The Secret To Improving Your Squat Depth

Many of you lovelies are concerned about squatting past parallel. So we’re going to chat about that today.

But, let’s get one little disclosure out of the way first:

***Getting to rock bottom in a HEAVY barbell squat is really not as important as you may think. Unless you are stepping onto the powerlifting platform that is - in which case you’ll want to train to that desired depth as outlined by the rules of your league. Otherwise, dropping it to the point that is comfortably difficult is the best course of action when faced with more MAXIMAL EFFORT weights. And this kind of squat is really not what we’re talking about here anyway.

OK. Back to it...

To get this started, let me just say that I happen to think it’s generally SUPER important to be able to goblet squat at sub maximal loads to at least a depth that allows your hips to sit below your knees. But it’s this type of squat—the more upright, front loaded, tailbone-at-6pm kinda squat, where we seem to struggle the most.

I don’t really mean “we" as in you and I. I am not one of the strugglers. Just recognizing the truth here: I don’t have ANY issue with dropping it like it’s hot. I wait for the subway at Spring Street with my booty between my heels and my nose between the pages of a Henry James novel. 

 

Some Bodies Can Just Get There Easier

I don’t point this out to gloat. Although this ability has certainly allowed me an immeasurable advantage in shaping my very curvy backside. Hah.

I note this for two reasons. My joints are arranged definitively differently than yours. And, I spent many hours from the ages of 4 to 13 working on my flexibility in ballet shoes. What that means is, I’ve got an advantage in both leverage and training history. Those are two very important factors contributing to squatting ability.

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But You Can Drop It Low Too!

But, just because you may not have the same body or background as me, doesn’t mean you can’t get to be as comfortable as I am in a fuller range of motion with some intentional practice.

And oddly enough, all those releves and grand plies - those deep knee bends at the bar - taught me an important cue that you might find is the game changer for improving your squat training.

The one cue that makes all the difference - the one that will ultimately allow you to sit into a fuller range of motion - is exactly how you initiate lots of your basic ballet skills....

Instead of moving from the hips to start, you need to begin solely by pushing into the knees first.

 

But Won’t That Hurt My Knees?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself “But I have bad knees.” First off, don’t talk about your joints like that. How you speak about your body has a powerful effect on your brain. Don’t forget that! 

And yes, it’s certainly easy to imagine that aspiring for a sharper angle at the knee as we’re implying here, is going to make matters worse.

But, the thing is darling, doing a slow and controlled deep squat—putting your knee into greater flexion with intention and care; will actually help strengthen that knee you are worried about.

You know that knee of yours that doesn't feel so great after lunges or jump squats or sprints - when it’s forced into those tighter positions under much higher speed, load and pressure from that amrap clock. Slow it down. Give your brain and body a chance to learn and understand the motion.

As you practice BONUS, you'll also be giving your body a chance to strengthen other joints in a fuller range of motion like your hips and ankles - and those guys love to move.

 

How To Initiate Your Front Squat

So here’s your challenge. Start tall with your feet rooting down and the crown of your head reaching to the ceiling. Begin to pull the floor apart with your feet (if you've never heard that before, click here!) as normal. Now, keeping your hips locked up tight underneath your shoulders, continue to pull the floor apart as you bend the knees and pull them apart too. You can think of this like sliding your back down the wall a few inches.

Once you've got that slight bend, THEN you may move from your hips. But instead of sitting back, aim to get your butt right between your heels on the way down - i.e. push forward as you go down.

Watch this quick vid for a visual demonstration of what we're saying.

Did you get lower than you normally do? Do you think you could get even lower if you held on to something like a rack or a TRX? Make adjustments with assistance to achieve an even better result if you can't get all the way down there.

And more importantly - Do you feel how your quads, those muscles on the front side of your thighs, are working super hard? Thats gonna help you get that nice defined leg you’ve been chasing after. Just beware, you’re gonna be a lot more sore than you normally are.

 

Practice!

Start with 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Try and descend nice and slow - like a 3 second count, before returning to standing. Add in a 2-3 second pause(without losing tension) once you've practiced a couple weeks. Add weight as needed.

Like what you're reading? Follow me on IG @ashleighkast and sign up for my free nutrition tips here.

How To Get Strong Enough To Run

Strength Training For Running 101 - Trunk Stability

In-person and online distance coaching clients included, many of my lovelies like to use running as a means for improving fitness. It’s an economic and effective choice.. Running is what we call in the industry a “low-barrier-of-entry sport,” - i.e. something that requires small financial investment and little or no facility/equipment requirements. That sounds great, right? Fitness should be available to all.

HOWEVER, the ease with which we have access to running sometimes tricks us into believing there’s no major pre-requisites in terms of skill either. And unfortunately, that just ain’t true.

In order to withstand the repeated stress of running and reap all the potential benefits—and yes, there are many reasons to run—your body needs to be strong in all the right places. There are certain strengths REQUIRED before starting a running regimen.

Getting stronger in order to run better is an easy concept to grasp. “But, strong in what ways,” you may ask? Well, that my dear is a very good question. Cause you certainly don’t need to go wasting your time with bicep curls and tricep push-downs, as I see lots of cardio queens toiling over in the weight room.

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You need to focus on developing certain qualities that will have better impact on your readiness for running like plyometric and deceleration training. You’ll also benefit from lower body mobility and strength training.

We can get into those concepts more at a later time(shout me out @ashleighkast if you have interest), but right now we’re gonna talk about the most important quality you should work on first - the one that is going to influence your success through all the others - and that is trunk stability.

I'm going to give you one bit of magic that will help you increase your trunk stability - which by the way is important for EVERYONE, not just runners - but first, let's talk about what it is.

Ok, what is trunk stability?

Trunk stability is what you may really be imagining when you think about “core training." You know that your trunk is your body—your torso without the appendages. So trunk stability is then defined as your ability to keep your torso stable throughout any given movement—moving with integrity and honoring the way the joints work there.

Why is this so important to me? 

Well, for our purposes, we’re going to focus on the lower part of your spine. As you run, you need to be able to keep your lumbar spine and your pelvis stable…

To Improve Your Mobility

Proximal Stability Leads To Distal Mobility. What leads to what? Ok. let’s break this loaded statement down. Cause it’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds. When we say “proximal” we mean towards the midline of your body i.e. your trunk. When we say “distal” we are referring to joints further away from your midline, like in this particular case - your hips.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can create a more stabile environment throughout your trunk, you can gain better mobility through your hips without doing a single isolated stretch. 

And that increased mobility can potentially lead to a WAY more efficient stride. With a more efficient stride, you’ll be able to run faster with less effort. That sounds good, right?

To Breathe More Efficiently

Your diaphragm is primarily a respiratory muscle. Everyone knows that. However, the diaphragm also plays a significant role in your postural stability, including the lumbo-pelvic complex we’re focusing on. As you engage in more strenuous workouts, the priority of the diaphragm needs to shift to that cardio focus. But you’ll need to have enough strength in other supporting muscles like the pelvic floor and the transverse abdomens in order to continue breathing optimally as the threshold shifts. 

So what we’re saying here is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and in turn strengthen all those muscles involved in that task, you can be more efficient with your breathing pattern as you run.

With a better breathing pattern, you can run at higher speeds and you can run for extended time. 

To Lessen Your Risk Of Injury

We mentioned this before, but you need to honor the way you were made to move and therefore respect the function of your joints. As we said, your lumbar spine and your pelvis need to be more stabile and your hips need to be more mobile. Dishonoring of that relationship will result in unnecessary stress on joints that can't handle it. And more than likely, you'll run into lower back stiffness or pain first.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and strengthen your joints PROPERLY, you can build the capacity in your trunk and lower body to withstand the stress of running.

With the right strength, you can ensure your benefit is higher than your cost, and get better every year without being sidelined.

How can I start working on my trunk stability?

You can start building better core strength for running right now by training in the half-kneeling position. This posture works great because it not only mirrors what happens when you run (putting one hip in flexion and one in extension), but it's also simply difficult to screw up. You'll know if you're not getting it right because you will lose your balance and fall over. That doesn't sound nice. But the results from challenging half-kneeling are VERY NICE.

Start with these three:

Half Kneeling Chop

Chop the cable down and across your body as you keep your hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Lift

Lift the cable up and across your body as you keep hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Belly Press

Press the cable straight in front of you while keeping hips unmoving.

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Three Valid Reasons You Don't Like Running

But, you still kinda wanna get into it...

Oh girl, you are not alone. I've had tons of friends and clients over the years who've felt the same way.

They kinda hate running. But, they still feel like it's something they'd like to get into, or at least should be able to do. 

First off, let's be clear. You don't have to run. There are plenty of other ways you can get cardiovascular benefits and keep your heart healthy. 

And I definitely don't ever advise clients to take on half marathon or marathon distance goals. The cost of training required is just too high if you don't really want it.

That being said, I do think that everyone SHOULD be able to sprint(because survival) and I also happen to believe a 5K is a reasonable test for any fit person(because endurance).

BUT, even the most avid of gym-goers seem to despise the task of running.

And while it's easy to make righteous assumptions like well, you just dont have enough will power, the truth is you might hate running for reasons beyond lack of motivation. There are many justifiable reasons you might avoid it. And we're going to address a few here.

Like this one...

1. It's boring

Running endless miles at slow speeds for days on end is tedious and boring. But more importantly, this method prescribed by most running magazines 5K and 10K programs, is really not as effective as it could be at building you speed and endurance necessary for both distances. Your workouts should include varying bouts of intensity that result in better, more efficient cardiovascular improvements and more interesting and fun challenges.

2. It feels like you're dying
It is completely valid that you don't like feeling like your heart is going to explode out of your chest or that your legs feel like a hundred pounds of dead weight being dragged along with you. And both are signs that you're training in suboptimal conditions. Your workouts should have very specific intensity prescriptions and appropriate parameters to ensure that your training is making your body stronger and better, not weaker and overly stressed.

3. It makes your joints hurt
If you experience excessive aches or pain in your joints during or after running, you may have another indicator that your workouts are too stressful for your current level of ability, or just poorly programmed from the get-go. Proper progression is key. And it's not just your heart and lungs that need to be built up, bit also the capacity of your legs. Your training should factor in muscular endurance so that your workouts are pain free.

So maybe you do ACTUALLY hate running. But, if you still find the idea of running for fitness COMPELLING, but one of the above reasons has been holding you back... well then I've got the solution.

And this 12-week comprehensive strength training and running program is only on sale for $39 until Sunday. 

Come on. Let's give this thing one last shot.

Five Tips For Managing Stress And Winning at Fat Loss

Managing stress is hard. And when the hits are piling up on you as the week goes on, it can feel like there’s literally no end in sight. Worse, it can also feel totally hopeless, like theres no way you could possibly manage the barrage of obstacles, work crisis, and relationship issues that are sure to come at you.

But alongside proper sleep, nutrition, and fitness; dealing with this stuff—and handling it all gracefully—is just as important for hitting your fat-loss and muscle-building goals. Not some, but ALL of these factors play a role in balancing our hormones and helping our bodies to run most optimally. And that's really what physique goals are all about: making things run nice.

So, while there’s no real quick fix to dealing with stress; and you’re totally right girl, you cannot control all of the things that the universe has in store for you; there’s definitely some proactive steps you can take that will not only give you quick relief and a little more center, but also help you become more mindful of the relationship between your body and your mind. So that down line, you get learn to get better at responding to the beautiful mess that is life, rather than succumbing to it.

I know, I know. If you’re like me when I’m feeling bratty, trapped, sorry for myself, and even defensive of my stress; you’re already thinking “this is just the way it is right now.” That’s one of my favorite excuses for shirking off the responsibility of self-care as well. You're not alone. The body and mind naturally resist change. 

But trust me. You can change your mind. YOU have the power to make it better in this very moment. And I bet you’ll feel a whole lot less stressed when you start making progress on your fitness goals again.

Uh-huh, girl. I went there. So, save yourself some time and misery. Let’s get to feeling better, so that we may also look better, shall we?  

This particular post is about some quick interventions that can serve as catalysts for turning your thoughts around when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. So that you have space in your brain for long term improvements that we’ll discuss later on.

Do a Quick Movement Flow

Your brain holds a map of your entire body. And the more you move, the more clear that map is. But when you dont move, that map gets blurry and so does your perspective. All the negative sensations like irritation, pain, and anxiety become amplified and stress can become increased. One of the easiest ways to decrease threat and calm yourself down is to move! And you don’t need a full on workout to send your brain those good vibes it craves. Making some shoulder and neck circles at your desk every hour helps. Getting on the floor for a quick side plank or a shin box can totally turn things around. A little bit of movement here and there will dial down your nervous system and put your body in a more advantageous state to make progress on your goals.

 

Go For a Walk

Walking is one of the best activities for alleviating stress. Walking is movement, so you will absolutely benefit from all those good vibes we talked about in the previous paragraph and improve your mood. But walking also helps improve digestive function. The quality of your thoughts relies heavily on the quality of your gut. If you can improve your metabolism, you can improve your response to stressful situations. Not to mention, you can ensure that you expend as much energy as you absorb, which is key for weight-loss and weight maintenance.

 

Call a Friend

Go for that walk, and call up a friend to go with you. That stress ball gets infinitely larger when we imagine that we are alone or that we are the only ones who have to deal with whatever it is that’s going on. But, the truth is, you’re never alone unless you choose to be. And EVERYONE has their own struggles. Just like we are meant to move, we as humans are also meant to be highly social. Blowing off some steam doing positive activities with someone who knows you and supports you can completely shift your perspective and help you get back to focusing on crushing your life and fitness goals.

 

Zone Out

There’s tons of pressure from your boss and social media hustle culture to be super focused and on your grind all day long. But, there’s a reason you are driven to scroll through instagram or pull up a game window behind your actual work. The brain fatigues just like any other muscle in your body. And while I encourage you to instead use this time to get away from all the screens, make sure it feels just as mindless. I like to grab a book for a few minutes or wash the dishes. For real. But, you can simply use the yoga practice of finding a drishti gaze and literally try to stare off into space as far as you can, even if there’s a wall two feet from you. Look past it. Zone out. And then get back to business when you’re ready with greater productivity.

 

Focus On Your Breath

Breathing is something that happens whether we try or not. But if we can think about it consciously for just a few minutes throughout the day, we can guide the whole unconscious side of it in a better direction. Shallow breathing, mouth breathing, chest breathing—all the ways breath can go wrong—these inefficient strategies can send your thoughts in the wrong direction. But, a few good breaths—with focus on expanding the sides of your ribcage and belly— can bring you back to center, Sit tall, lay on your belly, or throw your feet up the wall. Get your spine nice and long(the surest way to neutral) and try to elongate your exhales, and the pause between the exhale and the inhale, as long as you can. Around 8 seconds is a good goal to shoot for. Be sure to inhale through your nose and blow air out through pursed lips. Two rounds of 5 breaths can calm your body and help you think and act from a more positive place. 

 

Be Proactive

Maybe you have some other strategies that work really well for you already. Maybe only a few of these will resonate with you. The point is, you’ve got to know and trust that you have the power to change your mind at any time, and it's a simple as taking one small action with the decisive intention of feeling better. 

Looking for more advice to look and feel your best? Getting your nutrition and fitness dialed in is one of the most important ways to both manage stress and make progress on your fat-loss goals. Don’t know where to start? Message me today to learn more about distance coaching and how it helps my clients find confidence and clarity. 

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Single-leg Deadlifts For a Stronger Backside

I’ve heard single-leg deads touted as the best “non-surgical butt lift.” My friend John Romaniello has said that the road to beautifully sculpted legs is “paved with single-leg exercises.” I completely agree. Training more single-leg, backside-focused exercises will most definitely lift your booty.

AND, apart from the obvious aesthetic value to the exercise, training single-leg deadlifts will also help you get stronger in your more typical two-legged deadlift and faster in your running stride.

HOWEVER, a single leg-deadlift is quite the advanced progression. You’ll want to master your regular kettlebell or barbell deadlift form, and exhibit exceptional single-leg balance before you start adding further complication and resistance to the pattern.

Because...

  • Maintaining balance across the foot is key for ensuring your glutes work properly

  • Hinging, as opposed to squatting is important for targeting that spot where your glutes separate from your hamstring to get that butt lift (OH YEAH, I see you girl)

  • And keeping your hips square is necessary to stabilize your pelvis and avoid stress that can lead to injury

So, as your #peachyqueen, I recommend you build competency in these three exercises, to ensure that you get the most booty gainz from your single-leg deadlifts. Spending 3-4 weeks a piece on each of these regressions can be a glute game-changer. 3x10-12 reps is a good place to start. You can always go heavier with less reps as you master the moves.

Suitcase Deadlift

Split-Stance Deadlift

Valslide Single-Leg Deadlift

BONUS, if you spend some time polishing up these exercises instead of going straight to that single-leg deadlift right away, you’ll be well on your way to building a better booty. #sophisticatedstrength

Sign up for my newsletter for more tips to start moving better and #buildabetterbutt

 

The Easiest Nutrition Fix For Fat Loss

As I discuss in an upcoming vlog (you can peep the latest one here), I've got a few major priorities when it comes to fat loss. You can certainly never underestimate the impact of consistent sleep and workouts, but right now, I'm talking about the easiest nutrition skill you can starting practicing right now!

And that is to simply eat more protein.

Eat More Protein

Eating more protein has multiple benefits. This macronutrient is involved in pretty much every chemical process that your body carries out. Proteins are kind of like the raw material of all your body's projects. Of course, they are first broken down into amino acids and reconstructed into more purposeful combinations that your body can use. But, in any case, they are needed and necessary.

By ensuring our bodies get enough protein, we fulfill an essential requirement of the myriad of processes we commonly refer to as our metabolism, making the whole thing run that much more efficiently . In simple terms, that means that we can make the most of what we've got with the least amount of energy expended.

And that my friends, is what fat-loss is all about: finding the most benefit, with the least amount of cost.

SNAP!

*** BTW You should write that one down in your notes. It's a gem.

Anyways, let's move on to your potential protests regarding this recommendation...

You're Not Eating Enough

Now you might say "But Coach, I heard eating too much protein can damage your organs."

Well, dear I have an answer for that.

Of course, if one eats TOO MUCH protein (which is a very subjective value btw), it's reasonably possible to assume the kidneys can be affected. BUT, it's also very unlikely that you are anywhere close to this very subjective amount. It's also very unlikely that you are anywhere close to consistently hitting the number you need to support fat-loss in the first place, which is typically the lowest benchmark that nutritionists suggest you hit. So, we really don't need to discuss what "too much" is anyway.

And even further, formation of kidney stones and other potential harm to these vital organs (which is really what we're talking about), has much more to do with the amount of water you are drinking. Byproducts of increased protein intake are excreted normally, without any harm done, in the pee of adequately hydrated humans.

"But Miss Ashleigh, I eat enough protein every day."

Oh dear, I've got an answer for that too. I know you came up with that reply way too quickly. You likely scanned the last 24 hours, and the ease with which two to three instances where you ingested some protein came to mind, led you to conclude that you're doing just fine. But, unless you ran some numbers and calculations in your head, I'm going to say this is not really a fact you could know with any kind of certainty.

Not to worry. It's a common human error to highlight the negative possibilities and grossly overestimate the actuals, as demonstrated by both of these complaints.

The Fix

Let's work together to figure out the truth. In the next three days, I want you to plug in what you eat to any macro app. I personally like to use MyMacros+ as it easily connects me to my clients, but choose whatever program suits you. 

Figure out the average amount of protein you eat. You'll find this number represented in terms of grams. And then just try to increase it by about 20 grams. That's as easy as adding one quality Greek yogurt, two eggs, or half a cup of chicken. And since that amounts to an average of less than $2 per serving, it's also way cheaper than that weird skinny tea or the currently trending fat-loss superfood.

Hit that number consistently for a few weeks(I said weeks, not days! And a "few" means at least three. I did not say "a couple"). Forget about why you were practicing this skill in the first place. And then pull on that pair of skinny jeans you reserve for the moments when you feel really good about yourself, and try em' on again. I know you also save these for your greatest self-shaming moments too, but this won't be one of those. See also: stop doing that.

And stand in front of the mirror as long as you like admiring your work. Because real talk: you're most beautiful when you're being the most kind to your body. And giving it the nutrition it needs is part of fulfilling that purpose.

Even More Fat Loss

Increasing your protein intake by 20 grams will make a huge difference. However, you might have even further room for improvement, and by that I mean, more room to create in those sexy, skinny jeans. To find out what that fat-loss benchmark is, plus even more fat loss habits, check out my latest vlog here.

What Would a *blank* Person Do?

January is historically always about optimism.

But February? Well, more often than not, this month is really all about guilt.

We approach our resolutions bright eyed and hopeful. We make a list. We check it off. We pat ourselves on the back for every single small triumph.

Until we slip up.

And then suddenly all of our accomplishments disappear from our memory. We begin to replace them with a new list.

We now have a record of our failures. And they seem to have added up so much faster than the good things we previously tallied.

They shifted our mindset. And our brains silently drew a conclusion from all the data: That we, as people, are just as bad as the decisions we got hung up on.

You might not have even realized this subtle shift. But you've probably operated on it as some point in your life.

Don't worry. You're not alone. It's in our DNA. Our brains are just hard wired to focus on the silly stuff. 

The problem is, when we label ourselves as "bad," we tend to make decisions that are accordingly bad.

And this derails all of our intentions to cultivate real change.

Stop the train before you crash in a fire of anxiety and self-deprication, with a full bag of Tostitos. 

When you find yourself keeping score and you need a little fresh perspective, come back to the present with this simple question: Ask yourself,

"What would a *blank* person do?"

And you can insert any adjective that fits your intention or describes the kind of human you want to be.

Good, smart, mindful, graceful, wise, responsible, enlightened, whatever suits you.

Me? When I don't know what to do next -- when I can't seem to figure out what the right thing is and I've been sweating the small stuff real hard...

How would a real ass, boss bitch, sophisticated lady handle her shit?

And then everything is quite clear.

#sophisticatedladyshit #bossy #sophisticatedstrength