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Parkour can be defined as an activity involving movement through an area, typically urban in nature, in an efficient and creative way. Those who practice it are known as traceurs (French for ‘trace’) and will jump, climb and vault over obstacles in their path in order to get from A to B as quickly as possible.
Parkour is rooted in French military history, and more specifically escape and evasion tactics using only the human body, trained using “parcours du combattant”; an obstacle course based training method.
Whilst sharing common features, it should not be confused with freerunning, which places less of an emphasis on efficiency, allowing for more acrobatic movements.
Parkour’s modern day form can, at least in large part, be attributed to a group of young men from the Parisian suburbs, who in the 1980’s brought together multiple influences in what became known as l’Art du Deplacement. The group, which called itself ‘Yamakasi’, meaning ‘Strong man, strong spirit’, practised this discipline in isolation for almost a decade, heavily criticised by the authorities and wider public.
In 2003, the UK’s Channel 4 produced a groundbreaking documentary entitled Jump London, which finally made the philosophical and physical basis for Parkour accessible to the masses. The hugely successful 2005 sequel, Jump Britain, well and truly thrust Parkour into public consciousness, guaranteeing its position as a genuine art form for the 21st century.
Experienced traceurs do not seek the adrenaline rush which can often be part and parcel of engaging in the riskier aspects of the activity. Instead they seek to challenge themselves to overcome the shackles of their inhibitions. Their training allows practitioners to learn to manage risk rather than seek it.
ULTIMATE BEGINNERS GUIDE TO PARKOUR - HOW TO GET STARTED IN PARKOUR TRAINING - YouTube
There are a huge number of benefits to getting involved in Parkour.
For all intents and purposes, Parkour basically allows those who partake in it to treat the world like a giant playground. What isn’t there to love about that. Run free, climb, jump and experiment with different movements. Release your inner child.
It turns out running as fast as you can, jumping as high and as far as you can and climbing up walls is pretty hard work. In fact it makes for a pretty incredible full body workout. What’s more, you don’t need a gym membership to get involved and there isn’t a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell in sight.
3. Mental Health:
The psychological benefits of physical activity generally are widely recognised, and Parkour is no different. The focus on mental as well as physical preparedness and the philosophical foundations of Parkour only help to enhance it’s potential benefits for your mental health. It is also an activity which forces you to look at your environment in a different way and can be an excellent release from the feelings of disconnect and numbness associated with depression for instance.
Whilst much of modern day sport encourages comparison with, and competition between, others, Parkour is very much about pushing yourself to your limits and finding an inner confidence and trust in your actions.
By attempting to engage mind and body, Parkour is considered by many as a form of meditation and can be used as an alternative avenue towards mindfulness.
It’s a great way to make new friends. Parkour is typically an activity which takes place in groups, with a reputation for a friendly and inclusive environment. There is no competitive aspect; instead the goal is to have fun, improve yourself and help those around you to improve too.
Now this might sound a little far fetched, but a proficiency in Parkour could genuinely help save your life. You never know when the ability to run, jump and climb may come in useful. When it comes to fight or flight scenarios in the modern world, I know which option I’m going to take. You may as well be good at it.
Success in Parkour requires you to view your environment in a creative way. Whether it be seeing opportunities to jump and climb which others can’t, or finding small spaces to squeeze through, you must think outside the box. There is no reason why this creative stimulation can’t spill over into other aspects of your life, helping you to solve problems at work or in your personal life.
Undoubtedly the easiest way of getting involved is to join your local Parkour group. The wonders of the internet means this is easier than it’s ever been, and most major cities should have fairly regular parkour meets. Check out meetup.com to find your nearest location.
Parkour specific gym’s are also becoming more and more common so why not check out whether there is one near you and go along to see what all the fuss is about.
If you’re feeling particularly confident, there is nothing stopping you just getting out there and giving it a go. After all, you don’t need any equipment, or to be part of an official group in order to run around, jump and climb. Granted it’s more fun doing it with your mates, especially as the social element is an important part of the philosophy, but this needn’t be part of a formal gathering.
The What?# The basics:1. Balancing
The ability to balance is a vital aspect of parkour. Practitioners spend a decent amount of time jumping onto and walking along narrow railings and walls.
Parkour involves both explosive sprinting and endurance running so be sure to add in some middle distance as well as short sharp sprint sessions into your training regime to ensure you are parkour fit.
3. Jumping and Dropping
Whether it’s to bridge gaps or scale heights, jumping plays a significant role in parkour movement patterns. Dropping involves moving from areas of high ground to low, and requires a proper understanding of how to land safely, which will be discussed below.
Basic Jumping Tutorial | Learn Parkour - YouTube
Landing properly after jumping or dropping is an essential skill which will enable you not only to engage in parkour safely but also allows for efficient transition between movements and obstacles. The way in which you choose depends on a number of factors:
The height from which you are landing;
The landing area;
The distance of the jump
Landing on two feet should always be your preference as this will limit the amount of stress you place on your joints. The objective should be land as softly as possible, which means bending at the knees on contact with the surface. If your dropping from a particularly high level or landing with significant forward momentum then you may want to sink at the hips too and use your hands and arms to absorb some of the force.
How To Do Parkour: Landing tutorial (Zoic Nation Parkour and Freerunning) - YouTube
Rolling on landing is a really useful way of dissipating the force you experience on making contact with the ground across more of your body. This is definitely something to add to your repertoire when you start to drop from levels higher than head height or when jumping with a lot of forward momentum. It’s a vital skill to help you remain safe and injury free whilst partaking in parkour.
Ryan Doyle - Parkour Roll Tutorial - YouTube
A maneuver to help you negotiate those obstacles which are to high to jump over but don’t require climbing, the vault is probably one of the most iconic aspects of parkour. It normally involves you using your hands to propel yourself over an obstacle a little bit like a monkey. There are numerous ways in which you can achieve this basic principle. The below video takes you through a step by step guide to 10 different ways suitable for beginners.
10 PARKOUR VAULTS FOR BEGINNERS - YouTube
When taking the most direct (efficient route), a cornerstone of the parkour philosophy, it is inevitable that you’re going to be required to climb in order to scale obstacles which are too high to jump or vault over. This is where climbing comes to the fore. There are a number of different ways in which to climb, largely depending on the height you are required to scale.
Undoubtedly one of the most useful techniques in parkour generally has to be the ‘wall run’. This skill will enable you to climb over walls which would ordinarily be way out of reach. Check out the video below for a quick tutorial.
How To WALL RUN - Parkour Tutorial - YouTube
A slight variation on the wall run, known as the ‘tic tac’ can be a great way of using adjacent surfaces to help you generate the required momentum to climb your target wall.
How To: TIC TAC | 2 STEP | 3 STEP WALL RUN - Parkour Tutorial - YouTube
The ‘cat leap’ is a combination of jumping and climbing. Particularly useful when you are attempting to traverse a gap which is too wide for you be able to land on the target area on your feet. Instead you must aim to land with your feet on the front face of the wall fractionally before gripping the top of the wall with your hands.
How To CAT LEAP/ARM JUMP - Parkour Tutorial - YouTube
7. Swinging (Lache)
Just like when you were a kid swinging from tree branches. This can be a particularly useful method of passing through an obstacle or even dropping from a height which would ordinarily be too high. Traceurs will also use this technique to traverse gaps between bars, where gripping the bar and hanging rather than landing on your feet is more preferable.
The below tutorial takes you through a step by step guide in how to introduce yourself to the skill of lache.
How To LACHE (bar swing jump) - Parkour Tutorial - YouTube
Top Training Exercises To Get You On Your Way
There are some great ways in which you can prepare yourself for parkour before you even turn up for your first meet or join one of the new age parkour specific gyms.
The strength and stability built from lunges is directly transferable to many of the movements which make up parkour. Jumping or landing from one foot, wall runs and tic tacs all require unilateral strength. The best way of developing such strength is by completing single leg weight bearing exercises, of which the forward lunge is a particularly good example. The intensity of the exercise can easily be increased by adding dumbbells or a barbell.
Forward Walking Lunge - YouTube
2. Wall handstand:
Parkour has numerous similarities to gymnastics, and it doesn’t get much more acrobatic (for beginners that is) than handstands. Mastering this type of exercise is a great way of developing upper body strength (a key component of climbing and swinging), as well as spatial awareness and balance. By practising against a wall you can negate some of the potential danger associated with the traditional handstand.
Wall Handstand - YouTube
3. Overhead barbell press:
A fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength,the overhead press translates perfectly into actions such as vaulting. If you just starting out use an unloaded barbell to ascertain how much load is appropriate for your relative strength. Standing with your feet around hip width apart, hold the bar with an overhand grip just in front of your collar bones with your elbows pointing towards the ground. Push the bar upwards in front of your face, finishing above your head with your arms straight, locked out at the shoulders and elbows. Once you have reached the top of the range, pause momentarily before returning the bar slowly to the start position and repeating.
Press - YouTube
4. Broad jump:
This is probably one of the most important exercises to include in your parkour preparation training. The most fundamental of movements, involved in every jump you make from obstacle to obstacle. This is a great way of developing the power you will be sure to need in order to get the most out of your foundation parkour movements.
There will be plenty of occasions when parkour requires you to jump and land on just one of your legs so why not add in single leg jumps too. Mix up taking off and landing on the same foot and taking off and landing on opposite feet.
There’s no getting away from the back squat. It is such a fundamental movement pattern which can be applied to so many different every day as well as athletic pursuits. Consequently, it is a must do exercise if you’re looking to get into parkour. There are few gym movements which are better at building general lower limb strength and will help pretty much with every aspect of parkour, including jumping, landing, and wall running.
Back Squat - YouTube
6. Wall dip:
A slight variation on the traditional dip exercise you will see regularly in the gym, this is a perfect upper body exercise which has excellent cross-over with a common feature in movement such as the vault and the second phase of a climb.
Find a wall or equivalent surface which is between hip and shoulder height. Place your palms flat on top of the surface fingers pointing forwards. In the start position, your arms should be straight, completely holding your body weight off the ground. Lower your legs towards the ground by bending at the elbow in the same way as if you were performing a standard push up, lowering your chest towards the top of the wall. Once your elbows are bent to around 90 degrees, push against the surface through your palms and lift your body weight, extending your arms until straight. Repeat the movement.
Wall Dip - YouTube
7. The monkey plant:
These are a great exercise for building upper body strength in a more parkour specific training environment. Stand in front of a wall which is approximately hip height with one foot slightly in front of the other and both hands in contact with the top of the wall. Using both your legs and your upper body, propel yourself forwards and upwards so that you finish on top of the wall on both feet.
The monkey plant is also a great stepping stone to more advanced parkour exercises like vaulting.
One of the most fundamental upper body strength exercises going, the pull up will help you generate the necessary strength to haul your body weight up walls with your upper body alone. Pretty useful then. Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight pull up for a decent number of sets and reps (3 x10 for instance) why not increase the intensity by adding extra weight using dumbbells or discs.
This exercise is a great full body workout generating stress on both the lower and upper body. It is a particularly appropriate form of training for parkour as there will often be times when you are required to move on all fours, whether it be to squeeze under low obstacles, or to provide a little extra stability when traversing obstacles at significant heights.
Along with the broad jump, this is also one of the most fundamentally applicable exercises to parkour. A great way of converting the strength you build in your legs using exercises such as the back squat and forward lunge into power, one of the most important assets to have if you are going to traverse those gaps or run those walls.
To make the exercise even more parkour specific, be sure to land softly each repetitions, bending at the knees and folding at the hips (making contact with the ground with your hands) in order to practice dissipating the force you will experience when you drop from considerable heights.
Whatever the latest diet or exercise trend, whatever bullshit lines the personal trainer at the gym is feeding you, and whatever the latest scientific research is telling us, losing weight revolves around one factor and only one… CALORIES. Consume more than your body burns in day, whether through your natural basal metabolic rate, your day to day activities or exercise and you will gain weight. This is known as a calorie surplus. Burn more than you consume and you will lose weight. A calorie deficit. It really is as simple as that.
The more significant gulf between energy consumed and energy used you are capable of generating, the more quickly you will lose weight. Whilst the component parts of the equation are simple, the way you go about solving it is a little more complicated, particularly if it is to be sustainable. It’s very easy to tell yourself to eat less and be more active, but a lot harder to actually do it consistently for long enough to see results.
There are of course lots of ways in which you can manipulate both your diet and exercise regime in order to give yourself the best opportunity to both lose weight and then maintain those losses as part of a healthy lifestyle.
You can’t help but be aware of the health risks associated with being overweight. Whether it be online, on the TV or in magazines and newspapers, the information is everywhere. As a society we have become increasingly concerned with healthy living and in particular diet and exercise. And rightly so. These areas represent an enormous challenge to millions of people all over the world.
Excess weight, and in particular, obesity, negatively impacts almost every facet of health. As well as the widely known increases in the risk of life altering and deadly diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers, your reproductive and respiratory functioning, memory and mood can also be severely compromised.
I think the motivation for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight are pretty clear.
This is where we get back to that all important important equation:
Calories consumed – Calories burned = Energy balance
Negative energy balance = calorie deficit = weight loss
Positive energy balance = calorie surplus = weight gain
The two easiest ways to influence your energy balance? Diet and exercise!!
There should be little surprise that what you eat (and drink) and how much of it you eat (and drink) determines your calorie intake for a period of time. Consequently, one of the simplest ways in which you can alter your energy balance is by consuming fewer calories. Over an extended period of time, provided the adjustments are significant enough to create an energy deficit, you should lose weight.
Eating less than your body is used to all of a sudden, unfortunately, is easier said than done. There are, however, a few strategies you can implement in order to give you the best chance of success.
Ditch the sugar:
Sugar is the devil. It is addictive. Eat more of it than you can burn off and your body stores it as… FAT! Excess fructose (sugar) in your blood causes elevated insulin levels. This prevents the body from accessing stores of fat for its energy demands and results in the brain telling you that you are hungry.
Moreover, sugar also causes leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone which helps us release fat from stores to be used as energy. Ergo it tells the brain that we have enough energy supplies and we don’t need to eat. Increased levels of fructose in the blood raises the level of triglycerides, which block the transmission of leptin from the blood to the brain. The brain thinks the body is starving and tells us to eat more than our energy demands require. Thus we gain weight.
Sugar has also been shown to have very little effect on our feeling of fullness relative to the number of calories being consumed. That my friends is a slippery slope. One which isn’t going to help anyone lose weight, nevermind lose it quickly.
See, I told you sugar was the devil!
The good news is, the less sugary foods you consume, the less your brain craves them and the less you eat. All YOU need to do is break the cycle.
Here are a few top tips to help you cut back your daily sugar intake:
Avoid drinking calories. That means fruit juices as well as the more obvious sodas.
Reach for an apple rather than the candy. Whilst fruit obviously contains sugar, your body responds very differently to fructose in comparison to heavily processed, sucrose rich foods. Fruit can also be a great way of satisfying any cravings for sweet foods you may have without the drawbacks of regular chocolate binges.
Avoid pre packaged ‘convenience’ type foods which are often high in added sugar. The best way of knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body is by making your meals from scratch as much as possible.
Up the protein, fat and veggies:
When it comes to losing weight, protein is king. Studies have demonstrated that protein may boost the metabolism by up to 100 calories per day. That’s energy you’re burning simply sitting on the sofa twiddling your thumbs.
What’s more, high protein diets have also been proven to reduce cravings and make you feel fuller for longer. All of which are going to help you achieve the all important calorie deficit required for meaningful weight loss.
Low carbohydrate vegetables (normally the green ones), like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, cucumber (you get the idea) are a great way of filling out your meals without adding excess calories. Vegetables have a high fibre content which means they not only provide volume but also take longer to digest meaning you stay fuller for longer. They also provide you with some really important vitamins and minerals which will help keep your immune system in tip top shape. It’s a win all round really.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect fat. This is probably one of the most counterintuitive aspects of weight loss nutrition. Eating foods high in fat surely makes you fat? Provided you’re consuming the right kinds of fat (unsaturated and naturally occurring) rather than those found in heavily processed foods then they are a hugely important part of a balanced healthy diet and can help you lose weight.
By upping your fat intake in relation to your carbohydrate intake you can create an environment in which fat loss is actually more optimal. As already discussed, our consumption of carbohydrates releases insulin. The more carbs you eat, the more insulin your body produces and the harder it is for your body to access fat stores for energy purposes. Therefore, by replacing some of the calories you consume through carbohydrates with fat, you will reduce your insulin levels which will in turn make it easier for your body to access fat stores for energy at the same time as allowing fat to enter and fuel your muscles. Winning!
