Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ultimate Hardcore Body Exercise - Front Squat

jojopig.comAs you may have already discovered, the squat is at the top of the heap (along with deadlifts) as one of the most effective overall exercises for stimulating body composition changes (muscle gain and fat loss). This is because exercises like squats and deadlifts use more muscle groups under a heavy load than almost any other weight bearing exercises known to man. Hence, these exercises stimulate the greatest hormonal responses (growth hormone, testosterone, etc.) of all exercises.  In fact, university research studies have even proven that inclusion of squats into a training program increases upper body development, in addition to lower body development, even though upper body specific joint movements are not performed during the squat. Whether your goal is gaining muscle mass, losing body fat, building a strong and functional body, or improving athletic performance, the basic squat and deadlift (and their variations) are the ultimate solution. If you don’t believe me that squats and deadlifts are THE basis for a lean and powerful body, then go ahead and join all of the other overweight people pumping away
mindlessly for hours on boring cardio equipment. You won’t find long boring cardio in any of my programs! 

Squats can be done simply with your bodyweight or with any free weighted objects for extra resistance such as barbells, dumbbells, kettle bells , sandbags, etc. Squats should only be done with free weights – NEVER with a Smith machine or any other squat machines! Machines do not allow your body to follow natural, bio mechanically-correct movement paths. You also perform less work because the machine stabilizes the weight for you. Therefore, you get weaker results! 

The type of squat that people are most familiar with is the barbell back squat where the bar is resting on the trapezius muscles of the upper back. Many professional strength coaches believe that front squats (where the bar rests on the shoulders in front of the head) and overhead squats (where the bar is locked out in a snatch grip overhead throughout the squat) are more functional to athletic performance than back squats with less risk of lower back injury. I feel that a combination of all  three (not necessarily during the same phase of your workouts) will yield the best  results for overall muscular development, body fat loss, and athletic performance. Front squats are moderately more difficult than back squats, while overhead squats are considerably more difficult than either back squats or front squats. I’ll cover overhead squats in a future article. If you are only accustomed to performing back squats, it will take you a few sessions to become comfortable with front squats, so start out light. After a couple sessions of practice, you will start to feel the groove and be able to increase the poundage. Let’s take a closer look at front squats in particular.

To perform front squats :-

jojopig.comThe front squat recruits the abdominals to a much higher degree for stability due to the more upright position compared with back squats. It is mostly a lower body exercise, but is great for functionally incorporating core strength and stability into the squatting movement. It can also be slightly difficult to learn how to properly rest the bar on your shoulders. There are two ways to rest the bar on the front of the shoulders. In the first method, you step under the bar and cross your forearms into an “X” position while resting the bar on the dimple that is created by the shoulder muscle near the bone, keeping your elbows up high so that your arms are parallel to the ground. You then hold the bar in place by pressing the thumb side of your fists against the bar for support.  Alternatively, you can hold the bar by placing your palms face up and the bar resting on your fingers against your shoulders. For both methods, your elbows must stay up high to prevent the weight from falling. Your upper arms should stay parallel to the ground throughout the squat. Find out which bar support method is more comfortable for you. Then, initiate the squat from your hips by sitting back and down, keeping the weight on your heels as opposed to the balls of your feet. Squat down to a position where your thighs are approximately parallel to the ground, then press back up to the starting position. Keeping your weight more towards your heels is the key factor in squatting to protect your knees from injury and develop strong injury-resistant knee joints. Keep in mind - squats done correctly actually strengthen the knees; squats done incorrectly can damage the knees. Practice first with an un-weighted bar or a relatively light weight to learn  the movement. Most people are surprised how hard this exercise works your abs once you learn the correct form. This is due to the more upright posture compared with back squats. 



Workouts Need Both Consistency and Variability for Max Results

In the last chapter, I spoke about the fact that you must alter your training variables that make up your workouts if you want to continuously get good results, whether it is losing weight, building muscle, or toning up.

jojopig.comWhile changing your training variables is an integral part of the success of your training program, your workouts shouldn’t be drastically different every single time. If you are all over the place on each workout and never try to repeat and improve on specific exercises for specific set and rep schemes with specific rest intervals, then your body has no basis to improve on its current condition. The best way to structure your workouts to get the best results is to be consistent and try to continually improve on a specific training method for a specific time period. A time period of 4-8 weeks usually works best as your body will adapt to the specific training method and progress will slow after this amount of time. 

At this point, it is time to change around some of your training variables as I described in the “exercise variables” article, and then stay consistent with your new training program for another 4-8 weeks. To refresh, some of these variables are the numbers of sets and reps of exercises, the order of exercises (sequence), exercise grouping (super-setting, circuit training, tri-sets, etc.), exercise type (multijoint or single joint, free-weight or machine based), the number of exercises per
jojopig.comworkout, the amount of resistance, the time under tension, the base of stability (standing, seated, on stability ball, one-legged, etc.), the volume of work (sets x reps x distance moved), rest periods between sets, repetition speed, range of motion, exercise angle (inclined, flat, declined, bent over, upright, etc), training duration per workout, training frequency per week, etc. 

For example, let’s say you are training with a program where you are doing 10 sets of 3 reps for 6 different exercises grouped together in pairs (done as supersets) with 30 seconds rest between each superset and no rest between the 2 exercises

within the superset. If you are smart, I’m sure you are tracking your progress with a notepad (weights used, sets, and reps) to see how you are progressing over time. Let’s say that after about 6 weeks, you find that you are no longer improving with that program. Well, now it is time to change up your variables, and start a new program.

This time you might choose a classic 5 sets of 5 reps routine, but you group your exercises in tri-sets (three exercises performed back to back to back, and then repeated for the number of sets). This time you decide to perform the exercises in the tri-set with no rest between them, and then recover for 2 minutes in between each tri-set to fully recoup your strength levels. 


How to Manipulate Training Variables by Changing Your Routine Off and On

Everyone will inadvertently hit a frustrating plateau in their training at one time or another. You’re cruising along for a while, gaining strength, losing fat, looking better, and then all of the sudden it hits. Suddenly, you find yourself even weaker than before on your lifts, or you find that you’ve gained back a couple of pounds. It happens to everyone. Most of the time, these plateaus occur because people rarely change their training variables over time. Many people stick to the same types of exercises for the same basic sets and reps and rest periods with the same boring cardio routine. Well, I hope to open your mind and bring some creativity to your workouts with this section!

There are many ways that you can strategically modify your training variables to assure that you maximize your fat loss and/or muscle building response to exercise. Most people only think about changing their sets and reps performed, if they even think about changing their routine at all. However, other variables that can dramatically affect your results are changing the order of exercises (sequence), exercise grouping (super-setting, circuit training, tri-sets, etc.), exercise type (multi-joint or single joint, free-weight or machine based), the number of exercises per workout, the amount of resistance, the time under tension, the base of stability (standing, seated, on stability ball, one-legged, etc.), the volume of work (sets x reps x distance moved), rest periods between sets, repetition speed, nrange of motion, exercise angle (inclined, flat, declined, bent over, upright, etc), training duration per workout, and training frequency per week.  Sounds like a lot of different training aspects to consider in order to achieve the best results from your workouts, doesn’t it? Well, that’s where a knowledgeable personal trainer can make sense of all of this for you to make sure that your training doesn’t get stale. Below are a few examples to get your mind working to come up with more creative and result producing workouts.

Most people stick to workouts where they do something along the lines of 3 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise, with 2-3 minutes rest between sets. Boorrring ! Here are a few examples of different methods to spice up your routine.
# Try 10 sets of 3, with only 20 seconds rest between sets.  

jojopig.com# Try using a fairly heavy weight and complete 6 sets of 6 reps, doing a 3 minute treadmill sprint between each weight lifting set.  

# Try using a near maximum weight and do 10 sets of 1 rep, with only 30 seconds rest between sets.

# Try using a lighter than normal weight and do 1 set of 50 reps for each exercise

# Try a workout based on only one full body exercise, such as barbell clean & presses or dumbbell squat & presses, and do nothing but that exercise for an intense 20 minutes. 

# Try a workout based on all bodyweight exercises such as pushups, pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, bodyweight squats, lunges, up and down stairs, etc.  

# Try a circuit of 12 different exercises covering the entire body without any rest between exercises. 

# Try that same 12 exercise circuit on your subsequent workout, but do the entire circuit in the reverse order. 

jojopig.com# Try your usual exercises at a faster repetition speed on one workout andthen at a super-slow speed on your next workout. 

# Try completing six 30 minute workouts one week, followed by three 1-hr workouts the next week. This will keep your body guessing.  

# Try doing drop sets of all of your exercises, where you drop the weight between each set and keep doing repetitions without any rest until complete muscular fatigue (usually about 5-6 sets in a row).  

There are many more ways to continue to change your training variables. This was just a taste of your possibilities. Be creative and get results! 


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