Best Back Workouts for Women (updated July 2019)

Back Workouts for Women

Why Train your Back?

In order to get that sculpted body you’ve always wanted, training the muscles in your back is essential. Working out all sections of the back, primarily the latissimus dorsi, is a key element to widening your upper body. This gives your waist a narrower appearance and also helps to round your shoulders.

So what are the best exercises for training back? Because the back is such a large muscle group — it travels from the shoulder blades and sculpts downward to the tailbone — hitting these muscles with a lot of power and tension is crucial. Muscle needs to break and reform in order to grow, and since the back typically holds a lot of weight it needs even more weight applied to it to change it.

Using free weights are the best way to target any muscle group because it mimics typical, everyday movement. Training your back is no different. Using hand-held dumbbells and barbells are a key way to target your back. However, using some machines, such as a seated cable row or lateral pulldown, or iso-lateral strength machines, are prime elements in sculpting your back muscles.

Best Latissimus Dorsi (Lat) Exercises

Lateral Pulldown

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This movement is best for beginners because it is a machine-based exercise. However, the amount of force that can be applied to the muscle is intense enough to sculpt the back to give that “winged” appearance and silhouette your waist.

This exercise can also be done with a single arm by using a handle attachment on the machine, which can more directly target any imbalances on the right versus left sides.

To perform this exercise:

  • Adjust the weight by moving the pin into the appropriate weight.
  • Hold the handles at either end with your thumbs facing upwards.
  • Keeping your chest up and your shoulder blades down and back, pull the bar
    down to the tip of your chest — the bar should come within an inch of your
    chest but not necessarily touch it.
  • Keep pressure on the bar as you let it up so that you don’t release the tension
    on the lats.
  • Do not let the bar back into the starting position because it will release the
    pressure on the muscle. Instead, keep your arms bent at at least fifteen
    degrees and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Barbell Row

image @ www.seannal.com

Any form of row is a great back builder because the bar needs to fight gravity. Any exercise that needs to fight gravity will add more tension to the muscle, which will tear more muscle fibers. Using a barbell is also a great tool because, like a dumbbell, it more closely resembles everyday movement and is more natural to the body.

This movement can also be done with an EZ Bar with the same motions. However, instead of placing it back on a spotter rack, keep your hold on the bar and continue through the full set (as shown above).

To perform this exercise:

  • Secure the spotter racks on either side of the squat rack at knee-height.
  • Load the barbell on either side with an appropriate weight — make sure it’s
    even on either side and that the clips are securely on!
  • Grip the bar with either a pronated (fingers facing downwards) or supinated
    (fingers facing upwards) grip.

    • a pronated grip will better target the lats and the elbows should be
      pointed outward.
    • a supinated grip will better target the rear delts, which are located
      over the shoulder blades, and the elbows should be pointed
      downward and close to the body.
  • Pull the bar from the spotter racks and up toward the chest while squeezing
    the back. Imagine that you’re trying to meet your elbows behind your back as
    you complete the movement.

    • The bar should meet at the lower chest.
  • Slowly release the bar back down to the starting position by placing it on the
    spotter rack.

    • This stopping motion allows the lats to be activated at the beginning
      of each repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions.

Iso-Lateral Row

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is another machine-based exercise, but the difference lies in the weight distribution. Instead of a weight rack you must load plates onto the machine, which can increase the tension applied to the muscle. Like any other machine-based back exercise, though, it can be performed with a single-arm to fix muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Load the machine on either side with an appropriate weight and fix the seat
    so that the cushion comes in line with your entire chest.
  • Hold the handles at either side with a pronated grip.
  • Tense your lats, keep your chest up, and keep your shoulder blades down and
    back as you pull the handles straight back. Again, imagine like you’re trying to
    make your elbows touch behind you as you complete the repetition.
  • Slowly release the handles forward so to not lose the tension on the muscle.
  • At the top of the movement, keep the arms bent to keep the muscle activated
    and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Seated Cable Rows

image @ www.zerostepsback.files.wordpress.com

Any variation of rows are a great way to directly target the back. It also has several variations and can be performed on several different machines. One of the easier movements can be performed on the low row machine while gripping either a handle attachment, a bar attachment, or a wide-handled bar attachment. Each attachment will target the back in a different place, but all have the same general form.

*A handle attachment will more closely target the rear delts and inner lats, a wide-handled bar attachment will target the outer sweep of the lats, and a bar attachment can target the outer lats with a pronated grip and the inner lats and rear delts with a supinated grip.

This exercise can also be performed with one hand to directly target muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Sit on the bench with your feet on the pads after setting the weight with the
    pin.
  • Grip the attachment with both hands with your thumbs facing upward and
    your hands in the same place on either side.
  • While bracing your feet against the pads, keeping your chest up, and your
    shoulder blades down and back, pull the attachment toward your lower chest.

