Archive | Exercise tips

10 January 2012 ~ Comments Off on Should You Do This Exercise?

Should You Do This Exercise?

Bad or just misunderstood?

Recently I received an email from a fitness “guru” with a link to a blog post. I’ll paraphrase the title here:

The #1 Exercise That You Should Never, Ever Do…Ever

I’m not exaggerating much. This guru is actually pretty spot-on about other things, so I took the title under consideration and clicked the link, which led me to the post by a different guru with a list of gym equipment you shouldn’t use.

What was the number-one no-no exercise that will kill you dead if you do it?

The leg press.

(Insert sound of vinyl LP scratch here.)

It’s a good thing this isn’t the guru I follow, because I might have had to unsubscribe after reading that. However, I pressed on, because I wanted to his rationale for making the leg press the Worst Exercise in the World. What I read didn’t impress me much either, but not because he wasn’t right.

That’s what I said—he was right—but only for a specific group of people.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not in that group, at least yet.

Why You Shouldn’t Do It

The argument against the leg press is two-pronged:

  • It isn’t a natural lifting position.
  • It can hurt your back.

The problem with both these arguments is that they can be applied to a number of universally loved exercises. That’s not to say you should be doing the leg press forever—it just means there’s information left out that is kind of important.

“Unnatural Position”

First let’s look at the “unnatural position” argument. It’s true, you generally won’t be pushing a heavy weight with your legs from a seated position in your daily life. And in general, being almost curled into a fetal ball to start an exercise doesn’t seem like a natural position at all.

But have you ever had to lift a box or a sofa all the way from the floor? The first part of that motion is the leg press.

And other great exercises don’t use “natural motion” either. Do you normally lift weight in your daily life using just your shoulders? That would mean you shouldn’t do standing arm raises. Do you normally walk in such a way that your knees touch the ground on each step? There go lunges. But that’s ridiculous, those exercises, done with proper form, can really help you shape and strengthen your shoulders and legs without harm.

The benchmark to me for an unnatural position is something like the leg extension, where even if you perform the exercise with the proper form, you can injure your knees, or the Smith bar, which lets you put your back into all kinds of different positions, some of them really awful. But let’s face it, weight training is full of “unnatural” movements, and the ones you should reject are the ones that can hurt you even if you use good form.

“Injury Potential”

The second and more plausible (stay with me on that) allegation against the leg press is that your lower back can become too rounded, causing injury when you push heavy weights.

That’s a valid argument—but any injury would be caused not by the exercise itself, but by poor form. If you made the same mistakes on any leg exercise, the same injury could result. In fact, it’s easier for a beginner to make sure form is correct on the leg press than on a free-weight leg exercise.

When you’re in the starting position for the leg press, you should be seated with your entire back, from shoulders to tailbone, in contact with the seat. You should also be making sure your kneecaps aren’t out past your toes, while keeping your knees at or just a hair past a 90-degree angle.

If you obey those rules of form, you shouldn’t suffer injury.

Who Should Do the Leg Press

The leg press is actually a pretty important exercise for a beginner, because the better options are also the most mechanically complicated exercises. As I mention above, proper form is much easier to observe on a machine. Once you get your feet into position, the only thing you’ll need to worry about in each rep is making sure your back stays in contact with the pad.

The leg press is also good for a change of pace if you’ve had it up to here with squats and deadlifts. Just remember to also work on your hamstrings, because the real long-term reason to not do the leg press is that it doesn’t engage the hammies or other muscles that you can work with some of the free-weight alternatives. While I’d never ever recommend leg extensions, leg curls are fine to balance out the leg press. A better option is walking lunges, using weights that allow you to do only 10-12 steps in each set, and I’d recommend lunges even if you’re ready for squats.

What You Should Do Instead

The point of the guru’s guru friend’s article is really that you should really be doing squats, stupid. And that’s fair—squats are probably the second-best exercise in the whole gym after deadlifts.

But you should only be doing squats with 10-12 rep weights when you’re fully comfortable with the motion and can do it with proper form and balance, and in an environment where you can safely dump the weight when you can’t get it out of the squat position. (Look for the squat racks with horizontal bars at about waist level or higher.) Most people will end up not doing squats to full failure because failing means dumping 200+ pounds of metal onto the gym floor.

If you’re not fully confident in your squat technique, I recommend that you use the leg press, but each day you do, also practice your squat form with an empty bar or low weight, using these technique tips:

  • Let your shoulders hold the weight. Use your hands for stabilization. Don’t worry about position too much beyond figuring out what’s most comfortable.
  • Stand with your legs a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes will likely start pointing outward, which is fine.
  • Do not put your weight on the balls of your feet, ever. If you can focus on having the weight equally on your ball and heel, fine, but if you need to just try and put your weight on your heels.
  • When you squat down, pretend you’re trying to sit in a chair about 18 inches behind you. Push your tush back. Don’t just squat straight down. Ideally you should go down far enough that the tops of your knees are parallel to the ground. You can even go down farther, engaging your hamstrings more, as long as your kneecaps don’t get out in front of your toes.
  • When you lift the weight, don’t think “lift.” Think about pushing against the ground with your feet.

And the two most well-known rules apply: never fully straighten (“lock”) your knees in the standing position, and never let your knees go further forward than your toes.

When you can put all of this together, increase your weight gradually. When you’re doing squats with proper form and enough weight to limit your reps to 10-12, you can and should do them instead of the leg press, and congratulate yourself on graduating.


Continue Reading

17 November 2011 ~ Comments Off on In Search of the Best Exercise Ever: Burpees

In Search of the Best Exercise Ever: Burpees

Welcome to the first installment of a series I’m calling, “In Search of the Best Exercise Ever.” The goal of this series is to highlight the exercises people sometimes call “the perfect exercise.” These are exercises that, if you had time to do only one exercise, would give you the most bang for your buck.

Today we’ll look at an exercise that requires no equipment at all. You can do it at home, you can do it at the gym, you can do it on the beach, on a train, on a plane, in a box, with a fox…but I digress.

What’s a Burpee?

Simply put, the burpee is a squat-thrust with a push-up in the middle and a vertical leap at the end:

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Squat down, put your hands on the floor and thrust your legs straight out behind you.
  3. You may recognize that you’re now in push-up position, so do a push-up.
  4. Bring your legs back in so you’re squatting again.
  5. From your squatting position, explode from your legs to leap as high as you can, and reach for the sky.
  6. Do another one.

Simple, huh?

What’s a Burpee Do For You?

The burpee is first and foremost an exhausting workout that works best in small doses. Place it at the end of a workout for a final push to burn calories.

Good for Cardio? Yes! This exercise will get your heart and lungs working big time.

Good for Fat Burning? Absolutely! In fact, do this as a Tabata (see below) and you can boost your metabolism tremendously.

Good for Strength? To a point. The push-up and explosive jump can improve the power in your chest, arms and legs. For bigger and long-term strength gains, resistance exercise is still better.

Good for Muscle Building? Not so much. If you combine this with resistance exercises it will help, but it’s far better for helping you see those muscles.

Burpees for Optimal Effect

As I suggested above, burpees work incredibly well as a Tabata exercise: do 20 seconds of burpees as fast as you can, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat eight times. You’re done, but your fat burning will continue.

You may also be gasping for breath the first time you do it (start slow and ramp up over several days until you’re going full steam).


You can add just about every variation you can think of to a standard burpee:

  • Jump forward instead of up
  • Do one-hand push-ups (alternate hands with each rep)
  • Jump with one leg (alternate…you know)
  • Do your burpees in front of a pull-up bar and do a pull-up right after the jump (better yet,  jump to the pull-up bar).
  • Jump onto a box, then back off to the floor

If you get bored with one, try another. Make something up.


If you’re snowed in or otherwise can’t get to the gym, burpees are a pretty complete workout. Thumbs way up.

Continue Reading

17 November 2011 ~ Comments Off on What I Did On My Summer (and Fall) Vacation

What I Did On My Summer (and Fall) Vacation

Well, it wasn’t much of a vacation, I can tell you that much. But I’m pretty damned excited about what I’ve done.

The first is probably obvious: Simple Workout is now Pump Up Your Fitness! Not to worry—my goal is still to offer easy advice to make fitness simple. However, I think the new title is a better description of what I’m trying to do here: give you something that will get you pumped about your fitness.

However, that’s not the biggest news…

In my quest to help you be leaner, shapelier and healthier, I retreated to my labs for the past several months and worked on a program that anyone can use to lose fat, sculpt their body with lean muscle, and eat right without starving themselves into shape.

I realized that most programs are one-size-fits-all (or at best there’s one alternate method for “beginners”) and offer little or no assistance with your personal goals and sticking points. So I set out to fix that.

Introducing the Fitness MasterPlan!

I’m so stoked about this…been writing, recording audio programs and field-testing everything to try and make this the easiest, most “stick-to-it-able” plan there is. The workouts are simple. The nutrition program has just one rule. If you can’t flatten your abs, tone your arms, lose that baby weight and get stronger with this plan…well, I’ll give you your money back!

If you have a library of diet and exercise advice, you know it’s confusing. One guru works you out with aerobics for a solid 40 minutes. Another has you do 150 sit-ups.

