How do we find Motivation?

We’ve all been here before. Anyone that’s ever worked out alone before has said the exact same words in their head that I’m about to say…

“What do I do now?”

It’s definitely a difficult concept to get a grasp on, what kind of workout am I going to do today? You have the free weights, machines, treadmills, ellipticals, stairmasters, etc. I’ve been this person before, just looking around being overwhelmed at the crap around you and the people as well. I know for damn sure when I was 15 I didn’t want to be benching 30 pound dumbbells next to the saucebag putting up 120 pounders for 12 reps. Nothing intimidated me more than the guys that looked like this…

So what would I do? Run on the treadmill for 20 minutes, do some BS “core” work, a set of this here, a set of this there and that was it. I was out of there in 32 and a half minutes and got absolutely nothing done. Exercise definitely wasn’t my thing at the time, and this is the case for many people that we see struggling in the fitness world today. So the real question now is, how do we correct this? 

  • The first thing I would suggest is personal training with a trainer with a solid reputation. Let them evaluate you to figure out where you stand and how you’re going to get to where you want to be. After evaluation, they’ll formulate a plan for you and lead you to your goals giving you all the motivation you need. This is how the perfect scenario would play out.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where everything is perfect of course. Personal training is costly both from a financial and time standpoint. Most people fall into this category where they cannot simply afford it or they’re too busy with their lives, which is definitely understandable between work, family, and all the other factors that take up our time. So if personal training is out of the option, let’s figure out some ways we can make our gym sessions more efficient without having to spend hours in the gym (the complete opposite of efficient, just so you know).

Here we go…

1.) Find a workout “buddy”.
I don’t know about how everyone else in the fitness industry feels about this, but I would rather workout with a group of my friends rather than all alone. I would always get that “who’s watching me” feeling going on in my head whenever I’d lift by myself. With a partner, I was always able to block this out without even thinking about it. You’re more comfortable around the people you’re close with rather than complete strangers, there’s gotta be some type of psychological fancy law stating that. Whether it’s your best friend, a family member, or even your neighbor, go out there and find someone that’ll push you the same way you’ll push them in the gym.

2.) Plan your workouts in advance.
Some guys go overboard with this one. I’m not suggesting you write out an elaborate program full of different hypertrophy and strength phases for the next three years. But you definitely want to have an idea of what you’re doing in the gym for that day, week, and even month. Going into the gym without a plan in mind is just as effective as sitting on a stationary bike for an hour with your iced coffee from Dunkin. If you plan out what you’re going to do in advance, it’ll make it much easier for you to stay dedicated to your program as well as motivated.

3.) Have some variety.
Don’t be the guy that goes into the gym Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (every day of the week for those keeping score at home) doing the same workout every single day. Believe it or not, it happens. I don’t know about all 3 of you that are probably going to read this, but that’s boring to me. I don’t want to bench 5 times a week, hell I barely want to bench once a week (I get through it though!). In order for me to stay motivated, I need my workouts to have some flavor. I’d rather beat the living hell out of a tire with a sledgehammer over running on an elliptical watching CNN on the screen above me for half an hour. I’m sure the majority (about 99.9%) of true gym rats feel the same way. The A.D.D. in all of us kicks in every now and then, spice it up a little!

This sure as hell looks like more fun to me!

4.) Break bad habits that will cause plateaus in your progress.
This is one of the key factors that will keep you motivated towards achieving your goals. I was in this boat for sure, once I started seeing results, I didn’t want to stop. I’m still not at the physique I want to be at today, but I’m sure as hell motivated to get there. To do this, we need to break out of bad habits. Examples of bad habits that will prevent growth in the gym are smoking, boozin’, consuming crap, and a lack of sleep. How are you supposed to see results if you’re the guy that smokes a pack of day, houses a liter of soda with every meal, parties (gets plastered) on the weekends, and sleeps 5 hours a night? This is a case where the bad easily outweighs the good. So how do we break bad habits? A couple months ago I read an article which had a brilliant suggestion in it to help benefit our health. It stated that for one week (or longer…depending on how long it takes), you should focus on changing one thing (and one thing only) about your lifestyle that will benefit you in the long run. An example of this would be soda consumption. Eventually, the bad habit will be replaced by the new habit, allowing you to work on the next aspect of your overall health. I wish I could take credit for this concept, but unfortunately I was not the one to come up with it.

And last but not least…

5.) Don’t spend more than an hour in the gym
I work in the fitness center at my school. It puzzles me sometimes how people can adapt to a small, smelly and crowded gym…and then proceed to workout in it for 2-3 hours at a time. There’s guys that check their ID in to me at the front desk at 7:45 at night and don’t leave until we shut the place down at 10:00. That’s 2 hours and 15 minutes. 2 hours and 15 minutes. Something about this equation isn’t right. If you’re training as hard as you possibly could, you should honestly get everything you need to get done anywhere between 25-45 minutes, tops. Hell, workouts can be even shorter than 25 minutes, depending on what you’re doing (metabolic circuits, etc). When I’m working out, I want to get it done as fast as I possibly can. I don’t want to bang out a set, go for a five minute water break, bang out another set, bullshit with the guy next to me about something completely irrelevant, and then finish my third set. I want to get my exercise done in five minutes, not half an hour. If you stay focused and short with your workouts, you don’t need to be in the gym for long at all. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.

I was planning on keeping this post short and sweet, so much for that. I’m just going to wrap it up by saying if you truly want something, then you will do whatever it takes to get to that goal. Set a goal, plan out how you’re going to get there, and then work your ass off until you reach it. It’s a plain and simple concept, but rarely do you see people ever finish what they started. Knowing is only half the battle, the other half is on you.

Why We Suck: Squats

It’s almost a proven fact that nobody out there likes Mondays. Therefore, I’m going to start dedicating my Mondays to things that irk me in the gym. I don’t think I have a bigger pet peeve than people who load up a bar with, say, 225 pounds then proceed to “squat”. If your definition of a squat is an anterior pelvic tilt, where your hips are collapsing in after every rep, then so be it. You’re probably the guy that needs a weight belt, gloves, and the infamous “p” pad to get your sets in. (We won’t go into details on what the p stands for)

Chances are, you’re probably very similar to this guy.

Since I’ve started lifting, I’ve always had problems with my lower back. I remember how it first started too, I was a moron. I hated deadlifts. I absolutely hated deadlifts. One day we were pulling from a trap bar, the set was 225 for 4. Rather than “spreading the floor” with my feet to pull the weight up, which is the way I’ve been taught most recently, I tried to jerk the weight up. I felt a tweak in one of my lumbar vertebrae and it was a nagging injury for years to come. Anyway, enough about me, this is just an example of how easy it is to blow your back out, luckily for me I’ve been able to work around it and prevent my spine problems from getting worse.

Anyway…

Before we can correct our squats, we have to understand why we squat to begin with. First thing’s first, stability from the ground up is the key reason as to why we squat. Without strength from our lower half, how can we possibly produce power with our upper half? Baseball is a key example, both pitching and hitting are initiated through our lower extremities, followed by our hips (which provide the most explosive and raw power) and finish through our upper extremities. Squats (executed properly) are crucial for most athletes. For others, they produce more risk than reward, but that’s a topic for another day.

If you’re not the typical athlete and are just looking to get in shape, squats are a great weapon to have in your arsenal. When done properly, squats activate many of the muscles in the human body. Because of this, squats will actually (believe it or not) improve your other lifts in the gym. They also activate key hormones to build muscle, specifically testosterone and growth hormone (GH). These hormones improve growth in the total body, which explains why squats will benefit your upper body as well as your lower half, obviously.

Squats bring out the mental toughness in you as well as physical strength. How can you complain about this?

So now we understand the concepts of why we squat…now we have to understand how we squat.

The most common teaching mistake made with the squat is to “sit” during the eccentric phase. No, no, no, no, no. You do not sit when squatting, you sit when you’re taking a dump.

This guy looks like he knows a thing about squatting.

When we squat properly, rather than “sitting”, we spread the groin. I was taught to “spread the floor” with my feet as I would decelerate down. By doing this, I focused on spreading outwards instead of straight down. This allowed me to clear my hips without worrying about them collapsing in on the concentric phase of the squat.

Another key factor we must focus on while squatting is preventing excessive lumbar extension. In simpler terms, we cannot allow our lower back to arch while we squat. This occurs from an anterior pelvic tilt. Like a domino effect, an anterior pelvic tilt is the effect of having a weak core. In order to correct this, we must build core strength. By this, I don’t mean banging out sets of crunches, which actually does more harm then good. We must train our core (abdominals, obliques, erector spinae muscles, longissimus, the list goes on). To do this, we have to train in the different planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes).

Below is a video that will get your core functioning properly with execution of these exercises.

Now, we have to figure out which type of squat is best for you. Personally, the front squat is my go to weapon. It forces me to activate my core because the bar is now stationed on the anterior part of my body. Because of this, there is a slight pelvic tilt that will allow me to stand up straight without the weight falling over (or falling into lumbar flexion). By this point, my core will be firing and I haven’t even started the exercise! Now lets see what happens after I get out of this isometric position in the front squat…

  • Before beginning the eccentric phase, I have to make sure my neck consistently stays packed and I try to pull my “scaps to my shins”. While doing this, I activate my latissimus dorsi, aka my lats.
  • I also breath through my nose to fill my brace up with air. This will allow me to stay strong as I descend without losing any stability.
  • With the eccentric contraction, I make sure I am spreading the floor with my feet rather than sitting into the squat.
  • Once my hip flexors tell me to stop, I stop. If I try to get any lower, chances are my form at the very bottom is gonna be brutal. This can’t be happening with heavy weights if I want to keep a healthy back.
  • With the concentric phase, I push back through my heels while continuing to spread the floor. This will allow me to keep my hips in a good position as I come back to my starting position.
  • As I come back to the top, I have to make sure I don’t go into lumbar extension “round my back”. This is prevented by keeping my core nice and tight throughout the whole exercise. If you still see this occurring, you need to work on your core strength!


Here’s an example of crappy squat form, from yours truly just a couple of months ago.

In this video, I neglected a packed neck, didn’t stabilize my core before every rep, and got as deep as I possibly could which caused my back to round. Do not follow this as a model squat. This is not what you want to achieve unless you want back pain, then by all means go for it.

Instead, we want this (front squat example)

Your turn. Go out there, clean your form up and tear the weight room apart.

Must Read Articles: 10/14/2012-10/21/2012

Here are some articles I’ve read in the past week that I would recommend to anyone looking to learn a thing or two about exercise!

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Assisted Band Push Ups
by Tony Gentilcore (guest post by Dave Rak)

Too bad this article wasn’t around back when I started working out. Up until I was like 17 I’d rep out push ups with my elbows flared out, hips elevated, and chin up. In other words, we call this crappy form. This article does a great job explaining one of the most simple regressions of the pushup anybody can perform without falling into bad habits.

link: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/exercises-you-should-doing-band-assisted-push-up/

Hip Mobility
by: Joe Gambino

My boy (and one of my main mentors in the exercise science field) Joe hit the nail on the head with this post. I’ve been working with Joe since I was about 14 years old and he is one of the top trainers over at Matrix Fitness Club. I wouldn’t just suggest this post from his blog though, they’re all on point and you can learn a lot from reading them. Joe does a great job at explaining why we need better range of motion through our hips. He also breaks down seven different mobility exercises (with videos!) to help your flexibility issues out. If you want to go “ass to grass” with your squats, you better make sure to implement these exercises into your program.

link: http://joegambino.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/hip-mobility/

Is Aerobic or Anaerobic Training Best For Getting Rid of Belly Fat?
by: Charles Poliquin

Are you that person that wastes away hours on the treadmill, reading the newest gossip magazine without even breaking a sweat…and then wondering why you aren’t seeing results? This article breaks down why anaerobic exercise is more beneficial if you have to choose between aerobic and anaerobic. Charles Poliquin gives us 8 legitimate arguments as to why this is the better option for weight loss, breaking down things like hormonal response, stress levels, and the duration of time spent exercising. If you’re the person that wants to lose weight by walking on the treadmill or casually using the elliptical, think again. Anaerobic is the way to go to trim that beer belly.

link: http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/930/Is_Aerobic_or_Anaerobic_Training_Best_For_Getting_.aspx

And finally, here’s a video to follow up on the aerobic vs. anaerobic debate from Athlean-X creator Jeff Cavaliere.

Hope you get something out of each of these articles, enjoy!

Why I Love the Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is arguably my second favorite exercise in the gym, behind everyone’s favorite, the deadlift of course. This is one exercise that I would recommend to anyone, between the benefits you can gain from it as well as the safety it provides when executed properly. It’s easy to develop a love-hate relationship with these bad boys. The hate comes from the complete ass kicking (literally) they will deliver to your glutes and core. The love comes from the results you see as well as the overall increase in lower body strength and stability. Let me go into more details as to why I have a mancrush on the reverse lunge.

  • The reverse lunge is a unilateral exercise. In other words, a specific muscle is targeted one limb at a time. In this case, the gluteus maximus is the main target muscle when executing a reverse lunge. Unilateral exercises are important in any workout program because they create instability. When the body doesn’t have a stable base, it requires the core and glutes to stabilize as compensation. Without proper stability, crappy form and loss of balance are two main consequences when performing a unilateral exercise.
  • Because it is a unilateral exercise, there is no need for excessive weight on the barbell. In fact, when performed properly, a barbell isn’t needed at all in the beginner’s phase. Trust me, this exercise is tough enough as a body weight only exercise without having to worry about blowing out your lumbar spine.
  • The reverse lunge has numerous progressions to it. Once you’ve mastered the body weight reverse lunge, you can add a barbell to the equation. When that becomes too easy, you can throw some weight on that bad boy. There are many pieces of equipment out there as well that can serve as progressions to the reverse lunge, a slide board and TRX suspension trainer are the first to come to mind. The various reverse lunge exercises that can be performed are definitely a great reason why it should be cemented into your workout program.
  • It’s one of my favorite (and most dreaded!) ways to finish off a workout. You’ve worked hard, busted your ass and have sweat dripping everywhere. Now you got 2 to 3 sets of reverse lunges to finish off. By the time you finish, your legs feel like jello and it’s time to pass out from exhaustion. By the 5th or 6th rep of your first set you should feel a ridiculous burn running through your glutes and rectus abdominis, or in less fancy terminology, your abs.

Coaching cues to the reverse lunge

  1. Make sure you are in a good position with proper posture before performing the exercise. To make sure of this, we want to stabilize our glutes, core and pack our neck to create a “double chin”. When done correctly, you should feel like you’re performing a plank standing up!
  2. In the eccentric contraction phase (deceleration), make sure to maintain this stability throughout knee flexion. This allows the knee, which is planted, to maintain proper positioning without buckling inwards or flexing over the toe. If the knee happens to stick out further than the foot, you must be cognizant of pushing your heel through the ground as well as striding out a healthy amount with the leg decelerating to the floor.
  3. The concentric phase of the lunge should force you to fire through the gluteus maximus which has already faced a lot of tension through it’s stability during the repetition. Once you fire up, both legs should be parallel, shoulder width apart before completing the next rep.
  4. Make sure to fire through the glute at the top while stabilizing your core. This will prevent anterior pelvic tilt, which leads to lumbar extension and possible lower back injury.
  5. Repeat until your set rep mark or until failure where you can’t perform another rep with perfect form. Remember, it’s quality over quantity.

Overall, the reverse lunge is an amazing exercise. It’s a basic compound exercise that doesn’t appeal to everybody but produces great results. Many people out there in the fitness world neglect unilateral training, whether it be upper or lower body exercises. This is an important thing to overlook because we create imbalances with bilateral training. I can relate to this perfectly.

There’s nobody out there that wants this.

Being left handed, the left side of my body from an anatomical standpoint was always my dominant side. I had greater range of motion through my left hip when executing a squat, I always favored my left side slightly more than my right side when performing planks without realizing it, and dumbbell bench pressing was always easier on my dominant side. Today, all of my imbalances are basically gone thanks to implementing different types of single leg movements as well as side planks, single arm bench presses, and single arm rows to my program. I’ve dealt with much less nagging injuries, specifically in my lower back, and have been able to prevent them from occurring again thanks to balancing my strength and mobility out. It’s exercises like the reverse lunge that I have to thank for this.

Now go out there, bang some lunges out and kick some ass!

What am I getting myself into…

Sports have been a part of my life as far as I could remember. Growing up, baseball and basketball were the two things that mattered to me more than anything (besides friends and family of course!). I’d spend countless hours in my backyard or at the schoolyard shooting around or playing stickball with my friends. Basically, physical activity has always been a part of my life and I’ve come to realize my passion will soon become my profession.

When I was thirteen, I was first introduced to the idea of strength training in a gym environment. I still remember my first workout, maxing out at a ridiculous 4 (maybe 5) pushups. I think I pushed out at the most 12 burpees before feeling I was going to pass out and croak. I hated it at the time and never wanted to workout again.

Back in the glory days.

Science at the time was my least favorite subject, besides spanish, no hablo espanol. I absolutely hated it and couldn’t stand sitting in class learning about basic cell structures and photosynthesis.

You’re probably thinking, what the hell does that have to do with anything? It’s a cliche saying that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but that statement is completely disregarded by me.

Overtime, I began to see my body begin to change. I transformed from a 5’11” extremely uncoordinated string bean to a 6’1″ slightly leaner string bean half a year later. The coordination was still pretty brutal. I began to care about my nutrition more and believe it or not, I actually began to like science. Probably only because I was taking an earth science class that was an automatic 95 on my report card. I’m kicking myself in the ass today for choosing that joke of a class over physics, which I’ll be learning about in my spring semester through a biomechanics course in my major.

It wasn’t until my senior year in high school where I was completely certain that my opinion on weight training changed. I felt like the man being able to flex my pecs, and begin to see cuts in my abdominal region. This was my motivation to keep pushing towards a lean, mean, pasty white physique. I also came across YouTube channels like Jeff Cavaliere’s, former physical therapist of the New York Mets and the creator of the Athlean-X system. I was hooked to his videos, I’d watch all of them and try to soak in as much information as I can. I’d even try to implement some of the exercises he’d display into my own workout programs, which were pretty crappy looking back at them now. I began to realize I wasn’t lifting like a baseball player should be lifting when I stumbled upon a blog ran by quite possibly the best strength coach in the nation Eric Cressey. I was mesmerized by how much information was at my grasp and I’ve made the most of it. It slowly became my own kind of bible. I’d read and read and read some more, and then I’d read more of his articles from different websites on top of that.

Thanks to all of this, I felt like the man starting my kinesiology class this fall and knowing what abduction and adduction were. I know, I’m a tool.

Rocket science at its finest.

Halfway through the course, it has been fairly simple thus far. I’ve passed all of my quizzes and exams with flying colors. I’ve also had to complete a presentation on the knee joint on the basic principles of flexion and extension. Needless to say, my face was as red as a tomato as I felt like the kid standing there in his underwear up in front of the class. Glad that’s over with, two more tests until I can receive my well deserved A (hopefully).

If this hasn’t put you to sleep by now, bless you for still reading. What’s gonna end up on this blog? My opinions, questions, and different types of observations in the weight room on an everyday basis. Of course, it’s going to be on a basic level for now because I’m still a newbie with the whole fitness field, but hopefully overtime I educate myself enough to become one of the “must read” blogs in weight training.

And with this, let the wild Friday nights (Saturday as well most likely, sweet life) of intense blogging begin!