Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tools of The Trade

This post is about something near and dear to my heart. It's something that I use everyday and can have a really significant impact on the way my day is going. Today I will be talking about barbells.

This may not seem like such a big deal to you, but a good barbell can make all the difference in the world. What exactly makes a good barbell?

Did you watch the whole thing? I doubt it, and that's ok! There are a few things that really matter when we are talking about barbells. The first, and arguably the most important, is the knurling. The knurling is the grip on the bar; its roughed/imprinted metal and varies widely from bar to bar.

The next most important is the way the bar spins. You may not know this, but the ends of the bar have bearings or bushings in them that makes it spin. This allows you to grip the bar without having it rotate in your hands. You get a really clear idea of this the first time you try to do a clean with an old shitty bar that doesn't spin so well.

The last thing we care about is the flex of the bar. That is, how it bends/reacts when a load is placed upon it. You may have heard the saying "if the bar ain't bending, you're just pretending" before, and if you haven't then you're welcome. Any bar will bend when enough weight is loaded up, but a good bar will bounce right back and straighten out without a problem.

When it really comes down to it, there are 3 types of barbells that you will encounter at a gym. (Note: for the purpose of this discussion we won't be talking about specialty bars.) These are weightlifting bars, powerlifting bars and good ol' fashioned shitty commercial gym bars.

That's a picture of the 3 types of bars we have at the gym where I train. On the left we have a weightlifting bar, in the middle we have a powerlifting bar and on the right we have a run-of-the-mill, nondescript, civilian barbell. You can visibly see the difference between the three bars.

The weightlifting bar on the left has knurling that goes all the way out to the collars, this way someone performing a snatch can grip as wide as possible. See those rings on the bars? Those are to help designate grip width; the middle bar has powerlifting mars and the left has weightlifting marks. The guy on the right has powerlifting marks as well. The bar on the right, though, has a knurling that is smoother than a newborns ass. The bar in the middle, you could grate cheese on. The sleeves (the fat end part) on all three bars actually spins pretty well; but it's the bar on the far left that really spins well for weightlifting movements.

If you're going to be purchasing a bar for your own use at home do your research! Get your hands on a few different types of bars. They can all feel drastically different and can impact the way your lifts feel!

I know this was a totally random topic, but I hope that I was able to enlighten at least one person! Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Foodery

I'm always interested in learning about new things, so recently when I got an email from a new local business I was pretty interested to learn more.

The Foodery is a home delivery meal service that brings you the best of everything. They use only top of the line products (organic, pesticide free, grass-fed, hormone free, etc) and each meal is designed by a chef and prepared with fresh ingredients. They have a really high set of standards that they hold their ingredients to and it's pretty impressive. They are even conscious of the oils they use to cook and what the appropriate temps to use them at are.

I met with John, one of the co-founders, this past Friday and had a chance to talk about his business a little bit. He and his business partner are former finance guys who decided to stop doing something they hated and get into a business that they were both passionate about (I can relate). Their came up with the idea for The Foodery based upon their previous interest in their own nutrition. There's really no other meal service like this in Boston; one that delivers fresh food with ingredients of this quality.

One thing that John said that really struck me was his interest in retaining customers. After 5 months of delivering food, they have a 70% customer retention rate. I personally pride myself that main body of my personal training clients has been the same for almost 3 years.

John contacted me because he wants to be in touch with personal trainers who share the same kind of ideals that he does; I want my clients eating real foods that come from great sources. Unfortunately, not everyone is a cook, has the time to cook or they are just too lazy to cook. (Clients, if you think I could be talking about you then I probably am.) I've told people several times that if I could come to their house and put food on the table for them, then I would. This is as close to doing that as I can get.

After talking to John for about an hour, he told me that he was going to send some meals to my house for me to try. The delivery window is 6-9 p.m. on Sunday night and John got to my house at 6 on the dot.

Your food comes nicely bundled in a brown bag that is actually pretty attractive (insofar as a paper bag goes, ya know?). It certainly looks better than a pizza box.

The meals all come pre-packed in really nicely sized containers. A lot of take-out restaurants use this same style of contained, but I've yet to see one this size. It is perfectly sized for the portion of food that is inside.

Each meal also comes with very explicit directions on the re-heating process. You can see in the photo above that it specifies 2 minutes and 45 seconds. One of the other meals specified 3 minutes and 5 seconds. You can bet your sweet ass that if someone is going to take the time to be that specific that I'll follow their instructions.

Tofu on top. Bison to the left, salmon on the right.
Now for the meals themselves. I'll go in no specific order.

Bison Veggie Loaf with Sweet Potato Puree (557 kcal, 40g protein, 64g carbs, 23g fat)
Honestly, this is the one that I was looking forward to the most. Bison meatloaf? Sign me up. However, I'm a tough critic of meatloaf and I didn't totally love this one (but I can't point out why). This is momma's fault, as she makes some BOMB meatloaf that I'm pretty partial to. That notwithstanding, this was really good meatloaf. The flavor was distinctly grass-fed bison (in a good way) with big chunks of veggies in it that gave it a nice crunch. This is the one that Kelsi liked the most. The sweet potatoes were RIDICULOUS! I don't know how they did it, but they were the whippiest (that's a new word, you're welcome) potatoes I've ever eaten. They were frigging amazing. This meal would be a great dinner for just about anyone, but for me it would be a little on the small side. However, I understand that I'm not exactly "normal" when it comes to volumes of food. All in all, this was a really good and filling meal.

Crusted Tofu, Veggies, Black Rice, Hoisin Garlic Sauce (546 kcal, 23g protein, 75g carbs, 17g fat) Tofu? Really, tofu? I haven't eaten it in quite some time. I've become as big an anti-soy proponent as anyone out there, with good reason. The Foodery, however, goes out of their way to dispel these concerns on the pamphlet you get with your meals.

With the threat of pendulous man boobs safely behind me, I went ahead and dug into this meal. Holy shitballs, Batman! This was really good. Like, really good. The veggies were crisp and delicious (I hate soggy veggies), the hoisin sauce was yummy and the tofu wasn't too tofu-y. A little light on protein for me (but, what vegetarian dish isn't?) but this was an extremely tasty meal that is made with super high-quality ingredients. One of the rare vegetarian dishes that I would eat again, which is saying a lot.

Blackened Salmon Cobb Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette (550 kcal, 50g protein, 20g carbs, 31g fat)  Turns out that this guy was sneaky my favorite dish, for a variety of reasons. Yeah, the salad was my favorite. Go figure? First off, it was just REALLY good. It had a great combo of veggies (romaine, spinach, watercress, peppers, beans, really colorful grape tomatoes) with enough protein and fat (wild salmon and eggs) to keep me full. I'm not generally a fan of vinaigrette dressings, but this one was killer. Secondly, I could totally see myself eating this for lunch. It's a high protein meal with a ton of veggies (something I generally lack) and pretty low carb which fits really well into my carb backloading style of eating. The portion was big enough that I could eat it for lunch without being hungry afterwards (I'd need more for dinner), which means that someone a little more normal than me could have it for dinner. The last reason I really liked it is because it is something I could 100% get my clients to eat for dinner or for lunch; people like to eat salads because they think they are super-healthy (they can be, but it's also easy to make one shitty). Kelsi even ate a lot of this one, and she doesn't even like fish!

The package also came with a little treat of tofu fudge. I'm not a huge fudge guy, but this was pretty good. Especially as a stand-in for a more traditional dessert on a week night for those of you who "just have to have dessert". Very good little morsel.

Note: We ate these meals on Wednesday night, after they were delivered by John on Sunday night. The "use by" was Thursday, which means that I (purposefully) ate them at the tail end of their shelf life. All of the produce was AWESOME. The veggies were crisp and fresh tasting and nothing was wilted, soggy or rotten. I was really impressed with the quality of the veggies, especially in the salad.

If you find yourself in a sub-optimal food situation; consider giving The Foodery a chance. If you are going to Whole Foods Paycheck every night and getting their prepared foods then you are short changing yourself. That is food that gives you the impression of being healthy, but is really sort of shitty. This is food that is really good for you from both a nutritional and a holistic standpoint. Order a few meals and tell them Mike sent you. You won't be disappointed.

Have a great day! Go lift something heavy and eat something healthy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The "New" Strength and Conditioning?

Strength and Conditioning, as a field, has always been about making people bigger, faster and stronger. If we can achieve those things we can improve on field/court performance. The "why" was always pretty easy, and the "how" was the tricky part. Every coach had different techniques that they'd use to get performance out of their athletes.

All these strength coaches had the same goals, but had different styles. One would use a ton of volume with moderate weights. Another might use a ton of plyometrics and not as much barbell training. Another could do everything at 90% and above. Another coach could combine everything into what would be the coolest training video anyone has ever seen. (The awesome part starts at 5:05)

As long as the athlete was healthy and getting better, everything was just dandy. But the strength and conditioning game has changed in the last few years. It's no longer just about improving performance and keeping your athletes healthy. If that's all you're doing at your gym, you're only doing half of the equation.

The new breed of strength coach encompasses pre/rehab modalities to make sure the athletes stay healthy. The new strength coach is able to walk the line between physical therapy and training in terms of assessing and correcting faulty movement patterns. The new strength coach is able to correct your asymmetries from the inside-out while fine-tuning your body through all of the smallest intrinsic muscles of your abdomen.

But I don't understand why.

Let me clarify my statement. I understand why all of these things are important to know and apply. I get why we need to focus on pre/rehab kinds of training to ensure the health of our athletes. I do these things; the warm-ups that I prescribe to athletes and gen-pop clients are all encompassing and will help to activate, lengthen and strengthen particular areas that will create a stronger, healthier body. But it seems like a lot of coaches are collecting letters after their names that don't necessarily apply to making someone a better athlete. ATC, PRI, NKT, DNS, SFMA and ART are all great letters to have after your name, but do they make you a better strength coach? Will your athletes/clients become better after you spend 2 grand and an entire weekend at one of these certs? Or would that time have been better spent in the gym with your athletes.

I was recently at a seminar and these certifications were being mentioned by everybody as something they were going to pursue. Everyone was talking about the certs they were going to be getting. I went home and checked them out, and some of them aren't even available to a person who isn't an AT/PT/MD. Seriously? Am I going to be edged out of my industry because I didn't get my ATC before I went into strength and conditioning?

What happened to scope of practice? I know that being familiar with the SFMA (and the related topics) is very important, but if I am not legally able to apply it to my athletes then what good is it for me? Is it really within my job description to correct someones breathing pattern? If I get an athlete for 60 minutes a few times per week, is it in my best interest to re-train their intercostals, or should I worry more about their hip mobility and their ability to produce force? As a strength coach, I feel like it's the latter. Like Wendler says, "Don't major in the minors".

Isn't this the reason I've been working on expanding my professional network? So that I can refer people out to AT's, PT's and manual therapists when it's time for them to get specific work done. I was talking to Tony Gentilcore about this topic recently and he reminded me that my job wasn't to diagnose anything. I had a similar talk with Vic Brown from BU (who's an ATC) and he said he keeps the ATC and CSCS separate by using his job description. His job is not to fix/rehab athletes, but to make them stronger and faster; there is an entire Athletic Training department for that job.

Here's another thing that I've been thinking about: why is this all suddenly such a huge concern? People have been strong and healthy for quite a long time without worrying about their breathing patterns. I know the same can be said for things like mobility and soft tissue work, but those things have a readily apparent change on the way someone feels and moves. Would Bo Jackson had been a better athlete if someone had focused on his left-smaller-diaphragm? Would Arnold have been more symmetrical and better proportioned if he'd be concerned about his Left Posterior Mediastinum Inhibition? I'm personally having trouble figuring out where all of these other things fall into the role of a strength and conditioning coach. If getting someones diaphragmatic rhythm in sync with their scapulothoracic rhythm will get them to a 40" vertical, a 10.2-second 100-yard dash or a 585 deadlift then I'll be all about it. For right now, however, my job is to get people stronger, faster and keep them healthy. I'll keep doing that.

This is a 90% single for him. Scary.
Anyone have any feedback? How much of a role should PRI/SFMA kind of stuff play in strength and conditioning? Is it the S&C coach's job or is it something that should be farmed out to the right people? Let me know what you think!

Have a great day, and go lift something heavy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

InnerCity Weightlifting

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to stop by and check out a program that I've been interested in for quite a while. InnerCity Weightlifting is a Boston-based non-profit organization that aims to reduce violence by getting kids off of the streets and out of gangs.

ICW provides students with a place to go where they can see positive changes on their life. I've written before about how I feel weight training can help a young person in many ways, and this organization personifies that.

When a kid who hasn't had much support or structure in their life starts weight training, they are finally able to see the positive results of structure, dedication and hard work. When you participate in weightlifting (Olympic lifting) in a "team" setting, you are able to see the positive results of a group. When someone hits a big lift/PR, the whole team celebrates; it's a win for everybody. Athletes push each other and help make each other better. In a situation like this one, success breeds success.

Beyond the positive results on the self-confidence of a student, ICW helps their most dedicated students pursue careers in personal training. These students go on to study the ACSM manual and eventually take the exam to become a certified personal trainer. They provide them with a place to train clients and earn their own income.

Not only that, but ICW does a great job of backing their students during legal issues. While I was there, I heard a student talking to John (co-founder) about when he would be coming in next. John asked if he'd be in on Monday, and the student replied that he had a court date to attend. John told this student to provide him with an email address and he'd send him a letter of support to take with him and that he would get to the court to personally support him as well.

While we (Kelsi and I) were there, we were offered the opportunity to have some of the students take us through a workout. I love working out in new gyms, so we thought it was a great idea. To be honest,  I had a thought in my head about what the workout was going to be like. I figured the student would take us through a warmup, hit some easy Oly lifts, do some strength work and call it a day.

I ran to the bathroom and when I came back, Kels was finishing up a set of overhead squats with a PVC pipe. I jumped in and did a set of 5, with a few corrections from some of the guys standing around. Next was a set of 5 with the empty bar, along with more corrections. In my defense, I hadn't done any foam rolling or anything so my OHS weren't flawless like usual. At this point, we split up to work with different students. J pointed me towards a bar loaded to 95# and instructed me to do a set of 5 power cleans so he could see my form. I hit 5, he hit 5 and then he said "let's go up". Sure, let's do it. "What do you want on there?" I asked. His answer was to throw another 10kg (25 pounds) on either side. That's a 50 pound jump. Ok, sure. We hit sets of 5 there and then he told me to put another 10kg on my side. Sure, no big deal. I always make 50 pound jumps. (No I don't.) We dropped to triples and kept making 50 pound jumps until we got to 205. At this point, people were hanging around us watching and motivating us. We made another jump to 215 and hit some triples. I could tell then that this would be a Man Challenge/Alpha Male sort of day. Fucking A.

When we were done with cleans, I was beat. J suggested I power clean it one more time and then walk it over to the squat rack. Oh, sure, cool. We then started hitting sets of 3 back squats. Again, we were making 50 pound jumps. We worked up to a single at 295 that I hit and J had to dump in the hole. We then dropped down and hit some doubles at 275. I was even more beat at this point; I'd worked up to some very heavy sets for me very quickly without really warming up. Then he suggested we crush some front squats. We worked up to 195 pretty quickly for a bunch of sets of triples. In between sets he would stroll over to a pull-up bar and hit some very strict close-grip muscle ups. I did not.

I'll be honest; I was fucking smoked. My body was drained. That's when J decided it was time to bench. We opened up at 135x8 (p.s. I haven't benched seriously in maybe 10 months), then 185x5, 205x5 and 225x5. Oh wait, that's what he did. I hit 205 for 3 and couldn't even lock out 225 for a single. At one point during the bench portion of the workout, I sat down on a window sill. I was punished by one of the students with 10 pushups for sitting down before I was done. To finish out the workout, that same student/coach put Kelsi and I through a pretty miserable bodyweight squat finisher that was 12 to parallel, 12 from bottom to parallel, then 10 full depth squats. Gah. To say I was done would be the under-statement of the century. Walking down the stairs was an issue. I had to do the side shuffle to keep from falling down on my way out.

All in all, it was a blast. I loved it. We were invited to come back and work out with the guys another time, and I fully intend to take them up on the offer. This organization does an amazing job and I hope to be able to help them in the future. Keep an eye out!

Have a great day and go do something amazing!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who Wants To Be Skinny??

We all know the deal; everybody is worried about how fat they are so they all want to be skinny. No one will eat anything with fat, carbs will kill you and a calorie restricted diet is the way to go.

Everywhere we look "skinny" is being pushed upon us. The Victorias Secret fashion show is filled with skinny women. Every magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store is filled with conversations about who is skinny and who is fat. All of the mass-produced "health" foods being pushed upon the masses claim to make you skinny.

But who the fuck wants to be skinny?!?

For centuries being skinny meant that you were sick, frail and probably going to die. If anyone that got on the Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria was too skinny then they weren't going to survive the voyage. If one of the children of Sparta were too skinny, they were going to be cast off of the mountain so that they wouldn't be a burden on society. There are millions of skinny people walking around our third world countries who won't make it past their twenties. 

Why has something that has historically meant that you would die an early death become our symbol of sexiness? Why has the body that continually changed the world not had as much of an impact?

Warriors and laborers are responsible for nearly all of the change up until the industrial revolution. You could still make the case that our warriors (soldiers) still play one of the most vital roles in shaping our society today. Yet, no one wants to look like these people. Why? It takes work. It's much easier to simply starve yourself then it is to go to the gym and work your ass off.

If you're reading this, you probably don't care that much about being "skinny". (God, I hope so at least.) You're probably more concerned with being big, strong and lean. I implore you all to spread the good word about living a Girthy lifestyle to your civilian friends. Thin shall never win, but Girth shall rule the earth!

Have a great day! Go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pet Peeves

Just like everybody else, there are some things that I see in my industry on a consistent basis that kinda really bug the hell out of me.

These are often little things that may or may not have any significant consequences to the clients or athletes, but as a trainer/coach it (for some reason) means the world to me. Some of these are legit concerns and some are to be taken in jest.

Box jumps performed the wrong way: I love the box jump; it's a great power exercise and has a ton of carryover to most sports. However, the number of times that I see this exercise performed the wrong way is astounding. People just want to use the highest box possible, with no concern for form. FYI: using a higher box doesn't mean you're actually jumping higher; nor does it mean your vertical jump is equal to that box. This bugs me so much that I'm going to be writing an article about it pretty soon that I hope to get posted elsewhere!

Putting an Olympic weightlifting bar into the rack. This one may seem silly, but it's half serious. Oly bars are special (expensive) bars. They spin beautifully and have knurling that is just sharp enough to hold your grip, but just smooth enough to not shred your hands. They are made for cleans and snatches and should be used for such. Sure, you can deadlift with them and stuff, but I believe that they really don't ever have to sit in a rack. That's what Texas Power Bars are for. I hate going to use an Oly bar and finding that the spot I'm going to grip for a snatch is covered in black plastic because it's been racked so many times. Barbells are the tools of our trade; treat them with the respect they deserve!

The Manta Ray. This is a piece of equipment that actually holds the bar in place on your back while you perform squats or lunges. It's not a sissy-pad that softens it, but it actually rests on your traps and holds the bar. It's stupid and I hate it. It takes all the feel out of the exercise. Learning how to hold a bar on your back to squat is one of the basic tenets of strength and conditioning. If it's uncomfortable, then you need to build bigger traps or wear a hoodie while you squat. Sack up and friggin' squat.
Note: This piece of equipment can, occasionally, be useful for someone with an injury. 

Trainers who complain about not having clients. There is no shortage of clients out there, and we all (more or less) have equal access to them. If your schedule isn't as full as you want, go out and do something about it. Take an honest look at what you're doing, and figure out whats wrong. Is your approach to selling off? Do you not have enough knowledge? Do you not try hard enough? Figure it out or talk to one of the more successful trainers at your gym. We've all been through it, so hopefully they can give you some advice. Sitting down and complaining about it won't do you any good, though.

That's it for today. I hope you all go do something awesome and lift some heavy shit today! Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Great Healthy Eating Trick!

I'm coming back  to you great folks with a healthy eating tip that I picked up, of all places, from my sister. She took a tip that I've given quite a few people and made it even more user-friendly!

I will often tell people to go to the market and buy one of those rotisserie chickens that everybody sells nowadays. They are delicious, cheap and easy. One of those suckers goes for about 8 bucks and lasts for 2 meals. Well, it lasts me for 2 meals. Some of my clients can use one of those for 8 meals (absurd).

My sister took it a step further and made it much easier to take that chicken with you or to use it within different meals. While the chicken is still warm from the grocery store, she simply shreds ALL of the meat off of the carcass and puts it into a big tupperware container. I did that this week and it took me about 10 minutes until I had a big pile of delicious chicken.

Once I had the meat all shredded, I could do whatever I wanted with it. One day I simply ate it out of the container with some salt. Another day I took a handful and added some salsa and spicy gaucamole to it. Just before I wrote this, I chopped up a few handfuls of the chicken and threw on a dollop of mayo and ate a bowl of chicken salad. It's a good way to always have some lean protein on hand without having to do too much work. Anytime we can take an excuse away from eating the right foods is a win!

Please give it a shot and let me know what you think! Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!