Hi guys! I promise to do a proper blog post soon, but in the meantime, I need your help!
I’m taking a general survey of as many people as possible to get an idea of their personal fitness preferences and suggestions of what they’d like to see in their particular gym/daily routines. I have the survey on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/sten023 – add me as a friend and take it on there!) OR copy/paste and answer the questions via comment on my blog OR you can email me the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org – I know you all are super busy, but this would help me out a lot 🙂
Also, if you could repost this on your blogs & share with your friends and encourage them to do the same, that’d be amazing. Thanks!
- How old are you?
- Male or female?
- Are you a full time student? If not, are you working full time?
- Do you currently exercise regularly? (> 2x a week)
- If yes, what do you do?
- If not, why not?
- For both: what motivated you to start, or what WOULD motivate you to start? (friends, certain classes being offered, a trainer, etc)
- Did you grow up playing sports?
- If yes, how many?
- Even if you don’t participate regularly, what is your favorite type of fitness activity? (running, playing basketball, swimming, etc)?
- Are you more likely to work out alone or with someone?
- Do you enjoy the gym atmosphere or would you prefer to be exercising outside?
- What are you more likely to spend money on (choose as many as you want):
- Nutrition assessment / consultation
- Personal training & program design
- Small group training (3-5 people per group)
- Classes (yoga, pilates, boot camps, conditioning)
- DVDs (p90x, etc)
- Other (please specify)
10. If you already belong to a gym, what services do you use the most (pool, juice bar, cardio, etc)?
11. What would you want to see offered that you aren’t getting currently?
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
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)
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.
I’m baaaaaaack (for real this time)
The blog & I have done a lot of soul searching recently and have decided to rekindle our relationship. Actually, my final semester of grad school is coming to a close, the lacrosse season is over, and I’ve found a way to stay healthy for a full week. All the awards!
Since all the chaos is winding down, it is a perfect opportunity to kick those workouts into high gear again. It is also a great time if you’re from up north because the weather is FINALLY starting to become manageable. Time to take our talents outside & get crazy.
The major benefit of living in Miami is the ability to train outside all year round. That definitely doesn’t mean I do it every single day because I’m as big a gym rat as they come, but it is always great to have the option when you’re looking for something outside the box. I try to carry minimal equipment on these days & just post up at a park or a field and go to town. Most of the time I only need a med ball, some cones, and possibly my TRX if I’m feeling really ambitious. [Shameless plug – but I’m a major fan of the TRX. I don’t use it exclusively, or even THAT often, but I love the variety it provides and the convenience of being able to put it anywhere. Its also insanely durable, which means a lot coming from me since I have a talent for destroying just about everything]
I should be paid for that ad. TRX get at me.
Anyway, since my main specialization is sports performance, I tend to program that way for myself. As such, agility drills and sprints are something I incorporate into my outdoor workouts on a consistent basis. Agility training is something I love because its fun, quick, useful, and the only real limit is your creativity. I know a lot of people shy away from it because they don’t feel like its necessary, but I assure you, there are some serious benefits that come from these drills. It requires skill, coordination, balance, strength, power and endurance – and that’s only the beginning. Since you are forced to use your dynamic stabilizers in multiple planes at a rapid pace, it is more demanding than simply running. I also enjoy scaring away everyone at the park by setting up cones and acting like I’m training for the NFL combine. I really am though, it’s fine.
This also goes back to some earlier posts where I discussed neuromuscular training. Preparing your body for movements by practicing these movements greatly reduces the risk of injury when you go to attempt similar tasks. AKA: if you practice changing directions occasionally, you’re far less likely to roll your ankle playing basketball than if you consistently stand around doing calf raises before a hoops game. Makes sense.
Usually I make these workouts go for about 30-40 minutes with very minimal rest. I’m not a huge nazi about the work/rest ratios because I’m not training for a particular sport – I just try to pick a variety of drills with multiple changes in direction and I rest enough so that I can perform them with the most technical skill as possible. I promise you, it really is THAT simple.
Here is the fool-proof formula for a great agility session:
Dynamic warm up (we all know the importance of this – start general, get specific, lateral movements, add speed/power. boom.)
Neural prep (short bursts of power: squat jumps, lateral hops, sprint starts, tuck jumps, etc)
General agility (speed ladder, forward/backward movements, lateral movements @ 50%)
Specific agility (drills with sharp cuts or varying changes in movements – short cone suicides, T drill, figure 8’s) – pick 2-3 of these
Conditioning gross agility (more for the conditioning effect – shuttle runs, suicides, longer figure 8s, etc)
If you’re new to agility training, you don’t have to go at 100mph right from the start. In fact, when do we ever recommend starting as fast as possible? Focus instead on technique and getting used to stabilizing your body through the different changes in direction. When you become more efficient, the speed will increase naturally.
In my follow up post I’ll have a few agility drill examples, some considerations if you ARE training for a particular sport, and a sample workout 🙂
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Considering 2011 is a few days from being just a memory, I feel obligated to discuss the dreaded topic of “New Year’s Resolutions”. What kills me is that a lot of people’s resolutions are the same: “lose weight” “get fit” “work out more” “eat less” etc. In my opinion, these are all just wishes. There is no constructive analysis of where you are, where you want to be, and, most importantly, how you’re going to get from A to B. There is also no basis in reality. What exactly does eat less mean? Can you really eliminate ALL CARBS for the WHOLE year? (no. you cannot. and if you try, you’re just going to be mean and cranky. stop it.)
Even the most dedicated gym rats (myself included) did not just wake up one morning at 6am and decide that we were going to do this every day, 3 hours a day, for the rest of forever. It was a slow process, usually prompted by another goal/reason and then became a lifestyle. That’s the key: it was a PROCESS. Things don’t happen overnight, and sometimes you have to be satisfied with small gains before you can reach your ultimate destination. You’ll see, too, that even when you reach your supposed “goal” – you’ll find something else to strive for – it really never stops. But people get caught up in doing too much too fast, and it gets overwhelming.
SO, instead of harping on what we all do wrong, I’m going to offer some tips for successful goals to getting fit & fierce in the new year.
1. Make a tangible performance goal. What does this mean? For example: maybe your broad goal is to get in shape, or lose a few pounds, but you don’t really have a way to measure progress outside of a scale. Instead, focus on something performance related and commit to it: sign up for your first 5k run/walk, triathlon, half marathon, or whatever your level might be, and commit to training for it a few times a week. For the endurance activities, figure out your mile pace (either walking or running) and try to improve it throughout your training, and set a goal for your finish line time. You’ll be amazed how committed you’ll be to achieving this goal, and as an added benefit, you’ll see the results in the mirror. For my weight lifting buddies, and gosh I hope there are some of you out there – same rules apply. If you’re new to training, make it your goal to dominate technique, practice, and then challenge yourself to hit new personal records. Maybe you’ve never done a pull up before, maybe you want to be able to do 10 pull ups, maybe you want to increase your squat whatever it is – pick something that you want to improve, and go after it. Just “getting stronger” isn’t going to cut it – focus on something and practice it.
2. Don’t try to overhaul your diet overnight – eliminate slowly. When it comes to eating, our bodies get used to what we put into it, and slowly weaning yourself off of certain things yields more longterm success than quitting “cold turkey”. Think of it like a smoking addiction: not many people are successful by just waking up one morning and never smoking ever again. Processed foods/sugars/caffeine work the same way – you have to gradually wean yourself off them and it is a PROCESS. So what does this mean? Instead of starting 2012 eating nothing but seaweed and egg whites (I think I just vommed a little), try a more realistic approach. Pick something in your diet you know is your problem area (soda tends to be mine) – and try to replace it as often as you can. If you have more than 1 a day, try to lower that number. Even replacing just ONE regular soda a day with water reduces your caloric intake by ~200 cals. That can add up to 1400 a week if you eliminate one soda every day! Crazy.
3. CHILL out – stress causes our cortisol levels (a steroid hormone) to rise incredibly, which will spike blood sugar & suppress the immune system. AKA: promote fat storage and elevate your chances of getting sick. Dagger! While sleeping your life away is NOT an option, there’s a one-two punch that can really jumpstart your metabolism – friends! Instead of meeting friends for dinner, drinks, movies, or other sedentary activities, make an effort to combine fitness & fun. Go for walks, go to the gym together, sign up for a spin class, play a sport, etc. Not only will it hold you accountable because it’s not just for you, it’s a great way to catch up with friends while keeping your cortisol levels in check. Convince your happy hour crowd to convert to kickboxing – you won’t regret it.
My goals for 2012 are mainly coaching related. The high school lacrosse season starts in a month and performance-wise, I want a winning record and to take district. I am also making it my own goal to make sure to give each player one SPECIFIC skill or aspect of their game to work on throughout the season. Something performance related that, by the end, we can measure and see improvement.
For my own training, I’m focusing on being able to complete a muscle-up. It is the most bad ass upper body exercise out there and I’m going to nail it. I also really want to stop dying when I do 120’s – my goal is to be able to do 10 more consistently before the world ends 😉
What are some of your goals? Do you have other suggestions for making 2012 the best year ever? hit me up!