Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A bit of Daily Packing, FTW

The other day I had packed my bags and was on my out the door of SAPT when Chris looked at me, stopped what he was doing, and chuckled.

"Wow.  That's what it looks like to pack for success when you're away from home all day."

Chris could relate to the number of bags I had hanging off my shoulders as he is also frequently away from home 11-12+ hours per day. 

It gave me an idea for a blog post, because it reminded me that many people don't give any thought to preparing meals/training supplies for the day.   Below is a picture I had taken on Tuesday (the only weekday I'm home before 9pm):

On the left is my backpack, where I keep my gym clothes, training logs, five finger shoes, and various bits of training equipment (resistance bands, homemade suspension trainer, nun chucks, etc.).

In the middle is my cooler where I keep my meals for the day (smoothies, oatmeal, vegetables, dead animal flesh, etc.).

On the right is my "work" bag where I keep my laptop, notebooks, books, blueprints for world domination, etc.

As I'm often gone for 12+ hours a day, I need to ensure that I have no excuse for missing a training session and/or eating something healthy while I'm out.

It seems that most people tend to rush out the door without preparing anything, go out to eat for lunch, and then return home that evening without swinging into the gym.

"I'll do it tomorrow....."

Look, I'm not oblivious to the fact that almost any adult is in a constant state of "OMGI'msobusyIhavenotimeforanythinganymore!"  I also recognize that I currently do not have children to take care of.

However, I DO find it funny that almost everyone seems to have a hour (or three) to watch brain-sucking shows such as The Jersey Shore each night.  There's a reason the actors on that show are making so much money, ya know?  They wouldn't be if there weren't millions of Americans who "don't have time" watching it.

Maybe it's not a reality show.  Maybe it's surfing their Facebook page for an hour straight.  My point is, almost anyone has more time than they think they do. 

The time spent sitting in front of the tube could be spent preparing healthy meals for the following day, so you don't have to go out to a restaurant on your lunch break.  Pre-chopping your vegetables is a simple strategy to save time cooking each night.  Eating a home-cooked meal will not only save you money but it will also spare your waistline.

Pack your gym bag the night before, and set it right in front of the door.  It's crazy how that simple step will help ensure you don't neglect taking care of yourself the following day. 

I'm not saying you have to pack as many bags as I do.  Heck, some of my closest friends in high school nicknamed me "The Carrier," as I always seemed to have my hands full no matter where we were.

But, just packing a couple things for the day can go a long way in setting you up for success.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Memento Mori

Forgive me while I put on my philosopher's hat for today, but I recently began something that has dramatically shifted the lens through which I view life - in a good way.  I shared it with a few good friends of mine over the weekend, and it made me realize that many of you reading would benefit from it, too.

I started keeping track of my life using a Memento Mori sheet, and Wow, has it helped me keep my life in perspective.  What is it?  Well, to give credit where credit is due, I got the idea from Craig Weller, a former member of Naval Special Warfare and also a founder of Barefoot Fitness.  Here's what he says about it:
"Since I was about eighteen years old I have been maintaining a tally on this piece of paper. It's 52 blocks wide and 80 blocks tall. On the top left corner is my birthdate, and on the bottom right is the same date, 80 years later. Every week I mark off a block.

I don't write anything or make any kind of notes. I just black it out. The only thing left is the memories I have of that week and reality of how it has affected my life. In the end, the only things any of us have are our actions and our memories.

Doing this keeps my life in perspective. Each time I fill in a block I briefly consider what I did with that week. Sometimes I do so with a feeling of satisfaction. I want mine to be a life well lived. Other times I look back and realize that I frittered away most of my time on things that didn't really further my life, didn't make for any remarkable experiences, and didn't really make me happy.

I don't think that it would be possible to maintain a list like this and work in a cubicle for twenty years. Or even twenty months. Imagine that: 80 blocks filled in with no memories other than a gray wall and the occasional lunch at Applebees.

In fact, most people probably wouldn't want to do something like this at all. It would be too uncomfortable. Self awareness is a pain in the ass when there are so many entertaining reality shows on cable. And excuses are easy. You probably get used to the blinders after a while and eventually don't even know what you're missing.

This weekend I filled in the 25th row on my sheet. The last block in a row always leads me to do some self-assessing. Am I happy with what I've been doing with my life? Have I been wasting time? Why? Where could I be right now if I hadn't? What will I do to make sure that one year or five years from when I fill in the last block on another row I can look back with nothing but satisfaction and happiness? Do I know exactly where I want to be at that point?"
I recently printed out and began filling in blocks on my own memento mori sheet.  As I blacked out the first 24 rows on my grid, I was filled with nostalgia as memories long lost over the past years swarmed in to my brain.  Some of them were great and filled me with satisfaction and a sense of joy, accomplishment, and fulfillment; others of them...not so much. 

