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Over the past few weeks I’ve heard the “Magic 30%” number tossed around on two different occasions in terms of the training load that maximizes power production, so I figured it was time to write an article on this topic. The theory is that we should train athletes with explosive movements at 30% of their 1RM because this is the load that shows the highest peak power outputs and therefore this load will maximize the athletes’ power production and athleticism.

This line of reasoning is faulty for several reasons, but first, let’s look at the research. I’ll state up front that the research is very complicated due to the fact that sometimes “mean power” is used, sometimes “peak power” is used, and sometimes just “power” is used. Different equations and methods are also used in determining max power. Calculations sometimes incorporate bodyweight and sometimes they do not. Different types of movements are employed, for example free weight squat jumps versus machine squat jumps. And finally, different types of subjects are used…various ages, genders, training statuses, types of athletes, levels of strength, etc., which complicates matters as well.

That said, it’s still very valuable to analyze the research. Here are some quick findings on a spectrum of different studies.

Research

Optimal loading for peak power output during the hang power clean in professional rugby players

Peak power output – 80% of 1RM for hang power clean, no significant difference from 40-90%.

Optimal loading for the development of peak power output in professional rugby players

Peak power output at 30% of 1RM for ballistic bench throw and 0% (just bodyweight) for squat jump.

Determining the Optimal Load for Maximal Power Output for the Power Clean and Snatch in Collegiate Male Football Players

Peak power at 80% for Power Clean and Snatch.

The Load That Maximizes the Average Mechanical Power Output During Explosive Bench Press Throws in Highly Trained Athletes

Peak power for Bench throws at 55%.

Optimal loading for peak power output during the hang power clean in professional rugby players.

Peak power for hang power clean at 80%, no significant differences from 40-90%.

The load that maximizes the average mechanical power output during jump squats in power-trained athletes

Peak power for jump squat at 55-59%, no significant differences from 47-63%.

Power outputs of a machine squat-jump across a spectrum of loads

Peak power at 21.6% for jump squat.

Leg power in young women: relationship to body composition, strength, and function

Peak power for leg press at 56-78%.

Human muscle power output during upper- and lower-body exercises

Peak power for Squat at 50-70%, peak power for bench press at 40-60%.

Maximal strength and power characteristics in isometric and dynamic actions of the upper and lower extremities in middle-aged and older men

Peak power at 30-45% for bench press, peak power at 60-70% for half squat.

The relationship between maximal jump-squat power and sprint acceleration in athletes.

Peak power at 30-60% for split jump squat, peak power at 50-70% for squat.

The Effect of Heavy- Vs. Light-Load Jump Squats on the Development of Strength, Power, and Speed

Low load explosive training appears better than high load explosive training for power.

COMPARISON OF OLYMPIC VS. TRADITIONAL POWER LIFTING TRAINING PROGRAMS IN FOOTBALL PLAYERS

Olympic lifting seems better than powerlifting for power.

Velocity specificity, combination training and sport specific tasks.

No difference between strength trained and power trained for netball throw velocity.

Power versus strength-power jump squat training: influence on the load-power relationship.

Combined strength and power training appears better than just power training.

Squat jump training at maximal power loads vs. heavy loads: effect on sprint ability

Power training appears no better than heavy training for sprint speed.

Inter-relationships between machine squat-jump strength, force, power and 10 m sprint times in trained sportsmen

Squat jumps at lighter and heavier loads not well correlated with acceleration.

Conclusions

It appears that each exercise has its own unique range of loading for peak power production, and often the range is pretty broad. The “Magic 30%” figure just doesn’t hold up. Furthermore, individual peak power production can vary considerably from one person to the next, so it’s unwise to generalize and assume that an individual falls in the norm when their anthropometry, physiology, anatomy, etc., could cause them to stray from the norm.

There is mixed and inconclusive evidence on which loads maximize athletic performance indicators (as well as mixed research on what load maximizes peak power for the various lifts). The best load is most likely specific to the individual and could have much to do with the individual’s “weak link.” For example, if they’re weak but pretty elastic perhaps you should try to get them strong, and if they’re strong but not explosive, perhaps you should focus on power and reactive strength.

It’s important to consider the fact that squatting and jump squatting motions aren’t biomechanically similar to sprinting so the correlation with advanced athletes may be relatively weak. Power is just one quality; there’s also speed, agility, endurance, skill, strength, etc. In sports, there are many different force-velocity relationships, so it’s wise to pay attention to different types of strength and loads. It appears that combined training and training with mixed loads is superior to uni-dimensional training and training at a single load. Some lifts lend themselves better to heavy lifting and some lifts lend themselves better to explosive lifting…perhaps it’s best to just train squats and bench press heavy, Olympic lifts relatively heavy (which means explosively), jump squats a little lighter and more explosively, and use sprints, plyos, and ballistics for the primary “rapid stimulus.” This ensures that you hit all the points on the force-velocity curve.

Finally, variety and periodization are important considerations in program design. With the many types of plyometrics, ballistics, sprint drills, towing drills, explosive lifts, and heavy lifts, there’s no reason to stick with solely one load (as a percentage of 1RM) indefinitely.

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Kickass Karli

My client Karli has been bragging to her friends about how strong she’s getting. She wanted to show her friends how she trains so she asked me to film some video clips. Here’s the deal. Karli has been training with me for around five weeks. She’s a natural born deadlifter. When she started, she had one of the worst cases of valgus collapse I’d ever seen. She had trouble doing bodyweight squats without letting her knees cave in. She also couldn’t lower her deadlifts under control and had very poor eccentric strength. I’ve been attacking her glutes like a madman and she has responded extremely well. What’s ironic is that I haven’t done any hip abduction work; just a ton of hip extension work with a focus on having her keep her knees out and lowering weights under control.

In just five weeks her booty is looking amazing and she’s getting very strong. I should also mention that she had some slight low back issues when she started training with me and those issues have completely cleared up. I’ve been having her do the following exercises:

Karli’s Primary Exercises

1. full squats, high box squats, low box squats, full front squats, Bulgarian squats
2. deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, rack pulls
3. hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, single leg hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped donkey kicks
4. back extensions, 45 degree back extensions, single leg back extensions

The last time she did sumo deadlifts, she maxed out at 185 lbs. Just a week later, she did 225 lbs. This was a huge suprise for both of us. It reminded me of the scene in Unbreakable where Bruce Willis kept piling on the weights on the bench press. Karli jumped up 40 lbs in a single week! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this big of a jump in such a short period of time. As you can see, Karli was born to sumo deadlift…knees out, upright torso, finishes strong. Here’s a video of tonight’s workout…Karli did high box squats, sumo deadlifts, and hip thrusts.

Video of Tonight’s Workout

Keep kicking ass Karli!!!

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How to Do Pistols

I get a lot of emails from people who ask me if I can give them any tips regarding pistols. I always send them over to Franz Snideman, who is the twin brother of my friend Keats Snideman. He filmed three great videos on the topic. Check it out!

I actually had an online client once tell me that it was her goal to be able to perform pistols within the next year. After watching these vids she was able to do them within ten minutes. Crazy! You may not respond as quickly as her, but I know one thing…you’ll be doing pistols much quicker if you watch these videos than you would left to your own devices! Thanks Franz! For more of Franz’s videos click here and subscribe to his Youtube channel.

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Sorry folks, I’m super busy this week! Trying to do a million things at once. I try to shy away from really long blogs these days (well, I try but I don’t always succeed :)) but it was very convenient for me to do another “random blog” this week. This week is packed with good stuff so I’m sure you’ll forgive me. I’ve got a good blend of practical stuff and research stuff in this one. Here are fourteen thoughts:

1. Vertical vs. Horizontal Forces in Sprinting

The interview I posted last week with Matt Brughelli created quite a stir in the strength & sprint communities. Many sprint guys and speed coaches are attempting to discredit the data. Some are saying that you can’t use a Woodway treadmill to make conclusions about overground running. I’d like to say two things about this. First, the study by McKenna et. al 2007 showed that torque treadmills were strikingly similar in kinematics to overground running; more so than motorized treamills. However, if you still don’t want to believe that, then consider this. Nummela et al. 2007 had the same findings as Brughelli, but they did overground running. They used several force plates in a row (i.e. a total of 9 meters of force plates!!!). Kuitunen et al. 2002 also used overground running (i.e. a total of 10 meters of force plates). They were both done in Finland at very prestigious institutes by some very intelligent researchers. I implore you to take this research seriously.

2. Airdyne

After reading about how much Mike Boyle likes the Airdyne, I picked one up for my garage. The other day one of my female clients said, “That crappy bicycle you got is actually the greatest piece of equipment you have in your gym.” Now, I’m a meat-head through-and-through, so I obviously don’t agree with her. But she loves it because it’s joint friendly and kicks her ass! It’s so effective because it works the upper body pulling and pushing musculature in addition to the lower body musculature all at the same time. You can get very creative with the intervals depending on the client. I might prescribe a beginner something like 4 rounds of 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 2 rounds of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. I might prescribe an intermediate 6 rounds of 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off or 3 rounds of 30 seconds on, 20 seconds off. I might prescribe an advanced exerciser 8 rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, or 2 rounds of 60 seconds on, 30 seconds off. I try to mix it up to prevent boredom.

3. Eccentric Deadlift Strength

I’ve heard a lot of statistics regarding eccentric to concentric strength ratios. I’ve seen studies show that eccentric strength is 14% higher than concentric strength, another showing 20%, and yet another showing 33%. The point is that eccentric strength is supposed to be greater than that of concentric strength. Now, one could argue that one is fatigued following a concentric 1RM, but I believe that everyone should be able to lower a 1RM deadlift under control. I see many females who can lift a certain weight concentrically with great form yet fail to be able to lower the weight eccentrically with good form. After concentrating on the eccentric portion of the lift for a couple of weeks I’m usually able to restore the proper concentric : eccentric strength ratio which will reduce the likelihood of injury. Your eccentric form is important too and should mirror your concentric form. Don’t lose the low back arch.

4. Weak Glutes

I was training a guy the other day who was an active male (he ran and did circuit training several days per week) and I was quite amazed. This guy appeared to be physically fit but he trembled like a leaf at the top of his bodyweight glute bridges. I’m going to vigorously attack his glutes to bring them up to speed. In a month things will be very different for this guy. But if you’re a grown man there’s no reason why I should be able to hold 400-500 lbs at the top of a bridge for longer time than you can hold your own bodyweight. Sweet baby Jesus! Get some glute strength people!

5. Leaning Lunges

I once had some strength coaches come after me on a message board after I posted a video of one of my clients using a forward lean while they lunged. Their position was that lunges must be performed with an upright trunk. My position was that it’s okay to vary, especially when it leads to increased glute activity. Sometimes I have my clients perform lunges in a more upright manner, while other times I have them do them with more of a lean. In a study entitled Trunk position influences the kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activity of the lead lower extremity during the forward lunge exercise, researchers showed that performing a lunge with the trunk forward increased the hip extensor impulse and the recruitment of the hip extensors. In contrast, performing a forward lunge with the trunk extended did not alter joint impulse or activation of the lower extremity musculature.

If the client has tight hip flexors, then they’ll be forced to lean forward while lunging (which is not a good thing). In this case you need to either lengthen the hip flexors or reduce their hypertonicity (or simply get them accustomed to better stretch-tolerance) so they’re able to produce proper upright lunging mechanics. However, assuming the client’s hip flexors are functioning fine, then there’s no reason why you can’t lunge with forward lean in order to increase hip extensor (glute, hamstring) activation. As to how much you can lean? In this study it almost looks like a lunge/deadlift hybrid. Check out the pic below. I don’t have my clients lean this much, just a slight lean. Bottom line, there are lots of good lunge variations. You can toy around with bar placement (high bar, low bar, manta ray, front (racked), goblet, Zercher, neutral (db’s), etc.), stride length (shallow, medium, long), trunk lean (upright, moderate lean, severe lean), lunge-type (static, forward, reverse, walking, Valslide/slideboard, etc.), etc.

My buddy Nick Tumminello is a big proponent of what he calls the “anterior reach lunge” which is a knee-friendly hybrid lunge/dl. Check it out.

6. Joe Kenn

Joe Kenn stopped by on Saturday and visited my garage. We ended up talking shop for 4 1/2 hours! Joe is extremely passionate about strength training and is about as nice of a guy as you’ll ever meet. I love speaking to such experienced strength coaches as you can pick up a lot of quality information and ideas just by asking them questions and letting them speak. I was very glad to see that Joe and I saw eye-to-eye on numerous topics (all the big rocks). I’m now a huge Joe Kenn fan. Thanks for the visit “House”!!!

7. Garage Gym

Having a garage gym fucking rules! I’m writing this blog in between sets of heavy singles of low box squats with a 3 second pause on the box. Talk about “active recovery!” Actually the best part about having a garage gym is my deadlift lever and chalk bin from Elitefts. No missed deadlifts due to a slick bar and/or slippery hands, and no more peeling 45 lb plates off the bar when it’s on the ground.

9. The Box Squat Effect

I tell all my clients that as they become more proficient in the box squat they’ll start getting up from their chairs at work with perfect box squat form. It never fails, after around a month of training people they all tell me that they have fallen pray to “the box squat effect.”

10. Mind-Muscle Connection in the Gluteus Maximus

New clients fall into three categories: those who already have great glute activation, those who have decent glute activation, and those who have no glute activation. Most “athletic” clients feel their glutes working very well the very first time they come to my gym. Some clients feel their glutes working during some exercises but not during others. And some clients can’t feel their glutes working no matter what they try. You can palpate their glutes and they don’t have much mass there in the first place, so of course their synergists (hamstrings, erectors, adductor magnus, etc.) are going to be picking up the slack for the weak glutes.

Without fail, within six weeks even the clients who couldn’t feel their glutes doing anything develop unbelievable mind-muscle connections with their gluteus maximus. Literally every client I have remarks about how they feel their glutes working very well during every lower body movement. It just takes focus, consistency, and patience (and a good trainer).

11. Fat Gripz Holds

If you have fat gripz from Elitefts, try fat grip holds! They’re badass! They work the hand musculature much more than regular holds, plus you don’t have to strap extra weight around your waist via a dip belt. Bodyweight works just fine.

12. Front Squat Holds

This might be the toughest core exercise I do! It works the hell out of my upper back and core musculature. I believe it transfers over to the deadlift very well and helps you stay more upright via increased thoracic extensor strength. The trick is to avoid leaning backward. Stay in neutral and make it hard! When I do full front squats I can only work my way up to 275 lbs. With the holds I’m able to use 405+ lbs.

13. Glute Reeducation: Score One for the Glute Activation Pioneers

Admit it! When you first saw Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Mike Boyle, and Mark Verstegen talking about glute activation you thought they’d “turned sissy,” didn’t you? Well I’ll admit it, I was pretty skeptical. I got down on the floor, got my “Jane Fonda” on, and tried to decide whether these low-load drills were worth my time. I liked the movement patterns and felt my glutes working very hard but the meat-head in me wanted extra ROM and loading (hence the hip thrusts and pendulum quadruped hip extensions).

A case report in this year’s February edition of The Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) entitled Strengthening and Neuromuscular
Reeducation of the Gluteus Maximus in a Triathlete With Exercise-Associated Cramping of the Hamstrings
describes a situation where a triathlete who suffered from hamstring cramping during running was able to “reeducate” his glutes and decrease the relative contribution of the hamstrings while running, thereby eliminating his hamstring cramping. The athlete followed a three-phase program that progressed from low load glute activation, to low-velocity glute integration, to dynamic integration. The quantitiative outcome measures were pretty remarkable for this case study so I definitely recommend taking a closer look if you get a chance. Although this was just a case study, to me this research is huge as it lends support to Shirley Sahrmann’s synergistic dominance theory and alerts researchers to conduct more research in this area. Hopefully we’ll see more studies on this topic on the future.

14. Women Need More Glute and Hamstring Strength!

Well, most men do too, but numerous studies show that women need increased glute strength to prevent Valgus collapse. Some studies indicate a need for increased glute medius strength, some studies indicate a need for increased glute maximus activation, and some studies show a need for increased hip abductor and adductor coactivation. Furthermore, studies show that women’s H:Q ratio (concentric hamstring to concentric quadricep strength) is lower than that of men at angular velocities that approach speeds seen in sports. Women don’t seem to increase their hamstring contribution as speed increases. Whatever the case, it’s quite obvious that increased single leg stability and posterior chain strength is exactly what’s needed to help “bulletproof” females and prevent them from experiencing knee pain and injury.

That’s all for this week folks! Hope you enjoyed the content.

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Today one of my clients brought her boyfriend along to get in a workout. I asked him how he normally trains and he said that he runs and does circuit training several days per week. Rather than put him through a “real workout,” I told him that I was going to write him a basic template and teach him how to use good form on the various exercises. He’s definitely a beginner so he doesn’t need any advanced exercises. By the time we finished, he was sweating up a storm, even though I hadn’t planned on pushing him very hard. Full body workouts are very metabolically demanding so they get you lean and strong at the same time.

In around 90 minutes, I was able to teach him how to do most of the exercises in the template. I kept quizzing him the whole time so he’d learn the template categories and the names of the exercises. He was lucky in that he had good joint mobility and decent levels of joint stability which allowed him to use good form on all exercises. All he needs is some good old fashioned strength. Below is what I wrote him. This template is very similar to what many other strength coaches use, which is a testament to it’s effectiveness.

Basic Workout Template

* If you can do more than 20 reps, it’s too light. Move up in resistance. Try to stay in the 6-12 rep range most of the time.
* Rest 60-120 seconds in between sets.
* Pick one exercise from each category. Pick different movements throughout the week.
* Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise.
* Perform the routine 2-4 days per week.
* Write down your workouts in a journal and try to move up in resistance or repetitions over time.

1. Quad Dominant Exercise - goblet squat, Bulgarian squat, step up, reverse lunge

2. Hip Dominant Exercise - Romanian deadlift, glute bridge, back extension, bird dog

3. Horizontal Press - push up, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline press, bench press, incline press

4. Horizontal Pull - one arm row, inverted row, chest supported row, seated row

5. Vertical Press – dumbbell military press, barbell military press

6. Vertical Pull - underhand grip pulldown, wide grip pulldown, chin up, parallel grip pull up, pull up

7. Anterior Core – front plank, stability ball rollout

8. Lateral or Rotary Core – side plank, Pallof press

That’s it! It looks so basic but this is all he needs at the moment. If you’re thinking about starting up a training regimen, this one is very effective and very well balanced. Keeping good strength balances is one of the keys to long-term lifting and longevity. Over time more advanced exercises and more variety can be incorporated into the routine but it’s important to get good at the basics first. There are lots of good exercises that I could have included such as single leg box squats, single leg RDL’s, standing cable rows, pull throughs, kettlebell swings, hip thrusts, Turkish get ups, farmer’s walks, sled pushes, landmines, face pulls, cable chops, and cable lifts, to name a few, but the point is to keep it simple up front and give people basic movements upon which they can progress. There’s plenty of time down the road for more movements and variety. This one will serve him well for several months.

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Whenever I begin training new clients, I rarely approve of all aspects of their squat and deadlift form. I ask all my online clients to send me videos of their squat and deadlift form and my heart always goes out to these dedicated lifters who have undoubtedly been trying very hard to improve their form, to no avail. Most are trying to pound square pegs into round holes. Most individuals don’t possess an adequate understanding of squat and deadlift form and don’t know how to position their bodies to maximize their leverages and stability. I find that with minor tweaks I can often get someone squatting and/or deadlifting much better instantly. Many say to me, “Wow, that’s how it’s supposed to feel” after learning proper form.

Put simply, even the best powerlifters and Oly lifters who squat and pull in their sleep still have to work on their form year in, year out, so you can never really just “put it on auto-pilot.” Good lifting takes time and practice.

In this blog I wanted to show three videos that will seriously help out your lifting form on lower body lifts. I’m going to show squat, deadlift, and hip thrust form as I believe that they are the three most important lower body lifts. Without further ado, here are the three videos!

Squat

Deadlift

Hip Thrust

I hope you find these videos useful!!!

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How Low Can You Go?

When I was in graduate school, I was a pretty busy guy. I was teaching high school mathematics during the day and attending grad school at night. I started reducing my training frequency, volume, and duration and noticed that it didn’t impact my strength levels too much. This caused me to experiment to see “how low I could go” in terms of training frequency, volume, and duration while maintaining my strength levels. Those who are old enough remember the preachings of the late Ayn Rand-obsessed Mike Mentzer and his Heavy Duty Training (HDT) philosophy.

At first I cut down to three thirty minute sessions per week. When I found that my strength levels didn’t suffer, I cut down to two twenty-five minute sessions per week and again found that my strength did not suffer. I then cut down to one thirty-minute session per week. It turned out that this was too low and caused me to lose strength. Finally, I switched to one thirty-minute session per five days and found that I could indeed hold onto my strength and size. I stuck with this methodology for around 4 months and saw no strength or hypertrophy decrements.

Gaining strength is very tough and requires hard work and determination. However, if you ever find yourself overwhelmed and are considering giving up on strength training for a period of time, before you quit please consider switching to a low-volume, low frequency, high-intensity routine. Although as humans our physiologies differ and our “ideal routine” may differ, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the maintenance-results you can achieve through this type of routine.

I should mention that this routine was very difficult for me to stick to due to the fact that I love to train! One of the many reasons why I work out is to reduce stress and feel productive. I prefer to train more frequently and I believe that if you’re trying to gain muscle or strength then you need to train more frequently than the HIT/HDT crowds suggest. However, as many know I enjoy “experimenting” in order to learn more about strength training (which requires that we get out of our comfort zones from time to time).

In case you’re wondering, here’s the routine I performed (it was around eight years ago):

general warm-up (5 minutes)

bodyweight walking lunge 20 reps
walking knee hugs 20 reps
bodyweight squat 20 reps
45 degree hyper 20 reps
push up 20 reps
inverted row 20 reps

specific warm-up (5 minutes)

full squat – 45 x 5, 135 x 5, 225 x 3
bench press – 45 x 5, 135 x 5, 225 x 3

strength training portion (around 20 minutes) – do one superset and then rest around 3 minutes before doing the next superset

A1: full squat – one set to failure with 275 lbs (around 10 reps)
A2: bench press – one set to failure with 245 lbs (around 8 reps)
B1: deadlift – one set to failure with 405 lbs (around 10 reps)
B2: chin up – one set to failure with 70 lbs (around 3 reps)
C1: military press – one set to failure with 175 lbs (around 6 reps)
C2: one arm row – one set to failure with 160 lbs (around 10 reps)
D1: barbell walking lunge – one set to failure with 225 lbs (around 16 steps)
D2: hanging leg raise – one set to failure with bodyweight (around 30 reps)

This routine was damn brutal! It would take several days to be able to muster up the energy and motivation to want to give it another go but I found that I could consistently repeat or beat the previous performance from month to month. In truth I probably gained in “high rep strength” but I bet that my “limit strength” or 1-RM on the various lifts decreased a little as I didn’t train super heavy while on this program. I wonder if my performance would have eventually peaked but I’ll probably never know because truthfully this program made me hate high reps for lower body lifts because trying to tie or beat your record on subsequent performances is brutal. So I’ll probably never go back to a focus on higher reps. The HIT crowd recommends alternating “cycles” and choosing new exercises or backing off and “starting over,” but I never went that route. Their route probably would have been more effective but again, I was experimenting and trying to control as many variables as possible.

The point of this blogpost is not to get you to switch over to HIT or HDT, it’s to make you realize that if you ever find yourself overworked or simply drained of working out 3-6 days per week, there’s a viable alternative that can allow you to maintain (or even improve upon) your performance while only training once every five days or so. Many people are accustomed to multiple sets and can’t “get a lot” out of one set. As your physiology and coordination adapts, you get really good at doing one set to failure on this type of program. *Disclaimer: Obviously beginners respond best to more volume and frequency as they are weak and uncoordinated/neurally inefficient and don’t get taxed much from a metabolic, muscular, neural, endocrine, and immune system perspective.

So next time you feel overwhelmed and find yourself wanting to quit training, just remember that you can keep your hard earned gains by training very infrequently (albeit extremely intensively).

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