Author: coachalbertlim

During my journey through life to discover my passions and finding the best career to utilize them, I have encountered many great experiences and have grown from them. From athletics, military service, social worker, coach, personal trainer, and teacher I have learned valuable skills that are interrelated in which I am able to better serve the people I work with. My formal education was received from UC Irvine (BA), University of Southern CA (MSW), and National University (Single Subject Teaching Credentials). Most of my learning, however, I have done so informally through a passionate curiosity in the field of personal development, kinesiology, coaching, biomechanics, exercise science, and nutrition. Currently I serve as a teacher, coach, and personal trainer. I am a certified personal trainer and strength & conditioning specialist. My current mission (work in progress – need to shorten it) statement is as follows: I believe in the pursuit of excellence through leadership, growing each day, and always holding strong to my faith. My style is to display a positive enthusiastic attitude, expressing compassion, and choosing to work smart. Rules that I will strive to follow are to always prioritize by keeping my family first, giving no excuses, and being proactive by getting things done now. My philosophy in life is to always strive to do things better than they have ever been done before. The central theme in my life is to always compete by winning each day and in everything I do, striving to be better. I will surround myself with knowledge. I will always keep an open mind and have that hunger to learn from others. Each morning I will wake up and be excited to learn something new. With my core belief system, central theme, and my environment founded on knowledge, I will utilize all that I have gained to influence the lives of others. My performance and success will be measured in the hearts and lives that I come across that are made somewhat better because of the way I chose to live my life.

You are what you THINK

I’ve experimented with Wix Website Editor and decided just to stick with wordpress. 
It’s been quite some time since I’ve written on my blog and I sincerely miss it. There’s something about writing that just helps me clarify all of my thoughts. Things have settled down and now it’s time to continue.
Here’s the latest of what took place since my last blog:
  • I moved into a new home
  • Added a new puppy to the family
  • Found a new church to attend (Vantage Point) 
  • A new career path within teaching
  • Hosting exchange students
  • Forged a stronger relationship with my beautiful amazing wife
Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to present to my school districts’ employees. The topic? Non-cognitive (psychological, however, in the field of education they call it non-cognitive which doesn’t make any sense) factors that impact student performance.
Educators tend to focus on curriculum and pedagogy, in other words, what is being taught and how it’s being taught. In my personal opinion, that accounts only for 20-50% of the entire picture when it comes to equipping our youths with the necessary skill sets to be able to reach their potential.
What’s missing is the psychological, or motivational, component. This entails:
  • Beliefs about themselves
  • Their goals in school
  • Their feelings of social belonging
  • Self-regulation skills
I’m sure that most of us agree that the way we think has some effect on our lives. That our thoughts create our reality. Yet more often than not, we allow our lives to be shaped by our environment.
Our same exact thoughts will always lead to the same choices.
The same choices will create the same behaviors.
The same behaviors will produce the same experiences.
The same experiences will create the same emotions.
Those same familiar feelings and emotions will drive the same exact thoughts.
Most people think the same thoughts, perform the same actions, live by the same emotions, but secretly expect their life to change. Navigating their world through different levels of unconsciousness.
When I observe my high school students, most live in a state of unconsciousness that’s driven by their own egos and familiar emotions. They navigate their world with much more distractions often more concerned with other people. The unfortunate problem is that the last person they tend to focus on is on themselves.
One of my life goal is to reach enlightenment.
What does this mean? Eckhart Tolle from Power of Now explains it:

A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

“But I am not a beggar,” I can hear you say.

Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.

The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.

I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment as “the end of suffering.” There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what’s left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you’ll have to find out for yourself.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding of Buddha. The word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit word Budh, meaning, “to be awake.” So my end goal is to live and experience each moment in a state of full consciousness.
To make it a habit of asking myself, “What’s going on inside me at this moment?” Easier said than done, but just like with any skill, it takes practice. Aside from this, I meditate most days of the week in the mornings and use my lifting sessions as a form of meditation.
Each repetition can be broken down into the following:
  1. Inhale: using your diaphragm to provide stability through the ‘core’
  2. Create tension: flex certain parts of the body for stability
  3. Lift: starting the lift, start-up position
  4. Stretch: lowering the weights and feeling specific muscles providing the stretch
  5. Isometric or transition: creating tension in the correct places and using that stretch reflex
  6. Finishing the lift: the concentric (for the most part), maintaining tension, exhale, and finishing
Mindfulness practice comes in when you are fully present and have your awareness on these different components within each repetition. It’s learning to be present in your body and connected. The opposite? It’s ignoring the signs that lead to certain movement dysfunctions, headaches, energy levels, pain, and so on! One of the main reasons why I don’t allow my high school football athletes to blast music while they lift is that I don’t want mindless work. Mindless being that my students are more focused on the music and social distractors rather than on their own bodies trying to communicate with the mind in subtle ways.
I believe that in order to solve many of our worlds’ problems we must look within ourselves rather than searching outward.

What’s your priority?

One of the perks of being a teacher is enjoying my summer break. It provides the time for me to reflect and figure out ways to get better. Also, enjoying life with my wife is a definite plus!

My wife and I HB

Current books I’m really enjoying are: The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I highly recommend these books for both professional and personal development. I often undervalue myself because as far as I remember, I was a little cocky SOB in my early to mid 20s. For some reason, as I get older, I have more doubts and am more fearful when performing new activities. These books help me understand why I do what I do and how to change my habits (more than 40% of actions aren’t actual decisions, but habits). Also, I’ve learned a cool trick to speed up my reading. Watch this video HERE.

I get distracted easily and my wife gets on me all the time when I’m playing my Clash of Clans too much. What helps me, for most of the days, is really to focus on my morning routines and rituals. It’s a constant work in progress that I’m always trying to tinker with. My typical day starts with waking up at either 4:50 or 5:00, drinking a pre-workout, 1-2 glasses of water, making my bed, getting dressed and hygiene, and then hitting the gym at 5:20. I do my morning workout and get home at 6:30 (if I’m not training anyone at 7 am). I take a shower, meditate, and I write in my journal; random thoughts and notes on what I read the previous day. As of this week, I’m going to use 5 questions to guide me in my journal, I stole the idea from Tim Ferriss’s recommendation of using The 5-minute Journal (I have plenty of journals so I just use the questions, but it does make for a great gift):

1. I am grateful for…

2. What would make today great?

3. Daily affirmation. I am…

4. 3 Amazing things that happened today.

5. How could I have made today better?

Drinking water in the morning and making your bed seems so insignificant, but they have an influence on your mental and physical state. The journal is to help me with my subconscious thoughts and to stir critical thinking so I stay focused on my 1-2 tasks I need to accomplish. Our mind is powerful and our subconscious plays a larger role in our daily lives than what we tend to think.

Pavel Tsatsouline had once mentioned that one of the strategies for success in life is to have balance with priorities. A question that I often get and what I see most people do in the gym often goes against the idea of having priorities. At around noon, a handful of my school’s custodial staff does a quick workout. It often consists of all upper body movements: bench, curls, triceps, shoulder flyes, etc. People tend to form habits because in terms of efficiency, the body wants us to use the least amount of energy. So to provide a recommendation, I would attempt to answer, “if I were stranded on an island, could only pick 1-2 tools, and only had 10-20 minutes to train, what would I do?”  I’ll bring with me a barbell and kettlebell. I would perform 1-2 big movement exercises, such as a snatch, clean, swings, deadlift, squats, press, and a pull. Now this is for those with goals of getting strong and building muscle. After achieving good mobility and stability through your joints, training for strength should always be the #1 priority. I’ll explain in another post.

It’s about priorities. Based on our limited time, we must attempt to answer: what is most important and will give me the most bang for my buck. To get a bit scientific so we all get a better understanding, let’s look at this chart.

