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!