Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bigger, Faster, Strong question...

Hi Patrick. Thank you for keeping this blog! It is really helped me understand more about training for sports. I was wondering, my football coach loves the Bigger, Faster, Stronger program and every year he makes us do it through the football season. Do you think this is a good program for me to be doing?



Hi Jim. Thanks for the question and the kind words.

Before I get into the Bigger, Faster, Stronger (BFS) program, I have to say one thing. I don’t know if this is a good program for you or not. I don’t know anything about you or your overall training, so it is really tough for me to make a guess as to what you should be doing. I will comment on the program and what I think about it and you can make your own conclusions as to whether or not this is the right training plan for you.

For those that don’t know, BFS is a program written by Bill Shepard. It has gained a lot of popularity amongst high school sports teams, especially football. The basic template for the program relies on heavy compound lifts like the bench press, the towel bench press (sort of like a half ROM bench press or a board press), the squat, the power clean and a deadlift variation (barbell or trap bar). The program follows a set and rep scheme which changes weekly like so:

Week 1: main lift- 3x3
Week 2: main lift- 5x5
Week 3: main lift- 5,4,3,2,1 or 5,3,1
Week 4: main lift- 10,8,6 (basically your back off or unloading week)

The auxiliary exercises are done for 2 or 3 sets of 10 repetitions following the main lift of the day.

The book also covers some things on sprinting and speed work, as well as flexibility and plyometrics.

There are some pictures in the book that really “rub me the wrong way.” The round back straight-legged deadlift is pretty ugly and a no-no in my book. The spotted deadlift is just another way for coaches to help their athletes lift more weight and make their numbers look “inflated” on paper. Those two are the big ones that stand out in my mind, aside from the nutritional advice, which I really didn’t think was very sound.

Now, as far as performing the program goes. This program is very effort based. It is all about hitter a new PR each week and putting more and more weight on the bar. This program is really only going to be as effective as the coach coaching it. Most high school football coaches can’t teach a squat or a deadlift and you can just forget about the power clean or snatch. Walking into just about any high school football weight room will confirm this. Coaches like this program because it gets the kids lifting heavier each week and makes the coaches look good because they can brag to their friends, who also happen to be terrible coaches, about how strong their players are. When in reality, their players are doing dangerous cleans which resemble more of an explosive reverse curl and half range of motion squats.

The other potential issue with this program is that inseason, you are going to have a lot of practice time and you have games every week. It may be difficult to perform lifts 3 times a week, at this intensity, and account for all the other variables that are needed to make you effective on the field, and not to mention rest and recovery!

If your coach is competent, he can take the ideas from this book and mold it into something that is beneficial for your team. If your coach is competent, he can teach the lifts properly and make you guys get the most out of them. Otherwise, this program is probably going to be a big waste of time.

Learning to manage training variables and rest and recovery is very important. As well, simply following what is down on paper, regardless of how over trained you may be or how fatigued you are that day can get you into some trouble. A good coach should know when to push, when to back off, when to change to something else and when to just send you home to rest.

There are a lot of qualities needed to be a successful football player. I don’t remember this book ever talking about conditioning, which is an essential part of the equation as well. I think if you use some of the ideas in this book and add in some of your own ideas you can really tailor the program to your own needs and make it specific to you. Simply following a program written in a book doesn’t really give you the individual attention that you may need to succeed in sports.

There is really a program that can make you Bigger, Faster AND Strong all at the same time?? NO WAY!!!


PS, Dr. Branson has made a post in his blog about lower back pain and athletes that some of you might be interested in checking out. Mike Branson's Blog

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Question about Plateaus

How do you go about keeping a client motivated if they are going through a plateau maybe being stuck at a squat weight or weight loss has not progressed as planned? This may be to broad of a question but its something i would like to learn more about!

Thanks for the question. I am not sure I can really answer this one for you because of the nature of the question. I don't know the client, their background or training history.

What I can tell you though is if a client is in a plateau, you need to look at your program. Evaluate what it is you are currently doing with the client and what you were doing in their previous training period. Training plateaus don’t just happen out of the blue. Typically, they are part of a bigger picture. As a professional, it is your job to look at the big picture and zero in on what the underlying problem is.

If the client is a weight loss client and the weight isn’t coming off, then look at their diet. Have them keep a food journal for two weeks and see how consistent their eating has been. Are they getting in all their meals? Are they in-taking the proper amount of calories for their goals? What about their training program? One of the hardest things to explain to people is that if they want to lose weight they need to HELP YOU OUT! Working with a trainer twice a week does not guarantee weight loss. If you are seeing them two times a week for an hour, that is two hours of exercise in a 168 hour week! They need to be doing things on other days. Weight training, cardio, interval training, etc. They need to be expending calories if they want to reach their goals. I know that some clients are not comfortable lifting weights on their own because they don’t feel confident. Teach them how to do some interval cardio and they can do that on days when they don’t see you. If you cover all the bases, you can be sure you are getting them moving in the right direction.

If the client is stuck in a lifting plateau, like a squat in your example, then again you need to go back to their current and previous program. Maybe you have been squatting constantly for 18 weeks. Maybe they need a break from that movement. What other lower body exercises are they performing that week? What about cardio? What about the intensity of their cardio? It could be that they are just not recovering enough to make progress in that lift. It is very common that people over work their legs. Some train total body workouts three times a week (legs three times a week) and then hard cardio, in the form of interval training, on top of that. That is a lot of intensity on the lower body all week long. Some train legs twice a week with a lot of volume, and maybe even still try to do cardio. You need to find out exactly what is going on with the program and take control. For example, since I know you coach high school football players, the athletes are typically doing lots of specific sports practicing right now, maybe some scrimmages thrown in there, conditioning during practice usually and on top of that getting in the gym and pounding the weights. Lowering the volume of lifting during this period is essential if the athletes want to make steady progress. If you try and maintain the same type of lifting volume during the season that you keep in the off-season, you are going to have some pretty beat-up players.

So, long story short, look at what you are doing with the person now, look at what you did before and look at what else they have going on in their week besides training with you. From there, you should be able to step back and see why they are stuck in a rut and then, when you pull them out you will look like a genius.

Train smart,


Thursday, August 2, 2007

....and balance for all

Balance training has become increasingly popular over the last 10 years as the "functional training" craze has hit the market. Step into any commercial gym around the country and you may find trainers putting their clients on stability balls, bosu balls, wobble boards, half foam rollers, dyna-disks, air-x pads and other oddly shaped unstable objects.

I have to admit. I have never been a fan of this type of training. While I do understand the importance of balance and coordination in athletic skill, I never understood how being able to squat on a wobble board was going to actually translate over into a better time on the field or track.

The issue I have always had with this training philosophy is that the research has only been conducted on those coming back from injury. I understand the importance of doing some unstable surface training for those coming back from an ankle, knee or hip injury. Re-gaining proprioception is the main goal here, and performing these tasks can be beneficial in achieving it. However, it is when trainers take this information, conducted on people who are not 100% healthy and try to apply it to their athletes who ARE 100% healthy. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. One cannot simply take research performed on sick people and apply it to healthy people.

A recent study conducted at University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory looked at the effects of unstable surface training versus stable surface training on healthy male collegiate soccer players ages 18-23.

Cressey EM, West CA, Tiberio DP, Kraemer WJ, Maresh CM, The Effects of Ten Weeks of Lower-Body Unstable Surface Training on Markers of Athletic Performance, J Strength Cond Res, 2007:21(2);561-567.

The study took nineteen NCAA Division I male soccer athletes (ages 18-23) with a high level of training experience and randomly assigned them to either an experimental group (unstable surface training) or control group (stable surface training). All subjects had resistance trained a minimum of 6 months with no involvement in either unstable surface training or ankle sprain.

Subjects were pre-tested in a bounce drop jump, a counter movement jump, forty and ten yard sprint tests and a t-test.

The subjects then completed 10 week of their normal spring strength and conditioning program. The only difference was that the experimental group (unstable surface training group) performed one exercise in each workout on an unstable surface. For example, both groups would perform a deadlift as their first exercise. The next exercise in their program would be a forward lunge. The control group (stable surface) would perform a normal forward lunge (lunge out forward and then back into place) while the experimental group (unstable surface group) would perform the forward lunge out to a dyna-disk (an inflatable rubber disk).

After the 10-week program, the athletes were then re-tested in the 5 performance tests used at the beginning of the study. The stable surface training group saw significant changes in the bounce drop jump, counter movement jump and the forty-yard and ten-yard sprints. As well, both groups saw significant improvements in the t-test, with the stable surface training group still coming out on top.

The researchers concluded that, “These results indicate that unstable surface training using inflatable rubber disks attenuates performance improvements in healthy, trained athletes. Such implements have proved valuable in rehabilitation, but caution should be exercised when applying unstable surface training to athletic performance and general exercise scenarios.”

So, what does this all mean to us?

I think that balance training does serve purpose as part of a training program (I typically have it in my programs during the portion where we are training core stabilization). I do agree with the research presented here in that using unstable surfaces may not be the best use of time when working with an athlete who is healthy.

Part of the problem is in the fact that athletic movements rely on the stretch shortening cycle and being able to return force quickly (display high amounts of power). When an athlete is performing a task on an unstable surface, the amortization phase of the stretch shortening cycle is delayed, as the athletes try to stabilize themselves, ultimately decreasing force output.

Another problem I have with unstable surface training and the healthy athlete is that sports don’t take place on unstable surfaces. The ground does not move below you. Athletes need to develop strength and force potential so that they can apply that force to an immoveable object (the ground, court or track). Again, training on an unstable surface prevents athletes from applying maximal amount of force against the ground during training.

In closing, I think that some balance training (single leg exercises, single leg balance exercises on the floor, single leg hop and stick the landing, etc) can be helpful when added to an overall program. If the athlete is coming back from an injury, unstable surface training may be beneficial to help that athlete re-develop proprioception and overall body awareness which may have been lost due to the injury itself.

Other than that, the most important thing is to use your time in the gym wisely and develop the underlying qualities that will make you a great athlete (strength and power). Then, go out on the field and practice your specific sports skill so that the qualities you have developed in the weight room transfer over to what you are trying to do.

Stay balanced,