Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Constants and Variables

This is a thought that I try and in all of my clients with varying degrees of success. It's something that I think is a pretty small change, but one that will help determine success further down the road in someones strength training lifetime; both as a trainee and as a coach.

The idea is that of constants and variables within each exercise. The constant should be your form and the variable is any number of outside factors: intensity, load, time, tempo, etc. Just like with a science experiment, the more variables you have the more difficult it is to determine the results of that particular experiment (in our case, an exercise).

If you squat to a different, random depth every time you squat then how could you quantify if you're getting better at squatting or not? Yes "parallel" is a guideline, but watch any number of YouTube heroes and you'll see that the definition of parallel leaves some room for interpretation. Too, someone could tell you that they can do 70 pushups in a row, but each of their reps stops at some random point in mid-air.

Every exercise you do should have defined starting and stopping points (and these can be individualized based on the needs of each different person). These points should be full range of motion (ROM) for a healthy individual and should remain constant. For a person who's limited by mobility, flexibility or strength the starting and stopping points should remained fixed until the issues have been addressed and that client has been progressed on to the next variation.

Trainers/Coaches, be rigid about this. Don't ask your clients to always perform an exercise the same way, demand it of them. Repetition is the mother of retention. Every exercise should be completely reproducible unless you want it to be different somehow.

The other half of the "constant" is technique. If your client uses a different grip every time they bench press or do chin-ups, or a different starting hip position when they deadlift then you will have a different result each time. There is no single correct form for every person, just the general guidelines you should follow to get into the ballpark. Kelly Starrett calls this "informed dicking around"; once you know the right guidelines you can decide what works best for you. Once you've found the right technique and position for you, stick with it and groove it until it's time to change it for the sake of progression.

If we have ingrained form/technique to be our "constant" then we have room to start playing with the variable. This is when you, as the coach or trainer, is able to figure out what is working and what isn't. This is actually where the fun starts; you can start using all the methods you've read about and seen in SuperTraining, Westside Barbell and T-Nation.

Beware the desire to change all the variables at once. You wouldn't take the recipe for your grandma's apple pie and then change 8 ingredients and say "hmmm I wonder why this tastes like cherry pie". If you usually squat with a narrow stance, high bar position, normal speed and weightlifting shoes you'd have no idea what was happening if you started squatting with a wide position, chucks, tempo, pauses bands and on a bosu ball. Your squat would feel like shit because it would no longer be your squat.

Just like anything else you would do, work through progressions during different phases. Add tempo for one phase, then pauses, then both, then go back to normal to see what kind of results you got. If the client hasn't gotten stronger, figure out where you went wrong. Start out with a solid grasp of the basics and move forward from there.

Have a great day! Go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Training For Golf??

Training for golf sounds like an oxymoron, right? When you think of golfers, I bet this is who you imagine, huh? Fat bastards and old guys.

It's not so true anymore, though. Golf is something that I've enjoyed for a number of years; I was on the team in High School and while I never played a Varsity match I got to play 9 holes 4-5 times a week for 3 months every fall. In the last several years I've been unable to play for a variety of factors: no time, too expensive, no one to play with. I've had cause to pick it up again recently and was at the range for the first time in a while the other day and did some people watching after I finished hitting.

You know what I saw? A shitfuckton of restrictions and movement compensations. A good looking golf swing is a very pretty, violent action. Watch Tiger Woods swing a club and you can really appreciate how intricate it is.

The clusterfuck that I saw wasn't anywhere close to this. What I watched was a bunch of guys who spend 40+ hours bent over a desk with awful thoracic spine, shoulder, hip and ankle mobility try their hardest to recreate what you just watched.

So, what happens to your swing when you have these contraindications?

1) The poor thoracic spine mobility prevents your setup from getting into the best position possible and leaves you hunched over the ball like Quasimodo.
2) The poor scapular/shoulder mobility prevents you from locking your shoulders into a good position and lets your arms swing around like a wet noodle.
3) As you start  your backswing, your shitty t-spine mobility won't allow for much rotation, so you quickly transfer the work to your lumbar spine.
4) Your lumbar spine, however, has already been forced into flexion because of your awful hip mobility and lack of pelvic control. Congrats, you now look like the human question mark.

5) This shitty anteriorly-tilted hip position will prevent you from really engaging your glutes and won't allow for any significant power production. This is going to result in some awful weight-transfer that is going to take your swing out of it's groove.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Training While Pregnant?

Within the last day I was sent an article(s) that was about the shitstorm that was brewed up by a woman who was 8-months pregnant posting pictures of herself exercising or "doing CrossFit". (Whateverthefuck that means).

So, a woman who has been working out for her entire life continues to work out while pregnant, but decreases the amount of weight she usually uses for particular lifts....and people are mad about it?

Da Fuck?

I've had two notable pregnant clients who both have squatted, deadlifted, carried, dragged and done everything else we normally throughout their pregnancies. One of these clients stopped training about 2 weeks out from her due date simply because she was uncomfortable, as women are prone to become when they are getting ready to fire a baby out of their bodies. The other I'm currently training now and she is happy as a clam. I know another woman who's at 30-weeks and continues to train as normal, just with decreased weight and avoids certain lifts.

Yes, things will have to be modified. If you don't make any modifications for a pregnant client you're an idiot. The snatch and clean and jerk will have to be nixed when the baby belly starts interrupting the bar path. 1) you're messing with your form by having to swing the bar around your belly 2) it's not great for your back 3) God forbid you whack yourself in the belly with a bar. You may have to stop pulling conventional deadlifts and switch to sumo or to rack pulls. Squat depth may change depending on belly-size. As their belly gets bigger they become more front-loaded and balance may start to become an issue. These are all things that you should keep in mind when programming for a pregnant woman, but having them not train? That's just dumb.

It seems that much of the information we use regarding pregnant women is based on anecdotal evidence; old wives tales if you will. Why else would people keep prescribing bed-rest to a pregnant woman? Women are a hardy and resilient group. They were custom designed to handle the whole "creating a human" thing, and laying in bed resting for 9 months wasn't a luxury that they were afforded for most of history. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the dangerous, volatile mood-swings experienced by many pregnant women are a natural defense mechanism to keep them safe from predators (Note: that was a joke, I really hope I don't have a troop of pregnant ladies waiting to murder me after reading this.)

It really baffles me how people could be upset about this woman, or any woman, training while pregnant. Would they prefer she sit on the couch and eat Cheetos and drink Diet Coke for 9 months? Are people really concerned for her baby's health or do they just not understand? Do other women feel bad because they chose to use their pregnancy as an excuse to not do anything? Or is this just more backlash against the CrossFit thing?

We have a wild obesity epidemic in this country and there are tons of moms out there doing their best to keep Gestational Diabetes going strong, but people feel the need to get on this lady about her desire to stay healthy and strong? GTFO, please.

Don't be dumb about it, don't start a training program that you haven't already been doing. Don't wait until month 4 to start squatting and deadlifting. But also don't let some schmuck tell you that what you're doing is dangerous for your baby.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Plank Position

The prone plank is one of the most commonly performed (and unremarkable) exercises in gyms across the country. For those of you who aren't familiar with it (really?), you get on your elbows and toes and use your abs, glutes and various core muscles to support your bodyweight.

It's the among the most basic core stability exercises you can do and carries a lot of value in teaching a client how to properly engage their abs and glutes to support their bodyweight instead of just letting everything hang on their lumbar spine.

While this is an important exercise to teach people, I have to ask the question: why do we continue to have clients hold the plank for as long as possible?

I see, very often, trainers asking their clients to hold the plank for a long-ass time. "You did 65 seconds last week, lets get 70 this week". Adding time to the plank is not the same as adding plates to the squat. Those extra 5 seconds aren't really doing anything for your client except increasing the amount of time you get to sit there and look at your watch. Above a certain amount of time (my threshold is a great 45-second plank) I feel that continuing to hold the plank is providing diminishing returns. The client will continue to get more and more tired and their form will diminish significantly. They'll be able to fight to stay up, but they'll do it with crummy form. Comparatively, you wouldn't have a client work up to a 225 deadlift and then simply see how many reps they could add each week, would you? (I hope not).

