athletic performance

Why Gender Specific Training is Bullshit

Misinformation within the health and fitness industry is rampant.

Unfortunately, this is an unyielding truth that we have to come with terms with.

While I feel that exercise professionals (such as myself) can help play an important role in changing the poor practices that this misinformation does produce, it is not as simple as it may sound.

This misinformation is spread frequently and expertly within mainstream health and fitness magazines, TV commercials, and YouTube videos AND despite zero scientific evidence (and arguably zero logical thought progression) to support it, it is gobbled up due to clever marketing that plays heavily on our insecurities.

One such claim that seems to circulate a lot more frequently than some others, is the suggestion that females should train differently to men.

This suggestion is an absolute joke that does nothing more than perpetuate the myth that if a women lifts heavy weights she will become ‘big and bulky’.

This, from my perspective, has two negative repercussions.

1.       It leads to the suggestion that weight training is not a suitable form of exercise for women – which the title of this post suggests, is a load of rubbish

2.       It continues to build the idiotic perception of an ideal female body. Seriously, who has the right to suggest that a female with a muscular physique is unattractive? What people find attractive is none of your business. Furthermore, people show a large number of anatomical and physiological differences (AKA we look different) – as such there is no such thing as an ideal body.

So building on that first point, I am here to tell you that women should lift heavy ass weights, and subsequently, gender specific training is misinformed jargon spread by mainstream fitness 'gurus' who haven’t trained a real client in their lifetime.

Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

Lifting heavy and building strength is key (photo from T-nation.com)

 

Strength is King

Lifting heavy weights build strength.

I don’t care what anyone says, strength is incredibly important for EVERYONE, no matter their goal or current training level. Strength limits the amount of work we can perform in a session, it dictates our upper limit of power production, and it plays a large role in our rate of functional decline.

By increasing strength, we can improve the amount of volume we can handle in a given session. This can improve our ability to achieve body composition related goals (AKA losing fat and building muscle).

Furthermore, as we age our strength declines. This will eventually limit our ability to perform general tasks of daily living. Subsequently, by maintaining strength we can maintain our functional capacity into our older age.

This will allow us to maintain a high quality of life for our lifetime.

I don’t think you would find a single person who would say that those are not important for females (or males for that matter - EVERYONE should strength train).

 

BUT wont lifting heavy weights and getting strong make me big and bulky?

In short, no, probably not.

While building strength (and lifting heavy) does unquestionably play an important role in building muscle tissue, this process is actually quite difficult for females.

This can be put down to a a number of various gender specific differences in hormone levels and physiological factors.

Ultimately, to summarize without getting too wordy, women will have a much harder time putting on a muscle mass than men.

While lifting heavy will add a small amount of muscle mass, it is not going to turn you into a body builder (not that there is anything wrong with that).

In fact, I have written extensively HERE about how strength training can improve body composition and promote fat loss WITHOUT causing massive increases in muscle mass.

 

Bone Density

While this may be a little on the boring side, it still holds significant importance.

Females are susceptible to becoming osteoporotic later in life (even more so than males). This susceptibility actually increases after the onset of menopause.

While there are a number of dietary factors that can play a role in maintain a high level of bone density, so can strength training.

Heavy loading has shown to stimulate an increase the production of bone cells. This can lead to a significant increase in bone density, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis. As a result, strength training can play a HUGE role in osteoporosis prevention both before and after menopause.

Strong Bones...

Strong Bones...

 

Strength Training Builds Confidence

There is nothing better than hitting a new PB in the gym.

Overcoming something that you have been working towards steadily for months truly shows that the hard work you have been putting in has been paying off.

I believe this is truer for strength goals than body composition goals as they provide a tangible measure of improvement.

Getting stronger and achieving new strength goals is rewarding – way more so than lifting a 3kg dumbbell repetitively (unless your into that of course – who am I to judge?).

And maybe more important than the knowledge that you are getting stronger in the gym, is the knowledge that this strength carriers over to other aspects of life too.

This might be as simple as being able to move your own furniture without assistance, change a car tire easily, or escape from a horde of hungry zombies.

All silliness aside, you get my point.

Being able to do difficult things independently is both empowering, and a massive confidence booster.

 

So, to conclude.

Gender specific training is a joke.

Lifting heavy has HUGE benefits for males and females alike. This holds true from a health perspective, a body composition perspective, and a performance perspective.

 

 

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Offset loading – what is it and why you should care about it?

In what feels like a never ending quest to find the best ways to build muscle, increase strength, and improve athleticism, we are frequently looking for new training techniques to help us reach our goals as quickly and as effectively as possible.

While I am strong believer that the basics will get you MOST of the way there, there are definitely occasions when different methods of training can have a very positive effect on our results.

One of the methods that I have been having frequent success with (both personally, and with my clients) is offset loading.

Hunter Bennett Performance adelaide personal training

 

Offset Loading

Offset loading is a training technique that is extremely simple to implement, but can have huge benefits.

Pretty simply, it refers to loading one side of the body to a greater degree than the other.

So as a very simple example, we could do farmer carries with a heavier load in one hand than the other (which is then repeated on the other side – can’t have those imbalances...).

This exact same loading method can be applied to squat and split squat variations, both bilateral and unilateral deadlift variations, and upper body pushing and pulling variations (think single arm dumbbell presses and single arm dumbbell rows).

This can be done by completely unloading one side while adding significant load to the other side, or using a slightly lighter load on one side and then a slightly heavier load on the other side.

 

Benefits of offset loading

While its method of application of simple, offset loading can have a number of benefits dependent on your training goal.

The initial benefit that we get from offset loading is due to the demand it places on the body to maintain stability. By loading more on one side we create flexion and rotation forces at the trunk and the hip that would not be there with regular loading parameters.

