Posts Tagged ‘fitness’

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

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