Category Archives: How to exercise videos

Posts in this category will include exercise videos and usually some description of how to apply it.

Is it a glute bridge?

I’ve become fascinated by glute bridges. It’s not that the exercise itself is particularly interesting; it’s how people accomplish them. I first started thinking about this when I took the Titleist Performance Institute Golf Fitness Instructor course back in 2010. They include a single-leg glute bridge test as part of their assessment. I liked it so much that I have since started using a version of it when I meet with new people at Custom Strength.  Want to play?

Did you feel your glutes? Something else? Nothing?

For the strength coaches and personal trainers out there, do you ever ask your clients where they feel exercises? Since I started doing that, I’ve often been surprised at the replies. If you don’t ask, I’d suggest you start. There’s no downside really. If it turns out all of your clients are doing the exercise the way you think they are, then you just got some validation; and if they aren’t, well, now you know.

For those of you who like to play, I’ve got another game for you. I call it Guess What’s Driving the Glute Bridge. Have a look:


What do you think? How did they look to you? Want the answers? I’d like to tell you, but here’s the funny thing: I’m not actually sure. I know the first three were actually glute bridges, and I know the other nine weren’t, and I know I did three in a row of each version. But I didn’t write down the order, and since I waited a couple of weeks between filming and writing this post, I don’t actually remember the order I did them. And I can’t see the difference. Can you?

How is it possible to do a glute bridge with something other than glutes?

This all makes sense because the human body is an example of a brilliantly designed system. Any engineer will tell you that good design includes backup options. The human is designed such that more than one muscle (or muscle group) can accomplish a task.

In the case of hip extension:

  • the glutes can do it, but the hamstrings are also hip extensors.
  • The back muscles don’t actively extend the hips, but they do extend the back, and because the hip bone’s connected to the back bone (you sang along, right?), once you achieve full back extension, if your back muscles keep working, they can pull the hips up.
  • The quads are knee extensors, but if you try to extend your knees while your back is on the floor and your feet are firmly planted, the quads will be unable to fully extend the knee, but the force exerted on the floor in their attempt, can pull the hips up.

I know those last two sound a bit far-fetched, but if you don’t believe me, give them a try. I only learned that these two options existed because when asking clients where they felt glute bridges, a semi-regular answer I heard was “in the front of the legs”.  It confused me at first, but it was not just one person, and it wasn’t that I asked a multiple-choice question where they picked quads. I just asked “where do you feel that most?”

Does it matter where they feel it? 

The notion of glute bridges being performed differently by different people suggests that the use of a single cue to coach glute bridges may not be effective for everyone.

For example, the cue to push through the heel(s) and lift the toes can be effective, but if a person is using their hamstrings as their primary hip extensors, then this cue will further encourage that.

Or at least it’s been my experience that there is no single cue that works for everyone. I suspect I haven’t tried all of the glute bridge cues though, so it is possible there is a universally-effective glute bridge cue. If you know of one, I’d love to hear it.

Until someone is able to share with me a universal glute bridge cue, I’d like to share the three that we use most often, and when we use them.

Three cues we find to be very effective for glute bridges

  1. If the person feels the glute bridge in their back, we cue them to reduce the height of their glute bridge. “Go about an inch less high”, or “go up 90% as high.” It’s amazing how often this converts a back bridge into a glute bridge.
  2. If the person feels the glute bridge in their hamstrings, we cue them to press their heel into the floor and press their toes through the front of their shoes. I know it sounds a bit odd, but give it a try.  It’s something I learned at a Dr. Stuart McGill seminar, and is based on the concept of reciprocal inhibition.
  3. If the person feels the glute bridge mostly in their quads, we cue them to drive their heel into the floor and pull their toes off the floor. I think this is the most common cue I’ve heard from other coaches and personal trainers. I noted above that it isn’t universally effective, but it is effective in this situation.

Interested in reading and seeing more of the cues we use for glute bridges, along with when and why, as well as how we program and progress glute bridges? You’re in luck! You can get the Custom Strength Glute Exercise Coaching Guide for only $4.99.

front page capture

Coaching Glute Exercises: A Custom Strength Coaching Guide



I think you’ll find the guide is the right blend of comprehensive, but also readable. So if you struggle with glute bridges, or if you struggle with coaching glute bridges, pick up a copy of the guide above.

My new favourite exercise: Half-Kneeling band Pallof press

I’ve been talking about starting a “my new favourite exercise” blog series for, well, years. My new favourite exercise comes up often at Custom Strength. This is because once an exercise becomes my new favourite exercise, I have a hard time not putting it in every single program that I write. Yes, my gym is called Custom Strength, and yes that does imply that everyone’s workout is customized for them. And yet amazingly when I have a new favourite exercise, I somehow manage to fit it in for almost everyone who comes into the gym. So this could make you think my training programs aren’t truly customized, and really my only defense is “are too!” Seriously though – they are. Really. But also seriously – my new favourite exercise gets added to a lot of programs.

How does an exercise become my favourite exercise? I read a fair amount of fitness “stuff”, watch videos, and engage in great discussions with other fitness-y people. This means, of course, that I am introduced to lots of new exercises. Or new variations of exercises. When I learn a new exercise or variation, it starts on the road to becoming my new favourite exercise. Like all good things, there has to be a process. Obviously.

Step 1 in the rigorous process: I test drive it. I won’t introduce an exercise to a client without trying it first. If the new exercise is something that is outside my ability (maybe based on mobility or strength or other), then I find someone whom I know possesses the needed movement and whose opinion I trust, to try it. But most of the time, it’s tried by me personally. I test drive it for a few things:

  • Does it achieve what I hope it will achieve?
  • Is it logistically doable?
  • Is it in some way better than an exercise I already use to achieve that goal?

A lot of exercises get stuck at the second question. The exercise looks awesome, but somehow the setup is awkward or impractical. Nope.

Step 2: I program it for a few clients and see how it goes. Usually at this point, I either see that it achieves some outcome really well, in which case I totally fall in love with it, use it a lot in a brief period, and it becomes my new favourite exercise. Or I see that it is just so-so, and it fades out of existence.

There are some who think that there are too many newfangled exercises out there, and that all anyone really needs is to squat, deadlift, and bench. If that’s your opinion and it works for you, great. If that’s your opinion and it doesn’t work for you, then maybe start reading my new favourite exercise series.

Here’s the thing: Do we need new exercises all the time? No. Can new exercises achieve what we want and thus be worth adding to our repertoire? Yes.

Here’s another thing: Some people like variety. Some of them even like variety in the gym. In my gym, even. So if I can learn a new exercise that meets my standard and helps them meet their goals, while keeping them interested, I’m going to use it. If that concept offends you, then I’m a little surprised that you’re still reading. But hey, you are, so you may as well continue to see what my current new favourite exercise is.

So now the intro is out of the way, I introduce, my new favourite exercise, the half-kneeling band Pallof press:

If you’ve done cable Pallof presses, then you know they’re fantastic. And you might think, what’s the big deal? It’s just a Pallof press with a band, in a half-kneeling position. I know – it’s simple. The reason it merits a spot as my new favourite exercise is that the nature of band-resistance makes it a variation that is easy to really feel. We continue to use a number of Pallof press variations, but I do have one complaint with them: not everyone feels them the way I would expect. It’s an exercise that I want you to feel in your sides, but for some people, they feel it more in their back. The band version seems to make it harder to do with an alternative strategy. So it’s a regression of the regular Pallof press. The cool thing is that with a suitably thick band, it’s also a progression in that it can be remarkably challenging, even for those who excel at regular Pallof presses.

I will say that I think it has a limited lifespan for an individual. This might be the nature of a band exercise – a band’s resistance is pre-determined. Yes, it can be adapted based on distance, but it only has so much give. But it does a fantastic job for a while, and then we move back or move on to other options.

Not sure if this is for you? There’s one easy way to find out! Actually that’s not true, as the exercise is not easy. Let me restate: There’s one simple way to find out!

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, and a geeky-but-personable fitness presenter wherever someone will have her.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

A variation on a new glute bridge variation

Last month I saw a great video posted by Bret Contreras showing a variation on a bodyweight glute bridge that very effectively targets the glutes. The reason it’s effective is that he basically fires up the whole body in a manner that prevents some of the typical “cheats” that people often do when trying to do glute bridges.

While glute bridges seem like an easy exercise (lie on your back, lift your butt up. how hard can it be?), the reality for many is that they feel glute bridges everywhere but their butt. When I ask clients where they feel a glute bridge, I often get some combination of hamstrings, back, quads, and abs. This is not everyone – some people do glute bridges and feel their glutes – but it is more than the minority.

This glute bridge with frog pumps that Bret posted struck me as a great option, so I gave it a try. And it was indeed a great option. Check it out here.

Essentially it’s a glute bridge but with feet flat against each other, flatten the lumbar spine, push the elbows into the floor, and bring the chin to the chest.

I did like it, but I opted for two minor changes:
- instead of chin to chest, I went for a neutral neck alignment, which looks like a packed neck, or what I call “ugly neck”. Take a look at my chins in the video and you’ll see why I call it ugly neck. I opted for this because I know some of my clients would have a hard time with holding the chin to chest position.
- Instead of feet flat, I went for feet angled to each other. Many people will be fine with the feet together position, but I personally found it irritating for my hips as I don’t have great hip mobility. I also have a few clients whose knees didn’t like the feet together position. So the angled feet position was a nice alternative for those with either hip or knee stuff.

Here’s a video of this modification:

If you find you have a hard time feeling your glutes when you do do glute bridges, try out Bret’s variation instead, and if your neck, knees, or hips don’t love that variation then try my variation to the variation.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, owns a personal training studio in Ottawa that specializes in getting people stronger and moving better.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for my (non-spammy) newsletter

* indicates required

Email Format

Coaching Exercise Video Library

(quicklink to the table of videos)

Welcome to my new project: The Coaching Exercise Video Library. As the title says, it is a library of videos about how to coach exercise. My goal with this project is to share some of the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered from coaching my own clients, talking with great coaches, attending seminars and courses, reading books and articles, and watching videos. While there is an extraordinary amount of great information on the internet about exercise (as well as lots of not so great information), I started to realize that most of this information is about new exercise variations, in depth explanations of exercises, applications for exercises, and of course people lifting impressive loads. But there’s not a lot of basic instruction about how to cue exercise, about typical ways people perform the exercise, and finally, about different cueing and coaching options to correct form. Thus the Coaching Exercise video library was born.

Here’s that intro in video form:

What you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library

There are four principles I aim to uphold as I create the videos (in addition to quality of course – that is implied):
1. The videos will be brief. Most will be 60 to 90 seconds long, with the occasional video coming in at 2 minutes.
2. I will add two to four new videos to the library each week (subscribe to my youtube channel if you want to be notified)
3. The library will also include videos about coaching itself. Remember we are coaching people in how to do exercise; we are not coaching exercise. This means it’s important that we know how to coach people in addition to being able to coach exercise.
4. There will be an overlying organizational structure so that you can find what you’re looking for without having to do several searches and scroll through pages of results.

The organization is accomplished in three ways:
- I have created playlists within my youtube channel, one for each major topic covered. As new coaching exercise videos are added to the library, they will also be added to the appropriate playlist
- The videos are tagged which should facilitate searches
- This post contains a list of the playlists and a list of the exercise videos, sorted alphabetically and into headings. This list will be updated weekly with the new additions. Scroll down for both. If you want to be sure you can always find them, this might be a good time to bookmark this page.

My background (aka why it just makes sense that I created this video library)
I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to train a very diverse population that includes athletes, seniors, those with rehab needs (usually referred by their health care practitioner), people with obesity, teenagers, desk jockeys, labourers…the list goes on and on. It has made my job very interesting and educational. I have also had the pleasure of attending seminars and courses taught by some of the best trainers, coaches, physical therapists, and professors in the world; and am even luckier to count some of them as friends. Add to this experience the fact that I was an engineer before I became a trainer, and it means I have an inner “I must see what’s wrong and fix this” guidance system. Lastly, I spent 10 years as a ski instructor, and another 5 years coaching hockey and ultimate. My experience as a ski instructor, and the teaching they provide about how to coach is probably the single biggest contributor to my success as a trainer, and to my ability to create this Coaching Exercise Video Library.

The Coaching Exercise video library table of playlists
This section includes an ordered listing of the playlists you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library. It is updated weekly.

The complete coaching exercise video library (all videos in the library)

Be a better coach
Half-Kneeling Exercises
Inverted rows (TRX)
Split squats

The Coaching Exercise video library table of videos
This section includes an ordered listing of the individual videos you’ll find in the Coaching Exercise video library. It is updated weekly.

Coaching: How to progress exercise
Coaching: If the exercise doesn’t look or feel right
Coaching: when to push and when to hold back

Deadlift (Initial cues)
Deadlift (Equipment to make it more accessible)
Deadlift (Grip options)
Deadlift (Height off the floor)
Deadlift (Progress to the bar)
Deadlift (If the low back rounds)
Deadlift (Positioning the hips)
Deadlift (When the Knees do too much)

Half-kneeling (cueing better position)
Half-kneeling (soft tissue limitations)
Half-kneeling (structural limitations)

Half-kneeling cable press
Half-kneeling cable press (hips flexed)
Half-kneeling cable press (ribs flared)
Half-kneeling cable press (shoulder alignment)

Split Squat
Split Squat (flaring ribcage)
Split Squat (back-leg dominance v2)
Split Squat (back-leg dominance v2)

TRX Inverted Row
TRX Inverted Row (hips elevated)
TRX Inverted Row (neck juts forward)
TRX Inverted Row (neck juts forward v2)

Can’t go left?

Nope, not a blog about Seinfeld, although I do wish I had a video clip of this:

“Every time he tries to make a move, something screws up. Like on their first date, they were on the couch, but she was sitting on his wrong side.”
“Wrong side?”
“Yes, she was on his right side. He can’t make a move with his left hand. Can’t go left.”
“He can’t go left?”
“No. I’m leftie, can’t go right. What about women? Do they go left or right?”
“No, we just play defense.”
- Jerry and Elaine, in “The Implant”

Taking this concept out of the dating realm and into the hills, one of the biggest problems I saw when teaching intermediate and advanced skiers was a greater difficulty to turn one direction over the other. We typically tried to fix this problem with skiing drills on the snow, to varying degrees of success. Here’s the problem with that approach: odds are the problem still remains when you take your skis off.

If only I had addressed that strength difference...
If only I had addressed that strength difference…

I say this with a degree of confidence based on the number of different people I have worked with as a personal trainer. When I first meet a new client, I have them perform a series of movements so I can see how well they move, whether there are areas that will need extra attention, and if there are movements where we’ll need to tread lightly for a while. I also can see if there are differences in any of the movements from side to side. As it turns out, most people are not symmetrical in their movement.

In fact 83% of the people I screened had at least one movement pattern where they was a noticeable difference between left and right. (Here’s the full result for anyone who is interested). This is while standing on flat ground, either barefoot or in shoes. What if the asymmetry in your turns is not related to how you ski, but to how your body moves? If that is the case then are you really going to have the most success addressing it on snow? Or will you see better results if you try to address it on land?

If you have a harder time turning to one side, try the exercises shown in the following series of short videos. The first is an introduction, and the next four each provide specific exercises that you can try at home. They address strength and stability in your hips and legs. Give these a try for a few weeks and then see if that one direction on snow feels easier. If it does, then consider adding these movements once or twice a week for maintenance.


Exercise #1: Standing hip rotation

Exercise #2: Band hip rotations

Exercise #3: Single leg squat

Exercise #4: Reverse lunge with rotation

Lastly, do you warm up before skiing with anything other than a cruiser run? If not, give this warmup a try. You can do it on snow, it only takes a few minutes, and it gives your body a nice bit of preparation for the fun you’re about to have.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer and former ski instructor in Ottawa.

Do you enjoy these posts? If so, sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss any. We send it out as a summary email every few posts.

* indicates required

Foam rolling the adductors

Lots of people foam roll, but I’ve noticed not many seem to roll their adductors (groin). It’s too bad, because I notice that when I show this to my clients at Custom Strength, that it is very clear many of them need it. Ideally, these people would also be getting manual therapy on their adductors as well, but let’s start with the easier solution, and show you a video about how to roll the adductors. It’s one of the 40+ exercise videos that  is included in my upcoming Training Around Injuries: Home Exercises for Femoro Acetabular Impingement (FAI) ebook.

The reason I’m sharing this exercise now is that a friend of mine mentioned this evening that she is having some adductor pain, that started with a pull in a game (ultimate) a couple of weeks ago. She noted it had been better but then was acting up again. I suggested seeing her massage therapist (although manual therapist – which would include physio, athletic therapist, and chiropractor would have been a better suggestion). I also suggested rest and stretching may be good options, and then went on to talk about the “why”. Just a quick note: I’m not by any means qualified to give advice about how to fix a groin strain: that’s what manual therapists and sports medicine doctors do. But I do have opinions (one of which is to see a manual therapist), and so I shared them (including the ‘go see a manual therapist’ part). Note how many times I mention ‘ see a manual therapist’ in this paragraph? By all means please do read on and do watch the foam rolling the groin video, but what’s the real best option to do when you have some unknown groin injury? Hint: go see a manual therapist or sports medicine doctor.

Health care recommendations aside, I am an exercise nerd, so of course, I also talked about why this may have happened. Now I don’t haven any idea how she moves (other than being a great ultimate player), so it really could be anything. But it made me think of a great blog article by Michael Boyle called “Understanding Sports Hernia May Mean Understanding Adduction“. You really should read it, because it’s a fantastic article, especially if you’re in the strength and conditioning or physio realm.

  • Coach Boyle notes that two of the five adductor muscles (pectineus and adductor brevis) have secondary roles  as hip flexors, although they are not strong hip flexors.
  • In the chat with my friend, I used the analogy of the spare tire on your car – it gets you there, but it’s not as good as a full tire (unless your spare is a full tire, but you know I’m referring to cars with the mini spare tire). Same deal with muscles in the body – when a muscle is doing it’s secondary job, it tends to not be as good at it. If you continue driving on the spare tire, it’s going to either seriously limit your speed, or it’s going to blow. Same goes for when a muscle is consistently asked to do it’s secondary function in addition to it’s main function.
  • Coach Boyle is talking about hockey and soccer athletes, where the skating stride and kicking motion both involve adduction and hip flexion, thus potentially pectineus and/or adductor brevis are being asked to work overtime.
  • Ultimate doesn’t have exactly the same thing, but I don’t think anyone will dispute that the cutting and pivoting we do will involve both hip flexion and adduction. So perhaps the same story.
  • One very interesting point Coach Boyle notes: that the two cases of sports hernias he refers to both seemed to have also involved soft tissue restrictions in the pectineus. Which is what lead to Coach Boyle coming up with that theory.
  • He goes on to describe what the physical therapist he was working with described as “benign neglect”, where the symptoms of an injury go away and thus the assumption is that the problem is gone. Apparently not!

Which brings us back to my point above: go see a manual therapist when you get a groin pull. But also try foam rolling it, like so:

Make sure you check out part 2 of Coach Boyle’s Understanding Sports Hernia article, where he talks about prevention and shares a tonne of knowledge including many, many amazing exercises.

This is also serving as a reminder that I’ve been meaning to bring in more weighted lateral squat variations for my clients who play ultimate. It’s funny how sometimes several things remind you of the same thing within a few days, even though you hadn’t considered it in a while. In addition to this discussion (and my re-reading these articles), I also saw the following excellent Eric Cressey video the other day that made me think “why aren’t we doing that at Custom Strength?” Those clients of mine who are reading this, if you’re an ultimate player, and if your hips tolerate lateral squats, you’ll be seeing these soon!


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada. 

For more on my upcoming hip training ebook, head over to this post titled, My experience with hip injuries and FAI.

Improving pullup-ability

I’m still not sure why pullups and chinups are so awesome. But they are. I like to do them and so do my clients. Despite the high awesome factor (HAF), it’s actually quite hard to make progress with them.

So how can you improve on them? That depends on where you stand (hang?):
1. Can you do a full pullup (no shame if you can’t!)?
2. Can you do at least 1 but fewer than 5 consecutive full pullups (or chinups)?
3. Can you do at least 5 consecutive full pullups, but still want to be able to do more?
Continue reading Improving pullup-ability

Ab exercise: If your back gets sore before your abs…

If your back gets sore before your abs get tired when you do ab exercises, you probably have a large anterior pelvic tilt. That is, your butt probably sticks out a bit. In some cases, the upside may be that it’ll make your butt look great. Although it doesn’t always look good…

Looks aside, for many people, it may contribute to low back pain, either on a regular basis, or while trying to perform ab exercises. Raise your hand if you or any of your clients have complained that they feel planks in their low back more than in their abs. Continue reading Ab exercise: If your back gets sore before your abs…

Addressing poor shoulder movement

Shoulder packing. Yes, that’s right: shoulder packing. It’s really a thing.

It’s a concept of how we should position our shoulder when doing any sort of lifting with our arms. Now some will say that this is ridiculous – we just move our arms and that’s how they should move. I could get behind that line of thinking. Except for one thing: many of the people that come and train with me don’t actually position their shoulder properly when moving their arms, and then they complain of pain or discomfort in their shoulder or neck when doing exercises like pushups, rows, and planks. But when I help them to position their shoulder properly, they proceed to exercise without pain or discomfort.

That’s pretty convincing for me. Why does this happen? I’d say it’s a fair bet that your computer is the culprit. In fact take a look at your shoulders right now. They’re rounded, aren’t they? Continue reading Addressing poor shoulder movement

The bench press test

Bench press is a great exercise, but for anyone with a shoulder issue, it may not be ideal. How do you know if you should bench? Well for starters, if it hurts to bench, you probably shouldn’t bench. What if it doesn’t hurt during the bench, but it hurts later, you ask? Same answer. I suspect you knew that but were hoping for a different answer. Sorry.

If the bench press is painful for you, seeing a manual therapist (athletic therapist, chiro, massage therapist, osteopath, physio…) is a good idea to get you to pain-free state. But once you reach that point, then what?

Ideally you would switch to other exercises, at least for a while. When someone recovering from a shoulder injury (or has a long-standing shoulder issue) starts training with us, we often start them with a cable press, as it seems to be the most shoulder-friendly of the pressing exercises.

After that we like to work on proper bodyweight pushups (Click here for an article all about pushups), followed by Bottom Up Kettle bell (KB) bench press, and then we move to “normal” bench pressing.

I love the bottom up kb bench press because it requires a lot of stabilizing to be able to do it, which means my clients literally will not be able to increase the weight if they lack strength or stability in their shoulders. If they can’t do the bottom up KB bench press, they are not ready to bench press. Period.
Continue reading The bench press test