movement

An Athlete’s Relationship With An Exercise Environment Via Afferentation & Energy

An Athlete’s Relationship With An Exercise Environment  Via Afferentation & Energy

Sensory information dictates our perception of the world around us-whatever world that may be to you. That world may be walking down the street feeling the sunlight on your face, holding a barbell in a gym, or sitting at a table holding a loved one’s hand. Our brain needs accurate sensory information from our environment, in order to connect. Sensory information includes the linkage of both the external environment (sensory) and internal environment (emotions). Representations of our environment can occur with both real and remembered stimuli (1). Human behavior and motor control is based upon ACCURATE sensory information (19,21,22). Vision, vestibular, and somatosensory (pain, touch, temperature, and proprioception) input provides our brain with the information it needs to make accurate motor and behavioral responses. The brain needs this afferent information in order to feel safe and know that it can protect itself against threat. You need the ability to sense and feel.

Allostatic Overload: Stress and Emotional Context Part 2

What we have learned from Part 1 is that physiological adaptations during training are due to the planning of stress. As humans, we need the stress response to survive. Stress is training variables (i.e reps, sets, intensity, loads, velocities, etc.) and the cascade of the HPA axis is the window into performance. But we also need to be able to turn it off when it is not needed.

A chronic state of stress will limit adaptation and performance. A chronic state can lead to changes in environmental perception, behavior, and anxiety (level of tension). Allostatic overload is a term that reflects the pathophysiology that chronic over activation of the stress response of regulating systems can create. These changes can reflect compensation patterns for movement and be reflected physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. Part 2 will be dedicated to the physical adaptations to allostatic overload.

However, we need to appreciate that it is not just physical. Part 1 discussed emotional and behavioral overload such as heightened threat perception, anxiety, increased level of alertness and tension, and difficulty relaxing (parasympathetic access). “Hyperactivity of amygdala may be part of mechanism through which normal fear process translates into anxiety disorder in some individuals” (15). “Stress- related neuroplastic changes are associated with decreased behavioral flexibility” (4,5).

Everything is connected.

“Do whatever you want, just know that it has a consequence” - Chris Chase

What does this look like?

Wolff’s Law states that bone in a healthy human will adapt to the loads under which it is placed; if loading on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel in order to support the increase in load over time. This law also applies to muscle, the muscle will hypertrophy if there is an increased demand on the muscle. For example, if the body is lateralized to the right, the vastus lateralis is eccentrically loaded to support body weight thus creating hypertrophy.

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The pictured athlete is lateralized TO THE RIGHT. Not only is it evident in this picture, but it was determined through testing.

Muscles are SUPPOSE to function in a specific way but the position that the muscle is in due to boney landmarks dictates the function. Function is dictated by position. Stress will pull athletes into an extended position due to an increase in muscle tone of spinal erectors, lats, traps, gastrocnemius, and superficial neck muscles. Performance can be effected due to overreliance on non-

oxidative energy systems in these muscles.

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Superficial neck muscles such as the sternocleidomastoid and traps will be recruited to pull clavicles up to create more space vertically when the diaphragm is not in the most efficient/correct POSITION to function. Both the tendon (attachment point) and belly of the superficial neck muscle will hypertrophy due to increased load. Hello, neck pain.

It doesn’t stop at physical properties of the muscle. Firing patterns can be altered, in which neural pathways for breathing are going to be normalized and directed to using superficial neck muscles instead of the diaphragm, internal obliques, and transverse abdominals to breathe. If the rib cage or pelvis positions are altered and pathophysiology develops, neural firing patterns needed for all three planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, and transverse) may be altered. This may lead to compensation patterns and limit function of major, powerful muscles such as the gluteus maximus.

Impingement may also be a symptom of allostatic overload. An athlete may experience impingement because of lack of anatomical afferent information of where the body is in space. Positional impingement is the instability from misaligned structural position or orientation. Often athletes who experience impingement symptoms (feeling of ‘pinching’ at a joint) lack sensation and resort to a safety pattern. Misaligned body structures can be the result of allostatic overload and impingement becomes the response to threat.

What to do?

Sensory processing will reduce emotional intensity and DE threaten the environment and/or task. A low- resourced environment due to a lack of sensory information is likely to result in high levels of stress. Use tempos to SLOW PEOPLE DOWN. Get people to think, find, feel, and process information. Can you feel this? Can you find that? Feel appropriate muscle working and utilize spatial and ground references to provide athlete with sensory information.

Ground and spatial references that provide perceptual feelings will provide brain with sensory information to respond with the appropriate motor signal. Finding and feeling creates stimulation and stabilization which will help assist symptoms of impingement.

We all need sensory processing for proper motor function; this in combination IS performance.

