10 Fitness Tips for March

AC10

Conditioning, why you are stretching incorrectly, the squat set-up, improving your shoulder pressing, and much more.

1. What is conditioning?

Conditioning is a great way to burn fat and concurrently add muscle, but it is a term that is thrown around way too much without any real understanding or background information. CrossFit has gained a lot of popularity with its focus on conditioning – you will get results if you work your butt off in a gym. It isn’t rocket science.

However, conditioning needs to be programmed properly, just like strength and power training (unless you are fine with burning out, overtraining, and the resulting injuries).

There are many ways to program conditioning. Some put it in at the end of their strength training (like me). Others have an entire day dedicated to only conditioning. The key with it is to work hard, but more importantly, to work smart. 10-15 minutes of tough conditioning is infinitely more impactful than a 30 or 40 minutes of medium intensity output.

Here is an example of a full body kettlebell circuit.

2. Hormones are a vital piece of the fitness puzzle. And here are a few you should learn about:

Leptin

When you feel that your metabolism slows or that you have been in a deficit for too long, you may periodically include a cheat meal, or refeed day. When prepping for a show, bodybuilders periodically will have a refeed day. Usually, a refeed day consists of a day with a 20-50% increase above maintenance calorie level. A good rule of thumb for a refeed day is to increase carbohydrates 100-150% than normal, keep protein at about 1g/lb. of bodyweight, and keep fat intake as low as possible. A refeed, or “cheat” day is a sure way to jumpstart your metabolism and to normalize leptin levels.

Cortisol

You have been training hard, eating nothing but high quality foods, and staying as active as possible, and yet, your body isn’t changing quite as much as you hoped. Sound familiar? This is the case for many people. So, what could be keeping you from losing that last five pounds of bodyfat? The answer is probably stress.

Melatonin

The full effects of melatonin are often overlooked, however. People often think of melatonin only as a means for better sleep, but in reality it has many other functions in the body. Much like human growth hormone, melatonin occurs while we sleep (although unlike growth hormone, melatonin is not released during exercise). It’s probably obvious that one of its effects is drowsiness, but melatonin is also critical for recovery from exercise. As a very important antioxidant, melatonin is central to human health. In fact, in 2007 the World Health Organization listed night shift work as a probable carcinogen. Yes, just like the chemicals that pour out of an exhaust pipe and radiation, not sleeping at night seems to be deadly. And the most likely cause of this is chronic melatonin deficiency. It really is that important.

3. Stretching doesn’t work.  

At least the static stretching that most people do.

While many people think foam rolling is a method of stretching, it’s not. The length of the muscle or tissue isn’t undergoing any kind of length change, but rather a neural down-regulation that reduces resting tone in prime movers, meaning you can move more easily and with a better chance of having balanced tension around the joint.

It’s a testament to how resetting the neural tone of a tissue can help increase range of motion faster than simply stretching.

If you sit for most of the day, stretching isn’t as important as gaining mobility is. And that is more efficiently acquired through self myofascial release, either with a foam roller or another tool (I’d recommend a softball or a hard road hockey ball).

Don’t skimp out on mobility/warm up work – it may take 10-15 minutes, but you will be able to lift heaver, for longer, and with less aches and pains. And here are 15 stretching mistakes from Eric Cressey.

4. One way to make gains in the gym is to overreach. 

If you want to make big gains, you need to dial in your sleep, nutrition, and of course training (with a particular focus on rest periods between sets and exercises). There is a solid program to follow at the end of the above link, too.

5. Here are six important training discoveries from Charles Staley.

On Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program (probably the easiest strength program to follow – I can’t recommend it enough): 

In the 5/3/1 manual, Jim also presents several recommended layouts for assistance exercises so again, there’s a lot of potential improvisation available. I’ve heard that Jim has just released a second edition of the manual, which is next on my list.

I should mention that 5/3/1 is not exclusively a powerlifting program – it’s really designed to promote overall strength, hypertrophy, and athleticism. Powerlifters, Olympic lifters, strongman competitors, and even bodybuilders can successfully use it. I can’t recommend 5/3/1 highly enough – Jim Wendler is a genius.

6. Here are some yoga-inspired stretches to try, especially if you are a hockey player.

So next time you’re feeling the burn out after a tough game or practice, try out this sequence to help your body and mind recover. There is no set amount of time that each pose needs to be held – but to get the full restorative benefits try to dedicate at least 15-20 minutes to going through the sequence. If something feels good, try holding it longer!

Yoga still caries a bit of a stigma with it. I don’t think athletes need to do full hour long yoga classes multiple times each week, but it is important to find some stretches and mobility work that works for you. Hockey players in particular end up with really tight hips, and it is important to make sure your hips are mobile. I’d wager that 99.9999% of weekend warriors don’t allocate enough time to this kind of stuff.

7. Seven tweaks to make your exercises more evil, because… why not?

The Bulgarian Split Squat (a phenomenal exercise and probably the best bang-for-your-buck with leg training, but it is brutally difficult): 

Bulgarians are seemingly evil people, at least the ones in the weight lifting community. Some Bulgarian took the already challenging split squat, elevated the back leg and, voila, a movement that has your glutes, quads, and hip flexors screaming for mercy with every rep.

So how do you make an already Draconian exercise even more evil? By elevating the front foot as well. This allows you to increase the range of motion and get your front leg below parallel, something that’s tough to achieve with a typical Bulgarian split squat.

8. Here are some tips to clean up your overhead pressing.

Overhead pressing is a great way to gain strength and size through the chest, neck, upper back, and shoulders, but it is also an easy way to sustain an injury if not done correctly.

And that means you, guy who is doing behind-the-neck shoulder presses.

Overhead pressing can be tricky, but by following a simple step-by-step plan focusing on building shoulder stability before building shoulder strength, you can have years of pain-free pressing.

If you’re currently pressing like a demon, throw some of these movements into the mix and see if your strength goes up as a result of improved stability and control.

Plus, countless studies never conducted show that chicks dig guys who lift heavy stuff off the floor and then press it overhead.

Dean Somerset, the author of the above post, is a fantastic trainer and a great writer, too. I’d highly recommend trying out some of the exercises he prescribes above. Often times it is a stability issue and not a mobility issue, and that means that all of the stretching you are doing is largely a waste of time.

9. The squat is a great exercise. We all know that. But the set-up gets overlooked.

If you are lifting heavy, it is very important to make sure you grab the bar and unrack it properly. From Tony Gentilcore:

10. A really interesting study done on the benefits of aerobic exercise.

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Physiology went to battle with this myth. Does aerobic work really hinder your progress while lifting? Specifically, in muscle hypertrophy? I’m guessing you read the title of the article, so you already know the answer, but it’s exciting for an exercise geek like me nonetheless. Not only doesn’t aerobic work slow down your lean mass gains, it actually improves them.

Consider my interest piqued.

Aerobic exercise has a plethora of benefits, but many people have viewed it as detrimental to some goals that may seem more important, like strength or size. However, we can now feel free to reap the health benefits of aerobic work and the hypertrophy benefits as well.

Outside of playing sports, I typically don’t do much aerobic training at the gym. I do conditioning/intervals once or twice a week. I may add in an aerobic session and see how it goes.

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