Exercises Archives

The Human Flag

Mind Over Matter and the Human Flag

As long as I can remember, this is one of those exercises (if you can even call it that) that has fascinated and humbled me. If you have never heard of the human flag before, it involves tremendous lat, shoulder and trunk strength to hold yourself completely sideways with arms extended from a pole, post or ladder.

2 years ago I had the idea that I wanted to be able to do this and I believed there was a thread of hope since I could hold myself for just over 1 second before my legs started their dive bomb decent.

Little progress was made until 3 months ago when I decided to attack it with 100% focus. My entire training routine was tailored around resolving strength deficits to accomplish this. I settled on a goal of holding it for 10 seconds on my 40th birthday.

Well, I am 1 month away and here is my latest progress (filmed by my daughter Addison).

It doesn’t feel like it should even be possible and to say it feels super gratifying would be a gross understatement!


When I find some more time, I will post my training and nutrition strategies for Human Flag training.

The key flag training elements are:

  • Maximize strength to body weight ratio (you can’t afford excess “non functional” weight)
  • Increase absolute strength in the shoulders, lats and “core” (I know the “c” word is way over used lately)
  • Balance your training program to keep support muscles and antagonists in good condition

The primary exercises really depend on where you are starting from. Ideally you should be able to perform several wide grip pull ups and hand stand push ups (feet against the wall). Once you can hit 8-10 reps on these exercises, you are probably ready for the TRUE human flag training to begin.

For me, these included:

  • heavy weighted wide grip pull up holds (3-6 second holds in the half way position)
  • heavy parallel grip lat pull downs (3-6 reps)
  • heavy dumbbell shoulder presses (3-6 reps)
  • overhead rack half presses (wide grip)
  • lots of hand stand push ups (feet against the wall)
  • side plank holds with feet elevated on bench (work up to 60 seconds)
  • human flag practice each weekend (trying not to go to failure, just many exposures)
  • core exercises to maintain/increase leg strength without focusing on hypertrophy



So you want Big Arms?

There are many factors that go into arm size as well as the types of gains you can expect to make.

Before I get into the specifics, let’s have a reality check. I am guessing that the reason you are reading this is because you are searching for a killer bicep routine to help you put on size.

Here’s the deal. For males, if your arms are less than 14″ in circumference (and you are taller than 5 1/2 feet) then a killer arm routine isn’t what you need, but rather a solid routine that focuses on compound movements like pull ups, bent over rows, dips and close grip presses.

Chin ups, pull ups and dips will pay huge dividends when it comes to packing on arm size.

I have observed many times over the years that when I can get an individual to stop performing direct arm work and, instead, focus on the compound movements, increases in arm size and strength where experienced.

In fact, when they went back and tried curls, they were shocked to see that they could curl more weight!

Will this work for everyone? Nope. My arms are just under 16″ ( ok, 15 3/4″ ) at a body weight of just over 170. I am very strong in pull ups and dips but size increases will only come from lots of direct arm work, lots of eating and lots of rest!

I once heard a rough rule of thumb from a very well know strength coach that to put an inch on your arm, your total body weight will need to increase by approximately 10 pounds. On average, I have personally confirmed this.

The Single Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL),
A Great Deadlift Alternative!

The 1 leg dumbbell “RDL” is an excellent posterior chain exercise (hamstrings, glutes and lower back). As an added benefit, you learn how to balance on one foot!

Here’s how you do it. Make sure to watch the video!

  1. Stand holding dumbbells in front of your thighs with a pronated grip (palms facing your body)
  2. Curl 1 leg up slightly so you are balancing on 1 leg
  3. Take a deep breath and hold it while you start the movement by pushing your hips back
  4. Let your knees bend slightly
  5. Lower the weights past your knees as far as you can while maintaining a flat back (natural arch)
  6. To complete the movement, focus on squeezing your glutes (ass muscles) while you drive your hips forward
  7. Keep your core tight throughout the movement

Anytime you see the word “Romanian”
in a deadlift variation, start the movement
with your hips moving back.


 Keep your shoulder blades “tucked in your back pocket” and make sure NOT to round your lower back!


…And For The Love Of God, Don’t Be This Guy!!


Deadlift Benefits:
The Hack Deadlift

I’m guessing you never heard of a hack deadlift… I thought I made it up then did a search and found it by this and other names! Some call this a hack squat but since the weight is being pulled from the floor, it’s a deadlift.

This Deadlift variation involves pulling the bar
from BEHIND you!

Since I have a weak lower back, I love this deadlift variation as it puts your upper body (and hence spine) in a more vertical position.

As a consequence, this will shift the loading from your glutes and hamstrings to more of a quad dominant exercise. None the less, you’ll still get a great full body workout with this one!

Hack Deadlift Exercise Tips:

  • Keep a natural arch in your lower back (no rounding!)
  • Keep the chest high
  • Keep your shoulder blades “tucked in your back pocket”
  • Look straight ahead
  • Drive your hips forward and squeeze your ass to complete the movement


For more discussion of general deadlift benefits, read this post. Women (and men!) can also refer to this post.




The Cable Pull Through is an excellent exercise
that works your entire posterior chain!

So what does that mean in English?? Your posterior chain is your muscle “chain” on your back side spanning from your lower back all the way down your legs including your glutes and hamstrings (the primary muscles of the posterior chain).

I learned about this exercise at Cressey Performance while dealing with some serious lower back pain that prevented me from deadlifting.

I must admit I quickly got over how ridiculous I felt when performing the pull through exercise when I experienced the benefits of it! You really need to check your ego at the door when performing this one in the gym! Trust me, you’ll get some very odd looks!!

Check out this exclusive New England Muscle video with a fun twist on it!



The answer to the question 
“Can pushups build muscle” is……

Sorry, I’m gonna keep you hanging for just a minute! The answer isn’t so straight forward. First I need to briefly discuss what is required to build lean muscle.

There are a few fundamental principles that must be satisfied
to build muscle:

  1. The load (resistance) you are trying to move must be great enough (in this case, your body)
  2. The human body will adapt to this load so you must apply progressive resistance
  3. You can’t grow muscle out of thin air so you also need to eat right!

Let’s take a deeper dive into the concept of
Progressive insurance Resistance

Let me ask you a question:

Do you think you could build noticible muscle by simply pushing your hands back and forth in the air?

Hopefully you answered no, other wise, you may want to check out
this site. Ok, just kidding!

…but seriously, the point I’m trying to illustrate is that you need to provide enough resistance for your muscle to grow.

So how much resistance??

A general rule of thumb is that anything over 20 reps will not build a significant amount of muscle (there are many exceptions to this but that’s a topic for another post).

This would imply that banging out 30 pushups to build muscle and shooting for more than 30 pushups the next time you try won’t give you much lean muscle growth. It will give you muscle endurance.

The muscle fibers that really like to grow are to ones that move heavy loads OR move ”moderate” loads faster. Both equal force applied to your muscle. Force is good.

So my recomendation to build lean muscle on your chest, shoulders and arms using pushups is to add enough resistance to keep your sets in the 8-15 rep range. If you are fairly new to exercise, lean towards the higher end of the rep range.

There are many options available to add resistance such as:

  • Elevate your feet
  • Push up from suspension straps
  • Weighted vests
  • Bands
  • and my favorite:

  Tractor chains!!


Have you ever wondered how many reps
is best to build muscle?

This is a very common question with a lot of confusion! The trainers and strength coaches that know what they are doing always have a specific reason for the number of repetitions they prescribe for a given exercise.

After reading this post, YOU will understand the benefits of all the different rep ranges and answer the question of just how many reps are needed to build muscle.

Before I get into the number of reps,  let me take a brief moment to explain what parts of a muscle can grow (i.e. get bigger, more numerous and/or thicker):

What muscle parts get thicker, more numerous and/or bigger?

