Random Training Thoughts From This Week.

This is more of a thought board of random statements that I saw on the gym floor this week.

  1. Tempo is a useful tool on the eccentric or “lifting” section of a movement if the goals are rehab, muscular endurance or hypertrophy. If the goals are strength and speed slow work is redundant. You can not lift a maximal or close to maximal weight slowly without compromising performance.
  2. High intensity work is great if you can maintain form. If you have a poor aerobic base your form will break down on repetition based cardio. This is a problem with HIIT work- it mainly becomes poor form aerobic work after a while. HIIT is popular in the mainstream at the moment and obviously it is partly client led because it feels rewarding. Initially use methods which mean that form break down can be coached properly before progressing exercise complexity e.g. a bike is a lot easier to maintain form on than hill runs or kettlebell swings.
  3. Loaded hip thrusts are popular at the moment… but I like to use them more as a finishing exercise and a warm up drill than rather than a “main exercise”, this is just personal preference as I think after a certain amount of weight the weight needed to lift for overload becomes uncomfortable.
  4. Overhead hangs (unless you come from a gymnastic population so you are training for a sport) are not a great position for your shoulder joint to be in. It feels good to hang as it decompresses the joint and stretching generally always feels good but it creates laxity in the joint which your retirement will not thank you for. Kipping pull ups fall into this category as you get an anterior translation of the humeral head at the base of the movement. What does this mean? Your arm bone gets pushed forward into the soft tissue at the front of your shoulder.
  5. Over the last couple of months I have been supplementing my diet with additional fish oils and curcumin. Two of their major benefits are anti-inflammation. Anecdotally, I think they have helped me balance out a heavy work period (I am now teaching at Hertford Regional College on their Personal Training programme) and maintained at least decent recovery from exercise. I also feel this has been a factor in maintaining good energy levels…. and getting more stuff done. Granted I did buy a new coffee machine but my intake of caffeine has been relativly the same as before!

Quick Tips to Assess Your Squat

We use a squat based movement pattern in near enough every session. Their inclusion in some form in every warm up we perform highlights how functional and fundamental to effective training the squat movement is.

When we squat we see flexion at the hip, knee and ankle. This movement is performed in all of the major Olympic lifts, deadlifts and jumping so making sure this movement is dialled in is pretty important.

One of the most common impairments to this movement especially in more experienced lifters (not necessarily better) we tend to see is more anterior rotation of the pelvis meaning excessive strain is put on the lower back in order to avoid flexion or forward bending. This is often when load is added in order to counter flexion forward. It makes the lifter think they are getting lower but the movement really isn’t gaining depth through the lower body musculature. In fact the change in angle of the pelvis and forward lean of the individual is providing the extra “range.” This means there is more strain on the lower back.

So if this is the case try this challenge to help you clean up your squat. This is a good challenge to old and new trainees- aim to maintain balance while sitting all the way down to their heels while not leaning forward or coming on to the balls of your feet. Check the guy out on the right- if you look more like that than the guy on the left it may be wise to leave a bit of weight of the bar and work on your positioning.

If you fall forward it’s a good sign that your back extensors, hip flexors, quads and calves may be overactive and taking on a little too much work. Some people will remedy this by squatting with a wider stance to get lower- this is just hiding mobility issues by creating a stable wider base with less range to move through. Look where the centre of gravity is going (tip: forward). This will happen without load as you will find greater range of movement than the likely half range that you are squatting through loaded.

Why is this a negative? Well, allowing the abdominals and the other muscles around the pelvis such as the glutes to pick up the slack will result in less loading on the lower back and better force transfer. In turn not just in the squat movement but in rotational movements as well as the back and quads take the work on as opposed to the abdominals and glutes.

A good question to ask yourself is does squatting leave you with a sore lower back- if so consider dropping a bit of weight (your ego won’t suffer too much) and look to clean up your squat movement by balancing your programme and placing more emphasis on making your squat better by adjusting your strength leverages.

 

 

A bala

 

position of joint

muscular action

pressure/ breathing

 

 

 

 

 

From the Gym Floor: Part 4… Batman, Wall Balls, Speed Strength and Ambient Temperature.

This could be classified as the “super hero” edition. Why? Read on.

1. We were featured in Men’s Health in an article “How to be Batman” the premise was how to disrupt your childhood to leave you with a deep seated personality order meaning your role in life is defined by trying to imprison bad people while dressed up as a flying squirrel. Well not quite- it’s more of an article of what would Batman do in the gym- click above and enjoy.

2. Wall/ Slam Balls are awesome and fun at the same time. At the moment we are incorporating a lot of med ball slams/ wall ball work. In our more advanced clients they are great way to work on hip drives roll in rotational sports. We cue the movement by encouraging a hip turn first. Often you find that people when they fatigue start only using their arms especially on rotation or side to side based work. From the point of view they are a great tool for conditioning and varying movement load and speed. Most importantly they are fun. Too often I see coaches get caught up in the pursuit of “heavy” without working on varying repetition speed. Which leads to my next point…

3. Strength has a component of speed and endurance, to get the best returns you have to train speed and endurance to see a return in maximal strength. That means that quick work as described above is vital when you are looking to get stronger. It also means that endurance work or slightly higher repetition work can be good as well (typically we perform this on single leg work). Performing training in the same rep ranges all the time is an ineffectual way of training. 3 x 10 works for 6 weeks for beginners but to progress more variation is key.

4. Ambient temperature plays a roll in warm ups. We have come off the back of a pretty good summer and a warm Autumn but as the clocks change and the temperature drops it’s vital to take up the duration of your warm ups. When it’s warmer circulation is better and we find that our clients have less joint pain. If you suffer from poor circulation it can help to include a few more rounds of dynamic mobility- your joints may thank you for it. We have a few people who suffer from joint pain and adding additional work for the calves and wrists can help greatly in getting ready for your training sessions.

 

 

From the Gym Floor…. Part 3: Beginners Press Ups, Fat Loss and Speed Deadlifts.

In this months thrilling installment we wrestle with the questions that count!

1. Learn to do full press ups. It’s not about being sexist but this applies to both men and women. On a full press up you are lifting approximately 75% of your body weight an impressive achievement either way. One mistake we find is that people spend too long performing chest press/ barbell/ dumbell variations without first mastering press ups. We also find that challenging yourself to full press ups even if it is only one or two done well ultimately becomes three or four over time. One good intermediate is to elevate a press up. Start with a 45 degree angle for the body and over time slowly lower it to the floor. Although perhaps good for beginners, press ups off the knees lack enough core involvement and full body strength to transfer to full press ups effectively.

2. Speed can be a priority in a workout only when technique is strong. With a lot of our clients and athletes we don’t prioritize speed until technique is perfect. A good example is the deadlift- quick singles at around 60-70% of your maximal lift are a great tool for improving and enhancing acceleration and bar speed. With a lot of our athletes in season we tend to do either heavy or quick work. We don’t do a lot of work in your traditional rep ranges of 8-10. The reason being is that we don’t beat up too much tissue, recover quicker and therefore don’t have many sessions where we include what we call “junk reps.” This is unnecessary training volume which doesn’t guarantee us a result.

3. Fat loss is not weight loss. A basketball of fat weighs the same as a baseball of muscle. Changing your body shape is a process of what we call a “recomposition.” It’s easy to cut weight- drop your carb intake and your weight will plummet.  This will be mainly water and stored carbohydrate from the body, it is not body fat. Calorie consumption and the amount of food you consume are still the best guide for getting long term results if appropriately applied. The number of people who are on unnecessarily harsh dietary regimes is staggering as is the incompetence of the people who prescribe them. There is no one size fits all strategy but I will give you a hint- if it’s called a diet then you are probably doing it wrong!

 

 

 

 

 

From the Gym Floor…. Episode One

As a regular feature and as an effort to make this blog more practical and applicable to training and nutrition I am starting a new series of posts which are going to be made up of an assortment of questions/ discussions we have had with our clients in the gym this week.

Obviously this could turn in to a pretty obscure mix of information but hopefully it will be informative none the less. That said I hope that episodes 1-3 are better than the Star Wars prequels, 4-6 is where it will really kick off and as for 7 onwards who knows. So back to training….

1. Don’t bounce pull ups. In my opinion pull ups are a strength exercise, not a cardio conditioning exercise. I recently watched a video of someone total 100 pull ups. The way we coach at Results FAST 6 would have counted as a full repetition the other 94 looked like a shoulder dislocation combined with a head butt.

