Baseball and Gaining The Off-Season Advantage

The off-season can pass by in the blink of an eye. Even though the cold and dark months between November and March remind you nothing of the game of baseball, they are the most crucial for ensuring you’ll be at your best come opening day. What you do with these months is what separates you from, and elevates you above, other players.  

How Bad Do You Want to Get Better?

I can vividly remember sitting in our small high school gym and being handed a blank piece of paper by my coach. We were instructed to fill the piece of paper with our goals:

Team

  • - Win Back-to-Back Conference Championships
  • - Win Sectional Title
  • - State Champs

Personal

  • - Gain 10 lbs.
  • - Lead by example (Everyday!)
  • - Make all routine plays in the field
  • .- 300 Batting Average

This list was from my junior year of high school. Each year I would strive for, and ultimately achieve, more. This was only possible because within each goal was an action plan.

Let’s take a deeper look at the first goal in my personal list:

Gain 10 lbs

You’re cheating yourself by just writing down your goal and leaving it as that. That’s too easy. You have to ask yourself: how will I gain 10 pounds this off-season? Answering these questions will help you expand your goal sheet and create a roadmap for how it’ll be accomplished.

Below is what a piece of my final goal sheet looked like.

Gain 10 lbs

  • -4x/week of strength training
  • -Eat a lot!
  • -Weekly weigh-ins

With an action plan your chances of reaching your goal increases exponentially.

As an athlete, many times a well-designed strength and conditioning program needs to be part of your action plan. When training properly you’ll be able to work towards accomplishing many things at once. Other than the obvious (getting jacked) a training program will also provide many other benefits as you head into your spring season.

  1. 1. Get Stronger

If you’re not using progressive overload, you’re missing out. If you’re somewhere between 14 and your mid-20s, your body is at its peak of hormone production. Testosterone and growth hormone are flooding your bloodstream. Taking advantage of an increase in production of these hormones is a wise decision. Progressively overloading your tissues and nervous system will allow your body to better deal with stress. You want to train to better be able to handle higher volumes and intensities. In short, gradually challenge your body more and more each week and you’ll become stronger and be able to handle increased demands of future training sessions and long seasons.

You also must appreciate that without a good base of strength it will be more difficult for you to improve other fitness qualities. If you were to fill up a bucket with various fitness qualities, you can only add so much until nothing else fits. You can either keep trying to force things into an already full bucket, or you can GET STRONGER. The stronger you are, the more force you can produce, and the bigger the bucket becomes. Now you have more opportunity to get explosive and increase your speed.

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  1. 2. Increase Bodyweight

Studies have shown that an increase in bodyweight can lead to an increase in throwing velocity. If you go back to physics class…

F=ma

Force= mass x acceleration. The more mass you have, the more force you’ll be able to produce, and in turn, the harder you’ll be able to throw. Obviously, there are other variables, mechanics being one of them. But, if you’re a high school or college player, it’s likely you’ll be able to pick up a few mph by increasing your weight. Couple your increase in weight with increased strength and power and you’ll be better at delivering and accepting force, and you’ll be able to mitigate injuries while continuing to throw harder.

  1. 3. Increase Range of Motion

Throwing a baseball is one of the most violent and high-velocity movements in sport. This is in no way a means to scare you. You just need to appreciate the importance of all of your joints working optimally so you’re not overstressing one area over another.

Maybe because of your lack of shoulder external rotation, your medial elbow is being stressed much more than it should. Or, if you lack internal rotation in your lead hip, it could lead to your throwing shoulder having to work way harder than it should during your delivery.

Making sure you have as much mobility as possible heading into a season is extremely valuable. A smart off-season training program will understand this and incorporate soft-tissue work, along with mobility training for your thorax, shoulder girdle, elbow, and wrist.

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  1. 4. Rotator Cuff Strength & Endurance

Along with putting on mass in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, and other prime movers, it’s also important to designate time in your training program for your rotator cuff.

Think of your shoulder joint as a golf ball sitting on a golf tee. It’s your cuff that will keep that ball centered on the tee. The better your rotator cuff is at centrating your humeral head in the glenoid fossa, the more durable your shoulder becomes. A strong rotator cuff will also help you have better control when decelerating your arm during the follow through of your throw.

  1. 5. Create Camaraderie and Develop Good Habits & Routines

The last major benefit of having an off-season strength and conditioning program has less to do with physical gains and more do to with gains in the mental and emotional realm. Training with teammates is a great way to create camaraderie and build team chemistry, as you’re all working hard towards the same goals.

Knowing you’re individually prepared is important, but having confidence that your entire team is prepared is powerful.

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Developing consistency with an off-season strength and conditioning program is also a sure-fire way to carry good work habits and routines into your spring and summer seasons.

In Summary

A quality off-season strength and conditioning program is one of the most valuable things an athlete can invest in. Take care of your body, put in smart work and you’ll be rewarded when the season rolls around. Even if you’re in high school and are playing a winter sport (which, if you’re an underclassman, I highly recommend) you should still make room for 1-2 strength training sessions each week in order to make sure you’re building your base of strength and have adequate amount of mobility.

Start today. Write down your goals, create action plans, and get to work!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you’re interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Myocardial Oxygen Consumption in Fitness

Oxidative training has made its way back around to being everyone’s darling in the fitness industry. It seems like everyone and their mother is doing cardiac capacity blocks. I’ve been hearing a lot of people use real physiology terms to explain what sorts of goals they’re working to achieve and that makes me incredibly happy. People are looking for capillary density, mitochondrial biogenesis, eccentric cardiac hypertrophy, heart rate recovery capacity through parasympathetic means, improved lactate clearance, etc etc. There are a few areas where I think our attention will be brought to going forward regarding optimal development of aerobic capabilities of the organism, and one of those things is myocardial oxygen consumption (MVO2). MVO2 is a measurement of the aerobic activity specifically at the cardiac muscle tissue. Typically we estimate what the MVO2 is by measuring the rate pressure product (RPP), and inferring that number towards MVO2 scores. Based on this, what we will really be talking about in this article is RPP, and how to go after this variable in training.

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The RPP is the product of the systolic blood pressure and the heart rate (RPP = SBP x HR). RPP is typically referred to as the work of the heart, but in truth it is actually a power number, because of the fact that HR is a time dependent variable. Power is mathematically represented as Force x Distance/Time. With RPP as a power variable, the force is accounted for by the systolic blood pressure, the distance is the ejection of the blood out of the ventricle into the systemic circulation, and the time is one minute (that is the unit of time that HR is measured in). Because time is considered standard, most scientists throw it out in discussion, and simply refer to the concept as a work variable.

The key component that distinguishes RPP from other cardiac related variables is blood pressure. Most aerobic exercise variants that people participate in are rhythmic in nature and minimize the blood pressure response. During activities such as jogging, the autonomic response will be to constrict vessels in the gut via sympathetic output to visceral regions and to open blood vessels in the periphery through the actions of the catecholamines. By dilating peripheral vessels, this combined autonomic effect will actually reduce total peripheral resistance (TPR), and minimize the systolic blood pressure that the heart has to overcome to eject blood to the system. With minimal changes in systolic blood pressure with jogging as the activity, RPP measures will be modest.

When strength training is the activity, the RPP response will be a very different one as compared to jogging. If someone is performing high load, low repetition compound exercise, the skeletal muscle will be contracting forcefully. The high levels of tension taking place in the muscle tissue will mechanically compress the blood vessels perfusing and draining the working tissues. This compression of the blood vessels will prevent blood from flowing, and ultimate create a stopcock like effect in the vasculature that reflects pressure backwards all the way to the heart. The end result of this vascular activity is an immense increase in systolic blood pressure. Typical strength training designs feature large amounts of rest between sets, and as a result, the majority of time is not spent with elevated heart rates approaching what would be associated with an aerobic conditioning training session. When examining RPP responses, jogging and strength training both have limitations for bringing the variable to its highest levels for trainability.

