How Long Should You Stick With One Workout Plan?

This article was originally written for STACK.

Program hopping is an epidemic. The temptation to try new things every time you step foot in the gym is at an all-time high. With elite coaches and athletes putting out new, quality information daily, it's extremely tough to stick to one program for an extended period of time.

Ironically, that's exactly what you must do to see results.

Variability in training can be a good thing. It can produce a new stimulus for the body and initiate a positive change. Too much variability, however, prevents you from making any progress.

So just how long should you stick with one workout plan? To answer that question, I'll split this into two categories: training goals and training variables.

Training Goals

A training goal is your overarching "why." It is the reason you're going to the gym. It is the foundation for which your program is based. Examples of training goals are fat loss, strength/mass building or increased sports performance.

Each training goal has a very specific purpose and therefore a very specific path to success. Although it's possible for these goals to overlap, it's not optimal in most cases. For athletes, your training goal (and its duration) should be dictated by where you are in relation to your sport's season.

A football player should not be concerned with adding 50 pounds to his Deadlift mid-season. He should be focused on performing better on the field and maintaining the strength he built up during the offseason. As long as an athlete is in-season, their primary goal should be to remain healthy, productive, strong and useful. The training program should directly reflect that.

During the offseason, shift gears to improving numbers and changing body composition. Get stronger. Get faster. Build muscle or lose weight as needed. For most athletes, this means that your training goal should remain the same for three to six months.

For non-athletes, sports performance is not generally a consideration. In most cases, people are either trying to lose fat or build muscle (or both). The key is to focus on one.

Despite what some trainers would have you believe, losing fat and building muscle/getting stronger at the same time is possible. It's actually quite likely. However, trying to do both will also limit the progression of both.

If you are overweight, focus on losing fat. That means you need to eat at a caloric deficit, strength train and do a decent amount of cardio/conditioning. If you are underweight, focus on building mass. That means you need to eat at a caloric surplus, strength train and do just a bit of cardio/conditioning. Either way, accomplishing these goals takes a significant amount of time.

Your training goal should remain the same for a minimum of three months. For beginners, or those who have more to lose/gain, your goal could be constant for over a year while still seeing steady progress.

Training Variables

Training variables are the tools you use to reach your goals. They're the methods, the exercises and the set/rep schemes. They're the details.

Change the variables too often and you'll never make progress in any one area. Don't change them enough and you'll plateau. So where's the sweet spot?

You should keep all training variables the same for at least one month at a time. One month gives you enough time to get comfortable with an exercise, use proper form, choose a challenging weight and execute. You can and should increase the amount of weight you're using to ensure consistent challenge, but if you change exercises weekly, every lift will feel brand new. You likely won't be able to use an appropriate weight or even perform the exercise correctly. While some minor "accessory" movements may be rotated slightly more frequently, I still suggest keeping everything the same for at least a couple weeks.

Beginners may continue to make progress on the same plan for months on end. In such cases, sticking with the same training variables may be appropriate. More advanced lifters, however, will need some changes to continue seeing results.

Rather than changing the entire program monthly, just slightly alter the methods. Keep the main movement patterns (squat, hinge, push, pull), the training split (full body, upper/lower, push/pull/legs), and the general principles the same. Minor adjustments can have a major impact on continued results. For example, if you did a Sumo Deadlift in Month 1, switch to conventional Deadlift for Month 2. If you performed Dumbbell Split Squats, switch to a barbell. If you did Overhand Lat Pulldowns, switch to underhand. These small tweaks are the very definition of training variability, and have the potential to elicit an entirely different response in the body.

In summary, keep your training goal the same for at least three months. If you're an athlete, this duration will be dictated by the length of your season/offseason. Keep your training variables the same for at least one month. After that, keep principles constant while making minor adjustments to factors such as grip, angles, equipment and positioning.

Stretch, Engage, Activate: The 3 Things You Should Do Before Every Workout

This article was originally written for STACK.

Jumping straight into an intense workout without a proper warm-up is a recipe for disaster. Yet spending 30 minutes stretching before every lift is a waste of time.

The solution?

A three-step process that can be boiled down to "stretch, engage and activate."

The following warm-up accomplishes all of these goals in under 10 minutes, and it's the perfect way to prime your body for just about any type of workout. If you don't have the discipline to check off these three boxes before you train, don't be surprised if your results aren't what you envisioned!

1. Stretch

Before training, we want to dynamically stretch chronically tight muscles. For the upper body, this includes the pecs and lats. For the lower body: quads, hamstrings and glutes. We also want to loosen stiff joints, such as areas surrounding the shoulder and hip complex.

In your warm-up, focus on movements that target these areas first. Move in a slow and controlled fashion, while paying attention to any particularly tight or painful areas. If you find some, spend some extra time to ease out that tension.

This portion of your warm-up should take no more than a few minutes. Three to four sets of any of the following exercises will have you covered:

Upper Body:

  • Band Dislocate

  • Band Around-the-World

  • Wall/Floor Slide

Lower Body:

  • Shin Box Switch

  • Deep Squat to Hamstring Stretch

  • Hip Swing

2. Engage

The second step in this system is to engage target muscles. Specifically, we want to "turn on" areas that are chronically underused so that they can better assist in later lifts. For upper body, this is the upper back. For lower body, this is the glutes.

Here, we want to use high reps and/or isometric holds to pump blood into these areas. Chase the pump, and ensure you get a good burn before moving on. By this point, you should be breaking a sweat. Again, this portion of the warm-up should take no more than 2-3 minutes. Aim for reps in the 15+ range or hold any of these positions for 30+ seconds:

Upper Body:

  • Band Pull Apart

  • Band Face Pull

  • Lying Y-W-T

Lower Body:

  • Hip Thrust

  • Glute Bridge

  • Cossack Squat

3. Activate

The final step in our warm-up is to activate the central nervous system, or CNS. "Waking up" the CNS will help recruit more muscles, and will enable you to lift with more power and purpose.

To activate the CNS, we need to get explosive. Exercises such as jumps, sprints, and throws are ideal. Perform just 2-3 sets of these movements in low rep ranges (3-5 reps).

Upper Body:

  • Medicine Ball Slam or Throw

  • Explosive Jumping Jack or Seal Jack

  • Lying Y-W-T Isometric Hold

Lower Body:

  • Kettlebell Swing

  • Broad Jump

  • Sled Sprint

Progressive Overload Is the Concept You Must Understand to Make Consistent Gains in the Weight Room

This article was originally written for STACK.

Progressive overload essentially means doing more work over time.

This principle is based on the concept that your body eventually adapts to the demands placed on it. To see continual improvements, you must continually increase the demand.

There are a variety of ways to introduce progressive overload into your training. This article will focus specifically on volume. Total volume is a product of sets, reps and load. To increase volume, you simply increase one or more of these factors. Here's a closer look at how manipulating each of these variable can help you safely gain strength and size.

1. Increase the Load

The most obvious way to increase volume is to add weight to any given exercise. If you were able to complete 4 sets of 8 reps of Incline Dumbbell Press with 50-pound dumbbells this week, jump up to 55-pound dumbbells the following week. Such a jump may seem insignificant, but the volume adds up!

Week 1: 4 sets x 8 reps x 100 pounds = 3,200 pounds Week 2: 4 sets x 8 reps x 110 pounds = 3,520 pounds

Load is the first training variable to increase to progressively overload a muscle, especially on new exercises with which you're not already familiar. Typically, it will take a few weeks just to get comfortable with the movement and find a weight that truly challenges you. At some point, however, you will reach a weight that no longer allows you to complete your required sets and reps. That's OK! That's how you know you're pushing yourself.

Let's use the previous example and assume you went up to 60-pound dumbbells in Week 3, making the total load 120 pounds. Let's say you completed 3 sets of 8 reps, but were only able to get 4 reps on your last set. Using the previous equation, that equates to a total of 2,760 pounds moved. So technically, your volume would've gone down from the previous week. But don't panic! And certainly don't go back down in weight. Instead, simply aim to do more reps with the same weight next week.

Remember, progressive overload is a long-term principle. Your volume may go down slightly from week to week, but as long as you're making steady increases over time, you're on the right path.

You can also use an advanced method called Rest-Pause Sets. Rather than moving to the next exercise when you fail at 4 reps on the last set, rest briefly for 20-30 seconds, then knock out the remaining 4 reps. While the training effect is not the same as doing all 8 reps in one set, it still ensures that you are maintaining your current level of volume.

2. Increase The Reps

Increasing reps is the second variable to attack for progressive overload. Once you have reached a weight that truly challenges you, and possibly pushes you to failure, continuing to increase that load offers little to no benefit. Instead, you need to aim to do more reps.

It's not rocket science, but people can overlook the effect an extra couple reps in each set has on the overall volume of your workout. Once you've found a load that's challenging enough to cause you to miss reps on your final set, I would not advise trying to increase the load again for the following week. Instead, stay at that current weight until you're capable of completing all the programmed sets and reps.

Bodyweight exercises are an area where it's much more valuable to add volume via reps than it is via load, particularly for beginners. If you can only perform three Pull-Ups with strict from, you have no business putting on a weighted vest and trying to perform three more reps with 20 pounds on your back. In this case, progressive overload is more easily achieved by adding reps and mastering your own body weight. Once you have reached the point where you can do a substantial number of reps with exercises such as Push-Ups, Pull-Ups and Dips, then you may consider loading them.

3. Increase the Sets

The final training variable to adjust when looking to add volume is the number of sets. I place this last in the hierarchy for a few reasons.

First, finding a load that's truly challenging enough to stimulate the muscle should be the top priority. Although it has been proven that exercises performed in all rep ranges (even as high as 50-plus reps) can build muscle, it's not practical for most exercises.

Second, increasing the sets for multiple exercises within a workout will inevitably increase your time spent in the gym. While this may be necessary eventually (especially if you cannot add more days to your training program), it shouldn't be the first place you look to add volume.

Lastly, adding sets can drastically increase overall training volume. Although this is our ultimate goal, it needs to be monitored and scaled appropriately, especially for beginners. Too much volume too soon could lead to a lack of focus (why care about set number one when you have five more), a lack of proper technique (if you're gassed by set two, the next three won't look so pretty), and a lack of adequate recovery time.

Going back to that initial equation, here's how adding just a single set affects the volume of our Incline Dumbbell Press:

Week 2: 4 sets x 8 reps x 110 pounds = 3,520 pounds

Week 3: 5 sets x 8 reps x 110 pounds = 4,400 pounds

That's pretty significant. Adding sets is a great way to progressively overload, but you need to make sure you're advanced enough to handle that change.

One simpler way to add extra sets to your exercises? Warm-up sets. Adding warm-up sets to certain exercises is a sneaky-good way to increase volume. For example, instead of warming up for 5x5 Back Squats at 225 pounds with just 1 set of 10 reps at 135 pounds, try something like this

  • 1x10x45 pounds (so just the bar)

  • 1x10x95 pounds

  • 1x10x135 pounds

  • 1x 5x185 pounds

It's not incredibly taxing, but the volume adds up quickly! Throwing in a warm-up set or two to any exercise where you use a relatively heavy weight can be a game-changer.

Volume is a key aspect of progressive overload. To continue to see gains in the gym, volume needs to increased appropriately. Work up to a challenging load first, then aim to add reps to meet the programmed goal, and finally, add sets to really jump up the total workload.

More than a Six Pack: 3 Keys to Building Functional, Performance-Enhancing Core Strength

This article was originally written for STACK.

A well-developed core is not only the prominent feature of a good physique, it's the foundation of an elite athlete. Strength, power and stability all originate at the core. To function properly, it must be trained properly.

Drop the endless Crunches, century-long Planks, and gimmicky BOSU ball workouts. Instead, focus on these three principles to build functional, performance-enhancing core strength.

1. Train With "Anti" Movements

"Anti" movements fall into three categories:

Anti-Extension: Prevent extension of the spine.

Anti-Rotation: Prevent rotation of the spine.

Anti-Lateral Flexion: Prevent lateral flexion (side-bending) of the spine.

These three areas cover the core's primary function. The ability to resist extension, rotation and lateral flexion are what stabilizes the body when placed under stress, whether by movement or load. To build a truly resilient core, all three "anti-" movements need to be trained regularly. Aim to directly target each of these categories at least once per week.

2. Use Appropriate Exercises and Rep Ranges

To properly stimulate the core, it needs to be trained just like every other body part— with adequate load and volume. Too often, athletes resort to performing hundreds of sloppy reps of basic exercises like Crunches, Leg Lifts and static Plank holds for their core workouts. All those reps really aren't accomplishing anything other than making you tired.

Instead, you need to challenge your core with difficult exercises executed with control and purpose. The majority of core training should fall somewhere within the 6- to 15-rep range- just like other body parts. Static Planks are fine for beginners, but upgrading them with dynamic movement is a much better way to progress them than simply holding the position for minutes on end.

3. Perform Unilateral Exercises

Unilateral exercises (single-arm or single-leg exercises) are an excellent way to stimulate the core without directly training it. The instability created when only working one side of the body forces the core to work overtime to stabilize your trunk.

Compared to balancing on BOSU balls or moving platforms, these exercises are a much safer and applicable approach to core training. Unilateral exercises are also a better approximation of the movements you'll encounter during competition, so utilizing them in your training only makes sense.

The Best Training Tool to Strengthen Your Posterior Chain and Prevent Knee Injuries


This article was originally written for STACK.

Most gyms don't have a Glute Ham Developer, or GHD.

If your gym does, it's likely misused, underused or not used at all. That's a shame, because the GHD might just be precisely the tool you need to take your game to the next level.

Glute Ham Raises performed on the GHD are one of the best exercises for developing the posterior chain. Unlike many similar exercises, Glute Ham Raises work the hamstrings through both of their primary functions—knee flexion and hip extension.

Hip extension is essential to sports performance, as it directly relates to explosive movements like jumping, throwing and sprinting. If your hip extension isn't up to snuff, you won't be able to perform those movements as fast or as violently as you'd like. Glute Ham Raises build the muscles needed to improve hip extension, but they're also a fantastic way to prevent knee injuries.

Many knee injuries, especially the dreaded ACL tear, occur because athletes are anteriorly dominant. This means the muscles on the front side (anterior) of their body are significantly stronger than the muscles on the back side (posterior) of their body. Their quads are much stronger than their glutes and hamstrings, resulting in an uneven distribution of force during intense activity.

Knee injuries often happen when jumping, landing and changing direction, because the knee cannot properly stabilize during these forces due to the surrounding muscular imbalances. Strengthening the hamstrings using the GHD can be a game changer for an athlete's explosiveness and longevity.

To perform a Glute Ham Raise, set up with your knees on (or just behind) the pad, feet flat on the platform, and trunk in an upright position. Begin by lowering your trunk, extending at the knee. Continue lowering through a full range of motion, then bend at the knee, and use your hamstrings to pull you back into the starting position.

If a standard Glute Ham Raise is too difficult at first, use band assistance to help. If the movement becomes too easy, use band resistance or add weight. Perform the Glute Ham Raise in low to moderate reps (6-12) at a controlled tempo.

Mechanical Drop Sets: Your Secret to Crushing Heavier Weight and Building More Muscle

This article was originally written for STACK.

Mechanical Drop Sets are one of the most efficient and effective tools for packing on slabs of muscle.

In a typical drop set, you perform a set of an exercise to failure (or near it), reduce the weight, then repeat another set of the same exercise. With Mechanical Drop Sets you keep the weight the same and simply improve the mechanical advantage of the lift from set-to-set.

Here's a breakdown of a Mechanical Drop Set:

  1. Perform Exercise A until failure (or near it, within the 6-15 rep range).

  2. Slightly adjust the leverage, grip, foot positioning, bar positioning, range of motion, etc. of Exercise A to transition into a new, easier exercise (Exercise B).

  3. Perform Exercise B until failure (or near it, within the 6-15 rep range).

Mechanical Drop Sets allow you to do more work with heavier weight. More work with heavier weight equals more gains. It's not rocket science, but it sure does work.

By slightly altering the exercise from set to set, you not only prolong the amount of work performed, but you also hit the target muscle from a slightly different angle. These distinctions may seem minor, but they can lead to an enormous amount of new muscle growth.

Armed with this powerful new technique, here are eight Mechanical Drop Sets to add to your routine.

1. Incline Dumbbell Squeeze Press to Incline Dumbbell Press

The Squeeze Press is an overlooked way to place maximum tension on the pecs. Dropping to the standard Incline Press afterward allows the shoulders and triceps to assist a bit more in the movement.

2. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown to Underhand Close-Grip Lat Pulldown

The Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (or wide grip Pull-Up) focuses primarily on the lats. Switching to the Close Grip Underhand variation brings the biceps in more to the aid the already fatigued back.

3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise to Dumbbell Upright Row

When performing Lateral Raises, you want to keep your arms almost completely straight (maintain a slight bend), keeping the dumbbells far from your body. When you switch to the Upright Row, you bend more at the elbows, shortening the lever arm, making the movement easier.

4. Incline Dumbbell Skullcrusher to Incline Dumbbell Rollback

For Skullcrushers, the goal is to keep the elbow in place, forcing the triceps to do all the work. For Rollbacks, allow the elbows to drift back and forth to create momentum, initiating a pressing motion rather than a strict extension.

5. Reverse Grip EZ Bar Curl to EZ Bar Curl

With Reverse Grip Curls, the forearms will fatigue first. Simply flip the grip to recruit more biceps and extend the set.

6. Barbell Front Squat to Barbell Back Squat

Front Squats place a greater emphasis on the quads and really test core strength and stability. Moving to a Back Squat puts you at a greater mechanical advantage and allows you to recruit more muscles to keep moving.

7. Glute Ham Raise to Back Extension

Glute Ham Raises almost combine two movements—a Back Extension and a Bodyweight Leg Curl. Dropping to just a Back Extension essentially cuts the range of motion in half.

8. Hanging Leg Raise to Hanging Knee Raise

To complete a full, strict Hanging Leg Raise, the goal is to bring the toes all the way to the bar. For a Knee Raise, however, you just want to bring knees to elbows.

Program these Mechanical Drop Sets into your workouts on the appropriate days in place of any of the standard exercises used here. Use a weight that challenges you for 6-15 reps on the first set. While the idea here is to go to failure on both exercises, it's always smart to leave 1 or 2 reps in the tank.

Why Athletes Should Pull Twice as Often as They Push Inside the Weight Room

This article was originally written for STACK.

As a coach, one of my main goals with workout programming is balance. Creating an equally partitioned regimen so that no body part gets left behind is key. But if we're only looking at what goes on inside of the gym, then we're completely neglecting a major part of the equation.

Modern life, in general, hates the posterior chain.

OK, maybe that's a bit dramatic. But think about it, almost all of the activities we're exposed to on a regular basis contribute to anterior dominance. Working at a desk, commuting to and from work/school, and sitting while texting or watching TV are all things most of us spend hours doing each day.

All of these activities tighten and over-activate muscles on the front of the body, and lengthen and under-activate muscles on the back of the body. These imbalances not only cause discomfort and bad posture, but can also lead to injury and hamper athletic performance.

So what's the solution? Pull more! Specifically, you should be pulling at least twice as often as you push inside the weight room.

This means for every rep of a pressing exercise (Bench Press, Overhead Press, etc.), you should be doing at least two reps of a pulling exercise (Rows, Chin-Ups, etc.).

That may seem like overkill, but it's necessary.

Trust me- your shoulders, hips and lower back will thank you for using this ratio. Plus, having a big, stable back will actually go a long way in helping your Squat, Bench and Deadlift. So it's a win-win!

Before you get worried about adding more training days to your program or camping out at the Lat Pulldown machine for two hours, check out these four simple methods for incorporating more pulls in your regimen.

1. Add an Upper-Back Exercise (or Two) to Every Warm-Up

As previously mentioned, improving your back strength and stability will help improve performance in heavy pressing, squatting and deadlifting. Add a few sets of high-rep Band Pull-Aparts, Face Pulls, and/or Straight Arm Pulldowns before every session to warm-up the lats and rear delts and prime you for a solid workout (and build a better posture in the process).

2. Superset Every Press with a Row

For every set of Bench Presses, Overhead Presses or the like, perform a set of rows. These don't need to be heavy. High-rep Band Rows, Seated Cable Rows, Dumbbell Rows, or even Bodyweight (Inverted) Rows will do the trick. Supersetting every pressing exercise with a rowing exercise will also ensure you're always within easy striking distance of achieving that two-to-one pull-to-push ratio.

3. Pull Heavy First In Your Workout

Remember, total volume is not only a factor of sets and reps, but of load as well. By programming a heavy pull first in your upper-body workout (such as a Landmine Row, Pendlay Row, or Bent-Over Row), you're able to achieve a greater overall work capacity simply because you're not fatigued from previous exercises.

4. Pull Throughout the Day

Lastly, one of the best ways to get your pulling in is to microdose some work throughout the day. Keep a band in your car, at your desk, or in your suitcase while traveling, and knock out a few sets of Band Pull-Aparts every couple of hours.

For healthier shoulders, better posture and stronger lifts, pull twice as often as you push. You'll be impressed with the changes in health, body composition and performance that can come about just from following this simple ratio.

Should an Athlete Ever Train Like a Bodybuilder?

This article was originally written for STACK.

Many of today's coaches probably got their own start in the weight room after reading one of those classic muscle magazines. You know the ones—the mags that featured the "real" routines of the highest-level bodybuilders in the world. The mags that recommended a standard five-day body part split, and enough volume to keep you sore for an entire week. We loved feeling the pump, downing our post-workout protein shake, and not being able to sit down in a chair because our legs were in so much pain.

OK, maybe not that last one. But that was all we knew. And guess what? It worked—for a while.

Today, athletes have unlimited resources to teach them how to properly prepare for their sport. High-level coaches provide information for free all over the internet to help less-experienced individuals navigate the proper way to think, train and recover.

Most coaches steer clear of methods recommended by both old fitness magazines and modern bodybuilders in favor of a more "athletic" style of training. By athletic, I mean a style of training that helps athletes meet the demands of their sport rather than just look good shirtless. For the most part, this is justified.

But, is there a place for bodybuilding techniques in the sports performance realm? Should athletes ever train like bodybuilders?

To me, the answer is yes. I believe there is a place for bodybuilding-style training in athletics. The key is knowing how and when to use these methods.

What Does "Train Like a Bodybuilder" Mean?

When I say "train like a bodybuilder," I'm referring to a style of training that is typically higher volume (more sets and reps), lower frequency (training each body part once per week), and more controlled (slower tempos, fixed planes of motion, isolation of specific body parts). A typical "bodybuilding chest workout" might include 5-6 exercises for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps each, and would be performed with moderate weights at a controlled tempo with moderate rest periods.

This style of training has long been proven to build muscle.

A professional bodybuilder's main objective is to look good on stage. Or, in the case of the average gym-goer (who would technically be considered a bodybuilder), to just look good, period. An aesthetic physique is the goal. Muscle size, shape and symmetry are the keys for success. Running faster, jumping higher and performing better in a given sport are not on the list of goals.

The Downside of Training Like a Bodybuilder

The main issue with athletes training like bodybuilders is that the workouts don't prepare them for the physical demands of their sport. As previously mentioned, most bodybuilding routines are calculated, controlled and muscle-specific. Sports are none of these things.

A standard bodybuilding plan doesn't typically focus on key athletic qualities such as speed, power, quickness and agility. Five sets of Concentration Curls may be able to help get you some nice biceps, but they aren't really going to help you perform better on the field. Many of the isolation exercises necessary for bodybuilding aren't going to give you the best bang for your buck in terms of sports performance.

Lastly, there does come a point in athletics where too much muscle can become an issue. While there's no doubt that a larger muscle has the potential to be a stronger muscle, there's certainly a point of diminishing returns. If muscle mass limits your ability to meet the demands of your sport due to issues such as a lack of mobility or faulty movement patterns, that's a problem. More muscle also require more oxygen, so too much muscle mass could potentially limit endurance. And if you're in a weight class sport, such as wrestling, you might not want to have to switch classes just because you've packed on too much muscle mass.

When Can an Athlete Train Like a Bodybuilder?

There are a few key areas where I believe bodybuilding-style training has a major benefit for sports.

Injury Prevention/Rehab

Muscular imbalances are extremely common for athletes. The natural demands for most sports place an emphasis on one arm or leg over the other, or on upper vs. lower body. This typically creates significant weaknesses and leaves athletes susceptible to injury. To alleviate these imbalances and prevent further damage, it's often necessary to add additional sets/reps to specific body parts.

Similarly, if an athlete has already experienced an injury, bodybuilding-style workouts may be the best place for them to begin training again. They clearly can't jump right back on the playing field, nor can they participate in high intensity drills, but they can begin moving weights in a systematic and controlled environment. Building the muscles around the place of the injury will be key in getting them back to full strength and preventing further injuries.

Upper-Back Training

If there's one body part that I believe should be trained like a bodybuilder, it's the upper back. Due to the everyday activities of most athletes (sitting, driving, texting, etc.), posture is almost always an issue. Compound that with the fact that many training programs still over-emphasize upper body pushing (Bench Press and Overhead Press), and you've got a recipe for disaster.

To correct this, do a ton of high-rep upper-back work. For every pressing exercise, perform two pulling exercises. Add a row variation to every one of your workouts. Warm up daily with Face Pulls and/or Band Pull Aparts in the 15- to 20-rep range.

As a bonus, a big, strong upper back will dramatically help performance in the major compound movements—Deadlift, Squat and Bench Press. A big back creates a platform to support heavier loads, and better stabilizes the body for these max effort lifts.

Pump It Up

Let's face it: Chasing a muscle pump is fun (shoutout to Arnold). We all love to feel the blood rushing through our veins and our muscles bulging out so hard it feels like our skin might explode. It's a feeling that Medicine Ball Throws and Cone Drills just can not deliver.

A few sets of Curls, Tricep Extensions and Lateral Raises every week aren't going to hurt sports performance. They're not going to take up a lot of time, either, nor are they going to require a lot of thought. So every now and then, it makes sense to program some bodybuilding-style training into a workout to let athletes look and feel their best.

3 Resistance Band Exercises to Improve Posture and Heal Your Shoulders

This article was originally written for STACK.

These days, it's hard to find anyone with truly good posture.

Just think about how the majority of people spend their time: Students are likely found hunched over a desk at school, slumped over the phone texting, or relaxing in front of the TV. Most adults commute for long periods to work, only to sit behind a work desk for hours on end. Even professional athletes spend a ton of their time in cramped airplanes or on bus rides.

All of these activities lead to rounded shoulders, achy backs and sore necks. They also create significant muscular imbalances, which can lead to injury.

There may not be a way to eliminate these issues completely, but there are certainly ways to reverse the damage. Open up tight shoulders with these three band exercises to improve posture.

Exercises to Improve Posture

1. Band Dislocate

Dislocates are a great starting point to regaining shoulder mobility because you can pull the band apart overhead (where this exercise is most difficult) to ease your way into the needed mobility for the movement. You can also rotate your wrists at the end range of motion (behind your back) if the exercise is creating uncomfortable stress on your wrists.

A few tips to making your Band Dislocates as effective as possible:

Keep your arms straight and elbows locked.

"Hide your ribs" (meaning don't let them flare out and up) and don't arch your back.

Use a wider grip to make this easier, and either a narrower grip or broomstick/PVC to make it more difficult.

2. Band Around-The-World

The Band Around-The-World is great because it takes your shoulders through a wide range-of-motion, also helping to open up the pecs and lats. Again, try to keep your arms straight and elbows locked throughout this posture-restoring movement.

3. Band Pull-Apart

Band Pull-Aparts are incredible for strengthening the chronically under-trained rear delts and lower traps. This exercise will not only make your shoulders feel better, but it'll also improve performance in all of your big lifts. Keep the shoulders down and back as you pull the band apart, and avoid "shrugging" to keep tension on the mid back and not shift it to the upper traps.

The Perfect Pain-Free Shoulder Warm-Up

These three exercises make for an excellent warm-up combo prior to any upper-body workout.

Perform 3-4 sets of each exercise:

  • 10 Dislocates

  • 10 Around-the-Worlds (5 each direction)

  • 15 Pull-Aparts

This little circuit also makes for a great stretch break in the middle of your day, or a pain reliever after a long day of traveling. Keep a band in your desk or locker, or throw it in your bag when traveling to perform exercises to improve posture and heal your shoulders.

5 Muscle-Building, Fat-Burning Workout Finishers

This article was originally written for STACK.

Metabolic conditioning workouts are an awesome way to end a training session. You get the heart racing, break a mean sweat and exhaust any last bit of energy you have left in the tank. They're great for athletes because you get all the benefits of high intensity cardio with a solid strength component to complement it. It also simulates those crunch time moments where you need to push through the pain and make a play.

One of my favorite styles of metabolic conditioning are EMOMs (Every Minute On the Minute). EMOMs involve performing an exercise (or series of exercises) every minute on the minute for a prescribed time. At the start of every minute, start a new set. The sooner you finish your reps, the longer you rest.

For the sake of this article, all workouts will be 10 minutes, but you can make them longer or shorter depending on your skill and fatigue level.

Here are 5 10-minute EMOM finishers to finish your workout with a bang.

1. Kettlebell Swings

Swings will get your heart pumping in a hurry and will light up your entire posterior chain. They're also a great way to build explosive strength when performed correctly. Pick a weight that's challenging but that you could complete about 25-30 reps in a set with. Be sure to keep your core braced throughout the movement and really let your hip extension do the work.

  • Beginner: 15 reps

  • Intermediate: 20 reps

  • Advanced: 20 reps with band-resistance

2. Medicine Ball Slams

Medicine Ball Slams are a great exercise for strengthening the core, teaching triple extension, and producing power. They teach athletes how transfer energy up through their legs and into their upper body via the core, which is an essential skill for performance. I recommend using a medicine ball that is somewhere between 10-20 pounds.

  • Beginner: 12 reps

  • Intermediate: 15 reps

  • Advanced: 18 reps

3. Trap Bar Deadlifts

Trap Bar Deadlifts are an ideal variation for conditioning because they are accessible and relatively easy for most people to perform. Maintain good posture (remember to brace your core and keep your back flat) and proper mechanics for all reps.

  • Beginner: 10 reps at 50% of 1RM

  • Intermediate: 15 reps at 50% of 1RM

  • Advanced: 15 reps at 60% of 1RM

4. Sled Push/Pulls

Sleds are one of the best all-purpose training tools for building leg strength and work capacity. They can also help you increase ground force, which is the key component to running faster. Find a stretch of turf/grass that is 30-40 yards long, or a distance that takes you 30-40 seconds to complete the first set.

  • Beginner: 0.75x body weight

  • Intermediate: 1x body weight

  • Advanced: 1.25x body weight

5. Farmer's Walks

Farmer's Walks are a great all-around exercise for improving strength, stability and posture. Feel free to use a variety of equipment here including dumbbells, kettlebells or a trap bar, and use the same distance requirements outlined in the sled push/pull description. Keep your core braced throughout the movement and your eyes straight ahead.

  • Beginner: 0.5x body weight*

  • Intermediate: 0.75x body weight*

  • Advanced: 1x body weight*

*Total weight of both dumbbells/kettlebells or total weight added to bar (not including bar weight).

Why Bulgarian Split Squats Are the Best Lower-Body Exercise for Athletes

This article was originally written for STACK.

Squatting is a necessity for athletes. It's a key movement pattern that must be trained to maximize strength, speed and power.

But there's more than one way to squat.

Most people immediately gravitate toward the Barbell Back Squat. From the time any athlete picked up their first weight, the Barbell Back Squat has likely been part of their programming. While this exercise does offer massive upside, I don't believe it's the best overall leg exercise.

Instead, I believe that title belongs to the Bulgarian Split Squat, which is a safe and accessible way to build lower-body strength and correct imbalances while also improving mobility and total-body stability. Here are five reasons why it's my favorite lower-body exercise for athletes.

1. They're Highly Accessible

Bulgarian Split Squats are very easy to learn, and once you've got the motion down, they're pretty hard to mess up. Even if you do mess up (possibly by placing your front foot too far or too close, or your back foot too high), the injury risk is extremely low. Youth athletes, beginners or those with past injuries can all likely execute a Bulgarian Split Squat safely with minimal coaching.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a Barbell Back Squat.

Many have trouble back squatting due to mobility restrictions or past injuries. People with long femurs or long torsos may also have issues. Bulgarian Split Squats, on the other hand, don't have those limitations. Rear foot height or front foot placement can be adjusted person to person to find the perfect, pain-free setup.

Another reason the Bulgarian Split Squat is so accessible is because it doesn't require a ton of weight to load effectively. This not only takes stress off the spine and reduces injury risk, but it also makes it a more viable lower-body exercise for people who don't have access to heavy weights. Commercial gyms, hotels, apartments and smaller studios often have limited equipment, so the Bulgarian Spilt Squat could be a perfect option.

2. They Train Single-Leg Strength

Single-leg strength is an extremely undervalued aspect of sports performance. Almost all athletic movements on the court, field, or mat are performed unilaterally. In layman's terms, that means off one leg. Therefore, athletes need to train unilaterally, and do so heavily!

Mike Boyle was really the first guy to pioneer heavy single-leg training. Prior to him, unilateral exercises were reserved for accessory movements. Through extensive work with athletes, he found that the limiting factor for the Barbell Back Squat was not usually leg strength, but rather back strength. Remove that limiting factor, as you do with a Bulgarian Split Squat, and the legs are often able to handle a much greater load.

Single-leg strength not only transfers well to sport-specific movements, but also to bilateral lower body strength. Placing an emphasis on Bulgarian Split Squats for 6-8 weeks by using them as a main movement rather than an accessory movement could very likely lead to greater strength gains in the Barbell Back Squat and Deadlift. It could be just the thing you need to push through that plateau.

3. They Destroy Imbalances

Almost everybody has some level of muscular imbalance from limb-to-limb. This could be due to previous injuries, athletic demands or lifting mechanics. Training unilaterally with the Bulgarian Split Squat is a great way to correct these imbalances and bring up lagging body parts.

In almost all sports, athletes favor one side over another. Pitchers push off the mound with the same leg every day; right-handed basketball players predominately jump off of their left leg at the hoop; and wrestlers often shoot for a takedown with whatever leg they feel most comfortable. These actions may not seem significant, but day after day, week after week, year after year, one leg will inevitably become more developed than the other.

Correcting imbalances such as these is important to prevent injury and move correctly. Rather than attempting to strengthen the weaker leg with heavier weights or more sets, a smarter approach is to train both legs the same way, but individually. It's always a great idea to work your weak side first when doing Bulgarian Split Squats.

4. They Build Mobility

Mobility is an extremely important aspect of performance. Unfortunately, too many people these days are getting carried away with hours upon hours of stretching and lubricating rather than actual training. Here's an important reminder: Mobility is the ability to move properly within a joint's range-of-motion. Flexibility is the actual length of the joint's range of motion. Many people believe increasing their range of motion will solve all of their problems, when really they just need to become stronger within it.

Bulgarian Split Squats are an ideal exercise to mobilize and strengthen the hips. Simply performing them more often and focusing on proper form will accomplish more than many other hip flexor mobility drills.

5. They Enhance Stability

Any single-leg exercise has the added benefit of improving stability. Preventing the body from rotating and maintaining good posture throughout the movement will put an additional demand on the core and small stabilizer muscles. These requirements are exactly what an athlete needs to prepare them for sports.

Bulgarian Split Squats are perhaps the perfect single-leg exercise because they require just enough stability to make you work, but not so much that you can't load heavy. Movements like Pistol Squats and Single-Leg Deadlifts are great, but they require so much balance that most people can barely use any weight (if they can perform them at all). With Bulgarian Split Squats, while the front leg is technically the one being worked, the back leg is still able to support and assist in the movement.

You can also increase or decrease the stability factor by using different tools. Utilizing a Kettlebell or Barbell Front Rack, Zercher Hold, or Single-Arm Hold will make stabilizing during the Bulgarian Split Squat much more difficult. Conversely, dumbbells/kettlebells in each hand by your sides or body weight will be easier.

Build Unbreakable Core Strength With This Brutal Two-Move Finisher

This article was originally written for STACK.

Core strength is essential for all athletes of all sports at all levels. Heck, core strength is essential for all people, period.

An unbreakable core is much more than just six-pack abs (although that's definitely a nice plus).

It is a group of muscles throughout the trunk that stabilize the body. The core is your body's center of gravity, and is the foundation which all other movements rely on. If your core is weak and unstable, it can be become a major energy leak in your movements and sap you of explosiveness. Squats, Deadlifts, Pull-Ups, and even walking are largely dependent on core strength.

So how do you truly develop a strong core?

I'll give you a hint, it doesn't involve any of the following:

  • Thousands of sloppy crunches

  • Waist wraps

  • A machine that magically stimulates your abs while you sleep

A bulletproof core, just like any other muscle group, is built by performing difficult movements and creating maximum tension.

There are dozens of exercises that meet this criteria, but two of the best are TRX Fallouts and TRX Pikes. Individually, these are both great exercises that practice anti-extension, an essential function of the core. Pair them together, and you have a brutal two-move superset that will challenge athletes of any level.

TRX Fallout

To perform a proper TRX Fallout, start in a modified push-up position with your arms fully extended and hands on the straps. Extend your arms all the way out in front of you, briefly pause, then return to the starting position.

A few things to remember as you execute this movement:

  • Keep your hips quiet and in line with your body—don't let them sink or rise.

  • Keep your chest up and back flat throughout the exercise.

  • Actively think about tightening the core and glutes as you move.

  • To protect your shoulders, don't let your chest and torso sag lower than your hands when you reach full extension.

A great benefit of TRX Fallouts is that they are easily scalable. To make them easier, simply shorten the straps or align your body more vertically. To make them harder, lengthen the straps or align your body more horizontally.

TRX Pike

To set up for a TRX Pike, place your feet in the straps and assume a push-up position. While keeping your legs straight, contract your abs and raise your hips to the ceiling, bringing your feet closer to your torso. Briefly pause, then return to the starting position.

A few reminders:

  • Lengthen the straps until they are close to the floor, about your mid-calf when standing.

  • Maintain a neutral spine throughout the motion.

  • Prevent your hips from sagging when returning to the starting position.

  • Similar to the Fallout, you can make a TRX Pike more difficult by lengthening the straps or moving further away from the anchor point.


The Reverse Ladder Workout

The best way to combine the TRX Fallout and TRX Pike is to superset them in a reverse ladder fashion. Although this can be done at any point in your workout, I highly recommend using it as a finisher after your more traditional strength work.

To do a reverse ladder:

  • Perform 10 Fallouts.

  • Without resting (or very minimal rest), immediately jump into 10 Pikes.

  • Do 9 Fallouts followed by 9 Pikes.

  • Do 8 of each, so on and so forth.

  • Continue alternating in this fashion until you reach 1 rep of each.

When it's all said and done, you will have performed 55 reps of each exercise. Brutal! If you cannot perform each rep with proper form due to fatigue, you can cut down on the number of reps you start the reverse ladder with.

Unlock Tight Hips with the Shin Box Stretch

This article was originally written for STACK.

Tight hips are an epidemic. In today's increasingly sedentary society, most people are sitting for the majority of the day. Whether it's behind a desk or in the car, it's safe to say that you (yes you, the person reading this) likely spend more time on your butt than on your feet.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time causes a whole host of problems, one of which is "tight" hips. Tight hip flexors and inactive glutes can lead to huge problems for athletes. Poor posture, limited mobility and lower-back pain are just a few of the major symptoms of tight hips.

Tight hips can severely limit athletic performance, and make it nearly impossible to get into proper position for key exercises like Squats, Deadlifts and sprints. Tight hips are also often the culprit for lower-back pain, which plagues everyone from corporate employees to frequent commuters.

Fortunately, there's a cure.

Shin Box Switches are a simple yet extremely effective exercise for ungluing the hips and activating the glutes. This exercise mobilizes and strengthens your hips.

Shin Box Switches are great because they work both internal and external rotation in one fluid movement. You can also regress or progress the movement based on your level of strength/mobility.

How to Perform the Shin Box Switch

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs at 90 degrees (one leg internally rotated, one leg externally rotated).

  2. While keeping your torso upright and feet planted, slowly rotate your hips until you reach the same 90/90 position on the opposite side.

  3. Continue rotating in this fashion, pausing briefly at each side while contracting the glutes, for 2-3 minutes.


If your hips are initially too tight to get into a proper shin box position, or if you are not yet able to rotate, here are a few beginner options:

Regression 1

Sit on the floor in the 90/90 position, lean back and place your hands on the ground behind you for support. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 2 minutes per side. You may also attempt to slowly rotate while in this position.

Regression 2

Sit on the floor in the 90/90 position and place both hands on your externally rotated knee. Hold this position, while contracting the glutes if possible, for 30 seconds to 2 minutes per side.


Once you have advanced past the standard shin box, here are a couple more difficult options:

1. Shin Box Switch with Hip Raise

After rotating the hips, push off the ground with your glutes and thrust your hips forward. Briefly contract the glutes, then slowly return to the 90/90 position on the floor.

2. Shin Box Switch with Hip Raise and Lunge

Perform the same thrusting movement to raise your glutes off of the ground, then bring the back leg to the front in a half-kneeling (lunge) position. Make sure that your feet, knees and torso are all facing the same direction.

3. Weighted Shin Box Switch

Perform the standard shin box switch (or the advanced positions listed above) while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position.

When to Perform the Shin Box Switch

Shin Box Switches are an excellent warm-up drill, especially prior to any squatting, deadlifting or running. They can dramatically improve positioning and leverages for key lifts, and ensure that you move properly and pain-free.

Start with 1-2 minutes of standard switches then advance to more difficult progressions as you loosen up. If you're particularly tight or not yet able to rotate your hips, begin with 30 seconds to 1 minute of static 90/90 holds per side.

Because Shin Box Switches require no equipment and can be done anywhere, I also recommend including them throughout your work day if you have a standard desk job. Brief stints of mobility exercises to break up your work day (2-3 minutes, 5-6 times per day) can have a massive overall benefit.

7 Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row Variations to Build a Bigger Back

This article was originally written for STACK.

The Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row is my most-programmed pulling exercise. It's a favorite of mine because it's safe, accessible and extremely effective.

When performing standard Bent-Over Rows, people often use a little body English from the legs and lower back to force the weight up. With Chest-Supported Dumbbell Rows, your lower body is completely taken out of the movement and your upper back is forced to do all the work. Total isolation.

Many people also have trouble getting into the proper hip hinge position required to correctly perform a standard Bent-Over Row. This results in more of an upright row, targeting the traps and shoulders, rather than the desired horizontal row for the lats and middle back.

Lying facedown on the bench also reduces stress on the spine. Combining too many "free weight" rows in a workout (Deadlifts, Bent-Over Rows, T-Bar Rows, etc.) will really tax your lower back, lengthening your recovery time and leaving you vulnerable to injury. Here, all of those forces are eliminated.

From beginner to advanced trainee, the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row is a great exercise for building a big, strong upper back and improving posture.

Coaching Cues

1. Pull to the Hips

When performing the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row, pull toward the hips in a "sweeping" motion rather than toward the shoulders in an "up and down" motion. When you pull straight up and down, your biceps, shoulders and traps do most of the work. When you pull to the hips at an arc, you further engage the lats. Keep the shoulder blades packed and squeeze at the top of every rep to get the most out of this exercise.

2. Chest on the Bench

Keeping your chest flat against the bench throughout the movement will not only ensure that you're working the right muscles, it will keep you safe. Excessive hyperextension of the spine here, or on any rowing exercise, puts you at risk of significant injury. If you can't pull the dumbbells into proper position without arching your back, drop to a lighter weight.


Here are a few fun and effective variations of the Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row to keep you rowing and growing for weeks to come!


Wrap your free arm around the bench to keep your chest planted against the pad and prevent your torso from rotating.

Single-Arm with Iso Hold

Hold one dumbbell at your hip, in a full contraction, while performing all reps with the other arm.


Let one arm hang fully extended while rowing with the other, and alternate arms every rep.

Alternating with Iso Hold

Hold one dumbbell at your hip, in a full contraction, while rowing with the other arm- then switch every rep.

Pre-Exhaust Iso Hold

Performing a 15- to 30-second isometric hold BEFORE rowing not only pre-exhausts the lats (enabling you to get more bang for your buck with a lighter weight), I find that it really builds a strong mind-muscle connection.

5/5/15 Method

Every fifth rep, perform a 5-second isometric hold and squeeze the hell out of your lats. Do 15 total reps (with 3 total iso holds).

Rep Progression Method with Shrug

Using Cory Gregory's Rep Progression Method, perform 1 row followed by 1 shrug. Then, 2 rows followed by 2 shrugs. Continue in this fashion until you reach 5 reps of each.

Get a Crushing Full-Body Workout With Just a Cable Machine

This article was originally written for STACK.

Training in a small apartment gym or hotel gym while traveling is never ideal. These gyms often lack the equipment and space necessary to complete your "normal" workout.

Too often, people walk into these gyms, realize their favorite piece of equipment is absent and abandon their workout all together. But fear not! You can almost always count on these facilities to have one thing—a cable machine.

Most people only use cables for a few select exercises, but with a little creativity, you can quickly put together an extremely effective eight-exercise full-body workout. Here's how it's done.


This workout can be done three different ways.

1. Perform each exercise individually for 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps each.

  • Rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute between sets.

2. Perform opposing (antagonist) exercises in supersets for 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps each.

  • Alternate between the two opposing exercises, completing all sets, with no rest between.

  • Rest 1-2 minutes between supersets.

  • Supersets: Quads + Hamstrings/Glutes, Chest + Back, Medial Delts + Rear Delts, Triceps + Biceps.

3. Perform all exercises in a circuit for 3-4 sets (rounds) of 8-15 reps each.

  • Complete all exercises, in order, with no rest between.

  • Rest 2-3 minutes between rounds.

The Workout

1. Goblet Squat

  • Target Muscle: Quads

  • Attachment: Double-D (Row) Handle

Goblet Squats are typically done with a dumbbell or kettlebell, but the cable machine offers a great alternative. The tension from the cable pulling you forward allows you to sit farther back for a deeper, more stable Squat. This exercise is also a nice core builder, as you must brace hard to stay upright throughout the movement.

2. Pull-Through

  • Target Muscle: Hamstrings/Glutes

  • Attachment: Rope

Pull-Throughs are an ideal posterior chain-building exercise because, unlike many other hamstring/glute movements, there is little to no load placed on the spine. It also safely teaches a proper hinge by allowing you to push your hips back slowly along the natural plane of tension created by the cable. Keep a flat back and tucked chin throughout, and finish by squeezing the glutes hard and locking out the knees.

3. Chest Fly

  • Target Muscle: Chest

  • Attachment: Single Grip Handle

The Chest Fly is a staple among bodybuilders because it specifically isolates the chest and provides constant tension throughout the exercise. The key here is to really SQUEEZE when you bring the handles together to fully contract the muscles. You can also slide the cable attachment up or down and work high-to-low or low-to-high to target different areas of the chest.

4. Seated Row

  • Target Muscle: Back

  • Attachment: Double-D (Row) Handle

The Seated Row is one of the most popular and effective back exercises. Using the Double-D Handle for a neutral grip, pull to your belly button while keeping your shoulder blades retracted (down and back). To get the most out of this exercise, keep your chest up and forward and avoid "swinging" the weight with your legs and lower back.

5. Single-Arm Lateral Raise

  • Target Muscle: Medial Delts

  • Attachment: Single Grip Handle

Lateral Raises are the go-to exercise for building broad, capped shoulders. Lead with the elbow, not the hand. Keep your elbow slightly bent and pause at both the top and bottom of the lift.

6. Face Pull

  • Target Muscle: Rear Delts

  • Attachment: Rope

Face Pulls are my No. 1 exercise for building strong, healthy shoulders. Keep your shoulder blades packed throughout the movement, and finish by externally rotating your hands up toward your ears. Think about pulling the rope apart, not just pulling it back.

7. Pushdown

  • Target Muscle: Triceps

  • Attachment: Rope

The Triceps Pushdown effectively targets all three heads of the muscle. Slightly hinge at the hips rather than standing straight up for a more complete Pushdown. This exercise can be done with a number of different attachments, but the rope allows you to pull the ends apart at the bottom of the movement to create a greater range of motion.

8. Curl

  • Target Muscle: Biceps

  • Attachment: Straight Bar

The Cable Curl is great because, unlike traditional barbell or dumbbell curls, there is constant tension on the muscle. Keep your elbows close to your sides throughout the movement. For an even more challenging variation, try this with a reverse grip (palms down).

4 Reasons Why You Should Work Out in the Morning

This article was originally written for STACK.

The best time of day to work out is first thing in the morning.

There, I said it.

No, it's not because you'll burn more fat in the morning than you would later in the day. And no, it's not because you'll build more muscle than you would with an evening workout. In fact, I have no scientific evidence to back my statement (none that I researched, anyway). \

My reasoning has nothing to do with physiology, but everything to do with psychology. I can't definitively tell you that a morning workout will give you a stronger body, but I can tell you that it will make you a stronger person. Let me explain.

Strengthen Your Discipline

Waking up early is hard. Waking up early to go to the gym and get under a heavy barbell is even harder. So why do it? You do it because it makes you a more disciplined person.

Self-discipline, itself, is like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Therefore, the more you do something that challenges you, the easier other challenging tasks become. So by facing small bits of adversity every day—like rolling out of bed and heading straight to the gym—the more prepared you will be for the curveballs that life is bound to throw at you later that day or in the future.

Start with a Win

Momentum has an enormous effect on the outcome of our day, and ultimately, our weeks and months. One good thing leads to another, then another, then another, and pretty soon all the dominoes start falling. The compound effect begins to take place, and the positive momentum starts roaring like a freight train with no breaks.

Working out every morning is a surefire way to guarantee that you start with a win and get that positive momentum working in your favor.

Think about it, if you complete a workout first thing in the morning are you going to pick up a few donuts for breakfast on the way to work? I doubt it.

Instead, you'll opt for the eggs and oatmeal. That positive momentum will most definitely spill over into other aspects of your life as well, making you more task-oriented, productive and engaged.

Competitive Advantage

By waking up early to work out, you set yourself apart from the crowd. The roads are quiet and the gym is empty. Your "competition" is still tucked in bed. But not you. You're going to work.

If you're able to complete a full workout before your peers or co-workers even open their eyes, then you're already having a more productive day. You're winning.

While they're still at home making their morning coffee, trying to force themselves awake, you're wide-eyed, full of endorphins and ready to take on the day. At first, that extra hour or two may seem insignificant, but over time, the gap between you and them will widen.

Fewer Distractions and Excuses

Here is a list of things that don't happen at 5 a.m.: traffic, crowded gyms, staying late at work to make a deadline, happy hour, anniversary dinners, your child's tee-ball game, Monday Night Football—Need I go on? All of these excuses, many of which I've taken from personal experience, can sabotage an evening workout. But those excuses don't exist in the morning.

Morning workouts eliminate the possibility of any work, family or social distractions getting in the way. Throughout the day, good or bad, things will happen. Those things often turn into "I can't work out today because…" or "I don't feel like it today because…". Morning gym-goers don't open themselves up to those excuses. Get your workout in first thing every day, when the rest of the world is still quiet and when you can give your full attention to the task at hand.

There you have it. That's why you should work out first thing in the morning. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, morning workouts don't have any secret anabolic properties or significant fat burning effects. And ultimately, the absolute best time to work out is whenever you can make it happen consistently.

However, morning workouts do have the ability to create positive change in other aspects of your life. They will make you more disciplined, more productive and more engaged.

So set your alarm an hour or two earlier and give it a try. Before you know it, you'll be a morning person too.

This Simple Mobility Complex Is the Only Warm-Up You'll Ever Need

This article was originally written for STACK.

Mobility work is a key component of any well-rounded workout routine. Good mobility can prevent injuries, increase longevity and improve lifting mechanics. Unfortunately, mobility is severely overlooked by most of the population.

When it comes to the gym, most people want to get in and get out. They walk in, full of motivation (and caffeine) and immediately begin to knock out reps of their first exercise. They load up the bar before doing a single mobility drill. They don't have the time to spend 20 minutes flopping around on a foam roller and touching their toes, and I don't blame them.

Mobility drills don't have to be a half-hour precursor to every workout. That's overkill. Instead, find a few key movements that effectively warm up and open up trouble areas.

Here's an awesome catch-all mobility complex that combines 3 stretches—Inchworm, The World's Greatest Stretch, and Deep Squat to Hamstring Stretch—into one fluid movement.

This super effective combo unlocks the hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine while also warming up the glutes and quads. It's the perfect start to your lower body day, and drastically improves positioning on the Squat and Deadlift. This mobility drill is also great after a long day of sitting behind a desk, driving in a car or traveling on a plane.

Here's how to do it:

  1. With legs straight, bend over to touch your toes, and walk your hands out in front of you as far as possible.

  2. Bring one foot forward to the outside of your hand, and drop the opposite knee to the floor.

  3. Lift your hand off of the ground and rotate inward, then outward, until your hand is pointing to the ceiling.

  4. Bring your hand back to the inside of your front foot, and rock backward to stretch the hamstring.

  5. Bring the other foot forward, grab your toes, and sit into a deep squat.

  6. Straighten out the legs, hold, then repeat Step 1.

  7. Find a stretch of open floor and shoot for 10 reps on each leg.

Can Your Handle This 1,000 Rep Plate Workout?

This article was originally written for STACK.

Short on time? Low on equipment? Or just want to get in a great full-body workout?

Then I've got good news for you. This 1,000-rep workout hits every muscle in your body, and all you need is a plate.

This workout is great because you can do it virtually anywhere. I've done it multiple times on vacation while stuck in ill-equipped hotel gyms, or even at home when I need to get off the couch and break a good sweat. It's perfect for "active recovery," as it pumps blood into all the muscles without targeting one body part too intensely.

Here's how it's done:

  • Guys (or advanced lifters): grab a 45 lb. weight plate.

  • Girls (or beginner lifters): grab a 25 lb. weight plate.

Perform 100 reps of the following 10 exercises as fast as possible. You must do all 100 reps before moving to the next exercise.

  • 100 Floor Presses (Chest)

  • 100 Bent Over Rows (Back)

  • 100 Squats (Quads)

  • 100 Overhead Presses (Shoulders)

  • 100 RDLs (Hamstrings)

  • 100 Curls (Biceps)

  • 100 Overhead Extensions (Triceps)

  • 100 Reverse Lunges (Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes)

  • 100 Sit-Ups (Abs)

  • 100 Russian Twists (Obliques)

You can break the reps up into sets (Ex: 10x10 or 5x20), or simply perform as many reps as you can before gassing out. Take as few breaks as possible and keep form strict.

Record your time and try to improve every time you do it. And if you want an even greater challenge, go all the way back up the list for a 2,000-rep, full-body workout challenge. It's brutal!

This Suspension Trainer Workout Builds Strength, Power and Core Stability

This article was originally written for STACK.

Suspension equipment is incredibly convenient and effective tools for delivering a great workout. Suspension exercises are very scalable, so they can be used by beginners and advanced trainees alike. They require nothing more than the straps, a place to anchor them, and your body weight.

Here are five key exercises that can be combined to create a challenging full-body suspension trainer workout.

Quads: Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

This unilateral lower-body exercise hammers the quads while also working glutes and hamstrings. It strengthens the core, too, as you have to brace to stay tight and upright while moving. It is similar to the (also effective) Bulgarian Split Squat, but requires more strength and balance because your foot is not anchored to a fixed object.

Perform 4 sets of 10 reps each leg with 30 seconds between sets.

Glutes, Hamstrings: Leg Curl

This exercise looks pretty basic, but it's one of the most brutal posterior chain movements out there. It builds the glutes and hamstrings better than most weighted exercises, and can be used by athletes of all levels. This movement is also great for preventing, or rehabbing from, knee injuries.

Perform 4 sets of 15 reps with 45-60 seconds between sets.

Chest: Chest Fly

The Suspension Chest Fly is a step up from the standard Chest Press. Because your hands travel farther from your body, the movement requires a ton of core strength and shoulder stability. While a standard Dumbbell Fly is more of a chest isolation movement, this variation still requires support from the triceps and shoulders.

Perform 4 sets of 12 reps with 45-60 seconds between sets.

Back: Inverted Row (Pronated to Neutral Grip)

The Inverted Row is ideal for building a strong and healthy upper back. A variety of angles and grip variations can be used to target different areas of the back and scale the exercise to make it easier or more difficult. This is the perfect substitute for standard Pull-Ups if you're not able to perform them, or if you have trouble reaching a prescribed rep range.

Perform 4 sets of 15 reps with 45-60 seconds between sets.

Core: Ab Layout

The suspension layout is not for the faint of heart. It will challenge your abs, obliques and lower back, and build real, functional core strength. This is one of the hardest core movements out there when done properly.

Perform 5 sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds between sets.

Build Full-Body Strength and Endurance With This Trap Bar Challenge

This article was originally written for STACK.

If you're in need of a grueling workout finisher that will push you to the limit physically and mentally, you've come to the right place.

This Trap Bar Deadlift/Carry Challenge will build punishing strength while burning a ton of calories. The workout combines two of the best bang-for-your-buck full-body movements into one dynamic, high-intensity, ladder-style exercise.

Here's how it's done:

  1. Load a trap bar with approximately 50-60% of your 1RM.

  2. Perform 5 Trap Bar Deadlifts, then immediately carry the trap bar 20-30 yards.

  3. When you reach the other side, perform 4 Trap Bar Deadlifts, then carry it back.

  4. Continue in this fashion for 3, 2 and 1 reps.

The full sequence should only take a few minutes, but it will leave you gassed. Your forearms, shoulders, upper back, core and legs will all take a beating.

This challenge is great for athletes because it combines elements of both strength and conditioning into a single workout. Heavy Deadlifts and heavy carries are two essential movements that benefit athletes of every sport. This challenge gives you all the strength benefits of these pillar exercises, while also delivering a short, high-intensity cardio session.

If you don't have access to a trap bar, you can also perform this challenge with dumbbells or kettlebells. If doing so, try using at least half of your body weight in each hand.

Do this for 3 sets at the end of your next workout with 2-3 minutes of rest between. OR, if you really want a challenge, start the ladder at 10 reps and descend all the way to 1. It's brutal!