Strength Training Fights Cancer

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“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” said Associate Professor Stamatakis.

“And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer.”

That statement comes from Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney. He’s the lead researcher in a study titled Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints. The study appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

I’m surprised and delighted by this finding. Most of us have known for a quite a while that exercise of some variety or another helps reduce cancer risk. Most of the research has looked at exercise with a cardiovascular emphasis such as walking, cycling, and swimming. This study is novel in that it looks at strength training.

This is great news to those of us who like to lift heavy stuff! However…

Strength training has a negative connotation for some people. Some people say, “I don’t wan to get too big,” “I don’t want to get hurt.” Other people associate strength training with the bizarre bodybuilding steroid stereotype. None of this needs to be true! Lifting heavy stuff can be very safe, it can be done by normal people in an enjoyable way — and now we know it’s the smart, healthy thing to do. If you’re not lifting, then you should be and I’ll be glad to help you do it right.

 

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.

Size Matters Not: A Case for Strength Part III

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Who should be strong and why?

Clearly athletes benefit from more strength, but what about someone who doesn’t label him or herself an “athlete?” Well, strength is like money in the bank: No one ever complained about having too much. No matter who you are, you will benefit from more strength. Here’s a list of who can benefit from strength and why:

  • Endurance athletes 
    Paula Radcliffe holds the women's world record in the marathon.  She's squatting 155 lbs.

    Paula Radcliffe holds the women’s world record in the marathon. That looks to be about 150-160 lbs. that she’s squatting.

    Plenty of research exists showing that the ability to put more force into the ground, into the pedals or into the water will make you faster. For runners, heavy strength work enhances the spring-like qualities of the Achilles tendon and other connective tissue that aids in running. More strength can help the endurance athlete maintain good form as he or she tires during an event.

    No one is too old to be strong!

    No one is too old to be strong! This image is from a Tampa-area senior powerlifting meet.

  • Senior citizens
    I mentioned previously that proper strength work creates stronger bones. That’s good for anyone with bone density issues. Beyond that, strength goes hand-in-hand with balance. Strength enables you to better keep yourself from falling and it will help you get up if you fall.
  • Martial arts champ Gina Carano is strong thrive as a fighter.

    Martial arts champ Gina Carano is strong enough to beat you up.

    Do you want to look good?
    It’s interesting, when you get strong, you tend to look strong. Posture often improves as part of the process. For a lot of people, heavy strength work works nicely to stimulate the metabolism, especially if they’re new to heavy lifting. Further, multi-joint exercises like squats, push-ups and the like do a great job of creating impressive arms, shoulders, legs and all the rest.

  • Do you do any manual labor?
    Any kind of yard work, house work, moving and carrying stuff, putting stuff overhead, shoveling snow, going up and down stairs etc. will be a lot easier if you’re stronger. The work you do in the gym should enhance your life outside the gym. Exercises like squats, presses and deadlifts loaded with enough weight will definitely help with manual labor.
  • Do you like to feel good?
    Strength training carries some impressive and interesting psychological effects. A review of literature from the University of Georgia found the following psychological benefits from weight training:

     “The weight of the available evidence supported the conclusion that strength training is associated with reductions in anxiety symptoms among healthy adults (5 trials); reductions in pain intensity among patients with low back pain (5 trials), osteoarthritis (8 trials), and fibromyalgia (4 trials); improvements in cognition among older adults (7 trials); improvements in sleep quality among depressed older adults (2 trials); reductions in symptoms of depression among patients with diagnosed depression (4 trials) and fibromyalgia (2 trials); reductions in fatigue symptoms (10 trials); and improvements in self-esteem (6 trials). “

(From my observations: For some magical reason, deadlifting a new 3-rep max has a much more powerful and positive effect on the mind and emotions than does curling 2 lb. periwinkle dumbbells for 30 reps.)

How to get strong

  • Reps and sets:
    In a nutshell, the way to get stronger is to lift heavy. How heavy? Look at the chart. If the training objective is strength then we’re looking at lifting something for fewer than six reps. The weights used are 85% of your 1-rep max (1RM) or greater.

    Effective set/rep schemes include: 2-5 sets of 5 reps, 3 sets of 3 reps, 5 sets of 2 reps and 6 sets of 1 rep.

  • Exercises:
    The best strength-building exercises are multi-joint exercises. They include but aren’t limited to the following:

    • squats
    • deadlifts
    • overhead press
    • bench press
    • rows
    • cleans
    • snatches
    • push-ups
    • pull-ups
    Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix can deadlift 270 lbs.

    Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix can deadlift 270 lbs.

    A solid strength workout can be built around one or two, maybe three of these exercises (squat, overhead press, row for example). There’s no need to do them all in one workout.

    In contrast, single-joint exercises like bicep curls, tricep extensions, leg extensions/curls and calf raises aren’t as well suited to enhancing strength. They have their place and they can be included in your strength workout but never at the expense of the big lifts.

    Most of these exercises except for push-ups and pull-ups should be done with a barbell. Other implements like dumbbells and kettlebells can certainly be used but a barbell is the ideal tool for this type of work. As push-ups and pull-ups become easy, weight can be added.

    Remember, the idea here is to increase your strength. That means weight should be added to the exercises from week to week. You can also add reps to the already-challenging weight you’re lifting. Accordingly, you should track your weights, sets and reps. You should strive for progress.

    Finally, good form is vital! Heavy lifting is quite safe when done properly. If you’re hesitant then you should seek out a good strength coach or personal trainer. It’s difficult to learn how to do these exercises without good coaching. Reading a magazine article or watching other people in the gym probably won’t quite cut it.

    To wrap up

    I hope I’ve convinced you of the value of strength. When we’re strong we tend to look and feel strong. Through strength training we can build a strong healthy, useful body without any worry of looking overly muscular.  Remember, you can get very strong with virtually no risk of looking “too big.” Sorry, I’m wrong. It’s impossible for you to get “too big.”

    Seeing progress in the gym builds confidence and enthusiasm and gives purpose to our workouts. We should expect progress from exercise. Watching the weights go up is a great way to quantify our work in the gym.

    Strength has real-world use. It enhances athletic performance and allows us to better take on life’s daily challenges. Strength can keep us safe too, especially from falls and injuries.

    Finally, for you to get strong you must lift heavy!

    More resources

    I didn’t invent any of this information presented here. If you’re interested in learning more, here are some books and online resources for you. There are lot more resources out there. Don’t get confused though: To get strong, pick up something heavy! (Have I said something like that already?)

    • Books

      • Power to the People, Pavel Tsatsouline

      • Starting Strength, Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore

      • Practical Programming for Strength Training, Mark Rippetoe & Lon Kilgore

      • Easy Strength, Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline

    • Online

Size Matters Not: A Case for Strength Part II

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In Part I of this series I suggested that you should see progress in your exercise routine. Further, I broached the idea that muscular strength and muscular size are not necessarily the same. Finally, I argued that getting “too big” is nearly impossible for you to do. This is Part II of the conversation.

Big vs. strong. What’s the difference?

Muscle bulk is what a lot of men (especially young guys) want from their exercise program. For many of you though, your fitness goals don’t include bulking up. Most women I encounter want to get leaner and essentially smaller. Obesity is a big problem in America so many of us definitely don’t need to consider enlarging ourselves. Endurance athletes don’t need to haul around extra muscle as it can hinder performance. Because of all this we see a lot of people lifting rather light weights for very high reps (15-20 or more). The problem is, you can’t actually get stronger this way.

Let me offer this thought to you: You can get stronger–without getting bigger! You can learn to create more force with your muscles without much if any additional muscle growth. The two circumstances are not the same. Strictly speaking, bigger muscles can be stronger than smaller muscles, but strength is much more than that. Strength is also very much the result of changes within the central nervous system (CNS). Here’s more on that.

Neurology of strength

Zoe Smith is a record-setting British Olympic weightlifter.

Zoe Smith is a record-setting British Olympic weightlifter.

 

It’s helpful to understand a little bit about processes by which we get stronger. Besides some potential muscle growth, what happens when we strength train? Without getting overly science-y, here’s a description:

  • Better intramuscular coordination:
    This is learning to use more of an individual muscle. Muscles are made up of muscle fibers. Those muscle fibers are innervated (“fired”) by nerves. The nerve plus the muscle fibers it innervates is known as a motor unit. Untrained individuals can recruit only so many motor units for a given task. Effective strength training enables us to recruit more motor units within an individual muscle.

    Strength training also changes the rate at which our motor units fire. Untrained people fire their motor units more slowly than trained people. Proper strength training can enable us to fire our motor units very quickly. The result is we can be stronger and/or faster and muscle growth is unaffected.

    At the same time, strength training also teaches us to synchronize these motor units to fire together.  All of this is skill, and it has nothing to do with muscle growth.

  • Better intermuscular coordination:
    This is better coordination of muscle groups. In looking at almost any common human movement (sitting to standing, running, reaching, pushing, pulling, lifting something off the ground, climbing stairs, etc.) multiple body parts move together. Proper exercise selection (multi-joint exercises like squats, lunges, rows, presses, etc.) plus appropriate loading of these exercises enable us to develop stronger movement patterns rather than just a stronger quad, calf, bicep, etc. This again is a way of becoming stronger without enlarging the muscles.

  • What else?
    Effective strength training gives us stronger connective tissue. Ligaments and tendons become stronger just like the muscles. Our bones also get stronger if we load them effectively. A good strength program is a very effective way to protect against injury and increase bone density in people of all ages and abilities.

Examples of Stronger, Not Bigger

The majority of sports actually don’t require athletes to be particularly big. American football linemen need to be big in order to

Greek weightlifting legend Pyrros Dimas.  Incredibly strong but not stereotypically massive..

Greek weightlifting legend Pyrros Dimas. Incredibly strong but not stereotypically massive.

shove opponents out of the way. It’s a similar situation with sumo wrestlers. Shot putters need to be big so they can put a lot of mass against the shot. Beyond that, very large athletes are often at a disadvantage. They can’t generate as much power relative to their body weight. They can’t endure as well. Thus, for many athletes, some degree of increased muscle mass may be a good thing, but being “too big” is not an advantage. Strength however is always in demand.

Olympic weightlifter Julia Rohde.  Strong--not huge.

German Olympic weightlifter Julia Rohde. Strong–not huge.

Most sports involve sprinting of some sort. More strength helps an athlete sprint faster. Does more bulk help? Only up to a point. A massively muscle-bound body doesn’t help.

Weight class athletes such as boxers, weightlifters, martial artists, and wrestlers must stay within a certain weight range to compete. Now, we’ve all seen the stereotypical massive superheavyweight weightlifter or powerlifter. Look at the lighter weight classes of these sports though and you won’t see such hulking physiques. You’ll see lean, strong athletic physiques. These people are always looking to get stronger and more powerful without getting bigger.

Gymnasts are excellent examples of athletes who must be very strong and

Gymnast Danell Leyva is very strong but not overly bulky

US Gymnast Danell Leyva is very strong but not overly bulky.

powerful yet clearly don’t benefit much at all from enormous amounts of muscle bulk. Have you ever seen a gymnast that was “too big?”

So there are numerous examples of people who require great strength but have no need of excessive muscle. How exactly do they get there? I’m glad you asked! Stay tuned for Part III of this series.

 

Size Matters Not: Part I

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I’m very grateful to Jamie Atlas of Bonza Bodies for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post for his blog. He runs one of the big group bootcamps at Red Rocks. He’s been featured in 5280 and has been voted one of the top trainers on Denver’s A-List. Jamie also contributes a fitness column to the Denver Post. So, he’s a fairly big-time presence in the Denver health & fitness scene. He’s also been very generous to me with his time and his sharing of information. So head over to his blog for my post titled Size Matters Not. A Case for Strength Part I.  Parts II and III will appear on my blog.

Worth Reading: What Makes a Great Personal Trainer? Recovery, Pronation, Bringing Up Your Weak Spots

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What makes a great trainer?

The Personal Training Development Center (PTDC) has a lot of useful, informative articles for personal trainers.  Are Personal Trainers Missing the Point is a recent piece with which I agree. The key observation is this:

“The ability to correctly coach exercises is slowly becoming a lost art in the training world, despite that it’s the most fundamental component of being a personal trainer/coach.”

The article advocates for trainers to teach the squat, deadlift, bench press, standing press and pull-up.  (I would ad the push-up to the list.) It’s also suggested that trainers learn to teach regressions and progressions of these exercises. These exercises are the essentials. They have been and still are the basic building blocks of effective exercise programs and they offer the most return on investment of a client’s training time. Read the article to learn three steps to becoming a better coach.

Running recovery

Alex Hutchinson writes for Runner’s World and the Running Times. He recently wrote an article called the Science of Recovery.  He briefly discusses six methods: antioxidants, jogging (as during a cool down), ice bath, massage, cryosauna and compression garments. Anyone who trains hard–runner or not–may find the article interesting.

Pronation

Pete Larson at Runblogger.com gives us Do You Pronate? A Shoe Fitting Tale. Here, he describes overhearing a conversation between a confused shoe store customer and the mis-informed employee who tries to educate her on pronation. Contrary to what many of us believe, pronation is not a dire evil problem to be avoided at all costs. Larson says it well:

 “The reality is that everybody pronates, and pronation is a completely normal movement… We might vary in how much we pronate, but asking someone if they pronate is like asking them if they breathe. I’d actually be much more concerned if the customer had revealed that no, she doesn’t pronate. At all. That would be worrisome.”

If you’re a runner then I highly suggest you learn about the realities of pronation.

Supplemental strength

I love strength training. I love all the subtleties and ins & outs of getting stronger. One area that I’m learning about is supplemental work (aka accessory work). This is weight training used to bring up one’s strength on other lifts (typically the squat, deadlift, bench press or standing press).  With supplemental work, we’re looking to find weak areas and make them stronger.
Dave Tate at EliteFTS is one of the foremost experts on all of this. Thus, his article Dave Tate’s Guide to Supplemental Strength is very much up my alley, and it should be up yours if you’re serious about getting stronger. He discusses several categories of exercises and how to incorporate them into a routine. Below, the term “builders” refers to exercises that build the power lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift):
  1. Always start with the builders. Do not start with the main lift.
    Examples: Floor press, box squat. Sets: 3-5. Reps: 3-5.
  2. Move to supplemental exercises — exercises that build the builders.
    Examples: 2-board press, safety-bar close-stance squat. Sets: 3. Reps: 5-8.
  3. Accessories — Either muscle-based (for size) or movement-based (for strength). Use supersets and tri-sets, as needed.
    Examples: DB presses, biceps curls. Sets: 3. Reps: 10-20.
  4. Rehab/Pre-hab — Whatever you need, nothing more or less. Examples:
    External rotation, face pulls. Sets: 2-3. Reps: 20-30.
This is just a little bit of the article. It’s very detailed. There may not be much here for recreational lifters but for coaches and those of us who have gotten a little deeper into our lifting, it’s a superb article.

I Met My ACL Surgeon and Workouts: 4/15/14, 4/17/14, 4/19/14 & 4/22/14

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ACL business

Last Thursday I met both my ACL surgeon and my physical therapist. Both come through Kaiser Permanente.

After my conversation with surgeon Dr. Kurt Spindler of the Cleveland Clinic, I had several important questions to ask regarding ACL reconstruction. I wanted to make sure my surgeon has thorough experience and continues to do ACL reconstructions on a regular basis. I wanted someone familiar with athletes and I wanted someone who would be closely involved with my rehab.

Dr. Melissa Koenig answered my questions very thoroughly. I feel that I’m in very good hands with her. She was complimentary and supportive of my efforts thus far to maintain as much mobility and strength as I can prior to surgery. She thought I’d do quite well.

Workouts

Several workouts to document. Here they are, including one long (for this time of year), wet, tough bike ride.

  • 4/15/14
    • Squat: Worked up to a 3 RM at 225 lbs.
    • Double 1/2 snatch: 16 kg x 10 reps x 4 sets
    • Double push jerk: 16 kg x 10 reps x 4 sets
    • 1 arm snatch: 20 kg x 5 reps each arm x 3 sets
    • 1 arm clean jerk: 20 kg x 5 reps each arm x 3 sets
  • 4/17/14
    • Deadlift: Worked up to 1 RM: 265 lbs. x 3 – 315 lbs. x 3 reps – 335 lbs. x 1 – 350 lbs. x 1 rep x 5 sets
    • Kettlebell rows: 40 kg x 5 reps x 3 sets
    • Double jerk: 16 kg x 80 reps in 10 minutes
    • 1 arm snatch: 16 kg x 80 reps in 10 minutes
    • Bike ride: 20 miles
  • 4/19/14: Somewhat light/easy workout.  Bike ride afterwards.
    • Power clean: 115 lbs. x 5 reps – 135 lbs. x 5 reps – 145 lbs. x 5 reps – 155 lbs. x 5 reps
    • Squat: 95 lbs. x 5 reps – 115 lbx. x 5 reps – 135 lbs. x 5 reps – 135 lbs. x 5 reps – 155 lbs. x 5 reps – 185 lbs. x 5 reps
      • I got to full depth on the squat for the first time since the knee.
      • In speaking with my physical therapist, he recommended working on my knee flexion.
      • A decently weighted squat is a pretty easy way to get the knee to flex!
    • Superset x 3 sets
      • Pull-ups: 4-3-2-1 reps each set
      • Stability ball leg curl: 15 reps
    • Superset x 4 sets
      • ab wheel:  6 reps
      • face pull: I used a thicker on each set for 15 reps – 15 reps – 12 reps – 12 reps
    • Bike ride: 41 miles and it was tough! Rode from Denver to Golden, over to Morrison and back into Denver via the Bear Creek Trail. Got rained on. Cold, wet, tired and hungry by the end. Food and alcoholic beverages were quite tasty afterward.
  • 4/22/14
    • Split squat: 95 lbs. x 5 reps each leg – 115 lbs. x 5 reps – 125 lbs. x 5 reps x 3 sets
      I don’t do these often enough. I’m glad the class instructor is having us do these. I’ll probably squat on the weekend.
    • Push Press: 115 lbs. x 6 reps – 120 lbs. x 6 reps x 3 sets
    • Double kettlebell jerk: 16 kg x 100 reps done in sets of 10
    • 1 arm kettlebell snatch: 16 kg x 200 reps done in sets of 5 each hand. I paused at 100 reps. Tough but very doable.
    • stability ball leg curl: 20 reps x 4 sets

My double jerk position needs more work.  I still need better lat and probably tricep flexibility to get in proper position.  It’s a work in progress and I’m making progress.

Summary of the NSCA Endurance Clinic: Day 1

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Part of what I love about the Denver area is that it’s home to numerous very good athletes and coaches–particularly of the endurance variety. We’re also not far from Colorado Springs which is home to both the Olympic Training Center and the headquarters for the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), one of the top certification bodies in the world of health, fitness and sports conditioning.

I was at the NSCA from last Friday to Sunday attending an endurance clinic. It was SUPERB! It far exceeded my already high expectations. All the speakers had volumes of valuable information. Not only did they present valuable academic information, they also told us how they applied this information in the trenches with their athletes. These guys weren’t just born as successful coaches. They’ve gone through a lot of trial, error and very hard work to get where they are. It’s very helpful to hear that type of information.

We didn’t just sit and listen though. Saturday and Sunday had us getting out on the field and into the performance center to learn about strength exercises, mobility drills, and plyometric drills. I got to meet a lot of my very capable peers and I got to work out in what is likely one of the top lifting facilities on earth. It was a fantastic weekend.

I’m going to give a rundown of some of the pearls of wisdom I collected on Day 1. I can’t do each presentation thorough justice, but I’ll try to highlight some of the most important things that I heard.  I’ll follow up with days 2 and 3 as soon as I can.

Day 1:
Dr. Carwyn Sharp – Intro to Endurance Training

  • Exercise scientist, triathlete and ultra-runner who’s worked with NASA and has 14 years coaching experience.
  • Endurance athletes are often averse to resistance training thinking it will bulk them up.
  • He presented several studies which demonstrate that strength training enhances speed and endurance performance.
  • Sand, snow, wind, and hills can all contribute to the athlete’s resistance training.
  • On recovery from intervals: if you feel the effects of previous interval → you didn’t recover sufficiently.
  • The basis of speed is strength. Several studies demonstrate that heavy resistance training and explosive training improves performance.
  • 1-leg training is very important.
  • Progression
    • Move well on 2 legs (squat, deadlift) and get strong.
    • transition to split squat
    • then to 1 leg stability
    • 1 leg squat and deadlift
    • 2 leg plyos
    • 1 leg plyos

Bob Seebohar: – Nutrition for the Endurance Athlete

  • Registered Dietitian and USAT coach who has coached and advised Olympic triathletes
  • Metabolic efficiency – use more lipids/less carb/preserve glycogen
  • Nutrition periodization – “Eat to train. Don’t train to eat.”
  • Food First – Don’t use supplements to make up for poor eating.
  • moderate supplement use; only part of the season
  • prevent weight gain in off-season – no sport supplements during
  • He supports the lower-carb/higher-fat approach. I was very happy to see that.
  • Food log
    • Doesn’t as about amount of food eaten but rather…
    • What?
    • When?
    • Why? I love that he asks “why” someone ate something.

Dr. Randall Wilber – Overtraining: Causes, Recognition, Prevention & Illness

  • Physiologist to the US Olympic team.
  • Overtraining–or “underperformance” as he calls it–often isn’t due to too much training.
  • nutrition
  • blood work
    • Iron is often low in women.
    • Vitamin D deficiency is common
  • endocrine panel
  • urinalysis
  • Physiological and psychological metrics for tracking fatigue/recovery
    • overnight heart rate
    • blood chemistry
    • sleep quality
    • Salimetrics – He said look for the price to come down on this.
  • Take the athlete back to active recovery. Progress very gradually back to regular workouts.
  • If they perform well and feel good at their first LT workout then they’re on the right road back.
  • Coach Bobby McGee: “More performances are spoiled by slight overtraining than by slight lack of fitness. An athlete who is 90% conditioned for an event will do better than an athlete who is 0.5% overtrained.”

Good Information: Flexion Inspection (Sitting Is The New Smoking), When to Stop Strength Training (Part of Tapering for a Race), Running Technique

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There are so many knowledgable people out there putting out good information. Here’s a little bit that I’ve found recently.

Kinetic Revolution: Better hip flexion for better running plus overcoming our sitting habit

If you’re a runner or triathlete then you should definitely check out Kinetic Revolution. The author is James Dunne and he’s a rehab and biomechanics expert. His recent post is Flexion Inspection: How Long Do You Sit Down Each Day? He discusses the perils of setting, namely tight hip flexors that inhibit the glutes and thus limit your hip extension. He makes two suggestions:

1. Record Your Time Spent Sitting For 1 Week

This is Claire’s brilliant idea… I had to share it!

Keep a simple diary. Much like a food diary, but recording the time you spend sitting down every day. Every single form of seated activity, from working at a desk to cycling.

If you’re anything like me, the results will be ALARMING.

2. Offset Time Spent In Flexion With Specific Extension Exercises

I’m a realist. I get that much of 21st century living requires sitting – not to mention the leisure activities we engage in. Cycling for instance.

I usually suggest for every two hours spent in a flexion pattern, athletes should get up, and spend 5mins working on extension exercises such as hip flexor stretches and glute activations.

And he explains a hip flexor stretch progression here

I can’t really resist posting this video so we’ll meander away from running technique for a moment. Nilofer Merchant gives a TED talk on this dreadful sitting habit we have. She even suggests that perhaps walking while talking may drive creative thinking:

Sweat Science: When is the ideal time to cease strength training?

If you’re a runner who strength trains (And if you’re a runner, you should strength train.) then this piece from Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science column at Runner’s World is very much up your alley. It’s titled When to Stop Strength Training. He discusses research from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Here’s the big rock you should know (emphasis is mine):

What you’re looking at is the change in muscular power after resistance training was halted, based on meta-analysis of 103 studies. Note that power is different from absolute strength — power is your ability to deliver large amounts of force in a short period of time, which is often more relevant to athletic performance than plain strength is. And the interesting thing to note is that, 8 to 14 days after stopping, power appears to be a little higher than it was during training, though it’s not statistically significant. (The graph for strength, which I didn’t show, starts declining immediately.)

Speculation aside, if you’re an endurance athlete who includes resistance training in your regimen, you have to eliminate or reduce it at some point before race day. The graph above suggests that one to two weeks in advance might be an interesting time to stop.

 Running technique & mirror neurons: Watch and learn

Humans are visually-oritented people. We primarily learn by watching and imitating others around us. (Why did you ever decide to walk?  Did someone propose the idea to you? Did you come upon the idea of walking from a book you read? No. You decided to give walking a shot because you looked around and saw a bunch of other people doing it.) Mirror neurons are the specialized structures in our nervous system that enable our learn-by-watching process.

The cool thing is that we can improve our skills by watching other people do things. I’ve watched skiing videos to improve my turns and I’ve watched mountain biking videos to improve my switchback riding. We can improve our running technique the same way.

There are a lot of youtube videos out there on running technique and I’ve found a couple that are fairly informative and somewhat entertaining. These videos are a slightly funny compliation of 80s instructional video, current running analysis and in one clip we see vintage black & white footage of the great Roger Bannister, the man who first broke the 4-minute-mile barrier.

Using Exercise to Expose Weakness: Part I

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weak linkA general sort of concept is on my mind and it’s been expressed by several experts that I look up to. In his book Movement, Gray Cook says “True champions will spend more time bringing up weaknesses than demonstrating strength.” The great powerlifting coach Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell says, “The Westside program is all about finding where you are weak and making it strong.” Your weaknesses will hold you back.” Kelly Starrett discusses the idea of “making the invisible visible.” With this statement he suggests we can use exercise to expose movement problems. (He talks about this concept here,here and here.)  What does all this mean?

All these guys are telling us that rather than going to the gym and doing fun stuff that we’re already good at and simply making our strengths stronger (taking the easy route, really) rather we should find our weaknesses and work like hell to bring them up to speed.

A slightly different paradigm

I think most of us have an equation in our head regarding exercise.  It might look like this:

I exercise → I get stronger.

(BTW, the word “strong” doesn’t just mean muscular strength.  We can get stronger at swimming, biking, driving a golf ball, carrying bags of mulch, etc. “Stronger” means to improve an ability.)

There might be a few more dots to connect between those statements though. With regard to the earlier statements about weaknesses and making the invisible visible (i.e. make hidden weaknesses visible), we might see the equation thus:

I exercise → I expose weaknesses/pain/poor movement → I correct/improve my weaknesses and poor movement →I get stronger.

What often happens is that we find an exercise that we enjoy doing and at which we’re very strong. We really like that exercise! We do it and we demonstrate to ourselves (and let’s face it, others in the gym) how strong and able we are. Therefore our already well-developed ability gets stronger.

In contrast, I think a lot of us have discovered exercises that we don’t like. The movement pattern feels awkward, painful or somehow asymmetrical or unbalanced. We have a poor ability to execute the exercise. We may tack it on at the end of a workout if we feel like it–and we rarely feel like it. In other words, we’re weak at this particular movement. We don’t do it well and we know it so we avoid it. Thus we rarely if ever explore this particular exercise. What happens?  We probably get weaker and weaker at it.

So while something we’re already fairly good at gets better, a glaring weakness gets weaker.  And what do we know about chains and weak links? At some point that weak link (poor movement pattern) is going to cause us a problem if it isn’t already. We may not even know how strong we could be if we fixed our weakness.

My rule of thumb is: “If it’s really difficult to do and you don’t like doing it, then you probably need to do a whole lot of it.”

My experience

A lot of my clients have movement problems and various aches and pains. Their weaknesses are often rooted in a forgotten ability to move properly and maintain their joints in proper position. We frequently need to dial back the exercise intensity and simply work on slow, proper, mindful movement. Sometimes this requires a frustrating level of concentration. It gets difficult. It isn’t always fun. This frustration may lead a client to say ” I just want to work out!  I don’t want to think!” In other words, he or she want to revert to their hold habits, ignore their movement shortcomings and do what they’re already good at.

This is an important fork in the road. If a client chooses to continue to focus and do the hard work of correcting bad habits–to improve their true weaknesses–then he or she will almost certainly start to see lasting improvement in the near future. This client and I will likely have a long, productive and happy relationship. On the other hand, we have another type of client.  He or she balks at the first sign of difficulty, ignores and avoids weaknesses, and in essence chooses to tread water and only marginally strengthen their limited strengths.  He or she has picked an easy but limited route. In this case, our relationship is thankfully short.

The big picture

I’m going to go into some specifics in the next post, but for now I’d like you to consider the idea that the real way to get stronger is to seek out and wallow in your pathetic weaknesses. If you think you don’t have any, then add weight, reps, range of motion and/or speed to see if things start to come apart. Recognize where you start to fail and dedicate yourself to working on those weaknesses.