Body Pump: Track #8, Shoulders

The shoulder track is hard to write about because the variety of moves is sooooo huge! Overhead press, side raise, rear raise, upright row, rotator raise, mac raise… the list goes on and on… My main tip with this track is that height and range of motion are not your friends here – really focus on quality of movement and quality of muscle contraction. To simplify I’m just going to focus on a few moves.

Side raise: With plates in your hand and elbows at 90 degrees, focus on reaching and pressing the elbows wide and away from your body. The most important thing is that you keep your elbows slightly below and in front of your shoulders at the top of the move!

Upright row: Use the caps of your shoulder to lift the bar. Again, height is not your goal here, it’s quality of movement. At the top of the move the bar should be around your lower chest and your wrists shouldn’t kink or look weird in the mirror. Think about letting the bar ‘hang’ from your elbows.

Overhead press: Pro tip – do NOT lean back and lock out the joints at the top of the move. Think about trying to lean into the bar. Here’s the real key, though… If you looked up with just your eyes (without moving your head) at the top of the overhead press if you should ‘just’ be able to see the bar.

As always, brace the core for everything and keep a really strong set position for this track. You’ll need to focus especially hard on keeping the neck long and shoulders down and back because your whole body will be tired by this point!

Live fit,

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Body Pump: Track #7, Lunges

Now we’re moving back to the larger muscles, so your heart rate is going back up with this track! Each lunge track is different in terms of the equipment you need so listen to the instructor carefully. Generally though, you will have the bar on the meaty part of your upper back and your weight selection should be between tricep and chest weight.

The most important part of the lunge track is making sure you’re in the proper set position. To set yourself up for the perfect lunge, kneel on one knee and put the other foot out in front. Adjust that front foot until both the back and front legs are making 90 degree angles at your knees – that is, back knee under hip, front heel under knee. Once there, lean forward a bit, tuck your back toes under, and stand up without adjusting your stance. This is the perfect lunge set up – your feet will be hip width apart and your stride will be long. Remember what that stance feels like and commit it to memory for both sides.

To execute a perfect lunge get in your set position with your stride long. Let the back knee drop towards the floor and keep the chest tall to avoid bending forward at the waist. To rise back up simply push through the front heel to engage the butt cheek and rise. The body should travel straight down and up with no forward and back motion. Think elevator, not escalator!

Remember, lunges are for the front leg and butt cheek, not the back leg. They WILL make you stronger at everything you do and your butt will get a nice, round shape that everyone loves to look at… How great is that?

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track #6, Biceps

Continuing on with our smaller muscle groups, on to the gun show!! I love training biceps because it feels good, it’s easy to get it right, and toned biceps look truly amazing – especially on the ladies!

So you’ll be instructed to take a bit of weight off your bar. I was surprised when I first found out, but triceps are a bit stronger than biceps, so you’ll need to back off the weight a bit. I normally use 5kg on each side. All you’re going to do is bicep curls the whole time – maybe singles, top halves, bottom halves, super slows, or other moves, but usually the bulk of the track is the bicep curl. Here’s how to do a perfect curl:

Start in Body Pump ‘set position’ (feet under hips, knees soft, belly braced, shoulders down and back) and your hands just a bit wider than your shoulders. Starting point is the bar touching your thighs and your arms straight. Too many people I see keep their arms bent, so remember to straighten them at the bottom. Curl the bar up without moving your elbows at all. This means don’t let them flare out and don’t let them come forward. The finish point is when the bar is about shoulder height, but remember don’t let the bar come close to your chest. The perfect curl ends with the bar a few inches from your chest. Why? Because if you bring the bar right to your chest your elbows will be forced to move forward of your torso, and ultimately, you’ll be giving the muscle unintentional rest. That means you won’t be working as hard and you won’t see the results your looking for – not good!

One final “cheat” move I see a lot is people letting their pinky fingers come off the bar at the top. Keep a solid grip for the entire track and work through the discomfort. It’s worth it!

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track #5, Triceps

Now, time to move on to the smaller muscle groups and let your heart rate come down a bit. After the back track you should be huffing and puffing, and thankful for the break the next two tracks provide you. You’ll come across lots of different exercises for the triceps track, but today I’ll focus on the two most common – the tricep extension and the tricep kickback.

For the extension you’ll use your bar with just a bit more than your warm up weight on it (I use 6kg per side) and you’ll be lying on your back on the bench with two risers under each side. Sit on the bench with the bar across your lap, grab the bar with your hands shoulder width apart (important!), lay down and straighten your arms overhead. Make sure your hands are directly above your shoulders (your arms make the number ’11’) and your shoulders are set – that is, down and back, away from your ears – abs are braced and feet are flat on the floor. This is start and finish position. To complete an extension bend your elbows so the bar comes towards the forehead (this move is called a ‘skull crusher’ in the weight room) and be sure to keep your elbows locked in position and don’t let them flare out to the sides. Brace your core through the move and be sure to exhale on the way up, with the exertion. A small movement, but really effective at isolating those wee triceps!

For the tricep kickback you’ll be kneeling about a foot behind or beside the bench and you’ll need a medium plate in one hand, with your thumb through the hole. I’ll go through it with the right side being worked, so plate in the right hand and left hand on the bench. Put your left hand on the bench, lengthen and straighten the back, tighten the core, shoulders down and back, then square your shoulders to the bench – so your chest is evenly facing the bench. Now, your draw your right elbow back until it’s higher than your back and keep it really close the the body. Weight will hang at 90 degrees towards the floor (start and finish position). To complete a kickback, squeeze the tricep to lift the weight behind your body and straighten the arm, and control the plate’s return to the elbow at 90 degree position. A common mistake I see is people ‘whipping’ that plate back there using momentum to lift. That’s called cheating, not working as hard as you could, and you won’t get the results your looking for. If it’s hard, you are doing it right!!

The number one thing to think about for any of the tricep moves is the position of your elbows. Elbows shouldn’t flare out for any moves – keep them about shoulder width apart for any move using both hands on a weight. Another common mistake is hunched shoulders – think about keeping your shoulders in set position which is down and back, away from the ears. Small moves for huge rewards with the triceps and a lot of participants I know will see big changes in their upper arms with Pump. Tricep work will encourage that little divot on the side/back of the arm just below the shoulder. Looks awesome in a tank top!

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track #4, Back

In between the chest and back tracks, be sure to add some weight to your bar. Your back side is (or should be) stronger than your front side. Think about it – for the back track you’re working hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back – loads of muscle groups that can lift a lot of weight. Right now I use between 17 and 20kg (37-44lbs), depending on the track difficulty.

The back track consists of lots of different moves: deadlift, deadrow, clean and press, and wide rows. I’m going to cover a couple of basics relevant for all the moves, but focus on the clean and press.

First of all, you always start from set position. Feet under hips, toes slightly turned out, knees soft, core braced. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down and there you are in full set position. Usually we’ll start the back track with a deadlift, which means you tip at the hips, push your bum back a bit, bend your knees, and take the bar down to your kneecaps, then back up to set position. The most important thing here is that you keep your back FLAT and your shoulders in set position (back and down). When you take the bar down, literally tip at the hips, and when you come back up to standing you shouldn’t have to re-set your shoulders. They should already be in set position because you’ve kept tension there by squeezing your shoulder blades together the whole time (upper body endurance = great posture!). Also, make sure you keep your glutes engaged during this move to protect your lower back.

Alright, on to the clean and press – the most difficult move in Pump! It’s so important that you try to mimic the instructor’s technique as closely as possible and listen to what they are telling you to do. Bad technique with the clean and press is an epidemic out there, so listen up…

From set position, you need to lift the bar with the whole body (kind of ‘pop’ it up) and ‘catch’ it on your chest. It’s CRITICAL that you lead this move with your elbows (like an upright row) and skim your body with the bar. Keep the bar as close to you as you can! That is mission critical! Once the bar is on your chest you use the whole body to drive it up to the ceiling in an overhead press. Then you bring the bar back down to your chest, or ‘catch the bar’, then as you bring the bar back down to set position you ‘flip’ your elbows on top of the bar and lower it down (like the descend in an upright row). Again, mission critical that you keep the bar as close to your body as possible!

From my experience teaching, I think that most people don’t use heavy enough weight on their bar, which will actually encourage bad form. The weight should be heavy enough that you really have to keep the bar as close to the body as possible.

For a video of all this text, I encourage you to watch “Learn the Moves” by Les Mills, here. A great available for you in order to improve your form, get stronger, and see results.

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track #3, Chest

In most classes, you will be doing only the chest press for this muscle group. Sometimes there are push ups thrown in for a tough challenge, but the chest press is the key movement for Track 3. It’s important to get it right for effective isolation and to avoid shoulder injury.

At this point in the class, your bar will be loaded with your squat weight (heaviest of the class). As you’re recovering from squats with a nice quad stretch, the instructor will tell you to take 1/2 to 1/3 off your bar in preparation for the chest. It should be a bit more than your warm up weight. I use 6kg on each side (one large plus one small weight, 12kg/26lbs total) and am working to get up to my goal weight of 8.5kg on each side (or 17kg/37lbs total).

Once your bar is properly loaded, you’re going to sit on one end of your bench, put the bar on your lap and lay down. Feet on the floor shoulder width apart and abs braced for a strong foundation. Your body should be in set position – this means neck relaxed, shoulders down and back, back long, abs braced – it’s just as if you were standing up in set position. The bar starts in the “up” position with your arms fully extended, elbows soft, and hands as wide as they can go with pinkie fingers touching your plates. The bar should be over your heart – this is the KEY tip for you! The bar should be over your heart (or the nipple line) and stay there.

Bring the bar down towards your chest with your elbows wide and stop when your elbows get to the height of your bench top. This is about a 90 degree angle for your elbows. Now, I know you can go lower than that, but I don’t want you to. This reduced range of motion will protect your shoulder joints over the long term. So, the bar comes down to a few inches above your chest. Keep it above your heart. As you lower the bar, think of opening up and slightly lifting your chest as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. When you push the bar up, think about squeezing your elbows together and sinking your back into the bench just a little. The top of the press is an almost-straight elbow.

In my opinion, the chest track is one of the hardest with respect to form. Most participants tell me that they feel it in their shoulders or triceps, not their chest. Keep your shoulders down and back, and the bar over your heart – once it creeps up over your upper chest you’re going to feel it in the front of your shoulders. Think “shoulders in set position” and “bar over heart” for the whole song, especially as you fatigue!

You’ll be challenged with different tempos – super slows, singles, and everything in between. Focus on perfecting your form and getting the timing right. I see a lot of participants push the bar up too fast, lock the elbows, and rest for a bit in between each repetition. Try to keep the bar in motion and don’t move faster than the music – if you’re waiting for the music you’ve moved too fast.

One more tip for you… Even though it’s hard, focus on your chest muscles. Connect with them. Feel them lengthening and contracting. If you make that mind-body connection you’re more likely to work them properly.

Any tips from other Pumpers out there? Let me know if you try this advice and how you make out in future classes!

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track 2, Squats

After the warm up, the instructor should tell you to double or triple the weight on your bar for the 2nd track, squats. And yes, we mean it! Double or triple that weight load. Legs are incredibly powerful muscles that need lots of weight if we want to make them work hard and get stronger. I generally use 22kg, or two large and one small plate on both sides of the bar.

The Squat Track consists of, you guessed it, squats. Typically the track is around 5 minutes so be prepared to do a lot of squats in that time. There are a lot of timing changes to keep it interesting, to keep the muscles working hard, and the challenge present. Your technique for each squat, whether it’s a slow 4-count down and 4-count up or if it’s a quick single, should be the same.

Before you do anything we need to be sure you’re in set position with the bar resting on the meaty part of your upper back (that is, not on your neck but below it). Standing in set position means feet under hips, toes slightly turned out, knees soft, belly in and core braced, shoulders back and down to open the chest. After each squat you’ll return to this starting position.

As you squat down your butt should sit down and back, your back needs to stay tall, and your chest needs to stay open. At the bottom of the squat your butt should be just above knee height, and your knees should be over top of, but not beyond your toes. The butt cheeks should initiate the return back to standing, and all the weight should be through your heels. Think “squeeze the cheeks and push through the heels”.

Keep that core braced and your form perfect for the entire track. If your form falters because of fatigue take a quick break and come back when you’re ready. Never compromise your form.

Remember, using heavy weights in Pump does not equal big muscles! Pump is endurance training and you won’t bulk up, I promise. To get big muscles, you have to eat and train like a bodybuilder. Pump will get you strong and lean without the bulk.

Any experienced Body Pumpers have tips or advice to add? Please post a comment!

Live Fit,

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Body Pump: Track 1, The Warm Up

The warm up is the first track and usually about 5 minutes long. You should be using a light weight for this track, because you’re starting up your body from cold. I’ve been teaching Pump for 8 months now, and I use a 5kg plate on each side. That equals 10kg total, or 22 pounds.

If you’re just starting weight training and have no previous relationship with weights of any kind I’d recommend one 2.5kg plate on each side for a total of 11 pounds. If you’re new-ish to weight training I’d suggest 3.5kg on either side for a total of 15 pounds (that’s a medium and a small plate on each side). From there you can work up to one medium and two small plates on each side (9kg or 20 pounds), then the large 5kg plates, and higher (but not much) if you want. I once saw someone warm up with 20kg or 44 pounds, and honestly, that’s just too much. The warm up should not feel taxing at all.

There are a few goals for the warm up, but being part of a tough workout is not one of them. The most important aspect of the warm up is to get your mind and your body ready for the hour ahead. There are the physical aspects, such as working through the different movements (deadlifts, dead rows, overhead press, etc,) to prepare your body and get your joints lubricated. Almost as important, is the mental aspect of the warm up, which is what you have full control over. Don’t let your mind wander. Be present and stay focused. Commit to fully participating in the next hour. Connect with your body. When you feel your body’s position, look in the mirror – does it look like you think if feels? Are you surprised by what your body position is? If so, adjust, make a note of what that feels like, continue on, and incorporate that learning into your workout.

The warm up song is usually uplifting and happy. The instructor should be giving you some essential cues (brace the core, chest lifted, shoulders down and back, sink into the knees, etc.) but not too much here. We want you to get ready for a tough workout and our goal is to ease you into it with the uplifting and not too taxing first 5-minute song. We want you to connect with your body here, get physically warm and ready, and commit to the next hour.

Next up on this blog is the squat track. Check back in a few days… In the meantime, any experienced Body Pumpers out there want to share some tips, tricks, or experiences? Please post a comment!!

Live Fit,

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Body Pump – Try it, you’ll like it!!

So, you want to try a Body Pump class? Well, if you haven’t been to one yet please make a point of going. The essence of Body Pump is an incredible, hard core, full-body barbell workout professionally choreographed to fantastically motivating music. Sounds awesome, no? Worried about what to expect? No problem – below is the low-down on what you’ll experience in any class.

Most Pump classes are 60 minutes long, but there are some shortened 45-minute classes out there. Every Pump class is divided into 10 “tracks”, or songs. In between each track you’re going to change the weight on your bar because each track targets a different muscle group. Here’s the breakdown for the 10 tracks in the order you work through them: Warm up, Squats, Chest, Back, Triceps, Biceps, Lunges, Shoulders, Abdominals, Cool down.

As you may have guessed, your equipment is essentially a bar and various weight plates. The weight plates are in kilograms (for pounds multiply by 2.2) and the bar itself is quite light. Here’s what you need to get set up for your first class. A step with two risers underneath each end, a mat (not needed until abs), a bar, a pair of clips to secure the weights on your bar, and one pair each of 5kg, 2.5kg and 1kg plates (as you progress you’ll need more).

If it’s your first class it’s a really, really good idea to arrive several minutes early and introduce yourself to the instructor before class. Let him or her know that you’re new and they’ll help get you set up. You can also lean on a more experienced class participant nearby to help you through the tracks and your weight selection for each one.

After your first class, expect to be very sore for a few days. I mean really sore, like I-feel-like-I’ve-been-hit-by-a-truck sore. No worries, it will pass and it doesn’t mean you’re not fit. It just means you’ve shocked your body, which is a FANTASTIC way to bust out of a plateau. I lifted weights regularly for 18 years before my first Pump class and yeah, I went in super-fit, but man, was I sore! Just remember that it’s your body getting fitter and stronger, and it’s only temporary (if you stick with it, that is!).

Over the next few weeks I’m going to blog about perfect form for each track. In particular, I’m going to share with you what I as an instructor often see as common form problems and why it’s so important to correct them. In a nutshell, if you don’t have decent form chances are you’ll wind up injured, which no one wants. In the meantime, get out there, try a class, and have fun!

Live Fit,

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Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

I received a random email from a woman who found this blog yesterday, and she was asking about carbohydrates. So I did a little research and put a long-time question for me to bed. What is the difference between a “simple” and “complex” carb??? Thought I should share the answer with you.

I found the answer on Wikipedia and I trust it because it’s explained in chemical terms, and remember learning all that in 1992 at Guelph in Organic Chemistry. I’ve been under an assumption that anything refined or processed was a simple carb and anything in a natural state was a complex carb. This (wrong) definition didn’t always work – I knew that white potatoes were a simple carb – how could that be?

Anyway, check out this Wiki page. The answer is chemistry, and simple carbs are structured differently than complex carbs. When it comes to hunger and weight management, the more important factor is not the carb classification, but the GI, or Glycemic Index. Check out the Wiki page on GI here.

Foods with a high GI (typically simple carbs like fruit juice or white bread) causes blood sugar to rise quickly, an insulin spike, a quick drop in blood sugar – all followed by hunger. Think post-Chinese food hunger. Foods with low GI (typically complex carbs with fiber like apples, whole grains or vegetables) cause a slower blood sugar rise, no insulin spike (although some is released), and a slower drop in blood sugar – usually leaving you fuller longer.

Surf around those Wiki sites and you’ll learn a lot about how the foods you choose to eat can influence your hunger levels, you energy levels, and your weight. This helped clarify a few things for me that I’ve always wondered about. Hope it helps you too!

Live Fit,

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