Maintaining the health of the gut and the digestive system is essential to boosting training performance, increasing health, and maximizing immune system function.
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.
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.
We live in a world of pure, unrestrained, instant gratification.
The word is literally at our finger tips. If we want something, we can order it within minutes, via nothing more than a couple of soft touches on the screen of our phone. We rarely experience boredom, as we have access to electronic entertainment absolutely anywhere. And if we don’t have the knowledge of a particular topic, Siri is just a quick question away.
Now while I won’t deny the apparent benefits associated with this current world state (Game of Thrones on demand? Yes please), it does also come with some fairly large downfalls - the largest of which is our expectation for immediate and (dare I say it?) underserved success.
We expect things to turn out in our favour – and we expect it to happen with minimal effort on our half.
And unfortunately - as nice as it would be – this isn’t how it works.
You won’t get the job you want just because you want it.
You won’t get the girl (or guy) you want just because you want them.
And I can guarantee with 100% certainty that you won’t get the body you want just because you want it.
These things take time, hard work, and dedication. All traits that should be prioritised by each and every one of us, but in this day and age, are completely undervalued.
And when it comes to training, irrespective of our training goal, these traits are paramount. It takes a long term investment into our training before we are likely to see any significant improvements in strength, noticeable increases in performance, substantial growth of muscle tissue, or considerable reductions in fat mass.
Even despite the hard work we are putting in on a daily basis.
We need to dedicate time to our training, in which we work hard each and every session, but we also need to demonstrate patience on a larger scale. We need to realise that changes won’t happen overnight, and that we will progress only though dedicated work in the long term.
And while this may go against the ‘wisdom’ of the many 30 day challenges you see on your Facebook feed every morning, I can guarantee that if you work hard and demonstrate patience you will actually see results from your training.
With all this in mind, I would implore you to take a long term approach with your training goals, and realise that this shit is not going to happen overnight.
Every training session is a small step towards your goal, and it’s going to take a few steps to get there.
This shouldn’t be disheartening – it’s just how it is.
So enjoy the process.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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 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.
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.
Majority of my training is based around compound, multi-joint exercises.
Those that provide the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
Within these, I find the inclusion of body weight exercises (such as pull ups and push ups) extremely beneficial for promoting good quality movement and enhanced trunk stability.
One bodyweight exercise that I don’t believe gets the recognition it deserves is the Inverted Row.
The inverted row is the bodyweight equivalent of a bent over barbell row, but arguably less complex, as it’s easier to maintain a solid neutral spine.
Pretty simply, you lie flat on your back and reach up to a bar (or a TRX), and pull your chest towards the bar.
Why the Inverted Row?
There a few great reasons for incorporating the Inverted row into your training program;
They require minimal equipment – no dumbbells, weights or benches are required. They can be done outside or inside any gym, and they are really easy to set up.
They can be progressed and regressed really easily – you can either increase the height of the bar or TRX, or bend your legs to regress the exercise, or add load to progress the exercise.
The also improve trunk stability – During the inverted row you are required to maintain a neutral spine while, as such it directly works the muscles of the trunk. Maintaining a neutral spine also requires strong glute contraction to keep a neutral pelvic position.
They crush the upper back – As the rowing movement is fairly horizontal, the muscles of the upper back (think romboids, traps rear delts) really drive the movement. These muscles play an important role in maintaining good postural alignment (and are often missed in a lot of other exercises).
They aren’t particularly technical – they are safe to perform, and as such can be performed to failure safely. As such, inverted rows are Ideal to incorporate into your program when training for hypertrophy
Keep the spine neutral. Really squeeze abs and glutes to hold a tight, neutral spinal position.
Keep the chest up tall and really drive the middle of your chest towards the bar (or TRX).
Keep the elbows relatively close to the body. The grip is likely to be closer than that of a bench press.
These should be done on your upper body days, either before any pressing to warm up and activate the muscles around the rotator cuff / shoulder girdle. This will promote greater stability to the shoulder joint during pressing. Or at the end as a way to really fry the muscle of your upper back (for those back gainzzz).
I typically like to aim for 2 sets of 8 (not to failure) if done at the start of a workout, or 3-4 sets of 10-12 when done at the end of a workout.
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We have heard it all before.
The suggestion that constantly changing our exercise selection is good because it either;
1) ‘confuse the muscle into growing’
2) ‘keeps the muscle guessing’
The thought process behind this is that by constantly changing exercises, workloads, sets, reps etc. the body cannot ‘get used’ to a specific training stimulus. And , as a direct result, we see greater muscle growth, greater increases in strength, and a greater rate of fat loss.
Muscles don’t have the capacity to get ‘confused’ or make ‘guesses’. They are muscles.
They can contract, causing them to get shorter, which creates movement at a joint.
Ok so maybe not the absolute end.
There a couple of big issues that come with trying to 'confuse' our muscles through excessive variations:
1) It doesn’t allow the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt to movements. By allowing the CNS significant time to adapt, we become stronger at those movements, which results in greater improvement in strength and hypertrophy.
2) It doesn’t involve any specificity. We normally train towards a specific goal. Whether that goal is to improve athletic performance, increase lean mass, jump higher or bench press a Mack track, it doesn’t matter. Each goal is specific, and as such needs a specific, individualized exercise plan that leads us towards that goal. By changing exercises every week we lose that specific, goal orientated, aspect of training.
The real way to progress.
Fortunately, there is something that we can do to ensure consistent results from our training.
Unfortunately, it isn't new or sexy, it doesn't have cool catchy name like 'muscle confusion', and it will require ACTUAL effort.
But, on a positive note, it works.
In fact it is arguably the only thing that can cause legitimate, long term change.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise over time. This allows the body to gradually adapt to this increasing stress, growing bigger and stronger.
A great example of this:
step 1). Pick 1 big exercise (think deadlift) that you can perform twice per week.
Step 2). Find a weight you can lift 5 times.
Step 3). Do 5 sets of that weight.
Step 4). Once you can lift that weight for 5 sets of 5 reps, increase weight by 2.5kgs.
Step 5). Repeat step 3 and 4 again, and again, and again.
Now I realize this is a very simple example of progressive overload, and in regards to specificity, is probably only going to work towards someone’s goal of deadlifting a shit ton of weight (which is a pretty solid goal). But I can guarantee if you did this for 6 months (with the occasional deload programmed in) you would be bigger and stronger at the end of it than if you had changed exercises every week.
Now how would you apply this to a more complex goal? For example improving someone’s acceleration?
You might start using unloaded box jumps as a way to improve power, and split squats to improve single leg strength. Over time we can increase the external load added to these exercises to stimulate strength and hypertrophy (progressive overload). Once you feel the individual has ‘maxed out’ these exercises, you can then progress them to more complex exercises (for example, squat jumps and a reverse lunges). The external load used during these new exercises can be increased gradually ('progressively', even......) until we start to plateau, and then we repeat the process. Change the exercise SLIGHTLY and continue to add load.
This way we can progressively overload an exercise that is aimed at achieving a specific goal, and we only vary an exercise when progress stalls on that specific exercise. Additionally, the exercise variation should be small (for example a split squat to a reverse lunge). This allows continual and gradual progress, as the new exercise builds on the components of the exercise that came before it.
See, it shouldn’t be confusing. It should be simple and logical (and actually produce RESULTS).
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