In today's "Information Age" one can and will feel overwhelmed by the vast amounts of knowledge and differing opinions that is available to you in newspapers, magazines, and the internet. Now I realize this might seem a bit hypocritical seeing as intellectual fitness is part of this information machine, but our chosen role in this machine is to properly inform individuals on correct and effective ways to train as we state on our home page we believe in practical, purposeful, and effective methods. While realizing how much information is out there about proper exercise programming and how easy it is for an individual looking for effective methods of training to get caught up in complicated set and repetition schemes and orthopedically unsafe workouts. The truth to the question on proper programming is any program that offers progressive overload to stimulate further progress done with proper technique and intensity will produce results.
So before an individual can concern themselves with any of these complicated set and rep schemes or barbell squats on a stability ball (a bit much don't you think). One must have a proper foundation for there program and the foundation of every program is the repetitions performed meaning if one is using bad form on repetition then the whole program is useless. There are five coaching points we use at intellectual fitness to insure that what we call the "Perfect Repetitions" is performed. These five coaching points are minimizing momentum, pause when the muscle is fully contracted, emphasize the lowering portion of the repetition, body position and leverage, and maintain constant tension on the muscle through proper range of motion. The purpose of a repetition is to place a stimulus on the muscle that will elicit fatigue by focusing on these five points you will achieve the intended purpose of the repetition.
1. Minimize Momentum
Moving a weight too quickly will result in the weight gaining speed and eventually moving on its own removing the stress placed on the muscle. This will make the exercise easier and increase the likelihood of an injury to occur both of which are things an individual should try to avoid while training. One must take great care in the execution of the exercise placing emphasis on raising and lowering the weight in a slow and controlled manner. This does not assume that the will never me a moment when one tries to lift the weight will all out effort because as the exercise continues through the strength curve, which is the varying amount of maximal force the muscle is capable of producing in relation to the angle of the joint the muscle is attached to, the muscle will fatigue to the point where the force applied is not much more than the resistance it is overcoming. At this point any attempt to push or explode through this point will result in the weight continuing to move at the same speed. This means that one must hold back on force output at the beginning of the set, but as the set continues and the muscle fatigues the repetitions will be performed will greater effort while the speed of the motion does not increase until the effort is maximum and the movement is very slow to non-exsistent. These events follow the Size Principle of Muscle Recruitment which states it is the INTENT to raise the weight fast that is the key to activating fast-twitch fibers and developing explosive power. Not that the weight is ever actually moving at a high rate of speed. If the weight can be moved fast than it is not heavy enough to stimulate maximum power and strength gains. So when practiced a weight should be lifted in at least one to two seconds any thing faster means the weight is being thrown and throwing weight around does nothing to improve strength or power.
2. Pause When the Muscle is at a Point of Full Muscular Contraction
Once one has raised the weight in a slow controlled manner in a effort to minimize momentum thus making the repetition harder and safer the individual should pause for at least a count of one in the fully contracted position or top of the exercise. This serves two purposes first it insures that there is little to no momentum in the exercise second it proves to the coach that the weight was lifted in to position and not thrown there. This technique is also called peak contraction and is a form of an isometric contraction and since it is important to work all three types of a contraction to completely fatigue the muscle it is important to make sure and practice this isometric position which will make the lift more effective and efficient.
3. Emphasize the Lowering or Concentric Phase of the Repetition.
Lifting the weight is usually what most individuals feel is equal to one repetition however this is completely incorrect. The lifting or concentric portion of the rep is only half of the actual repetition. The second half of the repetition is the lower or eccentric portion of the repetition which is also the portion of the repetition we at intellectual fitness place great emphasis on because if properly used this eccentric portion can be used to make the biggest gains in strength and size. During the eccentric portion of the repetition your muscle is able to actually hold a load that is 40% greater than the load it can lift the reason for this is not truly understood all though the best explanation we have used to explain is that because there is less friction between the myosin and actin filaments than during the concentric portion do to the filaments sliding against each other which though this friction is very small it still creates added resistance so when it is removed as it is during the lowering phase of the repetition the strength of the muscle increases greatly. But the problem arises then how do you apply a greater load during the lower portion of the repetition when you are originally limited by the much weaker concentric portion of the repetition. This problem can be solved in to ways one you have a spotter add weight to the load before you begin to lower it, this isn't really practical and takes extra time which makes it inefficient, or you can increase the length of time the muscle is under the load. The latter of the two options is the most practical and is what we recommend at intellectual fitness. Thus we emphasize that the lowering portion should take any from 3-5secs to lower it any thing faster is dropping the weight again making the exercise easier and more dangerous.
4. Be Aware of Body Position and Leverage
In any exercise one can improve their leverage in an effort to make the lift easier, but in turn this makes the lift less productive. So remember with the right leverage one could lift the world. Remember that the point of a repetition is to place a stimulus on the muscle that will produce fatigue. So an individual should position their body in such a way that the leverage creates the most difficult but allows for the greatest range of motion within both safety and comfort.
5. Constant Tension
This coaching point is one that seperates the most skill trainees from the beginners. When one performs an exercise the muscle should be forced to work throughout the entire range of motion under a constant load. This isn't usually the case when most trainees lose their concentration on the rep and focus more on the completion of the set so they seek some moment of comfortablity by resting part way through the rep or bouncing the weight off of the rack. One should make the greatest effort to keep constant tension on the muscle through as many repetitions possible although we do understand there are moments in a set when you need a short pit stop to gain the strength to finish those last couple reps of the sets. This allows you to fatigue your muscle more efficiently and effectively.
If all of the above coaching points are followed you will have performed a Perfect Repetition. The final point we want to make is that one should focus on rep replication meaning that one repetition should not differ from the next and every repetition is the most important rep. If all these points are followed the foundation of your program will be effective thus translating to progress no matter what kind of fancy programing you employ. So instead of searching for the newest latest training scheme take a step back and re-assess your foundation: The Repetition!
Grip is often a much discussed topic when it comes to various exercise techniques. I tend not to get to caught up in it myself especially coaching clients. I mean when I am just beginning to teach an individual how to properly press or row I am usually more concerned with teaching them the foundations of the overall movement, such as maintaining proper scapula position at the top of a row, while keeping a packed neck, and avoiding humeral extension rather than what particular grip their using. I often here claims from a wide variety of individuals including other fitness professionals about how using this particular grip on an exercise versus the other grip activates such and such more percentage of this and this part of a muscle. Now while studies have shown that foot placement, angle of the movement, and hand position can all affect percentages of recruited muscle fibers in a given area I think for the most part individuals and coaches would be better off insuring the movement as a whole is perfected before starting to add variations in an effort to get more muscle fiber recruitment in a certain area.
I do however have one particular area of my programming in which I do get very specific about which grip is to be used and this is with the majority of pressing movements. I prefer that my clients do a good amount of their initial pressing movement with neutral hand positions. This is what I refer to as the position between a supinated wrist and a pronated wrist where the palms face inward toward one another. I sometimes allow my more experienced clients to use a hybrid position where the wrist is pronated to about a 45 degree angle to the contact of stability (this is what I refer to as the bench or ground depending on your orientation to gravity and the exercise being performed). Just about every client I have programmed for has asked me why I prescribe this hand position over the much more popular and more frequently practiced pronated grip (palm is facing away from you). The initial question asked every time is "does this work a different part of my muscle". Now while changing hand position will shift the percentage of muscle fibers recruited within the stimulated muscle, I often don't share that with them because I do not want them getting into a mindset that they need to do 6sets of a pressing motion all with various hand positions in order to sculpt the most beautiful well rounded muscular physique. I mean come on last time I checked your goal sheet you didn't put down that you want to be the next Mr. Olympia. While grip variations and angle adjustments are great for a change of pace for most of my clients I want their focus on the holistic movement not what part of their muscle is being innervated. So normally I lie to them (its for your own good people don't hate). I tell them no it is not because it works a different muscle or part of a muscle, the reason I have you use that hand position is because it will end up saving years of wear and tear from being piled on to your shoulders. So let me explain my explanation a little further so everyone understands why a neutral grip hand position is more beneficial to shoulder health than a pronated grip hand position.
Now I know I have made the focus of this post the differences in hand positions but let me let you in on a little secret really I could care less where an individuals hand is position during a pressing movement. What I really care about is the degree of the angle of abduction from the elbow to the side of the body. You see the further the arm moves away from the body the greater the degree of external rotation in the shoulder. When the shoulder is forced to maintain a high degree of external rotation for a long period such as during a set of the bench press with the arm abducted from the side of the body more than 45 degrees it places much stress on your rotator cuff to stabilize the head of the humerus in its very shallow socket on the glenoid. Now add increased load to that position such as two 45 pound plates in the bottom position of the bench press and you have a bad situation for any body lacking proper strength in the rotator cuff (which is a large amount of the General Population Clients I see). Due to this situation I find myself being very particular about what angle my clients abduct their arm from their side to perform a pressing movement.
You are probably think but wait you were just talking about hand positions and now you have jumped to the angle at which the arm is abducted aren't those two different factors that play a role in exercise technique. Well yes they are two separate factor that are not directly related. You can maintain pronated grip with keeping the angle of arm abduction in a press very small, such as during a close-grip bench press. But what I have found is that during dumbbell pressing movements whether they be horizontal or vertical when I cue my clients to use a neutral grip they automatically assume a preferable angle of abduction which I place somewhere less than or equal to forty five degrees. Now when we are talking barbell variations of pressing movements a better cue is to adjust the grip width to allow the elbows to get to a preferred angle of abduction.
Anyway the take home message here is that I find a neutral grip when performing dumbbell variations and narrow grip width when performing barbell variations to be more shoulder friendly because it allows for a more preferred angle of abduction between the arm and the rest of the body. This smaller angle places the shoulder in less external rotation and places less stress on the small tiny rotator cuff muscles that your shoulder joint relies on heavily to maintain the humeral head in a stable position against the glenoid. So for the majority of pressing movements I would recommend a neutral hand position. Use a pronated grips sparingly and accordingly.
I really enjoyed listening to this I am sure you will too.
Sorry about not getting an "Exercise of the Week" out last week. The fall school semester started for me and I was focused on getting my routine set, "getting a good start on things", and trying to nail down scheduled time to work on the site. I have got everything where I want it for now so shouldn't have any problems with being regular with this particular series of installments. I was planning on writing this post later this evening, but what often happens I had a client cancel on me last minute, so I decided to seize the opportunity and take the next 20-45mins to bang out this week's "Exercise of the Week".
For the most part this series has consisted of nothing except strength training exercises. Now while I have a pretty extensive library of my own regarding this category of exercises I had felt this was a category that a lot of individuals were lacking variety in and could use some help expanding their existing collection. But as I was so kindly made aware of by one of my clients is that people need more help figuring out what they should be starting their training sessions with. I thought this was a great point and felt like an idiot for not thinking of it before hand. I mean I hammer away the idea that every training session should begin with a proper warm-up, yet I have not shared a single exercise suited for warm-up purposes. So I've decided to share over the next few weeks exercises that fit perfectly into a warm-up routine.
I personally believe a warm-up should do three important things. 1) it should activate and innervate the muscles that will be worked in the proceeding training session 2) it should mobilize the muscles by taking the fibers through their entire range of motion both contracting and lengthening 3) it should prepare one for movement, preferably specific to the movements that you will be performing in the proceeding training session. I take these three characteristics of a proper warm-up and use them to categorize my warm-up exercises into three categories. Mobilization exercises, Activation exercises, and movement specific exercises. I will be sharing this week's exercise from the mobilization category.
This week's "Exercise of the Week" is the split stance adductor mobilization exercise. I just happened up this exercise within the past two months since then it has become a staple exercise in my very own program as well as has been added to a number of my clients AMMP. I love this exercise for a number of reasons 1) it does a fantastic job at stretching the adductor group in a way that many have not experienced 2) it incorporates a hip flexion and extension and personally I think the more I can have my clients work on hip motion the better they will become at it.
To perform the Split Stance Adductor Mobilization one will assume a position on all fours with the hands directly beneath the shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. From this position the individual will pick a leg to begin the exercise. Once you have picked your working leg you will extend the leg from its resting ninety degree angle to a straight one hundred and eighty degrees straight out to the side of your body. Your hip and foot will create a straight line that is perpendicular to the rest of your body's position. Once you have assumed this split stance you will begin by sitting your hips back to the heel of the leg that is still positioned at a ninety degree angle below your opposite hip. As you do this you should feel a stretch up the inside on your leg. Once you have reached your full range of motion you will extend the hips back to their starting position and repeat for repetitions. Below are videos of me detailing the exercise from a side and back view.
- 3x per week, full-body, is a solid approach for most people
- Throw in a day (or two) of interval based training and you’re golden.
- Please don’t skip your soft tissue or mobility work.
- Walking shouldn’t be considered exercise. It’s called life.
- How much weight should you use? If you can easily hit all your reps, bump the weight up 5-10 lbs. It’s not rocket science. And for all the ladies out there no, you won’t get big a bulky. Stop thinking you’re going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger in a week.
- Just to mix it up a bit, save “bench day” for any day other than Monday. Trust me, the world won’t end.
- Training sessions should be no longer than 45-60 minutes
- The bulk of your exercises should be barbell and dumbbell based.
- If you can’t perform at least five bodyweight chin-ups (man or woman), you have no business performing 46 sets of bicep curls.
- Do some push-ups (or TRX rows) instead.
- Focus on compound movements that force you to integrate the entire body: squat, deadlift, chin-ups, bench press, military press, lunge variation, row, etc.
- Step away from the Smith machine.
- Stress QUALITY over quantity.
I had a great conversation with one of my few morning clients this past tuesday morning. This particular client (Nancy) is a wiz at marketing and advertising. She runs her own successful firm and has been doing so for a long time. This is impressive to say the least because not only is this particular industry very competitive, but it is always changing. Strategies used to sell products and promote business twenty years ago don't work quite the same in 2011. To be successful in the world of marketing and advertising it requires one to stay up to date on social and cultural trends in the area you are marketing to as well as to be continually developing more effective advertising strategies. So to say that Nancy has and continues to be successful in this business means she knows her craft well.
On tuesday during our session Nancy told me about an encounter she had recently had with another "Advertising Professional" (as she put it). This encounter was not of a pleasant nature. Nancy said that the encounter occurred after she returned this particular individuals missed phone call. This individual felt it was his duty to give my client a lecture on how exactly advertising was done and how she need to proceed if she wished to purchase air time on a local radio station for advertising. Nancy did not enjoy this lecture and very quickly proceeded to let this individual know that his advice was not needed and not welcomed. Rightfully so if you ask me I mean Nancy has been practicing and honing her craft for many many years and has produced great results for her clients. I very much doubt she needs much advice from anyone let alone an unsuccessful wanna-be ad professional. Nancy filled me in on the background of this particular individual including his failed attempt at starting his own ad firm and his employment record of which was not spectacular in any sense of the word. But what really got me thinking was what Nancy said at the end of her story. Nancy told me that she cannot stand to watch someone do what she does and do it extremely poor. Or even worse have one of these individuals try to tell her how to do it.
Now here's where this story comes full circle. When I heard Nancy say this it really struck a chord with me. I often experience the same exact feelings especially considering how many "experts" there are in the health and fitness industry. I mean it seems like anyone who has every picked up a weight before in their life has the title of Master Trainer for the world. But hearing someone else share with me that they experience the same phenomenon in their industry really brought me to the conclusion that this is not something that is only isolated to my field. I finally have made peace with the fact that I will continue to encounter "experts" for the rest of my life whether its working in the Fitness business or working split shifts as a cashier at the local dairy queen. There are always going to be the individuals who believe they know and see all. The same individuals who ignore all others opinions and insights in spite of their lack of success. And the worst part is we often let these unimportant individuals affect are mood and are attitude toward what we do. I know I have already spent way to much time worrying about what the local "functional anatomy guru" at our facility is sharing with our members that is going to result is a lot of torn rotator cuffs. I realize that it does me no good to worry about what others are doing.
I can only control what I do and nothing else. There is no point in worrying that the guy doing knee bends on the bosu ball in the corner is wasting his time and probably doing more harm then good. I have no control over this individual. What I do have control over though is avoiding people who do not hold up to my standards. I do have control over training my clients in the most practical, efficient, productive, and proficient manner. I do have control over guiding my education and insuring that I am always learning. I do have control over my attitude and my reaction to the forces acting upon me. I do have control over getting my workout in each and everyday.
I think the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it best with his untitled prayer that has become known as the serenity prayer. I get it to folks that not everyone is religious or believes in a higher being, but I think there is some good advice in this piece of writing for all of us. So I will end with this:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.Amen.
If I haven't ever mentioned it before I am currently pursuing a degree in biochemistry. WIth fall upon us this means the new school semester is finally here. Meaning extra time and commitment to studying for school. I still plan weekly time to do all my study for my current profession. But most of my time now is pretty well scheduled for something. In short this means that I won't be as regular with post and updates as I have been. I will try to get things up on the weekends as that will be my biggest amount of free time to play with. I hope everyone continues to visit the site. I am going to try to make post when time presents itself. But I thought it was only fair to give everyone a heads up.
Please, Please, Please read this article. I have my glue exercises and if you ask me I can name them off the top of my head without a second thought. But the reason I want everyone to read this is often I have been criticized because I use a lot of the same exercises or movement variations over and over again in a program. I know that everyone out their believes they need to be doing thrusters on the bosu ball, but really you don't. The best exercises are the ones that offer the biggest bang for your buck. These exercises are also predominantly the most simple and yet yield the greatest results. Please I urge you read this article and pay extra close attention to the final paragraph as it sums up the point I try to get across to people on a daily basis.
Eric Cressey has been posting a lot of installments in this series that offers fantastic tips on how to move and feel better. These tips are great for the general population because they are simple to implement and cost effective. If you are searching for some great advice checkout this latest installment and the past other 13 posts. You won't be sorry I swear. You will find at least three tips you will use on a daily basis.
I love this article by Mr. Even-Esh. It is posted on the new Arnold site so if you haven't yet stick around on the site and read a few of the articles there is a massive amount of great info there. This article does an excellent job discussing how to make your training more consistent and productive. It comes across as simple and common sense solutions but when you really think about what Mr. Even-Esh is saying it is truly profound. Especially considering the dog and pony show of a fitness industry we exist in.
This week's exercise bares much resemblance to the previous week's one-arm dumbbell two-point bent-over row
. We are keeping the unilateral component with this week's exercise but we are switching from a posteriorly focused exercise to an anteriorly focused upper-body movement. The overhead press is a standard movement that has been the staple of many programs for as long as people have been picking up heavy objects and putting them above their heads. All we are going to do is take this very traditional exercise and add a little bit of a spin to it to incorporate a bit more core stability and functionality. To finally get to it this week's exercise is going to be a standing one-arm dumbbell overhead press.
I love this movement because of the many benefits it offers in spite of being an easily coached and learned movement. I primarily use this motion to teach individuals how to move into full shoulder flexion without any extension at the thoracic spine. As an added plus this motion also creates large amounts of abdominal activation because the individual must resist both extension and flexion in two different planes of motion.
To perform the said movement all you need is a kettlebell or dumbbell and yourself. You are going to pick the dumbbell or kettlebell up in the chosen working arm. Proceed by curling the weight up to shoulder height. From here you have a decision to make you can proceed into the pressing motion with either a pronated grip (palm facing forward) or a neutral grip (palm facing in). Now for my purposes I don't get to picky about grips because the focus of this exercise is not what musculature is being activated and stressed, but rather what is the quality of the motion, but I will say that traditionally one can handle a bit more weight with a hybrid grip between neutral and pronated it seems to be a little bit more shoulder friendly. Either way you make the call. Once grip has been decided this next step is the actual movement being trained which is a vertical press that will involve flexion of the shoulder and adduction of the arm as well as extension at the elbow. When you initiate the movement the dumbbell should be just at shoulder height. Thing about keeping your elbows and wrist in-line with one another as you drive the weighted implement in your hand toward the ceiling. During the press you want to remember to keep the shoulder blade pulled down and back. When you reach the top of the motion you should have your arm fully extended and your shoulder, elbow, and wrist should create a straight line. Do not allow the shoulder to squeeze up next to the ear rather keep the shoulder down and away from the ear. You then will lower the weight back down to shoulder level. During all this motion you want to make sure that the shoulders remain level, that the rib cage does not flare upward, and that your hips do not extend forward during the upward movement of the pressing motion. This is where a ton of abdominal activity comes into play.
Below is a video demonstrating the exercise correctly and safely from both a front and side angle. I hope you all take this week's exercise and try it at least once in your future programming. It doesn't have to be a staple exercise, but it is a nice change of pace.