Eccentric Training For Athletic Performance – Micah Faas CSCS

Today’s post comes to us from personal trainer Micah Faas CSCS.  If you do not already know Micah, he is a very bright and talented trainer from Minnesota (which means he is also very polite).  Micah is currently working out of Bellevue, Washington.  He is an avid sports fan and a sport specific training specialist.  If you have any questions for Micah, you can reach him at [email protected]  Enjoy! -Dan

 

Eccentric training is a method of training that has long been used by body builders, power lifters, and athletes. This article aims to explain why, when, and how to use eccentric training to maximize your athletic performance. First lets cover some basics.

What is eccentric training?

When performing a lift or a movement there are three types of muscle contractions:

Concentric – The muscle is shortening while producing force. This occurs when the force produced by the muscle is greater than the force causing the contraction.

Isometric – The muscle is producing force without changing length. This occurs when the force produced by the muscle is equal to that of the force causing contraction.

Eccentric – The muscle is lengthening while producing force. This occurs when the opposing force is greater than the force produced by contraction.

For example, when performing a bench press the initial movement of lowering the bar to your chest is the eccentric portion. Your muscles are contracting eccentrically while simultaneously lengthening to act like a brake, preventing the bar from dropping on your chest. The brief moment when the bar stops moving as it reaches your chest immediately before you press it back up is the isometric portion of the exercise. As your arms extend and you begin to press the bar the muscle contracts concentrically as the amount of force you are now producing is enough to overcome the weight of the bar.

Eccentric training focuses on the eccentric contraction (muscle lengthening) and your ability to use the kinetic energy stored in your muscles during this contraction to develop more force with the concentric contraction. Incorporating eccentrics into your current training program can have huge benefits for all types of athletic performance.

 

Why Eccentrics For Athletic Performance?

What separates a good athlete from a great one? When you take skill out of the equation and look at raw athletic ability, what is it that separates the haves from the have-nots? It is the athlete’s ability to produce more force in less time.

Adrian Peterson (child abuse aside) is widely considered to be the best running back in the NFL. Have you ever noticed that Peterson is always running through a lot of arm tackles? Yes he is big and yes he is fast, but so are his opponents trying to tackle him. Size and speed definitely play a roll in his ability to avoid tackles, but that is not what sets him apart. No, what sets him apart is his ability to get defenders attempting to tackle him out of position. Ok, that sounds simple enough but how does he do that? The secret is his ability to decelerate his body quicker than his opponents. When Peterson goes to make a cut so does his defender, but Peterson is able to absorb a greater amount of kinetic energy eccentrically in a shorter duration of time. He then uses that kinetic energy to explode concentrically in the other direction, leaving his opponent out of position behind him and only able to stick his arms out to try to slow him down. The ability to win the battle eccentrically, even by a fraction of a second is the difference between being tackled for a loss and breaking free down the sideline for a touchdown. It is the difference between being able to cross your defender over to create space for a wide-open jumper and having your shot blocked back into your face. It is the difference between you being a good athlete or a great athlete.

Eccentric training for athletic performance isn’t just about being able to make quick cuts or juke someone out of their socks. Eccentric training allows us to run faster, jump higher, and throw harder. With every athletic movement there is also a counter movement: The squat before a jump, the wind-up before a pitch, the foot plant before you make a cut in the opposite direction. But in order to maximize the movement you have to also be able to minimize the time spent performing the counter-movement and maximize the amount of kinetic energy your muscles can store eccentrically. The chart below, taken from Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training (2012) illustrates this ability to quickly store and release kinetic energy. Dietz refers to this as winning the “Battle of the V”.

Triphasic Training

As you can see, being able to generate more force eccentrically in less time results in you also being able to generate more force concentrically in less time. It’s a double whammy. When you win one, you will win the other.

So how do you incorporate eccentric training into your current training program? The first thing to realize is that despite its many benefits, eccentric training is extremely taxing and requires more recovery time than traditional training methods. Furthermore, you should have some previous strength training experience (at least a year) before dabbling with eccentrics. It is also important to note that if you are injured, or recovering from an injury you should avoid eccentric training unless given clearance by your doctor, physical therapist, or strength coach. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are a few different ways you can start using eccentrics to improve your athletic performance.

 

Plyometric Movements

Yes, plyometric exercises are a form of eccentric training. You are training your muscles to minimize ground contact time by rapidly decelerating, stabilizing, and then exploding concentrically by using the stored kinetic energy (stretch-shortening cycle). You are also training your neuromuscular system through the stretch reflex mechanism. This protective mechanism is activated when the neuromuscular system detects a muscle being stretched and rapidly contracts the muscle to prevent it from overstretching to bring it back to its original length to prevent injury. The stretch reflex mechanism is likely why your hamstrings feel tight despite the fact that they are elongated while sitting, which we all do far too much of. But that is another topic for another day.

Depth jumps and drop jumps are two good exercises to maximize eccentric performance. When performing these, be sure you are landing on a soft surface, grass or rubber mats work well. With depth jumps, you should land as far away from the box as the box is high. So, if you’re standing on a 30-inch box you should land approximately 30 inches away. When executing depth jumps you should use a simple athletic stance position just as you would whenever you jump.

Drop jump performance can vary. You can land in a regular athletic stance for general carryover, in a stiff-legged stance to emphasize lower leg force production ability, in a 1/2 squat to emphasize the hips and hamstrings, in a split squat stance to emphasize all around balance, and in a 1-legged stance to heighten the magnitude of force absorbed. It is important that you are able to absorb the impact and “stick” the landing. If you are unable to land without faltering your box height is too high. Box heights of 24 inches for males and 18 inches for females are a good starting point.

With all plyometric movements it is important to keep the sets short in duration and explosive in nature. Remember; we are training to develop maximal force in minimal time. Once you start getting fatigued your eccentric and concentric movement slows down and you will find yourself pausing briefly at the midpoint of the movement (isometric hold). When this happens you are losing the benefits and your fatigue will make you more prone to injury. You want to keep the movement fast and free flowing. If you don’t want to hesitate midway through your cut or before your jump, don’t train that way. Aim for 60-100 ground contacts or total volume for novice athletes, 100-150 for more advanced athletes.

 

Tempo Squats

A tempo squat is a squat where each portion of the movement is done for a specified amount of time. An example of this would be a 3 second eccentric downward movement, a 1 second isometric hold at the bottom of the squat, and an explosive concentric return to the top. For workout card purposes I like to write this as “Tempo Squat 3:1:0”, with the zero meaning as quickly and explosively as possible. Tempo squats can be done 1-2 times per week. Be sure to allow at least 2-3 days of recovery time before repeating. These are best done in sets of 5-6 repetitions at 70-80% 1RM.

Advanced lifters can superset tempo squats (try a 5:1:0 tempo), with an exlosive plyometric exercise such as box jumps or power step-ups. Keep the plyometric set small, no more than 10 reps to avoid excessive fatigue.

 

Heavy Eccentrics (Greater than 1RM)

One of the great things about eccentric training is that it allows you to work at weights above your 1RM, which can lead to greater strength and hypertrophy. In at 5-week study, Tesch et al, (2004) showed that an eccentric training group could increase their strength by 11% and mass by 6% compared to a concentric-only control group. That is pretty significant! Another study (Farthing & Chilibeck, 2003) looking exclusively at hypertrophy showed the exact same thing, eccentric training is more effective for gaining muscle size than traditional resistance training.  Higher intensity means greater stress, which means greater adaptation. Your anabolic response from the heavier load will force you to recruit more muscle fibers, which will allow you to move more weight on the concentric portion of the lift.

Unfortunately, due to the high intensity of the load and the risk of injury, lifting above your 1RM should only be done by advanced lifters and with spotters present. When using supramaximal eccentric training you should expect greater post-exercise soreness. However, according to Steven Fleck and William Kraemer’s book Designing Resistance Training Programs (2003), after 1-2 weeks of eccentric training your soreness should not be any greater than from tradition resistance training.

To lift above your 1RM, try one of the following techniques:

Forced Negatives – With this technique, your training partner or spotter applies additional force to the bar during the lowering/eccentric phase only. If you have an experienced spotter or someone you feel confident in, you can ask them to apply more force at the top of the lift where you are stronger, and less at the bottom where you are weaker. The downside to this technique is that the additional force provided is not quantifiable.

Eccentric Only – This method involves the lifter only performing the eccentric portion of the lift. You will need a power rack to do this on your own. Set the safety bar or pin so that it will be at the bottom of your lift. Lower the weight in a controlled manner, aim for 3-7 seconds, until you reach the safety bar. Rest the bar here, get up and unload the bar so that you can lift it back to the starting position. Yes this is slow and tedious but you will be thankful for the rest. If you can round up 2 spotters they can stand at either end of the bar and lift it back up for you.

Single Limb Eccentrics – These work best when using a machine such as a leg press. Use one leg/arm during the eccentric portion, then use both limbs to return it to the starting position.

 

Eccentrics Plus Over-speed Training

One of the arguments against eccentric training for athletic performance is that if you train “slow” you will be slow. But a recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning (Cook et al, 2013) made an interesting discovery. Eccentric training with over-speed stimuli was more effective than traditional resistance training in increasing peak power in a countermovement jump. Eccentric training induced no beneficial training response in maximal running speed; however, the addition of over-speed exercises salvaged this relatively negative effect when compared with eccentric training alone.

What does this mean for you? It means that if it is important to include over-speed training with eccentric training, especially if speed is vital to your sport. The following video by Armour Building, shows you three different ways you can use kettlebell swings for over-speed eccentric training. The first is a traditional KB Swing, but you accelerate the bell back toward your body instead of just letting it float. The second technique involves using a band to do the acceleration back into your body for you. The third and final technique uses a partner who pushes the bell back down when you reach the top of your swing.

Video: Over-Speed Eccentrics With Kettlebell by Armour Building

Bands are very helpful in achieving the over-speed effect with both traditional barbell and body weight exercises. Keep in mind that with bands you may be accelerating a heavy object in the direction of your body so having a spotter for weighted exercises is a smart idea.

Another technique is downhill running or bounding. The act of running or jumping downhill functions in a similar way to depth jumps. You are using the increased landing forces provided by gravity to slightly overload the eccentric portion of the jump (or stride). It is important to find a gentle downhill slope so that you can maintain proper form and stride length throughout.

 

Using Eccentric Training and Avoiding Injury

As mentioned earlier, eccentric training is extremely taxing on the body and should not be overdone. Be mindful of your rest periods and recovery days. This will help to prevent injury and overtraining. Keep your eccentric lifts to only a couple of exercises per workout. If your goal is athletic performance you should stick to compound movements only.

Plyometric and over-speed training in particular are easy to overdo. Remember that you only need 1-2 days per week of this type of training to achieve results. Ensuring sufficient recovery time is extremely important to maximize performance gains. If you cut this short you are not giving your muscles adequate time to recover and adapt. Without adaption there is no improvement.

In-season athletes should not begin eccentric training until after the playing season. It is best to begin to develop your eccentric base during the off-season. A 2-6 week mesocycle prior to your competition period is the ideal time to focus on maximizing eccentric performance. Once you begin competing it is best to lay-off any heavy eccentrics and focus on 1-2 plyometric and/or <1RM eccentric lifts per training session.

As if improving your performance wasn’t enough, eccentric training may also be beneficial for both injury prevention (Pererson et al, 2011) as well as injury rehab (Lorenz & Reiman, 2011). A number of sports injuries occur when you are unable to decelerate your body properly. You see a lot of non-contact injuries, especially to the knee that could be prevented if you were better able to decelerate your body when landing or changing direction.

 

Recap

  • The ability to develop more force in less time is what makes you a great athlete.
  • Being able to store additional force eccentrically allows you to generate additional force concentrically.
  • Training the counter-movement leads to a faster, more explosive action.
  • Plyometrics can be used for eccentric training and are game-changers when done in moderation.
  • Tempo squats are a great way to train eccentrically and can replace traditional squats in your current workout.
  • Lifting eccentrically at >1RM can improve your strength and size, but should be done only by advanced lifters and those with spotters present.
  • Eccentric training paired with over-speed training will prevent you from losing speed and increase your power output.
  • Injury prevention is another benefit of training eccentrics, but be careful incorporating these if you are currently an in-season athlete. The off-season is the time to change up your program.

 

Micah Faas CSCS

[email protected]

 

References:

Cook, C., Beaven, C., & Kilduff, L. (2013). Three Weeks of Eccentric Training Combined With Overspeed Exercises Enhances Power and Running Speed Performance Gains in Trained Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1280-1286. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22820207

Dietz, C., & Peterson, B. (2012). Triphasic training: A systematic approach to elite speed and explosive strength performance. Hudson, WI: Bye Dietz Sport Enterprise.

Farthing, J., & Chilibeck, P. (2003). The Effects Of Eccentric And Concentric Training At Different Velocities On Muscle Hypertrophy. European Journal of Applied Physiology,578-586. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from

Fleck S, Kraemer W. Types of strength training. In: Designing Resistance Training Programs. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2004: 40-43.

Lorenz, D., & Reiman, M. (2011). The Role And Implementation Of Eccentric Training In Athletic Rehabilitation: Tendonopothy, Hamstring Strains, And ACL Reconstruction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(1), 27-44.

Petersen, J., Thorborg, K., Nielsen, M., Budtz-Jorgensen, E., & Holmich, P. (2011). Preventive Effect of Eccentric Training on Acute Hamstring Injuries in Men’s Soccer: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2296-2303. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21825112

Tesch, P. A., Ekberg, A., Lindquist, D. M. and Trieschmann, J. T. (2004), Muscle hypertrophy following 5-week resistance training using a non-gravity-dependent exercise system. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 180: 89–98. doi: 10.1046/j.0001-6772.2003.01225.x

Dan on High Intensity Health Podcast with Mike Mutzel

Recently, friend and author of the Belly Fat Effect, Mike Mutzel, invited me to be on his podcast “High Intensity Health.”  I was humbled by the invitation and thrilled to work with Mike on this episode.  This was a first for me being included on a podcast or any version of a live recording discussing training.

Please check out Mike Mutzel’s work with the following links:

High Intensity Health

MikeMutzel.com

The Belly Fat Effect

Belly Fat Effect photo

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the Episode Below:

#38: Learn the Best Exercises to Get Lean and Prevent Fat Gain with Dan Stephenson, CPT

Show Notes

Dan hurt his back deadlifting, which caused him to study powerlifting and strength training. He strives to have perfect form during these lifts.

Key preparatory movements and strengthening up the core and warming up properly leads to less lower back pain and injury. Take your time with these!

Dan has learned how to protect his lower back from books and videos by Stuart Mcgill and Brian Carroll. They teach activating the neuro drive and the “big three.” These different exercises to activate core and stiffen it up.

Mobility is a hot topic and look at how much they need versus how much they doing. Dan recommends mobility exercises before working out, but not overdoing it.

Dan has found the biggest health and metabolic biggest from doing the big core movements (squat, deadlift bench press and military press). Why? He discusses time efficiency and how these movement don’t create muscle imbalances.

Big compound movements are the core of Crossfit, powerlifting and bodybuilding.

Compared to isolation exercises, compound movements involve many muscle groups and activate many different assessor muscles and core.

Dan discusses key attributes of successful clients: accepting health and fitness as a lifestyle change, not a means to an end.

Letting go of the short minded journey that one needs to loose a certain amount of body weight then simply stop working out will lead to failure. It needs to be accepted as a lifestyle.

This mental fortitude is a key aspect that Dan has scene in his successful clients at the ProClub in Bellevue.

The lifestyle changes are important because achieving a healthy physique requires diet changes, ample sleep, stress reduction and minimal alcohol consumption; it’s more than just training at the gym.

Women should not be afraid to do heavy compound movements and lift weights. Unless women take anabolic steroids or hormone precursors, it’s hard for women to become bulky and gain a lot of muscle.

Where should you start if you want to loose weight and burn more fat? Dan says start with the squat, deadlift, military press and bench press. Dan says after his clients work up to bar bells, he increases the weight. Not too heavy, but he feels clients should push themselves to get results.

Don’t make the mistake of doing a lot of cardio (aerobic training) right off the bat. Start by building up some lean muscle and utilizing cardio to burn extra calories, alternating different types and increasing the intensity.

For fat loss, Dan likes to program in more high-intensity interval training that mimics the same energy systems that are incorporated during strength training sessions.

Circuit training is great for helping to burn fat, but ideally someone would also include higher-intensity interval training, heavy weight lifting and long-duration weight lifting.

Four day program for fat loss and wellness:

Four strength based-days (day one could be legs, day two could be shoulders/chest and day three could be back)
One aerobic conditioning day (hiking, group exercise class, stair stepper)

Dan discusses key tips to induce muscle hypertrophy for getting nice and toned muscles. It’s really taking the exercise to failure and beating the muscle up, he says.

In contrast, power-strength is really working on developing muscle patterns so that you can move more weight with proper form. Going to failure may throw off the technique and cause injury.

Periodization: have a sub goal for six to eight weeks to build up strength during one cycle and increase muscle mass in another cycle. Keep changing it up.

Measurements to asses body composition: Dan likes waist circumference, pant size, shirt size and health markers like blood pressure and triglycerides.

Dan discusses crossfit. Should everyone do crossfit? Dan feels that crossfit can be great for people with a strong foundation. It brings a lot of different variables (i.e. intensity, competition, and amount of work done during training sessions). But Dan thinks it can be risky to jump right into crossfit; so Dan suggest that it’s great thorough assessment and get individual coaching.

Additionally you should have proper shoulder mobility to get into a front squat before you do a power clean.

Before you start power-cleaning, you should really master the deadlift and have a proficient front squat.

Risk of injury occurs when you do high-volume Olympic lifts with short rest. Once technique goes you can really get into trouble and injury yourself.

Kettlebell swings can lead to lower back injury because there is a lot of force that can be generated and can have carry over to other exercises

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe has people starting out with high-frequency (many sessions per week) to get the technique down but as you increase the weight, it’s important to reduce frequency so as to avoid injury.

Everyone from young adolescents to elderly folks can really benefit from the squat, deadlifts and overhead presses.

Is Cardio Killing Your Gains?

Prioritizing Training Goals

The short answer is: it depends.

Training is a balancing act between many different variables that interplay with each other to create an end result.  The end result should goal specific and related to one or two attributes of health and fitness.  For example, you may devote a training program with a goal of getting stronger and getting leaner.

The more similarities the goals are for the training program, the more likely they will both be achieved.  It would be foolish to expect the same program to increase your 1 rep-max deadlift by 15% and to improve your time in a half-marathon.  Although both goals can eventually be achieved long-term, one goal would have to take precedence over the other to not detract from the first goal.  Welcome to periodization!

Periodization is an organized approach to planning different phases of training.  This is important in athletics and for those that have widespread goals or a “fitness bucket-list” with multiple events that require specific focus.

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When you are serious about getting bigger or stronger, cardio will usually take the back-seat.  It is still important that cardio gets done in this stage of training (for health and performance reasons) but it should be restricted in duration and frequency.  Programming the strength portion of a training program requires tactfulness in trying to achieve an optimal stimulus while managing recovery to achieve the greatest training effect.  After the strength training plan has been established, cardio can then be considered.

Because cardio training is catabolic (muscle-wasting) by nature, it should be programmed in a sense that it does not interfere with the anabolic (muscle-building) goals of the program.  I find it most fitting to incorporate some lower intensity cardio training during my non-strength training days.  If I do any cardio on the same day as a strength workout, I will plan my day so that there will be two training sessions (strength and cardio), separated by at least a meal.

Another approach is the high-intensity interval training (HIT) for cardio.  This is a great approach as the HIT training is more effective at preserving muscle than traditional cardio, if done in short durations and with high enough intensity.  The downside to using HIT is that it is harder to recover from and it can also interfere with strength training.  If you are following an intense strength program (squatting and deadlifting above 80% of 1 rep-max regularly), high intensity methods such as sprinting might leave you more at risk for a hamstring or hip flexor strain.

If you are more concerned with keeping a lean physique and a healthy heart while trying to get bigger and stronger, realize that you might have to sacrifice some gains in your size and strength as you take more of a balanced approach to training strength and cardio.  This might consist of a higher frequency of cardio or a combination of circuit training, HIT, or anything else that gets your heart rate elevated for an extended period of time.

To summarize, the main thing to consider when planning your training is your goals and effectively prioritizing them.  If you want to focus on improving your strength or lean mass, it may benefit you to limit the amount and type of cardio that you do for the time being.  Once you have achieved your strength or size goal, then you can re-evaluate your training priorities and give cardio a higher priority if you would like.

