Exercise: Back to Basics, Back to Foundations

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We are all athletes competing in the game of life.
Athletes in the Game of Life
According to Merriam Webster, an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.”
Based on the definition above, we are all athletes. Even if we don’t play or compete in sports, we compete in the game of life every day. After all, our daily lives require us to be physically strong to do our jobs, to have the stamina to withstand life’s hardships and develop mental agility to get things done quickly and efficiently.
“If you’re strong, then train for speed. If you’re quick, then train for strength. If you’re neither, then just train!” — Loughborough University Gym Maxim
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Testing the Battle Ropes at UFC Gym! Legit!
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Battle Ropes get you moving in unconventional ways, targeting your arms, core, hips, glutes and legs. Perfect for post-workout finishers!
Just like in any sport, without training, our daily activities become a struggle. We become physically de-conditioned and fight an uphill battle just to get off the couch. We fail to develop the skills and resilience to turn our ideas into action. Instead of playing offense—where we proactively accomplish our daily tasks—we play defense, reacting and adjusting to whatever life throws at us. We need training. We need to get stronger not just mentally but also physically. At the end of the day, we are what we do and not what we think.
“While your thoughts can become your reality, it’s only though your actions that your thoughts actually become your life.” —Gary John Bishop
Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. Know that to have a strong and durable body, you will need countless hours of mastering the basics. Not only will you need to train your muscles but also your tendons and ligaments. A house is only as strong as its foundations and our bodies are the same.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” —Shunryu Suzuki
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Paolo tests it out himself. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks! Gotta maintain tension to transfer force properly.
Train Movement NOT Muscle
Before you even dream of jerking 300 pounds, you will need a body that can properly lift an empty barbell. Before you succeed in walking with your hands, you need sinewy tendons, mobile joints and a strong core.
As a coach, I always prioritize strengthening the pillars of the body. It consists of the hipsshoulders and core. Building strength in these areas is setting the foundation for all kinds of movements, sports, and degrees of intensity.
“Effective workouts train the body for athletic, functional movement. It’s about training movements, not body parts.” —Mark Verstegen
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Scap Push-ups target the muscles that pull and control your shoulder blades. Strong scaps helps you maintain posture and shoulder stability during overhead movements.
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During retraction, imagine pinching your shoulder blades together as close as you can. If you can’t achieve a wide range of motion, don’t worry! Keep on incorporating these in your workouts and you’ll improve in no time.
Strength is important but without practical application, it is pretty much of no use. So, more practical than building a strong foundation is translating that strength into a functional body. To achieve this, you need to train movement and not just isolated muscle groups (unless your goal is bodybuilding). The reason? Our bodies are engineered in a way where all of our muscles are integrated while performing any kind of movement. Think about it. You deadlift every time you pick up something on the floor. You engage your back, core and legs when you bend over to brace your torso and lift. Although you need to strengthen these individual muscle groups, the most effective way to pick up heavier things off the floor is by training… the Deadlift!
“Be general in your foundations so you can be be specific in your goals.” — Ross Edgley
This is what is means to be functional and what functional training is all about. During the Deadlift, whatever happens to the big toe affects the knees, hips and ultimately the shoulders. Our muscular system and fascial bands work seamlessly to produce efficient movement to keep us safe and not moving like robots. Many workout programs do more harm than good because of using inefficient movement patterns producing muscle imbalances, which can lead to injuries.
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Maintain rhythmic breathing. Breathe into your diaphragm to get as much oxygen as you can.
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Rest if you have to, but do not quit.
Here’s a simple beginner’s workout routine where you can incorporate training the hips, core and shoulders while staying functional and fit:
Warm up
Light jog for 5 minutes
  • This gradually gets the heart rate up and circulates blood to the muscles—preparing the body for physical activity.
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The Bird Dog is a great tool to assess core stability. Lifting opposing extremities make your obliques, abdominals as well as your glutes work.
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Keep a hollow core. Think about reaching forward and kicking back instead of pulling upwards.
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The “Perfect Stretch” mobilizes your hip joints and stretches your glutes.
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Spot your hands as you reach up. Rotate the torso to mobilize your thoracic spine (the spinal area that connects your neck to your low back and where your rib cage attaches).
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Tight hips diminishes power output during hip extensions or movements that require the body to straighten up into a jump. The Couch Stretch is a useful tool to address tight hip flexors and quads.
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The classic Pigeon Pose decompresses the lumbar area of the spine (low back), stretches the glutes and hip flexors. A great mobility tool before and after hip dominant training days.
Mobility
Muscle warms faster than the joints. Doing mobility work prior to strength training allows the joints, tendons and ligaments to warm up and achieve full range of motion.
2 Rounds of
  • 20 Bird Dogs
  • 1 minute Perfect Stretch
  • 1 minute Couch Stretch
  • 1 minute Pigeon Pose
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Avoid pulling your torso down on the plank. Spread your shoulder blades apart and engage the core.
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The Suitcase Deadlift. During lift off, keep your shoulders in front of the kettlebell. Inhale and engage the core while maintaining your hips squared.
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The L-Sit is a great exercise for developing midline stability and maintaining tension. A strong midline transfers into strong overhead movements and handstands.
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You can bend your knees to scale the L Sit down. Don’t worry, scaled down versions still give you the same stimulus — if you do it properly!
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Monday—international chest day! Kidding aside, the Bench Press is arguably the best lift in developing upper body strength.
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Varying grip width targets different muscle groups. Wider grip targets the chest while a narrower grip engages the triceps more.
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Goblet Squats are great for beginners. This teaches the athlete to keep an upright torso with the help of a counterweight loaded in front of the body.
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Keep it low/ ATG (ass to grass) / bellow parallel to properly activate the most powerful muscle of the body—the glutes!
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When we twist our torso, our back shoulder and obliques simultaneously contract. The Side Plank strengthens the obliques which protects the lower back and prevents injuries.
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Scale it down by bending your knees. Keep your thighs and torso in a straight line.
Strength Training
Movement starts from the core to the extremities. That is why as a beginner, it is important to develop strong abdominals, obliques, low back, glutes and shoulder blades.
3 sets each
  • 15 Scap Push Ups
  • 10 second L Sit
  • 30 second Side Plank

Rest for 5 minutes. Then,

5 giant sets of

5 Bench Presses + 8 Suitcase Deadlifts per side + 12 Goblet Squats

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Bone on bone. Locking-out your elbows stacks the weight overhead in a perfect straight line with minimal effort. This is also known as “bone on bone”.
Conditioning
Also known as metabolic conditioning, this type of workout shocks your metabolic pathways—forcing and training your body to use stored fuel/ food in doing intense physical activity. In line with this, your cardiorespiratory system (aka your heart, lungs and their network) is strengthened for efficiency.
AMRAP 8 Minutes
8 Burpees
16 Dumbbell Snatches
20 Battle Rope Whips
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Stretching allows the muscle to go back into its original length. This will promote blood flow into the area, speeding up the recovery process.
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No to tight chests!
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Pin your knees down on the floor. Relax as your reach forward to properly stretch the hamstrings.
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Seal Stretch works great for tight hip flexors and abdominals. Look up and breathe into your belly to intensity the stretch.
Static Stretching
After exercising, lactate builds in the muscle— a sticky byproduct released from muscle contraction. This causes tightening and hard spots. Stretching the muscle allows it to return to its normal length so that blood can circulate better and to clear out byproducts.
2 Minutes each
  • Quad Stretch
  • Seal Stretch
  • Child’s Pose
  • Pectoral Stretch
“There’s no magic formula. Too many people get caught up in programming and formulas. It’s the movements combined with intensity that’s the secret. It’s much simpler than people think.” —Dave Castro, Director of the CrossFit Games
Always use proper form and technique when lifting and hold back on intensity until you master the basics. I advise working with a coach so you can properly progress or scale down each exercise and monitor your results accurately. Each part in a day’s routine is important and should not be skipped as it consecutively leads one part to the next. Needless to say, individualized and proper programming is key so as to better understand your results and appreciate each step you take in your fitness journey.
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Use the Dumbbell Shoulder Press for strength and aesthetics!
As athletes in the Game of Life, what’s truly essential is that we go back to basics—to build our foundations from the ground up. Every great endeavor is driven by a strong core—physically and mentally. To keep on showing up in the gym and at work day after day, we need physical resilience. In the same light, our core values permeate every fiber of our being. Our deepest values translate into action. But it is our daily actions that express and actualize who we are. It’s true that what we think, we become. But what we do also influences and forms how we think. Ultimately, we are not our thoughts, we are what we repeatedly do.
“Action may bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” —Benjamin Disraeli
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The Hollow Body Hold challenges and strengthens the core like no other! It also targets diaphragm, hip flexors and quads.
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Scale down by bending your knees and keeping the arms bu your side. Lock out those elbows and point those toes!
By keeping our core strong and our actions aligned with our values, we are set for life. We can be resilient and purposeful not only in training but also in our journey of becoming better individuals and better athletes.
Keep it simple. Go back to basics. Build your foundation and set yourself up for success.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” —Albert Einstein
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Wishing my shoti, Paolo, a happy 20th birthday! I designed a quick “Back to Basics” workout to celebrate his journey out of his teenage years. He was able to balance his life as an Architecture student and his training as a CrossFit athlete. Despite all the setbacks of being confined in the hospital, getting injured, and, ultimately, losing his dad, Paolo managed to get it together, work hard, and follow through all his goals! That’s why part of my birthday treat to him is spending an entire day at the UFC Gym! Brothers day out!
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I am also so proud of our teamwork in achieving his goal of losing body fat and building muscle. It was a pleasure to coach him both in fitness and nutrition. The best is yet to come, Pao! 

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