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No Style

13 Jun

IMG_1552

That is my favorite shirt, for obvious reasons. I get more compliments on that shirt than any other article of clothing I’ve ever owned. Bruce Lee is a legend, not only for his lightning fast, razor sharp technique but also for his philosophy when it came to martial arts. Considered by many to be the original mixed martial artist, Bruce described having a “style of no style”. Use what is effective from all styles, and discard the rest.

The other day someone asked me what I thought the best style of training was. The answer I gave was not powerlifting, or olympic weightlifting, or kettle bells. In reality there is no “best” style. There is no perfect training.

Disagree? Take a ballerina through a few cycles of 5/3/1 or any other powerlifting template and let me know if she becomes a better ballerina.

One of the most basic and fundamental principles of training is that there must be some degree of specificity involved. Many strength coaches believe that 99% of what goes on in the weight room is GPP, or General Physical Preparation training. General fitness clients may be the exception to this rule, but if we are talking about training for performance, please refer back to our powerlifting ballerina.

A good coach must be able to understand the demands of the sport/activity in question as well as the specific needs of the individual athlete, and from there begin to choose the most effective components of a training program.

Of course we can organize different types of athletes into buckets and create similar programs based on needs. Powerlifting = maximal strength, football/lacrosse = power/speed, boxing/MMA = power endurance/aerobic capacity, and so on.

The point is, there are far too many variables in training to have any one single approach.

Be wary of anyone who has a ‘one size fits all’ approach to training. This person likely does not have a very broad understanding of the training process or, even more dangerous, they do have the understanding and still believe that what they do is best.

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Understanding Body Position

24 Jan

When we throw around words like ‘form’ and ‘technique’ what we’re really talking about is body position. If you can first teach someone the basic body positions required during exercise, you can then apply those body positions pretty easily while performing any specific lift. Trying to coach someone in the reverse order is like teaching someone multiplication before you teach them how to count. Yeah, you probably could do it but it would take way longer and there would be a ton more mistakes along the way.

“…maximum external force developed by the muscles corresponds to a specific joint angle in each case (Verkhoshansky).”

What does this mean? It means that certain body positions are universally more efficient when it comes to stability and being able to produce force, no matter who you are. That’s why we have “technique”. That’s why there is a “right” and “wrong” way to execute a lift. The “right” way is simply a combination of the most efficient body positions you can achieve in order to elicit the most force production.

‘What are these universal body positions,’ you ask? Good question..

1) Neutral, stable spine. I’ve been to 2 very good seminars the past 2 weekends and one of the biggest points of emphasis was always maintaining a braced core and a neutral spine. This DOESN’T just mean ‘lower back’. It means not overextending at the thoracic spine and letting our ribcage fly open, and also maintaining a neutral HEAD position instead of cranking your chin up towards the ceiling on squats, deadlifts, pull ups, etc. Kelley Starrett says that ANY spinal movement under a load is leaking power. Stabilize the entire spine.

2) Scapula retracted, depressed. If you’ve ever been taught to bench press correctly, you were told to squeeze your shoulders BACK and DOWN. Locking into this position and maintaining it throughout the movement gives us the most solid base to press off of.

Try teaching someone to deadlift without cueing them to pull their shoulders back and down. What happens?? Chest caves in, back rounds out, and we’re in a broken position. NOW, cue them to pull their shoulders back and down and BOOM! Gorilla chest, neutral spine, strong and stable position.

The same thing happens in the squat. The same thing happens in the pull up. Starting to get it?

3) Arms externally rotated. Think about any pressing movement: push ups, bench press, overhead press, etc. The most efficient arm position is found in keeping the elbows ‘tucked’ rather than ‘flared’ out to the side. We reach the ‘tucked’ elbow position by externally rotating the humerus (upper arm) at the shoulder joint.

Think about squatting. When you grab the bar, your arms are in a position of external rotation. The further you drive your elbows forward (externally rotate) the tighter your scapula become, and the more solid your base is.

Solid = strong.

Whether the bar is on your back, above your head, on your chest, or on the floor certain body positions will allow us to pick that shit up and put it back down. That’s the reason we’re all here, right? Practice your body position kids, and the ‘technique’ will be there when you need it.

Train hard, train smart.

 

I know I got a little wordy on this one. If your brain hurts, just watch this to soothe your inner meathead.

 

 

Visualization

31 Aug

Things have been improving bit by bit as far as diet and training goes. Now that we’re settled into our apartment in Rome and doing our own food shopping I have a little more control over what, when, and how much I eat. So far it’s been a LOT of pasta and a LOT of chicken. It’s surprisingly difficult to maintain a high protein diet in the heart of Italy without auctioning off your first born child, but we’re doing alright as of now.

Training really hasn’t been anything special. Because of the equipment available I’ve pretty much broken my workouts down into a push day, a pull day, and a leg day. Legs have been the toughest to train due to the lack of any type of rack, and dumbells that don’t go above 60ish pounds. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of unilateral lifting because of the lighter weights. Dan John talks about it in his book ‘Never Let Go’ and it’s definitely a challenge. Tomorrow we’ll get our first look at the weight room in the school we’re teaching at, but from what we’ve heard it isn’t anything to speak of.

Now, onto what I actually wanted to talk about here – visualization. It’s a tremendous tool you can use in the gym, or anywhere in your life for that matter. I still remember using it the morning I put up the pull up record at Newell Strength way back in may. Sitting on a bench, eyes closed, I pictured myself standing up and walking to weigh myself. I pictured myself chalking up my hands. I heard what song was going to be playing in my head. I pictured every single rep and how it would feel.

Guess what…it worked. It happened EXACTLY how I visualized it in my head, aside from failing at 23 reps instead of the 25 I wanted.

Before you hit a big lift, practice visualizing every aspect of it. If you’re trying to set a new rep record, visualize each and every rep. It may take some practice, but work on including as many details as possible. It should feel like watching a movie in your head. Give it a shot and reap the benefits.

Train hard, train smart.

P.S.  Shout out to Stacey for allowing me to write these posts on her computer.

Understanding CNS Fatigue

30 Jun

Intense training places a tremendous amount of stress on our central nervous system. To give you an idea, it takes the CNS up to 5-6 times longer than muscles to recover from an intense training session. This means that while your legs might feel fresh 3-4 days after a max-effort squat, it could take your CNS up to a month to fully recover!

(Notice I said “intense” training. Not everything you do in the gym takes the same toll on your nervous system. Fast, explosive movements such as Olympic lifts, dynamic training, and plyometrics place the highest stress on the CNS. Heavy free weight lifts like squats and presses also place a high level of stress on the CNS. Isolated movements and anything done on a machine are not CNS intensive.)

So why should this be important to us? Your CNS is responsible for recruiting motor units in muscles, controlling their firing rate, and coordinating any muscle activity. If your nervous system is fried, performance is going to suffer severely.

Think of your body as a car and your CNS as the battery. As the battery starts losing power, all those flashing lights and computer systems that allow the car to run start functioning more and more poorly until one day the car just won’t start. If you push your body in the same manner without ever giving your battery (or CNS) a chance to recharge you will eventually hit the same wall.

You aren't the Energizer Bunny. Take the time to recharge your batteries!

The key to keeping your nervous system up to speed and avoiding overtraining lies in autoregulation. Autoregulation simply means understanding what physiological state your body is in on a given day, and actually LISTENING to this message. It took me years to finally understand that pushing through multiple shitty workouts in a row does not make you any tougher or more of a bad ass. All you are doing is setting yourself back mentally and physically. In training, it is crucially important to know when your body needs to cut a set short, or even cut out the entire training session for the day.

As it stands today, we really know very little about how our nervous system works and how we can maximize its efficiency. However, there are several biomarkers that we are aware of that can serve as indicators of how fatigued our CNS is at a given time:

1)      Dan John wrote about using a dot test in which he would take a pencil and make as many dots on a piece of paper as possible in a period of time. Thanks to people who develop online games for websites with names like http://www.i’mboredasshitanddon’tdoanythingatwork.com we have tools like “the space bar game” http://www.zimm-co.com/PressTheSpaceBar/pressthespacebar2000.html which records our results for us. Thanks, nerds. Test it out for a few days after your body has been fully rested to find your average score. Then, retest yourself upon waking up in the morning every so often. If your score drops anywhere from 10-15% your CNS may be getting fatigued.

2)      Recording your heart rate upon first waking up in the morning is another great way to gauge the state of your CNS. Count how many times your heart beats in 1 minute, and always test yourself in the same position. A jump in your resting heart rate is a sign of overtraining.

3)      Jump tests like the vertical or broad jump also work as indicators. Not everyone has the equipment needed to test their vertical on a regular basis, so the broad jump may be a better option. As with any of the other methods, test yourself for several days to establish a baseline average. Repeat this test every day before you train and keep an eye out for any glaring drops in your numbers. (This method may not be as reliable due to the fact that a drop in jump distance could be attributed to muscular fatigue as well as CNS fatigue)

4)      Lastly, something I picked up at the Amped seminar this past weekend is that if the palms of your hands are extremely red or if the temperature of the weights always feels cold, it might be time to cut your training short that day. (I have no idea what the mechanism for this is, but Smitty said it is dead on accurate almost all the time)

Train hard, train smart.

Warm Ups

20 Jun

Too many people walk into the gym and want to immediately start cranking their workout without any warm up or preparation. This is a recipe for disaster. Among other things, an effective warm up will reduce your risk of injury, increase heart rate and muscle temperature, and improve the quality of your workout.

So what is an effective warm up? It sure as hell isn’t sitting on a stationary bike for 5 minutes before jumping into the squat rack. A quality warm up should start with foam rolling. If you or your gym doesn’t have a foam roller, a hard medicine ball works just as well. Spend about 20-30 seconds on all major muscle groups (upper & lower back, glutes, IT band, quads, calves). For a great video that explains how to do it, check out Eric Cressey here: 

Now that you’ve rolled out it’s time for some stretching. A lot of people have started to hate on static stretching over the past few years – and a lot of people also now have muscles so tight that they can’t perform basic movement patterns correctly. Light static stretching before a workout is not “bad”. It will loosen up tight muscles, increase your range of motion, and allow you to perform exercises more safely and with better form. Some of the most common tight spots include hamstrings, glues, and hip flexors so spend some time loosening these areas up in your warm up. Joe D gives a very good explanation of static stretching and a lower body routine in this article: http://www.defrancostraining.com/ask-joe-test/44-flexibilitymobility.html

The last phase of your warm up should include a series of dynamic movements to get your heart rate up and prime your CNS for your workout. Think of things like bands, jumps, running drills, etc. I’m not going to go into great detail here because there are literally enough dynamic drills to fill a book. In fact, Jim Smith and Joe DeFranco did exactly that with their Amped warm up DVD and manual. It’s a simple, in-depth, easy to understand resource that I use all the time. You can check it out  more here:

Your total warm up routine should not take you more than 15 minutes from start to finish and by the end of it you should be sweating and out of breath. Try it out for yourselves and let us know how it goes!

Train hard, train smart.

 

 

The Best Exercise You (probably) Aren’t Doing

15 Jun

Sprinting. If you were expecting some old secret Russian training technique than only 6 people in the world have ever heard of, sorry to disappoint. Sprinting is an amazing tool that few people think to include in their training. Don’t get scared away by the word “sprint” because you don’t run a 4.5 40-yd dash. Sprinting simply means moving from point A to point B as fast as possible.

Why sprinting? Good question. If you read ‘Fat Loss For Freaks’ then you’ll be familiar with the term oxygen debt. (If not, go check it out.) Sprinting is a tremendous way to create oxygen debt in the body and burn through calories all day long.

You'll never find a sprinter who isn't shredded and athletic.

Sprinting elicits a release of growth hormone in the body. We’ve all heard that term a lot, but what is it really? Growth hormone is released by the anterior pituitary gland and stimulates all of the following responses: tissue uptake of amino acids, synthesis of new protein, long bone growth, glucose synthesis in the liver, and mobilization of fatty acids from adipose (fat) tissue.

Sprinting can generate forces up to 8-10x your body weight. Think about that for a second. This would be similar to a 200lb person squatting 2,000 pounds – on one leg. Simply put, there is no exercise in the gym that can mimic actual sprinting in terms of power and force production.

Lastly, sprinting will provide a huge boost to your cardiovascular fitness. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or not, it sucks to be out of shape. And no, being strong as hell is not an excuse to be a fat slob. Unless you are a professional powerlifter, maximal strength should not be the ONLY important factor in your training.

If powerlifting isn't your goal, fat and unathletic should be out of the question.

You aren’t going to feel like Usain Bolt on your first sprint workout. Understand going in that if you haven’t done any type of sprint training for a while it’s going to be tough, painful, and probably miserable. Suck it up. Start out small with some 50-yard sprints and work your way up to longer distances in time. Sprint up hills if you have any nearby. Also, utilize sled drags and prowler sprints if you are (un)lucky enough to have the equipment available to you. If you’ve never experienced the prowler flu first hand, I won’t bother even trying to describe it.

Train hard, train smart.

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Fat Loss For Freaks

12 Jun

Summer is here, and you know what that means… Lines of people grinding out hour after hour on the treadmills and ellipticals at your local gym so they can finally get that toned beach body!

Cardio sucks. I hate it and I don’t waste my time doing it. Something about jogging in place for 45 minutes while watching re-runs of Oprah just doesn’t do it for me. So how can we possibly shed fat without long bouts of steady state cardio? The answer lies in metabolic circuits.

Metabolic circuits are a combination of resistance training and high-intensity interval training. You pick a few exercises and perform them back to back, with as little rest as possible. Then, repeat the circuit for a given number of rounds. These are fast paced workouts that should take you no more than 25 minutes to complete AT MOST. If it takes you longer, you’re resting too long between rounds.

The reason metabolic circuits are effective at burning fat is the creation oxygen debt, also known as EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). Think of it as your body working overtime. After you are done training, your body still needs to consume oxygen in order replenish Creatine-Phosphate stores, restore oxygen in blood and muscles, bring down your elevated body temperature, and remove lactic acid. These physiological responses will result in an increased metabolic rate and BOOM, all of a sudden you’re burning extra calories hours after you finished training.

When choosing the exercises to plug into your metabolic circuit try to stay away from isolated movements like bicep curls or tricep pushdowns. Instead, stick with compound movements like squats, burpees, pushups, etc. If it’s your first time trying a metabolic circuit, stick with mostly bodyweight movements. An example might look something like this:

Burpees x10

Chin ups x10

Alternating lunges x5 each leg

Push ups x10

*All exercises performed back to back. Repeat 4-5 times.

If you’re a more experienced lifter, feel free to plug in whatever exercises you think would work best for you. Just keep in mind that we want to keep the weight between 50-60% of your 1RM.

If circuit training isn’t your thing or your gym is too crowded to try it, another great tool is Tabata training. Unlike circuit training, you will pick oneexercise and perform as many reps as possible for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times without stopping. Again, it is necessary to use a compound movement such as squats, burpees, or even sprinting if you’re a serious bad ass. It sounds simple but I promise it will feel like 4 minutes of hell.

Treadmills suck.

Circuit training is brutal, bad ass, and 1,000x cooler than watching Oprah with the treadmill set on 4. It is an excellent way to jack up your conditioning and develop mental toughness at the same time also. Lord knows the world could use some more of that. Try a circuit out on your own, and drop a comment letting us know how it went!

I will never post a workout or training tip on here that I haven’t tried myself. Any trainer out there who does not practice what they preach is totally full of it. That said, it’s time to head to the gym and crank out this week’s metabolic circuit. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

1)      1arm DB snatch x5 each arm

2)      DB thrusters x10

3)      Jump lunges x5 each leg

4)      DB rows x8-10 each arm

5 rounds

90 seconds rest or less between rounds

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