Sunday, July 10, 2016

Exercises you should be doing

When most people workout they have a group of exercises that they typically stick to.  If it is a "good" workout then those exercises should consist of compound movements such as squats, lunges, upper body pushing and pulling, and variations of planks.  These are all exercises that build strength, improve fitness, and expend large amounts of energy.  But even if you are performing these movements you are still leaving "cracks" in your overall workout.  These cracks are areas where injury and pain tend to work their way in.  So with today's post I would like to share the exercises that fill in those "cracks" and help keep your joints stable,  prevent injury, and keep your body moving optimally. All of these exercises can be performed at home with just your bodyweight and minimal equipment.

Band Pull Aparts
This is a great exercise that improves shoulder health and promotes optimal posture.  It helps to strengthen shoulder and upper back muscles that are often weak and under-trained, and it helps to remind you of upright posture and proper thoracic spine extension.  It is also the best cure for chronic "texting posture". I recommend purchasing a light resistance band and performing this exercise daily whenever you have the chance.  Bring it to work or set it in a common area in your home.  Do it multiple times per day and keep the repetitions high (12+) per set.

Hip abduction
This is like the pull apart for your hips.  It trains muscles that provide stability in a plane of movement that we rarely move in(unless you are an athlete).  It works primarily the smaller gluteal muscles that control excessive movement of the hips and lumbar spine and gives you more stability during single leg movements (such as walking or climbing stairs).  This exercise can be done with just your bodyweight(side-lying) or you can use a resistance band to train the muscles in a standing position.

You can also perform the exercise from a modified side plank position to increase the challenge to both the hip and core muscles.

One last option is to perform this movement standing with a resistance band.

Anti Rotations
This is another great exercise that trains your body in a plane of movement that we don't often use.  The goal of this exercise is to remain rigid and stable to prevent rotation of the spine.  If done correctly, with adequate resistance and proper tension, this turns into a full body exercise.  You can feel it working from your shoulders, to your glutes, and everywhere in between.

Prone W to Y
This is another great shoulder and postural exercise.  It is great for training shoulder retraction and upward rotation for the shoulder blade, both of which are important for long term shoulder health.  This one is more of a "motor control" movement so I do not usually add resistance to it.  I focus more on the quality of the movement and try to feel all the muscles of the back and shoulders working.  This is a great exercise to perform during a warm up to help mobilize and activate the back/shoulders before higher intensity movements.

So there are four exercises that I highly recommend regardless of overall training goals.  These exercises help to promote optimal movement, decrease risk of injuries, and require minimal equipment.  You can perform all of these movements as part of your general warm up or just "sprinkle" them into your routine throughout the week.  I believe that performing these exercises, along with the basic compound movements previously mentioned, you can keep your body moving and feeling good for a long time.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to be a Fit Parent

This past year was a very big year for me.  I graduated from physical therapy school, moved from TN to SC, landed a new job, bought a house, and best of all had a baby boy!  For the longest time it was just me, my wife, and our golden retriever.  Our days were spent doing outdoor activities and our nights were spent going out to local eateries and establishments. Life was good.  We had plenty of time for leisure and exercise on top of our weekly chores and obligations.

But things are different now.  Not in a bad way at all, but different.  Now we spend our mornings and nights tip-toeing around trying not to wake the baby.  Our evenings are a ritual of feeding, bathing, dressing, and rocking.  And our days are spent trying to decide which stroller to bring, how many bottles to pack, and how many layers of clothes we should put on our son.  Another aspect that is different is time for exercise.



Before we had our son my normal routine was to workout at the gym at the end of the day.  I would spend an hour at the gym then come home prior to dinner.  This was my routine for the last 6 years. But when we had our son that routine did not jive.  After working a full day, stopping at the gym for an hour did not work for me or my wife.  She needed a break from "supervising" our child all day, and I wanted to get home to see me family.  So how is a new dad supposed to be there for his family while still maintaining his fitness? 

