Monday, February 28, 2011

Learn "The Secret!"


This post isn't particularly related to athletes (although it could be tailored as such), but more for the general fitness enthusiasts in the crowd.

While working at SAPT the other day, I retrieved the mail and I found a magazine in it which got me thinking.

It had a caption on the cover reading:

"Sexy Arms, Perky Butt, FIRM ABS, And More....How the Stars Get' Em!"

I quickly opened the magazine eager to learn the secret behind sculpting my glutes and enhancing my abs for the upcoming summer Now, it got me thinking about the many other (sad) captions I see when I go grocery shopping and am standing in the checkout aisle.  I'll see countless magazines (and I know you do, too), all with similar headlines in bright, capital letters reading something like this:
  • "6-Pack Abs, FAST!"
  •  "The SECRET to rapid fat loss, Finally revealed!"
  • "A routine for bigger biceps that actually works! (Details on pg. X)"
  • "Finally, an EASY method to build the body you've always been waiting for!"
The list goes on. 

You want to know the secret behind these things?  I know the answer.  I can tell you the cliff notes answer of every SECRET hiding behind the magazine covers (and every future magazine, BTW).  The secret behind achieving that body you've always wanted.  All you have to do is exactly follow the directions below.

Ready?  Here are the 9 simple steps. 
  1. Eat whole, unprocessed foods.
  2. Avoid sugar like the bubonic plague.
  3. Drink more water.
  4. Avoid drinks containing more than zero calories (this leaves you with options such as water, green tea, coffee).
  5. Move around more than you currently do.
  6. Pick up heavy things (with good form). 
  7. Carry heavy things (with good form).
  8. Perform other compound movements such as rows, pushups, and lunge variations (with good form..noticing a pattern here?)....
  9. Repeat this for 50 years.  
I'm serious.

But people don't like to hear this.  Why?  it implies the necessity to refuse to make excuses for laziness and to actually make a conscious effort - on a daily basis - to take care of one's body.

Believe it or not, developing a body that feels good, looks good, and performs well actually takes consistent effort.  For years.  But the magazines don't want you to know this (otherwise they'll go out of business!).   

Understand that magazines live or die by the slogan "Publish or Perish."  Quite simply, they have to produce something on the shelves that is going to sell.  So they're always promising the latest and greatest way to lose fat, build muscle, blah blah blah....

It's all the same, just re-packaged in fancy wrapping with shiny colors. 
And people will eat this stuff up like candy because they're always looking for something that relieves them of the duty to work hard on a regular basis. 

At SAPT, we have a mom who trains with us on a regular basis despite the fact that she's fighting breast cancer.  We have a 16-year old girl with a severe foot injury (out for the basketball season) who is training with her foot in a boot and rolling around with that foot propped on a stroller.  We have a man who is training with a torn rotator cuff.  We have adults training with us that have full-time jobs, and also have to run multiple kids around to sport practice, tutoring sessions, friend's houses, etc. yet they still make time to take care of their bodies.

These are the people that "get it."  They know what the Secret is.

There are many, many other similar situations like these, as well, that I'll save for the sake of brevity.

Eating healthy and exercising doesn't have to be this terrible process, either.  In fact, once I learned how to cook DELICIOUS meals that were going to provide a positive change in my body, I've never wanted to go back to eating like garbage.  Eating healthy doesn't mean chicken and steamed broccoli and/or a salad all the time, either.

Don't enjoy exercising or are unsure of what to do once you enter the gym?  Hire a coach to point you in the right direction, or work out in a small group (like the training structure we have set up at SAPT) to keep you motivated and keep things FUN!

Now go get after it!  (And don't let me catch you peeking in the magazines).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Diagnosing the Pushup

Today I'm going to give the most common technique flaws I see take place during the everyday pushup, and some corrections on how to get much more "bang for your buck" from this exercise.  The pushup is an AWESOME tool in your training arsenal, but the problem is it frequently isn't executed in a manner that will give people a decent return for their investment. 

The truth is: I used to withhold this information and only disclose it to the people paying me to coach them.  However, I've become so frustrated (and frightened) with the myriad people completely mutilating the exercise that I've decided to make an effort to help EVERYONE do this correctly; for the sake of their physical health and to help them reap some benefit from the repetitions they are putting in.  

I'll be giving video demonstrations of how NOT to do them, and then a video of what a real, perfect pushup looks like (and I'm not talking about the commercial product, hah!) (If you don't care about the "why," skip to the bottom of the post to see the video demonstrations of common pushup flaws, and then the correct version).

Pushups are probably looked down upon so often because they're the first exercise most people learned in grade school during gym class.  They're often viewed as elementary and "too easy" for most, likely because they're not seen as sexy as another popular exercise: the bench press.

The funny thing is, the pushup seems to be one of the most frequently butchered exercises I see on a regular basis.  When I walk around commercial gyms, I cringe at the form I see people using;  I honestly have to stop myself from running around and correcting people's technique out of fear they're going to hurt themselves!

Also, at SAPT, I have yet to see someone able to do a few pushups with 100% perfection when they first walk through our doors.  Heck, using myself as an example, I know I sure didn't do them correctly until about a few years ago.

Anyway, let's get the "geeky" side of things out of the way.  Here's where I'll be explaining the why behind pushups.

Why Perform Pushups?
  • They teach you to control your body from head to toe.  When performed correctly, they engage countless muscles in the pelvis, abdominals/low back, upper back, and then of course the chest, shoulders, and triceps.  The nerdy way to describe the stabilization required during pushups is "lumbo-pelvic stability" which teaches you to control your core in a functional manner, leading to benefits both in and out of the weight room (I'll let you use your imagination here).  
Proper pushups provide benefits for the midsection, too.
    • It effectively trains movement of the scapulae (shoulder blades), giving you healthy shoulders for the long haul.  Unlike the bench press, a pushup allows the shoulder blades to glide freely.  When pushups are performed correctly (i.e. "pulling" yourself to the floor) you engage the serratus anterior, a key player in shoulder health and function.  The serratus, along with the lower trapezius, are two muscles that are pervasively dormant in our population.  These two muscles work synergistically with the upper trapezius to upwardly rotate the scapula when your arm moves overhead (think: throwing a ball, or performing an overhead press).  In fact, when I worked in the physical therapy clinic, the most common denominator in the patients with shoulder problems was weakness in both the serratus and the lower traps. 
    • They're a closed chain exercise, essentially making them more shoulder-friendly than the bench press (an open-chain exercise). 
    • When done properly, they'll help boost your bench press, squat and deadlift numbers.  Not to mention: aid you in your quest to achieve the look and function of a physical specimen.  Hah!  Now you're listening. 
    Anyway, below are videos of me performing various incorrect pushups.  The technical flaws may evade you initially, but look closer, and you'll see them.  You'll probably see some pushups that you weren't aware were even considered erroneous!

    Note: The following 6 videos demonstrate INCORRECT form.

    Error #1: Forward Head Posture
    This is the most common error that people are unaware of, I believe.  You'll see that my head juts forward, hitting the ground before my chest makes contact (the chest should touch the ground FIRST in a perfect pushup).

    Error #2: No Scapular Retraction (aka "loose upper back")
    Another common flaw most people are unaware of.  You'll notice in the video that I "fall" to the ground, instead of intentionally "pulling" myself to the floor.  The upper back is loose, there's no scapular retraction (think: pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades), and I'm essentially just letting gravity drop me to the floor. 

    Error #3: Excessive Elbow Flare
    You'll see the elbows make a 90 degree angle with my torso (they should be tucked at roughly 45 degrees). 

    Error #4: Hip Sag
    This is where the person lacks the "anterior-posterior" engagement of the core and the hips/low back sag to the floor (the body should form a completely straight line from head to toe, remaining stiff as a board). 

    Error #5: Elevated Hips
    This is where the butt sticks up in the air.  It's another compensation pattern (similar to #4) people slip into when they lack the core strength to effectively resist the pull of gravity throughout their entire body.

    Error #6: Looking Straight Ahead/Looking "Up" (no video shown).
    This is where people tilt their head up and look straight ahead as they perform pushups.  It seems every sports coach tells their kids to do this!  Look straight down at the floor when you do your pushups (unless you desire cervical problems down the my guest). 

    So, what does a Perfect Pushup look like?

    Here (at last!) is the correct version:

    Key Coaching Cues:
    • Hands just be just outside shoulder width, and the elbows tucked at 45 degrees (or less) to the torso.  Don't listen to people who tell you that placing your hands wider will give you better chest development!  All that will do is fast-track you to shoulder pain and a subsequent physical therapy appointment.
    • "Pull" yourself down to the ground, actively engaging the scapular retractors and essentially the entire upper-back musculature.
    • Keep your chin tucked (think: give yourself a "double chin") so you don't "reach for the ground" with your head.
    • The chest should touch the floor first (i.e. not your hips or your head)
    • Squeeze your abs and glutes tight throughout the entire movement
    • Entire body should be perfect alignment, and you should remain as tight as if someone were about to come along and try to knock you over.

    Once you master the basic perfect pushup (it will take longer than you think: you should be able to do at least 20 before progressing further), there are a number of ways to increase difficulty.  One way is wrap a sturdy resistance band around you, so that the movement will become harder as you reach the top portion of the pushup (as the band tension increases).  You can elevate the feet as well.

    Both versions are combined and shown in the video, here:

    Take home message: you'll receive far greater benefit from performing 5 perfect pushups then you will from performing 20 incorrect pushups.

    Some further reading on the subject I'm sure you'll enjoy:
    1. Girls Can Do Push-Ups, Too. Here Tony Gentilcore discusses strategies to help females achieve the full pushup (hint: it isn't accomplished by performing pushups from the knees).
    2. Eric Cressey discusses 10 different advance pushup variations.  See Part 1 and Part 2 respectively. 
    3. Ben Bruno discusses 5 difficult pushup variations
    That should be enough to keep you going for a while!  Enjoy. 

      Monday, February 21, 2011

      Some training updates

      I recently made a fairly significant switch in my training routine: ditching back squats in favor of front squats.  In the past, I've always used front squats as more of an assistance lift, and something to toss in from time to time to deload the spine.  However, recently I decided to make them my primary squat variation.

      Don't get me wrong: I do believe the back squat is the "King" of lower body exercises.  We use it for many of our athletes at SAPT.  But for me, the costs of performing the lift were beginning to outweigh the benefits.  I've always had terrible shoulder range of motion (something I've recently been working to improve), and the back squat requires fairly significant external rotation and abduction of the humerus to grip it.  Lately, this has been significantly irritating to my shoulder, so as I'm squatting I'm limited by my shoulder more than my legs or back.

      Also, it is very rare for someone to be able to back squat to depth (note: the anterior portion of the thigh should be BELOW parallel) without significant flexion (rounding) of the low back.  This is a recipe for a pissed off spine that will inevitably get you back for all the pain you've put it through. Since I'm not entering a powerlifting competition any time soon, there's no point in me forcing the back squat to depth.  Not to mention, the back squat is also more taxing to the CNS (central nervous system), and with all the activity demands I'm going to be having outside of the weight room in the next few months, I thought this would be another reason to sub it out for the time being.  

      For those who don't know, the front squat is typically a more "quad dominant" movement pattern, and also requires much greater core stabilization due to the placement of the barbell in front of the neck.  The front squat also requires greater ankle dorsiflexion ROM (think: pointing the toes up toward the shin), which creates an issue for some.  I used to use the box squat as a way to get more posterior chain work (for my glutes and hamstrings), but I can still incorporate a healthy dose of glute bridging (see below), deadlifts, and glute-ham raises to cover this sector.

      Another note: the front squat is not a lift for the ego, as - on the average - one can typically front squat about 85% of what he or she can back squat.  It's never a friendly stroke to the ego to lift less than you know you are capable of, but I find this is often a good thing.   

      Anyway, I've been training the front squat with primary focus for about 3-4 weeks now, and I just hit a front squat PR of 295lbs for 3 reps the other day.  It will be interesting to see how things improve over the next couple months.

      As I mentioned in this article, you should almost always have someone else write your program, as only someone other than yourself can truly view you with an objective lens and give you the things you NEED (not what you want), in a training plan.  Following my own advice, I began Eric Cressey's "Show and Go" program 3 weeks ago.  So far, it has been fantastic.  He also makes front squats the primary squat pattern throughout the program, which is good for me as it forces me to do it! 

      I almost need someone else to force me to front squat, as (and anyone who has tried them knows this) they are FAR from the most comfortable lift to perform.  The bar is essentially shoved against your neck, pressing down on the anterior portion of your shoulders, and it's difficult to see where you're going as the barbell blocks your view of the ground immediately below you.

      Anyway, that's it for now.... more to come!

      Friday, February 18, 2011

      Cardio: What to Do?, Part 2

      Just a quick add-on to the post from Wednesday, regarding "cardio confusion" and how to effectively enhance your cardiovascular capacity.

      I had given a bunch of options, but didn't really specify which ones to do, depending on your current goals and needs.

      Which should cardio modality should you choose? (options 1-7 are repeated below)

      Baseball, Softball, Football, Track Athletes (ex. Sprinters) Volleyball, etc.:  This category is for those that play a sport that doesn't require you to "be in action" over 30 seconds, on the average.  Choose #1,2, 3, 4, and, occasionally, 5 or 6.  Avoid #7 at all costs!  I often tell our baseball guys: if you want to be slow, weak, and lack explosive power, then perform steady-state cardio.

      Lacrosse, Wrestling, Soccer, etc.  This category is for those that have to "be in action" for over 30 seconds at a time, but with bouts of rest mixed in.  You may perform all of the above (#1-7), but I would still limit jogging, and cut out the conditioning when you're in-season.  You'll get all the conditioning you need through practice and playing games.

      Joe and Jane:  This category is for the average fitness enthusiast.  I'd keep your cardio to options 1-4, and occasionally toss in 5 or 6 depending on your goals.  Only jog if you truly enjoy it (i.e. not because you feel it's the only way to improve your cardiovascular system).

      The Obese Client:  Options 1 and 2 only!  Unless you're preforming HIIT on an airdyne bike or something else low-impact.  I honestly don't understand when trainers prescribe jogging to the obese customer.  Are you kidding me?  Running requires your body to absorb roughly 2-4 times bodyweight on every step.  This is a recipe for injury for those that are overweight and also do not possess the necessariy structural fortitude to withstand that kind of beating for hundreds, often thousands, of repetitions (the injury rate for overweight clients beginning a running program is quite high, BTW).

      Options (not an all-inclusive list, but a good start)

      1. Sled pushing/dragging is the clear winner, in my opinion.  Very low stress on the joints, and it's easy to recover from due to minimal eccentric loading on the muscles.  The important part is to avoid turning the sled session into a vomit fest (it's easy to do, if you've never pushed a sled before).  Ben Bruno just wrote an awesome post on sled dragging, so I won't elaborate much.  I highly encourage you to check it out HERE. 
      2. Walk.  Again, I feel it's highly underrated and equally good for the mind as it is for the body. 
      3. A light circuit of bodyweight exercises, mobility drills, and weighted exercises performed with no more than 30-40% of your 1RM.  The goal here will simply be to enhance blood flow to damaged tissue and keep your body fresh.
      4. Jump Rope
      5. HIIT.  Preferably on an Airdyne bike or something else low impact (even an elliptical if necessary). 
      6. A high intensity body weight circuit such as the one I posted about yesterday (you can see it below).  This is a clear example of working in the 90+% HRmax range.  I don't recommend doing this often though, especially if your primary training goal is to gain strength and power.
      7. Jog. 

      On a slightly unrelated note, here's a great video that the lifters in the crowd will enjoy.  This vid has been floating around for quite a while now, but I thought I'd pass it along for those who hadn't seen it yet.  It's a compilation of the Citadel baseball's strength and conditioning over the past few months.  Congrats to strength coach Donnell Boucher for clearly putting a lot of effort and dedication into the program!

      Hope everyone has an awesome weekend!

      Thursday, February 17, 2011

      Inside the mind of a strength coach

      As a strength coach, I'm constantly having to evaluate the cost-benefit of a particular exercise or pairing of exercises with regards to training athletes.  Again, our number one goal (as a performance coach) is keep our athletes free of injury, and then make them stronger with the little time we have with them each week.

      There's a lot that goes on "beneath the surface" that I don't think a lot of people realize when it comes to delivering an effective strength training program for someone.  It's way more than just saying "squat, deadlift, and bench press, and do it for 3 sets of 10" like most people may think.

      Anyway, at SAPT, Chris Romanow is the other coach I work with.  Chris is also the S & C coach for the George Mason Baseball and Softball teams.  The other day he posted this on the SAPT website, and I thought it would be interesting for (perhaps the few) those of you here who care about what goes on "inside the mind" of a strength coach sometimes:

      "I was asked today by the GA at Mason why I haven’t back-squatted the baseball or softball teams since they’ve been under my watch.  My feelings are as follows:

      When I do the cost to benefit ratio of the movement (back squat), especially at this point in the year, there just isn’t enough benefit to outweigh the potential risk or cost I could potentially incur by selecting it (and some will say they never back squat their overhead athletes).  Understand that proper positioning of the hands during a back squat requires a significant amount of shoulder external rotation (especially with close grips), and abduction of the humerus (especially with wide grips).  Because either position poses a risk to the shoulder (especially those abused by throwing maximally overhead); the first with regards to anterior instability and the latter with regards to rotator cuff and biceps irritation, I’m not about to roll the dice.  Consider that most overhead throwing athletes possess some degree of labral damage, are at a higher risk for impingement, and possess god awful scapular upward rotation and thoracic mobility: you’d have to be feeling pretty sassy to program the back squat.    

      Note that I am working diligently to improve their structural shortcomings because I do intend for them to back squat at some point in their yearly preparation…but probably not until next semester. 

      Or maybe not."

      Hopefully this was interesting - to some extent - for those of you out there that care about the seemingly minute details that make a large difference.  I may try and do more of these installments in the future....

      Wednesday, February 16, 2011

      Cardio: What to Do?

      It is important to understand that cardio refers to any exercise in which the heart and lungs are involved. This could be jogging, running, sprinting, swimming, circuit training etc.  Quite simply - if you are elevating your heart rate and respiration rate, you are doing some form of cardiovascular work. 

      Aerobic training refers to a state in which the cardiovascular work is performed. Aerobic literally means 'with oxygen'. It is a relatively low intensity state of exercise that can be maintained almost indefinitely (as long as oxygen is being supplied to the working muscles, in the required amounts - the exercise can be continued. This is aerobic training. 

      All aerobic training is cardiovascular training. Not all cardiovascular training is aerobic. Hopefully that makes sense.

      ~Alwyn Cosgrove

      My aim in posting the above quote by Cosgrove is to clear up semantics, as it seems to me that whenever I'm discussing "cardio" with someone, we are each thinking of two completely different things.  Most people, when hearing the word "cardio," immediately picture a long, steady state jog.

      There's a difference between cardio (anything that ELEVATES your heart rate), and aerobic (a state of SUSTAINED heart rate, in which your cells still have oxygen to utilize for function). 

      Heck, sitting and watching and TV is aerobic!  Walking around and eating in your kitchen is aerobic.  I hope this puts a few things into perspective as, unfortunately, not many people are even aware of what "aerobic" really means.   

      O.k., now that (I hope) semantics are cleared up, let's continue.  With regards to cardiovascular training, it seems that people are frequently on one of two sides of the spectrum:
      1. The "I can't stop" crowd.  The world will explode if they don't go on a run that week.  Or Earth will cease to revolve around the sun if they don't go to the track and perform a 400 meter sprint and follow it up with 15 power cleans, 20 deadlifts, and 25 burpees.  And and then do it again.  10 more times. 
      2. The "I hate cardio" crowd.  Be it laziness, lack of priority, or fear of losing weight/muscle (for the macho men in the crowd), they never do it. 

      As with most answers in the strength and conditioning realm, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  Don't get me wrong: I see no problem with periodically pushing yourself to "see what you're made of", and I also think there is a time/place to omit (intense) cardio for a bit, in the case of someone trying to gain weight.  

      What type of cardio to do? (note: the practical portion is at the bottom of this page, if you're not interested in the "why")

      When it comes to fat loss and conditioning, I prefer to keep people I coach out of a particular Heart Rate Zone: 70-85% maximum heart rate.  This is the very same heart rate zone people often find themselves in when they go off on a long, slow jog to get their "cardio" in for the day.

      Throughout myriad experiments - both in labs and in real-world scenarios - the 70-85% intensity level has been shown to interfere with gains in maximal strength and power (via fiber type shift from fast twitch to slow twitch).  When I took a Neuromuscular Performance course in college, we studied the cell-signaling pathways that take place when one undergoes endurance training.  These signaling pathways actually inhibit (to a degree) the very same enzymes, cell signals, transcription factors, etc. that drive the strength and power output adaptations that take place when one undergoes a resistance training program.  There are always competing demands taking place within your body when various stimuli are applied via particular training sessions.  The trick is ensuring one doesn't completely override the other. 

      My point is that a well-rounded program - especially for those seeking fat loss - needs to include both a resistance training and a cardiovascular component (among other things) in the program.

      The resistance training portion will maintain and build lean body mass (muscle tissue), which will elevate your resting metabolic rate and help you look better with your clothes off.

      The cardiovascular component of the training program is important as well for various reasons: acute elevation in cardiac output (contributing to long-term elevation in capillary density of the type I fibers - a good thing), improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure levels, better glycemic control, and decreased body fat, to name a few. 

      I may be losing most of you at this point, so what's the bottom line?  One needs to include both a resistance training and a cardiovascular program in his or her program, but the problem is that most people's "cardio" plans interfere with the positive adaptations that can take place from their weight training sessions.

      How does one avoid this?
      1. Keep your "cardio" in the 60-70% HRmax range (think: a brisk walk during which you can string a sentence together without losing your breath, but you can't string multiple sentences together).  I think going for a walk is extremely underrated, and is beneficial for almost anyone. 
      2. Keep your "cardio" above 90% HRmax (think: High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT). 
      Here are a few exercise modalities I recommend to meet the above criteria.  By no means a conclusive list, but something I hope can get you started:

      1. Sled pushing/dragging is the clear winner, in my opinion.  Very low stress on the joints, and it's easy to recover from due to minimal eccentric loading on the muscles.  The important part is to avoid turning the sled session into a vomit fest (it's easy to do, if you've never pushed a sled before).  Ben Bruno just wrote an awesome post on sled dragging, so I won't elaborate much.  I highly encourage you to check it out HERE. 
      2. Walk.  Again, I feel it's highly underrated and equally good for the mind as it is for the body. 
      3. A light circuit of bodyweight exercises, mobility drills, and weighted exercises performed with no more than 30-40% of your 1RM.  The goal here will simply be to enhance blood flow to damaged tissue and keep your body fresh.
      4. Jump Rope
      5. HIIT.  Preferably on an Airdyne bike or something else low impact (even an elliptical if necessary). 
      6. A high intensity body weight circuit such as the one I posted about yesterday (you can see it below).  This is a clear example of working in the 90+% HRmax range.  I don't recommend doing this often though, especially if your primary training goal is to gain strength and power.
      7. Jog. 
      To see which options you should choose depending on your goals/needs, see Part 2!

          That's it for today.  Hopefully it cleared some of the cardio confusion out there!

          Tuesday, February 15, 2011

          Your Next Cardio Routine

          The other day I only had about 15-20 minutes to get a workout in.  It wasn't enough time for a proper warmup and a strength-oriented training session, so I decided to do something that would require very little time and give me my "dose of cardio."  I hadn't conditioned in about 8 weeks (I was performing a rough weight gain experiment on myself), so this seemed to be what I needed. 

          If you think that running is the only way to "get your cardio" on, think again.  Try this routine and you'll be gasping for breath within 6 minutes.  I grabbed it from Ross Enamait (when I was looking for something to do that wasn't written by me), and it's called "Work Capacity 101."

          Basically, start the clock and perform:
          • 5 pullups
          • 10 med ball slams
          • 15 burpees**
          • 20  jumping jacks
          Continue until you're done (probably anywhere at the 60-90second mark) and rest until the 2-minute mark.  Repeat for five to ten rounds, or a 10-20 minute routine.

          A few notes:
          1. If you can't do pullups (you'll want to be able to do 8-10 comfortably for the pullups in this routine to be appropriate), then perform an inverted row (on a barbell or TRX) to decrease difficulty. 
          2. If you don't have access to a medicine ball, perform an abdominal exercise of choice
          3. The burpees are the most difficult portion of this routine by far.  If they render you unable to complete the routine, then try elevating your hands, omitting the pushup portion of the burpee, or reducing the number of burpees from fifteen to ten. 
          **Burpees are as hard as you make them.  Don't short-change yourself here.  A true burpee is completed with a FULL pushup at the bottom (chest to floor) and a JUMP at the top.  You can omit the pushup, but understand you are now doing a "squat thrust" or "up down," not a burpee. 

          Give it a shot!  Be warned: it is WAY harder than it looks.  After the fourth or fifth round you'll really be questioning your sanity.

          I filmed an example round below:

          Monday, February 14, 2011

          Tip of the Day: Evade the Ego

          This is something that would jump start tangible improvement for MANY in the exercise sphere: be it physical appearance, athletic performance, enhanced joint integrity, structural health, you name it.

          Evade your ego when you go to the gym.  Don't allow it (the ego) to dictate exercise selection.

          For the gents: this means prioritizing something besides bench presses and bicep curls.
          For the ladies: this means dropping the "I'll just run today" mindset. Or trying something besides abs.

          Don't get me wrong: I see no problem with working the "vanity" muscle groups from time to time.

          But - if you're truly serious about looking, moving, and feeling better - you'll reap much more benefit from working areas of your body that your ego doesn't care about.  In order to develop a body that is structurally sound and prepares you for long-term success, your time will best be spent working the entire body.  Usually the things that are best for you are the very things you enjoy the least.

          Men: you'd be surprised at how much your physique improves when you, oh I don't know, develop the backside of your body?  Many professional athletes possess the physique males would kill to obtain, and you know what athletes have?  Extremely well-developed glutes, hamstrings, and upper back.  These muscles are going to be the driving force behind running faster and overall athletic prowess, so it's no coincidence that the backside (or "posterior chain") is so well-developed amongst professional athletes.

          Also, notice how many men develop shoulder problems as they age?  Frequently an enormous contributing factor is too much pressing (benching 3x per week, anyone?) and too little pulling (row and chinup variations).  Coupled with the fact that we sit with terrible posture at our computers all day (just like you're probably doing right now: slouching forward as you read this!).

          Women: while going on a slow jog or performing 30 minutes of ab work may feel good, you may be surprised to know that it's actually going to be far more beneficial for you perform squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows, etc. in order to achieve the "look" you're seeking.  All "toned" really is is the appearance achieved when one has reduced body fat and increased lean body mass.  Exercises that burn the most calories, while building muscle, are going to get the job done.

          Below are two athletes who train for performance, and I guarantee they're not spending an hour each day bicep curling in front of the mirror or trudging away on an elliptical.

          Mike Boyle wrote a phenomenal short article in which he discussed this very same concept.  Here's a quick excerpt:
          "The average persons work ethic in the gym is the equivalent to going to a restaurant, ordering dessert, getting too full from dessert and skipping the meal. Lots of empty calories and none of the stuff you need.
          The truth is that training is much like nutrition. Ever notice that everything that is good for you doesn’t taste very good.  In addition, all the stuff that tastes great is fattening. Exercise is the same way. Most of the exercises that are best for you are the ones that are least popular and seem to hurt the most. Have you ever noticed the popularity of exercises where you sit or lie down. The whole machine concept is based on appealing to the lowest common denominator of human nature. You can exercise while seated on a padded chair. Just remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is."
          Again, I'm not saying you should never do the things you enjoy.  If you like bicep curls, or going on a long slow jog, by all means go for it.  Just keep in mind that, most of the time, the things that are the easiest to do - or the things you enjoy the most - are going to be far from what you actually need to get you to your goal.

          Ever notice how if a guy is short on time in a week and has to miss a workout, it will never be "Chest Day?"  But Leg Day, no problem to postpone!  If a guy has a busy week coming up and he's looking at his training split, his mindset will frequently go something like this:

          "Hmmm, I have to miss a workout this week.  Leg day?  Yeah, sure...I can go without that for a few days.  My legs are sore anyway.  Omit Chest Day?  HECK NO.  Ok, I'll do chest this week, and maybe get to legs or back next week."

          In a given week, I highly encourage you to prioritize what will give you the most return for your investment (hint: multi-joint movements such as squats, deadlifts, lunge variations, pullups, etc.) and then, if time allows, spend a bit of time working the "vanity" exercises. 

          Thursday, February 10, 2011

          Jump Start Your Lower Body Training

          To say that your central nervous system (CNS) plays a role in muscular efficiency and development is putting it mildly.  Respecting and paying attention to the CNS is of paramount importance when undergoing a training program.

          Imagine your CNS being the puppeteer, and your muscle fibers are the puppets.  Cheesy analogy, I know, but I hope it drives home the point.  Or, you can think of the CNS as the engine, and the muscle fibers as the car.  In both examples, the latter cannot move without involvement of the former.  You can't have muscular contraction without CNS involvement, plain and simple.

          Forgive me while I get a bit "geeky."  For those of you who just want to see the video, jump to the bottom of the post. 

          The nervous system (among many other things) plays a critical role in both:
          1. Rate Coding, or the frequency of action potentials (signals that lead to fiber contraction) elicited during movement.
          2. Recruitment, or the number of motor units that are involved in muscular contraction.  
          (A motor unit is the motor neuron and all the muscle fibers that it innervates)
          A Motor Unit

          The more "awake" your nervous system is, you'll have higher frequency of rate coding and more motor unit recruitment taking place as you train. 

          Take home point: the more "excited" your CNS is, the more you'll take away from your training session.  That's where the Hot Ground to Tuck Jump comes in.  It will help to "wake up" your CNS, if you will, jump starting the remainder of your training session.  Not to mention, it will provide a great extended warm-up for your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors.  

          When to use it:
          1. Before a lower body training session, or a "leg day" for you bodybuilders in the crowd
          2. Perform it after you're dynamic warm-up, movement prep, and corrective exercise (or whatever you do for a warm-up). 
          3. I don't recommend using it until you've mastered various box jump and altitude landing progressions.  Basically: don't jump into it (pun intended) too soon.
          4. Do 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps.  
          Coaching cues:
          1. Begin with your feet off the ground.  Rock forward and try to reduce ground contact time as much as possible (hence the name "hot ground" to tuck jump). 
          2. Swing the arms UP as you launch upwards.  This may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't know what to do with their arms as they jump.  
          3. As you jump upwards, bring the knees as high as possible (the "tuck" portion). 
          4. Land softly, with the chest up and hips back.  Sometimes I cue our athletes to "act like your breaking into my house through a window."  What I'm trying to say is: if you were breaking into someone's home, you'd try to make as little noise as possible upon landing inside.  Many people tend to SLAM their feet in the landing phase of jumping drills.  Avoid this as best as you can.  
          You'll notice I get slightly higher with each succeeding jump.  This is simply due to my body "waking up" if you will.  

            Wednesday, February 9, 2011

            3 Habits of Successful Gym Goers

            Why is it that some people seem to never make progress in the gym, while others experience these amazing transformations?  

            Some people "exercise" for years, and yet really have no tangible measure of improvement when all is said and done at the end of the day.  5 years later, they still move and look the same as they did when they first began exercising.

            So, what is it that sets the results-oriented people apart from the non-successful gym goers?  This may be with regards to movement quality, physical appearance, or variables related to biological health (cardiovascular efficiency, bone/tissue quality, blood profile, etc.)

            What are the habits people possess that get the "Wow, what have YOU been doing?!" questions from friends who haven't seen them in a while?

            I've found that - nearly without fail - the proceeding habits are found amongst all results-oriented exercisers:

            1.  They make it a lifelong pursuit.
            Obtaining and maintaining a healthy body is a life-long war, not a one-week battle.  (Note that there's a critical difference between obtaining and maintaining).

            Unfortunately, there is this pervasive notion one only needs to exercise in "bursts" in order to achieve results.  It seems that people only tend to crack down on their exercise and nutrition habits during the period leading up to their wedding, or a beach vacation, or a high school reunion.

            Don't get me wrong: I think it's perfectly acceptable to set "deadlines" to push yourself to achieve a particular benchmark.  However, this should be executed within the context of a long-term plan, not a one-time event. 

            To set yourself up for success: you MUST realize that achieving the goals you've been looking for in the physical realm is a lifelong pursuit.  There is no way around this.  The obvious but often overlooked truth is that our bodies will degrade quickly in both function and appearance when we cease to exercise.

