Pull Ups

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The Best Upper Body Exercise Of All Time.

By Raymond Onyango

In our continuing series focusing on ‘Functional Exercises’ we have sought to underscore the importance of working out in a manner that stays true to our evolutionary history as primates.  Before we were human, we were apes and many of the physical traits, which make us human, have been shaped through this evolutionary journey. To this day there are still many anatomical features that we share in common with most of the other ape species – a pivoting shoulder joint – is one of them. Human beings, like all other great apes have an incredible range of motion around the shoulder joints. Way back in time, this range of motion allowed us to do a lot of arboreal branchiation (swinging through the trees with our arms) which was important to facilitate easy movement high up in the forest canopy away from all the predators on the ground.  Together with this ‘pivoting shoulder joint’ human beings like other apes also developed inward closing hook like fingers and a broader palm for better grip, opposable thumbs, longer arms and freely rotating wrists.

These evolutionary traits have stuck with us, even as our lifestyles have changed dramatically. Can you remember the last time you climbed up a tree? I didn’t think so, neither can I. Here we are living in a body that was essentially designed to swing through the trees, but occupying  a world where the most adventurous  thing we get to do on most days is to sit behind a desk somewhere and shuffle our fingers along a key board. Outside of our natural habitat , the only substitute is to find a readily accessible, simple and effective  exercise that can play the same integral physical conditioning role that, swinging though the trees did for our early ancestors.

Enter the Pull Up.  When it comes down to program design, Pull ups are like bread and butter to me. I consider them one of those MUST-DO exercises, which should form the cornerstone of any serious upper body physical conditioning program. My reasons are as simple as they are compelling. For starters pull ups have a direct
impact on a staggeringly huge cross-section of upper body muscle groups. From your forearms, to your biceps, through to your shoulders, chest, upper back and reaching down to your abs and entire core region – it doesn’t get more compound than this. it is such a comprehensive exercise, I dare say, if you could get away with doing just a single upper body exercise in an entire workout, this would be it. As you well know by now, the larger the cross-section of muscles involved in a given exercise, the greater the calorie cost of that exercise. With an exercise that involves as huge a cross-section of muscle groups, more energy is utilised, more calories ‘burned’ which in turn translates into faster and more effective fat loss. Such a huge coordinated effort also ensures that your body developes in perfect proportion and you can avoid many of the muscle the imbalances that result  from isolating individual muscle groups on the isotonic machines at the gym.

It doesn’t end there either! Pull Ups are a great panacea for back pain (both in the lower and upper back), respiratory limitations such as asthma as well as the prevention of common shoulder joint injuries. Lets begin with the back pain, the term Kyphosis refers to a postural imbalance characterized by a rounding of the upper back as is commonly seen in old folk and office workers who spend the better part of the day, head down, shoulders rounded, hunched over computer key board and paper work. Pull Ups are
great way to counter postural Kyphosis by strengthening key muscles of the upper back including the rhomboids, trapezius , and latisumus muscle groups, all of which are instrumental in helping to keep the upper back strong enough to support the weight of the ribcage. Talking of the ribcage, you might not have known this, but poor posture actually has a direct effect on the depth of your breath and ultimately your energy levels. Pulls Ups help to condition a specialized set of muscle groups known as your intercostals, whose central function is to hold your ribcage open, so that your diaphragm ( which is your main breathing muscle) can move freely. When these muscles get weak and deconditioned, you wind up literally suffocating slowly under the weight of your own ribcage and your aerobic capacity can be so diminished as to have a marked effect on your day-to-day energy levels. You can take a basic lung capacity test at your local gym or doctor’s office, using a simple machine known as a spirometer, which has a tube though which your blow strongly and a little ball that measures your total volume.

One more compelling reason to include Pull Ups into your training regimen, to prevent shoulder injuries. The shoulder is one of the most injury prone joints in the human body, chiefly because it has such a huge range of motion. Unlike the hip-joint which is also a ball and socket joint built for mobility, it does not have the benefit of a deep socket to support it and protect it from injury. Insted it relies almost entirely on the muscles surrounding it  for its stability and integrity. Pulls will help to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles (one of the most frequently injured muscle groups in the shoulder) as well as helping to stabilize the shoulder blades (scapula) which basically serves as the foundation for your entire shoulder complex.
Last but not least, pull ups are a great way to strengthen your grip. Grip is one of the first things you lose as you begin to age, which is why older folk have such a hard time getting the lids off of glass jars. But grip is also a true measure of strength because ultimately you can only lift that which you can grip, and therefore you cannot talk of building strength without reference to grip.

How To Do A Proper Pull Up

Like any other exercise, pull ups are all about technique, and good technique involves mastering the three key parts of the pull up – Initiation, Follow through and repositioning.

Initiation

Pull ups belong to a group of exercises called closed chain kinetic exercises in which the arm or foot does not move and the body has to re arrange itself around  fixed point. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that the correct way to initiate a pull up is to begin by drawing the shoulder blades together and pushing your chest through as though someone had grabbed you by the cuff of your shirt and yanked you up towards the ceiling. This stabilizes your shoulder complex and  ensures that the workload is not directed into your biceps which would be inadequate to lift your entire body weight. Quite often the reason why most of us cannot do a single pull up is not because we don’t have the physical strength for it, but simply  because we don’t know how to use it effectively!

