Coach:Athlete = Doctor:Patient

Elite sports training attempts to take the athlete as close as possible to their genetic limits. Considering this, sport coaches SHOULD function much more like physicians than loud PE teachers.

You value your health. Would you trust it to a Doctor who didn’t go to med school? Or one who took a few weekend certifications? When your real doctor prescribes you medication, do you take it when you please? Do you add other drugs to that prescription? I hope not.

Similarly, athletes need to realize that there are scientific processes behind every part of the training process, and that the training prescriptions from their coach (who should be well-schooled and certified in exercise and sport science) have been carefully planned to create a specific stimulus from which the athlete can recover and adapt in a way that improves performance.

Paraphrased from Michael Stone PhD, ETSU Sport Science Lab Director and Head of Programming

Hip Thrust PR

This video is from a few months ago but I came across it recently and thought I’d share it here.

The Lift: Back-Elevated Barbell Bent Leg Hip Extensions (or hip thrusts) subject the gluteal complex to high tension and load while sparing the spinal erectors.  Drive the heels into the floor and keep the tailbone tucked to achieve full hip extension.

The Good: This was my first attempt at maxing out on this lift, and I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of weight I was able to move.  

The Bad: As you can see, my back was a couple inches too high on the bench, shortening the lever and making the lift easier (aka cheating).  Also, my hamstrings were sore for about three days following this workout, leading me to believe that they–and not my glutes–were the dominant muscle group involved.

Loaded Carry Variations

In a quest for improved “core stability” and to “keep training functional”, the fitness media has pushed the notion that we can lift less weight, use strange new movement patterns (if you can call them that), and wear brightly colored spandex to get into the best shape of our lives.  This is not “functional” as they claim.  It is merely trendy.silly functional training collage

At Prevail Conditioning we don’t care about trends, fads, or spandex (though your personal workout fashion choices are up to you)–we care about results.  We continually witness huge improvements in our clients’ ability to use their core to brace and stabilize the spine during a variety of movements because we only prescribe exercises that have been proven to bring results.  One such exercise is known as the loaded carry.

The Loaded Carry

loaded carry is any type of exercise that involves walking for a certain distance or time while carrying a heavy object.  This forces the hips and core to work much harder to stabilize the pelvis and spine while walking, while at the same time working the shoulders, traps, and grip strength.

The basic cue for each of these variations is to walk tall and keep the chest proud and shoulders back.   

Carry Variations

The most basic form of loaded carry, also known as the farmer’s walk.  Be careful, basic doesn’t mean it’s any easier.  Use a pair of equal weight dumbbells.

The same as above, but with a single dumbbell.  Start off lighter then you think as the unilateral challenge to the core is actually tougher then the two dumbbell version.  Don’t let the weight pull you into a sideways lean.

The One Up One Down carry employs a heavy dumbbell on one side and a much lighter dumbbell pressed overhead on the other.  Keep your elbow straight and your bicep by your ear (but don’t tilt your head like I did in the video!)

The Overhead Loaded Carry takes some of the load off your core and hips, but is much more challenging for the shoulder girdles.  Keep those abdominals tight to ward off excessive lumbar extension. 

Walking Variations

The awesome thing about carries is that you can add variety and increase the training effect using different walking variations.  Below are two of my favorites.

The mini-hurdles force you to time and meter your steps more precisely.  You can also add a longer pause in the knee up position if you so choose to increase psoas activation and contralateral glute activation.

Using stairs transforms the exercise into a loaded carry/step-up hybrid.  Drive through your heel on each step, skipping a step on the way up and hitting each on the way down with both feet.  Keep the eyes and head straight forward to guard your posture.

And there you have it!  Try implementing these loaded carry variations on their own at the end of your workout or as part of a general-strength conditioning circuit.  You can mix and match the carry and walking variations.  (one up one down on the stairs is a personal favorite).  Just don’t let anybody catch you doing these while standing on a wobble-board with your eyes closed wearing green yoga pants.  Loaded Carries don’t have to be trendy.  They just work. 

This post was originally published on Prevail Conditioning’s blog

4 On-The-Go Workout Strategies You Can Do Today

There are a lot of awesome things about making a living as a trainer/teacher/coach.  One of the not so awesome things, however, is that often my schedule is so packed and full of transitions that I don’t have any time for my own training.  When things get crazy and I only have time for one or two solid training sessions during the week, I resort to one or more of the following at-home or work strategies.  Pick one that works with your own busy schedule and commit to it for a week.  Not as good as getting to the gym to deadlift but it sure beats nothing at all.

1.  Pay the Toll

Toolbooth on Merit Parkway

I’ve been doing this one since high school, but I actually stole the name from Ben Bruno.  The idea is to put a pull-up bar in a doorway and pay a pull-up toll every time you walk through.  Be sure to put the bar in a high-traffic doorway so you will actually walk through it.  You can make the toll as high as you like–for beginners or females 1-2 is probably great, more if you’ve been training pull-ups for awhile.

Don’t have a pull-up bar?  No sweat.  Slap a post-it reminder on the particular doorway with whatever toll you think you need to pay.  5 squats?  That works.  10 push-ups?  Awesome.  10 burpees?  Make sure you’re not right under the door frame.

2.  Farmer’s Walk Groceries

Most people shop for food once or twice a week.  What a perfect opportunity, then, to add farmer’s walks into your weekly program!  The goal is to carry the groceries from the store to the car and car to the house in a single trip, every time.  If you’re really stocking up on grub this can actually be a real challenge, especially when you factor in stairs, unlocking the front door, and then hoisting everything onto the kitchen counter.

Don’t buy a lot of food at once?  Just carry it all in one hand for a nice offset core stimulus.  Be sure to switch sides each time.

3.  Sweat Before a Shower

Everybody showers.  Hopefully you shower daily.  What better time to sneak in a quick 50 push-ups and work up a sweat then right before a nice shower?

My goal is to get the sweat glands really flowing in as little time as possible.  This means rapid sets of pull-ups, push-ups, and squats with no rest at all.  I just go hard for 5 minutes an viola!  Now the shower is actually cleaning something.

4.  On the Hour

Dumbbell Alarm Clock

Set your watch or phone to beep every hour, on the hour.  When it does, do a set of strength or mobility work.  You could stick with the push-ups, pull-ups, or squats that have already been mentioned, or mix it up and perform some T-spine mobility drills or maybe wall-angels for your shoulders.  Pick something that will only take 1-2 minutes to complete and that requires no equipment.  Think about how much your squat form will improve once you hit the gym if you are getting in 16 sets of mobility work every day!

And that’s a wrap.

Try one of these and let me know how it goes in the comments below!  And if you have a busy schedule like I do but want to get the most out of your fitness with the little time you have, email me or check out Prevail Conditioning for a free 60 minute training session.

2012: Lessons in Lifting Part II

This is the second in a three-part series outlining the lessons I learned while lifting and coaching in 2012.  In Part I I explained the difference between primary and secondary goals and suggested how those differences affected my 2012 training schedule.  Part II will focus on the most important aspect of program design: consistency.

Consistency is Everything

Last semester I instructed 50 college students between 2 weight training classes.  I knew from the start that I didn’t want to teach the class like a traditional PE weight training class–with little attention to program design, movement patterns, or individual needs.  Instead, I taught the students the basics of constructing and implementing a practical lifting regimen that included the following:

  • 5 part warm-up (soft-tissue work, HR elevation, mobility work, muscle activation, movement pattern technique work)
  • multi joint but beginner-friendly lifts (think goblet squats, single leg hip thrusts, single arm floor press)
  • specific corrective exercises (clamshells, wall angels, rotator cuff work, etc…)
  • exercises from each of the 7 basic movement patterns (push, pull, squat, lunge, hinge, twist, carry)
  • metabolic finishers (loaded carries, treadmill or bike sprints, tabata intervals)

Within each of these parameters I gave 3-4 options of exercises to choose from and stick to for a 5-6 week period.  So, for example, if the program called for a quad-dominant lower body lift on Monday, some students performed split squats, others rear-foot elevated split squats, others barbell back squats, and most of them goblet squats.

Click on the link to download the template they used: Westmont Weight Training Template

At first, many of them questioned the need to “do the same program for 6 weeks!” claiming that the media and P90X said you needed “muscle confusion” to get anywhere.  These same students were pleased and a bit surprised when a month-and-a-half later they had increased their 5 RM by 20-50% in their lifts across the board.

They achieved these results by learning the nuances of each lift, practicing and paying attention to proper form and the verbal, tactile, and visual cues I gave them.  Once they mastered the basics, appreciable load could be added and away they went, making incredible gains.

How Consistency Applies to You

If your goal is to get strong, huge, or both, here is the secret:  Pick a couple big lifts, add assistance work that brings up your weaknesses and maintains balance, vary the rep ranges, and train 3 days/week for a year.  If fat-loss is your goal, add to that program a 5-15 minute metabolic finisher and take a long walk on your day off. As long as your nutrition supports these goals as well, you will make significant, lasting progress.

You wont get anywhere with silly things like bosu balls, program-hopping, or “muscle confusion”.  Do a bit of research, consult a knowledgable strength coach, and create a plan that you can stick to for the next year.

For a hands-on look at how you can set and achieve your fitness or athletic goals, email me and check out Prevail Conditioning for the best Private, Semi-Private, and Group Training sessions in the Santa Barbara area.  End this year better than you started.

Prevail Conditioning Facility

Stay tuned for Part III.

2012: Lessons in Lifting Part I

2012 was a huge year for me.  The 2nd year of marriage to my beautiful wife, the birth of our baby girl, a sudden move due to mold problems, expanded clientele and the addition of teaching PE and Lab classes at Westmont College have all taught me valuable things about life and lifting.  In this post I will share one of three lessons from my own 2012 lifting experience:

Lesson 1: Mandatory and Optional Days

My work schedule during 2012 was different every day, and because of this I trained at various times and places throughout the week.  Variety is good but for me it often leads to missed “big lift” workouts, which is no bueno for my progress in the squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press.

The remedy is to plan training days that you need to hit, and days that would be nice to hit.

For instance, for a good part of 2012 I was following Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program with an emphasis on strength because my main goal was to get stronger in the traditional barbell lifts.  However, I also wanted to focus some of my energy on deltoid and lat hypertrophy because (like most guys) I want to look like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

Lift big, eat clean, look like this (minus the claws and hairdo)

My primary goal was to get strong, and my secondary goal was to get huge (or at least huger), so I set 4 mandatory training sessions built around barbell lifts, and 4 optional mini-training sessions focussed on chin-ups, rows, DB overhead presses, and lateral shoulder raises.  Most weeks I was able to get to the gym and hit my 4 mandatory sessions as scheduled and managed between 1 and 4 optional sessions at whatever time and place worked for me.  My mandatory sessions were always at Prevail or Westmont College and accompanied by a full warm-up, good nutrition, and intense focus.   Conversely, my optional sessions were performed at home, at the end of a big workout, before a shower, just before bed, between teaching classes–essentially any time I could squeeze them in.  This led to more consistent progress in my primary goal (strength) without totally sacrificing my secondary goal (look like wolverine), all-the-while fitting into a crazy work schedule and allowing me to spend more time at home with the family instead of away at the gym.

So prioritize your goals, worry about what is necessary, and be flexible with what isn’t.  Schedule what is necessary in your training and don’t feel guilty about missing the occasional secondary session–especially if it means you can spend more time with a loved one or pursuing passions outside of the gym.

For a hands-on look at how you can set and achieve your fitness or athletic goals, email me and check out Prevail Conditioning for the best Private, Semi-Private, and Group Training sessions in the Santa Barbara area.

Stay tuned for Part II and III

Tips for a Stronger, Faster, Better YOU: Part 1

Whether you train to run faster, to lift more, or just to look and feel better, the tips in this series will help you along your way.  More installments to follow.

Don’t train through pain

Runners tend to be a fairly obsessive group (I know that firsthand) and can’t stand to miss a day of training.  But if that achilles is flaring up again, doesn’t it make sense to take a day or two in the pool while performing soft-tissue work on the posterior-chain muscles?  Unfortunately most runners will choose to run through the injury until pain and inflammation force them to take a week or more off of training.  I would take 2 days over 2 weeks in a heartbeat.

Find an alternative

The same rule from #1 applies to those of us who lift to stay in shape.  If a particular lift is beating up on your joints, then find a new one!  Do conventional deadlifts put stress on your low back despite impeccable form?  Then try sumo position.  Do front squats hurt your elbows?  Then try goblet squats.  Strength coach Ben Bruno consistently comes up with great exercise variations that take some stress off of the joints while still challenging the appropriate muscle groups in a coordinated and effective way.

Pull more then you push

What do 90% of guys do upon walking into a weight room?  They bench.  Then, they dumbbell bench.  Then some abs, maybe some incline bench, and as a finisher they rep out on push-ups.  All of this pushing leads to tight pecs, internally rotated humeri, cranky shoulders 1-10 years down the road and a hunch-back before 60.  Screen shot 2012-12-01 at 12.17.57 PMRemedy this by pulling more than you push.  Plan for a 3:2 or even 2:1 pull to push ratio in your training program to balance things out and improve your shoulder health, posture, and upper back strength.  For example, if you plan to do 6 sets of bench, then do 9 sets of various pulling exercises as assistance work for a 3:2 ratio (that can be 9 sets of the same lift, or 3 sets of 3 different lift, etc).  I did thousands and thousands of push-ups in high school and college while neglecting my back altogether.  Silly, I know, but I was just a runner who didn’t know any better.  Once I starting training seriously (and intelligently) I nixed pushing altogether for 5 months and instead focused on shoulder position while pulling.  The result was no more shoulder pain, stronger upper-body lifts all-around, and a somewhat respectable upper back.

Ripped Back

Don’t Waste Your Money

Spend money on proper nutrition, functioning equipment, and a good coach, not the latest fashions from Lululemon or Nike.  Do you already own a sweatshirt?  Then don’t spend $250 on a designer hoodie from Nike. Do you own an old t-shirt?  Then don’t spend $64 on a yoga-inspired t-shirt from Lululemon.  Instead put that money to good use and purchase some fish oil, a kettlebell, or a functional movement screen from the trained coaches at Prevail.  Do you waste money on yoga pants because you think they make your butt look better? Do some hip thrusts or make a t-handle instead, as thrusts and swings actually give your glutes a firmer, stronger appearance.

This costs $250

This costs $250

This would cost you $64

This would cost you $64

Record your workouts

Don’t expect to make consistent progress as a runner or lifter if you are not logging your workouts.  What happens when you run the best race of your life and can’t replicate it because you don’t remember your training for the last 6 months?  How do you know which assistance exercises contributed to your squat PR?  You simply can’t know unless you have logged each workout in a journal or notebook.  Here is a sample from the Westmont weight training class I teach:

Lifting Journal Example

and one from my college running log:

Running Log

I recorded these workouts almost 3 years ago, but looking back I can see exactly what I did each day in the greater context of the week and the month.  I even vividly remember the Tuesday workout because our coach made us run an extra half mile interval at the end because we didn’t hit one of the times.  At some point you will get injured, hit a plateau, or have a sudden improvement, and you will want to look back at your training to determine what caused your positive/negative outcome.  Write it down!

That wraps it up for now.  Tune in next time for more tips on how to perform better in running, lifting, and life in general.