Therefore, the muscles of the trunk and hip must work overtime to maintain a neutral lumbo-pelvic position.

This makes offset loading a great tool to use when we are limited for time and want exercises that provide big bang-for-your-buck, as we can improve core stability while also loading the upper or lower body.

Not only will this increased demand for stability build core and hip stability strength, it also provides a great opportunity to work on any imbalances we may have in regards trunk and hip strength.

Additionally, offset loading is a fantastic way to introduce more total volume into your training as we have to do twice as much work than we would with normal loading methods.

This increase in total volume can directly increase our total time under tension AND the metabolic demand placed on the muscle tissue – both of which can contribute to increased muscle hypertrophy significantly.

And while using offset loading is not the best way to build strength on its own (because the total load used is reduced), correcting imbalances can indirectly lead to greater improvements in strength over time.

 

Offset Loading Programming Considerations

So now we know the benefits of offset loading, it is HOW we implement it into our training that makes all the difference.

Firstly, irrespective of whether our goal is hypertrophy or performance based, exercises using offset loading should be used strictly as assistance exercises, and should not replace our core strength lifts. This is because their capacity to build strength is somewhat limited, as they will not provide the mechanical stress necessary to increase maximal force production.

BUT, due to the various other benefits that offset loading can have, they should be used as either the first or second assistance exercise in our training program.

Example Lower Body Workout

Back Squat 4x6
Romanian Deadlift 3x8
Offset loaded Bulgarian Split Squat 3x8 /side
Walking Lunges 3x10/side

Example Upper Body Workout

Bench Press 5x5
High Bench Row 4x8
Single arm Landmine Press 3x8 / side
Single arm Renegade Row 3x8 /side

Incorporating offset loading into our training can be a great way to increase core and hip stability, correct any imbalances we may have, and promote muscular hypertrophy.

Additionally, using offset training can promote further strength development by improving stability and eliminating those imbalances!

 

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Why the Front Squat is King

As an exercise, the front squat is heavily overshadowed by the barbell back squat.

It is considered a ‘regression’ in certain circles, where it is used as a mere stepping stone allowing you to move towards a full back squat.

Ultimately, the front squat does not get the love that it truly deserves.

That’s why I am here to tell you that it should be a staple in your training if your goal is to improve strength and overall athleticism!

hunter bennett performance adelaide personal training

 

The front squat smashes the anterior core

Most wouldn’t think it, but one of the key benefits of front squatting is the load it places the muscles of the trunk.

Due to the bar position being slightly in front of the torso, it effectively tries to pull the spine into flexion. This creates a HUGE demand on the muscles of the anterior trunk to maintain a nice upright spinal position, making it a fantastic way to build core strength and stability.

This actually leads quite nicely into our next point…

 

It’s hard to cheat a front squat

During a heavy set of back squats, it is pretty common to fatigue through the erectors of the lumbar and thoracic spine.

This results in ‘caving’ of the trunk, causing a movement that kind of looks like a squat / good-morning hybrid that places a large amount of shear force on the spine.

This cannot happen during a front squat due to the bar position. If we lose our upright position during the front squat by caving forward, we will lose the bar.

This actually makes it a safer variation, while limiting poor movement patterns and poor compensations.

 

The front squat demands mobility

To perform a deep front squat, you need good mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine.

By front squatting often (and addressing any serious mobility requirements) we can improve mobility and movement quality, while also improving our strength throughout a large range of movement.

This can go a very long way in improving our ability to improve strength in the gym, reduce our risk of injury during athletic movement, and improve our overall athleticism.

 

Front squat strength directly carries over to athletic movements

Simply looking at the front squat we can see its similarities with a number of athletic movements.

The upright trunk position during the front squat is very similar to that we see during jumping, bounding and sprinting. So it makes sense that getting stronger in the front squat can directly improve our capacity at performing these athletic movements.

Additionally, due to its ability to build strength in hip and knee extension, it can also improve our ability to accelerate, change direction rapidly, and perform jumping and bounding movements.

 

The front squats improves squat and deadlift strength

The upright torso position of the front squat places a serious demand on the quads. This helps improve knee extension strength, which directly improves our capacity to perform other movements.

Obviously, this carries over directly to the back squat. Having strong quads is only going to improve your ability to squat more weight. Also, considering that the front squat can significantly improve strength of the spinal erectors, it will improve our ability to remain upright in the back squat. This improves our capacity to perform the movement, making it more efficient (AKA stronger) and safer.

Secondly, improve quad strength will significantly improve your deadlift strength off the floor. The first portion of the deadlift (floor to knee) is VERY quad dominant, and as a result front squats can seriously improve deadlift strength.

So, there you have it.

To summarise: Front Squats = Gainz

I would recommend using front squats as the core movement on one lower body day per week for lower reps (4 sets of6 reps, or 5 sets of 4 reps, etc.), and then as an assistance exercise on your other lower body days for slightly higher reps (3-4 sets of 10-12 reps).

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Improve Thoracic Mobility to Reduce Injuries and Increase Athleticism

‘Thoracic mobility’ (OR T-spine mobility, depending on who you talk to) is one of the buzzwords in the health and fitness industry at the moment.

And for good reason.

Poor thoracic spinal mobility can lead to a number of dysfunctions, including low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. 

Poor thoracic mobility can also limit our movement quality and athletic performance.

The thoracic spine describes the 12 vertebrae of the upper back and abdomen that sit between the cervical spine of the neck and the lumbar spine of the lower back.

Each thoracic vertebrae has articulations between its neighbouring vertebrae (above and below), and to the attaching ribs.

Now, if we were to look at each segment of the spine, they each play an important individual role in movement.

The lumbar spine is a stable segment that provides a strong supportive base for the muscles of the trunk.

The lumbar spine does not have much mobility, as it is designed to bear and withstand load rather than create movement.

By acting as a stable support structure, it can aid movement and force production at the hips.

The cervical spine is similar.

While it allows much more movement than the lumbar spine (we need to be able to look around) it is still considered a stable joint, as it provides essential stability to the fragile neural structures of the neck.

But the thoracic spine is somewhat different.

It is actually considered a mobile joint, and is the spinal section that has the largest range of movement.

This is important as it allows us to rotate, flex, and extend. 

All of which are extremely important during running, sprinting, changing direction, jumping, and during throwing movements.

BUT.

In the wonderful age of technology that we currently live in, we spend a lot of time sitting (and not a lot of time moving).

This results in REALLY stiff and immobile thoracic spinal segments, which as you can probably guess, is not good (this thoracic stiffness is often typified of excessive kyphosis and forward head posture).

If a segment of the body is lacking essential mobility, we tend to find it at another segment.

This is a compensation pattern that allows us to complete the movements required, despite lacking the mobility to do so.

While these compensation patterns are helpful in the short term (they allow us to move), they can lead to chronic dysfunction further down the track.

In the case of the thoracic spine, if it is lacking mobility we are going to find mobility at the lumber spine.

Now, as we mentioned earlier, the lumber spine is not actually made to move much at all.

Rather it is meant to act as a stable base from which both the thoracic spine can rotate, and the hips can move freely to produce force. 

If it is forced to become more mobile, this is going to lead directly to dysfunction, and may also have negative effects further down the kinetic chain.

Firstly, we lose stability at the lumbar spine.

This is an issue in itself, because if the lumbar spinal segments move more than they are supposed to, we can irritate both neural structures of the lumbar spine, and the passive support structures around the spinal segments.

This can lead to low back pain and low back irritation.

Secondly, by losing stability at the trunk, the lower limbs no longer have a stable base to produce force.

To try and get the point across with analogy (who doesn’t like a good analogy?), picture a slingshot.

If you hold the base of the slingshot firmly, you can load and shoot much further. If the base of the slingshot is held lightly, it is going to be loose and weak, and your ability to shoot with it is going to be limited.

Now, the base of the slingshot represents the trunk, while the top portion represents the hips (or upper limbs… works for both really).

When the trunk is stable, we can produce great amounts of force at the hip.

If the trunk is too mobile, that force production is limited.

Additionally, it is quite common to see the muscles surrounding the hips try to produce the stability lost at the spine.

This results in shorty and stiff muscles surrounding the hip joint, which can lead to limited movement of the hips, potentially leading to a soft tissue injury, or an injury of the surrounding joints.

And, just to make things worse, having poor thoracic mobility can also increase our risk of developing shoulder injuries.

Many movements above the chin require a significant amount of thoracic extension to be completed safely and effectively.

If we think about overhead movements such as overhead presses, push presses, overhead squats, snatches, etc, etc, etc (the list goes on and on), they all have something in common.

They require the ability to get our arms over our head into full shoulder flexion.

Now, thoracic extension is a big part of this.

If we have a mobile thoracic spine that can extend easily and with good range of movement, it actually requires less shoulder flexion to get our arms over our heads.

This ensures we rely on the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and shoulder girdle for stability.

BUT,

If we have poor thoracic spinal mobility (stuck in thoracic flexion), we have to use more shoulder flexion to achieve the same overhead position.

This can place unnecessary load on the passive support structures of the shoulder joint, increasing our risk of developing injuries.

So to summarise, if we have poor thoracic spine mobility we are at an increased risk of lower back, shoulder and hip injury, AND our force production is limited.

AKA it’s not good.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it.

We can use specific thoracic mobility exercise to increase our range of movement at the thoracic spine, making it more mobile.

 

Improving mobility of the thoracic spine

Thoracic spine mobilization on the foam roller

The trick here is to slowly extend the thoracic over the foam roller as you exhale.

The movement should be controlled and gentle.

Try and spend a 4-5 of deep, slow breaths on a single vertebra before moving onto the next one.

By supporting the head you limit cervical extension.

 

Thoracic spine extensions on a bench

This is an awesome drill that allows us to improve thoracic spinal extension while also stretching the lat’s.

The idea here is to slowly sink into extension while exhaling.

You should spend a little bit of time and the end of the movement, slowly increasing range of movement in the bottom position.

 

Side lying thoracic rotation

The idea here is to slowly rotate and extend through the thoracic spine while keeping a tight hold on a foam roller between the legs.

This ensures that the lumber spine remains stable and locked into a neutral position, allowing the thoracic spine to move freely.

You can also spend a bit of time hanging out at the end of the rotation, ideally taking some deep breaths.

This allows you to increase that end range of movement.

 

Quadruped thoracic rotation

Another great way to increase movement at the thoracic spine.

Again, keep the lumbar spine stiff and still in extension.

All the movement should come from the thoracic spinal segments.

The movement should be slow and controlled, while trying to get a little more range each rotation.

 

So now all we need to do is put it all together.

These exercises should be included as part of our warmup on both upper body and lower body days as it can improve our stability at the lumber spine while improving our capacity to produce force at both the hips and shoulders.

A sample warmup on an upper body day might look something like this:

Foam roll:
Pecs, Lats, Thoracic Spine

Mobility:
Thoracic spine extension on the foam roller x 15
Thoracic spine extension on bench x 15
Side lying thoracic rotation x 15/side
Quadruped thoracic rotation x 15/side

 Individualized upper body activation/ dynamic movement preparation

Individualized upper body session

 

I hope this post provided a thorough explanation as to why having adequate mobility of the thoracic spine is important for both injury prevention and performance, while also providing some simple and effective exercise to improve thoracic mobility.

If yo want to have a chat, or organise a time to train, contact me today!

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Training vs Exercising. There is a Difference.

There are many different ways to describe the attempts and efforts we make to improve our body composition or physical capacity, but ‘Exercising’ and ‘Training’ are hands down the two most common terms I personally hear on a daily basis.

And so what, right?

People can call it whatever they want, if it refers to the same thing?

well, maybe not?

What if i said that Training and Exercising are actually inherently different from one another?

Because In my personal opinion there is a significant difference, and by changing your mindset and the terminology you use from’ exercise’ to ‘training’, you can begin to make massive jumps forward in achieving your personal goal.

Hunter Bennett Performance, Adelaide Personal Training, Lose Fat Build Muscle

 

Exercising

Firstly, exercising.

Exercise is physical activity for the sake of physical activity. 

It is exercise performed for TODAY, and for today only.

Exercise is often done for the sake of raising the heart rate and getting a bit of a sweat on.

People who ‘exercise’ typically perform the same sort of routine over and over because it does meet their immediate needs - to perform physical activity today.

And honestly, there is nothing wrong with this.

It is great way to meet the recommended weekly requirements for physical activity, ultimately providing us with the minimum required stimulus to stay healthy and manage weight gain.

This is fine. It keeps our cardiovascular system working efficiently, and significantly reduces our risk of developing a number of diseases and disorders.

But what if you have a specific goal you want to achieve?

I don’t care whether it is strength related, performance related, or body composition related.

Merely ‘exercising’ will not cut it.

Training

Enter training.

Training is different.

If you have a specific goal in mind, then training is essential to effectively achieve that goal.

If you want to run a marathon, become a better athlete, or compete in a physique contest, performing a group exercise class 4 days per week is not going to cut it.

You need to follow a clear track that will lead YOU to YOUR specific destination. 

Training involves reaching small, specific goals that lead directly to the achievement of your overall goal.

Each individual exercise you undertake is a small, specific step leading to the end of your journey.

Each set and every individual repetition is well thought out, and implemented with this final goal in mind.

You do these things not because you can do them, but because to reach your goal, you need to do them.

With that in mind, training is performed efficiently.

If you don’t have a valid reason for doing a specific exercise (AKA it doesn’t help you reach your overall goal), then you shouldn’t be doing it.

If you’re a sprinter, you don’t need to be jogging 10km on your rest days.

If you’re a powerlifter you don’t need to be doing 4 sets of Bicep curls at the end your session.

If you’re a marathon runner you don’t need to be bench pressing double body weight.

This doesn’t mean you throw out entire rep ranges, or stop doing certain exercises forever, it just means you need to focus on what is specific to your current goal and make that your priority.

Training has a focus on your individual needs.

This may mean addressing weak points, or correcting individual imbalances or dysfunctions.

It means addressing the areas where you are deficient, while also improving those which you are already good at.

Using a running as a specific example, your goal might be to run a marathon. You have good aerobic capacity, but are weak and have poor movement quality.

Increasing strength becomes a priority, as does improving your efficiency and quality of movement.

This occurs through specific exercise and training recommendations. Not through doing ‘whatever you have always done’ in the weight room.

Training results in measurable improvement.

This means that you actually PROGRESS through training. Whether it is getting stronger, getting faster, or getting leaner, when you are training (and training EFFECTIVELY) you will see improvements in yourself.

 

Now, exercising is fine. Some people enjoy working hard and getting a sweat on for the sake of it. And again, there is nothing wrong with that.

BUT

If you have a specific goal you want to reach, and find yourself doing the same thing over and over, you are exercising when you should be training.

And it is now time to make that change.

 

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Preventing Hamstring Muscle Strains, How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Preventing Hamstring Strains.  How to Reduce Hamstring Injuries.

Hamstring strains are absolutely dreaded by track and field athletes alike. They are not only painful, but also have a lengthy recovery timeline, and a HUGE risk of injury re-occurrence.

Unfortunately, they are also one of the most common injuries we see in both athletes and weekend warriors alike.

And it is understandable to some degree. The hamstrings are one of the key prime movers of the lower limb, and as a result are under significant stress during a number (if not ALL) of athletic movements. Due to this they are arguably at greater risk of injury than many other muscle groups.

BUT. 

This is no excuse.

I can guarantee 90% of you are not doing enough to reduce your risk of developing a hamstring injury.

And there is A LOT we can do to prevent hamstring injury.

Anatomy of the Hamstring Muscle Group

prevent hamstring strains

The hamstrings actually consist of three separate muscles. Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris.

Without going into too much detail, both the Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus originate on the medial aspect of the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosity for the anatomy nerds out there), and attach on the medial aspect of the tibia.

The biceps femoris is actually divided into two parts, the short head and the long head, both of which originate at different points. The long head of biceps femoris originates on the lateral portion of the pelvis, while the short head originates at the top of the femur. Both muscles come together and attach to lateral portion of the tibia and the fibula.

 

The Function of the hamstring Muscle Group

The hamstrings are often considered a knee flexor. It allows us to flex the knee joint. While this is anatomically correct, it isn’t actually how they act during movement.

When we are running and sprinting the shank of the lower limb goes through a swing phase. This is when the knee extends in front of the body prior to taking the next step. During this movement the hamstrings are actually contracting eccentrically to slow the movement of the shank prior to touching the ground. This is integral to running function, as by keeping this movement under control we reduce the load that goes through the knee while simultaneously preparing ourselves to take the next step.

Preventing hamstring injuries hunter bennett performance

Additionally, the hamstrings also act to extend the hip joint. This means they play a role helping the glutes produce powerful hip extension, which we see during rapid acceleration, jumping, bounding and changing direction.

The hamstrings can also act to stabilise the knee and pelvis during movement. Most notably when the foot makes contact with the ground during a typically running gait cycle.

So we can see that there is a fair bit going on here. Most of which is NOT just knee flexion.

 

So how do hamstring strains occur?

The most likely occurrence of hamstring strain comes during that swing phase of gait (we mentioned it earlier) while we are sprinting. During this movement the hamstring is lengthening under A LOT of load. 

A hamstring strain in this scenario is the combined result of fatigue accumulation and the over-lengthening of the hamstrings.

As the hamstrings get fatigued their capacity to manage load is reduced. This means that they lose their ability to control the forward movement of the shank during swing phase. As a result, during swing phase, the shank moves too quickly and too far in front of the body, causing the ‘over-stretching’ of the muscles, and a subsequent strain or tear in the muscle tissue.

It is important to note that while this type of injury is most common, hamstring strains can occur through other movements. A similar type of injury can occur through kicking motions, and during rapid deceleration and change of direction, again where the hamstrings are lengthening under significant load.

 

What makes us more likely to develop a hamstring injury, and what can we do to fix it?

So we have an understanding of what the hamstring muscles consist of, and how we can get hamstring injuries. But what about the things that predispose us to hamstring injuries, and what can we do to correct them.

In my experience, there are four key variables that we can work on to significantly reduce the risk of developing a hamstring injury.

 

Unilateral strength differences

This one makes sense if we think about it. If we exhibit significant strength differences in one limb compared to the other, there are going to be repercussions.

Firstly, in regards to hamstring strength specifically, the muscle of the weaker limb is going to fatigue much faster than that of the stronger limb. This fatigue is going to make ‘over-stretching’ much more likely, which can lead to injury.

Additionally, if one limb fatigues quickly, our movement mechanics are going to change significantly as a result. Poor and inefficient movement can lead to compensation patterns, excessive fatigue, and then injury. Interestingly, when we talk about fatigue and altered movement, it is not limited to just unilateral hamstring weakness. Unilateral weakness in the quadriceps and the glutes can also lead to altered movement of the pelvis, which significantly increases our risk for injury.

So how can we fix it?

This one is pretty simple to fix.

Do single leg work. And LOTS of it.

My first point of call would be single leg hip dominant exercises, such as single leg deadlift variations. These exercises not only provide an opportunity to build eccentric and concentric hamstring strength unilaterally, they also place a demand on the glutes (glute med in particular) to provide stability to the pelvis and hip. As a result, we get stronger hamstrings and increased hip stability. Both of which improve our ability to move at the hip, reducing our risk of injury.

 

Secondly, I would also include single leg squat variations, such as split squats and Bulgarian split squats. These exercises allow us to build unilateral strength of the quads and the glutes, while still improving our stability around the hip.

 

Poor pelvic positioning

Considering that the hamstrings attach directly to the pelvis, it makes sense that the position of the pelvis can influence the hamstrings.

If we are stuck in a permanent state of anterior pelvic tilt (APT), our hamstrings are always going to be in a lengthened position. This not only creates a sensation of tightness throughout the hamstring muscles, but also puts us in a position where ‘over-stretching’ happens much easier.

Anterior pelvic tilt occurs when we have weak glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, and tight quads and hip flexors. The weak muscles allow the pelvis to be pulled into a position of anterior tilt by the tight muscles.

Hamstring injury prevention, hunter bennett performance

Now fortunately, again this is something we can improve through smart training.

Firstly, we need to improve the strength of our hamstrings and glutes through hip extension exercises, and improve the strength of our abdominals through trunk stability exercises.

I would start looking towards deadlift variations as a way to directly increase hamstring and glute strength. The Romanian deadlift is a fantastic variation that somewhat isolated the movement at the hips, making the hip extensors really drive the movement. Additionally, improving glute and hamstring strength is going to improve their overall work capacity. This makes them less susceptible to fatigue, reducing injury risk even further!

To increase the strength of the abdominals, I would recommend the use of plank variations. In particular, the RKC plank, which is a variation where we stabilise the spine while in a position of posterior pelvic tilt. This allows us to work both the glutes and the abdominals to stabilise the spine and the pelvis, promoting pelvic movement away from APT. With this variation the key is to squeeze the glutes as hard as humanly possible. This moves the pelvis in to a posteriorly tilted position, which absolutely hammers the abdominals.

 

Secondly, trying o release the hip flexors and quadriceps could also go a long way to improving pelvic position. A standard hip flexor stretch is a great way to reduce the tension of the hip flexors, while foam rolling is an ideal way to reduce tension of the quadriceps. Both of these will help improve pelvic positioning, reducing injury risk.

 

Inhibited or down-regulated glutes

As mentioned initially, the hamstrings also act as a hip extensor during explosive movements. In an ideal world the hamstrings act as synergists to the glutes, which really drive the movement at the hips. But, unfortunately, we do not live in ideal world.

In modern society we spend a huge amount of time sitting down. When we sit, the glutes are in a lengthened position, and by spending too much time in this position they become tight, weak, and inhibited. As a result, 90% of the people I see have seriously inhibited glutes, and use their glutes properly!

 If our glutes don’t work, the hamstrings then become the primary driver for explosive hip extension movements. This leads to excessive fatigue of the hamstrings, which then leads to injury.

This can be improved by performing low level glute activation exercises during your warmup as a way to activate and prepare the glutes for movement. Once they have been sufficiently activated, they are likely to work more during explosive movements, reducing the total work done by the hamstrings.

To found out more about glute activation exercises, check out this article.

 

Poor eccentric hamstring strength

Improving eccentric strength of the hamstrings can play a big role in reducing the risk of developing a hamstring strain.

As mentioned above, majority of hamstring injuries occur during the swing phase of running gait, when the hamstrings are undergoing an eccentric contraction. If we have weak hamstrings that cannot control the shank as it moves forward, we are more likely to ‘over-stretch’, and therefore more likely to get injured.

Again, we can improve eccentric hamstring strength through an increase in eccentric loading. It is worth noting that eccentric loading is extremely taxing on the muscles, and can lead to significant muscle damage, so taking it slow is the best way to approach this type of training.

I would start by introducing eccentric loading to hip dominant exercises. For example Romanian deadlifts with a 3 second lowering portion.

Once I felt comfortable that the individual had good eccentric strength and control I would progress to more taxing exercises such as Nordic curls and glute ham raises. These exercises really allow you to overload the eccentric portion of the lift, building that eccentric strength.

 

Putting it all together

So to summarise, we need to improve any unwanted postural deviations, improve unilateral strength, improve eccentric strength of the hamstrings specifically, and improve glute activation.

A sample lower body program aimed at reducing hamstring injury risk might look something like this:

Self-myofascial release and stretching
- Foam roll TFL, Quads
- Hip flexor stretch 2 x 15 s /side

Glute activation sequence
- Prone hip extension 2 x 12 /side
- Side lying hip abduction 2 x 12 / side
- Glute bridge 2 x 12
- X band walk 2 x 12 / side

Movement preparation
- Single leg deadlift bodyweight 2 x 8 / side
- Bodyweight split squat 2 x 8 / side
- Goblet squat 2 x 10

Strength Work
- Deadlift (2 second eccentric) 5 x 4
- Single leg deadlift 3 x 8 / side
- Bulgarian Split squat 4 x 6 /side
- Romanian Deadlift (3 second eccentric) 4 x 6

Eccentric Loading
- Nordic curl 4 x 6

Core stability
- RKC plank 3 x 10seconds
- Pallof Press 3 x 12 / side

 

If you’re after one on one coaching, need programming, or would like to know more information, feel free to contact me via the form below.

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Box Jumps - A great way to develop power improve athleticism

Strength training is awesome.

Not only does it mean you get to lift heavy stuff repeatedly, but by building strength we can also become faster, stronger (DUH), more powerful, more resilient to injury AND more athletic.

By strength training and getting stronger we see a subsequent increase in our maximum force production (the MAXIMUM amount of force our neuromuscular system can produce).

Now this is great. Ultimately, the more force we can produce, the higher our ceiling for producing power (and subsequently, athletic performance) becomes.

BUT (there’s always a but….).

Unfortunately, for maximizing power development and athletic performance, strength training doesn’t tick all of the boxes.

See, if we only train to improve strength, we become stronger, but we won’t necessarily become more powerful.

To become more powerful we need to train to be fast and EXPLOSIVE.

By training explosively we can increase the rate at which we produce force, which improves our ability to jump higher, accelerate quicker and sprint faster.

For improving athletic performance, quick explosive training compliments strength training perfectly, as strength training increases the maximum amount of force we can produce, and explosive training increases the speed at which we can produce that force.

But how do we start training explosively?

Often improving power is done through the use of moving lighter weights QUICKLY. An example of this would be training using the Olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean etc.) and their variations. Unfortunately the Olympic lifts are fairly technical and have quite a steep learning curve.

Which finally brings us to the topic of the post.

hunter bennett performance box jumps

 

Box Jumps!

Box jumps are a fantastic exercise that allow us to improve our explosive power, but don’t have the learning curve associated with the Olympic lifts.

Additionally, with box jumps we are jumping onto something high, which results in less compressive forces placed on the body which makes them a very joint friendly exercise variation.

 

But there are a few key cues that need to be followed to make sure they are done safely and effectively.

Feet are flat with weight evenly distributed on landing.

Knees are neutral (no valgus).

Trunk is neutral and abs are braced.

And a big one - If you land in a position where your femurs (top of thighs) are lower than parallel to the ground, the box is too high. We don’t care about how tall the box is, we care about how high you can jump – there is a difference.

Now, because we are trying to improve power, box jumps DO NOT need to be done to failure. With power training it is always quality of quantity. An example rep range that may be used would be 4 sets of 3 repetitions, where each individual rep is done as explosively as possible.

Similarly, they should be performed at the start of the session, before fatigue sets in. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force quickly, it is pointless to train for power when under significant fatigue. Because of this, box jumps should be performed after our warmup but before any heavy loading (eg. Heavy Squatzzz).

An additional benefit of programming box jumps before your heavy lower body exercises is that they ‘prime’ the nervous system, ultimately preparing the body for maximum contraction by potentiating the nervous system to fire more efficiently and at a faster rate. This will in turn improve your ability to produce force (strength), and increase the benefits of the following strength exercises.

An example lower body session that utilities box jumps effectively may look like this:

- Foam rolling and self myofascial release work
- Dynamic mobility warm up
- Movement preparation

- Broad Jumps 2x3
- Box Jumps 4x3
- Back Squat 5x5
- RDL 4x6
- Split Squat 4x8/side

And just like that you have a way to both develop power and improve the quality of your strength session immediately!

For any further info, contact me below!

 

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Sprinting for Fat Loss, Strength and Athleticism. The Ultimate Guide.

Whether you are a high level athlete, a weekend warrior or completely new to the gym, sprinting should be an integral component of your training program.

Not only is sprint speed an extremely important factor for athletic success, the act of sprinting can help promote fat loss, increase our strength, and improve our overall athleticism.

Lean, strong and athletic

Lean, strong and athletic

Sprinting for fat loss

Let’s start with how sprinting can cause fat loss, and help us maintain a high level of leanness.

Firstly, sprinting is taxing.  I mean REALLY taxing. It ultimately requires the integration of every muscle in the entire body working at near maximal capacity to sprint at (or close to) our top speed. This alone is using up a HUGE amount of energy during our sprint session.

Additionally, due to the accumulated fatigue sprinting causes we also get a significant increase our metabolic rate up to 24-48 hours after our sprint session. This rise in energy expenditure is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (or, EPOC), and can lead to serious energy use for a significant time after exercise.

These two factors are what allow sprinting to promote fat loss effectively.

A sample sprint workout aimed towards fat loss might look something like this:

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

-          Repeat 2 times

These workouts should be performed on upper body days, or on cardio specific days. They should NOT be performed before lower body workouts because the fatigue associated will limit your performance in the gym. On the same note, they should NOT be performed after your lower body workouts as the fatigue form the gym session will increase injury risk while sprinting.

 

Sprinting can improve our strength performance

Undertake short, non-fatiguing, sprint work after your dynamic warm up is a fantastic way to prime the nervous system before a heavy gym session.

After sprinting, you central nervous system is fired up. This improves your ability to produce force rapidly (rate of force development for you science nerds out there). By sprinting before heavy lifting our nervous system is primed to produce maximal levels of force at a rapid rate, this means that we can lift heavier and more explosively in the gym, which can lead to serious strength gains.

A sample sprint workout aimed at priming the nervous system might look something like this.

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

The idea here is to NOT accumulate fatigue. You should finish the sprints feeling quick and powerful, not tired and shitty.

 

Sprinting for Athletic Performance

Sprinting is a great tool to use to improve athletic performance.

Sprinting requires significant effort from the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) to produce force rapidly. These muscles are important for jumping, changing direction rapidly, and accelerating and decelerating, and as such, play an integral role in successful athletic performance. As sprinting can improve the ability of these muscles to produce force quickly, it can have a direct carryover to these other important movements’ as well.

Sprinting also improves our anaerobic capacity. During sprinting we are working at a speed well above lactate threshold, which requires the integration of our ATP-CP and anaerobic (or glycolytic) energy systems. By spending time where these energy systems our under significant stress, we promote physiological adaptations that improve the capacity of these energy systems. This results in an improved anaerobic work capacity, meaning we can work anaerobically for longer, and at a higher intensity!

A sample sprint workout here might look something like this:

-          Sprint 75% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 40m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 40m distance

-          90s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 40m distance

-          Repeat ONCE more

-          Sprint 85% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 90% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 95% max speed for 90m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 100m distance

-          60s rest

-          Sprint 100% max speed for 80m distance

In this scenario, we use short sprints to improve our maximal force production rate of force development, and then finish using longer sprints, which allow us to spend more time above anaerobic threshold.

 

There are some considerations.

Now, before you head out and start sprinting straight away there are a few things that you need to consider.

Firstly, if you haven’t sprinted since your last high school sports carnival 7 years ago,

Take it SLOW.

This means not exceeding 90% of your maximal speed for the first 4 weeks. This may seem excessive, but is important. Sprinting at speeds between 90 and 100% maximum speed is extremely demanding on the body, which increases risk of injury significantly. If you haven’t sprinted for a couple of years, this risk of injury becomes much, MUCH greater.

Don’t worry, HUGE benefits still occur within the 75-90% speed range. In fact, I like to keep the bulk of most people’s sprint work within this range, with occasional jumps up to 95% and 100%. This limits accumulated fatigue and associated injury risk while still maximising the benefits of sprint training.

In the same vein of thought,

Hill sprints before flat ground sprints

If we think about running mechanics for a second, a lot of people tend to get injured as they ‘over stride’. This is when the front leg extends too far in front of the body, which can result in hamstring injury. Running uphill is a great way to avoid this.

Additionally, the ground reaction forces are significantly lower as we sprint up hill, which reduces the amount of stress placed on the knee and ankle joints, reducing the risk of joint injury.

Similarly, try and keep most of your sprint work on grass or turf. Concrete, bitumen and pavement should be avoided as they are very unforgiving and create unnecessary load through the joints.

Focus on your sprint movement quality

This is an important factor to focus on that allows us to reduce soft tissue and overuse injuries. Keep the chest up tall, shoulders back and head in a neutral position. This will ensure that we are not leaning over at the hips, placing unnecessary stress on the hamstrings.

The movement should be fluid. This means nice smooth arm movement and smooth rotation of the thoracic spine. Elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and the arms shouldn’t cross the body’s midline – they should move only forward and backwards along the side of the body.

The knees should be kept high, and the foot should strike directly under the hips, NOT out in front of you.

Warm up effectively!

Lastly, make sure you warm up. And I mean warm up properly!

This means making sure we have prepare ourselves for movement by working on hip and thoracic mobility. We then need to warm up dynamically, promoting muscle activation and blood flow to the extremities. This should be followed by gradual build-ups, where we slowly build up sprint speed to our working speed of that day.

You should feel primed and ready to go before you start your sprint session. If you feel stiff and sore then you are not ready to sprint!

 

If you want to incorporate sprinting into your program but don't know where to start, or are interested in joining my coaching program,  fill out the form below.

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The Most Effective Way To Split Squat - Maximise Your Results!

Split squats. You might be doing them wrong.

It’s fair to say I have a bit of a love hate relationship with split squats and their variations. I love them because they are a fantastic way to develop single leg stability, strength and power (which can even carry over into squat and deadlift strength!). They place significant load on the lower limb, making the great for hypertrophy, and as they are a single leg exercise, they can eliminate and correct unilateral strength and stability differences. As a result, split squats can have direct influence on improving athletic performance, and as they also place a massive metabolic demand on the entire body, as such they are a fantastic exercises to use for fat loss.

The reason I hate them?

They are sheer brutality.

Seriously.

Try and punch out a couple of sets of 12 per side and feel good about life afterwards. It’s impossible (trust me).

Despite their brutality, I honestly think I would have put at least one split squat variation in 90% of the programs I have written. This is because not only are they great for athletic populations, they also have direct carryover activities of daily living (walking upstairs, standing up from a sitting on the floor etc.)

And recently, I have been seeing more and more people performing them in the gym. This in itself is fantastic – as I said, they are an awesome exercise that can be implemented effectively to meet almost any goal. The only issue with this, is that I have seen many (MANY) people performing them wrong.

Now, what do I mean by doing them wrong?

Well when people typically coach a split squat one of the most common cues that I hear is ‘chest up’. This cue is said with the intent to keep a nice neutral spine, saving load through the lower back, which is all well and good. The issue though is the resulting movement often looks a little bit like this (thanks google images).

Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Not the best looking split squat i have ever seen....

Now while this doesn’t look horrible by any means, there is a couple of things that draws my eyes. While he is maintaining a nice upright posture (chest up, right?), it is actually causing two issues. Firstly, it is causing him to hyper-extend his lumbar spine, resulting increased extension forces on the spine. This is also most likely impacting his ability use his anterior abdominals to stabilise the spine (similar to anterior pelvic tilt position). Secondly, this hip and trunk position results in a huge amount of load placed on the anterior part of the hip capsule, causing unnecessary strain on the passive support structures (ligaments, cartilage) of the anterior hip.

To eliminate these issues I teach split squat variations with a slight forward lean of the torso coming from the hips, similar to that seen in the image of strength coach Jordan Syatt below (again, thanks google)

Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Good split squat, slight forward lean at the hips.

Now I realise that this is a different variation to the first image, but the same principals apply, and the differences are pretty apparent. There is no hyper-extension of the spine, ensuring a neutral spinal position, and as a massive bonus, by increasing hip flexion slightly, the glutes are put in a more advantageous position meaning they will work harder during the movement!

The focus should be on ‘sliding’ the hips back as you descend into the squat, whilst keeping the distance between the top of your pelvis and the bottom of your sternum constant throughout the duration of the movement. This ensures that you load through the hips correctly, and also makes sure you maintain a nice neutral spine throughout the duration of the exercise.

 Have a go at this next workout and notice the difference!

 

If you want any more info, fill out the contact form below!

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Full Body Training – Why the bad rap?

Full body workouts are hands down the most time efficient way of working out, without question. If you’re limited to 2-3 three sessions per week, then full body sessions are definitely your answer. But then, even if you’re not limited by time, they can be a seriously efficient and effective way of training.

But for some reason they are genuinely underutilized, often considered only for beginner or novice routines, with most people tending to opt for a body part split instead.

Whilst body part splits can still lead to some serious gainzz if implemented correctly (and with right population), they do not have the same set of advantages that full body workouts do.

hunter bennett performance. full body. training. workout. gym. fitness. health. fat loss.

Advantage 1: More energy spent

Full body workouts revolve around one or two compound movements per movement pattern, ditching the use of any isolation movements. These exercises often require the integration of the entire body, and as such means that they use multiple muscle groups per exercise. This in turn, results in wayyyy more energy being used per session than we are likely to see during other programming ’styles’. This in turn can contribute to fat loss and body composition goals.

Advantage 2: Greater training frequency

Full body workouts provide the opportunity to train particular muscle groups and specific lifts more than once per week, which therefore provides greater opportunity to build strength in those movements, and increase the size of those muscle groups.

An increase in training frequency can often be enough to stimulate some serious strength gains in people who tend to train a particular lift or muscle group only once per week.

Advantage 3: Greater opportunity for recovery

It could be argued that we don’t get bigger or stronger from the training we undertake, but rather the way in which we recover from it.

By training 3 times per week we give ourselves more time to recover, which could theoretically further increase our improvements in strength and further contribute to muscle hypertrophy.

Advantage 4: More Free time

Training 3 times per week is probably going to take less time out of your week than training each individual muscle group once per week, which leaves you with a bit more time for other things, whether it be an additional cardio session, going to dinner with your significant, spending time with your family, or watching season 1-5 of Game of Thrones (again....).

Programming Considerations.

Rather than body parts or muscle groups, full body workouts are better built around movement patterns.

For example:

Knee Dominant: Squat variations, Split Squat variations
Hip Dominant: Deadlift Variations, Single leg deadlift Variations, Hip Thrust Variations
Horizontal Push: Bench Press, Push ups etc.
Horizontal Pull: Bent over rows, Dumbbell Rows, face pulls etc.
Vertical Push: Overhead Press, handstand push ups, etc.
Vertical Pull: Pull Ups, Lat pull down, etc.

Using one or two movements from each of these categories would be a fantastic way to produce a balanced full body training program, which might look a bit like this.

1A: Front Squat
1B: Pull Ups

2A: Deadlift
2B: Weighted Push Ups

3A: Bulgarian Split Squat
3B: Face Pulls

4A: Barbell Overhead Press
4B: Bent Over Row

Add in some core work at the end there and BOOM! You have a time efficient full body program that you can use.

Now obviously this program isn’t perfect for everyone. For those aiming to increase their Big 3, they are much more likely to prioritize the Squat, Bench and Deadlift. For those who prefer bodyweight training, they can prioritize gymnastics based movements.

What I wanted to demonstrate is that full body workouts are an efficient and effective way of training that can be tailored to your individual goal, and shouldn't be discounted just because your favourite bodybuilder has a chest day on youtube.

 

If your not sure where to start, fill out the contact form below and i will be in touch soon!

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