Archive for exercise instruction, exercise programs, strength training, workout tips

Accidentally Made Up But Highly Effective Exercises: KB SLRDL – Rack Position

by Meaghan posted September 22, 2016

So a funny thing happened on the way to the single-leg deadlift…

Let me start from the beginning. I was training a client a few weeks ago and one of the exercises in our first tri-set was a kettlebell single-leg RDL. The kettlebell was held in the hang position, as you normally see with this exercise.

At least that’s more or less what it’s supposed to look like. (Back to this in a second.) The kettlebell is held in the opposite-side hand as the working (stance) leg in order to minimize rotational forces, and the back remains straight as the movement comes from the hip.

So we finished those. A couple could’ve been more controlled and he reached a little too much with the bell but, all-in-all, not bad.

We moved on to our second tri-set, in which one of the exercises was a kettlebell reverse lunge. Same kettlebell, but we changed the position of it. For this movement, I had my client hold the bell in what’s referred to as the “rack” position.

KB reverse lunge


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All About The Deadlift

by Meaghan posted September 23, 2015

Today’s post comes from a very special guest contributor: FPTI Instructor and Focus Starting Strength Coach, Brent Carter.

OK. Let’s talk about the deadlift for a minute and get a few things straight. First, deadlifts are NOT bad for your back. Only BAD deadlifts are bad for your back. Good deadlifts are actually GOOD for your back. As we have discussed on this site several times, the muscles that comprise the “core” (as much as I hate that term) – including the abdominals, the internal and external obliques, and the spinal erectors – are best trained in the specific fashion for which they were designed to be used. And namely, due to their long, thin muscle bellies, these muscles are best equipped to resist movement rather than create it. Well, guess what: That is precisely how they are trained in all of the main barbell lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift), especially the deadlift.

Harris deadlift

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Getting Depth in a Squat

by Meaghan posted April 17, 2014

Anyone who has been around training for any length of time has had (or seen) that client who simply doesn’t go low enough in the squat. Sometimes this is due to restrictions in mobility, and sometimes it’s not – and there’s an easy way to tell. Enter the squat-to-stand.

While great for improving hip mobility and thoracic spine extension, this exercise also serves as an effective assessment: It can tell you whether someone has actual musculoskeletal limitations or is simply just afraid to go lower in a squat – often times for no other reason than that he/she has never been down there before.

Here’s a brief video from Coach Nick Tumminello on how to perform the squat-to-stand:

Effective Exercises: The Deadlift

by Meaghan posted March 11, 2014

The other day, one of my students asked me what my favorite exercise was. My response? The deadlift, hands down. (Not to be confused with the Romanian deadlift – or “RDL” – where the bar starts from a hang position and never touches the floor, and is predominantly a single-joint hip extension exercise rather than a multi-joint lift like the conventional deadlift).



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Effective Exercise Alternatives for the Core

by Meaghan posted July 28, 2013

I’ve written before (HERE) about how and why I’m not a fan of a commonly used exercise by personal trainers: The lunge with rotation (usually accompanied by a medicine ball or ViPR). Simply put, most people don’t have the correct amounts of mobility and stability in the correct areas to really do it correctly, and wind up rotating from the wrong areas – namely, the knees and the lumbar spine. Watch here:

Did you notice what happened when she added the trunk rotation versus when just the arms moved? Watch again and look at the woman’s knee…

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Progression, Regression or Modification?

by Meaghan posted March 5, 2013

One of the difficulties many new trainers face is figuring out how to select the most appropriate exercises for a given person’s goals and contraindications while still creating a progressive program. And given all the different fitness modalities we now have available for training, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion. Without a solid understanding of biomechanics and kinesiology, and the ability to think critically about how a given piece of equipment or technique variation changes these things, selecting exercises becomes a crap shoot.

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Effective Exercises: Sled Pull

by Meaghan posted January 30, 2013

Given that we coach exercise, it’s been WAY too long since we’ve featured an exercise on here!

The other day I was reviewing some videos to add to our staff education program; one of them was Nick Tumminello’s Joint Friendly Strength Training (reviewed HERE). I’ve always really liked Nick’s stuff, and I particularly like these DVDs because he approaches foundational movements with a “how to tweak to work AROUND the injury (not rehab it)” stance – which, after all, is the job of the fitness coach or personal trainer. We aren’t physical therapists and most of our clients want to work hard without pain. One of the exercises he features is the sled pull:


Nick makes the good point that this exercise is especially great for training the lower body in people with both knee AND back limitations because it requires minimal flexion at the knee and allows for a vertical trunk position. Moreover, the movement itself is simply closed-chain terminal knee extension – often prescribed in rehabilitation programs following knee injuries to improve patella tracking – and when using the handles versus a harness, the challenge of resisting being pulled into spinal flexion is removed. For these reasons, the exercise can be loaded and trained safely in place of squat and deadlift variations to increase strength, OR loaded to a lesser degree and done fast for conditioning in place of higher-impact activities like running. If you’ve never used a sled, swing by FocusNYC and give it a try!

How Your Learning Style Affects Your Coaching

by Meaghan posted December 4, 2012

At FPTI, we start each semester by giving our students a test. I know what you’re thinking: How can they take a test before they learn anything?

Well, it isn’t a test to see what they’ve learned; it’s test to see how they learn.

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Teaching the Hip Hinge

by Meaghan posted October 25, 2012

Anyone who has trained for any length of time knows that the hip hinge can be difficult for some people to master – especially those who don’t naturally move well. Problem is, these are the people who need to practice it the most.

The most common flaw seen with any movement requiring a hip hinge is that spinal flexion gets substituted for hip flexion – not good! That is, people round their backs, placing undue stress on their lumbar structures. This stress increases with load, so any type of deadlifting movement without mastery of a proper hip hinge becomes dangerous.

When it comes to exercise, seeing a demonstration of correct technique usually helps; but with a dysfunctional hip hinge, visual cues rarely work to fix the problem. How many times have we seen people try to mimic the RDL and still do spinal flexion instead? I know I’ve seen it more times than I need to count. Different cues will work for different people, so having a few to pull from is essential. The following cues often work well:

For audio learners: “Instead of bringing the dowel (a common teaching tool that’s really just a wooden stick) to the floor, push your butt back to the wall.”

For tactile learners: Stand the client about 6 inches in front of a wall and literally make them push their butt into it. It can help even more to have them put their hands on their hips and physically do it themselves.

I’ve even gone so far as to pin someone between a wall and a bench, and make them push their butt into the wall so that they can’t do the movement by performing either spinal flexion or knee flexion. (The other common flaw you’ll see with a hip hinge is that people bend their knees too much and try to “squat” for more range of motion).

Holding that same dowel from above against the client’s neutral spine and forcing them to do the movement while maintaining contact with the dowel at the head, thoracic spine and tailbone without allowing the lumbar spine to touch the dowel sometimes also works.

Here are a few more hip hinge teaching tips from the great Dan John:



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by Meaghan posted September 19, 2012

Aside from a desire to help people, one of the major things that distinguishes a trainer from a fitness enthusiast is an understanding of WHY we select certain exercises. At FPTI, we pride ourselves on our commitment to constantly refining and improving our curriculum. For example, we’re always striving to make “functional anatomy” a little more “functional.”

Take the way the function of the trunk muscles is typically taught: Rectus abdominis flexes the spine; erector spinae extend the spine; internal and external obliques rotate the trunk to the ispilateral (same) and contralateral (opposite) sides, respectively; and the obliques and quadratus lumborum laterally flex the trunk. While all this is true, the major function of ALL trunk musculature is to NOT move the spine; these muscles are meant to contract isometrically to protect and stabilize the spine against forces that attempt to create these actions and damage spinal structures – which is why we teach plank variations over crunches and side plank variations over those silly side bendy things so many people still seem to love…


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