    • Keep the attachment within an inch of your chest.
  • Release the attachment slowly to keep the tension on the muscle; at the end of
    the movement, your arms should remain at about a forty-five degree angle to
    withhold muscular tension.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullovers

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is a relatively simple movement, but also a great back finisher because it demands intense pulling on the lats. The key to this movement is to choose a weight that is easy enough to move and hold without awkwardly rotating your shoulder, while also holding enough tension on the muscle to tear the fibers.

To perform this exercise:

  • Set yourself up on a bench with your shoulder blades resting on the bench
    and your feet far enough away to create a flat plank.

    • This movement can also be done by lying your entire body on a
      bench and hanging your arms off the end, but it takes a significant
      amount of tension off of the core.
  • Start with your hands cupping the dumbbell over your chest, body up in a
    plank position.
  • Bring the dumbbell back over your head while keeping your arms bent at
    roughly a forty-five degree angle to prevent unwanted tension on the
    shoulder.
  • Draw the dumbbell back until it’s about 2-3 inches from the floor behind you
    (this gives a great pull on the lats).
  • Brace your lats and pull the dumbbell back to the starting position. Keep your
    arms bent the whole time.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Remember to Train Heavy!

What’s most important, and most intimidating, to women is the aspect of lifting heavy weights. Moving heavy weight is nothing to fear! The female body does not have enough testosterone to have that “bulky” look of a male who trains at the same intensity. Instead, training your muscles with heavy weight can: increase your metabolism, build muscle mass, reduce body fat, and give you those curves you’ve been chasing after.

While these back exercises can be effective while training with a lighter weight, the impact will not be the same. For maximum results, choose a weight that exhausts you by the sixth or seventh repetition for a set of 8-10. This ensures that the muscle is tired, torn, and able to be repaired.

The Mechanics of the Bench Press (updated July 2019)

What is a Bench Press?

A bench press is probably one of the mot famous exercises among meatheads. At any given point, you will see someone with an overdeveloped chest loading a barbell with heavy plates. If you continue watching, you will see this fabulous meathead perform the bench press for far too many sets at hypertrophy reps, just to prove a point. But he’s not wrong: the bench press may be one of the best exercises for developing your pectoralis major.

So how do you perform a bench press? Ultimately, it’s pretty straightforward. You un-rack the barbell, lower it, and then press it back up. However, most people perform this simple exercise wrong.

So let’s talk about how not to perform it wrong so that you can outshine those meatheads in the gym.

The Set-Up of a Bench Press

The Arch

If you’ve seen a photograph of a professional powerlifter benching such as their back is arched. And no, it will not hurt them. Arching your back is one of the key components of a bench press, and the lack of it is why most people perform it incorrectly. If you want to look like Bradley Martyn, read this full article below.

For starters, it does look painful.

image @ www.zelsh.com

Some individual’s arch is so pronounced that they appear to be bending in half. However, the thoracic spine can naturally bend that much in some people. Really, the degree of your arch is fully dependent on your individual back mobility. However, no matter how immobile your back is, it should still be arched.

Arching your back is a key component of the bench press for a few reasons:

  1. It emphasizes the chest. Anytime you set up for a chest exercise, your chest should pop out. This allows the arms to have a larger range of motion to really target the chest. Pressure applied to the upper body actually travels through the back first, so stopping without moving through the full range of motion will halt the pressure of the exercise. And no one wants to bench for rear delts.
  2. It locks the shoulders in place. Along with emphasizing the chest, arching your back allows your entire scapula (or the shoulder blade) to lay on the bench. Keeping your shoulders locked in place will prevent your upper body from moving around during the lift. This is paramount because you want the pressure to remain above your chest at all times to prevent injury (and working the anterior deltoids instead of the pectoralis major).
  3. It retracts the scapula. When benching, you don’t normally think of your scapula at all. In actuality, the pressure comes from the scapula. Retracting your scapula before each set also helps to lock everything in place so that the bar comes down to the sternum, which is what you want. Keeping the bar in line with the sternum allows for maximum chest activation.

So please, ignore those meatheads in the gym who say that you should not be arching, because you should be. Your bench will improve tenfold and your chance of injury will quickly diminish.

You can also practice retracting your scapula while standing. Hold a dowel in front of your body, hands a little wider than shoulder width. Roll your shoulders down and press your chest forward, retracting your scapula. You should feel immense pressure from your upper back. Then bring the dowel close to your sternum. Remember to pull through your back, though. It’s weird, but you’ll feel it in your chest. I promise!

Your Feet

image @ www.i.ytimg.com

Again, no one really pays attention to their feet when benching. However, feet placement can make or break a good bench. Keeping your feet flat on the floor wherever they may can actually set you up for disaster, and here’s why.

Much like you don’t want your shoulders to move when benching, you want your hips to be immobile, too. However, when your feet are haphazardly placed they will not support the hips. The heavier the load, the more the hips will want to move. This results in instability near the chest (even if the shoulders are braced against the bench). It may lead to injury. It’ll definitely lead to insufficient gains.