There is something very powerful about blacking out that square, and seeing - in a bit more tangible way - what it looks like when just one simple week of your life passes by.  Here is my sheet (I just took a picture of it):

Filling out this sheet makes me glad (to put it mildly) I decided to become a strength and conditioning coach.  Growing  up, I was always a math/science geek, and so I began my college life by majoring in Engineering Virginia Tech.  After two years of engineering, I decided that I didn't want to make a career out of it (even though my grades were good).  I just couldn't see myself stuck inside an office building all day, chugging away at math equations and/or putting together an algorithm for a particular project.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not oblivious to the fact that there are some pretty cool engineering jobs out there, and that there are countless engineers (probably some of you reading this) that are enjoying your jobs.  If this is the case, more power to you.  However, I didn't see engineering as something that would provide a sense of fulfillment to ME PERSONALLY. 

I feel that there are countless people out there living their lives in the same, mind-numbing circuit of events.

Wake up --> Go to a job you can't stand --> Return home --> Eat --> Watch TV --> Sleep --> Wake up (more tired than the day before) and repeat the same thing.  Over and over again.

As Craig mentions, I don't think it would be possible for me to maintain a life like that while keeping a memento mori chart, blacking out the squares as the weeks/months pass right by me.

I did not choose a lucrative career by any means.  I don't have a lot of extra money to throw around for whatever I please.  It was a fairly "risky" decision for me to leave engineering behind and enter a field that sets very few people up for early retirement.

Screw early retirement.  Why would I want to sit around playing golf all day, year after year?  I'd like to look back on my life, knowing I helped as many people as I possibly could to improve their quality of life (via enhanced physical well-being, which often improves one's mental state as a by-product). 

I LOVE my job.  I look forward to waking up every morning to start my day (as much during the week as I do on the weekends).  I mean, how cool is it that our clientele voluntarily wake up before 7am on Thanksgiving Day to lift with the coaches? 

I HIGHLY encourage you to print out one of these and begin one yourself.  Nate Green (in his recent Hero Handbook, which is a great read) provided an easy download to the chart. 

Click HERE to download your own Memento Mori grid.  It will dramatically change your perspective.

Been putting off that trip overseas?  Just do it.

Scared to ask out the attractive barista at the coffee shop?  Blacking out another square on your grid should help give you a jump start to action.

Blood pressure rising because someone cut you off in traffic?  Pissed off at an annoying coworker?  Angry because the person in front of you at the grocery store check-out is taking forever?  It's not worth it.

Do you really want the majority of your life's "squares" to be filled with boredom, monotony, and/or the back wall of a cubicle?  I don't.

Glued to your smart phone as you walk out of your office?  Take a moment to simply stop.  Put your phone away and breathe a few times.  Look around outside. 

Instead of watching TV all day on Sunday, how about going for a walk/run on a local trail?

Life is happening all around you, don't miss it.   

It's another reason that I constantly advocate following a well-balanced training program.  It may not be able to extend your grid, but it will at least help to improve the quality of it.  

Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning "Remember your mortality." 

I'm with Craig: I'd like to look back on my life and remember something other than the grey wall of an office building and the occasional lunch at Applebees. 

Step out of your comfort zone and do something awesome.  You only have so many squares.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Quick guest post by Chris Romanow (SAPT coach and also strength coach for George Mason's baseball/softball teams). 

If you’re in the midst of grinding through the back third of a spring sport season, the following provides some quick ideas about how you can hasten and improve your rate/quality of recovery between competitions…and generally just stay healthy!
-Don’t forget to eat 
You must make eating a priority.  I remember teammates losing 10-15lbs throughout a competitive season.  Coincidence that these same guys were the one’s always nursing something in the training room?   They blamed travel, lack of quality food on the road, etc. for their dramatic weight loss.  Yes, while these variables did make finding the time for frequent-quality feedings more difficult, it’s certainly possible if you make eating a priority.
I used to pack “road coolers.”  I’d stuff that sucker full of fruit, veggies, trail mixes and sandwich accoutrement.  Safe to say my processed and fast food consumption was significantly less, meal frequency much more regular, and weight fluctuation less drastic, as compared to my peers.     
Becoming regimented with your sleep is also extremely important.  It’s important that you try to hit the sack at the same time every night, while shooting for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  This too was challenging as Madden wars or Poker hands (not for money of course…settle down) sometimes impeded on my desired hour of retirement.  For me, melatonin, sleep mask, and a quality set of ear plugs always did the trick.    
High-school guys and gals, you have no excuse for this one.
I touched on this in an earlier post.  You can see what I have to say about that here
-Soft tissue work 
Whether it’s self-inflicted (foam rolling), or delivered manual by a therapist (you can’t beat this), you got to find time to address tissue quality.  Restrictions within the musculature will severely impede proper blood flow (and subsequent delivery of nutrients), and also prohibit proper movement patterns.  A little bit of preventative maintenance in this area will go a long way, trust me.
 -Low intensity cardio/mobility/activation drills 
All of these can be accomplished in the same 20 minute session.  Blending these components will not only aid in flushing toxins and delivering new nutrient rich blood, but will also help ward off mechanical asymmetries that can crop-up from overuse and the repetitive nature of sport. 
It’s important not to overreach during these sessions, as the intent is to aid in recovery, not cause greater disruption.  A perfect session might include various sled pulls, crawling variations, hip flexor and thoracic mobility drills, and some glute activation. 
Having Adonis DNA helps, too…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Improve your Warm-Up Economy: Inchworm with Rocking Ankle Mobility

Let's face it: There's no question that a proper warm-up will mobilize the joints for the subsequent training session, leading to improved movement quality and - ultimately - more accomplished during your workout.  However, very few of us truly enjoy spending copious amounts of time warming up before we get to the "bread and butter" of our training session.

This being the case, I frequently prefer to include "bang for your buck" warm-up drills in my routine, so that I can kill a few birds with one stone.  One such drill is the Inchworm with Rocking Ankle Mobility.

Essentially, it takes two great movement prep drills, and combines them into one.  See below:

Why I like it:
  • As noted, it saves time by knocking out a few things at once.
  • The "inchworm" portion will prime your scapular stabilizers (via the hand-walking motion), awaken your core, and loosen up the hamstrings.  
  • The "rocking ankle mob" portion will improve the length of the gastrocnemius (if you keep the legs straight) or the soleus (if you bend the knee slightly during the rocking).  
    • Basically, this will help lengthen your calves a bit to improve ankle dorsiflexion range-of-motion (which is just about as important as adequate hydration), and also - possibly - aid integrity of the knee joint. 
How To Do It:
This one is fairly idiot-proof, but a couple quick pointers are:
  • During the Rocking Ankle Mob, just find a point where you can barely push the ankle to the floor.  You can keep the knee straight to emphasize the gastroc (larger and superficial calf muscle) or bend the knee slightly to emphasize the soleus (smaller and deeper calf muscle).  
  • During the inchworm, just walk the hands out as far as you can without hyperextending (over arching) the low back, and then walk the feet up to the hands as far as you can keeping the legs straight. 
  • Perform 4-5 Inchworms with 2-4 Rocking Ankle Mobs per side in the middle of each inchworm. 
That's it.  Now enjoy the feeling of improved movement prowess throughout your lift, run, or competition.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pushup Walkovers: Challenging and Improves Shoulder Health, too.

Anyone who has been following me knows I'm a huge fan of pushups.

The other day I was squeezing in a quick training session and I realized the pushup variation I was doing may be of interest for some of you reading.  When performed correctly (pulling yourself to the ground, maintaining a neutral spine, etc.) they will fry your chest, shoulders, triceps, upper back/posterior shoulder musculature, and core. 

See the video below and give them a shot! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quick Thoughts on Mirrors in the Weight Room

When Tim Henriques wrote this article a couple weeks back, it reminded me of something that's been in my subconscious for quite a while now, but I hadn't spent much time consciously thinking about:

I haven't been training in front of a mirror for over a year now, and I am very grateful for this. 

SAPT: No mirrors here.
Why is this a good thing?  Well, in the article (linked above) Tim hypothesizes that training in front of a mirror eventually leads to "impaired physical performance, with specific decreases in reaction time, rate of force development, and balance."  Yikes!

While I'd still say that training in front of a mirror is better than not training at all (which I'm sure the author didn't mean, but I just wanted to clarify), I think the author made some valid points.  The point of this post isn't to rehash everything Tim said, but to share a couple thoughts that popped in my head as a result of skimming his article.

Specifically, I think finding a training environment with no mirrors on the wall is beneficial because:

1.  It takes your mind off of YOURSELF.  

I'll never forget one of the first things Chris (SAPT's "Operations" guy) said to me during my first visit to SAPT.  I was wandering around the facility and I commented on the fact that there weren't any mirrors on the wallChris looked at me and said:
"Yeah, high schoolers already spend enough time checking themselves out in the mirror."
It hit me right there that he was dead on.  For the athletic crowd, it is going to be far easier to focus their purpose for being at SAPT (improving athletic performance) if there are no mirrors on the wall, as opposed to giving them yet another opportunity to have a discussion with their ego.

Chris mentioned high schoolers, specifically, because of the fact that they (high school athletes) compose the majority of our clientele, but he would have been equally justified in naming just about any other cluster of people.

If there is a mirror in the gym (which is almost always the case), it is near impossible to avoid looking at yourself at some point during your training session

"Oh wow, my arms look really good in this shirt, especially as I near the lockout of this tricep pressdown."

"Hmm, I don't look quite as fat in these pants!"

"I didn't realize my calves looked so great as I work it on the stairmaster."

Sound familiar, anyone?

Seriously, most people would be better off focusing on the task at hand (making improvements in the weight room) than looking at how big their biceps looks under a particular lighting, or how defined his/her legs are looking at the moment.  And, when there are mirrors in the weight room, it is near impossible to avoid doing this. 

For the gents: This means that spending more time actually working hard (deadlifting, doing pullups, etc.) will actually help you fill out your shirt faster than spending 15 minutes checking out your biceps as you curl away in front of the mirror.

For the ladies: This means that improving your performance on squats, lunges, rows, etc. will help you look better in that dress than wasting time looking at your legs as you slug away on the elliptical.

From my personal experience, it is especially critical for women to use improvements in the gym as the true marker of success, as opposed to the weight on the scale or their own subjective opinion (usually negative) of how they look in the mirror.  If you are squatting more than you did last week, or improving your time in a prowler sprint or metabolic circuit, then you are going to look better as a result!

Look, I'm not saying it's inherently evil to train for appearance.  Most people would be lying if they said that 0% of their motivation for training was because it helped them look better.

HOWEVER, focusing on tangible measures of improvement in the weight room (ex. technique improvement, improving on a timed challenge, increasing weight lifted, etc.) will ultimately help you reach your goals more effectively than constantly checking yourself out. 

2.  It develops your proprioception.

Proprioception is just a fancy of way of saying "an awareness of your body is in space," or even more simplified: balance.  It's one reason why older people tend to fall over more: they lose proprioception as they age.

Anyway, I remember the first time I went to perform a stepback lunge in SAPT.  I nearly fell over!  I was furious as I really had to take the weight down in order to perform the movement properly.

This was because I had always completed single-leg work in front of a mirror.  When I didn't have the mirror in front of me, I realized how dormant my "internal receptors" had become when it came to telling my body where it was in space.

Bottom line: I wasn't quite as athletic as I had thought (at least when it came to moving under an axial load).  Up until that point, I had predominantly used visual feedback to tell me where my body was in space, as opposed to using my internal sense of balance (hint: you want to develop the latter).

3.  It allows you to "do work" with the Med Balls. 

No need to elaborate much here, but when a gym is plastered with mirrors on every wall, you can't perform medicine ball work.  Medicine balls are a fantastic tool to develop rotational power (important in athletics), as well as general rate of force development for the upper body.

For older clientele, we use them quite a bit for their "plyometric" portion of the training session (you lose power output as you age, unless you maintain those properties through training).  The medicine balls provide a very safe (and effective) option for the older adults to work on their power output through some throw variations.

Not to mention: they're just plain fun!  Here is Taylor (one of our high school softball athletes) getting after it with a "Side Throw to Slam":

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pseudograins and Your Health, Dietary Stress, and Beer Breaks

Today's blog is written by Sarah, the President of SAPT.  She had written up a quick and interesting piece for the SAPT crowd, and I thought it would be interesting for my readers, too. 

I look up to Sarah in many ways (literally, too, as she's taller than me, and is my boss).  One of them being the fact that she strength trained throughout her entire (recent) pregnancy, and then was back at it a mere few days after the actual delivery (not to mention, her baby daughter is EXTREMELY healthy and strong, which I'm convinced is due to the fact that Sarah took care of her body - via exercise and nutrition - during the pregnancy).  Another reason I look up to her is the dedication she keeps to take care of her body through nutrition.  She's also a great strength coach, to boot (she's the S & C coach for quite a few of Mason's teams ex. Basketball, Volleyball, etc.).  

Anyway, I know I don't talk about nutrition that much on my blog, so I hope those of you in the crowd looking for a bit more insight in the nutritional realm find this intriguing.  Hope you like it!

"My post for today is composed of one useful health-related fact, one personal update, and one tidbit that you can file away under “useless cocktail trivia.” Enjoy!

Amaranth is a pseudograin that’s new to me... and probably to you, too! Pseudograins are actually seeds, although they are commonly referred to as grains. Buckwheat, Quinoa, Wild Rice, and Amaranth are all pseudograins. Since these quasi-grains don’t contain gluten, they are very easy to digest and alkaline-forming.

A brief aside: alkaline-forming nutrients are an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet. When a one’s body pH turns acidic, that individual will experience a host of problems that include decreased cellular energy production, decreased ability to repair damaged cells (from illness, exercise, etc.), tumor cell development (yikes!), and low energy and illness. Outside of an acidic diet, stress is a big drain on the body’s alkaline balance.


So, back to amaranth. this little tiny seed has a nutty flavor and is packed full of calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and the vitamins A and C. Amaranth is composed of around 17% protein and is loaded with lysine, the oh-so-elusive essential amino acid of the plant-based food world.

Almost unbelievably, amaranth has more calcium (ounce for ounce) than cow’s milk. Finally, amaranth consists of about 8% fatty acids. Within this fat is found a very important and valuable form of vitamin E called tocotrienol. Tocotrienol is a powerful antioxidant.

This stuff doesn’t come conveniently prepackaged. To find it you’ll need to locate it in the bulk food bins of some grocery store or order it online.

I almost forgot the best part: you POP it! Like teeny tiny popcorn!

The Toll of Stress
I read a phenomenal book over the weekend titled Thrive by Brendan Brazier. Brendan is a professional Ironman triathlete who advocates a whole foods, plant-based diet. In the book he puts a huge emphasis on the role that dietary stress puts on all of us. His research shows that dietary stress accounts for a whopping 70% of the average person’s TOTAL uncomplimentary stress (this is the bad kind of stress, I’m choosing to omit discussion on the other two kinds of stress).

What is dietary or nutritional stress? Basically, it’s the stress put on our body by eating unhealthy food OR not eating the right foods.

Personally, I have put great stock in the importance diet plays in my life and ability to be a “high producer.” I find when my diet is out-of-whack that I have a difficult time staying on task, focused, and thinking creatively. And that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling as of late. So, since Brendan’s book is focused on improving both physical and psychological performance by reducing dietary stress, I thought I’d give it a look and apply some of the principles.

My honest opinion is this: the changes I’ve made have already allowed me to feel much improved, BUT the principles in this book (well, mainly the recipes) are NOT for the faint of heart. I consider myself pretty high on the totem pole of dietary manipulation - food is fuel, it doesn’t matter how it tastes - but even this threw me some curve-balls. Over the weekend I spent a great deal of time in the kitchen... at one point I felt like I should be outside scraping bark off trees, digging up roots, and gathering leaves.

Bottom line, I like it quite a lot - it’s a challenge, and I’m into challenges.

So, I’m going to give Brendan’s plan a whirl for 12-weeks and follow up on the blog periodically. My main goal being a perception of greater energy and productivity. I’m going to use a Rating of Perceived Energy to measure this and, much like the traditional Rating of Perceived Exertion, will issue scores on a scale of 1-10. “1” meaning I have taken up staring at the wall and “10” indicating I’m buzzing around in the atmosphere propelled by my own ideas and energy.

Right now I’d say I’ve gone from a three to a five in just a few days.

Here are some pictures of the food I’ve made from the recipes in the book - first is the Adzuki Bean Quinoa Sesame Pizza before going in the oven and second are Garlic Oregano Yam Oven Fries:



“If we all had a high level of health, we would all be at our ideal body weight, none of us would have food cravings, we would all sleep soundly, we wouldn’t rely on stimulating foods to give us energy, and we would always be able to think clearly and rationally.”

Beer Breaks
Ryan (interjection: Ryan is Sarah's husband) has been spelunking at work over the last week (crawling around in caves) and came home after the first week with a 6-pack of beer. He said it is written into their contract that anyone spelunking could take a “beer break” once a day. That “seems unsafe” I thought. Ryan explained that this practice initiated many years ago to calm the nerves of men working high up building sky scrapers. Still seems unsafe. Thankfully, he’s not partaking in these respites.

I tried to find some history on this, but came up short. The only story I found was from 1960 about a hair salon that used beer to condition hair and the women working there had been helping themselves to the beer... they then talked their boss into keeping “beer breaks” permanently, but they had to stop taking the salon’s beer and bring their own.

That’s the cocktail trivia.

Depending on activity level, six to eight months from now our bodies will have regenerated nearly 100 percent of their tissue at the cellular level. This new tissue will literally be made up of what we eat between now and then."  -Sarah

Friday, April 8, 2011

Training with an Injury Q & A, Part 2

In Part 1, I briefly discussed when you should and should not train through an injury, and also a few strategies for receiving a training effect in spite of a shoulder or back injury.  Let's get right to the next couple:

(**Interjection: Originally I was going to cover the knees AND ankles, but I ran out of time, so you'll just have to be happy with the "knee advice" for the time being!)

3.  Your Knee Hurts.

Quad Dominant vs. Hip Dominant Exercises
The first thing that comes to mind is to scale back on "quad dominant" exercises (think: front squats, back squats, lunges, etc.) and stick to more "hip dominant" exercises such as deadlifts, box squats, glute bridges, pullthroughs etc.

Single-leg Variations
Also, understand that not all lunge variations are created equal.  Exercises such as forward lunges and walking lunges are going to place much more eccentric (or decelerative) stress on the knee joint than a stepback lunge, split squat, or single-leg RDL.  So, consider (temporarily) omitting the single-leg work that places more decelerative stress on your cranky knees. 

Single-leg RDL
Sled Work
As noted in Part 1 (with regards to back pain), sled work is very joint friendly.  Typically, those with knee pain can push the sled - on the high handles, as there's less knee flexion involved than the low handles - or drag the sled, such as our client Kaleigh in the video below:

Take a "Warm-Up" exercise and make it a staple in your lifting routine
One thing I've found while working with a lot of injured clients, is that an exercise I normally use in my warm-up can quickly become a very appropriate strength exercise for an injured person.

For example, take the Bowler squat.  The bowler squat is an exercise I'll use in a warm-up, to help prime my hips for the workout ahead.  The bowler squat is great, as it trains the glutes to produce (and resist) motion in all three planes of motion:

You can make it more challenging by stacking cones right to the outside of the ground leg, and pick one up with each rep. 

Not to mention, many people with knee pain have very poor glute function, which the bowler squat improves.  This leads me to my next point:

You may just have sucky gluteals
As I've noted before, we live in a society plagued by gluteal amnesia.  With the increase of desk jobs (and also, pure laziness) in our culture, people forget how to use their glutes properly.

Anyway, something that those of you reading this may not realize is that weak glutes can frequently lead to knee pain.  The hips/glutes play a HUGE role in proper knee tracking during sport (be it running, playing soccer, lifting weights, etc.) and if they're not doing their job, then your knee is going to want to give you the middle finger eventually.  Employing plenty of weighted glute bridges (once you've progressed appropriately), hip thrusts, side-lying wallslides, etc. will help your knees line up where they're supposed to during activity.

Also, be sure to include plenty of glute stabilizer work during your warm-up before a run or lifting session.  Whenever I go to the field to sprint, I always take a band with me so I can do some X-Band Walks before running:

Employ conditioning tools without lower body involvement

If running aggravates your knees, then stop!  This isn't rocket science.  You can still condition via means other than running.  For example, using the battling ropes:

Or, you can run through a medicine ball circuit.  Here is Eric Cressey's wife getting after it during a conditioning session six days before her wedding:

Both of those options (battling ropes and med ball work) will give you plenty of conditioning, while sparing your knees to boot. There are countless other options we've used at SAPT with our clientele, but for the sake of brevity I'll stick with those two for now.

Of course, specificity is going to play a roll.  You can't train for a marathon using only upper body conditioning tools, but it will at least help to reduce a loss in cardiovascular fitness while helping your knees heal up. 

Then again, I don't think most people should take part in the idiocy of running a marathon, but I digress :)

It could be a TECHNIQUE flaw

Let's not neglect the fact that your knee may be bothering you because of a technique flaw.  It could be your running technique (if you're a runner with knee pain) or your technique in the weight room during lower body exercises.

As Chris McDougall mentions in Born to Run, almost anyone will take diving lessons if they want to learn to...go diving.  Or, hire a martial arts instructor if they want to become a better fighter.  However, rarely anyone even thinks twice about hiring a running instructor before going on a run.  They just go out and do it, assuming that "any idiot can just go run," failing to understand the implications (i.e. injury) if they don't know how to properly absorb 2-4x their bodyweight in ground reaction force on each and every step of a 3 mile run.   

It's the same thing with resistance training.  Many people just head to the gym assuming that they know how to do everything.  Of course they do!  (note sarcasm).  Honestly, whenever I head into commercial gyms and take a look around, I'm surprised there aren't more people with injured knees due to atrocious technique I see during squat and lunge variations.  

So, take a look at your technique. 

Hope these tips prove useful.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Training with an Injury, Part 1

Q.  I have been interested in and really trying to read more information about training with an injury. As a competitive athlete I feel like we are training a lot of times with little aches and pains. How do we know when to back it off and what is some advice on how to continue to train let's say if you have knee pain or elbow pain? I know a lot of us athletes are scared about losing something when we are injured and training is such a part of our lives that we like to work on something i.e. upper body work if our lower body is injured or vice versa.

A.  It's always daunting for me to even begin an answer to a question like this, because I'm constantly playing "What if?" scenarios in my head:

What if the athlete has knee pain but is also diagnosed with spondylolisthesis (vertebral slippage)?

What if the person has elbow pain but also has a partially torn labrum that's asymptomatic?

What if the person is going to unknowingly become run over by a giant cable roll because of an epic fail by the repair guy?

But I digress.

Anyway, great question.  I think one of the most unnerving thoughts for an athlete (or someone who loves exercise, in general) is the idea that he or she may not be able to train because of an injury.  It's obviously beyond the scope of this post to go into every "What if?" scenario, but I'll cover the basics.

If you take anything home from this post, let it be this:  You can almost always elicit a training effect, even while injured.  

HOWEVER, if something hurts, don't do it!  This isn't an excuse to train like a wimp, though.  As Dan John says: "There's pain and there's injury.  Learn the difference."

When it comes to injuries, people often fall into two camps:
  1. They won't stop, even when their training only aggravates the problem.  They'll literally try to run through a brick wall before taking a break to heal. 
  2. At the first sign of discomfort, they stop exercising.  

The former will never reach their full potential because they're way too impatient to let the injury heal, and continue to impose an (improper) training stimulus on their body without allowing sufficient time to recover.  The latter will never return to full function because they're way too much of a wimp to push their body to get stronger and drive through the adaptation process.  

The key is to train with the proper modifications in place, while not being an idiot.  If bench pressing hurts your shoulder, then find a substitute for a while.  If running hurts your knee, then give it a rest and cross train via other means.  It's not going to kill your mile time.  Remember: you're training for something greater than today.  Always have the big picture in mind.

You should train to enhance the quality of your life.  Let your training serve you, don't serve your workout program. 

Okay, let's go over some common issues and some ways to train around them.

1.  Your Shoulder Hurts

Bench pressing less than three times per week would be a good place to start.  Most people (primarily, males) press wayy too much and it's a no brainer that such a high percentage of guys end up with shoulder problems.  You'll be much better served working on row variations, on top of other exercises that develop the scapular retractors/depressors,  and well the external rotators and horizontal abductors of the arm.

Try a press variation that you can do in a pain-free range of motion.  Floor and board presses tend to be a bit more shoulder friendly as there is less humeral extension involved.

However, if your shoulder is pretty jacked up, then I would avoid the barbell altogether as it locks your humerus into internal rotation.  A healthy dose of neutral-grip (palms facing each other) dumbbell presses, or pushups (even better) will allow you to maintain a training effect in spite of a shoulder injury.

Here is Eric Cressey with 150lbs of added weight during a pushup.  The total system weight (bodyweight + external resistance) for this pushup is over 250lbs.  As he mentions: who says you can't load a pushup!

Pushups tend to be the most shoulder friendly, as they're a closed-chain movement, and also allow freedom of the scapulae to glide about the thoracic spine.  Pushup variations are awesome, whether you have shoulder problem or not.  They have to be one of my top 10 favorite exercises.

If your shoulder is really messed up, then you may need to drop pressing altogether a focus on horizontal pulling (row variations) which people can always use more of, anyway.

2.  Your Back Hurts.

Again, you'll have to see what causes pain and what does not.  In general, it will probably be best to avoid any direct axial loading (direct compression acting along the spine) for a while, and take a break from some of the bilateral lifts ex. squats, deadlifts, etc.

You'll still be able to receive a great training effect through hammering some unilateral variations for the lower body.  Stepback lunges,  split squats, and single-leg RDL's will keep your leg strength in tact while giving your spine a break.

It will do you good to hammer the glutes.  Weak glutes is a very common problem amongst people with back pain, and the good news is that one can generally strengthen the glutes even in the presence of back pain.

Here is my fiancee, Kelsey, performing the barbell glute bridge.  Kelsey has more than one herniated disc in her low back, and she's able to get in some solid glute training, pain free:

Sled pushing/dragging is another clear winner.  It's basically a form of unilateral work (as you have one leg at a time producing force independent of the other leg), and is generally pretty back friendly.

I've been toying around with the sled with increasing frequency, and have been loving it:

The prowler has been a fantastic tool for some of our clientele (especially the adults), that have a history of back pain.  It's a great way for them to increase their lower body strength (not to mention, enhance their overall work capacity), even with a testy back.

That's it for now, I'll be back next time to go over some other common injuries (knee pain, ankle pain, etc.) 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Good Read for the Day: What Women Should Never do (but often do) While Trying to get in Shape

I'm short on time today, so I thought I'd link a great article that was written by Juliet Deane.  It was published a few weeks ago, but here it is for those that missed it: 

What Women Should Never do (but often do) While Trying to Get in Shape

I had the pleasure of meeting Juliet at one of Alwyn Cosgrove's seminars last year.  She's definitely an awesome girl and many women (and men) would be wise to follow her example.  She really "walks the walk" of living a healthy lifestyle that sets her up for success.

Women: Pay attention, as Juliet does an awesome job at explaining how women can obtain their goals in the physical realm (cardiovascular fitness, body composition, etc.) they often seek, while dispelling many of the myths that frequently hold women back from reaching these goals.

Men: This will be a great resource to point your girlfriend/fiancee/wife to if she has reservations about resistance training.  The chances are VERY high she won't listen to you as:
  1. You're a male. 
  2. You're her romantic partner, automatically rendering the two of you unable to listen to each other :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lateral Bound and Stick: An exercise I like (and you should, too).

Given that the majority of people's daily movement takes place in the sagittal plane (or in a linear direction, such as when you run), it helps to toss in some exercises that take place in the frontal plane (or "side to side").  Enter the lateral bound and stick.
Why I like it
  • As mentioned, it takes people out of a linear movement pattern, and improves lateral movement.
  • It teaches proper deceleration - upon landing - of the glutes/hips.  This is huge for field athletes as it reduces the risk of ACL tears (as a large majority of ACL tears occur in a non-contact situation, in which the athlete fails to properly decelerate lateral forces acting upon the knee joint).
  • Very few sports (with the exception of sprinting/running, and a few others) take place exclusively in the sagittal plane.  This drill will develop muscular and neural efficiency required in side-to-side movement.
  • Even if you are a runner, it will serve you well to develop your body's ability to adequately move in all three planes of motion. 
  • It's fun.

Key Coaching Cues
  1. Jump for both height and distance.
  2. Keep the chest up throughout.
  3. Before jumping, be sure the non-working leg starts behind/across the working leg (to give you a bit more "swing" room). 
  4. Generate power from your hips/glutes. 
  5. Swing your arms side-to-side to aid force production.  You'd be surprised at how many people swing their arms front-to-back when performing this drill. 
  6. "Stick" the landing, holding for at least 2 seconds.  This will help teach your glutes and hips to decelerate your body upon landing, and also provide a bit of proprioceptive benefit around the ankle joint.
A bit of random trivia: some people call this exercise a "Heiden," because the movement looks a bit like Eric Heiden's arm/leg swing while racing.  (Eric Heiden was an Olympic Speed Skating champion, for those non-sports enthusiasts in the crowd).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quick Thoughts on Distance Running for Baseball Players


I've noticed a very unfortunate trend amongst baseball coaches and that is:

Many of them have their players partake in distance running in-season (and in the off-season, too).
This is sad, as it's a clear indicator that the coach is either:

    A.  Simply misinformed.
    B.  Hasn't put forth the effort to look into more effective (and safe) training methodologies.  

I think pitchers, specifically, may be the most negatively affected by copious amounts of distance running, but these principles apply to the rest of position players, too.

I'm not going to go in-depth regarding this topic, but I'd like to pose a few questions which will hopefully at least get you thinking:
  1.  When do baseball players ever run more than 15-30 yards in a game-like situation?  Since this is rarely the case, why are we training them this way?
  2. Did you know that endurance training leads to a loss in strength and power output (due to fiber type transformations)?  So, are we TRYING to field a group of athletes that lacks strength and power, especially in a sport that requires a very high power output during a very short time window (think: swinging a bat, or throwing a ball, which takes less than 1 second to complete).
  3. Baseball pitchers may possess some of the most "imbalanced" body structures of any athlete (think: loss of throwing shoulder internal rotation, loss of lead leg hip internal rotation, loss of throwing arm elbow extension, etc.).  Why are we utilizing distance running as a training modality, during which no joint in the body passes through a substantial range of motion (and thus does nothing to address the mobility deficits occurring in pitchers)?
  4. Do you have any real justification to having your players partake in distance running for conditioning?  (Hint: If it's so that your players can improve their "endurance," then you've missed the mark entirely). 
  5. Did you know that endurance training has a negative impact on the stretch-shortening cycle?  (This is a bad thing if you're trying to improve your players' sprinting velocity).
  6. Again, when does any given play in baseball last longer than 5 seconds?  Do we understand how physiological adaptations take place in the body under a given training stimulus?
By no means is this a rant on baseball coaches.  It is just to encourage dissipation of the misinformation that seems to be plaguing the area when it comes to proper training for various athletes.

It can be very frustrating, as a strength coach, to see an athlete under your watch make vast improvements in strength, power output, movement quality, general preparedness for sport, etc. and then watch most of these positive adaptations go flying out the window once the respective sport coach has him/her for the season.

Don't become a dinosaur, do your research!