No, you'd add weight to make it harder and find other variations to build up their standard lift. The same should go for the plank. After my clients prove a particular amount of efficacy with this exercise I will simply move them on to a more difficult variation that they will continue to receive benefits from.

Here are some of the progressions and variations I like to work through:

The first progression I take people to is the one I call the foot-march plank. Essentially you're in a plank position and you alternate lifting each foot for a brief second (the video shows them holding it for a bit longer than I do). The point here is to keep your hips down in the ideal plank position rather than jacking them up into the air.

Next I'll progress up to the arm-march plank, which is a bit more difficult. It's very similar to the foot-march plank since you're taking away a point of support and adding in an anti-rotation component. This one is pretty brutal and you can get some good life out of this one.

The follow up to this one is the plate-switch plank, which starts to add some external resistance. This can also be done  by sliding a plate or a sandbag under your body. This, again, appears to be a pretty subtle change but in reality it feels like a whole different exercise.

The final plank progression (that I'll divulge to you) is one of my favorites, the bodysaw plank. I love this exercise because it requires a ton of core strength to brace yourself as you increase the moment arm through the course of the exercise. This variation itself carries with it about a dozen brutal ways to perform it. The standard is on your elbows, but to make it harder you can use straight arms, put your feet on a plate, use a resistance bad, add tempo or pauses, add a weight vest or even just use one leg at a time.

Don't be hasty with your decision to progress a client to a harder exercise. Make sure they understand bracing and activation and can really use their musculature to support their spine. Give these variations and progressions a shot and see if your clients like it more (and improve more) than just a holding a plank for 2 minutes.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Return Of The Mack

Well that was  a hell of a hiatus. It was long enough that some people even texted me to ask if I was ever going to update my blog again.

Why do these hiatuses (hiati?) occur? Well I get busy sometimes. Several things have occurred over the past several weeks that have prevented me from really sitting down and writing. I was training and playing volleyball at the same time, resulting in the over-arching need for naps. My dear mother was briefly ill. I started training full-time at my gym, school started and Kelsi moved back to Ohio a few weeks ago. I have always been quite the creature of habit and all of these things independently and combined caused a multitude of ripples in my comfortable little pond that threw me way off track.

It wasn't just in my writing, either. My diet has been shit for the last few weeks and my training has been null and void. School and work are diabolically joining forces like Lex Luthor and Magneto to effectively kill the time I have to lift, which is really bugging the shit out of me. I like lifting, a lot. It makes me feel better. It allows me to blow off steam. I enjoy the process of going from point A to point B and reaching a goal. Not having the time to do it is annoying. That's just one of the things that is annoying me lately though, allow me to expound on some of them.

One of my least favorite things on the planet is when I take out a weight for a client and they say "oh that's too heavy". I'll respond by asking if they even know what exercise we are doing, and they will say "well, no, I don't."


That is simply a negative attitude towards training and won't help the cause in any way shape or form. You're here and paying me for a reason: my "expertise". Please allow me to exert said expertise and choose a correct weight for you.

In the same vein, I've been experiencing more and more new clients who see someone else performing a particular movement or exercise and say "oh well I'll never do that". Uhhhh....why not? Most commonly I've had this happen when viewing someone perform a loaded carry or a sled drag. Me: "Well these are basic human movements that are actually very scalable and important for your body." Client "Well it looks hard. When am I going to need to drag something behind me?" Truthfully, I don't know. But I know it's really good for you and your shitty knees. And I know that when you DO have to drag something behind you you're going to be happy that we did these.

Lastly, I get really annoyed when people say that they are coming to see me instead of their Physical Therapist. Now, let me say that I think a lot of PT's suck and are just collecting a check. Too often I see someone come in with some standard sheet of people that was printed out by their PT that they give to everybody with knee pain, regardless of symptoms. Despite that fact, they are still Doctors of Physical Therapy and I'm just The Mike. PT's have a certain scope of practice that I just can't (and wouldn't feel comfortable) delving into. If you need to see a PT, please go see a PT. Don't come to me and put that on my shoulders, because it's not fair. As good as I am, I'm not a replacement for a physical therapist.

I'm moderately apologetic that my first post back is a rant post. Shit happens, deal with it. I'll start to get back into the swing of things and write about all the good stuff that you folks love.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!