12 Days of Liftmas: 2016 Edition

Day 1. Hanging Leg Raise - Work Your Abs, Not Your Legs

My favourite ab exercise (apart from heavy ass squats and deadlifts) is the hanging leg raise, unfortunately lots of people get nothing from it - because they’re not using their abs!

If you just pull your legs up to 90 degrees, chances are you’re relying on your hip flexors more than your abs to do the work. By engaging your core to pull your legs and pelvis up past 90 degrees - kinda like a crunch for your hips - this forces your abs to take over the movement and do more work.

It’s a small difference, but if you look at my pelvis/lower back, you can see it in action (ignore my inflexible hamstrings!). By working your abs, you build more core stability - more stability means you have more control over your body and where you apply force, instead of wasting energy wobbling all over the place and trying to bring yourself back into alignment.

Day 2. Fat Grips for Forearms - Ditch the Wrist Curls


Want big forearms or colossal grip strength? Stop doing wrist curls! Make your forearm and grip muscles work work harder by giving them something bigger to hold onto - big bars and Fat Grips work great, but not everyone has them.

Instead, just wrap a towel around the bar while performing a regular exercise, and voila, you now have a grip challenge on your hands. This works well with any movement - deadlifts, bicep curls, bench - just don’t go too heavy when trying it for the first time as it is surprisingly challenging!

Day 3. Get Saucy


There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bland, dry diet - especially at this time of year. Meals quickly become mouthfuls of tedium, and the sight of more chicken becomes nauseous. The cure? Get saucy. By adding a little extra sauce to your meal, you give yourself some flavour and put enjoyment back into what you eat.

Depending on what sauce and how much you use, it will add a little extra carbs/fats to your day, but it’s a lot less than a big “cheat meal” would add. In the long run, personally I’d prefer to add a couple extra carbs/fats to my meals than fall off the path and go back to square one. And if you still feel a bit guilty - add in a couple of extra sets to your workout to burn it off, so it was like it never even happened.

Day 4. Calf Bouncing - The Gainz Killer


Calves are a pain in the ass to train - especially if you’re not using the muscle to move the weight.

When your heel is at the bottom of the movement (in any seated or standing variation), the stretch builds up elastic energy in your Achilles tendon - like an elastic band - ready to rocket your heel back up and out of this stretched position. This saves the body energy, as you don’t have to rely on the muscles as much, but if you’re trying to train your muscles then it’s a problem.

By slowing down and pausing for a second or two at the bottom of the movement - when your heel is in this stretched position - the elastic energy will dissipate and you will need to use your calf muscles to move the weight instead, allowing you to work the muscles harder and go on to make more progress.

Day 5. How to Increase Pull-up Reps, Without Adding Pull-up Reps


Just like cardio, adding numbers to your pull up score is a grind - extra reps means extra time means extra boring. But it doesn’t have to be.

Instead of trying to grind out extra reps, try adding some weight - most easily done with a dip belt and weight plates, but just as effective to put on a heavy bag or hold a weight with your legs. I’ve gone for the ankle hold with a dumbbell in this shot, but whatever is most comfortable will work just fine.

You won’t be able to do as many reps as normal when you add the weight, but as long as you add a little extra weight or an extra rep to each subsequent workout, you’ll be making solid progress. By adding weight, this conditions your body to become stronger through the whole pull up movement, so when you go back to performing them without the added weight, your body will be more efficient and you’ll be able to do an extra couple of reps.

Day 6. Ice Cubes - The Next Level Steel Ball


Steel mixing balls are great for mixing, but a nuisance to clean. So why not ditch them, and use ice instead? Today’s koala-ty tip comes from Crossfit Universe Champion Calum Von Moger.

Just grab a couple of ice cubes, fire them in and shake away. Doesn’t matter the size of the cubes, as long as they can move freely in your cup they’ll smash any powder lumps in their path. This’ll keep your pre/during/post workout drink refreshingly cool, and the cubes will melt away to save you a spot of cleaning.

Day 7. Pec Isolation For Strength and Stability


Bench press is a staple chest exercise for millions, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Grab a couple of dumbbells and perform a normal bench/incline press movement, but when you get to the top - hold one dumbbell up there and press the other. Once that one reaches the top: rinse and repeat.

By holding one weight in the air, you’ll be working your shoulder stabilising muscles and your pecs to keep you arm in a stable position. This’ll get your chest pumped up, and help strengthen the little muscles of your shoulders for more control over big bench pressing.

Day 8. Speed Reps - How to Use Less Weight to Build a Bigger Max


If you want to get a bigger 1 rep max, forget about time under tension - you need to get some speed. When our muscles contract, it takes time for all the fibres to fire and activate - because having everything working at once on every single rep would be tiring, and our body doesn’t like to waste energy.

By getting the fibres to fire and activate faster, it means we can put more force behind the weight sooner. This helps us to get the weight moving, and adds a little momentum to allow us to get the weight into an optimal position to complete the lift.

To train our muscle fibres to activate faster (aka the rate of force development), just grab a weight that you can handle for 15-20 reps (or 50-60% of your 1 rep max) and perform a couple reps as fast as possible. This works best from any “dead stop” position, so is super effective on deadlifts.

Day 9. Flavoured Water, Without the Sweeteners


Water is the best thing for your body - whatever your goal is. Unfortunately, it’s always been hella boring. Until now.

Yes there are branded flavoured water options out there, but most of them are made using flavourings, sugars, and other chemicals - which ain’t gonna help us. Instead, we can make our own.

Just grab some fruit, chop it up, bung it in a cup, fill with water/ice and stir. Cover it up and pop it in the fridge for about 2 hours to let all the flavours infuse into the water - and hey presto, we have some healthy and delicious flavoured water. In the pic, I’ve gone for: cucumber and chillies (for a wee kick), a berry medley (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and mint leaves), and tropical funk (mango and lime), but the possibilities are endless!

Day 10. Using Rear Delts in the Rear Delt Fly

Rear delts (back of shoulder) are a lagging weak area for many - because they’re not using them, even when they’re doing an exercise to target them. It’s a little hard to see in the pics, but look at the difference in shoulder position.

In the first, I’m dropping the shoulders so need to use my whole back to bring them back up, jerking the weights up along with them - which gets the weight moving, but with minimal rear delt involvement. By focusing on keeping your shoulders/back in a fixed position - by flexing and holding them there - you can focus on moving the weight using just your rear delts.

Day 11. The Walking Ab Blaster


If you’ve ever watch a Strongman competition you’ll know the Farmer’s Walk is a classic event - what you might not know is that it’s also great for building your core. Granted, this is primarily a grip exercise - but using a slightly lighter weight and you’ll be turning those abs into slabs before you know it.

Keeping your body upright and stable while moving and under a heavy load fires up the core muscles in a way crunches never will. This dynamic stabilisation is also used in the squat/deadlift, but won’t hit them for as long unless you’re doing a tonne of reps.

You can perform a farmer’s walk with literally anything you can get your hands on - dumbbells, plates, kettlebells, bricks - just grab a weight and go for a walk. Simples.

Day 12. The Tennis Ball - Your Fuzzy Little Masseuse


While your training and nutrition might be on point, if your recovery sucks you’ll still be making mediocre progress. One of the best recovery techniques is massage. By far the best option is a professional masseuse, but if you don’t have access to one then we have another option. Grab a tennis ball, relax, and get to work massaging that muscle.

Self-massage helps break down sticky scar tissue and helps move fluid around the muscle - helping nutrients to get in and any toxins to get cleared out.

If you tape 2 hockey balls together you can make a peanut. This helps you massage the muscles around your spine without putting too much pressure on your bones.