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3 things you need and didn’t know it

The main reason you exercise is to improve – to improve the way you look, feel and move. Whether you’re playing sport or just wanting to lose a few pounds, these reasons hold true.

The following areas of your body are extremely important and are often neglected in you training routine. They are (in no particular order):

  1. Core strength
  2. Upper back strength
  3. Grip strength

I’ve found in my experience as a personal trainer that the general population lack strength in these key areas of the body.

Let’s quickly analyze why and what you can do about it, so you can get the results you deserve.

  1. Core strength

Have you ever heard a gym goer say “My core strength is awesome.”  I never have. Whenever gym junkies are asked about a weakness they’d like to improve, the answer is often the core.

It’s the core responsibility to protect and stabilize the spine from unwanted movement. The more core strength you have, the better your body operates. You can never get enough of it.

However, a lot of gym goers go about building core strength the wrong way.

They either –

  • Crunch like they’re having some sort of fit and need you to call 911
  • Hold their planks for too long or with poor form
  • Spend too much of their training time sitting down or staring at their mirror muscles
  • Do pointless exercises (hello, triceps kickbacks) and totally skip their core training.

Let’s solve these problems by –

  1. Putting core training into main part of your training and not saving it for last
  1. Adding movement and tension to your core stability exercises

If you looking for crunches, you may as well stop reading now.

  1. RKC FRONT PLANK

This is not your everyday front plank. This is a total body challenge from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Maintaining this plank for longer than 10 seconds calls for your all-out effort.

Watch this demonstrated here.

 Training suggestions

Pair this in a superset with a strength exercise. For example:

1a. Bench press, squat or deadlift

1b. RKC front plank- 10 seconds

Or pair with a cardiovascular exercise for a real heart-pumping experience.

1a. Kettle bell swings 20 reps

1b. RKC front plank 10 seconds

Do this for five-ten rounds and then lie down happily in a pool of sweat.

  1. PULLOVER WITH DEADBUG

Strange name, but this is a highly effective core stability exercise. We’ve all seen those guys doing dumbbell pullovers, hoisting those huge dumbbells while mutilating their low back. Not cool.

If that sounds like you or your friends, stop and do this instead. Adding movement and resistance to your core training is a double whammy you are sure to enjoy.

Watch this performed here.

Training suggestions

This is perfect when paired with an exercise that demands core stability and a neutral spine.   For example:

1a. Squat/deadlift variation

1b. Pullover with deadbug 12 reps (6 on each leg)

On chest and arms day, pairing this exercise with any bench or any overhead press variation works well. For example:

1a. Bench, dumbbell or push press

1b. Pullover with deadbug 12 reps

Now your core will be strong in no time.

  1. Upper back strength 

We live in a look down society. We look down at our smart phones, tablets and computers. We also sit too much and move too little, which is a recipe for disaster when it comes to our upper back strength and posture.

For every inch our ears are forward from our shoulders (forward head posture) you increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. (Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3)

This is bad stuff indeed. It leads to the muscles of the upper back such as the Trapezius and Rhomboids getting weakened and inhibited. Further down the track this can lead to rounded shoulders and ape-like posture.

Upper back strength plays a huge role in the big lifts such as squats, deadlifts, chin ups and even then bench press, so this is a big deal for hardcore gym goers and the everyday desk jockeys.

Just like the core, you cannot get enough upper back strength in my humble opinion.

So how do you go about building it?

Exercises like bent over rows, chest supported rows, Lat pulldowns and pull ups all work great. Doing twice as many of these as pushing exercises is a must.

In addition, consider the following two exercises. Not only do they build upper back strength, the KB rack walk will challenge your core and lungs.

Good times.

  1. KETTLEBELL RACK WALK

Kettlebells are not just for swinging. Holding the bells in the rack position correctly takes a fair amount of upper back and anterior core strength.

Walking with the kettlebells racked only adds to the excitement.

Watch this performed here.

Training suggestions

Pair this with any movement were the upper back takes a prominent role.

For example:

1a. Bench press, any pulling variation or back squats

1b. Kettlebell rack walk 40 yards.

Or try this little finisher

  1. Kettlebell rack walk 40 yards.

Do one walk every minute on the minute.  If one walk takes you 40 seconds, rest 20 seconds before you start your next walk. You can unrack the kettlebells if desired or keep them racked for an extra challenge.

Do five-ten walks or until your upper back is screaming at you.

  1. High rep band pull-aparts. 

Be warned that these don’t tickle, but pull- aparts directly work the muscles in your upper back as well as your rotator cuff and posterior deltoid.

When done for high reps, this helps improve your muscular endurance (important for posture and holding your head up) and provides nice little muscle pumps for your shoulders.

Who isn’t up for that?

Watch proper band pull-apart technique here.

Training suggestions 

On your off days, try to get in 100 reps in a day, doing at least 20 reps at one time. As you get more proficient, do less sets and more reps.

On your training days, this makes for a nice filler exercise while resting between sets on your big strength movement for the day. For example:

1a. Bench press, squat, deadlift or pull up

1b. Band pull a parts 20- 30 reps.

Your shoulders will thank you.

  1. GRIP STRENGTH

Your everyday life requires grip strength and endurance. Think about it, how often do you

  • Pick up something from the ground or overhead and then carry it?
  • Carry in groceries from the car?
  • Open a new jar?
  • Rip open a cardboard box or a packet of your favorite indulgence?

It goes without saying the lifting barbells and dumbbells also require high levels of grip strength. At times it can be the number one limiting factor. You can either grip it or you can’t.

So doesn’t it make sense to train such a vital skill? Hopefully your answer is yes.

  1. FARMERS WALK 

Picking up a heavy weight and walking with it sounds simple enough but it’s a real challenge. This full body exercise not only trains your grip but works on your cardiovascular fitness and mental toughness.

This underrated exercise deserves a prime time spot in your exercise routine.

See it demonstrated here.

Training suggestions 

Pairing this with an exercise that doesn’t require a ton of grip strength is ideal. For example:

1a. Bench press, squat, shoulder press or hip thrust.

1b. Dumbbell farmers walk- 40 yards.

Or you can include this in a core training superset. For example:

1a. Side plank or Front plank variations 30- 60 seconds

1b. Dumbbell farmers walk 40 yards.

After this, opening a jar will be no big deal.

  1. PLATE PINCH 

Did you know we have 34 muscles that move our fingers and thumb? That’s a lot of muscles to neglect.

Our fingers can be incredibly strong – strong enough for some people to climb mountains, while supporting their entire weight at times by a few fingertips.

We give all our other body parts some love (hello, biceps), so why not our fingers?

See the plate pinch performed here.

Training suggestions 

Save this exercise for the end of your training, when you’re looking for some extra bicep work. If your biceps/forearms look anything like mine, do this tri-set two to three times per week.

1a. Dumbbell biceps hammer curl 15- 20 reps

1b. Barbell wrist curls 15-20 reps

1c. Plate pinch (with 5-10 pound plates) to failure on both sides

Repeat this circuit three times with minimal rest in between exercises.

Now these areas will be neglected no more, right? Now get after it and have some fun.

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About Shane McLean

Shane McLean is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer in Dallas Texas. Moved here 12 years ago from Melbourne Australia. Specializing in stability core, strength and mobility programs. The four fundamentals to healthy skeletal health. Shane tailors training's to meet your strength, nutrition, injury management and mobility needs. His motto is "to improve one’s balance, strength and mobility no matter your age."

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