Monday, November 29, 2010

Increase Overhead Squat Performance

Increase your stability in the bottom position for your Snatch and Overhead Squat

Here's a little twist on a strength and conditioning stand-by: the Overhead Squat.  And by twist, I'm talking about ensuring the rock solid position necessary to lock-out, bottom-out, and finish your snatch or overhead squat.  Twisting, bending, wobbling, etc. are the enemy of any successful lift and a sure fire way for an athlete to get hurt or have little to no transferability from the gym to the arena.
Having a partner provide slight rotational force on a dowel while in the overhead squatting position is what we term as rhythmic stability.  This is about finding the "middle way" - the route that ensures balanced contraction from both sides and from all angles.  This simplified definition asks one thing from the athlete and one thing from the partner.

- Athlete must keep proper posture for the entire exercise.  Never sacrifice technique or structural integrity for achievement.
- Partner must only provide enough force to ensure that the athlete can be challenged and still maintain posture.
Both must work together - no job trumps the other; just accept that this is not a "tug-o'-war" - it's about teamwork.

Doing this exercise correctly yields multiple benefits:
1. Decreased stress on our skeletal system as well as on tendons, ligaments, and joints.  The muscles have to contract appropriately, especially those small stabilizer muscles that then allow the big muscles to move the big weight and apply explosive force into the ground.
2. Improved respiration while performing intra-abdominal contraction - this will improve transferability to real life.  The training for this exercise extends as your ability to perform it improves - endurance is the key.  Stop counting reps - improve performance by extending time under tension with excellent form.  This is priority for preventative maintenance exercises as they help our major lifts and improve functional strength and power.  By increasing the length of the set and breathing more efficiently you promote transferability to the real world where counting reps is obsolete and respiration is essential.
3. Improved compliance to high performance training... we need variety, altered demands, and interaction with our friends, teammates, etc.  The timing and force vectors for this exercise is always different/changing, and there is just something to be said about resisting and fighting against good ole fashioned man (or woman) power.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clean Ancillary - Hang Clean Pull

Own your 2nd pull... and have a little extra pop in your hips for anything life throws at you

I can't get enough of triple extension... it is needed in nearly every sport and there are so many great ways to train it.  The Hang Clean Pull is just one of the many exercises we do with our athletes to bring out the animal in their glutes and high hammies.  I love the clean pull off the ground that USAW showcases... the ZR Hang Clean Pull version is easier to learn, more specific for sport specific lifting, and just as beneficial.
I cover a lot of details in the video, but here's a quick list of the benefits and the applications-->

1. Simplify the hip extension movement which is so valuable to moving big weight or doing big things in most sports.
2. Teach young athletes and reaffirm to ole salty vets the reason why we are doing cleans to begin with - technique + assertiveness = success.
3. Build confidence... you can rep out 125% plus of your clean max for this lift.

- Perform a set or two prior to doing clean for strength or power development - this will excite your nervous system and get you ready to rock.
- Hit a rep before each full clean or power clean rep - this is an "on-th-spot" self coaching tool, great to ensure your moving the bar with your hips before your arms.
- Hit 3-5 sets of 2-5 reps of big resistance (90-125% of your clean max) on days after you hang clean or on days you're only snatching.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Squatting Below Parallel

Get your squat grooved just right to reap the maximum benefits (and stay in one piece)

Two issues that every coach and athlete must face when it comes to the squat:
1. Maintaining posture throughout an entire squat, especially at the end range/bottom position.
2. Maintaining the necessary intra-abdominal pressure to keep the pelvis and trunk connected.

Losing either of these battles leads to a shortened career squatting, due to lack of performance and/or injury.  For this video, I really want to dial into grooving that ideal squatting motion or hip hinge.  All the while keeping the low back with an acceptable lordosis.  You'll find your spine staying healthier, your hamstrings and gluteals being utilized more (thanks for the feedback 2nd day DOMS), and an improved endurance for stabilizing your core.  My focus will be on addressing issue #1 for this blog, my application will be the air squat.

Dial in and get these 5 things done to improve your below parallel squat:
1. Claw the ground with your toes
2. Spread the earth without letting your feet move
3. Initiate the downward motion by pushing your hips back smoothly
4. Allow the knees to bend
5. Keep your bodyweight on your heels

- Aim your butt BACK & DOWN - use a box or a bench as a target and kiss it with your cheeks.
- Hold onto a stable structure while air squatting to put more stretch on the hamstrings and elicit more from your posterior chain.
- Increase your range just like you would increase your strength; gains are made over time with consistency and dedication.

Monday, November 15, 2010


We all love to train and work hard, but do we want more than just a "good workout" from our hour or two in the gym?

I always enjoy meeting up with my former coach and current good friend and colleague Mark Lovat.  We have engaging conversations that range from the technical applications of our craft to the personal growth that comes from fortifying the mind-body connection.  Human performance coaching and training is a engaging business and when done right can lead to a lifetime of fulfillment for both the coach and the athlete.
Currently, Mark is in charge of the strength and conditioning for the Packers.  He was the assistant during my playing days, but now he is the head honcho and is making the most of his well deserved opportunity.  As a player, I admired Mark's broad scope of knowledge - he knew his shit and had a passion to learn more.  But as strong as his brains were; Mark's gut (his instincts) were even better.  Coach Lovat had a knack for getting the best out of everyone, myself included.  I highlighted best for a reason, because we typically think that we have to give our "most" when it comes to training.  And as Coach Lovat taught me: your "most" isn't enough, you must give your best for this training thing to work.  Follow me on this...
I was the typical blue collar, midwest, linebacker, wrestler type of athlete.  If it didn't hurt then I didn't want to do it; I felt I needed to bleed for every victory.  I would lift to failure, run to exhaustion, vomit, cramp, tear my hands open, rinse, and repeat.  It bordered on self-flagellation - and it started to cost me.  Injuries, less than optimal results, burn-out, etc. were starting to get my attention - what more do I need to do?!?  I wanted results for the football field first - I needed to get stronger, bigger, faster, more explosive, and more resilient against injuries.  What I was doing was closer to the opposite, I was breaking myself down and spinning my wheels too often.  Fortunately, I took a deep breath and began the process of learning that there was a better way to train.  But when you get some good results from "hammering down" and "sucking it up" it is tough to shift the paradigm.  And... sometimes more importantly - your confidence is tied completely to this "what you put it in is what you get out" mentality.

Like I was saying, my eyes started to open a bit - I was blessed with some awesome coaches along the way.  Learned some amazing things that transcend what they print in the books and some fun applications that create very dramatic training effects.  This stuff was great, but what I learned from Coach Lovat was novel.  At this same time, I also started to notice it was standard operating procedure amongst the NFL elite.
What was finally coming to light for me was that my "most" wasn't getting it done!  I had to do my best and I had to do it everyday.  I saw the salty vets doing it... Darren Sharper, William Henderson, Donald Driver, etc.  And I noticed how Mark would elicit the best from other players as well.  He had a knack for mixing in what guys needed to do in order to perform and still maintain their confidence and fill their need for an exercise fix (getting a "good workout").  Too often the idea of "training smart" is associated with sub-maximal exercises, active recovery, technical learning - in short, necessary but less than demanding applications or "entertainment training" as it is commonly referred to in training circles.  This isn't the case with the pros baby!  Training smart means training hard at the right time - but it's all about putting it out on the field, to get it to transfer and transfer consistently.  It was a revelation for me and took my training to a whole new level.
I got stronger, faster, leaner, faster, more whatever-you-need-to-play-better-er!  I wish I just learned it sooner.
All training is cumulative, the wears and tears from the sins of my youth led to some surgeries and permanent structural changes.  But no fear here, I continue to learn and practice what I preach - my body is as healthy and fit as ever.  Mark found a way to convince me along with many other players from varying backgrounds, training histories, and work ethics to have our cake and eat it too.  Getting training to transfer demands science, it also demands that the athlete trusts the system.  The coach's job is to gently merge the two, sometimes unbeknownst to the target (athlete).  In time, a mature athlete will accept a better way - the paradigm will shift and so will his/her results.
As a coach, what can we do to help our athletes ease this transition.  Maybe you're competing or maybe you just want a healthy lifetime of fitness.  Regardless, here's a few pointers that can help:

- Mix corrective exercise throughout a workout.  Sometimes a full 15minutes of necessary (but boring) injury prevention exercises can dull the mood and athletes lose their drive.  Get the essentials in the beginning to ease into the warmup, and save the ancillary correctives for select times to use as a rest between more demanding efforts.  Check out this workout we call 60in60 for an example of strategic applications of injury prevention and variable energy eliciting efforts sprinkled though out a workout.  For exercise videos that coincide with the workout, check: http://zoneready.net/FunctionalTraining.asp
- Layout the yearly plan so the athletes see where they are going and how you'll help them get there.  If you're making up workouts as you go along, you're just filling the hour and you know it!  True training requires the ability to work from goal achievement back to through to where you're at now.  See the big picture in your mind and on paper before you start applying paint to the canvas.
- Measure a few things and do so consistently.  Testing maxes, PRs, times, circumference or goniometric measurements, etc. every 4-6weeks does three things... 1. Let's you know what you're doing is having an effect (now, just make sure you're measuring the right stuff, more on that another time!); 2. Keeps the athlete's confidence high - crucial for buy in and compliance; 3. Prevents most occurrences of overtraining which means less injuries and more fun.

This is one of the more fascinating topics in our industry - would love to hear your thoughts or share your story, coaches and athletes alike.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Long Lasting Grip Strength

Keep your grip healthy so it can get stronger and stay that way for years to come

We are "training" our grip strength on a daily basis.  The good news is that the musculature and tendons in our forearms and hands are built for this kind of abuse.  If you're into training - then you're guilty of overdoing it from time to time.  Furthermore, if you live in anything but a 3rd world country then you make your living operating a computer and/or mobile device to varying degrees.  Grabbing, crunching, pinching, squeezing, holding, plunging, gouging, typing, tapping, texting and so forth are part of your life and will continue to be for some time to come.  Our paws were built to last, but the volume and continuous stress may be more than we can get our hands around.
Give yourself an opportunity to sustain this abuse - hit the stretches and a couple of easy exercises in your spare time.  The stretches will relax and lengthen the overused tissue - typically associated with all the grabbing, crunching, etc. movements that are common place.   The corrective exercises will strengthen the small hand movements that don't necessarily get trained.  Together, you can extend the life of your hands, wrists, and elbows.
For the stretches... Perform 1-2sets and hold for 15-30sec each paw.  Or perform the active-isolated version by holding a gentle stretch for 2sec and then releasing for a sec, repeating for 10-20reps each.
For the exercises... 2-3 sets on each side.  Spreading the fingers begs for about 30 reps for some smoke, 50reps for the fire - work up to that.  The manual resistance finger extensions will need 15-20reps at a slow pace.  Make sure either exercise takes 30-60sec to complete on each side.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Essential Fats

A quick skinny on getting the right source of fats in your high performance diet

I was stuck - in a pinch - no opportunity to escape.  I was stuck watching the weight-loss phenomenon known as "The Biggest Loser" and I feared I'd lose an hour of my life never to be seen again.  In short, I'm not a big "appointment TV" watcher and engineered drama is completely wasted on me.  Nevertheless, I was gonna make the most of it and learn something... anything.
Here's what I learned - the public is becoming educated on the terms saturated and trans fats.  In the same breath they are feeling encouraged to consume the "good fats" as part of a healthy diet.  It wasn't too long ago that those inclined to achieve aesthetic perfection avoided fat of any kind.  The belief that nutritional fat was/is/becomes body fat - and that the consumed fat source would bypass the digestive track and attach to the seemingly unsightly fat deposit area on the body.  Some still abide by this belief - but thanks to Jillian this wive's tale seems to be dying.

This is not a good source of Omega 3s

If the public opinion is shifting in the right direction, then as high performers we should definitely keep up and more often stay ahead of the power curve.  The training and execution of a program seems to be our first love.  We can be neglectful, I'm as guilty as anyone.  I've had stints where my type-A nature goes 100mph, my nutrition gets "dialed in," and the results are plentiful.  I've also had spells where I ate whatever and lucked out or didn't set myself too far back.   Either way, I learned from the process.  Now, as I 'm older and hopefully a little wiser, I strive to find a more sensible - easy to follow - and results producing plan... Thanks Jenn Reed!

This is more like it!

Back to chewing the fat... let's make this simple.  Let's AVOID and let's INGEST the following fat sources.  Combined with the right macro-nutrient breakdown (Protein-Carbs-Fats), finding room for fats in our diet is essential.  Benefits are tremendous on our long term health - reduced cholesterol, lowered blood pressure, decreased body mass index, defuse any blood sugar level abnormalities, and ease on the digestive system.  For the high performer who wants tangible output and wants them now, avoiding and ingesting from the following suggestions will:
1. Improve work capacity via enhancing metabolic pathways (how efficiently your body can use its energy stores).
2. Accelerates the recover process, especially assisting in delaying the negatives affects of overtraining.
3. Increased cognitive performance, especially when under duress.

- Hydrogenated oils (aka - Crisco)
+ Avocado and olives
- Soft butters and all margarines
+ Canola, olive, flax seed oil
- Hard cheeses
+ Corn, soy, safflower or sunflower oil
- Anything packaged or processed
+ Coconut oil and milk
- Anything fried
When in doubt...read the label...
+ Salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, herring or         sardines
 ...and be weary of saturated and trans fats
+ EFA supplements with a 3:1:1 Omega-3 to Omega-6 to Omega-9 ratio

+ Butters or nuts: macadamia, walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds and a few cashews and peanuts

Monday, November 8, 2010

Healthy Hips

Some active stretches to increase ROM and recoverability for your hips - but your low back, knees, and ankles will thank you too

I get asked a lot by folks about great stretches for the hips.  Usually, the inquisitor has nagging symptoms or some acute trigger that shows itself in a specific movement pattern, like squatting below parallel.  And just as often, the question comes more specifically out as a need to stretch the internal and external rotators of the hip (femur).  Always obliging, I share the active isolated stretches as shown above.  Here's why these four stretches are winners:
- These stretches allow you to articulate the joint at different angles promoting increased adaptability and eventually transferability to your endeavor.
- Allowing the head of the femur to break free from its routine range of motion reduces toxic buildup in the joint and is a useful tool to promote learned and not rigid hip ranges and stability (more on attractor wells another time).
- In a more relaxed position (lying on your back) there is a greater opportunity to allow any inhibiting spasms in the area to dissipate which in turns allows the muscles that you are targeting to stretch.  If the compensating muscles or prime movers are locked as to protect the joint and more than likely part of a dysfunctional motor recruitment program, they will prevent the smaller internal and external rotators from experiencing the stretch they need.
- The active-isolated stretching mechanics demands as much from the targeted (agonist) lengthened muscles as it does the opposite (antagonist) shortened muscles.  This improves your motor learning and promotes a long term relationship between muscles on opposite side (or at least in opposite roles) around a joint.  To put it another way, you won't get that deadened feeling in your muscles after doing this stretch - it really will warm you up.
- They don't take long to do and you can do 'em cold - that get's you up and going after the fun part of the workout!
- Increased hip mobility also improves articulation and joint health in the surrounding joints - back, knees, and ankles.  Our bodies are just one long chain, don't let there be a weak link.
If you want to know more - just shoot a comment below and I'll get back to you.

Perform 1-2 sets of 15reps on each leg of each of the four stretches shown.  Hold each stretch for only 2seconds to get the benefit of the active isolated stretching concept, longer is not better!  You can get a towel or stretch rope or even do with a partner.
Have at it and keep that whole chain healthy and swinging!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Core Training

Build an athletic "core" and keep low back and knee injuries away at the same time

Core training is so much more than sit-ups, side crunches, and back extensions.  All of the aforementioned are fine exercises - but they're limited in their ability to transfer into the real world.  And sometimes, if you saturate your program with exercises that lack transferability - it can actually deaden your ability to perform.  Ask the crunch and sit-up aficionados to run with appropriate forward lean and optimize their hip extension in the drive phase.  No chance... you'll get someone who is hunched over thinking he's staying low and short stepping his acceleration because his hips and adductors are too tight and his glutes are latent.
All this to prove my point - train your core to deliver on "Gameday."
 - If you like to lift big weight, train your ability to maintain an abdominal brace.
 - If running's your thing, teach your core how to remain engaged while respirating naturally.
 - If your changing directions and reacting in your sport, then get your core trained to be able to transition it's ability to stabilize and mobilize within those various demands.
Here's the good thing about the above video... it's good for all the demands listed above!  Furthermore, it isolates motion within the transverse or rotational plane.  Better yet, it teaches you how to decelerate in that plane.  Highly needed since upwards of 90% of all back and knee injuries typically happen as we try to decelerate or slow down within this transverse plane of motion.
Hit the Rhythmic Stability exercise before, during or after any type of training.  It works for everyone, regardless of sport.  Just start controlled and slow - learn it, own it, then condition it!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Clean Ancillary

To bump up your clean… improve hip extension on your 2nd pull with the hang clean from mid-thigh

Is your clean not climbing like it used to?  Are you constantly being cued to get better extension through your hips and frustrated that intension is not turning into positive action?  Do you want an exercise that highlights the essence of explosiveness and is more transferable to real life that any other Oly lift?
Any "Yes-es?"
Then let’s start doing Hang Cleans from the Mid-Thigh!
This exercise forces you to extend from the hips in order to move the bar.  Two big positives that you’ll get…
   1.  Increased ability to explode from a stationary position – in other words, break inertia like a horse out of the gate.
   2.  Gain awareness of the difference between hip extension and back extension – crucial if you want to lift big and stay healthy.
Follow the tips and cues in the video – some things to keep in mind:
   - Start with body weight into the heels more than the toes.
   - Keep chest up, avoid doing a “power back extension"
   - No movement before you hit this movement – leave momentum and any bad habits behind.
Start very light and work on your bar speed.  This has more to do with learning a skill than it does with having you sweat and get a “good” workout.  Start by doing things right and develop champion habits; build a foundation for a mansion not an outhouse – comprende?  Guys stick with between 40-50kg (90-110lbs), gals use 20-30kg (45-70lbs).  3-4sets of 5reps with 90sec rest in between will do ya good!
Keep your arms out of this as best you can.  Remember, the reason we’re doing HCs is because we’re probably “muscling” our clean – let the hips do all the work.   Set your acute variables like you would any other platform exercise, just take your resistance down 10% to accommodate the hang clean from mid-thigh starting position.  Lowering the bar and catching in between reps is feasible for warm-ups and lighter efforts, but for your working sets - drop from the racked position and reset for each rep.

The starting position is key - Get that nailed down then get aggressive!