This article was originally written in 2014, and in light of the upcoming seminar on Thursday November 16th (details below), I thought it would be a good time to update it and share it with everyone. Enjoy!…

When I ask many of my athletes what their goals are, they usually include decreasing injury potential, increasing strength, gaining some muscle and losing some fat.

Some athletes do have more specific goals such as a faster batting speed or club speed, higher pitching (baseball/softball) or shooting (lax or hockey) velocity, a quicker 40 yard dash or a more explosive first step.

But for most, it is usually about gaining strength and muscle, and losing fat.

So then the question becomes, how can one most effectively gain strength, increase muscle mass and decrease fat while also staying healthy. I emphasize “while also staying healthy” as there are some programs (too many, and some very popular ones!)  out there that will undoubtedly help many build strength, size and burn fat.

Unfortunately though, these programs often leave their athletes feeling like Madd Dog in the ring with Tommy…confident at first but quickly jacked up…you have to check this scene out!

But there is a better way. It is called Metabolic Resistance Training and here is the what and how.

What Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT) is Not

MRT, when programmed correctly, is an extremely effective method to simultaneously acheive strength and muscle mass, while shedding fat and staying healthy.

The difference between MRT and other circuit style training or “bootcamps” is in the exercise selection, format, chosen resistance and rest periods.

Most circuit or “bootcamp” style programs insist on picking the latest/coolest/most advanced exercises such as the Olympic lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.), loaded jumps, unstable surface training, etc.

And it is not that these exercises are inherently bad exercises (except for some of the unstable surface training…a squat on a stability ball is just a bad, bad idea!), but it is that many programs teach them, or try to teach them, in a “go-go-go” group atmosphere. This hardly ever allows for individuals to learn proper technique, and therefore, they never fully master the movements utilized.

 

 

Then to make things worse, these programs rarely manage weight selection properly, allowing athletes to either use a load that far too heavy to maintain form, or to use a load that is so light that they are able to crank out reps without having to think about technique (this is usually the case).

Lastly, because the goal of the coach/program is too often to simply “get tired” instead of “to get better” work periods are too long and rest periods are not sufficient. This results in excessive fatigue, which further exacerbates this issue of poor form. Not only this, but it is then that we are not able to complete as much truly high intensity work, the kind that is going to result in optimal muscle gain and fat loss. 

Advanced exercises that have not been mastered, in combination with poorly selected resistance and excessive fatigue is a recipe for disaster. 

MRT: A Better Approach…When Programmed Correctly

Metabolic Resistance Training (good MRT) utilizes exercises that are familiar and have been mastered. MRT, when programmed effectively, uses a resistance that allows you to gain strength as well as size without losing form. Lastly, MRT uses rest periods that are long enough to allow the quality of movement to stay high, but short enough to create a metabolic disturbance…this takes some quality programming!

First and foremost, the exercises utilized should be tailored to the individual and what they are familiar and efficient. If an athlete is coached well and the movement is modified accordingly, movements (and there variations) such as the squat, deadlift, lunge, push up, inverted row and cable rows are quickly mastered and can be used.

 

The resistance used should be equivalent to an athlete’s 6-12 rep max (the most weight and athlete can use to complete an exercise with perfect form for 6-12 reps) and exercises are then programmed to complete 4-10 reps, leaving “1-2 reps left in the tank.”

The weight selected also needs to take into consideration an athlete’s main goals (strength gain vs muscle gain). For example, if an athlete is going for strength more than size, you would program exercises for 4-6 reps utilizing a resistance that is comparable to the athlete’s 6-8 rep max. If size is the goal than reps should fall between the 8-10 rep range using a resistance comparable to the athlete’s 10-12 rep max. 

Lastly, 2 to 4 exercises should be formatted in a non-competing fashion (upper/lower, push/pull) and separated with a rest period that is conducive to the athlete’s goal.

For an athlete looking to maximize strength first, programming a deadlift followed by a push up, a lunge and an inverted row with 45s of rest between exercises, and 60s of rest between sets, would allow the athlete to regenerate enough between exercises to continue to push good weight. This format would also promote the metabolic disturbance required for muscle gain and fat loss.

Putting It All Together

Below is an example MRT session with two different programming parameters: one that is geared towards strength and one geared towards size…but remember both with still beget both strength and size, as well as fat loss (when nutrition is on par of course!).

