exercises

Training in the Pacific

DCIM100SPORT
DCIM100SPORT

My wife and I just returned from an amazing trip to Guam. In case you're wondering where exactly Guam is located (I didn't know where it was initially), it is located somewhere in between Candyland and Heaven. In other words, it's in the middle of freakin' paradise. The picture below is a photo I personally took while we were on one of the private beaches; pretty cool huh? The trip was incredible, to say the least, and all fears of experiencing a "warm Christmas" were completely defenestrated. We also got to spend a fair amount time of exploring the Guam backcountry, during which we came across these freakish spiders every ten yards (not kidding). As much as I hate spiders, I couldn't resist taking a video of one of them. Check it out below...as a defense mechanism, it intentionally oscillates its web back and forth as if it's being blown by the wind.

Not to mention, we had snake (brown tree snakes) and hog traps lining the border of our backyard, as, apparently, they run around with reckless abandon in Guam.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. When it comes to working out on vacation, I find people often fall into one of two camps:

1. Exercising like a maniac. Heaven forbid a week pass by without running one's self into the ground. After all, if you take time off, you're lazy and a slacker, right?

2. Doing absolutely nothing, along with sitting, eating, and drinking as much as possible. You've earned it anyway, no?

As usual, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While I feel it's EXTREMELY important for exercise-aholics to learn to relax for a change (they'll often find their body needs the break anyway), it's also important to not abuse your body on the other side of the spectrum through sedentary living and consuming alcohol until your eyes bleed. Given the fact that vacations often entail copious amounts of eating rich foods, sitting (especially during the travel portion), and a disrupted/abnormal sleep schedule, nixing exercise entirely may not be the wisest choice.

As such - and while I'd be remiss to claim that I'm a perfect example - I thought some of you may like to see how I made my best attempt to find a balance while in Guam. Enough exercise to keep my body (and mind) moving in the right direction, but so much that I failed to enjoy the vacation for what it was: A freakin' vacation!

Here's what I did:

Workout 1 (in a gym)

A1. Weighted Chins, 4x3 A2. Front Squat, 2x3

B. Barbell Stepback Lunge with a Front Squat Grip, 3x5/side

C1. Barbell Glute Bridge, 3x8x :2

C2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Farmers Walk, 2x60yds/side

Workout 2 (in a gym)

A. Speed Deadlifts, 6x2 @55%

B1. Feet-Elevated Pushup, 10x5

B2. Bent-Over Dumbbell Row, 10x5/side

B3. Single-leg Hip Thrust, 10x5/side (Performed circuit fashion with minimal rest)

Workout 3 (outside)

4 mile descent and climb down and up Sanders Slope. The entire road/path was on an incline. While not physically grueling by any means, it provided a nice change of pace with beautiful scenery, wild hogs on the path (no, I'm not messing with you), and a fair challenge as far as walks are concerned.

DCIM100SPORT
DCIM100SPORT

Workout 4 (outside)

My wife and I decided that, on Christmas Eve, we'd much rather complete a bodyweight session outside to enjoy the beautiful island weather, as opposed to remaining cooped up in a windowless gym. We found some pullup and dip bars outside and improvised as we went along:

A1. Pullup, 5x8 A2. PUPP, 5x :30 (immediately following each set of pullups) A3. No rest, go straight back to pullups

B1. Supinated-Grip Inverted Row, 3x6x :5 hold at top B2. Tiger Crawl with Pushup, 3x 30yds

C. Squat Series "Finisher:" Squat Jump x20 seconds Bodyweight Squat x20 seconds Squat ISO Hold in Bottom x20 seconds Repeat 3 times

The Rationale

Workouts 1 and 2 Given that I was on a Pacific island, I didn't want to spend too much time indoors. As such, only the first two workouts were performed inside a gym. I went full body on both those days, as I knew they'd be the only two days during the week I'd be able to use the iron. I also kept the volume fairly low, so that I could get in+out of the gym within 45 minutes, as well as give my body a break. The circuit on Day 2 was a way to get in a fair amount of joint-friendly work, while spreading out the volume over ten sets.

"Workout" 3 See above. We also stumbled across a pretty cool beach at the bottom of the slope, along with experiencing plenty of beautiful scenery along the way.

DCIM100SPORT
DCIM100SPORT

Workout 4 This provided an awesome opportunity to breathe some fresh air, spend some time exercising with my wife, and also give myself a small training effect while leaving me feeling "invigorated" rather than exhausted by the end of it. This workout really counted more toward energy systems training, given the rest periods and sets/reps we used. And it was completed within 20 minutes. Sounds like a winner to me!

There you have it! Our total STRUCTURED exercise time didn't exceed two hours or so, and we still spent plenty of time swimming and walking along the beaches. I returned home not feeling like complete garbage from all the holiday feasting, while at the same time I certainly was able to indulge myself in "vacation mode."

I should have an article coming out on how to exercise while traveling with minimal equipment, so keep your eyes peeled!

An Alternative to the Olympic Lifts

First things first, let me put it out there that I LOVE the Olympic lifts (from here on out referred to as the O-lifts). I think they're a fantastic tool to develop strength, power, and enhance athletic potential. Not to mention, I can't help but tip my hat to those that have accomplished near-impossible feats of power with them, and there are few things I find more beautiful than a perfectly executed snatch. In fact, while I currently can't back this up with any scientific research, I'm convinced that Maximus utilized the O-lifts as part of his training arsenal to utterly own anyone who stood in his way in his quest to avenge the death of his family.

HOWEVER - and as Sarah recently noted in her Squat vs. Box Squat post - the O-lifts are an extremely complex movement that many ELITE athletes spend their entire lives perfecting. Not to mention, 99 times out of 100, the limiting factor in the athletes we work with at SAPT is simply a lack of strength. They lack the strength (and subsequently, joint integrity...) and neuromuscular control to produce and decelerate movement, and THIS is the primary reason that they can't seem to improve their change-of-direction speed, or throw that ball faster.

In fact, the interesting thing is that even if I wanted to start them off with O-lifting, the majority of them would lack the strength to do that, too! Walking someone, and strengthening them, through the squat and deadlift progressions will actually help them with the O-lifts (cleans, snatches, jerks, etc.), but performing the O-lifts WON'T necessarily have carryover the other way around and help them become better at squatting and deadlifting. It's just not a reciprocal relationship like that.

Nevertheless, this post isn't about sparking a "Should I O-lift or Not O-lift a New Trainee" debate. If you are a coach that has found this to work for you, then great. I respect that. We have just found that, especially with consideration to the fact that we often don't work with a given athlete for more than six months at a time, we can accomplish more in less time by working with other tools in the "strength coach toolbox."

And, while I may personally feel that the majority of athletes spend too much time on the speed-strength end of the spectrum and really don't need a whole lot of "speed and power" work (at least, initially) to enhance their athletic potential, I still feel it's important to incorporate explosive movements in training to teach someone how to control their body in space. Not to mention, these movements will often serve as a CNS primer for the squat and deadlift portion of the session, just like the O-lifts are often performed prior to strength work.

What do we use to accomplish this? Jumping!

Yes, jumping. Anyone from a beginner to an advanced athlete can utilize this powerful tool that is much more "dummy-proof" than the O-lifts. While I'm not going to list the specific progressions we'll use with someone, I just wanted to make a quick point.

Take, for example, two jumping variations we use; the box jump and the hot ground to tuck jump (the latter shown the video):

In both variations, if doing them correctly, you'll still be producing force through the "triple extension" motion that the O-lifts are frequently praised for working. This being, simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees, and hips. Essentially all this means is that the toes are pointing down, and the knees and hips are straightening out.

Note the similarity of the body position (specifically at the joint angles of the ankles, knees, and hips) during the picture of O-lift in the very beginning of this post, and my body positions during a box jump, and a freeze-frame of the same hot ground jump performed in the video above:

Box Jump:

TripleE Box Jump
TripleE Box Jump

Hot Ground to Tuck Jump:

TripleE HotGround
TripleE HotGround

Crazy, huh? As an added bonus, one of the most difficult portions of the O-lifts is ACTUALLY achieving triple extension. If you youtube nearly any run-of-the-mill person doing an O-lift, and carefully watch their ankles/knees/hips, you'll quickly see that they're not even doing the very thing that makes the O-lifts so beneficial!

Also, with some of the jumping variations, you also receiving a bit of often-neglected hip flexor work at greater than 90 degrees of flexion, such as in the top of the hot ground jump:

Still 5
Still 5

Now, these jumps must be progressed appropriately, just as a skilled coach of the O-lifts would do with a trainee. And, the volume must be monitored, as mindlessly having an athlete jump around until their knees explode isn't going to help their vertical. Usually fifteen TOTAL reps will be more than enough to receive the intended benefit.

Again, what I am NOT saying is to avoid the O-lifts like the plague. Again, they are phenomenal tools, and there's no chance that jumping variations could take the place of O-lifting in the appropriate scenario.

But, like anything, one should be sure they understand where he or she (or someone they're coaching) is honestly at when taking into consideration what will be the most bang-for-your-buck training approach, given the time and resources you may have at your disposal.

To Overhead Press or Not to Overhead Press

I received this question from a friend of mine who is currently in physical therapy school and thought I'd share my response here. Q. Had a question. I know that at [X clinic he worked at] some of the therapists told me that overhead press was bad to do due to some impingement of the supraspinatus. This is also something we've learned in school but im not sure if this is specifically for those who just aren't strong enough or those recovering from injuries and such. Do you do overhead shoulder press w/ dumbells or BB and what is your take on the subject?

A. As usual, this is a question of contraindicated exercises versus contraindicated people. To make a blanket statement such as "no one should overhead press" would be both remiss and short-sighted. For example, if this is the case, should I avoid taking down and putting up my 5lb container of protein powder on top of my kitchen cabinet each morning? But I digress.

Getting to your the center of your question: Is the overhead press a fantastic exercise? Absolutely! Can the majority of the population perform it safely? Eh, not so much. In fact, this is a very similar subject matter to the back squat. The squat is arguably the greatest exercise to add lean body mass and increase athletic prowess, but may not be the wisest exercise selection depending on the person/situation. Chris actually addressed this very question in THIS post as to why he doesn't back squat the Division 1 baseball players he works with over at George Mason.

First things first: Look, I LOVE the overhead press. In fact, nothing makes me feel more viking-like than pressing something heavy overhead.In my personal opinion, the barbell military press is one of the BEST exercises to develop the deltoids, traps, serratus, and triceps, along with (if performing it correctly) the abdominals, glutes, low back, and upper thighs. HOWEVER, a lot of "stuff" needs to be working correctly in order to safely overhead press:

  • Soft Tissue Quality
  • Thoracic Mobility (specifically in extension)
  • A Strong (and Stable) Rotator Cuff
  • Upward Rotation of the Shoulder Blades
  • General Ninja-like Status

Improved thoracic extension will positively alter your shoulder kinematics as you press overhead, a strong and stable cuff will help keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid (the shoulder socket) in order to free up that subacromial space (decreasing risk of impingement) , upward rotators will keep the scapulae in proper positioning, and I don't think I need explain how obtaining ninja status will help you overhead press like a champ.

If you can get all the things above up to snuff (via specific drills/exercises), then you're in pretty darn good shape. In reality, this comes down to ensuring you lay down a sound foundation of movement before loading up that very pattern. If the movement patterns and necessary kinematics are there, then chances are you get the green light to overhead press.

However, it doesn't stop there. A few other things need to be taken in to consideration:

1. Training Economy. If you only have X number of hours in the gym and Y capacity to recover, then you need to choose the Z exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck without exceeding your (or your athlete's) capacity to recover. Considering that the "shoulders" already receive tons of work from horizontal pressing movements (on top of horizontal and vertical pulling exercises), I really don't feel that most trainees - especially those that are contraindicated - need to overhead press if the primary goal is to further hypertrophy the deltoids and/or elicit some sort of athletic performance improvement.

2. Injury History. Partial thickness cuff tear? Labral fraying? Congenital factors? All these (and more) will come into play with deciding if overhead pressing will set you up for longevity in the realm of shoulder health.

3. Population. Are you dealing with overhead athletes? They're at much greater risk for the traumas listed in #2, and, not to mention, they already spend a large majority of their day with their arms overhead so you need to consider how mechanically stable (or unstable) their shoulder is, along any symptomatic AND asymptomatic conditions they may possess. Conversely, if you're dealing with a competitive olympic lifter, or an average joe who moves marvelously, then the overhead press may be a fantastic (or even necessary) choice to elicit a desired outcome.

4. Type of Injury. Ex. Those with AC joint issues may actually be able to overhead press pain free due to the lack of humeral extension involved (whereas the extreme humeral extension you'd find in dips or even bench pressing could easily exacerbate AC joint symptoms). Using myself as example, I can actually military press pain free, whereas bench pressing quickly irritates my bum shoulder. I don't have an AC joint issue (as far as I know...), but I've still found that my pain flares up when my humerus goes into deep extension (past neutral) in any press such as a pushup, barbell press, dumbbell press, etc. so the military press actually feels pretty good for me PERSONALLY. With regards to pushups and dumbbell pressing, I can usually do it fine as long as I'm cognizant to avoid anterior humeral glide.

As for pressing overhead with dumbbells vs. barbells, I find that, frequently, it's best to start someone with dumbbell pressing with a NEUTRAL grip (palms facing each other) as this will give your shoulder more room to "breathe" by externally rotating the humerus and lowering risk of subacromial impingement. From there, you can progress to the barbell as long as the items listed in the beginning are in check.

In the end, this comes down to how well you move, your posture, and your individual situation. With technology currently PWNING our society's movement patterns via increased time in cars, sitting in front of our computers, gaming, and overall sedentary lifestyle, we have to fight much harder than our ancestors to turn that "red light" to a "green light" in the sphere of overhead pressing.

Note: to conclude, feel free to watch the video below by Martin Rooney. Hopefully, you can read the central message portrayed: