A Better Way To Squat?

Squatting is the one of the most basic movements that the human body can perform. It’s how we sit, how we stand, and even how we use the restroom. Unfortunately, due to a myriad of factors such as joint pain, tight/protected muscles, or limb length, squatting has become quite challenging for a large group of the population.

Does that mean we should abandon teaching the squat? NOPE. It just means that we need to have better variations that can help us develop the qualities needed to perform a proper squat or simply to provide similar benefits. One such variation that I have found to be particularly useful is the staggered stance squat which is sometimes referred to as the offset stance squat.

Here is a video that explains some of the benefits of the staggered stance squat as well as how to perform the movement and progress it:

Accelerate Fat Loss With Combination Exercises

When clients seek me out they may have varied levels of experience, different backgrounds, or contrasting ideas of what it means to “be fit”, but one thing is always the same. They want to lose fat and they want to do it quickly. This generally leads into a discussion about healthy nutrition habits, but after that is out of the way we get to discuss exercise programming.

While I can’t physically control what the client does when they are not with me, I can certainly dictate the execution and the pace of the workout. Since fat loss is maximized during fast paced weight training my go-to moves are always combination exercises. Combination exercises (sometimes referred to as hybrid exercises) are when 2 or more individual exercises are performed together to effectively train multiple areas of the body at the same time. This leads to an increase in the amount of work that can be completed in the same amount of time and often leaves the trainee breathless due to the high cardiac demands. In addition to elevating you heart rate, combination exercises often require more coordination and tend to be more core demanding.

Options are limitless when it comes to combining exercises, but here are 3 of my favorites and a sample workout:

Step Up Balance to Reverse Lunge:

This one is brutal on the lower body. There is quite a bit of balance required and by bringing one leg up to a balance position during the step up proper hip extension is completed every rep. This can be done with bodyweight or additional weight can be added as desired.


Step up onto a step or bench with your right leg while bringing your left knee up hip height. Pause for one second, then step your left leg back to the floor and bringing your right leg back into a reverse lunge. Do all your reps on one side then switch to the other side.

Step Up Balance Press to Reverse Lunge:

This is a version of the previous exercise that adds in additional weight and an upper body movement. The side that does the pressing is the opposite of the side that performs the balance.


Complete this version the same as the one above, but add a press at the top of the step up.

Squat to Row:

This is probably one of the most common combination exercises and for good reason. This move allows to you squat with good depth and still maintain upright positioning. The core and back are notably challenged as well.


Attach a row handle (I like to play with different grips personally) to a low cable pulley or use a resistance band wrapped around an object at a level just lower than knee height. Grab the handle and walk back about 3-5 steps. Maintaining good posture, push your hips back and bend your knees until your upper legs are parallel to the floor. Then, stand up and row back towards the bottom of your rib cage and hold your squeeze for 1 second at the top.

Push Up to Renegade Row:

This is a great upper body combo that not only works your back and chest (as well as the muscles that assist), but it also kills your core. The beauty of this exercise is how well balanced it is, because you get an even amount of pushing vs pulling. This exercise can be very humbling so start with moderate weight and work your way up.


Using dumbbells that won’t roll, assume a push up position with your hands facing each other and your feet wider than shoulder width. Complete one push up and at the top row one hand up towards your rib cage while trying not to turn your hips. Next row your other hand up also not trying to move your hips. That’s one rep.

And Now For the Sample Workout:

4 Rounds Of:

Step Up Balance / Press / Reverse Lunge
Chin Ups or Reverse Grip Pulldowns

4 Rounds Of:

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Push Up / Renegade Row

Common Training Session Misconceptions

It is becoming blatantly obvious that the role of a personal trainer is becoming more of a motivator and educator than anything else. Fitness has become such a fad that no matter what channel you watch, magazine you pick up, or conversation you overhear, there are exercise and nutrition myths being thrown around like crazy. Actually, I even had a client ask me if cucumber water made you “absorb fewer carbs”. Apparently a co-worker dropped this knowledge bomb on her.

This kind of information (or lack thereof) doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon and therefore, the number 1 job of the fitness professional is to become the information filter. Gone are the days when people didn’t know how to exercise, because now there is an abundance of information. So much so that the average person doesn’t know whether or not they should eat carbs, not eat carbs, only eat carbs before 7pm, do CrossFit, don’t do CrossFit, every cardio session should be HIIT (high intensity interval training), never do cardio….the list goes on and on. To be honest there likely isn’t a definitive answer, but more than ever people need direction in order to be successful.

With that in mind, I want to discuss some of the popular misconceptions of training sessions and how clients view exercise in contrast to that of fitness professionals.

 

“I need to burn as many calories as possible each workout.”

The goal of a training session is to make you stronger, help you move better, and increase your metabolic rate through positive hormonal release. As you get stronger and improve your movement quality you will become more injury resilient and more durable to the tasks of everyday life. Also, packing on more muscle will increase metabolic rate and provide the body with a more appealing shape. Burning calories is merely a side effect of a strength training session and your calories should be moderated through your diet. It’s a lot easier (and more time efficient) to eat 200 calories less per day than to burn 200 more calories.

“My workouts should be different every session for “muscle confusion”.”

I will agree that variation is important to some degree, but certainly not as often as most would think. You’re exercises need to stay consistent enough for you to get better at them so you can actually test your progress. If you need some variation, you are better off changing your intensities or volumes (sets and reps) while still keeping your core exercises. You can also make the exercises harder as you progress by simply choosing more challenging versions of the same exercise. It has been said that “strength is a skill” and it requires continual practice. This is why most successful strength training programs utilize the same exercises for at least 4-6 weeks.

“If I’m not sore today then my workout yesterday wasn’t that good.”

The soreness experienced after a workout is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Most fitness enthusiasts experience this soreness quite often when beginning a training program, but after 4-6 weeks it becomes much less frequent. Due to this time period also being the same one in which most trainees experience some of the most drastic results, they often associate the soreness with physique improvements and believe the latter cannot come without the former. What DOMS really signifies is muscular damage or being exposed to a new training stimulus. While it is likely that it could lead to an increase in muscle mass via the repair process, it does not guarantee a productive workout. It is possible to make improvements without any soreness, especially if you are training in repetition ranges lower than 6.

“Every exercise has to be fast and I need to be out of breath.”

Nowadays mainstream fitness has an obsession with CrossFit style training and metabolic workouts. While these 2 types of training have some great benefits, training sessions should not always be performed at maximal speed or effort. When training for strength it is essential to use very heavy weights and a controlled repetition speed. When repetition speed goes up, quality and form generally go down and that is usually a fast track to injuries. It is important to develop different qualities to have a well-rounded fitness program; therefore, you should spend most of your time developing strength and endurance separately. Also, if you choose to perform a metabolic style workout, it is best to use lighter weight and movements that aren’t very complicated.

What To Look For When Hiring A Trainer

Let me start by saying that this post is long overdue. As a matter of fact, I could easily say that it has been “in the making” for probably about 3 years.

There are few things that make me more upset than watching an excited new client (that probably spent weeks or months trying to convince themselves to get started) begin training with a poor trainer and ultimately get injured, mistreated, or unmotivated. The crazy part is that the client is often led to believe that their failure is their own fault! I would like to say that this scenario is pretty rare, but the reality is that it is more common than a success story and this is exactly the reason why the personal training industry has such a bad rap.

Having been in this industry for 7 years, I have managed, taught, learned from, hired, fired, and worked with hundreds of trainers. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly, and what I want to do today is give you the information you or a friend may need to avoid the 2 latter.

Here are some areas to consider that will increase your chances of hiring a quality trainer:

Education

I chose to tackle this one first because it is the most misunderstood. Unlike most professions, personal training is unregulated. That means that there is no governing body that holds trainers to a specific level of knowledge or experience. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need to be certified to train anyone. You could just start calling yourself a personal trainer and that’s that.

The first level of credibility for a trainer is to get certified. This means that the person has simply passed a test by an independent organization that gives them a basic understanding of fitness. Once again, due to lack of regulated standards, the curriculums from these organizations can be very thorough or very pedestrian. It is also very common for there to be certifications for specific types of training nowadays, such as suspension training, kettlebell training, and corrective exercise. I would say that a trainer that continues earn multiple certifications is likely to provide a better service due to the fact that they continually invest in their education.

Another level of credibility for a fitness professional is a degree in an exercise related major. Generally, degree programs spend a lot more time on different areas such as anatomy, physiology, energy systems, etc. This generally equates to a more scientific understanding of fitness. While I believe that it is important to have a good understanding of these topics, it does not guarantee a good trainer. Unfortunately, many colleges do not offer much practical experience to their students and it becomes challenging for individuals to truly learn the information without being able to use it in practice.

Keep in mind that there are good trainers out there that don’t have degrees and mediocre trainers that do. Therefore, I recommend finding someone that is at least certified and shows that they value education by attending new courses and learning experiences regularly. There are also fantastic trainers that got a degree in another field before finding fitness.

Remember, education is what you learn, but knowledge is what you can do with it.

Experience

I believe experience is important, but don’t be misled. There are trainers that will say that they have been doing this 20+ years, but that that doesn’t mean they have been doing it well or full-time. Many individuals that enter the fitness field do so as a part time job or an “in between” job. Someone that has trained 2 years full time may likely have more actual experience than someone else that has been training for 5, but only does 10 sessions a week. Ask your potential trainer how many clients they have now and how many sessions they usually train per week. Also, ask them what settings they have trained in to get an idea of where most of their experience comes from. A rehabilitation and wellness center has a different population than a commercial gym.

Personality

There’s a saying that is becoming very common: “People don’t buy training, they buy trainers”. There’s a lot of truth to that. The client/trainer relationship has a very interesting dynamic and it is not unusual for a trainer to know quite a bit of personal information about their clients. This is because most people dislike the process of working out and having someone they mesh well with pushing them along takes the edge off. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your trainer and that their personality is one that matches up well with you. If you never connect, it doesn’t matter how intelligent they are because you will not be as excited about making each appointment and pushing your limits.

I think it is also important to make sure that you like the motivational tactics of your potential trainer. I find that there are certain techniques that trainers use, such as yelling at their clients like Marines, which people either love or hate. Hiring a trainer with a coaching style that conflicts with your personality can be disastrous. When in doubt, ask for a trial session.

Their Plan

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; most trainers don’t really have much of a plan when they train their clients. They have a goal (burn calories, train your chest, etc), but they don’t usually have an idea of what exercises they are going to use, how many reps, or how this session will set you up for the next. Now, I would be lying if I said that I have had a plan for every session or that it is absolutely necessary for results, but it is important that a trainer has at least a framework of how they intend to help you reach your goals. As a matter of fact, they should lay their plan out for you when you hire them and make sure you understand how things are going to work. A good trainer will have no problem explaining how certain exercises in a session are going to benefit you or why you should be doing cardio intervals on days you don’t meet with them. Everything done should have a purpose. If a trainer can’t explain their plan to you or they tell you “not to worry about it”, you should take your business elsewhere.

Safety

The number 1 rule of personal training is that you should never hurt the client. It is the responsibility of the trainer to only prescribe exercises that you can perform with a high level of safety and terminate exercises when form goes out the window. Your trainer should never force you to perform ANY exercise that you don’t feel comfortable with and definitely not any exercises that cause you pain. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

The Little Things

I once had an instructor that told me that “attention to detail is what makes someone great at their chosen profession.” I agree with this completely. The finer details of any service are what really elevate the experience, and this holds true in personal training. A good trainer will take pride in their appearance by always acting and dressing professionally. In addition, they will always be on time, treat you with respect, and be attentive. You are paying for a professional experience; do not settle for any less.

Practice What You Preach

Many clients want their trainer to “look the part”. I understand this because common logic would tell us that if someone is in great shape, then they know how to get someone else those results. Unfortunately, this is not how it works in personal training. It must be said that genetics plays a very big role in fitness, and what worked for that person won’t necessarily work for you. Instead, focus on finding a trainer that practices what they preach; someone who lives a healthy lifestyle and takes care of themselves. This may be someone that looks really fit or maybe someone that looks average, but is still knowledgeable enough to help you reach your goals.

Should You Lock Out?

Should you lock out on your exercises? It depends. Your goals and purpose will answer for you. Let’s start by talking about what happens when you lock out.

Locking out is the process where at the end range of motion of an exercise (usually at the completion of the concentric muscle contraction) you take the working joint(s) to its fully extended position. Once the joint reaches this position, the muscles are relieved of the load that is being moved and the force/resistance is thereby shifted to the joint. The upside to locking out is that you have the ability to rest for a short period of time before completing your next rest period. The downside, however, is that this places a lot of stress on the joints. For this reason, I believe that most exercises should not be performed to full lock out.

I would say that 95% of the population is not interested in competition and that there are 3 prominent goals for most: Increase fitness/health, Add muscle mass, and Increase strength. All 3 of these goals can be enhanced by not locking out. One of the keys to increasing muscle mass and strength levels is to increase your time under tension. As stated earlier, when you lock out a joint, the tension placed is moved from the muscle being trained and shifted to the joint. With that in mind, it would be prudent to end a repetition just prior to lock out in order to maintain maximal time under tension. Not only will the muscles be subjected to more work, but the joints will be spared.

When I believe that locking out should be done:

There are two instances that I believe locking out should be utilized: during max lift attempts and during competition or competition prep. Max lifts obviously require maximum effort to be completed and therefore the muscle cannot maintain the tension of the lift for an extended period of time. It is ideal to have the joint locked out when un-racking the lift and also at the completion of the lift. Since most programs only include a max lift 1-4x per month, this shouldn’t contribute too much if any joint discomfort.

The other time locking out is not only acceptable, but more likely crucial, is during competition. Whether it is Olympic weightlifting, power lifting, or CrossFit, competitions require a full lock out in order for a repetition to be complete. Since I am a big believer in the idea that you will compete the way you train, you should also perform most lifts during your training to competition standards. It is advisable, however, to use sleeves and wraps if possible to minimize joint stress.