F O R T I F Y | A Bulletproofing Workout

By on August 6, 2021

Why have I written this bulletproofing workout now?

Well, I’m getting a bit older. And life is getting more full on as my wife and I are expecting our second child soon. My ability to recover has notably diminished, and I now realise that I need to be smarter if I intend to do this for the long haul.

Which I totally do.

In all honesty, I used to feel invincible. To the point that I never needed to warm up: I’d walk into the gym, press my one rep max from cold, and be absolutely fine.

Hammer Curls Bulletproofing

And I can actually still do that, I’m pretty lucky in that regard. The issue comes when I’m filming for a video and I need to repeat the same movement, be it a handspring or a hurdle, and I don’t want to stop until I’ve got the shot. I often have an hour to film a set number of movements and this incentivizes me to ignore my body. I get injured.

And then I have to lift Emmy out of her cot in the morning and play hard at 6am through to 12pm, before doing it all again.

So, yeah, I needed a plan. This is the bulletproofing workout I’ve written to help fortify my weak spots, bulletproof problem areas, and generally reduce injury rate. So far, it has been working a treat… so I thought I’d share it!

This program is designed to be “modular.” This can be tacked onto any other program. It can be completed in one go, or the individual bulletproofing exercises can be trained throughout the day/spread across other routines.

The benefits of each will be explained. Pick and choose the ones that resonate with you, and be sure to share your own favourites in the comments below!

Ballistic Kettlebell Rows

The Squat University Instagram page recently woke me up to just how awesome this movement is, and I instantly added it to my own bulletproofing workout regime.

To perform this one, you will get into a bent row position: legs slightly bent and shoulder width apart, back straight but leaning forward. Now, without supporting yourself with your other arm, you’re going to row a kettlebell directly up in one hand and lower. The difference is that on each rep, you’re going to throw and catch the kettlebell, swapping hands as you do.

Ballistic Kettlebell Rows

Of course, this involves an isometric hold in the lower back to stabilize yourself. This strengthens the erector spinae and to prevent injuries when picking things off the ground or deadlifting.

But what really makes this one of the best bulletproofing exercises is that you’re also learning to brace in anticipation of the movement. This is what sets the movement apart. And the unilateral nature of the movement means you’ll be doing the same thing in the transverse plane, and really engaging the multifidus muscles to ensure spinal stiffness when you need it.

You’re also learning to brace in anticipation of that movement.

This is a really important reflex. Being stable is not enough on its own, we need to learn to be stable in reaction to outside forces. And this is exactly how the multifidus muscle works: bracing the spine in anticipation of upcoming movement. This is why we feel that jolt when we think there’s one more step, only to find we’ve reached the bottom.

You can use these as part of a bulletproofing workout, as I have here, or use them prior to a set of heavier lifts to help prime yourself for stronger movements.

Hindu Squats

This is basically a squat where you are on the balls of your feet and your knees come past your toes. Anyone familiar with Ben Patrick, AKA KneesOverToesGuy, will know that bringing the knees past the toes is one of the very best ways to strengthen the quads and protect the knees in the long run – as long as you are working at your level and without pain.

Hence you tend to see a lot of proponents of this philosophy practicing sissy squats… which is great! But a milder form of that is the Hindu squat. Here, the knees still pass the toes, but you have a lot less pressure on them as you’re on the way down. You’re working with your own weight, through an extremely normal range of motion. Whether you’re gardening, playing with the kids, or picking something up from the floor; you’ll often squat exactly like this.

Hindu Squat

Range of Motion adheres to a very simple rule: use it or lose it. I know that the day I stop bounding up the stairs is the day I will stop being able to bound up the stairs. If you want to make sure you never lose the ability to squat down to the ground, make sure you’re doing it regularly!

Fun fact: this is something that my 90 year-old Granddad can still do!

If you are currently recovering from some kind of knee pain, then you can simply perform Hindu squats in the ROM that doesn’t hurt. That might mean just a little squat at the top, but anything is fine. Just strengthen yourself in that position, until you feel confident to go a little deeper.

See also: How to Strengthen Knees – Injury prevention & Performance

Hindu squats also hit the calves, encourage balance and stability, and when performed properly, they also train you to pair your breathing with your movement. I’ll probably make a separate video about these sometime, because they’re great!

Shout out to Original Strength, who makes some fantastic content on Hindu squats.

Bodyweight Rows

I’ve made a whole video/blog post on the bodyweight row – one of my very favourite bulletproofing exercises – so I’m not going to go into it in-depth right now. But suffice to say that bodyweight rows simultaneously strengthen your back in a horizontal motion – thereby combating kyphosis and hunching, while also strengthening the lower spine in an isometric manner.

See also: Why You Should be Doing the Bodyweight Row

The posture is exactly the same as the reverse plank, which in turn means you’ll be training anti-flexion. This is perfect for strengthening the lower back and building strength endurance there. Most of us do enough push ups not to really need the plank, but the same is not true of the reverse!

Bodyweight rows

Dumbbell Face Pull

Another way to strengthen the back and improve posture, is with the face pull. Of course, this will also strengthen the shoulders by working the rotator cuffs.

Jeff Cavalier of Athlean-X makes a fantastic case for doing these. And if Jeff Cavalier recommends them, they’re going in my bulletproofing workout. But for ages I thought you needed a band or a cable to do them. I have a band, but I don’t have anywhere face-height to easily mount it.

Guess what? This works just as well with a pair of dumbbells, as long as you’re bent over forward! Just bend forward and pull the dumbbells toward the face, making sure that you’re emphasizing that rotation (this is not a row).

And by holding that bent row position, you’ll also be strengthening the back further.

Tibia Raise

The tibialis anterior is a muscle on the front of the shin that is primarily responsible for raising the foot (dorsiflexion). This may lead you to think it’s a fairly pointless muscle. In fact, though, strengthening this muscle is one of the most important considerations for any bulletproofing workout.

That’s because it also plays a key role in absorbing impact during deceleration or when landing from a jump.

Many people have a lot of weakness in this area, particularly if you notice the elderly shuffling their feet.

The tibialis anterior is also the antagonist when taking off from a jump, and can benefit from being strengthened alongside the calf. Maybe you’re thinking this sounds a bit unnatural, how would you train this muscle naturally?

One simple answer: swimming! Which just happens to be a fantastic bulletproofing exercise in all kinds of ways, strengthening the shoulders, the ankles, and more, all in a very balanced manner.

Swimming for bulletproof joints

If you don’t have access to a pool, though, you can also perform standing tibia raises against a wall, or on a slant board. Simply rest your weight on your heel with the legs leaning forward slightly, and then raise your toes as high as you can for one rep. This puts the heels and the ankles in the natural diagonal position they would be in during running. This is, once again, a strategy used by Knees Over Toes Guy. In fact, I could point to any one of his bulletproofing exercises as being fantastic options for any workout (I’m a fan).

Tibia Raise Shin Bulletproofing

Reverse the position to perform calf raises with a really nice calf stretch for even more benefit.

OR you can try walking on your heels, which results in a surprising burn in the shins.

OR you can perform something similar with bands. Even a traditional glute stretch can offer an isometric contraction for the tibialis anterior if you press into the hand with the foot! All great bulletproofing exercises, especially if you often suffer with shin splints.

Gama Cast

The gamma cast is a brilliant exercise for shoulder strength and mobility. Here, you’ll be rotating an clubbell around your head, keeping the torso straight as you do. Not only is this a great core strengthening exercise that forces you to fight rotational forces, but it’s also a great way to target the entire scapulohumeral girdle, training the very muscles that provide shoulder stability. Because there’s a slight pressure applied by gravity at the apex of the movement, it’s enough to encourage mobility in this position, opening up the shoulders.

Gama Cast

As an added bonus, movements like this help to create “tractional force” in the joints. As the clubbell hangs behind you, it’s actually opening up the joints rather than crushing them together as is the case when you perform a military press. This is excellent for both strengthening, and lubricating the joints.

The clubbell is the best tool for this exercise because of the long lever arm, which increases the resistance as the weight hangs behind your back. However, the kettlebell halo can be used in a similar manner and you can even do it with a dumbbell.

Halos

Crawls

Crawling is a fantastic tool for bulletproofing just about everything. This places light pressure on the shoulders, while taking weight off of the hips. It’s essentially a moving bird-dog, meaning that you’re improving stability in the core, while coordinating movement of the limbs. There’s even a light pressure on the knees, which are kept in a bent position. Crawling is surprisingly taxing on the quads!

Bear crawl exercise

The crawl is also a “concentric only” exercise, when performed moving only forward. This means your muscles are only under load while shortening, not when lengthening. That, in turn, minimizes muscle tears and ensures a rapid recovery.

See also: Quadrupedal Movement: The Bear Crawl Exercise Explained

Bodyweight Good Morning

Tight quads are another common culprit when it comes to injury, and should be a focus of any good bulletproofing workout. The good morning is a great solution that also builds strength and awareness in the hip-hinging movement pattern.

To perform the good morning, you keep the legs at shoulder-width apart with a very slight bend at the knees, then simply lean your upper forward. You initiate this movement, however, by also moving your butt backwards – this is a hinge and not just a “bend.” The way to ensure you’re getting this right, is to imagine a bar across your traps (held at a slightly lower position) and to try and make sure that imaginary bar is directly over the center of the feet.

Bodyweight Good Morning

I say “imaginary” bar, because that’s how I use this movement! Now, you can always pile weight onto the bar and use this to build some intense core strength that’s going to translate to a bigger squat. That’s a perfectly legitimate option, but it’s not what I use this for.

My goal is simply to stretch out the quads and make sure I’m moving healthily in this range. Adding an empty bar can make this into a slightly weighted stretch, but you should stop as soon as you start to feel the quads tighten.

Again, remember that this is a “bulletproofing” workout. My aim is not to fatigue myself to the point that I’ll struggle to train properly the next day. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what I’m going for here!

Sumo Squat With Leg Lift (Shiko)

Here’s a bulletproofing exercise you may not have encountered before!

The sumo squat is, simply, a squat with the legs wide apart. Feet should be just wider than shoulder width, with toes pointing out about 45 degrees. The knees should also be pointing outwards, following the toes. As always in a squat, the back should be straight. This position instantly activates the adductors, which are the hip muscles that bring the feet together and prevent the knees from collapsing. This builds the stability you need in that frontal plane, helping to prevent injury when changing direction or running on uneven terrain. It also keeps the knees nicely tracking during normal movement. And it also naturally improves hip mobility, especially if you add some weight.

Sumo Squat With Leg Lift

What you’re then going to do, is to stand up, shift your weight onto one leg, then raise the other leg out to the side – just like an actual sumo wrestler! This is the leg stomp, also known as “shiko” and as you might have guessed, it works the hip abductors AND further improves hip mobility. In short, this is a cool way to work the glutes and hips and build a lot of stability. As an added bonus, the leg lift also has you balancing on one leg.

Now, the correct way to do Shiko actually involves lifting the leg from a deeper squatting position. You do this by shifting the weight onto the supporting leg, so that you are free to lift the other side. New respect for sumo wrestlers, right?

If you struggle with this, as I do, you can also try combining this with a banded lateral walk, or you can try moving into a Cossack squat. I like how multi-cultural this bulletproofing workout has become!

Wrist Curls

Wrist curls are a classic bulletproofing exercise that can help to prevent wrist issues AND elbow pain. That’s because a lot of the tendons in the forearm span both the wrist and the elbow! Take the carpi radialis brevis, which travels from the lateral epicondyle at the base of the humerus to the third metatarsal.

See also: How to Strengthen Elbows for Iron Arms

Thus tennis elbow (also called lateral epicondylitis) is often the result of too much forearm flexion, and not enough extension. If you curl and grip and type and use a mouse but you never exert strength the other way… then you’re going to get into trouble. That’s where bulletproofing exercises come in!

Wrist Curls

Simple wrist curls can help tremendously here; as long as you use both a pronated and supinated grip. Throwing in some pronated barbell curls can also be a great strategy. The key, simply, is balance.

Camel

The Camel is a bulletproofing movement from yoga that involves kneeling, then leaning back on your hands and opening the chest by driving the sternum into the sky. You can do this while resting your buttocks on your hands, or you can be really ambitious and kneel up, holding your hands on your heels as you do. I cannot do that. Like… at all.

This may seem more like a mobility movement than a bulletproofing movement, but for me it’s important. I’m doing a fair number of handstands and handsprings and if I’m going to back bend, I want it to be at the thoracic spine and NOT the lumbar spine. This is why bulletproofing and mobility go hand-in-hand. If you lack mobility, then you may well move in other areas that you would be better not to!

Camel

That said, the likes of Stuart McGill would argue that this causes too much spinal compression and should be avoided. But he also probably doesn’t advocate handsprings.

The key to success will be choosing the exercises that best bulletproof you for your own specific training style. This is what is useful for me.

Absorb what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.

I hope you can find a few useful movements to add to your own training, here.

My Full Bulletproofing Workout

With all that said, here is a full routine you can perform using these bulletproofing exercises. This is my “Fortify workout.” The reps and sets here are designed to be “non taxing” while still providing some stimulus and adaptation. I’ve placed those movements that involve a more passive stretch toward the end of the routine.

But remember: the whole point of this routine is that it can be adapted as needed. Alternatively, the individual exercises can be spread throughout the day, or simply tacked onto the end of other workouts.

F O R T I F Y

(WARMUP)

3 x 10 Hindu Squats

2 x 20 Gama Cast/Kettlebell Halos

2 x 10 Ballistic Kettlebell Rows

2 x 10 Bodyweight Rows

2 x 10 Sumo Squat With Shiko

2 x 1 Minute Bear Crawl

***

2 x 10 Supinated Wrist Curls

2 x 10 Pronated Wrist Curls

3 x 10 Bodyweight Good Mornings

3 x 10 Tibia Raises

3 x 1 Minute Camel Pose

2 x 1 Minute Dead Hang (see video)

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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