Monthly Archives: November 2016

Ahead of the Scientific Curve

An online quote I read recently…

“I’m ahead of the (fitness and training) science”– Online Fitness Guru

Being completely fair to the guy, in time he may be proven right.

Science often plays catch up to what has been happening in the trenches and can confirm, debunk or course correct. As of present, based on available evidence and the professional opinions of numerous fitness industry thought leaders and allied health professionals the Guru is wrong on many levels. Comically wrong in some cases.

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The Guru could be ahead of the curve or simply has a huge ego….or both I suppose.

I can’t recall too many of the “ahead of the science curve” types openly admit when they were wrong. It’s my opinion if you’re doing stuff before it has been proven by research then you’re just guessing.

Yes, sometimes you guessed correctly and may truly have been ahead of the curve. It’s also possible you were right, but not for the reasons you thought. On the other hand, there were also times when people guessed completely wrong, and did things that ranged from useless to counterproductive to dangerous.

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Even a Blind Squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

Does this mean everything done in training needs triple digit randomized controlled trials clearly proving something works? No, and in the case of the quoted Guru all research save for his sucks anyhow.

In some cases, a simple “Does it work and Is it Safe?” is enough to get started and you can work towards figuring out the “How?” later.

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Personally I’m glad Sandow and Schwarzenegger didn’t wait around for studies. I can’t recall either gentleman claiming how “ahead of the scientific curve” they were.  

After being in the fitness industry for a while, I can see how sometimes we as fitness professionals have guessed correct, even though it lacked verification by scientific research. We have also fallen victim to following what exercise and nutrition science stated was correct, but then later retracted after further research.

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Remember, we live in a world with plenty of science deniers. Interestingly,the Guru has used some of the same responses when challenged to back up his opinion. 

I believe that we as fitness professionals need to do what we know/learn through a combination of science, experience, and common sense. We need to define and apply things at the right time in relation to the abilities,goals and tolerances of the client.

 

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The Bosu Blog

I’ve made a lot of comments in the past on Bosu’s and figured it would be a good week to devote a blog to it.  I might possibly put aside opinions that I’m a Bosu Bigot.

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“The more incompetent the trainer, the weirder the exercises.”                                        Charles Poliquin

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: I’ve said it before and I will say it again; I don’t hate the Bosu, it is the silly stuff trainers have their clients do with them that I hate. As with any tool (Bosu,TRX,Kettlebell,Barbell et al) we cannot argue which tools have, or do not have merit until we know who the client is, where they are starting from and what achievement we are trying to unlock.

While not totally without its use, I consider the BOSU (in too many cases) to be ineffective,overused/misused and based on risk vs reward potentially dangerous. There are certainly more effective or efficient ways of training, but it CAN be a tool worth adding into a clients program…generally for a relatively short term and not often in the very beginning of training.

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A Short Bosu History
The BOSU Ball (AKA BOSU Balance Trainer): Was developed in 1999 and is a 14lb inflatable hemisphere with a rigid base. BOSU is short for “Both sides Up, or Both sides utilized.” The BOSU falls under the continuum of Unstable Surface Training (UST) which includes Inflatable discs and Balls, Balance Pads and Beams,Wobble Boards and similar devices that offer various degrees of balance challenge.

WHAT RESEARCH ON UST HAS SHOWN SO FAR….
The BOSU/UST has proven useful for:
Upper Body Prehab/Post Rehab
Upper Body Deloading periods (Strength Trainees)
Ankle injury rehabilitation
Some abdominal exercises

It has been claimed to be useful for….
Active Aging populations/Fall Prevention
Youth Training
Sport Performance
Recovery from Breast Cancer

It has not been proven useful for….
Strength/Power Training (Increasing Absolute Strength or Rate of Force Production) or
conferring any balance benefits to stable surfaces in healthy populations.

Balance training and Strength training are separate things, It is my opinion that strength training can improve balance, but balance training only modestly might improve strength.

Two of my programming guidelines
1-Stable before Unstable.
2-Simple before Sophisticated.

Neither exercise here benefits greatly from the addition of the Bosu.  The Bosu does however make them complicated to perform and increases risk factors.  My personal opinion here is the addition of the Bosu alters the exercise biomechanics in a potentially unfavorable way, and minimally makes each exercise difficult to perform consistently. 

What is often seen is trainers going straight to the Bosu in a well-meaning, but misguided attempt to improve a clients balance. It’s also entirely possible the trainer had no plan in place and saw the Bosu as an “easy time killer.”  In either situation, what possibly hasn’t been considered is that balance is a skill, and skill must be progressed.

In the case of UST, one could progress from standing on objects with greater relative stability first, then moving onto objects with decreased stability as skill improves.

Long before Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san took a trip to the beach…
When I was 12yrs old I was very involved in Karate and competed frequently. I had just learned a new Kata (a pre-arranged form) which involved numerous movements that pivoted, contracted and high kicked from single legged positions.

Despite my young age I was fully aware that my instructor was keen on making sure students KNEW and OWNED their techniques. What I didn’t know was that my instructor never put me through anything that he knew I wasn’t prepared to do. He made sure that I was progressed to a point where the movement was a possibility for me.

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No, I didn’t grow hair or magically change my race.  The gentleman shows great form here.  From this position  a head height side kick and 180 degree turns must be performed. It’s an advanced form typically taught above Black Belt level.

“It is one thing to be quite strong, and quite another thing to display it.”
                   Louie Simmons

Athletically speaking I was able to apply the same movements under live sparring conditions (I had, and greatly enjoyed kicking people in the head.) This meant I had the technical skill, flexibility,mobility, timing and distancing down. I had difficulty in competently controlling the moves from a static posture.

Remember,I was 12 and I hadn’t yet visited my first gym. All weight training up to this point was some basic bodyweight, rock lifting,Sears Dumbbells and pig iron (an unknown, and uneven amount of weight fashioned into a crude barbell)

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One Saturday I was watching Kung-Fu theater of TV (Loved that show!) and there was a Kung Fu master making his student practice his balance on various challenging but stable objects throughout the movie. As the student improved the masters balancing challenges increased.

I was inspired.

When the movie ended to the backyard I went and began practicing balancing on whatever surfaces would hold my weight. I started with cinder blocks and progressed to smooth rocks, stumps, rails of various widths and even along the top of a wall. Within a short time I got the point where I could walk along edges of rather thin rails,stand on one foot performing very similar motions to my Kata.  Mind you, as soon as balance work was done for the session I was re-trying the movements again, being as exact as I could while standing on the floor and training local leg muscles with some ankle weights.

Two weeks later I had no problems with balance in the Kata, and even used it in competition as a primary or secondary choice. I didn’t become much faster, stronger or  gain flexibility, but I did improve my ability to stand and execute complex movements on one leg. That was my entire need at the time and my amateur hour training transferred to a very specific need.

FAST FORWARD to 2017….                                                                                                                 Training done on unstable objects isn’t useful for developing the type of balance, proprioception or strength that’s generally useful in sports, unless the sport itself is also performed on unstable surfaces. Even then, it has its limitations.

What my amateur-hour efforts did was demonstrate the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) and Transfer of Training to Sport.

SAID Principle: This principle basically states that the body will best improve and adapt by a closely related and specific mechanisms. The body does far better at focusing on a type of training for one goal in mind rather than multiple types with every goal in mind.

Transfer of Training to Sport: (Also known as the Transfer Principle) means training in practice conditions that best prepare athletes for sport competition. This involves matching training activities to energy demands (strength,endurance) of a sport but also developing the techniques and skills to produce the best outcomes.

Q&A                                                                                                                                                              “What about the Bosu as a core training device?”
For those thinking that BOSU training activates the “core” in standing exercises, observe an untrained person struggling to balance on one. You’ll see the legs and feet straining, not the core muscles. That said, there are abdominal exercises performed sitting on the BOSU that seem to activate the muscles quite well and the risk of injury of injury is very low.

“What about this Risk vs.Reward?”
Accidents have happened when trainers have caused serious injuries by putting clients on the BOSU with flat side up. You could be held responsible if an injury happened on your watch because there is a very faint warning on the ball stating they don’t recommend using the device flat side up.

If I thought of that, don’t you think a sharp lawyer would have thought of it too?

“But it improves balance right?, haven’t you heard of proprioception?”
Actually I have heard of proprioception. Proprioception is the sensory information that provides a sense of position of self and movement. Your bodies position in space is perceived at the conscious level to do complex motor activity, and at the unconscious level to set posture during sitting, standing and simple gait activities.

Center of gravity isn’t something that can be trained. It’s a concept used in physics, not a physical things. Balance and proprioception can be trained though, but they should be trained in a manner that’s useful. Which means that it’s the individual, or perhaps an object lifted that is the unstable object, rather than the surface they’re standing on.

As stated previously UST can be effective n the context of physiotherapy. It’s either being used for rehabilitation, or to address issues that have developed due to aging and there is research and anecdotal evidence supporting this use. This doesn’t mean that unstable surface training can be extrapolated as being beneficial to healthy individuals.

If the client has a lower limb injury their proprioception might be off a bit. In this case UST serves a purpose, but not straight to the BOSU (too difficult), and not something I would need to do for very long either. The goal would be to return them to a functional baseline and improve performance as they are not commonly standing on wobbly surfaces throughout the day.Based on available evidence there is no transfer of training between UST to real world stable surface applications.

So yes, it will improve your balance and righting reflexes …on unstable things.

From Science and Practice of Strength Training (2nd Ed. Zatsiorsky,Kraemer) “Strength is a MAJOR component of balance and you’ll get much stronger via stable surfaces as compared with unstable. Neuromuscular control can be improved with stable surface training.

The equation: Stability=strength+neuromuscular control.

Improved balance is a byproduct which can be done with stable surface training.

Which begs the question, how was balance trained before 1999? (or before Chris reenacted Kung Fu theater in his neighborhood) Off the top of my head…Balance Beams,Unilateral Exercises,Split Stance Exercises,Yoga (especially for a beginner) and walking (which requires a lot of balance.)

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The Suitcase carry is a legit exercise that challenges balance. In this case, it seems it would make single leg balancing slightly easier despite being on the Bosu.  I’m not doubting the guys ability to recover from a loss of posture while holding a load, but I can’t say the same for a post-rehab client, nor would I risk it.  I believe greater benefit would be to ditch the Bosu and walk around with the load on stable surfaces.

Carrying, Squatting, Lifting or Pressing a load with only one hand, or with one hand and the opposite foot lifted on a stable surface certainly challenges ones balance and can confer more benefits. It’s also easily quantified and repeatable. I’m decently athletic and I don’t think any two Bosu based movements I would do would be very alike.

The standard squat certainly is balance challenge, and it could be regressed enough that it is achievable by nearly all client populations.  Not just the ones that work for Cirque De Soleil.

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Observations

Below are some of the observations I’ve made this week.

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Despite a lengthy history of making fun of machines, I will say they have a place in training and are not totally without use. My principle complaint is that many are not engineered (or maintained) very well.

On Gyms. If you work in a commercial gym,it is to you and your clients benefit to know the proper operation,purpose and warning orders of every machine the gym owns, including whenever the gym upgrades a particular piece of equipment.

I would go so far as to suggest plugging the machine into a short-term program of your own simply to develop some skill with them, and definitely before you put a client on it.

machm_1_94This doesn’t mean you need to like them. It simply means you have an idea where it could be applied in a given situation.  I can safely state that touching one won’t turn you into  Machine Man. Just because you like or dislike something (case in point, my colorful history with the Bosu) doesn’t mean it cannot be the optimum choice in a given situation.

Remember, training is client defined.

 

Remember, they are Tools. You could be a barbell guy (or gal!) and hang your hat on the superiority of barbells when it comes to building strength. You could be a bodyweight guy, and believe bodyweight alone makes weight training obsolete. Personally I believe it benefits you to examine and experience others methods.

Specialized Tools: When it comes to specialized tools such as the Kettlebell,TRX or Sandbag I highly suggest obtaining education under coaches that specialize in the tool as time and finances allow.

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This guy is also a tool. There is nothing right about this swing sequence.  Don’t add your name to the number of trainers guessing their way through things. This can put your client at risk and does you no favors…although it does provide me some comedy material.

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Trainers need Trainers. Once a year I try hiring a trainer of my own. If that falls through, I follow the works and writings of a particular coach, or the writings of several coaches on the same topic, intentionally looking for thoughts and opinions that oppose my own.          If you are lucky, you can ask a colleague to design a program and distance train you. Although nothing beats in-person training, Skype and YouTube can be very helpful in these situations.

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“Even when I didn’t go to school, I would always study.”    The RZA

Continuing Education. Consider yourself a continual student. An unofficial survey of my network members quickly showed how busy some trainers stay with their education, and this was based only on the current quarter and less 10% of my network.

Not all education would lead to a certification or specialization and not all even comes from a book or course. All learning will eventually fond its way to the clients,athletes and students.

(1) The diverse topics and courses included the following: Girevoy Sport Kettlebell certification, Mace and Indian Club Workshops, direct training under Martial Art legend Dan Inosanto, TRX Functional Trainer Course, CrossFit Level 2, StrongFirst SFG L1 preparation, NASM Weight Loss Specialist course (live instruction), Clinical Psychology, Sociology of Families, Precision Nutrition Level 1, Postpartum Health/Nutrition, Massage Therapy/Bodywork, Functional Movement Screen Level 1,Post-Rehabilitation Medical Literature, NSCA CSCS,TSAC-F,Westside Barbell Coach and USPA Powerlifting Coach.  This was all based on the responses of only TEN people within a three-month period.

