Countdown Style Strength Training

Hello, hello.

Did last night’s post make you all run to your calendars and mark down Sunday 10/21 as booked because you are coming to the event I’m planning?  If not, you should probably click here, read all about the Oak Scare 5k and Health Fair, and then mark it down.

Another shameless plug, I know.

Countdown Style Strength Training

Today I wanted to talk about the countdown method of strength training.  You guys all know that I love, love, LOVE strength training.  But even the biggest strength training lovers out there will get bored if you do the same things over and over.  Once you’ve been doing this type of exercise for a while, doing “three sets of 10” for all your exercises is going to get pretty boring.  And not only that, but you’ll plateau!

I can’t even tell you how many people I see doing not only just the same moves over and over, but the same amount reps and sets all over again.  As an instructor, if I taught like this every week, I’d have zero people in my classes.

So here’s one way I like to change things up from the norm.  Side note — do I have a “norm?”  I don’t think so.  But maybe I do.  If I do, I’d love to hear what it is.  Anyways, countdown workouts are so good for you.  They aren’t my favorite, but they really challenge the muscles in your entire body, they are done at a fast pace that gets your heart pumping, and this method is completely different from your traditional lift/rest style of training.

Basically, a “countdown” exercise is composed of two separate moves.  You will do 10 repetitions of the first move, followed by 10 repetitions of the second move.  Without resting, you will then do 9 repetitions of the first move, followed by 9 repetitions of the second move.  You continue this pattern until you complete only 1 rep of each exercise.  And try not to break in between!

Usually around rep #4 everyone is glaring at me.  I try not to take it personally.

If you aren’t sure how to pick two exercises to pair together, here are some ways I like to design countdown workouts:

  • Work opposing muscle groups (ie bicep curls, then triceps curls)
  • Work a total body strength move and then a core move (ie alternating front lunges with overhead presses, then crunches)
  • Work a strength move and then do a plyometric cardio move (ie squats, then burpees)
  • Work lower body, then upper body (ie side lunges, then pushups)

You get the idea!

If this type of strength training is intriguing to you, try out this workout that I taught in Circuit class last week.  It is mostly focused on upper body because I did my 30 minutes butts & guts workout the day before I taught and my legs were WAY too sore to do too much lower body the next day.

I pretty much used this format:  A round of countdowns, then a cardio move for 60 seconds, then a core move to be done at your own fitness level – you could go until fatigue, do a three sets of 10 of 12 style here, or whatever floats your boat.

A couple of warnings about this workout:

  1. Round 4 gets very cardio intensive.  It’s 55 burpees in total (interspersed with those squats) and then it goes right into quick feet.  Be careful and rest or get water if needed, you can always march in place as a modifier for the quick feet.
  2. Round 5 gets very core intensive since the two countdown moves are actually core exercise, then the 60 seconds of cardio is a core focused one, then I still have you doing that last core move.  It’s a GREAT ab blast but if you aren’t feeling up for it you could feel free to throw in another lower body exercise for the countdowns (if your lower body isn’t sore like mine was!) or choose something besides mountain climbers as cardio to break it up a bit.

Alright, go give it a whirl!

Has anyone tried countdown style training before?  Thoughts?  Other instructors/fitness gurus… what’s your favorite countdown combo of exercises?

Have a terrific Tuesday!

Move of the Week: Row to Triceps Kickback

Hi friends!  Time for this week’s Move of the Week post.

Today’s move is one of my favorite arm burners, and I use this bad boy in my classes all the time.  I love it because it works both your upper back and your triceps, plus the stabilizing muscles all at once.  Feel the burn!

Row to Triceps Kickback

Step 1

Stand with feet no more than shoulder width/hip width apart.  Bend slightly at the waist so you are leaning forward, but do not round your back.  Hold dumbbells in your hands, palms facing in.

Step 2

Keeping your back flat and core tight, bend your elbows to lift the weights to the side of your chest.  You should really be squeezing your arms here!  Try to get those elbows back!


Step 3

Instead of lowering your weights back down, raise the weights behind you until your arms are completely straight.  Keep your elbows at your sides — you don’t want to let them turn out!  Also make sure to keep squeezing here.

Step 4

Bend the elbows so you return to your positioning in Step 2.

Step 5

Lower back to starting position in Step 1.

Normally with this move, I will do a certain amount reps for just rows.  Then just kickbacks.  And then I’ll combine the 2 for an extra burn.  For example, do 12 rows, 12 kickbacks, and then 12 rows with kickbacks.  If you are a beginner, perhaps try starting out one arm at a time.  For those who want an extra challenge, try increasing your weight or doing more reps.

What’s your favorite upper body exercise?  What’s your favorite way to combine two upper body moves into one? 

Something Extra:  According to, today is National Hot Dog Day!  Hot dogs are pretty terrible for you, but I harbor a secret love for them.  Fun fact – in college I participated in a Spike’s hot dog eating contest on campus.  I ate four giant dogs and their ginormous french baguette buns in one hour.  The contest was to see how many you could eat in an hour without throwing up.  Gross!  My friends and I went all out, made t-shirts that said “Bring on the Weiners!” on the front, “Scarf Don’t Barf” on one sleeve, “Chew Don’t Spew” on the other sleeve, and had a “Dogs Devoured” tally count on the back.  In case you couldn’t tell, I used to be just as cool when I was a college freshman as I am now!  Ha!