Monday, July 28, 2008

How Sharp Is Your Axe?

Lots of people post their training programs on various forums, or they email their programs to me and say “Is this good? What do you think about this program?”

As everyone knows, I will be the first to say “It is impossible for me to tell if that is a good program for you unless I put you through a proper assessment to determine what you can and can not do.” However, there is one common thing that the majority of these programs have in common:

“They don’t include the important first phase of training.”

The first phase of training is our base phase. It is were we develop the proper work capacity in order to handle heavier loads and more volume in later phases of training. As well, for those of us that have been training for years and are more advanced, this phase of training is needed in order to unload our bodies (joints, nervous system, etc) and give us a break from the heavier loads that we may be accustomed to.

Most of the time, the programs in question (those posted on internet forums or those sent to me for my “critique”) just jump right into the real “sexy” training. To quote Abe Lincoln:

"Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.”

Basically, we can’t do the more advanced stuff before we take care of the important things that come before it. In this case, sharpening the axe is critical to cutting down the tree, as it will make your job a lot easier. Of course there are people out there who are going to just run out with their dull rusted axe and try and jump right in and start chopping (everyone wants to go right to the competition without practice), but not Abe. He understood that we need to prepare (and the preparation in this example is double the time it will take to complete the job. 4 hours of sharpening; 2 hours of chopping) if we want to achieve the goals we set out to reach.

So, what exactly should the first phase of training include?

In most personal training textbooks, or books on periodization, that first phase of training typically looks something like, 2-3 sets x 12-15 repetitions per set. While I will not deny that this is going to increase work capacity and muscular endurance, I tend to disagree with this set up as I think there is something to be gained by focusing on less repetitions (not necessarily high weight), especially for beginners. It has been my experience that as beginners fatigue, they tend to get very sloppy with their repetitions. 12-15 rep sets of squats, tend to look more like 8 reps of squats and 4-7 reps of good mornings or round back “something-or-others.” It would be more advantageous to take those larger, multi-joint/total body exercises and perform them for 3-4 sets of 5-6 repetitions in the beginning phase. This doesn’t mean that you are using a 5-6RM or trying to max out however. What you are looking for is 5-6 clean repetitions, with good form and decent bar speed through the concentric partition of the lift. To help increase learning (and keep load down) you can slow down the eccentric portion of the lift and/or add an isometric hold at the bottom of the lift before performing the concentric portion. It is this later option that I use in my training when I go back to my base phase of training. To create overload each week, I will do things like increase a rep, increase a set, or put more weight on the bar. I usually will do a two up, one down sequence. Meaning, that for every two weeks of increases, I will back off for a week and then repeat the sequence.

In this base phase of training, since increasing work capacity is key, I typically superset these multi-joint movements with either mobility work (this comes back to the assessment partition to understand exactly where you need to increase mobility/flexibility) or some core exercises (planks, bird dogs, various chop lifts). Once the main exercise is completed, I then perform my accessory work (anywhere form 8-12 per set), using supersets or circuits.

This phase of training typically lasts me 4-6 weeks and once the axe is nice and sharp, I progress to something more intense and changing the focus.

What are you doing to sharpen your axe?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clinic Update

For anyone interested, I am speaking on August 9th in Phoenix at Trevor Browne High School.

The clinic is part of a Running and Walking Fitness Expo taking place there from 6am-2:30.

I will be speaking on the topic of Weight Training For Runners: Increase Performance and Decrease the Potential For Injury.

Just wanted to throw it out there for any who are interested.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Stress and Training

Strength Gains after Resistance Training: The Effect of Stressful, Negative Life Events.

Bartholomew, John B; Stults-Kolehmainen, Matthew A; Elrod, Christopher C; Todd, Janice S. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 22(4):1215-1221, July 2008.

Purpose: This study was designed to examine the effect of self-reported, stressful life events on strength gains after 12 weeks of resistance training.

Methods: Participants were 135 undergraduates enrolled in weight training classes that met for 1.5 hours, two times per week. After a 2-week period to become familiar with weight training, participants completed the college version of the Adolescent Perceived Events Scale (APES), the Social Support Inventory, and one-repetition maximal lifts (1RM) for the bench press and squat. Maximal lifts were repeated after 12 weeks of training.

