It’s Official: Science Confirms #Fitspiration Sucks

Guest Post By Lee Bell

Heaping contempt and ridicule on “instagram trainers” is easy — and fully justified. Now science confirms it. Keep reading to find out why.

Sometimes it seems like the only things you need to succeed in the fitness biz these days is a big pair of biceps (or boobs), good looks, and a slick but cynical social media strategy.

How about actually knowing something about fitness — and how to help others? Increasingly, it seems to be optional. Maybe even irrelevant. As a certain politician might tweet: #Sad!

Why? Well, fitness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As people scroll through their social media feeds on fast forward on the lookout for a cute cat flushing a toilet, an image stops them in their tracks. They slam on the brakes to take a better look.

Guess what it shows? Yup, It’s a sexy fitness model, complete with a motivational quote.

Welcome to….

…The Concept of “Fitspiration”

Like a social revelation, Fitspiration has hit us with so much force that you could so easily mistake it for a full-on Tyson body shot combo. With so few people achieving the recommended amount of physical exercise, we definitely need a push in the right direction.

Maybe that’s where Fitspiration comes in? Are motivational messages and adonis-like imagery the way forward when it comes to getting us in the gym? Or is there a more sinister side to this popular social tool?

What is Fitspiration?

Fitspiration is short for fitness inspiration. Any message that is meant to inspire you to boost your fitness and encourage you to achieve your fitness goals is fitspiration.

 

More often than not, you’ll find these type of messages laid out as easy to digest, motivational quotes.  A semi-related picture of a man or woman is attached. But it ain’t no selfie. These images are usually high definition, professionally filtered photographs of tanned, toned and muscular models.

You’ll find fitspiration under the hashtags #fitspiration,  #fitspo and many other variations.

What are these images meant to achieve?

The bottom line is that fitspiration images are meant to motivate you. They are meant to improve your mindset, help you chase your goals, push you to seize the day, blah-blah-blah. They are meant to be gentle reminders that you could make some positive changes today and improve your diet, fitness, and lifestyle for tomorrow.

In short, fitspiration isan online trend designed to inspire viewers towards a healthier lifestyle by promoting exercise and healthy food” [1].

What Does a #fitspiration Search Bring Up on Your Screen?

These were the first three that turned up in a recent search.

“You are either on my side, by my side, or in my fucking way. Choose wisely”

  • This came complete with a black and white picture of a woman in a black sports bra… and lifting gloves… and sculpted abs. She’s looking down at the floor in a manner that shows she’s deep in thought.

“Fear no workout, destroy every rep, feel every rep”

  • The accompanying image? A dark-filtered picture of a shirtless man standing over a barbell. He’s got chalk all over his hands and lifting straps and looks ready for a big lift.

“It’s not about having time. It’s about making time”.

  • The image? A lady in tight leggings and a vest top on all fours in her front room. She’s doing a single arm row and looking like she’s ‘in the zone’.

The common traits you’ll find are short, soundbite-like quotes. Positive, glossy imagery. A “you can do this”’ vibe. They are all different, yet all very similar in both messages and feel. Some of these images have an underlying message of guilt behind them: a “‘what’s your excuse?”’ kind of theme.

Millions of these types of images uploaded to various social outlets each day. There is little variation.

What The Really Science Really Says

And as scientific research catches up with this social media boom, we’re now seeing an influx of research studies focusing on the actual effects of regular exposure to such content.

In fact, this recent research has found a bit of a trend with fitspiration imagery.

A 2017 article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research [2] analysed content tagged with the popular #fitspo hashtag over a 30-minute time period. They included anything using the tag across various social outlets and included a total of over 400 images.

From their analysis, the authors found that:

  • 74.2% of the images were related to exercise and 19.6% were related to food.
  • Over a third of posts depicted females, with males accounting for just over 25%.
  • Females typically appeared to be thin but toned or athletic. Males often appeared to be muscular or have bodybuilder-like physiques.

The most interesting trend though? There was a definite gender bias towards showing different body parts.

“She squats”…. Just look at her ass!

The study found that when women appeared in fitspiration images, they were much more likely to show off their full bodies, in particular their asses.

They were also more likely to be aged 25 or under and be highly sexualized, with minimal clothing (definitely not the sort you’d see in an actual gym). Males, on the other hand, were more likely to have their faces on the posts and were less sexualized.

From Arnold to, Well…Everyone

Back when I was growing up, there was no social media. My fitspiration came from being in the gym, watching the bigger guys, buying Flex magazine or watching Pumping Iron. in fact, I was such a fan of Arnold that his world famous chest, arms and abs graced my bedroom walls for most of my teens.

I don’t think there was a square foot of my box room that wasn’t covered in a black and white A1 of the Austrian oak. But it wasn’t a fitspiration overload by any stretch.

Each morning I’d look at the pictures on my wall and that was enough motivation. All I wanted was to look like Arnold. And that was pretty much all the inspiration I was subjected to each day… or needed. This was a guy that was a world champion. And his physique was goddamn motivating.

But now there’s fitspiration from practically everyone – all day, every day. The boom in media outlets has made it possible for anyone to share their own fitspirations messages,- regardless of whether they are a former Mr, Olympia, a professional athlete, or a sponsored fitness model for some obscure supplement brand (slight dig was intentional).

Basically, everyone wants their body to inspire others. In other words, fitspiration isn’t just reserved for the truly inspiring. It’s reserved for anyone who wishes to be motivating.

Does Fitspiration Lead to Unattainable Goals?

One concern with fitspiration images is that repeated representation of only one particular body type can lead to many people striving for physiques that are just not attainable.

They think that looking a certain way is the main driver of exercise, not feeling healthier or reducing the risk of long-term disease.

It’s a kind of ‘I see this type of body all day on social media. This must be what’s beautiful so I’m going to work my ass off to look like that’ mentality.

And with the quotes I found this morning, such as “Fear no workout, destroy every rep, feel every rep” it also hints that every workout, every session, every rep has to extreme.

And that in itself causes concern because it can lead to excessive volumes of training to try and achieve this goal.

Negative Body image – The Fitspiration and Disordered Eating Link

Although it’s a new area of research (purely based on the fact that researchers are still catching up with the social media boom), more and more case studies and review papers are being conducted on the potential darker side of fitspiration.

One review, published in the journal Eating Disorders [3] wanted to assess the potential relationship between disordered eating in women who regularly posted fitspiration on social media.

A cohort of over 200 women were recruited. Half of them posted fitspiration messages on a regular basis, and the control group did not. Both groups completed measures of disordered eating – abnormal eating habits which have been found to lead to a higher risk of clinical eating disorders.

The research team found that those who posted fitspiration regularly had a significantly higher score on indices for:

  • Thinness
  • Bulemia
  • Drive for muscularity
  • Compulsive exercise

…and 17.5% of those were diagnosed as having a higher risk of developing a clinical eating disorder, much less than the 4.4% of the control group.

“Despite the positive intentions, there are several elements of fitspiration that are concerning.”

Is Fitspiration Really Any Different From  ‘Thinspiration’?

Thinspiration (often called pro-ana) images are highly associated with disordered eating. The emphasis isn’t on fitness, health or wellness but simply to get thin.

Fitspiration, however, aims to achieve something different. At face value it does want to improve fitness, it does want to advocate strength training and muscle building, and it does wish to portray a positive message. It’s just it largely doesn’t.

It all adds up to underlying message of guilt

In an analytic comparison study of fitspiration and thinspiration websites, Boepple et al [4] found that both types of sites “contained potentially hazardous messages”.

The research team selected the first 10 images from a sample of 100 different thin and fit images during a standard internet search protocol. They were then rated based on weight, eating and physical appearance characteristics.

They found that whilst thinspiration sites featured more direct weight loss content, promotion of thinness and models who had lower body weight, messages of guilt did not differ for:

  • Body weight
  • Fat stigmatization
  • Objectifying phrases
  • Dieting and restraint.

From a statistical point of view, thinspiration sites coded 88% of these variables, but fitspiration was close on its heels with 80%.

But Is Fitspiration Really Fitspiring?

Is there anything wrong with wanting to help people improve the way they live their lives? No, of course not. As instructors, coaches and trainers that’s what we do.

But research suggests that fitspiration isn’t the way to do it. And we need to be careful that what we do doesn’t fuel the negative associations that some people might have towards body image, exercise, and diet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lee Bell is a Consultant Lecturer, Presenter and Content Writer in Fitness, Performance and Health in the UK. He specializes in female training, muscle physiology and muscle building performance. You can find other articles about muscle building and fat loss by Lee at his website and Facebook page.

 

References

  1. Tiggeman, M et al. ’Strong is the new skinny’: A content analysis of #fitspiration images on Instagram. J Health Psych. 2016
  2. Carrotte, ER et al. “Fitspiration” on social media: a content analysis of gendered images. J Med Internet Res. 2017; 19(3): e95
  3. Holland, G et al. “Strong beats skinny every time”: Disordered eating and compulsive exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram. Eating Disorders. 2017; 50(1): 76-79
  4. Boepple, L et al. A content analytic comparison of fitspiration and thinspiration websites. Eating Disorders. 2016; 49(1): 98-101

How To Row Like A Pro, ‘Bro

Bent Over Row

First, the good news: the barbell bent over row is one of the best exercises around. You’ll build a powerful, head- turning body by adding dense muscle to your arms, lats, and back.

Now, the bad news: you’re more likely to see a total solar eclipse than someone doing bent over rows correctly.

And that’s too bad because the barbell bent over row should be a staple in your workout program. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose fat, and look good naked or hoist a huge deadlift.

Bent Over Row

I’m going to show you the biggest mistakes you’re making with your bent over row. I’ll show you how to do rows correctly and build a brutally strong, bulletproof back.

P.S. Before you head there, pick up your FREE physique hacking guide to get strong, lean, and athletic without living in the gym. You can start seeing results as early as this week.  Click here to grab it now.

Why Bent Over Rows Rock

First, the barbell bent over row requires you to perform a hip hinge and isometrically hold your spine in a neutral spine position. You’ll build incredible strength and resiliency through your core stabilizers to prevent dreaded back injuries while improving your performance on lifts like deadlifts.

As you can see, the starting position for a barbell bent over row matches the body position required for deadlifts.

Second, bent over rows build bigger and stronger lats, transforming your physique in the process. Looking deeper at the lats, the muscle fibers of your lats have a diagonal orientation. This means both vertical ( chin ups) and horizontal pulling (rows) exercises necessary to maximize thickness and size of your back. Thus, if you want a back that’s big enough to block out the sun, strong enough to lift huge weights, and transforms your appearance with the vaunted v-taper superhero look, you can’t rely on pull-ups and pulldowns. You gotta row if you want to grow.

Third, barbell bent over rows build incredible strength and muscle through your entire posterior chain. You’ll train your rear delts to combat shoulder imbalances and prevent injuries. Even better, you’ll develop thick traps and rhomboids to pair with big forearms and swole biceps.  Altogether, you’ll build a functionally strong physique and look damn good to boot.

“So all I need to do is load up a barbell and pull it to my chest, right?”

Not so fast, ‘bro. Exercise selection and execution can be just as awkward as one of those wedding rehearsal dinners where your groomsman has gets shitfaced and everyone pretends not to notice. For barbell rows, the awkward part is rowing like a hunchback and jacking up your spine.

Which leads us to the five biggest mistakes with barbell rows (and how to fix them.)

1. Letting The Bar Drift Too Far In Front Of Your Body

As a rule of thumb, don’t let the barbell drift past the middle of your foot. If the barbell drifts past your toes, you’re adding tons of shear stress on your lumbar spine, opening the door for back pain and injury. Now, you don’t need to bloody your shins and throw up an Instagram video on how hardcore you are (#fitfam), but keep the weight close.  You should nearly graze your shins during rows.

2. Programming Around Squats and Deadlifts

Barbell bent over rows are notoriously difficult to program if you’re a lifter who’s spent years under heavy squats and deadlifts or have with a history of back pain. Still, no exercise (except those god awful bosu ball jumps) is inherently bad. How well you do an exercise is the determining factor to whether you’ll get jacked and strong or weak and beat up.

In the case of rows? As my mentor Loren Landow says: “to become tolerant to snake bite,  you need small doses of venom.” In other words, pick your battles and stay light when needed. You’ll reinforce good form without overstressing your back.

This means if you’re squatting and deadlifting heavy, lighten up your barbell bent over rows. Or wait 48 hours after the other big lifts to hammer heavy barbell rows. This gives you plenty of time to recover and helps you lock in ideal spinal position for all your big lifts to prevent injury and maximize gains.

3. Rising During The Row

Plain and simple…if you’re going to row, row. Don’t stand up during the lift because you’re too weak to hold the hinge position you began with. When you stand up, you’re shortening the range of motion, altering the muscle fiber recruitment. pattern, and hammering your lower back instead of your lats, traps, and rhomboids. This is a classic example of your body providing feedback that you need to listen to.

Lighten up the weight and get stronger holding the hip hinge position before loading your row. Will you knock out an extra rep or two? Yup, But your trading quality training for more reps, which is always a losing proposition.

4. Pulling Your Elbows Too Far Back

With all rows, some lifters pull the bar too far past midline thinking they need to touch their chest on every rep.  Yeah, you might feel a better “squeeze” in the muscles. But the humerus (your upper arm bone) may migrate forward into the anterior socket of the shoulder, potentially causing impingement and pain. Eric Cressey calls this anterior humeral glide.

Bent Over Row

Will pulling back further result in more muscle activation for your lats, traps, and rhomboids?

Maybe.

Drinking four Old Fashions might lead to a good time, but it doesn’t mean you should do it. You’ll regret it later.

Similarly, pulling back further may result in more muscle activation for your lats, traps, and rhomboids, but you’ll piss off your shoulder as a result. Stop your rows at 90 degrees, rather than driving your elbows behind your torso.

5. Pulling Your Body to the Barbell  

I don’t think Ryan Holiday was talking about lifting when he titled his book The Ego Is the Enemy. But the phrase applies to lifting, especially your barbell bent over row. Yes, I’m all for being aggressive and loading the bar to get brutally strong.

But there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

Don’t overload the bar and end up dry humping the weight up your legs. Your intentions may be good, but losing position, flexing your spine, and doing total body convulsions to complete the lift does more harm than good.

A better option?

Execute your barbell bent over row with strength and precision.

Drop ten pounds, slow your tempo, and train your backside…not your ego.

How to Row Like A Pro

(1) Drop into a deadlift position. Push your hips back. Brace your core. Hold a flat back position.

(2) Grab the bar with a double overhand grip about shoulder width apart.

(3) Stand up.  Hold the hip hinge position with your hips back with the abs braced and shoulders retracted to weld your spine. The bar should sit slightly below the knee as long as the lower back stays flat and the trunk engaged.

Bent Over Row

(4) Drive the elbows back until they’re roughly 90 degrees body and the bar nears your abdomen/lower chest.

(5) Squeeze for maximal muscular contraction for a one-count. Lower the weight under control to the starting position. It’s imperative to hold proper position with eccentric control and stability through the trunk while the limbs are moving – a true function of a strong core.

Go Forth And Row (And Sin No More)

Rows are a physique- changing exercise if you do them correctly. As Greg Roskopf says, “joint position dictates muscle function.” Thus, to optimally train what you intend (your lats, rhomboids, traps, and arms), focus on form first and weight second. If you do so, you’ll discover new levels of strength and build an incredible back in no time.

P.S. Are you looking to lose fat and build muscle without living in the gym? Pick up your FREE physique hacking guide to get strong, lean, and athletic. You can start seeing results as early as this week.

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7 Scientifically Proven Ways to Eat Less (And Lose Fat)

Fat loss is simple in theory. All you need to do is eat less, move more, and voila…pounds melt away faster than butter on a hot skillet.

Unfortunately, simple doesn’t mean easy. Sure, you know you need to eat more fruits and veggies, eat protein with each meal, and work out regularly.

But knowing and doing are two different animals.

But wait, there’s more (as they say in infomercials.) Your day is jam-packed, making convenience a key factor in deciding what you’ll eat.

To make matters worse, food manufacturers and restaurants are not your friends. They know they can successfully peddle fatty, sugar- filled foods. All in the name of convenience, of course.

But enough is enough. If you want to lose fat and look your best, it’s time to fight back.

A quick heads up: this article is long. If you want to save some time and download the checklist (and get a free course to lose fat and look better naked) click here.

Here are the best strategies you can use right now to lose fat and stop  asking:How come these damn pants won’t fit anymore?”

If you’re a coach, use this information to teach your clients how to set their environments up for successful fat loss.

If you’re a busy person hoping to make those jeans fit better, here are the tools to make better decisions.

1. Use Smaller Dishes and Utensils

If you have a bigger plate, you’ll fill it up with more food. If you have beer stein in front of you, you’ll drink a lot more beer than the typical 12 oz serving size.

In one experiment mentioned in Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, guests were given either a 17 oz or 34 oz bowl of ice cream. Both groups were invited to eat any of the four kinds of ice cream available. The scoops were also different sizes, either two ounces or three ounces. These weren’t your average test subjects. They were nutrition professors and Ph.D. students. So they’d make good choices, right?

Not so much.

Like the rest of us, the researchers’ portion control melted away like a cookie dough blizzard in the heat of summer. Those who had bigger bowls crushed an alarming 31% more ice cream. Bigger utensils, bowls, plates, and glasses lead us to over serve and over eat.

2. Eat Fewer Foods

Diets tend to limit the foods you can eat. Atkins keeps you away from carbs.Paleo keeps you away from food Tarzan couldn’t maul with his bare hands.

At the end of the day, you should eat the same foods consistently. Sure, make small tweaks to your preparation, but eating should be focused on fueling your body first and providing immense enjoyment second.

Now, this isn’t to say you need to live off of broccoli and boiled chicken. But, 80% of the time eat the same foods over and over again. Limiting choice leads more conscious food choices. You’ll begin to change habits, lose fat, and finally, keep it off.

3. Eat Higher Volume Foods

According to The Volumetrics Eating Plan by Dr. Barbara Rolls, it’s tough to guess calories, but easy to tell portion sizes. You “know” you’re full when you’ve eaten a full plate (or two) regardless of how many calories are in the dish. But if you’re presented with a half-full plate of skewered chicken at a Tapas restaurant, you know you’re going to crush seven of those suckers to feel full.

Using one example, Rolls found by giving people who normally eat a ½ pound burger a ¼ pound burger they WON’T feel full after eating. Makes sense; it’s half the burger.

Here’s the kicker. When you take same ¼ pound burger but stack it full of lettuce, tomatoes, and other fixin’s to make the burger the same “size” as the half pound burger eaters miraculously felt satiated by the meal.

Focus on foods that take up space and are lower in calories. You’ll feel full without crushing as many calories. Make veggies a key component to your diet. You’ll get to provide tons of health-promoting micronutrients. Other helpful strategies include drinking 12 oz of water before your meals, having a side salad or veggies first, or even adding water and ice to shakes and smoothies. Your body requires the volume to expand your stomach and feel full, not necessarily calories.

4. Stack Your Scraps, Homie

Think back to your last meal. How many carrots did you have with lunch? Or how much food did you actually eat when you went to that Brazilian steakhouse with your workout buddies? And let’s not even discuss what went down during your Memorial Day Cookout.

Let’s look at one study covered in Mindless Eating, Why We Eat More Than we Think. Testers provided 53 party-goers with unlimited chicken wings during the Super Bowl.

There were two groups. One group was told to pile their bones on the table in front of them. The other group had their tables bussed by waitresses. What happened was predictable. Those at bussed tables kept on eating. Those at the tables where the bones piled up didn’t. They ate 28% fewer wings.

In another study, testers served soup to two separate groups of eaters. One group had a normal size bowl. The other group had a feeder tube hidden underneath the table, meaning soup was continuously filled to a base level but never lower. Those with the bottomless soup bowls ate nearly 73% more soup, despite rating themselves as full as those with a “regular” soup bowl.

The takeaway? It’s important to rely on a variety of cues when eating. First, pay attention to your clothes. If you’re eating to the point where you need to loosen your belt, then it’s time to slow down. Kick back and take your time when you’re eating. It takes nearly 20 minutes for satiation (fullness) signals to kick in. Whenever possible, keep scraps within eyesight to monitor mindless eating. Take conscious control of how much you’re eating.

5. Keep Food Out Of Sight

Think back your last restaurant meal. Did you grab a mint or chocolate on the way out? Were you even still hungry?

If you don’t keep M&M’s on your desk, you probably won’t seek them out. But if they’re there, staring you in the face?Game over.  In one study secretaries who had clear candy dishes ate 71% more chocolates than those with white dishes. According to this study, that equaled out to 77 more calories per day, which could lead to an additional 5 pounds of weight gain in one year.

This is one example of how weight “creeps” onto your waistline, makes your shirts fit a little too snug, and leave us wondering, “how the hell did I gain this weight?” come from. The more food you see, the more food you’ll eat. Set your environment up for success.

First, replace sweets and calorie dense foods (even nuts) with lower calorie foods like chopped veggies.

Second, if the idea of poppin’ broccoli florets doesn’t sound appetizing, consider ditching the snack dishes altogether. Out of sight, out of mind.

6. Make it Harder to Eat

If you’re on a fat loss diet, it’s much easier to say “no” to cookies if you have to bake them from scratch than if a package of Oreos is staring into your soul every time you open the pantry. You’re also less likely to walk to an ice cream shop two miles way than one around the corner. Do you best to eliminate unhealthy foods. Set aside more time to prepare your own meals, such as a Sunday ritual. You’ll gain better awareness and control of what you eat.

7.  Eliminate Warehouse Discounts

You and I both love discounts. If you can get the same quality food for less by buying in bulk, then it’s a no-brainer, right? Costco is a big success. For a small annual fee, you become a member of the special club privileged to buy food in bulk and save on your groceries.  But here’s the deal. When you’re able to buy a package of 25 bags of Doritos for 12 bucks, all you need to do is buy three monster packs to make your money back on your membership. What a deal! But when you crush Doritos by the bag, you’ll overshoot calories and gain fat. Say no.

P.S. Since you made it this far, I have a bundle of FREE gifts for you.

  • This entire article summarized into a short checklist.   Print it out and keep it forever.
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Resources:
Rolls, B. J., & Barnett, R. A. (2003). Volumetrics: feel full on fewer calories. New York, NY: HarperTorch.
Wansink, B (2011). Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. London, UK. Hay House.

Five Ways To Stay in Shape At Age 40+

5 Ways To Stay In Shape At Age 40+

If you’re over 40, can you live up to the saying: “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better!”

Can you stay in shape despite going toe to toe with an insane schedule and the aging process?

Can you avoid the pain of achy joints and the disappointment of losing muscle strength?

5 Ways To Stay In Shape At Age 40+, Stay in shape

Consider the story I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about Craig, project manager at an oil company who trains at my gym. Craig gets to the gym at 6:00 am damn near daily, but there’s a problem.

He does the same exercises and uses the same weight every time. There is no rhyme and no reason. And he looks the same…day after day, week after week, even year after year.

 

He’s annoyed by his lack of progress. He’s using the same workout routine he used when he was 25.  But now his joints constantly ache. He hasn’t gotten any stronger. He doesn’t have more energy. His arms haven’t grown bigger. And most of all, he’s pissed he can’t lose his gut, pointing to that annoying lower belly fat.

The reason?

If you don’t push your body beyond what it’s currently doing, it won’t change.

Further, what worked early on in your fitness journey won’t always help you stay in shape and may actually set you back.

When I posted the story on Facebook, controversy erupted, along with some misinterpretation. (Oh, the joys of social media.) But amidst the trolling, a great question was asked.

How does “progress” change when you get older?

Whether you have decades of experience or are walking into the gym for the first time, here are specific ways you can train smart and make progress well past the age of 40.

 


P.S. Before You Head Here, I’ve Put together a Free Cheat-Sheet on How to Build Pain-Free Size and Strength.
Grab it here for Pain-FREE Gains


Determine Your Goal

What is progress to you? Different goals require different plans of action and levels of determination. Consider the following.

You Want to Gain Muscle or Minimize the Loss of Lean Muscle

Maintaining lean muscle mass and strength is progress in and of itself. This study suggests untrained people will start losing strength and muscle at age 30. Yikes.

If you’re in your 30’s and not exercising, now is the time to start.  You can delay the bad stuff. Those who already train, like my client Tim, can take their fitness step further stay jacked.

Here’s a picture of Tim and me training nearly six years ago. Today? Well, he still has bigger biceps than I do. Damn it.

training over 40, Stay in shape

The benefits of gaining lean muscle:

  • The more lean muscle you have, the more muscle glycogen your muscles will store. Besides keeping your muscles looking full, increasing glycogen storage in your muscles creates a “dietary buffer” that allows for more flexible food choices. Hello, steak and potatoes.
  • Lean muscle mass improves insulin sensitivity. This means you’ll break down the food you eat more efficiently to fuel muscle growth and provide energy and store less fat. You’ll also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • It helps you look pretty fucking awesome. You don’t want to develop the dreaded grandpa butt, right? Muscle will keep you strong, athletic, and capable of handling yourself in the gym and out in the world.
  • Muscle is metabolically “expensive,” meaning it takes more energy to maintain lean muscle mass than fat mass. This supports a healthy metabolism and makes it easier to stay lean.
  • When you lose body fat, muscle provides the “tone” shape, and/or definition you crave. Dieting only takes you so far. You need a base of lean muscle to get the look you’re after.

What About Getting Stronger?

Getting strong is a great way to stave off muscle loss and improve everyday function and energy. Regardless of your age, the rules of progressive overload always apply. To build muscle and strength in the gym you’ll need to do more than your body is accustomed too.

But don’t limit your options to heavier weights or more reps. Maintaining your strength but improving range of motion, technique, or using a slower tempo is overload, after all.

Here’s why maintaining or even improving your strength is so important:

  • Strength makes everything else easier, meaning you’ll have more functional capacity to do everyday activities.
  • Strength increases muscle fiber recruitment. Building (or even maintaining) strength helps you maintain muscle fiber function, particularly type 2 muscle fibers. This helps you maintain athleticism. On the other side, type 2 muscle fibers, the fast twitch ones, can help prevent falls as you reach the twilight years.
  • Strength training can reduce bone loss (osteoporosis) and muscle loss, atrophy. In both cases, you’ll gain the strength and structure to perform regular activities with ease.

It’s clear lean muscle and strength play an important role in helping you maintain a high quality of life as you age. But here’s the deal: A 55-year-old lifter probably can’t do the same stuff as the 25-year-old hot shot at the gym.

How Does Making Progress Change?

If you’re new to training. You’ll be able to build lean muscle and strength by weight training 2-3x per week. You’ll make gains right away by improving your central nervous system (CNS) function as your body learns to activate more muscle fibers and improve coordination between muscles and movements. We call this neural adaptation. Further along down the road, eating a diet to support building lean muscle will help. Don’t expect to build tons of muscle if you’re older. But remember: even a slight increase or maintenance over time is extremely beneficial.

If you’re an experienced lifter. Yes, you can still make gains. But chances are your body won’t take kindly to chasing strength records as your only means of making progress. Look for other methods to create progressive overload.

  • Slow down your tempo. This creates more time under tension, which helps you build lean muscle and do more work with less total weight.
  • Add pauses during your reps. This builds strength in common weak points and increases time under tension. Together, this can drive gains in strength and muscle.
  • Increase your range of motion. More range of motion will hit a greater number of muscle fibers. Make sure your form is tip-top.
  • Decrease rest periods to increase the cardiovascular and metabolic demand of your training. Always good to lose the spare tire, right?
  • Give timed sets a whirl. Your body doesn’t know reps or weight, it knows tension and time. Battle the clock, like performing a set of goblet squats for 45 seconds, instead of chasing rep or resistance based- records.

Putting It All Together

Lift weights two or three times per week to get stronger. Keep your focus on the bread and butter lifts of all good programs: Squats, hinges, rows, presses, lunges, and carries. Don’t be obsessed with setting a PR or stick to barbells as your only training tool. Use whatever tools allow for pain-free training, bump the reps up a little bit, and get after it. Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “

Done right, you’ll improve muscle fiber recruitment and stave off sarcopenia, the dreaded “age-related muscle loss” that drains your performance, physique, and strength.

Add movements like skipping, light rope-jumping, cariocas, and other athletic-based movements to improve your balance, coordination, and athleticism. Learning (or relearning) new skills is great for both mind and body. Challenging your body keeps neural pathways fresh for better physical and cognitive function. As a bonus, many of my clients have said this is a fun change of pace.

Five Tips for Training Smarter

1. There are NO absolutes.

No, you don’t need to do a barbell back squat. Or a deadlift. Or (for the love of god) Bosu ball jump squats. In the gym, there are no absolutes. Don’t fall prey to the dogmatic folks who say, “you need to do this” or nothing works.

Here are a few common sense rules to keep you in the right direction.

(1) If something hurts, don’t do it.

(2) Move your body in multiple ways. Push, pull, squat, hinge, and carry stuff.

(3) Don’t fall in love with one tool. Use your bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebells, or whatever you have around you. See what forces you to work hard without breaking you down.

2.  Warm Up Every Day

Most people spend their days hunched over computers and phones. Over time, that takes its toll. The bad posture gets hard wired into your system and becomes the new “natural.”

Take time each day to move in new ways. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but stay active.

Use the mobility drills and activation outlined here to increase your mobility, reduce pain, and improve posture.

This is the exact warm-up my clients follow day in and day out.

 

3. Reduce Axial Loading

Axial loading, known as loading from the top-down in the lifting world, is done via exercises like back squats, cleans, and military presses. In small doses, axial loaded exercises are great. They’re the big compound movements. They improve bone density, total body strength, muscle mass, and are important for building a strong, athletic body.

But you must do them sparingly. The older you become, the less tolerant you’ll be too heavy and explosive exercises. Your spine won’t tolerate heavy compressive load from heavy weights or shear stress.

These exercises aren’t bad. They’re only problematic when they’re poorly planned, don’t allow enough recovery, and irritate chronic injuries like a twinge knee or achy back.

If you’re going to do squats, presses, and deadlifts, cool. They’re great exercises. But pay close attention to how your body recovers.

4. Make Heavy Days Lighter and Less Frequent

The biggest difference between now and ten years from now will be how often you’re able to lift heavy.

While heavy one-five rep sets are great for building strength, more experienced lifters will have a much harder time recovering from heavier weights. Instead of always blitzing the 1-5 rep range, bump strength work to 4-8 reps, control the eccentric (way down) and accelerate every rep on the way up.

If my clients want to push strength numbers in these lifts, We keep “heavy” sets in the 4-8 rep range rather than 1-5 rep sets. Further, we ramp up to heavy 5-8 rep maxes every 4-6 weeks, not weekly.

Feel free to lift heavy regardless of your age, but pay close attention to how your body tolerates the stress. Consider a deloading from axial loaded exercises every 8-10 weeks to give your body a break. Once you have a significant base of strength, you’ll preserve most of your strength and might even build more muscle in this rep range, all while preserving your joints for the long haul.

5. Find the Routine You Will Do, No Matter The Circumstances

Training four or five times per week with strength work, mobility, and conditioning is great. But sometimes it’s impossible to do everything when you have work obligations, kids, school, and dozens of commitments.

Instead of skipping the gym when life gets crazy, understand what you’re capable of doing consistently and schedule training like a non-negotiable meeting. If you skip make the gym, perform this short routine every morning when you get up.

Set a timer for ten minutes and do this:

– Push Up x10
– Squat x10
– Inchworm x5
Groiner with T-Rotation x1/side
– Side lunge x5/side

This takes just ten minutes each day. That’s it.

Remember, half the battle is getting there. Sometimes it’s okay to maintain. When the chance arises, increase your focus and intensity.

In the greater scheme of fitness, an imperfect fitness routine performed consistently will win out over the “perfect” program done sporadically.

Go Forth and Live Well

Growing older is part of life. The pursuit of a healthy, strong, and energetic body is about pushing past your comfort zones and getting a little bit better over time.

But there are many ways to accomplish your goals.

Don’t fall for the trap that you “must do” any one thing. The only absolute in training is there are none.

Instead, find what you enjoy and do it consistently.

Even more important, find out what agrees with your body and keep doing it. If exercises are making you hate the gym or causing old pains to creep back in, take them out and find the cause.

The real goal of the gym is to challenge yourself and take action to conquer what was previously deemed unconquerable.

The payoff is a happier, healthier and longer life. And big biceps. 😉

 

P.S. Before You Leave… I have a Gift for you.  I’ve Put together a Free Cheat-Sheet on How to Build Pain-Free Size and Strength.

Grab it here for Pain-FREE Gains

Physique Training For Athletes: Look, Feel, and Perform Superhuman

Explosive Strength

Look, Feel, and Perform Like an Athlete

Physique training for athletes? WTF? Is that a joke?

Training for physique and improving athletic performance are often seen as opposite goals. Which brings us to a common cliché: “opposites attract.” And like most clichés, this one contains a large measure of truth. But does it apply to training for physique (lookin’ better naked) and improving performance?

More importantly, can you harness the power of opposites to your benefit and have it all? That would include an athletic body and that looks like it’s a few weeks of dieting away from being on a magazine cover.

Want to Look better naked and perform like an athlete? I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman. Click here to Join the FREE Course.

The Physique-Performance Dilemma

At one end of the spectrum lies physique. That would be physique-driven training aimed at maximizing lean muscle gains while staying more shredded than a julienne salad. (Yes, that was a Tropic Thunder reference.)

At the other end of the spectrum lies performance. That’s training focused on optimizing movement efficiency, strength, and speed to improve sports performance.

Can You Improve Performance AND Look Better Naked?

In a word, yes.

But it requires specific planning.

To be the best in anything, you need to eventually specialize in it.

This is why:

  • Tom Brady doesn’t strut onto the Olympia stage in a pair of nut-huggin’ briefs.
  • Rich Froning isn’t huckin’ touchdown passes all over the field.
  • Phil Health doesn’t crush cleans and kipping pull-ups at The Crossfit games.

World class performance requires a narrow focus and specialization.

But for you, me…and 99.9% of the people meandering around the gym? We’re pretty damn good, but we’re not world class. If you’re willing to make reasonable compromises in both physique and performance you can lose fat, build muscle, and improve your athleticism at once.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not. You can drive performance gains while simultaneously building muscle and losing fat.

But it takes time. You’ll need an expert plan, patience, and consistency. Which brings us to…

What Happened At the Coffee Shop

The other day I grabbed a coffee (well, a red-eye with an extra shot of espresso) with a prospective client, Ryan, at a basic coffee shop near the gym. Ryan is a 29-year-old former college athlete sick of watching his gut grow bigger and clothes grow tighter (in a bad way.) His athleticism is vanishing and he isn’t happy with how he looks.

As we chatted, he made it crystal clear what he wanted: everything.

He didn’t want to train like an athlete anymore. His shoulder aches and his back twinges. Still, he wants to stay athletic, but he’s really more concerned how he looks and regaining the “I can accomplish anything confidence” he had in his early 20’s.

Translation: He wants to be confident and get laid more without looking like a scrub when he’s playing pick-up basketball. No harm in that!

Here’s my step-by-step process to creating the ultimate plan for Ryan. If you’re looking to boost athleticism and look a bit better naked, this sample template can serve as a guideline for your next training plan.

The Warm-Up (8-12 minutes total)

The typical gym-goer spends their day crunched up in a desk, car, or keeled over their phone. They’re left with chronically agitated body positions like locked-up hips, internally rotated shoulders, stiff backs, and dormant glutes that leave them with pain and quasi-modo-esque posture. Sexy. The best remedy is a specialized warm-up to attack stubborn tight spots, activate weak and dormant muscle groups, and wake your body up for intense training.

General warm-up

This is a three to five-minute spurt of general activity followed by five to seven minutes of dynamic activation drills. I’m not too specific here–get up, move, and warm your body up with a rower, jump-rope, or bike. Alternatively, bodyweight circuits work well.

Sample Bodyweight Circuit
Push-Up
Bodyweight Squat
Inverted Row
Reverse lunge
2×8 for all movements and minimal rest.

Activation and Mobilization
Emphasize improving movement through the hips, trunk, and shoulders. Moving from simple to complex drills. Hold each position for one or two seconds at the end range of motion.

Do these drills daily, as mentioned in my Warm Up Every Day article. You’ll find thorough explanations of each exercise there.

Quadruped Fire Hydrant 1×6

 

Quadruped Hip extension 1×6


Sumo-Squat to stand 1×6

Groiner with t-rotation 1×3/side

 

Inchworm 1×6


Overhead extension+ floor slide 1×6

 

I tend to keep all prehab/rehab based movements during the warm-up. If we need to dig into the nitty-gritty of improving T-spine or hip mobility, we’ll do it here then move on.

Workout Specific Warm-Up+ Power Development:
3-10 Minutes

Moving past the general warm-up, we look directly at the training goal for the day. Is it strength or power? Hypertrophy or fat loss?

I used to jump directly into a heavy lift after the warm-up, but I’ve found people have fewer injuries and better performance with a little more work.

Spending additional time grooving movement patterns is a great way to add pain-free volume for muscle growth. It also fires up your nervous system for better strength, power, and athleticism.

Lower Body Focus, Squat Example
1a. 45 degree back extension 3×10 Rest 0-30 seconds
1b. Pick one of the following: squat jump, box jump, medicine ball back toss. 3×5, rest 60-90 seconds

Why: This fires up your glutes, lower back, and prepares your posterior chain for all the gains. Explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment and athleticism.

Lower Body Hinge Pattern
1a. ½ kneeling Pallof press 3×8 rest 30 seconds
1b. Broad jump, box jump, or medicine ball back toss 3×3, rest 60-90 seconds

Why: Provide additional activation for deep stabilizers before heavy or explosive loading. Then, groove explosive movement pattern similar to the lift.

Upper Body
1a. Band dislocations 3×8 rest 0 seconds
1b. Band pull-apart 3×8 rest 0 seconds
1c. Clap push-up or medicine ball overhead slam 3×8 rest 60-90 seconds

Why: Here, we improve shoulder mobility activate the muscles responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint, then add an explosive exercise to improve muscle fiber recruitment.

In all cases, we’re focused on movement quality and the mind-muscle connection first. Then if it fits your goals an explosive movement to boost athleticism, prime the CNS, and increase muscle fiber recruitment.

Strength (15-30+ Minutes Depending on the Day)

At this point, you’ve attacked faulty movement patterns, addressed weak-points, and fired up your CNS to move some weight. It’s time for world domination (aka lifting heavy ass weight!)

Focus on one or two strength movement per session and use primarily total body, upper-lower, or push-pull-legs style training splits.

Here are my favorite strength movements:

Lower Body: Conventional deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, back squats, front squats (here’s a wicked progression), or cleans

Upper Body: Chin-up (rings or rotating handles), dips (rings or rotating handles), floor press, close grip bench press, low incline press, single arm press, single arm clean and press, seated military press.

Reps and Maxes: Confession time. I rarely have clients shoot for a true one rep max. The risk isn’t worth the reward most times and we’re better off building strength with near maximal strength work between three and six reps. Older, seasoned, and more beat up lifters stay in the five to eight rep range.

The trade-off for a new 1-2 rep max P.R. is rarely worth the injury risk and systemic fatigue. Translation: it’s not worth feeling like dog shit for 2-3 days after all your lifts unless you’re training purely for performance.

Micro Progressions and Variations: Within each lift, we hit a ton of variety and cycle lifts frequently. Besides keeping lifts *fun* for clients, the slight tweaks prevent overuse and redundant movement patterns that can cause injuries. Make slight changes to:
Tempo (add a pause or longer eccentrics, like this neutral grip pull up)

 Mid-rep pauses (like this isodynamic biceps curl)

 

Accommodating resistance, like these band-resisted trap bar deadlifts

 

 

Every change, no matter how small, results in a different exercise with different muscle recruitment and adaptation for your body. If a movement pattern feels stale, even a slight change can bust you out of a rut without completely changing a program.

Your body doesn’t know an exact lift. It purely understands time, tension, coordination, and calling muscle fibers to generate force. Don’t fall in love with a particular lift. Once you’re strong, add in slight changes to avoid clawing your eyes out from boredom and continue riding the gains train to a better body.

Hypertrophy Portion (15-30 minutes)

Think back to when you looked your best. You weren’t just leaner; you were also younger, more active, and probably had more muscle mass.

With that is mind, training to build muscle mass is the most important factor in radically changing body composition…ergo looking better naked. Hell, more literature comes out daily that maximizing muscle retention is vital to your long-term health.

Why Muscle Mass Matters

Having more muscle mass can…
1. Improve insulin sensitivity, helping you lose weight and control blood sugar more easily. Basically, you’ll use food for what you want (exercise recovery, muscle growth), rather than adding fat.
2. Increase metabolism: Burn more fat at rest. Game blouses.
3. Lead to more activity: Given your strength also improves, everything in life gets easier from climbing stairs to chasing your nephew. More muscle begets you to be more active.
4. Make you look hotter. In clothes. Or naked.
5. Build a “dietary” buffer. Ever scowl at those jacked Fit Pro’s posting pictures of doughnuts? Me, too. But having greater muscle mass allows more flexibility in your diet. Your “cheat days” will be less harmful.

34577979 - muscular man skipping rope. portrait of muscular young man exercising with jumping rope on black background

In the hypertrophy portion of your workout, we’ll bump the reps up to 8-15+ reps per set, keeping rest periods from 15 seconds to 90 seconds. You’ll need to push the tempo, sweat, and bust your ass. But hey, nobody said it would be easy, right?

We’ll be attacking three main factors to help you build more muscle:

Mechanical Stress
Mechanical tension is achieved by using a substantial load and performing exercises through a full range of motion for a certain amount of time. The time you spend under load creates mechanical tension in the muscles to drive the anabolic process.

Metabolic Stress
Gettin’ a wicked pump isn’t just for stretching shirt-sleeves and feeling awesome, it plays an important role in hypertrophy. When you work out hard to achieve a pump, you build up lactate, hydrogen ions, creatinine, and other metabolites, but you also prevent blood from escaping. This metabolic stress plays a key role in signaling muscular growth.

Muscular Damage
Soreness is part of the training game. The inflammatory process from muscular damage actually aids in muscle growth. But too much muscle damage can keep you out of the gym, restricting your #gains. Pick two or three exercises based on your training for the day. Aim for anywhere between 25 and 50 reps with a slower tempo and 8-15 reps per set. Then add one or two more exercises focused on ultra-high reps, 15-25 reps for one or two sets. Keep the rest short, stress high, and make gains.

Finishers/Conditioning
The occasional 5-10 minute finisher or high-intensity conditioning bout can make you one tough cookie. You’ll build muscle, supercharge fat loss, and get the mental edge to dominate in and out of the gym. You can read more about finishers here.

Don’t crush yourself every time you hit the gym. Random challenges for the sake of being a training sadist and muscle “confusion” is a sure fire way to stay injured. But use periodic throwdowns and epic finishers as challenges to t0 see how tough you really are. They can help you conquer plateaus.

 

What you can do Going Forward

Ask what is missing from your current workout. Focus on giving your body the training it needs so you can look and perform the way you want.

This means hypertrophy routine would focus a little less on strength, power, and performance and more on volume and bodybuilding methods.

A performance focus would have a greater focus on strength and power, with less volume and fewer bodybuilding methods.

You can blend multiple levels of performance at any given time, but the attention you pay to each component should be specific to your goals at the point in time.

 

JOIN THE ELITE 10%

90% of lifters make excuses, get overwhelmed, and never get jacked. The other 10%? They reside in the Bach Performance Community. Sign up today for the latest scientifically proven, experienced backed tips to get you jacked. I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman. Click here to Join the FREE Course.

 

McGill S. Low Back Disorders – Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Human Kinetics; 2002

Four Training Splits to Build an Athletic Body

The Power Primer

We’ve both been there: Every rep feels explosive as if you’ve unlocked another gear. You’re adding weight to the bar and getting stronger damn near every workout.

Basically, you feel like Superman. Your skin is tighter, your shirts fit better, and you hold your head high at the beach because frankly, you look fucking awesome. 

Then, as quickly as your gains started, the floor falls out from underneath you.

You’re lethargic in the gym, and exhausted most of the day. Your knees ache, shoulder cracks, and back is sore.

And your motivation? Non-existent. Even after taking enough pre-workout to fail a drug test you’re dragging. Each rep is a grind and the gym feels like a waste of time. 

Yep, You’ve hit the wall. 

When your training takes a sharp dive off the deep end and your progress stalls it’s time to change.

Not just your grip, your stance, or another micro progression. Nor a change from front squats to back squats.

No, I’m talking a monumental shift.

A new training split.

Yes, your long-term training principles should remain constant, but you need new methods.

As long as you’re adding weight to the bar, moving like an athlete, eating well, and sleeping enough then a new training split is what you need to build transform your body and get a strong, jacked, and athletic body.

The Power Primer, athletic body

That said, let’s review the best splits to help you build a stronger, shredded, and athletic body.  I’ll explain the good and the bad of each, giving you the knowledge to pick your next training split so you can build the lean, athletic look you’re after.

Either way, a new program is exciting—renewed motivation will have you attacking each workout and getting in the best shape of your life. 

P.S. Want to get strong, jacked, and athletic? I’ll show you how in our FREE course Seven Days to Superhuman. 

Click here to Join the FREE Course.

Upper Lower Training Split

Upper-lower training splits are an excellent training split to help you build strength and muscle with four workouts per week.

Pros: Upper-Lower training splits are a great progression from total body training and work well if you want to gain muscle and strength.

Upper-Lower splits allow greater training frequency for quicker learning and mastering your lifts while still lifting heavy to build strength. Together, this helps you get better at your big lifts, train with enough volume to build muscle, and lift heavy enough to get strong. 

Cons: Upper body workouts can take much longer than lower body workouts. Sure, this is great for your biceps, but if you crave consistency and have troubles working out when life get’s crazy, the inconsistency between workout times might drive you crazy.


Plus, if you’ve been following bodybuilding style body part splits (chest on Monday, back on Tuesday etc), then you might notice you’re not recovering as quickly. Of course, you can fix this by spending time with recovery methods like foam rolling, getting 7-8 hours per sleep, and when all else fails, eating more steak

Here’s a sample outline:

Monday: Upper Body (Push Strength Emphasis)

Tuesday: Lower Body (Squat Pattern Strength Emphasis)

Wednesday: Off/active recovery

Thursday: Upper Body (Pull Strength Emphasis)

Friday: Lower Body (Hinge pattern strength Focus)

Saturday/Sunday: Off

Total Body Training Split
When you train your upper and lower body in the same workout, you’re doing a total body workout. Another way to think of it is rather than training each muscle individually, you’re training your body as an integrated machine.

Pros: If you only have three days to workout per week or have issues skipping workouts, then look no further. Since you’re training your entire body you’ll minimize the fluff. There’s no need for 13 variations of lateral raises when your training pressing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and deadlifting movements multiple times per week.  

Since you’re training muscles as much as 2-3 times per week, you’ll trigger more frequent protein synthesis in your muscles being trained, potentially helping you build muscle faster.


And if you’re looking to drop a few pounds?


Total body workouts can cause a massive disruption to your body as it tries to catch up with multiple muscle groups working in a short period of time to help you lose fat.

Cons: One of the downsides of total body workouts is you may get bored, especially if you crave variety and the novelty of a well-timed biceps pump. Plus, if you’re looking to maximize muscular size, then the low volume of workouts will limit some of your gains. A key component of muscle growth is metabolic stress, so unless you add a high-rep finisher like biceps curls to failure, you won’t get as big as a house with total body training.

Moreover, stronger and more experienced lifters struggle recovering from three hard leg training workouts per week. You’ll need to vary how often you go heavy, possibly adopting an undulated periodization model.

Still, among all training splits total body workouts are your best bet if you tend to program hop, skip workouts, and get “too busy” to train….especially if you’re skipping leg day. 

Example:

Day One:

1.Power Clean 5×3

2.Bench Press 3×6

3.Lunge 3×8-12

4a.Farmer Walks 3×30 seconds

4b. Dips 3x 30 seconds timed set

Day Two:

1.Push Press 5×3

2.Deadlift 4×6

3.Chin Up 3×8-12

4a.Plank 3×30 seconds

4b. Biceps Curl 3x 30 seconds timed set

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Push-Pull Training Split

If you’re like most people, you have a tendency to train what you see in the mirror while conveniently forgetting about the back side of your body.

Tsk. Tsk.

As much as we all like to push it like Salt-N-Pepa, building a strong, athletic, and shredded body requires more balance. 

Enter the push/pull training split, arguably the most balanced training split for total body strength, size, and athleticism.

On “pull” days, you’ll hammer the backside of your body, hitting muscles like your lats, traps, glutes, and hamstrings.


On push-days, you’ll hit the movements to train your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and abs.

You can work the entire front side of your body or the back side of your body all in one workout. Alternatively, you can break these days down further by breaking these workouts into upper body and lower body days each.

For example…

-Upper Body Push (chest, triceps, shoulders)
-Upper Body Pull (Lats, biceps, rear delts, traps)
-Lower Body Push (squats, leg extensions, lunges)
-Lower Body Pull (deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts)

Pros: Push-Pull routines are a great option for experienced lifters as they’re both efficient and flexible. You’ll be able to train with enough volume to trigger muscle growth without living in the gym. 

Cons: There are very few issues with these workouts. The biggest hiccup will come if you miss workouts and start skipping “pull” or “lower body” workouts. Push-pull workouts are okay, but not great for beginners in the gym.

Example:

Day One: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)

Day Two: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)

Day Three: OFF

Day Four: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)

Day Five: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)

Day Six: OFF

Day Seven: OFF

Intensive/Extensive Training Split

Giggity.

These are my favorite.

The intensive/extensive split bases training splits on the neural demands of a workout.

For example, a heavy/explosive day is often followed by a metabolic/higher volume bodybuilding style day.

This also corresponds with conditioning.

For example, a workout with squat jumps followed by heavy squats, and sprints workout is intensive, as it is very demanding on your nervous system and joints. If you pair too many neurally intensive workouts in a row, you’ll end up beat up, beaten down, and over training.

Hard pass, right?


Instead, it’s best to follow an intensive training split with an extensive workout. An example here would be doing an upper body workout focused on higher reps sets of 10-15 reps, shorter rest, and lighter weight. You lift as heavy, but you’ll  create tons of metabolic stress to build muscle, lose fat, and improve your endurance. 

Pros: Intensive/Extensive training splits are lifting strategy ideal for people looking to get stronger, more muscular, and more athletic at the same time.
If you want to train like an athlete, it’s easy to add high technical sprint work on the intensive days.
If you want to build muscle, you’ll train heavy enough to trigger increases in anabolic hormones and the tension needed to build muscle. Still, extensive days allow you to train light enough to get an incredible pump.

And for fat loss? 
They work here too. The variety of training stimulus isn’t too much to recover from, yet it’s enough to help you lose fat.

Cons: They’re difficult to program. If your primary goal is to look hot naked (hey, I can’t blame you), you’ll want to eliminate some of the intensive work and focus on some more higher rep work. If your goals are performance based, the opposite is true.
If you train too many factors too close together, you risk the chance of becoming the “jack of all trades and the master of none,” wallowing in mediocrity and not really getting good at any one thing.
Plus, intensive workouts are longer as you’ll need to pay more attention to your rest if you want to maximize performance.

Sample Workout

This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look hot.

Monday: Olympic lift+ compound push exercises, Heavy and explosive. Light conditioning.

Tuesday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused. Hard conditioning.

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Olympic lift+ compound pull exercises. Heavy and explosive, light conditioning.

Friday: Pull Emphasis, high rep (8-15+) and hypertrophy focused.

Saturday/Sunday: Hard conditioning 1x, active recovery

 So, which workout is best for you?

Your training must be specific to your goal. 

If your goal is to look great naked above all else, then by all means trade in your power cleans for biceps curls. 

On the flip side, if you need to build muscle from head to toe and get stronger, don’t start your workouts by curling in the squat rack. 

How much time will you dedicate to training?

Regardless of how “busy” you are you still have 24 hours like the rest of us. I don’t say this to be a dick, but it’s true.
You have the time to prioritize training if you want your dream body. Regardless, weigh how committed you are and pick a training split you know you’ll do consistently.

How experienced are you in the gym?

For most guys, they’re best off crushing total body or upper lower training splits to get strong, explosive and athletic. Still, make sure you’re varying training as you gain strength and experience to prevent plateaus and minimize joint stress.

Do you focus on recovery…or only training?

The body is an integrated system. Rather than looking at recovery based on how your muscles feel you must take into account everyday stress, the nervous system, sleep quality, and nutrition.

For example, for a few years I crushed training in a high-end performance facility. That meant tons of sprints, jumps, throws, coffee, and explosive demonstrations. All these short, high-intensity bouts added up quickly as my energy fluctuated. I had to dial back heavy lifting, sprints, and jumps.
Now that I train fewer clients, write more, and demo less, I’m more recovered and can train harder more often.

Stress is systemic, everything counts and should be factored into your training.

Your Training Split to Build an Athletic Body

If your current training isn’t helping your build an athletic body, then you need to make a change. 

Don’t fall into the trap of endlessly pursuing one goal at the expense of all others

That’s fine for elite athletes.

But for the rest of us, we’re after the total package.

You probably want to be…

Strong in the gym, yet athletic enough to kick ass on the weekends.

 Strong, lean, and athletic. 

Happy and confident with your shirt off. 

There’s no better tool to bridge the gap between the body you want and the athleticism you deserve than my latest program The Power Primer, 2.0.

 I’ve created a Full Eight Months worth of programming to get you Strong, Shredded, and Athletic.

This isn’t a program for athletes.

It’s for those of us that refuse to accept pathetic athleticism a the cost of building your best-looking body.

It’s time to bridge the gap between looking your best and performing like an athlete. 

It’s time for the Power Primer. And it can be yours for less than $.17 (yes, 17 cents) per workout. 

 

thePowerprimer athlete strong

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1. Gould D, Petlichkoff L. Participation motivation and attrition in young athletes. In: Smoll FL, Magill RA, Ash MJ, eds. Children in Sport. 3rd ed. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics; 1988:161-178.

15 Expert Tips: How to Improve Athleticism

You want to be healthy, nimble, and strong so you have the ability to be thrown into any situation, whether it’s lifting, playing a sport, running up the stairs, or should the moment arise, self-defense and come out on-top.

Even more, you want to lose fat, build muscle, and look great naked. 

Unfortunately, most programs fail miserably at helping you build a body that performs as well as it looks. Living under a barbell and only chasing maximum strength isn’t the answer. This will leave you unbalanced, beat-up, and sore.

Neither is trodding along the treadmill for hours each week. 

So, what’s your solution?

Train like an athlete. 

You’ll build the physical ability to handle whatever life throws at you and build a great looking body to boot. 


P.S.

I’ve made you a FREE Checklist including actionable tips on how to put these into your workouts. Click here to download it for Free.


 1) Value Relative Strength As much as Absolute Strength

There are many factors to consider, but heavy strength training is a tool for improvement, not the end-all be-all in performance. 

Does spending all of your time training towards building more strength outweigh the benefits of higher relative strength (being strong for your size), and corresponding improvements in agility, speed, power, and coordination?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but no. Not if you’re joints are getting beat up and your training is one dimensional. bodyweight training, Expert Tips to Build Muscle, How to Improve Athleticism

This is not to belittle training heavy. It’s needed as a foundational piece for every person, but chasing personal strength records as your sole goal in the gym is a great way to beat the snot out of your joints and end up as a one trick pony.

Yes, build a base of maximum strength, everything else will improve. Then, strive for a more balanced approach and get strong for your size. Move beyond the barbell, incorporate body weight training, sprint, jump, and move like an athlete.

 

Related: Find out Seven Ways to Improve Relative Strength

2) Develop Unilateral Strength and Power

David Dellanave of Dellanave.com

If you want a more athletic, and dare I say functional, type of strength prepare to get comfortable with unilateral work. Unilateral exercises, those done with one limb rather than two, are ideal for preventing injury causing imbalances and developing athletic unilateral power. 

Let’s look at two great movements to make this happen:

The first is the skater squat or airborne lunge. This is a challenging movement that is fantastic for building single leg strength. Don’t be put off by this bodyweight exercise – most people have to progress from a Bulgarian split squat to develop single-leg strength and stability to prepare for the unsupported, skater squat.

The skater squat is like a pistol squat, but instead of the non-working leg being outstretched in front of you, the hip is flexed and you tap the knee of the non-working leg on the ground near your planted foot. Here’s one of Ben Bruno’s guys doing it:

In most cases, you’ll want a little weight to act as a counterbalance to aid in balance. To progress the skater squat slightly reduce the range of motion by tapping the knee to a yoga block rather than on the ground.

This increases the difficulty of the exercise by requiring additional eccentric control, an essential skill for preventing injuries. Gradually increase the range of motion until you’re going all the way to the ground.

This increases the difficulty of the exercise by requiring additional eccentric control, an essential skill for preventing injuries. Gradually increase the range of motion until you’re going all the way to the ground.

The second unilateral power exercise is the split stance one-armed push press, one of the most underrated exercises for athletic power development. Working with one arm negates the bilateral deficit and allows you to move a ton of weight for massive gains in strength and power. The push press requires other transfer of force from the power body until a full-body, coordinated movement.

When done from a split stance, the push press forces stability through the hip and trunk to get you strong and stable from head to toe. 

Integrate these two staples into your strength and conditioning program and you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with on the field.

3) Jump Rope to Improve Coordination

Hitting the weights hard and eating well is important, but improving athleticism requires coordination, not just brute strength. After all, you don’t want to be the guy tripping over his own feet dancing at his wedding, right?

Take heed of athletic greats like Muhammad Ali, Walter Payton, and Floyd Mayweather and make the jump rope a staple in your training. You’ll build great conditioning, shed fat and improve your athleticism while bringing up those anemic calves of yours.

Start slow and build your skill by using the jump rope for 100 skips in your warm-up. Soon, you’ll be skippin’ rope like Rocky Balboa.

 

4) Improve Functional Mobility and Reinforce with Strength and Stability

Dr. John Rusin, the Strength Doc.

“If you have goals of becoming an elite athlete, functional mobility is a pivotal aspect of high performance.”

If your first thought in achieving Gumby-like mobility is with the addition of more stretching and foam rolling to your training program, think again.

Whether stretching and rolling works is still under academic debate but one thing holds true; neither of these modalities are going to streamline translatable mobility like the pristine execution of accentuated loaded eccentrics to your training schedule.
In other words, get off the foam roller, and focus on using big barbell lifts with a slow tempo. 

johnrusin, How to Improve Athleticism

You have most likely already had a taste of the basics of accentuated loaded eccentrics in foundational barbell movements like the Romanian deadlift. With the operative word being “accentuated,” this type of training method is largely dependent on the execution of prescribed tempos and extended ranges of motion.

Increasing the time under tension during the eccentric phases of big compound movements while moving into the last 10% of available range of motion will strategically micro-tear facial layers and muscle tissue, while also retraining neural receptors to adapt to extended ranges of motion under load.

In other words, you’ll build strength, stability, and flexibility all in one.

Give it a shot, and remember this method can be used for nearly any movement pattern or muscle group. The key is in the execution– own your movement, challenge your body and reap the benefits of Olympian level mobility.

5) Incorporate Basic Movement Patterns Like Skipping

Tony Gentilcore of Tonygentilcore.com

Want a humbling experience?
Try skipping like you used to do as a kid.

It’s funny: I’ll say to someone, “we’re going to warm-up with some skipping drills,” and many will roll their eyes and chuckle as if to say “dude, really? Skipping?” Then I watch them skip and I’m the one who ends up laughing.
Unfortunately, most folks have spent YEARS in front of a computer. Now, their idea of athleticism is taking the stairs over the elevator. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you don’t move a lot or well anymore and as a result, have poor coordination and athleticism.

By integrating skipping into your warm-ups you’ll begin rebuilding sprinting mechanics and coordination without the risk of injury. Here’s a quick progression of an a-march into an a-skip.

 

Look easy?

Give it a shot.

It’s a nice way to “extend” your warm-up and introduce SOME form of athletic movement…especially if your workouts have been walking to the water cooler between sets of curls and bench presses.  


P.S.

I’ve made you a FREE Checklist including actionable tips on how to put these into your workouts.

Click here to download it for Free.


6) Do Heavy And Explosive Training First 

When setting up any training program or workout, you need to place more neurologically demanding exercises early in each session.

Why?

How well you perform your exercises is exponentially more important than “how many reps” or how much weight you move. Thus, optimizing technique is essential to improve your performance and reduce your chance of injury.

Let me explain.

Exercises that are neurologically demanding like explosive lifts, sprints, jumps and heavy compound exercises place the most demand on your nervous system. If you don’t do them when you’re fresh, your technique will fail and you’ll be more likely to get injured.

This is why despite the many good qualities of a certain type of exercise ending in “fit” so many people end up injured. Blasting exercises like power cleans and snatches after red-lining your heart rate doesn’t allow your nervous system to recover and thus, your technique goes to shit.

weight-lifting-for-women-2, How to Improve Athleticism

To get strong, jacked, and athletic, follow this basic order of exercises.
1.Explosive, high-speed exercises. Jumps, sprints, Olympic lifts.

2. Heavy strength training moves. Exercises like squats or deadlifts where you’re focused on 1-5 reps fit here.

3. Moderate rep (5-12 rep) hypertrophy exercises. 

4. Isolation and high rep muscle building exercises. 

5. Cardio/conditioning/finishers.

Follow this order and you’ll organize your workouts for optimal performance, build a bad-ass physique, and stay healthy to boot.

7) Build your Base of Strength to Improve Athleticism

Ben Bruno of benbruno.com

For most gym-goers, a basic strength- training program will go a long way in improving athleticism. Keep the specialized exercise programs for more advanced athletes and hammer full-range-of-motion strength training.

benbrunoTraining with good form and in a progressive manner (adding weight to the bar consistently) will give you a bigger bang for your training buck than a lot of the fancier “sport specific” drills, especially until you have a foundation of strength.

Emphasize major lifts like deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and rows with sound technique.  Get strong and develop your base of strength. This way, you’ll build the foundation to make gains and successfully use those fancy exercises down the road.

8) Move Explosively Everyday

Nick Tumminello of Nicktumminello.com

If you’re like most lifters, you stopped rapid, explosive movement years, if not decades ago.

Rather than solely lifting heavy, incorporate explosive movement and do something fast every day.Being jacked and strong is nice, but expressing strength fast and generating tons of power separates the contenders from the pretenders.

That means you should sprint, throw, punch, or jump regularly. 

Moreover, rather than spending countless hours refining technique on Olympic lifts, it’s best to use exercises with an accelerated learning curve to train the same qualities: explosive power, nervous system activation, and activation of high threshold muscle fibers.

This bridges the gap between strength and speed, prompting your nervous system to function at full speed, improve your coordination, and improve the firing rates of your muscles on big lifts. 

Add in jumps for the lower body workouts.

On upper body workouts, add in explosive throws or push-up variations.

 

A good starting place is three sets of five reps directly after your warm-up. In short time, you’ll improve neural activation, better recruit muscle fibers, and prepare your body to be stronger and more athletic in sport and in life. 

9) Incorporate Multi-planar Training

Travis Pollen, the Fitness Pollenator

As an amputee, I might be a little biased, but single-leg training with the aforementioned exercises will improve athleticism and minimize injury causing imbalances, especially if you’ve been spending all your time on conventional barbell exercises.

Train unilaterally: multi-planar split squats and lunges, single-leg stiff-legged deadlifts, single leg hurdle jumps, even single-leg hang cleans.

travispollen

Most lifts take place solely in the sagittal plane, yet sports are chaotic and take place with frontal, sagittal, and transverse plane movements. In other words, most training doesn’t match what you do on the playing field or in life.

Life takes place in by moving 360 degrees, not in a squat rack. You need to get out and move in multiple directions with different movements to maximize the real-world carry over of your training. 

While you must master basic exercise first, incorporating movements that require greater stabilization throughout the entire body will undoubtedly improve a variety of qualities that contribute to athleticism. There are the obvious ones like strength and power and then some less obvious ones, too, like mobility, stability, balance, and proprioception.

10) Build Up Multi-level Strength

Chad Landers of Push Private Fitness

 To improve athleticism get stronger, both in an absolute and relative sense. 90% of people will never have the issue of being too strong to excel in sports. As a result, improving strength and training with a variety of rep ranges sets your infrastructure for speed, stability, power, and of course, building an aesthetically pleasing physique.

It’s imperative to note that you don’t need to train at 90, 95% of your one-rep-max, save that for the powerlifters.

Instead, hammer the 3-5 rep range with 80% 1-RM in the “big lifts” like squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, rows and pull-ups. This is a weight you can handle for 6-10 reps. This way, you’ll still build strength without getting beat up, sore, and exhausted.


P.S.

I’ve made you a FREE Checklist including actionable tips on how to put these into your workouts. Click here to download it for Free.


11) Improve Rotational Strength and Power

Kennet Waale is the coach and founder of Move Strong and www.kennetwaale.com.

 Power is vector specific, meaning if you want to build rotational power for sports like tennis, baseball, beer-league softball, or golf, then you need to train rotation directly.  The two exercises below are thoroughly explained in the videos regarding execution to help you build rotational strength and power. 

Don’t let your ego come in the way – start light; master the movements and progress the weights and tempo as you go. Soon, you’ll be swinging and punching harder with specific rotational power.

Recommended weights:

  • Males +70kg start with: 20kg Kettlebell
  • Males -70kg start with: 16kg Kettlebell
  • Females +60kg start with: 16kg Kettlebell
  • Females -60kg start with: 12kg Kettlebell
  • Stick with the above weights for the first three weeks before you decide to increase it when technique is optimal.

 

The Dragon Press Half Rotation

The Lateral Clean


 

12) Improve Thoracic Mobility for better Overhead Movement

Dean Somerset of Deansomerset.com

Modern sedentary society has left many of us keeled out our smartphones and computers. The result?
Worse posture than quasi-modo and chronic shoulder pain that robs you of gains in the gym and athleticism in everyday life.

The solution?

Improving your thoracic mobility specifically through improving your breathing patterns and glute engagement. 

Stay with me, as I know it sounds crazy, but the implications are pretty powerful. For breathing work, inhalation involves the expansion of the rib cage and extension of the thoracic spine, helping you pull in larger volumes of air during inhalation. As a result, this increases movement in thoracic mobility and stability for overhead movements like shoulder presses.

For the glutes, their glute contraction has a massive impact within a very short period of time to help increase thoracic drive. In a situation where the glutes aren’t being used, the pelvis can be held with a bit more anterior tilt, which causes a compensatory movement of the lumbar spine into more lordosis, extension, or most commonly, arching. 

To balance this out, the thoracic spine winds up getting more kyphotic or flexed so as to keep your head vertical over your feet and keep you from falling over.

To fix this, squeeze your butt during overhead exercises. This pulls your pelvis into posterior tilt, which reduces the drive on the low back into extension and thus reduces the drive into the thoracic spine into flexion. It’s a simple tip to improve performance, improve shoulder mobility, and decrease back pain. 

The combined aspect of breathing in more air, opening the lungs, and flexing the glutes, increases thoracic extension range of motion rapidly, which can help put you in a better position to overhead press while stabilizing the pelvis for less discomfort and pain in overhead movements.

13) Don’t Sacrifice Nutrition

Kedric Kwan of Kedrickwan.com

With all the training sessions and high demands on game day, athletes have an extremely high-energy output. And if you train like one?

Well, you’re burning a lot of energy as well. But don’t use an increased energy output as a “get out of jail free card” to eat whatever you want. 

If you’re a recreational athlete and scarf skittles like Marshawn Lynch, you’ll turn into a slob rather than a high-performance machine.

24990516_l

Even though most of us aren’t looking to be a stage ready bodybuilder anytime soon, improving body composition will also improve your athletic performance. 

Seriously, body fat doesn’t produce force the way muscle does and will decrease relative strength by increasing bodyweight.

The better your body composition is and the higher the ratio of muscle you have to fat, the more force you’re cable of producing. This force, under the right training conditions, will enhance your athletic potential.

By periodizing your nutrition, being aware of your food intake and using specific supplements will help improve your body composition.

Instead of eating everything in sight thinking you’ll burn it all off during training or competition, focus on your body composition with proper nutrition.

Besides, who doesn’t want to be a badass on the pitch while looking jacked on the beach?

14) Incorporate the Medicine Ball Back Toss for Explosive Power

Joey Percia 

One of the best ways you can improve your athleticism, explosively jumping ability, is the backward medicine ball toss for height. I like the throw for height opposed to distance because it decreases the likelihood of over extending the low back in an attempt to get more power, which is a common fault for beginners and those new to the movement.

Most people who haven’t jumped in years let their arms flop around like wet noodles or tuck them tight to the side like pencil diving in a pool.

Don’t be that dude.


Not only is this disadvantageous for jumping but it’s an awkward thing to see. This movement gives the client a basic understanding of using an effective arm swing, gets the CNS jacked up for stronger lifts and more explosive power. Plus, it’s fun to throw stuff. 

15) Start Sprinting to Improve Athleticism

Option One: Sprinting before lifting is ideal for improving performance because it fires up your nervous system to improve heavy and explosive training. 

This comes with a risk versus reward trade-off as sprinting done before training must be enough to spark the nervous system, yet low enough in volume and intensity to not fatigue the body and hinder lifting ability. When fatigue is managed your strength performance, conditioning and athleticism will skyrocket.

After your dynamic warm-up (try this one), do some sub-maximal speed drills like skips and low-intensity sprints for 5-10 minutes.

Perform sprints two days per week. Start with 5 sprints of 10-20 yards with 30-60 seconds of recovery and add one sprint per week, maxing out at 10 sprints.

 

How to Improve your Athleticism: Wrap Up

Your body is an integrated system and should be trained as such. When in doubt, training to improve your athleticism gives you the ability to dominate life outside the gym while building your best looking body.

Your homework: Take a few minutes to review your training and ask, “Where can I improve my training?” With these expert tips, the ball is now in your court.

Take even one of these 15 tips, implement it, and start building your strongest, leanest, and most athletic body today.

Share this on Facebook & join in the conversation


 

How To Front Squat: And How it Makes You a Diesel Gym Beast

Before diving into the front squat thank you for being here. This is one of our the most popular articles of all time. It’s a thick read, but we’ve taken the liberty to provide a full front squat progression cheat-sheet and a free front squat specialization workout. Grab them both here. Thanks and enjoy the article. 

-Eric


 

When you hear about the ultimate lift for an explosive lower body and huge squat numbers most are referring to back squats. It’s the most popular squat variation around and part of the big three in powerlifting. Word on the street is a big back squat is what helps James Bond stay at it after all these years. The Bond rumor may or may not be true but the fact is this: The back squat is arguably the best lift you can do to get stronger, more athletic, and look better naked. 

But I like to argue. The front squat is the best lift you’re not doing and a better choice than the back squat. 

The Front Squat is the Real King

For starters, front squats require hard work, which most gym goers avoided like the bubonic plague, opting to post every gym P.R. and dozens half-naked selfies on Facebook. This startling trend combined with lifters staying content with their classic leg presses and smith machine squats has led to anemic leg development, un-balanced physiques, and movement patterns ripe with dysfunction.

Few exercises match the high-performance benefits of the front squat, even the back squat. It’s time to leave your ego at the door, walk on the wild side, and attack your weak points. Give the back squat, leg press, and leg extension a rest; it’s time to front squat.

Why You Should Front Squat

 

  • Increase depth achieved and glute activation: Anterior placement of the barbell allows greater depth during front squats. Muscle activation of the gluteus maximus also increases with increased hip flexion (squat depth), and the subsequent concentric action of hip extension. [Caterisano et al]. This means potentially better booty gains. 
  • Improve core strength: Anterior bar placement keeps the torso vertical, preventing the hips from going into an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, and requiring greater oblique and rectus abdominus involvement to prevent flexion. A stronger anterior core can prevent flexion based injuries to keep you training longer and harder. 
  • Huge Quad Development: Deeper knee flexion from greater depth during the eccentric a more upright posture, and narrower stance all lead to greater knee extension during the concentric and thus huge quad development.
  • Decreased lumbar and knee stress: Anterior bar placement forces lifters to attain an upright posture, decreasing shear stress on the spine. Gullet et al found significantly lower compressive forces at the knee compared to back squats without compromising muscle activity in the quads or hamstrings. If you have a history of meniscal injuries and your knees sound like firecrackers front squats are a great option due to lighter loads being lifted compared to back squat. This means potentially more gains with less pain. This guide will help with knee pain as well ;). 
  • Front Squats Increase your Power Clean: Whether you’re a competitive athlete, weekend warrior, or want to look better naked Olympic lifts are a valuable tool. Stronger hip extension, stronger anterior core, and a direct transfer to the “catch” phase of cleans illustrates why front squats aid in developing the power clean. There’s a reason front squats have been an Olympic lifting mainstay for decades—they work.
  • Increased Thoracic Extension and a Stronger Upper Back: Let’s be real here—Most dudes have the posture of Smeagol from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In the interest of getting laid, appearing confident, or improving performance Smeagol posture is bad news. Front squats require scapula and clavicle elevation and upward rotation to keep the elbows up and the bar in proper position. This requires the traps, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and lats to work in conjunction to hold position and prevent you from dumping the bar forward.

I’ve had dozens of clients improve posture, mobility, and strength of the thoracic extenders with front squats. Being able to maintain thoracic extension will aid your deadlift too, and I know you love you some deadlifts. 

  • Total Body Mobility and Stability: Front squats require significant mobility and stability in the hips, knees, ankles, and shoulder—something everyone in today’s “sit-in the office, go home and play XBOX” society needs. Increased mobility requirements and maintaining position under load will pour concrete over the greater movement foundation.
  • Total Body Strength Gains: Regardless of your goal improved strength will increase your success. Building strong quads, a strong, resilient anterior core, glutes, and explosive hip extension will improve all other training qualities in the gym.
  • Increased Muscle Mass: Squats are widely considered the “king of hypertrophy”. They’re a vital piece in mass building due to hormonal adaptations from progressive overload and total body training stimulus. Anecdotal evidence from Olympic weightlifters, bodybuilders, and personal experience makes one thing perfectly clear—Front squats build massive quads and a thick upper back.

With all of these kick-ass benefits, it’s a no-brainer that front squats deserve your attention. (P.S. Don’t forget your free progression cheatsheet and front squat specialization workout. Get them here.)

How To Front Squat: Biomechanics 

Front squats and back squats are quite similar: They require total body strength, stability, and power through hip and knee extension and flexion, dorsiflexion of the ankles, and a rigid core to resist flexion and folding like a napkin under the bar. Despite these similarities, there are significant differences; most notably, anterior bar position during the front squat.

This change in bar position alters the center of mass and places a greater emphasis on the quadriceps, upper back, and supporting muscles of the trunk. The spine stays more vertical, lengthens the lats, reduces shear stress on the spine and requires additional core involvement to keep you vertical.

This keeps the lower back tight by default—lumbar flexion and learning forward “dump” the bar before excessive flexion takes place. This built in safety mechanism teaches proper abdominal bracing, posture, and overcoming a significant load when first learning how to front squat.

“Are front Squats worse for my knees?”

Well, not necessarily.

Research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning by Gullet et al compared the biomechanics of the front squat and the back squat. The front squat and back squat elicited very similar muscle activation despite the front squat weight being 70% of the back squat load.

The back squat had more compression on the spine and knees (due to larger loads in my estimation), with greater torque in the knees. So, overall muscle activation was the same with a lower load, less compressive joint stress to the knees and back, and less shear stress then front squats.

This backs up my experiences as an athlete and coach—you’re less likely to be injured during a front squat than a back squat. All things considered, achieving a comparable training effect with less external loading and joint stress is a good thing. 

From an anatomical standpoint arguably every muscle plays a role in the front squat. But, due to the brevity of our attenion span, we’ll leave it at these: the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, erector spinane, anterior/lateral deltoids, supraspinatus, rhomboids, upper/middle/lower traps, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, rectus abdominus, and obliques are all needed to stabilize the load and complete the lift.

Muscles are an integrated system that must work together to produce efficient movement, few exercises work as many of them together as front squats.Let’s find out how to front squat some damn weight!

How To Front Squat

Watching Youtube videos isn’t enough to learn how to Front Squat –you actually need to master the component pieces and get under the bar. 

Grip: There are multiple ways to grip the front squat, but the “clean” grip is the best option. The clean grip involves wrapping your fingers around the bar and keeping the elbows up and in. This trains the catch position of the clean and provides maximum control barbell.

As few as two fingers wrapped around the bar is acceptable when the elbows are elevated. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for many lifters to get in proper position when learning how to front squat. In this case, regress the grip and work on flexibility.

how to front squat
Front Squat w/2 finger clean grip

Clean Grip with straps: This grip is similar to the clean grip but uses straps to hold onto the bar when there are mobility restrictions with the regular clean grip. This is a great grip to use while improving mobility and working towards the clean grip. Christian Thibaudeau shows you how below. 

Bodybuilding Grip: The bodybuilding grip involves resting the bar on the top of the shoulders with hands over the bar and elbows kept high. This is great for beefcakes with the mobility of a fork, but it sucks for controlling the barbell and for athletes. Use this grip as a last resort when severe mobility or wrist limitations are present.

how to front squat
bodybuilder front squat grip

Set the Bar against the neck: There’s no denying it—getting the bar in proper position sucks. Racking a loaded barbell against your throat and performing squats gets you out of your comfort zone and builds toughness. (I heard front squats give you big cajones, or something). Once you select your grip, the barbell must stay against the base of the neck with the chin tilted up to keep the joints stacked and bar close to the torso. Failing to do so allows your elbows to drop, the bar to crash, and you peeling your tattered carcass off the floor.

Elbows Up and In: It’s Simple—Force  the“elbows up” during the entire front squat and you’ll be in good shape. Failing to drive the elbows will result in a loss of spinal position, kyphotic posture, and dumping the bar forward during the squat.

Abs Braced and Breath: Front squats create a “lengthening” of the core when the elbows are elevated. Use the anterior core to create stability by bracing and staying neutral in the trunk rather than arching. Proper breathing and pulling air into your gut becomes increasingly important during front squats as the Valsalva maneuver increases intra-abdominal pressure to provide an internal belt of support to prevent injury and improve strength

Breathe into your stomach and brace like you’re taking a punch from Mike Tyson after stealing his tiger. If that doesn’t work, here’s a great video on the abdominal brace by Chris Duffin. Gather as much air as possible before descending into the squat—you’ll need it.

Walkout: Grip the bar, drive the elbows high, brace the abs, and squat the bar out.

Left foot out.

Right foot out.

Re-settle, breath, and go. The front squat is a different animal than your typical squat; keep the feet closer to shoulder width with very slight toe flair.

Execution: After the walkout gather your air, sit back slightly, and break at the knees and hips simultaneously while driving the elbows high. Keep a vertical spine and descend to the deepest depth possible without compromising spinal integrity—more on butt wink later.

Hold your air as long as possible, drive the elbows up, and stand up until the hips are fully extended. Exhale and walk the bar all the way into the rack, push against the safety hooks and squat the weight down—no sloppy split-stance bar dumping allowed.

Front Squat Depth

The anterior load of the front squat and increase in anterior core activation allows for a deeper squat without compromising spinal position and risking injury. Unfortunately, butt wink still occurs. Sub-parallel squats aren’t for everyone, bony hip anatomy, anterior core weakness, and posterior chain weakness are frequent culprits that preventing an ass-too-grass squat.

Blasting heavy-ass squats with a curved lumbar spine is a recipe for acute injury and long-term dysfunction, regardless of what anyone says.

This should be avoided with mobility and stability being trained until further depth is achieved without compromising spinal position. Mobility and stability will improve with increased front squatting and time—stop slamming square pegs into round holes because bro-science says “ass-to-grass squats or you’re a sissy. ”

 P.S. Bret Contreras does a great job of explaining Butt-wink here, I highly recommend you check it out. 

How to Front Squat: Common Issues and Cues

1.)   Elbows Drop: Failure to keep the elbows high is the result of mobility restrictions, being lazy as poo on a hot summer day, or weakness in your upper back.

It becomes exponentially more difficult to keep the elbows up after 5-6 heavy reps on front squats; keep reps lower and increase submaximal training for practice. Avoid excessively arching the low back into lumber hyperextension for elbow position; instead, build a stronger core and improved thoracic mobility with this drill from Eric Cressey.

2.)   Chest Caves: This happens because the elbows dropped (see below) or improper set-up. Ensure the barbell is against the base of the neck and the elbows are kept high during the entire set to maintain posture and bar position.

3.)   Falling Forward: The anterior load is pulling you forward, you need to get the hips back slightly at the initial descent (pop that booty) and keep the elbows high. Drive the heels into the ground during the concentric portion of the exercise.

4.)   Falling Backward: You’re sitting back too far. Every exercise is a tool—use it the way it’s meant to be trained. In this case use a smaller hip hinge at the start of the squat and allow the quads and anterior core to do their job.

5.)   Spread the floor to prevent Valgus collapse: Unless you’re a fan of grotesque knee injuries and months of rehab it’s best to avoid valgus collapse. Despite a few (slim few) elite power lifters having great success with the knees diving on a back squat this technique is best avoided. Slightly push the knees out during the descent of front squats to maintain stacked joints.

6.)   Grip: If the bar is misaligned imbalances will be referred down the kinetic chain. The clean grip gives the most control over the bar, use it. Peel a few fingers away from the bar, (as few as two fingers suffice with the clean grip) to gain control and take stress off of the wrists. Work on tissue quality and length in the forearms, wrists, and lats to improve comfort with the clean grip.

7.)   Weak Anterior Core: If you’re weak in the anterior core you’re going to have a host of problems; specifically, maintaining vertical spine under load. Practice front squats multiple times during the week and add in a heavy dose of abdominal rollouts, planks, pallof presses, and farmer walks.

Front Squats Build Muscle

Anecdotal evidence from bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters shows us front squats are great for total body muscular development; specifically, massive quads and a thick upper back. Here are some additional muscle-building considerations:

  • Greater Hip flexion and depth require greater hip extension and gluteus maximus recruitment on the concentric portion of the exercise– both important for greater gluteus maximus activation.  As a side note it would be interesting to see where the trade-off ends in muscle activation between increased squat depth (with a front squat), and increasing stance width and activation of the adductors and gluteus maximus in a wide, powerlifting squat. (Paoli et. Al)

  • Front Squats build big quads due to anterior bar placement and high amounts of knee flexion.
  • Keeping the elbows high forces the thoracic extenders to hold position, adding training volume to build your upper back.  
  • The front squat was shown to be as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces on the knee. [Gullet et al] This becomes increasingly important with increased training age.
  • Front squats should be done with a full range of motion, as they result in more thigh muscle growth with full reps than partial [McMahon et al].
  • Training the quadriceps at long muscle lengths (greater knee flexion) results in higher muscle activation than training at shorter muscle lengths, finish your reps.

Front Squats Build Massive Strength

Say what you want, but anyone who front squats big weights will be damn strong, both in terms of relative strength and absolute strength.

Here are some additional strength building considerations:

  • Front squats require less relative load for similar muscle activation of the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while decreasing stress on the spine and knees compared to back squats. This screams less risk, more reward. 
  • Additional stress to the thoracic extenders is beneficial to all pulling movements: deadlifts, squats, rows, and pull-ups are all potentially improved.
  • Huge anterior core training stimulus will improve carryover to other compound lifts.
  • It’s a damn squat. If you squat heavy with good form and a well-designed plan you’ll get as strong as an ox.

Front Squats are Better for Athletes

 

 Everything in the weight room is a tool; risk: reward analysis must be taken into account. I prefer front squats as my primary squatting method with athletes for the following reasons:

  • Front squats are beneficial for those competing in weight lifting events because they’re an essential component in the execution of the clean. [Fry et al]. Many of my clients clean so this improves multiple factors a once.
  • Anterior bar position means less shear stress on the spine and provides a more back-friendly alternative to back squats for older athletes, taller athletes, and lifters intolerant to shear stress. 
  • Squats mimic the biomechanical demands of athletic movements like the powerful hip extension needed for sprinting, jumping, tackling, and skating. Moreover, maintaining the abs braced, neutral spine position under load is vital for athletes to be maximally efficient and avoid “dumping” during movement.
  • Front squats are a tool for potentiation and long-term improvements in acceleration and maximal sprint running. Performance is improved from performing squats (30%, 50%, and 70% 1 RM) as part of the athletes’ warm-up 4 minutes before sprint trials, leading to long-term benefits after sprint training by allowing the athlete’s neuromuscular system to perform at a higher level during each training session [Yetter et. Al]. Hell, even if you’re not an athlete it’s cool to be fast
  • Greater anterior core activation due to anterior bar placement. Having too much core strength is as likely as a snowball not melting in hell. 

Similar muscle activation is achieved with front squats as back squats with a lighter load, leading to  less compressive and shear stress on the knees and spine. The spine handles compression well—lumbar vertebrae are huge. Unfortunately, shear stress with compression is a recipe for injury and cranky backs.

 

 How to Front Squat: The Ultimate Progression

 

It’s not a good idea to load an exercise without establishing stability through an acceptable range of motion and ironing home good technique. To learn how to front squat you need a progression– here it is.

BW Squat: From standing position push the hips back and break at the knees, descending with the hips until parallel is reached with the arms extended at shoulder height with the chest up. Extend the hip and knee to stand back up. Rinse and Repeat.

Goblet Squat: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. Keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until the proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

How to Front squat, how to goblet squat

Goblet Squat W/Pause: Grip a kettlebell or dumbbell underneath one end and hold at chest height. While keeping the chest tall and abs braced descend by breaking at the hip and knee until proper depth is achieved, pause while staying tight, and extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

2 KB Front Squat: Hold two kettlebells at chest height  and stand tall with the abs braced. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until proper depth is achieved. Extend the hip and knee, return to a full standing position

2 KB Front Squat w/Pause: Holding one kettlebell in each hand at chest height stand tall and brace the core. Keep the kettlebells “up” while breaking at the hips and knees simultaneously until the proper depth is achieved and pausing without losing tension. Extend the hip and knee, returning to a full stand.

Bar w/Pause: Using a clean grip (2 fingers only if necessary) break at the hips and knees simultaneously, keeping the abs braced and elbows up as you descend to depth. Pause while maintaining a “rigid” core, then stand up by fully extending the hip and knee. Yipee!

how to front squat

There are many ways to “skin the cat” when it comes to squat progressions, but this technique has worked best for me when teaching novices how to front squat.

You combine anterior loading, torso rigidity, a lower-body training stimulus, and the ability to hold positions under load before moving onto the barbell. Perform each rep with intent and gradually load as technique improves. Don’t worry– tell your ego you’ll be piling plates in no-time.

P.S. Who came up with the term ” There are many ways to skin the cat”? Freaks. 

Additional Considerations

Ask yourself—If your body can’t get into proper position under load should you be going there?

Unless you’re okay with piling strength on top of dysfunction and getting hurt, NO.  The performance increase may be worth it for lifters trying to boost a total, but for athletes and general population using the front squat as a tool for performance rather than mode of competition it’s not worth it.

Should you Wear a Weight Belt for Front Squats?

When it comes to using a belt a few situations must be taken into account. Compared to deadlifts and back squats there is less shear stress due to a more vertical spine position. I coach my clients to brace the abs, negating the need for a belt in most cases.

If you’re a powerlifter circumstances are different—they need to learn how to push their abs out and apply more force when lifting. Still, keep belts for the rare top-end set, not for your ugly-biceps curls and sub-maximal work. Dr. Stu McGill summarizes it perfectly here “Many people adopt belts in training for one of three reasons:

• they have observed others wearing them and have assumed that it will be a good idea for them to do so.

• Their backs are becoming sore and they believe that a back belt will help.

 • They want to lift a few more pounds.

None of these reasons are consistent with the objective of good health. If you must lift a few more pounds, wear a belt. If you want to groove motor patterns to train for other athletic tasks that demand a stable torso, it is probably better not to wear one. Instead, do the work to perfect lifting technique.”

Front Squats and Lifting Shoes

For competitive lifters I recommend an elevated heel for front squats. For Athletes and other lifters the choice is optional—if you need to improve ankle mobility to squat deep then lifting shoes are an option “hack” your depth, but is going to a position you’re body doesn’t achieve naturally worth the extra five pounds?

I’d recommend sticking within your limits and increasing your ankle mobility rather than using equipment as a crutch.

Simple Routine: High-Frequency Training and Front Squats

Let’s be real here, you didn’t read all this to NOT get a sweet workout program. If you have trained properly for at least one year, are well-versed in weightlifting,  and have made significant strides in your training then you are in the perfect place. This program is NOT for beginners, but intermediate lifters.

This program will help you build significant strength, muscle, and improve your athleticism unlike many routines you read in bodybuilder magazines and websites. Bodies that look like Tarzan and play like Jane are no good—you deserve more, you deserve better.

If you’re up to the challenge then you need to bring it to every workout. Each workout you’ll be training with a focus on either maximum strength, volume for hypertrophy, or speed for athleticism and additional gains in strength and muscle mass.

Front Squat Finisher

I’ve professed my love for the occasional finisher here, and here. During one particularly creative (read: tormented) workout session I designed a finisher solely for front squats. This is a very advanced test of physical and mental grit. If you’re a good squatter, tough as nails, and without injury, give this a shot. Killer Front Squat Finisher.

Wrap Up

Like any exercise a risk: reward analysis is necessary to determine what’s the best tool for the job. That said, the front squat is everything you need and then some to become a diesel beast in the gym and on the playing field. Everyone from bodybuilders, athletes, and weekend warriors benefit from decreasing joint stress, increasing total body training stimulus, and attacking common weak points like thoracic extension and the anterior core.

Leave your ego at the door and focus on your front squat— they’re likely the missing link to fixing your chicken legs, caveman posture, and finally become a diesel beast in the gym.

Grab your Ultimate Front Squat Progression and Specialization Workout here. 
 

 

Resources:

Bach, Eric. “5 Plateau Busting Finishers.” Schwarzenegger.com. Schwarzenegger.com, 3 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.schwarzenegger.com/fitness/post/5-plateau-busting-finishers>.

Bach, Eric. “Killer Front Squat Finisher.” Elite FTS. Elitefts.net, 13 June 2013. Web. 30 May 2014. http://articles.elitefts.com/training-articles/killer-front-squat-finisher/

“Barbell Front Squat.” Barbell Front Squat. ExRx.net, n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Quadriceps/BBFrontSquat.html>.

Breathing and Abdominal Bracing for Strength. Dir. Chris Duffin. youtube.com, 2013. Film.

Bench T-Spine Mobilizations. Dir. Eric Cressey. youtube.com, 2013. Film.

Caterisano, A., R.F. Moss, T.K. Pellin-ger, K. Woodruff, V.C. Lewis, W. Booth, and T. Khadra.The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles.J. Strength Cond.Res. 16(3):428–432. 2002.

Contreras, Brett. “Bret Contreras.” Bret Contreras. Bretcontreras.com , n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://bretcontreras.com/squat-biomechanics-butt-wink-what-is-it-what-causes-it-how-can-it-be-improved/>

Fry, AC, Smith, JC, and Schilling, BK. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J Strength Cond Res 17: 629-633, 2003. Graham, J. Front squat. Strength Cond J 24: 75-76, 2002.

Gullett, JC, Tillman, MD, Gutierrez, GM, and Chow, JW. A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res 23: 284-292, 2009.

McGill, Stuart. “On The Use Weight Belts.” . the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.backfitpro.com/pdf/weight_belts.pdf>.

McMahon GE, Morse CI, Burden A, Winwood K, Onambélé GL. Impact of rangeof motion during ecologically valid resistance training protocols on muscle size, subcutaneous fat, and strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):245-55

Paoli A, Marcolin G, Petrone N. The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. J Strength Cond Res 23: 246–250, 2009.

Yetter M, Moir GL (2008) The acute effects of heavy back and front squats on speed during forty-meter sprint trials. J Strength Cond Res 22:159–167

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