Saturday, July 30, 2011

Strength train slow, Skill train fast.

Injuries can can have a profound impact on your success whether you're goal is working out for football, building muscle, or losing weight.  You can go a long way to prevent injuries by eliminating fast or explosive weight training before an athletes body is fully developed.  Even today I saw a group of high school football players doing explosive power cleans.  More young athletes get hurt in the gym than on the field due to exercises like these.  When an athlete performs a fast lift such a power clean, tremendous stress and force is placed upon the muscles, joints, and connective tissue.  It is force that causes most injuries and explosive lifts like power cleans greatly increase the force.  During these types of exercises the athlete is literally throwing the weight.  There is almost no involvement from the muscles that you are actually trying to develop during an explosive lift.

Moving the weights fast does not make an athlete fast and doing the exercises slow does not make an athlete slow.  If you insist on performing explosive lifts, make sure that all muscle imbalances and postural deviations are corrected prior to training this way.  This will lessen the stress placed on the joints.  A good rule for coaches:  Strength train slow, skill train fast.

If you develop one area more than another area, this will lead to an imbalanced situation that will result in injury therefore a balanced physique is essential.  You want to eliminate all muscle imbalances as a part of your workout program.  This can be accomplished through flexibility, corrective exercise to improve posture, and strength training.

How much "explosive" power an athlete has is determined mostly by genetics and bodily proportions.  Some people are born with the ability to recruit more muscles faster than other people and have perfect bodily proportions for their sport, like Dick Butkus was for Football. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Best Exercises Series: Pull Ups and Overhead Press

Marvin Eder at a body weight of 198lbs was one of the strongest men in the world in the 1940s-1960's.  He did 8 pull ups with 200lbs strapped around his waist!  Pull ups are another exercises that gym goers avoid almost entirely.  A big reason is that pull ups are one of the hardest exercises because they work almost every muscle in your upper body including giving your abs one heck of a workout.  

Standing overhead presses is probably one of the first exercises cavemen did.  They were sitting around the cave and one looked at the other and said, "I bet I could lift that rock over my head more times than you."  Doing a standing overhead press works all of the opposing muscles of a pull up.  Both exercises are best done when you alternate between them. Perform one set of pull ups to failure then immediately do a set of standing overhead presses to failure.  Then repeat. 2 sets each are all that is needed.

Here's how to do them:

Pull Ups  

Go to the pull up bar, grab it with an underhand grip no wider than shoulder width.  Start in the "dead hang" position, pull up until your chin is above the bar, preferably pull the bar to your upper chest.  Pause slightly in the top position, the slowly lower under control back to the dead hang position.  Make sure you go all the way down, NO halfway down pull ups.  Its better to do 5 the right way than 10 only going halfway down. Repeat as many times as you can. Avoid swinging or kicking your legs out.

Lets say you can't do any pull ups,  in that case just do the lowering or negative portion of the exercise.  Use a step so that you can start in the "UP" position, then just lower yourself slowly taking approximately 4 seconds.  Do as many as you can under control, when you start to lower and your arms are yanked straight then stop.  You will build up your strength very quickly and you'll be doing full pull ups in no time.

Some of you might be able to do 10 full pull ups in good form already, add a 25lb weight to your waist from a weight belt to increase the intensity.  Work up to doing 10 reps with a 50lb weight strapped to your waist.

Note: If you aren't good at pull ups, many people think that substituting  them with the seated pulldown machine will give the same results.  Pull ups and the pulldown machine have no relation to each other, two completely different exercises.  It reminds of when I was training for OCS and I asked my OSO, "How do I get better at pull ups" and he replied "Do pull ups"!   

Standing Overhead Press:

Space your hands so that when your upper arm is parallel to the ground, your lower arm is at a 90 degree angle and that's where you grab the barbell.  This way puts the ideal amount of stimulation on the shoulders and triceps.  Holding the bar on your front shoulders, unrack the bar, tighten abs and stand with good posture.  Without leaning back slowly press the weight overhead taking approximately 2 secs until your arms straight but not locked out.  Begin to lower immediately taking 4 secs to the starting position, pause then repeat.   As you get tired watch your form so that you don't lean back and put unnecessary stress on your lower back.

Build your strength so that you're doing 10 reps at 120lbs of standing overhead presses.  There's no need to add any isolation exercises for your shoulders until you've built up your strength to this level.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Best Exercise Series: Squats

If I could only do one exercise to get in the best shape of my life, I'd do squats.  Squats are so productive that they force the entire body respond by building muscle, improve conditioning, and increasing your cardiovascular ability.  They have what's called secondary growth factors in that you're not just going to get bigger muscles in your legs.  If you want bigger arms it's not going to happen without doing squats.  Same goes for chest and shoulders.  Squats aren't just for men either.  If women want to get the best buns and legs ever, they need to do Squats! 

Why?  Because your legs are the largest muscle group, when you work them hard it sends a signal that the rest of the body needs to respond.  Not only that, research as proved that the body produces more testosterone and growth hormone naturally after doing squats.  This helps with building more muscle, losing fat, and vitality.

The problem with squats is that they are very hard!  It's rare that you find the squat racks full when you go to the gym.  People try and substitute easier exercises like leg presses in hopes to get the same results.  It'll never happen because the squats have all of the other benefits that I discussed.
 
Here's how to do them properly:

The best results for building muscle from squats is when their done to parallel with with a rep range of 15-20.  Pick a weight you normally would do for 8-10 reps, then mentally push yourself to doing 15-20.  Just as with any exercise, squats are to be done slowly and smoothly with the fullest range of motion possible.

First, before you even put the bar on your back you should take a few minutes to contemplate the meaning of life, family, kids, why you're here, the universe etc.  I'm being serious because after the first few reps, you'll want to stop.  You want to make sure you're properly motivated.  Visualize your goal and a successful set of 20 reps.  Place the bar on your upper back, not your neck, and un-rack the bar, your feet shoulder width or just slightly wider, toes pointing straight ahead.  Ideally you want your shoulders, knees, and feet to form a perfect vertical line.  Taking a extra wide stance puts stress on the joints.

Ready now...Take a deep breath, tighten your abs, then slowly lower yourself to where your upper thigh is parallel to the ground.  Stop yourself at the bottom position for a half second and slowly press through your heels squeezing your glutes to the top position exhaling as you go up.  It should take you about 2-3 seconds to go down and 2-3 seconds up to do one rep.  As you press up, the shoulder line and the hips should raise at the same time.  Sometimes you'll find that your hips move first then your shoulders which puts more stress on your lower back.  Squats to parallel take tremendous flexibility so you might have to practice them in a shorter range of motion until you gain the flexibility.  As you lower, you'll notice  your toes will start to turn out if you're not flexible enough.  Don't go deeper than that and return to the standing position.

When you get past reps 8-10, you should be breathing like a freight train! You'll be needing at least 5 breaths before you go down for the next rep.  During reps 14-18, your "higher power" should be talking to you.  You may even be "seeing the light".  By that point there's no turning back, you made it this far, you can't possibly stop until you get to 20 reps.  One or two sets is all that is needed.

For those who may have an injury and that limit the ability to do parallel squats you can modify the exercise.  Start off by leaning against a wall with and exercise ball on your lower back.  This gives you support and keeps your back vertical to the ground.  Do an even slower tempo by taking 4 secs to lower, pause at the bottom for 2 secs, and raise for 2 secs.  When you can do 20 reps, hold a pair of light dumbells to increase the resistance.

Putting your effort into squats will reap rewards far greater than any other exercise.  Dedicate yourself to 1-2 sets of 20 rep squats in your 3 weekly workouts and you'll quickly see why they're considered the best muscle building exercise.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The best exercises for Building Muscle

There's just no way around it, in order to build or maintain muscle you have to do exercises that demand the most out of your body.  We're taking about the hard stuff here: Barbell Squats, Standing Overhead Barbell Presses, Pull Ups, Parallel Dips, Barbell Bicep Curls, Stiff Legged Dead Lifts.  Next time you go to the gym, look around and see just how many people are doing these exercises, probably not too many!

These exercises are so productive in building muscle, that if you did these and only these, your body would be unrecognizable to your friends and relatives in a very short amount of time.

I will detail each exercise in the upcoming blogs starting with the most productive exercise ever, The Barbell Squat.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Train With Attitude

Train With Attitude has one simple focus, workout with 100% intensity and effort.  It's the attitude of good old American hard work, discipline, and a burning desire to be the best you possibly can.  If it were easy to build muscle, everyone would be walking around with the perfect physique. 

What does 100% effort and intensity mean?  It means that when you’re doing an exercise, you keep going it until you can no longer move the weight despite giving your all out effort.  After the set you should need time to gain your bearing, you're not watching TV between sets talking with your friends about picnics and butterflies.  There's an old saying, "if you like an exercise, chances are you're doing it wrong."

When working out this way, you shouldn’t WANT to workout more than 3x's in a week or do more than 2 sets of an exercise.  If you feel like you should or could do more exercise, you were not giving all-out effort. The low number of sets is a necessity and requirement for results.  When done properly, you simply cannot STAND any more exercise.  

 Putting all-out effort towards your goal is an absolute requirement for success not only in the gym but in the real world as well.  In the next series of blogs I'm going to outline what the best exercises are for building muscle and how to do them properly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Have an Exercise Plan!

How does the saying go..."Failure to plan is planning to fail"?  Going to the gym without knowing exactly what needs to be done is a recipe for dissappointing results.  One of the best ways to get results is to have a workout plan.  This way your workouts don't turn into a namby-pamby-wander around the gym-do whatever machine looks pretty-routine.

This is one of the best workout plans around, done in this order:
  • Squats
  • 1 legged calf raises
  • Standing Overhead Barbell Presses
  • Pullups
  • Standing Overhead Barbell Presses
  • Pullups
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Bench Press
  • Rows
  • Parallel Dips
  • Barbell Curls
  • Parallel Dips
  • Barbell Curls
  • Stiff Legged Dead Lifts
  • Ab Crunches
Keep track of every workout writing down the number of reps/weight used on each exercise.  Do each exercise slowly and smoothly.  Use 10 reps for upper body exercises and 20 reps for lower body exercises as a guidline but never stop just because you've reached them.  Keep going until you can't move the weight with good form with all out effort.  Write the number of reps/weight used.  Then the next time you workout, try and beat what your previous workout was in reps and/or weights.  If you follow this type of plan each time you workout, you'll see more results in a month than most see in a year!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The best workout schedule

What is the best workout schedule?

When people ask me to advise them on their workouts, the first question I ask is "How many days per week do you workout?"  Usually the answer is 5 or 6 days a week.  My next question to them is always, "When do allow your body to recuperate and recover?"  This when the aha moment happens because most people never think about recuperation and growth.  If you workout properly your system needs time to recover and grow.  The best workout schedule is 3 days a week and never 2 days in a row.  Each workout is done in a total body fashion, working out every major muscle group.  Research has shown that the system needs a minimum of 48hrs to recover and grow.  Let's say you workout on Monday, the next workout would be on Wednesday and then Friday.  This is the best workout schedule.

How do you know if you are getting enough recovery? 

You will know by your strength gains.  Every workout there should be a progression in weight and/or reps in each exercise.  For example if you do 10 pull ups on Monday, 12 on Wednesday, and 13 on Friday you have allowed for not only recovery but growth as well.

What if I workout one body part per day? One body part is recuperating while I work a different part the next day.

First, your body doesn't not work separately like that.  Do you eat just for your chest one day and your back the next?  When you sleep do you do so just for your legs or arms?  Secondly, we are not only talking about muscle recuperation but also the overall system,  Body and Mind.  Have you ever had that burnt out feeling?  That's because the overall system is overloaded and needs recuperation.  This is called over-training.  If you feel over trained it's advisable that you take anywhere between 10-14 days off completely from working out.  In fact, I highly recommend taking at least 10 days off from working out every 6 months or so.  Do not plan it, just take the time off when you feel like you've hit a rut.  It will work wonders for your workouts, you'll come back feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Why is a 3x's per week Total Body program the best workout?

When you workout on this schedule, you're able to push yourself very hard.  There is no holding back.  You cannot possibly workout everyday and push it as hard as needed to get good results.  It's just not possible.  Also when you workout total body each time you burn a lot of calories.  If you're looking to lose bodyfat and gain muscle there is no better workout schedule.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's the best workouts for weight loss?

Most people think that the fastest way to a slimmer you is to do tons of cardio (treadmill, spinning, aerobics).  Now I'm not saying that cardio can't help but the best way to workout for weight loss is to build muscle by resistance training.  If done the right way you can burn up to 2x's the amount of calories you would if you were to do cardio.  Muscle is the driver of your metabolism and helps you burn calories all day long even when you're watching TV.

The best workout schedule for getting the fastest results are 3 "Total Body Workouts" per week, for example Mon-Weds-Fri.  In each of the workouts you want to work all of the major body parts i.e. Total Body.  This will ensure not only to most muscles being built but the most calories burned.

Here's a sample workout:
  1. Planks
  2. Crunches
  3. Squat to Curl to Press
  4. Chest Press
  5. Back Rows
  6. Shoulder Press
  7. Leg Presses
Along with a low calorie diet, you would follow this type of program for 4 weeks before changing the exercises to eliminate boredom.  A four week plan of sets and reps for each exercise is:
  1. 1-2 sets of 20 repetitions
  2. 1-2 sets of 15 repetitions
  3. 2 sets of 15 repetitions
  4. 3 sets of 12 repetitions

Friday, July 15, 2011

How often should you change your workout routine?

We hear it all the time especially on those weekend infomercials..."This program works because it changes every time you workout" or this is one of my favorites "It works because of muscle confusion".  Well let's be nice and say they have it partly right.  You do need to change your workout routine each time BUT within very narrow guidelines.  The same basic 8-10 exercises can serve you for a lifetime of working out without having any type of plateau.  Quite frankly there just aren't too many productive exercises out there.  Always keep in mind that the effort and intensity are the most important factors in achieving results. 

Here's example of the slight changes that can be made continually see results.  We'll take the exercise of bicep curls:

Day                      Set #1                       Set #2
Monday               60lbs x 9reps          60lbs x 8reps
Wednesday         60lbs x 11reps        55lbs x 10reps
Friday                  65lbs x 10reps        70lbs x 8reps

If you remember from previous posts, when 10 reps of a certain weight are done an increase in the weight used is needed.  Look at the differences from each set of the workouts.  Monday's workout you may keep the weight the same for both sets, Weds you may lighten the weight for the second set, and Friday you raise the weight for the second set.  The body only needs this small change to continually see results.  You could change your workout program each time by raising or lowering the weight on the first or second set depending on how many repetitions are done.  Each time you perform more than 10 reps in a set, increase the weight on your next workout.  Remember, the number of reps is a guideline.  Do as many reps as possible with good form until muscle failure.

In order to fight boredom in your workout program, change the exercises but not until you've reached your strength potential for a particular exercise.  This takes some time.  When it's reached, you could change from doing standing overhead presses with a barbell to using dumbells.  Still keep doing the same basic exercises 8-10 exercises.  This will build the most muscle in the shortest amount of time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do we lose athletic ability as we get older?

The Butkus Hurdle
"They've lost a step"..."can't jump as high as he used to"..."doesn't hit the ball as far as he did"...All things we've heard before but why does it happen?  After the age of 35, probably earlier, we start losing muscle at about 1/4-1/2lb a year.  The reason why we lose athletic ability as we get old is because we simply lose muscle.

Your muscles are the engine of the body and provide the power, speed, agility, and protection against injuries.  Those muscles that were once used to play your sport have been literally going away each year.  The best defense against muscle loss is to build muscle the right way. People often assume when I say this that they'll get huge and muscular like a bodybuilder.  There may be some that have the genetics but the odds of that are 1 in a billion.  As the old saying goes, some have it and some don't.

The best way to build and prevent muscle loss is by doing high intensity weight training.  Intensity is what tells the body that a change needs to happen.  The higher the intensity, the better the message is sent.  If it's too low, you could workout for 5 or 10 years without building any muscle.

The workout to get the fastest results in building muscle is a 3-day per week total body workout that works all of the major muscle groups.  One that is designed to not only build muscle but also allow for proper recovery.  At any age recovery is extremely important!  Without recovery, muscle growth will never happen.  I could see athletes late in their careers be stronger than they were when they started with this type of training.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Question: How do I "Tone Up"?

Someone flagged me down while I was working out and asked, "I'm just looking to tone up, what is the best way"?  A common myth is, this exercise is for toning and that exercise is for bulking.  I'll be polite...that's pure bologna!  Here's an example of what I'm talking about for your shoulders:

"Side raises with weights is a toning exercise as opposed to overhead presses which is better for building muscle".

If people never did side raises and only did overhead presses, there would be a heck of a lot of people with shapely/toned shoulders.  Why? Overhead presses are harder, they build more muscles and strength faster than side raises.  The harder the exercise the faster your results.

To create the most "tone" focus on building muscle by doing a total body workout 3x's per week.  Limit your exercises to squats, leg presses, pullups, rows, overhead press, parallel dips, curls, dead lifts, one legged calf raises.  Perform 2 sets each, 10 reps for upper body and 20 reps for lower body exercise.  Never stop just because you made it to the guide number of repetitions.  Try to increase your weight and/or reps each time. Done this way over the course of a year you could build the best physique you've ever had.   Along with training right, dial in your nutrition by eating a low calorie diet so that you actually see the efforts of your weight training.

Can you lift weights for Speed, Agility, and Quickness?

Speed, Agility, and Quickness (SAQ) training has been a buzzword lately in sports performance training.  There are some that say you can train for SAQ by doing certain weight training exercises in the gym that will translate to performance on the field.

A proper strength-training program will improve SAQ!

If you double the strength of the athlete you will greatly improve their Speed, Agility, and Quickness.  Now to improve SAQ, that doesn't mean that strength training exercises are to be done fast.  In the typical program, this is where "explosive training" (i.e. power cleans, snatches, etc.) would normally be used with the thought being "if you lift fast, you'll be fast".  This is the LEAST productive type of training and the MOST stressful to the joints.  Just yesterday in gym I saw 2 collegiate girls basketball players doing "power cleans".  What power cleans have to do with girls basketball, I have no idea.  What I do know is that it's a good way to have a severe injury especially for younger athletes that are still growing. 

The quickest way to improve Speed, Agility, and Quickness is to develop strength throughout the whole body by doing a proper strength training program as outlined at FitLike51.com.  Then go to your position coach and perform specific SAQ drills for your position.  For example, a lineman looking to gain more explosiveness at the snap of the ball needs to practice the form and technique required for that action.  If a wide receiver needs to improve quickness and reaction time, they need perform specific drills, mechanics of running, and timing on the practice field.  No amount of "explosive training” or “power cleans” will improve their sports performance.   

Thursday, July 7, 2011

FLEXIBILITY: I know I need to stretch but...

So you don't stretch?  No wonder why you're a 1ft shorter than you were when you were 20!  Seriously, increasing flexibility is important whether your the weekend warrior or a professional athlete.  Including flexibility exercises in your program not only makes you feel better, it helps relieve pressure off of your joints especially your lower back.

Besides traditional stretching and Yoga, strength exercises done in the fullest range of motion is another way to increase flexibility.  In effect, the weights will actually help you gain MORE flexibility but only when done in the fullest range of motion.  For example when doing a pull up, you would start from a dead-hang position and pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, then slowly lower yourself to the dead-hang position.  This way your lats get fully stretched and contracted with every repetition.  No half or partial reps!

Key areas of tightness for most people are: Chest, Lats, Hamstrings, Front Hip, and Calves.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MUSCLE: The older we get, the more we lose!

After 40, we lose 8lbs of muscle every 10 yrs which means the body is burning about 500 calories LESS per day.  That muscle loss slows our metabolism and makes it harder to lose weight.  The solution?  START BUILDING MUSCLE! 

One of the best ways to build muscle is by lifting weights.  "I don't want to build too much muscle.." is a common concern I get from both men and women.  That makes about as much sense as saying, "I don't want to make too much money".  Building muscle is the engine behind your metabolism.  The bigger the engine the more fuel it burns.  The more muscle that's built, the more calories you burn and the more fat you lose.

Now the body only takes note to change if there's a reason to change.  In other words, you have to push it each workout!  A person can workout for years without any results if they just go through the motions.  But the harder you work the faster and dramatic the change.  That logic applies to a lot of things in life doesn't it?

Here are some guidlines:
  • Choose one exercise per body part, never more than 8 exercises in a workout.
  • Do 2 sets per exercise and never more than 3 sets.
  • Use a guideline 10 repetitions for the upper body and 20 reps for the lower body but never stop if you reach those guidelines.  If you stop at 10 reps and you could've done 13, your body doesn't take note.
  • Always weight train 3 non-consecutive days per week, for example Mon-Weds-Fri or Tues-Thurs-Sat.
  • Keep a training log, try to increase your weights or reps each workout.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I gained 30lbs of muscle in 6 weeks

Six weeks, forty gallons of milk, and a boatload of sweat later I went from weighing 220lbs to 252lbs.  Having always struggled to build serious muscle mass, you won't find another workout program that will change your body faster.  This is the most old school proven ways to gain muscle without steroids, creatine, or fancy equipment.   

The workout I did is built around 1 set of heavy high repetition squats done 3x's per week for 6 weeks.  On the first workout, you choose a weight that you normally squat for 10 reps, and just do 20 reps with the weight.  Every workout you add 5lbs or 10lbs to the squats no matter how hard it was the previous workout.  Along with the squats, throw in a a few sets of basic exercises like Bench, Rows, Dips, and Curls but the squats are the key to the program.  How many sets of squats?  Just one set of 20 reps, trust me you don't WANT to do more than one set of these bad boys.  If you're not religious, you'll become religious after a set of heavy high rep squats!

Now to support the squats, it's recommended that you eat normally and drink 1 gallon of milk per day.  Yeah, I did say a gallon of milk per day!  Back in the 1930's when the 20 rep squat program was developed they had no nutritional supplements.  Milk was all they had and it's actually one of the best things to build muscle.  Most modern protein powder is derived from milk.

During the 6 weeks my strength went through the roof.  I went from squatting 150lbs to 305lbs for 20 reps.  This workout turns "before's" into "after's".  It literally tells your body that it needs to grow BIGGER.  The one thing you will have to consider on the 20 rep squats and milk workout is you'll nee a new wardrobe!

Are there exercises that transfer to particular sports?

Strength is general, and contributes to any activity… but the applied demonstration of strength is specific. Learning to apply your strength properly in any activity requires skill training… not strength training, but skill training can come from only one possible source, the practice of the sport itself.”

Arthur Jones, Founder and Inventor of Nautilus/Medx Sports Industries

One of my main goals with fitlike51.com is to dispel many of the myths about athletic training and conditioning.  These days you hear quite a bit about athletes of all levels doing  "sports performance training".
Between practice, school, extra curricular activities, time is very limited so it's more important than ever to have a proper strength training and conditioning program.  There is one concept that must be understood clearly so that time isn't wasted, there aren’t any exercises in the gym that transfer skill to any sport.  The only possible way to specifically train for football is to play football.  The only sports specific training a tennis player can do is to play tennis, etc.  The player has to use the same tools and techniques on the field in order for the body to respond accordingly.

The current state of sports performance training is quite troubling.  I recently saw an athlete profiled to prepare to enter the NFL combine.  It was downright frightening what the “coaches” had the athlete doing.  He was working out daily with little rest between workouts.  They had him flipping truck tires, doing circus moves, they even had the athlete push an SUV down the road!  Now if you want to be good at those activities by all means continue doing them but in terms of sports performance, please STOP!

The fastest way to improve your sports performance is to develop strength by doing a proper strength training program outlined at fitlike51.com.  Then go to the practice field and develop your technique and skill as it relates to your particular sport and position.  This combination is by far the most productive way to make your players better.