WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Short on Time? Hit These Three Lifts

The standing press is a great one to incorporate, whether you're in a rush or trying to hone upper-body strength.

The standing press is a great one to incorporate, whether you’re in a rush or trying to hone upper-body strength.

You need to work out, but you don’t have time for a comprehensive, all-encompassing session full of time-consuming, single-joint movements to complement your other lifts, or you can’t do a dedicated muscle group day. Not a problem. You can always do three staple lifts without missing a beat.

DEADLIFTS: There’s hardly a more functional, muscle-engaging exercise than the deadlift; some even rank it above the squat — consider your every-day life, and how often you might bend over to pick something up, compared to getting under it and putting it on your back. Glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, back and more — the deadlift will make you work hard and is one of the best time investments you can make in the gym.

You can get the most benefit from the deadlift by treating it as a training-for-function exercise, which means you’re going to go heavy. 5×5 is a great classic set-rep scheme that gets you enough reps while challenging enough for each one to make it worth your while.

PULL-UPS: Pull your body through space until your chin is above the bar. It could hardly sound easier, and yet, pull-ups still remain one of the most basic and best back and arm exercises you can perform. Targeting the lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps and delts, the pull-up is a true, natural test of your strength. When you’re crunched for time, you can hardly do better than banging out a few sets of these.

Because they’re difficult, and because everyone’s weight and strength levels aren’t always in accordance, it can be a bit too tough to try to pull of 3 or 4 sets of 10-12. Definitely shoot for that, but if your arms give out before your back does, find an assisted pull-up machine that helps displace some of your body weight. As a last resort, you can use the pull-down machine.

STANDING PRESS: Take weight. Lift it above your head. Hold it there like a trophy. On top of just looking cool, the standing press is a staple of upper-body strength and utility. Engaging the shoulders, back, upper chest and core, the standing press can allow for big gains in short order when done properly.

Any number of sets and reps totaling 24-30 reps is ideal, but keep the weight safe. You should be able to start with the bar on the floor, or in a hang clean position. A personal favorite set-rep scheme that allows for the heavier end is 4×6 or 3×8, but you could lighten it up and go 3×10-12 as well. If you really want to test your endurance, shoot for 4-10 (and go significantly lighter).

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Skip Curls, Build Your Biceps

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Everyone wants impressive biceps — but are curls the best way to get them?

If there’s one image that’s synonymous with what novices think of when they think of weight lifting, it’s the figure of a python-armed bodybuilder curling a dumbbell. The biceps are the premier glamour muscle of the entire body — an eye-popping pair of upper arms is usually one of the first things people notice when they take in the sight of an in-shape person (who has a shirt on, anyway).

Functionally speaking, though, your biceps really don’t do much on their own. Outside of the gym, when was the last time you used only your upper arms to move or lift something? If it was heavy, you were recruiting your back muscles and forearms; if it was lighter, you probably didn’t need to use a curling motion in any form whatsoever. People joke about “12 oz. curls,” but seriously: Name another day-to-day movement that involves simply bending at the elbow to lift an object about a foot?

You can still build big, strong upper arms without donating a bunch of time to curls. Do you have to? Of course not. If you really enjoy wrecking your biceps once or twice a week, don’t let us stop you. But if you’d like to be a little more efficient, consider these alternatives that will not only tax your biceps, but do so functionally.

Pull Your Weight. Literally — just do pull-ups. Your grip and hand placement determine how you’re hitting your biceps on this classic movement, and it’s one of the most functional there is. Trying to build up your biceps peak? Close, reverse grip pull-ups will do the trick.

Want to simulate a reverse curl, to hit the whole biceps area and recruit your forearms, too? Standard-width overhand chins are the ticket. Even Hammer curls are bested by a neutral-grip pull-up.

The top reason people tend to avoid back movements like chin-ups and pull-ups is that, they argue, the back is doing all the work. Wrong. The larger muscles in the body will always tire well after the smaller ones, and there is no comparison between the orange-sized biceps and massive slabs of muscle the back makes up — in other words, your grip, forearms and biceps will all fail before your back does. The weak link in any chain is the first to break down — meaning that in doing pulling exercises to build your arms, your lats, traps, rear deltoids and rhomboids are all working as “backup” (sorry, we had to say it) as your biceps do the work. Once they’re tired, your back takes over fully, up to the point that your grip simply won’t allow it.

Bottom line: Curls will get you bigger biceps. Real, functional pulling movements will get you bigger, stronger biceps.

What Workout Gear Is Really Necessary?

We’ve all seen this guy at the gym: He lifts everything with a weight belt, has the latest cooling-technology shirt and moisture-wicking socks, uses hand wraps for just about every pulling exercise, points out you have the “wrong shoes” for a certain exercise and opens up a gym bag with enough bottles, shakers and potions to start his own pharmacy.

iPod? Check. Beats by Dre headphones? Check. Pulse-monitoring watch? You know it. Phone with workout tracker on it? Obviously. Those weird Vibram FiveFingers shoes? Gah.

This is the “Bionic Gymgoer.”

He is most likely wasting a lot of money.

We know fitness has become an industry, but we still like to think of it as a lifestyle — it’s a way of being and doing that benefits your health. The focus should always be, first and foremost, on how your body and mind are responding to exercise and nutrition when it comes to fitness. Everything else is ancillary.

This week, our goal is to take a look at some of the best and worst investments you can make in gym equipment: The essentials, the new ideas that could really be helpful, and the items you shouldn’t waste your time with. Follow along on this post as we update it throughout the week!

Before getting into any of this, let’s throw in this caveat: It’s all about what makes you comfortable and what gets you results. Ultimately, if you really want to wear a back brace for your forearmcurls, we can’t stop you.

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Water bottle: File that under gym equipment you actually do need.

We’ll begin with our first “must-have”: CLEAN, comfortable clothes.

Notice the emphasis on “CLEAN.” (We did it again there, just to be clear.) This is a two-fold operation: 1) You should pick clothing that doesn’t encumber your movements or cause any kind of discomfort. This benefits you. 2) You should pick clothing that you don’t have to “smell-test” to make sure it’s OK. And for crying out loud, don’t put on anything from the laundry hamper. Yes, gyms can smell. But as you’ve certainly experienced, there’s a difference between a good sweat and a stink-bomb of B.O.

The ideal choice: Lightweight, well-fitting athletic gear and good-quality cotton socks. You don’t want to be hitching up loose shorts or drowning in an ill-fitting shirt as you exercise. Another great investment, especially for men, is compression shorts. Do one set of crunches or flutter kicks in loose shorts and boxers, and you’ll know why.

Do you really need a music player? This one’s debatable. Personally, I’ve gotten great results at times where I just got sick of strapping on the iPod every single day and just went to the weight room with nothing in my head but the focus on the task at hand. In the mind, you can really get a lot done when all you’re concentrating on is your workout. That said…

If you train at a commercial gym, there’s always the chance that they’ll play their own music, and if the person in charge of the station or playlist has iffy taste in workout music, you could very well be stuck trying to hit your squat max while Justin Bieber is singing. And nobody wants that. In scenarios like this, having your own, personally selected music is invaluable, and for many, it’s the difference between a focused gym session and a distracted one. Opt for something as simple as possible (a Nano or Shuffle is great) and preload it with songs you know you won’t be skipping or groaning about every time they come on. And if you do decide to use your cell phone as a music player, remember to turn off your notifications. A text or call while you’re lifting is a royal pain.

A water bottle. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But the line at the water fountain at the gym confirms it: Many people forget this simple but critical piece of gym equipment.

One of the reasons we’re always throwing bottles in free with purchases is that they are absolutely crucial for delivering nutrition to your body when the luxury of a glass and a fountain isn’t there, even if the nutrition is only H2O. We like filling up a bottle with BCAAs and sipping on it during a workout for continuous muscle-building and replenishment, something you just don’t get if you go in to the weight room without one. The other aspect of trying to exercise without a ready supply of water is, obviously, dehydration. You need to stay hydrated during intense workout periods, and if you’re taking 2 minutes at a time to walk to the water fountain, you’re risking sacrificing your workout intensity with prolonged rest periods. Compare that to a high-tempo workout, where your rest period is just as long as it takes to take a draw off your water bottle — we’re all about efficiency.

It’s about as low-tech as you can get when it comes to gym equipment, but it’s necessary. And like we said before, when we’re throwing them in with purchases, often for free, it’s tough to beat the price. There’s really no excuse to not bring a bottle to the gym with you.

downloadChalk. This one’s more debatable than the first three, but in our eyes, there’s no better way to ensure you’re getting your most effective workouts possible. Chalk is cheap, it works just as well as straps without destroying your grip strength and it looks cool (ignore that last part).

There’s a school of thought when it comes to grip strength and just how important it is, and it’s one we can easily get behind: You are as strong as your grip says you are. In other words, if you can’t grip something, then no, you can’t really lift it in a real-life application. This applies to the gym, too — yes, you could use straps or hooks or any other kind of grip-neutralizing apparatus you can think of, but why sacrifice? Chalk up your hands instead, and build up a vice-like grip on whatever weight you’re handling. And investing in your own isn’t expensive — just throw a block in a plastic bag and off you go. That way you’re not sharing with the whole sweaty gym. Gross.

THE NOT-SO-NECESSARY

There are some gadgets out there that we admit are pretty cool. Still…we can’t in good conscience put them under the “must-haves” list. Simply put, unless you’re swimming in cash, you really don’t absolutely need these to get results.

Heart rate monitors are a nice tool, in theory. For those who are exercising solely for cardiovascular health purposes, in fact, we’d consider throwing them in the category above. For everyone else, though, they aren’t totally necessary. Most of the time, you can “feel out” your cardio effort in degrees, and match it to your goals. And you can do this without constantly checking back to a screen, writing down what you see and then adjusting again. For those of you distance runners who like to rely solely on your aerobics for your training, forget we said anything — you probably can put these to good use.

A watch. Assuming it’s a digital sport watch, we can make enough excuses to justify bringing one along if you had to. They’re great for timing your rest periods, or sets where you have to hit a certain time (you’d be amazed at how slowly or quickly you can count off seconds while planking). They can also give some extra motivation if you have a time frame you have to get your workout squeezed into. They can also be a distraction as you adjust them, twisting them around so they don’t interfere with a wrist movement, taking it off so it doesn’t get in the way, etc. Nice to have with you? Sure. Just pick one that won’t be the focus of your workout and you’ll be fine.

DITCH IT

Leave your phone at home. Or in your locker. Or on silent, in your bag. The No. 1 way to derail your workout plan is to let distractions take over, and today, your cell phone is a primary distraction. There are examples where you might need to bring it — you’re expecting an important call while you train, or you use your phone as your music player. In that scenario, find the “do not disturb” mode and let your Pandora do the work. But in most cases, your cell phone doesn’t belong in the weight room.

Specialized “five-toe” shoes. Vibram’s FiveFingers enjoyed a bit of celebrity status for awhile, touted for potential health benefits and comfort. And then people started doing research, and suddenly they noticed that customers weren’t seeing those benefits the way they thought they would. Furthermore, Vibram then settled a class-action lawsuit for $3.75M to make it go away (they do deny that they advertised falsely). The point is, when it comes to your training, use shoes designed for your activity: Running shoes are still great for you cardio buffs, a good cross-trainer is an excellent choice for all-around training (some are flat-soled, even, which can be a bonus), or just stick to good, old Chuck Taylors for your off-the-floor heavy training.

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Mix In Goblet Squats

Whatever your reason for wanting a new leg exercise — injury, change of pace, a new way to look awesome — goblet squats are a great addition to your workout routine as either a staple movement or a throw-in from time to time.

Similar to a front squat in terms of weight distribution, the goblet squat differs from other forms of the squat in one regard: You hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you like, well, a giant chalice (or goblet).

The benefits of the goblet squat are many. It helps improve your overall squat form when done correctly, improves balance through the movement with repetition and builds up the core stability and leg strength you’d want from a squatting movement. It also provides a greater range of motion than a standard back squat can, given where the weight is.

Take a wide stance (about a step beyond shoulder width on each side, though you can go even wider), and focus on squat fundamentals — chest out, butt out, shoulder blades squeezed together, head neutral — but instead of climbing under a bar, you’ll simply hoist your weight up to about chest level. If you’re using a dumbbell, use both hands to “cup” (GET IT?) the top head of the weight. If you’re using a kettlebell, simply grab either side of the handle.

As with a normal squat, start the movement with your hips, control it on the way down, and explode up, driving from the heels. Since you’re using a lighter load than normal, it’s a good idea to go for higher rep ranges (at least 10) on goblet squats; there’s no big benefit for going ultra-heavy here — if you’re a heavy squatter, you can do these with a decent weight as a form corrector, but you’re probably better off to keep your big numbers in the rack and on your back.

The great thing about goblets is that they’re difficult to get injured with; if the weight is ever too heavy, you can just drop it in front of you. Just remember to keep your head neutral and back flat, as you would with a regular squat.

Nathalie Gained 7 Pounds of Muscle With NUTRISHOP’s Help!

Nathalie 3Nathalie Fernimen, 40, has always been into fitness, but decided she wanted to take it to another level.

NUTRISHOP CDA’s Transformation Challenge earlier this year was the kick-start she needed.

“I’ve always been into exercising and staying in shape, but the guys at NUTRISHOP really helped me transition into a different league,” Nathalie says. “My whole issue was that I’ve always trained, and trained hard, but I’ve never seen really big gains from anything.”

One discussion with certified, knowledgeable NUTRISHOP employees cleared things up. They told her about the Challenge, and with that motivation, plus their knowledge, advice and help, Nathalie stuck with a brand-new diet plan and got the best results she’d ever seen.

She gained more muscle mass, and found that she simply wasn’t eating enough. At the end of the Challenge, Nathalie had put on seven pounds of muscle and dropped 3.5 percent of her body fat in the three months the Challenge ran. Some days were harder than others – she travels with her girls a lot on the weekends for sports, so weekends were difficult for her – but Monday through Friday were nothing but hard work.

“During the week, I was religious with it,” she says. “I trained five days a week, at least, kept my diet strong on those days and really saw a big difference.”

She also saw a difference in how NUTRISHOP handled her as a customer. She’d shopped all over before, looking for supplements and fitness and nutrition help. None were like NUTRISHOP.

“The difference with NUTRISHOP is the fact they are very welcoming,” Nathalie says. “They’re just really friendly, very welcoming and they make you feel at home. If you have any questions they’re there to answer them. It almost feels like a family, just a great atmosphere. Toby’s chosen good people for his staff and they’re there to help you out, and that’s what kept me coming back.”

NathalieThe staff even helped her out with motivation, getting her over the speed bumps in her diet where she was certain she couldn’t do the work necessary to keep healthy food available at all times. For example, she’d go into the store, say “I can’t do this anymore,” and instead of letting her throw in the towel, they’d share stories — about their traveling competitions and how they would pack coolers and bags of food, just to stick with their diets.

“It made me realize that there’s no reason I can’t do it. They’d challenge me that way, and I could do it,” Nathalie says. “They kept me on track, so I’d go in more often to keep myself motivated.”

Great job, Nathalie!

On the Go? Meal Replacements Are a Must

You can plan out the perfect diet and make sure you’re hitting the gym regularly, but one of the more overlooked aspects of putting together a successful fitness plan is time — for many of us, there’s just not enough of it.

Even the best-laid plans can be torpedoed by a hectic schedule. Meal prepping is great, as bodybuilders and athletes alike will tell you. But when you’ve got places to go, or just a minute or two to eat, it’s not always feasible to eat a high-protein meal. And that’s where meal replacements (or MRPs) come in.

This week we want to give you a few options on MRPs that can keep you building muscle, even when you don’t have time to cook up a chicken breast or tilapia fillet. In truth, most of the time, you’re really only a shaker cup or health bar away from providing your body with adequate nutrition between meals. But first, let’s examine why it’s so important to eat every few hours.

Nutrition and Metabolism article, published in 2012, showed a study examining the important of not just total protein eaten throughout the day, but the importance of frequency of protein intake. Basically, the study showed that eating protein every three hours would yield better results than any other timing interval:

 We conclude that the pattern of ingested protein, and not only the total daily amount, can impact whole-body protein metabolism. Individuals aiming to maximize NB would likely benefit from repeated ingestion of moderate amounts of protein (~20g) at regular intervals (~3h) throughout the day. (Source)

So, with that knowledge, stay tuned this week as we give you some great ideas for filling in those gaps between sit-down meals with the proper calories and protein levels you need to build muscle and lose fat.

  • Athletes put on serious muscle with Gainer7, but it also is a great choice as a healthy meal replacement.

    Athletes put on serious muscle with Gainer7, but it also is a great choice as a healthy meal replacement.

    GAINER 7:  The bottom line for you if you want to add muscle is this: YOU MUST EAT. Many hard gainers make the common mistake of undereating because they don’t want to gain body fat, a reasonable concern. However, take into consideration that you are skinny for a reason! You’re blessed with a fast metabolism and the amount of calories will almost never be an issue as long as the quality of calories is premium. If you’re serious about adding muscle, your workouts will be so intense and you’ll gain enough muscle that you won’t gain significant levels of fat, and that just leaves you with the task of using food for building material. Muscle just doesn’t come from thin air — new tissue needs to come from a source. It’s food, in the form of quality proteins, fats and carbs.

    What GAINER 7 does is provide quality calories in high quantity, making it not just perfect for muscle-building athletes to consume after an intense workout, but also great in a pinch as a meal replacement. Up to 54 grams of protein, 700 calories and 108 grams of carbs (just 7 of them as sugar) make GAINER 7 a smart choice for athletes who need to get some calories in a hurry to break the fast between meals while also providing the protein and nutrients necessary to rebuild muscle and recover.

  • PRO7EIN SYNTHESISSimilar to GAINER 7, PRO7 is a Vitasport shake that delivers fast nutrition in the time it takes to fill up a shaker bottle. The difference is in your goals — if you’re looking to lose fat in a hurry while still building lean muscle mass, PRO7 is a fantastic choice as a meal replacement.With seven different types of protein, all at different absorption rates, PRO7 ensures that you get a quick delivery of muscle-building protein between meals and also sets your body up for anabolic activity for hours to come. You can pair PRO7 with a piece of fruit or a bowl of instant oats, for example, if you are running late in the morning and need a quick breakfast option; PRO7 mixed in fat-free milk right before bed makes for an outstanding anabolic nighttime snack.

    NUTRISHOP recognizes that PRO7 is indeed a popular choice for snacking, and with good reason. The hardest thing about making healthy choices between meals is time (this is why fast food has always made such a killing, right?). NUTRISHOP can provide small canisters and the shaker bottles for you to take on the go to fight that problem!

  • dcc_3dstorerenders_v2_250_compQUEST BARS: In a pinch, nothing’s more convenient for fast nutrition than simply unwrapping a protein bar. The problem with most is that they’re loaded with fillers and unnecessary calories and sugars. You’ll notice NUTRISHOP loads up on one brand in particular though – Quest Bars are among the best choices you can make if you need to go the pre-packaged route. With just 1g of sugar and 20g protein – not to mention 16 g of fiber! – this is a great, nutritionally sound product to have between meals or even as a dessert or snack. Plus, the multitude of available flavors means that you can add some variety to your healthy diet.