The most powerful force in the human mind is past experience. We put our own personal history first and foremost in our belief system, often despite significant evidence to the contrary. In the groundbreaking book Influencer, author Kerry Patterson explains that when trying to win the hearts and minds of others, a mountain of data and evidence is useless against even one personal experience that runs counter to the viewpoint you are trying to instill. A great example is fat loss. Despite mountains of evidence that the best way to lose fat is to resistance train, eliminate processed foods, and perform higher intensity cardio, everyone always knows SOMEONE who lost fifty pounds eating cookies and wearing a vibrating belt 24/7. This presents an enormous barrier because while I have all my fancy data, coaching experience, and education, this person’s personal connection will more often than not get the benefit of the doubt because we are wired to believe what we know and experience firsthand.
This effect is even more significant when dealing with someone’s past successes and failures. Let’s take a busy working mother of three who desperately wants to lose thirty pounds as an example. What’s her most common objection to starting an exercise program? I don’t have time! But hold on, what is she really saying? What she is really saying is, relative to her personal experience with exercise, she doesn’t have time for THAT program. Let’s say she was in the best shape of her life in her early 20’s, and at that time she worked out 5-6 times a week for up to two hours a session. So that becomes her story, her personal definition of “working out.” She looks at her hectic life now, and of course she can’t make that fit in. So she does nothing because in her mind there are no options; it’s an all or nothing, yes or no, proposition. Her greatest challenge is to be willing to be able to edit her personal encyclopedia so that she can adapt a fitness plan to meet her goals utilizing a different strategy than what she did in the past.
While clearly there are many disadvantages with getting older (including not having the time nor the unending well of energy to train like an animal 24/7), one distinct tool aging gives us is hindsight, should you be willing to use it. Hindsight lets us look at the past and analyze what components of what we were doing worked, and what we could change. When I played summer baseball in the collegiate league in New England, we were somewhat isolated and had little to do all day. So, I trained. A lot. I ran mile after mile, lifted every day, worked out at the gym, worked out at home, worked out at the field, whatever I could possibly do I did. I avoided fat, ate very little given my size, and emerged from the summer incredibly lean, fast, and strong. However, if this became my only method of training for the rest of my life I too would probably fall victim to the trap our working mother example fell into. What hindsight and experience has allowed me to do is pick out the most important things I did (strength training, eating clean) and eliminate what wasn’t relevant to my goals (extended running, training everyday, seeing how many pushups I could do between innings). What I have now whittled that down to is an efficient training and eating strategy that allows me to look and feel the way I want while maintaining an incredibly busy schedule. Quite simply, if it takes less time and produces the same results, it’s better.
The best program for you is the one you can do right now. Don’t worry about the methods you have used in the past, but look deeper at the principles. So you used to do a 6-day body-part split and measured and cooked all your meals down to the calorie but now you only have two hours a week to workout and are constantly on the run? Well, we can pull out the major principles behind your old program and determine that strength training to failure with progressively more resistance and eating a clean protein rich diet were big factors to your success. Instead of body-part splits, do a full-body training session hitting compound movements twice a week and try to get your diet right 5 out of 7 days of the week. Congratulations, you have successfully hacked your training and are on the way to success!
Let go of the past, but don’t forget to learn from it first.
Like it or not, fitness and training is about people. Not bodies, not research, not certifications. Far too often trainers become enamored with the science of strength and conditioning and totally neglect the fact that they are, as Coach Boyle says, assholes that no one would ever want to be around. 18 months into owning my own facility and I find my bookshelves that were once fully stocked with every title from Super Training to The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine now overrun by books about communication, leadership, and motivation. My most profound realization has been that I will never get anyone to buy into our program by displaying my vast knowledge of all things fitness; rather that the gatekeeper to success is the ability to make a meaningful connection to the person in front of me. (more…)[Top]
In honor of the recent Reebok toning shoe 25 million dollar false advertising settlement, I want to kick the week off with some other recent bro-science breakthroughs you may have not been aware of.
Maybe this whole post today was a bad idea. I thought the ShakeWeight for Men was the pinnacle of awkward infomercials that made me really uncomfortable to watch, but Free-Flexor has just taken it to a whole new level. I love the “developed and tested by fitness professionals” line at the end of the infomercial. That’s a little like endorsing a new law as “developed by politicians.” Interesting that they managed to both introduce and prove the “theory” of Circular Strength Technology. Generally such theories are put forth in research papers and studies. But, it has an acronym, so it has to be true.
The Frank Sepe Fitness Disc
A classic from over on the HSN. Beyond the usual nonsense, Frank makes sure to point out that the rotation comes from the midsection, rather than the legs. So essentially the workout is repeatedly twisting your lower back into submission while gaining no mobility anywhere you might actually need it.
Tracy Anderson pitches the fitness version of a perfect game. She’s like the Roy Halladay of made-up crap. Pseudo-science, bad exercise demonstrations, a total disregard for basic anatomy. NAILED IT. I haven’t seen a celebrity trainer dominate like this since Tony Little broke out the Gazelle. I almost want to order it just to find out how she handles “glute-centric” workouts.
That’s it for the first installment of Fitness Gimmick Monday. I feel like there’s enough out there to make this a weekly feature.[Top]
With the rise in awareness of the importance of fitness in sports like golf and baseball, undoubtedly the greatest area of interest has been how training can benefit velocity and swing speed gains. Now, as a general rule, “powerful” people tend to have a propensity for greater speed and force of movement no matter what the task. However, not all “power training” is created equal nor is even appropriate for athletes in rotational sports.
Anyone who knows anything about my coaching philosophy should understand that one of my core beliefs is that the athlete and situation dictate the exercise selection; no exercise is “great” for everyone. Hang out at Coastal Performance for a whole day and you will see this principle in action; from early morning adult clients doing bodyweight exercises to midday staff heavy deadlifts to afternoon athletes doing hang cleans. One thing you may notice about those afternoon athletes, however, is that they are not baseball players or golfers.
I heard recently of a PGA Tour player suffering an injury while performing Olympic lifts, which I’m assuming was an attempt at some power gains. There are two issues here: Number one, injuring a pro athlete who has already “made it” is like flattening a billionaire’s investment portfolio with high-risk penny stocks. The role of a strength coach in that situation is maintenance and injury prevention, just like the large portfolio money manager. If the player wants to do something “fun” and “intense”, have them push a sled around or do some hard Airdyne intervals. Coach Dan John has a saying, “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” The goal in this case is to keep the player playing efficiently, and losing sight of that goal by getting cute with “sexy” exercises just because they look awesome is, well, irresponsible to say the least.
Now on to my second point regarding Olympic lifts, box jumps, and other forms of vertical power training I’ve seen used for golfers and pitchers recently. These exercises focus on generating power through the ground and up with extension of the ankle, knee, and hip. This explains why there is such a high correlation between sprint speed and vertical jump height. However, I’m not convinced that this carries over to rotational power for many reasons. For one, using a simple anecdotal analysis, I’m fairly certain John Daly isn’t an alternate for the Olympic high jumping team. However, he’s extremely efficient rotationally and as a result, is one of the longest hitters in competitive golf (or at least was).
I’ll throw myself out there as an example also. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m kind of a long hitter. I would call my vertical jump very average. I do, however, own the staff record for medicine balls destroyed. Here’s the message:
To develop rotational power, you must train power rotationally!
Our pitchers and golfers do a ton of medicine ball work, along with a solid foundation of compound strength exercises and mobility work. The vast majority of the time you can literally hear who throws the hardest and hits it the farthest. Call it sport-specific if you must (painful words for me to type), but the truth of the matter is, this is where the best gains can and will be made. I would argue it’s even better for higher handicap golfers and young athletes who have trouble coordinating their sequence.
This power work will be enhanced with a focus on rotational stability through the core. Anti-Rotation presses, plank variations, and other related exercises add stiffness and allow the core to improve its function as a power transducer between the upper and lower body. Lastly, the lead hip (left for right-handed athletes) is generally to blame for a lot of rotational low-back injuries. A focus on tissue quality, mobility, and strength in that area will free up some more motion and allow for more speed.
So the next time you or someone you train needs more velocity or more clubhead speed, dump the jumps and Olympic lifts and start thinking about rotational power work instead![Top]
Katy Perry, Fat-Free Ice Cream, the New York Jets …. We are inundated with lots of things that are given far too much credit these days. Fitness is no stranger to this phenomena. Let’s face it, some exercises just suck; yet for whatever reason, they consistently seem to be glorified by everyone from TV personalities to commercial gym personal trainers everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, there are no completely useless exercises; but there are many that are completely ineffective for the majority of the general fitness population. Let’s check out a few and learn why they aren’t all they are cracked up to be.[Top]
***Editors note, there will be algebra-like mathematics involved in this post
Talking about injuries is boring. Talking about math is more boring. Using math to talk about injuries has the potential to be an all-time boring blog post. Luckily I readily accept the challenge to take two incredibly boring topics and create the most interesting, informative, and entertaining reading you will do all day. I promise it will someday save you from nagging pain, discomfort, and exercise-induced injury.*
*Promise not available in all states. Some restrictions apply. Limit one offer per household[Top]
This past Sunday I was hanging out with my girlfriend’s eight-year old niece. Actually more specifically, she was thrashing me at Wii Sports, highlighted by a near mercy-rule defeat in Baseball made more embarrassing by the fact she was throwing pitches by twirling the controller by its safety strap.
At one point while the game was paused for another conference at the mound and pitching change (“Good effort tiny non-specific ethnicity man with no legs or arms, you gave it your all today”), she turned and looked at the Wii Fit(not mine I swear!!!) next to the TV. On top were two tiny weights which I believe are used for the Jillian Michaels, uhhhmmmm ,“Workout” game. She picked them up as I held my breath in horror, fearing that they may work like the “The Mask” and become one with her body, condemning her to a life of tricep kickbacks, Aerobics classes, and an unquenchable thirst for Dannon Light n Fit fat-free Yogurts (Yes, I said thirst, I’m pretty sure it’s closer to Fanta in chemical composition than real yogurt).
Finally, after a little arm waving, she turned to me with a confused look on her face. Out of her mouth came these angelic words, “Aren’t these too light to do anything?”
Eight years old, probably all of about 55 pounds, and yet, somehow she innately understood what millions do not. I didn’t have to explain minimal essential strain, progressive resistance, Type II muscle fibers, or the SAID principle. Unbelievably, she was now more qualified to be dispensing fitness advice than Traci Anderson or her legions of followers. Maybe she could come down to the beach with me and give a class for the poor misguided souls I see power walking with cushioned 1 lb hand weights or even better, the crazy lady rollerblading with ankle weights strapped on (I take that back, it’d be a sin to stop someone when they’re out Bladin’, roll on sister, roll on)
So what’s the takeaway from all this, other than the fact that it’s childish for me to be berating a Wii character for not diving for a forehand down the line? Maybe we always knew how to move correctly and how to get stronger. Maybe we concoct ridiculous exercise gimmicks, machines, and fitness trends not because deep down we think they work, but because we wish they did, or we want to prey on the fact that others wish they did. After all, look at the exercises that work. We didn’t just make up deadlifts or squats, they are all part of how we naturally develop and move. So, next time you go to work out just ask yourself, what would an eight-year old do?
“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.”
The Power of Elimination | Part Two
It is a very American attitude to want to solve problems and make ourselves feel better by adding more, doing more, and consuming more. Fitness and health are certainly no stranger to this phenomena. I’m constantly asked what more can be done to expedite or compound results. What I’ve come to realize is that rarely is doing more the answer. Quite frequently it’s the exact opposite; something needs to be removed in order to achieve progress. Be it clients trying to lose weight, athletes, or even my own personal workouts, harnessing the power of less can create better results faster. In this three part series I’m going to talk about utilizing this strategy for different situations.
Athletes are particularly prone to overcomplicating the training process, often through no fault of their own. I’ve trained athletes who literally have 6 hour baseball practices in high school, complete with hundreds of crunches and pushups. This represents a total lack of appreciation or understanding of specific strength development, movement quality, and central nervous system fatigue. The reason that that military has and to some extent still uses this “calisthenic” type training has more to do with what’s possible to do with hundreds of soldiers, no equipment, and minimal supervision rather than what will actually make them better.
There is a phrase used when discussing body composition, “underweight, over-fat,” referring to the idea that although someone weighs less than they probably should, they are carrying a higher bodyfat percentage than someone ideally would at that weight. For athletes, I like the phrase “over-trained, under-developed” or more specifically “under-strengthened.” We see athletes that are perpetually tired and sore from “training” but yet are incredibly weak and lack stability. Usually this is the “more is better” approach taken too far by an overzealous coach or parent. In their mind, running mile after mile or doing a million crunch variations will have some sort of positive transient effect on their on-field performance. Wrong.
“Strong” as it applies to most team sports refers to maximal or near maximal force production over a short period of time. This type of strength is not developed as a result of just “feeling the burn” of lots of sets of high-rep crunches and curls, nor will distance running “strengthen” your legs despite what traditional training lore might tell you. It’s not just about how big your muscles are, either. Strong is the ability for your brain and body (neuromuscular) to create instantaneous expressions of force. It doesn’t take a lot of reps, time, or always cause a ton of soreness.
I think the best way athletes can utilize the power of elimination in their training is to cut out a lot of the “junk” in their training programs. Focus on progressing and mastering basic compound strength exercises and stay exclusively below 8 reps. Sixteen to twenty sets per workout total is more than sufficient to improve strength. It may seem counterintuitive to not have to crawl out of the gym from exhaustion, but it’s simply impossible to train that way and get consistently stronger. Noted Strength Coach Eric Cressey asks the question, “are you making your clients better or just making them tired?”
Don’t be constantly looking for more exercises or drills to improve athletic performance. What you end up with is a lot of subpar crap and little progress. Excel at the basics, focus on getting stronger, and forget the rest.
In Part Three of this series, I’ll discuss how I applied the elimination principle and increased my progress[Top]
Today’s post is an old video from last year discussing how to improve upper body posture in your setup.