Not too long ago I wrote an article titled The New Alphabet of Manliness, where I had a little fun and came up with an unofficial "alphabet" geared towards the fitness industry. Included were many of the terms, phrases, concepts, and miscellaneous tidbits that many newbies (and veterans) come across but may not fully understand.
It turned out to be one of my more popular articles. Like any great literary achievement, I figured it deserved a second edition.
It's time to relearn your ABCs.
A is for Asymmetry
In his book, Athletic Body in Balance, Gray Cook states that there's no clear evidence linking tightness or weakness of a particular muscle group with injury. But instead, a significant amount of injuries were noted in those with right-left strength and/or flexibility imbalances (asymmetries). To be a bit more specific, Cook goes on to say that any imbalance of over 15% would predispose many trainees to future injury.
This is why we include single-leg triple jumps in our initial evaluations with athletes. If we see a huge gap in total distance between their left and right side, we know there's an asymmetry that needs to be fixed pronto.
Another great example would be when we test a trainee's hamstring flexibility. If there's a major difference between their right and left side, we have some corrective work to do.
In a nutshell, fix the asymmetry and more often than not "issues" such as knee pain, lower back pain, and/or shoulder impingement tend to clear themselves up.
B is for Branched Chain Amino Acids
The branched chain amino acids (BCAA's) consist of the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine and receive their name due to their branching chemical structure. BCAA's are important for the strength athlete because it's been shown they have a direct link to protein synthesis, with leucine being the main factor.
Additionally, for endurance athletes BCAA's are important due to the fact that most don't consume nearly enough protein in their daily diet. It's been shown that prolonged endurance activity causes a sharp decrease in BCAA levels which can affect immune function and performance (obviously).
Whether or not you need to think about supplementing with BCAA's depends on a few factors: training intensity, type of training, overall dietary protein intake, dieting factors, etc. The research behind their efficacy is sound and they're one of the few supplements that I've no issues recommending.
C is for Cressey Performance
Very few people are lucky enough to train at a facility that's designed by athletes for athletes, and for those who couldn't care less that there's only one treadmill. Similarly, not many people are fortunate enough to actually work at such a place.
At Cressey Performance, located in Hudson and Framingham, MA, we've gone out of our way to create an environment that combines just the right mix of science and attitude to help all of our clients attain their goals. Matter of fact, I've made a list that differentiates us from most gyms:
Consider a Smith machine a staple piece of equipment.
Three power racks, a glute-ham raise, 35-yard sprint track, a plethora of specialty bars, and chalk use isn't only allowed, it's encouraged.
Hire trainers who feel squats are dangerous and that leg presses are a safer option.
We're the guys who end up fixing those people who go to shitty trainers.
Cell phones are allowed on the fitness floor.
Unless they're talking to Jessica Biel, athletes seen with their cell phone are promptly "punished" by pushing the sled till they can't feel their legs.
Have some trainers who don't even look like they lift weights.
Every current employee can deadlift over 400 pounds, including the operations manager. Additionally all sorts of tomfoolery takes place, such as EC doing a 50 inch box jump on a whim. (Video below.)
Have XM radio.
We've made certain that the likes of John Mayer or Celine Dion will never be heard on the stereo.
Check out the website at CresseyPerformance.com.
D is for Dynamic Effort Method
The dynamic effort (DE) method is one of three ways (the other two being the maximal effort and repetition method) to develop muscular force, and as a result, strength. One of the best, and coincidentally one of the least utilized, ways to get stronger is to get faster. By utilizing the dynamic effort method, you're teaching yourself to explodethrough those sticking points that serve as obstacles in your pursuit of progress.
The dynamic effort method is generally used for the "big three" movements (squat, bench press, and deadlift) using loads of 50 to 70% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). On any given week, one training session would begin with a DE bench variation, and another would start with a DE squat/deadlift variation.
