Exercises You Should Be Doing: Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Over the last 6-8 months I have really changed the way that I train. I still perform my fair share of bilateral lower body movements but I have also started to add in as much single leg training as I can. One of my favorite single leg exercises is the rear foot elevated split squat (Bulgarian Split Squat in many circles). I must confess when I first started adding the RFESS into my program I almost bailed on it within the first couple of weeks, not because I thought exercise wasn’t for me or that it was useless, but because of the difficulty. The weight I was using was humbling and I really took a hit to the ego.

Fast forward to present day and I’m pretty happy I stuck with the RFESS. The weight I am using on the RFESS has gone up dramatically and the weight that I am using on bilateral lower body movements has also seen a nice little increase. I also feel that the single leg training has also improved some muscle imbalances that I previously had due to an ACL reconstruction a few years ago.

So what’s the point of all this? Everyone should incorporate single leg movements into their program. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or a jogger, single leg movements like the RFESS will only enhance your current training and lower body strength. Here’s a quick guide to performing the RFESS:

First you need to be able to master the split squat. For most healthy and younger individuals this shouldn’t be much how an issue. However, if performing the split squat correctly ends up being an issue, you need to correct that issue before you can move on to the rear foot elevated version of the split squat. In this video the split squat is done simply with bodyweight and then loaded with dumbbells and finally a barbell.

Once you have been able to successfully perform a split squat you can move on to the rear foot elevated version. In this version there is an added element of stabilization due to the fact that you only have one foot supported your weight. With more weight being stabilized by the front foot and less on the back foot, the movement has become a notch tougher than the regular split squat.

The great thing about the RFESS is that you can load it in an endless amount of ways. If a barbell is your weapon of choice, you can go with the traditional back squat bar position as seen in the previous video or move it into a front squat positioning. If dumbbells are your weapon of choice, you can hold the dumbbells at your side or you could use them in a goblet squat positioning. You could also load the RFESS with a weight vest or even with chains if you want to feel hardcore. And, if you really want to have some fun, you could load the movement in a typical back squat position with chains attached to each end of the barbell, varying the amount of weight as more links of the chain come on and are lifted off the floor.

And finally, if you really want to challenge yourself give RFESS jumps a try. Chances are you won’t even need to add any added weight to make these extremely hard. This is admittedly a progression that I am still working to get to.

Don’t make the same mistake as I did and overlook the benefits of the RFESS and add it into your program ASAP. You may find it extremely difficult at the beginning for various reasons, but once you become more familiar and comfortable with the exercise you’ll see nothing but positive changes in your physique and performance.

Hump Day Reading to Get You Through the Day

We all know how fun a long day at work can be, especially come when you realize its still just mid-week, so here’s a little reading to keep you busy while trying to get through another day.

Read More by Michael Boyle

The article has little to do with fitness and more to do about being successful in whatever path you choose in life. Mike even gives a handful of books that have influenced his career in running on of the most successful training facilities in the entire country.

Exercise Variety by Ben Bruno

Ben started writing a little more these days and I have been a pretty big fan of most everything he has put his name to so far. In my opinion people do stick to exercise programs long enough and jump ship after a couple of weeks and not seeing drastic changes to their bodies. Ben does a great job trying to set things straight.

40 Years in the Fitness Industry Part I by Dan John

40 Years in the Fitness Industy Part II by Dan John

Dan John has been around the strength & conditioning field for some time now and offers up a ton of info about things he learned throughout that time. Great read.

Tony Gentilcore on the Leg Press

Finally a great article on the leg press and how useless it is for most people. Anyone that reads a lot of Tony’s work knows a couple things…A) hes a pretty funny/sarcastic guy, and B) he’s freakin’ smart!

5 Ways to Increase Gym Productivity

We’re all busy, but that’s no excuse for not making time for the gym. Here are 5 easy tips to getting you in and out of the gym and be productive while there.

1) Have a Plan

 I can’t tell you how many times I see someone in the gym waste a ton of time because they have no idea what they want to do. I literally finish half my workout while these people are still debating over what they want to do. Before you walk into the gym, have a plan. You’ll get there, do what you need to do, and get out.

2) Stop Socializing

 At the gym I currently go to there is a certain guy that spends 90% of his time talking to everyone else in the gym and/or talking on his cell phone. The guy spends hours in the gym everyday when he could get in and out in a half hour with the amount of actual working out that he does. Unless you have all the time in the world and no other commitments throughout the day, you don’t need to find out every detail about everyone’s day that’s in the gym at the time. I personally always have my IPod with me, yet I very rarely ever have it turned on. However, people see my ear buds in and rarely try to start a conversation with me (see how smart I am). 

3) Super Setting

This one is pretty simple but it can be very effective. Instead of performing an exercise and then waiting around for a couple of minutes before doing another set, pair or superset the exercise with a second exercise. For example, if you’re doing some type of pushing exercise (i.e. bench press) pair it with some type of pulling exercise (i.e. chin ups) or even pair it with some type of core exercise like a plank or a Pallof press. Now you’ve knocked off two exercises in the same time frame as you normally would have finished one exercise.

4) Eliminate Useless Exercises

One way to become more productive and make every minute count when you’re in the gym is to eliminate all the crap. Long cardio sessions on the elliptical (talking to you girls), the adductor and abductor machine (still talking to you girls), the leg press, biceps curls (for all the bro’s out there), and many more exercises. Instead of long cardio sessions, try some interval training or make your lifting a cardio session by doing some circuits. Instead of relying on the adductor/abductor machine and the leg press to build some lean and muscular legs, how bout squatting, whether it be a front squat, traditional back squat, goblet squats, or even some rear foot elevated split squats. And if that entire gym session you dedicate to biceps curls isn’t workout out well for you (guys), maybe focus on some bodyweight exercises like pull ups and chin ups or even some type of rowing exercise…trust me, it’ll be just as effective as those curls for building your biceps.

5) Find a Training Partner

Maybe the best way to make a gym session more effective is to find someone to train with. I typically train alone, but when I train with someone else I always have a better workout. A partner will push you to finish that last rep that you wouldn’t have otherwise and could introduce you to some exercises that you aren’t familiar with. Furthermore, I always like training with someone who is stronger than me in a certain area. I’m not a great squatter and training with someone who is always motivates me, no one wants to be that weakling. And if nothing else, having a training partner can motivate you to show up so you don’t leave them hanging, and showing up is half the battle.

Exercises You Should Be Doing: Chin Ups

One of my favorite exercises, whether you are a weekend warrior trying to get in better shape or an athlete, is the chin up. Hopefully the chin up hasn’t been overlooked in your training program, though I fear it has. I rarely see people performing a chin up, while I regularly see them performing the much less effective lat pull-down, an exercise that doesn’t give near the bang for the buck as the chin up (not to say there isn’t a time and a place for a lat pull-down).

Another obvious reason that people tend to stay away from the chin up is because of its difficulty…many beginners can’t even do a single unassisted chin up correctly. However, the chin up has so many benefits that no matter what your training goals are or what your training level is, chins are an obvious choice. Chin ups are one of the best muscle building exercises for the entire back and great for shoulder health, something that many people suffer from whether they are aware of it or not due to slaving over a hot computer all day. Chin ups can help to balance out the effects of the bench press and other pressing exercises which will only improve shoulder health.           

Chin Up

The chin up can also be very versatile depending on your training goals. If you are looking to improve your strength, chin ups can be done in a lower rep range (i.e. 4-6) with an added external load or with your own bodyweight if your chin up strength isn’t where you want it to be. On the other end of the spectrum, if your goals are more hypertrophy based, a higher rep range (i.e. 8-12) with your own bodyweight can be done if you are strong enough or band assisted if you need the extra help to reach the higher reps.

Weighted Chin Up

Band Assisted Chin Up

Enjoy!

Supplements That Are Actually Useful: Whey Protein

Unfortunately 95% of supplements on the market are nothing but a scam and that may even be an understatement. Companies market supplements in so many ways, giving you all these crazy claims as well as before and after pictures that lure you in and get you to drop all your hard earned money…and the scary part is it more often than not it works. On the other end of the spectrum, there are actually some supplements that are beneficial and worth investing some money in. One of these supplements is whey protein.

There are numerous benefits to supplementing with whey protein. One benefit is simply getting ample amounts of protein per day. Most nutritionist will tell you that athletes/bodybuilders/powerlifters consume more protein than they need while the general population doesn’t consume enough protein on a daily basis. Furthermore, whey protein supplements are also very convenient and a quick source of nutrients when you’re in a time crunch (which we all are these days), a much better option than stopping at the drive through at your favorite fast food joint or grabbing some junk at a convenience store.

Then there are the benefits of consuming whey protein for people performing strength training and/or working out. Most studies have concluded that whey protein following exercise can help enhance the muscle hypertrophy response to strength training in healthy adults by increasing protein synthesis, allowing your muscles to come back bigger and better the next time you hit the weights or go for a run.

Finally, whey protein is flat out good for your health, whether you perform any type of exercise or not. In a recent study it was reported that after 12 weeks of supplementation with whey protein, overweight and obese individuals saw a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL as well as fasting insulin levels compared to casein protein and/or a placebo group.

Bottom line; whey protein is a supplement that anyone and everyone can benefit from. Start adding it to your diet today!

Reference

Pal, S., Ellis, V. & Dhaliwal, S. Effects of whey protein isolate on body composition, lipids, insulin and glucose in overweight and obese individuals. Br J Nutr 104: 716-723. 2010

Core Training 101

As I walked into the gym the other day I overheard the “bro’s” talking this and that about ab/core training. I wasn’t really paying all that much attention to what they were saying because when I do I typically can’t get over how stupid they are but that’s not really the point of this post. The real problem issue was after their ab pow-wow I had to watch them do endless crunches and sit ups followed by an hour on the elliptical all while getting a few good looks at themselves in the mirror along the way. I’ve already covered the cardio aspect of getting lean and/or staying lean HERE so I’m not going to go in-depth on any of that again as I stand by everyone I wrote in that post.  However, I am going to provide you with a few new tools in your toolbox to build that core so you aren’t one of those “bro’s” that sees zero results from the endless crunches yet continues to hammer away at them.

One of my favorite exercises is a simple plank. Sometimes I wonder if people overlook the plank because of its simplicity and the fact that there really isn’t anything exciting about the plank, but whatever the case people are missing out. With your elbows in-line with your shoulders, raise your hips off the ground while keeping your spine in neutral alignment and simply hold the position. Work your way up to 2-3 sets of 60 seconds a couple of times a week. Chances are you won’t be able to get a full 60 seconds but do what you can and try to beat or match that time the next time you do some planks. In reality you don’t even need to go to a gym to do this, you could simply do a set or two during the commercials of your favorite sitcom or reality show.

Plank

Once you’ve reached the point where the normal plank variation has become easy you can add a level of difficulty by performing a plank with your feet elevated on a bench or on the couch if you plan on doing them at home.

Feet Elevated Plank

Another one of my favorite exercises is the Pallof press or belly press, an exercise that I came across and started doing about a year ago. The Pallof press is pretty straight forward. With a slight bend in the knees, big chest, and tight core, perform anywhere between 6-8 reps and turn and face the other way and repeat.

Pallof/Belly Press

Pallof/Belly Press with a Hold

Another exercise(s) I find myself doing more and more is some type of rollout variation. Everyone has seen the infomercials with the ab wheel or seen the ab wheel hanging around the gym. Believe it or not, the ab wheel is the real deal. I would again caution people about jumping right on to the ab wheel as it can be an extremely challenging core exercise and even dangerous for someone without the proper strength and/or form . Start out using a large swiss ball, followed by a smaller swiss ball, the ab wheel, and finally a barbell. Using basically the same coaching cues, (big chest, tight core, neutral spine) a couple sets of 10-12 reps should do a pretty good job of smoking your core.

Swiss Ball Rollout

Ab Wheel Rollout

Enjoy!