“Go heavy or go home!”
“If you’re not adding another plate, you’re wasting your time.”
“If your numbers are not increasing,  you’re workouts are useless.”
“You can’t build muscle without moving more weight.”
and…

“You gotta do “fill-in-blank”  if you want to build your ________.
“If you don’t__________, you won’t develop your________”
“You______, if you don’t______with at least______, you are a worthless _____”

Alright, these are just a few of the common statements parroted in our wonderful expert-filled fraternity of resistance training…and as if absolute, irrefutable laws in the world of fitness/bodybuilding/strength & conditioning. If you’re reading this you’ve probably heard a few of them, said a few of them, and may even still believe a few of them. Far be it for me, or anyone else, to try and convince you otherwise.

As with all of my writings and teachings, my objective is to contribute in a manner that  helps you with the next step no matter where you currently are as opposed my trying to appear smart, be argumentative, authoritative, or condescending. All of my work is based soundly on, ‘there’s science in what we do but the application is not a science’. Take from it what you can use, and set aside or discard the other. There’s more than enough confusion in our industry and my hope is to help eliminate some of it and shine light on a path free of fitness legalism.

This article is for those who have hit a proverbial roadblock (or desire avoiding one) in their training for whatever reason, no matter if injury, chronological age, or simply personal inaptitude regarding certain exercises.  As well, it’s for those who want to minimize wasted time and make their training, and/or their clients’, more efficient. As with any productive read, if you get even one good idea to implement, in my estimation, it was well worth your time investment.

To illustrate the few (but key!) points of this article, I’m going to use my 30-year career working with competitive athletes and general clientele, as well as my own experience in actual dedicated training over the past 36 years, and counting. If doing the math, that’s no typo, I started training at the mature age of 12, and began working with actual clients at 18.

My clientele has ranged from 6 years of age to those into their 90′s. Currently, the range is 7 to 86 years of age. Obviously most of my work is between those bookends, and personally, that’s about where I am currently as I’m now closer to 50 than 45. This particular article is geared towards those in the “over-35″ demographic but the principles can certainly apply across the board regardless of the number after the comma after your name.

The majority of my work with clients who are non-competitive-athletes  is beyond the designed program and whiteboard. It’s the session-by-session feedback and subsequent tweaks that are as much a part of a client’s success as them showing up to work. And in my own training, it’s the biofeedback aspect that is, in my opinion, the most valuable skill one can possess and sharpen, and that is developed only through years upon years of applied training, study, experience, and some admitted trial and error. It’s one of those things in life that takes you experiencing it… to know it. It’s a 6th sense that truly becomes a “new kind of intensity”.  I call it Kinesthetic Sense.

Your discipline at earlier stages might have been to push yourself to the obligatory “cliff’s edge”, or to be determined to add another plate as if your self-worth depended on. But, now, that discipline has matured (if not yet, it will), and you realize that you don’t want your “training life” to flat line at the not-so-ancient age of 30. You now understand you are only as good, or fit, as your next workout. Trust me, no one cares if you “benched 315 back in the day” or “squatted 8 wheels in college”. Guess what? There’s always someone with a better, uh, heavier, story. By the way, the ones who are impressed…..oh, I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say, how you feel, function, and look speaks louder than any jacked-up stat sheet covered in dust.

Back to the skill of that 6th…Kinesthetic…Sense

No,… so sorry,…there’s no shortcut, …no matter weekend certification, business seminar, or lobotomy that will circumvent that reality.

Moving on…

My background in training covers many different modalities as part of performance enhancement for various sports. Over my 3 1/2 decades of training, I’ve worked through periods of dedicated powerlifting (to clarify, for those inquiring any lightweight bias, no 315 bench but did squat 545), olympic lifting, and gymnastics.

I’ve put some serious time in with most training implements common today including kettlebells, clubbells, suspension trainers, resistance bands, tubing, sandbags, various “odd objects” seen in Strongman competitions. The point to this point? They all “work” and can serve an individual in realizing their particular goals. However, none of the aforementioned methods, systems, or tools are essential to an individual unless the goals of that individual include high-level proficiency with that specific implement or sport. Aside from that specialty, these tools are all just potential players in helping you realize your bigger-picture objectives.

There are plenty of men and women who’ve gotten great results, according to their fitness objectives, without doing a single olympic lift variation, heavy single in the bench press, squat, or deadlift, and having never used, or heard of, many of the “tools of the trade” that have become rhetorically standard in the last 5-10 years. Hence, there’s science in what we do, but it’s application is not a science.

We must always first ask, “what is my primary objective?”. Then, “what do I need to do to realize that?”,  “what are my options to progress towards that objective?”. And, “what is the most efficient, and practical, way(s) of getting the job done?”. Many times, it’ll simply be that you connect with a certain piece of equipment or a system and that personal preference absolutely works for you in actualizing your larger vision in an unrelated sport. For instance, you may find that you have a natural aptitude for olympic lifting, competitive kettlebell sport, or powerlifting. Consciously check your true priorities  (and ego) at that gym door, and then proceed with confidence.

