. Crawling – So many people are embarrassed to crawl, but it truly is one of the freaking best moves out there for full body strength. Plus it is a great way to get in a bit of cardio. You can crawl forwards and backwards. Or side to side. Or even in circles. You can do bear crawls, table top crawls, crab crawls or even my new favorite…GORILLA crawls!
  4. Push ups – So outdoors you can do incline push ups off a bench (so hands on the bench) if you can’t do a full push up yet. Or you can do them from your knees. Or flat on the ground. Or you can even make them harder by elevating your feet to do a decline variation. Check out the video below with for some different push up variations!
  5. Stair sprints – Climbing stairs sucks in general. But if you want climbing stairs even harder, do it quickly. Sprint up the stairs or try even taking them to at a time. There is nothing worse/better than running stadiums! (And if you don’t have stairs but instead have a really big hill…Well that will do too! Hill sprints or even sprints in the sand are another way to up the intensity of your sprints. And each have different added benefits! Like extra glute work…)
  6. Bench jumps – So if you are a beginner, you may want to start with bodyweight squats or even jump squats. But if you done some jumping, you can make the move harder by jumping up onto a bench or piece of playground equipment. You can do forward jumps, lateral jumps or even rotational jumps up to the bench! To make them easier, step down after jumping up. To make them harder, perform them as quickly as possible!
  7. Bench step ups – Step ups are another great way to work the booty without any weight and without laying on the grass to perform glute bridges (I get a bit too itchy when I lay on the grass when I’m super sweaty so prefer to save my glute bridges for inside). You can use a bench or steps or anything that is a challenging height. The higher it is the more challenging it will be. Make sure though that you aren’t compensating as you step up by pressing down on your other leg with your hands or by pushing yourself up with the foot planted on the ground instead of just using the foot on top of the box. To make this move harder, you can also make it plyometric. So instead of just stepping up, powerfully step up so that you actually jump up a bit off of the box. You can either stay on one side with this move or alternate legs. You can also perform both variations of the step ups laterally!
  8. Swing/Bench balance lunge – So set up in a lunge position with your back foot up on a bench or a swing (the swing will be tougher). Lunge down toward the ground and return to the starting position. Make sure that as you lunge, your front knee is not going over your front toe and that your front foot stays firmly planted on the ground with the heel down. Keep your chest up tall and don’t lean forward. You actually almost want to “sit back” while performing this move. You should also feel a nice stretch in the hip and down the quad of the back leg
  9. Swing knee tucks – So set up in a push up position, with your feet up in the swing. You are then going to tuck your knees into your chest, controlling your legs in and out. This is a more advanced move. If you find it to challenging and feel it in your low back, start with mountain climbers on the ground. You can also progress this move by doing a pike tuck (bring your feet in toward your head keeping your legs straight) instead of bending your knees to bring them into your chest.
  10. Pole/Rope/Swing Climb – So this move can be made into either a vertical or horizontal pull. To do a horizontal pull, you can set up on the pole, rope or swing chain like you are planning to do an inverted row. You will then walk hand over hand to pull your chest up to the pole, swing or rope before lowering yourself back down. Or you can kneel at the bottom with your hands on the pole or rope or swing chain. You can then climb up to the top of the pole before sliding back down. Either way you do it, you are in for a challenge!
    inverted rows

    Rope inverted rows…not outside but you get the point.

Runners up: So while there are a ton of other bodyweight moves I love, like split squat jumps and sit thrus…the only other move I was tempted to put on here was jump rope…I love jumping rope. I feel like a little kid again when I do it!

Anyway, here are some other great moves that Ryan and I did a few summers ago on the playground to help get you motivated to workout outdoors this summer!

Ladies…Do you want to learn how to do a pull up?

So we did testing the other day at the gym and one of the tests was a pull up test.

You probably aren’t surprised to hear the following statement, but we only had a couple of women who could do legitimate pull ups (by legitimate I mean no kipping…I have nothing against kipping, but it isn’t a TRUE pull up even if it does have its own benefits).

When I then asked all the women that didn’t do a pull up if they would like to be able to do one, most did say YES. Actually all said YES.

So then…why weren’t more women able to do one!?!

My theory is that most of the time, it isn’t that we don’t want to be able to do something, it is just that we don’t know where to begin so we don’t even start. Or we are intimidated by the move and don’t believe we can do it (again because we don’t know how to get there). Or we jump into something we think might help with no way to track our progress and then we fall off when we aren’t able to do a pull up within a few short workouts.

So below are some great tips to help you be able to do a full pull up!

Three great activation moves I like to use to warm up for a pull up workouts are:

  • Scapular Wall holds – You’ve probably guessed by now that I LOVE these. They are great to improve posture and activate your upper back muscles. If you want to be able to do a proper pull up, you need to make sure that your lats activate and that you use the big muscles in your back. This move will help you do that. 
  • Scapular Push ups –  This move does the same sort of thing that the wall holds do – It helps you get that scapular retraction that is necessary to do pull ups.
  • Dead hangs – So at the beginning, I want you to just hang from the bar and get a feel for holding your body weight. Focus on tightening your core and even maybe tighten your back as if you are going to pull up. Then once you’ve done a few straight hangs, you will progress to a hang with a scapular retraction. You then want to press your chest out and pulling your shoulder blades down and together while you hang from the bar. If you can’t hold for long at the beginning, start with reps of retracting and then relaxing.

All three of these moves make you activate the muscles used to do a pull up and help you warm up your core!

Many people who can’t do pull ups will then turn to the lat pulldown machine and even simulate pull ups with bands for their “pull up” workouts. And while these moves are great to strengthen many of the muscles used by pull ups, they still aren’t the same as actually doing pull ups. They can be great supplementary moves, but if you want to be able to do pull ups…You’ve got to actually do variations of the pull up!

I haven't used this machine now in over a year and some and guess what!?! By doing negatives and holds my pull ups have gotten WAY BETTER than they ever were doing lat pulldowns!

I haven’t used this machine now in over a year and some and guess what!?! By doing negatives and holds my pull ups have gotten WAY BETTER than they ever were doing lat pulldowns!

So once you’ve done the activation moves, try one of these assisted pull up variations and progress toward harder and harder variations until you can do one unassisted! If you have an assisted pull up machine, you can use that as well, but I personally like these better because they give you more control over the exact amount of assistance!

With both of the assisted variations below you can do three different things to progress or regress the move. You can do holds, negatives and full range of motion pull ups/chin ups.

  • Holds – You can hold at the top, middle and/or bottom of the move. Each will work on strengthening the muscles at each piece of the motion. You can jump or push yourself into position and then hold once there for as long as possible.
  • Negatives – With negatives, you work the eccentric part of the motion. To perform a negative, you will set yourself at the top of the pull up and then lower yourself down as slowly as possible.
  • Full pull up – You will use assistance to perform a FULL pull up, which means chin above the bar to arms straight at the bottom.

The two different ways you can get assistance to do these three variations are:

  • Foot assisted pull up – Hang from a bar or use TRX/Jungle Gym straps. Place your feet on the ground underneath you. The more firmly planted your feet are, the easier the move will be. Your goal is to use your feet as little as possible. Your feet will assist only as much as you so that you can perform a hold, negative or full pull up.

    assisted pull ups

    Thanks Carla for demoing!

  • Band assisted pull up – Hang from a bar with a band around your knee or knees (putting the band under both knees makes the move easier). The band will add assistance as you perform the move. The skinner the band, the harder the move. The more you control the move and don’t swing, the less the band will propel you up.

    assisted band pull ups

    Thanks again Carla!

If you don’t need assistance to hold a pull up or chin up or to perform a slow negative, then you may move to the bar without assistance. Don’t use assistance if you can perform 10 3-5 count negatives (and not a fast count) or 30 second holds without assistance. Make sure you can perform the move correctly before advancing. But also make sure that you are always checking your progress to see if you can perform the moves without assistance.

Remember, your goal is to lower assistance as you master each move. Don’t just waste time on the lat pulldown machine trying to get stronger or by doing assisted pull ups on the machine. Work on each piece of the pull up and ween yourself off of the assistance!

So do you want to be able to do a pull up? What are you doing to get better at them?

Here is also a great workout to strengthen your back and biceps to help you get stronger so you can do a pull up.

NOTE: In this post I didn’t really go into grip variations. The easiest grips to do are usually the neutral or chin up (palms facing you) grips. The pull up grip and wide grip variations are generally more difficult.

10 Different Core Moves

Notice I didn’t say ab exercises because these moves work way more muscles than just your abs – they work your ENTIRE core.

I could have listed things like the single leg squat and deadlift since they are so great in terms of working your core, but since I’ve talked about them a few times recently, I decided to include some different ones to add to your exercise repertoire.

Really any single limb movement is going to engage your core more be it rotational or anti-rotational. For some single limb movements you can use to work your core, check out this blog with single limb exercises.

Below are some core focused moves that I really love!

    1. Wall push – This move can either be super easy or super tough…It is up to you. To do this move, stand up against a wall and push into the wall as if you are going to move the wall backwards. Get up nice and close to the wall as if you are at the bottom of a push ups. Drive all the way up through your feet into your hands against the wall. Your core should be tight enough that if someone comes and pushes on you from any angle you won’t move. (To make the move more difficult, have someone actually push on you from all angles as you hold!)

      I recommend bending your elbows and getting close to the wall, but as long as you are pushing the wall back an inch or two….

    2. Pull up and hold – You can do this as a chin up or pull up. You can do it off a bar, off a peg board, off of TRX straps…wherever. But what you need to do is pull to the top of a pull up or chin up and HOLD. Keep your legs straight down toward the ground and your chin above the bar. Keep your chest pressed out and shoulder blades down and back. Squeeze your belly button in toward your spine and keep your glutes tight. Hold as long as you can. This move is also a great way to work on pull ups (especially if you do a slow negative on the way down!).

      A great pic of Francine who is killing it at her new gym even if her bear crawls need a bit of work! :-P Loved that video by the way!

      A great pic of Francine who is killing it at her new gym even if her bear crawls need a bit of work! :-P Loved that video by the way!

    3. Inchworm with row – So when I first started and had to train both of the owners, I busted out this move for one of their workouts because it is probably one of the best full body moves out there! To perform the inch worm, start standing. Place your hands on the ground as if you are performing a hamstring stretch. Then walk your hands out until you are in a high plank or top of a push up position. Then walk your feet back in, keeping your legs as straight as possible until you are back in that standing hamstring stretch. To make this move harder, add a dumbbell back row in the plank position. So with the weights walk your hands out to the plank just like you would with the basic inchworm. In the plank, perform one dumbbell row on each side, then walk your feet back in. Make sure to keep your hips from rotating when performing the row (you want a solid plank position…not butt up toward the ceiling!). To make this move super hard, add sliders or even plate weights that will slide to your feet. Instead of walking your feet back in, slide them together back in, like you are performing a jackknife. The sliders will also make it more difficult as you walk out and as you hold the plank.
    4. Power Ropes Sidewinders (Can also do rainbows) – I picked this rope move because it is super super good for the obliques and works rotation unlike the moves above which all work in the sagittal plane. In a nice athletic stance, you rotate side to side as quickly as you can, causing the rope to smoothly snake all the way down. You can also mix in some rotation with the rainbow wave, which reminds me a bit of a Russian twist. You start at the hipbone and make a rainbow up to the shoulders and down to the other hipbone. For videos of these moves, check out John Brookfield’s Youtube. He and Ingrid have some great moves for the ropes, including waves and pulls (as well as a lot of other cool random stuff!).
    5. Windmills (or progressed to Turkish Get Up) – So I actually saw these in an article the other day and was like “I haven’t done these in FOREVER and I used to LOVE them! I haven’t done them in forever because recently I’ve been doing the Turkish Get Up. BUT both are great for shoulder stabilization as well as core strength. To perform a windmill, you can start with out weight. Feet should be about shoulder width. Turn out the toe of the side that you aren’t going to work to about 45 degrees. Straighten the other arm up toward the ceiling. You are then going to hinge over, driving the butt cheek of the arm that is up out to the side as much as you can. Then you are going to stand back up, keeping the arm straight toward the ceiling the entire time.

      I did get made fun of for using the kettlebell that matched my outfit haha

      I did get made fun of for using the kettlebell that matched my outfit haha

    6. Landmine wipers or twists – So this can be both a rotational and anti-rotational move. You can either rotate from hip to hip with the barbell or you can decide to fight against rotating as you lower the barbell down to about shoulder height on each side.

      Landmine Twists

      So the one on the left is the starting point for either twist. The top one shows the rotational one and the other is where you fight the rotation of your core. The best part of this photo collage is the photo bomb by the other Corey.

    7. Sit Thrus - One of my favorite moves. It kind of looks like breakdancing when it is done correctly…at least to me anyway. To do this move, start in a table top crawling position. Start up on your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then you are going to literally sit through. With your right knee bent, you are going to sit through your left side, raising your left hand off the ground. Then return back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. (Check out the top two photos below to see the two main parts of the move.)
    8. Planks with pulls or waves – So there are actually like three exercises really included in number 8. There is the plank with a pull from either in front or behind. This one can involve a hip hinge like the one show below with the chain.
      chain pull

      Thank you Jamie!

      There is also the plank with a pull through across the body. With this one you reach your hand under and across your body while holding a plank to grab a rope or a sandbag. You then pull the bag or rope across your body to the other side. Depending on your goal for the move, you can either use a slight hip hinge or you can fight against the rotation of your hips to hold a strict plank. And last, but not least, there is a plank with one-handed battling waves. I had my volleyball girls do this one the other day. It is harder than you would think!

    9. Handstands – Handstands are just an amazing move. A full handstand without support requires a lot of core strength. As you work up to that, you can work on your core strength by doing variations of the handstand. You can start with a downward dog and then progress by walking your feet up a wall. As you get your feet up higher on the wall, walk your hands as close as you can to the wall until you are completely vertical. Once you get in super close, you can advance the move by walking side to side or lifting one hand up to tap your thigh.

      sit through, planks, handstands

      On top is the sit thru, on the bottom left is the plank with one-handed waves and on the bottom right is an amazing mom and her daughter doing handstands!

    10. Bar rotations – I found these when reading Nick Tumminello’s articles. He has some AMAZING STUFF about…well…EVERYTHING! These honestly are like a standing variation of the Russian twist, but I definitely like them better! (And I kind of like them when I need to vent a bit of anger…they feel like I’m fighting something haha)

Runners up: I really love these moves as well so want to mention them even if I don’t go into detail.

Medball throws both sideways and overhead. Medball slams both rotational and straight ahead.

Any front loaded exercise like front squats or good mornings. When you front load you force your core to work harder to stabilize!

Also, I love any sort of hanging knees to elbows or feet to bar or even skin the cats. However, since crossfit became popular I feel like most people know those so chose not to include them. Also, those can be incredibly tough and not easily done by everyone. Everyone can do some variation of the exercises above.

I also wanted to include a ton of plank variations…Plank on the power wheel. Plank with reach throughs. Plank with reach back and out. Planks on sliders where you slide your feet backwards and stretch out then come back to starting…ACTIVE planks. I love ACTIVE planks. But there were just so many that I honestly feel like planks need their own full article if I’m going to touch on them!

And last but not least, resistance band rotations and even the stability press…actually especially the stability press. I love anti-rotational moves!

What are your favorite core moves that aren’t either crunches or sit ups?

Functional Lifts – Awkward Weights

For months now I haven’t really touched a dumbbell or a barbell, BUT I’ve still been lifting heavy.

And while I still LOVE barbell lifts, I have become very fascinated by lifting with awkward weights.

In every day life, we rarely have to lift something that is perfectly balanced and easy to grip. So even though in the gym we may be able to deadlift 500lbs on the barbell, it may be impossible for us to lift even 100lbs in the form of an awkward box on the floor.

And which is more important to be able to do?

While I love deadlifting, I must admit I really really really get frustrated when I can lift or move something on my own.

I don’t like struggling to lift, carry and move things. And I most definitely HATE when I have to ask for help.

So while I’ve always considered a deadlift a functional lift, it might not really be that functional when you add weight in the perfect form of a barbell.

It was actually incredibly humbling to find out just how not functionally strong the barbell deadlift had made was when I did my first strongman atlas stone lift on Saturday (which is probably one of the most functional lifts out there).

The baby stone is 125lbs.

photo (62)

I was told to start with that one. It looked small enough and I figured I wouldn’t have any trouble. I could easily deadlift 125lbs!

Shoot…I even thought I might be able to attempt the next one up!

Uhm…lifting a round concert 125lb ball is WAY different than lifting 100 more pounds on a barbell.

The first time I attempted to lift it, I couldn’t even move it off the ground.

I couldn’t budge 125lbs!?! WHAT!?!

It was awkward and hard to grip. There was nothing to hold on to! You just had to squeeze the ball with every inch of your hand and arm. You even needed to use your back to grip the dang thing otherwise you were going to drop it.

And on top of that, it wasn’t just one smooth lift up like the barbell lift. It was a lift to your thighs before you needed to re-grip so that you could really use your glutes to power the ball up.

It was honestly exactly the move you realistically have to do when you move super heavy awkward things in everyday life.

I can name a few times when I’ve moved that I can remember attempting that exact same move to lift a heavy box (and actually failed to get it off the ground even though I was lifting super heavy with dumbbells and barbells)….SO FRUSTRATING!

There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to move something!

So it really got me to thinking about all of the time I spent doing the traditional lifts – doing traditional exercise moves.

While I love them, they may just be more functionally beneficial when done with AWKWARD weights.

You don’t need to give up deadlifts, push ups or any of the other meat head moves (that I most definitely love).

But maybe you can just make them better by adding in some awkward elements.

Like pull ups for example…

I can do pull ups off a bar…but pull ups holding on to some awkward rock climbing grip things? OUCHIE!

Or overhead presses…Instead of using a barbell, what about a slosh pipe? WAY more core engagement when you lift that pipe only half filled with water overhead (actually it kind of reminds me of a squirming child, which there is a great chance that sometime in your lifetime you will be lifting up overhead!).

You don’t have to go crazy making the moves overly awkward. Actually you SHOULDN’T try to add in too many strange elements. Awkward is good..Super awkward is crazy.

But anyway, after being humbled by the stone, I would DEFINITELY recommend that if you are training to be strong in life that you add in some more functional variables like awkward weights or grips! You don’t necessarily need to find a gym with an atlas stone, but sandbags and other uneven or awkward weights can be good! (And if you don’t already…get ready to add in some grip training…but that is a post for another day!)

What women want….

To look like on their wedding day….

Toned arms and shoulders, a slim waistline with just enough curve into toned hips, butt and legs.

How do most women get there?

By doing chronic cardio, starving themselves, and lifting light little barbie weights only a month before their wedding.

But is this really the best way to have the arms, waist and butt of your dreams on your wedding day?

HECK NO!

If you really want to look lean and toned you can’t just do cardio and you most definitely can’t starve yourself.

You need to lift challenging weights, eat the RIGHT foods and start working toward the body you want early on.

I tell my clients (and plan to do the same myself) to plan to have reached their goal weight or body composition the week before their final fitting, which is only a month or so out from their wedding.

The last month or two should only really be maintenance.

The key throughout your workout progression toward you BIG DAY is to do compound movements. Don’t waste your time with the bicep curls, shoulder presses and tricep extensions that most programs recommend. While those can be good if you are a powerlifter looking to really isolate and strengthen weak muscles, those moves really aren’t giving you that much bang for your buck.

They don’t have a whole heck of a lot of calorie burn AND they are only working on one muscle group when you could be hitting 3 or 4 with a compound movement.

For instance….the deadlift…It works just about everything. Want a great backside? Want a toned upper back, butt and thighs?

DO DEADLIFTS!

Or any other powerlifting move for that matter. Or you can use kettlebells, resistance bands or the sled

There are a ton of different strength training things that you can do! Find some that are fun and that get you results efficiently AKA compound moves!

Also choose the compound moves that target your trouble areas.

While we can’t spot reduce areas, we can build up proper muscle tone to make our problem areas look better. Eating a healthy diet and later the added cardio we do during cutting will reveal that beautiful muscle we built up even more!

And while I LOVE lifting heavy and think that it is key to the body that you dream of having on your wedding day, cardio does become a more important part as you are trying to become more lean and toned.

That doesn’t mean you just stop lifting and start logging in tons of miles.

It means sprints, some long distance JOGS for some slow fat-burning cardio AND still an intense heavy lifting routine.

Of course once you up your intensity during the final few months before your last dress fitting, you will need to remember to take time to rest, foam roll and release some stress! Working out though can be a great way to make sure that you are still getting enough “me time” BUT that doesn’t mean you can just start living in a gym and not practice proper recovery!

10 Key Moves to Get the Body We All Want on our Wedding Day! (So many move I love, but these will give you a huge bang for your buck!)

  1. Deadlifts – Deadlifts are a full body move. They are perfect to tone your upper back, butt and hamstrings. Plus they are a real fat burner because they work so many big muscle groups! (I LOVE YOU DEADLIFTS AND MISS YOU!) One new explosive deadlift move I’ve started using is a rotational deadlift. I set up the bar in a t-bar row hold and put weight only on one end. So I deadlift up the end with weight and rotate toward the stand as I stand up. So if the weight is on the right as I stand up, I rotate to the left pushing the weight out and up until my arms are straight.
  2. Kettlebell Swings – Another great way to get a great toned hips, butt and thighs! This move may be just as good as the deadlift. It is, however, just a bit harder to master. Make sure that if you want the butt toning effects of the swing that you aren’t squatting down so much as doing a hip hinge! NOT A SQUAT! More of an RDL…but still not an RDL.
  3. Kettlebell Snatches – Another tough move, but a full body one. Develops explosive power, which means more muscle power! It is great to develop power in your legs, tone your core (lots of rotation and stabilization) and strengthen your shoulders.
  4. Pull ups – I LOVE PULL UPS or any variation of them! (You can even do a pull up and hang if you want some extra core work!) They tone your back, biceps and core! Get great arms while benefiting from the extra calorie burn of working a big muscle group like your back! (And a toned back looks pretty good in a strapless wedding dress!) Plus, if you strengthen your lats, they will help your waist look slimmer by creating more of an hour-glass figure!
  5. Push ups – Strengthen your chest, triceps and shoulders just to name a few muscles. Lifting heavy can sometimes just mean lifting yourself! If you want to make them even more challenging, make them explosive. As you push up, come up off the floor! They make the push ups that much harder.
  6. Medball Pass and Shuffle – Honestly, one of my favorite new moves. Cardio because of the shuffling back and forth. Plus it is a great move to develop lean POWERFUL muscles. Best when done with a partner. Perform a chest pass with a heavy medicine ball with a partner while shuffling down and back.
  7. Sled pull/push – So by pulling I mean pulling a sled toward you with a rope. Great leg, core, back and arm workout! And then if you push it back to its starting place, you get to work the entire posterior of your chain – everything from your shoulders down to your calves!
  8. Crawls and all variations – You can pull a chain, crawl on a power wheel, or crawl using sliders. How ever you do it, it is a great workout for your shoulders and legs. AND the more you keep you butt from going up in the air, the more you work your core. If you do use a chain, you can work your legs and butt even more. Or if you use a power wheel or sliders, you can focus more on your shoulders and core.
  9. Battling Ropes – A great way to get the lean ton muscles you want. Depending on which wave you make, you can focus on different muscle groups. You can work your back, your shoulders, your arms, your core and your legs. Shoot rotational waves kill your core!
  10. VersaClimber (or really any sprints) – These are a great way to maintain muscle and BURN TONS OF FAT!

Progressing toward the elusive perfect push up and pull up

I have many women and even some men tell me that they want to be able to do perfect full push ups and push ups.

And I say “OK!”

Because there is a way to get there! Consistent hard work and a well thought out progression based on what you need to work on will get you there!

So this really applies to any exercise that you want to be able to do, but honestly two of the exercises that most people can’t do, but should be able to do are the push up and pull up (also, most people recently have been telling me they want to be able to do these two moves so I figured I would focus on them).

First, consider all of the muscles used in the move.

For push ups, you use your pecs, shoulders, triceps, core and even your quads and legs. Most often though, people need to focus on core strength and either shoulder or tricep strength.

For pull ups, core and back strength are essential. The grip you use will also determine how much bicep is involved.

Once you identify the muscles used, you can work on those muscles. That doesn’t mean you have to start doing tricep extensions and bicep curls.

You can still do compound movements.

So to work on improving your push up, first assess where you are. Can you do a push up with your hands on an incline? Can you do a push up from your knees? And when I say “Do a push up.” I mean a PERFECT form push up from that position.

Same goes for pull ups. Can you do jumping pull ups? Can you do pull ups where you jump up and slowly lower yourself down? Can you do a pull up and hold? Or can you do a chin up but not a full pull up yet?

Get a clear picture of where you are starting from. If you know exactly where you are at, you can design a program that will get you to where you want to be.

If you don’t have a clear starting point, how the heck are you going to outline a clear progression!?! You won’t know how long it will take you to get somewhere if you don’t even know where you are starting from!!

So once you know what muscles are involved and where you are starting from, you must create workouts that strengthen your weak areas and progress you toward you end goal.

While you will want to do lots of push ups and pull ups during your progression they shouldn’t be the only thing that you are doing.

For push ups, do some core strengthening exercises. Do some crawling that targets your shoulders, core and quads. Do some form of dips, be they full dips or dips off a bench. I mean even get creative with it. Try some chest flies on the slider. Do some ab roller to work your arms and core. Battling ropes can be good. Medball chest passes are a good explosive way to work your upper body.

There are lots of ways to work. Pick exercises that target your weak points!

For pull ups, battling ropes again can be good. Working on different variations of pull ups can help. Try some medball slams into the ground. You can do ones straight ahead or rainbow slams where you slam it down on each side. Do some inverted rows. Some pivot prone pulldowns. Work on your grip strength. Heck even just playing on the monkey bars will definitely help!

And the good part about some of the things that you can do to work on both of these moves is that they will improve your overall posture and strength not JUST progress you toward a perfect pull up or push up.

There are even moves that can benefit both exercises in some way such as the parallel bar press. Just hold your body straight up off of parallel bars or a dip machine. Don’t be a “turtle” aka keep your shoulder blades pull back and down and your spine long. Your neck should be long and not tucked back into your shoulders like a turtle pulling its head into its shell. Just hold. Keep your abs engaged and your shoulder blades retracted. You will feel this in your back and your arms and even your core.

Anyway, there are a bazillion ways to strengthen your body to progress toward a pull up or push up. Don’t just flounder blindly and HOPE you will get there. SET UP A PROGRESSION!

If you need help or want some exercises to help you strengthen your weak points, let me know! :-)

A slight change in programming

I’m constantly looking to learn, grow and improve upon what I’m currently doing. And I encourage everyone else to do the same.

So for the moment my heavy barbell lifting will be put on hold as I learn how to master all of the other equipment at the new gym I work at.

Does this mean that I will no longer be lifting heavy weights?

HECK NO!

The only thing that will change is what types of heavy weights I will be lifting.

But my training is always constantly changing.

Honestly, if you are still doing the same training that you were doing 6 months ago, you should be embarrassed.

Things change. Workout programs get stagnant and stale.

AND if you want to be truly fit….if you want to be that Renaissance fitness person, you constantly have to be learning, trying and perfecting new skills!

So over the next few months, you not be hearing much about the traditional deadlift (although I do love you barbell deadlift and will miss you greatly!).

Instead you will be hearing more about Olympic lifting, kettlebells, tire flipping, plyometrics, sled pushes, battling ropes, kickboxing (not the classes without gloves), and Brazilian Jui Jitsu. You will still continue to hear about all of the wonderful bodyweight exercises I love, 1 leg squats, push ups and pull ups, in all sorts of variations.

Are you excited?!?!

I AM!

So get ready for the next phase in Man Bicep Training! Time to learn and grow and become stronger, fitter and happier!

Side note: There is no revision currently to my dieting beliefs. Simply put they are still “Eat whole natural foods and avoid processed crap and refined or empty carbs.” However, I will be discussing different foods and how I feel about them over the next couple of weeks since there have been some common questions arising.

So I got some weird looks…

So currently I don’t have a gym to train at consistently.

But that is no excuse not to workout intensely!

Sunday I went and ran Stadiums, or as Ryan calls them “Serpentines.”

On Monday, Ryan and I borrowed any random workout equipment we could and did a workout in the backyard.

And then yesterday, I went to the park and busted out a very nice workout.

Yep….the park…er…playground

So what if a couple of people gave me a very strange look?! So what if I was crawling through the grass?!

Monkey bars are a great place to do pull ups and knees to elbows. Heck if you even just go back and forth across the monkey bars it is a great workout.

Ok so this wasn’t from yesterday…it was from Boston when I spent the afternoon playing with preschoolers!

A park bench or picnic table is perfect for box jumps.

There is just so many great exercises that you can do on a playground!

And hey, at least a kid said, “Mommy, I want to do what she is doing on the monkey bars!” (At this point I was doing knees to elbows.)

Who cares if you look “weird” bear-crawling on the ground?!?!

You are running and “playing” just like a kid! Shoot! Get your kids to do the workout with you on the playground! They will think it is so much fun!

It’s better than being one of those people just sitting around WATCHING their kids play, right!?! :-)

So no excuses! Go out and play in the sun (and get in a great workout while you are at it!)

You can even try this workout!

Workout of the Week:

Bear crawls (forward then back) 25 steps forward and 25 steps back
Pull ups 25
Picnic bench jumps 50
Leg lowers 50
“Walking” Lunges (jumping up and slightly forward each time switching legs) 25 each side
Knees to elbows 50
1 leg skater squats 25 each side
Monkey bars 50 (go back and forth across the monkey bars until you hit 50 reps)
Mountain climbers 50 each side
Pull ups 25
Bear crawls (forward then back) 25 steps forward and 25 steps back

The Bosu – Overused, Overrated

So I think the bosu is a good piece of equipment for a handful of exercises, but I don’t think it should be used near as much as I see trainers all over using it. I don’t think every trainer under the sun should be using it with all of the clients especially their beginning exercisers.

The theory behind using the bosu is that it creates an unstable environment so that all of a person’s stabilizer muscles must activate while doing the exercise. It is supposed to engage and work your core more.

BLEH!

The bosu bothers me even more than seeing someone doing 1,000 crunches on the floor to get great abs…ok so maybe both bother me equally….

But still! There are so many better things you can do to work your core and stabilizer muscles than doing a bicep curl on a bosu!

Need an example? How about pull ups or chin ups…assisted or unassisted.

Pull ups and chin ups work your biceps and they work your core. PLUS they work your lats!

AND they are WAY MORE FUNCTIONAL than a dang bicep curl on a bosu.

Can I also just ask…how is a bicep curl on a bosu supposed to be more functional and better for a beginning exerciser than an assisted pull up?

Maybe it’s just me but doing most exercises on a bosu just seems more dangerous.

I mean why do a bodyweight squat on a bosu when you can work your legs harder and engage all your core stabilizer muscles by doing a front squat?

Why not do a one leg straight leg deadlift if you really want to work your balance?

Why use the bosu to create more instability?

How is that really better for a beginner exerciser? How is that really more functional?

Why do we always try to make diet and exercise more complicated than they have to be? Why can’t we just go back to basics?

Why can’t we just jump and squat and climb and lift heavy things? Why can’t we sprint and push things and play?

Stop over-complicating things! You want to gain functional strength and work your core, do movements that mimic stuff you do in everyday life.

Don’t waste your time balancing on a bosu!

The moves you love to hate…

So one of the challenges for the Under Armour challenge was to film the move you “love to hate.”

It was sort of hard to pick one…just kidding…but not really…

There are so many moves that I really don’t like doing, but at the same time I love them because I know that I only hate them because they are super good for me.

Usually the moves I love to hate are moves that never seem to get easier and almost always leave me feeling tired and sore the next day. They are moves that the masochistic me likes.

The Top 10 Moves I Love to Hate!

  1. “Walking Lunges” – So these are in the video I made for the challenge. I wear a weight vest while doing them, which only really makes them more “lovely.” To do them you jump up and slightly forward as you switch and lunge on the other side. There is something about this plyometric “walking” forward that is torturous. Your legs burn and you get winded. Definitely a move to love to hate.
  2. Balance Lunges – These are always uncomfortable and painful. Maybe it is just that my balance isn’t awesome but I never have fun doing these. With these, your back foot is up on a bench and you are balancing in a lunge position. Like with the split squat, you just lower the back knee to the ground without going forwards or backwards.
  3. Dips – These are also in the video. I did them with a weight vest. They suck enough without it though. These for me are just frustrating. There are some days when I can easily bust out ten in a row and other days when one seems impossible. A great upper body and core exercise though!
  4. Step ups – I can’t explain why I hate these so much, but it might have to do with the cardio aspect of stepping up and down quickly with weights while my legs burn. I like isolating one leg when I do step ups. I don’t alternate legs and I make one leg do all the work while climbing.
  5. Overhead presses – I think I don’t like these because my shoulders are weak. Also the burnout of such a small muscle group always gets me. Try not to arch your back too much as you press weight straight overhead.
  6. Planks – I always seem to do planks after I’ve done shoulders, which makes planks extremely un-fun. Plus I hate any exercise where you have to hold a pose…Maybe that is why I “love/hate” yoga….
  7. Wall sits – Again…I have to sit still why my legs burn and begin to shake. Who doesn’t love/hate that!?!
  8. Burpees – So if I’ve killed my upper body, my arms hurt a bit during burpees. If I’ve killed my legs, my legs hurt during burpees. If I haven’t killed anything, I get out of breath and my lungs hurt during burpees. Anyway you look at it, burpees are torturous for some reason!
  9. Rowing – I’m honestly not sure why I hate rowing so much…Maybe it is the fact that my legs feel like they won’t function and I feel like I’m going to puke when I’ve gone all out on the erg…Yea…I think that might be the reason…
  10. Pull ups – So actually I love pull ups. Sometimes they frustrate me, but I still love them. I feel like this exercise though is definitely one that most women love to hate…or well just hate for that matter!

What moves do you love to hate?

P.S. Foam rolling video coming at the end of this week!!!

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