Monthly Archives: February 2013
By now most of you have seen the Calvin Klein super bowl commercial. You know the one with the guy gyrating around in just his skibbies, which made most of the America population salivate in their pants over his shredded midriff. The strange thing is after watching this; I had no inclination of going out and buying any kind of underwear.
If you have not seen it, here it is.
Where am I going with this? Well for some reason people think of the abdominals as a vanity muscle, good for two things; making you look good and shredding cheddar. These may be two great reasons to like the abs but there are many better reasons to love the abdominals.
The rectus abdominis or abs, as they are commonly called, are only a small part of what makes up your core. What consists of the core depends on how you look at it. Is the core from the chest to the hips or is it from the shoulders to the knees?
I am inclined to think of the core as being the muscles that help transfer power and help sustain proper posture. This would include both the muscles that control your shoulders and the muscles the control your hip alignment. I would argue that the anything below the neck could be considered part of the core, but my goal is not to discuss this in depth but to make you aware of my definition of the core.
Now that I got that out of the way, lets look at some of the individual muscles that make up the core and what their roles are.
Rectus Abdominus- Trunk Flexion
External Obliques- Trunk Flexion, Contralateral Rotation
Internal Obliques- Trunk Flexion, Ipsilateral Rotation
Quadratus Lumborum- Side Bending
Spinal Erectors- Trunk Extension
This is one way to look at the core, by training each one of these muscle groups by what they do. Examples: Trunk Flexion- sit-ups, Obliques- dumbbell twists, Quadratus- side bends, Spinal Erectors- supermans.
The question is, is this the best way to train the core? The answer that I have come to believe is a resounding no. Hundreds of crunches and sit-ups and Russian twists are not going to optimize the role of the core.
Role of the Core
If the role of the core is not to bend every which way, then what is it? It would make sense that its role is to prevent flexion in all directions.
One of the main roles of the core is to keep our spine and body in proper alignment. The muscles that make up the core create rigidity, in an otherwise flimsy spinal column. When lifting weights you should always be bracing the core to make sure you have good posture. Not to mention, to keep you safe from injury.
Transfer of Power
When performing many athletic motions the core plays a major role in transferring power from the legs to the arms. A great example of this is a baseball pitcher. The motion starts at the legs and ends with the ball being thrown. To get maximal velocity the power generated at the legs must be transferred all the way to the arms. This is accomplished by having a strong core to transfer this energy over.
If we are trying to train the core to optimize rigidity at the spine and the transfer of power through the core, then we need to look at the function of the muscles in a different light. Here is the new function of the muscles of the core.
Rectus Abdominus- Anti Extension (Resisting Extension)
External Obliques- Anti Rotation (Resisting Rotation)
Internal Obliques- Anti Rotation (Resisting Rotation)
Quadratus Lumborum- Anti Lateral Flexion (Resisting Lateral Flexion)
Spinal Erectors- Anti Flexion (Resisting Flexion)
How to Train
1. Anti Extension
Exercises: TRX Fall Outs, Planks, and Ball/Ab Wheel Rollouts
2. Anti Rotation
Exercises: Pallof Press
3. Anti Lateral Flexion
Exercises: Farmers Cares, Suitcase Deadlift, and Side Planks
4. Anti Flexion
Exercises: Deadlift and Squats
I am Out
The abs are one sexy group of muscles, but sex appeal is only a small part of why they should be desired. Without them you would have no rigidity to your spinal column and without that you are not lifting heavy weights or transferring mass amounts of power. This is a way cooler function then just a show piece for the beach and bed room.
That’s all I got.
There are many factors that play into how much weight you can lift. Factors that play into this are muscular strength, power, motor unit recruitment, technique, and so on. One aspect that I feel is over looked is the rate at which you can move the bar, or “bar speed”.
Why It Matters
When you are performing a lift it should be controlled going down and fast up. This is true for most lifts. Too often you see people on either ends of this model, either controlled all the way with no speed or uncontrolled down and fast up. The first person is not going to develop power with being controlled all the way through the lift, and the second person is letting the weight control them. This could end in injury.
With this being said, the individual with a faster bar speed is going to be able to successfully complete more of their lifts, missing less lifts. Reason being, the faster you can move the bar the more force you will be putting into the ground. The more force you can produce the more work you can do, resulting in heaver weights lifted.
How To Increase Your Speed
The great thing about speed work is that you are able to perform two multi joint lifts in the same day. For instance, you could do a deadlift and then perform a speed squat directly after or the other way around.
This is because when performing speed work you are using less weight and focusing of the speed in which you can move the bar. The weight of the lift is going to be less then 80% of your 1 rep max, and the reps will be in the 1 to 5 range. The rule here is that the greater the percentage the lower the reps and vice versa. You want your rest intervals to be in the 30 second to 1 minute 30 second range.
Example: 10×1 80% 1RM, 8×3 60%, 4×5 35%, or something like this.
The Wrap Up
If you train slow you’re going to be slow. This is true with lifting weights. If you want to lift heavy weights then you need to get that bar speed up. The faster you can move the bar will result in more force and the more force produced equals more weight lifted. So get out there and increase that speed.
Last week I looked at how our lives can become over run by the monotony of our everyday routine. You can read it here: Part I. This week I am going to look at how to mix up the monotony that can be at the gym.
Every once in a while we get sick of the whole lifting weight thing; a lifting rut so to speak. (Of course this never happens to me; I am generalizing here, and talking about everyone else that’s not me). So what do you do when the gym has become so monotonous that you can’t stand the sight of hardened steel? Do you just stop or are there other options. Well I am here to tell you there is another way.
What I have for you guys today is 4 ways to help make your gym time less repetitive and boring.
1. Good Programming
Simply put, a well put together program will go a long way for all facets of your fitness life. A good program will be tailor made to you and your goals. It will also take into account your limitations, your likes, and your dislikes while at the same time keeping you motivated and helping you reach your goals. All this being said, your program should make you look, and more importantly, feel better.
Even the best program will only work for so long. You can’t keep using the same program for months on end and expect to see the same improvements. Eventually you will stop seeing results. You could start seeing some overuse injuries, and assuredly become fed up with the same exercises everyday.
Mixing up your program every 4 to 6 weeks is a good way to keep your exercises fresh. If programming is not your thing, find someone that knows their stuff. This will usually cost about 25 dollars a program. Another option is to use a proven training product like Show and Go.
2. Make Your Off Days Fun Days
My off days are usually Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Sundays I always take off, but I like to leave my Wednesdays and Saturdays open. If the previous two days were a real killer then I might take those days off. Just to give one more day to recover so I can hit the second half of the week hard.
Other ideas for your off days:
I don’t always fit power work into my regular programming. So I use my off days to do my med ball work and Olympic lifts. These sessions are intense and short lasting only 30 minutes. These are also activates I enjoy doing so it’s almost a little treat.
Your off days are a great time to work on your technique. This could be your squat, deadlift, or Olympic lifts. Whatever you choose it’s a great time to get some extra practice time in.
When I program I don’t really care too much if you don’t like an exercise. If it does not hurt you and it will benefit you then I am going to program it. If I just picked exercises that people liked or I liked, then I would never give lunges, step ups, Bulgarian split squats, or any unilateral leg work that involves flexion (side note: I love unilateral leg work, I just think it sucks to do).
Since I don’t always get to do what I like, I will use my days off for low intensity and moderate to higher rep work. That focuses on areas I feel weak in (what I am really saying is I just hit the bi’s and tri’s for hours). Or just do exercises I enjoy.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure your off days are fun. If you have to drag yourself to the gym on your off days, take it off. Don’t burn yourself out.
I like to use finishers as the exclamation point to the end of my workouts or just that kick in the ass for the rest of the day. They are also a nice way to mix up your workouts and get a little conditioning in at the same time. If you train with a partner or a group of people, finishers can be a fun competition among friends and just the thing to break up the monotony.
Some of my favorite finishers:
Trapbar Finisher: Put 225 on bar, do three reps, walk 5 yards, and repeat
Sled Finisher: Push sled with 90 pounds for 25 yards, then do 5 med ball slams, push it back and do 5 more med ball slams. Or you can do burpees instead of the med ball slams.
Airdyne Bike Sprints: Get on an Airdyne bike and do intervals. These suck.
There are many more finishers out there and you are only limited by your imagination.
I know what your thinking, “Deload, really? I don’t take breaks I go hard all day every day!” Well hear me out. If you lift heavy all day every day, you will eventually become burnt out. You will either hit the wall and not making any progress, or you will become so run down that you don’t even want to think about lifting.
The deload can be a beautiful thing, if used correctly. If used correctly it can be a nice change of pace that can bring back that weight crushing animal within you. The two ways in which I use deloads are:
- Just take a planned week off from the gym. This does not mean you don’t stay active, it just means you get away from the iron for a week. This week off will allow your body to recover. The hope is that when you return to the gym you will be rested and hungry to get after it once again.
- The other method I use is to make the last week in your program a deload week. If you have a four week program all you would do is decrease the intensity and volume of the fourth week’s workout. By doing this, you give your body a nice recovery week before starting the next program. For me this is also a motivational thing, I get excited when that deload week is coming up.
The Wrap Up
The gym can become same old same old quickly if you let it become that way. By sprinkling in some of these change of pace ideas every so often it will help keep you coming back to the gym for more for weeks to come.
For ways to mix up the monotony in your everyday life, checkout Part I of this blog.
Our day-to-day lives can often become quite monotonous. We wakeup at about the same time everyday, eat the same breakfast, go to the same job, and so on. You have heard it said before, “We are creatures of habit” this is not a bad think but at some point the same things day in and day out will make you lose your mind.
This week while at the grocery store I lost it. No, I did not push over the dividers and cause a domino effect all throughout the store. I should have thought of that though. What did happen was I had one of those self-awareness moments where I was reaching for my coco covered almonds for the 45th week in a row. I then though, “what the hell am I doing?” The monotony of it all finally hit me all at once. In that moment I realized that I had been doing the same routine for that last 5 months.
I had to throw a wrench so to speak into the middle of all the monotony (had to sneak the title in here some how). So I drove three hours north of where I live to hike with my dog. I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning so I could see the sun rise, romantic right a man and his dog watching the sun rise from atop a mountain, it was 8 degrees out and the wind was blowing 15 mph, it took me three hours to climb and descend the mountain, but it did the trick.
What does this have to do with fitness and being strong? Well more then you would think. Mental health is a big part of your overall health. You need to be enjoying what you do, this is being happy. If you are loving life 90% of the time I would say you have a good life. It is how you deal with the other 10% that can really determine your level of happiness.
A great peace of advice that I received was, no matter how bad the circumstances is, you can control how you react to the situation. When life sucks you choose to allow the external situation to effect the internal you. In any given situation you choose to be angry, sad, or frustrated. Its as easy as deciding to be happy in these moments. Just reminding yourself that you always have control of how you responded to any given situation will go a long way. This is a simplistic solution to a complexes situation. This minds set works the majority of the time but not always.
What I mentioned above is a great mental exercise to try, but sometimes the solution is to physically get up and do something. One-way is to just get way from everything for a few hours. This can be a really nice way to mix up your day-to-day routine. We are so over run by technology, cell phones, computers, TV, ext. That it can be hard to think sometimes. Just going somewhere where you are completely free from it all for a few hours can be relaxing; I equate it to restarting your computer after leaving it on for the past 3 months. It’s a reboot for your mind.
I love being routine. It is apart of who I am, but you have to know when to mix it up. I am not saying everyone has to go out and freeze some serious sack like I did, but it worked for me. What I do suggest is you think of something that you really enjoy, something that you just have not done for a long time. Doing something spontaneous every once an a while can help break up the monotony in your life. Not to mention keep you sane.
Next week I will talk about ways to break up the monotony of the gym.
This week for me was a mentally taxing week. Full of reading and just work I needed to get done. When it came to writing this week I decided to have a little fun with this weeks blog, Things That Are Acceptable In The Weight Room but Not In Real Life. Give it a read, it’s like a deload but for your mind.
As for some post with more content be sure to checkout these 7 reads.