Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The article I mentioned last week is now up on T-Nation: Mythbusters

Let me say that I'm honored to be quoted in the same piece as guys such as Dave Tate and Eric Cressey, as I've been reading their material for years. And I particularly liked Eric Cressey's contribution regarding "functional" training with bosu/stability balls:

Myth: Unstable-surface training works for everybody.
Mythbuster: Eric Cressey

While UST works for people in the rehab setting, a lot of trainers assume they can apply the same techniques to healthy athletes and prevent ankle sprains, improve balance, and enhance performance.

This makes perfect sense. We talk about "prehab" all the time when it comes to back and shoulder joints, so why wouldn't preemptive ankle training help you avoid sprains?

But then I dug into the research for my master's thesis, and what I found there surprised me: There's no evidence that UST reduces injury risk or improves performance in healthy, trained athletes.

When I conducted a study of my own, I had the good fortune to use one of the country's best Division I men's soccer teams as my subjects. Our results were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in August 2007.

My study showed that replacing 2 to 3 percent of overall training volume with UST didn't improve performance. But I also discovered something even more important: UST minimized improvements in jumping, sprinting, and agility tests. Put another way, the subjects who weren't doing UST made bigger gains in power, speed, and agility.

So just because something works in rehab doesn't mean it's useful for healthy athletes. In fact, if it takes the place of something else in their training, the opportunity cost seems to make things worse.

Once the study was finished, I invested a lot of time creating a framework for this type of training. One goal was to show the appropriate uses for UST, and there are some. But I also wanted to show an overall progression model for true instability training in healthy athletes.

A lot of people choose the binary route — either "it sucks" or "it's awesome" — but by the time I finished the 100-plus-page report (which you can purchase here), the answer turned out to be a lot more interesting and complex than those two extremes.

The next in the Mythbuster series might have something from me regarding kettlebell (aka dangerballs aka kookballs) training, but I'll give a sneak preview in a subsequent post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Front or Back?

Nate Green over at T-Nation recently asked me to contribute to an article series regarding commonly believed notions about fitness. One of the topics I addressed is that I believe front squats are more beneficial than back squats for most people. Unless you are training for powerlifting, front squats are a better choice in terms of lower body recruitment and back health.

I readily admit that I didn't come up with this one my own, but through talking with reading material by people such as Robert Dos Remedios and Mike Boyle, among others.

Much of what we read on the intertubes and in weightlifting books say that we (mostly directed at guys) need to be back squatting in order to get strong. I beg to differ and rarely, if ever, have clients do back squats anymore. One exception is in the form of complexes, and also just to teach proper form.

The latest NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research has a study done at the University of Florida (J Strength Cond Res 23(1): 284-292) that found in healthy individuals "The front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, with significantly less compressive forces and extensor moments."

The study found back squats had "significantly higher" spinal compressive forces and greater torque on the knees, which is precisely what one should avoid in order to stay healthy. Therefore in terms of long-term joint health front squats are preferable.

Further, for most people, especially those that sit alot at work, hip mobility is a concern, and I've had good results having people improve mobility through front squatting. By racking the bar in front you are forced to keep a more upright position which puts less of the load on your back, more on your hips and legs. It also means to reach parallel a greater range of motion of the hips is necessary. This means your glutes, hams, and quads are working harder. Though it is harder initially, and it may take awhile to increase the ROM, I've seen people's lower body development and strength make great improvements over a relatively short amount of time.

Your legs are forced to do more of the work, hip mobility is stressed to a greater degree, and there is less lumbar and knee stress. That's a win-win-win in my book.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Don't Empty Your Cup

If you know me then you might be tired of hearing about how good drinking tea is for you. And if you've trained with me then you've likely done the tea cup exercise for shoulder health.

I picked this one up more than ten years ago when I was in a Tai Chi club, and was recently reminded by my friend Steve Cotter how good it is for shoulder mobility.

Here is a a video reminder

So if you see me hauling tea sets into the gym you'll know what's coming.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I love the proverb that what's old becomes new again. In the fitness world we are currently witnessing a revival of kettlebells, climbing ropes, Indian clubbells and other tools used for hundreds of years. It makes me wonder what the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Persians were doing that we have yet to rediscover.

The following video illustrates the parallels between dance across the world and time. There is much to learn from these athletes/martial artists/dancers.