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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 🙂

 

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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.

Cadbury & Contrasts

Sorry for another long break between posts – but I am FINALLY back to normal after one hell of a sickness. I hope you all had a great Easter for those who celebrate, and don’t beat yourself up if you ate one too many cadbury creme eggs – they’re worth it. 😉

yum

Along similar lines of this ballistic training stuff I’ve been talking about, I thought I’d talk about something we incorporate into a lot of our workouts.  “Contrast sets” are something most people are familiar with, but many don’t know how to program correctly.  They’re ideal for bridging the gap between strength & power, and they help the neuromuscular system fire key muscle fibers despite fatigue. They’re killer, and there are a lot of different combinations you can use to achieve optimal results.

Contrast training essentially takes the same movement pattern and muscle groups for 2 exercises but varies the speed and intensity in the same set.  An example of this is seen when a lifter performs a barbell back squat followed immediately by box jumps.  The recommended reps can fall anywhere between 5-10, depending on the goal, but for athletes trying to achieve explosive power under fatigue, they want to stick to the 5-6 range.  Time under tension is important here, and using any more than those 6 reps during the strength movement will push away from the proper metabolic response.  It is also key to use enough weight to elicit a STRENGTH response, because too light will defeat the purpose.  Shooting for 85%-90% 1RM (for a seasoned lifter) is the goal.

When it comes to programming these, if you are using a TRUE contrast set in the proper % of 1RM, it is important to put them at the beginning.  They are very neurologically demanding & require the most amount of energy.  Usually picking 1 or 2 exercises to contrast per workout is sufficient.

Nick Tumminello has a great article with more examples on contrast training HERE – I don’t want to copy any of his stuff, so check it out.  He also provides great examples for just about every movement.

I tend to use front squats & lateral jumps the most, but I’ve tried a lot of the ones Nick suggests.  Anyone use contrast training in their programs?

Behind the scenes programming: #StrengthCoachProblems

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

My peeps

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

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

The most important ones for our team were:

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

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

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

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

useless air

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

What else is new?

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

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

Exactly

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

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

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

Dynamic Warm up – part 2!

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

My favorite ways to approach it are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rectus femoris muscle

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

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

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

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