Summer Review – What Matters In Training

8A79A6CC-3EF1-4773-86BE-DBE8CC36D411I recently came across a video of a coach romping around a massive high school stadium. His head was forward, neck veins popping, arms flailing, demanding the best effort from his athletes. Later, I saw a peppy personal trainer dressed in much tighter clothing than I’ve ever worn, bounce around a state-of-the-art gym while blabbing motivation and no-pain-no-gain.

These gave me a slight sinking feeling. Then I remembered How It Actually Is.

I chose to spend a significant portion of my life at Full Reps Training Center and in my basement and backyard helping a hand full of like-minded athletes, young and old. I drive a 2004 Mid Size SUV, do what I love for a living, and get to spend a reasonable amount of time with my family.

So many choices…

Over the past several weeks, many if not most of the athlete who regularly train with or around me have broken through barriers.

They have achieved new heights of throwing velocity on the radar gun, pushing into the 80- and 90-mph range. Throwing in the 80s is a big deal when you’re an adolescent. Hitting the 90’s even more so, at any age, when you’ve sat in the mid 80’s for years. Any improvement that can be attributed to the “natural adolescent growth spurt” has long dried up.

My athletes have become stronger than ever. The baseball guys know what it really means to do 20-reps squats. I have a handful of 14-year old female soccer players that easily press 80 lbs overhead and can bring nearly twice their bodyweight off the ground.

Most of the crew has lowered their 40-yard dash by 2- to 3/10ths of a second. They explode out of the gate, run with powerful pushes and improved stride frequency, and lay on the effort without their form falling apart.

Most of them work with me only twice per week; three times per week at most. Sure, they also practice, play and train on other days within their sport. But all of them were away playing in games or on vacationing for some period over the summer.

How did all of these athletes transform their bodies and performance -despite- these interruptions to their training time?

And where was the yelling and arm waving?  Where were the “ass whoopings,”  the nasty attitude  in their face, pushing high intensity all-out 120% all out effort? Sure, we push hard at times. I’ve been told that I have a skewed sense how much weight a human can push and pull and lift. But we pick our battles. Where were the daily epic workouts that leave them rolling on the floor fearful and nauseous?

Any half-rate inexperienced trainer can come up with a “workout” that leaves you in a heap on the floor. But we’re primarily after PROGRESS. Progress in training is often challenging and sometimes boring, but not often crushing.

How in the world did they show up for the workout without the peppy and/or high-strung trainer and strength coach to motivate them?

I know how. I know -exactly- how. And it wasn’t just the killer playlist! : )

All

these

gains…

despite only working with me a few times per week, having typical summer interruptions, and not having a high-strung or over-the-top fitness caricature to guide them.

  • Expectations: The athletes -knew- from the beginning, that it was on them. It was never my job to motivate them. Sure, I speak up and get excited when it’s called for. But I never play televangelist or cheerleader or army sergeant. Boot camp is now the industry standard. Why did those in the sports performance and health/fitness industry ever think it was appropriate to treat -everyone- like they are dealing in the literal life-or-death situations of the military? Gaining velocity or running speed or strength and winning games and losing fat is most definitely not “Do it correctly as a unit or you and your comrades actually die.”
  • Sweat is good; knowledge is better: I always thought that it would be a shame to just provide “workouts.” Trainers and physical therapists who truly want to help usually go out of their way to educate rather than just provide exercises.
    • “This is challenging yet reasonable progress in weight on the bar.”
    • “This is the rhythm of work and rest and recovery.”
    • “This is what your squat form should look like, and you can use these cues and corrective exercises to eventually make it easier.”
    • “Progress is not linear…nonlinearity.  Sometimes you push aggressively. But other times you get the moderate or low intensity work in because it’s essential to setting up the next push.” You accept that you are human and sometimes life deals you a tough run, sometimes you just feel flat or over- or C0DAC487-3601-4B3B-9416-3F3133A5E856under-worked.
    • You listen to those who have gone before you. But also to your own body.”
  • Inspiration comes first: Sure, I help them improve by identifying the root of the problem behind weak and painful areas. I provide some basic gear, training protocols, and culture to train in and with. But more than any of that, they are inspired to own it, keep at it over the long haul, and create margin – time to get the work in. The discomfort is tuff but reasonable and worth it. I love  to see someone who I have not worked with in weeks or months come back and crush their personal records. We learn something together, including what they have been up to. Personal records don’t just happen.

I know they were inspired to move and improve because many of them straight-up told me. And I’m truly grateful.

So…how was your summer?

Bicep Truths

The title isolates biceps because guys be lovin’ them some bicep training. Among bro-sciency meat head weight routines, training for ginormous, mountainy biceps comes in second place only to chest training. The old “Chest and Bis” is the Monday of every bro worth his weight in protein canisters.

Somehow, this trait is passed down through the generations. Most of the young guys I deal with STILL want to include loads of bicep curls. So to connect with them, I’m going to attempt to communicate in their style.

