Monthly Archives: March 2014

Intermittent Fasting

I have a collection of beliefs that I follow as a professional personal trainer.  These beliefs form the basis of my training philosophy and help guide my career. One of these beliefs is “Know more about the subjects of health and fitness than your athlete.” 

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Fellow trainers please let that run through your head for a few minutes. Take into account that we work in an industry that sees a high degree of fads and numerous trends that spring up all the time.  While it may seem obvious that we as fitness professionals will know more about health, wellness and fitness than nearly any of our clients, we also know this is not always the case and that there are many sources of information competing with us.  A high degree of information out there is outright false yet still clings to peoples memories.  There is also information out there that might totally oppose your views, but may prove valid.  I believe this is highly relevant in the case of diet and weight loss/performance nutrition.

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“I don’t care what Chris said, get your a$$ in the hip abductor machine!”

Over the last few years intermittent fasting has gained a tremendous amount of traction.  Initially it was billed as a great way to lose weight, increase energy and for digestive health.  Numerous religions practice various forms of fasting as part of their practice and human history has demonstrated that we can go without food for extended periods of time. If not, we would have been wiped off the planet many years ago.

For both weight loss clients and sports and performance athletes fasting seems counter intuitive. Further compounding this problem are trainers that have been doling out the same eating advice for years, many with zero idea why they say what they saying.  Most likely they are regurgitating something they read or heard before, or something that worked for them/previous clients.  This doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but doesn’t always make them right either.   Perhaps the most common advisories given are something along the lines of “Eat 5-6 small meals per day” , “Cut Grains/Dairy/Sugar”  or ” Take in 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.”

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I’ve gone more than 1 day without eating, I can safely state that hunger never drove me to cannibalism.

At the 2013 National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) National Conference, John Berardi PhD, CSCS, presented on the topic of Intermittent Fasting and current scientific facts and fiction behind it.  Of particular interest to me was the information Dr. Berardi put forth at the videos 40 minute mark regarding intermittent fasting and its effect on females.  

The presentation can be viewed here:

http://www.nsca.com/Videos/Conference_Lectures/Intermittent_Fasting__Science_or_Fiction/  

 

   

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Gym Mistakes (Pavel and Andy Bolton interview Part 2)

 

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Last night my athlete Lynn, and this morning my athlete Bernice both hit new personal records on their lifts.  They got the high-fives and props, I sneaked in the barbell bro hugs when they weren’t looking.

I have readily admitted to my athletes and here on MyTrainerChris the fact there are weight training machines that I have no idea how to use.  I am not so emotionally attached to my free weight / body weight methods that I refuse to learn them, but I haven’t had any major need to seriously look into them beyond the few machines that I sometimes use.  

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Pretty close to my facial expression when looking at some weight training machines.

My last gym was a large, high-traffic commercial gym staffed with more than 20 personal trainers and had machines for nearly every body part (oddly no neck machines or Glute-Ham Developers.)  Off hand, I believe I only used 9-10 of them, which I felt were enough to address the needs of the average beginner client.  

I am convinced that without a doubt I was the LEAST machine using trainer in the gym…quite possibly the least in the gyms entire Las Vegas franchise.  I never questioned why I don’t often use them, but I have wondered to myself why some trainers relied on them so much, to the point where 100% of their clients training was machine based with occasional doses of calisthenics. 

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I’d need to hire a trainer to teach me how to use this thing, but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to swing it or try putting it over my head.  

Is machine training inherently safer than free weight / body weight training?  No, and I challenge anyone to provide me a reputable research article or study proving machines to be a safer training method.  

Are machines easier to instruct? Yes, I believe they are, they are certainly quicker to use when changing weights and there is no re-racking or chalk applications involved.  I might be creating more work for myself, but I have my athletes focus on their breathing, timing, body position and how to properly tense their body despite the fact that the machine has predetermined the movement pattern for you and removed the need for stabilization. 

Are machines effective? In the beginning stages of training nearly anything will work. For bodybuilding and rehabilitation machines are particularly effective for building local hypertrophy. 

On one hand, you could say that I am limiting myself and what I can offer my clients.  To this, I would agree. They may not be my preferred method, but there is nothing inherently bad about machines and in some cases they are possibly a better option.

On the other hand, I believe I do a pretty good job of putting together what I feel is a safe and well planned program that has proven effective across a wide-range of athletes with a variety of needs, using a minimum of equipment and often a fairly small amount of floor space.  

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If personal trainers had to wear shirts that gave a realistic indicator of what you could expect from them then the great trainers would make a whole lot more money.  Honestly, would you hire a shirt that said “Will often forget your appointment/name.”,  “Will oogle women/men/both while you workout?”  “Will get in my own sets in-between your sets”   

The mistakes, as I see it, are that there are trainers using methods that are either ineffective or inappropriate. Not in my opinion, but in the scientific, historical  and common sense.

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(Left) The Client and (Right) The Program

I once witnessed a trainer copy workouts from a dated bodybuilding magazine to a sheet of paper, presumably meant for a bodybuilder, only to see it given to an out of shape, slightly overweight middle aged woman wanting to get rid of her belly fat.  On that day it was nearly a 100% machine upper body program with a number of light dumbbell exercises done to what seemed to be 3 sets to failure each.  What made this matter worse, since the workout managed to “kick the clients a$$” it was also used on other clients with dissimilar needs.    

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Looks legit to me.

I have zero issue in the fact that the workout was unoriginal, I have a huge issue in the fact the workout did not include any form of assessment, did not follow any sort of logical progression and was inappropriate for the clients goals and physical abilities. Minimally it was shady, if not potentially dangerous.

 But enough of my ranting, let’s hear from a couple of very strong coaches on the subject of gym mistakes….

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Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton

The below interview originally appeared in Muscle and Fitness UK and is the second part of an interview series with Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton.   STRENGTH EXPERTS ANDY BOLTON AND PAVEL TSATSOULINE DISCUSS THE MOST COMMON GYM MISTAKES 

Muscle & Fitness UK : What are the three biggest mistakes you see strength athletes making in the gym?

Pavel Tsatsouline:

1. Failing to understand that strength is a skill. And a skill must be practiced—frequently and to perfection.

2. Failing to cycle—periodically push and back off. No matter how tough your mind is, it is your body that calls the shots. Your nervous and endocrine system will abruptly pull the plug on your progress if you fail to back off periodically. Your glands will run out of hormones and your nerve cells will become less responsive to your commands in order to protect themselves. Cycling is not an opinion; it is a biological law.

3. Failing to follow the 80/20 principle. In any human endeavor, including lifting, most things do not matter or matter very little. You get 80% of the results from 20% of your investments—and sometimes the ratio is as skewed as 90/10 and even 95/5. The most productive strength exercises are well known and few in number. Give them all your effort and stop worrying about “hitting all the angles.”

Andy Bolton:

1. Lifting with lousy form. Do this and you will never maximize your true strength potential and will invite injuries.  Lift with great form and you give yourself a chance to reach your true strength potential while also minimizing the chance of injury. Simple as that. Yet most people continually choose to lift with bad form.

2. Maxing out too frequently. Maxing out is a great thing to do once every two to three months to see where your strength is at. But doing it weekly (or more than once a week) like many lifters do is asking for trouble. Maxing out too frequently is a recipe for many problems, including: joint pain, lack of motivation, plateaus, injuries and possibly regression of strength.

3. Majoring in the minors. The guy who spends all his time doing curls and pushdowns is ‘majoring in the minors.’ He’s wasting his time on movements that don’t lead to much in the way of strength gains. On the contrary, the guy who spends most of his time in the gym squatting, benching, deadlifting, overhead pressing and doing the Olympic lifts is focusing on the right things and should make great gains. Bottom line? Choose your lifts wisely.

M&F UK: What is the difference between finding the ‘perfect program’ and simply ‘finding a program you believe in and sticking to it’?

PT: Andrey Kozhurkin, a Russian coach who has done 60 strict, dead hang, no kipping pull-ups in competition, compares reaching a high athletic goal to climbing a tall mountain. You can take a beaten path and reach the summit slowly but surely, or you can take your chances and blaze your own trail. There is a small chance that you will reach the top quicker, but most likely you will spend your life circling the base camp, hopelessly lost…

By now effective training methods have been firmly established. It is extremely unlikely that they will be noticeably improved. Do not waste your time searching for the new and unique; look for what has worked time and time again. My colleague David Whitley, a master kettlebell trainer with StrongFirst, stresses: “Don’t get hung up on the differences in champions’ training; look for commonalities.”

In other words, do not try to reinvent the wheel; just follow in the footsteps of Bolton, Coan, Kravtsov, and so on.

AB: There is no such thing as the perfect training program. Every program has strengths and weaknesses. But ultimately, there are plenty of proven programs out there; programs proven by champions in strength sports. My advice is to pick a proven program and stick to it. Don’t chop and change. Choose one proven training method, stick with it and really get to know it over the course of several months. This is how you’ll make your best strength gains.

M&F: What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who wants a stronger squat, bench and deadlift?

PT:

1. Flexibility. Develop flexible hips and hamstrings to own the perfect position on the bottom of the squat and the deadlift. Until then you have no business loading your squats and deads.

Develop a great arch for the bench—not by jamming the lumbar spine but by mobilizing the thoracic spine. This will make you stronger by shortening the bench stroke and will go a long way towards keeping your shoulders healthy under heavy loads.

2. Tightness. Master the skill of getting tight. It is an art form and without it great strength is impossible.

3. Skill. Learn championship technique for the big three from a professional and keep polishing for the rest of your lifting life.

AB:

1. Master your technique on the squat, bench and deadlift. This will lead to faster strength gains and lower your chances of injury. You know the score!

2. Use a great training program, not one you dreamt up on the back of a napkin.

3. Train in the best possible environment you can—this means having the right equipment and the right training partners.

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Core Training


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8 packs for the ladies! 

“Blast your core for those six pack abs.”  “Strengthen your core to improve your performance.” “The core is key to balance.” Core, core,core core core…..

All this talk about the core yet many trainers differ in opinion of what exactly the core is.   Some will say it’s the Rectus Abdominus muscles (aka the six pack) others will say it’s the muscles around the waist and lower back.   Medically speaking, there is no clear definition.  

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No matter what your core training program is, abs are STILL MADE in the kitchen!

I am partly to blame for not helping with the confusion.  Depending on the exercise being performed, I have been known to coach my athletes where I believe the “core” is.  In some cases, the core is the areas of the body between the neck and the bottoms of the feet. In a different technique I will specify around the waist through the lower back, down the glutes and into the hamstrings and quadriceps.

Putting this is in simpler terms, the core includes all muscles that support the spine. The human spine is structurally unstable and muscles are required to stabilize it. The role of the bodies midsection, as defined as the abdominal complex,lower back, hip and gluteal muscles are responsible for connecting and transferring energy from the lower body to the upper body.   

The old, and unfortunately still quite common belief is that you need to perform 100’s of sit-ups or crunches in order to build a strong core.  I’m sure chiropractors have seen a lot sore lower backs due to these outdated methods. 

Several trainers have had their clients engage in direct ab training first, before moving on to resistance training.  One trainer explained things by telling me that she always forgot to train abs with her clients, so she made the habit of training abs first for all her clients so she would never forget.  While I applauded her efforts to provide the best for her clients, I cautioned that training the abs first in programming weakened a major stabilizer.  By the next time I saw her she had moved direct ab training to the end of her clients workouts.

Another trainer told me that he didn’t directly train a clients abs until “he could start to see their abs.”   Which means the clients bodyfat percentage had to be low enough that abdominal musculature was starting to show.  What I don’t know is if he had the client engage their core during lifts.  

When training the core, as defined as the middle of your body, it is important to remember that you move in three planes of motion. Therefore, your core training should reflect and support this.  With beginner athletes I will typically only train one plane of motion per workout.  My more advanced athletes will work in all three.  

Some of my favorite direct core exercises..

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Pointers (aka Bird dogs).  Starting from the hands and knees position, maintain a neutral spine and reach out with one arm and the opposing leg.  Keep the hips in a neutral position and not twisted. Focus on the reaching and glute engagement, hold for a mental count of 2-5 seconds then switch sides.  Begin with 20 total repetitions (10 right and 10 left) for three sets. 

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Bugs.  Lying on your back with a natural curve in your lumbar, lift one knee up and raise the other leg.  The opposing hand of the lifted knee points towards the ceiling while the other arm remains on the ground above you.  Alternate sides smoothly and exhale each time your arm and knee reach the middle, pulling your abdominal muscles inwards (pull your belly button to your spine.)  20 repetitions total (10 left, 10 right) for 3 sets.

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The side plank.  Variations of this exercise exist and can be scaled to the athletes strength and stability.  The least difficult version of the exercise involves having the knees bent and touching the ground while the hips lift up to straighten the body, then descend to touch the hip on the ground and back up.  The version above involves a static hold in the up position and is related to the standard plank.  Repetitions and sets vary according to version and skill.

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The Hip Thrust (aka Body weight glute bridge)   Press the heels into the floor, lift your hips and contract the glutes hard. 3 sets of 20 repetitions. I prefer this move be performed with a long contraction at the top.  

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The narrow squat.  Common in Yoga and more difficult than it looks. Requires balance to execute and should be initially be performed at body weight, although some athletes will find adding small dumbbells slightly easier to perform as they lend a bit of ballast.  The athlete must be coached on proper hip hinge mechanics to execute this technique and many will have to “earn their depth” which can be achieved after a few repetitions.  A variation of this technique could be a narrow goblet squat using a kettlebell.  I instruct the athlete to squeeze their glutes and their abs during the technique, squeeze the glutes in the top position and load their hamstrings in the bottom position.  Standard air squats can be used if balance is a concern.  I rarely use this technique any more, but do think it is a pretty good technique to be put in between other exercises.

 

 

The Tension-Strength Connection

I am a big proponent of strength training largely utilizing basic barbell methods. Presently 4 of my 5 clients are performing bar squats, overhead presses, bench presses the deadlift and one is performing power cleans.  I also include loaded carries Kettlebells,body weight training, metabolic training and mobility work to round out my programming.   

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Kind of looks like a bomb doesn’t it?  

With each athlete I spend considerable amounts of time covering proper bar approach, mindful body mechanics, breathing patterns and the loading and unloading of the weight.  The sheer number of things that go into a properly executed “big slow lift” (I.E. Bench Press, Squat,Deadlift and Press) or a Kettlebell lift is remarkable considering how simple most of them appear.

A number of my coaching cues involve getting the athlete into a tensed state and thus far has resulted in exceptional strength gains and zero lift mishaps. It is my goal to empower each athlete to achieve this ability to do so automatically so when the day comes where I am no longer their coach they can continue progressing and lifting safely.  In some cases the simple addition of a little weight to the bar seems to clean the athletes technique up

I received a link from StrongFirst today that featured a great interview on the relationship between tension (tightness) in the body and its effect on strength.  I am presently studying the works of Pavel Tsatsouline, who is the worlds leading expert of Kettlebell training and  leader of the StrongFirst organization.   

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(Left) Andy Bolton and (Right) Pavel Tsatsouline

The below interview was featured in Muscle and Fitness UK.  Andy Bolton and Pavel Tsatsouline are two of the world’s premier strength experts. Bolton was the first man ever to deadlift 1,000 lbs in competition. Tsatsouline is a former Soviet Special Forces instructor and consultant to elite units of the US military and law enforcement.

In this new series, we’ve brought the two kings of strength together for a roundtable discussion in which they share the secrets to getting a stronger physique. This month, they discuss the importance of tightness.

Muscle & FitnessAny serious strength athlete knows that tightness is the key to strength yet many gym rats don’t. Can you explain why it’s important to be able to get tight, if you want to get strong?

Pavel TsatsoulineTension is strength, it’s as simple as that. A muscle produces force by tensing.  Tensing stabilizing muscles fires up the prime movers. Through the phenomenon of irradiation this tension spills over. It’s especially obvious when you tense your abs, glutes, and grip. Test this on the basic barbell curl; I guarantee that you will immediately and noticeably get stronger.

All elite lifters learned to get extremely tight early in their careers. Some are born athletes and figured it out naturally. Others have been coached or watched the champs and copied what they saw.

Andy BoltonExactly. Here’s an example of how to get tight—and, therefore, lift the most weight you are capable of—when bench pressing:

Assume your bench press set-up, and do the following:

  • Drive your heels into the ground as hard as possible.
  • Force your knees out as hard as possible.
  • Squeeze your glutes as tightly as you can.
  • Flex your lats hard.
  • “Death-grip” the bar.

Now, while keeping that level of tightness, un-rack the bar and perform your set. You will be stronger.

M&FTightness also makes you safer when you lift weights. Can you explain that?

PTIt works the same way that tensing your stomach protects you from a punch. In addition, tensing before you get under the bar takes the slack out of your tendons. Lifting a heavy barbell is like towing a trailer—you need to take the slack out of the cable before hitting the accelerator. Incidentally, Russian studies show that this pre-tension increases strength by up to 20%. That’s due, in part, to a psychological feeling of lightness and invincibility.

ABMany lifters injure their lower backs when performing squats, deadlifts and military presses. To avoid doing this, lift with a neutral spine and get as tight as possible to maintain that neutral spine. Focus on flexing your glutes, lats and abs as hard as possible. Do this properly and you cannot lose neutral spine.

M&FHow can we learn to tense up?

 PTPractice. Tension is a skill. Ernie Frantz, a powerlifting legend, used to practice tensing his whole body throughout the day. There are many sophisticated techniques that teach you to get tighter and tighter. I have researched the topic and experimented for almost two decades.

 A researcher, Bret Contreras, compared the recruitment of various muscles of the midsection in the traditional plank and in the plank I designed. The EMG (electromyography) measurements showed that the latter activated the internal obliques, the abs, and the external obliques 200%, 300%, and 400% respectively. In the book deadlift dynamite, that Andy and I co-authored, there are detailed descriptions of this special plank.

ABOne of the big mistakes I see—even from accomplished lifters—is performing all their warm-up sets with sloppy, loose form. This ingrains bad habits.

To really learn how to get tight, treat every set as if it were a one-rep max. Even your lightest warm-up sets. This gives you many sets in every workout to practice getting tight.

M&FTwo exercises frequently recommended for teaching tightness are the double kettlebell front squat and the kettlebell bottoms-up press. What are your thoughts on these exercises?

PT: The double kettlebell front squat is a great tension teacher. Due to the particular load placement, the lower back muscles don’t have much leverage to stabilize the spine and the diaphragm and the abs have to take over. Some of you strong guys might sneer that kettlebells are too light for squats.

Well, go try it. 1,200-pound squatter Donnie Thompson has found 3×8 with a pair of 88-pound kettlebells sufficient. In this case, it isn’t about the weight but its placement. And no, the barbell front squat does not have the same effect because, as Dan John has pointed out, it “stacks” the weight nicely on top of the skeletal structure. So use two kettlebells.

ABThere’s a young guy I know who?can bench 240 kg raw. He’s a monster. But when he tried the single arm kettlebell bottoms up press he was surprised to find he could only do 24 kg for a couple of very shaky reps. This showed he didn’t know how to get as tight as possible. If he worked on it, and learned to generate maximal tension, he’d bench even more weight—a scary thought.

Here’s how you perform the exercise:

  • Simply press a kettlebell overhead, but do it with the cannonball above the handle (not with the cannonball resting of the back of the forearm as a kettlebell is usually pressed). This makes it really unstable.
  • To stabilize the weight you must tense every muscle in your body extremely hard. It’s quite a challenge.

As a bonus, and for reasons beyond the scope of this article, it’s also a very safe press for the shoulders.

M&FMany lifters are constantly searching for the “perfect training program,” but we all know that doesn’t exist. Can you give us your most foolproof program for building strength and muscle?

PTIt has to be powerlifting-style cycling. Former powerlifter Bill Starr recalls how periodized Russian weightlifting programs made their way into the United States in the sixties. “Out of this rather complicated system…came a much simpler form of the same idea.” The simple idea was starting light and building up to heavy lifts in a linear fashion while simultaneously reducing the volume,then backing off and starting again after competition. That was the American way of abiding by Prof. Matveyev’s tenets of periodization. This practice would become known as “cycling.” Many top lifters, Andy included, have broken seemingly impossible records by following this deceptively simple methodology.  If mass rather than strength is your goal, the answer remains the same.

ABI agree 100%. Cycling built my 1214 lbs squat and helped me to become the first man in history to deadlift over 1000 lbs.

Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s say you have a 3-rep max on the bench press of 120 kg. You want to run a six-week cycle and set yourself the goal of pressing 125kgx3—a solid gain of 5kg.

 

It goes without saying that you perform several warm-up sets before your top weight. If you like, you can add a second top set using 90% of the top set weight. For instance, on week 5, you’d perform 120 kg x 3, then rest 3 minutes. Then do 107.5 kg x 3.

Designing Effective Training Programs

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Put positive actions in your programs. Cut the negatives and the redundant.

I put a great deal of thought into my athletes programming. In many cases, their program required me to dig into one, if not several of my books for guidance or to reference past case files I’ve assembled.   It is in these scenarios where having insomnia is not entirely a bad thing as I usually seem to come up with my best ideas when I should be fast asleep.  That said, I’ve also been able to put together programs in a matter of minutes.  Having time is always a good thing, but I am glad that I can operate quickly when needed.  It is poor program design, or the lack thereof that I take umbrage with many trainers.    

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The Smith Rack Squat…the second to worst thing I like seeing in any Squat Rack.  #1 is barbell curling in the squat rack.

Design for reliability, safety and suitability.  It is my opinion that programs should be designed with a clear purpose that can be connected to the goals of the athlete.  Therefore, every exercise in the program needs to have a reason to be there.  That said, initial training with beginners is subject to some flexibility.   

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If only warning signs were so easy to spot.

Back up your product.  Along with programming, knowing what you are talking is not a minimum expectation, it is the minimum-minimum.  I believe you should be able to communicate the reasons behind your programming and the component exercises on multiple levels.  

(1) At the scientific/academic level, including all the major muscles involved, direct application to goals and the current credible research supporting your position as if you were explaining things to a Physician, Nurse or competitive athlete. 

(2) At the performance level as if you are speaking to a competitive athlete or strength coach. In the case of athletes, the exercise must directly correlate to the needs of the athletes sport.  

(3) In the beneficial reasons as in sales. This comes up from time to time. If your technique, or version of the technique differs from what the client previously did they may very well ask.  

(4) In lay terms as if you are talking to me.

It always helps if you can explain things enthusiastically.  Trust me, you need this skill when explaining why burpees and squats (AKA stuff that sucks for most people) are good things.  Save your deadpan responses for things like hip adductor machines.

