Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, you’re likely to see quite a few goals that involve weight loss, body composition targets, and PR’s on various compound lifts. While there’s nothing wrong with these objectives, I want to provide 21 alternative New Year’s resolution goals, specifically ones that involve more subtle yet undervalued training components for advanced lifters, athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and general populations.
1. Maximize Covid, Home, & Bodyweight Workouts
If 2020 taught us one thing about fitness and training for 2021 it’s that we don’t always need to have access to a full-scale commercial gym to get a great workout and reach our fitness goals. In fact, even with just a few basic training tools like a pair of dumbbells, kettlebells, water jugs, or even just properly performed bodyweight drills, everyone from beginners to advanced athletes can make physiological improvements.
The key is learning how to adapt and progress your workouts by focusing on elements other than weight and total load lifted. Performing just bodyweight exercises or movements with very light loads while focusing purely on form, quality of movement, full body tension, and muscle mind connection can do wonders not only for cleaning up your body mechanics but also for improving strength and muscle. Learn more about bodyweight training and maximize your workouts with limited or no equipment with our Bodyweight Training Redefined program.
2. Avoid Injuries and Train Pain Free
If you’re truly looking to optimize your health, performance, fitness, physique, and overall physiological function, the goal for any lifter and athlete moving into 2021 should be to avoid injuries and train in a pain free manner. Recent research on pain science and body mechanics suggests that a majority of the musculoskeletal pain, discomfort and injuries we experience is directly related to our body mechanics. Read more about pain science and body mechanics here.
With that said, nothing brings your training progress to a halt faster than injuries, pain, tweaks, and joint trauma. Yes, the goal of minimizing pain and injuries is easier said than done particularly if you train under high intensity and high load conditions, however, there are various steps that can be taken to ensure success. Daily Member workouts here.
3. Improve your Technique, Body Mechanics, and Muscle Function
Improving your body mechanics, eliminating dysfunction, and cleaning up your movement patterns is probably the single most effective training strategy you can have not only for maximizing joint health and injury prevention but also for optimizing your physique, strength, muscularity, and performance. That’s because proper mechanics allow the individual to properly target their muscles and stimulate functional strength and size with each and every repetition rather than using garbage reps which destroy the joints. Read more about maximizing your reps here and about improving body mechanics and muscle function in my book Movement Redefined.
4. Eliminate Asymmetries and Imbalances
Similar to the previously mentioned goals, eliminating asymmetries and imbalances is another critical component for maximizing progress in the gym while avoiding injuries, pain, and training stagnation. While achieving perfect symmetry and balance is impossible, the presence of significant imbalances in the body inevitably leads to further degradation of body mechanics and various compensation patterns that over time can trigger a number of musculoskeletal and physiological repercussions.
One of the best ways to prevent this is to slow your movements down by incorporating eccentric isometrics into unilateral exercise variations (i.e. single arm and single leg exercises) which brings me to my next point.
5. Train with Eccentric Isometrics
I’ve been in this industry for over 17 years and I can honestly say beyond a shadow of a doubt that eccentric isometrics are the single most effective training method in existence. Here are two of my NFL athletes demonstrating a proper eccentric isometric single leg squat.
The reason eccentric isometrics are so effective is due to the emphasis on the slow and controlled eccentric phase (as well as the pause in the stretched position) that optimizes sensory feedback from muscles spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms. This maximizes kinesthetic awareness and sense of feel such that the lifter is able to fine-tune their mechanics and master their movement. As a result not only is greater stress placed on the targeted musculature but, injuries, inflammation, and joint trauma are minimized as the body learns the most efficient way to move and these improved movement patterns are incorporated into both strength training and everyday life. Read more about mastering your movement with eccentric isometrics in my new book Movement Redefined.
6. Master The Big 7 Foundational Movement Patterns
Learning to master foundational movement patterns such as the “BIG 7” which include the squat, hinge, lunge, horizontal pull, horizontal push, vertical pull, and vertical push will do more for your training than focusing on any other exercises. Becoming efficient at foundational movement patterns will not only allow you to gain an incredible amount of functional strength and size, your body will also be ready for any physical task, sport, activity, or challenge your throw at it. And yes mastering the “Big 7” is most effectively accomplished by employing eccentric isometrics. Read more about Mastering the “Big 7” here.
7. Train Full Body More Frequently
Another critical component for mastering one’s movement revolves around repeatedly practicing and frequently training the foundational movement patterns. In other words, perfect practice makes perfect. However, ensuring your body doesn’t break down as a result of such frequent implementation of compound movements requires the incorporation of eccentric isometrics into one’s training as this allows the lifter to train at a higher frequency while maximizing recovery and minimizing joint stress. As an added bonus, recent research suggests that higher frequency training involving full body routines may provide superior results to split routines in terms of muscle growth, strength gains, and body composition as well as hormonal changes. Read more about training frequency, periodization, programming, and more here.
8. Become More Efficient at Eyes-Closed Strength Training
Eyes-closed training is something I frequently incorporate with all of my clients and athletes. That’s because it improves movement mechanics and muscle function.
In fact I’ve seen it do wonders for my clients and athletes almost immediately. The reason is that closing your eyes on any exercise forces your muscle spindles and other proprioceptive mechanisms to work overtime in order to stabilize the movement and control the load. In other words, it teaches the lifter to rely more on kinesthetic awareness rather than sight. Instead of watching your way through the movement, feel your way through the movement. This is further emphasized when combined with eccentric isometric protocols. Learn more about eyes closed training here.
9. Improve Your Foot and Ankle Mechanics
Foot and Ankle Training is one of the most neglected components of strength and performance. If the feet and ankles aren’t functioning properly (which most individuals’ are not) then all components of movement performance, strength, and fitness, are compromised. Simply put, if the feet and ankles are out of sync it will be impossible to perform any lower body exercise correctly. You’ll be squatting, hinging, lunging, jumping, running, and even walking with faulty mechanics which can lead to a number of potential injuries throughout the kinetic chain.
While there are a number of drills and exercises I use to address this, for this one movement I frequently implement a drill I refer to as the single leg swap/single leg switch. Since introducing this exercise to the fitness community several years ago on T-Nation, it’s gained great popularity in mainstream strength and conditioning settings as well as physical therapy circles. That’s because it’s one of the most effective drills for correcting various forms of foot dysfunction.
Here’s one of my awesome clients and national figure competitor Leslie Petch demonstrating an advanced variation as she holds a single leg eccentric isometric squat.
Make it a goal in 2021 to master your foot and ankle mechanics and watch your quality of movement improve immensely. To learn more about fixing your feet and ankles check out my Ultimate Foot and Ankle Manual.
10. Improve Your Posture
Whether we want to admit it or not posture plays a critical role in musculoskeletal health and overall physiological function. Up until recently this argument was based primarily on anecdotal evidence. However, recent scientific research has demonstrated that posture and spinal alignment have an even greater impact on injuries, pain, inflammation, and muscle function than previously thought. Here’s an example of a posture enhancing rowing exercise as demonstrated by one of my MLB pro baseball players Austin Meadows.
Besides working on spinal alignment and positioning during your resistance training and exercise regimen, implementing a handful of postural drills per day can do wonders for enhancing your spinal alignment and overall health. Try performing single leg stands, eccentric isometrics bodyweight squats, bodyweight hinges, band rows, and bodyweight lunges periodically throughout the day. Also, avoid sitting for longer than 60 minutes at a time without moving around and taking the time to address postural mechanics for at least 30 seconds. Learn more about the impact of posture on pain and injuries here.
11. Eliminate Foam Rolling, Soft Tissue Work, & Stretching
This is something I’ve addressed over the years but it’s worth repeating. If you have to foam roll, stretch, massage, and perform various forms of soft tissue work on a consistent basis this is a strong indication your movement patterns and muscle function are producing inflammation, tightness, and muscular spasticity. Contrary to what the fitness industry would have you believe, this is anything but normal and should never be accepted as common practice. Performing these various forms of “supposed” therapeutic modalities is a common case of treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Fix your movement patterns, eliminate dysfunction, and watch the symptoms fade.
On a similar note, I’ve been asked quite a bit over the last few years why I never post videos on foam rolling, corrective exercises, soft tissue work, stretches, mobility drills, and joint mobilization exercises. The reason is simple. I never use them on myself or my clients as they simply have no need for these suboptimal methods as their body’s don’t require any such modalities. All of the therapeutic benefits they need are produced from properly executed foundational movements. If, in fact, my clients needed any of the above mentioned modalities it would simply be an indication that something is amiss with their training and body mechanics.
If you really want to enhance your quality of movement try incorporating eccentric isometrics on foundational movement patterns into your routine. This will provide better therapeutic benefits than foam rolling, soft tissue work, and stretching without the negative repercussions of repeatedly desensitizing your muscle spindles and pain receptors from over-manipulation – an unfortunate side effect of foam rolling and stretching. Learn more about detecting dysfunctional movement patterns here.
Learn more about Daily Member Workouts with TRAINING REDEFINED which is guaranteed to help you reach your 2021 fitness goals and more.
12. Keep Your Immune System Strong by minimizing inflammation.
This is something you’ve probably heard a thousand times this year as boosting your immune system is one of the keys to staying healthy during this Covid epidemic. Yes, that means taking a vitamins C and D, and Zinc as well as eating lots of fruits and vegetables. You’ll likely want to include apple cider vinegar, Manuka honey, and curcumin for additional immune support. It’s also important to get high quality sleep and avoid processed foods and sugar.
However, one key element that many folks forget about when it comes to maximizing their immune response is keeping inflammation levels low. One of the best ways to do this is to improve your muscle function and body mechanics. Yes I know that sounds a bit crazy but our muscles are the largest endocrine organ of the human body and can ultimately impact our entire physiological health.
If our muscle tissue is healthy and functioning optimally then our whole body will likely be healthy. However, if our muscle function is off then this increases systemic levels of inflammation and oxidative stress which have a direct impact on immune function and overall health as inflammation is linked to just about every sickness & disease in existence. Read more in my book MOVEMENT REDEFINED .
13. Walk 30 minutes everyday
Humans are meant to walk and move around not be sedentary and sit all day. Yes getting your daily workouts and putting in your 1 hour at the gym is critical however not enough can be said about staying active throughout the day by walking around and getting light physical activity interspersed throughout the day.
Make it a goal in 2021 to accumulate at least 30 minutes of walking everyday. The good news is it can be broken up into a several 3-10 minute walks over a 12-24 hour period. In fact, this is likely superior to one longer 30 minute walk as you’ll have more frequent metabolic spikes that will likely improve your body composition and energy.
14. Activate Daily
Take 3-10 minutes every day and perform a few activation drills that target posture, body alignment, muscle lengthening, balance, symmetry, and stability. For instance I have all of my clients and athletes perform a few bodyweight drills such as single leg stands, bodyweight squats, bodyweight lunges, single leg RDL’s, plank variations, glute bridges, pushups, and lateral lunges, on a daily basis all performed in an eccentric isometric fashion.
Here’s an example of a very effective sprinter single leg stand activation drill shown by NBA All-Star Joe Johnson.
Besides keeping your muscles loose and eliminating any muscle tightness that frequently accumulates from sitting, you’ll also find you improve your neuromuscular efficiency ultimately allowing you to go heavier and harder when you actually perform your strength workouts. Read more about daily activation workouts here.
15. Stop Obsessing About Progressive Overload
Obsessing about progressive overload is one of the single biggest mistakes any lifter can make as you inevitably get more and more focused on demonstrating strength rather than building it. Yes, gradually improving your numbers over time is important in order to continually build strength and size but obsessing over it at the cost of sacrificing form and technique will do very little other than increase your chance of injury. Focus instead on improving your technique and muscle activation. Then you’ll actually be building strength rather than just demonstrating it. Full Functional Weight Training program here.
As a result you won’t have to force progressive overload as you’ll find it happens very naturally since your body will be easily capable of adding 2-5% to your lifts. On a side note this also means you’ll likely need to ditch your basic periodization models with specific number goals for each workout as attempting to stick to such a rigid system leaves little room for physiological fluctuations to occur. Read more about Periodization & Exercise Programming here.
16. Do more Single Leg Training
Single leg training is one of the most undervalued training methods. Yes, you won’t be satisfying your ego by lifting the same heavy weights you would on bilateral movements however your joint health, muscle growth, strength, symmetry, stability, and activation patterns will improve tremendously.
Additionally, if you only have access to light weights or a few dumbbells or even water jugs you’ll be surprised how far light loads will go when performing single leg exercises. In fact, a few perfectly executed eccentric isometric single leg squats and single leg RDL’s with just bodyweight will humble even the strongest and most advanced athletes. Read more about single leg training here.
17. Cut Your Reps in Half
If you really want to increase the quality of your workouts while building functional strength and hypertrophy I highly recommend cutting your numbers of reps in half. Instead of mindlessly shooting for 8-15 traditional repetitions using low quality muscular contractions, try performing 3-8 reps with slow and controlled eccentric isometrics.
In fact a set of 3-8 eccentric isometric reps if performed properly will likely take substantially longer than a traditional set of 8-15 reps since the total time under tension per repetition will be significantly higher. Additionally, don’t be surprised if cutting the reps back and slowing the reps down exponentially increases the intensity of your workouts as quality not quantity is ultimately what dictates training intensity. Read more about the best rep ranges for training here.
18. Target Your Oblique Slings
Whether it’s low back pain, hip issues, misalignment throughout the kinetic chain, poor neuromuscular efficiency, or simply faulty body mechanics, training your oblique slings will provide a tremendous benefit for any and all individuals. In fact, oblique sling activation patterns simply highlight and utilize movement patterns that mimic the most foundational activities we see in everyday life including running, hitting, kicking, throwing, and more.
Unfortunately most folks tend to lose these abilities unless they’re playing sports or consistently implementing them into their training. Make it a goal in 2021 to start incorporating oblique sling exercises at least a few times per month and watch your quality of movement improve greatly. Read more about oblique slings here.
19. Start Incorporating Explosive Training
Explosive movements are often equated with athletic performance training. While its important for athletes to incorporate these into their workouts for specificity of training purposes for their sports, it’s arguably equally as important for individuals of all walks of life to consistently perform explosive movements.
In fact, one of the first things we tend to lose as we age is our ability to activate fast twitch fibers as well as our ability to produce and absorb high levels of force and torque. Explosive movements such as explosive eccentric isometric jumps, Olympic lifts, medicine ball throws, and sledge hammer drills will prevent this degradation, while improving our muscle function.
20. Do Sprints
Similar to explosive movements described above, the ability to sprint is one of the most fundamental human skills we lose very rapidly once we stop performing it.
While it’s not entirely necessary to perform maximal exertion sprints each workout, performing a handful of 70-90% effort short duration sprints/fast runs periodically can do wonders not only for maintaining fundamental human motor programs but also for enhancing body composition, conditioning, and fast twitch muscle activation. More Sprint Workouts here.
21. Use Eccentric Overload
If your goal is to maximize strength & size in 2021 then you’ll likely want to periodically incorporate eccentric overload into your training. In fact the research is pretty clear on this indicating that periodic use of eccentric overload (handling greater than your 1RM for the lower phase of the movement) not only helps prevent injuries but it’s one of the most effective techniques there is for triggering muscle hypertrophy. Read more about Eccentric Overload here.
Unfortunately it’s not always the most practical or easiest thing to find a competent training partner to help you with these eccentric overload methods and heavy negatives. But never fear, we’ve got you covered with dozens of self-assisted eccentric overload exercises. Make sure to explore my website for multiple articles on how to incorporate eccentric overload without the use of a training partner on upper body workouts, leg workouts, and even bodyweight workouts.
BONUS!! Follow the 80/20 rule
It’s always a tricky balance to find the right ratio of foundational movements with novel exercises. It’s easy to go from one extreme to the other focusing only on a few basic lifts and never challenging your nervous system with foreign stimuli, or going in the opposite direction and only using advanced and novel variations while forgetting about the basics.
In reality we want to focus a majority of our training on the basic foundational movements while still periodically including unique and advanced variations to both expose and address imbalances and weakness that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. With that said I use the 80/20 principle with 80% of my exercises for my athletes being basic foundational eccentric isometrics and the other 20% involving unique and advanced movements. Read more in full article.