Arguably one of the main goals of strength training is to improve the way the body moves and reinforce good movement patterns with weights. It will make your body stronger in those positions and those movement patterns that are considered optimal in the way we move. It will also ensure that when challenged by outside forces and velocities, our body will be able to maintain good alignment and react properly. The squat and the deadlift, for example, are primitive movement patterns that your body needs to own. We own them as babies, but because of modern life that makes us extremely sedentary and because we sit all the time, we lose these movement skills as we age.
How many adults do you know can squat this low with a spine as neutral as this?
So in a way, we need to re-learn these movement patterns, and ultimately become stronger in them. But because how restricted our bodies are, there is a process to go through to be able to own these movements and get stronger. It might mean working on soft-tissue restrictions, doing general and specific mobility work, doing static stretching, improving motor control, etc. Once the restrictions are out of the way, you’ll want to become proficient in the basic movement patterns before getting stronger. Most strength gains you’ll make in in the beginning are going to be mostly neural adaptations and improved motor control, anyway.
In order to get strong and efficient in the basic lifts, you need PRACTICE! I just finished reading Never Let Go, by Dan John, and one thing he stresses is the repetitions. If you want to get good at something, if you want to get strong, you need to put the reps in.
When designing programs, we probably don’t need as much variety as we think we do. Sure we need to keep things interesting so we don’t get bored in the long run. But the basics stay the same; squat, deadlift, 1-leg squat, bench press, chin ups and rows. That’s it. You don’t need to have a new main lift every month; if that’s what you do, how do you know if you’re getting stronger, or better? You don’t have any basis of comparison. If you want to become proficient in these movements to improve the way your body moves and get stronger, that’s what you need. And you need to do them a lot. If you do chin ups for 4 weeks, and then take them out of your training and don’t do them for another 3-4 months, how do you expect improvement? Repetition really is the key to mastering a movement and getting stronger. The more repetitions you do, the more efficient your nervous system will be at this specific movement, and the easier it’ll be to get stronger.
Not only do you want reps, but you want perfect reps. Doing near-max effort reps every single time you deadlift is not going to be the answer because your body won’t be able to perfect the movement pattern; every single time you perform the movement, you’re just trying to lift the heaviest weight possible (aka, your body switches to compensation mode). Don’t get me wrong, you do need to load the bar to get stronger, but you need to be smart about it. You need to make sure that form is your first priority and you never sacrifice it for weight.
Practice. Practice with perfect form. Practice some more. Make every rep count. Do a lot of them. Do your main movements more than once a week.
“If it’s important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.” – Dan Gable
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As I’ve mentioned in recent blog posts, I’m messing around with all of the stuff Joel Jamieson talks about in his Ultimate MMA Conditioning book. I’m currently doing what we could call an ‘endurance block’. After doing max strength for 6 straight years, I figured it would be a nice change of pace and it would give me a chance to improve my conditioning. I’m working a lot on my aerobic system right now with this program, and one of the method from Joel’s book I’m using is called the ‘threshold method’.
The goal of that method is to push your anaerobic threshold higher. If you’re not familiar with the anaerobic threshold, it’s basically the point at which your body starts to produce energy predominantly through the anaerobic system; your anaerobic threshold is expressed by a specific at heart rate. Below that heart rate your body produces energy mainly through the aerobic system. When you go past that threshold it means that your body starts accumulating fatigue at a pretty fast rate and it’s usually a sign you won’t be able to maintain the same intensity level much longer.
For certain sports or activities, it’s then pretty obvious that having a higher anaerobic threshold can be beneficial. It can help push fatigue back and perform at a higher intensity for longer. That being said, you need to work on your aerobic system to improve your anaerobic threshold. I can already hear a lot of you say: “training the aerobic system is BS; it produces a negative hormone response, it makes you lose muscle and strength, etc, etc, etc”. But before you go crazy about how much you dislike aerobic training, I’m gonna tell you that you might be surprised at how you can train it to push your anaerobic threshold higher without running a marathon.
The threshold method actually uses intervals, longer ones that is, to reap the benefits of this method. If the goal is to push your anaerobic threshold higher, we need to train at that intensity that’s around your threshold or close to it. The duration of the intervals can be anywhere between 3 and 10 minutes and the rest periods can vary from 1 to 5 minutes (1). How much you’re going to do is going to depend on your conditioning level before starting to use this method because, trust me, it’s pretty hard. So let’s say you’re anaerobic threshold is at 172 BPM (beat per minute), you’d want to maintain your heart rate around that level (+/- 5 BPM) for 3 to 10 minutes.
This is a pretty high intensity to maintain for a period of time that long, and although you’re never really supposed to feel like you can’t go anymore, you’ll always feel like you’re pretty close to that point, but it just stays in that very uncomfortable zone the whole time. It can definitely be mentally challenging, as you need to push yourself to keep going for the duration of the work period.
Personally I’ve found this training method to be pretty darn hard, but the results have been really noticeable when I play hockey. Give this method a shot if you’re looking at improving your conditioning level, you’ll be surprised at how effective it is!
(1) Jamieson J. (2009). Ultimate MMA Conditioning, pp 41-42.
I’m sure most of us have learned at some point how to read a nutritional label. Whether you’ve been taught by a nutritionist, a personal trainer/strength coach, a health teacher or if you just saw a segment on Good Morning America, I’m sure that you somehow know how to read one. Maybe you don’t remember what to look for, how much protein you need, how much fat is too much, or whatever else. And I will admit that it can be confusing to someone who doesn’t know a whole lot about nutrition. But whether you remember or not how to read a label, you might be focusing on the wrong things.
The first thing to know about nutritional labels is that if there is one, it’s usually not a good start.
Let me explain very simply…
Does meat usually have a label? Do fruits have labels? Do vegetables have labels?
I rest my case.
You see, most of the natural foods that you can either grow or hunt, are sold as is at the grocery store; no nice box, no colorful packages, no nutritional info….because you know what you get!
When you get foods that come in a box, or a wrapper you know that it’s (to different extents) usually processed food…or should I say food products. Because I’m not sure you’re great great grandfather would recognize this as being food:
As a general rule of thumb, if your great great grandparents wouldn’t recognize it as food, you shouldn’t eat it.
So, processed foods are bad. They’re usually lacking in any nutrients, they don’t fill you, they don’t provide you with any energy and they’re full of preservatives. Maybe I’m going to far, and I do realize that nothing as been proven to that extent, but maybe, just maybe those “food products” and their preservatives that have become the bulk of North Americans’ diets are the cause of all the health problems of our society….Hey, how many types of cancer existed before the big food companies started putting dozens of preservatives in everything we eat. This is a statement that’s not backed by any scientific research (as far as I know), but think about it for a second…
But that being said, there are some foods that will present with a label that won’t necessarily be bad for you. But instead of looking at the protein/carbs/fat content, I’d encourage you to look at the ingredient list before anything else. This is where you’ll know the quality of what you put in your mouth. The less ingredients the better. And the more ingredients you can recognize (real ingredients that is) the better, as well. Don’t be fooled by the claims that are being made on the products, or even by the protein/carbs/fat content, because even that can fool you.
If you look at the label of this sample protein bar, you might think that the protein/carbs/fat ratio is not too bad, and considering it’s a “protein bar” it’s probably a healthy choice. Well, think again. Read the list of ingredients and tell me you know all the ingredients in it! This is not a protein bar….it’s a candy bar with protein!
To make wise nutritional choices, you want to pick something with as little ingredients as possible in it, and with as many of them that you can recognize as being ‘real food’.
Eating healthy comes down to eating a lot of real, natural foods with a lot of nutrients and little to no preservatives. And the more you can avoid pre-made stuff, and prepare food yourself, the better off you’re going to be!
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It is time for another….you guessed it….Random thoughts post! Hopefully you enjoy these as much as I do! Let’s get started:
1. My friend and colleague Kevin Neeld posted on his YouTube channel 3 presentations of about 10 minutes each about hockey training; one on program design, one on speed training and one on conditioning. These were the 3 videos that he used to promote his book, which you needed to sign up for to get access to the videos. Now, you don’t even need to sign up for anything to watch these 3 awesome videos, as they are just one click away for you to see. Here’s the program design video, which I think is pretty cool:
2. Speaking of Kevin and his book, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you absolutely have to! For some reason, he hasn’t bumped the introduction price up yet. Let me remind you that this book highlights Kevin’s complete training system to building powerful and bulletproof hockey players. In fact, the principles in this book could very well apply to any athlete in any sports as well! Any book of that quality would usually price at over 80$, but Kevin is giving you Ultimate Hockey Training for less than 30$! Click HERE if you want to pick up a copy!
3. My own training for the last 6 weeks have been geared towards muscular endurance and aerobic training (probably not the type that you think) based on Joel Jamieson’s general endurance block from his book Ultimate MMA Conditioning. To say it is a nice change of pace would be an understatement. For the past 6 years, my whole training has basically been max strength and very low volumes of conditioning (always in the form of anaerobic intervals) and nothing else. My joints were kinda hating me recently and I was getting a little bored with my training, so I decided to give that general endurance thing a shot, you know, to mix things up and give my body a break. The lifting volume have been pretty low (but not necessarily easy)- hey, could have thought that doing DB chest press with 45′s could be so hard? Not me! And the conditioning volume has been pretty high for what I’m used to, but since I’m working my aerobic system I don’t feel like the intensity is killing me. The main difference I’ve noticed so far is my recovery improved drastically! I used to dread every training day because I always felt crushed from the previous one, but with this phase, even if I get pretty sore from some of that stuff, I pretty much always feel ready to go when I’m training. I also play hockey twice a week, and I noted a major recovery difference between my shifts; I pretty much feel like I can go just as hard every single shift, and it’s like that the whole game! I used to gas out after 3o minutes. I know I’m gonna need to go back to lifting heavy stuff soon, so I don’t loose too much strength, but I’m definitely going to use 8 weeks endurance blocks more often in the future.
4. As a big music fan, and having written entire blog posts about music to train to (if you missed it you can check ‘em out HERE and HERE), I feel like haven’t posted anything music related in a while. Here’s a little something to enjoy… As you may already know I’m growing more and more into a die-hard Foo Fighters fan, which is funny because I used to dislike this band a couple years ago. But the fact that they stuck with their original roots for almost 20 years, never became a foo-foo fake pop-rock band through the years like many rock bands do (huh humm…Nickelback), and because they totally kick ass in concert for almost 3 hours, I’ve become a huge fan. Here ‘s Bridges Burning, from their new album, which gets you want to smash someone in the head with a steel chair, a la Stone Cold Steve Austin:
And this next one, even though is not as high-energy, for some reason really gets me going! The band is called Chickenfoot, which is a band formed by Sammy Hagar, another guy from Van Halen and the drummer from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It has kind of an 80′s sound to it, which Coach Jorts can appreciate, but it definitely pumps me up:
5. Last but not least, I just got 2 spots that opened up on my online training clients schedule. So if you’re interested, read my ‘Services’ page to make sure you qualify and that it’s what you’re looking for, and drop me an email at the link at the bottom of the page! You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference a structured program can make, and how much faster you can reach your goals. I’ve worked with clients from all walks of life from pro athlete to completely out-of-shape 60 year-old women, so don’t be afraid and think it’s not for you! We’ll have to talk first, but chances are I can do something for you no matter what your training goal is.
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We can always try to find ways to get better at what we do, and in the fitness business it almost became a staple step in the process. Our field is in constant evolution, and if you don’t keep up you’ll end up being left behind.
You don’t want to get left behind like this guy….(how did I find a way to relate this to Alf?…go figure)
I’m constantly trying to get better, but there are always ways to do more. Which pops the question: What should I do?
Unlike Lebron James though, I’m gonna try and answer my own question. I do think there are things I could do to get better. Whether I don’t do these things (or not enough) because I don’t have enough time, not enough money or because I procrastinate too much, here’s a list of things I could do to become a better strength and conditioning coach and fitness professional:
1. Build a bigger network. I realize that it’s important to build a network of like-minded people in the business. These people can offer their guidance, you can exchange ideas on different subjects with them, get their perspectives on things or they can even put you in touch with new people. In 2012, with the help of the social networks, it makes things much easier to communicate and get in touch with new people. I do have a decent amount of facebook friends in the field, but I think I could definitely do a better job at keeping in touch with them and reach out to new people.
That might explain why I’m not more successful with Facebook
2. Attend more seminars. I already try go to about 2-3 seminars per year, but I feel like there’s room for improvement. But I’m usually confined by the ones that are within driving distance because of my restricted budget to travel. There are some live events that I would have liked to attend in the past that were either in the South or on the West Coast that I couldn’t go to because I didn’t have the money to travel there. Sometimes it only takes a little more planning and saving some money ahead of time to be able to get out there for seminars that are not available on the East Coast.
3. Visit other coaches’ facilities. This one is a little related to both of the last 2 points, and I will admit that I’m not really good at this one. I know that visiting other coaches and see how they do things, talking shop with them and just seeing things from a different perspective (because they live a different reality) can be huge in making yourself better at what you do. Most of the time there are always things you can pick up from another coach and incorporate in your own setting. I say it’s related to the last 2 points because it involves making new contacts AND traveling. This is probably the area I could improve the most. I’ve done it very sparingly in the past, but there is no reason why I couldn’t do it more; besides the cost of traveling, it doesn’t cost anything and you can spend hours exchanging on different subjects, compared to catching a quick hallway conversation with another coach at a crowded seminar.
4. Read more. I write this, not because I don’t read, but because there is always place for improvement. I actually read quite a bit, but there are just so many good resources out there, it’s hard to keep up! I was reading Mike Robertson’s post last week on his website about becoming successful in this business, and there is something that caught my attention. Mike was saying to stop reading blogs, and focus your energy on books and DVDs that you actually need to buy. He was saying that blog posts usually don’t go in-depth on any subject; people usually write blog posts to give their opinion on a given subject or just give a little bit of information about it (and I kinda realize that it’s usually what I do too with my blog). That being said, I probably won’t stop reading blog posts, (or writing them for that matter…sigh of relief: on go!) because they’re free, easy ad quick reads that can give you someone else’s perspective on a subject. I will try to use my time better to read books, and spent a little less time on blogs in the future, though.
Do these books count??
That’s what I think I can do to become a better strength and conditioning coach. But the question is:
What should YOU do?
Drop your ideas on how you can better in the comment box below!
Baseball is one of the sports that puts the most stress on your joints, especially if you’re a pitcher; the throwing shoulder is under tremendous stress. With the crazy velocities at which you throw a baseball, and with the volume of pitching that accumulates over the years, by the time a pitcher gets to the professional level, he probably has a lot of overuse damage to it (soft tissue restriction, ligament laxity, partial labral damage, etc).
Last Saturday I played in a fund raising dodge ball tournament in Philadelphia. Having not played dodge ball since middle school, and not being a natural thrower (my main sports growing up were hockey and basketball) made me a little worried about my dodge ball performance. As expected I sucked pretty bad, but at least I stole the show with my purple cobra entrance before every game…
A little less glorious when you get hit in the face 30 seconds later, though!
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, here it is: I was so freakin’ sore the next day it was unreal! My whole shoulder and arm, starting from the attachment of my rhomboids on my spine going all the down to my fingers, were as sore as I’ve ever been in my upper extremity. Rhomboids, levator scapula, rotator cuff, biceps, and all of my forearm muscles were completely smoked.
Is that a coincidence that these muscles all have fascial connections?
That just made me realize all the stiffness and soft-tissue restrictions that can build up in a baseball pitcher’s arm when he throws around 100 pitches every time is on the mound. Of course there are some adaptations taking place; the body becomes more efficient at it as you build up your arm strength, stamina and improve your technique, and you don’t get sore (like I did playing dodge ball) every outing. But it still makes you think about all the stress that the shoulder and arm are taking on a weekly basis. And when young baseball pitchers throw with their high school team in the spring, play summer league and fall ball on top of that, the accumulated stress on your arm builds up pretty fast.
That’s why taking care of your pitching arm, using injury prevention strategies, and having an smart (and planned) training program are going to be important factors in the longevity and durability of your arm over time. Soft-tissue work on the rhomboids, levator scapula, rotator cuff, biceps, and forearm muscles is going to be an important part of that ‘arm care’ program.
Try and not cry the first time you dig a lacrosse ball in your rotator cuff muscles
If I got stiff and extremely sore in these muscles by playing 6 games of dodge ball (realistically ~10 throws per game), I can guarantee you that any baseball pitcher will build up severe restrictions in those same muscles over time, whether they feel it or not.
Do your dedicated self soft-tissue work on a daily basis, go see a qualified active release therapist on a regularly (once a month, as a bare minimum- but College and professional players probably need more) and you’ll increase your chance of staying pain and injury free, and give yourself the best chance to perform at the highest level.
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We all know there are more than one line of thought in the fitness industry. Strength coaches and personal trainers argue a lot over what’s the best way to do things; everybody has his philosophy and his own training system. There are some things that are backed by science, others not so much, and some that are just good marketing tools.
Regardless of what your training system is and what you believe in, there are some things in common that smart, educated people believe in. Whether you’re a powerlifting guy, an Olympic lifting guy, a Poliquin guy, an injury prevention guy, or even a Crossfit guy, there is at least one thing everyone can agree on. If you put all of those people in the same room they might try to kill each other over what they don’t agree on. But one overlooked principle is actually crucial in making any training system efficient (or somewhat efficient), and that smart people in each camp preach by: form.
Exercise form is often overlooked when judging the efficiency of a training method or system. No matter which system you believe in, or even if you developed your own, I’m sure one of the things that make your system effective is the way the exercises are performed. Because after all, good movement is good movement. This is something that even the smart people in Crossfit would agree on. I don’t think ALL Crossfit advocates are stupid; I’m sure there are some smart people who believe in it. And I’m sure that those smart people are preaching good form on their lifts BEFORE trying to get the best time on a given circuit. There are many things I disagree with about the whole Crossfit thing, but if I was going to get in an argument with a smart Crossfit advocate, I would probably agree that there are some benefits to it when done the right way, with flawless form on every single rep.
Not exactly what I mean by “flawless form”
In the end, no matter what training system you believe in, the most important thing is ‘good movement’. You want your body to move the right way, and that is not something we can argue over. Integrity in the joints and in the basic movement patterns is what we’re after. Moving well and without compensation is the foundation of any athletic endeavor; you develop functional movement first, performance second and skills at last. Whatever you do, the quality of your movement will dictate the outcome; and the better you move, the easier it’s going to be to achieve high performance and athletic success with minimal risk of injuries.
I’m sure you can agree with me on that….
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As a strength and conditioning coach who works with a lot of teenagers, I am often asked by parents how much faster is their kid going to get by training with us. This seems to be one of the major concerns of a lot of parents who bring us their kid to train. It is mind boggling to me, mostly because the kids of the parents that come up to me to ask that kind of question are usually 13 or younger. Am I the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with that?!?
But regardless, I usually give a multifaceted answer to those parents. The points I’m trying to get across are:
- Despite what other sports training facilities might try to sell you, becoming lightening fast doesn’t happen in 6 weeks.
- At such a young age, there are a lot of things happening in a kid’s body. Getting faster will have a lot to do with the physiological development that happens when you’re a teenager. There are a lot of things happening in their body (hormones, growth spurt, etc) and these things will influence athletic development a lot. Before puberty though, you can’t expect drastic changes in a kid’s speed or strength. The changes you’ll see, even with good training, are going to be on a smaller scale until your kid hits puberty.
- Related to the last point, it’s important to realize that not all kids will hit puberty and develop at the same time. Because of that, you can’t expect your 4’8″ 12 year old son to be as fast on the field or on the ice as the one year older kids who are 5’6″ and hit their puberty earlier. Those are transition years; it’s hard, if not impossible, to compare kids to one another.
- Getting faster is about moving better (movement quality) and improving your strength to bodyweight ratio. Doing endless numbers of sprints and running the kids to the ground will not help them get faster. Improving the way you move is a process, just like improving strength. Overtime it will lay the foundations for your kid to truly become one the fastest and most dominant player on the field or on the ice. Just don’t expect that to happen overnight. It might take a couple of years…yes, I said a couple of YEARS.
- Consistency and hard work are going to be key to achieving athletic success. Just because you subscribed your kid to a sports training facility, doesn’t mean that results will magically happen. Your kid needs to be working hard and be dedicated to getting faster and achieving athletic success; and not just in the gym, in the practice of their sport(s) as well.
- Related to the last point, kids are kids. Internal motivation at a young age is not always very strong; a lot of it is going to be coming from the parents. Kids need to be supported and encouraged in what they do. That’s how they will develop that internal motivation to achieve their athletic goals, or whatever else it may be. Kids don’t need to be told “you’re not fast enough”, “you’re so slow compared to your teammates”, “are you even trying?”, etc. Positive reinforcement and encouragements will make your kid want to keep getting better, even in a period of transition when they happen to be smaller and slower than some other kids they play with. That’s when they need the support because they can become discouraged very quickly.
Speed, like athletic development in general, is a process. It’s important to see it as a long term project that you need to be working hard for throughout the years. Work hard, be consistent, don’t give up when you’re faced with obstacles, and most importantly BE PATIENT. This is a message that kids, AND especially parents must understand. Getting faster, or quicker, or stronger, or a better (insert sport) player takes time. Going to a sports training facility to achieve your athletic goals is a smart move because we are there to help, but it is NOT like going to the doctor for a sinus infection; there is no quick fix or magic pill. Parents need to understand that.
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