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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!)

Building up

Just because you can pick the weight off of the ground, doesn’t mean you should.

While you technically may be strong enough to lift a weight, your body may not actually be ready to handle the loads, especially on a consistent basis.

So how do you build up so that your body can handle the weight?

  1. Foam roll – Foam rolling releases tight muscles and helps restore proper length tension relationships so that the correct muscles are recruited when you need them.
  2. Stretch – So if you’ve ever seen a competitive lifter, you will notice they are extremely flexible. While you may not want to do any static stretching BEFORE you workout, a good stretching program each day will help to prevent injury and increase range of motion around your joints.
  3. Activate – Too often people aren’t using a HUGE muscle when they do squats and deadlifts – their butts. Make sure before you work out that you have all the proper muscles activated – you will lift more that way. And part of having everything activated….Is warming up!
  4. WARM UP – Walking on a treadmill for 5 minutes before you lift isn’t a proper warm up. Sorry. A good warm up should loosen up muscles and active muscles so that they are ready to work. Band walks to activate your glutes can be a great part of a warm up. So can inch worms, side shuffles, skips and multiplanar lunges!
  5. Light first – So each time I start a heavy lift, my first couple of sets is lighter than the rest. Even if I’m trying to maintain the same heavy weight for 5 sets, I’ll do two or three warm up sets first to build to the weight. NEVER jump right into the weight you built up to last week!!!
  6. Steady slow increases – As you build up to heavier and heavier weights, you want to do it in slow, steady increases. While form may break down when you hit your true max, you don’t want it to break down as you slowly add weight. Track your progress and each time try to add just a little more.
  7. Work your weak points – You are only as strong as your weakest link. If your shoulders aren’t strong, you won’t be able to bench as much or do as many push ups as the rest of your upper body can handle. You don’t have to do isolated muscle movements to strengthen the weak points just choose exercises that allow them to be the main mover!
  8. Choose complementary exercises – Don’t just keep doing the same exercises over and over again. Sometimes variety can be key. While you don’t just want to do random exercises, you do want to make sure that you are strengthening your muscles from a couple of different angles. For deadlifts, kettlbell swings can be great. Glute bridges can also help. Plus the variety in exercises can keep you mentally interested.
  9. Fuel properly – Eating the right stuff can also help your body be ready to handle the loads. If you don’t eat enough, you may find your strength declining!
  10. REST – Yep. If you want to hit the big numbers, you need to get enough rest. This means days off each week AND it also means adequate rest in between sets. If you don’t rest enough between sets, you won’t be allowing your body to get ready to lift even more weight the next set!

So follow these 10 tips and start building up to the big numbers!

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?


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?


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!

The good, the bad and the simply stupid

The Good

  • I love the Olympics. I love the Olympic trials. They make me want to go and workout and be really really good at something!
  • Ross the boss has been providing me with all sort of great inspirational photos recently. (Ross the boss is also known as Monkey Knuckles haha). She more than anyone should be proud of where she is today! Right before we went paddleboarding her father told her, “Remember you aren’t a jock like those other people.” Uhm sorry Ross the boss’ pops…BUT SHE IS! She’s a heavy lifting, paddleboarding, sprinting, rowing, rock climbing!?! JOCK! AND best of all…She’s lovin’ it!

  • I LIKE IT! Active at 85!
  • Great deadlift workout with some of my favorite lifting ladies! Both ladies set new lifting PRs! AMAZING!

Oh yea sweat and biceps! Beautiful! 🙂

  • Also, I think I’ve mentioned this at least once before…I LOVE SUMMER! Fresh, local, delicious fruit!

The Bad

  • I think is potentially my diet nightmare – “The Starch Solution.” I love how low-carb diets are called “fad diets” while this diet by Dr. McDougall’s isn’t considered a fad diet because it has helped thousands of people. Well, low carb diets have helped thousands of people too. And if you do the research, low-carb diets have been around for a lot longer AND helping people for a lot longer. So how are we defining fad diet here? Also this kind of sounds like a “fad diet” claim : “The Starch Solution is a groundbreaking program that will help you shed pounds, improve your health, save money, and change your life.” I am curious though what research studies this book is based on….I looked at the site but I didn’t find many studies. I found news articles, which seemed more promotional than informative. I also did find an article called “Posthumous Interview with Tim Russert.” Uhmmm….this is not PROOF that your diet is right!!!

The Simply Stupid

This isn’t really a good, bad or simply stupid thing. It is just an interesting article and the doctor cited in it was a member of the gym I work(ed) at. I especially like it because it isn’t against fat and it bashes the low-fat diet. Of course it isn’t flattering about low-carb diets either but I don’t think a Primal diet full of fruits, veggies and some non-gluten carbs would fall under what they define as a low-carb diet. Actually I wonder what their definition of “low-fat” and “low-carb” truly is…

Another random thought, do you ever see an infomercial for something and think, “That is super cool” and then right after think, “That can’t be healthy?” I saw a commercial for Slushy Magic and thought about just how amazing a slushy drink would taste during the warm summer months (or year around in sunny California!). I then thought, “But how can something that turns any liquid into slush in one minute be good for you?” I seriously wonder what is in those cubes that can turn any drink (or even yogurt) into slush in under a minute.

Post vacation workouts

Riding 17 miles and going for a long run weren’t enough to keep me from struggling through my first two workouts after a nice long, relaxing vacation.

Nope. Those first two workouts back always suck.

You don’t feel as strong AND you feel way more sore than you should the next day.

Yesterday, I decided to push through a back and chest workout. Why bench is definitely not my favorite thing, the worst exercises were definitely the decline push ups, TRX back flyes and decline climbers.

Barbell Flat Bench 5 sets of 3 reps
paired with
Pull ups 5 sets of 5

Decline Push Ups 3 sets of 15
paired with
1 arm dumbbell row 3 sets of 10 each side

DB Chest Flyes 3 sets of 10
paired with
TRX Back Flyes 3 sets of 10

Decline climbers 3 sets of 10
supersetted with
Front to side raises 3 sets of 10
TRX Inverted Rows 3 sets of 10

Tricep pushdown 3 sets of 15
paired with
Isolated Bicep curl 3 sets of 10 each side

Cable curl 3 sets of 15
paired with
Ab roller 3 sets of 10

So after yesterday I definitely wanted to avoid upper body today. So instead we murdered our legs.

Heavy Back Squats 5 sets of 3

Conventional Deadlift 5 sets of 10
paired with
Box Jumps 5 sets of 10

Cocktail Lunges 3 sets of 5 each side
paired with
KB Single Leg Squats 3 sets of 8 each side

Romanian Deadlift 3 sets of 10
paired with
Sumo Squat 3 sets of 10

And to finish the workout we did plank holds (front plank, side planks and glute bridges).

All in all two very intense first workouts back. Hey might as well dive right back into it right!?!

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