Fixing the Flaws: Part 1

It doesn’t really matter if you are an elite level athlete or a beginner. There are always going to be areas in your fitness that you need to work on. You are not Mr or Mrs Perfect….. Sorry….

Be it whole body strength, the transfer of your physicality in the weight room to your sport or small fiddly, subtle drills that you need to work on while the guy next to you totally dominates the exercise with 5 times as much weight.

It’s hard to break it to people that their 200kg deadlift, extreme yoga position or their 3 hour marathon is actually the limiting factor on why their back hurts or their knees are giving in.

Don’t get me wrong- strengths are there to be trained, great performance is impressive. No one is great without “strengths”.

Getting large numbers or quick times are a product of training. They are there to be celebrated as achievements. In turn though they can also lead to becoming your limiting factor when it comes to enhancing your health and overall fitness.

If you want to become a champion deadlifter or marathon runner then you may need to lift heavy things and run long distances. However, managing your recovery is also key. Looking after your mobility, muscular and joint health are tantamount to keeping you performing at high level, at times this needs to be prioritized.

But what about other “specialists” such as the desk jockey. The guys who specialize at being seated for unusually large amounts of time. You see their body adapts chronic overuse patterns reflective of their overall lifestyle be it running, sitting or cycling. In essence the changes in muscular balance mean less joint stability and or muscular tightness.

Weight room weights are vanity. “How much do you bench?” should be reserved to people who bench regularly. In fact the only guy who asks how much you bench is the guy who bench presses every session.  My answer is how much do you deadlift/ single leg squat/ run 1km in. At the end of the day he rates himself as a “specialist” bench presser and with that he will see all the chronic overuse issues that people without a well rounded programme of development will see.

In strength and conditioning for sport a lot of the time we perform training to counter balance the excessive strains and demands of overuse, just as we do for everyday people looking to keep their posture tip top. We do this as well with the detrained- we want to put enough strength and stability in the right areas to allow good balanced movement. We want to put enough mobility and flexibility in the areas that need to be moved.

The take home point is this.

Strength is overemphasised as a facet of fitness as we always lean towards our strengths. We perform more of what we are good at or have to do. What matters more in overall development of “fitness” and long term performance are the balance of strength and mobility.

“Specialists” occur as a product of their own training/ physical build. Balance in their programme is key to optimum performance over a period of time. Ask yourself the question what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Do your weaknesses hold you up from achieving your ultimate fitness goals? Do they limit your strengths? Does your back hurt when you deadlift too heavy? Does running hurt your knees? Are your shoulders sore after press ups? In the next post we will look at some specific examples….

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.

The Deep Squat- Are They Bad For Your Knees?

I like questions to be answered by science. Not that I think that research always defines fact but more because it gives you a trend of evidence to base how you train in the gym. One of the questions that constantly appear in the realms of strength and conditioning is squat depth.

Gyms in Ware

The classic squat is a fundamental movement defined by near enough simultaneous flexion of the hip, knees and ankle. How this movement may look like varies dependent upon limb length and relative joint mobility. This exercise is fundamental to fat loss programmes, performance enhancement and is probably the most prominent body weight exercise taught to beginners looking to incorporate multi-joint exercises in to their fitness regimes.

Performing this movement until you can sit  almost to the floor is even with body weight representative of great mobility and strength. With extra  load though dumbbells or barbells the question remains that “Is this movement dangerous for the knees?”  and specifically”Are the pressures too great in the knee complex to warrant squatting to this depth” or indeed “ass to grass” to be a bit cruder.

deep-squat (1)

From a muscular activation perspective there is little extra effect on hamstring involvement from deep squatting and that if quad involvement is the primary goal then squatting deep may not give any extra reward. Where the benefits are seen is at the gluteus maximus, where there is increased muscular activation in the deep squat compared to a parallel squat. Therefore if you are targeting the hip musculature then this may be a technique that you could utilize.

The concerns around deep squating and knee pain relate to a basic study that suggested that deep squatting can cause laxity in knee ligaments including the anterior cruciate ligament. In turn though this has been refuted in studies that show improvement in knee stability and tighter joint capsules on the anterior draw test in deep squatters. Further studies have shown that ACL and PCL forces are reduced at full flexion whereas their greatest tension is found at parallel- the typical distance recommended for a safe squat. Interestingly the connective tissue, cartilage and meniscus are under increased tension in comparison to ligaments in the deep squat position. Obviously those who suffer from degenerative conditions around the knees at the cartilage, meniscus or patella may find that deep squats may not necessarily be beneficial when also looking to maintain healthy joints.

There is minimal evidence to suggest that squat depth is dangerous for those with healthy knees. It does suggest those that with chronic or acute knees issues may not benefit from deep squatting. As with any training programme the exercise needs to fit the person but those with healthy knees who want to maximise their glute development may find that deep squats are a worthwhile addition to their training programme.

10 Years, 10 Lessons…

A decade of training a variety of individual’s for a variety of goals starts to teach you a lot of things. I have had the luck to work with some great personal training clients, focussed fat losers, developing athletes, rehab based physio’s, teams and coaches who have gone on to great things. Most importantly I have worked with some great trainers who have helped me develop my career. This post is basically a celebration of this and lists 10 of the most important lessons people can learn when looking to get stronger, perform better or simply to just look great.

 

1. Nutrition is 75% of the “fat loss” battle…

You cannot out train a bad diet. Food is abundant in western culture and forms an integral part of our daily routines. The truth is that although activity levels can be increased if it is not supplemented with a focussed nutrition plan then the results you will get are going to be limited. The everything in moderation crowd will disagree with this but if you want wholesale change and great results you have to “buy in” to the process. When it comes to nutrition it also means you can play the “fast fat loss” card or take it steady over 6 months- different strokes for different folks. Consistency over that period though is vital and therefore the nutrition plan can vary. That in effect explains why there are so many different weight loss plans. There are certain ways that we believe are most effective and that’s how we support our clients goals at Results FAST

2. Conditioning is only skill specific…

Whatever you do, be it running, biking, high intensity circuits, olympic complexes or even Zumba (yes, Zumba). Your ability to resist fatigue is only comparable to the task. Different people will need different levels of conditioning but as conditioning is only specific to the energy system you want to train. There are a variety of facet’s of conditioning to train from strength based conditioning with methods such as circuit training, to high intensity intervals such as sprints or spin bike based work or even including aerobic base building common in a lot of endurance athletes. The truth is short high intensity “intervals” will not always cut it, training has to be varied for progression too much one way and progress will be limited hence why programming needs to be changed often and varied for progression. This is a practice that we follow changing up our clients programmes from month to month.

 

 

3. There is no such thing as a training “system” just “philosophies”…

If someone says they have a system of training it means they have basically closed the door on new methods or being able to react to an individuals specific needs. A good coach will listen and add new styles of training if they see it a useful for improving their trainees results. Training is quite simple- anyone can write a programme or a workout with rudimentary knowledge, the internet is awash with experts. The key though is good coaching and long-term programme design where you have to roll with the punches sometimes from a session to session basis. It’s the difference between someone who is just there to motivation to someone who will help you achieve your training goals.

4. Trainers are not here just for “motivation”…

Seriously- motivational quotes are the cliché of personal trainers and fitness coaches which makes us all look like Ben Stiller’s character on Dodgeball. Motivation has to be internal as well as an external thing to achieve a goal or at least to keep going forward. A good coach is someone who provides support but not someone who’s role is so integral that the person cannot exercise or train without their presence. The truth is though most people want to have some form of accountability e.g. someone designing your programme, helping with organisation and giving you the motivating push here and there. A trainer does not need to become a crutch to lean on. While feeling “accountable” to a trainer the motivation has to be partly internal, you have to want the goal enough yourself in the long-term this is more important for getting results.

5. Turn up, consistency counts…

Over a period of time turning up more often gets you to your goals than not turning up. Sometimes when you don’t fancy training it’s those sessions which will keep you going forward. Simply said but probably one of the most important concepts. Consider your own training, if you are not achieving your goals how consistent are you at turning up be it training or/and nutrition?

