Category Archives: Strength and Conditioning

Running Accessories: Heart Rate Monitors

I'm in there somewhere In life, there are things that you need to have and there are things that are nice to have. You need basic things like food and shelter–we can’t survive without them.

On the other hand, luxuries like cell phones and elevators fall into the category of nice to have. Sometimes we feel like we need them–but we wouldn’t die without them.

In running, the only thing that you really need is your body itself. For me, that simplicity is part of the appeal of running.

Hopefully you have a body already, so let’s focus on some of the other things, the ones that are nice to have. Afterall, there is nothing wrong with having nice things.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors typically have two components: a wristwatch and a chest strap.

Heart rate monitors allow you to gauge your intensity by telling you your average heartbeats per minute.


This can be be helpful if you have a tendency to sell yourself short and not push yourself hard enough. It can also be helpful if you are bad at pacing yourself and push too hard at the start.


The biggest drawback of wearing a heart rate monitor is that it can be uncomfortable, especially during longer runs. They often have an elastic band that wraps around your torso, which can get sweaty and start to feel heavy after several miles. Many heart rate monitors have other features as well, like calorie counters (which don’t always give accurate readings).


While heart rate monitors have their pros and cons, I think that they are overall a worthwhile accessory and can be a valuable performance tool. There are other means to track your intensity (like a simple wristwatch, for example), but the heart rate monitor is probably the most reliable, without being too much of a hassle.

Plyometrics: Jump! Jump!

Plyometric Push-up

Plyometric Push-up

You might not know what plyometrics are yet, but there’s a good chance you’ve already done them at some point.

The term plyometrics refers to explosive types of movement that involve speed and power. Sometimes plyometric exercises are also referred to as “jump training.” Jumping rope is an example of a low intensity plyometric exercise, while depth jumps and plyo pistol squats are examples of advanced plyometrics.

But don’t think that means plyometrics are limited to your legs! The jumping push-up (often accompanied by clapping) and the kipping pull-up are two examples of upper body plyometrics.

Plyometric training is great for athletes (serious or recreational) because sports typically involve dynamic movements. Practicing these types of movements in a controlled setting like the gym often carries over into improved performance in sports and other activities.

Land with your knees bent

Land with your knees bent

The box jump is one of the most fundamental plyometric drills. Many types of athletes do box jumps to build power and increase their vertical leap.

Start by standing in front of a sturdy box or step (most gyms have plyo boxes or you can do them outdoors with a ledge or step). Squat down and jump up out of your squat position onto the box.

When you are doing plyometric jumps, make sure that you land with your knees bent in order to absorb the shock. Try to rebound from one rep right into the next.

Plyometric exercises allow you to take advantage of the elasticity of your muscles to get more milage out of each rep.

Watch the video clip below to learn more about plyometric training:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlGJaq840bQ

The Kipping Pull-up (featuring Lenny Lefebvre)

Untitled 0 00 00-03 Sometimes a straight line isn’t the fastest way to get from point A to point B.

While pull-ups are typically performed by going straight up and down, the kipping pull-up creates an arc, rather than a straight line, as a means to quickly propel the body upward.

In sports, there are rarely slow controlled movements like conventional pull-ups; real life activities typically involve using the body as a whole. Kipping pull-ups are an explosive, dynamic exercise, turning the pull-up into more of a full-body exercise as opposed to just working the upper body.

Kipping pull-ups involve swinging your legs

Kipping pull-ups involve swinging your legs

Utilizing the kipping technique for pull-ups usually allows for more total reps, which is why some gym rats have referred to it as “cheating.” But I think that’s somewhat of a juvenile attitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, pull-up contests can be a lot of fun, and it’s okay to make stipulations as to what the guidelines of your particular contest are, but it’s a shame to write off a great performance tool like the kipping pull-up do to a narrow minded view of proper form.

While strict, controlled pull-ups are fantastic for body-building and strength training, kipping pull-ups are great in the context of high intensity conditioning and circuit training. They get your heart rate up and they allow you to share the workload amongst more muscles, as opposed to just isolating the upper back and arms. I think the best approach is to have room for both of these types of pull-ups in your workout regimen. Variety is what it’s all about.

Watch the video below for demonstrations and more:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-NPBT3QCzE

The Turkish Get-up

Turkish Getup

Start by lying on your back with the weight straight up in the air

Want one strength training exercise that can work your entire body and get your heart pumping?

The Turkish Get-up is a classic exercise that involves pretty much every major muscle group in the body.

It’s the type of feat that you might expect to see performed in a circus act, but it is also a great way to give yourself a challenging workout!

The exercise starts with you lying flat on your back with one arm up in the air. Then you stand up.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Transitional phase of the get-up.

Well, that’s pretty much what the exercise boils down to in the most basic way, but there is a technique that’s a bit more complicated.

While one hand is holding the weight overhead, you post off the ground with your opposite hand, using your core strength to sit up. Next, lift yourself up and slide your hips through until you’re on one knee. From here simply stand up like you would getting out of a lunge. You can practice with your hand empty at first to get a feel for it, but the idea is to perform the exercise holding a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.

There are a few different ways to approach this exercise but the basic idea stays the same: lie on your back holding a weight and stand up. The weight stays straight overhead and your arm stays locked the whole time.

Check out my video segment for a more detailed demonstration.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogo289xOic4

Squats and Deadlifts

KavadloSquatSquats are probably the single most common exercise that people need help with in order to achieve proper form.

The main thing to know about squatting with proper form is to go all the way down until the top of your thigh is below parallel to the ground. That might be lower than you think. You should ask someone to watch you to be sure.

Also keep in mind that your heels should not come off the ground at any point during the lift. Third, the movement should be initiated from the hips, not the knees. What I’m saying is, stick your butt out!

A deadlift, to put it simply, involves picking up a weight that’s on the ground in front of you. I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back–that advice is talking about the deadlift! It is a great functional exercise for this reason.

Another way to look at deadlifts is that they are similar to squats except that you are holding a weight in front of you. The two most common types of deadlifts are the Romanian deadlift and the more traditional Olympic deadlift. The Romanian deadlift involves less knee flexion than the Olympic deadlift.

Romanian deadlifts involve less knee flexion.

Squats and deadlifts are amazing postural exercises but you must really focus on good posture while you do them in order to get those benefits. Keep your chest held high and pull your shoulder blades together!

Deadlifts work your grip strength and lower back, but they also work your hamstrings and glutes. Make sure you don’t use your back too much on these and that most of your range of motion is coming from your hamstrings. That means just like squats, stick your butt out when you do a deadlift.

Muscle-Ups!!

Muscle-ups are one of the most intense body-weight exercises ever. They work so many different muscles and will get your heart and lungs pumping as well.

What is a muscle-up, you may ask? It’s almost like a combination of two of my favorite exercises: the pull-up and the dip, but way more intense than either of those on their own!

Muscle-ups are a pretty advanced exercise so I recommend that before you even try to work up to one, you get to the point where you can do 15 consecutive pull-ups and 20 consecutive parallel bar dips.

Close up of the false grip.

Close up of the false grip.

When doing a muscle-up it is important to note that the most effective grip is different than a traditional pull-up grip. Muscle-ups are typically done using what’s called a “false grip” which involves putting your hand farther over the bar, so that your palms are facing the ground and your wrist is cocked when you are hanging. This allows you a smooth transition from the pull-up phase of the movement into the dip phase.

If you want to work towards doing muscle-ups, it’s helpful to practice trying to get as high up over the bar as you can when doing pull-ups. Explosive pull-ups where you let go at the top can also be used as a precursor to doing muscle-ups.

When you perform a muscle-up, think about moving your upper body away from the bar on the way up rather than pulling straight towards it. Once you clear the bar, move your chest over it as you press yourself to the top of the movement. The arc of the body will create an S-shape pattern.

See my other muscle-up tutorial and check out the video clip below for more!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9w-xS2AudA

And if you’ve already got the hang of muscle-ups, check out my article on advanced muscle-ups.

Lunges!

Hey Ladies, listen up – this one is for you!

Lunges are one of the best exercises for toning and strengthening your legs and butt.

Fellas, don’t think this means you don’t have to bother with them, though – lunges should be a staple of anyone and everyone’s fitness regimen.

Lunges hit all the major parts of your lower body, they get your heart pumping, and they are great for revving up your metabolism.

Lunges can be performed in place, or by stepping forward and then lowering yourself down until your back knee is just above the ground. Typically, one might alternate legs, continuing forward with each step (often called a “walking lunge”).

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges with a twist!

Lunges can also be done by stepping backwards (“back lunge”), side ways (you guessed it–“side lunge”), or any other way you can think to do them. A stationary lunge is sometimes called a “split squat.”

When doing lunges, stay mindful of keeping your front foot totally flat and not letting the heel up (the heel of your back foot ought to be up, however). Also make sure to keep your posture and don’t allow your front knee to cross in front of your toes.

For added resistance you can perform lunges while holding dumbbells, resting a barbell on your back, using a kettlebell, or any other way that you see fit to. Get creative!

Watch the video below for more:

Client Spotlight: Armen Gemdjian

Armen GemdjianArmen is one of the toughest chicks that I know. When she first took me on as her trainer last December, she could barely even do one decent pushup–she has come a long way since then! Now that she’s made progress with pushups, we have been focusing on other challenges, such as kettlebell training.

Still gotta keep practicing those pushups though!

Two of Armen’s current goals are pull-ups and parallel bar dips. Armen also takes spinning classes regularly and she is planning on running her first 5K race next month.

Check out this video clip from one of our recent training sessions:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMzHaYdo7Rg

The 50 Pull-up Challenge

A lot of people have asked me about how to go about increasing their reps on pull-ups. There are a lot of ways one can successfully do this, but the method that I am proposing is probably the most simple and direct.

The 50 pull-up challenge consists of doing 50 pull-ups in one workout, no matter how many sets it takes you. Even if it means you are doing sets of one rep by the end. You are allowed as long of a break in between sets as you need.

For example, you might start out with a set of 10, followed by a set of 8, followed by a set of 7, then 2 more sets of 5, 3 sets of 3, 2 sets of 2, and end with a couple sets of 1. This could take a while at first, but over time the amount of sets that you can do this in should go down.

At first I would recommend only doing this once or twice a week, as it will be a bit of a shock to your body. Eventually, however, you can condition yourself to doing this just about every day.

After a month or two, you could have it down to 4 or 5 sets. Highly fit individuals can do this in one or two sets. After a while it could simply be your warm up!

This same approach can be used to increase reps on pretty much any other exercise as well, like push-ups, dips, or even pistol squats. Additionally, if 50 is just not realistic for you right now, then pick a smaller number (maybe 30?) and then build up from there. For women it might be better to do the challenge with modified pull-ups.

The 50 Pull-up Challenge is not for beginners or the faint of heart! If you are not ready for it yet, doing the challenge with pushups instead of pull-ups is a more modest task to approach first.

Kettlebell Training

kettlebellI first saw a kettlebell back in 2002, when a friend of mine introduced me to the one arm snatch. (No I’m not trying to make any inuendo here, that’s the name of an exercise that’s commonly done with a kettlebell!)

I thought the kettlebells were pretty neat but I was very focused on bodybuilding at the time. Kettlebells didn’t seem to have any place in a bodybuilding routine so I had no use for them. After all, I was pretty damn sure that anyone whose workouts didn’t revolve around squatting heavy, doing deadlifts, and going all out for 8 reps on bench press was surely wasting their time!

Obviously I had a very narrow view of things but I’ve learned a lot (and been humbled a lot!) over the years. I experimented with kettlebell workouts occasionally after that first encounter and eventually wound up becoming a certified kettlebell instructor through NYHRC in 2008. This past summer I met Shir Konas, one of the top kettlebell intsructors in NYC. Shir has helped me take my kettlebell technique to the next level.

There are a lot of subtleties to performing kettlebell lifts safely and effectively. Having experience in conventional weight training is a great foundation to start from, but I still advise anyone interested in working out with kettlebells (even an experienced lifter) to solicit a qualified instructor.

Check out this video clip of me doing a pistol squat with a 40 lb. kettlebell!
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy0J5Z4LWgE