How To Progress To A Full Pull Up

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I’m asked all the time what people can do in place of the pull ups and chin ups if they can’t do full pulls or chins. Especially if they call for multiple reps.

Here’s what I suggest in progressive order:

Inverted Rows

For absolute beginners, inverted rows are a good place to start.  Depending on your fitness level, you may even find it difficult to do a pull up hold.  If this is you, start here.  While an inverted row doesn’t work in the same movement plane a pull up, it will serve as a good substitute and begin strengthening the muscles used to do a pull up.

For an inverted row, lay face up on the floor underneath a pull up bar a few feet off the ground.  Reach up and grab the bar, keeping your feet on the ground.  Pull your chest up to the bar and return to the starting position.  To make the move easier, bend your knees to bring your feet closer to the bar.

Pull Up/Chin Up Holds (Isometric Pulls/Chins)

Using a bench, plyo box or chair for support and position yourself at the top of the movement with your chin above the bar. Remove your feet from the support, and simply hold yourself in this position for as long as possible. Try for as many seconds as reps. If the exercise calls for 6 reps, hold for 6 seconds.

Drop Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Eccentric Pulls/Chins)

When you can hold yourself for as many seconds as reps are called for in your exercise, try doing Drop Pull Ups. You’ll position yourself above the bar again, using a support, but instead of holding that position, you will let yourself perform the negative or eccentric part of the movement. Slowly drop down to the arms extended position. If the lift calls for a 2 second eccentric portion, then it should take you 2 seconds to lower yourself.

Use your support to bring yourself back up to the top of the movement and repeat as many times as possible, until you can complete the required amount of reps. So, if you can perform 2 drops, and the exercise calls for six reps, you should finish the exercise by holding the top position for 4 seconds.

Full Pull Ups/Chin Ups (Concentric/Eccentric Pull/Chins)

Once you can perform as many drop pull ups as are called for in your program, you should be able to do at least one full pull up. Again, if you are asked to do six pull ups, You might find yourself doing one full pull up, doing 3 drop pull ups, and then a pull up hold for 2 seconds.

Keep working at it. This is not an easy exercise, but one that will provide many benefits. Of course, if you have access to an assisted pull up station go for it, or use bands to help you, but many people I consult with train at home, and don’t have access to these. This is a great progression for beginners and advanced athletes alike

Guest Post: Build Insane Muscle with Power Training Workouts

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Today’s guest post is by Jim Smith, CSCS.  I like his work because he takes a holistic approach to his training, including recovery workouts, and mobility work.  And if you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you’ll know how important I think these components are to a program – especially as we get older.

In this article, he gives you a sample workout (and of course, it aligns with my philosophy of training movements),  and I really like that he emphasizes the “posterior chain” movements.

For more of Jim’s work, check out


Have you ever been in a situation where you need to modify your planned workout because of time constraints? If it has not happened yet, rest assured that it will at some point in your training career. Do not fret, with Power Training Combos you will be able to get in a decent workout and you may even be able to add some quality muscle on your frame as well. By combining certain mass building exercises, you will help accelerate your gains and decrease your time in the gym.

While there are limitless combinations you can choose, the following combinations will take care of a huge amount of muscle with minimal time invested in the gym.

1. Horizontal Pull / Vertical Push: Seated Cable Rows/ DB Military Press
2. Full Body / Vertical Pull: Barbell Power Cleans / Pull Ups
3. Vertical Pull / Hip Extension – Barbell Shrugs / DB RDL’s

You will notice that these combos really target the musculature of the posterior chain primarily. This will give you a huge boost of growth hormone and pack on the pounds where it counts. Check out a sample workout below for a way to get your own power building combo training going.

Sample Training Workout:

Warm Up:
1. Foam Roller-IT Bands, Hammies, Quads, glutes
2. Light Static Stretching 3 x 10 s hammies, quad hip flexor
3. Jump Rope


1a. Deadlift 5 x 5
1b. Military Press 5 x 5
2a. DB Shrugs 5 x 15
2b. Back Extensions 5 x 20
3. Abdominal Fallout’s 3 x 15

As you can see the work is not involved. Just make sure you perform the sets back to back and then take an appropriate rest period. It will be tough, but you will save time and build strength and some serious muscle.

Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author and renowned strength coach. Jim is an expert for Men’s Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff. He speaks regularly at clinics, conferences and seminars about the Diesel Method. His distinctive and comprehensive training approach has helped athletes and fitness enthusiasts of all skill levels attain their goals and “Achieve Beyond Potential”. Jim is an active student of strength athletics and is always seeking new ways to innovate and provide a unique perspective for gaining muscle, rehabbing injuries, improving performance and building better athletics.

The Most Effective Nutritional Habit

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Nutritional HabitI’m a meat guy. I love me some meat.

And I love to grill it just as much as love to eat it.

I’ll grill it outside on the BBQ all year round here where I live, about 45 minutes outside of Toronto, even when it’s well below freezing outside.

So lucky for me, I don’t have to worry too much about getting my fix of protein in a day.

But a lot of people don’t get enough protein to help them achieve their goals. And quite frankly the most important thing you can do for your nutrition is to make sure you get a good serving of lean protein at every single meal.

AW Nutritional Habit #1

Yep, the number one nutritional habit I can recommend is every time you plan to eat, be sure to get the equivalent of two fists worth (one for women) of lean protein.

We need protein to help repair and build muscle and other tissues.  Proteins and amino acids are the body’s building blocks.  Even more, protein helps your feel fuller, longer.

But protein does much more than this.

Protein helps control insulin responses because eating more protein usually means you will eat less carbohydrates that can spike insulin levels.

Protein also has a higher “Thermic Effect” than carbohydrates or fats.  What this means is the energy it takes to digest your food is higher with protein meaning more calories burned resulting in increased metabolism.

So if you want to get fast results with the least amount of fuss, make sure to get into the nutritional habit of eating lean protein with each meal.

And look, I know you can’t eat steak, or chicken, or eggs with every meal of the day, let alone cook it.

Plus, sometimes you just need a convenient way to get your protein needs at some meals, or maybe you just need a little variety.

Well, that’s where supplementation can help in the form of a protein shake.

I advocate eating whole foods as much as possible, but when whole foods aren’t an option, a protein shake is a great substitute, and one or two shakes a day can keep enough variety to help you stick with your nutrition plan.

Here’s what has to be my favorite shake recipe right now:

1/2 cup of water
2 scoops Chocolate Prograde Protein
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tsp cocoa powder
2-3 drops of mint extract
5 ice cubes
half a handful of pecan halves
(and you can even throw in a handful of spinach – trust me, you can’t even taste it, but it does change the color)

You can use any kind of chocolate protein powder, but I highly recommend using Prograde.

It tastes amazing, and is sweetened with stevia (not sugar).

=> Get Your Bottle Of Prograde Protein Here

Next time you want a sweet tasting snack without falling off the wagon, give this shake a try.

Stay committed,

Mike Dunk, BHK, CSCS
Athletic Workouts

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /

Beginner Plyometric Workout

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A great way to prepare for a plyometric program is to jump rope for a couple of weeks — especially if you’ve never done plyos before.  Jumping rope helps condition the body and muscles for those quick muscular contractions I was talking about in the last post.

The next step, believe it or not,  is to learn how to land.  The idea is to learn how to land soft and in an athletic position.  Coincidentally, once you find your proper landing position, this is the same position you should be squatting in.  To learn how to land soft, you can start with drop jumps.  Find a step or platform about a foot high and step off the platform (do not jump).  The goal is to land as softly as possible and try not to even make a sound.  To do this properly, you will need to land in an athletic position and absorb the shock as you land.  Do this for another couple of weeks to help make the neuromuscular adaptation (the brain muscle connection) — making the response automatic for your muscles.