Consider the pelvic floor when you squat. Pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to pelvic floor pain, poor bladder control (adult diapers), vulvodynia, erectile dysfunction in males, and dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse). “The pelvic floor muscles contribute to postural (control of lumbar spine and pelvis) and respiratory functions” (7). During periods of increased intra-abdominal pressure such as lifting pelvic floor muscle (puborectalis, puboccygeus, and iliococcygeus) activity is increased to prevent or limit rostral displacement (anterior tilt) of the floor, maintain bladder neck, and assist with urethral and anal closure. If the pelvic floor is not in a good position during activity, weakness and dysfunction may result.

If pelvic position is not restored after lifting (external load) and the pattern/position becomes normalized, it further leads to pelvic floor weakness and possible dysfunction. Improper consideration of the position of the pelvis and function (descent) of the pelvic floor during training can lead to allostatic overload. Improper consideration of the position of the pelvis and function of the pelvic floor muscles during external loading (lifting) OR the inability to return to a neutral position after loading may lead to weakness and dysfunction. Consider the health and function of the athlete years after they are done training with you. What are you leaving them with?

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Re-think and APPRECIATE how the athlete is anatomically positioned and how this position is allowing and creating movement. How do you do this? TEST. The most beneficial thing I have taken away from Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) course is a greater understanding of anatomy and exercise selection that provides the athlete with the most benefit and least amount of cost on the system. Let’s use the example of a kettlebell swing: The athlete (on right) demonstrated bilateral pelvic anterior tilt with testing. During the KB Swing, the athlete is not maintaining foot contact with the ground, externally rotating the femur into further ranges of external rotation without the ability to flex, adduct, and internally rotate (I know this via testing).

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So my question is, why would I prescribe an exercise that forces them to greater ranges of external rotation when I know that they are stuck in external rotation? If I force them to go into a greater range of motion in this position, I am driving them into pathology (overlengthening of ligaments, etc.). Is this beneficial? No. Can I find other ways to work on hip hinging and explosive hip extension? Yes. Be creative and understand the individual.

Address anatomical stress patterns. Promote exhalation and systemic flexion to change entrenched and automatic extension position. Get people to EXHALE. IF your athlete is stuck in extension, is giving more extension the best for that athlete? OR is it leading them down a path of pathology? This doesn’t mean stop training? NO, it means manage the consequences. Are they performing exercises in a safety pattern? Then DE threaten. DE threatening the task and/or environment will reduce stress on the system. For individuals who test as pelvic forward/anterior tilt, trap bar deadlifting may be more beneficial in terms of position to strengthen the posterior chain than squatting under high loads. (Understand the context: I work with collegiate athletes how are not competing for money and will most likely not compete at a higher level, so future health and function is a consideration.)

Create a comfortable, welcoming, and positive environment. Positively influence environment, mitigate athlete’s perceptions of both security and risk (2), create quality relationships/social interactions, and educate/provide awareness. Consider psychological stress, just as much as physical stress; know that they are interrelated.

“We spend so much time and energy designing programs and arguing about ‘best’ exercises or ‘best’ session designs, and yet so little time reflecting on how best to positively manipulate training and competition contexts to optimally reduce the negative impacts of stress.” - John Kiely

As a strength and conditioning coach, the best way to manage cost in consideration of allostatic load is with exercise selection. We shouldn’t just modify exercises if an athlete is injured or has physical restrictions, we should modify exercises to avoid unnecessary wear and tear. Choose exercises that avoid pain, provide appropriate position while maintaining intensity. For example, safety bar squatting instead of back squat to avoid shoulder wear and tear and allow athlete to maintain proper position throughout movement. We all have a tendency to want the biggest and best results as fast as possible, however focus on achieving sustainable long-term returns with the overall health and future of the athlete in mind.

About the Author

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Michelle Boland

– Strength and Conditioning Coach at Northeastern University (Boston, MA)

– PhD. Exercise Physiology, Springfield College

– M.S. Strength and Conditioning, Springfield College

– B.S. Nutrition, Keene State College

– Follow on Instagram: mboland18

– Visit: www.michelleboland-training.com

 

  • References
  1. 1. Anderson, A. K. (2005). Affective influences on the attentional dynamics supporting awareness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 258–281.
  2. 2. Bingisser, M. (2017). How your emotional state can be more powerful than your rep scheme. HMMR Media
  3. 3. Bingisser, M. (2017). Training, Fast and Slow. HMMR Media Cerqueira, J. J., Mailliet, F., Almeida, O. F., Jay, T. M., & Sousa, N. (2007). The prefrontal cortex as a key target of the maladaptive response to stress. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 2781–2787.
  4. 4. Cerqueira, J. J., Pego, J. M., Taipa, R., Bessa, J. M., Almeida, O. F. X., & Sousa, N. (2005). Morphological correlates of corticosteroid-induced changes in prefrontal cortex-dependent behaviors. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 7792–7800.
  5. 5. Ganzel, BL, Wethington, E, & Morris, PA (2010). Allostasis and the human brain: Integrating models of stress from social and life sciences. Psych Review 117(1): 134-174
  6. 6. Hodges, P.W., Sapsford, R., & Pengel, L.M. (2007). Postural and respiratory functions of the pelvic floor muscles. Neurourology and Urodynamics 26: 362-371.
  7. 7. Lovallo, W. (2016). Stress & Health: Biological and psychological interactions. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA.
  8. 8. McEwen, B. S. (2000). Allostasis and allostatic load: Implications for neuropsychopharmacology. Neuropsychopharmacology, 22, 108–124.
  9. 9. McEwen, B. S. (2004). Protective and damaging effects of the mediators of stress and adaptation: Allostasis and allostatic load. In J. Schulkin (Ed.), Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation (pp. 65–98). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
  10. 10. McEwen, B. S. (2007). Physiology and neurobiology of stress and adaptation: Central role of the brain. Physiological Reviews, 87, 873–901.
  11. 11. Öhman, A., & Mineka, S. (2001). Fears, phobias, and preparedness: Toward an evolved module of fear and fear learning. Psychological Review, 108, 483–522.
  12. 12. Samueloff, S. & Yousef, M.K. (1987). Adaptive physiology to stressful environments. CRC Press Inc: Boca Raton, FL.
  13. 13. Schulkin, J. (2003). Rethinking homeostasis: Allostatic regulation in physiology and pathophysiology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  14. 14. Schulkin, J. (2004). Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  15. 15. Schulkin, J. (2011). Social allostasis: Anticipatory regulation of the internal milieu. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, 2 (111), 1-15.
  16. 16. Sterling, P. (2004). Principles of allostasis: Optimal design, predictive regulation, pathophysiology, and rational therapeutics. In J. Schulkin (Ed.), Allostasis, homeostasis, and the costs of physiological adaptation (pp. 17–64). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
  17. 17. Sterling, P., & Eyer, J. (1988). Allostasis: A new paradigm to explain arousal pathology. In S. Fisher & J. Reason (Eds.), Handbook of life stress, cognition, and health (pp. 629 – 649). Chichester, England: Wiley.

Training the Core in the Sagittal Plane Part I: Anatomy and Function

The core…

What a popular buzzword.

If you’ve read any fitness related article on the Internet over the past 2-3 years you’ve probably heard it.

But what is the core?

What is it supposed to do?

How do you train it?

Where should you start?

Where should you go?

What exercises actually work and what exercises are just fluff (I’m talking to you six pack shortcut peeps)?

In this two part series we’re going to be talking about all the above and a little more with respect to the core and the sagittal plane. In particular, I’d like to outline and give you a game plan for how to appropriately tackle stage 1 of either your own or your athletes program.

And to be perfectly clear, when I say stage 1 I’m referring to the sagittal plane and being able to control flexion and extension. This is absolutely essential because if you can’t control the sagittal plane, then you will never be able to control the frontal and transverse planes as well.

Thus, this two part series you are embarking on is going to focus solely on the core and how it relates to controlling the sagittal plane (when you hear sagittal plane just think flexion and extension).

Unfortunately, we can’t have this conversation if we aren’t on the same page when it comes to anatomy, so Part I of this series (aka what you’re reading right now) will be devoted to talking about anatomy and the basic “job” of the core, while Part II will focus on the training and application side of things.

I know…anatomy isn’t sexy, can be a little wordy, and is often downright boring, but knowing it will make you a better athlete and coach. To help make this a little more interesting, and in hopes that you’ll actually read this, we’re going to be relating it all back to Batman because who doesn’t love Batman.

*side note: the Batman v. Superman move is coming out March 25th and should probably be on your calendar if it isn’t already.

Thus, let’s get started with what in the world the “core” is actually supposed to do.

What’s the Job of the Core

Understanding this concept is essential to tying together the rest of the 2 part series.

To quote Shirley Sahrmann:

“The most important aspect of abdominal muscle performance is obtaining the control that is necessary to (1) appropriately stabilize the spine, (2) maintain optimal alignment and movement relationships between the pelvis and the spine, and (3) prevent excessive stress and compensatory motions of the pelvis during movements of the extremities.”[i]

To summarize that and put it in plain English (and add a little flavor): the job of your core is to stabilize/maintain optimal position of your pelvis and ribs so that your arms and legs can function the way we want them to. And it does this by getting your ribs “down” (rib internal rotation) and your pelvis “underneath” you (posterior tilt is a popular word for this but there are things happening in all three planes of motion).

Let me clarify really quickly that you don’t want to take the “rib down” and “pelvis underneath you” cues too far. That can be just as bad. I’m merely making the assumption that you’re going to be patterned, that you’re going to have a rib flare, and that you’re going to have a pelvis that has a tendency to roll forward into anterior tilt because I haven’t seen a single person in over 2 years who doesn’t present this way. Thus, bringing your ribs back down and pelvis back underneath you is merely getting them where we want them to be. Then you have to learn to maintain it, but that’s more the focus of Part II.

Here’s a quick video to help put this into perspective for you (and it will also serve as a great lead in to Part II of this series where we focus on performance):

To review: the job of your core is to stabilize and maintain pelvic and thoracic position to allow your arms and legs to do what we want.

Some Anatomy

In order to adequately understand what we are trying to accomplish when we train “the core,” you’ve gotta know a little anatomy.

Of primary concern, for this article at least, are the following muscles:

  • -Rectus abdominis
  • -Internal obliques
  • -External obliques
  • -Transverse abdominis
  • -Lats
  • -Rectus femoris and TFL
  • -Serratus anterior

Let’s go ahead and address each of those accordingly

Rectus Abdominis (aka the six pack muscle)

*Couldn’t think of a good Batman reference for this. If you can, let me know.

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Who doesn’t love a good six-pack? As far as aesthetics go, it’s probably one of the most sought after traits and that’s totally fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look like you just stepped out of a superhero movie.

When we’re talking about functionality and overall performance, however, the rectus abdominis equates to little more than a show muscle. And here’s why: it’s attachment sites suck when it comes to creating leverage.

As you can see in the above image, there’s a very tiny attachment site down on the pubic crest coupled with another small (and by small I’m talking surface area) attachment on both the xiphoid process and some costal cartilage.

In essence, this means the rectus abdominis has minimal capacity to truly impact the position of your pelvis and your ribs, which is of vital importance when you think back to what we need the core to do.

Internal Oblique, External Oblique, and Transverse Abdominis (aka Batman)

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Take a second and compare the images above to the image of the rectus abdominis. Notice any differences?

I sure hope you do. The internal oblique, external oblique and transverse abdominis are HUGE. Just look at the difference in attachment sites, and try and get an appreciation for how effective these three muscles are at controlling/impacting the position of your pelvis and your ribs (in turn giving your arms and legs a chance to work).

In other words, these three muscles are your Batman: here to fight evil and bring justice to your anatomical system.

Lats (aka Bane)

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Oh the lats. A much loved and sought after muscle by many, but like Bane they are very large and wield an incredible power (a power that was actually great enough to successfully break Batman’s back if you’re up on your Batman knowledge)

Let’s start with the pure size and magnitude of a single lat by looking at its attachment sites:

  • -Spinous processes of the lower six thoracic and all five lumbar vertebrae
  • -Posterior aspect of the ilium
  • -The lower three ribs
  • -Inferior angle of the scapula in some people
  • -Intertubercular groove on the anterior aspect of the humerus.

So yeah…this thing is big.

Now to the function as described by any anatomy textbook ever:

  • -Internally rotate the humerus
  • -Shoulder extension
  • -Shoulder adduction

That’s a nice list but it’s missing a MAJOR piece of the puzzle that I think you’re smart enough to figure out.

So, take a look at the picture below, and imagine what’ll happen if you take both lats and shorten them at the same time.

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It’ll produce something like this:

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Notice how the back of the body is being closed off and the front of the body appears to be opening…this is called bilateral extension. It creates a position where your ribs pop up and out in the front, and your pelvis rolls forward into anterior tilt (a good visual for a pelvis rolling forward is to think of dumping water out of the front of a bucket).

This, my friend, is why the lats are like Bane: when unopposed they have the ability to completely dominate and wreak havoc upon your system.

*Remember, your goal is ribs down and hips underneath…this is doing the opposite

Rectus Femoris and TFL (aka The Joker)

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The Joker represents another arch nemesis that Batman must face routinely to bring balance and peace to Gotham. The Joker, however, is not easily defeated. He is cunning, creative, and always finds ways to disturb the peace…much like your rectus femoris and TFL.

Of particular interest is their ability to pull either innominate into anterior tilt. You can visualize this by thinking of either muscle like a string that’s attached to the front of the pelvis that you’re pulling down on.

Similar to the lats, this is pulling the pelvis into a position we don’t want.

Serratus Anterior (aka Robin)

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When Batman is in trouble he can often rely on Robin to provide some much needed help and assistance.  Luckily for you, you have a serratus anterior to help your big guns above (obliques and transverse abdominis) get your ribs into a better position by pulling the ribs "back and down."

To help visualize this take a look at the picture above, and imagine what happens if you shorten that muscle in both directions.  The scapula is being pulled towards the ribs, but the ribs are also being pulled back towards the scapula.  Thus, if you see someone with a prominent rib flare, you should probably start thinking about how you can put Robin in a position to help Batman, but that's what we'll be talking about in Part II so let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Closing Thoughts

While your head may be spinning from the anatomy, I'd like to ask you to sit on it for a few days and think about the relationship between all of those muscles.

Go back through the pictures and try to visualize what happens when a particular muscle shortens/contracts.  What's happening to the pelvis?  What's happening to the ribs?

As soon as your comfortable doing that, try taking it a step further by thinking your way through how they impact each other (the video at the beginning of the post can help with this as well).

Understanding these relationships will go a long way in helping you transition nicely to Part II of our discussion next week.

I also think it's important to go ahead and address the fact that in this series we're going to be looking at one small piece of a very large puzzle.  And in order to do that I'm going to have to make some generalizations, and I'm going to have to talk about things in isolation that are truly meant to be looked at as a whole.  For example, nowhere in this two part series am I going to be talking about hamstrings, but when you look at the big picture hamstrings are really, really important.  And the same thing can be said for just about any muscle because the human body is such a beautiful, connected and complex system.

Now, I'm not saying that the information being presented to you is worthless because it isn't.  I wouldn't have taken the time to write it if I thought it was.  I'm merely telling you this so that you don't lose site of the forest while we take some time to focus on a few individual trees.

Always think big picture, and always think about how everything connects.

The core is important, but like I said:  it's only one small piece of a very big puzzle.

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.

[i] Sahrmann, Shirley. “Abdominal Muscles.” Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. St. Louis: Mosby, 2002. 69.

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.

The Brain and Movement: The Most Important Part of the Conversation

As athletes, coaches, rehab specialists etc. it is important to know the roll our nervous system plays in the way we move. The topic neurology of movement is so vast there is no way we can scratch the surface in one article, so I have included a few relevant and interesting examples. Before we get into it, let's start with some mind blowing facts about this amazing system. A single cell within the nervous system is called a neuron, and the connection between two neurons is a synapse.

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Our brain communicates within itself and with our muscles to form thoughts and movements via signals that pass through our neurons and synapses. As described in David Butler's book Explain Pain,

"There are more possible connections in the brain than particles in the universe...  Babies make millions of synapses per second, 3 million synapses fit on a pinhead.  You, the reader, have a dynamic ever-changing brain; millions of synapses link and unlink every second  That means you could donate 10,000 synapses to every man, woman and child on the planet, and still function reasonably!"

Are you convinced our nervous system is awesome and worth thinking about? Good; let's talk movement.

There is an area of your brain called the motor cortex that is responsible for coordinating all your voluntary movements. The motor cortex was previously thought of as a well delineated map of the body with areas dedicated to each body part with everyone’s map being more or less the same. If you want to move your leg, the leg part of the map will become active, send a signal to your leg, and allow that movement to happen.

Recent evidence, however, tells us that these maps are more dynamic than we once thought. A study published in the European Journal of Neuroscience compared the motor cortices of skilled, right-handed violinists versus right-handed non-musicians. Imaging showed that the asymmetry between right and left cortices were much larger in the musicians than non-musicians. Hence, our brains are dynamic and adapt to imposed demand.

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In other words, as we learn a new task we experience a “re-wiring” of our neurons to better manage that task in the future. We have all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” but I would modify that by saying “perfect practice makes perfect.” Consequently, it is important to avoid ingraining faulty movement patterns in your training or day-to-day life, or they will become a part of you!

Now let’s talk about engraining motor patterns. Athletes spend a lot of time working to improve mobility. Let’s face it, if your hips lack the proper range of motion to get deep into a lunge, significant gains will be difficult to achieve. But will dumping a significant amount of extra mobility into a segment immediately translate its way into our lifts? This is a question McGill and colleagues sought to answer. The researchers took a group of athletes with limited hip extensibility and put them through a 6 week program with the goal of increasing extension range of motion. At the end of 6 weeks, passive hip extension was significantly increased. The interesting finding is that the extra mobility was not observed during active movements. Simply put, although the athletes had this newfound extensibility in their hips, they could not translate it into active movements.

Does this mean we should throw out the foam rollers and other forms of mobility of work? Not at all; it just means we need to be more considerate of the nervous system. Every movement your body has the capacity to perform has its own program within your brain. The lunge you have done millions of times is encoded into your brain and has its own little movement map. If you suddenly gain an extra 5 degrees of hip extension, you may not immediately see the extra range in motion.

Although your tissues have the ability to "stretch" further, your brain map for that movement pattern only knows the original range of motion. The researchers concluded that "training and rehabilitation programs may benefit from an additional focus on 'grooving' new motor patterns if newfound movement range is to be used."

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So next time you perform or prescribe mobility work, be sure to engrain the movement you are trying to improve. This can be done with simple cueing. If your client’s knee is collapsing in during a squat, wrap a resistance band around his knees to provide an outward resistance. If you’re looking for hip extension, get into a lunge with a band around your back thigh pulling forward. This will cause you to actively resist hip flexion thus engraining that extension pattern in your brain. Be creative with your cues and constantly switch things up to challenge the adaptability of the nervous system.

The idea of having brain maps for all our movements is pretty cool, but what if we could feed off other peoples’ brain maps when trying to refine our own movements? Well, we can. This is possible and can be explained by a fairly new discovery called mirror neurons found in the brain.

Have you ever witnessed a car accident and found yourself bracing as if you were part of the accident? This behavior can be explain by our mirror neuron system. These neurons fire when we perform a movement but also fire when we watch someone else perform the same movement. What does this mean to us movement geeks? By taking advantage of the mirror system we can better help our clients learn new movements. One of the rules of Gray Cook’s screening systems is “monkey-see monkey-do.” Being able to visualize a movement before performing it helps in our acquisition of that movement. Visualizing a movement does not help you learn as well as actual practice, but it does produce equivalent changes in the motor cortex.

The fields of neurology and neuroplasticity are growing everyday, so it would be impossible to give them a fair representation in one article. What is important to know is that our nervous system is dynamic and constantly adapting. It requires proper sensory input for optimal function, and as movement professionals we can use this to our advantage to get the performance results we want from ourselves or our clients.

If you have any questions, which I'm sure you do, be sure to post them below and I'll help you get situated with this concept.

about the author

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Clay Sankey is a student at Logan University working toward his doctorate in Chiropractic and masters in Sport and Rehabilitation.  He is certified through the Titleist Performance Institute, Selective Functional Movement Assessment, RockTape’s Fascial Movement Taping and Active Release Techniques. Clay has received bachelors degrees in Life Science from Logan University and Exercise Science from Elon University.  While at Elon he competed in cross country and track.

Note from James: If you're interested in reading more on this topic, I'd highly recommend picking up a book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. It's an excellent introductory book to the world of neuroplasticity, and is very user friendly. So be sure to add that to your book list.

Programming Around An Injury: 5 Things You Have to Know

In all long term pursuits there are obstacles that define you. The path to success isn’t exactly linear. In the realm of iron, often times these obstacles are pain or injury related. And believe it or not…working through pain and/or injury usually isn’t your best option.

Way too often I see people loose their hard earned gains over an injury, and it’s sickening.

It’s important to understand that there are certain phases of an injury where it may not be in your best interest to train around it, however, there are certainly instances where an athlete can continue to make strategic progress toward their goal while rehabilitating an injury.

In essence, an injury doesn’t mean it’s time to stop training, it just means you have to be very smart in the way you approach training.

When it comes to making a full recovery, step one is to not let the injury define you:

You can still be a good deadlifter even if your lower back isn't allowing you to pull.

That national title can still be in your hands even with a tender ankle.

Ultimately, assuming an athlete isn't completely restricted by their injury, you can still implement certain modalities that'll get a training effect and boost performance.

Look at the Adaptations at Jeopardy

Cardiac output, blood pressure, and aerobic enzymes can drop in as little as a week, meaning aerobic adaptations quickly deplete. However, this can be combated with three lower intensity or two higher intensity aerobic sessions a week.

Anaerobic adaptations, on the other hand, tend to stick around a little longer and can be maintained with one to two moderate to vigorous training sessions per week. That means missing one or two heavy sessions a month won't kill your strength.

While this is outside the scope of this article, it's also important to understand the relationship between anaerobic and aerobic adaptations.  They are very much intertwined and play important roles in the functioning of each other.  To learn more about this, I'd recommend checking out our energy systems webinar by clicking here.

Classify

The next step is to objectively classify the functional capabilities surrounding the injury:

“How much pain free volume can you handle?

What are the restrictions in range of motion?

Are there external limitations (splint, casts, harness etc)?

Does the site of pain exhibit impaired recovery?”

Taking a deeper look at the adaptations at jeopardy, and classifying the scope of the problem are both absolutely critical to the success of your program.

Aerobic Strength Training

Aerobic strength training protocols are very effective and very underutilized training methods, especially in strength sports.  Aerobic adaptations are incredibly important for strength athletes for a multitude of reasons, but here are a few to get your head spinning

1.  Decrease in resting heart rate helps balance the autonomic nervous system via increased vagal tone

2.  Increases in stroke volume have a direct effect on the creation of pressure throughout the organism, and both of these (#1 and #2), in turn, increase cardiac output

3.  Increases in resting calcium levels and enzymes lead to much more powerful contractions

4.  VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor, which leads to growth hormone further down the cascade) increases in response to metabolic waste built up during training, and has a profound effect on recovery over time.

Some of my favorite protocols include: Charlie Francis style tempos paired bodyweight exercises, low impact unilateral plyometrics, and volume unilateral resistance training (rear foot elevated, half kneeling press, get-ups, etc).

Unilateral Work

Another very important tool to utilize is unilateral work, especially in those with one limb out of commission. The myth of ignoring it due to the creation of muscle imbalances isn't true. Motor program adaptations, especially if there's a lack of sensory-motor feedback to one limb, are spread to both arms.

Meaning if you have a broken ankle, doing unilateral plyometrics on the non injured ankle will benefit the injured side. This is essential in rehabilitating and maintaining adaptations on the affected side.

Some Samples

To help visualize what a program would look like I have attached two very different programs for two very different athletes with very different situations.

The first is Nick. He is amongst the most elite amateur strongmen in the nation, and has a fractured ring finger and torn ligament on his right side.  He has severe swelling in the finger, along with some daily pain and goes to physical therapy twice a week. Currently, he cannot grasp much in his right hand or overly extend his wrist, and he trains three days a week. His longterm goal is to get his Light Weight Pro Card in strongman, however, his current goal is to maintain his strength while improving movement quality and work capacity until the finger is completely healed. Due to this being his long term goal, most of his volume and time are spent in his movement prep. His resistance training, on the other hand, leans more toward aerobic strength to assist with recovery and to avoid over fatiguing his nervous system due to his limited move pool.

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The next athlete’s program I will share with you is Summer--a high level strongman athlete herself.  She's been dealing with chronic and debilitating foot pain in her right foot due to an ineffective surgery several years ago.  Thus, she cannot perform much running or load the foot frequently, and struggles with dorsiflexion.  To make matters even more complicated, she's currently in a boot trying to resolve the issue.

With all of that in mind, here are Summer's primary goals right now:  increase upper body muscle mass and strength.  In order to help facilitate that goal, her movement prep and resistance training are geared toward upper body volume.  Also, seeing as her injury may be longer in its healing process, she will go through multiple blocks with a similar template.

Here's a sample day of her training  (If you're interested in hearing more about Summer’s story, click here).

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Perhaps the most important part of programming for an injured athlete, besides keeping them as healthy as possible, is to keep their levels of motivation high.  Work hard to narrow their focus, and find things they can still work on despite their limitations.  For example, this could be an ideal time to set short term goals that aren’t always a priority, such as improving body composition or focusing on movement quality.

Lastly, be sure to take into consideration the impact a limited movement pool will have on programming volumes and intensity.  You cannot vary their routines to the extent you do a healthy athletes, so be sure to monitor volume and intensity very closely to avoid overtraining.

Hope you enjoyed the article, and post any questions or comments you have below.

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).

Understanding Movement: It's Just a Tug of War

Movement is a complex topic to say the least, but thinking in terms of this muscle vs. that muscle in a good old fashioned tug war can help you make sense of it all.  Hope you enjoy the video, and be sure to post any questions or comments 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 Twitter and Instagram for the latest happenings.

What's the Big Deal with Fitness and Why You Should Want More

The growth of Crossfit, Bootcamps and other GPP (general physical preparedness) programs have truly erupted onto the scene over the past 5 years.  Crossfit, or the sport of fitness, serves as a great example.  It started as a simple website back in 2001 with no affiliates, and now can be seen on ESPN and has thousands upon thousands of affiliates scattered across the world.  This fast paced growth merits a deeper look at what fitness truly is, whether or not you need it, and if you should want more.

What Makes Up Fitness

For starters, let's take a look at several of my favorite attempts to define fitness (these are the first definitions listed by the way):

www.dictionary.reference.com:  "health"

oxforddictionaries.com:  "the condition of being physically fit and healthy"

www.merriam-webster.com:  "the quality or state of being fit"

Hopefully you find those as comedic as I do, and want a better answer.

When attempting to define fitness, you must first determine the separate pieces that form the whole.  An easy way to think of this is to consider what grouping of general physical skills added together most adequately forms fitness.  Mel Siff goes into great depth on this subject in Supertraining, but to keep things simple we'll turn to the Crossfit Training Guide because it's user friendly and provides a well rounded list.  There are more technical lists out there, but this will get the job done.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify that I'm neither endorsing nor telling you to do Crossfit.  That's a topic for another day.

But on page 19 of their training guide they list the following as the 10 general physical skills that make up fitness:

  1. 1. Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance
  2. 2. Stamina
  3. 3. Strength
  4. 4. Flexibility
  5. 5. Power
  6. 6. Speed
  7. 7. Coordination
  8. 8. Agility
  9. 9. Balance
  10. 10. Accuracy

If we think long and hard we may be able to come up with one or two items to add to the list, but top to bottom it's pretty solid.  We can say with a fair amount of confidence that an individual displaying adequate ability in each of these categories is physically fit.

A Definition And Why It's Important

Knowing the components, let's consider an adequate definition.  I'm personally a huge fan of Tadeusz Starzynski's and Henryk Sozanski's definition of physical fitness in Explosive Power and Jumping Ability For All Sports:  "Physical fitness is movement potential that determines an athlete's readiness for solving tasks (1)."  This makes perfect sense and immediately answers the question of whether or not you should care about fitness or GPP.

If we slightly re-word the definition it may become clearer:  your overall fitness level determines how suited you are at solving different athletic tasks.

Think of fitness as a toolbox.  The greater your fitness level, or the better you are at the 10 general physical skills from above, the more tools you have in your toolbox.  The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more prepared you are to solve various tasks.

Likewise, if you focus on only one of the above general physical skills, say cardiovascular endurance, then you turn into a one trick pony with limited ability to perform any other task.  BUT...that's not necessarily bad depending on your goals.  If you want to be an elite distance runner, you HAVE TO SPECIALIZE, or else you'll never be able to compete at the highest level.

And the same goes for powerlifters, olympic lifters, and every other sport on the face of the earth--in order to be truly great at something, some form of specialization must occur.

We're going to talk more about that in a minute though, so let's come back to why fitness (what I prefer to call GPP) is important in the first place:  it builds a foundation for continued success.

The Pyramid Approach

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Think of your training life as the above pyramid.  Fitness or GPP goes on the bottom and must be broad, or else the pyramid will be built upon a faulty structure.

It's your chance to build a movement foundation by playing and performing a large variety of tasks, so that you're brain has a chance to learn.

This is opening up an entirely different can of worms, but it's a travesty the number of kids now who start playing one sport and one sport only from the time their 8 years old.

Where's the variability?  Where's there chance for them to learn how to move?  It's no wonder injury rates are through the rough in youth sports these days because kids are skipping the foundational stage and going straight for high level performance.

Sorry, but you're 8 year old kid will get way more out of participating in multiple sports, and engaging in unstructured play.

The base of the pyramid is also where you build up work capacity.  Think of it this way:  you want to have a large gas tank that can refill itself rapidly so you can train hard, recover, and push the envelope more often.

To review:  your overall fitness level dictates your propensity for long term success and performance.  The people who skip this step entirely usually see some moderate gains in performance on the front end, but typically get injured or fail to see continued progress because they have a faulty pyramid.

You Want More

Over time, however, it's natural to specialize in certain tasks over others.  People will naturally gravitate towards tasks they perform well or enjoy doing.  It's at this point in time people begin to move up the pyramid.  They take whatever the end goal is and put it at the top.

The rest of the pyramid will be filled with whatever specialized tasks are important and necessary to move up the levels of the pyramid.

For example, say somebody wants to be a competitive olympic weightlifter.  The clean and jerk, and snatch will fill the top spot because that's the final goal, and the other levels of the pyramid will be filled with more specialized traits like absolute strength and strength speed.

Although specialization is necessary to truly become exceptional at something, you must first build a base that gives you an adequate chance to succeed.  You can't skip over levels when building the pyramid.  You have to be methodical and fitness/GPP is the first step.

But herein lies the problem:  fitness may make you good at a lot of things, but in order to be truly exceptional you have to specialize.  Tradeoffs have to be made between certain fitness qualities because physiologic adaptations are incredibly specific.

This is why you train a football player different than a soccer player, and a baseball player different than a basketball player.  There's just no such thing as an "athlete" program that will prepare you for any and everything.

Now you may be reading this and saying:  "James, that's all fine and dandy, but I'm very happy with just training for overall health and fitness"... And to you I say awesome.  Whatever your goals are I encourage you to pursue them.

But I know there are many people out there, and maybe even you, who are tired of the general fitness trend.  You have specific high performance goals that you just can't seem to reach, even though you bust your ass in the gym x times a week.  And for this I blame the fitness trend.

99% of the time these people come to us with questions about why they haven't been able to reach a certain goal it's because they're trying to be "everything" all the time.  I can respect your desire to be well rounded, but you have to remember there will always be tradeoffs in training.

Are there genetic freaks out there who tend to be pretty damn good at a lot of things?  Absolutely, but I'm not throwing my programming methodology behind the top 1% of the human population.

So...what's the point of today's post?  Be specific with your goal setting, and then draw out a pyramid that'll get you there.  Start at the bottom, and then get more specific over time until you have acquired/built up the necessary skills and fitness qualities to allow you to succeed at your desired skill.

Oh, and be willing to call B.S. on the fact that everyone and their mom trains "fitness" since it's technically everything.  Ask more questions, and demand specific answers as to why you're doing what you're doing, and why you're working on what you're working on.

Now that my mini rant is complete, go have an awesome weekend.

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.

 

 

 

References

1. Starzynski, Tadeusz, and Henryk Sozanski, Ph.D. "What Is Fitness Preparation."

Explosive Power and Jumping Ability For All Sports

. Island Pond, VT: Stadion, 1999. 3.

Don't Neglect the Neck

Neck position is highly undervalued in the lifting community.

I’ll give you a little secret: your neck position determines the position of everything else in your body. If you want to build strength, you better consider the position of your neck.

An extended neck position relies more on joints and ligaments for stabilization instead of muscles.

An extended neck means excess compression on the back half of the spine.

An extended neck means an extended back.

An extended neck means shut off abdominals (and we want those on, remember?).

An extended neck is good for testing strength, not building it.

An extended neck is bad for longevity.

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If you’ve had back pain in the past, please, for the love of the universe, stop looking at the sun when you lift. This position makes you stronger when you do it, but you use your spine to stabilize heavy weight instead of your muscles.

This is a fallback stabilization pattern for when you’re testing strength, like in a competition. This is not a long-term solution for building length over the next few decades.

I’ve seen so many athletes who are broken down because they stabilize hard with their backs. They don’t know how to shut them off. They don’t know how to use their abs. They don’t even know how to tuck their chin.

I personally know an athlete who told me his professional career would have been over three years ago if he hadn’t come to work with us. That is amazing. #startedfromextensionnowwehere

I work with the people who wore down faster than their body could repair. The athletes who broke before their playing career was over. The athletes who never built a foundation.

P.S.  I’m currently working on a FREE product that'll teach you how to build the movement foundation of all movement foundations.  If you're interested in getting the goods, which you should be, then drop your email below and I'll send it to you once its ready:

about the author

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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.