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The Dumbbell Squat and Push-up, Improved

Single Leg Dumbbell Squat & Foot Elevated Push Up
Single Leg Dumbbell Squat & Foot Elevated Push-Up

Over the years I've seen dozens of exercise fads. Fifty years ago people slipped on an exercise belt that "jiggled" your fat away. Then there's the Australian company that made caffeinated lingerie. There's even a company that sold blue-tinted glasses by claiming blue suppresses the appetite. None of them helped you get in shape, but they made a few people a lot of money.

You don't sell lots of "stuff" emphasizing the basics, and that's too bad. If you do the basics properly, they're far more effective than any fad ever imagined. You've just got to do those exercises a little differently than you've been taught.

Exercise One: Single Leg Dumbbell Squat
(Also called the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat.)

In a traditional squat, the stronger you get the more weight you have to use. The greater the weight, the more your spine compresses and the more stress your hips go through. Often, the weak point isn't how much weight you can move with your legs, but how much weight you can support with your back.

Some people use the leg press to eliminate the spinal compression problem. Unfortunately, leg press machines can limit range of motion and cause an unhealthy rounding of the spine.

The solution is to work one leg at a time. You use half the weight (saving your back), you develop better balance and you get the same resistance benefit as traditional squats. Here's how.

Step One: Grab two dumbbells, then stand 2 to 3 feet in front of a low bench or platform of approximately 12 inches in height. Rest the top of one foot on the platform behind you with a pad below that knee. Shift your bodyweight over the lead leg with the upper body hinged forward, hips tilting to maintain a neutral spinal position.

Step Two: Inhale, activating the core and slowly bend at the knees, dropping the body weight back and down while maintaining spinal alignment. Control the descent by activating the glute, hamstring and quadricep of the lead leg. Continue to descend until the back knee touches the pad.

Step Three: Hold at the lowest position, keeping the tension in the glute, hamstring and quadricep of the lead leg while stabilizing the trunk. Do not allow the weight to shift to the knee that's lightly touching the ground.

Step Four: Exhale, pressing through the heel of your lead leg, extend the knees and hips, while returning to the starting position.

Not only is it one of the most effective ways to safely perform a squat, but the act of having your back knee touch a pad, virtually eliminates the problem many people have of not squatting deep enough.

Exercise Two: Foot Elevated Push-ups, with Weight

Traditional push-ups work your chest, triceps, core and almost every other muscle in your upper body. It's a great alternative to the bench press, but many people think they've outgrown it because it's too easy. Here's how to do it right and make it challenging.

Step One: Take the standard push-up position laying face down, toes flexed, with the palms of your hand on the ground slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The heel of your hands should be in line with your lower chest. OH, and make sure your feet are on a bench, not the ground.

Step Two: This step is optional. If having your feer elevated isn't challenging enough, have a friend place a weight plate on your back. Start with something smaller like a 5 or 10-pound plate.

Step Three: Start doing push-ups. Retract and depress the scapula (shoulder blades) and contract your core. Exhale pressing the body up until the arms are extended, stopping just short of locking the elbows. Hold that position and inhale. Then lower the body until the elbows form a 90-degree angle and the upper arms are parallel to the ground.

Once you can complete 20 push-ups with perfect form, increase the weight on your back.

That's it. Two exercises improved and made more challenging; and you didn't have to spend $19.95 on worthless equipment to learn them.

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