            When I worked as a physical therapist aid, guess what was the most common denominator in the patients I witnessed?  Muscular weakness.  This drove home the point to me that when we cease to exercise (correctly) our bodies break down, and that's when dysfunction occurs.  And this wasn't even exclusively within the elderly patients.  People in their 30s were receiving therapy because weakness was the underlying cause of the injury.

            2.  They push through setbacks. 
            Injuries and undesired life events outside our control are going to happen.  It's not about how many times you fall down, it's about how quickly you stand back up.  When crap hits the fan, I encourage you to get in the gym and train, instead of sulking in a corner complaining about how life isn't going your way.  I'm not denying that many of you have experienced some extremely difficult scenarios.  But stand back up as quickly as you can. 

            At SAPT, we have quite a few clientele who have experienced crippling injuries.  Yet they still show up to train!  We've worked with many people who are still on crutches or who are just coming out of surgery.

            Below is a video of Conrad - a 61-Year Old with a torn rotator cuff - performing a Chinup (on a thick bar no less) with 110lbs added weight.  That's basically a middle-school child hanging from his waist.  Conrad is also on the verge of a knee replacement in both legs.

            Conrad can no longer perform any unilateral (single-leg) movements such as lunges and split squats because of his knees (if only you could see them).  He can't bench press any more because of his injured shoulder.  Yet he still shows up to train three days per week.  Chinups are pain free for him, so we've been able to work with that.  

            Now, this isn't an excuse to be stupid.  If an exercise hurts (this includes running), don't do it.  Fix the problem first, or find a substitute.  For example, if you have chronic back pain, it's probably best to avoid bilateral lifts such as squatting and deadlifting and perform more single-leg work instead.  Or -  at least - keep the load light and only go through a pain-free range of motion.

            3.  They Train, not "workout."
            If you're going to take the time to exercise, then at least make sure it's worthwhile.  Two people doing the exact same program for an hour will have two completely different results from that training session based on how it is executed.

            Train with purpose.  Train with intensity.  Train with focus.  These will be the difference makers in your routine. 

            Ditch your cell phone, too.  Don't worry, those people anxiously awaiting your text message response will still be there when you're finished your training session.

            It amazes me how many people have their cell phones out at the gym.  And they wonder why they move and look no differently a year later after "exercising" consistently.  Seriously, for that hour you're in the gym: lose the distractions, forget about the world outside you, and "leave it all at the front door."  Life's baggage will be waiting for you when you're done training.  

            We are a society plagued with ADD.  We can't seem to leave our cell phones or computers for an instant without the world ending (even as I type this I'm sitting at my ironic). 

            When you train, give it everything you have, every time.  You'll be amazed at what happens when you do this consistently.

            This means ignoring what others around you are thinking, and ignoring the world outside of you.

            Train as if you're life depends upon it.  Because many times, it actually does.

            Tuesday, February 8, 2011

            This is your body on skinny dust....and this is your body on SAPT....

            "Walker pitched his first inning tonight since, oh, about June 1.

            The batters had no chance. zip. zero. nada. He was throwing, I believe, mid-80s. 3 batters, no contact. not even a foul tip. My jaw was on my knees.

            No pain, good to go, unbelievable.

            We owe this in large part to you." 

            -Dave (father of one of our high school baseball guys)

            One of the best parts of my job is seeing/hearing about real-world improvements outside of the gym with the kids/adults I coach, as a result of their hard work inside SAPT.

            It seems that whenever I'm having a rough day I'll get an email from a parent telling me that his daughter is now hitting balls out of the park, when it rarely happened before she trained at SAPT.  Or that she is able to pitch longer into the game without fatiguing.  Or a parent's son has markedly improved prowess on the lacrosse field because of his increased size and strength.  Or even, a high school boy now has more confidence walking down the halls of his high school because he's no longer the "shy and skinny kid."

            These emails make my 10-12 hour workdays worth it.

            Chris - the strength coach I work with - posted this on the SAPT website the other day, so I thought I would share it with those here.  It's about one of high school baseball pitchers, Walker (his "Before and After" picture is below):

            Readers, meet Walker.  Walker came to us about a year and a half ago 130lbs soaking wet with rocks in his pockets and was your typical goofy left-handed pitcher.  Walker will tell you he couldn't throw his fastball through a wet paper bag. 

            Fast forward a year and a half and Walker is still your typical goofy lefty but can now take your lunch money tipping the scales at 190lbs on a bad day, and throws consistently in the mid 80's.  Now let me see, that's 1,2,3...60 freakin' pounds of functional, posteriorly focused mass!  Did I mention Walker is only a sophomore?


            Walker has worked his ass off every single training session year round...and he ate a bunch, too.  He'll be with us 2x/week through the season, and I guarantee you that he won't just maintain, but he'll make progress during this time period.

            Walker, if you're reading this, and your head is just about floating out the roof of your house, you have a long way to go my friend.  By next season, you'll be 210lbs, equipped with a fastball that will penetrate bullet-proof glass.


            Again, this is what happens when you combine impeccable focus from the athlete and quality programming/training from the strength coach.  Walker walks into the SAPT ready to go every time. 

            He doesn't check his cell phone, he doesn't look around to see what other people are doing/thinking, he just walks in, grabs his program, and gets it done. 

            This is also what happens when you don't use ridiculous training methods such as BOSU balls and 30 minutes on a "speed ladder" each session.  It annoys me to see "performance coaches" stealing money left and right from people who (unfortunately) don't know how to recognize a bogus training program when they see one. 

            Anyway, I'm done.  Walker's before and after photo's speak for themselves.

            Friday, February 4, 2011

            Anterior Core Progressions

            (now with working video)

            The plank is a phenomenal exercise.  The problem is, I see little to no logic in having someone perform a standard plank for more than 45-60 seconds.  Once someone has a 60-second plank mastered, it's time to progress.  I honestly don't get it when trainers have their clients hold a 3-minute plank!
            1. It's boring
            2. You are no longer increasing your abdominal strength this point, but working on muscular endurance instead (which isn't going to build that rock-solid midsection you're looking for). 
            This is the most comprehensive tutorial on core progressions I've put together for the public, so be sure to check this out.  Granted, this is a progression protocol for the standing rollout (in my opinion, one of the top "core" exercises one can perform), as there are many, MANY other varieties of core training one can undergo.  However, this should keep you busy for quite a while.

            My mission in this industry is to rid the ridiculous notion of people futilely attempting to sit-up their way to a strong midsection.  Performing the exercises in the video will be a much better way for you obtain your goal of a strong, functional abdominal wall.  

            Be sure you have mastered the plank position before progressing.  It's near-pointless to jump the gun with these.  Nonetheless, I'm sure you'll find some exercises to spice up your routine; or - if you've been having a tough time with standing rollouts - this progression will help get you there. 

            Oh, and this goes without saying, but these exercises will do nothing for you - from a physique standpoint - if you haven't cleaned up your act in the kitchen.  You can do ab exercises until you bleed, and still fail to obtain a six-pack if you don't have things locked-in outside of the gym.  Nevertheless, when combined with sound nutrition habits, these exercises will further enhance your performance or your physique goals, whatever they may be.

            Hope you enjoy!

            Thursday, February 3, 2011

            Stuff to Read

            I'm currently putting together a video on some anterior core progressions, and in the meantime I thought I'd pass along these reads I'm sure you'll enjoy/learn something from:

            Want to be a Personal Trainer or Strength Coach?  Start Here.  by Eric Cressey 
            I know many people who enjoy training of some degree have had the thought of "maybe I'll start training people" pass through their minds many times.  If this is you, read this. 

            Throw Away Your Scale by Tony Gentilcore
            I think almost everyone, especially females, should throw away their scale.  This is a great short read.

            CrossFit Qualms in the Running World by Carson Boddicker
            I've literally had people scoff at me when I tell them I don't do CrossFit.  While this post isn't close to all-encompassing, it does to a great job at expressing some qualms with making CrossFit a staple in your running routine, or any routine for that matter.  (I'm not saying CrossFit is completely worthless - I think there are definitely a few things they do correctly - I'm just saying it would be illogical to make it a staple of any sound training regimen). 

            Monday Motivation: What's Your Excuse? by Ben Bruno
            Ben is a beast and I always enjoy the things he posts.  This is a great one for those of you who frequently "can't train" because of time, schedule, or whatever excuse is deemed necessary to avoid moving around a bit.  I think this short article can help give you a kick in the pants when you feel like "you just can't train today."

            And last, but not least, I just saw this video on Cressey's site and thought I'd embed it here for your all's amusement.  It's hilarious, and, unfortunately, quite indicative of most personal trainers out there.

            Now, don't get me wrong, there are personal trainers out there doing many things correctly.  In fact, my girlfriend works as a personal trainer and I would trust her with writing/delivering a program more than many people with a CSCS (she has a CSCS, but I hope you get my basic point). 

            The sad truth is that many personal trainers aren't too far from this hot-shot:

            That's it for today.

            I really do appreciate all of you that read this site regularly; I've realized that for some reason people like to read what I have to say, so I'll continue to keep some great ones headed your way!  Stay tuned.

            Wednesday, February 2, 2011

            Student-Athlete PR!

            SAPT recently took Carson - a High School Lacrosse player (Junior) - through a 12-week cycle to get him as strong as possible for the upcoming season.

            His results were nothing short of fantastic.  Below is a video of him hitting a 55 pound deadlift PR (personal record).  At the beginning of the cycle, he maxed out at 300lbs.

            Carson also hit a 10lb Squat PR (3-rep max), and a 20lb Bench Press PR!  For those of you unaware, this is phenomenal improvement for a mere 12 weeks of training, especially considering Carson has already been lifting for a few years now.  Not to mention, over the past training cycle he was also required to attend many brutal conditioning sessions (read: do lunges and pushups until you puke) with his lacrosse coach, so we had to be sure to account for this in programming for him. 

            Carson is one of my favorite athletes to coach, as he always brings with him incredible focus and INTENSITY to each of his training sessions.  Heck, even when he performs face pulls and cradle walks (a warm-up drill) he has a facial expression on him that would kill a small child.

            So it's no surprise that - when you combine expert programming from the coach and impeccable focus from the athlete - the results are going to be nothing short of superior.

            Keep in mind: it's not like there's an absence of high school males across the country that can pick up 355lbs.  However, very few of them can pull a conventional deadlift with no rounding of the back.  Notice how tight (no rounding) Carson's back was, during every deadlift.  This is of paramount importance for safety of the athlete (especially in the deadlift), and for ingraining proper technique.

            If you talk to any of our athletes they will tell you that we never let them move up in weight unless they are doing it perfectly.  Practice doesn't make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  Our number one goal as strength and conditioning coaches is to keep our athletes free of injury.

            Perfect reps mean that body is in proper alignment (this takes a while to get down), and that there is a decent feel of speed to the lift.  No grinding reps.  This is something that very few people (males, most notably) fail to grasp.  Grinding reps is a recipe for burning out the CNS; thus impeding strength gains and recovery time. 

            Also, many athletes are surprised to find out that if they practice (with lighter weight) moving a load with perfect form, this will lead to far greater strength gains in the long run than just "barreling through" lifting sessions with no regard to form or technique. 

            Congrats, Carson!