Quite a while ago I wrote an article discussing jogging and the impact it can have on your training, health and overall performance and outcomes. The article was good (I am probably a bit biased though) but I wanted to revisit it and update as my thoughts on jogging have changed, ever so slightly.
Check it out…
Sometimes knowing what not to do is more important than knowing what to do. Taking away a negative is many times more valuable than trying to add a positive. A few years ago one simple statement was made that again punched me square in the teeth with this concept.
That weekend I was fortunate enough to make my way to Cressey Performance (my place of internship and a great facility with some really smart dudes and killer athletes).
There I attended a workshop that was presented by Chad Waterbury.
Chad specializes in the nervous system and its impact on performance. We covered everything from assessment to programming, and focused on correcting, priming and building explosive athletes.
When it was all said and done I took a few key things away, but one statement really stayed with me when I left. It is a statement I have heard time and again, and a statement that has been getting a lot of “coverage” in the strength and conditioning world, but it was good to hear again…and the way in which it was expressed was pretty comical.
On the notes for the presentation it read “Jogging attenuates explosiveness,” but when Chad got to this point he said something to the effect, “If you want your athletes to jump lower and sprint slower, add jogging into their program.”
He gave numerous examples ranging from himself to professional volleyball, tennis, MMA athletes and more, stating that when jogging was added into their program, performance, especially explosive ability, was negatively impacted.
I thought about it and had to agree. I also couldn’t help but think of all of the athletes that I work with who experience overuse injuries as a result of pounding the pavement day after day.
But, it is not as easy to say “just stop jogging/running” in order to mitigate the negative effects on explosiveness and overuse injuries (as well as body composition, hormone levels and more).
Rather, I am suggesting that it is how you are jogging that really matters.
This includes running mechanics, the intensity and the distance of the jog, as well as what you are trying to accomplish by jogging.
To actually cover all of the concepts related to running mechanics would take much more than this article, in fact there are books written about it. So I am not even going to attempt to delve into great detail here.
What I will mention is that sometimes changing the mechanics is enough to allow an athlete to continue jogging/running without accruing enough stress to push them past threshold…a good thing.
Some simple changes could be making sure you are striking the ground softly and quietly, keeping your feet in line with your hips (don’t allow your feet to cross over the midline of the body), pitch forward ever so slightly to prevent running in an excessively extended posture, and try to keep your abs engaged slightly to help prevent unwanted rotation.
I will also mention that changing the mechanics will have only little impact on mitigating the negative effects jogging has on explosive ability, body composition or hormone levels.
Whether your jogging closely resembles a drunk baby giraffe trying to make its way across the savanna, or your jogging form is poetry in motion, the energy systems you are utilizing will still negatively impact explosive ability, if you are jogging like most do…read on for this part.
When most of us go out for a jog we are going out to burn some calorie, increase aerobic fitness and simply “get tired.”
Much of the time this leaves us jogging with a heart rate somewhere in the range of 150-170 which for most is the “zone” where the body is in an optimal state to promote and build aerobic characteristics, but is “in-between” zones of recovery and anaerobic (explosive) training.
Aerobic characteristics are not bad as every athlete needs a solid aerobic base, but by placing moderate aerobic stress (neither low or high) on the body it will respond by getting better aerobically, thus “shifting” your explosive characteristics (fiber type and composition) more towards endurance characteristics…not a good thing if you are trying to throw a baseball as hard as possible, shoot a lacrosse ball at a high rate of speed or simply look more like a sprinter than a marathoner.
So instead of trying to go out for a “hard jog” that will help you build a less explosive, weaker and more injury prone body, if you are going to jog, make sure that you are jogging at an “easy” pace, or if you are up for it, sprint.
Easy pace jogging (think of a 4-5 on a 10 scale) can help to enhance recovery and achieve the benefits of aerobic training without compromising your explosive capacity.
And sprinting, well that is explosiveness at its best.
Also, staying away from a hard jog will help limit repetitious impact force, decreasing injury potential. And with jogging at an easy pace, you can actually enjoy your surroundings, which is half the reason we get out and jog…and there is nothing wrong with that!
Along with jogging at an easier pace, you must consider the distance and volume of jogging.
Distance and Volume
This is pretty straight forward…don’t jog for too long of a distance or too often!
Going out for long jogs promotes the body to shift more towards endurance qualities (slow twitch, aerobic qualities, etc.).
Also, long jogs place a lot of repetitive stress on the system which just begs for overuse injuries…think plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, knee pain, back pain, etc.
But this does not mean that you can go out for 10 one mile runs throughout the day and be in the clear. Jogging too often will have similar effects of jogging too long of a distance as it comes down to total volume.
Keep your jogs on shorter side and don’t jog day after day.
Why are you jogging?
If you are going for a jog to get in shape, STOP!!! To run or jog effectively, you will want to be in decent conditioning already, and have accrued some strengthening of the tendons and ligaments before placing excessive force on them.
There are many more effective ways to do this, and enhance aerobic capacity besides going out for a jog such.
These include low intensity circuits (blood flow, corrective, etc.), strongman movements at a lower intensity (sleds, carries, etc.) as well as swimming and other lower impact activities.
If you are going out for a jog to help enhance recovery of a strenuous training session or competition, or if you just want to get out and enjoy nature, I understand. Just remember to take it easy and stay away from trying to set a PR (personal record!).
What To Do
If your goal is to be as explosive as possible, as strong as possible, as lean and injury free as possible, consider scratching jogging from your program, or at the very least, approach it differently than most of us do.
If you do go out for a jog, make sure the intensity stays low, the distance stays relatively short and you are out to enjoy the run and promote recovery, not add more stress to the system.
And don’t get me wrong, an athlete/individual who is physically fit should be able to jog/run, and if it is your sport you obviously need to do so, but if your goal is to be a more explosive, stronger, leaner and more injury free athlete, jogging, especially “hard jogging” is not something you want to be doing on the reg.
And remember, you can perform low intensity circuits, strongman circuits or even better if you are physically prepared to do so, some short duration sprint work to help enhance your conditioning levels and “get in shape.” If you’d like more help with how to do this, simply reach out.
If this opened your eyes, ruffled your feathers or got you thinking “Ooohh, that is why…” make sure you leave a comment or question below and share the info!
10 years ago, one of the most common questions I received regarding performance, training and nutrition was in some way, shape or form involving protein. And today, one of the most common questions I receive is…wait for it…in some way, shape or form involving protein!
So with that, I wanted to reach back into the files and update some of the amazing content I’ve written before (<— I may be just a little biased) to provide a quick, bullet point style overview about the main concepts of protein.
Lets go over the role protein plays in a high performing body, the myths behind protein and its consumption, as well as make a few recommendations.
Is protein important?
– Protein is important, and you may even say that protein is the most important of all macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, water) when it comes to achieving your over health, fitness and performance goals.
– While I would argue that all are equally important, protein definitely plays a key role in almost every bodily function including building and maintenance of structures (muscles anyone?!), muscle contraction, immune system function, hormone production, nutrient transport, energy and more. So ya, IT IS IMPORTANT!
– Without adequate protein, the body will breakdown stored protein (again, muscles anyone?!) in order to complete the functions previously mentioned…no good if you are trying to build a strong and high performing body.
Will protein alone make my muscles HUGE and my stomach RIPPED?!!
– NO!!! Protein alone will not make your muscles huge. You must apply a stimulus to the body (training) that breaks down the system and requires the body to adapt and grow stronger. Then, protein can be utilized to help repair and grow tissues, including muscle tissue.
– NO!!! Protein alone will not incinerate fat and reveal you washboard abs. While protein is the most metabolically active macronutrient (it takes calories to breakdown and utilize protein vs carbs and fat it doesn’t to any significant degree), protein will only help you lose weight when you are in a caloric deficit. With that said, for many, replacing processed carbs with protein (less pasta and more chicken for example) will help you consume less overall calories as well as consume more high quality nutrients, which will aid in losing the midsection jiggle.
– Protein is a nutrient, not a steroid. While it plays an important role in anabolism (the building of muscle and other structures), protein will not provide you will slabs of rock hard muscle without the hard work…sorry bro!
– Ladies, protein will not make you gain tons of muscle (or make you grow a mustache), and neither will training heavy or intensely! So eat some steak, crush some weight and get off the damn elliptical!
Where can I get protein?
– There are many sources of protein which include animal based proteins (beef, chicken, etc.), fish based protein (salmon, haddock, tuna, etc.), dairy based proteins (milk, yogurt, whey, casein, etc.), egg based protein and vegetable based protein (tofu, soy, protein, etc.) and protein can be found in nuts, seeds and legumes as well.
– You can also use protein supplements such as protein powder.
When should I eat protein and how much should I eat?
– Protein should be consumed with every feeding (meal, mini-meal, snack) and a good way to measure how much to consume is by using your hand. Click HERE for a guide and visual.
– The old standby for how much total daily protein to consume is 1g per pound of bodyweight. A better guideline to follow is one that I first heard from Alan Aragon. Alan recommends consuming 1g of protein for every pound of your ideal weight. That means if you are a 150lb male looking to gain 20lbs, you should be consuming at least 170g of protein daily. If you are trying to go from 200lbs to 180lbs, it is recommended to consume 180g of protein daily. Whatever your target weight is in pounds, consume that many grams of protein daily.
There are so many protein powders. Which one is best?
– Whey stands out as the most versatile protein powder, but is dairy based so if you are intolerant to dairy it can be a problem.
– Casein is another dairy based protein and digests slower than whey making it a decent option when you know you are not going to be eating for a while (before bed, etc.).
– For those who don’t tolerate dairy well, egg or vegetable derived protein powders can be used (pea protein, etc….stay away from soy!).
– No matter the source, make sure that the protein powder is made from whole, natural sources and not loaded with hormones, processed sweeteners or other ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And stay away from weight gainers…just eat more whole food!
– For more details about what makes for a solid protein powder, and some brand recommendations, check out this solid piece from Stack.com…How to Choose the Right Protein Powder for Your Workout Goals
What can I use protein powder for?
– Protein shakes, DUH!…check out this Protein Shake Construction Guide (your welcome!). And just make sure to wash out your shaker bottle!
– Other than shakes, great ways to use protein powder include throwing some in oatmeal, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, putting it on popcorn, flavoring coffee, making homemade protein bars and more.
– *Protein powder is a supplement and should be used as so. Think of protein powder as an additional (and sometimes more convenient) way to positively augment your daily intake, not as the primary source!
So there you have it, a short, a simple overview of protein along with a few tips. This does not even scratch the surface when it comes to protein, but hopefully you can see that protein is important, but should not be mistaken as the “magic sauce” (or powder…see what I did there), or demonized as something that just makes you big and bulky.
The key is to make sure you get enough high quality protein and continue to work hard!
If you found this helpful please send it along to you friends and family. Thanks!
And for more specific help with your nutrition, training or both, shoot me a message on HERE.
Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…The Final Part
Here it is!
The 3rd, and final piece to this series.
With part 1 and part 2 already in your knowledge bank (and if they aren’t, read them now), after you soak up the knowledge in part 3 you will have a solid foundation from which you can perform a majority of the exercises you will encounter within a training program, and know how to do them RIGHT!
Once again, it is all about the proper execution of exercises, and where you are feeling them work that is the most important factor to truly enhancing performance, mitigating injury and reaching your overall goals whether that is athletic performance, muscle gain, fat loss, etc.
With that, lets cover the last 3 movements of this series…
The Lateral Lunge
The lateral lunge is a key movement to maximize lower body function, strength and size as it challenges the musculature in a way that we typically don’t with other common exercises.
The majority of exercises performed for the lower body (think squats, deadlifts, forward/reverse lunges, step ups, etc.) are taking place predominately in the sagittal plane. This means that most of the exercises performed involve the body going up and down in a backwards and forwards pattern.
But the body doesn’t just work in a couple different planes, but rather we move in all 360 degrees. So in order to maximize results and limit injuries, we must train in all planes.
The lateral lunge targets the frontal plane, or the side to side plane.
While this is a great exercise, many times when we perform this exercise we end up feeling it in the knees and a huge burn in the quads. We also typically end up feeling strain or a massive stretch in the trailing/straight leg. Lastly, many times we end up feeling the low back.
While you will feel the lateral lunge working the quads and achieving a stretch in the trailing leg, these should not be the predominant areas being worked. And just like almost every exercise, you should NOT feel the low back performing a large amount work.
Why this happens is that first and foremost we are not controlling our hips from dumping into anterior tilt. So you need to focus on using your abs to “pull your zipper up towards your ribcage.” This again helps to prevent the hips from tipping forward and creating overextension in the low back.
Next, many times we end up staying too tall through the torso and not achieving the proper hinge we need at the hips. This forces us to glide forward at the knee which promotes excessive quad activity and forces through the knees.
↑ Too straight up and down, not enough hinge backwards.
Instead, try focusing on keeping 80% of your weight in the heel of the moving leg as you push your butt backwards and pitch your chest forward slightly. The back should remain neutral (flat) throughout the movement, but again you should pitch forward slightly in order to achieve a greater hip hinge. This will help you activate and feel the work taking place in the glute of the working leg…where we want to be working!
↑ Thats better!
And when it comes to feeling a massive stretch in the trailing leg, we often leave too much weight in that foot which forces us to utilize that leg more. To fix this, focus on keeping as much weight as possible (again around 80%) in the heel of the moving leg once you contact the ground.
Lastly, when you go to return to the starting position, focus on pushing through the working leg and not pulling through the trailing leg.
With these cues taken into consideration, you should feel the majority of work taking place in the core, glute of the working leg and upper back.
The Chin Up
The chin up, and all other vertical pulling exercises, are key movements when it comes to enhancing overall performance, strength and fitness.
When asked, many of us feel this exercise working the biceps and lats, which is a good thing, but we also feel our lower back, neck and the front of the shoulder.
The lower back experiences pressure because when we go to pull, we do not control the forward tip of the hips. This places excessive pressure on the low back. So here, as with the previous exercises in this series, you must focus on keeping the core engaged to prevent the hips from tipping forward throughout the entire movement. You can also try bringing the legs to the front of the body which helps to keep the hips from tipping forward.
Second, as we approach the top of the chin up we typically end up finishing by reaching the with the chin. This places forces through the neck that can result in unwanted injuries.
So here make sure to “tuck” the chin, or in other words, try to make a “double chin” keeping the eyes straight ahead.
Lastly, when you approach the top of the chin up, focus on keeping the shoulder blades tipped backwards, not forward!
When the shoulder blades tip forward, the shoulder joint follows and this creates more force and pressure through the front of the shoulder. This is not good as this force and pressure can end up resulting in injury to the structures of the shoulder. So keep the shoulder blades tipped back at the completion of the chin up.
↑ I had to, and its a solid pull up!
With that you should feel the chin up working the core, lats, upper back and biceps. If you feel anything else you need to reevaluate the execution of the chin up.
The Overhead Press
The overhead press is an exercise that many of us have been told is not a “bad exercise” because it is “not good” for the shoulders.
Or on the other hand, we have been told that it is an absolute monster when it comes to building upper body strength and size, and therefore we push through pain in order to complete it.
First, you should never push through pain, but you should also question anyone who says that any one exercise is inherently a bad exercise…unless you are back squatting on a stability ball!
As you now know, exercises become “bad exercises” when they are executed improperly, and the overhead press is no different.
With the overhead press (and its many variations) we oftentimes feel the work taking place in the shoulders and triceps, which is good, but we also feel the lower back, and a “pinching” feeling in the shoulder.
You can probably guess what is happening with the lower back!
As we push overhead we have a tendency to lean backwards, push the hips forward and allow them to tip forward. As we now know, this is bad news for the lower back.
↑ Dude is jacked, just like his back will likely be!
So here too you need to focus on keeping the core engaged, and you can also focus on not allowing the ribcage to pop up as you press overhead. Do not allow the ribcage to follow the arms as they go overhead.
Once that is taken care of, you need to focus on allowing your shoulder blades to go up and around the ribcage as you press overhead. If the shoulder blades stay pinned down as the arms go overhead you are closing down the space in the shoulder joint and compressing/impinging the structures of shoulder between the shoulder blade and the head of the humerus (upper arm bone).
This is where you will get a pinching feeling which overtime can result in chronic injuries such as a labral tear or rotator cuff damage.
So again here think about your shoulder blades moving up and around as the arms press overhead.
With these two big considerations in mind you should feel the work taking place in the core, shoulders and triceps without any pressure or pain in the back or shoulder.
The Wrap Up
Over the past 3 articles there was a lot of information about where you should, and shouldn’t be feeling the work taking place during 9 different movements.
Once you know and understand these you can train more optimally, achieve maximal results and prevent becoming one of the many who have fallen victim to the overuse injury plague wreaking havoc on the athletic and fitness population.
Use your newfound knowledge to help others and do them a favor and share this series with them.
Remember it is all about the execution of exercises that really determines the outcome of your training…so execute properly!
Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…Part II
If you didn’t read part 1 of this series, stop here, grab some coffee, take a deep breath and read this —> (Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…Part 1)…then come back here to finish off the knowledge bombs in part 2!
After reading through the part 1 of this series you should understand that it really isn’t all about the sets, reps, rest periods, or how many back flip burpees you can manage to complete before smashing your face on the ground that truly determines whether or not the program you are on is the best program for you.
What matters is how the program, and more specifically, how the exercises are executed.
With part 1 behind us, where we covered the squat, the deadlift and the row, let’s dive into part 2 with three more common movements that are typically executed in a way that produces suboptimal results and overuse injuries.
The Push Up
One of my favorite “upper body” exercises is the push up. And I put quotes around upper body because if you are performing the push up correctly it is truly a full body exercise!
The most unfortunate thing about the push up is that it is usually absolutely butchered when we are not coached to perform it correctly.
And because of this, many will usually describe that they feel the work taking place in the chest and triceps, which is good, but also that there is a lot of pressure in the front of the shoulder and the lower back…NOT GOOD!
The push up is an exercise that should target the chest, triceps and shoulders, but there should not be a ton of pressure in the front of the shoulder. And there should NEVER, I say again, NEVER be pressure or pain in the lower back.
When it comes to the pressure in the front of the shoulder, one of the most common mistakes we see is at the bottom of the push up, the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) glides forward out of the shoulder socket compressing the structures at the front of the shoulder.
This is easy to spot, especially when we see the elbows passing to far beyond the midline of the body. Also, you will likely notice the shoulder blades tipping forward.
So the goal here would be to stop at the range of motion when the elbows are roughly in line with the back, or slightly behind, and focus on keeping the shoulder and shoulder blades from going forward.
Next, if you low back hurts, or feels like it is “working” during the push up, really what is happening is that you are relying on your spine and other passive structures to keep your hips from dipping all the way to the ground.
When you let the hips sag and tip forward, the lower back arches and this places a significant amount of stress through the structures of the lower back.
Instead, focus on keeping the hips from tipping forward, as if you were trying to pull your zipper up towards your ribcage, or if you had a tail, try to tuck your tail.
This will help you prevent hyperextension of the lower back. Then all you have to do is keep your hips up and in line with the shoulders and heels.
Take these cues into consideration and you should feel your chest, shoulders, triceps and core working during the push up. Not only will this result in more strength and muscle gain, but it will reduce your risk for overuse injury of the shoulder and lower back.
The Bench Press
The bench press is very similar to the push as it is also a horizontal pressing exercise.
Many times we are told that athletes and clients feel the bench press in their chest and triceps (again, a good thing), but here again the front of the shoulder and the low back are commonly felt.
The nice thing about the bench press is that because you are lying on the bench, the bench provides you some feedback to help you stay in better positions.
First, when it comes to the head of the humerus moving forward, and the shoulder blade tipping forward, you can think about pulling both back into the bench as you descend the weight down.
While you may not actually move the shoulder blades much as they are between your body weight and the bench, you can move them just enough and keep them from tipping forward by thinking about pulling them back into the bench.
Also, you now have the bench as a reference point to not allow your elbow to pass too far behind. Once you feel the elbow approaching the bench you can stop just before it passes behind the bench.
This helps you feel yourself placing the shoulders in a better position to prevent the forward pressure and excessive tension on the front of the shoulder.
When it comes to the low back, walk into any commercial gym and you will likely watch guys (and some of the ladies) bench pressing and it may look like they are reenacting a scene from The Exorcist .
↑ Thats gonna hurt!
While this position will allow you to push more weight in the short term, if this position is used throughout your bench press training, in the long term this will leave you with chronic back issues.
Instead, use the bench as a reference and make sure your back stays flat to the bench…or at the very least does not pop further off the bench.
Here again you can think about pulling your zipper up towards your ribcage to prevent anterior tip at the pelvis and hyperextension of the lower back.
You should get up from the bench press and feel that your chest, triceps, shoulders and core were working to complete the movement.
The Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge is an amazing exercise when it comes to overall lower body strength, size and stability. But here again, there are a few common areas that athletes and clients feel working during the reverse lunge that are not optimal.
First, the quads are usually the first area to light up. And more so, many will feel the work taking place in the back leg quad. While the quads will be working, when performed correctly you should actually feel more of the work coming from the hips (glutes) and hamstrings.
The reason the quads take over is that many of us will lunge to straight up and down.
This forces the quads to kick on more as they are in a more advantageous position to apply force. And when we are to straight up and down we will be forced to put more weight on the back leg, therefore the back quad will not only be stretching, but it will also be experiencing a lot more tension.
This is why the day after a heavy lunge day it may be hard to walk down the stairs for fear of your quad ripping and sending you tumbling to the bottom.
So instead of being super straight up and down, think about creating a slight hip hinge, almost as if you were to get into a position to take off for a sprint.
From there, focus on keeping the majority of your weight on your front foot as you step back.
Lastly, to return to the top position, drive the heel of your front foot into the ground and as if you were trying to rip the ground behind you, pull yourself up from the bottom position. This will help you engage more glute and hamstring.
Not only will this help you turn on and work the muscles that we are looking to work, but it will also help you prevent knee pain as knee pain usually occurs from excessive tension in the quads.
Next, a lot of us will finish the lunge and feel tightness in the low back. First you must focus on keeping your core engaged and the zipper pulled up towards your ribcage.
But also, this can again be attributed to being too straight up and down as when the leg goes back, if you are straight up and down it is more likely for the hip to tip forward and the low back to hyperextend. So by leaning forward slightly you can help this.
Along with the slight forward lean, make sure not to step back too far with the trail leg as this again will pull your hip forward and place your low back into hyperextension.
Instead focus on stepping back far enough to allow the knee of the trail leg to drop right underneath the hip. This will create a 90 degree angle at the front leg and a 90 degree angle at the back leg.
All in all, you should finish the reverse lunge and feel the majority of the work taking place in the glutes and hamstrings, not just blowing up the quads, and never in the low back!
The Final Part
Part 3 of this series is next and will be the final part. We will go over 3 more common movements that are also commonly performed incorrectly.
Please help spread the word and share these articles (FACEBOOK) as the goal is for everyone to be able to train pain free and achieve the body, performance and confidence they want and deserve.
Get These Exercises Right or Stay Weak and Injured…Part I
Do you ever wonder if the training program you are on is the best program to help you reach your goals?
If you answered no, you are lying! I don’t mean to call you out, but I myself ask this question quite often.
It is human nature to wonder if there is something out there that is better, quicker and more effective. We all want results now. Actually, we all wanted results yesterday.
With that, what you are really wondering is if the exercises, exercise order, sets, reps, rest periods, etc. are structured in a way that are going to get you the biggest bang for your training buck. And while these considerations are important, and something that coaches like myself spend years trying to learn and perfect, it is not the most important consideration that determines a successful training session.
Whether you are an athlete looking to enhance overall performance, an adult looking to lose fat and gain some muscle, or someone who just enjoys being active without pain, the best program is one that is executed properly!
And by executed properly, I am referring to the exercises themselves, and more specifically, where you feel the exercises working.
There is a HUGE problem we see, even with a program that looks absolutely rock solid, has tons of research backing the methods included and is being “followed to a T” (if you ever wondered where that phrase came from, check this out after…http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/to-a-t.html).
That problem is that the individual training does not understand where he or she should be feeling the work take place. And when this happens, even if the movement looks pretty good, compensations can (and most likely WILL) arise.
This will lead to overuse injury, or at the very least, lack of results.
Why, you may ask!
Because when we are simply completing movements rather than understanding and targeting the proper musculature to do so, we are placing stresses on certain joints, and overusing certain muscles to a greater degree.
We are also not creating the necessary local fatigue to muscles that we are trying to hypertrophy (grow) and because we are not utilizing the most appropriate movement patterns we will fatigue more quickly, thus reducing the amount of work we can complete…not good if muscle growth and fat loss is a goal!
So what you need to do is understand what the exercise is targeting and make sure to create a “mind muscle” connection when performing the movement. <—Ya, bodybuilders hit this one right on the head.
With that, let’s go over some common exercises that we see athletes and clients performing and feeling in the wrong areas…and let’s make sure you know where you should be feeling them work!
Whether you are banging out reps of the goblet squat, upping your front squat or working through the traditional back squat, there are a few areas where you should feel the squat working…and not working!
First, most of the time when asked, “Where do you feel that,” the common responses include the lower back, quads, hamstrings and groin.
While the squat will essentially work every muscle group, you need to focus on keeping the core engaged to reduce the pressure on your lower back. This means focusing on “shrink wrapping” your spine by contracting your obliques and rectus…envision pulling your zipper up towards your ribcage.
Next, you will feel the squat working the quads and hamstrings, but you want to make sure the glutes (your butt) is your main driver. You can accomplish this by making sure to keep the majority of your pressure through your heels, and you can think about “screwing your feet into the ground” as well as trying to “rip the ground apart” between your feet.
Read this article I wrote for T-Nation a while back for a more in depth look on getting your glutes activated during squats and deadlifts –> 3 Ways to Power Up Your Glutes
This helps you to engage all three main actions of the glutes (extension, abduction and external rotation) which helps increase the work of the glutes and decrease the work of the quads and hamstrings.
Lastly, envisioning actively pulling yourself to the floor while sitting in between your hips helps to get the glutes going.
So focus on keeping the core engaged and then driving through the hips (GLUTES) when performing the squat. You will feel the quads, hamstrings and groin working, but if you are feeling the lower back, quads, hamstrings and groin without the glutes, you may be working your way into some unwanted compensations!
The deadlift and all of its variations (conventional, sumo, trap bar, etc.) are designed to strength the hip hinging pattern.
While the different variations will target musculature in a slightly different way, there are still some constants that you must understand in order to optimize the deadlift.
First, if you have been told that the deadlift is a low back exercise, please smack whoever told you that and forget they ever said it!
The deadlift IS NOT a low back exercise. Yes, you will be utilizing the musculature of the lower back, but you do not want to finish your sets and feel your low back on fire. If you do, you will likely have trouble walking the next day with out the old man limp, and down the road you will be more likely to experience chronic low back pain from overuse.
Instead, you should feel the deadlift working the glutes (yup, there they are again!), the hamstrings and the upper back.
In order to do so, make sure your back stays neutral throughout the lift and think once again about “shrink wrapping” your spine with your core.
Be sure to focus on hinging backwards with the hips as you fold over in order to feel a stretch occurring in the hamstrings and tension building in the glutes. Keep the upper back engaged to prevent it from rounding forward.
When you initiate the pull, like the squat, think about driving the heels through the ground as you “screw” your feet. At the same time focus on bringing the hips forward to unfold, do not simply lift your chest or you will be primarily targeting the low back. Finish the rep tall and squeeze the hell out of your glutes…imagine a walnut between your cheeks and crack that thing!
Although every rowing variation will target the biceps and shoulders to some extent, you do not want your rowing exercises to feel like they are mainly targeting your biceps, and not the front of your shoulder…even a little bit…not an smidge…nothing…nill…natta!
If you are completing your rows by driving with the arms (biceps, etc.) you are not allowing the shoulder blade to move appropriately. When this happens you will likely end finishing with the shoulder blade tipped forward, the elbow too far behind the body and you will likely feel pressure in the front of the shoulder…and this is no good!
The pressure is the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) gliding forward in the shoulder socket. When this happens other structures such as the biceps tendon, joint capsule, etc. are compromised and can be irritated or injured.
This dude probably has some anterior shoulder pain!
So if this happens you need focus on driving the row through your shoulder blade. Think about initiating the row by pulling your shoulder blade across your upper back and towards the spine. This will engage the upper back musculature, and you should feel most of the work taking place in the upper back (between the shoulder blades).
Lastly, you need to focus on tipping the shoulder blade back and finishing with the elbow in line with the back, not behind it. This ensures that you are finishing the row with the back musculature, and not finishing with the shoulder blade and joint in a compromised position.
Part II Is Up Next
For the next part of this series we will go over the push up, reverse lunge and lateral lunge. With that you will have a pretty good understanding where you should be feeling some of the major exercises work in order to maximize results, and keep yourself from running into overuse injuries…stay tuned!
And if you want more specific help solidifying your exercise technique, all of the videos I use for my online coaching clients go through the exact cues I use with my in person athletes which helps them ensure they are doing the exercises correctly. Just shoot me a message (FACEBOOK) if you are looking for a program that is designed specifically for you and your goals and utilizes these videos to help take your body to the next level!
Eccentric Emphasis Training: A Method You Should Use…Here is Why and How (and a sample program)!
Whether you are a competitive athlete looking to get the edge on the competition, or you are a general population athlete looking to move better, feel better and achieve a lean and muscular physique, there are certain training methods that can help expedite the process.
One of the best methods to take advantage of is eccentric emphasis training (EET).
What is EET?
The eccentric phase of a movement is the phase where the muscles producing the movement are lengthening while contracting.
For example, during a squat the quads and glutes are lengthening as you descend into the bottom of the squat. At the same time they are contracting to prevent you from collapsing to the floor. This is the eccentric action.
The quads and glutes would then concentrically contract (shorten while contracting) to get you out of the bottom of the squat and return to the standing position.
The resistance of your body plus and outside resistance such as a loaded barbell is providing more force than the quads and glutes are producing, therefore they are lengthening during the eccentric portion.
Another example could be the pecs and triceps during the lowering phase of a push up. They are both lengthening as you are descending, and they are both contracting to prevent you from smashing you face on the floor.
So eccentric emphasis training would be when you emphasize, or spend more time than normal on the eccentric contraction.
Why should you emphasize the eccentric phase?
There are a few key benefits to EET that regular eccentric concentric speed training does not fully optimize.
During regular speed training we descend into a movement, or lower the resistance, in a fashion that is controlled, but not so controlled that we expend more energy than necessary to complete.
While this is conducive to using more resistance during the concentric phase of the movement, it often does not allow us to feel and maintain optimal tension throughout the entire movement. With this lack of tension, form begins to fade as fatigue sets in and we end up looking like newborn giraffe wobbling around as we get deeper into the set.
As Fang et. al. found in a study conducted in 2001, there is earlier onset cortical activity during eccentric contractions vs concentric contractions, which has been credited to the preparation for more complex movement (1).
This means by dedicating time to an eccentric emphasis block, technique is shored up as the more time spent under tension provides greater response from the nervous system helping you solidify a movement pathway and coordination.
Motor control and learning is more efficiently achieved with a slower eccentric action.
This is especially important when you are performing a new lift, or if you are a new to the training game in general.
2. Enhances Deceleration
In many cases, especially within the athletic world, non contact injuries occur during the deceleration phase of movement.
The muscles and tendons themselves are not strong enough to properly dissipate the forces produced when decelerating a movement or joint, and therefore they are likely to experience damage, or a strain.
By improving the strength of the eccentric contraction, your ability to decelerate becomes greater. This provides a better base to then control forces and limit the likeliness of an injury during deceleration.
Again this is critical when it comes to sports, but movements such as sprinting, cutting and jumping are incorporated into many of our training programs.
Also, aside from quick explosive movements, slower eccentrics and deceleration work helps to teach the tension necessary to control heavy loads such as those we experience under a heavy load, especially during more dynamic movements including forward, reverse, lateral and walking lunges, etc.
3. Increases Muscle Tendon Strength
Closely related to the previous point, eccentric exercise helps to strengthen the entire muscle-tendon unit, allowing it to better absorb force before failure, as was described in an analysis of research in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (2).
EET allows the tendons themselves to experience an increase in stiffness, making them more durable to the forces exerted on them.
With an increase in tendon stiffness and an overall ability to absorb and dissipate force, the muscle-tendon unit becomes more resilient and your risk of injury decreases.
4. Provides the Opportunity for Greater Force Potential
It is no secret that you can handle more weight on the eccentric portion of the movement than you can on the concentric.
During a maximal lift no one ever fails lowering the weight, but instead when trying to reverse directions and accelerate the weight.
The potential force production during eccentric movement has exceeded loads of 120% of the concentric maximum. This is favorable when it comes to strength gains as you can overload the musculature and nervous system to a greater degree during the eccentric portion of the movement than you can with the concentric portion.
The tricky part is you will often need a spotter (or two) to effectively and safely use these loads during most compound movements.
You can lower the weight in a slow and controlled fashion and when you are ready to reverse directions your partner(s) simply assist you in lifting the resistance.
You can also have your partner apply additional resistance during the eccentric phase only such as pushing down on the barbell as you lower it to your chest during the bench press. Your partner then releases from the bar and you push the bar away from your chest.
However, you don’t necessarily need a partner as you can use methods such as the 2/1 or two movements technique as described in this article by Christian Thibaudeau.
However you choose to use it, the eccentric portion of a movement can handle greater forces than that of the concentric portion, therefore helping to better improve strength outcomes.
5. Increases Muscle Hypertrophy
Possibly the greatest benefit of EET with regards to the majority of lifters is the enhanced result in muscle hypertrophy.
An earlier finding by Vandenburgh (1987) proposed that the greatest stimulus for muscle hypertrophy occurs when a muscle is stretched under load (3).
The stretching of a muscle while under load increases the mircrotrauma to the contractile and structural components of the muscles. This subcellular damage signals physiological responses that are responsible for the repair and growth of muscle tissue (4).
With that, you can see why emphasizing the eccentric portion of a movement is best to maximize hypertrophy as it is going to stimulate a greater repair and growth response.
6) More Effective Tissue Remodeling / Tissue Lengthening
Closely related to the last point, muscles will grow when stretched under load, and they will also lengthen as there is a need for the muscles to add sarcomeres in series (the contractile unit of a muscle).
In the simplest form, this means that the muscle, when lengthening under load, will have to adapt and add length so the next time the muscle experiences the same forces, it has a greater range of motion to do so.
This effectively helps to solidify the new range of motion that is found with exercises and stretches throughout your program.
Eccentric Emphasis Training…Where We Go Wrong
As with every training method, there is a point where the return on investment with will diminish. And past a certain point, EET will limit your ability to train hard, recover and adapt.
With this in mind, there are two major components to EET where many of us go wrong.
1) Since it has been shown that the eccentric portion of the movement is responsible for a majority of the strength and size gains you we experience with training, it is human nature to think that spending more and more time on the eccentric will beget greater results.
Although this thought process seems to make sense, it was actually found that faster eccentric contractions result in greater strength and hypertrophic adaptations. It was concluded that it was likely do to a greater amount of protein remodeling (5).
This would occur as a result of more micro trauma from a faster eccentric movement vs the slower eccentric movement.
So slowing the eccentric movement down significantly will not create a greater stimulus, and is likely less effective than a quicker eccentric phase.
With this in mind, I suggest spending no more than 5 seconds on the eccentric phase of a movement.
Another benefit of keeping the eccentric phase of the movement to 5 seconds or less is the fact that you will be able to utilize a higher load. The more time under tension there is, the more fatigue will accumulate and this fatigue will limit the amount of resistance you can use…no good when you are trying to maximize strength and size.
2) Along the same lines of a longer eccentric phase, many of us overdue the total volume of EET.
EET not only creates a greater amount of micro-trauma, but it also places a significant amount of stress on the nervous system.
Although the anatomical damage and neural stress are beneficial to stimulate growth and adaptation, if the stimulus is too large, recovery will be compromised and subsequent training sessions will suffer.
Eccentric focused resistance training has been associated with increased levels of pain, decreased levels of fiber excitability and acute muscle weakness (6).
Again, while these results will lead to an environment that encourages hypertrophic adaptations and increases in strength, if taken too far the initial negative effects can be detrimental to long term progress.
Therefore instead of falling for the “more is better” that many lifters find themselves becoming victim too, utilize EET conservatively.
Start with a 3-4 week block where you implement EET into the first major lift of each session. If you are working on a full body split, you can utilize EET on the primary lower body as well as upper body movement.
Follow that up with some lower intensity, moderate volume assistance work and get out of the weight room and onto recovery.
While we all enjoy a good bout of DOMS from time to time, don’t be that jackass who chases soreness and thinks the session was worthless if the next day you are not walking down the stairs sideways for the fear that you might tear your quad and grind your face down the remaining stairs.
Sample 3 Day Full Body Program (Intro into EET Training)
Day 1 (Lower Push Upper Pull)
1a. Front Squat EET 3×5 with 3-4 second eccentric
1b. Chin Up EET 3×5 with 3-4 second eccentric
2a. Forward DB Lunge 3×8/side
2b. Chest Supported DB Row 3×8
3a. Single Leg Squat from Box 2×12/side
3b. Single Arm Cable Row 2×12/side
4a. Abwheel Rollout 2×10
4b. Facepull 2×15
Day 2 (Lower Pull Upper Push)
1a. Deadlift EET 3×4 with 3-4 second eccentric followed by 2×2 with 2-3 second eccentric
1b. Bench Press EET 3×4 with 3-4 second eccentric followed by 2×2 with 2-3 second eccentric
2a. Single Arm Single Leg DB RDL 3×8/side
2b. Alternating Incline DB Bench Press 3×8/side
3a. Single Leg Hip Thrust 3×10/side
3b. Push Up 3×10
4a. TRX Tricep Extension 2×10
4b. Slideboard Leg Curl 2×10
Day 3 (Full Body)
1a. FSG Reverse Lunge 3×5/side with 3-4 second eccentric
1b. Single Arm DB Row 3×6/side with 3-4 second eccentric
2a. Landmine Front Squat 3×8
2b. Incline Bench Press 3×8
3a. Goblet Grip Lateral Lunge 3×10/side
3b. TRX Inverted Row 3×10
3c. DB Floor Press 3×10
Hopefully you are convinced that you should be using EET to help you achieve the fitness and performance you are looking for. If you want more help designing a program that incorporates EET as well as many other quality training methods, shoot me a MESSAGE HERE and I’ll help you get started (or continue) building the body you want.
- Y. Fang, V. Siemionow, V. Sahgal, F. Xiong, and G. H. Yue, “Greater movement-related cortical potential during human eccentric versus concentric muscle contractions,” Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 1764–1772, 2001.
- P. LaStayo, et. al., “Eccentric Muscle Contractions: Their Contribution to Injury, Prevention, Rehabilitation and Sport,” Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 33, no.10, pp. 562, 2003.
3. H. H. Vandenburgh, “Motion into mass: how does tension stimulate muscle growth?” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 19, no. 5, supplement, pp. S142–S149, 1987.
4. V. G. Coffey and J. A. Hawley, “The molecular bases of training adaptation,” Sports Medicine, vol. 37, no. 9, pp. 737–763, 2007.
5. Shepstone TN, et al. Short-term high- vs. low-velocity isokinetic lengthening training results in greater hypertrophy of the elbow flexors in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 May;98(5):1768-76.
6. N. Hedayatpour, D. Falla, L. Arendt-Nielsen, C. Vila-Chã, and D. Farina, “Motor unit conduction velocity during sustained contraction after eccentric exercise,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 41, no. 10, pp. 1927–1933, 2009.
The 4 Ps of Successful Nutrition (And its not all about protein, carbs and fat!)
If you google “healthy nutrition” you will come up with over 200 million results <—That’s A LOT!
And I’m guessing if you were to read through 90% of the results, you would read all about quality protein sources, no fat / low fat / high fat diets, reducing sugar, how carbs are satan and how eating more protein can help you beat a bear in a wrestling match (Ok, maybe not the last one, but close!).
You just need to eat more protein!
While many of those points are valid, and are important to optimizing your nutritional regimen to help you get and stay healthy, lose fat and gain muscle, even if you know all about these facts they don’t mean anything unless you act on them!
…“Well no (insert the end result of digestion) Sherlock!”
I know that statement is a “Duh” statement, but when I speak to most of my athletes who are struggling with nutrition, it is not that they don’t know what they need to do (most of the time).
They know that if they load up on processed food, high amounts of sugar and low quality sources of protein they will likely feel like crap, look like crap and perform like crap.
They know that quality protein sources, healthy fats, veggies/fruits and low/non processed sources of carbs should be the backbone of their nutrition.
So then why, just why can’t they seem to get their nutrition right??
Because they have not yet mastered what I refer to as the 4 Ps of successful nutrition.
The 4 Ps
Let’s discuss what the 4 Ps are and then go over how to implement them as easily as possible.
The 4 Ps are:
Plan, it is pretty straight forward, right?
You must plan out your weekly meals (or at least a couple days worth).
Now I know I stated that the knowledge of what constitutes a healthy meal is common knowledge for many of us, but I do want to touch on it quickly.
In the simplest form, a healthy meal will be made up from quality protein sources, veggies/fruits, healthy fats and quality carbohydrates sources.
When discussing protein sources we are thinking grassfed meats (beef, chicken, pork, wild game meat, etc.) eggs, fish, beans, nuts, etc. If you don’t have the ability to purchase grassfed / wild meat opt for the low fat versions of conventional meat as many of the antibiotics, hormones, etc. will be stored within the fat of the meat.
Veggies and fruits include spinach, broccoli, green beans, cucumbers, celery, carrots, tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms, onions, peppers, apples, bananas, berries, kiwi, oranges, mango, kumquat, etc.
Healthy fats include nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, etc.
And lastly, quality carbohydrates (other than veggies and fruits) include rice, potatoes, sprouted grain breads, sprouted grain pastas, oatmeal, buckwheat, etc.
And for a nice visual check out these “My Plates” provided for you from Precision Nutrition. One is for an anytime meal, and one is for post training:
OK, with that out of the way (even though that is just the tip of an enormous iceberg), let’s talk more about planning.
Your goal needs to be to plan out at a minimum 2-3 days worth of meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Write them down, make a grocery list and go shopping. If you can only go shopping once per week make sure to plan for the week. If you know you can get to the store 2-3 times per week then you will only need to plan for a few days at a time.
And just to give you an idea of a weekly plan, here is my typical week:
|Bfast||Oatmeal||Omelet, potatoes||Oatmeal||Omelet, potatoes||Shake||Shake/Oatmeal||Omelet/Shake|
|Lunch||Leftovers from weekend (stirfry)||Homemade Chicken Salad, carrots, hummus||Leftovers from weekend (stirfry)||Homemade Chicken Salad, carrots, hummus||Egg sandwich, potatoes, sautee veggies||Pizza, salad||Skip|
|Dinner||Baked Chicken, salad||Baked Chicken, salad||Baked Chicken, salad||Baked Chicken, salad||Chicken marsala, salad||Baked Chicken, salad||Meal for week (chili)|
|Nighttime||Greek yogurt, peanut butter||Pumpkin protein snack, peanut butter||Cottage cheese, peanut butter||Pumpkin protein snack, peanut butter||Pumpkin protein snack, peanut butter||Pumpkin protein snack, peanut butter||Pumpkin protein snack, peanut butter|
Now that you know what your meals are going to be for the week (or the next few days), and you have all of the ingredients for them, it is time to prepare what needs to be prepared ahead of time to save you time during the week.
For me this takes place on Sunday. If you have another day (or couple days) of the week that works better for you, make that your “meal prep” day.
Set aside 2-3 hours and get to work!
I know that right now, if you don’t already do this, 2-3 hours may seem like FOR-EV-ER!
But believe me when I tell you, putting in these 2-3 hours will save you 5-6 hours during the week. And even worse, if you don’t prepare you are likely going to say “Na, not tonight” when it comes time to make your meals…which eventually leads to grabbing something quick and nasty…so as Billy Madison says… “JUST DO IT”!
Ok, enough with the “encouragement” to get preppin’.
A few quick tips to make this time go quicker:
- Prepare your meals with your family (wife, husband, kids, siblings, family guinea pig, etc.)…not only will the company likely make the time go quicker, but the extra hands can actually speed up the process.
- Put on a game or other TV show that doesn’t require you to watch intently the whole time.
- Put on a podcast, or if you are not a nerd, some music.
Once you are good to go, a few things you should consider preparing for the week include:
-One big meal that you can pick off of throughout the week. Think of stuff like chili, stir-fry, casseroles, stews, etc. Stuff that is easy to throw together and pick from.A metric s&%t ton of meat…Ok, maybe not that much but I usually prepare 5-6 pounds of chicken breast to eat throughout the week, mainly for dinners.
-Cook up another metric s&%t ton of veggies…again roughly 3-4 pounds here! I throw them in a big pan, put some seasoning on them, and let them cook down to a tender consistency. I then throw them in salads and have them as a side or as a quick snack…and I get them frozen (usually oriental stir-fry veggies) so I don’t have to chopped, dice and slice my way through 3-4 pounds!
-Bake some potatoes, cook some rice, etc. Having some extra quality carbs to add to your meals is key…it keeps you from the quick, not so great options!
-Make your snacks! For most of us snacks, or mini meals, are part of our daily existence…and I am no exception. I typically have either a cottage cheese, greek yogurt or pureed pumpkin snack every night. These snacks include chopped fruit, protein powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, flaxseed and sometimes coconut shavings mixed in. So I make them ahead of time so at night, after a long day of coaching, all I have to do is reach in the fridge and grab one. This keeps me from reaching in the freezer for the tub of ice-cream!
So there are the main things to prepare ahead of time.
Once you have these main ingredients prepped it is easy to throw a salad together with chopped chicken (or chicken on the side), make homemade chicken salad, grab a bowl of chili/stew/stir-fry and grab a quick snack when you need it. Basically it makes all of the meals you planned ahead of time easier to construct throughout the week (or you may have them completely put together and ready to go).
One last tip…prepare your breakfast the night before!
This doesn’t mean you have to cook your omelet or oatmeal, or blend up your shake the night before, but it means get everything ready to go so in the morning the process is that much quicker.
When I am having an omelet I chop my veggies, put them on a plate and cover them for the morning. Then all I have to do is throw them in the pan and cook them up, beat a few eggs and throw them in the pan and in a few minutes I have an omelet.
The same goes for my oatmeal. All of my ingredients are on the counter and ready to go for the morning. The fruit I am putting in is sliced and in the fridge and the protein powder, nuts, cinnamon and any other dry ingredients are mixed together in a container ready to be dumped in. Then all I have to do is boil some water, throw in some oats and then add my fruit and dry ingredients and mix them together…again maybe 10 minutes total.
Lastly if I am having a shake I will put my fruit in my Ninja Blender cup and put it in the freezer. I throw all of my dry ingredients in a container (just like for the oatmeal) and in the morning all I have to do is snag my cup from the freezer, add some spinach, the dry ingredients and some milk and it is ready to blend.
If I were not to prepare these things the night before I would be scrambling around the kitchen for all of the ingredients and spending way more time in the morning preparing my meal…this would eventually lead to opting for an easier option, especially for those of us who like to hit the snooze button a few times!
The next P is portion.
Prepare and portion may be blended together a little if you are only cooking one meal. You would portion the ingredients for one meal before you prepared it.
But, if you are like me, and take the tips above and implement a meal prepping day for the week, you will have lots of food ready to go.
The next step would be to portion it out.
The easiest way to do this is to again turn to Precision Nutrition for their food portioning guidelines.
The reason I like the way PN approaches this is they use an individuals hand for a guide.
Because your hand is typically proportionate to your body (smaller dude, smaller hands…bigger dude, bigger hands…and the same goes for the ladies), you will be eating appropriate portions.
Check out the visuals for the portion guidelines.
Once you know your portions, divide up your food and then complete the last P of the 4 Ps.
Now that you have everything planned and prepared, and you know what portions you are going to consume with each meal, it is time to pack up the portions.
This is where having health conscious containers is key.
I use glass pyrex to pack up my food.
If you were to open up my fridge on Sunday night you would see four 3 cup containers of chicken breast, four 3 cup containers with salad and four 4 cup containers with whatever meal we prepared for the week (chili, stew, etc.).
(This isn’t my fridge, but similar…and you don’t have to label unless you want to!)
With that you would also see four 2 cup containers with my snacks for night and one 8 cup container full of cooked veggies.
With everything all portioned out and packaged up, all I have to do is grab and go in the morning (after eating breakfast and sipping on some coffee) and I am ready for the day, at least nutritionally!
Again this allows me to stick with healthy options (which are also tasty!), and stick to consuming the appropriate amounts.
Get To Using The 4 Ps
Hopefully you can see how much easier nutritional success can be when you implement the 4 Ps.
Yes, it takes some time during a day or two of the week, but when you don’t feel like crap from eating quick processed foods, you start to notice positive changes in your body composition (less fat more muscle) and you perform better with your daily activities (school, work, sports, hog wrestling, etc.) you will not think twice about dedicating the time.
The 4 Ps, once implemented for a few weeks, becomes part of your weekly routine. And again, if you can do it with your family or while watching/listening to something you enjoy, the time goes by rather quickly.
So now it is your time to draw out a week (or a few days) of meals, go shopping, select a day or two to prepare the food, portion and pack the food, and enjoy less stress throughout the week knowing that you are consuming quality meals that will help you further your progress and reach your goals!
These strategies along with many more specific strategies are exactly what I encourage my athletes to do, both in person and online.
If you want more specific help with your nutritional plan of attack reach out to me on Facebook, and make sure you follow me on Instagram (@kylearsenault1) for more tips about nutrition and training!
Your Ab Work is Making You Look Fat and Setting You Up For Injury
Have you ever thought that the way you are training your abs could actually be setting you up for injury, and worse, could be making you look like you are a few months along a pregnancy?
Well, one day my father asked me what I had been doing for my abs, and it wasn’t in a good way.
He was asking me because from the side it looked like I was a phenomenon…a man with child…just like Arnold in Junior.
Or a for a more real life example, do you remember Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell?
The dude was a monster in the ring, and looked lean and athletic from the front.
But from the side, he looked like he had a bit of a “belly.”
And like The Iceman, I didn’t look fat from the side because I was carrying extra insulation around my waistline. In fact at the time I was actually right around 5% body fat, and from the front I looked like I had the six pack I was going for.
I had been crushing ab work almost everyday. I was strong in certain muscles (primarily the rectus abdominus) and I looked good from the front.
But my deeper core strength was mediocre at best, which set me up for future injuries. And on top of that, from a profile view I didn’t look so “lean and trim.”
And this was too bad because my goals were like most of you who are hammering extra ab/core. Those being:
- You want to increase performance and decrease injury potential.
- You want to create the flat, chiseled midsection that people like to look at.
And even though you are right in getting after the ab work as it is all about the abs, it is more about the execution of the exercises and making sure they target the core as a whole.
Because when you have a strong, stable and high functioning core, it helps to solidify proper hip and ribcage position, decrease the likeliness of overuse injury to the back, hips and knees, and, of course, gives you a better chance of looking shredded come beach season.
So what was I then doing, and many of you continue to do??
Creating Rectus Dominance
Rectus dominance simply means that you are relying on your rectus abdominus muscle, the “six pack” muscle, to create stability and perform many of the ab exercises.
And you don’t even have to be doing the “wrong” exercises.
Many now know that crunches and sit ups are not best for performance and health, so these exercises have been dropped from many programs, or at least not done with such high volume and frequency.
But you can even run into problems with exercises such as planks, side planks, anti-rotation presses, chops, and lifts. These are all great exercises I perform, and prescribe for my athletes, but too can feed into rectus dominance.
This is a problem because when you are relying primarily on the rectus to complete exercises, they grow larger and give you what may appear to be a “pregnant” belly.
Aside from looks, the rectus is not a great stabilizer of the hips and spine. The deep core muscles such as the obliques and transverse abdominus play a much greater role in stabilizing the system.
When the rectus takes over (dominates) and you are not using and strengthening the deeper core muscles, you are more likely to experience unwanted back, hip and knee pain (and other problems up and down the chain).
What is creating rectus dominance?
I, like many coaches, cue to “stay tight” and “engage the core” when I am cueing my athletes during exercises.
The problem is that staying tight and engaging the core means nothing, and more likely, the wrong thing, if you are not coached to understand how you should be doing so.
Most of the time when we think about staying tight we end up contracting our rectus and create what resembles a “crunch like” movement that brings our ribcage down excessively. While we don’t want our ribcage to “pop up,” we also don’t want to crunch down to stabilize.
So we must understand that “staying tight” doesn’t mean to crunch down, instead we must focus on staying “tall” through our chest while keeping the ribcage from popping up. This happens when we engage and prioritize our other core muscles, primarily the obliques.
One of my favorite cues to get the obliques engaged is to think about “shrink wrapping your spine” with your abs. These results in us “flattening” our midsection and contracting the obliques.
Also, since many of us fall into an anterior tilt at the hips (when the hips rotate forward), another one of my favorite cues is to “pull your zipper up towards your ribcage.” This helps to slightly posteriorly tilt the hip back to neutral during movements.
Focus on these two cues, as well as making sure to keep your “chest tall” and “upper back long” and you will better engage your obliques in order to stabilize the hips and spine, without crunching down.
Prevent Pain and Get That Lean Look
Focus on these cues before performing each and every exercise and it will help you to keep yourself from creating rectus dominance, and the unwanted pain and “pregnant look” that is the likely resultant.
This is just another example to show that it is all about the principles and execution of exercises, not the exercises themselves that truly matter.
Before any movement, shrink wrap your spine, keep your zipper up and stay tall through your chest…this is a big part of the recipe for less pain and a leaner, more athletic midsection.[/fusion_text]
Maximize Your Flexibility, Mobility and Movement
If your goals include not feeling like the tin man every morning when you wake up, and not missing games or life events because you have jacked up a muscle or joint, static stretching and dynamic mobility drills should be part of your training program.
Both static stretching and dynamic mobility result in a transient change to the tissue as well as components of the nervous system that typically allow your joints to move into greater ranges of motion.
These greater ranges of motion gives you the opportunity for more efficient movement to take place which, helping you to decrease injuries and enhance your performance.
For this reason, you want to perform them each and every day as well as with each and every training session, practice or game.
But even if you are going through them every day, you may find yourself still feeling “stiff / tight” and never becoming more flexible, mobile or able to achieve the range of motion with movements that you should be able to.
So what’s the deal?
Why can you not “keep” the range of motion you work so hard on?
1) You are not reinforcing the new range of motion with activation drills that turn on the muscles bringing the joint into the new range of motion.
So this be pretty easy to fix; you just need to add in activations, but…
2) You have to do so in an order that is optimal to solidify the new range of motion.
Let’s take a look into the typical order of a session.
A Typical Session
We typically place stretching, mobility and activation at the beginning of a training session to unlock ranges of motion for better muscle activation and overall movement for the upcoming session. This usually looks something like this:
- Static stretching
- Movement Prep
- Speed, Agility, Power
- Strength / Resistance Training
With this layout, an example start to a session may look something like this:
- Hip Flexor Stretch x30s/side, Butterfly Stretch x30s, Calf Stretch x30s/side
- Hip Flexor Mobility x8/side, Adductor (Groin) Mobility x8/side, Ankle Mobility x8/side
- Single Leg Glute Bridge x8/side, Side Lying Clam x8/side, Ankle Dorsi Flexion x8/side
The goal with these would be to stretch out the hip flexors, adductors and calves, put the hip and ankle through dynamic ranges of motion (mobility) and then turn on the glutes, lateral hip muscles and anterior shin muscles to solidify the “new” ranges of motion from the stretch and the mobility work.
While the layout above is a solid approach, there is one inherent flaw with performing all of your static stretching first, then your mobilities and then all of the activation drills.
The issue is that by the time you make it to your activation drills (the drills that are designed to turn on or “activate” specific musculature and help to solidify the new range of motion), you have likely lost some of the transient effect of the static stretch and mobility work for the targeted joint.
If the acute lengthening of the muscles, along with the “relaxation effect” of the muscles from the mobility work have dissipated, you will not be able to achieve as optimal a range of motion during the activation drills. This will decrease the ability to activate the targeted musculature.
Also, and more importantly, the “new” and better range of motion you achieved with the stretch and mobility will be harder to hold on to and create a better movement.
For example, if you stretch and mobilize your hip flexor to help you achieve greater hip extension, but don’t immediately activate the glute to actively bring the hip into extension, some of the extension range of motion from the stretch and mobility is likely lost. This will decrease the ability to use the new range of motion as well as decrease the activation of the glute.
This is why many times we will find ourselves working on stretching and mobility only to be back at square one the next time we work on it…we are unable to fully solidify the new range of motion with optimal activation, as we have lost some of the range of motion before we even make it to the activation drill.
A Better Approach
A better approach is to cycle through stretching, mobility and activation for each muscle/movement.
With the above example, this would now look like this:
1a) Hip Flexor Stretch x30s/side
1b) Hip Flexor Mobility x8/side
1c) Single Leg Glute Bridge x8/side
2a) Butterfly Stretch x30s
2b) Adductor Mobility x8/side
2c) Side Lying Clam x10/side
3a) Calf Stretch x30s/side
3b) Ankle Mobility x8/side
3c) Ankle Dorsi Flexion x8/side
By layering the stretch, mobility and activation together you will be able to take advantage of the transient effects of the stretch and mobility to better activate the necessary musculature. All of this will result in a better chance to “keep” the new range of motion and resulting movement.
Try it out and let me know what you think!
Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of reworking some short articles for Livestrong.com.
The goal was to update articles that may have been out of date or missing some key information. Most of the articles I have chosen to rework and provide helpful updates to are centered around proper movement and technique, and training to help prevent pain and dysfunction.
Below are two of the articles.
The first helps answer why your back may actually be hurting more when you stretch, and how you should actually be stretching and attacking the lower back. And even if your back doesn’t hurt, you want to make sure you are stretching and doing the right exercises to help protect the lower back.
The second article covers strategies to help you reverse and prevent a caved in chest, which is often a product of todays technology driven world as well as an unbalanced approach to training.
Check them out and let me know if you have any questions! There are many more that I will send your way soon!