Now that we touched on the relevance, or lack thereof, of the particular equipment or exercises you choose to use, what you do with these weapons is the real matter of importance in you striking the target of your goals.

I’m going to touch on a few points that should be obvious but are typically ignored. I will dig into each of these points in upcoming blog posts, as to attempt that here would cause much to be missed or overlooked due to length of an informative-purposed article:

  • The resistance used on an exercise is only one vital component contributing to workload of an exercise
  • The amount of dead weight only contributes to the actual resistance experienced by targeted muscles or movement pattern. Quantification of poundage is only part of actual tension muscles experience. Numbers can lie in this instance
  • For muscle hypertrophy, workload (or density: amount of work within certain time) is the most important factor. Not absolute strength or 1RM
  • The volume of reps and sets of an exercise is a vital component of workload
  • The amount of rest between sets is a contributing factor in total workload
  • The manner of performance of a set, repetition by repetition, is a contributing factor in total workload. No, this this is not just “using strict, robotic form”
  • The frequency a muscle group is trained is a contributing factor in overall workload
  • When basic exercises, with most bang-for-buck (i.e. squats, deadlift), are avoided by  individuals physically capable of performing the exercise, it’s typically for 1, 2, 3, or all-the-above reasons: 1) not knowing how to perform the exercise with optimal mechanics, 2) It’s darn demanding, 3) being identified with how much weight you think you should be lifting in order to “qualify” to do the exercise.
  • There’s a point where the actual amount of weight lifted does not need to increase in order to make progress in your goals
  • The more proficient you get in performing an exercise correctly (not same as just moving A to B in  easiest path), the more you get out of each rep with a given poundage
  • There are certain applications of certain exercises that are contraindicated for certain people but this does not mean goals and objectives can’t be attained by variations of those exercises
  • There’s no magical duration a workout must last in order to contribute to your goals and objectives. It’s all cumulative.
  • Mobility, stabilization, and activation drills are important precursors to “the main course” of workouts and certain ones should be part of your daily checklist like…brushing your teeth
  • The more proficient (and consistent) you are in mobilizing, stabilizing, and activating targeted muscles and movement patterns, the less time you need spend on that aspect pre-training
  • The older you get in training age, the more important it is to emphasize strength training, and sustaining fat-burning muscle tissue to keep metabolic integrity at optimal levels. Muscle-wasting activities and nutritional practices are best avoided. In other words, contrary to “the older you get, the more you need focus on CARRR-DIO”, IF you are determined to include it, perform just enough of specific cardiorespiratory, or endurance, exercise to get job done (a lot less duration than you probably think)
  • Dual or multiple brief workouts in a day can be more effective than longer single session even for non-competitive athletes. Again, it’s all cumulative
  • Outside of sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, or CrossFit (yes, I see it as a sport –and demanding one–and NOT a form of general fitness or preparation for other sports), you can look and perform significantly better by using sub-maximal loading and doing less total work (sub-submaximal) on a consistent basis.

In Parts 2 and beyond, I’ll begin to expand on each of these points and suggest a few ways of efficient application of these principles to help lead you to a lifetime of productive training according to your current primary goals and objectives.

As a professional in the fitness and athletic prep fields for 3 decades and counting, I’ve witnessed enough fitness trends and fads to build a pretty good sitcom on. Working with both competitive athletes and general clientele offers me plenty of perspective across the demographic scale.

And, YES, now that I have your attention with this article’s title…I personally love kettlebells and have used them in my own training for over 12 years as well as with probably 95% of my programs with all clients. I believe them to be a key part of any strength and condition and fitness program.

Back to topic …

Working with a college athlete compared to a mother of 3 has it obvious differences but there are plenty of common denominators especially when it comes to progressing in strength. Where a program tends to veer off the parallel is in the area of ‘fat-loss’ or “metabolic” training. With competitive athletes, the program design is driven by performance enhancement objectives whereas with a businessman our goals are nearly always about body composition/ appearance of physique, or what we used to refer to as “bodybuilding” before people started saying that term was “too hardcore” and they wanted nothing to do with it. Yeah, right.

Now to the specifics of this month’s article…

With the constant influx of “THE Best” metabolic (re “cardio”) or mobility exercises or systems (re “products”) it makes one wonder if it’s a never-ending matter of who speaks most recent gets most attention, and subsequently the “most validity”. The “fitness fads” used to revolve around certain pieces of equipment that you’d have to find out about well after Letterman or Leno had called it a night. Then it was the “anti-machine” but armed  “special forces” tools and “underground tricks” to use your bodyweight. Now it’s the “anti-equipment” trend that is basically  80′s aerobics with Flashdance, tights, and leg warmers replaced with drill sergeant chants, Eminem, and a 4-pack of Red Bull.