So yes, take about a month to prepare.  You must do this to perform beginner level plyos.  To be able to do intermediate level plyos, you should have done the above and be able to squat your body weight.  For advanced plyos, the same as before, but you should be able to squat 1.5x your body weight.

Here’s a sample beginner plyo program:

  1. Squat Jumps 2×5, rest 1 min between sets
  2. Medicine Ball Chest Throw 2×5, 1 min rest
  3. Jump to Box 2×5, rest 1 min
  4. Medicine Ball Incline Chest Throw, 1 min rest

Add this into your workout program even once per week to get amazing benefits (I wouldn’t do it more than twice). And make sure to change it up after no more than 4 weeks.

Don't Believe The Hype

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Hey, that’s more than a great Public Enemy song, it’s something you need to be careful of in today’s fitness industry.

I’m amazed at how people can turn fitness into a flavour of the month. Every week there seems to be a new program or plan out there that uses some new type of training methodology. I was catching a morning show the other day and they had a guest on that was claiming something like “evolutionary training” was the way to get fit. Apparently they had their clients move the way our ancestors did and that was the best way to get fit. You mean to tell me our ancestors moved differently than us? Well actually, the clients were crawling around the gym floor (with awful lower back position I might add as well). I couldn’t help but be amused – and the media thought this was newsworthy!

All of it is just marketing hype. Something they claim to be brand new and different, when it’s usually not, or it’s so different, it’s sometimes laughable. All they’re looking for is sales. And hey, if you never quite reach your goals, you’ll just have to keep paying, won’t you?

Another thing I can’t stand is when someone takes common knowledge and just decides to call it something more catchy, and then put a trademark on it to look official.

Average people think it’s the next greatest thing and continue to get frustrated because frankly, they’re being taken advantage of. They just don’t know what to do anymore. And personally, I think it’s unfair, and outright insulting to you.

Some marketers (and I call them marketers, not trainers, or strength coaches) take science, and actually play with it to make it look like something it’s not.

My inbox has been bombarded lately with promos for a new program that has completely mashed real science. (Yes, I’m on other people’s lists) It’s nothing more than pseudo-science, or hype. They’re claiming their program helps develop a type III muscle fiber, but really there’s no such thing. I scoured scientific journals, and couldn’t find any real evidence of their claims. And after further research, I found an article where the program author himself says this, “Type III muscle fiber is just a cool name for a hybrid type II muscle fiber that takes on traits of a type I fiber. It’s nothing new. It’s just something a lot of people haven’t heard about.” So why the hype? Why not just say it is what it is?

Now, to be honest, the program itself might be great … I haven’t seen the actual product, but knowing they’re claim is less than factual makes me distrustful and skeptical.

These people seem to spend more time on their marketing efforts, rather than emphasize their practice. I hate it, because it makes all of us look bad, especially when all it is is taking advantage of people that don’t know better and are desperate to change their lives.

To give you another example, a friend of mine has been going to this bootcamp, and just because she sweats and feels like she’s going to puke she thinks she’s had a great workout. Hard work doesn’t always make a great workout. The type of training she’s doing does not match her goals, and she keeps getting more and more frustrated. She’s paying all of this money, and giving up her time, just to work hard. But people can very easily be influenced by something that seems good, and is new and different. After all, people that want to be fit bad enough are the easiest to influence (brainwash?) because they want it so bad – they’ll believe anything. I’ve tried to convince her otherwise, but she won’t listen. I’m frustrated for her.

That said, to reach your goals does take hard work. But you also need to work smart. Train for your goals. Realize there is no magic 12-week fix. Can you make significant gains in 3 months? Of course, but don’t think in finite terms of time. I may have 4, 8, 12, or 16 week programs, but those are designed to be just a piece of a large puzzle. Not the whole puzzle itself.

I promise you’ll always get the straight goods from me, with no hype. I’m just not creative enough anyway to come up with the next “greatest thing” anyway.

I will say, some highly marketed products I’ve seen are actually well designed. But my point is for you to be skeptical.

Don’t believe the hype.

The Two-Exercise Workout Plan

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Here’s a workout plan that will have you in and out of the gym in no time.

All I’ve done is separate 2 days into pushing and pulling movements, and in each of those workouts I have  a lower body and upper body exercise.  In total, four movements — knee dominant, hip dominant and upper body push and pull.

Here’s how it goes:

Day 1

  1. Knee Dominant Variation (Squat, Front Squat, DB Squat, Prisoner Squat, etc.) – 3×5
  2. Upper Body Push Variation (Bench, DB Bench, Overhead Press, Pushup, etc.) – 3×5

Day 2

  1. Hip Dominant Variation (Deadlift, RDL, Glute-Ham Raise, Stability Ball Leg Curl with Hip Raise, etc.) – 3×5
  2. Upper Body Pull Variation (Pull Up, Chin Up, Barbell or DB Row, Inverted Row, etc.) – 3×5

Make sure to perform a dynamic warm up before the workout and use a couple of direct warm up sets before getting into the 3x5s.  Rest no more than 2 minutes between sets.

If you are absolutely pressed for time, try super-setting, keeping the rest time between sets the same.

Remember, a workout doesn’t have to be long to be effective.

Hydration For Exercise And Performance

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Water and hydration is an important part of any workout program.  Water is most important for helping to regulate our body temperature during intense exercise.  Water also helps to lubricate our joints for movement and it helps prevent cramping.  It is essential in the production and use of raw energy in the body’s cells.  What’s more, with less water in the body, our blood volume actually decreases causing the heart to work much harder.

Rehydration After Exercise – For these reasons, among others, replacing fluid loss is important after exercise.  Sport drinks like Gatorade are quite popular with athletes and they contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are lost through sweat.  Sodium and potassium are responsible for helping nerve and muscle cells work they way they should.  They also contain glucose for a quick energy boost, meaning they are often high in calories (but now they have G2 — a lower calorie version of Gatorade with less sugar), and they are all expensive.  In addition, the formula may not be suitable to your type of exercise and your particular needs.

3 Types of Replenishers – As athlete’s needs become more specific, — it could depend on the sport they are training for, or even the phase of training they are in — so can their hydration needs.  The most elite of athletes will have their post-exercise hydration planned by their dietitian.  So here’s a small idea of some different ways to replenish your fluid stores after exercise.

  • Isotonic Replenisher – Is usually made of 80% water and 20% juice concentrate (glucose and/or fructose source).  This replenisher will help athletes replace fluids quickly during and after exercise, but will also give a boost to help replace some energy. This is usually the most common type of replenisher.
  • Hypotonic Replenisher – (Kind of like G2) Is usually made up of 90% water and 10% juice concentrate. This will help replenish fluids fast — useful in hot weather training — but won’t give much of an energy boost.  It can be used during and after less intense exercise, and before training to help prevent dehydration. You can also use this to keep fluid levels high and maintain your glycogen (stored glucose) levels.
  • Hypertonic Replenisher – (Similar to regular Gatorade) Is usually made of 70% water and 30% juice concentrate.  This formula provides more energy replacement and can be used after intense exercise to replenish lost energy stores.

Homemade Recipes – You can save a ton of cash by making your own homemade sport drinks, and you can match your formula to your specific training and caloric needs.  Each of these recipes will give you a 1 litre serving.

  • Isotonic Replenisher – Add 200ml of juice concentrate (orange and grape work well) to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.
  • Hypotonic Replenisher – Add 100ml of juice concentrate to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.
  • Hypertonic Replenisher – Add 300-400ml of juice concentrate to 1L of water, then add a pinch of salt.

You could even add a scoop whey protein for a decent post-workout drink.

So there you go, a little background on the how and why of hydration and a little tip to help you customize your training plan on the cheap.  Enjoy!

The Truth About Supplements

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Open up almost any kind of fitness magazine, and it’s loaded with advertisements for supplements.

