Monday, August 27, 2012

CrossFit Resilience

I've mentioned before that my former co-worker and good buddy Dan recently left my gym to go be a part of a new opportunity. He is the Director of Training at a new CrossFit gym opening up out in Hopkington, MA. I got my first chance to see CrossFit Resilience today and I loved it.

CFR isn't shaping up to be your average CrossFit gym. The coaches are top-notch and extremely knowledgeable and capable. They have competed at a high level in college athletics (basketball, wrestling, soccer and diving) as well as the strength sports (powerlifting, strongman, highland games). These well rounded athletes back up their ability with a great education and an awesome understanding of many different training practices.

The gym will be outfitted with all of the normal CrossFit toys: barbells, racks, a log, a safety squat bar, a fat bar, rings, bumpers, KB's, DB's, sleds, a yoke, atlas stones, tires, prowlers, sledge hammers, chains and bands. All the good shit.

We got in a great training session that day, too. Since it was a gorgeous day we went outside with farmers handles (135 pounds each) and did the 400 meter loop around the building, taking turns as each guy got tired. We then flipped the 500-ish pound tire, going with 4 flips per guy for about half the distance and then 10 flips per guy for the other half. We did another loop with the farmers walks and finished up with some wall balls: Dan did 100, I did 50 and Luis did 7.

It sounds like CFR is hoping to open their doors officially this coming Friday! I can't wait for my next trip out there. If you're in the area make sure to go check them out and lift something heavy!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One Exercise To Rule Them All

People are always looking for the easy way out: a pill to lose fat, a belt to give them abs, shoes to make their knees stop hurting. Anytime someone can get something done faster, they want to be a part of it.

With that being said, people often ask what the best exercise they can do is. My go-to answer is the deadlift: you can load it heavily, its a lower-body lift that trains your whole body, and high-rep deads can be super metabolic. I usually say that it's my favorite exercise and, if I were forced to do only one exercise it would be the deadlift.

Truth be told, though, it may not be the single best exercise available. There are a few other lifts that can battle the deadlift for supremacy.

Snatch-Grip Deadlift from Deficit: This is a bastard of a lift. I love it and hate it at the very same time.

The gentleman in the video is using a pretty small deficit; you can stand on something as tall as 4-8 inches. The super-wide grip forces a large recruitment from your arms and upper back (big time grip challenge). The extra depth forces you to get into a much lower position, recruiting much more from your quads. Lastly, it's still a deadlift so your posterior chain is working overtime. It's really a total body lift that someone could do for a long time and still see results from it. The one thing I don't like about this exercise is the amount of mobility you need to do it properly. Almost none of my clients would be allowed to do this exercise.

Kettlebell Swing: There are several coaches out there who call this the "perfect exercise". When performed correctly, it could be.

Your whole body has to stay tense in order to perform it the right way, your hips have to explosively flex/extend, which produces a huge amount of power and it is super metabolic. The (generally) low weight of a kettlebell would also allow someone to perform a huge volume of swings. Yes, kettlebells can also get VERY heavy, which allows for a wide range of loading opportunities. Your entire posterior chain gets effectively worked during the swing, as does all of your core musculature. There's a reason why kettlebell people become so dogmatically pro-kettlebell!

Farmers Walks: This could read "loaded carries", but that offers up too many variants. When I say farmers walk I mean this one specifically.

I think that, if forced, this may take the cake as the only exercise I would do. Why?

  • It starts off with a deadlift!
  • The loading options are astronomical. It's very easy to achieve a supra-maximal deadlift while doing this. My own personal best deadlift is 440 pounds, while my best farmers walk is 500 pounds (250 per hand).
  • The grip challenge is out of this world. As is the necessary involvement of your upper back musculature. The worst soreness I've ever had was in my traps after the 500 pound farmers walk.
  • Stu McGill calls the farmers walk a "walking plank". It forces you to stabilize every muscle in your body.
  • Every step you take becomes a single leg exercise.
  • Metabolic doesn't begin to describe how metabolic this exercise is. Do a set of heavy farmers and see if you're not gasping for air. 
It could possibly be the most complete exercise available to us. It's also easily done with any equipment available. Farmers handles, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, children, buckets of water, Honda's; if you can hold it, you can carry it. 

Give some of these exercises a shot! Lift something heavy (and carry it somewhere!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Therapist - Trainer Divide

The Strength and Conditioning world has taken a turn for the better lately. There is more and more work being done by strength coaches that will help an athlete prevent injury or recover from an injury. Strength coaches are delving more and more into the world inhabited by Athletic Trainers (AT's) and Physical Therapists (PT's).

This has nothing to do with anything.
Currently, there are a few top-tier strength coaches that are doing quite well blending Strength and Conditioning and Pre/Re-hab work. Coaches like Eric CresseyMike Ranfone and Dean Somerset are more or less leading the way for this new "breed" of coach that understands the need to do more than just get hyooge and strong.

Athletic Trainers, I'm learning, are more and more open to new techniques and research. They are moving beyond taping, ice and e-stim as a way to keep athletes healthy. More and more they are paying attention to things like the Functional Movement Screen and the work of Dr. Stuart McGill. There are also many more Athletic Trainers who are picking up on the benefits of soft-tissue work; ART, Graston and Trigger Point Therapy (to name a few).

Now, we come to Physical Therapists. Because their card starts with "Dr." everybody assumes they know everything about everything. With a few notable exceptions like Dr. McGillMike Reinold and Kelly Starrett it is getting pretty hard to find a PT who will think outside of the box.

Maybe I notice it more because of the people that I work with (general population clients), but anytime a client/friend of mine goes to see a PT about something, they come back with the same damn treatment sheet. Everybody is given a pre-written print-out with a list of exercises and demonstrations on them. Then they go back into the office for some e-stim or ultrasound and they do the exercises with a PT. 6 weeks later, problem solved!

I doubt it.

What makes any health professional think that every similar case can be solved the same way? Can every ACL tear really be fixed with the same print out? Why is it that more PT's don't take a patient-by-patient approach? I have a sneaking suspicion it has to do with their connection to the health care/insurance system. Due to their fear of losing all the income generated by Doctor referrals, PT's are too nervous to try any new modalities.

A recent conversation between myself and a PT friend regarding an athlete of mine sparked these thoughts. This particular athlete puts in a ton of miles running every week, in addition to my weight training program. She had been having some general anterior knee pain post-run and asked us (individually) about it. My suggestion was to ice, tone down her mileage and lighten the load a bit during her knee-dominant lower-body exercises (squats, lunges, etc). The PT's suggestion? Stop squatting, or stop squatting with a full range of motion. Without ever having seen her squat (I taught her) he automatically assumed it was the squat causing the problem. He also did this without reading the plethora of recent research which shows that partial range of motion squats exert more stress on the anterior portion of the knee capsule than full range squats which increase capsular stabilization at end-range. While I feel that this friend is an exceptional PT, he still tends to follow the dogmatic principles of a traditional therapist.

Clearly, PT's are a necessity. They do lot's of good work that other health professionals can't do. I, by no means, intend to belittle their profession. But if you are an athlete, a weight lifter or an active individual and need to go see a PT please make sure you do your homework. They are not all cut from the same cloth, and you need to make sure yours has views that fall in line with your own goals.

Take care. Go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Lesson in Humility

hu·mil·i·ty: nounthe quality or condition of being humblemodest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.

I'm a pretty good athlete. I work my ass off, and there's not a lot of sports I am awful at. However, I guess overall I'm pretty average. I honestly forget that though, because in my own little world I can always hold my own and be competitive. Team sports allow you to help rely on your teammates to push through and get a win. Today I was reminded, however, what a difference there is between elite level athletes and bums like me.

One of my co-workers at the gym used to run at Wright State in Ohio (a Division 1 school). She has been following my programming and diet plan for about 7 weeks now and has seen some ridiculous results. As of her last body comp test she had gained 4 pounds and lost about 2% bodyfat. Not only that, but her squat had gone from 95 pounds for 5 reps to 150 for 5 reps. Thats a pretty significant increase. (Yes, some of this can be accounted for because of her training age, but regardless it's a huge increase.)

This has been happening in conjuncture with another athlete doing some of my programming; another co-worker is going to the Olympic combine for bobsled/skeleton in a few weeks and her results have been ridiculous too. This other co-worker played softball at Boston University (another D1 athlete).

To be honest, I spent quite a bit of time thinking that I was just that good. Until today.

Kelsi is training for a half-marathon, and her workout for today called for 8 800 meter runs paced under 3:20 seconds. That equals out to running a mile in 6:40, which is the pace she wants to keep up during her race. That's pretty fast. She was looking for some company so Luis and I decided it was worthwhile to join her. My stupid ass was (obviously) talking a bunch of shit about how I thought I could beat her in a 400 and would be able to do at least two of her 800's with her.

Well, I had to stop and puke after the first 400 meters.

It felt like the fastest 400 I've ever run. I can play volleyball all damn day and feel ok, but I puked after like 70 seconds of running. It was a weird pace for me; not a jog but not a sprint. Somewhere uncomfortably in-between. Luis finished the first 800 with her and then we continued on by doing magic miles (sprint the straights, walk the curves) while Kelsi continued with her regularly scheduled programming.

As we walked we would watch her run, and holy shit. That girl can move. I finally realized that the reason she and our other co-worker were crushing their programs had much less to do with me and much more to do with their natural ability. They are elite athletes. Division 1 athletes are very high in terms of what they are capable of. Seeing her crush her runs (faster than she had planned, while on "trash" legs) was a very very cool thing to see. Any time you get to see a high-level athlete do what they are great at, it's a cool experience.

It's also very humbling and a great way to remind yourself how average you are. It also serves to remind me how much harder I have to work. Nothing wrong with that, I've never been afraid of a little hard work.

Thanks for reading! Go do something awesome today.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Healthy Recipes for an Apex Predator

I often hear people talk about how they want to eat healthy but don't know how to cook, or what to cook. Today I thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes that are nutritious, delicious, quick and easy. It's important for people to remember that eating well doesn't require everything to be bland and tasteless; food that is good for you should taste good too!

If you're in a hurry in the morning, try this great breakfast!
- Take 6 eggs and hardboil them. Take them with you and eat them. Garnish with salt and pepper or hot sauce. Enjoy!

Breakfast at home!
If you've got the time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at home, I envy you. Try this awesome meal!
- Take 4-6 strips of uncured bacon and cook them to your desired crispiness. Place these on a plate.
- Take 6 whole eggs and cook them in your preferred style (scrambled, over easy, sunny side up, etc). 
- Enjoy!

Lunch at the office!
Everybody is busy at work and has little time for lunch. Here is an easy lunch you don't even have to cook!
- 1 package (12 oz) of Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary chicken breasts cut into chunks
- 1 package of garlic hummus
- Cover pieces of chicken in hummus. Consume!
- 1 cup organic blueberries. Enjoy!

Dinner time!
Nobody likes spending a huge amount of time making dinner when they get home after a long day of work; here's a meal that will be done in 15 minutes!
- 8-12 oz of grassfed beef or free-range chicken breast
- 1 cup of white rice
- guacamole (homemade or purchased)
- Salsa (homemade or purchased; just not that Tostito's shit)
- Grill the steak or chicken, marinate as you see fit
- Cook the rice
- Mix them together. Dump guac and salsa on top
- Enjoy!

Snack time!!
Everybody gets hungry between meals, so here are some quick and easy snack ideas that will hold you over for a while.
- 1 cup full-fat greek yogurt
- cup of mixed berries
- mix and enjoy!

- 1 scoop of protein powder mixed with 12 oz of organic whole milk or raw milk
- 2-3 tablespoons of almond butter

- 1/2 - 1 lb grassfed burger patty
- 1 slice of cheese
- 2-3 slices of bacon
- few dollops of guacamole
- melt the cheese onto the burger and put the bacon on top. Plop the guac on top of that and enjoy!

Hopefully you took this post with a little bit of humor. Not the recipes, though; those are serious. I eat those things on a weekly basis. The point that I hoped to make with this post was that eating healthy foods is really pretty damned simple. Eat real, whole foods and limit the crap you take in. Keep your carbs around your workouts and at night and eat plenty of good fats. I am obviously not a dietician, but give one of these meals a shot and let me know what you think!

Go forth and lift heavy shit!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Act Like an Adult

The last several weeks at the gym have been super busy for me. Several of the trainers left and as a result I ended up with schedule that was Nuts-to-Butts, to the tune of about forty sessions per week. This is more than double what I usually do during the school year.

My sessions start at 6 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. Two nights a week I then go to volleyball practice which gets over at 11. In bed by midnight and then back up at 4:45 the next morning for work. This doesn't leave a lot of time for what we call "sleep". Imagine my dismay this morning when each of my clients at 6, 7 and 8 all strolled in 20 minutes late as if it was no big deal.

Are you shitting me?

These are adults, we are talking about. Not 17 year old high schoolers. Adults. With jobs and families and responsibilities. People who are paying approximately $90 to spend an hour with me, just sauntering in like it's no big deal. I get it, it's tough getting out of bed so early in the morning. You know how I know? Because I have to wake up early for your session too.

My client at 6 this morning actually told me that he was late because he was so tired from his day on Tuesday. His day off from work. No big deal, bro. I was pretty tired too, but I managed to get to the gym at 5:30, so that I could be prepared for your session that you apparently don't give a shit about.

Showing up late for a session with me expresses the feeling that you don't give a damn about the importance of my time. That you don't place a high priority on my work or our results. And that's what it comes down to, right? Results? As my client, you expect certain results out of me. As the trainer, I expect a certain level of hard-work from you. Given the constraints of our schedule (1 hour each time, 2-3 times per week) I am able to figure out what results are realistic and in what time frame.

When you start showing up late on a consistent basis, I can no longer consider those results viable. In fact, it makes it really tough to even plan workouts for you. You already move like a turd, so I'm not going to compromise on your mobility and movement drills, so we are going to get in less exercise. Less exercise means fewer results, which then makes me look like a shitbum. And you know what? I'm not a shitbum.

Clients, please just show up on time, act like an adult. No one is forcing you to be there. You're with me because you want results; now give me the opportunity to get them.

Have a good day and go lift something heavy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Has Hell Frozen Over?

Yesterday was a big day for me. I often preach about getting out of your comfort zone, so yesterday I went ahead and did something that would get my card pulled in the strength world.

I did a Pilates class!

Thankfully I did it with Tony Gentilcore, which helps my argument a little bit. Regardless, it's something that I've never done before and needed to try. Why did I need to try it? So that I could understand it better. Like Bruce Lee said "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”  I believe that I can learn from almost any situation, and Pilates is included in that. 

(Note: here is Tony's breakdown of the class.)

Admittedly, I was skeptical going into this. My boss asked me if TG had ever done Pilates and if he would be interested in trying it out. I emailed him and we got things rolling. I chose Shelley as our instructor since she and I have always had a good relationship and I've gotten a pretty good sense of her style from our conversations.

We met up yesterday and, in a totally bromantic coincidence, Tony and I were dressed nearly identically. After a brief history of Pilates from Shelley, we headed into the group exercise room for our lesson. Our session was mat-based because Shelley felt the reformers we had wouldn't quite do it for us. 

I was immediately humbled by our experience. A lot of Pilates is based around isometric contractions, which is something I don't often do. On top of that, we were doing what basically amounted to an isometric crunch. It didn't stop there though, it got harder in ways I wasn't really expecting. Tony talks about this in his blog too, but the breathing was the hardest thing for me. Absolutely everything in strength training teaches you to brace your core. Push out against your weight belt, fill up your belly, get tight. These are some common cues to give people when they are lifting. Instead, it was draw in your belly button and breathe. Huh? Really? How the hell am I supposed to do that? I instinctively felt myself brace during every movement we had to do, and had to really think about breathing the way we were told. 

I'm not going to lie: it was tough. By the end we were both pretty ragged. I'm sure one of the reasons it was so tough for us was because we were both able to follow Shelley's cues and activate the right muscles at the right time. (I'm writing this the day after, and I am acutely aware of my glute medius).  At no point did I think "this is a joke", rather I kept thinking about the ways which Pilates could help some of my clients. A surprising number of the cues share some similarities and I couldn't help but picture the strength training correlate to some of the cues she gave us. 

Yup, there were glute bridges involved. As were pushups, and planks and lunges. My training sessions also involve those exercises...weird.

As state before, this Pilates session really made me think about activating particular muscles. Shelley did a great job explaining what she wanted from us and did an even better job getting it every time. She was hands-on and would guide us into doing what needed to get done. Movements were either regressed (for Tony) or progressed very quickly and everything was challenging. 

I personally wasn't thrilled with the amount of time spent in a crunch position since I feel most people over-train their rectus abdominus anyway. It was evened out with some time spent in the plank position, though. Also, there wasn't really a way for us to challenge our backs, something that I think a lot of people need work on. Clearly there are ways to remedy this on a reformer, but for now I can only speak on what I experienced.

Would I do it again? Sure I would. It's another tool in the toolbox. It could be a good recovery day activity that would awaken/activate muscles all over your body, while simultaneously providing some static stretch to your body. I would also recommend it to a client who needed a day of activation in order to "learn" their body a little more. Learning how to engage your core and keep a stable pelvis is one of the keys to getting strong and I can see how Pilates would be able to help teach/reinforce that motion. 

Pretty much how we ended our Pilates session
I'm certainly not going to stop lifting heavy shit and start buying slim fight LuLuLemon pants, but I wouldn't be opposed to doing Pilates with Shelley every once in a while. Learn what is useful and reject what isn't, right?

Step out of your comfort zone today. See what you can learn!