The trick with your feet is to bring them as close to the upper body as possible. When setting up, think of placing your feet as close to your head as possible. You will go up on your toes. You will feel ridiculous. However, by doing this you are locking your hips into place. Your entire body is rigid, save for your arms. Now, you can bench without fear of dropping the weight or moving around too much on the bench.

Your Hands

image @ www.musclemag.com

This is dependent on the person and what their goals are. If you are training more for inner chest and triceps, then keep your hands closer than shoulder width. This allows for a smaller range of motion and keeps your triceps locked in place. The pressure of the bench will target these muscle groups specifically. However, don’t be flashy: keep the weight much lower so that you can handle it without injury.

If your goals are to develop your outer chest, keep the hands a little wider than shoulder width. This ensures a fuller range of motion so that the entire muscle is firing. It will still target the triceps and inner chest but more indirectly. For this stance, you can up the weight to something heavier but still just as manageable.

However, both of these variations should still have the same set-up. Keep your shoulders down and locked and your feet up toward your midsection so that your entire body remains immobile. This ensures the best bench!

The Mechanics of the Bench Press

image @ www.worldsportsculture.com

Great, now you know how to set up for a bench press. In actuality, setting up is the hard part. It’s also the part where most people fail. Often times, individuals will keep their shoulders splayed on the bench and their feet placed wherever, which is a calling card for disaster. While they may be making some strength gains, they are not maximizing their efforts. They’re also more prone to injury. So don’t be that guy. Now you know better!

So let’s actually perform the exercise.

  1. Set up for as long as you need. (Personally, I wait for the drop in a song to get pumped up enough to tough out a couple reps.) Just make sure your hands are equidistant on the bar to avoid imbalances.
  2. When you’re ready, take a deep breath in.
    1. Toying with your breath is actually a great muscular indicator. It signals to the muscle that it’s time to work because it’ll tense up due to restricted air flow. Releasing your breath allows the muscle to relax; use it on the eccentric movement.
  3. Unrack the barbell (or have a spotter un-rack it for you if you’re going heavier) and slowly lower down. The bar should either touch or come within an inch of the sternum.
  4. Exhale and press the barbell back up until your arms are fully extended.
  5. Continue in this fashion until you feel your arms about to give out.
    1. Make sure that you don’t pause for too long in between reps. This will tire out the muscles without them doing any actual work.
  6. Re-rack the weight.

And there you have it, the mechanics of a bench press. The actual movement is basic and straightforward, which is why it attracts so many meatheads. It doesn’t have as many difficulties as a squat, and much less than a deadlift. It also recruits a significant amount of muscle fibers from the upper body — the pectoralis major and minor, the triceps, the biceps, and the upper back — which shuttles it into the “compound movements” category.

But now you know better. You know that a bench press also requires a significant amount of time setting up — sometimes longer than the press itself. But when done correctly, the bench press is one of the best movements for overall chest development. So if strength gains are in your future, definitely add the bench press. You will not be disappointed.

Squatting in Action: High Bar vs. Low Bar (updated July 2019)

squat-low

If you’ve ever heard a powerlifter speak, they will undoubtedly talk about their low bar squat. Conversely, if you’ve ever heard a weightlifter or a commoner in the gym talk about their squat, they’ll probably mention about how their traps are red and sore from the bar. While there isn’t a slew of differences between the two — high bar and low bar squatting — there is still large amounts of controversy between the two. But really, there shouldn’t be.

What’s a High Bar Squat?

A high bar squat is pretty self-explanatory: the bar is high while you’re squatting. It rests at the top of your shoulder blades, right underneath your traps (or the little peaks where your neck swoops down on your shoulders). Typically, high bar squats are performed by average gym goers and weightlifters. They’re also the most common squat type.

What’s Low Bar Squatting?

Again, the premise of a low bar squat is simple: the bar is physically lower down the back, about 2-3 inches. This placement requires more support from the hands, wrists, and forearms when completing the movement. It also means that the lifter needs to lean a little more forward during the squat because the weight he’s bearing is a little further down his back. But since he also gets a little more stability from resting the bar on the top of his lats instead of his traps, he can also move more weight. Not significantly more than a high bar squatter, only about 5-10% of the total weight, but enough. It’s why powerlifters tend to low bar squat for competitions and meets: since the goal of a powerlifting meet is to move the most weight, it makes sense to utilize the squat variation that will allow them to physically move more weight.

Okay, but what’s the difference?

Really, the main difference between a low and a high bar squat is the placement of the bar. The muscles — mostly the quads, which help control the knees and hip flexors — are being recruited the same amount for both low and high bar squats because the mechanics stay the same. The other difference is how much the knees track forward versus how hard the hip flexors need to work. In a high bar squat, the knees tend to move farther forward because of: 1) the higher weight placement, and 2) because your torso has a physically longer distance to travel (the difference between the bar placement in a high and low bar squat). This knee trekking does not apply as much in a low bar squat, which is another reason why low bar squatters can move about 5-10% more weight. They physically have less distance to travel with the bar in proportion to their core. Simply, it becomes more mechanically efficient to squat low bar that high bar. But again, not by much.Squatting

 

Should I change my squat form?

Squatting
Squatting

If you’re already squatting low bar, then keep at it. If you’re squatting high bar, then keep at it. The only time you should really consider changing your squat form is if you’re either bored with your routine and you want to switch it up a little bit, or you want to shift from weightlifting to powerlifting. Really, the only time switching squat form becomes applicable is when you’re competing to be the absolute strongest in the room — why not increase your squat by 5-10% if you have the option to? Just make sure you’re getting good pointers from a coach and practicing often before jumping right into the heavier weights.

(image @ www.ruggedfellowsguide.com)

Other than those two reasons, there is no real mechanical difference why any average Joe should change their squat form. The mechanical superiority of the low bar squat is slight compared to the high bar squat, and if you’re squatting with good form then it shouldn’t matter too much, anyway. In fact, the muscles can’t even feel the weight you’re using, whether it’s 25lbs. or 250lbs. All they feel is the tension of a lifter performing the exercise. So, really, unless you’re competing for the highest numbers, making sure your form is flawless and the tension is kept on the muscle is enough for significant change.

Do the muscles being recruited change per squat form?

This is a valid question. Surprisingly — and though it’s rumored that the low bar squat focuses more on the hamstrings than the high bar squat — the muscles that are being recruited do not change per squat form. In fact, the hamstrings aren’t really utilized at all during the squat. Or, not as much as people put emphasis on. The “squat booty” is a myth, I’m sorry to say. They’re only a secondary muscle to the quadriceps, who need to control both the forward extension of the knee and the flexion of the hip. There isn’t even a huge difference in hamstring activation between front and back squats, so the difference between high and low bar squats is even more insignificant (Nuckols, 2014).

So there’s no reason to change my routine?

In actuality, there is no large difference between low and high bar squatting except for the placement of the bar. That’s really all there is to it. The mechanical advantages of a low bar squat are so insignificant that it’s not even worth switching unless it’s something you’re completely passionate about. Instead, just keep working on your squat, whatever form it may be — your muscles don’t know the difference.

The Mechanics of Deadlifting (updated July 2019)

Mechanics of Deadlifting

What is a Deadlift?

The Exercise Overview

A deadlift is a compound power exercise, most commonly used by powerlifters. It engages more muscles during one movement than any other compound lift. This makes it ideal for not only strengthening those muscles, but also is more efficient for those who lift with a time constraint.

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

Deadlifts are also the easiest exercise to lift the heaviest amount of weight with. There are two main reasons why:

  1. The distance between the floor and the top of the movement is relatively small, averaging only a couple of feet. As compared to a squat or bench press, this makes heavier weights much easier to handle.
  2. You really only perform half of the movement. Unlike a squat or bench press where you need to control the bar for the concentric and eccentric part of the lift, gravity takes over for the eccentric half of the deadlift. As soon as you bring the bar a third of the way down after locking out (or reaching the ending point of the exercise), gravity takes over and gets that bar to the ground. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t squash your toes.

Recruited Muscles

The deadlift is primarily a hamstring and glutes movement because the lifter uses his heels as the driving force. However, both the thoracic and lumbar spine are activated at the top of the movement, as is the latissimus dorsi and rear deltoids of the back. In addition, the triceps are recruited when lifting the bar off of the ground. Tricep activation is due to the pushing motion of the lifter relative to the bar — against popular belief, the first movement in a deadlift is pushing the bar off of the ground, not pulling it, to lift it. Therefore, the triceps and not the biceps are utilized to complete the movement.

The Mechanics

image @ www.cdn-mf0.heartyhosting.com

There are two different forms of deadlifting, conventional and sumo, but both have the same core mechanics. The trick to a deadlift is to keep your back relatively straight — no rounding at the top! Your feet should be planted firmly on the ground so that the heels are used as the primary driving force. Any additional pressure at the front of the body will just cause you to fall over.

The deadlift should be one continuous movement. Because of the heavy weight, some individuals have a tendency to lift the legs first and let the bar follow. This puts intense strain on the lumbar spine. Instead, the whole body needs to move as one. Ideally, the bar should travel up the path of your legs and follow the same path back down to the ground. It will make sure you keep control of the bar and prevent your back from being thrown out during the eccentric portion.

Another key component to completing the deadlift is to activate your latissimus dorsi before lifting the bar. Located right at the base of the armpit, the lats are the stabilizing force of the entire upper body. To prevent your back from rounding or your shoulders from slumping forward, pressure is applied to the upper back to keep it rigid. It’s a similar notion to locking your shoulders during a bench press. In order for the upper body to stay put and not ruin the rest of the lift, it needs to be activated. And stay activated until the bar touches the ground again.

