Movement Tip: Rings Strength Development #3

Continuing with another regression of the rings work from the last few posts (1st post link, 2nd post link,) this pairing is a decent place to start for most.

A1: Rings Wide Row – you’re thinking of tearing apart the rings as you pull so that your hands finish inline with your elbows.  Be sure to NOT shrug your shoulders during the pull forcing internal rotation of the shoulder joint.  This movement begins to build the necessary mid back and rear delt strength and development needed to progress safely to the next level.
A2: Rings Front Support – basically as straight arm plank.  Emphasize the rings turn out to maximize the biceps engagement and drive down through the rings.  This also keeps the scaps in their optimal position with some protraction.  This movement starts to build the initial shoulder stability in coordination with core stability needed to advance.  You should be proficient with a regular floor plank before attempting this.
Why start posting with more advanced movements first?  It’s easier to accept the journey ahead and to perform the required small steps when you can see where they lead to.  Nobody wants to start with a plank, but without it, you’ll never make it to the Bulgarian Dip or Planche, at least not without an injury.


Movement Tip: Rings Strength Development #2

The first Rings Development post I did a week ago introduced some fairly advanced rings strength work.  Prior to advancing to that level you should be preparing your foundation.  So, here’s a regression to those movements.

A1: Rings Hinge Row – This movement deloads the pull-up version enabling the introduction of the dynamic shoulder external rotation with an isometric load on the lats.  But before you do this, you still need a good stable base.
A2: Rings Push-Up – This reduces the load on the dip and puts the shoulder at a more favourable angle from a mobility standpoint.  It’s important to turn out the rings at the top to effectively work your “straight arm” strength and fully engage the biceps. (This is the key to getting those coveted peaks!)  Again, this first requires good scapular stability and decent shoulder mobility.
Stay tuned for the next regression.

Perspectives Training

Perspectives/Movement Tip: Animal Walks

There’s a saying that goes, “We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”  I truly believe this.  Most of us slowly begin to shift priorities as we age, losing the fundamental spark and passion that drove us in the first place.  As a result, we stop moving in the patterns that maintained our body’s mobility and health and stop imagining the dreams that kept our minds stimulated and creative.  The change happens so slowly that we don’t realize the creep, until we’re already in a state that is possibly irreversible, or at the very least, depressing and tedious to get out of.

In gymnastics we used to warm-up with patterns we called animal walks.  As a child we pretended to be animals and played.  Remember how you used to be able to get down on all fours and crawl around effortlessly and how good you felt after playing?  What happened?  You stopped.  I didn’t realize how amazing animal walks were as a child, but decades later have learned to appreciate their complexity, and importance for developing motor patterns and muscle firing sequences.  I believe them to be one of the best ways to warm-up the body as well as to teach muscle coordination and sequencing.  The synchronization needed to move in those patterns while loosening of entire fascial nets can not be replicated with the isolated linear movement that’s typically done.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for those movements as well, they also play a crucial role, but as a general initial warm-up, full body movement will give you the best bang for your buck.

Over the past year I have revisited “animal movement” patterns incorporating them into warm-ups, and I am always amazed at the effort that is needed to properly perform them, as well as how good and loose I feel after.  A quick heads up, if you’re planning on trying this out, and it’s been a long time since you’ve “played,” gradually add some basic movements over time.  It will be uncomfortable at first, but once your body relearns the patterns and regains its mobility,

things will feel fantastic!

This is just a quick clip of some basic patterns that I like to use.  Play with it!


Movement Tip: Rings Strength Development

Here’s an integration of rings work that I have been playing with on a torso day.  Before diving into it, you must have excellent shoulder stability already before attempting these movements.  They will add to an already strong base, but you’ll probably end up injured if you’re not ready for them.  So I would say this is for the more advanced individual.
A1:  Rings Lat Fly Pull-Up – You’re only pulling up to about 90 degrees of elbow flexion and maintaining that contraction as you externally rotate and pull your torso through.  This movement is boss for your lats and external shoulder rotators.
A2:  Rings Bulgarian Dips – These are essentially wide dips on rings which will give more focus to your costal pec fibres.  This movement requires a lot of scapular stability.  If you collapse your scaps in a regular dip, do not try this… and probably stop doing regular dips too.
Stay tuned for the regression sequences to see the step by step process on how to advance to these movements.


