Recommended Equipment For Your Home Gym

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Having a gym in your home is a great way to save the time spent commuting, checking in, stowing your gear, etc that you lose with going to a regular gym.

Here are some equipment ideas to get you started.

Home Gym Essentials:

This is enough to get extremely effective workouts in minimal time and space.

Next Level:

  • Slideboard, linoleum, hardwood exercise floor (or my favorite tool: Valslides)
  • Dumbbells, either fixed or adjustable
  • Bench that adjusts from flat to inclined positions
  • Aerobic steps or sturdy boxes that will support your during weightlifting and jumping
  • Pullup bar
  • Some sort of suspension trainer (like the TRX or blast straps)

A set-up like this can handle just about any type of workout.

Getting Serious:

  • Olympic barbell set with at least 300 pounds of weights
  • Heavy duty flat/incline bench with uprights for bench presses
  • Squat rack or power rack
  • Cable apparatus with both high and low settings
  • Cardio machine, such as a versaclimber, treadmill, airdyne, spin bike, or elliptical machine

This is a true body-transformation home gym, and you’ll be able to do just about anything you’d do at a commercial gym.

High-End Fancy Add-ons:

  • Commercial quality cable apparatus
  • Hot tub, cold plunge, sauna, or steam room (to help recover from these workouts)

A home gym is a great tool to help you reach your goals, but it won’t do anything for you if you don’t use it.  For the absolute best home workouts, check out the Home Workout Revolution.


Overhead Kettlebell Swing: No Good?

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This morning one of my friends said he saw a youtube video where everyone was swinging the kettlebell overhead.  “Why are they doing that?” he asked.

Well, probably because someone taught them that way was best.

But there are some big problems with the overhead kettlebell swing.

Check out this pic:

There are four main problems with the overhead swing:

  1. You shoulders will come up out of their sockets
  2. Your head will “peck” forward
  3. You won’t fully engage your hips
  4. You will throw all the stress onto your low back

Compare the picture above with this one of correct and healthy swing form:

  • Tight (“packed”) shoulders
  • Neutral spine all the way through the neck
  • Glutes engaged

It is a much much better option to swing chest high rather than overhead.

Additionally, many overhead swingers squat too deep to start the motion to try and create more momentum to get the kettlebell overhead:

Squatting down to start your swing creates “drag” on your spine.  You want to “hike” the kettlebell back tight to your body and have just a slight knee bend:

Look at his flat back when he  is on the bottom of the swing.  Hamstrings and glutes are loaded and ready to snap the ‘bell back up.

If you want to see what NOT to do at the bottom of a swing, get a Jillian Michaels DVD.  You don’t have to be a chiropractor to know something is wonky if you exercise like this:

Leaning way back to help snap the kettlebell overhead is another common mistake.  In the sequence a few pictures up, the lifter is leaning back while the kettlebell is in front of her face.

This really compresses your spine, especially when moving quickly with a weight.

(If you look closely, he’s also on his toes.  No bueno!)

How do lifters using the overhead swing justify the movement?  Simple, they say going to overhead is “full range.”

B.S.!  The swing is about taking your hips from flexed to neutral.  That’s it!

If you try and turn a phenomenal butt, hip, and hamstring exercise into a sloppy squat, low back, and shoulder exercise, you’re going to get hurt.

Bottom line: Stay away from overhead kettlebell swings!


No Rest For The Wicked: How To Cut Down Your Workout Time With Supersets

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If you’re short on time and want to lose weight, forget the old school method of resting between exercises.

At the gym, we call doing an exercise, resting, then doing another set “straight sets.”

While straight sets have their place, especially in strength and power training, they aren’t the most effective way to train… and certainly not the most efficient!

It’s time for you to try something called Supersets.

What Is A Superset?

Supersetting is a bodybuilding term that involves pairing two or more exercises with little or no rest between sets.

Straight sets usually call for one to three minutes of rest between sets, but with supersets there is almost no break, allowing you to get more done in less time.

(For a look at the science behind supersetting, check out this post: Inside Luke’s Head – Hacking Your Workout For Faster Results)

The simplest way to superset is to simply pair an upper body exercise with a lower body exercise, such as squats and rows.  You would do a set of squats, then a set of row, then back to squats again until all your sets are completed.

