Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Gunz

The 2nd part in my series for Men's Health UK ran this week in which I lay out some advice for improving bicep strength. Rather than go the usual route of curls I suggest you will get more out of chin-ups. The editor requested some curls to please the audience so I put in a sample progression for that too.

Go get your gunz on:

Base strength
It's likely that a few extra inches on your pipes would be most welcome, but before you can pack pounds of muscle onto your biceps, you'll need to build up a decent strength base. "To achieve superior results, muscles and joints should move through a full range of motion," says personal trainer Chris Bathke. "Both bicep heads attach to the scapula and assist in shoulder movements, so relying only on single joint isolation movements that don't involve the back or shoulder shortchanges muscular development." Bathke recommends this simple self-test to determine whether your base strength is up to scratch.
The close grip chin-up

Hang from a bar, palms facing toward you with arms fully extended, and pull yourself up until your upper chest is even with your hands. If you can successfully perform 10 reps with strict form then you have decent arm strength. If not, then forget bicep curls for now and work on chin-ups.
Build it up

"Chin-up negatives are a good movement to improve strength, even for those that can't do a chin-up," says Bathke. Chin-up negatives are easier as they consist only of the second part of the chin-up movement: start at the top position of a chin-up, and slowly lower yourself down to the bottom in a five-second count. Do three reps at the end of each set of your usual chin-up work, or if you can't do a chin-up then start with three sets of five negatives and each week try to add a rep each set. Retest your chin-ups every four weeks and note the improvements.
Raise the bar

After you've built up your base strength you can start on the curls and lay down some serious muscle. Once a week after your chin-up or row work, try curls with dumb-bells that you can lift for a maximum of 10 reps. "Start with three sets of eight and add one rep each week until you can do 12, then move up to a heavier weight and start back at eight," advises Bathke. Use strict form with knees locked and no torso momentum.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Try This At Home

I hope you all had a great Christmas and are gearing up for a fun New Year. My wife and I spent a few days visiting family and snowboarding in Colorado. Nothing like consecutive days of getting in as many runs as possible in perfect powder - talk about lower body training!

If more people got out in the winter and had as much fun obesity rates, particularly in the Midwest and other cold, fat states, would take a serious hit. There just isn't a downside to getting out there.

But I digress. A short time back I contributed a tip to TMuscle's ongoing twitter series. This one concerns using the muscles and tissue in the upper back/thoracic area to build strength and improve posture all at once.

The next time you do one-arm overhead presses with a kettlebell or dumbbell, try using thoracic extensions for increasing strength. Just before you begin to press, round your upper back slightly, then as you start to press, stick your chest out and pinch your shoulder blades together forcefully. Do NOT arch your lower back, but concentrate on your upper back. This will not only allow you to lift heavier, but has positive effects on thoracic mobility and posture.

There are some other cool ideas in there too so give the whole article a read.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Test Your Core Strength

Just a quick post (while using someone else's network. No thanks to Verizon - who suck big time by the way) to drop a link to Men's Health UK. Last week they asked me to write a series of strength assessment's for them, the first of which was sent out on their online newsletters today. Funny to think that some Brits will be checking this out, but they'll be getting the advantage over all the Americans still doing crunches!

You'll never see a gymnast with a weak core. Training for strength and performance, rather than just looks, ensures that the folks who dedicate their youth to cartwheeling in Lycra boast six-packs that would put your mid-region to shame. This test, courtesy of personal trainer Chris Bathke, will be humbling for most, but with patience and dedication, anyone can use it to improve their base core strength. Though you've probably left it a bit late to reach the podium in the parallel bars in 2012.

Test your core

Set up by hanging from a pull-up bar with a pronated (palms down) grip, arms fully extended. "Preferably, your back should be against a wall or have a partner push slightly on your upper back to prevent you from pulling your shoulders back behind your hands," says Bathke. If this isn't possible then just try your best to keep your back absolutely straight and motionless. From the hang position slowly raise your legs up to 90 degrees with your knees locked, feet together and head neutral. "Your elbows should be locked and your lower back should be straight. Use a timer and try to hold this position for 10 seconds," says Bathke. Figure-hugging Lycra optional.
Build it up

If you have difficulty holding for 10 seconds, then start off by doing the same movement with your knees bent. "Begin with two sets of five slow reps and build up to doing two or three sets of five reps with your legs straight," says Bathke. Retest every four weeks.
Raise the bar

Once you've built up your strength, try the V-up. Hang from a bar, but this time bring your feet all the way up to touch the bar, pause slightly, then slowly return to the starting position while keeping your legs and body straight. "Go slow and don't use momentum. Quality is everything with this one," says Bathke. Start with two sets of five and work up to three sets of eight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Agonist-Antagonist Training

Though the title sounds like what happens when some guy wants to curl in the squat rack and you throw him through the window, but it's actually a useful training methodology.

This refers to training antagonist muscle groups, which means muscles that counteract the force of another. For example your rotator cuff muscles serve to decelerate your arm when punching so that you don't injure your shoulder. Fatiguing an antagonist muscle takes the brakes off somewhat. For example doing a chin-up and an overhead press back to back theoretically benefit the other. It's also a very effective method of saving time in the gym.

The study:

J Sports Sci. 2009 Dec 3:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]
Effects of agonist-antagonist complex resistance training on upper body strength and power development.

Robbins DW, Young WB, Behm DG, Payne WR.

School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Ballarat, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

The objective of this study was to examine the chronic effects on strength and power of performing complex versus traditional set training over eight weeks. Fifteen trained males were assessed for throw height, peak velocity, and peak power in the bench press throw and one-repetition maximum (1-RM) in the bench press and bench pull exercises, before and after the eight-week programme. The traditional set group performed the pulling before the pushing exercise sets, whereas the complex set group alternated pulling and pushing sets. The complex set training sessions were completed in approximately half the time. Electromyographic (EMG) activity was monitored during both test sessions in an attempt to determine if it was affected as a result of the training programme.

Although there were no differences in the dependent variables between the two conditions, bench pull and bench press 1-RM increased significantly under the complex set condition and peak power increased significantly under the traditional set condition. Effect size statistics suggested that the complex set was more time-efficient than the traditional set condition with respect to development of 1-RM bench pull and bench press, peak velocity and peak power. The EMG activity was not affected. Complex set training would appear to be an effective method of exercise with respect to efficiency and strength development.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Studies on Training During Pregnancy

Following up on the last post here are a couple of studies courtesy of Cassandra Forsythe (the woman busting booty in the previous videos).

First up
Long-term outcome after exercising throughout pregnancy: fitness and cardiovascular risk
James F. Clapp, III, MD
Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 November; 199(5): 489.e1–489.e6.

The objective of the study was to test the null hypothesis that continuing vigorous weight-bearing exercise throughout pregnancy has no discernible long-term effect on indices of fitness and/or cardiovascular risk.
This was a follow-up observational study of the fitness and cardiovascular risk profile of 39 women conducted on the General Clinical Research Center at the University of Vermont. Data were analyzed using the paired Student t test, analysis of variance, and linear regression.
Women who voluntarily maintain their exercise regimen during pregnancy continue to exercise over time at a higher level than those who stop. Over time they also gain less weight (3.4 vs 9.9 kg), deposit less fat (2.2 vs 6.7 kg), have increased fitness, and have a lower cardiovascular risk profile than those who stop.
Women who continue weight-bearing exercise during pregnancy maintain their long-term fitness and have a low cardiovascular risk profile in the perimenopausal period.

BJOG. 2006 Nov;113(11):1239-47. Epub 2006 Sep 15.

Uterine blood flow during supine rest and exercise after 28 weeks of gestation.
Jeffreys RM, Stepanchak W, Lopez B, Hardis J, Clapp JF 3rd.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Schwartz Center for Metabolism and Nutrition, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, OH 44109, USA.

OBJECTIVE: To test the null hypothesis that, after 28 weeks of gestation, uterine blood flow during supine rest and supine exercise is no different than uterine blood flow at left-lateral rest. DESIGN: In vivo experimental study in pregnant women. SETTING: Department of Obstetrics, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, OH, USA. POPULATION: Fourteen, physically active, late-pregnant women who continued supine exercise throughout gestation. METHODS: Studies were carried out between 29 and 38 weeks of gestation. Maternal blood pressure, maternal heart rate, and ultrasound estimates of volume blood flow in the right ascending branch of the uterine artery were obtained serially at rest in the left-lateral position, at rest in the supine position, during and immediately after 10 minutes of supine exercise, and again at rest in the left-lateral position. Exercise sessions included alternating 60- to 90-second periods of abdominal crunches and leg exercise at moderate/high intensity (Borg's rating of perceived exertion 14 +/- 1). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Blood pressure, heart rate, and uterine artery volume flow. RESULTS: Data are presented as the mean +/- SD. Maternal heart rate and blood pressure were unchanged at supine rest but increased during supine exercise (heart rate increased from 76 +/- 9 to 98 +/- 12 beats per minute, mean arterial pressure increased from 81 +/- 6 to 102 +/- 12 mmHg). Volume flow fell from 410 +/- 93 to 267 +/- 73 cc/minute after 5 minutes of supine rest and then, during supine exercise, increased to 355 +/- 125 cc/minute. Uterine artery luminal diameter and blood flow correlated directly with tissue weights at birth (r(2) values between 0.32 and 0.59). CONCLUSIONS: In physically active women, uterine blood flow decreases during both supine rest and supine exercise but the decrease in the former is twice that seen in the latter.

Needless to say any woman should listen to her doctor before starting to exercise, and one should undertake exercise with the help of a qualified professional - make sure your trainer has taken courses in pre and post-natal training.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Training During Pregnancy

Cassandra Forsythe, colleague and co-writer of New Rules of Lifting for Women just shot some video of her training at 6 months into her first pregnancy. Obviously she has experience in the gym, but the point is that you can, and should train to be as strong and conditioned as possible for the health of your baby and you.

And as you can see Cassandra is training harder at 6 months than the vast majority of people ever do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kettlebells Beat Cancer

We all know KBs can cure just about anything ;) but here is a piece about Anthony DiLuglio on ESPN about his battle with a rare form of cancer. The article suggests that type of muscle has has built over the years helped his body reject the advances of a tumor in his leg. KBs are just a tool of course, but nevertheless there is alot to be said for the healing properties of consistent, hard work.

Up until that point, he had been in perfect health. But now, myxiod liposarcoma, a rare form of the disease, was invading his leg. Only 6,000 cases are seen in the U.S. each year. The doctor explained that more surgery was needed, and that DiLuglio had a good chance of losing all feeling in his leg and foot, or worse, losing the entire leg. "I thought, 'What did I do to end up like this? What about training? What about my livelihood?'"

Amazingly, DiLuglio made it through surgery and managed to keep his entire leg and the majority of his muscle tissue: His training had made the muscles so dense that the tumor was unable to penetrate them.

"The doctors wanted to know what I did to create such muscle," he said. "If you're a runner or bodybuilder, you don't have that type of density. I explained kettlebell training and my approach to building strength." Researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston continue to study his case, hoping to learn more.

I had no idea about Anthony's fight with cancer when I met him about a year ago at a seminar and found him a knowledgeable and nice guy. Needless to say what he's done for himself and now with other cancer patients is inspirational. Check out more of his approach at Art of Strength.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heal Thyself

Last week New York Times online ran a good article on foam rolling and self myofascial work.

No matter if you lift heavy, run, or do spin class it's likely you feel tightness from time to time, or have postural issues. I conservatively estimate that about oh.... 100% of new clients at the gym have pretty tight thoracic spines, IT bands and hip flexors.

Those that do a lot of endurance training, be it running, biking, or cardio class will almost certainly have some significant scar tissue or adhesions due to repetitive motions and pounding on the joints, not to mention imbalances:

For instance, “riding on aerobars on the bike sets up a huge muscle imbalance in the upper back and shoulders,” said Tim Crowley, a triathlon coach in Marlboro, Mass. “Hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes become extremely tight and immobile from running.”

The following is an example of a foam rolling sequence from Eric Cressey. Note that in the video a small ball is also used for the calves, glutes, and other hard to get at areas. You can certainly use a roller for these areas first, and gradually work into using a tennis or golf ball.

5 minutes a day will do wonders for you.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meat & Brotatos

Back by popular demand is 6+6 more minutes of nutritional conversation with the digital Alan Aragon. And he's obviously been getting some sun judging by the video.

Part III

And another great bonus quote:
Many folks into fitness & bodybuilding have this unproductive tendency to think in black & white extremes. They’ll scapegoat certain foods, while glorifying the magic bullets. They rarely see the integration of the various components that comprise the big picture.

For more info go check out Alan's blog.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

5 Minutes of Nutrition

Men's health magazine nutrition contributor and king broski Alan Aragon brings you nutritional quotes worthy of the history books. One of his clients culled some of his best quotes and put them together in animated form.

Now I present to you Aragon's conversation with a bro Part I

Oh, and to condense one key point of nutrition: If you are having trouble losing weight then figure out how much you are eating every day, then reduce your calories to meet your goal. Not doing this will guarantee failure every time.

Stay tuned for more Aragon animation!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dynamic Stability Training

One of the real good guys in this business, Dan John, kindly posted a clip on another site from his DVD talking about dynamic stability training. This one deals with methods of adding different forms of resistance to a squat, and in particular the "Koji squat".

I'm also adding a clip Koji himself. Koji Murofushi is a world and Olympic champion in hammer throwing. He isn't that big, but brutally strong, agile, and powerful. He also has some unique training methods that focus on movement quality - a topic I'll get into in subsequent posts (or see past videos with Steve Cotter). Anyone that has played sports or done martial arts should immediately recognize the importance of developing good movement quality as Koji demonstrates.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Born to Run

I'm back from a couple of weeks in Japan traveling with family. Needless to say we had a great time visiting a historic pottery town, marveling at Kyoto's temples, and eating fantastic food.

Once again we were struck by how many people you see in Japan outside being active, and how few obese people there are. Could be some connection there...

While traveling I read Christopher McDougall's book Born To Run. I had seen McDougall interviewed on the Daily Show and heard good things so picked it up at the airport. Part ethnography, part research on running, part one man's search for meaning, Born To Run is an engrossing tale of some lost souls finding each other among the Tarahumara peoples of Northern Mexico.

Of course I'm a sucker for ethnographies, having a grad degree in ethnomusicology, but relevant to this blog McDougall drew upon a growing body of research showing that our "high tech" shoes are breaking us down. I admit I'm already sold on this point, having seen first hand many times how training barefoot, or close to it (Nike Free, Vibram Five Fingers) does much to improve foot, knee, and back health.

McDougall points out that no American has won the Olympic or New York marathon's ever since our footwear got high tech (arch support, fat heels, orthotics etc...), but that many who have one, namely the Kenyans seldom ever wore shoes until in their late teens.

Further, the main subjects of the book, the Tarahumara people, are known as the best ultra-endurance runners on the planet, but they wear nothing more than flat sandals made of rubber and leather. And they seldom, if ever, get injured.

Meanwhile injury statistics among American runners show that 8 in 10 runners will deal with injuries each year. McDougall for one claims his injuries have vanished since ditching his expensive running shoes and going barefoot.

OK, enough of that - go check out the book. It's a great read.

However I will say that Born To Run portrays ultra-endurance runners as uber-athletes. But watching youtube videos of them I'm struck by the skinny-fat physiques and poor posture, which is why I'm adamant that people need to do some sort of exercise that uses the whole body.

And it's not just for looks. This research demonstrates links between lack of muscle strength and increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease:

The strongest patients had 61 per cent less chance of developing the disease than the weakest. No reason for the association has yet been foung, but it could involve energy production in the body or other hidden health problems, the scientists believe.

Alzheimer's disease – the most common form of dementia – causes a progressive loss of memory and thinking ability. However, it is also known to be associated with symptoms such as an impaired gait, depression and a weakened grip.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Centre, in Chicago, studied 970 adults with an average age of about 80 who did not initially have Alzheimer's.

Each participant was rated for mental function and given a physical strength score derived from testing 11 muscle groups. At least one further evaluation was carried out over an average follow-up period of 3.6 years. Of the total, 138 participants (14.2 per cent) went on to develop Alzheimer's.

Muscle strength scores ranged from minus 1.6 to 3.3 units. Every unit increase in initial muscle strength correlated with a 43 per cent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's during the study period, the researchers found.

Participants in the top 10 per cent of scores for muscular strength were almost two-thirds (61 per cent) less likely to develop less at risk of Alzheimer's than those who were in the bottom 10 per cent.

In other words go get stronger. Only good can come of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kettlebell in the Age of Quarrel

This past weekend I attended the Kettlebell in the Age of Quarrel 3 day workshop put together by Mike Mahler. Alicia & Peter and AF Performance provided an excellent space for the 30 people that showed up from all over the U.S., Panama, Scotland, Germany, and Canada.

The main theme of the workshop was that there is no one size fits all approach to fitness. In order to achieve your goals you need to figure out what works for you, or have a professional figure it out for you. But we need to understand the underlying principles in order to do this.

Among the main coaches present were Mike Mahler, Steve Cotter, "Stone Cold" Ken Blackburn, Jason Dolby, Andrew Durniat, and John Wild Buckley. And I must thank Mike Mahler for kindly allowing me to attend and help out when needed.

Each of these individuals has a unique background, skill set, knowledge base, and specialty. And together they made a hell of a group to lead a well rounded approach to fitness and well being.

Ken Blackburn lead the dynamic warmup/mobility and agility portions each day - and there were plenty of people dog tired after the initial hour of agility training, and we hadn't even lifted anything yet! Some of this mobility work would be familiar to martial artists, but not generally what one sees trainers do, something I think could use some reflecting upon. People with MA backgrounds tend to move very well and have good mobility and flexibility, so why not incorporate more of what they do?

It is even whispered in some circles that some of Ken's moves were derived from the legendary Jean Claude Van Damme himself!

Mike Mahler's presentations focused on nutrition, supplementation, and how this affects our hormones and ultimately our health. He drew on a number of sources including Dr. Kessler's excellent The End Of Overeating. Mike's main message was derive as much of our nutrients as possible from clean, organic sources, and understand exactly what supplementation an individual may need to our optimize hormonal profile.

Jason Dolby lead and excellent segment on Indian club work for shoulder health on days 1 & 3. Clubs have been around a long time but are highly underrated in my opinion. Clubs have already been implemented into some of my clients training. Try it, your shoulders will thank you.

Day 2 focused primarily on kettlebell the kettlebell sport lifts and assistance work. The group spent a good 6 hours on working cleans, jerks, snatches, long cycle, and related drills. We performed a number of work sets in order to develop technique and show what sort of programming works for various purposes. The coaches made sure to present a variety of approaches to each movement, stressing that certain ways work better for certain builds, and that everyone should experiment and find what works for them. Not unlike powerlifting or any other sport.

We were fortunate to have Andrew Durniat lead the snatch portion. Andrew quite a knowledgeable guy, and has competed in Russia at the highest levels of KB sport, as well as strongman competitions and a winner of the 2009 national grip strength competition. That's him doing the KB and barbell juggling in the video below.

Following KB work there was a panel discussion during which various aspects of programming and periodization, including KB sport work, integrating Wendler's 5/3/1, integrating KBs into general fitness programs, and other concepts.

Following warm ups and mobility work on day 3, Steve Cotter was ready to open some eyes with bodyweight conditioning work derived from Chinese martial arts. Some of the drills had people muttering "no way in hell" but Steve is a great teacher and instructed how to regress each movement so that everyone could do it.

After an hour of this we ended the segment with 50 dragon twist squats. I don't know if many people made it through all 50, but we tried. And we still had the squat segment coming up. Uh oh.

Mike and Ken lead the pressing segment, assisted by John Wild, who's build is indeed well suited to wrestling dinosaurs. Despite having some back spasms John can throw a 150lbs overhead with one arm like you might lift a pencil.

Go ahead an youtube John Wild.

One topic discussed here and in the KB jerk portion is the role of thoracic mobility, and the ability to utilize thoracic extension, the ribcage, and the back in overhead movements. This concept is not very widely practiced in the West, but we could all feel an immediate difference in pressing.

Yet another reason to do foam rolling and other types of back mobility work.

Steve Cotter came back and put everyone through some great squat mobility work. This is something I find every single client needs alot of, and if you sit in a chair for more than a few hours a day you need it to.

Steve ended this portion with a squat drill that consisted of 8 sets of 10 double KB squats with minimal rest. Starting from the heaviest pair we worked our way down each set until we could barely squat our own bodyweight. My legs still remember you Steve, thanks. I guess.

Andrew Durniat ended the day with an exhibition of barbell and kettlebell juggling. He is an admirer of the deep history of physical culture, and digs these sorts of odd lifts and feats of strength. Great stuff and fun movements to play with.

All in all this was probably the best workshop I've attended, and all involved did a fantastic job. I can't express enough how cool it was to spend 8 hours each day surrounded by people so focused on physical culture and fitness - a rare treat in a time of gyms filled with chrome junk and cookie cutter training. I'm already looking forward to the next opportunity to get together with my clan.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Back to Basics & workshop

It's been a couple of busy weeks so please excuse my lack of blogging.
First up today the Kettlebell In the Age of Quarrel workshop is in 2 days. I'm really looking forward to hanging out and learning from some high level coaches for three days. In addition to KB work there will be alot of work on mobility, agility, Qi Gong, animal-based movement derived from kung fu systems, and Indian clubs.

In other words, strategies and methods by which to improve our quality of movement and long term health. Anyone who has been injured or otherwise not able to move as well as they once could can attest to the impact this has on our lives.

It's not about getting ripped, it's about moving and feeling better. Once you do that then fitness can really happen.

In my experience people that have done some sort of martial arts have a kinesthetic awareness that is hard to teach in the gym. Martial arts obviously stresses moving your body without external loading (weights) in a very precise and measured manner.

Not only will you get conditioned and learn valuable skills but create an awareness of quality of movement that is important in daily life. It can be the difference between breaking your wrist or hip after a fall or being able to roll out of it.

I've gone through the car window of a careless driver throwing open their door while biking and came out without a scratch. I'm sure that little incident would have ended badly if I didn't know how to do a rolling breakfall.

Steve Cotter can move. Very well.

And while we're on the topic of moving better one exercise I see done wrong all the time, and which is very hard for many that look "fit" is the good 'ol pushup.

Eric Cressey just did a fantastic little video on how to do this seemingly basic exercise that many people have trouble with. If you struggle with pushups don't worry about how many you can do, but back up and really get your form correct and you'll end up way ahead.

I can't stress enough the multiple benefits of pushups: Core strength, glute activation, pushing strength, postural improvements.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Warm-up Right for Bigger Improvements

Time to catch up on some research.

This study from the latest Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (23(6)/1811-1819) concerns a comparison between three warm-up methods: Static stretching, light aerobics (15 minutes on a stationary bike), and a dynamic warm-up consisting of various leg swings, lunges, lateral steps, and kick backs.

Three groups of untrained college age females were put through 3 test session over 2 weeks, plus one familiarization session. Each group would perform the assigned warm-up then would be measured for max vertical jump, peak force production (time to maximum contraction of the right quadriceps), and joint range of motion. Subjects were measured pre-warmup, 5 minutes post, and 30 minutes post.


For the peak force measurement the aerobic warm-up group improved an average of 10% from pre-test to 5 minutes post-test, while the static stretching group showed no improvement. The dynamic warm-up group however showed a 27% improvement.

For the vertical jump test the dynamic warm-up group again showed the biggest improvement, with the static stretching group coming in last again.

Concerning the joint range of motion there were no significant statistical changes between the three groups. All three showed equal improved range of motion.

One can conclude from this that dynamic warm-ups will give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you want to get the most out of your training I highly suggest some sort of warm-up similar to that demonstrated below by Todd Durkin.

Monday, September 14, 2009

True Unstable Surface Training

It's been awhile since I've hollered at you amigos (reference anyone?) but life has been busy. This past weekend I celebrated my birthday by trying a new sport, and discovered a truly usable method of unstable surface training (get off the damn bosu balls! haha)

Stand up paddle surfing (SUP) is a blast. Standing up and paddling wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but I was shocked at how exhausted my lower body was afterwards, especially my adductors. Guess that's what happens when you have to keep your balance going over waves while digging in to paddle at the same time!

Go out and try this.

Over the Labor Day weekend I also had the opportunity to hang with my friends from the IKFF. Steve Cotter, Ken Blackburn, Jason Dolby, and John Wild Buckley were all there introducing a new group of people to the pleasure and pain, but mostly pain ;) of serious KB work. It was a great time as usual.

John even broke out some fun feats of strength, one arm snatching and doing various other things while holding people over his head. Here he is doing a windmill with my friend and fellow trainer Alice Nguyen.

Yep, that's pretty good shoulder stability and strength, wouldn't you say?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Couple's Fitness Competition III

I've finally edited and posted the highlight video from the recent Couple Fitness Competition III.

The events were:
1. Max reps in 1 minute of Turkish getups with a sandbag (guys 80lbs, girls 35)
2. 3 minutes max reps kettlebell snatches with one hand switch. Guys 16kg, girls 8kg
3. Metabolic circuit best time: 20 inverted rows, 100 jump rope passes, 20 box jumps, 100 jump rope passes.
4. Partner wheelbarrow relay race
5. Tug of war

The next competition is being planned for January 2010 with new formats and categories. Stay tuned for details.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I was talking with a friend today about what's really important in training, and we both agreed that it's changing someone's life for the better. And the way to do that is to learn as much as possible and always seek to improve your skills.

Now I'm not the world's best trainer. Faaaaar from it. However when a client shows me how their life has improved, that really makes my week. Just yesterday a client explained to me how losing 50lbs, removing mobility limitations, and increasing strength has boosted his confidence, energy level, relationship, and how people now treat him differently. He now impresses his young son by climbing ropes and is starting martial arts training with him.

It's impossible to put a price tag on that.

But we've still got a ways to go in this industry in terms of quality.

Read this short but insightful article by Alwyn Cosgrove. There is a lot of truth there concerning misinformation spread via dumbass trainers and the mainstream media that too often quotes the wrong people.

Awesomeness right here:
I think my mission in life is to rid the world of this ridiculous workout notion. Somehow this highly developed organism that we call the human body is not a remarkable piece of machinery that functions flawlessly as a unit, it's just random ass "parts" put together — each of which can be worked separately.

My arse.

You didn't even turn your computer on using only one muscle so why in God's name are you trying to develop a body using some sort of body part split?

And while I'm on the subject, how come fingers and toes don't get their own "day"?

Biceps get their own special recognition, what about fingers and toes and sternocleido mastoids? Or left arm on one day, right arm on another day (different body parts)? Because it's stupid, right? Well, so is splitting up your chest and shoulder "days".

There are NO athletes other than a small bunch of genetically gifted, pharmaceutical abusing individuals who use a "body part" split with any success. NONE.

Now, if you ARE one of the genetic elite pharmaceutical abusers, then feel free.

Split routines arrived on the scene shortly after Dianabol was popular. Do you see the connection?

Now before you ask me, "Can I split up my routine in some way?" Of course you can. But split it up based on what your body DOES, not based on what "part" it is. Splitting up by parts makes as much sense as splitting up by the number of freckles in that area.

And then, if you dare, glance at this article and video.

Seriously, if you have to dress up in cutoff vests and ridiculous hats in order to train a client please leave the fitness industry. But of course he's not training clients, he's creating marketing hype to make up for lack of skill and knowledge.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lose the Shoes. Get Stronger.

Today I've got a confluence of ideas for you regarding joint health, strength, and endurance.

My friend Jon Hinds, owner of the fantastic Monkey Bar Gym in my old stomping grounds Madison, Wisconsin, recently posted this video of a video analysis of someone running in running shoes and the same person barefoot.

Listen to the video commentary about what happens to the bones and joints, and you don't have to wonder why most runners will end up injured. Running shoes with puffy heels simply don't let your feet contact the ground the way they should, thus joints above take a real beating and eventually injury will occur. It's that simple.

Likewise, in the gym I prefer people to wear as flat a shoe as possible. Other than barefoot training, which is common in many of the top gyms in the country, Vibram Five Fingers are a great choice, as is Nike Frees. Vans, Converse AllStars, or other flat shoes are also good.

Here is why: A flatter shoe will be more stable, and will allow you to sit back further on your heels which will aid in recruiting your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) i.e. the biggest muscles. Working your biggest muscles means you get better results. You'll get stronger where it counts.

Not to mention that wearing flatter shoes will put less shear force on your knees and low back.

Sound good?

But that's not all (joke). There is a book making headlines these days called "Born to Run" concerning the Tarahumara native peoples of Mexico famous for incredible distance running abilities. One of the reasons cited for the Tarahumara's legendary running is that they run barefoot or in sandals. They also rarely get injured despite running distances and over terrain we can hardly fathom.

Now, moving on to developing endurance I-let's look at a study done by Universities in Spain and the U.S. concerning the influence of strength and power on endurance.

The study (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(5) 1482-1488) took 14 firefighters that must perform endurance tests as a part of their job and in training specifically targeted their maximal strength and power, then looked at the effect on endurance. Across the board they found that just by increasing their maximal strength and power output the firefighter's performed better in endurance tests.

To put it another way, if you have hit a plateau in running, biking etc... then more running is not the answer. It's doubtful that cardio capacity or VO2 max is what's holding you back. Likely it is that your body is not able to produce enough power in order to propel you faster. Improving muscle strength means that running at a given pace will now be easier due to the fact that said effort requires less of a % of maximal strength and power output.

The most efficient way to do this is to get follow an intelligent strength & power program using resistance training. And one key to getting stronger is developing the largest muscles using proper biomechanics and technique - i.e. the stress should be placed across the proper muscles instead of the knees and low back.

The bottom line is do yourself a favor and lose the crosstrainer shoes with the puffy heels. Once you go flat you'll never go back.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The End of Overeating

I don't usually write more than 2 blog posts per week but I've come across info so good I think you need it. Now.

Lou Schuler, author of The New Rules of Lifting and many other excellent books on fitness recently recommended The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler.

Dr. Kessler, former dean of Yale Medical School and UC San Francisco, puts forth a host of simple yet profound information on how and why America has developed such an obesity problem. But I won't attempt to review the book here, but just draw upon a couple of points. I encourage you to go read the book.

In regards to overeating Dr. Kessler analyzed research on caloric consumption and found that in regards to weight gain and metabolism, diet composition, genetics and many other topics we see bandied about in the media the most important factor, by far is simply the amount of food one eats.

We should all know by now that writing a food log is essential if one wants to lose fat (or gain muscle). In regards to that:
Most people do a poor job of reporting what they eat, and overweight people are particularly innacurate reporters.

I've seen figures in other sources that say most people, especially those overweight tend to underestimate their caloric intake by 40%. That's a lot of calories folks.

You need to know how many calories you should take in to reach your goals, then you need to make sure you aren't going over that by keeping an accurate food log. This is about your health and nobody else will care, so you might as well do it right. Fooling yourself only affects you and those that care about you.

And how about this complicated piece of wisdom from Dr. Kessler:
How much we eat predicts how much we weigh.

Who would've thought? ;)

Of course there is alot more to it than that, including how food manufacturers do everything they can to make sure we eat more by loading our food full of sugar, salt, and fat. So the best thing you can do is limit how often you eat out, don't buy or eat processed or fried foods, and eat more veggies and lean protein sources.

That's it.

Finally, Dan John has released the latest edition of his fantastic free newsletter Get Up. Go read it. It'll take 10 minutes and is full of simple, yet profound advice. Dan has a real knack and cutting through the crap and dispensing simple, quality advice that only someone with 40 years experience can do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

CFC and Top Ten Gyms

A reminder to everyone that the third and last Couple's Fitness Competition of the year is two days away. Please go register here so we know who is coming.

Next, Men's Health has compiled a list of the top ten gyms in America. I know quite a few of the people running them, and am familiar with the rest of the facilities.

What they all have in common is the training involves primarily free weights, including kettlebells, ropes, rings, sandbags, and other "trendy" training tools, and hardly a machine in sight. In fact most of these places have no good girl/bad girl machines, bicep curl machines, or any other chromed out garbage that most gyms use to lure new members in. Let's hope the fitness industry and more importantly the general public starts to notice what works and what is just marketing.

And do click the links on the left side of the article as each one has some pretty good advice from trainers at the respective gyms.

See you on that beach at CFC3 in two days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting It Done

I came across some excellent advice by Jim Wendler of Elite FTS fame. Jim is a powerlifter, but his no nonsense advice is applicable to everyone that wants to lose weight/get ripped/get better at their sport/lose fat. And he has a certain way with words ( in other words don't bother complaining about the profanity).

A very good friend of mine is making great progress on the program and losing weight/gaining strength. His attitude is great - he's not looking to make changes tomorrow but a lifestyle change forever. I hate to sound like a fitness 'tard but that is what most people need. He's adding in the conditioning slowly and something else he's doing...

He does 50 jumps with the jump rope between all of his sets.

This has made a huge difference, actually.

Also, make performance goals for yourself; Squat X, Bench Y, DL Z, Military XY.
Run X in Y minutes. Or do X amount of hills per week. Doesn't matter, just make a list of stuff you need to get done and do it. Apply this to your life, too.

One thing I've done is do 3 hard conditioning workouts/week. That's it. I don't care when or with what. Just get the shit done. When you start doing stuff like this, stuff starts falling into place.

Some of these goals can't be done at the same time, but while striving for one, you can make slow progress on the others. For example, if you want to get in better shape, up the hills/Prowler or whatever you choose and make slow climbs with the weights and make smart decisions with your weight training.

When the weights turn to your focus, condition just hard enough to maintain your levels but not enough to take away performance in the weight room. I'm getting longwinded now and I apologize. It's Friday and I want to go home and play music, drink whiskey and blow out my ear drums. Here is an email I sent yesterday when a young kid asked me if I cared what I looked like (if looking good was a huge priority for me):

"Do I care what I look like? I guess. It's not a priority, though. Think about it this way:

If I do the following:

Squat 700 raw
Bench 450 raw
Deadlift 740 raw

(all in a meet)

And run hills for 30 minutes 3 times a week.
Eat 2-300 grams/protein a day and don't eat much junk...

What do you think I'm going to look like?

So I just concentrate on performance and being the baddest motherfucker I can be. Shit starts falling into place when that happens. Looking good is a byproduct of kicking ass. If you want some good diet advice, try this. It always fucking works:

Eat 4 meals a day.

* Each meal starts with a 50g (or so) protein drink in water.
* After that, each as much protein as your stomach can handle (I usually eat only eggs, chicken or steak) - because of the protein drink, it's not much maybe 2-3 eggs, small serving of chicken or beef.
* Eat a piece of fruit that you like (or vegetable...whatever)

If you want some carbs after that, eat them. But you'll be so full you won't be able to eat that many. I've noticed that as long as you get enough protein, the carbs will take care of themselves. Even when going out to eat, before you go, slam a protein drink. You'll eat less "crap" and you'll be much better off. I'm not a huge fan of protein drinks (or any supplements, really) but this diet works for getting bigger and stronger. And not getting too fat.

To make it even simpler, before you eat ANY MEAL, drink a 50g protein drink. I did this during college and lost 25lbs (I was too heavy as a fullback) and never got weaker and was leaner.

The bottom line is this: no one gives a fuck what you look like, except you. And that just means you are a narcissist bastard. Girls don't fucking care, no matter what they say. They want you to be smart, funny, strong and confident. Having money helps a ton, too. Does this mean you can be a fat slob? NO. But work on being a complete person all the time and getting shit done, in the weight room, on the conditioning "field" and in school (or work) and life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Information Overload

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend the Perform Better 3 day training summit in Long Beach. PB is always educational and a great time to catch up with friends old and new. I attended probably 20 hours of lectures and hands on workshops over the course of the weekend, not to mention talking over drinks with some of THE best coaches and trainers in the world.

If you are a trainer and aren't going to events such as this then you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. Period.

Now it's time to catch up on some reading and throw some of the best gems out to you.

First up is Mike Robertson's podcast. He recently interviewed Men's Health nutrition columnist and old fashioned rock star Alan Aragon.

When it comes to cutting through the bullshit and giving straight up advice in regards to how we should be eating to aid in our fitness goals I haven't seen anyone better than Alan.

And the man knows how to eat a paleo cream puff!

Next up, you might have heard of Tabata intervals if you've read anything on fat loss the past couple of years. If not then let's just say it's been hyped as the most effective interval protocol. But here is the thing. Most people that think they are doing them aren't.

Here Lyle McDonald dissects the original study by Dr. Izumi Tabata and comments on the true intensity of the intervals used in the study.

Lyle's article may be more technical than you are willing to wade through so I'll reprint the key points:

It’s also relevant to note that the study used a bike for training. This is important and here’s why: on a stationary bike, when you start to get exhausted and fall apart from fatigue, the worst that happens is that you stop pedalling. You don’t fall off, you don’t get hurt, nothing bad happens. The folks suggesting high skill movements for a ‘Tabata’ workout might want to consider that. Because when form goes bad on cleans near the end of the ‘Tabata’ workout, some really bad things can happen. Things that don’t happen on a stationary bike.

As well, I want to make a related comment: as you can see above the protocol used was VERY specific. The interval group used 170% of VO2 max for the high intensity bits and the wattage was increased by a specific amount when the workout was completed. Let me put this into real world perspective.

My VO2 max occurs somewhere between 300-330watts on my power bike, I can usually handle that for repeat sets of 3 minutes and maybe 1 all out-set of 5-8 minutes if I’m willing to really suffer. That’s how hard it is, it’s a maximal effort across that time span.

For a proper Tabata workout, 170% of that wattage would be 510 watts (for perspective, Tour De France cyclists may maintain 400 watts for an hour). This is an absolutely grueling workload. I suspect that most reading this, unless they are a trained cyclist, couldn’t turn the pedals at that wattage, that’s how much resistance there is.

If you don’t believe me, find someone with a bike with a powermeter and see how much effort it takes to generate that kind of power output. Now do it for 20 seconds. Now repeat that 8 times with a 10 second break. You might learn something about what a Tabata workout actually is.

My point is that to get the benefits of the Tabata protocol, the workload has to be that supra-maximal for it to be effective. Doing thrusters or KB swings or front squats with 65 lbs fo 20 seconds doesn’t generate nearly the workload that was used during the actual study. Nor will it generate the benefits (which I’d note again stop accruing after a mere 3 weeks). You can call them Tabatas all you want but they assuredly aren’t.

Lyle touches upon a point common to just about any aspect of training. Namely that the vast majority of people simply don't train intelligently and with enough intensity to achieve the results they are after.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Core Training Article

An article I contributed was published this week on

There are some cool embedded videos of exercises you probably haven't tried so check those out.

In it is some advice on building a strong midsection from the perspective's of myself, a bodybuilding coach, and guys such as Mike Robertson that trains some athletes.

The real keys lie in the commonalities of our approaches: Nobody uses crunches, and we all understand the importance of train the anterior core to develop core stability, strength in torso extension, rotation, and anti-rotation functions.

Of course anything with firing neurons realizes that nutrition plays a huge part in being able to see the fruits of your labor, and so bodybuilding coach Scott Abel drops a good line:
Diet plays the biggest role here, and it's a deal-breaker. "No one can out-train an inconsistent or improper diet," Abel says. "And if your own metabolic set point is such that having quilted abs is not your genetically natural predisposition, then you'd better have expert help in achieving that look."

As for aerobic training,
Abel says to practice caution here. Hours a day of steady-state aerobics can lead to a suppressed metabolism, burned-out adrenals, and even an unexpected weight gain. "As I always say, force the body and it reacts. Coax the body and it responds."

To sum it up be on point with your nutrition, then skip the aerobics classes and crunches, and instead train your core in ways top trainers in various sub-fields of fitness know work.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Research Review: Strongman, Unstable Surface

It's time to get up to date on current research out there so from the latest Journal of Strength & Conditioning (NSCA) here are two studies.

First up is a ground breaking study by Dr. Stuart McGill, the foremost researcher on back/core biomechanics in the world at the University of Waterloo. If you want to know the best way to train your core and keep a healthy back (or fix one), go out and read anything you can find by this guy.

This study (23(4)/1148-1161) is a comparison of different strongman events on trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. They wired some elite strongman competitors with EMG monitors to precisely measure which muscles were working hardest, when, and what kind of stress was put on the spine.

The six events were farmer's walk, yoke walk, Atlas stone lift, suitcase carry, keg walk, tire flip, and log lift.

Condensing the results for you here it's apparent that picking up a heavy object with a rounded back (Atlas stone) places a ton of stress on the low back (why we deadlift with a straight back), but also shows why hip extensors MUST fire before the back extensors in order to prevent injury.

The yoke carry (carrying a loaded bar across one's back) placed the highest stress on the spine due to bar position (also why I don't favor back squats) and insufficient strength in hips to deal with the load. So carrying something on your back causes massive torso muscle cocontraction, so if core weakness is an issue this is most likely the position to cause injury.

The farmer's carry (carrying a heavy weight in each hand at one's side)and other carrying events placed unique stresses on the core and hip musculature, and in ways different than any lifting event which leads Dr. McGill to conclude that carrying weights would enhance any strength program.

*note* Strength coach Dan John, among others, have for years advocated carrying weights for distance or time as a part of any program.

Guess what my clients will continue to do?!

The second study was a joint project between The University of Memphis, Washington University School of Medicine, and Sports Biomechanics Lab at the University of Alberta.

This study (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(4)1211-1216) looked at the effects of unstable surface training (standing on bosu balls, airex pads, half rollers etc...) on measures of balance in older healthy adults.

Quoting the results:
Five weeks of unstable surface training does not seem to increase balance capabilities in older persons with normal balance. Thus far, the widespread use of such programs seems questionable in those who do not have balance difficulty.

Go to just about any gym and you'll see trainers putting just about everybody on some sort of rubber ball or pad and having them squat, press, or just stand there.

So folks, unless you are rehabbing some sort of lower body injury or neurologicial impairment getting on one of these pieces of equipment is a total waste of time and energy, not to mention money. The reason lifting something while standing on a bosu ball feels harder is because the unstable surface makes it harder to fully stabilize your torso, thus making you able to apply less force.

When your muscles can't apply as much force you will be weaker, thus allowing you to lift less weight. This means that if your goal is to look better, get stronger, lose weight, or gain muscle you are doing yourself, or your clients, a disservice and won't get the results you are after.

So get off the damn rubber balls, pick up something heavy and carry it around. Lift it over your head and squat with it, then walk around some more with it and leave the circus tricks to the clowns.

No more of this

Do this

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Cate Imes, the first American to achieve the Master of Sport rank in kettlebell sport lifting just wrote an excellent piece on intent and why it matters on the AKC blog.

Whether you are brand new to training or can't remember when you started this article is a great reminder of the importance of being conscious of everything happening when lifting. Hopefully we've all experienced what a difference specific cues make in helping us miraculously become instantly "stronger".

Of course it's not that we suddenly became stronger but that we became more aware of proper technique, and specifically what actions our body should perform to efficiently execute the lift. One reason I say leave your ego at the door and use whatever weight is necessary to develop great technique. Once you do you'll quickly leave those that are too proud to learn the fundamentals in the dust.

Why is intent important? First, if you don’t know what you intend to do, then you’ll be going through the motions without any awareness of the necessary mechanics in terms of the appropriate application of energy. You won’t develop a feeling on when you should be powerful or quick , when you should employ tension or relaxation.

If your intent in the beginning is to be smooth and relaxed, then you may not really ever get a feeling for the mechanical requirements for a good lift. Elites look smooth and relaxed, but I don’t believe that they are thinking I want to be smooth and relaxed while they lift. I believe they look this way because they are so good at the movements that they waste no energy performing them. They are quicker than most of us realize. They have laser precision with all the movements.

I encourage you to read Cate's entire post. Though she goes into more detail about how this works in the context of kettlebell lifting the underlying principles apply to just about anything.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Omega 3s, Fat Loss, and Your Heart

I'm sure most of you have seen all sorts of items in the grocery store that advertise added Omega-3s. While that's well and good, getting your doses of healthy fats through food that naturally contains omega-3s will probably do much more good for a couple of reasons.

1. Eating more fish and leafy vegetables (a good source of Omega-3) will undoubtedly be good for you, and most of us eat far to little of both. You'll also get quality protein and a host of other nutrients essential to your health.

2. Eating more fish and vegetables will mean you'll be eating less starchy carbs and sugars, providing you keep your total caloric intake in check.

Rather than buying bread or anything else marketing added omegas just get some fish, veggies, and also a quality fish oil tablet.

As to the benefits of Omega-3s there are many. For those training to improve body composition/fat loss there have been studies done suggesting that a higher intake of omega-3s aid in fat loss. This is because it protects against insulin resistance (a common problem among the overweight population), and works like this.

Omega-3s increase the permeability of a cell's membrane, which allowing it to absorb more glucose (sugar that provides energy). If someone is insulin resistant than the sugars one consumes is more likely to not be absorbed but stored as fat. Omega-3 then functions to help raise your metabolism, which has obvious effects regarding fat loss.

Other benefits include preventing heart disease and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006;83) contains a study showing that Japanese who consume 30% more omega-3s than Americans have 4 times less the rate of death from heart disease.

The New England Journal of Medicine (1997;336) ran a study that showed increasing omega-3s reduce chances of heart attack by a third.

I don't know about you but I'm about ready for some sushi!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Get Some Meat

Eric Cressey has a great article on T-Nation today concerning working the most important movement patterns for most people - namely those that work your back, hamstrings, and glutes.

We all know most guys tend to do some curls, bench, and hit the showers and completely neglect movements that will REALLY give them some results, both strength-wise and with the ladies. And strangely all the women I've trained never complain about having a nicer butt.

It seems everyone gets big benefits by working the other mirror muscles. The posterior chain muscles are also responsible for keeping your back healthy and posture good despite most of us spending alot of time at desks and on a computer. Funny how that works.

to quote:

Eric Cressey sees it all the time.

"A lot of lifters show up at my gym for the first time with virtually no meat on their hamstrings, glutes, and upper back," he told me on the phone last week. "And those muscles have the biggest potential for overall strength and growth! What's more, these lifters are as weak as they look."

I take a quick mental image of what my hamstrings and back look like. "Yeah, my hamstrings are my major weak point," I admit.

"I just kind of expect it when someone walks into my facility," continued Eric. "I see around 70 athletes per day, many of them at the elite level. And because of their weaknesses, even the ones who think they're strong aren't gaining nearly as much muscle as they could.

"And if you hammer the muscles of the upper, middle and lower back, as well as the glutes and hamstrings, you'll not only see muscle growth there, you'll see it virtually everywhere in your body," Cressey says. "But first, these muscles need to be primed for growth by activating high-threshold motor units as often as possible and with the right volume."

Recruiting high-threshold motor units — the muscle fibers that have huge potential for building strength and size — is of course a matter of lifting heavy weights (at or above 80 percent of your 1RM).

So if you aren't doing so right now start doing more chinups, rows, KB swings, deadlifts, and single leg exercises. You will feel and see the results. It's that simple.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Done Backed Off

After taking my own advice from the previous entry I took 10 days completely away from the gym, and spent it all with family enjoying great food and lots of time outdoors in Wisconsin.

I hope everyone has a great 4th, and get out and enjoy the warm weather. Long summer days are perfect for getting outside and doing some training in the fresh air. Grab some of your favorite tools, find an open space and get to work. Lately I've been enjoying the simplicity of climbing ropes, sandbags, and bodyweight gymnastic-type exercises on rings and ground-based.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone stronger in relation to bodyweight than gymnasts. And the funny thing is alot of gymnastic movements tend to work the important stuff such as anterior and posterior core, and pulling movements - all of which do much to keep us healthy, as opposed to bodybuilding style training which often does the opposite, in my opinion.

Here is a short video taken a while back of me climbing a rope on Santa Monica beach. Do a bunch of these and you'll know you've done some work.

Simple, but not easy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back Off, Make Progress

Yesterday T-Nation ran an article I contributed to called Get Bigger By Doing Less.

My part was to write a sample week-long program as an example of what to do on a back off (deload) week.

Over the past few years I've really come to appreciate the importance of periodically decreasing volume in order to give our bodies and nervous systems a break so that we can keep making progress and keep from getting injured. Of course that means you have to be training hard in the first place, but that's another discussion.

Most all my programs have some sort of deload built into them, depending on the training status of the person. If it's a 25 year old guy that new to training then he'll be able to go longer without backing off, but for a 50 year old person that has joint issues they'll obviously need to be careful with training volume and intensity.

In other words a person cannot keep doing the same thing and expect to remain healthy, nevermind make progress.

On to the article. Bryan Krahn drops some good knowledge.

1) Going hard all the time never, ever, works

If you try to go hard every single workout, week after week and month after month, you'll end up with a mix of serious and half-assed workouts, and if you don't get hurt, you'll probably burn out completely at some point.

By the end of any given training year, you'll discover you would've been better off taking planned breaks, rather than letting your body and brain decide when you're ready to push toward a peak and when you're not.

2) Your muscles and joints need a break

Not every part of your body recovers at the same pace. You can restore energy substrates in your muscles faster than you can remodel tissue that's been damaged from serious training. Muscles repair themselves faster than connective tissues. And connective tissues might be ready for a serious workout before your central nervous system has fully recovered.

3) Sometimes you get stronger by not training

With full recovery comes supercompensation. With supercompensation come greater gains in size and strength and higher levels of fitness and conditioning. This is why swimmers and runners taper before major competitions in which they hope to break records, and why a lot of serious lifters will describe how they hit PRs right after a deloading phase.

A review published in the NSCA's Strength and Conditioning Journal compiled this amazing list of benefits that research has attributed to tapering:

• Up to 20% increases in strength and power
• Increases in muscle cross-sectional area of 10 to 25%
• Lower levels of stress hormones
• Higher levels of Testosterone
• Better moods during the day, and better sleep at night

4) Training is a marathon, not a sprint

Finally, unloading is just plain healthy, no matter what your age. Along with pampering the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, a phase of relatively easy training is also good for the immune system. Train too hard for too long, and you'll not only feel tired and unmotivated, but you'll also increase your risk of catching a cold or flu.

But if nothing else just watch the technique of that guy doing kettlebell clean and jerks... ;)

Finally EVERYONE should watch this video of Dr. Stuart McGill demonstrating effective core training movements for a healthy back and strong core.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Couple's Fitness Competition 2 Highlight Video

After many hours of editing I've finished up the long version of the CFC2 highlight video. It was a blast hanging with everyone - the atmosphere is incredibly motivating. A real testament to the quality of people our event attracts.

But next time I WILL compete. Finally.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Train like an athlete

First off, Saturday's Couple's Fitness Competition was a raging success, if I do say so. I'm editing video now and expect to have it up in a day or so.

A local reporter recently went to meet up with my friend Robert Does Remedios. Does is the head strength and conditioning coach at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. The first article is a story regarding Dos's philosophy in training his athletes, while the second concerns the reporter himself being put through a workout.

I've learned a ton from Dos over the years, and if you've trained with me you might recognize some of the exercises in those articles. That's because I believe in order to lose fat, get stronger, and be healthy in the long term health we can learn alot by looking at how athletes train.

Train like a bodybuilder and your joints will get hammered. Train like an athlete and you'll move better and look better, not to mention out lift all the guys curling in the squat rack. And if you don't believe me I train women that can deadlift more than most guys I see hitting 5 bicep curl variations.

Here is Dos making a room full of trainers do WORK this past weekend in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Couple's Fitness Competition in 3 days

Just a reminder that the second Couple's Fitness Competition is happening this Saturday, June 13, from 9-11am on Santa Monica Beach next to the pier.

check out the site for more info and to register.

The new events this time are:

1. Max pullups and/or inverted rows in 60 seconds.
2. Kettlebell jerks. Guys use 2 bells, girls one. Max reps in 3 minutes. Your set ends when you put the bells down. Women will use 1 bell, and will switch hands only once.
3. med ball toss for distance
4. Leg matrix (12 jumping lunge, 12 jumping squats, 24 lunges, 24 squats) for time
5. Spiderman plank hold for max time
6. obstacle course (details super secret)

For those that haven't done timed sets of kettlebells this will be an education in technique, efficiency, and work capacity. I HIGHLY encourage you to check out the following video of some of the best kb lifter's being coached by the true elite of kettlebell sport lifting.

And this is how a one arm jerk should look. Note the leg dip as the bell goes up. She is NOT pressing it, but using her entire body thus saving energy which allows for more reps.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Heal The Shoulders

I'd estimate that 90% of my clients have some sort of shoulder tightness, if not impingement or other similar issue. The same goes for every other trainer I know, so needless to say it's an important topic to address.

Since today I'll be doing a staff training on shoulder dysfunction and fixes I'll throw the notes up here so everyone can take a look. It might be a more technical than you really need to know, but pay attention to the fixes.

Basically everybody needs to be doing foam rolling for thoracic spine mobility, shoulder mobility work, and scapular stability and strength work.

Roots of common shoulder issues with clients

When shoulder issues are present look at posture and thoracic mobility and the scapula. Scapular function is most often the key to preventing shoulder impingement. Kyphotic (rounded) posture prevents proper scapula posterior tilt as the arms are lifted, which narrows space in the AC joint (subacromial space) eventually resulting in rotator cuff issues and impingement. The scapula may become stuck in anterior tilt with someone that has kyphosis, which will shorten the pec minor and weaken the upward rotators.

Poor scapula function and limited T-spine mobility results in weak upward rotators (lower traps, serratus anterior, upper traps) and scapular retractors (rhomboids, middle traps).

Fixes: Improve thoracic mobility through foam rolling and wall slides
Stretch the anterior: Subscap wall stretch, pec major/minor stretch, anterior deltoid stretch.

Activation and strengthening movements
1. Scapular Retraction: Neutral grip face pulls, row variations, band pull aparts, prone trap raises, rev flys.

2. Scapular Depression: wall slides, band pulldowns, chinups, prone trap raises

3. Upward rotators: Overhead shrugs. Dumbbell scaption with a shrug. Normal shrugs will stress the levator scapulae and rhomboids, both downward rotators, which will worsen the problem.

4. Humeral External Rotation: External rotation variations, prone trap raises (Y,Ts), band pull aparts.

3. Pushup variations (narrow hand placement with shoulders tucked) produce a significant increase in recruitment of shoulder stabilizers such as the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and posterior deltoid. Scapular pushups, one hand on med ball, ring/TRX pushups etc…

Exercises to limit or not do: shrugs and upright rows, barbell bench press, military press or any press with shoulders at 90 degrees.

People with shoulder issues may need a 2:1 pulling to pushing exercise ratio. Or possible no benching or overhead pressing at all.

My friend Steve Cotter demonstrates some good shoulder mobility movements in the video below. Alot of his movements are derived from Chinese martial arts, and are quite effective.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

P for Passion. And Pain.

I recently picked up the new book by coach Dan John, Never Let Go, and so far it's very educational as well as a fun read. Dan has been training since the late 60's, and is the current National Champion in his class for discus.

In the book there is a section regarding top ten tips for fitness/long term health. Dan is a no bullshit kinda guy, and he's trained a ton of top athletes as well as kids (his day job).

Anyway, one of the tips is to have some passion. But perhaps not in the sense you are thinking, and certainly not in the way corny motivational speakers blather on about.

He's talking about the Latin root of the word, which means to suffer. To get anywhere meaningful in your training it's necessary to do things you hate, and that are really hard.

Think about it. Nobody gets overweight by doing things that are hard, or that they don't like, or eating things they don't like. If your goal is to drop 20lbs or do a double bodyweight deadlift it's going to take considerable work, and yes even some suffering (mild suffering, admittedly). Training isn't THAT hard. Your going to have to develop good nutritional habits and create a sustainable lifestyle congruent with your health goals.

If you aren't willing to suffer a bit then you might as well join the people watching TV while "working out" on the treadmill. As Dan says don't mistake sweating for hard work. You sweat in a sauna too and it doesn't mean nothin'. Hard work is lifting something until you can't do for another rep, or until you HAVE to stop.

But be careful because training like that can be addictive, and soon you might turn into one of those people that doesn't mind showing off your hard work.

By the way one of the best workshops I've ever attended was by Dan John on the subject of hip mobility/squatting/Olympic lifts.

Watch the entire workshop on video here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


As humans we often get wrapped up in our little worlds, myself included, and sometimes forget to open our eyes and take a look around. In regards to fitness this is especially true if, like me, you spend alot of time in a commercial gym, which often has less to do with applicable training - but that's another rant for another time.

One of those times I was searching around for information on agility I came across Mr. Ido Portal, and was immediately impressed by his physical capabilities. But Ido is also an accomplished trainer with a host of knowledge in training for strength, flexibility, gymnastics, and Capoeira among other disciplines.

I suggest checking out his blog for a different perspective on fitness.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I've been reading Michael Pollan's excellent The Omnivore's Dilemma and getting schooled on food.

Pollan's gig is very common sense: Don't eat foods your great-Grandmother wouldn't recognize, only eat foods from the perimeter of the supermarket, or better yet shop at a farmer's market/co-op, and slow down and enjoy your food.

Sales for fat-loss products & services in the U.S. is something around $60 BILLION a year. But the irony is that the reason people have to fork out for those products is because they have too much of the wrong stuff on their forks every day.

It really is simple. Ignore the latest headlines regarding miracle foods etc... because that is why half the U.S. population is obese, and just eat some real vegetables, fruits, meat, and grains.

As in training follow the K.I.S.S principle(keep it simple, stupid). Eat real food and do basic, hard exercises.

Getting down off my soapbox now, I highly encourage you to watch this video of Pollan talking at the Google Campus (yo Henry!) last year.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cougar Strength Clinic

It's been a very busy couple of weeks, but also productive.

First off the next Couple's Fitness Competition is happening Saturday, June 13th. We've got 6 more events lined up for you, so come on down to Santa Monica Beach and have some fun - but please sign up by May 30th. Details here.

Tomorrow I'm going up to the Cougar Strength Seminar hosted by my friend Robert Dos Remedios, the Strength and Conditioning coach at College of the Canyons. He, Alwyn Cosgrove, Valerie Waters, and others will be speaking on a variety of topics. I'll be the one furiously scribbling notes during and buying beers afterward.

Dos does great work with his athletes. Check the video - this is what a real gym should look like. Nobody sitting down on machines that make it easy, just lots of hard work, sweat, and progress. End of rant.

Lastly, Eric Cressey's More Lower Back Savers article is up. I highly recommend it for anyone that has, does, or might have back pain. And since that's pretty much everyone I know you'll digest his advice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Save Your Low Back

Back on the research tip here. Eric Cressey just did a fantastic article on low back health. In it he draws heavily on the research of Dr. Stuart McGill, someone who's advice I've used with dozens of clients.

If are a trainer or are someone interested in back health do yourself a favor and pick up one of Dr. McGill's books - follow the link above.

Back to the article there are a couple key points I'll quote.

Broadly speaking, you can classify the majority of back pain sufferers into extension-based or flexion-based back pain.

Extension-based back pain typically is worse with standing than with sitting. These folks will present with everything from spondylolysis (fractures), to spondylolisthesis (vertebral slippage), to diffuse lumbar erector "tightness." Typically, those who suffer from extension-based back pain will have short hip flexors, poor glute function, and a lack of anterior core stability.

Effectively, the hip flexor shortness and insufficient glute contribution leads athletes to substitute lumbar extension for hip extension in movements such as deadlifting, jumping, throwing, or any other task that requires hip extension. The end result is typically some very prominent anterior pelvic tilt, as seen in the photo at right.

Conversely, flexion-intolerant individuals have more pain in sitting, as they tend to have flatter backs and therefore increased stress on the posterior ligaments of the spine. This is your classic symptomatic disc pain patient — with or without radicular pain into the legs.

Flexion intolerance is very common in office workers and cyclists, and you'll typically see folks with poor psoas function. The psoas is the only hip flexor active above 90 degrees of hip flexion, and typically, these folks will substitute lumbar flexion for hip flexion in these positions.

Unfortunately, it's been my experience that correcting flexion-based back pain can be a long battle for the exact same reason it develops: it is difficult to get a person to stop sitting so much in today's world.

Most of my clients fall into the flexion-intolerant category because they are sitting so much, while those that have problems due to sports or yoga (I see more people messed up from yoga than you'd think) are extension-intolerant.

The next part addresses something I see all the time. When someone tends to use their low back to move, instead of their hips, chances are about 100% that they have back pain or will. You've got to learn how to use your hip muscles (including glutes) and not the low back. Period.

The premise is pretty simple: you want to move predominantly at your hips and thoracic spine, and while a small amount of movement at the lumbar segments is normal, you don't want to encourage extra motion there.

As I noted above, there are specific situations that call for individualized mobilization protocols at the lumbar spine, but in terms of what you can accomplish with your own training, the general principles of "mobilize thoracic spine and hips, stabilize lumbar spine" apply.

Here's where it gets interesting. The American Medical Association (AMA) still uses lumbar spine range of motion as the qualifying criterion for allowing lower back pain patients to return to work. In other words, you needed to attain a certain amount of gross lumbar spine rotational range-of-motion to be considered "safe" to return to work.

Surprisingly, as Parks, Crichton, Goldford, and McGill observed in the discussion of their 2003 study (5), there isn't a single study out there that shows the lumbar spine range of motion is correlated with having a healthy back; in fact, the opposite is true!

Those with high lumbar spine ROM and power are more likely to be injured, whereas those with better lumbar spine stabilizing endurance are the healthy ones. And, interestingly, there really isn't any way of knowing what an individual's original "normal" spine ROM was, so they have to assume that someone had "average" spine ROM.

Yes, that study from the world's premier spine researchers was published just over six years ago (meaning that the data was probably collected at least seven years ago). Meanwhile, the AMA hasn't caught on, and chances are many doctors haven't, either, as this has been the "standard" for decades (28 years, actually, to my knowledge).

Do your back a favor and read the article.