New diets pop up all the time, and it’s common to get excited and want to jump on board for the promise of improved health, a smaller waistline, clearer skin, better focus, etc. But what if you train hard and your goals are fitness and performance related? Which eating style could potentially deliver results and which hold you back?
Let’s check in with some of the basic pros and cons — as they relate to performance fueling — with some popular diets.
The diet: Cutting out all gluten-containing foods, which include standard wheat-based foods (breads, pastas, cereals, beer), some soups, sauces and dressings.
The diet: This strict, very low-carb, high-fat diet severely restricts carbohydrate intake (less than 10% of daily calories) to promote burning fat for energy instead of the preferred source: carbohydrates.
The diet: The vegan diet is free from all animal products and byproducts (honey, eggs) either for ethical and/or environmental reasons or the promise of decreased chronic health issues and increased vitality.
The diet: Give up most processed foods (there is a list of permitted items) along with grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes and sweeteners for 30 days.
The diet: This style of eating is high in monounsaturated fats from nuts and oils, vegetables, whole grains and seafood with moderate amounts of fruit, dairy, eggs and only occasional red meat and added sugar. It’s been highlighted as one of the most beneficially proven ways to eat for overall health.
This is just a small sampling of the popular diets that exist. Remember any diet can help achieve short-term weight loss, but not every diet leads to long-term health and performance improvements.
If you’re interested in adopting one of these diets (or one not listed above), consult a sports dietitian who can help you combine your fitness and nutrition goals.
The stability ball is one of the best pieces of equipment in any gym: When you do exercises on it, it creates so much instability that it forces your smaller, stabilizing muscles to work harder to keep you steady and still. Over time, that increases the strength and endurance of those muscles for better movement patterns and injury prevention.
Yet while you’ll often see people do situps and crunches on a stability ball, there are far better exercises. Read on for the best stability ball exercises to add to your routine for maximum benefit. When done correctly, these movements can take your training to an entirely new level of difficulty, complexity and effectiveness.
STABILITY BALL JACKKNIVES
Jackknives are a great way to crank up your core training and get better results in your midsection. It also trains your ability to control your lower body while keeping your abdominals and obliques engaged correctly.
The move: Get into a pushup position and place your shins on a stability ball. While keeping your upper-body still, curl your knees to your chest.
Rollouts are one of the best six-pack builders out there. You brace your abs as you extend your arms — the further you reach, the harder it gets.
The move: Get on your knees and place your hands on a stability ball. Push your hips forward, keep your arms straight, and try to touch your nose to the ball — keep your hips straight and squeeze your glutes the entire time.
PUSHUP HOLD ON STABILITY BALL
It doesn’t get much simpler than this exercise — hold it for time and feel your core light up as it works to keep your torso straight and stable. Also, it fires your shoulder-stabilizing muscles, which helps prevent injuries and maintains proper joint function.
The move: Get into a pushup position with your hands on a stability ball. Keep your body straight from head-to-toe and don’t let your lower back sag. To make this harder, start moving the ball in random directions.
SUPINE HIP EXTENSION LEG CURL (SHELC)
The key to power and explosiveness as an athlete is having strong glutes and hamstrings. This is one of the simplest, most effective exercises to strengthen your backside for great results inside and outside the gym.
The move: Lie on your back with your feet on the top of a stability ball. Start by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips. Then, curl your feet underneath your knees while keeping your hips extended and maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Remember: Every inch you curl your feet is another inch your hips need to rise.
SUPINE LATERAL BALL ROLL (SLBR)
Chances are you’ve never heard of or seen this exercise before! But after this article, you’ll understand why you should add it to your routine. It creates a one-of-a-kind core challenge as you test your core stability from unique angles and directions.
The move: Lie on the stability ball and hold a dowel over your chest. Roll side-to-side on top of the stability ball and go as far as you can without falling.
Hate holding a plank for a long period of time? Take that age-old exercise to the next level by using a stability ball — as you “stir your arms” and rotate the ball, you’ll target your abs from different directions for an incredible core workout.
The move: Get into a plank position on a stability ball. While keeping your torso still, move your forearms in a circle. Then, switch directions. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and don’t let your lower back sag.
Fitness junkies thrive on pushing through tough workouts. After all, few things are more rewarding than tackling an intense routine and coming out victorious — and drenched in sweat. But, at some point, pushing through a workout goes from admirable to foolish. So, how do you know when to set your ego aside and throw in the towel, if only temporarily?
“You have the phrase, ‘No pain, no gain,’ which is a cool thing to put on a T-shirt, but if you have an injury because you’ve pushed through something, you’re not going to get the progress you’re looking for,” says Eliza Nelson, ACE-certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist.
WHEN TO STOP
Obvious signs that it’s time to scale back or stop your workout altogether include joint pain, dizziness, heart palpitations and any sharp pain. “Our pain receptors are there for a reason,” Nelson says. “There’s a difference between pushing through a heavy weightlifting set and ignoring our body’s signals to stop.”
That said, there are gray areas.
THE EXTENSIVE “GRAY AREA”
For example, if you’re performing a heavy leg press or back squat and begin to feel the load in your knees, you may simply need to adjust your form. One common solution is to focus on keeping your knees tracking along your second toe to prevent them from caving inward, says Paul Ochoa, doctor of physical therapy and owner of F Squared Physical Therapy in New York City.
However, if your form is compromised because you’re experiencing pain (i.e., you’re putting more of your weight on one side), that’s another story. “If you end up compensating [for pain], that can lead to injury, too, because now another muscle that wasn’t supposed to be part of this movement is being used, or maybe it’s not being used in the best way,” Nelson explains. In these instances, it’s best to take a break from doing that particular exercise and possibly seek professional help.
IF YOU’RE JUST GETTING STARTED
Newer exercisers, or those jumping back into a routine after a long break, in particular should take special note of any pain while exercising. In fact, Ochoa recommends beginning exercisers start easy and stick to low- to moderate-intensity workouts during their first month. After all, you need to give your bones, muscles, joints, tendons and connective tissues time to adapt to the new stresses before increasing intensity.
What’s more, if you’re just starting (or restarting) an exercise regimen, chances are you’re not in tune with your body’s signals just yet — and this is where you can run into trouble. “The reason I would be more conservative with [new exercisers] is because they don’t have the experience to decipher between muscle fatigue pain and something that might indicate they’re creating an overuse injury like a tendinitis,” Ochoa explains.
IF YOU’RE MORE EXPERIENCED
More experienced exercisers should have an easier time differentiating between standard muscle fatigue and abnormal aches and pains, but even this group doesn’t always know when to lighten up. While most people recognize that a sharp pain isn’t good, dull aches or pains can be harder to diagnose.
If this is you, consider whether the ache or pain you’re experiencing is new. If it is, change your workout for the day. For example, if you feel shoulder pain while doing a heavy overhead press, try reducing the weight a little. If you feel pain while pressing a weight that normally doesn’t give you any trouble, let your shoulders rest for a few days. Sometimes, good old-fashioned rest is all it takes to solve the problem, Ochoa says.
Now, if you still feel pain when you revisit that exercise a week later, consider visiting a doctor or physical therapist for help.
If you’re after workout results, what you do in the gym definitely matters, but what you do before and after your time in the gym is key, too. While actually getting to the gym is the biggest hurdle, once you’ve got that mastered, there are many ways you can maximize the results you’re seeing from your workouts.
Here’s what top trainers recommend doing before, during and after your workouts to see results ASAP.
GET ADEQUATE SLEEP
“You wouldn’t attempt to drive 100 miles on an empty tank of gas, would you,” asks Ali Haynes, owner and master trainer at The Barre Code Oak Park. “When you sleep, your body goes into recovery mode. All systems of the body benefit from adequate sleep, including your muscular system. Do you want to feel energized doing a burpee? Get seven-plus hours of sleep a night.” Giving your body a chance to recover means you can get back at it — with your full attention and energy — sooner.
What you eat — and when — matters. “It’s important to eat 1–2 hours before your workout because it will fuel your workout,” explains Lauren Manganiello, a registered dietitian nutritionist in NYC. “Your body needs sugar (aka carbs) for energy during workouts. When you work out on an empty stomach, your body will still be looking for energy, and ultimately it will find it by burning our muscle mass.” Instead of burning muscle mass, you want to build it, even if your goal is weight loss. “So consuming a pre-workout snack can help give you energy for a great workout while also helping to preserve and build muscle.”
PERFORM DYNAMIC WARMUP
It’s crucial to prep your body for the workout that lies ahead so you can perform to your max. “A dynamic warmup will increase core temperature, facilitate blood flow to your muscles, reduce risk of injury and prepare your body to move well,” notes Kari Woodall, trainer and owner of BLAZE. “A good dynamic warmup changes direction and height and uses the whole body. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective, either. A simple dynamic warmup might consist of skipping, jogging forward and backward, carioca sideways, bear crawl forward and backward, world’s greatest stretch and short, high-tension planks to fire up your core. You want to break a light sweat, so 5–7 minutes may be all you need.”
GET INTO THE ZONE
“Make sure you have a set of headphones and an energy-filled playlist,” recommends Michael Piercy,certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner and founder of The LAB. “These can be the key to cutting off the hustle and bustle of the outside world and helping push you through your best workouts.”
On a similar note: “Can you imagine an Olympic athlete texting while practicing? Or scrolling through Instagram while stretching? No!” says Jess Glazer, a certified personal trainer and founder of FITtrips. “If you’re committing to an hour of self-love at the gym, then give yourself the full hour. The emails can wait, trust me.” And if you want to listen to music on your phone, Glazer suggests putting it in airplane mode. “That way, you won’t be notified of distractions.”