Follow Through

Once you have initiated the movement, the follow through is where a group of muscles  known as the prime movers kick in. The prime movers are the guys who do the heavy lifting. As far as Pull Ups go, the latisimus  dorsi whose central function is to draw the upper arm back towards the body, bear most of the brunt.  To activate them you need to  pull down through your elbows and use that leverage to get your chip up and over the bar. You are looking for a slow controlled movement that should take at least 4 seconds to complete. This is where technique wins over strength, By working from your lats, you are engaging a much larger and more powerful muscle group than the biceps. Keep the lower body relaxed and quiet so that it is not swinging all over the place. This is one of the things you will have to practice in order to have a real mastery of the pull up.

Repositioning

This simply means getting back to your starting point, in readiness for the next repetition. Now i watch a lot of guys at the gym do pulls ups and the great majority simply throw themselves up at the bar and then fall back in an untidy, jerky movement that not only places the shoulders at risk but also negates much of the benefit of the exercise itself.  It is now widely accepted within the fitness industry that the eccentric or negative (lowering) phase of a movement, is where you develop the greatest strength. Eccentric training is doubly effective because the muscle has to keep contracting even as it is lengthening. The produces greater adaptations in terms of strength as well as enhanced metabolic ( calorie burning) activity…music to the ears of anyone looking to get lean and toned. Also working to your advantage is the fact that you can lower more weight in an eccentric contraction than you can lift in a concentric contraction. The short of this is that even if you don’t have the strength to lift yourself up into the pull up, you can still climb up on a chair and focus only on lowering yourself. Soon enough you will build the strength to do a full pull up with ease.

Variations of the Pull Up

(From the most simple to the most advanced)

Leaning Pull Ups On Smith Machine

Chair Assisted Pull Up

Under Hand Grip Pull Up

Overhand Grip Pull Up

Weighted Pull Up

Muscle Up – The Ultimate Pull Up

So there you have it, a variation to suit each and every one of us. Simply pick your level and pull up!  Have an inspired week will you!

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Lunges

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The Exercise For All Seasons!

By Raymond Onyango.

I am a firm believer in the principle of ‘training for life’ in the sense that any exercise you do ‘inside’ the gym should help to improve your everyday life ‘outside’ the gym! As a general rule of thumb exercises that have no functional role in the real world, have no place in my training regimen, not unless the client in question is on some kind of rehabilitation program. For this reason I will be the first to admit that I am generally biased against most ‘machine type’ exercises; my natural preference being body weight based exercises especially those that require a huge cross section of muscles groups and a lot or balance, timing and coordination to boot.

Take an exercise like lunges for instance; here is one exercise that in its basic form needs no equipment whatsoever but still manages to have a huge impact on virtually every single muscle group in your lower body. If you are looking to firm up your ‘ derrière’ and enhance your rear view, lunges will do it for you. If you are looking for toned thighs worthy of a dancer, an athlete or a model, lunges will get you there. If you are trying to improve your running speed or build stability in a weak knee joint, lunges are the way to go. If you have a lower back problem and you don’t want to place compressive forces on your spine, as would be the case when squatting, lunges are your best alternative. This is such a versatile, effective and readily adaptable exercise; I often wonder why so many of us avoid them?


Well, perhaps I should not be surprised. The truth of the matter is that lunges if done correctly are as hard as they are effective. A good set of walking lunges will almost certainly leave you walking funny the next day. Muscles you did not even know existed, will announce their presence loudly, and climbing up stairs the very next day will be a physical ordeal  – that bittersweet pain that lets you know you are challenging your body hard enough to get a real response.

Beyond the muscle soreness and pain, there are other factors that make lunges very fascinating as an exercise option. When you step into a lunge of any kind, you  simultaneously  stretch and strengthen your hip flexors – namely the illiopsoas complex.  These two muscles the ‘iliacus’ and the ‘psoas’ work together to flex the hip, as is the case when you pull your knee up to your chest or other wise flex the trunk e.g. when you bend over to pick a fallen set of keys off the floor. These may seem like insignificant actions, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because of its unique position straddling your body’s center of gravity, the ‘illiopsoas complex’ plays a central role in virtually all movement within the body, however far removed from the hips, by providing stability in the core region. Thus when you reach your hand out to bring a cup of coffee to your lips, your ‘psoas’, is one of the first muscles that originates that movement by helping to stabilize
your trunk.  Further to this, the ‘illiopsoas’ complex when tight and weak, as is the case in the majority of us who spend most of the day seated in cars and behind desks; places increased torque on the lumber spine, accentuating the lumber curve and resulting in a postural imbalance know as  ‘Lordosis’ or Sway back posture’ which is often a precursor to lower back pain and disk degeneration. The short of it is that lunges will not only tone your lower body, they will literally save your back as well!

For your backside also known as your gluteus, nothing will guarantee you a more effective workout than the lunge.  The reason why human beings have prominent butt muscles as compared to other primate species is because we stand upright on two feet as opposed to monkeys or chimps and gorillas that get around on all fours. Your butt quite literally holds your upright! It is imperative to note that both squats and lunges will improve your rear view, but the inherent advantage of lunges over squats lies in the fact that you need very little if any weight to lunge effectively. Lunges are a dynamic stepping movement; with only one foot firmly on the floor at any moment, this translates into a much smaller surface area on which to balance, making your center of gravity much harder to control. This  awareness improves your sense of proprioception ( the sense of where your body is in space and time) which in turn improves your agility and reaction time both of which are instrumental in improving athletic ability and preventing injury, especially around the knee joints and the lumbar spine!

Last but not least is the fact the lunges are a supremely
adaptable exercise. An absolute novice at exercise will be able to find a suitable variation of the lunge just as readily as will the most seasoned high performance athlete. This is a particularly important fact because, unlike many other strength exercises where the only way to progress is to lift more weight, lunges allow you to increase the level of difficulty in diverse ways, such as adding dynamic movement or an elevated platform to the exercise or otherwise changing the plane of movement or even adding an element of both upper and lower body coordination. The end result is that are a virtually unlimited number of ways to lunge; the only constraint is your creativity!

Do’s & Don’ts Of The Lunge

  • Do not allow your knees to travel over your toes
  • Keep your body’s main weights i.e. head, chest and hips, stacked above each other in a straight line – meaning your torso needs to stay upright.
  • Keep the knee behind you off the floor, it needs to come close to but should never bump the floor.
  • Learn to lunge safely and effectively with your own body weight before adding any external weight in the form of dumbbells or a barbell.
  • Learn how to perform the stationery lunge first before adding on any dynamic movement.
  • Aim for a fluid, seamless and unbroken movement, this is the most efficient way to lunge.
  • Hold onto something like a chair or a wall, if you don’t have the balance to execute the movement independently, provided that you do not lean your weight into the chair. Keep the workload in the legs
  • By adding upper body movements, such as the shoulder press or clean & jerk to a basic lunge will transform it into a whole body movement.

Have a great week and add some lunges to your workouts, will you!

Master The Push Up…and face any challenge!

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By Raymond Onyango.

Every single military force, everywhere in the world relies on the Push Up as the gold standard of strength, fitness and combat readiness. The reasons are simple  – push-ups are effective and they can be done anywhere, at anytime, with nothing other than your own body weight for a prop. This is important because in a war situation, you don’t have access to a gym’ – your entire exercise program has to be built around portable body weight based exercises that deliver great results, in minimum time, with no need for external equipment.

The push up fits this bill perfectly because it is a very compound exercise, one that directly challenges the key muscles of the chest (pectorals) shoulders (deltoids) arms (triceps) and upper back (rhomboids) not to mention a host of synergists including the muscles of the trunk and legs which play a major role in stabilizing your body through out the execution of the exercise. In fact so effective is the Push Up, that if performed alongside its twin sibling, the Pull up, virtually every single muscle group in the upper body would be comprehensively addressed without the need for any other additional exercises.

The key to unlocking the maximum benefits of the push up lie in performing the exercise correctly. A brief lesson in physics will help you get more bang for your buck. All movement in the body is produced through a system of levers (bones and muscles), which work together to produce coordinated action. These levers fall into different classes –

1st class levers, where the axis is placed between the force and the resistance, e.g. a children’s seesaw.

2nd class levers where the resistance is between the axis and the force e.g. a wheelbarrow

3rd class levers where the force is placed between the axis and the resistance e.g. using a shovel to scoop some sand or a fishing rod to catch some fish.

The push up as an exercise operates as a second-class lever. One of the defining characteristics of a second class lever is that it allows you to move a large amount of resistance with a relatively small amount of force – this is simply a fancy way of saying that 2nd class levers work at a mechanical advantage – which would explain that a load too heavy to lift by hand can be easily moved on a wheelbarrow (a perfect example of 2nd class lever at work).

Because you are working at a mechanical advantage, your muscles can easily adapt to this exercise and you will hit a plateau, unless you find creative ways to add an edge to the exercise. To this end there are 4 critical factors that have a direct impact on the Push Up exercise in terms of increasing its efficiency and modifying its level of difficulty to suit your individual physical abilities.

1. Length of the Lever – One of the main reasons why beginners are advised to perform Push Ups on their knees (as opposed to their tip toes) is because this simple action shortens the lever arm and therefore reduces the amount of torque incurred by the prime movers (in this case your chest and triceps) thereby making the movement a little easier. Because your body weight remains constant, leverage is the one facility you can use to increase or decrease the level of intensity of the push up, to great effect.

The same push up, performed on the tiptoes, will prove to be a much more difficult undertaking (longer lever arm). If you go ahead and prop your feet up on a chair, the movement gets even harder. In this way both a 75-year-old senior citizen and a 23-year-old college basketball player can get the maximum out of the exercise, each working at their respective levels of physical ability. You will be hard-pressed to find and exercise as versatile and adaptable as the simple push up.

2. Range Of Motion – Another way in which to directly influence the effectiveness of the Push Up is to play around with the range of motion. Range of motion, with respect to the push up refers to the depth to which you perform the push up. Push Ups performed through a partial range of motion, where the shoulders do not drop below the elbows are infinitely easier than push ups performed though a full range of motion, where the chest is dropped below the elbows, to within an inch or two of the floor. In the beginning you may want to regulate your range of motion to reflect your abilities, as you strength improves and you would be well advised to increase the range of motion in order to keep triggering adaptation from your muscles in the way of improved muscle tone and overall strength.

3. Speed of Movement – My favorite kind of push up is what I call the 10-second push up. Four seconds down- a two second isometric hold at the bottom – followed by a 4 second ascent back to the top of the movement. The effect of this is to remove all momentum from the exercise, and believe me it is not easy. You will be lucky if you can get 10 good push ups this way, but you will also see much quicker progress, and much shorter workouts.

The direct opposite of the 10 second push up is the Hand clap Push up, the idea here being to push yourself up from the bottom of the movement, with sufficiently explosive force, enough to pick your hand off the floor and clap audibly before your next rep. This is advanced stuff and should never be attempted by the newly initiated recreational exercise enthusiast. For those with the physical conditioning to pull it off, it adds a plyometric element to the push up, which will build you more power than Mike Tyson in his prime.

4. Balance & Coordination – The ultimate Push Up, that sets the men apart from the boys, is the One handed Push Up. I have met in my entire life only one man who was able to do these competently and I may never meet another  – that is how hard they are. By simply lifting one arm or one foot off the floor, you can massively increase the degree of challenge proffered by the push up. There are several ways I which you can do this, Including variations of the push up, such as the push up – row, or the push up with a twist or the one-legged push up.  All of extraordinarily challenge your balance and coordination, bringing a whole new dimension to this age-old classic of an exercise.

Have a great week will you!

The Squat

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The Mother Of All Exercises

By Raymond Onyango.

The Squat is often described as the mother of all exercises. In fact some fitness professionals even venture so far as to assert that if you are not already squatting as a regular part of your fitness routine, you are not really training, maybe just fooling around – period.

This may be taking a rather extreme view but in their defense, one can argue that no other exercise works every single muscle group in the human body quite the same way as good old squats do. Though the squat is primarily a lower body exercise targeting the main muscles of the thighs and buttocks – namely the quadriceps, biceps femoris and gluteus muscle groups; it also recruits quite heavily the core stabilizers including the all the major abdominal muscle groups, not to mention the lower back as well as a plethora of other peripheral muscle groups involved in maintaining your balance, range of motion and upright form during the execution of the exercise.

 

Why Squat.

As a direct result of this enormous muscular integration from head to toe, squats convey a great deal of benefits to those who do them regularly and in good form. Some of these benefits include

1. Muscle tone – Because they are such a huge and compound multi joint exercise, squats have been scientifically proven to cause a spike in the levels of testosterone and human growth hormone (the two main muscle building hormones in the body) in test subjects, making them perhaps the number one muscle building exercise for anyone looking to firm up a bit and improve their overall muscle tone.

2.  Sheer Strength – With improved muscle tone comes greater physical strength, and a direct improvement in your overall posture not to mention a reduced susceptibility to common lower back and knee pains that plague such a huge proportion of the human population especially from our middle age onwards. Activities of daily living, such as hoisting a suitcase into an overhead luggage compartment or carrying your daughter piggy back, become possible without subsequent pain and injury.

3. Flexibility – The level of neuromuscular integration and overall flexibility required to do the squat successfully is staggering.  As you improve your form and increase your range of motion, squats will bring back long lost flexibility to key weight bearing structures including hips and lumber spine, both of which are integral to natural pain free movement, especially after years of sitting behind a desk.

How to Squat

The squat is a highly functional movement which we replicate everyday in real life through actions such as sitting down on a low couch and getting up from the same position or even crouching to pick a fallen object off the floor. The fundamentals of the movement are therefore quite familiar to the great majority of us, but here are a few points to help you fine-tune your form.

1. Initiate the movement by leading from the hips first and then bending the knees almost simultaneously, so that the knees and the hips travel in opposition to each other, there by helping you to maintain the integrity of your posture and spine right through the lower reaches of the movement.

2.  Ideally, you want the hips to drop below the knees, for a full squat, but this may be challenging for the novice and it is perfectly acceptable to drop only up till the point where your femur (thigh bone) is parallel to the floor.

3. On your way down check also that the knees do not travel beyond the toes. An easy way to ensure this happens is to have a gym bench or a stool placed right in front of you. Practice squatting with it, until you can a comfortable depth without bumping your knees against the bench.

4. On your way up and out of the movement, focus on driving though your heels and recruiting the major muscle groups of the thighs and buttocks to get you moving upwards again. Keeping the weight away from your toes and concentrating it in your heels, protects your knees and lower back, while maximizing the workload on the actual prime movers in this exercise, the quads and gluteus muscles as earlier mentioned.

5. The right breathing technique is crucial to the safe execution of the squat. As a general rule of thumb, inhale on your way down and exhale on your way up. Avoid holding your breath for a prolonged period (a technique known as the Vasalva maneuver) as this can increase intra abdominal pressure beyond safe limits especially in the untrained novice.

6. Foot positioning is also crucial and has a huge bearing on the effectiveness and safety of the exercise. Feet should ideally be placed just slightly outside of hip width apart, even though some variations of the squat such as the plie’ or sumo squat have the feet much wider apart in order to shift the emphasis onto the inner thighs, hamstrings and gluteus, as opposed to the quads.

