Training Both Ends of the Spectrum: Strength & Endurance

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For years I’ve been faced with a question to which I have yet to find the answer. The more I Iook for the answer, the louder I hear the question, and that is this:

Which do I love most, strength training or endurance training? Do I love lifting heavy stuff or spending hours running and biking? It’s as much of a question now as it’s ever been.

The truth is I love both activities. I love to lift weights and I love endurance activity. I can’t choose one. Periodically my interest swings more to one or the other but I have yet to find a way to de-emphasize one and specialize in the other. Why does this matter?

Concurrent training likely causes some conflict at the cellular level in terms of trying to achieve gains. That is, lifting a lot may interfere with endurance adaptations and significant endurance work my inhibit strength, power and muscle-growth adaptations.

From what I’ve come to understand, aerobic conditioning seems to inhibit gains in strength, power and muscular hypertrophy more so than the other way around. As regards endurance performance, carrying around extra muscle mass makes running and biking more difficult—especially when going uphill.

(Want to read more about this? StrengthandConditioning.com has a good discussion of research on the topic titled Should we avoid concurrent training to maximize hypertrophy?)

If nothing else, I often feel like a party of one. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only person who is enthusiastic about both lifting for five reps and under as well as suffering, sweating and panting for over an hour. I don’t meet many others who share my enjoyment of both types of activity.

Because of all of the above, I’m excited about an ebook from Juggernaut Training Systems called the Hybrid Athlete. I’ve been following a sample program from the book for a couple of weeks now and I’m enjoying it. I’m lifting more than I have in a while and at the same time I’m running, biking, and hiking a lot.

There are several different sample programs but it’s not a book of cookie cutter workout templates. The book discusses the underlying mechanisms at work during both strength and endurance training.

Most important, this book discusses recovery and the need to strategize lifting and endurance workouts. For someone trying to train hard on both ends of the exercise spectrum, managing recovery is crucial. Thus, there are ways to train for strength while resting the endurance systems and vice versa such that the athlete won’t be overwhelmed, burned out, and possibly injured. The Hybrid Athlete discusses all of this.

Finally, what makes me respect this work is that the writer, Alex Vada, has walked the walk. He’s competed in Ironman traithlons as well as put up impressive numbers in the power lifts.  He’s relied on academic learning and experience in the gym, on the road, and in the pool to develop this book.

Follow this link to learn more about essentials of the hybrid athlete training.

 

 

Thoughts on Ski Conditioning

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The big running season is over and now the snow is falling. It’s almost time to put the sticks on the feet and slide down a mountain!  Fun on top of fun! It might be a good idea to prepare myself as best as I can before I get out there. Here are some thoughts on how I might do that. Maybe they’ll help inform your own ski conditioning strategy.

Exercises should look a lot like skiing.

  • Some sort of squat should probably be employed, but a conventional barbell front or back squat may not be adequate. I discuss more of my thinking on this here and here.
  • Tri-plane movement must be considered. For example:
    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    • My hips will go back and forth between flexion + internal rotation + abduction on the downhill leg then more flexion + relative externall rotation + adduction on the uphill leg. The hip, knee and ankle joints must move well and the corresponding muscles must lengthen and contract repeatedly.
    • In addition to that hip movement, my thoracic spine should stay aimed downhill so I’ll be doing a lot of rotation through the trunk. Like the leg muscles, my trunk muscles must be able to manage the repeated loading that will happen.
    • I need adequate range of motion and control of that range as I move downslope.

Energy system conditioning

Good movement is massively important to good skiing. Adequate stamina is also a major consideration. I want to be able to last for a while and be able to have fun all day. If I fatigue too soon then it’s likely my movement skills will be compromised and I could get injured.

I have a good base of general endurance but I need to make it a bit more specific to skiing. A typical ski run involves powerful turning and management of variable terrain, sometimes for several minutes. Then I rest on the chair lift for several minutes and do it again. This cycle may repeat itself for several hours. Also, alpine skiing involves a lot more knee flexion/extension compared to running. My quads typically bear the brunt of all that knee movement so I’ll need to condition them appropriately. How will I do that?

Ski circuits

My plan is to put together several exercises that will target the muscles and movement patterns that are vital to skiing and I intend to them at a pace and for a duration that affects the appropriate energy systems. Here are some examples:

My most recent workout put together some conventional strength exercises and put them together with some ski-specific exercises in a super-set. It went like this:

Super-set 1

  • barbell clean + front squat: 1+5 (did as many reps as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • pull-ups: 7 reps
  • 1-leg pivots aka balance reaches x 10/10 reps to each side; An example:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

Super-set 2

  • Bench Press: 5 x 3 sets (did as many as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • Various 3D jumps with the ViPR x 20 reps; Here’s an example of one version of the exercise using a sandbag instead of a ViPR:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible

Super-set 3

  • cross court sprints on the basketball court x 4
  • odd-angle medicine ball squats; something like this:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

There are lots of possibilities out there!

 

 

More Hip Mobility From GMB

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I’m a fan of mobility. I put a premium on my clients and I having a large “movement database.” I’m not just talking about flexibility mind you. On that note, I like Dr. Andreo Spina’s words on mobility vs flexibility:

“By my definition, mobility and stability are intimately related. Mobility, which is often confused with ‘flexibility,’ can be defined simply as the ability to move or to be moved freely and easily.  Another way to think of it is the ability to actively achieve range of motion.  Flexibility by contrast is the ability to passively achieve range of motion.  It is therefore possible to be very flexible, however have limited mobility.  The former implies that you can passively achieve a particular range, while the latter implies neurological control of a particular range as it is being actively attained.”

I’m also very interested in the concept of movement variability. What is “movement variability?” Todd Hargrove of Bettermovement.org discusses it as such:

“Good movement is not just about harmonious interaction or coordination between the different parts of the body. It is most fundamentally about how the system interacts with the environment, particularly in response to unexpected changes. In other words, good movement implies a quality of adaptability and responsiveness to a changing environment.

One can imagine building a humanoid robot that can walk with flawless symmetry and grace. But if the robot cannot adapt its gait pattern to accommodate changes in the terrain, it will fall each time it steps on a rock, and its movement skill is essentially useless. True movement intelligence therefore doesn’t exist so much in the movements themselves, but in their interaction with the environment.

The graceful stride of the deer isn’t useful unless it can be modulated to jump a log and avoid a wolf. A soccer player who can execute technically brilliant ball handling skills in solo practice does not face the real test until she performs those moves in a game situation against an opponent who is trying to steal the ball.

We would not say that someone is fluent in a language if they have only one way to communicate a particular thought, regardless of how perfect that particular communication is. Similarly, one is not fluent in the language of movement unless he can accomplish the same goal in many different ways.”

Why do I mention movement variability? My last blog post was about hip mobility and in it were several different hip mobility drills. This post is also about hip mobility and it features a bunch of different drills. Which ones are best? Who knows? With regard to movement variability, I think it’s probably a good idea to do a lot of different mobility drills and frequently experience novel movement.

Recently I discovered GMB.io.  (Yes you read that right.) I’m not sure what GMB stands for but I have enjoyed looking through their content which is very much mobility-centric. Their 8-exercise hip mobility sequence (below) is great! I’ve been using myself and with my clients. Lately I’ve been alternating between this series and the series in the prior post.

 

 

 

Health & Fitness Information: Fitness for Entrepreneurs, Dean Ornish is Wrong, Pesticides in Produce, Performance Enhancement Methods

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Here are several articles with some interesting information that you may find helpful.

Dean Ornish is wrong

Scientific American offers a critique of the ideas of Dr. Dean Ornish in Why Almost Everything Dean Ornish Says about Nutrition Is Wrong.

Dean Ornish, MD is a very bright guy. He is the founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. He is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He received his medical training in internal medicine from the Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He received a BA in humanities summa cum laude from the University of Texas in Austin.

Ornish insists that a very low-fat, high-carb vegetarian diet is the best way to good health. The problem is, he cites low-quality studies and draws conclusions that aren’t quite supported by the available evidence. The article states:

“Ornish goes to argue that protein and saturated fat increase the risk of mortality and chronic disease. As evidence for these causal claims, he cites a handful of observational studies. He should know better. These types of studies—which might report that people who eat a lot of animal protein tend to develop higher rates of disease—“only look at association, not causation,” explains Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. They should not be used to make claims about cause and effect; doing so is considered by nutrition scientists to be “inappropriate” and “misleading.” The reason: People who eat a lot of animal protein often make other lifestyle choices that increase their disease risk, and although researchers try to make statistical adjustments to control for these ‘confounding variables,’ as they’re called, it’s a very imperfect science. Other large observational studies have found that diets high in fat and protein are not associated with disease and may even protect against it. The point is, it’s possible to cherry-pick observational studies to support almost any nutritional argument.”

And:

“The recent multicenter PREDIMED trial also supports the notion that fat can be good rather than bad. It found that individuals assigned to eat high-fat (41 percent calories from fat), Mediterranean-style diets for nearly five years were about 30 percent less likely to experience serious heart-related problems compared with individuals who were told to avoid fat. (All groups consumed about the same amount of protein.) Protein, too, doesn’t look so evil when one considers the 2010 trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found individuals who had recently lost weight were more likely to keep it off if they ate more protein, along with the 2005 OmniHeart trial that reported individuals who substituted either protein or monounsaturated fat for some of their carbohydrates reduced their cardiovascular risk factors compared with individuals who did not.”

Also, regarding Dean Ornish’s research:

“So there’s little evidence to suggest that we need to avoid protein and fat. But what about the claims Ornish makes about the success of his own diet—do they hold up to scrutiny? Not exactly. His famous 1990 Lifestyle Heart trial involved a total of 48 patients with heart disease. Twenty-eight were assigned to his low-fat, plant-based diet and 20 were given usual cardiac care. After one year those following his diet were more likely to see a regression in their atherosclerosis.

But here’s the thing: The patients who followed his diet also quit smoking, started exercising and attended stress management training. The people in the control group were told to do none of these things. It’s hardly surprising that quitting smoking, exercising, reducing stress and dieting—when done together—improves heart health. But the fact that the participants were making all of these lifestyle changes means that we cannot make any inferences about the effect of the diet alone.

So when Ornish wrote in his op–ed that ‘for reversing disease, a whole-foods, plant-based diet seems to be necessary,’ he is incorrect. It’s possible that quitting smoking, exercising and stress management, without the dieting, would have had the same effect—but we don’t know; it’s also possible that his diet alone would not reverse heart disease symptoms. Again, we don’t know because his studies have not been designed in a way that can tell us anything about the effect of his diet alone. There’s also another issue to consider: Although Ornish emphasizes that his diet is low in fat and animal protein, it also eliminates refined carbohydrates. If his diet works—and again, we don’t know for sure that it does—is that because it reduces protein or fat or refined carbohydrates?”

I’m not paying a lot of attention to what Ornish says.

Exercise is more important than business

Why Exercising Is a Higher Priority Than My Business is an article in the Personal Health section of Entrepreneur magazine. The writer Joshua Steimle explains why he puts exercise above such things as client meetings. He says:

“I schedule my workouts during the workday and prioritize exercise over all my work activities. There is some flexibility, but if there is a conflict between a trail run I need to get in, and a meeting with a client, I’ll reschedule the client meeting first. I do this because I and my business can survive the consequences of rescheduling a client meeting, even if it means losing that client. But as soon as I start pushing workouts off, I’ll start missing workouts, and once I start missing workouts, I’m close to stopping workouts altogether.

Exercise must come first, or it’s unlikely to happen at all.

If exercise stops, then my health goes downhill. With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I lose motivation to do the things that makes my business successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in one area of my life promotes excellence in all other areas of my life. Exercise is the easiest area of my life to control. It’s easy to measure. Either I get it in, or I don’t. When I do, it lifts up all other areas of my life, including my business.”

Smart man!

Avoiding pesticides in produce from Consumer Reports

To this point, I haven’t been fully convinced that organic produce is better for me. Though there’s a lot of fear-mongering and weird conspiracy theories around organic (and GMO) food, I haven’t found overwhelming evidence that organic produce is a) more nutritious or b) safer. An article in Consumer Reports has made me reconsider that stance.

Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide recommends that we always buy organic whenever possible:

“Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides on conventional produce varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.”

The article provides an interactive guide so you can see where various fruits and vegetables lie on the spectrum from high- to low-risk:

“If you want to minimize your pesticide exposure, see our risk guide. (Download our full scientific report, ‘From Crop to Table.’) We’ve placed fruits and vegetables into five risk categories—from very low to very high. In many cases there’s a conventional item with a pesticide risk as low as organic. Below, you’ll find our experts’ answers to the most pressing questions about how pesticides affect health and the environment. Together, this information will help you make the best choices for you and your family.

This short video from Consumer Reports summarizes their findings.

Gaining a competitive edge

I’m a fan of Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science colum in Runner’s World. Hutchinson is a former physicist, an award-winning science journalist and a runner. (Check out his bio.) He always does a good job of discussing the research that’s available on any number of fitness and sports related topics from training methods to diet to whatever else you can think of.

Recently he wrote Advice to a Young Athlete. The article started as a response to a cyclist who wrote to him asking for advice on getting to the elite level. Hutchinson insists first and foremost that talent and hard work are the essentials. Beyond that there are a galaxy of things (supplements, training methods, etc) that may or may not work.

In this piece he discusses the following:

  • caffeine
  • acidity buffers: baking soda, sodium citrate and beta-alinine
  • beet-root juice
  • creatine
  • recovery methods: massage, ice baths, compression garments, sleep
  • nutrition: fruits/veggies (Eat more.), fat vs. carbs, “training low,” and hydration
  • brain training
  • race preparation: warm-up, taper, heat training

If you’re an endurance athlete or a trainer/coach the you should read the column.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part IV

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I’ve been discussing movement, exercise and how to make traditional exercises more applicable to real-life and athletic activities. I’ve discussed going from two feet to stepping.  From there we can progress to a variety of hops and jumps.

Progressions

  • 2 feet to 1 foot
  • stationary to stepping to jumping
  • jumping from two feet to two feet
  • jumping from two feet to one foot
  • jumping from one foot to one foot
  • stepping and jumping may occur in saggital, frontal or transverse planes
  • add weight

Other things to think about

We could focus on “sticking” the landing and maintaining perfect balance and control or we might focus on moving very quickly from one hop/jump to the next.

We might emphasize a very long or very high jump/hop or we might emphasize short and fast hops/jumps.

Here are some videos featuring tri-plane jumping and hopping with all sorts of arm driver activity. These are in no particular order and I’m not showing a progression. These are just a few combinations.

There is a nearly endless galaxy of these types of exercises. Any number of implements can be used (Core Momentum Trainer, dumbbells, sandbags, kettlebells, nothing at all). Trainees can either stay stationary or move in any direction.

I’m in the advanced stages of ACL rehabilitation and I’m using a lot of these types of exercises in my own workouts. I’m using them with a lot of my clients who are athletes as well as clients who don’t consider themselves athletes. These exercises can be a lot of fun, feel very challenging and are useful in stimulating the metabolism for those wanting to lose weight.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part III – Lunge and Reach

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In the previous two posts, (here and here) I discussed what I’ve learned by going through the FASTER Global coursework. (If you’re a fitness professional who wants to truly become an expert at movement, then you need to do this course. This has been the most comprehensive movement education I’ve had in nearly 20 years of working in the fitness field.)

I believe I’ve made the case for why we should train with tri-plane movement. Further I believe that I’ve illustrated why traditional gym exercises like squats and deadlifts may not be the best way to develop all-around movement skills or strength.  (For the record, I’m not saying traditional squats and deadlifts are bad. I use them in my own workouts and with my clients. To be clear, I believe that there are infinite variations that can and should be used to condition people in the most comprehensive way.)

In the previous post I showed a bunch of lunge and squat variations. Here are some more lunge variations this time with arm reaches.

Lunging and reaching

While lunging, we can drive motion from the upper body by reaching up, down, across, overhead, etc. We can reach with one or both arms. The way in which the trainee steps drives motion from the upper body up through the rest of the body. As he or she reaches, motion is driven down through the body toward the ground. The reaching affects balance and creates a wide range of slightly different body positions which look a lot like any number of athletic activities, for example, look at the baseball pitcher and basketball players.

Lower body motion plus upper body motion.

Saggital plane anterior lunge with same-side posterior arm reach… Or something like that. Lots of stuff happening.

Kobe executes a type of lunge and reach down.

Kobe executes a type of lunge and reach down.

Resistance can be added to these in numerous ways: weight vest, dumbbell(s), sandbags, kettlebells, etc. Cables or tubing positioned at any number of angles can speed up or slow down the lunge.

Remember though, if someone can’t control these exercises then he or she should be regressed to something that is controllable, safe and manageable.

Here are a few examples of lunges combined with reaches in various directions. I’ve shown an anterior lunge and a lateral lunge but we could add any of these reaches to any type of lunge. The combinations are nearly infinite.

Next we can progress to jumps and hops, all done in any number of directions, all with feet and arms in any number of positions. I’ll show some of those in the next post.

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part II

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From gym work to “real life.”

Athletic endeavors and typical daily movements are rarely symmetrical. We’re often stepping from one foot to the other in any of several directions, swiveling and/or bending our bodies, reaching, moving with a load on one side of our body–all potentially at the same time. If we think of the SAID Principle (discussed very thoroughly here by Todd Hargrove of Better Movement) then it stands to reason that some of our training ought to resemble our chosen athletic or leisure activity, both in movement pattern and energy system usage.

A squat by any other name…sss1

Skiing-in-France-HD-Wallpaper-1280x800-3A lot of conventional exercises–squats and
deadlifts for instance–keep the feet planted against the ground in a symmetrical stance. Fine, but how much should we expect those exercises to translate to something like skiing? Yes skiing uses two legs and it sort of looks like a squat but there’s a lot more going on during a ski turn than just moving the body down and up.

We could say something similar about basketball where there’s a lot of jumping,

how-to-deadliftlanding and movement into positions which look a good bit like a deadlift–but clearly doesn’t look like the standard deadlift.

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Here’s a very interesting video on how to take a squat and add some flavor to it:

These are the types of movements that more closely resemble many sports and recreational activities. These can be used as part of a warm-up for a workout or they can be used as the workout itself.

Ground reaction forces

At some point we need to consider ground reaction forces. A foot or feet hitting the ground creates a whole different set of circumstances compared to planted feet. Enter the lunge.

A lunge creates a ground reaction force (GRF) as the foot hits the ground. A series of events should ideally take place in a certain sequence at the following joints: mid-tarsal joint, subtalar joint, talocrural joint, knee, hip and on up through the spine and even out to the shoulders and beyond!

(BTW, a lunge can be any distance or depth. If someone can’t lunge far and deep then it’s completely appropriate to simply take a step. I often ask my clients to go as far and/or deep as they can only so long as they can maintain control of the movement.)

There are a lot of variations on the lunge. We can step in any number of directions. Our world is a three-dimensional place so we can step forward or backwards, side to side, or in a circular or twisting type of motion.The purpose in doing this is to allow us to experience a wide range of joint angles and different ground impact scenarios. We can see if an athlete is able to move into his or her sport position. We might be able to expose a movement pattern that is unstable and which the athlete may want to improve for performance and safety.

Lunges for all occasions

Here are a collection of lunges done in an assortment of directions. Each type of lunge creates a different reaction throughout the limbs and joints.

Not pictured are lunges in which the trainee steps up or down off of a step. Any of these lunges can be done in this way. It’s a good way train for something like a hike (if for some reason a hike can’t be undertaken) or to simply add variety and new skills to the workout. Next you’ll see lunging in conjunction with reaching.

 

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part I

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I spent much of the Summer and Fall going through the FASTER Global Specialist in Functional Performance and Specialist in Functional Therapy courses. It’s been a fantastic experience. At times it was incredibly challenging but such is life with anything worth learning and doing. I’ve come away from the experience with a tremendous movement analysis skill set, and a systematic way of thinking that I didn’t have before.

Sometimes I think I know something, that I’m a fairly knowledgeable trainer. Then I’m exposed to new information and I think, “I don’t know anything!” Whenever I dig into something new I have my old beliefs challenged by new concepts. That’s very much my experience with FASTER.

In this post I’m going to cover a few things I’ve learned. I’m going to try and keep it concise. I could meander all over the place….

The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID) principle is always at the top of the FASTER thought process. We consider the client’s or athlete’s goal(s) and then we build a program that very closely resembles that goal. If we’re working with a skier then joint motions and body position should look a lot like skiing. Similarly with a bowler, kayaker, runner, rock climber, pitcher, someone who has trouble waking up and down stairs–whatever. So with that we start with some questions.

Two big questions & another question:

  1. Can the athlete get into the position required by the activity?
    Asked another way: Does the athlete have the range of motion for the task?
    gardening-tips
  2. If yes, can the athlete control that ROM?The above two are big. If we get two yeses then we ask:
  3. Can the athlete control the ROM at the speed required of the sport?

skiing_downhill_2_editLook at these activities. Lots of interesting poses here. Notice how the bodies are positioned. Notice the knees, hips, trunk, arms and head. Take note of all the angles between the joints. Here’s a question: Do any of the exercises you see or do in the gym look anything like any of these? How much of what you do in the gym puts you in an athletic or “real life” position? Does a standard squat, deadlift, kettlebell swing, sit-up or any type of machine exercise fit the bill?

In my exercise toolbox I russo-webnow have the observational skills and knowledge to address those previous there questions with my clients and athletes. I know how to progress people from very simple movements to far more aggressive movements. I feel confident in my ability to help my clients solve their own movement problems via what I hope are fun, challenging and safe exercises.

inar01_elsswing(BTW, this also applies to anyone who “just wants to work out.” If he or she has no athletic goals but wants to feel like they’ve worked hard, I can instruct them on exercises that will be both challenging and safe. If I think a squat is the type of exercise that will satisfy his or her requirement to “feel” a workout, then I still will ask those questions.) 7b1f7605c6133681547f2de831471e06_crop_north

In following posts I’ll discuss progressions and variations on traditional exercises. By playing with joint angles, foot positions and hand/arm positions, and by employing impact (stepping, hopping, jumping) we can create an infinite number of exercises that closely resemble sporting activities. With this process we can probably better prepare for sports than if we simply employ traditional exercises like squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself an “athlete.” These exercises tweaks can be a lot of fun, very challenging and never boring.

tennis

 

The Goblet Squat

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Nearly all of my clients squat. Sometimes instructing the squat can be a challenge. Though it’s essentially just sitting down, the squat can become complicated and difficult. It’s easy to over-coach the squat. That’s where the goblet squat comes in very handy.

Big-time strength coach Mike Boyle has done a great job telling us about the goblet squat. I find his instruction to be succinct and easy to follow. Here’s the video. Watch it and squat away!

Breaking Plateaus: the MilitaryPress

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I’m a big fan of the military press (aka the press, the standing press, the overhead press). I like putting the weight overhead. It’s a challenging total-body exercise that in my mind probably delivers more useful strength and skill than something like a bench press. I’d like to press 200 lbs. which is my body weight. For that reason, I tend to lift heavy and I typically don’t go above five reps per set. My progress stalled for a while so I went on the hunt for ways to move it along. This led me to read up on all kinds of interesting ways to break through plateaus.  (Admittedly, a torn ACL didn’t help my pressing. My press was slowing down though prior to the tear.)

To get stronger we generally need to add weight to whatever it is that we’re lifting. This is the simplest, most obvious way to get stronger. It’s inevitable though that at some point our progress will slow and we’ll have to find other ways to move forward in our strength training. Here are a few methods I’ve used to improve my press:

  • Weight: A lot of people tend to lift in the same rep range. I often see people in commercial gyms lifting in the 10-15 rep neighborhood. A good way to make progress is to add weight and move down in reps. The 5-rep and below range is good for getting stronger. In contrast, if we’ve been lifting in the low-rep range, there might be a benefit to reducing weight and adding reps.
  • Speed: We can subtract weight and move faster. To get fast we need to move fast. If we reduce the weight (40%-60% of your 1-rep max) and move very fast then we get a very different type of powerful stimulus to the muscles. I’ll talk about this more below.
  • Different exercises and movement patterns: If progress stalls on the barbell military press then we might want to switch to an incline barbell press, or a dumbbell military press, or a seated military press, or a behind-the-neck press. You see my point? Choosing an exercise that’s the “same but different” can help us make progress in our main lift.
  • Bring up weak points: I’m not much of a fan of bodybuilding-type training in which individual muscles are emphasized. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for this approach. If we look at the particular muscles involved in a given lift then we might use exercises to isolate those muscles and make them stronger and/or add mass. For instance, we could use tricep extensions in order to strengthen that piece of our press. Similarly, we might look at supporting musculature–the upper back for instance–and target those muscles to a stronger foundation from which to press.

Here’s some more on my experience with dynamic effort, “same but different” and some bodybuilding work.

Dynamic Effort

Speed and strength live in the same house. They are very close acquaintances. They have a lot of physiological similarities. Training one tends to help the other. Fast twitch muscle fibers are our strong and fast fibers. They should be trained with heavy weights as well as high velocities.

As we add weight to the bar, the bar slows down. We create more force but we don’t create speed. If we want to train speed then we need to lighten the load considerably and move a lot faster. The Westside Conjugate Method addresses both strength and speed during the week. Max Effort (ME) day has lifters lifting very heavy weights and generating a lot of force but at a slow velocity. Dynamic Effort (DE) day has the lifter using much lighter loads moved at a high velocity. This creates explosion.

Incorporating a dynamic effort day into your lifting may help you break through any current plateaus you may be experiencing. If you’ve never employed the DE method, then you probably have a nice well of untapped potential and you’ll likely see impressive results fairly quickly.

I’ve from pressing 135 lbs. for 2 reps to 145 lbs. for 3 reps in about four weeks since incorporating the DE method. Cool! As advocated by Louie, the DE day came 72 hours after the ME day. I typically did 10 sets of 2 reps, adding 5 lbs. each week.

At no time did I become anything like exhausted by the DE work.  That isn’t the point. Speed is the point. If you get tired then you’ll slow down. Don’t expect to experience a typical workout feeling with DE work.

Louie wrote an article titled Westside Military Press Training for Mike Mahler’s Aggressive Strength site. Here are the tips:

  • Do the seated press with dumbbells. Choose three weights for example 100 lbs, 75 lbs, and 50 lbs. Work on setting a repetition record with one dumbbell weight. the reps should range from 10 to 25 reps.
  • Do dumbbell extensions or barbell extensions for special work along with rear, side and front raises.
  • Do barbell pressing in the following manner. Ten sets of three reps in a three- week wave. 70% the 1st week 75% the second week and 80% the third week. Pendulum back to 70% and start over. Second day 72 hours later do max effort work.
  • Use chains on the bar or JUMPSTRETCH bands to accommodate resistance. (Editor’s note: Usually as the bar gets close to lockout you will naturally slow the bar down. The bands keep the resistance on all the way to the end).
  • Work up to new PR in the incline press.
  • Do rack lockout work on the high pin where 10%-15% highest weight can be done.

Developing the Overhead Press is another good article on Mahler’s site. If you like to press then read it!

The Conjugate System can get a little complicated and hard to understand. For a very good and concise explanation of the system, check out Jordan Syatt’s article The Westside Conjugate System: A User’s Guide.

Other ways to train speed (either lower or upper body) include the following:

  • jumping
  • medicine ball throws
  • plyometric pushups
  • power pull-ups: Do these explosively for 1-3 reps.

Same but different

I’ve varied the way I press–but I’ve kept pressing. In the book Easy Strength, Pavel Tsatsouline talkes about the “same but different” concept. With this concept, we take the main lift we’re working on–the press–and find some way to change it just a little. We offer a little variety to the nervous system, we learn a slightly new skill, and we can improve our main lift.

A similar process is proposed by Bill Starr in the book the Strongest Shall Survive. This system employs a heavy/light/medium approach to lifting where the exercises are changed slightly between each workout. For example, the back squat is used on the heavy and medium days and the front squat is used on the light day. Presses alternate from the bench press to the military press to the behind-the-neck press. Read the book to learn more.

In my case, I’ve incorporated the standing behind-the-neck press as well as seated dumbbell or kettlebell presses in which I sit on the floor with my legs straight out in front. I do these for reps.
Here are some examples “same but different” changes we could incorporate into our press routine

  • military press to behind-the-neck press to incline press
  • standing press to seated press
  • handstand or incline pushups
  • dumbbells and/or kettlebells in place of the barbell

Other things

I’ve also incorporated back-off sets after my heavy pressing days. I reduce the weight considerably and press for 10-12 reps. I expect this to help build some mass.

I’ve used dumbbell rear delt flyes to help build my upper back. I do these for 8-15 reps typically and I vary the weight each workout. This is the type of bodybuilding isolation work that I haven’t done in years.

 Finally

I’ve just scratched the surface with this stuff so I anticipate continued progress. As my ACL heals I expect progress to accelerate quite a bit. This has been a very interesting process. I’ve enjoyed learning about and applying these concepts, particularly the dynamic effort work. I just recently started a little bit of jumping. I expect this to help my squat and deadlift. I plan to keep a speed day as part of my workout plans.