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Movement You Should Master

Step Ups

Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer, so now we need to put some effort into staying lively longer.  Mastering specific movements will improve our quality of life and help us stay independent and injury-free. I have come up with several exercises you can use to make yourself stronger, more durable, and develop a healthier, more functional body.  An exercise that I have found to be very helpful in restoring the capacity to get up and down off the floor is the Step Up.

Step Ups

The ability to go up and down steps will almost always be needed.  Losing this ability is a sure sign that one’s quality of life and independence are quickly fading.  Step Ups can be done in a variety of different directions and loaded a number of ways making them easily progressed or regressed based on goals and fitness level.  Step Ups improve balance and strength in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.  Depending how you load, they can also challenge the core and shoulders.  The average step in the United States is 7 inches tall.  Strive to work up to a 14 inch box so that no flight of stairs will ever intimidate you.

Here Coach Katie demonstrates two different versions we like to use and the benefits of each along with some progressions.  Watch the video and give it a try: https://youtu.be/iGXtKyGlKMg.

1) Anterior Step up (Progression: Anterior Step Up with Racked Kettlebell hold)

2) Lateral Step Up (Progression: Lateral Step Up with one side loaded)

-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, Pn1


Movement You Should Master

Weighted Carries

Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer, so now we need to put some effort into staying lively longer.  Mastering specific movements will improve our quality of life and help us stay independent and injury-free. I have come up with several exercises you can use to make yourself stronger, more durable, and develop a healthier, more functional body.  An exercise that I have found to be efficient and effective is a Weighted Carry.

Weighted Carries

Very few things are more functional than a carry.  You’d be hard pressed to get through daily life without having to carry something at least a few times per week.  While basic, a carry is an efficient and effective full body exercise.  Depending on the carry you choose, the load is virtually limitless.  Performed for time or distance, carries will always improve gait and core stability.  Depending on which version you use, they can also be an effective tool for improving shoulder mobility/stability, grip strength, balance, and overall awesomeness.  Watch the video and give it try: https://youtu.be/PaP4-IlVAOA

Coach Chad demonstrates my top four carry picks:

1) Farmers Walk (gait, core stability, grip strength, upper back, legs)

2) Suitcase Carry (gait, core anti-lateral flexion, grip, upper back, balance)

3) Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder stability, balance)

4) Double Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder mobility, shoulder stability, balance)

-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, Pn1


Kettlebell Swings and Push Ups

When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises.  This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:
Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time.  
Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations.  
Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients.  Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition.  
Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.   

Swings and Push Ups

Strength coach Dan John got me started on kettlebell swings/push up sessions.   This pairing challenges core stability as the swings create an anti-flexion core stabilization demand and the push ups an anti-extension demand.  If your goal is fat loss, this exercise pairing produces a total body metabolic boost.  A hidden benefit is getting up and down off the floor during the training session.  It is a basic mobility skill we need to practice in order to maintain our independence.

Kettlebell Swings
kb_swingA swing is not a squat and a squat is not a swing.  A kettlebell swing is a hip dominant motion; the hips move a lot and the knees just a little.  The handle of the kettlebell should stay above the knees.  At the bottom of the swing, the forearms should contact the upper thighs.  You swing the kettlebell forward with an explosive contraction of the gluteal and hamstring muscles.  Do not lift the kettlebell with the arms.  Project, or throw, the kettlebell to shoulder level and no higher.  The swing is an exercise that is worthy of some coaching.  Find an instructor that can help you with proper performance.

Push Ups
Keep the shoulder blades down the back and tight against the rib cage.  Hold the head in a retracted position and relax the neck.  The shoulders should not ride up into a shrugged position. Start at the bottom of the push up (flat on the floor).  Place the hands under the shoulders and keep the elbows tucked in to the side of the body.  Grip the floor with the hands and activate the muscles in the back of the shoulder blades.  Brace the abdominal muscles, tighten the glutes, and maintain tension between the legs by drawing them together.  Push up while maintaining spinal and shoulder position.   Hold at the top for two counts and repeat the push up.

Swing/Push Up Sessions
The great thing about these sessions is that you need minimal equipment—just a single kettlebell and a willingness to work hard.

This is a good place to start.  You will need a kettlebell and a stopwatch.
Swings x 20 seconds
Push ups x 6 repetitions
Rest 30 seconds
Repeat for fifteen minutes
As you get stronger, increase the push up repetitions.

This is one of my favorite swing/push up training sessions.
20 swings
20 push ups
20 swings
15 push ups
20 swings
10 push ups
20 swings
5 push ups
20 swings
You will finish with 100 swings and 50 push ups.

Try a push up “countdown” session.  Follow this pattern:
10 swings
10 push ups
10 swings
9 push ups
10 swings
8 push ups
Work your way down to 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 push up.  You will complete 100 swings and 55 push ups and transfer up and down off the floor 10 times.  If that is too much, modify the program and start at five push ups.  You will complete 50 swings and 15 push ups.

View video of Mike performing these exercises here: https://youtu.be/Vq3VYg847Xs

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Goblet Squats and Pull Ups

When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises.  This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:

Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time. 

Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations. 

Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients.  Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition. 

Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.  

Goblet Squats and Pull Ups

The more inefficient you are when performing an exercise activity the greater the metabolic demand.  Inefficient exercise is the key to fat loss.  Most gym goers become efficient in their selected exercise activities and body composition improvement comes to a standstill.  This pair of exercises creates a systemic response that ramps up the metabolism and drives the hormonal response that creates better body composition numbers.

Goblet Squats
toes_to_fingertipsHold a kettlebell by the horns, with the elbows down and the kettlebell held against the sternum.  Keep the chest proud and relax the neck.  Place the feet at shoulder width and initiate the squat by pushing back the hips.  Keep the torso tall and descend to at least a thigh parallel to the floor position.  Let your pelvis fall between the legs. The elbows should drop down between the knees.  As you get stronger, use two kettlebells held in the double rack position.

Pull Ups
If you are unable to perform a pull up with your own bodyweight, use a band for assist or better yet, one of the machines that assists a pull up.  Use a pronated grip (hands facing away) or a neutral grip (hands facing one another).  I like a set of rings as it affords the shoulders more freedom of movement.  Attempt to get your elbows tight to your side at the top of the pull up.

Perform ten goblet squats, then perform six pull ups, rest sixty seconds, and then cycle back through.  Perform four total trips through this pair of exercises and you will have completed 40 goblet squats and 24 pull ups.  There is something about the pull ups that makes my upper back feel more stable and I move through the goblet squats with greater ease.  As your body composition improves, the pull ups get easier.

View video of these exercises here: https://youtu.be/3L13W9VpqXk

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Halos And Around The Worlds Are The App For That

halosMuch like the collision avoidance computer systems built into automobiles, our brains run neural software that prevents us from overloading and damaging the spine.  If we are unable to adequately stabilize the spine, our neural injury avoidance system prevents us from loading the arms and legs in positions that will produce a spinal injury.  Developmentally, we master the capacity to control the muscles in the middle of the body first.  What this means for the average fitness participant is that hip/shoulder exercise activities have little value if we do not possess adequate spinal/pelvic girdle stability.  Training that enhances the coordinated control of the “muscles in the middle” enables our neural system to produce more efficient, graceful, and pain-free movement.

Halos and Around the World drills improve the coordinated control of the pelvic girdle and spinal stabilizers.  They act as a “neural reboot” of the software that controls stabilization of the spine and pelvic girdle.  These exercises are easy to learn and require minimal equipment.  An Airex pad under the knees makes the exercise more comfortable and you can use a kettlebell, sandbag, or an Iron Grip weight plate for resistance.

Kettlebell Halos in Tall Kneeling
Assume a tall kneeling position on the Airex pad.  The knees are under the hips and the toes should grip the floor.  Grip the kettlebell by the horns in an inverted position.  Make the shoulder girdle muscles active by pulling out against the horns of the ‘bell.’  Brace the gluteals and abdominal muscles and maintain a tall and stable posture during the exercise.  Start with the ‘bell’ in front of the chest and circle the kettlebell slowly around the head in the shape of an angel’s halo.  Perform three to five halos in clockwise and then three to five counter clockwise.

Sandbag Around the World
Assume a half-kneeling position on the Airex pad.  The left knee is under the hip and the toes of the left foot should grip the floor.  The right knee is in front of the hip and the foot is flat on the floor.  I like the unstable “shifting resistance” provided by a sandbag for this exercise but you can also use an Iron Grip weight plate.  Make the shoulder girdle muscles active by pulling out against the handles of the sandbag or Iron Grip plate.  Brace the gluteals and abdominal muscles and maintain a tall and stable posture during the exercise.  Start with the bag or plate in front of the body at belly button level.  Take the implement around the body in a very slow and steady fashion.  Each repetition should take at least six seconds to complete.  Do not permit the body to shift or shake.  Perform three to five cycles in clockwise and then three to five counter clockwise.  Switch the leg position and repeat with the right knee down and the left leg forward.

For the next six weeks, perform one of these exercises at every training session.  It is surprising how many people report improved capacity to squat, lunge, overhead press, and get off the floor with some dedicated neural retraining of the “muscles in the middle.”

Video demonstration of kettlebell halos and sandbag around the worlds can be seen here: https://youtu.be/LGodn9ImRqc

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

PDFThis month’s issue has information on the lumbopelvic hip complex including written/video exercises.  Mike O’Hara also gives information on unstable pressing exercises to improve posture and improve motor control and symmetry.  Also read about the Becoming Unstoppable clinic for athletes 13 years and older that will be help April 30th at Fenton Fitness.

Download Here

The holidays can be a very busy and stressful time.  We are consumed by travel, shopping, family, and eating which makes it difficult to maintain our usual exercise routine (if we had one to begin with). The combination of less activity, unlimited supply of high fat, high sugar, calorie dense foods, accompanied by higher stress levels is a recipe for weight gain.  While you can’t out exercise the kids’ Halloween candy or a pumpkin pie, extra energy expenditure in the form of intense exercise will help minimize the damage.  This exercise series will focus on ramping up your metabolism by incorporating time efficient workouts that use multiple muscle groups (the more used, the more calories burned) and keep you moving.

Try this last 20 minute workout on for size to help those pants fit this holiday season:

Butts and Guts

This workout is another simple one requiring only your body and 1 kettlebell (KB). Just like our Push/Pull/Jump workout in this series, we will use a timer. Pick a KB weight that 20 swings with will be very challenging. The two exercises are the KB Swing and  the Plank Jack. These two exercises compliment each other very well. While KB Swings work the grip, hamstrings, glutes, and entire back, Plank Jacks work the anterior core, hip flexors, triceps, and shoulders. This workout will run 15 minutes long. On the minute, for the entire 15 minutes, you will perform the prescribed reps of Plank Jacks and KB Swings. Whatever time is left for that minute will be used for recovery.

Advanced: 15 swings, 20 Plank Jacks on the minute for 15 minutes

Intermediate: 10 swings, 15 Plank Jacks on the minute for 15 minutes.

Novice: 10 swings, 10 Plank Jacks on the minute for 15 minutes

Click on the link below to see video demonstration of the Butts and Guts workout:

-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1

We all want fitness results, and we want them now.  We want to look, move, and feel better in two weeks.  We know it took us years to get into this overweight, weak, and de-conditioned state, but we have a wedding in three months, a reunion in six weeks, and a date next Friday.

Unfortunately, many of the physical problems that slow our progress toward specific fitness goals will not resolve with two or three exercise sessions a week.  Postural deficits, faulty motor control, mobility limitations, and joint restrictions require daily attention to elicit any meaningful change.  Short bouts of focused training, interspersed throughout the day, will produce the best results.  In physical therapy rehabilitation, we prescribe home exercise programs that are performed up to every two hours to reduce pain and restore function.  Fitness clients will more rapidly reach their goals with some daily Nano Sessions of exercise.


Shakey Shoulder Nano Session

Your shoulder is held onto your body with a basket weave of muscles that connect the shoulder blade to the rib cage.  They function in a highly coordinated fashion to isometrically fix the upper arm to the body.  As infants, this scapula on thorax muscle control develops as we master crawling.  It reaches higher levels of integration with pulling and pushing activities found on the long forgotten monkey bars and the litigated away ropes of gym class.   A sedentary lifestyle and postural breakdown erode away the strength and coordination of our scapula stabilizers.  Poor scapula on thorax stability reduces performance and leads to shoulder and neck problems.

When the inside border of the shoulder blades projects up off the body, we call it “winging.”  Scapula winging is a hallmark sign of poor shoulder girdle stability and the first thing you need to remedy in your training program.  Upper extremity strength needs to be developed from the center out.  If you are unable to hold a solid push up position plank then performing Olympic lifts and bench pressing is getting the cart before the horse.

Push Up Position Plank 101

Basic Push Up Position Plank

Place the hands under the shoulders with the elbows extended.  Pull your shoulder blades down your back and keep your neck long.  Lift your pelvis so that your body is supported on the feet and hands.  The feet should be at least shoulder width apart.  Your body is held in one long line from the ears to the ankles.  Do not let your hips sink or rise up—check your position in a mirror.  The critical part of the exercise is creating tension in the core stabilizers by tightening the gluteal muscles and keeping the shoulder blades tight to the rib cage.  Hold for at least twenty seconds and work up to longer hold durations.  A good goal is a sixty-second plank.

Elevated Feet-Push Up Position Plank

Once you can hold a sixty second push up position plank with the feet on the floor, progress to elevating the feet on a step or exercise bench for more resistance.  Work up to a solid sixty second hold.

Alternate Arm Lift-Push Up Position Plank

This variation adds an anti-rotation stability component to the exercise.  Get into the push up plank position with the feet up on a bench.  Shift slightly over the left arm and then lift the right hand up off the floor.  Reach the right arm out at a 45 degree angle and hold for five seconds.  Lower the right hand back down and repeat with the left arm.  Perform three to five repetitions on each arm.  Work up to longer hold times instead of more repetitions.  Five repetitions on each arm with a ten second hold is a good goal.

Shoulder Carry

If you are new to this exercise, use a dumbbell, and as you get stronger, you can progress to a kettlebell held in a bottoms-up position.  Using a strong grip, position the implement with the shoulder flexed approximately 85 degrees.  This should place the upper arm in front of the body and the elbow just below the shoulder.  Maintain a strong hold and pull the shoulder blades down the back.  Try to keep the biceps muscle from working too hard.  Keep a tight and tall cervical posture and perform a steady walk.  Do not allow the lower back to arch and keep the front of the rib cage flat.  Switch the implement to the other hand and walk back.

Shoulder Carry Regressions and Progressions

Many people can only travel fifteen feet before they must rest.  Start slow and build up to a thirty yard carry with each arm.

Keep the weight you use light and work on maintaining a stable shoulder posture with a steady gait.

Start with a dumbbell and progress to an inverted kettlebell.

Walk greater distances to build up more isometric strength endurance in the shoulder.

The task of balancing an unstable upside down kettlebell while you walk creates a reflex activation of the rotator cuff and scapula stabilizer muscles.  This exercise teaches your shoulder girdle muscles how to work as a team.

The repetitive shoulder stress of throwing, swimming, and overhead racquet sports often leads to the development of muscle imbalances in the shoulders.  The bottoms-up kettlebell carry will train away those imbalances.

Many athletes and fitness clients have difficulty keeping the neck relaxed when they use the shoulder muscles.  This exercise will help resolve this abnormal movement habit.

If you have a shoulder winging problem you need to retrain your motor control with frequent sessions of exercise.  Perform the push up position plank (PUPP) and the shoulder carry twice a day for the next six weeks.  Work on greater duration of the hold on the PUPP and start with a light weight on the carry,  gradually adding distance.  Thirty yards on each hand is your goal.

To view video demonstration of the above exercises, click on the link below:


-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Two types of exercise that are ignored/skipped by a majority of gym goers are heavy carries and crawls.  This is unfortunate because these are two of the most fundamental and functional movement patterns we have.  Incorporating these two exercises on a regular basis will likely make drastic improvements to your mobility, posture, and work capacity.

In their most basic form, these exercises are incredibly simple, involve minimal technique, and pose relatively low risk of injury.  Heavy carries offer the benefit of strengthening the body from head to toe (particularly the core, upper back, grip, and legs) when the body is moving on both feet horizontally.  Crawls take us back to our first movement patterns as humans and put us in the transitional position between being on the ground and standing.  We must all continue to master this movement if we want to enjoy good quality of life as we age.  Crawl variations challenge and improve our mobility and strengthen the core and the shoulders.  I believe that most people would be well served and pleasantly surprised in the way they look, move, and feel by adding 1-2 sets of crawls and carries to the beginning and end of every workout.

A quick search on YouTube or a look at our Team Training workouts will give you some good visuals.  Here are my top 3 picks for each exercise type:

Heavy Carries*carry

1. Farmers Walks

2. Kettlebell, Dumbbell, Barbell Front Carry

3. Barbell Overhead Carry

*Heavy = a true challenge to complete your desired distance


1. Bear Crawl

2. Seal Crawl

3. 4-point Lateral Crawl


-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS

One of the more common questions I get from fitness clients is:  What is the best exercise to get rid of my Muffin Top? Belly Fat? Love Handles?  The answer is always the same.  The table push away is the single most important movement pattern you can practice on a daily basis if you wish to decrease stored subcutaneous body fat.  Great abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym.  Exercise alone does not stand a chance of “making your middle ripped” if the base of your food pyramid is Doritos and Oreos.  The good news is, that once you get your dietary life in order, a proper exercise program creates the magic that makes you leaner for a lifetime.Ice_cream

Breathing Fire

Once you have become proficient at the table push away you are ready to begin the fitness activities that produce the hormonal changes (more growth hormone and less cortisol) that assist in metabolizing body fat and increasing muscle.  These activities are simple and require a short time commitment, but they are unfortunately difficult.  There are many great fat metabolizing modes of exercise.  These are simply my favorite five.  Give each of them a try and let me know how the experience goes.

Dual Action Bike Intervals

This is a good, fat-burning activity for those returning to fitness.  It creates minimal joint stress and extreme metabolic disruption.  Perform this at the end of a strength training session.  Adjust the seat, hop on the bike, and give it all you’ve got for eight cycles of 40 seconds with 30 seconds of recovery.  Perform this program two or three times a week.

Sled Push

Load up a sled with a weight that you can push at a pace that is slower than a sprint but faster than a plow horse.  Push the sled twenty yards and then move the handles to the other side and push the sled back.  Rest as needed.  Record how many trips you can make in ten minutes.

Five Minutes of Kettlebell Swings

If you are proficient with kettlebell swings, give this routine a try.  Grab a kettlebell (men 20-32 kilos and women 12-20 kilos) and set a timer.  See how many swings you can complete in five minutes.  Do not start too fast.  Perform sets of ten swings and take a brief rest.  Once you can get 100 repetitions in five minutes, increase the weight of the kettlebell.

Overhead Slams

If you are able to perform a proper squat (see Jeff to get a functional movement screen assessment for the answer) you can get into slam ball throws.  Choose a slam ball (non- bouncing ball) that allows you to perform ten overhead slams without much difficulty.  Perform ten sets of ten throws with fifteen seconds of rest in between.


Most fitness clients want a body that looks more like a sprinter and less like a marathoner.  Sprinting does create some joint stress, so venture into this area of training slowly.  All distances work well.   Most fitness clients will do better with a gradual increase in running pace that ramps up to an 85-90 percent max effort.  Sustain that effort for fifty to sixty yards.  Better yet find a 30 degree incline and perform hill sprints.  Warm up with some movement prep and perform a program of six to ten sprints once or twice a week.

Each of these activities takes less than fifteen minutes to complete.  No need to spend 45 minutes in the “fat burning zone”.  Invest the time you save in food preparation and a program of strength training, and you will see even greater body composition changes.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS