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Archive for the ‘Sport Specific Training’ Category

People are really starting to love my random blogs. Many people email me and tell me that they keep the page minimized on their screen throughout the week so they can check out all the different links and thoughts that I post. In this week’s random blog you’ll learn how to detect bullshit, how to avoid making errors in reasoning, how to win internet arguments, how we learn, the secret to innovation, the three stages of truth, the 80/20 law, new exercises, and a bunch of great links to check out!

1. Baloney Detection Kit

In the Strength & Conditioning Field, we encounter a lot of BS! We need to know how to distinguish legitimate claims from baloney. Here’s a great video by Michael Shermer that describes his “Baloney Detection Kit” which was inspired by the brilliant scientist Carl Sagan.

Here are the ten questions to ask yourself when examining a claim:

1. How reliable is the source of the claim?

2. Does the source make similar claims?

3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?

4. Does this fit with the way the world works?

5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?

6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?

7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?

8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?

9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?

10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

2. Logical Fallacies

In Strength & Conditioning, we are constantly developing new and improved methods. If you stand on the cusp on innovation, then you’re going to have to convince people that your claims are valid. If you want to be a good arguer/debater, then you need to understand logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is simply an error in reasoning. You need to avoid them in your own logic and be able to spot them in other’s logic. Some of the more common logical fallacies include ad hominem, appeal to authority, bandwagon appeal, begging the question, card-stacking, confusing correlation with causation, non-sequitur, red herring, and straw man.

For more information on this kind of stuff, you can click here, here, here, here, and here.

3. How to Win Arguments

In Strength & Conditioning there exists a tremendous number of internet forums that debate fitness related information. If you want to win arguments on internet forums, then you have to learn the art of internet war. This is some funny stuff! Check it out here, here, and here.

4. Schema

While in college studying to be a teacher, I studied “learning theory” which incorporated different theories from badasses in the field of Education such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Howard Gargner. We learned that individuals tend to learn new things by attaching new knowledge to prior knowledge and organizing the information into webs or frameworks of knowledge called “schema.” When people have a basic foundation of prior knowledge they can more readily understand, assimilate, and cement more advanced knowledge because they attach the new knowledge to existing schemata. This helps explain why some smart folks get so damn smart and why knowledge tends to snow-ball. In the field of Strength & Conditioning, guys like the late Mel Siff and William Kramer were/are known for possessing such great wealth of knowledge. Why is this important? Chances are you’ve attended a lecture or read an article that was way over your head and too advanced. You probably didn’t retain any of the knowledge because you didn’t attach it to prior knowledge. Most failed learning is simply due to an inadequate base of fundamental knowledge. All knowledge builds upon itself which is why it’s so important to take a broad array of courses and possess a vast understanding of different fields and topics. I thought of this when I was watching a Thomas Myer lecture on Fascia. Charlie Weingroff was in the room and I thought to myself, “I bet Charlie is grasping a lot more of this than I am since he has more prior knowledge onto which the new information could attach itself.” The take-home points for this topic are:

1. It takes time to get really smart

2. If you are trying to get someone to understand what you’re talking about, make it relevant for them by finding a way to relate to their prior knowledge

3. If you want to really understand how a certain coach, therapist, or expert thinks, try to understand how they organize information (schema) which profoundly impacts the way they think.

For example, I look at a barbell hip thrust as the best sprint-vector hip extension strength training exercise which can assist in increasing maximum speed. Some coaches look at it as a maximum glute activation exercise that trains the brain to fire the glutes. Some coaches look at it as an assistance exercise that can build the squat and deadlift but is less “integrative” than the primary lifts. We all organize information differently. Think of some of the various bright-minded folks in our industry – Boyle, Cook, Weingroff, and McGill. These guys all think similarly but quite different when you really learn the way they think. Figure out their schema to learn how they tick. For more information about schema you can click here, here, and here.

5. Inperts vs. Experts

In 1960, a cosmetic surgeon named Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote a longtime best-selling self-help book entitled Psycho-Cybernetics. He pointed out that most of the world’s great discoveries have come from people outside of the field of discovery. In contrast to experts, he called these people “inperts” and explained how experts tend to think within the box, while inperts tend to think outside the box. In the field of Strength & Conditioning, we often look outside of our field for answers to various questions since we’re too busy training athletes to become an expert on certain topics. Often an outsider who has an extensive background in an area such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, or even Dance or Physical Therapy can offer extremely valuable insight that has the potential to greatly impact the way you think and operate as a trainer. Don’t underestimate the value of these outsiders as they don’t think inside the box like most people in a given field.

6. The Three Stages of Truth

A German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer who lived from 1788 to 1860 stated that:

All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as being self-evident.

In Strength & Conditioning I remind myself often of this quote as new truths take time to seep in and gain acceptance.

7. Pareto’s Principle

The Pareto principle, which is also known as the 80/20 law, states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In Strength & Conditioning this is important as most likely 80% of our gains in strength come from the big basics such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent over rows, military press, chin ups, and dips. I like to think that hip thrusts and walking lunges can be in that group as well but you get the point. In sports, 80% of our gains in speed come from sprints and basic plyos.

This is important for NCAA strength coaches as in-season rules permit 20-hours of athletic activity per week and off-season rules permit 8 hours of athletic activity per week. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for screwing around!

Still, we should keep striving to learn more even though the remaining 20% of things is very technical, exhausting, and convoluted. There is much we’ve figured out but so much we haven’t figured out. But this is necessary for advancement.

8. Insurance Policy

I always tell people to take a multivitamin/mineral as an insurance policy in case they’re not getting enough of a certain nutrient in their diet. Now that know that roughly 1/6 of the world is deficient in Vitamin D, I’m relieved that I gave the advice I did regarding supplementation. Perhaps taking vitamins is a main reason why there aren’t even more Americans who are Vitamin D deficient.

9. Sleep

I’ve always been a shitty sleeper. I’ve literally struggled since puberty to go to sleep at a normal bedtime. My body tells me to be like a vampire. I’m also a very light sleeper and wake up from anything. If you’re anything like me then you must follow two basic rules which will change your life:

1. Get an industrial fan, point it straight up into the air, and turn it on at night for “white noise.” You won’t hear any dogs barking, horns honking, car alarms, doors closing, or birds chirping. It’s seriously a life-saver.

2. Put dark curtains over your existing curtains so absolutely no light enters your room. Seal out any light so that your room is literally pitch black. Another life-saver.

These two practices will greatly improve your quality and quantity of sleep.

10. The Barbell Glute Bridge is Huge for MMA

I keep meaning to write an article on strength training for MMA purposes but I never seem to get around to it. As many know, I’m really strong at barbell glute bridges. In fact, I can currently barbell glute bridge 545 lbs for 6 reps.

How does this help in MMA? I could go on for an hour about how glute strength and glute power will increase striking, clinching, take-down, submission, and take-down defense abilities, but one specific situation is worth mentioning; the full mount.

I’ve found that my glute bridging strength makes me very hard to hold down in a full-mount position. In other words, my glute bridging strength helps me escape full-mount positions quite easily. Since I’m able to thrust 545 lbs, a 225 lb opponent feels like cup-cakes.

Of course, there is much technique involved in BJJ so certainly it matters whether an opponent has his hooks in, whether he’s at your hips or sitting higher on your torso, and how tight he is gripping you with his thighs. However, this hip-bumping power can come in really handy in full-mount situations as you can buck so forcefully that they fall off balance which prevents them from landing serious blows and attempting submissions in addition to providing you with opportunities to sweep or escape. In fact, I developed a special method of full-mount escape where you literally launch the guy and escape out from in between his legs. In short, if you’re a fighter or a strength coach for MMA, the barbell glute bridge can be a life-saver.

Here’s a video of me tossing 225 lbs around like it’s cotton-candy.

225 lb Explosive Barbell Glute Bridge

11. Not Everyone is Built to Squat

I hear this comment all the time but no one ever talks about why some people aren’t built to full squat. When full squatting, your body forms what I like to call a lightning bolt (from the side view). Since the barbell needs to stay over your mid-feet, some individuals’ lighting bolts don’t look to good when they get to the bottom of a full squat. Depending on the lengths of their torsos, femurs, and tibias, some people may have much more forward lean at the bottom of a full squat than other people. It’s all about anthropometry!

12. Bench Rows are an Awesome Exercise for the Back

13. Band Seated Rows are a Great Exercise for the Back Too

14. Make Front Planks Harder By Performing the Long Lever Plank

15. I’m Still Trying to Get Up to a 600 lb Deadlift

On Monday I did a 545 lb sumo dead on my fifth set of deads (which followed five sets of squats). I think I’ll get 565 next week and then it will be a slow and steady climb. I can’t wait to get to 585 which is 6-plates on each side. A 12-plate deadlift earns you an irrevocable man-card for life.

16. Gymnastics Training Can Yield Some Pretty Good Results!

I stumbled across this T-Nation interview with Coach Sommer the other day:

T-Nation: That’s impressive. I’ve heard stories that these athletes can lift a surprising amount of weight in the deadlift and other lifts, even though they never train these lifts. Is that true? And if it is, how’s that possible?

Sommer: Gymnastics training does indeed build incredible strength. For example, I was not a particularly strong gymnast, yet I was able to do a double bodyweight deadlift and weighted chins with almost 50% extra bodyweight on my very first weight training attempts.

One of my student’s, JJ Gregory, far exceeded my own modest accomplishments. On his first day of high school weight lifting, JJ pulled a nearly triple bodyweight deadlift with 400 pounds at a bodyweight of 135 and about 5’3″ in height. On another day, he also did an easy weighted chin with 75 pounds, and certainly looked as though he could’ve done quite a bit more. We’ll never know for sure because the cheap belt I was using at the time snapped.

Why gymnastics training results in such high levels of strength is still unclear. My personal opinion is that the secret lies in the plyometric nature of the movements. In a way this reminds me of the results experienced by Adam Archuleta, with the exception that we’re using bodyweight variations combined with straight arm work to obtain our results.

17. Dave Tate on the Importance of Strength for Football

Here’s another great excerpt I came across this time from Dave Tate:

Dave Tate: To be strong you must have strength. Pretty simple concept, don’t you think? So did I, but then I started getting a lot of e-mails telling me strength isn’t important for sports. So I had to go back to the drawing board and rethink this one. After many hours of deep thought I still have to say: strength is very important! A quick football example and I’ll move on to how to develop strength.

I’ve been told there’s no need for a lineman to be able to squat over 350 pounds as he’ll never have to move more than that on the field. This may be true if he had to move the 250 pound guy one time and it didn’t matter how fast he moved him. We know in the game of football that the rate of force development is very important. You don’t want people being moved slowly. We know from Mel Siff’s writings that max force in the barbell squat can be measured at around 60%. At Westside we’ve found close to the same percentage to be true.

The other thing we know is the average play will last under ten seconds and there’ll be between three and ten plays per drive. Our lineman who squats the “recommended” 350 will now be able to create max force at 210 pounds and may or may not be conditioned to do this more than one time. Too bad the guy across from him weighs 350! Who will wear who down?

Now, if the lineman could squat 600 pounds he’d create max force at 360. Does he have to actually squat 600 pounds? No! But he better be able to create max force with 350 pounds for eight to ten sets of two to three reps (around ten seconds set length) with 45 to 60 seconds rest. If not, he’s at a disadvantage.

18. How to Train When You’re on Vacation

When I travel I always try to stick to the plan and train hard despite the fact that I may be on vacation. Usually I can find a good gym but sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle when you’re out of town. Sometimes it’s best to just do a simple workout in the hotel or house at which you’re staying. I used to get all creative and try to hit all the different movement patterns but now I just keep it simple.

Nowadays I make sure to bring a TRX system and some JC Bands and think of it as an opportunity to take a deload week. I’m still going to get a great metabolic workout and providing a training effect that will help maintain strength while sparing the joints as there’s no heavy loading. Let’s say I was out of town for a week. I might do 3 full body workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with paired supersets consisting of 2 circuits of:

A1: Bulgarian squat (rear foot on bed, chair, or couch) – 20 reps each leg
A2: Feet-elevated TRX inverted row – 10 reps
B1: Bottom-up single leg hip thrust (back on couch, heel on coffee table) – 12 reps each leg
B2: Feet-elevated push up – 30 reps
C1: Band lat pull – 20 reps
C2: Band press – 20 reps
D1: Band hip rotation – 12 reps
D2: Front plank – 60 seconds
D3: Side plank – 30 seconds each side

Another caveat to this workout is that it would allow me to eat like a horse while on vacation without putting on much extra pounds.

19. Is the Reverse Lunge Knee or Hip Dominant?

I consider squats, front squats, lunges, reverse lunges, walking lunges, step ups, Bulgarian squats, and single leg squats to be knee/quad dominant.

I consider deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, rack pulls, trap bar deadlifts, good mornings, single leg RDL’s, glute bridges, hip thrusts, back extensions, reverse hypers, glute ham raises, Russian leg curls, pull throughs, and slideboard leg curls to be hip dominant.

Here’s why:

The first reason is because I studied the muscle activation of every one of these lifts. However, let’s ignore that for now and focus on a different matter.

Most people nowadays know that they should try to include at least one knee dominant exercise and at least one hip dominant exercise in their workouts.
If reverse lunges were considered “hip dominant,” then someone could do a front squat and a reverse lunge and consider their workout “well rounded” when in actuality it wouldn’t be close. The person will have done a great job of hitting his quads, an okay job of hitting his glutes, and a crappy job of hitting his hamstrings.

In truth there’s a continuum within each category of knee dominant and hip dominant exercise. For example, a reverse lunge would be at the far end of the “hip dominant” side of the knee dominant spectrum whereas a trap bar deadlift would be at the far end of the “knee dominant” side of the hip dominant spectrum.

In my mind in order for a routine to be “balanced” one needs to perform an exercise that looks like a squat and one that looks like a deadlift or a bridge. This strategy will maximize athleticism in my opinion as it hits the different directional load vectors and adequately strengthens the muscles in a similar manner in which they’re used in sports.

In truth, I like a 1:2 knee dominant: hip dominant ratio in my workouts so I like to see a movement that looks like a squat (quads), a movement that looks like a deadlift (hamstrings), and a movement that looks like a bridge (glutes). So I like at least 3 lower body movements in all of my total body workouts (and all three stress the glutes in different ranges of hip flexion so it leads to a well-rounded glute strengthening protocol).
In fact, my “standard” lower body workout consists of full squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts. I probably do this workout 50% of the time lately.

20. What is the best glute activation exercise and why?

You have to look at the EMG research (which has only been done comprehensively by yours truly). Four case studies show that barbell hip thrust/barbell glute bridge movements activate the most glute musculature out of all movement patterns that utilize the glutes. This is due to 1) the incredible stability created by sandwiching your hips in between secured feet and shoulders, 2) a preferential anteroposterior load vector for the glutes, and 3) bent knees which reduces hamstring contribution due to inferior length tension relationships which forces more contribution upon the glutes. Start with bodyweight, learn to move solely at the hips and prevent “false hip extension” at the lumbar spine and pelvis, and begin adding resistance gradually in the form of a dumbbell, sandbag, plate, and eventually a padded barbell. Still squat, still deadlift, still lunge, and try to abduct and externally rotate the hips as well, but loaded bridging movements are king in terms of glute activation.

21. Mathew Perryman on Speed Work

I thought this was a great quote that Matt put up the other day which echoed my thoughts on the matter.

If you’re doing “speed” work with the bar and missing the same weight on your ME day every week, you should probably have a really hard think about your training. There’s a reason beginners are advised to stick to basic progressive overload. Simple never stops working. Complication takes experience.

22. Sleep Deprivation Blows!

Here’s a quote from a Newsweek article on sleep deprivation:

Moreover, cognitive and mood problems may not be the only consequences of too little sleep. Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that too little sleep changes the body’s secretion of some hormones. The changes promote appetite, reduce the sensation of feeling full after a meal, and alter the body’s response to sugar intake—changes that can promote weight gain and increase the risk of developing diabetes. Since then, multiple epidemiological studies have shown that people who chronically get too little sleep are at greater risk of being overweight and developing diabetes.

23. What is a Motor Engram?

According to this article,

As it pertains to sports training, we attempt to create what’s called “Motor Engrams.” Motor engrams are specific pathways that the nervous system uses to minimize the work of the brain and spinal cord. As your body performs a certain movement or activity over and over, your body automatically creates one of these pathways, or engrams. Once an engram is created, your body will be able to perform that specific activity without nearly as much input from the brain. Your brain will tell your body to perform the movement and the engram will take over.

24. Mike Robertson on Bilateral vs. Unilateral Training

This was an awesome excerpt from Mike which echoes my beliefs on this topic.

To be blunt: Squats, deadlifts, power cleans and the like are your best option if you’re looking to get bigger, stronger, and more powerful. Can you improve strength, power or mass while training exclusively on one leg? To some extent, sure. But you’re not going to see the same kind of changes without some big, compound lifts in your programming. It really comes down to two key factors: Base of support, and the amount of stability you have.

25. Hardest Core Exercise Ever?

The Diesel Crew just put out this video and are saying it’s the hardest core exercise ever. I’ll have to give it a try; it looks tough! If prescribing this to others I’d make sure the athletes had great hamstring flexibility and core control to minimize chances of harming the low back.

26. Great Reads for the Week

How Bacteria Can Make You Fat – It’s Not Just About the Calories; It’s About Your Proportion of Bacteria and the Amount of Food They Break Down

The Nutritional Industry May be Skewed by Industry Dollars

Twice a Day Training by Charles Poliquin

Dumbbell Power Cleans are Dumb by Charles Poliquin

Functional Hypertrophy and Athletic Performance by Charles Poliquin

Appreciation for Good Tips by Charles Poliquin

First White Boy to Break 10-Seconds in the 100 Meter Sprint!

Turkish Get Ups by Mike Robertson

Very Inspiring Article from Eric Cressey Reflecting on the Past Three Years

Mobility and Stability by Kevin Neeld

Dr. Perry on the FMS

A PDF on Stretching

An Interview With Rob Panariello (This Guy is My Idol – Very Smart!)

A Definition of Corrective Exercise by Carson Boddicker

Why Do We Cramp Up? A Study Abstract

So You Think You Can Bench by Dave Tate Part I, Part II, and Part III

53 Ways to Build Muscle and Gain Strength by Jason Ferrugia

Building Muscle Fast/Best Exercises by Jason Ferrugia

Study Shows that Plyos are Better Than Dynamic Concentric Only Weight Training in Improving Running Economy

A Closer Look at the Biomechanics of Strongman Events by Stuart McGill

Gray Cook Expanding on the Joint by Joint Approach Part I, Part II, and Part III

Addicted to Daily Squatting by Mathew Perryman

One of the Most Interesting Forum Threads I’ve Ever Read by Glen Pendlay on Weightlifting Protocols in Various Countries

Mike Robertson on Fitcast – Kevin and Jon Feel it’s One of the Best Episodes Ever!

Dan John Quotes by Tony Gentilcore

A Freakin’ Hilarious Random Blog by Tony Gentilcore

Eight Predictions by Carl Valle

Foam Rolling Thoughts by Carl Valle

Rolling Article by Charlie Weingroff

Review of Fascial Manipulations Technique by Charlie Weingroff

That wraps it up for the week! I’ll be back tomorrow or Friday with a new blog that I did with Keats Snideman on assessments.

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Last week Strength Coach and Sprinter Keats Snideman came to BCSC (Bret Contreras Strength & Conditioning aka Bret’s Badass Garage) for a specialized glute and sprint-specific strength workout. This was actually his second workout in my garage as he’s making a concerted effort to maximize his glute strength and attempt to get stronger in the anteroposterior (max speed sprint) vector. Keats is a very well-respected individual in the sport-specific training community as he’s been at this for many years. He’s been there, done that, and is a bit of a wise owl. He’s known for being open-minded yet highly skeptical. The fact that he immediately approves of these exercises is a testament to the exercises’ effectiveness as it’s just not possible to “pull the wool” over Keats’ eyes. Here are the clips from his workout:

1. Barbell Glute Bridge

This short-range movement allows you to use a ton of weight and maximally activate the glutes.

2. Barbell Hip Thrust

This variation allows for more range of motion around the hip joint.

3. Single Leg Hip Thrust

Note that in my garage I use a Skorcher (a machine that I invented) to go really deep. You can mimic this by using two benches.

4. Band Hip Thrust

Again, at my garage I use a Skorcher for the band hip thrust which really accentuates the end-range contraction. This is very difficult to mimic as the band tension comes from far below the exerciser.

5. Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extension

Note that the knees stay bent to decrease hamstring contribution and increase glute contribution and the hands brace against the side rails to allow for irradiation and transfer through the lat, core, and thoracolumbar fascia into the glute.

6. Pendulum Donkey Kick

This variation utilizes knee extension with simultaneous hip extension and would better transfer to acceleration sprinting as the directional load vector is a blend between anteroposterior and axial. Note that Keats is fatigued and has tremendous difficulty controlling his core. This exercise is extremely challenging for the core, glutes, and quads, and is very difficult from a metabolic perspective as well.

Keats’ Reflections

As you can see, Keats is one smart dude. I should mention that prior to these glute exercises Keats had done sprints, cleans, deadlifts, and ultra high step ups. Keats had a race shortly after his first workout in my garage and he did very well. He speculated that these exercises helped him power through the sprint cycle and activate his glutes more efficiently even though he had only performed one workout! Indeed, a good strength training program can have dramatic short-term effects that can be seen rather quickly as well as long-term effects that are realized from many years of training.

Still squat and lunge, still do Olympic lifts, still do plyometrics and ballistics, and certainly still sprint! But make sure you add in some anteroposterior exercises as well such as barbell glute bridges, barbell hip thrusts, and pendulum donkey kicks for maximum glute power and sprint speed development. Hope you enjoyed the post!

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This blog is a very important read for any individual who works in the strength & conditioning and sport training professions. It is my hope that the terminology described within this blog will catch on and find itself being utilized much more often in conversation and literature. Please read this blog and decide for yourself which language you will proceed to use when describing movement.

Planar Terminology

In the sport-specific training profession, it’s very common to hear coaches utilizing planar terminology to discuss movement. You might overhear a strength coach saying something like, “I like this exercise because it’s multiplanar,” or, “this exercise is great because it’s a sagittal plane movement that requires stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes.”

There are three body planes (body planes are sometimes called anatomical planes or cardinal planes) which are imaginary lines that divide the body into two parts:

In case you didn’t know, a cable chop or lift would be considered multiplanar since they combine movement in the transverse, sagittal, and frontal planes, and a squat is a sagittal plane movement that requires stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes since the knees want to cave inward and enter into a valgus position (adduction and internal rotation of the femurs) which requires proper upper glute firing to prevent this energy leak. If you look at the diagram below, you’ll be able to envision how a lateral raise or jumping jack is a frontal plane movement, a pec deck or a baseball swing is a transverse plane movement, and a crunch or a lunge is a sagittal plane movement.

While planar terminology is a great start, I believe that we can do better. Planar terminology is too general which is why we need load vector terminology. Load vector terminology is more specific to movement. Our profession borrowed planar terminology from Anatomy language, but in general Gross Anatomy doesn’t look at movement. Load vector terminology is used often in Engineering to describe force vectors. As you may know, a vector contains both magnitude and direction.

I’ve been using this terminology for around a year now and I’m tired of sounding like a geeky engineer. I need more of my strength coach friends and colleagues to start using this terminology so I don’t seem like an odd-ball. My friend Dr. Perry Nickelston has taken a liking to load vector terminology which made me feel like Alan in “The Hangover.” I’ve seen Tony Gentilcore and Keats Snideman use the terminology as well. Perhaps there are now four in our wolfpack!

In a September 9, 2009 StrengthCoach Podcast (Episode 43), Mike Boyle discussed one of my articles that incorporated load vector terminology. He told a story about how he heard Vern Gambetta many years using planar terminology and was thinking to himself, “What in the hell is all of this sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane stuff?” Apparently Vern began using the terminology after being exposed to it through Gary Gray seminars. Mike relayed to us that the terminology eventually became common jargon in our field and alluded to the fact that the terminology I was using could very well catch on too once people learned the language.

If you want to listen to the podcast, click here. Mike Boyle and Anthony Renna actually discuss me, my glute stuff, and my terminology for 10 straight minutes (from the 15 minute mark to the 25 minute mark in the podcast).

What’s the Point in Using Load Vector Terminology?

Although I feel that strength coaches should still use planar terminology depending on the situation, I feel that strength coaches should also be well-versed in load vector terminology since there are plenty of situations where load vector terminology is more appropriate and descriptive.

Why is planar terminology insufficient? In planar terminology, jumping, running, and backpedaling are all sagittal plane movements even though they are quite different as one action has you moving upward, one has you moving forward, and one has you moving backward. Load vector terminology corrects these types of deficiencies and allows us to better describe movement.

We can use load vector terminology as a way to categorize exercises, describe movement, assess strengths and weaknesses, and choose exercises that may transfer better to sport. . Load vector training takes into account the “line of pull” or direction of the resistance, as well as the position of the exerciser’s body in space when they are directly opposing the resistance or line of pull. The easiest way to determine a directional load vector is by using images to show a graphical representation of the direction of resistance (via an arrow) in relation to the human body.

Basic Load Vector Terminology

The first thing I want to say about load vector terminology is that it’s not rocket-science. Seriously, it’s not that advanced. Top-notch strength coaches these days have to understand much more advanced concepts in the fields of physical therapy, biomechanics, and physiology. So let’s agree that we need to raise the bar and not consider the terminology below “too difficult to grasp.” We may be meatheads, but we are intelligent meatheads! Here is some basic load vector terminology:

• Anterior – toward the front (sometimes synonymous with ventral)
• Posterior – toward the back (sometimes synonymous with dorsal)
• Lateral – toward the side (away from the midline)
• Medial – toward the middle or midline
• Superior – upper or above
• Inferior – lower or below
• Axial – top to bottom
• Torsion – twisting or rotating force
• Anteroposterior – front to back
• Posteroanterior – back to front
• Lateromedial – outside to inside

The Six Primary Load Vectors in Strength Training and Sports

Here are the six primary vectors I see in the weight room and in sports:

1) Axial
2) Anteroposterior
3) Lateromedial
4) Posteroanterior
5) Torsional
6) Axial/Anteroposterior Blend

Room For Improvement: Load Vector Terminology is Great but Could be More Specific

We could certainly be more technical if need-be. For example, true axial lifts provide compressive forces and wouldn’t include exercises like chin ups. Therefore, if we wanted to be accurate, we would need to split axial into superoinferior and inferosuperior and lateromedial into lateromedial and mediolateral. However, in my model I lumped them together for the sake of convenience. Another possibility to “clean up” the axial terminology is to use “axial positive” for compressive exercises such as squats and overhead press and “axial negative” for distraction exercises such as chin ups.

Furthermore, I like to consider all horizontal pressing as anteroposterior load vectors yet depending on the positioning (prone vs. supine) the load vector reverses. For example, a push up is technically posteroanterior while a bench press is anteroposterior. The same can be said about horizontal pulling; an inverted row is anteroposterior while a prone bench row is posteroanterior. Finally, the same could be said for horizontal bent leg and straight leg hip dominant lifts; a hip thrust is anteroposterior while a reverse hyper is posteroanterior. For the sake of simplicity, I lump all horizontal pressing into anteroposterior as in every exercise the intent is to push forward via shoulder flexion/horizontal adduction. I lump all horizontal pulling into posteroanterior as in every exercise the intent is to pull rearward via shoulder extension/horizontal abduction/scap retraction. Finally, I lump all horizontal hip dominant lifts into anteroposterior as the intent is to either push the hip forward or pull the thigh rearward via hip extension/hip hyperextension.

You might be wondering why there’s an axial/anteroposterior blend. This distinction is necessary because it separates acceleration sprinting from max speed sprinting as well as certain exercises and plyos that are blends of both vectors. This is very important as optimal training for these vectors may require both specific vector exercises as well as a balanced blend of axial and anteroposterior vector exercises. Of course, we could create more blends to describe different sporting movements as truly every combination of load vector exists.

I should mention that in sports there is often no “load” except for one’s own bodyweight. Sometime’s it’s confusing when determining vector terminology in terms of transfer of training in the weightroom over to sports. For example, when an individual is sprinting he is moving his body forward which would be “posteroanteriorly.” If he’s leaning forward during acceleration then there exists more of an axial component (as alluded to earlier). However, if we mimic this vector in the weightroom we must apply a load in that direction. If we put a bar on the hips and do a supine barbell hip thrust or if we pull a sled, the direction of the load is anteroposterior. However, if we use a pendulum to perform a loaded quadruped hip extension or if we hold onto a dumbbell during back extensions, the direction of the load is posteroanterior. For this reason I believe it’s okay to oversimplify things and simply refer to sprints, hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and back extensions as movements that train the “anteroposterior vector.”

Axial Load Vectors (Includes Superoinferior and Inferosuperior)

• Squat Variations
• Deadlift and Good Morning Variations
• Olympic Lifts
• Single Leg Squats: Static Lunges, Bulgarian Squats, Step Ups, Pistols
• Vertical Pressing (Military Presses)
• Vertical Pulling (Chins Ups, Parallel Grip Pull Ups, Upright Rows, Shrugs)
• Barbell Curls
• Vertical Jumping, Vertical Plyos, and Jump Rope

Anteroposterior Load Vectors

• Single Leg Glute Bridges and Single Leg Hip Thrusts
• Barbell Glute Bridges and Barbell Hip Thrusts
• Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extensions
• Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers
• Russian Leg Curls, Glute Ham Raises, and Slideboard Leg Curls
• Bench Presses, Push Ups, and Standing Cable Presses
• Pullovers
• Planks, Ab Wheel Rollouts, and Bodysaws
• Max Speed Sprinting

Posteroanterior Load Vectors

• Band Resisted Forward Lunge
• Backward Sled Drag
• Seated Rows, Inverted Rows, One-Arm Rows, Standing Cable Rows, and Face Pulls
• Backward Hops and Backpedal Sprinting

Axial/Anteroposterior Blends

• Walking Lunges
• 45 Degree Hypers
• Pull Throughs and Kettlebell Swings
• Pendulum Donkey Kicks, Reverse Leg Presses, and Power Runner Machine
• Incline Presses, Decline Presses, and Dips
• Bent Over Rows, Corner Rows, Chest Supported Rows, Prone Rear Delt Raises, and Prone Trap Raises
• Sled Pushes and Pulls
• Farmer’s Walks and Yolk Walks
• Stadium Sprints
• Acceleration Sprinting, Forward Leaping, and Pushing an Opponent Forward

Lateromedial Load Vectors (Includes Lateromedial and Mediolateral)

• Side Lying Abduction, X-Band Walks, and Band Standing Abduction
• Lateral Raises
• Side Planks and Suitcase Carries
• Lateral Sled Drags
• Lateral Hops, Lateral Plyos, and Jumping Jacks
• Cutting from Side to Side and Carioca
• Slide Board Lateral Sprints

Torsional Load Vectors

• Pallof Presses
• Rolling Patterns (Supine to Prone, Prone to Supine, Upper Extremity Driven, Lower Extremity Driven, Soft, Hard)
• Dynamic Cable Chops, Dynamic Cable Lifts, Woodchops, and Landmines
• Band and Cable Hip Rotations and Tight Rotations
• Tornado Ball Slams and Rotary Med Ball Throws
• Side Lying Clams, Seated Band Abductions
• Pec Deck, Reverse Pec Deck, Flies, Prone Rear Delt Raises (Especially Unilateral Versions of These Movements)
• Swinging, Punching, and Throwing

Load Vector Analysis Can Be Pretty In-Depth With Certain Exercises

Here are some thoughts from my friend Joe Sansalone, a like-minded colleague:

Almost all rotary stability and rotary movement training exercises are a combination of torsional/lateromedial or torsional/lateromedial/anteroposterial load vectors. I dont think any anti-rotation exercises are truly torsional only. All the exercises I can think of have a frontal plane stress as well as a transverse plane stress within them. So perhaps we need another load vector blend catogory called the torsional/lateromedial load vector.

“In addition, how do we classify the load vector of a 1-leg sldl with a contra-lateral or ipsi-lateral load? Thinking about it led me to realize that the trunk is axial/lateromedial loaded when standing and anteroposterial/torsionally loaded when hinged. I guess it would be axial/lateromedial/torsional/anterioposterior load vector exervcise for the trunk and a axial/lateromedial/torsional load vector exercise for the stance leg hip. No wonder it is such a demanding movement!”

These comments are very insightful as they illustrate that:

1. Often multiple load vectors exist within a single exercise
2. Load vectors can fluctuate throughout an exercise, and
3. Load vectors can vary according to different regions of the body during a single exercise and technically there’s at least a slightly different directional load vector on every single joint in the body during an exercise

Application to Sport-Specific Training

Load Vector Training (LVT) is not a specific type of routine that you can follow. It’s simply a model that you should keep in mind during programming to make sure you’re training the correct vectors and keeping balanced strength between various vectors. Although load vectors are important considerations for all types of fitness endeavors, LVT has the most application to sport-specific training. Below are some bullet-points to consider.

• Let the sporting actions dictate the best way to train a movement in the gym. See the pictures below. What do these pictures tell you? Consider the exact lines of propulsive force for each activity. Then analyze which strength and power exercises follow those same force vectors

• An athlete is always moving in one direction while stabilizing in the other directions

• LVT is the ultimate compliment to Physics and Functional Anatomy

• Strength and power training according to the proper load vectors activate muscles in the specific manner in which they activate during sporting movement. This is extremely important!

• There is certainly appreciable overlap between the development of strength in various vectors. For example, performing heavy squats will likely transfer to every single vector. However, for maximal total vector strength more specific means are necessary

• Use all the tools available; bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, bands, chains, body leverage systems, cables, machines, sleds, ropes, Indian clubs, grappler/landmine units, etc.

Start looking critically at various exercises. Although most movements are beneficial and provide a training effect, start asking yourself questions like these:

• How would a static lunge have an axial vector whereas a walking lunge would have an anteroposterior/axial blend vector?

• What is the difference between a good morning, 45 degree hyper, and back extension?

• How do load vectors impact accentuated regions of force development and positions of maximum muscular contraction? For example, in what position is the most difficult part for the glutes in a squat (axial loaded), at the bottom (hips flexed) or at the top (hips neutral)? In what position is the most difficult part for the glutes in a hip thrust (anteroposterior loaded), at the bottom (hips flexed) or at the top (hips neutral)? What about a good morning and back extension?

• Which implement would be best for training rotary power; a landmine unit, bands, dumbbells, cables, a barbell, a kettlebell, a trx, etc.?

• During a side lunge is the emphasis on pushing upward or laterally? Would a slideboard be better at training lateral power?

• Would a band or dumbbell be more useful for training punching power in terms of a jab? What about an uppercut?

• What implement would be better for training for rotary power for chops and lifts, a medball or a cable column?

• For sprinting speed should you use a weighted vest to provide more axial loading or a sled to provide more anteroposterior loading?

• Ask the same question except now the question applies to resistance training: Should you use a hip thrust or a squat to train for maximum upright sprinting speed?

Application to Bodybuilding/Physique Enhancement Training

• Let the muscle fiber directions dictate the best way to train a muscle part, muscle, or muscle group. See the pictures below. What do these fiber directions tell you?

• Hit the muscles from different angles!

Application to Powerlifting

• Load vectors for the big three lifts are: squat – axial, bench press – anteroposterior, deadlift – axial

• Lower body lifts: axial for specificity (good mornings, squat and deadlift variations), anteroposterior for posterior chain activation (back extensions, 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, pull throughs, glute ham raises, etc.)

• Upper body lifts: anteroposterior for specificity (board presses and chest supported rows), axial for delt and lat activation (military press, chins, etc.)

Application to Core Stability Training

The list below in my opinion is the most comprehensive list for core stability training as it truly incorporates every vector and includes the best exercises for each category.

Anti-Extension (Posteroanterior and Anteroposterior Forces)

• Posteroanterior forces: front planks, RKC planks, stability ball rollouts, blast strap fallouts, ab wheel rollouts, bodysaws, chin ups

• Anteroposterior forces: hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, back extensions, and reverse hypers done properly (which encourage lumbar hyperextension and require core control to prevent this energy leak. In other words you have to teach individuals not to hyperextend their low back during hip thrusts and reverse hypers as well even though they have opposite load vectors as most “anti-extension exercises” for optimal core stability)

Anti-Lateral Flexion (Mediolateral Forces)

• Mediolateral forces: side planks, single arm lateral raises, off-set/unilateral-loaded lunges, off-set/unilateral-loaded squats, off-set/unilateral-loaded deadlifts, off-set/unilateral-loaded overhead presses, and off-set/unilateral-loaded farmer’s walks in varying positions for example, suitcase or waiter’s carries (note that with the exception of the side plank these are all axial exercises with unilateral loading)

Anti-Rotation (Torsional Forces)

• Torsional forces: Pallof presses, chops, lifts, landmines, rolls, weighted bird dogs, weighted dead bugs, hip rotations, stability ball Russian twist (done properly), off-set 3-point push up holds, single arm cable chest flies, one arm TRX rotational rows, one arm cable rotational rows, dumbbell one arm rows, off-set/unilateral-loaded cable rows, and off-set/unilateral-loaded cable chest presses

Anti-Flexion (Axial and Anteroposterior Forces)

• Axial forces: squats, deadlifts, and good mornings

• Anteroposterior forces: back extensions and reverse hypers (done correctly)

Application to Conditioning

Consider the different vector variations when you use the following implements for conditioning. Use variety in conditioning. For example, many athletes are great at barbell circuits but do very poorly with band circuits as they don’t have anteroposterior hip stability, strength, and endurance.

• bodyweight complexes (good balance of all vectors if done correctly)
• barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell complexes (mostly axial)
• JC band and TRX system complexes (mostly anteroposterior)
• grappler/landmine complexes, battlerope and Indian club complexes (great for vector variation and mediolateral/torsional vectors)

Application to Activation Work

Load vector consideration can be used to increase the activation for certain muscles or to accentuate the region of force development on initial range or end range contraction (stretch position vs. contracted position). Here are some examples:

• Foot elevated scap push ups for increased serratus anterior activity (you want a strict anteroposterior vector)

• Face pulls and prone trap raises – mid traps, low traps, and rhomboids (alter vector to target various fibers)

• Shoulder elevated glute bridges (hip thrusts) for increased glute max activity (you want a strict anteroposterior vector up top in the contracted position), foot elevated glute bridges for increased hamstring activity

• X-band walks – upright for glute med and mediolateral vector focus, crouched with bent knees for more glute max and torsional vector

• Hip flexion – supine anle weight for anteroposterior/stretch position emphasis, standing ankle weight for axial/contracted position emphasis

To most coaches directional load vectors are obvious from an upper body standpoint. Vertical pressing will target the shoulders better than horizontal pressing, whereas horizontal pressing will target the pecs better than vertical pressing. Vertical pulling will target the lats better than horizontal pulling, whereas horizontal pulling will target the scapular retractors better than vertical pulling. Most coaches understand the difference in muscle activation as it pertains to core exercises as well, as the various spinal flexion, spinal lateral flexion, spinal rotation, and core stabilization exercises allow us to “feel” the various muscles working differently. However, most coaches do not possess an adequate understanding of directional load vectors as it pertains to hip extension. Most mistakenly believe that hip extension is hip extension, that anteroposterior hip extension exercises shouldn’t be loaded up, and that bridging is merely a way to “isolate” prior to “integration” to teach glute activation.

If the direction of the load vector didn’t matter, then we’d prescribe squat motions for glute activation rather than bridging motions. Simply put, bridging motions activate more glute than squatting motions at equal loads. For example, a bodyweight bridge will typically activate three times as much glute as a bodyweight squat, as will a 300 lb glute bridge over a 300 lb squat. Bridging motions strengthen the glutes in a more “hips-extended” position which is a critical range in sports as that is the exact range of foot-strike during a sprint (the range that yields the highest glute activation in a sprint).

Application to Assessment

It’s important to be strong, stable, and ultimately powerful in all directions. Often someone can possess great movement efficiency in one vector and poor movement efficiency in another.

This is one of the reasons why many coaches like to say, “Everything is an assessment.” Literally every exercise one performs provides clues as to how strong and proficient the athlete or client is in the various movement pattern or vector.

An individual may score well on the FMS (which is a 7-test screen that includes the deep squat, hurdle step, inline lunge, shoulder mobility, active straight leg raise, trunk stability push up, and rotational stability) yet still possess weakness in various vectors. For example, I’ve seen individuals who score well on the FMS yet still have trouble performing bridging movements such as the single leg glute bridge. They may squat and lunge (axial movements) properly but perform poorly on single leg glute bridges (anteroposterior movement). Furthermore, the rotational stability test for a 3 is very difficult and rarely yields a perfect score but the test for a 2 is similar to a bird dog exercise with additional movement. The contralateral nature of the bird dog isn’t the best test for rotational stability as the arm and leg can act as a bit of a counterbalance to reduce torque through the core. I’ve seen individuals who score a 2 on the rotational stabilty test yet struggle with a 20-lb Pallof press (the lighest weight on the cable stack).

For reasons like these, we realize that initial screens such as the FMS are excellent but by no means “all inclusive.” The simply assess risk, clear individuals for various movements, and provide clues as to possible corrective exercise strategies. During the actual strength and power training portions of the session you will be provided additional clues as to how strong or powerful an athlete is in a typical vector.

For example, I’ve trained a powerlifter who could squat and deadlift over 500 lbs yet couldn’t perform a 135 lb hip thrust (this is rare but these types of imbalances do indeed exist). This guy had great axial hip strength and crappy anteroposterior hip strength. His squat and deadlift form appeared sound; he sat back in the squat, didn’t round his back and use his erector spinae as a prime mover in the deadlift, etc.

I trained a 6’3″ professional basketball player who could squat 285 lbs, deadlift 385 lbs, vertical jump 35″, and run a 4.5 forty, but he struggled getting 10 good bodyweight back extensions and ten bodyweight reverse hypers. He could maintain excellent form but these bodyweight movements were very challenging for him. This indicates that he had great axial strength (squats and deadlifts), poor anteroposterior strength (back extensions and reverse hypers), and may be using substitution/synergistic dominance patterns in sports (jumping and running) and leaving something on the table.

So it appears that it’s quite possible to be strong at the hips and core in one vector but weak in another. Glute strength in particular seems to be vector-specific as their role hip extension, hip hyperextension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation requires exercises from each of the axial, anteroposterior, mediolateral, and torsional vectors. Sure, simply developing muscular glutes will go a long way in allowing for multi-directional glute power, but for maximum power in all directions a multi-vector approach to glute training is necessary.

Of course, you always need to consider all possible vector weaknesses and take into account anthropometrical information a well. Does the athlete do poorly on a various moment simply because his or her body isn’t well-suited for the lift, or because it’s a new movement and they haven’t had a chance to learn the form, or are they truly weak in that vector? Sometimes you’ll need to test a couple of different exercises to get an accurate viewpoint. Did the athlete suck at single leg glute bridges because he or she has poor rotary stability or because he or she can’t activate the glutes well from that vector in that range of motion? Did the athlete suck at Bulgarian squats because he or she has poor leg and hip strength or poor single leg stability (in other words, are weak stabilizers or weak prime movers the culprit)? Single leg exercises from various vectors challenge the torsional and mediolateral vectors’ stabilizing mechanisms and involve crucial muscles such as the adductors, glute min, med, and max, quadratus lumborum, multifidi, obliques, and erectors which need to be strengthened and coordinated for proper movement efficiency.

Application to Overall Health

Here are some important considerations for LVT as it pertains to overall health

• Strong Body – Your body needs to be well-adapted to all lines of force for proper levels of strength. Too much emphasis in one directional load vector without enough emphasis on other directional load vectors will yield sub-optimal results and fail to deliver the “ultimate athlete”

• Wolff’s Law of Bone – bone adapts to become stronger according to the lines of directional force placed upon it

• Davis’ Law of Soft-Tissue – all soft-tissue adapts to become stronger according to the lines of directional force placed upon it

• Fascial Health – Thomas Myers, a leading researcher in fascia, recently recommended vector variation for optimal fascial health (which goes along with Davis’ Law)

• Spinal Loading – the spine can only withstand a certain amount of loading in any direction. Since we get compressive forces every time we perform axial movements, every time the hip flexors contract, and every time we brace the core, doesn’t it make sense to at least vary the directional load vectors throughout training to give the spine some variety and rest in a certain direction?

• Strength/Power – It is quite possible to be strong in one vector and weak in other vectors. General strength development through the big basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent over rows, military press, etc.) will certainly develop an impressive athlete but the athlete will likely be ill-prepared for anteroposterior, mediolateral, and torsional activities. For example, there are athletes who are great at squatting and jumping (axial actions) but terrible at hip thrusting and sprinting (anteroposterior actions). We need specialized training for optimal results

• Fun! – Quite often the best program for an individual is the one with which they’ll be consistent. Exercisers have more compliance when they enjoy their routine. In terms of strength & conditioning, exercisers usually like variety. Vector variety not only provides a more effective workout; it provides a more fun and enjoyable workout as well.

How to Mimic Load Vectors

Think like MacGyver. He was a crafty individual. Use your knowledge of Biomechanics and all the training tools at your disposal to target the various directional load vectors.

• If using barbells or dumbbells, standing lifts usually target axial vectors, supine lifts usually target anteroposterior load vectors, and prone lifts usually target posteroanterior load vectors

• If using bands or cables, standing lifts usually target anteroposterior or posteroanterior vectors, while supine lifts usually target axial load vectors

• Performing unilateral variations of axial lifts tends to increase the mediolateral component while unilateral variations of anteroposterior lifts tend to increase the torsional component

• Get creative: change body position, change the angle or line of pull, elevate a part of the body, etc.

Conclusion

Anytime you hear someone in the fitness field using planar terminology, smirk at them and say in a snooty voice, “Hmm. Planar terminology. That’s so 2000!” Then teach them load vector terminology. Of course I’m being facetious as I still use both types of terminology depending on the topic and audience. However, the better understanding you have of directional load vectors, the better you’ll be as a lifter, trainer, coach, or therapist.

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Lately there’s been a lot of activity going on in my brain so I thought it would be a good time to write an article to express my many thoughts. Often I have a good idea that doesn’t warrant its own article so from time to time I’ll just lump a bunch of thoughts together into a “Random Thoughts” article. Although the topics in this article are all over the place, I believe it will be extremely beneficial for any coach or trainer to read this entire article carefully and view all of the videos. Most strength coaches have some personal training clients and most personal trainers train some athletes so we all need to have a good understanding of strength, power, speed, conditioning, fundamental movement, fat loss, nutrition, hypertrophy, corrective exercise, and sport-specific training. Some of the stuff I discuss in this blogpost isn’t being discussed anywhere else, while some of the stuff I stole from other writers in the field, so please enjoy.

1. Does The 10,000 Hour Rule Guarantee Success?

Mike Mahler wrote an excellent article last week that got me thinking. He quoted Geoff Colvin from Colvin’s book entitled Talent is Overrated and discussed his thoughts on the matter.

Extensive research in a wide variety of fields shows that many people not only fail to become outstandingly good at what they do, no matter how many years they spend doing it, they frequently don’t even get any better than they were when they started.

-Geoff Colvin: Talent is Overrated

This led me to consider the whole “10,000 Hour Rule” discussed in Malcom Gladwell’s book entitled Outliers. Gladwell believes that success depends largely upon simply practicing a skill over and over until 10,000 hours of experience is reached. This may give some people false hope. Time and experience doesn’t guarantee success. Due to talent, intelligence, and plain old luck, some individuals will rise to the top quickly in any field they choose whereas others will plateau at a certain level above which they’ll never rise. If you look at the movers and shakers in Strength & Conditioning, you’ll realize they’re all very smart and talented.

Cases in point; Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. I considered these guys experts when they hadn’t yet reached puberty. All kidding aside, we owe a great deal of gratitude to Eric and Mike because they got a lot of us old meatheads to start thinking about mobility and activation because they spoke the language of “Meathead.” I can remember wanting to say to them, “Take your stupid ankle, hip, and t-spine mobility drills, and take your sissy glute activation drills and stick them up your rear-end!” All I wanted to do was squat, bench, and deadlift as heavy as possible. I certainly didn’t want to think about the efficacy of my warm-ups. But these guys were deceptively strong and they knew what they were talking about, so we listened. Eric and Mike are intelligent, talented individuals who squirmed their way into “Expertville” prior to meeting the 10,000 hour quota. Not only that, they dramatically impacted the fitness world with their articles on T-Nation.

On a side note, I’m glad I listened to Eric and Mike. From doing simple SMR, flexibility, mobility, and activation drills over the years during my warm-ups I’ve stayed very healthy. I get injured far more seldom than others who have similar lifting goals. As a matter of fact, I rarely ever suffer even minor injuries despite training heavy week in, week out. I just did a Functional Movement Screen and got 2’s and 3’s on every test – something that few muscle-bound guys like me could do.

On another side note, although I’ve put in far more time than 10,000 hours in this field, it’s not just my experience that is causing me to rise in popularity; it’s largely due to my intelligence. At the risk of sounding cocky, my mind explores areas that other writers’ don’t. That’s why many lifters, trainers, and coaches enjoy reading my stuff; I think of things that they don’t and therefore help them be better at what they do.

Conversely, there are plenty of individuals in the fitness field who will never make it to the top simply because they aren’t smart enough, they aren’t talented enough, or they just don’t have good luck. Read Mike Boyle’s article entitled ” My Top Coaching Influences ” and you’ll realize how valuable of a role luck plays in achieving success.

Last, success is very dependent on personality as well. Recently I’ve spent some time learning from Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Todd Durkin, and Lee Burton. These guys are all class-acts who are extremely passionate about their methods yet still respectful of others. There are a lot of very intelligent individuals in the fitness field who will never go very far simply because they are too critical and too negative. We’re all out there helping people get into better shape and improving the lives of our clients and athletes. Most of us are all good people deep down. Furthermore, there are many different paths that can lead to success. There isn’t only one right way out there. Two coaches can have entirely different methods and deliver similar results in terms of athleticism. I’m all in favor of debate, but it is possible to disagree with someone respectfully and get your point across without sounding hateful and bitter. If you want to be successful in this field, take a lesson from the leaders and keep it positive.

2. Do various lifts transfer better toward certain aspects and phases of movement than others? For example, let’s consider the sprint cycle during maximum speed sprinting. ***This is very important since sprinting speed is the most coveted quality in athletics for good reason – it matters!

I’ll expound upon this topic in a future article but it appears that different lifts are required to optimally strengthen the muscles in all the ranges of a sprint cycle during maximum speed sprinting. In any given movement you want optimal strength and power throughout the entire range of motion. Although speed is highly dependent on timing patterns and contraction/relaxation sequences, you need good mobility, strength, and power in the hips or you won’t be winning any races or setting any records.

In Mel Siff’s masterpiece entitled Supertraining, he debunked the popular, yet erroneous view that the same muscles are dominant throughout the full range of movement. Different ranges of movement rely on different muscles and varying proportions of muscles.

For example, during hip flexion, lying ankle weight hip flexion may strengthen the muscles better in the stretched position, whereas standing ankle weight hip flexion may strengthen the muscles better in the flexed position. Employing one method without the other may yield suboptimal results in hip flexion strength, flexibility, and stability.

During hip extension, squats and lunges may strengthen the hip extensors better when the thigh is flexed forward but deadlifts and even more so hip thrusts may strengthen the extensors better when the thigh approaches neutral and moves rearward into hip hyperextension. Remember that the ground contact phase consists of two phases; eccentric braking and concentric propulsion. Research shows that the forces at this range are so great that the extending hip will actually be pulled into flexion and lose its rearward velocity for a brief moment. Do you really want an athlete’s hips to be weak at this range of motion? I’ve trained athletes who were great squatters but stunk at hip thrusts. By bringing up their hip thrust their end-range hip extension strength increased and so did their sprinting speed.

You want squat and lunge movements to strengthen initial hip extension range of motion, deadlift movements for mid-range hip extension, and hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, reverse hypers, and back extensions for terminal range hip extension. Power movements such as jumping lunges add power to initial range hip extension ROM, jump squats and power cleans add power to the mid range, and sled sprints add power to end-range.

Furthermore, at ground contact, glute ham raises and Russian leg curls may be beneficial for eccentric braking and strengthening the dual functions of the hamstrings as well as the calves at this critical juncture. Perhaps half-squats would be an excellent choice to increase leg-stiffness and minimize energy leaks in relation to vertical forces at ground contact. So would all of the various forms of plyometrics.

Of course, sprint work is where you take the newly strengthened and more neurally activated muscles and ranges of motion and assimilate and coordinate them into your motor patterns. Yes, I just used the word AND four times in one sentence. I never claimed to be Lou Schuler!

While it’s important to get strong at the big basics, it’s also important to understand biomechanics, provide sound variety, and master the art and science of program design. It is possible to incorporate various squat/lunge, deadlift, straight leg hip extension, bent leg hip extension, and hip ext/knee flexion movements as well as Oly lifts, jump squats, plyos, and sprint work into a training system if you really know what you’re doing.

This kind of thinking was in line with what Russian scientists from many decades ago talked about but unfortunately from my experience American coaches don’t have a good understanding of these kinds of concepts. It’s not rocket science either; it’s common sense. If you lift weights and pay attention while training you get a feel for which regions of accentuated stress the various muscles and ranges of motion receive. Here is an illustration from Yuri Verkhoshansky’s book entitled Special Strength Training. I highly recommend this book! I will write an entire blog about this topic in the future and expound about what I’ve briefly discussed in this article.

3. We like to train core stability in a variety of directions and environments. For example, core stability can be categorized as static or dynamic. Depending on the load vector, it can also be classified as anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and anti-flexion for the lumbar spine. We want to be able to control the lumbar spine in any direction. Are back extensions and reverse hypers the ultimate dynamic anti-flexion core stability exercises?

For lumbar anti-extension training we’ve got planks, bodysaws, dead bugs, fallouts, and rollouts. For lumbar anti-lateral flexion training we’ve got side planks and suitcase carries. For lumbar anti-rotation training we’ve got Pallof presses, soft-rolls, hard-rolls, chops, lifts, and landmines. For lumbar anti-flexion training we have slow, controlled, properly performed reverse hypers and back extensions, as well as bird dogs. This last category is actually simultaneous lumbar anti-flexion and anti-extension training because weak individuals will try to flex and hyperextend their lumbar spine to let their erectors perform the movements rather than the glutes and hamstrings. More accurately, they try to make their erectors prime movers and their glutes and hamstrings stabilizers, whereas proper form has the erectors as stabilizers and the glutes and hamstrings as prime movers.

If your athletes or clients can’t demonstrate what’s being done in the two videos below then you’ve got a problem that will surface when squatting, deadlifting, or engaging in high velocity sports.

4. Is the chin up the ultimate dynamic anti-extension core stability exercise?

When I conducted my EMG studies, I was shocked to find that the bodyweight chin up led to the highest levels of lower rectus abdominis activation. It surpassed every ab exercise imaginable – even ab wheel rollouts and hanging leg raises. I wrote a T-Nation article that should be published soon that further discusses the matter and includes a chart listing the core activation of a variety of core exercises. Is it indeed possible that the chin up is the ultimate lumbar anti-extension core stability exercise if you do it correctly?

Notice in the video below; most individuals perform the chin up like the first two examples; they hyperextend their low back or flex their hips for momentum and improved center of gravity. In the third example, the spine is kept relatively neutral. Couple this with muscular legs and you’ve got a very challenging dynamic core exercise on your hands! Bottom line – keep the core in neutral when you do chin ups to make it an effective core stability exercise.

5. Is the superman exercise a valuable tool?

I’ve found that the superman is a very valuable training tool for one purpose; to teach individuals what bad hip hyperextension feels like. This is the only time I ever allow the superman to be performed. I often have people do it and then I say to them, “Feel how your low back is overarching and your lumbar muscles are performing all the work? Whenever I have you do an exercise such as back extensions, deadlifts, or good mornings, I never want you to feel this sensation. I want the movement coming from the hips and the glutes and hamstrings performing most of the work.”

I’ll often show them how to hyperextend their hips (which is natural as the hips can hyperextend 10 degrees with bent legs and 20 degrees with straight legs which we do whenever we walk) by seeing if they can demonstrate the second example in the video shown below. It’s difficult but you raise your hips by squeezing the glutes as hard as possible.

6. Is there really just one way to do an exercise?

As trainers and coaches we need to recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat. People are always in search of “proper form” but proper form depends highly on the individual’s anthropometry as well as the goal of the lifter. In the video below I demonstrate four ways to perform squats, deadlifts, and bench press; the safest way, the strongest way, the way that stresses a muscle the most, and the most sport-specific way.

7. In program design, should we be performing 4 sets of unilateral (single arm or single leg) exercises?

Let’s consider a Bulgarian split squat (Mike Boyle calls it a rear-foot elevated split squat or RFESS). If you perform a set correctly, your entire body is working hard. The quads, glutes, and hams of the front leg are working hard, the hip flexors of the rear leg are working hard, and the upper body and core muscles are stabilizing the load. It’s a full body exercise! In fact, my EMG research shows that the static lunge and Bulgarian squat work the hip flexor muscles on the rear leg harder than any other hip flexor exercises!

Now let’s consider a one-arm row. The lat, rhomboid, mid trap, rear delt, biceps, brachialis, and forearm of the working side are firing like crazy. The triceps, front delt, and pecs of the non-working side are firing to stabilize the load. You’ve got an external oblique on one side firing and an internal oblique on another side firing to stabilize the torso. Again, this is a full body exercise.

So working one side is really it’s own set. Working two sides is two sets. If we perform 4 sets we’re really performing 8 total sets which is a ton of volume. If you use a proper load these exercises get you extremely winded plus they can induce a ton of soreness, which is why I often prescribe just 2 sets of Bulgarian split squats and one arm rows.

8. In program design, should we skew the volume of horizontal pulling for optimum shoulder health as well as hip dominant exercise for optimum low back health?

If you want to stay injury free, I recommend that you stray from the norm and move away from the notion that opposing movement patterns should be balanced in programming. Instead, I recommend that you perform twice the volume of horizontal pulling than horizontal pushing, as well as twice the amount of hip dominant exercise as quad dominant exercise. There are a ton of great rowing movements (one arm rows, chest supported rows, elbows out chest supported rows, face pulls, inverted rows, standing cable rows, seated rows, etc.) many of which can all be performed with supinated, neutral, or pronated grips. Don’t be afraid to perform two different rowing movements in a single upper body or full-body workout. Conversely, I don’t believe it’s necessary to perform an overhead pressing movement or a vertical pulling movement in every single upper body or full body workout.

Along these same lines, I believe that each lower body or full body workout should include both a more straight-leg, hamstring dominant hip exercise or hip extension/knee flexion exercise (deadlift, good morning, glute ham raise, slideboard leg curl, gliding leg curl, back extension, reverse hyper, Russian leg curl) in addition to a bent-leg, glute dominant hip exercise (hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, pull-through, pendulum quadruped hip extension, bottom-up single leg hip thrust).

This skewed programming will go a long way in bullet-proofing the shoulders and low back.

9. For max strength, do bodyweight exercises, kettlebell exercises, and TRX exercises cut it? Do single leg RDL’s cut it? Single leg hip thrusts? Pistols? Planks?

Of course one must master bodyweight exercises before adding load. But after that, should we move onto different movements?

I’m more of a strength guy. Many of my colleagues keep me in check by programming simple bodyweight movements like push ups and inverted rows. When I do push ups or inverted rows, I usually wear a weighted vest or stack plates on top of me. I hate high reps and am always trying to figure out a way to make an exercise harder so I don’t have to do so many reps to get a good workout. How do you think I thought of barbell glute bridges and hip thrusts? When I do chin ups and dips, I add weight via a hip belt. I even place weight on my low back when I perform planks.

In recent years we’ve seen a “back to the basics” movement as well as a surge in popularity of kettlebells and TRX systems.

For sport-specific training where the first rule is to do no harm, I believe that these bodyweight, kettlebell, and TRX exercises are extremely valuable.

However, if you are like me and your goals are to get stronger at the powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift), then these movements just don’t cut it. For these reasons, I like the one arm row and chest supported row over the inverted row. I like the deadlift over the single leg RDL. I like hip thrusts over single leg hip thrusts. I like the Bulgarian squat over the pistol. I like increased stability, I like dumbbells, and I love barbells!

10. Classic books

I believe that not enough lifters truly appreciate our roots in strength training. I try to learn about what the greats from back in the day used to talk about. Much of my thought-process was shaped by the following classic books. Granted, most of them aren’t from too far back, but these books paved the way for different schools of thought. If you haven’t read them yet, you should.

-Only the Strongest Shall Survive – Bill Starr
-Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Beyond Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Super Squats – Randall Strossen
-Dinosaur Training – Brooks Kubik
-Keys to Progress – John McKallum
-The Steel Tip Newsletter – Dr. Ken

11. Glute Bridge Isoholds

I just performed these for the first time the other day. Although I wouldn’t recommend these in certain situations, I believe they have great value in many sport-specific circumstances. The glutes and hamstrings stay extremely activated during the entire static hold.

12. Front Squat Harness

The front squat harness is the best tool available for ensuring an upright torso. The bar placement out in front of the chest actually makes this exercise a hybrid front squat/Zercher squat movement. Awesome core and quad exercise!

13. Hip Thrusts Transfer to RDL’s and Dimel Deadlifts

I haven’t performed RDL’s or Dimel deadlifts in ages, but the other day I decided to throw them at the end of my workout. This was after performing heavy squats, sumo deadlifts, and Bulgarian squats. I cranked out 20 reps in around 30 seconds and felt that I could have gotten 30 reps if I really wanted. I got stronger at these from hip thrusts and barbell glute bridges. I’m just popping my hips forward by squeezing my glutes as hard as possible.

*Please ignore the “She’s a Maniac” song in the background. It’s my sister’s CD. I promise.

Dimel deadlifts are usually performed with 30-40% of one’s 1RM. In this case I’m using a higher percentage of 1RM plus I’m not arching my low back as much as possible as arching the low back and anteriorly rotating the pelvis puts more emphasis on the hams and less on the glutes. I’m trying to use as much glute as possible on this lift. I’d call it an RDL but I think the Dimel deadlift is a better description since the pace is pretty rapid.

14. Glute Ham Raises Don’t Work Much Glute!

Think about it; all your glutes are doing is stabilizing the torso. Even if you perform the glute ham raise by first performing a back extension and swinging through into a glute ham raise, it still isn’t that tough for the glutes. My EMG experiments show that a bodyweight glute ham raise activates the gluteus maximus with a mean of 14% MVC and a peak of 44% of MVC. Contrast this to a barbell plus band resisted hip thrust, which yields 119% and 235%, respectively!

Don’t get me wrong, the glute ham raise is an awesome hamstring exercise that you should be doing from time to time. However, if you want to hit your glutes, do pull throughs, bottoms-up single leg hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, hip thrusts, or pendulum quadruped hip extensions. Or even give band hip rotations a try. Below is the pendulum quadruped hip extension.

15. Single Leg Training for Sprinting Speed

My buddy Rob Williams who I recently met at a seminar got me thinking about this topic. He noticed that although the 40 yard dash times at the NFL combine this year were very impressive, the players ran with a ton of lateral (side-to-side) movement. He wondered if the culprit is heavy bilateral lifts with wider stances. Think about it; is all an athlete ever performed was powerlifting-style squats, sumo deadlifts, and hip thrusts with a wider stance, it might encourage more hip abduction and lateral movement when running. Could these athletes be faster if their sprint mechanics was better and more linear? I think so. This plays a case for narrower stance bilateral lifts and especially single leg training since there is no hip abduction or external rotation during these movements.

16. Hip Range of Motion Needs to be Considered

Think about a forward lunge vs. a walking lunge. In the videos below, notice the range of motion in which the hip is under extensive loading. Tons of loading out in front, but not so much at all near terminal hip extension. However, the walking lunge does appear to have a little more stress on the hips than the forward lunge due to the fact that the lifter is moving forward in addition to upward. This introduces a little bit of anteroposterior movement in addition to axial loading. The forward lunge would place more stress on the knee joint and would be better suited for deceleration and backpedaling speed, whereas the walking lunge would be better suited for acceleration.

In a study done by researchers at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska found that the recumbent bike activated 1/4 the gluteus maximus muscle as walking. Think hip range of motion under load for the glutes. My research showed that a leg press with 700 lbs activated 9% mean and 26% peak glute activation in reference to MVC. Again, compare that to a barbell plus band resisted hip thrust, which yields 119% and 235%, respectively! It’s all about hip range of motion under load.

17. Arching the Low Back and Anteriorly Rotating the Pelvis Increases Hamstring Activation and Decreases Glute Activation

I alluded to this earlier, but the glutes like to posteriorly rotate the pelvis. When you overarch and anteriorly rotate the pelvis, you put more tension on the hamstrings and less on the glutes since you aren’t letting them “do their thing.” This is why studies always show increased glute activity in a deadlift over an RDL. Several studies confirm this in addition to my EMG studies. My recommendation; arch but don’t overarch, don’t rotate the pelvis, and squeeze the glutes hard throughout hip extension movements.

18. Integrative-Isolated Continuum

There’s no doubt about it, standing ground based barbell and dumbbell exercises are the bee’s knees! You’ve got total body integration with lots of prime mover activity with transfer all the way from the hands through the core, past the feet, and down into the ground.

Standing technical exercises are at the far end of the “integrative” continuum and include exercises such as cleans, snatches, split jerks, Turkish get ups, overhead squats, and even sled pushes (though not a barbell lift).

Next to this are standing “not-so-technical” lifts such as squats, front squats, deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, good mornings, barbell lunges, power cleans, power snatches, push presses, barbell bent over rows, barbell shrugs, and barbell curls. Non-barbell exercises such as kettlebell swings, cable chops and lifts, and even standing cable or JC Band presses, rows fit into this category as well.

Then you’ve got seated, supine, prone, kneeling, supported, quadruped, and upper body closed-chain movements that work a lot of muscle. These include incline presses, bench presses, seated military presses, chest supported rows, inverted rows, chins, dips, push ups, hip thrusts, glute ham raises, back extensions, reverse hypers, planks, and side planks.

Finally, at the far end of the “isolative” continuum you have seated or lying isolation movements like flies, leg extensions, leg curls, seated calf raises, preacher curls, cable kickbacks, and crunches.

I’ve heard some people say that hip thrusts aren’t very functional since they aren’t performed while standing. Well, in the hip thrust you still have transfer through the feet, you’ve got even more total hip extensor (over 20 total muscles) mean and peak activity than any standing exercise, but more importantly, you’re training the sprint vector (anteroposterior loading) pattern, which you can’t do with a barbell from a standing position. Even so, if you are a strength coach and this is your philosophy (standing exercises only/anti-hip thrust), then I better not see you doing bench presses, incline presses, chest supported rows, glute ham raises, Russian leg curls, chin ups, dips, inverted rows, push ups, planks, side planks, or ab wheel rollouts, since none of them are performed from a standing position. That would make you a hypocrite!

It is obviously my belief that standing exercises should comprise a huge part of a strength coach’s program, and supine/prone exercises as well as closed-chain body leverage exercises offer excellent supplementation to balance out the standing exercises and create a comprehensive, well-rounded routine. Think directional load vectors, not just kinetic chain type, body positions, ranges of motion, number of limbs, and type of resistance. Better yet, just use common sense when you work out and figure out which exercises are best for various purposes.

19. This is a Great Exercise that Gives You an Excuse to Isolate Your Pecs

If any exercise has the ability to target the inner chest, it’s this! Plus, it’s an unbelievable rotary stability exercise. In other words, it works the hell out of the core while it hammers the pec.

20. Squats and Deadlifts are Not Interchangeable!

I hear people all the time say that squats and deadlifts are interchangeable. In fact, even King Louie Simmons mentions this as he likes the box squat which has more of a “sit back” action and involves more posterior chain.

Some say that the deadlift is a squat with the bar moved out in front of the body. Depending on anthropometry, some individuals may feel that the squat and deadlift are similar in biomechanics, but for others the lifts are worlds apart. It also depends on the type of squat and deadlift. Obviously a full front squat with an upright torso looks nothing like a Romanian deadlift with a full hip hinge.

Consider the taller lifter with long everything. He will deadlift with high hips and use mostly posterior chain to conduct the movement. However, when he squats he will use more quad and less hamstring even if he has considerable forward lean.

I get what these folks are saying, as it’s important to consider the effects of muscular contribution from moving around position of the load while squatting and deadlifting, as each position is unique. You’ve got neutral position (hex bar), behind the back position (hack lift), low bar (squat), high bar (squat), manta ray (squat), safety squat bar (squat), racked (front squat), cambered bar (squat), Zercher (squat), snatch-grip (deadlift), clean grip (deadlift), and sumo grip (sumo deadlift).

21. Elvis Was the King!

If you ever doubted how awesome Elvis was please watch this six minute Suspicious Mind video from 1970 in its entirety. Things get interesting 2:30 into the video, and at 4:30 they get even more interesting. He busts out a Cossack squat with excellent mobility and stability and demonstrates great hip thrusting prowess throughout the video! At 3:45 he practically makes a girl faint.

22. Being Tall Has its Advantages

At a height of 6’4″ tall, every time I wash my clothes I have to stretch out my shirts length-wise before I put them in the drier or they’ll end up looking like half-shirts. In order to prevent my shirts from shrinking in length, I simply grab a hold of the top and bottom of the shirts when they’re wet and pull them apart in four different places. This serves as an awesome lat, rear delt, and scapular retractor exercise. Consider that I may have 20 shirts, at 4 pull-aparts per shirt that adds up to 80 reps of activation work for my upper back. Okay, maybe this random thought was a stretch (no pun intended).

23. Best Tools for the Job – Soft-Tissue Quality

I recently bought the tiger tail and am very happy with my purchase. If you are a trainer or lifter and you want to deliver the best possible Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) therapy possible, then you can’t just have a foam roller. The foam roller is the best tool for rolling out the back and possibly the ITB band. The tiger tail is the best tool for the tibialis anterior, calves, and quads. If you have a partner they can use the tiger tail on your forearms, arms, and lats. The lacrosse ball is the best tool for the arch of the foot, the upper glutes, in between the shoulder blades, and the upper pecs.

If you really care about SMR then you need to have all three tools. Of course, a skilled LMT on hand 24/7 would be even better but unless you’re a multi-millionaire this is just wishful thinking.

24. I Don’t Have a Lisp

In my Youtube videos it sounds like I have a lisp. I don’t. Something’s quirky with my digital camera. If you ever get to meet me, you’ll see that I speak like a semi-normal human being.

25. JP Fitness Forum

Tomorrow I’m leaving to Kansas City to speak at the 2010 JPFitness Summit. The presenters are yours truly, Nick Tumminello, Alan Aragon, Lou Schuler, and Ryan Zielonka. I’ll be giving a presentation on Load Vector Training which I believe is pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of great people and having a good time. Nick may be the most creative right-brained thinker in Strength & Conditioning, Lou has edited more fitness books than Moses. Okay Moses probably didn’t edit many books but I suspect that they’re the same age. Ba da ching! :) And Alan and Ryan are some of the smartest guys in the Nutrition world. In short, it’s going to be a great event!

It’s not too late to sign up, so go here if you want to attend the event.

That’s all. Have a Great Week! Hope you enjoyed the thorough article. Wish me luck in Kansas City!

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If you want to get “accepted” in the strength & conditioning industry, I’ll let you in on the secret. Just don’t rock the boat! Use the FMS, have your clients foam roll, do mobility drills, develop single leg stability and strength, follow the joint by joint approach, develop core stability, and utilize “accepted” equipment and exercises.

Although I’m in favor of the methods listed above, I’m not always in agreement with the mainstream especially as it pertains to “unsafe” exercises. What do you do when a new fad comes along that goes against what your past experience has taught you? Do you go with the flow in order to get interviewed on the popular podcasts, posted on the popular websites, or invited to speak at the popular seminars? Or, do you stand your ground knowing that it won’t win you any fans in the industry? I’m proud to say that I am the type of guy who stands his ground. I will not cave until I am completely convinced that I should change something, and there are certain trends in the industry that leave me unconvinced at the moment.

I must admit, sometimes I have a hard time taking certain individuals in the S&C community seriously. For instance, when I listen to some of them speak boldly about exercises or concepts in which they have limited or no experience, I realize that they’ve been brainwashed. Many are so wrapped up in theory that they become “addicted” to the science even if it doesn’t add up in the real-world. You see, I’m an advanced lifter who has been training for seventeen straight years and is still trying to increase his strength, muscle mass, and power. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes very easily.

Many strength coaches these days are anti-back extensions and reverse hypers. While I appreciate the logic behind these folks’ arguments, I am still a big supporter of these lifts. For the record, I have no problem with a strength coach who has years of experience with these exercises and arrives at the conclusion that these lifts are not worthwhile. I do, however, have a bit of a problem with rookie strength coaches who have never spent a significant amount of time with these apparatuses and simply regurgitate what they’ve heard from their mentors.

I also have a problem with guys who are so passionate about being “anti-back extensions and reverse hypers” to the point where they’re irrational and absurd. From listening to some of these guys speak you’d think that lifters’ discs would explode and squirt gel across the weightroom the second they performed a back extension or reverse hyper. Sometimes the mindset of today’s younger generation of strength coach ticks me off! In conversing with some members of this crowd I realize that they think I’m an absolute idiot for prescribing back extensions and reverse hypers, yet I’ve had my glute ham developer, 45 degree back extension, and reverse hyper for four years and have trained myself as well as hundreds of clients off of them while they’ve only seen pictures of them or read an article or two about them.

We often forget that the online S & C community is a small sample of the total S & C population and that just because one’s favorite gurus have iron-clad beliefs about a certain topic, it doesn’t mean that they are completely correct or that hundreds of strength coaches and trainers out there aren’t having great success with the very same methods that are being denounced by the online community of coaches. For example, I know of a handful of top sprint coaches who list the reverse hyper as one of their top five exercises for speed development. Unfortunately, their voices aren’t heard because they’re so busy training sprinters.

Moreover, I’m shocked at the number of younger strength coaches who will see a video clip of a coach prescribing a high-caliber athlete an exercise like a back extension or a sit up and will race to the forums to post something like, “Oh my God! Can you believe that (insert athlete)’s coach was having him do (insert bad exercise such as back extensions, reverse hypers, sit ups, bent over rows, good mornings, flies, pullovers, hanging leg raises, or leg presses)! He’s so behind the times. It’s a wonder that these (coaches/trainers) get hired with such a lack of knowledge!

If a coach is having great success with a particular lift, and it seems to be transferring over to his or her athletes’ sports performance without creating any perceivable harm to the athletes’ bodies, then why on God’s green earth would that coach abandon the exercise?

When we omit certain movements, we raise the risk of allowing our athletes to get weak in a particular movement pattern. I’ve witnessed plenty of strong athletes who can squat and deadlift a ton of weight yet struggle to execute twenty bodyweight back extensions or reverse hypers. What does this tell you? They’re weak and need more strength endurance in their posterior chains!

It is this coach’s belief that variety greatly reduces the need for strict periodization and that one should alternate accessory lifts frequently. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with having a huge pool of exercises from which to choose. I believe that strength coaches should have their handful of “money lifts” as well as a plethora of accessory movements on hand to slate into their athletes’ programs.

In this article I’m going to roll through some of the arguments in favor of and against back extensions and reverse hypers. I’d like for you to be the judge.

Arguments Against Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers

1. Deadlifts and especially trap bar deadlifts are a safer hip dominant lift
2. Most folks do them incorrectly and compensate with their lumbar spine
3. Repetitive flexion-extension wreaks havoc on the spine
4. They require adequate levels of hamstring flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, hip flexor flexibility, and glute activation
5. Deadlifts and squats are much more effective due to a more pronounced eccentric component, more total-body muscle activity, and increased testosterone-release
6. “Supported” lifts or lifts that support part of the body train muscles without improving upon integrated, coordinated movement
7. In sport-specific training the isolation of joint actions is not worthwhile
8. They lead to significant amounts of shear loading on the spine even if executed properly

Arguments in Favor of Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers

1. While deadlifts, good mornings, squats, and lunges have axial, vertical directional load vectors, back extensions have anteroposterior, horizontal directional load vectors and reverse hypers are one of the rare lifts that have cyclical, dynamic directional load vectors due to the pendulum reorienting itself throughout the lift
2. These lifts can be done properly with all hip extension and no lumbar extension, and if done properly this tells a lot about the athlete in terms of hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, core stability, and glute activation
3. Just like we “isolate” for core stability, it’s a good idea to “isolate” for hip strength…whether it be hip extension, hip flexion, hip abduction, hip external rotation, etc.
4. It’s never unwise to hammer the posterior-chain which is often a weak link among lifters and athletes
5. Reverse hypers are therapeutic for the low back
6. These lifts will improve squat and deadlift strength as well as sprinting speed
7. These lifts have impressive levels of hamstring and glute EMG activity
8. Anything that strengthens the posterior chain might lead to less low back pain and injury

Let’s take a closer look at the various arguments against straight leg hip extension exercises:

1. Deadlifts and especially trap bar deadlifts are a safer hip dominant lift

Anyone with any weightroom experience knows that deadlifts involve much higher incidents of acute injuries. In fact, I can’t think of one strong deadlifter who has never aggravated his or her low back at some point from heavy deadlifting.

The case could be made that back extensions and reverse hypers lead to higher incidents of chronic injuries but I don’t agree. More on that later.

2. Most folks do them incorrectly and compensate with their lumbar spine

I agree. Most folks do in fact perform these lifts incorrectly. However, most folks also perform squats, deadlifts, and lunges incorrectly. It’s our job as professionals to teach our clients and athletes how to perform lifts properly. Shouldn’t we exhibit high expectations for our clients and athletes and “expect” them to learn how to perform lifts correctly? Think about how many times you “coach” squats and deadlifts. If you apply this same amount of “coaching” to other lifts they will get it.

3. Repetitive flexion-extension wreaks havoc on the spine

I am a big fan of Stuart McGill. I believe he’s a great person, a passionate researcher, and an impactful presenter. The science behind his work makes perfect sense. Bend the spine back and forth enough times and the intervertebral discs will eventually rupture. However, I take his research with a grain of salt.

Considering that 80% of individuals suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives it is important that we figure out exactly what is causing this pain. Is it weak glutes? Weak core? Repetitive flexion-extension? Poor back endurance? Quad-dominance? Tight hip flexors and poor posture?

It is my opinion that a weak posterior chain and weak glutes in particular are largely responsible for the alarming number of low back pain in the U.S. The flexion-extension argument just doesn’t hold up in the real-world. There are many folks that perform crunches, sit ups, and back extensions their entire lives and never experience back pain. If there were indeed a “set number” of flexion-extension cycles, every single individual who performed crunches would have disc-related injuries. Although it’s not en-vogue these days to go against the great Dr. McGill, you can’t ignore this simple fact.

The world record for sit ups was set by a Brazilian gentleman named Edmar Freitas who did 133,986 sit ups in 30 hours. He’s also done 111,000 sit ups in 24 hours. If we were truly dealt a fixed number of flexion-extension cycles, Edmar would have likely used his up during his remarkable feats and would have herniated a disc on sight. He’d have been carried off the premises in a stretcher. All boxers, wresters, and bodybuilders would have herniated discs as well. Edmar has probably executed over a million sit ups in his life yet he’s still able to walk around with an intact spine.

What does this tell you? I’ll tell you what it tells me:

1) Clearly we don’t have a fixed number of flexion-extension cycles
2) Strong muscles and proper form can buttress against shear and compressive loads, and
3) The intervertebral discs can clearly regenerate themselves to a certain degree

At any rate, I have no problem with folks who decide to abandon more traditional ab exercises like crunches, sit ups, leg raises, and side bends, and instead concentrate on performing solely stability exercises like planks, side planks, Pallof presses, ab wheel rollouts, bodysaws, chops, lifts, and suitcase carries. While I still program straight leg sit ups and hanging leg raises, I’ve found myself programming core-stability exercises much more often and traditional ab exercises much less often. However, back extensions done properly do not involve spinal flexion or hyperextension!

You be the judge; does it look like my low back is going into unsafe levels of flexion or hyperextension? I should mention that the two videos below showcase subtle technique alterations from “standard form” that increase gluteal contribution and decrease erector contribution:

As you can see, my low back doesn’t flex or extend even when holding onto a 100 lb dumbbell and draping a miniband around my neck which probably offers another 50 lbs of resistance to the top of the lift.

What about reverse hypers? Here’s a video clip of Smitty from the Diesel Crew explaining how they perform their reverse hypers:

As you can see, it is possible to perform reverse hypers without flexing or extending the lumbar spine as well. If you tell me that this form is just too hard for people to master then I will think you’re a crappy trainer. Remember – high expectations and quality coaching!

4. They require adequate levels of hamstring flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, hip flexor flexibility, and glute activation

Proper squats require adequate levels of hip, thoracic spine, and ankle mobility; should we avoid them? Are you okay with your clients or athletes not being able to perform proper back extensions or reverse hypers? If they can’t do them right, it means that they either have crappy hamstring or hip flexor flexibility, poor levels of core stability, weak glutes, improper motor patterns, or simply an insufficient knowledge of form. Personally I’m not okay with my clients or athletes suffering from any of the aforementioned dysfunction and I intend to fix their movement patterns. If someone like me can do them correctly, then I surely expect them to do them correctly and will keep working with them until they get it right.

5. Deadlifts and squats are much more effective due to a more pronounced eccentric component, more total-body muscle activity, and increased testosterone release

I would actually agree with this statement. However, back extensions have an eccentric component that is more accentuated up top in the contracted position, while reverse hypers have an extreme eccentric component if you perform the exercise correctly and stop the pendulum from pulling your low back into flexion.

When you hold onto the handles in the case of the reverse hyper, you activate the forearms and lats and transfer energy from the hands down through the arms, back, and core. In fact, the process of holding onto the handles and adding a lot of weight to the pendulum makes the reverse hyper an excellent total body exercise. If you doubt me, I recommend palpating someone’s erector spinae all the way up and down the spinal column to see how hard they’re contracting during the lift.

The last thing I want to mention is that there have been a couple of studies that have come out in the past year or two showing that increased testosterone release from lower body exercise does not impact muscle protein synthesis in upper body muscles. This means that we may be wrong about “squats and deadlifts” causing upper-body growth due to increased testosterone release. Maybe the increased upper body growth from squats and deadlifts is simply due to the development of a strong set of erectors which allows for more weight to be lifted during upper body exercises like bent over rows, t-bar rows, bent over rear delt raises, and barbell curls.

6. “Supported” lifts or lifts that support part of the body train muscles without improving upon integrated, coordinated movement

At first thought I would tend to agree with this statement. However, upon further consideration one realizes that this is not in fact true. Since these lifts can hone in on muscular weak links and improve strength in the integrated, coordinated total-body lifts like squats and deadlifts, they lead to improved integration and coordination in a round-about manner. In other words, if you strengthen the hip extension pattern and the posterior chain in general, you’ll get stronger at squatting and deadlifting and more powerful in running and jumping.

Furthermore, is integrated, coordinated movement the sole objective of sport-specific training?

7. In sport-specific training the isolation of joint actions is not worthwhile

What happens when you get an athlete with virtually no glute development? Don’t you try to isolate the glutes with quadruped and bridging patterns in order to increase activation and hypertrophy? What if an athlete has weak hamstrings? Don’t you prescribe Russian leg curls or glute ham raises? The bottom line is that there are times when we need to increase the size of a certain muscle as well as times when we need to increase the muscular endurance of a muscle, both of which warrant isolation.

When you really think about it, nearly everything we do in sport-specific training is “isolation” work. In sports the body is all over the place. In the weightroom, we’re very controlled. Squats isolate double extension. Plyometrics isolate triple extension. Planks isolate core stabilization. Static stretching isolates muscles. So do mobility and activation drills. We foam roll individual muscles. When we bench press we isolate horizontal pressing. But in sports we combine several joint actions at once and usually move our upper and lower bodies simultaneously.

In sport-specific training we get individual parts strong so we can assemble them together on the field, court, or ring with the right timing patterns to create powerful movement. Although it’s wise to focus on “money exercises” that give you much bang for your buck, it is still okay to program some more isolated work as accessory movements. That said, I have a hard time seeing how anyone could really consider a hip extension movement “isolation training” when there are over 20 muscles involved in hip extension including large muscle groups such as the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.

Here’s another way to think about it: Stronger deadlifts equal faster sprints. Reverse hypers equal stronger deadlifts. Therefore, reverse hypers equal faster sprints. In mathematics we call this the transitive property of equality. If stronger deadlifts truly lead to faster sprints, then anything that strengthens the deadlift therefore leads to faster sprints. In this manner a grip exercise could increase sprinting speed if it strengthens the grip which happens to be the limiting factor in one’s max deadlift.

Obviously if you’re limited on time, go with standing movements. Standing lower body movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and power cleans reign supreme for a variety of reasons, but supine, prone, and quadruped lower body movements can supplement standing lifts very well and lead to synergy in training adaptations. In other words, 2 plus 2 doesn’t equal 4; it equals 5.

8. They lead to significant amounts of shear loading on the spine even if executed properly

Deadlifts also lead to significant amounts of shear loading especially at the bottom of the lift when bent over and even more significantly when the lifter keeps his or her hips high when deadlifting. This technique is characteristic of taller lifters. When we pick up plates or dumbbells off the bottom rack, we experience large shearing forces on the spine. In fact, any supine, prone, or quadruped hip extension movement or standing hip extension movement that involves bending forward significantly is going to produce large shearing forces.

It is important to expose the body to forces from different directions as Davis’ law and Wolff’s law state that the body’s tissues can strengthen and restructure themselves to better prepare for the types of forces to which they’re regularly exposed. If we avoid certain directional loading patterns then injuries will arise in sporting situations as soon as the body is greeted with unfamiliar directions of force. With proper progression and mechanics, you can perform heavy back extensions and reverse hypers and not have to fear spinal injury, and you’ll even safeguard the body to prevent injuries in competition.

Summary of Arguments in Favor of Straight Leg Hip Extension Exercises

Back extensions and reverse hypers may be more “specific” to top-speed sprinting and may transfer better due to the more specific-nature of the directional loading pattern (horizontal vs. vertical) in comparison to squatting, lunging, and deadlifting patterns. Since the glutes contract very hard at the top of these movements at end-range hip extension, they may help add much needed power to that range of motion during athletics. This range of motion includes the critical stage of ground contact in sprinting.

When an athlete can demonstrate proficiency at heavy back extensions and reverse hypers, you know that he has adequate levels of hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, and glute activation. In other words, you can feel confident that their backs aren’t going to round forward or hyperextend very easily, their glutes are strong and can turn on when needed, their hamstrings are loose enough to allow for a healthy range of forward bending motion, and their hip flexors are loose enough to allow for full hip extension.

Strengthening the posterior chain in general may increase squat and deadlift strength in addition to staving off low back pain and injury. Many individuals have witnessed their back pain disappear once they started performing back extensions and reverse hypers. In fact, some experts argue that the reverse hyper is quite therapeutic for the low back as it rotates the sacrum and may “pump” fluid into the intervertebral discs. Although this sounds great in theory, it may or may not be true. Anecdotal evidence seems to support the notion.

In the clip below, I perform a heavy set of reverse hypers while allowing the sacrum to rotate. I have been performing reverse hypers for four years and am one of the individuals who feel that it’s benefited my back health tremendously.

As Dr. Stuart McGill has often mentioned, pain is very specific to the individual’s injury, dysfunction, or pain-mechanism. For example, a flexion-intolerant person better keep a strong arch while he performs back extensions or reverse hypers and avoid going too deep or he’ll certainly feel it the next day. Conversely, an extension-intolerant person better brace the core hard and avoid going up too high on back extensions or reverse hypers or he’ll certainly feel it the next day. I should mention that arching the low back slightly in comparison to flexing the low back helps buttress the spine and protect the low back from shear forces by 23-43% (McGill). As a matter of fact, simply bracing the spine and contracting the core musculature increases spinal compressive loading by 12-18%, yet the act simultaneously enhances spinal stability by 36-64% (Granata and Marras, 2000). Some individuals get an uncomfortable tingling sensation when they perform reverse hypers. This is usually due to tight hamstrings and glutes and clears up with stretching and continued use of the reverse hyper.

The last thing I want to mention is that many high-level coaches are in support of the reverse hyper including Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, Kelly Baggett, Joe DeFranco, Erik Minor, Christian Thibaudeau, Martin Rooney, James Smith, Jason Ferruggia, and Charlie Francis. You certainly cannot call this list of coaches a bunch of idiots as these folks are some of the top minds in the S & C industry.

How Do I Use Reverse Hypers in Training?

1. I prescribe bodyweight reverse hypers to beginner males and amateur women that I train
2. I prescribe heavy reverse hypers to all sprinters that I train
3. I prescribe them infrequently (maybe every other week) to most athletes that I train
4. I personally perform them when I notice that I have trouble getting the bar moving in the initial portion of a max deadlift

I hope that I’ve done a good job of trying to persuade strength coaches to being open-minded about back extensions and reverse hypers. Thanks for reading my article!

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I’ve been enthralled by PAP ever since I heard about legendary Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson squatting 600 lbs for 3 reps ten-minutes prior to his infamous 1988 Olympic 9.79-second world-record performance in the 100-meter sprint. Although Ben’s gold medal was later stripped due to a positive test result for performance enhancing substances (Stanozolol), and despite the fact that Johnson’s coach Charlie Francis stated that the incident was fictitious and never actually occurred, the story still peaked my interest. More stories involving PAP have surfaced from time to time in the Strength & Conditioning industry. For instance, researchers Gillich and Schmidtbliecher reported that a 1995 bobsledding team used MVC’s prior to competition to elicit PAP and subsequently won the world championship. As a final example, strength coach Tony Gentilcore recently utilized PAP to leap onto the stage at an Alicia Keys concert prior to his arrest.

The first time I recall learning about PAP was when Charles Poliquin first started writing about it on T-Nation. Poliquin states that he first heard about PAP’s application to weight training (The 1-6 Principle) at a 1991 NSCA convention in San Diego from U.S. Weightlifting coach Dragomir Cioroslan. However, Poliquin mentions that it was first discussed in strength training circles in the early 1980’s after German strength physiologist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher’s work was translated to English. Other sources state that Yuri Verhkoshansky first introduced PAP to around forty U.S. and Canadian strength coaches in the summer of 1986 at the Moscow Institute of Sport. Regardless of where the principle originated, PAP has some very intriguing applications to sport training.

In this article, I’m going to first shed some light on PAP and then offer some suggestions as to how it can be appropriately programmed into your training.

What is PAP? Is it Different from Complex or Contrast Training?

If you’ve been reading strength training literature for a substantial period of time, then chances are you’ve seen the acronyms PAP, PTF, PTP, and/or PAF. PAP stands for Post-Activation Potentiation. PTF stands for Post-Tetanic Facilitation. You might seldom see PTP, which stands for Post-Tetanic Potentiation, and PAF, which stands for Post-Activation Facilitation.

How is PAP different from PTF? PAP involves voluntary contractions, such as a maximum isometric contraction or a set of heavy squats, while PTP involves involuntary contractions, such as those elicited by electric muscle stimulation (EMS). Obviously as a strength coach I’m more interested in PAP, as I’m not yet interested in hooking my athletes up to electrodes and zapping them prior to their explosive exercises.

Sometimes individuals will use the terms “complex training” and “contrast training” in reference to PAP. Although strength coaches often have different opinions as to what complex and contrast training entails, PAP indeed forms the basis for both methods. Complex training involves combining biomechanically-similar traditional heavy strength training and plyometric/ballistic training methods in an attempt to transfer strength into power. Numerous studies and reviews including those by Ebben, Verkhoshansky and Tatyan, Adams et al., and Lyttle et al. indicate that complex training is equally or more effective than strength training alone or plyometric training alone in increasing explosiveness.

In Neuromuscular Basis of Kinesiology Roger Enoka states that, “The magnitude of the twitch force is variable and depends on the activation history of the muscle. A twitch elicited in a resting muscle does not represent the maximum twitch. Rather, twitch force is maximal following a brief tetanus; this effect is known as posttetanic potentiation of twitch force.” This means that an electrical stimulation of the muscles can lead to a subsequently more powerful contraction.

Here’s a simpler definition: PAP is a phenomena by which muscular performance characteristics are acutely enhanced as a result of their contractile history. The underlying principle surrounding PAP is that heavy loading prior to explosive activity induces a high degree of CNS stimulation which results in greater motor unit recruitment lasting anywhere from five to thirty minutes.

There are many different ways to utilize PAP. In the past, legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin has recommended using wave-loading to induce PAP, popular strength coach/author Christian Thibaudeau has recommended using maximal isometrics for PAP, and popular personal trainer/author Chad Waterbury has recommended using supramaximal holds as a method to elicit PAP.

While the science involving PAP is solid and makes perfect sense, prior research on PAP is equivocal. There have been plenty of studies showing that PAP works and plenty of studies showing that PAP doesn’t work. PAP research is most likely inconclusive due to the large number of variables involved in implementing PAP, which I’ll elaborate upon later in the article.

Arguments in Favor of Using PAP

Here is a list of arguments that strength coaches may have in favor of using PAP:

1. Short-term enhancement – May increased neuromuscular performance in an actual competitive event through PAP
2. Chronic adaptation – May increase training effect using PAP in training which would result in increased Rate of Force Development (RFD)
3. Increased workout density – Combined training allows for more activity with less actual resting time which is critical if total workout time is limited
4. Increased dynamic transfer – By combining biomechanically similar activities athletes may groove more efficient neural patterns by learning to perform the lift in a manner more specific to the athletic activity
5. Increased work capacity – By increasing workout density athletes will increase their work capacity which is characterized by high levels of average power output over an interval (which I call power endurance)

Arguments Against Using PAP

Here is a list of arguments that strength coaches may have against using PAP:

1. There is not enough research supporting it’s use, we don’t have an adequate handle on all the variables involved in PAP
2. Recent research shows that combined training can lead to inferior results due to inhibition of physiological pathways, it may be wiser to train max strength and max speed/power in separate sessions
3. PAP is often impractical – depending on the protocol it may require a precise amount of time or “window of opportunity,” it may require equipment that is unavailable in a competitive or training situation
4. A simple dynamic warm-up could enhance contractility of muscles equally or better than max contractions involved in PAP
5. Positive studies using PAP could be the result of increased muscle temperature or other characteristic of general warm-up
6. Testing to see if PAP works on an individual athlete or to determine the optimal protocol for an individual can be tedious and if done incorrectly could lead to decrease in neuromuscular performance or decreased training effect
7. Using PAP may fail to maximize strength and power by combining the two and training them in fatigued state

How Does PAP Work from a Scientific Standpoint?

There are three proposed mechanisms as to how PAP works:

1. Phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains – max contraction alters structure of myosin head and leads to increased sensitivity of myosin head to calcium ions released by the sarcoplasmic reticulum
2. Increased recruitment of higher order motor units – max contraction activates adjacent motoneurons via afferent neural volley and H-Reflex enhancement which increases neurotransmission
3. Change in pennation angle – max contraction decreases pennation angle which increases force transmission to the tendon

How Does PAP Work from a Non-Scientific Standpoint?

Yuri Verhoshansky has explained PAP as follows:

When you perform a 3-5 RM followed by a light explosive set…to your nervous system it’s like ‘‘lifting a ½ can of water when you think its full.”

Why Doesn’t PAP Always Work?

First, a max contraction will always generate fatigue and PAP at the same time. Fatigue attenuates or diminishes force-generating capabilities of the muscles while PAP potentiates or enhances them. PAP and fatigue develop and dissipate at different rates. Fatigue subsides at a faster rate than PAP, so potentiation of performance can be realized at some point during recovery period. The max contraction could enhance power and training effect via PAP, or it could induce fatigue. The balance of PAP and fatigue determines the net effect on performance of the subsequent explosive activity. Fatigue can be either central or peripheral. Isometric contractions lead to more central fatigue, but more peripheral PAP, whereas dynamic contractions lead to more peripheral fatigue, but more central PAP.

Second, PAP may be more beneficial to single actions such as a max vertical or broad jump, a max throw or swing, or even a max isometric contraction rather than repetitive cyclical actions such as sprinting, cycling, or swimming.

Third, the parameters of the variables involved in PAP may require tinkering and optimization. Forth, PAP may not work for certain individuals.

I will expound upon the third and forth reasons later in this article.

What is the Ideal “Window” of PAP?

The optimal recovery or “window” of PAP depends on the decay-rate of PAP and the dissipation of fatigue. The coexistence of PAP and fatigue may result in a net-potentiated state, a net-attenuated state, or a constant state as compared to the prestimulus state.

Some studies show increased power immediately following a max isometric or dynamic contraction. A performance improvement is indeed possible if initial peak PAP overrides initial peak fatigue. Performance may initially rise above baseline, then dip down below baseline, and then rise above baseline again before returning to normal over a ten minute period. Windows are immediately after a low volume contraction or after a specific recovery period for high volume contractions.

An excellent journal article titled “Factors Modulating Post-Activation Potentiation and its Effect on Performance of Subsequent Explosive Activities” shows two theoretical “ideal windows of opportunity” for PAP. These windows illustrate periods where PAP exceeds fatigue and would therefore lead to a “potentiation” of performance. Following a low-volume maximal contraction, you want to perform the explosive activity immediately following the set. Following a high-volume maximal contraction, you want to wait several minutes before performing the explosive activity.

An example of a low-volume max contraction would be a heavy single for squats. An example of a high-volume max contraction would be eight sets of five second isoholds separated by 40 seconds of rest in between sets.

This graph does a good job of illustrating the two windows of opportunity for PAP:

What Factors Influence the PAP-Fatigue Relationship?

The PAP-fatigue relationship is affected by

1. The volume of contraction (sets. reps, rest interval)
2. The intensity of contraction (it seems that maximum contractions are optimal)
3. The type of contraction (dynamic or isometric)
4. Subject characteristics (strength, fiber-type distribution, training status, power-strength ration), and
5. The type of subsequent activity

The parameters for the training variables involved in PAP have yet to be determined.

Does PAP work for everyone?

Research indicates that PAP is very specific to the individual. Some evidence shows that PAP works better in stronger individuals than weaker individuals (Gourgoulis et al., Kilduff et al.). Some research shows that PAP works better for more fast-twitched individuals in comparison to more slow-twitched individuals (Hamada et al.). Evidence points towards PAP being more effective in highly trained individuals (Chiu et al.). Some evidence shows that PAP works better for strong individuals who aren’t very powerful; ie: they have trouble converting their strength to power (Schneiker et al.). Finally, research indicates that not all individuals display increased phosphorylation following a max contraction (Smith and Fry).

Furthermore, different muscles may have different rates of recovery in terms of fatigue and PAP. PAP appears to work better if the kinematics of the max contraction match the kinematics of the subsequent explosive activity. PAP appears to work best in activities involving type II fibers (Hamada, Sale, & MacDougall). Many PAP studies indicate a 2-10% improvement in performance, so this area indeed warrants further investigation.

Why Does the Author Believe in Utilizing PAP?

Most strength coaches around the country like to do explosive work before strength work, simply because they feel that power work should be done while the nervous system is “fresh.”

Regarding pure strength work, Poliquin utilized PAP for his 1,6 program. I’ve experimented with the 1,6 program and didn’t find that it worked well for me, but perhaps I fatigue easier than others, or perhaps there are other issues at play. Eric Cressey mentioned in an article that he didn’t buy into PAP in regards to schemes like the 1,6 program. I have a powerlifter-friend who swore by the 1,6 program. In this regard, PAP appears to work very well for some people and not-so-well for others (which jives with the research I listed above).

As stated above, research indicates that PAP works better for more experienced lifters, those with more fast twitch muscle fibers, and especially for those who sit on the “static” end of the static-spring continuum (static being very strong, spring being very elastic and explosive). Most gym-rats like me are very “static” from years of heavy lifting.

I stumbled upon some recent research which indicates that combined training involving speed work and heavy lifting interfere with each other due to negations in adaptations of respective physiological pathways. So for hypertrophy purposes, it may not be wise to incorporate explosive/speed activities along with heavy strength training or at least separate explosive/speed/plyo training from heavy strength training by several hours. For more information on this topic visit this link:

http://ajpregu.physiology.org/cgi/content/short/297/5/R1441

However, many individuals and athletes like to go to the gym one time per day and do not wish to perform multiple training sessions per day. Some are limited by time availability and are unable to perform multiple daily training sessions. In this case, I believe that PAP is one’s best bet for preserving or enhancing power while training heavy.

I believe that performing more than one explosive exercise first in the workout diminishes the capacity to perform maximum strength work. Conversely, I believe that performing more than one heavy strength exercise first in the workout diminishes the capacity to perform maximum explosive strength work. For example, if one were to perform a few hard sets of squats, deadlifts, and barbell glute bridges prior to vertical jumps and sprints, his jumping and sprinting power would suffer and the athlete would feel like his feet were heavy and he was slower than normal. However, if one were to perform jump squats, power cleans, and sled pushes prior to heavy squatting, deadlifting, and hip thrusting, his strength would suffer and the lifter would feel that he did not maximize the strength component to his workout. Alternating the two types of activities in the form of complex training may therefore provide the perfect scenario.

Personally, I love hypertrophy, I love strength, and I love power…I want it all. I am not willing to gain a ton of muscle at the expense of becoming slow. If all one does is medium-high rep hypertrophy training year in, year out, science indicates that that individual will become slower. This means slow punches, slow sprint times, and a pathetic vertical jump. By incorporating PAP at strategic times throughout the year, one can maintain or build power and prevent power/speed losses over the years. The best thing about incorporating PAP is that it doesn’t affect the training routine too much; it’s not very difficult to add in a vertical jump right after a set of squats or a plyo push up right after a set of bench press.

Even if research were to one day show that PAP offers no for performance enhancing effects beyond that of a dynamic warm-up I’d still be interested in incorporating PAP into workouts due to increased training density. Strength coaches Mike Boyle and Nick Tumminello have written extensively about utilizing active recovery in the form of mobility, flexibility, and activation drills in order to increase training density. Perhaps combining a strength movement, a biomechanically similar power movement, and a non-interfering flexibility, mobility, or activation movement serves as the ultimate method to maximize workout efficiency while minimizing total training time.

If you want to utilize PAP for short-term performance boosting purposes it would be very wise to actually test the individual to see if it works. Don’t assume that PAP works for everyone or assume that the same PAP protocol is best for each individual!

What Would My Ideal Complex-Training Scenario Look Like?

Here are some exercise pairs that I feel are worthy of experimentation:

Heavy Bench Press — Med Ball Throws, Shot-Put, Plyo Push Ups
Heavy Squats — Vertical Jumps, Jumping Lunges, RFESS Jumps, Power Skips
Heavy Deadlifts, Good Mornings, Hip Thrusts, Barbell Glute Bridges, Reverse Hypers, Back Extensions — Sprints, Woodway Speedboard Sprints, Broad Jumps
Heavy Landmines, Woodchops, Pallof Press — Bat, Racquet, or Golf Swings, Discus Throw
Eccentric Ab Wheel Rollouts from Feet — Javelin Throw

Combining squats and jumps is a no-brainer. I really like the idea of combining hip thrusts and sprints off the Woodway speedboard as well. It’s not too often that you see any “core” movements utilized in PAP such as using ab wheel rollouts or woodchops to load up the anterior chain prior to throwing or swinging activities but I would love to experiment to see if it could lead to an enhancement of performance.

Some exercises are well-suited for 1RM’s or heavy singles. These exercises include squats, deadllifts, bench press, and eccentric ab wheel rollouts. I believe that hip thrusts, glute bridges, good mornings, back extensions, reverse hypers, landmines, woodchops, and Pallof presses are better suited for reps of five.

I’d try to keep the reps for heavy strength work under or equal to five and I wouldn’t be afraid to prescribe heavy singles. For subsequent explosive work, I’d stick to five reps or less as well and also wouldn’t be afraid to prescribe single efforts. For example, a heavy squat single immediately followed by a max vertical jump might work very well.

I’m more interested in experimenting with low-volume contractions with little to no rest time as opposed to high-volume contractions with longer rest times.

I wouldn’t quite “max out” or go to failure as I believe that grinding out a rep, exhibiting energy leaks, or pushing a set too far might lead to too much fatigue and prevent PAP from occurring. I’ve studied the muscle activation involved in form decrements such as squats with a serious forward bend or round-back deadlifts and the result is always decreased muscular involvement in the prime movers which is something you want to steer clear of in this instance. Furthermore, in studying muscle activation the second repetition of a set usually always results in increased muscle activation over the first rep, which is most likely due to the CNS “figuring out” the motor program. This plays a case for heavy doubles or triples for the max contraction used in PAP. In many instances one can maximize muscle activation by using 95% of 1RM and using picture-perfect form. This is what you want for PAP purposes – maximum muscle activation in the intended musculature.

I’d use mostly bilateral lifts for the max contraction as unilateral lifts would take too much time to do both legs and interfere with the PAP window of opportunity. I’d use mostly bodyweight explosive movements for the subsequent explosive movements or movements with actual sporting implements as opposed to speed-strength or strength-speed exercises such as jump squats or power cleans. I’d try to mimic directional load vectors and joint angles to maximize dynamic transfer. Two tools that I’d love to experiment with in eliciting PAP are weight releasers and whole body vibration platforms. I’ve heard Rob Panariello mention the former methodology and Charlie Weingroff mention the latter methodology.

Prior Research

I love reading review articles in the journals. While original research is great, review articles analyze previous research so one doesn’t have to go sifting through everything to try to get a grasp on a particular topic. In other words, researchers who write review articles do the work for you!

By far my favorite review article on PAP is titled Factors Modulating Post-Activation Potentiation and its Effect on Performance of Subsequent Explosive Activities by Australian researchers Neale Anthony Tillin and David Bishop. If you are interested in learning more about PAP, then this article is a must-read. Seriously, the article is amazing! Do yourself a favor and read it.

Two other excellent review articles are Postactivation Potentiation and its Practical Applicability: A Brief Review by Canadian researcher Daniel Robbins and The Application of Postactivation Potentiation to Elite Sports by D Docherty and MJ Hodgson.

Here is a free review article that you can access by clicking on the following link:

Roxanne Horwath and Len Kravitz, PhD

http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/postactivationUNM.html

Prior Articles

Below you will find links to articles regarding PAP from various strength experts. Just click on the name and you will be taken to their article. From a practical standpoint, Nick Tumminello’s article will give you the most training-related ideas.

Charles Poliquin

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/the_16_principle

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/arm_yourself

Christian Thibaudeau

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/the_best_reps

http://www.tmuscle.com/article/most_recent/beast_building_part_1

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/the_thib_system_training_frequency_and_rest_periods&cr

Eric Cressey

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance_repair/it_looked_good_on_paper

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1608/is_3_22/ai_n16101385/

Chad Waterbury

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/primed_for_muscle

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/nervous_muscle

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/pimp_your_workouts_with_these_4_simple_tricks

http://www.dragondoor.com/articler/mode3/425/

Nick Tumminello

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/contrast_training_for_strength_size_and_power

TC Luoma

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/tsunami_training

John Paul Catanzaro

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/get_ready_for_the_workout_of_your_life

http://www.tmuscle.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/triple_threat_training

Patrick Ward

http://optimumsportsperformance.com/blog/?p=880

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Movements such as walking, running, sprinting, kicking, jumping offf one leg, cycling, skating, and freestyle swimming involve simultaneous hip extension and hip flexion. In each of these activities, when one hip is extending the other is flexing. Many strength training gurus have written about methods to train this coordinated movement pattern. For example, Mel Siff discussed some of Yuri Verkhoshansky’s methods in Supertraining, Tudor Bompa discussed some methods in Total Training for Young Champions, and Yuri Verkhoshansky discussed some of his methods in Special Strength Training.

I believe that Verkhoshansky is many years ahead of his time, as was my favorite writer Mel Siff. Here is a picture I drew that illustrates Verkhoshansky’s methods (I apologize for the poor quality of the picture):

I’ve been experimenting with different versions of these movements and have come up with two of what I believe to be the most practical methods of employing this concept. One version is performed with vertical loading, while the other is performed with horizontal loading, so between the two you strengthen the stretched and contracted positions of flexion and extension due to axial vs. anteroposterior loading. Here is a video that demonstrates my two methods:

I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth combining the two strengthening methods (hip extension and hip flexion) together or just training each quality separately, but I thought that I’d write a blog so other trainers could start experimenting with these methods. You can use ankle weights, cables, bands, or simply tie an object around the foot for this purpose. I like ankle weights. A ten pound ankle weight is too easy for me on these movements, but if I wear two of them at the same time (20 lbs) it works really well. One drawback is that you need to be high up in order to do this right (even higher than in my video).

Hope you enjoy the update!

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