Variations of the squat

1. Swiss Ball Squat

2. Body weight squat

3. Goblet Squat

4. Dumbbell squat

5. Barbell squat

6. Overhead squat

7. Front Squat

8. One legged squat – (Pistol)

9. Sumo Squat

10. Plyometric Squat

Conclusion

If you can perform squats safely and in good form, then I highly recommend that you do. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Having said this however I will hasten to add that squats are not for everyone…in the end it all depends on your goals, abilities and preexisting limitations if any. A history of back or knee pains may necessitate obtaining medical clearance from a doctor before hitting the squat rack.

Have a great week, will you!

Machines Or Free Weights?

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By Raymond Onyango.

My own strength-training program consists of just 6 main exercises, Squats, Pull-ups, Dead lifts, Dips, Lunges and Push-ups.  I have stuck with these exercises for years because they share certain common characteristics  which make them time efficient and devastatingly effective all at once.

The 3 common denominators that underlie each one of these exercises start with the fact that, they fall into a category of exercises known as Functional movements. Functional movements are so-called because they are designed to mimic natural real life activities, which make use of our bodies in patterns that are consistent with our natural design and evolution. By their very nature functional movements are multi dimensional, demanding the cooperation of several muscle groups across our bodies, which in turn burns lots of calories and gets us lean quick. Besides helping us to get lean and stay lean, functional movements help us to maintain our quality of life, by preserving strength and range of motion around our joints. These are the two things we lose steadily and progressively with age, beginning in our thirties and beyond.  Lastly functional movements train several aspects of our physical and metal fitness beyond sheer muscle tone; balance, agility, flexibility, coordination, proprioception, muscular endurance and even cardiovascular endurance are all challenges that must be overcome in order to gain mastery of functional training.

This is important because the human body is an architectural masterpiece of astounding complexity. You hardly ever give it a thought, but you will be amazed to learn that it takes the coordinated action of over 200 muscles just to take a single step forward. Against this backdrop it is rather obvious that isolation type training, of the kind that is offered by gym machines has no place in the evolutionary narrative of the human body. According to Livestrong.com a registered trademark of the Lance Armstrong foundation, and I quote, “ sometime in the 1950’s body builder Harold Zinkin created the multi station, cable based Universal gym. Within that same time frame, Jack La Lanne invented the Smith Machine, the Lat pull down machine and the Leg extension machine. Fitness equipment gained sophistication in the 1970’s when Arthur Jones created his Nautilus line of equipment. His machine featured a cam, which adjusted the resistance of the machine according to the natural curve within an exercise”.

It is notable that all of the men who inspired modern-day gym machines were body builders themselves. According to the Wikipedia, “Body building is a form of body modification involving intensive muscle hypertrophy. In competitive and professional bodybuilding, body builders display their physiques to a panel of judges who assign points based on their appearance. Body builders prepare for competition through a combination of fat loss, and the application of oils, which combined with lighting make the definition of a muscle group more distinct.” Bodybuilding is actually a sport, which has no direct bearing on health and fitness. In fact one can argue that in the professional ranks body builders do not aspire to be healthy individuals. Extreme dieting, unhealthy weight loss methods and widespread anabolic steroid use are an all to common part of the sport.

On a purely functional level most of our modern-day gym machines were designed for body builders, and because of this they have several inherent and potentially dangerous weaknesses.  For starters, they tend to isolate single muscle groups, which in turn can create serious muscle imbalances that lead to long-term injury. A functional exercise such as the Walking lunge will tone virtually every muscle in your lower body, but your core will also be recruited to maintain your balance, not to mention the coordination it takes to move seamlessly into the next lunge. These are the exact same movement patterns you engage when running, walking, climbing up a flight of stairs and all other such like activities of daily living. The Leg extension, which is the machine equivalent of lunges, has you sitting in a chair (after sitting all day in the office, no less!) lifting a load with your feet. Your hips and the rest of your body are completely divorced from the movement and stand aside as passive observers while the quadriceps alone bear the burden. I cannot think of a single situation in my life where I have had to do this kind of movement except within the gym and so for the majority of us (unless we are in rehab or are engaged in body building) really have absolutely no need for this kind of exercise. It is also instructive to note that gym related injuries have escalated in recent years as many of us pursue well-intentioned but ill-advised fitness regimens.

A further incentive to opt for functional free weight exercises over and above their machine counterparts has much to do with weight loss. Weight loss is the single most frequently stated objective among gym users anywhere in the world.  Indeed many of us only show up at the gym, when we start to have real trouble fitting into our clothes. Free weight functional exercises help you burn fat by encouraging three key things – they elevate your heart rate, increase your rate of breathing and work up a sweat. Your heart rate is a direct indicator of your body’s energy demands, that is why your heart rate soars when you have to run after the bus. Your rate of breathing also increases in order to meet oxygen demand and is a direct indicator of the speed of your body’s metabolic processes. Heat is the by-product of all these metabolic processes and the body gets rid of the excess by inducing sweat from the sweat glands which cools down the body. If you build your self a circuit of functional exercises such as I have done for myself, you will be so out of breath and sweating buckets by the end of just a single circuit, it is no wonder these exercises zap the fat from your waistline faster than you can spell G.O.N.E.  The secret lies in the level of muscular integration; these exercises challenge a wide cross-section of muscles and so demand a lot of energy to execute. The more energy you expend, the more weight you lose, so in just a single workout session you can lose weight, tone up and get a kick-ass cardiovascular workout all at the same time – and that is all you really need!

