Archive | Resistance training

woman push ups

Ladder training for muscular endurance

woman push upsMany muscular endurance and conditioning workouts require high volumes of work which, for neophytes and the de-conditioned achieving these numbers, may seem like a very distant goal.

How do you go from only being able to perform a couple of press ups or dips to completing the 100 reps required by some coaches or workouts?


Strength training, like gymnastic training, is part physiological adaptation and part neurological adaptation – by which I mean in many cases the limiting factor is not the size of your muscles but the nervous supply to those muscles.

As strength training is in part a skill, we need to perform repeated movements with sufficient volume to allow the body to learn how to perform the exercises in a skillful coordinated way.

Here in lies the problem – the best was to get better at pull ups is to do lots of them, but if you cant do many in the first place, how do you achieve sufficient volume to get really good at the exercise?

Luckily, the conundrum has a solution – and that solution is called “ladder training”

In a normal workout, our neophyte trainee may manage for example an initial set of 7 pull ups, a second set of 5 and a final set of 3 to give him/her a total workout volume of 15 reps. More volume (repeated efforts) is required to improve the skill of the pull up but insufficient strength makes this a difficult task.

In many strength training circles this principle of repeated efforts to improve specific exercise performance is called “greasing the groove”.

By applying ladder training to our trainees pull ups, our newbie will be doing more volume and therefore more practice and soon be on their way to improving their pull up numbers to a level which was previously an impossible dream!

Ladder Training Protocol.

  • Perform 1 rep of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 2 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 3 reps of the given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds
  • Perform 4 reps of given exercise
  • Rest a few seconds etc.

(Note that rests are intuitive and should only just be long enough to allow the trainee to reach the next rung of the ladder)

Keep adding one rep and resting a few seconds until you are unable to continue i.e. you mange 5 reps, rest a few seconds but cant then manage 6. This is the end of the first set.

Using our previous trainee as an example again, our beginner client manages to ladder up to 5 reps in the first set – giving a rep total for that set of 15 (which is normally the total for their whole work out.)

After 90 seconds rest, they perform ladders again and reach a high of 4 reps – giving a rep total of 10 reps and on their final set managed 3 reps giving a rep total for that set of 6 reps.

So, in total, our trainee will have completed 31 reps of pull ups – 16 reps more than they could normally have achieved!

Ladder training is an excellent tool for increasing overall training volume which can be applied to pretty much any exercise and provides a great way of exposing the trainee to a much higher volume of work than would normally be possible training in a more traditional way. It works very will with  “easy” exercises like bodyweight pull ups, press ups and dips, as well as with traditional resistance exercises like squats, bench press and deadlifts – particularly when utilizing a substantial load. 

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Copy of sit up throw 3

Effective Medicine Ball Exercises

Medicine balls (or med balls as they are sometimes known) are versatile training tools with which you can perform a variety of exercises. Working out with medicine balls is popular amongst sportspeople such as boxers and martial artists as well as regular exercise participants. These exercises are advanced and not suitable for beginners so only perform these hardcore exercises if you believe you are ready to do so safely.

Medicine Ball Slams

This whole-body exercise will strengthen your core and arms and give you a great high-intensity workout. Holding a medicine ball in your hands, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Raise the ball above your head. Initiating the movement by contracting your abs and immediately followed by using your arms, hurl the medicine ball down at the floor about 12” in front of your feet. Catch the ball as it rebounds and repeat. Make sure you are using a non-burst ball for this exercise.

Medicine Ball Thrusters

Using your arms and legs simultaneously, this exercise is an all-round exercise that works lots of your muscles at the same time. With your feet hip-width apart, hold a medicine ball in both hands at chest height. Your hands should be holding the bottom part of the ball and your elbows should be below your hands. Push your hips back, bend your knees and lower your body into a squat position. Immediately drive up out of the squat and push the medicine ball up above your head so that you are stood at full stretch. Lower the ball back to your chest and drop back into the squat and repeat. This exercise can be made harder by adding a jump as you drive out of the squat and push your arms overhead-a truly hardcore exercise!

