The Ultimate New Year’s Resolution Checklist For Fitness Fanatics
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, you’re likely to see quite a few goals that involve weight loss, body composition targets, and PR’s on various compound lifts. While there’s nothing wrong with these objectives, I want to provide 10 different types of New Year’s resolution goals, specifically those that involve more subtle yet undervalued training components for advanced lifters, athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and general populations.
1. Avoid Injuries and Train Pain Free
If you’re truly looking to optimize your health, performance, fitness, physique, and overall physiological function, the goal for any lifter and athlete moving into 2019 should be to avoid injuries and train in a pain free manner. Recent research on pain science and body mechanics suggests that a majority of the musculoskeletal pain, discomfort, and injuries we experience is directly related to our body mechanics. Read more about pain science and body mechanics here.
With that said, nothing brings your training progress to a halt faster than injuries, pain, tweaks, and joint trauma. Yes, this goal of minimizing pain and injuries is easier said than done particularly if you train under high intensity and high load conditions, however, there are various steps that can be taken to ensure success.
2. Improve your Technique, Body Mechanics, and Muscle Function
Improving your body mechanics, eliminating dysfunction, and cleaning up your movement patterns is probably the single most effective training strategy you can have not only for maximizing joint health and injury prevention but also for optimizing your physique, strength, muscularity, and performance. That’s because proper mechanics allow the individual to properly target their muscles and stimulate functional strength and size with each and every repetition rather than using garbage reps which destroy the joints. Read more about maximizing your reps here and about improving body mechanics and muscle function in my book Movement Redefined.
3. Eliminate Asymmetries and Imbalances
Similar to the previously mentioned goals, eliminating asymmetries and imbalances is another critical component for maximizing progress in the gym while avoiding injuries, pain, and training stagnation. While achieving perfect symmetry and balance is impossible, when there are significant imbalances in the body this inevitably leads to further degradation of body mechanics and various compensation patterns that over time can trigger a number of musculoskeletal and physiological repercussions.
One of the best ways to prevent this is to slow your movements down by incorporating eccentric isometrics into unilateral exercise variations (i.e. single arm and single leg exercises) which brings me to my next point.
4. Train with Eccentric Isometrics
I’ve been in this industry for over 15 years and I can honestly say beyond a shadow of a doubt that eccentric isometrics are the single most effective training method in existence. Here are two of my NFL athletes demonstrating a proper eccentric isometric single leg squat.
The reason eccentric isometrics are so effective is due to the emphasis on the slow and controlled eccentric phase (as well as the pause in the stretched position) that optimizes sensory feedback from muscles spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms. This maximizes kinesthetic awareness and sense of feel to the point that the lifter can fine-tune their mechanics and master their movement. As a result this not only places the greatest stress on the targeted musculature but it also minimizes injuries, inflammation, and joint trauma as the body is able to learn the most efficient way to move that transfers to all aspects of life. Read more mastering your movement with eccentric isometrics in my new book Movement Redefined.
5. Master The Big 7 Foundational Movement Patterns
Learning to master foundational movement patterns such as the “BIG 7” which include the squat, hinge, lunge, horizontal pull, horizontal push, vertical pull, and vertical push will do more for your training than focusing on any other exercises. Once you become efficient at foundational movement patterns not only will you have gained an incredible amount of functional strength and size from doing so but your body will be ready any physical task, sport, activity, or challenge your throw at it. And yes mastering the “Big 7” is most effectively accomplished by employing eccentric isometrics. Read more about Mastering the “Big 7” here.
6. Train Full Body More Frequently
Another critical component for mastering one’s movement revolves around repeatedly practicing and frequently training the foundational movement patterns. In other words, perfect practice makes perfect. However, to insure your body doesn’t break down from such frequent implementation of compound movements requires the incorporation of eccentric isometrics into one’s training as this allows the lifter to train at a higher frequency while maximizing recovery and minimizing joint stress. As an added bonus, recent research suggests that higher frequency training involving full body routines may provide superior results to split routines in terms of muscle growth, strength gains, and body composition as well as hormonal changes. Read more about training frequency, periodization, programming, and more here.
7. Become More Efficient at Eyes-Closed Strength Training
Eyes-closed training is something I frequently incorporate with all of my clients and athletes. That’s because it improves movement mechanics and muscle function.
In fact I’ve seen it do wonders for my clients and athletes almost immediately. The reason for this is that closing your eyes on any exercise forces your muscle spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms to work overtime in order to stabilize the movement and control the load. In other words it teaches the lifter to rely more on kinesthetic awareness rather than sight. Instead of watching your way through the movement, feel your way through the movement. This is further emphasized when combined with eccentric isometric protocols. Learn more about eyes closed training here.
8. Improve Your Foot and Ankle Mechanics
Foot and Ankle Training is one of the most neglected components of strength and performance. If the feet and ankles aren’t functioning properly (which most individual’s are not) then all components of movement performance, strength, and fitness, are compromised. Simply put if the feet and ankles are out of sync it will be impossible to perform any lower body exercise correctly. You’ll be squatting, hinging, lunging, jumping, running, and even walking with faulty mechanics which can lead to a number of potential injuries throughout the kinetic chain.
While there are a number of drills and exercises I use to address this, for this one movement I frequently implement a drill I refer to as the single leg swap/single leg switch. Since introducing this exercise to the fitness community several years ago on T-Nation, it’s gained great popularity in mainstream strength and conditioning settings as well as physical therapy circles. That’s because it’s one of the most effective drills for correcting various forms of foot dysfunction.
Here’s one of my awesome clients and national figure competitor demonstrating an advanced variation as she holds a single leg eccentric isometric squat.
Make it a goal in 2019 to master your foot and ankle mechanics and watch your quality of movement improve immensely. To learn more about fixing your feet and ankles check out my Ultimate Foot and Ankle Manual.
9. Improve Your Posture
Whether we want to admit it or not posture plays a critical role in musculoskeletal health and overall physiological function. Up until recently this argument was based primarily on anecdotal evidence. However, recent scientific research has demonstrated that posture and spinal alignment have an even greater impact on injuries, pain, inflammation, and muscle function than previously thought. Here’s an example of a posture enhancing rowing exercise as demonstrated by one of my MLB pro baseball players Austin Meadows.
Besides working on your spinal alignment and positioning during your resistance training and exercise regiment, implementing a handful of postural drills per day can do wonders for enhancing your spinal alignment and overall health. Try performing single leg stands, eccentric isometrics bodyweight squats, bodyweight hinges, band rows, and bodyweight lunges periodically throughout the day. Also avoid sitting for longer than 60 minutes at one time without moving around and addressing postural mechanics for at least 30 seconds. Learn more about the impact of posture on pain and injuries here.
10. Eliminate Foam Rolling, Soft Tissue Work, & Stretching
This is something I’ve addressed over the years but it’s worth repeating. If you have to foam roll, stretch, massage, and perform various forms of soft tissue work on a consistent basis this is a strong indication your movement patterns and muscle function are producing inflammation, tightness, and muscular spasticity. Contrary to what the fitness industry would have you believe, this is anything but normal and should never be accepted as common practice. Performing these various forms of “supposed” therapeutic modalities is a common case of treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Fix your movement patterns, eliminate dysfunction, and watch the symptoms fade.
On a similar note, I’ve been asked quite a bit over the last few years why I never post videos on foam rolling, corrective exercises, soft tissue work, stretches, mobility drills, and joint mobilization exercises. The reason is simple. I never use them on myself or my clients as they simply have no need for these suboptimal methods as their body’s don’t require any such modalities. All of the therapeutic benefits they need are produced from properly executed foundational movements. If in fact my clients needed any of the above mentioned modalities it would simply be an indication that something is amiss with their training and body mechanics.
If you really want to enhance your quality of movement try incorporating eccentric isometrics on foundational movement patterns into your routine. This will provide better therapeutic benefits than foam rolling, soft tissue work, and stretching without the negative repercussions of repeatedly desensitizing your muscle spindles and pain receptors from over-manipulation - an unfortunate side effect of foam rolling and stretching. Learn more about detecting dysfunctional movement patterns here.