Get Ready For The Workout of Your Life!

Everything you need to know to prepare for the ultimate workout.
By John Paul Catanzaro

Want great results from your training? Then, have great workouts!

It should go without saying that not only do you need to train, but you need to train hard if you seek real results. Like just about anything in life, you get what you put in. Most people today are just going through the motions during their workouts and then wonder why they don’t make any true gains. Granted, there are times when you need to pull back a bit, but there are also times when you need to go hard. This article is geared toward the latter.

In order to experience any form of success with weight training – whether it be to improve body composition (i.e. a decrease in body fat and an increase in lean body mass) or to increase strength, speed, power and ultimately performance – you must have effective workouts. And just like any race, the start is crucial!

Pre-exercise preparation, including the often neglected warm-up, can make or break your workout. It is the most misunderstood aspect of training. Traditional warm-ups are seriously flawed. Quite frankly, most people shoot themselves in the foot before they even begin.

I have spent years researching this subject, and in my journey, I‘ve discovered some of the most effective, cutting edge techniques from many of the world’s leading experts. Ready to get the results you deserve for your hard effort in the gym? Great, then let’s begin.

Best Time To Train

In order to experience the ultimate workout, you need to schedule your training at the most appropriate time. Let’s review the evidence.

Supercharging Hormones & Lubricating Joints

Research on circadian rhythms (i.e. your body's internal clock) indicate that the summation of several important anabolic hormones peak at 3 and 11 hours upon awakening. What does that mean in plain English? Well, according to science, if you wake up at 6:00 am, you are at your strongest at 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. And, according to Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin, your joints – specifically, the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints – require about 3 hours to reach an optimal level of warmth, which will help improve performance while decreasing the likelihood of injury.

Wake Up to Lose Weight

Today's lifestyle is quite busy and hectic. Many people have a tendency to jeopardize their workouts later in the day because other priorities get in the way. For these individuals, working out first thing in the morning and getting it out of the way may be the best option. Actually, some authorities believe that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will facilitate weight loss. Greg Landry is an exercise physiologist who highly recommends exercise in the morning for the following reasons:

  • 90% of people exercise consistently in the morning
  • elevates metabolism and makes you feel energized all day long
  • helps to regulate appetite
  • makes it easier to wake up – hormones and metabolism elevate while you sleep to prepare your body for exercise
  • mental acuity is increased for 4-10 hours after exercise

Ride the Cortisol Tide

Holistic health practitioner and neuromuscular therapist, Paul Chek, believes that people should ride their natural cortisol tides and train in the morning when possible.

“My experience with training athletes, as well as with my own training, has been that people naturally train better when their cortisol levels are high. Since cortisol levels rise with the sun, reaching peak blood levels around 9–11 a.m. and then progressively set with the sun, most of you will find that you get your best performances in this timeframe.

If your schedule doesn't permit you to train at this time, at least you can set your schedule so that your hardest workouts are on weekends or your days off from work, allowing you to train with your natural cortisol tides.

For those of you who currently wake up in the morning feeling tired – even after sleeping eight hours – training in the evening after work may well be disrupting your sleep and recovery cycles.

This is because performing any exercise that is more intense than you could perform on a full stomach triggers the release of cortisol, telling your body that it is some time between sunrise and about noon.

There's a good reason why we're built this way. For thousands of years, if not millions, we did our hunting and gathering from sunrise until just before noon. When you elevate your cortisol levels at night by hitting the gym after work, you literally wind yourself up! Since cortisol lasts for hours in the body before it is used up or neutralized by the liver, it will stop you from getting a deep, restorative sleep.” –Paul Chek

Morning or Night Person

According to the opinion of Dr. Ann de Wees Allen, a Board Certified Doctor of Naturopathy, the best time to train depends on whether you are a morning or night person. It's really that simple. She believes that we respond better during certain periods of the day and those are the times that we should train. This reflects our circadian rhythm – something that we are born with and cannot change.

