Exercise can help prevent and treat mental health problems, and taking it outside adds another boost to those benefits

Article written by Scott Lear, Professor of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, The Conversation

*Click here to read the full article*

Article highlights:

  • Mental health problems affect 1 in 5 people every year.
  • Exercise can prevent and treat mental illness.
  • Greatest benefits occurred in those people who exercise 45 minutes or more, 3 or more days per week.
  • Even shorter sessions (as little as 10 minutes) can make a difference.
  • Doesn’t matter what type of activity you do – even active household chores.
  • A meta-analysis revealed as little as four weeks of exercise reduced symptoms of depression in people with major depressive disorder.
  • Higher intensity exercise appears to be more effective than low intensity, but exercise is beneficial at all intensity levels.
  • Exercise results in the release of endorphins (feel good hormones) and endocannabinoids (reduces pain and improves mood).
  • Exercising in nature can further improve mental well-being.
  • People who spent at least two hours in nature over the course of a week reported higher well-being compared to those who had no contact with nature.

Benefits of Exercise

Exercise is important for many reasons and should not be viewed as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to better ones overall health and prevent future injuries, ailments, and diseases. Regular exercise does more than control weight or aid in weight loss; it also improves mood, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, and combats health conditions and diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome, depression, anxiety, arthritis, falls, and many types of cancer. Believe it or not, exercise can also be fun and a great way to socialize.

Most healthy adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. For those who claim to not have time to exercise, “Exercise snacks” which are very brief (≤ 1 minute) bouts of vigorous exercise performed periodically throughout the day is a time-efficient approach to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce the negative impact of sedentary behaviour on cardiometabolic health. Quickly running up a set a stairs is a great way to reap these benefits.

Strength training at least 2 days per week is also recommended and has been shown to decrease blood pressure, manage blood sugar levels, promote greater flexibility and mobility, improve brain health, and makes your bones stronger. For general muscular fitness, selecting a weight that allows you to perform 8-15 repetitions for 1-3 sets while maintaining good form is recommended.

If you aren’t sure how to begin or need help selecting appropriate exercises, feel free to reach out to me for some assistance.

Children and Strength Training

Is strength training safe for children?

Health care and fitness professional groups – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Orthopaedic Society of Sports Medicine, the American College of Sports Medicine, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association – agree that a supervised strength training program that follows the recommended guideline and precautions is safe and effective for children and adolescents (ACSM, 1998; Cahill, 1998; Faigenbaum et al, 2002; Pediatrics, 2008; Schafer, 1991)

Like adults, before starting a program, children should have a pre-participation physical exam by a qualified medical professional. This is necessary because some children should not participate due to medical reasons. Children and adolescents with cardiomyopathy, isolated pulmonary hypertension, stage 2 hypertension, chemotherapy with anthracyclines, and Marfan syndrome patients should not participate (Babaee Bigi and Aslani, 2007; Pediatrics, 2008; Rice, 2008). Consultation with a medical professional regarding resistance training is also required for young athletes with uncontrolled seizure disorders (Epilepsia, 1997, as cited in Stricker et al., 2020).

Always attain medical clearance.

At what age can children start strength training?

There is no minimal age requirement for participation. A child’s physical, cognitive, and social maturity are main factors in determining the age at which a child is ready to begin a strength training program. Children must be able to follow directions and demonstrate sufficient balance and proprioception, with usually occurs by 7 or 8 years of age (Dahab and McCambridge, 2009).

Exercise Prescription

Frequency: 2 to 3 non-consecutive days/ week

Intensity: Begin with 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions at a low resistance training intensity (≤ 60% 1RM). The initial load should be selected so that 10 to 15 repetitions can be completed with some fatigue but no muscle failure (Faigenbaum et al, 1996).

As the child’s resistance training skill competency improves and can be demonstrated consistently, the weight can be increased in 5% to 10% increments with a reduction in the number of repetitions. The program can be progressed to 2 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps with a low-moderate intensity (≤80% 1RM) (Stricker et al, 2020). Periodic phases of lower repetition ranges (<6) at a higher intensity (>80% 1RM) can be introduced so long as resistance training skill competency is high (Lesinski et al. 2016).

Timing: 8 to 10 exercises per session. 2 to 3 exercises per muscle group. 1 to 3 minutes rest between sets. Each training sessions should include a 5-10 minute warm-up and a 5-10 minute cool down.

Type: A variation of resistance types: free weights, resistance bands, medicine balls, and weight machines. Be cautious of weight machines as they are usually adult-sized and not meant for kids and the lever arms may not be sized correctly. Also, be careful with free weights since balance and coordination are underdeveloped in preadolescents which increases their susceptibility to injury (Dahab and McCambridge, 2009).

Note that weight training programs should be individualized based on age, maturity, and personal goals and objectives. Programs that incorporate an aerobic component are most beneficial because they stimulate an increase in metabolism and improve cardiovascular fitness (Dahab and McCambridge, 2009).


Appropriately designed strength training programs can benefit children’s health by not only improving their strength, muscular power, and local muscular endurance; but also their balance, bone mineral density, lipid profiles, fat-free mass, and insulin sensitivity. In addition, it contributes to an increased personal self-esteem, resistance to injury, and mental health (Conroy et al. 1993; Faigenbaum et al. 2009; Fripp & Hodgson, 1987).

Is 1RM testing appropriate for kids? Heavy loads? Olympic Style weightlifting?

The American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008 does not support using continuous maximal lifts for youth strength training. Single maximal lifts are not recommended until skeletal maturity is attained. Generally, submaximal loads should be used and when a child or adolescent is learning a new exercise, no-load repetitions can be used to develop form and technique.

However, research conducted by Faigembaum et al., 2003, demonstrates that healthy children can safely perform 1-RM strength tests so long as the appropriate procedures are followed and qualified instruction is present.

Olympic-style weightlifting and powerlifting can also be performed by healthy children so long as proper progression is followed as well as the guidance of a skilled coach (Dahab and McCambridge, 2009).

Skeletal Risks

Resistance training programs that are appropriately designed have no apparent negative effect on linear growth, the cardiovascular system, or physeal health (Lloyd et al. 2014, as cited in Stricker et al. 2020). The rare case reports of epiphyseal plate fractures related to strength training are due to the misuse of equipment, lifting inappropriate amounts of weight, improper technique, or training without qualified adult supervision (Caine et al., 2006). Similarly, soft tissue injuries to the lower back are commonly the result of poor technique, too much weight, or ballistic lifts (Jones et al., as cited in Dahab and McCambridge, 2009). There is no direct relationship between strength training and occurrence or severity of injuries in young athletes. It may even indirectly reduce the risk or severity of sports-related injuries (Dahab and McCambridge, 2009).


American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Strength Training for children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2008; 121:835-840.

American College of Sports Medicine. Current Comment: Youth Strength Training. Indianapolis, IN: American College of Sports Medicine; 1998.

Babaee Bigi MA, Aslani A. Aortic root size and prevalence of aortic regurgitation in elite strength trained athletes. Am J Cardiol. 2007; 100:528-530.

Cahill BR. American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine: Proceedings of the Conference on Strength Training and the Prepubescent. Chicago, IL: American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine; 1998.

Caine D, DiFiori J, Maffulli N. Physeal injuries in children’s and youth sports: reasons for concern? Br J Sports Med. 2006 Sep;40(9):749-60. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2005.017822. Epub 2006 Jun 28. PMID: 16807307; PMCID: PMC2564388.

Conroy BP, Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, Fleck SJ, Stone MH, Fry AC, Miller PD, Dalsky GP. Bone mineral density in elite junior Olympic weightlifters. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Oct;25(10):1103-9. PMID: 8231753.

Dahab KS, McCambridge TM. Strength Training in Children and Adolescents: Raising the Bar for Young Athletes? Sports Health. 2009;1(3):223-226.

Faigenbaum AD, Milliken LA, Westcott WL. Maximal strength testing in healthy children. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(1):162-166

Faigenbaum AD, Kramer WJ. Cahill, et al. Youth resistance training: Position Statement paper and literature review. J Strength Cond Res. 1996 l18:62.

Faigenbaum AD, Milliken LA, Loud RL, Burak BT, Doherty CL, Wescott WL. Comparison of 1 and 2 days per week strength training in children. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002:73:416-424.

Faigenbaum, Avery D1; Kraemer, William J2; Blimkie, Cameron J R3; Jeffreys, Ian4; Micheli, Lyle J5; Nitka, Mike6; Rowland, Thomas W7. Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23():p S60-S79, August 2009. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31819df407

Fripp RR, Hodgson JL. Effect of resistive training on plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels in male adolescents. J Pediatr. 1987;111:926-931.

Lesinski M, Prieske O, Granacher U. Effects and dose relationships of resistance training on physical performance in youth athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(13):781-795

Paul R. Stricker, Avery D. Faigenbaum, Teri M. McCambridge, COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS, Cynthia R. LaBella, M. Alison Brooks, Greg Canty, Alex B. Diamond, William Hennrikus, Kelsey Logan, Kody Moffatt, Blaise A. Nemeth, K. Brooke Pengel, Andrew R. Peterson; Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics June 2020; 145 (6): e20201011.

Rice SG, American Academy of Pediatrics Concil on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Medical conditions affecting sports participation. Pediatrics. 2008;121:841-848.

Schafer J. Prepubescent and adolescent weight training: is it safe? Is it beneficial? J Strength Cond Res. 1991:13:39.

Paul R. Stricker, Avery D. Faigenbaum, Teri M. McCambridge, COUNCIL ON SPORTS MEDICINE AND FITNESS, Cynthia R. LaBella, M. Alison Brooks, Greg Canty, Alex B. Diamond, William Hennrikus, Kelsey Logan, Kody Moffatt, Blaise A. Nemeth, K. Brooke Pengel, Andrew R. Peterson; Resistance Training for Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics June 2020; 145 (6): e20201011. 10.1542/peds.2020-101

Excessive Cardio and Weight Loss – my experience

I was 16 years old when I began my journey towards and healthier body. Unfortunately, the approach I initially took was the opposite of healthy; excessive cardio, extreme caloric restriction, lack of carbohydrates, and the dependence on pre-workouts. I shake my head in shame when looking back at my initial approach. I did lose weight (some fat, a lot of muscle), but I was weak, tired, irritable, and definitely did not look healthy.

Like many others, especially women, I thought the best strategy was to restrict myself in one area, while excessively pushing myself in another. Eventually I spiraled down to a measly 98 pounds, experienced horrible stomach pains, couldn’t sleep, and I looked like I could snap like a twig at any moment. I went too far in the opposite direction, feeling just as unsatisfied as I was with a higher body fat percentage.

It reached the point where everything felt hard, even easy workouts. I lost motivation and couldn’t get a good night’s sleep due to soreness, and the pre-workouts. I wasn’t recovering. I felt like shit.

Luckily I got into lifting weights, and my desire to be strong started to outweigh my desire to be thin. This is where things starting coming together.

Fast forward 18 years and I’m still learning, but I do not restrict myself when it comes to food (that’s not to say I eat carelessly/ poorly) and my days of endless bouts of cardio are far behind me. I now know and respect carbohydrates as an extremely important fuel source for overall health and athletic performance.

I of course still perform aerobic exercise, but I keep it within an hour and make to sure refuel afterwards. Inline skating will forever be my favourite! However, I more often perform conditioning workouts that involves strength training, like circuits including the row machine, loaded carries, sled pulls and pushes.

I am not an endurance athlete, and if you aren’t either, don’t spend all your time performing excessive cardio. Instead, prioritize good sources of protein, lift heavy weights, walk often, reduce or eliminate alcohol, and learn as much as you can about the human body – your body. Respect yourself and things will come together.

Keep moving.

Alcohol & its Effects on the Body

We all know that excessive consumption of alcohol has some serious adverse health effects, both in the short and long term. Yet, it’s the most widely accepted and used drug consumed by people on a regular basis. In fact if you’re someone who doesn’t drink, that is often looked at more strangely than if you are a drinker.

While moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, here a several ways it directly deteriorates your health.

Poor Sleep/ Lack of or No R.E.M.

Alcohol is a depressant, and while it may make you fall asleep quicker due to its sedative effects, the quality and duration of your sleep suffers. Drinking alcohol before bed can suppress REM sleep, REM sleep may benefit learning, memory, and mood (Leonard, 2021). A lack of REM sleep may have adverse implications for physical and mental health. Additionally, alcohol consumption can increase your risk of sleep apnea by 25% (Pacheco, 2022).

Skin Health

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of water flushed from your body. This can result in the skin looking dull and dry. Chronically dehydrated skin will age much faster, leaving you looking much older than you are.

Alcohol also increases inflammation in the body. Puffy, red skin, broken blood vessels, blood shot eyes -not a very good look.

Additionally, alcohol causes oxidative stress which damages every cell in your body, including your skin. We are exposed to free radicals every day through pollution, smoke, sunlight, food, and yes, alcohol. According to research, alcohol not only releases a flood of free radicals into the body, it also impairs your antioxidant defense at the same time (Emanuele, 2006).

Weight Gain

As mentioned earlier, Alcohol negatively affects sleep. Sleep is an extremely important factor when it comes to weight management. When our bodies lack sleep, it messes up our hunger hormones leptin and grehlin, resulting in us feeling more hungry throughout the day.

Additionally, the consumption of alcohol can contribute to weight gain. Cocktails, wines, spirts and beers are not free from calories. Drinking too much too often can lead to “beer belly.” People also tend to make poorer food choices while drinking. Pair this with high calorie foods like chips and pizza, and your body will be working so hard to burn those calories from the alcohol that it won’t have time to worry about burning the calories from food, and instead store it as fat.

Damage to the Brain, Heart and Liver

Slurred speech, impaired memory, trouble walking straight, blurred vision, unable to recall events – clearly alcohol severely affects the brain. People who drink a lot of alcohol over a long period of time increase their risk of developing serious changes to the brain. This is a result of poor overall health or from liver disease.

People who suffer from alcoholism are often deficient in Thiamine due to poor overall health. Also known as vitamin B1, Thiamine is an essential nutrient needed by all tissues, including the brain. Up to 80% of alcoholics are deficient in Thiamine, and some will go one to develop serious brain disorders (Alcohol Alert, 2004).

The liver, which is the lead organ responsible for breaking down alcohol and clearing it from the body can be damaged from heavy, long term drinking. “People may not be aware that prolonged liver dysfunction, such as liver cirrhosis resulting from excessive alcohol consumption can harm the brain, leading to a serious and potentially fatal brain disorder known as hepatic encephalopathy (Butterworth, 2003).”

To add to all that, drinking too much in one sitting, or a lot over a long time can damage the heart. This can cause problems such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, and high blood pressure (Alcohols Effects on the Body, “n.d”).

Protein Synthesis

Drinking after a workout or a game negatively affects recovery. However, some athletes party harder than your average drinker and its a common practice for sports teams to go out after a game and binge drink.

A study conducted by (Parr et al., 2014) was comprised of 8 physically active males who completed 3 separate trials of 8×5 leg extension at 80% 1RM, followed by a continuous 30 min 63% Peak Power Output and high intensity intervals, 10x30s at 110% PPO.

Immediately and 4 hours post-exercise subjects consumed either:

  1. 500 ml of whey protein (25g)
  2. Alcohol (1.5g ˑkg body mass, 12± 2 standard drinks) + Protein (ALC-PRO)
  3. Carbs + Alcohol (25g maltodextrin) (ALC-CHO)

Subjects also consumed a carbohydrate rich meal 2 hours post exercise. Muscle biopsies were taken at rest, 2 and 8 hours post-exercise.

One of the results of this study was a significant reduction in Muscle Protein Synthesis in the absence of post-exercise protein intake. Even when protein was ingested in the PRO-ALC group, the intake of alcohol reduced MPR by 24% (Parr et al., 2014).

Drinking in Moderation

The Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction does offer Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. This is to promote of culture of moderation. My issue with moderation is it can mean something different from one person to the next, from one guideline to another. If you choose to drink, that is your choice. However if you feel like you are losing or have lost control over your drinking, or you know someone who has, there are resources available to help you.


Leonard, J. (2021, November 24). What is REM sleep? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247927#stages-of-sleep

Pacheco, D. (2022, January 31). Alcohol and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep

Albano, E. Alcohol, oxidative stress and free radical damage. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006 Aug;65(3):278-90. Accessed January 14, 2021

Butterworth, R.F. Hepatic encephalopathy—A serious complication of alcoholic liver disease. Alcohol Research & Health 27(2):143–145, 2003.

Alcohols Damaging Effects on the Brain. (October, 2004). Alcohol Alert. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.pdf

Parr, E. B., Camera, D. M., Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A., & Coffey, V. G. (2014). Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PloS one9(2), e88384. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088384

6 Ways to Increase Your Push Up Count

If you are training for a fitness test that includes max push ups, make sure to note their protocol first to ensure you are performing them the way that is required prior to your test. Some fitness tests have you perform max push ups in a given time, or more likely, there won’t be a time limit but will be terminated if there is a pause in performance. Furthermore some protocols have you touch your chest to the floor or object on the ground. However what I have been seeing more commonly is that you have to achieve a 90 degree joint angle in your elbows in order for the rep to count, and a full lockout at the top.

Lets quickly talk about proper form. Starting in the prone position (on your stomach) with hands under the shoulders directly next to the chest, push up into a high plank position with the core engaged, glutes squeezed and feet together. While performing the push ups your arms will be like an airplane or an arrow, hips shouldn’t be sagging and the butt should not be sticking up in the air. If this is not possible you may have to first work on push ups from the knees or possibly on a wall and work your way to the floor.

Now, here are 6 suggestions towards helping you increase your repetitions while performing push ups:

  1. Perform max push ups 2-3 times over the course of your day

This will allow you to get uncomfortably comfortable with the challenge of going to failure. It will also improve your muscular strength and endurance, as well as mental stamina.

2. Choose a number of reps and complete them throughout your day

Choose a number, say 200, and break them up over the course of the day. This is a great way to achieve volume without the accumulation of fatigue. Take the opportunity to emphasize good form for every rep.

3. Utilize weighted push-ups

Wearing a weight vest or a loaded backpack is a great way to increase your push up count. Obviously if you can perform multiple push ups under additional load, your body weight will feel much lighter. In my opinion you should be efficient at performing unloaded push ups first before adding load, and when you do, introduce weight in small increments.

4. Incorporate different variations

While there are tons of variations of push ups, utilizing wide grip push ups to emphasize the outer fibers of the pecs, narrow grip to emphasize the inner fibers and the triceps, as well as incline and decline for the upper and lower pecs are some great options for you to use.

5. Incorporate rest/pause methods, as well as mechanical drop sets

Mechanical drop sets – You start with the hardest or most difficult variation of an exercise, and as you reach technical failure, meaning you cannot maintain good form, you move to an easier variation. Since we are talking about push ups, one could start with weighted push ups, move to unweighted from the toes, then drop to the knees, then move onto incline push ups, and then could take it even further by pressing against a wall.

Myo reps – This is a specific rest/ pause training technique that involves taking a working set to the point of failure to ensure maximum muscle fiber activation, then maintaining this muscle fiber activation over a sustained period of time by using short rest periods. To do this you will perform 1 set of push ups to failure, then rest for 20 seconds, complete 3 more reps, repeat this pattern until you cannot even do 2 push ups.

6. Strengthen core muscles

Its not just the pecs involved in push ups, your mid and low back muscles and even your glutes need to be able to withstand high repetition push ups. Incorporating exercises such as variations of planks, dead bugs, good mornings, and bridges are some excellent choices that will carry over nicely when performing max push ups.

My Favourite Single-leg Exercise: Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

Rear foot elevated split squats, Bulgarian split squats, call them what you may as long as you include them in your training.

Unilateral exercises are important but sometimes overlooked, which is unfortunate because they offer many benefits. They help correct muscle imbalances, improves coordination, uses core muscles, and aids in injury prevention and rehabilitation.

The Bulgarian split squat challenges all the muscles of the lower body and helps improve mobility while at the same time increases stability and balance. It is a great alternative to barbell back squats as it puts less strain on the low back, but can also be used as an accessory exercise to improve your back squat.

Personally, I utilize many different variations of the RFESS in addition to back and front squats. Over the course of the COVID-19 lockdown here in Ontario I did not have access to a squat rack. Instead, I decided to put my focus on unilateral training and slow eccentrics. The RFESS was at first extremely challenging, but quickly became my favourite unilateral lower body exercise.

There are many variations of the RFESS, but before you add external weight should master your own bodyweight first. In my opinion you should be able to perform at least 10 smooth, controlled reps with a pause at the bottom on each leg before grabbing dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell.

Despite the variation, the set up and execution of this exercise is the same. Using a bench or chair or box no higher than knee height, elevate your rear leg by placing the top of your foot on the bench. I try to find the correct placement of my front leg before doing this, but sometimes I still need to adjust and wiggle around a little bit. I use a narrow stance to avoid pulling groin muscles and lean my torso forward for proper hip hinge mechanics. As I descend my knee travels on tops of my toes, but not excessively past them. You may have to play around a bit and find the ideal position for yourself.

Here are a few of the variations I regularly utilize below. I encourage you to add this exercise to your repertoire.

Keep moving!

4 Training Techniques to Include in Your Workouts

1. Eccentric Isometrics

You may also know them as paused reps or time under tension. Eccentric isometrics is an old training technique where you perform the eccentric or negative phase of a lift in a controlled manner, then holding the stretched position for a given duration before completing the lift/concentric phase.

For example, take your basic air squat. Instead of performing 12+ reps, cut your reps in half and slow it down. Take your time as you lower into your squat, hold the stretched position for 2-4 seconds, and then stand back up quickly. Focus on good form and keeping tight, using optimal/natural range of motion. Do not collapse. 

Eccentric isometrics is an excellent technique to help clean up form through increased proprioception and sensory feedback. “Ultimately movement modification, body positioning, neural firing patterns, and overall motor control are maximized from this heightened state of kinesthetic awareness and sensory integrated movement.” – Dr. Joel Seedman

2. Offset Loading

Offset loading is exactly how it sounds, you load more weight or place more tension on one side of the body. This can be performed using various equipment and even body weight.

Offset loading exposes imbalances and helps eliminate them as it forces the weaker side to catch up to the stronger. It also results in extremely high core activation as you are resisting rotation and lateral flexion. In addition, it requires the lifter to move in a slow, controlled manner so both sides move in unison which improves mechanics, and is effective for hypertrophy training.

You can apply this technique to almost every lift. For example, the dumbbell chest press. The heavier dumbbell should be 2-3x as heavy as the lighter dumbbell. Perform 2-4 sets of 3-5 repetitions. Repeat on other side. 

You can also try barbell back squats, deadlifts, rows, and presses using this technique. Offset kettlebell or dumbbell carries are another option. If you find yourself without any equipment, 1-arm body rows using a door frame and single arm planks are other great options. 

3. Unilateral Work

Unilateral exercises are single-leg or single-arm movements. They often get overlooked in training, which is unfortunate because they highly improve their bilateral counterparts. 

Variations of lunges, 1-arm presses, and rows helps to isolate and correct muscle imbalances, improves coordination, uses core muscles, and aids in injury prevention and rehabilitation. 

In addition when you train one side of the body, the opposite side is also stimulated. This is referred to as cross-education of the muscles, and is thanks to the nervous system. The brain pathways that are used for the primary unilateral exercise stimulate the same muscles on the opposite side of the body. Cross-education is greatest on lower body muscles and when eccentric (lengthening) contractions are used. 

4. Eyes Closed Training

Most gyms have mirrors lining the walls, but individuals should rarely rely on them while training. Instead, try the eyes closed training technique as this teaches the lifter to rely more on kinesthetic awareness instead of sight. 

It’s not necessary to perform your entire workout with your eyes closed, instead choose 1 or 2 exercises and really hone in on the muscle(s) you are working. It may be necessary to reduce the reps and/or sets, but you should be able to handle 80-90% of your typical load. 

This method is an effective way to clean up technique and movement patterns as faulty alignment and poor posture is quickly corrected. It forces the lifter to look inwards allowing them to better tap into their mind muscle connection. If you have never tried this before, try it while performing basic bodyweight exercises before adding external load.

Bigger, Stronger Traps: My top 3 Moves

Lu Xiaojun
Lu Xiaojun – one of my favourite Olympic Lifters


#1. Snatch and Clean Pulls + Shrugs: If you really want to improve the size and strength of your traps, just take up Olympic Weightlifting. Oly lifters have some of the most impressive backs imaginable. The sport is extremely technical however, and I wouldn’t suggest trying it without a coach; but clean and snatch pulls are a great start and extremely effective in making the trapezius grow.

#2. Dumbbell Rows + Shrugs on an Incline Bench at Varying Angles: The trapezius does more than just shrug –  it elevates, depresses, retracts, and rotates the scapula, or shoulder blade. Performing the rows and shrugs at varying angles will ensure more of the traps are being hit – not just the upper fibers.

#3. Farmers Walks + Shrugs: Farmers walks are excellent at developing the core muscles, and so long as you are standing up straight with you your shoulder blades pulled back, your traps will take most of the beating.


There are plenty of other exercises that are effective at developing the traps, but these are 3 of my favourites – and from my experience the most effective. You must have noticed I add shrugs at the end of each move, and incorporate time under tension every now and again. I do this when I want to put extra focus on those suckers and I vary the reps from 3-8 depending on what I am pulling.

Keep Moving!