Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Tragic Update

World Strongest Man Competitor Jesse Marunde passed away last night during his training preparation for an upcoming WSM contest in California. He was 27 years old.

I had met and talked with Jesse a few times over the past few years. He was a very nice guy and always a crowd favorite.

He will be missed.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Training like an athlete......Not just for athletes anymore?

The phrase "train like an athlete" seems to get thrown around these days when discussing how a general population client should be exercising. Lets investigate what this phrase really means to the general population client, who is more often than not looking to shed some body fat and enhance their overall health, and see how we can apply it.

Lets face it. Athletes train a lot! One thing I always tell coaches when I am asked about training youth athletes is to never EVER try and copy the training and conditioning program of the latest championship team or the program that the guys and the closest DI college are currently being put through. It is impossible for young athletes to handle this kind of volume and intensity. As well, the professional athletes only have one goal, to get better! They have all the time in the world to devote to their strength and conditioning program because it is their job!

Knowing this and knowing the amount of time athletes spend training (some olympic athletes will train 2-3x's a day several days a week), why in the world would anyone tell a general population client to "train like an athlete?" First of all, who has that much time to exercise, I certainly don't! Second of all, how can they be expected to balance that much volume/frequency and all the stresses that they face in everyday life (work, financial, family, etc)?

I think the main thing that the general population should take away from how athletes’ train is that the program is overall very complete. If we look at the typical exercise prescription in the latest bodybuilding or fitness magazine, we see programs, which are typically some sort of isolation type of body part training. Something like:

mon- chest
tues- back
wed- legs
thurs- shoulders
fri- arms
sat and sun- off

First of all, if you are a reader of this blog, you will know that I am not a big fan of this type of isolation training, since nothing we ever do is in isolation. As well, this type of program doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of overall health and fitness....Were is the cardio? And, this program doesn’t offer us the biggest bang for our buck in terms of calorie burn given that we are training such small muscle groups on three of the five training days (chest, shoulders, arms). It would be more advantageous to perform gross, full body movements, which burn lots of calories and stimulate large amounts of muscle tissue.

Now, if we look at an athletes program (regardless of the sport), it typically encompasses many different things. Athletes work on strength, power, stability, mobility, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise (metabolic work, sprints, energy system development, whatever you want to call it). In short, this program really covers all the bases of health and fitness.

But athletes have more time to train than I do!

Yes, that is true. But, just because they train more often (more times a day and/or more times a week) does not mean that you should discard the basic idea behind what they are doing. Basically, "train like an athlete" means that you should make sure your program includes a variety of training disciplines in order to reach an optimal level of health. A program may look something like this:

mon- total body workout
tues- cardio (tempo runs/rides or longer duration intervals)
wed- off
thurs- total body workout
fri- cardio (steady state)
sat- hard interval work
sun- off

There are a million program templates that you can set up for yourself, and this is just one example. Depending on the amount of time you have to devote to your training and how creative you are, you can either make this even more elaborate or pare it down further.

Train hard. Train like an athlete.


Monday, July 16, 2007

More on Squatting

Hello Patrick, I came across your site from the Nutrition Circle discussion board, great info!

Since you have a lot of information regarding squats, wondering your thoughts on squats/lunges for women. I am a fairly new personal trainer and have worked with many females on squats/lunges, however I do not always have them performing these exercises consistently since the majority of women want to have the "slim look."

For me personally, I found my pants getting just a bit tighter when I noticed I was doing squats and lunges on a more consistent basis. I have spoken with a few trainers on this issue and the consensus is that squats do build muscle and can potentially thicken up the hip area with a bit more muscle...

Do you agree with this concept?

Thanks, regards,

Hi Sheryl, thanks for your question.

I have given classes and seminars to trainers before, and this question comes up all the time. I really don't agree with the concept for a number of reasons.

1) Squats do build muscle, and muscle is more dense than fat. Meaning it has less surface area. As well, muscle helps to raise metabolism.

2) If you aren't building muscle when lifting weights, then what are you trying to do? The whole point of exercise is to create some sort of stress, which causes an adaptation. In the case of lifting weights, that adaptation is either getting stronger or increasing muscle mass. In the case of someone who is in a hypo-caloric state, the main goal would be to try and maintain as much muscle as possible.

3) When a woman complains that she is getting "thicker" because of the squats, the first place I look is her diet. Women (and even men) don't just start putting on muscle mass. It isn't as easy as saying "well, I started to squat with 10lb dumbells and I got huge." If that were the case, you would see way more muscular guys in the gym. Unfortunately, it is just the opposite. For a natural female (natural meaning drug free), it is going to really take a lot to build that sort of muscle. Also, in order to actually gain muscle, you need to be in a hyper-caloric state. If you aren't taking in enough calories to build muscle mass then you aren't going to build muscle mass. So look at your clients diet and see if she is overeating somewhere. This is usually the case.

4) You need to manage loading parameters. I have often found that women are scared of lifting heavy. If I can break them of that fear, the ones that push themselves to greater intensities (intensity being defined as the amount of load used in relation to ones 1 repetition max) get the best results. If the woman is not an athlete looking to compete in anything, I typically will push them up to 5-6 rep sets during certain phases of training.

5) If you aren't squatting or lunging, then what are you doing for the lower body? Lets not forget that aside from the high amounts of calories these exercises can burn, they also load the axial skeleton and help to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. This is essential for women!

Don't be afraid to get your clients squatting, lunging, deadlifting and stepping up. These exercises have the potential to burn lots of calories and improve ones overall structure and physique.

Hope that helps answer your question.

"Squat, it is a fundametal movement of LIFE!"


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Squat Question regarding my last entry

What would be some things that would help a trainee build up to doing Squats? I have a lot of friends who cant even bodyweight squat past 1/4 ROM without problems occuring. I know a lot of it will be specific to the person and what exactly is going wrong, but are there any general things that you think everybody could benefit from? Or some incredibly frequent problems you encouter with new trainees and squatting?

Thanks P :)

You are right. A lot of it is going to come down to that individual person and what their issue with squatting is.

You have to figure out if the problem is one of flexibility (ex. tight hip flexors and/or calves), mobility (ex. hip mobility or ankle mobility), strength (ex. overall hip strength) or neuromuscular inefficiency (maybe they can't hold a neutral spine/pelvic position while decending into the squat).

This is where a quality movement screen and assessment is essential. It can tell you a lot about how that person produces movement and it gives you information to plan your attack.

For teaching the squat, you want to have some regressions to help build the person up to body weight squats and then loaded squats. The two regressions I like to use are:

Ball/wall squat- A stability ball is placed between the individuals back and the wall and they are asked to squat down, pause at the bottom, and then stand back up. We work up in intensity by using a medicine ball. I like to use tempo restrictions with this exercise (slower eccentrics and isometrics at the bottom) because it helps them learn the positions of the movement and allows me to better coach it and make corrections.

Stripper Squats- I call them stripper squats because the person stands at the side of the squat rack with their hands around the pole of the squat rack. Holding the pole, they work on sitting back, controlling their squat and holding onto the pole (sliding their hand down as they go) to help give them stability. Again, I like to use tempo restrictions and holding the isometric at the bottom is really helpful in allowing them to find a netural pelvis position.

From there, as they learn the squat pattern, we move to body weight squats and then progress to medicine ball countermovement squats (holding a ball at the chest and as they decend and sit back into a squat, they press the ball out in front of them, arms extended, to counter balance the weight going back) and goblet squats (holding the bell of a dumbell at chest level).

Once we make it through that, we move into front squatting and back squatting. As far as how long it takes to move from those progressions to back squatting or front squatting, it is really going to depend on the person. Some younger and more athletic populations can whip through that in a few weeks and get to squat with the bar. Some may skip over some of those progressions and start right at goblet squatting and front squatting. It all depends on the person. Some, especially those who are very weak or coming back from tough injuries, may be doing ball/wall squats for several weeks.

A lot of strength coaches are so set on getting their athletes under the bar from day one, that they overlook the important steps it may take to get some of the athletes ready for that exercise. I have seen some pretty scary squats with young athletes because their coaches either (a) didn't progress them properly to the movement or (b) didn't know how to coach the lift and usually it is (c) a combination of the two. I like to really make sure athletes understand that squat position as it is a fundamental athletic position. The athletic stance is similiar to a quarter squat position and when starting out, we will work on isometrically holding that athletic position (as well as our bottom position body weight squat) to help the athletes learn what that position is and how vital it is to their progress in sports.

Thanks for the question.

Hope that helps,


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Earning the right

Yesterday, I was working with a client (not an athlete), who had trained with another trainer for nine months prior to coming to me. We completed a movement screen and flexbility testing the previous week, and this was his first training session. He has some pretty bad problems with his neck – some arthritic changes – and a partially-torn rotator cuff. He has absolutely no hip strength. When I asked him to squat during the movement screen, it was freaky! His knees were buckling, his back was rounded, and he had no core strength. Nothing!
Me: "What did you do for the past nine months to train your hips?"

Client: "I squatted!"

Me (amazed and terrified at the same time): "Not with a bar on your back, right?"

Client: "Yes, with a bar on my back."

Me: "That must have been ugly."

Client: "Yeah. It was terrible. I think that is part of the reason my neck hurts really bad now, too."

What trainer would let this guy get under the bar and squat? In his first workout, he did squats with a stability ball between his back and the wall. He was able to do 3 repetitions with good form before his hip strength would not allow him to perform another. Despite that, for the past 9 months, he was squatting with a bar on his back! Amazing!

It is my rule that you have to "earn the right to back squat."

If you are a trainer, working with athletes or the general population, make sure you know who your clients are and what they are capable of doing. Have a method of teaching that builds them up to more advanced exercises. You can't run before you walk; and you can't walk before you crawl. Give the individual time to develop and learn. Don't rush things.

Be patient – let them earn the right to progress.

Happy 4th,


Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Heck of A Strength Coach With a Great Message

The strength coach I am referring to is Dr. Ken. For those who don't know him, Dr. Ken (Leistner) has been a staple of the iron game for many, many years. His articles can typically be found in Ironmind's MILO Strength Training Journal. These articles preach hard work over anything else. No fancy training programs, no crazy bells and whistles. Pretty much get in the gym, squat and bust your butt.

I don't know Dr. Ken. I've never met him, and I have never talked to him on the phone. I do have a friend who frequently trains at Dr. Ken's garage and used to lift on a powerlifting team that Dr. Ken ran. Today I was talking to this friend, and I asked him what their programs were like when preparing for a meet. He told me that Dr. Ken would have them doing 20-rep sets of squats usually. For those not familiar, Dr. Ken is a big advocate of 20-rep sets of breathing squats – one all out set to failure. He said they would do that, and then about 5 or 6 weeks out they would get ready for the meet by hitting sets of 8's, 5's and triples.

While the approach is interesting, the thing that I took away most from this conversation was the message that Dr. Ken gave his athletes. My friend told me that they would train twice a week with Dr. Ken. During those two training sessions they would do their heavy lifting and their 20-rep sets of squats. Dr. Ken would tell them that the rest of the week, they better do some light lifting or some cardio to stay in shape. He told them that the 20 rep squats were important to keep their conditioning up. His message was "If you train with me, you train for overall health. Not just for a powerlifting meet." Great message, no? Go ahead, read it again "If you train with me, you train for overall health. Not just for a powerlifting meet."

I have read a lot of Dr. Ken's articles. I may not always agree on some of the training concepts. While I don't usually have athletes squat for all out 20-rep sets, it seems to be working for Dr. Ken, as he has trained several college and professional football players. He gets great results with his methods and that is the important thing. Whether I agree 100% or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that what he is doing is working. I agree with him on working hard during your sets. I agree with him on developing a level of conditioning and pushing yourself. And more importantly, I agree with him on the overall message....Overall health is more important than athletic performance.

When you train; train with a purpose!