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7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum

Recently, my wife and I vacationed in Italy, and fitness nuts that we are, we frequented several hotel gyms - none of which were particularly well equipped. Here's the one from hotel in Florence; yes, it was just dumbbells up to 10kg.

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Immediately upon leaving, I sent an email to Cressey Performance coach Andrew Zomberg (@AndrewZomberg), who I knew was the guy to write up a post on having a great training effect without much equipment. This is what he pulled together; enjoy! -EC

Greater equipment availability generally yields greater efficiency because in order to induce structural or functional adaptations, you have to “force” the body to do so. Unfortunately, getting to a gym is not always feasible. The good news? Resistance training does not always have to depend on cable machines, power racks, and barbells.

Inaccessibility to gym equipment can be discouraging. The good news is that by creating structured programs and discovering new ways to challenge yourself with progressions, you can easily elicit a comparable training effect, just as if you were in a gym. Here are some options:

1. Body Weight Exercises

Undoubtedly, your body weight is the easiest, most accessible piece of equipment to utilize anywhere, anytime. Allowing for a more natural range of motion, body weight exercises enhance spatial awareness and improve the proficiency of movements since no other load is being used.

Progression: Alter the range of motion by increasing the total distance of the movement. For example, when doing a push-up, rather than keeping your feet in contact with the floor, try elevating them to increase stability demands of the core as well as the shoulder girdle. You can also add isometrics to any bodyweight exercise at halfway points and end ranges to impose added stress. You can use tri-sets to keep rest periods short and work in some bonus mobility work.

Sample Bodyweight Workout

Perform each tri-set three times:

A1) Body-Weighted Squats
A2) Push-up
A3) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilizations

B1) Reverse Lunge
B2) Prone Bridge Arm March
B3) Rocking Ankle Mobilizations

C1) 1-Leg Hip Thrusts off Bench
C2) Side Bridge
C3) Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mobilizations

2. TRX Suspension Training

Easily portable, this piece of equipment can be anchored almost anywhere and targets virtually every muscle group. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for full-body awareness, as most of the exercises call for optimal body alignment from head to toe. It also places a significant emphasis on the core by challenging your ability to resist unwanted movement in every plane of motion at the lumbar spine.

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Progression: Lengthen the lever arm to reposition your center of mass further from the anchor to increase the total range of motion. Or, slow down the lift to create a greater time under tension effect thus imposing muscular damage for hypertrophy gains.

Sample TRX Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

TRX Anti-Rotation Press: x 8/side
TRX Inverted Row: x 10
TRX Bulgarian Split-Squat: x 8/leg
TRX Push-up: x 8
TRX Fallouts: x 10
TRX Overhead Squat: x 8

On a related note, if you haven't checked out EC's article, 10 Ways to Progress an Inverted Row, it's definitely worth a read!

3. Dumbbell and Kettlebell Exercises

Often found in hotel gyms, these are very affordable for the home or office and provide a wide range of exercise selection. Their biggest advantage is they provide enough options to gain a solid training effect. If the weight selection is too low, you can use higher volume schemes and minimize rest periods. When completing these complexes, execute the exercises without dropping the implement to increase the overall intensity.

DB Progression: Use stability balls, or half and tall kneeling positions to create a greater instability factor. Or, focus on the eccentric portion by taking a few more seconds to lower the weight in order to stress the muscle.

KB Progression: Turn the kettlebell upside down to a “bottoms-up” position to change the dynamic of the exercise. By moving the object’s center of mass further from the rotation (your wrist), you create more instability, forcing co-contractions of all the muscles of the upper extremity.

Sample Dumbbell Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

DB Goblet Squat: x 8
DB Renegade Row: x 8/arm
Offset DB Split-Squat: x 8/side
1-Arm DB Floor Press: x 10/arm
DB Prone Arm Marches: x 6/arm
DB Burpees: 3 x 15

Sample Kettlebell Complex:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

KB Front Squat: x 6/side
KB 1-Arm Row: x 8/arm
KB 1-Arm, 1-Leg RDL: x 8/leg
Half-Kneeling 1-Arm KB OH Press: x 10/arm
KB Swings: x 20
1-Arm KB Bottoms-up Waiter’s Carry: x 25 yards/arm

4. Resistance Bands

Very portable, bands are inexpensive and create an accommodating resistance effect. In other words, where you are biomechanically the weakest, the band will reduce its level of tension at that given position. The same effect will occur as you become biomechanically stronger; the level of tension will increase at that specific range. Bands also allow for direct arm and hip care for deeper muscles that provide the adequate stability for these multi-planar joints.

Progression: Play around with your base of support. Utilizing a narrow stance or tall kneeling position will alter the stability demands, making it more challenging to maintain joint neutrality. Or, add isometrics at the end range by holding the contraction for 5 seconds.

Sample Band Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Band Squats: x 10
Band-Resisted Push-up: x 10
Side-Bridge w/Row: x 8/arm
X-Band Walks: x 12/side
Standing Split-Stance Vertical Anti-Extension Press: x 12
1-arm Band Rotational Row w/Weight Shift: x10/arm

5. Medicine Balls

Affordable and found in many hotel gyms, these are great for linear and rotational power, given how quickly you must produce force for maximal output, and how the stretch-shortening cycle plays into each exercise. Medicine balls are also good for core activation due to their emphasis on optimal alignment with overhead and rotational patterns.

Progression: Speed up the movement to increase your heart rate and enhance your power skills. Or, simply add more volume to the complex.

Sample Medicine Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Overhead Med Ball Slams: x 12
Rotational Scoop Toss: x 8/side
Side-to-Side Overhead Slams: x 8/side
Tall Kneeling Chest Passes: x 12
Hip-Scoops to Wall: x 12

6. Gliders

Very portable, gliders (our favorite is the ValSlide) can conveniently be replaced by household items - like furniture sliders or even towels - if you're in a pinch. Given their size and usage, these disks provide a tremendous amount of direct and indirect core work, since most of the exercises force you to fight against gravity in an anti-extension and anti-rotational manner. Gliders also improve stability due to the unnatural surface environment on which each exercise is performed.

Progression: Change your base of support by elevating an arm or leg off the floor. Decreased points of stability will call for greater concentration of the core in order to maintain optimal spinal alignment during each movement. If accessible, add an external load such as a weighted vest for a real challenge.

Sample Glider Routine:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Reverse Lunges: x 8/leg
1-arm Push-up: x 8/arm
Leg Curls: x 12
Bodysaws: x 10
Mounting Climbers: x 30 seconds

7. Stability Ball Exercises

A staple in most hotel gyms and very affordable for home or office use, stability balls provide a level of volatility that challenges your strength. Basically, in order to combat the dynamic perturbations of stability balls, additional muscles must co-contract to prevent joint deviations.

Progression: Elevate your feet or attempt pause reps at the end range to make the unstable environment even more challenging. Or, create additional perturbations by having a training partner hit the ball in different directions in an effort to knock you off your stability during the lift.

Sample Stability Ball Workout:

Perform three times through, resting two minutes at the end of each "round."

Elevated Push-ups: x 8
Leg Curls: x 10
Stability Ball Rollouts: x 10
Dead Bugs – arms and legs: x 6/side

A Few Notes

  • Be sure to invest a few minutes with soft-tissue work and ground-base and dynamic movements to prepare your body for the workout and prevent injury.
  • Be mindful of areas that need more emphasis than others. For example, structural balance is a common issue due to postural adaptations. Placing more emphasis on the posterior chain and upper back will reduce the overused areas and still provide a solid training effect.
  • Select "casual" rest intervals for most programs. But if you decide to create a greater disturbance, reduce the rest time. Just make sure the load is relatively low so form is not compromised. For complexes, the goal is not to put the object down until you have completed the entire round of exercises prescribed!
  • Make an effort to log your workouts. Noting your exercise selection, volume, load, and tempo will spare time in programming your next workout so you do not backtrack but rather progress.

Give some of these ideas a try next time you're in an "equipment pinch" and I think you'll find them to be a lot harder than they look!

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Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation – Part 2

In my last blog post, Workout Routines: Exercising on Vacation - Part 1, I outlined why I think it's a good idea for most people to have at least a little structured exercise over the course of a vacation that spans a week or more.  Today, I wanted to use my own vacation workout schedule as an example of how you can stay active without filling up your schedule too much. First, though, I think it's important to make two points: 1. There's a difference between "physical activity" and "exercise" - and it's fine for a vacation to include a lot more of the former than the latter.  You'll see below that I didn't "exercise" every day, but I was very physically active the entire time.  We walked on the beach almost every morning, and during our trip, we did ziplined, swam, rode horses, snorkeled, and hiked.

2. What you do before you leave for vacation is likely as important as what you do during vacation.  I prefer to intentionally "overreach" right before I leave for any extended period of time, as it allows me to essentially "write off" the first few days of travel as recovery (everybody likes to sleep on airplanes and crush awful airport food, right?). To that end, we flew out on a Saturday morning very early in the morning, so I chalked Saturday up as a travel day.  That meant that Mo-Fr in the week before were training days (MoTh - upper body, TuFr - lower body, We - energy systems work).  Since I knew I wouldn't really have access to any heavy weights to use for lower body training, I made sure that it was the last thing I did before I left.  Here's how the rest of the vacation looked (keep in mind that my wife joined me for all these sessions; it wasn't like I was ditching her on our honeymoon): Sa: Travel Day (just a walk on the beach that night) Su: Upper body TRX work consisting of inverted rows, pushups, Ys, Fallouts, External Rotations/Ws, and some curls for the girls (hey, I was pretty much on the beach; don't judge!)

