The Zercher Squat

In our recent blog about improving your conditioning, we mentioned an exercise called the zercher squat as an alternative to using atlas balls (if you haven’t got any). Off the back of that, we received a fair few messages asking us what a zercher squat is, and what its benefits are. Whilst this exercise is on the app and has full exercise cues and pictures, here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits of a zercher squat and how it can fit into your programs.

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Centre of mass

Placing the bar across your arms and holding into your mid-section keeps the centre of mass really close to you. This means that you have very little force pulling you out of alignment which can help you keep your posture upright and stable.

Mimic a front squat

Zercher squats can be used to mimic a front squat. This can come in handy if you get a shoulder injury or if you have a limited range of motion (ROM) around the shoulders which stops you doing a front squat.

Targets your core

As the zercher squat forces you into an upright position, your core muscles are forced to engage to a higher degree to maintain this. Core strength translates across pretty much any fitness or sport related goal, so its always a win.

Hits your distal quads

Your vastus medialis and lateralis are the two muscles in your quadriceps that attach distally around the end of the femur (bottom of the thigh). Increasing the size and strength of these muscles will give your legs a larger look, it will strengthen the knee joint and will also allow you to develop more force when running, jumping and landing.

Switch it up

Including zercher squats will switch up your training program and make sure that you don’t get bored! They will give you a new challenge to smash and provide a different stimulus for the body!

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So there you have it, a few reasons why you should include zercher squats in your training program. TIP: If you start to go heavy, place a towel or jumper over your arms to stop the bar digging in when you hold it.

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Burn fat and improve your levels of conditioning without doing a single bit of cardio!

Knowing how to switch your workouts up is vitally important for long term results. Everyone is human, everyone gets bored or can lack motivation. Having a variety of fitness tools in your toolbox is very handy for these times where you just need to shake things up a little bit. Whilst its important to push through plateaus and push yourself to go to the gym when you don’t feel like it, sometimes you just need a new challenge to get you hungry for success again. Here’s a few ways you can design a solid workout using nothing but resistance training!

 

Try out strongman style training

Exercises such as sled pushing/pulling, atlas balls and tire deadlifts can be adapted into a challenging and effective workout. If you haven’t got a sled, a mat with weights on it works well, zercher squats can be used for atlas balls and you can use a rack pull for the tire deadlifts. These exercises will get your heart rate up and get you breathing heavily!

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Circuit training

Circuit training has been used for years to get fitness enthusiasts into better shape, and for good reason! They boost your metabolism, burn loads of calories during the session and show you what a hard workout is! With the rise in popularity of bodyweight HIIT training, circuit training in the traditional sense has taken a bit of a back seat. Try using 4-6 compound resistance exercises in a circuit fashion and watch the fat melt off! Exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press and barbell rows are all great exercises giving an effective total body workout.

Giant Sets

Have you ever completed 4-8 resistance exercises back to back without rest? If the answer is yes then you know where I’m coming from, if its no then I invite you to try it! It gives a great burn and if can be done in so many ways. For example you could aim for a total body workout or focus on one muscle group to get a ‘pump’. You can literally do anything you like with it and the conditioning you can get out of it is awesome!

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Don’t sit down all day

Ok, so this may border along the lines of cardio (maybe) but sitting down all day is one of the major factors in the obesity levels in modern society. Simple things like standing up every 30 mins, getting up to change the T.V channel or taking the stairs all add upp to non-specific conditioning levels. You’d be surprised how this translates into your gym/sport conditioning (check out our blog on marginal gains here)

 

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6 Reasons To Listen To Music When You Workout

Everyone has music that they absolutely love listening to. Whether it’s keeping up to date with the latest chart toppers or listening to some classics from way back when, there’s no denying that music can move you emotionally. This can then translate into your workouts and help push yourself further! Here’s 6 reasons to listen to music when you workout!

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It can up your effort

Recent studies have found that athletes worked harder when listening to faster tempo music, compared to slower tempo. It has been found that songs between 120 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) have the optimum effect on the outcome of workout intensity.

Music can get you in ‘the zone’

Ever had someone tell you they’re getting in ‘the zone’ before a workout or a set by listening to a song. Everyone has that go-to song that gets them in ‘the zone’. We associate certain songs with memories, we then relate these songs to the context we originally heard them. This has scientifically been shown to improve physical performance.

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Music Makes Exercising More Fun

Another great reason to listen to music while exercising is that it can make working out a lot more enjoyable. Exercising is not always fun, especially cardio. Some people see it as a chore. This is where choosing the correct playlist can help you find exercising a lot more fun, and it makes it a lot easier to motivate yourself to go down the gym.

Diverts the mind from fatigue

Research has found that music can improve performance by drawing your attention away from feelings of fatigue and pain when engaged in endurance activities such as running, cycling, or swimming. It has been shown to increase exercise efficiency and postpone exercise fatigue.

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A good beat can help you stick to a steady pace

The rhythm of your music can impact the pace of your workout by stimulating the motor area of the brain to direct the body when to move. When performing exercise such as running, cycling etc. It is good to have a steady beat like club and house music, but when performing weights try to have a song that has lyrics over the top to distract you from putting a tempo on your reps and possibly affecting form.

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Choosing the right music

Not everyone has the same music taste, like pumping electro beats during your workout. However, a general configuration can still be found to improve performance.

  • First of all, it’s a good idea to think about which type of workout you’re about to perform. Choose a type of song where the rhythm and tempo link with the exercises.
  • Scientific research suggests that some activities, especially those that are characterized by repetitiveness such as warm-ups, stretching, circuit and weight training are particularly suitable to perform while listening to accompanying music.

Workout muscic

 

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4 exercises to build rock solid and healthy shoulders

Building your shoulders has tons of benefits when trying to sculpt an athletic and strong physique. Whether you’re aiming to  push a heavy weight over your head, increase the size of your shoulders or if you’re looking for general stability, there’s no denying that a variety of exercises are needed to fully train the shoulder complex. Here are 4 exercises that you may not have heard of that will stabilise, strengthen and build your shoulders.

 

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Y-Press

The Y-Press hits the anterior deltoids to a greater extent than a normal shoulder press. Instead of pressing the weight over your head, you should aim to press the weight ‘out’, aiming to make a ‘Y’ shape with your arms. Tip – Imagine you’re driving your shoulders to your ears and your elbows to the ceiling.

Poliquin Raises

The poliquin raise was developed by the Strength Sensei himself, Charles Poliquin. This exercise allows you to eccentrically load the deltoids more by shortening the level (your arms) on the concentric phase of the lift. This is done by simply bending the arms, much like a hammer curl before raising your upper arm until it is level to your shoulders.

Snatch Grip Shrugs

Not only does the snatch grip shrug hit your traps and delts hard, it will also challenge your lats and your grip strength. Due to the wide grip position of your hands, you are at a slight mechanical dis-advantage when performing this lift so a hook grip is recommended (fingers over thumbs) and it’s good practise if you do any Olympic Lifting in your program. Simply take a wide grip on the bar so that thbar sits in the crease of your hips and shrugs your shoulders up (aim for your shoulders to touch your ears). Slowly lower the weight down to the start position and repeat.

Rope Face Pulls

This exercise will challenge your rear delts, traps and rhomboids – essentially it will target your shoulder girdle and your ability to control the movement around your shoulder blades. This exercise looks simple, but notice that the delts and rhomboids are pinched back BEFORE the rope is pulled to the face. This allows for proper function of the shoulder girdle and the proper movement of the shoulder blades throughout the movement. It will also help stop you getting a shoulder impingement which you can thank me for later!

 

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Food Blog – Cottage Pie

Try this tasty Cottage Pie, this meal takes a little longer 30-40 minutes (including prep), but it’s definitely worth it, with plenty of flavour.

Just follow the instructions below and you can have an easy healthy cheat meal in no time.

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Ingredients List (Feeds 4)

  • Low calorie cooking spray/oil.
  • 1 Large onion (Chopped)
  • 1 Medium Red Pepper (Chopped)
  • 1 Medium Green Pepper (Chopped)
  • 750g Lean Beef Mince (5% fat or Less)
  • 400g Tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp Tomato purée
  • 1 tsp Dried mixed herbs
  • 1 Beef stock pot
  • 1kg Sweet potatoes
  • 200g Fat-free natural fromage frais
  • 160g Reduced-fat cheddar cheese (Grated)
  • This meal can also be served with vegetables of your choice.

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Macros for one person

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Method

Stage 1 – (15-20 mins)

  • Spray a pan with low calorie cooking oil, then add the onion and peppers for 5 minutes.
  • Then add the mince beef and cook until the mince is brown, while the beef is cooking add the beef stock pot.

Stage 2 – (15-20 mins)

  • Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas 6.
  • While you are cooking your onions and peppers, peel the potatoes ready to boil them in a large saucepan of lightly salted water for 15 to 20 minutes.

Stage 3 – (5-10mins)

  • Once the mince is cooked add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and herbs.
  • Allow to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes while you drain the potatoes.
  • Add the fat-free natural fromage frais, mash until smooth and set aside.

Stage 5 – (10-15 mins)

  • Put the beef mixture into an oven proof dish and spread the mash over the top, then sprinkle your grated cheese on top to your preference.
  • Place into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until the top in golden brown. Then its ready to serve, Enjoy!

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Let us know what you think in the comments section/on our Facebook and Instagram pages!

For exercise demonstrations, check out our FREE app (click the picture below) to view videos, pictures and exercise cues for over 250 exercises!

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7 Glute exercises to build and better and stronger butt

Having strong glutes is crucial for running, jumping, lifting weights and performing daily activities. It’s also essential for a good physique, for both men and women. Working your glutes is an absolutely essential part of your training, whether you just looking for a better physique or you’re trying to develop your athletic performance. Here are 7 glute exercises that you need to include in your program to optimise their development:

1 – Squats

Squats are one of the key exercises for lower body development, as they pretty much use all your leg muscles while strengthening your core, hips, and lower back. The lower you squat the more emphasis your put on your hamstrings and glutes.

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2 – Barbell Hip Thrusts

One of the best exercises for glute development. The hip thrust activates your glutes more than any exercise. Make sure you wrap a pad around the bar before putting it on your hips, this can get painful if you can load the bar.

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3 – Bulgarian Split Squats

With the exercise positioning and balance is key. With this exercise the further out you put your front foot (the foot planted on the floor) the more glute activation. The closer your feet the more quad dominant the exercise. When your reach the bottom of the movement, if you lean your torso over slightly from the hips you will again increase the emphasis on your glutes (don’t lean any more than 30 degrees).

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4 – Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can include in your program. It is one of the best total body exercises you can do. It’s great for working your posterior chain; your back, glutes, hamstrings etc, and, is great for your posture when performed correctly.

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5 – Zercher Squats

A very uncommon exercise, the zercher squat is very similar mechanically to the goblet squat. The zercher squat allows for greater depth. While naturally you have to stand wider to perform this exercise, this puts more emphasis on your glutes.

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6 – Barbell Split Squat

Place the barbell across your shoulder on your traps. The split squat is slightly different to a normal lunge and is more demanding. With the split squat you start in the bottom of a lunge position, this is then your start position. Because of this you therefore have to fully engage your glutes, hamstrings and quads to drive yourself up.

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7 – Stiff Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift is great for developing hamstring and glute strength. This exercise needs to be performed properly to take the focus and strain off your lower back. This is done by pushing your hips back until you feel the stretch on your hamstrings. Make sure that you keep your lower back neutral and don’t let it round. Have your feet at hip width or closer to make the exercise more demanding on your legs.

Stiff Leg Deadlift

For exercise demonstrations, check out our FREE app (click the picture below) to view videos, pictures and exercise cues for over 250 exercises!

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5 Quick Tips for Exercise Selection

Picking the right exercises can be very confusing! Between the BS ‘functional coaches’ and the ever so insightful world of social media, there is a plethora of information that is impossible to sift through. Now, it’s not to say that all exercises are bad, it’s just that not all exercises are good – some are better than others, and some serve a very specific purpose. So how do you figure out what’s good for you, and what should be left for another time/purpose? Check out the rest of this post where we run down 5 quick and easy ways to optimise your exercise selection!

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Know your goals

This is the most important factor! Knowing what you want to do will be a major influence on what exercises you pick. For example, people aiming for fat loss should spend more time on compound movements in order to recruit more muscle and burn more calories as a consequence. This links directly into the next point…

Know what the exercise does

Squats for example have a completely different purpose to a bicep curl. Obviously they target different muscle groups, but one is a compound movement, whereas the other is an isolation movement. Bicep curls wont get you ripped whereas squats are more likely to.

Look at regressions

If you want to do compound movements but cant quite manage a full lift, look at regressing the exercise. For example, a squat could be regressed into a partial range of movement (box squats or quarter squats) or an alternative exercise could be used (goblet squat, hack squat). Progress these until you manage the full exercise.

If it looks like BS it probably is

If you look at an Instagram page and it seems a bit off, it probably is. Nobody gets muscular, lean and fit by doing banded bodyweight squats (unless they’re taking some questionable ‘supplements’). You get in shape by working hard, there’s no two ways about it! Not to say that exercising can’t be fun, but ‘fun’ workouts may not always be the most effective or hard working – for example, I’m yet to find anyone who genuinely looks forward to doing a minute of burpees!

Start broad and get specific later

This is heavily linked to the principles of periodization, but no one starts off doing ultra specific workouts. As we mentioned in 6 Easy Tips For When You Start Lifting Weights, pick 4-6 core exercises and ready nail them. Pick exercises that hit more muscles at a time (squats, deadlifts, bent over row) and build the rest of your workouts around those.

 

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Marginal Gains – A powerful tool to achieve your goals

In our blog, How To Beat Your Brain, we mentioned a concept called marginal gains. As promised, here’s a quick run down of what marginal gains is and how you can use it to break down your goals and make more progress than conventional methods.

The concept of marginal gains was thrust into the spotlight after the London 2012 Olympics when GB Cycling performance director, Dave Brailsford, spoke about how he used the concept to improve GB Cycling performance so much that they dominated international cycling for over a decade. Dave Brailsford summed the concept up by saying “The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together,” (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/19174302).

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This summation is pretty spot on! Essentially you can break down a problem or in our case, your goals/performance into as many sub-categories as you wish and improve on each of these parts individually. When you then look at these sub-parts as a whole, you will have a larger overall increase/improvement on your performance. In the case of GB Cycling, they were aiming for gold medals so they may have gone into more details than is necessary for some people – take sleeping in the right position for example. Yes, it may work towards achieving your goals, but it probably isn’t as important as just getting 8 hours of decent sleep if you’re currently getting 5.

Below is a simplified version for someone who is trying to loose 10 lbs of fat in 5 weeks.

Goal – Loose 10 lbs of fat

Duration – 5 weeks

Higher level factors that affect fat loss

  1. Activity Levels
  2. Food quality
  3. Food intake
  4. Sleep quality
  5. Positive mind set

So here we have 5 higher level factors that will influence this goal of burning 10 lbs of fat in 5 weeks. Now, you can stop here and get going or you can break down each of these 5 factors into more sub-factors within each one. Below is the breakdown for one of these factors.

Activity Levels

  1. Exercise 4 times/week.
  2. Exercise for at least 1 hour for each session.
  3. Walk to work and back 3 times a week.
  4. Stand up every 30 minutes whilst at work (shown to significantly increase metabolism).
  5. Do 10 squats, 10 press ups and 10 star jumps every morning.

 

So from picking 1 higher level factor, here you have 5 lower level factors you can focus on to reach your goal. You see how this could go on and on!

My advice would be to pick 5-10 higher level factors and really nail them. If you want to you can go deeper, but this can make things a bit over whelming to start with, which is totally the opposite of what this aims to do. 10 higher level factors with 5 lower level factors will total 50 points for you to improve on, which is quite extreme!

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The take away message should be to take what seems a complex problem and break it down into smaller chunks so you can focus in and achieve your goals. If you improve by 1% on 10 factors you will have an overall increase of 10%! Which is significant!

 

For exercise demonstrations, check out our FREE app (click the picture below) to view videos, pictures and exercise cues for over 250 exercises!

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Food Blog – Chicken Pesto Pilaf (thing)

If you like tasty meals that involve pesto you’ve hit the jackpot here! This meal is easy to make and is relatively quick (20 -25 mins) given that you had prepped beforehand! Its slightly high on the fats, but a lot comes from the pesto which is full of pine nuts, so its all good!

Just follow the instructions below and you can have a quick, easy healthy-ish meal in no time.

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Chicken Pesto Pilaf (thing)

Ingredients List (Feeds 4)

  • 500g Diced Chicken Breast
  • 100g Diced Bacon/Lardons
  • 60g Chopped Chorizo
  • 250g Pre-Cooked Rice (Tilda, Uncle Bens etc)
  • 2 Chopped Bell Peppers
  • 6-8 Halved Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 Jar Green Pesto
  • 1 Veg Stock Cube
  • 150-300ml Boiling Water
  • 2-3 Large Glugs Worcester Source
  • 2-3 Large Glugs Red Wine

Macros For One Person

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Stage 1 – (2-3 mins)

  • Lightly oil a pan with an oil of your choice under a medium-high heat. I use extra virgin olive oil as it suits the taste of the dish.
  • Add the diced bacon/lardons & chopped chorizo into a hot pan and allow to cook for 1 minute.
  • After 1 minute, spread them around the pan to spread the flavour and add the chicken in, stirring it into the fats coming out of the chorizo to enhance the flavour of the dish.
  • Boil the kettle!

Stage 2 – (3-6 mins)

  • Cook this mixture until the chicken is white all over, but NOT cooked (see picture below).

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  • Add your boiling water to a vegetable stock cube and dissolve.
  • Once dissolved, add the whole pot of pesto to the vegetable stock cube broth (this can be less, it just comes down to preference).
  • Add the pre-cooked rice to the pan and mix into the chicken, bacon and chorizo.
  • Pour the vegetable/pesto broth into the pan and mix gently.

Stage 3 – (10-15 mins)

  • Stir in a good 2-3 large glugs or Worcestershire sauce and the same amount of red wine!
  • Let this broth simmer and reduce for around 10 minutes until the mixture has a more ‘solid’ consistency. TIP: You should be able to see the rice clearly and if you push it up together, it slowly spreads out in the pan (see the second picture below).

Stage 4 – (2-3 mins)

  • Mix in your chopped bell pepper and halved tomatoes into the mixture.
  • Stir these in so that they cook briefly (for around 2-3 mins) .

TIP: You can add these in earlier, but I had mushy/soggy peppers so I add them in at the end to give it a bit of a crunch and keep the flavour in the peppers.

Stage 5 – (1 minute)

  • Serve and enjoy!

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Let us know what you think in the comments section/on our Facebook and Instagram pages!

For exercise demonstrations, check out our FREE app (click the picture below) to view videos, pictures and exercise cues for over 250 exercises!

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5 Reasons You Should Get More Sleep in Under 300 Words

Sleep is an often overlooked, yet vital part of any healthy lifestyle. Here’s 5 reasons you should get more sleep in under 300 words.

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Injury Prevention

The body recovers and repairs when we rest. Getting 6-8 hours of quality sleep is vital as part of this process. Without sleep your body won’t repair and you will likely end up injured –  the last thing you want.

Control Hormonal Balances

When you don’t get enough sleep, cortisol levels in the body increase whilst testosterone levels decrease. Getting a good bit of shut eye will reverse this effect – if fat loss or muscle gain is one of your goals, increasing testosterone levels is right up there on the to do list.

Reduce Stress Levels

Due to stress hormones, your blood pressure increases when you are sleep deprived. In extreme cases this can lead to heart attacks. Getting less sleep makes you feel more stressed which makes it harder to sleep – break the cycle by having good pre-bedtime routines (new blog coming soon on this).

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Increase Fatloss

Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite, which can be thrown off when you don’t get enough sleep. Maintaining a healthy eating schedule is key when trying to burn fat and sleeping is an unlikely, yet important part of that.

Sleep Makes You Alert

Feeling alert and ready is a great, and being alert will help you smash your daily workout too. If you’ve ever tried doing leg day after a bad nights sleep, you’ll know the feeling!

For exercise demonstrations, check out our FREE app (click the picture below) to view videos, pictures and exercise cues for over 250 exercises!

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