squat

Why Your Coach Might Be Wrong About Your Squat: Knees In For the Win

Whether you're an elite powerlifter, a strength and conditioning coach, a personal trainer, or a physical therapist, you've probably been versed in the concept that proper cueing for the squat with the lower extremities is, spread the floor with the feet, and push the knees out. Perhaps you've even gotten the tid bit about screwing the floor with your feet in the direction of external rotation as well. If you've learned that these particular cues are the way to go, then you've probably also learned that knees caving in towards midline, or valgus is the devil. You've probably seen the technique involving putting a band around the knees so that you reflexively push the knees outwards (varus) against the input of the band. The rationale for squatting this way usually involves the concept that you're going to utilize more gluteal tissues since the actions of the femur will feature external rotation, via the feet screwing, and abduction with the feet spreading the floor and the knees pushing laterally. This is the accepted way to teach the squat, and seems to be agreed upon by the people who are super strong with all the in the trenches experience in the world, as well as the people who understand how to get people out of pain and how to perform prehab to prevent people from doing things like tearing their ACL in the first place.

Despite all these recommendations and agreed upon findings, you'll still see elite weightlifters feature the rapid action of knees moving towards midline while squatting up massive weights that they just dove under and caught in positions that require incredible levels of mobility and stability to get into. Some of the most gifted athletes I've ever worked with who demonstrate great sports biomechanics and produce incredible amounts of force production also seem to show this action of knees going towards midline during the upward portion of heavy squatting. I'm here to say that I don't think I have any problem with highly athletic individuals who possess great joint biomechanics demonstrating knees towards midline during the upward portion of a squat. I'm also here to say that I think I have the answer as to why the strongest power lifters and strength coaches amongst us have fallen so deeply in love with the spread the floor, knees out approach. To explain my argument I'm going to walk you through concepts relating to natural femoral biomechanics, and what joint force moments have to do with this approach. I'll also give some recommendations on what to do with this thought process, and what measurements might be helpful with making objective determinations of what's optimal for people regarding squat biomechanics.

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During movement, the human body has to absorb forces as well as create propulsive forces. The gait cycle is the most fundamental and stereotypical movement pattern for humans. Gait is comprised of stance and swing, each featuring early, mid, and terminal phases. Absorption of forces, as well as the creation of propulsive forces, are primarily rooted in the stance phase of gait. On a very basic level we could say that early stance is the absorption dominant part of stance, terminal stance is the propulsion dominant phase of gait, and mid-stance is the transitional period. Gait and squatting are certainly not the same movement pattern, therefore generalizations between the two movements should be looked at with skepticism; however, examining gait will help with the formation of the primary reasoning piece helping us understand the biomechanical argument being presented here.

While going through the gait cycle, the femur typically features alternating triads of movement. There are times during the cycle where the femur will group flexion with abduction and external rotation (mostly swing), and there are times when the femur will match extension with adduction and internal rotation (mostly stance). The first triad of flexion, abduction, and external rotation is the strategy the femur uses to prepare for force absorption and to absorb force, while the second triad of extension, adduction, and internal rotation is the strategy the femur uses to prepare for and execute propulsion. Ultimately I see the same sort of strategy used by the femur during the squat, and that is the central premise of this argument. The common link between gait and the squat in this context is that both rely on the femur and the femur ultimately has its preferred strategy for absorption of force and creation of propulsive force.

The descent into the deep squat position would be the force absorption portion, and pushing back up to standing would be the propulsive component of the squat pattern. The natural tendency of the femur during the descent would be to group flexion with abduction and external rotation. Conversely, during the concentric portion of the squat pattern, the natural tendency of the femur would be to group extension with adduction and internal rotation. This would be an intelligent strategy to use as an organism from an energy conservation standpoint because the actions of flexion, abduction, and external rotation would lead to lengthening the extensors, adductors, and internal rotators, which may both maximize the length-tension relationship of those tissues, and provide a stretch reflex to assist the forthcoming concentric phase of the movement.

So why do we cue knees out so hard? My first thought is that the coaches who have figured out that this helps in the ability to squat heavy weights are people who have done a significant amount of training. People with extensive resistance training backgrounds are usually fairly easy to spot. Their bodies have undergone fairly stereotypical adaptations. They've clearly undergone extensive amounts of tissue remodeling, and show demonstrable hypertrophy of skeletal muscle. Heavily resistance trained individuals also seem to move differently...you can spot them walking. These individuals seem to present with an anteriorly tilted pelvis more than the general population.

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To understand the essence of what kinds of bodily relationships happen with an anterior tilted pelvis, let's use a thought experiment. If you were to prop up someone who was unconscious and you were to anteriorly tilt their pelvis, that individual's femurs would passively follow the anterior tilt of the pelvis, and those femurs would orient internally and towards midline. Ultimately, if you excessively anteriorly tilted an unconscious person's pelvis, they would simply fall on their face (aka, go into prone collapse).

With a conscious human being interacting with the world, things will change, particularly in regards to battling gravity and preventing prone collapse. The typical response of an individual's femurs to a pelvis that is going into anterior tilt, while standing, is that the femurs will reflexively start externally rotating and abducting to prevent prone collapse. This is the typical strategy that will be used by a heavily resistance trained individual, who has an anterior tilted pelvis, to deal with gravity and prevent prone collapse while standing. Where things get interesting is when we lay this person on a table and measure femoral ranges of motion. When the person lies down on the table, we are removing the need for them to fight prone collapse, and the femurs will stop their reflexive behavior of externally rotating and abducting. This individual's femurs will now simply exist in the passive state of adduction and internal rotation because they're simply in line with the orientation of the anteriorly tilted pelvis.

