Build A Better Back

Last week my brain was feeling incredibly uncreative.  I know, because it told me.  I asked my Facebook friends if they had any thoughts for some possible blog posts, and I got several replies with some really good ideas.  My plan is to tackle them all in the very near future.

One of the suggestions was for some back and or shoulder exercises.

I have to say, I love training my back.  Everyone has strong and weak areas on their body.  Unlike my legs (which are currently about an inch bigger around than my one year old daughters legs are) my back has always been well developed, stays lean no matter how high my body fat gets and is by far the strongest part of my body.  And as we all know, we like to do the things we are good at, hence my affinity for training my back.

Whether or not you enjoy it like I do, your strength, posture and awesome factor benefit tremendously from giving your back some dedicated time in the gym.  Due to the fact that we sit for hours and hours in a slouched position and then go to the gym and sit on machines, our backs are in desperate need of some attention.  On top of that, most of us are guilty of only focusing on the body parts we can see in the mirror.  Are backs are not one of those, which is really too bad, because a jacked back looks awesome:

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

So, to get you started in the gym with some ideas for how to get your back whipped into shape, get it stronger, and increase your awesome points by 17, here are my top 5 favorite back exercises:

Conventional Deadlift:

If you’ve been around the blog long, you know that I have a crush on deadlifting.  Seriously, I’m kind of addicted.  So it’s probably no surprise that this makes the top of my list for exercises that will make you, and your back, awesome.

Aside from providing the potential to move a ton of weight, a properly performed Conventional Deadlift works the entirety of your back (as well as pretty much the rest of your body).  Your lats have to keep the weight against your body, your traps have to hold your shoulder blades in place and your spinal erectors have to keep you from folding in half and looking a scared cat.

Chin Up:

I’ll be the first to admit that Chin Ups (even if band assisted) aren’t for everyone.  Shoulder flexibility/mobility deficits (whether from acute injury, lack of thoracic spine mobility, or other reasons) can certainly make them troublesome.  However, if an individual is able to perform them safely, they most definitely can play an important part in developing a strong and healthy back

Dumbbell Bent Over Row:

While deadlifting is certainly my first love in the gym, heavy rowing is a pretty close second.  While I certainly like seated rows, barbell rows, etc., my favorite row is the DB Bent Over Row.  One of the things I like about it most is that it allows you to train the back unilaterally, giving you an opportunity to shore up any strength imbalances in the body.  Plus you can go heavy, which is always a good time.

(Note: I am soooooo not “going heavy” in that video…just sayin’)

Inverted Row:

While they are another rowing exercise, Inverted Rows are a pretty different animal than other rowing movements.  They are incredibly easy to progress/regress based on an individuals strength levels and allow you to use your own body weight as resistance.

Face Pulls:

Although Face Pulls are not a huge strength builder, they do two things that are incredibly important for a healthy back.  First, they allow for a great “squeeze” between the shoulder blades.  This promotes good scapular retraction, which is critical for heavier rowing movements.  Second, they get some good work done in the rotator cuff, something that is often left out of most peoples training programs.

So there they are, my 5 favorite back exercises.  Did I miss one of your faves?  If so, drop it in the comments below!

A Workout To Get Yo’self Some Abz

I know what you’re thinking…the title to this post is incredibly clever and wasn’t straightforward and boring at all.  In fact it had just enough mystery to entice you to drop everything you were doing and immediately read this post.  I’m kinda awesome like that.

Last week, I posted the results from a poll I had up a few weeks ago.  In short, the physical attribute that men like most in women is a firm, strong booty.  And the attribute that women most like in a man is a lean, defined stomach.

As promised, last week I gave the ladies a one day program that would help them get a strong, shapely butt.  (On a side note, the workout I wrote up got the seal of approval from Bret Contreras, a world renown trainer and pretty much the authority on the glutes and how to properly train them…so yeah, you should use it.)

Today, I’ve got a program for guys to help them get a strong midsection to show off to all the ladies…or to take pictures of themselves in the mirror to put on Facebook.

(Seriously, please stop doing that.)

First off, let’s get one thing straight, having visible abs is simply a matter of having low enough body fat to see them.  If your diet sucks and you’re walking around with an extra 20 pounds of fat on your body (which for most men sits right on top of their abs) no amount of crunches is going to get you jacked for a day at the beach. 

Ever. 

Like, for realzzzzz. 

While I’m not going to get into the nutritional side of things here, you probably know if you eat like garbage…if you do, stop.

OK, on to the program.

Perform the following workout once per week in addition to your current strength training program, or in place of a full body day.

(Note: all exercises are linked to a video demonstration)

WARM UP:

Leg Swings: (1 set, 8 reps/side)

Wall Slides: (1 set, 8 reps)

Bird Dogs: (1×6/side)

Walking Spiderman W/ Hip Lift and Overhead Reach: (1×5/side)

TRAINING SESSION: (Perform all matching letters in super set fashion. Ex. 1 set of A1 followed by 1 set A2 until all sets are completed.)

A1. Barbell Push Press (5×5)

A2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (4×8)

A3. Barbell Rollouts (4×12)

B1. Chin Ups (5×5)

B2. Reverse Lunge (4×12/side)

B3. Half Kneeling Pallof Press (4×8/side)

FINISHER:

Goblet Squat (30 sec)

Rest (30 sec)

Push Ups (30 sec)

Rest (30 sec)

Burpees (30 sec)

Rest (30 sec)

Inverted Row (30 sec)

Rest (60-90 sec)

Repeat for a total of 5 rounds.  When selecting a weight for each exercise in this finisher, use a weight that challenges you for the allotted time, but not one so heavy that you have to stop after 10 seconds to rest…at least not in the first couple rounds.

STRETCH: Please, for the love of all that is holy, stretch something!

Give it shot, share it on Facebook and let me know what you think!

Get Great Glutes!

In case you missed it, last week I put a poll up on the blog asking which body part of the opposite sex people found most attractive.  I also said that I would take the ones that got the top vote for each gender and give you a workout designed to help you rock that body part to its full potential.

Without further ado, here are the results:

The women voted and, in a pretty close race, the body part they voted most attractive on a man is lean, strong abs.

Men, on the other hand, in an overwhelming victory, voted that what they like most in women is a nice, firm booty.

It was interesting to read these results.  Apparently, women don’t have much interest in a guys lower half.  In fact, a guys butt got 4% of the votes and legs got 0%.  No wonder there are so many dudes walking around with huge upper bodies and little bitty legs.

On the other hand, guys seem to be more interested in a lean lower half on women.  Butt got 46% of the votes, and legs got 23%.

Alright Mike, enough with the statistics, give me the workout already!

Fine! Ladies first:

(Note: all exercises are linked to a video demonstration.)

Glorious Glutes Workout:

(Yup I just titled this workout something that ridiculous…)

Perform this workout once per week, in addition to your current strength training routine, or in place of a lower body day.

WARM UP:

Leg Swings: (1 set, 8/side)

Glute Bridge(1 set of 8 reps/side)

Clams: (1×8/side)

Walking Spidermans W/Hip Lift and Overhead Reach: (1×5/side)

TRAINING SESSION: (perform all matching letters in super set fashion. Ex. 1 set of A1 followed by 1 set A2 until all sets are completed.)

A1. Barbell Glute Bridge: (3×6, 2×12) *

A2. Heel To Butt Stretch: (4×30 sec/side)

B1. Bulgarian Split Squats: (3×8/side)

B2. Half Kneeling Pallof Press: (3×12/side)

C1. Cable Pull Throughs: (3×15)

C2. Kettlebell Swings: (3×15)

FINISHER: Set a treadmill to a 10% incline. Perform a 15 second sprint at the highest speed you can maintain for the entire 15 seconds.  Rest for 45 seconds.  Repeat this for a total of 8 rounds.

STRETCH: a lot…

*The first three sets of 6 should be heavy weight.  Heavy enough that getting 6 reps is pretty challenging.  For the consecutive 2 sets of 12, strip some of the weight off so that you can perform a solid 12 reps.

A strong glute contraction is important to get maximum motor recruitment, so squeeze it like you mean it!

I will be back next with with a routine to help all the guys get the six pack that the ladies love.  In the mean time, ladies give this program a shot and let me know what you think!

Something To Watch, Something To Listen To and a Couple Free Workouts (Soon)

I have a couple quick things to share with you today.  (And then I need your quick input.)

First off, Fit 4 Life (the gym I train out of) recently made a web commercial.  I thought they did a great job, and John (the owner) explains his philosophy on fitness.  If you’re interested in hearing more about his philosophy, are interested in where I spend most of my days or are just hoping that I make a cameo appearance in the video (I totally do) check it out below.

I had the opportunity to be on the radio again this week.  If you want, check out a the recorded interview here.  Scroll back to Monday the 9th and click on “Treasure Valley Live”.  My portion starts at 31:45.

Lastly, I need your quick input on something.  I’m wanting to see what each sex finds most attractive in the opposite sex as far as strong, lean body parts go.  Ladies, do you like a big strong back?  Or how about broad shoulders?  Guys, do you prefer toned, lean legs?  Or a lean midsection? 

Women vote on the poll that says “women”. 

Men vote on the poll that says “men”. 

Hope that’s not too complicated.

After a week or so, I’ll compile the results and whichever body part wins for each poll, I will write up a workout to attack that specific area that you can take to the gym and implement immediately.  So, vote away and be looking for a workout that will help you get the strong, lean body part that the opposite sex finds most attractive.  Polls open……NOW!

(and be sure to share on Facebook…the more votes, the better!)

The Most Dangerous Thing You Do Everyday

You know how sometimes you’re sitting down, watching  TV and then suddenly during a commercial break a local TV station gives you a teaser for the evening news?  It’s usually something along the lines of “Tune in to news channel 6 tonight at 9:00 to find out what is in your child’s lunch box that could be killing them. *cue subtly ominous music* Death in the lunchroom…tonight at 9:00.”

Pretty scary right?  I don’t even have kids that are school age, but by Jove I’m tuning in because it’s killing the children!!!!

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I feel like the title of this post is kind of like that.  Intentionally dramatic to catch your attention.  Hey, at least I admit it right? 

I saw the following infographic a few months ago and have been meaning to share it here on MichaelGrayFitness.com for while.  It talks about the dangerous act of sitting.  Yup, you read that right, sitting.  Sitting on your butt for hours at a time can have some incredibly negative effects on your health.  Check it out, and be sure and share on Facebook and Twitter!

 

 

 

 

Three Food Myths You Need To Quit Believing

When it comes to eating well, exercising and fat loss…well, myths abound.  It can certainly make things frustrating for folks when every article they read seems to contradict the one they read before.

Avoid Egg Yolks

Somewhere around the early 90’s (maybe it was 80’s…I don’t know.  I was SO young then) egg whites became all the rage.  Everyone was taking the time to make sure that nasty, fatty, calorie laden, cholesterol-ridden yolk went straight in the trash, right where they belong!

Now, I’ll be honest.  I’m not too sure how this all came about.  I’m willing to bet it had to do something the whole “Saturated fat is the devil” or “high cholesterol will kill you” scares.  Or, maybe it was a combination of the two, and since yolks have both saturated fat and cholesterol, they must be done away with.  Makes sense right?

Well, yeah…if saturated fat really was bad for you and the cholesterol you get from yolks would raise your cholesterol it would be.  But neither of these are true.

Eggs have a whopping 1.5 grams of saturated fat.  Not that much to be honest.  Besides that, there are some great arguments against saturated fat being dangerous for you at all. Arguments that I, personally, think hold a ton of water.

As far as cholesterol goes, if you are trying to lower you cholesterol (which again, there are some great arguments that cholesterol really isn’t the problem) you are much better off avoiding doughnuts, cakes, cookies, fast food and ice cream.  Beyond that, studies show that eggs RAISE your good cholesterol.  Which is a good thing.

In addition, as nutritionist and trainer Mike Geary notes, “Yolks contain more than 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, and B12, and panthothenic acid of the egg. In addition, the yolks contain ALL of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the egg, as well as ALL of the essential fatty acids.”  Or in other words, pretty much all of the nutrition an egg has to offer is in the yolk.  When you throw it away, you throw all the good stuff away too.

If you doctor, has told you to avoid eggs, I’m not going to say you should ignore their advice.  But I think you should definitely talk to them about why they want you to, and make sure their reasons are based in research, not just recycled, inaccurate information.

For the rest of you, EAT THE WHOLE EGG!

Eat a Low Fat Diet

Again, somewhere in the 80’s-early 90’s, low fat diets became a “must” for living a healthy lifestyle.  This whole movement, for lack of a better word, started with Ancel Keys’ “Seven Countries” Study which was published in the 1980’s.  His finding showed that a higher fat intake was strongly correlated with heart disease.  The problem was that much of Keys’ findings have been shown to have been cherry picked to support his own beliefs on the relationship between fat intake and heart disease.  To be blunt, he cheated.

Interestingly enough, as people started eating less and less fat in this country, heart disease and obesity have gone through the roof.  Hmmmm…maybe there is something to eating healthy fat after all.

Yes there are fats that should be avoided, like the kinds found in french fries and twinkies, however avoiding higher fat natural foods like butter, cheese, and nuts for health reasons makes no sense.

Make Everything Complicated

I realize that there’s a good chance no one has ever given the nutritional advice of  “make everything complicated and you’ll be just fine.”  However, that’s what happens.  We swap a whole wheat tortilla for white bread, and use avocado instead of mayo.  We weigh our flax seeds on a food scale so we don’t have one too many.  We get light ranch dressing on the side and fill our refrigerators with anything and everything low-fat, low-calorie, “diet” and gluten free.

I understand that some of these things are good advice.  I would even say some of these things are great advice.  The problem is when every meal becomes a stressful situation in trying to follow every bit of advice you’ve every heard about what you should or shouldn’t eat or what you should or shouldn’t do with your food.  Simply making dinner is now a frustrating, brain racking event.

I’m of the belief that the simpler, the better.  So my vote is eat real food.  From there, do what you want.

An Exercise You Should Try: Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

I haven’t done an exercise based post for quite a while, and while I realize that “Quadruped Thoracic Rotation” sounds about as exciting as watching grass grow, I promise it’s worth your while.

Having fun yet?

I think most people (myself included) are often guilty of only wanting to do the things in the gym that help them get their sexy on.  I understand. Looking better feels good and who wouldn’t want to do something that makes you feel better about yourself?

However, the truth is that if you injure yourself, your efforts towards getting lean and muscular could come to a screeching halt.  Therefore, by way of my fantastic deductive reasoning skillzzz, keeping yourself from getting hurt can help you look better naked.

I know my ninja-esque logic just blew your mind a bit.

I’ve said this many times before, but the postures we spend our time in greatly impact how well our bodies function.  Due to the fact that most of us sit and stand in slouched positions all day, the mobility that our thoracic spines have is often severely limited.

This can lead to all kinds of things like back, shoulder, hip and neck pain, as well as increase the chances of getting hurt whilst strength training.

So, Michael, what is one to do?

Funny you should ask that!  For only 37 payments of $19.37…oh, wait…

In all seriousness, simply re-teaching the thoracic spine to move properly without compensating for a lack of mobility by moving through the lumbar spine is the best way to do this.

One of my favorite movements to do this is the Quadruped Thoracic Rotation.

Quadruped simply means “on all fours”.

Here’s what the movement looks like:

Cues:

-Start on all fours and place one hand behind your head.

-While taking a deep breath in, rotate through the middle of your back and try to point your elbow towards the ceiling.

-Go as far as you can without rotating through your lumbar spine or tilting your hips.

-Next, exhale, bring the elbow back down and tuck it underneath your body, bringing the elbow behind the elbow of the supporting arm.  Again, make sure you don’t rotate through your lumbar spine or your hips.

Repeat for 6 total reps for each side.

Don’t worry if your range of motion is pretty small at first.  It will increase over time, if you are diligent in doing these.

I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping you hips and lumbar spine stable.  Not doing so will pretty much defeat the purpose of the exercise.

Give them a shot and let me know what you think!