Subsequently, there will be times during the day that we are the strongest. This does not happen by chance. You must recognize those times and use them to your advantage – it will have a big impact on your performance. Does it mean that you can't workout at other times? No! But, it is a good idea to train at the same time each workout if possible – your body will naturally adjust to that time and prepare itself for activity. If you are forced to change your workout time, though, to accommodate your schedule, then allow 3 weeks for your body to get used to the new time (especially if you are unaccustomed to training first thing in the morning). It usually takes about 3 weeks to form a habit.

Never First Hour

Dr. Stuart McGill, a spinal biomechanist and professor at the University of Waterloo, warns people not to perform demanding exercises first thing in the morning. Since discs are hydrophilic, they tend to soak up water and swell overnight, and it’s much easier to herniate a swollen, water-filled spine! Therefore, McGill recommends to wait at least one hour after awakening to exercise. That is the critical period since your tissue is superhydrated at that point resulting in an 18% loss of strength in the spine and risk of injury is heightened!

Not After Sex

Here is something you may not want to hear. I'll let the following abstract break the news. You ready? Sit tight; this may be painful.

Alterations in grip strength during male sexual arousal.
Jiao C, Turman B, Weerakoon P, Knight P.
Int J Impot Res. 2005 Oct 27
School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Although it is known that alterations in grip strength occur under a number of conditions, little is known about relationships between grip strength and sexual arousal. This relationship was investigated in 30 healthy heterosexual males, who viewed both erotic and nonerotic videos. A questionnaire was used to assess the extent of sexual arousal. The grip strengths of both hands were measured with a five-position (P1-P5) dynamometer, before and after watching the videos. After watching the erotic video, there was a statistically significant reduction in grip strength for the P2 position, with nonsignificant overall reductions in grip strength for all other positions tested. No such effect was observed in control tests. The results indicate that during sexual arousal, the neural system is likely to reduce the output to muscles not directly related to sexual function, presumably to enhance the physiological responses of sexual arousal.

Take-Home Message: Sexual arousal is great anytime of the day EXCEPT right before training!

Ultimate Workout Tip #1

Most of the evidence seems to point toward training in the morning ideally three hours after awakening. This will allow you to consume a meal to help “break” the catabolic “fast” and provide energy. Three hours should be plenty of time to digest your meal and lubricate the joints while saving your spine from potential injury.

High Protein and Fat Breakfast

I’m about to hit you with a bold statement: carbohydrates induce sleep … and what do most people start their day with? You guessed it, a high carb breakfast (and diet for that matter!) If you want to crash mid-morning – or half way through your workout – then go ahead and consume the typical North American breakfast. If, on the other hand, you plan to experience the ultimate workout, then do the exact opposite!

A high protein and fat meal will help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you awake, alert and coherent throughout the morning. The best way to accomplish this according to Poliquin is to follow a meat and nuts breakfast.

“When people ask me for the best single dietary tip for optimal leanness, energy and sustained mental focus, I invariably tell them to try the rotating meat and nuts breakfast. Clients ranging from NHL & NFL stars to corporate executives, rave about the increased mental acuity and focused energy they derive from this food combination. The meat allows for a slow and steady rise in blood sugar. The nuts provide a great source of healthy smart fats that allow the blood sugar to remain stable for an extended period of time. ((Multiple studies on employee productivity or on children's attention patterns have demonstrated that a high protein breakfast does not only impact energy and productivity levels of morning till noon, but extends into the late afternoon.” –Charles Poliquin

Ultimate Workout Tip #2

Start the day with a meat and nuts breakfast and avoid all those high-glycemic, processed, refined, and packaged foods that will cause your energy levels to crash during your workout.

Pre-Workout Supplements

Want a great workout? Consider some assistance. Here are my top ten pre-workout supplement recommendations. They are in no particular order.

