Lenten Core Challenge

Whether you’re religious or not, it’s about to be a fun 40 days…

Let’s first start with some clarification.

What this is: This program IS a challenge to get your core strong and stable.

What this is not: This program is NOT an ab challenge to get you a ripped 6 pack for Lent.

What this is meant for: This program can be incorporated at the end of your regular workouts, or, if you’re just starting to exercise or this is the only think you’ll be doing, this can function as a stand-alone core strengthening program.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what your “core” actually is. It’s not just the 6 pack muscles – your core also consists of your lower back, butt, obliques, and your hip flexors.

This program aims to strengthen this entire system. It doesn’t just strengthen your abs because too many crunches will lead to lower back pain, poor posture, and overall dysfunction when performing other exercises. Strengthening your entire core will help you engage proper muscles for other exercises, and also more generally, promote a strong foundation that is balanced and stable.

Fhew. Had to get that out first. Now let’s get into the challenge.

*UPDATE: Easier to follow along on a calendar? Check this out: Lenten Core Calendar*

March 1st

  • All 4s Extensions: 10 on each side
    • On your hands and knees with a flat back, extend your right arm and left leg as far as you can, then return to the starting position. Repeat with opposite limbs.
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 10 on each side
    • Same action as above, but instead of returning to the starting position, reach your elbow to the opposite knee, then return to the starting position.
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank
    • On your forearms, maintain a flat back and a diagonally straight line from your feet to your head and hold. Make sure your gaze is on the floor, not straight out in front of you.
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions
    • Lie on your back with your knees flexed. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you raise your hips high to the ceiling. Slowly lower your hips to the initial starting position.
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions 

March 2nd 

  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
    • Starting position mimics a push up position. Keep your back flat and squeeze your glutes and hold.
  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
    • Lie on your stomach with your arms straight out in front of you and feet slightly apart. Raise your chest, arms and legs as high off the ground as you can, then return to the starting position.
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 10 repetitions
    • Place your wrists/forearms on a pilate ball and sit on the ground on the back on your calves. Slowly roll forward, extending your legs and hips so that you must use your core to stabilize the roll. Slowly roll backwards sitting back onto your calves.
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
      • Utilizing the same motion as described above, sit on your calves and place your hands on a towel and slide out as far as you can while maintaining control, then slide back to the original position.
  •  :30 Second Forearm Side Plank
    • On your forearms, maintain a flat back and a diagonally straight line from your feet to your head and hold. Make sure your gaze is on the floor, not straight out in front of you.
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions
    • Lie on your back with your knees flexed. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you raise your hips high to the ceiling. Slowly lower your hips to the initial starting position.
  • :30 Second Forearm Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions

March 3rd: OFF!

March 4th

  • All 4s Extensions: 10 on each side
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 10 on each side
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions

March 5th

  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 10 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
  • :30 Second Side Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions
  • :30 Second Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions

March 6th

  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
  • Leg Raises: 10 repetitions
    • Lie down on your back with your legs slightly bent. Raise your legs to form an L shape with your body, then slowly lower back down with your heels carefully touching back down on the floor.
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
  • :30 Second Bicycle Kicks
    • Lie on your back with your hands interlocked behind your head with your elbows flaring out. Create a cycling motion with your legs while reaching your elbow to the inside portion of the opposite knee. Do the same with the other side.
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
  • :30 Second Bicycle Kicks

March 7th: OFF! 

March 8th

  • All 4s Extensions with Elbow to Knee: 10 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Dead Bugs: 10 repetitions
    • Lie on your back flat on the floor with your hands extended above you toward the ceiling. Bring your feet, knees, and hips up to 90 degrees. Hold a Pilate ball in between your arms and your thighs. This will be your starting position. Extending one leg and the opposite arm while holding the ball between the other leg and arm. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. That is 1 rep.
    • Modification: No Pilate Ball, Yoga Block/Basketball, Soccer Ball Dead Bugs
  • Wide Legged Forward Hinge: 10 repetitions
    • From a standing position with feet outside shoulder width apart, slowly hinge forward while maintaining a flat back. Try to bring your torso as close to parallel to the floor as you can, and slowly return to the starting position.
  • High Knee Marches: 25 repetitions
    • From a standing position with your feet together, raise your knee as high as you can and slowly return it to the ground. Repeat with opposite leg. That is 1 rep.
  • Wide Legged Forward Hinge: 10 repetitions
  • High Knee Marches: 25 repetitions

 March 9th

  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
  • Leg Raises: 10 repetitions
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
  • :30 Second Bicycle Kicks
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank
  • :30 Second Bicycle Kicks

March 10th

  • All 4s Extensions with Elbow to Knee: 15 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Dead Bugs: 15 repetitions
    • Modification: No Pilate Ball, Yoga Block/Basketball, Soccer Ball Dead Bugs
  • Wide Legged Forward Hinge: 10 repetitions
  • High Knee Marches: 25 repetitions
  • Wide Legged Forward Hinge: 10 repetitions
  • High Knee Marches: 25 repetitions

March 11th: OFF!

March 12th

  • Side to Side Crunches: 25 repetitions
    • From a sit up position, reach your left hand to your left heel, then your right hand to your right heel. That is 1 rep.
  • Leg Raises: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second Side Forearm Plank
  • All 4s Extensions: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second Side Forearm Plank (opposite side)
  • All 4s Extensions: 15 repetitions

March 13th

  • Stability Push Ups: 10 repetitions
    • Begin in a push up position, but move your hands so that they are in line with your chin/mouth. Flare your elbows out and perform a pushup from this position.
    • Modification: Stability Push Ups from Knees or Elevated
  • :45 Second Yoga Plank
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 10 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Crunches
  • Yoga Planks with Alternating Leg Raises: 10 repetitions
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position. Slowly raise your left leg so that it is parallel with the floor. Lower, and repeat with your right leg. That is 1 rep.
  • :30 Second Banana Hold
    • Begin lying on your back, legs extended and arms extended overhead. Slowly lift your legs and arms/upper back off the ground and hold.

March 14th

  • Side to Side Crunches: 25 repetitions
  • Leg Raises: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second Side Forearm Plank
  • All 4s Extensions: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second Side Forearm Plank (opposite side)
  • All 4s Extensions: 15 repetitions

March 15th

  • Stability Push Ups: 10 repetitions
    • Modification: Stability Push Ups from Knees or Elevated
  • :45 Second Yoga Plank
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 10 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Crunches
  • Yoga Planks with Alternating Leg Raises: 10 repetitions
  • :30 Second Banana Hold

March 16th: OFF!

March 17th

  • Yoga Plank with Arm Reach: 10 repetitions
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position. Slowly reach your right arm out as far as you can. Lower your arm and repeat with the other side. That is 1 rep.
  • Yoga Plank Heel Raise -> Knee to Nose: 10 repetitions
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position, extend your left leg as far as it can so that it is parallel to the floor. Then, bring your leg under your torso and try to reach your knee to your nose without placing your foot on the ground. Repeat with your opposite let. That is 1 rep.
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Holds
    • Perform a glute bridge, but hold the top position for 30 full seconds, making sure you squeeze your glutes as much as you can.
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Holds

March 18th

  • Yoga Plank Heel Raise -> Knee to Nose: 10 repetitions
  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 15 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
  • :30 Second Forearm Side Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions
  • :30 Second Forearm Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Glute Bridges: 20 repetitions

March 19th

  • Yoga Plank with Arm Reach: 10 repetitions
  • Yoga Plank Heel Raise -> Knee to Nose: 10 repetitions
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Holds
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Holds

March 20th

  • Yoga Plank Heel Raise -> Knee to Nose: 10 repetitions
  • Supermans: 10 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 15 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
  • :30 Second Forearm Side Plank
  • Glute Bridges: 25 repetitions
  • :30 Second Forearm Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Glute Bridges: 25 repetitions

 March 21st: OFF!

March 22nd

  • Pilate Ball Dead Bugs: 20 repetitions
    • Modificaion: Yoga Block/Basketball, Soccer Ball Dead Bugs
  • Yoga Plank with Opposite Arm/Leg Raise: 15 repetitions
    • Perform a Yoga Plank, and reach your opposite leg and arm out so that they are both parallel to the floor. Lower back to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite side. That is 1 rep.
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 15 repetitions
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 10 repetitions
    • From a forearm plank position, press up to a Yoga Plank position with your left, then right arm. Lower back down to a forearm plank position the opposite way you lifted yourself up. That is 1 rep.
  • 1 Minute Bicycle Kicks
  • Leg Raises: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Sit Hold (Legs Straight)
    • In a seated position with your legs straight out and feet together, sit in a perfectly upright position, making an L shape with your body, and hold for 1 minute.

March 23rd 

  • :45 Second 4 Inch Leg Holds
    • Lying down with your hands at your sides and feet together, raise your feet off the floor about 4 inches off the ground and hold.
  • Glute Bridges: 30 repetitions
  • :45 Second Forearm Side Plank
  • :45 Second Forearm Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Eccentric Push Ups: 10 repetitions
    • From a Yoga Plank Position, lower your torso to the ground as slowly as you can. Reset back to the starting position, and repeat.
  • Stability Push Ups: 15 repetitions
    • Modification: Stability Push Ups from Knees or Elevated

March 24th

  • Pilate Ball Dead Bugs: 20 repetitions
    • Modification: No Pilate Ball, Yoga Block/Basketball, Soccer Ball Dead Bugs
  • Yoga Plank with Opposite Arm/Leg Raise: 15 repetitions
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 15 repetitions
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 10 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Bicycle Kicks
  • Leg Raises: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Sit Hold (Legs Straight)

March 25th

  • :45 Second 4 Inch Leg Holds
  • Glute Bridges: 30 repetitions
  • :45 Second Forearm Side Plank
  • :45 Second Forearm Side Plank (opposite side)
  • Eccentric Push Ups: 10 repetitions
  • Stability Push Ups: 15 repetitions

March 26th: OFF!

March 27th

  • All 4s Extensions with :15 Second Holds
    • Perform an All 4s Extension and hold your opposite leg and arm for :15 seconds when fully extended
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Hold
  • :15 Second 1 Legged Bridge Hold
    • Perform a Bridge Hold, but extend your leg and hold in that position.
  • :15 Second 1 Legged Bridge Hold (opposite leg)
  • Reverse Lunge: 10 repetitions
    • From a standing position, step backwards and lunge so that both your front and rear leg create 90 degree angles. Step back up to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg. That is 1 rep.
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 10 repetitions

March 28th

  • Chaturanga Pushups: 10 reps
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position, lower yourself half way, keeping your elbows tucked to your sides, and press yourself back up to the starting position. That is 1 rep.
    • Modification: From knees or elevated
  • Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Balance
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Balance (opposite leg)
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold
    • Perform a Forearm plank, and extend your arm and opposite leg and hold that position.
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold (opposite side)

March 29th

  • All 4s Extensions with :15 Second Holds
  • :30 Second Glute Bridge Hold
  • :15 Second 1 Legged Bridge Hold
  • :15 Second 1 Legged Bridge Hold (opposite leg)
  • Reverse Lunge: 10 repetitions
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 10 repetitions

March 30th

  • Chaturanga Pushups: 10 repetitions
  • Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach: 15 repetitions
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance (opposite leg)
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold
  • :30 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold (opposite side)

March 31st: OFF!

April 1st:

  • :15 Second Perfect Prayer Squat Hold
    • From a standing position with feet shoulder width apart, perform a squat lowering your thighs so they’re parallel to the floor, and hold in that position for :15 seconds
  • :15 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold
  • :15 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold (opposite side)
  • :15 Second Perfect Prayer Squat Hold
  • :45 Second Banana Hold
  • :30 Second Superman Hold
  • All 4s Extensions with Elbow to Knee: 20 repetitions

April 2nd

  • 1 Minute Bicycle Kicks
  • Chaturanga Push Ups: 10 repetitions
  • All 4s Extensions with :15 Second Holds: 10 repetitions
  • Leg Raises: 20 repetitions
  • Side to Side Crunches: 20 repetitions
  • :30 Second Glute Raise Holds: 5 repetitions

April 3rd

  •  :15 Second Perfect Prayer Squat Hold
  • :15 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold
  • :15 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold (opposite side)
  • :15 Second Perfect Prayer Squat Hold
  • :45 Second Banana Hold
  • :30 Second Superman Hold
  • All 4s Extensions with Elbow to Knee: 20 repetitions

April 4th

  • 1 Minute Bicycle kicks
  • Chaturanga Push Ups: 10 repetitions
  • All 4s Extensions with :15 Second Holds: 10 repetitions
  • Leg Raises: 20 repetitions
  • Side to Side Crunches: 20 repetitions
  • :30 Second Glute Raise Holds: 5 repetitions

April 5th: OFF!

April 6th

  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 20 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
  • 1 Minute Side Plank
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position, then rotate so that you are using only one arm and the side of your foot and hold, making sure you are in a straight line from your feet to your head.
  • 1 Minute Side Plank (Opposite Side)
  • Leg Raises: 25 repetitions
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 25 repetitions
  • 1 Legged Water Bottle Pick Ups: 15 repetitions
    • Place a water bottle on the floor. Stand behind the bottle, and balance on one leg. While maintaining balance, bend over and pick up the bottle. Stand tall, then bend down to return it to the floor. That is 1 rep.
  • 1 Legged Water Bottle Pick Ups (opposite leg): 15 repetitions

April 7th 

  • Pilate Ball Crunches
    • Modification: Sliding Towel Crunches
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 15 repetitions
  • Spider Planks: 20 repetitions
    • In a forearm plank position, bring your left leg around the outside of your body so that your left knee is near your left elbow. Return to the starting position. Repeat with your right side. That is 1 rep.
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold (opposite leg)
  • Leg Raises: 25 repetitions

April 8th

  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 20 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Slideouts
  • 1 Minute Side Plank
  • 1 Minute Side Plank (Opposite Side)
  • Leg Raises: 25 repetitions
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 25 repetitions
  • 1 Legged Water Bottle Pick Ups: 15 repetitions
  • 1 Legged Water Bottle Pick Ups (opposite leg): 15 repetitions

April 9th

  • Pilate Ball Crunches: 10 repetitions
    • Begin in a Yoga Plank position. Bring a Pilate ball under your shins. Tuck your knees close to your chest while balancing on the Pilate ball. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. That is 1 rep.
    • Modification: Sliding Towel Crunches
  • Forearm to Yoga Plank Exchanges: 15 repetitions
  • Spider Planks: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold (opposite leg)
  • Leg Raises: 25 repetitions

April 10th: OFF!

April 11th

  • :30 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold (opposite side)
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance
    • From a standing position with feet together, raise your right leg with your knee and hip flexed at 90 degrees. Hold this position for :30 seconds while making a prayer position with your hands.
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance (opposite leg)
  • 1 Minute Yoga Side Plank with Low/High Reach
    • From a Side Plank position, reach with your free hand below your down waist, then reach up to the sky. Repeat for 1 minute.
  • 1 Minute Yoga Side Plank with Low/High Reach (opposite side)

April 12th

  • :30 Second Chair Pose Hold
    • Stand with your feet hip width apart. Raise your arms above your head, and bend your knees, bringing your thighs as parallel to the floor as they can get and hold.
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • :30 Second Chair Pose Hold
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 20 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 20 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Rollouts

April 13th

  • :30 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold
  • :30 Second Yoga Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Reach Hold (opposite side)
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance
  • :30 Second 1 Legged Prayer Balance (opposite leg)
  • 1 Minute Yoga Side Plank with Low/High Reach
  • 1 Minute Yoga Side Plank with Low/High Reach (opposite side)

April 14th

  • :30 Second Chair Pose Hold
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • :30 Second Chair Pose Hold
  • 1 Minute Glute Bridge Hold
  • All 4s Extension with Opposite Elbow to Knee: 20 repetitions
  • Pilate Ball Rollouts: 20 repetitions
    • Modification: Towel Rollouts

April 15th: OFF!

 April 16th:

  • :45 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold (opposite side)
  • Spider Planks: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Chair Pose Hold
  • Reverse Lunges: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Side Plank with Low/High Reach
  • 1 Minute Side Plank with Low/High Reach (opposite side)

April 17th:

  • :45 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold
  • :45 Second Forearm Plank with Opposite Leg & Arm Hold (opposite side)
  • Spider Planks: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Chair Pose Hold
  • Reverse Lunges: 20 repetitions
  • 1 Minute Side Plank with Low/High Reach
  • 1 Minute Side Plank with Low/High Reach (opposite side)

Congratulations! You’ve completed the 40-day core challenge. Be proud of the work you’ve accomplished over this time, and the strong and stable core you’ve developed.

Now, repeat this challenge with added reps or seconds or save it for later! This handy guide can help you condition for an event, help with general core health, or give you some ideas to implement in your next core routine.

As always, cheers to a strong, healthy, and happy life.

My Philosophy is Evolving

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “What I’m Doing in the Gym” post, and that’s mainly because I’ve been all over the place when it comes to my training lately. But now that I’m finally back in a good groove, I’ve got a plan of attack that will help me reach and exceed the numbers I was lifting quite a few months ago, but this plan will also help me do so in a way that’s healthier, safer, and more impressive.

What I mean by this is that when I was on my old powerlifting program, I was increasing my strength like crazy. I was hitting numbers I never thought I would hit. 405 deadlift, 320 squat, 240 bench. I was extremely excited that, at 160lbs, I was able to hit those numbers. While they aren’t extremely impressive for any competing powerlifter, 4 plates, 3 plates, and 2 plates was something I’ve always wanted to accomplish, and I did it relatively quickly.

But after I hit those numbers and tried to continue to make quick and frequent PRs, I hit a major plateau, and I ended up loosing my mental game and also started pushing my body too hard. I felt weaker because I wasn’t making jumps as fast as I had been, and I was brittle because I would try to over-lift and my ego got the best of my body.

After recent months of lackluster training which has had noticeable affects on my overall strength, I’ve finally been able to get back into a routine. But my head is also in a much better place than it was before in regards to my training.

Before, I was ego-lifting. Trying to force personal records because I wanted to see the number go up and impress myself and others around me. But once I got to that place, I realized, my strength was of very little quality.

This was because I wasn’t focused on building a foundation first, I was focused on getting right to building the house.

Now I’m not a bodybuilder, so a house isn’t referring to my body, but my strength and my numbers.

This time, I am taking the time to recognize what’s most important. The core. The roots. The foundation.

How am I doing this?

By slowing down.

I am no longer concerned about getting strong quick and lifting the amounts I was before as fast as possible. I know I’ll get there. But when I get there I’m going to be able to continue growing stronger because I will have built a foundation that is strong in all areas. Not just in the core lifts (squat, bench, deadlift), but in dynamic motion, power, and agility.

I am going to be relying on my weight-belt much less as well, in fact, I won’t be using one until I can lift a total of 900lbs between my squat, bench and deadlift. Using a belt was central to my squat and deadlift, but it prevented me from building that strong core foundation that is so extremely important for real, quality strength.

Currently, I’m at about 275, 225, and 335 respectively, totaling 835lbs. These next 65 pounds are going to be tough to get back, but I will get back.

To stop myself from ranting on, I will end with this:

In all aspects of life, we take shortcuts to achieve our goals quicker. But in almost every case where this is done, we would be much better off taking our time where we can, investing in yourself and the process, which will lead us to achieving our goals and more in a way that’s healthier, smarter, and more fulfilling because we know that we did things the right way, and our hard work and dedication in the life long journey of becoming the strongest, healthiest, and happiest we can, be has paid off. 

The Importance of Grip Strength

Do you train to strengthen your grip?

If you answered no, it’s time to start.

Grip strength, basically, one’s ability to make a fist and resist force attempting to open it up, has many benefits in the gym and also in every day life.

Here are 3 reasons why you should be training to improve your grip strength:

It allows you to lift heavier in almost any exercise

Because so many exercises involve holding a dumbbell or barbell, improving your grip strength will allow you to focus more on activating the proper muscles instead of focusing on trying to hold the weight in your hands for dear life.

Every day tasks will become easier

Think about how many things you do on a daily basis that require you to use your grip. From opening up a jar to carrying bags of groceries from the car, your grip is crucial for achieving tasks and promoting functional independence as you age.

Promotes healthy joints

Improving your grip strength will have positive effects on the health of your wrists, and more importantly, your elbows. The elbow joint is extremely prone to injury, so training your forearm and grip muscles will strengthen the surrounding musculature and ease up your tendons to keep the pesky elbow pain away.

So how do you increase your grip strength?

Use more Free weights and fewer machines

Using free weights forces you to use your grip more, therefore strengthening it due to repetitive use. Machines make it easy to isolate specific muscles, but often don’t require a strong grip since gravity is not an opposing factor/force, which is the reason why so many free weight exercises with dumbbells and barbells work your grip and other muscles (hence, free). Here are 2 great exercises that build a strong grip:

1. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great way to increase your overall strength, and one of the important muscles that the deadlifts train aside from your back are your forearms, i.e. your grip, since you are holding a heavy barbell as you lift it up and down.

2. Farmer’s Carries

A farmer’s carry is executed by holding two dumbbells of medium to heavy weight down at your sides while in a standing position. From there, you should walk around 10-30 yards at a time, depending on weight, while maintaining an upright posture. The main muscles activated are your forearms and traps, but is a great exercise to incorporate into any functional training program.


Even the smallest muscle groups require big attention and your forearms and grip strength are no exception. Being able to hold onto dumbbells and barbells with more weight, longer, will help develop strength and endurance for functional activities leading to a stronger, healthier, and happier life.

Heavy is a Relative Term

I see and hear too many people talk about and make fun of someone’s ability (or inability) to lift a certain amount of weight. However when determining heaviness, there is no set number of pounds when something is deemed “heavy”. It’s a term that is defined differently by each and every individual.

It’s important to remember that in the gym, light weight to you may be extremely heavy to others. We should remember this because when we work out with others, or even just look at them through the mirrors, any and all judgement regarding the weight that a particular person is lifting should be immediately done away with and shamed.

We shouldn’t judge others on this subjective concept because what seems like light to you doesn’t matter at all. Because you’re not the one lifting the weight, and the person who is actually moving the weight is probably struggling and working as hard as they can to grow stronger.

This is heavy to them in their current physical state, and that’s all that matters.

We are all trying to become healthier and stronger in our own ways, and it’s a lifelong journey. This also means that we all will be in different stages of this journey at any given time. So no matter how slow someone’s progress may be or how seemingly light the weight is, any progress is better than none at all if you’re working hard. So we must be mindful and respectful of each and everyone’s level of progress and weight that they are lifting.

Because they know that they are dedicated to becoming the strongest, healthiest, and happiest person they can be, and that dedication will allow them to lift even more weight in the future. And with attainable goal setting and dedicated, focused work, what’s heavy today will be light tomorrow.

Empathetic Compassion and New Experiences

For those of you who don’t know, I love yoga and new experiences that force me to step outside of my comfort zone. So it’s only logical that I combine these two ideologies to try a new form of yoga.

Last week myself and a friend went to an Aerial Yoga class. If you’re not familiar with this type of yoga, imagine a fabric hammock that’s attached to a single point on the ceiling. So it looks like just a loop of silk but you can unroll it to be a fairly long tube.

The idea of Aerial Yoga (or at least what was communicated to us) was that the connection to the ground and the hammock creates a new challenge as well as deeper stretches with the help of gravity. And this most definitely was the case.

From aerial downward dogs to complete inversions without using your hands, you really got to stretch very deeply. But it did hurt. The hammock at times (depending on the position and execution) really dug into your skin. So I definitely recommend wearing tight clothes that cover most of your skin, and maybe even an extra layer.

As everyone started to get the basics down, we stared to get into more complex movements. And throughout the class, myself and the other members of the class found themselves giggling from the awkwardness and challenge of it all.

At first I thought this was annoying, and that myself and my own laughing was taking away from the whole “experience”, but midway through the class and after reflecting on it now, I really came to appreciate it.

It was very clear that there were some Aerial veterans in the room, and it was also VERY clear that most of us weren’t. And because most yoga styles are performed in silence, I felt bad for those going to the class who were there to really work. But as everyone continued to giggle quietly by themselves or with a friend, I looked around and could see the people who were clearly very experienced, and they themselves were smiling.

Sometimes for a very tough pose to set up and get into, the pros would just continue on themselves, locked deep in focus and minded their own business. Sometimes they would smile on and giggle. And it wasn’t a giggle that was making fun someone, it was a contagious giggle from others who were as well.

What I took away from this was not only that Aerial Yoga is hard and that I want to do it again, but that there is a great quality within us, the Mind & Matter community, that strives for new experiences. Being uncomfortable doesn’t scare us if we know it will lead to more strength, health, and happiness.

It also demonstrated an even greater quality within us, that everyone in this class had: empathetic compassion.

We should never laugh in the face of others for stepping outside of their comfort zone or attempting to become a stronger, healthier, and happier self. Recognizing that people are making the effort, no matter how much they are struggling, is something that should be commended, not made fun of or scoffed.

We have all been in uncomfortable and new situations, so we can all relate. We all have the ability to embrace empathetic compassion, and especially because this example relates to health and wellness, it is no laughing matter.

The strong character and will of people even stepping into that room to try something new right beside those who can float gracefully over the mat with ease demonstrates their own strength and confidence within themselves. No matter how hard or ugly it may look. They’re there, working just as hard, if not harder, than the more experienced acquaintance beside them.

So continue to try new things and to not be afraid of failure. Let that be the fire that ignites your drive and focus to achieve the highest form of what success means to you.

If you’re afraid of failure, that means you want to succeed. If you aren’t afraid of failure, it means that whatever you’re doing doesn’t mean enough to you that you could quit at any time and not give a damn that you DIDN’T succeed. 

And practice empathetic compassion for others that are in new situations or environments and who are ready and willing to learn from your own experiences. Laugh, embrace, and have fun together because we are all on our way to a stronger, healthier, and happier life, and we can’t do it alone.   

How does your day start?

Do you ever commute to work and once you get there realize that you have been putting on a mean, frowning face your whole way there?

Do you ever commute to work and once you get there realize that you haven’t said a single word to anyone yet even after you walk to your desk and sit down to start your day?

There’s a lot of power in the phrase “start of your day”. Many people think that the start of your day begins when you start work in the morning, or when you get to the subway, or when you eat breakfast. But the start of your day begins the second you open your eyes in the morning.

And it’s how we act from that exact moment that can dictate your mood and behavior throughout the whole rest of the day.

I was commuting to work with a good friend of mine this morning and found myself laughing and smiling almost the whole way there. When I looked around, hardly anyone was doing the same, and I immediately pointed out that I was getting upset thinking about the people who don’t get to laugh in the morning. Now they may once they get into work, or they may not. But smiling and laughing from the moment your day starts – when you open your eyes – helps put me in a great mood even before 9am hits.

You may not have someone to commute with in the morning, and you may really enjoy a peaceful and personal start to your day and that is totally fine. But if you answered yes to either or both of the questions above, you may be craving that morning conversation and laughter that you’re not getting. 

So what do you do if you don’t commute with someone?
Call or text someone else who is on a similar schedule as you! Or, my personal favorite, start a conversation with a stranger. You never know who you might meet, the joy a new face can bring, and the quick and meaningful conversation that can bring happiness to someone else’s day because of it. Don’t you want to be the person someone refers to when they say: “Wow! That person was really nice!”

So make the start of your day meaningful from the second you open your eyes. Smile and laugh as early in the morning as you possibly can. It just may make you a healthier, stronger, and happier person because of it. 

 

Morning Routine for Greater Energy

Nothing gives you more energy in the morning like a great night’s sleep.

But if you didn’t get one, and even if you did but still want a little boost, here’s a great morning routine that I follow almost every day before I even have a coffee, that allows me to wake up quicker, feel more energized, and carry positivity with me throughout the day.

1. Take a cool shower

The first thing I do every morning is take a shower. I feel groggy all day if I don’t shower when I get out of bed. So that’s the first step.

But what gives you an energy boost is either taking a completely cold shower, or, do what I do, and take a warm shower but riiiight before you’re about to get out, slowly turn the knob cooler and cooler so your body has a little time to adjust, and then see how far you can go!

This not only jolts your body to wake up, but it helps you get out of the shower faster because you won’t be in warm and steamy water that you want to stand in all day.

2. Listen to music

I’ve already written about the power of music, but applied to your morning routine, listening to music, preferably some happy, upbeat tunes, really helps energize your body and mind and can set the tone for the day. Singing along, maybe dancing around a little while you get changed, are all things that can help wake you up and bring some joy and fun to your morning routine.

Nothing like a good endorphin release from a good song first thing in the AM.

3. Drink a glass of room temperature water

The next thing I do to give me added energy is to drink a full glass of room temperature water. Every night as a part of my nightly routine, I set out a glass of water so it’s ready for the morning.

Doing this boosts your metabolism and kick starts your body into action. It also gives you the much needed water your body is craving after not drinking anything in 8 hours. Hydrating first thing in the morning gets you an easy glass of water out of the way, and gets that digestive system moving for better daily internal health.

If there is the one takeaway you get from this post, make it this one. I swear by this and recommend everyone to try this step every day for a week and see how you feel!

4. Stretch

The next thing that I do (and admittedly don’t always get to) is a very short energetic stretch routine that allows my body to loosen up and give me a little boost before preparing to sit down for most of the rest of the day. Remember when doing these stretches – breathe deeply! Repeat this sequence for as many times as you please.

  • Yawn stretch – just like the way it sounds. Stand up tall, bring both arms over your head and then slowly lower them as wide as you can, giving a great stretch across your chest and through your back.
  • Forward fold – As you bring your arms down from the yawn, slightly bend your knees and continue bringing your arms down to reach toward your toes. Stay there for a little while slowly swaying back and forth, getting comfortable feeling your hamstrings elongate and your lower back stretch and tension in your lumbar spine release.
  • Downward dog – From the previous position, bend your knees generously to bring your palms to the ground. Step your feet back so you’re in a plank position with your arms in line with your shoulders. Then press and lift your hips up to form an upside-down “V”. Try reaching your heels as far down to touch the ground as you can.
  • Cat/Cow – Next, lower your hips and get onto your hands and knees with your back forming a flat table. Then, slowly press into the ground lowering your head and sending your back up high to create a “scared cat” looking pose. Then, send your back down, bring your chest toward the ground and lift your head out high so that your spine creates a “U” shape while continuing to press into the ground. Do this a few times.
  • Downward dog – Same as above!
  • Cobra – Finally, lay down completely with your arms close to your chest and your palms flat on the ground, then press up slightly so that your chest is elevated but your hips are still on the ground. Lift your head up high and breathe.

5. Smile all the way down the stairs

Here’s something that most people probably don’t do, but it’s such an important tip that can not only give you more energy in the morning, but create a positive mood to carry out the entire day.

Every morning when I walk down the stairs to head out the door, I make sure that I force myself to smile as big as I can and give myself a mental pep talk including things like “Today is going to be a great day and you’re going to kill it”. Oftentimes when we walk down the stairs (or go down the elevator) to leave our apartment building or house, we do the opposite of this. It’s often a time of brief dread and thoughts of “I don’t want to go to work” or other similar lines.

Walking down the stairs also can literally feel like we’re walking down in mood, into another world that’s filled with stress and work, and down from the comfort of home (i.e. your bed). So forcing a smile and positive words as you walk down the stairs flips this completely on its head and sets the pace for the day, energetically and with your mood.

6. Energetic breathing on your commute

The final thing to do to bring in as much energy as you can for your day is to practice energetic breathing. Overtime, our bodies start to breathe shallower instead of deep, full, meaningful breaths that we are meant to take.

So on your commute to work every morning, I challenge you to take very deep breaths expanding your rib cage and all the way into your diaphragm and belly. Sit or stand with good posture and focus on your breath and turn it into a meditation. You can do this while listening to music, reading a book, or looking out of the window of the bus.

This helps your nervous system to remember to take fuller and more energetic breaths and give life to your body through deep breathing. And this doesn’t have to stop after your commute. As you begin to practice more and more (because you will likely get a little light headed after doing this for a few minutes and need to take a break) you will find that you will naturally start to breathe deeply and more energetically.


If you give this routine a try, I promise you that you’ll feel more energized before you’ve even had your coffee. Practicing this every day will help create a routine centered around an energetic and positive start to your day and promote strength, health, and happiness each and every morning.