Monthly Archives: February 2012

All Star Weekend!

Hey guys!

Another hectic week for me – but the team is 2-0, and we’re on to the next one! I’ll keep you all posted 😉

Also, HAPPY ALL STAR WEEKEND! Basketball (particularly the Miami Heat & one LeBron James) = my favorite thing on the planet. So I’m happy this evening.

Haters gonna hate...

I don’t really have a post planned, but I finally caught up on some reading and wanted to share some stuff that I found pretty cool. These are my “ALL STAR” picks of the week. Enjoy! I’ll be back at it next week with some new videos!

Are Pull Ups Essential?

^ Even though I’m a huge pull up fan, I love the points Eric brings up.  Obviously his main clientele consists of major league baseball players, where elbow health is PRIORITY – but its just another great reminder that no exercise fits all.  Some people can get away with living & breathing pull ups, while others would be better suited with alternate forms of pulling.

Chin Up Progressions

^For my bad ass females who SHOULD be focusing on chin ups. Here’s some cool variations to get you there! & I love how Tony writes, haha.

Complete Guide to Complexes

^ More details about constructing barbell complexes – since I’m obviously a huge fan of these, I figured you all should be too 😉

Muscle Confusion

^ Any time we can make fun of stupid terms like ‘muscle confusion’ – I’m down. Sarah does a good job with this one.

What are you all training this week? Is anyone still keeping with their new years resolutions? I’m working hard on my pull ups & 120s… my lats HATE me, but in the best way possible 😉

My favorite sprints

Just finished a chaotic but awesome week of practice with the lacrosse team.  I finally have all the girls back from their various other sports, and we are preparing for our first game next Tuesday (wish us luck!).  I should also start a book with all the things they say, because it is solid gold…but that’s another day 😉

Anyway, this will be a brief post, but last week I talked about barbell complexes and their awesomeness in the conditioning department.  Continuing with that theme, I want to share one of my favorite conditioning “drills” that I’ve used for the past few years as a staple in my own training, and also for the teams I coach.  Its hard as hell, replicated almost anywhere (treadmill/bike/field) and yields fantastic results. Drum roll please….



These bad boys are full field sprints combined with active recovery.  A standard soccer field/football field/lacrosse field is 120 yards in length (if you run from back of the endzone to back of the endzone).  The goal is to sprint from one end to the other as fast as possible (usually in 15-20 seconds).  Then you take the rest of the minute to get back to the start.  As soon as the time is up, you go again.  The trick is to get back as quick as possible so you have time to “rest” but you really end up moving continuously for the entire duration.  Like I said, you can replicate it anywhere just by using the 20:40 work:rest ratio, but the sprint variation is the best.  If you want to try it on a track, use the straightaway and just go back and forth.

A standard women's lacrosse field!

I keep my reps between 5-8, which might seem surprisingly low, but there’s a method to the madness.  I’m really familiar with how challenging these are, and 5 is a good starting goal.  I progress with reps as long as a change in speed is still possible.  If the clock catches up to you and you’re not sprinting anymore, the drill is over.  I’m also very conscious of how fast that sprint is.  Most of the time, the first 2-3 will be consistent at 15-17 seconds, but as soon as it starts to drop to 25-30 seconds, I make a note of it and know what to look for next time.  I’ve seen most people try to get kids to do 10, 12, even 15 – which is definitely achievable – but you have to watch the clock.  Finishing all of those is one thing, but I’m more about the quality of the sprint than the quantity.

Like I mentioned, these create a15-20s work:40s recovery interval – and I’m a huge fan of it. Without getting too much into “training zones” and heart rates and all that, I’m just going to share some simple observations.  High school kids (especially girls) notoriously go on long runs and prefer distance over sprinting.  They rarely do any high intensity work that will force them to improve their buffering capacity (outside of the sports they play).  Knowing this, and using 120’s in combination with the other work they do, I see HUGE improvements in their game endurance.  It is also very sport specific for activities like soccer and lacrosse – ESPECIALLY for midfielders who literally need to have the ability to sprint from sideline to sideline multiple times a game.

The girls ran their first 120s this week (and loved them, by the way – haha, ok, not really).  I used it as a test to see where they’re at… Most of them did well – and a few actually impressed me.  They’ll continue to perform them at least once a week (depending on our game schedule) throughout the season and we’ll see how they improve.  I’d like to see us get to 8 pretty consistently, but we’ll see!

Do you guys have any conditioning drills/workouts that are staples in your programs? What interval (work/rest ratio) do you like to use?

Conditioning is not complex – or is it?

I know, the title of this post is too clever.  Thank me later.

But for real: barbell/dumbbell complexes are intense- they build strength, “blast fat” (which is a hilarious term) and give a heck of a conditioning workout in a short time.  They’re the ultimate time saver in the gym – but you get massive benefits from including them in a program.  To keep it simple, a complex is just a sequence of moves that flow together using the same modality (dumbbells or a barbell).  They’ve been written about a lot in the fitness world – but I still rarely see people program them (correctly) into their workouts.  I get why – they’re beyond a lot of people’s comfort zones, it is hard to know exactly where to put them in a program, they’re sometimes hard for beginners to write/perform on their own, and they are FAR from glamorous if done correctly.  Usually when I’m done with a few rounds of complexes, I’m laying in the middle of the gym not caring who has to step over me.  Trust me, though, they are worth every painful second.

Istvan Javorek is the father of complexes (because, with that kind of name, of course he is) and he explains his intentions with this punishing system: “My Original Goal with the Complex exercises was to find an efficient and aggressive method of performance enhancement that saves time and makes the program more enjoyable.” ….And by “enjoyable” we mean “deadly”.  But who doesn’t love blood, sweat and tears?  
I’m kidding – sort of – but these exercises really do add a lot of variety into your program and they are MUCH more entertaining than running.  Nope, that’s not an opinion – just a fact.
Similar to circuit training, these complexes are ideal for body composition changes due to the easy manipulation of work:rest ratios. Complexes will use a set weight (usually 35-55 for women, and maybe 60-75 for men) and combine movements in a specific pattern. You have a ton of flexibility in terms of how many reps, how many rounds, and how to set up the rest periods – all dependent upon training goals.  Want to get diesel?  Add more weight, go less times.  Want to go build stamina?  Drop weight, add more sets.
There are a few different ways to construct complexes, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is a CONDITIONING workout.  You want to perform moves in rapid succession with very little transition time – so it is important to pick moves that flow well together.  It is also awesome because you don’t have to worry about people taking your equipment – just clear some space & hit it.  For example, check this video:
When I go home to upstate NY in the winter and running outside is an absolute disaster, barbell complexes are a staple in my programming.  [One of the few reasons I’m reppin the Syracuse tshirt in the vid – also a shout out to some fabulous friends back home].  It helps me keep my strength and technique on most of my lifts and helps me stay conditioned.  I wrote up this complex in December with two goals in mind: 1) conditioning and 2) some split stance and core stability work – hence the overhead & reverse lunges. I typically pair the movements based on the ease of transitioning the bar.  In this case, I go hang clean with a high receive, which sets me up perfectly for any front loaded movement: a front squat, or in this case, a push press.  I chose the overhead lunges because the bar was already in the top position from the previous push press.  After the lunges, when I brought the bar back to chest level (front loaded position) it was easy to perform front loaded reverse lunges.  Finally, I brought the bar back down and performed the RDL+Row combo.
The other unique thing about this complex is I chose to do 1 rep of each move in succession.  I only showed one progression on the video, but one “round” of that complex consists of 3-4 times through the entire progression.  By the time the round ends, you’ve performed 4 hang cleans, 4 push presses, 4 OH lunges each side, 4 reverse lunges each side, and 4 of the RDL/Row combos.
Another (more common) approach is to perform the exercises in succession, like a circuit.  Here is another example:
In this video, I chose 4 front squats, 4 push presses, 4 reverse lunges per side, then 4 RDLs and 4 rows.  After that, you would rest for a certain time (45 sec-2 minutes, depending on your goal and your training tenure) and hit it again for a few rounds. I happen to like using 4 reps at the moment, but I’ve seen anywhere from 3-6 being used.  Keep in mind the total time you’re working & plan it accordingly.
The best way to start incorporating these into your training is to do them on their own day.  If you already have specific “cardio” or “conditioning” days built into your program, try substituting barbell complexes in there as the the main component.  You won’t really have the energy to do anything else, but you’ll become a monster at them.

There is no off switch

When you get used to this type of training, you can start playing around with when you use it.  Sometimes I save these until the end to finish with, and other times I’ll start my workout with them if I know I don’t have anything else extremely taxing planned.  There’s no “wrong” way – just make sure you’re comfortable with the moves before you try to do them.  ALSO – if you start to lose your junk and you become a hot mess, drop the weight down.  This isn’t about getting the rounds done any way possible.  Its about getting the rounds done and looking like a person.  I don’t have time for injuries, sorry.

If you use these in your training – what’s your favorite combination of moves?

Behind the scenes programming: #StrengthCoachProblems

Putting together a training program can be a daunting task, even when you know what you’re doing.  You can write the greatest program in the world, with every awesome exercise in the PERFECT ORDER ….but its almost a guarantee that you’ll be forced to deviate from it at some point.  That goes for anyone, whether you’re programming for yourself, a client, or a whole gaggle.

My peeps

There are tons of things to throw you off course: equipment (or lack of), weight room/gym hours, illness, crazy schedules…or, with teams: attendance (this is a big one with high school kids), coach’s requests, varying degrees of ability, small groups/big groups, etc.  Since punching most of these things in the face is not an option, you have to be flexible. When I finally wrote the workouts for lacrosse last semester, I had to make a lot of adjustments to accommodate the restrictions.  I wanted to share some of my experiences with this because too many times the emphasis is placed on “ideal” without a concept of “reality” – and part of being a coach/trainer/teacher is being able to adjust on the fly.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) since there is not a head strength coach at the high school, I was able to have full control over the days we worked out and the program I wanted the kids to follow.  It was cool because I already knew a lot of their strengths and weaknesses, so I went in there with a few clear goals.

The most important ones for our team were:

  1. Injury prevention/Technique – This should be the same no matter WHO is running the show, but I’m mentioning it anyway.  I have a group of high risk athletes, and a lot of them haven’t done proper strength training before.  It was important to me to assess them, teach them, and then have them doing exercises that would hopefully prevent major non-contact injuries.
  2. Dynamic movements – I wanted them to learn some dynamic warm ups and get used to the idea of preparing for a workout WITHOUT static stretching (see earlier posts).  Having them slowly get used to this idea would make for a smoother transition in the spring when the season starts. A-skips and walking lunges seem great *and easy* in theory, but if you’ve ever had inexperienced kids try to perform them…. its a hot mess. There’s a definite learning curve here.
  3. General conditioning – Both weight training days and field days had a component of conditioning built in.  I either programmed some metabolics after they lifted, or finished the field days with some form of interval training.  Lacrosse requires less endurance than soccer, but because of the number of speed changes and change of direction movements that occur, conditioning is a huge component.
  4. Variety of agility – I started every field session started with a few agility drills.  It is really important to program the agilities before anything else since they are the most neurologically demanding component of the program.  You don’t want them fatigued trying to cut sharply because A) the technique is atrocious [more than usual] and B) it just puts them at a higher risk for injury.  I had them doing T drills, L drills, short cone suicides, box drills, etc.  Simple but very effective and I was able to monitor technique.  We incorporated backward shuffles, lateral movements and also complete change of direction into these as well.

Now, logistically, I had a small group of girls – probably about 5-8 each session consistently – which worked out in my favor given the size of the weightroom and the lack of equipment.  The rest of the team plays soccer (a winter sport in sunny florida), so their conditioning and agility prep is already implied.  We spent 2 days in the weight room and 2 days on the field at the beginning, then, because of various school functions and vacation days, we transitioned to 2 days outside and 1 day in the weightroom.  Since I had to cut a day, I decided that the lacrosse specific movements/conditioning were more important at that point.  They were still able to do a lot of the dynamic/corrective work outside, so the important “prehab” stuff was still incorporated.

On weight room days, I programmed 2 tri-sets of corrective dynamic exercises for their warm up: all of the girls had similar issues [lateral sway in the hips, weak upper back, tight hamstrings, knees caving in, etc] so they were all able to perform these together as a group.  I had plank variations, split stance reaches, QL stretches, Y’s/T’s, single leg hip raises, etc.

Then it got crazy.  The 2 squat racks in the weight room are those ridiculous Hammer Strength/Smith machine contraptions (which, if you don’t know what these are, they are basically the US Air of equipment…. aka: a failure).

useless air

Knowing this, and also by seeing the issues the team had, I programmed almost exclusively unilateral lifts (overhead bulgarian split squats, step ups, various lunges, etc) and then used the excess amount of benches we had to do incline push ups.  The “squat” racks were used to do inverted rows and the pull up bars were used to do eccentric pull ups. It was all fine and good on paper, but when the girls were actually in there, it was like a traffic jam.

What else is new?

I had to change some of the pairings so no one would be standing around waiting for equipment.  I decided to partner them and go by stations.  I put 2-3 exercises per station using the same equipment (for example: bulgarians using the bench, push ups using the bench, then step ups using the bench).  I was lucky because we weren’t doing anything super heavy, so exercise order, while important, wasn’t as crucial as it might be any other time.  I knew going in that the workouts would be total-body focused, so there was no body part splits or other issues to deal with.  They needed to learn how to use their bodies as a unit, not in isolation, so for our goals this approach made the most sense.  It also gave me a lot of flexibility AND cut down on unnecessary “rest” time, which incorporated a bit of a conditioning.  I just had to be cautious about which exercises were more time consuming than others (step ups since they are done one leg at a time clearly take longer than push ups) so it was just something else to consider when making the stations.

The final part came at the end with a more conditioning focused circuit.  Typically I’d split the girls in half and have one group go through circuit A and the other through circuit B and then switch.  These were quick, intense, and used minimal equipment.  I had them do lateral jumps/skaters, snatch jacks, burpees, body weight squats, etc.  Sometimes I’d throw in a med ball to make it interesting, but I tried to keep it simple and effective.  This was a crowd pleaser since they were able to race each other through, which made it a “team” activity while keeping it intense.  Game on.


As much of a self proclaimed meathead as I am, my favorite days were actually the field days.  I had more space, and all I needed for equipment was a few cones.  Agilities are one of my favorite things – you’re really only limited by your creativity.  This was also so much easier to plan – I would just split the group in half and have two drills going simultaneously.  I like to make them go through each one 3-4x: Why? I just noticed that after 4, they get tired/lazy/bored with it, but 2 times isn’t really enough.  After the agility section, I’d have them go through the main conditioning portion.  They ran field sections using the soccer field (sprint one, jog 3, sprint 2, jog 2, sprint 3, jog 1, sprint all 4) on some days, and various sprint distances on other days.  Then they’d finish with some stretching.

All in all these sessions took about 35-45 minutes, and the weight room sessions about 50-60.  If you’re efficient, you shouldn’t have to train for more than an hour.  Anything longer than that and the kids get lazy/tired and their attention span is out the door.  Even if its just a 30 minute session but its at a high tempo and you get your work done, it is ten times more effective than a 3 hour block of torture.  I also didn’t do anything fancy – as much as I wanted to try to teach them really cool things, I needed to be practical.  You have to take into account the learning curve and if its really worth spending a ton of time learning one complicated move.  For my purposes, having them execute the basics at a high level was more important.

Obviously it is all a learning experience and some days went a lot smoother than others – but in the end, it was really successful.  My advice: write down everything, including notes AFTER a workout.  This is where I was able to make the best adjustments because I could see exactly where things needed to be changed and then could go in the next session with a better plan.  Even if you’re just programming training sessions for yourself, take notes of the sticking points – not just your performance.  Did you use too much equipment?  Did the circuit flow the way you wanted it to?  If the gym is crowded, do you have an alternative?  It seems tedious, but trust me, it makes a huge difference.