Blog Archives

Fitocracy & random updates

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!

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.

Mid-week MOTIVATION

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.

 

actual excerpt from my notebook - NOT modified for this post

 

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.

Real women lift REAL weights (3 lb dumbbells need not apply)

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)

Rock > Tracy Anderson

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.

Alex Morgan

Abby Wambach

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.

Me in 2007

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).

Me in 2009

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)

Me in 2011

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. 🙂

My Rage Against the Machine(s)

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.

via Google Image

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.

via Google Image

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.

via Google Image

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.

via Google Image

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.