a guy who needs to remove low back pain with stretching

Did you know most pain can be eliminated with stretching?

Rob walked into the 24 Hour Fitness at the UC Irvine location asking for help. He was in obvious pain. He worked as a programmer at Blizzard. His goals where to get ripped, put on muscle, you know the typical male request. I analyzed his body and asked him one question, “When was the last time you stretched?”

“Stretch? I’m here to get chiseled for the ladies,” he smiled.

“Do you suffer from chronic headaches, crippling low back pain, or shoulder issues?”

His smile vanished. “Yes, yes and yes. How’d you know?”

“Well, you kinda look like a turtle.”

turtlehead posture causes pain and can be eliminated with stretching

Rob straightened up. “I’m a programmer, everyone looks like this at work. That’s just how it is.”

“No, it’s not. Let me explain. A person with perfect posture looks like a skeleton. But when we attach muscles, the problems begin to happen. If the muscles are in the right position like the skeleton, life’s dandy. Right position equals the right length, equals no pain.”

Rob straightened up like a pencil.

Click for FREE Guide

Poor Posture Forms Knots in Muscle Tissue

I jotted my head forward. “But when the body’s in a fixed position like sitting, the bones stay in a shortened position for a long time. Unfortunately, this position causes knots to form in the muscles. These knots in the muscles pull the bones into a shortened position. Those shoulders are forward, rounded, and closer to my chest. This position causes knots in the chest muscles. The knots cause the muscle to be shortened and the shortened muscle pulls the bones closer. The closer bones change the body and causes joint pain. Therefore, the pain you experience comes from your poor posture.”

an illustration of bones being pulled together from lack of stretching

Rob started slouching again, his body returned to the classic turtlehead position.

“The human head weighs 8-10 pounds,” I told Rob. “Every inch your head moves forward, an extra 10 pounds of weight is added. Your head can add up to 60 pounds of pressure.”

Rob straightened up again to his full 6-2′ height.

“You’re in your early thirties and you look like a turtle. Not a good look. But, it’s not just looking like ET that’s troubling. The shortness in the muscles causes chronic pain. Neck pain is the third most common type of pain for Americans. In addition, neck pain can be either acute (lasting less than three months.) Or the pain can be chronic (lasting longer than three months.) And it’s not just men, women are three times more likely to have this issue.”

Turtlehead Issues

  1. headaches
  2. arthritis
  3. degenerative joints
  4. lowers breathing and lung capacity
  5. hurts mood

“Can I fix my head to get rid of the pain?”

“Luckily, there’s a simple solution for neck pain.” Rob followed me to the stretching area.

Neck Pain Stretching Instructions

  • hold each neck stretch for a minimum of 25 seconds (30 seconds ideal)
  • do all stretches on both sides
  • perform at least 3 times per day

Most neck pain can be alleviated and eliminated with corrective stretching. But, the neck stretches need to be performed at least 3 times per day and held for 25 seconds. These stretches need to be part of your daily routine. They can be performed anywhere. You can do them while sitting at work, waiting for the elevator, waiting for a red light, any waiting.  Add these stretches into your daily routine and say bye-bye to your turtlehead.

Rob nodded. “What about my low back? It’s killing me.”

Low Back Pain Can be Caused By Poor Posture

  • Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • 80% of people experience back pain in their lives.
  • Half of all Americans experienced back pain last year.
  • Tight hip flexors, a tight low back, and tight hamstrings can all cause pain in the back.

“You can also get rid of back pain with stretching?” I told Rob.

He looked at me like I was nuts.

How To Eliminate Pain with Stretching

Click for FREE Guide
“Stretching prevents and reverses the damage from our work environments. Therefore, a solid stretching routine helps you eliminate pain. Trust me, you want to get rid of pain. Pain directly impairs your ability to make good decisions. When you don’t feel good, bad things happen. Not only, will you remove the pain, but your posture will improve. Perfect posture makes you look taller, fitter and skinnier. Stretching keeps you looking young.”

When you don’t feel good, bad things happen.

I then walked Rob through a corrective stretching routine. Here’s the routine:

How to Stretch to Remove Pain

stretching can eliminate pain

 

Stretching involves holding the muscle past its happy point for twenty-five seconds. Happy point is the last point where there’s no pain. Trust me, you’ll know when you’re past the happy point.

Once you reach the happy point, hold constant tension in the position. Take deep breadths and hold the stretch with the proper posture for at least 25 seconds. You can hold the stretch longer, but 25 is the minimum time to make a change.

When to Stretch

Stretching before your workout gets your body ready for movement. This reduces injuries by loosening the tight muscles in your body. Stretching afterward also helps. The increased muscle temperature from the workout increases your flexibility. This means you can stretch farther after your workout. You can also stretch anytime you’re waiting. Maximize your time by stretching anytime it’s possible. You don’t need equipment to stretch. You only need discipline. Discipline is one of the MAD Plan’s pillar’s for making a fitness permanent in your life.

The number and timing of your stretches matters. Muscles respond to length and time. Your body must be held in this position for the change to happen. Be consistent daily, and watch the magic happen. The key to making the pain disappear is consistency. 

The Stretches

Here are the pain relieving stretches. Pick the area you feel needs help first. Start with those corresponding stretches. You can also perform all the stretches daily. Doing all the stretches everyday will help your body the most. It’s a simple, but powerful practice.

Click here for your FREE Stretch Guide.

 

How Long to Remove Pain

Rob wanted to know what everyone wants to know. I told him it can take three to four weeks to see some results, but you’ll see a huge difference in 6 months. Be patient, be consistent and your body will change. You will feel better, and you won’t look like a turtle anymore.

“Will I be ripped?”

This helps, by giving you the right mechanics for your workout. We’ll need to focus on your diet to be ripped. But today, let’s just get rid of your chronic pain, okay?”

He smiled and said, “Okay.”

 

Conclusion

If you suffer from low back pain, neck pain, headaches or knee pain, you can solve a lot of those problems with consistent stretching. I hope you find this information helpful. If you have a friend or family member who suffers from pain, please share these stretches with them. Pain sucks and we can eliminate it with simple, consistent, and correct practices.

 

Tony Arreola

NASM Master Trainer

Best Selling Author, Get Me Skinny

 

PS: Don’t forget your FREE Stretch Guide.

 

References:

  1. Alvarez, D. J., & Rockwell, P. G. (2002, February 15). Trigger points: Diagnosis and management. American Family Physician65(4), 653–661. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0215/p653.html
  2. Bron, C., & Dommerholt, J. D. (2012, October). Etiology of myofascial trigger points. Current Pain and Headache Reports16(5), 439–444. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3440564/
  3. Coleman, C. (2017, April 18). Triggers points and physical therapy: Striking a nerve in a polarized profession. Retrieved from https://newgradphysicaltherapy.com/trigger-points-physical-therapy-striking/
  4. Knot in your neck? 4 ways to relieve trigger point pain. (2014, May 22). Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/knot-in-your-neck-4-ways-to-relieve-trigger-point-pain/
  5. Myofascial trigger point therapy — what is it? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://namtpt.wildapricot.org/MTPT_What_is_it
  6. Shah, J. P., Thaker, N., Heimur, J., Aredo, J. V., Sikdar, S., & Gerber, L. H. (2016, July 1). Myofascial trigger points then and now: A historical and scientific perspective. PM&R7(7), 746–761. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4508225/
  7.  Clark, M.A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (2012). NASM Essentionals of Personal Fitness Training (4th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
  8. Jensen M, Brant-Zawadzki M, Obuchowski N, et al. Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People Without Back Pain. N Engl J Med 1994; 331: 69-116.
  9. Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Published Online First: 24 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428
  10. Vallfors B. Acute, Subacute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Clinical Symptoms, Absenteeism and Working Environment. Scan J Rehab Med Suppl 1985; 11: 1-98.
  11. The Hidden Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans, United State Bone and Joint Initiative, 2018.
  12. Rubin Dl. Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007; May;25(2):353-71.
  13. Sauver, JL et al. Why patients visit their doctors: Assessing the most prevalent conditions in a defined American population. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 88, Issue 1, 56–67. 
an image of a guy searching for a flat tummy

It was Christmas 2002, I turned on the bathroom lights in the middle of the night only to be startled by the image in the mirror. Yikes, what happened? This must be the exact opposite of a flat tummy. Is my belly folding over my waistband?

Tony Arreola's before picture without a flat tummy

It looks like I’m pregnant, not a good look for a 23-year-old single male. Six-pack abs would be great, but I just want to look less awful. Is less awful a look? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

“I just want to look less awful.”

But, here’s the big lie. Exercises alone will never achieve a flat stomach. Never. Trust me, I’ve tried. I once did 1,000 sit-ups for 7 days because my friend (who was equally chubby) told me Bruce Lee swore by this method. Without question I tried feverishly. My stomach ached for weeks, but sadly, I remained chubby.

Fail.

Not until I became a certified personal trainer with years of experience, I finally discovered how to get a ripped stomach. Like me, you’ve probably tried gimmicks, shortcuts, teas, waist trimmers, pills and everything else in the market. I’m here to help you clear away the nonsense.

For a flat tummy you need to understand a few basics:

The Role of the Stomach
Food Matters (A Lot…)
Fat and Energy
The Different Types of Fat
What’s Bodyfat?
Dropping Bodyfat to Flatten the Belly
Ab Exercises Help Your Core but Flatten Nothing
How to Finally Get a Flat Tummy

The Role of the Stomach

an illustration of a tummy with food inside

The first principle to understand is your stomach. An organ aiding with digestion, it works like a muscle, expanding and contracting to process foods we eat. You can feel when your stomach has too much in it, needing to loosen your pants. You can also feel when you’re hungry and don’t have enough  in your belly.

Although your stomach expands and contracts, the range of the movement is temporary. The movement’s range is small, we’re talking inches. Your stomach isn’t the issue, one single meal isn’t going to help much.

Food Matters (A Lot…)

Trainer Tony Arreola the caveman

The next area to investigate is what you’re eating. What happens when you eat more food than your body needs? But it’s actually not food that matter, is the calories from the chosen food.  First and foremost, you need to understand calories. Calories represent the energy required to keep us alive. Think of it as precious fuel for our body. Back in our hunting days, meals were far and few in between. Humans crave calories, crave food, our human survival system.

 

The real problem arises when we eat more calories than our body needs. After the food goes through the stomach, it enters the digestive area, where valuables like proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and water aid the body. The digestive system will strip all the valuables from our foods. Proteins are the building blocks for your body, carbohydrates are instant energy and fats are stored as a long-time source of energy. But anything your body doesn’t use will be converted and stored as fat in your body.

What?

Fat and Energy

Imagine you’re getting at a campfire. You’re responsible for the fire to burn the entire night. You gather wood, but don’t know exactly how much wood you’ll need for the entire night. You don’t want everyone to be cold, so you make sure to grab enough wood. Your fire starts, the energy starts burning. Throughout the night, you throw more logs into the fire. After the night, all extra logs remain as extra unused energy. All that extra wood is simply extra energy that hasn’t been used. The extra energy is fat on your body. I guess, back in 2002 I was a giant ball of energy.

Visceral Fat and Subcutaneous Fat

Any valuable food your body eats but can’t immediately use will be stored as fat. They mostly accumulate in two places, subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is found under your skin, while visceral fat collects within the abdomen in the spaces around organs.

Visceral Fat

The visceral fat is the dark, yucky fat surrounding your abs. This is where that blasted fat tummy first appears. Unhealthy visceral fat needs to be removed. But because of its location, it’s hard to measure our visceral fat. Luckily, subcutaneous fat’s location helps us get a measurement… (“Whohooo, lucky us” said no one ever.)

What’s Bodyfat?

Go ahead and pinch your skin. The stuff under your skin that isn’t muscle is fat. Anything you can grab but can’t move is subcutaneous fat. This is your bodyfat, as trainers we measure bodyfat with calipers. We take a one-inch pinch on four sites on your body, add up the numbers, crosscheck with a bodyfat table to get your bodyfat percentage. Some scales can also check your bodyfat with impedance. Your numbers will vary, but the lower the bodyfat, the less fat you have, the less visceral fat and (drum-roll please…)

The lower the bodyfat, the flatter the stomach

Dropping Bodyfat Flattens the Tummy

Here it is! Your recipe to a flatter tummy. To flatten the stomach, all you need to drop your bodyfat. That’s it. You can perform crunches, sit-ups and planks all day long. But if your bodyfat doesn’t drop low enough, you’ll never reap the benefits of your hard work. Your rock-hard abs will be covered in a marshmallow layer of fat. Which means no flat tummy ☹

Ab Exercises Strengthen Your Core, but Flatten Nothing

You can perform dozens of exercises for your tummy. This will make you feel better, but you’ll look the same. At least the ab work strengthens your core. Your core is vital for everyday life. Unfortunately, no matter how cool the ab exercise is…it will do NOTHING to make your tummy look flatter. Sad, but true.

How To Finally Get a Flat Tummy

Focus on your caloric intake, eating less calories than your body burns. The best exercise is the one where you go to the grocery store, buy and eat the right foods. Perform total body exercises focusing on the major muscle groups, while keeping the core (abs) engaged. Focus on the energy intake and energy expenditure.

Personal Trainer Tony Arreola showing a flat tummy

No matter what anyone tells you, the best and only way to flatten your stomach is by focusing on your energy balance. How many calories you’re eating versus how many calories you’re burning. By dropping bodyfat you WILL get your tummy flatter. The days of being scared to turn on the bathroom lights are finally over for me. But I want to share the same success with you.

 

I know the truth can be hard to hear. I went through this process myself. I’m an engineer, so I’m always looking for the fastest, simplest way. Unfortunately for your flat tummy, this won’t work. I fell for the Bruce Lee 1,000 daily sit-ups. My stomach and pride were hurt. What kind of silly things have you done to get that coveted waistline? Please share with me in the comments.

Tony Arreola
NASM Master Trainer
Author, Get Me Skinny

PS: Have you downloaded your FREE Guide to a Flat Tummy yet?

 

References:

1. Clark, M.A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (2012). NASM Essentionals of Personal Fitness Training (4th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

2. Your digestive system and how it works. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/yrdd. Retrieved 9/21/2019

3. Mason JB. Mechanisms of nutrient absorption and malabsorption. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Retrieved 9/21/2019

4. Johnson LR, et al. Physiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Retrieved 9/21/2019

5. Hall JE. Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2011. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Retrieved 9/21/2019

6. What I need to know about bowel control. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/bowelcontrol_ez/index.aspx.

7. Marcia Wade. Web MD “The Risks of Belly Fat — and How to Beat Them” Retrieved 9/21/2019 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/the-risks-of-belly-fat#1

a photo of a full body exercise

“What’s really the best full body workout?”still chubby personal trainer Tony Arreola

I asked my buddy David at the gym. It was 2003, we’d been working out for a few weeks without seeing any results. I was growing impatient. Does David even know what he’s doing? I desperately needed to drop the fat. But everyone had different answers, different full body workouts, different everything. How can everyone have different opinions? I needed a simple way to finally get the results I dreamed about. Does anyone know the answer? Imagine my anger when I discovered the truth about the fitness lies…

That’s when my fitness journey began.

Three years earlier in 2000, I set foot inside my first official gym. The place was intimidating. Everyone moved with purpose. I felt nervous, anxious, like I didn’t belong. The junior high school dance all over again.

A confused man looking for the best full body workout

I was lost.

So I did what any other rational human being would do. I copied the ones that looked like they knew what they were doing. (Bad Idea #1)

I worked out for over 2 hours that ill-fated day. (Bad Idea #2) Moving mindlessly from equipment to equipment, trying to read the instructions without looking like I’m reading the instructions.

The next day everything hurt. Obviously, good, right? No pain, no gain. Except it meant no more workouts. I would go for a couple days, and then miss weeks, sometimes months.

Listening to my friend’s advice didn’t get me any worthwhile results.

Magazines (Bad Idea #3)

Welp, that didn’t last. Every month, a “new latest and greatest workout” would be released. But after a few months, the exercises looked oddly similar. Burned again.

After two years of listening to nonsense and countless bad ideas (I stopped counting after ten.) I decided to become a certified personal trainer. Surely, I would find the answers here.

And I did.

Jeff Kryel (one of my fitness heroes) helped me learn the basics of fundamental movement. Exercise involves movement. But, exercise only benefits you if performed properly. Here’s the most valuable information from my first personal training certification.

24 Hour Fitness Logo

 

Everything You Need to Know About Full Body Exercise

“Why do we need to work out the muscles anyways?” I asked in personal training class.

Muscles are the focal point of resistance training, weight training, and core training. These are all names for the same process. Resistance training provides external resistance to the muscle being used. The ‘resistance’ is the external force added to the movement. Anything can provide external resistance: machines,barbells, dumbbells, and your own body. The added external resistance stimulates the muscle tissue. It breaks down (tears) the muscle tissue for repair.” Jeff replied.

Oh, that makes way more sense. That’s where all the different names come from.

“We tear down the muscle to rebuild it? How does this benefit us?”

“Resistance training tears down the muscle tissue, by overloading the muscle with added resistance (weights, bodyweight, etc.) These microtears cause some soreness. The microtears go through a repair cycle. This is when and where muscle growth occurs. The body adapts to the new demand on the muscles.”

“Do we want muscle microtears?”

“The breakdown and repair cycle make our muscles, bones, joints and minds stronger. The inflammation triggers cell regeneration, keeping you young, fit and healthy. Resistance training forces your body to recover.”

When we don’t weight train, our muscles and bones become weak. Weight training breaks down muscle tissue, forcing it to rebuild. Once rebuilt, your muscles will be a little stronger. As we continue working, eventually your body becomes stronger.

“What’s the best full body workout?” I asked.

“That depends.”

Not the answer I was looking for.

Full Body Movement (Motor Patterns)personal trainer Tony Arreola performing a full body exercise

“First, you need to understand motor patterns or mechanics. These are a fancy way of saying how your body moves. If you do a chest press, do you feel it in your chest? Most beginners don’t know how to “feel” an exercise in a certain spot. They remember the slogan, ‘no pain, no gain.’ Which is wrong. You need to feel the right muscle turning on at the right time (mechanics.) The correct muscles need to fire with a controlled movement.”

You lost me, Jeff.

Turning Off the Wrong Muscles

“Only the intended muscles need to work. Muscles like your neck, shoulders etc. need to be off. When performing exercise correctly, ONLY the intended muscle and your core activate. The rest of your muscles remain idle. Correct mechanics are difficult to develop by yourself. The ‘feel’ of the exercise is specific.”

“What do you mean by ‘feel?’”

“For example, when I perform a back row, I feel it only in my back. The intended muscle and a little in my arms (primary, secondary mover.) My neck and shoulders aren’t engaged. Most beginners feel this exercise in their arms, shoulders and neck. They don’t feel anything in their back, nothing.”

“What if I don’t FEEL it, where I NEED it?”

“This is common and means the primary mover, one of the biggest calorie burning pieces of machinery isn’t working. The muscle we’re targeting isn’t turning on. Yeah, that’s a major problem. The right mechanics can be developed by understanding what muscles need to be turned on and what muscles need to be turned off.”

“How do I tell my muscles to move?”

“Muscles only move by responding to a signal from the brain (neural activation.) The brain sends a message to the muscle telling it to activate or to relax. Muscles can only squeeze or relax. Muscles attach to bones, by squeezing the muscle it pulls/pushes/rotates the bones creating movement.”

“Why am I supposed to care?”

“If you work out your back, but can’t feel your back working, then you’re NOT working out.”

Rats.

Perform the Exercise (Form)

“Whether you’re standing, sitting, or laying, you need to be in proper alignment. During our workout, we need our posture to be in a good soldier-like position.

Proper Posture: head back, chin tucked in, ear over the shoulder, tail bone tucked in, back perfectly flat

Having good posture is the first step in having good mechanics. It will also help avoid potential injuries.”

 

How Many Times Should I Do the Exercise (Repetitions)?

Jeff gave me the standard answer. And after years of field practice, I disagree. I don’t believe in a set number of repetitions. I’ve never used a number, but I have found a range to be most effective. Muscles respond to force and time of exertion. There is no exact number, so a range works best. For muscle growth, you need to be in the lower range (heavy weight.) (8-12) 3-4 sets. For most people, 3 sets in the range of (8-12) works. Beginners need to stay in the (12-15) range.

Why, and who is a beginner?

If you think you’re a beginner, then for sure you’re a beginner. Beginners don’t have full control over exercise movements. Ex: if you’re doing a dumbbell press and the dumbbells are shaky (quite common) then you’re a beginner. Don’t worry about being a beginner. No matter what anyone says we all started as beginners.
When I first learned these topics, I gladly tried them all. But a lot of what I was taught didn’t apply in the “real world.”

Here’s another example where the textbooks can lead you down the wrong path.

 

How Fast Should I Go?

You’re talking about tempo, which is hard to apply. Much too complicated for such little rewards. Speed only requires common sense. To maximize resistance, we need to minimize momentum. The movement needs to be a smooth, clean, and consistent movement with no jerking. It should continue smoothly throughout the repetition and the set. This should be your tempo for most of your exercises. Tempo only changes during an isometric movement (static or no movement) like a plank. Or while performing explosive movements. Great for advanced athletes. But most of us can stay in the slow, controlled tempo. Trust me, one less thing to worry about.

What the books fail to mention can hurt you. I’m talking about momentum.

 

Stop Using Momentum

When you swing the weight, it’s called momentum. It’s a way to cheat. Not only are you cheating yourself, but you’re risking injury. Common uses of momentum in the gym are performed by guys during arm curls, they’ll swing their backs to swing a heavier weight. Measuring their strength by the number on the dumbbell. But muscles don’t recognize numbers.

Muscles only respond to resistance. To maximize resistance, stop swinging or jerking the weights.

Momentum is hurting not helping you.

Anyways, back to my personal training class.

 

Proper Breathing

“When Should I Breathe?” Another trainer in class asked.

“Always. When you perform an exercise, constant air flow maximizes results.

For maximum results. Don’t hold your breath.

Most exercises move in opposite ways (in and out or up and down.) Whether you breathe in during the up phase or during the down phase doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you’re breathing. Make sure the breathing is constant,” Jeff answered.

Slowly the fitness lights turned on.

I was proud of my week long personal training certification, I understood how and why we move. My training class taught me good form and a proper foundation. But I needed more, much more.

It was 2002, I was a rookie personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness at UC Irvine, AND I knew it all… (Don’t we all at 23 years old?)chubby personal trainer Tony Arreola

I started working out with trainers, but I noticed a problem. The trainers picked they’re own workouts based on what they liked to do. Not what the client needs or wants

Common Personal Trainer Example:

If Sarah like to do butt exercises, then guess what? All her clients did butt exercises.
If Justin liked to push the sled, then all his clients pushed the sled.

 

???

I watched every single trainer train. I wondered about the training rationale. We weren’t taught any of that in class. My first real lesson in theory versus application. Why did we learn all those exercises anyways? My body changed some, but I still didn’t see the results I wanted. The cover of Men’s Health still eluded me.

So many exercises, which ones do I pick?

Every trainer had a different answer, and their exercises were always the best. This was frustrating not to mention wrong.

I spent 7 years at 24 Hour Fitness, working my way from rookie personal trainer to Fitness Manager all the way up to General Manager. I worked at 6 different gyms with hundreds of personal trainers. A key part of my job was developing rookie trainers. In October 2007, I remember a rookie trainer named Kaycee asked me that same haunting question,

“What’s the best full body workout?”

After years of fitness, I still didn’t know the answer. I had an epiphany. Let’s not guess anymore, let’s measure.
In those times, we used the BodyBugg (the world’s most accurate calorie tracker) Later bought by Jawbone and discontinued ☹

Calorie Burning Tests

We began the fitness tests. We tested the number of calories burned during each exercise. The trainers checked compound movements, isolated movements, and circuits. The experiment tested male, females, big and small clients. I couldn’t wait to see the results.

The data completed changed my approach to training.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was here in 2005, I discovered my future company’s Total Body Project’s Big Three.

Most clients want to lose weight. Logically, the best total body workout would be the workout burning the max number of calories in the shortest amount of time.
The data was clear, the rationale simple, target the bigger muscles.

Two years later another rookie trainer asked me, that same question.

“What’s the most effective workout for fat loss?”

After 10 years of experience, 5 certifications, 2 degrees and success with hundreds of clients. I finally knew the correct answer.

Which Full Body Exercises to Perform

The most effective fat loss workout is a full body circuit, a total body project. This type of workout ensures our heart rate operates at the target heart rate (higher heart rate means more calories burned.) By focusing on the biggest muscles, we guarantee you burn the max number of calories in the shortest time. A circuit focused on the chest, back, and legs burns the greatest number of calories.

I don’t know why we complicate fitness? I really don’t. Here’s your definitive full body workout guide. These are the exercises you should do, the muscles you should target, and the muscles to avoid. Most people fail in fitness because they aren’t consistent. They fail because the lose the motivation. Keep fitness simple, focus on major movements, and remember most aesthetic changes will come from your diet.

The Definitive Full Body Workout Guide: TBP’s Big Three

Get Your Free Workout Guide

#1 Full Body Primary Muscle: ChestFull Body Mover Number 1: the chest muscle

Pectorals: A large muscle that inserts on the front of your shoulder and into your clavicle. It burns a considerable number of calories. Our total body circuit always includes a pushing exercise using the chest.

Things to Know About the Chest Muscle

Females typically have a harder time activating this muscle. Push-ups are for boys, is the classic saying. But all females need to develop working chest muscles. Females can perform push-ups even better than the boys.

If you’re new to resistance training, it’s typical to feel the exercise in your shoulders and in the neck area. Corrective stretching will help you establish the correct movement patterns.

Exercises: Presses, Flys, Mountain Climbers, Assisted Push Ups, Push Ups, Presses (Chest Machine, Barbell, Dumbbells)

How To Perform

Chest Press: Make sure wrists are straight, maintain proper alignment throughout the exercise. Relax your neck and shoulders. Tighten the abs. Visualize the chest muscle lengthening and contracting.

Common Mistakes: Arching the low back, bringing the head forward.

Chest Flys: Tighten the abs, relax the neck, lock the elbows and bring the arms together in an arch. Beginners should start with flys, until they can properly feel the muscle engage (tighten/squeeze).

Common Mistakes: Arching the low back, bringing the head forward, not locking out the elbows.

Mountain Climbers: Bring the knees up, slightly touch the toes higher and return, maintain consistent tempo. This is good beginner core exercise to help develop chest strength.

Common Mistakes: Shoulders should not go past 90 degrees, look for a right angle. If this exercise is too difficult or performed improperly, low back pain can occur.

 

Full Body Mover Number 2: the back muscle#2 Full Body Primary Muscle: Back

Lattisimus Dorsi: A big muscle originating at the bottom of our spine and inserting on the front part of our arms. The back is a huge mover that approximately 70% of females and 50% of males don’t properly engage. The back muscle is a pulling muscle. This means we engage the muscle by pulling anything towards you.

Things to Know About the Back Muscle

The back is a strange muscle to use. We instinctively know how to use our arms, but our back? When we start with a row or a pull-down we rely only on our arms. It’s only through proper mechanics the back muscle can be engaged. A proper pull will have little feeling on your arms while most of the tension will be on the back muscle.

Exercises: Lat Pull Down, Pull-over, Row

Lat Pull-Down: Think of pulling the bar apart. Try to bring the elbow toward your ribs. Visualize the movement and think of breaking the bar apart.

Pull-Over: Arms perfectly straight. Any slight bend in the arm causes the tension to go to the triceps (back of the arm). Pull with your arm pits. Under the muscle.

Row: My favorite back exercise, keeping the abs tight, pretend you’re squeezing a pencil with your shoulder blades. Pin the shoulders back. And squeeze the back muscle. The major benefit of the row exercise is it can be combined with another one of the big three movers for even more caloric expenditure. Rows are great for lunges, squats, and single leg exercises. Making this circuit one of the biggest calories burning combinations possible.

Common Mistakes: Sometimes I see females performing a bent over row with a light dumbbell. This may look like a good move. But the problem is the back muscle is too strong for the light dumbbell. The movement works but with more weight. The back muscle is quite strong and if you only use five pounds, it doesn’t really benefit you.

Full Body Mover Number 3: the leg muscles#3 Full Body Primary Muscle: Legs

Quadricepts/Biceps Femoris:  Huge muscles consisting of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The front of the leg, the back of the leg and the butt.

The final and biggest muscle of the Big Three. We need to work all of these muscles to get results. Yes, guys you also must work the legs and no…walking doesn’t count. The movements need to provide external resistance. Legs are crucial because they’re a versatile muscle requiring large amounts of blood and oxygen to perform exercises. You can combine leg movements with any muscle. You’ll burn more calories exercising your legs. Legs are a great way to add some of the nice-to-have muscles, arms (front of the arms, back of the arms.)

Things to Know About the Leg Muscles

Lunges and squats are incredibly versatile exercises. Be careful with knees, ankles and position. Be extra careful with plate loaded exercises. Exercises with a heavy bar across your neck increase the pressure on the joints. Any error in the movement and you can hurt your fragile back. You probably want to keep your back healthy for walking, living, and stuff.

Squats: The correct form on a squat is the most difficult movement to master: tail bone tucked in, abs tight, keep the back straight, chin tucked in, head aligned with the body, don’t bend past 90, and feet hip joint apart. 

Exercises: Ball Squat, Wall Sit

Lunges: Push through the ground, through the ground like you pushing the ground away from you. Foot flat and driving through the heel activating your butt.

Variations and Progressions: Lunge to 1–leg Balance, Box Lunges, Jump Lunges, Push Back Lunges

 

“But what about my abs?”

 

Always Include Abs

Abs are the sexy muscle everyone gravitates to. How can I get my abs of steel? Sadly, crunches won’t do it, trust me, I’ve tried. Abs are a smaller muscle group perfect to use with all movements. But, there’s no magic ab exercise to flatten your tummy, sorry. To achieve a perfect waistline, focus on removing the fat covering your abs. This can ONLY happen by lowering your bodyfat enough for the abs to be seen.

But which ab exercises are the best?

Fine, there’s basically two: crunches and planks.

Crunch: The floor crunch. Back perfectly flat, tuck your tail bone under you, and activate your abs. Hold your neck for support and keep the abs tight on the way up and down.

Plank: Best exercise for abs, but be careful when performing exercise. Make sure you are in the correct position, spine parallel to the ground, feet hip joint apart, Don’t let your low back drop. Squeeze your abs and your butt, elbows 90 degrees, chin tucked in, aligned with ear. You shouldn’t feel any pain in your low back.

The best way to work your abs is by combining core-training or functional training with your program. By using core-training, you will engage your abs, and work a bigger muscle, giving you more bang for your buck.

“What about the other muscles, like arms, back of my arms?” Jessica my client asked me.

The best way I know how to explain our solution is by grouping the exercises into nice-to-haves and have-to-haves.

 

Nice-to-Haves vs Have-to-Haves

The nice-to-have exercises consists of muscle groups not yielding as great results as the Big Three. The Big Three’s Have-To-Have Movements also use the secondary, nice-to-have muscles. The have-to-haves get you the results, the nice-to-haves make you feel good about your workout, but aren’t as beneficial. Most exercises have primary and secondary movers involved, so working the have-to-have muscles naturally include the nice-to-have muscles.

Example:

The chest (have-to-have) also uses the triceps(nice-to-have) and the shoulders (nice-to-have.)
The back(have-to-have) also uses biceps(nice-to-have.)
The legs use your quads (have-to-have)hamstrings (have-to-have) and glutes(nice-to-have.)
Focusing on the have-to-have muscles also works the nice-to-have muscles. But with the focus on the bigger, more productive muscles, you can achieve your goal faster.

Alright now for the good stuff. For maximum fat loss perform full body workouts.

 

Full Body Workouts – Combination Exercises

In resistance training, the bigger muscle groups burn 3-4 times the calories as the smaller groups. Don’t waste your time with triceps or calve workouts. Training smaller muscle groups is a giant waste of time. It’s hard enough to workout, working out with no results is a recipe for disaster. Motivation waivers, if you don’t see results, you’ll quit…again. Don’t quit again, focus on a full body, core-training circuit to see the most benefits.

Which Exercises Should I Pick?

There are thousands of exercises in the world, wait, let me clarify, there are thousands of VARIATIONS of the same exercises. This is crucial to understand; the actual movement of the muscle doesn’t change. Think about it, muscle connects to bone, connects to another bone and can only contract (squeeze) or relax. This means you’ll hear a lot of exercise noise. There’s little variation in this area, don’t get caught up in the latest trends (CrossFit, bootcamps, butt workouts.) The fundamentals for resistance training have always remained the same. If you look at the arm muscle, you can only squeeze it, or relax it, that’s it. Do you think it matters if you’re sitting, standing or lying down?

Exercises are like screwdrivers.

image comparing muscle movement to screwdrivers

A screwdriver only works a certain way. Even if you use it facing up, facing down, under a sink, in car, the screwdriver still works exactly the same way. The function of the tool doesn’t change because you change the position of the movement.

Don’t fall for the hype, muscles only move in a limited number of ways. Keeping the movement simple ensures a safe, proper, and effective workout. The most important element in resistance training is feeling the exercise in the proper spot.

Feel It Where You Need It

Without this feeling, you’re not getting any benefit from working out.

There will always be a new fad, a new butt workout, a new whatever. These “new” exercises are nothing new, they’re merely variations of the same exercise for the same muscle. Simplify before you complicate. Is it really the lack of knowing thousands of exercises that’s keeping you from achieving the body of your dreams?

 

Start with Machines

Machines are best to learn correct movements because they force you to move in one direction. It’s harder to mess up the exercise. Machines help a beginner develop the proper movement, it can also help seasoned users add more weight without adding potential injury.

Progress Slowly

Once you have mastered machines, start using cables, bosus, balls, TRX, etc. No on ever failed in fitness because their workout wasn’t complicated, no one. I’ve personally helped many achieve incredible success. We succeeded because of discipline and consistency. Keep it simple, basic, and consistent.

 

Exercises to Avoid

Sit-Ups

Please don’t do sit-ups, it’s an old-school exercise that’s bad for your back. Perform crunches instead. The have the same benefit but won’t destroy your lower back. Not all pain is good, and some id very bad.

Leg Raises

Be careful with leg raises. Most people I see trying to do this movement, shouldn’t. They arch their back, causing pain to their lower back.
Pro Tip: If your low back hurts during ANY ab exercise, you’re doing it wrong, or more likely, your body isn’t ready for that movement.

No pain, no gain?

Wrong. Pain sucks.

 

Muscle Pain Versus Pain

Pain isn’t needed in your exercise routine. A crucial difference exists between muscle pain and pain. Proper pain is muscular. It will be on the muscle. The muscle is anything you can squeeze (contract.) So, if your arm hurts, it should be the muscle part, where you can flex. And not the elbow, wrist, or anything that isn’t muscular. Tendons, ligaments don’t “squeeze” so they should NEVER hurt during a workout. Same goes for ankles, low back, and shoulder joints.

Problems with Low Back Pain

Anytime your core is placed in a compromising position: ie plank, or leg raises. The muscles holding you up are the abs and butt. But if you’re too tired, if the muscles aren’t strong enough, your core gives up and your low back jumps in. You’ll feel excruciating pain. There should never be any low back pain when working out…ever. Avoid all exercises causing low back pain immediately. Movements causing your low back to be sore are wrong. The low back (erector spinae) is a delicate muscle used to support your body, don’t hurt it, you’ll regret it.

How To Perform A Big Three Full Body Circuit Training Program

Get Your Free Workout Guide

Pick 3 Exercises: a pushing (chest) exercise, a pulling (back) exercise, and a leg exercise
Combine Into a Circuit: Do a set of each with no rest in between
And Ta-Dah! You’re done.

Why does the fitness industry make it so complicated?
It’s just what we do ☹

 

Total Body ProjectTotal Body Project Logo

In 2009, I left 24 Hour Fitness and started Total Body Project. Here the pressure was on. Going from a comfortable living to making zero dollars can force major changes. Although I knew the formula for exercising, I never really buckled down on the nutrition. Good enough, wasn’t good enough when you’re the face of the brand.
Even though I knew the exercises, it wasn’t until I mastered the mind, I finally achieved the body of my dreams. You know the exercises, a part of the answer, but only a part. Now, you need to learn the MAD Plan to master your mind. Don’t waste 19 years looking for answers, I’ve found them. Learn from my mistakes, and get that body you want and deserve.

Tony Arreola

NASM Master Trainer

Best Selling Author, Get Me Skinny

 

PS: Don’t forget your  FREE WORKOUT GUIDE

 

References:

  1.  Clark, M.A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G. (2012). NASM Essentionals of Personal Fitness Training (4th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
  2.  Robin Huw Crompton, David M. Warshaw, Norman R. Alper, Warren F. Walker, Robert E. Davies, John Gergely. Muscle Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/muscle on Sept 28, 2019
  3. Jennifer R. Scott. How to Start Resistance Training Retrieved from https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-resistance-training-3496094 Aug 13, 2019
  4. Gabriel, D. D. (2006). Neural adaptations to resistive exercise: mechanisms and recommendations for training practices. Sports Medicine, 133-149.
  5. Shield, D. A. (2004). Assessing voluntary muscle activation with the twitch interpolation technique. Sports Medicine, 253-267.
  6. Brett and Kate McKay. The Ultimate Guide to Posture March 8, 2016 from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-ultimate-guide-to-posture/ Retrieved on Aug 12, 2019
  7. Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Momentum.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/momentum
  8. Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Pectoral.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pectorals
  9. Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Pectoral.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/latissimus%20dorsi
  10. Muscles https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/leg-muscles#1 Retrieved on Aug 13, 2019