10 Fitness Tips for May


A great routine to add size to your shoulders, some cheap home gym ideas, the benefits of sub-maximal cardio, a creative way to add size and strength to your legs, and a lot more in this month’s fitness tips.

Oh, and it’s almost beach season….

1. Here is a great 15 minute shoulder-focused workout to add size and strength to some of the most visible muscles on the body

In addition to building confidence, having a nice set of shoulders helps out in most daily/athletic functions. All of the exercises in the above program are safe and effective. This is a great routine to “add on” to your weight session or to implement if you don’t have time for a full workout. You don’t “need” to isolate your shoulders like this (doing heavy weights once or twice a week will build muscle, too), but it definitely won’t hurt to add some extra volume.

Just make sure to warm up and stretch before diving in. If you are like most people, you have tight anterior muscles (front of the shoulder/chest).

I’d add this in once or twice a week if your shoulders are lagging behind the rest of your body.

2. The New York Times has a fantastic fitness/health blog called ‘Well.’ Here’s the latest on whether or not ‘cooling down’ is necessary after exercise. 

In a representative study published last year in The Journal of Human Kinetics, a group of 36 active adults undertook a strenuous, one-time program of forward lunges while holding barbells, an exercise almost guaranteed to make untrained people extremely sore the next day. Some of the volunteers warmed up beforehand by pedaling a stationary bicycle at a very gentle pace for 20 minutes. Others didn’t warm up but cooled down after the exercise with the same 20 minutes of easy cycling. The rest just lunged, neither warming up nor cooling down.

The next day, all of the volunteers submitted to a pain threshold test, in which their muscles were prodded until they reported discomfort. The volunteers who’d warmed up before exercising had the highest pain threshold, meaning their muscles were relatively pain-free.

And another study:

Similarly, in two other studies published last year, one in The Journal of Human Kinetics and the other in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, professional soccer players in Spain underwent a series of physical tests to benchmark their vertical leap, sprinting speed, agility and leg muscle flexibility, and then completed a normal soccer practice. Afterward, some of the players simply stopped exercising and sat quietly on a bench for 20 minutes, while others formally cooled down with 12 minutes of jogging and 8 minutes of stretching.

It turned out that there were almost no differences between the two groups of players. The cool-down group could, on average, leap a little higher the next day than those who’d sat around for 20 minutes, but the difference was slight. And on all of the other measures of performance, flexibility and muscle soreness, the groups were the same.

Even with all of that, there are physiological benefits to a cool down after a tough workout. A return to feeling “normal,” primarily. The best way to end a workout? Do some stretches (especially yoga poses that target the back and hips – you will be at your most mobile).

3.  Looking to spice up your routine? Try century sets.

What it is:

Here’s how it works in brief: 100 total reps of a compound exercise with a predetermined percentage of your bodyweight. Anyway, as the name implies, you’re working with 100 reps; the goal is to hit that number in the fewest number of sets possible. But, there are caveats: no set should go over 20 reps; so, you’ll aim to complete in the fewest sets possible, with a minimum of five sets. When you can get 5×20, increase the weight next workout by 5%. Simple? Yes. Easy? Hell no.

This is a great way to bust through any plateaus, to add size, and to step outside your comfort zone a bit. Chances are you haven’t ever done a set of squats with more than 10-12 reps. Doing something different is always good (provided you have good form and a safe weight), as it places your body under stress that it isn’t used to.

With such a high volume, don’t do this type of workout more than once a week. You won’t want to (or need to, for that matter).

4. Looking for an inexpensive and effective piece of equipment for your home gym? Let me introduce you to the slosh pipe. 

If Dan John recommends it, that is all I need to hear. And here are some step-by-step instructions on how to build one.

  • Go to your local hardware store and buy a PVC pipe. You’ll want one at least 4 inches in diameter and 9-10 feet long. Buy caps for both ends. Make sure at least one of the caps is removable and rubber.
  • Fill your pipe at least 1/2 full of water. It’s advised that you have one of the caps on at this point, unless you’re looking for the toughest exercise possible: one in futility.
  • Cap it

6. Bret Contreras backs up all of his posts with an incredible amount of science and technical details – here is a great post on the benefits of yoga as an accessory to weight training.

He lists many benefits, and here are a few of them:

Yoga promotes flexibility and mobility, which provide an important base in weight training. In S&C, usually we have to prescribe mobility drills for the hips and t-spine with clients – yoga takes care of this over time, which leaves more time to focus on skill-work in the weight room. Yoga also promotes decent levels of stability in the shoulders and hips (not nearly as much as you seen with weight training, but decent nevertheless). Yoga is incredible for mental health, relaxation, and stress-relief.

6. Building muscle and burning fat can concur at the same time. How, you may ask?

Increasing training density is a proven method to gain muscle and burn fat.

For the most part, there are two simple and relatively well-known ways to increase training density. Either you do more sets and reps within the give time frame, increase the weight and do the same sets and reps, or you do the same amount of work in less time. (That is, you have a shorter workout.)

Doing more within a given time period is a great way to make your workouts more effective. Most people take rest breaks that are way too long. Unless you are a powerlifter, pro athlete looking to make power/strength gains, or training as a bodybuilder, you don’t need to take a few minutes between each set. The average person could benefit tremendously by trying to do the same amount of work in less time, or more work in the same mount of time (more density). 

In action:

You’ll start with three compound movements, (two upper, one lower) which will be cycled for 6 minutes. Select weights you can lift 10–15 times. The goal is to get as many reps as possible within the 6-minute timeframe—so do not perform these exercises to failure. Instead, perform only 6–8 reps for the first exercise; then put the weight down and perform 6–8 reps for the next, and then finally 6–8 reps for the final exercise. Keep cycling through these three exercises for 6 minutes.

7. Is cardio that “doesn’t kick your butt” beneficial? Yes.

From Sean Hyson:

I like to do cardio that doesn’t leave me on the floor gasping for breath and rolling in my own puke. I know that Crossfit and interval training are hugely popular these days, but there’s also a time for longer, slower, more easy-paced exercise that gets your heart rate up to a moderate level and holds it there. A heart rate between 130 and 150 beats per minute actually burns fat more efficiently than when your heart is exploding out of your chest, so you can’t turn your back on “traditional” cardio.

This type of cardio does burn fat, but it also has a lot of other benefits, too. It strengthens your heart, it clears your head, and it is a great way to get a sweat in on an off day or when you are a bit banged up or sick.

8. A good tip from Tony Gentilcore – use pause squats to help add some size to your legs. 

Two benefits of pausing and holding at the bottom of a squat:

The obvious advantage is the increased time under tension (TUT), which, alongside the total load being (progressively) lifted, is a huge factor in muscular hypertrophy.
Maybe more importantly – at least in my eyes – is the confidence one gains staying in the “hole” longer. It’s no secret that many trainees have the spinal integrity of a wet noodle in the very bottom position of the squat, so spending more time training in that zone pays huge dividends in the long run.

Tony goes on to discuss how to actually implement them and how to progress them from week-to-week. Some wise words:

Building a manly set of quads and hamstrings doesn’t require complex programming or the latest (or oldest) Soviet “secretz.” All it takes is basic exercises, heavy weights, and some classic mass building techniques that have stood the test of time. And a cast iron set of balls and man-sized ralphing pail never hurt either.

9. Here’s a great hip mobility series from Dean Somerset. 

You will feel like a million bucks squatting or doing any lower body exercise after going through this warm-up.

10. Weighted pushups are a phenomenal way to build up your shoulders and chest.

They are a lot safer/better for you than the bench press, too. And they also challenge your core a lot, as you have to not only maintain proper posture but you have to fire your core to prevent the weight from pushing your torso to the ground throughout the movement.

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