Biceps are always small. An entire training day, devoted to THIS??

 

Truth is…

biceps-3
Even this guy has small biceps.

Your biceps are small. And that’s okay. Technically, the biceps are ALWAYS small. The triceps and the brachialis muscle deep to the biceps are what really fills out the arm.

Hitting your biceps with 3 sets of 5 variations of bicep curls is complete overkill. I don’t care what you read about long versus short head of the biceps, we are talking about a VERY small amount of tissue here. I assume that you’re already performing heavy rowing type movements (chin-ups, lawn mower rows, etc) and exercises involving gripping. If you want to grow and get better, you probably should be doing another set of deadlifts, squats, or farmer walks (loaded carries).

Truth is…

Having huge biceps truly does not impress most ladies. Most of us should be working on our ability to pay attention, our sense of humor and humility FAR more than our biceps.

Truth is…

You probably don’t really want huge biceps anyway. As an athlete, having strong arms is important, but having huge arms (or huge anything) can work against you. If you are interested in moving body segments or your entire body with speed and precision, you want peak power, not peak size. I challenge you to show me one fast and spry athlete with huge calves or arms.

Arnold will always be the aesthetic ideal to men. He could out-lift you. But you could probably easily beat him in a race to the water fountain.biceps-2

Truth is…

It’s okay to train your biceps. Just don’t over-do it, because you (hopefully) hit your arms with heavy back and grip type work. Throw in two to three sets of direct bicep work toward the end of the workout.

You want in on a little bicep secret?

If you DO want size and strength added to your arms, (whispers) bend…your…elbows. Yeah, imagine that. Bicep curls!  Take the arm from a straight to a bent position. Add weight. Quit messing around with 30 lb dumbbells and add some weight just like you would any other exercise. See the video at the end for a stunning performance of this highly technical [sarcastic] move.

You want to train biceps?

“Okay then here ya go.”

I invented the “Bicep Curl 3-Step” to break out for the occasion that an athlete repeatedly asks about training their arms.

Fine. Do some bicep curls. While walking with a heavy weight ; )

Jake here was not pestering me about bicep training. But for demonstration purposes…

With this exercise, it is obvious to the athlete that he’s “hitting” the bis. Curling the weight every third step effectively causes the athlete to perform the lift on alternate legs, balancing out the intense stress through the core and lower body.

So you STILL feel like you need to train biceps?

Here are a few of my favorite things that hammer the biceps. Try them-try them-you will see. Check the video for some bicep training that is actually worthwhile and seriously beneficial to developing a complete athlete.

 

Hell Week Survival Guide: Does standing tall help recovery?

tired sprints

 

This time of year finds nearly every athlete being pushed and tested by their coaches. There is nausea, gasping of humid August air, and bent over stances under blistering sun.

Tis the season! Hell Week is fine and well, to an extent. Team sport athletes need to bond and gain mental toughness. For coaches, interviews and tryouts provide little of the insight or natural selection process that comes respiration3from a few gut-busting conditioning workouts. Severe shock to the system can usually be minimized with a little off season training.

But here we examine the point in time immediately after the sprint, when the coach leans in to a small sea of dazed athletes and starts talking.

I’ve been there on more than a few occasions, utterly exhausted, trying to get my life together, when the coach delivers a nugget of inspirational advice or a scatterbrained diatribe. I’ve heard both. But one bit of barking from a particular coach stands out.

“Get your hands off your knees and stand up.”

“Stand up and breath, ya bunch of pansies.”

Yes, coach Painter repeatedly referenced pansies and advised rode us regarding standing tall when trying to recovery from strenuous activity. I’ve heard variations of this, minus the pansies, repeated by a handful of other coaches in the years since. Nobody ever questioned it. Does standing tall during recovery really achieve anything?respiration2

To say that recovering tall may score you a psychological victory over the opponent is one thing.  Feeling exhausted in a late-game situation and looking up to see the opponents showing no signs of fatigue can be mentally defeating. But what about the claim that standing upright is better for recovery because you can take in more air than leaning over?

It’s time for a lesson from Anatomy & Physiology 101.

The primary muscles of breathing (respiration) are the diaphragm, the internal intercostals, and the external intercostals. These muscle are active when you are resting and under light exertion. Some physical therapists and trainers go into great detail regarding the effects of spine position on the diaphragm, and this is true to a degree. But the leverage of the primary respiration muscles changes minimally with acute changes in torso position.

The accessory muscles of breathing do not play a significant role during normal breathing. These muscles around the upper neck and chest wall help move us around and generate significant forces on the neck, shoulder, and scapula. But when the neck, shoulder, and scapula are fixed, as when standing leaning forwardrespiration1 with hands on knees, these muscles essentially reverse their function, pulling the clavicle and ribs up- and outward. Viola, greater rib cage expansion and greater volume of air entering the lungs.

Side note: People with emphysema and other diseases of respiratory distress often sit and stand with hands planted on their thighs or a table. They naturally assume a posture that is most efficient for their struggling lung capacity.