And don’t get me started on the diet books. Cut all fats? Cut all carbs? Eat according to your blood type?? All you need is one rule, and perhaps an explanation of that rule and how to apply it. No extremes, no weighing, no “points” and no starvation!

I call it the Fitness MasterPlan because it’s really a masterplan you can refer to and adapt as your needs and situation change. And to top it off, you’ll have a real personal trainer by your side, to answer your specific questions, help you overcome your personal issues and roadblocks, and clear up any confusion. Whether you need help on Day One or Day 250, I’ll be a message away.

Here’s what’s in the Fitness MasterPlan package:

  • The Fitness MasterPlan Guide. The exercise and nutrition bible.
  • Audio Workout Programs. I walk you through each day of the Fitness MasterPlan exercise program, with tips and advice for making your workouts rock.
  • Workout Cheat Sheets. Load these easy-to-read cheat sheets on your smart phone or iPod when you’re ready to hit the gym (or your living room) on your own.
  • Workout Tracker. Keep track of your exercises and watch your strength grow.
  • Fitness Tracker. Self-calculating tracking sheet to chart your progress—you can actually see your body take shape!
  • Shopping List. The foods you need, conveniently listed and ready to take to the grocery store, with a simple system for making sure you don’t run out of these vital foods.
  • Personal Trainer Support. The answers to all your questions—your questions, not just generic pat answers—are a click away.

With all that in the package, you’d expect this to be expensive. Personal consultations with a trainer can run you hundreds per month all by itself!

But I wanted to put this within anyone’s reach. I built this program to help you, not to get rich. I finally decided on an initial price that’s less than what you’d pay for a single hour of training at your local gym (often not even particularly good training).

To read more, head over to the Fitness MasterPlan page. I’ll be waiting for you on the other side!

Continue Reading

01 March 2011 ~ Comments Off on 4-Hour Body Review

4-Hour Body Review

If you haven’t heard of The 4-Hour Body, you must have been living in a cave (I don’t believe Tim Ferriss’ promotional tour of caves starts for another week or so). The book’s “Slow-Carb Diet” is possibly the hottest diet trend since South Beach.

But is it right for you? I went on the Slow-Carb plan for a month, and the results are a part of this 4-Hour Body review on my men’s lifestyle site, Tao of Bachelorhood.

If you’re a man and haven’t been to Tao of Bachelorhood, it’s a treasure trove of lifestyle advice, from clothes to fitness to tips for meeting women. If you’re a woman, I also offer tips for navigating this crazy world, interacting with others and figuring out what it’s all about.

Anyway, back to the 4-Hour Body review. To offer a summary, I was impressed with the little things I didn’t know, as well as the surface simplicity of its solutions. However, it is a 550-page book, and Mr. Ferriss is an absolute geek about hacking, well, everything about his life, so it’s possible to get lost in the details.

But the point is that you should be experimenting too—rare is the one diet or the one workout that works for everyone. (“Nonexistent” might even be a better word.) And with a cover price much less than most Internet plans, it won’t hurt to give these tips a whirl.

How did I do in my month of Slow-Carb? read it and see.

The 4-Hour Body Review [Tao of Bachelorhood]

Continue Reading

09 December 2010 ~ Comments Off on Fitness Gifts: Protein Shaker

Fitness Gifts: Protein Shaker

Stuck on a simple but useful holiday gift? Want to give something that says, “I support your fitness goals” but doesn’t say, “you really need to work out more”? I’ve got just the thing: a deluxe protein shaker.

If you’ve had much experience with protein powder (and if you’re doing any kind of muscle-building exercise, you should), you’ve probably found that it’s difficult to quickly mix it into milk or water without blobs of unblended powder floating on the top. With some powders, you can shake until you’re blue in the face (an exercise of its own) and it still clumps.

No longer, thanks to something called the Blender Bottle. This is a protein shaker cup with a difference: a wire ball that acts like a whisk, breaking up those blobs and leaving you with a smoothly blended protein drink.

In addition, this protein shaker has a tight-fitting screw-on lid and a “pop-top” drinking/pouring spout so you don’t have to remove the wire ball to enjoy your protein. All parts are easy to wash and dishwasher-safe.

I discovered the Blender Bottle when I got one as a gift—believe it or not, I had taken to using my electric blender to make batches of protein drink, but once I tried this shaker I never went back. It only takes about 15 seconds of moderate shaking to fully mix even the clump-prone powders I’ve had lying around. To sum up, awesome.

Anyone who uses protein powder will thank you for giving them a Blender Bottle. In fact, this gift reduces the “what if they’ve already got one?” factor: even if they DO own a protein shaker, most people will be happy to have a second one to take to work or school. And if their old protein shaker isn’t a Blender Bottle, they’ll probably throw the old one away.

Get the Blender Bottle protein shaker at

Continue Reading