Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Abdominal Training

It’s doesn’t matter what fitness program you decide to try, when someone walks into your facility the first thing most people want are 6-pack abs.  Most, if not all, people want the “beach body” and nothing says “beach body” like sculpted abs.  Walk through a shopping mall or food market and as you approach the register you will find a Men’s Fitness magazine or a Cosmo magazine stating some trainer has found the secret to gaining 6-pack abs in four to six weeks.  Anyone worth their weight in strength and conditioning knows the value of training the core, but for what purpose are you training?  What is core training?  What is the best way to train the core?  Training the core is one of the most elusive and misunderstood methods of all training.  
What if I told you that judging 6-pack abs is probably the worst way to tell if someone has a strong core?  6-pack abs mean you have a good diet or good genes.  Training your core is much more than training just the abdominals.  There are many muscles that comprise your core (psoas, iliacus, quadratus lumborum, and your rectus abdominis) when training these muscles, we are training the core as an entire system, rather than a simple muscle.  When it comes to strengthening the core, lying in the supine (on your back) is one of the worst ways to train. Let’s dive into this.  For years we have been taught that sit-ups or crunches are great for strengthening your muscles.  Hell, when I was in the army we would do sit ups and leg raises in hopes to get good abdominal strength for a physical training (PT) test.  Here is the problem: when we want to increase leg strength we do squats with weight, or when we want to increase arm strength we do curls with weights but when we want abdominal strength we don’t use weights.  When you do body weight exercises we are working on local muscular endurance but not strength.  In order to build strength we must use weights.  Another factor is the abdominals are only concentrically contracting for about 30 degrees above parallel when doing a sit-up, above that 30 degrees they are isometrically contracting and the hip flexors are doing the rest of the work.  So, if we are doing sit-ups and going to 90 degrees, the hip flexors are actually doing majority of the work.  The best way to strengthen your core is to do standing work.  Power cleans, power snatches, weighted squats, and land mines are all better ways to strengthen your core, especially since the majority of strength sports require you to do your work in the standing position.  If you are on your back, you are usually losing.  In a Russian study during EMG analysis scientists learned that doing bent knee sit ups, which is the way most do sit ups,  can have serious consequences on athletes needing dynamic range of motion of the hip flexors.  Anyone who has ever done 2 minutes of max sit ups and then go into a 2-mile run can attest to this.  The first 400-800 meters are usually spent loosening up your hip flexors that were beat up during the sit ups event.  When we do sit-ups we are doing local muscular endurance, not working on muscular strength.  Another common misconception in the military is leg raises or flutter kicks increase abdominal strength.  Again, the focus is on local muscular endurance and if that’s what you are after then great, but they don’t work on strength since the abdominals do not cross the pelvis- they are only held isometrically.  The psoas muscle does cross the pelvis and you can strengthen that muscle with leg raises but word of caution: since the psoas does attach to the lower back, it puts a great amount of stress on the lower back.  There are better ways to attack that muscle, as described above.  In the CrossFit world we love our GHD sit ups and they are great for powerful hip flexion but just like in sit ups the abdominals are mostly held isometrically and it’s more of an exercise on the hip flexors and the glutes and hamstrings.  When training the core always know what you are training whether it be strength or muscle endurance and don’t fall into the trap thinking that exercises on your back will be better than the standing exercises.  
Speaking of the training of abdominals, let’s talk about weight belts.  This seems to be the first thing people want to buy.  Weight belts were not designed to support your lower back.  They are a proprioceptive tool designed so you can properly brace your core.  Am I saying that weight belts are bad? Absolutely not.  But know how to use it.  When you wear a belt you want to take a deep breath in through your diaphragm and push your belly into the belt.  This intra-abdominal pressure is used to brace your lumbar.  The physical belt itself does not support your back.  My problem with belts is it gives people a false sense of security that their back will be protected just because they are wearing a belt.  
Abdominal training is obviously very important and should be an integral part in any fitness program.  The commercial gym industry has come up with everything under the sun to sell many myths to the general public, putting people with great abs on their packaging to show how great their new great program is.  Remember 6-pack abs generally mean you have either good genes or a great diet as abdominal strength is not always synonymous with aesthetics.  Don’t just train your “abdominals” but address the core as an entire system! 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Strength Training for Running

     One of the best courses I have ever attended was the CrossFit Endurance seminar (I hate when people call them “certifications” but that’s for another time). The basis of the course teaches the foundations of teaching the CrossFit endurance methodology to others.  Brian McKenzie is one of the greatest fitness minds I have ever had the privilege of listening to.  We go over nutrition, running technique, and strength and conditioning.  When we leave the course, it’s common to see people working on their “pose running” technique as well as digging into their macros and dialing in their nutrition and that’s all fine and good but there is something missing.  The less common things to see is people working on the strength side of their running.  Contrary to popular belief strength is a critical side to being a better runner.  
     As a strength a conditioning coach in a military town I am routinely asked to help people prepare for assessments and selections or military schools and I always ask what they need to work on and it’s always the same thing, “Matt I need to work on my running”.   The problem with this idea is running is such a broad term.  Do you need to work on your distance running or short sprints?  Do you have trouble with cardiovascular endurance or muscle endurance?  You have to know what your wink link is before we can go into devising a plan to address the issue.  Now I can go into the cardiovascular endurance in another article but I’ll say this and every real runner will agree the 2 mile run is a sprint, it is not an endurance event.  With that said we have to train military athletes to be sprinters,  not long distance runners!  
     So how do we train like sprinters.  Well let’s first state a fact, running is the most dangerous sport on the planet.  More injuries are caused by running than any other sport out there.  Now we can argue all day about why that is,  the overuse of cushioned running shoes, lack of proper warm up, or just the simple fact that more people run than play football or baseball.  One of the main ways we can get rid of these running injuries is by increasing our use of strength exercises in the running world.  Another great fitness mind once said, “you want to be better at deadlifts, don’t deadlift!” Now you have to understand the context but the principle can be applied to running.  When I see many people want to be better at running their 2 mile, they they increase their volume and inevitable get injured.  My suggestion is to find your wink link in your chain and strengthen the muscles in your legs to increase your sprint times.  Let’s take a 400m sprint for example (remember 2 miles is a sprint).  What I would suggest is sled dragging for time, not running with the sled as running with a sled distorts running form.  Let’s say I want to bring my 400m sprint from 2:00 to 1:50, what I would do is drag a heavy sled for 1 minute and 50 seconds for several intervals.  Eventually as the weeks go on I will take that sled further and further in the 1:50 seconds.  I can do the same for and 800m, 1 mike, and 2 mile runs.  To keep this conjugate, I can constantly change the weight of the sled or the distance of the sled to allow me to constantly change the stimulus on the body.  Other ways to increase running strength, deadlifts, kettle bell swings, and squats are very useful tools for increasing the leg strength around the running muscles.  Finally don’t forget about the abdominals!  Now when you run you are not in a state of flexion or extension of the trunk so sit ups and crunches are not the best at what we are going for.  As stated in our last article, you must train isometrics! You truck is in a isometric contraction when you run so you must train isometrically.  Two great excersises are the GHD sit up to parallel and force the legs to drive you up rather than the truck flexion and the hallow rock holds.  Both these excersises hold you core in a strong isometric contraction similar to proper running position.  Training the correct muscle group will make you a better runner, for sprints make your efforts short and high intensity for longer marathon runs make your strength work lighter and go for longer sets to build up the local muscular endurance.  
     Now I have not listed nearly all the exercises that you can add to your training but remember cardiovascular endurance isn’t the only thing you should be training to be a better runner.  Local muscular strength endurance is critical to achieve success in running adventures!! 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Importance of Training Isometrics

When we talk about human movement there are three main motions that we must focus on.  They are concentric, eccentric, and isometric.  Concentric is the motion of the distal ends of the muscles moving closer to one another.  Eccentric is the distal ends moving away from one another.  Isometric is the term we use to describe no change in joint angle.  In relation to a common movement like the squat, concentric is the way up, eccentric is reference to the way down.  Many consider eccentrics to be “negatives”, although this isn’t always the case, it is a simple way to look at it.  When it comes to the squat or other movements, most people are aware of the first two but few are aware of the third which is isometric.  If one is going to be the best athlete they can be they must train all three.  
What are isometrics?  Isometrics means that there is no change in joint angle. So, in order to perform true isometrics, you must first find a way to prevent yourself from moving. In a squat, you can set a spotter’s arms above your bar and drive the bar into the spotter’s arms on the way up. You can do the same on the deadlift. These will prevent the bar from traveling any further and fixate the knee and hip angle. Ideally you will set the pins at your weakest portion of your deadlift and pull the bar all the way to this point and keep pulling as hard as possible into the pins.  A common fault seen here is the athlete will just hold the bar at the sitter’s arms or pins. In order to truly do isometrics you must keep driving the bar into the pins and spotter. A less ideal way to train isometric will be to do pause squats or pause deadlifts. The downside to this method is it doesn’t train true isometrics as the muscles begin to experience fatigue. As the muscles fatigue your body will change positions and then you lose the effect of the isometric hold since now you are in a different position. With all this said, don’t overuse isometrics. Isometrics are all part of a big picture in strength and conditioning. Because of the stress that is put on the body the body does become sore very quickly from doing these types of movements. I typically train isometrics once a week. Properly done isometrics will make you a stronger athlete. 
Now that we know how to do isometrics, I’ll explain why we do isometrics. Even though it is not the most important part of a movement or something that should be over-trained, it is imperative to still be trained and its importance cannot be overlooked. One thing that people fail to realize is that when you squat there is a split second between the eccentric portion (down) and the concentric portion (up) when there’s an isometric pause. There has to be this pause because in order for the body to reverse direction the body must first stop. This is the absolute worst position the body can be in while in a squat. The more comfortable you are isometrically, when you are stuck in this “uncomfortable” position you will have the ability to overcome and keep driving through until you complete the lift.  When it comes to the Olympic lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk, I can now use isometrics to adjust a person’s positioning to put an athlete in a more ideal position. By using these isometrics I can have the athlete put full force into the bar yet still have the athlete adjust the hips or shoulders or even make them shift the weight on their feet to get them to become aware of their positioning.  As most coaches and athletes know, Olympic lifting is a sport all about positioning. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, if you are out of position you will never be able to perform at your peak levels.  

Isometrics are a valuable tool in a coach’s tool box.  When properly done, isometrics will help an athlete not only get stronger but also get comfortable in ideal positions.  Whether it’s squats, pulls, or presses building strong isometric contraction will help you become a stronger athlete.  

Monday, December 18, 2017

Surround Yourself with the Best

One of the key components of CrossFit and the CrossFit methodology is the class environment.  If there is one thing that I see that  in any “elite” gym weather it be CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting or any sport for that matter, it’s not the equipment they have or cleanliness of the space but the people that work out at the facility and the environment they create.  
If you follow CrossFit then you know CrossFit Mayhem.  If you power lift you have heard of Westside Barbell.  If you know baseball you know the Yankees.  What do all these organizations have in common?  They have all surrounded themselves with the best people in the world in their sport.  The environment that is created in these organizations is that of dominance.  I hear many people say well they work really hard so if I work hard I could do what they do.  Well it’s a little more than working hard or adding more volume.  I know a lot of people that work hard.  Many people wake up at 4:30 and go to work.  A lot of people stay late in the gym.  Yes these things are an important part of it but it can not be all you do.  Surrounding yourself with people who push you to your absolute limit are what make or break an “elite” athlete.  You have to surround yourself with people who will make you add 5 more pounds to the bar when you don’t feel like you can.  You have to have that person make you go that much harder on the last mile of “Murph”.  I try to make that the standard in my gym.  I don’t want a quiet gym.  I want a loud, emotional, and passionate gym.  Anyone who knows me knows I have a huge respect for Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell.  What I love about the gym is not the constant records they break.  It’s not the equipment they have (though I would love to be able to apply them to my own athletes programs) It’s the fact that I have never seen anyone working out on their own.  Every one of them have 4-5 athletes pushing them on the bar and correcting technique or pushing them to hit that 5# PR.  Never is it quiet.  The music is loud, the people are yelling, and records are hit.  The best athletes in the world are never alone.  They seek out professionals and fellow athletes to make them better.  Let’s take a look at Crossfit Mayhem.  It never fails but around the months of April through July the best CrossFit athletes make the pilgrimage to Cookeville Tennessee to train with Rich Fronning.  Athletes such as Dan Bailey, James Hobart, and most recently Matt Fraser.  In the NBA Lets look at the Golden State Warriors.  Kevin Durant was willing to take a pay cut to surround himself with the best athletes in order to bring the best out off himself.  He could have made a lucrative career and even had a chance to win the NBA finals, yet he chose to be around the best in his conference.  Don’t look only for training partners that you can impress.  Look for partners who will beat you on workouts and push you to your absolute limit.  A facility that creates an environment that makes people push themselves will always create phenomenal athletes.  
So who should you surround yourself with?  There is more to life than better times or numbers on the whiteboard.  For some it is just someone who is going to get them into the gym.  For others it’s someone who will add an extra 5 pounds to their bar when they think they can’t lift anymore.  For others, it is someone to cheer them on to help get them through a workout.  And then there is someone who will just hate the workout with you and gives you someone to vent to but knows that the two of you are making a healthier choice in your life.  Outside the gym it could be someone who helps you choose a healthier eating option other than McDonalds, or someone who helps you study for that final rather than going to the bar.  Finding others around you who push you to be a better person, parent, or athletes critical for us to create better societies.  

This concept can apply to anything not just fitness.  In anything you do, surround yourself with the best in your field.  Don’t be scared to be beat, strive to be the best no matter what you do.  The only way you can possibly see progress is to surround yourself with people that will bring the best out of you! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Your Limits Lie Between Your Ears

     What if I were to tell you that most of us can hit a new personal record any day of the week following any properly formatted program?  Obviously there are good programs and bad programs out there but any good program will help any athlete hit a new personal record.  So with that said, why is it that you don’t hit a new record?  The answer lies between the ears. 
     One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me”.  The reason I love this quote and the reason I personally look up to Steve Jobs is he strived for perfection in everything he did and most importantly he thrived on being uncomfortable.  The most successful people of our time thrived most when they were uncomfortable.  When it comes to CrossFit or other forms of fitness the best athletes in the world love the workouts that the rest of us hate.  The ability for these athletes to live in a world where very little makes them uncomfortable is what makes them the best athletes.  It’s well known that our brains will quit long before our bodies do.  Many times I am coaching people and I tell them to just do one rep and I get what I like to call “the look of death”. They look like want to kill me.  It’s times under extreme stress that your goal should be to shut your brain off and push harder than you ever pushed.  That is where gains are made, being able to shut your brain off and just let muscle memory take over.  The best competitors in the world just go on auto pilot.
     Recently I have begun to have my athletes start using Elevation Training Masks.  I have no doubt that these masks do not simulate elevation training. O2 levels don’t change with the mask on, but you are forced to breathe heavier.  I use these masks to teach people to get more comfortable with higher CO2 levels.  After doing a max effort assault bike interval the last thing you want to do is have a restricting mask on your face.  As the athlete struggles to get full breaths, they begin to realize they will not die and they soon are able to control their breathing just fine.  This is very similar to how you react in a Metcon.  You can push harder for that one or two more reps or how about 3-5 reps.  Look at the best marathon runners in the world.  You think in the last 3-5 miles they aren’t hurting like everyone else?  What separates them is they do not let their facial expressions show how uncomfortable they are, if they did the other competitors would smell blood.  I have made it my personal mission in the past several months to address the comfort level of my athletes while they workout- force them to focus on their breathing and bringing their heart rate down.  Living outside your circle of comfort is key to success in anything you do in life.  Over and over again we will find ourselves in uncomfortable situations and only the best will come out on top, again think about Steve Jobs. 

     In many situations, the only thing standing between you and a personal record is your own head.  Stop letting the feeling of being uncomfortable stop you from overcoming the many challenges of our lives.  That is why I love CrossFit, almost every day we are made to breathe hard and lift heavy and the best don’t let that stop them from being the best they can be.  In life, thrive on being uncomfortable and you will achieve anything. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why Do We Call Ourselves "The Lab"