The bottom line is that standing upright to recover offers no special physical benefits. When your legs are spent, it feels good to take a portion of your bodyweight through your arms. In fact, as compared to leaning forward, standing upright may effect a slight decrease in recovery and performance for the next physical effort. Coaches should consider, at least at times, allowing athletes to choose how they recovery. Slump, kneel, or lay down…let performance do the talking.

“I don’t care how you recover, let’s see who can complete a 3rd or 4th line drill in under 26 seconds.”

I have no doubt that coach Painter meant well. As much as I would like to go back and hand him a textbook or bouquet, I should also thank him. If you’re a team sport athlete, simply do as the coach says (within reason.) Stand on your head between sprints if he or she tells you to, with the understanding that optimal physical recovery may not be the main point.

 

Is Specializing in One Sport a Bad Idea?

“You must play only one sport.”
“You cannot play only one sport.”
 What a difference one word makes! The first statement implies that the athlete must specialize and do nothing else. The secsingle sportond statement indicates that playing only one sport is not allowed. Both statement are heading the wrong direction.
It is easy to look down upon the parent or coach who highly encourages demands that an athlete devote their life to one sport. And rightly so. We know that specializing in one sport too early can be problematic in terms of health, and potentially adverse to their ultimate peak performance (see footnote below).  This is especially the case when the child or young adult has a desire to participate in something else. Childhood is short. Life is short. Kids can and should be encouraged to do what is healthy and fun for them. Anyone who demands that someone play exclusively one sport is off the mark and in serious want of perspective.
It has become common to criticize all single sport athletes in a similar vein. But what about the serious athlete who does not want to play another sport? Now more than ever, parents and athletes are asking for one year-round sport. If an organization does not offer it, they travel elsewhere, presumably to a place that takes the sport “more seriously.”
But what if truly respecting the total athlete, including their health and recovery, will ultimately help them reach the highest level in their *focus* sport?
“Club X doesn’t play year-round, they must not be too serious.”
Needs to be changed to…
“Club X doesn’t play year-round, they must be seriously smart.”
It is ideal for a young single sport athlete to play something else as well. Taking life in seasons, with a mental and physical shift, is a good thing for anyone. A break will do wonders for perspective and physical ability. Or, to put it in more marketable terms;
 What if gaining The Edge has to do with staying active but shifting gears, experiencing a different role (possibly not the star), and generally having a rhythm to the year? I keep saying that the next “Big Thing” in sports performance is to truly, like REALLY, optimize and respect recovery rather than just giving it lip service.
But let’s say the child, carrow not linearoach, or parent is still not convinced of the value of another activity. Do we strong-arm them into it? No way! Being a single sport athlete can be done poorly and can be done well. Single-sport athlete done poorly looks like playing with intensity 4 seasons per year. Leagues, tournaments, showcases, you-name-it, YES to all’ve it. Let’s fire it up and be perpetually ahead! And if there is a week off, let’s train twice per day, three, no, four times as hard!
Again, going hard in one sport year-round is not ideal. It increases the likelihood of injury and by no means guarantees a better athlete. A component of dominating may indeed be taking a (relative) break from that sport. Ironically, Single-sport athlete done poorly may also look like sitting around for three months playing X-box. Both of these extremes result in sub-optimal performance at best.
So to answer the question, specializing in one sport is not a bad idea, so long as it’s done well. Single Sport Athlete Done Well involves:
 -Identifying a peak season or event(s) and planning a build-up to it
 -Paying great respect to the stress-recovery process
-Acknowledging that being a single-sport athlete can be an advantage (more skill work and experience) so long as there are seasons of low physical and psychological stress.
 -Focusing on moderate-intensity deliberate skill practice in the off season.
 -Filling the off seasons with ancillary activities that specifically match the needs of the athlete to the demands of the sport. May I suggest a focus on targeted resistance training and conditioning as your “off season sport?”
An example:
My sons have caught soccer fever. The free time once reserved for fishing, basketball, flag football, biking, swimming, or practicing flips in the back yard is now ALL filled with juggling, playing small-sided games, arguing about small-sided games, soccer practices, and actual league games.
 If they wish to play only soccer, I will attempt to sporadically distract them with many serious and structured training techniques such as mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and obstacle courses. Later I will encourage them to hit the weights with methods that specifically support soccer.
In summary, single sport athletes need to understand the process of consistent effort and recovery.
They need to understand specific ways that they can improve at their sport for each day and season without playing the sport each day and season.
They need to learn the value of training to build resiliency, improve movement efficiency, and work on weak areas, but without involving the exact same physical stresses of the sport.
They need reminders and perspective to keep having fun, enjoying the process of working toward a greater end, and building life skills that transfer beyond the field.

Risks of being a single-sport athlete (presumably) DONE POORLY

Adult Inactivity: A study by Ohio State University found that children who specialized early in a single sport led to higher rates of adult physical inactivity. Those who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.

Overuse Injury: In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!

Burnout: Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment.