This is going to be a quick (hopefully motivational) post that was inspired by a conversation with one of my lacrosse girls earlier last semester, when we began our conditioning practices.
Essentially last semester we had 2 days a week in the weight room and 2 days outside where we focused on conditioning. In the weight room, I had the girls learn some movement assessments (quadruped reaches, plank variations, overhead movements and balance) and I taught them things to look for when they assessed their partner. I told them what we were going to see in most of them (knees falling in on the squats, pelvic tilt, lateral shifts, etc) but that it was to be expected and that we would be working on it all semester. I had them learn the movements then assess each other and write down comments. When I went home that night I was laughing hysterically at what some of them had written.
Instead of just writing simple “knees collapsed in” or “pelvic tilt” they wrote things like “lateral shift: NEED TO GET BETTER AT THIS!” and “pelvic tilt: unable to succeed” 😦
It made me laugh because I can’t even tell you how many of my training notebooks have little comments in them JUST LIKE THOSE. I know for myself, when I’m starting a new program or a new goal, I look like I’ve never trained before. I have to stop short of the reps, I’m gasping for breath, I don’t complete in the time I’ve given myself. Each time that happens, I write little notes – just like they did – that make it clear I didn’t succeed, but not in a “you suck” way. I try to keep it light, but I still write it down so I know what I need to do for next time. Does it piss me off to no end? You bet it does. No one likes to fall short – but the BEST feeling is going back and conquering it the second (or third, or fourth…) time around.
When I went back the next day, I asked one of my girls about the comments. She was like, “well I know we’re going to work on it, so its important to see what the problems are, but it wasn’t meant to make anyone feel bad. Its just hard to start from the beginning.”
These kids I tell ya. Wise beyond their years.
I try really hard to relate to my athletes & my clients because I’ve been – and I’m STILL – in their shoes when it comes to training. I’ve had MANY my fair share of vomit-inducing workouts that shouldn’t have made me sick; bad days in the gym; weight gain for no reason; and injuries. I don’t go around bragging about THOSE sessions too often, because its much more fun to share the workout you just beasted – but I think its important to convey that we ALL start somewhere. In fact, if you’re really motivated, you are constantly starting over. If I just worked out so it was easy, I wouldn’t get anywhere.
Trainers/coaches/teachers – none of us are on pedestals because if we do our jobs correctly, we are still “students” of our profession – and sometimes it is valuable to show that to the people we are trying to coach because it helps them relate. Its funny because we are all so used to seeing people post workouts on their blog/twitter/facebook that they’ve completed. I love seeing it because I use it as motivation, and I love surrounding myself with positivity. But we also have to be real here. They don’t usually include their side comments like “yup almost died during set 2” and “took a 5 minute break between rounds to cry in the corner”. But for anyone that is discouraged about their training – TRUST ME – that kind of stuff happens, even to the most trained individual. We all fall short of our goals at some point. The important thing to remember is that you’re not the only one. So write it down, rest up, and try it again.
Static stretching annoys me. Its like a traffic jam. You sit there forever, thinking of all the things you could be doing, glaring around at everyone while you creep toward your eventual destination. In this age of ADD and “I needed that done yesterday”, just getting to the gym is an accomplishment….so why waste precious time sitting in place?
The fact is, if your training program is sound, static stretching is rendered almost completely useless. I say “almost” because there is always the exception: sometimes it can be used as a good recovery/cool down technique, and in certain situations (like physical therapy) it can help when there is a lack of functional mobility. But if you’re using it prior to engaging in activity, think again.
Here are a few reasons people turn to static stretching (the traditional type of stretching you’ve seen everywhere: sit, reach, cry, repeat) before they train:
- It is what every one says to do….and why question “every one”? Good, you’re a robot, congrats
- It decreases your risk of injury, right? Actually, wrong, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence to confirm or refute this fact. If you have too much laxity in your joints, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
- Its fun! No. I absolutely don’t believe you.
- It feels good because I have very tight hamstrings/back/calves/etc and sometimes have pain when I do certain exercises. This is an acceptable answer & probably true, HOWEVER that tightness is more likely caused by a muscle imbalance that requires strengthening of the opposite muscle at the same time as stretching. So, while the static stretching feels good, it is really only a partial solution.
Great, so what’s the alternative?
If you’ve ever been to an athletic event, you’ve probably seen the athletes running through some movements prior to the game taking place. Lunges, skipping, shuffling, back pedaling, etc. Even high school coaches are finally jumping on the bandwagon and creating dynamic warm ups (whether they understand why or not is a completely separate issue – but whatever). These movements, when planned correctly, are mobility drills designed to increase range of motion around typically tight areas (hamstrings, lats, calves etc) while also adding stabilization to joints like hips, knees, ankles, shoulders. It will also increase body temperature (hence “warm up”), and prepare the central nervous system for activity.
Now, while these are great for athletes before they start practice or a game, the same concept should be applied before a gym training session. This is especially important before any kind of resistance training (which, if you haven’t started doing, then please re-read every single post I’ve ever written before continuing on. Thank you).
I already know what you’re thinking. “Lifting weights is going to completely ruin any chance I have at being flexible.” You’re absolutely correct – if you have sloppy training. Everyone is used to seeing those diesel guys in the gym that walk around like they’re permanently holding two suitcases and can’t seem to move without flexing. That didn’t happen solely because of lifting weights – that happened because of poor programming. When you bench press all day, every day and do nothing else, that’s what happens. But excluding yoga experts and ballet dancers, some of the most flexible people on the planet are actually Olympic weightlifters.
That movement is crazy hard to achieve. And I guarantee this guy didn’t sit around stretching his hamstrings for hours to achieve that kind of dynamic flexibility.
Enter: the dynamic warm up. These are exercises that target common problem areas while simultaneously preparing the body for the activity of the training session.
For example, before a session that includes some serious squatting, it is in your best interest to do a warm up that targets hip, knee, ankle, and t-spine mobility. Body weight lunge variations, straight leg kicks, kneeling hip flexor mobility drills..these are just some examples. For a session that might include circuit-style resistance training, where every muscle is going to be worked and there isn’t a particular focus, the dynamic warm up might include more general movements: body weight squats, plank variations, various reaching (overhead, lateral) and maybe some rotation.
Ok. Static stretching is out. But what if I use a general aerobic warm up?
You’re still annoying me. Just kidding – the general aerobic warm up (on a treadmill, bike, etc) isn’t all that bad. It accomplishes the task of getting your heart rate up and increasing core temperature so the rest of the session is less shocking to the system. But…to me its like this: You have a complex problem [muscle imbalances, weaknesses, flexibility issues, a need to increase core temperature and heart rate, and the necessity to prep the nervous system] *AKA- you’re a mess… and now you have a few solutions to choose from. Solution 1 is static stretching, and it covers probably 1/5 of the problem. Solution 2 is the aerobic warm up, which might get you 2/5 of a solution if you’re lucky. Solution 3 is the dynamic warm up which incorporates the benefits of solution 1 & 2 at the same time and also covers the rest of the issues WHILE DECREASING TIME IN THE GYM. Game, set, match.
The other cool thing about the dynamic warm up is that it is appropriate for all levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite. For beginners, the warm up circuit might be the bulk of their training at first – it helps them get used to training and using their body as a unit (dynamic stability!) before adding weight to it. For the more advanced lifters or athletes that place a lot of stress on their joints, it can always be revisited and tweaked to accommodate new goals.
P.S. I never said you can’t combine methods – old habits die hard. So if you’re mentally attached to your aerobic warm up, keep it (maybe shorten it), create a dynamic circuit, and move your stretching to the end. I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your training.
In my follow up post, I will share my my current dynamic warm up (hopefully on video!), and a formula for creating your own for any training session. For those of you that already use a dynamic warm up, please share it in the comments! Thanks!
Alright, you knew it was coming. This is my PSA to all females out there who are afraid to lift weights and get strong. I’m going to grit my teeth and make this as nice as possible, so just zip your lips and read.
I’m really just so so so so so so tired of hearing the nonsense girls say when it comes to fitness. As usual, I blame the Kardashians…. because I blame them for everything. In reality, though, anyone that endorses those stupid tone-up shoes and has a trainer [Tracy Anderson] that insists: “We don’t want to take away Kim’s amazing curves, so we just do specific movements to tighten the skin and to pull the muscles tight against the bone.” can just fall off the planet. Yes, she really said that (People Magazine – go ahead, click it, and then lets get #ThingsSmarterThanTracyAnderson to trend on twitter)
Guess what? There is no such freaking thing as tightening the skin around your muscles – that’s just gross and weird. Unless you’re talking some serious Nip/Tuck, you will not find that sort of nonsense occurring in the gym. That requires a scalpel and some Frankenstein stuff. Put it out of your mind.
Another thing I need you to forget about is body builders. You are all brainwashed into thinking that lifting weights = body building, and that if you start picking up weights you’re going to start looking like those tan bikini-clad mini-hulks. I’m not saying bodybuilding isn’t bad ass, because it is, but most of us aren’t training for that. To be brutally honest, the extreme amount of dieting, supplementation, discipline and volume of training that it takes to be a bodybuilder is completely out of the relm of possibility for just about all of us…so stop flattering yourself.
Instead of talking about celebrities who aren’t real people, I’m going to make this nice and simple. Did anyone watch the US women’s soccer team over the summer? If you didn’t – go sit in the corner. For the rest of you, did Abby Wambach or Hope Solo look like crazies on steroids? No. Would women kill to be Alex Morgan (or would men kill to be WITH Alex Morgan?) YUP. Do they all lift weights? You better believe it. And I’m talking real weights – not cute little colored dumbbells. They are soccer players. They squat more than you weigh.
Reality check: women do not have enough testosterone to become huge no matter how much they lift – and it does not change with the increasing intensity of your work out. You would need to supplement (legally, or illegally) your face off, and even THEN, you wouldn’t reach the status a man does because of those pesky sex hormones and their fluctuation. In fact, I DARE YOU to try to bulk up. Nia Shanks, author of the Beautiful Badass blog and part of the Girls Gone Strong movement (which you should check out, btw) claims to be so confident that you won’t, that if you start training FOR REAL and you get bulky, she’ll allow you roundhouse kick her in the face. I’m just as confident – so when you’re done kicking her, you can come find me. Be warned: I kick back.
I’ll even use myself as an example. Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I recognize that I’m actually in the minority. I put on muscle easier than most, and everyone knows I train with weights, so a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them they won’t get huge. Fortunately for all you doubters, I have photo evidence. (NOTE: I do not have access to photoshop or any other fancy editing tool and if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use it. All these pictures you can find perfectly untouched on my facebook.) Boom.
Before I lifted heavy weights, my body composition was relatively the same, but with higher body fat. Genetically, I am short and stocky, and I would be whether I decided to play video games, run marathons, or lift weights. I’ve always been a higher size in clothing, and my measurements have only changed slightly over the years. Ironically, though, what ended up happening once I started serious training was my waist size decreased, and so did my arm circumference, even though you can see visible muscles now. This is due to the corresponding decrease in body fat, NOT the excess growth of muscle tissue. Unfortunately, there was no increase in height despite my huge desire to dunk a basketball. Oh well, another life….
Here is a picture of me playing lacrosse during my freshman year of college. Besides playing lax and the occasional (awful) gym workout, I was not particularly in shape. I could do regular body weight push ups, but no pull ups, and I didn’t squat, deadlift, or do anything remotely awesome.
Notice my arm size (this is important) and the presence of a small gut (haha thats just funny).
Now, here I am junior year, after coming back from an ACL injury, completely changing the way I ate and after doing A LOT of heavy strength training. At this point in time I could complete a body weight pull up, over 30 push ups, and I was squatting around my body weight (which at the time was 160).
You’ll see that my broad shoulders are still the same broad shoulders they always were, they didn’t magically appear. My arms, however, are actually slightly smaller, the gut is mainly gone, and my legs have muscles peaking out – muscles that were there already, NOT ones that hypertrophied enough to warrant a jump in pants size. In fact, I dropped quite a few pants sizes between freshman and junior year.
Here is a more recent photo of me taken just a few months ago – at this point I can complete 5 WEIGHTED pull ups, squat 225 for reps and deadlift 235 for reps and you’ll notice that not much as changed in my body composition from 2009 to now. The only thing that has increased is my strength (and therefore, my awesomeness)
So here’s my main message: most of you are smart enough to know that not everything you read in the magazines is the truth. You know that celebrities are photoshopped, you know diet cleanses are stupid, and you know that being skinny isn’t always healthy. Well here’s a new one: women can (and should) lift weights without worrying about getting bulky. Use your brains, because I really want you guys to stop being so afraid to challenge yourself. You’re missing out on AWESOME workouts – and you’re missing out on GREAT accomplishments. No one said you had to enter a powerlifting meet, but I hope that by putting myself out there I have helped you realize that strength is something to strive for, not shy away from.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, or you just want to read into this more, please check out this article: http://www.stumptuous.com/lies-in-the-gym (its absolutely hilarious – if you like what I write, you’ll love this). Also check the blog & videos of Nia Shanks. You’ll thank me for it. And if you ever use the phrase “I just want to get toned” in my presence, I promise I will go out of my way to make you feel bad. 🙂