Tuesday, March 31, 2009

hard core

For the past few years working your "core" has been all the rage in the fitness industry, but few trainers nor the general population has any idea of what true core strength is or how to get it. *hint: Crunches will do nothing for you*

Building core strength and stability is often best addressed through static holds such as plank variations, woodchops, and other movements where one must contract not only the rectus abdominus (six pack muscles), but more importantly the external and internal obliques, and transverse abdominus - which are more important muscle concerning back health.

One sample progression is to move from static planks to dynamic planks. Then do them on a stability ball, then work up to hanging knee raises, then straight leg raises (hang from a pull-up bar and raise your legs into an L position), then hold the L position for time. Finally, try to do pull-ups while holding your legs straight out in the L position.

Then one day when you can do the following rope climb variation you'll know you've got not only some serious core strength, but a strong grip, back, and likely healthy shoulders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fill It To The Brim. Or Not.

My friend Leigh Peele made this short video concerning common mistakes concerning counting calories and measuring your food.

And if you are someone that is trying to lose weight I can't overestimate the importance of knowing (not guessing) how much you are eating every day. Nobody wants to try and lose weight forever so you might as well go after it and get the results you want. After that it's all gravy (so to speak).

It's true you can't out train bad nutrition

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pump You Up

Continuing on with some research review today I'll look at two related studies. Both are from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

The first is a study of physiological and neuromuscular responses during a "body pump" class (for you John! ;).

The second is a study on the physiological and metabolic response to a "functional" training circuit.

The two studies look at similar issues. Namely how the body responds to continuous circuit-style exercise.

*disclaimer* I am reporting results of two independent studies to which I have no connection. The comparison of the studies, due to many factors inherent in such research, are not necessarily proof of anything, but may just give us clues into improving our training.

First, the fundamental difference in the two studies are that in the body pump class the primary tools are very light barbells and dumbbells (approx 10% of 1 rep max, or 10 lbs). The second study uses Freemotion cable machines, which employs higher resistance levels and less volume (reps). The first study used 15 untrained women, the second used 10 men and 10 women (19-27 yrs).

The Body Pump class is a group fitness "aerobic" class in which participants do hundreds of repetitions of light weights, the idea being to improve aerobic capacity and metabolic rate. In other words to improve one's fitness level and body composition (primarily fat loss).

The study concluded that for the 15 untrained women body pump "generated a fatigue condition that is sufficient for the strength improvement of inferior limbs in untrained subjects." However (and this is the biggie) "the metabolic and cardiovascular stimulus seem not to be efficient to improve aerobic capacity."

In other words the untrained women showed some strength improvement in smaller muscles due probably purely to the deconditioned state they were in. Their cardio fitness however showed no significant improvement, which one could stipulate means that such classes are not the most efficient means by which to improve one's fitness nor create a rise in metabolic rate (a big factor in fat loss).

Regarding the second study the workout "did not result in oxygen uptake values that meet the ACSM recommendations for improving cardiovascular fitness". However the relatively high intensity of the cable circuit workout resulted in elevated blood lactate and fairly significant caloric expenditure.

These studies are by no means exhaustive, but are similar in result to other research I've read, and personal experience with client's results. The bottom line is that body pump-type classes are not very effective for fat loss nor improving conditioning. Yes it's certainly better than nothing and you'll be tired afterward, but a key mistake many people make is mistaking being fatigued for getting results.

The "functional circuit" type of workout appears to be a better option, though not optimal, concerning overall fitness. And if done with good form does provide a means by which to learn how to fire the right muscles at the right time, and reinforce good movement patterns.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Got Your Back

I'm just catching up on research here, and when I see a new study that the world's foremost researcher on back issues Stuart McGill is involved in I pay attention.

In the latest issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (23(2)/350-358) said study compares three different rowing exercises and stresses upon different areas of the back. Specifically they looked to quantify muscle activation of the spine and hip extensors, spinal loading, and muscle stiffness.

The three movements are an inverted row, a single arm cable row, and the standing bent-over barbell row.

Previous studies have shown that muscle stiffness (in other words how stable the spine is) is a good way to determine back health and/or injury risk.


Not surprisingly the bent-over row had significantly higher spinal compressive forces than the other two movements - something everyone should consider in exercise choice, especially if there is a history of back troubles. However due to the spinal loading and demands on the core musculature the authors recommended this lift for athletic training for the purposes of preparing athletes for the compressive forces generated in many sports.

The inverted row had the least amount of compression but the highest amount of activation of the thoracic and upper back (where most people are weak).

Applying these results to the general population one can say that for most people a reasonable progression would be from one arm rows to inverted rows, and finally if core and spinal stability levels are sufficient and nedd is present, then to bent-over rows.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Monster Dangerball

Valery Fedorenko, head coach of the American Kettlebell Club did a little demonstration at last week's Ahhhnold Fitness Expo in which he jerked a 132lb kettlebell for reps. 53 consecutive reps in fact.

Now, looking at Valery you wouldn't think he could lift 130lbs over his head even once, nevermind 53 times. He's not jack dieseled.

The key is an extremely high technical level, along with power/strength endurance developed through lots and lots of hours of training. Oh, and being strong doesn't hurt either.

Naturally if you come to my workshop this weekend you'll learn all the secrets to develop this beast-like power! And buy before midnight and you'll get a double special bonus!

Well, no. You won't be able to do that, nor is there any bonus other than enjoying lying in your own puddle of sweat.

So without further ado.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Happy Feet - Happy Body

It's catch up time due to a snowboarding trip to Colorado and otherwise being very busy in the gym.

First order of business is that this Saturday, March 14th I will be leading a kettlebell (aka dangerballs) and sandbag training workshop from 1-2pm at Equinox Santa Monica. Show up and we'll have some fun. And by fun I mean hard work.

Next up it's time to discuss footwear and health. Anyone that trains with me knows I'm big on training in flat shoes. There are a few reasons for this.

1. Flat shoes allow you to sit back more on your heels when doing any squat of deadlift pattern which will make your posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) do more work, and it takes some stress off of the knees. You will also be able to lift more weight, thus get results faster.

2. Flat shoes with less support such as Nike Frees will also force your ankle and foot muscles to work harder, thus make them stronger and less susceptible to injury.

If that doesn't convince you then check out this article on T-Nation. ( I disagree with the author that Sanuk sandles are good for training though).

Personally, I train barefoot at home. Many other top trainers such as Eric Cressey and Bill Hartman, who train alot of pro athletes, have their clients train mostly barefoot in their facilities. Of course most commercial gyms don't allow this so the next best thing are Nike Frees (the Nike Free Dynamic Trainer available on Zappos.com are my favorite) or Vibram Five Fingers.

I just picked up a pair of the Five Fingers and so far love them.

Both Frees and Five Fingers go for around $70-$80, and last along time. Your feet will thank you.