Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Forming Opinion

Forming Opinions

Sorry for the break, I am back in the saddle again! I have been really busy with school and I was out of town this past weekend doing some continuing education credits. I was attending a seminar on Muscle Activation Techniques (, it was the jump start clinic. I found it to be very well done and very interesting. There were definitely things that I could take away from the seminar and put into practice with my clients. I highly recommend it to other trainers.

Today I wanted to talk about forming opinions. It is not common in this industry (or any industry really) to hear or read something from a particular strength coach, trainer or author and automatically accept what they say and do in their practice as gospel. I am constantly amazed at people who will go to a seminar and buy into what the speaker is saying, so much so that they lose sight of everything they have ever learned and they just accept it as the way things should be. The funniest thing is when these coaches change their minds about how things are done, or they take a different position on a certain topic, and all those who follow them blindly have to change as well. It is sad to see how many people just play follow the leader. Like a pack of lemmings, if the coach says “we don’t do squats,” those people no longer squat their athletes. Two years later the coach says “we went back and found that we made a mistake taking squats out of our programs so we put them back in,” and just like that, the followers follow suit and put squats back into their athletes programs.

I guess I am a bit of a skeptic or maybe it is just a little harder to get me to drink the kool-aid, but I try and formulate my own opinions and my own thoughts, based on the information that I read and come across. I prefer a more eclectic approach, taking information from everyone and figuring out what works best for the situation I am in. In fact, this is what these ‘famous’ coaches did to help develop their own methodology and systems. They read books, formulated opinions and developed their program. It would be an even better idea to go back and read the books that those coaches read. Who knows, maybe you will interpret things in a different way, maybe you will get something different out of it, and maybe, just maybe, you might develop your own system and start thinking for yourself!

I guess where I am going with all this is that we need to stop letting others think for us. We need to stop allowing ourselves to be told that the world is flat. We need to get out, explore and think for ourselves. That is how we grow and become better at our craft. That is how we develop our own training system.

Think about it,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Patience: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

If you have ever watched Willy Wonka, I am sure you would agree that Veruca Salt was a major pain the butt. I wanted to wring her neck when she sang that song “I want the whole world. I want it all. I want it NOW!” I am sure we can all agree that the “I want it now” attitude is very annoying. However, no matter how annoying it is, it seems that when it comes to our training, fitness or diet we always want it NOW!

I hear it all the time, “It isn’t happening fast enough,” or “I remember how strong I used to be. It is taking so long to get back to that,” or, “When can we move on to the more advanced exercises? When can we start putting lots of weight on the bar?”

One of the worst things you can do is rush your progress. Like anything in life, it is important to take your time and let your body progress at a steady pace. Those who rush things usually end up shooting themselves in the foot somewhere down the road. Typically, this leads to a set-back and ultimately a longer time to reach your goal.

In sports performance, one of the worst things you can do is shorten the preparatory period. This period is essential to ensure that proper adaptations take place and certain qualities are developed so that when you get to the specific preparation and pre-season, you are able to handle the tasks placed before you. Often times, as coaches, we want to rush the preparatory phase of training (sometimes for our own selfish reasons) so that we can get the athletes onto more advanced styles of lifting (even if they aren’t exactly ready for it). Aside from the fact that this will possibly stall their progress somewhere down the line, there is also a potential for injury as they are unable to handle the volume, load and intensity of the more advanced levels of training.

For athletic performance (or anyone really) the preparatory period should be one where we are working on basic exercises, developing basic technique, and increasing our overall work capacity. In this phase, for those that I work with, the idea is to try and correct any problem areas (or address any injuries) that the athlete may have. In addition to that, we work on developing technique in basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, cleans, push ups, bench press, pull ups, rows) and we work on just developing base levels of strength. As well, we work on landing techniques and low level plyometrics. We condition a lot as well, as a way to enhance work capacity and prepare for the higher amounts of volume and training that will occur in the phases to come.

In a nut shell:
1) Set your goal
2) Set a realistic time frame to reach your goal
3) Establish a sound program that allows you to progress and develop at a good pace
4) Carry out the program

Take your time,

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making It Work: Not every Situation Is Perfect

“When life hands you lemons; make lemonade.”

Most of us sit there and wish that we had more time to exercise through out the week. We sit there and complain about the gym we go to and how they “never have the equipment that I need.”

Unfortunately, not every situation is perfect. We need to do the best we can with what we have. I am always bombarded with questions like:

“How can I get all my exercise in during the week when I work so much?”

“I don’t have a pull up bar in my basement, what should I do?”

“Our gym doesn’t have bumper plates and platforms; how can I train my athletes without these things?”

“We don’t have good equipment at the gym so the athletes aren’t able to get a good workout.”

I’ll admit, working with in a less than adequate situation can be difficult and challenging. But, you have to find a way to make it work. Simply giving up or chalking up your failure to “not having the proper equipment or time” is simply not an option.

I have a pretty hectic life at the moment. Aside from working a full day, I also go to school 4 nights a week (working on my licensure in massage therapy) from 6:30-10:30pm. This makes it very challenging to workout. When I started class, people always asked me “how are you going to workout now? You work all day, from 7-5:30 and then you go to school all night.” While I recognized that this situation is not optimal at all and, I am not 100% happy about it, I need to find a way to make it work. The first thing I did was place my main strength training workouts on the weekend days, when I am not in school, like this:

Fri: Upper body strength
Sat: light cardio
Sun: Lower body strength

Since I go to class Monday through Wednesday, I needed to get in at least 1-2 more workouts during the week. So, I simply took my hour lunch break and put a workout in there. Now my schedule would look something like this:

Mon: off
Tues: total body training
Wed: total body training/hard conditioning or Off (depending on how I feel)
Thurs: Off
Fri: Upper body strength
Sat: light cardio
Sun: Lower body strength

I know that I have to just be very efficient with my workouts to be able to train and then shower and eat all within the hour that I have allotted myself. This leaves me about 40min. to train, 10min. to shower and 10min. to eat. Is it optimal? NO! Does it work? YES!

The point is that you need to figure out how to make your situation work for you.

For example, the guy who doesn’t have a pull up bar, there are a few options that he has:

1. Go out and buy a pull up bar and put it in a doorway in your house.
2. Find a rafter in the garage or basement to hang onto and do pull ups off of.
3. Go outside and find a tree to do pull ups on
4. Go out to a local playground and do pull ups off of the monkey bars.

Is it optimal? No. Does it work? Yes!

As far as the coaches that complain of not having equipment or having crappy equipment, this is just silly to me. The equipment does not make the athlete! The coaching makes the athlete. If you don’t have platforms and bumper plates, then perform hang cleans or hang snatches and just use the bars and plates that you have. Find a hard surface (like the rubber matting on a gym floor) and go at it. Or, just do plyometric exercises.

Don’t complain about the equipment you don’t have and start looking at what you do have. Remember, the basics always work! Things like power cleans, squats, deadlifts, lunges, push ups, pull ups, and supine body weight rows take almost no equipment at all and most of this equipment can be found in a high school weight room.

So what if you don’t have a Hammer Jammer! Teach the kids to do power jerks and there you go. Or, stick the end of two barbells up against a wall and place a dumbbell over the top of them so that the bar doesn’t roll around. Hold the other end of the barbells in each hand and perform overhead jerks or squat and presses. Now you have just made the poor mans Hammer Jammer! Be creative and look around for ways to make it work.

Hopefully everyone can see where I am going with this and can start to look at their schedule or look at their gym equipment and figure out how to adapt to their individual situations.

I have adapted to my situation. Can you adapt to yours?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Olympic Lifts vs. Olympic Pulls??

Hi Patrick,

I read your blog entry regarding the Olympic lifts. I do like to use the Olympic lifts in my training. I was wondering what your thoughts were on just using clean pulls or snatch pulls? Some strength coaches say that they use pulls instead of the full lift because they are easier to teach. What do you think about that?


Hi Jeff, thanks for the question. You are correct, some coaches only use pulling movements (clean pulls, snatch pulls or pulls from the hang position, what some coaches call “jump shrugs”). Most of them advocate pulls only, reasoning that “all the power comes during the second pull, so the catch is kind of moot. And, the full lift is harder to teach.” I don’t know that there is a clear cut answer to your question. A lot of it is very conjecture based. So, I will give you my reasoning on why I like the full lift and you can decide for yourself.

1)Yes, the second pull is where the all the power is generated. However, high amounts of power are only generated when the pull is performed correctly. I can’t remember the exact number, but if you bend your arms during the pull, you lose something like 60% of the power coming from your hips (might have been lower than 60%. I can’t remember for sure). When you are only doing pulls, how are you gauging the pull? If you are doing it by height (eg, pulling to the sternum), then how do we know the athlete is not using their arms to get the bar up there? If we are doing pulls with straight arms, and not allowing the elbows to bend, then how do we know how much the athlete is actually accelerating the bar? By that I mean, how do we know it is not a deadlift with a toe raise and a shrug? So, even though some claim that the pulls are easier to teach, there is still a good deal of coaching that needs to take place there. However, if you are going to take the time to coach the pull, why not coach the full lift? At least that way you know that the athlete is accelerating the bar and moving quickly. There is no way they can’t do those things if they are doing a power clean or power snatch. Have you ever seen a slow power clean?

2)The catch portion of the lift allows us work on deceleration of force. Deceleration is extremely important in sports performance and I believe that movements such as the Olympic lifts help to teach it. As well, interacting with the bar and making the catch help us work on muscle synchronization/timing and body awareness. These are qualities that are critical for athletic success.

3)As with any lift done for speed or acceleration, if you are performing the movement with just the bar, you spend half the time decelerating the bar. This prevents you from displaying optimal power and working on acceleration. I never understood the speed bench press, the speed deadlift or the speed squat with 60% of your 1RM on the bar. You spend more time slowing yourself down with these movements than you do speeding up. Now, if we use something like bands or chains, this allows us to accelerate over a greater portion of the lift because as we move through the concentric portion of the lift the weight gets heavier. If you want to truly display power, plyometrics and medicine ball throws are helpful because you actually release the implement and accelerate it all the way (medicine ball) or you accelerate yourself enough to leave the ground (plyometrics). I believe the same holds true for the Olympic lifts. If you are performing only pulls, again, how much of that lift are we going to spend decelerating? Even though we are pulling all the way to triple extension in the lower body and shrugging the weight violently, at some point we need to slow down the bar and end the lift! With the full power clean or power snatch, you have to develop power through the entire range of motion, all the way up to the point where you need to snap yourself under the bar and make the catch.

4)Finally, psychologically I think something is lost when you know that you don’t have to pull the bar hard enough to get it up onto your shoulders (clean) or overhead (snatch). When you know that you need to really pull that bar so that you can catch it, there is a different feeling and a different level of emotion and intensity that goes into the lift. I really believe this is lost when you tell an athlete that they don’t need to do that.

So, there are some of my views on why I like the Olympic lifts over just doing pulls. Not that I think pulls are bad or that I think they are worthless. I think everything needs to be in the tool box and you have to figure out what works best for you and at what time in the training program. There are a lot of coaches that don’t use the Olympic lifts at all, opting to do heavy strength work and plyometric work. This is fine and they get good results with it. As stated in my previous blog entry on Olympic lifts, there are times when I may use the Olympic lifts and there are times when I may not. Again, you have to have a lot of things in the tool box and know when to use them. Hope that helps answer your question.

If all you have is a hammer in your tool box, you aren’t going to be able to fix a whole lot,