1. Ephedrine (20 mgs) + Caffeine (200 mgs)
2. Biotest Power Drive (1.25 scoops)
3. MD+ Resolve (2-4 tabs)
4. Designs For Health Brain Vitale (1 tsp)
5. Garden of Life Clear Energy (3 tabs)
6. Wellwisdom GlutImmune (20 g)
7. MRM BCAA+G (5+ g)
8. MD+ Amino or Beverly Mass (10 tabs)
9. M2C Advanced Cell Therapy (1 pouch)
10. Herbal Powers Enerdisia (4 tsp)

Many of these supplements may be combined for a potent ergogenic effect; for instance, you can mix GlutImmune with Advanced Cell Therapy, or take ephedrine and caffeine with Power Drive, etc. However, I recommend that you rotate the above products regularly, and most important, only use a pre-workout supplement when you need to. If energy is low one day and/or you are in a high-intensity phase and require some assistance then by all means, but do not get into the habit of relying on these before each and every workout. That would be a big mistake and will lead to dependence and addiction. This will eventually wreak havoc on your adrenals and cause hormonal disruption, and worse, you will tend to associate a good workout with supplements. Without the supplements, you are useless! I've seen this happen and it can take awhile to rehabilitate so use them wisely. A good warm-up will do wonders to wake you up when you're feeling tired; even a teaspoon of Celtic Sea Salt in water can help perk you up!

The last two products are quite interesting.

I must say, I am quite impressed with the effects from Advanced Cell Therapy (A.C.T.). I received samples of A.C.T. in the fall of 2005. Naturally, I tried it on myself first as I do with any novel product, whether it's a supplement, fitness equipment, or program for that matter. You know what? It worked! Then, I tried it on some of my athletes and guess what? It worked with them too! And if it works for these guys, believe me, IT WORKS! So, then everyone else got to try, and to date, all of them have given it a thumbs up.

I receive nothing but positive feedback for this stuff. Many people claim that they have loads of energy for at least a couple of hours. The reason why the energy from A.C.T. is sustained and lasts a long time is because they add fiber to the formula to prolong the effect. Use one A.C.T. packet with an additional 20 grams of glutamine peptides (Wellwisdom GlutImmune is an excellent brand) right before your workout for maximum effect.

Enerdisia is an herbal coffee that follows a very simple mathematical equation: Energy + Aphrodisiac = Enerdisia. It is purported to "naturally revitalize energy levels while improving the hormonal balance and sexual wellness." The retailer, Herbal Powers, is also the premier raw ingredient supplier of Tongkat Ali (aka Longjack), an herb that will jack up your testosterone levels. Enerdisia contains a number of herbs including Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma Longifolia), American Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, Maca, Avena Sativa, Nettle Root, and Seabuckthorn. Granted, you'll notice a bunch of processed crap in the ingredient list; however, unlike most energy beverages, Enerdisia actually has less caffeine than decaf yet this stuff will give you a jolt like you won't believe similar to an ephedrine-caffeine stack. It tastes pretty good, too! Try it.

Ultimate Workout Tip #3

Pre-workout supplements such as the popular ephedrine and caffeine stack can have a potent ergogenic (i.e. work-enhancing) effect, but make sure to rotate these products regularly, and only use a pre-workout supplement when necessary to avoid dependence and addiction.

Soft Tissue Work

Muscle density can be a limiting factor in both the flexibility and strength of a muscle. A buildup of scar tissue and adhesions can reduce the range of motion of a joint and cause rigid muscles. Many strength coaches today recognize the need for soft tissue work pre-exercise to improve performance. You don’t need a licensed practitioner to perform such work – rolling on a ball, wheel, or foam roller will do the trick.

Foam roll for 5 minutes to decrease the density of the muscle. Muscles respond to injury and overuse by increasing in density. This increased density is often referred to as a knot or a trigger point. The techniques used to relieve knots are referred by many names. Massage, Active Release Technique (ART), Muscle Activation Technique (MAT), or soft tissue mobilization are all terms used to apply to techniques used to change the density of a muscle. The foam roll is "the poor man’s massage." Foam rolling is a great way to get changes in the density of the muscle prior to stretching. I like to think of foam rolling as ironing for the muscles, a necessary precursor to stretching. – Mike Boyle

Foam Roller

A foam roller can help to improve soft tissue quality, range of motion and overall performance. It’s an inexpensive and convenient method to break down knots, adhesions, and scar tissue that accumulate over time. Does it hurt? Yes, it does, at least initially, but over time the pain tends to subside and that’s an indication that you made some progress with the tissue. At that point less rolling is needed – only when necessary.

When using a foam roller, the Sports Medicine Institute (SMI) recommends that you always stay on the muscle tissue and do not roll on tendons, joints, bony structures, or over areas that are too painful and don't roll smoothly. Start by placing the roller on a sensitive or knotted spot and gradually increase the amount of pressure until the muscle finally releases. This process should not take longer than a minute, and always roll before stretching. Adjust the tone of the muscle first with the roller, and then work on length with stretching.

These techniques are actually very simple to learn. Basically, you just use your body weight to sandwich the roller between the soft tissue to be released and the floor. Roll at a slow pace and actually stop and bear down on the most tender spots ("hot spots"). Once the pain in these spots diminishes, roll the other areas.

In order to increase the pressure on the soft tissue, simply apply more of your body weight to the roller. The simplest way to do this is by either moving from working both legs at once to one leg, or by "stacking" one of your legs on top of the other to increase the tension.

As you get more comfortable with self-myofascial release, you'll really want to be bearing down on the roller with most (if not all) of your body weight. As with almost anything in the training world, there's considerable room for experimentation, so you'll definitely want to play around with the roller to see what works best for you. Be careful to avoid bony prominences, though…

Note: Those with circulatory problems and chronic pain diseases (e.g. fibromyalgia) should NOT use foam rollers. – Robertson & Cressey

Foam rollers are 6” in diameter and either 1’ or 3’ long, and are available in a number of densities from relatively soft foam to newer high-density foam with a solid feel.

I know there are several coaches who recommend rolling the entire body prior to a workout. That is unnecessary. Remember, you just want to adjust the tone accordingly – find the tight tissue and release it. Generally, rolling two areas for most people will suffice – the upper back and the outer (i.e. lateral) leg.

For the upper back, first roll the tissue then perform thoracic extensions over the roller. This simple method I picked up from strength coach and competitive powerlifter, Eric Cressey, will help to normalize an excessive kyphotic curve (i.e. help to reverse that hunchback syndrome) and improve mobility. Trust me, your shoulder joints will appreciate this over time – improving your posture will improve mechanics and thus decrease unnecessary wear-and-tear on the joints.

Lie supine (i.e. face up) on a roller and roll back and forth from the middle of your back to the base of your neck. To improve the effectiveness of rolling the thoracic spine, you want to get the scapula out of the way by hugging yourself. After about 10 passes or so, position the roller under your midback and drop your butt to the ground. Interlock your fingers behind your head and pull the elbows together. Now perform thoracic extensions by pushing your head back toward the floor and sticking your chest out in the process. Pause at the bottom. Do 2 or 3 repetitions then slide the roller up one vertebrae and repeat.

The roller is also an effective way to loosen up tissue on the outside of the leg, such as the Iliotibial Band (IT Band) and the peroneals, which are difficult to target with conventional stretches.

Rolling the IT Band will be quite painful initially, but as I mentioned earlier, the pain should subside over time if you are diligent with this technique. Lay on your side and roll the outside of your thigh from pelvis to knee. If you come across a tender spot or knot, concentrate on that area until it releases and then continue with longer strokes. Remember, you can stack the opposite leg on top to increase loading, and by altering your body position, you can address different tissue. For instance, by leaning back slightly you hit the outer hamstring (i.e. biceps femoris), and by leaning forward you target the outer quadriceps (known as the vastus lateralis).

Repeat this process for the peroneals by rolling along the outer part of the lower leg from the knee to the ankle.

The FootWheel

Believe it or not, the plantar fascia located at the bottom of the foot can impede flexibility throughout the entire body. Limitations in this area can cause restrictions in the hamstrings, low back and neck. A simple test I discovered from the book Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers led to a warm-up technique I use often prior to training legs.

For a sometimes dramatic and easily administered test of the entire superficial back line, have your client do a forward bend (as if to touch the toes with the knees straight.) Note the bilateral contour of the back and the resting position of the hands. Draw your client’s attention to how it feels along the back of the body on each side.

Have your client roll a golf ball or tennis ball deeply into the plantar fascia on one foot only, being slow and thorough rather than fast and vigorous. Keep it up for at least a couple of minutes, making sure the whole territory is covered from the ball of all five toes back to the front edge of the heel.

Now have the client do the forward bend again and note the bilateral differences in back contour and hand position (and draw the client’s attention to the difference in feeling). In most people this will produce a dramatic demonstration of how working in one small part can affect the functioning of the whole. This will work for many people, but not all: for the most easily assessable results, avoid starting on someone with a strong scoliosis or other bilateral asymmetries.

Since this also functions as a treatment, do not forget to carry out the same procedure on the other side after you assess the difference. (Myers, 2002, pg. 65)

You can use a golf ball or tennis ball as Myers suggested, or a neat little instrument known as the FootWheel to stretch and relax the plantar fascia and extinguish myofascial trigger points. Basically, it was designed to make your feet happy as many report that the FootWheel will soothe tired, achy feet in mere seconds!

While standing, place the wheel on the ground with your weight on the opposite foot. Then roll on the wheel (you determine the amount of pressure) to search and find these myofascial trigger points (i.e. areas that are tight, knotty, ropy or tender.) Make sure to move slow and gentle with specific strokes for about 30 seconds. The goal is healthy muscle free of pain, tightness or tenderness.

Ultimate Workout Tip #4

Soft tissue work before exercise can improve performance. Prior to lower body training, roll the bottom of the foot with a tennis ball or a FootWheel and the outside part of the leg with a foam roller. Before upper body training, roll the upper back and perform thoracic extensions using a foam roller.

Dynamic Vibro-Stretch

Stretching Dynamics

There are two general types of stretching: static (no motion) and dynamic (with motion). Static stretching basically consists of stretching a muscle as far as possible and then holding that position.

Passive stretching involves the use of some external force (body part, partner assistance or apparatus) to bring the joint through its range of motion (ROM). Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching is often a combination of passive stretching and isometric or static contractions.

Ballistic stretching uses momentum rather than muscular control to increase ROM, whereas dynamic stretching involves controlled movements –- no bouncing or jerking.

Dynamic stretching as part of a warm-up can be useful to decrease muscle damage and improve performance. Research has shown that an active warm-up or 100 concentric contractions performed just before an eccentric exercise bout can decrease muscle damage.

Also, warm-ups involving calisthenics increase performance. A warm-up consisting of a ten-exercise bodyweight circuit (where each exercise is performed for only 20 seconds) produced a higher vertical jump compared to a warm-up with static or PNF stretching. And as you know, the vertical jump is practical and a good index of leg power.

Church states: "In designing warm-up routines for activities involving movements that require the generation of large amounts of power, such as sprinting and jumping, one should minimize the amount of stretching performed before the activity. Instead, one should rely on a warm-up consisting of easy movements that gradually move the joints to the appropriate ROM for that activity. Exercises designed to enhance flexibility, such as vigorous static or PNF stretching, should not be performed before practice or competition but rather following it so that flexibility can be enhanced without compromising performance."

When it comes to stretching during warm-ups, you want to respect the following rules:

  1. Dynamic stretching is useful to simulate the velocity of your training (unless, of course, you plan to only perform isometrics, then by all means perform static stretching) and will help rev up the nervous system in preparation for activity. Just remember to use the pendulum method by gradually increasing speed and range with each repetition.
  2. PNF stretching is particularly useful to correct a muscle imbalance. For instance, if you plan to start with good mornings and your torso tends to pull to the left as you descend and/or your right hamstrings feel tight compared to your left, perform some PNF stretching on the right hamstrings to even things out.
  3. Only use static stretching if you have some really tight muscles that, in essence, need to be turned off. The law of facilitation is often recited when referring to these tonic muscles as they tend to rob the neural message during movement.

For instance, if you experience rounded shoulders and you plan to work your back, it may be a good idea to stretch out your chest to liberate greater ROM when rowing or pulling. Since static stretching will disrupt the optimum contraction length and temporarily weaken the fibers, it would be wise to use this form of stretching on antagonistic muscles (such as the chest) prior to working the agonists (which is the back in this case).

In general, static stretching prior to weight training is not recommended. There are certain applications for its use, but static stretching will ultimately sedate your nervous system and make you weaker: two things you don't want before pushing some serious weight. Dynamic stretching will do the opposite: rev up the nervous system and increase strength!

Furthermore, as outlined in the Sports Performance Bulletin (Jan. 2005), additional benefits of a dynamic warm-up include saving time and freeing up more specific training hours as well as being better prepared mentally:

Training five times a week for 250 days a year, warming up and stretching traditionally for 30 minutes at a time, takes up 125 hours. That is virtually five days of continuous training time that could be put to more specific use. You'll also be better prepared mentally. A slow warm-up with a sustained period of stretching can switch your mind away from the dynamics of the task ahead. This may be particularly detrimental before a race or competition, when you'll want to maintain your focus and stay sharp. More subtly, your neuromuscular system may not be optimally prepared if you pursue a slower style of warm-up with lots of stretching. The more focused (dynamic) approach will heighten the ability of your muscles to contract.

Perform the following routine before every workout. It takes 10-15 seconds of contractions to raise the body temperature by 1ºC and a proper warm-up should raise body temperature by 1-2ºC (1.4-2.8ºF) to cause sweating; therefore, 5-10 reps per movement is all you need.

When performing dynamic stretches, start slow and shallow and gradually increase speed and rage with each repetition.

Dynamic Stretching Routine

1. Squat
2. Split Squat
3. Toe Touches
4. Waiter's Bow
5. Side Bends
6. Trunk Twists
7. Arms Vertical
8. Arms Vertical Alternating
9. PNF Pattern
10. Arms Horizontal
11. Arm Circles
12. Shoulder Shrugs
13. Head Tilt
14. Head Rotation
15. Wrist Flexion/Extension
16. Wrist Circles

For a dynamic demonstration of part of this routine, visit

Vibrational Training

Another excellent method to rev up the nervous system involves vibrational training. I had a chance to try the Nemes unit a few years ago. A simple 30 second circuit on this machine and I was wired afterward. Some of the benefits of vibration therapy include:

  • Increased muscle strength, particularly explosive fast-twitch muscle performance
  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Reduced joint and ligament stress and reduced potential for joint and ligament injury
  • Enhanced blood circulation
  • Positive stimulation of the neurological system
  • Increased capability for burning body fat
  • Secretion of endorphin hormones, such as serotonin, as well as growth hormone and Testosterone, and neurotransmitter response
  • Pain suppression

If you're still not convinced, check out this excerpt from Jordan et al.:

The effects of vibration on the human body have been documented for many years. Recently, the use of vibration for improving the training regimes of athletes has been investigated. Vibration has been used during strength-training movements such as elbow flexion, and vibration has also been applied to the entire body by having subjects stand on vibration platforms.

Exposure to whole-body vibration has also resulted in a significant improvement in power output in the postvibratory period and has been demonstrated to induce significant changes in the resting hormonal profiles of men.

In addition to the potential training effects of vibration, the improvement in power output that is observed in the postvibratory period may also lead to better warm-up protocols for athletes competing in sporting events that require high amounts of power output. These observations provide the possibility of new and improved methods of augmenting the training and performance of athletes through the use vibration training.

Hmm, I wonder if that would be useful for a warm-up?

Now, I know there are some reports in the literature that indicate no ergogenic effect from vibrational training pre-exercise. For every study that shows a positive, you’ll find one that shows a negative, but not in this case. The balance is tipping far toward the benefit side pre-exercise. This trend applies to static stretching as well. Take for example the most recent edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol. 22, No. 1, 2008), there were three research papers dealing with various effects of static stretching and all three were unanimous with their results.

Holt & Lambourne, 2008 – Static stretching negates the benefits from a general warm-up when performed immediately before a vertical jump test.

Winchester et al., 2008 – Performing a static stretch protocol following a dynamic warm-up will inhibit sprint performance.

Bazett-Jones et al., 2008 – Six weeks of a static hamstring stretching protocol (i.e. 4 reps x 45 secs. x 4 days/week) did not improve knee range of motion or sprint and vertical jump performances. Chronic static stretching use is questionable and has neither a positive or negative impact on athletic performance. It should be restricted to post workout/practice.

Bottom line: if you have access to a vibrational training machine, try it out. There's sufficient evidence to indicate that it will work, but you’ll never know unless you try it for yourself.

The biggest issue with these machines, though, is cost. In the past, I just could not justify thousands of dollars for such a small application. I’m happy to say that prices have come down considerably. For instance, Soloflex now offers a whole body vibration platform for only $395. This is the machine that I own, and I’ve never had any problems with it.

Ultimate Workout Tip #5

Perform a dynamic stretching routine before every workout. To increase the effectiveness, try conducting the circuit on a vibrational platform. Remember to use the pendulum method and 10 reps or less per movement is all you need.

Set Your Body

Neck Bridge

Activating the long cervical extensors can help reposition C5 and C6, two vertebrae in your neck that enervate the biceps. This will increase curling and pulling strength. In fact, it may increase biceps strength by as much as 10% according to Poliquin, so try this technique just before back and biceps exercises.

Sit on a Swiss ball. Walk forward until only the back of your head is supported on the ball. Keep the hips up and make sure to accentuate the rib cage. Now try to hold that position for up to a minute. You may not reach that duration the first time; just work up to it gradually over sessions.

To make the exercise easier, lean the back of the head against a wall. Use a rolled up towel or pillow for comfort. To make the exercise more difficult, try it on the Swiss ball but hold a plate or dumbbell on the chest to increase resistance.

Holding a plate on the chest will make the exercise more difficult. Do this only after you've accomplished a full 60 second hold with your bodyweight only.

It is very important that you perform the neck bridge before upper body training only – never before lower body training. Shortening the upper neck muscles can actually impair lower body flexibility; whereas, releasing tension in the suboccipital region of the head can lengthen hamstrings and increase hip range of motion.

Researchers used PNF (or active resistance) stretching to examine the effect of upper neck muscles on hip joint range of motion. Stretching the hamstrings caused 9% increase in hip extension range of motion as measured with the passive 'straight leg raise' (SLR) maneuver. Yet stretching the small suboccipital muscles (which connect the occiput with the upper two vertebrae) resulted in almost twice as much (13%) increase of hamstring length as measured with the same SLR test.

The explanation for this extraordinary finding has probably more to do with the neurological importance of the suboccipital muscles. These small muscles have the highest density of muscles spindles in the whole body (and apparently on the whole planet!) and have a major sensory function for antigravity organization. Via the so called 'Tonic Neck Reflex' (which we share with most other mammals) an extension of these muscles tends to trigger a tonus decrease of the hip joint extensors.

My suggested conclusion for body workers & movement therapists: if a client shortens the upper neck, his hamstrings will stay short no matter how much he wants to stretch or lengthen them. Whereas if he lowers the tonus of these upper neck muscles (either passively via myofascial manipulation or via active ideokinetic movement facilitation) lengthening the hamstrings and increasing hip flexion range of motion will be much easier.

This fits also with a verbal report I heard from Hubert Godard about an interesting research in Italy: runners on a treadmill would unconsciously increase their running speed when a bioelectrical device on their neck lowered the tonus of the upper neck muscles. Whereas increasing the tonus of these muscles made them slow down their speed, although they were not aware of this and perceived their speed as constant. So a stiff occiput-neck connection will tend to 'put a break' into the legs via shortening of the hamstrings, and a long and loose occiput-neck connection will take 'the break out' by lengthening the midrange of hamstring length and will make the legs swing much faster and easier. – Robert Schleip

Set The Scapula

Performing behind-the-neck pulldowns with a tube or band is a great way to counter the ever-so-popular scapular elevation that many people experience. It’s excellent for scapular depression and is great prior to upper body training to help set the scapula and save your shoulders from unnecessary wear and tear while increasing strength.

It’s pretty easy to perform. While holding on to a tube or band with your arms extended overhead, simply perform a pulldown motion behind the neck. Try to pull the elastic apart as you pull it down. Hold the bottom contraction for 5-10 seconds and perform 10-12 reps. Start at 5 second holds for 10 reps and work your way up to 10 second holds for 12 reps over successive workouts.

Set The Hips

Setting the hips prior to lower body work can definitely improve performance. Ever notice someone’s knees dipping inward during a squat? You should have; it’s quite common! According to strength and conditioning coach, Mike Robertson, exercises that strengthen and develop the gluteals are required to correct this condition. For instance, light squats with a mini-band placed around the thighs, just above the knees, is a great option as it teaches you to recruit the gluteals while squatting. Start off with just your bodyweight and focus on hinging the knees outward throughout the movement. One set of 15-20 reps before training is all you need.

Mini-band walks are another option. Simply double wrap a mini band around your ankles and start walking. Make sure your toes are turned out slightly and the core is braced throughout. Here, 15-20 strides should do the trick just make sure to stay tight and tall, and concentrate on the glutes throughout the movement.

Finally, glute bridges work quite nicely as well. Like the behind the neck pulldowns, 10-12 reps of 5-10 second holds will do.

Ultimate Workout Tip #6

To improve posture and ultimately performance, set the body with neck bridges and behind the neck tube pulldowns prior to upper body training, and use either band squats, band walks, or glute bridges before lower body training.

Play With The Nervous System

Overshoot The Load

An effective warm-up method involves utilizing postactivation (aka post- tetanic facilitation/potentiation). By gradually ramping up your low rep warm-up sets beyond your working weight, it will increase strength for your work sets. There are different ways to really tap into those high-threshold fibers such as performing eccentrics or heavy supports with loads that are greater than your working weight. Another way to play with your nervous system is to add chains to the bar, which will naturally slow down the concentric speed (although the intent must always be fast). Then remove the chains for your work sets and you'll go through the roof!

Oversize Grips

Want to trick your body even further and lift even more weight? Do your warm-up sets with oversize grips then perform your work sets with regular handles and watch your strength soar! TylerGrip and FAT GRIPZ are two great tools for this purpose – check them out at and respectively.


Plyometrics can be very useful during a warm-up, but don’t go overboard! They place a tremendous amount of stress on the nervous system – if you do too much prior to training, it will kill performance. Then again, if you do just the right amount, it can potentiate your strength! In general, though, plyometrics are best reserved for athletes. Various jumps, push-ups and medicine ball throws can be used, but make sure to perform no more than 5 repetitions per set. By the way, my Warm-Up to Strength Training DVD has a great application of the three-stance vertical jump test from my colleague, Chad Waterbury, that will increase your squat in no time.

Ultimate Workout Tip #7

Depending on your level, there are several neural tricks to improve strength and performance. Beginners can start with oversize grips for their warm-ups and then use regular handles for their work sets. Advanced trainees can take it a step further by employing plyometrics and overshooting the working load with eccentrics, heavy supports, and chains during their warm-ups.

What you do beforehand can make or break your workout. For the ultimate workout, you must start at the right time with the proper nutrients in place and some assistance from a proven, effective pre-workout supplement. Start the training session with the right amount of soft tissue work and an appropriate form of stretching. Then, set the body, activate the nervous system and go to it. Follow these steps exactly as outlined in this article, and you will experience a great workout and all the benefits that follow.

About The Author

John Paul Catanzaro is a CSEP Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. John Paul has authored two books, The Elite Trainer (2011) and Mass Explosion (2013), and has released two DVDs, Stretching for Strengthening (2003) and Warm-Up to Strength Training (2005), which have sold copies worldwide, been featured in several magazines, and have been endorsed by many leading experts. In 2013, John Paul released two new webinars, Strength Training Parameters and Program Design and Body Composition Strategies, providing the latest cutting-edge information to fitness professionals. For additional information, visit his website at or call 905-780-9908.


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