Basically, the better you know something the more simply you can explain it to others.  If for example, you know that the deadlift is an effective exercise, but can’t explain why it is considered such, or its direct application to real life then you need to truly learn the deadlift.  Your physical and coaching skills could be top notch, but it certainly helps to know the hows and whys behind anything in the gym.

If your the type that likes to up your personal challenges….Imagine you are in a live interview with a gym owner that will hire you for a $500,000 a year position provided you can lead and coach the owner through a workout.   Every question answered, every coaching cue given and every technical correction made is the difference between either you or the next applicant getting the job.  Trainers (largely) are naturally self-confident types, so this scenario requires you as the trainer to reflect and give an honest self-appraisal.   

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Not tough enough you say?….OK

Imagine a room filled with 100 of the top trainers and strength coaches in your country.  Your job is to stand in front of the assembled group and explain your programming method, the reasons for each exercise and the results your clients/athletes have achieved.  It’s one thing to state your opinion in front of one person that may or may not know what you’re talking about, it’s a vastly different thing to speak in front of an audience that may know far more than you do.   

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The Cardio Box

Think outside the box.  Cardio programming doesn’t always mean hitting the treadmills or Zumba classes yet that is what always seems to come to mind.  Despite my jokes, I have nothing against either the treadmill or Zumba classes, I just believe they are not always the best choices nor the most effective means towards a goal.    

3-16-2014 Cardio Workout

1 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Farmers Walk for speed.

3 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Farmers Walk with 10 Double Kettlebell Deep front squats every other house. (60 squats per walk)

4 200yd 35lb Kettlebell Suitcase Walks switching hands at the 100yd line

100 35lb Hardstyle Kettlebell swings

500 Speed Rope jumps. 

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“Let me see here…should I use a hammer, or perhaps a slightly more blunt hammer?

Have a well-stocked toolbox. Don’t think your preferred way is the only way to get a job done.  If a machine does a better job at getting a result than a barbell then I’m all for it.  If jump roping is a better option than sprinting so be it. Remember, there is what you like, what needs to be done and what is the most effective way of getting there.  Yes, sometimes the hammer is exactly what you need.

A deconditioned 40yr old  wanting to lose 15lbs and strengthen the core doesn’t need to be doing a series of isolation exercises and split body part workouts over a 6 day period.  That may be what YOU love to do, but it isn’t what needs to be done nor is it the most effective way of getting there.

Remember that less is often more.  Take a hard look at your programming and omit the useless and redundant.  Keep things simple, Emphasize techniques that generate the greatest return on investment, that make your clients look and feel their greatest. 

“Your gym scares me.”

A former athlete of mine and I re-connected recently and she was interested in the new gym where I’m employed.  Truth be told, I have to give props to this young lady for supporting my decision to leave commercial gym employment in the first place.    

After viewing my gyms website, my athlete stated that my new gym scared her a little and that it looked too serious of a place. 

I feel otherwise, I believe it’s the perfect gym for her.  That said, I don’t believe it’s the perfect gym for everyone.  I will go on record to state that NO GYM is perfect for everyone and furthermore, not all trainers are capable of working at all gyms.

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This is not the front door of my gym…but I am curious to see what’s behind that door.

“Gymtimidation” is not a new term, but honestly is rather new to me.  I can certainly understand the feelings one can experience when the only available treadmill happens to be between two human beings running like Cheetah’s around dinner time, lifting weights around people that look more like shaved and tattooed Silverback Gorillas picking heavy things up or being in a group fitness class with what appears to be 40 Julliard trained dancers and there’s you with the two left feet with webbed toes.

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I don’t grunt very often, but I have been known to wolf howl from time to time.

Gymtimidation can be a real thing; in some cases it can be the difference between getting exercise and doing nothing to change things. So how does one break past this? One of my early mentors’ outlook on getting over Gymtimidation was quite simple:

                                             Walk In, Jack Stuff Up, Walk Out.

He used a different four-letter word in place of “Jack”…but you get the idea where the guy was coming from.  Basically:  Get there on time, Know why you’re there in the first place, Do your job well and leave when you need to.

