Fitness Friday: How to do the squat

If you want stronger legs, you’re going to have to get under the bar.

In terms of overall mobility, athleticism and strength, there may be no more essential move than the squat. This goes for everyone: the professional athlete, the novice lifter and your grandmother. You can tell a lot about a person’s future health by how well they can drop into a deep squat and pop back up.

If you can, chances are good that you will be able to move well as you age. If you can’t, it’s something you need to remedy before you lose your ability to run, climb stairs or even walk.

So yes, it’s that important.

In terms of fitness, the squat is fundamental. Anyone looking to build lower body (and really, full-body) strength needs to program squats into their routines.

Squats come in many forms. The bodyweight squat, or “air squat,” is done without any weights involved. Other basic forms include the back squat (where a loaded bar is placed atop your shoulders and behind your head) and the front squat (where a loaded bar is held just above collarbone level in front of the head). There are others (dumbbell squats, Zercher squats and more), but what I want to focus on is the most used weight training variation, the back squat.

This form is the most basic and has the capability to offer the highest potential for moving a lot of weight. That’s why it’s a staple for lifters and athletes worldwide. But just like last week’s post on deadlifts, the squat requires good technique to be effective and safe. So, let’s go over it.

What you’re aiming for: The idea is to be standing with the weight on your back, lower yourself down to where the crease in your hips is at or below parallel to the top of your thighs, and then to stand back up (I’ll go a little more into squat depth toward the end of this post). Your thighs, glutes and back will all get worked hard doing a loaded squat.

Foot placement: It’s going to vary for most people, but generally speaking, your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled out slightly. The reason for the toe angle is simple: You need your knees to remain stable throughout the lift (not caving inward), and you need space for your belly to go as you get into the deepest part of the squat. Some people choose a wider stance, which will mean toes will be pointed out more. The downside to a wider stance is a decrease in hip mobility. But find a stance that works for you and go with it.

Setup: As you’re approaching the bar in the rack, get under it with both feet squared up. The bar should be loaded at a point on the rack where you can unrack it by standing underneath it without having to rise on your toes. If you have to go up on your toes, the bar needs to be racked a level down. Grab the bar tight, with your hands past shoulder width. Now squeeze down on your armpits. This will engage your back muscles and have you ready to receive the full weight of the bar. Now that you’re ready, stand up to lift the bar off the rack, take a step back with each foot and assume your proper stance. Take in a good breath and hold it, letting your midsection expand to brace your core. Now you’re ready to lift.

Descent: From here, you will unlock your hips, sit back slightly and break at the knees while lowering yourself and the weight down. Your back will not be vertical, but rather, it will be angled forward. Do not lean too far forward, however, as this will act to fold you in half and put too much strain on your lower back. Descend under control until you reach proper depth, being careful to hold that breath in and not let it out – you definitely want your core braced to protect the spine. Keep your head in a neutral position, not looking too far down or craning your head up.

Not bad, but in this pic, I’m craning my head up too much.

Ascent: Keeping your breath in and core braced, drive upward, with your weight centered over the middle of your foot (if you drive too far back on your heels, you risk pitching backward and possibly losing control of the weight; too much toward your toes and you’ll pitch forward and fold yourself in half). Concentrate on powering your lower back up as you straighten your hips and knees. This will help you mentally engage/connect with all the muscles needed to lift the weight. It’s important to remember that you are executing the lift by powering through your hips, and not trying to lift solely with your legs. Once standing straight up, exhale a bit, take another good breath and repeat.

A FEW TIPS

I mentioned not letting your knees cave inward during the lift. This is called valgus and it’s no bueno. You fix this in a few ways. First, make sure those toes are angled out. Second, as you lift, try to think about driving your knees out as the weight comes up. And last, if your knees are caving inward it may mean you’ve got too much weight on the bar for your ability at this time.

I also mentioned body lean. This is going to differ based on your physique. People with shorter legs and a longer torso will not have that much forward body lean, and their back angle aspect will be more vertical than average. Conversely, people with shorter torsos and longer legs will have greater body lean and a more horizontal back angle aspect. You can guess which body type has an easier time with this lift!

LET’S TALK SQUAT DEPTH

This one is critical, because you want to get the most out of the lift as possible. But you also don’t want to push depth to the point where you get injured. So let’s discuss it.

As I said earlier, the goal is to drop down to where the crease of your hips is at or below parallel. This puts your hips and knees into a full range of motion, which is ideal for building the maximum amount of muscle, strength and mobility.

Some people go further. They call it “ass to grass,” or ATG, which has your butt hovering just inches above the floor at the lowest part of the lift. If you can do this and not get hurt, more power to ya. But most people can’t, and for various reasons.

Hip mobility, or a lack of it, is one hindrance to squat depth. And something that surprised me, so is ankle mobility. If you have issues in these areas, the ATG squat probably isn’t gonna happen, and hitting/breaking parallel might be a challenge.

If this is you, your goal is to reach the maximum depth possible, and even for people with these compromises, that’s going to be at or extremely near parallel. Do the best you can without breaking form or causing a lower back injury. But also, if you ever plan to compete in a powerlifting meet, you’ll be required to break parallel.

For the rest of you (like, 95% of all exercisers), here’s this admonition: Every time you squat, you should be squatting deep. Afraid it will hurt your knees? Stopping short of a full squat is actually worse. And if you’re piling on weight and throwing out “squats” that are a half-rep or a quarter rep, swallow your pride, peel off some weight and do it right. Trust me, we admire the person getting quality reps with 135 pounds. The dude half-squatting 350? Or 400? We think that guy’s a joke. Nobody believes your half squat at 405 is a legit PR because it’s not even a legit squat. You’re just cheating yourself if you half-ass this exercise.

Wrapping it up, if you have the ability to do barbell squats, you definitely should. Build your strength, athleticism and mobility by programming this lift into your workouts a couple times a week. As a bonus, you’ll never be accused of skipping leg day.

Here’s a video with more great advice on doing the squat…

Next time: Let’s talk bench press.

Fitness Friday: How to do the deadlift

You can build a lot of strength with the simple act of pulling a barbell off the floor. Let’s talk deadlifts.

By now, you all know what some of my favorite lifts are. And if they become a part of what you do to get stronger, you’ll enjoy the same benefits. But if you’re new to it, there are some tricks to making these lifts more effective and less injurious.

I mention injury because when you start challenging yourself with heavier weights on compound lifts, it’s important to be dialed in when you’re doing the exercise. If something is off, it doesn’t take much to put yourself in a bad position and get hurt.

Similarly, to get the most out of an exercise, proper form is needed. You’re just cheating yourself otherwise.

This week, I want to focus on the deadlift.

This lift is my favorite, mostly because it offers the most bang for the buck. The deadlift is a full-body exercise that can build a ton of real-world strength. And nothing is more primally satisfying as knowing you can walk up to a heavy thing and lift it off the ground.

Deadlifts are done in one of three ways: Conventional, sumo and trap bar. All have their merits, but for the sake of brevity I’m going to concentrate on the conventional deadlift. The conventional stance has your feet wider than hip width, but less than shoulder width. Your hands will grab the bar on the outside of your legs.

We often refer to the steps to setting up and executing the lift as “cues.” Each of these cues will help execute the lift as efficiently and safely as possible. Here’s how you do it:

Walk up to the bar until your shins are about an inch away from it. The bar should look like its hovering about mid-foot above your shoes. Bend down and grab the bar. Once you’ve grabbed it, bend your knees. The bar will now likely be touching your shins, but don’t move the bar toward you. Move toward it. Point your toes out slightly.

Your upper body should be somewhere short of a 45-degree angle at your hips. Your back isn’t vertical, nor is it horizontal. If you’re looking toward a mirror, you would be able to read any lettering or graphics on the upper chest portion of your shirt. How far you are bent over will depend on how tall you are, and how long your legs are. Longer lifters will have a more horizontal aspect to their stance.

Keep your spine straight, from your neck to your lower back. Resist the urge to crane your head and neck up.

Now it’s time to “set your back.” What this means is getting your back muscles tight and engaged. Grip the bar tight, and pretend you’re squeezing down on a ball in your armpits. This will engage the muscles in your back, so everything is involved and locked in. When doing this, your lower back might arch a bit, and that’s OK. If it’s arched, it will be in a stronger, more locked-in position rather then flexed or bowed out (rounded), which is a weaker, less stable position.

Now you’ll want to set your core. Take a breath in and force your midsection out. If you’re not sure what that’s like, imagine trying to force out a fart. Crude/funny, I know. But this will engage your abdominal muscles and create a rigid wall that protects your back. You’ll hold that breath in until you complete the lift; if you breathe out during the lift, you’ll partially release the core and you don’t want to do that. When you’re at the start of the lift, holding this position will make it look like your belly is hanging out, and that’s a good thing as long as you’re braced. Sucking your gut in and flexing your abs like you are posing for a six-pack photo is not the kind of core bracing you’re looking for.

Next, “take the slack out of the bar.” What this means is to come up just enough where you hear a metallic “click” of the bar touching the plates. Now you’re set to lift.

As you lift, remember that the deadlift is not a squat. It’s a hip hinge. So, you will be using your legs and your backside to stand up with the weight. Lift with too much legs and you’ll be weaker in the lift. But if you use too much back, you’ll be limited into now much you can pull – and begging for injury. An easy way to judge if you’re doing this right is to see if your knees and your hips straighten at the same rate and time.

As you’re lifting, try to press your feet down through the floor. Thinking of it this way is very similar to following through on a baseball throw or a golf swing. It will make your drive upwards that much more powerful. Ideally, you will feel your quads, hamstrings, glutes and your entire back working to lift the weight. A cue to remember as the lift is going up is to concentrate on squeezing your glutes and hams.

Be sure to not let your lower back become rounded during the lift. Your lower back must remain flat and rigid. Too much flex will eventually lead to injury. Remember, you’re not a fishing rod. You’re more like a crane.

As uncomfortable as this sounds, the bar needs to slide up your legs. If the bar is not making contact with your legs as you lift (this is called “bar drift”), then you are creating a longer distance the weight must travel. So, it’s more work and less power. And it will pitch you forward, putting unnecessary strain on your lower back.

As you complete the lift, keep your chest out and your shoulders back. Once in a standing position, lower the weight back to the floor for your next rep.

That’s the meat of it. Here are a couple of other things about the deadlift that may show up as options for you…

Some people use wrist straps when they deadlift. The straps assist your grip, allowing you to lift heavier than your unaided grip would allow. I’d resist using straps, as you’ll want your grip strength to rise with the rest of your deadlifting power. Big-time lifters will use them while training when the weight gets very heavy, allowing them to do more work. And in Strongman competitions, straps are allowed. But for the rest of us, just use your own unaided grip.

There are options for your grip. The double-overhand grip is most common, but a lot of lifters find it limiting when the weight gets heavier. A mixed grip is when you have one hand overhand, one underhand. A mixed grip will allow you to lift more, but be careful. It can create imbalances during the lift. There is also the hook grip, where your fingers come over your thumb as your grip the bar. This also allows for a stronger grip once you get used to it, but be warned – it’s a little weird and pretty uncomfortable.

The deadlift is not a good high-rep exercise. Because it is very technique oriented and technique tends to break down under fatigue, I’d advise against doing high-rep sets of deadlifts. A loss of form is a sure-fire way to increase risk of injury. I keep my sets at 8 reps or less, depending on the weight.

Finally, some lifters use a belt. The belt is designed to protect your lower back, especially as the weight gets heavier. Generally speaking, lay off using the belt as long as you can so your core strength rises with the rest of your lifting strength. That said, if the weight is getting somewhere near 200 percent of your body weight OR you are becoming prone to tweaking or injuring your lower back, using the belt is a plus. You’ll find that when wearing the belt, setting your core becomes even easier, as your midsection has something to push against as your midsection expands.

I’m going to attach a video from Mark Rippetoe, the author of “Starting Strength,” which goes through what I’ve talked about. He knows his stuff. Heed what you’ve read, watch the video, and get to pulling some weight!

Next week: We’re going to tackle the squat.

Bob Doucette

For runners, there are too many near-misses when it comes to cars

We’re looking out for you. Please look out for us.

About a week ago I was out on a run, hoping to kick it into high gear on the last mile of a 3-mile jaunt. The weather was great. I was feeling pretty good, if a bit gassed. And as I approached the exit of a corporate parking lot in downtown Tulsa, I saw it: a commuter pulling up to the street, looking to make a turn.

I locked my eyes on her because I know how this goes down. She’s looking for cars on the street to see if it’s clear to turn. She’s not looking for me. And sure enough, she pulled right up into the street and stopped when she saw traffic, then finally noticed my movement close to her passenger side fender. She sheepishly looked my way with an apologetic smile, then turned into the street.

I know the law gives me the right-of-way to keep going, but I’ve played this game long enough to know otherwise. I stopped just short of her car because otherwise she would have driven right into me. Even in a pedestrian-dense place like downtown, people’s habits are trained to see my streets – any streets, for that matter – like they were driving in the ‘burbs. They’re only looking for other cars. Runners are an afterthought.

That’s why I’m cautious at intersections. Maybe overly so. But I don’t want to end up on someone’s hood, or under an F-150. Might makes right in any auto-pedestrian collision, law be damned. It’s just the way it is.

***

I got to thinking about this latest near-miss (there have been a few) because of some news in my state. It hit me pretty hard.

On Feb. 3, a driver speeding along a thoroughfare in the city of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb, slammed into a group of high school cross-country runners. One runner was killed outright. Another died soon after. And just this past week, a third victim succumbed to his injuries. All involved were where they were supposed to be, running on the sidewalk.

Three promising, young lives, all cut short. Three grieving families who must be ripped to pieces right now. Three more runners whose lives came to an end through no fault of their own.

The circumstances surrounding this tragedy are different than what I’ve experienced in that the driver was drunk. But at the same time, the incident underscores just how vulnerable runners – any pedestrians, really – are when they’re navigating our communities on foot and in proximity to automobile traffic.

If you live in a rural area or a suburb that’s light on regulations concerning sidewalks, it’s hit-or-miss when it comes to safe places to run. Even when sidewalks are present, you’re still not safe.

We’re told to run against the flow of traffic so we can see what’s coming. To wear bright, reflective clothing. Maybe even headlamps and flashing lights attached to safety vests, just so we can be more visible. To cross at intersections, and only when the walk/don’t walk light gives us the OK. But even then we’re all one distraction away from a driver leaving their lane or breezing through a stop light… and right into us.

I don’t want to break my leg or crack open my skull when I’m on a run. I’m a solid 190 pounds, but that’s nothing compared to the 5,000 pounds of steel and glass a lot of you choose as your ride. And that’s why I’ll stop cold if I feel a driver isn’t paying attention.

***

So here’s the rub: I don’t know what the solution is. There are park trails I could go to that are sufficiently separated from the streets as to be practically immune to auto-pedestrian collisions. But if sidewalks aren’t meant for people to, you know, walk on, then what’s the point?

I guess all I can do is lend a voice to it. Paying attention to the road also means paying attention to what’s near the road. When you’re at an intersection, it means looking for people who might be crossing. It means not being in a rush just because someone isn’t moving through as quickly as you’d like. It means looking both ways at traffic – street traffic as well as sidewalk traffic. And if you’re driving in an area with a lot of pedestrians, it means slowing down and paying even more attention to your surroundings.

The car culture in this country runs deep. It’s entrenched to the point where cities, despite their best efforts, are ruled by how to make auto traffic flow smoothly. Anything on foot is mostly an afterthought. But a change in mindset is needed. Cities are only growing and becoming more dense, and with the cost of driving only rising, you can bet more people are looking to live and work in places where they don’t have to drive if they so choose.

In other words, when you’re behind the wheel you need to put those of us on foot on your visual checklist before hitting the gas. We’ll try to be safe, but you must do your part, too. A dent in your front fender could be all she wrote for us.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Seven reasons why your training is failing, and how to fix it

A lot of folks started their year with the “new year, new me” vibe, and a good percentage of those people had their eye on fitness. Six weeks into the year, it’s a safe bet that a good chunk of them are already losing steam.

It happens every year. People get excited about transforming themselves. The join a gym. Hire a trainer. Change their eating. Try things like running, CrossFit or something else. And when the initial excitement wears off, they find themselves disappointed in what they’ve achieved.

For most people, there are plenty of reasons why they peter out. The good news is that almost all of them are fixable. Let’s go through it.

You get out of it what you put in… or not

Anyone can move some weights around or lazily move on an exercise machine for a few minutes. Workouts aren’t about checking a box or collecting a participation trophy. A half-hearted attempt at fitness only results in wasted time.

The solution: Challenge yourself. If something you were lifting becomes easy, add weight next time. A 3-mile run no longer taxes you? Pick up the pace. Intensity is rewarded by results. The term “progressive overload” is used to describe gradually adding difficulty in your exercises over time. If you don’t, your body will adapt to what you’re doing, and you’ll actually regress. Don’t let that happen. Put a little more weight on the bar next workout. Increase your speed on your run, on your elliptical session or on the Stairmaster. Added stimulus equals improved performance.

Your phone owns you

By this time, cellphones are ubiquitous. We don’t leave home without them. We don’t leave anywhere without them. We take pics, make videos, check social media and read notifications. They suck us in and exercise our thumbs in endless scrolling. Even at the gym. Between sets, you reply to just this one text. Then check your Twitter. Or Facebook. Again. And again. And again. The next thing you know, it’s been five minutes between your last set and the latest TikTok you just had to watch. And before you know it, it’s time to go. Oh well. There’s always tomorrow to get them gainz. First, lemme take a selfie…

The solution: Leave your phone in your locker. Or in your car. Or at home. With the exception of a few fitness apps, or maybe as a source of music, the phone serves no purpose during your workout, and if the distractions from, say, EVERYTHING ELSE on your phone add up, the benefit of the fitness apps/music is outweighed by what you lost in terms of time and productivity. Trust me. Whatever your phone is trying to tell you, it can wait an hour while you get your work done.

Speaking of time-sucks, you’ve got a bad case of the chit-chats

You meet some cool people at the gym. When you see them, you talk about training. And your kids. Or maybe last weekend’s hot Tinder date. Or the latest serial killer show that’s now streaming. And as the babbling rolls on, the time between sets grows. Productivity? Gone, like a fart in the wind.

The solution: It starts before you walk in the door. Make up your mind that you are there to train. There’s nothing wrong with a little chit-chat but keep it short and get to business. If a longer conversation is to be had, catch up with your buds afterward. If someone keeps talking to you, acknowledge them, but go on to your next set. And if you’re the person holding someone else up, apply a little self-awareness and let them do their work.

Your diet sucks

You’re working hard. Sticking to the plan. But dude, those cookies aren’t going to eat themselves. Or that pizza. And lemme have a couple more beers before I turn in for the night. But will someone please tell me why the scale isn’t moving, and why I don’t have a six-pack?

The solution: You can’t outwork a bad diet. Do you really want to change your body composition? Athletic performance? Overall health? Eat foods that are better for you. Eat what you need to stay fueled and build, but don’t let that be an excuse to order the richest item on the menu at Cheesecake Factory. And while I dig a beer every now and then, alcoholic drinks are empty calories. They don’t call it a beer gut for nuthin’. Be smart about what you put into your body.

You’re grinding down

Sleep? I’ll sleep when I’m dead! Coffee will keep me going. Or a Red Bull. And I’m doing a 90-day runstreak! And a 30-day challenge! And if this amount of working out is good, then more is better! CrossFit 6 days a week! Yeah baby! But… <CRASH>

The solution: This ain’t hard. Get your sleep. Take a weekly rest day. And remember that more isn’t necessarily better. Work hard but work smart. Understand that as you accumulate fatigue over time, your body will eventually grind down, you’ll get injured, you may get sick, and your gains will cease. Recovery is just as important as the training. Don’t be a bonehead. Learn when to let off the gas.

When it comes to training plans, you’re all “Squirrel!”

Yeah, your training plan is cool, but then you saw this guy’s article in Musclehead Mag. And then there was this super-hot Insta-gal and her take on some sort of squat challenge (I mean, she’s got 100,000 followers!). Mr. Olympia does this! Hafthor Bjornsson does that! I’ll try it all! And then you go… nowhere.

The solution: Identify your goal. Find a plan that will help you achieve that goal. And then, with monkish resolve, stick to the plan. What’s that? You didn’t hear me? STICK. TO. THE. PLAN. Bouncing around from one idea to the next is a ticket to mediocrity. See your plan through, ya knucklehead.

You can’t find motivation, and you need an inspiration fix

You’re scrolling through Instagram looking for your daily dose of fitspo. “Please, someone give me a meme! Or I’ll never make it to the gym!” And on and on it goes as you hunt for the next thing to jolt you into action. Every damn day. But just like a drug, the effects weaken over time until eventually you become one with the couch. Netflix binge, engage!

The solution: Inspiration and motivation are basically the sugar rushes of fitness. The occasional kick in the pants will get you going, but you can’t rely on either for the long term. Instead, you must build discipline. Discipline takes time. It’s boring. It requires (gasp!) compliance with your training plan. But if you commit to being disciplined in your training, guess what it builds? Strength. Endurance. Form. Muscle memory. Habits. Add those together, and what do you get? Results. Comply with your plan over the long haul and leave the fitspo memes behind. You’ll be better for it.

That should cover the bulk of it. Cut the crap, keep your eyes on the prize and achieve your goals. Let’s get to work.

Bob Doucette

Arkansas hiking: Checking the scenes on the King’s Bluff and Pedestal Rocks trails

Jen on an outcrop on the Pedestal Rocks Trail.

High on a lot of hikers’ priorities is to see are waterfalls. And given the amount of moisture and the abundance of cliffs in the Ozarks, you can imagine there is a lot to choose from in northwest Arkansas.

One of my local hiking buddies, my sister-in-law Jen, did some research and spied out a couple of loops that we hoped would give us that visual payoff. Not far from the town of Pelsor is the Pedestal Rocks Scenic Area, part of a larger national recreation area in the Ozark National Forest. We arrived on a cool, breezy morning to a quiet trailhead and looked at our options.

There are two trail loops here. One is the King’s Bluff Trail, the other the Pedestal Rocks Trail. Neither are terribly long, and except for some sloshy spots on the trail, they are pretty straightforward routes that most hikers can handle.

We chose the King’s Bluff Trail first. After a short uphill section, the trail gradually makes its way down its namesake bluffs, a long series of cliffs overlooking a deeper ravine below. You can hike down to the bluffs’ edge where fencing has been built and peer down into a view of a slim but high waterfall that plunges from a shallow creek about 80 feet into the foot of the cliffs below. In drier times I imagine the waterfall is sparse, but we’ve had plenty of rain lately, so it was flowing nicely.

This creek fed the waterfall we came to see.

A short scramble led us to the bottom of the waterfall.

Behind the waterfall.

You can go back up the trail a bit to where the fencing begins and scramble down into the ravine if you want to see the falls from below. There will be a little bushwhacking, and it’s steep and slippery in spots. So, watch your footing. But seeing the falls from below – and behind – is worth the extra effort. As a bonus, you’ll also get to see a smaller waterfall that flows into a rocky grotto fairly close to where you start your descent. It was a cool place to visit, but there was plenty more to see.

Rocky overhang leading back up to the trail.

A smaller waterfall around the corner from the overhang.

We hiked out of there and finished the loop close to the trailhead. From there, we took on the Pedestal Rocks Trail – slightly longer, and without the high waterfalls, but other interesting sights awaited.

The Pedestal Rocks are a geological formation common to the Ozarks. I mentioned this in last week’s post about Hawksbill Crag, but I’ll go ahead and offer this again. The Ozarks aren’t like most mountainous areas in that they formed differently. The region is basically a large plateau, and over time erosion has carved out deep ravines, transforming what was likely a large, broad and flat landscape into something much more rugged and steeply sloped.

What happens to these slopes is interesting. As the sandstone is weathered by water and wind, long, slender chunks of the rock calve away from the hillsides not unlike what you see when glaciers dump icebergs into the sea. Gravity will eventually topple these towers, but for the time being, you get to enjoy viewing them from cliffside trails along the loop. It’s a heck of a visual, and there are many scenic overlooks to see the formations and look out into the broader Ozarks landscape.

An example of the Pedestal Rocks.

Now that’s a view. Seen on the Pedestal Rocks Trail.

An arch!

At one point, we even saw some arches, and sure, there were some small, drippy waterfalls to boot. Eventually the loop makes a turn and you head back toward the trailhead in a more conventional way, that is, hiking through the woods. These are pretty trails in the winter, and I can only imagine in the spring when everything is green, or in the fall when the leaves turn that these routes are spectacular.

ABOUT THE ROUTES: Both trails are roughly similar in terms of route difficulty and elevation gain, which is pretty modest. Both routes also skirt high cliffsides, so be careful if you’re hiking with kids or pets. The King’s Bluff Trail is a 1.7-mile loop. The Pedestal Rocks Trail is a 2.2-mile loop. Both are Class 1 hiking, and if you do them both, you’ll have just shy of 700 feet of elevation gain.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: A 3-day strength training plan for those pressed for time

Lift hard/run hard? Sure, to an extent. And the truth is, some people don’t have the time to be Superman or Wonder Woman.

Funny thing about fitness: Not everyone’s goals are the same.

It runs the gamut: Weight loss, getting that beach body, improving strength, boosting endurance. Some folks are training for a competition of some sort, be it in physique sports or some sort of race.

In January, I wrote a couple of posts about strength training. In those posts, there was one prediction (if you do this, you will get stronger) and one assumption, and it was a biggie: that you will be able to commit to lifting six days a week for 45-60 minutes.

I think it’s a doable proposition. But for some people, it’s not. Whether you’re time-crunched or you have other fitness goals that make such a schedule impossible to keep, some folks can’t hit the iron that often. But that doesn’t mean you should chuck the idea of strength training entirely. You just must change things up and properly scale your expectations.

Every fall for the past eight years, I’ve trained for longer-distance goal races ranging from half marathon to full marathon length. As training plans for these races progressed, the mileage and time commitment grew. There was no way I could do a heavy deadlift day right before embarking on a 13-mile training run. Even shorter runs (in the 5- to 8-mile range) were incompatible with the rigors of an intensive weight training schedule. So I made a compromise: During race training, I jacked up the miles and eased back on the weights.

I still wanted to focus on the big lifts and compound movements, though. But during race training, running was first priority.

What I came up with was a plan to lift three times a week, using a total body format. So, that meant that each workout used the same movement patterns I described in the first week’s Friday Fitness post: Squat, press, pull and hip hinge. Furthermore, each day started with one of the bigger lifts being the emphasized exercise of that workout, with other lifts coming behind it in priority and difficulty. Here’s what that looked like:

Monday (squat emphasized)

Barbell back squat: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Incline dumbbell presses (3 sets of 8)

Lunges (3 sets of 8)

Pull-ups (3 sets of 6-12, depending on ability)

Wednesday (press emphasized)

Bench press: Warmup, then sets of 10, 7 and 5, increasing weight

Goblet squat (3 sets of 12)

Kettlebell swings (3 sets of 12)

Barbell rows (3 sets of 8)

Friday (hip hinge emphasized)

Deadlift (warmup, then sets of 8, 6 and 4, increasing weight)

Overhead press (3 sets of 8-10)

Chin-ups (3 sets of 8-12)

Leg press (3 sets of 12)

You’ll notice that each workout has some sort of pulling movement (pull-ups, chin-ups or rows), and that’s by design. And you can always adjust the exercises you do depending on your preferences or limitations (machine lat-pulls can sub in for pull-ups or chin-ups, for example). But the lift portion of your workout should be no more than 40 minutes long. That way you’ll have time to do your run, ride, swim or other endurance session without having to cut it short.

How did that look for me? The last three years, I’ve used this plan alongside half marathon training workouts. Days where I had longer runs, I didn’t lift. And I didn’t lift on planned rest days. My schedule looked something like this:

Half marathon training workout schedule

Sunday: Cross train (bike for 30-60 minutes)

Monday: Lift, 5-mile run

Tuesday: 8-mile run

Wednesday: Lift, speed workout run

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Lift, 5-mile run

Saturday: 12-mile run

Obviously, this will look different for each person. You may not want to run that much, or you need to run more. Tailor it to your own needs.

But if you’re an endurance athlete, you should do some form of strength training, and this is a good blueprint to get it in a way that dovetails nicely in your endurance training.

And what if you’re not an endurance athlete, you’re pressed for time, and three workouts a week is all you can get? The lifting schedule still holds. If you can give it 2 hours a week spread out over three days, you can work on your strength needs on this plan. Tack on 20 minutes of some sort of conditioning (check out the interval training ideas I had two weeks ago), and you’re spending 3 hours a week getting the strength and conditioning you need.

Last thing: While this sort of plan can be beneficial, you’ll want to manage your expectations. Three workouts a week is not going to get you looking like Mr. Universe or The World’s Fittest Woman. Your strength gains will be in proportion to the work you put in. And you’ll want to make sure your caloric intake matches the amount of work you’re doing (too little and you’ll break down; too much and you’ll gain fat). But if you can give yourself 3 hours a week spread out over three days; you’ll be far better off than skipping it altogether with the thought that you don’t have time to exercise.

Next week: We’ll look at the things that can undermine your fitness goals, and ways you can fix that.

Bob Doucette

Arkansas hiking: Hawksbill Crag via Whitaker Point Trail

Hawksbill Crag, Ark.

It’s no secret that northwest Arkansas has become a popular place for outdoor enthusiasts. Mountain bikers in particular have come to know a number of trails in the area, and towns like Bentonville have embraced it. Hilly countryside, thick woods and loads of trails to explore have helped this part of the state grow in popularity for the MTB crowd.

Generally what’s good for mountain bikers is also good for hikers. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the variety of trails — from short, easy walks to long slogs — leaves something for everyone. And in most cases, all these trails offer a high degree of visual payoff.

Such is the case for the Hawksbill Crag Trail, also called the Whitaker Point Trail, near the town of Jasper. That’s where me and my sister-in-law Jen (my partner in crime on Mount LeConte, Tenn.) went on a recent three-trail hiking day.

A little about that name: The destination of the trail is a rocky outcrop overlooking a set of wooded ravines. It resembles, as you might guess, the head and beak of a hawk looking out over the ravine below. There are a number of places to see the crag, and it’s a popular place to take a photo of someone standing atop the crag, looking out into the scenery with a bunch of air underneath. In the age of Instagram, Hawksbill Crag may as well be Horseshoe Bend. Just as many people hike this trail for that shot as those who come for the views.

A couple enjoys the late afternoon views on Hawksbill Crag.

Like a lot of Arkansas trails, it begins at the top of a plateau and descends to follow a line of ledges. The trail is easy to follow and offers some nice overlooks before you get to the crag itself. Intermittent creeks mean that you’ll have a few crossings, but you can get through most of them without having to worry about getting your feet wet. Those creeks will flow higher and faster if there have been any good rains, however. Choose your footwear accordingly.

That said, you’re not going to find many trails as accessible to hikers of all kinds as this one. It’s a short trip, a 3-mile out-and-back round-trip. Going along with one of the creeks is a small waterfall you can see from the top. I imagine there is a way to get to the bottom, though it may take some doing. The mix of pines and broad leaf trees means there will be at least some greenery year-round.

Winter trees, blue skies, and you can barely make out the moon to the upper left.

As for the crags: One of the reasons why the Ozarks offer so many rocky overlooks has to do with how they are formed. The Ozarks are really part of a large, broad plateau that covers sections of northwest Arkansas, northeast Oklahoma, southeast Kansas and southern Missouri. As the eons have passed, rivers have cut into the sandstone, digging out steep, rocky ravines and hollows that make the plateau appear less flat and more like mountains. Erosion causes some of the slopes and cliffs to collapse, often leaving behind odd, free-standing rock pillars and jutting crags at the edges of the bluffs. Hawksbill Crag is one of those overlooks, the remains of a rock rib whose bottom collapsed long ago.

Selfie.

The crag, and the many smaller ones similar to it, make for great places to stop for photos, have a snack, or just chill. Hawksbill Crag is broad enough to fit more than a dozen people.

As I said earlier, the site has become popular. Unless you get there at dawn or sunset on an off day, you’re unlikely to get that solo shot everyone is looking for when they come here. It’s a busy trail. As such, don’t expect this to be a hike with much solitude.

But it is worth doing because the scenery is top-notch, the trail is easy to get to and the hike is not difficult. The only downside is that you’ll be hiking mostly uphill for the last half mile or so back to the trailhead parking lot, which might be a bummer if you’re already tired. But most people can manage it just fine. It’s a short trip.

A neighboring crag, which ain’t too shabby either.

Hiking buddy Jen enjoys the views.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: The trail is marked with blazes and is easy to follow. Class 1 hiking with a total elevation profile of 413 feet. Expect some minor creek crossings, none of which are deep. Exposure along the ledges is significant, but easily avoided; be careful when hiking with kids. Route length is 3 miles.

GETTING THERE: South of Ponca, Ark., on State Highway 21, go past the State Highway 43 intersection 1.2 miles, turn west on a county road, just before you get to a bridge over the Buffalo River. The dirt road starts steep and has rocky spots but is fine for passenger cars. Go about 6 miles and you will see a parking area on both sides of the road. The trailhead is on the left.

UP NEXT: Two more northwest Arkansas trails with fewer people and big visuals. Coming up next week.

Bob Doucette