Posts Tagged ‘performance training’

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By Patrick Ward, MS, CSCS

Lets face it – strength athletes are animals! They train. They train hard. And they leave it all on the table! Some of the best workouts I’ve been a part of took place in a garage in suburban America where we were flipping tires, performing Olympic lifts and heavy deadlifts and pretty much going balls to the wall. While the strength athletes are certainly gung-ho about their workout, often the most overlooked component to their entire training plan is the recovery and regeneration. “That stuff is for sissies!” “If I’m not pushing max weights, I’m not making progress!” These two dogmas couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, with some proper planning and attention to recovery, strength athletes could potentially make the gains that have eluded them for the past few years. In addition, it’s important to remember that in the gym we tear down tissue. We grow and get stronger when we rest and allow our body to adapt to the training stresses we have just imposed on it. If we never give it time to adapt and get stronger, then we’re constantly in a phase of breaking down, and that certainly will catch up to us in time. I have outlined five recovery strategies that can be beneficial to all athletes (not just strength athletes) and instrumental in avoiding overtraining, potentially preventing injury and setting you up for continued progress in the weight room.

1) Unload Give yourself a break some times! Yes, progressive overload is important to making gains. But, backing off and giving your nervous system a break is also important. You can’t max out every day (and probably not every week even…at least not for any considerable amount of time) as you will likely hit the wall sooner rather than later. Unloading could be accomplished in a variety of ways. It could be just lowering the intensity (the amount of load lifted in relation to your 1RM for a given lift) for a week.

For example, if you are squatting 4 sets x 5 reps @ 87%, the following week you could unload the intensity by performing 4 sets x 5 reps @ 75%.

It could be in the form of lowering the volume. So, if you are working on squatting 4 sets x 5 reps @ 87%, next week you could unload by performing 5 sets x 2 reps at 87% before ramping back up. Or, it could be in the form of just taking a few days off and maybe partaking in some active rest (an easy walk, riding the bike, etc).

Whatever you choose, allowing yourself to back off a little bit not only helps the nervous system recover from all the heavy/intense training, but it also gives the joints and tendons some time to recover, since going heavy too frequently can lead to a lot of aches and pains.

An easy way to set up time for unloading is to use a 4-week schedule. Week number four is always going to be your unload week before starting to work the intensity back up or changing the training focus (IE, from strength emphasis to power emphasis) in the next 4-week wave. The 4-week wave also fits nicely into a month training plan, which is why I like it. While there are many ways to incorporate unloading into your program (and some of this will be dictated by your sport and the amount of time you have to prepare for competition), here are two generic examples to give you an idea:

Example 1 High Volume Moderate Volume Very High Volume Unload Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Bench press 4×5 3×5 6×5 2×5 Chin ups 3×8 2×8 4×8 2×8 (decrease load or use body weight if you typically use extra weight for work sets)

Example 2: Base week Moderate Intensity High Intensity Unload Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Bench press 3×5@80% 4×5@82% 6×3 start at 85% and work up to a max over 6 sets 2×8@70% Chin ups 3×8 3×5 5×5 2×8 (decrease load or use body weight if you typically use extra weight for work sets)

2) Nutrition Around The Workout   What you eat is critical to what you get as a return on your training investment. Making sure you’re getting quality calories is important to ensure that your body is fueled up for the next training bout. Incorporating a post-workout shake or meal is also important to help replenish muscle glycogen (stored energy) that was burned during your workout and to start repairing damaged tissue (protein synthesis). This year I had the opportunity to attend the NSCA’s 31st National Conference. Joel Cramer PhD, Jeff Stout PhD, and Joseph Weir PhD gave a three-part talk on Nutritional Supplementation Before, During and After Resistance Training. They really drove home the point that we need to be on top of our supplementation around workout time. One thing that they talked a lot about was the potential for protein synthesis to be maximally stimulated by increasing amino acid delivery to the muscles at the time when blood flow is increased (which is just prior to and during our workout). After presenting the research, Jeff Stout concluded that, “consuming carbohydrate and protein pre-, during and post-resistance training can significantly reduce muscle damage. By reducing muscle damage, athletes should be able to increase speed of recovery, and allow for them to participate in the next high-intensity exercise sooner.” A simple way to put this into practice is to bring a shake to the gym that you can sip on just before and during your workout. Sometimes, because of how whey protein is, it is not the best texture to sip on during training. If this is the case for you, there are a number of Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) products out there which have a much more manageable texture and taste for prior and during the workout (some of them taste a lot like Gatorade).

