On Using Weight Lifting Straps

wriststraps2Should you use weight lifting straps for exercises like dead lifts, pull-downs, rows, and pull-ups?  The answer is yes.

Personally,  I wish I would have known about weight lifting straps when I first started lifting.
Weight lifting straps aren’t the wimpy way out and they aren’t cheating.  Straps simply help you target the muscles you are trying to target.  While grip strength is important, the main point of compound exercises like the dead lift isn’t to develop stronger hands, it’s to build strong leg, core, and back muscles.

Using straps will allow you to max out the muscles you’re trying to target.  As you lift heavier weight, your grip strength (forearm muscles) will not be able to outlast the ability of your large muscle groups to perform repetitions with heavy loads.  A weakened grip can cause you to drop weights or compromise form — both can lead to injury.

Straps are especially useful if you workout a lot or participate in a number of different sports.  For example, I enjoy rock climbing, and if I don’t use straps for weight lifting during the week, my grip strength is shot when I’m ready to climb on the weekend. Use straps to preserve your grip strength when you need it.

There are a couple of ways to develop grip strength without going completely strapless:

  • Begin your workout without straps, but use the straps as soon as you feel your grip start to weaken.
  • Target your grip strength with separate exercises, like wrist flexes or roll-ups.

The take away: Use straps for heavy pulling exercises.  They’ll help you lift heavier, get stronger, and stay more active.

Originally posted 2013-03-13 22:24:05.

How does creatine work?

Creatine is one of the most researched weight lifting and sport supplements on the market. While many remain skeptical about what creatine is or how it works, the science behind creatine is pretty simple.

Creatine is a molecule made up of amino-acids (proteins) and occurs naturally in the human body.  The liver and kidneys synthesize creatine and add phosphate to it in order to produce a rapid source of energy for the skeletal muscles and brain.  With the added phosphate, creatine becomes phosphocreatine and can supply the phosphate needed to “reload” adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s ultimate fuel.

Adenosine triphosphate is composed of three phosphate ions; when one of these is cleaved, the breaking of the chemical bond produces energy and an adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is left behind.  During intense bouts of activity, the muscles and brain use stored phosphocreatine to rapidly supply a phosphate group to ADP, so that it becomes an ATP again and can provide more energy.

While the body can produce its own creatine, production is dependent on whether or not all the amino-acid building blocks are available (l-arginine, glycine, and l-methionine). Creatine levels are directly related to dietary intake, and meat and dairy are the only natural sources of creatine in its complete form.  Thus, vegetarians or people who eat little meat have low levels of stored creatine and less energy for intense activities.  In one study, vegetarians who supplemented their diets with creatine gained better memory.  A number of other studies have focused on supplemental creatine’s effect on strength training and intense sports.  By supplying the muscles with ample energy, creatine allows the muscles to work harder.  When the muscles work harder and have enough protein, they get bigger and stronger.

The lesson: More creatine means more energy for intense activities. Creatine’s not a steroid or a stimulant.  It’s basically a vehicle that delivers the phosphate needed to “reload” ATP.  To get more creatine in your diet, eat plenty of meat and dairy from grass-fed animals or use a creatine supplement like CBH Micronized Creatine.  The micronized stuff mixes easily in water, but non-micronized is fine for adding to smoothies.

References: Effect of Supplemental Creatine on Vegetarians, The Effects of Creatine Supplementation for Muscles Gains

Originally posted 2013-03-09 00:35:00.

The Ultimate Ancient Exercise

Our ancestors practiced this ancient exercise on a regular basis, lifting stones and logs for shelter and other survival activities, but now we rarely do it as part of daily life. Yet, while it’s gone by many names and has fallen out of regular use, it remains one of the most important exercises for athletes of all kinds — it’s most commonly known as the deadlift.

The human body is specially designed to pick things up, to lift heavy objects. The ability to lift things well sets us apart from most other creatures. And since we have this special gift, we need to exercise it in order to maintain optimum health.

The largest muscles in the body (the glutes, hamstrings, core, and back) are all activated by this powerful lifting movement. These muscles, in fact, depend on lifting things for health. The ancient deadlift is probably the best overall exercise for strengthening the core, building strength, reinforcing the spine, and improving posture.