Supplements are a massive, multi-billion dollar business, and most people don’t know that many of the magazines they buy are owned by supplement companies. The supplement companies use their magazines to push their own products on you.

And most of these magazines give you just enough crappy articles and workout programs to keep you buying each month.

You read the magazines, see the fitness models, and crave the quick fix to look just like them. Then on the next page, you’ll see an ad for a magic potion supplement that promises amazing  fat loss and lean muscle in just days. And in that ad, are the before and after photos that were most likely taken within minutes of each other. Only in the before photo, there’s no grease or spray tan, they’re sticking out their gut, and have a sad look on their face! Minutes later, they’re greased up, have probably done a quick workout to pump up, and they “pull everything in” to look 100% better.

Regardless of the shape you’re in right now, I know you can make yourself look better and worse with these little tricks.

Because of the heavy advertising push, lots of you think that supplements are a must if you want to get back in shape.

But the truth is, very few people need any supplements at all. In fact, unless you follow the “90% Rule” of nutrition, you shouldn’t be taking ANY supplements at all.

With a proper diet, you should be getting everything nutritionally to help you reach your goals, no matter what they are, with no need to supplement.

What Supplements Are

So before you consider supplementing your nutrition (and really, that’s exactly what supplements are for – to SUPPLEMENT your diet), make sure you have your diet in check first. You can follow the AW Nutrition Plan, and make sure you comply with at least 90% of your meals before adding supplements to your diet.

Having said that, for some of you on the go, you may need to supplement from time to time with a meal replacement, or a protein shake, for convenience to ensure you are complying with your nutrition plan a full 90%. And that’s absolutely fine, as long as the majority of your diet is coming from whole foods.

Even more, following a proper nutrition plan 90% of the time, with a proper training program (like the AW Training Plan) will give 90% of you all the results you could ask for – without supplements.

When To Use Supplements

Still, there will be some of you that are looking to reach that next level. This is where supplements have a true place in a fitness program.

Even with a good nutrition and training program, some of you may need to supplement to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients you need to achieve your goals.

Supplements To Consider

There really are only a few supplements I would recommend the average guy or girl take anyway. Here the list of supplements I use, with a little information about each one:

Whey Protein
A proper diet will provide a more than adequate amount of protein for most people. But whey protein is a great alternative for those meals you can’t eat, or cook a whole food protein source. Just try to limit your whey protein servings to once per day. Whey protein may also be used to concoct the perfect post-workout shake.

BCAA’s may help with muscle recovery, and may also help to improve metabolism and decrease appetite.

Creatine may help improve power and performance during high-intensity training by speeding up recovery between sets, and creatine may also help promote muscle growth.

Fish Oil
May help to reduce inflammation in the body along with numerous other health benefits such as the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Greens Supplement
Greens may help increase energy, recovery, and bone health. Greens may also help neutralize acid build up in the body from both intense exercise and a high protein diet.

If you do choose to use supplements, make sure you use a reputable brand, and always check labels to make sure there are no additives, and that you are actually getting what you need, and no more.

Final Thoughts

For the next week, leave the caps on your supplements. Keep a food journal and check your compliance at each meal with the AW Nutriton Plan.

Only with solid compliance to your nutrition plan should you consider supplementing.

Remember, supplements are not supposed to replace a good nutrition plan; they are supposed to supplement a good nutrition plan.

Note: Image courtesy of tungphoto /

Hill Training For Speed and Conditioning

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Training on hills or stairs is a great way to increase your running speed and anaerobic conditioning. Hills, as opposed to running on a level surface, increases resistance, like adding weight in strength training.

Hills provide more resistance than level ground; and of course, the steeper the hill, the greater the resistance. You develop greater push off strength and power in your running stride with hill training. By increasing your stride strength and power, you increase your running stride length.

This is important because running speed is made up of two factors, stride length (how long each step is) and stride frequency (how quick your turnover is, or how many strides you take in a given amount of time).

So, Running Speed = Stride Length x Stride Frequency

So, if you increase your stride length, you increase your running speed, making you faster.

Eventually, if you use sprinting as a mode of conditioning, you’ll achieve a point where you peak.  In other words, you can no longer complete an interval over a given distance in less time, or you can no longer cover more distance in a given amount of time.  When this happens, there is no way to provide an overload to your training.

At this point, consider adding hills to your conditioning program.  Even a slight incline will give you the overload or added resistance you need to break through a plateau. Conversely, on a stationary bike, you can increase the tension to add resistance.

When you add hills to your conditioning program, use the same principles as any type of resistance training. Start with minimal reps, and allow plenty of rest in between sets and workouts.

During your workout, you’ll need more rest time in between sets because you are working at a higher intensity than regular sprints. In strength training, if you use heavier weight, you’ll perform less reps and need more rest between sets. Use the same common sense for running hills.

Distance runners use hills to increase their speed and anaerobic power, usually one day per week, and focus on their aerobic endurance the rest of the week. They also use gentle slopes to help increase aerobic power by increasing the runner’s workload. Sprinters use hills, stairs, sleds, etc. to increase their strength and power by using them as resistance, much like weight training.

Hill running will help you run faster and help your anaerobic and aerobic conditioning. Give it a try.

Why You Need to Include Plyometric Training in Your Workout Program

Posted by & filed under Featured, Training.

PlyometricsWhile most people probably think plyometrics are only for athletes like basketball and volleyball players, there is a real-world application for including plyos in a regular program as well.

Plyometrics are a type of training that uses very quick muscular contractions designed to develop and increase muscular power.

In sports, plyos are a great way to increase performance by developing strength and power specific to an athlete’s sport. Using the example above, basketball and volleyball players use plyometrics to increase their power so they jump higher. Football players will use both lower body plyos for speed development, jumping ability and upper body plyos to help with shedding and making blocks.

So considering this, why would it be useful for the average guy to include plyos in their training?

Well, first, plyos help develop power. And power is much more useful in any type of daily physical activity than any other fitness component. When you move anything, power is required to get it done. What’s more, it’s power that lets you get more work done in a shorter amount of time. That’ll sure come in handy on those Saturday chore days!

Even more, developing power will in turn help you be able to lift more weight, increasing your strength — more strength, means more muscle.  Bigger muscles allows you to develop more strength, and more strength gives you the ability to develop more power.  So really, it becomes a cycle, leading to great benefits for you.

Second, pylos have been proven to increase Type II muscle fiber size(1). Those are the muscle fibers that help you build muscle and are your strength and power muscle fibers. This means that plyos will give you more benefit for your effort. Not only will plyos make you more powerful, they’ll help you get bigger as well.

Third, they help you become faster, quicker, and more agile (on top of being more powerful). Any guy that still plays any kind of pick up game and has that competitive edge will love this. Imagine being out on the field or court, and running circles around those younger guys. I mean, c’mon, no matter how old we get, us guys like reliving those glory days. Plyos will help.

Fourth, plyos are a great alternative to the Olympic lifts like power cleans.  The Olympic lifts are very technical, and take a while to develop the proper technique.  There are great benefits in doing the O-lifts, and for people that haven’t yet got the right technique to do them regularly, plyos are a great substitute.

Last, they’re just fun to do. Admit it, that little kid in you loves jumping around and moving in crazy ways. No I’m not saying you should be moving in crazy ways doing plyos, but the movement patterns are probably like those you haven’t done in years.

As a bonus, it helps add variety to your training, and just might give you another goal to work towards.

So give plyos a try. And studies show that it only takes 1 session per week for the average guy to get great results(2).

And stay tuned for some sample plyo workouts here at

1. Potteiger, J.A., et al. Muscle power and fiber characteristics following 8 weeks of plyometric training. J. Strength and Cond. Res. 13(3):275-279. 1999.

2. de Villarreal, ES., et al. Low and moderate plyometric training frequency produces greater jumping and sprinting gains compared with high frequency. J. Strength and Cond. Res. 22(3):715-725. 2008.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /