Harness the Power of the Squat!

squatweightsIf you’re not squatting, either your bodyweight or free weights, you should be!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or woman, elderly or young, squats are one of the single most effective workouts for activating the major muscle groups, developing core strength, burning calories, building bone density, and promoting flexibility.  If you’re new to squatting, then start out by squatting your bodyweight for a couple of weeks, doing 3 sets of 20 squats everyday.  Then, depending on your health and fitness level, try squatting with a large staff or an olympic bar without any extra weights on loaded.  If you’re a more advanced weekend warrior or athlete and squats aren’t in your current workout repertoire, then it’s time to add them!  There’s no faster or more effective way to improve your athleticism and strength.

Squats activate the body’s central nervous system and promote a muscle building, restorative state. Squats build the muscles of the buttocks, hips, thighs, trunk, lower back, shoulders, and arms.  They also help strengthen ligaments and tendons in the legs. People often worry about injuring their knees by performing squats, but when performed correctly, squats will actually strengthen the knees and protect them from future injuries.

Free Weight  Squat Technique: 

  • Be sure to use a squat rack that will catch your weights in the event that they are too heavy to lift back up
  • Load the olympic weight bar low on your upper back, with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder width apart
  • With the proper technique there’s no need to use a bar pad
  •  The bar will rest somewhere just above your shoulder blades
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and be sure that the bar is centered and balanced.
  • After un-racking the weight, take a couple step BACKWARDS (dont’ load the weight so that you are walking forward)
  • You’re back will be straight but leaning slightly forward as you squat
  • Go down until your hip joints are just below your knees, then rapidly stand up
  • Look forward
  • Don’t lock your knees

For a great explanation of how to squat, watch the video below by StrongLifts:

 

 

Originally posted 2013-06-08 00:42:44.

5 Great Strength Training Moves for Runners

Believe it or not, training for running a race involves more than putting miles on your running shoes. Strength training is an important part of race training. Integrating strength training into your running routine will help prevent injury, build up supporting muscles, and increase speed over time.

Running activates numerous muscles throughout the body, but one of the most important areas is the “core.” The core includes the abs, back, and hips.  According to Runner’s World, core strength improves running performance and reduces risk of injury. I can personally vouch for the importance of core training too.  Last year, when I didn’t include core training in my preparation for a race,  I experienced breathing issues, as well as the much-feared “side stitch.” Avoid the mistake I made and be sure to train your core for better running performance.  

One great move to increase ab strength:

Planking. Planks can be done from the forearms or hands in a basic push-up position, as well as on each side of the body to target your obliques. Hold a front plank and side planks for 30 seconds each (or no longer than you can maintain perfect form) for severals set. Or test your strength to see how long you can hold the plank (with proper form).

Some moves to increase lower back strength:

If you’re a runner, it’s crucial that you give special attention to strengthening your lower back. I suffered a back injury a couple of years ago, which had to do with the fact that all I was doing in my training was running. Lower back pain is common today, a product of sitting in the same position for long periods at a desk, or at the opposite spectrum, from standing in the same position all day. The mild back pain caused by lack of movement can generally be relieved with strength training. (Be sure to check with your doctor if you have moderate to severe lower back pain before attempting any of these exercises.)

Bridges. Lie on your back with feet on the floor. Tighten abs and glutes to raise your body off of the floor towards the ceiling. You can do a number of reps in a rhythmic up/down motion, or hold the position for a period of time. Do 15-20 reps or one 30 second interval for a set.

Back extension. This move can be done with an exercise ball or with weights. Lie face down on an exercise ball, with hands behind your head and feet against a sturdy object (such as your couch or a wall). Squeeze your glutes and raise yourself slightly off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Hold the raised position for 30 seconds or do 10-15 repetitions for a set.

(See links below for more lower back exercises.)

Here are some moves to incorporate to develop supporting or stabilizing muscles in your legs:

You’d be surprised at how many runners neglect training their legs, since they figure they are getting their leg workout in when they run. Yet, running without strength training can cause weaknesses and imbalances in the leg muscles. When these supporting or stabilizing leg muscles are weak, incurring an injury while training or racing is more likely.

Single leg squats. This move focuses on building stability in each leg. Stand in a squat position, but place more weight on one side and only keep the toe of the other foot on the ground. Squat down, with back straight and focus on the one leg going down and up. Do 10-15 of these on each side for a set.

Dead lifts. This move simultaneously works multiple leg and core muscles, including the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and back muscles. With legs slightly bent (to prevent injury) stand with feet at a hips-width apart, free weights or bar in front of you (with bar centered over the top of your feet). Keeping your back straight, bend slowly at the waist until your weights or bar come to your knees (or wherever you feel comfortable). Focus on feeling an equal stretch in your left and right hamstring. Do 15-20 reps for a set. Read this article for more on dead lifts.

You can use all of the moves in this article for a quick strength training routine to support your running, doing 2-3 sets of each. Remember, focus on form over quantity for the best results!

Questions:

Do you integrate strength training while training for a race?

Have you ever been injured while training for a race? How are you healing and/or preventing this from happening again?

Sources: Runner’s World article: Strength TrainingRunner’s World article: The Core of the MatterDiary of a Semi-Health Nut: 10 Moves for a Strong Lower Back.

Originally posted 2013-09-24 15:38:07.

The Art of Resting Between Sets

Rest and hydration between set is very important!!! #gym #gettingfit #weigths #goodlife #nopainnogainDuring a strenuous bout of exercise, stopping can be the hardest thing to do. Anyone who has played high school sports is hardwired to “GO, GO, GO!” This mentality is admirable, but it can be detrimental to your fitness goals. While it can become easy to rush through rest periods in the gym, slowing down is crucial to achieving an optimal workout.

Why is rest important?
Cutting your rest too short can result in sloppy lifts and possibly injury; on the other hand, resting too long can make your body stagnant and sluggish throughout the rest of your workout. While you are lifting weights, your body is going through tremendous changes. Intense muscular tension will cause increased blood flow, an elevated heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, and neural fatigue. Following your set, rest is necessary for your body to return to a normal state. You can measure your heart rate and/or blood pressure before your first set to determine where you need to be during the following the set, but this method can be quite cumbersome. Simply timing your rest is a much easier way to determine if you have rested long enough.

How long is long enough?
The intensity and repetition range of your workout determine how long you should rest. If your program is aimed at stability or endurance, your rest periods don’t have to be very long, as your body isn’t experiencing excessive fatigue. Very intense, heavy lifting, however, requires long rest periods. Whether endurance or strength-focused, timing is important, but don’t fee like you have to be a stopwatch-dictator; “ball-parking” your rest periods is fine. If you are listening to music, one way to estimate your rest period is to note where you are in the song when you end one set and keep an eye on the time until it is time to start the next set.

Stability/Endurance Timing
The minimum rest period you should use between your workouts is 30 seconds. If you are a novice weightlifter or engaging in stability/endurance exercises, you should rest 30-60 seconds between sets of 12 or more repetitions. The only exception to this rule is if you are doing super sets. During super sets, you pair two exercises together. Instead of doing Exercise A, rest, Exercise A, rest, Exercise B, rest, Exercise B, you do Exercise A, go straight to Exercise B, and then rest.

Hypertrophy Timing
To develop hypertrophy (the scientific name for muscle growth) your repetitions will be lower, requiring longer rest periods. Hypertrophy gains are best when you lift at a high intensity around 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Developing muscle mass requires dedication and very hard work. At the end of these sets you will be spent, not only wanting, but needing rest. The minimum rest for hypertrophy training should be 45 seconds; I would suggest the upper end of 90 seconds, maybe even 2 minutes, if you are working hard.

Strength Timing
Although you will notice strength gains lifting in the hypertrophy spectrum, the biggest strength gains will come from a lower repetition range. Sets of roughly 4-6 repetitions per set will give you the biggest strength gains. This will require long rest periods; shoot for 3 minutes.

Power Timing
Power is developed from extremely low repetitions of very heavy weights. Whether you are engaging in power lifting (competitive squat, bench press and deadlift) or Olympic lifting (power clean, snatch and clean and jerk), most of your sets will consist of a single repetition. Due to the intensity of power exercises, your sets should not consist of more than 3 repetitions. VERY long rest is needed when lifting in this style; 3-5 minutes per set is normally required.

Application
As mentioned before, don’t go crazy if you are 5 seconds over or under your ideal rest period. The purpose of rest is to let your body restore its energy supplies and reach relative stasis  before starting the next set. The most important aspect of your recovery is letting your nervous system reset. When you’re just beginning to feel that your muscles are ready for another set, your nervous system probably isn’t. If you start lifting before your nervous system is ready, you put yourself at great risk for injury. There’s just one caveat — try not to rest more than 5 minutes between sets.  After about 5 minutes your nervous system loses its “edge” and your lifts could suffer as a result.

Originally posted 2013-09-10 12:18:09.