Believe it or not, Christmas is already less than 2 week away! Crazy isn’t it?! But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy about it; au contraire! Christmas is by far my favorite time of year because I usually get some time off from work and that allows me to spend some time with my family and friends. The only problem with Christmas is that I always end up being late on Christmas shopping and finding presents for my loved ones. That being said, if you have a fitness or strength and conditioning enthusiast in your life, here’s a couple of gift ideas that are well worth it if you ask me!
Hearte Rate Monitor
With what the research tells us about heart rate variability (HRV) and the feedback our heart rate can give us about our training, intensity, recovery, etc. it only makes sense to keep track of your heart rate. Most monitors are very convenient to use and not very expensive (you can get a really good one for less than 100$!). I recommend the Polar RS-100. If you’re looking for the best quality/price ratio, you can’t get much better than that one. Also, with Joel Jamieson’s new HRV product coming out soon, it will be 100% compatible with the RS-100, so you’re killing 2 birds with one stone! Ultimate Hockey Training
Kevin Neeld’s new book is a great gift idea for any hockey player, parent or coach. It highlights every component of a hockey player development from the youth level to the professional level as well as going into details on the training program itself and all that should be included (foam rolling, warm up, strength and power work, conditioning, etc). It really is the most complete hockey development resource out there, and very up-to-date as well (compared to other hockey training resources I’ve read before). I’ve been spreading the word about Kevin’s book for the last 2 months for a reason. And for less than 30$, it makes for a very cheap gift idea! You can get Ultimate Hockey Training HERE.
Metabolic Cooking Cookbook
It’s no big news that nutrition is a HUGE part of the results you get from your training. Who says nutrition also says planning. If you don’t plan your meals ahead you’re setting yourself up for failure. Period. Metabolic Cooking is a great, healthy cookbook with over 250 delicious recipes that will help you achieve your health and performance goals. You’ll be taking a huge step toward planning your meals better with this resource, as there is also different sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks! For less than 50$, it was way worth it to me, and I’m sure it’ll be for you as well!
Show and Go
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’m a big fan of Show and Go, as I tried it myself and gained almost 15 pounds of muscle while boosting my Deadlift and my Bench Press by 20-30 pounds; all of this in less than 4 months! It’s the best system out there of any non-athlete gym enthusiast who wants to pack on muscle, gain strength and lose bodyfat. You get a 16-week program based on your goals and the number of times per week you hit the gym. And on top of that you have full video support for all the exercises that are included in the program and Eric throws a bunch of cool bonuses with it. It takes the guess work out of writing your own program and quite frankly, the results speak for themselves. It’s the perfect gift for the fitness enthusiast in your life!
Doing soft-tissue work is now widely accepted as part of a complete training program. I’ve raved about the benefits of foam rolling and other similar tools to promote tissue quality. A foam roller doesn’t work quite as well on the upper body as it does on the lower body, though. The theracane massager is probably the best “upper body” tool I’ve come across for soft-tissue work. I own one and I have to say that it works wonders on areas like the pecs, upper traps, rhomboids as well as the posterior neck muscles. It’s the next best thing to getting a massage! Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training
This last gift idea might be more for people who are serious about strength and conditioning and are looking for a great continuing education resource. Charlie Weingroff has a way of explaining things and giving people a different perspective on things that will make every penny you spend on this DVD set worth it. I’m not going to lie though, it’s not for everyone. The material on the DVDs is pretty advanced stuff, and I’ll even admit that I was scratching my head a couple of times while watching Charlie speaks. But it makes for a great Christmas present for any up-and-comer strength and conditioning coach; and trust me, they will appreciate it (it was my Christmas present last year, and I certainly did!). You ca get Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training on Charlie’s website HERE.
Buuuuuut, the best Christmas present of them all remains a subscription to DavidLasnier.com’s newsletter! And the best part is that it’s totally FREE!!! All you have to do is enter the contact info below, and you’ll even get 3 FREE reports on sports performance training!
There are 2 coaching cues that I’ve become more aware of lately that slipped under my radar for quite some time. I didn’t realize the importance they had on efficient movement patterns and how they could impact they way the athlete moves.
1- Neck position. By reading Weingroff’s stuff as well as watching his DVD set and seeing him speak, this is a big take home that I got from his message: you need to coach neck position. It is part of the spine and has an important impact on inner core function. This is something I feel like too many coaches would say “why the hell does it matter? It’s not a big deal”. Well, in fact, IT IS a big deal! When you deadlift, when you do chin ups, when you do lunges, and when you do any core exercises, the position of your neck affects how your whole body will react. The goal is to get efficient at joint centration and therefore the body can maximize stability and power production. The joint centration concept that Weingroff tallks about refers to your joints being in “optimal”, neutral and stable positions for the body to function and move as efficiently as possible. The position of the neck is a big part of this joint centration concept. Look carefully at your athletes and clients next time they lift; most of them naturally tend to compensate by reaching with their neck in many different positions. Coaching athletes and clients to pack in their neck is of utmost importance and I’ve been guilty of overlooking this coaching cue for way too long. I realize now it is as important as keeping a neutral spine, or keeping your shoulder blades back, etc.
2- Breathing. We’ve all heard this before at some point in our lives: while lifting, you want to inhale on the eccentric phase and exhale on the concentric phase of any given movement. Many of us have ditched this concept because we know that it is far from optimal when trying to move big weights and it is pretty inefficient strategy to create stability. Although I still believe this last theory, I’ve been more aware of the importance of breathing and how it affects your body, just not in the old fashion exhale while you push way. After taking the postural respiration home study course from the Postural Restoration Institute this past weekend, I realize how important breathing patterns really are.
It affects the position of your spine, your thorax and your ribs on both sides. Most people have ribs flaring out on the left side and are not very efficient at using their right diaphragm (more on this in an upcoming blog post); because of that the whole orientation of the spine, the thorax and the ribs are affected; which in turn affect neck and shoulder muscle function. Without going into too much details right now, breathing really does have a profound effect on how we move and position our body. I’m still not going to tell my athletes to exhale on the way up on a heavy set of deadlift because they need stiffness, which they couldn’t get that way, but there are ways to incorporate breathing patterns into training. Coaching effective breathing patterns is another often overlooked coaching cue that deserve more attention than it has had recently.
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After my blog post from last week on the Bench Press Alternatives for Bum Shoulders, I thought it might be a good idea to do the same kind of post on the knees. Let’s face it, the knee is probably one of the most troublesome joints in the body, especially amongst athletes. Before we delve into the squat and lunge alternatives for your bum knees, I’ll mention the same thing I mentioned in my bench press post; before getting started with any of these exercises, if you have pain, you need to consult a qualified professional and get assessed. You need to clear out any underlying issues that might aggravate your problem before getting started. And also makes sure when you try one of these exercises that you can perform them totally pain-free, because as you probably know by now, pain equals irritation, and irritation equals your knee not getting better. Now that we got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the good stuff!
- Sled Drags and Prowler Push. The sled drag might be one of the most knee-friendly alternatives to heavy squat and lunges. Most knee pains occur at a significant amount of knee flexion (read: when the knee is bent close to 90°). Sled drags and Prowler pushes (with a high grip) involve a lot less knee flexion than any squat variation. The other advantage the Sled drag and Prowler push have is that they don’t have an eccentric action; it’s mostly concentric actions as you keep moving forward and driving your feet into the ground. You really have no forces to decelerate. For some people with knee pain, eccentric contractions may be more painful. And even if it’s not the case, it still put less stress on your joints.
- Deadlift variations. Posterior chain exercises can usually be done pain-free because they involve less knee flexion and they put most of the stress on the posterior chain (hamstring, glutes, lumbar erectors). If you’re going to use deadlift variations, depending on how bad your knees hurt, you might want to start with more straight-legs variations. The first one to try is definitely the SLDL (Stiff-Leg Deadlift) because it involves almost no knee flexion at all:
Then you can move to Rack Pulls, which involve a little more knee flexion (depending on where you set up the pins):
And if your knees allow more flexion without pain, you can try and pull from the floor, either with a straight bar or with a trap bar:
- Box Squat. This is an option for when your knees start to feel better. The box squat is a great option because, even if it’s technically a quad dominant exercise (also means more stressful on the knees), the goal is to sit as far back as possible on the box. The result is that it shifts your weight posteriorly to make it less knee dominant. Charlie Weingroff went into great detail in his DVDs Training = Rehab, Rehab = Training about how the box squat keeps you more in a vertical shin position, and therefore it puts less stress on your knees. Everybody that has been dealing with some sort of knee pain and want to reintroduce the squat in their training should re-learn to squat with (at least somewhat of) a vertical shin:
- Split Squat Isometric Holds. These are not much of a typical strength training option, but it can be a great addition to your training for different reasons; single-leg endurance, conditioning purposes, etc. So if you can tolerate some knee flexion, holding an isometric position for time usually doesn’t irritate the knees.
Split Squat Holds can be very versatile, and if you get creative like Kevin Neeld (seriously, he’s sooo smart) you can use them this way:
Having pain and injuries is probably the most frustrating thing in the world for athletes and weekend warriors alike. The last thing you want is be reminded constantly of the things you can’t do; that’s why it’s important to find alternatives and focus on what the athlete actually CAN do! As my colleague Eric Cressey puts it: ” you want to feel like an athlete, not like a patient”.
The neck is a very particular area on the human body. In athletic development, we pay little to no attention to neck training. Some sports like football and wrestling will sometimes devote time to neck training, but that is pretty much it. And the way they do it is usually not only far from optimal, it’s just flat out dangerous. But I digress, as this could be an entirely different blog post. The truth is, even if we don’t train it specifically, the neck muscles still receive stimuli from conventional strength training. At the same time, I feel strength coaches and trainers alike (me included) do not know nearly enough about how the neck works, how we should deal with it and when we should refer out. Because let’s face it: the neck is a very sensitive area (with the numerous muscles and nerves that pass through it) that should be handled with care at all time.
I watched Charlie Weingroff‘s Training = Rehab DVD set over the last week, and I must say before anything else that it is an incredible resource for any physical therapist, strength coach or trainer out there. Throughout his presentation, Charlie highlights the importance of taking the neck into consideration in training, as well as in rehab, no matter what you are addressing.
Here are a couple of things you should know when dealing with the neck. But before I go any further, the most important thing to remember about the neck is that if you’re a coach or trainer and are dealing with a neck dysfunction or neck pain in a client, REFER OUT! We are not qualified for this type of work by any means, we shouldn’t deal with that.
1. The neck muscles, especially the deep neck flexors are a very important, yet totally forgotten, part of the core. The deep neck flexors are part of the inner core, with the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the TVA and the multifidus.
Deep Neck Flexors
If you’re not familiar with the inner core, make sure you check out my blog post I wrote a while ago (The Inner Core). The inner core muscles are very important spine stabilizers, and so are the deep neck flexors. A tucked chin or neutral cervical position will always make your spine more stable because it prevents unwanted cervical movement during heavy lifting. Also, the neutral cervical position that the deep neck flexors are able to maintain are going to have a big impact further down the spine; which leads me to my next point.
2. The position of the cervical spine can influence what happens at the lumbar spine. When you create extension at the cervical spine, you have more chances to create extension at the lumbar spine, which we try to avoid when we use heavy loads because of all the shear forces that are going to be applied to the spine. When deadlifting for example, starting with the neck extended (when your eyes are looking straight ahead) will put a lot more stress on the cervical spine, and on top of that, it will increase the extension shear forces on the lumbar spine.
Cervical Hyperextension = Big No No
This happens for 2 reasons; for one, as I mentioned earlier, the deep neck flexors are part of the inner core, and the inner core needs to be activated to optimally stabilize the spine. If you’re looking up, the deep flexors are not activated and the inner core will not stabilize as efficiently. Second, the cervical and lumbar segments of the spine are both inwardly curved (“lordotic”), which causes them to react similarly; if one goes into extension, more often than not, the other one will try to get into extension as well.
3. Coaching and cueing neck position during training is very important. If you’ve read the 2 last points, this might seem pretty obvious, but we want to keep a tucked and neutral chin during everything we do in training.
This might seem a little retarded, but it really is the optimal neck position to lift with!
When you start noticing the position of your neck and the ones of your athletes during a training session, you’ll realize that the neck tends to go in a less than desirable position (read: too much extension) with many, and I mean MANY exercises: lunges, squats, deadlifts, seated rowing, chin ups, push ups and almost every core exercise possible! You will honestly be shocked at how much people go into an extended neck position on so many exercises, and most of the time they don’t even notice it. Notice how much more difficult a simple plank is when you force your chin to stay tucked back.
4. The tucked chin position facilitates efficient breathing. Being aware of the importance of efficient breathing has been a topic that has grown in importance among the strength and conditioning community lately. Breathing through your belly instead of through your chest improves diaphragm function and puts less stress on the already overactive neck muscles scalenes and sternocleidomastoid. Many coaches try to cue breathing through different techniques and exercises to reinforce good breathing patterns. But the truth is that when you get in a tucked chin position, with your neck packed back, you don’t even need to cue anything; it just happens. If you’re not convinced, try it yourself: stand up, get our head in a forward position (chin protruded), put one hand on your chest, one hand on your belly and try to take a deep breath. Now do the exact same thing, but with your chin in a tucked back position (as in the picture above) and take a deep breath. You’ll notice that, when in a tucked back position, without even thinking about it you’ll breathe through your belly much more easily. So instead of cueing breathing techniques, why not just cue good neck position?