Monday, March 25, 2013

How We Are Different.

Exercise, and specifically weight training, is something that is just a part of my life. I basically eat/breathe/sleep this stuff and I spend most of my time thinking about it too. With that being said, my goals are one of the things that make me different than my clients...

Most of my clients are coming to see me to correct imbalances, lose weight and get stronger. They really just want to "get in shape" and have no specific goals relating to performance. This is great and still allows me plenty of room to achieve fitness milestones with my clients.

The athletes I work with at BU are there to improve their on-field performance, but are still limited by the constraints of being a University athlete and student. Doing certain things with a team sport athlete being trained in a group setting just isn't a good idea.

When it comes to training myself, though, I can do pretty much whatever the hell I want to do. I've got the knowledge, capability and desire to do just about anything to myself. I know how to prepare for it, I know how to execute and I know how to recover. I still play volleyball competitively, and my main goal is to get as brutally fucking strong and powerful as I can.

When I train both gen-pop clients and collegiate athletes, I follow a very well-rounded program. There is a ton of warm-up and mobility followed by some bi-lateral strength movements followed by accessory lifts that are often uni-lateral in nature. There is a bunch of core stability work and hopefully some conditioning at the end. My programs involve bands, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sleds and cables; all of the good stuff found in any well stocked weight room. My clients learn to move well with just their own body and with an external resistance. We lose weight, regain mobility, relieve pain and get stronger. It's a beautiful thing.

For myself, however, things are a little different. My training has been simplified more and more over time. There was a time when I did Show and Go where I spent equal amounts of time on everything. My training following that was much of the same type of balanced training. As time has gone on, however, things changed. I rarely use cable machines or dumbbells. I don't even use kettlebells that often. The brunt of my work is done with a barbell in my hands. I deadlift, clean, RDL, snatch (a lot), and squat even more (front squat and high bar back squats). I do pressing exercises (both on the bench and overhead) but don't really like them. I don't do pull-ups often enough, though. The majority All of my single leg work is done when pushing a sled for conditioning. I squat, hinge, push, pull, carry and O-lift for 95% of my training.

I don't really mess with too many stupid exercise variations that won't have a direct effect on my performance in sports or my "competition" lifts (clean, snatch, squat, bench, deadlift). Those are the metrics by which I measure my success; if they keep going up, it's working.

Honestly, I hardly do any core work now either. The amount of time I spend with a bar on my back, in my hands or flying up over my head takes care of that. Plus, I've put in a fuckshit ton of time doing planks and Pallof Presses in the past, so I consider myself pretty squared away.

Is this the perfect training program? By no means, but it's what works for me right now. I have spent enough time doing mobility that I don't have a lot of restrictions; those that still exist I address. My core is plenty strong and I just don't really have that many imbalances. Guys like Dan John, John Broz, Jim Wendler and Wil Fleming have it right, as far as I'm concerned. Lift heavy, lift fast and then do it again.

It doesn't take much to achieve your goals; just some good ol' fashioned hard work. Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Better Cluster Set?

Cluster sets have been used for some time as a way to get in a higher volume of work at a higher relative percentage of your max. If you lift a higher percentage more times than normal, you'll get stronger. Easy, right?

For a cluster set you use a percent of your previously tested max (Cressey has oft suggsted 80%). One set will proceed as such: 2 reps...rack the bar and count down from 10...2 reps...rack and count...2 reps...rack and count...2 reps...rack and count...2 reps, done.

For the mathematically challenged (me) that's 10 total reps per set at a weight that you are, in theory, supposed to only be able to get 3 or 4 reps at. That's a ton of volume at such a heavy weight. In practice, this is damn near impossible. None of the guys I lift with have ever been able to perform a cluster like this at such a high percentage; we have always ended up taking the weight down to something much more civilian, like 70% in order to complete all 10 reps.

A more recent style of cluster training has appeared recently, "Every Minute On The Minute" or EMOTM. The idea is simple; set a timer for 10 minutes (or whatever time frame you choose) and hit your desired reps every time the clock hits a new minute. Depending on the lift, 1-3 reps is appropriate (anything longer starts to eat up your rest period).

You work up to the weight that you are going to use, and then just do the one set of EMOTM. It's a very easy way to get in a ton of volume. The longer rest period allows you to use a much higher percent of your max, which just increases the training effect of the rep scheme.

I did these the other day with 80% of my deadlift for 10 minutes. 365 for 10 singles felt like an appropriate (dare I say, easy) work load for that day, but I'm certain that I can use a heavier load on a different day when I'm looking for a different training effect.

This can be used with any of your big lifts: squats, cleans, bench, pullups, snatch, deadlift, press. I would, however, probably stay away from uni-lateral lifts as, again, that just eats up too much of the rest period. It's also sort of a silly idea to do Bulgarian Split squats at 90% of your max.

Give these a shot sometime soon and let me know what you think!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts On Training The Elderly

Several hundred studies have been done on what to do when training the elderly (don't hurt them, beware of balance, blood pressure medications, don't get up too fast, etc etc) so I'm not going to go over that stuff. It's pretty easy to find via a Google search, and most of it is common sense anyway.

I'm going to talk about some things that I've been doing recently with one of my elderly clients (she is 86 year old Holocaust survivor). This client is an extremely active woman who still takes public transportation around town and does some guest lectures at various schools. As a result, I want to make things as applicable and specific to hear as possible.

What are some considerations you need to take with older folks? Balance, coordination, range of motion, strength and bone density. I make sure that each session involves something to address all of the above.

My clients mobility isn't great, so there are some things that I just won't do with her. Her posture isn't great and she has a poor overhead position. As such, we don't do anything overhead. "But its a valuable movement pattern" you'll say; true, but it's not a risk I need to take with a woman of her age. We do some mobility drills to help with that pattern, but I've decided that the amount of time we'd need to spend on mobility to see any significant results isn't exactly worth it. Simply put, there's other things that will be better for her.

I think that balance and strength, especially in older people, are directly related. The inability of an 80 year old to hold themselves on one leg is most highly correlated to the fact that the muscles involved in that action aren't strong enough to complete it. Sure, there is a neurological reason that is beyond my ability to explain, but I truly believe that it's strength related. As a result, I want to get her stronger.

Just like any other client, I believe it's worthwhile to focus on the basic human movements in whatever ROM is possible. This client has a knee with very little cartilage left, but no pain during movement. As such, I ask her to squat (de-loading her body with a TRX) nearly every time I see her because she needs to be comfortable in that pattern. We recently started doing a dumbbell deadlift to help strengthen her posterior chain and to get her comfortable when hinging. We also done a fuckshit ton of pulling/scap-retraction work to help with her upper-back, and some uni-lateral cable pressing as a double core/press exercise. A 6th basic human movement that Dan John has talked about also comes into play often with this client: getting up off the floor. Every session involves an exercise that requires her to get up and down off the floor. Even a simple plank will require this action of her, which means that in the horrible situation (knock on wood) that she does fall, she will be able to get herself up off of the floor.

The most important aspect of training an elderly client, in my opinion, is the improvement to bone density that you can hopefully help to incur. Anytime you can help to strengthen the long bones of an older client, you're doing them an amazing service. The best way to achieve this is with weight bearing exercise, and the best way to do that is axially (from the top down). My favorite way to do this is with loaded carries. You don't have to go crazy with the loading, but every little bit helps. I believe that this is the single most important exercise you can do with a person of this age. With this one exercise (and its multiple variations) you load them axially, you challenge their core stability and teach them to brace, force them to stabilize their pelvis and allow them to improve one of their activities of daily living.

In short, it's a hell of an exercise. If you train or work with an older population, I feel very strongly that this is an exercise that must be in your programming.

I hope this was a helpful post! Thanks for reading; have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

That's That Shit I Don't Like

The world is full of great exercises, and I truly believe that every exercise has a place in the tool box of a good trainer or coach. With that being said, however, there are some exercises that I just hate. For whatever reason, I haven't had a good experience with them personally so I use them as infrequently as possible with my clients and athletes.

I'm the first to admit that my biases have nothing to do with the efficacy of the exercise (they are all great exercises) and just relate to the fact that I have historically had a tough time performing them and don't like coaching them. I think there are other exercises that are just as effective that I prefer coaching someone through.

Also, I will only be discussing legitimate exercises. I won't be referencing any "exercises" that I don't think have any place in a real program for most people. (Again, every tool has a purpose...some tools are just worse than others.) I also won't be discussing (this time) the obviously stupid shit in a gym like lifting gloves, half-rep benching and curling in the squat rack. Nor shall I mention the things that I have an absolutely irrational hatred for, such as 35 pound plates, people who train in basketball sneakers and when people load metal plates onto a bar with the numbers facing out (SMOOTH SIDE OUT!!! AHHHHHH!!!!)

Split Squats (Front Foot Elevated, too).

I just don't like this exercise. It's always been uncomfortable for me to do, and I've never had good cues to coach someone into doing it the right way. I understand, academically, how it works and what it does. I just have a tough time putting it all together. My buddy Dan and I have pretty similar training/programming styles, but one of our major differences is that he uses this exercise a lot while I almost always defer to reverse lunges from a deficit. Again, this is a matter of personal style and opinion. It's a great exercise, I just choose to avoid it.

Cable Chops and Lifts

These are exercises that have been championed by Mike Boyle for quite some time now; as such they've gained quite a following in the strength and conditioning world and with good reason. They are a great anti-rotational core exercise...except I just don't get it. I hate when clients say this, but I don't feel this exercise. Pallof presses make me acutely aware of my core musculature. Planks and suitcase carries too. I think that there are just too many compensation patterns available when doing this exercises. As often as possible, I substitute half-kneeling Pallof presses for either of these. The coaches at BU use these lifts quite a bit, so I've become more much more adept at coaching them; however, I'm still not a huge fan.

TRX Fallouts

Again, this is a great exercise. However, I don't see any benefit to trying to coach this over an ab-wheel rollout or a bodysaw. I think that the variables are too many with this exercise (the length of the straps, where your feet are placed, the height of the anchor) to make it easily programmable. I also think that for many gen-pop clients, the strain on the shoulders is just a bit too much. I feel much safer programming any other variant of an anti-extension exercise.

TRX Pallof Press

Lastly, we have the TRX Pallof Press. As previously stated, I'm a huge fan of the Pallof Press...just not with a TRX. Again, the variability seems too great to me. Where were your feet last time? How long were the straps? Was the TRX anchored at the same spot? I like for exercises to be easily reproduced and that's one of my knocks against this. Another is that I just don't get it; when I've performed this in the past it feels more like a shoulder stability exercise (which is still great). The benefits to this exercise are clearly numerous, but for me it's not so much greater than any other Pallof variation that I'm willing to devote my athletes/clients time to learning it.

Anybody have any cues for me to help get better at these exercises? I'd love to hear them! Leave some notes in the comments section, please!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What Are Your Goals?

This is kind of a random post, so please bear with me. I had a short conversation the other day with my good friend Will that centered around the topic of squats.

More specifically, this was regarding Will's own squat performance. He has been doing the programs that I write for him, which contains a metric shit-ton of front squats: tempo, pauses, 1.5 reps and anything else you can think of. Turn your weakness into a strength, I always say. 

Well, for some time Will has had a bit of an ankle mobility issue. I forget if it's just something he was born with or if it is something that he has incurred over time because of injuries and whatnot. I know he has been doing a lot to try and open up that area with limited success. Another point about William is that he is a dyed-in-the-wool barefoot guy. He basically lives by the book Born To Run and was enamored with Chris McDougall when he got the opportunity to meet him at a seminar I hosted a year ago. 

I believe the conversation started because Will mentioned that he felt his ankle mobility was a limiting factor in his squat performance (Dude, correct me if I'm wrong). I suggested he go buy a pair of Olympic lifting shoes and start getting some plates on the bar. The conversation then turned to footwear; Will stating that he felt that Oly shoes were a form of "cheating" and that he'd like to be able to improve his ankle mobility instead. Fair enough. 

This is where I asked the earth-shattering question: "What are your goals? If your goal is to get brutally strong, then you should get some Oly shoes and get stronger rather than waiting for your mobility to catch up."

Is it cheating? Only if you're planning on competing in an ankle mobility contest. Can I understand why someone would like to improve their mobility at any joint? 100% I can, especially Will who is an avid kettlebell user. Per the norm, he trains KB's barefoot, which means his squat suffers due to the mobility. Well, I don't understand why you would give up getting strong with a barbell and a KB while waiting for your ankle to catch up. 

In this case, my suggestion was to get a heel lift of some sort for his main lift (squats) so that he wasn't being limited by something as trivial as ankle mobility and could continue making gainz. Then, for assistance work/kettlebells, feel free to revert to bare feet or minimalist shoes. This is something that I've done for a while and I find that it provides a great balance between the two worlds.

A similar question I fielded recently was by a client/friend who intimated that she felt mixed-grip deadlifting was a form of cheating. Again, if your goal is to get that lift as strong as possible, you're going to need to mix-grip. There are very few really strong deadlifters who pull double-overhand. 

This also lends itself as a good time to mention that small changes in the way you train can result in huge differences down the road. If you always squat in Oly shoes, do your assistance stuff barefoot. If you always bench with your thumbs on the smooth, try a month with your pinkies on the smooth. Instead of doing a DB goblet squat, use two kettlebells. The possibilities are endless, but any small change in the status quo can make a big difference when you return to your lift of choice.

I hope this post made sense! If not, re-read and try again! Have a great day, and go lift something heavy!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Discussion on Percentages

I've written before about my thoughts on percentage based programs and why I don't like using them for myself. Given my busy schedule, the variability in how I'm feeling on a daily basis. Some days I'd walk into the gym and the weight was just too goddamn heavy for how I was feeling. I'd end up feeling shitty about myself for having a bad lift, and I don't have time to waste feeling shitty. Auto-regulation is the way to go for me.

As a personal trainer, I also didn't find a use for percentages. When it's just me and one client, I'm able to accurately figure out how they are performing and can vary the weights appropriately given the desired training effect. This is a form of auto-regulation, even though I'm doing it for someone else.

My time at BU has helped me to find an appropriate time and place for percentage based stuff, though. With a team of college athletes percentages is the easiest way to go about making sure everyone is working at the appropriate difficulty. You'll always have the athletes who want to go HAM on the weights regardless of the fact that their spine looks like a big question mark. You'll also always have the athletes that are uber-lazy and will load themselves at 50% of their capability. Providing them with a specific number takes away all that guesswork.

You can also, more often than not, accurately guess how a college athlete is going to be feeling at a given time. Given the schedule of their season and their academic year, you know when they will be feeling shitty and run down and when they will be feeling strong. Too, since many of them have a pretty young training age you will often be able to get good results using a slightly more conservative percentage than you might for yourself.

Percentage based programming isn't guesswork. Alexander Sergeyvitch Prileprin created a chart that was based off of a ton of research done with Russian Olympic weightlifters. This chart has become a part of the famed "Russian Texts" (texts like books, not text messages) that so many great coaches have based their training off of. Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell has really championed this chart for many years with his powerlifters. Recently Rudy Nielson of The Outlaw Way has applied this concept to programming that reaches a wide variety of lifters. Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 is possibly the most well-known application of percentages (while not necessarily a direct application of Prileprins work).

The chart, originally designed for weightlifters, has been modified to work for both powerlifters and bodybuilders as well. It simply allows you to work within a sets/reps range where you will be getting an optimal training effect without overloading your CNS too much. It should allow you to never miss a lift while maintaing good form and proper bar-speed. The last thing we want is for you to crush your CNS so that you miss lifts and end up like this.

So, percentage based programming isn't for everyone. It would drive me crazy right now, but I'm sure there will be a time in the future where it will work perfectly for me. Consider it for yourself, and if you have any questions please ask in the comments section!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!

Monday, March 11, 2013

I'm Not Special

Contrary to what society wants us all to believe nowadays, I don't think I'm special. My momma would hopefully disagree with that statement, but within the confines of the industry I'm no different from everyone else. I am NOT a beautiful and unique snowflake.

What I mean by this is that not a whole lot has changed in the strength and conditioning industry since Milo of Croton first starting picking up that calf when he was a child. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants right now, everything has already been done.

There is a whole list of guys like Louie Simmons, Dan John, Charles Poliquin and Mel Siff (as well as a ton of Russians whose names I can't spell) who have literally written the book(s) on strength training. What makes me good (if I do say so myself) is my ability to take the knowledge presented by these guys and find the right application for it in my own work.

Reverse-band deadlifts are an amazing tool...when applied correctly. Prileprin's chart is amazingly helpful...when applied correctly. As a strength coach and especially a personal trainer, I have to have an enormous tool box to continue to help everyone I come across. If you, as a trainer, are unable to conceptualize the information provided to us by coaches of yesterday and today, then you will never be able to fully help your clients.

Trainers and coaches, please keep learning. Don't pigeonhole yourself by saying "this is the best and only way to do something". There is a fuckshit ton of methods out there, and they will all work at one time or another. Whether you're into powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit or strongman, please remember that they will all work and are all related. Don't sit on your high horse and suggest that one of the other ways of doing something is stupid. Sure, if you're a coach in a collegiate setting, then training teams of athletes with CrossFit probably isn't the best idea. But, neither is applying a Sheiko powerlifting program to them. It's not stupid, it's just not the right tool for the application.

Bradon Morrison, the creator of Lift Big Eat Big recently wrote on their Facebook page that "there is a special place in Hell for someone who shits on the fitness accomplishments of another person". I am 100% in agreement. We are all part of the same family; if someone is working hard and doing everything they can to get better (learning, reading, asking questions, applying new ideas, etc) then they should be applauded. There are too many people in this industry who are ok with just cashing a check and letting their clients fall of of Bosu Balls; please appreciate those who are working hard.

I know this was kind of a rant, but it happens once in a while. I hope everyone has a great day and goes to lift some heavy shit!

Monday, March 4, 2013

King TUT

There's lots of ways to make an exercise worse; coming up with new variations happens all the time. Today I want to show you all a variation that my buddy Dan and I came up with about a year ago in the middle of a hard training session.

We were in the midst of a hypertrophy phase (don't judge) and wanted a way to make the high-rep finishing set of any exercise as brutally miserable as possible. Honestly, the exercise we were doing when we came up with this was the leg press, I'll admit it. But, hey, it was the finisher on a day where we did 10x3 snatch grip deadlifts from a deficit, so beat it.

First, we tried paused reps. Those suck.

Then we increase our Time Under Tension (TUT) by adding in a 3 second eccentric. That also sucked.

We also tried the Ben Bruno special of 1.5 reps where you add in a half-rep after every full rep. More total suckage.

We then had the epiphany to add them all together and King TUT was born!

The beauty of this exercise is in the sheer misery of it. A high rep set with this scheme can last upwards of a minute, and it takes some serious guts to get all the way through a set of these. It's a 3-5 second eccentric (lowering), pause, half-rep concentric (up), pause, back down, pause, explode up. Let's take a look.

The exercise I usually introduce this to people with is the goblet squat, but the possibilities are really endless as to what you can do it with. I personally don't find rowing (other than a TRX row) or deadlift variations to be particularly effective with most clients; you could get away with an RDL or TBDL with a more advanced athlete though. The eccentric stress is harder to control and provides an increased risk to the lumbar spine, and I don't think it's worth the limited weight you'd have to use for it. But that's my personal opinion.

Why the goblet squat first? Well, aside from being brutal, I think the King TUT is a great way to teach someone how to really control their body during a squat (any lift) and to feel the different positions. It allows them to strengthen several positions of the exercise while reinforcing the proper way to create and maintain tension during the lift. You can load it minimally for a new athlete/client or go pretty heavy with it for a more experienced lifter. It can be either the main lift for day or act as a finisher and leave someone sucking some serious wind.

Here are some other exercises you can use King TUT with:

Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Have a great day, and go lift some heavy shit!