“Breathe in sync with your workout,” suggests Ayesha Akhtar, a personal trainer and running ambassador for Team Every Mother Counts. “This seems obvious (hello, yogis) but really stop to watch your breathing pattern the next time you’re box jumping, spinning or deadlifting. Are you aware of your breathing patterns? For example, during a deadlift, be sure to inhale when you set up, and exhale when it’s time to work. When I run, I like to inhale two counts through my nose, exhale two counts through my nose. Small changes to your breathing not only make you more efficient, but also build new neuronal networks in your brain making your mind-body connection more impactful.”
USE THE MIND/MUSCLE CONNECTION
“Studies show that there is a massive connection between our minds and our bodies,” Glazer points out. “When you’re working out, really think about the muscle that you’re working. Focus your mind on the actual movement of pushing, pulling, lifting or lowering.” You can even use visualization techniques to help yourself conquer more challenging exercises or weight loads. “Imagine the success, completion and growth of your movement,” Glazer suggests.
CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
If you want to see real growth and results, you’ll need to let go of your ego each time you walk into the gym. “Think about this for a second,” Glazer says. “Have you ever seen the big guy at the gym who is lifting a ridiculously heavy stack of weights, but he’s jerking around with terrible form and looks like he’s one more rep away from leaving on a stretcher? Yup, we all have! He’s lifting with his ego, not his mind or muscle.
“Exercise, done correctly, should be humbling. Ask any professional athlete or fitness expert if it’s easy all the time. I promise you they would all answer ‘no.’ It takes getting out of your comfort zone, lifting one extra rep, adding a tiny bit more weight and even failing in order to see progress and growth. Form, function and technique are the foundations to safe and effective exercise. Master the foundation, and then you can worry about building on top of that.” Perfecting the basics only makes you stronger and fitter in the long run.
STRETCH AND COOL DOWN
“Take a few minutes to stretch, unwind and breathe,” Woodall says. “You walk around in a stimulated environment all day. Your workout adds to that, so the amount of time you take to relax your body and mind will help maximize your training results in the long run. You’ll avoid burnout and injury if you lengthen your muscles, move your joints and work in an unloaded environment after each workout. Then, be sure to take a few minutes to lie down and breathe, because it’s most likely the only time during your day you’ll do this for yourself.”
RECORD YOUR PROGRESS
After that, jot down what you did before you move on to the next part of your day. What were the exercises, reps, weights and distances you completed? “It’s also a great idea to bullet some notes down as reminders; maybe something you struggled with, how you felt or if there was a pain during an exercise,” Glazer says. “Keeping a log helps you stay on track, see what you’re doing next, where you came from and if you’re pushing too hard or not enough. Not to mention, it’s a wonderful tool to look back on when you need a little motivation! Journaling your fitness journey is a great way to track progress.”
GRAB A POST-WORKOUT FUEL
“Don’t skip this, even if you’re not super hungry or [you’re] rushing to get to work,” Glazer says. “If you don’t fuel your body after a workout, well, you’re starving it and decreasing your results. There is a 30–45 minute window after you work out when your body is looking for carbohydrates and protein to replenish and restore what you’ve used up. If you don’t eat after you workout, chances are you’ll feel starving in a short time, which means you’ll most likely grab whatever is easiest, fastest and typically sweet.”
You may also want to consider eating foods with potassium post-workout. “It’s a key mineral for refeeding muscular energy,” Glazer explains. “Bananas are a great source of potassium, as well as a simple carbohydrate. Eat them plain, with nut butter or throw them into a post workout shake.”
Oh, the jump rope. Just thinking about it likely conjures memories of your elementary school playground or weekends on the cul-de-sac with your neighborhood friends.
But despite its childish stigma, a jump rope is a serious fitness tool that can yield impressive results. There’s a reason functional fitness gyms across the world are incorporating jump rope sets into prescribed workouts.
“It’s very effective at burning calories because of the fact that it can be used in interval-style workouts,” says Lee Boyce, a Toronto-based strength coach, writer, speaker and college professor. “You can have a very metabolic effect that can have you burning calories and fat while you rest (well after the workout is over) — that beats a lackluster jog any day of the week!”
The benefits of jumping rope don’t stop at torching mega calories. Not only does it improve your overall conditioning, but it also improves your aerobic capacity.
“This can have a positive impact on your load tolerance to load-bearing joints like the knees and ankles,” says Boyce. “That’s a very different capacity than traditional strength training provides and is important for connective tissue, especially for athletes.”
But when should you incorporate jump rope into your workout? It really comes down to personal preference and what your goal is for your workout.
“The sky is the limit as far as options go,” says Boyce. “You can incorporate [jump rope] into your warmup, as active rest between sets of a weight-training exercise or as a finisher to get a metabolic kick to end your workout.”
No matter if you’re a fitness veteran or somebody who’s trying to become more active, this two-week jump rope training plan will have you seeing results. Feel free to use by itself or to supplement your existing routine — all you need is a jump rope and a timer to get started.
Light-intensity jumping: This is the classic motion you’ve practiced since you were a kid. Give yourself plenty of space, grab each handle with one hand and start with the rope behind your heels. Using both hands simultaneously, flick the rope up over your head by using a circular wrist motion. As the rope continues down in front of you, jump up slightly and pull the rope through under your feet for a complete rotation. There’s no need to jump high – it’s all about a light jumping motion with just enough room for the rope to pass underneath. Keep a consistent cadence and try to maintain an efficient form, no matter how tired you get. Light-intensity jumping is slow, and you should be able to maintain a conversation. Keep your HR under 135 bpm.
Medium-intensity jumping: Use the same technique as listed above, but speed up slightly. You should be able to speak in short sentences. Keep your HR between 135–160 bpm.
High-intensity jumping: Use the same technique as listed above, but speed up significantly. At this point you will be fighting to maintain your form as time progresses and will likely not be able to hold a conversation. Keep your HR over 160 bpm.
Plank: Position yourself parallel to the ground, with your upper body resting on your forearms and your toes tucked. Keep a straight back, engage your core and look directly down at your forearms and wrists. If this is too difficult, feel free to drop your knees when needed.
Pushup: Position yourself parallel to the ground, with your toes tucked and your hands about shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself down by bending your elbows to about 90 degrees, and push yourself back up. Don’t forget to keep a straight back with your hips in line with your spine. Just like a plank, feel free to drop your knees if the move becomes too difficult.
Situp: Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your back touching the ground. Cross your arms across your chest and slowly lift your torso up toward your knees. Lower down slowly and repeat. Find something to tuck your toes under to make it easier to balance the weight of your upper body.
We know sleep is a crucial part of achieving any health or fitness goal. Whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, perform in a sport or simply just feel your best, getting enough high-quality sleep is the key to getting you there.
The reality is, for most people, it’s just not possible to log the recommended 6–8 hours every single night. Work, family obligations, social commitments and stress get in the way. Not to mention the fact an estimated 50–70 million Americans are dealing with sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.
Plus, when you’re sleep deprived, it can be even harder to convince yourself to get to your workout in and make healthy food choices. Next time you’re short on shuteye, try these smart strategies.
STICK WITH YOUR MORNING ROUTINE
In general, sleep pros recommend having a morning routine to get your day started. “It is critical to have a morning routine that allows you to become focused and prepared for the day ahead,” says Dr. Sean Hashmi, a nephrologist and adult weight-management lead with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
If you have one already established, it’s a good idea to keep at it, no matter how tired you are. If you don’t already have a morning routine, here’s what Dr. Hashmi suggests: “I recommend and practice 5 minutes of meditation every morning, followed by a morning workout consisting of aerobic and strength training.” Even if it’s a short few minutes to wake up your mind and body, you’ll feel the benefits.
EAT A WELL-BALANCED BREAKFAST
“If you’re exhausted, it’s really hard to concentrate on anything other than your lack of sleep,” explains Alix Turoff, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. “The same goes for when you’re hungry. Pair the two together, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”
So what should you eat? “Make sure you’re not chowing down on a carbohydrate-focused meal, which will only lead to a blood sugar crash shortly afterward,” Turoff says. “Choose something with lean protein and fiber to keep you full until lunch.”
While a little caffeine is fine, resist the urge to overdo it on your morning cup of joe, which can lead to an energy crash later in the day.
“It is also vital to make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day,” Dr. Hashmi says. “Dehydration often manifests early on as loss of energy and exhaustion.” To perk yourself up, add some lemon or orange slices to your H2O, Turoff suggests.
“Expose yourself to daylight ASAP and make sure you get plenty of it during the day,” says Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo. “Getting in the daylight naturally energizes you and helps you wake up. And there’s something about the sun that just makes you feel better. Not only that, but it can have the additional benefit of resetting your circadian rhythm, which could help with the following night’s sleep.”
Being tired can make it tougher to tune into your true hunger cues, leading to constant snacking. “Those who graze throughout their afternoons because they are overtired may be overdoing their calories without realizing it,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, resident registered dietitian at Betches Media. “Instead of having a ton of light snacks, make one snack nutrient-dense by combining proteins and fats with complex or slow-digesting carbs to keep your energy levels stable and sustainable.”
For example, throw some sunflower seeds in your Greek yogurt, snack on roasted chickpeas instead of pretzels or dip your whole-grain crackers in hummus, Beckerman suggests.
MODIFY YOUR WORKOUT
When you’re super tired, the gym is probably the last place you feel excited about going. But that doesn’t mean you should automatically skip your sweat session. “A majority of the time, it is better to get something in, even in short 15-minute increments throughout the day,” says Eliza Nelson, a certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist.
Still, the day after you haven’t slept enough is probably not a time to go all out in terms of effort. “Cardio is fine, but if you are heading for a lifting session, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to perform demanding and technical compound movements that stress the central nervous system like heavy squats, deadlifts or heavy overhead pressing movements,” Nelson says. “Not only will you risk injury, but your body may not recover optimally.”
Essentially, if you had planned to do strength training but think your form will suffer based on how tired you are, it’s a good idea to modify your workout. For example, Nelson recommends doing lighter weights and keeping rest periods shorter between sets to increase the intensity and get a good sweat in — without risking dropping a heavy weight on yourself.
KEEP LUNCHTIME PORTIONS IN CHECK
Avoid the temptation to eat a huge lunch if you’re already feeling tired. “Eating a big lunch will make you more sleepy,” says Dr. Victoria Sharma, a neurologist and sleep medicine physician at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “We get tired after a big meal because the body needs to use a lot of energy digesting that big meal. Also, insulin, which is produced in response to food, can increase levels of serotonin and melatonin, which can make us tired.” Keep it light and invest those extra calories in a healthy mid-afternoon snack for an energy boost when you need it.
DON’T GIVE IN TO SUGAR CRAVINGS
“Being tired enhances our cravings for sweets and sugar,” Beckerman says. “It’s important not to give in to that craving, because it may set you up for stronger cravings later in the day. So instead of having diet soda in the afternoon as a quick pick-me-up, have an unsweetened iced tea with lemon, a decaf coffee or unsweetened kombucha.”
TAKE AN AFTERNOON POWER NAP
“If you can fit it in, give yourself about 30 minutes in the afternoon to lay down,” Bratner suggests. “You might find yourself so tired from the sleep deprivation of the night before that you get to sleep quickly. The trick is to keep it short so that you stay in light sleep, feel refreshed when you get up and don’t mess with your sleep the following night.”
If you’re into picking things up and putting them down, you need to know how to deadlift. Of all the fundamental strength-training movements, deadlifts are a lower-body pulling move that provides the most bang-for-your-buck when it comes to getting strong and building muscle.
Unfortunately, many gym goers avoid deadlifts because they seem intimidating — heck, the word “dead” is in the name. But with this how-to guide, you’ll learn to deadlift with pristine technique to ensure safe and steady strength gains.
The deadlift is best learned through progressions. We’ll start with the most basic movements and steadily progress to more advanced variations to help you get comfortable.
The first step to master the deadlift is learning to set up correctly, which requires you to hinge through the hips. The two most common mistakes during the deadlift setup are rounding the lower back and bending the knees too much.
First things first, deadlifts are not bad for your lower back if you do them correctly. Secondly, deadlifts are not squats, either. Enter the hip hinge. A proper hip hinge involves sitting the hips backward with a slight knee bend, which puts you in the ideal position to use your glutes, hamstrings and core to move the weight.
To groove this hip hinge pattern, try the wall hip hinge drill:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your heels about a foot away from a wall.
Place a small bench or hurdle over the middle of your feet, where your shoelaces would be.
Bend at the knees slightly and puff your chest up without arching your lower back.
Gradually sit your hips back and lower your torso toward the floor until your butt hits the wall. Don’t let your knees shift forward and hit the bench/hurdle. At this point, your hips should be higher than your knees.
Return to the starting position by straightening your legs and squeezing your glutes.
A quick note: All hip hinge movements are best done with flat-soled shoes or no shoes at all. A heel-elevated shoe shifts the weight too far toward the toes, making it hard to hinge back into the glutes and hamstrings.
Now that you’re comfortable with the hip hinge, it’s time to add some weight. The sumo deadlift, using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, is the perfect way to introduce resistance to the hip hinge without jumping straight to a heavy barbell.
The movement is nearly identical to the aforementioned hip hinge (with a slightly wider stance), but you can skip the wall and the bench/hurdle.
Stand over a kettlebell or dumbbell (standing on its end) with your feet just outside your hips with your toes turned out slightly.
Perform the same hip hinge described above while reaching your arms straight down for the weight.
If you can’t reach the weight without rounding your back, bend your knees slightly until you can reach it.
Grab the kettlebell handle with an overhand grip, or cradle the dumbbell with your fingers underneath the head of the dumbbell.
Take a big breath and brace your abs as if you were about to get punched.
Stand up by pushing your feet down into the floor, making sure your chest and hips rise at the same rate.
Squeeze your glutes at the top, and return the weight to the floor using the same hip hinge movement.
Once you’ve mastered your kettlebell or dumbbell sumo deadlifts, you might find you run out of weight quickly. Even smaller people can quickly exceed 100 pounds, which is the heaviest dumbbell or kettlebell you’ll find in many gyms. The next step is the trap bar deadlift.
The trap bar is a barbell with a frame you can stand inside, which keeps the hands by the sides and aligns the load with the lifter’s center of mass. This makes for a versatile deadlift variation that is friendly on the lower back. While trap bars aren’t a staple in every gym, they’re become easier to find as heavy strength training becomes less taboo. If you’re serious about getting strong and your gym doesn’t have a trap bar, consider finding a new gym!
Stand with the same foot placement as the first hip hinge exercise, slightly narrower than the sumo deadlift.
Perform the same hip hinge motion, only bending your knees as needed to reach the handles.
Once you can reach the handles, grip them and tighten your lats by pushing your armpits down toward your hip pockets.
Perform the same breathing technique and stand up just like you would for the sumo deadlift.
You can get incredibly strong with a trap bar deadlift. In fact, many people would do best sticking with the trap bar indefinitely. But if you want to move to the regular barbell, do so after mastering the trap bar.
The barbell deadlift (often called a conventional deadlift to differentiate it from the wider-stance sumo deadlift) is the gold standard for total-body strength. The main difference from the trap bar deadlift is that the weight is in front of your body, which requires a slightly different approach to ensure the bar doesn’t drift away from you while lifting it.
Stand with the same foot placement as the trap bar deadlift, with your shins a few inches away from the bar. The bar should be right over your shoelaces.
Hinge your hips back and let your knees bend slightly until your shins touch the bar. If you can’t reach the bar with a flat back once your shins are touching the bar, stand up, start with your shins further away from the bar and try again.
Grab the bar with your hands just outside your hips, no wider. Your arms should hang straight down from your sides and you approach the bar.
Pull the bar into your shins with straight arms and keep it there. Continue to actively pull the bar into your body as you stand up, and don’t let the bar lose contact from your body at any point during the lift.
Breathe and stand up the same way you did during the trap bar deadlift.
Once the bar is above your knees, push your hips forward and stand tall. Squeeze your glutes at the top to prevent arching your lower back.
Return the bar to the floor by hinging your hips back and out of the way. If the bar hits the top of your knees on the way down, you’re not hinging back far enough.
COMMON PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Even after lots of practice, you may run into technique problems that prevent you from deadlifting properly. Here are a few solutions to common deadlift mistakes.
The number 1 reason you can’t keep your back flat during the deadlift is because the weight is too heavy. Start light and only add weight to the bar when you can keep perfect form.
Another reason a lifter might round his or her back is because they’re not able to reach the bar while keeping a flat back. Simply raising the height of the bar by elevating the weights on blocks or mats can make it easier to get into a proper starting position.
Pushing the knees out while deadlifting is important for activating the glutes and keeping your knees healthy. If your knees are caving in, you may simply be standing too wide. Move your feet in a bit and focus on pushing your knees out during the entire lift.
Placing a resistance band around your knees gives you immediate feedback on proper technique. If you forget to push your knees out, they cave in against the resistance of the band. Start with a light band; you don’t want a band that’s so heavy you can’t get into a good position.
It’s common during barbell deadlifts to see the bar drift away from the lifter’s body. If you don’t keep the bar in contact with your body, much of the stress goes to your lower back instead of your legs. Simply adding a pause to the exercise helps you stay in a good position. Perform your regular deadlift setup, but as you stand up, pause when the bar is at mid-shin height. This forces you to keep the bar tight to your body.
If pause deadlifts don’t do the trick, try band-distracted deadlifts. Loop one end of a resistance band around the middle of the bar and the other end around a stationary object like a squat rack. Place the bar far enough away from the anchor point to stretch the band, then perform your deadlifts as normal. The tension of the band pulls the bar away from you, forcing you to actively pull the bar into your body.
GET DOWN TO DEADLIFT
Don’t ditch your deadlifts just because they look scary. Follow these progressions step by step, and only add weight once you’ve mastered the technique. With patience and discipline, you’ll be picking things up and putting them down with the best of them.
Your reasons for following a strength-training regimen may be clear — greater bone and muscle strength, injury prevention, better sports performance — but figuring out the best way to structure your routine may be less straightforward.
If you’re determined to lift weights, you still wonder: Should I be doing full- or split-body workouts? Experts clarify matters.
FULL-BODY STRENGTH SESSIONS
Typically, full-body strength workouts involve multi-joint movements (i.e., squats, pullups, chest presses), which recruit many different muscle groups. As such, full-body workouts are more time-efficient, making them the ideal option for those who can’t spend more than two or three days in the gym, says Mike Donavanik, certified strength and conditioning specialist, a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles, California.
Full-body workouts can be pretty straightforward: Perform 3–5 sets of 6–8 different exercises, making sure to complete all sets for one exercise before moving on to the next. A great outline for a total-body routine could be: goblet squats, reverse lunges, straight-legged deadlifts, pushups, bent-over rows, chest presses and inverted rows, says exercise physiologist Dean Somerset, certified strength and conditioning specialist.
According to Marfred Suazo, certified strength and conditioning specialist, co-owner of Superiior Fitness in New York City, sticking to full-body strength workouts also gives you the freedom to perform other activities on your days away from the gym. You can run, bike, do yoga or play a round of golf without being overly sore or delaying your recovery.
On the other hand, if you’re in the gym more than three days a week, you may want to consider splitting things up. “If you’re working out five days a week, full-body sessions can be counterproductive,” Donavanik says, as you’re not allowing your body enough time to recover between sessions.
Strength training (and other high-impact activities) break down your muscle tissue. In order for that muscle tissue to grow back bigger and stronger, you need to give it time to rebuild. If you keep breaking down those same muscles day after day, you’ll not only slow your gains, but you may even experience injury.
Interestingly, new research in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness suggests that you may not need to take a full day or two to recover in between full-body sessions. Recreational lifters who performed a full-body strength routine three days in a row every week for seven weeks made comparable gains in strength as lifters who separated their strength sessions by at least 48 hours. That said, it’s important to note that both groups were still only lifting three days per week, which allowed each group at least four days to recover per week.
To avoid injury and burnout, you could either split up your strength-training sessions (more on this later), or you could do short, full-body circuit workouts. With circuit training, you move directly from one exercise to the next with little to no rest in between, which keeps your heart rate elevated throughout the session. With this method, you’ll get your cardio and strength work done at the same time.
SPLIT-BODY STRENGTH SESSIONS
Breaking up strength workouts according to muscle group is known as split training, and it’s a popular training approach among bodybuilders. Split training can also be time-intensive, so this method is best for those who can dedicate an hour in the gym a minimum of four days per week.
“A split routine will allow you to target one or two muscle groups intensively each day, with more sets and heavier weights,” Suazo says. In other words, you could hammer your back and bicep muscles one day, fatigue your chest and triceps the next day and give your legs a workout another day. Then, you’d be ready to hit your back and biceps again a day or two later. “This intensity of training may lead to better results for muscle building,” Suazo says.
Split training is also ideal if you’re looking to beef up specific muscle groups, need specialized sports training or are working through injury rehab, says Somerset.
Like full-body training, there are many ways to structure a split routine. For example, you could do a push/pull split, where you focus on push exercises one day (i.e, leg presses, split squats and chest presses) and pull exercises another day (i.e., leg curls, single-leg deadlifts and biceps curls). Or, you could separate your training according to individual muscle groups (i.e., chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and core, legs).
If you have minimal time to train, Somerset recommends following an upper/lower split: Work your upper body (chest, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps) two days per week, and your lower body (quads, hamstrings, calves and abs) two days per week.
Everyone wants to get stronger — that’s why we go to the gym to lift weights. But chances are, most of your exercises target both arms or both legs at the same time like a squat, deadlift, or pushup (called “bilateral training”). Yet by using exercises that target each arm and leg separately — called “unilateral training” — you can unlock tremendous improvements for your fitness and body.
3 BENEFITS OF UNILATERAL TRAINING
1. IMPROVES BALANCE AND STABILITY
When you only use one leg or one arm, you instantly make your exercise more challenging because there’s less stability. Now your muscles have to work harder to keep your body still.
As a result, these exercises tend to increase the activation in your core and the stabilizing muscles around your joints to help you move better and protect against injuries.
2. PRESERVES SYMMETRY
For many people, one side is weaker than the other. If left unaddressed, over time, this could create injuries as the body overuses one side compared to the other and develops inefficient movement patterns. (With bilateral exercises, you can’t always strengthen both sides equally.)
Instead, exercise each limb separately to ensure your left and right sides have equal strength, power and stability. That helps you during a tough workout in the gym and a grueling game on the field, court or ice.
3. TAKES PRESSURE OFF YOUR BODY
With unilateral exercises, you’ll instantly notice you can’t lift as much weight as you could with both arms or both legs. (Don’t worry; you’ll still improve your strength!)
The benefit here is it takes stress off your body. For example, instead of doing a 200-pound back squat, you might find yourself doing Bulgarian split squats with only 90 pounds — this can help take extra pressure off your spine, joints and ligaments.
THE BEST SINGLE-LIMB EXERCISES
The move: Start with your feet hip-width apart. Take a long step back — long enough so your knees make two 90-degree angles at the bottom — then return to start with your forward leg. Start with dumbbells and advance to a barbell in either the back squat or front squat position.
The move: Start with a very wide stance and your feet pointed slightly out. Sit back into one hip and push that knee out. Repeat on the other side.
The move: Place one foot on a box or bench. Pull all your weight on that foot and drive yourself up by pushing through your heel. Avoid pushing off with your bottom leg.
SINGLE-LEG ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
The move: With dumbbells in your hands, slowly bend forward and pull one leg behind. Once the weights are below your knees, drive back up and squeeze with your glutes. Don’t twist your hips to the side — keep them square and face forward.
3-POINT DUMBBELL ROW
The move: Facing parallel to a bench, place your right hand and right knee on the bench, getting your torso parallel to the ground. Grab a dumbbell with your left hand, squeeze your shoulder blades and row.
TRX SINGLE-ARM ROW
The move: Take one TRX strap from underneath with your feet closer to the anchor point. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up while keeping your body straight like a plank. Don’t let your body twist.
SINGLE-ARM OVERHEAD PRESS
The move: Hold a dumbbell by your shoulder and drive the weight directly overhead. Don’t arch backward with your lower back and keep your glutes tight.
SINGLE-ARM BENCH PRESS
The move: Lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted into the ground and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Hold on a dumbbell on one side with your wrist straight and press above.
Boxing classes are blowing up. With speciality studios and gyms popping up from coast to coast, people who had never considered boxing workouts before are now getting a chance to try them. But because most people don’t grow up learning to box the way they might with other sports — like running and cycling, for example — it can be a more challenging (and intimidating) activity for first-timers.
The good news is, knowing some key intel before you set foot in a boxing studio or gym can help ensure your first class goes smoothly, and that you actually enjoy the workout.
Here’s what boxing pros want you to know:
TAKE A REST DAY BEFORE YOUR FIRST CLASS
If you’re wondering how to prepare for your first class, being well-recovered from any other workout routine is a good idea, experts say. “I’d recommend staying properly hydrated, and if you’re on a strength-training regimen, I’d recommend taking the day off before so your muscles aren’t tight before you try a boxing workout,” says AJ Perez, trainer at Rumble Boxing in Los Angeles.
It’s always a good idea to rest before trying a tough new workout, but with boxing, there’s a very specific reason you want to bring your A game: “One of the toughest hurdles to get over as a beginner boxer is teaching your body to relax and be fluid with the technique,” Perez says. “It’s a lot harder to accomplish learning the proper form while your muscles are sore or tight.”
BE READY FOR A TOTAL BODY WORKOUT
“Boxing is a head-to-toe sport,” notes Alberto Ortiz, founder of Work Train Fight. “People often think it is just arms and upper body, but you are using a ton of core and lower body as well.” On top of that, boxing classes are generally fast-paced, so you’ll be getting a great cardio workout too, he says.
YOU’LL NEED TO GET YOUR STANCE DOWN
In your first class, one of the best things to focus on is getting the boxing stance right. “A solid, balanced boxing stance will set you up for success in your boxing journey,” says Milan Costich, founder of Prevail Boxing. “Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a big step forward with your non-dominant foot. Point your toes to about 2 o’clock, sit your butt down a couple inches to relax into your stance and lift your back heel off the ground.” You’ll also want to engage your core, which will allow you to stay in control during quick punches. “You should feel like your weight is distributed equally on each leg, enabling you to move around quickly and easily,” he adds.
DON’T GO ALL OUT WITH YOUR PUNCHES
Getting overzealous can lead to injury when you don’t have the technique down, so keep things controlled when you’re getting started with boxing. “While punching, the two most important things to remember to avoid injury are to keep your wrists straight and to make contact with your two strongest knuckles — your index and middle fingers,” Costich says. “You might be hitting a punching bag that weighs twice as much as you, so we recommend starting out by punching softly and working your way up with power.”
YOU WON’T BE AMAZING AT FIRST … AND THAT’S OK
“Boxing is challenging mentally and physically,” Ortiz says. Workouts often consist of various combinations of punches and other movements that need to be remembered throughout the class, and it’s not always easy to keep what you’re supposed to be doing (and in what order) straight. “Be ready to mess up, feel awkward and forget the combinations (a lot),” Ortiz says. “Don’t let it discourage you! Keep focused and keep trying!”
Your effort definitely won’t be wasted. “It’s completely normal not to get all of the technique down initially, but you can absolutely still get a great workout as long as you’re having fun learning,” Costich says. “Try to approach boxing with some humility; the expectation is not to be great after one class, but rather to take each boxing class as an opportunity to improve 1% in technique and push yourself 1% harder.”
And remember, the experience should be fun. “Try not to get frustrated when you mess up. Take a deep breath, shake it out and start again,” Ortiz suggests.
DOING “EXTRA CREDIT” CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE
If you think boxing is something you could really get into, there are ways to speed up the process of getting your technique on point. “I highly recommend spending time in a private training session with a seasoned boxing coach or trainer,” Perez says.
That’s not your only option though. “If your budget is tight, there is a whole library of tips and tricks available online,” Perez points out. By searching something simple like “beginner boxing tips,” you’ll find tons of videos on how to advance your technique. “I learned a lot this way while I was a beginner boxer. The information is there if you really want it!”