When comparing end diastolic volume of ventricles and overall mass of hearts between different kinds of athletes, some interesting things begin to emerge. A normal untrained individual from the general population (reference person) has a heart that is slightly more than 200 grams and holds approximately 100 mL of blood at the end of diastole in the ventricle. Elite marathoners will typically possess hearts that are approximately 300 grams and hold approximately 180 mL of blood. Elite wrestlers will typically show heart measures of approximately 315 grams and be able to hold about 110 mL of blood.

These examples are commonly given when discussing eccentric vs concentric cardiac hypertrophy with the runner being the eccentric example. What is often not discussed are the athletes who seem to have the best of both worlds, such as elite cyclists. Cyclists will show cardiac measures bordering on the level of the wrestler for mass and the marathoner for volume. The reason that cyclists have such high measures for both mass and volume is because their heart rates are elevated for extended periods of time and their thigh muscles are constantly pushing against relatively high resistance while peddling through terrain such as mountains, which creates high systolic blood pressure responses. In essence, the cyclist has the best case scenario heart because they are the example of consistently high RPP in training.

With popular sports in North America, such as football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey, there is reason to believe that a heart that has been trained to deal with high RPP could be a definite advantage. These sports often deal with athletes using propulsive lower body muscles at high intensities that would lead to contractile behavior that would occlude vessels and reflect significant pressure back to the heart. Football, lacrosse, and hockey in particular will also involve physical contact and elements of grappling with opponents that will elevate blood pressure due to the tensile activity of muscles under such conditions.

If we fail to prepare the athlete for such conditions in training, the system will be ill prepared to deal with these demands in competition. Athletes who are unaccustomed to high RPP situations will probably demonstrate high levels of anxiety under those conditions. The most difficult physiological activity the heart has to perform is isovolumic contraction. When you put people into experiences where they are performing powerful cardiac isovolumic contractions at a high heart rate they tend to go into terrible psychological situations leading to meltdown.

“When the mind is strongly excited, we might expect that it would instantly affect in a direct manner the heart; and this is universally acknowledged…when the heart is affected it reacts on the brain; and the state of the brain again reacts through the pneuma-gastric (vagus) nerve on the heart; so that under any excitement there will be much mutual action and reaction between these, the two most important organs of the body.” This is a quote from Charles Darwin in his book, “Emotions in Man and Animals”, written in 1872.

Steven Porges takes this notion much further in his book, “The Polyvagal Theory” and also explains how the muscles of facial expression play their own role in HR responses and emotional experience. My contention is that sport involves components of extreme exertion that lead to high RPP values. When the work of the heart reaches incredibly high levels, the psychology of the athlete begins to go haywire, and the athlete will display facial expressions demonstrating extreme discomfort and loss of feelings of control. These are the moments where disastrous plays occur in the most important competitions. If the athlete has lots of experience with physical training in high RPP conditions, and has trained their mind to not overreact to the feelings associated with this state, they may be able to maintain their composure during contests where they enter this physiological state.

There are several approaches to creating training conditions that feature high RPP settings. High intensity continuous training is a great modality for eliciting high RPP aerobic settings. Step ups with a weighted vest certainly elevate blood pressure and place the athlete into aerobic HR zones for extended times, as does high incline treadmill walking with a weight vest. The other modality that I view as a tremendous avenue into this sphere of training is circuit resistance training.

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My personal favorite circuit for driving high RPP levels with resistance training is the 30/30 circuit. This circuit is well known to anyone who has purchased my book, MASS, because it is Phase 1 of the overall program. The 30/30 is a brutal workout that takes exactly 31 minutes to complete. You choose 10 exercises, and you complete 3 rounds of 15 repetitions at each exercise using 30 second work and 30 second rest ratios. The goal is to complete 450 total reps with the highest combined load between all the exercises. I’m going to list out my personal favorite 10 exercise combo as well as the heaviest weights I’ve ever been able to complete all 450 reps with.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to track my HR during this protocol many times, and it usually averages somewhere around 145 beats per minute (BPM) for the 31 minutes, with a peak HR of about 165 BPM towards the end. The protocol will take you to some very interesting mental places, but the specific repetition goal and satisfaction of completing it at the end makes it incredibly motivating and fun compared to most other methods of training.

I believe there is an incredibly dopaminergic component to this design, as many get addicted to this method of training and feel like regular training just doesn’t do it for them after this approach. This protocol seems to improve a host of variables in those who have engaged in it, including strength, muscular endurance, and aerobic performance. In my mind, the main reason is because it is training the work of the heart and improving myocardial oxygen consumption. This is probably a variable that many people have ignored and not trained, either because they were unaware of it/that it was important, or because it is an absolutely miserable variable to train. Without further ado, here is my personal best 30/30 with my favorite combination of exercises.

  1. 1. Trap bar dead (245 pounds)
  2. 2. Seated overhead dumbbell press (40s)
  3. 3. Lat pull-down (60)
  4. 4. Safety Squat (175 pounds)
  5. 5. Barbell Bench (155 pounds)
  6. 6. Bent Over DB Row (55s)
  7. 7. Inclind DB Bench (50s)
  8. 8. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Left Leg (30s)
  9. 9. Backwards Lunge off 3” Box Right Leg (30s)
  10. 10. Seated Cable Row (60)

Training with high RPP values year round is probably not ideal for most athletes, because it is a very stressful approach. Systematically placing training that drives RPP into the athlete’s system can work very successfully as a peaking approach prior to important competitions (so long as the athlete is already familiarized with this approach). This approach may also be extremely valuable for modifying body composition in athletes, where you’re looking to decrease body fat while preserving or increasing lean body mass due to the likely dramatic hormonal responses to such work. As with most programming concepts, you need to try things out, think critically about the specifics of the circumstances of the athletes that you are coaching, and do your best to individualize and customize. It is my belief most people will see dramatic improvements in fitness rapidly with high RPP training, because it is likely a novel stimulus, primarily because it is so miserable that few have willingly put themselves through it.

about the author

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pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head

What Makes or Breaks an Exercise Program

No one can argue that those who see the most results from training have one thing in common. Consistency.

Being consistent isn’t easy.  Life happens; you get busy, you get bored, you get tired, and you get hurt.

You take some time off, hit the refresh button, and, because your last training plan didn’t work out, it’s on to the next program.

Working as a personal trainer, I end up meeting a lot of people when they’re somewhere in the middle of the list above.

Whether you know it or not there are many variables in your exercise programs and your lifestyle that can either set you up for long-term success or quietly de-rail you. Identifying these variables early on will allow you to better examine a training program before you begin, and put you in a position to allow yourself to be consistent and see the results you want.

  • Gradual Increase in Volume

Gradually increasing the volume of your training program over the course of weeks and months sounds simple, but it’s often missed by many gym goers. Using the minimal effective dose will keep you healthy and allow you to progress a program all the way to your end goal. Many soft-tissue injuries are the result of a drastic increase in training volume.  Perhaps this is most obvious when you look at the number of Achilles, groin, and hamstring injuries that occur at the beginning of NFL camps, or injuries to those going from the couch to Crossfit.  A program that steadily increases work capacity and tissue resiliency over time will greatly reduce your risk of injuries due to fatigue and set your body up to be able to handle workouts of greater volume and intensity later on.

Look for whether or not your exercise program has a gradual increase in volume as you progress each week and month. If you’re new to the gym this may mean you start by performing only 12 total sets in week one and 20 total sets by week four. Powerlifting programs like 5/3/1 and The Juggernaut Method also do a good job of managing volume and intensity to help you build specific work capacity in the bench, squat, and deadlift. Group training should accommodate those of different fitness levels and allow some wiggle room for some to perform more work than others in any given class.

