personal training

Too much assessment - The real role of personal trainers and exercise professionals.

I like to think that the health and fitness industry has grown in leaps and bounds – resulting in (most) personal trainers having a thorough education in amatory, physiology, and the underlying principles of both exercise prescription and resistance training.

This, for the most part, is an extremely positive thing.

It has greatly increased the service quality of the industry in its entirety, effectively weaseling out those trainers who are in it for nothing more than just a ‘quick buck’ (which is ridiculous: anyone with half a brain realizes a quick buck in the fitness industry doesn’t exist).

This has come with an increased value being placed on assessments, and subsequently, the evaluation of an individual as just that – an individual – becoming the norm. This has led to a premium being placed on individualized exercise prescription, corrective exercise interventions, and of course, specific training programs.

But there is also a downside associated.

A number of personal trainers have veered too far to the dark side, spending way too much time assessing the function of individual muscles, while spending too much time focusing on corrective exercises - when they should in fact be training.

Do we really need to assess every little thing...

Do we really need to assess every little thing...

It is our role as exercise professionals to assess an individual’s capacity for movement as means to improve movement while also ensuring they are training both safely and effectively so they can meet their training goal.

If you find yourself spending 50% of a session on a foam roller or on a massage table, then you probably aren’t doing anywhere near enough training.

Yes assessment is important.

It allows us to establish a baseline for each individual, providing valuable information on areas of weakness and dysfunction. But more than that, it gives us an idea of where we can start training. It tells us what squat regression we should use, what hip hinge movements we should start with, and what single leg exercises will provide us the most benefit.

It is not our role to find out every tight piece of tissue – it is our role to get people moving better – building strength, stability, and function in the process.

 

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The myth of perfect technique

As someone who gets the opportunity to coach people on a daily basis, I strive to get my clients moving with the best technique possible.

We know that moving under load with poor technique can lead to poor force distribution (AKA unwanted stress on specific joints), which substantially increases our likelihood of developing injuries, both acutely (while we are performing that movement), and chronically (some time down the track during sport or exercise).

Furthermore, training with poor technique can lead to significant muscular imbalances. These imbalances can lead to nasty postural deviations, further movement impairment, and again, an increased risk of injury.

Fortunately for us as coaches, technique is one of the few things we have a HUGE amount of control over.

We have the opportunity to educate on the importance of proper technique, develop and ingrain quality movement patterns through the use of relevant exercise progressions and regressions, and can improve limited movement through a number of corrective exercise strategies.

In short, we have the necessary knowledge and ability to ensure that each and every one of our clients are performing a given movement with the a high quality of control and technical proficiency – and it is for this reason that having a client perform movement in a poor or dangerous manner is unacceptable.

But, it is also important to note that quality technique is completely individual.

Despite what the internet warriors might like you to believe, there is no such thing as perfect, textbook, technique.

Everyone has completely individual anatomy (this includes not only limb lengths, but also joint depth) that can significantly alter the range of movement at specific joints. It is for this reason that some people can squat ass to grass with their feet at barely shoulder width, while others can only just squat to parallel, and only when using a wider stance.

For some it may mean that deadlifting conventional is out of the question, and a narrow sumo stance is their best option. For others it may mean that a conventional deadlift is ideal.

None of these techniques are wrong, and in both cases, they may provide the ideal position option for that individual to complete that given movement – but in the same light, each technique is different – and none of them are perfect.

 

Ideal Technique

As coaches it is our job to find the ideal position for our clients to perform a given movement safely and effectively. While this position may be different for each individual client, there are number key things we can look for to ensure this position is found and trained correctly.

Firstly, the individual needs to be able to maintain a neutral spinal position for the movement’s duration. While this is true for almost any exercise, it holds significant importance for lower body dominant exercises (think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations) as these movements place significant compressive and shearing forces on the spine.

These forces are actually a good thing when a neutral spine is maintained, as it teaches the muscles of the trunk to resist these forces – this is essential to building a strong and healthy spine.

BUT, when this position is lost, and the trunk moves (flexes or extends) under these forces, we become susceptible to injury and dysfunction.

As a result, we need to play around and find the optimal position where an individual has maximum joint range of motion while being able to maintain a neutral spine. This can be done by assessing passive and active joint ranges in different positions OR reducing the range of movement to ensure that neutral spine is maintained (which can be done by using boxes or blocks to reduce a movements range).

Secondly, we need to sure that the joints remain ‘stacked’ on top of each other. In short this means knees and hips are kept aligned throughout the movement’s duration, limiting any shearing or rotational forces that may be placed on the knees (think excessive knee valgus during the squat).