The deadlift can be included as part of a variety of fitness routines. Whether you want to strengthen your back and improve general health, burn excess fat, or build muscle mass, lifting heavy things will do the trick. Weight lifting boosts the body’s resting metabolism, which means burning more calories while not even lifting a finger. The deadlift is particularly good at boosting the metabolism because it activates so many major muscle groups at once.

If you want to build strength and muscle mass, deadlifts performed with heavy weight will activate the central nervous system and signal the body to produce growth hormones, increasing the body’s anabolic activity. Deadlifts also help develop a solid foundation of muscle for improved performance of all types of weight lifting exercises and athletic activities. In addition to strengthening the legs, core, and back, deadlifts are effective at improving grip strength, which can have great turnover application for sports like rock climbing.

There are a number of ways you can go about incorporating deadlifts into your fitness routine. If you want to start with something light or minimalistic, pick up a medium-sized rock during your next run. Grasp it with two hands, then pick it up and lower it to the ground in one smooth motion. Try doing three sets of 15 reps. If you want to get more serious about it, the best way to perform a deadlift is with a barbell. If you’re aiming for basic strength and fitness, start with a weight you can perform three sets of 12 reps with. If you’re hoping to add muscle mass, I recommend using a weight you can perform five sets of five with, or try increasing your weight progressively during each set (a pyramid lift).

femaledeadlift1The deadlift is an extremely taxing exercise, so most people only include this exercise in their fitness routine once a week. Also, it’s crucial that you maintain proper posture:

Keep your feet shoulder width apart, and stand with the middle of your feet under the bar, then reach down and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your arms should be perpendicular with the floor.
Your knees should be bent and your upper body slightly leaning forward. Keep your back straight or slightly arched, then lift the weight, pushing up with your legs.
Shoulders should be slightly back and down.

Do not jerk the weight. Rely on the legs to lift the weight during the initial phase, then allow the momentum to assist your arms and back in lifting the weight the rest of the way.
Lockout in the standing position, then return the weight to the floor by pushing your hips back first and then bending the knees when the bar is at knee level.
Maintain posture and control as you return the bar.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend watching a few videos first and exercising with an experienced partner that can offer helpful pointers. It’s also a good idea to stretch and warm up with a few body weight squats before performing deadlifts.

Most importantly, have fun joining the ranks of ancient fitness practitioners with one of the most effective and practical exercises known to man!

Originally posted 2013-02-21 19:15:00.

Three Foundational Exercises

There are three exercises that everyone should be doing in some form at least a couple of times per week.  There’s no need for a gym, and they require very little time or equipment.  These important exercises activate the body’s major muscle groups, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, promote better posture, tone the muscles, and increase strength. These exercises also have numerous adaptations, so they’re for people at every level of fitness.  

Push-ups: If you’re a girl you might be thinking “push-ups are for men,” but don’t discount your abilities or the benefits push-ups can offer.  Push-ups are basically like an intense planking exercise (AKA pilates).  They activate the entire core, including the stomach and back muscles, while strengthening the upper body.  The pectorals, triceps, and shoulders are the primary muscle groups targeted.  Push-ups can help you bulk-up or they can accentuate lean, toned muscles; it’s all about how they’re performed.  For the lean, toned look, push-ups are performed in the standard position, or with the upper-body elevated. Repetition and perfect form are key.  If a standard push-up is too difficult, rest your weight on your knees, instead of the balls of your feet, or elevate your body on a park bench or chair until it’s easy enough to perform several push-ups.  Aim to do three sets of 12 pushups during one exercise.

Pull-ups:  Pull-ups are another challenging exercise, but they’re one of the most effective body weight exercises for the hands, arms, upper-back, and core.  If you can’t do a pull-up, don’t despair.  You can start out by doing a locked arm hang.  Pull yourself up until your arms are at a 90 degree angle and hold yourself in that position for as long as you can.  Another option is to learn how to do a kipping pull-up (steps 1, 2, 3, 4) which is performed by using the momentum of the legs and hips to propel oneself upwards.  The kipping pull-up is a true full-body work out.  If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, there are affordable door mounting solutions that don’t require any installation, but usually pull-up bars are easy to find at a local playground, park or gym.

