Thursday, April 28, 2011

High School Athletes

Why is it so hard to get High School aged athletes, specifically boys, to lift weights? In my gym, I've been lucky enough to be designated the "strength guy" by my co-workers. When someone comes in looking for a trainer to help them get stronger for sports, or for daily life, I tend to be the one who's schedule they look towards. I find this extremely flattering, and sort of revel in it. As a result, I have had several High School athletes under my tutelage, incidentally they have mostly been Lax kids; which is funny to me because it is one of the few sports I have NEVER played.

Sick spoon, brah. 

Regardless of having never played the sport, preparing a High School athlete for their season is not rocket science. Make them bigger, stronger and faster and you have succeed. Throw in some injury prevention and you're golden. Sounds like what every High School kid wants, right? 

If you guessed yes, you guessed wrong. Getting these high school boys to subscribe to the theory of doing compound lifts and NOT bicep curls was extremely difficult. The 15 year old girl I trained bought into it nearly immediately, but not the boys. They have such a hard time wrapping their heads around doing something that doesn't benefit the mirror muscles. Even when an exercise DOES benefit the mirror muscles, they want to do something else. Pushups? No way, can't we bench? 

I can bench. YOU can't bench. YOU can't even do 10 pushups. Pullups, forget about it. 

So, why is it so difficult to get High School aged boys to lift weights. I read the Cressey Performance blogs all the time, and they are constantly talking about the great results they are getting with their high school aged athletes, but the ones I see don't even want to be in the weight room. They saw off-season strength and conditioning as a completely secondary tool, something that fell way behind their interest in just playing more Lax. How do you really get a 17 year old boy to understand that sport specific skill will only take you so far? That being bigger and better than everyone on the freshman team is only going to last so long; when you make varsity, someone is going to hammer you. At some point, being 6' and 150 lbs is not going to work out for you any more. 

So whats the deal? I don't get it. When I was in high school, if a bigger, stronger older guy told me what to do to get bigger, stronger and get girls to make out with me, I would've done it! Without thinking twice. Deadlifts? Making out? Done and done. 

I wonder if they would do their lifts if Leryn Franco told them to?

Go lift something heavy. Do it for Leryn!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Seriously, dude?

There was a tiny local gym in the neighborhood that recently went out of business. My facility absorbed quite a few of their members, and interestingly, it is pretty easy to tell who came from that gym. They were "gym rats" in the sense that they spent a lot of time there, and formed a nice little community. The side effect to this, is that they all have a lot of the same bad habits. They perpetuated a "Crossfit type workout style" that many of them use; however, they use it poorly.

Ding Ding Ding!! Here comes the failboat!!

Now, I don't hate Crossfit. It is a great system to improve GPP and athleticism....when used correctly. When used improperly, it is just a great way to make you small and weak. And small and weak is no way to got through life, son!

This brings to me one guy that just cracks me up. He is a big guy, fairly athletic looking. First day he came into our gym, I thought "this one has promise, let's see what his routine is like". A few minutes later, he comes out of the locker room, ready for for battle. He has his cutoff t-shirt on, Vibram KSO's on his feet, lifting straps around his wrists, its on like donkey kong! He goes through a sort of dynamic warm-up (thumbs up) stretching and moving his whole body. Then he heads to the Cybex ab machine.

Wait. What?

Yup, sits on the ab machine with his Vibrams and wrist straps on, and crushes a few sets of abs. Weird. He then heads back to the free weight section and hammers out some heavy rack pulls.

Shit. No. That is what I was doing. He sat down and did some sets of 20-25 rep overhead DB presses. Seated overhead presses. With his wrist straps dangling. Uh, sweet dude. I watched nearly his entire workout. Not a single move that would necessitate wrist-straps, and nothing that would make use of his Vibrams. Everything was some variation of a seated push. Really? For serious?

Being a gear-whore is one thing (I, personally, am a sneaker whore), but not even knowing how to utilize your gear is lame. That sir, makes you a douchebag!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Just how fit do you need to be?

I've written about this before, but it always needs reiterating.

How "fit" do you NEED to be at any given moment?

Periodization is king for a reason. You do not need to be at your "peak" conditioning year round, its just ludicrous. Athletes don't do it, why do you need to?

Spend some time working on maximal strength. Doing 95 pound hang cleans if you weigh 130 really isn't that useful. Being 130 lbs and deadlifting 260 would be a much more impressive feat of strength, and much more useful to your daily life. If you're not competing in any sports, why do you need to have great explosive strength? You'd be much better off improving your baseline level of strength.

If you weigh 130 lbs, what are you doing running 3 miles on the treadmill every time you go to the gym? You don't need to lose weight. You're not challenging yourself and trying to get the time down. You're setting the treadmill to 6.7 and putting in the miles each day. What is that doing for you? If you're not training for a 3 mile race, it's not doing much. You'd be far better off going to find a basketball court and doing some suicides. Or finding a hill and crushing some hill sprints. Things that require explosive muscular force that will build hard, useful muscles.

I bring this up, because of a guy I know who comes to my gym. He weighs about 145 lbs, and I usually see him doing some sort of "Crossfit style workout". I have my thoughts about Crossfit, but now is not the time for that discussion. Basically, he does a fairly metabolic workout with short rest periods, lower weights and high reps and sets. Cool; it's a great way to boost your work capacity, endurance and burn calories. Is that really what you're looking for, Skinny-guy-that-cant-fill-out-a-small-t-shirt?

I still don't understand why guys have such a hard time asking people for advice. If you see someone at the gym who looks like what you want, coughcoughMEcoughcough, GO ASK FOR ADVICE!! Especially if he works at your gym!

Now, go lift something heavy! And if you dont know how, ASK!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

New Ways to get Beastly

Todays exercise comes courtesy of Glenn Pendlay. I really know nothing about him, except that he is an olympic lifting coach who has a pretty sweet row variation named after him.

What it is: The Pendlay Row

Why it is sick: Great upper-back exercise. Great lower-back exercise. Great carryover to the deadlift. Great exercise in general. Each rep requires resetting your position, so that one second pause allows you to go heavier than you can with a traditional barbell row. You use as little body english as possible (none, hopefully) so you really need to fire your upper back explosively in order to do it right. The Pendlay Row also has a great carryover to the deadlift, because it essentially puts you into the position to start your deadlift. Upper back strength is really important in moving serious weights in the deadlift, which makes this a really useful exercise.

Now go give it a shot!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Intervals vs. Steady State

This is one of the longest running, most hotly debated questions in the fitness industry. There are tons of answers, and if you "want" an answer, I'm sure you will be able to find it. If you WANT to run on a treadmill like a gerbil for 45 minutes, you can find research to back it up. If you WANT to wake up at 5:30 to do 60 minutes of fasted steady state cardio, you can find the research to back it up. If you WANT to run backwards on an elliptical while slowly sipping the blood of an unborn Cobra, then you can probably find the research to back it up. 

Admittedly, it can be tough to sift through the bullshit. And Lord knows there is a lot of it floating around out there. But use some common sense; does waking up and doing an hour of cardio on an empty stomach really seem like a great idea to you? 

There are two ways to break this down, scientifically and anecdotally. We will go with science first. 

So, here is how it works. When you do steady state cardio (i.e. 45 minutes on a treadmill at one speed), your body will consume a higher number of calories derived from fat tissues. When you perform interval training (i.e. 30 seconds of sprinting, followed by 90 seconds of recovery, repeated multiple times) your body will consume a higher number of total calories. 

Lets use some numbers to quantify it. Say you do 45 minutes of exercise, one day it is steady state hamster cardio and the next day is interval training. On hamster day, you burn 350 kcals, and 75 of them are kcals derived from fat sources. Thus, 25% of your total calories were derived from fat sources. The next day you do interval training, and burn a total of 450 kcals, and 75 of them are from fat. This results in only 16% of your calories being derived from fat sources, but you also burned 100 more calories total!  

As we know, the name of the game in weight loss is the difference between the calories you can take in vs the calories that you expel (calories in - calories out). If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. ***

***DISCLAIMER: I am not taking into account changes in body composition. Weight loss is not just about burning calories during exercise, but changing your basal metabolic rate by adding lean muscle mass to your body. I know that weight loss is not comprised of just cardio, but also weight training. 

So, if I can burn more calories in the same amount of time by doing interval training, then that sounds like something I would want to take part in, yeah? 

So, why don't more people do it? Easy: because intervals suck, they are hard as shit. Average Joe Gymgoer is extremely adverse to doing things that are hard as shit. That is why the squat rack has become the curl rack in many facilities. It is way easier to climb onto the elliptical and grind away for 45 minutes while watching Rachel Ray and reading US Weekly than it is to get onto the rowing erg and crush some 30:30 intervals for 15 minutes, or go to the field and hammer at some 50 yard sprints.

Anecdotally, my favorite comparison is between sprinters and marathoners. Who would you rather look like?

For the most current example, lets see what the winner (and world record setter) of the 2011 Boston Marathon looked like:

This is what Usain Bolt, the gold medal dominator of the Beijing Olympic sprinting events:

Not even a contest, for me. 

Ladies? Desiree Davila, the winner of the 2011 Boston Marathon:

LoLo Jones, one of the top sprint athletes for the US Womens Olympic team:

I don't mean to take anything away from the Marathon athletes; they are amazing and do things that I can't even fathom. 26.2 miles in 2:02? I can't even drive that fast. As impressive as they may be, I don't wanna look like them!

Now go sprint somewhere!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

OW my knee hurts!

No kidding! Everyones knees hurt at some point. As a personal trainer and a volleyball player, I hear this complaint more than any other. Now, I understand "scope of practice". There are several ways to go about alleviating general anterior knee pain, but if it is severe or pro-longed, you should go see a doctor. One of the ways that I use to determine what kind of knee pain someone has (chronic, acute, congenital) is to see if it ever changes their gait. If it affects the way you walk or run on a daily basis, you should definitely go see a doctor so that he can refer you to a PT.

If it looks like a duck, and went to medical school...
There are a few simple ways to take care of general anterior knee pain; the type of knee pain most people are talking about when they tell you their knee hurts. They revolve around being weak and being tight; the two things that cause most of our joint pains. 

In terms of strength, its either not enough overall strength, or its an imbalance caused by improper exercise. A lot of recreational, even competitive, athletes will only play their sport and not do the proper strength and conditioning to go along with it. This results in a dominance in certain muscle groups; in terms of volleyball players we see a huge reliance on the quadriceps for propulsion and for landing. They want to do everything on their toes to incorporate as much quadriceps as possible. This leads to weak hamstrings and glutes, which causes poor hip extension and increases pressure on the patello-femoral joint. Fix it by deadlifting! To take this a step further, you can get an imbalance within the quadriceps muscle. If your Vastus Lateralis (the big muscle on the outside of your thigh) is much stronger than your Vastus Medialis Oblique (the little tear-drop just above your knee) then you can suffer from a sub-luxating patella; that is, a kneecap that doesn't track properly. One of the best ways to fix this imbalance is to get off the leg press and leg extension and start lunging and squatting. 

Now, some people may be doing these exercises and still be experiencing knee pain. There are some other causes, as well. One of the muscles that plays a huge role in control of the hips is the Glute Medius.  One of the easiest ways to check the function of a client's glute medius is by watching them squat; if they experience valgum stress on the knees (knee caving) during a squat. There are a few simple exercises to help with this; squatting with a band around the knees, sitting with a band around the knees and pressing out, or X-band walks. 

These will also help with instability issues when performing a lunge. Weird how its all connected, no? Instability/weakness at the hip joint causes pain at the knee by the transfer of stress. Your body simple shoots the stress down the muscles, and suddenly your knees hurt.

Those are the big muscular deficiencies that can cause general knee pain. The other big thing is soft tissue quality; flexibility and mobility. If you move like crap, you're gonna feel like crap. Hip mobility and ankle mobility are going to play a HUGE role in the way your knees feel. I know you can't change the fact that you sit for 8 hours at work, but you can do something to help fix it. Foam roll every day; do a dynamic warm-up; run through some mobility drills. It may add 20 minutes to your workout, but your body will thank you down the road.

Foam rolling your IT bands is one of the quickest ways to help alleviate some knee pain. When your IT Band (Iliotibial band) or TFL (Tensor Fascia Latae) get tight, they cause your upper legs to pull/rotate in an outward manner. This causes your patella to get off track and will really disrupt proper function at the knees. Roll/stretch out your hips and legs consistently, and it won't be long before you are back to moving the way nature intended.

Of course, these are things you can do in the gym to help get your knees healthy. In the event that your knee pain is severe or acute, you should probably go talk to a doctor about it.

Now go lift something heavy (but do some dynamic mobility drills first!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

New ways to get Beastly

This beastly exercise comes courtesy, again, of Nick Tumminello. This guy just has a knack for developing exercises that I find to be extremely effective. 

What it is: The Push-Back Push-Up

Why it is sick: Mainly because it is another new push up variation, and push up variations are beastly. One of my favorite things to do is take guys who think they are advanced well beyond the point of even thinking about push ups, and just stapling them to the ground with different variations. 

"Oh, you can bench 135x12? Cool, try this feet-elevated spiderman pushups and tell me how they go....muahahahahahahaha"

This push up variation is sweet because, unlike most other variations, it adds two dimensions to the exercise. You get the standard push up, and then the push back works your chest, lats and serratus unlike any other push up I'm aware of. Add the fact that you are moving your body back and forth (think bodysaw) and you are engaging all of your core musculature beyond the needs of a normal push up. This is a great way to finish off an upper body workout and hit your muscles from multiple angles at once.

Go give it a shot!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Making them understand

There are some challenges surrounding training clients in a commercial gym facility. The music, co-workers, the atmosphere, lack of equipment; the list goes on. With that said, I think one of the biggest issues regarding training in a commercial gym is figuring out how to balance what a client wants vs. what a client needs.

No, this is NOT what you need. Far from it. But, this is what a lot of clients WANT, or think they want. They want a personal trainer to "totally kick their ass" so that they can go to dinner with their friends and talk about the crazy exercises that they did and how sore their triceps are going to be for 6 days. Congrats, you totally pumped up your triceps...but you're still weak and over-weight! Sweet. 

It is much easier for most personal trainers to give in and just crush somebody every time, but that doesn't get results. It is much easier to give someone a "placebo effect" workout that leaves them exhausted but with no real gains than it is to develop a program that will help someone get results even if they only see you twice per week. Mike Boyle wrote his article "Apology letter to Personal Trainers" a few years back regarding this very subject. He discovered, after years of working with athletes, how difficult it was to actually get results from someone you train only 2 hours out of a full week. Trust me, it is difficult. Thankfully, a few of my clients have the financial means to see me 3 or 4 times per week; but even that is tough. 

The toughest thing is when you get a client (majority of them, actually) who has some sort of imbalance that needs correcting. Several of my clients are doctors, and as expected, have various mobility issues from spending years at a desk/bent over a book at work and at med school. Getting someone who sees you once per week to understand why you want to start off the 60 minute session with 20 minutes of foam rolling, dynamic warm-ups and mobility drills is tough. These people want to work work work, which is fantastic, except their work capacity is limited by their physical capacity. 

No matter how much you shine a bar of shit, it will never be gold. You can take a client with bad posture and movement quality and make them stronger and leaner easily. But is that doing them any good? Would you, the trainer, want to be strong and lean but look like Quasimodo? I sure wouldn't. It takes much more guts to sit your client down (just not on the Cybex Chest Press) and tell them that in order to reach their goals, they are going to have to do some things that aren't so sexy. Lets be honest, Scap Wall Slides and Pigeon Pose don't look nearly as cool to the average person as a Walking Lunge with a Bicep Curl to Overhead Press with a Twist, or the "WLWBCTOHPWT". 

Someone performing the "WLWBCTOHPWT"
I agree that, as trainers, we need to respect our clients wishes. But it shouldn't have to be at the expense of their overall health. You should have the guts to sit your client down and tell them what they need to achieve in order to help reach their goals, and the intelligence/information to back it up. You're the professional, after all. 

Now go find something heavy and pick it up.