(SIDEBAR) This mentor was not the guy with the programming that involved picking heavy things off the floor, putting them over my head and walking around with them.  That guy would have used the “Jack” replacement word at least three more times.

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Swear words to you, sentence enhancers to him.

One of my goals as a coach is to give my athlete the confidence needed to have a go of things on their own.  I believe I achieve this by the following means:

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Amen!

  1. Learning gym etiquette.  Some rules vary slightly from gym to gym, but the basics of re-racking your weights, working in sets with others and knowing how to spot basic lifts is always a good thing.  Subject to variation is if the gym allows the use chalk, dropping weights, grunting (yes grunting) and barefoot training.
  2. Knowing the basics of programming and how to maintain a lifting log.  Truthfully this is one area I have neglected, but I do keep customized logs on every one of my athletes and introduce them to new programs when needed and my most athletic athletes get to experience a wide range of methodologies over a period of time.
  3. Proving to them that they are 20 times more than they thought they were.
  4. Knowing how to spot a gym D-Bag.  Usually they bring attention to themselves anyhow.
  5. How to sniff out “Broscience” (Can be tricky, even a physician former athlete of mine was taken in by some Broscience… by her two previous trainers.)
  6.  Being there for them.  Being a coach is not limited to the 30-60 minute sessions you spend together. 
  7. Asking good questions.  I love a good gym question, even when I don’t know the answer.  My positive points here are (a) If I don’t know I will admit I don’t know it.  (b) I might know someone that does, which makes me feel pretty good.  (c) I can certainly look it up, and will actually enjoy doing it.
  8. For the athlete to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  When needed, what can be used as a substitute

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Truth Time: I myself am scared of gyms when I walk in and see a bunch of trainers having their clients do a multitude of circus tricks and silly stuff. 

Knee Pain prevents Squats

I received an e-mail from a fellow trainer asking for my help with a client of hers.  After reading over the e-mail exchange I decided to put up a blog and maybe help a few others out.

“Hi Chris, I have a 38 year old female client with bad knee pain. I would like to get her squatting to repair her knees but even the bench bodyweight version is tough for her to endure.  What can I start with to get her going?”

The basic background details: 38 y.o F, no history of past knee trauma, within healthy bodyweight for  height.  Clients physician diagnosed patellofemoral pain syndrome of the right knee.(aka “Runners Knee”.) Client has been released by her physical therapist for training.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is characterized by pain the front of the knee.  In the initial stages of physical therapy deep bending (as in squats) is avoided while stretching and isolated quadricep strengthening is emphasized. Low resistance cycling without full extension of the knee are also treatment options.

Programming: The new minimum-minimum squats when dealing with knee pain.

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Suspension Squats Technical Points:  I like for the shin to remain vertical throughout the squat and for the athlete to “earn” her depth by first squatting less than 90 degrees and earning her depth to the 90 degree minimum-minimum as her confidence increases.  Once the athlete earns 90 degrees largely on her own, you can place a plyo box or physio ball beneath her glutes so that each squat reaches the same depth. Have the athlete squeeze her glutes and abs while pushing her hips forward into the neutral postion and exhaling at the top of the motion.  The vertical shin will limit how much bending the knee can go through and the suspension unit will lessen the load on the joints as well as provide a feeling of safety once you demonstrate how sturdy a good suspension unit can be.

Initially I have the athlete continue squatting for a given amount of time.  In some cases this is not a safe option and you should issue low-rep sets building towards higher reps instead.

Avoid the following exercises: The seated adbuctor and adductor machines.  Both can tighten the athletes IT band, which is already suspect given the nature of her injury and possible pull the patella out of alignment.  I personally advise against the use of leg extension machines or the leg press.

If the clients occupation involves long bouts of sitting this can further exacerbate the knee pain since the knee remains bent for long periods.  Advise the client to develop the mini-habit of getting up and moving around.