Monday, December 20, 2010

New Rules of Lifting for Abs

Lou Schuler & Alwyn Cosgrove are soon releasing the third book in their New Rules series, and since Lou was kind enough to provide me a copy I gladly read it and think it worthy of review.

But first Lou would like to explain the inclusion of 'abs" in the title on this Fitcast podcast.

For your benefit listen to the entire podcast. Some nuggets of knowledge are within.

Right away I loved this book that for no other reason it proclaims no more situps or crunches. Seriously though, Lou pulled in some great research from luminaries such as Dr. Stuart McGill regarding core and back health.

For the lay person that does not dig into research from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning and other such sources (even I find some of it quite boring) much of the material regarding what the "core" is, it's many roles, and how it functions will be quite eye opening.

I read this kind of material all the time and yet got a lot out of the informational chapters. Lou has a knack for connecting the dots and entertaining us along the way.

One part I would quibble with is spinal flexion for fighters. Yes, fighters do need ab armor and do alot of spinal flexion in sport specific training, but according to Dr. McGill that doesn't mean fighters should use flexion movements in the gym. Rather he says they should save those lumbar bends for competition. But I doubt any of you are pro-MMA fighters anyway so lets carry on.

The title of Part 3 "All Training Is Core Training" says it all.

Everything we do affects our core, and so it makes sense to be aware and utilize that fact in every movement we do. Within this framework Lou & Alwyn put together a great library of static, dynamic, and integrated core stabilization exercises, then set them in the context of three phases of strength training programs.

For most people it would take many months to get through these programs, and they should see a good bit of progress along the way. Even for the experienced lifter there are some serious challenges.

The programs are organized so that one can go back and repeat them with heavier loads or other changes such as doing ladder sets, density circuits, or other methods of causing adaptation so that progress will continue.

And as any experienced trainer knows the basics never go out of style.

My favorite part of the book is the last third which deals with lifestyle issues, nutrition, and strategies for developing a healthier lifestyle.

We all know that without adopting better lifestyle and nutritional habits change will not happen, and Lou presents some interesting studies showing how hours spent in front of the computer (yes you may stop reading now and go outside), TV, video games, and other sedentary forms of entertainment kill your abs.

Yep. They shoot them dead.

I tell my clients this everyday but sometimes it takes reading it in print to accept it, which is why I've already been using some of Lou's material to help my own clients. And it works.

So if you are a trainer don't hesitate to recommend this book to clients, as it will help you help them. And if you are a person working out on your own, then you have an excellent guide at your side.

The book is now available for pre-sale on Amazon for $16, and ships out Dec. 30th. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kettlebell Resources

The following is meant to be an admittedly incomplete resource for supplemental information on kettlebell lifts taught at this past weekend's Kettlebell Fundamentals workshop at Edge Performance Fitness.

Warm ups, mobility, and flexibility are going to be of utmost importance for most of us, and what most of us that sit most of the day (as I type this) need most.

Here is a good routine from Steve Cotter. Search around for others of his as well.

Russian champion Igor Morozov display the kind of joint mobility that can be attained through years of training.

Now on to the lifting, first up is Steve Cotter breaking down the basic swing technique, including discussion of the importance of the hip hinge, breathing, and developing awareness, relaxation, and efficiency.

Next Ivan Denisov demonstrating clean and jerk (long cycle) technique during a world record setting competition. Might as well learn from the best!

The clean and jerk contains 3 movement we went over: swing, clean, jerk. Although we did push press and not jerk, the two lifts are close in nature.

Denis Kanygin breaks down the clean and jerk technique

This should be enough to chew on for awhile.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Origins of Weightlifting

My friend Mike Mahler forwarded this fascinating video on the history of weightlifting.

Great drawings and photos of early gyms and weightlifting competitions! Gyms filled with barbells, climbing ropes, indian clubs, and kettlebells galore. The more things change....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Facts Of Life

"It's better to burn out than grow old"

I wonder how if Neil Young feels differently now?

Age, obesity, and attitude are inextricably linked in America, and in most of our minds. Having grown up being fascinated with stories of old martial artists performing incredible feats of strength I never bought into it. It's my opinion that most people take the easy route and give up instead of finding out what they are capable of.

Having grown up in a small town in the midwest it was all too common for people to kick back once they hit 30 and have a big gut and the accompanying back pain by the time they are 40. Thankfully my family and friends provided better examples.

One of my brothers is in his 50's and still kicks my butt cycling!

And when I moved to other areas of the country and world I encountered more examples of healthy people kicking ass into their 60's and beyond. My calligraphy teacher in Japan was arond 80 at the time and liked nothing better to challenge me to arm wrestling - he was pretty damn strong too. He rode his bike for miles a day, and had dumbbells lying around the house he would use. But most of all he had an attitude that one should never stop learning and progressing.

In fact, one of the traditional sayings he had me practice and write on a scroll was "manabu mono ga yama noboru" (The higher you climb the more you realize there is to learn).

I still have that scroll hanging on my wall.

However, working with many clients over 50 in recent years I've noticed a connection between attitude and results when it comes to training. Those who hit 50, or even 40(!) and consistently remark about how they can't do what they used to and so on usually progress just as quickly as anyone else.

The secret? I train them essentially the same way I would a 25 year old. Maybe with a bit more attention to recovery, mobility, and flexibility, but the exercises are just as challenging.

That brings us to some interesting research out of the Laboratory of Kinesiology at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil (J. of Strength and Conditioning 24(11/2010)).

Researchers took two groups of women, 17 women who's average age is 29, and 16 women who's average age is 64. Both groups were relatively untrained. They put both groups through 13 weeks of training consisting of cardio, weightlifting, and stretching.

The purpose was to determine if age affects strength gains.

Both groups performed an inital assessment and 1RM strength tests for a variety of upper and lower body movements (1RM= maximum weight that can be lifted 1 time).

Intensity was slowly increased over the 13 weeks, from 60% of 1RM to 75%, using 8-12 reps.

Note - They used relatively heavy weights with the both populations with NO injury occurring. More proof that in lifting with greater intensity is not only safe, but is the only way to increase strength. Light weights/high reps doesn't do it.

The results?

Strength increases were between 16% and 36%, depending on the movement, for BOTH groups. In fact the older women made better strength gains than the younger group on bench press, leg press, leg curl, and the triceps.

So there you have it. More proof that not only is strength training safe for older populations, but at least as effective in improving strength.

There are now officially no excuses for you all to not progress and get stronger.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Recovery - You Need It

Have you heard the one about the attorney that represents himself? Turns out he has an idiot for a client.

Sound familiar? Well I resemble that joke more often then not but sometimes I take my own advice. This week for example I am taking a few days off from hard exercise and doing nothing but joint mobility and flexibility work.

Whaddaya know, it makes me feel like a million bucks...

The past two weekends I've been doing cyclocross racing, which is not only hard on the energy systems, but quite hard on joints too. My low back was really feeling the brunt of 40 minutes of max effort pedaling, running, and jumping while in a kyphotic posture. Who knew? ;)

It has also given me a good excuse to revisit some exercise DVDs in my library. In particular Bill Hartman/Cressey/Robertson's Assess and Correct. I can watch the DVDs a hundred times and still pick up gems of information immediately applicable to my clients and myself. It's also wonderful to put it on and go through each mobility drill as it is shown. 30 minutes later and you'll feel like a new person.

Needless to say every trainer should have this on the shelf and refer to it often.

Another one I've been enjoying is Collision Course, a mega-workshop put together by my friend Mike Mahler in 2009. Jon Hinds and Tom Furman both have great presentations on that DVD set on movement quality and mobility.

Today I'm planning on revisiting Steve Cotter and Ken Blackburns mobility sections on the Age of Quarrel DVD set. Mahler was kind enough to invite me to the workshop and am in the video, which makes it kind of weird - doing the exercises along with myself on screen. Although it's cool to see how poorly I do them compared to that freak of nature Cotter and Ken.

I posted a review of the workshop back in 2009 here.

Continuing along the lines of movement quality I'm excited about the Natural Movement Seminar we are hosting at Edge next weekend. We have some very smart podiatrists, physical therapists, soft tissue therapists, and writers coming in to educate us all on minimalist/barefoot training.

I have been wearing and training in Frees, Five Fingers, barefoot for 4 or 5 years now and feel the difference. And now I'm testing a super-secret Adidas minimalist shoe that may hit the market next year - so far so good. I like it more than the Frees.

Our Speakers:
Dr. Daniel Howell Author of The Barefoot Book

Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee Co‐authors of Barefoot Running

Dr. Ray McClanahan, Podiatrist, NW Foot & Ankle and Correct Toes

Dr. Suzanne Lady, Chiropractic Physician

Chris Bathke, MA, CSCS, Director of Personal Training, Edge Fitness

Leif Rustvold, MA, MS, Physical Anthropologist & Barefoot Ultrarunner

Kim Cottrell, MS, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Aaron Gustafson, LMT, CAMT

If you are in the Pacific Northwest come check it out.

For now I'll leave you with some images of the Cross Race this past weekend. Now that I'm put back together I can't wait to do it again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Becoming Unstable

Catching up on research here while I have a few minutes to dig into the latest Journal of Strength and Conditioning. Among those that caught my eye was a piece of research out of the Univeristy of Valencia, Spain.

The purpose of the study was to see if "core" muscles were better stimulated by placing someone on an unstable surface, or on the ground.

Before getting into this the disclaimers are that there are studies showing unstable training does show positive results, and studies showing it does not. Surprise.

Obviously there is a time and place for every tool, and the bosu etc... are good tools for the appropriate goal, but if we are talking increased activation of the core musculature then this study says sorry, standing on a bosu or T-Bow (sort of wobble board) while deadlifting will not.

A previous study by McBride (22) showed a 45% reduction in force when squatting on unstable surfaces compared to flat ground, so how about deadlifting.

The researchers attached electromyography electrodes to 31 subjects and had them perform a barbell deadlift on flat ground, on a T-Bow, and on a bosu.

The data shows a 8.8% decrease when standing on a T-Bow, and a whopping 34% decrease when standing on a bosu. Seeing as the bosu is more unstable than a T-Bow the lesson we can draw here is that the more unstable a surface the less force muscles will be able to produce.

Referencing work by Gray Cook, Dr. McGill, Eric Cressey, and others the reason is that when on an unstable surfaces the body's top priority is to remain upright. In order to do that muscles that might normally act as prime movers may be called upon to function as stabilizers.

Therefore those muscles will not be able to produce as much force - in other words if the goal is to get stronger and improve force production in core muscles, then unstable surface training may not be ideal.

So while a person may find it more "challenging" to perform an exercise on unstable surfaces the reason may not be because of weak stabilizers, but due to the joints and associated muscles having to prevent the person from losing balance.

To put another nail in the coffin Dr. Stuart McGill has noted that sitting on a swiss ball increases compression on the spine - not what the majority of people need that typically sit in a chair for many hours a day.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Move Better, Feel Better, Look Better

It's been a very busy few weeks at Edge Performance Fitness getting ready for a series of small group training programs to launch. Tonight is the first session of our Movement program.

It's been years in the making, by which I mean I've been going to lectures and workshops of Gray Cook, Lenny Parracino, Dr. Lee Burton, Bill Hartman, Dr. Greg Rose, and other individuals much more educated and knowledgable than I for years now. And although I've still much to learn, at least I'm going to jump in and help some people move better in a focused program not concerned with body fat, building muscle etc...

Needless to say Gray describes the why's better than I can:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Can't I Lose Weight?

My friend Lou Schuler, author of The New Rules of Lifting series just wrote a little article intended to answer unanswerable questions for a forum we both contribute to. And out of the kindness in his heart he agreed to allow me to reprint it for you here.

By the way, Lou and Alwyn Cosgrove have a new book in the series, "The New Rules of Lifting for Abs" coming out in January 2011, and after having read an advance copy I can say without hesitation that it is one of the best written, clearly presented, and well researched books on fitness for the general public. In fact I've already stolen some ideas and research out of there for use with my clients. Just don't tell Lou.

So here's Lou:
"Why can't I lose weight?"

Homeostasis is a bitch.

Unless your current weight is an aberration, you’re walking around in an organism that has remodeled itself to be exactly the size you are now. You have muscles and bones that are just the right size to support the load you carry around. You have an appetite that probably isn’t satisfied unless you give it enough food to maintain your weight. If you eat more or less, your metabolism probably adjusts accordingly: it speeds up when you eat more than you need, and slows down when you don’t.

Experts like to say that diets don’t work, but that’s wrong. Eating less always works for as long as you can bear it. Which, admittedly, probably isn’t a very long time. That’s why the best approach includes a combination of three interventions: exercise, diet, and lifestyle modification.

1. Exercise

Of course this is obvious: burn more calories than you take in, and you lose weight. But exercise by itself rarely induces significant weight loss. Why not? Mainly because you aren’t burning nearly as many calories as you think.

Let’s say you read in a magazine that someone your size will burn 400 calories with an hour of walking at a brisk pace. You do the math: Since a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories of energy, you figure that you’re just 9 workouts away from losing that pound.

It sounds good, until someone explains the fine print. You might burn 200 calories just going about your normal routine for that hour. So exercising at that pace means a net deficit of 200 calories – half what the magazine promised. Then you consider that you might be less active the rest of the day, simply because you’re tired from the workout. That might cost you another 100 calories.

You can try exercising more, or exercising harder, and those are both good ideas. You’ll improve your health and probably speed up your metabolism a bit. If you’re a complete beginner, you might add some muscle to your lower body, and shed some fat. But you aren’t likely to lose a lot of weight, and the idea that you must always “do more” is both self-limiting and demotivating.

2. Diet

All the magazines will tell you this: Cut 500 calories a day, and you’ll lose a pound of fat a week. They’ll even tell you which “empty” calories to cut. You start with the liquid calories (everything except milk) and snack foods. The women’s magazines in particular will show you an infinite number of ways to modify recipes so you can eat fewer calories at every meal, including dessert. (They love to show you elaborate desserts constructed entirely of fruit and air.)

So you try it. And you’re hungry all the freakin’ time. Why? Because your body isn’t stupid. The calories it’s accustomed to receiving from your meals aren’t “empty.” They provide a combination of energy and building materials. The magazine says you don’t need any of the 240 calories in that 20-ounce bottle of Coke. But if your body is used to having them, it’s going to notice their absence.

One solution would be to replace low-nutrient foods, like Coke or potato chips, with high-nutrient foods like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. And that’s a legitimate strategy. The protein and fiber will help you feel fuller longer between meals. Protein takes more calories to digest, and will help you add new muscle tissue. And, of course, the micronutrients in fruits and vegetables (and to a lesser extent in protein-rich foods) will benefit your long-term health.

Now the net change in calories isn’t as dramatic, but it’s more sustainable, and it makes more sense to your body. The addition of protein and fiber helps mitigate the hunger you’d feel if you’d slashed calories indiscriminately.

On the downside, this slight but sustainable calorie reduction isn’t causing the pounds to melt away. Even when you combine your new diet with your old exercise program, the needle on the scale still swings past your target weight, even if it stops short of your original weight.

3. Lifestyle modification

Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to follow a completely different routine. Well, no, that’s not right. Lots of people think they can flip a switch and go from being a soft, sedentary office worker to a rock-hard gym rat. But it rarely works that way.

Look at that hour before work that you think you’ll spend in the gym: Are you really prepared to get up and moving an hour earlier than you ever have before? Are you prepared to go to bed at least an hour earlier every night, even though it means missing The Daily Show and whatever art-house fare Cinemax is featuring?

That’s just exercise. Modifying your life to accommodate a clean, low-junk, high-nutrient diet is a lot harder than it looks. Most of us don’t eat or drink in isolation. Certain foods are associated with particular events. You associate that 20-ounce Coke with your mid-afternoon break with your favorite coworkers. Most of the chips and dip you consume are on weekends, watching football games with your buddies. And that 700-calorie “coffee” drink you have every morning – that’s your best opportunity to chat one-on-one with the boss, to get a read on her priorities and how she thinks you and your colleagues are performing.

If you’re going to make serious changes that involve regular exercise and a sustainable diet that’s lower in calories, you have to figure out a way to navigate all of this, and more.

4. The combo special

Your time, energy, patience, and motivation aren’t infinite, so the best way to ensure success in a weight-loss program is to start with your limitations in mind. Here’s what I mean:

Exercise: Over time, you’ll burn more calories in a program with built-in progressions, ensuring that you get some variety while doing more total work in the same amount of time. If your progression plan assumes that you’ll be able to expand your workout time, it probably won’t work. You might start with just 2 hours a week devoted to training, and build up to 3 or 4. That’s realistic. Starting a program with the idea that you’ll have the energy and motivation to train 5 to 6 hours a week isn’t. It might work out that way, but I wouldn’t count on it right out of the gate.

Diet: Whatever modifications you make must fit into the parameters of your life. If you’re a skip-breakfast, grab-lunch-on-the-run, eat-everything-in-sight-for-dinner type, you can’t assume that an inversion of that plan is realistic. Aim for the possible: eating something at breakfast instead of nothing; eating real food for lunch, even if you don’t have the time to linger over it; having a mid-afternoon snack to take the edge off your usual late-day hunger; and then having a substantial but not unlimited dinner. Make sure you’re sated by the end of your dinner, and clear your house of the things you tend to eat by the bucket if you aren’t sated.

But let’s say you’re doing all that and you still aren’t losing weight, or not losing as much as you’d like. That’s when you start looking at the more advanced strategies discussed on our Nutrition and Fat Loss forums: manipulating macronutrients (fewer carbs, more protein), cycling carbohydrates, etc. Most people with a lot of weight to lose will probably need those strategies eventually. And most people who’ve lost weight and kept it off will probably tell you that they work best when you have the three major elements – exercise, diet, lifestyle – under control.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Reality Intervenes

A colleague forwarded this to me on Facebook so thought I would share. The title alone aludes to the seriousness of the issue of perception and illusions about our own condition:

Many Americans Don't Even Know They Are Fat

This quote says a lot concerning how effective the diet/fat loss industry has been:

Thirty percent of those in the "overweight" class believed they were actually normal size, while 70 percent of those classified as obese felt they were simply overweight. Among the heaviest group, the morbidly obese, almost 60 percent pegged themselves as obese, while another 39 percent considered themselves merely overweight.
These findings may help to explain why overweight and obesity rates in the United States continue to go up, experts say.
"While there are some people who have body images in line with their actual BMI, for many people they are not, and this may be where part of the problem lies," said Regina Corso, vice president of Harris Poll Solutions. "If they do not recognize the problem or don't recognize the severity of the problem, they are less likely to do something about it."

I see people in the gym all the time that may be unaware of issues they should be working on and how weight loss actually works. And these are the few that are motivated and aware enough to get off their asses and do something!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ab Fixes

A short article I wrote for Men's Health UK regarding correcting perceived abdominal imbalance is now online. For your convenience here it is:

When three should be six

Every body is different and, even if you’re following an intense training plan and flawless dietary regime, six abs popping out from your midriff with West End-worthy choreography isn’t guaranteed. A little variation in the size of your six (or, if you’ve really been gunning your core, eight) is nothing to worry about, of course. But if you find your rectus abdominis developing in a noticeably lopsided way there may be other issues afoot. Personal trainer Chris Bathke explains how to deal with abdominal imbalance.

A question of posture

“Perceived imbalances in the abdominals are complicated, and there may not be one magic movement to fix a three-pack,” explains Bathke. “Your six-pack is made up of one muscle separated by tendons, so it’s doubtful what you see as a deviation has anything to do with the size of the rectus abdominis.” (And you can’t isolate half a muscle, anyway, so don’t go trying acrobatic sit-up variations in the hope of shoring up your symmetry.)
If the problem is with your abs, often the underlying cause will be postural. “It might be an issue in your hips that is causing your torso to compensate with a slight twist, or it might be tightness in one side of your back resulting in a similar postural misalignment – but you’ll need to consult a physical therapist to be certain,” says Bathke.

Not so bleak

If, on the other hand, your imbalance is down to your obliques, there are practical training steps you can take to fix it. “If you feel one side of your stomach is more muscular than the other then first measure how long you can hold a side plank on each side,” says Bathke. “If one side is noticeably weaker then add woodchops into your program and do a 2:1 ratio of reps from the weaker to the stronger side.”

How to do the side plank

Lie on your side with your forearm on the floor under your shoulder. Push your hip up off the floor and hold for as long as you can. People often stick their bum out to take some of the load off the obliques. Don’t. “Your body should form a straight line from your feet through the hips to your head,” says Bathke.

How to do woodchops

For our purposes you will want to do anti-rotation woodchops so that the hips are not working, only the core. To do this grab a cable as in a regular woodchop but resist the twisting of your torso as you bring your arms across your body and back.
In other ab-related news yesterday I received an advance copy of The New Rules of Lifting for Abs from my friend Lou Schuler. This is Lou and Alwyn Cosgrove's third book in the phenomenally successful New Rules series. If you haven't read the other two I highly suggest buying them. As a trainer I still refer back to those books for useful bits of information, and the programs are great for everyone from newbies to people that have been training for years.

I won't reveal too many details about the new book yet other than to say Lou does a fantastic job at presenting core training in a way consistent with the most current and advanced research on the matter. In other words no crunches, sit-ups, or leg lifts, but lots of full body movements that remind us that the core is not just the abdominals, but is really all the muscles that attach to your his, pelvis, and lower back.

So yes, your "core" training should include exercises that work the glutes, adductors, hip flexors, and lats in addition to the usual abdominal muscles.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perform Better 3 Day Function Training Summit in Long Beach

Review of the Perform Better 3 Day Functional Training Summit Long Beach
August 6-8, 2010

I just got back from Perform Better's annual festival of brain overload, otherwise known as the Functional Training Summit, and know that I had better start digesting what was dished out over the weekend before it fades into just a collage of extremely smart people. There is no way to try and review each session I attended, as that require a separate hard drive, but there were some themes that connected many of the talks.

The first day started out at the acceptable hour of 9am. Everyone knows trainers hate getting up early more than anyone. Upon walking in we ran into the regulars in the lobby: Robert Dos Remedios, Bill Hartman, Dewey Nielson of Impact Jiujitsu, Craig Rasmussen of Results Fitness, Rachel Cosgrove among others. Free coffee draws them like flies.