  • Movement Quality

Appropriate volume is only part of the equation for ensuring a fitness program is going to last. The quality of your movement is what dictates whether or not you develop great hamstrings and glutes or giant calves and back erectors. This is where hiring a coach can be of great value. An educated movement-centric coach will be able to identify if you can:

  • Centrate your joints and move in and out of all three planes of motion without compensation
  • Execute proper motor patterns while keeping your joints in advantageous positions
  • Find, feel, and use the correct muscles during exercises

Keeping your joints healthy and applying stress to the correct muscles will help to improve your durability by reducing your risk of overuse,“wear and tear” injuries, and burnout.  It can be hard to objectively measure how well you move. Finding a coach or physical therapist that can assess you and create a plan that teaches you to move better is always a smart place to begin a new training program.

Consider the below situation.

Dan Shoulder Flexion
Dan Shoulder Flexion

Poor active shoulder flexion. Anterior rib flare, forward head, tight lats. Landmine variations would be a smarter exercise instead of overhead pressing.

Mike Shoulder Flexion
Mike Shoulder Flexion

Full ROM during active shoulder flexion. Overhead pressing would be more warranted for this client.

  • Variability of Movements/Implements/Load/Tempo

Variability in a fitness program will keep you healthy and prevent workouts from getting stale and boring.

Learn how to move in all three planes and master fundamental movement patterns and the list of exercises you will be able to safely perform becomes bountiful. Throughout the course of a workout, or a week of training your program, should include some form of squatting and hinging, pushing and pulling, abdominal work, and loaded carries. Do things on two legs and one leg and with two arms and one arm.

When applying external loads to movements, use different implements and choose different ways to hold them.  This will allow you to alter the movement in a manner that will help you train the correct muscles in better positions.

For example, let’s use a squat.  You could load it with a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, two dumbbells, two kettlebells, a sandbag, or a medicine ball.

You could do a front squat, a back squat, a goblet squat, a zercher squat, a potato sack squat, an offset kettlebell squat, or an offset sandbag squat; the list could go on and on. Knowing where you should start on the progression-regression list will help make the movement safer and more effective and varying the implements will challenge the movement in a slightly different manner and help prevent boredom in your exercise program.

Varying the external load in a training program is also key to getting stronger and staying healthy while doing so. This is why many sub-max training programs that accumulate volume are so successful. Decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the course of several weeks and months is much more suitable for long term strength gains than trying to push to a new 1RM each week in the gym.

Another variable that can be manipulated in an exercise program is the tempo at which the movement is performed. Being specific with the tempo of a lift is often neglected even though it has a huge influence on what adaptations are had from the exercise.

If you’ve been performing goblet squats for the past few months with a 2010 tempo, they’ve become boring and easy for you. Now take the same weight and change your tempo to 3030.  Add feeling grounded through both feet, pushing your heels through the floor, and focusing on keeping constant tension on your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs I can guarantee that your easy goblet squat has become much more challenging.

Varying the tempo of lifts could result in a squat hypertrophying your slow twitch fibers or cause you to increase your rate of force production. Both are important and both are needed. Choosing the right time to apply both and using both throughout the course of a training program can make performing the same old lifts much less monotonous.

  • Adaptability/Flexibility

Things come up in life.

You have to work late.

Your kids get sick.

Traffic is worse than usual.

And now you either can’t make it to they gym or have limited time. A great fitness program is structured, but also can be flexible. On these days it is helpful to have a few workouts that are lower intensity, take less time to complete, or can be done at home.

Cardiac output and bodyweight circuits are two awesome ways to still get workouts in even when life comes up.

  • Premium Placed On Recovery

You may be able to get away with it for a short period of time, but in the end if your recovery efforts don’t meet or exceed the efforts put forth in your training you’ll likely be battling with fatigue and injury.

A good training program emphasizes the other 23 hours of your day.  Knowing what you can do to help promote your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and tissue recovery is invaluable.

Go through the checklist below and I’m sure you can do better in at least one and if not several of the categories.

  • - Sleep Quality & Quantity- Do you have a good sleeping environment? Are you getting enough hours of sleep?
  • - Nutrition- Quality & Quantity- Are you eating quality foods that promote low levels of inflammation? Are you eating enough calories to support your training?
  • - Respiration- Are you hyper-inflated? Can you fully exhale your air to help shift yourself to a more parasympathetic state?
  • - Tissue Quality- Do you get regular massages, acupuncture, or perform regular self-myofascial release?
  • - Active Recovery Sessions- Do you use active recovery sessions when you’re feeling tired or sore?
  • Mindset and Environment

You’re now making progress.

You’re moving well and gradually increasing how much you’re doing each workout.  

Your sleep is awesome, your nutrition is locked in, and you’re finally taking care of your body by prioritizing recovery.

Even with all of these important physical factors in check it can still be difficult to stick with an exercise program. If this is the case you need to reflect on your mindset and training environment.

Create short and long-term goals. Write them down somewhere next to why you’re training for these goals. A strong WHY, concrete GOALS, and internal MOTIVATION are powerful for sticking with exercise.

Your training environment also needs to be supportive of everything above. Behind the good music, sweat, and banging of weights needs to be a community of like-minded people who can push and motivate you as you work towards your goals.

Wrapping It Up

I know a lot of people who have reached their goals with different training programs. There are a lot of great programs out there that work, but not everything works forever.

I promise that if you use this article as guide you’ll become an informed and confident consumer. You’ll be able to sift through a lot of BS that is currently in the fitness industry and find a program that will set you up for consistency and success.

About the Author

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Mike Sirani is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Licensed Massage Therapist.  He earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Applied Exercise Science, with a concentration in Sports Performance, from Springfield College, and a license in massage therapy from Cortiva Institute in Watertown, MA.  During his time at Springfield, Mike was a member of the baseball team, and completed a highly sought after six-month internship at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA.

Mike’s multi-disciplinary background and strong evidence-based decision-making form the basis of his training programs.  Through a laid-back, yet no-nonsense approach, his workouts are designed to improve individual’s fundamental movement patterns through a blend of soft-tissue modalities and concentrated strength training.

He has worked with a wide variety of performance clients ranging from middle school to professional athletes, as well as fitness clients, looking to get back into shape.  Mike specializes in helping clients and athletes learn to train around injury and transition from post-rehab to performance.  If you're interested in training with Mike, he can be found at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Massachusetts.

Know-Think-Guess: The 70/20/10 Rule of Programming

Good programming is a balancing act worthy of a Game of Thrones episode: on one side sit the foundational movements–pushes, pulls, hinges, squats, and carries–while on the other sit the latest and greatest in cutting-edge research-velocity based training, blood flow restriction, PRI, post-activation potentiation and more. Stuck neatly in the middle is the modern-day coach, like Jon Snow caught between the white walkers and the mortal threats from the seven kingdoms. How much credence should be given to the up and coming methods? Is it really worth abandoning tried-and-true approaches? Today's article is an attempt to help answer that question, providing some guidance for just how to navigate the relatively narrow space between these two worlds. It's a strategy I've been able to use to help me be both innovative and effective, allowing me to use some of the more exciting things I've come across while not abandoning some of the staples of strength and conditioning. In fact, aside from the principles of specificity and periodization, this one idea has done more to inform my programming choices than anything else I've come across.

70/20/10

The idea at the heart of today's conversation is borrowed from Stuart McMillan, one of the industry's preeminent sprint and speed coaches. He mentioned something he called the 70/20/10 rule in passing, and while I can't remember anything else from that article, this one has stuck with me. Put as simply as possible, 70% of his programming is made of up things he knows, 20% is comprised of things he thinks, and the remaining 10% is left to things he guesses.

My first thought was to wonder where that particular breakdown had come from. I'm the first to acknowledge when someone's smarter than me, and I'll happily be deferring to Stu for years to come, but I wanted to understand the 70/20/10 on my own terms.

70%–The Minimum Adaptable Load

Minimum Adaptable Load (a concept previously covered on this site) is the point at which the applied stimulus or stress is sufficient to cause an adaptation or change in the athlete. The stimulus applied can vary, from the weight on the bar and how many times its lifted on one end of the spectrum to sprint distances, times, and rest intervals on the other. Adaptation is simply the goal of that particular training cycle; hypertrophy, maximum power output, body composition or the like. Minimum Adaptable Load is important for one very basic reason: change doesn’t happen during the session; change happens when we recover from the session.

The exact threshold for Minimum Adaptable Load changes from athlete to athlete, and even within athletes as their training age, their nutrition, or even their lifestyle changes and it can be tough to hit a moving target. While this presents a challenge, a good coach or trainer should be able to adjust training stressors appropriately for their athletes and clients. By devoting 70% of the session’s volume to the strategies we know to be effective, we are likely to meet the threshold needed for adaptation while not exceeding it by so much that we don’t have room for additional strategies.

Consider a strength athlete; with goals of improving their ability to squat, press, pull, lift, carry, and potentially throw the greatest amount of weight possible, what would constitute their 70%? Depending on the specifics of their sport and what season they were in, my programming would likely include big, heavy compound movements loaded from 85% up to 100% of 1RM. In short, they’d spend more time squatting, carrying, pressing, pulling and lifting than they would curling, sprinting, jumping, or walking. While those movements could very well have a place in their programming, they don’t offer the greatest ROI for the athlete, and I’m reserving this 70% for my heavy artillery.

Once I’ve chosen my movements and loading schemes, it’s time to consider overall volume in the context of the larger program. Again, I’m only allowing 70% of my session for these movements, so depending on total volume, I may pull a movement out, drop a set or two, or break the workload up differently to allow me to focus on what I think is most important without overtaxing the athlete.

20%–A Good Bet

With 70% of an athlete's time and energy accounted for, it makes sense to give the bulk of the remainder to something we're confident in, but hasn't stood the test of time. Too little investment here and we're unlikely to see enough influence (or lack thereof) to inform our future programming choices, too much and there's nothing left for the real cutting-edge work.

Continuing the example of our strength athlete, plyometric work (either on its own or for potential post-activation potentiation effects) are one possible choice. Since true explosive power and speed aren't are primary goals, we don't need to devote the same number of reps or contacts we might for a pure throwing or jumping athlete, but a few sets and reps or our most transferable movement patterns make sense. In this case a squat jump (loaded or unloaded, with or without counter movement), a broad jump, and maybe a hinge or rotationally-driven throw could be helpful.

10%–Room to Play

I look at this final piece of the puzzle as playtime... a crazy idea I had, something a single study hinted at, an intuition that an athlete might benefit from something. I'm not ready to devote much of an athlete's training or recovery to something that may be half-baked at best, but as long as I'm confident I'm not doing any harm, this gives me a chance to insert an extra little "kick". It may not work, but again, as long as it's safe, we can probably consider it GPP (General Physical Preparedness) at worst, right?

Maybe strength athlete benefits from working with unstable loads, using something akin to an earthquake or bamboo bar, or possibly moving a barbell with an uneven or hanging load. The instability certainly won't hurt him in his training (provided it doesn’t detract from his primary training modalities), and has some potential carryover to his specific sport and goals, from injury prevention to improved neuromuscular communication.

Putting it to Work

A few days after first running across this concept, I sat down to rework some of my own programming. Knowing I was hoping to put a little more muscle on, and feeling a little bored at the prospect of another body-part split filled with sets of 6-12, I decided to put this idea to the test.

I began with the basics, as I knew they'd work, and wrote a workout that followed some solid principles; progressive overload, moderate weights and rest periods etc. In anticipation of adding to this foundation, I left the volume a little lower than I knew I could handle, allowing for the think and the guess. From there I chose two methods, one I'd seen solid research on, and one I just wanted to play with, and filled in the rest of the volume.

Specifically, I chose to include some traditional explosive plyometric work (as both a Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) element and to directly target fast-twitch fibers) as well as something called Velocity Based Training (VBT). I'd seen some interesting research on VBT using only 35% of 1RM for cluster sets of 5-6, and wanted to give it a go.

I thought the plyometric work would help, and so gave it a good focus, particularly on lower body days, emphasizing either vertical (quad-dominant) or horizontal (glute and hamstring focus) patterns depending on the days movement patterns. This made up the 20%.

I hoped the VBT protocols would work, but wasn't ready to let it overrun my program. I added a set or two at the beginning of days that didn't include plyometric training. If I was pressing, I'd follow VBT protocols with a machine-based press in the hope that I'd target fast-twitch fibers, spark some hypertrophy, and perhaps even see a carryover through the rest of the workout.

Determining Volume

At this point at least a few of you have your hands up, waiting impatiently for the teacher to call on you. Let's get to you guys now:

"How do you determine volume? Is it sets and reps, time, or what?”

"Yes."

In short, use your best judgement in choosing a method to measure volume and determine your 70/20/10 workload. For a Hypertrophy cycle (typically a volume-driven cycle) I might use sets and reps. For a power/speed athlete I might use time or RPE. Ultimately volume will likely play a role, but there's room to interpret "workload" here in a way that matches the stresses of the training cycle.

Evaluation

If we’re going to introduce new methods into our programming, then ultimately we’d like some sense of their effectiveness; at some point in the misty past most of what we take for granted as known was merely thought or guessed. It’s tricky to separate one aspect of a program from another, and if we were to follow stricter scientific methodology, we’d likely only introduce one variable at a time for testing. Still, there are a few benchmarks I’ve looked for in deciding whether an idea had merit or not.

  1. 1)    The athlete or client progressed within the specific mode being employed. If we add plyometric work to improve max strength, did the athlete jump higher or farther?
  2. 2)    Assuming you have some sort of expectation for the athlete’s progress (i.e. last off-season they gained 5 pounds of lean mass in 20 weeks), did this program exceed those expectations?
  3. 3)    Did the athlete and I look forward to this section of their programming? It’s a little subjective, but on some level I think we have a sense of what’s paying dividends, and in the absence of other evidence, it’s at least worth recognizing.
  4. 4)    Were there any other unexpected benefits observed during the training block? Case-in-point, while I was experimenting with VBT protocols for some of my upper body pushing movements, I found that my bench press felt a little more explosive through the sticking point. I hadn’t done anything else to directly target that adaptation, and so it’s conceivable that there was some impact from the explosive, lighter weight work I was doing at the time.

The Hidden Benefit

As clients and athletes finished their own cycles, I started applying the lens of 70/20/10 to the work they were being given. I love some of the work coming out of the PRI world, but I'm not ready to abandon the foundation of a program in favor of these drills. Adding one or two movements a week? That felt about right, and forced me to choose the best drill for the athlete. Similarly, PAP has some good research behind it, and I have some athletes with goals that I think can be helped by its inclusion, but I'm not ready to pull too much volume away from their main lifts. Could I give 20% of a session over to it? Absolutely, and again, I'm forced to prioritize the application of a technique.

Limiting yourself to the 70/20/10 framework offers a self-editing process of sorts, forcing the coach to whittle away at their programming until it's lean and mean. Instead of including five or six lower body patterns in a given workout, maybe I'm limited to four. Inherently I'll choose the four that are most effective. The basics will likely become even more basic as you search out the movements that give you and your athletes the biggest payout.

What Now?

For those of you who enjoy your highlighters, you'll love this part: grab a program you've written  (hard-copy) and mark that sucker up. Highlight your basics, the 70% built around things you know will drive the right adaptation. Find your next tier of movements, the ones you think help the athlete, and highlight those as well. Finally, highlight the movements you've included based on some good solid guesswork as to how they may help.

Step back and look at what you've got. How much time is being devoted to each avenue of attack? How many sets and reps, how much mental energy? If something seems out of line, tweak it a bit, and as you continue to move forward, take some notes and keep track of what you find. After all, there's no substitute for lessons learned through experience.

about the author

Jesse McMeekin has been toiling away in a weight room for more than 20 years. A former competitive lacrosse and football player, as well as drug-free bodybuilder, Jesse currently works with world-class athletes, paramilitary members, weekend warriors, desk-bound CEOs, and a variety of other clientele and athletes. Jesse holds multiple certifications including the CSCS, USAW L1 SPC, Pn1, and FMSC. Wearing a number of hats, Jesse runs his own website (www.revolutionstrengthcoach.com), trains clients privately and through Equinox, and is an Equinox EFTI Master Instructor. He currently lives in Westchester County with his beautiful wife and their dog.

Readiness, Preparedness and the Plight of a Minor League Baseball Player

So about two months ago I was out doing some grocery shopping when I got a call from an athlete of mine who is currently playing minor league baseball.  For the sake of this article, let's call him Tim. Before we get to the phone call, however, let me give you a quick backstory:  Tim is a very good athlete who put in a lot of hard work this offseason and managed to take his fastball from high 80's to 93-96 MPH.  For anyone who has played baseball, and played for an extended period of time, you'll know these type of velocity jumps are hard to come by.  As an unrelated aside, I hate when coaches try and take all the credit for their athletes improvement.  Yes, good programming and coaching makes an enormous difference, but at the end of the day nothing is possible if the athlete isn't making the sacrifices and putting in the time to get better.

Anyways, when I picked up the phone I could immediately tell something was wrong and it didn't take long to figure out why...Tim's velocity had disappeared.  Just several weeks before he was sitting 93-96 MPH, but now that he had been at spring training for a few weeks his velocity had dropped to 85-88 MPH.  If you aren't a baseball person, that's a big drop and is enough to make a team reconsider signing you.

After we spoke for a little while, and Tim filled me in on what all they had him doing, it became crystal clear why he was experiencing so many problems:  his true preparedness level was being masked by fatigue.

Readiness vs. Preparedness

Over the past several years there has been a BOOM in tracking software that allows coaches to see how their athletes are recovering, and how ready they are to perform on a specific day.

Whether we're talking something as simple as tracking daily fluctuations in Heart Rate Variability, or something as complicated as Omegawave, the end goal is the same:  coaches want to know the status of the athlete right now to make the best training decisions for the day in question.

While this concept of readiness and preparedness is a simple one, it unfortunately gets routinely overlooked and deserves our attention.  To help better understand the relationship between preparedness and readiness take a look at the graph below.

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The graph above is owned by Omegawave and Val Nasedkin. It does an incredible job displaying the concepts we're talking about today, and I couldn't recommend checking out their software enough. Furthermore, much of the verbiage we'll be using today comes directly from them.

While there's a lot going on in the graph, I want to draw your attention to the two main pieces we're focusing on today:  readiness vs. preparedness.

When thinking of preparedness, think of it as your overall fitness level.  In other words, it's the accumulation of all the work you've done over time.  Thus, it's a long term quality.  You aren't changing your overall level of preparedness in a single day or one week, we're talking about training for months and years to acquire truly high levels of preparedness.

Readiness, on the other hand, is a short term quality that merely reflects the athlete's ability to display his or her preparedness level on a particular day.  For example, let's say you take an athlete out to run 100 meter sprints at 100% effort on Monday.  What do you think will happen to their readiness level on Tuesday?  It's going to drop, and it's going to drop because you have created fatigue.  You have essentially masked the athletes true preparedness level with fatigue.

In the offseason, this isn't actually a bad thing when managed properly because in order to create adaptation we have to stress the system and generate adequate amounts of fatigue.  In fact, it's a major part of the offseason for highly competitive athletes.  Grab them in the middle of a grueling training cycle and you'll see performance levels below what they're truly capable of.  That's just how the training process works.

If you'd like to see a real world example of this process, you should checkout this article by Lance Goyke on fight conditioning.  You'll notice fatigue is generated, but once the athlete tapers things change drastically.

To further help drive this point home, I'll steal a line from Dr. Pat Davidson's ebook and training program MASS:

"Fatigue is the mask behind which fitness hides. It’s fun to wear masks, because nobody really knows who you are. I live a life of reverse Halloween. I wear a mask nearly year round, and it’s called fatigue.  Every now and then I enjoy reverse Halloween days, and I take off my mask. When I take off the mask, then you see that a monster was living there all along, and I do things that may seem scary to most.

Training is the process of living in fatigue for most of the time. Training is the reverse Halloween phenomenon. Training is how rabid dogs learn to put the foam away behind a mask. And then there are the reverse Halloween days where the real monster, who has been masked by the regular guy face unveils the beast that has been lurking in the shadows all along.

You can’t let the monster out too often. It’s not safe. You keep the monster hidden away by masking it with fatigue. Fatigue is the chains that keep the monster from destroying the city. Every now and then it can be fun to take off the chains though. Remove the fatigue and let the monster rage."

Back to Tim and Velocity

Returning to our man Tim and his velocity dilemma, the answer was really quite simple:  the organization was creating too much fatigue and hiding his true abilities.  What does too much fatigue look like?  Give this a go:

  • - Wake up everyday at 6:30
  • - Run everyday
  • - Throw everyday
  • - Train everyday
  • - Play one to two games a day

Out of respect for Tim and the organization I don't want to get into any specifics, but the above gauntlet is more or less what he was being told to do on a daily basis.  Thus, it's really no surprise his velocity disappeared.

And just to prove a point, once Tim left camp and got back into a good routine his velocity immediately jumped back to 93-96 MPH #takethemaskoff.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.

Owning the Frontal Plane for True Multidirectional Speed

What does every coach want more of for his athletes?  Multidirectional speed; a foundational pillar of any athletic development program.  Multidirectional speed relies on an athlete’s ability to not only produce power, but sustain it throughout competition.  When getting at the heart of multidirectional speed you will find it to be about improving motor programs and increasing an athlete’s ability to maintain a posture during explosive dynamic movements. To ensure performance is optimal, posture and body control must be owned in all 3 planes of motion to ensure an athlete’s full potential is accessed.  Most athletes are well-trained and potentially over-trained in the sagittal plane, while they are under-trained in the frontal and transverse planes.  This is likely the case because deadlifts, squats, and the bench press are well-understood exercises.  When considering the transverse plane, we have seen improvements in the understanding of the importance for rotational development in athletes, specifically in the golf and baseball communities.  However, what is still lacking is how to own the frontal plane.

A typical frontal plane progression is single leg balance, lateral walking, shuffles, and an occasional lateral plyometric drill.  And although these are frontal plane movements they are not developing an athlete's ability to maintain a posture under distress.  An athlete needs to have the capability of sticking their foot in ground to plant and explode out of the pocket in a different direction with complete control and at no risk for injury.  Insert frontal plane ownership, but how?

What is Speed?

Going back to Physics 101, we know speed equals distance divided by time, S= D/T.  If applying this equation to a performance enhancement center the goal becomes to maximize D while T remains a constant or achieve a given distance in minimal time.  Let's consider sprinting, a part of every field sport.  When deriving D we get Stride Frequency (SF) x Stride length (SL).  We need to be able to manipulate these variables to allow us to effectively enhance the speed of an athlete.

Oftentimes we will drill repetition after repetition striving for efficiency of movement in hopes that SF and SL will improve.  However what is frequently neglected is an athlete's initial posture and the influence it can have during both the swing and stance phase of gait regardless of their plane of motion.

Postural Influence

Let's discuss posture in the frontal plane.  Conventionally, frontal plane instability is recognized by unwarranted movement at the knee, but the activity occurring above and below the knee must also be considered.

First the foundation, the pelvis.   The pelvis is comprised of 2 innominates that articulate with each other at the pubic symphysis anteriorly and at a centrally located sacrum posteriorly.

Pelvis.png

These structures form a pelvic inlet (top-down view) and a pelvic outlet (bottom-up view).  The position of the pelvic inlet and outlet are influenced by adduction/abduction of the innominates, frontal plane motion.  This is important because the inlet/outlet position dictates the position of the pelvic floor, an essential component of multidirectional speed.

When considering the relationship between the hips and pelvic floor a length-tension curve can be utilized.  From my experience, most athletes present with a bilateral anterior pelvic tilt because of the environmental stressors driving them into an extended over-sympathetic pattern.  When this sympathetic pattern exists, the pelvic floor elongates or eccentrically lengthens.  The pelvic floor is essential in an athlete because it creates a sling across the pelvic outlet and acts as the linkage to the hips.   If the pelvic floor is elongated a reduction in power output will occur, especially in the frontal plane.  Dynamic side to side movements require increased pelvic floor activity to control and maintain the athlete’s center of gravity within the base of support.  If an athlete is unable to do this, their risk for injury increases dramatically.  In other words, on the length-tension curve we are already too far to the right (as most humans are) and have less potential for power output, which in turn means less potential stability for an athlete.

Length-Tension-Curve.png

Second, the feet.  The feet are an influential reference center, as they provide afferent input directly from the environment.  The ability for an athlete to not only sense their feet, but control the interface between their feet and playing surface is critical during multidirectional movements.  When frontal plane stability is lost at the pelvis it tends to trickle down the kinetic chain and instability occurs at the level of the foot.  And likewise, if frontal plane stability is lost at the foot via an increase in calcaneal eversion (part of pronation), it can translate up the kinetic chain and lock up an athlete.  This can lead to increases in both the ground reaction forces throughout the kinetic chain and the amount of work required of an athlete to change directions.  Not only does this unnecessary energy expenditure slow an athlete down when changing directions, it increases their risk of injury. To minimize the effects of the external forces imposed on an athlete, proper internal positioning must be emphasized to enhance performance.

Now onto the important, but nerdy stuff…..

How do we assess if an athlete has frontal plane access? 

To decide whether or not an athlete has access to their frontal plane I like to use two tests and one positional assessment.

Pelvic Ascension Drop Test (PADT)

The first test comes from the Postural Restoration Institute, the PADT.  This test informs about an athlete’s ability to get into stance phase of gait.  To achieve this, an innominate must extend as an athlete’s pelvic outlet abducts.  This allows femoral adduction and priming of the pelvic floor musculature.  The inability to “clear” or pass this test indicates that an athlete may be compensating throughout their kinetic chain and/or locked into an extended pattern as discussed earlier.

One way to begin to correct this pattern is to use a modified all 4 belly lift to drive anterior inlet and posterior outlet inhibition via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis.  This should allow outlets to abduct and inlets to adduct.

Passive Abduction Raise Test (PART)

The second test examines the other portion of the gait cycle, swing.  The PART also comes from the Postural Restoration Institute.  This test examines whether or not an athlete’s innominates can enter the swing phase.  Limited passive femoral abduction means that an athlete cannot adduct their pelvic outlet enough to get into swing phase.  This potentially means that the transference of power at toe off is restricted and the athlete may be slower because of it.  The goal here should be to inhibit the dominant hip adductors to allow an athlete to move reciprocally into and out of the swing phase.

Here is a great hooklying exercise to address the issue.

Half Kneeling Position (Lunge)

As always, tri-planar information is being gathered and interpreted to drive decision making, but let’s continue with the theme of the frontal plane.  The position of half kneeling provides great insight on an athlete’s access to the frontal plane.  To start, let’s correlate this position to the gait cycle to help understand its role in multidirectional speed.

With regards to the stance phase of gait, the back leg is in late to mid stance depending on the position of the pelvis whereas the front leg is in the swing phase.  If an athlete has an anterior pelvic tilt as discussed earlier they will be in late stance, a more extended position, compared to a neutral mid-stance position.

If an athlete is in late stance the first order of action is to get them to a neutral position because the sagittal plane will lock the frontal plane.  In this athlete, the pelvis will be angled inferiorly towards the stance leg.  This is a sign of frontal plane instability resulting from weakness of the ipsilateral abdominal wall and the inability to perform femoral adduction.

Position the athlete via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis.

What about frontal plane control/stability?

The Hruska adduction lift test is a great test to determine where an athlete may be falling short in their frontal plane stability.  Improvement in this test, from my experience, correlates to improvements in multidirectional speed and general power output during maximal jumping exercises.  Here is a video by Zac Cupples on how to properly execute this test:

We want to strive for at least a 3/5 for our athletes.  This signifies that the athlete has enough frontal plane control to able to train in the frontal plane for speed adaptations.

How do we train the frontal plane in our athletes?    

When training my athletes I like to take a tiered approach.  I start with my positioning or preparatory movements to neutralize the pelvis.  By doing so I am allowing access to both sides of the athlete’s body and letting them move freely in all planes.  These exercises are very individualized and based on examination items, but here are a few of my favorite:

Crossover Toe Touch

From here I like to move into my priming movements that are geared towards neurological stimulation.  By activating the central nervous system we are turning on the essential muscles needed to optimally perform and reduce the risk of injury via improved patterns of stabilization.  For me, this typically involves multiple large muscle groups to fire the entire kinetic chain.  My two favorites are:

Crawling

After the preparatory and priming movements, go after stabilization in the frontal plane.  To achieve this, the athlete’s program should include single leg exercises, plyometrics as well as sport specific movements based on their sport.

Conclusion

To be brief, do not underestimate the influence the frontal plane can have on multidirectional speed.  An athlete’s ownership of the frontal plane will take them to the next level in performance.  Own the frontal plane!

about the author

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Keaton Worland is a dedicated healthcare professional striving to help others achieve their highest human potential possible by bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance. To do so he has entrenched himself in the most up-to-date literature to ensure both clients and patients exceed all expectations.

Athlete of the Month: Ian Engel

This month we'll be featuring Ian Engel as our athlete/coach of the month.  Ian is based in New York City, and trains people out of Equinox on 1 Park Ave.  If you're in the area, be sure to hit him up! Name:  Ian Engel

Favorite Superhero/Sport/Team/Book:

Superhero: Thor

Book: Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Favorite "Go HAM" Song

No Lungs to Breathe. Artist: As I Lay Dying

Favorite Quote

"Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own" - Bruce Lee

Favorite Lift

Log Press / Conventional DL. Honestly they tie in my book. They both make me feel alive in their own ways.

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Max Lifts

-Deadlift: 600

-Log Clean & Press: 320

-Split Jerk: 360

-Bench: 375

Why do you train and what does training mean to you?

I train because I constantly want to be stronger than my previous self physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am trying to find my limit and thus far have yet to find it. Training to me is the gateway to discovering who you are and how far you are willing to go with what you have at your disposal. We have one of the greatest jobs in the world. We improve ourselves so that we may show others the door to conquer their own goals and dreams in the gym and life.

Goals

-Prepare to Win the 220 Hudson Valley Lift For Autism

-Prepare to Win the 231 New York Strong Competition

-Break the USS Log clean and press record for the 220 Class

-Get my split back (yes...you read that correctly)

-Deadlift 675 by the end of 2016

-NAS Nationals for 2017

  • Favorite Memory from training, competition or coaching

-Winning 4 out 5 events and taking 1st in the 231 NAS Strongman Mania 2015 with my training partner Taylor Luther winning his first comp in the HW Novice Class

-Coaching my client Allison Brando to break through her mental blocks and hitting 225lb trap bar deadlift where 4 weeks prior, 95lbs made her nervous. Watching her conquer her mind was a beautiful sight.

-Getting the opportunity to work under Pat Davidson. A man who has continually inspired me to want more and push myself to the next level and then further.

How can people contact you:

Email: iengel518@gmail.com

Instagram: i.engel518

5 Thoughts on Pre-workout Supplements

The popularity of pre-workout supplements has seen a significant boom over the past 5-8 years, and I'd be lying to your face if I said I've never taken them before.  While it's easy to take an "ultimatumist" view towards pre-workouts (DON'T EVER DO IT), that'd be inaccurate because like all things it lies somewhere on a bell curve.  In other words, you always have to consider context before saying something is good or bad.  Anyways...this isn't going to be a dissertation on pre-workout supplements, but rather a collection of random thoughts concerning their usage. 

The Danger of Dependency

So back in college when my biggest concerns in life were playing baseball, getting jacked and hanging out with my friends, I became somewhat of a pre-workout connoisseur.  And by connoisseur I mean I just took a lot of different kinds of pre-workouts because I enjoyed that "jacked up" feeling it gave you.

Now I was never "hooked" on it like some people I knew who would wake up in the morning and take NO Explode just because they needed it, but I did become dependent on it for workouts.

In essence, I felt like I couldn't workout without it because I had lost control over my own dimmer switch of "aggression," and here's what I mean by that.  Think of your aggression output like a dimmer switch (and by aggression output I'm talking about sympathetic vs. parasympathetic tone).  At some points, like when you're working out, you may need to ramp that switch up (boost sympathetic tone), and at others, like when you're chilling on the couch at night before bed, you need to ramp that switch down (boost parasympathetic tone).  The problem many people run into with pre-workouts is that they lose control of this dimmer switch.  They become dependent upon the pre-workout to ramp the dimmer switch up (partly because it's damn near impossible to match the feeling you get from a pre-workout naturally) , and lose the ability to do it themselves.

Ultimately, this isn't a road you want to go down, and if you're one of those people who can't self motivate without an artificial kick, then I'd recommend doing what I did and throw them all away.

*I'm not saying I don't ever use pre-workouts anymore because there can be a time and place for them when used correctly.

Ignoring Important Cues

Here's one of my favorites:

Random Bro:  "Dude...I was so exhausted this morning when I woke up.  I mean my body just felt like crap.  It was probably because I haven't gotten much sleep over the past several nights, ate like crap, and had a little bit too much to drink, but that's okay.  I woke up, CRUSHED my pre-workout, headed to the gym, and still got a good lift in."

Me:  Banging my head against a wall incessantly.

Now I'm not knocking the effort.  I think it's great that you still found time to make it into the gym, but let's just analyze what in the world you're doing:  ignoring every important cue your body is trying to send you.

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This, in case you can't tell from my tone, is really dumb.  It might work a few times, but eventually you're going to run yourself into the ground.

Takeaway:  listen to your body.  Don't tell it to f*ck off.

A Time and Place

Now there is a time and place when you can utilize pre-workouts, and that's strictly for your most intense sessions.

Please know that you should check with your doctor before making any decisions concerning supplements. Especially pre-workout supplements.

Assuming you've been lifting for a while, you should know what these sessions look like and when they're taking place.  If you don't have ability right now to cipher out your different types of sessions, then I'd highly recommend getting a coach who can help get you going in the right direction.

Coffee

While there are 100's of different pre-workouts on the market, I've honestly become a fan of just having a cup of coffee prior to lifting when it's appropriate.  The caffeine from the coffee does it's job of ramping up the central nervous system, and I sleep a little better at night knowing I didn't just ingest what might be cancer juice.  Granted, cancer juice is an extreme statement.  I'm merely referring to the fact that you have NO IDEA what's actually in the pre-workout you're taking, and considering how dramatic of an effect it has on your system, you need to respect that.

*If I'm looking for a pick me up that takes things to another level, however, I tend to go with Pre-Jym because it's the best product I've taken to date.  Please know I'm not endorsing this product, and that you need to check with your doctor before taking it.

Performance Over Health

Let's just go ahead and end with this thought:  if you're taking a pre-workout you are consciously making a decision to choose performance over health, and THAT'S TOTALLY FINE.  People have to respect that performance and health are vastly different things, and that individuals who have serious performance related goals will have to make decisions that play on this trade off.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

Athlete of the Month: Krista Plano

Name:  Krista Plano

Favorite superhero/sport/team/book:

Superhero: Musicians are sort of like superheroes, right? Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails frontman) is mine, he excels at everything he does and has overcome some serious obstacles.

Sport: Cooking? Half kidding. I like playing softball. I grew out of watching baseball years ago.

Book: I proudly admit that the Harry Potter series is my ultimate favorite, it made me want to be a wizard.

Favorite "go HAM" song:

It’s so hard to pick just one, The Beautiful People (Marilyn Manson).

Favorite quote:

"I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.” Trent Reznor

Favorite lift:

hex bar deadlift

Max lifts you know and are willing to share:

Hex bar: 295

Squat: 200

Why do you train and what does training mean to you?

Training makes me feel like myself. If I didn't move and lift more often than not, I'd feel useless and weak. It adds structure and purpose to the weeks, motivates me physically and mentally, and makes me feel stronger everyday. Ever go from not being able to do a pull up to doing 3 or squatting more than your body weight for the first time? Those moments are the best highs.

What are you working on next?

After maxing out for the first time post MASS and hitting 295 on my deadlift, I'm ready to crush 300. My main overall goal is to get leaner and stronger and to surround myself with the people who will help me get there (wink, wink Gerard Friedman). No competitions scheduled...yet!

Favorite memory from training, competition or coaching?

That time I thought I was maxing out with 285 on the bar and there was actually 295!

*Interested in being featured as the athlete and/or coach of the month?  Drop us a line at james@rebel-performance.com and let us know why you're a boss.

Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane Part II: Performance

Welcome back for Part II of our Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane series. If you missed Part I, be sure to go give it a quick read. The info in that will really help you better understand the material we’re going over today, and improve your ability to think critically about training the “core.”

The Training Process

While being able to riddle off some anatomy is great, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t relate it back to training and get people a training effect.

Like all things, the training process can be broken down into three major steps:

  • Learn/Teach
  • Train
  • Integrate

This process is something everyone has experienced before, and learning to ride a bike provides a great visual for understanding the separate steps. You start off (at least most people do) with training wheels because you need to give your brain an opportunity to learn (an extra bonus provided by training wheels is that they decrease threat, but that’s a topic for another time). Eventually, as you log more and more hours, the training wheels come off and you get to start experiencing the real thing.

But you still aren’t crushing it yet. It’s not like the training wheels come off and you immediately hop into full fledged down hill racing, or start launching yourself off ramps in the backyard. You still have to practice and train.

After playing around with the real thing for a while, and again acquiring very important hours of exposure for the brain to learn, you start stepping it up and doing some of the sexier things you see on TV.

This is all part of the process, and whenever you’re attempting to learn a new physical skill you and/or your athletes will have to go through it as well.

Now…let’s relate this all back to the core.

Step 1: Learn

Before you can get to what most people would consider the sexy part of training (deadlifting, jumping and doing other such things), you must first give yourself and/or your athletes the chance to learn. In other words, you need to give the brain access to experiences and outcomes so it can begin adapting.

For example, in Part I I briefly touched on what we’re looking for when it comes to core control and strength: the ability to keep your ribs down and pelvis underneath you.

So, go ahead and do that….

Chances are you can’t (unless you’ve been coached through it before) because you don’t know what it feels like. The position is very foreign, and you’re attempting to find it without a map.

Thus, we need to give you a map. We need to figure out where you are so we can properly teach you how to get there, and one of the best places to start is with breathing.

Yes…breathing, and in particular learning to exhale because if you can truly exhale then you’re very close to regaining control over the sagittal plane. In other words, exhaling gives you abs. I’m going to repeat that one more time just so we both know how important it is: exhaling gives you abs.

And it gives you abs because while your internal obliques, external obliques, and transverse abdominis are pushing air out (aka they’re exhalers), they are also bringing your ribs down and pelvis underneath you (sound familiar?). If that doesn’t make sense, look back at the pictures in Part I and envision what happens as those muscles shorten.

Here’s the issue though: most people are terrible exhalers and need some help learning how to exhale again.

Enter our friend the balloon.

*I’d like to pause here for a second to briefly touch on

PRI

(The Postural Restoration Institute) because the balloon and everything else we’re talking about today draws heavily on their principles. If you aren’t familiar with PRI, then please go take a course. I can’t recommend it enough, and I’m not going to be going down that rabbit hole today for a handful reasons. The most important of which being that I’m not qualified to do so. It’s a monster of a rabbit hole and I’m going to let smarter people than me teach about it.

The balloon is a wonderful teaching tool because it provides resistance as you exhale, in turn forcing you to actually use your abs to get air out. You may laugh, but I’ve seen plenty of people (athletes I may add) who honestly can’t blow up a balloon.

So…here’s a quick tutorial on how to blow up a balloon:

And here are a few great exercise options to get you started (you can realistically implement the balloon into any exercise we’re going over today to help make sure you are appropriately exhaling):

  1. All Four Belly Lift and progressions

While the all four belly lift may seem like its over shooting a little on the flexion piece of the equation, you have to remember that I’m assuming we’re dealing with someone who has lost the sagittal plane. In other words, I’m assuming we have a bilaterally extended individual who has no idea how to flex and breath, so I need to re-establish that first before addressing other needs.

Also, let’s think through what’s happening from an anatomy standpoint. In particular, let’s revisit our good friend the serratus and appreciate how the reach in this exercise is helping to draw your rib backs, thus allowing you to better use your abs.

In review: serratus + obliques + transverse abdomins = winning.

  1. 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown

Remember how we’re attempting to give people a map? Well think of the All Four Belly lift as a system reset (in other words teaching them how to flex and breath), which then gives you the opportunity to create a new map with an exercise like 3 Month Breathing with Band Pulldown.

For starters, it gives the person a reference center: the ground. Which in all honesty is one of your best friends as a coach. It makes your life way easier when you can get someone on his or her back (with gravity on their side I might add) and cue him or her to “crush a bug” or “velcro their low back to floor” because they’ll be able to feel that. In addition, it gives you a target for your ribs: “as you exhale here I want you to think about drawing your ribs down to the floor.” In essence, whenever you can make things simple…do it.

Now, a key feature of this exercise, like all other exercises, is how it’s performed. The low back needs to be pinned to the floor, and the ribs need to come down and stay down (to a degree) on the inhale. In other words, your low back shouldn’t pop off the floor when you go to take a breath in because that defeats the purpose of doing the exercise. I want to see if you can get in a good position with some added tension from the band and breath without breaking down.

It’s absolutely essential that the athlete learns what this feels like, and is able to find it on his or her own, because this is the foundation for everything else you’ll be doing.

Step 2: Train

Once the new map has started to take hold, it’s time to up the ante a little and add some more definition to the map. If you ever played Age of Empires, think of it like at the beginning of the game when the whole map is black except for where your few little settlers are.

As you played the game and explored you uncovered more and more of the map, and the black area slowly gave way. The same thing is happening here: you’ve done some of the early exploration work, and now it’s time to set off and uncover more of the map.

Thus, let’s stress the system a little more. Let’s put you and/or your athletes in positions that’ll challenge their ability to hold the rock solid position you taught them earlier.

  1. Leg Lowering with Band Pulldown

Yeah, this should look really familiar. All we’ve basically done is take the 3 month breathing with band pulldown exercise from above, and make it more dynamic by seeing if you can move your leg without falling apart.

Let’s think on a deeper level though and focus on a big muscle we talked about last time: the rectus femoris. What’s happening to that muscle as you’re going from hip flexion to hip extension? It’s lengthening right. And as that muscle is lengthening what is it doing? It’s attempting to yank your pelvis forward, and make your low back come off the ground. In order to prevent that from happening what better be working? Your abs! Those sexy obliques and transverse abdominis better be opposing that quad, or else you’re going to lose the tug of war.

This, in essence, is exactly what you’re looking to do when training the “core”: how many different ways can you pit someone’s “abs” against muscles like a quad or a lat.

3 Month KB Pullover

I explained pretty much everything in the video, so yeah…not gonna waste your time and repeat myself.

While there are probably 50-100 exercises that could fit into this section, hopefully these two exercises give you a good idea for how to start thinking about “core” training: opposition. It doesn’t matter that you can do crunches. What matters is that you have abs capable of opposing big muscles like your lats and quads. Ultimately, if you understand anatomy then you should have a field day coming up with ways to challenge this.

*challenge homework assignment: think your way through a split squat.

Step 3: Integrate

At the end of the day, the goal is to be bigger, faster, stronger and better conditioned than everyone else. Period. Unfortunately, however, people often mistake what I’ve gone over thus far as being “too low level” or “not intense enough” to reach that end goal. But I couldn’t disagree more. If you aren’t adequately addressing Step 1 and 2 in this process, then you one, aren’t doing your job, and two, are merely setting up your athletes for failure down the road. You’ve gotta build the pyramid from the bottom up.

Now that that short rant is out of the way, let’s talk about integrating because this is what we live for right? I mean who gets excited about lying on the floor and breathing? I know I don’t (I actually hate it). I’d much rather turn on some loud music, hangout with my bros, and throw weight around for an hour.

And assuming you’ve done your homework in Step 1 and Step 2, it gives you the ability to do so because now we can start talking about deadlifting. In other words, movements like the deadlift represent your highest level of “core” performance. It’s where are the boring, shitty work you do on the side gets to shine. Just think through any major, compound, complex movement and you’ll see a beautiful sequence of events that all stems from your basic ability to control the sagittal plane.

And let me make something perfectly clear: this is the goal. The goal isn’t to lay on the ground and breathe. That is merely a tool so that we can get you on your feet, integrate, and turn you into a monster. So PLEASE, do not forget this step. Performing a high quality deadlift is core training. Performing a high quality squat is core training. And so on and so forth.

Closing Thoughts

While there are many exercises that we could have gone over today, I chose to focus just on a few them because I care more about you understanding the principles behind why we do them as opposed to just listing off exercises. Thus, if you feel lost or don’t understand anything we’ve gone over today, please post your questions in the comments below.

Also, I’d like to go over one last tidbit of info before I sign off for the day, and that’s failure. Generally speaking, when someone is performing these exercises I look for them to fail 2 out of every 10 reps because this tells me that I have found something that’s adequately challenging. In other words, if someone can crush something for 10 reps and every rep is literally perfect, then you should probably find a way to progress the exercise or else they won’t get better. Small amounts of failure tell me that I’m imposing enough stress to get an adaptation.

That's about it for today though.  Hope you enjoyed the article and post any questions/thoughts you have below.

about the author

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James Cerbie is just a life long athlete and meathead coming to terms with the fact that he’s also an enormous nerd.  Be sure to follow him on Twitterand Instagram for the latest happenings.