10 Fitness Tips for January

This month, I discuss the importance of warming up, how to adjust your training routine to the early morning, and the holy grail of fitness advice, among other things. 

Read on for 10 Fitness Tips for January 2013.

1. Warming up prior to exercising is equal parts important and misunderstood.

Warming up serves many purposes. It gets the body ready for working out. It gets the mind ready for working out. It grooves movement patterns. It helps to prevent injury. There are many more reasons to warm up. But most people don’t warm up properly.

Some tips to remember:

Reset, get your body ready, and make it specific.

Chances are you sit for most of your work day. So regardless of what you plan to do at the gym before or after work, you have a few issues to cover. The first is hip mobility (or usually a lack thereof). Loosening up the glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, and calves is imperative to any exercise involving your legs. Even if you are doing an upper body training day, it makes sense to mix in some lower body mobility work in between exercises. Keep your hips mobile and everything else will work much better (shoulders, knees, ankles, and so on).

And chances are your thoracic spine is very tight, too. Work on stretching your mid-back region out with some yoga-inspired poses before/during/after exercising, as well.

Readiness – you don’t jump in cold to put the maximum weight on the bar, and that applies to any exercise. Warming up should get you ready for the workout ahead. .Don’t be afraid to hop on a piece of cardio equipment for a few minutes, either.

Specificity – if you are squatting, work on your squatting technique in the warm up. If you are pressing, work on getting your shoulders loosened up (and perhaps stabilized, too).

If you want some ideas for warm ups, check out the entire post from Mike Robertson.

2. If you exercise first thing in the morning, read this.

Here are a few things keep in mind if you exercise early on:

  1. Get to bed earlier. Pretty obvious. Sleep is important – it is better to get seven or eight hours of sleep than to sleep for four or five hours and go train.
  2. Stand up for a bit. This helps to loosen up the discs in your spine, as you have been sedentary for most of the night sleeping.
  3. Take a hot shower first. Not only will this wake you up, but it will warm up your joints and muscles too. If you are really crazy, make it a cold shower for the last minute. You will definitely be awake after that.

Eric Cressey talks about three other things to keep in mind with early morning exercise here.

3. Does every person need to squat below parallel? Simple answer – no.

Some people simply aren’t mechanically put together to squat below parallel without placing a ton of stress and pressure on their low back. Next time you are squatting, go to a mirror and face to the side. Squat, and watch what happens with your low back. If it “tucks under” as you get close to parallel, you probably can’t go too deep on your squat.

Go to the point where the “tuck under” begins, and stop there. It may be above parallel, but there are other, safer ways to target the glutes and hamstrings than deep squats when your body isn’t able to do them properly (lunges, for example).

You can see in this video that Tony Gentilcore doesn’t have the “tuck under.” Try this test and see what yours looks like:

4. What are your expectations with working out?

Chances are you are training for a short term goal (wedding, weight loss, that sort of thing). Once that date approaches, what is next? The key with fitness is learning to love the journey as much as the destination. Take pride with your consistency with training. Enjoy when you grind out a workout when you feel less than perfect. Appreciate the little things.

Being lean, or jacked, or gaining that 10 extra pounds will never ever satisfy you in the way you think it might.

In fact, it just may make you even more upset with yourself. You might be wondering how you can achieve your goal, still be unhappy with yourself.

Very true.

5. Is it really necessary to train the rectus abdominus (also known as the six pack)? 

Yes, but not for the reasons you think. You can get a defined stomach in the kitchen. You don’t need the gym to have washboard abs. However, to have a core that allows you to play sports and lift heavy weights (in addition to looking good), it is important to train the rectus abdominus. It is important to train the RA to maintain optimal rib position during day to day life (this sounds lame, but it will cut down on many nagging injuries, and it will allow you to lift heavier weights, too).

Here is an exercise series to try:

6. Here are six things you may not know about strength training.

Being strong is relative. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Lifting weights will make you stronger, regardless of what your fitness level is. And it is a very easy thing to measure. You lifted 10 pounds today, and a few weeks from now you may lift 20 pounds. Hard to beat that kind of feedback.

Consistent practice with a focus on self-improvement is the key to mastery of any skill. Strength training brings that idea home like nothing else.

I love this quote. There is no cheating or lying to the weight you are lifting. You either can lift it or you can’t. You can read some other interesting points regarding strength here.

7. The little things add up.

And that idea was, in fact, perhaps the most dominant exercise-science theme of 2012: that little things add up, with both positive and pernicious effects. Another of my favorite studies of 2012 found that a mere 10 minutes of daily physical activity increased life spans in adults by almost two years, even if the adults remained significantly overweight.

Don’t worry if you can’t make it to the gym every day. Take the stairs. Park further away from work. Do some pushups on your lunch break. Over the long haul, you will benefit.

8. This may be the best fitness-related article I have come across on the internet: 

Everything you have read about fitness is a lie.

It’s a long read, but it touches on the most important issues pertaining to fitness. The key is to focus on the essentials – the stuff that works – and to cut out the noise. You don’t need fancy clothes, gadgets, or equipment. You could get in great shape using your body weight alone. It is all about attitude.

Shaul’s guys out in Wyoming get massively strong and powerful on precisely three gym sessions a week, each lasting an hour and no more. Louie Simmons, the single biggest name in gorilla-style competitive power lifting, will tell you that 45 minutes is the max length of any smart training session.

Bang on. Keep your workouts short.

Finally, keep it simple; understand that variety is overrated. Variety does stave off boredom — it’s fun to mix in new exercises all the time — but a guy who hasn’t trained in a long time, if ever, will get stronger faster on the simplest program of squats, dead lifts, and presses, three times a week. It’s true that you cannot do the same workout forever; you’ll go stale, and then you’ll go crazy, and then you’ll quit. It’s also true that the stronger you get, and the closer to your genetic potential, the more you have to mix in new lifts and switch up the numbers of sets and reps you’re doing, just to make a little gain each week, or even each month.

But I’ve learned the hard way that you’ve got to be careful about adding variety. If you constantly screw around with endless new exercises, you have no way of adding the precisely calibrated weight increases that actually make you stronger. To get it just right, keep meticulous records, writing down every rep and every lift so your targets for each workout are easy to spot and your gains are easy to measure.

This is great advice, too. Track your progress, and eliminate the noise. Focus on the essentials, and be consistent. I’d highly recommend reading the entire article, originally published in Men’s Fitness.

9. Do what you enjoy (for the most part).

Most people at the gym are following some sort of general program. However, chances are the program isn’t the best for their personal fitness goals (as most programs on the internet are quite general). Find what works for you, and what you enjoy doing, and stick with that. Take parts of different programs and combine them (once you know what works). Ideally, you have a professional coach/trainer put something together for you and teach you the basics first, but not everyone has access to that level of training.

It is also important to do things that you “don’t like” (for the right reasons – like intervals, leg days, and so on), but don’t force yourself to follow programs that you don’t like. And don’t keep doing exercises that don’t work for you, either.

As a personal example – I strained my low back last month deadlifting too heavy. I have never quite gotten long with deadlifts – I like lifting heavy, and it is a great exercise for the entire body (back, legs, core, literally everything). However, my lack of end-range mobility prevented me from getting my hips low enough. Instead of keeping the weight light and working on technique, I would just rely on using my low back to pull the weight up. This obviously wasn’t going to last as I continued to add weight to the bar.

So I have decided to skip heavy deadlifts until I improve my hip mobility a bit. Deadlifting light and explosively is still a great way to add some strength and size.

10. I have never been a resolution person, but I am sure some of you are. Here are some keys to stick to your (fitness-related) resolutions for 2013.

Set realistic goals. Make them specific. Be accountable to yourself and others. Establish a support network. 

An example of a bad resolution:

“This year I am going to get in great shape.”

How to change it:

“This year, I am going to exercise for two hours per week. Every workout I miss I am going to put $20 into a penalty jar, and donate it to charity at the end of the year. And I am going to get a friend involved with me.”

You don’t need January 1st to make a lifelong change to yourself. It won’t happen overnight. But if you follow the above guidelines, you have a better chance of following through on whatever goals you have set for yourself.

 Check out my other fitness and nutrition content here.