Jarrett Brumett

Rapid Wave Sets for Size and Strength

Tis’ bulking season for most trainees and that means a constant search for methods of stimulating new muscle growth for strength and size. Today’s post is just that, and at no better time than a week before the Christmas Feast gainz.

What you Need to Know:

-Wave Sets are easily manipulated for whatever goal you have.

-Rapid Wave Sets with controlled rest periods are a great way to put on some size while still working towards your strength goals by capitalizing on PAP.

-Rapid Wave Sets are a great way to break plateaus for experienced lifters who no longer respond to traditional rep schemes.

-For optimum mass gain, you need high volume at a relatively high intensity with limited rest, which is something you can achieve when manipulating the waves correctly.

How they work:

A Rapid Wave Set is typically used for your main strength movement. The, “wave” indicates that there will be a high and low number of reps done depending on the set and as you guessed, rapid wave sets indicate that those numbers have a fairly steep jump/drop.

By first doing lower reps at a higher intensity it ramps up your CNS to elicit more high-threshold motor units for subsequent sets due to a potentiation affect. By doing a heavy double and then following up with a set of 6, you are recruiting more fibers than if you had just started with the set of 6. This allows you to hit a higher weight for the higher-volumed set than you usually would get.

Through manipulating the rest periods between sets, you can help to elicit more of the training effect you want. For those of you looking to put on some meat, lowering the rest between the heavy double and the set of 6 to about 30-45 seconds may be optimal. I’d also suggest keeping the rest between the set of 6 and the doubles to 90-120 seconds. So in short, an example for an experienced trainee who is looking to put on some muscle may look like this:

2 @ 85%

:30 rest

6@ 75%

:90 rest

2 @ 87.5%

:30 rest

6 @ 77.5%

:90 rest

2 @ 87.5%

:30 rest

6 @ 77.5-80%

The heavy set is mainly there to help improve the volume set and thus does not need a lot of rest. Keeping the rest to 90 seconds between waves and 30 seconds between low and high volume bouts should help to provide a large amount of work in a short time period without sacrificing much else. Of course you can choose different rest for different rep scheme choices, but the ultimate goal is to capitalize on the PAP with minimal affects from fatigue. Typically this type of effect is used for improving rate of force development within athletes, but as I said before, this article is looking more into its use for putting on mass. By capitalizing on window 1 below, we prime the PAP, but rather than using the hightened state for overall force development, we use it more for its affects on power endurance. By doing so, we are able to recruit more motor units(primarily of our fast twitch fibers, which have more potential for growth) to be stressed in the subsequent higher rep scheme that they would not normally be present in. This gives a rare time-under-tension stimulus for these motor units that yields a huge potential for growth.

You’ll also notice how the percentages increase steadily, but the heavy sets start to level off. That’s because for the desired training stimulus, there is no reason to go heavier on the doubles. You actually run the risk of over-exerting yourself and pulling away from the sets of 6(which are going to be fairly hard). So even though the amount of weight being lifted SHOULD be higher, the RPE(rate of perceived exertion) should remain somewhere between a 7 and 8(moves with good speed but still feels heavy) while the higher sets are closer to 9. I use the percentages above just as an example, in reality since this method relies heavily upon an immediate response of the CNS, it's much more appropriate to go off of RPE and feel. Some days you will respond much more positively than others. After the first wave you will have an accurate idea of how much you can increase you volume sets.

Give these a try on your next program, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind what movements may or may not be appropriate for it. I mainly use it when programming for the big 3, but have even had success when using them for pullups. Also remember that this method can be very taxing to the system, so be mindful of when to deload. Enjoy!

A Trainer's Guide to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome(TOS) is a pretty unnerving condition(you'll get that joke later) that festers our community. It can be the result of trauma, poor posture, overuse or even deformity and should only be diagnosed by a qualified professional. With that being said, it's not uncommon for a trainer or coach to end up with clients who have TOS. In fact, in some sport, namely overhead ones,  you will most likely run across several cases of it. It's always best to refer out when you see chronic signs of TOS, but there will be many times when the client comes back from their rehab after the symptoms may have subsided, but the underlying causes are still present. It's for that reason that you should have an understanding of what is at play to give them the best results possible and try to restore function to the area within your professional means.

Overview

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is defined as a condition that causes pain in the neck/shoulder and usually consist of tingling or numbness within the hand/fingers and a weak grip. As you can see the classic definition doesn't give you a lot to go off of and as I said earlier, it can be due to trauma, posture, over-use or even deformity. For the purpose of this article, we'll only be looking at that within our scope: posture/over-use and their overlap with muscle function.

The symptoms of TOS are caused by the compression of the neurovascular bundle in the thoracic outlet(area between the first rib and collarbone). This bundle consists of the subclavian vessels and the brachial plexus, which explains the tingling and numbness in the hand. Now when examining the picture below, you can see how this bundle passes through the scalenes and under the pec minor. These are the structures that are often responsible for compressing the bundle.

Two less thought of culprits not shown in the picture above are the subscapularis and coracobrachialis. Both of these tissues can aid in compressing the neurovascular bundle and should be especially examined in overhead athletes showing signs of TOS.

Assessment

Any of these four muscles play a major role in dealing with TOS. Often times if the client is coming from a rehab professional, they will already know where the dysfunction lies and can point you right to the issue. Other times it may not be so obvious and you may have do some snooping around to figure out what fibers seem to be the culprit. This is where movement screens or manual muscle testing can make a world of difference. Palpating tone can also be extremely helpful if that is in your scope of practice(careful trainers). Adison's and Reverse Adison's Tests are two orthopedic tests that you can use to determine if the anterior or medial scalenes are compressing the bundle and Wright's Test to see if it's an issue with the shoulder musculature.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FVvOAndbwk

With these assessment tools in your toolbox, it's very important that you remember this: YOU CANNOT DIAGNOSE. That is a clinician's job. Your job is to get them moving and feeling better. Leave the pathologies to the docs and always refer out when the client is in pain or if it persists. But, just as a sit and reach tells about tight hamstrings (Well, kinda..), we can use the information from these tests to help determine what muscles may be shortened and limiting their movements.

Once you feel that you have determined which fibers are the culprits, it's important that you do not go guns blazing and smash the crap out of the pec minor. Again, your job is to make them move and feel better. Muscles get tight for a reason and that reason needs to be addressed. Will stretching those fibers help to decrease the compression? Yes, but unless the reason is addressed, they will tighten right back up before the end of your session. Often times there is a muscle imbalance, movement dysfunction or even fascial adhesion that may be causing that pec minor to increase in tone, shorten up and compress the neurovascular bundle. So once the compressing fiber has been found, put that information together with their subjective movements and work your way to victory through corrective strategy. Just remember that the area of pain is seldom the cause of the pain.

The Scalenes

Increased tone and shortness of the anterior or middle scalene can point to a number of things, especially considering they have multiple functions. Mainly keep in mind that they help to elevate the first rib and laterally flex the neck to the ipsilateral side.

Since the scalenes help to elevate the ribs, this means that they are also accessory breathing muscles. Just another reason why you should always assess breathing. If the client seems to be a neck breather, priority number one should be to restore their diaphragmatic breath. It's no wonder that those muscles are getting tight if they're doing 10,000 reps a day to make sure you stay alive. Now because breathing is so closely tied to the limbic system and sympathetic tone can have a HUGE impact on the quality of breath they take, the root cause of dysfunction may be multifaceted. It may take more work than the usual, "just breath through your belly" drill. Relaxation techniques may be a necessary start and utilizing methods from PRI, DNS or Restorative Breathing can do wonders.

As cervical lateral flexors, the scalenes can also be primo compensators for dysfunctional cervical rotation. If you notice that they tend to turn their head as if they're talking on the phone, that's a pretty likely sign that the rotation needs to be cleaned up. This can get pretty complicated and is good for you to know about when considering exercises for their training. A dysfunction in cervical rotation means there will likely be a dysfunction in lumbar and/or thoracic rotation and you will need to adjust accordingly. Because of the intricacy of the neck, this is a situation in which you should leave all the direct work to the rehab professionals unless you've had special training. Otherwise, focus on creating rotational stability in other segments through oblique and multifidi-based drills. Here are two of my favorite drills:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1l7Rf1dNPc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHsWxdn-kGE

The Pec Minor

The dreaded pec minor. Every trainer has clients with pec minor issues and if they say they don't, they aren't looking closely enough. The pec minor is the main anterior stabilizer of the scapula and assists in downward rotation, depression and protraction of the shoulder blade. It also is an accessory breathing muscle so as stated with the scalene, breathing should be closely examined.

As a scapular stabilizer, pec minor dominance is pretty well known and written about, so I'm not going to spend time discussing it's mechanics versus the traps or lats(if you are interested in learning about that, I recommend checking out some of Eric Cressey's articles). But, I would like to point out how far the pec minor's function can reach.

The pec minor is part of Thomas Myers' Deep Front Arm Line. The Deep Front Arm Line is the layer of fascia enticing the muscles shown below. Because of this, these muscles share a lot of neurological connections and will contract to create tension through the line when there is instability. You'll notice that the connection goes all the way down to the thumb. This means that grip dysfunction can easily place more load on the pec minor and add to it's tonicity. This is another reason why being observant to how your client moves is important. If you notice more protraction/downward rotation as they grip weights, then there is likely a dysfunction in their Deep Front Arm Line. This will require special grip work along with a nice, cozy lacrosse ball to the pec minor.

The Subscapularis

The subscapularis is going to be a critical point to examine in OH athletes. Of course it should be assessed in any client with a history of TOS, the violent movements of throwing puts it at a higher chance of dysfunction than other fibers amongst many overhead athletes. Not only has it been noted to be the most important player in stabilizing the humeral head within the glenoid capsule, researchers have found that it contributes to about 53% of cuff movement through the action of a throw. It contracts especially hard during the acceleration phase of delivery along with with the serratus anterior, pectoralis major and latismus dorsi to concentrically internally rotate the humerus.

Knowing these relationships can be a game changer when evaluating shoulder mechanics and their relation to TOS. If the other rotator cuff muscles are weak or dysfunctional, this will put more of a strain on the subscapuaris which is already doing a majority of the stabilization of the humeral head. This goes the same for the synergists that help to internally rotate the humerus through the acceleration phase. If one or more of these muscles show weakness or dysfunction (cough cough winged scapula cough cough) then the subscapularis will also try to take up the slack and become very taught.

It's also worth mentioning that fibers of the subscap will often form adhesions. This can be for a number of reasons, but in our overhead populations, can usually be attributed to overuse. Palpation will usually help to confirm this(if you can) and often times will be found where the subscapularis runs into the serratus anterior. Friction and other release techniques have been found to be very effective in this situation, but again, only do what is in your scope.

The Coracobrachialis

The coracobrachialis is a hugely overlooked muscle within regards to shoulder function in my opinion. It assists with shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction as well as a little bit of internal rotation. For these reason, it can become taught for many different dysfunctions within the shoulder girdle.  Just like every other muscle that I've mentioned thus far, there can be a large number of relationships to look for. It's been noted that the coracobrachialis is an especially large player in stabilizing the glenohumeral joint when at rest in a relaxed, standing posture. As such, working on general shoulder mechanics and posture can be very helpful.

In Closing

As you can guess, there can be many different relationships that could cause the aforementioned fibers to compress the neurovascular bundle. The examples that I listed are just that, examples. It's up to you to use your tools as a trainer to figure out what movement dysfunction is causing the shortening of the fibers. Working to loosen up the fibers will help an issue, but working to restore function will help fix an issue.

The main point of this article is to always look at the bigger picture. As trainers, we usually see clients more often than traditional rehab professionals and as such, we should be working on total body function, especially as it relates to our client's goals and problem areas. Doing so can expedite progress of any rehab program the client may be in or can even ensure that their pain stays away. Physical therapists and chiropractors are often times restricted by insurance and time as to how much they can truly help with an individual's movements. Their hands are usually tied to getting the individual out of pain and rarely do they get a chance to completely eradicate the root cause for the pain. This is where a good trainer should come in and assist to correct movement and strength to prevent a relapse of symptoms. Working hand in hand with rehab professionals and referring out when needed is extremely important. Sticking to your scope of practice not only protects you, but also ensures your client gets what they need from you. As you can see from this article, there is still a lot you can do.

The “Toes Up” Cue for Squatting and Hinging: Why I give it a thumbs down.

It’s not unusual to hear some coaches or trainers cue their clients to lift their toes when squatting. I actually used to use it fairly frequently if I had someone who couldn’t get their weight back. That is until I started looking a little more closely at what was going on with this cue. First to really understand the mechanisms at play, I want you to stand up with your shoes off. Now shift your weight back without using your hips. Did you feel your toes leave the ground? You just compensated. You pushed your weight back without using your posterior chain. So what is it that is happening when you squat toes to the sky?  You are building an exercise off a compensation, and here are several reasons that you shouldn’t do that.

**Quick Disclaimer**

I do know some VERY strong people who can squat some impressive loads and their big toes do not touch the floor. It it a compensation? Yes. Do they make it work? Yes, but squatting and deadlifting are their sport. It may have been drilled into them long ago and they make it work FOR THEIR SPORT. Most of the athletes at SAPT are not training to get better at powerlifting. They are training to get bigger, stronger and faster in their area(s) of competition. It's for that reason that we must look at the bigger picture of what is going on in the exercises that we coach and their carryover to the athlete's movements.

Movement Carryover:

When deciding what movement to train in a program, you should always keep in mind the exercise's carryover to your goal. This is why squatting and deadlifting are so highly used in a strength and conditioning program. They carry over to almost everything; that is, unless they are performed incorrectly.

If you must lift your toes in order to complete a perfect squat or hinge, then there is something wrong. If you watch someone  move who has trained with their toes up, what you’ll see is that everything falls apart the second those toes are cued to stay on the ground for the movement. They become less balanced, their joint positions change, and they get a bewildered look on their face as their once-thought perfect form tanks like Kevin Costner’s career after WaterWorld.

If the movement is totally dependent upon the toe extensors being engaged to function, then what movements can it possibly carryover to? Only ones where the toes are extended. Which is RARE in the athletic realm.  Even worse is if the movement starts to transfer to propulsion patterns and the toes flare excessively at inopportune times. This would (and has) decrease ground contact of the foot and could hinder ankle stability.

Affects on Heel Strike:

Building off of what I said about movement carry over, deadlifting with your toes up could potentially negatively impact your gait. As we all  know, a deadlift trains hip extension. If we deadlift heavy (as we should) then the movement becomes more engrained. Once it’s been engrained enough, it will start to be replicated in other activities that may require hip extension. If your toe extensors are dominant in your deadlift pattern, then it could possibly become a relationship with your heel strike.

When we heel strike in gait, there is a specific system of muscles that are supposed to fire in sequence to help with the force absorption up the chain. These muscles are the peroneals, bicep femoris, external rotators of the femur, glutes, contralateral erector spinae and contralateral rhomboids. To put it simply, muscles of the outer calf, hamstring, hip extensors and back all fire at once to help the heel strike and lead into hip extension of that leg. You can even see how the foot absorbs the force of this phase below.

Observe how the force has a drastic increase when the heel lands, but then actually decreases as the foot pronates (job of the peroneals) and then reaches a steady, controlled arc through the contact phase. Also notice how the foot whips into position after the initial heel contact and the toes reactively hug the ground.

Now imagine that there is an excess in toe extension due to compensation of the posterior chain in hip extension. This is going to cause more dorsiflexion which would in turn cause the heel to strike the ground in more acute angle, making the force sharper. Not only that, but if it is the big toe extensor (extensor hallucis longus) that becomes one of the drivers for this movement, then it can reciprocally inhibit (turn off) the peroneals, which as I said before, are crucial in the force absorption of this particular phase of gait.

Does this sound far fetched just from one small cue? It’s not. In fact many people may already have this relationship from the get-go due to a weak posterior chain and you’ve probably seen it before. Or maybe I should say that you’ve probably heard it before. Think about people who you can hear pounding the floor as they jog. Watch them walk barefoot, you will see the toes do some funky things. Watch them shift their weight back, you’ll see it again.  This relationship can have huge effects on the force closure of many different joints and can be a large player in shin splints or even S.I. Joint dysfunction. This is why we, as movement professionals, must do our best to keep these systems functioning and NOT give them means to create compensation.

So instead of taking the easy route and cueing, "toes up," try the effective route and progress your clients through proper hip mechanics via activation and weight shift drills. It may take longer, but the pay off will be worth it.