Cutting Weight for Competition from a Female Athlete’s Perspective

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As a women whose training partner is a man, I can say cutting weight next to him is very annoying. Doing the same weight cut as my training partner seems to be quite more of a struggle for me than it is for him. Given, as a women, hormones come in to play.  Women, having higher levels of estrogen, which is commonly associated with weight gain by slowing down the metabolism. Progesterone, which plays a big role in women’s menstrual cycles, influences the body to hold on to water a bit more. These are factors that contribute to the greater challenge of cutting weight for women.

I’ve done weight cuts where I just focus on a water weight drop (miserable), and weight cuts where I took the more gradual approach (i.e changing my diet, adding more cardio (ugh))… Neither are enjoyable. It’s exhausting, miserable, and pisses me off.

For someone who competes in the 132 weight class, I find it that much harder to cut down. Changing diet up can really screw up my strength, especially when 90% of the time my diet is very clean, so to clean it up more than it already is, can be quite challenging.

How can I make weight, and preserve as much lean mass, strength, and energy as possible? It’s tough for sure. I have found myself sitting in hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas, fully clothed doing cardio to just lose .25 of a lb.. UGH!

What I have found to be the “easiest” approach, is the gradually cut. More recently, I sit at about 140 and need to get to 132. I clean my “all ready clean” diet up a bit more… usually 4 to 6 weeks out.. Bye-bye jars of peanut butter (sigh)… No cheat meals, no pancakes.  Hello to lots of chicken salads, salmon, sweet potatoes, and protein shakes. Not too horrible really, as long as you are getting in carbs especially post workout, and keeping enough protein in.

As long as I can drop a few “bad” pounds, preferable 4-5 through diet, and keep the water cut to 5 lbs or less… seems to be the best… but again, HARD, as a women, not having too much weight on you to lose, 1 lb can be painful and disgusting to drop. You have to do what you have to do right…

Water loading prior to the dehydration phase is very important. This helps get the water out easier, along with water pills, dandelion root, and magnesium citrate supplement to help extract the water. Steam rooms, and low intensity cardio for the sweat, but be careful to not expend too much energy at a higher intensity as you will need this to recover.

When cutting, do ask yourself, do I need to do this, is it necessary? If you are competing to compete, to get more experience, then I suggest not cutting weight, not only does it take a physically toll on the body, it is stressful and mentally exhausting as well. If you are looking to break records, or hit a certain lift at a different weight class, then sure, do what you got to do, but do prepare yourself for a challenge, a very tough challenge.

When refueling and rehydrating try to avoid going all out and scarfing down as much food as you can immediately as this is not the best way to go about it. First and foremost, your body needs to rehydrate so get some water, sodium, and electrolytes back in. The first thing I have is Pedialyte. This allows me to have a great start to the rehydration process. This process can easily be done wrong. I myself have taken the route of stacks of pancakes, steaks and omelets, hash browns and whatever else I could “uncomfortable” get in my body to try to get the energy and strength back up. Sodium and water is the first priority, then gradually get food back in.  Don’t get me wrong, go and eat a good amount of food, but I don’t suggest getting terrible full like at Thanksgiving. Your body has just been through a massive depletion and needs time to process what you are putting back in so everything will starting functioning (digestive system) as it should. Be smart, be passionate, and only cut if necessary.

Risk Vs. Reward

Reward

  • Being more competitive at a lower weight
  • Better chance of breaking records or placing on top
  • Putting weight back on after weigh in (weigh more than your competition= stronger)
  • Qualifying for bigger competitions

Risk

  • Losing strength
  • Not recovering well enough from water cut (if part of your personal process)
  • Possible psychological effects on the brain due to severe dehydration (i.e. depression, mood swing, aggression etc.)
  • Physiological effect on the body (Reduced blood volume, heart must work harder to supply oxygenated blood,
  • “Dehydration results in reduced muscle blood flow, waste removal, and heat dissipation, all of which are necessary for sustained, high power muscle action in events such as boxing and judo.” (Armstrong, 1992, p.29)
  • Feeling like crap during the entire dehydrating process

-Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project

Keeping the Fire Ablaze

As a fitness professional, I spend a lot of time in the gym.  It can be a wonder of how someone such as myself could keep up a high motivation for training myself and others.  After working with clients all day and spending most of the day inside the gym, motivation does not come easy.  I have learned a few things over the years that have helped me to continue to drive myself to train as hard as I need to and to push my clients in the same way.

For the fitness professional

  • Find a different gym to train at other than where you work.

If you work in a gym, chances are most people know you and feel comfortable enough to approach you whenever they see you “available” in their eyes.  This is a good thing for business but it can be a problem when it comes to your personal workouts.  I suggest that you get the heck out of there whenever you can and train at a different gym.  Being unknown or at least keeping to yourself is sometimes necessary to get the work in that you need and to keep your focus during your training sessions.

  • Plan your schedule wisely

One of the greatest things about working as a personal trainer is the freedom to manage your own schedule.  Conversely, one of the worst things is that your schedule is at the mercy of your clients.  This often leads to trainers working split shifts.  Many trainers can manage the split shift just fine but it does take some planning ahead to pull it off successfully.

Be sure to prioritize yourself into your schedule setting boundaries of when you are “available to clients” and “unavailable to clients.”  This includes limiting the extra-early morning clients and the late-night clients that turn a 10-12 hour day into a 14 hour day.  Plan your shifts so that you can provide an honest quality service to all of your clients and to get in your own quality training sessions throughout the week.

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For the competitor

  • Find a gym that supports your sport/style of training

This should be a big priority for those who are serious about their training.  It is hard to improve your deadlift in a gym that doesn’t allow chalk, doesn’t have bumper plates, and frowns upon loud crashing weights.  It is also helpful to get in an environment with like-minded people and people that are stronger than you.  You might be the biggest fish in the pond but there is always the ocean.

  • Remember that your competition may out-train you… if you let them

While you may want to take a day off or only push yourself so far, just remember that you are giving your competition the chance to out-train you.

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For the general public

  • Establish a few realistic, specific, and time sensitive goals

Goals are important.  More precisely, specific goals are important.  They provide your training with purpose and help to establish a means to measure progress; both of which are motivating.  Training with purpose and recognizing (and celebrating) progress is a good way to keep motivation alive.

  • Find your “Fitness Identity”

Finding a fitness identity can be tricky for some but once you have it, it does wonders for motivating your training.  A fitness identity is a trait that one can identify with that is related to fitness.  An example of this would be associating an activity, such as running, to an individual.  “I run often, therefore, I am a runner,” or “I train to improve my total, therefore, I am a powerlifter.”

Once a fitness identity is established, training purpose is established or reinforced and you may find that other aspects such as nutrition and lifestyle choices may coincide more with the new found fitness identity.

To summarize, your training needs to be a priority if you truly want to reach your goals.  As Adrian Larsen would say, “Good things come to those who wait… go out and f*cking earn it!”

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project

Lone Wolf or Dynamic Duo?

All the best superheroes have a partner, a team mate. No one rides alone successful. The greatest success’ and accomplishments are those that are usually shared.

It has always been said, two (muscle) heads are better than one.

Protection, safety, rescuer. All is fun until you get stuck under a weight. Its never fun to be “that guy/gal” who tries to PR on their own, or feels cocky under a heavy weight and all of a sudden that weight is a bit more than expected. No partner, no one to help move that weight up or off you, so you become “that guy/gal” screaming for help while pinned under a barbell. You don’t want to be remembered in the gym for being rescued. It happens more frequently that it should. This won’t happen with a training partner (given the partner is experienced enough to spot properly).

When spotting, know what your partner likes and dislikes in a spot. Knowing your lifter’s preferences could be key to their lift being successful. A bad spot can ruin a potential PR or just an entire set alone. Talk to your partner figure out what cues help them and what spotting technique works for them. More importantly, always be prepared. If a lift goes wrong, that person is relying on your to bail them out. Be ready for anything. Eyes open and focused on them. Period.

Accountability. Hands down the most valuable component of having a training partner is accountability. How many people have hit there snooze button on a planned early morning training session?  It is too easy to make excuses; staying in a warm, cozy bed for longer, stayed up too late last night, too hungry to get ready in time to train, next thing you know you have to get on with the rest of your day.  Evening training sessions can be just as difficult to make; too tired from the day, dinner was too heavy, etc.  Next thing you know… damn a workout is missed.

It can get way too easy to miss a workout. Maybe you’re in a bad mood, low on energy, would rather watch Sons of Anarchy, whatever the excuse, chances are if you know someone is waiting for you at a given time, you’re going to show. Work out will be complete. One step closer to those goals.

Results:  When training with a partner you are more inclined to pick up the training intensity. Again, if you have the right training partner, who does not slack off or leave you hanging. We all want results, to reach our goals, to lift and train with purpose. It’s much easier to let yourself down than to let another person down. If someone is expecting you to be there to train, you’ll show up, work hard, accomplish the day’s training program, and therefore lead you to key results.

Time-saver: Having a training partner can really eliminate time not only spent in the gym, but during working sets, rest periods etc. A lot of people may not realize how much time can be wasted setting up equipment, racks, getting gear ready etc. Having someone to help move this proves along quickly can make all the difference in a workout when you’re in a good groove and flow.

Notice Technique Flaws: We don’t always know how we look when we are lifting. A lot of the time we focus on moving that weight and if we finish the lift, we will feel accomplished. Well, form, technique, cuing; all crucial to gains, success, progress, and injury prevention. It’s important to have a set of eyes watch the things you can’t see. Maybe your knees are buckling in during a squat, or back breaks a little in a certain part of a deadlift, or your elbows are flaring too much during a bench press. It feels great to you, but that lift could have moved much smoother by fixing the things you don’t notice. Partners give you the eyes you need when you “can’t see”.

Encouragment. Training alone: “I missed my lift, I’m pissed and feel like a weak piece of garbage”. This can ruin your day. That weight should have flown up. “I’m not strong enough, I lost my strength, and I thought I was better than that.”

So easily we put ourselves down, become these self-loathing individuals, the Debby-downers, the negative-Nellys. When you’re just not feeling like superman and more like the garbage man, you need to hear some words of encouragement. Training partner: “You got this Bro. take a moment, re-group, and hit it again.  Today might not be the best day. There’s still tomorrow, and the next time. This is one day. You’ve lifted it before. You work hard, you’re a freaking bad-ass. It’s a bad lift, it happens. You got it next time.”

Instead of walking out of the gym completely defeated by a bad lifting day (we all have them, it’s normal) A training partner can at least make you feel a little bit better, and that little bit can go a long way. Keep on encouraging and motivated your team mate. It’s important. DO NOT LET THEM FALL TRAP TO INTERNAL EXECUTION. Wah. Bad day. Head up bad ass. Not only for missed lifts, but for praise when you hit a PR. It is nice to get recognized for that, maybe a high 5, a slap on the ass, a chest bump. HA. Whatever it is, it’s always nice not to share the experience of success and gain alone.

Afraid to increase the weight? Think you’ll miss it? Partners are there to push you, keeping your mind in the game, mentality is huge when lifting and gaining. You need to keep the positivity there and having a partner there to reinforce the positive thoughts can be night or day difference in the gym.

Right kind of training partner. The right training partner is someone that shares your vision. This person is driven and dedicated to the same level as you. He or she is not flaky, nor is he or she training for a completely different sport or goal. Someone training for a marathon would not make the best training partner for a powerlifting or vice versa, even if they were best friends or husband and wife. The goals must be the same or similar. Gender should not matter. Sometimes training with the opposite sex can actually be better. Who doesn’t like to impress the opposite sex and work hard, and show off a little?

A great partner is someone you feel can push you, motivate you, and excite you to lift. A training partner who comes to the gym, not prepared, bad mood, constantly complaining, or never following through with the planned workout, etc., would not make an ideal workout/ training partner. If your current training partner is not helping you reach your goals, then now is the time to reevaluate what you want in a partner. It’s not selfish to “fire” your training partner if it’s not working out well. You will never accomplish or be successful with your goals if you let someone take you away from achieving them. What is selfish about following your dreams and reaching your goals? Nothing. So say bye-bye to the bad partner and get a new one. IT IS WORTH IT. If you want a good reliable partner you need to pay the same respect to that person. Show up, be ready, be motivating, be open minded, and be a teammate. HAVE FUN!!!

Check out these training buddies. Now this would be an ideal training session 😉

-Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project

Breaking through Mental Blocks

You can be your own worst enemy when it comes to training.  Hitting new PR’s can be more of a mental game than it is physical strength.  Try these three strategies the next time you gear up to set a personal record.

Visualization

There is a saying that “on competition day, a champion athlete has already completed his/her task 1,000 times over in the mind.”  I’m not entirely sure who said it but it speaks truth.  Repeatedly visualizing every step that needs to take place in order for you to complete a lift will do wonders for your nerves when you actually attempt the lift.  Mental practice is key to continuing to see success.  Many of times, our worst habits will surface when the weight gets heavy enough.  This is one strategy to gain more focus and eliminate the mental clutter when you attempt your next PR lift.

Change your Warm-up Sets

I can almost guarantee that you have done the same weights in your warm-up sets leading to the top weight for the past few months.  Am I wrong?

Try changing up your loading pattern for your next workout.  Instead of going up by the same plate increments each time, try making different jumps up in weight for each set.  For example, instead of going from 135lbs to 185lbs, skip 185 and go to 195.  This works well in your first few warm-up sets because taking a bigger jump has less of an impact on your overall performance.  You might find that you can move some weights easier because you haven’t exhausted yourself too much on the lighter sets.

You might even try playing around with more or less sets with fewer reps working your way up in weight.  The point of warm-up sets is to prepare the body for the heavier weight NOT to fatigue you before you get there.

Blind Sets

If you have a training partner that you trust and that knows your strength well, have them choose your weights for you for your next work out.  Try your best not to add-up what is on the bar and just lift it.  In this way, you can cut out all of the mind games that you play on yourself when attacking a certain weight.  There will be no expectations only assumptions as to how that weight may feel.  You might find yourself lifting a weight you have never lifted before and assume that it is lighter than it truly is.

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project

You Cannot Do it Alone

If you were looking to start your own business, would you take the risk of doing it all yourself?  No, at least I hope not.  You would seek out the advice of someone who has a successful business, and possibly an attorney, banker, and maybe even a contractor.  Why should your approach to your personal health and fitness goals be any different?

The point of seeking out a good coach or mentor is to gain from their knowledge and experience in order to help you be more successful with your goals.  You will learn from their mistakes, saving you the time of figuring it out yourself, accelerating your progress.  Here are a few more reasons that you should seek out a good coach:

Passion for what they do:

Most of the trainers and coaches that I know never stop learning.  The day you stop learning is the day you lost your passion.  The live what they preach.  A quality coach is constantly pushing themselves to improve whether it be with their knowledge, skill-set, and their own personal fitness.  You will benefit from all of the extra hours that a quality coach puts into his or her craft.  Honing their craft is a high priority of good coach.

Different from your training partner:

An argument could be made that a good training partner would suffice in place of a coach.  A good training partner is important but there are additional benefits to hiring a coach as well.  A training partner can be great for accountability, pushing the intensity, spotting your lifts, etc. but more than likely you and your training partner train together because you train similarly.  It can benefit you both to seek out guidance on your training, technique, exercise programming, etc.

People of all skill levels can benefit:

Have you ever noticed that even in individual sports such as MMA, the fighter will have an entire coaching staff behind them?  Anyone from beginner to elite athletes can benefit from coaching.  An additional set of eyes that can spot holes in your game or technique is valuable to anyone.  Depending on your goals, you should seek out a coach than can elevate you to that next level, whatever that may be.

-Dan

As seen on The Alpha Project titled “Why you Should Hire a Great Coach”

Reduce and Prevent Shoulder Pain

Poor posture combined with heavy lifting and poor exercise programming (or lack of any programming) can wreak havoc on the shoulders.  If you find yourself with achy shoulders or care enough to keep them healthy, then keep reading.  Here are three tips that you can do to help reduce and prevent shoulder pain from occurring.

It’s advisable to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program and even more important if you currently suffer from shoulder pain.

  1. Improve Your Posture– Most of us sit for hours each day with hunched shoulders and rounded backs. This not only has a negative long term impact on the spine, but it also affects the shoulders and surrounding muscles. Continuously putting your body in a poor position, such as hunched over a computer screen for hours on end can lead to tightness and shortening of the pectoral muscles. This can lead to muscular imbalances and increase the risk of injury.

Do this: Make a conscious effort to improve your posture throughout the day. Sit up tall, pull your shoulders back, and sit in the back of your chair. To develop this habit, set a simple calendar reminder for every two hours during your work day.

  1. Improve Thoracic Mobility– The thoracic spine is the middle section of the spine that is attached to the ribs. Having poor movement in this area will often affect the available range of motion for the shoulder. Try this: slump your shoulders forward like you just heard some very depressing news and then try to lift your arms overhead. Didn’t work too well? Now try standing up tall with a proud chest and lift your arms overhead. See the difference?

Do this: Improve muscle tissue quality through foam rolling and soft tissue work (maybe even a massage).  Focus these efforts on the mid-back. Be sure to also target the chest and lat muscles of the back. Then work on improving the range of motion in the thoracic spine through stretching and mobility drills. These can serve as part of warm-up before a workout or can be done by themselves throughout the day.

  1. Strengthen Shoulder Muscles– In order to counteract poor posture habits and tightness in the front of the shoulder, most people can benefit from strengthening the muscles on the posterior, or backside, of the body rather than the anterior, or front, of the body.

Do this: Organize your workouts so that for every anterior-focused exercise you perform (e.g. any type of press), you also perform two posterior-focused exercises (e.g. any pulling or rowing motion). Also, spend time developing the smaller, deep muscles of the rotator cuff. Simple exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff require only a band or light weight.

See a knowledgeable fitness professional to learn more and design a workout program to fit your needs. If you experience chronic shoulder pain or have an injury, visit a physical therapist for a thorough evaluation.

-Dan

Training with Strength Bands – Beyond Speed Work

A good pair of strength bands can be a very useful and portable tool for anyone in the gym.  If your gym doesn’t have these readily available, I would suggest purchasing a set and carrying them with you to the weight room.  The most common uses for strength bands in the fitness world are for speed work by applying them to a barbell (variable or accommodative resistance methods) and mobility drills (joint traction and distraction).  There are plenty of other ways to utilize a set of strength bands.  Below are just a few of the ways in which I commonly use bands in my own training or with clients that I work with.

 

Band Over-and-back Chest Stretch

Using a band instead of PVC pipe for this warm-up allows some “give” for those that need it.  You can also pull against the band better than you can against a PVC pipe.  I will utilize this as a warm-up or occasionally in between sets of heavy pressing.

 

Band Single Arm Chest Press

This drill is great for teaching tightness in a bench press.  The band, when tucked under the arm, provides a good feel of how your shoulder position should be during a bench press.  Use this as an instructional drill and as a warm-up for pressing.

 

Band Chest Press and Band Pushup

This drill works well as another bench press warm-up and for some a good strength exercise.  For a more advanced version, try bringing down into a pushup.

 

Band Overhead Triceps Extension

This works well for those with cranky elbows and tight chest and shoulders.  Also another good heavy pressing warm-up.

 

Band Triceps Pressdown

A great way to burn out your triceps with burning out your elbows.  Those with elbow pain will appreciate band work as it can be easier on the joints.

 

Band Pull Apart

This is one of my favorite drills.  I’ll use it to warm-up before heavy presses and in between heavy presses.  It is a great exercise to work the rear shoulders and mid to upper back.

 

Band 45-degree Hip Extension

This is great variation to the 45-degree hip extension or low back extension.  With the constant and increased tension at the top of the movement with the bands, you can focus on feeling the hips drive the movement.  I try to mimic a deadlift lockout at the top of this exercise, locking out the hips and avoiding too much extension or “hyperextension” of the hips and low back.

Band Deadlift

This has to be one of my current favorites for teaching someone how to deadlift.  The bands are unloaded in the bottom making it safe to perform for virtually anybody.  The increase in band resistance at the top can help an athlete “feel-out” the muscles that drive the movement.  This way, when the athlete transitions to barbell deadlifts, they can have a focus of what muscles to fire to drive the movement from.

I also like the bands for warming up my deadlift and to work on a light speed set in between heavy sets.

Band Ab Pull-ins

One of my favorite ab training exercises.  I like that this variation is done standing; just as in the squat and deadlift.  Note here that the goal is flex the abs and not the hip flexors.  This will create a rounding in the back, the hips should stay fairly still.  I will work this with my breathing; exhale and tighten up as much as I can at the bottom of the movement.

 

Band Assisted Pullups

This method is quite common and it is likely that you have seen this before.  I prefer this method for people over using the assisted pull-up machines with the counter balance weight.  The bands provide the feet to move more freely than the machines and the assistance decreases towards the top of the movement requiring more strength to finish the movement.

-Dan and Tasha

As seen on The Alpha Project