Earlier this week I finally jumped on the Fitocracy app bandwagon – and I’m happy about it. For those of you that aren’t familiar, Fitocracy is a website/app that helps you track your workouts while simultaneously earning points for your activity. It is also a social media site similar to facebook that concentrates solely on fitness and connecting with like-minded individuals. It also has some fun “quests” to complete if you’re running low on workout motivation or just need a change of pace. I’m really liking it just for something different. I know I’m a little late to the party but if you guys haven’t checked it out, go here
I decided to attempt the intermediate widowmaker the other day, just for fun (backsquat with 80% of your bodyweight on the bar for 20 reps). Haven’t been squatting consistently lately but still managed to complete 2 sets of it. I probably won’t ever walk again, but that’s fine.
What I really like about the whole thing is the idea of getting points for activity & achieving new levels – like a game – vs tracking workouts & obsessing over calories. I’m also really impressed with the exercise selection – I didn’t think I’d be able to find any of my weird exercises on there, but I was pleasantly surprised. They even had some of my dynamic reach movements which I’ve never seen on any other website.
Anyone that trains clients might want to recommend this to them to keep them motivated. I’m also happy to have a reason to log my workouts again. I’ve been getting a bit lazy when it comes to keeping track lately, and my notepad on my iphone is a sad little excuse for programming. This amps things up a little.
Another fun thing I thought I’d share is a version of the GHR (Glute ham raise) that can be done in any gym with a lat pulldown machine. The GHR is one of the best exercises out there for the posterior chain – but very few commercial gyms have a specific machine for it. It can easily be duplicated using this method – I do it all the time and have great results with it. Be prepared, though. People will think you’re nuts. The other day a lady came up to me after I finished my workout and told me it was the “coolest, scariest & craziest thing” she had ever seen. I love it.
It looks a little something like this:
*Credit to Ellisonfitness for this video
He uses a BOSU ball to push off of – I use a low plyo box. If you have access to an adjustable step, a bench, a plyo box, or a BOSU ball, use any of those. Start with something higher and gradually progress down. These are BRUTAL – and a lot of people can’t get them right away – but they’re worth working toward. The GHR is ideal for the hamstrings because it is more true to running form (hip extended/knees flexed vs hip flexed/knee flexed that you see during a seated hamstring curl). If you can’t get 1, put a resistance band around the lat pulldown machine and around your chest and it will assist with the concentric portion of the movement. Enjoy!
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.
For the first few years of my college career, I was overwhelmed with scientific information related to exercise science, kinesiology, and anatomy. Research papers from all these notable scientists, physiology terms that made me nervous, and concepts that seemed way beyond the scope of my intelligence. While I can obviously look back now and understand it a lot better, one of the most frustrating things in this field is the disparity between research studies & actual results.
Now this isn’t a rant against science (not completely anyway 😉 but it is a comment on how terms like “CLINICALLY PROVEN” and “SCIENTIFIC METHODOLOGY” need to be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not even talking about the usual suspects (Hydroxycut, dexitrim, anything with a before & after picture, etc..those aren’t even worth my time…) but I’m talking about real, legitimate research. Most of these studies, especially ones in notable publications like the American (or European) Journal of Physiology provide great insight into physiological mechanisms, but the results have a tendency to get grossly generalized. You’ll see a lot of people out there writing articles and using research to back it up – which is great, because it seems to “legitimize” their theories – but how do you know what’s bogus and what’s for real without pulling your hair out over little details?
This is one of my favorite examples that a professor of mine uses every year when introducing research papers for discussion- and I’m sure a few of you have heard it too. In the attempt to avoid correlation, he shows us a graph like this:
Clearly, based on the research, we see a rise in murder rates that seem to correspond with the sale of ice cream. From this, it seems reasonable to conclude that ice cream causes murder…or at least contributes to it, right? (Another case against sugar haha). However – what are other factors here? Ice cream sales tend to go up in the summer. Know what else goes up in the summer? Temperature. Murder rates tend to rise when people are hot and bothered (and not in the good way). See the variability? It seems like a preschool example, but SO MANY TIMES I see people jump to the same absurd conclusions.
“These people showed insane increases in strength using the leg press. EVERYONE MUST LEG PRESS!”
“But these people were beginners and had no strength whatsoever and had never trained before”
“LEG PRESS ONLY IT SAYS IT IN THE RESEARCH”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point. For a more appropriate example, let’s take something we discussed in a class of mine earlier this week. It is commonly accepted in the research that interval training > long slow distance training, particularly when looking at improvements in VO2max. But, is it REALLY fair to compare these modalities? In a word, no. The way we quantify training load (intensity x duration x frequency) is skewed with these two types of training. You might run the same number of miles, but the duration and intensity are completely different. So, when it comes to training load, it is almost like comparing apples to oranges.
Now, I know about energy system manipulation and I’m a huge fan of interval training, particularly for sports performance, but I’m not arguing which is right or wrong. I’m just pointing out that there is a lot of variability here for us to jump to conclusions. From an anecdotal perspective (which shouldn’t be discounted, because if it works, you should do it): a lot of endurance runners seem to feel that LSD training takes longer to achieve improvement, but these improvements seem to remain longer vs interval training which develops faster, but gets lost faster. This isn’t confirmed by research, but is an interesting point. Why else would runners that use primarily LSD training (i.e. Kenyans) be so successful? Just a thought.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college where I actually started interning with teams, coaching my own teams & training clients other than myself that I started to REALLY notice the gap between what the textbooks say and what individual results dictated. There were times when scheduled de-load weeks were premature for some clients and too late for others. There were times when clients who had very few issues during assessments couldn’t do simple exercises. There were times when equipment issues caused me to change my programming, and I ended up with even better results than I had planned for. Some clients could be pushed into the ground, and others I could barely train without some sort of issue. It would frustrate me because a lot of people around me would be freaking out about “doing it by the book” and that simply wasn’t possible for me every single time. While I think a lot of textbooks, articles and research papers lay the blueprint for success – and you should adhere to them as much as possible as a beginner – you can’t just be a drone. You have to be aware of your surroundings, your capabilities, and your teams/clients individuality.
In the end, I’m a huge advocate of staying up to date on current trends and appropriate research, but the most beneficial pieces of advice I’ve received have been from people with true “under the bar” experience. You can’t argue with concrete evidence (i.e. actual experiences), so don’t freak out the next time something doesn’t work exactly according to “plan”. The human body is more complex than a lab rat- and FYI: lab rats can’t squat.