Medicine Ball Push-ups

Push-ups will develop your chest, shoulders and triceps. Using a medicine ball will make this traditional upper-body exercise into a hardcore challenge. Adopt a regular push-up position but place both hands on the top of a medicine ball. You will need to actively push your hands together to maintain your position. Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, bend your arms and lower your body until your chest touches the ball. Drive back up into the starting position by extending the elbows, making sure you keep your abs tight throughout.

Medicine Ball Sit-up and Throw
This ab power exercise requires the use of a partner. Lie on an exercise mat with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor holding a medicine ball in both hands. Your partner should stand about 10’ from your feet. Sit up and throw the medicine ball to your partner. Try to use your whole body to throw the ball as opposed to sitting up and then throwing the ball. Your partner should catch the ball and quickly return it to you by throwing it to a point in space 12” above your head. Reach up and catch the ball before lowering your body back to the ground and repeating. If you don’t have a training partner available, you can perform this exercise solo by throwing the ball against a sturdy wall.

Copy of sit up throw 3

Medicine Ball Burpees

An exercise for the whole body, medicine ball burpees are a very hardcore conditioning workout! Place the medicine ball on the floor between your feet. Bend down and place your hands on the ball. Jump your feet back into the push-up position and perform a single push up. Jump your feet back in so that your feet are either side of the ball. Grasp the ball and jump up into the air, lifting the ball above your head as you do so. Land on the balls of your feet and bend forwards to place the ball back on the floor and repeat the sequence.

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WoW – Thursdays workout 17/07/2014

Two workouts today one for the upper body and then one for the lower body, hence the name!

Upstairs, Downstairs
Duration: Approximately 25 minutes
Equipment: Pull up/chin up station,
Method: Perform 5 laps of both of the following circuits. One focuses on upper body (upstairs) while the other focus on your lower body (downstairs).

Part 1 – upper body
5 laps of the following exercises with minimal rest between exercises and laps

  • 10 pull ups (substitute lat pull downs or body rows if necessary)
  • 20 press ups
  • 30 rubber band high pulls (squat combined with an upright row)

Rest 2-3 minutes

 Part 2 – lower body
5 laps of the following exercises with minimal rest between exercises and laps

  • 10 burpees (no press up – focus on the jump)
  • 20 lunges (10 per leg)
  • 30 squats

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Deadlift collage

Exercises To Help Improve Your Dead Lifts

The author practicing what he preaches…

The dead lift is a compound exercise that utilizes a large number of lower and upper body muscles. In the sport of power lifting, the dead lift is one of the lifts that is contested in competition. The dead lift involves lifting a weight from the floor and standing up until your knees and hips are fully extended and is used by many athletes and sports people as a tool for increasing strength. There are a number of assistance exercises you can perform to improve your dead lift.

Stiff Legged Dead Lift
The stiff legged dead lift or SLDL is an exercise that will strengthen your hamstrings and lower back, both essential for successful dead lifting. To perform the SLDL, grasp a barbell in both hands and stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your knees slightly bent but rigid, push your hips back and bend forward as far as your flexibility will allow. Make sure you don’t round your lower back as this can lead to injury. Stand back upright in a single, smooth motion and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Rack Pulls
The rack pull will improve your ability to lock your hips out to perform a successful lift and is a dead lift with a reduced range of movement. Set the pins on a power rack so that the bar is just above your knee level. This reduced range of movement will increase the amount of weight you will be able to lift. Stand in front of the bar and bend forwards at the hips. Bend your knees slightly and grasp the barbell in both hands using either an overhand or a mixed grip. Using only your hips and back, lift the bar to waist height. Return the bar to the pins by bending forward at the hips and repeat. This exercise is best performed for low repetitions using a heavy weight.

Dead Lifts from a Deficit
This exercise will improve your ability to get the bar moving off of the floor. Place a 4 inch step next to a barbell and stand on it. You will now have to bend down further and deeper to be able to reach the barbell which will make initiating the pull from the floor more difficult. Perform your dead lifts as normal but be aware that your lower back is more prone to rounding using this technique. You should take extra care to avoid this. You can make this exercise even more demanding by using a wide snatch grip which will increase the range of movement further.

Kettlebell Swing
Using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the weight in both hands. Slightly bend your knees and push, hips back and lean forwards so that the weight is between your knees. Forcefully extend your hips and knees and simultaneously swing the weight up to eye level. Decelerate the weight as it falls back to the starting position and repeat. This is an explosive exercise which will improve your hip and hamstring power and should be performed at speed.


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running shoes

WOW – Thursdays Workout 10/07/2014

This simple but challenging workout targets your legs and cardiovascular system…

Legs and Lungs A
Duration: Against the Clock
Equipment: Treadmill or rowing machine
Method: Complete the following as fast as possible…

50 bodyweight squats
500 meter run
40 bodyweight squats
400 meter run
30 bodyweight squats
300 meter run
20 bodyweight squats
200 meter run
10 bodyweight squats
100 meter run
(Rowing can be substituted for running if preferred)

 running shoes

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door frame stretch

Exercises for Better Posture

Your spine is made up of five separate sections, all of which are curved. The inward curves are called lordotic curves whilst the outward curves are called kyphotic curves. When these curves become excessive you can develop problems with your spine such as back pain. Because of modern-day posture caused by long periods sat at your computer or watching TV, your upper spine can develop an excessive outward or kyphotic curve which presents as rounding of the upper back and a forward head position. There are a number of things you can do to avoid developing an excessive kyphotic curve, which is correctly termed hyper kyphosis.











Soft Tissue Release using a Foam Roller
Lying face up on a foam roller and performing soft tissue release can help to reposition your spine and is a lot like having a massage. Foam rollers are available from sporting goods stores and in 2010 cost around $15.00. You should spend 5 minutes a day using a foam roller to maximize its effectiveness but be careful not to overdo it. If you are overly aggressive with your rolling you may make your back sore.

foam roller





Door way Chest Stretch
Kyphosis is, in part, caused by overly tight chest muscles. When your chest muscles shorten and become tight they pull your shoulders forwards and inwards which can increase your kyphotic curve. Stretch your chest by using a standard doorway. Standing in an open door way and place your elbows on the door frame at shoulder height. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with your hands flat on the door frame. Keep your elbows in place and lean through the door to gently stretch both sides of your chest at the same time. As you feel your chest muscles relaxing, increase the depth of the stretch. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times every day.

chest stretch






Face Pulls

Strengthening the muscles in your mid-back can help to draw your shoulder blades back and lessen your kyphosis. Attach two rubber exercise bands to a sturdy anchor at chest height. Grasp a band in each hand. Keeping your elbows level with your shoulders and held out wide, pull the band towards your face-hence the name of the exercise. Concentrate on keeping your elbows up and your wrists straight. Pause for 1 to 2 seconds in the most contracted position before slowly returning to the start. Repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions, resting 60 seconds between sets. This exercise can also be performed using an adjustable pulley.

face pulls





Standing Wall Angels
This exercises strengthens the muscles between your shoulder blades but does so isometrically. This means that although your muscles are working, they don’t actually move. Your muscles often work isometrically to maintain your posture. Stand 12 inches away from a wall and lean back against it. Keeping your head against the wall, raise your arms and place your elbows against the wall. Bend your arms to 90 degrees and place the backs of your hands against the wall. You should now be in a “stick ‘em up” position. Slowly slide your hands up the wall as far as your flexibility allows while pushing your elbows against the wall. Once you have reached up as far as you can, slowly lower your arms until your elbows are level with your shoulders. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions, resting 60 seconds between sets. 

wall angels

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women curls

How can I spice up my weight training routine?

women curlsAssuming that you normally perform whole body workouts, one of the best ways to liven up your weight training is to adopt a split routine. Split routines are used by bodybuilders and other sports people and are a method for separating your body into different parts and training those parts on different days.

A split routine allows you to use a greater variety of exercises and also perform more volume than would normally possible if you were training your whole body in a single session. There are a huge variety of ways of splitting up your training week – all of which work well. When deciding which split routine to use it’s important to consider how often you can train and how much time you can dedicate to each session. If you can only hit the gym 3 times a week for example, a 4 way split workout is no good for you. To help get you started, here are a few common split routines for you to try…

Upper/Lower body split.
Simply divide your body in half and train your legs on Monday, your upper body on Wednesday and your legs again on Friday. The following week reverse your body parts so that over the 2 week period, every muscle group gets equal attention. This is a good method for those new to split routines.

3 Way Split.
On Monday, perform exercises for your chest and triceps, back and biceps get trained on Wednesdays and legs and shoulders are worked on Fridays. Rest over the weekend and start over on Monday by repeating the cycle.

4 Way Split.
This routine breaks down the body into even smaller groups which means workouts can be shorter or you can get a lot of work done in the same time. On Monday perform exercises for your chest, on Tuesday train your back, rest on Wednesday, train your legs on Thursday and on Friday focus on shoulder and arms.

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What’s the Alternative – Leg Press

Don’t do that, do this – Leg Press

Leg press machines have come a long way in the last 50 years or so. For starters, in the golden-era of weight training and bodybuilding, lifters wanting to do the leg press would actually lay on their backs and balance a barbell on the souls of their feet. This may have been effective but as for being practical or safe? I have my reservations.

Later versions of the leg press replicated this supine position but the bar was guided by rods to prevent mishaps. While this may have reduced the likelihood of the bar rolling off your feet and falling on your head, this exercise machine was still far from perfect as it all but insisted that you round your lower back; never a good idea.


Fast forward to the present day and most leg press machines use a seated position which is usually angled back to around 45 degrees. Being sat up instead of lying down has probably halved the average blood pressure of anyone using a leg press! Still, even the most well-designed leg press is not without its disadvantages although, of course, designs do vary and some are definitely better than others.

Part of the allure of the leg press is it allows exercisers to lift relatively heavy weights with a degree of safety. The back rest provides spinal support, the weight is guided so you don’t have to worry about balance or learning tricky techniques and if you get stuck mid-rep, you can simply drop the weight or lock it in place with the safety handles without worrying about getting crushed. While all of these aspects can be listed as legitimate advantages, they are also the main reasons that leg presses might not always be the best choice of lower body exercise.

Because your back is fixed in place, it’s all too tempting to lower your knees all the way down to your chest when performing leg presses. This usually results in a very significant rounding of the lower back. The back rest provides an false impression of safety and security and lifters often fail to realise that, despite the provided back support, rounding your spine can result in a one-way ticket to a serious back injury.

Then, consider that the weight is guided so any balance requirement is all but nullified. With very few notable exceptions, the strenuous activities of everyday life do not follow strictly linear paths so strength developed using a leg press will unlikely result in improved sporting performance or an increased ability to generate lower leg force in the standing position. Using a leg press increases your strength for leg pressing; it’s the fitness law of specificity in action.

Finally, consider the actual movement of the leg press. We tend to use our legs to drive downward against the floor in what is known as ground-reactive movement. Running, walking, climbing stairs or simply getting up and out of a chair are all good examples. Lying on your back and pushing a weight skywards? That’s hardly a natural movement! In these times of “functional exercise”, the leg press is clearly about as non-functional as it gets.

However, does that mean that you should never leg press again? Actually, I think no. The leg press can be a valuable training tool but only if you use it as an assistance exercise as opposed to being the mainstay of your lower body training.

For example, if you have squatted, dead-lifted and lunged yourself into the ground and still want to do yet more leg work, a few finisher sets of leg presses will allow you to squeeze that last drop of energy out of your legs in relative safety; providing you don’t lower the weight too low and round your lower back of course.

Also, if it’s pure leg hypertrophy (muscle growth) you seek, as good as squats are, leg presses will allow you to lift more weight and perform more reps as you are free to focus on pushing as long and hard as you can without worrying about balance or collapsing under the weight. Like any good trainer should tell you, leg presses are simply one of many exercise tools available and like all tools; there is a time and a place to use them.

All that being said, I do believe that if you want to make the most of the benefits of the leg press, it should be placed near the end of your lower body workout and be preceded by some far more effective and beneficial exercises. What exercises? I’m glad you asked! As the leg press is a compound leg exercise involving both knee and hip extension, it makes sense that any other exercises under consideration should match these same criteria.


Front squats, back squats, overhead squats, trap-bar squats, Jefferson squats, barbell hack squats, sumo squats, bodyweight squats, squat jumps…any squat is a good squat and is probably the most fundamental movement pattern that is also an exercise. Squats work so many muscles there is little point in trying to list them all; it’s actually better to think of squats are a total-body exercise. A workout without squats is not a workout and if you think that squats aren’t “functional” consider this; how did you sit down to read this article and how will you stand back up again? Ten points if you said squats!


Like squats, there are numerous variations of lunges to choose from. You can alternate your lead leg or swap lead legs half way through your set, you can perform walking or travelling lunges, lunge forward, backward or diagonally, use a barbell or dumbbells, elevate your back foot and perform rear-foot elevated split-squats or lunge onto a 4-6 inch step to increase the range of movement at your hip. You can put your rear foot in a suspension trainer such as a TRX or place your foot on a gliding pad to further increase the challenge or, if you are feeling spritely, do jumping lunges. Like squats, lunges have a huge functional carryover and offer the advantage of training one leg at a time which helps identify and treat left to right muscle strength imbalances. Lunges are also great for hip mobility.


In terms of muscle activation, deadlifts are hard to beat. Even more whole-body than squats, deadlifts could well be the best exercise you aren’t doing. With a huge emphasis on the hip-extensors and lower back, a properly performed deadlift uses virtually every muscle in your body from your fingers to your toes. The only muscle that doesn’t get much of a look in is your pecs but that is easily remedied with a few sets of bench press or press ups. The barbell deadlift is probably your best choice but there are enough variations of the deadlift to keep even the most easily-bored exerciser amused; Romanian deadlifts, snatch-grip deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, partial deadlifts, rack-pull deadlifts, suitcase deadlifts, single leg deadlifts…all variations of the deadlift that are at least as productive as leg presses.

So, by all means use a leg press but do yourself a favour and base 80 percent of your lower body training on the exercises listed above. Keep the leg presses until the end of your workout and use them as a finisher or assistance exercise. That way, the perceived weaknesses of the leg press magically become strengths.


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deadlift 2

WoW – Thursdays Workout 26/06/2014

Our Dead Lift and Press up Superset workout uses virtually every major muscle in your body in double-quick time – excellent for when you are pushed for time!

Duration: Against the Clock
Equipment: Barbell, exercise mat
Method: Perform 10 sets of 10 reps of bent-legged dead lifts using 60-75% of your body weight but adjust load as necessary. Alternate sets of dead lifts with 10 sets of 10-15 reps press ups (on knees or toes as appropriate). Aim to complete the workout as fast as possible whilst maintaining perfect form to also challenge the cardiovascular system. Adjust the reps and/or loads to meet your current fitness levels.

  • Bent legged dead lifts – 10 sets, 10 reps @ 60-75% of 1RM
  • Press ups – 10 sets of 10-15 reps

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What’s the Alternative – Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are a popular exercise. Like any seated exercise machine, they are relatively simple to use, offer a comfortable workout position and you can feel and see the target muscles working quite clearly. I’m sure you have experienced that intense burning in your quadriceps muscles as you near the end of a set of leg extensions; anything that feels that intense MUST be doing you good! Well; maybe not…

Firstly, why are leg extensions so painful? What is that profound burning sensation and why is it that this exercise causes your thighs to burn like no other? The answer is something called ischemia. Ischemia basically means that blood supply (and therefore oxygen) is cut off to your muscles. This causes a rapid and greater than normal increase in lactic acid which is thought to be the cause of that burning sensation we all love/hate. Ischemia occurs when you perform leg extensions because the muscles are always tensed and, unlike many exercises, there is no point in the range of movement where your muscles get to relax and allow a little more oxygenated blood in.  You could get a rest between reps by lowering the weight stack all the way down and taking your feet out from behind the footrests but a) your trainer will probably shout at you for “clanging the weights” and b) this is hardly practical. In the end, the discomfort of ischemia is just one of those things and pretty much unavoidable.

The main safety concern with leg extensions is something called shearing force. In simple terms, the shearing force in leg extensions means that your femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone) are under a large amount of stress which tries to force them to slide past each other (a phenomenon called tibial translation) rather than just hinge naturally. This puts tremendous strain on the anterior cruciate ligament. Your knees, it seems, are much better at dealing with compressive forces than shearing forces.

Finally, consider the action of leg extensions; do you ever perform this movement in real life? Obviously, you do extend your knees; for example when kicking a football, but I can’t think of a single time you extend your knee with your thigh being supported. Kicking off your slippers while sat on your sofa perhaps?! Leg cannot be described as a “functional” exercise. In most natural movements, your quads work in conjunction with your hamstrings, abductors, hip flexors, glutes and adductors. It’s very rare that your quads work in isolation, as they do in leg extensions.

But, before you turn your back on the leg extension forever, it is worth considering its advantages. For starters, leg extensions allow you to place an emphasis on your vastus medialis muscle which is located on the inside of your lower thigh. This muscle is important for knee stability and correct tracking of your patella and is especially active in the last 10 to 15 degrees of knee extension. Other leg exercises like leg presses get easier as you your knees straighten whereas leg extensions get harder.

Also, leg extensions can be performed with very light weights. While squats and lunges also work your thighs, if you lack sufficient leg strength to perform these exercises safely, leg extensions, combined with leg curls, will help you develop the necessary strength to progress to these exercises.

Leg extensions are also a great way to work your thighs intensely but in relative safety; safety from getting “stapled” by a heavy barbell anyway. You can perform leg extensions to failure whereas squatting to failure could be very problematic.

If you care about long term knee health, leg extensions should only be performed under control, using moderate weights and not too frequently. Consider them a supplemental exercise rather than a cornerstone. A few sets at the end of a leg workout are fine; a leg workout consisting of nothing but leg extensions is not.

Here are some exercises that offer similar benefits to leg extensions but without the nefarious shearing force that can be so problematic.

One and a half squats
One and a half squats place an additional load on your vastus medialis; the same quadriceps muscle emphasised in leg extensions. With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down as normal and then stand up. Next, squat down again but only half way. Stand back up. This constitutes one repetition. Continue performing this double movement for the duration of your set. You can also apply the same one and a half rep principle to leg presses and lunges.

Single leg box squats
Stand on an exercise bench or stable box. Shuffle to the side so that one foot is clear of the step. Bend your weight-bearing knee and lower your other foot to within an inch of the floor. Push back up and repeat. Lean forwards form your hips to keep your weight over your base of support. If necessary, hold something sturdy for balance. As you get stronger, hold dumbbells in your hands or wear a weighted vest.

Barbell squats with bands/chains
A powerlifting favourite, squatting with bands or chains means that there is more resistance at the top of the movement than at the bottom. This is called accommodating resistance and is a strength building principle that can be applied to numerous exercises to make them more challenging. You’ll need two long chains or resistance bands to do this; the right tools for the job are available from specialist strength training stores or you can rig up your own by visiting your local DIY store. If you use bands, loop them over the ends of your bar and fix the other end to the bottom of your squat rack or weigh them down with heavy dumbbells. If you use chains, drape the chains over the ends of your bar so that, when you squat down, the chain will pool on the floor. Make sure neither the bands or chains will slip off the bar. For more information on proper squat technique, see my article in issue 22-3.

Barbell hack squats
Not to be confused with the machine of the same name, barbell hack squats are named after wrestling legend George Hackenschmidt who was famed for his thigh development. To perform this exercise, and raise a few eyebrows at your gym, place a barbell on the floor and stand with your back to it. The bar should be touching the back of your ankles. Squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand grip. Keeping your arms straight, drive down though your heels and stand up. The bar should track up the back of your thighs. Squat back down and repeat.

“Natural” leg extensions
If you still want to do leg extensions but don’t want to expose your knees to so much shearing force, this exercise provides a viable alternative. Kneel down on all fours with your shoulders over your hands and your hips over your knees. Cross one foot over the other so that you are resting on your hands and one knee only. From this position, straighten your weight-bearing leg and push your hips up into the air. When viewed from the side, your body should resemble an inverted V shape. Bend your leg and lower your knee to within an inch of the floor before pushing up again. Change legs and repeat.


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