The Equipment

A deadlift can be done with no outside equipment. There are some daredevils deadlifting a raw bar with no shoes on, and that’s great for them. However, the heavier the lift the more outside equipment will help. Here are some key tools for optimal deadlifting:

  1. Flat-soled shoes.
    image @ www.rougefitness.com

    Running shoes are bouncy for a reason: they keep half the foot off of the ground. However, since the primary driving force in a deadlift is the foot, the entire sole should remain planted on the ground. This gives the lifter better stability, which ensures a better lift. Powerlifting shoes or even Converse are great picks because they provide ankle mobility and keep the entire foot on the ground. Or any flat-soled shoes work, really. Just leave the running shoes at home.
    Powerlifting shoes can be found here, and Converse can be found here.

  2. Wrist straps.
    image @ www.roguefitness.com

    Lifting an iron bar off of the ground puts a lot of pressure on weak wrists. To avoid this, wrist straps are a great tool. They’re made of a combination of tough fabric and elastic, so one size really does fit every wrist. Wrist straps keep the wrists locked in place and prevent them locking out or bending. In addition, some wrist straps will loop around the wrist and then wrap around the bar to increase grip strength.
    Wrist wraps can be found here.

  3. Lifting chalk. Lifting chalk is messy but effective for those who hate using straps. Also, if you tend to sweat during exercise, chalk will soak up the liquid to prevent slipping grips. When trying to lift heavy barbells, a firm grip is the best grip. Chalk is also applied to the legs when wear shorts to prevent chaffing.
    Lifting chalk can be found here.

Choose Your Best Deadlift

So now you have the knowledge of deadlifting basics and key tools for the best lift. But what stance do you use?

image @ www.peakperformance365.com

Conventional V. Sumo

There are two types of deadlift: conventional and sumo. Conventional is a close stance deadlift where the hands are kept outside of the legs. Sumo is a wide stance deadlift where the hands are kept inside of the legs. Both get the bar off the ground by primarily activating the glutes and hamstrings. However, conventional deadlifts equally target the quadriceps, or the front of the leg. Conversely, sumo deadlifts work the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and leave the quadriceps virtually untouched.

But Which to Choose?

Choosing your stance is primarily based on your physical build. Typically, individuals with long legs will choose sumo because they can get closer to the bar. Conventional deadlifts, while effective, make it more difficult for taller lifters to get down into the starting position. Similarly, individuals with longer torsos may also choose sumo deadlifts for the same reasons.

If you’re someone with short legs or a short torso, however, you may choose conventional. Having smaller limbs allows more room around the bar while still being able to get the full range of motion during the exercise. Similarly, someone with longer arms may choose conventional deadlifts because their arms are held farther apart. This actually reduces the space between him and the bar, making it easier to complete the movement.

Although, choosing your stance is also based on personal preference. You can learn one way but prefer the other way, or lift heavier, or have a higher repetition range. You can also lift in both stances if you’re indecisive. There really is no wrong way to deadlift. As long as your form is good and your back is not rounded during any part of the movement, deadlift away!

 

Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss (updated July 2019)

The Best Cardio For Weight Loss
Best cardio for weight loss
Best cardio for weight loss

First and foremost, any form of exercise will help you to lose weight. Losing weight is simply calories in versus calories out, or burning more calories during the day than you consume. For example, if you eat 1,700 calories in one day but burn almost 2,000 calories from daily activities, metabolic pathways, and exercise, then you’ve burned 300 calories for that day. Likewise, if the numbers were reversed and you consumed 2,000 calories but only burned 1,700 calories, then you would gain 300 calories that day.

However, there are better ways to initially lose body fat. High-intensity cardiovascular activity will initially burn more fat because of the energy pathways it requires. If done consistently, you’ll be well on your way to losing inches quickly.

Energy Pathways?

Cardiovascular exercise requires more energy than lifting does. (It’s why you’re more out of breath after a five-mile run than a handful of deadlifts.) This is because cardiovascular activity requires energy from fat stores, not glycogen stores. It also requires the energy pathway of oxidative phosphorylation, or the conversion of oxygen into ATP energy, instead of glycolysis, which converts glucose into stored ATP energy.

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Oxidative phosphorylation requires more energy and more work. Your body has to work harder to convert this type of ATP versus already stored ATP from the muscles, hence a greater percentage of fat loss. So the harder you work, the more your body has to work to keep up with you, and the more fat you burn. Easy, right?

So What Makes it High Intensity?

You should be able to tell when an exercise is intense by how hard you’re breathing. If you can hold a conversation, it’s not that intense. If you can’t speak without wheezing, chances are the exercise is intense enough. Intensity is also calculated through the scale of Rates of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a scale from 1-10, where 1 is the easiest (think: lying in bed) and 10 is the hardest (think: about to faint because you’re so minded).

Any cardiovascular exercise you do with the goal of losing significant amounts of body fat should be upwards on the RPE scale. Again, you’re aiming to be sweaty and out of breath in order for your body to continually fight for oxygen and generate ATP. If you can grab energy from your muscles, then the body has no reason to work as hard for its energy. If that happens, your metabolism slows. Don’t let that happen!

Get sweaty! Breathe hard! Make your body work!

