What People Really Mean When They Want To Detox

detoxing

It’s almost New Year’s Day, and in the fitness business, marketing is everywhere, catering to the desire for a fresh start (hey, you can’t blame us, you’re looking for us right now and we’d be silly to ignore you.)

And on that note, I’ve been seeing two things for the last few days in my feed:

1. Totally bullshit offers for products that will cleanse/detox your body to shed fat/pounds/toxins/bad juju.

2. Fit pros screaming about how we don’t need detoxes because we have a liver and kidneys for that.

On this matter, the fit pros are correct, by the way. Detoxes are bogus. In fact, I have growled about this a number of times, including in this article.

But I was thinking about how often that I have been guilty of what I call the “hand slapping” mode of communication with friends, family, and readers who don’t spend all day knee deep in fitness literature.

To be fair, I think fitness professionals do this because we get so tired of debunking myths that can actually be harmful to those whom we care about.

But I am beginning to think that we are going about it all wrong.

We talk all the time about meeting clients where they’re at in terms of workouts or habit formation. But what about common terms and ideas that are often misunderstood?

Take these examples. I have been guilty of using the “hand slap” rebuttal for all of them at some point, so don’t think I’m all high and mighty here:

Client: I just want to tone up.
Fit Pro: OMG toning isn’t even a thing. You want muscle and less body fat, stop saying toned, for the love of Christ.

Client: I don’t want to get bulky.
Fit Pro: OMG lifting won’t make you bulky, too many cupcakes make you bulky. Do you even science?

Client: I feel fat.
Fit Pro: We can’t talk about being fat. Stop shaming yourself right now.

Client: I need to quit sugar.
Fit Pro: Why? Let me quote all of this stuff debunking sugar being toxic and tell you how stupid this is.  (The over simplification of sugar’s impact on the body drives me especially nuts, I can’t lie. But still. I need to keep it together a bit better.)

As fit pros, we’re often technically correct. We have valuable experience and wisdom to impart. But when we respond with smack downs to debunk misunderstanding, we first of all come off like assholes; we also fail to even attempt to comprehend  the place from which people are coming.

For all of these ideas, perhaps we have to actually meet people where they are at in terms of their current framework for understanding. Then we can peek at what they’re really trying to say.

Yes, detox products are worthless, unnecessary, and sometimes dangerous. People who sell them are usually either misguided or shady. I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz.

We can communicate this. But in a kinder, more productive way. And instead of just blasting that message off hand, maybe it would be more useful to try to figure out why this concept is so popular in the first place.

I don’t know for sure, of course. This is just wild speculation. But all the New Year’s chatter made me wonder if perhaps the overarching theme of renewal correlates to the ever popular idea of detoxing.

cookiecat

When we’ve been eating like an alcoholic on a bender over the holidays, sometimes it feels good to rein it in and feel a modicum of control. Is a radical diet a wise answer? No, no it is not. But I get that urge to want to stuff some spinach in my mouth after days of eating lots of sweets. I actually crave it. Have you ever experienced that?

The idea of a detox appeals to many, I wager, because it plays into a powerful desire to renew our relationship with our nutrition and our health.

I think the more interesting question would be to ask people why their relationship with food is an all or nothing proposition: are we completely on the wagon or off it? Is that something that we could avoid in the future?

Do we maintain a relationship with food and exercise that causes us to not be able to sustain what we’re doing, thus bingeing and then feeling like we have to take drastic measures?

Or maybe we just ate all the cookies on Christmas and want to feel like we have a fresh start.

Instead of a lecture, let’s start with a few questions first. I think in the end, that will get everyone down a positive path.

So no. I promise you don’t need a product to detox your body. You do indeed possess organs in your body that do that. But if by “detox” you mean commit to putting more things into your body that sustain good health and taking actions that help you feel like you’re gaining some momentum, then go for it. Let’s just look a little deeper for ideas that could help you gain some ground – ideas that are safe, effective, yet don’t come in an overpriced bottle.

Here are a few ideas for a fresh start that my online coaching clients have enjoyed:

  • Eat a new vegetable every day for a week to feel more excitement and curiosity and see how it impacts your overall well being each day.
  • Try a consistency challenge, committing to just one small new behavior for a period of time.
  • Drink more water every day for a week.
  • Move every day for 20 minutes.

