strength training

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.

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Ways to Improve Your Workout

Greetings! Hope everyone is enjoying the start of summer and making plans to stay cool.  I was able to enjoy celebrating my good friends’ sons’ birthdays (1 and 4 years).  This past week seemed longer than most as my experiences led to a breakthrough in my personal development.  First off, with the help of my other half, Amanda, I realized I was getting way too comfortable with my lifestyle and needed to have more of a sense of urgency to get my life started and moving.  I had to sell my first car with 258,000 miles on it because I was driving around like it were a ticking time bomb and replaced it with a Prius.  Training my high school football athletes started, along with getting the necessary facilities set up since the previous earthquake forced the school to replace a few items.

On a final note, last weekend Amanda and I watched X-men and what an awesome movie!  When you go to watch a movie with high expectations and it exceeds that, then you know it’s a great movie.

As you all know, I have been lifting weights since I was 12 years old that started with a cheap weight set that included a bar, curl bar, and a bench set.  I was so obsessed about lifting weights that I literally packed a few weights and a small curl bar in my suitcases when traveling.  I got caught when I had to check in my luggage and let me tell you that my parents weren’t too pleased…

I have been a member of a commercial gym since I was about 13.  Being the youngest of 3, I love people watching.  So the following post are ways you can enhance your workout.

Before we go into various ways you can improve your fitness, let’s get on the same page about our wording in describing what we are doing.

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.)

A 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.

So the following will describe what most people do and how it can be improved.

1.  Not Having a Specific Goal/Not Working Towards Your Goal(s)

Whatever it is that you do, it always has to come down to how is it helping you achieve your fitness goal(s).  If you cannot properly defend your actions as if you were in front of Judge Judy…then maybe you need to rethink what it is you’re doing.

Say that your goal is to build muscle and most of the week you are running on a treadmill, elliptical, taking classes, or walking around your neighborhood for about 30 minutes to an hour each week  and your strength training includes performing a few machines 2 times a week before or after you run, then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

If your goal is to get jacked and huge and you come in the gym each day choosing to do exercises of 3 sets of 10 reps (mostly sticking to machines that doesn’t consist of a squat/press/deadlift/row/pull-ups), focus more on supplements rather than your overall diet (and not eating enough calories), and you don’t have a plan then I hate to say it, but there’s a better way!

I’m not saying that you won’t get any type of result either. If you’re used to not doing anything at all and you increase your activity levels by doing anything then you’ll get results for a few weeks.  But remember, this blog is about how you can do things better.

Solution: Create a few fitness goals with a specific timeframe.  Make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.  If you can find someone close and share these goals to hold you accountable, even better!

2.  Not having a PLAN.

Most of us have heard the quote, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’  Will you see results without a plan?  It depends.  For most people that are consistent in getting their butts to do any form of exercise and are eating healthier, then yes (until you reach a certain threshold).  For those that want to get stronger and build muscle?  Hey it worked for me in my 20s where all I did was a workout each time, but I did have 4 years of proper instruction and coaching.  I came in, lifted as heavy and as long as I could (without a warmup cause when you’re young, who needs one!).  It gave me results in that I was able to bench and squat a significant number because that’s all that mattered when you are a young male adult.  But guess what, my body eventually paid the price which left me with a banged up shoulder, elbow, and I had the pleasure of tearing my groin muscle.

I don’t know about you, but if I had a destination to reach, I would want to get there in the shortest amount of time while feeling great!  So with a better understanding of physical activity, exercise, workout, and training, I’m sure the question will arise in which one is best?  My answer is, it depends.  One is not always better than the other.  For example, if you choose to park further at work and when shopping, choose a longer route when walking to a destination, and take breaks to walk around every hour at your desk job, you are engaging in physical activity that frankly will burn more calories than exercise or training alone when you add up the numbers for the week.  So it depends on your goal.

Solution: With that said, understand that there is no perfect training program and there isn’t a one size fits all.  At the end of it all, the goal is to keep your goal THE GOAL! For starters, create a simple plan in terms of how many training sessions you can get in a week, 1-2 ways to increase your physical activity, and 1-2 things you can do to improve your nutrition.  Still confused?  Find a qualified coach or trainer, it will save you time.  Keep It Super Simple.  If not, you won’t stick to it.

3.  Not Monitoring and Adjusting What You’re Doing

To explain it simply, if you are not losing weight or body fat, not getting stronger, not seeing an increase in your muscle size, your back still hurts (or whatever body part it is), or whatever your goal is and you’re not doing anything to change what you’re doing then nothing is going to change!  If say, my goal is to get to the other side of a wall and all I’m doing is running into it over and over again without any luck, I need to stop and come up with a different strategy!

Solution: Have a journal in which you keep a workout log.  If you want to achieve the best versions of YOU, then have a workout log like all the professionals.  At the end of the week or month, if you are not progressing, you need to reevaluate, readjust, and reimplement your plan.

4.  Exercise Technique

If there are approximately 700 muscles and each muscle has hundreds to thousands of individual muscle fibers, wouldn’t you want to be able to recruit as many of them when you perform an exercise? Won’t it lead to more strength and power?  Won’t it lead to more work being performed so that you burn more calories? Remember your body is always striving to do the opposite, to conserve as much energy as possible (like how I drive my Prius!).

Having proper technique is the most fundamental aspect of training.  If your joints aren’t optimally aligned, the muscles around it won’t be able to work together synergistically to create the maximum amount of force so you can do WORK.  If you can’t or choose not to go through a full range of motion on an exercise (for the overwhelming majority of your lifts), you are not using and stressing all of the muscles you potentially can use.

Over the years of observing, here are my top exercises that people tend to have the poorest technique with:

1.  Deadlift

This exercise gives you the most bang for your buck, meaning that it works the most muscles.  It, however, is the most difficult movement pattern to learn, understand, and actually perform.  It requires a level of ‘core’ strength to stabilize your spine (so it doesn’t move) while your hips (hamstring/glutes) do the work.

If not, what science shows isn’t pretty…

Deadlift Back Loading

And if you’re still not convinced and are afraid…let’s just say that prolonged sitting is worse. Read here. 

2.  Military Press

Most people don’t have the core stability to once again keep the body stable and spine in a neutral position.  If you watch the above video and look just at the upper body, it resembles an incline press with the lower part of the back in an awkward position that causes unnecessary shear loading.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, but if you don’t want to damage your back then stay away from it.  A good press should be like this…

 3.  Rows

Now the majority of your muscle mass is located on your backside.  So it’s important that you develop those big muscles that pretty much serves as a foundation for you to perform your movements.

human-muscles-back

When performing a row (it can be using a machine, cable, dumbbell, TRX, barbell, or a tree branch), most people tend to only use their biceps and upper traps.  I see it all the time, people’s head shift forward as they pull.  If you can’t feel the middle part of your back, including your lats, then you ain’t using them.

For starters, I love having my clients perform the infamous batwings made famous by Dan John.  Haven’t had anyone yet tell me they didn’t feel the muscles in the middle of their back after these.  I for one, go back to these to further strengthen my back.

4.  Squat

Most people are knee dominant.  Most activities we do outside the gym is knee dominant.  Knee dominant basically means that the muscles in the front are doing most of the work (your quadriceps).  It becomes problematic when there isn’t a balance between your other leg muscles (mostly your backside), hips, and ‘core.’

  

Remember there’s a common theme with all these lifts…

Your ability to maintain neutral spine by having your so called ‘core’ providing stability by contracting those big muscles is important.  There are many different variations of each of the above exercises including the squat, which I won’t go over today.  Just understand that you need to strive towards maintaining a neutral spine position.  If you don’t feel like you can do it, let me reassure you that you were able to do it before…

I’m not saying that everyone can squat deep as the above picture, but most people can improve their squat pattern to resemble something close to this…

Solution: Learn proper technique.  Find a qualified coach and learn it, unless you have months and years to learn it yourself through a lot of trial and error.  A good coach can have you performing these exercises with good form and maximal muscle contraction in as short as a few days to a few months (all depends on the individual).

4.  Not Understanding Basic Principles of Exercise Physiology

In my previous post, I explained some basic ones that people ought to know HERE.

With a basic understanding, you should know that with any form of fitness activity you choose to do in order to get the desired body you want, you are the manipulator of stressors.  How your body adapts to these purposeful stressors you impose on your body will ultimately govern whether you are able to reach your fitness goal(s).

Your body is a multi-systemic organism and you have to look at it as a whole rather than parts.  If your fitness goal is to gain muscle mass and improve strength, yet you barely get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, it will be rather difficult to achieve set goals (unless you’re one of the few genetic freaks).

For example, with some basic understanding of such principles based on science, you should know that the core is meant to prevent excessive motion rather than to create it.  Yet you see people do only such things for their core:

Now, am I saying that these exercise are bad??  I try not to categorize exercises in such categories because each may have its time and place.  I, however, like to think in terms of what is best for my client or athlete based on their needs.  If I know that the ‘core’ region is to provide stability, I would prefer such exercises because it gives my clients or athletes more bang for their buck.  For most cases, I would choose exercises such as:

or

So in closing today’s post, use these following steps to help you improve your level of fitness.

  1. Create a goal
  2. Create and implement a plan
  3. Monitor, adjust, re-implemeent, and re-evalute 
  4. Learn proper exercise technique
  5. Strive to understand what you’re doing

If you have any questions, post em up so we can create a discussion!