Have a functional week will you!

Ps. Next week we will examine the mechanics of each of these exercises individually starting with the Squat – stay tuned!

Try This At Home!

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A Devastatingly Effective Weight Free Workout.

By Raymond Onyango

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is said,  ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and here at the beginning of the year, we have the perfect chance of doing something our about our physical appearance rather than just merely talking about it. Of course doing something means that when you get off your screen right after reading this, you will have a simple, effective plan of action that you can put into place immediately, without leaving room for further procrastination. This plan is composed of simple but highly effective exercises that need little, if any equipment to perform and which can guarantee you even better results than some fancy health club membership if you actually get around to doing them.

This ‘plan’ is built around a training concept I fundamentally believe in’ because I have see it work consistently, on heaps of occasions – Circuit Training. Circuits are great because they are complete; they give you strength and cardio in one neat package that’s time efficient, genuinely effective and infinitely exciting. With circuits boredom is not an option, the quick reaction time will keep all of your senses engaged and your attention riveted, the quick movement will get your heart racing like a lawnmower and the never ending variety will satisfy your need for challenge and sustain your interest – it doesn’t get better than this!

Question is what makes a good circuit? For a circuit to be effective, it needs first and foremost, to be balanced. Balance means that upper body exercises must be matched by lower body exercises to preserve proportions and antagonist muscle groups, must be trained in opposition with agonist muscle groups in order to maintain harmony in the interaction of the body’s various muscle groups. When these principles are ignored, two things are likely to happen, in the former scenario, you will end up lopsided, like so many men who only train their upper bodies but have spindly legs; in the latter scenario one group of muscles, say the abs, can overpower the lower back, throwing your spine out of whack and inviting numerous unpleasant aches and pains not to mention medical bills and loss of productive man hours.

Secondly, when you are working with your body weight, you need to be creative! To this end there are two things you need to keep in mind – one is ‘progression’ and the other is ‘leverage’. Lets start with progression – progression simply means planning a growth curve that allows your to introduce new challenges to your body, by building on skill you have already learnt. Through carefully administered progression you can coach your self from say, the total inability to do a single pull up, to being able to polish off a dozen of them in perfect form. It also gives you a measure of your progress outside of the traditional yardsticks of weight on the scale and inches on the tape; it is the qualitative counterpart to these quantitative measuring tools. Further to this it adds the key element of variety, which as you well know, is the spice of life. Variety sustains interest and interest sustains adherence, which in turn guarantees results, and so the wheel turns…

As for leverage, a simple shift in your body position can make a tremendous difference to the level of difficulty an exercise presents. Learning to use the right kind of leverage will allow you to make simple exercises more challenging and difficult exercises more attainable by teaching your to position your body in the most helpful position for you to achieve your goals.

All right enough with the talking, lets get down to business. Here are the exercises, the breakdown of which muscle groups they influence and a host of ideas to either upgrade or down grade your level of difficulty.

Here goes:

Nail the Push up

Muscles Targeted: Chest  (pectorals), Triceps (triceps brachii) and shoulders (deltoids) as prime movers, but the entire core and lower body is hugely involved in maintaining your stability in this position.

Get It Right: The push up is a common exercise but remarkably few people get the form right. For the right effect, your body should form a straight line, running from your shoulders though the hips and the knees, right down to your ankles. For this to happen the core muscles must be engaged and active the whole time. Your hands should be placed slightly outside of shoulder width apart, to help you maximize your range of movement, and protect your elbows by shifting your weight into the chest, shoulders and triceps, the three prime movers in this classic exercise.

Keeping your elbows tracking in a straight line and in alignment to your wrists, lower your body over a 4 second count until your chest is just an inch or two off the floor, pause for 2 seconds and power up slowly taking no less than 4 seconds to return to full extension. These may prove to be the most difficult ten seconds you have experienced in a long time and some of the most effective. Aim for 10 to 15 reps at one go, it if comes to easy try the harder version but if you find this too intimidating, try its baby cousin – the kneeling push up.

Criss Cross To Firm Abs

Muscles Targeted: External abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques, rectus abdominis (the famous six- pack) and the tranvese abdominis – basically every single abdominal muscle group.

Get It Right: This exercise incorporates all the movements, save for one (extension – bending backwards) that you would ever make from your core, flexion (bending forwards) rotation (turning sideways) and stabilization (maintaining your posture).   To do it right lie on your back with your knees up above you at a 90 degree angle, same for your hips – I call this the 90/90 position. Interlock the fingers while picking your elbows up over your head and bringing the palms to rest at the back of your head.
Pay close attention here act strictly from your abdominal muscles and use those to peel your spine up off the floor from the head up until the shoulder blades are an inch or so away from the floor – it is important that you do not pull on your neck at this point or you can be sure you are not getting it right yet.
Done correctly the effect of this will be to activate your abs and protect your lower back in the same motion by nestling the latter firmly against the floor. Now think of drawing the right knee to the left elbow, while extending the opposite pair of limbs away from each other, switch sides and aim for 12 to 15 reps. you can make this exercise more demanding or less so simple by regulating the distance to which you extend your legs. Make sure to breath in one way and to breath out the other way.

Squat To Improve Your Rear View.

Muscles Targeted: Buttocks (gluteus maximus and medius), Thighs (Quardiceps) Hamstrings (biceps femoris), calves (gastocnemuous) in the lower body, but the core muscles of the abdomen also play a huge role in maintaining stability.

Get It Right: If you are not squatting, you can’t claim to be training and that’s that. This is the single most important lower body exercise of them all and for good reason. They help you build quality muscle and are associated with a surge of muscle building testosterone in men – women need not worry about building Arnold Schwarzenegger type muscle, you typically have just one tenth of the level of testosterone your typical male has, but that does not in any way keep you from benefiting hugely from the muscle toning effect of this exercise. They build you overall strength like no other leg exercise in ways, which help your life on a practical day-to-day basis. They help you gain mobility and get rid of many a niggling back pain, because you need flexibility to squat right and equally as importantly they reinforce some of your most crucial weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips and lower back which will be a boon for you in your middle age when every one around you is succumbing to knee troubles.

Begin with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider and the entire sole of both feet firmly planted on the ground. You want to check that your body’s main weights namely the head, chest and hips fall in a long straight line. Now go ahead and break that line up by sending your knees forwards tracking over the toes and the hips backwards and downwards in the direction of the heels. Try and do this while balancing a light exercise book on your head to help you stay upright, the moment you feel drop the book or feel the need to pick your heels up off the floor you will be sure you are at the limits of your range of motion, you should then begin to make your way back up. Keep the reps slow and consistent and aim for at lest 20 to 25 good ones at one go.

Pull Your Own Weight With The Pull Up

Muscles Targeted: Lats (latissumus dorsi), mid back (rhomboids), traps (trapezius) shoulders (deltoids) Biceps (biceps branchii), forearms (branchioradialis) but again the entire lower body and core musculature are invoked otherwise you find yourself swinging wildly and out of control.

Get It Right: The pull up comes in several varieties depending on the grip employed. A supinated or underhand grip with the palms facing inwards may be the easiest place to start. Grip an overhead bar with your arms slightly inside of shoulder width apart. Engage your rhomboids and lats, using those to propel your chest up towards the bar taking your time to get there so as to eliminate momentum. As soon as you get there make your way back down in an equally slow and controlled fashion. Aim for 10 of these at ago, but do not be disappointed if you only make five. If you can’t make a single rep, try and modified pull up illustrated in the picture below. If you blow these away with ease try the pronated pull up or overhand grip.

Get your Core As Solid As A Plank

Muscles Targeted: Erector spinae, External abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques, rectus abdominis and the tranvese abdominis – basically every single core muscle group.

Get It Right:  Drop into the push up position on the floor with your weight resting on your elbows, which should be spaced about shoulder width apart. Draw the belly button up to the spine to engage the abs until you have a line running from the shoulder to the hip, maintain this line as you pick your knees off the floor, one after the other and bring your entire bodyweight to rest in the abdomen.  Keep this up for anywhere between 10 seconds to a whole minute, with respect to your physical ability. You could add a whole new level of difficulty to this by simply picking one leg off the floor or otherwise attempting the side plank variation.

Lunge Into Perfection

Muscles Targeted: Lunges place the most emphasis on the gluteus (buttocks) and hamstrings, but in reality they engage virtually every single muscle in the body. Moreover, lunges mimic everyday activities such as climbing stairs or the very act of walking it self and therefore perfecting this exercise has a huge carryover effect into your daily life and one that is impossible for us to ignore.

Get It Right: Start with the stationery lunge, which places the least amount of impact on your knee joints and does not require much coordination. It is simple; begin with the left knee on the floor, toes dug into the floor and your right foot ahead of you with the knee tracking directly over the toes. Keep the head and chest aligned above the hips, while picking that left knee off the floor and bringing it up to full extension. Lower gently and try again for 10 to 15 reps if you have it in you. Change sides and repeat.  To up the ante try your hand at walking lunges, in the illustration above.

Tie It All Together

The idea behind circuit training is to keep your heart rate
elevated consistently, so that your muscle toning workout can double as a cardio one too, killing tow birds with a single stone and saving you time. This will only be possible if you maintain strict form and control, in the execution of these exercises, and limit your self to no more than a 30 to 45 second break between exercises. Attempt the circuit at least 3 times. With only 6 exercises and just about 2 minutes to execute each, the entire program would take you no more than 45 minutes, making allowance for a five minute warm up with a skipping rope and a 5 minute cool down stretch. Allow for a day’s rest in between circuits, on this rest day you can focus of a cardiovascular exercise such as walking or running or maybe even playing your favorite game- squash, Frisbee, rugby, volleyball or what ever else it may be. In one months time we will review our progress and update this program.

Have a busy week will you!

Super Slow Training!

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Blast Your Muscles Into Better Shape!

By Raymond Onyango.

Shawshank Redemption

“The world went and got itself in such a big damn hurry”, so says Brooks Hatlen, in the closing scenes of The Shawshank Redemption; one of my favorite movies of all time. The Shawshank Redemption is a story of perseverance, purpose and determination. Patience is of course  a value that comes in short supply in the world today. Like  spoiled children, we want things and we want them right now!

"6 weeks To A Beach Body!"

This need for speed permeates our consumer culture to its very core, and we in the Fitness Industry are right at the center of it. Browse the covers of many Top Flight Health & Fitness Magazines and you will be confronted with titles screaming, “Get Ripped In Six-Weeks”, “6 weeks To Your Best Beach Body” or “ See Results In 10 Days”. This is exactly the kind of mass media reinforced mythological perception that sets many of us up for failure right from the beginning. It is also the reason why I would like to introduce you to a rather unlikely concept in this digital age – Super Slow Training, and the bounty of progress it can open up in your path to better health and fitness.

Super Slow training, as the name suggests, involves slowing down the pace of your Strength Training Movements, literally to a crawl. There are several benefits to moving slower including ironically, faster results and greater overall muscle tone. Lets us take a closer look at why this is so.

Eliminate Momentum

Eliminate Momentum!

I was first introduced to the concept of Super Slow Training When I attended my first Pilates Class about eight or so years ago. The class instructor, Lisa Campbell, made us do a set of regular Push Ups on our knees, but the catch was that each Push Up was slowed down to a staggering eight seconds. At that slow speed many factors change, the most significant of them being the lack of momentum. Without momentum just your body weight alone feels like a ton of bricks, and that is just the beginning.

Less Speed, More Gain!

Eliminating momentum most importantly increases the level of neuromuscular integration. Neuromuscular Integration is simply the level of conversation that goes on between your nervous system and your muscles when they are subjected to workload. By slowing down your movements, you broaden this conversation by recruiting a much larger cross section of your muscle fibers, directly resulting in greater muscle definition as seen from the outside.

Of course Super slow training isn’t easy, and especially as you reach the point of momentary muscle failure, when you can no longer get the muscle to contract any more. At this point the lactic acid buildup can be excruciating enough to discourage the majority of us from keeping up with this method, but the intelligent and well-read exerciser knows that this is precisely the point at which the higher end motor units and muscle fibers are recruited and the greatest adaptation and therefore progress, takes place!

Prevent Injury

Many Women Shy Away From Weight Training!

Beyond producing better muscle definition and tone, Super slow training makes it possible to use very little weight, but still strongly challenge the muscles, This is important because the vast majority of women shy away from the lifting heavier weights, for fear of building muscle, but they can still use Super Slow training to tap into the benefits of Strength Training while simultaneously subduing their fears about developing unwelcome bulk.

Men Tend To Lift Too Much Weight!

On the other hand, far too many Men are fond of training with much more weight than they can comfortably handle. The combination of too much weight and high movement speeds, is in huge part responsible for the rapidly increasing rate of gym related injuries, whose prevalence constitutes a disturbing and fast growing trend within the fitness industry today. Torn Rotator Cuffs. Ruptured Cruciate Ligaments and Herniated Lumber Discs are all injuries that I see with disconcerting regularity in the course of my work. Many of them can be avoided through Super Slow Training, which by its very nature makes it virtually impossible for you to lift more weight than you can competently handle.

Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity Every Time!

To get the most out of your workouts, you must use proper form. How well you lift is far more important than both, how much weight you lift and how many repetitions you do. The primary objective of Super Slow training is to create more tension within the muscles while lifting the weight simply by slowing down the speed of movement. Physiologically this helps to bring about what are referred to as Plastic changes in the musculature.

Muscle tissue can go though both Plastic and Elastic changes. Elastic changes are temporary changes, either in length or size in the muscle as would be the case when you stretch your arm back to skim a pebble over the surface of a pond or the incredible blood pump and definition your seem to have right after a weight training session.  The key property of Muscle Elasticity is the ability to return its original shape, and therefore these types of changes don’t last long and are quickly lost with time.

Slower Movements Encourage Plastic Changes!

Plastic changes on other hand are much more permanent and refer to the muscle tissues ability to retain its new shape even after the stimulus is removed. When you look at a Fisherman, a Construction Worker or anyone who uses their muscles repeatedly at a task over a prolonged period of time, you are looking at Plastic changes. The Fisherman doesn’t have to hold his breath in order to display his abdominal muscles, because they have undergone plastic changes and are more or less permanently there. In the same token, you will be able to tell a former Athlete or a Soldier even years into their old age because their constant training brings about plastic changes that never disappear entirely.

Breath, Concentrate & Slow Down Your Movements!

They may get out of shape, they may get a bit rotund in the midsection, but even then you can always see from their overall physique that they were once very active individuals. It is this sort of permanent Plastic changes that yield forth from consistent Super Slow Training.

The very next time you are at the gym or working out at home try it for your self –  breath, concentrate and slow down your movements. These three important points will be critical to building the body and the muscle tone you have always desired!

Have a Slow Paced Week will you!