Archive for January, 2013

Quick Tip: Stop Training!

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Quick Tip
Tags: , ,

best-planking-pics-29-850x508When Joe Public starts at a gym, his biggest road-block in regards to fitness (nutrition aside) tends to be consistency. In my personal experience, and from what I have observed in other athletes, sometimes dedicated athletes have the opposite problem. We run our bodies into the ground, and then when we are flirting with over-training, we keep going because we think that that is what you have to do to break through a plateau. Bottom line: you are not a machine. Under Amour ads and ego aside, you are a person who needs rest and breaks. Pay attention to your body and your mental state. Are you plateaued? Constantly fatigued? Low appetite? Dreading every gym session? Yeah, maybe you just have to push through it, but maybe you need some time off. Program deload weeks into your training, and if you are a really serious athlete, take at least 2 weeks a year where you do absolutely nothing physical except stretch. Taking time off if you are over-trained isn’t giving in. It’s being smart. Recognize if your body needs a reset, and give it the time it needs so that you can come back strong. #allchill

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Check out UFC fighter Alistair Overeem. What a physical specimen. Allisat USE

Yes and no. Steroid allegations aside, the guy is an absolute monster. This is an older picture of him. He has only gotten bigger. Overeem is a great athlete and kickboxer, but he has a postural issue which is very common in MMA. Look at the position of Overeem’s hands. Notice how you can see the backs of them? That’s not how your hands should fall. Alistair Overeem’s shoulders are internally rotated.

What exactly is shoulder internal rotation you ask. Basically, it is when your shoulders are pulled forward and out of their proper positioning. When your shoulders internally rotate, this causes rotation of the humeris, which causes a chain reaction down the entire arm. Hence why you can see the back of Overeem’s hands. Being internally rotated is very dangerous for your shoulders, especially if you are an athlete. If you are confused about proper shoulder positioning, I took some pictures of yours truly to demonstrate the difference between proper shoulder positioning and internal rotation.

Here are a couple of shots of me pretending to be internally rotated:

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Sorry for the big pics. I am lousy with technology. Notice in the profile view how my shoulder slumps forward. In the front view, notice how similar my hand positioning is to the picture of Overeem.

Here are some shots of me standing normally (yes, I have pretty awesome posture):

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You can see in the profile view how much further pulled back my shoulder is. You can see this from the view in the front as well. Also, look at the positioning of my hand in this front view as compared to the internally rotated picture. You cannot see the back of my hand. Quick test: go stand normally in front of a mirror. Can you see the back of your hands? If so, you are internally rotated and have some work to do.

Causes

Internal rotation can be caused by a number of things. Generally, like all postural issues, it is some combination of tightness and (relative) weakness. Tight upper traps, tight pec minor, tight thoracic, and tight lats are all potentially big contributors when it comes to shoulder internal rotation.

Weakness of certain muscles can also pose a problem. Most notably the upper back. If you sit slumped over a computer all day, chances are your upper back muscles are stretched out from your normal seated posture, and weak, since you likely aren’t doing anything on a daily basis to strengthen them.

Think Overeem has a weak back? I doubt it. BUT, his upper back may be weak relative to his chest. If you have a strong upper back but a REALLY strong and tight chest, the chest will win the tug-o-war over the shoulders.

Cautions

When you are internally rotated, your shoulders are in a weak, vulnerable position. Because they are not sitting the way they were designed to anatomically, you end up being at a higher risk for injury. Try this. Those of you who read my very first blog post will remember this experiment. Sit straight up in your chair. With your palms facing each other, raise your arms up in front of you, and then straight up over your head. Now, try the same thing with your arms, but with your shoulders rounded far forward. Notice a bit of a difference in your shoulder mobility? You should. You should also notice with the rounded shoulders that pushing the range of motion can be quite uncomfortable. Overeem is a strong dude. How do you think his shoulders feel when he does heavy push-press with his internally rotated positioning? Bottom line, if your shoulders are internally rotated, you are at risk for a shoulder injury. If you have this problem, stop overhead pressing, pulling, and snatching NOW. You have a lot of mobility and remedial work ahead of you to fix your body.

Solutions

I mentioned earlier 4 key problem areas where tightness can cause shoulder internal rotation: thoracic, lats, pec minor, and upper traps. If you are internally rotated, don’t worry about which of these four areas is the problem. Chances are you are tighter than you ought to be in all of them. Use a foam roller or PVC pipe on your lats. Try a lacrosse ball on your pecs, a double lacrosse ball for your thoracic, and check out this little number for your upper traps courtesy of Mobility WOD.

In addition to the self massage work, do some static and dynamic stretching for that area. For example, try doing behind the neck overhead pressing with a broomstick. Start with your hands wide, and then move them closer together as your shoulder mobility increases.

Another important solution to this problem is strengthening your upper back. Facepull variations, TYI’s, and even heavier horizontal pulling/rowing movements can do this. As I mentioned earlier, if your upper back is relatively weak compared to your chest, your shoulders will be pulled forward. If you are a boxer or a kickboxer, think about how much time you spend pushing (punching) compared to pulling. Of course there is a discrepancy! If you are internally rotated and trying to fix the problem, not only should you ditch all overhead pushing and pulling, but you should also ditch horizontal pushing for the time being. Yes guys, this means no bench! Stretch and strengthen, and then you can get back to these movements.

However, once your shoulders are in a healthy position, maintain a ratio of at least 2 pulls for every 1 push in the weight room. That means if you are doing 5 sets of heavy bench, you better be doing 5 sets of heavy rows, as well as some remedial work such as facefulls for the upper back.

How do you know if you have fixed the problem? Besides the hand/mirror test, try this. Lie on the ground on your back. With your palms facing each other, raise your arms overhead. If you can touch your index fingers to the ground without overextending your lumber, bending your elbows, or having shoulder pain, you have likely fixed your shoulder positioning and are PROBABLY good to go with overhead movements.

Shoulder internal rotation isn’t just a problem for the elderly. As evidenced by the pic of Overeem, lots of high level athletes have this problem as well. Take it from a guy who separated his shoulder during a split jerk in the last training session before my first Olympic lifting comp: shoulder injuries suck. If you are internally rotated, swallow your pride, pull back your training in certain areas, and fix the problem once and for all. #allgo

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DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, is a very well known and somewhat misunderstood phenomenon. I’m not going to discuss what causes it chemically. DOMS can be described as muscular soreness caused by an intense workout which tends to peak about 48 hours after the activity which caused it. One common mistake people make is judging how hard they have worked by the level of DOMS they experience. “Ohhhhh, my trainer killed me! I won’t be able to sit down for a week!”. While DOMS can be a sign of a great workout, do not make the mistake of assuming that you did not have a good workout if you do not experience DOMS. Factors such as training age, rep range, and even foam rolling and mobility work can influence how sore your muscles are after a workout. If you train and you’re not all that sore afterwards, it’s not necessarily cause for concern. #allgo

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Programmed this conditioning workout yesterday. Got some ideas from a couple of other workouts I found on line and adapted them. I call this one “The Muay Thai Shredder” because, well, I think it’s great conditioning for muay thai. It demands a lot of your legs, core, shoulders, chest, and triceps: all muscles that are important in muay thai or kickboxing. The focus of the workout is two-fold.

The first focus is to train your body to bring your resting heart-rate down quickly. Whenever I do solo boxing or muay thai work, I always set the clock for 45 second breaks rather than 1 minute. Shorter rest breaks mean your body is trained to recover in a time shorter than that which you are actually allotted in a match.

The second focus is to increase the muscular endurance of the muscles I listed earlier which are key in a muay thai or kickboxing match. The better your muscular endurance is in your shoulders, the more snap your punches will have in the last round, and the higher your hands will stay. The better conditioned your legs, the faster your kicks will be deep into the match, and the more active you will be in regards to footwork.

20 front squats with 75# barbell, 10 hand-release push-ups, 30 seconds rest

Complete 10 rounds for time.

A few pointers…

1) Feel free to scale the front squat weight. If you are light and more of an endurance athlete, you might want to use something a little lighter. If you are a heavyweight who has a max front squat of 315#, maybe up it a bit. For reference purposes, I am about 210# with a max front squat of about 250#.

2) Even though the workout is for time, don’t skimp on the rest periods. Take the full 30 seconds. For this workout, it is better to go hard every round and take the rest break than to have no designated rest periods and take smaller, more frequent rests.

3) When you are squatting, your hamstrings need to cover your calves. Ass to grass squat. If you don’t have the mobility to do this, try sliding some 5# plates under your heals for the time being. If you still don’t have the mobility, you aren’t ready for this workout.

4) K1 matches are either 3×3 min rounds or 5×3 minute rounds. This conditioning session may last longer than 11 or 19 minutes depending on the kind of shape you’re in. Think of the first 5 rounds as a warm up. Yes, they will be challenging, and no, I’m not telling you to slack during them. What I mean is that part of the point of the first 5 rounds is to fatigue you for the last 5. Vince Lombardi once said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”. You will be tired going into the last 5 rounds. Provided you really work hard, conditioning workouts such as this one will teach you how to push yourself even under extreme fatigue. I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I finished a sparring session as tired as I was at the end of this workout. Enjoy! #allgo

I communicate a couple of times a week with a friend of mine who does CrossFit. She suggested I take a look at the “Fight Gone Bad” WOD. I found this video explaining the routine and the story behind the workout. MMA fans will recognize the fighter for whom the workout was originally designed.

The programming for the original “Fight Gone Bad” WOD is as follows:

3 rounds composed of 5×1 minute activities. 1 minute rest between rounds.

Activity 1: rowing machine (C2 rower)

Activity 2: wallball

Activity 3: sumo deadlift high pulls

Activity 4: push press

Activity 5: box jumps

I thought this looked like a really good workout, but I did have to adapt it a little bit. I didn’t have an area to do wallball, and I just plain don’t like the sumo deadlift high pulls. Both the position of the hands and the position of the feet in that exercise do not have a ton of functional carryover. I kept the same breakdown of 3×5 minute rounds with each round being composed of 5×1 minute activities. My programming was as follows:

Activity 1: thrusters (95#)

Activity 2: deadlift and row combination (Perform 1 standard power deadlift. Once the bar has been put back on the floor after the eccentric portion of the lift, extend the knees while keeping your lumbar extended and perform one bent over row – 95#)

Activity 3: box jumps (24 inch box)

Activity 4: push press (95#)

Activity 5: rowing machine (C2 rower)

All in all it was a pretty brutal conditioning session, which meant it did its job. Next time I perform this, I think I might try to use a lighter barbell. My focus in this conditioning session was supposed to be aerobic conditioning, but the weight was heavy enough that my muscular endurance struggled and therefore I had to stop more than I would have liked given what the goal of the workout was.

Feel free to use the template of 3×5 and 5×1 to design your own MMA conditioning workout. Keep this in mind however… As much as I don’t like Coach Glassman (the creator of CrossFit), he does make a good point about activity order in the video posted above. If you are looking to focus on aerobic conditioning during a workout, be very aware of the order which you program your exercises in. If you do 3 minutes in a row of squatting variations, your legs will likely become the limiting factor before your aerobic conditioning does. As a result, try to use the order of the activities to give certain muscles a break. This is why I programmed the thrusters and the push press so far apart in the round: to give my shoulders and traps a rest. Hope you give either of these workouts a try. And by either of these workouts, I mean mine. Yeah, shameless self promotion – big surprise. #allgo

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CrossFit has gained a ton of steam as both a brand and an exercise methodology over the past few years. CrossFit is now partnered with Reebok, and the once modest CrossFit games have grown into an international phenomenon. I reference CrossFit frequently in my posts. There are things I think are great about CrossFit, and there are things which I think are terrible. This post is more opinion-based than many of my other posts. It’s only fair to inform the reader that I’ve never actually set foot in a CrossFit ‘box’ (the name of their gyms), but that I have done a fair amount of research on CrossFit, been in close contact with some CrossFitters, and done several CrossFit style workouts personally.

I pulled this definition off of wikipedia. Yes, wiki is a sketchy source at best, but it works for giving us a general definition here.

“CrossFit describes its strength and conditioning program as “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement,” with the stated goal of improving fitness, which it defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

Here is a video that expands a bit on that definition.

I’m going to get into some things I like about CrossFit, some things that I think are objectively not good about it, and some things that just generally annoy me about it.

Some things I like about CrossFit:

1) First and foremost, CrossFit advocates functional movements. Out of the hundreds of “WODS” (workout of the day) I’ve seen, I’ve only seen a couple workouts off of the Spartan Race twitter feed that involved bicep curls. Otherwise, they focus on squats, Olympic lifts, closed chain bodyweight movements, and other awesome exercises.

2) CrossFit encourages hard work. I’ve never seen someone doing a CrossFit workout who looked like they were slacking off, which is more than I can say about the hords of people I’ve seen on the shoulder press machine.

3) CrossFit improves general fitness, especially in the beginning. Chances are, if you are new to fitness, or if your ‘workouts’ consisted of a bunch of single joint movements and the treadmill, CrossFit will at least initially improve strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, aerobic conditioning, etc.

4) There is a focus on mobility. This one pretty much speaks for itself. On that note, Kelly Starrett is another great thing about CrossFit. If you haven’t checked out his blog, you should. The guy is a mobility wizard.

http://www.mobilitywod.com/

5) Thrusters. I’m not sure if this exercise predates CrossFit or not, but CrossFit has definitely popularized it in a big way. This exercise is incredible for conditioning. Period.

6) They have incredible facilities. Seriously, the gyms are like adult playgrounds.

Some things that are objectively not good about CrossFit:

1) One of the main, if not THE main focus of CrossFit is improving work capacity. My understanding of CrossFit is that they basically have two types of workouts. The first type of workout, which I have heard called “technique”, seems to focus on strength and power. The second type of workout, which I have heard called “met-con”, or “metabolic conditioning” focuses on work capacity. In met cons, you are generally either looking to complete the workout as quickly as possible, or you are doing an AMRAP (completing as many repetitions or rounds as possible in a pre-determined time period).

The problem with their conditioning workouts is that they include movements which should never be used in a conditioning workout. Ask any Olympic lifter about how many reps a set of cleans or snatches should have, and they will likely say 4 or less. John Broz would say 2 or less. The reason for this is two-fold. First, Olympic lifts are power movements. Doing high rep Olympic lifts improves muscular endurance, but not power. Logically, it makes no sense. Second, high rep Olympic lifts are dangerous. Because the muscles that make up the posterior chain fatigue at different rates, attempting to do 30 reps of 135# clean and press for time (the CrossFit benchmark workout known as ‘Grace’) will ensure you are lifting with a rounded lumbar. I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s bad. High rep snatches? Probably not the best idea if you like your shoulders intact.

2) Kipping/butterfly pull-ups. TheseĀ are bad for your shoulders. Point blank. I dare any CrossFitter to explain how they’re not.

3) There is a lack of periodization/organization in CrossFit FOR THE MOST PART. I watched a video one time where a guy teaching a CrossFit programming course tried to explain that the WODS provided on the CrossFit mainsite were a lot more organized than people think. I looked at every WOD everyday for three months. Either I know nothing about fitness, or there was little or no organization.

Periodization and organization of your workouts is essential. Ask any Olympians if they periodize. Many high level CrossFitters such as Rich Froning, the current male CrossFit games champion, have recognized this. There is a documentary online where he explains how he organizes his workouts, specifically his strength/power workouts. Any serious athlete knows the value of periodization. You don’t need ‘constant variation’ to improve, and it can even be a hindrance.

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4) For athletes who need to complete in a specific sport, CrossFit isn’t focused enough. If you are an average Joe or Jill looking to ‘get fit’, CrossFit is great. If you want to compete in the CrossFit games, you should be doing CrossFit. But, if you are a volleyball player, do a workout that is designed for a volleyball player. Even CrossFit has admitted in an indirect way that their system is not necessarily the best for athletes. The creation of “CrossFit Endurance” for endurance athletes and “CrossFit Football” for strength and power athletes suggests this.

5) At least from what I have seen, there is virtually no focus on prehab. No rotator cuff work, no upper back work, no glute med work. At least directly. Prehab is very important for injury prevention. Any program that ignores it, especially if the program has been designed for an athlete, is, in my opinion, incomplete.

6) When it comes to exercise, hard and good are not the same thing. If I did a half hour of leg extensions, I would be working hard. I would also be beating up my knees.

Some things that I just don’t like about CrossFit:

1) Some of the exercises don’t seem to make sense. Like medicine ball cleans. Whyyy?

2) The self-righteous attitude of the group. You didn’t invent circuits or cross-training, so calm down. Just because I’m doing burpees doesn’t mean I’m doing CrossFit.

3) Building on #2, the idea that CrossFit is the be-all-end-all of fitness. Just because you want to improve physically somehow doesn’t mean you should be doing CrossFit. Want to clean 300#? Spend your time cleaning. CrossFit met-cons will only slow you down.

4) I’m going to bring in my philosophy background here, so my apologies if I bore you to tears. The number of CrossFitters who fall victim to the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Roughly translated, that means “after this, therefore because of this”. I’ve heard more times than I can count the number of CrossFitters who said “I’m in the best shape of my life since I started CrossFit”. I’m glad to hear that, but is it because of CrossFit specifically? Maybe your problem was that you were slacking off. Maybe you have improved because you have been working hard and doing functional movements, neither of which are exclusively attributed to CrossFit.

And there you have it. That’s my opinion about CrossFit. My suggestion if you are an athlete is to take what is good about CrossFit and include it into your PROGRAMMING! Below are a couple of articles critiquing CrossFit if you would like a little more information. Now go do some thrusters. #allgo

http://www.sweatpit.com/forum/ubbthreads.php?ubb=cult

http://www.charlespoliquin.com/Blog/tabid/130/EntryId/932/Getting-the-Most-Out-Of-CrossFit.aspx

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MMA as well as many other sports require lots of different physical capacities for athletes. You have to be powerful to have a quick double-leg. You have to be flexible to throw a head kick. You have to have good conditioning to kickbox after shooting six times in a row. The more things you attempt to improve at once, the smaller the improvements in each individual area will be. Sure, you may be able to both snatch 200# for the first time and break a 20 minute 5k in the same month. However, chances are you would have seen greater improvement in one area if you had focused on that one area alone. Feel yourself being tossed around during grappling? Take the month off from conditioning and squat heavy several times a week. Breathing heavy after sprawling twice? Drop the heavy power cleans for a month and make friends with burpees. Yes, you can get stronger while doing some conditioning, but make sure your training has a clear emphasis. The more focused your training, the better the results will be. #allgo