Peeking behind the curtain of bullshit  reveals pretty outstanding insights into what people are actually seeking. If we listen, we’ll learn.

Happy New Year!

Amy

P.S. Did you dig my article? If so, make sure you sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get my free e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, delivered to your inbox right away. 

Is Cardio Good or Bad For You?

sweatybettyIf you follow fitness media, you’ll see that when it comes to recommendations for exercise and nutrition, there rarely seems to be middle ground. This is particularly true with mainstream popular media: after all, bold, urgent-sounding declarations often get us to click the link, open the magazine, or stay tuned after the commercial break.

I mean, what would you be more inclined to click?

Running on the treadmill is making you fat!

OR

In this 2008 study, researchers found that with 10 untrained collegiate women, strength training alone vs. cardiovascular exercise alone induced a statistically significant percentage of body fat dropped over a 6 week period. However, another study, published in 2009, found that in fact, outcomes were similar in the two groups given an additional intervention of…

By the way I just made that last one up. But you probably barely made it through reading it. Maybe you even glanced away from the screen or opened up Instagram to look at some cats. I don’t blame you.

instagramcat

Simple, direct answers appeal to us. But if you can come away with anything today, please understand that in fitness, a truthful explanation is very often “it depends”.

To make matters worse, fitness professionals often cling to the latest piece of research that emerges. They fail to fully evaluate studies or weigh new research within the greater scope of existing evidence. This is partly because reading all of that research is a huge pain in the ass. What unfortunately results is a pendulum that swings wildly from one extreme to the next.

Cardio is a perfect example:

Cardio burns the most fat!
Cardio makes you fat!

I know, that’s aggravating. But it’s what happens. Fear not, however, because I can untangle some of the mystique around cardio and give you advice. So buckle up and read on. I’ll try to make this almost as pleasurable as a Ryan Gosling meme. Hey girl, hey.

ryangosling

What Cardio Is
Cardio, i.e. cardiovascular exercise, is simply exercise that is rhythmic in nature, is continually maintained (instead of short, intense work/rest intervals),  works large groups of muscles, and elevates your heart rate to a degree that it improves increased use of oxygen in order to improve the body’s capacity of the cardiovascular system.

Clear as mud?

Your body uses different energy pathways to get stuff done. Certain kinds of exercise utilize particular pathways. Cardio uses the aerobic energy pathway.

That’s not very freaking useful either, is it? Instead, let’s talk about what’s important:

What cardio does:
it makes your heart work better, strengthens your bones (if you choose weight bearing exercises like walking), and burns calories. There are other benefits too, but that’s the basic gist.

Stuff that we do that is typically “cardio”: activities like running, walking, swimming, or dance cleaning for starters. (Don’t mock me, it’s my favorite cardio option).

Workout

What Often Gets Played Out
Two opposite types often show up at the gym:

The cardio bunny:
this term is kind of sexist. Ok, it’s really sexist, because I see plenty of dudes toiling away on the elliptical for hours too. But these people believe that they must do tons of cardio to unlock their next achievement. They also often equate a good workout only with total calories burned: sounds like a drag to me. But the term is also used by smug gym rats who post too much on Instagram. So that alone makes me want to go for a jog sometimes.

The powerlifter: I had an old school powerlifting vet come up to me once and caution me to not do any cardio. He warned that I might lose my muscle. Yeah, not so much. It takes a lot of time spent doing cardio to negatively impact muscle growth and strength performance. There is some truth to this idea, but my few walks I do each week are only helping my overall performance, not harming it.

As evidence emerges, we’ve found that cardio doesn’t actually reign supreme when it comes to fat loss. 1 Can you lose fat doing only cardio? It’s possible. Fat loss happens when you burn more calories than you take in. But unless you’re also controlling your food intake, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot of cardio to create a significant calorie deficit.

Moving Beyond Cardio
Cardio burns calories. Yet it doesn’t build muscle the way that some other forms of exercise can offer, especially strength training.

But why care about building muscle, you ask? We care because having more muscle makes fat loss easier. I’ll avoid a long, sciencey explanation and boil it down to this: more lean muscle improves your metabolism. Strength training reigns supreme for building muscle. Metabolic conditioning relies on large muscle groups doing intense work as well, offering some strength benefit as well as torching calories by working at intense pace. The loads are typically less than what we use for strength training, total training time is relatively short, and rest intervals are often incorporated so that work can be harder in effort than what we do with aerobic exercise. 2

The fitness bandwagon has also veered heavily toward favoring strength and high intensity exercise for fat loss because of a mechanism called “EPOC”, or exercise post-oxygen consumption. It just refers to calories you burn AFTER you stop exercising. Strength training and metabolic conditioning have a higher rate of EPOC than cardio. However, the benefit has been somewhat overblown. But that doesn’t stop people from screaming that cardio is now useless for fat loss.

Side note: if you’re doing “HIIT” for 45 minutes, you’re actually doing cardio. The intensity of metabolic conditioning or high intensity intervals can’t be sustained for a long time. Also please, for the love of God, stop calling things Tabatas. You’re not doing a Tabata. I promise. 

Michelle Obama Arms and the Fat Loss Plan

michelleobamaarms

Most clients who come to me with a fat loss goal say they want to lose fat but they also mention that want to change how their body looks. I call this the “Michelle Obama Wish”, because I’ve had several clients mention her arms as something they want. I can’t blame them. The First Lady has some sweet looking guns. She is strong!

If we just lose fat by burning calories and reducing calories, we’ll typically look like a smaller version of ourselves. This is neither good nor bad. But if it’s muscular definition you’re after, get thee to a weight room on a regular basis.

Can You Lose Fat With No Cardio?
Yes. But I don’t recommend eliminating it entirely. Read on to learn why. 

So Why Bother With Cardio?
Because it’s good for you, that’s why. Like eating your vegetables. It also helps you move better, be able to get through tasks like climbing a flight of stairs more easily, and it feels awesome. It’s a huge mood booster! It floods us with endorphins that feel pretty fantasic. It also burns extra calories. If you’re trying to lose body fat, you can use it to boost your calorie deficit.

Also note: going hard with intense strength training and metabolic conditioning cannot be a daily thing for most people. You need rest to recover and build muscle. Light to moderate intensity cardio is a wonderful way to get in some extra activity without burning out.
It’s also restorative: when your muscles are sore and tight, go for a walk. You’ll feel better.
TL;DR: Cardio isn’t the end all be all. It’s also not going to get in the way of your progress, whether it’s fat loss or making gainz in the weight room. Just use it appropriately.

My Recommendations
Evaluate your current use of cardio this way:
-Am I using it mostly as a calorie burning tool? If so, am I using it excessively to attempt to overcome a diet with excess calories, or am I using it to give myself a boost?

-Do I actually like my activity? If not, then why am I doing it?
-Does it move me toward a particular goal? If so, why and how?

The amount we do, the number of days we do it, and the mode we choose is variable: we just have to figure out why we’re using it in the first place and the other pieces will fall into place.

Want an approachable yet scientifically sound approach to fat loss? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll give you my free book Fat Loss on a Budget. Look for it in your inbox! 

 

Notes:

  1. Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.
  2. Talanian, Galloway et al. Two weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. Journal of Applied Physiology (December 14, 2006).

The Big Picture of Healthy Weight Loss

 

bigpic

So you’re trying to lose weight?

I can relate: I’m nearing an end of a fat loss phase myself.

This is not my first rodeo with weight loss. I’m 41 and have been through quite a few different approaches throughout my life. Some of them have reflected a healthy mindset. Others, not so much.

I’ve written extensively on how our body composition shouldn’t define our self worth: within the greater scope of stuff that matters in life, it’s pretty small. But still, for either health or aesthetic reasons, fat loss has its place. So let’s talk about what to reasonably expect.

Today, I’m sharing with you what I instill in my own clients: the big picture of weight loss.

The big picture perspective is what takes the most time to develop and appreciate when tackling any major life change. For fat loss, the perspective emerges once we gain knowledge of how weight loss actually works and once we can also allow ourselves to trust the process.

Most of my clients seek me out because they want to improve both their overall fitness as well as their body composition. So I get them started. Many of them track their calories initially. Some of them use habit-based strategies instead. But what they all do is send me a log of their daily scale weight.

scaleweight

Why Daily Weight? 
As you’ll see in a minute, your weight on any given day changes. I want clients to lose at a moderate pace: fat loss is more sustainable and enjoyable (with some cookies) when we choose a modest deficit. So scale weight from week to week won’t change dramatically. If I look at a weight on a “heavy” day, it might not truly reflect what’s going on.

But Isn’t Scale Weight Useless?
Maybe. Maybe not. First of all, let’s distinguish two common uses of scale weight:

1. A data tool for determining overall health (as in BMI calculations).

2. A way to measure progress for fat loss.

When we speak about scale weight, tracking that number can be useful to measure as a source of progress if a person has a fairly significant amount of weight to lose. Yet once we become leaner, scale weight isn’t as useful for determining a healthy body composition: especially if you’re athletic and muscular, utilizing statistical formulas for healthy weight can be rather useless. Charts and BMI calculations don’t factor in things such as significant muscle mass. One might argue that using something like  hip to waist ratio could be a more telling indicator of obesity-related health risks.

However, let’s focus on the second use of scale weight. Using your number on the scale is a measure – but not the only or most important measure of progress for fat loss. It tells part of the story. It’s just not the whole story.

With that said, here’s what often happens a week or two into clients’ programs:

Their weight initially goes down. And then it goes up. That’s when the shit hits the fan in everyone’s heads when they’re starting a fat loss program.

I then often receive an email like this: “My weight is up! I’m going to eat 1200 calories today. (Or do extra workouts.)”

Or I hear frustration. Especially when the scale doesn’t move for an entire week. (I feel for you, by the way. It’s annoying as hell until you develop your perspective.) That’s when  understanding the factors that affect scale weight become useful.

pooped

Things that Impact Your Scale Weight
1.Your actual body weight… i.e. fat, skin, bone, muscles. Duh, right?
2. How much water you’re holding. Things like big meals with a lot of salt or extra carbs can make you hold more water. But it’s not fat, so chill out.
3.What you did the day before – this is purely anecdotal, but after leg day, my scale weight usually spikes a bit.
4. How much poop you have in you.
5. Hormones – I can tell when Aunt Flo is about to arrive from the big bounce up on the scale. As soon as I’m a day or so into my cycle, my weight drops down lower than it was the week before my period.
6. Medications.

This is why having multiple markers of progress is so important with a body composition goal. Here are things that my clients measure that help them become them less fixated on what the scale tells them.

1. Progress pictures
2. Measurements
3. Weights lifted/running speed – performance related goals that boost our morale and make the fitness journey not just about getting leaner.
4. How our clothes fit.

Scale Weight Progress Isn’t Linear
I stayed up late last night charting my progress from mid June until now. Yeah, I lead a very exciting life of late-night reheated coffee and excel spreadsheets! I nerded out on the data though, so check this out.

I have my own coach for my strength and nutrition programming: even coaches benefit from having a coach, and it’s a huge relief to have support and fresh insight. I regularly email him my weight, and it amused me to go back through early emails and see how damn impatient I was.

Even knowing all the science behind weight loss and having a healthy mindset, I got antsy – maybe even whiny. Fortunately, my coach was able to point out the obvious on the days where I felt stuck. Perspective is grand, isn’t it?

As time went on and I accumulated more scale data, I could easily see the downward trend. But during each week, my weight would fluctuate up and down by two or three pounds on a regular basis. Here is where seeing the visual reminder helps us take a deep breath and appreciate the process.

weight chart progress Amy

Looking at Trends
Even though we may rationally know all those things, looking at our weight from day to day can be initially frustrating. Yet if we can see a visible display of our weight data, we will be able to more clearly determine if the trend is moving in the direction we want it too. You see it on that chart too, right?

The day to day shows ups and down, but the line is clearly moving downward.  That is what normal, healthy weight loss looks like.

Here is another visual of what that progress looks like over a 6 month span.

amyprogress

What it required: 
1. Consistency: I had very few “yolo” days. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my favorite treats or indulge in yummy dinners on special occasions. Instead of seeing the process as being either on or off the wagon, I kicked the wagon to the curb and decided that most of the time, I’d implement the same strategies I use with clients: I found ways to fit my favorite things into my life without sacking my daily nutritional goals.

2. Patience: there was no dramatic 6 week change. This is a 6 month change. I built muscle and strength, which doesn’t happen overnight. It’s crazy how fast the time went though! I also enjoyed life a lot more by not reducing calories dramatically for most of the fat loss phase.

3. Skills: I was at an advantage because I came into this last phase having an arsenal of skills and habits that encourage fat loss: tracking, knowing how to build a healthy meal, meal prep (as I share in Fat Loss on a Budget),  as well as strategies for getting through tough days. These take time to master, one by one.

4. Perspective. This: what I wrote about today. It is a critical component to keep us on track and stay sane. It allowed me to understand what the process really looks like. Perspective helped prevent shame and guilt on days that were less than perfect. That bred consistency. Funny how they all feed each other, eh?

5. Support. Having a coach made all the difference in the world. This is someone who provides a space that enables you to discover more about why you’re stuck and helps you come up with your own solutions that both get you to your destination and fit your life.  When I did that mental work, it transformed me on the inside too. And that is truly special.

If you have your own fitness journey to share, leave a comment below.

Want to learn more about fat loss? Get my free book, Fat Loss on a Budget, by signing up below. I’ll send it to you immediately!

Want to Learn to A Move That Summons Strength, Torches Calories, and Builds Your Booty? Start Here.

 

yeahshesquats

Yeah, she squats. 

This saying makes me roll my eyes waaaay back in my head. Mostly because the accompanying pictures of greased up, gratuitous booty pics with heaps of hashtags annoy the hell out of me. #toomanybelfies. (A belfie is a selfie of your butt. My mom reads this blog, and I know she’ll ask. You’re welcome, mom.) 

Don’t get me wrong, hearing about women wanting to strength train gets me excited, and occasionally a little teary eyed. And I can appreciate some junk in the trunk, know what I’m sayin’? In fact, after losing quite a bit of body fat I’ve noticed that I have also lost some mass in the a… well, you know where I’m going. Squats will continue to be part of my plan for getting some more booty muscle to power up my lifting program (and look great in jeans, natch). 

Yeah, squats will help you build “dat ass”, along with an arsenal of other exercises. But more importantly, I want to talk to you about the other reasons that I have nearly all of my clients squat and why you may want to incorporate them too.

Then I’ll show you how you to squat. Let’s do this:

improving my squat

improving my squat

Why We Squat
Here is what happens when you squat: your entire lower half of your body comes to the party. Your hips, butt, and legs all work like crazy. Your core has to get fired up in order to provide you with the stability you need in order to perform the movement. Even your back and shoulders will be engaged and helping you out.

Squatting is what we call a “compound movement”, which just means that many things are working together at once. And the bonus of doing a movement like the squat is that you’ll not only be building some serious muscle, you’ll also crank up your heart rate and get your body burning some serious fat.

Working all those muscles can help you run faster, feel stronger, and move better for everything you do each day. Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern that we use all the time. 

Also, squatting builds that badonkadonk that we were discussing earlier. Strong butts aren’t just nice to look at – they are responsible for keeping you moving well for life


Making squats feel better:

Some clients come to me convinced that they won’t be able to get into a deep squat. Sure, there are some people with pre-existing injuries that may need to alter their movement a bit. And unless you’re competing in a powerlifting meet, you don’t have to worry about your depth hitting below parallel (that’s where your hip crease falls just below your knee at the bottom of the squat).

But most of us can get low.

You know, to the window, to the wall…
 
We just have to fine tune the movement and make it work for us! Everyone’s hip anatomy is unique. We can play with our foot angles and the distance between our legs. We can make adjustments to how we hold the bar on our back. Before we even get there, we can just practice doing a bodyweight squat. 

Squat 101: 5 Tips for Learning to Squat 

  1. Use the rope trick. Imagine that there’s a rope around your waist pulling you back as you sit down.
  2. Your chest stays up:  I should be able to read your t-shirt if it said something on it.
  3. Look down at your feet for a moment – you’ll likely want to have your toes turned out a wee bit. Playing around with your foot position and width of your legs can take a bit of time but it’s worth it to try different positions: chances are, you’ll find one particular stance that makes squatting feel easiest.tripod fot
  4. Use a tripod foot: we definitely want to stay off our toes as we squat, but overdoing it by leaning waaaay back on our heels can backfire. Instead, think about three points of contact on your foot: the balls of your feet near your big toe and “pinkie” toe as well as your heel. If all three of those points stay in contact with the ground, you’ll have optimal grounding of your feet.
  5. Your knees should track in line with your toes.  They shouldn’t be caving inward, nor do you want them to push way outside of the path that your knee takes.Additionally, despite what you may have heard in the past, it’s okay if your knees travel in front of your toes a bit.  It’s the excessive movement of knees in front of toes that can be problematic: this typically happens when people are resting too much of their weight in the front of their foot.


