10 Fitness Tips for February

Venice Beach

How to properly do a pushup, common muscle-building mistakes, the best way to end a workout, and more.

1. Think you know how to do a pushup properly? Think again.

Eric Cressey shows how a pushup should look, and he explains why scapular movement is extremely important in both directions of the movement.

2. Looking for a way to spice up your training? Try altitude training.

This is easier said than done, of course, as we don’t all have access to mountains (or equipment to simulate the effects of altitude).

The study linked above has some pretty interesting findings:

You will probably all have heard about the benefits of “living low, training high”, which are supported by countless of scientific studies and the practical experience of thousands of athletes. The lower oxygen content of the air you breathe at high altitudes induces a state of intermediate hypoxia, which will enforce a whole host of metabolic adaptations that are necessary to accommodate for the lower oxygen availability and will eventually make the training more productive.

The real pay-day, on the other hand, approaches, when you go back to the “low level”, where you usually train (and mostly compete) and have “more than enough air” to outperform your competition on the track, in the pool or wherever else you may be running, swimming, cycling etc.

This is a common principle for all types of training – train harder than your performance requires, and then it will be easier on game day to bring your best to the table. However, none of that is new information. What the study did find is quite remarkable:

Now, all that is actually not new and wouldn’t be SuppVersity news-worthy, if the Chinese and US researchers had not observed a profound and rapid (3 weeks) reduction in body fat levels in the subjects who trained in the high altitude training camp in Kunming (it should be mentioned that in animal studies similar effects have already been observed; Chen. 2010).

As the data in figure 1 goes to show you, these changes were not just statistically significant (even the increase in lean mass was), but also much more pronounced than the fat loss effects of the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), capsaicins, piperine & carnitine stack that was in the news yesterday (cf. “EGCG, Capsaicin, Pipreine & Carnitine: Rather a Health Than a Fat Loss Stack?”) — and that despite the fact that the subjects already had a comparably low body fat level to begin with and did not restrict their total energy intake or make any other changes to their dietary or training regimen.

Even for fit athletes, fat loss was rapid at higher altitudes in a short three week window.

3. Tennis elbow is a very common – and very painful – injury. Here are some simple steps to combat it. 

4. What are finishers? And how should they be used?

A finisher is something to put at the end of your workout to end on a good note. But you have to be smart about implementing them.

Workout finishers have been a popular addition to the training world in the last year and for good reason. Hear me out on this one. With the emergence of popular programs like Insanity, P90X, and CrossFit, the goal of every training session seems to be to absolutely crush the trainee. Some believe that the only sign of a good workout is whether or not the person is lying on the floor completely obliterated and covered in chalk with a picture quickly uploaded to Facebook with a caption about how “killer” the session was.

I’m all for a good, hard, training session, but these types of workouts repeated over and over without any progression or development of strength don’t produce results for the average person looking to lose fat, get lean, and get stronger. We know that a certain percentage of that person’s training needs to be metabolic in nature, but how do we balance strength development and continue to get that person measurable results without injuring them or creating compensatory movement patterns? Enter the workout finisher.

There are some great finisher ideas in the link above. I like to use bodyweight circuits at the end to get a good calorie burn – an example would be something like squats or jump squats, pushups, inch worms, and lunges or lunge jumps (all with minimal rest).

5. Are you making a common muscle-building mistake?

Here is one as an example:

You Do Too Much Cardio 

A goal of many lifters is to increase muscle development while simultaneously reducing body fat levels. In an attempt to accelerate fat loss, cardio is frequently ramped up while performing intense resistance training. Adding some aerobic training a muscle-building routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Overdoing it, however, certainly is. You see, the signaling pathways for resistance training and aerobic training are contradictory.

Some researchers have coined the term “AMPK-PKB switch” whereby aerobic training promotes catabolic processes (AMPK is involved in pathways associated with protein breakdown, which for your sake can be considered “muscle wasting”) and resistance training promotes anabolic processes (PKB is involved in pathways associated with protein synthesis, or for you, “muscle gaining”). While the concept of a “switch” is a bit overly simplistic (most of the evidence points to anabolism and catabolism taking place along a continuum), there is little doubt that concurrent training has the potential to interfere with anabolism and thereby undermine your ability to build muscle. What’s more, adding extensive cardio to an already demanding resistance-training program can hasten the onset of overtraining, which brings muscle growth to crashing halt.

If your goal is fat loss, strength training combined with some interval training work is exponentially more effective than long bouts of steady state cardio.

6. Looking to improve your chin-ups? Read this.

There is one more factor to consider, and this one may trump them all, especially when it comes to females: it’s perception! If you perceive that you cannot perform a chin-up (let alone 20), then you won’t! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The mind plays a huge role. You must believe that you can do it first in order to succeed.

Many people limit themselves before they even grab the bar. For instance, if you constantly max out at 12 reps, your brain expects you to fatigue at that point. It’s going to be tough to do another 8 reps, but there is a way. You need to trick your brain.

I was never good at chin ups in the past, so I made a point to do them whenever I was in the gym. They are one exercise that volume (number of reps) seems to help a lot. Say your goal is 20 chin ups for the workout – instead of doing two sets of 10, try splitting it up and making each rep better quality.

And a tip to trick your brain:

Here’s a tip I learned from Karsten Jensen, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Danish National Elite Sports Institution in Copenhagen, Denmark. Start counting reps at number 10 instead of 1. By the time you hit a count of 20, you’ve performed a manageable 10 reps.

Next workout, start the count at 9, the following workout at 8, and so on. According to Jensen, part of the reason why you fail to achieve 20 reps is because you expect to get tired by the 12th rep, but altering the count and creating the experience of achieving 20 reps will help break the plateau.

7. Gary Roberts offers up some in-season training advice.

Particularly in light of the shortened season, my warm ups would be an integral part of my workout and pre game and practice routine.  I would include a good 20 minute warm up focused on foam rolling, dynamic movement and mobility exercises, neural activation through foot work, and lastly activation of key muscle groups such as the glutes, shoulders and core.

Click the above link for a video of the workout Roberts recommends to in-season hockey players.

This ties in nicely to my post on offseason vs. in-season training from last week. Roberts on the key to in-season training:

This warm up and workout for me is about stimulation without fatigue.

8. This T-Nation post offers “the most effective way to build muscle.”

Bold claim, I know.

“Optimal hypertrophy training was never compound or isolation, heavy or light weights, lift slow or fast, but rather integrating all these techniques into a cohesive program.

While it may seem like a lot on paper, following the tips above will have you well on your way to a strong, muscular physique reminiscent of the world’s biggest and strongest.”

I enjoyed the read. It essentially compares why bodybuilders and power lifters are successful – for both the same and different reasons. They train in different rep ranges and with different loads (heavy, medium, and light). The general thought from the article – don’t get too focused on one specific rep range or outcome (strength/hypertrophy/endurance) at the gym.

9. Is metabolic resistance training for everyone? 

Before we go any further, and so we are all on the same page, my view or definition of metabolic resistance training is any strength training session that employs a series of 4-8 exercises (which are predominantly multi-joint in nature), while utilizing little (i.e., under 30 seconds) to no rest between sets.

All good so far.

The overall training effect of metabolic resistance training is a greater metabolic disturbance in the body’s physiology, which in turn can elevate your caloric expenditure for a greater period of time following your workout.  Compared to a traditional strength training session, this style of training can be very effective for body composition changes as well as an increase in one’s work capacity.

Sounds great. What’s the catch?

All of this sounds pretty great, especially if a client’s goal is fat loss, right?  Well, yes and no.  You see, the problem is that some people just aren’t ready for metabolic resistance training, especially when they first come to see you (or at least not to this degree).  Many people, especially sedentary individuals, have underlying muscle imbalances that can lead to faulty movement patterns.

This is why people who are starting out often get injured at things like CrossFit and boot camp. The intensity is something their body isn’t prepared to handle. That doesn’t mean they can’t adapt and improve to a level where they are able to reap the rewards of intense workouts, but a base layer of movement/health/fitness is essential first.

10.  Your feet are very important, but most people neglect them with stretching and prehabiliation work. Some things to consider:

Strengthen your ankles and feet. This includes muscles and proprioception. If you’ve had an ankle or foot injury, then you need to have ankle stability exercises in your warm up at least three times a week:

Balance on a couch cushion on one leg for 60 seconds. Then, do it again with eyes closed. Include ankle hops in your dynamic warm up. This is where you jump by only dorsi- and plantarflexing your ankles.

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I really enjoy the Joe Rogan podcast – for all of the attention he gets for his comedy and MMA commentating, he is a pretty insightful guy. Here is one of my favourite clips:

Check out my other fitness and nutrition posts here.