While still signing in Steve Cotter, kettlebell coach and all around athletic freak, came by so we after the obligatory bro-hug I asked if he might need some assistance in his 9am hands-on session. I knew the place was going to be packed so I had worn my IKFF coach shirt, and Steve was gracious enough to let me help out. There were about 300 people in the room swinging iron balls the entire hour, which caused me to be quite cautious when attempting to navigate my way around.

Steve is a master teacher, and it really shows in his ability to command and effectively instruct such a huge group. Judging by the smiles afterward, and the line of people waiting to talk to Steve he was successful in conveying some key concepts in classical kettlebell lifting. His presentation focused on the sport lifts of the jerk, clean and jerk, and snatch. Along with that he broke down the form of each and why proper form is key to development, progression, and staying injury free. In other words Steve focused on movements that work the entire body, and stress developing a high degree of movement quality, joint mobility, joint stability, and structural integrity.

Before getting into further specifics, many of the very best minds in the fitness and physical therapy, and athletic training world touched upon the same theme: Movement quality.

If you don't have it, then above all you need to address it.

Move On

Since most in attendance are trainers, coaches, physical therapists, chiropractors, the issue is how to express this to clients that may just want to drop a few pounds or look good naked. They may not give a damn at first that they move like crap, so how do we as health professionals get them to care and show why this matters?

I have to admit this is a skill I am still working on developing, as it can be quite challenging in a culture where ideas of fitness are often based on phony digitally altered photos of fitness models and celebrities, and chemically enhanced athletes and bodybuilders.

Gray Cook, father of the functional movement screen,. Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the world's most respected researchers on spine mechanics, Dr. Sue Falsone, director of physical therapy at Athlete's Performance, Bill Hartman, the smartest man in fitness, Dr. Greg Rose, head honcho at the Titleist Performance Institute, Michol Dalcourt, Dr. Lee Burton, Chuck Wolf, Vern Gambetta. The list of presenters goes on but they all addressed the issue of movement quality and why without it not only will individuals not achieve truly good health, but will increase the likelihood of future injury and inhibit physical potential.

Both Gray and Michol Dalcourt used the term “authentic movement” in their talks, which refers to developmental physiology and the study of how humans learn to move in infancy. In terms of fitness what this means is that as adults if we don't practice good movement in exercise we lose it – sitting in chairs or on the sofa for most of the day with little squatting, rolling on the floor, crawling, or other similar movements.

Sue Falsone even had us get into fetal position for certain thoracic spine mobilization exercises, and also mentioned that reclaiming our original mobility is critical to staying out of her physical therapy office. And she had some funny stories about having LA Dodger players hide in the corners to do these exercises so other players wouldn't see them.

Dr. Greg Rose spoke about training rotational athletes (golfers, tennis, baseball etc...), and focused on where golfers break down (the low back and shoulders/elbows). But why they break down is most often because adults lose hip mobility and so are limited in pelvic rotation, which causes gross compensation up or down the kinetic chain, and leads to pain and injury.

In other words everyone that has to move their hips in life, whether it's swinging a club or getting in and out of your car better know where they are in regards to good hip function or else. The same goes for the ankle, and of course the thoracic spine. In other words no matter your activity if the body is not moving properly then problems arise.

Antagonists Don't Exist

Expanding on the movement quality topic for a moment, another interesting idea presented by more than one speaker is the fact that muscles/fascia are task specific, not anatomy specific. In other words if we think of workouts as training this or that muscle instead of particular movements then we are ignoring how the body truly works.

This is in part why bodybuilding style body part splits can and do worsen movement quality and why so many people end up with dysfunctions while doing them.

We often think of muscles working in opposition, such as the bicep and tricep. However the way they function depends on the movement, not an anatomy map. For example Michol Dalcourt gave the example of the anterior and posterior tibialis. We normally think one functions to cause dorsiflexion in the foot while the other muscle caused plantar flexion. Which is true, but only in one plane of motion (sagittal).

But what if you are moving laterally, then what? Well in that case since both of those muscles run to the inside of the leg down near the ankle, then when moving in the frontal plane both anterior and posterior fire together to produce movement. In other words they are synergists, not antagonists. Therefore training that only takes into account plantar and dorsiflexion are missing the boat.

Gray Cook gives the example of when standing from a sitting position the rectus femoris (one of the quads) and three hamstrings fire together to produce movement. Further, neither change length from sitting to standing. Instead of functioning as big movers, in this common movement these large muscles all function as joint stabilizers. This is called Lombard's Paradox.

So while we normally think and train these muscles as antagonists, one of the most common human movements we do many times each day proves that training them solely in that manner is a mistake. There goes your leg extensions and leg curls huh?

Welcome to a brave new world.

Dr. Stuart McGill was one of the most popular speakers of the weekend, and arriving late to his talks meant sitting on the floor. His popularity is deserved as a who's who of superstar athletes and their trainers go to his lab to be trained by him.

In two of his four talks Dr. McGill addressed back pain and methods he uses to assess and address it. The take home is that our spines, particularly our lumbar area, only as so many bends until it fatigues and breaks down, so doing any exercise that involves spinal flexion (crunches of any sort, leg press) are inherently inadvisable. Developing core strength endurance is where most people need to look, so plank variations, chops, farmer carries, and so on are preferred choices in Dr. McGill's toolbox.

To back this up he showed video clips of various MMA stars, World's Strongest Man competitors, Olympic track and field athletes etc... using these movements in their strength and conditioning work, as well as back pain patients using similar movements.

In addition to video evidence one only had to look around the room and see else was listening with rapt attention. Jon Chaimberg, UFC champ Georges St. Pierre's trainer, Dan John, world class strength coach, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove's staff, and so on.

One other tidbit of information Dr. McGill stressed was that he thinks there is way too much focus on squatting with a barbell, and that this puts unwelcome stress on the spine, and that over time this will take a heavy toll. He recommended that people should do more sled pulling and pushing, less squatting.

Some of Dr. McGill said is sure to be controversial to some people, but it was great in how he does not shy away from it, but simply backs it up with years of research in the lab, in gyms, and training thousands of people from back pain patients to world class athletes. In a question and answer session one guy got up and said he was a bit confused about some of the information as his pilates background taught him the body functioned in certain ways and pilates curl ups and other movements attempting to isolate the spine or core in flexion were THE way to go.

Dr. McGill simply replied that in the fitness world there have been too many gurus espousing this or that way with no real science to back it up, so if you want to destroy your spine go ahead and keep doing such movements.

Brutally honest. I Love it.

Old or New School?

Vern Gambetta, who has been in training athletes for 40+ years talked about how nothing is really new, and that what athletes did 100 years ago is just as valid. He showed pictures of baseball players in the 1930's doing planks and trunk stability work, of multi-joint cable movements in 1910, and his first “facility” which produced world class water polo and baseball players that consisted of climbing ropes, a hill to run up, monkey bars, and free weights.

In other words whole body movements that utilized authentic movement. Machines and bodybuilding is where we screwed up. Vern spoke about athletes in the the 19th century that had nothing but simple kettlebells, ropes, and barbells that could put 300lbs over their head. But I love ethnographies of physical culture so call me biased.

Departing from the topic of movement quality for a moment, Bill Hartman, physical therapist and “smartest man in fitness” talked about training field athletes. In particular he spoke about how in his work he found football players and others often are too developed when it comes to strength and need more oxidative capacity in order to maximize their potential.

In other words these athletes, including MMA fighters, often focus too much on high intensity intervals (Tabatas) that use the phophagen and glycolytic systems but ignore the oxidative system. If you've ever seen a fighter gas after 5 minutes, or a football player slowing down in the 3rd quarter then you know what Bill is talking about.

What he isn't talking about here is “cardio”, but specific methods of keeping the athlete working at an intensity level at which they won't tap into the glycolytic system, but where they will progressively improve the oxidative capacity of slow twitch muscle fibers so that over time more ATP can be produced and utilized by the muscles.
What this means is that the athlete will improve their ability to perform a certain task over and over at a higher intensity. Short intervals only in training won't get the job done.

Now whether or not most people will want to endure the type of block periodization programs Bill uses is another matter, as it looks like pure torture. But it works, and his athletes, some of whom were in attendance, have proven it in competition.

In summary I came away with a host of information that is going to be put to use in my client's training post haste, and that everyone reading this interested in the concept of movement quality should immediately go buy Gray Cook's new book “Movement”, along with Stuart McGill's books.

Now excuse me but I have to go move.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

No more Cap'n Crunch

Gratuitous self-promoting time here on EFL. Have a look at my latest mini-article on Men's Health UK site. But I have to admit it was the MH editor that came up with the Cap'n crunch line. Why are those damn guys always so much better at writing than me...

This article was informed partly from a Dr. Stuart McGill article aimed at personal trainers that I wrote about previously. The subject of core training, while important, is ridiculously hyped (What? Say it ain't so!). McGill often points out that what should seek to achieve in training is "super stiffness" in the core. And while most people haven't a clue what that really means, nor do most care, at least about stiffness there, I'll break it down a little.

Dr. Lenny Parracino, a much smarter person than I could hope to be, said in a talk that the structure of our core serves to not only stabilize the spine, which is crucial for survival, but in order to act as a mechanism to transfer energy between the lower and upper body.

In other words, when you throw a punch or run you are transferring energy between your lower and upper body. If some of that force is lost through it's journey through the core due to lack of tension the your punch will be weaker or you'll run slower.

Or if you are in the gym deadlifting and your core is able to maintain a stiff, stable back then not only will you not be able to lift as much as your legs or upper back might allow, but the lack of stability puts excess stress on other structures such as your lumbar vertebrae, resulting in injury. Same thing for runners or cyclists, although it may take more time for dysfunction to develop.

So without further ado:

  • Don't do crunches, do Swiss ball planks

  • Avoid because... "The rectus abdominis – commonly known as your six pack – does not function primarily to bend the torso, but rather to brace the spine and transfer power from the hips to the upper torso," explains personal trainer Chris Bathke. What's more, he adds, a recent article by one of the foremost researchers on core and back health, Dr Stuart McGill, outlined how our lumbar discs can only take so many repetitions of flexion (such as a crunch) before injury and pain occur. Cap'n Crunch is a breakfast cereal. Not an aspirational nickname.

    Do instead... Swiss ball planks

    Why? They work the core the way nature intended – with little to no strain on your back. And they work it hard.

    Form Assume a plank position with your elbows on a Swiss ball and feet on the ground. Tighten your glutes and brace your core as if about to get punched. Now push your elbows against the Swiss ball while maintaining a stable torso. Three sets of 30 seconds should suffice.

    Progression Take the same position on the ball but this time move your elbows in a circular pattern (likethis chap). Again, make sure there is as little movement in your torso as possible. Do 15 seconds one way then switch directions for two or three sets.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Research Review: Energy Cost of Running

Back to reviewing some research literature here. The study I chose is a joint project between the University of Montreal and University of Poitiers, France, and concerns the effect of plyometric vs. weight training on the energy cost of running.

Source: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24 (7) 1818-1825, 2010.

The energy cost of running refers to the effort needed to achieve a particular running performance. Or in other words is a measure of the effort and relative intensity needed to run a certain pace for a determined distance. The less effort it takes one to keep a pace the longer the runner can hold that pace, and so the better their performance will be.

In the introduction the authors cite various studies that looked at how runners improved their performance through plyometric training (explosive work such as depth jumps and rebound work. The present study took 35 trained endurance runners and divided them into plyo groups and a group that did strength training.

The strength training group did  ONE session per week of from 3-6 sets of 8 repetitions of lower body squats in a smith machine (poor choice in my opinion) at a relatively high intensity in order to maximize peak force output. The other group did reactive rebound jumps from a 20-60cm box in order to improve power output. Both are fairly low volume, high intensity protocols.

Another group did no strength or power work, only endurance running.

Results: Both strength and power training groups improved the efficiency of the energy expenditure, with the depth jump group showing slightly better improvements. Results were better for the lower level runners than more experienced runners, which the authors hypothesize is because stronger, higher level runners need higher intensity and greater volume to affect their performance - which makes sense.

The bottom line is that doing some form of strength and power training, even only once a week, which is far from optimal according to other research out there on athletic training, does produce results. So if you are an endurance athlete looking to improve your performance then you should get on a strength & conditioning program designed according to your condition and needs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Endless Summer

It's that time of year again. Pool parties and summer BBQs are in full swing, and now it's time to show off your hard work. But what if you aren't yet in the kind of shape you want to be? Well you still have a bit of time, but there is no time to lose. And be honest, it would pretty cool to show up at the summer party and display some enhanced athleticism in smoking all-comers in volleyball game. Or maybe an impromptu cage fight is more your speed. Either way it's better to be all go -n- show. Whether or not it's smart to hit the kind of parties that involve elbow strikes is another matter.

In Santa Monica where I used to live, summer means hanging out at the old Muscle Beach climbing ropes and using the rings and gymnastic bars. If you've ever been there you've seen people with impressive physiques and real functional strength. In fact recently old school UFC fighter Oleg Taktarov was there climbing the rope next to my client. Now there's a guy that could tear up your backyard fight club picnic.

I've also seen plenty of meathead looking guys walk up and try to show off to their girl only to quickly find out real quick they don't have the strength to make it up a rope. I'm not saying you have to forget curls forever, but you could do worse than incorporating some athletic aspects into your training. The following program may have some exercises and protocols that you might not have tried before, but nothing works better to break out of a rut than a program you've never done. If you are like me or my clients than undertaking a challenge itself is a good motivator, and makes time in the gym more enjoyable. And be honest, when was the last time you walked out of the gym thinking 'Damn! That was fun'?

Strengthen Your Base
Everybody knows that strength and muscle mass are interrelated factors important in performance and aesthetics. But rather than try to reinvent the wheel I suggest that those looking to get ready for beach season not drop what we know works. I've had clients do very well with 3 sets of 5-8 reps or similar variations like Dan John suggests with the 2-3-5 rep protocol.

Two to four days per week of some basic lifts done with either of those rep/loading schemes will work for a lot of people, depending on your current training status of course. If you just looking get big or up your numbers in the big three then do what's appropriate for that. But for the rest of us just make sure you are getting in a lower body hip dominant movement, a knee dominant movement such as the front squat, and upper body vertical/horizontal push and pulling movements. So if you plan to do strength work twice a week it could be as simple as a deadlift variation and a horizontal pushing movement one day, a squat and upper body pulling the other. If you are doing three days per week then you can obviously add a vertical push and pull and some unilateral lower body work. I usually stick with no more than two exercises per day using the strength protocols listed above, then move on to the metabolic strength work. Any more and it can eventually be a bit much for some to recover from.

I would also apply normal guidelines when dealing with imbalances or tweaks, so if your posterior chain is stronger than the anterior then emphasize front squats for a cycle of 4-6 weeks or vice versa. If your shoulders are internally rotated, as with most guys I see in my work place, or if your shoulders act up then work more upper body pulling pulling to help remedy the situation.

Incorporating metabolic strength work
If your gym is anything like mine it's less crowded now than it was in January, so we can be a bit more creative in setting up some fun metabolic circuits. But even if it is crowded these are designed to use minimal space and equipment to avoid possible headaches in dealing with crowds. You won't need much more than a few dumbbells, cable station, or squat rack. If you have access to kettlebells, rings etc... then all the better.

The idea here is to incorporate challenging movements into a full body protocol that can still produce hypertrophy, but also engage multiple energy systems (oxidative, glycolytic, phosphogen) and thus improve body composition. But the intensity and volume are such that your central nervous system will not get hit so hard as to impede recovery. That said I would advise a deload or back off week every four weeks.

My philosophy on working muscle groups with this type of work is best summed up by Dan John's quote that “The body is one piece.” Further, noted physical therapist Gary Gray says we essentially have one muscle because every muscle is connected to every other through kinetic chains and fascial lines, so for the sake of our experiment here forget futile attempts at isolation and instead enjoy introducing your shoulder to your core to your hips. You may even notice you move better and your joints are less achy after a month of this work. Though you might not notice it now all those dumb things we do to our shoulders and backs come back to eventually bite you in the ass.

Concerning how we'll implement the metabolic strength work, depending how you like to work timed sets, such as a timed density circuit such as in my last article, or ladder sets are excellent protocols. Either way you'll probably end up doing a similar amount of volume and total work. If you prefer doing a set number of reps then ladders might be up your alley. And if you work with a training partner than all the better. You can compete against each other to see who can finish the circuit first, or work against the clock. If done right the following ladder sets should push you nearly to the point of getting light headed. In other words if at some point you aren't wondering why you put yourself through this then you aren't going hard enough.

Ladder Sets

The rep scheme is a descending pattern of 10/8/6/4/2 reps of each exercise. So for the first round do 10 reps of each movement, then 8 and so on down to 2. Rest is self regulating, but in general rest a little more during the first round of ten reps as you'll be using a load close to your 10 rep max. Start at 60 seconds rest after the first round, then reduce it by 20 seconds after each subsequent round so that by the last two rounds of 4 and 2 reps respectively, you go straight through with no rest between exercises. You might also notice that the total volume is equivalent to doing the ol' 3x10, so don't be surprised if by loading these exercises up you get some hypertrophy. I suggest starting out with a 12 rep max weight.

2a. One arm inverted row (10 each arm, or 5 each if you need to)
2b. Bulgarian split squats. Start with ten each leg.
2c. Single leg Romanian deadlift (5 each side on the first round, 4 the next etc...)

If the circuit above is too easy with your estimated 12rm weight then go a bit heavier. Or you can reduce the rest, depending if you want to emphasize hypertrophy or conditioning. If you are more concerned about building as much muscle as possible then load up the weight on the Bulgarians and deadlifts. But if your goal is to drop some fat then simply try and reduce the rest as much as possible, similar to the way a density circuit works. You can even time this circuit from start to finish, then try to beat it the next time you do it. I do this with certain clients and it tends to work well as a motivator.

After doing the ladder circuit it's time to wind it up with an anaerobic finisher. The purpose here is to put your body into oxygen debt while challenging you with some athletic movements.

The first finisher is as follows. Do as many reps of each exercise with a full range of motion and perfect form as possible for 20 seconds, then immediately move to the next. Rest for 60 seconds after the last exercise. You'll start with 2 rounds the first week, then bump it up to three the following week. If that is too easy then simply do 30 seconds of each movement.

Putting it together

A workout
1. Deadlift 3x5
2. Barbell bench press 3x5

10/8/6/4/2 reps of
2a. One arm inverted row (10 each arm, or 5 each if you need to)
2b. Bulgarian split squats. Start with ten each leg.
2c. Ab rollout

Finisher: 20 seconds of each movement for 60 seconds total work x 2 rounds.
3a Med ball jumping burpee (holding a med ball do a burpee followed by a broad jump)
3b. Farmer carry. Pick up 2 heavy dumbbells or kettlebells and carry them around.
3c Kb or db swing

The above examples will comprise one day, so I'll give you two more examples of complete days including strength work, a ladder set, and anaerobic finisher. Also notice that these get you moving in different planes of motion.

B workout
1. Barbell front squat 3x5
2. Barbell bent over row 3x5

10/8/6/4/2 reps of
2a. Lateral lunge
2b. One arm overhead press
2c. Single leg Romanian deadlift (5 each side on the first round, 4 the next etc...)

Finisher: 20 seconds of each movement for 60 seconds total work x 2 rounds.
3a. Alternating jumping lunge
3b. Spiderman pushup
3c. Jump squat

C workout
1. Barbell power clean 3x5
2. Weighted chin-ups 3x5

10/8/6/4/2 reps of
2a. Dips (weighted if possible)
2b. Cable woodchop
2c. Single leg squat to box(5 each side on the first round, 4 the next etc...)

Finisher: 20 seconds of each movement for 60 seconds total work x 2 rounds.
3a. Renegade row
3b. Db squat to push press
3c. Lateral skater lunge


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Big Move

Apologies for not posting the past couple of weeks, but we are in the process of moving from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. It's been a while in the works and the right opportunities arose.

To all my clients and colleagues at Equinox Santa Monica, and everyone else reading this I know in the area I thank you for being good friends. Believe me, I have learned as much from you as from any other source.

So two days until we hop in the car and drive north, where I will soon be working out of Edge Performance Fitness.

It's hard to tell from the website, but it's a beautiful, open facility with an as yet untapped large outdoor area (that will change very soon!). Having no machines nor mirrors, it's not the typical gym but is exactly what I want in a facility - one that encourages movement and health. I'll be bringing all my tools to the gym, so it will certainly be an adventure in getting acquainted with the community and building my network again.

I'll be posting soon with reports, pictures, and video of the new place.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Read This and Get Stiff

Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spine biomechanics and one of the world's foremost researchers into matters of core and back health recently published an article aimed at personal trainers that breaks down the hows and whys of core training and back health.

This week I'm using this topic for my last educational forum at Equinox, because it never ceases to amaze me the number of trainers I see having clients do set after set of crunches when I know damn well those trainers know better than that.

Yes I know people may demand "cut abs" and still buy into the broscience regarding core work. But we as fitness professionals are supposed to educate our clients, not acquiesce to something we know is counterproductive.

Back to Dr. McGill's article, he states that repeated spine flexion (crunches) are commonly believed to be a good way to train the abs. However the rectus abdominis and abdominal wall do not function optimally to bend the torso, but rather to brace the spine and transfer power from the hips to the upper torso. Or as he puts it a "elastic storage and recovery device."

In other words your six pack is used to stabilize and stiffen the spine, not flex it.

Further, Dr. McGill says that our lumbar discs can only take so many reps of flexion before injury and pain happen, so you'd better save them for tying your shoes rather than endless reps of crunches that do literally nothing for developing a strong, healthy core.

As to why some people can tolerate crunches and some can't blame your parents. We all know people that are naturally lean or strong, or those that have done crunches for 20 years with no problem. Those are the lucky few. Why keep rolling the dice and wasting your time?

This is only the tip of the informational iceberg regarding McGill's work on intelligent core training. For more info consult his latest article in the June 2010 issue of the Strength & Conditioning Journal. Also check out an audio interview and video clips here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This Is Your Body On TV

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Diatetic Association if Americans ate only what was advertised on TV we would all end up looking like the guy to the far right above, or worse.

Results suggest that a diet consisting of observed food items would provide 2,560% of the recommended daily servings for sugars, 2,080% of the recommended daily servings for fat, 40% of the recommended daily servings for vegetables, 32% of the recommended daily servings for dairy, and 27% of the recommended daily servings for fruits.

The really scary part is that ads during Saturday morning cartoons figured prominently in the study. Is it any wonder that there is a rapidly growing obesity problem among kids?

We all know kids watch way to much TV, not to mention that Phys Ed. is becoming a rarity in schools.  That all adds up to serious health concerns such as type II diabetes becoming more common even among teens, something unheard of a couple decades ago.

Among adults the health concerns are of course no less dangerous. Diabetes, heart disease, and any number of potentially fatal issues are associated with obesity.

People are naturally influenced by what is pitched to us on TV. Advertising firms are full of very smart people that do nothing but figure out how to exploit our brains in order to get us to want what they sell.
Therefore the best option is to not watch TV. Or at least channels that do a lot of this sort of advertising.

It's funny how many people I hear say they don't have time to get in 3 hours of physical activity a week, yet can give you all the details on any number of TV shows.

The way I deal with this is to say fine, pick a few shows you like to watch but stretch or get on the foam roller while watching, and don't snack.  And that they MUST schedule regular times to exercise, as this is the only way it's likely to get done - much the same as people know when their favorite shows are on, know ahead of time when it's your time to focus on your health.

Pretty soon I notice those clients begin to like exercising more, have less stress, and of course become more fit. Funny how that works.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Best Exercises You've Never Tried Vol. 1

A new Men's Health article I contributed to titled "The Best Exercises You've never Tried Volume 1" is up on their site today.

They wanted a brutal exercise that one doesn't see often. I chose this because 1. It's a phenomenal movement 2. My clients hate it, which is why you don't see it done often.

The upper-body annihilator
The plank walk, by Chris Bathke

"This is an exercises you rarely see, and once you try it you'll know why," says Bathke. "It will wreck you." Much like it wrecked this chap.

Assume a press-up position with your feet on a powerwheel, Ab Dolly, or even a towel (it must be a smooth floor). Hold a strict plank position and using your hands, walk forward. You can go for time or distance, but make sure form is perfect.

Your entire anterior core, arms, and shoulders all get a wringing from this exercise, which also requires scapular stabilisation. "Pretty much your entire upper body is working together, as it should, in order to do the plank walk correctly," says Bathke

Once you've mastered it...
Progression I: Try to go backwards. For example, walk 10 metres forward, then immediately go backwards to the starting point. Repeat twice.
Progression II: Add a press-up in between each “step” with your hands. You won't cover much ground before having to stop. Consider your upper body and core work done.
Progression III: Bring your knees to your elbows in a tuck position between each step.

The guy in the video below getting worked is pro MMA fighter Diego Sanchez. Steve Maxwell, the first American to win a world championship in Brazilian Jiujitsu, is the guy coaching him.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Do Work at COC Son!

Last weekend it was time to do work up at Robert Dos Remedios' Cougar Strength & Conditioning Clinic. And though the cast of Sex in the City weren't there in person to do battling ropes, they were in our thoughts.

This was Dos's 11th year putting on his clinic, which raises money to buy equipment for the sports programs of College of the Canyons, and he always gets a great turnout. This year might have been the biggest yet. Sadly it might be the last, for budgetary and political reasons - why we love beaurocracy.

This year's lineup of speakers included Mike Wunsch of Alwyn & Rachel Cosgrove's Results Fitness Mike talked about the hows and whys of their programming strategy for their clients. And since Results is consistently noted as one of the top gyms in America, like EF Hutton smart people listen.

Their philosophy comes down to doing a great assessment on each client, then addressing corrective work first, then hard strength training to get results. *note* NO cardio, unless their goal is to compete in an endurance event.

Next up was Sean Skahan, strength & conditioning coach of the Anaheim Ducks. Sean detailed the in-season gym training of this NHL players, which boils down to some no nonsense, low volume heavy work in the gym to keep them strong on the ice and to reduce injury rates.

What I found fascinating was the Sean's training wasn't all that different in a larger sense from the 45 year old soccer mom that Mike trains at Results. The intensity and volume differ, but the movement patterns tend to be very similar. No hopping around on bosu balls and wobble boards and all that silly crap. Something to think about.

Next up was Pete Koch and Jim Kovich MD.

Both Pete and Jim are former NFL players now working in the health field. Jim is a geneticist working on issues involving the connections between genetic variation and incidence of injury. In other words, they are developing tests to individualize training, so that if a person has some genetic predisposition to weak ACL, then that can be identified early and addressed in training.

Needless to say it was fascinating to get a glimpse at the future of training science.

Pete talked about how one might take that research and apply it to young athletes.

Pete, a rather large gentlemen, is also best known for his role as Swede in the classic Clintwood film Heartbreak Ridge.

Swede, say something charming to the man.

Finally it was time to get in the gym and get work done.
Dos set up a variety of timed density circuits of the variety he has his athletes do. Everything from 5 seconds work with 25 seconds rest, 15:15, 30:30 40:20, up to 10 or more minutes of continuous work.

And believe me, everyone got worked.
These are some of Dos's volleyball girls doing some density work. No ellipticals or treadmills for these athletes.

Thanks again Dos for the fantastic information, and of course the post-seminar beers!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Advice for Older Lifters...and Pretty Much Everyone Else too.

Just thought I'd pass along to streams of great information that came my way this week. As most of you reading this know those aches and pains start becoming more frequent once you hit 40. Or if you played sports and lifted from a young age then expect it by 30.

I have trained guys that had some serious joint pains in their late 20's, and it seems like the higher the level they competed at the worse the injury. Just goes with the territory.

By the time I hit 30 I had to stop doing jiujitsu and being as aggressive in other sports as I wanted to simply because of two many piggybacking injuries. It hit me that being able to walk suddenly seemed more important.

Some of those injuries I attribute to lifting with poor form and a bodybuilder approach for too many years. I see guys in my gym that are in their early 20s that already have frequent joint pain and injury from using bodypart split bodybuilding style training.

If only I had some of the following advice back then I'd be much better off now.

First up is a Dan John interview. Dan is one of the truly good guys in the fitness industry. He's walked the walk and doesn't try to sell you any bullshit about getting jacked. Just good common sense and advice informed by decades of experience.

TM: Any closing advice for lifters on the wrong side of 40?
DJ: Once you get past 40, only two things matter: joint mobility and hypertrophy.
It's not flexibility. Flexibility is like a party trick for the muscles. I can instantly be more flexible. It's joint mobility, keeping the body able to move correctly in a given plane that's vital to long term training.
The other thing is, once you get past 32 or 33 you start losing lean body mass at a stunning rate. So you need to do some bodybuilding or hypertrophy work to slow this down. I focus on variations of the military press because I believe that the deltoids, triceps, traps, rhomboids, and probably the butt are the keys to youth. So the more time squatting, doing farmer's walks, and military presses, the younger you stay.
I also believe that it's a real mistake as you get older to keep bench pressing. Between the damage it does to the shoulder joint and the tighter it makes the pecs and delts, I say forget it. Those problems just get harder and harder to deal with as you get older.
I like to say that everyone can have one more injury, but do you have it in you for one more recovery? If you go rollerblading and break your wrist at 50, and it takes you 18 months to get back to lifting, where are you going to be in 18 months? Does the calendar say that you can afford an injury of that magnitude? That question gets tougher to answer as you get older.
So joint mobility, hypertrophy, and don't mess yourself up. Don't get that stupid injury you can't get back from.

The second link is to an online discussion with well known Olympic lifting coach Glenn Pendlay. In it he shares his experience coaching people who in their teens up to women in their 60's. This information is pure gold for anyone that is looking to stay fit and healthy and is in their 30's on up.

A couple of common threads between Dan and Glenn's wisdom are apparent.

1. They advise people to train full body. No working arms one day, back another etc... Make every day "body day."

2. Focus on using perfect form on every movement. If someone can't do it then regress to a simpler version and work on joint mobility, or whatever the issue is. You'll be much better off in the long run.
What's the hurry anyway? Think about all the progress you can make in 20 years.

Let me go ahead and just give you a real world example of an older lifter, one, by the way, that I am trying to get to come to your Bash with me, Mary McGregor.

Mary started training at age 55, having never done anything athletic in her life. She did general training for a few months, but was watching the younger OLers all the time and thought it looked fun. She asked if she could do it, I thought so, so she began to train for OL. It was a bit of a struggle, and having never coached anyone in her particular position (a beginner at that age) I had to fail as a coach to her a number of times before I learned what worked. I will spare you the details of all the things that didnt work, and just go straight to what did. 2 times per week, sometimes 3 for a couple of weeks right before a meet, Mary will go up to about as much as she can comfortably do on both the snatch and clean and jerk. This means what can be done with good crisp form and very little chance of a miss. We try to get 4-5 good snatches in the "working range", which for Mary is about 38kg to 42kg. Her best in competition is 44kg at 61 years old. Then we try to get 2-3 clean and jerks in the "working range", which for her is 55kg to 60kg. Her best clean and jerk is 63kg, done at 61 years old. 
This is it, this is her total amount of work in the Olympic lifts. She adds to this 2-3 general fitness workouts per week, sometimes on her own in her garage with kettlebells, sometimes with a personal trainer (friend of mine and also an Olympid lifter) or simply doing the machine circuit they have set up at the YMCA. She usually does no squatting, none at all.
Now, at previous times, she had squatted, and worked fairly hard at it... But I eventually learned that it took more out of her than it gave her, and since her lifts werent held back by leg strength, it wasnt helping anything to subject her nearly 60 year old body to squats. At previous times, we did more volume on the Olympic lifts, but, it just made her tired and created aches and pains. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fat Nation

I'm back from a week vacationing with family up in the Sonoma area of Northern California, and man what a beautiful place. I could spend years exploring the roads and mountains via bike and foot. And though I saw quite a few people biking around those stunningly gorgeous valleys I honestly thought there would be more out enjoying the sights. But judging by the amount of overweight people driving up to the wineries and in the mineral pools, alot of those people aren't doing much exercise ever. I honestly think it would be hard to be overweight in such an environment, but that's not reality.

That brings me to an article in the latest issue of the Atlantic Journal called "Fat Nation" by Mark Ambinder. It's a fairly long article, but very well written, so please click the link and go read it.

Ambinder's approach is interesting in that he takes a macro view of the obesity issue, tying it not only to fast food, increased caloric intake, and the dubious corporate food industry, but also to how it is now more accepted than ever to be fat., and how this affects us.

At once encouraging (the author lost some 90 pounds) and dark: "At the current rate of increase it will take less than 30 years for all black women to become overweight or obese."

Wrap your mind around that for a minute.

Ambinder does a great job at digging into problems involved high up in the corporate and political stratosphere. Basically the food industry discovered that it could make mountains of cash by making Americans want to eat more and more crap. It's a hard nut to crack, as we are constantly bombarded by commercials and displays in grocery stores encouraging unhealthy choices. But it can be overcome.

Personally, my wife and I don't shop at Ralphs or any other store full of processed junk. We buy most of our food at Trader Joe's and farmer's markets. And even though Trader Joe's does sell some unhealthy items, by and large it's easier to buy food of better quality.

Neither do we eat at any fast food places, nor Applebees, Pizza Hut etc... I'd much rather eat someplace that I know takes pride in the quality of their food, not just the profit in serving up frozen processed junk. And we certainly don't miss any of those foods at all.

Lest you think I'm a paleo or vegan nazi, I'll readily throw down some carbs, grains, and milk. My parents, their parents, and their parents did just fine eating bread and drinking milk.

And besides, most people are not going to be able to stick to a restrictive diet. Why not just use common sense in choosing the freshest possible food?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Move Like This

Check out this video of 63 year old athletic coach Johann Martin. Apparently he coaches athletes and weightlifting in Hamburg, and quite obviously athletics have been a serious life-long pursuit for him.

Moving well at that or any age takes consistent effort. Get up and move.

And why not listen to a tribute mix to Guru while your watching? R.I.P.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Throw Away Your Chair

This week there was an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine concerning what role exercise plays in fat loss in relation to diet. The first half of the piece discusses what role, if any exercise plays in fat loss (I prefer fat loss to the more generic term "weight loss"). This jist of it is this from an American College of Sports Medicine study:
The newest science suggests that exercise alone will not make you thin, but it may determine whether you stay thin, if you can achieve that state. Until recently, the bodily mechanisms involved were mysterious. But scientists are slowly teasing out exercise’s impact on metabolism, appetite and body composition, though the consequences of exercise can vary. 
 It goes on to say that in a study those that reduced calories by 25% alone lost the same amount of weight as those that reduced cals by 12.5% and increased caloric expenditure through exercise by 12.5%.

In other words calories in calories out.

But here is the problem. That doesn't differentiate between the intensity, and suggests that the exercise in question was low intensity cardio. And as we know from other research higher intensity exercise tends to raise your metabolism significantly and thus produce greater caloric expenditure over time.

I'll further quote a longer passage from the article that addresses higher intensity exercise and differences in male and female reactions to low intensity cardio:
In one study presented last year at the annual conference of the American College of Sports Medicine, when healthy young men ran for an hour and a half on a treadmill at a fairly high intensity, their blood concentrations of acylated ghrelin fell, and food held little appeal for the rest of that day. Exercise blunted their appetites. A study that Braun oversaw and that was published last year by The American Journal of Physiology had a slightly different outcome. In it, 18 overweight men and women walked on treadmills in multiple sessions while either eating enough that day to replace the calories burned during exercise or not. Afterward, the men displayed little or no changes in their energy-regulating hormones or their appetites, much as in the other study. But the women uniformly had increased blood concentrations of acylated ghrelin and decreased concentrations of insulin after the sessions in which they had eaten less than they had burned. Their bodies were directing them to replace the lost calories. In physiological terms, the results “are consistent with the paradigm that mechanisms to maintain body fat are more effective in women,” Braun and his colleagues wrote. In practical terms, the results are scientific proof that life is unfair. Female bodies, inspired almost certainly “by a biological need to maintain energy stores for reproduction,” Braun says, fight hard to hold on to every ounce of fat. Exercise for many women (and for some men) increases the desire to eat.
In other words low intensity cardio, the kind I see the vast majority of women doing at the gym, has even less of an affect on fat loss than it does in most men. Ironic isn't it?

But research suggests that for those already thin even low intensity exercise can be effective in maintaining weight. No surprise there.

One final interesting bit is that a new ACSM study suggests that standing has big advantages over sitting regarding burning calories:
In a completed but unpublished study conducted in his energy-metabolism lab, Braun and his colleagues had a group of volunteers spend an entire day sitting. If they needed to visit the bathroom or any other location, they spun over in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, in a second session, the same volunteers stood all day, “not doing anything in particular,” Braun says, “just standing.” The difference in energy expenditure was remarkable, representing “hundreds of calories,” Braun says, but with no increase among the upright in their blood levels of ghrelin or other appetite hormones. Standing, for both men and women, burned multiple calories but did not ignite hunger. One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair.”

I couldn't agree with his last statement more. Sitting for extended periods everyday has shown to cause a multitude of back, neck, and hip problems. And it hinders our efforts at having a good physique.

Stand up, move around, stretch. Common sense prevails.