Motor Unit Recruitment

So what’s a motor unit? Take a look at this picture.

So to simply understand these two images, your muscles are basically worthless without your brain telling it what to do. A motor unit is basically a neuron telling a part of the muscle what to do. In my previous post, I had mentioned that your body doesn’t use every single muscle fiber in every muscle of the body. It’s quite the opposite.

Your body is always striving to use the least amount of energy at all times! That’s one of the reasons why more than 40% of your behavior comes from habits. Just as thinking deeply expends a lot of energy so does focusing on strength to move large amounts of weights (especially when moving it fast). So when you perform exercises that are explosive (sprinting (and no, running for more than about 10-15s is not maximal sprinting), plyometrics, explosive medicine ball work, olympic lift variations, etc) it requires more of your individual muscle fibers (hundreds of thousands) within a muscle to work and the synchronization of multiple muscle groups working together.

Motor Unit Recruitment

When I train my athletes, clients, and myself, I stick to exercises that produces the greatest results to meet specific goals. So when you look at the chart and compare it to a meal, look at it as the red being the appetizer, the orange and yellow being the main course, and the blue is the desert. And the exercises that are listed only consists of a handful, there are plenty others. When you train for strength, you increase your body’s furnace, or your body’s ability to burn calories, and most of personal training clients want to lower their body fat. In addition, strength is the foundation for power and speed for my athletes.

I’m trying to live my life acknowledging my priorities and trying to ignore the distractions. I don’t get caught up with events or situations I can’t control. I need at least 80% of my energy to be channeled into my priorities so I can go to bed a better person than when I woke up.

Mindfulness

The end of the high school year took place last week. My first year as a teacher has come to an end and there are many lessons to be learned. For starters, I need to do a better job planning and managing my classroom. To be an effective teacher is draining and it isn’t an easy job. Yeah, I get to enjoy the perks of holidays and summer breaks, but once I’m in the classroom, it’s all about making sense of a lot of information at one time; student’s responses; gestures; attentiveness; interests; understanding; etc. It’s tiring because you really have to be in the PRESENT and connect with students (which most of us know aren’t very stable since they are teenagers!).

HS Graduation 2015

As mentioned in my previous post, HERE, I had been learning Jiu Jitsu during the school year and now have experimented with another endeavor during my summer break. People either love it or hate it. I have grown to be indifferent to it and learned to keep an open mind (as there are positives and negatives to everything). After the first week, I must say that my conditioning level has improved. What made me do it? My lovely wife! At 5:30 in the morning! For starters, I don’t like to do conditioning work. When you are in a group and have a coach to hold you accountable (and a hot wife cheering you on), it’s a heck of a lot easier to finish and to push your self.

So this past week, I had attended 4 CrossFit workouts for conditioning work (1 of those emphasized strength) and during the afternoon I would perform my 20-minute strength training (alternating between deadlifts/press and bench/bent over rows). During the day, it’s training the incoming freshmen and preparing their bodies for the rigors of football. I’m doing a handful of one-on-one personal training and started my group training sessions with my school staff.

FullSizeRender

A helpful tip that I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline is that he recommends working on the grip and midsection (aka ‘core’) to improve the quality of strength. I took his advice and have been working on my grip strength through the use of Captains of Crunch Hand Grippers. Ideally, I try to do about 60-70% of the reps I normally could do (so if I can do about 10, I perform 6-7 reps) every 15-30 minutes (or when I can remember). For my ‘core,’ I perform standing planks and tense my core (to include every muscle from the neck down) for about 10s every chance I get. Sounds simple right? Try it out and remember the emphasis is to train the nervous system; your ability to recruit and use your muscles. For me, I feel a significant difference in my lifts with little training time.

Another life hack I have been implementing is the use of meditation. I often think that the word often gets associated to some random nonsensical act rather than what it is intended for. One thing about me is that I love learning from others, especially those that have achieved a high level of success in their respective field(s). I would say that about 70-80% of these people practice the art of meditation. My lovely wife introduced it to me and challenged me to try it out (that’s one of infinite reasons I love her, she challenges me to get better). After starting it up for a few weeks, I noticed that my focus becomes clearer; more relaxed with less worrying about tasks I can’t control; more energy; and being more proactive in getting things done. All you basically need to do is to find a quiet room, sit, focus on your breathing, and clear your mind of all thoughts. If a thought happens to come across your mind, acknowledge it, push it aside, and re-focus on your breathing (breathing through your belly, aka diaphragmatic breathing). An app that I use is Calm. The first 7 days is free and I never purchased it but use it for the background noise.

Having to create a curriculum for my high school’s at-risk (of failing) students, a question that I have been attempting to answer is:

How do I shift student’s motivation towards academic success?

Just thinking about this answer, I couldn’t help but notice all the distractions we now have compared to when I was growing up. With each passing decade, there are countless more activities to do in order to keep ourselves ‘busy’. We tend to lose connection to ourselves: the mind, body, and spirit.

When I speak of the mind, I’m referring to who we truly are. Our passions and interests. Our inner voice. I’m a believer that the mind is much more powerful than the capabilities of the body itself. Our subconscious has more to do with shaping who we are than we might imagine.

The body is a vehicle to carry us through the journey during our lifetime and we need to make sure it’s running on all cylinders! It constantly sends us information, but often times, we choose not to listen. It is often said that the body has the capabilities to heal itself.

The spirit is our connection to other people and the world we interact with. The source of energy that flows from within, to others, and our natural surroundings.

The mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. With all of our distractions, we simply neglect these components and tend to lose touch with who we truly are. Rather than looking outwards to find fulfillment, I propose that we must look inwards. Mindfulness is about getting in touch with our inner selves. It’s about being in the PRESENT. It’s about being fully aware of all the stimulus around us; from the noise, smell, heat or cold, our pain or aches, our thoughts, etc.

So I have been practicing being more mindful; being more aware of my morning routines and the transitions between my activities to spur creative thoughts. Each day I eliminate any negative energy and try to focus on what makes me happy and what I need to accomplish.

What’s Your Fluff?

It’s been far too long since my last blog post! Life throws you into a whirlwind and sometimes you just have to hold on for the ride. Let me update you on what has changed in my life…

  • Working full time as a teacher, hired on to develop an Academic Support curriculum and to teach health science
  • For the fall semester, got more experience as the strength & conditioning coach to work with water polo, baseball, soccer, basketball, in addition to football
  • Took up training Jiu Jitsu (something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile and was further inspired by an old friend Sam Yang, check his page out)
  • I finally moved in together with Amanda
  • Taking it a step further, got engaged to her
  • Knocked it out of the ballpark and made the ultimate commitment and married her
  • Is there more to say…

Wedding

I’m enjoying my spring break, away from the kids. I get to use this time to breath a little, reflect, and hopefully create a game plan to finish the year off. Also, I’m using this break to cut off my body’s addiction to caffeine. Yes, I do currently have a headache as I’m writing this!

A typical day of mine will looks like this:

5:00-6:00     Meditate (as of yesterday), ironing clothes, eating breakfast, hygiene, visualize the day
6:00-6:45     Drive to work and either listen to a strength & conditioning podcast or meditation music to clear my mind
6:45-7:00     Classroom set up, drop my lunch off, and finalize teaching plan
7:00-8:00     Open weight room for athletes and staff. 8-15 athletes and 2-3 staff members on average
8:00-2:00     Teaching, meeting with coaches, and struggling to positively change the mindset of my at-risk students
2:00-3:45     Football offseason program: speed, agility, and/or conditioning with strength training
3:45-4:30     Personal time to re-energize (or try to at least)
4:30-5:30     Tues/Thursdays I train w/ emphasis on strength along with Jiu Jitsu training; other days I work on the next day’s lesson plan or take a power nap
6:00-7:30     Jiu Jitsu practice Tues/Thurs/Sat (at least that’s the goal); training a client or grading papers working on lesson plan
8:00-9:00     Eat with my wifey, relax, errands, and reading interesting articles on Facebook and emails
9:00-9:30     Read a book (currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and the fourth book of Ender’s game)
9:30-10:00   Lights out!

During the weekdays, my wife and I don’t turn the tv on (there are those seldom days) because we choose not to make time for it. Instead, we both value sleep, so we strive to get at least 8 hours. Usually it’s closer to 7. Some fluff that still take up my days are time spent on those game apps on my cell phone. I’m still striving to be more productive and I had recently heard on one of my podcast that one of the key strategy to achieve success is to have,

BALANCE WITH PRIORITIES

For example, if my main priorities are:

  1. Family
  2. Health
  3. Career

I know that being happy for me is to balance my time and energy on those 3 listed items. If I get too sucked into my career and health, my wife will let me know.

If my life is filled with too much fluff or fluffiness, then those are just distractors that prevent me from getting to the core of what needs to get done. For example, with exercises, there are almost an infinite amount of choices so based on your goal, time, accessibility, and other factors, you get to the core of what’s most important and disregard the others.

Now with that understanding, we can apply this to our own training.

In my opinion, training for strength is, or at least should be, the priority.

Simply put, your body does not use every muscle fiber in a muscle. You have over 600 muscles and with one muscle, you can have 10 to 100s of these individual fibers.

Just like you don’t really use every part of your brain at one time, you don’t use every single muscle fiber in a muscle. Some researchers would say that if you were to use 100% of every muscle fiber in all your skeletal muscles, it would create enough force to crush your skeletons. The average person, only uses about 20% of their muscle fibers and experienced powerlifters (decades of experience) can use upwards to about 60%.

What does this mean?

According to Pavel Tsatsouline, training for strength is a skill that impacts the nervous system. It is the concentration of mental force. Simply put, without the nervous system, your muscles are pretty useless. This can explain those feats of strength that Bruce Lee displays or Lamar Gant being able to deadlift 661 pounds at a weight of 132 pounds.

So during your full body training sessions, place an emphasis on these two points.

  1. Your Grip
  2. Your Midsection (‘core’ as it’s called in the mainstream)

Grip – With all your exercises, grip the heck out of the weight you use whether it is a dumbbell, kettlebell, and/or barbell. Crush it!

Midsection – Place an emphasis on contracting your midsection as tight as you can. Try performing a standard plank on your elbows (make sure your elbows are underneath your shoulders). Focus on flexing all your muscles from the neck down. Lock your knees, squeeze your glutes, squeeze your elbows as if there are tennis balls in your armpits, make tight fists, and contract your abdominal muscles as if it is squeezing your spine or as if little ninjas were kicking your rib cage. With maximal contraction, hold for 10 seconds.

These two areas of your body has the capability to help recruit neighboring muscles, called irradiation. If you contract a muscle, the tension from that muscle will spill over to those around it. For example, if you make a fist, you probably feel your forearm muscles tense up. If you squeeze and make a tighter fist (a white knuckle fist), you’ll feel contraction in your biceps, triceps, shoulder, lats, and chest muscles. Same applies to your midsection.

Your grip and midsections are areas of your body that has the greatest propensity for the tension to overflow to the neighboring muscles. The more tension you able to create, the bigger your furnace will end up becoming.

So if your body was that of a car engine and you have a 6 cylinder engine, let’s get all 6 cylinder’s to fire rather than drudging around with only 2 cylinders working.

Next time you are training, experiment with it and let me know how it works out.

If anyone is interested in on-line training, please feel free to email me. I currently have room open for a few more and this will be filling up fast.

IT’S ALL ABOUT MOVEMENTS!

Woah! It has been awhile since my last post.  Many changes have occurred and I’ve been working to manage my time so that my work production is somewhat optimal.  I’ve finally been hired on and am teaching full time, currently serving the high school’s football team, boy’s basketball team, baseball team, and boys/girls water polo team as a strength & conditioning coach, and lastly I’m still training a handful of my personal training clients as a mean to improving my skill set.  If I can teach a 64 year old client how to stabilize the spine and perform a deadlift pattern, then teaching it to a 14 year old is pretty simple.

A month ago, I had the opportunity to visit San Francisco to hang out with Amanda’s brother (firefighter out in Florida) and his girlfriend.  We visited Alcatraz, Coit tower, Golden Gate bridge, Google headquarters, Blake Shelton concert, San Marino Park, and a local bar to watch my 49ers blow out a 17 point lead.  A much needed vacation!

2014-09-13 17.43.46

Bay Bridge

Today’s post was motivated based on my recent experiences and observation.  Let me share with you a little something…

The way we look at training is not so common sense anymore.  There’s information overload causing people’s mind to suffer paralysis from analysis.

The top fitness professionals share a commonality.  They look at training in terms of movements compared to the Frankenstein approach (focusing on individual parts).  Why? Because we understand functional anatomy.  Let me explain.

As a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood that was a great area for kids to be kids.  On my street, there were over a handful of families with kids and you would catch my siblings and I playing outside until my mom would  repeatedly yell at us to get back in the home after dark.  My dad moved us to Korea for 2 years when I was 6 and that was when I was exposed to a new language and culture.  With that, my brother and I learned Tae Kwon Do and earned our black belts.  Despite the new environment, we would still make it our playground and would constantly find my brother and I outside.  From swimming, catching dragon flies, playing with our cousins, to running around silly.  When my family moved back to California, I was involved with youth soccer, basketball, cub scouts, and boy scouts.  Most of my childhood was spent outdoors.  My neighborhood friends and I would mow our neighborhood’s lawn for a fee, back then families took care of their own lawn. My brother and I would make tree houses by climbing trees, jump off from our 2nd floor to our front lawn, ride our bike for miles on out to visit bowling alleys, movies, to every park in the city, and my brother and I would compete at just about everything.  I still remember the first time I beat him on a one and one game of basketball! He kicked that ball so hard that it landed on my dad’s car and broke the front windshield.  In high school, I became a decent athlete and was involved with the school’s football and wrestling teams.  Outside of school, I was involved in Judo and a basketball league.

At the age of 12, I started lifting weights when my brother begged for a lifting set that included a cheap bench, barbell, and adjustable dumbbell set.  In high school, I was fortunate to have a reputable and qualified strength and conditioning coach to allow me to become an okay lifter at the squat, bench, and clean.  My childhood took place in the 80s and atari and nintendo were first introduced.  I did have both consoles, however, our time playing was very limited because my brother and I simply got bored easily and much rather have played outdoors.  In the 80s, in my environment, that’s how I thought boys grew up, OUTSIDE!

I am sharing my past experiences because after my generation, the natural physical development of kids have been rapidly deteriorating.  As a high school athlete in the early to mid 90s, I never heard of ACL injuries, Tommy John surgery, concussions, more than a handful of kids with shoulder dislocating, a kid’s knee dislocating from a warm up, or kids having herniated discs in their lower back.  Okay, I understand that one of the main reasons why it is so prevalent now has to do with education, but as a high school athlete in the past, I never saw fellow athletes walking around in a knee brace because of torn ligaments in their knee and it was the NORM.

So what’s happening??

For those parents that have witnessed the physical development of their child or those that have studied physiology or child development, there is a natural sequential physical development that occurs.

From being born until one reaches full physical maturation, there is a natural progression that one needs to take in order to gain proficiency in MOVEMENT.

When you look at the animal kingdom, narrowing it down to mammals, you are not going to find another species that is diverse and efficient in creating movement.  Humans have existed for 200,000 years and can be partly attributed to our ability to MOVE and adapt!

When a child is provided with the opportunity for free play, what do typical kids do?

On the top of my head, I could think of running, skipping, jumping for distance/height, jumping off high places, throwing, pulling, climbing, pushing, catching, hitting, falling, swimming, hanging, rolling, crawling, and so many others!  And if we look at our past, I’m sure kids played the same way.

You can call this a systematic strategy to develop your neuromuscular (relationship between your nervous system and muscular system) system naturally from infancy to adulthood.  This is also known as neurodevelopment sequencing.  There’s a natural order or sequence to creating efficient movement.

So why is this important?

Your body is one piece, one organism and for it to move as one, it needs structural integrity.  In basic moral theology, Dan John defines integrity as, “being the same person in every situation.”

When we examine one’s body and how it moves, the same principle applies:

THE BODY IS ONE PIECE

From infancy to adulthood, when the developing body is exposed to a wide variation of movement, it naturally allows the body to move optimally.  So when a child pushes various objects, climbs, carries, hang on monkey bars, etc., the muscles around the shoulder learns to synergistically work together to keep that vulnerable shoulder (glenohumeral joint) stable.  Or when a child naturally jumps off objects (bed, couch, staircase, bleachers, etc.) they are naturally teaching their body to absorb force, which is a natural progression to producing muscular power in the lower body.

90177-primary-monkey-bar-adventure-swing-set-02-2

An easy way to look at this process is to compare your bodies natural physical development to that of an assembly line at a car factory.

From birth to full physical maturation (somewhere between 16-20 years of age) can be compared to the assembly line.

With proper exposure to a wide variation of movement, your physical structure of your body is properly developed, I’m talking bones are aligned properly to create proper alignment of joints, connective tissues are well developed, muscles are able to work together properly to create movement, and your nervous system is able to efficiently control your muscles to work synergistically.

Once this car leaves the factory with everything properly assembled, with proper maintenance, it has the potential to move during its lifespan.  Same applies to your body.

Let’s examine when this natural developmental process fails to occur.  When we go back to the car factory analogy, it’s the same idea as replacing parts with lesser quality and leaving a few parts out.  So what does this mean?  It simply means that your body will not be able to maintain structural integrity during certain movements.  A few specific reasons could be:

  • Poor bone density
  • Weak connective tissue (tendons and ligaments that passively hold bones together at the joints)
  • Lack of muscular strength
  • Poor neuromuscular efficiency (your nervous system’s relationship with the muscles)
  • Lack of muscle synergy (your muscles must work together to create movement)
  • Early specialization forces repetitive movement that leads to overuse injuries

As a result we see an increase in elbow, shoulder, back, hip, knee, and ankle injuries start as early as pre-adolescence.  And the primary reason for these injuries is the body’s inability to maintain structural INTEGRITY.

Limited exposure to a wide variety of movement (especially during the early years of life) and inability to maintain proper efficient movement will compromise your body’s ability to maintain INTEGRITY.

What can you do?

I’m assuming that my readers have reached adulthood and therefore full physical maturation.  If so, then you’ll most likely be opposed to playing outside at the park with a playground where you can run, skip, climb, hang, push, pull, throw, catch, etc.

Okay, let’s examine what you can do in an adult playground.  This can be any sort of gym, home or commercial.

Following Dan John’s advice, perform the fundamental human movements:

  • Loaded Carry
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • ‘6th Movement’
  • Pull
  • Push

LOADED CARRIES

First of all, it teaches the body to maintain INTEGRITY UNDER LOAD.  This is one of the most under utilized exercise that gives great BANG for your buck.  AND IT’S SIMPLE!  In the performance world, it’s been used since ancient times.  Which reminds me when I was in the boy scouts.  We went up Mt. Baldy and I remember I was responsible for carrying our troops supply of water.  Let’s just say I couldn’t move for about a week afterwards from the tremendous soreness.

What does it actually do?? To name a few…

  • Those muscles you consider your core (everything in below your chest to above your knee) are forced to engage and to provide sufficient stiffness so your body doesn’t collapse
  • You are forced to breath through your diaphragm and it puts your body in a better position to engage your deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis and multifidus)  which opens up other parts of your body to MOVE (such as your hips!)
  • Those muscles around your shoulders, yes there’s a bunch, are all working together to prevent your shoulder from falling off and collapsing forward.
  • Grip training which is the keyhole to the autonomic nervous system.  Basically, what you need to know is that there’s tremendous research to demonstrate that the grip has tremendous irradiation into the shoulders.  It helps stimulate the muscles around the shoulder to keep it STABLE! A great way to train the rotator cuff!!
  • Every athletic movement requires structural INTEGRITY to create efficient movement. From walking, jogging, sprinting, jumping, to throwing.  So it does just that! There’s additional load placed on your body that challenges its integrity so it’s forced to adapt!

What’s the standards?

  • You need to be aiming to carry half your body weight in each hand (or if you have access to a trap bar then the load is equal to your bodyweight) for a good amount of distance, about 100 yards.  If you can do that, you have great work capacity.

HINGE

This is often known as the deadlift pattern.  Your ability to keep the spine stable while moving through your hips.

A hinge is defined as MAXIMAL hip flexion with MINIMAL knee flexion.  In other words, the knee is only slightly bent while the hip is maximally flexed and your spine remains in a good stable position.

While the loaded carry is pretty simple to do (just carry heavy weights and walk), the hinge pattern is by far the most difficult pattern to learn.  Which explains why 80% of Americans will suffer from a low back disorder in their lifetime.

The overwhelming majority of our movement is anteriorly dominated, meaning we only tend to use the muscles in the front of our body.  Plus the mirrors at the gym or in your bathroom doesn’t help either cause those are the muscles people tend to only care about most.  As a result, people tend to suffer from shoulder pain in the front, back pain (made worse by countless sit-ups, poor posture, and picking up objects with a flexed spine), and knee pain.

This exercise demands many things to take place: diaphragmatic breathing, spine stability (especially creating sufficient stiffness around the low back), hip mobility, shoulder stability, and an attitude of BEING A BAD A$$!

If you are struggling with this, I recommend hiring a coach or trainer to teach you.  I’ve seen a couple of people claim to be an expert at this lift to only be carried out of the gym on a stretcher after blowing out their back.  Don’t be one of them.

What’s the standards?

  • For men, ideally you should be EXPECTED to deadlift your bodyweight to 150% of your bodyweight. A double bodyweight deadlift is a game changer for you.
  • For my ladies, 135 pounds for 6 reps is a great starter to build up to.  A deadlift of 275 pounds is a game changer.

SQUAT

There’s so much to be said about the squats that I’ll leave that for another post.  This exercise is probably the most butchered exercise of them all.  Some people avoid it because it hurts their knees which in reality it’s the way they squat that hurts their knees.  When performed properly, squats do not hurt the knees!

A few others perform a quarter to three-quarter squat simply because IT’S EASY!   Performing a squat to full depth properly isn’t a common site at the typical commercial gym.  There are many things that need to happen such as core stability, hip mobility/stability, ankle mobility, thoracic mobility, etc.  When performed properly, you stress all of the muscles of the leg: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, adductor (groin), and abductors.  If you never felt your butt sore after some good old squatting, than you’re missing out.

There are many variations of the squat: front squat, high-bar back squat, low-bar back squat, zercher squat, overhead squat, split squat variations to include the Bulgarian split squat, and single leg variations.

Like I said earlier, I can go on and on about this exercise and I can already hear a few people debating about which squat exercise is the best.  Who cares??  I only care about results.  Unless you know a thing or two about functional anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and have spent over two decades under the bar performing all the variations with enough competency, your argument may not have much validity.

What’s the standards?

  • For my high school male athlete: a 200 pound front squat is the standard.
  • For men: a bodyweight squat is expected; your bodyweight x 15 reps is a game changer; and your bodyweight for 50 reps mean you are a BAD A&&
  • For women, 135 pounds for 5 reps is a game changer

THE SIXTH MOVEMENT

This is anything you do that includes hanging, climbing, crawling, getting up and down the floor.  It’s basically you interacting with your environment, which can also include your opponent during any martial arts event.

 

Don’t overthink and over complicate things!  Climbing a rope used to be part of gym class in our physical education curriculum.  Most our kids nowadays can’t even just hang off a monkey bar for a few seconds.

What’s the standards?

  • You need to at least be able to climb a rope!
  • Crawl for a respectable distance while keeping your hips and shoulders stable, your body should be flat as a table while you move!
  • Learn and perform the turkish get-ups!

PULL

Now a lot of people neglect the muscles they can’t see in the mirror.  Most of your lean muscle mass is located on the backside of your body but it’s often neglected.  In my opinion, a muscular back looks more impressive.

You can break it down into horizontal pulls such as row variations and vertical pulls such as pull up variations.  When a random guy comes up to me at the gym and asks me about how he can get his bench max up (because that’s what most guys only care about).  My response usually is stop benching for a few weeks and just focus on rows and pull ups.  Magically to them, their bench max increases.

Your pulling strength ideally should be stronger than your pushing.  Incorporate lots of it into your workout!  Lots!

What’s the standards?

  • For men, its expected you can do 5 pull-ups; and a game changer if you can do 15.
  • For women, 3 pull ups is a game changer.

PUSH

This is at the very bottom of the list because like I said earlier, it’s what most people do…especially the men.  Monday’s are commonly referred to as universal bench day because they start the lifting week with, ‘uhhh what should I do…guess bench it is.’

My favorite of the presses is the standing military press.  Nothing more impressive than pressing over 200 pounds over your head!

What’s the standards?

  • For men, its expected you can do a bodyweight bench press; and a game changer if you can do 15.
  • For women, a bodyweight bench press is a game changer.
  • Perform a handstand.  If you can do a few pushups doing a vertical handstand, that’s a game changer.

In conclusion…

If your workouts are missing any of these movements, there’s a gap that needs to be filled.  Focus on getting strong in these movements and don’t worry about all the other thousands of exercises you can do.  The big movements listed above are the main course of your workouts.  Everything else you want to do is desert.

Learn to use your body as it was intended, to create MOVEMENT!

Listen to your body and rather than ignoring or dimming down the pain signals with medications, figure out the cause of the pain and work to fix it!

It’s all about movements because the majority have developed poor postures and movement strategies people adopt compromise their ability to create efficiency.  If all the parts of your body isn’t working the way it needs to harmoniously, then energy leaks and just like a loose bolt in a car, problems will eventually arise.

Don’t overcomplicate your workouts.  Get strong in these movements and don’t fuss about what type of biceps curl you should do.  Master these movements so that your quality of life improves.  You can enjoy the world you are in if you have the freedom to move around it.

In the words of Bruce Lee,

“fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Get to the basics and MOVE!

What category do you fit into?

This year is more than halfway through and just a friendly reminder that another year is closing to an end.  So if you’re not working towards where you want to be or not living the life you want, it’s time to take control.  As far as where I’ll end up teaching, I’ll find out in the next 2 weeks.  Yea I know, having your fate in the hands of someone else sucks.  And I’ll be making a promise to myself that this is the last time I’ll be in this position.

Last Thursday, Amanda and I had our movie night and we ended up watching Divergent.  The storyline is similar to the Hunger Games in that the population is separated into different factions with each having a distinct role in society.  Divergents are those that encompasses all the traits of the factions and are rebellious to being confined to one train of thought.

There’s a common theme that I believe is important to understand.

Throughout history, we as humans have survived and conquered the world because of our ability to work together as a group through our intelligence and communication.  We were able to hunt large predatory animals, fight off neighboring tribes to defend resources, invade nations, and utilize technology to support superiority of a group.

It is in our human nature to feel the desire to want to belong to something, to be loved, to feel needed.  This pact mentality has allowed us humans to have survived the past 150,000 years or so.

Let’s fast forward to the year 2014.  The groups, pacts or whatever you want to call it, you can belong to is almost infinite.  You can separate people into so many categories: racial, socioeconomic, age, nations, religion, sex, political, personalities, and so on.

Currently, we live in a world that has gotten a lot smaller due to technology.  Large corporations are now multinational corporations.  As a result, I believe that one of the key traits to achieving success is to have an open mind and be divergent.

According to google, the definition of divergent is:

  1. Tending to be different or develop in different directions;
  2. (Psychology):  (of thought) using a variety of premises, especially unfamiliar premises, as bases for inference, and avoiding common limiting assumptions in making deductions

I believe that when you have become embedded into one particular group, your train of thought becomes narrower.  Rather than thinking broadly, you think in terms of only looking through a telescope (rather than being able to see the big picture).

Just like with anything, when examining the fitness world, there is so much division as a result of a pact mentality.

As a physical education teacher, we teach 5 components of physical fitness which are:

  1. Cardiovascular endurance;
  2. Muscular strength;
  3. Muscular endurance;
  4. Flexibility (which I prefer to replace it with mobility/stability); and
  5. Body composition

To define fitness, it is described as,

To prepare; make ready.  A combination of physical and mental attributes that allow you to: Meet the demands of everyday life and perform tasks that require ABOVE NORMAL EFFORT. Being physically and mentally Fit, decreases the chance of injury or bodily harm.  Most importantly it can improve your quality of life.

Now, I would have to agree with it.  If one achieves decent levels of those 5 components, it can definitely improve the quality of one’s life.

Now let’s examine our fitness industry and the various popular groups (that involves resistance training) associated to it.

Bodybuilding

This goes way back to ancient Greece.  It was the athletes in ancient Greece who trained not for aesthetics, but as a means to improve athletic performance within the sport they participated in.  By mid-19 century, it became increasingly popular that weight training was a means of improving health and strength.

Eugene Sandow, born in Prussia in 1867, is known as the father of modern bodybuilding.  He traveled to America in the 1890s and was billed as the ‘world’s strongest man.’  Along with his impressive feats of strength, his audiences were awed by his physical appearance which led to the development of modern day posing routines.  He helped promote bodybuilding and as a result official weightlifting competitions began to take place.  First, the World Championship in 1981 held in England.  Secondly, the 2 weightlifting events in the 1896 modern Olympic games.

Then Joe Weider, starting in 1936, further helped popularize bodybuilding in the United States.  He developed Your Physique magazine (which is now called Muscle & Fitness), built a set of barbells out of his garage, founded the first nutrition company, and is known for creating Mr. Olympia.  Then in the 1970s, both he and Arnold Schwarzenegger united (Arnold was influenced by Joe’s magazines back in Austria) and most of you know the rest.

It is important to note that during the 1950s, bodybuilders, powerlifters, olympic weight lifters all lifted together.  All performed a clean, front squat, back squat, press, and deadlifts because of the limited equipment (only had barbells to train with).

Powerlifting 

The modern sport originated in the 1950s in the United States and United Kingdom.  In these days, if it weren’t the clean and press, snatch, and clean and jerk, the other main exercises such as the squat, bench (gained popularity in 1950s), and curls were considered the ‘odd lifts.’  From 42 recognized lifts back in its genesis, the ‘strength set’ (curl, squat, bench) became the standard lifts. In 1966, the deadlift replaced the curl.  Bob Hoffman’s York’s Barbell company was influential in popularizing the sport in the United Stated.

Olympic Weightlifting

Originated as one of the field events in Track and Field in 1896.  In the early 1900s, competition lifts in the Olympics included:  ‘one hand’ snatch, the ‘one hand’ clean and jerk and the ‘two hands’ clean and jerk.  In 1924, the 2 handed press and snatch were added, making a total of 5 lifts.  In 1928, one handed lifts were dropped leaving only 3 main lifts: clean and press, snatch, and clean & jerk. In 1972, the clean and press was omitted leaving only the 2 main lifts that exists today: snatch and clean & jerk.

Americans had dominated this field from 1904 to 1968 and Tommy Kono was the best U.S. Olympic Weightlifter in our history having set world records in four different weight classes.  Since 1968, however, the U.S. has won only 3 medals (none being gold).

Strongman

Prior to the strongman competitions you witness on ESPN, in the earlier times, strongman referred to men who displayed feats of strength.  The recent competition you see yearly entitled, ‘World’s Strongest Man,’ was created in 1977 and evolved into what it is today.

Some of their staple competitive events include:

Atlas Stones; Axle Press; Car Flip; Deadlift; Dumbbell Press; Keg; Vehicle pull; Log Clean and Press; Squat; Tire Flip; Yoke; Log press; Farmers Carry; Sand Bag Carry; Power stairs

CrossFit

CrossFit, Inc. was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai (ex-wife of Greg Glassman) in 2000, prior to that it was coined Cross-Fit in 1996. CrossFit training is officially defined as “constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.” That might sound like a random mash-up of adjectives, but it’s actually a succinct summary of the central CrossFit methodology.

“CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program, but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 recognized fitness domains,” says founder Greg Glassman in the Foundations document. Those domains are: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

According to coach Joel Jamieson,

Perhaps the best way to sum up what this training philosophy is all about is to look at their own description of their core training philosophy taken from the CrossFit website, “We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts.  We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.”  This simple statement cuts to the core of the entire “general rather than specific” philosophy and provides the context to their training methodology.

Now for the ultimate question…

Which training method is the best??

Before I answer that question, let’s all be clear on the semantics here.

Physical activity is everything you do when you aren’t at rest. It’s basic movement, with no goal beyond getting from one place to another.

Exercise is movement you do on purpose. It includes sports practice, jogging, yoga, backpacking, swimming, cycling, or anything else you think is important enough to take precedence over all the other things you could be doing at that moment. (Note: If you can operate your cell phone while exercising, you aren’t actually exercising. You’re just proving you can walk and chew gum at the same time.)

workout is an exercise session that’s deliberately strenuous. You start with the goal of working up a sweat, pushing your muscles and your circulatory system toward their limit, and giving your body a challenge from which it will have to recover.

Training is a system of workouts designed to achieve specific biological adaptations.

According to Mark Rippetoe,

Training is not about today. It’s about the process of going from where you are now to where you want to be later for the purpose of meeting a specific performance goal – usually at a specific time for more advanced trainees on a competitive schedule, but at first for the simple purpose of completing the novice phase of training, the first few months when it’s easier to add weight every workout and get stronger very quickly.

During a training cycle, each individual workout is important only because of its place in the whole process. Subjective judgments about how the workout felt are important only insofar as they provide information that would make the next workout better. Training can’t be accomplished randomly, because randomly applied stresses do not create a specific adaptation. This is especially true if during the intervening period many other stresses have been applied that conflict with the adaptation necessary to improve a specific quality (strength, power, speed, endurance).

Since Training is a process designed to produce an adaptation, this process necessarily entails more than a short period of time, because the adaptations necessary for high-level performance take time to accomplish.

Strength, for example, can be improved for many years if the processes that produce it can be continued uninterrupted by injury or distraction. The closer you get to your genetic potential for any given adaptation for performance, the slower progress will be and the more critical the method by which the stress is applied will become. This is merely the principle of diminishing returns, whereby a value approaches a limit asymptotically, and is in evidence throughout the universe.

It must be said that not everybody is interested in Training. For many, Exercise is good enough. They just want to burn some calories, get a little conditioning work, and have better abs. This is fine, for those people. But the second you want more – when you decide that there will now be a goal to accomplish with all this gym time – you’ve graduated to Training.

So now that we’ve all gotten on the same page, let’s delve into the question of which method is the best?

IT DEPENDS!!

Within these different styles of training, there are countless training methods associated to each and the reality is that there is no such thing as a perfect training program.  If you know of someone or you happen to find an advertisement that tells you of a perfect training program then be cautious of your wallet.  The reality is that every person on this earth is unique and not the same.  Yes there are many commonalities between all of us, however, there are also differences that exist.

So as a strength and conditioning coach (also known as a physical preparation coach) and personal trainer, I need to have knowledge in the following to name a few:  rehabilitation, prehabilitation/correctives, assessment tools, flexibility, mobility, stability, strength, power, endurance, speed, development of work capacity to include aerobic, lactic, and alactic energy systems, and nutrition.

I am a jack of all trades that specializes in none.  I choose what is best in order to achieve a specific result.  Before you engage in dichotomous thinking by labeling a training program to be good or bad, let’s examine the philosophy of and learn from one of the greatest martial artist in our history.  Bruce Lee was ahead of his time during the 1960s and his style of fighting was progressive for many of the traditionalist.  His philosophy was,

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

He basically utilized the best parts of each training discipline and discarded the useless ones to make his own style.  The rest of the martial arts community didn’t really catch on until the past two decades (40 years later) with the emergence of Mixed Martial Art, or MMA.  He was definitely divergent for his time.  Whenever you watch a fight nowadays, they don’t distinguish or acknowledge the different disciplines any longer.  A fighter has to be skilled in various disciplines to be successful and that is why there’s an enormous amount of time spent on skill development on the mat for these guys and gals.

Now let’s go back and examine what is useful from the various training methods:

Bodybuilding

  • This style focuses on building muscles, known as hypertrophy.  There are various methods used to accomplish these.  More advanced methods are: giant sets, rest-pause, drop sets, superset, staggered, German volume, 20-rep breathing squats, etc.
  • Repetition typically ranges between 6-12 (more reps can be performed for legs), sets of 3-4, and rest periods of 30 to 90 seconds.
  • Intensity varies between moderate-low to moderate-high.
  • Great if your goal is to build muscle or cycle in between strength or power block periodization (it gives the body a little bit of a break).  The great Tommy Kono used to use this method for 2-4 weeks after an Olympic weightlifting competition.

Powerlifting 

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.   It doesn’t matter how slow they move the bar, the primary focus is on how much they can lift on the squat, bench, and deadlift.
  • Big compound movements allows for better overall strength gains and strength is a quality that most sedentary adults lack
  • According to Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a professor of kinesiology and exercise science, estimates the average person can voluntarily utilize only about 65 percent of her potential muscle power. A trained power lifter might reach 80 percent.
  • Neural adaptations need to be made to increase muscle power potential to build muscle.  If you see someone who can squat over 400 lbs or press 225 lbs overhead you can bet they have more muscle than someone who can squat 135 lbs and press 90 lbs.

Olympic Weightlifting

  • Focuses on one quality, STRENGTH-SPEED (power), to perform the 2 competitive lifts in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.
  • Very time consuming to develop technique to be good at these two lifts.  If you can’t snatch your bodyweight, then your not that good.
  • Great and fun for people who likes to be challenged and for those that have time to learn.
  • Variations of these lifts are good for teaching triple extension to create power and to absorb force

Strongman

  • Focuses on one quality only, ABSOLUTE STRENGTH.  Unlike power lifters, they exhibit their strength in multiple ways through their competitive events.
  • It’s fun and different than traditional methods of resistance training such as barbells, dumbbells, machines, etc.
  • It helps build overall strength and girth (which is needed for athletes to help build a protective armor).
  • Farmer walks or any other type of carries was stolen from these guys.

CrossFit

  • It has done more to promote fitness over the past decade and since the majority of Americans are overweight and sedentary, I’m all for it.  Whatever get people off the couch and moving.
  • Has done more to popularize Olympic weightlifting than Olympic weightlifting themselves.
  • It has promoted people to perform big compound movements and to WORK HARD which is lacking for most people that visits commercial gyms.
  • It has broken the barrier and promoted women to lift heavy!
  • It taught the value of competition and the power of working within a group or community.

So when training, don’t pigeonhole yourself to only one train of thought.  If you find yourself adamantly defending one training method based on a person’s comment, you are probably sucked into this tunnel vision mindset.  So an example of a training workout that incorporates these different facets may look something like:

1a) 1-arm DB snatch 3×5 on the minute

2a) Trap bar DL 3×6 w/ 2 min rest

3a) Goblet squat 3×10 on every even minute

3b) Chest supported rows 3×12 on every odd minute

4a) Farmer walks 2×40-60 yards

In closing, here are the key points:

  • Expand your vision and don’t get sucked into one train of thought, be divergent!
  • “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

  • Every person is unique and there is no PERFECT TRAINING PROGRAM.  Every program is flawed so focus on developing a few qualities (Endurance/Hypertrophy/Strength/Power) at a time.

  • Physical activity, exercise, workout, and training all have different meanings and purposes.  If you are looking to achieve a specific fitness goal, learn to develop a training plan to help you achieve that goal!
  • Divergent is an okay movie, nothing spectacular.

 

Living Life in the Fast Lane

I hope everyone is enjoying the hot summer days.  On my downtime, Amanda and I have been going to the movies, beach, pool, and spending days reading.  I’ve been working to secure a teaching position for this upcoming school year and it looks very promising.  I will be in a position where I’ll be having options to choose from, at least that is what I’m hoping for.  Which is very fortunate for me as I know of people who have yet to find a teaching position for the last few years.

We live in an era in that being ‘busy’ has become the norm.  Sort of like being identified as cool or important, ‘yea, busy as usual.’  As most of us can be identified as ‘urbanites,’ we have grown up in a culture that screams, GO GO GO GO!  Doing more and more is considered the ideal norm.  We have been taught to live our lives in the fast lane.  Type A personalities and extroverts have been portrayed as the ideal type in the Western culture to achieve success.  It has shaped corporations that promote solely team/group interactions with less privacy which has trickled down into the classrooms that promote cooperative learning groups.

A common theme with my posts is one that promotes reflection, taking a step back to look at the entire picture, deep thought, making choices based on understanding, and not to engage in dichotomous thinking.  Within our society, we love to take an idea or concept (without seeking a deeper understanding of it) and run to the other end of the spectrum.  An example of this is the popularization of minimalist shoes, such as the Vibram’s FiveFinger.  What did people do?  They took this concept of how great this shoe must be and went to the extremes, such as running an excess number of miles in which their bodies were unprepared for.  Or look at our fitness trend which has promoted the concept of WORK HARDER or NO PAIN, NO GAIN.  The popularization of cross fit most likely has a direct correlation to the Western culture that promotes the ideal person as being Type A personalities, extroverts, and team/group interactions.

Before I continue, let me make it clear and reiterate the importance of having an open mind and not engage in dichotomous thinking.  I am NOT inferring that Type A personalities, extroverts, cooperative learning groups, and cross fit are BAD.  So don’t think in terms of good versus bad; healthy versus unhealthy; evil versus good; night versus day; male versus female; introverts versus extroverts.  Dan John calls this the ‘either/or’ thinking.  For example, “Is training style X good or bad?”; “Is the Paleo diet good or bad?”;  “Is running good or bad?”.  For most of you whom have worked with me, the answer to most questions related to fitness is…

IT DEPENDS

The world in which we live in is always striving to achieve BALANCE.  Yes, the very natural environment you are surrounded with is an actual living organism and it needs balance (homeostasis).  As most of us have learned in middle school about the various ecosystems (marine water, freshwater, jungle, desert, wetlands, etc.) that make up the earth, the human body isn’t much different at all.

The human body is exposed to an environment that is in constant change and is always striving to maintain a balance (homeostasis) in order to keep the body alive.    For example, when a stressor is imposed on the body multiple systems are working together and will adapt to it.  Some of these systems are: cardiac; cardiopulmonary; metabolic; detoxification (primarily your liver); hormonal; central nervous system; muscular; immune.  The process of achieving a balance within these multiple systems is called allostasis.

According to Joel Jamieson, what this means is that your body has to maintain blood pressure, blood sugar, pH, and it has to keep all of these various parameters within certain ideal levels.  If they go outside of normal ranges, let’s say your body temperature reaches 110 degrees or blood sugar drops too low or pH levels gets off, you are in big trouble because your cells can no longer maintain energy production.  As a result, vital organs are damaged and quickly you’re going to be dead.

In terms of your fitness and how workouts impact your body, Jamieson describes it as,

In the big picture, that’s the process of training. That’s all we do. We work out. Whatever it is we do for a workout, we challenge the body. The body figures out what we did to it and responds. It responds so it’s better at it the next time, and you disrupt homeostasis less in future events.

That’s the basis of the training continuum. It’s repetitive stress. The body is always designed to minimize repetitive stress. It wants to get better at what you just did so if it faces the same thing in the future, it’s less likely to have as much of an impact. If it has less of an impact, the body has a better chance of survival. That’s really what it comes down to, survival.

In order to tie everything together, let me share with you a common scenario.

Client Jane has been a member of a cross fit gym for a few years now.  She is in her mid-forties, employed as a nurse, a mother, and is fanatic about working out.  She work outs approximately 5-6 times during the week and mostly enjoys her group.  After seeing great results the first few months, she has hit a plateau and has fought through multiple injuries.  She doesn’t eat much at all in hopes of losing body fat.  Based on my observation, she looks the same now as she did 2 years ago.

In terms of physiology and how your body responds to stress, Jamieson describes it here,

The training continuum comes down to general adaptations. It’s the process of how the body goes about adapting to stress, not just from a single workout, but from repetitive stress or repetitive workouts. That’s where we consider the long-term picture of adaptation—the long-term picture of how the body responds to training and stress.

It works in three stages. In stage one, we get the alarm stage. That’s the first part of the training process. That’s where you introduce a new form of stress, new exercises, new methods or a new training program. Because the body has never seen it, it’s new and the work capacity or ability to tolerate it is very low.

The first time you do a workout, a new exercise, a new program or whatever, you can’t do very much of it. You fatigue quickly and your work capacity is generally low. However, there’s a very rapid increase after that. When you do a new exercise, you’re not very good at it. Maybe you don’t feel as coordinated, but the next few times you do it, you get much better. Improvements come quickly. That’s because the body is so shocked from what it’s never seen it before, it makes very rapid improvements in coordination and its ability to respond.

It’s this first stage where you see muscle soreness. You see all these things that are a result of the body’s initial exposure to the stress. The positive side is the body adapts very quickly in that first phase. The first phase moves into the second stage—the stage of resistance. That’s our long-term strategy.

In the first stage, it adapts by making neurological changes, learns how to coordinate itself and respond to the stress better. When you keep doing this thing over and over, eventually it gets better to the point where it has to improve further because it keeps seeing the same stressor. That’s where we start to see the structural changes. That’s where we see bigger muscle fibers. That’s where we see increased mitochondria. That’s where we start to see the real structural changes in the body that lead to an improved ability to respond.

That’s where we see long-term improvements in work capacity and the ability to tolerate the activity. You get better. Your fitness improves. Your ability to respond to the exercise or the training program is better. It’s more stable.

Even if you were to stop doing the task, you’d still have that improved fitness for a period of time before it starts to fade. That’s the stage where most people get stuck. They end up giving into resistance. They see some improvements, but they keep doing the same thing, and nothing happens.

The reason nothing has happened is because the body has already responded to that stress. It has adapted to it. Your muscle fibers got bigger or your aerobic enzymes or mitochondria went up. At some point, the body is no longer challenged by what you’re doing to it. It sees no reason to improve, so it stays the same.

That’s a training plateau. That’s where you’re not going to see improvement. You just kind of go through the motions, and we see a lot of that. We see a lot of people getting into the same routine. They do the same program over and over again or maybe with slight variations. They do it months or years on end, and don’t see a lot of improvement.

The reason is simple. The body hasn’t pushed or improved because you’re doing the same thing over and over again. Some people, on the other hand, know to keep overloading, keep improving and changing the stress, and will repeatedly overload. They’ll see regular improvement. Eventually they end up pushing into over-reaching. This is a further stage down the continuum. This is where the body starts to decrease its ability to respond because it’s being bombarded with so much stress it stops responding to it.

The way it does that is by turning down the sensitivity of the receptors and the muscles that deal with hormones. There’s adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and all these things that don’t rebind the muscle fibers and bind the different tissues in the body to cause a specific reaction. The body stops responding to them.

It’s as if your neighbor is shouting at you all day long; eventually you stop listening to what they have to say. That’s what happens with training. You train. You stress. You stress your stress. All of those hormones are constantly flooding the body.

Eventually, your body is just going to turn down its sensitivity to them and it’s not going to respond as well.

What can happen then? The body can do one of two things. It can either crank up the production of those hormones to try to get the response it’s looking for, or it cannot. Initially the body will just compensate for the decreased sensitivity by turning up production.

Let’s say the cortisol receptors don’t have the same sensitivity they did before you started the training program. When you trained and trained, it decreased the cortisol sensitivity. The body realizes this, and can turn up cortisol production. This is where we start to see negative hormonal patterns. We see too much cortisol and the reason is simple: It’s because we’ve overloaded those sensors to the point they turned down the sensitivity. The body’s response to that is to just crank out more hormones.

That’s what we call “an over-reached state.” If you keep pushing through that, you get into an over-training state. That’s simply where the body stops producing those hormones altogether.

This makes sense if you consider how the body works. If the body isn’t sensitive to the hormone and the only way it can continue to get the effect it’s looking for is to produce more hormones, eventually the hormone starts to read too high. The body has a set of sensors that realize this, as well as how much hormone is in the bloodstream, so it recognizes there’s too much and that something is wrong. The sensors send this back to the brain and the brain responds by turning this hormone down.

This is where we see decreased thyroid, cortisol or testosterone. All these important hormones are needed for stress, but now they’re not able to produce the needed response because the body has reduced production. We often consider this to be a dysfunction, a disease or an over-trained syndrome. However, it’s the body doing what it can to survive in the face of what you’ve thrown at it. You’ve over- trained. You’ve thrown too much stress at your body.

The body has responded in this way, which we see as negative because strength and power are down. You don’t feel good. You may get sick or have inflammation. You don’t want to train. All of these things happen and we see that as dysfunction, but it’s more that the body has responded to what you did to it. When you bombard it with stress, its reaction was to turn down its ability to respond to stress. It stopped responding to the hormones. It stopped producing the hormones because over a long period of time, these have a negative effect.

If you disrupt homeostasis over and over again, and you’re chronically fatigued, eventually the body is going to figure out how to stop that. This is its attempt. It’s in the heart of why we see over-training. It’s the body’s compensation to an overload of too much training and too much stress.

There are two reasons this happens. First, a lot of people don’t understand how to change the stress and how to continue to see improvements once they’ve hit a plateau. Second, and I would say probably more importantly and more commonly, people underestimate the amount of impact of everyday stress.

People underestimate the impact of mental or life stress on their ability to respond to training. They work 40 or 50 hours a week. They have social stress. Maybe they’re financially taxed or their spouses are driving them crazy. There’s family stress. All of these things play a huge role in how much more stress can be thrown on top of it.

If you’re not sleeping well or not eating as well as you could be, these limit your ability to respond and recover from a workout. When you pile on workout stress, throw on life stress and everything else, eventually you’re bombarded by more than your body can handle.

There are always differences in one’s ability to handle the stress because there are differences in every life. There are differences in genetics or differences in training habits, which will play a big role in training recovery. That’s why the “one size fits all” idea with everybody following the same training program generally doesn’t work very well.

For some people, the amount of stress the training program puts on them might be great. They might respond and improve. They might get leaner, bigger, stronger and faster in whatever it is they’re trying to do.

For some people, there might not be enough stress. They might hit a plateau. For other people, it might be too much. It might overload them. There are a lot of variables and a lot of factors that come into play. If you assume everybody will respond the same way to stress, you’re sadly mistaken.

A lot of large group training classes, bootcamps and Crossfit programs that have popped out over recent years are great for people who are relative beginners. In the beginning, you’ll improve quickly. You don’t have the capacity to train a lot, so you self-regulate and see improvements. However, eventually the individuality factor runs out and you find some people are going to over-train. Some people are going to see decent results. A lot of people aren’t going to see any results at all.

The ability to regulate stress through life and training is the key to seeing the longer term and more consistent results. You have to understand how much stress is the right amount and how much exercise someone needs versus how much exercise is too much. You have to have a handle on how much life stress outside the gym is affecting the ability to recover from the training.

And when we look back at Jane, she is able to manage her ‘high-stress’ and fast paced lifestyle because of caffeine.  She is an avid coffee drinker.  So while her body is trying to get her to REST AND RECOVER by making her exhausted, she masks these signals by drinking more coffee.  Eventually, she will be forced by her body to slow down.

Most people don’t have an understanding that your emotional, mental, and life stressors impact your body (hormones, immune, cardiac, cardiopulmonary, central nervous system through the general adaptation syndrome, or GAS) much of the same way as physical stress (running, lifting weights, sportsyou choose to impose on it.  Through genetics, everyone has different thresholds as to how much overall stress you can handle before it breaks down.

Having this understanding, my training is rather simple.  It fits my lifestyle and current circumstances.  I use an alternating linear periodization program.  For 3 weeks, I train for strength; the following 3 weeks, which I plan on implementing if my schedule allows me to do so, is a bodybuilding (hypertrophy or to build muscle) type training.

For strength I train hard for 2 days and have a medium-intensity workout 1 day.  That’s it.  I know I can do 400 meter sprints or kettlebell swings on another, but as a result of my stress levels and age, my body takes a bit longer to recover.  Here’s how it looks:

Day 1

Warmup:

Turkish Get-ups

BB Complex: Upright row; clean-grip snatch; back squat behind-the-neck press; good mornings; row

Training:

Front Squat (utilizing Wendler’s 5/3/1 program)

Bench Press (utilizing Wendler’s 5/3/1 program)

High-rep back squat

Day 2

Warmup:

Turkish Get-ups

BB Complex: Row; clean; front squat; military press; back squat; good mornings

Training:

Deadlift (utilizing Wendler’s 5/3/1 program)

Military Press (utilizing Wendler’s 5/3/1 program)

High-rep back squat

Day 3

I choose one of the BB complexes and push the weight a bit.

That’s the gist of what I do for my training.  Could I do more and get better results?  Only if I had more time and less life stressors.  My training goals are simple. Am I achieving results through my training program?  Of course or else I wouldn’t be doing it!

One of the most important role of a coach or personal trainer is to monitor stressors because training is basically imposing physical stressors (that is purposeful) on the body so that it can adapt a specific way to achieve a specific goal.  Your training is only as good as your body’s ability to recover from it.

In closing, here are a few key points I hope you learned:

  • Body’s basic physiological response to stressors
  • The ability to regulate stress through life and training is the key to seeing the longer term and more consistent results
  • You need to achieve balance in your life and do not underestimate the importance of sleep and recovery