Results: Median splits for stress and social support were used to form groups. Results indicated that the low stress participants experienced a significantly greater increase in bench press and squat than their high stress counterparts. Strength gains were, however, unrelated to social support scores in either the low or high stress group.

Conclusion: High life stress may lessen a person's ability to adapt to weight training. It may benefit coaches to monitor their athletes' stress both within and outside the training setting to maximize their recovery and adaptation.

Some of my thoughts:

One thing we often under-estimate is our daily stress and how that affects our training program. Exercise is viewed as a stressor because we are breaking down the body, forcing it to adapt and ultimately grow stronger/bigger. The adaptation part of this is the critical key. We don’t grow in the gym; we tear down! Progress happens when we rest.

Stress, as shown here and in other studies, can impair our ability to adapt to the loads imposed on our body during our workout. We have a number of stressors that we deal with on a daily basis; everything from emotional stress to family stress, relationship stress, financial stress, work stress and so on and so forth. At times in our life, all of those stressors can be firing on all cylinders at the same time! This causes the water to boil and rise and sometimes the added stress of intense exercise may be just the thing to force the water over the pot and onto the stove. We then lose the ability to adapt to the workout, our bodies begin to break down and we get sick or injured.

If you are a strength coach working with athletes, a trainer working with general populations, or a general population person working out on your own, it would be helpful for you to understand exactly were you stand that day (or where you athletes/clients stand if you are the one writing the program) and be sensitive to it. Sometimes we write out our training program and we feel that we NEED to stick to it in order to be successful. In reality, it is this mentality that can push us into an over trained state, because those days when our body is beat down or when it “just isn’t there”, our bodies are telling us something! We need to back off a little bit and allow the water in the pot to cool off. This can often actually aid in our recovery from our last training bout (we are allowing our body to get the rest it needs) and in fact help us make continued progress and not risk burning out.

Dr. William Kraemer, a respected researcher in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut, presented at the NSCA Nation Convention last week about Non-Linear periodization and took it a step further to talk about Flexible Non-Linear Periodization.

For those that don’t know, what Non-Linear periodization, sometimes referred to as undulating peridozation, is, basically it takes various fitness qualities and organizes them into a plan that allows us to modulate between these qualities over our workouts within the week. This is different than traditional linear peridoization. For example:

Linear periodization would look something like this:

Week1-3- 2x12-15
Week4-6- 3x8-10
Week7-9- 5x3-5

Non-Linear or Undulating Periodization would look like this:

Mon- strength (3x3-5)
Wed- muscular endurance (2x12-15)
Fri- power (5-8x2-3@50-70% intensity)
Mon- hypertrophy (3x8-10)

Obviously that is just an example, and if you were to try and use this, you would want to establish which quality you want to emphasize during a specific block of training (say 4-6 weeks) and then that quality would show up more often in the 4-6 week block of training than the other qualities (which at that time you are trying to retain, while focusing more on the specific quality in that block of training). Remember, we can not serve too many masters! Don’t try and get better at everything at the same time (it won’t happen). Focus on one quality and maintain the others.

Flexible Non-Linear periodization is the same as non-linear periodization, with the main different being you have the option to revert to an active rest day or a lighter day (or take a day off) should you not be feeling 100% to train. So, if your client has had a high stress day at work or your athletes just got done with an extremely hard practice, and today is your maximal strength day (which is extremely high on the stress scale) you may want to revert to an active rest day or a light day and put the strength day off until later in the week when the client/athlete is not as stressed out and fatigued, and will have a more productive workout and be able to recover adequately from the intense training.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas when planning your training and working around life stress and gym stress. Remember, sometimes life gets in the way, and you need to just back off the intense training for a little bit to allow your body to catch up.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Runners and Weight Training

Running-Specific, Periodized Strength Training Attenuates Loss of Stride Length During Intense Endurance Running.

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 22(4):1176-1183, July 2008.
Esteve-Lanao, Jonathan 1; Rhea, Matthew R 2; Fleck, Steven J 3; Lucia, Alejandro 1

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a running-specific, periodized strength training program (performed over the specific period [8 weeks] of a 16-week macrocycle) on endurance-trained runners' capacity to maintain stride length during running bouts at competitive speeds.
Subjects: Eighteen well-trained middle-distance runners completed the study (personal bests for 1500 and 5000 m of 3 minutes 57 seconds +/- 12 seconds and 15 minutes 24 seconds +/- 36 seconds).

Methods: They were randomly assigned to each of the following groups (6 per group): periodized strength group, performing a periodized strength training program over the 8-week specific (intervention) period (2 sessions per week); nonperiodized strength group, performing the same strength training exercises as the periodized group over the specific period but with no week-to-week variations; and a control group, performing no strength training at all during the specific period. The percentage of loss in the stride length (cm)/speed (m[middle dot]s-1) (SLS) ratio was measured by comparing the mean SLS during the first and third (last) group of the total repetitions, respectively, included in each of the interval training sessions performed at race speeds during the competition period that followed the specific period.

Results: Significant differences (p < 0.05) were found in mean percentage of SLS loss between the 3 study groups, with the periodized strength group showing no significant SLS change (0.36 +/- 0.95%) and the 2 other groups showing a moderate or high SLS loss (-1.22 +/- 1.5% and -3.05 +/- 1.2% for the nonperiodized strength and control groups, respectively).

Conclusion: In conclusion, periodized, running-specific strength training minimizes the loss of stride length that typically occurs in endurance runners during fatiguing running bouts.

Some of my thoughts and how we can use this information:

I have written about and posted some research regarding strength training for runners in the past, but this is the first study to look at a running specific program and its potential effects on the runners’ ability to maintain stride length (a marker for fatigue) during training sessions which were at competition speed.

Runners’ are notorious for destroying their bodies with...MORE RUNNING! They typically feel that if they just run and do nothing else, their problems will just magically go away! Not only that, but they also feel that running is the only thing they need to do. Occasionally, you will see a runner who justifies their well-rounded training program by stating that they do yoga or pilates. Nothing against yoga or pilates, but they are not strength training! You are not loading your body and, in the case of yoga, things are performed slowly and in a static position (often times lying down), which has little specificity to runners or anyone that pretty much stands up and moves. Similarly, a lot of the pilates core exercises are performed lying down. While lying down and trying to activate the ‘core’ musculature is helpful, you eventually need to get up and try and integrate that into some real movement, as things that fire in isolation need to re-learn how to fire during actual movement. The other issue I have with runners and yoga is that, in a yoga class you go in and just stretch out everything. The entire body! Realistically, it would be more beneficial to stretch the muscles that need to be lengthened and leave the muscles that are currently at a normal length alone. Not that these disciplines are bad. I think they can have their place in a well-rounded program. However, they are only a small part of that program and that is all you are doing, then you really need to re-evaluate and plan out something that focused and specific to you.

That basically brings us to this study which looked at a periodized running program and its potential benefits to runners. One thing that I did like was that they looked at a group who performed a periodized program and a group who performed a non-periodized program.

The non-periodized approach seems to be a common mistake that runners who venture into the gym make. Oftentimes, they may feel that just being in the gym and doing something is okay. While doing something; is better than nothing, it would be optimal if we made that “something” more specific.

All subjects began with the same 4-week preparatory period and then broke into two groups (periodized and non-periodized) for their 8-week specific (intervention) training period and then finished with their 4 week competition period (which was the same training for all groups).

The program for the periodized group looked like a typically linear type of periodization. Basically, the subjects started with a 2-week block of circuit training (base training or work capacity training). They followed that with a 3-week block of plyometrics, hills runs, more lifting (they even used snatches, cleans and squats!) and circuit based stuff (so that was more like their strength phase of training or intensification phase). They finished with a 3-week block of specific resisted speed work (this would be their power or peaking phase of training).

The non-periodized group performed the same workout, except the workouts weren’t performed in any sort of sequential week-to-week order (hence the reason they are non-periodized).

Obviously the group that performed the periodized program saw the greatest gains from the training as they saw a lower loss of stride length during the re-test portion of the study when compared to the non-periodized and control group.

So, what does this conclusion mean for runners?

1)Those who do nothing have a harder time maintaining their stride during a fatigued state, which can potentially lead to injury

2)Those who did something, but weren’t specific about it saw some improvements, but those improvements could be better if they had planned more.

3)Those who had the best plan saw the greatest improvements as the plan was specific to their goals and the sport they train in.

Runners need to:

1)Be evaluated

2)Have a concrete plan of what they need to do in order to perform better and prevent injury.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Research Review: Concurrent Training vs. Strength Training Alone

Effect of concurrent endurance and circuit resistance training sequence on muscular strength and power development.

Chtara M, Chaouachi A, Levin GT, Chaouachi M, Chamari K, Amri M, Laursen PB. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jul;22(4):1037-45.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of the sequence order of high-intensity endurance training and circuit training on changes in muscular strength and anaerobic power.

Subjects: Forty-eight physical education students (ages, 21.4 +/- 1.3 years) were assigned to 1 of 5 groups: no training controls (C, n = 9), endurance training (E, n = 10), circuit training (S, n = 9), endurance before circuit training in the same session, (E+S, n = 10), and circuit before endurance training in the same session (S+E, n = 10).

Methods: Subjects performed 2 sessions per week for 12 weeks. Resistance-type circuit training targeted strength endurance (weeks 1-6) and explosive strength and power (weeks 7-12). Endurance training sessions included 5 repetitions run at the velocity associated with Vo2max (Vo2max) for a duration equal to 50% of the time to exhaustion at Vo2max; recovery was for an equal period at 60% Vo2max. Maximal strength in the half squat, strength endurance in the 1-leg half squat and hip extension, and explosive strength and power in a 5-jump test and countermovement jump were measured pre- and post-testing.

Results: No significant differences were shown following training between the S+E and E+S groups for all exercise tests. However, both S+E and E+S groups improved less than the S group in 1 repetition maximum (p < 0.01), right and left 1-leg half squat (p < 0.02), 5-jump test (p < 0.01), peak jumping force (p < 0.05), peak jumping power (p < 0.02), and peak jumping height (p < 0.05). The intrasession sequence did not influence the adaptive response of muscular strength and explosive strength and power.

Conclusions: Circuit training alone induced strength and power improvements that were significantly greater than when resistance and endurance training were combined, irrespective of the intrasession sequencing.

Some of my thoughts on how we can use this:

1) There were 4 groups to look at in this study (5 if you count the control group who did nothing, but since they made no improvements, obviously, I will not bother talking about them) and they all had a slightly different sequencing of training over the 12 week block.

The endurance group performed a high intensity interval protocol based around 5 high intensity runs at Vo2max (measured prior to the start of the program. Their rest interval was performed at 60% of their Vo2max and the duration of the sprint interval and the recovery interval were based on one-half of the subjects’ time to exhaustion at their maximal speed (measured prior to the start of the program).

The strength training group performed circuit training workout broken down into 4 three-week blocks. The first two blocks focused on strength endurance and the third and fourth blocks focused on strength and power.

The other two groups performed both training sessions (concurrent training) and the only thing that changed was the sequence of the work completed. So, one group performed the endurance workout followed by the strength workout and the second group performed the strength workout followed by the endurance workout.

2) While the researchers concluded that the strength group out performed the concurrent training groups in strength and power, I thought it was interesting to note that both concurrent groups made similar improvements in strength and power, regardless of whether they performed the endurance training first or the strength training first. I think this is important for a few reasons. First, people seem to always get into the debate of when to perform their aerobic work, “Should I do it after I lift or before I lift?” When we look at athletes who need to perform speed and agility work, it is probably best to perform this stuff BEFORE lifting, as the last thing you want to do is fatigue the lower extremity and then have the athlete go out and try and sprint or do agility work and blow out an ACL or pull a hamstring. I am generally not a big fan of running (more importantly intense running, as used in this study) after a weight training workout. If you are going to perform aerobic work (or sprints) after your weight training and your goal is general health and fitness or fat loss, then I would rather see you hop on the bike, row machine or versa-climber to get the work done as you don’t have to balance yourself and interact with the ground (of the moving ground if you are on a treadmill) and worry about decelerating yourself.

3) This study gives us some good background for planning or periodizing training. As I have said before “You can’t serve too many masters.” Basically what I mean is, it is tough to try and make great improvements in both strength and endurance or speed at the same time. You don’t see powerlifters performing long slow distance running on the weekends and you don’t see marathon runners performing heavy singles and doubles during the week. You have to be specific to what you are training for. Oftentimes people will ask me to look at their workout and it will have some Olympic lifting, some cardio, some heavy strength training and some hypertrophy training all in the same week. Realistically, there is no way they are going to make great improvements in any of those because they are trying to focus on to much. Pick one thing to focus on and attack it. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing the other things, but they should make up only a minimal amount of your total training volume (or to paraphrase Zatsiorsky says, “While focusing on one quality, train other qualities at retention loads.” However, in this study the concurrent training group did make improvements, just not as great as training strength alone (if pure strength is your goal, then you should know what to do). Zatsiorsky also says that you should try not to focus on more than two qualities in one training block. This was adhered to in this study as the first phase of training focused on anaerobic endurance (with the sprints) and then strength endurance, followed by the second phase of anaerobic endurance and strength and power. Which leads me to my next point.

4) Going along with our periodization and how we structure our training programs, this study can be helpful as we know that we can make improvements in strength and conditioning (again, not as great as if we only trained strength alone). This can be helpful if we have only a short period of time to work with an athlete (which is obviously not optimal, but does happen). As well, this can help us out in planning as we can focus on our strength and power in earlier phases of training and then as we near the competitive season, begin to transition over to a combination phase (concurrent training) of the qualities need to be successful in the athletes given sport.

5) The fact that similar increases were made in both concurrent training groups can be of some interest to endurance athletes, who in the offseason, may opt to focus on strength and power prior to their endurance work (split into to workouts a day; strength in the AM and run in the PM) and then, as they shift into the competitive season and their marathon prep, they would want to focus mainly on endurance work first (since it is most important at that time) and perform their strength work second in the workout.

6) The subjects in this study were not elite athletes, so it would be difficult to know how the genetically elite would respond. However, there is some good information that everyone can take from this study and apply to their own training program.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Question on Stretching

I've brought this up before, but resources for designing an adequate stretching program just don't exist, at least not good ones anyway (from what I've found)

For example, I can stretch as much as I want but I still seem to have tightness in those areas. Maybe that's indicative of another problem, or maybe I'm just doing the "wrong" stretch. I really don't know, and short of going to a PT it seems like it will stay that way.


Hi Daniel,

Thanks for writing in! Sorry it took so long to get back to you on this as I just got home after being at the NSCA National Convention for the past 4 days. What a great time! I learned a ton.

Anyway, to your question…

As far as resources go, the Aaron Mattes Active-Isolated Stretching stuff is really great. If you haven’t checked that out yet, I would take a look at it.

When you are stretching, it is important to focus on structures that are tight and NEED to be stretched. We don’t need to increase length in structures that already have good length. One thing you have to do, is determine where the areas of tightness are. This really goes back to having a good assessment plan and determining where your greatest restrictions lie. Another resources that I have talked about, if you haven’t checked it out yet, is Gray Cook’s Athletic Bodies in Balance. It is an excellent book that tells you how to movement screen yourself and find out where the limitations are. This can then help you plan a flexibility program and start correcting some of these limitations.

Sometimes, things that feel tight are not tight at all. In fact, they may have proper length, however we perceive them as tight do to issues with the way that we move or how we test them.

A good example of this is the test were, you lie on the ground and lift your leg straight up in the air to look at your hamstring flexibility. This may show you that your hamstrings are tight, or you may have a false positive (meaning that you test positive for hamstring tightness but, the hamstring length may actually be unaffected). This can be due to tightness of the hip flexors on the opposite leg (the leg on the ground) and weakness in the rectus abdominus. This will cause the pelvis to anteriorly rotate as you bring the leg up in the air. This will limit the amount of hip mobility (in this case hip flexion) you can attain and give the appearance that the hamstring is tight, when in fact it may not be.

On the flip side of that, if you have weak hip flexors on the leg which you are testing, as you bring the leg up off the ground straight, you may not approach a normal 80-90 degrees of hip flexion and may think that the hamstrings are tight. However, the hip flexors on that leg may just be weak and not able to sufficiently pull your leg up any higher.

Another thing to consider with this test is that often times, people will have adequate hamstring length, but feel that the muscle is tight. They may actually be feeling more neurological stiffness as they may feel a stretch in their dura mater (this is the outer most sheath that surrounds the spinal cord). This can sometimes give you that “tight” sensation.

Something else to consider with this test is where are you feeling the stretch? Some people will feel their first sensation of this stretch in their calves, indicating that the gastrocnemius muscle may be tight (but, the straight leg raise test would give the impression that the hamstring is tight). This would mean that you need to stretch the gastroc first to the test and/or stretch the hamstring. Others may feel this stretch first in the front of their hip, indicating that there is a possible bunching up of fascia in the hip flexor region. In that case, you would want to go and perform some soft tissue work on those structures to allow proper movement to take place.

Also know that there are several methods of stretching, and static stretching is only one modality in the toolbox. Dynamic stretching, contract-relax, contract-relax-contract antagonist or active isolated stretching can all be very helpful and you may find that you respond better to one form of stretching than another. Soft tissue work (massage, ART, myofascial release or foam rolling) can be helpful prior to stretching as they can have a positive impact on the fascia by releasing adhesions and helping allow the tissue to relax before it is taken into a lengthend position.

Finally, remember that flexibility is a neurological problem as much as it is a muscular problem. If something is tight (or if something is weak) it will be relaying info to the nervous system that will affect other muscles (synergists and antagonists). When we are working on flexibility (or even soft tissue work) it is important to make sure that we try and re-integrate our flexibility back into normal movement to “re-program” the nervous system to remember that it is okay to move through these new ranges of motion.

Thanks for the Question. Hope that helps give you some ideas.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Runners Are A Funny Bunch

Only July 4th, I spent my morning down at a 5K race in Peoria. I set up a massage table and performed post event sports massage and stretching at the AZ Tech training tent. I was there from about 6am until 8:45. I don’t know exactly how many people I saw, but it was a lot.

Some things I noticed:

- Before the event started, there weren’t a whole lot of people performing an adequate warm up. Rather, opting to just go out there and run once the race got underway.

- After the race, there weren’t a whole lot of people performing an adequate cool down (aside from those who where in line to get on my table that is); stretching or using the foam rollers (that were available there) to take care of soft tissue problems.

- I would say the majority of people I got to work on had some sort of problem that was chronic. This wasn’t, “I my calf cramped up today” or “My hips were just really tight this morning. It was more like “My Achilles tendon has been hurting for the past 3 months” or “My lower back always hurts and it has been this way for a few years.”

- When asked what these people do for their problems, aside from maybe a half-hearted stretching program, there was not much else! No soft tissue work, no specific stretching or mobility protocol and no specific strength training program to help correct some of the issue they may be having. Rather, most of them just opted to “run through it”, in the hopes that it just goes away.

Some thoughts:

This type of behavior is very typical of runners. Most of them only look at one aspect of their training program…running! In all honesty, I more comprehensive and well-rounded program would serve them better as it would (a) prevent over training and (b) work along with their running program to prevent injury and increase performance by fixing problems (weakness, compensation patterns, etc) and helping to keep them healthy.

Something that the AZ Tech training group does that really sets them apart from other running groups in the valley is they look at the athletes posture and running technique and come up with some stretching and strengthening program that can help develop the athlete (be it an elite or recreational athlete). This is in-line with my beliefs, as these problems don’t just go away! You need to be proactive about taking care of them, before they manifest into something potentially worse.

Being proactive is all about going through a proper assessment and then taking the time through out the week to work on the weak links in your chain. Wouldn’t you like to know what it feels like to run without pain? Don’t you want to have a healthy running career, free of injury?
Stop pushing through the problems, and start looking for solutions!

PS, this week I will be out of town, In Las Vegas for the National Strength and Conditioning Associations National Convention. It should be a great time and I hope to learn a lot from the lectures. Next week I will be back with some more Q&A’s. If you have any questions, please leave them in the ‘comments’ link at the bottom of each blog entry.

Optimum Sports Performance