If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.
What are you trying to get from a training session? What is the appropriate tool for the job? I frequently find that the barbell is the go to tool for most people. Weightlifting here in America has found itself in resurgence thanks to Cross-fit really putting it in the spotlight with their WODs and Games. I honestly think this is an amazingly exciting thing.
I even think the barbell is an all-encompassing tool for achieving appropriate resistance. That being said is it the right tool? 9 times out of 10. No. No it is not. I love to lift heavy stuff. When I think about the anatomy of a training session what is my ultimate goal for client(s) and for myself.
You would be dead wrong.
MOBILITY is the correct answer.
1.) The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.
(minimum squat to 90 degrees)
Without mobility, you cannot truly develop great strength. If you can’t bend, move, accelerate and decelerate through a full range of motion then there is no reason to attach yourself to an object that:
1.) Limits range of motion. 2.) Requires great range of motion to be effective.
The barbell is your graduate degree. It comes from moving you, your own personal physique effiencently. In multi dimensional planes, under control, then and only then can you really consider yourself capable to move on to adding resistance, this is especially the case in a bilateral activity such as barbell training. So before you decide to go and grab a bar, load it up and then move poorly. Ask yourself. How are my push-ups? How are my pull-ups? How are my mountain climbers? How are my bodyweight squats? Is my full range of motion getting better? Am I capable of doing good squats to 90 degrees without pain, discomfort, or valgus collapse? If the answer is No, then choose what will make you better.
Be excellent at the simple things and everything else will fall into place.
(It’s a goal not a standard, always remember that)
When I opened Contemporary Athlete I had grand dreams (don’t worry, I still do!) of rows of amazing athletes of all ages doing agility drills, with fast moving feet; much like the fingers of a highly efficient stenographer banging away systematically. The uniform whirr of the wheels of ergometers churning away splits in a harmonious cacophony of acceleration and anguish. The cyclists, and tri-athletes; riding their trainers. The graceful yet mind tricking movement of men and women fluidly powerlifting impressive weights from the floor to overhead positions. This is the CA, this is the dream, and all dreams start on the foundation of a big multi-dimensional base…
(it all starts somewhere)
With that in mind, we live in a fast passed world. Our culture has a desire for instant gratification; and results, yesterday, not tomorrow, with little investment. Social media, fast food, email, smart phones, 5 – minute abs, 3 – minute glutes, perfect push-ups, and no minute guts.
Thursday night I started to teach the Snatch, to a group of 3. For the very first time since I opened almost 2 years ago. The snatch is one of the readily agreed upon 7 fundamental barbell movements for building speed and strength. Now this isn’t the first time I have taught this kind of movement by any means, but what it is, is the first time I have taught it to absolute novice athletes. Normally the situation is one of fixing or forwarding the effectiveness of the athlete. In this case, it is. “This is a barbell, now I am going to help you learn how to use it effectively.”
All we did was move the bar. In systematic and excruciatingly boring ways. Yes, they were sweaty, and probably tired, and likely sore and a bunch of other things you can call exercise. They weren’t hurt, confused, or operating in dangerous patterns all in the good old name of “getting your sweat on”.
(resistance is individual)
Which during my drive home last night I pondered on all of the stupid s*** I hear said and read constantly on memes when it comes to training and exercise. In the case of memes it’s usually emblazoned over a hard bodied, abs ripping, sweaty individual or an ass that potentially was carved by Michelangelo himself.
“Go hard, or go home”
“Engage your beast mode”
“Tears will get you sympathy, sweat will get you results”
“Train like a beast. Look like a beauty”
“When I’m dripping with sweat, I feel bad ass”
“The alternative to boredom is exercise, not food.”
“Keep squatting till your legs fall off”
“Sore Muscles, Happy Pain”
“Sore? Tired? Out of breath? Sweaty? Good. It’s Working.”
“Gonna run till I don’t Jiggle.”
This list goes on, but this should give you enough to start the ball rolling. The idea though, is to do a little more, a little better every consecutive time you train. As an athlete, sometimes in the search of “better” or “best” you might cross your threshold and end up with your head in a trash bin. This is NEVER the goal or idea. It’s a byproduct of testing your limits and if it happens 1:1000 times than your ratio is pretty good. For 95% (<- not a real statistic) of people this should NEVER ever happen though. ELITE is called that for a reason. It’s not EVERYBODY, that’s the point.
So while the new power-lifters work on their range of motion with PVC pipes and the Barbell. Looking for the perfect set up, and motion at a weight/limit that is appropriate for the journey toward excellence. They will get more flexible, and strong, and lean but it all boils down to training smart and efficiently. Which means don’t be a fool and buy into a phrase I recently heard and wish I could coin.
In the last 72 hours a lot has been going on in both my personal life and business life. What has been interesting is the thread of connection back to a place some 1,800 miles away and 10 years ago, I called home. I have been privileged enough to be part of a successful program and what I learned during it and my time at SMU has given me an edge on life, and business. In this I have been taking solace/escape in the trials and tribulations of my alma maters basketball team during their March madness run.
(surprising nobody has yelled at us yet for not warming up)
I wear a lot of college gear, (thanks to all of my collegiate athletes hooking me up with hoodies that I wear proudly). If you didn’t know though I am a proud pony. What that means is a bit different than most though. I am part of the Mustang Nation not just as an alumnus, but also as a letterman. I was fortunate enough to be part of a highly successful program, one that continues that success everyday. Being part of four championship teams I got to ride high. So watching your fellow athletes, train, study, train, eat, study, train, get hurt, get healthy, compete, and not be able to see them succeed is hard.
Rough days of training. Endless trampoline/dry board work, weight training when my body was already wrecked, the Nat, Eddie’s always good natured temperament, Jim’s constant push, dragging my a** to evening classes barely able to stand, studying with one eye open knowing I needed a nap but my course load didn’t care. Long trips across Texas in vans, competing on the road and knowing you have to go back to a mountain of work when it was all over, good or bad. These are the things fans don’t quite get. While I was there the “big” sports struggled while the rest of the teams were producing conference champions and championships, All-Americans, world-university games competitors, national team members, national champions, and Olympians.
(This was my world for a long time)
Yet some of the hardest days were standing in the student sections with all the other athletes from the other teams, and the rest of the school body watching yet another blowout on the gridiron or the court. Those were the hardest days as an athlete. Not the close loss but the ruthless beating. It wasn’t the coaches, athletes, facilities, it was just something that was off and it seemed nobody could figure it out.
With the NCAA non – decision for the tournament, you can say a lot of things. One way or another they didn’t make the field of 64. So be it. To the NIT they go, and watching them struggle and rally has been something all athletes no matter their colors understand. For me getting text messages from friends, teammates, family, with score updates while at work reminded me of so many great things but biggest of all some key lessons.
(Lets be clear, this sucks)
Being an athlete teaches you how to get knocked down and how to get up again. Learn from it, and to perform no matter what. How to manage your time, stay cool under pressure, multi-task, depend on others to do the same, risk big, fail often, and understand that all you can expect on any given day is to be average. You just have to make sure your average is better than everybody else.
So as schools both public and private, universities and grade/high schools look at their budgets and slash and burn sports (and the arts but thats for a different post). You forget that those things are what teach character, and at the end of the day, it’s the athlete that is going to stand naked in the thunderstorm with a metal rod in hand because if that’s what they have to do to get ahead then they are going to do it. They just want it more, and they might just do it to beat you.
The 22 point run SMU went on Tuesday night against Clemson in the second half to win and head to the final is a true testament to their character. It comes from years of being kicked when you’re down. To great teachers like Coach Brown, a supportive community, and the best thing that could have happened, was for them to not make the tournament, now they have something to prove, and that makes them dangerous.
(nothing like getting snowed in on the road)
On Thursday night in a packed Madison Square Garden in their final game of the season against Minnesota this show down will be epic. No matter how it unfolds every athlete that will be watching that game will feel both the pain of defeat and the joy of success; because at the root of it all, we just want to be there all over again.
Personally I’ll be in the second row, behind the goal with the rest of the Red and Blue.
Once upon a time on a beautiful spring night after getting out of work, a young, optimistic athlete’s world changed drastically.
A half-mile from his home, a driver who was trying to make a changing traffic light struck that persons vehicle doing about 50 mph.
The vehicle spun around a number of times and ended up facing in the direction of on-coming traffic. Fortunately the victim was wearing his seatbelt and in was in peak performance shape so he thought he might walk away from the accident unscathed.
Six weeks later after a number of medical visits, it was discovered the victim had broken three vertebrae in his spine and was lucky to be walking. The outcome was grim; sports were out of the question and lifting heavy was not to be done.
This devastating news sent the victim reeling out of control. Without sports, this athlete had lost his identity, was depressed, and was slowly drinking and eating himself to death. At the lowest point, he had packed on an extra 1/3 of bodyweight and was barely recognizable.
Does this sound like every world-class athletes comeback story?
Well it kind of is. It’s my story, and it’s the antithesis for
12-12 Reboot, Reform, Reclaim
Ten years ago, I was that person in the car accident and it closed a door to part of my life only to open a much greater one. At one point of time the scale read 225#, which doesn’t seem too bad until you realize my healthy weight range is between 160-170.
As I struggled to get back to the old version of myself, I learned some hard lessons. What it feels like to train as a severely de-conditioned athlete, how to eat smart, hydrate, and ultimately how to push yourself through those bad sessions/days/months. I came out of it a year later stronger, faster, and tougher than ever before.
I was able to “reboot” my own life and reclaim my health, so why couldn’t that same formula apply to others? We’re not talking about a quick fix, Band-Aid, infomercial BS sales pitch but an actual fix.
I started going through old notebooks full of training plans, and food journals, and diaries. The reboot program was born, and it is all about finding that person (possibly again), with a great support system, some solid guidance, and a realistic timeline.
I invite you to consider this journey to make a lasting and permanent change to your health and wellness.
(I wrote and posted this without Haley, Lauren, or any number of people who love to correct my grammar proofing it. So if you want to know what goes through my brain here ya go.) – Also sad fact Haley’s head might explode because of it… 😉
Hi there ninjas!!! So the word on the street is that today is my birthday (31). Which made me think about writing this entry. I hear a lot of people complain about their birthday, getting older, more health issues, yadda, yadda, yadda. I generally turn a furrowed brow.
Your birthday is this great opportunity. It’s when you came into this world, via any number of possible reasons or means. I personally like to think that it was snowing, thundering, and lightning all at the same time on my epic entrance but according to my parents that wasn’t the case. (I’m going with it though.)
So you can cry about being older and blah, blah, blah. Or you can train in any number of ways to make it the entrance into a better year of “racing”. So a few years ago I started the birthday challenge series, for myself. I train for it. I train hard, as it generally is something daunting, mildly stupid, and makes my parents generally laugh at me and ask if I need medication when I tell them what it is for that year. So I thought it would be a great time to do a little reflecting and throw out the birthday challenge for this year. Last year it was all based around entering my 30’s, by doing a lot of awesome stuff including ripping a 600 lbs. (DL) off the ground. I’ll tell you more about that though shortly.
Like my programs: part 1.
So what I have learned: 31 things
Or as I like to say “Smarter…?” (These are in no particular order)
1. Surround yourself with people way more awesome than you. (If you’re lucky, and damned lucky, you can hang onto their coat tails for a long time.)
2. Be a great friend (I struggle with this one. The CA consumes me.)
3. Smile! (It’s not hard and it will make you and anybody around you happy.)
4. Eat more cookies. (Seriously, as long as it’s not a whole sleeve of Oreos your good.)
5. Be a good son. (My parents are generally right, just don’t tell them I said that.)
6. Set crazy awesome goals, for yourself, and for others. (If they seem doable, you are being a wussy.)
7. Ask for help. You can’t do everything alone, and people make the journey better.
8. Be confident, even when your not. (If your not using it, you’re losing it.)
9. Listen, don’t talk, just LISTEN.
10. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable, that is how growth works.
11. Lift heavy sh*t. (Do it often, make it hard, and don’t worry what you look like in the mirror. If the bar is bending everybody is watching whether or not you want them to or not.)
12. Read, voraciously (<- that’s and SAT word, I learned it in a book 😉
13. Give, give until it hurts a little. It will come back to you, and it will make you happy.
14. Cry, it’s ok, really. (Just make sure you are muttering some words that make no sense. Then you can pass it off to yourself as being a moment of temporary insanity.)
15. If you use an elliptical. Stop they are stupid. Go run outside. There is sun, wind, rain, trees, real air, and occasionally pretty girls will pass you, make sure you smile! (Those things will make you happy)
16. Dark Beer, and IPA’s. (If I need to explain this your not of age yet.)
17. Cook and eat real food. (Stop running around like a crazy person and enjoy something simple like making something for yourself and others that keeps you alive.)
18. Dance. (I generally do it naked after I shower. If your going to make an a** out of yourself you might as well do it naked, it’s more fun that way.)
19. Buy the person next to you a coffee. Just because. (Thanks Heather)
20. Ask good questions. (Think before you speak)
21. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate (Thanks Coach!)
22. Own less stuff, things don’t make you happy, awesome people do.
23. Own less clothing and only that which fits. (I know I’m a little special but 100 articles.)
24. Wear a helmet. Yeah I said it. It protects your skull.
25. Plan one crazy trip, expensive or not; and then figure out how to make it happen.
26. Race. Why? Because it’s fun.
27. Figure out who your alter ego super hero is and channel that bada**.
28. Skinny jeans negate your war beard. (Also if you can fit into them do more squats.)
29. Tell people you love them. Just because; they need to hear it, and you need to say it. It’s a win win.
30. Lists. Why? Because they make you accountable to yourself. (I keep mine in my shoes. 5:56 has been at the top of mine for a long time. If you don’t know what that means buy me an IPA, I’ll explain it.)
31. High Five. (Your awesome, and anybody you touch is gonna be awesome, so make sure everybody can hear it. Also aim for the elbow, then you never miss.)
Birthday Challenge: 30 year-old Combine:
Last year: The concept, go big, then go home.
1 RM Push Press: 285#
3 minute push-up challenge: 127
1 RM Back Squat: 525#
1 RM Front Squat: 485#
1 RM Clean: 365#
1 RM Snatch: 265#
1 RM Deadlift: 600# –Boom slam dance
Sub: 6 minute 2k: 6:03 – Damn close but not there yet
Sub 19 minute 5k (Run): 18:57 – I am pretty sure part of my soul died on that one
So I passed solidly into my 30’s stronger and faster than I have ever been before.
This might be the scariest one yet for me. With being out of training for the last 7 weeks thanks to the good old Lyme’s. It seems a bit like climbing up the slide at the playground covered in baby oil. (This could make for a good Youtube video)
Erg for time: 31,000 meters: For time.
(Well I won’t die right now at least)
Lift heavy things, a lot.
(This legitimately scares me)
Combined weight: 31,000 lbs.
(It’s a little more but it makes the bars easier to load)
5 x Snatch @ 115
4 x Bent Row @ 135
3 x Push Press @ 185
2 x Back Squat @ 275
1 x Dead Lift @ 405
For time: or 31 minutes, which ever comes first.
A quick Follow up:
31k erg: 2:12.4
( I learned a lot about myself and how much I hate the color white that the walls are painted)
31K Club: 29:20
(got in in under the 31 minute mark but definitely had to channel my inner bada** to get it done.)
A little while ago, I was asked about fat bar grips, grip strength, and what to buy. As I have finally got back into my regular routine (albeit slowly), I immediately thought about this question. My answer was simple:
Start playing with your food.
As you might imagine, I got a rather questioning look in response.
Here is a really simple and inexpensive way to increase your strength on the cheap, and it’s highly effective: go buy yourself a 20 lbs bag of rice and a bucket. With these tools, you can break through any of your max-lifting plateaus. And, it only takes 5 minutes of work, as part of your warm up, everyday or every other day.
When lifting heavy, generally what fails on you are your small muscle groups; in this case, hands, wrists, and forearms, when it comes to deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and jerks.
Here are the basics:
With your hands, either individually, or together, claw your way to the bottom of the bucket. Reset your hands back to the top. Rinse and repeat.
Knead your way around the circle, both clockwise, and counter-clockwise.
The snowball. Take a handful of rice and pack it between your hands until all the grains no longer remain.
This is more for the shoulders, but treat your hand like a paddle and make big figure 8s in your bucket.
These are a few good starters, but essentially all you have to do is play. As long as your hands are moving and your fingers; you are doing the work.
In the health and fitness world, metabolic conditioning is a term used loosely and frequently. It is generally associated with Cross-Fit; intense workouts, derived from lifting heavy weights in great succession, racing against the clock, or against other athletes. Now in some cases this is true. I have also heard it used to describe a workout consisting of a series of time based work dictated by minimal rest. Another word I hear a lot is “Tabata.” Tabata consists of very quick bursts of work followed by very short amounts of rest, done cyclically, until exhaustion. Then, given a longer rest period to recover before beginning the next cycle. These are two very different workout styles, amongst many, within the metabolic conditioning realm. The truth is this current hip thing is really an old concept that has finally trickled down to the general public.
High intensity interval training, also known as (HIIT) is all the rage, but it is something all athletes have done, and probably done a lot of. It is generally best to balance the rush with the gush, and leave a little room to siphon off some of the workout steam generated -which is where athletes can really gather speed when not working on their aerobic capacity.
I would like to try to decipher this. A metabolic conditioning workout should be based on a desired outcome dictated by the level of fitness and ability of the individual doing such a workout this has been researched in depth by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning. The human body has several different methods of getting energy. In order to tap into those different energy systems, different ratios of work to rest must be implemented in order to cause adaptations in the body for a desired performance goal.
A desired goal to maximize efficiency of a particular energy system is usually the response one is looking for from the body; so the way the patterning of work and rest are structured makes that exercise “circuit” metabolic conditioning. For example, a person looking to “bulk up” should have a different amount of rest in relationship to work, than a person looking to become leaner or run farther. Structuring a workout where timing is disregarded and getting through it as quickly as possible is not nearly as effective for performance goals as a planned attack, with regimented work to rest ratios.
Here are the basics of Exercise Metabolism:
Everything we eat must be broken down into smaller things in order for the body to use them. This means of creating energy is known as metabolizing, and in layman’s terms is known as the metabolic system. There are three pathways that are primary to making this happen and each has their own place and purpose. By tapping into them correctly for performance or physical goals should be the idea behind writing the training circuit.
The Immediate System: (ATP-CP)
Think of this as explosive energy your Olympic lifting, sprinting, and jumping. Any exercise that takes less than 10 seconds to accomplish is utilizing this system. What is important is how long the work to rest ratio is. The exercise is so physically taxing that it can take roughly three to five minutes to fully recover.
The Intermediate System: (Anaerobic system)
It is used for shorter duration high intensity work such as your middle distance running (400-800 m) or swimming (100-200m) and your middle range weight lifting. This could be any exercise that takes anywhere from one to four minutes to complete. Depending on the ability of the athlete recovery time can take anywhere from one to three minutes.
The Long-Duration System: (Aerobic system)
This is your marathon running or century bike riding or 1500m swimmers or triathletes. The work is low to moderate in intensity and can go on forever as long as the athlete does not run out of energy (fat). The recovery for this kind of work is a mere seconds.
Now with those hard guidelines for energy usage detailed in the human body there is always crossover and interplay. No one energy system operates all by itself within exercise. The ratios at which they are called upon generally work in one primary system or another.
Developing the appropriate Met-Con Circuit:
The idea is to create efficiency for a specific energy system, one that will allow performance enhancement or physique. Also thanks to great amounts of research done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, this system creates increased EPOC. So the metabolism runs higher after a Met-Con session for a few hours.
Now once you figure out what it is that you are training for then you can really tailor your training program. The key factor for making this all work is your rest periods. Not enough rest you risk taking your anaerobic training session and turning it into an aerobic one. Too much rest and you leave your ATP-AC phase and create an anaerobic or even an aerobic workout. In order to make this really effective use large non-isolated actions. Start with bodyweight activity and remember when lifting weights to use proper form at all times and self regulate. If it doesn’t seem safe don’t do it, or find a facility or trainer that can help you learn those actions correctly and safely. Getting hurt training will not only ruin race day, it will put a huge chink in the armor of invincibility you once had. To remain competitive, it’s usually best to stay out of the ranks of the walking wounded. After all, health trumps strength any day! So stay healthy, and stay strong, with smart workouts!
Lately, I have been considering getting a part time job. It would give me more income to towards buying more/better equipment for the facility. (I like stuff, especially awesome stuff, and the kind of stuff that makes you more awesome!) It would also give me freedom to leave the facility, make some coin, and interact with other non-CA-going individuals.
Some job options I have considered:
1. Waiter/Bartender (Yep, been there done that)
2. Mailman (I generally have the middle of the day open. I look great in grey, too.)
3. Grocery Store Shelf-stocker (They work nights. And, I am really good at putting stuff away.)
4. Babysitter (Seriously, I have no idea why, but kids love me.)
5. Wal-Mart Greeter (It will help with my personal skills. And, I get a sweet vest!)
Then, it hit me like a ton of Palačinkes! (Swedish Pancakes filled with jam <- Epic. The only thing that could make them better is if they had bacon in there too!)
Here it is…
A part-time gig as Hans or Franz.
Here is why:
My dashing good looks (thanks mom and dad!), my calm cool demeanor, charming bedside manor, constant desire to have an awesome foreign accent, love for grey sweats, but, most importantly, I am pretty freaking good at deadlifts. If it’s heavy and on the ground, I can pick it up! (It’s a gift. lol)
In reality, I can’t afford to take time away from the CA, so a second job is out, but it does let me build on the idea of picking up heavy stuff. So, let’s talk about it:
Picking Up Heavy Stuff:
The deadlift is possibly my favorite exercise. There are many reasons for this. I am going to elaborate on why and then really delve into the technique of a deadlift and the reason we do so, so, so many of them here in the CA. (Other than my absolute love for them.)
Firstly, I think everybody loves to load up a bar and see what they can do. Seriously who doesn’t want to see the garden hoses (veins) come out and bar bend like crazy? Here are the reasons I LOVE (<- yup using the “L” word again.) the deadlift.
When doing the deadlift, you engage all of these muscles: deltoids (shoulders), pectoralis major (chest), latissimus dorsi (low back), trapezius (Upper back), bicep brachii (biceps), brachialis/ extensors (upper arm, forearms, grip), rectus abductus (abs), gluteus maximus, hamstrings, vastus lateralis, rectus femoris, vastus medialus, adductor longus, Sartorius… Let’s just say the legs as a whole. In a nutshell…everything. The deadlift works everything. (Also, it is difficult to read a magazine while deadlifting ;-))
The deadlift is pretty simple in theory: pick heavy weight off floor. However, I see them done wrong frequently. Doing a deadlift wrong generally leads to unnecessary strain on the lower back and ultimately injury. In minor cases, this injury leads to not being able to train for a couple of days. In more severe cases, major trauma, sometimes life altering, can occur.
It’s worth it to do a deadlift right. Here at the CA we work on doing them right all the time, and some of the technique we use cuts against the grain of traditional teaching on deadlift.
Firstly, prep the body to be ready to engage and pry the bar off of the floor. This all starts with setting the spine in neutral; but more importantly getting the right muscles to “turn on”. In order to set your stance, take your index finger and place it into your belly button. (Good news, we all have one. If your client/or you do not have one… Run. Run fast. Seriously, that person is an alien. They are probably going to try to harvest you for food.) Once you have located the belly button with your index finger, engage your abductors (stomach muscles) by extending it forward. When doing so the chest will rise and your posture should elongate (straighten).
While your stomach is engaged, align your hips into a posterior position to engage your lower back, and help you sit down into the deadlift, as opposed to bend over. This is first major mistake I see made when doing a neutral position deadlift: athletes bend and arch their back, collapsing their posture. (The Sumo style, or Romanian/straight leg deadlift work in different ways to be discussed in a later article). Sitting down into the set position allows for the shoulders to remain above the hips and for the arms to hang down naturally. This compresses the body in a similar fashion as the back squat and front squat, discussed in the previous article.
Next, (this is where the hate mail will begin, and the threats of endangering clients amongst other things I will hear from people) the head position should be to look up. This is how I teach it and want it done at the CA. Many trainers teach you to keep your head neutral to decrease strain on the neck and lumbar spine. There are some good reasons and benefits to looking up though.
Early on, I learned something really interesting by just being a kid… It was reinforced through athletics, and then there was this whole education and teaching thing: The body will go where the head will go. (Simple right? If you don’t believe me test it out. Go out in your yard or to a park. Run as fast as you can, then abruptly look left or right. Then tell me what happens. <- This is homework ;-))
Looking up helps engage muscles in your neck, which will allow muscles in your posterior chain to engage. When you look down, your back disengages and you “round out” allowing for unnecessary strain on your lower back, as this is where the load from the bar is now compressing.
By looking up, you also help keep the shoulders from rolling forward, a common mistake in heavy lifting. (This chain reaction – head up, shoulders back – is based in biomechanics and leverage.) When looking up it is also easier to keep the hips below the shoulders allowing for the vertical climb of the body: driving with the legs and not “lifting” with the muscles of the back. Finally, it keeps the shoulders from traveling too far forward and it will help you from getting stuck just above your knees.
As a nuts and bolts guy, I tend to do a lot of reading. That is the beginning of perfecting deadlift technique for the CA. Then, I look at who is at the top of the food chain and what they are doing. There are a number of lifters that “look up,” including the likes of Kirk Karwoski, Andy Bolton, and Ed Coan. (If you don’t know these names, take a trip to YouTube. Also make sure you put on some popcorn because you are going to watch some awesome stuff happen over and over again.)
Now here is the one thing I will say concerning neutral head position: moving the head from the “looking up” position back to a neutral at the top of the deadlift will help to lock out. Should you ever want to compete in the power lifting world, the last thing you want to have happen is to throw up a big number and then have it disqualified for not locking out at the top. This can happen if you continue to look up as you reach the apex of the lift, as sometimes the knees will remain bent.
In the last couple of weeks I have been collecting information from my youth and collegiate athletes regarding their strength and conditioning programs. Knowing their current training plan at school, I can build the structure for their training plan while they are at CA over break. Talking with all these student athletes revealed a new trend in the world of exercise and fitness that I have to comment on, because it debunks one of my favorite exercises: The Back Squat. (Cue the epic drum roll… Dun, dun, dunnn)
It seems that the back squat has become a dirty word in some schools; it is essentially banned in many of my student-athletes’ training facilities. The front squat has become the go-to lift. When I interrogated them about this, none of them seemed to have an answer to my persistent “why?!”. (This made me rather aggravated, because whenever they train at CA they generally want to know the “why” for every exercise and ask a fantastically annoying amount of questions. <-This is a good thing!)
Is this the new fitness trend?
Is this the groundwork for a war with the back squat?
For the love of all ninjas, I seriously hope not.
::Now, dragging my jump box to the front of the lecture hall to stand on. (These boxes are heavy!)::
In Defense of the Back Squat
As a foundational movement of the body, the squat is one of the most basic components of most athletic weight training programs. Debate on effectiveness of squatting techniques and variability of muscular engagement is frequent (and heated) between those with the PhD’s and us, nuts and bolts guys (and gals).
When you look at the hard scientific numbers behind different squat techniques, there isn’t a whole lot of difference. These numbers are based on electromyography (or EMG) activity. Whether it is the front, back, wide, narrow, partial, or full squat, there is minimal change in the muscle groups engaged.
Change in gluteus maximus (butt muscle) engagement is really only effected by squatting depth and stance width. The hip adductor (muscles of the hip, crazy you have muscles there right?) and vastus intermedialis (middle muscle of the thigh, yup the front of your leg isn’t just one muscle) activity can be increased using half squats and a wide stance, but this change is minimal. Often, the front squat is given preference over the back squat in order to decrease compressive knee forces.
So, yes, definitely do front squats, for the love of all things, PROTECT YOUR KNEES! I partially agree with the highly paid professionals in our university systems. (Note: This is said tongue in cheek. Most of them are underpaid in my general opinion.) However, simply erasing the back squat isn’t the answer. Let’s break it down.
The Front Squat
Deep front squat, heels flat, knees pushed out over the toes, elbows in line with the shoulders. Still inside of the knees. As you can see, I prefer using clean grip. This forces the athlete to firmly rest the bar in the crux of the shoulder and helps build confidence in a deep squat position for the catch phase of a floor “power” clean. (I also see a lot of rotator cuff inflexibility, so they try to hold the bar instead of support it. That is for another post though.)
I prefer the knees to flair out so as to increase development of the vastus lateralis (inner quad) through the drive phase of the squat, and to counteract valgus collapse (knee falling in) for those that suffer from that very fixable and over looked issue.
By placing the barbell across the shoulders, you load the front part of the body and force the body to pull forward. This increases knee flexion as the athlete descends into the squat. This puts greater load on the quads rather than the glutes. In addition, this requires the lower back and spine to remain engaged to prevent the upper body from falling forward and dropping the weight. All of this means that front squats are great for working on deep squats, stability, and core development.
The Back Squat
Deep back squat, heels flat on the floor, knees pushed out over the toes. Glutes close to the ground. The bar sits directly over the ankles; and the line created from the knee to the ankle is parallel to the line created from the shoulder to the hip.
By placing the bar on your back you load up the posterior half of the body. This creates a compressive force that causes the hamstrings, hip abductors, and glutes to engage in order to protect the vertebrae of the spinal column. Many people argue that the back squat will lead to back issues later on because of this large load on the spine. However, the spine is a pretty amazing thing. It can actually take huge amounts of compressive force, as long as you don’t compromise it by flexing or rotating it under load.
The real issue is this: any exercise can cause trauma, if done incorrectly. By maintaining a strong upright torso and not collapsing during the drive phase (bottom to the top), you ultimately can lift heavier weight over time because the spine is such a strong support. The back squat will also develop a hugely under appreciated power source: your butt. As some of my youngest athletes like to say, “There is nothing wrong with a big dump truck!” (<- This means butt.)
Note: To be clear, we do a lot of body weight squats at CA. My deep-rooted belief is that until they can move themselves; there is no reason to add resistance. This rule applies to adult athletes as well.
When front squats are used exclusively, I often see underdeveloped glutes and hamstrings and over developed quads, generally vastus medialis (outer quad). In women, this imbalance is far more prevalent as all women are quad dominant. (It’s that whole making babies thing. Yay biology!)
In my youth athletes, I frequently see front squats that aren’t deep enough for increased range of motion as their ankle flexion is not nearly good enough to develop good lifting posture and depth. Their core strength is not well developed, so they tend to dip forward from the upper torso to “get deeper”. This sacrifices the whole getting stronger thing that they are trying to work on. This dip also comes from trying to lift too much weight.
The back squat is my go to lift at CA when it comes to lower body development for both the posterior and the anterior. It increases flexibility, without demanding it. It balances development between the quads and the glute/hamstring system. And finally, it supports large loads, without damaging the spine. This means faster, more powerful, and more explosive athletes. It may mean you have more developed glutes, but there is nothing wrong with a big dump truck, right?
So, Sir Mix-A-Lot had it right… long live the back squat.
Here at Contemporary Athlete, the Kettlebell is used frequently not because of any growing trend or fad but because of its sheer versatility. I am a minimalist at heart so cluttering the most important thing the CA has, which is wide-open space makes me sad. So we swing them, lift them, push them, pull them, drag them, throw them, carry them, crawl with them, use them as door stops, on occasion even give them away as gifts.
One of my favorite quick, yet brutal, and results driven workouts is this kettlebell complex. If all I have is 30 minutes to fit my personal workout in that day in between groups and clients, and I want to get a great full body muscle screaming burn on and cover my aerobic conditioning this is almost always the first thing I reach for in my bag of tricks.
Here is how it works:
Work your way up to a kettlebell 1/3 your bodyweight
(Ex. 180 lbs. person – 60 lbs. KB)
Use a good low swing for double and single hand transitions so as you don’t break your swing rhythm as you work through the complex.
10 x reps of each stage:
Two handed swing
Single arm swing (Left side)
Single arm swing (Right side)
Single arm rack (Left Side)
Single arm rack (Right Side)
Single arm Snatch (Left side)
Single arm Snatch (Right side)
Single arm Rack (Left Side)
Single arm rack (Right Side)
Single arm swing (Left side)
Single arm swing (Right side)
Two handed swing
Rest half the time it takes to do the full sequence. I personally like to pair it with an abdominal exercise. As I generally consider abs a good place to get in active rest.
The Goal is 5 full cycles in less than 30 minutes. Start with 3 cycles
Build up to it and be smart! Hurt athletes do not compete very well. Know your limits and Swing on Ninjas!