Various Cardiovascular Exercises

So now you’re thinking, “Well okay, I need to work hard to lose body fat. What exercises are good for that?”

Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, gets you sweaty and makes you lose your breath is a fantastic form of cardiovascular exercise. However, there are some exercises that are easier to perform than others:

  1. Cardiovascular machines. These machines are commonplace gym equipment, such as the: treadmill, elliptical, Stairmaster, and stationary bike. Your gym may have something more unique than those, but those are the main four cardiovascular machines that, when utilized properly, can help to get your heart rate up. Most newer models even have workout options for an increased heart rate, which is great for beginners!
  2. Running. And yes, actually running. Jogging will not get your heart rate up as much, so spare it when you can. Use it as a cool down method to bring your heart rate back to baseline at the end of your workout.

    HIIT
    HIIT
  3. Sled pushes, tire flips, or battle ropes. For the more skilled athlete training at more rugged-style gyms, sled pushes, battle ropes, and tire flips are a great option. These exercises give a greater resistance during activity, which helps to sustain muscle while still getting your heart rate up.

The King of all Cardio

Although the list above is great, there’s something even better. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular exercise that has interchanging periods of rest and activity. The purpose of HIIT is to get your heart rate up to the highest possible level — or the optimal “fat burning zone” — and then let it come back down again before starting the whole process over again. This is a great tactic because the optimal “fat burning zone” can only be withheld for so long before your body needs to stop. It simply cannot produce oxygen that quickly.

 

 

A great example of HIIT cardio is a treadmill sprint. Generally, a sprint can only be held for about 20-30 seconds before you’re physically out of breath. This is the “activity” portion of the exercise. The “rest” portion lasts for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on your current level of fitness. It gives your heart rate a chance to come back down. However, the key here is to make sure that your heart rate doesn’t return to baseline. Make sure your rest periods are only as long as it takes you to catch your breath. Then you’re off again!

An example of HIIT cardio would be:

20 minutes of full activity –> 90 seconds rest, 30 seconds sprint (activity) / Repeat 10 times.

The General Takeaway

Cardiovascular activity of any intensity is great for heart health. Cardio in of itself gets your blood pumping and your heart beating, which helps to regulate your cardiovascular system. However, when wanting to burn fat, the more intense the exercise the more fat is burned in a shorter period of time.

Exercise intensity is based on how you feel through Ratings of Perceived Exertion. Remember: aim for higher levels, like 7+, in order to really get your heart rate up and increase your body’s demand for oxygen and ATP energy. Without that high demand, the body can use stored energy and the metabolism will not have to work as hard in that moment. That equals less fat loss, which is no good.

In general, the more you sweat the more fat is burned. So get sweating!

How to Improve Your Big Lifts (updated July 2019)

What Are the “Big Lifts”?

The Big Four

image @ www.birthorderplus.com

The “big four lifts” refer to compound movements. These exercises are generally accepted to be the deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press (OHP) because they recruit the most muscle groups. While other lifts are also considered compound movements, they do not recruit as many muscle groups as the big four. Other forms of compound movements include exercises such as: lateral pulldowns, barbell rows, push-ups, etc.

Typically, weight lifters will utilize these four main lifts the most. They can improve multiple muscle groups at one time while also improving the lift overall. In addition, working one main four exercise can help to improve some others. For example, training your deadlift helps to improve your squat. This occurs because the hamstrings are recruited in both scenarios. Likewise, perfecting your bench improves your overhead press because both develop the anterior deltoid.

How do I Pick Which to Do?

Really, anyone can train the big four lifts. In fact, performing a compound movement is actually more beneficial for fat burn than isolation movements. This is because the metabolism speeds up with greater muscle density; muscle burns more calories per day than fat does. Compound movements activate more muscle groups, which, in turn, increases muscle density. You’ll become a fat burning machine!

However, a word of caution before embarking on the big four lifts. These lifts are compound and powerful for a reason. It is imperative to nail the form for each one before increasing weight. Having improper form for any exercise can result in serious injury. This warning increases tenfold with compound lifts, however, because of how much more demanding they are. Ask a friend or colleague to demonstrate the proper form for you before beginning! After that, you’re home free.

How to Increase the Big Four Lifts

image @ www.images.shape.mdpcdn.com

So you wanna train hard and lift heavy, huh? Good for you! Big lifting is not only more beneficial to the metabolism and the body’s muscle density, but they’re also lots of fun. Who doesn’t like throwing around some heavy weights in the gym every now and again?

There are a few key ways to improving your big four lifts, whether you’re primarily training the lower or upper body exercises. They include:

1. Proper Programming

It goes without saying, but having a solid program in place is the most beneficial way to increase your big four lifts. Proper programming refers to something either you or a paid coach has written (or a fitness friend, who knows?). This program generally lasts over the span of about six to eight weeks. This time frame gives the trainee (i.e, you) ample amount of time to work upon and improve his lifts.

Your programming should also reflect future strength gains. If your program only has you increasing your big lifts by five pounds every few weeks, then it’s not a solid program. With proper guidance, you should be increasing by either one repetition or five pounds every time you perform the exercise.

Now, there can be outside factors that affect these numbers. But generally speaking, you should be increasing by either five pounds or one rep each week. You should also not perform the exercise for strength — or high weight with a rep scheme of 4-6 repetitions — more than once a week. The same holds true for power training, or repetition sets of 1-3 reps.

2. Proper Recovery

Whether in-between sets or in-between days, you need to give your body the recovery it deserves. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • foam rolling / myofascial release
  • trigger therapy
  • massages (regular or deep tissue)
  • sleep
  • stretching
  • yoga
  • ice baths, hot tubs, and/or saunas
image @ www.rocktape.com

Any one of these recovery practices emphasize releasing the tension from the muscle. This reduces the stress placed on it and allows it to fully heal. And since muscle growth is the healing of muscle tissue, recovery becomes just as important as exercising.

In addition, program your training days well enough so that there are no conflicts with muscle groups. For example, do not train lower body two days in a row, or even over the course of three days. While performing heavy lifts, the muscles are under greater stress than isolation movements. Therefore, they need greater time for recovery in between training days. Aim for three or more days in between big lifts. This time frame gives your muscles ample time to recover before being fired again.

3. Accessory / Isolation Work

What good is an underdeveloped muscle group? If the muscle is underdeveloped, it cannot function properly. Likewise, if one muscle group is lagging another will compensate for it. This puts unnecessary pressure on the developed muscle, while the underdeveloped muscle does no work. In the end, both are injured and your lifts suffer.

The answer to this dilemma is accessory work. Accessory and/or isolation work is directly targeting the muscle. This forces that one particular muscle under constant stress, instead of being integrated with other muscles in a compound lift. For lagging muscles, this tunes them up without overdeveloping surrounding muscles. You can also directly target supporting muscles to the big four lifts, which will help increase them in the long run.

4. Hypertrophy Days

Hypertrophy refers to increasing the size of the muscle tissue. Hypertrophy lifts follow a repetition scheme of 8-10 reps per set. This repetition range adds just enough stress to tear the muscle while also making sure the weight can be heavier than lighter load days.

Hypertrophy days should be very similar to strength days in terms of exercise choice. However, the weight and repetitions change to support muscle growth instead of strength growth. This will not only help you to practice your form, but will also help develop all the working muscles of that exercise.

Hypertrophy days should be about three days or more apart from strength days. Or, they should change week by week: one week train for strength, one for hypertrophy. This latter tactic will take longer for strength development, but can still help to improve the lift.

image @ www.52bpijddwt-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com

So if the big four compound lifts are in your future, remember these key points. Nothing will increase your strength better than proper programming, isolation work, hypertrophy work, and proper rest and recovery!

Best Workouts for Abs To Get A Six Pack (Updated July 2019)

Best Workout for Abs

Abs are Shown in the Kitchen but Made in the Gym

Abdominals are shown in the kitchen but made in the gym. Against popular belief, the abdominals are like any other muscle group. Therefore, they need to be trained, rested and recovered like any other muscle. Training your abdominals every day will not get you abs — in fact, it may hinder them!

image @ www.doctorshealthpress.com

However, your abdominals are a collection of smaller muscles. These muscles can, therefore, be isolated and trained separately, and the recovery time for any one group is significantly less than your major muscles. Abdominals can be trained directly up to three times a week, every other day. They’re also indirectly trained through big lifts, such as the deadlift and squat. This is how abdominals are “made in the gym.”

To actually see your hard-earned six-pack, though, is where “shown in the kitchen” comes in. Typically, abdominals can only be seen at a strikingly low body fat percentage. For most people, this level of body fat is neither healthy nor maintainable year-round. But eating a balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, good fats, and whole grains can help to make those little abdominal nuggets pop from time to time.

The Best Tactics — TUT

Okay, so you’re eating well. Now, how do you train your abdominals?

As I’ve said, abs are like any other muscle group. Training them requires more than hundreds of body weight crunches and thirty-second planks. Instead, your abdominal muscles require weighted tension — the same you’d apply to your legs or chest.

image @ www.seannal.com

The best tactic for building your abdominals is “time under tension.” Simply, Time Under Tension (TUT) is how long the muscle is underweighted strain during a set. The longer the TUT, the longer the muscle is active and contracting. And the longer the muscle is active, the more it can tear.

There are plenty of ways to increase TUT during a workout. The most effective way is to decrease your rest periods in between sets. This ensures that the muscle is generating enough energy to perform the next set, but not so much that it loses its contraction. Another way is to go until “failure”, or when your body physically cannot perform another repetition with good form. Both tactics are excellent ways for increasing TUT.

And since the abdominals are such a small muscle group, they can recuperate fairly quickly. This allows for shorter rest periods, enabling longer TUT.

The Best Exercises

I’m going to let you in on a secret: crunches don’t do much. They’re publicized everywhere because they’re easy and convenient. However, they also don’t supply much tension to the abdominals. There are better exercises that can increase TUT and decrease training time so that you’re not performing hundreds of crunches just to feel the burn.

Cable Crunches

I know what you’re thinking. I literally just said crunches don’t do jack squat, and now I’m saying do crunches. However, these crunches are performed with a cable and can add tens to hundreds of pounds of tension directly to the abdominals. They also target both the upper and lower abdominal regions, making them far superior to conventional crunches.

Perform the exercise by:

  1. Set a cable machine up with a rope attachment, and pin the appropriate weight.
  2. Grab the rope handles in both hands and place it behind your neck.
  3. Pull the rope down as you kneel about eight inches away from the cable. Keep your gaze pointed down and your back straight.
  4. Bring your elbows down to your thighs while keeping your back straight and core tight.
    1. Do not sink into your heels! This takes the pressure off the abs.
    2. Make sure to bring your elbows in so you can crunch your abdominals. Don’t just hinge at the hips!
  5. Slowly bring the rope back up to the kneeling position and repeat.
  6. Perform four sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Leg Raises

Leg raises are a great exercise to target the lower abdominals. The trick is to pull from the core, not the feet. Pulling your body up from the feet takes the pressure of the core entirely. Instead, you’re using the momentum of the feet to complete the movement. Make sure your core is tight as you pull your legs up — you’ll feel the burn for sure!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on a mat or bench while holding onto a rail behind your head.
  2. Brace your core and pull your legs up until they’re perpendicular to the floor.
    1. Your feet should remain on your chest and not your head! Bringing your feet too far back will relocate the pressure to the upper back and not the core.
  3. Hold the upward position for a beat, then slowly lower your legs back down.
  4. Keep your feet an inch from the ground to ensure TUT, then repeat.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

Russian Twists

image @ www.fit-on.ru

Russian Twists are a great exercise for targeting the obliques, or the side abdominals. They can also be modified to fit multiple fitness levels. This adjustment can be made by raising or lowering the feet, which adds tension to the core. Work on your stability to progress to the harder levels! You can also hold a dumbbell for added tension.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Sit on a mat with your legs bent at forty-five degrees, heels on the floor.
    1. To make it harder, take your heels off the floor until your shins are parallel to the mat.
  2. Lean back so that your body is at a forty-five-degree angle. Keep your back straight and your core tight!
  3. Either hold a dumbbell or clasp your hands into a ball in line with your mid-chest.
  4. Focus on an object in front of you so that your upper body doesn’t move. Then rotate your hands (or the dumbbell) from side to side. Try to bring your elbow to your hip.
  5. Hold the ending position for a beat, then slowly reverse back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  6. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Bicycle Crunches

image @ www.hiitacademy.com

I know, another crunch. And I also know that you’ve heard of these before. You’ve probably done them, too. But I can bet that you’ve also been doing them incorrectly.

The key with bicycle crunches is to perform the exercise slowly. You’re not Lance Armstrong riding a marathon, you’re trying to keep tension on your core. Performing the exercise too quickly takes that pressure off because form fails. Instead, move through each repetition slowly and feel the burn!

These can also be performed with ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Lay flat on your back, hands laced behind your head.
    1. Don’t lace your fingers behind your neck! This causes it to strain upwards and put tension on your spine, not core.
  2. Draw your legs up until they’re at ninety degrees. Lift your chest and shoulder blades off of the floor.
  3. Slowly bring one elbow to the opposite knee without moving your upper back off of the floor.
    1. Pro tip: Make eye contact with something in front of you. This helps to prevent too much movement in the upper body!
  4. Slowly release back to the starting position, then repeat on the other side. This is one repetition.
  5. Perform four sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Hanging Leg Raise

Hanging leg raises are a bit more advanced than floor work because they require more core strength. It combines stability work with crunches, which definitely increases TUT.

These can be performed either on a pull-up bar for maximum stability or on an assisted hanging leg raise machine. You can also throw on ankle weights for an added boost.

Perform this exercise by:

  1. Place your arms on the machine pads and your back flat against the machine. Hold the handles to make sure you don’t move!
  2. Brace your core and bring your knees up to your chest.
    1. You can also perform an L-sit, where your legs remain parallel to the floor and ninety degrees to your body (see above photo).
  3. Hold the top of the movement for a beat, then release back down.
  4. For a full-on hanging leg raise, hold the handles of the pull-up bar. Perform the exercise in the same way but keep your upper body locked. Then release the feet back down to the starting position.
  5. Perform four sets of 10 repetitions.

 

Now, these are just some basic core exercises. The trick to training core is to make sure that you’re hitting all regions — upper, lower, middle, and the obliques. Training abs up to three times a week can help ensure this, as well as incorporating one movement for each muscle group.

A strong core is imperative. In fact, it’s your number one stabilizer. Big lifts — such as deadlifts and squats — can be hindered if you don’t have a strong core. So take the time to really focus on growing that foundation for not only that six-pack, for overall performance improvement!