by Bret Contreras September 24, 2010
Here are eleven totally random thoughts for the week. Check back tomorrow for a bunch of “good reads for the week” which will tide you over til next week.
1. Digital Camera for Instant Feedback
One of the most effective things I’ve added to my personal training in the past year is the use of a digital camera. I cannot stress enough to personal trainers and strength coaches how powerful and effective of a tool this is. I film my clients doing squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, etc. and show them their videos so they can learn what they’re doing right and wrong. So often clients aren’t kinaesthetically aware of their movement and they don’t really understand what they’re doing until they see it on video and hear your feedback. I hear the flip video works great for this purpose; I just use my Cannon.
I filmed a video the other day of my garage gym. I saved up over the course of a couple years on a teacher’s salary to purchase this equipment (most of it through Elitefts). This equipment has served me very well over the years! Of course I wish I had more stuff, which will come in time.
3. Mr. Olympia
For those of you who follow bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia contest is this weekend. If I can get a hotel tomorrow, I may end up driving up for the weekend. I especially love attending the convention.
I’ve received a few emails over the past couple of weeks from people asking me how I use the Skorcher. For my clients, I start them off with bodyweight hip thrusts. Over time I move them to band hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts. For advanced clients and my own training, I might use barbell plus bands, barbell plus chains, or just a heavy barbell. Here is me moving some serious weight on the Skorcher. The Skorcher makes the exercise much more difficult as the hamstrings are put under greater stretch as the hips drop below the feet, and there is no resting point so you have to reverse the eccentric portion straight into the concentric portion. When I had my studio Lifts, I had two other trainers and we’d always train together, so having a couple of extra helpers came in handy. In this video my stepbrothers helped me out.
5. Skorcher Commercial
Speaking of Skorcher, not many people know the story behind my invention. To make a long story short, one day back in 2007 a wealthy investor popped his head into Lifts and asked me if I could create a smaller infomercial-sized model (which I said I could) and if I’d like to partner up. He ended up raising $1.2 million and we created 3 models and used a talented ad-agency to create a bunch of materials. The investors ended up backing out due to the fact that they lost a ton of money over some of their other deals and we never got to do an infomercial. But we did film a short 30 second commercial which I ran across the other day on the internet by chance. Check it out; hilarious!
6. Valgus Collapse
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about valgus collapse. In case you don’t know, valgus collapse simply refers to the knee caving inward (technically hip adduction and internal rotation) when squatting, lunging, climbing steps, etc. Here’s a good example. The other day I was filming my client Karli’s workout. I only filmed her heaviest sets of each exercise. When I had Karli using 65 lbs, 75 lbs, and 85 lbs, her knees stayed out and the knees tracked properly over the feet. However, when I jumped the weight up to 95 lbs, the heavier load in combination with the fatigue induced by prior sets caused her knees to cave in (and her hips to rise faster than her shoulders which is a separate issue also related to going too heavy) during the last 3 reps of her Zercher squats. Check it out:
This was an error on my part as a trainer but if you’ve coached for a while you see this crop up quite often when going heavy. Clearly it’s not a mobility issue if they can demonstrate proficiency with lighter loads. Typically we hear that it’s a problem associated with a weak glute medius. I’ve also heard that it’s associated with a weak biceps femoris. However, if you’ve watched some of the strongest people in the world compete in the sports of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman, then you’ve probably witnessed valgus collapse in world-class athletes who train hard every day. You know these athletes have “strong glutes,” but are they strong enough? It’s not always a strength issue…often it’s a patterning issue. Sometimes you can clean up this pattern very quickly with proper education. I had assumed that I “fixed” this issue with Karli, as she no longer demonstrates this pattern with full squats, front squats, or box squats. However, Zercher squats (she used a pretty wide stance for such a deep squat) caused this problem to resurface (it wouldn’t be so obvious if she simply rose up and down with her knees caved in slightly…but it’s very apparent in this video because she lowers the weight with her knees out and then moves them inward to raise the weight back up).
The fact of the matter is that the body will always contort itself to its strongest positioning to make a lift. When the weight goes up, some lifters maintain perfect form, while other lifters’ form breaks down considerably. Think of the forward leaning in squats, the round back lifting in deadlifts, etc. In the case of the squat, it seems that you need to make the glute medius and possibly the biceps femoris strong as hell to resist inward collapse as there is some evidence that shows that this inward collapse might actually be an advantageous position for the body as it might increase the moment arm of the glute medius and possibly other muscles such as the quadriceps. This is quite dangerous over time as it can lead to anterior knee pain and possibly ACL injuries (which is debated in the research…some researchers believe that ACL injuries are purely sagittal in nature while others feel that frontal and transverse plane forces can influence ACL injuries).
Heavy weight need not be avoided, just make sure that if your form breaks down, you lighten the load and reinforce good patterns. Practice makes perfect. In Karli’s case, I need to keep reinforcing good mechanics over and over and if her form breaks down in the slightest manner, I should stop the set and lighten the load. Minibands placed around the knees can be used while squatting to strengthen the abductors and external rotators as well. This method should be used with just bodyweight or with lighter squat loads, not with maximal loads. Low load glute activation drills can come in handy for this purpose as well. Finally, single leg exercises such as lunges, Bulgarian squats, step ups, and pistols do a great job of strengthening the hip stabilizers through a full range of motion.
As a lifter and a writer, I realize the need to write toward different audiences. I believe two things:
1. Training for solely maximum strength is radically different than training for maximum athletic development
2. Personal training is radically different than strength coaching
When I read another author’s work, I try to get into their heads and figure out where they’re coming from. I try to see strength & conditioning through their “lens” and consider the population with whom they work, their role, the equipment to which they have access, their past training and experience, their interests, their philosophy, etc. It helps me better understand their thought-process and in the end helps me learn more.
8. Core Stability
Especially at commercial gyms, I see people engaging in core stability exercises (which would normally be a good thing) but clearly many of them don’t understand the point of the exercises. The point of core stability exercises is to maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the knees and keep the spine in neutral position. I see people doing ab wheel rollouts, planks, and even push ups where their hips sag and their low backs hyperextend. The point of the exercise is to strengthen the core from an isometric standpoint and teach the core to resist motion which in theory should help protect the spine and teach the core to transfer force more efficiently. If you do these exercises incorrectly, you’ll end up damaging spinal structures and possibly suffering low back injury.
9. Hamstring Research
Lately I’ve been reading a ton of hamstring research and will try to write a blog or article in the future that discusses the hamstrings. Even in the past year there have been several amazing journal articles (one of them I referenced in a previous blogpost). I think the strength & conditioning profession can do much better in preventing hamstring injuries.
10. Transfer of Training
If you’re a decent coach or trainer, then you know that strength training can work miracles in terms of improving athletic performance. It’s not uncommon to take a high school male and put several inches on his vertical leap and shave a couple tenths of a second off of his forty yard dash during the first month of training. Dozens if not hundreds of journal studies support the notion that resistance training improves indicators of athletic performance. Transfer of training becomes much more complicated as the athlete improves from beginner to advanced, and even more complicated if the athlete reaches an elite status.
That said, I’m amazed at the paucity of research that looks at transfer of training between different exercises. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be much good research where the effects of different types of exercises are compared. I hope that in the future we delve into this area much deeper.
One of my blog readers asked me what strength training books I recommend. I won’t get into textbooks or technical books, but I feel that many lifters and coaches don’t have an appreciation for the classics. Here’s a basic list:
-Only the Strongest Shall Survive – Bill Starr
-Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Beyond Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Super Squats – Randall Strossen
-Dinosaur Training – Brooks Kubik
-Keys to Progress – John McKallum
-The Steel Tip Newsletter – Dr. Ken (this isn’t a book but if you can get your hands on these they were a great read from back in the day)
-Functional Training for Sports – Mike Boyle
-Core Performance – Mark Verstegen
-Athletic Body in Balance – Gray Cook
-Athletic Development: Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning – Vern Gambetta
-Never Let Go – Dan John
-Supertraining – Mel Siff
-The Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky
-Enter the Kettlebell – Pavel Tsatsouline
-The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding – Arnold Schwarzenegger
-The Charlie Francis Training System – Charlie Francis
-The Westside Barbell Book of Methods – Louie Simmons
-Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 2nd Edition – Mark Rippletoe & Lon Kilgore
Definitely Worth Reading
-Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training – Tudor Bompa
-Optimal Muscle Training – Ken Kinakin
-Bigger, Faster, Stronger – Greg Shephard
-Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods – Christian Thibaudeau
-Muscle Revolution – Chad Waterbury
-Huge in a Hurry – Chad Waterbury
-5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength – Jim Wendler
-The Vertical Jump Development Bible – Kelly Baggett
-The Ultimate No-Bull Speed Development Manual – Kelly Baggett
-The No-Bull Muscle Building Plan – Kelly Baggett
-The Ultimate Off-Season Strength Training Manual – Eric Cressey
-Maximum Strength: Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program – Eric Cressey
-Designing Strength Training Programs and Facilities – Mike Boyle
-Advances in Functional Training: Training Techniques for Coaches, Personal Trainers and Athletes – Mike Boyle
-Power Training: Performance Based Conditioning for Total Body Strength – Robert Dos Remedios
-High Threshold Muscle Building – Christian Thibaudeau
-The New Rules of Lifting – Alwyn Cosgrove, Lou Shuler
-The Black Book of Training Secrets – Christian Thibaudeau
-The Essence of Program Design – Juan Carlos Santana
-Training for Warriors – Martin Rooney
-Movement – Gray Cook
-Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better – Eric Cressey
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