This can again be done by using suitable exercise regressions OR utilising the principals of reactive neuromuscular control to ensure safe positions are maintained (think bands pulling the knee into valgus during a split squat to teach the body to resist these forces).

 

Closing thoughts

Everyone is different, and as such there really is no such thing as perfect technique. Despite this, we as coaches have a duty of care to ensure that our clients are performing a given movement with the best technique possible given their individual anatomy.

This means ensuring a neutral spine is maintained throughout the movement duration, and guaranteeing that the joints remained stacked.

Exercise regressions are encouraged to teach proper positioning, and can also be extremely beneficial to keeping a movement within a safe range of motion. Remember, there is no right way to perform a given exercise, but there is most likely a best way for a given individual at a specific point in time.

Is Stretching Really Dead?

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?

hunter bennett performance adelaide based personal training

 

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.

 

hunter bennett performance stretching

 

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.

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Why changes in both volume and intensity should dictate recovery

I was recently reading through some programming information provided by a textbook that I purchased during my undergrad degree, and was slightly surprised at some of the information in there.

There was a pretty large chapter on the nitty gritty of exercise programming, with specific mention to both sets, reps, and recovery. Within this chapter there was a fairly lengthy explanation on rep ranges and intensity, which ultimately outlined the following:

                High Intensity = 1-5 RM
                Moderate Intensity = 6-12 RM
                Low Intensity = 12+ RM

It was further explained that heavy training periods should utilise high and moderate intensity training loads, while deloads (AKA recovery periods) should utilise low intensity lifting.

While this appears to make sense on a couple of levels, there is a fairly large flaw to their thinking.

Anything that requires maximum repetitions (RM) is not submaximal and therefore should not be considered low or moderate intensity. This holds true whether you are hitting a 3RM, 12RM, or a 20RM.

You see, while a 3RM while will elicit more mechanical stress (due to the heavier load) than a 12RM, that does not make it any less maximal. In fact, I would argue that a 12RM is likely to have a longer recovery period than a 3RM because it would elicit a significantly greater amount of metabolic damage (even despite lower mechanical stress).

So if your training program looks something like this, I have a bit of bad news:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 8RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 4RM
Week 4 (Deload….): Low Intensity 12RM
Repeat:

At no point are you actually allowing your body time to rest and recover. And in all serious, at no point are you working at anything less than a high intensity.

This is because every week you are still training to failure, irrespective of the rep range used.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

A high volume kettlebell workout does not count as an active recovery - no matter how light the load is.

 

So what can we do instead?

A good deload should allow the body opportunity to recovery without running the risk of losing strength. This means that training is recommended, but it should be done in a way that doesn’t stress the physiological systems of the body.

Arguably the best way to do this is by manipulating volume and intensity of a given training week.

By dropping volume significantly and intensity slightly one week out of every 4-6, we can provide ourselves with an opportunity to recover from our accumulated training fatigue in way that won’t affect our progress.

So an example of that may look something like this:

Week 1: Moderate Intensity 4 sets of 6 at 80% 1RM
Week 2 and 3: High Intensity 6 sets of 4 at 90% 1RM
Week 4: Deload using 3 sets of 4 at 70% 1RM
Repeat:

By letting volume and intensity dictate our deloads rather than maximal rep ranges, we can give ourselves a genuine opportunity to recover, while still receiving a small training stimulus.

This will ensure that we are fresh and ready to go for our next block of training, while also reducing our risk of overtraining significantly.

 

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Should you Olympic lift?

The Olympic lifts are a fantastic way to develop power.

This is particularly important for those trying to improve athletic performance, as they provide an opportunity to develop power under load - something that is not achieved by jumps and other body-weight power-based exercises.

But (there is always a but…)

They do have some associated negatives.

Firstly, they have an extremely steep learning curve.

This means that they will require a lot of coaching, and take a lot of time to learn to before they can be completed safely and efficiently. This has further downside, as during this time when technique development is the focus, they will not actually be building strength or power, as the load used will be two small to elicit a decent training response.

Secondly, they require a HUGE amount of joint mobility – so much so that some people (due to various anatomical restrictions) may never be able to complete the full Olympic lifts (snatch /clean and jerk) safely.

hunter bennett performance adelaide personal training lose fat build muscle

 

So what can we do?

Well, like most things, it depends.

Obviously we screen someone’s movement, and if they have the capacity to Olympic lift (AKA deep overhead squat with no issues), then there is no real reason why we shouldn’t Olympic lift – particularly if they have the time available to learn them, and have a need to develop power.

If they are lacking the mobility required to complete full Olympic lifts, but have the time and need, then we can use ‘safer’ variations, such as hang power cleans. During this time, we can also try and improve mobility so that they can get into those demanding positions more comfortably, with the potential to progress to full Olympic lifts further down the road.

If they have a serious lack of mobility, and don’t have the time available to learn them effectively, the answer is probably no. Instead we would use jumps, loaded jumps, and medicine ball throws to try and develop power in a time efficient manner. During this time we would also work on mobility (because we know that mobility is important, yo).

 

Now, it is also important to note that we probably don’t have to complete full Olympic lifts with ANYONE (unless of course you are an aspiring Olympic lifter – then it is probably a necessity).

Like most things, we need to assess risk vs reward.

For most people, no matter what the population, the risk associated with performing the snatch probably outweighs its training benefits. While it is a great way to develop power, it places the shoulder in a compromised position under load.

This position is what I would consider high risk (particularly for overhead or throwing athletes), and as such would avoid it if possible.

Instead, the power clean is a much safer option, as we can develop power without moving into an overhead position. This reduces the load on the shoulder significantly.

Using another example, if someone does not have the hip mobility to deadlift from the floor safely, a clean may not be a good option – BUT a hang clean from above the knee would still be safe AND be a great way to develop power.

 

So, should you Olympic lift?

Like I said earlier, it depends.

If you have both the mobility and time available, and need/want to develop power, then there is not any reason why you shouldn't.

If you do not, then there may be more suitable options.

Like anything, assess, and make educated decisions.

 

Contact me if you have any questions, and if you like the article please give it a share on facebook!

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Training frequency: The forgotten factor for building muscle and strength

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.

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…).

Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

Klokov trains frequently, and hes jacked.....

 

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.

 

Practical Considerations

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.

For example:

Monday – Hip Dominant Lower Body Day

Deadlift 5x5
Front Squat 4x8
RDL 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
Overhead Press4x8
Weighted pull ups 4x8
Bench Press4x8
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!

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Exercise Selection and Risk vs Reward

I have a number of staples in my training programs.

You can guarantee that most of my clients (myself included) will perform some sort of squat, hinge, single leg squat, push, and pull.

Pretty simple really.

But this does not mean that every client deadlifts from the floor.
It doesn’t mean that every client bench presses.
It doesn’t mean that every client back squats.

While these exercises may seem important, they’re not (competitive powerlifters are the exception here). It is really the stimulus that these exercise provide that is the important thing.

Which brings us to the title of this blog post.

Hunter Bennett performance personal training adelaide

Risk vs Reward

With training, we are trying to provide a specific stimulus to reach a specific goal. As such, each exercise should provide a way to reach this goal.

The way to get to this goal is going to be different for each person.

This is why we need to weigh up the benefits and risks of our exercise selection, dependent on the individual, and their individual goal.

For example, if we have someone who wants to build lower body strength, but back squats with abhorrent (AKA makes my eyes bleed) technique, then should we use back squats to build lower body strength?

In short, probably not.

Because the risk of injury (squatting under load with nasty form) far outweighs the benefits.

We can gain lower body strength through the use of squat regressions (such as the goblet squat) and single leg loading (split squats etc.).

Sure, we can try to progress to a full back squat gradually.
But that isn’t essential.

But building lower body strength is.


This train of thought can be applied to a number of different scenarios.

For example, if we have someone who wants to build upper body strength and mass, but doesn’t have the mobility required to overhead press.

Then maybe we shouldn’t have them overhead press.

Instead, we can use neutral variations such as landmine presses, while focusing on improving shoulder mobility. This allows us to reach their goal safety, while also building the mobility required for overhead pressing.

 

Similar in athletic populations.

If you have an older athlete who needs to develop power but has no experience Olympic lifting, should we Olympic lift?

Again, probably not.

Not necessarily because they are dangerous, but because the learning curve is so steep they may not actually see a whole lot of benefit from them. Instead we can use jumps and throws to develop power, as they require less technical proficiency.

This may be different for a youth athlete, where building technique is important. In this scenario, teaching the Olympic lifts will be well worth the time, as it will prepare them for the training rigors expected at a higher level of competition.

 

This doesn’t mean that you stop using specific exercises all together. It just means that you weigh up the risks of performing a specific exercise with a specific individual.

And if the risks outweigh the benefits of using that particular exercise, then opt for a variation that provides the same stimulus, with less risk.

Simple.

 

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