Maintaining the health of the gut and the digestive system is essential to boosting training performance, increasing health, and maximizing immune system function.
Another guest post for breaking muscle today, looking at the benefits of using full body training splits for the development of strength, muscle size, and aiding fat loss.
Unfortunately full body training splits are often underutilized, in which they are frequently recommended for beginners as a way to get 'introduced' into a gym setting.
I sat unfortunate because full body training splits are hands down the most time effective method of training, and can cause vast improvements in both performance AND body composition (with what is a relatively small time commitment).
Find out how to implement them HERE
Seriously, click the link..... You know you want to
Today’s post is inspired by a small interaction I had with a bold young gentlemen at the gym last week - so kudos to you, inspiring stuff.
I tend to keep to myself when I train. I spend quite a bit of time in various gym settings as part of my job, so when I train myself I try and get in and out pretty quickly (particularly if I am training by myself). I don’t like interrupting others, and while I am perfectly happy to offer advice or help if someone asks, I certainly don’t dish it out without an invitation.
Anyhow, back to this small interaction.
I was half way through my third (or fourth?) set of Bulgarian split squats (and to be completely honest, I was not having a great time at this point) when a young man wearing jeans, a snap back cap (Miami dolphins I believe), and a stringlet thought it would be appropriate to interrupt me - mid set - to tell me that I was performing the movement incorrectly.
He quite cheerfully told me that my knee was coming beyond my toes, which would undoubtedly result in a serious knee injury.
While I politely thanked the the gentlemen for his overwhelming concern, completed my set and then re-racked the dumbbells, I really started thinking.
Some people think that they are doing the right thing by giving some advice. They truly believe it will be beneficial (even if that advice is…. well, outdated misinformation - my knees will be fine...) .
But here’s the thing.
You see, the gym can be an intimidating place.
And while for most of us who have been training for a decent amount of time it certainly doesn’t feel that way now, if we look back to our first month at the gym I can guarantee at one point or another it did.
Just imagine someone who has been coming to the gym for a couple of weeks.
They have been spending majority of their time in the cardio area, working up a solid sweat, but want to make the transition to the weight room. They know that lifting weights can have some serious benefits, and realize that they should start implementing it into their own training.
But, the kicker?
There is a bunch of big, sweaty, meatheads over there.
Now I am not saying for a second that there is anything wrong with being a big, sweaty meathead. Or that any of these big sweaty meatheads are not lovely people in their own right.
What I am saying is that these big, sweaty meatheads may appear somewhat intimidating to any individual who does not know them personally.
But, despite the people over there, this person knows that lifting weights is important. Not only to help them lose weight, but to improve their health as well.
So they go into the weights room with a pretty solid beginners program they got off the internet, and start training.
And then, a few minutes into their session, some peanut wearing jeans and a stringlet comes over and tells them that they are performing a movement incorrectly.
They are shattered.
They feel embarrassed that they have been performing a movement ‘wrong’ the entire time they were in the weights room.
As a result, they associate lifting weights with feelings of embarrassment and intimidation.
They stop using the weights room.
Now, this person had literally made a huge step in the right direction for their health. Who cares if they weren’t performing a movement perfectly?
Once someone becomes more comfortable in that setting they will ask for advice, whether it be from a gym goer or a personal trainer (it does not really matter).
It is much more important that actually get in there and train than perform every movement perfectly.
So the next time you’re in the gym and see someone performing a squat with limited range, or a slightly ugly pull down, maybe take a quick second to think about where they have come from, and probably keep your advice to yourself – if they want advice they will ask.
With the rapid rise of foam rolling and a host of other effective (and often brutal) modalities of self-myofascial release, stretching has experienced a huge decline in popularity.
This has also coincided with some studies appearing within the scientific community demonstrating that prolonged periods of static stretching can lead to significant reductions in power production and force output (AKA it makes you weaker).
But, does that mean that stretching has no place in our training programs?
Stretching and power output.
The first point I do want to address with this blog post is the impact that static stretching has on power output. After the initial research undertaken on this topic, stretching was demonised as useless, pointless, and harmful.
As such, while it is often considered common knowledge that static stretching leads to reductions in performance, this isn’t actually the whole story.
While longer duration static stretching (greater than 60 seconds in duration) can lead to reductions in power output immediately after stretching, this effect is not seen for stretches performed for 45 seconds or less.
And seriously, who actually stretches an individual muscle for more than 60 seconds at a time?
So this suggests that short bouts of static stretching will have NO negative effects on performance, which means that you can stretch without the fear that your workout will suffer.
Should we stretch?
So if stretching doesn’t affect our physical performance, does that mean we should stretch?
Like almost all of my answers to any training related question…… it depends.
We know that stretching does indeed increase flexibility – that is fact. But whether we need to stretch is a different story entirely.
In my opinion, stretching certainly has its uses – when used correctly.
With the excessive (and often detrimental) amount of sedentary activity we perform each and every day, some muscle tissues will become short and stiff. It is these shortened tissues that, in my personal experience, respond well to stretching.
By stretching these specific muscles, we can return length to muscles are in a shortened state, while also improving joint range of motion, and movement quality as a whole. This can often lead to improved performance, and a decreased risk of injury.
AKA it is good.
But, there is a bit of a kicker.
It is extremely rare that those muscle groups that feel tight, are actually tight.
I have written about this extensively HERE, but often, those muscles that feel tight are actually in lengthened state, due to; A) An antagonistic muscle group being in a short and stiff state; B) excessive weakness of that lengthened muscle group; or C) a combination of the two.
A simple example of this would be the guy who is always stretching his hamstrings because they feel tight, despite them never getting better. This is probably because those hamstrings are in a lengthened position and already under stretch (hence why they feel tight). The issue is most likely tight antagonistic muscle groups (rectus femoris and the hip flexors) and weak hamstrings.
Not tight hamstrings.
So how do we know what to stretch?
This is pretty simple.
Assess and then reassess.
Check movement, and If movement is poor check range of motion at specific joints. If ROM is limited, then a specific muscle is likely tight. Stretch that muscle (or muscle group), then reassess. If A) range of motion has increased, or B) movement has improved, then you have probably found the tight muscle.
An example of the process might look something like this.
We assess a squat, and get early pelvic tucking. We then perform the Thomas test to assess hip flexor length and find that they have tight hip flexors. We then stretch the hip flexors and ideally, Thomas test improves AND the squat improves.
Now this is an extremely simplistic (and idealistic) scenario. In the real world there is a chance that the squat performance will not improve despite and improvement on the Thomas test – this would suggest either a stability issue, or a motor control issue.
But, I am getting a little off topic here.
With all that in mind, I am trying to demonstrate the potential benefits of stretching, and why it should not me discarded completely.
More so, stretching can become an extremely useful tool to improve both movement and range of motion when used correctly, and should not be ignored because of some of the early research showing its influence on performance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you want to start strength training, but don't know where to start, fill out the form below!
A thought process that is frighteningly common within the fitness industry is that if you partake in too much aerobic exercise (whatever 'too much' means…), you will end up small and weak (AKA you’ll lose all your gains, brah).
Unfortunately, this is a very poorly understood concept.
Yes, while it is true that if we spend hours upon hours each week training aerobically, we can limit our capacity to develop strength, power, and increase muscle mass.
Building an efficient and effective aerobic system by using smart training methods can have a number of benefits, no matter what your training level and training goal.
Something that a lot of people fail to realize is that no matter how hard or smart we train, if we don’t recover effectively, it is all a little useless.
Adequate recovery allows us the opportunity to adapt to the training stimulus, while providing time to repair damaged tissue. If we don’t recover adequately, we do not allow the body enough time to adapt to the training stimulus, which can blunt the results of our training.
When it comes to having a well-developed aerobic system, we can actually improve recovery through two key mechanisms.
Firstly, participating in low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can promote blood flow to the active tissue, clearing metabolic by-products associated with muscle tissue damage, and increases the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which further promotes recovery.
Now when I say low intensity I mean low intensity – As in a very light jog or a brisk walk (AKA NOT tempo runs, sprint intervals, or a casual metabolic workout).
Additionally, participating in this type of activity can reduce our resting heart rate and increase capillarization of our muscle tissue, which can lead to a more efficient cardiovascular system.
Secondly, having a well-developed aerobic system improves our training capacity by improving our ability to recover during a session.
By recovering more in between sets, we can perform at a higher intensity during our working sets. As a result, this can lead to improved strength and power development as pretty simply, we are getting more out of each training session.
This can also lead to an increased amount of training volume, which has the capacity to improve muscle growth and hypertrophy, while also promoting fat loss.
Now this one is a bit of a no brainer, but for those of us who compete in some form of field sport, having good aerobic capacity can make the difference between a very good or very bad performance.
The greater our aerobic capacity, the more work we can perform at a higher intensity. This means we can move faster, produce more force, and express more power for the entirety of a match, which will undoubtedly translate to improved performance throughout the games duration.
Interestingly, having good aerobic capacity is also likely to improve our ability to perform sport specific skills at a high level.
Fatigue masks or limits our ability to perform skills at a high level. By staving off fatigue, we increase our capacity to perform skills at a high level, which again, is detrimental to performance.
This also works in a similar fashion during training.
By having an improved aerobic capacity, we will get more opportunity to practice sport specific skills at a high level. This improves our skill development, which further increases our potential for athletic performance.
So we know that having a well-developed aerobic system may actually improve our capacity to develop strength, power, and skill development.
It may also improve our capacity for muscle growth and fat loss.
Additionally, participating in some form of low intensity aerobic activity on our rest days can improve recovery significantly.
But how much is too much?
As suggested earlier, too much aerobic training can actually limit our ability to develop strength and power, and build muscle tissue, but not enough can actually impede our progress.
So what do we do?
Well, like most things, it depends.
For someone who needs a well-developed aerobic system (AKA a field based athlete), we need to place a premium on aerobic work. This is because it is integral to their successful performance.
This is most likely going to mean 2-3 high intensity conditioning workouts a week – particular during the early stages of preseason, where general physical preparedness is the training focus. This volume is likely to decrease during season as maintenance and recovery become the primary focus.
During this time strength training load needs to be managed closely to ensure we still develop strength and power.
For those of us who don’t play sport competitively, we can most likely get away with 1-2 high intensity aerobic conditioning sessions per week, with an additional 1-2 low intensity recovery sessions per week. This gives us an opportunity to develop our aerobic system, but not so much that it effects our other areas of training.
This will be the minimum effective dose to improve aerobic capacity and promote additional recovery, which should supplement our other training goals.
If you would like to start integrating aerobic training into your training, contact me via the form below.
When writing a training program people normally think about two key factors.
Volume and Intensity.
While there is no question that these two factors are integral to promoting the growth of muscle tissue and neuromuscular strength development, there is one other factor that needs A LOT more consideration than it is getting.
Training frequency refers to how often we train a specific movement or muscle group.
While body building splits (where we train each individual muscle group one time per week) are extremely popular, they may not actually be our best option for increasing muscle mass or strength.
It is commonly accepted that muscle tissue takes 48-72 hours to recover from a solid training session. As such, we actually have opportunity to train a muscle group more than one time per week without running the risk of overtraining (which honestly occurs VERY rarely in the weekend warrior…).
Training frequency and muscle mass
Increasing training frequency is a great option to provide muscle tissue with additional weekly stimulus.
By increasing training frequency, we can effectively increase the amount of work a muscle or muscle group gets each week. We know that increasing weekly volume is a great wat to stimulate muscle growth.
Additionally, by increasing training frequency, we also increase the amount of mechanical tension our muscle tissue receives over any given training week. This increase in mechanical tension considered another key factor in triggering muscle growth.
Training Frequency and Strength
While increasing training frequency can have considerable influence on increasing muscle size, it is the way in which it can influence strength development that is arguably most important.
Demonstrating maximal strength requires the integration of both the nervous and muscular systems. The role that the nervous system plays in recruiting motor units and muscle fibres to produce force is extremely important in this demonstration of strength.
This becomes even more important during large compound movements (such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press…) where a large amount of neuromuscular coordination is required.
By increasing training frequency, we can increase our ability to recruit muscle fibres during these complex movements. This allows us to become more efficient (and subsequently stronger) at these specific lifts.
In fact, within most training circles, the completion of these complex movements is considered a skill. Put simple, the more we perform these skills, the better we become at performing them. These improvements come through an increase in neuromuscular coordination and increased in muscle fibre recruitment.
Furthermore, these increases in neural development are likely to have a greater carryover to our endeavours of athletic performance.
Increases in motor unit and muscle fibre recruitment will make use more efficient and more powerful during athletic movements such as sprinting, jumping, and bounding.
So we know that increasing our training frequency can have significant improvements in our ability to develop strength and build muscle tissue, but how do we implement it into our weekly training program?
The easiest way is to split up your training week into upper body and lower body days, in which each day has a slightly different emphasis.
For example, we might have a squat dominant lower body day and a hip dominant lower body day where both squats and deadlifts are performed on each day, but the core lift changes slightly.
The same can be said of the upper body days, where we might have a push dominant day and a pull dominant day, where although we perform both pushing and pulling on each day, the primary focus differs slightly.
Monday – Hip Dominant Lower Body Day
Front Squat 4x8
Walking Lunges 3x10
Single led RDL 3x10
Tuesday – Push Dominant Upper Body Day
Bench Press 5x5
High Bench row 4x8
Overhead Press 4x8
Chin Ups 4x8
Incline DB Press 3x10
Batwing rows 3x10
DB Fly’s 3x10
Single Arm DB Row 3x10
Thursday – Knee Dominant Lower Body Day
Back Squat 5x5
Sumo Deadlift 4x8
Front Squat 4x8
Bulgarian Split Squat 3x10
Reverse Lunges 3x10
Friday – Pull Dominant Upper Body Day
Bent over BB row 5x5
Weighted pull ups 4x8
Seated Row 3x10
Seated Shoulder Press 3x10
Single arm cable row 3x10
Decline DB Press 3x10
So while this program is not perfect (certainly no individualisation...) it does provide a good example of how we can integrate an increase in training frequency into our training program.
As a bonus, the increased use of compound exercises associated with an increase in training frequency can stimulate greater muscle growth and strength development due to further increasing the amount of load (and subsequently mechanical tension) we lift for any given week.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about training frequency!
Everyone seems to want a strong ‘core’ (or the 6 pack abs that are often associated with it…). In a commercial gym you are likely to see crunches in every corner. People abusing the Glute Ham Raise, using it as a ‘side-crunch’ machine (whatever that is). And don’t forget the ‘hold a heavy plate and bend over sideways until it touches the ground’ exercise.
Now while these exercises are anatomically correct, in that some of the muscles of the trunk do actually produce those movements. They may not be the most safe or effective way to train the core musculature.
It has been demonstrated (by people much smarter than myself…) that repeated flexion and extension of the lumbar spine (like that seen in crunches and their variations) can result in a significantly greater risk of degradation of the lumbar spine, disc herniation, and non-specific low back pain.
Which is bad…
Additionally, while the abdominals and obliques do actually produce those movements, it isn’t how they work in ‘real life’.
Anatomy of the ‘core’
Our core is a seriously complex system of many different muscles that play a number of different roles and functions dependant on the context and scenario they are placed in. They can act as either a static or dynamic stabiliser during movement, they help us transfer force from one limb to another (think hip to arm during throwing motions), and can even initiate movement!
The core can be broken down into two categories. The inner unit, and the outer unit.
The inner unit consists of the deep spinal stabilisers of the core. These include the Transverse Abdominus, Multifidus, the Diaphragm, and the pelvic floor. These muscles are considered tonic, or postural muscles. This means that they are almost always switched on, and as such are under constant tension. This is important as their role is to provide stability to each individual segment of the spine, as such we want them working all the time to reduce risk of spinal injury.
The outer unit consists of the more superficial muscles of the trunk. These muscles are known as phasic muscles, which means they produce and resist movement when required, rather than being ‘switched on’ all the time. The outer unit consists of the Obliques (internal and external), Rectus Abdominus, Erector Spinae, and Quadratus Lumborum. These muscles play an integral role in stabilising the spine when the body is under load or producing high speed movements. These muscles can also produce trunk movement, and are key in providing stability to the trunk during movement.
Now, we want both the inner and outer unit working synergistically to stabilise the spine during movement. This ensures spinal health and safety.
How the muscles of the core work
As mentioned above it is the role of these core muscles to stabilise the spine, rather than produce movement. By stabilising the spine, we reduce risk of spinal injury, and promote greater mobility and strength at the hip and shoulder. This applies for most real world settings, as well as some sport specific movements as well (with the exception of fighters, wrestlers, and other athletes of a similar vein).
For example, when we pick something heavy off the floor, we load through the hips while keeping a nice straight spine. During this, the muscles of the core are working hard to make sure the spine doesn’t flex or extend under load, minimising risk of injury and maximising the force production at the hips.
Similarly, during running, while some lumbar movement does occur, most of the torso rotation occurs through the thoracic spine, with force being produced at the hips. The trunk maintains a nice neutral and stable position, which ensures that the hips can move freely to produce force, while the thoracic spine can rotate smoothly, allowing smooth shoulder movement, conserving momentum and energy.
You see, in real world (dare I say it… ‘Functional’) settings, the role of the core is to stabilise the spine rather than produce movement.
So how do we train the core then?
If the cores role is to stabilise the spine against load, then we should train it that way. And the most effective way to do that, is anti-movement exercises.
Anti-extension exercises are a great way to train the core to resist extension (hence the name anti-extension… genius).
The most common of these is the plank, which is a fantastic exercise to strengthen the muscles of the trunk while teaching them to stabilise the spine. With these the spine should not move from neutral (straight line from neck to butt) - as soon as it looks like there is too much extension in the lumbar spine it is time to stop.
The glutes should be squeezed tight, the head should be in line with the spine and there should be no sagging at the hips or through the lumbar spine. It has been suggested that holding a plank for 120 seconds is an acceptable benchmark for the maintenance of low back health,.
Deadbugs are another awesome anti-extension exercise that crush the muscles of the trunk. The trick with these is to keep it slow and controlled and really focus on keeping the ‘core’ muscles as tight as humanly possible. Again, the spine should remain flat throughout the duration of the exercise. If the lumber spine extends as movement of the limbs occurs, it is time to stop. You should be focusing on keeping the distance between your pelvis and your sternum constant - that distance does NOT CHANGE.
Anti lateral flexion exercises are exactly what they sounds like - resisting the lateral flexion of the spine.
The most common anti lateral flexion exercise is the side plank, which is a great exercise to train the muscles of the trunk to resist the lateral flexion of the spine. With the side plank, the elbow should be directly under the shoulder, and the spine should create a straight line from the top of the head right through to the hips. The hip should not sag down.
Suitcase carries are a great exercise that train the muscles of the trunk to resist lateral flexion. The look extremely simple, and in theory they are. Pretty simply, you pick up something heavy (think a dumbbell or kettlebell) in one hand, and walk with it. There are a few key points that we need to focus on to make this as effective as possible. There should be ZERO lateral flexion of the trunk. This means you should be able to remain nice and upright with your shoulders locked down and back, with NO leaning through the torso. It is common for people to go wayyy to heavy with these. When this happens they tend to walk quickly, and look a little unbalanced. Like most core exercises, it should be nice and controlled. Each step should be under your complete control, and should be nice and steady.
Anti-rotation exercises are exactly what they sounds like. They are exercises that resist the twisting motion of the trunk.
The Pallof press is a fantastic way to train the muscles of the core to stabilise against rotation, and is a super simple exercises to perform. The trick here is to make sure you maintain a nice neutral spine and focus on keeping your core as tight as possible. These can be done with both cables and resistance bands. Again, the glutes should also be kept contracted to avoid excessive lumbar extension.
Single arm cable presses are an easy way to incorporate anti rotation into your workout in a more real life manner. With this the trunk is resisting rotation and providing a stable base for the shoulder to produce force. Again the trunk should be kept tight, with zero movement through the lumbar spine. The glutes should be contracted hard, and the movement of the arm should be slow and controlled.
Single arm dumbbell presses are another great way to build your anti-rotation strength while also getting in some essential (dem pecs right…) upper body work. The setup is the same as a traditional dumbbell bench press, but with only one dumbbell. Your head, upper back and glutes flat should be flat on the bench, and both feet should be on the floor. Make sure your shoulder blades are kept back and down – this will provide a nice stable base for the shoulder to produce force on. The dumbbell should be kept at approximately 45 degrees, allowing the elbow to tuck next to the body rather than flaring out. Keep your glutes and trunk tight. There should be no rotation through the spine – if there is then the dumbbell is too heavy!
These exercises all train the core to stabilise against movement. This is important in day to day activities, or in sport performance.
I recommended programming them into your workouts as part of a superset with your assistance work (after you have completed your core lifts). This way you don’t fatigue the muscles of the trunk for your core lifts, which can impair performance on those core lifts slightly.
If your not sure where to start, get in contact today!
One of the most common complaints that I hear is ‘I have tight hamstrings’.
And the most common cure I see?
People stretching their hamstrings.
But even with all this chronic stretching, people often still feel as if their strings are tight? Which leads us to the question, are your hamstrings actually tight?
And the answer, like with so many things health and fitness related, isn’t a particularly good one.
Probably, maybe, sort of ..... But that’s not actually the issue.
Muscle tightness vs Misalignment
If someone constantly complains of tight hamstrings you should have a look at their pelvic alignment. I would put my money on them having some excessive anterior pelvic tilt (APT).
APT describes the forward ‘tilt’ of the pelvis when looked at from the side. Whilst slight APT is actually the norm in majority of the population, it is often worsened by excessive time spent in the seated position, and can have an impact on the hamstrings. Excessive APT results in someone kind of looking like Donald duck, with the pelvis tilted very far forward.
If you have a look at a pelvis with significant anterior tilt, you can begin to see why the hamstrings may feel tight. As they attach to the pelvis, when it is anteriorly tilted, they are placed in a lengthened position, hence the feeling of tightness. Now as they are already lengthened, is stretching them (trying to make them longer) going to improve the problem?
No. In fact, it may even do the opposite, potentially worsening the already apparent APT.
So rather than tight, we should think long. Long and weak, as they do not have the strength to maintain normal pelvic positioning.
Whilst weak hamstrings are a potential contributor, we also need to look at the other muscles that act on the pelvis.
On the front of the body we have quite a few muscles that act on the pelvis, with the hip flexors and knee extensors the two most likely to be pulling the pelvis into anterior tilt. Now these muscles here are most likely tight in the way people think of tight muscles. As in they are short and stiff. What I mean by short and stiff, is that they are in a shortened position due to sedentary activity, and stiff as they rarely get used in a lengthened position, causing them to become tight and immobile.
It is these muscles that are going to require stretching and myofascial release to restore length and mobility, and hopefully help return the pelvis to a more neutral position.
With this it comes back to proper assessment and ensuring that we treat problems and not symptoms. In this case we can see that tight feeling hamstrings are the symptom, and by stretching them, they may feel better acutely but we are not actually treating the problem that is causing the sensation of tightness, being the pelvic position. Always look into a symptom in depth to try and establish its cause, rather than trying to treat it as a problem.
If you feel like you this article applies to you, and are unsure of how to deal with it I can help you here!
In my last blog post I gave my opinion (Which was somewhat negative...) on agility ladders. This was based upon their inability to actually improve speed and acceleration. If you haven’t read it yet you can have a look here.
Whilst this is all well and good, I didn’t really provide any in depth recommendations on how to improve change of direction speed and agility, and considering that these are directly related to acceleration speed, I thought a post addressing how to improve acceleration would be appropriate.
Sooooo. Acceleration. The reason I have chosen acceleration rather than ‘speed’ is I feel it is much more indicative of athletic performance.
Field based sports are characterised by short, repeat efforts, rarely longer than 20 metres (and most often less than that). So it can be argued that the ability to accelerate rapidly is much more important than top end speed.
*The exception here would be sprinters, as they need a good max speed and they need to maintain it for as long as possible.
So someone’s ability to accelerate can be broken down into two components. The amount of force they can put into the ground, and how quickly they can apply that force into the ground.
So, if a person is not particularly strong (can’t apply much force), they are going to be limited, no matter how quickly they can apply the force they do have.
This leads us into the first recommendation to improve acceleration.
By improving strength we improve the maximal amount of force we can produce. By increasing the amount of force we can apply into the ground we improve our capacity to accelerate.
My recommendations would be compound lower body strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and split squats (and variations of), working within a basic strength sets and reps scheme (5x5, 6x4 etc) 2-3 times per week. This ensures we are not only training the muscles involved in accelerating and sprinting, but also using exercises that have immediate carryover to performance as they somewhat replicate the joint actions that occur during these movements.
Now, what if someone is strong (can apply lots of force), but not very powerful (slow applying that force)?
That leads us into the second component.
So, now that we have built a solid foundation of lower body strength (force production capacity), we need to learn how to apply that force rapidly (improve our ‘rate of force development’, or RFD).
This can be done by adding explosive lower body movements into our lower body program. These would be jump variations (such as box jumps, broad jumps etc.), plyometric exercises (lateral bounds, tuck jumps etc.) and Olympic lifting variations (clean, hang snatch etc.). These exercises use either bodyweight or lower relative loads to train explosive movements, whilst the plyometric activities also improve our capacity to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).
The inclusion of short sprints are also recommended, as we are trying to get faster/better at accelerating.
These exercises should not be performed to failure as the intent is to move as FAST and as EXPLOSIVE as possible. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force rapidly, it would inhibit the training effect we are looking for. So these exercises should be performed before the strength component of the session, and not until failure.
I understand that this is by no means a comprehensive guide on improving acceleration, but i hope i have provided a brief explanation on some of the ways we can improve acceleration. These recommendations are fairly broad and provide more of a brief overview, for more detailed information feel free to contact me.