     Ever since the we opened people have asked me why we call ourselves “The Lab”.  To answer that goes back to my garage gym on Amadeus Drive.  My garage was called the Lab because that is where I began to experiment with different ideas inside the CrossFit community.  I experimented with the 5/3/1 program, 5x5 squats, Olympic lifting and powerlifting, chains and bands, and different metcon philosophies.  Ever since I started CrossFit back in 2008, I have always considered it an experiment.  In fact, the fluid aspect of it is what drew me into it in the first place.  What do I mean by that?
     The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity”.  It is a very broad general definition and it is intended to be so.  When it comes to the CrossFit program, anything and everything can be CrossFit.  What we have learned is that there is no one best way to train.  Many great trainers have their own idea of what is the best way to train but there is no one way that will work for all people.  Every person is genetically different therefore you have to use multiple means of training to achieve the goal of broad, general, and inclusive fitness.  The “Lab” name is a symbolic gesture to say that we test these different methodologies.  I consider DCL a human performance laboratory.  We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what makes people fitter human beings.  We work with moms and dads, tactical athletes, Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, strongman and endurance athletes. By what means is the best way to train all these people from so many different walks of life?  When it comes to the world of strength and conditioning, there are so many out there that claim to have the new and best way to train.  Everyone is a fitness coach these days.  One thing that I feel is important is for people to read and, when they read, to give credit to those who actually did the research.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to training.  Each athlete has their own strengths and weaknesses and it’s the job of the coach to find them.  I always find it funny when I hear a coach tell me how they came up with this system.  No! You created nothing.  You took ideas from great people and use them in your training.  Finding the program that works for your athletes is that challenge.  
      The DCL Program is a mixture of various ideas from geniuses in the world of strength and conditioning.  We are obviously a CrossFit gym so we took the ideas of Greg Glassman.  We follow the principles of Dr. Verkhoshansky, Dr. Kelly Starrett, Dr. Mel Siff, Brian Mckenzie, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, and Louie Simmons.  We have taken the ideas from these great men and mixed and applied them to create the DCL Program.  I call my gym the Lab because how else would I know these ideas work if I didn’t test them myself? Since our opening in 2014 (and arguably several years before we opened) we have athletes set multiple PR’s and set new records continually.  My athletes don’t plateau in their training.  Why? Because I use the principles of geniuses and apply them to my athletes.  I mix and match these ideas and use them to each individual athlete.  It’s easy to get a new athlete to set a record, it’s much more difficult to get even your best athletes to constantly improve.  When a new idea comes out, I must test it! I don’t take it at face value as more and more coaches try to sell things.  Testing these ideas is critical to the DCL program. 
     DCL is a human performance laboratory.  I don’t want to help people excel in only one area as the argument can then be made that I’m only a good “weightlifting coach” or a good “CrossFit Coach”.  I consider myself a “human performance coach” and will always read and test the limits of my athletes to help them excel in any area of life.  The DCL program will constantly evolve and apply new methods to help our athletes reach their highest potential possible. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Programming Accesory Movements and Mobility

This is a follow-up to articles I have written earlier.  The more competitive you get and the stronger you get the more it is necessary to work on accessory movements.  In my opinion, beginner athletes do not need to work on accessory movements as much as advanced athletes. However, they should still know what they can do to build strength in areas where they are lacking in order to prevent injuries.  Compound movements are great but imbalances cause way too many non-impact athletic injuries.  Choosing which accessory movements to use, however, cannot be general.  They must be specific to the athlete. 
So what accessory movements should you be doing?  Well we have to look at your specific weaknesses. Too often I’ll see athletes all doing the same accessory movements.  All athletes have different sticking points.  Why should someone focus on hip strength when it’s the glutes that are weak on his or her deadlift?   Am I saying don’t train your hips? Absolutely not. I am saying that you have to train where you are weak.  Injuries are caused because one muscle group overrides the weaker ones.  I love Mobility WOD and I have nothing against ROMWOD but when you let other people tell you where to mobilize you will neglect the areas where you need attention.  I watch Mobility WOD every day but I use Kelly’s knowledge to make my athletes better by taking his stuff to the bank only when I see an athlete with those specific issues.  General accessory movements are fine but you are missing out on true athletic potential. 
How do I know which specific areas I need to work on?  Study a video (I know most of you video your lifts) and look at where you are getting stuck or slowing down.  If you are squatting and you are stuck at the bottom of your squat you need to work on your hip strength.  If you are getting stuck in the middle you need to get your quad and hamstring strength up. And if you are stuck at the top you need to strengthen your glutes.  If you tend to lean forward when you squat your upper back is weak. Here is the funny thing: as your hamstrings get stronger, your hips and glutes will then become your weakness and you will have to build them up.  It’s a constant battle to keep all your systems working to make you stronger.  When it comes to upper body movements, the main problem area I tend to see is weak triceps.  Your triceps are your “lock out” muscles.  I don’t care how strong your shoulders are, if you have weak triceps you will fail at max weights.  This applies to the bench press, shoulder press, push press, and any variation of your jerk.  If you are a runner the weakest elements tend to be the abdominals and the hip flexors.  You can see this at the end of a 5K or middle of a marathon, and see how many runners tend to lose their posture and start to lean forward.  This collapse of the torso is detrimental to proper breathing mechanics.  Always find your sticking point and work from there.  You are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. 
Accessory movements are vital if you want to become a stronger athlete but that’s not all.  These movements will also prevent you from getting injured.  Light weight high repetition movements will strengthen the ligaments and tendons.  When following a program make sure the accessory movements are dedicated to YOUR weaknesses and not for someone else.  Strengthen your weakest link and watch your progress skyrocket!