Tuesday, October 31, 2006

For some reason this came back to me today:

"It's not the stumbles in life that matter - it is the recovery that matters."

Lots of sayings and cliches in this vein - "Fall down 7 - get up 8" is an old chinese proverb if I am not mistaken.

But what I like about the reference to stumbles is that we all falter but not necessarily fall and we let it have the same effect. A bad meal, a missed workout, etc... and we write off our plan and set some other date to start again.

Well - if it is the recovery that matters and you have let a stumble become a fall - you need to work on your recovery!

The only moment we have to make a change is right now. Once a stumble has happened it is gone and you are in that critical recovery phase - will the stumble become a fall or will the recovery place you back on the path?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Squat - Squat - Squat

Great exercise - funny looking word...

Just realized as I wrote squat 3 times that it is a funny looking little word - and a great exercise.

Now in my mind the Deadlift is the "king" of barbell lifts but the squat is a damn close second and an exercise that I really like. When you hit the form right and you have the bar wedged in your upper back and you are ready to descend into the hole it is a great moment. Feeling the weight across your back is a very different feeling from wedging the weight off the ground in the deadlift. Hitting the hole (and I mean Powerlifting below parallel) and knowing that you have to stand back up with the weight on your back is another great moment.

Couple of recent epiphanies regarding the squat:
I lift raw (belt only) for my squats and the raw squat groove is a bit different from the geared squat form. With the way gear has evolved you see a more upright body position and a wide stance. In the raw form you see a more hips back almost good morning style. These are generalities but seem to hold pretty true. I had let the geared form influence my raw squat form by trying to be more upright with a higher bar position and a wider stance.
While driving cross country I had the opportunity to lift with my friend Jeff O'Connor - and he immediately busted me on my form mistakes. Since moving the bar lower on my back and wedging my upper body between the bar and sitting my hips back my squat has felt great.
Today I hit 5 sets of 2 reps at 405 and felt like I could have been quite a bit heavier for my sets.

So a lower bar position, sitting the hips back and moderate stance have allowed me to find my groove on the squat and will assist me greatly in getting to a 500+ squat for my raw elite goals.

For clients and non-powerlifters the choice to back squat is a personal one. Good back squats are very form intensive and require you to dedicate yourself to squatting. Most people will get the squat benefits without the risk by front squatting. Kettlebell front squats being my favorite variation since it is very easy on the wrists and also works your breathing muscles in the process.

So, back squat, front squat, single leg squat or whatever variation you choose - get to Squatting.
But learn how and learn well.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Paralysis by Analysis

Decisive action is best.

There is a saying -"It is better to act now and ask forgiveness later then do nothing." Or words to that effect.

Now don't go crazy here and start doing insane things and say but "Brett said it was better to ask forgiveness than do nothing" - you are responsible for your own actions! And this is a fitness blog so quit scheming for tonight.

And my point is....

Waiting for the perfect program or perfect exercise to hit "this" body-part or the perfect diet etc... to begin working towards a goal is paralysis by analysis. Your routine and your life do not have to be perfect to begin - they just have to be.

Your program has to have structure but needs to be open to change. You can begin on your own but find you need the advice or program design services of a professional (such as those on my website). But begin or if you want to begin a professional program - don't wait - get in touch with someone and get started. Good intentions and such...the road to not accomplishing your goals is paved with them.

Instead of wondering which assistance exercise will get you squat or bench or _________ moving - how about working on your squat or bench or ________ form. Work the exercise then once you find a weak section of the exercise you will have a better idea of how to pick an assistance exercise. Place your attention on what you want to improve in and keep it there.

Act with confidence and be decisive - learn and research to aide you in this don't act blindly but act.

I made the decisive decision to move across country and establish a new internet business. I did not wait for things to be perfect - I acted. And I'll let you know how it turns out.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Three and out...

Exercises that is - not downs...

Going off of my Occam's Razor article for Pavel's newsletter yesterday I would like to share my training from yesterday.
Keeping it simple:
Jump Rope x 5 minutes
Floor press alternated with Pull-ups
Floor press 205 x 6, 225 x 6, 245 x 5,5, 265 x 5
P-U 80# x 3,3,3 , 70# x 3,3
Deadlift with 35# plates extending the pull
375 x 5,5,5

That was it - upper body push, upper body pull and a full body pull. The jump rope at the beginning is a warm-up/foot strengthening drill.

My main goal coming up is the AAU meet in December in Las Vegas where I will be lifting in the deadlift only competition. And after having a peak at Pavel's upcoming newsletter (snail mail version) - I realized that I had left out my deadlifts using the 35# plates. This is just enough of an extended range for me. When I go back to the 45# plates it really does feel like a shortened pull and I am able to wedge super tight at the beginning of the lift.

What I see people do with the extended range DL is go too deep and lose the groove of their DL. You can go too deep in trying to do extended range pulls. This is a case where just a bit will do. If you go beyond your DL groove and round your back or change the lift - you will lose the carryover to your goal activity.

So for now I will be hitting the 35# plates DL (a light day like yesterday and a heavier day) and hitting the floor press to work on my tricep and lockout strength for the bench. After Dec. it will be time to hit the big three again and get ready for a full meet and my ultimate goal of hitting Raw elite.

Simple is as simple does.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Core activation trick...

I don't exactly like to use the C word but everyone knows exactly what I am talking about so it has it's moments.

The trick - instead of drawing in or other cues - try this - on a padded surface where you knees will not suffer assume a kneeling position (both knees on the ground) and have a friend place their hand on your head - then have the friend move the hand a 1/2 an inch above your head. Now you must lengthen your spine and reach your friends hand without looking up or cheating. Notice what happens - what did you feel?

If you are quad dominant and have tight hip flexors you will have trouble feeling like you can extend your body. And you should feel your abs get tall - yet solid.

Better posture, better "core" activation and less quad dominant movement should be the results.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Combine this with the diaphragm advice from yesterdays blog and you will be on to something and try your Kettlebell military press from this position.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What is the deal with the Transverse Abdominus??

First - if you don't know what the transverse abdominus (TVA) is - consider yourself fortunate - sometimes ignorance is bliss! ;)

The much talked about and emphasized TVA is one of your abdominal muscles and according to research is the first muscle in your body to fire to stabilize you for movement or even for lifting your arm from a chair. It is thought to be the prime muscle in the body for spinal stability.

The TVA is designed like a corset - the fibers run in a straight line around the body connecting to the fascia in the back - since it has this design the popular explanation of it's function is that it draws in to produce stability.

I have a different take on this.

The TVA is like a retaining wall for intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). That is right a retaining wall designed to hold in the pressure necessary to stabilize the spine. Proper IAP is the combination of the pelvic floor muscles (more on this on another blog), the back, the abdominals (including the TVA) and the _____________??? Do you know? and the diaphragm. That's right the parachute shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity and helps you breath. It forms the top of the box and when you inhale properly and the diaphragm expands and pushes down into the abdomen - the TVA must perform it's retaining wall function and contain the pressure with the pelvic floor and the rest of the "box".

If the TVA doesn't do it's job and the pressure cannot be contained - low IAP and low spinal stability. Drawing in will actually decrease the effectiveness of the "box" and prevent the diaphragm from expanding and allowing the TVA to perform it's retaining wall function.

Pull-up the pelvic floor (become familiar with squatting and kegel exercises if you don't know how to do this) and make the abs flat and solid - not pulled in - and use the diaphragm to expand down against the retaining wall - as the TVA tightens to hold in the pressure it will pull on the thoracolumbar fascia and viola - IAP and the opportunity for a stable spine.

Start thinking of the TVA and IAP in this manner and reap the benefits of a stable spine and proper abdominal activation.
And tune in tomorrow for a simple "core" activation "trick".

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Doesn't that hurt your back???

If I had a nickle for every time I was asked this question while swinging a KB, Deadlifting, or lifting Atlas Stones I would be a bit more comfortable in my life.

Here is where I think the question comes from - We are so disconnected from what true movement and performance looks like that people cannot conceive of something like deadlifting or KB swinging being good for you. The current machine based training (more on this in a moment) and unstable surface training crowd have disconnected us from ourselves.

A seated Chest press or seated row produces the highest forces on the low back - more than almost any other activity. Surprised? Don't be - think about it for a moment - does it make sense that when you try not to use a section of body while producing force within the body that the force will travel right to the weak link (the section trying to be inactive and unable to stabilize itself). When you actually produce force within the body the way it was meant to be produced - with the whole chain activated - you are safer.

So while the trend in exercise has been towards "safer" exercises - like machines and wobble boards - we continue to have high incidents of low back pain and shoulder injuries. Doesn't sound like the right direction to me.

Being able to pick something up off of the ground and being able to produce power from the hips are essential athletic and just plain human movements. Does this mean a Powerlifting style deadlift - not necessarily - there are many ways to deadlift and reconnect with this basic human skill. (Hint - there will be a video covering this soon)

So the next time someone asks the question - Isn't that bad for your back? What will you be thinking?

Monday, October 23, 2006

December is approaching...

This December I will be competing at an AAU powerlifting meet in Las Vegas. It will be a deadlift only meet for me so it is time to begin focusing on it.

Powerlifing is a new venture for me - I lifted in two meets in California and have set some personal goals for myself. In powerlifing most lifters will try to achieve what is known as an Elite total. This is a total of the three lifts which represents a high level accomplishment. Well - they have released Elite totals for the Raw lifter (lifting Raw is using a belt only). And that is my goal - Raw elite.

Raw elite for the 181 weight class is a 1396 pound total for the Squat, Bench press and Deadlift. This will breakdown into a
500+ pound Squat, a 350 pound Bench, and a 550+ pound Deadlift.

Why - you ask?

Well -reason #1 - to have a goal.
Something to focus my training and provide definable markers for achievement. Humans perform better when there is an expectation or goal in front of them. Once we leave competitive athletics these goals become harder to find and we tend to drift in our physical lives. This tends to be when people either do not workout or there only goal is to "workout".

I am not after a workout - I am after results.

Where to focus my efforts and what result to focus on- are the only questions. Once determined - the path begins to lay itself. My job as a trainer is to assist in defining the goal and then guide the person along the path to their goal.

Right now I must focus on the deadlift and begin to prepare for the December meet. Next goal after that will be to find a "full" meet (meaning all three lifts) and once I know my total - I know what I need to do to get to the ultimate goal of Raw Elite.

So - What is your goal? Do you have one?

If not and you find yourself drifting - maybe you need one!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A weekend away teaching...

I was away this weekend assisting my friend Gray Cook at a presentation in Northern VA. For those of you who don't know Gray created something called the Functional Movement Screen (click on the products link on my website - go to the bottom and through the Amazon.com link you can purchase the book Athletic Body in Balance). The movement screen is a way to assess essential movement patterns and find restrictions and asymmetries (Gray is referring to asymmetries when he refers to balance not wobbling on a disc). Once the restrictions and asymmetries are found they can be dealt with and the difference is amazing.
Gray also has a Clinical level evaluation that he teaches to Physical Therapists (consider yourself lucky if someone with this is in your area).

While I was there to assist - I learned far more. An appreciation for what movement screening and evaluation can mean was hammered home this weekend. Look for upcoming blogs and information on both Gray's book and the Movement Screen.

Also brought home to me this weekend was the fact that the RKC principles and techniques put you ahead of the game as a trainer. Breathing, strength and the instructors eye for assessing movement come in handy anywhere.

I had the opportunity to put on a little grip and KB demo which went over very well.

A "gem" from the weekend - what makes an exercise functional or not depends on whether it improves the goal activity.

Think about that for a moment...(go ahead - I'll wait...)

What do you want to improve? Did the exercise improve it? If yes - it is functional to the goal - If no - well then no... ;)

Standing on a wobble board and doing curls is only a "functional" exercise if it improves the goal activity. It is not a "functional" exercise because it involves a wobble board and some "expert" said it was.

Having a baseline and re-assessing will be the only way you can determine the functionality of an exercise.

A squat is a basic strength training exercise - combine this with the skill work specific to the goal and it can be a sport specific exercise. Once you re-assess you will know if things improved. Saying something is functional or sport specific does not make it so.

More tomorrow... Sorry for the missed blog - travel happens!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Variation and the concern over hypertrophy...

Two issues that have come up in recent days that I would like to expound upon are the "need" for variation and the concern over hypertrophy. Since we have been inundated with bodybuilding information the general public now believes that they need to change their routine every 4 weeks because at the end of 4 weeks their body has "adapted" to the exercise and they need a new one.

Golfers would be very dissappointed is this were true - under this mind set they would need to switch to a new swing in order to keep improving their game. Olympic lifters would have a constantly rotating competition based on which lift they had "adapted" to and needed to switch to.... Come on - the exercise is not the problem.

The way you are using the exercise is the problem. The same sets, for the same reps, with the same weight will cause you to adapt and lose benefit from the exercise. But not the exercise - just as a golfer blames his clubs for swing mistakes - the trainee will blame the execise for not producing the results. Tools are just tools - it is how you apply them that makes the difference.

Variation within a theme is acceptable - using the military press (MP) as an example - you could rotate through One Arm MP,
Two Kettlebell MP, See Saw press, Alternating press, Bottoms up press, Two Kettlebells in one hand MP, Sotts press and even seated (on the floor) press. All of these presses will enhance the goal activity of the regular military press and will help shore up weaknesses at different points of the press. If you want to improve your overhead pressing - you need to practice it. Blaming the tool will not help.

The concern over hypertrophy...."I want to lift weights and get toned but I don't want to get big."
Ask yourself one question - have you had a problem with hypertrophy before?
No really - did you find yourself busting out of your clothes after your first weight training experience?
I doubt it.
Now there are a few rare individuals who grow just looking at a squat rack - but that isn't you. And it isn't me.
If it is you - congrats (but you probably hate it) - for everyone else - getting big is difficult. It takes an extreme dedication to diet and exercise that few people will have the will to stick to. (Like waking up at 3 am to get in an extra protein shake.)

Here is an idea - train like you were not afraid of "getting bigger" - train hard and don't worry about it. You might just accomplish your goals.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The great thing about trying to write a daily blog is that it forces you to write everyday.
The bad thing about trying to write a daily blog is that it forces you to write everyday!

This brilliant (and somewhat contradictory) statement on the second day of my blog may seem pretty weird but follow along with me...

On the good side - daily writing is the best way to "learn" to write and improve your skills.
On the bad side - daily writing means having to create something meaningful to post and being unmotivated to write is not an option. (yes this "negative" is a positive - keep reading...)

The mental "Greasing the Groove" (from Pavel - see Naked Warrior for more details - clink the link on my products page) of daily writing is just as effective as the physical daily practice of a skill you want to improve. Dan John quotes Dan Gable who used to say "if something is important it is important enough to do everyday".

And when "motivation" isn't an option - great things start to happen. Thomas Edison provided us with the "99 percent perspiration - 1 percent inspiration" formula for genius. Well - physical genius is no different but we let "motivation" form a roadblock. What if that roadblock wasn't an option? What would you accomplish?

The logical question you are asking - "Well Mr. Second day of his blog having to write about motivation" - how do we remove the roadblock? Glad you asked...

First realization - Only you can remove the roadblock - you placed it there and you have to remove it.
Yes life happens and plans always need to be open to adapt to what the universe decides you need to deal with on a given day but motivation is yours - not someone else's.

Second realization - We are our habits and habits create our lifestyle (there is a great t-nation article on this sorry I cannot remember the author but I want to say it is that Dan John guy). If your habits and lifestyle do not support and create a situation where you can achieve your goals - you will not achieve them.

Third realization - Get busy being motivated or your not getting any....of your goals that is....
We can sit and bemoan our lot in life and find lots of blame to go around but until you take hold of these three realizations - your not getting any! (goals that is) How do you do this? - Keep reading....

For myself -
My self imposed roadblocks were being "too busy" to get all of the other things done I wanted to get done.
My habits and lifestyle (which I created) left me distracted and focusing my energy into other endeavors.
So what did I do about it...
I got busy being motivated!

I moved across country and have created a situation where I have to be motivated - or I'm not going to make it!

We use this method for correcting and teaching certain exercises - we place you in a situation where the movement teaches you and everything else flows off of that. Just as creating a situation where your habits and lifestyle focus your energies towards your goals will "motivate" you towards success.

Your physical goals will work with this formula - create a situation where your choice is to get busy being motivated or your not going to achieve your goals!

Thanks for reading and for help with creating a situation that leads to accomplishing your goals - check out my program design services on www.appliedstrength.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And so it begins....

Welcome to the live Applied Strength blog and website! It took a bit longer than expected to be up and running due to some technical issues but we are live and ready to roll.

Through this blog I will be sharing information with you on various aspects of fitness and strength. When you go to the AppliedStrength.com site and look at my bio you will have the dates and events that give you a picture of my background and work experience - however - philosophy and personal experience cannot be communicated by dates and specifics.

For example - What lead me here to the creation of appliedstrength.com? You can look at my bio and see a Bachelor's of Science in Sportsmedicine and a Master of Science in Rehabilitative Science but those are only pieces of the puzzle. These pieces lay down a great base of knowledge but knowledge is not power! Knowledge that you apply is power. (hint - this belief is where the applied strength name comes from)

Would it surprise you to know that in early 1998 I had a 40" waist??!! That's right a 40" waist. I had a great mass of knowledge regarding anatomy, physisology, nutrition etc... and ended up fat and out of shape. There was not one scrap of that base of knowledge that I was applying to my own life.

And it wasn't until I took out a tape measure and put it around my own waist that I realized where I had arrived. It was a true epiphany. Confronted with the facts - I took action and made immediate and dramatic changes. High Intensity Interval Training three times a week combined with bodyweight exercise (pull-ups and pushups mainly) formed the physical side of the assault on my waist. A complete dietary reconstruction was the other part of the equation. Sugars and refined carbs were eliminated and protein, healthy carbs and water were my dietary world.
The results: In less than three months I was down from 185+ pounds to 160 pounds and my previously 40" waist was now 32".

So I am not one of those "always been fit and thin" types - I have earned what I have achieved.

It was a harsh reality check and immediate action (application of knowledge) that lead to great changes in my life. So now you have a small bit of insight as to my passion of fitness and why "applied" strength has great meaning!

Future blogs will continue to expand on the Applied Strength philosophy and examine current fitness information. You can be a part of this by commenting and asking questions - otherwise I am left to ramble and guess at what you would like to read. I look forward to this sharing of and application of information.

Brett Jones

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Personal Trainer and Strength Enthusiast Email: appliedstrength@gmail.com

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