Mo: Sprinting on the beach (eight sprints of about 80yds).  When the view is this good, you really can't complain about being out of breath.

Tu: Lower Body TRX work consisting of pistol squats, stir the pot (video below, thanks to Dewey Nielsen), Bulgarian split squats, calf raises, and side bridges

We: Upper body TRX work consisting of (more) inverted rows, flutters, 1-arm row w/reach, and fallout extensions

Th: 2 hours of snorkeling was plenty of physical activity for me Fr: Another light TRX session, which was just kind of a filler of inverted rows (figured I'd use this week to be proactive with my bum shoulder) and additional core work.  To be very honest, I was pretty sunburned by this point, which is why I kept it short.  Did do some prone reaches (props to Dewey below once again), which is a good exercise to try, if you haven't seen them before:

Sa: 3 hours hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park.  Not a bad view from the top, huh?

Su: More sprinting on the beach, this time for 12 sprints of about 60yds. Mo: Travel Day, so not much moving around besides the 2-3 mile walk on the beach that morning We arrived home at midnight, and I was back to my normal lifting schedule on Tuesday. As you can see, this wasn't a ton of training time.  In fact,  I don't think a single one of these sessions lasted more than 20 minutes, and all of them were done outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  I'm not saying that you have to include this much exercise in your vacations, but I am trying to show that if you are interested in maintaining an active lifestyle even when you travel, that it can be done quite easily and without a ton of time invested. Plus, most of these were body weight training exercises, so you don't need a lot of equipment to get them done. Have some vacation exercise strategies of your own?  Please share them in the comment section below. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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Turbulence Training Under the Microscope: An Interview with Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is one of the most widely published and successful guys in our industry – and for a good reason: he gets results. His Turbulence Training protocols have helped thousand of people get lean over the past few years, and with summer upon us, I figured it would be a great time to track Craig down for an interview.


EC: Let’s be honest: every Average Joe trainer under the sun has an e-book or 5-minute guide to sucker misinformed housewives into shelling out hundreds of dollars to learn the “hidden secret” of fat loss. Frankly, I’ve had hundreds of products along these lines cross my path in the past few years, and the only two that have withstood the test of time – and yielded outstanding results time-and-time again are yours and Cosgrove’s. I know about your programming, but let’s enlighten our readers a bit about what makes Turbulence Training so effective.


CB: I think there are a lot of other good ideas and programs out there; not a day goes by that I don't get a good idea from another trainer.  Maybe Alwyn and I just claimed the catchiest names - or maybe it’s the Scottish last name.


What I've done over the years is take my experience in research, and in training athletes, and in working with busy people with minimal equipment, and rolled that up into a program that meets the needs of my readers.


I've adapted the program quite a bit over the years because users have demanded changes. For example, in the past, it used to focus on barbell exercises, but now includes only dumbbell and body weight training exercises (with the exception of my more advanced "Fusion and Synergy" fat loss programs).


The principles remain the same, though. We use more intense strength training than traditional programs (lower reps, not as low as a powerlifter, but lower than 99% of fat loss programs recommended in the past - although this is changing as the approach becomes more popular).

Each workout uses supersets. This gets the workout done faster. I also use what I call "non-competing" supersets, basically referring to supersetting two exercises that don't use the same muscles - including grip strength.


So, a dumbbell split squat and a dumbbell chest press would be non-competing. A dumbbell reverse lunge and a dumbbell row would be competing, because they both demand intense grip work. So, I'd avoid the lunge-row combo.


And then we finish up each workout with interval training. This, too, has evolved over the years. I used to recommend basic 30-second intervals, with 60-second recovery, done on a bike or treadmill (or sprints outside). Now I'm using bodyweight circuits in place of intervals, or sometimes barbell complexes, or sometimes even high-rep dumbbell work.


These changes have all been based on feedback from users. For example, a lot of Turbulence TrainingSo, we use body weight training circuits instead. These are great and can be adapted for any fitness level. readers work out at home with nothing but dumbbells and a bench; they don't have a machine for cardio.


For the interval type circuits, I like to use six total bodyweight exercises, three lower body and three upper body. Then just alternate between upper and lower in a 6-exercise circuit.


So bottom line, a Turbulence Training workout will run like this:


5-minute body weight warm-up

20-minutes superset strength training

18-minutes interval training

7-minutes stretching or mobility work


We do three hard workouts per week, yet I emphasize that everyday is an exercise day (that is, on the four days you don't do a hard Turbulence Training workout, you must still get 30 minutes of activity - preferably something you enjoy and enables you to spend time with family or friends).


EC: Along these same lines, where are most fat loss programs falling short? Where are people missing the boat?


CB: Mostly in nutrition, to be frank.


But as for the workout component, relying solely on long, slow cardio exercise to build the body of your dreams is only going to lead to pain and frustration from a lack of results.


It is simply not an efficient way to exercise for fat loss. If you only have 45 minutes to exercise, and you spend 40 of those minutes on a cardio machine, then you have no hope of building the body you want.


The cardio mindset is all about breaking down the body, burning calories, and looking negatively at food (i.e. how much exercise can I do to punish myself for eating this brownie?). It's that 1980s aerobic-high carbohydrate mentality that has literally ruined people's lives by leading them down the wrong physical path.


The Turbulence Training fat loss mindset is positive, and is focused on building the body, boosting the metabolism, and developing positive nutrition rituals that fuel your body for mental and physical performance.


Another mistake of fat loss programs is focusing on the "calories burned". Just like the nutrition industry is slowly starting to recognize that a "calorie isn't always a calorie", we need to accept that the number of calories burned in a workout is not the main determinant of fat loss success.


First, machine calorie counters are notoriously inaccurate. Second, you can wipe out all the calories you just burned in about 30 seconds with a Starbucks summer drink. And finally, we need to look at the bigger question - and that is how does your workout affect your daily metabolism?


I believe a high-intensity workout - like Turbulence Training - leads to better results because it focuses on boosting your metabolism. So while you won't burn as many calories during the workout - according to the machine - you end up burning more fat over the course of the day and week. And that's the bottom line.


EC: Memorial Day weekend was the unofficial start to summer, meaning that millions of people are scrambling to get as lean as possible as fast as possible. If you had to give them three bits of advice, what would they be?


CB: First, your nutrition is going to give you the majority of your results. Find a time when you can go to the grocery store and prepare your meals for the week. Stick to that. Give yourself a little reward each week, but don't go overboard.


Find out how many calories you eat now. Then cut back on your calories AND try to improve the quality of your nutrition. Take baby steps, and don't move too quickly. For example, tomorrow, make sure you eat one additional fruit. The day after, add one extra serving of vegetables. The third day, cut out all sugary beverages. And so on.


Second, get social support. Whether you find kindred fat loss spirits on the Internet, at work, in the gym, or at home with a family member, make sure you have someone that you can be accountable to (get a trainer once a week), and that will support you (if your family isn't supportive, find someone on a good internet forum or a buddy at work).


Social support will keep you out of the wrong eating situations and will always be there to help you hit new personal bests in your workouts. Don't underestimate what a helping hand can do for your fat loss.


Third, if you really want to succeed, then be prepared to suck it up for a few weeks. After all, what's eight weeks of discipline over the course of a lifetime? It's nothing. Just think about the last eight weeks of your life...doesn't it seem like that time just flew by?


So, if you get serious about your nutrition and consistent with an intense program of strength training and interval training, you can make dramatic changes in four weeks, eight weeks, or whatever is left this summer.


Find a time when you know you can stick to your workout. Don't let anything get in the way.

And after eight weeks of consistent effort, you'll have a better body, and this is where it gets good...


You'll find its much easier to maintain a great body, AND you'll have built so many healthy habits in those eight weeks that you won't feel like going back to the old way of living where you ate - and felt - like crap all the time. Plus, you'll have a consistent exercise habit. It's a win-win situation to put yourself through an eight-week intensive regimen.


EC: Tell us about Turbulence Training; what’s the scoop?


CB: This is the one-year anniversary of my program at TurbulenceTraining.com. Over the past year, we've helped thousands of people lose fat in less time than ever, and we want to help even more this year.


So I twisted a few arms and rounded up some excellent bonuses that include...


1) Meal Plans for Men & Women by Dr. Chris Mohr (Value $99)

2) How to Measure Your Body Fat by Dr. John Berardi (Value $29.97)

3) High-Octane, Fat Burning Recipes by Mike Roussell (Value $19.99)

4) How Hormones Affect Your Fat Loss: A Special Report from Dr. Holly Lucille & Jon Benson (Value $19.99)

5) A One-Month Bonus Trial at Global-Fitness (Value $9.95)

6) The Turbulence Training Hardcore Fat Loss 4-Week Program by Craig Ballantyne (Value $19.99)

7) A Three-Month Basic Level Membership to the Turbulence Training Discussion Forums & Other Exclusive Fat Loss Info (Value $59.85)


If readers are curious, they can check them out at TurbulenceTraining.com.

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