Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The WHY!!

In a previous entry I touched on the discussion I have with my trainers about what separates a great strength and conditioning coach from an average coach. Unfortunately, many fitness professionals are taught using a particular training method and never really understand the Why? What is the Why? A good  example starts by picking an exercise that you have performed during your last workout.  Let’s say it is an interval session on the Versaclimber.  By the way, this piece of equipment is an integral part of our training and we use it regularly at Titan. I feel it is one of the best pieces of cardio equipment anywhere.  If you can find a commercial center that uses one it is a good sign.  In most centers this equipment collects a lot of dust. So, you are going to do intervals of 30 seconds with a 15 second rest for a total of 6 min. When you start evaluating this exercise the whys add up quickly.  For example, why 30 seconds? Why a 15 second rest? Why not a shorter interval and a longer rest or vice versa?   What intensity will you produce and why?  How many 6 min intervals will you perform and why.  Why did you perform an exercise or did not perform an exercise before the intervals and why will you do what you do after.  Why is it on this day of the week?   Why are you performing these intervals 1-2-3 times or more per week if at all?  Why are you performing them at this level of volume and intensity this time of the year?  What will follow in the days and weeks to come and how and why does this session impact those exercises.  
The answer to these questions and understanding the science behind the answers is typically where the wheels come off in training.  If you are looking for the best use of your training time you better start asking why you are performing a particular exercise.  Ask a trainer and you will be surprised at the answers or lack of answers.  In many cases it is similar to when you were a child and your mom or dad did not have an answer so they said “because”.   Intensity of a workout is oftentimes the smoke and mirrors and the “because “of poor training.  Many trainers make a workout so hard that you will crawl out of the session and the perceived value will be greater so you will not ask why.

Developing higher levels of human performance is a dynamic process.  There are so many variables that affect the progress of an individual that if a trainer cannot answer the why progress will slow dramatically.
With the concept of “Why” in mind I am going to change the format of the blog.  I am going to begin with a concept that is important to training and discuss the why. 

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!

Jacques DeVore, CSCS

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Evolution of Your Fitness: Getting Fit Enough to Get Really Fit!

At Titan I always tell our clients that I have to get them fit enough to get really fit.  This morning I was working with two women who are fit enough to get really fit and their training is reflecting this fact. As a trainer it was enjoyable to train them because we can create workouts that allow them to make great strides in improving their fitness and the impact can be great on their daily lives.  In addition they can have an hour workout that would bury the average person and then head off to the rest of their day feeling great about what they just accomplished.  So how do I measure this level of fitness?

In all honesty fitness takes some work and a measured amount of suffering. Those of you who are training at a level that never gives you some higher level of stress on the body will walk in the no man’s land of fitness year after year.  The main culprit is the marketing of fitness today.  Most individuals want a magic trainer that will tell you that you do not have to work hard in order to accomplish your goal.  This person can magically transform their client’s body into the body they want without any real work.  It is a bunch of nonsense.  What a great trainer can do is regulate the progression of the training to ease some of the pain; however there will be some measured amount of suffering.  If regulated appropriately this suffering can be very tolerable and overcome. 

The evolution of fitness that we have seen with our athletes and our non athletes is that first we must obtain a general level of fitness.  That means that the body has the ability to stabilize and mobilize.  This takes a minimum level of strength, balance, flexibility, power, and cardiovascular fitness in order to perform certain exercises correctly.  This minimum ability greatly reduces the risk of injury. We define minimum as the ability to control the body with body weight only.  Control does not mean being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  

At the start of a workout we utilize a dynamic warm up (Peak Performance Online has a great explanation of a dynamic warm up, ) Titan’s dynamic warm up would be considered by some as a workout within a work out to prepare the body for more intense forms of movements.  After we have established that body control is sound then we start to focus on the ability to produce more intensity and volume in the movements.  Intensity can be defined as movements that are more complex or at higher speeds or under greater loads.  These speeds require a minimum level of strength and power production as well as the ability to stabilize the body so that the athlete is not injured.   We want the ability to stabilize effectively engaging the core, adequate balance, strength, and power. There are very few movements of the body that do not employ the core in stabilizing the body.  However, the type of complex multi-joint exercises we utilize are regularly taxing the core and forcing a client’s body to stabilize effectively.  If this cannot be accomplished the exercise would be determined to be too advanced.  To get a better understanding of engaging your core, imagine a 100 meter race on your bicycle but you have to sprint without your hands on the handle bars.  You would be hard pressed to beat your opponent without gripping the bars.  Once you grab the bars you have a kinetic chain that starts from your hands and travels all the way to your feet and back.   If your wrist was injured the kinetic chain would be compromised and your performance would be affected.   This is a good example of core strength.  It does not just come from your torso.  It is the coordination of multiple muscles that all tie to the center of your body.  The contact points are sometimes different and in some cases we see examples of body control by elite athletes in  mid air that are absolutely incredible and leave us jaw dropped with the body control displayed.

Volume is the amount of a particular exercise that is performed.   It can be measured in repetitions, time, foot pounds of power, wattage, miles, feet etc.  I like to define it as total time in the zone.   The zone to me is the training goal of a particular exercise and how much time you spend producing that particular goal.  For example you are doing short intervals on a bicycle of 1 min at a power output of 350 watts.  The volume would be the total time spent at 350 watts.  If you did 10 of these intervals then the time in the zone or total volume would be 10 min at wattage of 350.   So volume must be measured and tied to the intensity in order to have any relevance in your training.  It is for this reason that recording workouts is so important. 
I have talked about the no man’s/woman’s land of training where many spend hours and hours of training time.  This is a training level that is too hard for recovery and not hard enough for an overload.   Without recording volume and intensity most fall into this type of training.  Overloads can come from both volume and/or intensity.

When we train a professional athlete they typically have an adequate general level of fitness that is well developed.  However, even the best athletes of the world have dimensions of their fitness that need to be addressed to lower the risk of injury in the future.  

Once you have obtained this general level of fitness the workouts change and the focus begins to narrow.   Both intensity and volume can now be increased and major changes in fitness can be obtained and we can begin to get someone really fit.  We incorporate exercise that will focus on energy systems necessary for that particular sport.  We begin to stair step to higher and higher levels of fitness.  Periodization and long term strategy become very important as well as tactics to produce greater and greater overloads as the client becomes fitter.  

All of these are wrapped into a dynamic training package that allows a client to become really fit and not just what I call average man fit. When you get to this level of fitness you will know it.  People will call you a fitness nut and you will start looking at yourself as an athlete, not just someone who works out. 
Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Strength training and the Female Athlete and Non-athlete

The commonly held myth that I constantly encounter when training women is that they do not want to lift heavy weights for fear of gaining bulk.  This is NOT accurate for a number of reasons; however it is one of the hardest hurdles that I often encounter with our female athletes and clients at Titan. 

First of all women are not men.  I know it sounds crazy but women see male and female bodybuilders and think that they will look like that if they begin a weightlifting regimen.  Second, men have much greater levels of testosterone, the primary hormone necessary for building large muscle mass.  Secondly the hours of lifting necessary to build that type of muscle is enormous.  Even if you are a Man!  Women typically have 1/7th the level of testosterone than men.  The women that are seen all bulked up in magazines will in many cases be supplementing the level of testosterone in their body to achieve this bulk.   So, all you women out there try to remember that gaining bulk is a full time job for men and is even more difficult for women to do because of the lower levels of testosterone.

Once we have established that our female athletes are biomechanically sound and functionally capable (see last post) we want to establish a good foundation of strength.  We utilize multi-joint lifts for all the major muscle groups. The mistake that many women make is to lift too light at 10-20 repetitions thinking that this will keep them small.  In fact these number of repetitions produce hypertrophy (increase in size) of the muscle.  This type of training comes from a body building mentality.

The weight necessary to establish strength in an athlete is typically an amount of weight that is difficult enough so that only 8 or less repetitions can be executed with flawless form.  We have our female athletes perform as low as 3 repetition sets that produce a neuromuscular response in strength and do not increase the size of the muscle.  In other words more of the muscle that is already there is recruited in order to accommodate the heavier load.   This is also the protocol we use for any athlete where power to weight is of great importance.  You cannot believe how many endurance athletes are also afraid of bulking up by lifting and subsequently lift light with larger number of repetitions. 

The first reaction of most women and heavy lifting is they will get big.  They have been fed a body of knowledge from trainers who do not know what they are doing and continue to have women do the old 3 sets of 10 or more routine.  In the past I have even encountered female trainers who are hesitant to lift heavy and reluctant to have their clients do the same for fear of getting bulky. 

It is amazing once we do start lifting heavy with women and they actually get toned and lean as a result of the heavy lifting.  Not only does it promotes lean body mass they have much greater functional capabilities and a wonderful sense of empowerment.   In addition the metabolic increase as a result of heavy weightlifting is wonderful in obtaining optimum body composition. 

So all you females out there that wonder about why you have not been seeing the change in you bodies that you would like should take a page out of how Titan trains women athletes as your first step to that toned, lean,  and athletic body.

Train smart, have fun, and you will prevail!