No apologies here, but to clarify, I am NOT an opponent of capitalism or entrepreneurialism in any way. However, the simple reality when it comes to ‘metabolic training’, ‘mobility’, or any aspect of fitness is that it’s a simple set of  scientifically-sound *principles* put into action on a regular basis throughout the next 365 days. Rinse, and repeat.

When marketing “geniuses” (again, no disrespect in itself here) are able to get your attention with headlines of exaggerated hyperbole, they have accomplished what “Marketing 101″ has taught them: a potential customer is just that… until you influence their next thought. If you’re selling something, and you do your job, you’ll either offend or recruit them with your ad copy.

Either way, you’ve gotten their attention and the next step is your appealing to a sense of lack, dissatisfaction, or at least a  curiosity within the range of what you are promoting. Make sure you throw in some “research data” (incomplete, biased, or what have you) and just a few technical words (you know, stuff your physical therapist might say that you Googled-up) and you’re set. Remember, go right to the edge with technical jargon but do not make them feel confused, condescended, or God-forbid, ‘more’ indecisive or they won’t bite. Speak in absolutes because generalities and gray area have common sense and probably will not get their credit card out.

Again, nothing in itself criminal or unethical  with that agenda no matter if selling a flat screen TV, a sports car, or a training program. Where things start to venture into the shady, seedy region is when a fact that has some truth in it is turned into “THE truth”. Reality is that even the biggest lie has some truthful fact(s) in it.

However, when armed with actual ‘truths’ you can then make wise decisions based on facts that will not leave you feeling like a kid who just missed winning the stuffed elephant at the county fair.

Bridges are wonderful  in times of need but not best place to take residence

Truth #1: There are no “magic” exercises, equipment, combinations, frequencies, intensities, etc. All of “THE Best” are omitted by at least ‘many’ who’ve experienced immaculate results in regards to their fitness goals with out that “must do” component. A new product of programmed exercises, combinations, and frequencies for “metabolic burn” is limited only by the professional’s basic understanding of physiology and creativity.

Truth #2: The aforementioned *principles* will only work for those who put them into deliberate action on a regular basis. And, IF a certain “product” that coordinates these principles appeals to you in the way these principles are applied then it may well be worth ten times its value.

Truth #3: Understand that ANY product has “fine print” and/or complementary components that must be applied to get the best result out of the product. For instance, no  “Tabata Combo” to finish a workout will erase crappy daily nutrition.

Truth #4: You are only as good as your NEXT workout. Any program that gets you on the road must also help you navigate the path of the continued journey. Regardless how “killer” a 6-12 weeks you had, you gotta wake up to Week 13– and beyond– to sustain what you value so highly. Yes, my experience has shown that it is easier to remain on course once you have gotten there than it is to get there in the first place. But “getting there” is more a matter of being consistent over the big picture than it is any ‘one’ workout. Unless you are a competitive athlete in a short-term peak phase, train with a telescope rather than a microscope.

Truth #5: Any ‘packaged program’, no matter how effective in the initial phase, is simply– at best– a “bridge” to get you going, or keep you progressing, in a productive manner relative to your specific goals, and more importantly, general objectives and overall lifestyle. Bridges are wonderful in times of need but not best place to take residence.

Truth #6 Biases effect “what works” for each of us. I personally detest running (as in jogging) as a means to get leaner. By contrast, I love sprinting. It’s easy for me to recommend against depending on jogging to produce your desired result of a leaner body, and to advise for implementing sprint intervals. As well, my personal and professional experience has observed countless failed attempts of “hard working” men and women who hit the running trails for hours every week for years with hopes of a leaner physique.

Also, my personal observation shows that athletes in sports that require running speed, quickness, and agility in brief bursts (football, tennis, basketball) actually have a tougher time improving those specific skills when steady-state running (or any version of slow-steady paced cardio) is a regular part of their regimen. In addition, the frequency of injuries incurred by dedicated runners is relatively high. As you can see, that’s plenty of “evidence” for me to be anti-running and be an advocate of other means of improving fitness, speed/agility performance, and one’s physique. There’s plenty of “science in” my observations and experiences. But, is that enough to make my evidence a scientific truth?

What if these same men and women applied optimal strength training, sound nutritional practices, less workload, and recovery into their running program? Could their experience have been different? Or was it purely the fact that they ran regularly that caused their lack of desired result?

There’s two schools of thought regarding there being “bad” and “good” exercises. Yes there are some unwise exercise choices and/or combinations. And, there are times that a “good” exercise for most may be “bad” for you. However, there’s no benefit in universally villain-izing certain exercises or systems based on correlation to the experience or appearance of a certain profile of individuals. There are way too many variables in motion (or lack thereof) to make a substantiated fact out of pure observation or personal experience. As saying goes, correlation does not equal causation.

