10 Fitness Tips for December

This month, I take a look at the importance of sleep, the training done by Canadian UFC fighter Rory MacDonald, a fool-proof strength program, and some ways to stay motivated over the holiday season.

10. Sleep is incredibly important for everyone, and a lack of it may be holding you back. Sleep may be the secret key to performance for many professional athletes, as well. One study done at Stanford:

Researchers asked five members of the women’s tennis team to increase their sleep goal to 10 hours per night for 5-6 weeks. Players improved their sprint times, dropping from an average of 19.12 to 17.56 seconds. They also increased their serve accuracy, going from an average of 12.6 valid serves to 15.61.


There’s also evidence that a lack of sleep can increase the risk of injury among athletes. In this study of teenage student-athletes, those who slept at least eight hours per night were 68 percent less likely to injure themselves playing sports than those who slept less than eight hours nightly.

Pretty interesting stuff. 10 hours of sleep each night is probably not realistic, but you should aim for seven-to-eight at the very least. And sleeping for five hours to get up early to go to boot camp or to the gym does more harm than good – you are better off staying in bed for a few extra hours of sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep promotes muscle recovery. Sleep is a critical time for cell regeneration and repair in the body. During non-REM stages of sleep, cell division and regeneration actually becomes more active than during waking hours. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, hinders muscle recovery.

Sleep is a stress reducer. Sleep and stress have a tangled relationship—and both are dangerous to healthy immune function when we don’t get enough (sleep), or have too much (stress).

Sleep improves memory. The brain uses sleep to consolidate memory into longer-term knowledge, clearing the area of the brain used for short-term memory in preparation to absorb new information. During sleep, the brain also works to prioritize the information it thinks will be important in the future. Sleep deprivation has well-studied negative effects on reaction times—and even a single night of sleep deprivation can slow quick  response times.

9. I really enjoyed this ad put together by Nike – some motivation the next time you are debating whether to go to the gym or not:

8. Here are five exercises that are brutally tough and very effective.

Give these step-ups a try – they place a huge demand on the core, as the load (weight) is at shoulder height instead of at your sides:

7. Canadian MMA phenom Rory MacDonald has a fight coming up on Saturday, December 8th. As a top MMA fighter (at the age of 24), MacDonald has to be in incredible shape. He moved to Montreal many years ago to train with the best – in this case, that would be Georges St. Pierre. MacDonald also trains with Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang, who may be pound-for-pound the fittest player in hockey. I always find it interesting to see what the top athletes in the world do for training (outside of the skills specific to their craft, which is fighting, in MacDonald’s case).

Here are the two training together in Montreal:

And here are some impressive cleans from MacDonald:

6. There is no magic potion to consistent strength gains in the gym, but if you are habitual with your training, and apply the principle of progressive overload, you are going to see improvements over the long term. And a great program for this is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program – you can read all about it here.

Some of the keys:

  • Focus on four major lifts (squat, dead lift, military press, bench press)
  • You can customize how many days per week you train
  • Maximizing your reps on the last set of each major lift (going to failure)
  • Lots of room for creativity with assistance/supplementary training and exercises
  • Deload every fourth week (to ensure you aren’t overtraining)

What I like about this program – it is customizable and easy to follow. Rigid programs are tough to follow, and complex set and rep schemes also make a program more difficult to adhere to on a consistent basis. Give this program a try if you want some stability in your training program.

5. Here are eight essential mobility drills to add to your warm up (or to mix in throughout your workout).

Wall slides: 

What they do:

  • Activate low trap, rhomboid, and external rotators.
  • Stretch the pecs and internal rotators.
  • Decrease the contributions of the upper traps.

Try them, and you’ll be amazed. The first thing that might amaze you is that you can’t even get into the position. This is not unusual. Another thing that will surprise you is the asymmetry of your shoulders. A third surprise might occur when you try to slide overhead. Many people will immediately shrug. This is the dominance of the upper trap.

The keys to the wall slide:

  • Scapulae retracted and depressed.
  • Hands and wrists flat against the wall (the back of both hands must touch the wall).
  • As you slide up, think about pressing gently into the wall with the forearms.
  • Only go to the point of discomfort. You will notice that the anterior shoulder will release and ROM will increase. Don’t force it.

4. What happens to your muscles in different rep ranges? Well, different things. In general, low reps are for power and strength, medium reps are for strength and hypertrophy, and high reps are for hypertrophy and endurance.

Low Reps

Low reps are usually categorized as reps in the 1-5 range. It is often said that low reps will stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers while high reps stimulate the slow twitch muscle fibers. This is yet another false fact about rep ranges. The truth is that low reps will stimulate ALL muscle fibers from slow to intermediate to fast and everything in between.

Moderate Reps

This rep range is typically defined as the 6-12 rep range. Moderate rep ranges have consistently been proven in study after study to lead to the greatest amount of growth. The reason that this rep range is so effective for building muscle is because it does a little bit of everything.

High Reps

High reps are usually considered to be any set that contains 15 reps or more. There are many that argue, since low reps stimulate all the muscle fibers and moderate reps induce sarcoplasmic protein synthesis, that there is really no need to do high rep sets. At first this sounds like sound reasoning, but it leaves out one very important factor. This important factor is the effect of glycogen on protein synthesis.

3. Check out some quick fixes to common training injuries.

On sore shoulders:

“A lot of guys have very tight pecs and lats,” says Cressey. “The tight pecs pull the humerus into too much internal rotation and pull the scapulae into anterior tilt. This makes it hard for your rotator cuff to “breathe” as you protract, elevate, or do almost anything.”


The first line of defense is aggressive soft tissue work on the pecs and lats to re-establish length and “open up” more range of motion. Follow that up with a few mobility exercises like the side-lying extension and some static stretches like the ones here and you’ll be good to go.

You also need to skew the ratio of pulling to pushing exercises. And we’re not talking a one to one ratio, either. “One pulling exercise to counteract one pushing exercise only makes sense if you’re already in perfect alignment,” says Robertson.

2. Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian shows a great exercise for lower body strength and explosive power – box jump cleans. Go with a lighter weight than you can handle like Bogosian does here:

It isn’t a bicep curl – you are using your core stability and hips to drive the weights up.

1. A great video showing the power of exercise. Underprivileged youth in the New Jersey area have taken to working out and training as a means to stay out of trouble. I love this video and I am sure many of you will as well:

What ‘Steve’s Club’ is all about:

Bringing CrossFit to at-risk kids across the country. Our story is told through the workouts, successes and challenges that happen everyday.

CrossFit isn’t always the best way to train, but in this case it is really making a world of difference for these kids.

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