muscular strength

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.

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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.

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!

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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.

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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!