3) Paying Attention To Things That Hurt   The five worst words in the English language are “maybe it will go away.” If something hurts, it means that something is wrong. Figure out what that something is and correct it before it turns into a bigger problem. Oftentimes, little, nagging problems can be fixed by incorporating some stretching and corrective exercise into your daily routine. This doesn’t mean you have to join a yoga class or stop lifting heavy and pick up five pound dumbbells and wave them around like an idiot on one leg. But, it does mean that you need to be aware of what is going on with your body and know what to do to fix it. Corrective exercise and stretching are not stressful on the system and can help with your recovery and regeneration. Perform some of the corrective exercises prior to your lifting, as part of your overall general warm-up and perform stretches post-workout once the muscles are warm. As well, since they are not stressful, you can perform the corrective exercise and stretches on off days. In fact, this is recommended, as it will help make the effects of these modalities more long-lasting. Performing some flexibility and mobility work on off days can be a great way to get active rest and keep the body healthy.

4) Low-Activity Exercise To Help Recovery   Obviously I am not talking about preparing for a marathon here. While it is understood that training for maximal strength and performing high amounts of endurance work are not compatible, the strength athlete can gain some benefit from some low activity exercise on off days. By low activity exercise, I mean some brisk walking or riding a bike, or as Louie Simmons used to propose – sled dragging to raise General Physical Preparedness (GPP). Whatever method you choose, the goal should be to get the heart rate up a little bit, which helps to get some blood flowing to the muscles and helps to remove some waste and by-products built up from training. It also raises your work capacity, which can be extremely important as the higher your work capacity, the greater amount of training volume you will be able to handle in the weight room. I like to perform this type of work after a heavy leg day to help get blood move through my lower body and help decrease some of the soreness/stiffness that I may be feeling. In addition to the recovery benefits (and the general health benefits to performing some cardiovascular work), this can also be helpful for strength athletes who need to burn extra calories in order to make weight for a competition – although you really need to focus on your diet for that, as doing too much cardiovascular activity can prevent further strength gains. While many people use interval training for fat loss (which I am a big fan of), sometimes a lot of interval work can be taxing on the lower body – which can be detrimental to progress for a strength athlete who is training their lower body heavy (usually 2x’s a week to boot) and dieting down to get to a certain weight class. Throwing a few days a week of interval training on top of that could be a recipe for trouble.

5) Soft-Tissue Work   Self-care is very important for everyone, not just strength athletes. Working on your soft tissue can be helpful in preventing trigger points and myofascial pain. A lot of the nagging injuries we sustain can be combated with a consistent dose of good soft tissue work as it keeps the tissues healthy, pliable, and gel-like. Finding a good therapist and getting work done (even if it is just once a month) can be exceptional. It doesn’t matter what type of therapist you go to, (NMT, ART, MFR, etc.) – the treatment is only as good as the person giving it. And in reality, all of the above have a lot of similarities. The letters are mainly just nice marketing. A foam roller and/or a tennis ball are great tools to use for self-care when you can’t get to a skilled therapist. Roll on either of these and locate tight, tender, or sensitive bands of tissue within our muscles, then maintain pressure on those bands for a short period of time before moving onto the next area of congestion. This can help break apart fascial adhesions and/or trigger points which have formed in areas of stress within the muscle. I wrote a more comprehensive article, Trigger Point 101, on this subject which is worth reading if you are interested in learning more: http://optimumsportsperformance.com/blog/?p=161

Conclusion   There are many other techniques that can be used to help aid in recovery between training bouts, but hopefully these five tips give you some ideas to play with. Taking care of your body should be the goal of any great program. If you are strong, but you are always in pain – then your training is all for naught and the break-downs will eventually catch up to you. Understanding what you can do to help keep your joints and connective tissue healthy and keep your nervous system firing on all cylinders will not only assist you in making continued progress, but will also ensure that you can do it for a long time to come.

Get Strong! Stay Strong! (and recover properly!)

Chris

By Sean Barker
Author of The Dad Fitness System

Old habits are hard to break. But if you keep doing these 5 old school exercises you will be breaking more than old habits.


1. Leg Extensions

Unfortunately this exercise seems to be the extent of most guys leg training. Probably because sitting down and pumping out reps of quad extensions are a lot easier than squatting down with hundreds of pounds on your back.

Despite the “burn” you may feel from your upper thighs when performing this exercise, it is not a very efficient leg exercise as it only isolates the muscles above the knee. The only time this exercise has much benefit is in a rehab setting where these muscles directly surrounding the knee need to be developed for stability and strength. Otherwise opt for any variation of the free-range squat.


2. Behind the Neck Pulldowns

This is another exercise that I still see people doing in the gym. I cringe every time I see someone take a wide grip on the angled ends of the pulldown bar and starting pulling it down behind their neck. The angled ends of the bar are an outdated design and are not where you should be gripping the bar.

This puts your shoulders and rotator cuffs in a very vulnerable position. Putting most of the stress on the shoulders and limiting range of motion away from the back muscles this exercise should be crossed off your list. Work on being able to do bodyweight chin-ups instead or at least pulldowns to the front.


3. Behind the Neck Shoulder Press

Similar to the behind the neck pulldown, the behind the neck barbell shoulder press places your shoulder in a delicate position. It is basically the same movement but by adding additional weight to the bar and pushing up in the vertical plan you are putting your rotator cuffs at an even greater risk of injury.

With the extra weight you can pile on the bar with this exercise, trying to even unrack the bar will soon send your shoulders screaming in pain. Switch to the safer option; the front barbell shoulder press.


4. Concentration Curls

Probably the most popular bicep exercise for beginners wanting to “get the pump” and get Arnold-like biceps. It’s too bad a lot of experienced trainers still waste their time on this exercise. No matter how many reps of concentration curls you do, you won’t get that bicep peak like the Terminator, as muscle SHAPE is genetically determined.

Muscle SIZE on the other hand can be increased through basic movements that allow a heavy weight while use many muscles instead of isolating one smaller muscle. Standing barbell or dumbbells curls are a better choice for bicep development, but better again are close grip chin-ups, which put a lot of stress on the upper arms while working many other muscles.


5. Crunches

If would be nice if all you had to do to get that ripped six pack would be to lie on the floor and pump out hundreds of reps of back breaking crunches. Despite what the infomercials want you to believe, this is NOT true! You wouldn’t build your biceps by doing 100 reps with no weight, so why would you think you would develop your abdominals by doing 100 crunches or more? Your abdominals primary purpose is to actually stabilize your spine and to keep your torso from twisting in half under times of physical stress, not lift your neck off the floor.

Overall, the best exercises for your abs are exercises that allow your body to use your core the way it was meant to be used: for stability and support. Bodyweight planks, and compound exercises like squats and overhead presses will work your abs better than any crunch will ever do. Combined with a clean diet you might just see those abs looking back at you in the mirror.

OK quiz time. Do you see a trend with these 5 exercises?

They all involve sitting down, (which we are all experts at already) and they work only a small section of muscle, allowing you to pump out endless reps without much effort.

For you busy guys who want to get the most out of your workouts, stop wasting your valuable time on these old school exercises that break your body down instead of building it up.

Get Strong! Stay Strong! (and lift smart!)

Chris

By Nick Nilsson (From Charles Staley website/newsletter)

So it’s no secret that I like using equipment that offers multiple exercises. When it comes to THAT, the sandbag is one of the kings of the hill. I’ve been messing around with this thing for awhile now (you’re going to see a lot more sandbag stuff coming your way in the coming months) and it is AWESOME. I HIGHLY recommend grabbing one of these, if you don’t already have one. I have a bag filled with 70 lbs of sand. It can be used for a TON of exercises. To grab yours (a bag and filler bags make a complete set), click here. We carry them in the Staley Training Store and have some great deals on them. Going to have to get me one of the 150 pounders next, I think. Anyways, this exercise puts the “fun” back in “functional”…okay, maybe not…it really depends on how much you like really hard, unglamorous work 🙂 Me, I find this one fun.

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Set your sandbag on the ground and kneel down on one knee in front of it. Start with your right leg forward and the bag just in front of you, like in the picture. Beng forward and slide your hands underneath the bag

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– make sure you keep your core and lower back tight – your lower back should have an arch in it. You’ll feel a great stretch in your right glute as you lean forward – most of your power is going to be coming from that right glute and from your back.

Now heave the bag up and over your left shoulder.

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 Flop the bag down on the ground, grab it again then shoulder it again. After doing 4 or 5 reps on one side, switch legs (left leg forward now)

So many great applications for the sand bag—What a great work out!  And fun, in a sick way!

