When Should I Train My Core?

Does it really matter if you train your core before, during, or after your training session?  Actually, yes; and I’ll tell you why.  Many back injuries occur when the muscles of the core become fatigued, and fail to maintain stability.  So, it would be risky to target and fatigue those core muscles before calling on them to keep your back safe during the rest of your workout.  That means lots of core training before squats, deadlifts, and other heavy or complex movements is probably a bad idea.

Instead, your warm-ups should include just a few core activation movements.  This way, you’ll fire up your nervous system to recruit the correct muscles for safe and efficient movement, but won’t fatigue those muscles with lots of reps or weight.

During your workouts, focus your effort on safe, effective training.  Your core will work hard to stabilize your spine and assist in movement, without any targeted training.  Heavy compound lifts, like squats or power cleans, can generate far more core engagement than crunches.  So, remember to take good posture, brace, and stabilize your spine.  Your whole workout is core training.

At the end of your workout, when the rest of the job is done, it’s safe to do more core specific training.  An added bonus of organizing your training this way, is that training your now pre-fatigued core may lead to additional core-muscle endurance.  More core endurance equals more spinal stability and less injuries.

As always, progress your core training slowly.  Start with static holds, like planks.  Work your way up to flexion and extension, then onto rotation; all with controlled tempos.  Ballistic movements like medicine ball tosses come last, after you’ve developed a solid base of trunk strength, pelvic stability, and hip mobility.  The workout below is an example of core training for an advanced athlete.  Below that, I’ve also linked to an (old) exercise demo I did for one of the exercises in that program.

Full Contact Twists

Firefighter Training Programs

For Firefighters, staying fit can make a big difference in job performance and safety.  It can help prevent Line of Duty injuries, and in extreme cases, being physically prepared can be the difference between life and death.

Typical bro splits, or bodybuilder workouts are OK, but compound movements and functional training are better.  That’s because, #: For performance on the fire grounds, you’ll need to focus on Anaerobic Conditioning, plus the ability to lift and carry heavy loads on the go.  Isolated movements like bicep curls won’t help that much.  Plus, #2 Shift work creates scheduling conflicts.  Most bro split programs don’t jive with 48 hour shifts.

Try the sample program below for Firefighter specific training, designed for your specific goals and schedule.

Is Olympic Lifting TOO DANGEROUS?

Now that the CrossFit Games are on Cable every year, the average gym-goer is becoming more familiar with the “Olympic Lifts”.  These two lifts, the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch, actually combine to form a much older sport of their own.  This sport, Weightlifting, was one of the original events in the Olympics.  It is still an Olympic event today, and because Weightlifters develop so much explosive power, sports performance coaches around the world use these techniques to develop speed and power in the training room.

It has become a common belief, though, that the Olympic lifts are too risky.  I hear people decline to do the lifts all the time, because they have been told they might injure a shoulder.  The average person, or especially an athlete, can’t afford to get hurt in the weight room.  No one wants to miss work.  We are in the training room to get better, not to get injured.  So, is it really true that these lifts are risky?  It’s a question worth asking.

One article on strengthandconditioningresearch.com compared research from 13 scientific studies.  Each study measured the injury rate of participants in various forms of strength training, reported per 1,000 hours of training.  The subjects were all training for competition in their respective strength sports.  The research showed that Olympic Weightlifters sustained injuries at a rate between 2.6 and 3.3 per 1,000 hours.

That’s a pretty darn low rate of injury.  For comparison’s sake, studies found CrossFit, Powerlifting, and Strongman all to have higher injury rates.  Strongman’s was the highest at 5.5 injuries per 1,000 hours.  In another study, injury rates were tracked with the same method for various collegiate sports.  Collegiate Wresting had the highest injury rate at 13.1 injuries per 1,000 hours of training.

When you consider all the benefits that come with Olympic lifting, the case for Weightlifting gets even stronger.  The lifts create far greater force production through your legs than squats or deadlifts.  They generate more core engagement than squats, crunches, or sit-ups.  They require coordination and kinesthetic awareness.  The lifts force you to develop speed, strength, power, and even mobility.  You’ll also be forced to absorb the sudden impact of heavy weight; a perk I love for contact sport athletes who will need to absorb impacts in competition.

As a coach, I love the Olympic lifts.  I used to compete in Weightlifting, and have coached Olympic lifting for many years.  I don’t baby my athletes by telling them that these lifts are dangerous.  Many of the athletes that I train are preparing for competition and skills training that is far more dangerous than Cleans or Snatches.  They are tough enough to learn the lifts, and challenging them to do so often produces huge gains in overall athleticism.  The progress in Weightlifting becomes confidence inspiring, a little addicting, and fun.

The pictures in this article are from the first two Weightlifting meets I ever coached.  One of the lifters, Michael Garcia, is a professional MMA Fighter.  He competed in one weightlifting meet when he was learning the basics, and now we use Olympic Lifting to produce his trademark explosiveness in the cage.  The other lifter pictured is EJ Miranda.  He won the meet that day.  Over the past few years he’s also won a Strongman meet and several Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.  Olympic lifting helped to develop power that transferred into other competitions for him as well.

Here are a few tips for learning about the Olympic Lifts:

  • Perfect technique basics with a broom stick or empty bar before adding any weight.
  • Don’t attempt more than about 3 reps per set. These lifts are taxing for your nervous system.  Technique will break down and injury may occur if you do more reps.  Plus, completing more reps in will negate the speed and power building benefits of the exercise!
  • Seek out a USAW certified coach to get you started. A coach will be able to watch you in ways that you can’t watch yourself.  This will greatly increase your level of safety, and it will shorten your learning curve.
  • Try a competition. Weightlifting is a sport that provides lots of local opportunities to compete at all ages and ability levels.  There’s no better way to learn about the sport!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2014/07/08/injury-strength-sports/

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6448a2.htm

Conditioning for Sports- Energy Systems 101

By examining your sport’s energy demands, and training in the appropriate energy systems, you can build sport specific conditioning.

First, let’s nail down exactly what an “energy system” is.  Depending on the task, your body can produce energy in a few different ways.  Different chemical reactions within your body create energy for different tasks.  Some are very powerful, but run out of gas quickly.  Some last longer.  Your body uses some combination of each to power you throughout your day. Read More

German Body Comp.: Weight Training for Fat Loss

German Body Comp. is one of my favorite program types when training clients for fat loss.  It focuses on building or maintaining muscle mass, while causing a powerful fat burning effect via your body’s lactic acid and growth hormone response.  I’ve touched on German Body Comp. in the past, but I think it deserves a second mention here.

This time, I’m going to give you the complete recipe to use this program to get shredded for summer; and a sample program to get you started.

* It’s only fair to mention Charles Poliquin, world class strength coach and king of GBC in any article on this subject.  His book German Body Comp. is the ultimate guide to GBC; including several training programs and complete meal plans.

INTENSITY:

GBC requires you to lift semi-heavy weights (the heaviest you can use to safely complete a set), for sets of 8-10 or 10-12 repetitions.  You’ll complete 8-10 reps when training biceps, hamstrings, and back because these muscle groups contain a higher percentage of “fast twitch” muscle fibers.  Because of that, they respond better to lower rep training.  10-12 reps will be used for chest, triceps, shoulders, and quads.

FREQUENCY:

German Body Comp. is a full body training program that can be used to train 3 or 4 days per week with great success.

ORGANIZATION:

You’ll superset each exercise with its appropriate partner.  Chest movements are paired with hamstrings.  Back movements are paired with quadriceps exercises, biceps with triceps, and shoulders with calves.  Abdominal training and rehab/prehab work are paired together at the end of each training session.

REST PERIODS:

Keep rest periods short and precise.  You should be resting for 45 seconds between each movement in your supersets.

TEMPO:

Tempo is very important to effective GBC.  Slow, measured tempos create increased time under tension, and produce the desired Growth Hormone response needed for fat burning.  A 4-0-1-0 tempo is perfect for most movements in your GBC program.

EXERCISE SELECTION:

Whenever possible, focus on compound/multi-joint exercises more than isolating a single muscle at a time.  i.e.: Bench press is better than machine fly’s.  This will increase calories burned, your body’s hormone response, and your opportunity to build muscle.

SAMPLE GBC PROGRAM For BEGINNERS
Day 1
Movement Sets Reps Rest Tempo
A1) Incline Dumbbell Press 4 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
A2) Romanian Deadlift 4 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
B1) Seated Row 4 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
B2) Split Squats 4 10 to 12 each 45 sec. 4010
C1) Dumbbell Hammer Curls 3 10 to 12 each 45 sec. 4010
C2) Dumbbell Skull Crushers 3 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
D1) Powell Raise (rear delt) 3 10 to 12 each 45 sec. 4010
D2) Standing Calf Raise 3 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
Day 2
Movement Sets Reps Rest Tempo
A1) Chest Dips 4 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
A2) Machine Hamstring Curls 4 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
B1) Pull-ups 4 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
B2) Quad Squats 4 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
C1) Barbell Reverse Curls 3 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
C2) Cable Triceps Push-downs 3 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
D1) Cable External Rotation 90* 3 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
D2) Plank 3 60 sec. 45 sec. X
Day 3
Movement Sets Reps Rest Tempo
A1) Front Squat 4 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
A2) Dumbbell One Arm Row 4 8 to 10 each 45 sec. 4010
B1) Dumbell Unrolling Fly 4 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
B2) Glute/Ham Raise 4 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
C1) Barbell Drag Curl 3 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
C2) Narrow Grip Bench 3 10 to 12 45 sec. 4010
D1) Trap 3 Raise 3 8 to 10 45 sec. 4010
D2) Reverse Plank 3 60 sec. 45 sec. X

 

Q&A: How many reps should I do? Speed Edition

One of the questions I get asked the most is, “How should I lift to get faster?  Lots of repetitions with light weight, or low rep training?”

It’s not as tricky as you think, but before you can understand training for speed and quickness, you have to understand the chart I made (above).  Basically, low rep training develops maximal strength, while higher rep sets lead to hypertrophy and eventually, with even higher reps, muscular endurance.  Of course, this is a simplified depiction of what really goes on, and there is some “overflow” of each quality;  i.e. training for 6 or 8 reps will build strength, while also developing hypertrophy and making your muscles grow.

Great.  Now, what about speed?  Well… strength makes speed.  The stronger you are, the faster you will be able to move a given mass.  So, first you need to get strong with some heavy low repetition training.

“…but won’t grinding out slow, heavy reps, and moving slowly make me slower?”  Yes and no.

You definitely perform the way you train.  So, if all you ever do is super heavy/super slow sets; you will eventually get slower.  However, low rep training is also the most effective at training your body’s “fast twitch” muscle fibers, so stick with the low reps.  Don’t worry about speed right away.

Once you’ve developed a base of strength, you can start to be more concerned with your speed development.  Now it’s time to reduce the weight that you’re training with… but don’t do more repetitions!  Instead, continue with low rep training using a load that is about 60% of your 1 Rep Max.  Move that weight as FAST as possible (known as a ballistic tempo) for each repetition you complete.

Finally, speed is created AFTER your time in the weight room.  Strength training gives your body a head start, but the gains you make in the gym are only truly converted to sport specific speed by practicing your sports.  If you’re a sprinter, sprint as fast as possible.  If you’re a boxer, box as fast as possible.

At the end of the day, the only way to get faster is to move fast.

Good luck!

 

German Volume Training for Extreme Muscle

If you’re looking for a serious program to pack on muscle mass as quickly as possible, this might be the plan for you.  Originating in Germany during the 1970’s GVT was originally used as a general prep phase for weightlifters.  It uses extreme volume to cause rapid muscle hypertrophy.  In short, you’ll get big muscles fast.

The idea is to complete 10 sets of 10, for one exercise per muscle group on each training day.  You may add in one or two accessory exercises for specific body parts (3 sets of 10), like biceps curls; but don’t go crazy.  There’s plenty of volume built into these training sessions already.  A typical day might look something like this: Read More

Pilates Myths Busted: Guest Post: Northwestpharmacy.com

I recently spoke with Gillian Zimmer of Northwestpharmacy.com/Health Perch about one of their great new articles.  Courtesy of Gillian, you’ll find that article and tons of great info on Pilates training below.

Joetoproathlete.com is all about finding and refining the world’s best methods for athletic development.  We believe in functional, ground based training, and a holistic approach to building an athlete.  During that process, cross training is often a fun and effective way to fill in gaps left by our current training.  So, experiencing and integrating new fitness disciplines is always an intriguing prospect.  I don’t, personally, have a ton of experience with Pilates, but for some this type of training might provide some great supplementary work.  Let’s see what it’s all about… Read More

5 Ways to Get Better with Age

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time in the gym, chances are you’ve heard those guys in the locker room talk about how strong they were “back in the day”.  Or, you’ve listened to that girl tell you about how fit and smoking hot her body “used to be”.  Why is it that in a gym full of people, who are currently working hard, no one is in the best shape of their lives? Read More

Squat. More.

No matter who you are, chances are you should be squatting.  If you already squat, there’s a good chance you should be squatting more.  This classic, multi-joint exercise is as versatile and effective as any other move your gym has to offer.  Athletes, weight loss exercisers, women, and anyone who sets foot in the gym (with the exception of a few, with certain serious injuries) should all squat.  Here are just a few of the biggest reasons: Read More

3 Tips for a Clean and Jerk PR

The Clean and Jerk is one of the most effective exercises the weightroom can offer.   If you master proper form and program for it correctly, the Clean and Jerk can help you build strength, speed, power, kinesthetic awareness, and body coordination/control. However, Olympic movements like the Clean and Jerk are complex and intense. Many people are using them incorrectly; resulting in sub-par results or injury. Here are 3 tips to make your Clean and Jerk count: Read More

Girls Don’t Know Squat: Female Fitness Myths Busted

 

  • False: Lifting heavy weights will make me bulky.

The Truth: If you’re a woman, you probably don’t have hormones at the proper levels or at the right ratios to support massive muscle gain. Even men, with much higher levels of natural testosterone, often struggle to gain muscle mass. They’ll shovel thousands of extra calories into their mouths daily, lift weights religiously, and take a half dozen supplements, all to gain 5 or 10 lbs. of muscle (considered awesome progress!).  The small amount of muscle a female might gain from weight training usually serves only to raise her metabolic rate (aiding in future fat loss) and to give her that “toned” look every woman asks her trainer about. Read More

Resistance Training: How young is too young? Ask the NSCA

Almost every week, some parent asks me, “At what age can my young athlete start a strength and conditioning program?”

They almost always have concerns about stunting the kid’s growth or getting him/her injured during training. Outdated and largely unfounded ideas about youth training are causing many children and adolescents to miss out on the numerous benefits of a well-designed strength and conditioning program. Read More

4 Pillars of Speed with 3 x Olympian Abderaman Brahim

Today, I got a serious lesson in speed. I got to spend the day at Savannah State University with Abderaman Brahim; a 3 time track and field Olympian in the 100 meters and long jump. Brahim first came to America from the African nation of Chad at age 16 to pursue an international Olympic scholarship. He’s been burning up the track ever since, and after his competitive career was over he became one of the top track coaches in his area. He’s USATF certified and a member of the IFTA of America.

I asked Brahim to give me his best crash course on sprinting. We covered specific dynamic warm-ups, sprint mechanics, specialty training equipment, and talked a lot about his philosophies for speed development. The drills we went over will make you faster and more effective in any sport, and I’ll be featuring some demo. videos to go over specific techniques you can use to gain that extra step later this week. In the meantime, here are coach Brahim’s four pillars of speed development: Read More

3 Reasons to Throw Your Bosu Ball Away!

Bosu balls, inflatable discs for under your feet, and other stability trainers have been marketed as tools for building balance, core strength, and thus increasing overall power and athletic performance. These claims are based upon several theories; each of which is bunk. If you’re an athlete looking to improve core strength and power, you should stick with free weights on a stable surface. Keep reading to find out why… Read More

Strongman Training: With Expert Guest Nate Tuttle

Have you ever seen a strongman competition, on television?  If so, you’ve probably watched in awe as monstrous men performed amazing feats of strength.  They pull trucks, lift huge logs, toss kegs, and generally carry or throw anything they can get their hands on.

It looks like fun, huh?  Did you know that anyone can train like that?  In fact, strongman training (or modified strongman training) makes a great addition to almost any training program.  It has caught on, especially with athletes, because handling the oddly shaped implements used in strongman training has been shown to have a greater carry-over to functional strength than training with barbells/dumbbells alone.

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Is Jogging Bad?

It seems to me that jogging is nothing more than running slowly.  How is it that such a simple thing has become the topic of so much debate in the worlds of fitness and sports?  Some coaches and trainers would have you believe that running a mile or more is sacrilegious.  They’d tell you that running will make you fat and slow.  Others swear by long runs as the only way to get in “cardio” shape.  So who’s right?

First, let’s talk anti-jogging.  It’s true that jogging isn’t a very effective method for fat loss.  Actually, running long distances trains your body to store calories as efficiently as possible!  Over the long haul, daily runs can also condition your body to burn muscle more readily than fat for energy during exercise.  Distance running can contribute to loads of over-use injuries in the lower body, cause oxidative stress, hinder the development of proper spring mechanics, and more.

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HIIT training: Are you doing it wrong?

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is a huge buzz –word in the fitness world, but not everyone uses it correctly to reach their goals.  HIIT can help you lose fat, improve conditioning, or even help you get strong on a tight training schedule.  The thing is, you’d use HIIT a little differently to achieve each goal.  That’s especially true for athletes or the experienced trainee.  Just throwing exercises randomly into a training session, without purposefully designing rep schemes and rest periods might work for a novice exerciser, but you’ll soon stop making progress. Let’s take a look at how to effectively design a program for each goal mentioned above.  For our purposes, “Work” will refer to the amount of time (or number of reps) spent performing the exercise of your choice, during each set.  “Rest” will mean the amount of time spent at rest, between bouts of work.

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Vary Tempo for Better Results

Tempo in strength training is the intended time taken for the eccentric and concentric (up and down… or relaxed and contracted) portion of an exercise.  Here at JoeToPro, we’ve been talking a lot about tempo recently.  Everyone has their favorite method of training, and tends to train mostly with their favorite tempos… but is it better to lift with a fast, moderate, or slow tempo?  What effect does tempo really have on training?

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Lower Body Structural Balance: A Thumbnail Sketch

Poor structural balance in the lower body is the cause of many injuries.  It can also hold you back from training harder/heavier.  You could write a whole book about the subject, but let’s stick with the basics.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, Structural Balance, a balanced body starts with intelligent training.  Develop good posture, a strong core, flexibility in and around your joints, and the strength to support it all.  Then, add in a few accessory exercises to correct any imbalances that might creep in. Pay special attention to…

* Core Strength

* Hamstring flexibility

* Hip mobility

* Proper ratio of hamstring/quadriceps strength

*Proper ratio of adductor/abductor strength

* Ankle mobility (including calf and achilles flexibility)

Warming Up Correctly

The Importance of a Dynamic Warm-up:

Warming up is a part of every training session and every athletic event.  Sometimes, because we do it so much, we forget how important it is.  Warming up properly can help prevent injury, improve balance and posture, and help you train more intensely.

A Good Warm-up can be your security blanket.  Work hard enough to break a sweat and spend this 10-20 minutes forgetting about the stresses of the outside world.  You’re here to train now.  Get in a training “zone” mentally while you warm up.

The best way to prepare for exercise is with a dynamic warm-up, instead of static stretching.  You’ll raise your body’s temperature, and get your muscles ready for the more intense work to come.  These dynamic warm-up movements also give you a great opportunity to work on balance, posture, and even lower body structural balance.

A dynamic warm-up will fire your nervous system up, too.  This gets your brain and muscles working together and firing properly before you start training hard for the day.

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Olympic Weightlifting for Speed and Power

Olympic lifts are complex movements that include the snatch, clean, jerk, and all the variations thereof.  These lifts have been included in the world Olympic Games for decades, and there are widely available opportunities to compete in weightlifting as a competitive sport at any age, weight, or experience level.  Today, we’ll cover the benefits of adding these lifts to your own training programs for the purpose of gaining speed and power.  You’ll also develop greater body control and awareness, better coordination, and improved timing.

Slower lifts like squats and dead-lifts are great for developing muscular strength, and have their place in your programs, but don’t match Olympic lifts for development of explosive power.  The force production (most force in the shortest time) created in the clean and snatch have each been measured to be far greater than that of any traditional strength training exercise.  In short, Olympic lifting WILL make you faster and more powerful.

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Plyometric Training for More Power

The old gym legends say plyometric exercises were originally designed by the Soviets to develop “power,” and speed in their track athletes.  Here’s what we know for sure:  Power is defined as the rate at which work is performed, or Power = Force x Velocity.  Today, plyometrics are used and sometimes misused for many other purposes, but are still best applied correctly to build power in athletic performance.   Pogo jumps, depth jumps, and plyo-push-ups are just a few examples of plyometric movements.  Check out some dos and don’ts of plyometric training:

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Structural Balance

Structural balance in the human body, if perfectly developed, would allow all of your muscles to be proportionately developed.  You’d have the perfect amount of flexibility.  Your joints would move smoothly through a full range of motion.

Too bad we don’t live in a perfect world.  The truth is that the stresses of daily life, our jobs, and sports cause imbalances in almost everyone.  You’re a little tight here or a little weak there.  You slouch in your chair at work or in the car.  Maybe your hands hurt from typing all day, or maybe it’s your shoulder from doing bench press.

The good news is that you can train to fix those problems.

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Fat Bar Training

Old time strongmen would train with homemade equipment.  This stuff was made from whatever they could get their hands on, and came in varying grip diameters and shapes.  Thick bar, or fat bar training was born.  The world’s elite strength coaches have caught on, and professional athletes, bodybuilders, and strongmen have known about fat bar training for years.  You will develop not only greater grip strength, but improve your overall strength as well.  You’ll also increase stability and improve structural balance in your upper extremities, possibly reducing pain from tendinitis or other repetitive use/imbalance injuries.

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