All low fat diets do is reduce your body’s capacity to burn fat and increase its ability to burn carbohydrates. Hormones such as adiponectin, which help boost your metabolism and break down fat cells are also inhibited.
Foods high in fat are also much better than those high in carbohydrates at making you feel full for longer. When the fat you eat enters the small intestine it releases hormones including cholecystokinin and peptide tyrosine tyrosine, which both play a major role in the regulation of your appetite. The more full you feel after eating, the less inclined you will be to dip into the snack cupboard or go for seconds, all of which is going to help you consume fewer calories in the long run!
As with anything in life, moderation is the key. Foods high in fat are calorie dense. So whilst upping your intake in replacement of carbohydrates is definitely a good idea if you want to lose weight, if you don’t take care of the all important energy balance then you won’t see the changes you want to.
Cutting carbs from your diet all together is simply not sustainable. They are after all the most prolific source of energy for our bodies. There are, however, some sources of carbohydrate which will make it much easier for you to lose weight than others. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in foods like oats, beans, brown rice, quinoa and lentils take much longer for your body to breakdown than simple sugary carbs. Whilst all carbs are eventually broken down into glucose, the longer this process takes, the longer you will feel full and the more nutrients your body will absorb from what you eat.
Feeling fuller for longer means you’re more likely to eat fewer calories and thus more likely to achieve that all important calorie deficit.
One of the most common mistakes people make when they are looking to lose weight quickly is to adopt a very low calorie diet. Whilst this will obviously achieve the negative energy balance required, there are some significant disadvantages to such a strategy.
Your metabolism goes up for two to three hours after any meal as a result of the extra metabolic processes required to digest food and absorb its nutrients. Consequently, the less you eat the slower your metabolism becomes.
Your body has a tendency to treat huge reductions in calorie intake as a period of food scarcity (that’s evolution for you). As a result your body becomes more efficient at performing the basic functions which keep you alive and thus you burn less energy and your metabolism slows.
Moreover, you hold on to more fat in order to increase your chances of survival. Even worse, as muscle takes more energy to support than fat, your body will break it down before it breaks down it’s stores of fat.
Eating regularly and ensuring your body never enters this survival mode will help to keep your metabolism ticking along at an optimal level.
Drink more water:
Drinking more water can help you lose weight in a number of different ways. Most fundamentally, it increases the number of calories that you burn at rest. In fact, energy expenditure has been shown to increase by up to 30% within 10 minutes of drinking water.
Are you hungry or just thirsty? You would be surprised at the number of occasions when you feel hungry but are actually just dehydrated. Next time you feel the urge to eat, have a drink of water and see if it satisfies your ‘hunger’. The signals from our brain which tell us if we are hungry or thirsty can get a little confused, which means we have tendency to eat when we actually need to drink.
As water is completely free of calories, making sure we are suitably hydrated before we resort to grabbing a snack is a great way of reducing excess calorie intake and finding the negative energy balance which is so fundamental to weight loss.
Whilst thinking carefully about what and when we eat and drink should be one of the cornerstones of any weight loss strategy, there is another key way in which you can ensure your body is operating in a calorie deficit. EXERCISE.
Controlling what we eat takes care of the energy we consume, but upping how much exercise we do is the easiest way to increase the amount of energy we use.
The more active you are the more calories you burn and the greater your potential calorie deficit will be. This doesn’t mean, however, than you need to spend hours and hours on the treadmill or spin bike each day in order to give you the best chance of losing weight.
In fact, most research suggests that engaging in shorter burst of high intensity exercise is far more beneficial to both overall health and weight loss. Intense activity will increase your basal metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after exercise; increase levels of fat oxidation in the muscles; and lead to significant jumps in growth hormone levels, which help to burn fat.
As a result, a 20-30 minute HIIT session is actually going to be more beneficial to both your health and weight loss goals than an hour plodding on the treadmill at steady state. Efficiency is the name of the game here.
Circuit based training is a great way of introducing yourself to HIIT based workouts, particularly if you don’t necessarily want to fork out for a gym membership. Click here for a great whole body workout perfect for helping you shift that excess weight!
Larger muscles burn more calories. Simple as that. The more lean muscle you have the more calories your body will burn at rest. In other words, having more muscle increases your everyday base metabolic rate. The metabolic demand of muscle is greater than it is for fat.
Muscle is constantly being broken down, recreated, and synthesized, all of which requires energy. So not only will you be increasing the number of calories you burn during exercise, but you will also increase your energy demands at rest, both of which will make it much easier for you to achieve the negative energy balance required for weight loss.
The best way of building muscle is to ensure you include some resistance based strength training in your regular exercise routine.
Studies have shown that your metabolism can be elevated for up to 38 hours after strength training, which means you’re energy use will be elevated for the best part of 2 days after your session. Boom!
If it isn’t already clear, the single most important factor in the management of your weight is the relationship between the amount of calories you consume through eating, and the amount you burn through staying alive and exercising.
If you consistently exist within a calorie surplus, you will gain weight. If you consistently exist within a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. It really is as simple as that. If you eat unhealthily but maintain a negative energy balance then you will lose weight just as if you eat healthily but maintain a positive energy balance you will gain weight. It’s all about calories in and out.
However, from a nutritional perspective, you will obviously give yourself the best possible chance of losing weight if you stick with some of the simple tips already discussed like ditching sugar, upping your protein intake and ensuring you drink enough water.
Your calorie consumption is, however, only one side of the equation. For most efficient weight loss results, you should definitely pay some attention to how much energy you burn too. The most efficient way of increasing the energy demands you place on your body? Probably some kind of combination of HIIT and strength training. Remember, this type of training will not only allow you to burn calories whilst you exercise, but will also help you burn more when you’re chilling on the sofa. That, my friends, is what we call a win win!