In coming weeks, I will address the various “best” ways of getting stronger, building muscle, and becoming leaner according to your level, age, or aspirations in a way that can free you from unnecessary ‘Strength Conditioning Legalism’.

–VM

Priming the System

Finally…our blog is back! And, each week our purpose to to shine light on key topics, and hopefully give you insight that contributes to solutions on your behalf in your athletics preparation and fitness endeavors.

And, it all starts RIGHT NOW!

As a competitive athlete, or just someone wanting the most out of your workouts, your potential is only as good as your ability to tap-into it. An area frequently misunderstood, or outright ignored, is the role of the neural aspect (central nervous system) to your muscles’ contraction and performance.

Accurate quality trumps defective quantity

You don’t have to make major changes in your current program in order to take advantage of this training principle. It’s as simple easy as the addition of a few specific NSD drills (NSD-Nervous System Development) towards the end of your dynamic warmup can get the job done with huge benefits to your overall progress and results. As is our standard at McConnell Athletics, accurate quality trumps defective quantity.

Simply put, proficiency of your neural development reveals the degree of signal from your brain to your muscles to fire and contract. Regardless of your training goals, your nervous system is a key player in the realization of your desired results.

For information on this application, please go to:

http://exercisesforinjuries.com/nsd-drills-with-vince-mcconnell/

Through faith–in strength & health,

Coach Vince

Note: Please feel free to share this blog, and your feedback is welcome

Link  —  Posted: March 30, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Training or “Entertaining”?

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

As a fitness professional working with a clientele that crosses numerous different genres– from relative beginner adult to the “hey, I’m  also a trainer, already know everything, but need something new”, from dedicated working women and moms to driven-to-succeed businessmen, from youth to pro athlete, and all the way to seniors well into their 80′s–I am confronted with some interesting challenges when it comes to program design. This not to mention the typical physical impairments many of these clients deal with on a daily basis as well.

When you’ve trained individuals and small groups for nearly 3 decades, no matter how much you truly love what you do there is the tendency to become a bit bored (not complacent, mind you!) with the basics. However, reality is that these foundational (albeit mundane) components are essential to true progress and desired results. And, unless human physiology gets altered…that isn’t changing.

In years, and decades past, if was a much more efficient task keeping a client or group motivated by making progress in the basics on a regular-and-consistent basis. The results spoke for themselves, and these individuals were healthier, moved and performed more efficiently, AND even looked better.

However, with the over-reliance on “fit media” (you got a smart phone?…you’re a potential fitness expert), the over-saturation of weekend or online “personal trainer certifications”, and self-appointed gurus with all of their training tenants, rites-of-passage, and cult-like disciples, the task of keeping clients attentive, interested, on track, and accountable to the PRINCIPLES THAT MATTER has become as challenging as keeping a first grade class focused on mastering addition and subtraction with clowns in the room.

Admittedly, in the past, I, too, have taken the plunge into the ‘attention deficit’ ocean (fortunately I was able to swim to shore) and thought I had to come up with something different on a very regular basis to keep the interest of the client(s). The self-inflicted stress of “out-thinking” an already successful program was both exhausting and humiliating. It was one of those situations where I was torn between giving a client “what they wanted” while still getting the true job (re progress) done. This reminded me of getting our kids to eat healthy foods while also giving them  a little of what they wanted to eat while making sure the overall objective of nourishment was satisfied.

It would get to a point where when a client or group had been with us for a certain length of time, I could get-a-sense a few of those individuals were growing stale with just ‘making progress” (why that can be boring is beyond me!). Yes, as backwards as that sounds, some people would truly rather be “pushed to the brink” so they’d leave with immediate gratification feeling as though they’d paid their dues no matter what subsequent result. Still others simply wanted to be entertained with some “new stuff” that fulfilled their inability to simply get better at the basics. Or as Charles Staley so astutely says, “If it hurts (sucks) it’s gotta be working”.

What I found is that many clients cared less about getting stronger and actually making positive, and lasting, changes in their body as long as they were doing what they were assured of was going to give them what they wanted about of the session: the feeling they were doing something that “sucked” while providing some sense of “entertainment”.

Now, I am definitely an innovative trainer/coach, and have been since I got my start training athletes back in 1983 with drills and methods that were then observed as bizarre and outright silly-looking. These same drills are now commonplace such as lifting odd objects, kickboxing and grappling drills, sled pushes, gymnastics drills, sandbags, bands, medicine balls, resisted sprints, and dedicated mobility and activation drills. I used these methods with everyone from housewives to professional tennis players to businessmen to golfers to football, baseball, soccer, and basketball players and beyond.

There are plenty of advantages to the plethora of good training resources out there today. I’m the first to say I LOVE talking training with colleagues and people in general. The fact that there are ways not yet uncovered to make our work even more efficient is one of the inspirations in my starting each day with great expectation. However, beyond that, it is absolutely imperative that we refuse to allow that mission of becoming more ‘proficient in efficiency’ to compromise the proven, time and again, benefits of sound training principles of progressive mechanical overload (intensity) in combination with regulated technical workload (volume).

Whether you choose to lean towards the “it’s a science with some art in it” or “it’s an art with some science in it”, is not a life-and-death issue. As in centuries before us, the study, innovation, experimentation, and application of physical training and human performance is one of the most basic, yet exciting, endeavors on this planet.

–VM

Injuries: Beyond the Obvious

Posted: September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

When it comes to athletics, especially team sports, it’s hard to disagree that the sport of football brings about the highest degree of emotion in players, coaches, and fans. To be a truly successful football team, physical and mental toughness, accountability, and unity are standard requirements that surpass that of other sports.

Beginning early on in a youngster’s playing days, football, more than any other sport, has a way of being somewhat of a testing ground to reveal a young man’s willingness and ability to work with teammates in a way that not only brings about their best performance but also positively impacts their teammates and coaches.

With all of the aforementioned great things about football comes the least-desired aspect that is way more challenging than a tough loss in overtime. Injuries.

Unfortunately, injuries are a common occurrence in football, as they can be in any sport. The type of injuries seen in football tends to run the gamut from minor ‘bumps and bruises’ to those extreme enough that they can adversely affect a player’s life from there on. Fortunately, the later is the exception rather than rule although any injury to an athlete that causes limitation in performance or takes the player off the field for extended periods of time brings with it mental, emotional, and physical pain. I firmly believe that, at the collegiate and professional level, the physical pain pales in comparison to what is going on inside the athlete’s psyche.

When an athlete who has invested years of his life (no matter how relatively young he may be at the time) and spent countless hours of off-field training, film study, meetings, and on-field practice and competition, to have that, brought to an abrupt halt, if not a total end, it is an intimidating reality. This is especially true when you add in the longer term personal goals, aspirations, and dreams of a young athlete. There is no warning and no direct preparation to handle this as the proverbial rug is yanked out from under you.

Just the physical challenge of going through hour upon hour of lonely, humbling rehabilitation is significant. However, it’s the emotional confrontation an athlete faces that tests character to an extremely high level. Thoughts of “what if I don’t make it back?”, “what if I’m not as fast?”, “what if my teammates lose confidence in me?”, “what if I don’t fulfill my dreams?”, “what if?”, “what if?”, WHAT IF?”, …

With all due respect to the people who face challenges every day that are much more serious than those related to a sport and an athletic career, when a competitive athlete has the medium they use to express themselves and “make something of themselves”, taken away  from them, their life seems to flash before them. Another reality that hits home quickly is that you find out who your true friends are. People who were only interested in you when you were on the field are quickly exposed.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, many times the better the  competitor you are the more significant your positive impact on your team even when you are not able to hit the field.

When an athlete is not able to get on the field and contribute to the team in the way they are accustomed, much is revealed about the type of teammate, and person, they have been up to that point. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, many times the better the  competitor you are the more significant your positive impact on your team even when you are not able to hit the field. One of the best examples I have personally witnessed in my career happened in the last week.

On Saturday September 8, an athlete I have worked with since he was in high school, Jalston “Nudie” Fowler, who plays for one of the top college football programs in the country, was injured late in the game on what could be called a “freak occurrence”. Though knee injuries are commonplace in football, manner this injury occurred is rare. It’s beyond the scope of this article to get into the exact diagnosis but suffice to say that it’s not one of those you want to watch more than once (if at all). The immense physical pain alone from this type of injury would make most men cry but the pain seen on Nudie’s face was the deeper discomfort coming from his realization that his season was probably over.

Jalston is one of the most humble young men I’ve ever known and he’d certainly not ask that I write an article or shine light on him in any manner. However, what happened immediately following the injury reveals much about the teammate and human being this young man is to not only his teammates, coaches, family, and close friends but also his coaches’ families, fans of the program, opposing players and coaches, and simply people who may have had the opportunity to meet him on occasion.

In my nearing 30 years of work as a fitness professional and strength coach to athletes from many different sports, I’ve never observed the show of concern and love for an athlete as I have for Nudie. This was not about people “feeling sorry” for him but an honoring of the way the young man influences the circle around him.

Leaders lead 24/7

I say this not so much to give Nudie the attention and appreciation he deserves but to make it clear to other athletes that what you dohow you do it, and who you become in doing it all influence those around you one way or the other. You are either impacting others’ lives for the better or you aren’t. There’s no in-between. Leaders lead 24/7, and the fact that the soft-spoken Nudie sets such a strong example to his teammates, coaches, and all of those who know him  means that even when he is not on the field he is a positive, constructive force that is beyond his powerful 250lb frame.

I confidently expect Nudie to make a full recovery and bounce back better than he was simply due to the character, and more importantly the faith, that resides within him. Though his knee was injured and he’s  removed from being ‘on the field’ to contribute to his team’s performance this season, his determination, will, and leadership were only “shaken up” a bit.

True leaders lead not just by their performance but simply by their presence. Genuine leaders don’t just get up after being knocked down and try to get back to status quo. They look fear in the eye, capture any thought of defeat, and replace it with a resolve to move forward in expectation of a better product than before the roadblock. They realize their mission is more than about themselves, and are fueled by the ‘inner knowing’ that they are simply taking another unchartered step, and claiming new ground, in leading others to overcome any challenge they may face.

The constructive influence Nudie will continue to have on the overall program will go a long way in positively impacting his success in rehabilitation and return as a better version of one of the best, albeit underrated, football players in the country. You’ve heard the term “player’s coach”. Nudie exemplifies “coach’s player”. There are many athletes I’ve worked with that I’d be proud to call my own son. There is not one that I am more proud of than Jalston “Nudie” Fowler.

VM

Good or bad, reality is there is more information on training in these times than has ever been imagined in years and decades gone past. Considering that I trained my initial clients back in 1983, I have seen quite a lot of trends and fads come and go. With every new “best” system or method comes the obligatory b.s. to go along with some good, sound, and usable information. ‘Half-truths’ are the primary lure to get people’s attention but these are still fallacies, and this is where the unnecessary arguments start and the confusion begins.

The ever-increasing amount of blog pros, infomercial icons, YouTube experts, and Internet trainers over-saturating our field (with some pretty ridiculous, yet entertaining, stuff) has only served to add to the confusion with information overload. Like the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”, it’s at point now where ‘you can’t see the principles for the systems’

“you can’t see the (training) principles for the systems”

Due to the constant demands of work with clients and athletes, I have taken a nearly-10-year hiatus from writing. This time away has allowed me to do a significant amount of reading and observe the direction our field is going in. While there have been some marked advancements in a few key areas such as assessments, soft tissue and joint health, and nutrition, for the most part, the subject of program design and application has taken a few leaps backwards. The root of this regression is the focus on catchy, hyped systems and the ignorance of foundational principles.

The Unique Perpetual Process of Learning as a Fitness Professional

Without a doubt, I am a dedicated advocate of continued education and learning, and having been in the world of professional performance and physique training for nearly 30 years I’ve come to realize that, especially at this stage in my career, much of this “learning” is not so much an issue of acquiring more information but a matter of sifting through the clutter and dusting off some tried and true gems from the proverbial storage bins. Being that my clientele includes both competitive athletes and general population, the topics of the “stored” information crosses many paths.

I can’t tell you how many times in the past several years I’ve seen what is referred to as some “new, functional, cutting edge, real-world, you-fill-in-the-blank” drill, technique, or method become highlighted as some intelligent, ground-breaking training solution when in reality it’s nothing more than an ignored component that got lost in the tidal wave of our field’s high percentage of attention-deficiency. In essence, the old becomes new again through a new coat of paint , and the forgotten becomes the new-found star via a sexy marketing campaign.

When student is ready…teacher re-appears

From the start of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have some honorable mentors. Many of these men are now well into their 70′s and have exemplified the longevity that every dedicated professional should aspire to. As well, all of these extremely knowledgable and accomplished men, without exception,  are still learning.

With one of these mentors, the not-close-to-70-yet Charles Staley, being in town at McConnell Athletics last week for a seminar and videotaping, it was an opportune time for me to do some reflection and ‘professional housecleaning’. Charles is well known for his “visionary”-like , if not controversial, teachings. If there’s a better way to describe Charles than saying he is a proponent of “the common sense approach to training” I can’t think of it. He has a way of getting you to not only question what is “generally accepted as fact”, but also has answers that fill in the void when a “false fact” has been exposed.

It’s really all quite amusing to Charles that he is considered one of the authorities in our field. He’s quick to humbly say, “I fear the day when people get this all figured out… because I’ll be out of a job”. The fact that Charles is a master at keeping the simple things…well…simple, in no way implies that he is not capable of throwing some heavy science at you as well.

Matter of fact, its science that is the very foundation of what Charles’ “simplicity” is based on. This brings me to the topic of this article: principles are all that really matter. And, coincidentally or not, one of Charles’ best contributions to the field of strength/conditioning and fitness, Escalating Density Training (EDT), is the ideal symbolic tool to use to address what I believe is the most important (read: ignored) lesson to be learned in our line of work, and can serve as a microcosm of sorts to life in general.

For those not familiar with EDT, it’s basically a “system” of progressive workload based on high-quality reps and fatigue management. In reality, EDT epitomizes what effective training is all about. The parameters (re: reps, sets, time) used in EDT are simply in place to make the best use of the principles the system is founded on. More on this in a moment.

‘If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, your growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.’

To make clear, it’s an understatement to say Charles and I don’t fully agree on everything related to training. Matter of fact, there are several issues we appear to be on opposite sides. Ironically, it’s this fact that enhances the overall learning and growth process. It should never be a goal to be in total agreement with other coaches or trainers in order to  learn from them, or vice versa. If you base your self esteem, or validation as a fitness professional, on others agreeing with you, or being a “yes man”, growth and progress are as good as dead, and the confirmation you seek you lose.

A few examples of Charles’ and my personal training-application views will reveal how our seeming disagreements are actually a means for each of us progressing in our work: Charles sees little need for the regular presence “warm up”, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or single-leg training.

At McConnell Athletics our “warmup” sometimes looks like the actual workout, stretching is a regular part of most clients’ program, you’ll find kettlebell drills in most every program, and it’s rare you’ll see a workout sans single-leg training. However, I don’t implement mobility/activation drills, stretching, kettlebells, sandbags, or unilateral exercises for their own sake. They are simply “tools in the box” that I deliberately choose to use to best utilize basic training principles with my eyes on progress. The key point here is NOT the “disagreements”… as, obviously, there actually isn’t one!

The relevant issue is that our principles are congruent no matter the individual manner we are applying them. I fully understand why Charles has the position he does on what he does as does he with my work. For example, Charles sees no need for dedicated stretching due to him, and/or clients, not experiencing limitations in range-of motion for the particular tasks they perform. I apply stretching drills where they are needed but not for sake of some legalistic, pseudo-standardized law that says stretching is a must in every program. Charles and I are going in the same direction no matter the different “vehicles” or “mapped route” we may be using.

Before commencing a process of training, here’s two  ‘should-be-obvious-but-is-ignored’ facts: 1) Properly defining your general objectives and specific goals in training is necessary to the success of your efforts, 2) Designing an effective and efficient course of action to accomplish your objectives and goals is necessary

Once you’ve arrived at a general training objective, and some specific goals, your next duty is deciding on the aforementioned program or ‘course-of-action’. This program is best to be built on a “system” where you can regulate the needed workload and assess both your short-term and long-term progress. This all sounds relatively simple and rhetorical. However, ironically, this is typically where the problems begin.

Systems are excellent servants but horrible “masters”

When it comes to an effective training program, there are certain components that must exist in order for the program to produce the desired results. Each workout is performed as nothing more, or less, than a stimulus to cause a response for muscular, and systemic, progress. A ‘system’ of training can be highly effective at coordinating each workout as well as subsequent workouts. Systems have tremendous benefits in giving your training direction, clarity, organization, and compliance.

However, if a particular system is deficient of sound principles, it’s efficacy is benign and the only actual “benefit” to you would be helping you be consistent, and boosting your psyche into feeling as though you could be accomplishing something.

That being understood, the hidden common problem is when the system becomes the objective in itself. That’s like when one becomes “identified” with a particular diet without understanding the principles the diet is based on. The diet is then doomed to eventually fail.

Stop Out-Thinking  Your Progress

With Staley’s EDT, the apparent simplicity brings with it the potential for an abundance of unnecessary confusion. This system exemplifies sound principles and, appropriately, leaves plenty of room for individual application.  I’m certainly not saying that EDT is the best way for everyone to train each and every workout (though you would do well to keep all of its principles intact). I’m simply using the ‘down-to-basics’ Escalating Density Training as a microcosm of  our “state of the union” tendency to “out-think” our progress.

‘The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system.’

EDT, like other proven systems, is based purely on sound, effective, proven principles. That’s ALL the system promises. The manner in which one applies these principles is a unique issue to each individual. The failures, or problems, with the “system” originate when when one overanalyzes, or “out-thinks”, the system. By over-analyzing the system, you’re paralyzing the principles.

Training, in any system, is the exact same way. As long as you keep the goal…the goal, and do not allow the system parameters to overtake the system principles, you will experience progress, and success, with the system you are using. Principles are all that truly matter. The manner in which they are applied, as proven for well over a century, are unique to the individual.

VM

Be sure to check out my audio lecture,  ‘The Role of a Personal Strength & Conditioning Coach’, at movementlectures.com

For more information on McConnell Athletics, go to McConnell Athletics

For more information on Charles Staley, go to his website at  Charles Staley

As I’ve mentioned previously, the purpose of this weekly page is to give you information you can use…NOW…on key topics of interest in the field of performance and physique training.

I will touch briefly on the “why?” ,and follow with information, and examples, of the “how to” part of the solution equation. There are plenty of reliable informational resources available on the “science” of what I present so I’m going to focus on what I specialize in– the applications of sound, and proven, training principles, techniques, and their many variations and combinations.

Now onto this week’s topic: One of the most often neglected aspects of an otherwise solid strength training program is the implementation of single-side, or unilateral lower body training (ULBT). Even with the more frequent coverage of the topic via training blogs and other articles on the Internet, there remains a lack of understanding of its value, and application in a large percentage of training programs, especially at the high school and collegiate levels.

In actuality, it can be argued that ULBT is more important than performing exercises with both legs at the same time (re bilateral). (For the contrarians: YES, I know there’s some definite benefit at certain stages to load the body in bilateral fashion as “part” of an optimal training program)

Most all sports, and their specific demands, are unilateral of the lower body, or alternating, in nature. When there is a significant ‘imbalance’ there is at least some degree of compromise. That known, in reality, there likely does not exist a perfectly-balanced pair of limbs on any individual. However, that fact is not justification for ignoring the benefits of striving for as much balance as can be attained.

The benefits of minimizing single leg strength differential include both injury-prevention and performance. There’s plenty of science to back up the issue of ‘bilateral deficit’. This is where the force produced by each leg individually, added together, surpasses what the force would be with both legs working together. No matter if training to increase speed, enhance agility, or heighten jumping ability, ULBT is an invaluable component to a training program for any athlete. And this does not even take into account the inestimable benefits regarding less compression of the spine, and the potential decrease of joint and connective tissue stress.

Beyond just plain old “traditional bias”, the typical rationale of forgoing ULBT exercises in favor of more traditional bilateral drills is: “it’s too time-consuming” or “we can’t use as much weight”. Translation: “I’m too lazy to teach the new exercises”, “I’m too impatient for my athletes to do 2 sets for every 1 they’d do otherwise”, or “my job is to get my athletes’ numbers up… lifting as heavy as possible and they can do more with 2 legs than with 1″.

Obviously there is a practical aspect to how much time is available for training but with unilateral ULBT being such a valuable modality in an overall training program, there needs to be some allowance for any extended time a unilateral exercise may take. In regards to the other “excuses”, I’ll refrain for now and leave that for an upcoming topic of the week.

Below I’m including several video clips demonstrating key variations of progression in ULBT. The first 2 drills are utilizing resistance bands that I prefer to start athletes with in developing key mechanics for the higher-load exercises to come.

Band Overhead Split Squat

This application helps identify, then resolve, weak links in the mechanical chain that would otherwise impair performance in other unilateral LBT drills. The integration of the hips and scapulae builds a foundation for all the higher loads to come.

Band Unilateral Glute/ Ham Deadlift

This drill assists in learning optimal hip hinge that is essential to optimal performance in all lower body training. The resistance is less where most people who have difficulty…have it: the bottom 1/3 of ROM. The resistance increases the remainder of the ROM making this drill an excellent “teaching tool”.

Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat

A now-popular exercise that is probably the most common of all of these drills listed. Single leg strength is the priority here as the drill lends itself to higher loading capabilities. Adding intensification techniques such as “1 1/4′s” make this a standard single-leg strength exercise worthy to be in any effective program.

Unilateral Good Morning-to-Reverse Lunge Hybrid

A posterior chain all-star. This exercise hybrid combines an optimal hip hinge with a hip-dominant (re neutral spine while leaning forward) lunge. Utilizing the ‘Ultimate Sandbag‘ in the Zercher position is optimal here due to the engagement of the core region, and thoracic extension, throughout. One of McConnell Athletics’ go-to lower body exercise combination.

Alternate Front Lunge w/KBs in Rack

Many of the benefits of the previous exercise with added emphasis on quad region as the lunge has you stepping forward into a deceleration for the quadriceps. Holding kettlebells (or sandbag) in the “rack” position engages the entire core region for stability throughout spine. Make certain to “make a footprint” with each rep to ensure proper muscular involvement and less demand on knee joint.

Sandbag/ Band Lateral Lunge contrasted w/ Lateral Bounding

A frontal plane combination that employs contrast of higher load with the Ultimate Sandbag with a less-loaded, yet more explosive, band drill which includes a “plyo effect”. Excellent combination for athletes whose sport has lateral, change-of-direction demands and for any rotational sport.

Even with the above demonstrations, this only scratches the surface of valid possibilities in single leg training. Give these exercise applications a legitimate trial and see for yourself the benefits to health, performance, and development for you and/or your athletes or clients. As always, your comments and questions are welcome. As well, any topic you’d like to see covered in future articles please shoot me an email at mcconnellathletics@gmail.com

And, another reminder to check out MOVEMENTLECTURES.COM where you can find my audio lecture The Role of a Personal Strength & Conditioning Coach

In health, performance, and physique–

VM

http://www.mcconnelltraining.com

Posted: July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized
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