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When I test the person for femoral range of motion on the table, they will demonstrate reduced adduction and internal rotation...why? Because the femur is already internally rotated and adducted. The femur has less room to further internally rotate and adduct. So, when dealing with a heavily resistance trained individual who has an anteriorly tilted pelvis, what you're really dealing with is a situation where the more the pelvis anteriorly tilts, the more the femurs are internally oriented and adducted PASSIVELY, and the more the behavior of the femurs in a weight bearing situation will be one where they move by externally rotating and abducting ACTIVELY to prevent prone collapse. Regardless of how you slice it, the individual will demonstrate a lack of adduction and internal rotation from a testing perspective, and from a functional movement perspective. Yet this person needs to utilize the actions of adduction and internal rotation with extension of the femur to be able to create the concentric portion of a squat. How does one obtain that which they do not have?

Picture the following scenario. I am standing with my weight equally on both feet. Both feet are side by side and pointed straight ahead. I see something move to my left. Without moving my feet, I rotate/orient my entire center of mass to the left to look at it. I then hear something slightly to my right, so I adjust myself to examine what made the noise. To do so, I begin rotating back to the right. Interestingly, the noise that I heard was still to the left of my starting orientation in this scenario. Despite the fact that I was rotating back to the right, my center of mass still remained rotated and oriented to the left. This example illustrates the difference between true joint actions and joint action moments.

The true joint actions that took place were vertebral rotations left. When I heard the noise, I started rotating back to the right, but my vertebrae were still rotated left. I was creating the moment of right rotation, but I never got to the point where you could say I was rotated to the right...I was always rotated left. With the heavily resistance trained individual who is squatting, this person, while standing, has an anteriorly tilted pelvis, and their femurs are reflexively externally rotating and abducting. This person overall cannot reach the true joint actions of adduction and internal rotation, but what this person can do is utilize a strategy of further abducting and externally rotating, so that they can utilize the moment of adduction and internal rotation to group with extension to take advantage of the way the femur naturally creates propulsive force.

How would this person do this? They would spread the floor and externally screw the floor with their feet, and push the knees out during the descent to go further into the actions of abducting, and externally rotating their femurs. To reverse the squat and come back up, the person would then begin creating the moment of extending, adducting, and internally rotating...they may never reach the true joint actions of femoral extension, adduction, and internal rotation (likely because they lack those motions), but they can still utilize the propulsive force coming from the moment of that triad to execute the concentric portion of the squat. When watching these individuals squat, you may never see the knees crashing towards midline...because they likely can't...but they're still relying on the same muscular strategy as someone who is demonstrating medial translation or true adduction in their squat. This strategy may also get confused with some sort of pathological strategy where the femur is moving medially and rotating internally, but the tibia/calcaneus/foot complex remains lateral and externally rotated, which will be discussed more in a forthcoming paragraph.

When dealing with young athletes, these individuals likely haven't gone through many of the adaptations (or perhaps stress responses) that heavily resistance trained individuals have, and thus likely do not demonstrate as much anterior tilt of the pelvis. These individuals likely can get into the true joint actions of adduction and internal rotation, so when we see knees moving towards midline, we may just be seeing the manifestation of the true joint actions being driven by the muscular moment of those actions. With elite weightlifters, and other extremely athletic individuals who produce tremendous force during the squat they may also be showing the true joint actions of internal rotation and adduction, and we may be seeing people who have somehow avoided changes that drive a pelvis into anterior tilt that come along with extensive heavy resistance training. With these individuals we may be seeing the most resilient amongst us to consistent heavy resistance training/those who have survived and thrived in the selection process.

The tricky parts to this concept involve the areas that revolve around injury. The mechanism of injury for the ACL is when the knee moves medially and rapidly internally rotates. The catch though is that the injury to the ACL is based on the relationship of the femur to the tibia. There has to be torque, twist, and a difference in direction between the femur and the tibia for this particular knee injury to happen. Frequently you'll see a situation where the tibia, relative to the femur is translating laterally and externally rotating at that same time as the femur is rapidly translating medially and internally rotating. If people are squatting and maintaining a flat foot with the weight evenly distributed throughout the foot, and the foot/calcaneus/tibia complex is not externally rotating during the descent, then witnessing the true actions of adduction and internal rotation of a femur is probably not cause for concern. When we do start seeing the foot/calcaneus/tibia complex start to spin out with concomitant medial translation and internal orientation of a knee, then we are probably seeing torque between the femur and the tibia, which could be threatening to ligamentous and other soft tissue structures of the knee, particularly if the force and/or velocity of those divergent joint movements is high. Fully addressing the entire scope of injury mechanics is beyond the scope of this article; however, supposing that any observable movement of the knee towards midline is threatening, dangerous, likely wearing down soft tissues, and is undesirable is perhaps a rush to judgment on something that may be benign, so long as foot, calcaneus, tibia, and femur are synchronously working together in a fairly natural and stereotypical way for the human squat pattern.

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To determine whether seeing a knee translate medially is acceptable or not, testing must be done. I would recommend using an Ober's test to determine if the individual has a femur that can extend and adduct. I would recommend using supine and seated femoral internal rotation to determine whether the individual possesses this joint action. I would also recommend using a Thomas test to confirm femoral extension or determine that the femur is extending through some compensatory/pathological method if it was unable to extend in the Ober's test. If the person passes all these tests, then they possess the true joint actions of extension, adduction, and internal rotation, and this person would probably be fairly safe with demonstrating medial translation of the knee during the ascent of a squat so long as weight bearing on the foot remained appropriate. If someone is lacking these true joint actions, based on test results, and demonstrates medial knee translation during the squat, it's likely that there are some aberrant joint actions that could be problematic.

Thomas Test

Thomas Test

There are two other specific topics that should be discussed before wrapping up this article. The first is the topic of seeing medial translation during the eccentric portion of the squat. This, to me, would be indicative of someone who would be existing in the state of having an anteriorly tipped pelvis, but is not kicking their femurs into the actions of externally rotating and abducting as their anti-gravity strategy. This is probably a highly untrained person, who is probably going to be fairly unimpressive and lack most of the desirable force production capabilities you'd look for. During the descent of the squat when the femurs should be flexing, abducting, and externally rotating, the pelvis should also be using the moment involving posterior rotating (aka, pelvic inlet flexion). If the pelvis is struggling with this moment and stays in the position of excessive anterior tilt, and the individual is not utilizing compensatory actions of the femur, you'll see this incredibly unimpressive looking, melting candle, squat presentation. This is undesirable, but we should begin the coaching process by trying to get the individual to gain better pelvic control first before trying to coach the femur.

This brings us to our last topic in this article, which is coaching strategy. Where I would start giving recommendations is to quote Charlie Francis in regards to advice to coaches...think twice and speak once or not at all. When you start thinking that you're smarter than the millions upon millions of years of evolution that led to a human organism standing in front of you executing patterns that are the result of protein behavior that were coded for by a genome and wired up by a nervous system that has figured out the most effective way to guide someone through the complex and multi-faceted environment that they've lived in for their entire life, you're starting to border on being someone who is either way too ego driven, or ignorant of the depth of reality, that you could be problematic. Observe people for a while. Check your opinions. Provide the feedback that the person needs, but be careful about what you say and how you say it...be cautious and humble. Then let testing guide you. Find your algorithm that takes decision-making out of your mind. Use the previous tests to determine whether the person has authentic joint actions or if they're resorting to compensatory strategies. Second, if you want to figure out what the most energy/electrically/physiologically efficient and effective squat would be, I would recommend looking at it through EMG, but I wouldn't try to see what the highest EMG would be. In fact, I would look for how I could get the lowest EMG for a squat. If I keep the load constant, and I see that one strategy uses less electrical energy, that should be the least compensatory strategy possible, and theoretically, that would be the best approach. For more on why that is the appropriate thought process regarding EMG readings, see the explanation given in this article.

My concluding thought on coaching and optimal performance with the squat is that the most likely best way to perform the movement would feature performing the pattern in the mid zone of abduction and adduction, and internal and external rotation. If I want the least wear and tear over time, I would want to try to move through the middle of the pathway rather than forcing my way into the boundaries at each side. So I personally wouldn't start coaching a beginner who possesses the true joint actions of extension, adduction, and internal rotation with the cues of spread the floor, screw the floor out and push the knees out. I would cue them to find and feel the middle of their heels on the descent. I would cue them to keep their heels at the bottom and to find their big toe. To push back up, I would have them continue to find and feel their heels and big toes, and then find and feel their medial arch, and to push through the medial arch to drive back up. I would observe their femoral behavior with those cues for a while, continue to monitor joint actions through table tests, progress them with load and reps and sets over time, and not think I necessarily had the right answers. Lastly, I wouldn't treat everyone the same, and I'd be very careful about giving cookie cutter coaching cues to groups.

To progress an industry or advance the overall information available to practitioners within a discipline, professionals should avoid dogmatic thoughts and behaviors. Often times, the degree to which a concept is entrenched in the collective working body of accepted beliefs can blind everyone in that field. I'm not saying that I'm absolutely correct with my assertions in this article. I may be damn well wrong, and somebody may come along and prove it to me so bad that I feel like an enormous fool. I don't think I'm wrong though. In fact, I think I'm very right on this one. It may take you a minute to see what I'm saying here, particularly with all this junk about true joint actions, and moments, and the difference between being rotated and rotating, and all the other blah blah blah. So I ask you to consider what I'm saying here in this article before you blow it off and quickly say that I don't know what I'm talking about and I'm going to get people hurt, and the sun won't come up tomorrow, and stand outside my door with torches and pitchforks, because I'm saying that knees moving towards midline may be no big deal, and perhaps is even natural and appropriate...and if you can't do it, maybe you're stuck and there's a problem. I'm not questioning a long-held assumption because I'm looking to cause a controversy or anything else like that. I like trying to see a puzzle for what it actually is. Active human anatomy is a beautiful puzzle. It can be an extremely vexing puzzle, and often times, what you think you see isn't what you get...but the logic always works if you follow it long enough with the right starting assumptions. Perhaps my starting assumptions are off, in which case this whole thing is wrong, and you can commence throwing a pie in my face. But if my starting assumptions are correct, I believe my Bayesian reasoning throughout this is strong, and you may have to come around to this way of thinking regarding what's actually going on with the squat. Anyways, here's to questioning authority, thinking for yourself, being unafraid of backlash and criticism, and trying hard in the life you've got.

I'd like to thank the Postural Restoration Institute for providing the theoretical foundations for helping me think through the big ideas of this article. They teach the ideas of the differences between being rotated/oriented and rotating. They also teach the idea that if you can't express a joint action, like adduction, it's probably because you're already existing in that position, and therefore are limited in being able to get further into that position. Without the course work and learning I've done with PRI, I would not have been able to conceive of the ideas for this article.

about the author

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pat Davidson

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

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

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

-Renaissance Meat Head

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.

How to Use Low Intensity Plyometrics to Facilitate Maximal Strength Gains

Since the times of Ancient Greece, athletes have explored ways to get stronger, jump higher, and run faster. Each generation of new athletes have attempted to push the barrier and break previous records. It was with this quest in mind that Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky stumbled upon and created “shock” training. In the Western world, this is known as the plyometric method. So what exactly is a plyometric? A plyometric exercise is one that utilizes the stretch-shortening cycle or myostatic stretch reflex.

The myostatic stretch reflex occurs when elastic energy is stored within the tendons and muscles following a rapid stretch, such as during an eccentric contraction. If a concentric contraction directly follows, as happens during a plyometric exercise, then the stored energy is released and it contributes to total force production.

If you're having trouble visualizing this, think of it like stretching and launching a rubber band very quickly.  The lengthening/stretching of the rubber band represents the eccentric portion, while the shortening/launching of the rubber band represents the concentric contraction.

While the topic of plyometrics is broad to say the least, this article will specifically cover how late intermediate and advanced lifters can use low intensity plyometric exercises during their warm-up, or within their training, to elicit maximal strength gains utilizing post-activation potentiation (PAP).

Maximal Strength & Power: A Partnership?

Strength is defined as the ability to produce force. You are able to display strength both isometrically and dynamically. When it comes to maximal strength, or limit strength, it is usually quantified as the greatest amount of force that a muscle or muscle group can exert in one maximal effort.

Power, on the other hand, is a combination of force and velocity:

P= Force x Velocity

In particular, power represents the exertion of force on an object and the object’s velocity in the direction which the force is exerted. As a result, alterations in force theoretically should create changes in power production.

photo credit:  http://www.elitefts.com
photo credit: http://www.elitefts.com

Is that the case?

Yes! According to the literature, maximal strength is an important quality that affects power output and peak power production.

As noted by Schimidtbleicher, increased maximal strength allows for greater peak power production since it gives a person the ability to more easily accelerate submaximal loads. Moreover, people with higher levels of maximal strength tend to have a greater percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers or type IIa/IIb fibers. As we know, type IIa/IIb muscles fibers most contribute to high power outputs.[1] These assertions are also supported by the research provided by Moss et al and Stone et al, which looked at the relationship of maximal strength and power.[2]

Side note: Don't take this to mean that just boosting maximal strength will automatically increase power. That's a quality you have to train. However, boosting maximal strength gives you the chance to be more powerful because you're now working with a larger strength base.

Nevertheless, since the human body is complex it doesn’t end up being nearly that simple. Enter the central nervous system (CNS).

The Role of the Central Nervous System

Before moving on, lets have a quick recap.

1.  Strength is the ability to produce force. Force = mass x acceleration.

2.  Power is measured by taking the product of force and an object’s velocity in the direction that the force is exerted.  Power = force x velocity

3.  Higher levels of maximal strength tend to lead to higher levels of power according to the scientific literature.

Why isn’t it that simple?

When it comes to force generation one of the key component is the CNS. The CNS allows for coordinated muscular movements and force generation through innervation via motor units.

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Motor units consist of a motor neuron and the skeletal muscle fibers innervated by the motor neuron’s axonal terminals.

As opposed to getting into muscle physiology, however, you just need to know that all motor units aren't created equal, and that you have two main types:

  1. Low threshold motor units

These are smaller motor units that innervate type I muscle fibers, which generate low amounts of force, but are highly resistant to fatigue.   These are the muscle fibers and motor units that allow us to do low intensity activities like writing this article, taking a walk, or getting a glass of water.

  1. High threshold motor units

These are larger motor units that innervate type IIa/IIb muscle fibers, which generate large amounts of force, but fatigue more easily, especially the IIb muscle fibers. These muscle fibers and motor units allow us to engage in explosive and powerful activities like lifting a maximal squat or performing a heavy clean & jerk.

So, in order to produce force quickly, one must be able to effectively utilize their high-threshold motor units. This is where plyometric exercises are useful. As noted by Bompa, the CNS controls muscle force by changing the activity of the muscle’s motor units; if a greater force generation is required, a greater number of motors units are recruited. This is known as Henneman’s size principle. Motor units are recruited from smallest to largest based on the force requirement needed.

photo credit:  Science and Practice of Strength Training
photo credit: Science and Practice of Strength Training

One of the benefits of plyometric training is the increased activation of the fast-twitch motor units. [3] Plyometric drills allow for an individual to improve their efficiency of utilizing their high-threshold motor units.

This is important since both max force production needed to move maximal weight and peak power production needed to move a weight explosively both rely on the high threshold motor units to innervate fast twitch muscle fibers.

Since we know that both peak power and max force production are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment, we can then utilize plyometric drills directly before a heavy resistance set to take advantage of the phenomenon known as PAP.

Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP)

If you are unfamiliar with the term PAP, it refers to a phenomenon by which acute muscle force output is enhanced transiently (between 5 to 30 minutes) as a result of contractile history of the muscle fibers and nervous system stimulation.[4] This is typically accomplished by completing a set of a heavy resistance exercises prior to an explosive exercise that uses the same movement pattern.

Why does this phenomenon occur?

The truth is that the exact cause is unknown, but there are two proposed theories.

1.  The first theory involves the Hoffmann Reflex (H-Reflex). The H-Reflex is an excitation of a spinal reflex elicited by specialized nerves that conduct impulses to muscle. The theory is that PAP comes from an enhancement of the H-Reflex, which increases the efficiency and rate of nerve impulses to the muscle.[5]

2.  The second theory involves phosphorylation (addition of a phosphate for production of ATP). The idea is that a max contraction makes actin and myosin more responsive to the calcium ions released, thus triggering events that lead to enhanced force production.[6]

Traditionally, PAP has been used to promote increases in power production rather than maximal force production. In other words, heavy sets of squats have been used to produce more power during box jumps or sprinting.

Yet, we know that both peak power production and maximal strength are directly correlated to high threshold motor unit recruitment. So what prevents us from switching the order? Well, nothing at all.

In fact, I've seen athletes blow through plateaus time and time again by performing a low intensity plyometric exercise prior to a maximal strength exercise.

So now that you understand the science and rationale behind my methods, it is time to get to the programming.

Sample Programming

Prior to moving on, a word of caution:  these techniques are for individuals that have a substantial strength base and training age. If you have not been training for several years, then focus on getting stronger before using advanced techniques.

When it comes to integrating low intensity plyometric exercises to benefit from the PAP phenomenon, I like to do it in two ways:

The first includes the plyometrics during the warm-up phase, which works great for people that are quite powerful and explosive, but tend to fatigue quite easily. The second uses contrast training, which works well for people that have great work capacity, but are not as powerful and explosive.

Low Intensity Plyometric During Your Warm-Up

The general purpose of a warm-up is to increase core temperature, activate dormant muscles, prepare the body for movement, and stimulate the CNS. The latter can be done using low intensity plyometric exercises after you've finished your breathing drills, soft tissue work, and dynamic mobility drills.

The low intensity plyometric exercises should be the last drill that you perform during the warm-up phase prior to performing your first main compound movement of the day (i.e. a bench press, deadlift, or squat variation).  This is because PAP lasts anywhere between 5 to 30 minutes in length.[7]

Generally speaking, the plyometric exercises during the warm-up for lower body days are one-leg and two-leg bounding, power skips, lateral skips, and repeated jumps. During upper body days, I will use plyo push-ups and some medicine ball ballistic exercises since true plyometric exercises are limited when it comes to the upper body.

Sample Lower Body Warm-Up

Squat Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral High Knee Skips or High Knee Skips – 2 X 20 ground contacts (10 right and 10 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Hurdle or Dumbbell Jumps – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day.

C) Squat Variation (Main Movement)

Deadlift Variation Max Strength Day

A) Lateral Bounding or Forward Bounding – 2 X 14 ground contacts (7 right and 7 left)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Repeated Jumps (back and forth) – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main squat variation for the day. 

C) Deadlift Variation (Main Movement)

Sample Upper Body Days

Bench Variation Max Strength Day

A) Medicine Ball Overhead Slam or Rotational Medicine Ball Slam – 2 X 8 (per side for rotational slam)

Rest 30 – 45 seconds, then perform B

B) Plyo Push-up – 2 X 6

Rest 2 minutes and go back to A. After last set completed, then start to pyramid up to your working set for your main bench variation for the day.

C) Bench Variation (Main Movement)

Contrast Training

The contrast sets should only be used for the main movement of the day and not during warm-up sets for the main movement. You only pair the plyometric movement with your working sets.

Bench Press Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4–6 reps)

Explosive Pushup

Medicine Ball Chest Pass to Floor

Supine Medicine Ball Chest Throw

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Bench Press Variation for Max Strength

Squat Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 16-20 ground contacts)

Lateral Bounding

Forward Bounding

High Knee Skips3-5 X 16-20 ground contacts

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Squat Variation for Max Strength

Deadlift Variation Day

1a. Choose 1: (3-5 sets X 4-6 reps)

Repeated Jumps

Hurdle Jumps

1 Leg Lateral Hop (per side for reps)

Rest Period: 75 to 90 seconds before primary lift set

1b. Deadlift Variation

Closing Thoughts

By utilizing these methods, you will not only find yourself busting through your current plateau, but you may find that your bar speed increases during your submaximal effort days or dynamic days.

Just remember to properly use the rest periods between your plyometric exercise and heavy sets because if not fatigue will negate the effects of PAP.

Now go out there and time to hit some new PRs at the gym!

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IMG_6087_small

About the Author

James Darley is the founder of Historic Performance, and specializes in making busy office professionals strong, jacked, and athletic.   He has formerly interned at LIU-Brooklyn and Benfield Sports Performance, and has worked with a variety of individuals ranging from financial executives to Division I athletes. Outside of fitness, James enjoys reading history books, fishing, and hiking.  Check out his Twitter and Facebook to get daily goodies!

Resources

[1] SCHIMIDTBLEICHER, D (1992). Training for power events. In: Strength and Power in Sports. P.V. Komi, ed. London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, pp. 381–395.

[2] MOSS, B.M. P.E. REFNES, A. ABILGAARD, K. NICOLAYSEN, AND J. JENSEN (1997). Effects of maximal effort strength training with different loads on dynamic strength, cross-sectional area, loadpower and load-velocity relationships. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 75: 193–199.

STONE, M.H., H.S. O’BRYANT, L. MCCOY, R. COGLIANESE, M. LEHMKUHL, AND B. SCHILLING (2003). Power and maximum strength relationships during performance of dynamic and static weighted jumps. J. Strength Cond. Res. 17:140–147.

[3] BOMPA, TUDOR AND CARRERA, MICHAEL (2005). Periodization Training for Sports, 2nd edition, 199.

[4] ROBBINS, D.W (2005). Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res., 19(2): 453-458.

[5] HODGSON, M., DOCHERTY, D., & ROBBINS, D. (2005). Post-activation potentiation underlying physiology and implications for motor performance. Sports Medicine, 25 (7), 385-395.

[6] HAMADA, T., SALE, D.G., MACDOUGALL, J.D., & TARNOPOLSKY, M.A. (2000a). Postactivation potentiation, muscle fiber type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88, 2131-2137.

[7] CHIU, L.Z., FRY, A.C., WEISS, L.W., SCHILLING, B.K., BROWN, L.E., & SMITH, S.L. (2003). Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 17(4), 671-677.

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

Eric-Bowman.png

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

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  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.
  4. Lester ME,Urso ML, Evans RK, Pierce JR, Spiering BA, Maresh CM, Hatfield DL, Kraemer WJ, Nindl BC. Influence of exercise mode and osteogenic index on bone biomarker responses during short-term physical training.  2009 Oct;45(4):768-776. doi: 10.1016/j.bone.2009.06.001.
  5. Almstedt HC,Canepa JA, Ramirez DA, Shoepe TC. Changes in bone mineral density in response to 24 weeks of resistance training in college-age men and women. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Apr;25(4):1098-103. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d09e9d.
  6. Martyn-St James M,Carroll S. Progressive high-intensity resistance training and bone mineral density changes among premenopausal women: evidence of discordant site-specific skeletal effects. Sports Med. 2006;36(8):683-704.
  7. Vanni AC,Meyer F, da Veiga AD, Zanardo VP. Comparison of the effects of two resistance training regimens on muscular and bone responses in premenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2010 Sep;21(9):1537-1544. doi: 10.1007/s00198-009-1139-z.
  8. Miranda F,Simão R, Rhea M, Bunker D, Prestes J, Leite RD, Miranda H, de Salles BF, Novaes J. Effects of linear vs. daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):1824-1830. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e7ff75.
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  13. Bonaiuti D,Shea B, Iovine R, Negrini S, Robinson V, Kemper HC, Wells G, Tugwell P, Cranney A. Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(3):CD000333.
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  19. Stengel SV,Kemmler W, Pintag R, Beeskow C, Weineck J, Lauber D, Kalender WA, Engelke K. Power training is more effective than strength training for maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 Jul;99(1):181-188.
  20. Conroy BP,Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, Fleck SJ, Stone MH, Fry AC, Miller PD, Dalsky GP. Bone mineral density in elite junior Olympic weightlifters. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Oct;25(10):1103-1109.
  21. Suominen H. Muscletraining for bone strength. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2006 Apr;18(2):85-93.
  22. Tsuzuku S,Ikegami Y, Yabe K. Effects of high-intensity resistance training on bone mineral density in young male powerlifters. Calcif Tissue Int. 1998 Oct;63(4):283-286.
  23. Walters PH,Jezequel JJ, Grove MB. Case study: Bone mineral density of two elite senior female powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Mar;26(3):867-872. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31822c71c0.
  24. Siewe J,Rudat J, Röllinghoff M, Schlegel UJ, Eysel P, Michael JW. Injuries and overuse syndromes in powerlifting. Int J Sports Med. 2011 Sep;32(9):703-711. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1277207.
  25. Ebben WP,Garceau LR, Wurm BJ, Suchomel TJ, Duran K, Petushek EJ. The optimal back squat load for potential osteogenesis. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May;26(5):1232-1237. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182305321.
  26. Swinton PA,Lloyd R, Keogh JW, Agouris I, Stewart AD. A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul;26(7):1805-1816. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182577067.
  27. Zakhem E,El Hage R, Bassil S, Moussa E, Zunquin G, Theunynck D. Standing long jump performance is a positive determinant of bone mineral density in young adult women. J Clin Densitom. 2013 Apr-Jun;16(2):129-130. doi: 10.1016/j.jocd.2013.02.015.
  28. El Hage R,Zakhem E, Zunquin G, Theunynck D, Moussa E, Maalouf G. Performances in Vertical Jump and Horizontal Jump Tests Are Positive Determinants of Hip Bone Mineral Density in a Group of Young Adult Men. J Clin Densitom. 2013 Apr 23. pii: S1094-6950(13)00053-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jocd.2013.03.016.
  29. Kato T,Terashima T, Yamashita T, Hatanaka Y, Honda A, Umemura Y. Effect of low-repetition jump training on bone mineral density in young women. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Mar;100(3):839-843.
  30. Zhao R,Zhao M, Zhang L. Efficiency of jumping exercise in improving bone mineral density among premenopausal women: a meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2014 Oct;44(10):1393-1402. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0220-8.

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

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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.

The Best Exercise You're Not Doing: 2 Kettlebell Front Squat

Well, that sucked.” My client un-racked the kettlebells and put them on the ground, still contemplating how in the world he got crushed by such little weight (comparatively speaking of course). Here I was taking this guy who considered himself to be pretty strong (and to his credit he was – he could do a mid-300lb front squat relatively easily), and putting him on the struggle-bus with a pair of 24kg kettlebells.

If you’ve spent any time in the gym whatsoever you know this feeling, and it isn’t fun. The two-kettlebell front squat is an exercise that elicits this response in a lot of people. In fact, it’s probably the best exercise you’re not doing right now. Whether your goal is to get stronger, move better, burn fat, or be more athletic, the two-kettlebell front squat has you covered.

Be sure to head over and checkout the rest of the article here:

The Best Exercise You’re Not Doing:  The 2 Kettlebell Front Squat

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.

IMG_0438
IMG_0438

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.

8 Lessons Learned From Training With People Stronger Than Me

I’m pumped to have my buddy Tim Geromini on today for a guest post.  I think he chose an awesome topic and knocked it out of the park.  Enjoy: Working at a top tier strength and conditioning facility has a lot of perks, one of them being that I get to train with people much stronger than I am.

Every day before our athletes and clients make their way into the gym our staff comes in early to get a lift in (what kind of coaches would we be if we didn’t train?) It’s no secret to anybody in the room that I am the weakest of the group (although I think everybody is jealous that I can grow an epic beard and they can’t).

Epic-Beard-is-Epic
Epic-Beard-is-Epic

Some would look at this as an intimidating situation, after all it’s not uncommon for me to look over and see a co-worker pulling a 500 pound deadlift like it was a piece of paper off the floor. Meanwhile I am just getting back to deadlifting and do cartwheels when I can pull 275X5 and not have my spine shoot out from behind me and splatter all over the wall.

The way I see it, this is an opportunity to learn from them. You better believe I am taking full advantage of it; I have gained 20 pounds back in four months.

Go into most commercial gyms and you’ll always find those guys by the squat racks and benches who are pushing considerable amounts of weight. I saw it daily when I worked at a commercial gym. The only problem was that nobody went over and talked to them except me.

Intimidation is part of it; nobody wants to sit on the bench next to them and struggle to move a bar with 50 pounds on it. I fully understand. But why not try to learn from them? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked these guys about when they started lifting and they respond by saying how it was from somebody stronger who helped them. See where I’m going here?

With that in mind I put together a list of my observations from training with people stronger than I am. These are in no particular order:

Focus

Training isn’t just something to get through for an hour so they can say “got my exercise in for the day, now I can go eat that bag of chips I’ve been starring at all weekend”! For them training is about getting stronger, better than yesterday. Each lift has a focus and determination like their life depends on it. In between sets you’ll see them pumping themselves up for the next one.

They write it down

Walk into our facility and you will see a workout sheet in everybody’s hand. How do you know if you are moving more weight this week if you didn’t write down last week’s? Want to get stronger? Challenge yourself and move up 10 pounds from last week (assuming form and technique is spot on).

They all do the big 3 lifts

You know the ones I am talking about: squat, bench press, deadlift. Assuming you have no injury restrictions, these are a must if you want to gain strength and move better.

They EAT!

You won’t find a strong individual who eats once a day and feasts on salad greens. You have to eat a lot. I’ve been guilty in the past of the typical comment “dude I already eat a lot”. My response when I hear that now from some clients is this “well that may be true, you may eat a lot. But don’t confuse eating a lot with eating enough”. If the weight on the bar is not moving up and the weight on the scale is not moving up, then you are not eating enough. Period.

They are positive

Imagine getting under the bar for a bench press and your only thought is hoping it doesn’t fall on your chest. Not them, when they get under the bar the only thought is domination. That bar is most certainly going back up and with some force.

They don’t do endless cardio

No comments needed here.

They educate themselves

You are on the right track if you visit this site often. Find ways to educate yourself on lifting, nutrition, and recovery. There are endless amounts of resources online or through books from elite trainers. Find a method that works for you and experiment.

They are consistent

Dedicated lifters don’t miss lifts. If it’s Monday (known as National Bench Press Day in many places) you better bet they are showing up. You won’t find them hitting the snooze button for an extra 10 minutes of sleep. They are up and after it.

There you have it, my observations from training with people stronger than I am. Next time you go to the gym and see somebody stronger than you, ask questions and observe (just make sure you aren’t stalking them and copying everything they do). If the goal is to get stronger then follow those who are already there. Make sure you return the favor to somebody else down the road.

About the Author

Tim Geromini is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Fortunate enough to work with athletes from high school all the way to the professional ranks, every day is a chance to become a better coach.  Currently, Tim is an intern at Cressey Performance.

5 Reasons Why You Should Squat and Deadlift Heavy

The adrenaline's running. Music is blaring in your ears.

Tingling sensations are coursing throughout your body as you approach a peak level of:  "I'm jacked up and ready to lift this shit."

Like a bull just waiting to be released, you take this build up of energy and focus it all into one moment, one effort, and rip the weight off the floor.

People who deadlift and squat heavy can relate to this experience, and they're probably hooked on it as much as I am.  In all honesty, it's the only thing I've found that even remotely compares to the rush you get when you make a big play in a game.

Unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on this rush because they never lift lift anything heavy.

It tends to get attacked in the media for being dangerous, and you often hear statements like:

"Oh, whatever you do don't squat and deadlift heavy.  You'll probably blow a disc out of your back and shoot it across the room."

Granted, this statement carries legitimacy if:

You don't know how to perform the lift correctly

You don't move well enough to perform the lift correctly

You use too much weight because you're stubborn and don't know how to check your ego.

I'd be willing to argue this holds true for just about anything though.  If you go out for a run and have poor running form, are obnoxiously tight, or run for too long, you will probably injure something.  Yet we see people running with poor form all the time, and complaining because they have knee or low back pain.

Remember, structure dictates function, so if something is off with your structure it'll carry over to your function.  With all of this in mind, I'm here to tell you everyone should aspire to squat and deadlift heavy because it stimulates a myriad of health benefits.

1.  They Are Functional Movement Patterns

The squat and deadlift are perhaps the two most functional movements we know as humans.  Just think about how many times you do the following over the course of a single day:  sit down, stand up, bend over to pick something up off the ground.  I'm willing to bet it happens a lot.  As Gray Cook discusses in his book Movement, these are not simple tasks.  Instead, they are complex patterns of movement requiring symmetry and coordination across multiple joints.  As our position changes throughout the movement so does muscular activity.  A muscle active during one portion of the movement may give way to another muscle or stabilizer during a separate portion of the movement.

Luckily, we don't have to consider all of these intricacies when we decide to move.  We simply think about movement as a whole and our brain/bodies will tap into however we have programmed ourselves to do it.  This is why practicing the squat and deadlift correctly is so important.  Our body recognizes patterns of movement, and the more we can practice good movement patterns the better off we will be.

On a related note, many of the faults you see during squatting and deadlifting carry over to other movements as well.

For example, take an athlete who squats and their knees fly forward and collapse in (also known as valgus).  What do you think happens when this same athlete has to jump, land or sprint in their sport?  He or she falls back on the same exact pattern they've become familiar with because that's what they know--that's how their brain has learned to move.

Yet we say it's okay for them to go play their sport but not squat and/or deadlift?  I couldn't disagree more.  This athlete needs to learn to move well, and then be able to perform those movements with a load because that's what their sport will demand.

2.  Learn to Generate Large Amounts of Force

The next few paragraphs are going to get a little wordy, but stick with me because it'll all make sense in the end.

So, strength is the ability to generate force, and no it has nothing to do with being a Jedi.  Although that would be legit.

But we know athletes generate force in similar movements in two different ways:  peripheral factors and central factors.  Peripheral factors relate to the force capabilities of individual muscles, which depends on how big a muscle is (also known as its cross sectional area and often talked about as hypertrophy), while central factors relate to the coordination of muscle activity by way of the central nervous system.

If we were to look just at central factors, we can subdivide that category into intramuscular coordination and intermuscular coordination (I promise this all has a point, so stick with me).  Intramuscular coordination is the extent to which individual muscle fibers in a particular muscle are activated during a specific movement (think muscle fibers in your biceps during a curl)  While intermuscular coordination, on the other hand, deals with movement as a whole and reflects how well your muscles are working together to generate force (think about all the muscles that have to work together in unison over the course of a squat).  The logical next question is how do you maximize these factors?  Luckily, I have an answer:  the maximal effort method aka lift heavy things

The maximal effort method entails lifting a maximal load.  In other words, it means finding a one rep max in your backsquat or deadlift (you can realistically use any rep scheme for this but I prefer staying in the 1 to 5 rep range).  Quick side note:  The reason I'm focusing on the backsquat and deadlift is twofold.  First, they are functional multi-joint movements.  Second, you can lift very heavy weights in both movements, which is key to developing large amounts of force because you cannot develop force against a small resistance.

Now to get back on track, according to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, performing these maximal effort style lifts is the most efficient way to improve both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination:  "the method of maximal effort is considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination."1

At the end of the day, your ability to generate large amounts of force depends significantly on central factors, and the maximal effort method is the best way to develop them.  Conveniently, developing these central factors will also help bolster the quality of the movement pattern I discussed above.

3.  Strength is the Base for Power Development

What is power?  In its simplest since power = force x velocity.  Thus, the combination of force and velocity in a movement determines how powerful a movement is.  In fact, "maximal strength is regarded as a prerequisite for high movement speed."2  It would appear then that strength is going to be a key factor in your ability to develop power because it has major impacts on both force (remember...strength is simply the ability to generate force) and velocity (speed of movement).

Granted, just because you can generate a large amount of force doesn't mean you can do so quickly, which is why rate of force of development has to be trained separately.

Think of it this way though, if you can't generate a large amount of force in a slow movement you will never be able to do so in a fast movement.  You first have to learn to generate large amounts of force (strength), and then transfer those gains into speed of movement (velocity).

If you think back to the equation it's not complicated.  In order to maximize power you must generate large amounts of force at a high velocity (in case you are wondering this is incredibly important in basically every sport ever).

4.  Optimal Hormonal Response3

Let's quickly go over three of the primary anabolic hormones and a few of their benefits.  If you don't feel like reading all the sciency stuff below, just skip to the end of the section and you'll get the gist of the it.

Testosterone

Impacts the nervous system by interacting with neuron receptors, increasing the amount of neurotransmitters, and causing structural protein changes.

Interacts with skeletal muscle directly to induce protein synthesis (build muscle).  Can promote growth hormone responses in the pituitary.

  • In a nutshell, all of these things help to increase strength and build muscle.

Growth Hormone

Decrease glucose utilization

Decrease glycogen synthesis

Increase amino acid transport across cell membranes

Increase protein synthesis

Increase utilization of fatty acids

Increases lipolysis (fat breakdown)

Increases availability of glucose and amino acids

Increases collagen synthesis

Stimulates cartilage growth

Enhances immune cell function

Stimulates release of insulin-like growth factors

  • If you don't know what any of above means that's okay.  It's basically saying growth hormone helps burn fat, build lean muscle and keep you healthy.

Insulin-Like Growth Factor

Helps drive protein anabolism in a big way (thinking big picture this means muscle growth)

To summarize:  testosterone, human growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor all play a major role in your bodies ability to fight off catabolism.  That is, they help you not become weak, old and decrepit.

Hopefully you're thinking to yourself:  "Okay James, I get that these are important.  Now how in the world do I get my body to secrete them, so I can start reaping the benefits?"  If you've picked up on the theme of this article you should know the answer is to lift heavy things.  In fact, the greatest hormonal response comes from the following recipe:

Use large muscle group exercises like the squat and deadlift.

Use heavy resistance.  We're talking 85-95% of your 1 rep max.

Use moderate to high volume.  In other words, do multiple sets with a low rep scheme.

Keep the rest intervals shorter.  If you are going really heavy (over 90% of your 1 rep max) that will be in the 2-5 minute range.  If you are going moderately heavy (70-85% of your 1 rep max) that will be in the 30 second to 2 minute range.

5.  Bone growth and joint stability

Having strong bones and stable joints is essential to your health and well being, and performing heavy squats and deadlifts can help improve both of them.

When considering joint stability, you have to think of it on a continuum from being hypermobile to being super tight.  The ideal place to be is somewhere in the middle.  So if you are super tight you need to spend more time "loosening up," and if you're hypermobile, you need to spend more time doing things like squatting and deadlifting to provide some much needed stability to your obnoxious amounts of range.

Now...what about bone growth?

Well bones, like everything else in your body, respond to the stimulus placed on them.  They will either get weaker, stay the same, or get stronger.  Hopefully, you want your bones to get stronger, or else you're in the wrong place.

In order to initiate bone growth several things have to occur.

First, some form of mechanical loading has to be present.  Second, the load must be greater than a previous stimulus (known as the minimal essential strain) in order to deform/stress the bone.  Lastly, once the bone has been stressed, osteoblasts will migrate to the stressed region and begin forming new bone.

As you can see, the key factor in this sequence of events is the magnitude of the load.  If the load isn't great enough, no adaptation will occur because your body has nothing to adapt to.  Once again, you need to squat and deadlift heavy things.

Some Closing Thoughts

I feel it's necessary to conclude by emphasizing GOOD FORM.  All of the benefits I've described above go right out the door if you compromise your form, so please do not attempt to squat or deadlift heavy if you have bad form.  I guarantee you will hurt yourself in a bad way.  Always tell yourself that FORM COMES FIRST.  If you have the form, go get after it.  If you don't have the form, then find a quality coach who can help you acquire it.

1.  Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. "Maximal Effort Method." Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006.

2.  Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M., and William J. Kraemer. "Power Performance." 

Science and Practice of Strength Training

. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2006. 156

3.  Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. "Primary Anabolic Hormones." 

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning

. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2000. 52-61.