For Strength

Complete the following exercises in order performing 5 reps each and using a resistance that would allow you to get 6-7 perfect reps before losing form. Rest 40s between exercises and 60s between sets. Perform 3 to 5 sets.

1a) Deadlift x5

1b) Push Up (use a band/chains for added resistance and/or elevated feet) x5

1c) Reverse Lunge x5/side

1d) TRX Row (use a weight vest or chains for added resistance and/or elevate feet) x5

 

For Size (muscle gain)

Perform the same sequence of exercises above performing 8 reps per exercise with a resistance that would allow for 9-10 perfect reps. Rest 15-30s between exercises and 45s between sets.

This routines can be a session by themselves, or they can follow the strength/power portion of your program.

Keep Progressing

As with any other program, the goal should be to progressively overload the system. As the program gets easier try increasing the weight used, decreasing the rest periods and switching out exercises for other exercises that you become proficient in.

When the exercises are familiar, the resistance used is appropriate to your goals, and when the rest periods are long enough for an athlete to maintain perfect form but short enough to still create a metabolic disturbance, MRT can be utilized to simultaneously gain strength and size, lose fat and stay healthy.

 

 

No more do you need to (or should you) meaninglessly follow along with a program that is there just to “get you tired.” Sit down and consider your goals and training history and utilize MRT to help you quickly achieve your goals, and keep you from feeling like you had just been in the cage with Tommy…if you didn’t check out the video above now is the time to do so!

For WAY MORE on the topic of Metabolic Resistance Training, and many different strategies on how to implement MRT, as well as utilize in sessions that can last only 10-30 minutes, make sure to sign up for the upcoming seminar by emailing Kyle at kyle@theathleticway.com…here is the flyer with details!

The push up!

It is one of the most versatile and effective exercises for upper body pushing strength, shoulder and shoulder girdle stability and to enhance core stability and energy transfer…it can basically turn you into Superman (or Superwoman) overnight. 

Unfortunately, it is also one of the most butchered exercises. And when the push up looks more like a rendition of “The Worm” you are setting yourself up for back, neck, shoulder and elbow pain…and not to mention you won’t be achieving that superhero figure anytime soon.

So to help you keep yourself from destroying your spine, shoulders or elbows, and to help you get closer to that superhero status, let’s cover the 5 most common mistakes and how to fix them. 

 

Mistake #1: Poor Pelvis Position

This is by far the most common mistake!

Instead of the body being straight from the back of the head to the back of the heels, there is a massive dip in the center of the body at the low back and hips. This issue here is that the core is not engaged properly and/or strong enough to keep the pelvis in a neutral position. 

When this happens the pelvis tips anteriorly (forward) which creates hyperextension in the lumbar spine (lower back). This position typically results in the feeling of back stiffness or tightness when the set completed. Overtime this will lead to pain in the back and possibly at the front of the hips as well. 

 

In this position you are merely reinforcing a faulty postural position known as “swayback.” Your body relies on the spine and the rectus abdominus to stand, which again overtime will lead to injury, and at the very least, a weak ass body!

 

(posturedirect.com)

The Fix

In your push up position, you must first bring your hips up to level out the line from the shoulders to the heels. Then you need to focus on “pulling your zipper up towards your ribcage” which effectively posteriorly tilts the pelvis. You only want to do this enough to bring you back to neutral, not too much as to create a tucked under pelvis. 

From this position the goal is then to lower the body as one unit, not allowing the hips to sag or rotate forward. 

This will be much more challenging and for those of us who can “bang out 20 push ups” from the worm position, you will likely only be able to complete 6-10 solid reps before fatiguing into the faulty position. 

If you can’t complete any push ups with this new position, simply elevate the hands to a bench, box, or table and work your way back down to the floor little by little as you gain strength.

Lastly, if you are doing this correctly you will likely feel a significant amount of core work being completed with your sets and reps…ya, dem abs will be burnin’.

 

Mistake #2: Chin Poppin’ 

The second most common mistake with the push up is reaching with the chin as the bottom of the movement is approached.

Just as with mistake #1 where you don’t want the hips to lead the push up, you also don’t want your chin to lead the push up. When this happens there is a shear force placed on your cervical spine as it goes into a forward translation, as well as hyperextension. This is no good if you want to prevent neck pain and aches down the road. 

The Fix

Instead of leading the push up with your chin, focus on keeping the “tucked” as if you were trying to make a double chin. You can also think about this as if you were a turtle, and you were trying to pull your head back into your shell.

Once you achieve this good neck/chin position (as well as your hip position from mistake #1), the best way to solidify your push up is to lead the push up with your chest. This will ensure that you are no longer sagging/tilting at the hips or reaching with the chin. If anything were to hit the floor first, it should be your chest, not your hips or chin!

 

Mistake #3: Arm/Elbow Position

The next most common mistake observed with the push up involves the position of the arms/elbows relative to the body.

Because a longer lever can provide more torque, to make the push up easier we have a tendency to flare the elbows out, making a 90 degree angle with the upper arm to the body. While this may be easier from a physics standpoint, this will inevitably lead to shoulder pain. 

When the arms/elbows are further from the body the shoulder joint becomes more compromised as the space in the joint is reduced. Therefore the structures of shoulder are more at risk for becoming impinged, and victim of frictional forces. Eventually the tissues will break down, and as you can imagine that is no good!

The Fix

Imagine your body as an arrow with your head being the tip of the arrow and your arms being the side points of the arrow.

The side points of the arrow are not straight out the side (at 90 degrees) but instead they are about 45 degrees from the shaft of the arrow. This is where you want your arms to be.

This angle still provides plenty of torque force without the shoulder joint running into a compromised position. 

So next time you get your push ups on, envision your body as an arrow and get your elbows to roughly 45 degrees from the body…it will be more challenging at first but you will get stronger with time and practice, and you wont be jacking your shoulders up!

 

Mistake #4: Not Finishing All the Way Through

The body is all about conserving energy. Because of this, it is inherently “lazy” as it does not want to expend extra energy if it doesn’t have to.

Because of this, another very common mistake with the push up occurs at the top of the movement. 

Instead of pushing all the way through the movement so that the muscles around the shoulder blades keep the them tight to the ribcage, we typically see the push up finished with a “caved in” presentation at the upper back. You will also notice the shoulder blades “popping off” the back of the ribcage. 

Essentially you are using the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle to finish the push up, rather than the muscles around them to actively finish the movement…again, no good for optimal performance and injury prevention.

The Fix

When you get to the top of the push up envision your shoulder blades wrapping up and around your ribcage, instead of staying on top of your upper back. 

Also envision pushing your upper back through the ceiling. This will increase the distance between the shoulder blades. You should notice that you chest is slightly further from the floor compared to the previous finish of your push up.

 

Mistake #5: Collapsing the Shoulder Blades 

A common cue used in the strength and conditioning and fitness world is to “pull your shoulder blades together as you descend into your push up.” While this isn’t inherently wrong, it sometimes creates a very extreme pulling together of the shoulder blades.

When this happens, you are essentially pinching your shoulder blades together at end range before the movement really gets going. 

 

The shoulder blades and the arms should be moving in synchrony throughout the movement, not one first and then the other. This will place more force at the shoulder joint, as well as reinforce an unwanted movement pattern with upper body pushing and pulling movements. 

The Fix

Focus on controlling the shoulder blades, bringing them together throughout the entire movement. The shoulder blades should only come together at the bottom of the push up. 

Essentially, do not allow them to collapse together at the start of the push up!

 

Bonus Mistake: Shoulder Blades Tipping Forward and Elbows Behind the Body

Here is an extra bonus mistake.

When you approach the bottom of the push up you do not want your shoulder blades to tip forward or the elbows to pass too far behind the body. 

What this does is place extra stress at the front of the shoulder, where many of us will typically experience pain during faulty upper body movements. 

The Fix

Throughout the descent into the push up, imagine tipping your shoulder blades backwards. When you get to the bottom of the push up do not allow your elbows to pass too far behind your back. 

Shoot for finishing with the elbows in line with the top of your back, and if you pass slightly behind that is OK.

 

Get Your Push Up Right

When the push up is completed with proper execution it is one of the best exercises for upper body strength, shoulder stability and to enhance energy transfer throughout the body. 

It is a staple in world class training programs for a reason…it works!

But when the push up, like any other movement, is not executed properly, not only are you not going to achieve the desired outcomes, but you are likely setting yourself up for injury and pain. 

Take the points covered in this article and DO NOT let injury and pain be the result of crushing hundreds and thousands of push ups!

***Just so you know how invested I am in helping out The Athletic Way community, my shoulder was pretty cranky from busting through all of the “don’t friggin do” videos…I hope you enjoyed!