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.