Well with today's post I would like to share how a new parent can accomplish just that.  These are my Strategies for Being a Fit Parent.

Workout at home (most workouts)
This might be the most important strategy of all.  By working out at home you cut down on time, you spend less money, and you get to see your family while you are working out.  You can work out in your living room, garage, etc. and have your family there with you.  I sometimes put my son in his play things and let him watch me.  Sometimes I hold him and do squats or lunges.  Other times him and my wife simply come in and say "Hi" while I am in the middle of a set.  It really makes a big difference in feeling like you are there with them. I am not saying that you have to give up the gym completely, however.  I have a cheap gym membership that I use once a week, usually on Sundays.  After a weekend of spending time with my family I will go to the gym Sunday evening for an hour of quality iron time.  

Do full body workouts
Now I have always been a fan of full body workouts but I have noticed that they are also very conducive to a tight schedule.  Think about it.  With full body workouts you typically have 3 workouts per week on non-consecutive days.  For me I usually do Tue, Thur, and Sunday. Those days I set aside an hour for exercise. The in between days I reserve for family time.  On the other hand, if you decide to break up your training into splits such as leg day, arm day, core day, etc., you could be working out 4-5 days per week.  That is time that you could be playing with your kids, helping your spouse with chores, etc.  Full body workouts are also time efficient and create a large metabolic effect that is ideal for weight loss and cardio maintenance(if done with minimal rest).

Schedule your workouts
This one will be more specific to each person's schedule.  Personally I have found early morning workouts to be optimal.  Usually everyone is still sleeping and that leaves all of your evenings open for family time.  The only problem is that I don't like working out in the morning.  I tried it for the first few months after our son was born and it just did not work for me.  So I switched back to evening workouts.  That just meant I had to plan better.  Now I workout 2 week nights and I schedule on days that we are eating left overs.  Those nights are typically easier for us and don't require as much running around.  The other workout, as I mentioned, I do on Sunday evenings. Another great option, if you have the choice, is to work out on a lunch break.  You are typically away from your family anyway and it doesn't take a whole hour to eat a lunch.  Look for a gym close to your work or just make due with your actual work place(i.e. stair workouts).

Be active with your family
This one should be a given but it is still work stating.  Being active with your family will not only help you as a parent stay fit and healthy, but it will allow you to spend quality time with your loved ones away from TV, internet, and electronics. When the weather allows we constantly go on walks with our baby and dog.  We walk around our neighborhood, go hiking, or simply walk around downtown.  Kids crave movement and as adults we don't move nearly enough.  I would challenge you to do all the things that a baby does while playing.  Try crawling, rolling, squatting, reaching,  and lifting for 30 minutes straight and tell me you don't feel like you had a workout!

So those are my strategies for staying fit while transitioning to parenthood.  Some people make the excuse that they would rather be there for their kids instead of workout, but it is not a one or the other situation.  You can do both! Furthermore, it will set a great example for your kids that living an activity and healthy lifestyle is important. 

 Stay Fit,
      Amerson Fitness

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Power of the Push Up

The push up is one of my favorite exercises and for many reasons.  It is functional, requires no equipment, can be performed anywhere, and is great for building and maintaining strength and muscle tone.  I have consistently performed them since high school and I am still learning new variations to this day.  While the push up primarily targets the chest, shoulders, and triceps, it can be altered in ways to really make it a full body exercise.  You can also manipulate the push up to work on power, strength, muscle size, or muscular endurance. So with today's post I would like to share what the research says about push ups and also share some of my favorite variations.  

So what constitutes a proper push up?

First is to set up properly at the hands and arms.  Hands should be approximately shoulder width apart and directly under the shoulders.  When in the down position the elbows should make about a 45 degree angle from the torso. When viewed from above the body and arms should look like an arrow instead of a "T".  This puts the shoulders in a more optimal position and allows for increased recruitment of the upper body muscles.

Next, the body should be held tight and straight throughout the movement.  You can think of the push up as a moving plank.  The hips and shoulders should go up and down as a rigid unit.  No hip sagging or butt hiking!

Lastly is the the tempo.  A proper set of push ups should be done at a steady but controlled tempo, keeping constant tension on the muscles.  If you go really fast then you are just using the elastic properties of the muscle and basically just "bouncing" in and out of the movement.

How much weight are you pushing?

This is a great study that looked at various push ups and correlated them with percent of bodyweight.  According to this study if you do a "standard push up" then it is the equivalent of pushing around 65% of your body weight.  If you place your feet on a 12inch surface then that bumps you up to 70%.  And if you elevate your feet 24 inches then you use approximately 75% of your bodyweight.

Conversely, if you are wanted to regress the movement then you can elevate your hands instead of your feet.  If you raise your hands to a 12 inch surface then you drop to 55% body weight, and if you push from a 24 inch surface then you are using about 40% of your body weight.

What about varied hand position?

This is an interesting study that looked at how hand position effects muscle recruitment during the push up.  According to this study a narrow position, where the fingers form a diamond under the chest, increases activity of the primary chest muscles and triceps muscles.  If you perform the push up with hands slightly forward of the shoulders then this leads to increased abdominal activity.  This is similar to a study that showed high abdominal activity with the push up walk out exercise.  This study also concluded that a push up variation with the hands slightly below shoulder level activated the highest number of muscle fibers and recommended its use for total body conditioning.

What about suspension devices?

Here is a study that looked at how a suspension trainer could impact push ups.  They concluded that using a suspension trainer, such as a TRX, to perform push ups resulted in increased activation of the chest, anterior shoulder, and triceps muscles compared to a standard push up.  That means a suspension trainer could be used as an exercise progression.

Can push ups make you stronger?

This study compared the bench press to band resisted push ups and found similar strength gains.  That means you can use push ups, and a resistance band, to increase maximal strength without the use of heavy weights or equipment. 

What is a good number for max reps?

Although this information is a little dated (2000), here is a chart I found with some normative values for max reps of push ups according to age for men.

20 - 29>5445 - 5435 - 4420 - 34<20
30 - 39>4435 - 4425 - 3415 - 24<15
40 -49>3930 - 3920 - 2912 - 19<12
50 - 59>3425 - 3415 - 248 - 14<8
60+>2920 - 2910 - 195 - 9<5

What about variety?

The varieties of push ups are literally endless.  You can vary foot, hand, and torso position to emphasize different muscle groups.  You can use varying speeds to emphasize different muscle fibers.  And you can alter the number of bases of support to provide an addition core challenge.  Here is a short video of some of my favorite push up variations.

So if you want to be fit, strong, healthy, and functional, I suggest you incorporate push ups into your life.  Have fun and stay fit.

 ,Amerson Fitness

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Upper Body Workout

For the last seven years I have been a student and as you might expect I have been on a typical student schedule.  I would go to classes around 8 or 9 in the morning and I would finish classes around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  I always had plenty of time to workout so I just didn't understand when people made the excuse of not have enough time in the day to exercise.  But things have finally changed for me.  I am now in my final internship before graduating from physical therapy school and I am logging about 45-50 hours a week in the clinic.  By the end of the day I usually don't want to spend another hour at the gym, but I don't want to neglect my health and fitness either.  The solution? Time efficient home workouts.

For the past few months I have been doing the majority of my workouts at home and I have really enjoyed them.  I don't have to waste time driving anywhere, I don't have to wait on annoying "bro's" flexing their biceps, and I don't have to listen to ear raping dubstep music while I workout.  So today I want to share with you a very quick and efficient upper body workout that you can do at home with minimal equipment and time.  It is called the Push Pull Pyramid.

I use the workout with pushups and pull-ups but you can easily sub in other pushing and pulling exercises depending on your goals and training level.  For simplicity sake I will describe the workout using pushups and pull-ups.  

It is best to use exercises that you can perform between 10-30 reps if you were to perform a max rep set.  You simply perform back and forth sets of pushing then pulling with little rest in between.  Start will low rep sets then gradually build up to high rep sets, and then work your way back down.  For instance my max reps in pull-ups right now is around 16 and my max reps in pushups right now is around 40 reps.  My workout looks like this:

Pushups: 4-8-12-16-20-16-12-8-4

Pullups: 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2

(So I start with 4 pushups then do 2 pull-ups. Rest. Then do 8 pushups and 4 pull-ups. Rest. And so on...)

The key with this workout is that it allows you to perform a larger volume of work while controlling fatigue.  So you are able to do more in less time.  I am able to compete this workout in about 10 minutes and it adds up to 100 pushups and 50 pull-ups total.  

Everybody, and I do mean everybody, has 10-15 minutes in the day that they can devote to exercise.  This workout is quick, efficient, and quite challenging if you push yourself.  It is great for improving your pushing and pulling numbers or for just a really good upper body pump.  And who doesn't like a good pump?

So when you are running low on time give the Push Pull Pyramid a try.  Until next time.

 Stay Fit,

     Amerson Fitness

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Best Ab Exercises

I recently did a post about attaining the coveted six pack.  In that post, which you can read here, I described how one can go about getting a six pack.  That post was more related to lifestyle choices that lead to a toned midsection, so today I would like to share with you some actual exercises that will help you build and strengthen your abs.  So lets jump right into it.

Compound Movements
If you are looking to build a strong core foundation then you need to focus on large muscle group compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, rows, and standing presses.  A 2013 systematic review, which is the top tier in research design, found that compound movements were superior to core-specific exercises in training and strengthening key core muscles.  Additional studies have also shown high core muscle activation with movements that require upright posture while holding weights such as standing shoulder presses and weighted carries.  For examples of great compound movements I would suggest checking my post on the best functional exercises here.

Now you may be asking, "What if I just really want to focus on the six pack muscles?"

Well, first I would tell you that just focusing on that muscle is not the best strategy.  While the six pack muscles may look good, they don't really do much for core stability. That being said, as long as you are training the core with various compound movements then I have no problems with a little special attention to the six pack.

So what are some exercises you can do to strengthen the Rectus Abdominis? What is that muscle you ask?  That is the six pack muscle.  It is the big one that lies on top of the other abdominal muscles and gets all the attention.  And there are a few exercises that you can do to make this muscle bigger, stronger, and more visible.

One 2014 study compared 3 anterior chain whole body linkage exercises and found that they all produced high activation of the abdominal wall with significantly high levels for the rectus abdominis.  Additionally this study found that all three of the exercises were quite conservative in terms of spine load compared to other posterior chain exercises that use an external load.  That simply means that these exercises can provide you with a  great stimulus for increasing abdominal size and strength while conserving your back.  Here is a video demonstrating each one of the exercises mentioned in the study plus a few extra that I think are equally effective.

According to the study the Leg Raise created the highest activation of the rectus abdominis compared to the other exercises.  In second place was the Walk Out followed by the Body Saw.  The TRX Rollout and the Ab Wheel are essentially different variations of the same exercise and are also very similar to the Walk Out.

If you are strength training three days per week, which I typically recommend, then you can focus on just one of these exercises each day you train.  I would start out doing as many good repetitions as possible and perform three sets.  Gradually work your way up to 10-15 reps for reach exercise.  Focus on staying tight through the abdominals and lower back and go at a smooth and steady tempo.  Do not rush through the exercises just to count reps.  If you can work your way up to 3-4 sets of 15 reps for each exercise, and get your diet in check, then you should have a pretty nice midsection.  Personally I perform each of these exercises on a regular basis, I do strength training 3 days per week, and I watch my diet.  I turn 30 this year and so far I am happy with the results.  

Stay Fit

 ,Amerson Fitness

Monday, December 29, 2014

Weight Loss: The New Year's Resolution Edition

The new year is upon us, and just like every year, one of the most common resolutions is to lose weight.  This comes as no surprise since almost 70% of Americans are overweight and around 35% are considered obese.  Along with decreased fitness and self esteem being overweight/obese is also associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.  With all the negative aspects of being overweight/obese it would be in one's best interest to figure out the best way to shed some weight in the coming year.  That is what this post is going to focus on.  I will present a priority list of what you should focus on if your goal is to lose weight and get healthier in 2015.  If you only make a few changes than focus on the things at the top of the list first, but for best results I would focus on the complete list.  So here it is:

1. Diet
This is the number one thing that you should focus on if you want to lose weight, change your body shape, and get healthier.  You can exercise all you want but if your diet is crap then you will look and feel like crap.  Seeing as the typical American diet is comprised of fast food, restaurant meals, packaged and boxed foods, and a plethora of additives and ingredients, you may have your work cut out for you if you are planning on a diet overhaul.  I am not saying it is going to be easy but it is necessary.  There are many diets to choose from and many have the potential to work.  The key is finding the right diet for YOU.  If you can't stick with it for the longterm then it is not right for you.  In general I would stick to a diet that focuses on lean meats, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, and low fat dairy. One diet that I personally like is the Abs Diet.  Although it does sound very gimmicky it is simply based on eating a variety of quality foods that pack a lot of nutrients with relatively low calories.

2. Strength Training
Strength training is number two on the list.  Other than diet nothing has the power to change the way your body looks as much as strength training.  Strength training makes your body look strong and healthy.  It gives you curves and muscles in the right places, allows you to feel confident in your appearance, and boosts your self esteem.  Strength training also increases your metabolism by replacing fat with muscle, increases your ability to perform physical tasks, and can also provide you with a heart healthy cardiovascular benefit.  One book that I highly recommend for someone new to strength training is The New Rules of Lifting.  It is packed with useful advice and quality programming, and it is much cheaper than hiring a personal trainer.

3. Physical activity
This is an area that people often overlook but it can have a huge impact on health and weight loss.  You should focus on increasing your overall physical activity throughout the day.  Take the stairs every time and avoid the elevator, park further away in the parking lot, bike to work, take walks on your lunch break, do 10 squats every hour on the hour, go on weekend hikes, do jumping jacks during commercials, carry groceries instead of using the cart, etc. The possibilities are literally endless.  JUST MOVE MORE!  It takes very little extra time to perform these activities and it will create a huge caloric expenditure when spread out over a typical 16 hour day that can accelerate weight loss.

4. Cardio
Notice how this is number four on the list.  Typically it is number one for most people trying to lose weight and that is why many people fail.  Doing cardio exercise does help the weight loss process but it should be further down the list.  Think about it; you could jog on the treadmill for 45 minutes and maybe burn 300-400 calories or you could adjust your diet to create a caloric deficit of the same amount.  The former could take an hour out of your day while the latter takes zero time out of you day.  Strength training also trumps cardio because it builds muscle, increases metabolism, and burns calories.  Traditional cardio exercise primarily just burns calories.  And remember when I said strength training can provide a cardio affect?   Well it doesn't work both ways.  You cannot increase strength with cardio exercise, but you can increase cardiovascular endurance (although minimal) with strength training.  So it is great to include cardio in your weight loss program but if you are limited on time then don't make it your priority.

5. Sleep
This is the last one on the list but could be considered most important of all in some aspects.  You might not be building muscle or scorching calories while you sleep (although you do burn a large amount while sleeping) but the amount and quality of your sleep can have a huge impact on your day.  If you feel tired and lethargic then you are less likely to exercise.  But if you are well rested and energetic than you are more likely to charge through the day with calorie burning enthusiasm. Also, when you get adequate sleep your whole body tends to run more efficiently.  A good goal to shoot for is at least 7 hours of sleep each night with 8 hours being optimal.

