deadlift

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.

Coming Up With a Long Term Plan: The Proper Lens to Look Through for Your Macrocycle

A major issue amongst the novice and intermediate athletes of the strength community today is their vision. The amount of emails and questions I get regarding how to get ready for X in 4 weeks completely out weighs the questions I get regarding long term progress. I of course answer with the best advice and help I can give, but I always try to point them in the direction of long term preparation. I do this for two reasons:

1.  It gives the best results

2.  It highlights those who are exceptionally motivated

The people who are looking down the line for success will always beat the ones looking for an easy way out. I truly believe everyone has the ability to reach their goals, but the proper motivation and guidance are needed.

The Long Term Plan

This is where devising a macro cycle comes into play. A macrocycle is essentially a long term block periodization plan that leads an athlete to an ultimate goal. This goal is typically a competition or a milestone that has high levels of emotional attachment. This means the macrocycle is your treasure map to striking gold. If you know anything about gold miners, you know they don’t just mindlessly hack away at the same spot hoping for something to magically change.

This is the major flaw in the training programs of many athletes.

If someone decides to compete in a strongman show 20 weeks out, the worst thing they can do is begin hitting the competition events right away. They are hacking away at the same thing hoping for improvements in performance to come. Specificity is an incredibly important portion of a training program, however, if it begins to over take its purpose it can certainly inhibit you. The reason sport specific training can elicit a peak is because for a short period of time the sport specific traits are exposed to higher volumes and given more emphasis while under residual fatigue. This causes the body to super-compensate the recovery/neural aspects of the stimulus (i.e. the sport specific training). This is your ace card and your final progression. If you play that card too early, then you're going to miss out on a lot of potential for improvement and eventually have to settle or fold.

So what is supposed to fill the rest of your macrocycle? It is most effective to reverse engineer it when looking at your own training. I will take you through how I am viewing an upcoming goal of mine through a long term lens. Beginning around 28 weeks out, this is the first major step in my longer term plans. There is no standard number of weeks when planning a macrocycle, however, I would recommend a minimum of 15 weeks to allow you to flow well.

Start: 06/01

Compete: 11/14

Goal: bulk up to 198 and total over 1460

First 5 weeks:

-Kcal set 3100 weekly, maintain BW of 188

-Increase muscle mass and work capacity

Weeks 6-10 (in this phase currently)

-Kcal drop to 2800-2600, increase body comp

-Increase movement quality and muscle mass

Weeks 11-16

-Kcal increase until BW reaches 190-192

-Begin implementing SPP and developing alactic capacity

Weeks 17-22

-Kcal increase to maintain 193-195

-Bulk of sport specific volume handled

Weeks 23-28

-Cycling of Kcal throughout week to maintain 195

-Peaking phase begins

Now this is a very rough and vague outline for where my training and nutrition will go. My longer term goal is to compete in the 231 class in strongman, meaning I will be bulking long term. Hence the cut of bf % and kcal because it's easier to maintain body composition while gaining weight than to improve it. To aid in this goal I am currently doing a John Meadows program 7 days a week, then I will transition into a phase were I develop efficient patterns in the bench, squat, and deadlift while returning to the alactic energy system. Finally, from week 17 on I will be focusing on building strength and preparing for the meet.

Important Considerations

The goal of this was to show you the changes and transitions training must go through in order to properly prepare you to reach a goal. When creating an effective long term plan you must objectively look at yourself. What are your weaknesses? What will be your limiting factor in performance? What is your long term vision? It is uncommon that you are creating the last major macrocycle, this only happens once or twice in a life time. Most macrocycles are only means to further progress yourself using other goals as a medium.

The most important variables are the energy system the sport utilizes, the strength demands of the sport, the movement demands of the sport, favorable anthropometrics, and the conditions the sport will be performed in.

These are by no means the only ones, but these can generally be applied to all sports.

So you're at block one...how do you start? I recommend looking at the most successful participants in your sport and break down their performance and learn about them. You should have a clear indication of the direction you want to go with the program based on the research you have done before hand. Since you are working backwards it should be easy to periodize everything. The beginning portion of your program should be set to fixing weaknesses and creating a rock solid foundation. It should then progress to focusing on building important attributes for the sport. Finally, the program should be heavy in sport specific volume that translates best to your goals.

Think about how treasure maps work in movies:  the trip begins nice, but as you get closer and closer to the treasure you have to evade more dangers until you finally reach the end and are glad its all over.

Step 1: Pick 1-2 goals that you will be programming toward

Step 2: Pick the qualities and attributes you would like to improve to reach the goals

Step 3: Do the calendar math on how many total weeks you will have

Step 4: Pool together the movements you will be using

Step 5: Establish the method you would like to peak with and its attributes

Step 6: Begin reverse engineering the program back to week 1

Step 7: Sit on it, and review the program multiple times before you begin

Closing Thoughts

I may be beating a dead horse with this, but when it comes to planning out the macrocycle reverse engineering is most effective. You have a clear cut end goal with the traits you want to peak.  You then take one step back and start asking yourself questions:  what type of training protocol would allow you to peak for this? And so on and so forth.

Long term progress is not a linear track. This is where too much specificity can hurt you. If you spend more time developing your aerobic GPP you have a greater ability to handle general volume, which will allow you to handle more specific work, which will allow you to handle even greater amounts of specificity and so on. Do not allow yourself to view this process linearly, it is very much cyclic in nature. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of long term commitment. Don’t be afraid of any bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid of the success you may reach.

about the author

Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

The Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make that Limit their Gains

You’ve been training for a while now. You’ve noticed gains in strength, size, and body composition. So have your sex partners. But progress has come to a screeching halt. Personal records (PRs) are few and far between. Training is fun and all, but it seems to be going nowhere.

I’ve been there. Years back, I remember having read a few training articles on T-Nation.com and thought I was the shit. Kept working out, pushing my limits, only to get hurt what seemed like every week.

Man, if I could have those days back…

Now that training other people is my career, it is my goal is to prevent you from making the same mistakes I made. Here are the five most common mistakes I see intermediate lifters make.

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Everything you do in the gym should have a purpose. To find out what that purpose is, you first need to have an end goal in sight.

Set a goal

I used to bounce around from program to program, spinning my wheels and never making progress.

Find something you’re good at—powerlifting, strongman, intramural co-ed volleyball, whatever—and start heading down that path.

Focus on building strength instead of testing it

You’ve already realized your newbie gains. PRs will not come as easy anymore. They will be hard fought… and much more satisfying.

Your training needs to be planned over the long-term. The term we use in the fitness industry for this planning is “periodization”.

The idea is that you figure out when you’re going to compete, then you work backwards from there.

When your next competition is far away, your training should be focused on building up general qualities that transfer well to all sports, such as work capacity, aerobic power, and general strength. As you get closer to a competition, your training should become more and more specific and focused. Specificity is one of the guiding principles of smart, effective training, but spending all your time being specific with your training doesn’t give you a foundation upon which you can build. You have to do the things that you don’t like to do if you want to get better.

You have to go back to basics.

Track your progress

If you’re not making progress that you can track, then whatever you’re doing is not working.

Talk to a professional to figure out how to accomplish your goal

If you remember only one thing I say in this post, remember this: If you’re serious about your goal, you need a coach.

If you broke your leg, you would go to the doctor. Why would you not refer your training out to a professional who spends all of their time trying to get better at what they do?

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Quality movement is absolutely essential for long-term gains.

Learn how to squat and bend

When squatting or bending under load (like when you’re deadlifting), keep your spine stable and load your legs by “pushing” through the floor instead of trying to pick the bar up. Avoid leading with your shoulders and arching your back.

If you need to relearn how to squat and bend, try a Kettlebell Deadlift.

Learn how to press

When pressing (like with a bench press), keep your shoulder blades stable and elbows tucked. If you don’t do this, it’s like you’re trying to shoot a cannon from a rowboat. A good exercise to try is the Dumbbell Floor Press.

Learn how to row

When rowing, always lead the movement with the shoulder blade. You should feel the muscles in your upper back working. A good exercise to try is the 3-point Dumbbell Row.

Learn how to be move on one leg

Single leg work isn’t fun, but it IS important. A good, albeit difficult exercise to try is the Single Leg Rufus Deadlift.

Do more reaching exercises

If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to remember how to reach. This is especially important for those general phases of training we were discussing earlier.

When doing push ups, think about pushing your hands “through” the ground (all the way to China) before you finish your rep.

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Training hard is only effective if you can recover from it. Restful sleep is essential to the recovery process.

Sleep quantity

Shoot for 7-9 hours each night.

Sleep quality

Avoid electronics before bed. Try to get on a schedule so that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you have sleep apnea, go see a doctor.

*Here's a good post by our buddies over at Precision Nutrition if you want to read more about sleep.

Mistake #4: They forget about their nutrition

In addition to sleep, nutrition is also essential to your recovery. Quicker Recovery → Harder Training → More Progress.

Become conscious of what you eat and why you eat it

I like prescribing a 3-day food log. Record everything you ingest, when you ingest it, and what you were doing at the time of ingestion. This is all the info you need to determine the number one change you can make to optimize your food intake.

Fill your gas tank with premium, not crap

If you’re trying to make your body a high performance machine, you should fill it with premium fuel, not sludge.

*Further Reading:  Nutrition:  How to Pick a Plan that Fits Your Goals

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Improper conditioning is a pet peeve of mine. Coaches everywhere run their athletes into the ground, making them worse instead of better.

What are you training for?

There are three basic systems in the body that produce energy. Determine the ones that your sport uses and then train those systems.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing conditioning simply because it “feels hard”. Any coach can make you puke, but can he or she make you better?

*Further Reading:  How Do You Train For the Long Haul?  Develop an Aerobic Base

Summary of the Top 5 Mistakes Semi-Experienced Lifters Make

Mistake #1: They don’t have a structured plan

Mistake #2: They never learn how to move well

Mistake #3: They don’t get enough sleep

Mistake #4: They forget about their diet

Mistake #5: They do the wrong type of conditioning work

Don’t fall into the same traps that I and so many others have fallen into. My goal is to teach, so if you know someone who you think would benefit from this, please forward it to them.

P.S. I made a whole 16-week program that is great for these intermediate lifters who need some guidance. You can even get the ebook, presentation, and first month of the program totally free of charge.

about the author

Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.

Barbells and Bone Health: A Review of What the Literature Says on Building Strong Bones

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People lift weights for varying reasons. Some want a big bench press, some want big biceps, and some just want to “look good naked” for that special someone.

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But I’ll bet ya that nobody in the gym thinks about how lifting weights affects their bones.

Osteoporosis is a common condition that occurs when we break down more bone than we build up. This causes our bones to become thinner, weaker, and more fragile. Osteoporosis is often called "the silent thief" as many people don't know they have it until they fracture something. While a fracture may not seem like much to you or I, for an elderly individual, the consequences of a fracture are dire and can include anxiety, depression, pain (1), and even death (2).

But thankfully, lifting weights can help to prevent these from happening. When we load our bones we provide a strain that causes bone cells to be stimulated. This leads to osteoclasts (bone absorbing cells) reabsorbing bones just like PacMan eats pacdots.

Photo Credit:  www.quickmeme.com
Photo Credit: www.quickmeme.com

Afterwards osteoblasts (bone building cells) differentiate and lay down new, stronger bone which is almost like new, softer cement which hardens over time (3).

What Kind Of Training Program Do I Need To Do To Strengthen My Bones?

Linear and undulating periodization are the two programming styles that have been studied and shown to increase bone formation and bone mineral density (BMD) (4-6).

*Side note: Before I get any hate messages in the comments - this isn’t to say that the other great training methods out there (e.g. 10/20/Life, Juggernaut, 5/3/1, Westside, Cube etc.) can’t strengthen your bones, it’s just that they’ve never been studied in this regard.

Linear periodization is a method of training where you gradually increase the weight and decrease the repetitions over a period of weeks and "peak" for an athletic event. Note that it only applies to your main or “opening” exercise in a workout. There are many ways to cycle and train assistance work, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Below is an example of a 17 week linear periodization model.

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In contrast to linear periodization, undulating periodization uses a repetition scheme that is varied from workout to workout.

Here's an example of an undulating periodization model which can be applied to almost all exercises in a workout:

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Progressive overload in a training program is critical for improving bone growth. Low intensity training doesn’t have the same effect on improving BMD (6, 11, 13). A 5 or 10 lb dumbbell is appropriate for someone new to the gym, but past that it’s only appropriate for prehab, as a doorstop, or as a paper weight. It’s not gonna improve your bone health. Both periodization styles have similar effects on BMD in women (7) and have approximately the same effectiveness in improving maximal strength in beginner to novice trainees (8-12).

Do Men’s And Women’s Bones Respond The Same Way To Lifting?

College, adult, and middle aged men have all shown increases in their lumbar spine and hip BMD through lifting weights (5, 11, 14).

By contrast, premenopausal women respond more variably to lifting. Some studies show no effect of weight training on BMD (7, 15-17) while others (including a review) show a positive effect of lifting on hip BMD and bone formation (6, 18). Weight training (4), even explosive weight training (19), has been consistently shown to maintain or increase BMD in postmenopausal women (13) – a population at high risk of osteoporosis.

In my biased opinion, when you look at the effect of lifting on overall health, women can’t go wrong with lifting some weights. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Strength Sports and Bone Health

Several studies have shown that Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters have a much higher BMD than people who are untrained or train at a lower intensity (11, 20-23). Competing as a high level strength athlete comes with its own health risks (24) but focusing on getting stronger can help your bones, your muscle mass, your athleticism, and your performance (wink).

In the strength and conditioning world you'll be hard pressed to find a strength coach that doesn't recommend a squat variation. But how do squats relate with bone health?

Some research hypothesizes that ground reaction force and rate of force development are linked with bone development (25). When you push into the ground, the ground sends an equal and opposite force into you, that's what a ground reaction force is. Rate of force development refers to the speed at which you can apply force.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that in comparison to traditional squats and powerlifting squats, box squats have slightly lower ground reaction force but conversely have three to four times the rate of force development (26). This suggests that box squats may be a better choice of squat variations for bone development assuming you’re not a competitive strength athlete who has to do back squats in your sport.

What About Plyometrics And Bone Health?

The relationship between jumping and BMD hasn’t been thoroughly researched in young adults. Several recent studies have shown a positive relationship between hip BMD, maximal vertical jump height (27), and maximal broad jump length (28). Low-repetition jump training has been shown to increase BMD in female college athletes (29) and higher-repetition jump training has been shown to increase lumbar spine BMD in pre-menopausal women (30).

Assuming you have no injury history and can land properly, adding in a few sets of jumps (e.g. 2-5 sets of 1-3 reps) once a week before a full body or a lower body workout can be a great way to improve your athleticism & explosiveness. As an added bonus jumps help to improve muscle power, something we lose with age.

Osteoporosis is a common condition that will change the face of the health care system as we age. But doing some periodized weight training & jumps can improve your physique, improve your athleticism, and keep your bones healthy for the long haul.

Practical Takeaways

1.  Both linear and undulating periodization programs have been shown to improve bone mineral density in young adults

2.  To maximize your bone development in a training program, progressive overload must occur while maintaining good form

3.  Assuming you can do them correctly and pain free, adding in a few sets of box squats and jumps into your training program may help to increase your BMD and keep your bones healthy for the long term

Disclaimer: Every training program must be fit to the individual and scientific research is ever-changing. Therefore, I encourage you to take what you read in this article with a grain of salt and shape it to your training needs and goals. I disclaim any liability for injuries or illnesses resulting from use or misuse of the information in this article.

About the Author

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Eric Bowman is a BSc in Honours Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He worked as a research assistant in the UW Bone Health laboratory where he studied exercise and osteoporosis. He is currently in the Physical Therapy program at Western University and is studying to become a CSCS. His areas of interest are orthopedic rehab, exercise for special populations, and strength & conditioning. Add him on Facebook or email him at bigericbowman@gmail.com

 

References

  1. Gold DT. The clinical impact of vertebral fractures: quality of life in women with osteoporosis. 1996 Mar;18(3 Suppl):185S-189S.
  2. Tajeu GS,Delzell E, Smith W, Arora T, Curtis JR, Saag KG, Morrisey MA, Yun H, Kilgore ML. Death, debility, and destitution following hip fracture. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2014 Mar;69(3):346-353. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glt105. Epub 2013 Jul 19.
  3. Galli C1,Passeri G, Macaluso GM. Osteocytes and WNT: the mechanical control of bone formation. J Dent Res. 2010 Apr;89(4):331-343.
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SQUEEZE: 5 Tips and Challenges to Build Preposterous Amounts of Grip Strength

P.S. Make sure you read to the end to get in on the competition for some free swag.

