TRAINER: The December Program

by Courtney Walberg RD, NASM-CPT | CW Nutrition for Body & Mind

We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with turkey and all of the fixings! Now it’s time to burn those calories off. As we jump into this holiday season filled with parties and pastries, exercise is the key to staying fit, maintaining your weight and feeling healthy.  You need to be eating right, sleeping right and training hard to build muscle and continue to improve your overall fitness. It’s a simple formula for proven results.

Many of us have long workdays stuck at a desk and often have poor posture while sitting. Lower back pain has can be just as troubling for the 20 year old crowd as it is for 50-year-old men and women. We commonly forget to strengthen and stretch our lower-back and abdominal muscles to prevent this pervasive problem.  “Spine health isn’t about making your back muscles stronger or more flexible,” says Stuart McGill, Ph.D., a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, “It’s about training them to maintain the strength they have over long periods of time. The other critical factor is to groove optimal muscle-activation patterns.” (McGill). That is, teach the muscles that stabilize your spine to support your back during any activity, for maximum protection.

Researchers in Finland found that men who lacked lower back muscular endurance were 3.4 times more likely to develop lower-back problems than those who had fair or good endurance. Poor endurance in your deep back and abdominal muscles combined with poor muscle-activation patterns leave you unable to sit or stand with good posture for extended periods. Poor posture increases stress on your vertebrae, turning your spine into a compacted-disk turntable, playing endless reprises of “Twist and Shout.” One of your goals this month should be to increase the endurance and strength of your forgotten deep-back and abdominal muscles, to increase spine stability and ultimately reduce lower-back stress. The idea here is to diversify your workout and keep it challenging…which is why we are here.

WARM UP: Perform this warm up daily prior to the following workout routines.

  1. Jump rope or jumping jacks: warm up with 100 jumps total (doing jumping jacks or using a jump rope if you have one available) to get your heart rate up.
  2. Side shuffle: Side shuffle back and forth between a 5-yard distance for 30 seconds to get your adductors and quads warm.
  3. Repeat: Rest for 30 seconds and perform steps 1 and 2 again. (2 sets total). Then move onto the dynamic stretching.

STRETCHING: Dynamic stretching is stretching with motion to allow the body to warm the muscles slowly in a functional way. Jillian Michaels, expert trainer on “The Biggest Loser” recommends these dynamic stretching techniques to warm up.

  1. High Knee Walking: Targets: glutes, hamstrings, arms and calves; Take an exaggeratedly high step, driving your knee as high as possible, and simultaneously drive your opposite elbow forward. Make sure that you push up onto your toes so that your calf gets involved. Use a normal running arm motion, with a 90-degree angle at the elbow; elbow goes from chin level to as far back as possible while maintaining forward straight posture.
  2. Deep Side Lunge: Targets: Glutes and groin; Keep your torso upright and take a wide step out to the side. Lower your body so you are in the sumo squat position. Recover by bringing your feet together and standing upright. Never cross your feet. Keep your hands on your hips.
  3. Trunk Rotation: Targets: Lower back; Stand with your hands on your hips. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight in front of you. Rotate from the waist to the right, then left. Rotate as far as you can while keeping your feet in the same position. Perform this movement 25 times.
  4. Butt Kicks: Target: Quads; This can be done walking or jogging. As you walk or jog, exaggerate the knee bend so that you are trying to kick yourself in your glutes. You want your knee to point straight to the ground as your heel comes toward your glutes or butt. Keep your arms pumping in the normal running motion.
  5. Arm Swing: Target: Pectoral muscles and upper back; Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms out to your sides and swing them forward, crossing one over the other, so that you hug yourself, then open them up and out to the sides so you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Increase your speed and range of motion as you warm up. Repeat about 30 times.

MONDAY: Back Building Workout

Cardio: Run outdoors or on the treadmill: Increase your heart rate with a 1 minute walk then speed up to a jog for 3-5 minutes at 50% of your VO2 max (i.e. of your fastest pace). As you loosen up, increase your speed between 75-85% of your VO2 max and hold that pace for 25 minutes. (A heart rate monitoring watch like a Polar watch is a great way to measure your heart rate for the gadget lovers out there).

Back Strengthening: Perform two sets of each exercise below.

  1. Three Position Sit-Up (Abdominals): Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat and your head & neck straight. Lift your torso 10 to 15 degrees off the floor, pause for a count of one and then repeat the process at 30 degrees (about two thirds of the way off the floor) and again at the top of your sit-up. Do 30 to 50 repetitions.
  2. Swimmer’s Backstroke (Lower Back): Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Now crunch forward, lifting your shoulder blades as high as you can off the floor. Keeping your chest high, perform a backstroke one arm at a time, allowing your torso to twist toward the arm that’s reaching back. Repeat for 45 seconds, alternating arms.
  3. Bicycle Crunch (Abdominals): Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees and your hands touching your temples. Slowly bring your shoulder blades off the ground and pump your legs back and forth, bicycle style, while alternately touching your left elbow to your right knee and your right elbow to your left knee. Do 20 to 30 repetitions with each elbow.
  4. Superman (Lower Back): Lie facedown with your arms extended in front of your head. Simultaneously lift your arms, shoulders, chest and legs off the floor as high as you can. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds; then lower and repeat. Do 20 to 30 repetitions.
  5. Leg Extension (Abdominals): Lie on your back with your hands at your temples and your legs flat on the floor. Crunch forward while simultaneously drawing your knees towards your chest; then lower your torso and straighten your legs, holding both a few inches off the floor for a count of 5. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do 20 to 30 repetitions.

TUESDAY: Circuit Strength Training

WEDNESDAY: Interval Training

Training Tip: Leaning forward 22 degrees is most effective for propulsion at takeoff when sprinting. The keys to acceleration are forward lean and longer contact between your foot and the ground – not applying more force to the ground. Plant your foot farther than usual behind your center of mass for greater lean – this helps propel you at toe-off.

Interval Variation I: The Pyramid

This pyramid structure allows you to start with short bursts of speed, peak in the middle of the workout with long surges of energy and then work your way back to the starting intervals.  Use the 1 minute low intensity period as a recovery with a light jog (but not a walk; you want to keep your heart rate up) before your next surge of high-energy sprinting.

  1. 3 – 5 minutes warm up with a light jog
  2. 30 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  3. 45 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  4. 60 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  5. 90 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  6. 60 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  7. 45 seconds high intensity, 1 minute low intensity
  8. 30 seconds high intensity
  9. 3 – 5 minutes light jog cool down
  10. Stretching or foam rolling

* Note: use the “low intensity” as a recovery with a light jog (but not a walk) before your next surge of high-energy sprinting.

Interval Variation II: Sports Conditioning

Sports are unpredictable. This interval simulates that unpredictability by having you perform at different intensities at different times in more of a “stop-start” pattern. You can mix and match the order and repetitions below as much as you would like. Rest longer after the periods in which you use the most energy to allow for recovery.

  1. 3 – 5 minutes warm up
  2. 2 minutes moderate or high intensity followed by 2 minutes low intensity (repeat once)
  3. 30 seconds high intensity followed by 30 seconds low intensity (repeat four times)
  4. 60-yard sprints (or 10 seconds if not running) followed by 90 seconds rest (repeat 6 – 10 times)
  5. 3 – 5 minutes light jog cool down
  6. Stretching or foam rolling

Finish with the following two exercises:

  • Spider man push-up: Assume a standard push up position with your body aligned from head to ankles. As you lower your body toward the floor, lift your right foot, swing your right leg out sideways, and try to touch your right knee to your right elbow. Return to starting position, and repeat with your left leg. Do 10 reps with each leg.
  • Bodysaw: Place a towel on the floor, and assume a plank position with your feet on the towel. Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes and then “push” yourself backward with your upper arms, with your feet sliding on top of the towel. You should feel your core engaged and your lengthen.  Immediately return to starting the position. Perform 10 reps and don’t let your hips sag in between reps.

THURSDAY: Circuit Strength Training

FRIDAY: Training with TRX Suspension

Todd Durkin is an elite strength, speed and conditioning coach who trains professional NFL athletes. He states, “the first step is discovering weaknesses and strengthening them. The next key is focusing on training movement. Many guys come to me and they are already strong. I want to try and make them faster, more explosive and more flexible. I like to emphasize speed, agility, quickness, acceleration, power and metabolic conditioning along with my strength and flexibility work. I try to involve many sensory stimuli while training. I love to create exercises that challenge the mind as well as the body.”

1. TRX Atomic Push up:

  • Assume push up position with back flat and feet in TRX foot cradles.
  • Perform push-up, then bring knees to chest at top of movement.
  • Straighten legs; repeat for 10-15 reps, 2 sets.

2. TRX Pendulum Swings with Knee Tuck:

  • Assume push-up position with back flat and feet in TRX foot cradles.
  • Rotate hips right and bring knees toward chest and outside of right shoulder.
  • Return to start; repeat to opposite side.
  • Continue alternating for 10 reps each side, 2 sets.

3. TRX Knee tucks with Plank:

  • Assume the push-up position with your back flat and feet in TRX foot cradles.
  • Bring your knees to your chest for 10-15 tucks followed by plank hold
  • Complete 3 sets total.

4. TRX Front Rollout:

  • Starting position: Holding the TRX handles in each hand, kneel facing the anchor point. Grasp the handles with a closed grip and position your hips directly over your knees, keeping your legs hip-width apart. Flex your torso into a ball by contracting your abdominal muscles and maintain this position throughout the movement. Bend your elbows until your upper arms are positioned vertical to the floor with your hands adjacent to your face and keep your head aligned with the upper spine.
  • Downward Phase: Contract your core and back muscles to prepare for movement. Gently push your hips forward, opening up the angle at your knees as your body swings forward under the anchor point. Do not allow your back to sag during the movement. Keep your elbows in and hands adjacent to your face.
  • Upward Phase: Exhale and slowly pull with your abdominal muscles until your body is back to your starting position. Be sure not to alter your arm or back position.
  • Perform 6-12 repetitions, rest for 45-60 seconds; repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 sets

5. TRX Back Row:

  • Starting Position: Holding the TRX handles in each hand, assume a split-stance position with both feet facing forward. Contract your abdominal muscles and pull your shoulder blades down and back. Gently lean backwards, shifting your body weight over your back leg while straightening your elbows positioned at chest height. Keep your head and spine aligned, and avoiding any sagging in the low back.
  • Upward Phase: Slowly bend your elbows, pulling your entire body towards your hands. Your elbows should move towards your sides and remain close to your body while your wrists should stay in the neutral position. Keep your head and spine in alignment and avoid any sagging in your low back and hips.
  • Downward Phase: While maintaining your rigid torso, slowly lower your body back towards your starting position, straightening your elbows without letting your shoulders roll forward. Keep your head and spine aligned together.
  • Perform 6-12 repetitions, rest for 45-60 seconds; repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 sets

6. TRX Suspended Lunge:

  • Starting Position: Interlock the two TRX handles together and loop the foot cradle around the ball of your right foot while supporting yourself. Face away from the anchor point, standing on your stance leg. Adopt a modified sprinter-stance with the right leg flexed to 90 degrees, knees aligned side by side.
  • Downward Phase: Slowly lower your body towards the floor, shifting the hips backwards simultaneously and maintaining your body weight over the heel of your left foot. As your body lowers, the suspended leg will drive backwards, maintaining the 90 degree bend at the knee. Continue to lower yourself maintaining weight over your left heel until your right thigh and torso are in parallel.
  • Upward Phase: Exhale and slowly press your body upwards by pushing down against the floor through your left heel. The muscle action at the knee and hips extend the body back to your starting position.
  • Perform 6-12 repetitions, rest for 45-60 seconds; repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 sets.


Run outdoors preferably on the grass at the nearest park or football field.

  • Get your heart rate up with a jog for 3-5 minutes at 50% of your VO2 max (i.e. of your fastest pace).
  • Perform 5 100-yard sprints as fast as possible.
  • Then perform the exercises as listed below.

Single Leg Squat: Keep your torso as tight as possible and brace your core. With your chest up and back out, sit back as if you’re lowering yourself into a chair. Raise your leg so it doesn’t touch the floor. Do 15 reps, 2 sets.

Co-contraction split squat with offset press: Stand in a split stance holding a medium-weight dumbbell at your shoulder on the same side as your back leg. Slowly lower into a split squat while pressing the dumbbell overhead with a single arm. Return to the starting position. Do 10 reps on each side, 2 sets.

Push up to single arm support: Do a regular pushup. At the top of the push up, lift one arm and hold for 3 seconds. Return your hand to the floor and do another pushup, lifting the other arm for 3 seconds. Do 12 reps on each arm.

Single arm dumbbell row: Hold a medium dumbbell in one hand as your bend forward at your hips with your knees bent. In a rowing motion, pull the weight up leading with your shoulder blade by pulling it back and down. Do 12 reps on each side, 2 sets.

Side Plank: Lie on your left side and prop your upper body up on your left forearm. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders.  Lift your top leg and swing it forward and backward in an even tempo. Your goals are to resist the momentum of your leg and to maintain a stable torso. Do 10 reps on one side and then repeat on the other side. That’s 1 set. Do 2 sets total.

SUNDAY: Recovery Day

Use this day to stretch for longer periods of time or use the foam roll as needed. Allow time for your muscles to repair themselves. Focus on hydration and continue to improve your nutrition. Don’t forget, optimal nutrition will help enhance your athletic performance! Try yoga or go on a nice walk around your neighborhood or the nearest park to get your blood moving.

Questions? Email the Author:


  1. Clark, Micheal, Lucett, Scott, and Corn, Rodney. National Academy of Sports Medicine Essentials of Personal Training. Third Edition. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2008.
  2. Men’s Health. Weider Publications, LLC. 20 November 2010. The American Media Inc Fitness Health Network. Back Building Workout.
  3.; Jillian Michaels, fitness expert. 28 November 2010.
  4. Men’s Health. Weider Publications, LLC. 03 June 2004. The American Media Inc Fitness Health Network. The Key to Fat Burning: Interval Training.
  5. STACK magazine. Featuring Drew Brees, Best in the NFL. Strength Circuits pg 40, For the Athlete, By the Athlete


12 2010

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