Skinny Fat

Exercise, Nutrition, Weight Loss No Comments »

What the heck does it mean to be “skinny fat”?

Here is a simple way to describe it: Normal or low body weight, high body fat (as a percentage), and low amount of muscle.

Someone who is skinny fat might seem like they have a fast metabolism, but everything they eat either goes right through them, or what does stick becomes a double chin, muffin top, or squishy butt.

muffin top

Skinny fat can be the result of excessive cardio training without resistance training to keep/build muscle, or else it’s the result of very low physical activity coupled with low food intake.  (Since both end up at skinny fat, seems like it’d be easier to eat less than to do all the cardio, right?)

Skinny fatters are usually quite weak, since they don’t have any lean muscle.

One of the biggest mistakes someone who is skinny fat can make is to try to do lots more cardio to burn off the fat, be it muffin top, booty, or neck.  But that shuts down muscle building/toning and can even cause muscle breakdown, enlarging the disparity between lean muscle and body fat – which makes the skinny fat dilemma even worse.

All the cardio is doing is using the nutrients taken in to fuel the activity, instead of using them to build muscle.

Fashion Week in Rio, Brazil - 17 Apr 2013

And skinny fatters can’t firm up much by just eating more, even if they’re just rocking protein and veggies six times a day.  It might work a bit, but the skinny fat solution is to focus on building muscle and tightening everything up, THEN embarking on a strategic fat loss plan (that probably won’t involve too much cardio training).

Besides robbing the body of nutrients needed for building muscle, excessive cardio also robs the exerciser of the energy needed for productive muscle building workouts.  The bod can really only focus on one goal at a time.

The trick is hard weight training and eating enough (of the right foods) to gain muscle without “overfilling the cup” and having it spill over into fat storage.  It’s a narrow line to walk, but it’s not too difficult for someone to find their sweet spot if they train hard, eat right, and pay attention to what’s going on in their body.

Most skinny fatters fear that a strategy like the one outlined above will make them fatter and heavier.  It might add a few pounds of lean and toned muscle, but it won’t make anyone into a heavyweight.  In fact, a skinny fatter who adds a few pounds of muscle will look leaner.  (It will also give them more strength, health, and longevity… but today the focus is on appearance :))


Let’s take a bird’s eye view of what would change… Our hypothetical skinny fat subject weighs 120 pounds and has 30% bodyfat.  They are doing cardio four times a week in the “aerobic” zone and following a low-fat intermittent fasting plan (which is often just a way to disguise the beginnings of an eating disorder).  Now our subject has decided that they want to firm thing up and look better both in and out of clothes.  What might their new plan look like?

For starters, there needs to be some resistance training.  Bodyweight exercises, machines, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, whatever.  Something has to be moved against the resistance of gravity with a goal of building some muscle and strength.  Three or four sessions a week.

Next, dropping the long and slow cardio for a few sets of hard intervals.  This will keep the metabolism revving and tell the body to hang on to muscle to power through the sprints.  Two or three short and hard sessions a week.

Finally, nutrition.  Focusing on protein with the right mix of carbs and fats to build strength and health.  Four or five smallish meals packed full of nutrition spread evenly through the day.  The low fat/intermittent fasting plan doesn’t give enough nutrients to build lean muscle

Making these changes is the way for someone suffering from skinny fat syndrome to become tight and lean.

Have fun!

A Few Posts About Gymnastics

Exercise, Health No Comments »

For a while I was helping with a blog for a local gymnastics team.  Well, that blog is down but here are a few posts that will be of interest for gymnastics parents, coaches, and athletes:

10 Tips For Parents

RICE For Gymnastics Injuries

Basic Tumbling Skills

Research On Ammenorhea, Bone Density, And Female Gymnasts

5 Reasons Sugar Is Bad For Young Athletes

Push Up Variations For Mom And Dad

Research: Injury Rates In Gymnastics

Should Gymnasts Lift Weights?

Must Watch Gymnastics Documentary

Gymnastics Skill: Hollow Body And Rock

How To Increase Pull Ups

Beginning Bridging

SHARP Inflammation

Stretches To Help With The Splits

Female gymnast on gymnastics bar

Stretching Makes You Weaker (Sometimes That’s A Good Thing)

Exercise, Health No Comments »

“Ya gotta stretch before you work out!”

How often have you heard this advice?  Lots of times, I’ll bet.

But it’s only kinda sorta true.

Stretching is traditionally recommended pre-exercise as a way to reduce injuries.  Unfortunately, research and real life doesn’t support the stretching-reduces-injuries theory.

stretch armstrong toy

The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) dug through all the research on stretching and injuries and concluded that people who stretch are no less likely to suffer injuries than those who don’t and that stretching does nothing to prevent injuries.

And even worse, several studies have found that stretching before exercise actually makes you more likely to get injured.

Stretching before a workout doesn’t make you more flexible either.  There’s a limit to how far a muscle can be stretched…

Picture a steak.  You can grab the ends and pull hard, and it will stretch a bit.  Keep pulling and pulling and it won’t stretch, it will rip.  Your muscles are like that steak.  There’s a limit to how far you can stretch before you start ripping.

overstretch tear hamstring

Stretching beyond your limits weakens your tendons and ligaments.  (Loose joints might give you a bigger range of motion though, at the high cost of greatly increased chance of injury)

The British Journal Of Sports Medicine stated that test subjects’s “flexibility index decreased significantly after stretching training.”

The warm-up aspect of stretching is also overrated.  Stretching doesn’t contract your muscles (muscles are designed to do only one thing: contract).  Contraction is what pulls blood into the muscle and bumps your metabolism to produce heat as a byproduct of effort.  No muscular contraction, no warm up.

Stretching before you are warm is another good way to injure yourself, incidentally.  Pulling the ends of a cold rubber band make it more likely to snap.  Cold taffy doesn’t stretch out, it breaks.  Your muscles do this too – a cold muscle getting stretched out will tear.

taffy puller

Stretching a muscle makes it weaker.  You have these little things called Golgi Tendon Organs in your tendons that are stretch sensors.  When they feel a stretch they try to contract your muscles to protect your muscles and joints from injury.  if you hold a stretch long enough (and without going too far), the golgi tendon organs “turn off” and allow your muscle to stretch a bit more.

The problem with relaxed golgi tendon organs is that they are designed to help your muscles contract.  Turn them off, and you’ve instantly become weaker.  This not only affects your strength, speed, power, and endurance; your muscles are what support your joints – and if you turn off your support system, you’re left with no protection from moving your joints beyond their range of motion.  Moving your joint outside of its range of motion = injury.

golgitendon organ

Weakened muscles from stretching also limit how effective your workout will be (while also making you more likely to get injured).  If you’re training to lose fat and re-shape your body, being stronger means you can exercise with more weights, go longer, do the exercises better, burn more calories, and raise your metabolism higher.

The American College Of Sports Medicine published a study that checked out the effect that stretching has on strength.  They tested hamstring strength and then the next session had subjects stretch their hamstrings before being tested.  Strength declined every time after stretching, even if the stretch was only held for 30 seconds.

So really, stretching doesn’t do anything that common knowledge holds it does.  Stretching doesn’t warm you up, make you more flexible, make you stronger, or protect you from injury.

Stretching a muscle weakens it.

Stretching your working muscles before practice (in athletes) or a workout is like going in overtrained and tired.  You’ll perform on an inferior level and be more likely to get injured.

That’s why you don’t want to stretch your prime mover muscles before exertion.  Weakened hamstrings, quads, and shoulders lead to injury and impaired performance.  Of course, what are the most often stretched muscles?  Hamstrings, quads, and shoulders…

team warm up stretch

Now, when is stretching a good thing?

You can slightly increase a muscle’s range of motion with stretching if it’s not done too vigorously.  And stretching is ideally done an hour or so after your workout, when the muscles are still warm but not firing lots of electrical signals that cause contraction.

As your strength and mobility improves, your workouts themselves become active “stretches.”  Sitting into a deep squat is a real world exercise that ensures you keep a big range of motion.  (Doing real-world movements like squatting, pulling, pushing, and lunging means you’ll move freely, without even a risk of becoming “muscle bound”)

It’s time for the big idea: Sometimes making a muscle weaker is a good thing!

martha stewart good thing

Really.  After all the slams on stretching so far, sometimes you really do want to make a muscle weaker.

When a muscle is in a contracted position all day, it shortens and becomes very tight.  This can pull your body out of alignment and really mess you up when you try to move.

So you can stretch that muscle to weaken it and let your joints get back into alignment.

Time for a few examples of when stretching a muscle to weaken it is what you should do…

Calves – Wearing shoes with a heel all day keeps your calf muscles shortened and they tighten up.  Then when you go to exercise you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor, your knees shoot forward, and your back goes wonky.

high heel x ray pic shortened calf and achilles

So stretching your calves to weaken them allows you to keep your heels down when you exercise so your body is aligned and you have less risk of injuring other joints.

One caveat with stretching your calves: you don’t want to stretch them so much they’re weakened before doing power jumping exercises.  In this case it’s better to warm them up with little hops and active squat stretches (like toe grab squats) instead of stretching.

 Chest – Sitting hunched over in front of a computer (or on any chair, really) draws your shoulders forward and shortens your chest muscles.  This in turn weakens the muscles of your back and raises your shoulder blades which weakens your shoulders and makes them more likely to get get injured.  A tight chest is no bueno.

computer back tight chest x ray

Opening and loosening your chest will let you activate your back muscles and keep your shoulders in place.

Again, you don’t want to weaken your chest muscles if you’re going to be doing aggressive chest exercises, but anything involving your back or lower body – go for it.

Hip Flexors And Piriformis – This is a big one.  In fact, the most popular post on this website is all about just stretching your hip flexors (Here it is: One Exercise To End Lower Belly Pooch).

Sitting shortens these muscles and tips your hips out of alignment, which throws all of your exercise onto your lower back and prevents you from engaging your abs and glute muscles.

When your hip flexors are tight, your low back is going to hurt.  And you see all the benefits from your core and butt exercises.

if your hip flexors are tight

And a tight piriformis can cause shooting pain (and a shortened range of motion) through your low back and the back of your legs.

Weakening these two muscle groups with stretching is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  We sit so much that it affects everything, and these are two great weapons you can use to counterattack.

There’s no caveat here, do the hip flexor stretch and the piriformis stretch as often as possible.  I start every one of my workouts and the workouts of my clients with these two.  Plus, stretch again throughout the day.

Wrap Up

What doesn’t work about stretching:

  • Doesn’t Warm You Up
  • Doesn’t Decrease Injuries
  • Doesn’t Increase Strength
  • Doesn’t Increase Flexibility
  • Doesn’t Improve Power Output

What stretching does:

  • Slightly Increase Muscle Length
  • Turn Off Contraction System

When stretching is a good thing:

  • To Deliberately Weaken A Muscle To Improve Alignment

wake up stretch dinosaur

The Cheetara Diet

Exercise, Nutrition, Rant 1 Comment »

One of my very favorite cartoons is Thundercats.  I loved watching it as a kid and I still enjoy it now.

And gotta admit it: I kinda had a crush on Cheetara.


Who wouldn’t?  Bright orange leotard, sweet bo staff skills, and the ability to run over 120 miles per hour.

She’s based off the idea of a cheetah; Cheetara’s main attribute is her wicked fast speed.  The thing is, it takes a lot of training and nutrition to run like a cheetah.

So here’s some food for thought if you want to be a Thundercat, it’s the meal plan of the cheetah sprinters at the San Diego Zoo…

It goes on a 3 day cycle:

Day 1 – Sprint Demonstration Day

  • 1-2 x 100m @ full effort – simulates hunting in natural habitat
  • Fed 1/2 of 3 day caloric intake after running to simulate a successful hunt

Day 2 – Recovery Day

  • Easy long slow walk in the park
  • Fed 1/3 of 3 day caloric intake

Day 3 – Rest/Light Activity Day

  • Fed 1/6 of 3 day caloric intake

Pretty cool!  It mimics a hunt, then an easy day with some food left over, then a very easy day, and the next day the cycle starts over with another hunt.

This plan keeps the cheetahs lean and mean.

cheetah running

An interesting thought experiment with this is to think about how you could apply some of the same principles to your personal training and nutrition plan.

Doesn’t the cheetah plan above look a little like how a hunter might have eaten and lived during the paleolithic period?

paleo bodies

Hard sprint, hard effort to take down some big meat, then a feast with your friends and family.

The next day, since there’s still food left you hang out and play around camp, not eating as much.

Day three you scout around gathering fruits and veggies and check out where the game animals are browsing.

Day four you go for the hunt and it all starts again…

Life was probably a lot like this for hunter/gatherers.  And it’s doubtless why intermittent fasting, carb backloading, and other calorie cycling plans work so well for fitness and fat loss – it’s how our genes want us to eat.

Now, I’m not saying the cheetah plan above will turn you into Cheetara – you’d have to be a noble cleric from the planet Thundera for that.

But what can you take from this?  What about the plan would work for you?

Here’s a very simple adaptation for someone wanting to get fit (who also loves the Thundercats):

Day 1: Power And Sprint Day

This is the day you get to hunt and feast.  Rigorous effort followed with a delicious prize to follow.


Weightlifting session focusing on big exercises – Snatch, squat, deadlift, bench press, clean and jerk, and other BIG movements.

Follow this with some anaerobic sprints – Sled pulls, hill sprints, bike intervals, and other locomotive movements that will push your system to the max.

And then eating time.  You brought down the wild boar with all your hard work.  Now you get to enjoy it!

Assuming a 2500 Calorie/day diet, half of your three day average would be 3,750 Calories.  You could make this one lots of meat and organs, the best parts of your prey.  Smaller eating window, since butchering and cooking the meat would take time.

Day 2: Play And Build Day

There’s still some meat left over after yesterday’s hunt, so you stay close to home.  You play with the kids and spend some time making camp more comfortable.


“Bodybuilding” Movements – Curls, triceps extensions, chest flyes, calf raises, and other smaller movements; nothing too strenuous (this is the building and moving stuff around your camp)

Play! – Tag, slacklining, frisbee, wrestling, ping pong, or anything else fun that you would do hanging out with fit healthy people you enjoy being around.

For food, you’d still have some meat, and some easy to pick fruits and veggies that you could gather without venturing too far.  So add in some produce and have some of the leaner meat (not as prized).

At that 2,000 Calorie/day average, one third of your three day average would be… 2000 Calories.

Day 3: Light Scouting Day

Time to do some more gathering and plan your next hunt.  You don’t want to wear yourself out too much, in case you end up with an angry auroch charging you tomorrow.

Auroch Enichires

Looking around to check out the areas where game feeds and gathering more hard-to-find plants since you’re already out and about.

Walking or hiking, lots and lots.

And something to help relax you and get you ready for the hunt, like some yoga or tai chi.

You’re about out of big game meat, so you have some smaller, leaner animals for protein and fat.  But you gathered a big assortment of greens and herbs so you have a small amount of protein and some huge salads.  Based on the 2000 Calorie/day number, one sixth of your three day average would be… 1000 Calories.  Not a lot, be enough to ensure you’ll be motivated to hunt tomorrow.

Conclusion: Sight Beyond Sight

sword of omens sight beyond sight thundercats

Again, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive plan for you to follow.  Just a little food for thought.

Too often we get caught up in a certain daily rhythm, and our sight stops extending much beyond that.  The thing is, if you want to keep your body changing, you can’t lock into a set routine.  You’ll make progress for a while, then your body will plateau with whatever you’re doing, and then finally start making negative changes.

If you want to keep progressing, you have to keep changing your stimulus.  Calorie and activity cycling plans like the cheetah-inspired one above are two ways.  I’ll write about some more in the future…

The important thing is to keep things new and fresh, so you don’t get bored and your body doesn’t stop adapting.

Oh, and…. Thundercats Hooooooooooooo!

Building Up To A True Handstand Pushup

Exercise, Strategies 1 Comment »

Handstand pushups are a phenomenal exercise.  Unfortunately, most people don’t make a serious effort to improve their handstand due to the challenge.

Maybe you don’t like being upside down, maybe you’re worried about looking silly, or maybe you’re worried about hurting yourself.

child doing handstand outside

But if you persevere, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best exercises you can do.

Now, what do I mean by the title of this post?  What’s a “true” handstand pushup?

Well, most gym-goers (heck, most trainers and coaches) confuse the headstand pushup with the handstand pushup.

The exercises are the same except for the range of motion.

A headstand pushup involves your head touching the floor, when your hands are in line with the top of your head:

A handstand pushup requires your hands to lower all the way to your shoulders, a full range of motion.  This means you’ll need to use something to put your hands on: rings, parallettes, parallel bars, chairs, stacked weight plates, aerobic steps, and benches all work as ways to increase your range.

Also, all of your handstand/headstand training work should be done with your hands shoulder width apart, as this will let you transition into freestanding movements later on.  That said, most people find headstand pushups are easier with a wider hand position.  Only go wide when you’re competing with a friend for the most reps ;)

Now, a note of warning: IF you’re scared of falling, work with a coach and spotter to get you over your fear.  Hesitation in an exercise will lead to form breakdown and possible injury.  Get totally comfortable with kicking up into a handstand, wall walks, and pike pushups before working on headstand pushups.

And if you’re not yet able to do regular pushups with good form, master those first before moving on to handstands.

First step to a handstand is to get your shoulders warmed up right.  I start every handstand workout with at least 20 reps each of the YTWLI Shoulder Fixer series, foam rolling for the back/chest, and a few regular pushups.

How To Use The Exercises Below

I’ve been to gymnastics for adults seminars, I’ve got books/courses/DVD spilling off my shelves, and I read training info all the time.  And guess what?  No one has agreed on the perfect method of teaching the handstand/headstand to everyone.

So what I’m going to do is share a list of exercises in a rough progression from easiest to hardest, and tips for each.

Find what works best for YOU.  Just be consistent and diligent in your training and you’ll be surprised how fast you will make progress.

The exercises are grouped into three sections.  First is headstand pushup progressions, then handstand pushup progressions, and finally a mix of moving handstand variations.

Have fun :)

Headstand Exercises

Headstand Exercise 1: Pike Pushup With Feet On Box

When you do these correctly, you will develop shoulder, core, and arm strength without being crushed by your full bodyweight.

Put your feet on a box (ideal height for the box: feet are horizontal with the hips when your hips are piked 90 degrees and arms are straight).  Make sure that your hips are in line with your shoulders.  Now just bend your arms and touch the top of your head to the ground between your hands, then return to starting.

pike handstand pushup with feet on box

Common mistakes are letting your shoulders get out of line with your hands, letting your hips fall out of line (then the exercise becomes more of an “incline press” than a “shoulder press”), and not keeping your head between your arms.

Variations/progressions for this exercise: shortening the range of motion by bringing head to mats between hands (instead of all the way to the floor), having only one leg supported by the box, placing feet on large swiss ball, using one foot on swiss ball.

ball pike exercise

Headstand Exercise 2: Kicking Into Bent Leg Handstand Against Wall

This exercise will help you get over your fear of being upside down, and will help you build the body awareness you need to progress in your handstand training.  After you have done a few sessions with this exercise the upside down position will be nothing to fear and you’ll be able to concentrate on the strength and form of your handstands.

Start in a modified sprinter position with your hands about 2 feet away from the wall and shoulder width apart.  Have one leg bent and the other almost straight behind you.  Now, just kick up into the bent leg handstand by pushing with your bent leg and swing over your straight leg.  Kick hard enough to swing you all of the way over until your feet touch the wall.

bent leg handstand

Put a lot of force into your kick-over.  Most handstand newbies won’t put enough umph into their efforts.  Use enough to swing you over (just don’t smash a hole into the wall).  As you gain more body awareness, you’ll be able to kick over perfectly and just lightly touch your foot on the wall.

VERY IMPORTANT: Keep your arms locked the whole time you’re kicking over.  It’s tempting to bend your elbows and roll into a ball instead of pushing yourself into the strange new world of being upside down.  Locked, strong arms will help protect you from injury.  Bent arms collapse more easily… which can lead to a bump on the head.

Use a spotter if you can find one.  Have them stand just to the side of you while you’re in your “sprinter start” pre-kickover stance.  They can put one arm under your hips and gently guide your feet back to the ground if you don’t kick had enough or your arms start to get tired.

Practice this until kicking up is second nature, when you have no fear of going upside down.  I like to switch which foot I kick with each practice set.

You can progress by adding more reps (more times kicking over), by holding the position longer, or by straightening out one leg.

Headstand Exercise 3: Kicking Into Straight Handstand (Hands Away From Wall)

Since you can now easily kick over into a handstand against the wall, your next step is to work on your form.  This next variation is more difficult because you’ll put more weight on your arms, core, back, and shoulders and less into the wall.

First, kick up with your legs bent and then straighten them both out against the wall.  Now try to straighten your body out as much as possible.

Next, kick up and straighten both legs as you go around, keeping them straight as your feet land against the wall.  Keep working at it until you can keep your body straight from hands to heels (this is difficult because your hands are away from the wall).

Progress by doing more reps, and spending more time in the handstand.

Headstand Exercise 4: Kicking Into Straight Handstand (Hands Close To Wall)

This is a lot like exercise #3, except that you’ll start with your hands closer to the wall.

The reason this is more difficult is that you’ll be supporting a higher percentage of your bodyweight and have to develop more balance and body awareness.

As you get comfortable, progressively move your hands closer to the wall until your fingertips are touching it.  Make sure that your back is as flat as possible and you aren’t bent at the waist.

Again, add more reps and more time in the handstand position to progress.

fingers against wall handstand

Headstand Exercise 5: Wall Walks

Wall walks are different for two reasons: you won’t be kicking over and instead of your back to the wall, you’ll have your chest to the wall.

Start in pushup position with your feet against the wall.  Now walk up the wall with your feet and walk your hands back towards the wall.  Keep your body tight and walk up as far as possible.

If you need to bail out, just bend your arms and somersault forward.

This is a great training tool because you’ll be developing more strength in your arms, shoulders, and core as you move.

Practice until you can touch your chest and your nose to the wall, then you can progress by adding more reps and spending more time in the handstand on each rep.

Headstand Exercise 6: Negative Headstand Pushup

This is THE exercise for building strength in the headstand.  Simple and effective.

From a wall handstand (with your back to the wall), simply slowly lower the top of your head to the ground.  The slower you go, the more strength you’ll build.

When your head touches the ground come down off the wall, straighten your arms, kick up, and do it again.

You can progress by adding more reps and going more slowly.

bottom handstand pushup

Headstand Exercise 7: Sideways Wall Walk

Adding some movement to the the handstand will make it harder to keep your balance.  On this exercise, the closer your hands are to the wall, the more difficult it will be.

Kick up into a handstand against the wall.  Now walk yourself sideways along the wall using only your hands and arms.  Spread your legs for balance if you need to.  And remember to travel the same distance in both directions to avoid imbalances.

Progress in this exercise by adding more distance to each walk.  A fun way to do these (especially if you have a short wall), is to go back and forth for time.  In this case, add time to the set as you improve.

Example: 3 steps left, 3 steps right, repeat for 45 seconds.

This is a good exercise to mix in with exercise 6.  (The reason these are here instead of in section 3, is because they really help body awareness and are a great way to accumulate time in the handstand)

Headstand Exercise 8: Quarter Pushup

Kick up into a handstand against the wall.  Now do the top 1/4 of a handstand, just a few inches in the range of motion.

A good starting point is 4 sets of 5 reps.  Add both sets and reps until you can get a total of 30 reps each training session.

Once you can do 3 sets of ten reps you can move on to the next exercise.

(While training these partial variations, it is helpful to keep practicing the negative pushup from headstand exercise #6)

Headstand Exercise 9: Half Pushup

Like exercise #8, except you’ll bend your arms halfway.

Progress by aiming for 40 total reps of the half pushup. (ex: 4 sets of 10 reps)

Headstand Exercise 10: Headstand Pushup

You’re finally there!  A headstand pushup!

This is the full headstand pushup, where you kick up into a handstand, lower the top of your head to the floor, and press yourself back up.

Make sure that you keep your torso tight, as it’s easy to lose your balance on the way back up.

handstand exercise 1

Handstand Pushup Exercises

Now that you’ve gone as far down as possible with the headstand pushup, it’s time to extend the movement.  In order to increase the range, you need to start elevating your hands.

Aerobics steps with risers are the perfect tool for this, as you can incrementally increase the depth of your handstand pushups.

aerobics step for handstand pushups

Stools, benches, or high parallettes work as well, though it’s more difficult to grade yourself on depth.

If you’re using parallettes or steps, use panel mats or a stack of books between them to act as a substitute “floor.”  As you get stronger, remove a book and go deeper.

In order to increase your strength over the full range of motion, you’ll want to take small jumps instead of big ones, since only a few inches deeper will make the exercise substantially more difficult.

A good basic guideline is to try and increase by one inch each month – this will allow you to completely master the movement.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 1: Small Elevation Pushup

Place you hands on a low steps shoulder width apart, kick up into a handstand, and perform slightly larger range of motion handstand pushups.

You can progress these by adding reps or adding depth.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 2: Full Range Negative Pushup

Use higher blocks or two benches shoulder width apart.  Place your hands on them, kick up into a handstand, and slowly lower the top of your head to the ground.  Come down, straighten your arms, then kick up into another handstand for your next rep.

These are good to mix in with handstand exercise number 1.  While you work on increasing the range for your full movement, build full-range strength with the negatives.

Progress the negative full range pushup by going more slowly and by adding reps.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 3: Full Range Cloth Biting Pushup

Place a cloth on the ground between your handstand boxes.  Now, when you do a handstand pushup, pause long enough to bite the cloth and push yourself back up all the way.

This is a brutal exercise because you lose any muscular rebound while you pause in the bottom position.

Progress on these by adding more total reps (not by using a heavier cloth!).

Handstand Pushup Exercise 4: Straight Bar Handstand Pushup

Instead of using parallel bars (or steps, or boxes) for this exercise, use a straight bar.  You can use a parallette turned sideways in front of the wall, a parallel dip bar with a spotter, or – if you’re really hardcore – on a high pull-up bar like this guy:

Progress by adding reps.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 5: Underhand Straight Bar Handstand Pushup

Perform just like handstand exercise #5 above, but use an underhand (supinated) grip.

This will help you build the strength you need for doing handstands on the rings later.

Progress by adding reps.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 6: Bulgarian Pushup On Parallel Bars

Using gymnastics parallel bars or parallettes, kick up into a handstand with your hands about 45 degrees offset from each other.

Descend into the handstand pushup and let your elbows flare out to your sides.  Return to handstand to finish the rep.

Progress by adding reps.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 7: Ring Pushup Using Straps

Set your gymnastic rings close to the ground, this will make it easier to bail out than if you are six feet up in the air.

Place your hands on the rings, set your arms, and kick up into your handstand with your legs straddled slightly in order to catch the straps.  Lightly wrap your feet around the straps and perform your full range handstand pushup.

feet wrapped on straps handstand

A spotter is recommended at first :)

Initially, the added difficulty of being on the rings will make it unlikely for you to perform a full range pushup from the position.  Go as deep as you can and use negatives (like exercises 1 and 2 in this section) until you can do a full range handstand pushup with your feet on the straps.

Progress by adding reps (and working on perfect form!).

Handstand Pushup Exercise 8: Bulgarian Ring Handstand Pushup

Kick up into a regular ring handstand.  Now as you lower yourself down, let your arms go out wide.  On the way back up pull the rings back into starting position.

Progress by adding reps.

Handstand Pushup Exercise 9: Freestanding Ring Pushup

This is like exercise 7 above, except your feet aren’t sliding up and down the straps, you’re freestanding on the rings.

The intensity of this exercise is incredible, as the rings are unstable as hell.

Kick up into a handstand on the rings.  Now remove your legs from the straps and turn your hands outward (this is why you mastered the underhand grip handstand pushup in exercise 5).  Keep the straps clear of your forearms.  Lower yourself into the bottom position under control, allowing the rings to turn inward as necessary.  Pause, then press back up into the handstand.  At no time should your legs or feet touch the straps.

freestanding handstand on rings

Progress by adding reps and perfecting form.

Moving Handstands

A fun way to train handstands is to add movement.  Handstand walking is just the beginning.  Stairs, hopping, and obstacle courses can all be done.

These aren’t really progressions, just a variety of exercises you can add into your training.  Movement adds a lot of balance and coordination to your handstands.

Moving Handstand Exercise 1: Walking With Partner Holding Feet

This one is simple.  Kick up into a handstand and have a partner catch your feet.  Now just walk forwards and backwards with your spotter just helping you balance, not taking your weight.

james bond partner handstand

Progress by adding more time walking forwards and backwards.

Moving Handstand Exercise 2: Unsupported Handstand Walk

Just like exercise #1 above, except this time you’re on your own.  Kick up into a handstand and walk around.

Progress by adding time/distance.

Moving Handstand Exercise 3: Partner Handstand Hop Walks

Just like exercise #1 above, except you move by doing a partial pushup and “hopping” yourself forwards and backwards.

Variation: Keep elbows locked and hop with just the shoulders.  You won’t go as far, but it develops great shoulder strength.

Progress by adding time/distance.

Moving Handstand Exercise 4: Unsupported Handstand Hop Walks.

Same as exercise #3, except you don’t have a partner helping you balance.

Progress by adding time/distance.

Moving Handstand Exercise 5: Step Ups Onto A Platform

As you get more advanced, you can do these unsupported, but for now do them against a wall or with a spotter.

Kick up into a handstand in front of a low platform.  Now, raise your right hand and place it on the platform.  Now push hard through your right hand and bring your left hand up to the platform.  Finish pressing up if you haven’t already.  Now reverse the motion to come down.

You might find that one side is significantly easier than the other.  Train the harder side more often!  Maybe an extra rep or two each set – this won’t make you unbalanced, rather, it will bring you back into balance and improve all of your other handstand exercises.

Progress by adding reps or by stepping up to a higher platform.

Moving Handstand Exercise 6: Head Taps

This one is fun!  It’s the handstand version of the chest tap pushup.

These can be done against the wall, with a partner spotting your feet, or freestanding/unsupported.

Kick up into your handstand.  Now shift your weight over your left hand and touch the top of your head with your right hand.  Repeat other side.

As you get better at these you will minimize side to side movement waste and be closer to performing a one-handed handstand.

Progress by adding reps and removing balance support.

Moving Handstand Exercise 7: Handstand Walk On Stairs

These are handstand step ups taken to the next level.  Start with a spotter and progress to doing them unsupported.

It’s easier to go down the stairs, so start with that to build comfort.  After that, see how many stairs you can climb in your handstand.

You can either lead with one hand for the whole set and switch next set, or you can alternate hands at each step.

Progress by finding higher stairs ;)

Moving Handstand Exercise 8: Build An Obstacle Course

Use your imagination…

Handstand Conclusion

Headstand pushups, handstand pushups, and moving handstand will transform your upper body.

You’ll gain strength, endurance, balance, coordination, and confidence.

Plus, they look really really cool

handstand exercise 2

Improve Your Run Times By… Running Less?

Exercise, Strategies, Study 2 Comments »

If I told you there was a way to shave 48 seconds off your 5k time… by running 54% less, is that something you might be interested in?

is that something you might be interested in bob ryan

Well, a study published in the Journal Of Applied Physiology shows you how to do exactly that.

The researchers wanted to see what effect switching from traditional endurance-type training to an interval training scheme would have on runners’ health, muscle, oxygen uptake, and race performance.

Training for the interval group looked like this:

  • 30 seconds jogging (less than 30% intensity)
  • 20 seconds running (about 60% intensity)
  • 10 seconds sprinting (higher than 90% maximum intensity)

This was repeated 4 more times, then followed by 2 minutes of recovery.  And the whole thing was done 3-4 times total.  (I actually detailed this training plan back in 2009, here it is: A Simple Plan To Run Faster)

interval training race

For seven weeks the study group did this training protocol during all running sessions, while the control group continued their standard steady-state endurance training.  The crew doing the 30-20-10 plan did 54% LESS running than the control group.


The interval training group:

  • Improved VO2max (oxygen uptake) by 4%
  • Dropped 21 seconds off their 1500m run times
  • Dropped 48 seconds off their 5k times
  • Lowered their systolic blood pressure
  • Reduced both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol

The endurance group:

  • No changes!

Keep in mind that the interval group was running less than half as much… and making much better progress.

Interval training takes less time and since you’re not running as much there is less overuse wear-and-tear on your body.

And it wasn’t shown in this study (because it wasn’t tested) but interval training is better for burning fat.

AND since you don’t have to log tons of miles, your appetite will be easier to control.

You can use the exact 30-20-10 training protocol for any endurance sport: biking, swimming, running, cross country skiing…

Plus the idea behind the study – interval training – can be used in any type of workout for better health and fitness results.  Instead of locking yourself into a comfortable steady pace, push yourself into all out “sprints” followed by recovery.

run like thief sign 5k

Here’s the reference for the study:

The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners.
Authors: Thomas Petursson Gunnarsson and Jens Bangsbo
Journal of Applied Physiology May 3, 2012

3 Beginner Interval Workouts For Fat Loss

Exercise, Interval Training, Weight Loss No Comments »

Interval training beats the pants off traditional steady-state cardio when it comes to weight loss, improved fitness, and health.

The problem is that lots of articles and books I’ve read want to start you off with brutally high intensity sprints and short, short rests.

Yes, that’s taking things to the next level.  But if you’re brand new to exercising there are two main problems with these super hard, short sprints:

Too much, too soon.  I know people who have passed out on their second high intensity 20 second interval because they were pushing too hard.  Intensity is awesome, but give your body a chance to get used to the idea before you go all out.  (Interval training benefits can be had from walking if you’re a beginner, so don’t blow a gasket trying to be Usain Bolt)

Can’t push hard enough for the benefits.  The infamous Tabata protocol used an intensity of 170% of the subject’s maximum oxygen uptake.  Visualize your lungs and heart going at 100%.  Now add 70% on top of that!  If you’re not pushing that hard, you won’t see the same results.  Most of us simply can’t go at 170% yet.

So, what to do?

Start off with proven, effective interval training plans for weight loss and fitness.  As you get fitter, you’ll be able to push harder and see even more benefits.

elliptical machines

There are 3 interval training plans for beginners below.  You can do them any way you want.  Fast walk, slow walk.  Elliptical, treadmill, spin bike.  Jogging, running.  (If you use cardio machines, don’t choose the “Interval” setting.  Choose “Manual” and control the intensity by adjusting it yourself)

Beginner Interval Workout 1: Standard Intervals

This is probably the most popular interval training workout for fat loss out there, and it’s very simple:

  • 5 min warmup at low intensity (increase slightly as you get warm and loose)
  • 1 min moderate to high intensity followed by 1 minute low intensity (repeat 5-8 times)
  • 5 min cooldown

The first time you do this, start with moderate intensity for the work intervals and only do 5 repeats.  As you progress you can either add more repeats of the mod/low cycle or else increase the intensity of the faster interval.

Beginner Interval Workout 2: Pyramid Intervals

Pyramid intervals have you starting off with shorter efforts, increasing each time.  Then you work your way back down.  Here’s an example:

  • 5 min warmup at low intensity
  • 30 seconds high intensity
  • 1 min low intensity
  • 45 seconds high intensity
  • 1 min low intensity
  • 1 min high intensity
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 90 seconds high intensity
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 1 minute high intensity
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 45 seconds high intensity
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 30 seconds high intensity
  • 5 min cooldown

You can progress on these by pushing harder on the high intensity periods, by adding a steps to the pyramid, or by cutting down the recovery periods (example: 50 seconds instead of 60)

sprint in desert

Beginner Interval Workout 3: Sporty Intervals

This workout mimics the unpredictable nature of sports.  You use different times and different intensities.  Think of it like the sprinting and jogging in a basketball or soccer game.

  • 5 min warm up
  • 2 minutes high intensity followed by 2 minutes low intensity (repeat once)
  • 30 seconds high intensity followed by 30 seconds low intensity (repeat four times total)
  • 10 seconds very high intensity followed by 50 seconds very low intensity (repeat 5-10 times)
  • 5 min cooldown

You can “mix and match” this workout.  For example, do 2 min high intensity, 2 min low, 30 high, 30 low, 10 very high, 50 low, repeat.

Also, you can progress by adding repeats or pushing harder on the higher intensity work periods.

When To Do These Workouts

Do these workouts either after your regular resistance training sessions, later in the day (ex: weights in the morning, intervals in the evening), or on the days where you don’t lift weights.

Since resistance training is of higher value for fitness and losing weight than intervals, you don’t want to do the intervals first and tire yourself out.

More Information On Intervals

Check out these posts to learn more about interval training:

More interval training workouts: Interval Training For Extreme Fat Loss

Intervals can cut your workout time by 90%: Important News For People Who Hate Long And Boring Cardio

How to make sure you aren’t sabotaging your interval training sessions: What To Do During “Rest” Periods

Interval training, tempo training, and steady-state training are all covered here: Effective Cardio Training

Simple interval workout for joggers and 5k runners: Improve Your Race Times By Running Less

Which training method will increase your heart power?: Endurance vs Intervals (Study)

spinning class intervals

Science Isn’t Bohr-ing: How To Deliver More Oxygen To Your Muscles

Exercise, Health 1 Comment »

Since Carson City, where I live, is located at 4,800 feet elevation friends and family who come to visit notice they get tired much faster.

And up in even higher cities, you might notice that just a minimal workout will lead to extreme shortness of breath – almost like you’re breathing through a straw and can’t get enough air.

But in just a few days your breathing gets easier and you carry on as normal.  It’s just a short acclimation process.

Athletes train at high altitudes because they want to improve their oxygen uptake and then take their improved cardiovascular system back to sea level and destrominate the competition.

Thirty something african american man in the outdoors getting fit.  MR#23.pdf

Most people would totally agree with this – that their breathing at high altitudes gets easier because their lungs are picking up more oxygen.

Science Time

In fact, you breath more easily after acclimation because your oxygen uptake has gotten worse.



See, oxygen is passed from your lungs to your blood, where it is picked up by hemoglobin molecules.

Hemoglobin binds to the oxygen and carries it along your bloodstream to where it is needed in your body.


The problem with this system is that when the hemoglobin/oxygen combo reaches your tissues, the hemoglobin bond is so strong that it doesn’t give up the oxygen easily.

That’s right: your blood doesn’t want to give up its oxygen to the rest of your body.  Selfish.

You can adapt though, and decrease hemoglobin’s attachment to oxygen in a way that lowers oxygen uptake in your lungs in order for you to get better delivery to your body’s tissues.

This is known as the Bohr Effect.

Here’s the definition:

Hemoglobin’s oxygen binding affinity is inversely related both to acidity and to the concentration of carbon dioxide. That is to say, a decrease in blood pH or an increase in blood CO2 concentration will result in hemoglobin proteins releasing their loads of oxygen and a decrease in carbon dioxide or increase in pH will result in hemoglobin picking up more oxygen.

So training at altitude DOES have the potential to increase your performance, just not in the way you’d think.

And now it’s time to get even more cool with science…

When you exercise really hard you produce lactic acid.  The hydrogen ions from lactic acid spread through your blood vessels (that’s the burn you feel during hard exercise) and change the shape of your hemoglobin so that the hemoglobin is less sticky to the oxygen.

got acid

In short, hard training leads to improved oxygen delivery inside of your body.

Repeated training at a high enough intensity leads your body to make a chemical called… wait for it… 2,3 diphosphoglycerate.  This chemical works like the Bohr effect – but the results last longer

2,3 diphosphiglycerate is made in high amounts in people who live at high altitudes and in people who regularly work out at a high intensity.

What’s high intensity?  Where you go so hard that your body’s demand for oxygen momentarily exceeds your ability to deliver it.  (Panting breathing and muscle burn)

So, the moral of the story is:  Training super-hard or at elevation (or both!) will increase your ability to deliver oxygen to your body… while absorbing less oxygen from the air.  How cool is that!

Basic Tumbling Skills

Exercise No Comments »

A Bodyweight Exercise Blog Post…

In their phenomenal book Easy Strength: How to Get a Lot Stronger Than Your Competition-And Dominate in Your Sport, Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline have a short list on how to live longer:

  1. Don’t Smoke
  2. Wear A Seatbelt
  3. Learn How To Fall

These simple rules will survive any statistics test you want to put them to.

Even better, the authors list an actual tumbling progression.

Mastering the simple skills on this tumbling list will make you a better athlete (plus you’ll be ready the next time you trip over something in the dark)

Grown Up Tumbling Skills List

Forward Roll:

  • From Stand
  • With Legs Crossed
  • Forward Roll To Stand
  • Cross-legged Roll To Cross-Legged Stand
  • Roll Into Leap, Turn, repeat

Shoulder Roll:

  • Alternate Shoulders In Series
  • Shoulder Rolls Without Arms

Dive Rolls:

  • Walk Into A Dive Roll
  • Run Into A Dive Roll
  • Dive Rolls Over Obstacles
  • Dive Rolls For Height

Side Rolls:

  • Monkey Rolls



Squat Hand Balance:

  • Head And Elbow Handstand
  • Forward Roll To Squat Hand Balance
  • Walk On Hands

Head And Hand Balance

Hand Balance:

  • Cartwheels
  • Round Offs

These basic gymnastic tumbling exercises will give you confidence and great freedom of movement – much more so than pushing and pulling the padded handles of machines at the gym.


Also be sure to check out these blog posts on Wold Fitness:

Building Up To A Handstand Push Up

Pull Up Or Chin Up?

You Need Intensity: Another Nail In Cardio’s Coffin

Exercise No Comments »

If you want to change your body and boost your metabolism, you need to exercise with intensity.

Luckily, the more intensely you go, the less exercise you need.

If you exercise for too long at too low an intensity, your body starts breaking down your muscles to make fuel.  What is long, low intensity exercise?


The way most people do cardio is to exercise in their “fat burning zone” for as long as possible, with the idea that longer is better.

But done too long or too often, wasting of your muscles will occur.

cardio approach me brethren

Muscles are what give you a higher quality of life, power your athletic movements, shape your body, and rev up your metabolism.

Destroy your muscles with cardio and you lose all those benefits. (Check out these posts for why you need muscle: Get Some Firmness On Your Frame and You Need Muscle To Lose Fat)

Traditional cardio training doesn’t have enough intensity to to change your metabolism – yet is usually done in high enough volumes to cause large amounts of muscle tissue destruction.

“Cardio” doesn’t work for fat loss and changing your body… And it may cause you to lose the most productive and protective tissue in your body.

If you insist on doing regular cardio, make sure you have heavy resistance training sessions to convince your body to hold onto its precious muscle.  And do as little cardio as possible all the same.

cat treadmill

Well, if you can’t do cardio to lose weight, what CAN you do?

Exercise below that cardio threshold.  Easy walks, mellow bike rides, relaxing hikes.  These aren’t intense enough to cause you to start breaking down muscle tissue, they still burn calories, and they encourage recovery from higher intensity training.  Not a lot of metabolic changes from this type of exercise, but it’s fun, easy, and helps.  So go for a stroll, dang it!

Use interval training.  High efforts interspersed with low efforts have beaten traditional cardio in the three most important arenas: research has proven intervals are better, experience has shown intervals to be better, and intervals are just plain more fun.  There’s tons of info on interval training on this site.  (If you want to get started now, peep this: Beginner Interval Workouts)

Use circuit training.  Best of both worlds.  You get to do resistance exercises in a series fashion to ramp up your metabolism and calorie burn while building toned muscle.

Fix your nutrition.  If your food and resistance training is spot on, you probably won’t even need to to either type of “cardio” – easy or intervals – to get lean.  The right nutrition plan will balance your hormones, ramp your metabolism, and lead to fat loss.  All without beating yourself up in running shoes.

eat better pyramid