Do You See What I See?

Burpees

Learning Series:

Do You See What I See?

For the uninitiated, the word BURPEES sounds more like something a newborn does.

Burpees, in fact, is a compound exercise. A compound exercise, is an exercise that involves more than one major muscle group and more than one joint at a time, such as the Squat. Burpees is a four or five part exercise involving different compound exercises. In contrast to an isolation exercise, which focuses on one muscle group and one joint at a time, for example: the bicep curl.

an exercise of biceps

an exercise of biceps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have not been following a regular exercise program or feel very out of shape, I would NOT recommend starting with Burpees. I would direct you to my 4 Minute Morning Progression Series, which teaches the foundation exercises for Burpees over the course of 14 weeks. As a result of following the graduated program, the body’s joint systems (ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage) will adapt to these movements. Learning this way allows us to focus on each part of the compound exercise, which will ensure good alignment so that when we put all the parts together, we won’t become sloppy.

When we exercise with good alignment, our movement becomes more efficient. When we move efficiently, we reduce wear and tear on our joints and muscles, which in turn supports a faster reaction time and optimal performance. Exercising longer, while out of alignment – though it may feel good mentally to know that we have burned a certain amount of calories – the end result, being the attack on our joints and muscles and skeletal system will have negated the effort in the first place. Exercise, whether for weight loss, maintenance or for peak sport performance, requires a delicate balance in many areas.

We may be able to fool our MIND,

with supplements or secret training practices,

but the BODY cannot be fooled.

Train smart, right from the start. Less is more. If we exercise with precision of movement as our primary focus, and be consistent, the results will come.

 “Build it, and they will come.”

-(Field of Dreams)

I’ve put together a little instructional video, which explains a common mistake that I was making. But I only realized that I was making this mistake once I started filming myself. Once again, I would like to encourage you to film yourself so that you can start to analyze how you are moving through your exercises.

I’ve tried to edit this video to keep it as short as possible, but as you may have noticed, I have a lot to say. Also, it is a lot harder (and time consuming) to make instructional videos than it first appears. I used my phone to record this video, though I had both my good camera and phone set up – but would you guess that I didn’t press record on the camera! Anyhow, I hope that it is the content of the video that will provide you with some useful information as opposed to judging it based solely on the lousy quality of the visual product.

For those not able to view the video, I am discussing the breakdown of Burpees. The most common error is to NOT do a complete squat but rather pass through it. The reason most will pass through the squat is due to restricted range of motion at our joints, i.e. tight musculature and fascia. Not performing the squat can lead to rounding from the back, which is not ideal.

There are two squats in Burpees. I have come to know Burpees as detailed below; though some call it Burpees Push Up (because it includes the Push Up). A classic Burpee may be done without the Push Up.

1. Squat

2. Plank

3. Push Up

4. Squat

5. Jump Squat

6. Repeat sequence

Also, I’d like to talk about the placement of our legs during the squat. There is a tendency to do a lot of exercises in a wide stance. This is OK from time to time, but important to understand that in order to develop a well-balanced body, our exercise program has to also be well-balanced. Always doing exercises in a wide stance or that are always recruiting the same muscles is not a well-balanced approach. There really is a science to exercise prescription. Though it can seem unlikely for some, anyone can muster up the drive to work hard. Working hard and for long duration alone, is not what will deliver a functionally fit body. So in my video, I venture to explain, (though very briefly and with basic language in an effort to be understood by everyone), how we should focus on parallel alignment, being the alignment, which is essential for our joints to function optimally. When we walk, the ideal placement is to have our feet and knees aligned in parallel. When we deviate from this tracking, our joints encounter wear and tear. By doing exercise OUT of alignment, our muscles become stronger in this unbalanced pattern, which further contributes to misalignment.

When we have limitation in our joints, our movement is restricted. When our movement is restricted we (unknowingly) compensate, which leads to overuse and contributes to faulty biomechanics.

What can you do?

  • Be consistent with stretches that are specific to YOUR restricted range of motion.

  • Do exercises that will support optimal range of motion in YOUR body.

I have found that when I practice my exercises (be it stairs, swim drills or Burpees), if I focus on precision then I am not able do as much; my weaker muscles will fatigue sooner. This is a good thing. This means that I am strengthening my weaker links. If I continuously train out of alignment and with brute force, then I am just repeating patterns that are only going to take me further from my goals. My goals being: having a body that is aligned and runs efficiently with the least amount of wear and tear.

Please note: when lifting very heavy loads, it is a good idea to take a wider stance for the squat.

Below is the video of me showing how to do a

4 Minute Tabata of Burpees.

8 Rounds of two intervals.

Interval #1 =  10 seconds REST + Interval #2 = 20 seconds Maximum # of Repetitions of Burpees

I was able to complete 4.5 – 4 Burpees during each 20 second interval. Which translates to doing 32 Burpees in 4 Minutes. 

That’s:

  • 64 Squats
  • 32 Planks
  • 32 Push Ups
  • 32 Jump Squats

Wow! I never thought about it like that before! No wonder it does the trick!

Also, I notice that as I get more fatigued I tend to lift my hips UP as I jump back to plank. See if you can spot that. So I will work on keeping my hips more level with the ground as I jump back into plank.

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Chin Ups

The Jenkins film camera

Do You See What I See?

I started filming myself doing some exercises shortly after I started my website, with the intention of developing a series of how-to videos to complement the written instructions that I was posting.  It was quite a shock to see myself. I thought my alignment and technique was better than it is. It just goes to show that knowing something and applying the same principles is very different.

Needless to say, if you are interested in making change and improvements, I highly recommend filming yourself. Watching in the mirror is helpful, and getting corrections from an expert is helpful, but to truly analyze and critique we need to view ourselves from the outside – a bird’s eye view. And practice, practice, practice.

I have years of experience helping other people correct form and technique and in the old days, could only dream of using film as a teaching tool. I knew, that for my clients to be able to understand and apply the corrections I gave them, they really needed to see for themselves what they looked like and what they were doing. Today, with easy access to media, this tool is at our fingertips…amazing!

But what if you don’t even know what you should be looking for once you’ve made your video? Well, you have to start somewhere.

Posture types (vertebral column) classificatio...

Posture types (vertebral column) classification by Staffel. Русский: Типы осанок по Ф. Штаффелю. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Analyzing how your body looks will give you a starting point. Are your shoulders level with each other? Do they round forward? Does your upper back look hunched over – does the head poke forward? Do your feet point outwards? Are your knees knocked together or bowed when standing straight? etc…When we look at other people we naturally and subconsciously critique proportions and symmetry. It is these proportions and balance or lack of, that is pleasing to the eye or not. And it is this alignment, proportion and symmetry, which defines functional movement patterning.

Yet, we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, I have decided to put myself out as an example. I don’t mind showing my faults or where I’ve gone wrong. Sometimes, a bad example is as effective as a good example!

I’ve experimented with a lot of different training techniques over the years and have learned a lot from my mistakes and from many A-Ha!, moments along the way. So here goes…

Take me for example: I am just under 5’5”. I have a very small head in relationship to my frame. So when I was bodybuilding, I looked pretty ridiculous! But I couldn’t see how ridiculous I looked because my focus was to get as muscular as possible (naturally); hence the term muscle head. The first time I noticed how silly I looked was when I saw this photograph of myself (the day I won Ms. Fitness Canada – Toronto – 1994). And this is when I was much less muscular. I had toned down the muscle building when I discovered Fitness Competitions and decided that it might be a more balanced and feminine look for me.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but laugh, because it looks to me like the head just doesn’t belong, as if it has been photo-shopped in.

Anyhow, I still have a pea-sized head! Oh well, some things we just can’t change! Like I say to my kids, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”

This long explanation is meant to prepare you for a series of videos that will use me as a learning example. I will demonstrate what I was doing wrong, relative to my imbalances and how I have gone about making corrections.

The first in the series is the Chin Up. I realize that for many, the chin up is a non-existent exercise and may even seem unattainable. Think of it as a simple example to get the ball rolling in terms of looking at analyzing movement.

About three weeks ago I casually filmed myself (with my phone) doing 5 Forward Grip Pull ups. Complete and utter disbelief when I viewed the footage. No wonder I’m having such difficulty getting my ribs to sit in a neutral position. No wonder my waist looks so short, its like I have been literally sculpting my body into this shape – almost solidifying. Finally, with video, I was able to analyze my own technique. No amount of Rolfing or bodywork can correct my alignment if I continue to undo the physical therapy by repeatedly reinforcing this alignment with such exercises.

It’s like taking one step forward and two steps back.

In the video, you can see (especially pull ups, numbers three to five), each time I do a Pull Up how I contract my latissimus dorsi so much that I am simultaneously thrusting my rib cage forward. This is not helping with my functional alignment. So I then ask myself why am I doing this exercise in the first place? Well, I like to be able to pull my weight. I think it’s important. Ok, fine – but, I tell myself that I can’t continue on like this. So I stopped doing any pull ups for two weeks while I thought about what I was doing to myself. How could I continue to do this exercise without adding to the problem AND not undo the myofascial release work?

It finally dawned on me. I would do Chin-ups with my knees tucked to my chest. The effect of tucking the knees to my chest and attempting to round my lower back (slightly) in the process would cancel out the lats to some extent – IF done properly. Holding knees to chest is difficult to begin with. I can do five, then I take a break and do five more. You can see in the video when I do the chin ups with knees tucked to chest, that in the last two I begin to arch my lower back ever so slightly…as fatigue sets in I naturally revert to my most powerful source and habitual patterning. At this point I am better off to take a break, recover the strength needed to hold a slightly rounded lower back or stop entirely. I will follow this pattern for a while and see where it leads.

I thought about putting my feet on a high stool in front of me as an option if I couldn’t tuck my knees to chest or for when fatigue sets in.

Next is to consider how often I will do this exercise. I have decided that I will do only 5 – 10 reps, three times per week, with one or two days rest in-between. There is also a very important stretch that I have added to my repertoire which encourages the opening and releasing of the fascia around my ribcage. I’ll show that one another time.

But just quickly, while we’re on the subject, I wanted to describe the evolution of my Chin Up:

About three years ago I started working out at the gym, after a long hiatus. (I trained at the gym for about one year before I switched to training at home exclusively). I had gotten back into using weight machines. One day after having built up some strength with the Lat Pull Down machine, I started eyeballing the Pull Up Bar, just maybe I might be ready to try a chin up. I used to do them regularly in my bodybuilding days. But no – nothing. I just hung there. Not a chance. I was hooked, I love a challenge…I would teach myself to do a chin up.

So each time I came to the gym I hung from the pull up bar – and tried. And tried. That was it – nothing – I just hung there trying. Still nothing. After a week of trying, I was able to budge about one inch of the way up. Basically, just isolating my shoulder blades downward. Light bulb moment! This was the first sign of progress. So I kept on with it. Each time I went to the gym, I hung and tried to pull myself up one inch, then one quarter of the way. It worked. After two weeks of trying, I finally did one complete parallel-grip pull up. It just snowballed from there, until I was doing three sets of ten reps. Yes – Three Sets of Ten! But then one day, I looked in the mirror, and gasped…oops, too many pull ups…starting to grow wings. So, I had to have another talk with myself…what exactly are you trying to achieve, Woman!? Right. Why on earth did I NEED to do 3 sets of 10 chin ups every other day? I didn’t. I just liked to. So I re-evaluated and decided that doing five to ten pull ups, once to three times per week was probably sufficient. This way I got my ‘fix’ and still had the strength to do them, to pull my weight when I needed or wanted to, like when I’m at the playground with the kids and want to do monkey bars or D-rings. Oh, and the wings went down.

Which brings us full circle. Back to top.