6. Intensity is key for the plateauing exerciser…

Repeating the same programme over and over again without improving is sort of like replicating a hamster on a wheel. You are working hard but going nowhere. Intensity is the key here- taking your programme in a different direction is key for changing things up. You have three things you can mix up intensity (how hard), volume (how much) and complexity (what you do). Changing complexity too often does not allow learning and mastery of the skill so it should be changed month to month. Volume can be changed by doing more which can be useful at certain points though excessive training volume can be tiring and counter productive. Intensity though allows you to push yourself to new heights especially if you have been working at the same consistent level. Training volume often has to be dropped when taking intensity up but for the person who needs that extra push it can make all the difference.

7. Your weaknesses are often more important than your strengths…

It surprises me when people remark on how lean they are or how much muscle they have. Also a lot of people think they are strong because they can bench press xkg or are a great runner because they have a 35 minute 10km. A lot of time we are good at the things we practice more. Most of the things I find that people need to add to their programme are the things that they preferentially avoid. For instance, most guys avoid training their legs. Most females avoid lifting heavy weights afraid of bulking. Well for both sexes getting stronger and improving your weaker points will have a better effect on improving your strengths in the long run.

8.  Environment is key to success…

Where you train and the people you train with are vital for success. It’s probably the seminal difference between getting a good and a great result. In my mind an atmosphere where you are not judged, receive positive social support with an accountability factor that keeps your training consistent is key to goal achievement. Be it getting stronger, rehab or weight loss where you go to train and the standards set by the people around you be it your coach, friends or trainees will often govern the results that you will achieve and continue to achieve. It’s something we take great care of at Results FAST in Ware as we feel it separates us out from the competition.

9. Movement skills and integration doesn’t happen in isolation for the lower body…

From a corrective and rehab perspective I am lucky enough to have worked with some great individual’s who have taught me a lot. A lot of rehab protocols in my mind though tend to work on muscles in isolation. Although in some cases this may be relevant in others it means their progress to full exercise can be hampered. With a lot of trainees they need to reintegrate in to exercise quicker and start to build up basic movements so that they do not become completely deconditioned. I have seen people with knee pain lie on their side doing hundreds of glute exercises followed by stacks of glute bridges because glutes are good for stability. Did anyone consider that quads and hamstrings are good for stability as well? Simply said if it’s the right time to progress get on to two feet as quickly as possible and start developing the base movement patterns even through limited range initially.

10.  Education is experience, experience is education…

This one is for the fitness professionals in the crowd. It doesn’t really matter how long you have been training people as a coach. It does not really matter what qualifications you have. What really matters is what happens in between those points. Everyone is so concerned with being specialist they forget that all specialism starts with a great general rudimentary knowledge. Brain surgeons don’t just become brain surgeons it takes quite a few years to get through medical school before that level of specialism happens. It’s the same with training people, if you have worked with fat loss clients predominantly step outside the box and get some practical work with a physio or nutritionist or another allied health practitioner. If you work with athletes get out and work with the general public. Which ever direction you are coming from improve your “frame of reference”, it will make you a better trainer in the long run.

 

Strength Training and Endurance Athletes…

Strength and the training of strength is still a bit of a misnomer in endurance sports. It is relevant to swiming, cycling and running? Why? Strength training build postural balance and also aims to build efficent movement in the body.

There are different facets of strength. Strength endurance is the one most commonly associated with endurance sports however it is greatly misunderstood. Doing 50 squats and 100 lunges is not really relevant in theis case. The need to feel the burn seems to be a pre-requisite for most endurance trainers however this is not an efficent way of training and may be harming your progress.

Strength endurance is the ability to hold and move to correct body position. A lot of your postural muscles need strength endurance to continue to hold correct position allowing your other larger muscles to generate force. A lot of endurance athletes will fundamentally have great endurance capabilities in their major muscle groups- however posturally they wil not necessarily have strength in the right areas. What is the product of this? Poor posture equals poor form and limits good technique. Maximal Strength is the ability of the muscles to move a maximal weight. Commonly this area of training is not utilised because of the perception that it is not relative to the sport trained for. However you could not be more wrong. Maximal strength trains the nervous system and the bodys ability to recruit as much muscle mass as possible. While not feeling the burn of a hill climb training in this way reminds the body where it’s leverages need to be. Weight training in itself is often corrective in nature- the goal is to build muscular balance facilitating better technique. Individual’s can have great strength endurance but poor maximal strength. As strength endurance is often a product of maximal strength then developing strength levels should be a primary method of training.

What’s New… Apart From The New Year…

Happy New Year to all the readers of the blog. As this serves as an updater for both training info and for currently training clients I’m going to roll of a few things you may see going forward on the blog as well as from a training perspective over the next few months.

From a centre perspective we are still running the 2 week trial. This is a great way to try training with us, be it a beginner or advanced exerciser. At Results we really do believe that we are delivering better programmes and a better experience than the majority of gyms in the local area. Also a special mention goes out to the current members who I want to thank for trying out something new when it comes to gym based training and for their application to their training and nutrition programmes. We really believe we are setting the standard in training in the local area and I am pleased that I get to coach in such a motivating environment (occasionally on some of the 18 hour days I may not look too hot but believe me I enjoy helping everyone). For any new readers if you are interested in training with us be it at the centre or at distance please feel free to contact us.

From a nutrition perspective we are just tweaking the nutrition pack- anyone currently needing updating, or indeed reminding please let me know. For anyone new enquiring about this service full nutrition advice comes fully included in your membership.

For the advanced guys we are looking at running an advanced conditioning session at 7pm on Wednesday night. We also are running Starting Strength classes for those looking to get in to training or who are new to a gym environment after the New Year. We hope to run some more specific themed sessions as we progress in to 2011.

With the blog we intend to make it more informative as well as adding some good in depth articles. A lot of fitness pro’s read the site so I’ll also be discussing fitness and nutrition and some of the methods we utilize. Ideally we will do a video blog once a month as well as some new research and product reviews. These things work well by letting me know what you want to see- any feedback is appreciated! So on with the New Year!

A Question on Fat Loss…

What’s the best exercise for calorie burning? Running? Rowing? Bike? Well they definitely can all be useful. However, the fundamental question is do you need to do cardiovascular exercise to lose weight? Well the physiques of Olympic level marathon runners and cyclists are pretty lean, saying that though sprinters are pretty lean and in comparison, although they perform a great deal less volume of training in comparison in regards to hours of performing “cardiovascular exercise.” Cardiovascular exercise it seems is at a bit of a point where definitions are flaky at best. For instance someone says “I don’t do cardio- I lift weights and circuit train.”

Well simply this is cardio- in my mind anything that gets you out of breath could be classified cardiovascular as there are greater stresses placed upon the cardirspiratory system. Here it is a question of intensity and load. Perform 10 burpees and you may be out of breath, indeed perform burpees for as long as you can and ultimately you will feel fatigue which will limit the performance of the exercise. As exercise intensity increases the volume of exercise that can be performed is limited. The higher the intensity the less you can do in effect. While not rocket science it certainly does not mean that interval/ high intensity training is the be all and end all. What matters is that the method of training is specific enough to overload the desired system of the body.

Here’s the Science Bit… If the major goal is to break down body fat we need a number of things to be aligned. Firstly, we need a number of things to be happening in the body. We are always turning over calories- be it stored fat or carbohydrate. What matters here is that what is being reabsorbed or restored is not as much as being burnt. Activity causes this burning of energy. Initially, we will preferentially burn through our stored carbohydrate stores, once these are gone we will move over to our stored fat stores. We will always be burning a mixture of both- however if we have depleted store of carbohydrate then the body burns fat to be used as energy. This highlights the usefulness of low carb diets for fat loss (though there are a lot of weight losses that are not body fat- weight loss does not always mean body fat reductions as muscle glycogen is reduced as is stored body water).

Secondly, we need to stimulate fat breakdown- two things do this. Exercise of a higher intensity stimulates a higher hormonal response stimulating a faster breakdown of fat stores, if we are in need of energy this will also break down stored energy sources.

A Question of Efficiency… So why currently does cardiovascular exercise get a bashing? Well it’s a question of efficiency. If you do the same thing repeatedly you become more efficient. Running, rowing, biking and swimming are all great examples of exercises where you perform repetitive movements. Repetition breeds efficiency- efficiency means less effort to sustain a higher intensity. Therefore changes in intensity don’t have as large effect as efficiency improves.

So What’s the Deal?… Are intervals effective for fat loss? Yes and no- elevating intensity causes a higher initial call for the body to provide energy though this does not necessarily need to be a 20 second Tabata sprint, 20 jump squats or 100m run. What matters here is the intensity and with all of the above you can only do a few sets well before intensity is hampered.

So shall we do no steady state?… Well if we have performed enough activity to stimulate fat breakdown initially then steady state will be ideal for burning released energy. In individuals new to exercise steady pace exercise may provide enough stimulus. More advanced exercisers will have to hold a higher intensity to give the same effect. Also in turn if you perform enough “activity” then you will burn through all stored energy unless diet contains a ridiculous amount of calories.

If we become efficient then does this hamper fat burning?… This is the take home point for me- possibly because our tolerance to intensity firstly and secondly to the efficency of the movement or activity performed. As a valid point of observation there are plenty of amateur runners and cyclists with a level of body fat which seemingly does not correlate with their level of activity (food intake is obviously important and I will address this in future posts).

Therefore should all “cardio” for fat loss be randomized to limit efficiency? Possibly a model of all methods should be fused together after all kettlebells won’t instantly make you thin but using them in a focussed way they can be a great tool. What matters in my mind is that periods of training are directional. Fat loss is one of those goals where you have to focus in on the primary goal. What holds true is that any exercise programme prescribing activity will cause extra calorific burn. Programming needs to be varied though to keep stimulating the body to adapt and change. Without these changes “exercise efficiency” only improves and sometimes for fat loss this is not always the best way to optimize your results.

Why Am I Injured? Fixing the Flaws…

Wondering why your back hurts? Why do you shoulder’s feel creaky? It could be down to your posture. Your training and what you do daily greatly influences how your body changes and adapts- this effects muscle and the connective tissue attached.

What goes on at the shoulder is greatly affected by the various muscular attachments. If some of the muscles are short (or indeed if some of the muscles are weak) then you may not be able to get your arms overhead properly.  If you are not strong enough around the core/ abdominals then you may see excessive movement in the back. Why does the back move? To create movement compensating for weakness or tightness around the shoulders allowing the arms to continue their path overhead. This is shown in the picture below- the hands are overhead but the pelvis is in an anterior tilt putting strain on the lower back.

What you may also see is that the arms reach out in front of the body and the upper back appears rounded. If dysfunctional movement occurs repeatadly e.g. your run around with your hands overhead daily or more realistically you do stacks of overhead training (such as shoulder presses, swimming or most throwing sports) you can end up with pain in the lower back or the shoulder. This is usually related to weak scapular retractors, weak scapular depressors and poor upper back mobility. It can also occur because of tight biceps- see the picture following:

Notice how the arms are flexed- the biceps have an attachment point on the scapula where it also plays a role in movement and stability.

What can we do, or most importantly what exercises do you need to include in your programme to remedy this. First stop is some static stretching for the chest and lats, mobility work for the upper back such as foam rolling or if you can afford it some massage (as if you needed an excuse!). Row based work for the scapular retractors and wall slides for the scapular depressors help with developing strength and balance to the shoulder region. It also highlights that all shoulder pain is not remedied by holding an elastic band and doing external rotations favoured by a lot of “rehab” specialists- in short there is so much more going on at the shoulder joint- escpecially in active individual’s.  The abdominals also play a big role- core strength in this sense needs to be trained to resist extension- this is what occurs when the hands go overhead and the back hyper extends. Exercises that resist extensions are things like ball roll outs and the ever popular ab wheel that you will often see on the shopping channels (as a tip I brought one from Amazon- the postage cost more than the wheel).

If you are performing a shoulder press in your programme (not always a bad thing) make sure the exercise looks right.

Above you can see that although the arms are extended there is a slight anterior tilt in the pelvis- I would probably say that if you had this type of set up or any more excessive curve in the lower back a good dose of core training and shoulder mobility work should be performed before integrating this movement back in to your programme. If you are an athlete competing in an “overhead” sport consider the implications of extra overhead work- quite simply it may not be necessary.