Movement Tip: The Bird Dog

In my last post I went over the McGill Curl-Up as a movement to assist in core stability to help prevent low back pain.  I mentioned that it is the first movement in Stuart McGill’s Big 3 movements.  The movements should be performed in the order of the Curl-Up, Bird Dog and Side Plank.  I’ve previously posted a demonstration of the side plank, and thought that I should probably finish off the series so that you have a full reference.  So today I will outline the Bird Dog.

The Bird Dog involves the extensor muscles in your posterior chain (back line) and can be performed with legs only or arms only as a regression.  Another option for regression is to begin with lifting your hand and knee only slightly at first and making sure that you are able to maintain your balance and stability.  From there you can slowly begin to extend in small increments over time until you are able to perform the full movement.

Taking your time with these exercises and focusing on the execution makes all the difference.  It’s the small nuances that separate okay results from great results.  These movements in particular are meant to be very controlled and deliberate.  Just flying through them using momentum and zero thought which is unfortunately how I generally see these performed, will not yield any benefit.  Please take your time and have patience.

This movement begins in the quadruped position with hands placed under shoulders, knees under hips and spine in neutral position.  Your hips and shoulders should be square with one another maintaining this throughout the entire movement avoiding torsion.

Engage your core similar to how we did with the McGill Curl-Up by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in your pee and poop, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. There should be a slight draw in of your navel and you should still be able to breathe with this engagement.  Maintaining the slight draw in of the navel will be more challenging in this position as gravity is pulling down on your insides and your torso isn’t resting on the floor.  Your TVA will need to work a little harder.

Slowly raise opposite leg and hand and extend them thinking of placing them into position.  Think of length through your torso and reaching to touch the wall of the room you’re in with your extended hand, and the opposite wall with your extended leg as opposed to raising up toward the ceiling.  In fully extended position, leg and arm should be aligned with your torso, spine still in neutral position from head to tailbone and shoulders and hips still square.

Hold extended position for specified length of time before slowly returning to start position and repeating with opposite arm and leg.

Avoid excessive arching through your lower back and any twisting through your torso or lateral hip sway.

The video below outlines the full Bird Dog movement, but feel free to modify as necessary.  Thanks!

Recommended Variables to Start:
2-3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between, 6-10 alternating reps, 5-10 second isometric holds each rep.


Movement Tip: The McGill Curl-Up

When it comes to the topic of low back disorders, Stuart McGill is considered the top authority. His research and methods have assisted countless people. He’s authored many books such as Low Back Disorders and Back Mechanic that go into detail regarding many low back issues and how to treat or avoid them.

Low back pain is one of the most common conditions that I see, and in many cases the lack of spinal stability is due to weakness through the core region.  An easy fix is to incorporate some basic movements into your daily routine, to keep your core active and strong. Stuart McGill has a series of movements often referred to as The Big 3 that include the Curl-Up, Bird Dog and Side Plank. In today’s post I’m going to outline the Curl-Up. This movement focuses on the anterior (front) abdominals and Transversus Abdominis (TVA).  It is generally the first movement performed (after performing your Cat-Camel to warm-up to reduce spinal viscosity) of the series.

I’ll usually see this movement being performed with too much trunk flexion.  The rectus abdominis (6-pack) is the primary muscle used for trunk flexion and because this movement involves some flexion through this area, it’s easy to dominate with it.  However, the TVA is the deep muscle that provides the most spinal stability and it wraps around the torso creating a cylindrical like compression when engaged.  This is the muscle that we would like to be the most involved with this movement.  To trigger this engagement we need to focus on the compression with only some flexion.  To do this, try imagining a corset cinching tight around your waist.  Your TVA muscle is essentially a built in corset.  There will be a slight draw in of your navel (belly button) toward your spine, and then a small amount of flexion is added in the form of the curl-up to maximize the contraction.  So the curl-up isn’t the primary goal, it’s maximizing the contraction of the TVA which requires more cinching and some flexion.  When you add the curl-up portion of the movement, if you notice your stomach bulge out, so your navel is no longer slightly drawn in, you’ve lost that cinching engagement and are now primarily using your rectus abdominis.  If this happens, regroup and start over.  You may need to start out just working on the cinch without even adding any flexion, or if you can manage some flexion, you may need to start with some assistance from your elbows adding some support on the ground.