And that completes the priority list for weight loss.  To recap you should focus on the following items in the order listed if your goal is to lose weight:

1. Get control of your diet
2. Start strength Training
3. Increase your overall physical activity
4. Include cardio exercise in your workouts
5. Get good quality sleep

As I mentioned before if you are only going to focus on one or two things than make them items that are higher on the list.  If you can take care of all the items mentioned then you should have no problems meeting your weight loss goals for 2015.  I hope that this New Year brings you plenty of health and happiness.

  ,Amerson Fitness

Monday, December 15, 2014

Secrets to a Six Pack

A six pack is a coveted attribute for most men.  It is a symbol of health, virility, and masculinity.  It is also a key body part that many women find most attractive in a male.  And whether they want to admit it or not, it is one of the major body parts that men find most appealing as well. It is also considered attractive to the general masses.  Need a little evidence? What is one key physical feature that most hollywood leading men have in common?

A muscular and toned six pack.  These actors go through months of training prior to movie roles in order to get the body that is going to make them look the most appealing on screen, and a big part of that is visible abdominal muscles.  There are books, diets, magazine articles, and exercise programs that focus solely on the acquisition of a toned and defined midsection so it must be a desired goal for many men.  So with today's post I would like to let you in on the secrets to getting that elusive six pack.  And here they are:

(Drum roll)

Consistency and Discipline.

(crickets chirping)

Not what you were expecting?  Were you hoping to hear about some new supplement, a targeted ab routine, or even a natural superfood? Sorry to burst your bubble but the key to getting a nice six pack, or really any other physical attribute, is making the appropriate behavior changes and lifestyle choices.  So lets look at these two characteristics a little closer.

In order to get the body you want you have to be very consistent with your exercise and diet.   You can't just get in a workout session here and there or eat clean some of the days of the week.  You have to make exercise part of your lifestyle and incorporate it into your routine on a daily basis.  As I have eluded to before that doesn't mean that you have to go to the gym everyday of your life.  Your body responds to stimulus and has no idea whether that stimulus is being applied at the gym, in your living room, or in a park.  You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to where and how you workout.  You just have to make sure you do it often and with adequate intensity.  Consistency is even more important when it comes to diet.  You have to make the right food choices most meals of the day and most days of the week.  That doesn't mean that you can't have pizza and burgers here and there. But consistently choosing the right foods, and avoiding the wrong foods, will do wonders for  your health and fitness goals.  I feel that I should mention, however, that it only helps to be consistent using a healthy diet.  If you are consistently eating a crappy diet then you can kiss that physique goodbye.  There are many great diets out there to choose from but the best one is the diet that you can stick to and also allows you to reach your goals.  It might take a little effort on your part to research and try different diets but when you find the one that fits it is well worth it. 

This is the other piece of the puzzle.  You have to be very disciplined with your diet order to get the body you want.  You have to be able to say no to those donuts at work.  You have limit yourself to one beer at dinner, not five.  At a barbecue you have to choose the grilled chicken over the hotdogs.  You have to be disciplined every week when you plan out what you are going to eat over the next seven days.  You have get up early every morning so that you have enough time to make a healthy and nutritious breakfast.  You have to plan and pack a lunch to bring with you so that you don't end up eating out for lunch.  You have to occasionally decline that invitation to go out because you know it will just lead to over-eating and drinking.  It is not always fun but you have to make the hard choices that are going to help you reach your goals.

Now with those things being said I would advise against making your primary goal the attainment of visible abs.  Nobody wants to be the scrawny guy with abs.

Instead, focus on getting your entire body stronger with multi-joint compound strength movements and dial in on a clean diet.  If you stay on top of those two things with consistency and discipline then the abs with come.

To end this post I would like to state that having six pack abs is not the end-all be-all of fitness.  There are people who are extremely fit but don't necessarily have a six pack, and conversely, there are people with visible abs who lead extremely unhealthy lives (I'm thinking the entire cast of Jersey Shore).  So while this post highlights how you can get a six pack don't think of it as a necessity.  Just focus on being happy and healthy.

  ,Amerson Fitness