Archive for June, 2010

Today’s blog is just a bunch of random stuff I’ve come across or thought about recently. While some people find these blogs annoying, others really like them. The former teacher in me is always thinking of new things to blog about so please bare with me and work your way through the blog. With all these topics there has to be at least something you find interesting!

1. Puppies in Vices

I got great feedback on last week’s blog. Some people liked the intro and some hated it. I apologize to anyone I offended. Please know that no real puppies were hurt during the writing of this blog! The blog did a great job of explaining the physiological consequences of sitting. In case you missed it, check it out here.

2. Deadlift 5 Plates Like a Champion

Yesterday Wannabebig.Com published one of my articles on deadlifting. I believe it’s an amazing deadlifting article and will be a classic for years to come. Not many articles talk enough about assistance exercises. This one does a great job of that. Check it out here.

3. Squat vs. Deadlift

In a blog a while back, I wrote about the fact that a squat and deadlift are biomechanically very different. Lately I see many coaches say that they’re basically the same movement with different load placements. This free journal article here does a great job of explaining the difference between a squat and a deadlift using powerlifters as subjects. It’s got a really cool look to it as well. Check it out here.

4. Must-Have Equipment

I believe that there are four pieces of equipment that you must have. Here they are:

Hampton thick bar pad for hip thrusts and barbell glute bridges
Core bar for chops and lifts (both plate-loaded or connected to a cable column)
Ab wheel for rollouts
Jump stretch minibands for band hip rotations, Pallof presses, face pull/pull aparts, and seated abductions

Seriously, I would hate to perform any barbell glute bridges or hip thrusts without the thick bar pad. With the pad, there is not an ounce of pain. Without the pad, you will wish you were dead. Spend the $30 and get the pad. Trust me; it’s a life-changer.

5. The Opinionated Psoas

Here is a cool series of articles by Thomas Myer on the Psoas; Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

There’s a lot of thought that’s been put into this unique muscle!

6. The Fitness Industry

I really love this industry. I’m making a bunch of like-minded friends in the strength training field, I’m getting to “mix-it-up” with some of the guys who I’ve looked up to for a very long time, and I get to speak to fitness experts on a daily basis where we talk shop, discuss training theory and program design, and compare methodologies.

Lately I’m seeing my name appear on almost a daily basis. Sometimes there are good things said about me and sometimes bad, but as they say, all publicity is good publicity. In the past couple of weeks alone, I’ve heard my name in Carl Valle’s mediacasts, seen a video of myself with Nick Tumminello, read about myself in a Martin Rooney article (an amazing one I might add) and a couple of Mike Robertson’s articles, been mentioned on Fitcast and the StrengthCoach Podcast, been interviewed on Sioux Country, seen my name in the blogs of Charlie Weingroff, Brendon Rearick, Allie McKee, and Cassandra Forsythe, and heard my name mentioned in videos created by Perry Nickelston. It’s very flattering to read nice things being said about me. Allie McKee referred to me as “The Father of Hip Thrusts” and a blog written by ” Not Just a Man’s World” referred to me as “The Great Bret Contreras.” These are just some of the blogs and articles I’ve seen with my name in them. It feels really good receiving recognition and praise. If only my mom could see that, she’d be so proud!

Here’s Dr. Perry Nickelston discussing load vector training. I haven’t met Perry, but he seems like a total badass.

7. The Valencia Project

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I really enjoy Carl Valle’s mediacasts. If you’d like more information about Carl’s mediacasts, email him at carlfvalle@gmail.com. He can send you a PDF that shows the different mediacasts. Two mediacasts are released per month on various topics. Carl has a lot of knowledge in the worlds of Track & Field and sports performance. In the mediacasts he shares what he learned what a lot of professional experts are doing in various fields like strength and conditioning, sports medicine, sports nutrition, and sports psychology. He shares these findings on his medicasts. You can purchase the entire year of mediacasts (24 with 2 released each month) for $95 or purchase individual mediacasts later as they are released for $5. The mediacasts are around an hour long each and you will be emailed a downloadable link that enables you to save and listen to the mediacasts.

8. Get Some Sun!

Over 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D. Boston University researchers found that 36% of young adults were deficient in Vitamin D at the end of winter.

The US government recommends that we get 200-400 IU’s per day in Vitamin D, but this assumes that we get a lot of sun. The Vitamin D Council believes that folks who are rarely exposed to sunlight supplement with 5,000 IU of Vitamin D per day.

What do some of the other experts have to say about Vitamin D supplementation? Dr. Clay Hyght recommends 1,000 IU’s per day, Dr. Michael Holick believes that people need to take 1,400 IU’s per day, Dr. Johnny Bowden recommends 2,000 IU’s per day, Dr. Robert P. Heaney estimates that 3,000 IU per day is necessary to ensure that 97% of Americans obtain levels greater than 35 ng/mL, and Doctors Reinhold Vieth, Tim Zeigenfuss, and Bill Roberts all recommend 4,000 IU’s per day. Charles Poliquin believes it’s the best supplement ever, even more important than fish oil. He recommends supplementing twice per week with 30,000 to 100,000 IU’s of Vitamin D until your levels reach 80-100 ng/mL!

What do I recommend? Get some sun!!!

The skin produces approximately 10,000 IU vitamin D in response 20–30 minutes summer sun exposure—50 times more than the US government’s recommendation of 200 IU per day!

Make it a daily habit to try to do something outside, whether it be exercise, a phone call, reading, or simply sunbathing.

A recent study from Austrian researchers showed that Vitamin D levels are directly correlated with testosterone levels. Another study showed that spending an hour in the sun can boost a man’s testosterone by 69%!

Obviously the Venice Beach bodybuilders from back in the day were onto something!

9. Philosophical Thoughts

In a recent interview I offered the following thoughts on learning and training.

• Many roads lead to Rome
• Don’t be overemotional when it comes to exercise like some people are with religion and politics
• Be open-minded and skeptical (it’s wise to be both)
• Strength training is an arta-scienza
• Learn from a variety of fields and sources (articles, journals, blogs, dvd’s, seminars, textbooks, forums, etc.) Theory is good, journal research is good, anecdotes are good! Don’t be over or under-focused on theory.
• In order to learn from specialists in other fields you must first believe that they have something to teach you
• Learn to speak “coach” or “meathead”

10. Lifting Partner

One very important aspect to a lifter’s success depends on his ability to find a good workout partner. This takes time, as good workout partners are very hard to find. Over the years I’ve trained with partners who seemed gung-ho only to fizzle out the second they got a girlfriend, partners who were chronic excuse-makers, guys who talked too much in between sets, comedians who cracked jokes in the middle of your sets, guys who were too stupid to learn how to give a proper lift-off or a spot, guys who could never learn basic technique on common exercises, toxic energy-drainers who were negative and complained too much, guys who relied on you to motivate them, flakes, selfish partners who couldn’t stick to a routine and were always trying to push the workout forward or backward depending on their schedule, guys who lifted with either too little or too much intensity and therefore saw no results and ended up quitting, guys who were downright annoying, lazy guys who never wanted to change or rack plates, guys who were hell-bent on performing solely bodybuilding routines, guys who just wanted to train their upper body and hit their legs on the stationary bicycle, and guys who simply didn’t share the same training philosophy and enthusiasm. Needless to say, these people won’t last and you need to ditch these people or better yet, not let them become your partner in the first place. I’ve also trained with partners who became best friends and made my lifting experiences much more productive and memorable.

Finding a quality training partner is huge as you are reliant on this individual for motivation, accountability, lift-offs during heavy presses, and spots when you attempt 1RM’s on the squat and bench press. Finding a like-minded group of people to train with is even better, as is finding a gym that has the best equipment and optimal atmosphere. Envision these two scenarios: Attempting a max-deadlift at L.A. Fitness while surrounded by idiotic weaklings, listening to smooth jazz, and not being able to chalk up your hands, or attempting a max-deadlift at a garage gym with three powerlifter friends cheering you on while chalked up and listening to heavy metal. Which one would precipitate more productivity in your workouts?

11. Auto-Regulation Works

I need to write an entire blog about auto-regulation, but suffice to say it works and science is finally starting to prove it! Check out this study abstract.

12. Born to Run Backlash

If you’re a runner, then you may or may not enjoy the following article. However, you will most likely enjoy the comments as there are currently 5 pages of passionate responses to the article. The author claims that the barefoot running craze has led to an increase in running-related injuries. Barefoot runners are quick to point out that this has to do with incorrect running form and poor progression/adaptation. Check it out here.