There can be a number of physical benefits to improved grip strength. Whether it be making certain day to day tasks like opening jars or carrying your food shopping less problematic or increasing overall strength gains in the gym, a strong grip is an often overlooked factor. Research has even suggested that hand grip strength may help to lessen the likelihood of functional limitations in old age.
In the gym, a stronger grip will allow you to perform bigger lifts. It’s as simple as that. Especially when it comes to movements which involve a pull. We’re talking about some of the most fundamental exercises in strength training, including: the deadlift, the pull up, and any kind of row exercise. Not only will you be able to lift heavier loads, but you will also be able to perform more repetitions as a result of improved muscular endurance. More reps means burning more calories and greater chances of muscle hypertrophy.
Stronger muscles and connective tissues are more resistant to injury and are also capable of recovering more quickly. If you’re involved in contact sports like rugby or American football, or combat sports like wrestling, or mixed martial arts then improving grip strength could have tangible performance benefits.
The grip is most commonly broken down into 4 major component areas: the crush grip, the pinch grip, the support grip and extension.
This is when the object being gripped rests against the palm of the hand and all the fingers. It is probably what most people think of when they consider their grip and is utilised every day in actions as simple as a handshake when greeting somebody. Trying to loosen the lid to the jar of pickles, or pushing some serious weight on your dumbbell bench press? This is where your crush grip really comes into play!
2. Pinch grip
Typically when fingers are placed on one side of an object and your thumb on the other. Lifting and carrying large sections of plywood or garden fencing might be every day activities in which you notice a deficiency in your pinch grip strength.
3. Support grip
Ever feel the burn carrying a heavy suitcase through the departure terminal, or your weekly food shopping on the walk from the supermarket back to your car? That’s because your support grip is being pushed to its limits. This area of grip strength is typically tested when you are required to hold something for a long period of time.
This term basically describes the opposite or antagonistic movement to all of the above. The action of extending your fingers and spreading the palm of your hand. This is an important area of grip strength in order to achieve balance and is often overlooked. The extensor muscles are key to your grip as they must contract aggressively in order to support finger flexion.
Hand extensions - YouTube
There are numerous ways you can improve your grip strength ranging from simple exercises you can do whilst sitting at your desk in the office or laying on your sofa in front of the TV, to fundamental compound lifts and more grip specific actions at the gym.
Thus depending on your goals and the reasons you have for improving your ability to grip, there should be something relevant to you.
The easiest way to increase your grip strength is by introducing a few simple exercises which you can tick off every day within the comfort of your own home or whilst at work. They’re probably not going to dramatically improve your deadlift or pull up numbers but they might help with day to day tasks and make your life that little bit easier.
1. Rubber band extensions
Close your hand together so that all for fingers and your thumb are in contact with one another. Extend the fingers and thumb outwards away from each other against the resistance of a rubber band. Return your hand to the starting position slowly whilst fighting against the resistance of the band.
2. Grip squeezes
Now you can either buy yourself a crush gripper for between $30-40 or to be honest a tennis or squash ball would probably be sufficient, especially if you’re just starting out and are looking to improve strength for day to day needs.
Place the ball of your choice in the palm of your hand and grip it tightly before releasing slowly and repeating over and over again. Simples!
3. Book pinches
Find the heaviest book you can at home or in the office. Place the spine of the book between your thumb and fingers and simply hold for a period of time. If the book isn’t heavy enough to create a challenge then move your grip backwards and forwards up and down the spine as demonstrated below.
Book pinches - YouTube
At The Gym
If you’re looking for more significant gains aimed at helping you lift more in the gym and increase your overall muscle strength and/or hypertrophy then you’re going to need to put your grip under a little more stress than the above home exercises are capable of achieving.
That means slightly altering how you perform movements which should already be fundamentals within your gym programme, and maybe adding some new exercises designed to focus more heavily on those muscles in the forearms and hands which contribute so heavily to grip strength.
There a few really simple changes you can make to the way you perform the exercises which are already staples of your programme.
Ditch the wrist straps! Or anything else which is designed to take some of the pressure off your grip. Rather than challenging your grip and applying enough stress to force adaptations, these aids encourage your body to become reliant on their assistance.
Actively squeezing the bar with your hands during sets and reps of compound movements like the deadlift will contribute significantly to improved grip strength. It is something that very few gym goers will actively think about as they perform their lifts but is very much worth considering.
If you have access to thick barbells at your gym then incorporate them into your pull training as much as possible. Alternatively add your own thickness to barbells or dumbbells using a towel or specialist weight lifting thick grips. This will create a more open handed grip by preventing your fingers from wrapping completely around the bar, placing more stress on the muscles in your hands and forearms and thus helping to induce improvements in grip strength.
Thicken BB with towel - YouTube
Introduce ropes or towels into applicable pull exercises, such as pull ups and supine pulls. This will serve to increase the emphasis on the muscles which contribute to your grip strength during movements which would not ordinarily do so to quite the same extent.
Towel and rope pull ups - YouTube
Try to incorporate pull exercises into all of your workouts in some way shape or form. That doesn’t mean you have to deadlift every time you go to the gym but repetitive stress will certainly help to generate big jumps in grip strength.
When you perform lifts which place significant stress on your grip and in which the load you are capable of shifting is at least partially dependent on the strength of your grip, be sure to spend some time lifting heavy. The more load you pull, the more stress you are putting the muscles in your hands and forearms under and the quicker your grip strength will improve.
Don’t spend too much time performing machine based exercises which don’t place nearly as much emphasis on your grip as barbell and dumbbell movements.
The hook grip! Place your thumb on the bar first before locking it in place with your index and middle fingers. This helps prevent your hands slipping during heavy lifting (particularly deadlifts) and should allow you to lift more weight, which will contribute to improved grip strength as well as more overall strength gains.
The hook grip - YouTube
Grip Specific Exercises:
In addition to the minor adjustments listed above, there are also a number of exercises which are tailored specifically to work the muscles integral to a strong grip. So be sure to incorporate at least some of what follows into your regular routine.
Dumbbell head grab
Place a dumbbell on its end and pick it up by the head. Hold for a certain period of time (around 30 seconds). Start with light load and build it gradually as your capacity increases. This is a perfect exercise to improve your crush grip.
Dumbbel head holds - YouTube
Place heavy dumbbells in either hand and walk for a certain distance/time. Whilst this exercise has obvious benefits for your legs and shoulders, it will also really test your support grip. Thicken the dumbbell handle with a towel or grips to really up the ante.
Farmers walk - YouTube
Pick up a light disc weight (somewhere around 2.5-5kg) in a standard pinch grip between your thumb and fingers. Turn your hand so that you knuckles are facing away from you and flip the plate 180 degrees so that it leaves your grip momentarily before you catch it again. Repeat the movement for a set number of repetitions or a length of time.
Plate flips - YouTube
Simply hang from a pull up bar (using a grip of your choice, why not mix it up?). Set yourself a time goal or simply hang until failure. Much like with the pull up variations above, you could also add a rope or towel to place even more emphasis on the grip.
Once you’ve mastered the standard double handed bar hang (somewhere between a 1 and 2 minute hold I guess) have a go at a single arm hang.
Double and single arm hang - YouTube
Fingertip push ups
The vast majority of exercises which aim at improving your grip capacity will normally focus on the crush and pinch aspects of grip. The fingertip pushup is the perfect remedy to all this grabbing and squeezing, by challenging the muscles which help open your hand out as opposed to close it.
Fingertip push ups - YouTube
Dumbbell wrist curls
Use a light dumbbell with an overhand grip (knuckles facing the ceiling). With your forearms in contact with a bench and your hands and wrists overhanging the edge slightly, flex and extend the wrist by moving the weight towards the ground and then back towards the ceiling. Repeat for a set number of repetitions. Be sure to switch to an underhand grip as well (with your palms facing the ceiling) and repeat the exercise so that your hitting all the major forearm muscles.
DB wrist curls - YouTube
Grab a barbell alongside your body with one hand slightly off centre so that the bar angles towards the ground in front of you. Using your wrist, maneuver the bar so that it is parallel with the ground and then return it to the start position, repeating for time or a set number of repetitions.
Barbell levering - YouTube
Stretching And Mobility
With all this extra strain on the muscles in your hands, wrists and forearms, you’re going to want to make sure you introduce some mobility and stretching exercises into your warm up routine to help keep everything loose and pain free.
These 3 really simple exercises which you can perform at home will help you achieve this.
Place your hands on a table with your fingers pointing backwards (towards your body) and the biceps facing forwards (away from your body). Your arms should be straight. Rock your body backwards to increase the intensity of the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.
Place the tops of your hands on a table with your fingers pointing backwards (towards your body) and the front of your forearms facing forwards. This is a pretty unnatural position for your wrists and arms to be in so be careful and make sure the stretch is only very gentle. Again rock your body backwards in order to increase the intensity of the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.
Don’t neglect your thumbs. The best way to stretch the thumb out is against a table edge. With your fingers together pointing forwards and your thumb perpendicular to them (facing upwards) as if you’re about to shake someone’s hand, slide your fingers under the table until your thumb comes into contact with the edge. The more you push your hand away from your body, the greater the stretch on your thumb will be. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.
Unfortunately, when it comes to building muscle, there are no shortcuts to success. Muscle hypertrophy, or more simply put, the growth and increase in the size of muscle cells can only be achieved with a proper resistance training programme, but results I’m afraid are not instant. In fact, research suggests that meaningful changes in muscle size may take as long as weeks, if not months to occur, so stay patient.
There are, however, a number of ways in which you can give yourself the best chance of adding bulk as quickly and efficiently as your body will allow. No big secrets, no magic wands and no bullshit. Building the physique of your dreams is about hard work and KNOWLEDGE! And that my friends, is what this article is all about. Giving you the information you need to be successful.
How You Train?
The proper manipulation of variables within your training is key to maximising your body’s ability to build muscle. The most important factors you need to consider when planning and executing your resistance based sessions are: intensity, volume, frequency, exercise selection, rest intervals, muscular failure and the speed at which you complete your reps.
Training intensity pertains to the resistance at which you are capable of performing an exercise for a certain number of repetitions. Generally this is expressed as a percentage of your one rep maximum. The number of reps you perform has a significant bearing on your neuromuscular system and will therefore affect your hypertrophic response in differing ways.
Most research indicates that somewhere between 6 and 12 reps produces the optimum hypertrophic response. This moderate rep range produces more lactate and glucose, the build up of which, has been demonstrated to have a significant impact on anabolic processes. Testosterone and human growth hormone, both of which help stimulate muscle growth, are also elevated more acutely through a moderate rep range.
When it comes to the load that you lift within this rep range, it largely depends on the individual. Most experts believe that you need to be lifting in excess of 65% of your 1RM in any given exercise in order to place the muscle in question under enough stress to promote the desired adaptation. However, there is research to suggest that as long as resistance training is conducted to failure, then load may not be a significant contributing factor to muscle hypertrophy.
My advice? Stick to a load which you come at least close to failure in by the end of your set. A great way of ensuring this happens safely is using a spotter to help you through the last few reps.
Training volume refers to the product of your total work in any one training session. Essentially the total number of sets and reps you complete. High volume, multiple set programmes are definitely more productive in relation to building muscle.
Multiple sets induce greater levels of both testosterone and HGH, which may not significantly increase prior to the 4th set of any given exercise. You should also consider working the same muscle groups multiple times within individual sessions. Whole body workouts are a great way of improving overall health and fitness in a single session but they are not necessarily the best way of stimulating muscle growth. So if building muscle fast is your goal, stay away from them for now.
Focusing on one muscle group during a session will allow you to maintain total weekly training volume with fewer sets per training session and greater recovery between sessions. It will also increase the metabolic stress on your muscles by prolonging the training stimulus within a particular muscle group which can serve to accelerate muscle hypertrophy.
What does this mean practically? Say you are embarking on an upper body hypertrophy training programme for instance. Rather than completing 2 push exercises and 2 pull exercises which puts stress on both the chest and back muscles in one session, just focus your session on either chest or back and complete 4 exercises, thus doubling the volume of your session within the same time frame.
Example: Chest session
Dumbbell Bench Press
Weighted Push Ups
Training frequency simply refers to the number of training sessions or muscle group sessions you complete during a week and can have a significant impact on the adaptive processes which are behind muscle hypertrophy.
There is a lot of debate as to how often you should train a particular muscle group for optimum growth. The key? Subjecting your muscles to enough stress whilst allowing time for rest and recovery, which is a key element of increasing bulk.
Realistically, the frequency of your training sessions depends largely on the volume and intensity of them. If both of these factors are high, then you can afford to complete fewer sessions in a week (aim to hit the same muscle group every 5-7 days). If training intensity and volume are less, however, then you may need to focus on the same muscle groups every 3 days. Training frequency is largely your choice therefore. Don’t have time for multiple sessions in a week? Then make sure the sessions you do complete are high intensity and high volume. Prefer to spread your workload out over more time. Reduce the volume of each session and increase the frequency at which you complete them. It’s completely up to you!
Variety is the spice of life! Your muscles quickly become used to the same movements performed over and over again, and a muscle which is comfortable performing an action is unlikely to be under enough stress to promote hypertrophy.
Consequently it is of vital importance to make sure you keep your muscles guessing by introducing new exercises into your training programme at regular intervals. There is evidence to support the inclusion of both multi joint and single joint exercises in a hypertrophy specific routine. Multi Joint exercises such as squats use large amounts of muscle mass, producing more significant increases in both testosterone and HGH than their single joint counterparts.
Single joint exercises, however, are much more useful in targeting underdeveloped muscles, and have been proven to elicit different neuromuscular responses which can heighten overall muscle development.
What does this mean practically? Firstly you should try not to pick muscle group specific movements which look overly similar to one another in any given session. I.e. if your session focuses on the back, don’t pick four row type exercises which all involve very similar movements and very similar muscles. Instead, do something like this: Seated cable row, Pull ups, Dumbbell reverse fly’s and Dumbbell upright rows.
Click here for top tips on how to build your own hypertrophy based gym session
This is the time taken between each set of work during your session. Short rest intervals (30 seconds or less) are more likely to generate significant metabolic stress which may in turn heighten the anabolic processes which aid in muscle hypertrophy. However, such short rest periods will not allow sufficient time for you to regain muscular strength before completing the next set of work. This will significantly impair your ability to perform the remaining sets in your routine and most likely counteract any of the benefits associated with increased metabolic stress.
Long rest intervals (3 minutes or more) may be equally ineffective when it comes to promoting optimum muscle growth. Whilst they will certainly allow the muscle to recover fully between sets allowing you to complete each set with maximal force, th build up of metabolites will not be sufficient to really promote hypertrophy.
Consequently, the most effective length of rest interval seems to be somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds, providing an ideal compromise between recovery and metabolic stress. Yay!
This is the point at which your muscles can no longer produce the force necessary to lift a specific load. Although still widely debated by experts in the field, it is commonly thought that training to the point of muscular failure is necessary to maximise hypertrophy. Continuing to train a muscle under anaerobic conditions, which is essentially what occurs when you are close to reaching the point of failure, increases the build up of metabolites and induces a greater hormonal response. All of which helps your body build muscle.
However, there is also evidence to suggest that regularly completing lifts to failure can increase the potential of overtraining, not to mention the psychological stress it can place on you.
My advice? By all means complete some of your working sets to failure. In my experience, the best way of achieving this sustainably is with finishers. That’s sets of exercises placed at the end of your session which you designate to complete to failure.
Most people I see in the gym very much concentrate on the concentric phase on any given exercise they complete. For those unaware of the terminology, that’s when the muscle is contracting whilst it shortens and makes up the most obvious working part of most gym exercises. Whether that be elbow flexion during bicep curls, the upward push phase of squats or the pull phase of a chin up.
There is evidence to suggest, however, that the eccentric phase (when the muscle is lengthening at the same time as it contracts) is more integral to triggering hypertrophy. This is largely attributed to a greater muscular tension under load. So the next time you do squats, bicep curls or chin ups, be sure to slow down the eccentric phase of each exercise.
That means really TAKING YOUR TIME lowering to the bottom of your squat range; straightening your arms during your bicep curls; and dropping to a long arm hanging position during your pull ups. The easiest way of ensuring that you are spending long enough during this eccentric phase is by counting. Around 3 seconds is about right for most resistance exercises.
How to Build Muscle Fast - YouTube
If you’re looking to gain muscle quickly then you need to forget about high intensity cardio sessions. You need all of the calories you are consuming to be put to use helping fuel the growth and repair of the muscles you want to increase in size. Expend too many calories fueling hours on the bike or treadmill and you will start to affect your bodies ability to synthesise protein massively.
Light cardio can be a useful way of ensuring that the weight you do gain is actually muscle and not fat. It is, however, notoriously difficult to generate increases in lean muscle mass straight off the bat.
You’re better stopping the cardio all together to start with whilst you focus on gaining mass. Something which need a serious calorie surplus in order to achieve. Once you have reached the weight and size that you are happy with, you can increase the cardio and reduce the calorie intake in order to strip away any excess fat you may have accumulated during bulking.
Outside of how you actually train, the exercises you choose, the sets and reps you complete, and the frequency at which you complete sessions, the most important factor in building muscle effectively is how you recover.
1.How You Fuel?
What and when should you be eating in order to maximise your body’s ability to build muscle?
I guess the best place to start is probably with the most studied and debated area of exercise nutrition: protein. How much to consume and when to consume it. Most research suggests that approximately 20g of protein is the most effective dose to ingest in one go. The body can’t absorb much more than this in one hit and any excess is simply excreted as waste.
Somewhere around 0.3g per KG of body weight per meal should be sufficient to help augment muscle hypertrophy.
Generally, most people will choose to consume this protein immediately after their resistance based session and that is as good a time as any to do so. Resistance exercise has been proven to prime the muscle to be responsive to protein intake. There is, however, little evidence to suggest that dosing protein immediately before or even during your session is any less effective.
Consequently, the matter of timing is largely up to you. I like to spread my intake out across a session, normally drinking some of my shake halfway through and leaving the rest until the end.
When it comes to where you get this protein from, the options are varied. If you can get it from naturally occuring foods in enough quantities then great. If not, protein supplementation is a great method of ensuring you’re getting the optimal amounts of quality protein at the right times. Most studies suggest that whey protein is most effective in aiding muscle hypertrophy, particularly in the immediate aftermath of resistance sessions, because it is digested more rapidly than other sources of protein.
There may, however, still be room in your diet for protein sources, which take longer to be digested, such as casein. Studies have, for instance, suggested that this could be beneficial in sustaining protein synthesis over longer periods of time, such as during sleep.
Carbohydrates And Fat
It is not, however, all about protein. One of the most common mistakes people make when they are trying to build muscle is consuming too little carbohydrates and fats. In order to increase muscle mass your muscles must have energy. In order to have energy they must be filled with glycogen, and glycogen comes from CARBOHYDRATES.
In order to maintain these stores of glycogen within your muscles you must consume more carbohydrates than your body uses during your sessions. When you’re trying to gain mass, most research suggests 2-3 grams of carbohydrates per lb of body weight. Generally, provided your carbohydrate intake doesn’t significantly exceed your energy demands you won’t need to worry about gaining fat from carbohydrates.
Fat, believe it or not, is also a key nutrient in muscle building, and is particularly helpful with recovery. Essential fatty acids like omega 3 and 6 help to repair damage to tissues and joints and can be found in foods like fish, flaxseed and walnut oil and soy.
Keeping well hydrated is not just important for your general health. It can also be vital to physical performance and indeed muscle growth.
Even low levels of dehydration can lead to reductions in muscular strength and endurance. In fact, research in the Biochemistry Journal suggests that decreased levels of water results in cell shrinking, causing muscle protein breakdown. Maintaining adequate hydration levels will help to reduce protein breakdown and improve protein synthesis, which is key to building muscle. Moreover, gaining muscle requires good digestion and absorption of macronutrients which is vastly improved when you are properly hydrated.
Sleeping has a profound impact on recovery and is a factor which is often overlooked when considering the best approach to muscle hypertrophy. Research suggests that the body is able to: restore organs, bones, and tissue; replenish immune cells; and circulate human growth hormone. In fact 60% to 70% of daily human growth hormone secretion occurs during the early stages of sleep, which is typically when the deepest sleep cycles occur. Poor quality sleep can, therefore, negatively impact human growth hormone levels.
Whilst sleeping for 8-10 hours per night means your body is without food for an extended period of time, which is counterproductive when it comes to muscle growth, there are ways of negating this. Eating just prior to sleeping, for instance, can help to reverse this process and increase protein synthesis.
There are several ways in which you can improve the quality of your sleep, including:
Increasing your body temperature by having a hot bath or shower immediately before bed should help you drift off.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine at night.
Keep your room reasonably cool as humidity may cause disrupted sleep.
Make evenings relaxed.
Do not watch television or use your smartphone in the hour before you are trying to sleep.
Your Key Takeaways
Focus as much on completing work to fatigue as on the perfect number of reps. Somewhere between 6 and 12 is ideal but the exact number will depend on you. When you get to the end of each set you need to be really struggling to squeeze out those last reps.
Focus on one muscle group per session. 4-6 exercises which put adequate stress on that area of the body.
Train the same muscle group every 3 to 5 days.
Vary the exercises you complete regularly and make sure you hit both single joint and multi joint movements.
Use finishers at the end of your workouts as designated periods to work to complete failure.
Focus as much if not more on the eccentric phase of each of your chosen movements.
Keep to moderate rest intervals- somewhere between 60-90 seconds.
Yes protein is a key ingredient in fueling your body to build muscle. But whatever you do, don’t neglect carbohydrates or fatty acids.
Stay hydrated before, during and after training sessions.
8-10 hours of good quality sleep if you can.
The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training, Brad J Schoenfeld..
Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy Robert W. Morton, Chris McGlory and Stuart M. Phillips * Exercise Metabolism Research Group, Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada