The Five Biggest Contradictions in Fitness

It’s no secret that when people contradict themselves, it has the effect of making the flaws in their actions or statements seem glaringly obvious. But what about when WE ourselves get caught contradicting ourselves by someone else?

A better question is what to do when we fitness professionals and exercise enthusiasts catch ourselves displaying multiple contradictions within our own practices and beliefs?

At Performance U, we have instilled the discipline to critically analyze our own practices on an ongoing basis. We are humble enough to laugh at ourselves when we realize the situations in which we’ve become a walking contradiction. Additionally, we’re often smart enough to immediately change what we’re doing to turn our inconsistent thought processes into consistent ones that make much better sense.

Think about it: If we ourselves are not willing to be consistent with the training concepts that we preach and the techniques we teach, then how strongly do we really believe in those concepts and techniques to begin with? What does do we learn about the validity of one belief or practice when it stands in direct contrast to different belief or practice that we might be much more sure of?

Strength and conditioning training is rarely black and white. In fact, it’s mostly a grey area, which is the root of many of these heated “coach vs. coach” debates on various techniques and concepts. Because there is rarely one “right way” to go about a task in this game, we realize that we certainly don’t have all the answers. However, what we do know is that if we contradict ourselves or do something that directly goes against something else that we do, we are absolutely guilty of flawed thinking. In other words, if what you say or do conflicts with something else you say or do, then some of the things you are saying or doing are 100% WRONG. Period.

I travel the word teaching and interacting with fitness professionals, and I can say with great confidence that the world of fitness training is full of these contradictions because a good portion of what is being taught to us as fitness professionals was developed using rather inconsistent thought processes. We at Performance U are just as guilty as anyone else because too often we don’t even realize that we are walking/talking contradictions until someone else comes along and catches us or we experience an “Aha!” moment. It could be said that the objective of writing an article like this is to give you the knowledge to not make the same mistakes that we did.

In this article, I share the five biggest contradictions in fitness training, mistakes that we have made as trainers and that you may be making as well! I also provide simple training strategies that we’ve used to transform our inconsistent and flawed thought processes into more consistent and sensible solutions-based strength and conditioning practices that have drastically improved the results we’ve been able to achieve for our clients and athletes of all levels.

If you’re ready to join me in laughing at yourself while learning, read on.

1. Pull your shoulder blades back and down

Similar to many other fitness professional and physical therapists, in the past, we advised all of our clients to “pull your shoulders back and down” as almost a default approach to immediately improving their postures for performing any action, from standing to sitting to various exercises.

This is why we no longer use this postural cue and feel that it is contradictory:

Most of us agree that neutral joint positioning is a safe, effective, and efficient place to begin for most people for performing most activities. However, pulling your shoulder blades back and down is NOT a neutral joint position, it’s an end-range joint position!

We wouldn’t tell our clients to fully tilt their pelvises (posterior or anterior) for training, walking/running, or just standing around, nor would we tell them to fully adduct or abduct their knees when moving or standing. Therefore, why would we treat the shoulders any differently? We don’t believe the shoulders should be treated any differently, and thus, we no longer treat them any differently!

Our practical, more sensible, and consistent solution:

Although our joints move in different ways, ALL joints work in the same general manner. Joints are avascular, which means that they require regular “good quality” movement (compression and distraction) to push waste products out and bring nutrients in to keep your joints healthy. In contrast, poor movement tends to negatively impact your joints and can cause damage if your body is unable to compensate sufficiently. In general, lack of movement in your joints tends to cause degeneration.

The way that we treat one joint is the way that we treat ALL joints in the body. Instead of telling our clients to move into a end-range joint position, which likely interferes with optimal joint mechanics, we cue our clients to find a comfortable and neutral shoulder position (between protracted and retracted) for standing, sitting, and the beginning of an exercise.

2. Shoulder and neck packing

If you are not familiar with shoulder packing or neck packing, it’s a fairly new posture/movement cue that prompts you to draw your neck “back and in” to more or less give yourself a double chin before you lift a weight. For the shoulder, it’s a cue that tells you to put your right shoulder blade into your back left pocket when lifting loads overhead, such as when performing a kettlebell press.

Jimmie only packs his neck for selfies.

Both of these “packing” cues are offered as default methods that were thought to increase stability at your neck and/or shoulders.

In truth, we’ve experimented with these “packing” techniques but never fully embraced them as a regular component of our training because we were skeptical of them from the beginning.

Currently, we don’t use these concepts in our training practices at Performance U.

Listed below are three reasons why we don’t subscribe to the neck/shoulder packing theory, why we don’t feel it is necessary to incorporate these cues, and why we feel they are based on an inconsistent and highly contradictory thought process:

  1. Driving your neck backward and losing the normal lordotic/cervical (neck) curve does not create a neutral joint position because this is an end-range joint position, similar to driving your shoulder blade into your back pocket when pressing overhead.

    This is another example of telling clients to create “neutral” joint positioning at the ankles, knees, lumbar and thoracic spine only to turn around and tell them to do the exact opposite for their neck and shoulders by “packing” them into more of an end-range position.

    Because all of your joints (although shaped differently) are structured using the same raw materials and each joint generally functions in the same avascular manner, human physiology dictates that we treat all joints the same way to avoid contradiction!

    We either want to start trainees with more neutral positioning at all joints, or we want to start them in a more end-range (packed) position at all joints. Whichever you personally decide to choose, understand that you must be willing to be consistent and apply your understanding across the board because both approaches can’t be right.

    This means that if you choose to use the “packing” concept, to avoid contradicting yourself, you must be willing to treat the pelvis like you treat the neck by cueing your clients to drive their pelvis “back and in” so they lose their normal lumbar lordotic curve, just as you cued them to do in their neck.

    If you are not willing to use this approach for the pelvis, it’s time to ask yourself why you would use it for the neck? These examples illustrate what we think about often at Performance U, and our answers are very humbling, which is a good thing.

  2. Do you remember how many fitness professionals (us included) and physical therapists once told everyone “draw in” their belly buttons because (at that time) we “knew” that this method was the magic bullet to pre-positioning of our bodies for optimal lumbar spine stability?

    Of course, we found out later on that the body automatically takes care of this job on its own. Shoulder and neck packing is basically “drawing in” at a different location in your body!

    The question we’ve asked ourselves is, “If we now know that the body creates stability on its own at the lumbar spine, wouldn’t it make sense that it also takes care of that same job everywhere else as well?”

    Even in patients with low back pain, the TvA was never turned “off”; instead, its activation was delayed by only 50-90 milliseconds. No situation exists in the gym in which a load is taken on that quickly. Therefore, it is unnecessary for anyone to draw in the belly button before lifting weights!

    The way we see it, using what we know already is flawed logic (drawing in) and applying it to a different part of the body doesn’t make it any less flawed.

    Put simply, if we know there is no need to draw in the belly button when strength training, we don’t see the need to draw in any other body part.

    We believe that if the body can take care of stabilizing the lumbar spine joints on its own, it also knows full well how to take care of all of the other joints on its own too!

  3. Not only did it look very unnatural to us when we had our clients “pack” their neck and/or shoulders, it also felt very unnatural, awkward, and uncomfortable to the clients when they tried it.

    In fact, I can promise that you’ll never see an athlete “pack in” their neck or shoulders when playing a sport. You may see it occur when certain people perform exercises because they’ve been “coached” to do so or if someone has forced them to make it a habit. In fact, you’ll even hear people who teach joint packing say that they’ve “never met any athlete who already knows how to pack their neck without being taught.”

    Now, if someone tells us that they’ve developed a test that no one on the planet can pass, we’ll confidently tell them why they’ve just told us (without even realizing it) that their test was unrealistic and invalid to begin with.

    Think about it. What does it tell you about the legitimacy of a practice or belief is if not one human walking the earth can perform it?

    Listen, the human body is an otherwise perfect system that we’ll never fully understand. In our opinion, telling our clients that they should learn how to do something that doesn’t even come naturally to the best movers (high level athletes) on the planet sounds like we’re claiming that we’ve found a flaw in an otherwise perfect system. We don’t buy this, even if you’re giving it away!

Described below are our practical solutions for ensuring maximal stability at the neck and shoulders without packing anything but our luggage:

For the neck:

  1. For slower lifts such as deadlifts and squats, we allow each person to find a comfortable head/neck position that is somewhere within his/her midrange (between extension and flexion). Our clients come in all shapes and sizes, and therefore, we allow for a certain amount of variability from person to person. However, we don’t allow for full end-range positions.
  2. For faster actions such as kettlebell swings, we tell our clients to look at a 45-degree angle in front of them. We’ve found that if you keep your head still (without extension) by “packing” and move quickly, you quickly become dizzy and/or disoriented, which also leads us to believe that keeping your neck in one place doesn’t make sense because you could never play sports and move quickly without flexing and extending your neck position to make visual adjustments and to maintain your equilibrium.
  3. From what we’ve learned about the shoulders, upward scapular rotation is healthier than upward elevation when lifting your arm(s) overhead. Therefore, as long as we don’t see you putting your biceps on your ear each time you raise your arms up, you aren’t elevating your scaps in a way that concerns us.

3. Movement assessments

At Performance U, we don’t assess our clients just once or every few months. We assess during every damn workout because the body changes daily based on everything from stress to how you slept or ate the night before.

Of course we also believe in using movement assessments, but we believe that in the past, there were certain practices in our assessments that didn’t make sense.

Here are three things we used to do and say in our assessments that we now feel are contradictory:

  1. We realized that we couldn’t tell our clients (or students) that they must do an assessment because it helps us to “personalize” their program only to turn around and tell them why everyone needs to do kettlebell swings, Turkish get-ups, and some sort of deadlift variation(s). We laughed when we asked ourselves, “What good is your assessment if you’re just going to do the same damn exercises anyway?”
  2. We used to love telling people “You should have the movements that you had as young child” until we realized what we were saying was just plain unrealistic and silly because EVERYHTING about the human body changes as it ages. It’s called “growing up.”

    We asked ourselves, “How is it possible for an adult to move like they did when their bones weren’t as thick, their connective tissues were more lax, and they had much less muscle density and a brain that’s wasn’t even fully developed?” Our answer was simple: A different body will indeed function differently!