Below are the instructions and notes to perform this movement. Please watch the video for the full description. Enjoy!

  • Lie on your back on the floor with one leg bent about 90 degrees so that knee points up to ceiling and place hands under the arch of your low back with palms down so that finger tips touch one another.  If placing your hands in this position is uncomfortable, you may use a rolled towel as a bolster.
  • Engage core by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in your pee and poop, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. There should be a slight draw in of your navel and you should still be able to breathe with this engagement.
  • Slowly raise your torso off the ground just enough that shoulder blades are hovering, maintaining a fairly neutral spine from head to tail bone with only slight flexion.  Think of being long and cinching around waist as opposed to crunching.  Hold position for specified time.
  • Slowly return to start position and repeat.  Switch bent leg each rep or set.

**Note: Only raise torso as far as you can control your core and stability.  If you begin to crunch and your low back arches excessively (loses contact with your hands), or you notice your stomach pushing out instead of slightly drawing in, back off a little until you can control the movement throughout.  You may need to assist with a little pressure into the floor from your elbows until core becomes strong enough to support without.

Recommended Variables to Start:
2-3 sets with 60 seconds rest in between, 3-5 reps, 5-10 second isometric holds at the top of each rep.

This video/article is intended to assist those who have consulted with their health practitioner regarding their specific condition and received this exercise as a prescription. Please consult your health practitioner before performing any exercise on your own.


Movement Tip: The Dumbbell One-Arm Row

The Dumbbell One-Arm Row a staple movement for back workouts.  It’s one of the most common movements that I see when walking through a gym, and one of the most poorly performed.  Hopefully this post helps clean up some of the typical compensations that seem to occur with this exercise.

The dumbbell row is a go to exercise due to its simplicity.  But there’s a lot going on, and it’s not as easy as it looks.  To perform this movement correctly, there’s a ton of stability and core coordination that needs to take place.  I tend to see most people just focus on moving the weight, and completely forget about having a solid base.  The video below explains some of the important things to keep in mind throughout the entire movement to maximize its effectiveness and keep you safe.

Here are the key points to keep in mind while performing this movement.  Watch the video below for a full explanation and demonstration.

  • Think of keeping spine long and neutral from top of the head to tail bone
  • Fill up mid-back maintaining a supportive protraction of the shoulder blades
  • Keep space between the shoulders and ears
  • Shoulders and hips should be square with one another, don’t twist
  • Core should be engaged throughout the movement
  • Keep supporting foot flat
  • Initiate movement with a scapular retraction
  • Drive elbow up toward ceiling and pull toward your hip

Suggested Variables to Start:

2-3 sets with 60-90 seconds rest in between, 10-12 reps each side.  Take 1 second to pull up, pause for one second, slowly return to start position taking 3-4 seconds.


Movement Tip: A Proper Side Plank

The side plank is an often prescribed exercise intended to help build core strength focusing on the oblique abdominal muscles.  It’s an exercise that I find many people brush off as relatively easy.  They feel that to really get those oblique muscles they should be torquing and twisting their torsos.  If we’re being honest, a medicine ball twist certainly looks like more fun that just hanging out in a static hold.  So, I can appreciate the allure.

I always feel that simple is often better, and if you think a side plank is too easy, then you are not doing it properly.  I don’t think that anyone would argue that gymnasts have some of the strongest mid sections around, and as a former gymnast I can tell you that before we ever started twisting, we spent a lot of time in basic static holds.  Another consideration is that if you’ve already got some sort of low back discomfort and you’ve been told to “strengthen your core,” picking twisting movements that require you to already have a strong core are not going to help you, and you’ll probably end up hurting even more.

The side plank is a fail-safe exercise to build a strong mid-section.  If done right, it is highly effective and difficult at nearly any level.  It’s a rare occasion that I see it performed properly, so I hope that this article will help you with nailing down a proper side plank.

To execute this exercise, lie on your side on the floor and prop your torso up by using the floor side arm and placing the elbow stacked under your shoulder with forearm flat on the ground.
Align your body so that head, shoulders, hips and ankles are all square and stacked with one another.

Raise hips off the ground creating a straight line from the top of the head through to your feet with a neutral spine as if a steel rod were passing through you.

Core should be engaged by thinking of cinching a corset tight around your waist, holding in a poo and pee, and bracing as if you will be punched in the stomach. You should still be able to breathe with this engagement.  Hold for specified time.

Think driving elbow and forearm through the ground to give shoulder space and proper support. Shoulder blade should be braced against rib cage throughout movement.

Your body should have a slight tilt forward so that your shoulder blade follows the curvature of your rib cage and is in optimal position for support.  The slight tilt will also put emphasis on the obliques.  If stacked perfectly perpendicular to the ground, the load distribution begins to be shared with other lateral support muscles such as the quadratus lumborum (QL).  This might be okay if that’s your goal, but I have found that most people are fine in this position, but as soon as the slight tilt is implemented, they start to collapse.

Slowly return to start position and repeat.

The most common error I see with this exercise is a twist through the torso where the shoulders are usually tilting forward and the hips are rolled back.  This will give you the illusion that you can hold the position for a long time as instead of using your muscles, you are counter balancing the load.  Shoulders and hips should remain square with one another.  Avoid twisting and rolling back of hips.  I find that balancing on the side of your mid-foot with your heel slightly floating off the ground helps keep you conscious of this.

See the video below for instructions.

Suggested Variables to Start:

2-3 sets with 45-60 seconds rest in between, 3-5 reps each side of 5-10 second isometric holds.


6 Positive Effects of Resistance Training

Here is another old gem I dug out from my 2012 newsletters from back in the day.  I’ve always been a huge advocate of resistance training, and below I’ve outlined 6 key reasons as to why it should be an important part of your lifestyle.  Enjoy!


1.  Increased Sensitivity to Insulin

Research has shown that resistance training improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin.  Why does resistance training effect insulin sensitivity?  Well the short of it is because with resistance training you primarily stimulate your type I and type II muscle fibres.  These are your faster twitch muscles and are more sensitive to insulin.  They contain greater oxidative and mitochondria capacity and a higher capillary density.  Skeletal muscle is the target tissue where most of the insulin-stimulated glucose uptake takes place.  So, it is not surprising that the stimulation and hypertrophy of this tissue would have such an effect. Why is this so important?  The more sensitive your body is to insulin, (meaning the less secretion you need for your body to maintain normal range glucose levels) the better your energy use will be, enhancing your metabolism.  Insulin regulates glucose in your blood stream so the more glucose you have circulating, the more insulin your body produces.  If it can’t find a use for your glucose, it will also stimulate lipogenesis (fat creation and storage) as a way to regulate the levels in your blood stream.  Hence, consistently high insulin levels will also increase fat storage.  With fat gain you also get the feelings of sleepiness and lethargy.

2.  Increases Oxygen Consumption & Metabolism Efficiency

As you learned above your type I and type II muscle fibres have greater oxidative and mitochondria capacity and a higher capillary density.  This makes your metabolism more efficient and causes greater oxygen consumption.  The more oxygen you take in the more calories you will burn, regardless of the activity you choose.

3.  Increases Bone Density

The muscular contractions caused by resistance training load the bones stimulating the manufacturing of protein molecules that are deposited in spaces between bone cells.  This process is called bone modelling which leads to the creation of a bone matrix that becomes calcium phosphate crystals giving the bone a more rigid structure.  This reduces the risk of osteoporosis or skeletal injuries caused by weak, brittle bones.

4.  Joint Integrity

The stabilization of your joints relies on the strength of the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding them.  Often joint pain and injuries are caused due to a lack of stabilization that causes unnecessary strain and torsion on the joint causing it to eventually fail.  Strengthening the muscles around your joints can help prevent this allowing more mobility, flexibility and pain free movement.

5.  Increased Neuromuscular Control

The communication between your brain and muscles is very important.  Studies have shown that when performing a single action, sedentary people activate a lower percentage of their muscle mass than people who resistance train.  Resistance training increases the motor activation units in your muscle fibres increasing body awareness and overall muscle activation.  This helps improve strength, speed and endurance and also allows you to use more muscle in your day to day activities causing easier body composition maintenance.

6.  Increased Strength

A lot of injuries occur because of inadequate strength.  The body adapts to tasks it is asked to perform to carry through even if it can’t perform it properly, it will get the job done.  If your body cannot perform the task properly that compensation pattern can lead to injury, especially if repeated like many do in their professions.  My favourite example is grip strength.  So simple.  Let’s say you carry a bag of groceries home from the store.  Everyone can do this but how they do it differs from one person to the next.  When you grip that handle and lift the bag if your grip is not really strong enough to bear the load, subtle compensation patterns start to occur, that you think are normal or take for granted, such as shifting your hips a certain way to make it easier to bear the load.  Now instead of that load and your body weight being aligned properly over your center, it’s twisted causing stress on other parts of the body.  The weakest link will go first which is usually a smaller muscle that had nothing to do with your inability to grip your shopping bag properly or so you thought.  This might not occur right away, but how frequently do you go shopping?  Eventually this pattern will cause wear.

Of course there are many more positive benefits to resistance training.  These are just a few that I believe need mentioning to hopefully help motivate you to put more focus on you resistance training if all you do is run like a hamster.


The Old Cardio vs. Resistance Training Debate… You need both!

Back in 2012 I used to send out a fairly regular newsletter to clients.  I was going through some of my archives today and came across this old one.  “Cardio vs. Resistance Training… You need both.”  I decided that it was worth a share since I still often see and hear people fall into this sort of pattern.  Enjoy!

MARCH 2012

Cardio vs. Resistance Training…  You Need Both!

I see it over and over again.  People who come into the gym wanting to shed a few pounds or trim a few inches, and they gravitate straight for the treadmill, bike or elliptical cardio machines.  Of course the majority of people have been lead to believe that cardiovascular activity is the best way to lose weight and trim inches.  So it makes perfect sense to just jump on that piece of equipment and perform a cyclical motion over and over again until eventually you get what you want right?

There are a few things to consider first.  Your safety should be a primary concern.  If your lifestyle has previously been sedentary for the most part, your body will not enjoy the sudden and repetitive impact that an activity such as running will provide.  Your bones, joints and muscles will incur unnecessary wear and tear that can be eased with proper preparation.

If you have structural imbalances, and we all do, and you are unaware of them, most of us are, and you jump on to a machine and perform your cyclical motion; you could be making imbalances worse and/or wearing down tendons and ligaments that will weaken and eventually lead to injury.

I’ve seen tones of people fall into this trap over and over again.  First they will perform their cardio for several weeks and notice great improvement.  This is common because your body is trying to adapt to the sudden change in lifestyle, plus you are getting the benefit of extra caloric burn when you are performing your cardio.  A couple of things tend to happen at this point.  A nagging pain starts to occur somewhere within the body, and you push through and make it worse and can’t train.  You stop training to rest and when it feels better you jump back into the same routine and the injury comes back.  Another scenario is that you plateau, lose interest and stop training.  There are also extra strains that will be put on your adrenal system offsetting important hormonal balances that will also have a great effect on your body.

From all of these scenarios, you generally stop training.  Since you have stopped training you are no longer burning those extra calories that you were and because your focus was on cardio you have more than likely reduced a fair bit of muscle as well therefore slowing your metabolism.  Without the constant activity that you were previously giving your body available to you, you will relapse and begin to regain weight or inches.  Since your hormones are also out of whack from over stressing your body it will go into its natural survival state and begin compensating for the events that had previously taken place.  This usually results in putting you back to square one or even further back.

If you work just one muscle in your body, that one muscle will get noticeably stronger and have slight radiation effect improving other areas as well, but you still need to work the other muscles to have proper balance and harmony.  You hopefully don’t want to be one of those dudes with arms bigger than your legs.  Cardiovascular activity primarily works your heart and vascular system.  So its purpose is to improve the strength and efficiency of your circulatory system!  Sure the radiation effect you see from cardio is great, but you still have an abundance of other muscles that need to be tended to as well.  Your body works as one whole unit, so you need to train everything in order to maximize your results and avoid injury.

Don’t get me wrong, I think cardio is an excellent tool for physical fitness, but you can’t use a hammer to fix everything.  You need to have a variety of tools to build a healthy vessel.