Squats: Of the three foundational exercise, squats are probably the most important.  Why?  Because they activate the body’s largest muscle groups: the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core muscles.   Squats burn the most calories, boost the metabolism, strengthen the core, and provide endurance and energy for everyday activities.  Counter-intuitively, they can also help strengthen the knees.  One’s knees might hurt at first, but when squats are eased into, people often report that their knee pain goes away after continued practice.  Start out by aiming for three sets of 20 squats.  If that’s too difficult, try three sets of 10.  Progressively work towards higher numbers.  Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands resting just above your chest.  As you lower yourself, keep your back upright and extend your arms straight out.  Go as low as you feel comfortable, but it’s probably best at first not to go past the point where the thighs are parallel to the ground.  As you stand up again, return your hands to the rest position, just above your chest.

These exercises can be performed in about 15-25 minutes, almost anywhere.  Make it a goal to do each of these exercises 3-5 times per week.  As you become stronger, increase the amount of repetitions performed or the difficulty of the movements.  Combined, these exercise can improve posture, reduce back pain, tone the muscles, and boost the metabolism (promote weight loss).  There are few good reasons not to incorporate them into a daily fitness routine.  They can also be performed outside, which is an added bonus for getting sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh air!

Originally posted 2013-02-14 22:39:00.

Core Strengthening – It's About More Than Getting A Six-Pack

It seems most people these days do core exercises for one of two reasons: to eliminate excess stomach fat or to obtain the elusive “six-pack” abs look.  Unfortunately, the logic behind these two reasons for doing core exercises is somewhat misguided, and here’s why:

  • Core specific exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planking don’t promote weight loss around the mid-section.  Excess fat is always burned in the reverse order from how it’s gained.  If a person stores excess fat around the abdomen first, then that fat will be the last to be burned.
  • The best ways to burn excess fat are: improving the quality of food consumed (no refined or processed foods), reducing total calories consumed, doing exercises that boost the metabolism like HIIT and strength training, and reducing unhealthy stress on the mind and body.  
  • While having a six-pack might look good by our culture’s standards, it doesn’t necessarily coincide with have a strong overall core.  The core muscles consist of far more than just the abdominal muscles, and all of the core muscles should be strengthened in a balanced fashion for optimum fitness.  
Although doing endless crunches or sit-ups to lose excess body fat or to get a six-pack isn’t the best fitness plan, there are a number of good reasons to strengthen your core, some of them include:
  • Improved posture and confidence
  • Less back ache from sitting and lifting
  • Better balance
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved comfort in the performance of daily house duties
The core is the crucial link between the upper and lower body, upon which all strength and balance hinge.  The best exercises for strengthening the core activate as many of the core muscles as possible (located in the abdomen, back, pelvis, sides, and buttocks), not just the abs.  I recommend integrating some of the exercises below into your daily workout schedule.  It will take some experimentation to figure out what routines work best for you.  Also, keep in mind, they should not cause excess pain or discomfort.
Planking engages all of the core muscles in the back and abdomen area.  Example routine – Plank for 45 secs, then do 12 oblique raises on each side, repeat two more sets of the same.
Squats and lunges require stabilizing muscles and target the core muscles in the pelvis and buttocks.  Beginners – perform with body weight only (try three sets of 15 with 45 secs of rest in between each set).  Intermediate and advance – perform with dumbbell, barbell, or kettle ball weight.  For advance and intermediate athletes, dead lifts are another very effective exercise that build strength in the core and the entire posterior chain.
Exercise Ball workouts require stabilization, promote improved balance, and activate all of the core muscles.  Some good core workouts include:
  • Leg tuck: Place your hands on the ground in a push-up position, and place the top of your shins on the exercise ball.  Use your legs to roll the ball towards your arms, then roll the ball back.  
  • Trunk twist: Place your feet flat on the ground and lean/sit against the ball with your lower back.  Clasp your hands together and extend your arms straight up, perpendicular with your body.  Then twist your arms from side to side, twisting as far to each side as possible.
  • Modified plank: Lay over the ball on your stomach with your hands and feet touching the ground on opposites sides and the bottom of your toes touching the ground.  Proceed to lift your upper body up off the exercise ball, with you arms straight out in a flying position.  Hold elevated position for several seconds, then return to the starting position. (For any of the above exercise ball workouts, start by trying to perform three sets of ten repetitions) 

Don’t have an exercise ball?  Get one here.

If you want to get a stronger core and washboard abs, don’t give up the sit-ups and crunches completely, just remember that by themselves they won’t fully strengthen the core or promote excess fat loss.  Functional fitness requires dynamic movements and full body engagement.  Also, if your goal is to burn excess fat, ab-specific exercises aren’t your best bet.  Focus on eating healthy, staying active, and exercising smarter, not necessarily harder!

Originally posted 2013-01-22 20:49:00.

Git Fit Faster with HIIT!


You don’t have to spend hours on the treadmill or run miles and miles at the break of dawn before work to loose weight and get healthy.  In fact, it’s possible to get fit with less time and less overall work than previously thought.  The answer is H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training).

It used to be believed that high intensity training  wasn’t effective at promoting weight loss because it caused the body to use carbohydrates, instead of stored fat, for energy.  Yet, it turns out that while high intensity training does burn the body’s carbohydrates at first, it promotes fat loss, muscle growth, and cardiovascular health more effectively than traditional aerobic exercise in the long run.

High Intensity Interval Training stimulates the production of fat burning hormones and enzymes that keep working even when the body’s at rest.  Also, since High Intensity Interval Training takes less overall energy per workout than an aerobic exercise of comparable duration, it causes less of an increase in appetite.  A smaller appetite means fewer calories consumed, and fewer calories consumed typically means a healthier body.

So what exactly is HIIT?

High Intensity Interval Training exercises are comprised of short, intense intervals of work (approximately 90% max heart rate), alternated with brief periods of rest or low work (approximately 70% max heart rate).  For success, it’s important that the exercises are undertaken at max effort, for anywhere between 20 sec to 2 minutes, followed by 1-4 minutes periods of rest.  A typical HIIT session lasts from 10 to 20 minutes and is usually performed 3 to 5 days per week for best results.

HIIT can be performed doing almost any type of exercise, whether outside or on machines.  Rowing machines, elliptical trainers, stair steppers, stationary bikes, sprinting, cycling, cross country skiing – all can be adapted according to HIIT protocols.  The type of exercise dictates how long you can perform your maximum effort and how long you need to rest. Here are a few sample exercises:

Rowing machine:  10 intervals of 2 minutes max effort, followed by 1 minute of rest/light rowing.
Sprinting: 8 intervals of 20-30 sec max effort sprints, followed by 2 minutes of rest/light jogging.
Cycling: 8 intervals of 45 sec max effort sprints, followed by 1.5 minutes of rest/slow peddling.

Just remember, if you aren’t able to give your max effort, you are beginning to lose the benefits of high intensity interval training.  Try adjusting your workout by doing shorter intervals that will allow you to give your max effort.  HIIT is a great way to improve your health with a limited amount of time.  If you can, do High Intensity Interval Training outside where you can enjoy fresh air and sunshine at the same time!

Advisement: If you’ve never done high intensity exercises or it’s been awhile, ease into your HIIT program over time! Your body needs time to strengthen the ligaments, bones, and muscles that support high intensity exercise. Also, before beginning any new exercise protocol, or if you have health problems, consult your doctor first!

References:Evidence-based Exercise, Six Weeks of High-Intensity Interval Training, High Intensity Interval Training in Overweight Young Women

Originally posted 2013-01-04 21:13:00.

Foods with anabolic steroids:

The most affordable and accessible foods with the highest concentrations of phytoecdysteroids are spinach, quinoa, and suma root.  These plants contain high amounts of a powerful and naturally occurring form of phytoecdysteroid known as b-ecdysterone or 20-hydroxyecdysone.  Yes, you read correctly, it’s a steroid.  There’s no need for alarm though – I’m not pushing any strange drugs to help pay for my master’s degree.  Actually, after researching phytoecdysteroids, I’m convinced that these little molecules are something we should have more of in our diets.  Some of the claimed benefits of phytoecdysteroids include: anabolic, adaptogenic, hepatoprotective, and hyperglycemic effects.  Below are the approximate amounts of b-ecdysterone contained in the richest food sources:

Spinach:          .01% of fresh weight = 45 mg b-ecdysterone in 450g spinach [1]
-Spinach is also rich in a vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and naturally occurring nitrates.  Plant-based nitrates can be converted by the body into nitric oxide, which is used to relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow.  Bodybuilders often take nitric oxide supplements to support muscle growth and athletic performance. 

Quinoa:           .037% of dry weight = 18.25 mg b-ecdysterone in 50g quinoa [2]
-Quinoa is a relative of the spinach plant and is high in minerals, protein, and fiber.  It can be used like a grain but is gluten-free.

Suma root:      .66% of dry weight = 26.4 mg b-ecdysterone in 4g of root powder [3]
(pfaffia paniculatta) The suma plant, also known as Brazilian Ginseng, is a traditional medicine in Brazil.  It’s known to be effective at alleviating so many health problems that it’s called “para todo” – for everything.  Suma is high in a number of powerful compounds including beneficial saponins.  You can get a 1lb bag of suma powder from  Epic Herbs.

When the word “steroid” is heard or read, it’s usually associated with the synthetic, anabolic-androgenic steroid that some athletes use to build muscle or improve performance.  There are many other steroids, however, that are naturally produced in the body and required for proper health: cholesterol, testosterone, and estrogen are the most well known.  Steroids are simply hormones that send messages to the body’s cells.  Different steroids produce different responses.  Humans, animals, and plants all use a number of varoious steroids.

Some plant-eating insects produce and use a group of steroids called ecdysteroids.  Yet, too much of the hormone can cause them problems.  Plants such as spinach, quinoa, and suma, use this biological principle to their advantage.  These plants contain high amounts of hormones that are nearly identical to ecdysteroids (known as phytoecdysteroids) — consequentially, insects that eat these plants can experience a hormonal overload that disables and deters them from continuing to eat the same plants.

In mammals, however, phytoecdysteroid consumption appears to have primarily highly positive effects.  In the 1970s and 80s, Soviet scientist were the first to study the effects of phytoecdysteroids in humans, and it’s suspected that a few Soviet athletes benefited from their findings.  Today, American scientists are performing further phytoecdysteroid studies and beginning to unlock the mysteries of how these powerful hormones work.

In a study done at Rutgers, rats given food containing Spinach extract (containing the equivalent of 50 mg 20-hydroxyecdysone/kg of body weight) had 24% stronger gripping strength at the end of 28-days than rats fed the same food without spinach extract. The rats fed the spinach extract also had slightly stronger gripping strength than rats given traditional anabolic-androgen steroids (the type often used by bodybuilders)!  The same study also used human muscle cell cultures to determine how the cells would respond to phytoecdysteroids.  Treatment with 20-hydroxyecdysone resulted in up to a 20% increase in protein synthesis and also caused decreased protein degradation (which can help improve overall protein gains in muscle).[4]

The greatest concern for most people, when talking about steroids, is the negative androgenic side effects associated with other anabolic (muscle enhancing) steroids, such as prostate growth and breast tissue development in men, and voice deepening and hair growth in women.  Common experience with phytoecdysteroids indicates that while they have powerful anabolic activity, they don’t have the negative side effects associated with anabolic-androgen steroids. Moreover, in the Rutgers study mentioned above, it was found that 20-hydroxydysone did not cause prostate growth like synthetic anabolic steroids did.  This may be attributed to phytoecdysteroids having a shape that prohibits them from binding to cells’ androgenic receptors (the receptors that trigger prostate and hair growth, etc).

At any rate, spinach, quinoa, and suma are all incredibly safe, whole foods! Several studies in addition to the Rutger’s study indicate that phytoecdysteroids have many promising health benefits.  Not only have they been show to increase strength and anabolic activity in mammals, they may also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce visceral fat, aid memory, and improve wound healing efficiency.  The good news is that many of the effects of phytoecdysteroids appear to be achieved at relatively low daily doses: between .5 and 5/mg of 20-hydroxydysone per kg of body weight.  Also, you would have to eat over a hundred pounds of spinach per day before you consumed potentially toxic amounts. On the other hand, if you want to supplement with 20-hydroxyecdysone, there are a number of 20-hyroxyecdysone powders and capsules available.[5][6]

So, while the evidence for phytoecdysteroids is still unfolding, it seems like Popeye was right after all… “Eat your spinach kids!”

Related Products: Suma, Spinach Powder, QuinoaEcdysterone, Creatine, Whey Protein, Glutamine

[1] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[2] Ecdysteroids from Chenopodium quinoa Willd., an ancient Andean crop of high nutritional value
[3] Level and distribution of 20-hydroxydysone during Pfaffi glomerata development
[4] Phytoecdysteroids: Understanding Their Anabolic Activity by Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman at Rutgers
[5] Effects and applications of arthropod steroid hormones (ecdysteroids) in mammals.
[6] Practical uses for ecdysteroids in mammals including humans: an update

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Originally posted 2011-09-28 17:46:00.

Armstrong Pull-Up Program for rock climbing and strength building!

In this article you’ll find a review and simple instructions (with photographs) for the The Armstrong Pull-up Program.  The program was developed by Major Charles Lewis Armstrong of the US Marine Corps based on the strength-building principles of regularity, overload, and variety.  While the program is primarily used by military personnel to obtain a perfect physical fitness test (PFT) score of 20 pull-ups in a row, it is also a great program for rock climbers or anyone wanting to build upper-back and arm strength. I’ve personally had great success using the program, and found it’s helped tremendously with rock-climbing as well.  I went from being able to do only 5 pull-ups in a row to over 20 in less than two months!  The two components (morning and afternoon/evening) of the program are simple.  The program is performed over five consecutive days, followed by two days of rest.

Morning Routine:
The goal of the first part of the program is to develop general core and upper body strength by performing three max sets of push-ups every morning of the 5-day routine.

Afternoon Routine:

Day 1: Perform five maximum effort sets of pull-ups, resting 90 seconds between each set.  These sets should be performed using a shoulder-width, overhand position.

Day 2: Perform a pyramid routine using the overhand method.  Complete one pull-up, then two, then three, etc, resting 10 seconds between each set until you can’t go any higher.  After completing the set with the most repetitions you’re able to complete, perform one more maximum effort set.

Day 3: Perform a total of nine training sets*, resting 60 seconds between each set:  Perform three training sets using a normal overhand grip, three more training sets with your pinkies touching and palms faced toward you, and three more training sets using a wide overhand grip.  *The number of repetitions in each training set is determined by whether or not you can successfully (but barely) complete the above exercise using a particular number of repetitions per set.  If your current pull-up max is 12 repetitions, you will probably only be able to complete the above exercise using training sets with 1-3 repetitions each.  Make sure to use the same training set through each exercise.  If the particular exercise is too easy, increase the number of repetitions per training set the following week.

Day 4: Do as many training sets as possible, resting 60 seconds between each set.  Make sure  you use the same training set throughout the exercise.  If you can easily do more than 9 training sets, then your training sets are too easy and you should increase the number of repetitions per training set the following week.

Day 5: Repeat the most difficult routine from the previous four days.

Notes:  At first the number of repetitions you’re able to perform during a maximum effort set may decrease – this is a normal part of the muscle tear down process.  Don’t give up! As with any strength building program, eat plenty of protein every day, drink lots of water, get plenty of rest and you will improve!  This program worked for me, and I believe it can work for you too.  If you don’t have a convenient pull-up bar, you may want to invest in an Iron-Gym pull-up bar.   I use it at my apartment because I don’t have to drill any holes and can take it down whenever it’s not in use.  Good luck and have fun!

Originally posted 2011-08-09 01:48:00.

Exercises You Should Try: The Lat Pull-Down

benefits-muscles-lat-pull-downWhether you are canoeing, skiing, swimming, or climbing, your back muscles are catalysts in creating the requisite force necessary for good performance. As the primary force-producing muscle in the back, the strength of your Latissimus Dorsi is a key determinant in your ability to climb a challenging rock face, to propel yourself on the slope, to generate force on your backstroke, and to give more thrust to your canoe paddle. If you haven’t already, you may want to consider making the lat pulldown a staple of your exercise regimen.


From a physiological standpoint, the lat pulldown activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Posterior Deltoids, and Rhomboids. Muscles involved to a lesser degree include the Biceps and forearms. The concentric or descending portion of the movement contracts and shortens the Latissimus Dorsi, activating motor units across the upper back. Also important is the eccentric or upward phase, which lengthens muscle fibers, aiding muscle recruitment and strength. In addition to stimulating hypertrophy in muscles, the pulldown also improves communication between neurons, bolstering your coordination and ability to perform pulling movements with greater efficacy.


Studies have shown that hand positioning can have a significant effect on the effectiveness and value of the lat pulldown. Commonly used variations include wide grip anterior, wide grip posterior, and close grip and supinated grip. Theories abound as to which variation is superior to which. Also common is the assumption that any alternative is as good as the next. It is true that alternative grips can target different muscle to different degrees. However, numerous studies have concluded that the wide grip anterior approach is safer and more successful in targeting the Latissimus Dorsi muscle than any other method.

In using the wide grip anterior variation, an effort should be made to focus on the role of the Latissimus Dorsi muscle in the movement. A common mistake is to pull with the biceps, rather than relying on the back muscles to produce the needed energy. Consequently, the secondary muscles can easily transcend the role of the primary muscles in the movement, which can defeat the purpose of the exercise.


  • Avoiding Questionable Variations – The behind the neck variation can place excessive strain on the shoulders. Pulling the bar downward in back of the head is at the very least unnatural and awkward, and at the most potentially dangerous. Any variation you use should include exclusively frontal movements, to reduce tension on the neck and shoulders.
  • Incorporating Alternate Exercises – You don’t have to have a sophisticated machine to reap the benefits of the Lat pulldown. As an excellent and arguably superior exercise, the pull-up is a similar movement that replicates the motion to a significant degree. Granted, the pull-up does require more upper body strength than the lat pulldown. But this strength can be built through a dedicated and deliberate approach to building strength in the upper back through exercises such as the lat pulldown.


Signorile, Joseph e; Zink, Attila J.; Szwed, Steven P. A Comparative Electromyographical Investigation of Muscle Utilization Patterns Using Various Hand Positions During the Lat Pull-down

Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Photo by sportsandsocial

Originally posted 2013-11-04 06:27:56.

Exercises You Should Try: The Seated Row with Chest Support


Reasons to Try the Seated Row with Chest Support: Rowing is a physiologically intuitive motion, bringing natural and rhythmic exertion to the muscles of the upper back. While the movement properly practiced is natural and beneficial, bad habits involving poor technique can place undue stress on the lower back. As an exercise that combines this beneficial motion with a support mechanism to ensure proper form, the seated row with chest support is an exercise you should consider.  By placing very specific demands on the upper region of the human back, this exercise forces activated muscle groups to respond and strengthen, while protecting the lower region of the back against excessive strain and potential injury.  Consider some of the benefits of the chest-supported row:

Enhancing your Back’s Function

Integrating a rowing motion into your routine can improve the functioning of your back. As a rowing motion that activates the Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Rhomboid, and Posterior Deltoid, and Biceps Bracii, the seated row with chest support galvanizes the major muscle groups of the upper back. This increased workload brings about neurological and muscular changes in the aforementioned muscles, aiding muscle tone, function, size, coordination and strength. Improved function in the upper back is also helpful in the prevention of shoulder and chest injuries.

Aiding your Technique

Rounding your back during a rowing exercise places exorbitant stress on the lower back, leaving you vulnerable and prone to injury. As the name suggests, the seated row with chest support has a padded mechanism to ensure that your back remains flat during the motion. With greater ability to perform this exercise properly, you will be able to better focus on engaging the muscles of your back.

Balancing your Push-Pull Variation

Any good routine will have a balance mixture of pushing and pulling motions. Focusing on one type of movement to the exclusion of the other can result in strength inequity and greater vulnerability to injury.  As a reciprocal movement to the bench press, the seated row with chest support gives you a motion that balances your routine. If you spend a disproportionate amount of time on pushing motions, consider this exercise as a way of complementing and enhancing your exercise sessions.


  • Start Light – As with any new exercise, the body needs time to adjust to the movement. Getting the biomechanics down is not automatic, and thus requires a good amount of time and practice. Keep the movement steady and controlled, and avoid rocking. Move deliberately and gradually. Try light weight and high repetitions in your initial sessions, get the technique down, and add weight as you feel more comfortable.
  • Be Consistent – In realizing the benefit of any exercise, it is important to perform it with regularity. Your body needs time to adapt to the motion and benefit from it. If you are wondering why you are not benefitting from the exercise, set up a routine and stay with it!
  • Be Creative – You don’t need a machine or gym membership to incorporate this motion. You can replicate it easily with a slightly inclined bench and some dumbbells.

Reference: Baechle, Thomas, Earle, Roger. NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training

Originally posted 2013-10-24 13:16:50.