The practical, hybrid fitness training concepts we deliver here each week, at no cost to you (other your time), have come at great cost to us. We either paid lots of money and took travel time away from our family and friends to learn them, or we’ve taken the time and mental energy to develop and battle-test them over many hours of trail and error.

Today’s post, which comes to you from Personal trainer & owner BeFit Tacoma, Isaac Ho, displays exactly what I’m talking about…

5 Personal Training Tips that Cost Me 5,000 Dollars

 by Isaac Ho

I can’t say there’s anything I love more than going to a training seminar. I have spent years gathering all the information I could get my hands on from the top coaches and trainers in the industry. To me going to a seminar is better than going on vacation. It’s not only the information you receive, but the people you meet, the hands-on learning you experience, and the over-all world class excellence you observe. For a long time I was a trainer who couldn’t afford to fly to seminars.  Instead I invested a small fortune in books and DVD’s and learned from the experts at home.  When I meet these trainers in person, I’m seeing one of my heroes. It’s like having Batman spend a few days teaching you how to be Robin.

One truth that always echoes in my head is,“You can’t create excellence if you never experience excellence.”  Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to experience excellence from some of the best people in the industry. Today I’m going to share with you five training gems that I have discovered from a few recent seminars I’ve attended.  These gems are ones that I have been able to go home and immediately apply; the benefits to my clients, in both group and one-on-one training, are invaluable.  Although I’ve invested nearly five thousand dollars in attending these seminars, it won’t cost you a dime!

1. Boyle Rows

I named these rows after Mike Boyle who showed me them at his “Functional Strength Coach 4 Seminar.” If anyone deserves to succeed and be respected in this industry, it’s Mike. I can’t say enough kind things about him as a person and as an educator. At the seminar Mike shared how he pairs suspension trainers with other exercises in his program.  One of my friends, Kari from Envision Fitness, asked Mike if he has a preference in the way he has his athletes do them. I assumed he’d cycle a pronated grip, supinated, neutral, or pronated to neutral grip. Instead Mike said he actually uses almost the reverse of a neutral grip row and pulls into a supinated row. The hand positioning gets a great lat stretch at the bottom of the row, and the supination reverses the movement and opens the chest up. I had to go home and try these, and I can tell you if you’re looking for a way to feel your lats on the rows without feeling it in your bicep, this is the way to go.

The Isaac Twist and Application

Don’t just use the hand positions only with suspension trainer rows. For higher rep dumbbell rows, these make a great variation. There is some debate whether you should hold the scapula retracted the entire time you do rows. The simple answer to this, in my opinion, depends on your goals and the weight you are lifting. With this movement you do get protraction at the bottom of the movement with the intent of pre-stretching the lats to recruit them more effectively. Because of the stress it could have on pulling the humerus with heavier loads, I prefer to keep the scapula retracted the entire time with heavier weights and use this variation for reps of 8 and up.

2. Program Design and Spine Loading

The popularity of full body workouts seems to have hit the fan. This is quite the change from the body building era of focusing on one muscle group and power lifting upper and lowers.  Now everything is full body, and for some reason everyone wants to workout every single day. I guess no one is teaching the concept of recovery and how basic physiology works or the minimal effective dose. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some top spine experts, and I can tell you that if you are loading weights up onto your spine and loading the tissue day in and day out, you’re going to be in trouble. In fact, in some cases you might want to split your training day into two sessions to give the tissue time to recover mid day. It depends on what style or periodization you’re using, but if you’re doing group training you are probably not writing a super periodized program because you have people jumping in and out all the time. New clients, starting at the end of the month, are going to be in trouble if they have to begin with the much higher intensity week with no basic introductory week or GPP (General Physical Preparation Phase). Because of the complexity, most boot camps use a concurrent method of periodization, or they may just randomly throw up whatever…I’ve seen both. Regardless of what periodization you use, you should be mindful and write spine deloads into your program.

The Isaac Twist and Application

In my own boot camp, I have found that someone who is deadlifting and squatting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or heaven forbid, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday is in for potential trouble, not to mention the type A clients who go for a “run” on their off days and jar their spine even more on concrete (which, with weakened lower back and core muscles, is actually a common way to injure your lower back). Because not everyone can train on the same days, and some might be jumping into a training program at different points during the month, you shouldn’t wait to schedule a spine deload at the end of the month. I am careful to program a spine deload in the middle of the week.  On Mondays we load bilaterally; Wednesdays we hammer away a ton of single leg work (more explosive and power-based work) avoiding heavy rows in the hip hinge pattern; and on Fridays we hit the bilateral work again. McGIll’s seminar teaches that most people with back problems are excessively loading their tissue and not giving it adequate time to recover.  In response to this I like to make sure that I primarily deload during the week and also take care about what exercises are paired with others. For example, I don’t like to put any deadlift variation with any horizontal pull variation in supersets where someone has two hip hinges in a row. An illustration of what not to do would be a deadlift and 3 point dumbbell bench row paired back to back. Giving the tissue of the spine time to recover, deloading during the week, and carefully selecting your pairings will help you keep your back safe.

3. Scap Plank and Bird Dog

Having an effective warm-up is worth its weight in gold. If you follow the current band wagon that promotes core exercise in order to increase core stiffness – either in between lifts or before the training session to boost performance – then you’ve probably been trying to figure out how to sequence all these “essential warm-up” movements, including mobility/activation work, and not have the warm-up take up your entire session. Sequencing can help you with this, but I’ve found combining exercises saves a tremendous amount of time.The ability of the scapular to pull and push is important on any lift you do. For anyone with a shrugging problem, I find doing pulling exercises invaluable. Sadly the person with the bad shoulder also usually starts to get some upper trap pain when they do planks, and their protraction pattern starts to break, and they hang off their passive structures, further aggravating the issue. Planks tend to be too shoulder dominant; we want more direct core work to increase “core stiffness.” That’s where we have the bird dog. Once you’ve mastered this movement it’s time to add the scap plank to it in order to help build up shoulder stability. Warning – this exercise is not easy! You will be surprised at how many muscles you hit at one time with this simple drill. I learned this one from Dr.Craig Lebenson who cleared up my confusion on chiropractors and is an incredible person as well as educator.

The Isaac Twist and Application

For me personally I find it is ideal to combine warm-up exercises and do two at one time, but, depending on how out of shape your client is,this can be near impossible. There is one exercise I like to use in my own training: t-spine rotation. T-spine rotation is probably one of the few patterns you never train, even in a complete training program. If you want to strengthen your hip flexors, sprinting drills will do that for you. T-spine rotation, however, is different; I can’t think of any loaded t-spine exercise.  It is a “use it or lose it” movement as well. When you lose it you’ll end up in a nursing home because you won’t be able to wipe your own backside. I prefer not to lose it. I like to combine an opposite hip stretch with my t-spine rotation in order to save time. I recommend a rear foot elevated bench hip flexor stretch with t-spine rotation, getting an opposite shoulder and hip stretch while saving valuable training time.

4. Isometric Power and ROM

Chad Waterbury is someone I’ve admired since I firstread his many articles and his first book,Muscle Revolution. I went to his seminar this year and,amidst many outstanding points, I learned that you don’t always have to have movement to strengthen the central nervous system. In the 3-5 rep range it’s not so much the fibers we strengthen, but the motor unit recruitment that enables us to lift heavier. In an isometric you still have a muscle contraction stabilizing the joint.

The Isaac Twist and Application

Chad used this concept with rings, showed us how you can maintain a max ten second hold for recruitment. Because of the unique instability of rings, they provide a challenging environment for the CNS to adapt to. You can venture away from the ring training and use other isometric holds, or what some might call supramaximal holds. In this position you hold a weight at lockout which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to move for the full range of motion. For example, in rings you would start with a ring pushup, lock out, or dip hold; as you become stronger you would work on holding it for longer periods of time. You could use the same concept on a bench press, row, or deadlift. However, I would not suggest this on single leg exercises as it is a lot of pressure and strain on one joint. “Core stability” exercises and rollout variations are already popular, so you might as well take the same super stiffness principles and apply them to your upper body and lower body training.

5. The Magic Muscle

Want to be a total beast? The “six-pack” is not the sexiest muscle in the body. The two muscles that really make for strong lateral stabilizers are the gluteus medius and quadrates lumborum. How can you hit both of these in a time effective manner? This question is answered in a category of core training known as “anti-lateral flexion.” The most popular exercise is the side plank, and yet it just bores me. I prefer something with a lot more training economy: farmer carries, suitcase carries, and waiter carries. This is a concept McGill talked about,and I learned a few extra tips at some additional seminars.

The Isaac Twist

At the “Under Ground Strength Coach Seminar” the trainers talked about loaded conditioning which basically includes different carry variations. They warm up with loaded conditioning and end with it in higher volumes. If you’re specifically trying to load the lateral stabilizers and not be limited by grip strength, overhead variations with dumbbell or kettlebells will challenge your shoulders and give you a ton of bang for buck. Add a locomotion pattern like a walking lunge to it, and you’ve got a killer core exercise hitting the glutes as well. Because of the opposite glute and hip connection, I would suggest holding the weight in your right hand overhead and lunging forward with your left leg. Go backwards on the return for an extra challenge.

Bonus Tip: Sandbag Carries

I spent time with Josh Henkins and picked up some of his sandbags at his “Dynamic Variable Resistance Training Seminar.” In Seattle the street parking was limited, so I ended up having to carry one of the 100 pound burly bags on my left shoulder as I walked to my car. Waiting for the lights to turn green was torture.  Within a few minutes I had an external oblique contraction that almost left me crying. As a training tool sandbags are phenomenal, and I can’t say enough good things about Josh’s bags compared to the other knock off’s. Sandbag shoulder walks are phenomenal for the person with shoulder problems who can’t do overhead carries, or who is limited by grip strength. I experimented with some clean grip carries as well and found sandbags are great for carry variations.  The weight shifts down to your side and keeps your core loaded, at the same time giving your shoulders a huge break. On kettlebell clean carries I always found my shoulders killing me. The sandbag allows you to get core loading while giving the shoulders a break. If you haven’t tried get-ups with the sandbags they’re also a great alternative for the Kettlebell version.  Going one step further for a serious oblique circuit you could program a mechanical drop set.

Try this:
– Walking Overhead Lunge (emphasis core, hips, and shoulder)
– Walking Overhead Reverse Lunge (Emphasis core, hips, and shoulder)
– Walking Sandbag Clean Carry ( emphasis anterior core)
– Walking Sandbag Shoulder Carry ( emphasis lateral stabilizers)

With this carry sequence we hit the legs at the beginning and maintain shoulder stability throughout.  Then we really load the anterior core while sparing the shoulders with the sandbag clean carry, and finally we fry the oblique’s and lateral stabilizer with the asymmetrical shoulder carry without further shoulder involvement.


The Seminar Hangover

It’s always exciting to take all the information from a weekend and apply it, but usually what happens is a total paralysis and inability to implement anything on Monday. I have been there…done that. This article has a tremendous amount of training concepts and years’ worth of information packed into it. There are tactics that you could apply indefinitely for a very long time. If you enjoyed this article, let me know and I’d be more than happy to write a four week/three day split training program incorporating all the principles in this article.  Until then give these five tips a try, and let me know if any of those seminars were worth the money.

About the Author:

Isaac is a young guy who’s built a very successful fitness training business due to his passion for continued education, which is driven by his dedication to giving his clients the best!

Visit Isaac Ho at his WebsiteFacebook and YouTube.