Friday, July 8, 2011

A Unilateral Limb Peripheral Heart Action Circuit With One Dumbbell Or A Kettlebell. (Or i could just write fat loss circuit and more people will read it)

This is a circuit I came up with about 4 years ago (maybe longer). I was trying to get women to use the free weights but they wouldn't venture into the testosterone fuelled free weight area. Also they didn't want to keep changing weights or keep going back and forth between machines in a busy gym. They wanted to do their exercises hidden in the corner somewhere, especially during peak times. I also knew most women were notoriously bad at resting between sets, as many were used to high repetitions in classes and they also wanted to feel they had 'worked out', which in their parlance means they were out of breath and didn't want to feel pumped. Lastly, it was a way of covering the whole body quickly, for the time crunched person. This circuit was the answer. Oh, and its not just for women, anyone can benefit from this type of training.

This circuit was the solution, you only need one dumbbell or one kettlebell and you can do it with our without a bench. And, even though I initially designed it for female clients, it works just as well for men. And before you write to me and say you invented it, i'm not saying I invented the exercises or have exclusive rights to the sequence.

The first video below is the dumbbell version with a bench.

The sequence of exercises is as follows:
  1. One Arm Standing DB Shoulder Press
  2. Bulgarian Squat/ Rear Foot Elevated 
  3. One Arm Dumbbell Row - bench supported
  4. One Leg Romanian Deadlift - weight in same side hand as leg that is moving
  5. One Arm Chest Press
  6. One Leg Glute Thrust - bench supported
The order of the exercises alternates between upper and lower body, and gradually you make your way from standing to supine (laying on your back). This gives a smooth transition between positions and feels like a logical sequence. You do one limb then the other. So it would be
  • left arm, 
  • right arm, 
  • left leg, 
  • right leg
  • back to left arm etc. 
In the video Nathan only demonstrates 5 reps, but when I gave it to female clients they aimed for 12-15 reps, and 2-3 circuits, with as little rest as possible. The exercises chosen are not carved in stone, but some things are not possible with a dumbbell, for example, vertical pulling. In reality a person would be stronger pulling than pushing, so a different weight could be used, but remember I gave this to females who were  relatively new to weights, so this would be sufficient.

I nearly always get beginners to do the Bulgarian Squats and one leg RDLs bodyweight only. I also prefer doing the RDLs with the dumbbell in the opposite hand to the stationary leg (e.g. left leg on the ground, dumbbell is in the right hand), this puts the hips in a better position, keeps the pelvis squarer, gets the core working and helps to focus on the glutes and hamstrings of the stationary leg.

(Note: In the video, it is the first time Nathan had done this circuit, even though he is a trainer he never normally does one leg RDLs with one dumbbell and has never done the glute thrust before. You can see in the RDL he needs to bring his leg back more, pull it back so it is more of a hinge, and you can hear me cuing him to do that as well. I used this version of the video, so you can see what clients will actually do and also to show how quickly it is possible to grasp the exercises. See the kettlebell video below, filmed only a few minutes later, and Nathans technique on the RDL is already much better. Yeah, I know he's a young athletic trainer and not a deconditioned client, but you get the point).

Anyway, here is a video of Neghar Fonooni doing a one legged RDL with kettlebells, notice how her leg goes back as she hinges, Yeah, I know she is using 2 kettlebells, but she's better looking than me or Nathan (sorry mate!)

If someone can't do a Bulgarian Squat, then a Reverse Lunge or Forward Lunge could be done (see the kettlebell video below) or step up if equipment is available. With the RDL, if a client has trouble with balance they can start by reaching down to the bench only with their hand or set up a step with some risers, put their foot under the steps and again reach down to the step lid.

Now I'm assuming you've screened your client in some way before getting them to do this, FMS (functional movement screen) or whatever system you use. It may be a simple matter of seeing if someone can do a decent bodyweight squat or stand on one leg. If they can't then you may have to regress to simpler exercises like a step up using a low riser or half kneeling positions.

Sequence by movement and alternatives:
  1. Vertical Pushing - could do push press.
  2. Quad dominant leg - could be lunge, step up, one legged pistol squat (good luck showing that to beginners!)
  3. Horizontal Pulling - any type of row, see kettlebell video for unsupported version.
  4. Hip dominant leg - can go bodyweight or progress to more challenging version.
  5. Horizontal Pushing - chest press, flye, floor press (see kettlebell video), one arm press up!
  6. Glute dominant movement - originally I did the one legged glute bridge (aka Cook Hip Lift) as in the kettlebell video below. Then I saw the glute thrust as done by Brett Contreras. Even though I think the glute thrust activates the glutes better, for most people I still do the glute bridge on the floor, as they find it more comfortable on the middle back and head and stops them using the back too much.
Kettlebell circuit
    In the kettlebell video below, the only equipment needed is one kettlebell. In the video Nathan only demonstrates a few reps on one side, but in reality you would do one arm 12-15 reps, then the other arm 12-15 reps, then the leg 12-15 reps. This circuit is also a way of getting clients to start using kettlebells without having to do technical moves like snatches & cleans, which may be intimidating at first.

    1. KB shoulder press.
    2. Front Lunge & Back Lunge - KB can be in the suitcase or rack position. Note the KB is on the same side as the leg that is moving. Nathan racks the KB slightly differently to me, he has the elbow up, whereas I would have the elbow down. Use the position that works best for you.
    3. Bent over row with twist.
    4. RDL - KB handle is easier to reach than a dumbbell.
    5. Floor Press.
    6. One leg glute bridge - pull leg as close as possible to chest
    The same caveat applies to kettlebells as to dumbbells. Screen your client first. I always start clients with the kettlebell goblet squat and  kettlebell deadlift (2 legs on the ground) before progressing onto other moves.

      Peripheral Heart Action Training

      This is a fancy way of saying you keep the blood moving around the body. It moves from upper body to lower body.

      (Fleck & Kraemer, 1997, Designing Resistance Training Programs, p121, explain it slightly differently, as a sequence of exercises, but don't worry too much about that, it now generally means alternating between upper and lower body. And yes, I have the 1997 version of this book, that's how long i've been doing this stuff).

      • As the blood keeps moving from upper to lower body, then your body has to work harder to keep pumping it around. Therefore, theoretically more energy is used, and more calories burned.
      • There is a conditioning effect, as the body has to keep moving blood to different parts of the body, the heart has to work harder, improving cardiac function.
      • Plus, as one part of the body is working another part is resting, therefore you need minimal rest.
      • And finally, there is less pump in the muscle, as you are not doing back to back exercises for that muscle, which is good as women don't always like the pumped feeling and it means you should be getting some strength training effect, as the muscle has plenty of rest and isn't full of metabolic waste when you get round to it again on the second circuit.
      Bilateral deficit

      This is the phenomenon where the strength of one limb is more than both limbs combined. For example, you might be able to shoulder press a 20kg dumbbell when using one arm, but when you use both arms together you can only press 17.5kg in each hand. Therefore, you can overload more and lift more weight when using only one limb at a time. See this study.

      Unilateral training

      Training one limb at a time means the stronger side can't take over, as it might do during a barbell movement. Also you can get more core muscle activation in exercises like the standing DB shoulder press because the core muscles on the opposite side of the body have to contract to keep the spine stable.

      Also I had the idea that the unilateral limb training may add to the PHA effect. Your body has to shuttle the blood from one arm to the other and then to the leg on the opposite side of the body and so on.

      The limbs will get longer rest time as well. For example, it will take longer to get back to the left arm shoulder press if each limb is done individually than if you did both limbs at the same time. This should allow you to lift more weight and again minimise the pump. You could use much lower reps in this circuit, for example, 5 or 6, and use it as more of a strength circuit.

      Make it harder

      I guess you could make it hard by doing more complex moves like

      1. One arm Snatch - I prefer the DB to the KB for this
      2. One arm swing
      3. One arm clean into push press
      4. Pistols or Lunge with KB in overhead position
      5. Renegade Row
      That would be tough. But don't be fooled by the simplicity of the original circuit. Give it a go and see how the fatigue starts to set in after a couple of circuits. Do this circuit once a week as part of an overall program.

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