Squat

A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Weights

Ahhh how exciting, my first blog post as a coach at SAPT. I’ve got my cup of coffee, The Best Around playing on loop and I’ll be doing hip mobilities throughout writing this blog entry. Why? Because The Best Around was originally supposed to be for a Rocky III montage, but was replaced by Eye of the Tiger and I think Joe Esposito deserves more credit for the inspiration it brings…. Why am I doing the hip mobilities every 30 minutes while at a desk? Easy, because I want to squat later. Mobility: A Prerequisite to Lifting Heavy Weights

If you’re reading this blog, then it’s obvious you want to get strong, build muscle, and improve fitness in each and everyone of your workouts. You’re the type of person who sees exercises like deficit deadlifts, deep squats and overhead presses and gets as giddy as a little schoolgirl at the thought of trying it in your next workout. You look up the technique, take a few mental notes, begin with light weight for a warm-up, and then finally drop butt-to-heels into that heavy squat.

But what happened? You thought you would drive up out of the hole like superman initiating his flight takeoff, but instead you feel your lower back light up like Iron Man’s arc reactor.

You didn’t check your mobility prerequisites for that exercise did you?

Position is Power

Every exercise requires a certain degree of mobility in particular joints in order to execute the movement safely. If the mobility is not there, then the body will look for a way around it to accomplish that movement. By doing this you are putting yourself into a compromised position, and what’s worse is that if you’re doing it with training, you are reinforcing a compromised motor pattern. Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.

Not only are you actually weaker in these compromised positions, but you are more likely to injure yourself. This needs to be fixed before you can get strong. You can only squat so much weight with a Hyena Butt. You must work on gaining enough mobility to get into whatever position a given exercise/movement requires, WITHOUT compromise, and then you can become strong.

I’m sure you’re probably wishing I’d just shut up and tell you how to get mobile, right? Well too bad! Because first it is more important to understand WHAT needs to be mobile.

Understanding Mobility

Joint mobility is the degree to which a joint can move through a range of motion. When a joint becomes less mobile, it becomes more stable as it can’t move. (Note: Stability is not a bad thing! You just need it in the right places.)

Though it’s not black and white, many of our joints are meant to be mobile while others are stable. Sometimes, due to activities (or lack thereof) in our daily life, injuries or even the shoes we wear, joints that should be mobile become stable and throw off our body’s movements. When these joints that should be mobile are then locked down, joints that are stable then become mobile to compensate for the lost motion. This relationship is constant throughout the entire body and it’s the reason you will see lots of errors in movements that can’t be fixed with simple queues.

The Joint-by-Joint Approach outlines this mobility-stability relationship between the joints and how it could affect movement. Essentially it conveys that the following joints need more mobility or stability:

Arch of Foot – Stability

Ankle- Mobility

Knee- Stability

Hips- Mobility

Lumbar spine- Stability

Thoracic spine- Mobility

Scapula- Stability

Gleno-humeral(shoulder) joint- Mobility

Does anyone else see the pattern here? Our body alternates the needs of our joints from head to toe. So what do you think happens if one of these is thrown off? Then the pattern is broken and they all get thrown off to some extent. If someone is flat footed, they will probably have poor foot stability and it will cause their feet to collapse in movement. This results in a loss of ankle mobility over time, and their knees will almost always cave in when they squat. The reason for this is because their knees are now looking for mobility. The same can be true for losing stability. Lets say Yoga Sue starts stretching out her lower back more and more because she’s been having back pain. By creating more mobility in her lumbar spine through stretching, she is reinforcing her body to move through her lower back rather than hips and will eventually lose hip mobility. I’ll touch more on the stability component in my next post.

If the stability/mobility pattern is thrown off, then it will compromise your movements and thus jeopardize the intended benefits of lifting heavy things and your training sessions will look like poop.

Fix It!

So I’m sure you’ve spent the past few minutes form checking your squat depth in a mirror and are now begging for the answer of how to become a mobility master. Have patience grasshopper; first you must find your weakness.

Step 1. Find your limiting factor

This step will most likely need a coach or knowledgable training partner. You must determine what joint is immobile and causing the issue in your movement. You can use a movement screen for this or you can informally just breakdown the movement to see when the poop hits the fan.

Step 2. Determine WHY it’s your limiting factor

Joints can become immobile for several reasons. More often then not it is because your joint is stuck in one position for a long period of time due to your lifestyle. If you find this to be the culprit you’re going to need to make some changes before you can start seeing results. You may have to stop wearing those 5 inch heels or you may have to start getting up and walking from your desk every 20 minutes.

Sometimes a joint can become immobile due to overuse in a certain range of motion. You will see this a lot in runners or any other athlete that goes through repetitive motion. If this were the finding, you would just go straight to step 3.

Occasionally you may find that a joint is immobile because it is protecting something. This will take a more educated diagnosis, but if that is the case, then DO NOT MOBILIZE IT. If muscles aren’t firing right or there is a structural issue causing instability, the body’s natural response is to lock that joint down to keep it from being unstable and causing more damage.

Step 3. Soft Tissue Work

You now know what’s immobile and why. You’re about to start training, now it’s time to mobilize it. Foam rolling is one of the fastest ways to increase mobility of a certain joint. Simply roll on the muscles that influence that joint and try to workout the super-happy-fun knots you find. If you’re new to this use a foam roller, if you’re one bad dude, try a PVC pipe or lax balls. If it’s your thoracic spine, try using a t-spine peanut.

Step 4. Mobilities

You’re going to have to lengthen the tissues holding down the joint at some point. I find it most effective to do in the warm up, right after foam rolling and even throw a few into the workouts. If it’s pre or intra-workout, then you will want to use dynamic movements to accomplish this. Otherwise feel free to do the good ol’ fashioned static holds.

Step 5. Activate

If you take one thing away from this process, I want it to be this: Mobility will not stick, unless stability is created somewhere else. If you’re trying to loosen up your hip flexors, do some glute work after you stretch them. If you’re trying to improve ankle mobility, do some dorsiflexion exercises after you stretch the calf. If you’re trying to improve adductor length, do some core stabilization exercises right after loosening up the adductors. I think you get the picture.

Step 6. Use It

In order to keep your joints mobile, you must consistently use the full range of motion in them when you train. This means going to full depth in a squat, locking out that deadlift and overhead press and really grinding the lateral lunges. If you want to get fancy with it, you can even use exercises that are known for creating excessive range of motion like Bulgarian split squats, windmills and arm bars. Whatever you decide to do, don’t cheat yourself and use the full range.

Step 7. Dominate

If you consistently follow the previous steps, you should be in a good position to rip some weight off the floor. Some issues will take longer to fix then others, but be religious with your mobility work and it will pay off to help you feel and perform better.

Circuit Training for Fitness

Picture this:

You got out of work later than ususal... perfect timing to hit rush hour at its height and extend your normal 20-minute commute to the gym into an all-out 45-minute crawl full of frustration.

By the time you get to the gym, you only have about 25 minutes before you need to leave.

What do you do? Do you literally throw in your towel and just go home? How can you possibly salvage a decent training session out of the train wreck that was the afternoon?

Circuit Training is waiting to save the day! Well, so are Time Turners, but pretty much no one has one of those things...

What is Circuit Training?

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and your physical capacity. I know from personal experience that performing box jumps after a barbell sumo deadlift is a baaaaad idea).

Typically, circuits are comprised of 5-8 exercises and you want to work with weights about 75-80% of your max. Translation: pick weights that you could probably perform for 8-10 challenging repetitions. String them all together, and work through the circuit with minimal rest between exercises.

In terms of time, you can set up your circuit a couple of different ways:

1. Set a particular rep goal per exercise and then set your time for 15-25 minutes and see how many rounds of the circuit you can perform.

2. Pick a number of rounds to complete and try to finish as quickly as possible. Usually, if you have about 5-8 exercises, 5 rounds will be around 20-ish minutes.

Benefits of Circuits:

1. They're a great way to improve overall conditioning without watching  your hard earned muscle mass wither away. Two recent research reviews (abstracts here and here) have found that steady state cardiovascular training can a) decrease power output (yikes! Not good for athletes that need to produce power aka: everyone) and b) compromise muscle mass (and thus strength) gains. This effect is seen most prominently when aerobic training is 3x/week for greater than 20 minutes. The metabolic pathways that aerobic and anaerobic (think strength training and sprint/interval training) are conflicting. It's very hard to maintain a large amount of muscle mass and be a long-distance runner!

Circuit training is similar, metabolically, to sprint/interval/hill training in that it preserves lean muscle mass.

Steady state cardiovascular training, on the other hand, can lead to elevated levels of cortisol (stress hormone) which can decrease the effectiveness of muscle-building hormones such as testosterone and insulin-like growth. It also encourages muscle protein break down.

While strength training too breaks down muscle tissue, the anabolic  (building) environment produced by strength training encourages repair more than the catabolic (break down) environment of aerobic training.   Strength coach Charles Poliquin says:

Whereas endurance exercises compromise anaerobic performance and body composition, anaerobic training modes such as sprint intervals and weight lifting will benefit endurance athletes if programed properly. To improve endurance performance, do a strength-type resistance training program with loads of 80 percent of the 1RM or heavier. This will train the type IIA muscle fibers so they increase the rate of force development and get faster.

Type IIA muscle fibers = strong, powerful muscles. We want those!

So if you're still with me, we'll move on to the second point.

2. It's time-efficient. After a quick dynamic warm-up and maybe a warm-up set or two of the planned exercises, the total time of a circuit should be no more than 25-minutes start to finish. 15-minutes would even be sufficient depending on the intensity of the exercise selection and weights used. Nice huh? It's just long enough to make you feel like you've worked out but not too long that you're home late for dinner.

3. (but really 2.5) Not only are they time-efficient but they're efficient in the sense that a circuit can hit a lot of muscle groups, through full ranges of motion, in one fell swoop. While a jog will really only get your legs (and, I would argue, not very well since the range of motion is small, the force production is low, and the intensity isn't that high either) and maybe some low level core activation, a circuit can be full body. Take a look at this sample:

Goblet or barbell squat x 6-8

Pushup x 8-10

Step back lunge x 6-8/side

3 Point Row x 8/side

Kettle bell swing x 10

Can you see the total body genius in that? We have lower body (both bilateral and unilateral movements), upper body (push and pull) and a delightful amount of full range of motion exercises. All of which, if one wanted, could be done with just one kettlebell.

Run through that baby 5 or 6 times and try to tell me that's not cardio. Oh wait, you can't. I can't hear you over your screaming lungs and gasping breaths.

4. Because circuits demand so much from your muscles and cardiovascular system, they're pretty calorically expensive, which means your body will be burning calories longer post-workout than they would after a lower intensity training session (aka: low-intensity, steady state cardio). On those above-linked research reviews, it was found that athletes reduced body fat when they performed high intensity exercise (sprints or circuits).

So, if you're looking for an efficient way to reduce body fat, preserve lean tissue, AND improve your cardiovascular fitness, circuit training is definitely a tool you want in your toolbox!

I feel obligated to note that strength training, solid strength training sessions, need to make up the bulk of your training week. Picking up heavy things repeatedly is the best way to build muscle and get stronger. Circuit training, while it won't make you weaker and can aid with strength gains, is inferior overall to 80-90% max lifting in terms of producing maximal strength gains. While I don't recommend basing your entire training plan around circuits, they are beneficial and even fun (yes, fun.) to throw in every once and a while.

Lifting & Running = Monster Benefits - An Intern Post!!!

This week we're going with one theme: RunFAST. This is the new program we've been developing that we'll officially take the lid off of on Friday. I have to acknowledge, we're offering something totally new, so we're gonna take it slow and start with a post a bit more traditional in terms of the usual SAPTstrength banter. But check the blog every day this week. We've got 5 killer posts lined up.

For the first RunFAST post, one of our interns has written a fantastic post describing in detail the benefits of lifting for ALL TYPES OF RUNNERS (yes, you distance folks can enjoy this, too!).

Why should you listen to this guy who I just admitted is an intern, well, he's a special intern. His name is Gustavo Osorio (or Goose from here on out) and he just graduated from George Mason. Goose was a member of the track team and a stellar decathlete who very recently repeated as CAA champion! Pretty cool, right? This guy knows his stuff. I learned a few things myself and, given that I was his strength coach, that means he really knows some awesome details about high-performance.

I opened up comments again, so please post your thoughts and share with friends. Here we go:

Lifting And Its Benefits For Runners!

“Strength is the foundation for excellence,” this is a mindset I’ve come to respect and adopt for myself after my short time here at SAPT. When you think about it a strong body is a health body, one capable of efficiently moving in any way and letting a person’s athleticism truly shine. Strength is without a doubt the foundation for speed and agility. This concept that may seem foreign to many runners because of all the myths regarding resistance training and running. Many runners and even some running coaches are under the impression that hitting up the weight room once in a while will only result in injury, getting “bulky”, and losing that speed they’ve worked so hard to achieve. When, in reality, a well-structured resistance training program can make the body bulletproof, make your muscles more efficient without bulk, and boost the training effects of your running workouts (aka make you faster).

Myth #1: Lifting (squatting and deadlifting) is bad for your back. Don’t do it!

When performed correctly and with the appropriate assistance work squats and deadlifts can help you build a bulletproof back, glutes, and hamstrings. All three of these muscle groups also happen to be three of the most common sites for sprains and injuries on runners. Coincidence?? I think not! When running you’re lower back acts as a shock absorber, while the glutes and hamstrings are used for force production to propel the body forward. If an individual doesn’t strengthen these muscle groups and continues to constantly hammer them with more running eventually the muscles breakdown from overuse and an injury occurs.

On the other hand, if an individual strengthens these muscle groups they reduce their chances of injury and increase the work load their body can handle. This means they’ll be able to put in more work on the track during practice and, when meet day arrives, fast times will be run!

Fun fact about elite runners, whether it be a sprinter or a distance runner, is that they have some type of year around resistance training program implemented into their training. When you get to the Olympic level and everyone is tenths of seconds away from each other, keeping your body healthy through resistance training makes the difference between being an Olympic medalist and not making the final.

Myth #2: Lifting will make you bulky and slow

A big fear amongst runners is that resistance training will put on too much “useless” muscle for them to carry around. Truth is, a resistance training routine will make you bulky and slow ONLY if you completely stop running and if you have no idea of how to make it sport specific. Just because you’re lifting weights doesn’t mean you’ll turn into the hulk overnight (or ever... let's be real here) but it can make your muscles more efficient at what they do. By training your energy systems through lifting you’re running can be exponentially enhanced. Think of your body as a car and that the energy systems providethree different types of fuel it runs on. These BIG 3 are: the phosphagen system, the anaerobic system, and the aerobic system.

The phosphagen system provide the equivalent of jet fuel for the body. It gives you tons of energy but it burns out super fast! How fast you ask?? Well it gives you enough for 6 to 10 seconds of all out exertion. It provides the energy for the beginning of every race and it is the most dominant energy system during short running event, 60 meters to 100 meters. It is also involved in any sport that requires any sudden bursts of speed and explosion such as basketball, baseball, football, and volleyball. This system is primarily trained through plyometrics and lifts that require high force production at high speeds.

The anaerobic system gives you a mix between jet fuel and regular gas, it still yields a high amount of energy and manages to last a bit longer, between 1 to 3 minutes depending on the intensity of the event. This system is the most dominant for the 400-800 meter distances.It is also involved in sports that require prolonged bouts of speed and some endurance such as boxing, wrestling, lacrosse, and soccer. This is a tricky energy system to train because it requires a mix of power training, muscular strength training, and some muscular endurance training.

The aerobic system gives the body the same effect gas would in a car, it doesn’t let you go blistering fast but it give you a constant stream of energy to keep you going for miles. This is the dominant system in athletes who compete in endurance events such as triathlons, marathons, long distance swimming, and cross country skiing. This energy system can be trained through circuit training and low weight/high rep/low rest lifting.

**WORD OF CAUTION: Train a certain energy system through lifting does not mean you’ll necessarily get faster. When you integrate a lifting program on to a running program correctly the two can complement each other quite nicely. However if all you do is lift aerobically and then expect to go run a marathon you most likely won’t finish.**

Myth #3: Lifting has no positive transfer to running.

Another great benefit of resistance training is the improvement in something called your Rate of Force Development (RFD). [Side note: Kelsey did an amazing job of going into great detail on RFD, if you haven’t read her posts I strongly recommend them! Part 1 and Part 2.] Basically what that means is how fast your muscles can produce a high amount of force. This is beneficial to runners and all athletes because producing higher amounts of force at a faster rate enable you to move faster. Through training this can help optimize your stride length (amount of distance covered per step) and increase your stride frequency (how fast your feet hit the ground) both of which will also make you faster.

This last bit is something most people often neglect, but it makes a world of difference in their running. Aside from improving energy systems and Rate of Force Development lifting can be used to improve running posture. When performed correctly the squat and the deadlift teach people to brace their core and to properly align their back so it’s in the neutral position. A lot of people can go through an entire running career (like myself) without ever realizing that this has a massive positive transfer to running.

The two pictures above demonstrate how the body should be aligned during the deadlift and squat. If you take a side picture of yourself you should be able to draw a straight line from your hips to the base of the head.

Let’s take a look at Tyson Gay coming out of blocks. You can make a straight line from his hips to his head, JUST like a squat or deadlift! Coincidence?? I think not!  By keeping his back in a neutral position and bracing his core he is getting the most propulsion out of the power he is putting on the ground. By keeping his core rigid (not tense) all the force being placed on the ground is not lost or being absorbed by an arched or hunched back. Same thing would happen if you lifted with a rounded back, the spine would absorb a lot of the force going up (deadlift) or down (squat) instead of letting your legs and glutes do the work.

Now take a look on the right at Carl Lewis, he is in the Maximum Velocity phase of the 100 meters which means he is trying to maintain his top speed for as long as possible. The line from the hips to the head is still there which means he is getting the most out of the force production. But that’s not all! Notice how his hip are neutral and not anteriorly rotated, his butt isn’t sticking out. This allows him to get a higher knee drive, cover more ground with his stride, and keeps him from kicking his leg too far back. A great way to teach this to people is the finishing position in the squat and the deadlift often referred to as the “lock out”. And like the squat/deadlift lock out phase if his hips were too posteriorly rotated, too far forward, he would put his back out of alignment and sacrifice kick back range of motion.