Get Strong! Stay Strong!

Chris

Exercise to improve your baseball and golf swing, tennis stroke, and hockey slap shot. —Mens Health Magazine

A powerful rotational turn will give you an extra 10 yards off the tee or 10 mph on your fastball. Exercises to boost that strength are overlooked but important. “Most sports require stabilization, strength, and power through some type of rotation,” says Tyler Wallace, NASM-C.P.T., of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Here are the exercises Wallace recommends for powering up some key sports moves.

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Baseball Swing    Standing cable rotation.     Stand between the weight stacks of a cable station. Grab both ends of a rope handle attached to the midlevel pulley. Keeping your elbows bent, rotate your body to the left. Pause, then return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 reps on each side.

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Baseball Pitch     Medicine-ball lift.     Lift a medicine ball from your chest to above your shoulder, rotating your hips and pivoting your back foot as you go. Pause when your arms are straight, then lower the ball. Do three sets of 10 reps on both sides.

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Golf Swing          Swiss-ball Russian twist.    Lie with your shoulder blades and head on a Swiss ball and your feet flat on the floor. Hold your arms straight above you and clasp your hands together. Slowly rotate your shoulders to the left until your arms are roughly parallel to the floor. Pause, then rotate to the right. Do two sets of 15 repetitions.

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Tennis Stroke    Standing medicine-ball rotation chop.     Hold a medicine ball overhead with your arms straight. Keeping them straight, swing your arms down as if to throw the ball to the outside of each foot. Do four sets of eight repetitions on each side.

images            images_5     (couldnt find pic of someone doing this laying on swiss ball)

Hockey Slap Shot    Single-arm Swiss-ball rotation row.    Grab a dumbbell and lie facedown on a Swiss ball. With the weight in your right hand, let your right arm hang down. Place your other hand on your hip. Pull the weight up toward your chest as you rotate your upper body to the right. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position. Do two sets of 15 with each arm.

Great examples of matching an exercise to a specific activity to improve performance!  The same can be done for almost any activity.  Be creative and break out of the body building mentality!

Get Strong! Stay Strong!

Chris

Examining the characteristics of the human body further assists in understanding function.  This allows for better understanding of human movement for improved program design and rehabilitation programs.  For e a more depth explanation and further discussion check out my freind and colleague JC Santana’s book Functional Training; Breaking the Bonds of Traditionalism.

 The proportions of the human body are distinct from one person to another.  Therefore we all have unique movement patterns that are consistent with our strength, weaknesses and utility.

Our bodies are made to fit us.  They are a product of what “function” we have dictated for it.  That is why athletes look like athletes and couch potatoes look as they do.

The next two concepts probably have the most significance to training.

Our bodies have the ability to adapt.  This was first discovered by a Canadian endocronologist (Hans Seyle).  He was looking at the adrenal response of rats and stress.  He developed the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)  We have the ability to adapt both neurologically and morphologically.  Neurologic adaptations are what allow us to gain strength minute to minute.  Its due to synchronization, rate coding and proprioception.  Whereas morphologic changes are actual increases in the actual size of the muscle (hypertrophy).  This can take 6-12 weeks.

Lastly, proprioception is the communication system for reaction and interpretation of input from the body and its surroundings.   The body/brain uses all the proprioceptive info to make a decision on how and when to perform a specific movement or task.  Remember that muscles are dumb, they rely on proprioceptive and mechanorecptor info.  Proprioceptors are also a safety mechanism to inhibit harmful forces.  I think of proprioception as the foundation to human movement.  The muscles are slaves to the brain.  Power is nothing without control.  Most people are only concerned with strength without a thought to training balance.  I like to use the analogy that i would not put them in a formula 1 race car without brakes or a steering wheel.  Brute strength in function and sport is not as important as rate of force development.  Can you utilize the strength you have at have right time in the right amount to successfully complete the task or skill?  If you cant, your 300 pound bench press or 500 lb squat is meaningless (in function/sport).

So, based on the characteristics of the human body it becomes more clear the need to train the body functionally using more life/sport specific types of exercises.  Train the body for the task it is intended for using movements and positions that closely resemble the task to react /respond to gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum.

PS…unless your goal is body building.  In that case the body building approach is still the best way.

The question to ask yourself is are you training for “show” or “go”??

Get Strong! Stay Strong!  (But do it functionally!)

Chris