Workouts for Wimps: Your First Pull Up

Kyra on the Monkey Bars by OhKyleL

Don’t look so down, you’ll get your first pull up eventually.

Pull ups are easily one of, if not the, most psychologically intimidating exercises for people who are just starting out.

If you grew up in the U.S. you may still be haunted by memories like mine – as a fat kid in junior high I was subjected to the most distilled form of public humiliation inflicted by a school upon its students, the Presidential Fitness Test.

The mile run wasn’t so bad, I managed to walk most of it and still get in under the 12 minute cut off. The push up test wasn’t too bad either – sure I was fat but one of the benefits of moving a large volume of lard around on a regular basis was at least enough strength to outdo some of my skin-and-bones peers. At 26 push ups or so in a minute I wasn’t the best, but I wasn’t the worst of the boys either.

Then there were the pull ups.

Some of you are already nodding in solidarity as you read this, but if you were never a fat kid you may not understand my vitriol and psychological baggage in regards to this particular exercise. Imagine being an obese middle schooler for a moment. Your self-confidence is already severely damaged by a horrendous body image and the crushing force of being immersed on a daily basis into a viciously hierarchical social structure. (Seriously, there are no creatures more emotionally and psychologically destructive than teenagers)

Now that baseline of negative self-esteem is the norm for day to day activities. From there, picture yourself being commanded to come over to the pull up bar, in front of everyone, in a gym uniform that pretty much by definition accentuates how fat you are. You are then told to grab the bar and do as many pull ups as you can. You jump up and grab on and fight, struggle and squirm – hoping with all your might to get at least one so you won’t be the very worst of everyone.

After several seconds of futile dangling and thrashing on the bar like a panicked whale being airlifted back to sea by helicopters, it becomes clear that you aren’t going to even do a single one and you’re told you’ll be tested on how long you can hang there instead. So, publicly defeated, you are forced to hang there in your shame in front of everyone as they judge your inadequacy.

You can see why some of us are a bit scarred from these experiences. There are few things more satisfying than your very first pull up, and few things more frustrating than being unable to do one. (Tweet this.)

There is hope though. I have gone from being completely unable to do a single pull up to currently doing multiple sets of them with additional weight hanging off of me and you can do the exact same thing. All you have to do is follow these easy progressions and you’ll be rocking out pull ups in no time.

Getting Your First Pull Up

The way this program works is to slowly build you up through exercises progressing from easier to more difficult all the way up to a pull up. You’ll want to start at the beginning and then work your way up – you’ll do at least three workouts per week with each workout consisting of three sets of each exercise of how ever many reps you can do up to 12. Once you hit 3 sets of 12 reps on an exercise you can then move up to the next one for your workouts.

I’ll lay out the program in an easy to follow way at the end – first though let’s look at the movements we’ll use.

1. Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

Many people will actually be able to skip this step, but this is where you’ll start if you are a complete, absolute beginner. To perform a dumbbell row you’ll find a bench, couch, wall or pair of chairs about knee height. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand and place your left knee on the bench, then bend over and place your left palm on the bench so that your left arm is straight below your shoulder. Your right leg should be straight down to the ground and you should be bent over with your back flat like a table and your right arm hanging straight down holding the dumbbell.

From there you want to use your shoulder muscles to pull the dumbbell straight up to your right armpit, kind of like starting a pull lawnmower. Make sure to pull with your shoulder and arm muscles and not twist your torso to the left to cheat. Once you’ve done your set on the right side, switch to your left.

Once you can do three sets of twelve repetitions on each side without any trouble increase the weight you’re using. When you can do it with 30 pound dumbbells for three sets of twelve you’re ready to move up to the next weight. If you’re a little heavier yourself, make it 40.

Don’t have dumbbells? No problem, pack a backpack or tripled-up shopping bag full of cans, books, rocks or whatever you’ve got on hand and weigh it to see what you’re working with. You can also make fairly heavy dumbbells by filling an empty plastic milk jug with sand and then running water into it until all the sand is thoroughly soaked.

2. Inverted Bodyweight Rows

Our second movement on the path to your first pull up is the inverted bodyweight row. To do an inverted row ideally you’ll need some kind of bar between chest and knee height – playground equipment, a tree branch, smith machine or broom stuck between two chairs all work.

All you do is lay beneath your bar of choice and pull your chest up to it keeping your body rigid and your heels on the ground like a hinge. The more horizontal you are the more difficult the movement becomes, so if you start out with a chest height bar you can slowly move your feet away from it to increase the difficulty. If you can’t find anything else to use, you can also do these by lying underneath a kitchen or dining room table facing up so your head is poking out one side and pulling yourself up to the edge of the table.

Once you can perform three sets of twelve completely horizontal with your feet on the floor, prop your feet up on something like a chair so your feet are the same height or higher than your hands to increase the difficulty. Once you can do three sets of twelve with your feet elevated without any issues move on to…

3. Assisted Pull Ups or Negative Pull Ups

The next step gives you the choice between using either assisted pull ups or if you’re more comfortable with them negative pull ups.

Assisted pull ups can be done a handful of ways. The most ideal though hardest to do for most people are band assisted pull ups. These are done with an assistance band or a bunch of surgical tubing lopped over the bar and then beneath your feet to help take some of the weight off of the pull up.

Since these can be expensive, the next option would be self-assisted or partner assisted pull ups. For partner assisted pull ups you bend your knees and have a friend stand behind you and hold on to your feet or knees, As you do your pull up they help push you up just enough that you can complete the rep but not so much as to make it too easy. Self-assisted push ups are done by placing a chair behind you then bending your knees and placing the tops of your feet on the back of the chair so that you can push up with your legs as needed while you do your pull ups.

For band assisted pull ups, reduce the strength/size of the band every time you reach three sets of twelve reps. For partner or self-assisted pull ups when you can do three sets of twelve take one leg away so only one leg is using the chair or friend as assistance. When you can do three sets of twelve that way, move on to the next movement.

If you find the assisted pull ups aren’t really doing it for you, give negatives a try. To do a negative you either use a stepping stool or just jump to get into the top position of the pull up with your chin above the bar. (Careful not to lose any teeth here if you’re jumping)

Once you’re in the top position lower yourself back down as slowly as possible. From the bottom climb or jump back up and repeat. When you can do three sets of twelve reps with each rep taking at least 25 seconds to get from top to bottom then you can finally move on to…

4. Your First Real Pull Up!

Ok, so technically this will be your first real chin up, but that’s ok. What’s the difference? A chin up is done with your palms facing toward you and a pull up is done with your palms facing away from you. It may seem like a minor difference, but chin ups are actually much easier than pull ups.

The way you’ll make the jump from negatives to pull ups is to start by working in a single chin up rep at the beginning of each set of negatives. Then next workout go for two chin ups and ten negatives, then three and nine and so on.

Once you can do three sets of twelve chin ups (honestly, once you can do three or four per set really) you’ll be more than able to do a pull up, and likely will be able to do several.

The Full Pull Up Progression

Here’s the full progression laid out in one big list.

Done three days per week with one day of rest between each workout. When you can complete three sets of twelve of each exercise move down to the next on the list.

  • 3×12 Bent Over Dumbbell Rows – Increase weight up to 30 lbs. then move on to next movement.

  • 3×12 Inverted Bodyweight Rows – Move feet away from bar or elevate feet once parellel to increase difficulty. Move on to next movement after 3×12 with feet elevated becomes easy.

  • 3×12 Assisted Pull Ups or Negative Pull Ups – Move on when 3×12 assisted pull ups with only one foot under assistance is easy, or when you can complete 3×12 negative pull ups with a 25 second descent on each rep.

  • 3×12 Mixed Chin Ups & Negative Pull Ups – Start with one chin up and eleven negative pull ups per set, then two chin ups and ten negatives, then three chin ups and nine negatives until you achieve 3×12 chin ups.

  • Go Rock Out Some Pull Ups!

Additional Tips

The first thing to note is since you’re moving your own bodyweight being able to perform your first pull up may come down to both increasing your strength and decreasing your bodyweight so you don’t have to lift as much. That means if you’re particularly heavy, learning how to get your nutrition into check and shed some excess fat can make a big difference.

The second thing is to do your best not to cheat. That means when doing your actual chin ups and pull ups when you get to that point resist the urge to bend your legs and wiggle and fling yourself around. Sure it makes it easier, but you’re cheating yourself out of the benefit of doing a strict pull up or chin up and you’ll find your progress stalling out quickly.

Have you tried this program to finally get your very first pull up? How did it go? Do you have any suggestions or additional tips to help out? Let us know!

Photo Credit: OhKyleL

4 Quick Workout Tips for Super Busy People

Double-decker Bus Does Pushups by Michael Camilleri

I advocate doing push ups while you wait for the bus, I don’t advocate buses doing push ups.

Life is busy.

For all the same reasons you probably don’t think you’ve got time to learn a second language you may also think you haven’t got the time to spend hours every week getting fit and healthy. Now while I think most people do have some things that can prioritize around and cut from their schedule, I’m not going to say it’s as simple as cutting out TV time. Most people are genuinely busy and that can make fitting in a workout difficult.

Thankfully there are some ways that you can make it work and at least fit something in without having to sacrifice anything from your schedule.

Do What Fits Your Schedule

Even if you’re following a set program like Starting Strength or Wendler’s 5/3/1 it’s not the end of the world if you do a different workout instead that fits your schedule better that day.

Sure, if you’re consistently finding that you only have the time to do a workout from the program you’re following properly once a week, then it might be a good idea to either reevaluate your reasons for being on that program or reevaluate your schedule. If it’s just once in a while though Rippetoe is not going to hunt you down and punch you in the face.

Instead either pick a different workout that’s shorter like our 5 minute morning bodyweight workout or just do whatever you can from your normal workout in that time frame.

Even if that means only doing your warm up and your cool down that’s fine – it was something – and something is always better than doing nothing at all.

If you have a little more time you can prioritize what you do from the workout. If you’re more focused on your legs right now do your squats but leave the pressing for another day. Use the limited time you do have to hit what’s most important to you, which brings me to the next tip…

Be Efficient

If you have a very limited amount of time to get a workout in, it makes the most sense to get the most out of that short workout.

For that reason you always want to make sure to prioritize what you plan to do. Always put strength training above cardio. Gains in conditioning on the cardiovascular side of things diminish relatively quickly when you go for a period of time with no training. Gains on the strength side of things however last much longer when you have some time off and in fact can even be benefited by taking breaks. It makes a lot more sense then if you have a chaotic or busy schedule to not worry so much about the cardio side of things and to prioritize strength training.

Within the strength training you should always prioritize what you’ll get the most benefit from for your particular goals. If you have a sport or activity you really love or are actually training for, hit the most used muscle groups for it and leave the less used ones for another time. Alternatively you can hit whatever area needs the most work or feels the most recovered from the last workout.

Everyone’s prioritization is going to differ based on their goals – the important thing it to put the thought into prioritizing first.

A related option for prioritization is to do whatever exercise you enjoy the most. If you hate push ups, pick them as the thing to drop and leave in what you enjoy. Choosing to do what you consider fun will ensure you enjoy your brief workout and aren’t tempted to come up with excuses to skip it. That ties in to our next piece of advice…

Have Fun and Go Play

I think most people, if they had only 20 minutes of free time in a day, would rather do something fun than workout. Part of the problem here is that most people don’t find working out as fun as I do, but the other problem is that they think it’s one or the other – you can have fun and work out at the same time.

While it’s certainly true that a well-planned and structured fitness program is the best way to get you to your particular fitness goals for most people any kind of physical activity is a serious improvement from that they normally do.

So just go play.

Chase your dog around the park, race your kids, grab a handful of friends and play a pick-up game of something, go try out parkour. There are countless options.

Don’t really feel like doing that upper body workout today? When was the last time you climbed a tree? Not in the mood for those interval sprints? See who can get to the tennis ball faster, you or your dog. Anything that you really enjoy that gets you moving not only gets you a little bit of exercise, but it also makes sure you won’t hate it and fight to come up with excuses why you can’t do it.

Weave Exercise into Your Routine

I understand that for some people their schedule is so tight that even all of these options may not work, particularly if they’re struggling to find even a short chunk of time to get away and have a quick workout. Even if you fall into that category, there are options.

If you really don’t have 10 to 15 minutes in one single block for some quick activity then weave it into your day.

There are tons of things you can do both while you’re working on other things or during the hundreds of minutes each day you inevitably spend waiting on something.

If you sit all day consider switching to a standing desk. Every time you’re waiting for something to load on your computer hop up and do push ups until it loads. Do dips on the handrail of the elevator as you ride it up to your office or take the stairs and lunge your way up them. Hop down on the floor and see if you can hold a plank for the entire duration of the commercial break. Rock out some bodyweight squats while you wait for the bus.

There are countless options. The point is to just always be present in the moment with with whatever you’re doing and asking yourself, “Could I be exercising while I do this?”

These are just a few of our best quick tips for fitting some fitness time into a packed schedule, but there are lots more. I want to hear from all the other busy people – do you have any things you do that help you stay fit even when you’re super busy? Share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo Credit: Michael Camilleri

Using Breaks to Overcome Fitness Plateaus

Bear in a Basket by Ucumari

Even bears know the importance of taking a break once in a while.

Sometimes you just hit a wall in your progress.

It happens to everyone – it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been training, how well constructed your program is, how perfect your diet, sleep patterns and recovery are – at some point you’re going to plateau. Often times it’s extremely frustrating because it feels like you’re doing everything right, but you still can’t make any progress.

The natural response for most people is to try to power through it. They up the intensity, super fine tune their diet, obsess over every little thing and about kill themselves to push as hard as they possibly can in each workout. The problem is this is the wrong response. So how do we get back to progressing?

Simple. Take a break.

Why Have a Deload Week?

For some people it’s puzzling why I would recommend taking a week off or switching to something lighter (deloading) for people who are stuck and want to get stronger. The problem is that they’re not looking at the big picture and still think exercise makes you stronger. It doesn’t.

Recovery makes you stronger.

Essentially while all the hard work in the gym is necessary to provide the stimulus to start the process of muscle growth the actual muscle growth itself doesn’t happen in the gym, it happens over the next few days and while you’re sleeping.

Exercise is the ignition switch that starts up the engine, but recovery is the engine itself – it’s what really does the work you want in the end.

Sometimes after a while it gets to a point where you’ve just done too much intentional damage to your system and haven’t given it or aren’t giving it enough time to recover. That can translate to putting in a lot of work, but not seeing any results. When something like this happens the best course of action is to provide your body with enough rest to recover fully so you can get back to work. How do you do that?

Take a break.

How to Deload

For some people, wrapping their head around not training for a week can be painful. I used to feel that way too. Once you see the benefit a well-timed deload week can have though you’ll see why I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not suggesting that you just drop everything and spend the week lying around on the couch eating ice cream either, when you take a break to help push through a plateau it should be an active, intentional break. Here’s a few options if you have no idea how to do that.

  • The Traditional Deload Week – Generally when people in the lifting world talk about a deload week they mean a week with a 40% or so reduction in training intensity. So that means on higher rep lifts a reduction in reps by around 40% (e.g., 12 reps instead of 20) and for low rep high weight lifts a reduction in weight by 40% (e.g., 180 lb. squat instead of a 300 lb. squat).

    Why specifically 40%? To be honest I’m not sure other than that historically it has always worked well. As to whether there have been any rigorous scientific studies to back that 40% up as the ideal amount I’ve been unable to find any. You could certainly reduce by a different percentage, but just know that the 40% deload has been used often and with lots of success.

  • The Active Recovery Week – Instead of a traditional deload week, you can always go for an active recovery week. An active recovery week differs from a more traditional deload in that here you don’t necessarily do the same exercises as your normal training program. Instead you focus on different related exercises and things that get you moving but aren’t nearly as intense as your standard routine.

    Spending some steady time on the rowing machine, focusing on mobility work, checking out some yoga classes, switching to a bodyweight routine or doing assistance exercise to your core lifts at a lower intensity all fall under the category of active recovery.

  • The Play Week – Another option if neither of those sound interesting is just to take a week and focus entirely on playing. Go have fun, climb some things, give parkour a try, play some football/baseball/hopscotch/whatever, go hiking, you get the point.

    Play is a big part of alive and happy so go do it. Make the whole point of the week to be up and moving as much as possible but in a relaxed, fun, playful way. By the end of the week not only will you feel better physically, you’ll probably be a lot less stressed and more happy on top of it.

A Note on Nutrition

Just because you’re taking a break from your standard exercise schedule doesn’t mean you should necessarily take a break from your normal nutritional plan. Depending on how you’re eating one cheat day in there may be fine if you have them normally and they’re a part of your program, but don’t take the week off as an excuse to go into some Bacchanalian feast mode and nom your way through three tons of junk food.

Instead, if you’re going to change your dietary habits at all during your break, eat lots of meat. Protein is your very bestest friend during recovery time, so go nuts. If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, well… you have my sympathy.

Have you had success breaking through a sticking point in your fitness by using a break or a deload week? Tell us about it in the comments! If you’ve got any other good ideas for how to relax and recover properly, be sure to share those too.

Photo Credit: Ucumari

The 5 Minute Morning Bodyweight Workout

Watch the Watch by Nicolasnova

Only 5 minutes every morning to be healthier, happier and feel better all day long.

There are some days when getting yourself to the gym is a huge struggle. It’s understandable, sometimes you’re really just not feeling it. The worst part is then you feel like crap the next day because you’re full of regret for skipping a lifting day.

Rather than let that get you down, why not take 5 minutes every morning to run through a light workout? Sure, it’s no replacement for heavy lifting, but putting in 5 minutes every morning will ensure that even on days when you skip your regularly scheduled workout you’ll still have done something.

What’s even better is exercise in the morning helps energize you for the rest of the day, so getting in one of these quick 5 minute workouts will help pump you up and make you less likely to want to skip that proper workout anyway. On top of that some research suggests that a quick fasted workout in the mornings helps increase your metabolism for the rest of the day.

You do have 5 minutes to spare when you crawl out of bed right? Come on. No excuses. Pick one of these and do them every morning as soon as your feet hit the floor and you’ll feel much, much better through the rest of your day.

Basic Workout

This basic body weight circuit will get you moving and shake the sleep off of you but isn’t intended to be a full workout. This is something you can do in the morning everyday when you wake up – even on days when you’re going to lift heavy later.

  • 10 Burpees – To do a burpee squat down until your hands are touching the ground, then kick your legs back into the top of a push up position. Lower yourself to the floor and then reverse the motion doing a push up, then kicking your legs back under you and standing up. That’s one.
  • 25 Squats – Each squat should go as low as possible with your heels staying planted on the ground and your back staying straight. If you need to put your hands out in front of you and stabilize yourself with a bed or the back of a chair that’s no problem as long as you’re going through the full range of motion.
  • 25 Inverted Rows – These will require a good sturdy table or desk. Most kitchen tables work just fine. You want to lay halfway underneath the table holding on to the edge with both hands. Pull yourself up so your chest touches the edge of the table and then lower yourself back down for one rep.
  • 25 Push Ups – These should be good solid form push ups through a full range of motion. If you’re not sure you can do a good push up try one of these push up variations.

Starting out you can do just one round of the circuit every morning. As you get more used to it you can add rounds up to the point where you’re going through the whole circuit three times.

In general I wouldn’t recommend running through the circuit more than three times in the morning – the idea here isn’t to get a heavy workout just to wake you up and get the blood flowing and get your muscles primed for the rest of the day.

Intermediate Workout

If you barely break a sweat doing three rounds of the basic workout give this slightly more advanced version a try. Just like the basic version start out at one round and work your way up to three.

  • 15 Burpees
  • 20 Split-Squats – Place one foot behind you up on a chair or bed so that just your instep is up on the support. Putting most of your weight on your front leg lower yourself down so that your back leg forms a 90 degree angle with the ground and then press yourself back up. Do 20 on each side.
  • 15 Pull Up Negatives – Negatives mean just the part of the movement that is aided by gravity. In the case of pull ups that means the part where you’re lowering yourself back down. Get to the top of the pull up position by jumping into it and then lower yourself back down in as slow and controlled a manner as possible for one rep.
  • 25 Decline Push Ups – These are the same as regular push ups except you put your feet on an elevated surface like a bed or chair. The higher your feet in relation to your hands the more difficult they become.

Lastly, if this workout is just too easy for you give the advanced version a try.

Advanced Workout

If you’re looking for more of a challenge than give this workout a try. For most people each of these movements are a good workout on their own.

  • 25 Burpees
  • 15 One Legged Squats / Pistols – Hold one leg out in front of you, do a full squat on the leg you’re still standing on for one rep. Do 15 on each side.
  • 10 Pull Ups
  • 20 One Armed Push Ups – The same as a standard push up except performed on only one arm with legs spread wider than normal. Do 20 on each side.

So there you go. One of these will fit pretty much everyone’s level, so pick one and start doing it each morning. I’ll admit, depending on rest times if you’re going for 3 rounds it may be more like 15 minutes – but you should have 5 to 15 minutes to spare every morning to be healthier, feel better and be happier through the day. Like I said before, no excuses.

Have you tried any of these out yet? What do you think? Have another morning warm up workout you particularly love? Share it with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Nicolasnova

Thanksgiving Day Dietary Damage Control

Maple Bourbon Pumpkin Pie by Djwtwo

This doesn’t have to fill you with dread this Thanksgiving.

With Thanksgiving day right around the corner a lot of people’s thoughts are inevitably turning to food, feasting and fat. Whether you’ve been struggling with weight loss for a while or are already fit and dreading the extra fat you expect to be saddled with, Thanksgiving Day generally marks the start of a holiday season characterized by complete dietary hedonism followed by shame fueled resolution making on January 1st.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are some things you can do before, on and after Thanksgiving day to mitigate the damage.

Before Thanksgiving Day

The first thing to understand before T-Day gets here is that you need to keep your expectations realistic. These tactics aren’t designed to allow you to feast without putting on a single pound – that’s just not going to happen. If you’re determined to not put on any weight this Thanksgiving it might be easier just to not celebrate it.

Instead, all of these tactics are designed to offer some damage control. Following these guidelines it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get through Thanksgiving without a single pound added, but it’ll be minimal and won’t stick around very long.

  • Have a Good Foundation – While you should be eating cleanly all the time, it’s especially important to eat right in the immediate week preceding your giant Thanksgiving Day feast. It’s equally important to be sticking to your fitness plan through that week. If you’re already coming into Thanksgiving with a net surplus in calories for the week then anything you do on that day is going to be too little, too late.

  • Plan Your Calories in Advance – Weight loss and gain isn’t quite as simple as calories in / calories out, but it’s a good place to start. If you’re expecting to eat a ton, then dial back your caloric budget on the preceding days to make up for it. If you expect to eat 10,000 Calories on T-day (around 30 pieces of pumpkin pie or so) than plan accordingly. You should already know about what your maintenance calories are and from there it’s just a bit of division.

  • Alternate Your Macro-nutrients – While protein should always make up the most substantial part of your caloric budget, if you’re not already you should alternate for a few days between higher intake of carbohydrates and higher intake of fats prior to the big feast. It’s nearly impossible to completely avoid carbs or fat in a standard Thanksgiving meal, and if you’ve been avoiding carbs or fat for a while (particularly carbs) and suddenly binge on them you’re probably going to be a bloated, groggy mess for a day or two afterward. By cycling between days of higher carb and fat intake before the big meal you get your system used to it.

On Thanksgiving Day

On Thanksgiving Day our tactics fall into one of two categories, mental and physical. The mental side is all about avoiding as much of the worst foods as you can and the physical is all about prepping your body so you’re in the best possible state to handle the feast.

  • Deplete Your Glycogen Stores – In general terms when glycogen stores are full (probably most of the time if you work a desk job) then carbohydrates will tend to be stored by the body as fat. When glycogen stores are low then instead of storing them as fat your body will tend to prefer refilling your glycogen stores with those carbs. This is one of the reasons we recommend getting the majority of your daily calories immediately post workout and why carb heavy meals only come after lifting.

    Since carbohydrates are almost more of a Thanksgiving staple than turkey, it’s a good idea to go into that meal with your glycogen stores depleted as well so that as much of that meal goes to your muscles as possible instead of to your waistline. The easiest way to do this is to hit the gym for a heavy lifting session right before you head off to your Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re strapped for time, do a few rounds of HIIT sprints, get a quick shower and go eat.

  • Eat Right on Thanksgiving Morning – Now a lot of people advise not to go into your Thanksgiving Day feast in a fasted state since you’re going to be too starving to exercise any self-control. While I somewhat agree with this, I also think it’s crazy to waste calories and refill your glycogen stores right before tackling ten pounds of pie.

    A good compromise is to do a mild protein sparing fast. Have a little bit of food that morning but keep it under 500 Calories or so and keep it as heavily weighted toward protein as possible. If you can a couple protein shakes is a good way to go. This sets your body up to be in an ideal condition to pig out while minimizing the damage.

  • Drink a Lot of Water – Chances are your massive binge is going to result in you holding onto a lot of water. This is the biggest factor in bringing on that nasty bloated feeling post-meal (and sometimes for several days after) that makes you feel like your stomach is about to explode. The best way to reduce effects of the water retention is to prime yourself the morning before you dig in. You should be drinking enough water anyway, but particularly on Thanksgiving morning shoot for downing a full gallon of water (not all at once though, please). That’s around 3.78 liters or about 7.5 water bottles. Sure you may have to run to the bathroom a few times, but it’ll be worth it to avoid feeling like a balloon.

  • Pick High Value Foods – Don’t fill up your plate with stuff you can have all year long. Thanksgiving is a one day a year feast and you should treat it like one. It’s a waste to spend all those calories on stuff you can have whenever so don’t do it. Instead focus on the things that you don’t normally get to eat.

    Also keep in mind the general guidelines you eat by during the rest of the year. Don’t feel guilty if you want to dig into the pie, that’s a rare treat, but you might as well avoid the rolls. For your staples stick to your meats and vegetables so you can have more of the treats that you only get on that day.

  • Don’t Drink All Your Calories – Be mindful of the fact that if you eat your weight in dessert and then drown yourself in liquid bread – I mean, beer – you can easily hit that 10,000 Calorie mark we talked about earlier. I’m not saying you should swear off all the alcohol this Thanksgiving, but be aware of the fact that those drinks add up. If you’re trying to keep things a little lighter, stick to higher value drinks or focus on the clear stuff.

After Thanksgiving Day

After Thanksgiving Day your strategy turns to fixing what damage was done and making sure that it doesn’t bleed over and continue to destroy your diet until January.

  • Keep Thanksgiving to One Day – Thanksgiving Day is only one day. That’s it. This year it falls on Thursday the 22nd and that is where it ends. Do not fall into the trap of eating Thanksgiving Day leftovers almost all the way until Christmas and destroying your diet completely. Give those leftovers to family and friends who need them or who just don’t care as much as you about being fit. It’s much, much better to gorge yourself on Thanksgiving Day and finish everything than it is to restrain yourself and eat pie for half of December.

  • Eat at a Solid Deficit for a Few Days – For a few days after the feast you should eat at a solid caloric deficit for a few days to help shed the few pounds you’ve inevitably put on. By solid I’m suggesting something around the neighborhood of 1,000 – 1,500 Calories below maintenance per day. Make protein comprise the majority of your calories, keep drinking as much water as possible and keep taking your fish oil (about 5g per day). If you stick to this for two to three days, maybe until Monday at most, you can remove most of the fat you put on at Thanksgiving.

  • Don’t Work Out Too Hard – This sounds counter-intuitive, but after that big of a carb heavy binge you’re going to bloated, may be dealing with some inflammation or dehydration depending on your alcohol consumption and your immune system may well be shot since you probably won’t have slept much on account of the Black Friday madness and you may also be stressed out of your mind from travel or family. Top all of this with the caloric deficit you should be hitting for a few days and you’re really in no state to be doing heavy lifting.

    Instead, do some light bodyweight exercises, take some long walks and relax a little. Take this time to do light activities, get plenty of sleep and recover. Once you’re feeling back to 100% you can hit the barbells and the hill sprints again.

These are just a handful of tips to help mitigate some of the damage most people dread from their giant Thanksgiving feasts. The most important thing is to not stress out so much over gaining a few pounds that you miss out on the chance to enjoy quality time with loved ones and to reflect on all the things you have in life to be thankful for.

Do you have any tips you like to use to keep the weight off during Thanksgiving or any other holidays? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: DJWTwo

What You’re Probably Doing Right Now That’s Killing You

Two New Bottles by Brother O' Mara

Not all things that kill you are so clearly labeled.

There’s something you’re doing that’s making your life shorter. This is something that most of our U.S. readers do on average for at least 11 hours each day. It’s even something that I would bet you’re probably doing right now as you read this. Ready for the big revelation? Are you sitting down? Well then stand back up because that’s what’s killing you – sitting.

Yes, you heard me right. The more you sit in a day the sooner you are likely to die.

The Slow Seated Death

So what’s the big deal? Can sitting really be killing me?

As it turns out, yes, it can. More and more studies are being done and they all confirm that, even after correcting for other lifestyle choices such as diet, physical activity and whether or not participants smoked, people who sat 11 hours or more per day were 40% more likely to die within the next three years than those who sat less than 4 hours per day.

Another study showed that those who sat for greater than 6 hours but still exercise were 37% more likely to die than those who spent less than 3 hours seated and exercised. When you compare the groups that exercise with sample groups who didn’t, you find the people who sat for 6 hours and didn’t exercise were 94% more likely to die and those who sat for 3 hours were 48% more likely to die than the group that sat the least and exercised.

For the statistically inclined the studies in question came up with P-values of <0.00001. For the non-statistically inclined this means that the correlation between sitting and increased mortality would not occur simply at random 99.999% of the time. In other words, the studies here are statistically significant. They also showed a strong dose-response association which means that the bigger the dose (the longer you sit) the bigger the response (the more likely you are to die).

Even more concerning is the fact that these studies indicate that the effect of exercise done around the long blocks of sitting don’t cause a very large statistical difference in the mortality rates for those who sit a lot. That means that while it’s still important to be exercising you can’t fully out-exercise the negative results of spending all day planted in a chair, at a desk or on the couch.

While it may not sound like a big deal compared to the increased chance of death, sitting all day also drastically stretches and extends your glutes (your butt muscles) and shortens and tightens your hip flexors (the muscles that you use to take a step forward).

When you place a muscle in its weakened, stretched position and leave it there for long periods of time the muscle itself becomes weaker and inactivated. That means it can’t produce as much force. Conversely, when you hold a muscle in a shortened position it becomes tight and overactive.

This imbalance in the force-couple relationship between your glutes and hip flexors causes a whole host of problems ranging from severely limiting your range of motion on exercises like the squat to causing the knee to bend medially to causing lower back pain and predisposing you to ACL tears. All of these are very bad.

Fixing The Problem

The first step in making this right is to recognize just how much you sit in a day. If you’re like the average office worker or student it’s probably a lot – particularly if you get home and chase it with couch time. The first step is going to be taking active measures to reduce the total time on your tush.

One of the ways to do that is to work at a standing desk. Now it should be noted that other studies have shown spending an excessive amount of time standing in one spot without moving around can be fairly detrimental to your health as well, so a standing desk is no panacea. As long as you recognize that you need to take occasional breaks to move around, stretch, walk some laps or do a little mobility work the standing desk will make a huge difference. Some people have even go so far as to create treadmill desks so they can walk slowly while they work.

If you’re not ready for that kind of change or don’t want to be the only person in your office with a weird desk, find some way to set a reminder to get up for at least 5 minutes every half hour. Set an alarm on your computer or watch or buy a $2 egg timer if you have to, but obey what it tells you and get up for 5 minutes twice every hour.

You don’t have to go sprint or anything, just getting up and walking around to break up the long blocks of sitting has been shown to have a real positive effect on people’s health.

Lastly, if you’re ready to start restoring power to your inactive glutes and stretching out those tight hip flexors start spending a few minutes each day in a proper squat stretch or indigenous squat and in the couch stretch. These two alone don’t take very long and when done for a few minutes daily will go a long way to correcting the mobility issues created by years of sitting. Doing some foam rolling on your glutes, TFL and adductors wouldn’t hurt either.

In our office we have a standing desk set up with three positions so that we can work standing, work while in a full squat or work sitting on the floor in full lotus or seiza. All these options, coupled with the fact that I’ve made hourly breaks an unbreakable habit, mean I’m never stuck in one position for too long and can still get all my work done.

All these are just some of the options for correcting the issues, the important thing is to be aware how profound of a negative effect being stuck in a chair all day can have and begin taking steps to fixing the problem. Have any other suggestions or a unique way you keep out of chairs all day? Share it with us in the comments, we’d love to hear it.

I’d also like to leave you with this infographic from Medical Billing and Coding because I think it sums everything up in a well-presented way.

How Sitting is Killing You

Photo Credit: Brother O’ Mara

Don’t Bench Press ’til You French Press – A Guide to Caffeine for Performance Enhancement

Black, White, Coffee by Bitzcelt

The drug of choice for millions can give you better workouts.

Caffeine is the number one most consumed drug in the world. It’s in soda, chocolate, coffee, tea, energy drinks and even a lot of herbal supplements. Most people are extremely familiar with – if not dependent on – the energy boost it provides. I know I tend to be somewhat less than peppy if I miss my morning coffee. What most people don’t know is that caffeine is an extremely effective performance enhancer for training.

If you know how and when to supplement with caffeine you can not only improve your endurance, but improve your strength output and prime your body to burn more fat during exercise than it normally would. That means you get more out of every workout for the price of a cup of coffee. Sounds good to me.

The Benefits of Caffeine

Researchers and exercise physiologists have been studying the effects of caffeine as a performance enhancer since at least 1978 and study after study has confirmed the same conclusion – it works. In fact, with all the solid data on the clear benefits of caffeine supplementation it’s a wonder it hasn’t been banned in more sports. Here are just some of the benefits caffeine offers.

Improved Endurance

The most obvious benefit to caffeine supplementation is it’s ability to improve muscular endurance. That means that you can go harder for longer without having to take a rest. Formerly it was thought this was a result of caffeine’s ability to release fat stores into the bloodstream to be used as fuel saving your muscle’s glycogen stores and allowing them to last longer. Now though research has shown caffeine also stimulates the release of calcium stored in muscle – the release of this calcium increases both endurance and overall power output.

On top of all of that, caffeine has the neurological effect of distorting your perception of exhaustion, meaning that even when your energy stores are used up your brain thinks it can keep going allowing you to push past your normal point of failure.

Regardless of how it works, researchers agree that caffeine supplementation can improve an athlete’s endurance from 5% all the way up to 25% depending on the person. A five percent increase may not sound like much, but when you’re trying to push yourself to run just a little bit farther it can make all the difference.

Increased Strength Output

When it comes to maximal strength training the best way to get stronger is to move heavy weights. The heavier weights you can move the stronger you can become and the more muscle you can build. Caffeine can help you do that more quickly by increasing the total amount you can lift.

This effect may be due to the release of fat stores and calcium that we mentioned or it may be an effect of the widening of blood vessels and increased blood oxygenation that caffeine produces – either way the result ranges from a 3% increase in strength output all the way up to an 18% increase in some studies.

To put that in perspective, for someone with a non-caffeinated 1RM bench of 200 pounds that could mean an increase of 36 pounds. That’s an impressive return for doing something as easy as downing a cup of Starbucks.

Better Fat Metabolism

More concerned about losing weight than about running farther or getting stronger? No problem, caffeine still has you covered. Caffeine stimulates the release of stored fat into the bloodstream for energy and causes the body to place a preference on using fat as energy over carbohydrates.

Best of all, this effect lasts for at least a few hours on average. That means that the increase in free flowing fatty acids is there both during your workout to fuel your efforts, and after your workout to help replace muscle glycogen stores. This means caffeine before your workout makes you burn more fat during and after that workout and may also aid in recovery.

If you’re trying to lose those last few stubborn pounds caffeine supplementation can be the thing that finally gets you past the plateau.

Beyond all of these benefits there are tons of tertiary benefits to regular caffeine consumption including lowered risk of cardiac disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s – so even if you’re not using it directly as a performance enhancer it helps keep you healthy.

A Few Precautions

Caffeine is a drug.

That means that like with any other drug there are potential side effects and dosage control is very important. Thankfully, the list of potential detriments from caffeine is relatively minor and, unless you’re pouring an entire bottle of caffeine pills down your throat, it is relatively difficult to overdose.

Blood Pressure, Increased Heart Rate & Dehydration

The first potential problem we’ll address right away is dehydration. The diuretic effects of caffeine are way, way overblown. In people who are completely unconditioned to caffeine there’s a slight diuretic effect but even this is weak enough to be insignificant in terms of increasing risk for dehydration. Be intelligent – you know when you need fluids so get them.

When it comes to increasing blood pressure and heart rate caffeine does have a slightly stronger effect but only in people who have not had caffeine for 4 to 5 days. If you have a cup of coffee everyday anyway, and have been for more than a few days, than caffeine doesn’t have any effect on your blood pressure or heart rate and won’t unless you go cold turkey for a while then reintroduce it.

If you have heart problems and hypertension and have never had a coffee or a soda in a month or two than you should be a little careful, everyone else is fine.

The best part about this conditioning is studies have shown that while the detrimental effects follow a curve of diminishing returns the benefits do not. That means if you consume some caffeine everyday you still get the full performance enhancing benefit with none of the detrimental side effects.

How to Use Caffeine to Improve Performance

Ok, so you’re convinced now right? You know you should be supplementing with caffeine to improve your workouts and you want to know how.

The first step is choosing the right source for your caffeine. Caffeine is in a lot of things nowadays and you have a lot of options. Since we’re ingesting this caffeine with the goal of using it to improve exercise performance – and therefore I assume health is important to you – we can eliminate all sugary drinks first offhand. That means no sodas, energy drinks or chocolate.

So what’re we left with? Tea, coffee and caffeine pills are the main contenders remaining. Tea has a lot of general health benefits, but it has relatively low caffeine content so I would exclude it as well. That leaves coffee and caffeine pills.

The final decision between the two comes down a lot to personal preference. Some studies have shown a statistically stronger benefit to ingesting the pure caffeine pills over the coffee, and it is much easier to control the dosage. That being said, coffee is really good – so it’s your choice.

As far as the dosages go, the general recommendation is 3 to 6 mg per kg of bodyweight. Several studies have shown benefit from dosages as low as 1 mg per kg of bodyweight though, so you may need to do a little personal experimentation and see what works best for you. The best time to ingest the caffeine is between and hour and 30 minutes prior to exercise.

An average 20 oz cup of coffee (a Venti for you Starbucks patrons) has 400 mg of caffeine, which would be more than enough for most people. A standard caffeine pill is 200 mg, meaning it also would be more than enough for anyone weighing less than 200 kg (about 440 lbs.) – so you’re covered whichever way you go.

If you’re feeling non-scientific about it 12 to 16 oz of coffee should be enough. Getting more than you need doesn’t diminish the effects, so if you like coffee you might as well go for the large or have them drop a shot of espresso in there.

You can overdose on caffeine, but that usually requires between 150 to 200 mg per kg of bodyweight in humans which translates to 80 to 100 cups of coffee for most people. It’s a little easier with caffeine pills, and some people have had problems with as little as 2 grams so don’t go crazy. Normal usage won’t have any detriments though.

So there you have it – improved endurance, strength, fat loss and tons of other benefits and all you need is a single pill or a medium cup of coffee. With all the benefits, the ease of use and the almost complete lack of negative side effects why would you not want to boost your workouts with caffeine supplementation?

Do you use caffeine regularly for the performance enhancement effects and if not do you think you’ll give it a try? Have you noticed a direct effect from it? Share your experiences in the comments!

Photo Credit: Bitzcelt

Special thanks to my father-in-law Bill for the title.

How to Get Fat

Full-Figured Man by Tobyotter

If you aspire to look like this, read on.

When it comes to health related things here we tend to focus on the best ways to get leaner, faster, stronger and more fit. What if you want the opposite though? What if instead of being strong and healthy you want to be massive and riddled with health problems?

If you’re the kind of person who dreams of one day having to buy two tickets every time you fly on an airplane, than you’re in luck – I’ve put together a basic guide on how to get fat.

1. Stop Moving

The first thing you need to do if you want to get fat is stop moving so much. Obviously you should avoid exercise at all costs but that’s not always enough. You may need to go even further than that and look for as many ways as possible to move as little as possible throughout your day.

If you have a desk job then you’ve already got a good bit of your work cut out for you. Stay at your desk all day and only get up when you absolutely have to. If you must get up, try to replace the calories you’re going to burn by swinging by the break room and grabbing a doughnut or a candy bar. It’s important to take in more energy than you expend.

Once you get home, immediately plop down in front of the TV or in front of a computer and settle in. The goal here should be to only be standing for maybe ten to fifteen minutes total each day. If you think you’re standing too much keep a journal on hand and log all the time you spend standing to see if it needs to be reduced.

Remember video games, TV and the Internet all your friends here. They all let you sit and vegetate without having that nagging urge to get up and do something take over. If you don’t have access to one of those make sure to have a smartphone with you at all times so you can use it to poke around online, stare at Facebook or play a game.

2. Snack Constantly

The claim that eating multiple small meals a day will boost your metabolism has a long history within the Broscience community – thankfully there’s absolutely no truth to it. In fact, eating constantly throughout the day is an excellent tactic for the aspiring obese.

The key here is to always have something nearby that you can grab and eat mindlessly. Any time that you aren’t cramming something into your mouth is wasted time. Even if you’ve already got the sedentary thing down and are moving an absolute minimum you still need to ingest enough calories to pack on some blubber.

By making a point of always having something nearby to snack on you ensure that you have a steady surplus of calories coming in and you never have to worry about being in a deficit and losing precious pounds of pudge.

3. Choose Good Bad Foods

You can’t just snack on and eat anything you want though. Our goal is to put on weight, so you need calories, calories and more calories. That means you should avoid certain foods at all costs.

First up are vegetables. These things are nutrient dense and extremely low calorie, which means you can eat a ton of them and still not get enough calories to get fat. If you can help it, never eat vegetables. Why waste your time getting full on something when it isn’t even going to give you enough calories to get fat? It’s a waste.

Meat is a slightly better choice, but still not perfect. Sure most meats have a lot of fat in them which, at 9 calories per gram, is the highest calorie macronutrient – but it’s also full of protein which means you feel fuller and more satisfied more quickly. Again, we’re looking for something that we can get the most out of so if it makes you feel fuller sooner than it’s not a great choice.

Instead you should turn to the macronutrient specifically geared toward getting you fat – carbohydrates.

Now I’m not saying that carbs alone will make you fat, but they have some important properties that make them ideal for putting on some pounds. First of all, they tend to taste great. If it’s sweet it’s because of carbs. Secondly large doses of carbohydrates cause spikes in Insulin. Insulin then goes on to put that energy into your muscles or, if your muscles are full (perhaps from spending all day sitting in a chair), into storage as fat.

Even with Insulin doing its thing you do need to take in more calories than you burn to actually gain that fat. If you really want to maximize how much fat you’re gaining combine the Insulin generating effects of carbs with the high calorie content of fat to make sure you not only flood your system with Insulin but that at the same time you’ve got a few thousand extra calories in you.

4. Up the Portion Sizes

Getting fat requires a lot of work. Ok, not physical work, but appetite work. You need to learn that four cheeseburgers is an appetizer. Tiny portions are useless. You need to be putting away mountains of food at each meal.

A good general rule to follow is if you’re not eating double the portion that everyone else at the table is eating than your meal isn’t big enough. Don’t be afraid to go back for seconds, thirds or fourths. Even if you’ve gotten to the point where you absolutely, positively cannot eat another bite remember that there are lots of drinks that are packed with calories. If you can’t eat more, order the biggest sugariest soft drink you can find and get to work.

If you want to be fat, more is always better.

Hopefully these tips can help you if it’s your goal to get as fat as possible. If all else fails you can always find a fat mentor and ask them what they do to maintain their girth.

Have any tips on other ways to get fat quickly? Share them in the comments!

Photo Credit: We Love Cosa Rica & Tobyotter

3 Must-Have Fitness Apps

iPhone 4S by MattsMacintosh

One of these isn't required to get fit, but it definitely helps.

There are a lot of fitness apps out there. A whole lot. It’s not surprising given the wide proliferation of smart phones, but with so many options to choose from both paid and free, how do you know which fitness apps are really worth it?

We’ve narrowed the list down to three must-have apps. Unlike most fitness app reviewers, we don’t just look at whether the app does what it says it will or has boatloads of features. Instead we think the things that make a really fantastic fitness app are all about fun, motivation and convenience. They have to make working out something you enjoy, motivate you to go out and do it and be as convenient and intuitive as possible to let you use them whenever and wherever you need to.

1. Fitocracy

Fitocracy Logo

Fitocracy - A great way to get more awesome.

Fitocracy easily wins the number one spot on our list. If you have even the tiniest inkling of geekiness or competitiveness, you will love Fitocracy. It turns your fitness program into a game. Every time you log exercises you earn points to level up. Just like a video game there are Quests to complete and Achievements you can earn that represent huge milestones in your fitness journey. The app is free for iPhone, if you’re an Android user there’s no version out for you yet – but don’t let that stop you from using the site, you’ll be happy you did.

Why do we love it so much?

In addition to being free and convenient, it really makes working out fun. There is a serious motivating factor to the quests and achievements and few things make you want to go workout more than knowing you’re just a few hundred points from leveling up. What we love even more is the fantastic community that has grown on the site. If you’re feeling competitive they’ve recently added PvP battles to make that community even more motivating. You can get the app in the iTunes store or go the Fitocracy website to sign up and get it.

2. Zombies, Run!

Zombies Run Logo

What could be more motivating than zombies?

Making the second place spot is Zombies, Run! This app follows the same gamifaction principles Fitocracy does, but with a twist. In Zombies, Run! you take on the role of Runner 5, a scout/resource gatherer for one of the few human colonies that has survived the zombie apocalypse. Each mission is played through your headphones in-between your music as you run. Along each run you can pick up random items to distribute to the base once you get back and grow the township. Random zombie chases will keep you pushing yourself, don’t run fast enough and you may have to drop a precious item to distract the zombies.

Why do we love it so much?

I have always hated to run. Always. I’ll lift, I’ll sprint, whatever, I’ve never been a runner. This app makes me want to go out running. The missions are genuinely fun, and the story is written and delivered well enough to keep me wanting to find out what happens next. I even want to run longer because the longer I run, the more items I can find and the more I can grow the township. It’s coming to Android on June 14th, but you can get it now on iPhone from the iTunes store or the Zombies, Run! website for $7.99. It’s worth the price.

3. RunKeeper

RunKeeper Logo

RunKeeper. If you run, you should have it.

RunKeeper comes in at three almost just out of sheer usefulness. RunKeeper does an absolutely fantastic job of tracking your runs, walks, hikes, bike rides and just about every other exercise that can be tracked by GPS. It also has coaching available which you can set up manually, so implementing a Couch to 5k training regimen or doing rounds of Tabatas is no problem. It also keeps track of all of your data over time and lets you know when you’ve set personal records. Best of all it automatically syncs with Fitocracy and soon will sync with Zombies, Run! too.

Why do we love it so much?

It makes Fitocracy and Zombies, Run! complete with spot on GPS route tracking and automatic coaching programs to improve pacing or structure some interval training. It’s intuitive, convenient and even though it uses the GPS is pretty easy on the battery. You can pick it up on the iTunes store or on the RunKeeper website. The app itself is free – you can pay for a premium account but so far I haven’t found it necessary, the basic version is great as it is.

If you own a smartphone and you have any interest at all in fitness, do yourself a favor and go give these apps a try. All of them are fantastic at making exercise easy, rewarding and extremely fun.

Do you have any other fitness apps you absolutely love? Do you have any of these three? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Photo Credit: Matt’s Macintosh

The Basics of Warming Up

OnTheDouble Dutch at Golden Gardens

Jumping rope can be an effective cardio warm up. Double Dutch style optional.

Whether you’re lifting, doing endurance work or a little bit of everything, warming up before an intense exercise session is extremely important. Just a very basic warm up can cut your risk of injury by more than half, and they generally only take a few extra moments to complete.

Most people tend to understand that, and try to incorporate some kind of warm up into their routine. The problem is, most people never learn how to properly warm up. I often see people doing way too much, doing warm ups that prepare the wrong body parts for their routine or even doing things that just have no effect like sitting on a heater. In an effort to fix that, here are some of the basics of warming up properly.

The Goals of Warming Up

To understand how to warm up properly, you have to understand what you’re really trying to accomplish during the warm up. Despite its name, the goal of a warm up is not just to elevate your body temperature. Sure increasing temperature will provide a small increase in muscle elasticity but you’re still not going to be fully prepared for the exercise.

The real goals of warming up are increasing joint mobility and also preparing the necessary muscles for the specific exercise about to be performed. Both of these goals are in and of themselves directed at the single goal of maximizing performance on specific exercises.

Proper joint mobility can mean the difference between good form on a lift and bad, can save you from joint injuries and can even increase power output in lifts. The benefits of having the muscles prepped for the specific exercise are the same, more potential power output so you can lift heavier or run faster with less chance of injury.

How to Warm Up

A good warm up should hit both of these areas. Usually, because of the structure of most workouts, its best to begin with increasing joint mobility. How do we do that?

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches are stretches that are performed in a continuous controlled motion, not quick or bouncy. Some examples would be forward leg lefts, side leg lifts, arm rotations or side bends. The goal for the war up isn’t to do so much that you’re fatigued, but enough to work up to your full range of motion (ROM). A good general guideline is to do about four sets of twenty of repetitions for each stretch.

If you have a dynamic stretch routine that you perform every morning, then you probably won’t need quite as much and can get away with one or two sets of twenty as long as you’re hitting your full ROM. I like to do a quick full body dynamic stretch routine before each workout, both because I tend to prefer full body workouts and because I enjoy the flexibility benefits, however if you are focusing on one particular muscle group you can focus your stretching accordingly.

So why not static stretches?

Frequently you will see well-intentioned people doing only static stretches before a workout. If you don’t know the difference, a static stretch is what most people think of when you say stretching. Touching your toes and holding that position for 10 to 30 seconds is a good example, or sitting in a butterfly stretch. Static stretches are great, if you’re not about to exercise.

Static stretches, while they do increase range of motion, also decrease the potential force output of muscles – by up to 30% according to some studies. If you’re trying to get stronger or run longer you need your muscles at 100%, not 70%. Additionally going overboard on the static stretching pre-workout can push your joints past your normal ROM making them temporarily weaker and more susceptible to sprains and tears.

Muscle Preparation

Once you’ve completed your dynamic stretches, you can get down into the exercise specific portion of the warm up. The biggest mistakes I see here are people who think that any kind of moderate intensity physical activity is suitable for a warm up. It doesn’t work that way. It’ll definitely help a little, but not nearly as much as a proper warm up.

Your warm up movements must resemble your exercise movements.

The idea here is to prepare the specific muscles you’ll be needing. Twenty minutes jogging on the treadmill will warm up your cardiovascular system, but if you’re doing bench presses today it won’t help. For most strength training the solution is simple. Start with a set using just the bar, or the lightest available dumbbells / weight, then a set at around 30% your working weight, then a half set at 80%, then move on to do your prescribed number of sets at your total working weight.

Going running, warm up your legs with some bodyweight squats, lunges and calf raises – enough to feel it but not so much that it wears you out – then get your heart going with some moderate intensity cardio, maybe jumping jacks or light running. Depending on your fitness level, a circuit of 10 squats 10 lunges and 10 calf raises with no rest in-between might be intense enough to accomplish both.

Whatever you do, make sure to warm up the specific muscles you’ll be using in the workout.

Putting it Together

So with everything combined you’ll have a few rounds of dynamic stretches, followed by either a full body prep warm up if you’re going running or playing a sport, or individual warm up sets worked into each individual lift. In total, this shouldn’t add more than ten minutes to your workout, likely less. I think that’s a very small price to pay in order to not only perform substantially better, but to have a significantly lower risk of injury.

Do you have any other suggestions you’d like to add for people to incorporate into their warm ups? Share them with us in the comments!

Photo Credit: Bananajr

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