Monthly Archives: January 2012

Growing the game: how we took our talents to south beach

Despite my love of all things strength & conditioning, I’m also preparing for the high school lacrosse season that starts next week.  I’m a ball of anxious/excited/crazy and I’ve got that kid-on-Christmas feeling.  I miss being out there playing, but after having a few years of coaching under my belt, I’ve really gotten into what it means to prepare, train and lead a team.  I also really enjoy the group of girls I get to work with and I’m just looking forward to finally getting started.

How I'm Feeling

Why lacrosse?  From a coaching/fitness perspective, it is my absolute favorite because it is a cross of so many sports.  It combines the agility/speed & offensive/defensive concepts from basketball, with the endurance and quickness of soccer, tossed with the fast pace of hockey.  It is the ultimate hybrid sport, and therefore, athletes of all backgrounds are usually very successful with it.

A brief background for those not really familiar: lacrosse is HUGE up north, particularly in Maryland and New York.  In upstate NY where I went to high school, there is no shortage of lacrosse teams/camps/clinics – almost every high school has a lacrosse team and most of the major colleges offer lacrosse as a D1, 2 or 3 option.  Kids are able to start playing as early as 5 years old in some places, just like soccer in most states.  Suffice it to say, the game is pretty well established up there.  Despite all that, I wanted to head south for college.  So, I left the lacrosse mecca for sunshine & beaches [and for the record, I haven’t regretted that decision for a second].

Can you blame me?

When I moved to Coral Gables in 2006 the lacrosse scene = not so much.  Fortunately, however, the University of Miami had added a women’s club team just a year or 2 earlier – one of the first in the state to do so.  Comprised of girls mainly from the Maryland/NJ/NY area, we brought our talents to South Beach and attempted to grow the game.  With some hard work, a few hot mess (but really.) road trips to play teams out of state, and some donation letters begging for funding, the UMiami team managed to get off the ground.  Around the same time, a few of the high schools (including the one I currently coach at) added club lacrosse teams to their extra-curricular options.  This was a major break – despite lacking numbers & experience, the interest was definitely there.  6 years later, I can proudly say that Miami-Dade county has its own high school DISTRICT of varsity teams and a few travel club teams.  Even a few of the major colleges (UF, Jacksonville) have added women’s lacrosse as a varsity D1 sport. I’d say its catching on.

I’m sharing all of that because I think its awesome to be part of a pioneering effort that brings a new opportunity to kids that might have never seen this sport before.  It would have been really cool to stick around New York and get some coaching options up there with teams that are already on a really high level, but being part of an effort to establish something has forced the lacrosse community down here to really take pride in what we’ve got.  But why put so much effort into something that won’t result in an endorsement deal?

Maybe one day....

The girls that decided to play at UM definitely didn’t do it because they wanted notoriety or money – they just did it because they loved the game.  They did it because at some point in their life, they had a positive experience with the sport that made them want to share it with others.  Considering that I primarily work with high school girls, I feel that the scope of my job goes beyond beyond the win/loss column. I think using lacrosse (or any sport for that matter) as a tool to teach young women about leadership, confidence, teamwork and competition is a valuable endeavor.  Don’t get me wrong: I love competition and always push for more from my athletes, but at the end of the day, there is more to this experience than winning a district title.  Some of the girls will go on to play college lacrosse (I already have one signed to play D1 next year), but we have to be realistic: for the most part, a lot of them are using this experience as a way to stay active, learn a new sport, and hopefully gain the confidence they need to pursue whatever goals they want to later on.

It sounds sappy, but none of the strong, inspirational and confident women I call my best friends would be where they are today without someone leading by example.  So to me, if I can help one more girl get motivated to go after her dreams, then I’ve done my job pretty well.  If I get just one more girl to to turn around and decide to teach and motivate others, then I’ve REALLY succeeded.

Anyway, we have our first team meeting on Friday and one of the new things I’m doing this year is really focusing on CONSTRUCTIVE comments.  I feel like its very easy to get caught up saying “good job” or “you’ll get it!” – which is positive, but not very specific.  This year I’m having the girls fill out notecards that are going to have them pinpoint their specific strengths and weaknesses, as well as their individual and team goals.  Girls are typically really quick to list 432432 weaknesses and .5 strengths, so I’m forcing them to come up with an even number of both.  I’m also having them list some of their random favorite things, (music, food, activities outside of lacrosse) just because I think its a good way to get to know them a bit better.  Then as the season goes on, I can actually look at the cards and offer more constructive feedback in an effort to help them improve their weaknesses and achieve their written goals.  What are some things you guys do with your clients/athletes or even just coworkers that help you stay on track or keep up with them? I’d love some more ideas.

In conjunction with the fitness posts I’ll keep you guys posted with what’s happening with the team, some of the cool (in my opinion haha) conditioning drills we do, and just random coaching tidbits.

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Lab Rats Can’t Squat – Research vs Practicality

For the first few years of my college career, I was overwhelmed with scientific information related to exercise science, kinesiology, and anatomy.  Research papers from all these notable scientists, physiology terms that made me nervous, and concepts that seemed way beyond the scope of my intelligence.  While I can obviously look back now and understand it a lot better, one of the most frustrating things in this field is the disparity between research studies & actual results.

Right dere???

Now this isn’t a rant against science (not completely anyway 😉 but it is a comment on how terms like “CLINICALLY PROVEN” and “SCIENTIFIC METHODOLOGY” need to be taken with a grain of salt.  I’m not even talking about the usual suspects (Hydroxycut, dexitrim, anything with a before & after picture, etc..those aren’t even worth my time…) but I’m talking about real, legitimate research.  Most of these studies, especially ones in notable publications like the American (or European) Journal of Physiology provide great insight into physiological mechanisms, but the results have a tendency to get grossly generalized.  You’ll see a lot of people out there writing articles and using research to back it up – which is great, because it seems to “legitimize” their theories – but how do you know what’s bogus and what’s for real without pulling your hair out over little details?

This is one of my favorite examples that a professor of mine uses every year when introducing research papers for discussion- and I’m sure a few of you have heard it too.  In the attempt to avoid correlation, he shows us a graph like this:

hide ya kids, hide ya wife

Clearly, based on the research, we see a rise in murder rates that seem to correspond with the sale of ice cream.  From this, it seems reasonable to conclude that ice cream causes murder…or at least contributes to it, right?  (Another case against sugar haha).  However – what are other factors here?  Ice cream sales tend to go up in the summer.  Know what else goes up in the summer?  Temperature.  Murder rates tend to rise when people are hot and bothered (and not in the good way).  See the variability?  It seems like a preschool example, but SO MANY TIMES I see people jump to the same absurd conclusions.

“These people showed insane increases in strength using the leg press.  EVERYONE MUST LEG PRESS!”

“But these people were beginners and had no strength whatsoever and had never trained before”

“LEG PRESS ONLY IT SAYS IT IN THE RESEARCH”

“but..neurological factors…beginners…”

“RESEARCH!!”

etc.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.  For a more appropriate example, let’s take something we discussed in a class of mine earlier this week.  It is commonly accepted in the research that interval training > long slow distance training, particularly when looking at improvements in VO2max.  But, is it REALLY fair to compare these modalities?  In a word, no.  The way we quantify training load (intensity x duration x frequency) is skewed with these two types of training.  You might run the same number of miles, but the duration and intensity are completely different.  So, when it comes to training load, it is almost like comparing apples to oranges.

advantage orange

 

Now, I know about energy system manipulation and I’m a huge fan of interval training, particularly for sports performance, but I’m not arguing which is right or wrong.  I’m just pointing out that there is a lot of variability here for us to jump to conclusions.  From an anecdotal perspective (which shouldn’t be discounted, because if it works, you should do it): a lot of endurance runners seem to feel that LSD training takes longer to achieve improvement, but these improvements seem to remain longer vs interval training which develops faster, but gets lost faster.  This isn’t confirmed by research, but is an interesting point.  Why else would runners that use primarily LSD training (i.e. Kenyans) be so successful? Just a thought.

 

 

It wasn’t until my senior year of college where I actually started interning with teams, coaching my own teams & training clients other than myself that I started to REALLY notice the gap between what the textbooks say and what individual results dictated.  There were times when scheduled de-load weeks were premature for some clients and too late for others.  There were times when clients who had very few issues during assessments couldn’t do simple exercises.  There were times when equipment issues caused me to change my programming, and I ended up with even better results than I had planned for.  Some clients could be pushed into the ground, and others I could barely train without some sort of issue.  It would frustrate me because a lot of people around me would be freaking out about “doing it by the book” and that simply wasn’t possible for me every single time.  While I think a lot of textbooks, articles and research papers lay the blueprint for success – and you should adhere to them as much as possible as a beginner – you can’t just be a drone.  You have to be aware of your surroundings, your capabilities, and your teams/clients individuality.

In the end, I’m a huge advocate of staying up to date on current trends and appropriate research, but the most beneficial pieces of advice I’ve received have been from people with true “under the bar” experience.  You can’t argue with concrete evidence (i.e. actual experiences), so don’t freak out the next time something doesn’t work exactly according to “plan”.  The human body is more complex than a lab rat- and FYI: lab rats can’t squat.

getting ripped bro

Mid-week MOTIVATION

This is going to be a quick (hopefully motivational) post that was inspired by a conversation with one of my lacrosse girls earlier last semester, when we began our conditioning practices.

 

Essentially last semester we had 2 days a week in the weight room and 2 days outside where we focused on conditioning.  In the weight room, I had the girls learn some movement assessments (quadruped reaches, plank variations, overhead movements and balance) and I taught them things to look for when they assessed their partner.  I told them what we were going to see in most of them (knees falling in on the squats, pelvic tilt, lateral shifts, etc) but that it was to be expected and that we would be working on it all semester.  I had them learn the movements then assess each other and write down comments.  When I went home that night I was laughing hysterically at what some of them had written.

Instead of just writing simple “knees collapsed in” or “pelvic tilt” they wrote things like “lateral shift: NEED TO GET BETTER AT THIS!” and “pelvic tilt: unable to succeed” 😦

It made me laugh because I can’t even tell you how many of my training notebooks have little comments in them JUST LIKE THOSE.  I know for myself, when I’m starting a new program or a new goal, I look like I’ve never trained before.  I have to stop short of the reps, I’m gasping for breath, I don’t complete in the time I’ve given myself.  Each time that happens, I write little notes – just like they did – that make it clear I didn’t succeed, but not in a “you suck” way.  I try to keep it light, but I still write it down so I know what I need to do for next time.  Does it piss me off to no end?  You bet it does.  No one likes to fall short – but the BEST feeling is going back and conquering it the second (or third, or fourth…) time around.

 

actual excerpt from my notebook - NOT modified for this post

 

When I went back the next day, I asked one of my girls about the comments.  She was like, “well I know we’re going to work on it, so its important to see what the problems are, but it wasn’t meant to make anyone feel bad.  Its just hard to start from the beginning.”

These kids I tell ya. Wise beyond their years.

I try really hard to relate to my athletes & my clients because I’ve been – and I’m STILL – in their shoes when it comes to training.  I’ve had MANY my fair share of vomit-inducing workouts that shouldn’t have made me sick; bad days in the gym; weight gain for no reason; and injuries.  I don’t go around bragging about THOSE sessions too often, because its much more fun to share the workout you just beasted – but I think its important to convey that we ALL start somewhere.  In fact, if you’re really motivated, you are constantly starting over.  If I just worked out so it was easy, I wouldn’t get anywhere.

Trainers/coaches/teachers – none of us are on pedestals because if we do our jobs correctly, we are still “students” of our profession – and sometimes it is valuable to show that to the people we are trying to coach because it helps them relate. Its funny because we are all so used to seeing people post workouts on their blog/twitter/facebook that they’ve completed.  I love seeing it because I use it as motivation, and I love surrounding myself with positivity.  But we also have to be real here.  They don’t usually include their side comments like “yup almost died during set 2” and “took a 5 minute break between rounds to cry in the corner”.  But for anyone that is discouraged about their training – TRUST ME – that kind of stuff happens, even to the most trained individual.  We all fall short of our goals at some point.  The important thing to remember is that you’re not the only one.  So write it down, rest up, and try it again.

Dynamic Warm up – part 2!

There are a million ways to approach the dynamic warm up but let’s be real – its a quick 5-10 minutes in your work out, and therefore, the mental brain power it takes to write one shouldn’t tax you for the rest of the day.

My favorite ways to approach it are as follows:

1. Don’t get married to this number, but usually 6 exercises written in tri-sets and performed in a circuit style are great.  Depending on your issues, you can focus on one area a little more, but generally speaking, going through both these circuits 2-3 times before each workout goes a long way.  It also takes about 5-7 minutes, which is an appropriate time for a warm up.

2. Just like with anything else, start simple.  We didn’t go from crawling to sprinting, so take it down a notch.  Start with your exercises from the floor, then progress to exercises that are standing, then finally add the multijoint movements.  All 3 can be in the same dynamic warm up, but if you’re unsure, this is an easy way to categorize where moves should go.

  • ALSO: be mindful of your equipment.  If you know you’re going to use plates, bands or dumbbells in your warm up, try to group all the plate moves together, all the band moves together and all the DB moves together so you’re not scrambling for pieces of equipment in between exercises. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes we get over ambitious thinking about everything else that we forget stupid little things.  This is a fun tip that applies for the bulk of your workout as well – if you know you’re going to do a circuit in a crowded gym, you might want to consider this in your programming.  It isn’t “wrong”, it is just realistic.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to change my “perfect” program on the fly just because of space & equipment issues.  Save yourself the stress and plan ahead.

3. When possible, pick moves that cover multiple issues in one.  The more you can get from one exercise, the better.  For example: let’s say you have tight hamstrings, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi and internal rotators (aka you’re human).  Instead of doing walking leg kicks (frankensteins) for the hamstrings, you can do a walking lunge with an overhead reach into straight leg stretch. This takes care of MOST of those issues in one simple exercise. I have a whole bunch of these that I program simply because they are time efficient and work.

For more tips & ideas, check out this post from Eric Cressey.  He always has great mobility drills – a lot of which I’ve taken for my own program & for the lacrosse girls.

http://www.ericcressey.com/6-characteristics-good-dynamic-warm-up

I wasn’t able to film my whole warm up, but I did share a two of my favorites.  I used to have very tight hamstrings, lats and hip flexors (specifically the rectus femoris, which is the quad muscle that crosses the hip).  Aka this bad boy:

Rectus femoris muscle

With that in mind, I programmed a few drills into my warm up that have made me feel ten times better.

This is one I got from EC (yes, I’m still filming from photo booth – I was invited to the Golden Globes but I had to decline)- For this one, be sure to keep your chest up. (Even higher than I did, I’m leaning forward slightly)

This one I just combined the inchworm with a hip mobility drill (on tile, in socks, which added an extra stability component for your enjoyment)

Hope this helps – I’ll be posting better videos ASAP with the help of some friends.  Let me know if there’s some stuff you wanna see!

The Dynamic Warm Up

Static stretching annoys me.  Its like a traffic jam.  You sit there forever, thinking of all the things you could be doing, glaring around at everyone while you creep toward your eventual destination.  In this age of ADD and “I needed that done yesterday”, just getting to the gym is an accomplishment….so why waste precious time sitting in place?

"By all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me" - Devil Wears Prada

The fact is, if your training program is sound, static stretching is rendered almost completely useless.  I say “almost” because there is always the exception: sometimes it can be used as a good recovery/cool down technique, and in certain situations (like physical therapy) it can help when there is a lack of functional mobility.  But if you’re using it prior to engaging in activity, think again.

Here are a few reasons people turn to static stretching (the traditional type of stretching you’ve seen everywhere: sit, reach, cry, repeat) before they train:

  1. It is what every one says to do….and why question “every one”? Good, you’re a robot, congrats
  2. It decreases your risk of injury, right? Actually, wrong, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence to confirm or refute this fact. If you have too much laxity in your joints, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
  3. Its fun! No. I absolutely don’t believe you.
  4. It feels good because I have very tight hamstrings/back/calves/etc and sometimes have pain when I do certain exercises.  This is an acceptable answer & probably true, HOWEVER that tightness is more likely caused by a muscle imbalance that requires strengthening of the opposite muscle at the same time as stretching.  So, while the static stretching feels good, it is really only a partial solution.

Great, so what’s the alternative?

If you’ve ever been to an athletic event, you’ve probably seen the athletes running through some movements prior to the game taking place.  Lunges, skipping, shuffling, back pedaling, etc.  Even high school coaches are finally jumping on the bandwagon and creating dynamic warm ups (whether they understand why or not is a completely separate issue – but whatever).  These movements, when planned correctly, are mobility drills designed to increase range of motion around typically tight areas (hamstrings, lats, calves etc) while also adding stabilization to joints like hips, knees, ankles, shoulders.  It will also increase body temperature (hence “warm up”), and prepare the central nervous system for activity.

via Google Image

Now, while these are great for athletes before they start practice or a game, the same concept should be applied before a gym training session.  This is especially important before any kind of resistance training (which, if you haven’t started doing, then please re-read every single post I’ve ever written before continuing on. Thank you).

I already know what you’re thinking.  “Lifting weights is going to completely ruin any chance I have at being flexible.”  You’re absolutely correct – if you have sloppy training.  Everyone is used to seeing those diesel guys in the gym that walk around like they’re permanently holding two suitcases and can’t seem to move without flexing.  That didn’t happen solely because of lifting weights – that happened because of poor programming.  When you bench press all day, every day and do nothing else, that’s what happens.  But excluding yoga experts and ballet dancers, some of the most flexible people on the planet are actually Olympic weightlifters.

Olympic Weightlifting Champion Pyrros Dimas (via google image)

That movement is crazy hard to achieve.  And I guarantee this guy didn’t sit around stretching his hamstrings for hours to achieve that kind of dynamic flexibility.

Enter: the dynamic warm up.  These are exercises that target common problem areas while simultaneously preparing the body for the activity of the training session.

For example, before a session that includes some serious squatting, it is in your best interest to do a warm up that targets hip, knee, ankle, and t-spine mobility.  Body weight lunge variations, straight leg kicks, kneeling hip flexor mobility drills..these are just some examples. For a session that might include circuit-style resistance training, where every muscle is going to be worked and there isn’t a particular focus, the dynamic warm up might include more general movements: body weight squats, plank variations, various reaching (overhead, lateral) and maybe some rotation.

Ok.  Static stretching is out.  But what if I use a general aerobic warm up?

You’re still annoying me.  Just kidding – the general aerobic warm up (on a treadmill, bike, etc) isn’t all that bad.  It accomplishes the task of getting your heart rate up and increasing core temperature so the rest of the session is less shocking to the system.  But…to me its like this:  You have a complex problem [muscle imbalances, weaknesses, flexibility issues, a need to increase core temperature and heart rate, and the necessity to prep the nervous system] *AKA- you’re a mess… and now you have a few solutions to choose from.  Solution 1 is static stretching, and it covers probably 1/5 of the problem.  Solution 2 is the aerobic warm up, which might get you 2/5 of a solution if you’re lucky.  Solution 3 is the dynamic warm up which incorporates the benefits of solution 1 & 2 at the same time and also covers the rest of the issues WHILE DECREASING TIME IN THE GYM.  Game, set, match.

Duh

The other cool thing about the dynamic warm up is that it is appropriate for all levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite.  For beginners, the warm up circuit might be the bulk of their training at first – it helps them get used to training and using their body as a unit (dynamic stability!) before adding weight to it.  For the more advanced lifters or athletes that place a lot of stress on their joints, it can always be revisited and tweaked to accommodate new goals.

P.S. I never said you can’t combine methods – old habits die hard.  So if you’re mentally attached to your aerobic warm up, keep it (maybe shorten it), create a dynamic circuit, and move your stretching to the end.  I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your training.

In my follow up post, I will share my my current dynamic warm up (hopefully on video!), and a formula for creating your own for any training session. For those of you that already use a dynamic warm up, please share it in the comments! Thanks!

Real women lift REAL weights (3 lb dumbbells need not apply)

Alright, you knew it was coming.  This is my PSA to all females out there who are afraid to lift weights and get strong. I’m going to grit my teeth and make this as nice as possible, so just zip your lips and read.

I’m really just so so so so so so tired of hearing the nonsense girls say when it comes to fitness.  As usual, I blame the Kardashians…. because I blame them for everything.  In reality, though, anyone that endorses those stupid tone-up shoes and has a trainer [Tracy Anderson] that insists: “We don’t want to take away Kim’s amazing curves, so we just do specific movements to tighten the skin and to pull the muscles tight against the bone.” can just fall off the planet.  Yes, she really said that (People Magazine – go ahead, click it, and then lets get #ThingsSmarterThanTracyAnderson to trend on twitter)

Rock > Tracy Anderson

Guess what?  There is no such freaking thing as tightening the skin around your muscles – that’s just gross and weird.  Unless you’re talking some serious Nip/Tuck, you will not find that sort of nonsense occurring in the gym.  That requires a scalpel and some Frankenstein stuff.  Put it out of your mind.

Another thing I need you to forget about is body builders.  You are all brainwashed into thinking that lifting weights = body building, and that if you start picking up weights you’re going to start looking like those tan bikini-clad mini-hulks.  I’m not saying bodybuilding isn’t bad ass, because it is, but most of us aren’t training for that.  To be brutally honest, the extreme amount of dieting, supplementation, discipline and volume of training that it takes to be a bodybuilder is completely out of the relm of possibility for just about all of us…so stop flattering yourself.

Instead of talking about celebrities who aren’t real people, I’m going to make this nice and simple.  Did anyone watch the US women’s soccer team over the summer?  If you didn’t – go sit in the corner. For the rest of you, did Abby Wambach or Hope Solo look like crazies on steroids?  No. Would women kill to be Alex Morgan (or would men kill to be WITH Alex Morgan?) YUP.  Do they all lift weights?  You better believe it. And I’m talking real weights – not cute little colored dumbbells.  They are soccer players.  They squat more than you weigh.

Alex Morgan

Abby Wambach

Reality check: women do not have enough testosterone to become huge no matter how much they lift – and it does not change with the increasing intensity of your work out.  You would need to supplement (legally, or illegally) your face off, and even THEN, you wouldn’t reach the status a man does because of those pesky sex hormones and their fluctuation.  In fact, I DARE YOU to try to bulk up.  Nia Shanks, author of the Beautiful Badass blog and part of the Girls Gone Strong movement (which you should check out, btw) claims to be so confident that you won’t, that if you start training FOR REAL and you get bulky, she’ll allow you roundhouse kick her in the face.  I’m just as confident – so when you’re done kicking her, you can come find me. Be warned: I kick back.

I’ll even use myself as an example.  Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I recognize that I’m actually in the minority.  I put on muscle easier than most, and everyone knows I train with weights, so a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them they won’t get huge.  Fortunately for all you doubters, I have photo evidence. (NOTE: I do not have access to photoshop or any other fancy editing tool and if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use it.  All these pictures you can find perfectly untouched on my facebook.) Boom.

Before I lifted heavy weights, my body composition was relatively the same, but with higher body fat.  Genetically, I am short and stocky, and I would be whether I decided to play video games, run marathons, or lift weights.  I’ve always been a higher size in clothing, and my measurements have only changed slightly over the years.  Ironically, though, what ended up happening once I started serious training was my waist size decreased, and so did my arm circumference, even though you can see visible muscles now.  This is due to the corresponding decrease in body fat, NOT the excess growth of muscle tissue.  Unfortunately, there was no increase in height despite my huge desire to dunk a basketball. Oh well, another life….

Here is a picture of me playing lacrosse during my freshman year of college.  Besides playing lax and the occasional (awful) gym workout, I was not particularly in shape.  I could do regular body weight push ups, but no pull ups, and I didn’t squat, deadlift, or do anything remotely awesome.

Me in 2007

Notice my arm size (this is important) and the presence of a small gut (haha thats just funny).

Now, here I am junior year, after coming back from an ACL injury, completely changing the way I ate and after doing A LOT of heavy strength training.  At this point in time I could complete a body weight pull up, over 30 push ups, and I was squatting around my body weight (which at the time was 160).

Me in 2009

You’ll see that my broad shoulders are still the same broad shoulders they always were, they didn’t magically appear.  My arms, however, are actually slightly smaller, the gut is mainly gone, and my legs have muscles peaking out – muscles that were there already, NOT ones that hypertrophied enough to warrant a jump in pants size.  In fact, I dropped quite a few pants sizes between freshman and junior year.

Here is a more recent photo of me taken just a few months ago – at this point I can complete 5 WEIGHTED pull ups, squat 225 for reps and deadlift 235 for reps and you’ll notice that not much as changed in my body composition from 2009 to now. The only thing that has increased is my strength (and therefore, my awesomeness)

Me in 2011

So here’s my main message: most of you are smart enough to know that not everything you read in the magazines is the truth.  You know that celebrities are photoshopped, you know diet cleanses are stupid, and you know that being skinny isn’t always healthy.  Well here’s a new one: women can (and should) lift weights without worrying about getting bulky.  Use your brains, because I really want you guys to stop being so afraid to challenge yourself.  You’re missing out on AWESOME workouts – and you’re missing out on GREAT accomplishments.  No one said you had to enter a powerlifting meet, but I hope that by putting myself out there I have helped you realize that strength is something to strive for, not shy away from.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, or you just want to read into this more, please check out this article: http://www.stumptuous.com/lies-in-the-gym (its absolutely hilarious – if you like what I write, you’ll love this). Also check the blog & videos of Nia Shanks.  You’ll thank me for it.  And if you ever use the phrase “I just want to get toned” in my presence, I promise I will go out of my way to make you feel bad. 🙂

“Rage” part 2!

In Part 1 we talked about why I hate machines as the main component of any training program – if you haven’t read that, you need to (don’t worry, we’ll wait.)

Now, here are some suggestions [read: laws] for making your strength training routine safe and fierce.

  1. Split stance & single leg anything
  • Training unilaterally (one side at a time) vs bilaterally (both sides) is a great variation for beginners, but is also something that shouldn’t be neglected by advanced lifters.  A lot of people have very tight hips, ankles, and thoracic spines which makes squatting and other bilateral activities VERY difficult to achieve successfully from the beginning.  Athletes also have a tendency to be asymmetrical for a lot of reasons, particularly if they have a dominant side.  The split stance is a GREAT alternative because it teaches the proper pattern, establishes balance, strengthens the right muscles, and increases mobility [its like magic, except real]. Basically it is very hard to screw up and still gets the job done. Examples of these include (but are not limited to) the split squat, lunge variations, step ups, and single leg squats.  You can also use this same approach with upper body work including single arm chest presses and single arm db rows – particularly if you notice that one side is weaker than the other.
This is a photo set of what an overhead split squat might look like. (yes, this was taken in the house using photo booth. What do you do with YOUR free time?)

overhead split squat

Major points: the knee of the front leg doesn’t cross the toe (forms a 90 degree angle when flexed), the back knee hovers above the ground but doesn’t touch, and the arms remain straight – squeeze your shoulder blades together like you’re trying to keep a marble lodged between them. For the split squat, the movement is up and down, for a lunge, it is obviously forward or backward.

This following photo is a split-stance reach – it helps teach the proper hip hinge technique on both sides and is the foundation for many exercises.  It is great for a dynamic warm up and provides a killer hamstring stretch.

split stance reaches

Notice the neutral spine position (no arch or curve) – truthfully, my torso should be more parallel to the ground but I only had 3 seconds to run into position 😉 Also: you want your hips to remain FLAT (aka no tilting to one side – we are not swimming and gasping for air a la Michael Phelps)

2. Overhead movements

    • Putting the arms overhead is a great way to increase flexibility throughout the latissimus dorsi, rectus abdominis and pectoralis muscles while simultaneously activating the mid & lower trapezius.  In most people, including athletes, these muscles are common problem areas due to posture or overuse of the internal rotators. Using a split stance position while putting the arms overhead allows for more mobility through these areas than you would achieve bilaterally.  The added bonus of using overhead movements? It can create a huge challenge for the dynamic stabilizers of the trunk (these are an abdominal workout worth doing).  Try holding both arms up in the air while doing lunges – even without weight, the change in the center of gravity will illustrate my point. (refer to the above photo as an example)

3. Combination moves

    • Wish you could have your cake and eat it too? (which is a stupid expression, if I have cake, I’m going to eat it, that’s the point) – but in terms of your workout, where cake is not an option, the next best thing is a movement that combines patterns and uses a lot of different muscles.  Whether you’re looking for calorie blasting moves, or you’re just trying to be more dynamically efficient, these are awesome.  This is where you can get creative – some of my favorites are the step up into a reverse lunge, the split squat into a push press, or if you’re really really awesome – the burpee into a jump pull up. yes please.

4. Plank variations

  • Contrary to popular belief, the point of your “core” is to keep your spine stable during motion- not to constantly flex your lower back.  The best way to build a solid foundation is to master different variations of the plank exercise. The good ol “hold the plank position for as long as possible” is great, but its not the only way.  There are a lot of progressions that are great for every training program. Try getting into the plank position, reaching out your hand, and tapping it on the ground 10x.  Then switch hands.  Then each foot.  All while keeping your spine neutral and your hips straight.

plank taps

Again notice the flat spine – you achieve this by keeping your chest elevated, squeezing those shoulder blades together, sucking in your stomach and squeezing your glutes.  Also, my legs aren’t touching the ground – my shorts are just baggy 😉

athlete's plank

The athlete’s plank is the most challenging variation – you want to maintain a neutral spine and keep your hips flat while dynamically changing the center of gravity.  The leg and arm shouldn’t cause your back to hyperextend – you want to remain in a straight line.  The wider your stance, the easier it is to maintain.  I kept my feet just outside of my hips in this example, which is a good place to start for this one. The stronger you get, the narrower the stance should be.

Currently I have some variation of all of these things in my training program.  I spent a lot of time last semester working bilaterally on deadlifts, front squats and hang cleans, so for the next couple of weeks, I’m focusing on fixing some imbalances and changing up my routine.

Videos will be up in the next few weeks when I get back to Miami and have some assistance, but until then, give these moves a try. Thanks to everyone who has hit me up with feedback – please keep it up, and share this blog 🙂

My Rage Against the Machine(s)

Some things just go together.  Peanut butter & jelly. Coffee & Mornings. LeBron James & Miami (haha, hi haters). But I’m about to break up a couple that was doomed from the start: big bulky machines & fitness facilities are NOT compatible according to my eHarmony.

I’m talking about the usual culprits: the leg press, the leg extension, the chest press, etc.    Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer in lifting weights.  Not only is it the best for building strength, but nothing compares when you’re looking for body composition changes and all around awesomeness.  It is one of the few activities in the gym that can be manipulated to achieve just about any goal you can think of — yes, you can even reap cardiovascular benefits.  But what is the one thing these machines have in common?  Just about all of them require you to sit down to use them.

Now…I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the reason most of you go to the gym is to get in shape. So, if you’ve been sitting a lot, and that hasn’t given you the body of your dreams, doesn’t it seem a bit counterintuitive to sit down when you’re “working out”?  Just because you changed your environment doesn’t mean it magically fixes the problem: sitting is sitting no matter where you are my friends.  We already know that excess sitting tends to lead to poor posture, weak muscles, and bad flexibility.  But instead of combating that with movement, the seated machine approach perpetuates an already bad situation.  Its like being lactose intolerant and having an all-dairy diet. Fail.

via Google Image

But one of the biggest issues I’ve run into when training has been people’s hesitance about their form.  They always say “well I don’t want to do the exercises wrong, so I just stay on the machines because they’re safer”.  Safer than what, exactly?

I get it.  For the most part, these things are very user friendly.  They have idiot-proof ikea-like diagrams on them, have you strapped in so you can’t fall out, and isolate a specific muscle so you know exactly what you’re working.

via Google Image

The only problem is these machines were originally designed for two purposes: bodybuilding and rehabilitation.  They became popular thanks to Arnold and his pecs in the 80’s, and ever since then, they’ve just been taking up space and making me cranky.  Their purpose was to isolate a particular muscle for aesthetic purposes, or to combat atrophy from injury – not to turn you into a greek god.

Here’s a knowledge bomb: these machines are actually almost guaranteed to aggravate movement patterns, enforce imbalances & cause more issues down the line than the bodyweight & free motion movements will.  Not only do we have the whole “you’re still sitting and therefore losing” situation, but there’s also the issue of muscle isolation.

Dynamic stabilization (aka having control of your body while in motion) is a crucial component of baseline functionality.  Isolating a muscle one at a time takes out the need for those small stabilizers to do any work, and they become too weak to support activity – the chink in the armor, so to speak.  By isolating a particular muscle and ONLY working that muscle, you ignore the connective tissue/ligaments/tendons and all the muscles surrounding it and instead only hypertrophy the muscle fibers in that plane of motion.  This doesn’t sound terrible, but eventually you create an imbalance – the stabilizers that are supposed to assist a muscle are too weak and as a compensation, get taken over by something else.  This is known as synergistic dominance, and a classic example occurs when the hamstrings take over as a major hip extensor to compensate for a weak gluteus maximus.  Why is this a problem?  It is like replacing your entire starting line up with your bench players.  It might get the job done, but it doesn’t have the staying power as the original.

So then you have this issue occurring all over: excess strength in the chest vs upper back, stronger quads vs hamstrings, weak energy transfer through the trunk.  Pretty soon, every movement you make is essentially like wrapping a thin rubber band around a tree stump and trying to pull it out of the ground.  The larger muscle just creates more stress on the surrounding structures because it hasn’t been trained as a unit.  Then, the minute you go to perform a functional task (like throwing a ball or picking something up) you run the risk of tearing at the musculotendinous junction.  Here’s an example using the calf/achilles complex as to where these injuries usually happen.  The red inflammation should give you a hint.

via Google Image

Does this always happen? No – it is an extreme example, but you can imagine what happens when athletes train this way exclusively and then attempt explosive movements. See ya at the orthopedic.  This is also the issue behind many randomly tweaked backs, pulled groins, and other injuries we see with the general population. So my question is, why train pieces of your body when you can train the whole system?  A) it is more time efficient and B) the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.  When you train the body as a unit, it performs as a unit – and the more connected it is, the stronger you become.

via Google Image

Unfortunately there are a million exercises to choose from and the “technique police” are always watching – but in Part 2 I’ll share some tips for keeping it safe, balanced and obviously awesome.  Get excited.