  3. We also enjoyed wowing our clients and students by hitting them with a statement like this: “You can get rid of your adult dysfunctions by getting on the floor and rolling around like a baby because doing this resets your nervous system back to when you were an infant, before you had developed any dysfunctions.”

    In addition to what I mentioned above in #2, we again asked ourselves a question, “If that’s true, than why don’t I crap my pants or lose my ability to walk after doing rolling exercises that supposedly reboot my CNS like a computer?”

    The truth of the matter is that we were ignoring the fact that when you do “reboot” a computer, there NOTHING left on it. Therefore, if we really were rebooting our systems when doing any specific exercise(s), why could we still do all the things we could do before we did the exercise(s)?

    Even worse, what really made us laugh at our ridiculousness was asking ourselves this question: “What about when a person sucks on a woman’s breast? Does his/her CNS reset back to when he/she was breastfeeding?” You already know the answer we ended up with because every human who’s gotten laid as an adult would still be wearing diapers.

Our simple solution:

At our initial meeting, we are straightforward with all of clients and tell them, “Everyone we train regularly performs some sort of push, pull, lower-body, core, and locomotive exercises.” We no longer unconsciously deceive them by telling them how important their postural or movement assessment results are only to turn around give them the same exercises we use with everyone else.

We simply watch people move, see what exercises they can do, and figure out how they can begin to do them better. However, we stopped getting caught up in asking our clients if they can or can’t get into some specific body position they’ve never seen or done anytime in their normal lives or how they did it when they were a baby.

Instead, we focus on the normal movements that our clients perform daily, movements that they can control, and we build our fitness program from that starting point. As our clients become more active, their functional mobilities and stabilities improve by default, and many of their aches and pains seem to magically disappear from simply reinstating regular multi-planar movement into their lives.

Additionally, as I stated previously, we continually assess our clients on every workout, with every set and during every damn rep and not just on the first day. For training, we simply remain in the pain-free ranges of motion, we use smart exercise progressions, and we pay attention to detail.

There is no need to do “functional training”… just get strong!

I’ll admit that “functional” training is something that we’ve flip-flopped on over the years like a politician running for office.

Adrian has the strong part handled…

Caption: Adrian has the strong part handled…

Early on in our training careers, we got overly caught up in making almost every damn exercise look like the movement that we were trying to improve.

Later on, we went in the complete opposite direction with our training and told everyone to “just get strong and to not worry about mimicking the movement” that they were training to improve because “the stronger you are, the more functional you’ll be.”

Although we still feel that getting stronger will certainly help your overall functional ability, here is why we no longer say things such as “functional training isn’t what it looks like but what it creates” because we believe those statements directly contradict what we (and most trainers) actually do in training:

If you want to “get strong”, you must do the “Big 3” lifts (i.e., squat, deadlift, and bench press) together with other movements (i.e., chin-ups, single-leg work, etc.).

Next, to further improve at any of the three big lifts, you need to perform “assistance exercises” for those lifts. For instance, to get stronger at bench press, you’d do assistance movements such as close-grip bench and board presses. The funny thing is that almost ALL of the assistance exercises we use to improve a specific weight lifting movement happened to LOOK JUST LIKE the movement we were trying to improve, which is exactly what we were telling people was a poor method of training.

We had an “Aha!” moment when we realized that we can’t tell clients that the exercise doesn’t have to look like the movement that we’re training when we know damn well that to improve their deadlift, they must do many assistance exercises that happen to look just like the damn deadlift or mimic movement components of the deadlift.

We also said to ourselves, “C’mon now… surely you don’t believe that the concept of using assistance exercises to improve specific aspects of a given movement can ONLY work for three lifts and that’s all!” The reality check response (to ourselves) was, “Of course not, because that would be plain ridiculous.”

Additionally, we also realized that when we want to retrain (correct) a movement pattern and attempt to improve it, the (corrective) exercises that we use look just like the movement we’re trying to improve/correct, or they at least mimic components of it.

Therefore, we were previously contradicting ourselves on two levels: strength training and “corrective” training.

Our practical solution:

We use BOTH general exercises AND functional/specific exercises.

In general strength training, we use free weights and machines to perform basic weight training exercises to “get big and strong.”

UFC fighter Matt Brown certainly has functional covered!

We also use functional exercises, which we design to match the specific force production patterns of the real-life or sporting movement we are aiming to strengthen. These movements are generally “assistance exercises” for every movement that we want to improve.

In other words, we apply the same wisdom used successfully by powerlifters to improve at the bench, squat and deadlift to improve everything else!

Getting strong does help you to become more functional, but it has its limitations, which is why we also incorporate functional exercises to gain benefits in the areas where the general exercise falls short.

Check out this video of Coach JC Santana and I discussing his research study showing the limited functional carryover of the bench press into the standing pushing actions common to sports.

5. Machines are non-functional

This is another common training contradiction that we realized we were making at the same time as we caught ourselves on #4 (above.)

If you’re like us, and guilty of committing the training contradiction I outlined above in #4, you are probably guilty of this one as well:

We completely contradicted ourselves when we told people (sometimes in the same sentence) to avoid machines because they don’t “look” like any functional movements of life and/or sports.

We used to be the ones that strongly advised people to “just get strong” and not worry about making the exercise look like the activities of life and sport we’re trying to improve.

However, we’d then do a 180-degree turnaround and tell people to not to use machines because they were non-functional because they didn’t look like anything people do in life and sport. Now if that ain’t the king of all training contradictions we we’re guilty of, I don’t know what is!

Our practical solution:

We use both free weights AND machines because both have unique benefits.

We use free weights for larger movements, and we use machines to target (isolate) weaker areas and to build up less developed areas.

We emphasize free weights and we use machines secondarily.

Final thoughts

The goal of this article was simply to make you smile or even laugh at yourself by realizing (as we have) that so much of what we say and do in fitness training is a complete contradiction to other words and actions that we feel equally as strongly about.

If you did laugh or flick yourself in the forehead reading a few of these, then you “got it.” If you’re not guilty of one, a few, or all of these above contradictions, props to you for realizing this stuff much earlier than we did.

Finally, remember this: If you have a training principle that you follow, you must be willing to apply it to everything rather than using it selectively. If you’re not willing to apply that one thing you do in your training to everything you do in your training, then it’s probably time to rethink how and why you’re using that principle at all.

The Ultimate Guide to Tire Training

There’s nothing better than getting a great strength and conditioning workout while outside on a beautiful day (or on a brisk December morning!).  The only problem with training outdoors is that you’re limited on equipment, which makes it tough to use the heavy loads needed to put on serious muscle, unless you’re at the legendary Venice Beach gym where all the equipment is already outside!

In this article, I’m will show you a fast, cheap, and easy way to build bigger, stronger legs while drastically improving your level of conditioning and burning off some serious body fat (not to mention all while getting a great suntan). Get ready for the ultimate lower-body workout using a big ole tire!

Mentors, Friends, and Big Tires

Before going any further, I’d like to thank my good friend and mentor, Coach JC Santana, for showing me the ins and outs of tire training.  If it weren’t for Coach JC putting me through my first ever tire training workout over ten years ago, I would not be able to write this article. I also would have missed out on all the amazing fun and challenging tire workouts I’ve had with friends and clients since then.

JC Santana and I in 2001 – After my first Tire Training Workout

What’s NOT in this Article

I know what you’re thinking when you see the words “big tire” and “workout” in the same sentence: tire flips and hammer slams.

Wrong! First off, using hammers is not tire training, it’s hammer training.

As far as tire flips are concerned, I don’t have any of my athletes perform tire flips, and I recommend against using tire flips as an exercise regardless of your fitness level.

Tire Flips?

I don’t use tire flips because I don’t feel the risk is worth the reward. Due to the shape of the tire, it’s very difficult to maintain the optimal spinal alignment needed to minimize possible low back injury while lifting the tire. Most folks who perform tire flips lose their lumbar curve and end up in a more kyphotic position, which is asking for a back injury!

This is poor tire flipping form and can put you on the back surgeon’s table fast!

Lifting a tire trains the same muscle and movement pattern as a deadlift. However, using a barbell to deadlift is a better exercise in my book because it’s much easier to keep good spinal alignment while still training the same movement pattern and strengthening the same muscles.  So, why not just deadlift? There’s less risk with the same (if not better) reward!

The Right Way to Train with a Big Tire

Instead of using the big tire for flips, I like to use the tire as a sled. Using the tire as a sled has a number of benefits:

It’s cheap! –  Not everyone can afford a weight sled or a prowler. The tire gives you the same training benefits without the drain on your wallet.

No storage space, No problem! – Sleds and prowlers are made of metal and need to be kept inside somewhere where they won’t rust out. You can keep a tire outside.

Note – Someone stole all of our training tires here last year, so take a lesson from our mistake. If you keep your tires outside, keep them chained together like we do now.

Tire training Is fun! – Everyone loves the feeling of hooking themselves up to a big tire and pulling that tire around. It’s an empowering feeling of you vs. the tire, and you win each time (we hope)!

It looks bad-ass – What looks tougher to onlookers than watching someone pull around a tire that is double their size? We all love to train hard and look hard doing it…the tire does just that!

The weight load is easily adjustable – You may not think it’s possible to make a tire feel lighter or heavier without cutting it apart. It IS very possible, and I’m going to show you how at the end of this article.

Tire Training Works for EVERYONE!

No matter who you are, what your fitness level is like, or what your training goals are, the tire sled can get you results!

For bodybuilding – The tire sled is fantastic as a finisher to a traditional bodybuilding-style leg workout. There’s nothing you can do in the gym that trains the legs in the same manner as the tire. Therefore, the tire is a great way to shock your body and stimulate some new muscle growth by doing a new activity!

For sports performance – Just look at the driving angle used by a football lineman, the body angle required for optimal acceleration by a sprinter, or the angle of a MMA fighter’s body while shooting in for a wrestling takedown. These positions are all analogous to the angle of the body while pulling the tire sled, which leaves no doubt about the sports carryover of training with the tire sled.

For exercise enthusiasts – The tire sled is a great way to add some variety to your training. It will also help you add a new, fun, and challenging element to your boring, one-dimensional gym workout.

For knee and back injuries – Almost all of my athletes who suffer from aching, painful knees and/or backs can still go hard with the tire sled while pulling some heavy loads. The tire sled is a great knee- and low back-friendly strength training tool. Read my “Big Legs with Bad Knees” article for more on how to train around knee issues.

Getting a Tire!

You can usually get a big tire for free at any local tire recycling center. Here’s a picture from our last tire pick-up trip. They’ve got plenty to choose from, in all shapes and sizes!

All you have to do is go there and pick it up yourself; they’re usually happy to give it to you. Here’s a picture of Marc’s (my business partner) truck loaded with tires. Be sure to bring some straps to hold the tire in your truck bed!

Before you leave the tire yard, I recommend finding the tallest, most stable tire pile to do your best super-hero pose on, like this:

All you have to do is go there and pick it up yourself

Additional Equipment Needs

In order to perform all of the tire exercises and workouts featured in this article, you’ll also need a few more things:

  • A thick chain (to go around the tire)
  • A length of long climbing rope or a heavy-duty dog leash
  • Handles from any cable machine
  • A shoulder harness

You’ll see what the general setup with this equipment looks like in the videos and exercise pictures below.

Tire Training – Performance U Style!

Here’s a list of the most popular tire training exercises that I use here at Performance U to get my athletes into sick shape!

Tire Dragging

This is the most pure tire sled exercise you can use to crush your legs and build insane levels of conditioning. Also, as I mentioned above, you can’t find a better exercise for improving the forward lean / driving angle needed for optimal sprinting ability, MMA/wrestling, and football performance!

I love using the Abs straps around my arms for this exercise to increase the demand on the upper-body and core. My MMA and NFL athletes love this version with the Abs straps!

The Tire (Prowler) Push

I love the using the Prowler! Prowler Pushes are one of my all time favorite total-body exercises for increasing strength, conditioning, and mental toughness levels. That said, not everyone can afford to buy a Prowler and others just don’t have the storage space.

The tire can be kept outside and is free or low cost. Plus, due to the instability created by the handles, it can give you an even more intense workout than the Prowler!

Check out this video to see what I mean:

Reverse Tire Drag

If you’re looking for a great way to crush your quad muscles and build some sick new muscle size in the front of your legs, the reverse tire pull will deliver big results!

Wrestlers and MMA athletes can use the Abs straps (as shown in the picture) to make this exercise even more grappling-specific!

Crossover Tire Drag

This movement is great for hitting the lateral muscles of the leg that are often neglected in most traditional gym exercises. It’s also a great way for athletes to improve lateral power and change-of-direction ability.

Adjusting The Load of the Tire

It’s easy to make the tire feel lighter or heavier if you use the physics principles of angles, forces, and friction.

Put simply, the shorter the rope/strap connecting you to the tire, the lighter the load will feel because you’re reducing the vertical force of the tire on the ground (because part of the weight of the tire is being held up by the rope/strap), which reduces the friction and thus the perceived dragging load.

To make the tire feel heavier, simply lengthen the rope/strap and position yourself farther away from the tire.

This places more of the full weight of the tire on the ground instead of being held up by the rope, which enhances the friction that makes the tire harder to move.

I explain and demonstrate these concepts in great detail in this video:

Tire Sled Workouts

Now that you’ve seen the tire sled exercises, here’s a few sample lower-body workouts that put them into real-world practice.

Workout #1 – Use this workout for improved lower-body strength

1. Deadlifts: 4x 4-6
2. Tire Sled Drag: 4 x 20-25yds (use large/heavy tire)
3a. Reverse Tire Drag: 4×15-20yds (use large/heavy tire)
3b. Glute/Ham Raises: 4x 8-10
4. Barbell Calf Raises: 2×20

Workout #2 – Use this workout for increased lower-body power

1. 10-15yd sprints: x6
2. Long Jumps: 5×5
3. Tire Drags: 4 x 15-20yds (get to finish line as fast as possible)
4. Crossover Tire Drag: 2x 10-15yds each side (get to finish line as fast as possible)

Workout #3 – Use this for improved conditioning and fat loss

1. Prowler Tire Push: 4x 25yds
2. Cross-Over Tire Drag: 2×15-20yds each side
3. 300yds Shuttle Run: x2 (sprint 25yds x12)

What Are You Waiting For?

I’ve given you everything you need to know in order to get a safe, fun, and super effective workout using a big tire.

I’ve done my part…now it’s time to do yours!

Go get yourself a tire, get yourself out of the same old gym routine, and start “getting after it” outside for all the spectators to witness!

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Ultimate Guide to Tire Training discussion thread.

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Fast-Track Your Muscle Growth: One-Minute Muscle Builders

In this article, I will show you a variety of simple-but-not-easy workout protocols, each guaranteed to inflate your muscles like a float at the Macy’s Day Parade!  Each of the workout protocols I’ve provided here take only one minute to complete, (hence the reason I’ve named them one-minute muscle builders).

Just in case your spider senses are giving off the “gimmick alert” signal, take heed: These workouts have all been battle-tested and certified as effective with the athletes here at Performance U in Baltimore, MD.

If you’re ready to discover how to get better results in 60 seconds than most guys get from their 60-minute strength workout sessions, then read on!

What is a One-Minute Muscle Builder?

These are a series of high intensity, high volume protocols consisting of multiple exercises performed back-to-back without rest, all targeting the same group of muscles.

In the practical exercise section below, I’ve included one-minute muscle building protocols for legs, glutes/hamstring, chest, back, and arms.

The following can be performed in conjunction with other more traditional training concepts, or they can each be performed as a stand-alone workout (more on that in the program design section provided later in this article).

One-Minute Protocols

Here’s a list of the most popular One-Minute Muscle Building Protocols I use here at Performance U to help my athletes break through plateaus and put on insane amounts of muscle without losing performance. Each of the protocols featured takes roughly one minute to complete if performed at the proper speed and intensity.

I owe my good friend and mentor, Coach JC Santana, for the creative inspiration behind many of these protocols.

Be warned: Don’t let the one-minute time frame fool you! These workouts can crush even the most elite level athlete, plus these workouts will also give you the best pump you’ve ever felt. To prevent overtraining when using these workouts, be sure to follow the progressions I describe below.

One-Minute Chest Blaster

I learned this protocol from my good friend and mentor, Coach JC Santana. This workout will actually crush both your chest and triceps!

You’ll need a medicine ball or small box for this one. Perform as a circuit with speed:

  • 5 – 10 medicine ball lock-offs on each side
  • 5 – 10 medicine ball crossover push-ups on each side (alternate sides)
  • 5 – 10 medicine ball close-grip push-ups
  • 5 – 10 medicine ball drop and returns


Six-Week Chest Blaster Workout Progression

Here’s how you can gradually progress with the Chest Blaster workout over a six-week period. The goal is not just to complete all the reps, it’s to complete all the reps, back-to-back, with controlled speed.

  • Week #1 – 5 reps of each exercise
  • Week #2 – 6 reps of each exercise
  • Week #3 – 7 reps of each exercise
  • Week #4 – 8 reps of each exercise
  • Week #5 – 9 reps of each exercise
  • Week #6 – 10 reps of each exercise

One-Minute Back Builder

As with most pulling workouts, this protocol will smash both your back and biceps. You’ll need a heavy-duty band and a medicine ball for this one. Bands allow you to move under load at high speeds without building momentum. My band of choice is the JC Band All-Purpose Band.

Perform as a circuit with speed:

  • 10 – 15 Chin-ups
  • 20 – 30 Speed rows on each arm (alternate arms)
  • 10 – 15 Compound rows (see video below)
  • 5 – 10 Medicine ball slams (see video below)



Six-Week Back Builder Workout Progression

Here’s how to gradually progress with the Back Builder workout over a six-week period. You want to be able to complete the workout each work in roughly the same amount of time, which means you’ll get more work done in the same time frame.

  • Week #1 – 10 reps, 20 reps, 10 reps, 5 reps
  • Week #2 – 11 reps, 22 reps, 11 reps, 6 reps
  • Week #3 – 12 reps, 24 reps, 12 reps, 7 reps
  • Week #4 – 13 reps, 26 reps, 13 reps, 8 reps
  • Week #5 – 14 reps, 28 reps, 14 reps, 9 reps
  • Week #6 – 15 reps, 30 reps, 15 reps, 10 reps

One-Minute Arm Sweller

This workout is a combination of two 30-second Band protocols I’ve named the 60/30 arm workouts. After doing both of these 60/30 arm exercises back-to-back, you will have an arm pump like you’ve never felt before…guaranteed!

Again, I recommend using Super Bands for this protocol (check out the JC Band All-Purpose Band) .

Step 1- Perform the 60/30 Triceps Extension

The 60/30 Triceps Extension – Grab a heavy-duty band and tie it up at the top of a squat rack or cable column. Try to bang out 60 triceps extensions in 30 seconds without using too much extra body momentum. You must move as fast as possible but under control!


Step 2 – Without resting, immediately perform the 60/30 Biceps Curl

The 60/30 Biceps Curl – Anchor the same band under your feet, holding the other end in your hands. As with the triceps extension, perform 60 reps in 30 seconds, moving as fast as you can go.


Step 3 – Rest and watch your arms inflate!

Six-Week Arm Sweller Workout Progression

Here’s my suggestion for how you can progress with the Arm Sweller workout over a six-week time frame. You can also progress by simply using a heavier (stronger) resistance band. If you can’t complete all 60 reps in the given time frame of 30 seconds, then the band is too heavy.

  • Weeks 1-2: perform 2 sets
  • Weeks 3-4: perform 3 sets
  • Weeks 5-6: perform 4 sets

60-Second Super Legs

If you’re looking for a serious leg workout that gets BIG results in a little time, look no further because here it is!

The Super Legs circuit was originally developed by legendary coach Vern Gambetta.

Perform as a circuit with speed:

  • 20-24 Speed squats
  • 20-24 Alternating lunges or reverse lunges (go fast!)
  • 20-24 Alternating split squat jumps or bench split jumps
  • 10-12 Squat jumps or box jumps (jump as high as possible)

Six-Week Super Legs Workout Progression

No one knows how to progress this workout better than the man who invented it: Vern Gambetta. Go here to Vern’s Blog and discover his 6-Week Super Legs circuit progression.

1-Minute Hamstring Hattrick

Are you ready to feel your hamstring and calves like you’ve never felt them before? Grab yourself a Swiss ball and try this workout!

Perform as circuit with optimal form and a controlled tempo:

  • 15-20 Swiss ball leg curl
  • 15-20 Swiss ball bent-leg bridge
  • 15-20 Swiss ball straight-leg bridge (toes only on ball)


Six-Week Hamstring Hattrick Workout Progression

As with the rest of these One-Minute muscle-building protocols, the Hamstring Hattrick needs to be progressed each week to ensure maximal safety and effectiveness. Here’s how I recommend increasing the intensity of this workout over six weeks.

  • Week #1 – 15 reps of each exercise
  • Week #2 – 16 reps of each exercise
  • Week #3 – 17 reps of each exercise
  • Week #4 – 18 reps of each exercise
  • Week #5 – 19 reps of each exercise
  • Week #6 – 20 reps of each exercise

Additional Notes on All of the One-Minute Workouts

Move at a pace that allows you to perform 1 rep per second during all the above exercises.

Try to finish each of the above protocols in as close to 60 seconds as possible.

Some protocols will take slightly less than one minute and others will take slightly longer. Always try to match or beat your previous time.

As you progressively add repetitions, the length of the protocol will become slightly longer. Try to reduce your best time with each workout.

Program Design Tips for Using these One-Minute Muscle Builders

There are two primary ways to integrate these One Minute Muscle protocols into your workouts:

As a finisher – After you’ve completed your traditional workout, you can throw in one or two sets of the One-Minute Muscle protocol that target the same muscles emphasized in your workout for that particular day. For example, perform the One-Minute Chest Blaster workout at the end of your chest day. Alternatively, at the end of your lower-body day, do 1-2 sets of the Super Legs workout.

As a stand-alone workout – Any of these One-Minute Muscle protocols can make for a quick but super intense workout. If you’re looking for a new training challenge and just want to “hit it hard” and go home, then try performing 4-5 sets of the particular One-Minute protocol that complements the muscles trained that day in the gym. For example, on leg day, perform five sets of Super Legs and four sets of the Hamstring Hattrick.

Choosing Your Rest Intervals

When using these One-Minute Muscle Building Protocols, there are two ways to deal with your rest periods:

Use a Designated Rest Interval – Due to their highly intense nature, I recommend using at least a 1:3 work-to-rest ratio when first starting out with any of these One-Minute protocols. In other words, do 1 minute of work, then rest 3 minutes before starting your next set.

Example: Perform 1 set of Super Legs, rest 3 minutes. Perform next set of Super Legs, rest 3 minutes.

Perform for Time – One of my favorite methods for using multiple sets of One-Minute Muscle builders is to record the total amount of time it takes to complete a given number of rounds of a specific One-Minute Muscle protocol.

Example: Record the amount of time it takes you to complete three total rounds of the Back Builder workout. Then, for each subsequent workout, attempt to reduce the length of time it took you to complete the workout the prior week.

The Ultimate 10-Minute Fitness Challenge

Here’s a killer total-body workout/fitness challenge you can try if you’d like to test your physical fitness and mental toughness:

Perform all of the One-Minute protocols for the reps indicated in 10 minutes or less:

  • 1 set of Super Legs x20/20/20/10
  • 1 set of the Chest Blaster x5/5/5/5
  • 1 set of the Back Builder x10/20/10/5
  • 1 set of the Hamstring Hattrick x20/20/20
  • 1 set of the Arm Sweller x60/30 + 60/30

After this workout, you won’t want to just sit down and rest, you’ll want to go home and take a long nap!


The traditional exercises we all know and love are still just as great and effective as ever before, but what happens when those exercise staples no longer work? To get a stubborn body part to respond, you sometimes need to think outside of your everyday training toolbox and get a little creative.

These One-Minute Muscle Building Protocols are just what the doctor ordered for blasting through training plateau and sparking some new muscle growth. They’re also a great way to push yourself both mental and physically to new limits!

Written by Nick Tumminello

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Fast-Track Your Muscle Growth: One-Minute Muscle Builders discussion thread.

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Lower Body Warm-Up – 10 Minutes to Better Performance!

In my last article, Upper Body Warm-Up, I provided you with battle-tested upper body warm-up concepts that ensure maximal performance both in the gym and in competition.

In this article, I’m going to show you exactly what you need to do to better prepare for your lower body workout days. These Lower Body Warm-up techniques are guaranteed to maximize strength, improve motor unit (muscle) recruitment, and help prevent injury.

However, before I get into the practical exercises, I’m going to start with a few more gems of knowledge that are sure to help you get more out of the valuable training information contained in this article.

Warm-Up vs. Workout

This should be obvious, but based on my experience, many coaches ignore this one simple principle: your warm-up should NOT be the workout!

In other words, the optimal warm-up should be low enough in intensity that it gradually prepares you mentally, technically, and physically to better perform the primary activity to follow.  However, a proper warm-up should NOT be so high in intensity that it makes you tired and interferes with performance of the activity that you are preparing for.

The warm-up I describe below will not get you tired. It will get you worked up into a light sweat and feeling mentally and physically ready to set new PRs every time you train!

Why Are You Using Track Drills?

I see many coaches these days approach the lower body weightlifting warm-up using track/sprinter style drills such as butt kickers, high knees, and skips. Don’t get me wrong…these are great drills to do, but they don’t have much carryover to typical strength-based lifts like squats, lunges, and deadlifts.

If you are going to do track drills as part of your warm-up, perform them toward the beginning of the warm-up and gradually progress through other warm-up exercises that have more carryover to stationary lower-body strength exercises like the exercises I’ve provided below.

3 Key Points to an Effective Warm-up

Now that I’ve clarified some issues related to the warm-up by telling you what not to do, I can help you get the most out of your warm-ups by teaching you some important concepts that every athlete should do when warming up.

I’ve put together a list of three key points to designing an effective warm-up. These key points will help you understand why the Performance U approach to the warm-up is so effective. Plus, this list will empower you with the knowledge to make the most out of each and every warm-up session!

Key Point #1 – Use Unilateral Movements

As I’ve developed more knowledge and experience, I’ve come to realize the massive importance of using unilateral movements. Unilateral training is important for athletes because sprinting, cutting, swinging, punching, and just about every other action in sports is usually one-side dominant.

For bodybuilders, muscle symmetry is everything, so unilateral training is useful for them as well.

Additionally, from an injury prevention standpoint, muscle balance is necessary to move optimally and stay healthy. For instance, if your hamstrings are tighter on one side than on the other, this is likely to cause unnecessary torque in your hips and lumbar spine when you lift anything from the floor. This applies to deadlifts as well as Oly lifts.

The solution to achieving this balance is to use your warm-up as an assessment as to which parts of your body are feeling tighter and/or more restricted on that day. Performing unilateral movement warm-up exercises allows you to make this distinction and address it with more mobility work on the most restricted areas.

Key Point #2 – Do stuff you wouldn’t normally do!

A warm-up is great opportunity to incorporate movements and activities you wouldn’t normally do within your primary training session. For instance, we all know the importance of mobility work, but I never see folks working on mobility between sets of bench presses or deadlifts. Most people also are well aware of the importance of optimal posture, but rarely do I see guys in the gym working on activating the small muscles in the shoulders that can improve posture and maintain shoulder health by balancing out the stress created from heavy pressing movements.

Put simply, if you know something is important but you’re unlikely to do it during in your session, make it part of your warm-up. This way, you are sure to get it done each workout!

The movements I describe below focus on areas that I’ve found to be commonly weak and often overlooked. This is why I feel they are so important to do first.

Key Point #3 – Use your warm-up as an assessment!

I’ve already alluded to this in key point #1. Each day, your body can change based on how you feel that day, so use your warm-up as an opportunity to listen to what your body is telling you about its functional ability (or lack thereof) on that particular day.

If you feel like crap during your warm-up, it may not be the best day to try to set a new max weight squat. However, if during your warm-up you feel like a caged lion that can’t wait to pick up some heavy stuff, THAT is the day you hit it hard!

The Lower Body Warm-Up

Consistent with how the Upper Body Warm-Up was designed in Part 1, the Lower Body Warm-Up featured below consists of four stages:

Stage #1 – Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)
Stage #2 – Dynamic Mobility
Stage #3 – Muscle Activation
Stage #4 – CNS Activation

Each stage consists of a few exercises described in step-by-step fashion below.

For a detailed description of why each of these phases is important, please see Part 1

Now, here’s how you get your lower body prepped and ready, Performance U style!

Stage 1 – Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)

Grab yourself a massage stick, foam roller, or medicine ball and perform these following self-myofascial release exercises for 30 seconds on each side.  Cover the entire area of the muscle.

Find the tender spots in the targeted muscle group and focus on those for the allotted time frame.

SMR Exercise #1 – Hips and Glutes

SMR Exercise #2 – Hamstrings

You will notice that the rest of the SMR pictures below show the athlete using a massage stick. If your gym does not have one, I highly recommend purchasing one for yourself.

Foam rollers are great, but the massage stick allows you to control the pressure, speed, and angle more accurately while performing SMR. The value of the results provided by using the stick far outweighs its dollar cost!

That said, all of the SMR techniques can be effectively performed using a foam roller.

SMR Exercise #3 – Quads and Hip Flexors (A)

SMR Exercise #4 – Quads and Hip Flexors (B)

SMR Exercise #5 – Calves

Lower Body Warm-Up Stage 2 – Dynamic Mobility

This stage of the warm-up uses exercises that improve both joint mobility and muscle flexibility in an active/dynamic fashion.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #1 – Four Count Squats

If you have trouble getting down deep (below parallel) when squatting, this exercise is a must for you! For most folks, this drill will instantly have you squatting deeper. Don’t believe me? Try for yourself and find out!

Perform 8-10 reps

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #2 – Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug

As the name describes, step back into a reverse lunge, dropping your rear knee to the floor. As you descend into the lunge, reach your arms behind you to stretch the front portion of your body as shown below.

As you bring your rear leg forward, drive your knee up toward your chest and hug your leg tight to your body for 1 sec before switching sides.

Repeat this for 8-10 reps on each side.

This a great hip flexor stretch and a fantastic way to reverse the tension created from sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #3 – Lateral Lunge

As shown in the video below, be sure to keep your trailing leg straight and keep both feet parallel and flat on the floor.

Perform 8-10 reps each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #4 – Yoga Plex

Put simply, this is one the best mobility sequences you can do!  Think of it as yoga in fast forward.

Perform 4-8 reps on each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #5 – Arm Crossover Stretch

Yes, you did also see this very same stretch in the Upper Body Warm-Up article! The truth is, it also makes a great lower back and hip mobility drill.  I personally feel this exercise should be done every day that you train, regardless of the goal!

Perform 8-10 reps on each side.

Lower Body Warm Up Stage 3 – Muscle Activation

The Muscle Activation stage utilizes exercises that improve the mind – muscle connection and ensures that all of the important stabilizer muscles are maximally turned on and functioning properly.

Muscle Activation Exercise #1 – 1 Leg/Hip Bridges

This is a simple, yet very effective exercise for improving the function of the ever-so-important glutes!

In the video, we have Alli’s shoulders elevated above her hips because recent EMG research by my good friend and colleague, Bret (the Glute Guy) Contreras, has shown that this significantly improves glute muscle recruitment.

Perform 10-20 reps on each leg.

Muscle Activation Exercise #2 – Side Lying Adduction

Guys may look at this exercise as something women do in an attempt to “tone up” their inner thighs. First off, we know that’s just unrealistic and ridiculous. However, this exercise is a fantastic way to improve the function and strength of the adductor musculature.

Strong adductors will help you squat heavier weight and maintain better knee alignment, which translates into injury prevention. Plus, strong adductors can help prevent nasty groin pulls.

Be sure to keep your working leg in line with the rest of your body throughout the exercise.

Perform 10-20 reps on each side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #3 – Quadruped Hip Circuit

This is another protocol that is 1) often performed wrong, and 2) commonly miscategorized by hardcore lifters as a “girly” exercise.

The video below addresses the proper way to perform this protocol and describes how to use the quadruped hip circuit to improve both core stability and increase mobility at the hip joint. This in turn will help you perform all of your lower body training exercises more effectively.

Perform 10-15 reps per exercise, per side.

Muscle Activation Exercise #4 – Slow Motion Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are a great exercise for developing core stability, hip flexor strength, and hip mobility…that is, if the exercise is performed correctly, without allowing the hips to lift or the back to round.

Begin in push-up position with optimal spinal alignment, as shown below.

Now, in a controlled fashion, drive one knee toward your chest without allowing any change to the spinal alignment that you began with. Do not allow your elevated foot to touch the ground.

Hold the above position for 1-2 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Perform 6-8 reps on each side.

It’s all About the Hips!!!

Before I move on to the next stage of the warm-up, I want to mention something very important about the exercises that you just learned in Stage 3.

Put simply, to be a strong lifter, powerful athlete, or healthy injury-free individual, you need good hips. As they say in most sports, “it’s all in the hips”.

The above warm-up exercises cover all four major actions of the hip – extension, adduction, abduction, and flexion.

Don’t skip any of the moves because each is important in its own way.

Okay, moving on to Stage 4…

Upper Body Warm-Up Stage 4 – CNS Activation

In the CNS Activation stage, we utilize fast explosive movements. These types of activities are heavily CNS-dominant and therefore ensure that your CNS is primed and ready for the more intense lifts to follow.

CNS Activation Exercise #1 – Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift

This exercise was actually featured in my Big Legs with Bad Knees Article. This exercise also makes for a great way to warm up your lower body in a manner that will demand optimal timing, rhythm, balance, and coordination.

To get maximal nervous system activation, perform this exercise for speed.

Perform with bodyweight for 12-20 reps for speed.

CNS Activation Exercise #2 – Pogo Hops

Pogo hops are a fantastic way to fire up your CNS and improve both core tension and lower leg/ankle stiffness. All thee qualities are needed in order to explode out from the bottom of a heavy squat, to jump high, and to make quick changes in direction while playing sports.

Be sure to stay tall throughout the exercise and move as fast as possible.

Perform 30-50 reps for speed x2 sets with 20 seconds rest.

CNS Activation Exercise #3 – Box Jumps or Squat Jumps

Both of these exercises are standard moves that I don’t feel need much description. That said, be sure to perform either jump variation with optimal knee and back alignment. Land as quietly as possible on each jump.

Perform 5-8 jumps for sets with 30 seconds rest.

Lower Body Warm-Up Overview

For your training purposes, here’s an overview of how this warm-up should look on paper. Feel free to print this out and take it to the gym with you. At first glance, this list may appear as if it would take longer than it actually does. In actuality, this entire warm-up should take you about 10-15 minutes total.

Remember, this is a dynamic warm-up. You should perform each exercise in a dynamic fashion, spending no more than 1-2 seconds per rep. Therefore, 10 reps will only take 10-20 seconds.

Pre – Warmup

  • Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) for the upper body – 5 min
  • Hips and Glutes – 30 sec each side
  • Quads and Hip Flexors – 30 sec each side
  • Hamstrings – 30 sec each side
  • Calves – 30 sec each side

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Reverse Reaching Lunge w/ Knee Hug x8-10 each side
  • Lateral Lunge x8-10 each side
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side
  • Arm Crossover Stretch 8-10 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Supine 1 Leg Hip Bridge x10-20 each side
  • Side Lying Hip Adduction x10-20
  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets
  • Box Jumps or Squat Jumps 2x 5-8 reps, rest 30 seconds between sets

Express Warm-Up!

I realize that sometimes you may be short on time or you just want to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible. If so, here is a shorter express lower body warm-up.

Dynamic Mobility

  • 4 Count Squat x8-10
  • Yoga Plex x5-8 each side

Muscle Activation

  • Quadruped Hip Circuit x8-15 each direction
  • Slow Motion Mountain Climber 6-8 each side (1 sec hold each rep)

CNS Activation

  • Single Leg ½ Squat ½ Deadlift x10-20 for speed
  • Pogo Hops 2x 30-50, rest 15 seconds between sets


This article has described a comprehensive lower body warm-up that is guaranteed to help you get bigger, get stronger, and outperform the competition.

Once you get the hang of it, this entire warm up should take you roughly 10-15 minutes. If it takes longer, you are moving too slow!

Although I’ve given you a multitude of exercises, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the warm-ups I use here at Performance U.  If you are interested in learning more about the Performance U approach to the warm-up and preparation, please check out my Warm Up Progressions DVDs which can be purchased through my website –

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Lower Body Warm-Up – 10 Minutes to Better Performance discussion thread.

Upper Body Warm-Up – 10 Minutes to Better Performance!

These days, just about everyone from strength coaches to exercise enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of a dynamic warm-up. That said, simply because you are aware of a concept doesn’t mean that you actually understand how to properly apply it.

Speaking around the country as a strength coach and educator, I’ve observed that most folks (even fitness professionals) still lack the ability to design and utilize a comprehensive dynamic warm-up that is effective in improving strength, functional range of motion, and overall performance.

This article will change that and will provide you with the necessary tools to maximize performance in both training and competition by using the Performance U approach to dynamic warm up.

Why Warm Up?

The importance of utilizing a dynamic warm-up is widely accepted among athletes and sports coaches. However, many bodybuilders and strength athletes seem resistant to the use of dynamic warm-up concepts. This is simply due to a lack of understanding of the importance of a dynamic warm-up and how it can actually help you push more weight and get bigger, stronger, and more explosive in both training and competition.

Simply put, a dynamic warm up is a transition stage from normal activity to more athletic activity. During this transition, we spend time activating all of the muscles that haven’t been used all day while at home or at work so that they can turn on as much power as possible while you train. This helps to improve motor unit recruitment, which in turn translates into gains in size and strength.

During this transition stage, we also perform movements that increase overall mobility. This will help you do things like squat deeper, deadlift with a straighter back, and perform lifts with more comfort and less restriction.

In addition to all that, we also ensure that all the smaller stabilizer muscles are ready to do their jobs and prevent you from hurting yourself while lifting.

10 Minutes to Better Performance!

This warm-up takes no more than ten minutes. If you aren’t willing to take ten minutes to do something that’s almost guaranteed to work, don’t call yourself a serious lifter. I can promise you that it works to improve your performance and break new PR’s because I see it happening every day with clients and athletes. If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t be in business!

Way Beyond Warming Up!

The phrase “warm up” is oversimplified and incomplete.  A well-designed dynamic warm-up does much more than just increase body temperature. For instance, walking on a treadmill will raise your body temperature (warm you up) but it will do absolutely nothing to help you bench more weight, jump higher, or run faster during training or competition.

However, the Performance U Warm Up provided in this article will give you the exact tools needed to ensure maximal strength and muscle recruitment while improving your functional range of motion and helping to prevent injury.

Put simply, this article will have you ready for anything!

So, if you are serious about getting results, staying injury-free, and making the most out of every workout, keep reading!

What About the Upper Body?

It’s interesting to me that the folks who do use some sort of dynamic warm-up seem to neglect the upper body. I often see people doing skips, high knees, ankle mobility drills, and some glute activation before going on to do an upper body workout.

Don’t get me wrong…those drills are all great, but they are lower body dominant. In other words, they don’t do much to prepare the upper body for optimal performance during upper body pushing and pulling movements.

The warm-up provided below is intended to be performed on your upper body day, regardless of whether you do a pushing day, a pulling day, or a combined push and pull day.

4 Steps to Success!

This warm-up is broken down into four stages:

1. Self Myofascial Release (SMR)
2. Dynamic Mobility
3. Muscle Activation
4. CNS Activation

I will explain each stage as we progress through the article. I don’t think you‘ll die if you decide to change the order a bit, but I recommend keeping it the same as I’ve described above.

Now here’s how you warm up, Performance U style!

Stage 1- Self Myofascial Release (SMR)

Put simply, SMR is self-massage using objects like foam rollers, medicine balls, or even tennis and golf balls.

Performing some SMR prior to training will increase blood flow and oxygen to the muscle. Also, SMR will alleviate any minor soft tissue restrictions that could hinder your performance.

Check out this video on how to perform SMR for the upper body:

Self Myofascial Release for Shoulders, Pecs and Biceps

Before we move on, I want to mention that SMR is also a very effective tool to use in your post-workout routine or as a cool-down. Doing this helps to relieve muscle soreness and accelerate recovery time, among other things. I’m a firm believer in using SMR; I even put out a comprehensive DVD on the subject, which can be purchased here.

Stage 2 – Dynamic Mobility

Dynamic mobility can be thought of as muscle flexibility and joint range-of-motion exercises performed at a dynamic rate. Because this is a warm-up, we need to prepare the body for the dynamic nature of sport and exercise by moving dynamically. Static stretching is great, but it down-regulates the muscles and the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Dynamic mobility exercises (like the ones shown below) up-regulate the CNS and help the body understand how to control your muscles and joints through a full range of motion under a small load provided by your bodyweight and momentum. This is exactly what’s needed to perform at high levels and avoid injury.

These drills will help develop and improve the joint and muscle function of your upper body.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #1 – Jumping Jacks

We’ve all done these since we were kids in elementary school, so I don’t feel it’s required to give you an in-depth explanation of how to do jumping jacks. That being said, jumping jacks are a great exercise that everybody knows but nobody seems to use anymore. Watch the video below if you’d like a reminder on how to properly perform the jumping jack:

Jumping Jacks

When performing jumping jacks, be sure to maintain a full range of motion in your shoulders by touching your hands at the top.

Perform 10-15 reps.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #2 – Y Jacks

Here at Performance U, we love being creative and developing new concepts and techniques, especially when it involves just putting a new tweak on an old battle-tested standby like the jumping jack.

Check out this video on how to perform the Y–Jack:

Y Style Jumping Jacks

Y style jumping jacks are important because they drive your shoulders through a different angle (plane of motion) than the traditional version. This makes for a more thorough and comprehensive upper body warm-up.

Perform 10-15 reps.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #3 – Crossover Jumping Jacks (a.k.a. X-Jacks)

As I already explained, performing dynamic shoulder movements in multiple planes of motion is the key to injury prevention, peak preparation, and maintaining optimal shoulder health. Think of the X-Jack as arm swings with a jump.

Cross Over Jumping Jacks

Perform 10-15 reps.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #4 – Dowel Stretch

The dowel stretch can be performed with or without movement of the hips. 

Dowel Stretch

Hold each stretch for roughly 2-3 seconds and repeat for 8-15 reps on each side.

Dynamic Mobility Exercise #5 – Arm Crossover

The arm crossover is one of my “go to” upper body / torso / rotary mobility exercises. The arm crossover was developed as a more back-friendly method of improving rotary mobility.

As you can see in the video, Alli has an Airex Pad between her knees. For folks with less flexibility, use a thicker object between your legs, like a foam roller. For folks with higher levels of flexibility, simply put your knees together without using any object between your legs.

Take a look at how to safely and effectively perform the arm crossover stretch:

Arm Crossover Stretch

Perform 8-15 reps per side for 2-3 second holds.

Upper Body Warm-Up Stage 3 – Muscle Activation

In this stage, we utilize exercises that improve the mind-to-muscle connection of specific muscles crucial to optimal upper body performance.

Muscle activation is especially important for your warm-up because it helps to wake up the muscles that we may have slightly inhibited by sitting at our desks or slouching all day.

Put simply, the dynamic mobility exercises shown previous improve range of motion. Muscle activation assures that you have the correct muscle activity to control the new ranges you can now achieve from the dynamic mobility.

Muscle Activation Exercise #1 – Push-Up w/ Rotation (AKA – T-Roll Push Ups)

In my opinion, push-ups are one of the best exercises ever invented. They’re great because of their simplicity, versatility, and overall effectiveness.

I use some sort of push variation with just about everyone I train. That said, in the context of this article, you will see one way to effectively use the push-up to optimally prepare the upper body for the rigors of strength training.

The T-Roll push-up is  a “big bang for your buck” exercise because it not only influences the chest and shoulders, it improves body awareness and rotary control of the torso…that is, if you do them correctly!

Watch the video below and discover both the right and wrong way to do the T-Roll push-up.

Push-Up w/ Rotation (AKA – T-Roll Push Ups)

This push-up is also very effective for use as a strength training exercise when performed with a higher intensity or load. However, in the context of a warm-up, I recommend performing 4-8 reps on each side using bodyweight or holding light dumbbells.

Muscle Activation Exercise #2 – Reverse Burpee

The reverse burpee is an exercise I developed to accommodate the needs of my MMA and grappling athletes. Since its development, I’ve found multiple uses for this exercise that stretch beyond the combat sports. One of those uses is as a great upper body warm-up exercise.

As I mentioned earlier while discussing the jumping jack variations, it’s important to warm up using multiple angles. This is where the reverse burpee delivers big and addresses a yet unfilled gap. In it’s simplest form, the push-up is a horizontal push movement. The reverse burpee is more of a diagonal/vertical pushing movement.

Using both movements makes for a more well-rounded and effective warm-up program.

Here’s how it’s done:

Reverse Burpee

As you can see in the video above, the reverse burpee is an upper body dominant exercise. This is in opposition to the traditional gym class / military style burpee, which is primarily lower body dominant.

Perform the reverse burpee for 5-10 reps during your warm up.

Muscle Activation Exercise #3 – LYTP Shoulder Circuit

The LYTP shoulder exercise circuit is a tweak on the more widely known YTWL sequence.

The YTWL shoulder circuit is a great way to warm up and improve shoulder function. The only issue is that there are a few things that can go wrong while performing the traditional YTWL circuit. This is where the LYTP shoulder comes in.

I developed the LYTP shoulder circuit to improve upon the YTWL sequence. As you will see in the videos below, the new and improved LYTP shoulder exercise circuit eliminates all the bad stuff from the YTWL sequence and adds tweaks to improve the effectiveness of your shoulder training efforts.

The first video deals with proper body positioning while performing the prone LYTP shoulder exercise sequence.

LYTP shoulder exercise sequence – proper body positioning

How to Perform Ls:

YTWL Shoulder Exercise – How to do Ls

As you can see by the title of LYTP shoulder circuit, I recommend performing Ls first. The simple reason for this is that the Ls are the hardest movement using the weakest muscles involved in this entire shoulder circuit. It’s always a good idea to perform the weakest movement first to ensure that fatigue doesn’t play a factor in affecting your ability to optimally perform the entire circuit. In the traditional YTWL sequence, the Ls are performed last, thus making it less likely that you will perform them correctly by the time you get around to doing them.

How to perform Ys:

YTWL Shoulder Exercise – How to do Ys

How to perform Ts:

YTWL Shoulder Exercise – How to do Ts

How to Perform Ps:

To prevent confusion, the P stands for “pivot prone”. Unlike the other letters, it does not represent the shape your arms resemble while doing the exercise.

The pivot prone is an exercise that I learned from our in-house Physical Therapist, Morgan Johnson, owner of Evolution Sports Physiotherapy. Morgan is one of the smartest PTs I know and he treats all of my injured clients and athletes.

If you’ve never heard of this exercise or are wondering where the idea for the pivot prone comes from, the name originates from a neural developmental position we all learn before we start to crawl, while lying prone (on our belly) as infants.

“At approx 5 months of age the child develops an interesting skill that contributes to their pelvic and scapular mobility.”

“During the Pivot Prone posture or pattern, the upper extremities assume the high guard position with the scapulas adducted by the rhomboid muscles. The upper limbs are horizontally abducted at the shoulders and flexed at the elbows. This retraction of the shoulder girdle and posturing of the upper extremities enhances trunk extension. To assume the pivot prone posture, the anterior muscles must elongate.”

Pediatric Physical Therapy, By Jan Stephen Tecklin, pg.34, Publisher: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; Fourth Edition edition (October 1, 2007)

Now that you understand the origin of this movement pattern, you can better appreciate the important role that the pivot prone can play in regaining and maintaining a fundamental movement pattern that we all should posses.

Watch the video and learn why I don’t recommend the W and how to properly perform the pivot prone:

YTWL Shoulder Exercise – Why I don’t recommend the W and how to do Ps

Additional program design tips for using the LYTP Shoulder Circuit

  • Perform using either a Swiss ball as shown in the above video or standing in a bent over position similar to a Romanian deadlift
  • Add load by holding light dumbbells after mastering this circuit using bodyweight
  • This circuit is also great as an upper body cool-down following an upper body workout.
  • Perform 8-12 reps of each letter

Upper Body Warm-Up Stage 4 – CNS Activation

In the fourth and final stage of the warm-up, we utilize exercises that require quick, coordinated, and fairly explosive movements. These qualities are all skill oriented and therefore stimulate the nervous system. Plus, quick explosive movements improve motor unit recruitment. This means that by doing the exercises shown below, you assure that you will utilize all your horsepower in each lift of your workout.

CNS Activation Exercise #1 – Medicine Ball Chest Pass

Grab a 3-5 kg medicine ball and stand roughly 2-3 arms lengths from a brick wall. Throw the ball at the wall at a height no higher than shoulder level. Throw the ball hard enough so that it bounces back to your arms without bouncing on the floor.

Repeat this for 8-15 throws.

CNS Activation Exercise #2 – Medicine Ball Slam

Using the same weight medicine ball as above, perform slams as shown in the video below. Be sure to move your head to avoid the ball rebounding back and smashing you in the face!

Medicine Ball Slam

You can also stand about 6 feet from a wall and have the ball bounce back to you after each slam.

Perform 4-8 slams with 80-90% intensity.

CNS Activation Alternatives

If you don’t have access to a medicine ball or a place to throw one as described above, you can utilize the alternatives described below.

CNS Activation Exercise #1b – Plyo Push-Up

Most folks know what this exercise is, so no need to describe it in detail. Perform 4-8 explosive push-ups before moving on to CNS activation exercise #2.

CNS Activation Exercise #2b – Explosive Inverted Row or TRX Row

Inverted Row


Perform 5-8 explosive reps.

Upper Body Warm-Up Overview

For training purposes, here’s an overview of how this warm-up should look on paper. Feel free to print this out and take it to the gym with you.

Pre – warm up

  • Self Myofascial Release (SMR) for the upper body – 5 min

Dynamic Mobility

  • Jumping Jacks x8-15
  • Y Jumping Jacks x8-15
  • Crossover Jumping Jacks x8-15
  • Dowel stretch x8-15
  • Arm Crossover x8-12

Muscle Activation

  • T-Roll Push-Up x4-8 (each side)
  • Reverse Burpee x6-12
  • LYTP Shoulder Circuit x8-12 (each letter)

CNS Activation

  • Med Ball Chest Pass x8-12 or Plyo Push-Up x5-8
  • Med Ball Slam x 5-8 or Inverted Row x8-10

General vs. Specific Warm Ups

Before I finish this article, I want to make a point about general vs. specific warm-ups. The correct answer to the general vs. specific debate is…do both!

Even though the above warm-up is very comprehensive, it’s still general. This warm-up is designed to prepare your upper body for any and all activities you throw at it.

Once you complete your general warm-up, you still must perform a few light sets of whatever lift it is you are starting with. This will serve as your specific warm-up.

Stay Tuned

In my next article, I’ll discuss lower body warm-up and preparation concepts. As this article has done, the lower body warm-up article will provide you with the tools needed to get the most out of each lower body workout and develop strength and muscle faster than ever before.

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Improve Performance with an Effective Upper Body Warm-Up discussion thread.

Get Big Legs with Bad Knees

Let’s face it…injuries are sometimes an unavoidable part of life and athletics. Talk to just about any athlete or exercise enthusiast over the age of 25 and he or she is almost guaranteed to have some sort of pain, injury, or limitation.

One of the more common areas of trouble for athletes and exercisers alike are the knees.

The Problem

Often, past or present knee issues limit or totally prevent folks from performing many of the traditional lower body exercises. Movements like squats, lunges, and steps simply place significant force through the knee and demand the knee joint to move through a large range of motion. This is exactly what individuals suffering from knee issues need to avoid. Therefore, these folks are left confused and frustrated as to how they can still train and successfully make gains in the gym.

That is, until now…

The Solution

This article will provide you with a concept that I call Joint Friendly Training or more specifically, Knee Friendly Training.

Knee-friendly training exercises are exercises that maximize results in strength and muscle but place minimal stress on the knee joint. In other words, these exercises will help you get bigger stronger legs without creating pain or discomfort.

“How do I know?”, you ask..

Well, I know that these exercises work because I use them every day with my injured athletes. Every exercise protocol provided below has been battle-tested and proven effective in my gym time and time again.

Plus, as a CEC provider and educator presenting at national fitness conferences, I have been teaching other coaches and trainers these very same concepts for years. Many of those trainers have contacted me to rave about the great results they get using these very same protocols.

This is NOT Corrective Exercise!

Before I provide the specific exercise protocols. I wanted to make a very important point:

The exercises below are designed to work around your pain, injury and/ or limitations. They are NOT designed to be rehabilitation exercises or corrective training. This type of training is best left to a qualified physical therapist.

The Rules!

There are two very basic and very common sense rules when using the knee-friendly training exercises below.

Rule #1 – If it hurts, don’t do it!

If one of these exercises creates pain during or after training, skip it and move on to another variation.

Rule #2 – Change is okay!

Don’t be afraid to modify a movement to better accommodate your specific limitations. For instance, use a lighter weight, shorter ROM, or slower tempo.

The Exercises

After I provide the specific exercises, I will describe a sample program showing how to apply them in your program.

Knee Friendly Exercise #1 – The Single Leg ½ Squat, ½ Deadlift

This exercise is one of my favorite lower body exercises for both injured and uninjured athletes because it’s a very efficient way to train the entire lower body. It combines the benefits of unilateral training and leverages the timing and rhythm of both the quads and hips working together.

Folks with bad knees usually have trouble bending their knees past a certain point. The ½ Squat ½ Deadlift limits the knee bend and allows the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) to bear some of the load and therefore to de-load the knee joint a bit.

Watch the video below on how to use the ½ Squat ½ Deadlift:

½ Squat ½ Deadlift – Program Design Tips

  • This exercise can also be done bilaterally (two legs) using a barbell or dumbbells.
  • Add load to the 1 Leg ½ Sq/DL by wearing a weighted vest, holding dumbbells, a medicine ball, or barbell.
  • Isometric holds for 3-5 seconds at the bottom position are also an effective training option

Knee Friendly Exercise #2 – Anterior Lunges

Anterior lunges are based on the same principle as the ½ Squat/DL. This lunge variation is knee-friendly because it emphasizes more glute recruitment. By increasing glute recruitment, we automatically bring in more muscular help to the knee.

This exercise also makes a killer glute and athletic performance drill for uninjured athletes. I warn you though, Anterior Lunges will make your butt very sore if you’ve never tried them before! Like any other new exercise, once your body adapts, that soreness goes away.

Here’s how to perform the Anterior Lunge:

Anterior Lunge – Program Design Tips

  • Only go as heavy as you are able while still maintaining optimal spinal alignment (proper lordodic curve).
  • Alternate legs or do all reps on same side, then switch.
  • Shorten your stride or amount of lean relative to pain/knee tolerance levels.

Knee Friendly Exercise #3 – Romanian Deadlifts

RDLs are a very commonly used exercise. Therefore, I don’t think it necessary to cover them in a very indepth manner.

That said, RDLs are a very knee-friendly way to lift big weights and build more muscle and strength.

Knee Friendly Exercise #4 – Monster Walks

Monster walks are one of the most popular exercises I teach to my clients during training and when I present to fitness professionals at national conferences. This exercise is fun, easy to learn, and most importantly, it works!

As in the theme of this article, monster walks require little to no bending of the knee and therefore are very easy on the knee joint. Even my folks with very severe knee issues can use monster walks to strengthen the lower body without pain or irritation.

All you need to perform monster walks is a heavy resistance band like the ones used in band-resisted bench presses and squats.

Monster Walk – Program Design and Coaching Tips

  • Prevent hips (pelvis) from rotating more than a few degrees.
  • Walk while emphasizing movement from your hips (glutes).
  • Stay tall.
  • Monster walks are best performed for time frames of 30-60 seconds.
  • To increase load demand, use a heavier band or walk further out.

Knee Friendly Exercise #5a & 5b – Single Leg Bench Hip Bridge

This is another one of those exercises that is simple to learn, works with anyone, and builds big-time muscular strength and size.

It’s also a personal favorite of my lovely girlfriend, Alli McKee. Alli happens to be an experienced strength coach and competitive figure athlete. You can get all of Alli’s workout for free on her blog – Alli McKee’s Blog

When performing the Single Leg Hip Bridge, there are actually two ways to perform the Single Leg Hip Lift…

You can use a bent leg, as shown in the pictures of Alli below:

5a – Single Leg Bench Hip Bridge – Start position

5a – Single Leg Hip Bridge – Finish position

The other variation of the Single Leg Hip Bridge consists of performing it with a straight leg as shown below:

5b – Single Leg Hip Bridge with Straight Leg – Finish Position

When performing this exercise with a straight leg, be sure to keep your toes pointed straight toward the sky as shown below:

Here’s an example of the wrong foot position:

Single Leg Hip Bridge – wrong foot position

Here is the correct foot position:

Single Leg Hip Bridge – correct foot position

Single Leg Hip Bridge – Program Design and Coaching Tips

  • Place the flat part of the weight plate on your shin. The plate should not be uncomfortable to hold.
  • Lift hips as high as possible and pause for 1-2 seconds at the top.
  • To create more balanced muscular development and add variety to your training, alternate bent leg and straight leg hip bridge variations every other workout.
  • Use a larger plate or multiple plates (stacked) to increase the load.

Knee-Friendly Exercise #6a, 6b, and 6c – Sled Training

With sled training, you get a knee-friendly way to both improve your strength and/or improve your level of work capacity (conditioning).

In this section, I’m going to cover my three most effective knee-friendly training drills using a sled.

6a. Sled Pushes

Sled pushes, when done correctly, will crush even the fittest and strongest of athletes.

Keep your back fairly straight with hips and shoulders close to level with one another.

Check out these two hard-working master figure competitors performing heavy sled pushes:



Sled Push – Coaching and Program Design Tips

  • For strength and muscular gains, go as heavy as possible for 25-40 yards.
  • For improvements in conditioning or for fat loss, use lighter loads for 50-100 yards.

6b. Forward Sled Drag

This drill is a personal favorite of mine for building the legs, burning fat, and developing long lasting conditioning levels.

Since this type of training has become more popular, there are multiple equipment options available depending on your preferred financial investment.

On the high end, you can buy a Prowler. A cheaper option is to buy a weighted sled. Although I have both pieces of equipment, I still prefer the last option…a used oversized tire. The best part about getting a tire is the price…FREE from the junkyard!

Check it out. Here, at Performance U in Baltimore, we perform our Forward Sled Drag using a big tire.



Forward Sled Drag – Coaching and Program Design Tips

  • Stronger athletes need a larger/ heavier tire…DUH!!!
  • Lean forward with a straight back.
  • Take big strides.
  • For improvements in strength, go 20-40 yards.
  • For improvements in conditioning or fat loss, go 40 – 100 yards.
  • For dynamic effort training, cover 15-25 yards as fast as possible.

6c. Reverse Sled Drag

The reverse sled drag is a great knee-friendly way to create terminal knee extension and develop your quads. This exercise is no slouch in the fat loss and conditioning department either.

This exercise can also be performed with the Prowler, a weighted sled, or a giant tire. I like the tire because I can get outside and work on my tan while getting stronger.



Reverse Sled Drag – Coaching and Program Design Tips

  • You can stand tall or drop into a partial squat while performing this exercise.
  • Alternate each position every workout to create balance and add variety.
  • For strength gains, go as heavy as possible for 20-40 yards.
  • For fat loss or improved conditioning, go lighter for 40-80 yards.

Putting it All Together

Now that I’ve provided you with the specific exercises, here’s a sample-training program. This program demonstrates a sample two-day knee-friendly leg training split.

Sample Two-Day Knee Friendly Strength & Conditioning Program

Day A

  • Romanian Deadlifts: 4 x 5-8
  • 1 Leg Hip Bridge (Bent Leg): 3 x 8-12 paired with Reverse Sled Drag (low stance): 3 x 30-40 yds
  • Calves: 2 x 20-25
  • Forward Sled Drag (for conditioning): 100 yds x 2

Day B

  • 1 Leg ½ Squat 1/s DL: 4 x 10-15
  • 1 Leg Hip Bridge (Straight Leg): 3 x 8-12 paired with Reverse Sled Drag (tall stance): 3 x 30-40 yds
  • Calves: 2 x 20-25
  • Sled Push (for conditioning): 50 yds x 4

Note: When pairing exercises, you should perform exercise a, followed by exercise b and then repeat for the subscribed number of sets.

For example in DAY A, the Leg Hip Bridge paired with Reverse Sled Drag should be performed as:

  • Leg Hip Bridge: 1 x 8-12
  • Reverse Sled Drag: 1 x 30-40 yds
  • Leg Hip Bridge: 1 x 8-12
  • Reverse Sled Drag: 1 x 30-40 yds
  • Leg Hip Bridge: 1 x 8-12
  • Reverse Sled Drag: 1 x 30-40 yds


I have always been big on delivering a high value on everything I produce. This article is no exception…I’ve got a very cool bonus exercise for you.

Knee Friendly Cardio / Conditioning

All of the sled variations I provided above are excellent ways of improving cardiovascular endurance and metabolic conditioning.

However, those exercises will gas you out fairly quick. If you are looking for a knee friendly cardio option that you can perform for extended periods of time, watch the video below:




So there you have it! I’ve given the specific exercises, shown you how to perform them safely and correctly, AND I’ve provided you with a comprehensive training program.

You now no longer have the option of using the “I have bad knees” excuse to not train, build muscle, and get stronger or lose fat.

You have all the tools, so…get to the gym and get after it!

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Get Big Legs with Bad Knees discussion thread.

Plank Progressions for Killer Abs

You are putting together your “beach body” program and trying to find that perfect movement to really set off your midsection, but have grown tired of endless crunches…

Well there is one movement that has been proven effective in martial arts and athletics for years. Are you curious now?

It is as simple as “planks”. A plank is a static contraction in a supporting position that places a great deal of stress on your core muscles, specifically the abdominals and hip flexors.

Today, just about everyone, regardless of fitness level or education is doing planks and everyone seems to understand its benefits.

That said, there is still a large amount of room for improvement. I say this because it’s been my experience as an educator who trains the trainers that even professionals still don’t understand how to make the most out of the abs planks.

This article will change that for fitness pro’s, athletes and exercise enthusiasts alike.

I’m going to provide you with simple, user friendly, battle tested concepts on how to drastically improve the basic plank and how to progress it to challenge the strongest and fittest of athletes.

This article will tell you everything that there is to know about planks including advanced variations for those who are ready to take things up a notch. I hope you brought your Karate slippers because I’m about to give you your black belt in abs plank training.

Wanna build some killer abs like these? Read on…..

Perfecting the Basic Plank

Ask an experienced coach from any sport and he or she will tell you that it’s mastering the fundamentals that are most important to continued success.

The plank is no different. You have no business performing any of the higher-level progressions shown later in this article until you can perfect the basic plank.

There is a three-step process to perfecting the plank and they involve using a dowel rod.

Step 1- Build awareness

The dowel is placed along the spine and is kept in contact with 3 points; back of the head (not the top), Thoracic region (between shoulder blades) and Sacrum (tail bone). This forces you to understand and become aware of proper alignment.

Essentially, the dowel serves as your coach. If it rolls off or wobbles, you aren’t in good alignment.

Additionally, the quadruped position is great to begin to develop awareness of optimal alignment because it takes most of the load off the system while still keeping the torso in a very similar position to the abs plank. 

Once you can hold optimal position for 30 seconds, move on to step #2. 

Build awareness

Step 2- Lengthen the Lever arm

The straight-arm plank is essentially a static hold in push up position. This takes what we learned in step one and adds in some load due to the increased length in lever arm. The load on the abs here is not as great as on the elbows.

If you cannot hold optimal alignment for 30 seconds, keep working here until you can.

If you can maintain optimal alignment without disturbing the dowel, you are ready to move on to level three.
As I stated above, the elbow plank with dowel increases the load on the torso even further over the straight-arm variation. In other words, it demands more strength and control of optimal alignment.

Lengthen the Lever arm

Level 3 – Elbow Plank

Once you can hold this position for at least 30 seconds without much fatigue, you are ready to move on to the advanced progressions that I’ve laid out below.

If you cannot, remain here at level three until you can achieve a thirty second hold without too much fatigue.

Keep in mind that just because you are doing planks, it doesn’t mean that you can do them correctly. The dowel is a simple method of telling you how good your planks really are.

Once you’ve mastered the basic plank with the dowel, you no longer need to use the dowel.

Elbow Plank

Planks and Push Ups

Many females that have trouble with doing abs planks also have trouble performing push- ups. This is because both exercises are very closely related. In my article Everything Push Ups, I show you very similar progression spectrum to improve your ability to do push ups. Plus I provide a ton of new push up variations.

I highly encourage you to read that article as well because doing push ups will improve your planks and doing planks will most definitely improve your push-ups.

Plank Progressions

Now that you understand what is required to perform an optimal fundamental plank, I can show you the complete progression spectrum from beginner to advanced planks.

But, before I go into the exercises, I wanted to say a few words on arm position.

Arm Position

While performing any of the abs plank progressions shown below, you can use either of these arm positions:

Arms Externally Rotated

Or Arms Internally Rotated

Which position you use will be determined by:

  • Your Shoulder Health
  • The Specific Demands of your sport
  • What feels better to you?
  • Your Postural Habits
  • Or just for the sake of variety

Plank Level #1/2 – Kneeling Elbow Plank

The kneeling plank is easier than the straight leg plank because it shortens the lever arm. If you can’t manage the traditional straight leg plank, start here and work up to doing 2 sets of 1min holds.

Kneeling Elbow Plank

Plank Level #1 – Traditional Elbow Plank
The traditional elbow plank is the next step up from the kneeling elbow plank:

Traditional Elbow Plank

Once you can maintain optimal alignment here for 2 sets of 45 seconds, move on to the next level.

Plank Level #2 – Straight Leg lift

The first progression to the elbow plank is to keep one leg straight and lift it one inch from the ground.  Hold for 1-2 sec and switch legs.

Be sure to maintain optimal alignment while lifting leg.

Do not rotate your pelvis or allow your hips to sag.

 Straight Leg lift

You must be able to perform 2 sets of 20-second holds on each w/o rest in between before moving on to the next level

Plank Level #3- Feet on Bench

By elevating the feet, the demand on both the shoulders and abs increases.
This is harder than you may think!

Feet on Bench

Once you can complete 2 sets of 45 seconds holds w/o deviating from optimal alignment, move on.

Plank Level #4 – Feet Elevated w/March

Now, add in some more work by pulling one knee in toward your chest. Hold it for a second then switch sides. Perform this march type action for the entire length of your plank.

Feet Elevated w/March – 1

Feet Elevated w/March – 2

Once you can achieve 2 sets of 1 min total work by alternating 10-15 second holds each leg, you can upgrade to the next level.

Plank Level #5 – Wall March

This is the ultimate in abs plank training. Plus you get to work your glutes and hips along with it. Here’s how it’s done.

Begin in optimal spinal alignment with one knee on the ground and the other leg extended behind you against a wall.

Your rear leg should be at the same height as your head and shoulders – shown below:

Wall March – 1

From this position push your rear foot against the wall and lift your bent knee into the air as to hover over the ground as shown.


Wall March – 2

By now you will be well aware of the fact that you have abs because they will be working overtime to hold you in place. Also, your glute has to work overtime to push your foot into the wall keep your from sliding down.

After a second or two, bring your bent leg back against the wall as shown below.

Wall March – 3

Transition to pulling in the other knee mimicking a marching motion similar to what was performed in level #3.

Wall March – 4

Work up to holding this position for 45sec-1min. Use varieties of times, form, how long you hold each leg before switching. This can be anywhere from 2 seconds up to 15 seconds.

Perform 1-3 sets.

The added bonus to doing the wall march is that it will make you the most popular person in the gym. You are certain to have folks asking you about how to do it and wanting to try it for themselves. They probably wont be able to do it properly because they haven’t gone through the same progressions that you have.

Training Tips from Coach Nick

  • Be sure to always maintain optimal spinal alignment during all progression levels
  • Do not progress onto the next level until your can perform the current level for at least 30-45 seconds with little fatigue
  • Perform plank exercises for no more than 1 minute
  • Breath as normal as possible during all plank exercises
  • There is no need to hold in your belly while performing these exercises
  • Perform these exercises toward the end of your workout after your major lifts
  • If it hurts, don’t do it! This should be obvious but some folks are stubborn. Find a way to work around your limitations, don’t work through them

In my next installment, I will provide you with a comprehensive progression spectrum for performing side planks. I promise that like this article, it will also deliver many new, creative and battletested concepts that will make your abs stronger and looking better than ever.

Written by Nick Tumminello

About Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello, the director of Performance University, is a nationally recognized coach and educator who works with a select group of athletes, physique competitors, and exercise enthusiasts in Baltimore, Maryland.

Nick is rapidly establishing himself as a leader in the field for his innovative techniques and “smarter” approach to training. As a coach, Nick works in the trenches testing, developing and refining his innovative techniques with clients and athletes of all ages and levels.

Go to his website to get your free “Smarter & Stronger” video course.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Plank Progressions for Killer Abs discussion thread.