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Sprints & Hamstring Health

With summer FINALLY upon us, and amazing weather to take advantage of, most of us are ditching the dark gym for the outdoors. And, with everyone jumping on the HIIT and sprint bandwagon, that means lots of ugly track workouts and soccer fields being used for the first time in….ever.

I’m a huge advocate of getting outside and running around like a lunatic, but there are a few things to keep in mind when making the transition from treadmill/weight training to outdoor running & conditioning.

1. If you tend to program a lot of Romanian deadlifts (and also Good Morning’s) in your workout, you’re going to want to decrease these a bit and start adding some more glute/ham raises & leg curls. The RDL specifically targets the high hamstring, but tends to leave the belly of the hamstring neglected. If there is too much emphasis placed on this movement, it tends to create an imbalance.  The result? The first time you go to run might just be the last of the summer. Be sure to adjust accordingly.

Hamstring complex

A little Anatomy note: As you can see, the biceps femoris is right in the middle. One head stretches from the ischium to the sacrotuberal ligament, and the other stretches from the linea aspera near the adductor to the high insertion near the glutes. It is the most commonly injured portion of the hamstring, particularly at that high insertion point.

2. If you haven’t been sprinting in awhile, start with stairs and/or hills. It sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. The hill doesn’t need to be dramatic, just a slight incline (~ <12% grade). The incline shortens the stride length which will protect the hamstrings and let them work up to full sprint capacity. Also, don’t worry about sprinting down the hill or down the stairs. The eccentric stress is too great & trust me – you’ll still feel it in your legs if you slow down your pace to walk down.

3. Not every workout has to be an all-out max sprint effort. In fact, it shouldn’t be. 1-2 of those a week is sufficient because they’re extremely taxing on the nervous system, even if you’re only out there for 20 minutes. It is the same as strength training. You’re not always lifting at your max, so don’t sprint at it either.

4. Stride workouts are pretty awesome. A lot of people have heard of 400m repeats, which are usually all-out sprints performed in a 60-90sec time frame with a large rest period (3-5 minutes). But for a lot of people I like using 400m repeats a bit above their mile pace with a 1:1 rest. Just take your mile time (for example: 8 minutes). This means each lap (400m) would be run at a 2 minute pace. Shoot for 2 minutes at first, with a 2 minute rest (4-6 reps).

It is less taxing on the hamstrings, helps build work capacity, and improves overall conditioning and running pace. Obviously, adjust for your goals, but if you’re just looking to improve body composition and get in running shape, these are great.

5. A dynamic warm up is important for running workouts. Get the body going & the hamstrings prepared with some drills and leave the static stretching to recovery days. Find a routine that works for you and that doesn’t take too much time. 5-7 minutes should be enough.

And last but not least..

6. RECOVER. Even if you aren’t as sore as you would be from lifting, let your body recover. You are hitting your body with a new (and intense) stimulus, and it needs time to adapt. Space out your lifting sessions and give yourself some time off. Your body – especially your hamstrings – will thank you.

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5 Ways to Work Your Winter Conditioning

It’s so weird to be back up north and suddenly have seasons to deal with – namely, winter. So with that, I figured I would defrost my workouts and write about some off-beat ways to focus on conditioning and still make progress while waiting for the snow to melt.

1. Ropes – Both battle ropes and traditional climbing ropes have always been useful to bust through plateaus no matter what the season. If you’re lucky enough to have access to either of these, make them work for you. Rope rows & pull ups with a traditional climbing rope are awesome variations, especially for the challenge in grip and stability. Using both have helped both my deadlift and my pull up numbers increase noticeably. I also love ending workouts with battle rope sessions because they’re high intensity and completely unforgiving. There is also a lot of variety in terms of work:rest ratios and movements.