Bench press 1RM = 250 pounds
Week 1 (50%): 6 sets of 3 reps at 125 pounds
Week 2 (55%): 6 sets of 3 reps at 140 pounds (rounded up)
Week 3 (60%): 8 sets of 3 reps at 150 pounds
Week 4 (65%): 4 sets of 3 reps at 165 pounds (rounded up). It's also not a bad idea to test for new personal records this week.
Week 5: Start over again using new percentages.
It's important to realize that these are just estimates. The real key is to pay attention to the bar speed throughout your sets. If the bar slows down, then the weight being used is too heavy. If your bar speed is consistent, then you're right on track.
Everyone needs to learn to be fast. However, this doesn't mean that if your max bench is 135 pounds that you need to be concerned with implementing DE work. If you're a beginner, explosive push-ups and medicine ball circuits would be just as effective. In the meantime, get stronger by getting your reps in.
E is for Eat Your (Saturated) Fat
Fat, specifically saturated fat, has long been the evil step sister of the dietary world. Thankfully we have people like Jeff Volek, author of the TNT Diet , to help dispel many of these common myths.
1. Replacing carbohydrates with saturated fats – or any type of fat, except trans fats – results in decreased triglycerides levels, an independent risk factor for heart disease
2. Replacing carbohydrates with saturated fat – or again, any type of fat – results in increased HDL cholesterol levels (that's the good stuff). In fact, saturated fat raises HDL even more than unsaturated fat.
3. Saturated fat increases the size of LDL (bad cholesterol) particles, which are less atherogenic.
4. Not all saturated fats raise cholesterol. For instance, stearic acid, a type of saturated fatty acid found in meats, has a neutral effect on LDL cholesterol.
And speaking of all of those delicious furry animals you eat, let's take a closer look at the fatty acid content of a sirloin steak and how it impacts your heart health.
Monounsaturated Fat: 49%
Saturated Fat: 47%
Polyunsaturated Fat: 4%
Oleic acid: 45% [+]
Palmitic acid: 27% [+]
Linoleic acid: 4% [+]
Key: + = positive effect on cholesterol; - = negative effect on cholesterol; 0 = no effect on cholesterol
As you can see, steak isn't quite the artery clogger many doctors claim it is. Dr. Volek goes so far as to say that including more saturated fat, while reducing processed carbohydrates/sugar, in your diet will help reduce your risk of heart disease. How do you like dem apples?
F is for Force Couples
Force couples are muscles that work synergistically to provide equal and optimal forces around the joint during any movement. When one's force couples are out of whack, we often see kinetic dysfunctions throughout the body.
One perfect example of an altered force couple would be a posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) due to a prolonged seated posture.
In this scenario, we have a predictive pattern of weak/inhibited muscles and tight/overactive muscles.
This posture is seen most often in those who spend many hours in front of the computer. Posterior tilting of the pelvis leads to altered recruitment strategies and decreased ability to control forces through the entire lumbo-pelvic-hip region. This amounts to a decreased function of the kinetic chain.
Additionally, as Mike Robertson noted in his article Hips Don't Lie: Fixing Your Force Couples, PPT often leads to flattening of the lumbar spine which typically leads to an increased kyphotic (or slouched upper back) and head forward posture. Excessive kyphosis isn't a good thing if you value your rotator cuff health, and head forward posture puts you at an increased risk for neck pain, as well as cervical disc herniations. Translation: Girls will not want to hang out with you.
How to fix it: Generally speaking, you want to strengthen what's weak/inhibited and stretch what's tight/overactive (hint: read Mike's article). Also, scroll down to "P" for a hot tip on psoas activation.
G is for Giant Cambered Bar
Whether a client has a bum knee, shoulder, or ego, it's my job as a strength coach and personal trainer to give them a training effect each and every time they walk into my facility. One prime example would be squatting with a straight bar. Because of the "at risk" position (abduction and external rotation) of the shoulder joint, squatting tends to be very uncomfortable for some trainees. This is especially true if they're dealing with current shoulder pathology.
One of the most valuable pieces of equipment for those with bum shoulders is the giant cambered bar. Here a trainee is still able to perform squats, good mornings (I lovecambered bar good mornings), etc., without worrying about whether or not their shoulders will hate them the next day.
H is for Hip Swings (AKA Leg Swings)
One of the very first things I test when evaluating a new athlete is their ankle mobility. More often than not, it's less than spectacular and often explains many dysfunctions up the kinetic chain. A prime example would be many pitchers who have a history of pain in their throwing shoulder. Almost without fail, their ankle mobility stinks, especially in their opposite side ankle.
Nonetheless, given the fact that many athletes tape up their ankles and wear shoes that provide a lot of stability to a joint that normally prefers to be mobile, it's no wonder we have an epidemic of high ankle sprains and anterior knee pain.
Luckily, improving one's ankle mobility is a rather simple task. We've all seen or read about various ankle mobility drills here on Testosterone.
Another simple way is to use something that I learned from Mike Boyle involving leg swings.
While leg swings are generally thought of as a "hip mobility" drill, they also serve as a superb ankle mobility exercise in the sense that they drive transverse (rotational) motion into the ankle of the plant leg. For clients who really need to work on their ankle mobility, I like to include sets of both variations throughout the week. One of the best ways to "sneak" them into their training session is to throw them in while they're resting between sets. Instead of just sitting there twiddling their thumbs, they can do something productive.
I is for I Heart Matt Damon
There's nothing more manly then admitting when you have a man-crush on someone. In my case, it's Matt Damon.
What's not to love about Matt Damon? He was voted People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" (take that, Pitt). He's in one of the most re-watchable movies of all time, Good Will Hunting (honorable mention: The Departed). And he plays the most bad ass character this side of Beatrix Kiddo, in Jason Bourne.
I'd like to think that Matt and I could be best friends forever if we were to ever hang out. There are lots of things we could do together. For instance, we could totally train together and grab a bite to eat afterwards. Maybe play a little pick-up basketball, or give each other high fives for being so damn awesome. You know, stuff like that.
Dwayne 'The Rock" Johnson
J is for Just Stand Up
I'm going to keep this brief and give you one piece of advice that'll undoubtedly help you make better gains with your physique. If you're like most people, you sit commuting to work each day, you sit in front of a computer from nine to five, and then you sit some more watching hours of television every night. Why on Earth would you want to go to the gym and spend more time on your ass?
I'm dumbfounded when I walk into gyms and see people sitting throughout the majority of their training sessions. Get off the bike, the seated military press, and the seated upright abdominal machine for Pete's sake. Do yourself a favor and stand up!
K is for Kate Beckinsale
It's been shown in numerous studies* that merely looking at a picture of Kate Beckinsale will increase Testosterone levels by 317%.
* N = 1 (me)
L is for Low Back Killers
It's been said that upwards of 80% of the population will at some point in time experience low back pain. Many people will blame a one-time only "blunt trauma" as the cause of their lower back pain, like last weekend when you fell off the ladder finally hauling that bastard Rudolf from the roof. But in most cases it can be attributed to what's called cumulative repetitive stress or load.
According to Dr. Stuart McGill, lower back injuries are more common during occupational and athletic endeavors that involve cumulative trauma from repetitive sub-failure magnitude loads.
In such cases, injury is the result of accumulated trauma produced by either the repeated application of relatively low load (such as a rower who repeatedly loads the tissues of the lower back) or the application of a sustained load for a long duration (the "computer guy" who sits at his desk all day with atrocious posture).
So the next time you overhear someone blabbering about how they hurt their back while deadlifting, and as a result have gone on a crusade to deem them "bad" for everyone, mention to them that their form stinks and they should be a bit more cognizant of their posture the other 23 hours of the day. Those are the real back killers.
M is for My New Favorite Snack
One of the most underrated foods out there is pumpkin. Not only is it a great source of beta carotene (which is converted to vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant), but it's also chock-full of fiber and serves as a great low sugar/low calorie snack.
Here's a simple snack idea that I stole from nutritionist Mike Roussell:
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (just regular canned pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 scoop of vanilla Metabolic Drive (to sweeten up the pumpkin)
A dash or two of cinnamon
Handful of chopped walnuts
N is for Nocturnal Feedings
Raise your hand if this sounds vaguely familiar: "Dude, I eat all day and I still can't put on any weight." I hear it so much that it haunts me in my sleep.
One easy solution that I like to use with clients who have a hard time putting on, and keeping, weight is the concept of nocturnal feedings. Simply put, it's an approach that'll allow you to get a few more calories in during a 24-hour period.
I've heard stories of guys setting their alarm to wake themselves up to eat in the middle of the night. Don't do that. Disrupting your body's natural circadian rhythm by abruptly waking yourself up will do more harm than good in the long run.
Instead, drink a large glass of water before bed. As a result, your body will wake you up naturally to go to the bathroom. On your way back to bed, you can down the protein shake that you conveniently left on the nightstand before you fell asleep. And no, your girlfriend doesn't want to have sex with you right now. Especially once she finds out you totally missed the toilet... again.
O is for Oblique Chain (AKA Posterior Oblique Chain)
Optimal function requires the ability to effectively transfer force through the body. As noted in his book, Form and Function: The Anatomy of Motion, Evan Osar states that ineffective load transfer often leads to biomechanical dysfunctions manifesting as increased compressive loads on the spine and skeletal structures, an increase in tensile loads on the soft tissue structures, a resultant decrease in daily, occupational and/or athletic performance and, commonly, pain.
Needless to say, the ability to perform daily activities such as walking, picking up groceries, throwing a ball, or performing a max squat all require that the nervous system is efficient at transferring force through the body using a system of "chains." One such chain is the posterior oblique chain, consisting of the glute maximus, thoracolumbar fascia, and the latissimus dorsi.
The thoracolumbar fascia serves as an intermediary "attachment" between the glute and the contralateral latissimus dorsi which then helps to transfer force between the lower and upper body. Additionally, as Eric Cressey noted in his article Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns, this serves as a crucial factor in spinal stabilization during loaded exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
P is Psoas Activation
After listening to Mike Boyle and conversing with Mike Robertson on this topic, I've come to the realization that many people need to pay more attention to some direct psoas activation as part of their warm-up. Especially when one demonstrates a posterior pelvic tilt (ahem, "computer guy") or has a history of chronic low back pain.
It all comes down to length-tension relationships. The psoas is responsible for hip flexion past 90 degrees and originates on all transverse processes of all five lumbar vertebrae. When your psoas is weak/inhibited, you can't achieve full hip flexion without compensating by flexing your lower back forward; a big no-no.
What Mike Boyle recommends is something called low-load isometrics. There are several drills I like to use here, but one of my favorites is supine psoas activation using a band.
1. Start by lying on your back with your knees flexed at 90 degrees and a band around both feet.
2. Extend one leg while keeping the other flexed at 90 degrees by resisting the tension of the band.
3. Hold for ten seconds and repeat for the other side.
4. Perform three sets of ten-second holds as part of your warm-up.
Q is for Quadruped Progressions
Keeping with the low back theme, not a week goes by where I don't receive an e-mail or deal with a client who has a history of low back pain. Usually, their pain can be attributed to the fact that their hips are tighter than a camel's ass in a sandstorm. Because their hips are so tight (thus, lacking sufficient mobility), they'll compensate by forcing the low back to use more range of motion than it's accustomed to. End result: low back pain.
One of the best things to help fix this problem is to teach the person to learn to stabilize their lumbar spine while working on mobilizing the hips. A simple drill I like to use with beginners takes place in the quadruped position.
Here the stick gives instant feedback on whether or not said client is compensating by using their lower back. If they arch their back excessively, you'll see it. Likewise, if they rotate their pelvis, the stick will fall.
R is for REP's
One of the nice things about being relatively "well known" in the industry is that I know a lot of smart people. Occasionally those smart people stop by to observe and talk shop, and as a result, I can steal their ideas.
One such person is Mike Stare, a physical therapist and strength coach located in New Hampshire. Like myself, Mike works with a lot of young athletes and "regular Joes" who experience shoulder problems. I like to pick his brain from time to time on what he's doing with his clients to keep their shoulders healthy.
One great movement I "stole" from Mike is REP (retraction, external rotation, press).
Here we get a lot of bang for our training buck working on scapular stability (retraction) while also working on glenohumeral mobility (external rotation).
S is for Synergistic Dominance
If one muscle is weak (glute maximus), then other muscles (hamstrings) compensate in an attempt to maintain functional movements. This concept where one or more synergists take over for a prime mover is called synergistic dominance.
Chronic hamstring tears/strains are often a culprit of glutes that are weak/inhibited. The glutes serve as the prime mover of hip extension. Unfortunately, many people sit on their glutes all day and thus demonstrate what's known as "glute amnesia." As a result, the hamstrings have to work double-time to pick up the slack. Once slow-pitch softball season begins, we seem to have an epidemic of hamstring strains.
Take a little extra time during your warm-up and do some direct glute activation work. A little can go a long way to prevent those nagging injuries.
T is for Take Your Shoes Off
Want to instantly increase the amount of weight you can deadlift? Take your shoes off.
Why, you say?
For starters, most people wear shoes that have a heel lift of one to two inches, if not more. By taking your shoes off and pulling barefoot, you're decreasing the distance the bar has to travel. Basic physics.
Additionally, with your shoes off you're now able to pull "through the heels," instead of the balls of your feet. As a result, you'll recruit more of your glutes and hamstrings to help out with the lift.
U is Undulated Periodization
The traditional resistance training periodization model is commonly referred to as linear due to the gradually progressive microcycle increases in intensity over time (every three to six weeks). Undulated periodization has grown in popularity over the years due to the fact that there are large, daily fluctuations in the load and volume assignments. Rather than making changes over a period of months, the undulating model makes these same changes on a weekly, or even daily, basis.
An example would include the following:
Training day 1: 4 x 6
Training day 2: 3 x 10
Training day 3: 5 x 3
For those who are looking for increases in strength, I've found that most (read: not all) people respond very well to an undulated approach. Not only that, but as Alwyn Cosgrove has noted, you never get bored using this approach, because you're never doing the same rep range or exercises twice in a row. For all intents and purposes, undulated periodization just may be the perfect approach for a vast majority of trainees.
V is for Very Low Calorie Diets
The topic of very low calorie diets (VLCD's) to increase one's lifespan has grown in popularity in recent years. I think it's a bunch of hogwash. Do me a favor: If you know someone who's following a VLCD in the hopes of discovering the fountain of youth, kindly take his or her address and forward it to me. I don't care if I have to drive across the country and use so much gas that it'd make Al Gore shit a hybrid car, it'd be worth it to knock some sense into them.
As researcher Lyle McDonald noted in one of his research reviews:
Most research on long term VLCD's has been done on animals and doesn't necessarily equate to humans, since it's not feasible to track humans over their lifespan.
Also, the later someone starts restricting calories in life, the less impact it'll have on their lifespan. Unless we start underfeeding our children, I highly doubt this trend will catch on.
A caloric restriction of upwards of 65% would need to be followed to get the full impact of a caloric restriction diet. As McDonald noted, a male with a predicted maintenance of 2,700 calories per day would be expected to consume 1,350 calories a day for extended periods. A female with a daily maintenance of 1,800 calories would have to subsist on 900 calories per day for extended periods to gain any benefit from caloric restriction.
Is it really worth it to live your life in constant hunger, cold (a decreased metabolism lowers body temperature), and with very low energy levels, only to increase your life by a few years, at best? And who says those extra years are going to be "high quality" years? Do you want to spend another two years drooling on yourself? No one really knows the long term health risks of very low calorie diets.
As an aside, I realize that VLCD's are common practice for those who are looking for rapid fat loss in a short amount of time (photo shoots, class reunions, etc.). Those are typically followed for two to three weeks and I've no issues with that. Please note that the above refers to long term VLCD's, so save the hate mail.
W is Well Done is Better Then Well Said
With 2008 upon us, it's inevitable that people have made their New Year's resolutions. I know I've made mine:
1. Get my knees healthy.
2. Play baseball again. I'm totally going to dominate the over-30 men's league this summer.
3. Write my first e-book.
4. Accept the fact that Jennifer Garner will never leave Ben Affleck for me.
Whether your resolution is to get your butt in the gym more, shed some fat, start eating breakfast every day, or to finally deadlift 300 pounds, just remember that well done is better than well said. Don't just talk a good game, follow through with it.
X is for Xenoestrogens
As has been mentioned several times on Testosterone since 1998, most recently by Dr. John K. Williams, xenoestrogens are manmade chemicals that can enter the body and mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Yikes. Guess what? Heating your food up in Tupperware may not be the best idea, since it's been speculated that xenoestrogens are "leaked" from the plastic into our food from intense heat. Double yikes!
To combat this, your best bet would be to pack your foods, especially those that don't have to be heated up, in glassware instead. Sure it can be a pain, but it's better to be safe than sorry and sportin' a bra.
Y is for You've Got to be Kidding Me (Nice Legs?)
Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from a client of mine who simply wrote, "Give me an example and/or a picture of a chick with really nice legs. My mind is drawing a blank."
Apparently my client and a friend of hers got into a friendly disagreement about what constitutes "nice legs."
I've no idea who Amy Winehouse is (other than she's some singer from the UK who likes to smoke and get into fist fights with her husband), but this is the picture that my client's friend sent her saying, "I'd kill to have legs that look like this."
Apparently she wants legs that look like wet noodles. I've seen chickens with nicer legs than this. See what I did there? I said chickens have nicer legs than Amy Winehouse. Ha!
So being the nice guy that I am, I dug into my "nice legs" library and sent my client this picture:
This woman, fitness model Jamie Eason, actually looks like she eats something other than crack andhits the iron. Not to mention she obviously has superb fashion sense. Love the um, necklace. Yeah that's it. The necklace.
Z is for "?"
In my first edition, I ended with some book recommendations. Since I can't think of anything "manly" dealing with the letter Z, I figured I'd include another list of recommendations. Some are old, some are new. Either way, you should read them.
Girth Control, by Alan Aragon, has probably the wittiest title for a book ever. It's loaded with tons of fantastic research backed by Alan's common sense approach to nutrition. A must have for any nutrition geek.
Athletic Body in Balance, by Gray Cook will teach you how to spot andfix asymmetriesin the body. Jampacked with programming ideas dealing with corrective exercise.
Destroying the Dogma, by Alwyn Cosgrove. Learn to debunk everymyth perpetuated by un-educated fitness professionals concerning fat loss.
The No-Bull Muscle Building Plan, by Kelly Baggett. I really like Kelly's stuff and his book is one of the best books out there geared for those who've always struggled to put on any appreciable mass. I wish I had this book when I was in high school.
Starting Strength, Second Edition, by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore. Unlike many movies, this sequel is superior to the original. Every coach or personal trainer should have this in their collection.
Kinetic Anatomy, by Robert Behnke is a nice resource for those who need an introduction to functional anatomy, without all the sciency stuff.
Any book written by Kurt Vonnegut, because the man was a genius. Start with Slaughterhouse Five. Thank me later.