  • Muscle fibers, called myofibrils
  • Protein filaments called actin and myosin (they move the muscle fibers)
  • Sarcoplasm (not the slime from Ghost Busters!) is the gelatenous energy stores of carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat, enzymes, etc.
  • Connective tissue

Ok, so after looking at that list you can see that there are 4 general things that “build a muscle”.

There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Rep Range!
Many rep ranges can build muscle….
It just depends on your goals!

Now I will discuss the rep ranges from a single rep all the way up to 20 reps and the benefits of each range.

Low rep ranges (1 – 5 reps)

This rep range puts your muscle under the greatest amount of tension (although moving a moderate weight faster could achieve the same tension but that’s a different post!) since you are moving the heaviest weight.

This rep range increases the number of muscle fibers called myofibrils.The more of these you have, the more force you can produce and the stronger you are! This rep range is ideal for strength gains although some individuals will build massive muscle size as well using this range if they have a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers.

High rep ranges (11 – 20 reps)

This type of training increases the muscle energy stores that I generally called sarcoplasm in the above list box. This type of muscle growth is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. I call it the all show and no go muscle! Perhaps that’s a bit extreme… and If you are a body builder, you should spend some time in this rep range.

If you are an athlete then this range has a more limited value (although still very useful!). It does increase muscular endurance and has some fat burning benefits.

On a side note, the one mistake I see far too often is people switching exclusively to high rep training when trying to “get ripped”. This will not force your muscle to stay strong and you stand to lose more lean mass while dieting with this approach.

Medium rep ranges (6 – 10 reps)

As you might have guessed, this rep range is an optimal compromise between the low and high rep ranges and you will build muscle endurance and strength..

This is where most people spend their time but more in the 8 – 12 rep range. Over the long term that is certainly not optimal.

7 quick tips to Increase Max Bench Press

I learned these 7 tips from Bench pressing authority:
Mike Westerland

1) Tuck your elbows

This has several benefits. First, doing thist takes preassure off your shoulders and transfers it to your triceps. This will ensure shoulder health! Second, it brings the bar closer to your lower chest which allows the bar to travel in a straight line instead of a “J”.

2) Decrease the range of motion

Widen your grip, retract your shoulder blades and arch your back. Arching your back is called a bridge. This is different than raising your hips off the bench. That’s called idiotic and dangerous!

3) Hold your air

Before you unrack the weight, fill your stomach with air. You may be used to taking a deep breath on the negative (and it’s ok for general weight training) but for big lifts like the bench and squat you need to hold your air to form a solid foundation!

4) Rep Ranges

If you have been living in the 6 to 12 rep range, it’s time for a change! Start with the classic 5 X 5 program and progress down to triples.

5) Training Partners

You need a good reliable spotter and someone to hold you accountable! There is a large mental component to a big bench so choose your partner wisely.

6) Squeeze the bar

By squeezing the bar, you recruit more motor units (aka muscle). You’ll notice that every big bencher also has big forearms. Oh, and keep that thumb around the bar! There is nothing cool about having the bar roll out of your hands and staple you into the floor!

7) Don’t neglect other muscle groups

I once heard a famous strength coach say “You can’t fire a canon from a canoe”.  Train your legs and your back! Nuff said!



This post is for all the women that desire a firm sculpted body and don’t deadlift.

I have one question for you:

Do you want a body like a typical aerobics instructor…. or do you want a body like this:

The woman performing this deadlift variation is Jen Grasso.

 I’m sure you noticed that she is not “big and bulky”!  She has a lean firm muscular body that many women would love to have.

If you aren’t one of these women, and only care about what the scale says,
then you are better off at this site -> Jenny Craig

Still here? Great!

Now for the truth. To get the lean sexy body you desire, don’t be decieved by all the high repetition “cardio” workouts out there.

A program that generates results involves a solid nutrtion plan and lifting weights using big compound movements such as deadlifts and squats.

Every successful female strength coach I know encourages their clients to stop running on the treadmill and start lifting heavy!

The problem is that lifting heavy weights doesn’t generate sales on the latest infomercial. So many companies produce deceptive programs for the masses tailored for what the masses expect. It’s a vicious cycle!

 Ok, back to the benefits of the deadlift for women

The deadlift is great because it mimics a basic fundamental human movement… picking something off the floor! All the mothers out there do this on a regular basis with there young children. If you are not a mother then chances are that your muscles on the back side are even more imbalanced.

The good news is that the deadlift can fix that!

The primary movement of the deadlift is hip extension and it targets the following muscles:

1) Glutes (your behind)

2) Hamstrings (back of your legs)

3) Upper back

4) Lower back

5) Shoulders

6) Quadriceps (front of your legs)

7) Your abs!

Geesh, are there any muscle groups that aren’t used during the deadlift?? Not too many!

If there were only one exercise you should do, it would be the deadlift!

My colleague Nia Shanks is a certified personal trainer and fitness author. I learned about Nia from Tony Gentilecore, co-owner of Cressey Performance. She’s one of the good ones!

Here is Nia demonstrating an excellent deadlift variation called the sumo deadlift. This is a great deadlift variation for women!

Nia has written a comprehensive program called “Beautiful badass” that will outline everything you need to do to sculpt a lean, strong and sexy body.

-> Start Deadlifting and become a beautiful badass 




For optimal mass gains, it is important to target all 3 heads of the triceps. The long head often gets neglected the most.

Work all 3 heads using the right triceps exercises
for maximum arm mass

Not all triceps exercises are created equal. The following is a list of the best triceps exercises that will work all 3 heads:

  1. Decline EZ Triceps Extension
  2. Bench Dips
  3. Parallel Bar Dips
  4. Rope Triceps Press down
  5. Dumbell Triceps Extension (Neutral grip)

The best triceps exercise routine for mass has variety. Think about the position of the upper arm!

The number one rule is to not perform multiple triceps exercises with the upper arm in the same position! Triceps push downs have the upper arm fixed with elbow pointing down. Lying triceps extensions have your upper arm positioned such that your elbow is pointing in front of your body and so on.

You need to move big loads to build triceps mass!

Now,  if triceps mass is your primary goal you need to focus on exercises that allow for heavy loads (no triceps kick backs!!). You will do well sticking with dips. Don’t lean forward  too much as this will place more emphasis on your pectoral (chest) muscles.

The narrow grip bench press (roughly 12″ spaced grip) is an excellent triceps exercises for building mass.

An example of an effective triceps routine would be closed grip bench press super-setted with the rope triceps press down.

 How many reps should you do for Tricep size?

This is a great question and it’s important utilize lower and higher reps ranges for optimal results.

Here is a routine I recently developed and had excellent success with. On day one, perform a big compound triceps exercise using heavy weight for the 5×5 technique. on day 2, perform each one of the exercises listed in a row with about 15 seconds of rest between each one. Then rest about 3 minutes and complete the circuit 2 or 3 more times.

Day 1

Weighted Dips or Close Grip Barbell Bench Press

Perform classic 5 sets of 5 reps routine

Day 2 (2-3 days later)

1) Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension
Rep goal: 6 – 8

2) Close neutral grip dumbbell presses (elbows at your side)
Rep goal: 6 – 8
3) Lying barbell triceps extension (aka skull crushers)
w/ reverse grip.
Rep goal: 10 – 12


It’s worth mentioning that the best routine in the world won’t do jack shit if everything else isn’t taken care of…. you know, the other 23 hours of the day!

Make sure to have a high quality post workout shake about 30 minutes after you finish (don’t sweat the details here). Make sure you have carbs and protein in this shake. If you are in a pinch, just pick up a Muscle Milk at the nearest gas station or a chocolate milk for that matter. It’s better than nothing!

Continue to feed your body with high quality sources of lean protein, healthy fats and low glycemic carbohydrates 4 to 6 times per day.

…. and for God’s sake, get your rest! 4 hours of sleep per night and 3 Red Bull’s per day will destroy your hormonal balance!


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