While you’re doing the squats, your back is resting.  While you’re doing the rows, your legs are resting.  So you manage to get more work done in less time.

And, since the cardiovascular system only responds to muscular demand, it is actually better training for your heart and lungs than jogging on the treadmill.

There are seven basic ways for your body to move.  They are:

  1. Squat
  2. Bend (or Hinge)
  3. Lunge
  4. Push
  5. Pull
  6. Twist
  7. Gait (or Locomotion)

All exercises can be broken down into these movements.

Superset Strategy One: Fundamental Movements

If you want to try supersetting, here is a simple way to start: Choose two fundamental movements and pair them together.


Superset A:

1. Kettlebell Goblet Squat 3×10 (Squat)

2. Cable Woodchopper 3×10 (Twist)

Superset B:

1. Kettlebell Swing 3×15 (Bend/Hinge)

2. Push Up 3×10 (Push)

Superset C:

1. Lat Pulldown 3×12 (Pull)

2. Lunge 3×10 (Lunge)

In each superset, you would go back and forth between the exercises until you have completed all three sets for each, before moving on to the next superset.

And since each pairing works different parts of your body, your heart will be pumping blood up, down, left, and right, which gives it a great workout as well.

Superset Strategy Two: Opposite Movements

Another type of superset is the Reciprocal Superset, where you pair muscles on the opposite sides of a joint.  Quads and hamstrings, triceps and biceps, or chest and back are all examples.

The benefit of a reciprocal superset is that your nervous system charges opposite muscles.  If you do triceps pressdowns before a dumbbell curl, you will be stronger during the curl, which lets you use more weight (do more work) than straight sets of curls.

This is a huge advantage when it comes to transforming your body, as each workout you do will count for more.

Protip For Supersetting At The Gym:

If you work out at a busy gym, getting two stations can be difficult.  You do your squats and then toddle over to the cable row machine and someone else has taken it over, totally slowing you down.

So what you want to do if you’re at a regular gym is plan supersets that can be done in one place.

For instance, if you’re pairing barbell squats with dumbbell overhead presses, take your dumbbells over to the squat rack with you, so you can do them right away after your squats, and no one will take your squat rack.

Instead of machine chest flyes paired with deadlifts, do ValSlide chest flyes on the deadlift platform.

You get the idea, pick two exercises that can be done in the same place so you don’t have your workout interrupted.

Superset Strategy Three: Pre-Fatigue

This is a plan that will really kick up the intensity of your lean-muscle-building workouts.  With a pre-fatigue (also known as “pre-exhaust”) superset, you first tire out a muscle with a single-joint exercise and then immediately move on to a multi-joint exercise for the same muscle.  Some examples:

  • Triceps pressdown paired with close grip dip
  • Biceps curls paired with chin ups
  • Leg extensions paired with hack squats
  • Side dumbbell raises paired with overhead press
  • Chest flyes paired with wide grip bench press

To REALLY kick up the intensity of your workout, superset two pre-fatigue supersets together.  Something like this… Biceps curls then chin ups paired with triceps extensions then dips.

(And did you notice I made that one a reciprocal superset as well?  Craziness)

Superset Strategy Four: Post-Fatigue

A post-fatigue superset is a great way to “shock” your body into a new level of fitness.

The technique is just like it sounds, you perform a compound exercise, and then an isolation exercise that uses your target muscles and you really finish them off.

A great example would be squats paired with split squats – it will make your quads burrrrrn.

Post-fatigue training is something to use occasionally, when you want a tougher workout.  Not something to do every day!

Benefits Of Supersets

I told you that supersets are a great way to get more done in less time, which is a huge benefit to supersetting.  Some more benefits are:

  • Increased intensity, a key to making progress
  • Train hard without using maximal weights
  • Makes things more interesting, so you don’t get bored


Do You Have Crunchy Knees?

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I always joke that I listen to music during workouts not to get pumped up, but to block out the crunching in my knees :)

“Crunchy knees” is the popping and crackling sound from inside the knee joint.  If you want to get a little more technical, you can call it crepitus.

Knee crepitus is a noise or vibration during knee movement.

You can get crepitus from a cartilage tear, arthritis, joint degeneration, scarred bursa, or adhered joint capsule.

Now, pain inside your knee joint is a bad thing, but if you have crunchy knees and no pain, crepitus isn’t that big of a deal.

