7 exercises to master in 2019
If you're not failing, you're not learning.
- Diversity in exercise is an essential component of a good fitness diet.
- Constantly pushing your physical boundaries provides equally valuable neurological benefits.
- These seven exercises and tools are worth integrating into your regimen in 2019.
There are two responses when seeing a new exercise: "No" and "I'll give it a shot." I've watched both play out often. Sometimes the "no" is justified. You see a movement pattern that is tough on the knees after recently having knee surgery. That's a healthy "no."
Problem is that "no" often comes from fear of not feeling adequate. I've noticed this trend with arm balancing in yoga. The lithe yogi next to you easily transitions into a crow pose and you feel like a gangly ogre. (At six-three, I've often felt this.) Instead of attempting and failing, you invent an excuse as to why you can't even try.
This trend plays out over and over and over again. Sure, it might appear on the surface to be an arm balance in a class at the gym, but pause to consider all the "no's" that occur in society. From feeling inadequate at work to refusing to entertain new paradigms in how we go about life, the smallest to biggest problems occur from that "no."
I've learned not to even look for "yes" when I'm teaching. "Maybe" suffices at times as it hasn't cut off the possibility of an attempt. When I demonstrate in front of a class, I remind everyone that they're seeing the result of dozens if not hundreds of failed attempts. They're not witnessing those at the moment, however, but they are certainly there.
A positive movement mindset requires an openness to failing, provided you're learning along the way. People constantly fall into exercise ruts. They cycle through the same workout, week after week after week, eventually plateauing. While any exercise is better than none, if you're not constantly challenging yourself, you're doing a disservice to both your body and brain, as I've written about extensively.
Below are seven exercises I've assigned myself for 2019. Some I'm integrating into my regimen to increase strength at the end range of my flexibility; others I'm still that ogre attempting. That's fine, as the goal is not only changing my body, but also my mind.
Tim Ferriss recommends this glute and quadratus lumborum strengthener in Tools of Titans, as recommended by powerlifter Donnie Thompson. Begin with just your bodyweight but gradually add in load, such as a kettlebell. I started with a 16 kg bell; on my second attempt, I went up to 20 kg and noticed a huge difference. After the last kettlebell class I taught, a woman complained afterward that her white pants got dirty from this exercise, which only made me question why anyone would wear white pants to a gym. One set for me is "walking" twenty feet forward and backward without stopping.
Also in Tools of Titans, this gem offered by Gymnastic Bodies founder, Christopher Sommer, requires the lifting of your legs 1-4 inches off the ground. The further you can walk your hands forward, the harder it becomes. Ferriss suggests trying it against the wall to minimize movement in your hips, so that you're not rocking but actually engaging. These are much harder than she makes it look above. One set for me is twenty double leg pulses. My flow is usually one set of these followed by one set of QL Walks.
One of the major consequences of poor movement patterns is lack of flexibility of the ankle joint. Cossack squats work the entire lower chain and provide an opportunity for strength at the end range of your range of motion. I like the above video because a) he's loading the movement with a kettlebell (though you can certainly do these bodyweight only) and b) he's staying low in the transition from side to side. There are many tutorials on Youtube. Standing up fully between sides is a good way to start but don't get stuck there; staying low will require the recruitment of a whole new set of muscles. Some trainers will also mention that it's okay to lift the heel of the foot of the bending knee. Yes, it is, but it's not optimal. Keeping your heel down will force you to contend with your true squatting range, and until you keep the heel grounded you'll never advance past that.
One of my workout partners can easily jump from his knees to a squatting position. It always frustrated me until this weekend I spent a half-hour warming up to accomplish it. A few failed attempts and then the right neurons fired. Eero Westerberg, in the video above, is an all-around badass, so I suggest diving into all of his videos. The jump I'm referring to occurs at :37, but if you want to see what's possible, keep watching.
Thus far I've been sharing exercises I already practice (to varying levels of proficiency). Here's where I'm an ogre. You're effectively going from the yoga arm balance, Titibasana, to a press handstand. I like the above video because you'll catch one success and mostly failures, which is a great reminder of how hard this movement is. Notice how they all fail in different ways, however. Each failure will offer another suggestion for refinement. I've had extremely moderate success so far, with a 2-3 second hold in the inverted straddle position. Here they are going for legs fully extended at the top, which is just another variation.
Not an exercise, but a piece of equipment, the RIP Trainer has become one of my three-times-a-week tools. I love all of the unique ways you can move through your transverse plane using the one-sided tension. It's a very unique tool for accessing an entirely new range of motion. The only limit is truly your imagination. Above the man who introduced me to TRX, Marc Coronel, demonstrates a few of the possibilities. Follow him on Instagram for tons of incredible instruction and motivation.
Marc and I met in a Budokon training in New York City over a decade ago. We both ended up teaching it at Equinox Fitness. The combination of martial arts, yoga, and meditation made for a unique and invigorating experience, but there was one section of it, Animal Movements, which truly brought us back to our quadrupedal roots. Mike Fitch took that piece and created an entirely new experience, pushing beyond any limits a movement instructor might have had. It's a stunning and playful practice that I work on 2-3 days a week. The video above is really an apex, so follow the community on Instagram to see a much wider range of options.
We spend too much time working out standing and way too much time sitting. Get on your hands and get back in touch with where we all came from.