The number of individuals performing the Farmer’s Walk in average gyms is slowly increasing and as I see the number of users increase I see a slow, but steady watering down of proper form. The same decline that has been seen with other classic lifts, such as the bench press and squat. I am in no means saying that the Farmer’s Walk is not for the everyday average gym goer because in my opinion any body from any population can and should work the Farmer’s Walk into their training program. The benefits it offers are enormous. From the challenges it places on grip strength to the demand it creates on the upper back, hips, legs, and especially trunk not one is left unscathed. Renowned Canadian spine researcher Stuart McGill even called the farmer’s walk and it’s many other variations a “moving plank” which gives you an idea to the huge amounts of benefits this lift contains.
But, the biggest problem with such a simple lift that offers loads of benefits is that many try to imitate the movement, but fail miserably because they have not been properly coached through the movement. A few very common mistakes I see with the average performer are exaggerated forward head and rounded shoulder, shortened gait length, limited hip mobility, and way to much time spend in a unilateral stance.
To begin we must fix our posture especially are excessive cervical anterior tilt and thoracic rounding. This improper position of the head places to much stress on the intervertebral discs. Placing a load held in the hands with the cervical spine in this position just adds to this stress. In addition the rounded thoracic positioning is the giving way of weak scapular retractors which further rounds the upper back. Doing all this poor posture under load just re-ingrains lousy postureThe fix for this problem is simply done in a two step process. First the correct cervical and thoracic spine mobility must be established. Second, you must also progress from restored thoracic spine mobility to proper thoracic extension
The second most crucial point when performing this exercise is to watch time spent in a unilateral stance as well as the length of gait. This unilateral stance is marked with a shuffling gait often associated with increases in weight. This shuffling is a combination concurrent hip adduction and internal rotation which negates a lot of glute activity going on during the carry. This gait also robs the carrier of the incredible core challenge this lift elicits because the more amount of time spent in a unilateral stance places more emphasis on the oblique, quadratus lumborum, and hip abductors while trying to maintain the pelvis and trunk in a correct position.To insure you avoid such a gait be sure to focus on equal steps of length and picking up each foot when taking a stride.
To close I hope you have a better understanding of the proper farmer’s walk technique to be used. This lift is a staple when it comes to metabolic work and overall general preparedness, but with a few tweaks and technical proficiency it can allow for a vast number of benefits.
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!
If I were to criticize any individual's weekly training routine my first two criticisms would for sure be the lack of an adequate warm-up and/or cool-down and barely anytime devoted to injury prevention methods. I feel that it is the inclusion of adequate warm-ups, injury prevention, and cool-downs that take a somewhat effect training program and turns it into an excellent program. While I understand that these three parts of a workout are by no means as fun as grinding out four heavy sets of deadlifts it is imperative to overall health to make sure that you devote and invest the time into each three areas.
To help those out who wish to start rounding out their training by incorporating some of these elements of training on a more regular basis I want to provide a very simple and basic injury prevention routine that takes no more than 10mins. I think this is the area most individuals struggle the most with because they do not understand what they should be doing and do not have the knowledge required to program this particular element into a workout. Below is listed my recommended injury prevention routine to start with to get you on your way to buidling a strong, solid foundation.
-Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended and your arms outstretched directly to side creating a shape similar to a "T".
-Move your shoulder blades toward your spine while raising your hands upward.
-Let your hands return to the floor and repeat for prescribed repetitions.
-Focus on moving through your shoulder blades. Squeeze them back and together
-You should feel the movement in your upper back and shoulders.
-Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended and your arms outstretched above your head creating a "Y" shape (think Y-M-C-A).
-Move your shoulder blades toward your spine at the same time raise you hands from the floor.
-Let your hands return to the floor and repeat
-Focus on moving your shoulder blades against your rib cage rather than raising your arms.
-The movement should tax your upper back, lats, and shoulders
Hip External Rotation w/Mini Band (Clamshell)
-Lie on your side with your shoulders, hips, and feet square to the fall in front of you.
-Place the mini band around your both legs
-Pull your knees up as if you were assuming the feeble position stop at the point when your knees are bent just forward of the rest of your body.
-You should know be in a position where your head, chest, waist, hips, and feet create a straight line with your knees bent forward of this straight line
-Be sure the miniband is around the knees.
-Initiate movement by driving the top knee up toward the ceiling while keeping the feet pinned together (resembles opening a clamshell).
-Once you have reached your end range of motion (this will vary depending on your own hip mobility) lower the knee down to where both knees are touching. Repeat for repetitions.
-Begin by placing your elbows directly beneath your shoulders with you hands forward of your elbows below your face
-Assume the push-up position
-Keep the back flat
-Squeeze your glutes and flex your quads.
-Think about pulling your belly button into your spine
-Maintain this position for a predetermined time.
-Assume a traditional sit-up position with your knees pulled up and heels flat on the floor
-Initiate the movement by driving your heels into the ground and raise your hips toward the ceiling
-Keep your lower back flat and think about squeezing the glutes
-Lower the hips all the way back to the ground and repeat for repetitions.
Gosh there is nothing better than finishing out a grueling set of pull-ups. That moment when you bring your chin above the bar and lower yourself to the ground breathing insanely hard and feeling mightier than ever. I love pull-ups for a number of reasons but my top two have to be that pull-ups teach you how to handle your bodyweight and manipulate yourself in space and secondly it is probably the single most effective exercise for developing the Latissimus Dorsi or "Lat" for short. The Lats play a crucial role in a number of movements and have direct affect on performance in a number of athletic events. Which means it is absolutely essential, in my opinion, that one focuses on lat development in addition to using the pull-up as a part of one's program. But as with anything you must take the good with the bad and the pull-up is no exception. For all the benefits the pull-up offers there are a few negatives it brings to the table as well that need to be considered before one starts incorporating them into their program. But before I get to my considerations I think its important to first understand the lats's musculature and how an excessive volume of pull-ups can lead to overly developed lats that create issues in other parts of the body. So let us take a deeper look at the Lats.
The first thing to take notice of when looking at the latissimus dorsi is to see that it is not oriented on the body in a strictly horizontal or vertical plane such as we see in the pectoralis major or the hamstrings, but rather it contains a blend of the two in a diagonal orientation. Second if you look at the lat you can see it has several points of attachment including: vertebral from the T6 vertebrae to the sacrum, at the pelvis at the posterior aspect of the iliac crest, at the ribs at the last 3-4 ribs, at the scapula at the inferior scapular border, and at the humerus at the intertubercular groove of the humerous. With this many attachments it is safe to assume that his muscle is involved in a wide variety of complex movements meaning it is an important muscle that should be addressed. The particular fiber orientation and the numerous attachments of this muscle give rise to the Lats being able to perform a wide array of movements and actions including: humeral adduction, humeral extension, humeral horizontal abduction, and humeral internal rotation.
All of this information is useless unless we understand what it all sums up to for us in the gym. Due to the attachments and orientation of this muscle and the many movements it performs the Lats play a crucial role in force transfer between the lower and upper body as well as key roles in core stability at the lumbar spine and breathing patterns. This is why it is important to develop the lats properly and pull-ups are one of the greatest exercises for this purpose.
But hold on before you head to the gym and start ripping away on the pull-up bar let me finish and hear me out because I think there are a few big considerations we need to address regarding development of the lats and excessive pull-uping (I know I am such a wordsmith).
First thing to consider and remember is that the lats are bigger and stronger that the traps and will therefore always overpower the traps. Due to this overpowering influence the lat possesses in addition to its role in extending the spine overly developed lats can often lead to gross extension patterns in many peoples posture (many individuals already hang around in a lordotic posture so this would compound their existing issue). This type of extension pattern is marked by a distinct rib flair and sometimes excessive internal rotation of the humerus due to a lack of effort by the traps to pull the shoulder blades back and down against the rib cage. And this tug of war between the traps and the lats seems evenly matched from the surface but when the cross sectional area of both muscles is taken into account one can see why the lats always win out. This struggle is caused to sway even more towards the lats when they are constantly being given priority in a training program. Ideally one wants to learn to move the scapula against the rib cage instead of extending the entire spine.
Second and last thing to consider before hitting pull-ups often and hard is to understand that overly developed lats can decrease the amount of base below the acromial which can lead to irritation when trying to perform overhead movements. Remember for previous reading that the lat extends, adducts, and internally rotates the humerus and to achieve an overhead motion correctly one needs to perform flexion, abduction, and external rotation meaning the lat is a direct antagonist to overhead motion. The biggest prime movers involved in the three motions needed for overhead pressing are the deltoid, lower trapezius, and posterior rotator cuff and when all three of these muscles's cross-sectional area is compared with the lats cross-sectional area we can see that again overly developed lats will win every single time.
My point for this post is not to say that pull-ups are bad for you because that is far and away from the truth. The truth being that pull-ups are a great exercise that does an effective job at developing the lats and should be used in appropriate volume and intensity along side a number of other movements to insure postural balance and limited dysfunctional movement. My goal of this post was to simply introduce two big considerations one should remember if they are doing a lot of pull-ups. That way an individual can take steps to insure neither of the two contraindications occur.
If anyone has every met me and talked shop with me about training then they know I am a big lobbyist for deadlifting. If you haven't met me in real life then let me begin by saying "Hi, my name is Stevan and I am a
pull-a-holic and the deadlift ruined my life." All kidding aside though I do love the deadlift and all its many variations. And because of this overwhelming love I feel for this lift I love finding evidence to support my love. Most recently I found a study
published in the journal Archives of Physical and Medical Rehabilitation.
This study used electromyographic muscle activity measured in the paraspinals of the lumbar and thoracic erector spinae. The researchers compared EMG activity during six different exercises: a static supine bridge on a BOSU ball, a single leg body weight deadlift on a BOSU, a single leg bodyweight deadlift, a back extension, a lunge with 70% of 1RM, and a deadlift performed with 70% of 1RM. The comparisons showed that far and above the deadlift is much more effective for working the paraspinals. The lunge and back extension were next in line for highest levels of EMG activity. So clearly multi-joint exercises doen with moderate weight are much more beneficial then single joint bodyweight exercises.
This study means that the deadlift should be a staple exercise in anybody's training program who wishes to build a strong lower back, tight abdominal muscles, and remain injury free. Of course if you are some one who is experiencing lower back pain you must first achieve structural balance and functional balance, but once this has been a established the deadlift should be programmed to insure the back stays strong, healthy, and asymptomatic.
We are mid-way through another great week. For me its been a week full of relaxation and peace with no school to worry about and plenty of time to pursue other passions it has been most enjoyable. I have had a large amount of time to catch up on the mountain of articles, studies, and books in my "things to read folder" and so I am passing along some of the gems I have come across in the last couple of days. Give them a look see. Hope you enjoy!
A really fun read from Tony Gentilcore about his recent experience in the world of pilates. It is awesome to see guys that I look up to getting out of their comfort zone and stepping out of their box because it inspires me to do the same. I think this is an absolute must if you wish to continue growing as a person.
I am a firm believer that the most important things someone can do everyday is devote 15mins to their health in some way or another. I loved this article with video demonstrating four mobility drills that will improve your quality of life greatly if practiced once a day. Another great things about this read is it is located on the new Arnold Schwarzenegger website. Its awesome that he is back in the fitness game. While your their on the site give it a look around.
Another great article of experienced fitness professional Bret "The Glute Guy" Contreras. This piece discusses everything and anything to do with the Hip Thrust. I love using the hip thrust with clients who experience excess anterior pelvic tilt. Its also a great move for developing the glutes and maintaining lumbar spine stability during hip extension. Plenty of video helps you visualize what Bret is getting at with his words. Excellent read I implore everyone to read thoroughly.
Time for the third installment into the series of "Stuff to Read". I haven't got any feedback in the way of comments as to if any of my links are helping those looking for answers, but I hope that it is benefiting someone in someway. If you would like to request a particular topic you would like to know more about that I can either write about myself or link you to an article discussing this topic please leave your suggestion in a comment below other wise enjoy this weeks "Stuff to Read".
Here is an excellent blog post from Mr. Somerset in which he talks about his own struggle to fit in training during a short vacation and his victory over an overwhelming amount of baked goods. In all seriousness it discusses an awesome topic that I think every individual can relate to please give it a look see.
This is a great series of post that focuses on tips and helpful advice to improve one's everyday level of health, which is the big picture for all fitness professionals. In this particular installment Coach Cressey gives an excellent tip about mixing protein powder with cold coffee which I tried immediately and loved it.
A rant unlike any other provided to you by the renegade nation leader himself. Mr. Ferruggia brings focus to a issue that bothers many coaches and trainers alike. This issue being the invasion of training by research lab monkeys. Don't get me wrong research is great, but more and more I here people questioning techniques because there is not enough empirical evidence to support a why for the results this technique produces. Jason, and I agree, argues that sometimes the why doesn't matter as long as the what is getting excellent results.
This post marks the first installment of a series of videos titled "Exercise of the Week". This will be a weekly series demonstrating a particular exercise and discussing the benefits of the exercise.
Exercise selection can make training fun and versatile as well as take a great training program and make it excellent. My goal with this series is to increase as many individuals library of exercises and their knowledge of their techniques and focus.
To kick off the series I am introducing one of my favorite squat variations that I find myself using again and again with clients as well as in my own programming. The goblet squat is the ideal movement for all individuals to move on to once the bodyweight squat has been mastered, This is because the load in the goblet squat is placed in the front of the body forcing the individual to maintain proper spine placement or they will fall forward. In doing this it teaches them to brace their anterior abdominal muscles to stabilize the neutral spine position. But unlike the front squat which places the load in a very unstable and uncomfortable position resting across the shoulders the goblet squat allows the individual to hold the load with their hands and allow the load to be supported by the elbows being forced together. Putting the load in this position also aids in teaching proper squat mechanics because it allows one to sit back with their hips and keep their weight in their heels without worrying about toppling over because the weight acts as a counter weight which balances the shift in the individuals center of gravity.
Below is the demonstration video which shows the correct goblet squat movement and provides directions in performing it. But to note a couple side coaching cues I would like to stress that the weight should stay at chin level with the elbows tucked in do not allow the weight to descend toward your stomach and your elbows to flare out. Also while in the bottom position of the squat I would suggest sliding your elbows just inside your knees and giving a slight push out against them. This serves two purposes one it makes you get to proper depth and two it acts as a great stretch for both the hip adductors and flexors.
have demonstrated an inverse relationship between fatigue and performance of any task, specifically the coordination with which one performs the task is seriously affected. This idea has serious implications regarding anyone who is working towards specific performance based goals i.e. throwing a football or baseball, high jumping, swinging a bat, etc.
Coordination is essentially a mental skill that is executed by finely tuned cues from the nervous system. This skill plays a crucial role in any movement because it is an individuals level of coordination that separates an excellent performance from an average performance. Leading us to the conclusion that fatigue hinders performance because fatigue affects coordination directly. This conclusion I see has three implications.
1. Having skill under fatigue is definitely a skill in itself. This being the primary reason for the types of training that are employed by our military branches. Soldiers are pushed to and beyond their fatigue thresholds and forced to perform activities that require high levels of focus and coordination. Placing individuals in such situations leads to the development of the ability to perform under incredible fatigue
2. While learning a new movement or motor skill it is crucial that all factors involving fatigue must be eliminated from the equation. If fatigue can hinder coordination and thus one's performance then fatigue will hinder the way one learns a movement leading to compensations and dysfunction in the particular movement. By eliminating stress and fatigue we insure the movement is learned correctly and safely.
3. If you improve your fitness level fatigue will play a smaller factor in affecting your performance.
While fatigue is necessary to adapt be sure to apply stress and fatigue at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. Avoid placing fatigue on yourself whenever taking on a new exercise, movement pattern, or sport rather focus on executing the movement with precision and clarity.
I am often baffled time and time again, month after month watching the same 60 to 80 regulars who make their weekly 4 or 5 visits to the gym yet I observe no progress. Their body composition remains constant and the amount of weight lifted for each exercise seems to never change whether lighter or heavier. I am astounded by this because I cannot fathom dedicating so much time and effort into a commitment yet never see a return from my labors. I have spent a lot of time pondering this conundrum and I believe I have a very simple yet profound answer to these individuals lack of advancement. This profound answer being the following statement:
YOU ARE NOT PUSHING YOURSELF HARD ENOUGH!
I know I know this seems like a neanderthal's explanation, but before you move on and read the next blog hear me out for a few more paragraphs. This truly is the wall that stands between you and your goals. You simply are not willing to push your body to and past it's existing threshold for fatigue, which is an absolute requirement for growth, strength, and alteration of body composition. The reason for this failure to drive oneself forward is because it requires passion for your goals. It requires the willingness to suffer all pains and fight ahead toward the brighter lights. Yet many shy away from this necessary ingredient because it takes an effort above that of walking into the gym and doing three sets of ten on the bicep curl. It requires performing squats, deadlifts, and farmer's walks on a regular basis. It means driving yourself to grind out heavy sets and finish each workout with proper foam rolling and mobility work. The truth is that it takes more to reach one's goals than most are willing to give.
But if you are someone who is willing to give all they have toward your commitment. If you are willing to go for the ninth and tenth rep even when you'd rather quick at eight, then I promise you that you will be one of the few who does achieve their ultimate goals. Remember when that little voice inside is crying out for you to set the weight down and terminate the set that is the moment when you grab that little voice by the neck and silence it continue the set and move on to the next set. I'll end this blog with some sage advice given to me by my own coach:
"Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable."