Monday, October 29, 2007

Chalk up another one for strength training

A study released from Michigan State University on Friday, found that college female swimmers, divers, and runners, had lower bone density than female athletes in other sports.

Just another solid reason these athletes need more focus on strength training.

The study is reported in the October issue of the Journal of Athletic Training.

The findings are published here.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Getting Functional

This is too funny to not post.


Scapular Retraction and Depression

Try this:

Stand tall (think: tall spine) facing a mirror with your arms hanging directly by your side. Next slide your shoulder blades back together as far as you can, literally attempting to touch them together, while puffing your chest up. This should flex the muscles of your upper back (rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius), pulling your shoulder blades back and down. Now while holding this position raise your arms out in front of you, not changing anything about your shoulder blades. The shoulder blades should stay back and down, and definately should not shrug up.

What you're doing by raising your arms out in front is activating your anterior deltoids, inhibiting your posterior deltoids. I have seen countless athletes/people substitute scapular retraction and depression by simply externally rotating and/or extending the glenohumeral joint by using the posterior delts. This can potenially be a major problem that often leads to shoulder impairments.

Work on developing the proper motor pattern of scapular retraction and depression by practicing the above mentioned exercise. Focus on sliding the shoulder blades down and back when performing all upper body pulling exercises. Actually, all exercises, including lower body, will benefit from this. Don't forget to maintain a tall spine. By perfecting this pattern, you'll be less likely to have shoulder issues and you'll definately make greater gains.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Femoral Anterior Glide

If you ever experience a "pinching" sensation in the anterior portion of the hip(s) when squatting or pulling your knee to your chest when stretching your glutes, it could very likely be femoral anterior glide syndrome.

You see the glutes not only extend, abduct, and laterally rotate the hip joint but they also help control, what noted physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann calls, the path of instantaneous center of rotation of the femoral head. With normal functioning glute muscles, when the hip flexes the femoral head "glides" posteriorly to maintain its' position in the acetabulum. This posterior glide is caused by the pull of the glute muscles. If the glute muscles are inactive, the femoral head will glide forward upon hip flexion, impinging on the anterior joint structures of the hip joint.

The glute bridge is a simple exercise to use both as an assessment and activation drill for proper function of the glute muscles.

To perform the glute bridge, all you do is simply lie on your back and bend your knees to about 90 degrees. From there, set your feet about shoulder width apart and point your toes at the ceiling. Finally, raise your hips up off the ground, creating a straight line among your knees, hips, and shoulders. If you feel your hamstrings and/or low back and your butt muscles are soft you glutes are not doing their job. More often than not your abs will be relaxed as well.

Simply use this same drill to practice better glute activation. To improve your performance, practice posteriorly tilting your pelvis, tightening the abs, using them to pull up on the front of the pelvis, and squeezing your glutes prior to pushing your hips off the floor.

Use this exercise prior to your next training session. Proper glute activation can be to key to many problems along the kinetic chain.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

"I've tried everything and nothing works for me"

There is always a lot of discussion about which type of training works best. Which is best for fat loss, best for building muscle, best for building strength, and so on. Conjugate or concurrent vs. linear periodization; High intensity interval training vs. curcuit strength training; 5 sets vs. 3 sets; High volume vs. low volume.

Guess what? It all works.

The only thing that doesn't work: not working hard.

Getting after it on a shitty program will create better results than a half-assed effort on a great program.

The problem is most people THINK they are working hard. In reality they more than likely aren't even close. Some decent indicators:

-Puking during or after a workout (log rolls for 100 yards don't count)

-Lying on the floor after the workout because your heart is going to explode out of you chest (it doesn't just feel that way, it IS about to)

-Head nearly exploding trying to squat "the house"

-Pumping out 10 chin-ups, squatting 235, doing push-ups with 70 lbs on your back. Not too shabby for a woman, at 50 years old.

-Lip starts bleeding because you bit a chunk off trying to get that last rep.

-Vision goes blurry

-Both entire arms go numb

-You squatted heavy in the morning, pulled a 200lbs. sled for 300 yards during the lunch hour, then you see your friends setting PR's in the deadlift in the afternoon and say to yourself "fuck it", and begin chalking your hands

-Head spins like a rediculous buzz, but this one doesn't feel good.

-Calluous ripping open on your hand leaving you, the bar, and the floor blood soaked

-Getting a concussion because you fell down the stairs because your legs don't function anymore

-Ripping a hole in your foot while doing barefooted 200 pound sled pulls

-Having to take an ice bath post-workout to bring your body temp back down because the paramedics put you in one

-A torn muscle

-Legs burning so bad you can smell the smoke

-Slurred speech

-Having a wrist issue that doesn't allow you to pull your wallet out of your pocket and the doctor saying you should not be lifting. What do you do? Bench in the upper 300's for more than ten singles, followed by max effort pull-ups

-Blowing a blood vessel in BOTH eyes

-Having someone ask you how much weight you just lifted and answering "yes"

-An old man having a heart attack because he was WATCHING you train

-Having to get a different bar because you just bent the one you were using

-Young kids running away screaming bloody murder because you stepped in the squat rack

-Blood dripping from the shins

-Hitting a 365lbs. PR in the back squat in your second year of lifting weights. At 65 years young

-Diarrhea before your workout; and it's not because of what you ate

-Having a doctor come up to you in a gym and telling you to "tone it down a bit"

-Drooling because you NO LONGER HAVE CONTROL

-Getting a funny vanilla taste in your mouth

There are more but I am tired. If you haven't experienced one or more of these you've never worked hard. Sorry not even close.

I am not suggesting anything by this, I am just saying.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Does this guy need ab work?

Training the Abs

Is direct ab/torso work even beneficial?

I have been juggling around the idea in my head for a while now and am beginning to wonder, is any direct abdominal work going to create any performance or function improvement?

The problem I see is far too many everyday folks and even many of the athletes I work with, have almost nothing as far as body awareness goes. So does it really matter if we train the "abs"? Do crunches, oblique raises, bridging, russian twists even transfer to useful human movement, especially when the abdominal work is done prone or supine on the ground.

We all by now know the philosophy, "train movements, not muscles" when it comes to training for performance. It is now common training knowledge that muscles work in integration not isolation. A few years ago this was a paradigm shift from the old-school bodybuiling body part splits training (day 1:chest, day 2:back, biceps/ triceps, day 3: chest, day 4: quads and hamstrings, day 5: chest, again...oh I forgot chest is everyday; you get the idea), to training in terms of movement (upper and lower body push and pull, triple extension, etc.) We came to this realization that when we trained individual muscles and attempt to put them to athletic use, the nervous system was not trained to integrate these strong muscles into smooth, orchestrated movement skills. What bodybuilding style training creates is far more non-contact injuries, muscle pulls, tendonitis (acute inflammation: 1-5 days of pain) to eventually tendonosis (degenerative: chronic pain), and impingement syndromes, along with a whole host of other issues.

Body part training may make you look good, but it doesn't do much for performance. Following the concept of 'training movements, not muscles', why does abdominal training seem to be the exception?

If any of you know me and my training philosophy, you know I am a torso stability guy, specifically lumbar stability. This is an area I feel most people need work. Lumbar stability allows for greater hip and thoracic spine mobility, keeping your knees and shoulders healthy. I use stability exercises such as front and side bridges and back extension holds for torso work. These are simple hold-for-time exercises that train all areas of the abdomen. However, I am starting to use these only for muscle activation purposes, no longer training exercises. You see these exercises do not teach any movement and are done from a position that is not considered athletic or "functional" (I am starting to hate that word). Another problem, most people do not do stability exercises correctly. The hips and shoulders need to be aligned properly and cued to 'fire' a certain way, but that's a topic for another discussion.

So how do we get strengthen the abdomen and what are the best ways to do so? Thinking along the lines that the abdominal muscles are designed to prevent rotation, stabilize the spine, and transfer power from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa, the best training is movement, quality athletic type movements.

People need to learn to squat, lunge, and lift things with their hips maintaining a stable spine. More importantaly though, I think we need to get back to moving athletically more often. Young children don't need direct ab work. They don't have back problems or any of the other issues our ever-becoming sedentary society does. Kids play. They run, jump, climb, dance, reach, pick things up, and do all the other wonderful things kids do. They move...athletically.

I've had sore abdominal muscles after an afternoon of playing pick-up basketball. Did I do any direct abdominal work? No. Did I run, jump, change direction, reach, throw, and catch? Yes. The abdominals resisted rotation, stabilized the spine, and transfered power. When we use our limbs to move through great ranges of motion do different motor skills, our abdominal muscles have no choice other than to work, and work hard!

The issue becomes one of our society. Often times these normally active abdominal muscles have been shut off because we don't use them anymore. We no longer move for survival, we sit. So we need to step back and re-teach athletes/people to move properly again, minus the direct abdominal exercises.

More and more, I am witnessing abdominal exercises causing more problems than good. I seen too much training for the the rectus abdominus re-inforce excessive kyphotic posture, which over time, can and will likely, lead to impairments at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The dysfunction can go the other direction as well. The excessive kyphotic posture will force the lumbar spine into great lordosis, creating anterior pelvic tilt, shutting the glute muscles off, causing issues traveling from the hip to the knee and then ankle.

Another issue is using rotation exercises for training the obliques. Many times the hips are already "locked-down" from lack of movement, so the lumbar spine has already picked up the slack and become more mobile. Add on twisting oblique exercises and now we are creating rotational sheering going on at the lumbar vertebrae. The increased mobility at the lumbar spine helps to further increase the immobility of the hips and thoracic spine. Again the dyfunction manifests itself outwards throughout the entire body. As you can see, without correct movement skills, direct abdominal training can be potentially harmful.

I am beginning to only using abdominal work such as side or front bridges as part of activation exercises to turn muscles on, not to train them. This is done first in our workouts prior to the dynamic mobility warm-up. I use it to help wake up certain muscles which in turn will hopefully create greater quality movement. As Mark Verstegen of Athletes' Performance Institute says, "Activate, then integrate."

So the question remains, is training the abs an entire waist of time? I don't know the answer but I am having a more and more difficult time seeing the benefit.

Here's a rundown to what I feel is the best way to get a strong torso and one the looks pretty good to boot. Just 3 steps, following in order:

1. Learn to move correctly (regain proper motor control: movement skills, activation exercises)

2a. Pick stuff up off the floor, squat (1 & 2 legs), lunge, step-up, RDL (1 & 2 legs), pull yourself up in a many different ways, and push things away from you. Load all these progressively heavier.

2b. Sprint, jump in many different ways off 1 and 2 legs, jump up onto and off of things, do all kinds of changes in direction, catch and throw balls, climb things, balance. Sounds like what you see on the playground.

2c. Condition, Hard!

3. Get after it... BIG TIME!

This should take care of your "core" pretty well.

Inevitably the question will always come up, what if the athlete/person is too weak in the abdominal muscles to squat or do a deadlift? Go back to number 1 and procede from there.

Don't forget, "Train movements, not muscles"


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Rocky IV

We can argue sets and reps, exercises, and training philosophy, but it all comes down to getting after it.

Train Hard.