Still, there a few things you can do to get rid of some of that crunching.

(Note: If you DO have pain inside your knee, see an orthopod or chiropractor before starting an exercise program)

A lot of times, loosening up your calves will help.  You’ll want to use a mix of stretching and foam rolling.  Here are a few things to do:

Straight Leg Calf Stretch (gastrocnemius):

Bent Leg Calf Stretch (soleus):

Wall Ankle Mobility:

Calf Foam Rolling:

Plantar Fascia Release:

You also need to loosen up the outside of your legs (lateral side) to keep your IT band and vastus lateralis from pulling your kneecap out of alignment.

Again, stretching and foam rolling are what you should be doing.

Illiotibial Band Stretch:

TFL Stretch:

Vastus Lateralis Stretch:

Foam Rolling:

Now the biggie: Strengthening your hips.

Whenever there is a problem in one of your joints, you need to look at the joint above and below it for issues.

If your hips are weak, they will not be able to keep your femur in alignment, which will result in knee issues.

Things like fire hydrants, hip circles, lateral band walks, etc. are great for strengthening your hips, but once you have that taken care of, you need to develop coordinated strength through your whole leg.  The way to do this is through exercises like lunges, split squats, pistol squats, and 1-leg deadlifts.

The Take Home Message is: You need to fix your whole leg to fix your knees.  Most of the above can be done at home and don’t require anything more than a tennis ball or foam roller.

Pull Up Or Chin Up? (And How To Improve Both)

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For anyone confused about the difference between a Pull Up and a Chin Up, a pull up is performed with your hands facing away from you (pronated) and a chin up is performed with your hands facing you (supinated).



A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that “The pectoralis major and biceps brachii had significantly higher EMG activation during the chin-up than during the pull-up, whereas the lower trapezius was significantly more active during the pull-up.”

Also from the study: both variations are initiated by the lower trapezius and pectoralis major, and then completed by the biceps brachii and latissimus.

Take home message: Both chin ups and pull ups have value and both should be used to add variety to your program.

Now, 10 tips you can use in your training to improve them both!

Pull Up Tip #1: Lose That Fat Weight!

Trying to do chin ups with an extra 20 pounds of fat is just like doing chin ups with 20 pounds in a backpack.

Not sure how to lose weight?  Here’s my $10,000 seminar: Stop eating grains, sugar, dairy, and soy.  Eat more healthy meats and vegetables.  Get some sort of exercise.  (Don’t worry about anything more than that until you’ve got that all down.  More info would just confuse the issue)

Pull Up Tip #2: Open Your Shoulders

Sitting at a desk all day, drooping your shoulders when you’re standing, hunching over a spinning bike… all of these activities tighten your shoulder joint and can lead to injury with both pull ups and chin ups.

Stretching alone is usually not enough to release the muscular adhesions formed around the shoulder, you probably need some sort of soft tissue work.  A good chiropractor who understands sport (like my friend Dr. Brian Russell), an ART practitioner, or a physical therapist are your best bets at opening your shoulder so you can perform pain-free pull ups.

If you can’t find anyone good, or you want to do some extra work on your own, you can do self-myofascial release at home.  A tennis ball, foam roller, and a yoga ball can all be used.

Here is a great video of how to use the yoga ball to improve shoulder mobility.  Sure, the video refers to handstand training, but the shoulder is in the same position in handstands as it is in pull ups, so it works for both :)

Pull Up Tip #3: Add Variety

There are so many ways to train pull ups that you’ll never ever get bored.

As you change the grip width and orientation of your hands, you’ll draw from new motor units in your muscles and make faster progress in your training.

Besides just close/medium/wide and overhand/underhand, here are a few variations to get you started:

Pull Up Tip #4:  Do MORE

Training volume is the KEY to improving your pull ups/chin ups.

Now, here’s what most people miss when it comes to adding volume: Only add QUALITY reps.  If you train with bad form, you’ll only get better at bad form.

So, if you decide to add 20 reps of chin up variations 3x a week, you might have to do ten sets of two reps to get them.  This will give you much faster progress than 5 sets of four UGLY reps.

Pull Up Tip #5: Stretch Arms And Back At The Bottom

A lot of trainers teach their clients to keep the shoulder blades down and to keep a slight bend in the elbows at the bottom of a vertical pull.  This shortens the range of motion and can help you get more reps, but you are short changing your strength gains.

Also, a short range of motion can eventually lead to soft tissue problems and then to injury.

One caveat: higher volume pull up training with a full range of motion can give you sore elbows.  Using rings will get you around this problem.

Pull Up Tip #6: Do Curls

Getting better at chin ups will improve your curling strength, but it can work the other way too.

Improving all types of curls will help with your chins, but you get the best carryover when you use the same grip as your pulls:

Curls: Improve chin ups

Reverse Curls: Improves pull ups

Hammer Curls: Improves neutral grip pull ups

Pull Up Tip #7: Yoga After Workout

Using yoga to compensate after a brutal pull up workout will re-align your shoulders and help prepare you for your next pull up workout.  There are 3 main yoga poses that, done after pull ups, will help you improve.

The first is the locust pose:

Done correctly, you will really feel the locust pose in the back of your elbows after pull ups.  Not exactly comfortable, but it helps :)

The next pose is the cat pose:

The cat pose is great for opening up your back and relieving tension in your upper back and shoulders.

Last yoga pose is the modified table:

Work on gradually bringing your hips higher and moving your body backwards.

These poses will have you doing more pullups AND feeling better afterwards

Pull Up Tip #8: Learn The False Grip

Learning how to use the false grip can add several reps to your maximum pull up test… it almost feels like cheating.

See, a normal grip touches the bar right on the pads at the base of your fingers.  A false grip covers the bar near the big pad at the base of your thumb (the Thenar Eminence).

Look at your palm – the Thenar Eminence can be almost 3 inches below your fingers.  This means 3 inches less that you have to pull.

Now, you don’t always want to train with the false grip.  Remember that variety is key.  But when you want to bust out as many pull ups as possible, the false grip is the way to do it.

Pull Up Tip #9: Lower Slowly

Slowing down the lowering (eccentric) portion of the chin up is the fastest way to gain chin up strength:

Make sure that your pace is even.  So if it take you 30 seconds to lower yourself, you should be halfway down at the 15 second mark.

Programing eccentrics into your workouts is fun!  Beginners may do eccentrics only, by jumping up and lowering themselves.  If you can already do a few reps, add a slow eccentric to the last rep of every set.  And advanced trainees can use a weighted belt to add weight and do overloaded eccentrics.

A side benefit to eccentric training is that your grip strength and endurance will improve from the increased time under tension during the exercise.

Pull Up Tip #10: Follow A Progression Plan

While there’s no doubt that simply “doing lots of pull ups” will make you stronger, if you really want to get better you need to follow a plan.

I detailed a plan for beginners in this post: How To Go From One Pull Up To Five

You can modify the plan to whatever level you’re currently at.

Pullups used to be a part of physical education classes and most people could do at least one.  The trend is picking back up again (possibly due to the popularity of bootcamp-style workouts).

Use these ten tips to help you master this great exercise

Want To Lose Fat? Don’t Ignore Your Muscles!

Exercise, Health, Weight Loss 1 Comment »

Most of the fat loss exercise programs you see in the media are making a big mistake…

They ignore the most IMPORTANT thing for fat loss:

your muscles.

In fact, most of the cardio-centric magazine routines you read will actually cause you to lose muscle, which makes burning off fat much, much harder than it should be.

(Metabolic muscle tissue = much easier fat loss)

Most people don’t even think about muscle during a fat loss program – but YOU should!

Here are five reasons muscle will help you lose more fat:

1. Having more muscle means you’ll burn more calories during your workout.

With more muscle you’ll burn more during any type of workout: yoga, cardio, weightlifting, walking, whatever.  You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck whenever you’re moving.

2. Working your muscles also means you’ll burn more calories when you’re NOT working out

Ask an exercise scientist how many Calories a pound of muscle burns per day and you’ll probably hear “A pound of muscle burns 50 Calories a day”

Actually, studies have shown a burn from anywhere between 35 and 65 Calories per day, so 50 is a good average.

That means if you add two pounds of lean, toned muscle to your body, you’ll burn an extra 700 Calories a week.

It might not sound like much, but 700 Calories a week means a pound of fat burned every 5 weeks, or… more than 10 extra pounds lost in a year.

 3. Muscle is what gives your body its shape.

Muscle is the difference between having a butt and having a booty.

Without muscle your body will be flat, flabby, and squishy.  Having muscle is what gives your body the lean, fit look.

4.  Training your muscles (instead of just cardio) is more fun…

…and if your workout plan is more stimulating, you’ll stick with it longer.

Plus, training more athletically will improve “neuromuscular efficiency,” which means you’ll be using more muscle in everything you do.  So, to go back to point #1 above, you’ll burn more calories with more muscle, but if you can activate even MORE muscle, you’ll burn even MORE calories.

5. Tone.

“Tone” is so overused I hate to even bring it up.  First, let me say that there’s no such thing as a “toning” workout with just light weights.

The way to get toned muscles is to have some muscle shape (#3 above) and less body fat.

Tone actually refers to your nervous system’s link to your muscles.  If there’s a high electrical potential in the nerves leading to a muscle it is more ready to flex than if there’s low potential.  This is tone.

Take the butt as an example: someone can be thin and flabby at the same time – they’ll have kind of a droopy butt despite not being overweight.

Now take someone who has some butt muscles and they’re primed from deep squats, jumps, sprints, etc – the butt muscles will be lifted and shaped.

So to make “tone” work for you, lose fat and train like an athlete.

The bottom line is that if you want to burn more fat and look great, train your muscles, don’t break them down with hours on a cardio machine.

(I’ve written about the benefits of lean muscle before, check it out here: Get Some Firmness On Your Frame)

Carson City Bootcamp Workout: 15 Minute Fat Burning Circuit

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This is a simple and effective Carson City Bootcamp style fat burning circuit you can do anywhere, without any equipment.

You’re going to do ten reps of each exercise and complete as many circuits as you can in 15 minutes.

Rest briefly when you need to and then get moving again until your 15 minutes are up.

As you get in better shape, you can start adding reps to each circuit, try to complete more circuits in the 15 min, or go for longer periods (17min, 20min, etc)

The exercise order keeps your blood moving, giving you a double whammy workout of body-shaping strength exercises and fat-burning interval training.

Rather than congesting one area of the body with blood, as in a traditional bodybuilding-style workout, this circuit uses a mechanism called Peripheral Heart Action to build your cardio by keeping your heart and lungs working hard as they push blood flow to different areas of the body.

You’ll see that the exercise order is: Legs, Upper Body, Core, Repeat.

With no time wasted, if you only have 15 minutes to get fit, this is the best type of workout to do :)

Let’s get to it!

Workout: 10 reps of each exercise, as many rounds as possible in 15 minutes.

Rest: Brief, when needed.

Bootcamp Circuit Exercise 1: Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause, and slowly stand back up. Squeeze your butt at the top.

A more advanced variation is to use the hop squat:

Bootcamp Circuit Exercise 2: Hindu Pushup

Begin in a pushup position but move your feet hip-width apart and forward, and raise your hips so your body almost forms an upside-down V (downward dog pose). Lower the front of your body until your chin nears the floor. Then lower your hips as you raise your head and shoulders toward the ceiling. Now pull your hips back to return to your starting position.

Bootcamp Circuit Exercise 3: V-Up

Lay face up on the ground with your legs extended and arms above your head. Simultaneously lift your arms and upper body along with your lower legs (knees straight) up until they meet above you. Lower your body and legs back to starting position.

Peripheral Heart Action training was originally used by physique athletes who wanted to burn fat without losing hard-built muscle.  (Curious about the benefits of muscle?  Check out this post: Get Some Firmness On Your Frame)

Combined with a high protein/low carb diet, PHA training proved to burn fat fast.  And that’s what we want, right?

Next time you can’t make it to your Carson City Bootcamp, give this circuit a try!

Triathletes: 3 Easy Ways To Train Your Shoulders

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Special guest article by triathlon champion Ben Greenfield

Compared to their running and cycling brethren, triathletes certainly tend to have slightly more muscular shoulders. But when you actually look at a triathlon junkie from the side view, you’ll see a rather unsightly phenomenon: a hunched back, slouched shoulders, and ugly curvature in the upper spine.

These slumping triathlon shoulders (which can turn into a permanent fixture on your body) come from a combination of spending long hours hunched over the saddle of a bike, working the internal shoulder rotators during swimming, while neglecting the external rotators in the weight room, and often a job spent sitting at a desk or computer.

So how can you get nice shoulders and still be fast at triathlon? Here’s what to do:

How To Get Nice Shoulders Step #1: Stretch Your Chest

Tight chest muscles can come from sitting a desk for several hours with your hands on a keyboard, from riding a bike in the aero position, and from swimming. Once tight, and especially in the presence of weak external rotators, these muscles pull your forward into a slouch.

To stretch tight chest muscles, try a doorframe stretch, in which you reach for the top of a door frame, place your hands on it and lean forward as far as you can. If you can’t reach the top of a door frame, just place one hand over the other hand, and lean into a wall.

How To Get Nice Shoulders Step #2: Strengthen Your External Rotators

Although the most popular exercise for “strengthening” the external rotators is to grab an elastic band and do dozens of repetitions of rotation for the shoulders, most of us don’t have time to stand around doing that. Bigger, multi-joint exercises like pull-ups and rows work far better, and have the added advantage of burning more calories and working your arm muscles.

I’ve personally installed a pull-up bar in the door of my office (it cost me about $25), and I try to do at least 25 pull-ups each day (usually one set of 5 whenever I walk under the bar). You can also include regular or assisted pull-ups as a weekly part of your gym routine. Also include lat pull-downs, seated rows, cable rows, and single arm dumbbell rows – focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades back and maintaining a tall, proud posture as you do each exercise.

How To Get Nice Shoulders Step #3: Train Your Core

Blah, blah, blah, work the core. Sure, you’ve heard this before. But think about it this way: when you’re riding a bike, swimming, or sitting at your desk, there is one thing that has to happen before you begin to slouch: your core has to get tired first.

But if your core is strong, it takes a massive load off your shoulders, and allows you to maintain much better posture. I personally recommend planks as the best way to strengthen your core and shoulders at the same time.

Try this: get into a front plank position, hold for 3 deep breaths, then switch to a side plank position left side, hold for 3 more breaths, then side plank right side for 3 breaths, and finish by holding a full push-up position for 3 breaths. Do that entire sequence without your knees touching the ground. See how many rounds you can do before you core collapses. If you can get to 10 round (about 7-9 minutes of planking), you’ve got a solid core. Otherwise, do this routine once or twice per week until you can get to 10 rounds.

Now that you’ve learned the 3 easy steps to get nice shoulders, you can be one of those triathletes who swims fast, but also cuts an impressive figure, and doesn’t have that notorious slouch, especially when people look at you from the side.

If you want to learn more about how to swim, bike and run lightning fast, but also have a nice body, (and get access to the other 6 articles in this series) then head over to Tri-Ripped Training System for a brand new approach to training for the ultimate triathlon body.

Tips For Tight Hamstrings

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Lots of people come in to my fitness bootcamp classes with super-tight hamstrings.

Even if you’re dedicated about stretching at home (you are stretching in your spare time, right?) you might still be bothered by tight hammies.

It might even seem like flexibility is something some people have, and other people don’t – especially if you’re one of the inflexible ones.

What’s up with that?  Is it true that some people are just born more flexible?  Well, yeah :p

But you can get a LOT more flexible if you really do want to…

A couple of things might be making your hamstrings tight:

– Injuries

– Lack of hip mobility

– Overtraining

– Poor training

– Tight hamstrings!

Now, some strategies that I use in my bootcamp to loosen up those hamstrings.

The first thing you need to look at is if your hamstrings are really the problem.  If you have to sit a lot during the day (in a desk or car).  Your calves cross your knee like your hamstrings and so tight calves can make it hard to keep your knees straight when you stretch.  And sitting a lot can affect your pelvic tilt which affects how you bend when you stretch.

Or you might have scar tissue on your fascia (the “skin” of your muscles) that is pulling tight.

Or maybe you have problems with your lower back.  When this is the case you might notice that stretching exercises really hit your back and hips, but don’t seem to touch your legs at all.

So tight hamstrings may just be the symptom of some other problem, far beyond just a lack of flexibility.

Since so much can be going on, today’s post will be a few tips to get you started in the right direction (If you want a more in-depth assessment, my friend Dr. Brian Russell is phenomenal at treating any joint or muscle problem you might have.  Here’s his website: Carson City Chiropractor)

Hamstring Tip #1: No Forcing

Stretching too forcefully can invoke your muscles’ “stretch reflex”, where the muscle actually tightens during a stretch.  This is a protective mechanism to prevent injury.

Another problem with forcing a stretch is that you may not be aligned correctly due to injuries, poor posture, or improper training.  Forcing a stretch from a bad position is a recipe for making things worse.

Stretch slowly and focus on deep even breathing.  After about 30 seconds, you should feel yourself relax into the stretch – this is where flexibility will improve.

Hamstring Tip #2: Stretch Hamstrings Last

As I mentioned above, other muscles may be holding your hamstrings back.

Stretch your hips, calves, shins, and quads.  Then GENTLY stretch your back.  After this, go on to stretch your hamstrings.

You will be surprised at how much more flexible your hamstrings become with this method!

Hamstring Tip #3: Self Massage

Self massage is a way of breaking down the scar tissue in your fascia.  When this scar tissue is relaxed, your muscles will be able to move much more smoothly.

Your hamstrings are part of what we movement therapists call the Posterior Chain.  Here’s a pic:

Massaging any of the areas in this posterior chain should help relax your hamstrings and improve flexibility.  Perhaps the most important area to massage for hamstring flexibility is…. your feet!

Seriously, I’ve seen range of motion in the hamstring stretch DOUBLE from two minutes of tennis ball rolling on the bottom of your feet.  Here’s how:

And here’s vids of basic self massage for other areas that may be holding your hamstrings back:

Don’t forget to massage your hamstrings too!  Turn your feet inside and out to hit the whole muscle group:

Hamstring Tip #4: Knee Bend

Some knee bend is actually ok if you’re trying to stretch your hamstrings.

The reason for this is that a bit of flexion will take most of the calf out of the hamstring stretch, allowing you to hit the hammies better.

Use the knee bend tip if you feel hamstring stretches in the backs of your knees instead of the backs of your thighs.

Hamstring Tip #5: Use A Full Range Of Motion

After all this stretching and foam rolling, you want to make sure you keep whatever new flexibility and mobility you build.

The secret to this is to use full range of motion exercises in your workouts.  Short range of motion activities like cycling or running will keep your hamstring shortening back up, since they don’t require a full range of motion.

Basically, you need to teach your body to incorporate this new flexibility into how it moves.  This is the key to maintaining your flexibility progress.

Now, if you have tight hamstrings, these five tips will definitely start you off on the path to flexibility!

Study Corner: Super-Slow Lifting Vs Normal Lifting

Exercise, Study No Comments »

Welcome to another edition of study corner!  Today we’re going to look at a study from the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research.

This study is titled… Effects of 4 weeks of traditional resistance training vs. superslow strength training on early phase adaptations in strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity in college-aged women.

Aren’t you glad I read all these things for you? Just the title makes me want to fall asleep :)

So, why super-slow training?  Well, wanna-be fitness experts on the news have promoted slow-cadence lifting, and people believed it.  But what does the actual science say?

This study split college-aged women into 3 groups: No lifting, Slow Lifting, and “Regular” Lifting.

The No Lifting group didn’t make any changes during the study.  I’m sure they were very nice people, but let’s forget about them and forge onward.

Slow Lifting group trained for 35 minutes twice a week.  They used 50% of their one rep maximum (the amount of weight they could lift one time) and lifted 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down until they couldn’t do any more.

“Regular” Lifting group trained 25 minutes three times a week.  They used 80% 1RM and did 3 sets of 8 reps, with a 4 second contraction time for each rep.  This 4 second contraction is why I put quote marks around “regular.”  4 seconds is still very slow.

Both groups’ workouts consisted of 5 exercises: shoulder press, chest press, leg press, low row, and lat pull down.

At the end of the 4 week study, both groups had gained strength.  The super-slow group’s strength gains were so slight so as to be only “statistically significant.”  (Translation:  so little improvement you wouldn’t notice without having a degree in mathematics).

So only the regular speed training group made real improvements.

Conclusion: Slow speed resistance training is a waste of your time.

J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov;25(11):3006-13.
Effects of 4 weeks of traditional resistance training vs. superslow strength training on early phase adaptations in strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity in college-aged women.
Kim E, Dear A, Ferguson SL, Seo D, Bemben MG.
Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA.

And here’s a link to the abstract if you want to see what it looks like: Slow Lifting vs Regular Lifting