Archive for the ‘Exercise of The Month’ Category

December: Exercise of the Month

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

The Overhead Squat

Before I even begin discussing the importance of this  exercise I must make this clear: a person must be able to perform a back squat properly before they overhead squat. As my regular readers will know, the exercise of the month series is not about giving coaching cues and describing technique. This is for two reasons:

 1. Most people think they know the technique already and skim past the description.
2. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is written, people need one on one coaching to perfect technique.

 What the series is intended to do is to outline exercises that should be in your routine at some point or another because they give the ‘biggest bang for your buck’. With that said, the videos are a good indicator of how to perform the exercises you see and, of course, if anyone would like further explanations then simply leave a comment after reading the post.

The overhead squat is one of the most “functional” exercises out there.  Of course, it will train lower body coordination/ strength, and place a huge emphasis on core strength; however, the real value of this exercise comes from challenging the shoulder joint.  This movement activates the stabilizers of shoulder (infraspinatus, teres minor, rhomboid, lower and middle trapezuis) to control the decent. Therefore it is a great exercise for rehabilitating people with rotator cuff problems because research has shown that 100% of individuals with rotator cuff problems show scapular (shoulder blade) instability.[1] Not only will the muscles be working hard to stabilize the shoulder during the overhead squat, but they will be also encounter flexibility challenges.

In the video below I am coaching (a beginner to free squatting) how to overhead squat. This rugby player has predominately trained upper body before starting my programming and as a result his shoulder flexibility isn’t fantastic. Further, his ankle mobility needs work before he is able to squat below parallel without compromising his lumbar spine. That said; his already established strength will make it easy to progress this exercise and instead of using it as a filler exercise it will be a movement that we can progressively overload.

This exercise has just as much value for an elite sports person as it does for a beginner. Here is an example of where to start and where to work up to:

FMT Variations for Beginners

  • Perform correctly without anything in the hands
  • Add a band and keep tension on the band

FMT Variations for Intermediates

  • Use a wooden stick and utilize a wide hand placement
  • Use an empty barbell and utilize a wide hand placement

FMT Variations for Advanced Trainees

  • Follow progressive overload
  • Add in a behind-the-neck press at the bottom of the movement (which is another exercise)

 A Word of Warning
Needless to say, no one should undergo any exercises I recommend if they are injured. Likewise, if there is a case of previous injuries then a physiotherapist or medical professional should give the ‘go ahead’ before attempting certain movements.

The overhead squat is not an exercise to underestimate. To give an idea, I only use a band to perform this movement and usually complete 2 x 10 as part of my warm up. That said; it is something I highly recommend to add into your regime because it will help improve day-to-day posture and strengthen the core muscles.


[1] Voight, M., and B. Thompson. The role of the scapula in the rehabilitation of shoulder injuries J Athletic Train 2000 35(3):364–372.

November: Exercise of the Month

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Natural Glute/Ham Raise

The glute/ham raise is fantastic exercise for the posterior chain because it trains the hamstrings, glutes and lower back in knee flexion. It is an exercise that is not often seen in commercial gyms, but as with all the other ‘FMT Exercise of the Month’ posts, this is an exercise that provides the ‘biggest bang for your buck’. In fact, I view this exercise as a crucial movement for quick progress in my programming. I’ll often have clients that start of with 2 sets of 3 reps (because it’s so tough) and by the time they’re up to 3 sets of 6 reps (and beyond) their running speed, jumping ability and all over lower body strength increases dramatically!

The stiff leg deadlift is often regrarded as the best way to train the hamstrings, and while it is a good movement, it is performed with hip flexsion. This means you could load up 120kg on the bar and complete 4set of 8reps on the stiff leg deadlift, but could you do 4 sets of 8 reps with bodyweight of glute/ham raises?

Don’t be concerned if you do not have a glute/ham machine – the video below shows how to perform this in a regular/comercial gym.

Instead of reinventing the wheel and explaining why the posterior chain is so important, you can read an article I posted earlier in the year that covers everything you need to know.

Give this exercise a go and your hamstrings will thanks you, as will your back squat, and running speed!

October: Exercise of the Month

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Floor Press

This month is all about the upper body and a great variation of arguably the most popular move in the fitness industry. The floor press is much like the bench press in terms of movement pattern and muscle fibres recruited, only (as the name suggests) it’s performed from the floor instead of a bench.

If you are a regular FMT reader then you’ll know I am a fan of movements that involve static-overcome-by-dynamic strength. With this movement there should be half a second of a pause when your elbows touch the floor, which limits the stretch reflex, forcing the muscle to produce strength without any momentum. It’s the same idea as box squats, deadlifts and rack pulls, only it’s for your upper body.

One of the main reasons that October’s exercise should become  a staple in your regime is because it allows you to develop your pressing power while causing less wear-and-tear in your shoulder.  The significantly less ROM (compared to the bench press) means the humerus is not protruding forward and placing stress on the shoulder capsule. That is why it is a good movement for people who are trying to rehab their shoulder while maintaining a training effect. That said, if you are trying to progress your bench press I would consider this exercise not only as a preventative measure to keep the shoulder healthy, but also to allow you to lift heavier loads (less distance usually means more weight).

The video below outlines a variation of the floor press movement.

Keep in mind that this exercise can be performed with a regular barbell as well as dumbbells.

Instead of doing an exercise progression for beginners to advanced trainees (like in previous posts) I have outlined a three step guide to a bigger bench. Note, this template can be used for someone who is aiming to return to a pain free bench with new found strength, or for individuals who are simply trying to break some personal barriers on the bench.

Big Bench Guide:
Weeks 1-4:

  • Alternating DB Floor Press with neutral grip (weeks 1&2)
  • DB Floor Press with pronated grip (weeks 3&4)

*Weeks 6-9:

  • 3 Board Bench Press (weeks 6&7)
  • 2 Board Bench Press (weeks 8 & 9)

*Weeks 11-12+

  • Regular Bench Press

* Note that in the missing weeks (5 &10) I always recommend a ‘deload’ phase. This generally means dropping the intensity and volume for a week before moving forward, and is also known as a recovery week.

For details on accessory lifts, sets, reps and everything else regarding training click here.

September: Exercise of the Month

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

The Front Squat

The front squat is a quad dominant lower body movement. If you’re a sports person and your acceleration needs developed then chances are you are not performing enough of this movement. Or if you’re just trying to build up size in the front of your legs then this exercise should be a priority.

With the front squat less weight is used (compared to a traditional back squat) due to the bar resting on the front of the shoulders. To some that may sound like a bad thing, but your back doesn’t think so. Due to the trunk being in a more upright position, it is easier to maintain a neutral positioning of the spine. The picture below demonstrates this point:


As you can see, the front squat will still overload the legs (with the appropriate loading) while placing less strain on the lower back.

It goes without saying that the front squat should be treated like any other squat; heels down, hips back, chest up. Doing all that should allow for a straight back; however, there is one cue I use with my clients that is extremely important – ELBOWS UP. As this movement is carried out, it can often be the case that the elbows drop. Doing this creates a strain on the wrists, and eventually will become the limiting factor of the movement. Simply keeping the elbows high and chest out should resolve this problem.

There are two main grips that can be used with the front squat; Olympic grip or cross-over grip. Remember, we’re not using this movement as a progression onto Olympic lifting and so it doesn’t matter what grip you take. Personally I prefer the cross-over grip as it allows me to keep my elbows high and eliminates strain on my wrists (so I can lift more weight). Below is a video demonstrating how to set up the cross-over front squat grip.

Unlike previous ‘Exercise of the Month’posts, I am not giving a recommendation for beginners, intermediates or advanced trainees. This is because I think the best thing to do with this exercise is to add it into your existing regime with whatever methods you use to achieve your goals. For example, if strength is your goal then perform this movement with high sets and low reps. Whatever method you use, expect sore quads if you’re new to the front squat (or haven’t performed it in a while).

August: Exercise of the Month

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Chest Height Cable Woodchops

When people think about a six pack, sit ups still pop into their head. It’s a real shame that the sit up or crunch is still regarded as one of the best exercises to train the abs. The truth is that the elusive six pack hides under fat and if the excess fat doesn’t get shifted then no number of crunches in the world will bring it out. Let’s not go to deep into that issue…another blog post…for another time. This month demonstrates a nontraditional abdominal exercise that trains the core muscles in the transverse plane.

Chest height cable woodchops keep you in an upright position, which will help with the flat stomach affect. The reason I think this exercise is so great is because; it’s easy to perform correctly, clients feel it straight away, it can be loaded up easily and the abs are challenged in transverse plane. Further, unlike conventional sit ups, the woodchops do not encourage slouching.

Try chopping your way to better performance and aesthetics, just keep in mind that you want to have straight arms and keep the hips pushed forward.

Three sets of ten reps each side should do the trick to develop/ continue to develop core strength.


July: Exercise of the Month

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The Inverted Row

Back in April the ‘Exercise of the Month’ series looked at an extremely basic, yet completely powerful upper body exercise.  This month is very similar.

The Inverted Row is a great body weight exercise that works the upper back muscles. In fact, the movement pretty much covers all the opposing muscles which are involved in a press up. If performed correctly the; lats, traps, biceps, rear delts and all the small yet significant muscles in between are called upon to execute perfect form on the Inverted Row. If you find yourself doing press ups and bench pressing then you should also find yourself performing just as many sets and reps on some sort of horizontal pulling exercise.

The Inverted Row is not the most common move performed by recreational lifters (barbell rows are often favoured), which I think is due to the fact that it’s reasonably difficult to perform with just body weight as the resistance. Sure, loading up a barbell and rowing might make you look more meaty (until the exercise turns into more of a deadlift and your head starts bobbing like a pigeon to achieve full ROM) but the truth is that the Inverted Row does just as good a job at training your upper back and saves loading up the spine.

I prefer to use this movement as an assistance exercise. Try using three or four sets of eight to twelve reps, ensuring your chest/ribcage touches the bar with each rep. If it is a new movement for you then don’t be discouraged if you can’t touch the bar after five reps – don’t go back to the barbell rows yet either! Simply use lower reps and more sets until your strength levels improve.

FMT Variations for Beginners:

  • Keep 90 degree angle at the knee 
  • Straight legs

FMT Variation for Intermediates:

  • Legs on a bench (straight)
  • Hold for 3 seconds at top of movement

FMT Variation for Advanced Trainees:

  • Perform with weighted vest
  • Perform for timed sets

Remember, stay balanced and throw in July’s Exercise of the Month just as much as you do press ups or horizontal pressing movements.

June: Exercise of the Month

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The Bulgarian Split Squat

This exercise is a movement that has all the benefits of full back squats, and possibly some more. As this is a single leg movement there is less loading placed on the spine, while maximum tension is placed through the quads, glutes and hamstrings.

As with most unilateral exercises there is an element of balance and coordination when performing the split squat. The FMT Exercise of the Month series is all about providing  the exercises that give the ‘biggest bang for your buck’. Hence, you won’t find silly leg extensions or other isolation movements here!  Think about it: if you are holding 40kg dumbbells in each hand and banging out reps on split squats – what do you think your quads would look like?! Beyond that, your trunk muscles, ankle stabilizers and even your shoulder muscles will be working hard to help you perform the movement properly.

FMT Variations for Beginners:

  • Body weight with low box
  • Body weight with pause at bottom

FMT Variation for Intermediates:

  • DB in each hand
  • Barbell on back
  • Pause at bottom with weight
  • Split Squat Jumps

FMT Variation for Advanced Trainees:

  • Front leg on step (increase depth of squat)
  • Single arm DB

For most clients I use this exercise as an accessory movement which follows after a squat or deadlift variation. If the Bulgarian Split Squat is something you have yet to discover then I strongly invite you to throw it into your regime this month to encourage the ‘go’ muscle growth and strengthening process.

May: Exercise of the Month

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The Chin Up

No other subject would be better for my first blog post than the dominator of upper back development.

Last month featured an extremely basic upper body exercise that most people need to do more often and this month is no different. May is all about developing another staple in the FMT training system: the Chin Up.

The Chin Up is the ultimate relative strength move because it involves negotiating the full weight of the body. With the Chin Up there is less wiggle room for error than in the press up. For example, you could go into a gym right now and ask ten different people to perform a standard press up. Out of those ten people you would probably see anywhere between 5-10 different techniques of performing the press up. Some guys would have their hips too high, others their elbows would flare out and some people would be doing half press ups! In a Chin Up, your strength is more transparent. You can either bring your chin over the bar or you can’t.

This exercise is not just a good indicator of relative strength; it is also a great muscle builder and shoulder stabilizer movement. It is often the case that I use the Chin Up to help activate a client’s lower traps (which help stabilize the scapula). To do this simply perform a Chin Up, and at the top push your chest out while squeezing your shoulder blades down and in. In this scenario I prescribe an isometric hold at the top of the movement for three seconds before descending. (You’ll notice in the video my first two reps are with a hold at the top).

The reason the Chin Up is such a good muscle building exercise is because it’s a compound movement and a substantial amount of strength is a prerequisite if you apply the traditional submaximal method of 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps (otherwise known as hypertrophy training). Of course, the Chin Up can be utilized in other reps ranges too.

It is worth mentioning that some people confuse the Chin Up (performed with shoulder width grip and hands in a supine, or turned in, position) with a Pull Up. In a Pull Up the hands are placed 1.5 of shoulder width and are in a pronated, or palms out, position which puts the shoulder under more strain. The Pull Up has its place, but that’s another article for another time.

FMT Variations for Beginners:

  • Lateral pull-downs.
  • Single arm lateral pull-downs.
  • Full eccentrics, building up the seconds each week.
  • Assisted Chin Up (using a band, a partner, or a machine).

FMT Variations for Intermediates:

  • Chin Up.
  • Chin Up with iso-hold at top.
  • Weighted Chin Up.

FMT Variations for Advanced Trainees:


  • One handed Chin Up.

For beginners I like to use eccentric chins because it gets people use to handling their body weight. Regardless of whether you are an intermediate or advanced lifter I would keep this as a main movement exercise on an upper body day (or back day depending on your training split).