I recently spent four days at USC’s Movement Performance Institute studying Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) with Dr. Petra Valouchova, Dr. Craig Liebenson, and their associates. It was terrific training that progressed my knowledge for building strength and athleticism. DNS is an approach out of Prague, developed by the outstanding physiotherapist Dr. Pavel Kolar, that gets its roots from developmental kinesiology.

The DNS-Sport training starts by teaching you how to stabilize the torso with specific techniques that put the ribcage and pelvis back in proper alignment. In particular, many people suffer from some degree of the “opening scissors syndrome” which can be caused by anterior pelvic tilt, an elevated ribcage, or both.

opening scissors syndrome

So the first goal of DNS is to re-establish proper posture as shown above the letter “b.” In DNS training I learned how essential proper diaphragm function is for training and posture. That function hinges on the correct breathing patterns that re-align the ribcage and pelvis, and it’s this proper alignment along with elevated intra-abdominal pressure that boost your strength and performance during sport.

The saying, “You can’t shoot a cannon from a canoe” sums up the importance of spinal stability whether you’re a professional athlete or a hard-training fitness enthusiast. A more powerful body requires higher levels of stability. Too often people will jump straight to the advanced stuff like Olympic lifts before building a stable base. The positions that DNS emphasize help bridge the gap between stability and power.

I should mention here that many of the most valuable DNS techniques come from proper cueing and instruction throughout various movements. In other words, it takes a lot of practical experience to really understand and feel the effects of improving neuromuscular stabilization with the DNS approach.

With that in mind, here’s one move I learned that helps correct the “scissors” posture many of us battle. One key element of the exercise below is that your breathing pattern should remain normal. This isn’t intended to be an intense strength training exercise – it’s a drill to help put the ribcage and pelvis back in proper alignment.

From there, DNS builds on neuromuscular patterns that were developed during the first year of life. Even though DNS was primarily intended for rehabilitation purposes, the exercises and positions they teach can be applied to strength training.

For example, one position that’s emphasized in DNS is the modified side plank, a mid-transition position between lying on your back and standing. I’ve been having my clients hold the modified side plank while they perform various presses and pulls because it’s an excellent way to build spinal stability and strengthen the muscles around the pelvis. Also, the position is stable enough to allow you to train with moderately heavy loads.

In the near future I’ll be showing more exercises that revolve around these novel positions, but in the meantime, here’s a video of me doing a kettlebell press from the modified side plank.

DNS is a complex approach that addresses posture, movement, joint centration, intra-abdominal pressure, etc. so there’s plenty that needs to be said beyond the few things I mentioned here. If you’re interested in learning more about the philosophy and development of DNS, you can read this overview from Dr. Craig Liebenson.

Stay Focused,


The Benefits of Sandbag Training

Adding sandbag exercises to your current training program is one of the best things you can do. Since a sandbag doesn’t have a fixed, rigid shape like a barbell or dumbbell does, the neural activation and muscle recruitment with sandbag exercises are superior for building athleticism and motor control.

If you compare the difference between pressing two 50-pound dumbbells overhead to pressing two 50-pound sandbags overhead, you’ll know what I mean.

In the 1990’s, Swiss ball and Bosu ball exercises became the rage. And like any trend that gains traction, trainers sought to one-up each other by coming up some inane exercises such as squats while balancing on a Swiss ball.

Another “gem” from that era was a biceps curl while standing on a Bosu ball. Sure, the Bosu ball made the exercise exponentially more difficult, but it certainly didn’t make the biceps work any harder. In fact, the biceps were performing less work because the load of the movement had to significantly decrease to meet the balance demands. In other words, this exercise made the ankles and hips work harder at the expense of the biceps.

I embrace the concept of instability training. However, the instability should come from the load you’re lifting – not the surface you’re standing on. Sandbags are the perfect unstable loading mechanism because the muscles you’re targeting have to work harder. Sandbags also create a greater challenge to your core muscles, and that’s something we can all benefit from.

Compared to rigid objects, sandbags recruit more motor units, build more athleticism, and increase the metabolic demand of any movement.

When it comes to sandbag training, Josh Henkin is top dog. He’s been a harbinger in teaching athletes and non-athletes how to implement sandbag training into their programs.

I like all the exercise he teaches, but one in particular is the shoveling exercise. This is a terrific exercise that challenges a movement pattern that typically isn’t produced in the gym with traditional exercises.

With regard to the video above, I’ll often modify the shoveling move and add a clean/overhead press into the mix each time my client rotates back to the center.

Another one of my favorite sandbag exercises is the get-up – an exercise that’s more challenging than it looks if the sandbag is heavy enough. I’ll typically have my athletes do the sandbag get-up at the end of the workout to create a large metabolic demand while building athleticism.

Sandbags can certainly be used as a stand-alone workout. However, I recommend you start by spending 10-15 minutes at the end of your current workouts performing a few sandbag exercises that interest you. That way, you can easily add sandbag training to any of my other programs without changing a thing.

I have all of Josh’s sandbags, and they’re made with the strongest, most resilient materials you’ll find. They come in a few different sizes with the “burly” version being the largest. I’ll tell you that his burly sandbag is a monster. It can hold up to 160 pounds of sand and it’ll be the heaviest 160 pounds you’ve ever felt. Just trying to bearhug and squat with the burly bag is a challenge to my biggest, strongest athletes.

blog burly bag

My advice is to incorporate a few sandbag exercises into your current program. Spend 10-15 minutes at the end of your workout and minimize your rest periods to create a large metabolic demand. If you do, you’ll get leaner, stronger, and more athletic.

Here’s a sample 10-minute sandbag workout that you can add to the end of three of your workouts each week.

1A Shoveling for 5 reps to each side (10 reps total)
Rest 10-15 seconds
1B Get-up for 6 alternating reps with each leg forward (3 reps per leg)
Rest 10-15 seconds, repeat 1A-1B for 10 minutes

Get The Best Core Workout with The Ultimate Sandbag!

Stay Focused,


Fasting Made Simple

blog fastingFasting is more popular than ever, and for good reason. You can experience a myriad of health and body composition benefits by avoiding food for 16 hours or more. In fact, I consider a one-day fast each week to be the most beneficial nutritional strategy for my clients.

I’ve found that a one-day fast reduces inflammation better than anything else. And with less inflammation you get better fat loss, recovery, and energy. Furthermore, I believe that lowering inflammation and taking stress off the gastrointestinal (GI) tract helps your body better assimilate amino acids when you return to eating. This means your body is more apt to build muscle after a fast.

Since we all want to have a leaner midsection and more energy, those are two of the benefits mentioned most often. However, there’s another benefit of fasting that’s discussed less frequently: mental toughness.

The first time you make your body spend a day without food, it sucks. But over time, that one-day fast will get easier and you’ll actually look forward to it – especially after an indulgence. I’m fasting as I write this because I had too many wings, nachos, and Miller High Life beers while watching the bowl games yesterday.

Once you realize that you’re not a slave to food, and once you experience the calm, focused energy you get after 24 hours without food, it’ll improve your psyche. And that extra mental toughness will carry over into all other aspects of your life because you’ll have heightened willpower.

Nothing builds mettle like fasting does.

Last June I spoke at the Perform Better summit in Providence, RI. My buddy Dr. John Berardi spoke there, too. After our presentations we hung out and discussed training and nutrition. He mentioned that one of the most beneficial changes he made to his athlete’s nutrition programs was a one-day fast.

I was already sold on the benefits of fasting since I’ve been experimenting with Ori’s Warrior Diet for the past few years. But I never did a full day of fasting, and neither did my clients. But Berardi’s advice ranks high in my book so I started incorporating a one-day fast into all my client’s programs, and my nutrition plan as well.

It was the best nutritional change I ever made. The morning after a full day of fasting you’ll have a tighter, leaner midsection and your mind will be calm and focused. Your first meal that day will taste and sit in your gut better than ever.

One-Day Fast Details

1. If you’re on medication, or have health issues, or are unsure if a full-day fast is for you, be sure to check with your doctor first.

2. As soon as you wake up squeeze one-half of a fresh lemon into 16 ounces of water and drink. The lemon juice helps the liver deal with the detoxification process. Add a few pinches of cayenne pepper to the drink to help control hunger and aid the detoxifying effect, if you can handle the taste.

3. Drink 0.5 ounce of water per pound of body weight throughout the day. So a 180-pound person needs 90 ounces of water from morning until bedtime. You can add lemon and cayenne pepper to the water throughout the day.

4. Drink unsweetened black, green or white tea or black coffee if you need an energy boost. The tip I give my clients is to hold off on any caffeinated beverages as far into the day as possible. If you reach a point where your energy is very low, use the tea or coffee to pull you out of it. This doesn’t contribute to the water total in step 3.

5. If you’re worried about muscle loss, take 3-5 grams of branched chain amino acid (BCAA) pills 2-3 times spread throughout the day. However, I don’t think it’s necessary. I have 250-pound athletes do the one-day fast without BCAAs and there’s no problem with muscle loss, especially once their glycogen is restored the next day.

6. Before bed take magnesium and vitamin C. The magnesium will calm your nervous system and the vitamin C will lower cortisol. This combination makes it easier to fall asleep. I use four droppers of liquid magnesium from Mineralife mixed with one packet of Lypo-Spheric Vitamin C in a few ounces of water. Chug the concoction down like a shot because it tastes terrible if you let it sit in your mouth.

7. Finally, do not perform any type of strenuous exercise on this day of fasting. A brisk walk is a good idea, but weight training is out of the question. Let your muscles, nerves, and organs recover without any added stress of training.

With this one-day fast you’ll spend around 36 hours without food when you consider the sleeping hours the night before, and after, the fast. In other words, this isn’t a 24-hour fast: it’s a one-day fast that leads to around 36 hours without food.

This strategy works with any style of eating, whether or not an intermittent fast is already part of your plan. You could be on a Warrior-style plan where you have an intermittent fast (IF) for 16-20 hours every other day of the week. When this is the case I recommend you have two scoops of whey the morning after your full day of fasting to break the fast and stimulate protein synthesis.

Make 2013 be the year that you made a one-day fast part of your weekly routine. You’ll be leaner, healthier, and mentally stronger because of it.

Stay Focused,