13. Strong Glutes Will Prevent You From Pissing Yourself

My friend Cassandra Forsythe was kind enough to let me in on a current topic regarding pelvic floor dysfunction and incontinence. In a nutshell, there are many individuals who have leaky bladders when they exert physical activity. The muscles of the pelvic floor are supposed to prevent this from happening, but they don’t. Cassandra wrote about it here and here, and Mama Sweat wrote about it here. This is expert Katie Bowman’s synopsis of what’s going on:

“Nulliparous women (that’s women who’ve never had a baby) and men are equally affected with PFD (pelvic floor disorder) so while child birth may accelerate PF weakening, it is not a primary cause of PFD. PFD is first caused by slack in the pelvic floor due to the fact that the sacrum is moving anterior, into the bowl of the pelvis. Because the PF muscles attach from the coccyx to the pubic bone, the closer these bony attachments get, the more slack in the PF (the PF becomes a hammock).”

What Katie is saying makes perfect sense…and is along the lines of what Mike Robertson alluded to many years ago in his “Hips Don’t Lie” TMuscle article. Muscular force couples pull on bones and can affect posture. Weak glutes fail to provide proper postural tension and therefore allow the sacrum to rotate posteriorly which creates slack and weakness in the pelvic floor. A muscle needs to be taught for optimal length-tension relationships and firing ability. Doing too many kegels wouldn’t fix this issue and could indeed make it worse (just like what we see with too many rotator cuff exercises rather than scapular exercises). I could see how a well-timed and balanced approach consisting of hip flexor lengthening, glute activation/strengthening, isolated pelvic floor training, and integrated core training could be the perfect recipe.

If you piss yourself every time you run, jump, or sneeze, then you need to start hip thrusting, squatting, deadifting, kegeling, planking, cable chopping, and cable lifting.

14. Who is Your Fascia?

I’ll tell you who your fascia is, it’s my friend Patrick Ward! Check out these two blogs he wrote on the fascia here and here.

15. Is he Human, or is he Robot?

I really love my friend Joe Bonyai’s mechanics. He moves so well you’d almost mistake him for a robot. Check out his recent video on shoulder/elbow health for throwing/swinging athletes:

As someone who creates Youtube videos, I know that it’s a laborious and often thankless process…filming, retakes, editing, uploading, etc. So thank you Joe, your videos always rock!

16. Joint vs. Muscular Restriction

Kevin Neeld recently wrote a great blog on the difference between joint and muscular restriction. Basically, it’s not always tight muscles that are responsible for poor mobility. Check it out here.

17. Low Back Pain Myths

Mike Nelson sent me some links that got me exploring sources of low back pain. I think you’ll find these two blogs interesting as they dispel some rumors! Check them out here and here.

18. We’re Too Stupid to Know We’re Stupid!

I really enjoyed this article. Basically, we’re too stupid to know we’re stupid. We’re all a bunch of anosognosics. According to David Dunning, “An anosognosic patient who is paralyzed simply does not know that he is paralyzed. If you put a pencil in front of them and ask them to pick up the pencil in front of their left hand they won’t do it. And you ask them why, and they’ll say, “Well, I’m tired,” or “I don’t need a pencil.” They literally aren’t alerted to their own paralysis.” Most humans are similar in that they don’t quite realize their limitations and therefore have inflated self-perceptions. Check out the article here!

19. Should We Be Busting Out Cobra Poses and Behind the Neck Presses?

Mike Reinold, a highly respected Physical Therapist, recently wrote a blog discussing his thoughts on the Cobra Pose and the possibility that it may be the best postural stretch due to its reversed biomechanics of sitting.

I thought of the same thing when I wrote my “Sitting” blog last week but I didn’t mention it. I guess great minds think alike, right? He created a cool chart that compared the joint positions found in the Cobra pose and in sitting.

In a recent Charles Poliquin blog, he mentioned that his Physical Therapist pal Nick Liatsos believes that “one should be able to press behind the neck to demonstrate healthy shoulder function, and that the strength ratio of the behind-the-neck press to the bench press is a predictor of shoulder health.”

These are certainly interesting concepts as the strength community has drifted away from activities that involve potentially dangerous motions for the low back and shoulders but we certainly need mobility and stability all over. The trick is to understand the fine line between beneficial loading and dangerous loading.

20. Are You Kidding Me? Maxing Out on Squats and Good Mornings Every Day?

Mathew Perryman has been experimenting with some high-frequency training methods that are very interesting to say the least. You can read more about it on this thread and this blog. Matt was working his way up to a daily max on either front squats or back squats, good mornings, and presses five days per week. Basically, you need to get over the “Dark Period” and force your body and brain to adapt to be able to withstand and supercompensate from daily bouts of heavy training. Plenty of weightlifters have done this in the past and there are ways of making it “doable.” I believe that Matt was inspired by the recent popularity of John Broz who adheres to the following philosophy:





















Here is a video of John Broz, who has a facility in Las Vegas:

I find this stuff very interesting. Here are my thoughts:

• It may require good genetics and/or anabolic steroid usage to succeed at this type of program
• I don’t think it can be done with the deadlift as it’s too stressful especially on the low back
• Perhaps the body is capable of handling much more than we previously thought
• How often would one need to “back off” and what would one do to “peak?”
• One may be able to make it work but is it the most optimal method?

21. The Joint by Joint Approach

For those who aren’t “in the know,” a couple of years ago Mike Boyle developed the Joint-by-Joint approach to training. During a conversation with his colleague Gray Cook he realized that the future of strength training and corrective exercise may be based on a joint-by-joint approach rather than a movement-based approach. The premise is that the body is simply a stack of joints, and that each joint has specific training needs based on its predictable tendencies to quit working properly. From the bottom-up, the joints simply alternate between requiring mobility and stability. So simple; yet so brilliant. You can learn more about it here.

That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the Random Stuff.

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Puppies in Vices: The Deleterous Effects of Sitting
By Bret Contreras

Listen to this horrific story and decide whether you think this guy should be given the death penalty. A man was recently imprisoned for being convicted of cruelty to animals. He would take puppies and place them in vices.

He kept them in the vices for 8 hours per day. During this time, the puppies were not given any water or food. He would only clamp down on one side of the puppies’ bodies which caused the puppies’ internal organs to migrate toward one side of the body. Over time the consistent pressure caused some of the puppies’ internal organs to bulge against their abdominal cavities and even spill out of their bodies as the puppies’ protective tissues degenerated due to the extreme forces they received. The puppies’ bodies slowly started deteriorating as structures weakened and dysfunction creeped throughout their systems.

Does this man sound sick? Does he belong in an insane asylum? Or does he deserve the death penalty? You may want to be lenient on this man, because this man is you!!!

How This Relates to Your Back

In this egregious, overly-dramatic scenario, the puppies represent the intervertebral discs of your lumbar spine. The time spent in the vices represents the time you spend sitting. The migrating organs represents the nuclei of your lumbar discs. The spilling out of the organs represents the tearing of the wall of a disc and subsequent disc herniation. The fact that the puppies’ hydration and nourishment was neglected relates to the behavior of your dics while staying in one prolonged position throughout the day. The migrating bodily dysfunction is a cold reality in regards to adaptations imposed from sitting. I realize that the story mentioned above was a little over-the-top and scientifically-unrealistic but you must admit that I may have finally gotten you to pay attention to the consequences of your daily postural habits.

Although we’ve known since a study was published by Kelsey in 1975 that those who spend over half their day sitting experience higher incidences of herniated discs, time spent sitting continues to rise over the years. It’s a byproduct of the technological age and will most likely keep getting worse as time passes..


Our species put forth a lot of time and effort toward promoting adaptations that allowed us to exhibit upright postures and use our glutei maximi to powerfully propel the hips rearward via hip extension. Although there are at least twelve distinct hypotheses as to why and how bipedalism evolved in humans (postural feeding hypothesis, provisioning model, threat display, vigilance against predators, sexual selection, male phallic display, thermoregulatory model, carrying models, wading models, changes in climate/habitat, etc.), suffice to say that bipedalism appears to be a critical component to our survival as a species.

According to Wikipedia, “Devolution”, “de-evolution”, or “backward evolution” is the notion that a species can change into a more “primitive” form. It is associated with the idea that evolution is supposed to make species more advanced, and that some modern species have lost functions or complexity and seem to be degenerate forms of their ancestors. This view is rejected by modern evolutionary theory, in which adaptation arises from natural selection of forms best suited to the environment, and so can lead to loss of features when these features are costly to maintain.

Devolution presumes that there is somehow a preferred hierarchy of structure and function, and that evolution must mean “progress” to “more advanced” organisms. For example, it could be said that “feet are better than hooves” or “lungs are better than gills”, so that change to the “less advanced” structure would be called “devolution”. A modern biologist sees all such changes as evolution, since for the organisms possessing the changed structures, each is a useful adaptation to their circumstances.

So even though there may be no such thing as “devolution,” it appears that we are indeed reverting back to our ancestral roots, as an upright posture may no longer be necessary in today’s sedentary world. Perhaps it’s too cost effective and we will continue evolving into creatures whose natural postures are more akin to the fetal position to allow for more efficiency in sitting. Unfortunately, until our skeletal structures adapt to these adaptations, our low backs pay a price for the alarming amounts of stooping, hunching over, and sitting that we undergo in today’s society.

Some Facts About Low Back Pain

• Back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, second to upper respiratory infections

• Americans spend over $100 billion annually on medical bills, disability, and lost productivity related to lower back pain

• At least 85% of the American population will experience back pain at some point in their lives

• At least 85% of the American population will develop disc degeneration disease by the age of 50 years old

• At any given time, around 25% of the American population is experiencing low back pain

• Low back pain is the most common reason for lost playing time in sports

• Some evidence indicates that at least 94% of low back disorders is mechanical in nature (Waddell)

Now let’s break down the biomechanics and physiological repercussions of sitting

How Much are We Sitting and What are Some Physiological Concerns Associated With Too Much Sitting?

• A 2003 and 2004 U.S. Census showed that Americans spend an average of 56 hours per week sitting. This equates to half of one’s waking hours (8 hours per day). Another study showed that the British spend 15 hours per day sitting when totaling up the hours spent sitting at work, in transit, watching television, working on a computer, eating dinner, and reading. Finally, another study showed that Australians workers spend around 9.5 hours sitting. Researchers have dubbed this epidemic “The Sitting Disease.”

• When sitting, the large postural muscles of the back and legs are shut off which reduces fat-burning enzymes by 50%. Sitting also decreases the HDL:LDL cholesterol ratio, increases the risk of contracting diabetes by 7% for every 2 hours of sitting per day, increases the risk of heart disease, increases the incidents of depression, increases the risk of acquiring metabolic syndrome by 26% for every hour spent sitting irrespective of the quantity of moderate exercise performed (as shown by Australian researchers) and decreases lifespan (as shown by Canadian researchers involving a twelve-year, 17,000 person study as well as by Australian researchers involving a six-year, 8,800 person study). In addition, prolonged sitting increases incidences of discomfort (including back pain, muscle tenderness and aches, stiff necks, and numbness in the legs, chronic disorders, arthritis, inflamed tendons, chronic joint degeneration, impaired circulation, varicose veins, hypertension, obesity, cancer, high blood triglycerides, high blood sugar, osteoporosis, and herniated discs (Graf et al. 1993 and 1995, Grandjean 1987, Kelsey 1975).

• According to Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton, “If you’re standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire. They’re unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and they’re very rich in enzymes.” One enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood, burning the fat into energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL (the bad kind) to HDL (the healthy kind). When you sit, the muscles are relaxed, and enzyme activity drops by 90% to 95%, leaving fat to camp out in the bloodstream. Within a couple hours of sitting, healthy cholesterol plummets by 20%.”

• According to Galen Cranz, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, “Short of sitting on a spike, you can’t do much worse than a standard office chair. The spine wasn’t meant to stay for long periods in a seated position. Generally speaking, the slight S-shape of the spine serves us well. “If you think about a heavy weight on a C or S, which is going to collapse more easily? The C,” she says. But when you sit, the lower lumbar curve collapses, turning the spine’s natural S-shape into a C, hampering the abdominal and back musculature that support the body. The body is left to slouch, and the lateral and oblique muscles grow weak and unable to support it.”

• Some researchers have created a new model or paradigm called “inactivity physiology”. It establishes that sitting and non-muscular activity may independently boost the risk of ill health, and that sedentary behavior is a separate class of behavior with specific consequences for ill health. These are different than those caused by taking too little exercise.

A Cascade of Biomechanical Repercussions from Sitting

• Sitting is static stretching for the back

• What gets stretched? All the soft tissue from the center of the discs to the back of the body. This means all of the muscle, fascia, tendons, ligaments, and disc material/cartilage that lies posterior to the center of the lumbar discs

• This leads to joint laxity and ligamentous instability of the lumbar spine as the ligaments are no longer taut enough to correctly perform their job

• This also causes the posterior wall (annulus) of the disc to stretch, thin, and weaken, in addition to causing the disc nuclei to migrate posteriorly and exert pressure upon the weakened annulus, which creates disc bulges and herniations that protrude into the spinal column and can ultimately lead to extreme levels of pain. Tears and herniations are almost always posterior-ipsilateral in nature

• Pain leads to muscular inhibition and altered motor programming

• Sitting can force the body’s natural posture to exhibit lumbar flexion and posterior pelvic tilt, which is akin to a constant flexion moment on the lumbar discs and constant strain on the soft-tissue at the back of the spinal column

• This posterior pelvic tilt is the number one cause of mechanical dysfunction in the lumbar spine

• What else shortens? The hip flexor and hamstring muscles. This is known as “Adaptive Shortening.” Shortened muscles become dominant muscles

• An overactive psoas creates strong compressive forces upon the lumbar spine every time it contracts

• A tight psoas leads to decreased hip extension range of motion and therefore decreased glute activation from a mechanical perspective

• A tight psoas leads to what’s known as “Reciprocal Inhibition” which leads to decreased glute activation from a neural perspective, which is pronounced by the inhibition due to low back pain

• Compression of the glutes incurred while sitting also inhibits the glutes

• Decreased glute activation leads to what’s been coined, “Gluteal Amnesia”

• Gluteal Amnesia leads to flat (atrophied) and weak buttocks

• Weak glutes lead to what’s known as “Synergistic Dominance.” Synergists are “helpers” of the glutes which include the erector spinae, hamstrings, quads, and adductors depending on the movement

• Since the glutes aren’t functioning optimally and the hips “lock up” due to tight muscles, movement patters erode – more forward knee bend and lumbar rounding and less hip extension during squatting and standing from a chair, less hip extension and glute “pushing” and more hamstring “pulling” during gait, more lumbar extension and less hip extension when picking something up from off the ground, doing yard work, and deadlifting, etc. The erector spinae become prime movers rather than stabilizers in most movement patterns

• Synergistic Dominance leads to “Pattern Overload” which creates more pain

• Pattern Overload leads to tissue trauma, inflammation, spasm, trigger points, adhesions, altered motor patterns, and more muscular imbalance

• Spasms, trigger points, and adhesions lead to less movement and more sitting

• More sitting and less activity leads to detrimental postural adaptations in the form of flattened lumbar curve, kyphosis, posterior pelvic tilt, forward head posture, diminished mobility at the ankles, hips, thoracic spine, and shoulders, inflexibility of the hamstrings, hip flexors, and hip rotators, and weak glutes and core musculature

• Any attempts to exercise with considerable intensity or duration in this state leads to pain and possibly injury, especially at the hamstrings, groin, low back, knees, and shoulders

• Problems in one area of the body lead to problems in other areas of the body. If a misalignment exists in one segment of the kinetic chain, predictable patterns of dysfunction known as “Serial Distortion Patterns” throughout the entire kinetic chain will ensue, which compromise the body’s structural integrity both above and below the misaligned segment. For example weak upper glutes cause knee pain due to their inability to control the femur from being pulled into valgus (inward) when squatting, climbing, and jumping

• Dormant and weak muscles atrophy, which decreases the metabolic rate

• Decreases in metabolism leads to increases in body weight and body fat, which puts more stress on the joints and leads to increased pain and muscular inhibition

• The cycle repeats itself and the individual’s physique, movement patterns, posture, and performance capabilities enter into a continuous downward spiral

• In short, sitting changes the way we move and changes the way our bodies function

The Lumbar Spine – The Ultimate Compensator

As alluded to earlier, the lumbar spine is an amazing segment. It can and will compensate for lack of mobility found in many of the body’s major joints including the ankles, hips, thoracic spine, scapulae, and shoulders.

Let’s look at the hip. If your hip flexors are too tight and you can’t extend your hips (think of gait, hip thrusts, or back extensions), don’t worry; the lumbar spine will extend to pick up the slack. If your hamstrings are too tight and you can’t flex the hips (think of bending over in a deadlift or back extension), don’t worry; the lumbar spine will flex to make up the difference. In fact, the lumbar spine will compensate for any of the six actions of the hip; extension, flexion, external rotation, internal rotation, abduction, and adduction. If you have poor hip rotation and you play golf, where do you think you’ll get the extra range of motion when you swing the club and your hip mobility “runs out”? You’ll get it from the lumbar spine!

At the ankle joint, inadequate ankle dorsiflexion (toe to shin mobility) causes excessive forward lean and low back rounding in a squat. At the thoracic spine, inadequate thoracic extension can force the low back to extend during any exercise where you have to “keep the chest up,” including bent over rows, deadlifts, good mornings, squats, front squats, and overhead squats. Poor upward rotation of the scapulae will cause the low back to extend during overhead pressing. Insufficient external rotation at the shoulder joint will cause the low back to extend while holding onto the bar during a squat. These are just some of the movements that are performed by the lumbar spine that should be performed by other joints. If you lack mobility in key joints, the lumbar spine will contort to get you from point A to point B.

It should be mentioned that the low back musculature including the erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, multifidi, as well as the lats, glutes, rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominis, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles should contract to keep the core tight, produce intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), efficiently transfer energy from one half of the body to the other, and prevent energy leaks during strength training and high-velocity sporting movement. However, the core should usually be braced isometrically and should not move much concentrically or eccentrically in any direction (flexion, extension, lateral flexion, rotation, etc.). While a standard “arch” is a good thing during heavy compressive loading, there’s a fine line between arching and hyperextending the lumbar spine. Contracting the erector spinae is wise, but overarching is unwise as it places the posterior elements of the spine under too much stress and will likely lead to damage and injury over time.

So we know that inflexible muscles (which can be either short or stiff due to excessive tone) can cause the low back to come into play as a “substitute.” But weak muscles can also cause the low back to move, even in the presence of perfect flexibility and mobility. Weak glutes will force an individual to lift with their low back, run with their hamstrings, and squat with their quads. A weak core will cause the low back to collapse and “leak” energy.

What’s the big deal, you might say? Who cares how someone gets from point A to point B as long as they make it? Due to their larger structure and the fact that they support much of the body’s weight, they take a serious beating when they move around at high velocities, under high load, or for sustained periods of time. So you need substantial flexibility, mobility, stability, and strength at the hips in addition to adequate core stability in order to spare your lumbar spine.

In summary, healthy, mobile, and stabile joints spare the lumbar spine. But it takes more than just mechanical efficiency. You also need neural efficiency. Sometimes sparing the spine is a simple matter of motor reprogramming. Many individuals possess adequate joint mobility and stability, yet they still move too much in their lumbar spines and too little in their hips and thoracic spines. These folks need to be taught proper movement mechanics and exercise form.

After working with beginners for an entire session many times they can learn how to stabilize their spine through bracing and move solely at the hips during various exercises and movement patterns such as hip abduction and external rotation movements, quadruped hip extension movements, supine bridging movements, squatting movements, deadlifting movements, lunging movements, and back extension movements. Upon learning proper form many of these individuals will remark that they “finally feel the exercise working the right muscles.” The body wants to take the path of least resistance. It is more cost effective physiologically to stoop rather than squat (Garg and Herrin 1979). You must override your brain’s default signals and teach it to automatically resort to proper motor programs.

How to Reverse and Bulletproof Against the Negative Adaptations Imposed by Sitting

Stop Bad Adaptations

• Less sitting, more standing, more movement. Motion is good (Holm and Nachemson 1983). Sitting is evil (Videman et al. 1990). Sitting has been proven to increase intradiscal pressure over standing (Nachemson, 1966), increase posterior annulus strain (Pope et al. 1977), cause tissue creep in posterior passive structures which decreases anteroposterior stiffness and increases shearing movement (McGill and Brown 1992, Schultz et al. 1979), and cause a posterior migration of the mechanical fulcrum which reduces the mechanical advantage of the extensor muscles and increases compressive load (Wilder et al. 1988)

• Take mini-breaks from sitting, as sitting or stooping severely compromises lumbar stability (McGill 1999). Don’t set for more than 50 minutes at a time. Even standing for 10-20 seconds in a relaxed posture and then stretching overhead (lumbar extension) and then perhaps some neck rolls and windmills briefly and some walking helps a lot as it allows time for the disc nuclei to redistribute which reduces annular stress and to allow for some recovery of ligament stiffness. Athletes on the bench should sit on taller benches to reduce lumbar flexion, stand and pace every 20 minutes. If your work requires standing, dynamic effort, take frequent breaks to relax and possibly stretch. Too much of any single activity is undesirable and dangerous. Opposite loading is key (Krismer et al. 2001)

• Consider your spinal posture at all times (sitting, standing, sleeping, etc.) and know when you are extending, flexing, rotating, laterally flexing, and combining movements. Even pelvic tilting during sexual intercourse is associated with lumbar flexion! Learn the different spinal movements and how they feel. Knowledge is power (Preuss et al. 2005)

• Switch posture frequently to prevent tissue creep and injury (Liira et al. 1996, Callaghan and McGill 2001) and to avoid diminished disc nutrition which can lead to herniations (Buckwalter 1995). Don’t sit in one posture for more than 10 minutes at a time

• For the majority of time spent sitting (not all the time as it’s important to alter posture every so often), try to maintain a normal lordotic position since such a posture helps to balance the loads on various spinal structures. A good idea is to have 90 degree angles at the ankles, knees, and hips with an erect torso. A 1997 study by Hedman and Ferney subjected 12 lumbar spines to constant loading while in flexed and extended seated postures for 30 minutes with 500 N. Forces on the anterior column and the facets were measured. Forces on the posterior ligaments, the disc shear and the facet impingement forces were computed via a quasi-static analysis from the data. The authors of this study concluded that the “minimization of disc shear, tolerable levels of ligamentous tension, lower disc loads and a balancing of facet impingement and articular fact forces were found to be characteristics of prolonged erect sitting in this study. Based on these results, one would expect that the extended seated posture would reduce exasperation of tissues as compared to flexed postures.” They also concluded that the increased load on the tissues of the lumbar intervertebral joints in the flexed seated posture would likely result in increased degenerative changes. The results of this study were as follows:

1. Mean facet force in the L4/5 joints was greater in the extended seated posture (50.7 +/- 32.2 N) than in the flexed posture (5.6+/- 7.5N).
2. Mean anterior disc compressive force was greater in the flexed posture (165+/-133N) than in the extended posture 53.0+/-46.9N).
3. There was no significant difference between the two postures in posterior disc force (flexed=165 / extended=127N).
4. Vertical creep was increased in the extended posture (3.22mm) as compared with the flexed posture (2.11mm).
5. Disc shear and ligamental forces were higher in the flexed posture than in the extended posture.
6. Anterior column force increased 32% in the flexed posture and 28% in the extended posture over the 30 minute experiment.
7. An increase in facet force (65%) in the extended posture after 30 minutes was offset by a decrease in facet impingement force (27%) such that the net increase in facet force was only 1%.
8. The ligament tension in both postures increased substantially (183% in extension and 153% in flexion) due to creep loading. The posterior ligament force in the flexed posture, however, remained roughly 3 times the anterior ligament force in the extended posture over the period of the experiment.
9. Disc shear force increased 9% in the flexed posture and decreased 75% in the extended posture.

• Refrain from conducting any activities, exercises, or postures that cause low back pain to flare-up. If your low back acts up, cease the aggravating activity immediately

• Avoid prolonged stooping and deviated postures as they increase the risk of injury (Adams, Hutton, and Stout, 1980, Prunett et al. 1991, McGill and Brown, 1992, Marras et al. 1993, McGill 1997, Wilder et al. 1988)

• Avoid repetitive lumbar flexion as it has been shown to be the damaging mechanism leading to herniations as the nucleus inside the disc breaches the annulus layer by layer with progressive delamination of the layers (Callaghan and McGill 2001, McGill et al. 2007, Tampier 2007). In fact, McGill’s labs have repeatedly shown that under low compressive loading around 18,000 – 25,000 flexion/extension cycles usually lead to disc herniations (and 5,000 cycles with high loading)

• Avoid frequently bending and twisting the low back (U.S. Dept of Labor 1982, Andersson 1981, Marras et al. 1995, Punnet et a. 1991, Snook 1982, Aultman et al. 2004)

• Avoid stretching the low back; chances are it already has too much ROM and increased lumbar mobility puts people at greater risk for low back injury (Battie et al. 1990, Biering-Sorenson 1984, Burton, Tillotson, and Troup, 1989, Parks et al. 2003)

• Do not practice abdominal hollowing while lifting as it has been shown to reduce spinal stability (McGill 2009) and reduce training efficacy (Koumantakis 2005). Instead, learn the bracing technique

• Avoid lumbar hyperextension under high load or velocity as it may increase the incidents of damage to the posterior elements (pedicles, laminae, spinous processes, and facet joints) of the low back (Hardcastle et al. 1992, Bono 2004)

• Avoid round-back lifting, according to Zatsiorsky round-back deadlifting imposed 66% more compression than arched-back deadlifting. Learn to hinge at the hips. McGill has noted that weightlifters “lock up the lumbar spine close to neutral and rotate almost entirely about the hips,” whereas most normal people bend over by flexing a combination of their hips and low back. Lumbar flexion is most likely more dangerous when standing and bending forward as in a heavy deadlift than it is when lying supine and bending upward as in a crunch as there is a “flexion-relaxation phenomenon” that occurs when standing and bending over where the lumbar erectors shut down near full flexion. The erectors contract eccentrically to allow the bending and then relax completely at end-range flexion which shunts the load to the passive structures which includes the discs (although myoelectrically silent, the lumbar erectors still contribute some elastic stability through the stretching of their tissues according to McGill). Internal pressure on the lumbar discs is 15 psi when lying supine and 334 psi when lifting 20 kg with a rounded back (Wilke et al. 1999)

• Avoid combined spinal movements especially under load. Disc prolapses were produced in human cadaver lumbar spines by combining lumbar flexion and lateral bending with sudden compressive loading (White & Panjabi) as well as with lumbar flexion and torsion (Gordon et al. 1991). When just supporting in the extension axis, supporting 50 Nm was shown to impose 800 N of spinal compression. Supporting 50 Nm in the lateral bend axis was shown to impose 1,400 N of spinal compression. But supporting 50 Nm in the axial twist axis would impose over 3,000 N of spinal compression if induced while extending during lifting (McGill 1997). Since there are no muscles specifically designed for axial twisting, a bunch of muscles contract to help out which increases compression

• Don’t train in the early morning when discs are hyper-hydrated as disc bending stresses increase by 300% and ligaments by 80% due to the increased disc-height (Adams et al. 1987). After just 30 minutes of waking discs lose 54% of the loss of daily disc height/water content (Reilly et al. 1984) and 90% within the first hour. Early spinal motion is unsafe (Adams and Dolan 1995). Avoiding lumbar flexion in the morning has been shown to reduce back pain symptoms (Snook et al. 1998). Play it safe and train 2 hours after waking

• Make sure the abdominals and obliques are strong, not just the erector spinae. Imbalance is problematic (McGill et al. 2003)

• Learn how to breathe properly while stabilizing a load (McGill et al. 1995)

• When picking something up from off the ground, place the load as close to the body as possible to reduce the reaction moment, reduce the subsequent extensor forces and resultant compressive joint loading, and prevent entering into lumbar flexion/spinal buckling

• Learn how to brace the core, engage the inner core unit (transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor) and outer core unit (glutes, lats, LDF, rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, etc.) via integrated movement, and properly develop intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). The beliefs regarding IAP are all over the place, with Zatsiorsky stating that IAP can reduce pressure on the discs by an average of 20% and up to 40% in extreme cases, McGill believing this data is greatly overexaggerated (although he sees merit in IAP for increased trunk stiffness, decreased tissue strain, and failure from buckling), and Bogduk stating that our beliefs about IAP are flawed as research shows that 1) IAP doesn’t correlate well with the magnitude of the load being lifted or the applied stress on the vertebral column as measured by intradiscal pressure, 2) The Valsalva maneuver has been shown to increase loading on the lumbar spine, as has raising IAP 3) Abdominal strength and IAP is poorly correlated, and 4) Strengthening of the abdominals has not shown to increase IAP during lifting. Although the research on IAP seems pretty dismal, Siff states that the lungs should be filled to about 75% of their maximum capacity for the interval when muscle tension is highest. This jives with what most powerlifters believe.

• Always use proper form! Failure to do so is not only dangerous but it reinforces bad technique (Cholewicki and McGill 1996). Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Learn to use the legs and hips while keeping the back stiff while lifting. Learn how to sit back and keep the knees out and chest up in a squat. Learn how to hinge at the hips while keeping the chest up in a deadlift. Learn how to take long strides while staying upright in a lunge. Learn how to move at the hips and not the lumbar spine in a hip thrust. Learn how to rotate at the thoracic spine and not the lumbar spine in a cable chop or lift. Get strong everywhere to eliminate energy links. According to Siff, “Spinal flexion during heavy lifts from the ground can damage the intervertebral discs, so competent lifters strive to diminish the flattening of the lumbar spine by actively concentration on increasing erector spinae tension. If this is overdone, the various spinal ligaments become slack and most of the load is borne by the muscles. Conversely, if the muscles are inadequately contracted, then excessive stress is placed on the ligaments. The skilled lifter is able to optimize the required balance between the spinal muscles and ligaments, thereby enhancing lifting efficiency and diminishing the likelihood of injury.”

Reverse Bad Adaptations

• A multi-pronged approach consisting of varying types of drills, stretches, and strengthening exercises is an effective route to improved back health (Saal and Saal 1989). Proper exercise selection is critical (Linton and van Tulder 2001)

• Get a FMS or similar evaluation – a Functional Movement Screen can identify asymmetries and limitations in fundamental movement patterns which can lead to a specialized corrective exercise plan tailored to the individual

• Engage in SMR or body work – this is important as it can reduce excessive tone, alleviate trigger points, break up adhesions, and reduce spasms

• Engage in static stretching for the hip, shoulder, and ankle musculature – this is important as it can prevent and reverse the effects of adaptive shortening. It is usually not necessary to stretch the spinal column which can sometimes do more harm than good as it can diminish the stretch reflex and lead to spasm (Solomonow et al. 2002)

• Engage in mobility drills for the ankle, hip, t-spine, shoulders, and scapulae – this is important as it can prevent losses in mobility and restore the body to it’s natural state of mobility

• Engage in activation work for the glutes, psoas, serratus anterior, and low traps – this is important as it can “wake-up” dormant muscles and teach them to contract more easily which can then be coordinated into more integrated movement

• Engage in core stability work – this has been shown to be more effective than traditional abdominal full range movement (Hides, Jull, Richardson 2001, Saal and Saal 1989, Koumantakis et al. 2005). Learn to stabilize the core from all directionl load vectors including axial, anteroposterior, mediolateral, torsional. Hernations occur at full end range-of-motion so it’s important to be able to prevent forces from taking you into those extreme ROM’s (Adams and Hutton, 1982). Muscles that attach to the spine are like guy-wires that form the rigging on a ship’s mast which brace the spine and prevent it from buckling, There are many torso and core muscles are well-suited for lumbar stabilization (Crisco and Panjabi 1990, Cholewicki and McGill 1996, Cholewicki, Juluru, and McGill 1999, Gardner-Morse, Stokes, and Laible 1995, Macintosh and Bogduk 1987, McGill and Norman 1987). Spine stability is greatly enhanced by co-contraction or co-activation of antagonistic trunk muscles (Cholewicki and McGill, 1996). Co-contractions increase spinal compressive load as much as 12–18% or 440 N, but they increase spinal stability even more by 36–64% or 2925 N (Granata and Marras, 2000)

• Learn to apply the appropriate level of bracing for the task at hand. For menial tasks, usually co-contraction in the amount of 5-10% of MVC for the supporting core musculature is sufficient in stabilizing the spine and enhancing spinal stiffness. Contracting too hard is unnecessary. Remember, contracting the core muscles via bracing imposes a penalty on the spine via increased compression. This penalty is worth it in order to resist buckling and prevent unstable behavior. The level of co-contraction depends on the task

• Look into the McKenzie method as it is possible to reverse some of the negative adaptations of sitting and to allow the discs’ nuclei to “equilibriate” (Scannell and McGill, 2005)

Bulletproof Against Bad Adaptations

• Increase back endurance; people with back pain have stronger than normal backs, but they need more back endurance (Biering-Sorenson 1984, Nicolaisen and Jorgenson 1985, Holmstrom and Moritz 1992, Alaranta et al. 1994, Luoto et al. 1995, McGill et al. 2003)

• Get strong glutes! It is this author’s opinion that if you get strong glutes, the body uses those glutes for lifting and the low back is used as a stiffened transducer to transfer energy. Strong, properly functioning glutes may be the most important facet of lower back health as the glutes are the ultimate sparers of the spine

• Get strong in a variety of load vectors. Wolff’s and Davis’ laws state that tissue conforms to the lines of stress it receives. We want our tissue to be strong and prepared for all directions of force. We know that bone (Carter 1985), ligament (Woo, Gomez, and Akeson 1985), disc (Porter 1992), and vertebrae (Brinckman, Biggemann, and Hilweg 1989) in addition to tendon and fascia remodel themselves according to the directions and magnitude of stress to which they’re subjected

• Lose bodyfat. Most people are muscularly-skinny and weak yet they are forced to carry around a giant sack of fat with them everywhere they go. This weighs them down, puts more pressure on their joints, and causes fatigue which leads to breakdowns in posture and mechanics. According to the CDC, 67% of Americans are either overweight or obese

• Master simple drills, postures, and exercises, then gradually progression to more advanced drill, postures, and exercises. This might mean to advance from static to dynamic, isolative to integrative, and bodyweight resistance to external resistance. Gradually increase range of motion, duration, number of repetitions, volume, intensity, loading, etc. Too much axial loading too quick can result in endplate fractures and damaged vertebrae. Too much anteroposterior loading too quickly can lead to damages in the posterior elements of the spine or endplate avulsion. Inability to prevent the spine from buckling during heavy lifting can result in damages to discs, ligaments, disc annulus, and disc nucleus

Stop the Madness!

Hopefully this article has inspired you to stop sitting so much, start moving more, and start engaging in back-friendly practices. And most important, hopefully you will stop torturing innocent little puppies!

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If you’re looking to penetrate the Strength & Conditioning Industry or simply wanting to meet a bunch of like-minded folks, then the 3-Day Perform Better Seminars are definitely for you. In an effort to be brief, I’ll simply roll through my experiences over the weekend as many individuals don’t quite realize how these weekends go. I’m very glad I already attended the One-Day Seminar a couple of months ago which included Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Todd Durkin. This freed up time for me to watch other presenters.



My friend Sam Leahey picks me up and together we head to the seminar. Poor Sam had to chauffeur me around all weekend and a couple of times he had to knock on my door to wake me up as I was completely zonked out. It was difficult for me to adjust to the time zone changes! He was a good sport as he’s super laid-back. He’s also full of integrity. I can’t say enough about my friend Sam. Great guy!


I got to the seminar and ran into a bunch of friends; Nick Tumminello and his girlfriend Allie McKee, Joe Sansalone and his girlfriend Neghar Fanooni, Nate Green, and Joe Bonyai. I felt right at home! It’s good to be around like-minded folks.


I attended Jeff Anderson’s lecture on the Biomechanics of the Spine. I thought that this presentation was great! I’m going to write something up that incorporates some of the things he spoke about but suffice to say, sitting is really bad for you!


Participated in Al Vermeil’s hand-on practical on Speed. Al is hilarious! For those who have never seen him speak, the guy is about as unique as they come. From his random “In my day” rants, to his creative analogies, to his hilarious stories, I’m pretty sure you’ll never see a speaker quite like him. I was pleased to see that much of Al’s work was influenced by the late Charlie Francis, a man for whom I had much admiration.


While speaking with Nick Tumminello, Allie McKee, and Alwyn Cosgrove, I am introduced to a guy named David Jack. This guy is awesome! High energy, very knowledgeable, and super friendly. Got some great free advice from Alwyn regarding my career. Ran into my friend Martin Rooney and talked shop for a little bit.


Filmed a quick video in a conference room with David Jack and his friend for a possible Men’s Health video showing some of my glute exercise progressions. Hope they post it somewhere! Ran into Jeremy Frisch who showed me how he performs Static Lunge EQI’s. Tried them out and love them. Here’s what he taught me:

Static Lunge EQI

I should mention that in a true EQI you gradually sink deeper into the stretch throughout the duration of the set.


Went to Al Vermeil’s lecture on Speed. More great stuff. Was in the very corner of the room and fell asleep for a few minutes. Thought I was inconspicuous. When I woke up, David Jack and Dewey Nielsen had taken pictures of me sleeping. In my defense, I only got three hours of sleep the night before due to the time differential and my flight arriving after midnight. So lay off me!


Watched John Berardi’s lecture on Nutrition and Injury Recovery. John is such a great presenter and may in fact be the most kind and professional individual in the industry! His lecture was great.


Attended Thomas Plummer’s presentation on Secrets of Success. Thomas is hilarious, motivational, and knowledgeable about our industry. What else could you ask for?


Went back to the hotel, showered, got dressed, and headed back to attend the Perform Better Social. Got to meet Brett Jones. Asked him about correct Chop and Lift technique and he gave me a couple of pointers. Talked with my editor Nate Green for a while. Spoke with Al Vermeil about my glute exercises. Was very surprised that he not only saw value in them, but also knew the specifics in regards to proper form execution without ever having performed the movements. Great coaches have a sixth sense about movement. He asked me to email him links to my exercises; I still need to do that. Hung out more with Nick and Allie.


Went to the StrengthCoach.Com Social event hosted by Mike Boyle and Anthony Renna. This was a wonderful event. Got to meet up with a bunch of my strength coach friends including Anthony Renna, Tim Vagen, Shon Grosse, Charlie Weingroff, Dewey Nielsen, Robert Dos Remedios, Brad Lambert, Elsbeth Vaino, Dan Gableman, Bruce Cohn, Bruce Kelly, Sean Skahan, Max Prokopy, Steven Head, Sam Leahey, Joe Bonyai, Nick Tumminello, Joe Sansalone, Allie McKee, Robbie Bourke, John D’Amico, Cedric Unholz, Ray McCarthy, Chris Brown, Kevin Carr, Adrienne Norris, Henry Lau, Greg Streblow, Alwn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle, Kara Fed, and Nate Green. This was an amazing event! Had an excellent conversation with my friend Shon Grosse.


Extended the party. A lot of us just weren’t willing to throw in the towel. Went to a local bar that had a band playing. Took Neghar Fanooni’s camera and shot a video clip of Robert Dos Remedios and Dewey Nielsen going crazy on the dance floor to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Had an amazing time with Joe S., Neghar, Joe B., and Sam Leahey. These folks were a ton of fun! Left the bar at around 1:45 and went back to the hotel.


Finally crashed out



Sam picks me up, it’s raining like crazy! Sam’s crappy little car was hydroplaning. He was driving Bruce Cohn, Joe Bonyai, and yours truly. We all thought we were going to die. Ran into Kevin Larrabee from Fitcast (Kevlar) before the presentation. As promised, he gave me a Spike (Biotest product). It tasted so good when it hit my lips! Seriously, Spike is amazing. I knew that if Kevlar and Tony Gentilcore liked Spike so much then there had to be something to it. The Spike revitalized me and was much needed. Was hoping to talk more with Kevlar as he seems like a really cool dude but didn’t get the chance with so many people around.


Planned on going to Sue Falsone’s hands-on practical but ran into Martin Rooney and talked for a solid hour straight. The best thing about Martin is that he gives you the impression that you’re his best friend. I’m sure everyone walks away from Martin thinking, “Wow, I really relate to that guy.” We spoke about exercises, training theory, evolution, and the effects of being over-emotional when it comes to learning. I think that Martin and I could talk for five straight hours and not skip a beat. Martin is such a passionate, knowledgeable, hard-working, and inspiring individual. He even gave me some good advice pertaining to my career that was in accord with what Alwyn told me. Awesome!


Attended Eric Cressey’s hands-on practical on Medicine Balls. Eric is extremely bright and went over shoulder stretches, warm-ups, and med-ball exercises.


Watched Greg Rose’s lecture on the Golf Swing. I have to say, this was the presentation that impressed me the most this weekend. I didn’t know who Greg Rose was before this weekend but I found out that he is a co-founder of Titleist Performance Institute and a heck of a smart guy. The TPI folks have the golf swing boiled down to an absolute science. They analyze videos of an individual’s golf swing and can quickly detect everything wrong with it. They have names for each problem…S and C postures, reverse spine angle, early extension, restricted trail leg, scooping, chicken winging, death grip, palm grip, under the plane/over the top, casting, steep swing plane, fat divots, etc. Each of these issues leads to pain at a certain joint. I was very intrigued to say the least.


Had lunch with Nick Tumminello and Allie McKee. I really enjoy my friendship with this couple. I got to hang out with them a bunch in Kansas City last month and we picked up right where we left off. They are great people and Nick and I are always discussing training theory. It’s cool hearing what’s on Nick’s mind and then reading about it a few weeks later on TMuscle or wherever else Nick’s work appears. He’s all over the place! Nick is always kind enough to introduce me to his friends in the industry; the man has a lot of connections and is well-respected by everyone. I can’t remember the name of what I ate, but it was called something like “The Death Burger.” A burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Can’t get much better than that!


Attended Sue Falsone’s lecture on the Thoracic Spine. Was very impressed! Sue is extremely knowledgeable, humble, and professional. I really like Sue! The t-spine may be the most overlooked component of fitness assessment. She also talked about Costal and Diaphragmatic breathing with is important to understand.


Attended Greg Rose’s hands-on practical on the Golf Swing. More awesomeness. Let’s just say that most golfers don’t have the requisite ankle, hip, and t-spine mobility necessary to allow them to swing a golf club correctly. Although I’m a big fan of corrective exercise in general, there may be no other sport where corrective exercise is more warranted than golf.


Watched the Presenters Q & A session. Was great to hear different speakers offering their views on different questions. The best question that came up was “What comprises the core?” What’s your answer?


Headed back to the hotel, showered, got ready, then fell asleep. Sam woke me up by pounding on the door. If not I would have slept for a couple of hours!


We went to dinner with a bunch of folks; Bruce Cohn, Joe S., Neghar, Joe B., Dan G., Henry L., Kevin C., and the other Kevin. I was all riled up and talked too much at dinner. I get excited talking to younger guys in the industry and try my best to point them in the right direction. Most of these younger guys are already going in the right direction as they’re involved with Mike Boyle in one capacity or another.


Extended the night and went bar-hopping with Joe, Neghar, Kevin, and Kevin. Joe and Neghar are such a great couple! They are extremely fun, very professional, and very much in love. They are very knowledgeable fitness folks who have their own facility called Optimum Performance Training Institute in Maryland. I’m very envious of them as their happiness and energy is contagious. Left at around 1:00 I believe.


Finally hit the sack.



Was woken up again by Sam pounding at my door. This awarded me the “Most Annoying Friend” award for the weekend. Headed to the Convention Center.


Watched Thomas Myers’ lecture on Anatomy Trains and Myofasical Meridians. This was the lecture that everyone wanted to see. The visuals were quite spectacular. I find Thomas’ accent very intriguing…he sounds like a mix between John Malkovich and a robot.


Attended Thomas Myer’s hands-on practical. Was impressed that Thomas actually had a pretty decent overview of strength & conditioning although he was persistent in telling us that this isn’t his field and that he’s just trying to give us some different ideas.


I intended on attending Lee Taft’s lecture on the Feet in relation to speed, but instead I met with Carl Valle. Carl has been highly critical of my work so I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk shop with someone who has much more years of experience than me as it relates to the world of Track & Field. We spoke for a couple of hours. Carl is very knowledgeable and well-versed in training theory.


Filmed a quick video with Nick Tumminello for an upcoming blog of his.


Left to the airport with Sam.

There you have it folks! That’s how my weekend went. As you can see, these summits are very exciting and action-packed! Where else do you get to hang out all weekend and talk shop with guys like Martin Rooney, Alwyn Cosgrove, Nick Tumminello, Carl Valle, Al Vermeil, Brett Jones, Nate Green, Joe Bonyai, Jeremy Frisch, Sam Leahey, David Jack, Bruce Cohn, Bruce Kelly, Joe Sansalone, Dan Gableman, Elsbeth Vaino, and Shon Grosse?

I was so busy talking to others that I barely got to speak to guys like Charlie Weingroff, Anthony Renna, Dewey Nielsen, Robert Dos Remedios, Seah Skahan, Kevin Larrabee, Sue Falsone, John Berardi, Timothy Vagen, and Lee Taft.

Just to give you an idea as to how versatile these summits are, I really didn’t get to speak much at all to Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Gray Cook, Lee Burton, Greg Rose, Jeff Anderson, John Brookfield, Aaron Brooks, Steve Cotter, Michol Dalcourt, Todd Durkin, Chris Frankel, John Graham, Brian Grasso, Bill Parisi, Fraser Quelch, Chuck Wolf, Todd Wright, Thomas Myers, and Thomas Plummer. As you can see, the depth at these seminars is top-notch!

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Random Stuff

1. What are Energy Leaks?

Stuart McGill’s definition: Energy leaks are caused when weaker joints are forced into eccentric contraction by stronger joints.

Mike Boyle’s definition: Energy leaks are points at which energy is lost during the transfer of force from the ground. Energy leaks are a result of the inability of the body to stabilize a particular joint.

Here’s an example: Let’s say someone attempts to perform a squat or deadlift and their knees cave inward during the movement. Or, let’s say an individual’s back rounds during a deadlift. These would all be examples of energy leaks.

Milo had weak upper glutes!

2. What are the Various Forms of Isometric Training?

I learned most of this through Christian Thibaudeau.

There are two main types of isometrics:

1. Yielding isometrics – holding a position and preventing it from moving
2. Overcoming isometrics – pushing or pulling against an immovable object

These can be done via several different styles:

1. Hold for max duration (see how long you can hold the position without breaking form – yielding iso’s are best for this purpose)
2. Produce max isometric effort (push or pull as hard as possible regardless of the amount of time it takes to build up to it – overcoming iso’s are best for this purpose)
3. Produce max isometric power (build up to near max tension as quickly as possible then release – overcoming iso’s are the method of choice for this purpose)
4. EQI’s (Eccentric quasi-isometrics) – hold a mid-range position while contracting the agonists as hard as possible, as the muscles fatigue they pull you into a deeper stretch thereby adding stability to flexibility (to be used with yielding isometrics)
*some believe that EQI’s are performed by starting in the stretched position and contracting the antagonist as hard as possible to facilitate a further stretch and release tension on the agonist which is really a technique used in “Active Isolated Stretching”
5. OI (Oscillatory isometrics) – hold a position and “bounce” up and down using small amounts of movement in order to contract and relax muscles thereby addding in a small dynamic concentric/eccentric component (to be used with yielding isometrics)
6. Iso-Ballistic – alternate periods of explosive activity with isometric activity

* #4,5,&6 aren’t true “isometrics”

3. Check out Stuart McGill’s Free PDF Article on Selecting Back Exercises

Designing Back Exercise: From Rehabilitation to Enhancing Performance

4. Check out Mathew Perryman’s Articles

A Closer Look at Cortisol and Bodybuilding

Why Your Muscles Get Sore: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and Exercise

5. Check out Carl Valle’s Mediacasts. They’re Good Stuff! I’ve Listened to Three of Them Already

6. What are Serial Distortion Patterns?

If a misalignment exists in one segment of the kinetic chain, predictable patterns of dysfunction known as serial distortion patterns throughout the entire kinetic chain will ensue, which compromise the body’s structural integrity both above and below the misaligned segment.

In other words, if you have an unstable or immobile joint somewhere in the body, you’ll likely develop problems in other joints as the body is an inter-connected unit. For example, let’s say you have weak upper glutes (at the hips) which cause your knees to cave in when you squat (like in the picture above). Although the problem exists at the hip, you will likely experience pain at the knee. For another example, let’s say someone has tight hamstrings. Everytime this individual bends over to pick something up he or she will be forced to round his or her low back to compensate for the inflexible hamstrings. Although the problem is at the hamstrings, this individual will likely experience low back pain. The dysfunction becomes a serial distortion pattern when it starts manifesting itself in multiple areas throughout the body.

7. When you Have Time, Watch this 45-Minute Lecture on Static Stretching by Professor Doug Richards. It’s Great!

There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding static stretching these days. This lecture should clear up any misconceptions. Here are some notes I took from the lecture:

• Elastic deformation goes back to normal
• Plastic deformation leads to permanent changes
• Stiffness is the slope of load-deformation graph
• Range is how far something can stretch before it breaks
• Strain is the % of original length before it breaks
• There exists an elastic range and a plastic range
• Collagen structures including ligaments and fascia, bones, cartilage, and tendons have 3-5% strain before they start to break and 7-10% strain before they break. Muscle has a 10% strain before it starts to break
• Brittle – no plastic range (glass)
• Ductile – opposite of brittle (metal)
• Human tissues are in between brittle and ductile
• Elastics behave instantly
• Human tissue is semi-fluid (water content) and has viscosity – doesn’t change instantly, our tissues are visco-elastic (like door with spring and damper)
• First-order loading – like door shutting with spring and damper – goes quickly at first then slows down as door approaches neutral position, same with muscles, stretch goes quickly at first, then slows down (half-life 50%, 75%, 87.5%,…)
• Creep is gradual deformation (elongation), McGill found that over 20 minutes of bending spine gained 5 degree of creep, matched first order equation, would need 45 minutes to an hour to reach full range, lost all creep in less than 20 minutes (elongation was lost quicker than it took to gain)
• Normal range vs. hypermobile, joint play or laxity is in unnatural range (bad is instability)
• Not enough flexibility – short, not to be confused with stiff
• Stretching over and over consistently will increase muscle length (actual sarcomeres added in series)
Stretching doesn’t change stiffness, if you change the length of a muscle, you change the sweet spot in which it generates force, *must take that into account when programming ex) a cyclist should have short hip flexors (what is optimum range of motion for power production for a specific task?)
• Stretching reduces pain sensation and allows more ROM without effecting load-deformation or stiffness profile (can be good or bad)
• Stretching is very specific to sport, human, activity, joint, etc.
• Stretching can be good or bad
• Sitting is stretching and is dangerous – stretching your back
• Focus on technique, nerves and vessels could shorten and restrict mobility – use it or lose it – stay active and flexible, bend correct segment and protect back and shoulder when stretching
• Research on stretching is all over the place, we really don’t know a lot

I need to go to this gym so I’ll be enticed into stretching more often!

8. Dream Garage Gym Phases

I wrote about this in my interview with Tony Gentilcore. Here is what I believe to be the optimal “phases” for developing a garage gym. If all you ever get to is phase one, you’ll still be set for life. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Obtaining all the equipment in the four phases would probably require a 4-car garage, but this is a “Dream Garage Gym,” so deal with it!

1st Wave: Texas power bar, plates, collars, power rack/platform with chin up bar and dip attachments, bench press, jump rope, stereo system, mats, hand towels, timer, foam roller, tiger tail, lacrosse ball.

2nd Wave: dumbbell rack, dumbbells, chalk bin, deadlift lever, box squat box, step up attachment, blast straps or trx system, incline bench, military bench, portable bench, Hampton thick bar pad, 2-board, airex pad, jump stretch bands, chains, JC bands, hip belt, medicine balls, valslides, manta ray, stability ball, fat gripz

3rd Wave: hex bar (trap bar), kettlebells or Hungarian core blaster, sledgehammer, tire, Prowler, safety squat bar, grappler, cambered bar, chest supported row, battle ropes, front squat harness, reverse hyper, glute ham developer, 45 degree back raise

4th Wave: slideboard, tornado ball, pulling stands, Cook bar, lever squat, dual pulley system with all basic attachments, easy bar, arc barrel, Airdyne, ankle weights, grippers, loading pin, strap harness, Woodway speedboard, leg press

By the way, I already have most of this stuff and find nearly all of it quite useful in order to perform all the variations of exercises that I like to do.

9. Read Dan John’s Excerpt. This is an Awesome Read!

System Education for Lifters

10. Vern Gambetta: A Simple Paradigm – Time For Adaptation

When you think about going for the quick fix, just quickly run this simple paradigm through your head. It all relates to time for adaptation. Nothing complicated. Don’t over think this. This is a just a general guideline, a reminder, that the process of adaption to training takes time.

• Flexibility improves day to day
• Strength can be improved from week to week
• Speed (A fine motor quality) improves from month to month
• Work Capacity improves from year to year
• Based on the law of reversibility
• You can lose flexibility from day to day
• You can lose strength week to week
• Speed declines month to month
• Work Capacity declines year to year.

11. Mel Siff on “Sport- Specific” Training

How can any supplementary exercise ever be specific? Every such adjunct resistance exercise will always be non-specific as far as the actual pattern of sporting movement is concerned. The most that we can refer to are exercises that display a high causal correlation with improvements in sporting performance, not exercises that are specific to training the movement patterns of a given sport. If we had to apply the principle of movement specificity, then we would have to jettison all strength training and rely on the sport alone to enhance the necessary sporting skills. The only truly specific training activity is the sporting movement itself.

In other words, what you are really implying is that all supplementary training might well be redundant because only completely “sport specific” training will enhance performance. The problem is that the concept of sport specific training is really getting a bit out of hand. There are several forms of specificity and it is highly misleading to talk about “specificity” as some sort of single quality that characterises each sport. As I discussed in detail in Ch 1.4 “Supertraining” (2000), the main forms of specificity involved in sport are:

* Type of Muscle Contraction
* Movement Pattern
* Region of Movement
* Velocity of Movement
* Force of Contraction
* Muscle Fibre Recruitment
* Metabolism
* Biochemical Adaptation
* Flexibility
* Fatigue

It is important to note that, in the context of training, specificity should not be confused with simulation. Specificity training means exercising to improve in a highly specific way the expression of all the above factors in a given sport. While simulation of a sporting movement with small added resistance over the full range of movement or with larger resistance over a restricted part of the movement range may be appropriate at certain stages of training, simulation of any movement with significant resistance is inadvisable since it can confuse the neuromuscular programmes which determine the specificity of the above factors.

Even if one is careful to apply simulation training by using implements or loads that are similar to those encountered in the sport, there will usually be changes in the centre of gravity, moments of inertia, centre of rotation, centre of percussion and mechanical stiffness of the system which alter the neuromuscular skills required in the sport.

There is also far too much misunderstanding of what “sport specific training” and “functional training” are. First of all, they are not the same concept, even though most fitness gurus appear to be using them synonymously. As I have stated before, even general physical preparation (GPP) exercises, just like specific physical preparation (SPP) exercises, can have sport specific objectives. In stating that, I posed this other question: “Are there ANY exercises that are not functional in human movement and sport?” Note that, in asking that question, I am not stating “non sports specific.”

12. The Purposes of a Warm-Up

I don’t know where I got this, but it’s a good summary:

• To increase core temperature (an increase in rectal temperature of a least one to two degree Celsius appears to be sufficient) (deVries 1980)
• To increase heart rate and blood flow to skeletal tissues, (Karvonen 1978) which improves the efficiency of oxygen uptake and transport (deVries 1980), carbon dioxide removal (Karvonen 1978), and removal and breakdown of anaerobic byproducts (lactate) (Karvonen 1978)
• To increase the activation of the Central Nervous System (therefore increasing co-ordination, skill accuracy and reaction time) (Hill 1927 cited in Shellock and Prentice 1985, deVries 1980)
• To increase the rate and force of muscle contraction and contractile mechanical efficiency (through increased muscle temperature) (Bergh 1980 and deVries 1980)
• To increase the suppleness of connective tissue (resulting in less incidence of musculotendonous injuries) (Lehmann et al 1970, Sapega et al 1981).

13. Stimulus, Adapt, Stabilize, Actualize

I’ve been watching sprint coach Dan Pfaff videos for the past couple of weeks and he often speaks of a four part process in the training cycle:

1. Stimulus
2. Adapt
3. Stabilize
4. Actualize

He explains how any stress needs to go through these four phases and that strength coaches often keep pushing the envelope with strength and progressive overload without allowing for the third and fourth steps to occur. I remember Charlie Francis alluding to the same thing; needing to blend the new motor abilities gained (strength, power, flexibility, etc.) into the skill (sprinting, throwing, jumping, etc.). Pfaff states that there isn’t a clear-cut process for this model and that sometimes the four processes can occur overnight, while other times they can take much longer. It all depends on the stressor. Just something to think about in sport-specific training.

That’s All Folks!!!

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I’m not sure if all of my blog readers are aware of this, but I have an identical twin brother named Joel. We’re clones. Growing up, we were often mistaken for albino Ethiopians (no disrespect intended, but during that era there was a ton of footage on the news showing malnourished Ethiopians and people would often tell my Mom that we looked like we were from Ethiopia). This is me as a kid. What’s up with the posture?

So you can see why I started lifting weights when I was fifteen years old. Despite my constant attempts to get my brother on a workout regimen, he didn’t start lifting until he was twenty-one years old. I definitely had a head-start on him, which exposes some holes in my “experiment.”

Since I started lifting, I’ve always been a little bit bigger than my brother. At times I’ve been a lot bigger. There was one point when we both weighed the same; around 230 lbs. There was another time when I had nearly 50 lbs on him when I let my weight go in an attempt to get my squat, bench, and deadlift up as high as possible. Needless to say, although I got really strong, the fat face just wasn’t working out for me. Here’s a pic from that time. What’s up with the hair?

Right now I weigh 235 lbs and Joel weighs 210 lbs. So currently, I have twenty-five pounds on him. This is what we look like more recently.

This is the 5-day body part split routine that Joel uses:

Monday – Chest
Tuesday – Back
Wednesday – Legs
Thursday – Shoulders
Friday – Arms

This is the 4-day lower/upper split routine that I use:

Monday – Lower Body
Tuesday – Upper Body
Thursday – Lower Body
Friday – Upper Body

Right now I can bench around 60 lbs more than him, squat around 70 lbs more than him, and deadlift around 220 lbs more than him.

Get to the Point Bret! Why Does Any of This Matter?

The other day we were hanging out and it occurred to me that my brother’s arms might be bigger than mine. I was a little taken back because my arms have always been bigger than his. This got me thinking…he does more arm isolation training than I do, but I do a lot more lower body training than him, especially in the form of deadlifts and hip thrusts.

A few nights ago, I went over to my brother’s house and took some measurements. Here were the results:

Luckily, as you can see, my arms are still bigger than his. It’s interesting to note that although my arms are only an inch bigger than his (cold) and my chest is only three inches bigger than his (cold), they expand to two inches bigger and four inches bigger, respectively, when flexed.

The most dramatic difference, however, is in our hips. I have five more inches around my hips than Joel, which demonstrates how much more glute mass I have on him. This makes perfect sense when you break it down. Here are the facts:

1. Joel’s goals are to just stay healthy and relatively lean
2. My goals are to keep getting stronger and more muscular over time
3. Joel does legs once per week
4. I do legs twice per week
5. Joel does pretty much the same workout week in, week out
6. I utilize progressive overload and am always trying to get stronger over time
7. Joel doesn’t do any specialized glute work
8. I do perform specialized glute work in the form of hip thrusts, barbell glute bridges, band seated abduction, and band hip rotations.

Morals of The Story

• Once you’ve accumulated your typical “beginner gains,” if you want to put an inch on your arms, you might have to gain around 25 pounds in order to do so.
• A lower/upper split routine may be more effective in putting on mass than a bodypart split routine for natural lifters.
• Progressive overload on basic compound lifts is critical for continuous gains in hypertrophy.
• The difference between the results of a regular guy who likes to lift but is rather complacent versus an obsessed meat-head/strength coach over a decade or so of training equates to 25 lbs of extra muscle, an extra inch around the arms, an extra three inches around the chest, an extra inch and a half around the thigh, and an extra five inches around the hips.
• With sound training, it is certainly possible to defy genetics and go from “Skinny Geek” to “Total Badass.” Okay, maybe “Not-So-Skinny Geek” is more appropriate.
My Glute Shit Works!

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