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Friday, October 24, 2014

One Plus One Sometimes Equals Less Than Two

I love pizza. I also love ice cream.

However, if I dipped my pizza in ice cream, it would probably be pretty gross and ruin both.

What does this have to do with health and fitness???

One of my good clients came in last week and was telling me about a new Spin class he just tried out that he really liked. Done well, I think indoor cycling classes are an awesome option for conditioning so I was fully supportive of his endeavors. Until...

He proceeded to tell me about the "strength training" and "sculpting" portion of the class. This basically consisted of doing roughly a thousand or so curls and crazy shoulder raises with 2lb dumbbells. Why, why, why???

You had a great thing going. Then you went and screwed it up because you wanted to create a workout that covered "everything". Well, the saying goes about being a "jack of all trades, but master of none". Instead of getting in some more valuable peak heart rate work, recovery training, etc., you decided to waste valuable class time trying to "feel the burn" and appease the immediate gratification of the novice client mindset that if I feel a muscle getting exhausted, it must be growing and getting more tone. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way and that flies in the face of all good and sound exercise science.

Let's give a quick refresher course on how exercise works:

-The human organism is designed to do 2 things - Adapt and survive
-In accordance with this, we shiver when we are cold, sweat when we are hot, etc., etc.
-If you want to grow muscle or add strength, you need to challenge the body at a relatively high intensity to force a "super compensation" that will result in gains in either

If I make someone do a million reps of a single joint exercise at an extremely low intensity, it will not create enough stimulus to create any significant strength or muscle. When is the last time you saw a really "jacked" distance runner?

Now mind you that this client is a pretty strong individual who can deadlift in the 300lb range and bench press in the high 200s. How intense are those 2lb dumbbells for him? The only thing it accomplished is draining energy, creating wear and tear and possibly some soreness that took away from the next day's workout where the goal and plan actually was to gain strength and muscle.

The point of all of this is that some things are best left alone. Yoga is a tremendous and incredibly valuable discipline. It's held true for thousands of years. It doesn't need to be blended with conditioning, kettle bells, pilates, weights, stability balls or whatever other crazy "do-it-all" hybrid you dream up. I could create one workout that incorporates strength, endurance, flexibility, power, recovery, agility and burned calories, it just wouldn't be real good at any of them.

Don't run holding dumbbells and don't believe the hype. Enjoy your pizza and then go for ice cream later.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sometimes More is Just More

So this morning I'm scrolling through my news feed and I come across this:

Apparently a Chinese police officer, who is a member of the Beijing Police department SWAT team, has broken the world record for planking. According to the Metro, Mao Weidong stayed in a plank position for four hours and 26 minutes.

Very cool and impressive at face value. Considering I get bored when my rep range goes above 6, I can't imagine doing any activity for that long, so kudos for persistence to this gentleman.

BUT, you know what scares me? Many people and places are going to assume that this is now the fitness ideal and will start wasting countless hours on their forearms and forget why they are actually training in the first place.

Dan John brilliantly says in training that we need to "keep the goal the goal". When I teach trainers and clinicians exercise prescription, I constantly remind them that every movement you choose is a means to an end and that everything we do should be done with the goal of that activity will then lead you to be able to better do another activity.

That is why when I came up with the tag line for ONE Human Performance, I boiled it down to the three reasons why anyone trains:
1. Look Better
2. Feel Better
3. Perform Better
That's it. It's one, some or all of those. No one comes in to get a 21 on their FMS or hold a 4 hour plank. The ability to be better at those things only lead you to be better able to achieve the goal you came in for.

Where it gets confusing is now that with extreme races and CrossFit has become the rage, the goal of training has become to get better at training. Before all of the CrossFitters and Mud Run crowd starts attacking me, realize I am not knocking those activities at all here. But also realize that you are not the norm or the masses, and so with that, the norm and the masses may not benefit from simply training to get better at training. As trainers we have to be very careful not to impose our goals or training on to our clients. As much as I may want to have a better bench press, having my 50 year old golfer benching may not be the most effective and efficient means to achieve his goals, which probably have nothing to do with a bench press.

Are planks bad? NO, but training should be done, as Gray Cook says, at the "edge of your ability". I teach that I want you to always train at the level that you are challenged, yet successful. So if I prescribe a plank, it is an entry level trunk and shoulder stability intervention that eventually becomes a building block to being able to do a push up or press. This may be done to create better posture for every day living, greater upper body control and positioning for athletic endeavors or a window into training for a nicer chest and arms. It is a means to an end, not the end goal.

It's kind of like when people read about Navy Seal training and try to follow their workout regimen. I've had the good fortune to work with the Seals and they are unique and special breed of human being. Average Joe who sits in an office 8 hours a day and hasn't worked out since high school football should not (and probably could not) even attempt to do what these highly specialized individuals do as their occupation.

Life is too short, so before you go and waste your valuable time trying to break this gentlemen's record, realize that things like this are noteworthy and remarkable, but also generally frivolous in nature. Remember on Happy Days when Fonzie broke the world record for jumping the most garbage cans on his motorcycle??? 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Venus, Mars & the Weight Room: Training Effects on Females vs. Males

As I sit here this morning with legs slightly quivering from this morning's lower body workout, I am reminded again just how differently men are versus women when it comes to our thinking about strength training. Hopefully the following does not come off as sexist in any way and that my female friends who are trainers and/or have spent some time in the weight room will agree with me.

You see, I have spent the better part of the past 20 years eating, training and taking supplements trying to get my thighs to rub together. This sounds blasphemous to just about any female, as this is what they dread every time they look at themselves in the mirror or try on jeans at the mall. You know what the truth is? It's just not that easy. (I wish it was)

Women on average have about 10x less testosterone production than most males, and so women just don't have the ability to put on muscle mass like men do. Now this does not mean in any way that women have it easier when it comes to sculpting an eye-catching physique. For the same reason, females also naturally have less resting caloric expenditure, leading many women to hate their husbands when they diet and exercise for 2 weeks and drop 10 pounds, while they often work harder and eat better for lesser results. Men also don't through a dramatic internal physiological trauma like women do each month (even though some guys I've trained act like they do) that affects hormones, mood, energy levels, caloric expenditure, recovery ability, etc.

The primary point I want to get across to women is that muscle is not your problem and certainly not your enemy. I have always stuck to a firm policy with my clients that if you put on too much muscle, I will happily give you your money back. If your thighs rub together, chances are that it is not muscle.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Clearing Up the Clean: Why You Should or Should Not Do Power Cleans

Being in and around weight rooms and serving as a consultant to countless athletic teams, there are some themes that I find are unfortunately recurring and common:

1. The football team is usually the only team that has an organized (somewhat) lifting program

2. That program is usually Bench Press, Squat and Power Clean with a bunch of other random exercises piled on

3. This approach is prevalent from the high school to college to pro ranks

4. All other sports follow a carbon copy of the football team, even though most times it doesn't have application or carryover in any way, shape or form. Seriously, I have had Division I Girls Lacrosse and Field Hockey players who were handed the actual football program and they just scratched out "Football" and wrote in "Field Hockey" or "Lacrosse". Are you kidding me? Someone is getting paid for this???

Today I want to take on just one element of this dilemma and discuss the Power Clean. It is often implemented to improve athletic power (I've been told it is a "football" exercise. Huh?).

The problem is that the Clean is a very highly technical skill. If you get real good at it you can win a gold medal. This technical skill is rarely taught correctly in a room full of over thirty 14-17 year old boys with little to no weight room experience. The amount of times I have walked into a weight room and seen anyone doing anything close to good form I can count on one hand.

Other than just the lack of coaching and experience, there are several other issues that detract from deriving any benefit from doing Power Cleans in your program:

1. If you can't rack the bar correctly, YOU CAN'T CLEAN

I can always tell the athlete who can't rack a bar correctly on their shoulders when they come in with their wrist taped or bandaged up after a bout of Cleans. They lack the flexibility to get under the bar so they beat the hell out of their wrists, or even worse, their spines. I have been told about a local high school football team that had over a dozen kids with reported stress fractures in their lumbar spines. This is not coincidence. This is what happens when a Power Clean turns into an ugly jump and curl and you catch the bar by leaning back and slamming into your low back every time.

2. If you can't Front Squat, YOU CAN'T CLEAN
For many of the same reasons as listed above about being able to get under the bar well and rack it, the Front Squat forces you to be able to keep your chest tall and spine long or you will dump the bar forward. If you can't do this while sitting back into your hips, you will never be able to catch the bar to complete the clean.

3. If you can't High Pull, YOU CAN'T CLEAN

If you have even the simplest understanding of leverage, you know that the further an object you are lifting is away from your body, the heavier it becomes. If you are going to efficiently produce power into the bar, you need to be able to create a pathway up the front of your body once it leaves your thighs.

4. If you can't Deadlift, YOU CAN'T CLEAN
There is an old expression that "you can't start with chicken sh** and end up with chicken salad." The Deadlift is the foundation and starting point for all Olympic lifts. If you can't work solidly off of this base, everything after that is going downhill.
What about starting from stands or from a "Hang" position? Same deal, from a movement perspective it is still just hip hinging, but you're just limiting your range of motion.

So are you saying Cleans are Bad???

No I'm saying most people are really bad at Cleans. So because of that most people shouldn't do them.

But what if I really want to do them???

OK. Fair enough. Follow the 4 elements I listed above separately and build the "pieces" or "chunks" of the Clean each individually. Get really good at Deadlifts, Front Squats, High Pulls and racking the bar first. Once you can master these, then get good coaching on the technical elements of the Clean and you will get much better returns, while severely minimizing the risk of injury.

Do I really NEED to do them?

In my humble opinion, NO. You can get all of the power benefits from doing Front Squats and Deadlifts and compliment that with Kettlebell Swings, Jumps and less risky unilateral dumbbell Olympic lifts.

Don't believe me? Join the club.

When I tell most football coaches to drop the Clean out their program they look at me like I just asked them to stop wearing helmets on the field. I just always knew instinctively that for all of the reasons listed above that they were doing more harm than good with Cleans. Then I got proof.

I recently implemented a 4-Day Off-Season Program with a local high school team. When I went through the program with the coach, he was extremely hesitant and nervous that I had no Cleans anywhere in the program. After talking him off of the ledge, I got him to trust me and said give it 2 months and let's see what happens. He tested all of the players in their Bench, Squat and Clean before implementing the program. He then re-tested them 8 weeks later. Here is what happened:

Bench Press - Average Increase - 12.38lbs / 8.5%
Squat - Average Increase - 26.07lbs / 12.3%
Clean - Average Increase - 14.61lbs / 11.4% - Without ever doing a single Clean!!!

I heard a coach once say that he could predict his season based on how many kids on his team could Power Clean 255 pounds. For every one that could do 225, it equalled one win. I can't dispute or confirm this statistically, but I do know one thing:

You can get much better at Cleans, by NOT doing Cleans. The net result can be the same, and you can save valuable time, while minimizing injury risk significantly, by going this alternate route.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Good vs Bad Exercise, Nice to Do vs NEED to Do

If you work in the fitness business, you don't get too far into your day without someone asking you what I call a "Good/Bad" question…

"Is Pilates good for you???"

" I heard that Upright Rows are bad for you. Is that true???"

You know why these questions are tricky? Because the answer is usually both or neither.

It is analogous to nutrition, in that there are only a few foods on either end of the spectrum that are universally "good" or "bad". You would be hard pressed to find a nutrition expert in the world that will tell you leafy green vegetables are bad in any way for anyone. At the same time, you would have a tough time arguing for any nutritional benefit to eating a Big Mac. Most other foods fall along a spectrum, meaning some people can tolerate eating grains and others are intolerant to them. Some do better with a higher percentage of
I'm sure some might argue the merits
of this spine wrecker, but it definitely
would smells like greasy fast food to me
fat in their diet, while others don't.

The same can be said for exercise. Before you can answer if any exercise or program is "good" for you, you need to know a number of different variables, including, but not limited to the following:

-Fitness level
-Training Age
-Movement Competency
-Work Tolerance
-Work Capacity
-Daily Activities outside of training
-Season (Off/Pre/In/Post-Season for athletes)
-Training Time

One of my mentors, Gray Cook, talks often about Program Minimums. This means if I had write a program for you and I only had a very minimum amount of time, equipment and exercises to work with, what what would be the most vital elements that you NEED. Paul Chek refers in programming to "Big Bang" exercises, meaning that you are addressing a number of needs with one movement rather than isolating out a number of individual pieces of them. The Turkish Get Up for example, addresses multiple movements patterns in fell swoop, eliminating the need for a laundry list of more isolated exercises when time is limited.

The Program Minimum is what you NEED to do. Everything beyond that is what would be nice to do. For example, if you only have 2 days per week to train, there probably isn't going to time for you to do wrist curls and calf exercises, simply because there are too many other more primary needs to be met and those things only cover a small isolated segment and you will be missing out on achieving the larger overall goal.

Now if you have 5-6 days to train per week, and you want to crank out bicep curls, you can by all means go after it once you have achieved your program minimums and it does not take away from your function or performance, or more importantly, cause pain.

What this looks like in real life is that on a 4-5 day program, Days 1 and 2 and/or 3 are comprised of "Big Bang" exercises. For a person on a 2-Day program, that is where is stops. For the trainee with more training time, the extra days towards the end of the training week can be used to satisfy their psychological as well as physiological needs. So for my endurance athletes, that is when you can add some extra conditioning work and for those looking for aesthetics / muscular development we can add in a "Tight T-Shirt" Friday workout to get a pump and feed our egos for the weekend:)

On the flip side, please also note that there is also a Program Maximum. This means that there comes a critical mass or tipping point where additional training will not only produce no result, it may have a negative affect and hurt and not help progress. Tim Ferriss discusses this extensively in his book the 4-Hour Body, focusing on the efficiency of your programming and that more is definitely not always better. A great example of this is programming for American football players in their off-season training. Research has shown that after 6-8 weeks of conditioning, there is minimal increase in aerobic capacity. In other words, if you want to build maximum work capacity or endurance for sport, count back 6-8 weeks from the competition and begin your conditioning there. Any additional time spent training this system will produce negligible, if not negative returns. So for the football players, the time you do not spend conditioning can be much better spent working on your strength, size, speed, power and athleticism. In football, you don't win any trophies for being in great shape in April. On top of that, excessive endurance work will curb your ability to maximally create the strength, size, speed, power and athleticism that is absolutely necessary and critical  for success in football.

Remember the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears??? The porridge couldn't be too cold or too hot, it had to be just right. Not everybody likes their food at the same temperature. Sure if it is too cold it is intolerable and too hot you'll burn your mouth. Everything else in between is along a continuum. Sound familiar? So next time you want to know if something in your exercise program is good or bad, think "how do you like your porridge and what is right for you???"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good?!?!

The moment in any conversation when the person you're talking to finds out that you are a trainer, they immediately pepper you with questions about training and diet theories they have learned from sound bytes on the news or at the hair salon or glossy magazines.

"Oh, I heard _______ are bad for you. Is that true???", or "I do _______ because I saw so and so say that ________ is the BEST."

The problem with these statements is that they are inherently wrong. In fitness and nutrition there are very few things that are 100% "good" or "bad". Yes, McDonalds McRib sandwiches are absolutely "bad" and you would be hard pressed to find someone tell you that a salad with organic greens is not "good", but everything else generally falls on a continuum in between.

The question we need to ask is not "good" vs. "bad", but rather is it RIGHT for me???

Lets take the squat as a perfect example. "I heard squats are bad for your knees/back." Well, for the young man in the photo above that may absolutely be the case, but not it is NOT because the squat is bad, but because HE is bad at squatting. Based on observing his movement, his body does not DESERVE to squat therefore he shouldn't.

Unfortunately this is happening in weight rooms and gyms everywhere and here is where the myth then compounds:

-This young man is going to go home and complain of back/knee pain. His mom or dad is then going to ask what he did that may have caused it. After he tells them about how his coach had him do squats today in the gym, they immediately remember how their doctor once told them "squats are bad". (This doctor by the way gets all of about 1 day of fitness education in all of their years of schooling. Don't come to me if you are sick and don't ask your GP about exercise.)

That then leads to "that coach has no idea what he is doing. Does he want his players to get hurt???" Chaos then ensues and now an edict is brought down that there will be no more squatting. Problem is that the kid working out next to him moves beautifully and really could benefit from the squat, so now he suffers.

So next time you get aches and pains after your workout don't blame the exercise, but instead figure out why that workout wasn't right for you, and what do you need to do in order to become deserving of doing that workout again if it is something you want to repeat.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Top 5 Mistakes Coaches Make in Their Practice Plans

After being involved as a coach and trainer for many years at the Pee Wee to Professional level, I am always intrigued by the habits of successful coaches and programs and try to study the habits and elements that make them great. One of the biggest common components of winning teams that I have found is their approach to practice and training. In Daniel Coyle’s book the Talent Code, he investigated this notion and researched what he termed talent “hot beds” and studied what coaches were doing in areas that seemed to continually produce high-level performers. They all implemented something he termed as “deep practice”, where all of their practice sessions were efficient, effective and purposeful.

On the flipside, I always try to note common flaws amongst struggling teams and organizations and what it is they may be doing wrong so I can avoid those same pitfalls in my coaching and training. Here are the mistakes that I have found to be most prevalent and destructive:

  1. Unless you are coaching the Cross Country team, stop with all of the running!
I have coined a saying that “making players run is for coaches who have run out of things to teach”. That is not to say we don’t need to condition our athletes, but it can be done in far more productive ways than long distance runs that are more often just busy work that wears out the athletes and diminishes their focus and interest.

  1. Teach pieces before plays
Whether it is running a pass play in football or hitting a baseball, an intense orchestration of many smaller elements must all be executed with the right timing and force in order to achieve success. Our minds cannot digest learning these things in whole form so learning is best done in smaller chunks. Create a list of all of the elements needed to accomplish a larger whole task and then develop drills to acquire each minor component so that when the complete task is required, it can be done reflexively and naturally

  1. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Every coach would probably lobby to try and get more practice time with their team. The problem however is often not the volume of practice, but rather the efficiency. By creating a detailed agenda for each practice, coaches can insure that they can cover all of the goal criteria for that day. Schedules should be broken down with as much detail as possible, down to the water breaks, and the schedule should be strictly adhered to.

  1. Get everyone involved
Coaches have a bad habit on focusing on their key players and what their responsibilities are and ignoring the players at the bottom of their roster. This becomes a cyclical disaster because there will inevitably come a time due to injury or mere chance that these players will be counted on at a pivotal time in competition that they will by no means be prepared for because they were standing around on the sideline while the starters were getting all of the practice reps. The irony is that when these players don’t perform in key spots, the coaches get angry with them when it is really their own fault for not preparing them for that situation.

  1. Just because it’s “the way it’s always been done” doesn’t make it right
There is a fine line between tradition and dogma in athletics and we often miss out on information and technology that could vastly improve our performance because it doesn’t fall in line with the way our coaches taught us and their coaches taught them. This mentality would still have us believing the world was flat and that smoking was safe. Stick to your core values and system, but keep an open mind to methods that may be unorthodox but just what your program needs.