Sometimes you have to decide what fitness parameter you are working on if it’s strength then load the pull up, if it is muscular endurance then work within a high rep range and then add loading (we don’t really go much more than 12 on our programmes).

Now I have a few colleagues who perform the “kip” during the pull up. It’s a gymnastic move repackaged for the gym sport/ Crossfit or whatever it is you want to call it. That’s fine if that’s what you “do”, these things are for a sport- practice them if you want…. but not at our gym as it’s our job at Results FAST to keep our trainees shoulders strong and stable.

Bouncing pull ups therefore are a higher risk manoeuvre. Just because you are a good athlete it doesn’t mean you need to utilize higher risk exercises just to “do” more. I compare it to the fact that boxers don’t practice being hit in the face 365 days of the year- if you don’t need to be hit in the face why would you do something that perhaps increases the risk of injury?

2. Fitness wearable’s are fun. I recently got given a Nike Fuel band and being the alpha male that I am logged in and set my daily activity goals to be that of the top 20% of the Nike Fuel wearing community. Here are my observations after a couple of days.

If you are a busy personal trainer (10 coached sessions daily) or a person who has a job where you are on your feet then you will smash you general activity targets easily- this is interesting to me primarily as you have to answer the question then is any “unnecessary” activity useful e.g. training to turnover calories if your nutrition is in check.

These trackers don’t define intensity e.g. how heavy or how vigorous a certain exercise is. It would indicate that activity is not related to if you do a squat with 5kg or 200kg.

That said I am looking forward to a low activity day when I have to hit my daily activity goals by running on the spot, doing star jumps or indeed waving the band around in the air vigorously as that seems to cheat the readings.

That said I think they are quite useful if you work in a sedentary job. Firstly, this device will encourage you to move more to hit your activity goals and secondly, it allows you to take responsibility for your activity levels and therefore can become a good form of extrinsic motivation to “do” more.

A lot of the time marketing is aimed more at the “athlete” market or those who aim want to personalise their experience. The technology isn’t really there to “personalise” your experience but if you want a cool looking activity tracker to get you motivated then this can be a useful tool.

3. Lifting heavy stuff is great abdominal work. We have been integrating a lot of trap bar deadlifts in to our clients training as they more from beginner to intermediate level. We are using this as a progression from goblet squats towards more advanced/ heavier forms of lifting. Why? Improving your strength levels is perhaps one of the best ways to enhance your work capacity in the gym and also change your physique.

Progressing towards heavier weights leads to an increase in strength levels and the best way to give a full body effect is by using multi-joint movements such as squats and deadlifts. The trap bar is an intermediate style exercise from a complexity perspective that is easy to coach and easy for clients to pick up. As you progress towards this style of training there are two main complaints. ” My hands hurt” this is usually down to either a weak grip or not gripping the bar appropriately. Chalk can help improve grip and in some cases some people prefer to use gloves. Glove use is a contentious issue for some coaches who tell there clients to man up- however not everyone needs thick calluses on their hands and if you work with your hands e.g. as a sports masseur then your clients are not going to respect being rubbed down with sand paper like hands.

The second major complaint is back ache/ tension. This comes down to coaching of the exercise and making sure the weight lifted is suitable. A common issue is for some people is to be anteriorally tilted at the pelvis (hips facing down) and finishing the lift by over extending at the back. Teaching individuals to keep their pelvis in a more neutral position during the lift as well as squeezing their glutes/ bum at the top of the movement are two of the more successful cues we use for this exercise. As always it takes a bit of time and in some cases the exercise just doesn’t work for them due to mainly previous joint damage so some form of single leg loading is more useful.

 

 

Exercise of the Month: The Perfect Press Up

The press up is one of the most commonly used but most abused exercises used in the gym for upper body strength/endurance. We use a lot of press ups in our programmes at Results FAST. The reason being that unlike traditional bench pressing the shoulders are allowed to move freely into abduction (out) and protraction (forward around the rib cage) maintaining a normal scapular motion if performed properly. In certain cases the shoulder blades can become fixed in abduction or downward rotation, usually due to poor posture cues (“Keep your shoulders back and down/ stand up straight!”) or indeed because of excessive bench pressing or fixed scapular pushing. The press up encourages correct scapular movement and is a useful exercise in maintaining strong stable shoulders.

Commonly the faults associated with the press up are dropped hips (sometimes called anterior tilt) and forward progression of the humerus (upper arm bone) in joint. While these are more torso strength issues that can be remedied by taking the press up on to a raised platform one of the key teaching points that can remedy poor form is to use the perfect press up.

A lot of the time we see people who can perform a form of press up…. what I mean by that is a bad form press up. Typically the hands are wider than the shoulders, the elbows are placed at a 90 degree angle and the movement looks like it is coming from the neck. The reason we see this change in form is two fold. Firstly, the individual is shortening the range  to move- typically you see a forward head position leading to an assumption that they are achieving a suitable depth in the press up. Secondly, the chest hollows up creating a rounded back (sometimes the hips flex upwards as well) again shortening the distance moved. In both cases the shoulder blades are placed in their end of range abducted position before the movement starts, this is synonymous with being overdeveloped through the anterior shoulder and trapezius muscles where the press up is performed without the scapula moving from square with the spine to its abducted position at the end of movement.

Allowing the shoulder blades to move through range  it differs from the barbell bench press as it does not (if performed correctly) fix the shoulder blades in downward rotation. While this is neccesary for force production on heavy loads on the bench press and heavy dumbbell pressing the press up provides an alternative allowing movement through the shoulder blade.

As a teaching cue the perfect press up is a handy tool for those that have good strength but are generally unsure on elbow and shoulder positioning during movement. The turn of the hands cues the shoulder blades to tuck in to the torso. The end position allows protraction of the shoulder blades. The key point of this exercise is also safety. The shoulder joint is at one of it’s most unstable positions when at 90 degrees. A poor form press up therefore places unnecessary stress on the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder. Using the perfect press up cleans up form allowing good scapular movement and is a good refining tool for reformed press up addicts looking to take care of their shoulders.

 

High Rep Upper Body Training, Exercise Form and Why Your Shoulder Hurts

Pull Ups are perhaps one of the best upper body strength exercises. Training predominantly your ability to lift your own body weight (plus if you invest in training hard enough a bit more) they are an exercise that deserves it’s place in most strength and conditioning coaches toolbox.

That said with the advent of higher intensity conditioning programmes which are en-vogue pull ups have transcended away from being a strength exercise in to what could be termed a high rep conditioning exercise. When programmed with high rep bench pressing, press ups or shoulder press it adds a lot of stress to a joint that craves stability.

When you perform high repetition work we create fatigue- this is great for conditioning. Not so great though if stronger and more dominant muscles start to do the work of other muscles. This is where we get muscle imbalances and ultimately injury. Almost everyone reading this probably has had a niggle or injury in the neck or shoulder so it makes sense that your training does not cause these niggles…. indeed it should act against the imbalances developed in day to day life should you be a full time athlete or indeed a full time desk athlete.

There are a number of reasons I avoid high rep upper body training in compound exercises in my programmes.

Take the example of a pull up…

1. Bad form uses momentum to mask fatigue.

2. If momentum is masking muscular fatigue then where is force being generated from?

3. At the base of the movement the shoulder joint is being forced forward (out of socket) to induce a recoil to propel you upwards.

4. All though in some “kips” the individual generates force from the legs being in front of the body and throwing them backwards. In this context the shoulder is not hyper extended at the base of the movement. That said it is still a major challenge not to hyper extend the shoulder at the base of the movement- especially if performing multiple repetitions.

To refine this point I want to go back a bit to human anatomy.

Your shoulder joint or specifically the top of your humerus is held in place by a multitude of musculature. This musculature is designed to stabilize the humeral head and control movement. I have in the past heard it described as a golf ball on a tee with the wind blowing in 5 different directions.

NB This is a great read if you are a personal trainer/ strength coach/ anatomy geek. Skip a few paragraphs if the why doesn’t interest you too much

The rotator cuff aims to internally and externally rotate the humeral head as well as playing a role in maintaining the humeral heads position during movement. If you generate force by momentum what is holding on to your humeral head to stop it’s hyperextending if it can’t keep it’s position?

Specifically from a muscular sense the dynamic stabilisers muscles such as the supraspinatus which resists superior and inferior translation of the humeral head and subscapularis which resists anteroinferior translation. During movement the rotator cuff muscles are active throughout. Infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor produce an inferior shear force to counteract movement. Supraspinatus generates a compressive force across the glenohumeral joint. The force couple resulting from these actions maintains the humeral head centred on the glenoid to within 1mm throughout the range of motion. This is known as dynamic functional stability.

Non anatomy geeks resume here…

In a “normal” shoulder (which is often hard to find in the average office worker and definitely not in the swimmers and tennis players I work with) the actions of the internal rotators (subscapularis) and external rotators (infraspinatus) are balanced but the internal rotation action is enhanced by the action of pectoralis major.

If an individual over uses the shoulder, fatigue is likely to take place in the external rotators before the internal rotators resulting in an imbalance. This will cause the control of the humeral head position to be lost (it sort of highlights that doing a load of theraband external rotations and labeling it as shoulder rehab perhaps is not the best course of action as well as it does not influence dynamic stabilistation of the humeral head).

The humeral head impinges against the coracoacromial arch with resultant compression of the subacromial bursa and pain in the epaulette region and the upper arm/front of the shoulder. Sorry slipped in to anatomy again…. in simple terms this is an instability impingement and everything gets sandwiched together causing pain.

In individuals who work with the hands overhead e.g. throwing athletes and swimmers the role of the external rotators is pertinent as it acts as a humeral head depressors keeping the humeral head in place. Repetitive activity at this level resulting in fatigue of the external rotators meaning depression is not maintained and impingement may occur. This also highlights how shoulder laxity develops in to instability when fatigue becomes an issue.

It’s not all just about the rotator cuff though. Shoulder instability can be found if the scapular stabilisers are fatigued. Specifically subscapularis and the serratus anterior which control the scapular which if fatigued means that during scapular elevation impingement may occur as a product of scapular instability.

Again in more simple terms…. Your shoulder blades stability effects how the rotator cuff works- poor shoulder blade strength and stability therefore can result in poor humeral head stability.

It has been suggested that once instability impingement occurs then stretching of the anterior capsule takes place and a tightening of the posterior capsule occurs. Often in shoulder problems the stock recommendation is to “stretch your chest”. This may result in more anterior stretching and begin to put movement in to an unstable range of movement. This so-called capsular tightening predisposes to further anterior translation (forward movement) of the humeral head thus contributes to impingement.

So in round up…. stability of the shoulder blade leads to stability of the humeral head. Humeral head position is a product of maintaining stability. Excessive strengths or weaknesses acting upon the scapular or humerus can cause a imbalance which may lead to injury.

But how does this relate to high repetition training? There is always going to be an adaption to training but the key is to maintain suitable joint integrity. In high rep circuits the prime mover big muscles will overpower the stability based muscles. Typically we will say the exercise is in poor form as the exercise is performed in poor posture.

The one question you need to ask when training the upper body (as pretty much every movement from pull ups to bicep curls and the Olympic lifts will effect shoulder joint positioning) is what is the effect on scapular stability or numeral head stability, does the movement look good enough to broad cast or has fatigue masked form. Form should always be maintained when you consider the risk and reward of the exercise choice, intensity and volume.

Shock Training…

Methods to stimulate the body to attain a higher performance level in training are regarded as an effective way of lifting functional performance. The principal of gradual progressive loading over a period of time sometimes needs a little bit of a kick to enhance strength and progress. Indeed when performance hits a plateau it is necessary to shake things up in order to avoid staleness and also to give a training effect.

While most of the time we look for consistent progress, shock training lifts intensity and develops overloading beyond what the individual is used to. Below follows some of the methods we use.

Plyometrics- Characterized with a short eccentric (lowering phase) and a fast explosive movement. An example would be repeated jumps or bounds.

Forced Repetitions- Using a heavy weight then your rep range target and being helped to lift the weight by a spotter for a desired number of repetitions.

Repeated Singles or “Clusters”- Repeating a maximal lift is hard on the body but as a strategy to gain confidence at lifting maximally it is unsurpassed. We commonly use this method with deadlifts.

Restricted Range Movements- Limiting range can be a useful strategy to work on form and also bar speed through a certain part of a movement. Board pressing for bench press and rack pulls for deadlifts are a good example.

Maximal Eccentrics- This is often considered to be controlled lowering under a heavy load. We mainly employ this method with pull ups.

The method that may translate more successfully to sporting movements may be plyometrics as they are usually performed under body weight or low load conditions. However each if these methods is an effective way of changing changing stimulus and developing your physical abilities.