That’s pretty much it for basics– it’s in the details where we can make some big progress. But all in all, the squat isn’t terrible to learn. A good first place to start is with a box:

Squatting to a Box
I start nearly all of my clients squatting to a box.  Using a box set to the lowest position that you feel like you can safely and effectively complete the movement will help you feel a little more at ease getting down into a low position.  It also encourages you to sit BACK as you squat.  This improves positioning, recruits the butt and hamstrings more, and makes our knees feel better.

Also, if you completely sit down on the box and come to a stop, you’ll gain another benefit of building your power in the bottom portion of the movement too.

Here’s a pic of me squatting to a box:

boxsquat784DUSK

From there, the sky’s the limit: goblet squats, front squats, back squats, barbell squats… did you know that many variations of the squat actually exist?

Check a few other flavors:

Goblet Squats

Goblet Squats

Dumbbell front squat

Dumbbell front squat

bottomsquat

Barbell back squat

To put it simply, squatting regularly and with tip-top form will do wonders for your own fitness goals, whether it’s to burn fat, get strong, or just move better for life. Want to see these tips in action? Check out my tutorial here:

Fitting Squats into Your Workouts
If you are looking for a beginner to intermediate program to make your squats more powerful, check out the Unapologetically Powerful from talented strength coaches Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler. 

UP_bundle_white

Jennifer and Jen are wonderful teachers who put the fun into lifting.  They developed this comprehensive workout program to show you everything you know to get a strong, rocking body that looks and feels powerful. Get the program with in-depth coaching tutorials here. 

Have more questions about the squat? Leave a comment below. I lovvvve talking about this move! 

The Strength Move That Transforms You Inside and Out – Learn to Deadlift Today

deadlift favorite

Gather round for story time today, friends – the book is Deadlifting: The Fairytale. Or something equally dreamy and dazzling.

Are you ready to learn the most fun strength move – one that will also make you feel mighty? If you’re already doing the deadlift, then follow along anyway, because I have some help for you too. But if you have never tried a deadlift, I’m going to help you get ready to run to the gym and have a blast. So let’s go.

I just like to deadlift. Deadlifting is my favorite.

I turn into Buddy the Elf when it’s deadlift day. Why? Because this movement is like nothing else. There’s something about pulling heavy stuff off the floor that makes us feel powerful. It makes us stand tall and strong and somehow begin to feel an inner reserve of fortitude that we didn’t even realize we possessed.

You might say deadlifting is the heavy metal of strength training. And I want you to try it.

If you’ve been following my newsletter this week, you’ll know that I’ve been outlining the “big three” lifts of powerlifting. Not because I’m trying to get you to drink the Kool-Aid and become a powerlifter. Although it is delicious.

In actuality, these three lifts are cornerstones of an effective strength program, whether you want to build muscle, gain athleticism, or work on your body composition. Today is the BEST day because it’s deadlift day.

Pulling sumo deadlift makes you feel majestic. Like a lioness or something.

Pulling a deadlift can make you feel majestic even while making a dorky face. Like a lioness or  the queen of the gym or something else magnificent.

What Deadlifts Will Do For You
Aside from the rock star feeling you get, you’ll get rock solid fitness benefits. Among them:

-A movement that works nearly every muscle in your body.

-Huge metabolic demand with extra fat burning and conditioning.

-Focus on our back side, which usually needs more help anyway. It’s a very functional lift for life.

-It translates to real world demands. Every summer, clients joke with me about using their deadlift technique to safely pick up heavy things in the garden. Ever want to get better at holding onto things? The deadlift will improve your grip.

-It makes you more powerful and explosive. If you’re after athletic benefits for other sports, deadlifts will help you out.

What a Deadlift Is
If you’ve never deadlifted before, don’t be shy. It’s really not all that complicated to learn. It’s a lift that requires you to pick up something heavy. Sometimes we do them off the floor, as in the variations called conventional or sumo style deadlifts, and sometimes starting at the top of the movement out of a rack with moves like the Romanian deadlift. Every variation is based on the basic human movement of hinging your hips.

When I teach beginners to deadlift, I first make sure that they can hinge their hips properly. A hinge is simple in concept – imagine trying to touch your butt to the wall behind you. We do drills to reinforce a good hip hinge:

butt to wall collageYup, we try to touch our butts to the wall. The better we get, the farther away from the wall we go.

PVC Pipe Drill
You can also see if you’re hinging well or not by holding a PVC pipe against your butt, upper back, and head. You want the pipe to maintain contact with those parts at all times during the hinge.
good hinge
A Good Hinge

bad hinge collage
A Not-So-Good Hinge

See the difference in how the back looks and where the hips go?

Once you’ve mastered a basic hinge, you can go on to more exotic things to practice your hinge with some load. I like starting with things like:

-Banded Good Mornings
-Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift
-Romanian Deadlifts
-Hex Bar Deadlifts
-Hip Bridges

Some people do just fine getting behind a bar and starting from the floor if they are hinging well and are eager to get going. We just keep the weights light enough to work on technique.

The Basics of a Conventional Deadlift from the Floor

My friend Jen Sinkler doing a conventional deadlift. Rawr.

My friend Jen Sinkler doing a conventional deadlift. Rawr.

So you want to do a deadlift from the floor? Either in the sumo position (where your feet are in a wide stance and your hands pull from inside your legs, as I do in my picture) or in a conventional stance, where you stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, you will have a barbell loaded with plates.

If you aren’t ready to use 45 lb plates yet, you’ll need to use either light bumper plates or elevate the bar with something like steps to get the bar to the appropriate height – roughly at the middle of your shin or so.

1. Step up to the bar and line it up with about where your shoelaces are tied.

2. Shift your hips BACK as you reach down to grab the bar on either side of your legs. You can start with a double overhand grip. If you plan to powerlift eventually, you might consider learning a mixed grip (one overhand, one underhand) right from the start.

3. Imagine you have oranges in your armpits. Squeeze some juice for me. (Yeah, really!) That gets your lats tight. Show me the logo on your t-shirt so that I know your chest is high enough.

4. Take a deep breath. Brace your abs like someone is going to punch you. Then push your feet into the floor, drive your hips forward as you pull the bar off the ground.

5. Finish the move by squeezing your tuckus at the top, then set the bar back down.

That’s a deadlift. The most fun move in the gym.

Movin’ On Up
If you’re ready to improve your basic deadlift, I would like to point to powerlifting as a prime resource for making your deadlift more… powerful! As your form improves, so will your ability to lift some seriously heavy weight.

As a powerlifter, I make micro adjustments with things like my foot angle, the width of my stance, and the height of my hip. Sometimes I pull with a sumo stance deadlift – that’s where my feet are outside my hands. Other times I pull with a conventional stance, as Jen Sinkler is doing in the picture below.

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Remember the “Unapologetically Powerful” e-course I’ve been so excited about all week? Well, one of the reasons that I keep talking about Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler’s production of the video series is because Jennifer’s input got me through a tough spot in my own deadlifting. Her advice helped me learn to respond to what my body is telling me as I lift. When my hip started bugging me a few weeks before my first meet, I drew upon her wisdom and ended up changing my variation based on what she taught me. I hit a huge PR when the meet arrived.

Jennifer really knows her stuff, and if you’re aiming to improve your own deadlift, definitely sign up to watch her free video on the deadlift. You will get a video link you can watch as often as you want, as well as an accompanying guide to download.

Here’s what I like most about Jennifer and Jen’s series:
-They help you improve your form, which will make you feel better as you lift and keep you lifting safely.

-You will feel much less fearful of deadlifting, and instead can have fun being a powerful badass.

-You’ll get hella strong if you take their advice – you are going to still have to work really hard, don’t be mistaken. But their tweaks will make a big difference in your results.

So are you ready for deadlift day? Go get ’em!

Leave a comment below and tell me if you’re like me and have a deep, abiding love of the deadlift. Or leave a comment and tell me about what drill or variation you’d like to try!

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99% Of Women Skip This Exercise – Are You Missing Out On Its Big Benefits?

the bench press

“So how much do you bench?

If you’re a guy who’s into fitness, this is the entry-level question for the bro club; a dude handshake, if you will. But if you’re a woman, you’ve probably never been asked that: mostly because not very many women do the barbell bench press.

However, the dynamic seems to be shifting as more and more women fall in love with how classic strength training moves make them look and feel: powerful, toned, and badass.

Still, the bench press might not be high on your list of priorities: many female clients come to me wanting to shed belly fat, get a juicier looking butt, or even shape up their arms. Yet not a single one has approached me asking for “a firm chest”. But here’s the thing – getting a stronger chest and shoulders via exercises like the bench press will help you accomplish a few different things that I think you’ll appreciate.

Benefits like these:

    • You will be able to more easily lift heavy objects. That’s pretty useful for life.

 

    • It will help you build a more balanced, strong, lean-looking physique.

 

    • By incorporating chest exercises into your overall training, you’ll ensure that you have a balanced routine that prevents injury.

 

    • You’ll burn a ton of calories – the bench press is more of a full body lift than you’d think. Your back, abs, and legs also activate – and that gives you a lot of “bang for your buck” if fat loss is a goal.

 

    • Better posture. You’ll look great just standin’ around and your body will feel good too.

 

  • You’ll feel powerful. The bench press is way more fun than pushups. It just is. Because science.

Here is what getting a strong chest via the bench press will NOT do:

  • Take away your boobs (losing some boobage usually comes from weight loss, not strength training.) You may notice a bit more cleavage though as you develop muscles.
  • Make you look masculine. Nope, not happening. Women just don’t produce the amount of testosterone that men do, and that minimizes the “bulking” effect. It takes a ridiculous amount of effort to become a very muscle-bound looking woman. So if that’s not your jam, you can rest easy.

So you want to bench now, right?

Well, the bench press is easy… and not easy. Yeah, you read that right. It’s easy in that to actually do the movement as you typically seen it done in the gym, it’s pretty straightforward. Let’s tackle the basics first:

Barbell Bench Press – The Easy Part
BENCH PRESS HOW TO

  1. Get a bar set up on the bench press rack. Once you’re strong enough to handle plates, you will add those too.
  2. Lay down on the bench with your eyes lining up under the bar. Put your feet on the ground, or if you’re a shorty, slide some plates beneath your feet.
  3. Grasp the bar at a comfortable width – this takes some time and experimentation to find a good grip width. If you go too narrow, you’ll turn the move into a triceps exercise. If you go too wide, you might wreck your shoulders and actually make the lift harder than it needs to be.
  4. Unrack the bar. Control it as you aim it down to just below your bra line, letting it barely tap your chest. Then push the bar back up. Your elbows shouldn’t be tucked in, nor should they flare way out as you push back up.

Oh, one more thing – keep your butt on the bench the entire time please. Thank you very much.

And you just did one rep. Not so hard, right? It just takes a little practice.

 

The Not-So-Easy Part
Performing an optimal bench press for the sport of powerlifting takes the movement to a new level. If you never plan to compete you don’t have to get too wound up about mastering the finer points of the bench press. Yet, you might want to consider borrowing some of their “secrets” for your own workouts. Here’s why:

A powerlifting-focused bench press technique takes time and patience to improve. There’s no way around that. But even if you don’t plan to become a powerlifter, I find that many of the strategies that powerlifters use in their bench press will help give you a safer, more stable base to work from. You’ll be able to leverage some more weight this way and you’ll also engage more muscles while you work by borrowing some of those powerlifting tricks.

With powerlifting techniques, you’ll work on skills like driving with your legs, engaging your back muscles, keeping your chest as high as possible, and you will even learn to breathe more effectively.

That’s a lot going on, I know.

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If you read my email newsletter about the squat this week, you’ll remember that Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler have a free video e-course happening right now. The series is a helpful resource for getting you better at performing the big lifts of powerlifting. Today, they have a bench video to share with you. There’s no way that I can go into all the finer points of making your bench press rock in one post, but they do it for you in their video, “6 Ways to Healthier Shoulders And a Stronger Bench Press”. You can learn more by getting it here.

FYI – again, you definitely DON’T have to be a powerlifter to get something out of these videos.

Jennifer also shares tips for keeping your shoulders healthy while bench pressing – something I can’t emphasize heavily enough. I wrecked my own shoulder by benching without good advice years ago. I wish I’d had this instruction back then. Thankfully, you can learn and develop good habits right off the bat.

Also you’ll get chances to win prizes- some seriously good stuff to be won just from signing up for the free course. Yay for prizes!

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If you watch it, leave a comment and let me know your favorite take away from their lesson. I love talking about bench pressing. (As if you couldn’t tell!)

Happy Lifting!

Amy

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