Control your Marketing

Fall 2012-Late Summer 2013. Location: A popular commercial gym with twenty-two Personal Trainers on staff. Based on memory, I was one of only 5 that was certified.(1)

At its height, my post-rehab (those with joint/muscle related issues) and geriatric clientele (over 60 years old) outnumbered any 8 trainers combined. This lopsided clientele assignment made for some exceptionally challenging days, and nearly caused a loss of skill in working with people without training challenges.

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I’m not a Psychiatric Professional, but I am a Psychiatric Amateur and have read more than enough issues of the Fantastic Four to know that professional burnout is a reality that hits people to varying degrees.

burn·out
noun
1. the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion.
“good carbon burnout”
2. physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
“high levels of professionalism that may result in burnout”

I believe some trainers would have simply folded from the daily demands and the stress of training people with pain in certain ranges or low training tolerances.

Marketing Failure 101. I was labelled (and seen) as a post-rehab/geriatric specialist guy. A worse way of looking at things, to the salesman I was an amateur hour Physical Therapist that happened to cost a fraction of the price.

How did things get to that point ?  

I believe there were several contributing factors, but for brevities sake I will say that if you show relative (or comparative) talent in something, which in this case was working with elderly or limited capability clients…basically being able to show empathy and be patient along with making logical exercise choices…then to a salesman you just became “The Guy.” (or Gal as the case might be.) (2)

Although I did complete an entry-level course for Corrective Exercise (NASM CES) I was by no means a specialist in it, much less an “expert.” No training I received truly prepared me to work the sedentary elderly. All I had going for me was the ability to think logically, good research skills with considerable resources and an ability to work with interesting problems.

Although it was interesting work that diversified my skills and happened to be financially lucrative, I cannot say it was the ideal fit for a person with over twenty-years experience in strength and conditioning that primarily worked with younger and more athletic populations.

I failed to accurately market myself, and further I allowed misrepresentation to continue to a point where professional burnout could occur.  

I could shift blame to sales staff all I want,the fact is I failed to see a potential issue before it happened and failed to take control.  Failure is an opportunity to grow.

The outcomes since taking ownership have been positive across the board.

Being fair,despite gaining greater education and practical experience, post-rehab and geriatric training still isn’t the best fit for me. That said,I do enjoy having the ability to work with a wide-swath of humanity and post-rehab/pre-hab skills are essential to any population group, and our general population isn’t getting younger or stronger.

I now serve my clients even better than I ever could previously. My process of training post-rehab clients has changed considerably and I’ve continued to expand my knowledge. I greatly enjoy having full control of the clients I work with, or don’t work with.

The questions preceding my screen as part of the health history are very easy to apply and help drive my decisions. (3) 

  1. Is the client over 55yrs old?     If yes, are they an active athlete?
  2. Is the client over 300lbs?         If yes, are they an active athlete?
  3. Is the client in pain?                  If yes, is it chronic or acute?

If the client is over 55, over 300lbs or in pain (and NOT an active athlete) then to the Dr they go for a medical release and any warning orders. If they refuse then I don’t take on the client. I presently only have one client over age 55 and none over 300lbs that are not athletes.

When you do not control your own marketing someone else will. What they market may or may not work best for you or be in the clients best interest, and could eventually lead to professional burnout. Taking control and ownership of ones marketing can change that.

Notes

(1) Uncertified Trainers aren’t automatically the worst thing out there. The truth is the common Personal Training certification hasn’t really been around that long and certification, or even a degree by itself does not confer qualification.  Unlike a degree, which does stand the test of time, Certified Personal Trainer certifications must be renewed every 1-4 years (depending on the agency) by completing a minimum number of continuing education hours.  I have personally seen trainers presenting certifications that lapsed years ago and still present themselves as “Certified.”   There is also the fact that a high number of gyms will hire anyone that literally will hire anyone that “looks the part” as a trainer. This drives prices (and quality) down.

(2) I have respect for Physical Therapists and recognize where my scope of practice sits relative theirs. That said the people selling Personal Training packages don’t know, or don’t care.  They especially didn’t like it when I turned clients away when their training needs were well above my capability or scope of practice.

(3) Credit goes to Dan John. I highly recommend any of his books or seminars to any Coach.