Sicilian Crunches

These are pre-stretch abdominal crunches performed either on a Swiss ball or an ab mat. Over the past two years, I've been using this movement quite successfully with my clients.

It's termed a Sicilian crunch not only to reflect my parents' nationality (that's actually the main reason), but also because it feels like a dozen mobsters have unloaded rounds into your abdomen by the time you finish! Believe me, this exercise will induce some serious soreness, peaking generally two days later, so don't plan a trip to your local comedy house during the initial stages of this program!

You must have a solid base of core training before attempting this advanced movement. It's a Telle/Chek "let's play with the lever arm" type of exercise in which better leverage occurs during the weaker, concentric contraction, and then all hell breaks loose during the stronger, eccentric contraction.

Basically, keep the dumbbell high on your chest as you crunch upward. At the top of the movement when you are sitting upright, extend your arms straight overhead with the dumbbell. Make sure that you have a good grip on it — if the dumbbell slips onto your head, it could ruin the set! Then slowly control the movement downward.

Keep your arms slightly bent and in line with your torso throughout the negative. It should feel like every fiber of your abdominals is ripping apart! Enjoy that feeling as you perform five sets of 4-6 reps at a 4110 tempo, taking a three-minute rest in between each set. Try to keep the total time under tension below 40 seconds and really exaggerate the negative in a slow, smooth, controlled manner.

Unless you want to topple backward and send the Swiss ball into orbit, I'd suggest anchoring your feet under a sturdy support. Also, take advantage of the spherical nature of the Swiss ball or ab mat to achieve full range of motion. In other words, don't just go halfway down and then back up. How would you like it if your girlfriend did that to you?

Calf Machine Shoulder Shrugs

Unfortunately, this exercise isn't used much. In fact, the name itself causes people to shrug! It's great for rehab as it completely isolates the upper trapezius fibers without involving the arms.

For those of you who have problems with grip during conventional barbell or dumbbell movements (i.e. you can't hold on any longer because your forearms feel like they're on fire) and/or find your elbows constantly bending and absorbing some of the load, take a step back and try this exercise on for size. This will help focus your concentration on your shoulders — the proximal joint — and not your arms.

Also, the machine restricts you to one plane of motion — straight up and straight down. It won't allow you to waste time and energy by rolling your shoulders. Remember, gravity acts vertically, not horizontally.

To do this movement, position yourself underneath the pad of a standing calf machine as if you are about to do a set for your calves. Raise your shoulders as high as you can and pause at the top. Then control the pads as they lower — don't just drop the weight down!

Three sets of 10-12 reps at a 2220 tempo with a one-minute rest interval should do the trick.

It's very important to maintain proper form and perfect posture for this exercise, so keep your navel drawn in slightly with a neutral spine to dissipate some of the weight from your back and onto your slightly bent legs. Also, keep the chest up and head straight — not poked forward!

Aim for full range of motion with your shoulders. Go as high as you can at the top, and get a good stretch at the bottom. Visualize Q-tips attached to your shoulders on an angle, then try to poke out your eardrums.

When you've finished this and any other exercise that causes spinal compression, i.e. squats or military presses, try hanging on a chin-up bar for a while at the end of your workout. This will help increase the intervertebral space of your spine and instantly add a foot to your height. Caught your attention? Okay, maybe not a foot, but it'll help.

As Charles has mentioned in the past, shrugs will also help to realign the position of the C5/C6 vertebrae, thus improving your arm strength as the upper traps stabilize the scapula when curling. Give this exercise a shot for at least three weeks, then reassess your curling poundages. If all goes well, you should also be able to curl more weight.

So now, when people ask you about calf machine shoulder shrugs, you can let them know what they are by shrugging your shoulders in the classic "I dunno" fashion.