2. Valslides – I invested in a pair of these bad boys, and they’ve added some major variations in training. They’re awesome because you can bring them anywhere and they fit into any program. I also love putting plates on them and pushing them across the ground. Normally you can get away with pushing the plates without them, but to avoid tearing up the gym floor/rug, the slides help. Plate pushes are great if you don’t have access to a prowler and/or if space is limited – in fact, they’re actually more challenging since they’re so low to the ground. I sometimes throw a couple of sets of plate pushes in at the end of a session or between exercises to keep my heart rate up. I also love adding the valslides to traditional exercises like reverse lunges, lateral lunges, and core work. They’re great add-ins for super sets, or perfect for circuits.

3. Super sets – Since my main goal has been to keep my strength but not increase body fat, most of my weight training has been using some form of a super set or contrast set method. My main goal with this is to do a strength movement (squat, deadlift, etc) followed by a total body cardio movement. For example: KB goblet squats s/s tuck jumps or OH bulgarians s/s snatch jacks. They keep your heart rate going the entire session, and you’re wiped out after 30-40 minutes. Amazing.

4. Treadmill pushes – Use with caution because I’m sure they tear up the machine, but again, if you don’t have access to a prowler, running against the resistance of the treadmill when it isn’t on is FIERCE. It’s a killer interval workout when you can’t get outside – I love running intervals and then finishing with some pushes to absolutely smoke a conditioning session. I typically go about 10-15 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 5-8 reps. I’ve also been experimenting with sprints on the treadmill using an incline of 10 & high speed running for 20 sec on, 40 sec off.

5. Jacobs Ladder- I know they’re not available in every gym, but if you have one, give it a shot. It’s perfect for intervals, and it is MUCH harder than it seems at first. I like the fact that it is a manually controlled total body movement that keeps track of your pace along with the time. Try to hit the same pace each time and mess around with different work/rest ratios (sometimes I just do a simple 1 minute on, 1 minute off, or 1 minute on, 30 sec off for example). It’s just something different from the same old stuff and it is fairly easy on the joints. All good things.

#TeamNoDaysOff

Nothing screams NEW YEAR like crowded gyms, over zealous facebook statuses and stale Christmas cookies. With that, I figured, what better way to return to the blogosphere than to comment, in usual sarcastic fashion, about goals/resolutions and why your over-the-top approach is already a failure.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 11.52.31 AM

With everyone aggressively dieting and exercising, I just want to shed some light on the chaos that will be taking over social media for the next 3-4 weeks. This phenomenon of ‘all or nothing’, intense, fast-paced, DON’T QUIT attitude is admirable, to a certain extent, but downright dangerous when abused. It’s what causes me to take a step back from posting articles on facebook at this time of year.  In fact, I tend to remain tight lipped about fitness & conditioning in general unless it is really necessary for me to intervene. Otherwise I have the same conversation with everyone I meet– “No, I haven’t tried p90x” “No, I don’t know what muscle confusion is.” “I don’t take supplements”. etc.

I belong to pretty much every social media site out there – instagram, pinterest, twitter – you name it, I’m creeping. But one thing seems to be constant — people using these sites to fuel their fitness fire (and, subsequently, their addiction) and motivate themselves with catch phrases like ‘NO DAYS OFF’ and ‘2-A-DAYS!’. Unless you’re a HS athlete training during preseason (aka a 3 week period), 2 a days are a poor decision 99% of the time. Don’t just take my word for it, your central nervous system will give you all the proof you need.

Coming off a significant lifting/blogging hiatus, I can tell you for a fact that sometimes, you just need to SIT. THE. HELL. DOWN. I can admire people with weight loss goals, and those that have had success from working hard, but I assure you that the “no days off” approach will only get you so far before an injury, or, perhaps even worse, a total burn out occurs. Sure, you’ll see results at first – and probably some significant ones, because guess what? Everything works….until it doesn’t. So when the plateau hits, the golden rule to remember is that more is NOT better.

Whether you’re coming off an injury, you’re finally making a health conscious effort, or you’re just trying to get back up after falling off the wagon during the holidays – I applaud the initiative. But do yourself a favor, and steer clear from the social media frenzy that starts as motivation and can seriously deter your progress. Creating new habits and making significant lifestyle changes takes time, and your body needs a chance to adapt and recover. Nothing worth having ever comes easy (or fast), so patience is key. If you want these changes to last, you have to build a foundation.

 

The main resolution for 2013: Have more patience. 

Are YOU fitter than a high schooler?

Pre-season conditioning started today for HS Lax and therefore I’m back on my blogging wagon. As you can tell from my lame terribly witty title, I’m putting a spin on ‘Are you smarter than  5th grader’ – and essentially creating another mildly entertaining way to feel inadequate. Just kidding 🙂

The following is day 1 of our conditioning program and all you need is a track, or soccer field, and a speed ladder (or random objects that you can line up and use as such). I didn’t hold back when I wrote up this one – but my team managed to get through it. Can you?

Best show ever.

Dynamics

*Pick your favorites, or use these (15-20 yards each):

Knee to chest, OH Rev lunge, Fwd lunge + hamstring, Frankensteins, Lateral shuffle (both directions), fast feet halfway / butt kicks half way, high knees halfway/ butt kicks halfway, run, backpedal, run 75% both ways, sprint both ways

Neural prep

Using the track lines “fast feet”- 15 sec “soccer ball” taps, 15 sec front to back, 15 sec lateral hops (x3)

Speed ladder: single foot in + run to cone (~10-20 meters) w/ jog back (x3), double foot x3, lateral both directions x4 (2 each way)

“Lane drills”: ~20-30 meters

A: Run – backpedal x4

B: Lateral shuffle to cone & sprint back x4 (2 each direction)

Rest, water, etc.

Main conditioning:

1 Mile run – timed.

Cool down & stretch.

The entire thing took about 40 minutes – it was a way to get stretching, neural prep, agility and conditioning all in one workout PLUS test mile times. I don’t really like the mile as a gauge of fitness, but I wanted times to have an idea of what pace to program when we run 400m and 800m repeats later on. I also know I’ll see improvements in it without necessarily running it all the time, so that result is something more tangible for the athletes vs adding reps to their 4o0m workouts. (What’s all this nonsense? Check out my post about track repeats here )

On Thursday we hit the weights – and I’m going from a weight room with 1 squat rack to a weight room with 6 & bumper plates. Best news ever.

The fitness shortcut

I usually keep my blog posts pretty upbeat (albeit sprinkled with sarcasm) but today I feel the need to vent. This is directed at mainstream media for perpetuating the idea that sustainable weight loss can happen overnight and that SKINNY = healthy. Particularly now, with the end of the Olympics and everyone suddenly convinced they can be Greek gods in 2 weeks, I feel this is a great time to be blunt. So read on & consider this some “realistic motivation”.

First & foremost, shout out to Erika for posting this on facebook a few days ago – this is an article on “extreme conditioning” (like INSANITY, P90x, etc.) – it warrants a read for anyone looking to break into these types of programs, and provides a word of caution for the TOO MUCH TOO FAST mentality.

Along the same lines, people constantly ask me for advice on training or nutrition, and for good reason. Normally, if someone approaches me with a question, I’ll dedicate the time and effort to help them make sense of some of the really confusing concepts out there. I get that the fitness industry has become so muddled lately with the arrival of various forms of Crossfit, the ‘GET THIN QUICK’ schemes, and the Tracy Anderson’s of the world preaching their “women shouldn’t lift weights greater than 3lb” shenanigans. It is constantly evolving, sometimes for the good, mostly for the not-so-good, and it can be a very hard and daunting task to embark on a fitness/weight loss journey for the first time (or any time). What I don’t understand, however, is the reaction I get when people come to me for advice and leave utterly disappointed with what I have to say.

Fact

I get it. You think fitness professionals with our various certifications and degrees in college make us some kind of guru with a magic spell that can provide results. Trust me, if I had the secret to easy, fast and cheap weight loss, I wouldn’t be living in my aunt’s basement and applying for jobs every minute of every day. But whenever I’m asked “Hey, how can I lose some extra pounds?” or “Hey, what’s a super food I should eat every day that will make me leaner?” or “What’s the ONE exercise I should be doing to tone up (insert problem area here)?” everyone looks absolutely flabbergasted and downright disgusted when I tell them the truth. You want to lose some weight? You have to work at it hard and consistently. You want a “super” food? There is no such thing. Too much of a good thing is a tragedy. You want ONE exercise? Why limit yourself?

*End conversation & Insert awkward “this girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about face”*

For those of us that really make it a habit and a priority, and our results are obvious, don’t be shocked when I tell you the truth. Why am I stronger than I look? Because I lift heavy weights. Why am I able to sprint on a surgically repaired knee? Because I rehabbed hard and I sprint consistently. Why am I not overweight anymore? Because I stop eating when I’m full. There isn’t anything ground breaking here. There also isn’t anything glamorous. I have tough work outs when no one is looking. I spend more time doubled over trying to breathe than reading magazines at the gym. I try my best. People don’t see that part though. They only know I studied strength & conditioning and therefore probably achieved my goals by default. Let me tell you – it’d be pretty awesome if I got fit just by studying. But there’s a practical application side that needs to be recognized here.

Honestly – we all start somewhere. We all fail and start OVER somewhere. Myself included. Everyone always thinks “yeah, but this is your life’s ambition and you know what you’re doing so how hard can it really be for you?” and “YOU MUST HAVE A SECRET!!!”. Just because I know HOW to program doesn’t mean I always WANT to follow my own ambitious guidelines. Granted, I try to be a living example of what I constantly preach – but I could easily expend my energy searching for an ‘easy out’.  I’ve just decided that it’s not my style – and it shouldn’t be yours either. I have had MULTIPLE set backs where I gained weight and had injuries. I’ve had days where my workouts thoroughly kick my butt, and I have days where I don’t feel like getting off the couch so I don’t. I even have days where I eat McDonalds TWICE in one day. My weight randomly fluctuates because I’m a female and that’s just how we roll. So really, I’m no different from anyone else trying to achieve consistency in their health. But mentally, I know it takes much more than mediocrity.

So, sorry to disappoint you, but if you want to results, you have to be willing to take the time to earn them. I am almost insulted by people that think they can take a shortcut to look like an Olympic athlete. Does that really make any sense? You know how hard they train and the type of motivation they have. If you were so genetically gifted and could look like them in half the time, don’t you think you’d be a medalist by now?

So the moral of the story: it took more than a day to put it on, it is going to take more than a day to come off. Simple as that.

Track workout

My favorite week of the Olympics is almost over, so in its honor, I am providing a track workout.

This may come as a shock, but I run a lot. Not the traditional running (I have a horrible knee & and some ADD that only kicks in when workouts last longer than 60 minutes), but conditioning is still a major priority for me no matter what my other goals are. Most people like the simplicity of running – there isn’t someone over their shoulder judging their form, they can enjoy beautiful weather, and they don’t need kettlebells/sleds/ropes or other awesome metabolic conditioning tools. All it takes is some motivation, some sneakers, an ipod, and the open road. I think that’s awesome and I will never knock someone for trying (I’ll just beg that they lift weights once in awhile and show them a lot of pictures of sprinters….ahem…)

Gold medal winner Allyson Felix

 

BUT for those that want a change of pace, or are looking to improve body composition/increase endurance, this type of workout is for you. The best part about it: you can tailor it to your level & modify it any way you’d like. For athletes looking to maintain sports shape during an off-season period, this is also a great option because you can stay game-ready while still giving your body a break from your sport. In my opinion, this is a moderate workout for field sports like soccer and lacrosse, and great base conditioning for court sports like basketball.

Before beginning, you may want to have an idea of your 1/2 mile time, and your fastest 400m (1 lap) time. This will help to gauge the intensity for repeat runs. For perspective, elite Olympic sprinters will finish a lap in < 50 seconds. Most of us will be in the 1:30-3:00 range. So, for example, if you’re at the 1:30 mark for your best lap, you’re going to want to start this workout at a slower pace (~2 minute laps).

The workout:

Dynamics – pick any 3 mobility drills (inchworms, spidermans, hip flexor mobs, glute mobs, etc) and perform a circuit 2x

Line drills – A march, B march, A skips, B skips, Lateral shuffles, Frankensteins, Hurdlers, backpedal, butt kicks, high knees, easy sprint starts

Optional: Here is where you can include things like burpees, squat jumps, bounds, plyos or shuttle runs if necessary for your training. If you’re experienced with sprinting, you can do some short speed work here. 5x50m with walk back, for example.

Conditioning: 400m at designated pace for the day with same recovery. (1:1) so if you’re trying for 2 minute pace, then you get 2 minute rest. — Be cautious because 2 minutes might feel easy and you might hit the finish faster than expected. Really try to stride and pace yourself because you’re repeating the interval 5-7 times.

Ways to progress/modify: I do this workout 2x a week to start, keeping it constant (possibly adding a lap or 2 until I hit 7). Then I start changing up the interval times (faster pace (1:45) with same 2 minute rest, then faster pace (1:45) with same rest (1:45), etc until I get back to my fastest pace for repeats. Then I retest my fastest pace and see where I’m at.

I’m a fan of treating my running the way I treat reps in the weight room – I like counting them instead of just steadily staring at the clock. This approach works for me because I can periodize and see my progress, but it might take some getting used to for others. Either way, it is a great change of pace (literally ;), so give this a try and let me know your thoughts.

Week in review

I rarely do this (Actually, I don’t think I’ve done it at all) but I thought it might be fun to post my week of workouts. I’ve talked about programming & cycling & given a little bit of insight into the madness that makes up a lot of my philosophy, but I feel like a week’s worth of workouts will do the talking for me. I am also trying to avoid indulging in the pre-Olympic blog posts, since Steph did a killer job and everything I say will just be redundant. So after you read this you can head on over there & check it out.

Currently, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my goals are very conditioning based, with an emphasis on outdoor training. I’ve really just been in the mood to sprint, run, jump and sweat and I have lost a lot of motivation to lift super heavy (blasphemous, I know). I still weight train 2-3x a week, however, and by no means do I take it easy – I’m just not maxing out on any lifts currently. You’ll notice, however, that all the things I know and love (including Olympic lifts and the squat & deadlift variations) are all alive and well. So without further ado, here’s my week in review. (If this blogging thing doesn’t work out, I guess I’ll try poetry)

Saturday

Who wouldn’t want to work out here?

**Yes, that is a real combination of pictures from the park I took a few days ago – so you can understand why I’m extra motivated to be outside these days.

Dynamic warm up: walking lunges w/ glute stretch, reverse lunges with hamstring stretch, inchworms, spidermans, frankensteins, lateral lunge heel grabs, high knees, butt kicks, 10 yard sprints @ 50%, 75%, 100%, 100%

Squat jumps 3×8, Broad jumps x4, Lateral skater jumps 3×5 each way

50 yd sprints x 10 – all out effort, with a walk back to start as recovery

Full field sprints (~100 yds) – x5, with walk back

TRX OH Squat 3×8

Inverted rows 50 / Push ups 50

Total time: ~45 minutes

Monday

I used the little gym at the apartment, which was more than adequate when I got creative 😉 – thinking about doing a series of posts on that at a later time

 

Mobility: Glute mobs / Adductor mobs / Hip flexor stretch /Supine Hamstring kicks x3

3 pt extension/rotation / Spidermans / Yoga push ups x3

 

MB pullover sit up to stand (8lb med ball) 3×5 s/s Lateral cable squat 3×5 both sides

OH DB Kneel to stand hip drill 3×5 per side

Neutral grip chin ups 3×6

Split squat (front loaded) 3×8

Standing lat pulldown 3×8 s/s Alt shoulder press 3×8

Row machine 2×10

Total time: ~30 minutes

 

Wednesday

Back at the park

Same dynamic routine as Saturday – i really love it & it works for me, so I rarely change it

Shuttle runs (~25 yds) x3 per side, 6 total

Agility run (I used trees as markers and made a total of 6 cuts per rep) x4

Tree suicides (These would normally be called cone suicides but I use trees, haha). There are 4-5 trees, and it takes ~15-20 seconds, depending on distance. I used a 1:1 work rest ratio and went 6 times. By around rep 4, the sprints are slow and your glutes are burning.

Cool down

Total time: ~25 minutes

 

Friday

Back at the gym – similar workout with a few differences

Glute mobs / Adductor mobs / Hip flexor stretch /Supine hamstring kicks

3 pt extension/rotation / Spidermans /Yoga push ups

 

MB sit up to stand 3×5

DB Power shrug 3×5

 

DB push press s/s Lat pullovers

DB deadlift s/s machine rows 3×8 / 8

Lateral cable squats s/s Skater jumps 3×5 per side (both)

Asym. rev lunge s/s DB rows (5 per side / 8 per side)

Glute ham raise 2×7

Chin ups AMAP + 3×8 ecc

Total time ~ 35 minutes

 

A few things that probably jump out: I never spend more than an hour doing anything, particularly because I rarely let myself rest during these workouts. It is simply not necessary / not part of my goal at this time. I also give myself days off between workouts, particularly after sprints because of my hamstrings. I’ve also noticed I have more energy and less soreness, which is fantastic. I know a lot of people subscribe to the school of thought where if you’re not sore, you’re not working hard enough, but that is simply not true. Sure, there will be soreness when you change the stimulus and sometimes a lack of soreness can be an indication of a plateau, but it is NOT the be -all-end-all of a good workout. I just go by what my body is telling me, and it seems to be doing well.

Hope this provided a little bit of insight. Anyone checking out the opening ceremonies tonight? We’ve got some former Hurricanes reppin the USA so I’m excited 🙂

 

Moving Top 10

The past few weeks I’ve been preparing to move/moving out of my apartment. For anyone that’s ever moved before – whether its big or small – you know that a mission this really is. BUT fortunately, despite my aching shoulders and poor attitude, it gave me the perfect idea for a blog post. Every box I lifted, every load I carried and every awkward trash bag I tossed made me thankful for the type of training I do on a regular basis. So here are my top 10 moving-related exercises that made this whole thing possible!

1. Deadlift – This pretty much goes without saying, but the number of boxes that were deadlifted and put on trucks, in cars, or in dumpsters this past week made me thankful for every variation of this exercise and the good technique that comes with it. If you don’t deadlift – start. Even if its not heavy, just having the proper technique saves your back a ton in the long run when you have to do something epic, like move your life

2. Cleans & Clean/Overhead Press combinations – Since I’m a staggering 5’3″, the amount of lifting overhead I do in real life is probably more than the average person. Reaching to put things on shelves, for instance, turns into a Herculean effort. Most of the time, the momentum from a good clean & press helps me get the job done – but only because my CNS is used to that movement pattern.

3. Front squats – I included this for a few reasons – mainly the stability gained from the front squat, but also because of the rack position.  Being able to hold that position is vital to holding really awkward boxes/loads and putting them on shelves or in cars (aka: in front of you). Front loaded split squats would also be appropriate to include here.

4. Farmers walks – This is another no-brainer. Holding a lot of things in both hands and power walking to the nearest place to drop it has become an Olympic sport for me. I recently added it to my training but I tend to do this on a regular basis with groceries, books, or anything else. Very useful & also helps with your grip.

5. Asymmetrical ANYTHING*** – This is triple starred because OH MY GOD. Even the most innocent looking box will shift and cause complete mayhem (trust me), so being able to stabilize is the most important thing ever. Also, there are a lot of times where something will end up on your shoulder, and another thing in your hand, and you have to walk (and/or probably squat down and pick something else up, because…of course) and being able to balance it all makes you a Gladiator. Asymmetrically loaded step ups, lunges, split squats, farmers walks, etc – they are lifelines.

6. Lateral movement – Being able to stabilize in the frontal plane is also valuable because there are a lot of times, particularly when things get cluttered, that you have to side-step & shimmy around with huge boxes still in your hand. Lateral squats, lunges, step ups, etc – also helps to fight muscle imbalances.

7. Pulls/Presses – These are standard, but very useful, particularly compound movements like overhead presses, push ups, push presses, pull ups, inverted rows, etc. Just being able to activate all those muscles in synchronicity helps avoid a lot of problems & makes you mighty

8. Grip training – This is sort of a by-product of Olympic lifting & pull up variations that you might include in your training, but grip is super important when trying to move awkward things. Being able to carry things when there aren’t convenient little handles is a skill in and of itself, so give yourself a fighting chance and work your grip.

9. STAIRS – loaded, unloaded, walking, running, lateral, backward, whatever – You will encounter stairs. Lots of stairs.

10. Conditioning in general – This is kind of a cop out, but if you’re in generally good shape, you’re still going to be sore as hell after moving. Do yourself a favor and sprint a little.

Anyone have some exercises they would add to the list or fun moving stories for me? Comment!!

A tale of 10 Chin ups

Once upon a time, at the beginning of this year to be exact, I set out to accomplish the awesome task of completing 10 unassisted [neutral grip] chin ups.  Why?  Several reasons: including (but not limited to):

A) Chin ups/Pull ups are bad ass.

B) They help in more ways than I can count [grip strength, core activation, lats/biceps/forearms/etc., energy transfer…..]

C) 10 sounded way better than 7

 

Now, even though I dominated my first real unassisted chin up a few years ago, I had finally reached a point where I wasn’t improving. I could manage 4-5 with various weights attached to me, I could do assisted and eccentric til the cows came home (which, they never did, so I just kept going) and I could do way too many sets of 5-6 reps with ~1-2 minutes of rest in between, but never more than 7 at a time. Hmmm.

Then it dawned on me. If I wanted to get better at pull ups, I should probably do more pull ups.

I realized that even though chin ups were my goal, I was treating them as an accessory movement and programming them into my workouts 1-2 times per week, [3x if I was really pushing it]. I also took note of the total reps being completed each session and saw that they were all in the ~25-30 rep range. So by the end of each week, I was totaling MAYBE 75 pull ups a week if I was lucky. Granted, I was using different methods (weighted, eccentric, assisted, different rest intervals) but not in the same week. I would go all assisted one week (different reps/sets/rest intervals) then go to weighted, then to bodyweight, and then back to assisted.  Each variation still felt challenging and I would make little advances, so I was convinced it was working, but then I would go to test my regular chin ups and be stuck in the same spot. I realized that despite my variations in intensity, I was completing the same number of reps per week and therefore not overloading the movement anymore. SO my evil genius mind got to working…

Practice makes perfect, so if you want to get better at something, practice THAT thing. I changed my programming to focus exclusively on this goal. I was tentative before to overdo it on chin ups because I didn’t want to have angry elbows, tight lats, and/or overtrain my back. But, by varying the intensity, I realized I could cram lots of pull ups/chin ups into one week of training with very little consequence. I also made sure to program some overhead/QL stretches for the tight lats, and included asymmetrical work to keep my upper body balanced.

Each week looked something like this [I am only including the chin ups and not all the other stuff]:

Day 1: Bodyweight pull ups (never to failure – just sets of 5-6 reps) totaling ~45 total for that session. I bumped that up to 50, then 55, then 60, then 65, etc. each time

Day 2: Weighted pull ups (sets of 3-4 reps) totaling ~30 reps, 35, 40, 45

Day 3: Assisted pull ups (sets of 8-10) totaling ~50, 55 (I didn’t go beyond 60 for these – you probably can, but I didn’t)

Day 4: Bodyweight pull ups again (usually if I did sets of 5 on day 1, I would shoot for sets of 6. Sometimes I had it, sometimes I didn’t. This was a chaos day – I would mix the sets to try to achieve 50 any way I could. It was a great challenge)

Each week I would have a total number of reps completed, and for 3 weeks I kept that number increasing, and then by week 4 I would do a mini-deload and go back to week 1 numbers.

Then one magic day, I walked into the gym, walked up to the bar, cranked out 10 in a row, did a little dance (in my head) and that was that.

And that is how my dream came true and I conquered the neutral grip chin up.

The End.

 

What makes a program “sport-specific”?

Summertime & the living’s easy….unless you’re an athlete.

For most athletes, the summer is actually the busiest and most crucial time of all. Off-season strength & conditioning programs are where a lot of athletes have the time to focus on their bodies and make huge gains in strength- more so than any other point in the season.  With that in mind, it got me thinking about all the components that go into planning for performance enhancement & how to evaluate if a particular program is appropriate for an individual’s sport.

For most people just looking to lose weight, or incur some type of body composition change, this type of evaluation might not be necessary. It doesn’t matter WHEN certain phases occur throughout the year [speed, hypertrophy, strength, etc], and the exercise selection isn’t as narrowly focused. But for an athlete, planning every step of the way is crucial. It is essentially like comparing cooking to baking. With cooking, you can experiment more freely – you can add ingredients, deviate from a recipe, get downright crazy and still probably achieve greatness. Baking, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. There is a reason for everything in the recipe – deviate from the proportions and you’re going to have one dried up cake. But if you plan and you are exact with the measurements, everything will come out balanced and delicious.

Sometimes, however, athletes get so caught up in the little details of the program that they don’t stop to think  “why”. Why certain exercises are included in certain phases (or at all); Why intervals are run with a particular work:rest ratio; Why this program is better suited than that one, etc. It is very rare to come across anything that steps back to really discuss the “big picture”. So this evaluation is to help athletes analyze their sport a bit more, and for coaches to make sure they’re considering all the variables when programming.

There is still some crossover with personal training here, i.e. assessing an athlete for individual goals, physical limitations, previous injuries, training history, etc – because you never want to lose the individuality component.  But what makes a program ideal for a particular sport vs just a really great workout?

Categories of Evaluation

1. Requisite movements by position (the endurance of a point guard is > than a center in basketball, for example. or a midfielder vs an attack player in lacrosse)

2. Energy systems and related dynamics (primary contributors?)

3. Dominant/minimal speeds and related factors (sprinting? long, steady pace? varying intervals?)

4. Force/velocity factors (high speed movements? repeat submaximal efforts?)

5. Factors that determine success outcomes (is flexibility important?, endurance? conditioning?)

6. Factors that limit success (injuries, etc)

7. Morphological relevance (body comp – does the player need size? strength? speed?)

These are just the broad categories to consider when analyzing a particular athlete & their sport. To get more specific, we have the movement analysis that breaks down the sport into specific components to ensure that a program is balanced and focused, the physiological analysis that looks at all the metabolic components, and the limitation analysis that considers the barriers and differences in levels of success.

Movement Analysis

1. Movements used during the activity

2. Speed or rate of movement & frequency

3. Directional/plane variations/speed

4. Muscle-joint considerations and efficiency or resistance to economy

5. Muscle balance, stability, acceleration, deceleration and force couples

Physiological Analysis

1. Energy systems used

2. Duration of power output

3. Magnitude of force demands

4. Frequency of force/recovery

5. Additional physiological demands (i.e. total caloric output)

Limitations Analysis

1. Common injuries in the sport

2. Difference between “good” & “great” (for example, it has been shown that the velocity around the elbow joint is what separates the elite pitchers from the non-elite. other characteristics might include VO2max, or simple body composition factors like height & weight)

3. Recovery/fatigue

4. Flexibility, body fatness, strength/power weight ratio

With all that said, a pre-conditioning evaluation (or fitness assessment) would take into consideration the following:

1. Identify all deficiencies

2. Injury analysis – a past history of the athlete

3. Training history/tenure

4. Training status

5. Physiological assessments

6. Identification of neural efficiency/aptitude

7. Program level decision (beginner, intermed, advanced)

Secondary considerations:

1. Limitations first – flexibility, distortions

2. Minimal strength needs – at least enough

3. Force rate development – power/speed

4. Neural efficiency – skill specific overlap

5. Metabolic conditioning – conditioning vs weight training

As you can see, it is more than just becoming “bigger, faster, stronger”. There is a lot that goes into evaluating an athlete – both at the individual level & for sport application. Using this checklist will help ensure that the program you’re following (or creating) makes sense.