My whole life I’ve never been a really big person. Well at least not in my eyes. Even on paper I'm not that big at 6’ tall weighing between 200 and 230 lbs. There are dinosaur-sized humans out there, but somehow I can keep up (for the most part) when it comes to lifting weight.

How do I do this?

Well for starters, I work my ass off. I played sports (football, basketball, and lacrosse) my whole life, and was fortunate enough to have a personal trainer at the age of 13. I started training the summer before my freshman year of high school, and weighed in at a whopping 125 lbs.

Since then I haven’t missed a step, and continue to push the envelope on a day-to-day basis.

But there’s also the power of my environment--I’ve been blessed to train alongside people who help me grow both mentally and physically every day.

What I’d like to return though is the power of effort because everything I’ve ever done has been with 100% effort, and if you’re hoping to tap into preposterous amounts of grip strength, you’ll have to as well.

One of the many adaptions I have made through training hard and often is having crazy strong grip strength. I was gifted with pretty big hands, but grip strength is something that comes with effort and high volume tension, and can be attained by anyone who is willing to SQUEEEZE.

Think effort not size

Everybody wants Popeye sized forearms. We all know, for the most part, that high reps and high volume will cause muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). But is the answer to muscular strength simply to make the muscle bigger? The answer is no.

When we set out to get stronger grip strength, lets not focus so much on size. Same concept with regards to olympic weightlifters: they don’t set out to get giant quads, but as a result of endless repetitions on full cleans and front squat comes giant quads.

With the size of olympic weightlifters quads, one would think they must have done tons of leg pressing and leg extensions. Same idea can be applied to someone with huge forearms: you may think they did lots of forearm curls to enlarge the belly of the forearm (flexors), but that’s likely not the case.

You;re probably sitting there wondering what exercise is the equivalent of a clean for grip strength, and the answer is tension.

Squeeze all day long

There is no one exercise, or even a combination of exercises, that I consider the BEST when it comes to grip strength. Tension and effort are king, as always.

As a strength and conditioning coach, I have the upper hand because I’m constantly moving weights around all day. And when I’m not coaching, I’m lifting myself, which is obviously working on my grip strength.

So how do you squeeze all day long if you aren’t in my position?

Make the best out of what you are working with. Hopefully you have a hands on and active job that can be turned into a workout. If you have a desk job, try squeezing a stress ball or a portable hand gripper. Sounds stupid, but grip strength needs to be worked on constantly for it to improve.

You wont progress either if you just absolutely crush your grip once or twice a week to the point where you’re sore and cant work hard the next day. Consistency is the key, and increasing intrinsic finger strength is crucial because they consist mostly of type I fibers.

These small slow twitch muscles need to be worked day after day, and unlike large type II muscles that are used in explosive compound movements, these type I fibers are smaller and used to stabilize. This is why there is such thing as “old man strength”--Type I fibers get stronger with time and volume.

Take the hard way out

Take simple daily activities and turn them into the extreme. For example, taking in all of the groceries in one trip. Sounds ridiculous and classic, but I have had many max effort grocery carries in my time.

This is no joke. Carrying groceries across campus and up three flights of stairs was not a rare occurrence while in college. Sure I could have called a friend or pulled in front of the dorm to bring the groceries in, but I never take the easy way out.

Other little examples of how you can push yourself to the next level and force adaptation include:

- Carrying your gym or laundry bag with one hand (as opposed to flinging it over your shoulder)

- Carry weights in the gym with one hand and make sure you alternate hands

- Or just use both hands and carry a lot of weight (i.e. grab 2 or 3 plates at a time instead of one at a time)

- Carrying a laundry or trash basket, squeeze extra hard and engage your core.

- Pumping gas, squeeze the handle extra hard

- Use a screw driver instead of a drill when you can

- Cleaning a pan over the sink instead of in the sink

Each of these may seem minuscule, but trust me, they add up. When carrying things, make sure to have no space in between your hand and the object. Focus on a symmetrical squeeze and use your weak hand more often.

Also, don’t be afraid to engage your core even if it’s with something as simple as brushing your teeth. A lot of people claim that their grip is their weak point, however, I notice that their “weak grip” is actually just a weak core. When the core isn’t strong enough, people start to rely on other muscles to do the work. This energy leak trickles directly down to your hands and makes the weight or task at hand impossible.

My Favorite Grip Strength Exercises: (thumbs wrapped, and squeeze)

1.  Anything with an axle (fat bar): cleans, deadlifts, rows, presses etc.

2.  Deadlifts (straps or no straps, both crush grip)

3.  Hex bar deadlifts with a slow eccentric

4.  RDL’S (specifically single arm single leg because it increases time under tension)

5.  Farmers or suitcase carries

6.  Ropes (the thicker the better)

7.  PVC or Pipe Roller (extensors and flexors)

8.  Plate pinches

Ultimate Grip Strength Challenges

1.  Max Double Overhand Dead Lift- Use a barbell, hex bar, or axel bar, and no straps or suits allowed.

2.  Plate Pinch for Max Time- Hold two steel ten pound plates in each hand, making sure the flat sides are facing out and your fingers aren’t in the holes. Hold until you drop. If you can do this for longer than 90 seconds, then add a third ten pound plate. If you are feeling like a daddy, then use 25’s. Chalk allowed, no tacky.

3.  PVC or Pipe Roller for Reps- Just to be clear, this exercise entails a PVC or metal pipe that has a 5lb plate attached to it by string. The string should be about 4 feet long so that when you hold the pipe out in front of you the plate goes all the way down to the floor. With straight arms that’s are at chest level, begin to twist the pipe so that the string wraps around the pipe. If you twist your hands towards you then you will be working your extensors, or the top of your forearms. If you twist your hands away from you, you will be working your flexors (the belly of the forearm). Either way, make sure you lower the weight slowly and controlled when going back down. Roll and unroll the rope as many times as you can before your arms give out. No drops allowed.

4.  Max Pull Ups on a Rag or Rope- hold on for dear life while doing neutral grip pull ups on a rag or a rope. Drape the rag or rope over any pull up bar to make pull-ups harder than ever.

5.  Carry for Max Distance- ( hex bar/frame, dumbbells, farmers handles, groceries).  Carry any of these implements for as far as you can without dropping. Measure out a set distance such as 25 or 50 feet and walk back and forth until your grip gives out.

Closing Thoughts

These are all exercises that I have done, and still do very often. Acquiring grip strength is an everlasting battle. As the rest of my body gets stronger, my hands and forearms better be able to keep up. I want to be the best dead lifter in the world one day, and without monster grip there is no chance. Grip strength is universal and necessary for everybody. Whether you want to be the best in the world at something, or you just want to be able to open a jar of pickles at the age of 90, go squeeeeze some shit. Actually, squeeze everything. Just be careful, you may start to break stuff by accident.

What I'd like to do before you leave though is challenge you to a little competition.  In fact, I want to challenge you to the Carry for Max Distance competition.  So here's what we'll do:  Whomever can film themselves carrying 90lbs dumbbells the greatest distance without dropping will win some free Rebel Performance swag (pictured below)

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All you have to do is video yourself, post it to facebook and/or twitter, and then tag us in the post.  We'll review all the entries, decide who legit beast moded everyone else, and then send a free shirt to the champ.  Are you up for the challenge?  I sure hope so.

P.S.  The competition ends Sunday the 18th at Midnight.

about the author

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Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.

Steak and Potato Training: What Longhorn Steakhouse Can Teach You About Strength Training

Do you ever go out to eat and can’t decide what to get? You sit there for 20 minutes going back and forth between two different options, and suddenly a third option comes into the picture making it impossible to make a decision.

No?

Maybe that’s just me, but I’m a little crazy anyway.

When I go to my favorite restaurant, Longhorn Steakhouse, there is no question what I am going to get:  STEAK.  Obviously.  And a couple sweet potatoes on the side.

When I first started off in the weight room, I was that guy who was at a random restaurant and didn’t know what he wanted.  Now I'm that guy at Longhorn Steakhouse, and I know exactly what I want.

I bet you are probably questioning how I got to Longhorn.  Well gather round children, here we go! (Mario voice)

As you may already know, I compete in Strongman Competitions. I used to train for football, but now I train to lift weights.  Training for football still requires lifting heavy, but training for a competition requires heavy lifting in specific ranges of motion.

Football was not my Longhorn.  It was more of like a Red Robin to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love and miss Red Robin, but Longhorn stole my heart.  At Red Robin my go to is a bacon cheeseburger, not a steak.  That’s because a bacon cheeseburger at Red Robin is better than their steak.

But now I’m at Longhorn.

Where’s my steak?

My point here is that when you are at different restaurants you order different things.  Same concept when it comes to training.  You do different training and diet programs when it comes to training for different end goals.

Squatting, it’s like brussels sprouts.  Whether I’m at Longhorn or at Red Robin, I’m not ordering them.  People might say they're good for you, but it’s just not worth choking them down anymore.

It fills me up and takes up room in my stomach.  Valuable room in which could be replaced with high quality nutrient dense foods.  Squatting hurts my knees, and if I ignore the pain and fight through it...it travels to my hips.

This negatively affects my other lifts, both in quality and volume. I bet you are sitting there and thinking how the hell did this guy become the national champion strongman?

I got strong and efficient in specific movements.  Not one event in strongman requires you to squat or have your femurs at or below 90 degrees.  I have tried, and I am still trying, to bring the squat back into my training.  I squat light and do single leg exercises to maintain full range of motion strength and to stimulate hypertrophy.

Deadlift is the big time lift that takes the place of squats.  Being able to deadlift pain free, I have worked my deadlift volume up to 3-5 times per week (depending on the phase).  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t squat.  I am saying that you can get strong as fuck without certain “main lifts.”

Maybe bench press is your brussels sprouts.  Your best bet would be to work the same muscles, but shorten the range of motion.  Floor press would be the deadlift to a squat; shorter range of motion but, working similar muscles.  Unless you are a competitive weightlifter, there is no problem. There is always an alternative.

Whatever lifts you choose to be your staples, make sure you can attack them day after day and remain pain free.  Accumulating volume is the secret to strength, but accumulating the volume in a safe and efficient way is the hard part.  Being able to dial up or dial down frequency and intensity at the right time is always crucial.  As long as you know what your end goal is, the process will be that much easier. Find your favorite restaurant, and go get steak every night.

How do you know if certain lifts are a bad idea?  You just know.  You know that the kid in the squat rack going down a quarter of the way isn’t onto something.  You know the guy in his 50’s screaming to get an extra rep on bench probably is not onto anything either.  If it looks and sounds bad, no doubt it's bad.

Just go ahead and watch this clip of the world record clean and Jerk. It looks effortless and beautiful and he’s petting 533lbs over his head.

Steak and Potato Exercises:  (available at any restaurant, quality guaranteed)

Lower:

Deadlift

Goblet Squat

Barbell Hip Bridge

Rear Foot Elevated Squat

Double and Single Leg RDL

Glute Ham Raise

Upper:

Deadlift

Pull Ups/Inverted Rows

Push Ups

Floor Press

Chest Supported Row

Half Kneeling Db Press

Core:

Deadlift

Round Back Breathing

Planks/buzz saws

Hanging Hold

Suitcase/Farmers Carries

Med Ball Break

What's your steak and potato exercise?  What's your brussels sprout?  Drop us a line below and let us know!

about the author

a7115073663444b73a02831d2ab0a21f.jpeg

Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort.  Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.

Maximize Your Pull: 7 Tips for a Bigger Deadlift

So there I was... 8 weeks out from Nationals and strapped into 455--a weight I had just missed for the third time that week.

Seeing as this was 84% of my max (aka a weight I should crush with relative ease), frustration was mounting and I began panicking:

"Why isn't this weight moving the way it should?  What am I doing wrong?"

Like all good athletes do, I turned to film and began analyzing my lifts--hunting and searching for where I was going wrong.  Low and behold, I found a problem:  my positioning was off.  In particular, my thoracic and cervical spine weren’t stabile, and I wasn’t generating enough force through my posterior chain.

Being the perfectionist I am, I made the necessary adjustments and focused on hitting perfect reps for volume.  Well six weeks later, in the middle of a harsh weight cut, I was smoking 545 for an easy single.  All because I made a slight tweak in my form.

Moral of the story:  lifting heavy weights is all about positioning.

Often times people miss lifts not because they weren’t producing enough force, but because they were producing said force in a sub-optimal position.

It's just basic physics:  it's harder to hit a lift with bad form than good form because the levers get thrown off.

And the deadlift is an executer of these culprits because if you pull with bad levers consistently you will plateau or get injured.

It is a beautiful double edged sword though because through mastery of the deadlift there is some serious reward.

The key to really improving the deadlift is understanding why it's so different. Almost every other lift has a period of sensory feedback to the brain of the actual load of the exercise, and believe me when I say this feedback is incredibly important.

If the load is heavy, the brain will recruit more muscle fibers to fire during contraction than if it were lighter.

This is the double edged sword in the deadlift. Although it is amongst the most easily loadable levers the body can produce, it is missing this crucial recruitment period.

Everyone has experienced this: you go to pull a weight you should crush, you break the ground, it feels like your one rep max, and you grind out an ugly 80% lift for a single.

If you can capitalize on the positioning of the deadlift and produce force properly you can maximize your pull.  Like this single at 555.

Now that you understand how I look at the deadlift, here are my 7 tips to improve yours:

  • Stance

Odds are, your feet are probably too far apart, your shoulders are way over the bar, and the barbell is not your center of gravity. For this tip, approach the bar with your feet at hip width and put your weight on your heels. Do a moderate load deadlift session in this position, then next week move your stance in a quarter inch more. Do this every week. If you move in too close you will notice a drop in speed, and when you find your wheelhouse, you will know.

*This is the only tip that does not apply to sumo deadlifts, the stance and positioning for sumo is different

Tension

There are two major points of tension that actively need to be applied in the deadlift:  intra-abdominal and full spinal tension . To do this, push your entire core outwards like your going to explode. If you are wearing a belt push against it.

Your next cue is to find length:  you have to reach with the crown of your head and push down through your pelvic floor. Imagine trying to be as tall as possible, this should really create tension.

Slack

Every barbell has some degree of slack to it, which is why you can hear the weights bang around when you smoke a rep.

To free yourself of terrible barbell whiplash and to add speed to your pull, use your hands and hamstrings to pull the slack out.

You should be squeezing the bar as hard as you can and, while keeping your arms locked out, pull the bar to your belly button like a low row. Then, similar to a hamstring curl, while keeping this tension in your hands, use your hamstrings to pull your butt down about an inch. This should create even more tension.

Glute Ham Raises

Do these. Glute-ham raises get their own category for improvement of the conventional deadlift. Although there is an argument for transfer due to it not being a hip extension based movement, that does not mean knee flexion is not a major force producer in creating positioning and potential energy off the floor, because it is. Vary these any way you want, just consistently accumulate about 40-60 reps per week.

Accessory

When it comes to extremely heavy loads, accessory muscles matter for a multitude of reasons. The main one being positioning. You will be able to maintain better positioning with heavy loads if the synergistic stabilizing muscles are strong enough to handle them. The best bang for your buck moves will be:

pendlay rows

deficit deadlifts

supine band pull aparts

kettle bell swings.

Volume and Intensity

In your formula for gains, these variants will always play the biggest role. I have found this especially true with deadlifts. Volume with 73-83% loads should be the majority of your work with the rest laying in the 60’s and 90’s. I have found the most efficient deadlift increases come with 4-6 weeks of volume in that 73-83% range and 3-4 weeks in the 60/90% range. The amount of time spent in each depends on deadlift frequency AKA how often you pull.

Commit to Your Pull

If you aren’t mentally prepared to lift or confident when you approach the bar I promise 10/10 times its going to suck. Approach the bar with confidence, intent, and explosiveness every single time. Nothing will drain your energy and bar speed more than sitting there and waiting unsure of yourself.

about the author

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Andrew Triana “The Leucine Frog” is a promising young coach who has an intense passion for his clients success and writing. It is evident in his work that he is relentless in his pursuit of excellence. At 20 years old Andrew has produced National champions, World champions, Pro strongmen, and has helped many others reach their goals.  Follow him on Twitter (@AndrewTriana) and Instagram (@andtriana).

What a Teenager and a Pick Up Game of Basketball Can Teach You About Hitting a Deadlift PR

As the sound of metal plates hitting the ground echoed throughout the room, he looked up at me, clearly shaken by what was happening. Instead of speaking, however, he just stared at me.  Sort of like when a dog stares at you because it’s waiting for something.

After about 60 seconds of this awkward “stare at each other and nobody say anything moment,” he finally spoke:

“What in the f___ was that?  Why does that feel so heavy?  I crushed this last week and now it feels like a million pounds?”

To his credit, he was right.

When deadlifting the week before the weight he was currently using flew off the ground.  This week, however, it crawled.  And like all competitive athletes, he wanted to know what in the world was going on.

My Secret

Here’s my secret:  I knew this was going to happen.

You may balk at hearing me say that, but here’s why I knew it was going to happen and why I let it happen:

 The week before he hit a personal record for his sumo deadlift in intensity (heaviest 3 reps he’d ever done), volume (lifted more total weight than he ever had), and density (did it all in shorter time).  Although I did not know these things were going to happen, he felt really good that day so I let him push it.  All in all, I had doubts he would repeat that performance.

 This is the big one:  he played two hours of pick up basketball the day before (it was supposed to be a full rest day).  I don’t care who you are, this crushes your ability to recover and perform the next day.

 I wanted this to be a good learning experience for him.  He’s still in high school, so if he could learn he’s not invincible now then that would be a major bonus (Within reason of course.  He wasn’t in jeopardy of hurting himself).  All kidding aside, part of my job as a coach is to teach people how to manage workloads and how to manage their bodies (aka when to push it and when to back off).  This was going to be a good chance to illustrate how everything he does leaves traces in his central nervous system, and can potentially impact performance.  Furthermore, it would allow me to get across the point that you have to train to your body/ability that day (one reason I'm not a huge fan of set percentages).

What We Did

For starters, I gave him the speal about how you’ll have good days and bad days, and how everything he does (like playing basketball) can have an impact on his performance.

Once I saw a semi-lightbulb go off in his head, I proceeded to tell him to take it light the rest of the way out.  The last thing he needed to do was push through and make things worse than they already were.  Granted, he wasn’t too happy to hear this, but he eventually agreed.

He did all the reps and sets prescribed, but did nothing very strenuous.  He was going to get through everything to the best of his ability that day, and then come back next week and try again.

What Happened

A week had gone by since the infamous “what the f” moment, and once again the sound of colliding metal plates resonated throughout the room

As he rested the bar on the floor, I once again received a look.  This time, however, I received a look of pure astonishment:  he had pr’d his deadlift by 15 pounds.

Now I can’t say this with one 100% certainty, but I’m pretty damn sure this never would have happened if we hadn’t backed off the week before.  It gave his body the “rest” it needed and allowed him to adequately recover.

Anyways, here’s what you need to take away from this post:  always listen to your body.

You’ll have good days, you’ll have bad days and you’ll have days in-between.  The idea is to always work to the best of your ability on any given day.  This will ensure long term progress and success.

If you start pushing through and making yourself work on the crappy days, then you’re body will more than likely continue to slide into depression.  Remember, you only get better when you recover, and nobody knows if you’re recovered better than your body.

Before you go, I’d like to leave you with this great quote by Mel Siff:

“To me, the sign of a really excellent routine is one which places great demands on the athlete, yet produces progressive long-term improvement without soreness, injury or the athlete ever feeling thoroughly depleted. Any fool can create a program that is so demanding that it would virtually kill the toughest Marine or hardiest of elite athletes, but not any fool can create a tough program that produces progress without unnecessary pain.”

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.

Adaptation and Varying Your Training for Success

Photo Credit:  Rogue Fitness

Are you a creature of habit?

I know I am.

I like routines and tend to stick to them.  It helps me stay productive and keeps me on track.

Occasionally I’ll mix it up, but most of my days look pretty similar.

I’m willing to bet you’re in the same boat.

You probably get up around the same time, eat similar things, and go through a daily schedule that varies by fractions instead of wholes.

As nice as routines are for day to day living, they can be disastrous for your training.

I’m not talking about warming up and all that jazz.  I’m talking about the lift itself.

If you show up to the gym and do the same lift over and over and over again you will not make progress over the long haul.  Sure…in those first couple of weeks you might see some gains, but that’ll eventually come to a screeching halt as you hit the dreaded wall of no progress.

Similar to the Dikimbe Mutombo commercial, but instead of rejecting rolled up paper he’s rejecting your desire to (fill in goal of choice).

This is usually when I hear from people–when progress stops being had.  It just so happens the quantity of the “help I’m stuck” emails has been rather high recently, and in looking over all of their “routines” one thing stands out immediately:  the lack of variety.

Adaptation

Adaptation rules all.

But seriously…it does.

It dictates who you are now and who you will become in the future.  The nice part is you can control for adaptation if you understand it.

Thus, adaptation can be defined as the adjustment of an organism to its environment.  The environment provides the stimulus and then our bodies will adapt.

Training is no different.  We provide a stimulus, whether it be running, squatting, or doing push ups, and then our bodies adapt.

Not all stimuli, however, are created equal.  Some will produce a positive adaptation, some will produce no adaption, and some will produce a negative adaptation (for our purposes negative adaptation simply means decrease in performance).

The three types of adaptation can be classified as follows:

Stimulating- magnitude of the training load exceeds the previous level causing a positive adaptation.

Retaining- magnitude of the training load equals the previous level causing no adaptation

Detraining- magnitude of the training load falls below previous levels causing a decrease in performance.

You can picture a graph with physical fitness on the y axis and training load on the x axis.  The stimulating load will arch up, the retaining load will stay flat, and the detraining load will arch down.

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Law of Accommodation and Law of Diminishing Returns

Two other important concepts to understand are the law of accommodation and the law of diminishing returns.

In a nutshell, the law of accommodation states that the response of a biological object (human in our case) to a constant stimulus diminishes over time.  This makes logical sense.  As your body sees the same stimulus over and over again it will eventually adapt and the stimulus no longer has an effect.

We can use music as an example.  The first time you hear a new song it may be awesome.  Play it on repeat for a few days and you eventually will no longer like the song.

The law of diminishing returns gets after the same idea:  over time the magnitude of adaptation that occurs from a given stimulus diminishes.  For example, a beginner lifter can see gains from simply squatting the bar because he or she has never performed the movement, while an elite powerlifter can lift a near maximal load and see hardly any adaptation because of the increased exposure to the stimulus.

These two ideas may seem simple, but they’re powerful.  You always have to keep them in mind and respect they are there.

Also, these two laws bring to light the importance or need to continually challenge the system–a concept known as progressive overload.  As the system adapts you have to continually provide it with a greater stimulus, or else you’ll flatline and eventually die off.

Another way to get after progressive overload is via variance–finding ways to change your routine to continuously generate a stimulus greater than what your body is used to.

How To Vary

When it comes to varying your routine you really have two options:

Change the load

Changing the load comes down to manipulating volume and  intensity.

For sake of this conversation, volume will be the total number of lifts performed.  Here’s an example:

You do 5 sets of 4 reps in the bench press.  Your volume that day is:

5 x 4 = 20 reps 

Intensity, on the other hand, deals with the average weight of the barbell, and can be calculated by dividing the total weight lifted by the number reps.  The greater the weight the greater the intensity.  Here’s an example:

Say you do 4 sets of squats for 5 reps a set, with each set looking like this:

Set 1:  100 lbs

Set 2:  100 lbs

Set 3:  120 lbs

Set 4:  120 lbs

To calculate total weight lifted you’ll do the following:

(100 x 5) + (100 x 5) + (120 x 5) + (120 x 5) = 2200 lbs

To find intensity you’ll divide 2200 by the total number of lifts:

2200/20 = 110

There you go.  The average weight lifted that training session was 110 lbs.

With that in mind, I want you to think about how you can vary a training session.

Go ahead and take a minute and write something down.

Alright, good.

So to vary a training session you’d have to either increase sets, increase reps or increase the load (general rule of thumb is to decrease volume as intensity goes up.  just so you don’t make that mistake).  Let’s see what that looks like the next time you squat:

You come back in to squat and decide you’re going to do 4 sets of 2 reps.  Your sets look like this:

1.  150

2.  160

3.  175

4.  175

Now let’s find intensity:

(150 x 2) + (160 x 2) + (175 x 2) + (175 x 2) = 1314

1314/8 = 164

Notice what happened.

Your volume decreased from 20 reps to 8 reps, but your intensity increased from 110 to 164.

Now I wish we could go into more depth on this front, but there’s just not enough time to do so because what we’re beginning to tread on is periodization–the art of planning training to control for volume and intensity in the most effective manner.

That convo will have to wait for another day, so just remember to change up volume or intensity and you should be good for now.

Change the movement

Another way to mix things up is to change the movement.  The opportunities here are limitless, so don’t be afraid to get creative.

Here are a few examples:

Change the movement completely

This is as simple as it sounds.  Pick an entirely new movement.  You’ve been doing squats…try deadlifts.  You’ve been running…try pulling a sled.  The list can go on and on.

Add chains or bands

Putting chains or bands on the bar can completely change the movement by way of accommodating resistance.  Although it may not seem much different to you, I can promise you’re body and central nervous system think it’s different.

Change your stance

Another easy way to mix things up.  Instead of doing something standing up drop into a half kneeling or tall kneeling stance.  Try squatting with a wide stance.  Try squatting with a narrower stance.  Try deadlifting while standing on a small platform to increase the range of motion.  Just use your imagination and have some fun with it.

Vary the tempo

A lifts tempo is often overlooked.  You can change how long the eccentric, concentric and sticking point of the lift lasts.  For example, while doing a single arm dumbbell row take 1 second on the concentric portion, 1 second on the sticking point and 3 seconds on the eccentric portion.  I think you’ll enjoy the different stimulus.

Change the type of bar you use

Unfortunately, a lot people do not have access to a wide variety of bars.  I’d be willing to go even further and say most people don’t know different bar types exist.  Either way, they can be an extremely powerful tool in your toolbox.  Here are a few to get you started: trap bar, swiss bar, cambered bar, and safety squat bar.

(If you’re in the market for bars I’d recommend checking out Rogue’s selection.  They have some of the best stuff around.  Just click this link and it’ll take you straight to the page:  Rogue Weightlifting Bars)

Closing Thoughts

This has been a very brief overview of how to vary up your routine, but I hope you’ve gotten something out of it.

Adding variety to your training routine should be fun.  Get creative, experiment, and see what works best for you.

As I mentioned earlier, variety will depend on your training experience.

If you’re a beginner, you won’t need to vary your routine as much as an experienced lifter because you haven’t spent much time around the stimulus.  And please god take advantage of that.  Don’t get all trigger happy and start changing things up every two weeks.  Ride out the good wave while you can.  Continue performing a lift as long as you’re seeing progress.  Once progress drops off then change things up.

For intermediate and more advanced lifters, a generalized rule of thumb is to change things up every 3 to 4 weeks.  Start there and see how things go.  As you lift you’ll get a better feel for how your body adapts and how long you can spend on any one thing.