I was working with my client Sarah the other morning and she was telling me about her co-worker who can do 38 push-ups in a minute. It's hard to not get caught up in the comparison trap which will quickly lead to feelings of inadequacy and I could tell Sarah was heading down that rabbit hole (lol bunny pun). Sarah does elevated push-ups from the smith bar and hasn't done a push-up from the floor....... yet. On one level, it's great that this woman can do 38 push-ups, I'm all for supporting my fellow women in our strength endeavors. However I also want to call bullshit. I looked over at Sarah and said "I can't do 38 push-ups either". I'm not ashamed that as a personal trainer I can be so easily out-push-upped because I'm proud of the push-ups I can do. Here's a video of my current max push-ups:
I wonder what Sarah's co-worker's push-ups look like. I see it at the gym every day: hips sagging, neck craning toward the floor, elbows flared and partial range of motion. You could ask, does it matter? I'd say that yes, it does. Doing correct push-ups demonstrates good core stability, shoulder mobility and upper body strength. I am sure there are women out there that can perform 50 beautiful push-ups in a row, but there are many men and women claiming credit for bad reps. If you want to know how your push-ups measure up, the easiest thing to do is to video them. Take a long honest look at the video and if you see some of the form mistakes from below, it may be time to pull back and do an easier version, progressing from there.
In the video on the left, my head is pushing forward, elbows are flared and the core is unstable. On the right, my head is up and my back is arched.
Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.
- Salvador Dali
It could be argued that we often fail at our New Year's Resolutions because we're striving for perfection in our actions/habits/goals and when we don't achieve it we give up, believing that we've failed. Some people won't even try because they know they can't do as well as they'd like to, so they quit before they even get started. What if you started with a resolution and had really really low expectations of yourself?
Try Something You Suck At
It may seem as if there are only 2 ways to go here: all or nothing. I propose a different kind of resolution, one where the journey is the goal and the destination doesn't matter. I'm not going to lie, it's going to be uncomfortable, maybe even scary at times but I promise you'll learn something about yourself and your efforts may cause a ripple effect to other areas of your life. This year I challenge you to do something you suck at.
Recently I've been learning to play the ukulele. I have no experience playing a musical instrument and have yet to find any deeply buried natural talent (I can still hope). I hired an instructor because I was overwhelmed by trying on my own. Every Wednesday I carry that baby blue ukulele up the narrow stairs to my instructor Colin's studio. I sit on his little piano bench and I sweat profusely as I try to play the Beatle's tunes that he's taught me. I'm not kidding about the sweat either, when I get up to leave, I'm paranoid there will be an Iron Bunny shaped ass print on his bench. I really do suck at playing the ukulele, BUT I suck a lot less than I did when I started!
Unlike a traditional New Year's Resolution where I'd be striving for 6-pack abs or to be fluent in Italian, I have no end goal in mind for my ukulele playing. I may eventually achieve mediocrity and that's fine with me. It was more about getting started, challenging myself and being uncomfortable then it is about succeeding. I've learned a few things in the process. I can relate to my clients better when they stand in front of me, shakily attempting their first squat during our fitness assessment. I know what it's like to feel the pressure of expert eyes on you as your perform your novice reps. I know about the sweating. I've always been self conscious about sharing my exercise videos, worried I don't look the part of a trainer or that my form will be critiqued in a very public way. Since braving through those ukulele lessons I've become more willing to take a chance and post more videos. I can even sing along with one of the songs! I have a new found respect for musicians that sing, dance and play at the same time. No one ever needs to hear me sing, but it makes me happy to chirp along while I strum. Here's a clip of me playing "Hide Your Love Away". Even the actual video is lacking in perfection. My hat got tucked behind my ear, the sound is bad, the top of my head is cut off. (Oz makes a cameo, but he is perfect and can do no wrong).
As January 1st approaches, take another look at your resolutions or lack thereof. It may seem unambitious, expecting to aspire to be bad at something, or you might not want to exit your comfy sweatpants and try something new, but one venture into something you suck at could be just what you need to kick ass at 2018.
Fear holds us back from reaching our potential so often in life (which I will touch on in another blog). For the "Do Something You Suck At Resolution" you'll be facing fears of being embarrassed, not doing something perfectly and failing. You'll do it, you'll suck at it and you'll realize "Hey, that wasn't so bad".
It sounds nice right? Just do this specific exercises for 3 sets of 10 and BOOM! 6 weeks to 6-pack abs. Unfortunately our bodies don't work that way and we usually can't crunch our way to a thinner waist. Fat loss is about a calorie deficit aka burning more calories than you consume. Exercise can help you achieve a caloric deficit, it does not, however, dictate where that fat comes from. If you've ever lost even a small amount of weight, you probably noticed it came off in a specific order. Sometimes the first place you'll notice it is in your face and neck. Does this mean that you did special face exercises to slim down your noggin? Much to our dismay or joy, for us ladies we may lose body fat in our chest first. That isn't because we did breast reduction exercises, it's just how the fat loss cookie crumbled.
I could at this moment spout out the beloved personal trainer's cliche "The best exercise for fat loss is pushing away the plate." Of course nutrition plays a HUGE roll in fat loss, however, as promised I will provide you with ACTUAL exercises to increase your caloric deficit and burn some of that stubborn fat.
#1 Compound Exercises
Compound lifts include exercises using more than one joint and multiple muscle groups. For example, a chin-up involves the elbow and shoulder joints, and works your back, shoulders, biceps and core, while a bicep curl involves only the elbow and works mostly the muscles of the biceps. With compound movements you move more weight, engage more muscles and even get that heart rate up higher than with isolation exercises. We're always trying to optimize our time and if you want to make the most of your work out you'll focus on squats, deadlifts, chest presses, rows, chin-ups, overhead presses and lunges to maximize calorie burn.
#2 Combination Exercises
These are brutal...10 reps of squats to overhead presses can turn me into a sweaty puddle on the floor. You won't be able to lift as heavy as with traditional compound movements but you'll be using your whole body with each rep. Some examples include: squat to press, deadlift to row, lunge to curl or overhead press.
Personally I find steady state cardio terribly monotonous, especially when done inside on the gym's cardio equipment. Sprints are a great way to break up the monotony and increase the EPOC. Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption from high intensity bouts of effort can give your metabolism a boost for up to 24 hours after working out. I like to set the treadmill at a 5%-8% incline to simulate a hill and take some pressure off my knees and hips.
You don't have to incorporate all of these exercises in one work out, just make sure they're part of your program if fat loss is your goal. Here is a sample work out that includes a few of each.
The first exercise is a Compound Movement, the rack pull. Perform 4 sets of 5-8 reps resting 1-2 mins between sets. Focus on form while lifting as heavy as you can.
Next you'll move on to a circuit including lighter compounds lifts as well as some combos:
2a) Inverted Rows x 10
2b) Squat to Overhead Press x 10
2c) Single Leg Deadlifts x 10 each side
2d) Renegade Row w/ Push-up x 10
Rest as little as possible between exercises and rest 1-2 mins between full rounds. Complete 4 rounds.
I love to finish work outs with hill sprints on the treadmill. Set the treadmill for a 5%-8% incline, go for a 20 second sprint with 60 seconds of active recovery (slow walking). These sprints are SHORT so you should go for it with the SPEED.
Now go home and have some eggs, spinach and sweet potato because although you did your fat burning work out, abs are made in the kitchen!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
What my clients are saying about me:
"Now that I've worked with Jen I see the value of having a trainer. She helps keep me on track and focused. I'm a busy mom and it's nice to have someone I trust give me my work outs. No more researching workouts in magazines or instagram. I get my own personalized program that works with my schedule and helps me achieve my goals faster."