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If I Only Had 20 Minutes to Workout…

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20 Minute Workout

Finding time to work out is one of the biggest challenges I hear people struggle with in their fitness regimens. It’s becoming harder than ever with longer work hours, more traffic and more distractions in our lives. Here is what I would do if I only had 20 minutes to work out.

Why 20 minutes? Because we can all find 20 minutes in our day. Whether we have to get up 20 minutes earlier or spend half of our lunch break working out, everyone has the ability to find 20 minutes for themselves.

If you’re honest, you probably spend more time than that browsing Facebook and watching TV every day. You could easily use that time more effectively.

If I only had 20 minutes to work out I would…

  • Do density training: Density training is a style of training that is most easily described as doing as much work in a given timeframe as possible. The more work completed, the more ‘dense’ your workout is.Set the timer for 20 minutes and do as much work as possible. You could make it as many total reps in the given time, or as many total sets of 5/10/whatever reps. You could set up a circuit and do as many circuits as possible in the given time. There are lots of ways to do density training, but the idea is always to do as much work as possible in the timeframe.From there, you simply aim to do more work in subsequent sessions. Every time you train, try to do more reps/sets/circuits than you did last time. After a few weeks, change the exercises or increase the weight to keep challenging your body and making progress.
  • Do bodyweight training: Bodyweight training is great for a number of reasons. It requires no set-up or equipment, so it’s a good option when you’re pushed for time. Plus, it engages the whole body, so you’re working many muscle groups in each exercise.It lends itself well to density training (or any kind of intense training) because it is safe. You can go to failure and fatigue, without worry of dropping weights on yourself or getting pinned underneath a weight. You will simply get to a point where you can’t lift any more and then stop.This allows you to really push yourself to the max, without the need for a spotter or having to stop a couple of reps short for safety reasons. Over time, those reps add up and will make a big difference to your outcomes.Bodyweight training can also be done just about anywhere. If you have some floor space and a pull up bar, you can get a great workout in. This means you can do it at home, in the park, or just about anywhere else, which is a big bonus if you’re pushed for time.

    You might not be able to find the time to get to the gym, but I guarantee you can find 20 minutes to work out at home every day.

  • Do HIIT – HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is the most ‘bang for your buck’ way of doing cardio that will get you fit and shed body fat quicker than anything else. The best part about it is that you actually can’t do it for more than 20 minutes anyway. You’re not trying to game the system by only doing 20 minutes of HIIT—that is the most you should try to do (possibly much less).Interval training is where you switch between a high intensity ‘work’ phase and a lower intensity ‘rest’ phase. The phases can be divided by time or distance. For example, 20 seconds of sprinting followed by 40 seconds of gentle jogging or rowing 500 meters as hard as you can, then rowing another 500 meters at half the stroke rate.HIIT is most effective when you genuinely go all out on the work phases. Keep them short—under 30 seconds—and give it everything. With a 5 minute warm up and cool down, you can get a killer workout in just 10 minutes doing HIIT.Of course, that’s not an invitation to be lazy because you’re only really working for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes should be so intense that you simply cannot go on any longer. There’s an inverse relationship between intensity and duration. The higher the intensity, the less time you can sustain that workload. Simply up the intensity in all of your training and you can get the same outcome in less time.
  • Superset just 2 key exercises – This is another of my favorite time-poor workouts. Pick 2 key exercises—big , multi-joint, compound exercises that hit all of the different muscles groups. Pair them together and just alternate doing sets of one and then the other. Good exercises to choose could be squats and pull ups, or deadlifts and dumbbell bench press.You can combine this with density training, setting a time period to do as many total reps or sets as possible. You can also do, say 5 sets of 8-10 reps on each, with the most weight you can use and strict rest periods. If you complete 5 sets of 10, increase the weight next time.You really don’t need to do 15 different exercises every time you’re in the gym. Most people would get great results by doing just 6 key exercises, consistently and with intensity. Unfortunately, maintaining consistency and genuinely pushing intensity to the limit is hard. So people look for the ‘perfect plan’ and change their routine all the time, thinking they need to do 17 exercises per body part to get an effective workout. This is simply not the case.

You can get a great workout in a limited amount of time. It just requires the commitment to not let a lack of time stop you, and the desire to work as hard as possible in the time that you do have.

How to Master the Deadlift

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Strong

The deadlift is often called the “king of exercises.”

It’s the movement that uses and builds strength, and there is something about lifting a heavy weight from the floor that is a rush.

However, a lot of people are apprehensive about deadlifting. You might have even heard that it is bad for your back. If you learn how to do it safely and effectively, you’ll be able to use this extremely effective move to build muscle without hurting your back.

Are deadlifts bad for your back?

No.

Bad deadlifts are bad for your back. When done properly, strengthening the back with deadlifts is the best thing you could possibly do.

(Assuming you have no pre-existing injuries)

How often should I deadlift?

Deadlifts are hard on your body.

For a beginner, it’s not much of a problem, since you’re not strong enough to really fatigue yourself. Once you have a little bit of training under your belt, you probably don’t want to deadlift more than once per week.

Depending on the program and your fitness level, you can do more if you keep it fairly light and don’t push the intensity. If you are going heavy and doing low reps, once per week max.

How many sets/reps should I do?

There is really no reason to train using singles. That is training your ego, not your body.

Doing a max is for testing and you shouldn’t be doing it more than once every 12 weeks.

How many sets and reps you do depends entirely on what else you incorporate into your workout and what your training goals are.

Start with 3 sets of 5 reps and slowly add weight until you can’t lift with good form. You will continue to get stronger and add muscle following this simple program, until you’re ready to increase your reps, as well as weight.

Will deadlifts add muscle, or just strength?

Deadlifts are the best exercise for adding overall strength to the body, but they are great for adding muscle to the posture chain and upper back, too, especially if you do higher reps, or controlled eccentrics to increase time under tension.

How do I get the most out of my deadlifts?

  • Get set in a strong start position with your back flat and lungs full of air, feet hip distance apart or slightly wider. Create tension throughout the body. Shoulders pulled back, abs tight and hamstrings engaged.
  • Take the tension or slack out the bar before you lift it. Don’t yank at it, or the bar will flex before it leaves the ground. If you do not have some tension in the bar by pulling on it before you lift it from the floor, it will pull you out of position.
  • Use your legs to push the floor away. Don’t lift the bar with your upper body. The deadlift does not start from the hips or back; it starts from the knees extending as you push the feet down. This will be the strongest position to break the floor, and will keep your body in a strong, safe position.
  • The bar should be as close to you as possible at all points of the movement. Start with it touching your shins or at most an inch away. Wear long socks if you don’t want to cut your shins on the way up.
  • The movement should be smooth throughout. Don’t rush. If the bar is moving slowly, let it move slowly, rather than trying to hitch it and jerk around. Slow and smooth is better and safer than jerky movements.
  • Treat every set like a heavy set. This is true of every exercise, but deadlifts especially. When you are warming up, do not ‘just pick it up’ because it’s light. Go through the same set up, sequencing and effort that you would if it were heavy. This gets you accustomed to the positions, the motor pattern and warms the nervous system up to exert maximum force.
  • Finish with your hips, not your back. It’s very common to see people finish deadlifts by leaning back. Extending the lower back is not a safe or effective way to complete a deadlift. Your finish position should be straight up and down, with shoulders aligned over hips. If you’re leaning back, you are using your lower back.Forget about moving the shoulders backwards. Focus on moving the hips forward. Extend the hips by squeezing the glutes until your upper thighs meet the bar.
  • If you’re going to control the bar on the way down, make sure you don’t exhale at the top and lose all of the tension in your core. If you’re dropping the weight it won’t matter, but if you are lowering it down with control, make sure your muscles are engaged and that you have tension in the core to protect your spine.
  • When you lower the weight, maintain the same movement pattern as you do when you lift it. That means hips go back and the bar stays as close to the body as possible. Do not just bend over forwards, letting gravity and the weight of the bar pull you.

Everyone should master the deadlift. It’s the best exercise available for building strength, muscle and improving posture. However, make sure you are doing it safely and correctly. Hire a personal trainer or other professional for a session to show you how to do it if you don’t feel confident.

While it’s fun to lift as much as possible, it is not the most effective way to train. Sensible programming will ensure you stay safe, and continue to make progress for a long time to come.

Why and How to Cross Train

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Cross Train

When you love a certain workout or exercise, you want to do it pretty much every day. While it’s always great to have an activity you love, focusing too much on one exercise can lead to burnout, injury and plateau. One way to prevent those things is by adding cross training to your regular workout routine.

What is Cross Training?

Cross training is a workout regimen that uses different types of exercises to supplement your usual routine. There are a three kinds of cross training—strength training, flexibility training and endurance training. Strength training will help you build muscle and get stronger, while flexibility training will help improve your mobility. Endurance training will increase your stamina in just about any sport or exercise.

How does cross training benefit me?

Cross training has tons of benefits for all kinds of athletes. The number one reason most people cross train is to prevent injury. Doing the same workout over and over again can cause an overuse injury. By giving your body a break from the same repetitive motions, you can help your recovery while building strength, endurance or flexibility with another activity.

Taking up a new exercise as a part of cross training can also improve your performance. Instead of only focusing on cardio day after day, adding a couple days a week of strength training will help build muscles that will make doing your cardio exercises a little easier. By adding flexibility training to your strength routine, you’ll have a greater range of motion when you lift and will be less sore as you continue to stretch your muscles.

You can also use cross training as an active recovery day. Instead of spending your rest or recovery day sitting on the couch, you can actually recover better by doing some light cross training activities.

Cross training also gives you the chance to try something new. Maybe you thought yoga was only for vegans or people who wanted to meditate, but if you give it a try, you might find a new activity that you really enjoy.

What Kinds of Things Can I Do to Cross Train?

Anything that works a different component of fitness than your normal routine can be used to cross train. If you normally do a lot of running, you can try a spin class to work your lower body in new ways or swim some laps for a full body workout. You can also try the elliptical for a workout that’s less stressful on your knee and ankle joints.

If you want to improve your endurance and increase your stamina, try doing a long, moderately paced cardio workout such as running or swimming once a week. Endurance isn’t sport specific, and increasing your cardiovascular endurance in one sport will help with your stamina in other areas as well.

To get stronger and build muscle, adding strength training to your routine is a must. You can do simple body weight exercises, use free weights or hit the weight machines. Rowing machines are another great way to build strength, since they work your whole body, as well as giving you a great cardiovascular workout.

For those looking to improve their flexibility, a yoga or Pilates class is a great option. There are many different kinds of yoga classes that each focus on different ways of moving. Be warned, though, it can be a strength workout as well. Stretching machines and foam rollers are other flexibility training options.