training

5 Thoughts on Pre-workout Supplements

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

The Danger of Dependency

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

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

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

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

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

Ignoring Important Cues

Here's one of my favorites:

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

Me:  Banging my head against a wall incessantly.

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

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

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

A Time and Place

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

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

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

Coffee

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

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

Performance Over Health

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

about the author

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

Arousal Theory and Strength Sports: How to Harness Nuclear Energy

At the elite level, a large difference in performance between the three medalists on the podium is not typical. We see this across various individual strength sports such as weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics. One percent could be the difference between missing and breaking a world record. In weightlifting, both lifts are very explosive with neither one taking more than a few seconds to complete, and optimum power output must be produced. There is often only 2.5 kg separating the lifters in the top 5 spots, meaning the smallest variation in performance can be the difference between securing a medal and failing to place. Sports, which have very little variability between the top athletes who place, express a need for training modalities that can push performance just by a slight increase.

Overworking vs. Underworking

Because numbers can easily measure weight training progress, athletes have a tendency to pursue testing methods often. The aggressive consciousness, which weightlifters seem to possess, is a rivalry against oneself, and often leads to overtraining. Athletes typically have a competitive personality, which makes them assume overworking is better than underworking.

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The theoretical goal is to design a training program that will provide stress, but not continue to the point of distress. Little room for error can be left when peaking and every competitive advantage should be used for a successful performance. These factors can be measured and maintained by monitoring mood and excessive arousal while helping avoid the negative effects of over-reaching, which can lead to over-training.

A stressor is anything that may knock the body out of balance (a.k.a. homeostasis).

*for more on homeostasis and stress read here.

The stress response is what your body does to re-establish the balance. Your body’s physiological response mechanisms are beautifully adapted for overcoming short-term physical traumas. When we turn on the same physiological responses that are provoked chronically with heightened arousal, it then becomes disastrous. Fitness and fatigue cannot exist independently and often the demands of competitive athletes do not match according to the current level of not only physiological functioning, but psychological. Almost all athletes are overworked in some capacity, and although we all want to embrace ‘the grind’, constant excitement will cripple our success for long-term athletic development.

When to Turn It On

Many of us fail to differentiate between activating a stress-response out of necessity and for the sake of it. We become accustomed to turning our anticipatory defenses into an uproar of unnecessary activation. If you constantly mobilize energy at the cost of energy storage, you will never create a reserve for when it counts the most (aka competition). Excessive arousal may seem necessary, but more often than not is hindering performance as opposed to aiding in a successful attempt.

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Arousal and Threat

Arousal is a combination of physiological and psychological activity theorized to fall along a continuum from a completely relaxed state to intense state of excitement (Moran, 2004). Arousal is suppressed and activated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the Autonomic Nervous System. The sympathetic nervous system prepares our body for when energy expenditure is needed. During arousal our body needs to pay attention to the task at hand, so it neglects other systems such as immune and digestion that are deemed lower priority at that moment. For example, let’s say you’re roaming the Serengeti and a lion pops up ready to eat you. In that exact moment, what is most important to your body:

  1. - Digesting the food you just ate
  2. - Defending against a disease that may harm you tomorrow
  3. - Getting an erection
  4. - Running away to ensure survival

While 1-3 are indeed important, they do nothing to help you run away from the lion and must be “ignored” for the time being.

Yerkes & Dodsen (1908) developed the inverted-U theory in an attempt to explain the affiliation between arousal and performance. The relationship is curvilinear, specifically stating performance is lowest when arousal is very high or very low, and optimal at a moderate level (Singer et al., 2001). In Weightlifting, an athlete must presumably lift the most weight possible during an optimum level of arousal, however, either hyperarousal or diminished arousal may lessen performance (Jensen, 2009).

Although heightened arousal can impair the performance of some motor tasks, the relation between a stressor and the change in arousal varies markedly across individuals. It is also important to note that there are always exceptions to the case, but the vast majority of people happen to perform better with moderate levels of arousal. What is considered a eu-stress for one individual may in fact be a dis-stress for another.

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Generally speaking, certain sports require distinctive arousal levels

Fine motor control requires less arousal while motor tasks, which require strength or ballistic movements, require higher levels of arousal (Noteboom, Barnholt & Enoka, (2001). Ultimately, many variables play a role in creating a successful athlete, and to appropriately accommodate those variables an individualized program must be administered. For example, not everyone will respond to a certain stimulus of physical training the same way, just like how everyone will respond to stress management in slightly different ways

New athletes often make an assumption that psyching up or creating a high level of arousal is imperative to optimally complete a heavy lift. While higher arousal helps strength, compromised coordination and technique may occur, especially if technique is still being learned. The common mistake a lifter will face is overdoing it or using techniques at the wrong moments in training. A beginner is less groomed and so the motions of their sport are not as habitual in those who have ample amounts of experience. Typically a beginner will do better with low levels of arousal because performance is based on utilization of relevant cues and narrowing of attention as arousal increases. Too many cues, or an excess of arousal, can cause the lifter to heighten his or her state of sensory sensitivity to a state of hyper vigilance. When we approach a lift with excessive arousal we can trigger inappropriate responses such as excessive physical strain associated with somatic anxiety.

Once a lifter becomes accustomed to the motor patterns of their sport, then they will be able to determine their optimal zone of functioning within the arousal continuum.

New athletes get a pass because they don’t know any better. For those of you who are familiar with training and are constantly in the weight room screaming about your next lift to come, you are wasting your time and giving us all headaches. You’ve also caused a substantial amount damage, which now must be dealt with somehow.  You simply can’t train like this as often as you’d like. Threat Matrix Theory (Visser & Davies, 2010) explains how any number of multiple outputs may form from a stress response. We do not only encounter a single variable altered during this process. Determining which part of the fatigue was caused by the training itself, and what was caused by the emotional stress of an elevated arousal state is the hard part.

A stressor may be as simple as anticipation before a competitive situation, which at first may appear as psychological, but as it manifests becomes physiological as well (Jensen, 2009). Such a response can lead to a failed lift or technical failure resulting in injury, or improper recovery causing you to peak or fatigue earlier than you should be when competition time comes (Lee, 1990). Competitive weightlifters understand competitions provide incentive for hard training. A successful meet involves more than being stronger compared to competitors of the same weight class. In addition to physical training, psychological aspects such as mood and vigor will play an important role in an athlete’s performance as well.

Don’t train harder, train smarter.

Profile of Mood States Questionnaire (POMS) is a standard validated psychological test formulated by McNair et al. (1971) which requires you to indicate for each word or statement how you have been feeling in the past week.

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Athletes scoring below norms on scales of tension, depression, confusion, anger, and fatigue, and above norms on vigor, are said to possess a ‘positive profile’ that graphically depicts an iceberg. Monitoring of mood states may offer potential methods of mitigating loads, whether that be psychological or physical.

Serious athletes will push their bodies hard enough, often riding that fine line between wellness and illness. Simply tracking how you feel related to qualitative variables, which mirror excess stress, can be of use to athletes and coaches. You can do this by writing it in your training log (if you don’t have one yet, what are you waiting for?). Remember, stress comes in all shapes and sizes and we deal with it enough, so why add more to training than necessary?

Optimizing performance is contingent upon proper stress regulation and will differ between training and competition environment. Coaches are often attempting to increase the likelihood of success within an athlete’s performance and will make most of the decisions for an athlete, but for those who do not have this advantage should educate themselves. In accordance with proper programming, mental skills training to control or alter arousal levels may be of interest. Beginning to use skills during practice will have a carry-over effect in competition, and is valuable in both situations. Utilizing such skills will not likely benefit the day of competition if not practiced.

Learn how to create a balance with combinations of relaxation and intensity. These are two things that don’t seem to go together when you first think about it. Managing arousal levels is key in not only competitive situations, but during training as well. If you experience every lift in a working set during training as a max effort lift you will pay the price. Being able to harness nuclear energy is the name of the game. Conserve it for a time when it is most necessary. To understand the stress response, fundamental knowledge not only of physiology but of psychology as well, must be possessed.

about the author

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Dani Tocci is an eccentric individual whose primary goal is to cultivate a positive growth mindset with everyone she works with on both a sport consulting level and with training. Having a not so typical background with degrees in art and philosophy gives her an edge on her thought process. Dani is a competitive olympic weightlifter and has had the pleasure of working with national level athletes.  Follow her on Instagram (@d_tocc) for all the happenings.

Training the Rotator Cuff: Assessing and Programming for Optimal Shoulder Performance

Whether you’re an aspiring collegiate baseball player trying to improve throwing velocity, or a weekend warrior trying move serious weights, it’s important to understand how to keep your shoulders healthy to truly maximize the benefits of an aggressive strength training program. As a coach thats worked with hundreds of baseball athletes, I'm often asked how to incorporate certain exercises to have strong and healthy shoulders. Given the unique velocity and range of motion demands of the baseball players that I work with, I've learned some important lessons on how to keep shoulders both moving and functioning properly.

So...here we go.

The Cuff

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The rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis), and its main role is to keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid.

While that may sound simple in theory, it's really a complicated process because it's analogous to keeping a golf ball centered on a golf tee. To make things even more difficult, let’s imagine that golf tee is moving:  as you raise your arm overhead to throw a ball or to press a dumbbell or barbell, the position of the scapula will change, so we hope the rotator cuff is able to provide enough dynamic control to prevent contact with the acromion, thus avoiding impingement.

When I first assess clients as they come in, I usually see three main limitations at the shoulder:

1.  Faulty position of the scapula relative to the ribcage

2.  Poor rotator cuff strength

3.  Poor motor control of the shoulder

It’s important to understand the cycle of injury, and how each of these limitations impacts that cycle.  Here's a great graphic illustrating just that.  In particular, this graphic does an outstanding job depicting how a lack of strength (functional instability) can lead to earlier onset of fatigue, poor motor control, and mechanical instability (laxity/pathology).  Aka things we don't want.

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Here's another fun fact to consider before we move on:  cumulative fatigue increases sympathetic tone as a stress response, thus creating sub optimal joint positioning (cue mind blowing).

All in all, what we're talking about is balancing position, strength, fatigue and motor control.

It's All About Position

When looking to enhance shoulder health, it all starts with making sure you have ideal joint positioning. If the muscles can’t generate good leverage and moving segments don’t articulate well with stationary segments, a joint isn’t going be able to move freely or produce/withstand maximal forces.

A very basic example of that can be seen via a length-tension and force-length relationship.  While these graphs are getting after the same thing, I've given you both to help you better understand what's happening:

As the above graphs illustrate, there's an optimal resting muscle length that allows for just the right amount of overlap between myofibrils for force production.  Once you get outside that range, the muscle will not function as optimally (this is what happens when position is out of whack).

Most ardent clients will come in looking something like this:

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They are very Lat dominant, bilaterally extended through their rib cage, with anteriorly tipped scapulae. On the table, they will likely present with bilaterally limited shoulder IR and bilaterally limited shoulder flexion.

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Before we try and do any sort of mobility work, or address rotator cuff strengthening, we need to re-establish a more neutral resting position for the shoulder and optimal starting position for the muscles to do their jobs! I like to start with an All Fours Belly Lift Drill.

All we are looking for here is a good bilateral reach through the floor, creating an activation of both Serratus Anterior (protraction), and creating some desperately needed thoracic flexion. The key once in this positon, is to deeply inhale, getting air into your upper back, then forcefully exhaling and drawing your ribs down. This is repeated for 5 breaths.

Creating Strength

When it comes to strengthening the rotator cuff I usually implement drills focusing on shoulder abduction, or external rotation. These are two motions that will typically fail upon muscle testing. Since the posterior cuff is heavily relied upon to decelerate the arm at the tail end of the throwing motion, I focus specifically on developing the strength of these muscles with our baseball players.

External rotation drills at 90 degrees are usually best, and I will use a variety of dumbbells, manual resistance, or cable resistance.

I look for good ball in socket rotation, and for the client to feel activation in the posterior shoulder, not in the front.

Another drill I started to implement a lot within the last year or so is the Chain Full Can.

I like that this drill utilizes variable resistance from the chains, creating a gradual increase in resistance as the athlete flexes their shoulder in the scapular plane. Also, to be honest, it makes a fairly boring drill typically used with small pink or purple dumbbells into something a little bit more legit.  This matters when you're working with a bunch of baseball players who are secretly enormous meatheads on the inside.

At the initial portion of this movement, if someone has weakness in their rotator cuff they may either crank back into lumbar extension or shrug to compensate their way to the top portion of the lift.  Since most of the links are resting on the floor at the beginning of this movement, the load is less, so the athlete is less apt to compensate to flex their shoulder.   At the top portion of the lift, all of the links are off of the ground and the load is highest where the rotator cuff needs to be strengthened most.

Using chains for this drill also increases grip demands, which causes reflexive rotator cuff activation. And finally, chains are unstable, since they’re suspended in the air, creating the need for added contribution from the rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder in the glenoid as it goes through a full range of motion.

Control and Timing

The next step is to integrate motor control and rotator cuff timing to ensure proper dynamic stability of the shoulder. Rhythmic Stabilizations are my go to drills to these qualities in varying positions of instability. These drills force you to react to external resistance to stabilize whatever joint is being acted upon, enhancing proprioceptive control and timing of the rotator cuff and the muscles that act upon the scapulae.

These are great drills to train rotator cuff control/timing in various positions without excessively loading up the shoulder. I actually conducted my Master’s Thesis on the implementation of Rhythmic Stabilization drills and their effect on throwing performance. I found that players who presented with a greater degree of laxity benefitted more in terms of throwing performance—measured in velocity. Clients that may present with higher degrees of laxity lack the ability to stabilize their joints through muscle stiffness. Therefore, these drills can be really beneficial in addressing this deficit in motor control.

Where to Go

The big question now is where does all of this fit together into a program? I find that you can split up your rotator cuff strength and motor control work into separate days. For instance, any rhythmic stabilization drills would pair nicely with a primary lower body lift since it's low load and can be done as active rest. I usually program for 3-4 sets of 5-10 seconds depending on number of positions and overall difficulty.

When incorporating direct rotator cuff work, I will put these exercises at the end of an upper body training session to mitigate overall effects of fatigue. I will usually program 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps on a given training day. Try adding these in to your overall training routine and let me know what you think.

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to understand that building rotator cuff strength and control is a sequential process. At each phase of a training program, the exercises must coordinate with training goals. All in all, the key is finding out what you need as an individual and then attacking the weakest link. If you are generally lax, stretching may be the worst thing you can do! However, if you're toned up and positioned horribly, training for stability might come secondary to repositioning and improving range of motion.

I know that was a lot of technical information, so if you feel like you're head is spinning in three different directions don't hesitate to drop me a line below in the comment section.

about the author

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Sam Sturgis

Sam holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training from Quinnipiac University (2010) and Master’s Degree in Strength and Conditioning from Springfield College (2012).  A skilled Strength Coach and Athletic Trainer at Pure Performance Training in Needham, MA, Sam works primarily with baseball athletes and clients rehabilitating from injury.  Sam has developed a successful off-season baseball Strength & Conditioning program for youth athletes in the greater Boston area. Sam also serves as the Athletic Trainer for the New England Ruffnecks baseball program.

To contact Sam, he can be reached at ssturgisppt@gmail.com

Slow Down (And Stop) Your Lifts For Big Gains: An Overview of Triphasic Training Part II

What’s up? Time for round two of our Triphasic talk.

If you by chance missed it (shame on you), then be sure to head over and read it here. You’ll need to be up to speed if you hope to get the most out of this training program, so be sure to check it out.

As far as this article goes, it’s going to be pretty brief. My goal is to give you a light overview of the program, and then hook you up with a workout you can crush over the next 9-10 weeks. The exact time frame will depend on whether or not you choose to take a deload, but we’ll get to that later.

Before you download the program below, there are a few basic principles I want to outline for you:

1. This is a 9-10 week program with a 3 day workout schedule.

2. Each day is based on a Squat, Bench, or Deadlift Variation.

3. You’ll want to pick a variation of each main lift for each of the three minicycles.  For example, you can do a floor press for phase 1 (weeks 1-3), a swiss bar bench press for phase 2 (weeks 4-6), and then a close grip bench press for phase 3 (weeks 6-9)

4. The basic program set up involves three undulated (constantly changing) minicycles broken up by the 3 different phases I talked about in the first article: eccentric, isometric, and concentric. The first 3 weeks are eccentric focused, the second three are isometric focused, and the last three weeks go back to a regular (but explosive) tempo.

5. Like the original set up Dietz and Peterson detailed, there will be a moderate intensity/volume day, a high intensity/low volume day, and a low intensity/high volume day.

6. The intensity of the day applies to only the auxiliary work, while the intensity of the main lift will increase 5% each week.

7. Even though most of the program is below 80%, you will still get stronger by the end of the program. This 60-80% is what Dietz and Peterson describe as the “High Force, High Velocity” block. Ultimately, the sub-max nature allows you to continue training without getting too beat up, while also letting you play in any leagues or pick-up games you may have going on. Remember, with this set up, conservative is always better!

8. I would suggest you taking a deload week after the isometric block. Just throw together a 2 to 3 day training week that’s more volume based rather than intense, and you should be good.

9. As I previously mentioned, the sub-maximal nature of the program allows you to keep up with any activities you may have going on outside of training, so feel free to do so.

10. I would encourage you to do some lighter cardio on your "off" days.  For ideas on how to program your conditioning, check out James’ webinar here or this post on aerobic development.

Do keep in mind that this is merely one set up out of thousands!  The world of triphasic programming is a big one, but I wanted you to get your feet wet and this is a great program to do it on.

Once you run through the program, feel free to plug in your own auxiliary lifts, change the main lifts, change the emphasis, change the percentages, etc. and make it your own.

I also know a lot of people reading this site, and maybe even you, are in your post-playing days. That's not to say your an ex-athlete, it just means you no longer play your sport of choice competitively.  If you fall in that bucket, feel free to throw in an extra upper body day because who doesn't believe in the “Sun’s Out, Guns Out!” lifestyle.

If you have and/or come across any questions while going through the program, feel free to post them below in the comment section or hit me up on facebook.  Lastly, be sure to keep track of your numbers, because we want to know how much progress you've made.

Click Below to Download the Goods

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About the Author

Keiran Halton

I have my MS in Exercise Physiology from William Paterson University in NJ, and while attending I had two world class internships under the NY Islanders Sports Performance Department in Syosset, NY as well as Defrancos Training Systems in Wyckoff, NJ.  I currently coach at the Mamaroneck Equinox in NY, and have worked with prepubescent up to adult professional athletes.  I myself was an Academic All-Conference player in college for basketball and volleyball at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, NY.  You can connect with me on Facebook, so come hangout.

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.

Slow Down (and Stop) Your Lifts for Big Gains: An Overview of Triphasic Training

During my time at Defrancos Training Systems, formerly of New Jersey, I was exposed to a crazy idea: every lift, every cut in sports, every time you take a step, you’re in one of three phases of movement. 

You are slowing down (eccentric contractions)

Reversing or stopping the movement (isometric contraction or amortization)

Propelling yourself or a body segment to a different space all together (concentric contraction)

The idea of the different phases of movement is not anything revolutionary, but to train each separately to build up a lift or dynamic movement to a whole new level was!

The idea came from strength and conditioning coach Cal Dietz from the University of Minnesota and PHD candidate Ben Peterson. Both coauthored Triphasic Training: A Systematic Approach to Elite Speed and Explosive Strength Training Performance. While the programming in the latter parts of the book may be a little complicated, the beginning and background on the breakdown of movements is an absolute gold mine. Let me explain…

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Eccentric Phase

Essentially, the weight placed on your body is greater than the force you are generating in the lowering phase of a movement. For example:

Lowering the bar to your chest during the bench (weight is too heavy to press back up but you can still lower it)

Loading your bodyweight into your toes before taking off for a sprint

This eccentric contraction is a crucial part of athletics and lifting because without substantial eccentric strength, you are more likely to get hurt (think tearing an ACL non-contact).

Training the eccentric portion has a major influence on the subsequent phases. Every dynamic or athletic movement BEGINS with an eccentric contraction. Think about it--when you jump, you don’t stand straight up and pop your ankles to get off the ground. You eccentrically load your glutes and hamstrings by sitting your hips back into a quarter squat before leaping off the ground. Increasing your eccentric strength will allow you to absorb a greater amount of energy to be used to explode through your movement in the concentric phase (more on that later).

For guys looking to put on some size, this is a great way to pack on muscle fast! By slowing down the tempo and flooding your muscles with blood, you are forcing your muscles to adapt and grow. The best part is, you will see the size (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy; bodybuilder), and the thickness (myofibril hypertrophy; powerlifter) you so desire.

To sum up the eccentric phase--slow down your lowering phase! Count to three before the bar touches your chest in the bench, or five seconds letting the bar up during a pull down. Be warned though...this is extremely taxing and of the three phases this one is mostly closely related to muscle damage. Thus, always stay conservative when using this method, and gradually work your way up.

Types of exercises:  Negatives, Slow Tempo

Ideal Percentage Range:  60-80

Ideal Rep Range:  3-6 x 3-6

Time under Eccentric:  6-8 sec.

Isometric Phase

The isometric portion of a movement, aka amortization, is the part of movement where you have absorbed the force and are now transferring that energy from eccentric to the concentric phase. This portion of the movement is usually the shortest and almost unrecognizable, regardless of your efficiency in this phase.

To truly benefit from using all that force you absorbed in the eccentric portion (“every action has an equal and opposite reaction”), this phase needs to be as short as possible.

If you were a car, you’d want to have the tightest brakes on the street: when your foot hits the brake, you should stop almost instantly with no tire tracks behind you.

If your isometric phase isn’t strong, however, you’ll hit the brakes and go flying down the block until you crash into somebody else.

Now think of how important stopping and changing direction in in sports and lifting!

Why is this phase so important if it’s so short?

Again, for the athlete, sometimes this is the only thing that separates someone from being good vs. great. If you can’t use the force from the eccentric portion to launch yourself into the explosive concentric portion, then you’re losing out on power you could be generating.

Think jumping off a hardwood basketball court vs. a beach volleyball court--one surface gives a lot of bounce, while the other gets made into sandcastles all day.

For the athlete looking to make gains in the weight room, training your isometric phase has less of an effect then the eccentric hypertrophy we previously touched on, but can again be the small difference you need to take you from decent weight to “wow that’s a lot of weight” weight.

Have you experienced being stapled in the bottom of the hole squatting, or stuck trying to get the bar off the floor during a deadlift?  If so, training that spot in your lift through pause reps will allow you to train that specific (within 10-15°) angle in your lift. Thus, next time you get stuck at a particular sticking point, think of giving isometric reps a shot.

While the isometric phase is very simplistic in nature, hold a spot for a designated amount of time and finish the rep, and isn’t as taxing as eccentric work, it’s again not easy. As with the eccentric phase, be conservative. These will catch up to you quickly, and you don’t want to be hanging out under load for a while if your form is shot. Make it perfect and make it reasonable!

Types of exercises: Overcoming Isometric (Push/pull against immovable object), Yielding Isometric (Pause Reps)

Ideal Percentage Range:  60-80

Ideal Rep Range:  3-4 x 3-6

Time under Isometric:  6-8 sec.

Concentric Phase

This is the phase everyone knows and love--your body is overcoming the force placed upon it. When you ask the guy at the gym, “how much ya bench?” you are referring to the concentric phase.

After a few sessions or weeks, depending on your program, following the eccentric and isometric phases, you have hopefully become more efficient at moving. What I mean is you no longer waste as much energy in your movements. All of these subsequent phases leading up to the concentric phase were to allow your body to be able to absorb and transfer more energy in less time.

To take advantage of this, you should perform each movement as explosively as possible with perfect form. This goes for whether you are lifting 50% of your 1RM or 99.9% of your 1RM--push as hard and fast as you can (again…FORM INTENSIVE)!

This lends itself greatly to a traditional team sport athlete because it transfers to blowing by guys and juking a defender out of his or her sneakers. As far as the weightroom goes, this is where you feel as if you are “throwing” the weight up.

Sometimes breaking through a plateau is just a matter of speeding up the lift, and taking advantage of the elasticity of your tendons/ligaments and muscles.

Feel free to push the intensity on these guys, but be careful at first. The increased speed will very likely have your balance a little out of whack, so feel out a regular tempo or even a relatively quick pace before going all out.

Types of exercises: Dynamic Effort, Plyometric, Band Resisted/Assisted

Ideal Percentage Range: 30 to 100%

Ideal Rep Range: 3-4 x 4-6 to 1 x 1-2

Time under Concentric: ALMOST NONE! BE FAST AND AGGRESSIVE! (with perfect form).

Wrap up

I hope you guys see the value and benefit of spending time breaking down your lifts this way.

This style of training works wonders for athletes of all ages and levels, recreational guys, serious lifters, and even the occasional person rehabbing an injury.

Trust me, it works!

Aside from witnessing first hand the benefits of this style of programming, I also experienced it myself when my legs felt explosive and strong again after back-to-back knee surgeries.

Feel free to add one type if you have a very specific goal in mind, or throw a whole program together cycling through the different phases of the lift.

Look for part two where I will throw together a sample program template so you guys can actually see things laid out in front of you, and you’ll be able to plug and go!

About the Author

Keiran Halton

I have my MS in Exercise Physiology from William Paterson University in NJ, and while attending I had two world class internships under the NY Islanders Sports Performance Department in Syosset, NY as well as Defrancos Training Systems in Wyckoff, NJ.  I currently coach at the Mamaroneck Equinox in NY, and have worked with prepubescent up to adult professional athletes.  I myself was an Academic All-Conference player in college for basketball and volleyball at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, NY.  You can connect with me on Facebook, so come hangout.

(Click here if you'd like to contribute and be featured)

Resources

Triphasic Training: A Systematic Approach to Elite Speed and Explosive Strength Training Performance. Cal Dietz and Ben Peterson

http://www.stack.com/2012/05/18/the-importance-of-triphasic-training-part-i-introduction/

http://www.stack.com/2012/05/25/the-importance-of-triphasic-training-part-2-the-eccentric-phase/

http://www.stack.com/2012/06/27/isometric-phase/

http://www.stack.com/2012/07/09/concentric-training/

Hunt Out Progress: A Simple Way To PR Every Day

If you are a guy (sorry girls, but this is for guys only), and you are ready to take your training and lifestyle to the next level, then you need to check this out.  The TeamLift is our pride and joy service, and we want you to be a part of it.  There's honestly nothing else like it on the internet, and I just wanted to make sure you knew it existed.  Click below to check it out:

The TeamLift

What It Takes To Be A Monster: Lessons In Training and Life

Note from James:  I was pumped when Zach agreed to put this piece together.  He truly embodies the notion of being a monster in training (see 705lbs deadlift below) and life, and I think the information he provides below is a game changer.  Enjoy!

Have you ever tried the last level of Super Mario Bros?

You know...the one where you're attempting to get to Bowser's lair.

It's hard as shit right?  And incredibly frustrating.

All you want more than anything in the world is to complete the level, but the game does everything in its power to prevent you from doing so by placing obstacle after obstacle in your way.

One minute you're cruising along, and then all of sudden you get swallowed up by some lava, harassed by a koopa paratroopa, hit by one of those annoying cheep cheep's, or wrecked by a firebar.

Cue throwing of controller.

What if you had a cheat code though?  One that turned Mario into a monster fully capable of handling each and every obstacle he would encounter on his journey.

Wouldn't that have helped?

Well that's what I'm hear to talk about today.

But instead of talking about Mario, I'm really talking about you and you're training because the stories are one in the same.

Regardless of where you are in training and/or life, you have a goal, and the path to achieving that goal is filled with obstacles like lava, firbars and koopa paratroopas.

In order to get past the many obstacles in your way, you need a few things.

For starters, you need programming and nutrition specific to you because you have to know what you are doing in the gym and in the kitchen for everything to come together.

But those two things are only part of the equation.

To really be a monster you need the following:

Positive Mind

Positive mind is first on the list because I believe this is the most crucial piece. When all else fails, this is the go to because this journey is all a mindset.

Before embarking on a mission, you must really let it sink in.

Ask yourself, how bad do you want it, and if the answer is "I want it," then scratch the idea all together because you don't want it bad enough.

You must sweat, twitch, itch, cry, perk up, and think deeply. Your eyes should be popping out of your head. It should not be a want anymore, it becomes a need. It becomes your lifestyle.

Don't put energy into something you "kinda" want.

Usually something drastic has to happen to get to this point--a real eye opener.

Maybe it's losing/winning a competition or game, failing/acing a test, or losing/getting a job.  Either way, you must remember the feeling of that moment and don't let it go.

Once you are at this point, then you can proceed to start the mission.

I believe that the battle is won and lost at this point. How bad do you want it?

Consistency

Once the positive mindset is in place, consistency will almost fall into place on its own.

There will be days where you don't want to make or prepare food. There will be days you don't want to go to sleep/wakeup early. There will be days where weight feels extra heavy. There will be days where weight feels extra light.

Respect all of these feelings.

Don't look into it too much.

Revert back to that positive mindset. Remember what you set out for to begin with.

This is all part of the journey. Don't question what happens. It happens for a reason. It could always be worse.

You are going to eat shit no matter how strong you are. It is all a matter of enjoying eating shit. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. It will never get easier, and it should not be crippling bad.

Find that fine balance of “perfectly way too much,” and know the difference between uncomfortable and pain.

Training

Stay within yourself.

It sounds so simple, but the weight will win 10 times out of 10.

There is always a weight out there that will absolutely bury you, which will lead to injury or horrific form. If you get injured then you just accomplished the exact opposite of our goal, and if you have ugly form then there will be a ceiling on how strong you can get and it will probably lead to injury anyways.

Numbers are numbers, but you can’t measure effort. I can deadlift 500 pounds without any effort; this is actually where I start on deads. But I treat that 500lbs like it is my max. I go in with the same mentality, and respect the weight.

Weight is all relative, so 500lbs to me might be 400lbs to you, but never overlook that 400lbs.

Apply more effort to everything you do, squeeze harder, no need to worry about numbers just yet.

And this isn’t just for deadlift, it applies to everything.

You have to be calm and cool during training. What do you have to be afraid of? You are a human...the baddest fucking species on this planet.

However,there is something out there that can stop you:  YOURSELF.

Mental/Physical Progression

Just sit back and take a deep breathe. I’m serious, do this now.

Take a big breath in; fill up your stomach and upper back with air. Now breathe out ALL of your air. When you think there is no more air, push out that last little bit. Now pause for 2 seconds, you must earn your next breath. And repeat.

That was just the most basic of corrective exercises, and if done properly you should feel different right now. Mental and physical change just happened.

If that was too much and you got confused, we need to take a step back because that is the most simple of tasks. We breathe more than we do anything, so why not perfect something so simple.

My goal is to get you to master the little things, and I promise the big things will fall into place. I don’t want you to come into this program anxious. This is a tedious process, and you will have to do things that feel uncomfortable.

I would rather you feel uncomfortable and annoyed over getting injured.

Have a goal in mind, and do not lose sight of that goal, so when it gets uncomfortable or tedious you will continue to push through.

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.

Aggressive Throwing Programs: Are You Asking the Right Questions

Everyone wants to throw gas. If you throw 80mph, you want to throw 85mph. If you throw 85,mph you want to throw 90mph. If you throw 90, you want to throw 95mph…and so on and so forth.

For a pitcher, it’s the ultimate attention grabber. The radar gun doesn’t lie, and lighting one up is the quickest way to turn heads.

Assuming you have any semblance of control, throwing hard helps you get a college scholarship, helps you get drafted, and helps you toward the big leagues.

Sorry, but they aren’t handing out many signing bonuses for an 85mph fastball.

Think of it like the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine—everyone is looking for that 4.3 speed because it’s a game changer.

Due to the high premium baseball places on velocity, and the paychecks that can come along with it, weighted ball programs have gained a tremendous amount of popularity over the past several years. Not only that, they can deliver great results. By playing with the force velocity curve, you can see some pretty impressive jumps in velocity over a relatively short period of time.

Unfortunately, a lot of high school and college athletes are jumping into aggressive weighted ball programs without asking the right questions—they end up chasing short-term gains as opposed to setting themselves up for long-term success.”

If you’d like to read more about what questions you need to be asking, the difference between general and specific training, and how to build a pyramid, then head over and checkout the rest of the article here:

Aggressive Throwing Programs:  Are You Asking the Right Question

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.

 

 

 

Header Photo Credit

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

812f4cb124c2dda65e33a5f1c2f087ef.jpeg

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.