In this week’s collection of thoughts, training tips, and recommended reads; I’ll cover bear crawls, the benefits of starting with an empty bar, the utility of bear crawls, growing vegetables, link two methods of how to self-assess shoulder mobility, and provide some tips for working out during vacations.

  1. New to an exercise? Start light.

One of my favorite tips as a beginner was to learn squats with an empty bar. The goal was to add 5lbs to the bar each workout, squatting 3 days a week. This way your technique grew with your strength. In a perfect world, it would take only 3 months and 3 weeks to squat 225 for 5 (not bad, considering you started with 45lbs) and would also teach patience, respect, and control along the way.

It will be easy for a little while, but remember – beginners need to only use ~45% of their 1-repetition maximum to increase strength. In the beginning, almost all strength increases are from increased coordination, muscle activation, and control. This applies to new exercises as well, there is a rapid increase in strength at first that results from simply getting better at the technique.

Either way, with a new exercise resist the temptation to jump right in. Take your time, “own” the movement, and allow your technique to develop equally with your strength. An exception would be made for variations of a movement (switching from flat bench to close grip, for instance) but I would still recommend building proficiency. I’ve used this method teaching front squats to many of my qualified clients, and the results have been impressive in a short period of time. They are much more comfortable with the exercise, and their strength develops rapidly.

  1. Bear Crawls are good for, well, everything.

I wrestled in high school and was a cadet in college. I’ve done my share of bear crawls. Fortunately, they’re highly beneficial. Bear crawls provide compression, which can train the rotator cuff. They also promote rotary core stability (4:32), are a fundamental (primitive) movement pattern, and provide an excellent metabolic training effect in a conditioning phase.

With unstable athletes, I use them (and/or sleds) in place of sprints to build conditioning capacity until sprinting is safe. Best of all, they require no equipment, are challenging, and are easy to learn.

  1. Take advantage of the weather and grow your own herbs

My girlfriend and my downstairs neighbors each have a green thumb. In my backyard I now have an enormous supply of cilantro, rosemary, parsley, tons of basil, and jalapenos. We are also growing blueberries and strawberries. The initial investment is small and we have more than we’ll ever use. It’s a great way to save money on eating fresh and healthy food. Best of all, many herbs may also be grown indoors during the winter. A quick Google search reveals: Method 1, Method 2.

  1. Two Easy Ways to Self-Assess Shoulder Mobility and Pelvic Control

Exercises must be earned, and not every exercise is suitable for every body type. Based on mobility, stability, injury history, bone structure, and genetics, it is not uncommon for an exercise to simply be a bad fit for somebody. The most notorious example is overhead shoulder pressing motions. This includes the press, push press, jerk, and snatch variations. In some cases, it is necessary to even contraindicate overhead pulling, such as pullups.

I assess all of my clients for these deficiencies and with time, many of them “earn” the right to perform these effective exercises. But how do you know if they’re safe for you to do?

Tony Gentilcore posted an excellent article on landmine presses, here, and includes 2 simple screens to assess your overhead mobility. In addition to these, I use the FMS Shoulder Mobility Screen with my clients, which you can see here from Smart Group Training. Simply put, if you can’t reach overhead without arching your lumbar spine, perform a correct wallslide, or achieve bilateral 2’s or 3’s on the FMS screen – focus on pushups, neutral press variations, and hammer shoulder mobility.

For a full self-screen, I recommend the Self-FMS found here. If you’re in the area, call (508-507-9008) or contact me and I’d be more than happy to run you through a 10-minute FMS for free.

  1. Vacation workouts

It’s summer time, and contrary to popular opinion, it’s one of the most frequent times that people miss sessions. Between vacations, summer homes, and the kids being home it can be very difficult to work out. In other words, it’s a perfect time for back up plans, minimalist workouts, and shorter, more intense training programs. For equipment, I recommend purchasing a TRX, a kettlebell, and some superbands (1/4” – 1/2” for women, 1/2” – 3/4” for men). They’re portable, simple to use, and versatile. On a tight budget, bands and bodyweight works quite well.

I modify my clients’ programs to meet their vacation needs, but here is a simple example of a 20-minute bands & bodyweight routine:

3 Rounds – 40 seconds of work, 20 seconds of rest, 60s rest between rounds.
Use a phone app, such as HIIT Interval Timer

-Band Front Squat
-Pushup (Band Assisted, Resisted, or Bodyweight)
-Band Split Squat (L/R)
-Band Row
-Band Curl to Press

Remember to hit a quick warm up, work your core stability, and stretch afterwards.

That’s it for this week’s tip. If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to answer them thoroughly!