Category Archives: Training Philosophy

120 Tips on Strength Training for Women

For six months I’ve been taking notes while training my female clients, and I’m finally comfortable with the list. Here are 120 tips on strength training for women (many aren’t really tips, just observations). Please understand that I intend no disrespect or offense, I’m not trying to be controversial, I’m aware that I could be wrong in some cases, and obviously I’ve made broad generalizations and there are many exceptions to this list. My primary intent is to inform other trainers and coaches about my observations – it’s likely that your observations will differ from mine. Here they are separated into four categories:

Exercise Considerations

  1. Women have to be taught that the eccentric portion of the movement is important, and most will let their form go down the tubes when lowering their last rep of a set (for example during deadlifts or chins)
  2. Women are more prone than men to exhibit valgus collapse during squatting – while individual differences such as Q-angles contribute to this, “sitting like a lady” probably contributes to it as well
  3. A woman’s glutes can become stronger than a male’s – indicated by a greater relative hip thrust strength seen in women (a 2xBW hip thrust appears to be much more common in trained women than trained men, as is a 3xBW hip thrust)
  4. Proper push-up form is much more difficult to attain for women than it is for men
  5. Women have good “reactive/elastic strength” or stretch-shortening cycle efficiency, but they have poor “starting strength” – for example if they start a deadlift or shoulder press from the top of the movement with an eccentric lowering first, the performance is markedly better than if they perform the concentric portion first (more so than that of men)
  6. Some women struggle to activate their glutes with straightened legs (ex: planks and back extensions), but easily can when the knees are bent (ex: squats and hip thrusts) – I don’t quite know why this occurs
  7. Women utilize a variety of lumbar-pelvic strategies when lifting and often resort to overarching (excessive hyperextension) the spine during planks, push-ups, pull-ups, and deadlifts
  8. Most women prefer the EZ bar over the traditional barbell for hip thrusts as their pelvises can get beat up by traditional barbells (depends on the EZ bar though)
  9. Some women have “coregasms” when training, and the hanging leg raise is the primary culprit (these orgasms usually aren’t welcomed as they’re inconvenient)
  10. Bodyweight exercises for the upper body are much harder for women compared to men
  11. Bodyweight reverse hypers are often more effective for women compared to men
  12. Single leg RDL form comes more naturally to women due to better hip flexion mobility
  13. Conversely, single leg squat form is more difficult for women due to anatomical differences (Q-angle) and greater frontal plane hip stability requirements

Programming Design Considerations

  1. Women have much better stamina than men in terms of training density at higher intensities – they don’t require as much intra-set rest time as men
  2. Most women initially possess “quad dominance”, which should actually be referred to as “posterior chain weakness”
  3. Women are not initially very competent at executing 1RM’s, and this skill takes more time to develop in women compared to men
  4. Women tend to go too light with resistance training, whereas men tend to go too heavy to the point where their form breaks down too much or they rely on excessive momentum (there’s a popular saying in our industry that women should add 10% to the bar while men should take 10% off the bar)
  5. Women’s upper bodies are much weaker than those of men – lower body strength is around 70-75% of men, whereas upper body strength is around 40-60%
  6. When the spine is taken out of the equation, women’s relative compound lower body strength is more comparable to that of men (example leg press, hip thrust), however, in lifts that require significant spinal stability, relative compound lower body strength lags even greater when compared to men (example squats, deadlifts)
  7. Many women love isolation lifts and feeling the burn with them, probably too much, as most of them love these movements for the wrong reasons (see next point)
  8. The vast majority of women believe in spot reduction – even if they’ve heard the truth about spot reduction on numerous occasions (many mistakenly believe that tricep, adductor, and low ab exercises burn fat in those regions)
  9. Most women think there’s some magic fitness secret out there and therefore try to juggle every fitness methodology under the sun, which results in being mediocre at a variety of things rather than highly skilled in one or just a few areas
  10. Many women can tolerate greater training frequency of heavy lifting for the upper body due to less neural demand on account of lower strength levels
  11. Women absolutely love it when they perform their first legitimate push-up and chin-up, and many love doing “masculine” things in the gym such as pushing sleds
  12. Some women who have boob jobs have to permanently alter their programming, others don’t, and some can resume normal training after a period of time (for example, prone exercises, pec exercises, and even lat exercises can be problematic)
  13. Women tend to appreciate excellent form more so than men and aren’t as prone to “ego lifting”
  14. However, many women lack the fortitude and dedication to ever see incredible results from lifting due to “being a lifter” rather than “being a student of weight lifting”
  15. Many women will never appear “too muscular” no matter how much resistance training they perform
  16. Some women, however, can indeed get too big of quads through progressive overload with squats/lunges, contrary to popular opinion
  17. And some women can indeed get too big of traps/back through progressive overload with deadlifts, contrary to popular opinion
  18. Some women can get too muscular for their preferences in the upper body and should simply utilize variety rather than progressive overload for upper body lifts
  19. Women can indeed build blocky abdominals with too much core training
  20. The vast majority of women will never have “too much booty” as in gluteus maximus musculature no matter how much resistance training they perform
  21. Most women feel that plyos have some special fat-zapping properties for the legs (they don’t)
  22. Many women resort to sprinting for glute-building and end up injuring themselves due to inadequate preparation – a better strategy is to simply master the hip thrust as it’s markedly safer for non-athletes
  23. If you let them, many women would perform their entire workout as one giant circuit (therefore you have to teach them to rest adequately for strength gains)
  24. Women require smaller jumps in progressive overload – smaller plates are therefore critical (example 1.25-2.5lbs), as are smaller barbells (and smaller jumps in db’s, kb’s, and bands)
  25. Women prefer variety with training – put a man in a garage with pair of squat stands and a barbell loaded with bumper plates and he’d be accepting, whereas a woman would sorely miss her kettlebells, suspension system, and elastic bands

Anatomical, Physiological, Psychological, and Random Considerations

  1. Women in general complain about pain more frequently than men (by the way, the notion that women have higher pain tolerances than men is not supported in the literature)
  2. Many women loathe calluses and prefer to wear lifting gloves as they feel it allows them to retain their femininity – and I have absolutely no problem with this as a trainer
  3. The hip thrust strength discrepancy between men and women is strange because the literature shows that women’s glutes are smaller compared to men, both in an absolute and a relative manner, though individual variation in glute size is enormous
  4. Women’s muscles, when expressed per unit of area, produce the same amount of force as those of men, but women carry less muscle mass (18-22 less kgs of lean body mass)
  5. This spinal stability discrepancy between men and women may have to do with the lesser leverage (moment arms) of core muscles on account of smaller torsos in women compared to men, which translates to lesser spinal stability strength per amount of muscle force
  6. Compared to men, most women have better hip, t-spine, shoulder, and pelvic mobility
  7. It is common for women, however, to have poor ankle mobility – just as it is for men
  8. Many women initially possess very poor levels of core stability; even more so than men
  9. An alarming number of female beginners possess very little noticeable levels of glute activation during various glute exercises
  10. Women tend to be very grateful and appreciative of their trainers, more so than men
  11. Some women giggle when they’re struggling with exercise form or when pushing a set near failure – men don’t do this
  12. Women love feeling strong, contrary to popular opinion
  13. Women often bring drama to the gym and have more trouble detaching from everyday life-struggles when training
  14. Women are great motivators and encouragers in the gym
  15. Women have different physique goals than men, and this needs to be taken into account with programming
  16. Women often struggle to load and unload plates off of barbells properly due to pulling or positioning them off-track rather than centering them perfectly and pushing/pulling straight-on
  17. High heels likely contributes to certain women’s quad dominance and tight plantarflexors
  18. Certain female sexual positions might contribute to women possessing good hip mobility and pelvic control (ex: ones that have the woman in a deep squat position, ones that have the woman in a bridge position, ones that have the woman rocking their hips back and forth, etc.)
  19. More women than men tend to look to the side during sagittal plane lifts – their eyes veer off to the left or right rather than remain focused straight ahead
  20. Women don’t tend to look at themselves in the mirror as much as men when training
  21. More women possess hypermobility than men
  22. On average, women are not as consistent as men at keeping training logs
  23. Women are not as proficient at learning gym lingo, learning the names of exercises, and learning which exercises work the various muscles compared to men
  24. Women differ anatomically compared to men (for example, the average male over 20 yrs of age is 5’10” and weighs 190 lbs, whereas the average female over 20 yrs of age is 5’4” and weighs 163 lbs – in addition, women possess wider pelvises and larger Q-angles than men)
  25. Women differ physiologically compared to men, which influences anatomy (for example they possess greater bodyfat percentages of 25-31% compared to men at 18-24%)
  26. Women differ psychologically compared to men (for example they’re motivated to train uniquely, and what revs up a man to max out doesn’t necessarily rev up a woman to max out)
  27. It is common for women to miss periods (menstrual cycles) upon embarking on an intensive training regimen (not to be confused with amenorrhea which happens when body fat drops too low)
  28. Menstrual cycles usually have a huge influence on factors such as training motivation, irritability/mood, water retention, and self-esteem during exercise
  29. The size of women’s breasts and also butts can fluctuate markedly throughout the month, which can lead to frustration
  30. Some women experience urinary incontinence when exercising, and the likelihood increases after giving birth
  31. Woman are better than men at fostering camaraderie but not quite as good as men at holding training partners accountable for showing up
  32. Many women don’t activate their pelvic floor muscles properly
  33. Women tend to prefer different training music than men
  34. More women than men like to offer up the phrase “they say” as proof of evidence (who exactly is “they”?)
  35. Most women don’t like getting weighed on scales, and many prefer to see how clothes fit as measures of progress (I don’t agree with this practice as I like to utilize all measures of progress)
  36. Women like wearing pink workout apparel and take their training attire much more seriously than men (for example they tend to match their shoes with their shorts or shirts, etc.)
  37. Women love putting chalk on their hands and then clapping hard – thereby getting chalk everywhere rather than keeping it solely on the hands (they probably do this because they saw gymnasts do it)
  38. Women are not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses
  39. Women love compliments – it fuels their fire to train even harder
  40. Most women are initially very insecure about lifting weights – many desire private or small training environments since they’re less intimidating
  41. Many women are very intimidated of free-weights in general – especially in gyms, and especially in free-weight sections of heavily populated gyms – which is why many opt for the cardio area
  42. Many women overvalue the importance of cardio, met-con, and high-intensity interval training
  43. Many women overvalue the importance of stretching
  44. Many women overvalue the importance of abdominal training
  45. Many women undervalue the importance of strength
  46. Many women fear getting bulky – and sometimes this fear is warranted as it can indeed happen, especially with certain muscle groups (despite most trainers and coaches saying it’s not a concern)
  47. Compared to men, women carry a greater percentage of their weight in their lower bodies and a lower percentage of their weight in their upper bodies
  48. Most women will name types like Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba, or Jamie Eason as their ideal physique – men tend to assume that all women want to look like J-Lo or Shakira
  49. The female body makes around 10% as much testosterone as a man’s, but androstenedione levels are similar (however testosterone levels vary dramatically between women)
  50. Genetics for muscle building varies dramatically between women, possibly due to the variances in T-levels, muscle fiber type proportions, and/or satellite cell efficiency
  51. Genetics for fat loss varies dramatically between women – some stay very lean despite consuming a surprisingly large amount of calories and/or “junk” food, whereas others seem to do everything right yet can’t improve their body composition
  52. Where women store fat varies dramatically between women – typical problematic areas for fat storage are the inner thighs, buttocks, and back of the arms, however some struggle in the lower abdominal and lower back regions too
  53. Where women build muscle varies dramatically between women – for example some women can grow a booty by just looking at a barbell, whereas others seem to do everything right but still struggle (some can even grow a booty by just doing tons of cardio, whereas this recipe would spell disasters for most women for that purpose)
  54. Most women, when looking in the mirror, hone in on their “problem areas” rather than focus on their best parts
  55. A small percentage of women possess what I call “Tasmanian devil syndrome,” characterized by a barrel chest with two chicken legs – this is the hardest body type to improve!
  56. Most women have well-intentioned male friends who give them horrendous advice pertaining to their goals
  57. If a woman has a boyfriend/husband who is a coach/trainer, she won’t listen to him no matter what his credentials are (never a prophet in your own land)
  58. More women than men attempt to chat during lifts, and they’ll even do so with maximal attempts (men instinctively shut their traps and focus on the task at hand when maxing out)
  59. Women prefer to hear feminine terms such as “firm,” toned,” “tight,” “lean,” “long,” “sculpted” and “sexy,” rather than masculine terms such as “jacked,” “yoked,” “swole,” “huge,” “ripped,” “shredded,” or “muscular,” and even the word “hypertrophy” can scare them off
  60. Women don’t tend to value training partners in the same manner that men do
  61. Women sometimes dress very sexy for the gym and are then annoyed when males show interest while they’re training, which on the surface doesn’t make the best of sense
  62. However, women often aren’t dressing to impress men, they like looking and feeling their best  in the gym for personal reasons related to motivation and confidence
  63. Women usually don’t want to be bothered in the gym – unsolicited advice from meatheads and cheesy pick-up lines get old quickly, yet men will nevertheless remain persistent
  64. Women don’t tend to care as much about science and research – anecdotes are often sufficient for evidence
  65. Some women make sexual-sounding grunts when lifting; men grunt but it doesn’t sound sexual
  66. Women respond differently hormonally to exercise than men (they tend to release more growth hormone, less testosterone and more cortisol)
  67. Some women prefer hiring a female trainer because they feel more comfortable and that a woman can relate better to their needs, whereas training with the same sex or they feel that a woman will better relate to their needs, while other women prefer hiring a male trainer since they feel that men can better motivate and push them to new levels of development
  68. Many women feel that all upper body training is “arm” training (they refer to chest, shoulder, and back exercises as arm exercises)
  69. During casual conversation, when most women imitate weight lifting form to friends, family members, or peers, all of a sudden they get the form all wrong (for example they’ll imitate a deadlift like an upright row)
  70. Many women are self-conscious about the way they look when lifting – for example they’re initially insecure about performing RDLs or hip thrusts, they’re keenly aware of how their clothing is situated on their bodies, and they try to avoid grimacing when the intensity rises
  71. Some women seem impossible with their complaints; for example one day they’re worried about getting too bulky and the next day they’re upset that they lost muscle size somewhere
  72. Women sometimes twist compliments into insults, and they’re more sensitive to criticism than men

Nutrition and Health Considerations

  1. Women are more gullible and prone to gimmicks and fads in regards to exercise and fitness
  2. However, women spend less money on muscle building supplements than men
  3. Women have better sleep quality compared to men – they sleep longer, they fall asleep faster, and their sleep is more efficient, but despite this, women have more sleep-related complaints than men (this is shown in the literature)
  4. Women are more prone than men to getting fooled into buying “fake” healthy foods (they trust labels and don’t inspect the ingredients and nutritional info)
  5. Many women don’t like the taste of protein shakes, whereas most men enjoy the taste
  6. Many women don’t consume optimal protein intake because they assume that items like yogurt and nuts are high in protein
  7. Many women have unhealthy attitudes about their body images
  8. Due to this, many women have unhealthy relationships with food – women are more prone to eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating
  9. Some women end up permanently damaging their metabolisms by engaging in unsafe dietary practices when training for competitions (often recommended by their trainers and coaches)
  10. Women tend to be better than men at getting in their fruits and veggies, whereas they don’t tend to crave meat and eggs as much as men

Strength Training for Women

Enough With the Coaching Cues! (But Here are Some of My Favorites)

Today’s article is a guest-blog from Derrick Blanton. Derrick is a big thinker and I love learning about his thought-process. It’s very important for coaches to understand that many of our clients don’t process the cues the way that we intend them to. Here are some of Derrick’s thoughts pertaining to coaching cues.

Enough With the Coaching Cues! (But Here are Some of My Favorites)
By Derrick Blanton

Lately I’ve noticed that the times, they are a changin’. Perhaps fueled by the emergence of Crossfit, as well as the growing internet strength training community, untrained civilians are getting off the treadmill, and wandering over to the weight room. This is a good thing!

Many will be seeking knowledgeable instruction on proper techniques of the various strength training movements. These unsuspecting folks are about to enter the Twilight Zone of well-intentioned coaching cues. And after many years of lifting stuff, and pondering countless versions of these cues, I have come to the conclusion that we should ditch them altogether.

Because they suck.

I kid because I love, yet consider a few reasons why coaching cues can be a double edged sword:

  1. They possibly don’t mean to your trainee what you think they mean. Different people process movement using different language.
  2. This is totally OK, though, because the recognized experts are going to change their mind about the wisdom of your cue in a few years anyways.
  3. Information gets passed along and distorted. Often it is just plain wrong, or at the very least, short-sighted. Cues like “draw in your gut to brace your spine”, or the latest, “don’t hollow your glutes when extending the hip”, are not particularly useful once you actually load the bar. In reality, once grooved, they will just be bad habits that are difficult to break later.
  4. They confuse and derail lifters who already possess a decent movement pattern straight out of the gate. As the great Rob Panariello says, (and I paraphrase): “Often, form already follows function”.
  5. Cues tend to promote a concentric muscular action. This is great if we are cueing the agonist (“drive your feet through the floor”). But it can get confusing and downright risky when we are cueing stabilizers, and inadvertently promote a concentric action, rather than our intended isometric action. We’ll see a couple of prime examples of this down below discussing “break the bar”, and “brace the abs”.

The upshot is that cueing is an imperfect, but necessary, learning methodology, so let’s try to get better at it by using an individualized, case by case approach. Along those lines, I’d like to hand out a few “Cueys”, a prestigious, and utterly made up award, to a few of the concepts, cues, and methods that have helped me personally learn and groove effective movement patterns.

Please keep in mind that your list of “Cueys” will likely be totally different, and therein lies the point: These helpful cues are specific to my personal movement process. Which is why they will totally suck…for somebody reading this.

The Shoulder, Pt. 1: Overhead movements

Some of you may remember my lengthy account of trying to learn to “pack my shoulders”. That painful and futile process culminated in two wrecked shoulders, and me giving the cue a retirement party with a one way ticket to Nowhere.

A nice outcome of that article was that it generated some very insightful discussion on scapular stability, and I learned a lot while considering various ideas on the matter. One of those with a different point of view than mine was RKC instructor Brett Jones.

Brett is a super smart, thoughtful guy, and came up with another way to describe this process of “shoulder packing”. He called it a “sticky scapula”. I thought that was pretty brilliant. A “sticky scapula”? Yes, I see it more clearly now! Now here is a concept that I can wrap my mind around. Thus began my “sticky scapula” experiment.

Great hammer of Zeus, it works!

See how fickle this cueing game is? Merely replace the word “packed”, with the word “sticky”, and instantly unlock the inscrutable mystery of overhead movement. It all starts to come together. The scap is sticky, (i.e. moving under tight CNS muscular control); it is not stuck (isometrically packed).

It is nothing more than imagery, and it works.

So now, in some kind of weird synergy, I perform my overhead lifts with an active shoulder AND a sticky 

scapula! I know, I know. This is crazy talk. Cats and dogs playing together. Thank you, Mark Rippetoe, and thank you, Brett Jones! Between the two of you, I am now bulletproof.

D

“Pardon me, sir, but are you aware that your left scapula is in danger of losing its stickiness?”

Co-winners: “Active shoulder”, Mark Rippetoe
“Sticky scapula”, Brett Jones

Incidentally, how do we feel about this possible hybrid cue: active sticky scapula? Anyone? Mmmkay. Let’s move on.

The Shoulder, Pt. 2: The Bench Press

Break the bar.” Aaaaghhh!! Excuse me while I go throw a dumbbell on my foot. I am so not a fan of this one, even as I understand that this cue is very popular and useful for others.

Let me explain. It’s totally my fault. See, when you told me to break the bar, I went ahead and tried to break the bar. I know, right? What the heck was I thinking?

Now, if you didn’t want me to break the bar, uh…why did you tell me to break the bar?! I tried to break the bar, and it almost destroyed my elbows!

You ever try to break a stick or a branch? As you valiantly strain to tear the stick in two, do not your elbows MOVE? Do they not move far inwards of the stick as you apply the force? Can we agree when holding a large amount of weight over your neck and face, that all things being equal, we would prefer to have our elbows stably under the bar, and not actively twisting somewhere down around your navel in some misguided attempt to bend a barbell in two?

What we are really trying to do is create an externally rotating torque (essentially isometric) at the shoulder to counter the internally rotating pecs and lats, right? And this is happening while you are concurrently driving the weight up directly through the elbows.

We need an isometric muscular action, but we are cueing a concentric action.

Enter the evil Russian, Pavel Tsatsouline with his bullet analogy. The bullet spirals out of the chamber; this increases its velocity. This is analogous to the force emerging from the torqued shoulder socket. Note that the bullet doesn’t go floating around trying to bend steel as it spirals out of the barrel. It aims straight ahead.

Consider that this is not even really a cue, but rather an idea, a comparison, an understanding. And this spiral idea fits nicely with my other favorite cue: “Push yourself through the bench”. For some reason, visualizing an open chain movement as a closed chain movement enhances stability, and thus expression of force. The body “gets it”.

Co-Winners: Pavel’s bullet analogy
“Push Yourself through the Bench”, Anonymous

Next Category: The Olympic Squat and Front Squat

Ah, my eternal nemesis, the squat.

When I first started learning the squat, I had a dreadful case of patellar tendinosis. I actually didn’t walk without pain for over a year. At that time, the only SQ that I could perform without crumbling to the ground was the box squat. So I learned to box squat.

As my patellar tendon healed, I started moving the box lower and lower. Eventually I got to where I could squat ATG (ass to grass), but the problem was that I was still using a “sit back” box squat approach to ATG free squatting.

Yeah, it was an ugly mess.

Solution: learn the Olympic style squat. Except I apparently had no available motor program to squat in this upright fashion. Even my front squats were essentially “squat mornings”. Ridiculous.

Fortunately there exists a cue precisely for this dilemma. “Sit down, not back”.

Unfortunately, I could not seem to execute the “sit down” technique.

It sounds silly, but I had lost my ability to load my knee first, probably due to the injury; which though now healed, was still “phantom pain” present on my CNS hard drive. Over the years, I had prioritized the hip break to the extent that the program had become locked.

Nick Horton to the rescue! In this 21-minute bundle of awesome entitled, “How to Squat Like an Olympic Weightlifter”, Nick solved my motor program mystery with this gem: “Put your hip bones right on top of your ankles.”

http://youtu.be/XeDHS13OE1k

Alrighty then! That sounded pretty darn doable. Almost immediately, I’m squatting to the floor in an organized fashion. One thing kept nagging at me, though. I’m breaking at the knee first. Now, I’ve been instructed by all of the knowledgeable experts to “break at the hip first”. Conflict. Dilemma. Scary!

Once I really experienced what keeping a more vertical torso feels like (in a nutshell: good!), the choice on which cue to follow was pretty easy. So in my brave new OLY squatting world, even though I am not consciously thinking about it, as I attempt to “put my hip bones on my ankles”, I find that I am breaking at the knees first before loading the hip.

This is what might be referred to as a “load sequencing error”, per mobility expert, Kelly Starrett, possibly Rippetoe would frown on this technique as it takes away an element of “hip drive”. Oh well, this is working pretty well for me. Your mileage may vary, and that goes back to my reservations about tossing cues out like candy to begin with!

And please don’t think I’m dissing Kelly Starrett. The man knows his stuff, and his work has helped me immensely. In fact, he is the co-winner in this category, for this one: “Knees outtie”.

Again, not so much of a cue, as an excellent explanation, and demonstration. (I actually prefer “screw the hip into the socket”, again illustrating my preference for cues that refer to the proximal attachment of the muscle in question. But again, that’s just me!)

Rippetoe’s version, “shove the knees out” also caused me some movement confusion. Again, this just comes down to terminology. I couldn’t figure out how to actively “shove” (use my glutes to concentrically force the knees out) while simultaneously eccentrically lengthening them as I tried to sink into the hole.

It becomes increasingly clear that even the best coaches, those that are completely on top of their game, and on top of the heap, don’t necessarily have one size fits all prescriptions. This is due to the multitude of biomechanical and mental processing differences that we pesky individualistic humans bring to the table.

Co-winners: “Put your hip bones on your ankles”, Nick Horton
“Knees outtie!”, Kelly Starrett

Honorable mention: “Put a boulder between your legs”, Dan John

D2

Smile! You just discovered the joys of knee-breaking your front squat!

Our Final Award: Core Stability During SQ’s and DL’s

Remember Point #2, on why coaching cues can suck from above? Boy has this one changed! It used to be: “Arch your lower back…HARD!”

There are many reasons why that cue can be problematic. A quick search on MWOD, or Mike Robertson, or Eric Cressey’s blog will find some informative articles. Here’s my anecdotal experience. When you concentrically crank the low back hard under load, and more importantly over TUT (time under tension), a few not so great things happen:

  1. You fatigue remarkably quickly. Your lumbar erectors are like a video game “life force”, limited but quickly regenerative. If you burn out the force unnecessarily hyperextending the spine, it will fail quickly. When it does fail, you may not have any warning. You may just simply buckle. This is usually followed by shrieking.
  2. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. Ask a newbie to power clean an appreciable load, and it is not uncommon for them to try to “lumbar erect” the load instead of using the hips. A hammer is a great tool, but not for hoeing the garden.
  3. Related to #3. The lumbar erectors operate in responsibility-sharing team with the short external rotators of the hip, and the various abdominal muscles, etc. Prioritizing the low back often comes at the price of compromising downstream stability and positional torque at the pelvis and hip.
  4. It takes the glutes out of the movement to a degree. Someone should really write more on this very topic, and that someone is Bret Contreras. Not that he doesn’t have a few other things to do.

So that “hard arch” thought process is slowly being replaced with “Control rib flare”, “Control anterior pelvic tilt” or “Connect the ribcage to the pelvis”, or simply, “Keep the spine neutral.”

I personally like “plank the spine”. Another gem: Starrett’s “global whip”. Now, is “global whip” going to mean anything to Joe Bob Dumbbell, or Mary Jane Blaststrap? Not without some indoctrination. Again, it’s a concept. It requires some thought and study, some explanation. And it perfectly lays out the map for core stability.

Finally a word about, “brace your abs”, (I’m not even going to get into that whole TVA “draw in” maneuver). Abdominal bracing is not a bad idea at all. Except when you overfocus on the muscular action, and apply that force concentrically, as I mentioned in point #5 above. One thing you don’t want to do is unintentionally perform an active crunch with a loaded barbell on your back or in your hands. This is when “bracing” goes bad!

Co-winners: “Plank the Spine”, Anonymous
“Global Whip”, Kelly Starrett

Well, folks, this concludes our impromptu cueing awards show. Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that overall, coaching cues are awful, and should never be used!

But seriously, I think that cueing shorthand works way better when you first take the time to learn the longhand. Without a good base of understanding and awareness, a snappy sounding cue can end up being counterproductive.

Finally, I like Bret’s approach of discussing the intended action with his trainee, and asking them how they would describe it. Let them tell you the cue that they can process in their own movement language.

And if that fails, just yell out, “Global Whip!” as they are grinding out a heavy DL!

Skewed Views of Science

I’d like for you to take ten minutes of your time today to watch this video. My friend Charles Staley sent this my way, and it’s excellent. It’s almost as if the person who created this video did so specifically for the strength & conditioning industry. I wish that more of the top fitness professionals understood the information contained in this video, if so we’d be in a much better position to cooperate and progress as a field.

50 Shades of Gray (Cook)

Recently, I came up with a good idea. Due to the popularity of the book titled 50 Shades of Grey, I thought it would be appropriate to post a guest blog on Gray Cook titled, 50 Shades of Gray (Cook). I’ve learned a lot from Gray over the years, and this is my way of giving back. If you’ve never seen Gray speak, I recommend you do so. He’s got the gift of gab, and is without a doubt one of the most eloquent speakers the fitness industry has ever seen.

Last week I reached out to my friend Laree Draper to find me a bunch of quotes from Gray, and boy did she deliver. Without further adieu, here are fifty one-hundred (you get double for your money) Gray Cook quotes. Enjoy!

1.  The definition of functional exercise is what it produces, NOT what it looks like.

2.  Unless you find the driver of bad movement, and find the thing that changes it, you’re just guessing.

3.  First move well, then move often

4.  Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body but poor movement patterns can only exist in the brain

5.  The most objective person is the individual who realizes just how subjective he is.

6.  Moving isn’t important, until you can’t.

7.  Pain is not the problem — it’s the signal

8.  Don’t add strength to dysfunction

9.  Quantitative accumulation leads to qualitative changes.

10.  When someone loses core stability, a bunch of planks don’t fix that shit

11.  Are you moving poorly because you are in pain? Or are you in pain because you are moving poorly?

12.  Do what people need, not what they want

13.  Test for durability not only for performance

14.  ‎I wanna see if you have lost the abilities you had when you were 3 years old, at 3 you could roll, clime, balance on one foot, and run.

15.  At 1 to 5 years old most of us are moving alike

16.  ‎The TGU is a proproceptive drill, but I don’t think is a strength move, even thou it will make you strong, it is a stability movement

17.  Anatomist will tell you this: The neck and ribcage, and the neck and scapular share more muscles than they have independently

18.  It’s very hard to catch, I can’t even tell you what injury, a left/right hip asymmetry is gonna cause, one person is gonna get SI pain, one person is gonna have low back pain, and one person is gonna have chronic knee pain, the asymmetry causes compensation, and compensation is a natural survival mechanism

19.  Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position, it’s called muscle inhibition

20.  75% of world spends at least 30 seconds per day in that position (sic-deep squat going number 2). Why shouldn’t you?

21.  When challenged the brain will always choose quantity of movement over quality of movement

22.  Whenever possible, we must separate movement dysfunction from fitness and performance. Aggressive physical training cannot change fundamental mobility and stability problems at an effective rate without also introducing a degree of compensation and increased risk of injury.

23.  Patterns and sequences remain the preferred mode of operation in biological organisms. Patterns are groups of singular movements linked in the brain like a single chunk of information. This chunk essentially resembles a mental motor program, the software that governs movement patterns. A pattern represents multiple single movements used together for specific function. Storage of a pattern creates efficiency and reduces processing time in the brain, much as a computer stores multiple documents of related content in one file to better organize and manage information.    Common strengthening programs applied to muscles with the stabilization role will likely increase concentric strength but have little effect on timing and recruitment, which are the essence of stabilization.

24.  Stabilizer training goes far beyond isometrics found in popular stability exercises such as side plank. In this isometric exercise model, conscious rigidity and stiffness are the goal, but true authentic stability is about effortless timing and the ability to go from hard to soft to hard to soft in a blink.

25.  Stability is also confused with strength, where concentric and eccentric contractions build massive endurance. The muscles do become stronger in shortening andlengthening, but again they lack the timing and control needed for true functional stabilization. We should train muscles in the way we use them. Stabilizers need to respond quicker than any other muscle group to hold position and control joint movement during loading and movement.

26.  Movement pattern corrective strategy is a form of exercise that focuses more on improving mobility, stability, basic motor control and whole movement patterns than the parameters of physical fitness and performance. Once established, the movement patterns create a platform for the general and specific parameters of fitness, including endurance, strength, speed, agility, power and task specificity

27.  Maintain the squat, train the deadlift

28.  If you have an issue with your active straight leg raise or shoulder mobility, you don’t have the right to go anywhere else in a corrective strategy.  Don’t worry about your squat, clean up the active straight leg raise and shoulder mobility FIRST!

29.  If you leave out one of the seven tests because of your own bias, your data will be flawed and you won’t get the same result.  There are seven tests for a reason.  They are all important!

30.  After you clean up your active straight leg raise and shoulder mobility, shoot for cleaning up rotary stability, as this is a true test of “soft core” function.

31.  Pain is not a signal we can train through.

32.  You need to get your clients to stop doing negative activities that will hold back their progress in your program.  Once movement clears up and is above a minimum standard, they can work back to doing what they like to do.  If they aren’t willing to give these things up, the results of the program will always make you look bad, as they won’t improve.  For example, the best back surgeons will not operate on smokers because smoking delays the healing process and their results will not be as good, making the surgeon look bad.  You wouldn’t ask your mechanic to run alongside your car and fix the engine WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING IT!

33.  Don’t be ready to add a positive (corrective exercise/strategy) to a training program.  First try and remove a negative!

34.  Any movement that you cannot score at least a two on means that you can’t do any conditioning or strength work on that movement.  You must meet the minimum standard.

35.  The definition of corrective exercise is move well and then move more.  Most people just want to move more.

36.  The best way to get your core to work right is to correct your worst movement pattern.  If you can get mobility back, your core will turn on automatically and do what it needs to do (mobility before stability).  Your core may not be able to work properly right now because your ankle is locked up, or your hips don’t move well, etc…Doing all the core work and plank exercises in the world won’t fix this problem.

37.  Work backwards to the crib for correcting movements!

38.  If you don’t move well in a pattern, don’t move often in that pattern until it improves.  For example, if the squat pattern is bad, don’t worry about doing plyos or jumping activities until it is better.

39.  It disappoints me to see research that tests stability without the researchers clearing mobility first.  Stability is driven by optimal mobility, as mobility improves mechanoreceptor stimulation.  Poor mobility = poor mechanoreceoptor function = poor stability.

40.  A higher center of gravity will make you authentically stabilize.  Seek to use a higher center of gravity in some of your exercises/movements.

41.  If you go into a movement pattern and the muscles that are being lengthened contract and push you out of the pattern, THIS IS NOT TIGHTNESS.  This is actually a contraction, even though the client describes it as tightness.  A good example of this involves clients who can’t touch their toes and claim that their hamstrings are tight, when in reality, the hamstrings are turning on (when they should be lengthening) during the movement to provide stability to the pelvis since the core is not doing what it needs to do.  This is muscular contraction and not hamstring tightness.

42.  Inconsistencies in the FMS are usually stability problems, while consistencies are typically mobility problems.

43.  If you want to see your abs eat better.  If you want your abs to work better, move better!

44.  You gotta break a pattern before you can make a pattern!

45.  We’d like to think that we can verbalize to people how they can move better, but we can’t.  Try and tell someone who has never ridden a bike how to do it and see if they can go out and reproduce it.  They can’t!  They have to actually go out, get on the bike, and try it out a few times to understand what it feels like.  Exercise is the same way.

46.  You can’t motor learn authentically in a painful pattern.

47.  Neurodevelopmentally speaking, it was always quality before quantity.  This should be true with our exercise programs as well.

48.  Tarzan, to me, is the epitome of fitness.  The guy is strong, agile and quick.  He can run, jump, climb and swing through trees.  If we take a person who moves well and put them on a Crossfit type of training program, we turn them into Tarzan.  If we take that same program and give it to the majority of people in society who move poorly, we turn them into a patient.

49.  If you can’t change the movement of the majority of clients you are working with then you are doing something wrong.  You need to have a standard operating procedure as a way to test and re-test their movement patterns.

50.  Once you can get a good toe touch and active straight leg raise, go immediately to deadlifting.  Re-pattern that range of motion by locking down the newly gained mobility with some stability.

51.  The brain will create a mobility problem because it is the only option you have left it.

52.  Foam rolling should lead you to better movement.  If it doesn’t, then you aren’t doing something right, and foam rolling may not be what you need.

53.  The only thing documented for depression that does not have side effects is exercise.

54.  Strength or mobility asymmetries of greater than 10% in an asymmetrical sport (IE, golf) are a problem!

55.  You can’t strengthen stabilizers and assume the timing of them will improve.  Muscles like the rotator cuff musculature and rhomboids are muscles that need to fire FAST, not necessarily strong.  Seek to improve the timing of these muscles.

56.  Programs are carried out the same way, no matter what happens.  Systems have a way of breaking things down and telling us “if this, then than” and “if that, then this”.  Use systems instead of programs to get what you want in your clients training programs.

57.  The FMS is species specific, not sport specific.  The FMS is made up of basic patterns that everyone should be able to perform, regardless of sport.  These patterns show themselves in everyday movements and sports movements because we are all human beings.

58.  Intelligence is made up of two-systems working together: Pattern recognition and memory recall.

59.  The FMS seeks to predict injury from a behavioral standpoint.  That behavior is measured by your ability to move through certain patterns.

60.  When someone’s back hurts they don’t want to blame their lifestyle, fitness level, or daily patterns.  Instead, they want to blame their back pain on starting the lawn mower last week, which, in reality, is probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Human beings live under the philosophy of, “I have a snowball and I have to throw it at someone.”  No one wants to take responsibility.

61.  If the CNS and transverse abdominus don’t communicate together nothing will happen.  You can “shred someone’s abs” while they are lying on the floor, but as soon as they stand up they will revert back to the bad pattern(s) they are used to.

62.  Are dysfunctions anatomically specific or movement specific?  The gluteus medius may appear to do what it needs to do in a bilateral stance (IE squatting), but as soon as we get to a single leg stance or split stance, the person’s movement may deteriorate.  Is the problem really the gluteus medius?  Or is the problem the fact that they don’t move well in that pattern?

63.  Stop thinking about things from a kinesiological standpoint.  Movements are movements.  Movements aren’t specific to one single muscle.  You need to move better if you want to improve function.

64.  Eye movements alone will light up muscular activity in the direction you are looking.

65.  If you want people to move better stop shopping exercises and break down their movements.

66.  For corrective exercise, put people in a position where they are making a lot of mistakes (this position needs to be a safe position though and not dangerous) and SHUT UP!  Don’t over coach them.  Let them work it out and learn to develop the pattern…THIS is motor learning!  The baby didn’t need you to coach it on how to roll in the crib, crawl or stand.  It figured it out on its own.

67.  Walking and running strides have a heel strike that is between 1-4 inches apart.

68.  Don’t migrate to just doing one thing – IE, runners just run, kettlebell coaches just coach kettlebells, etc. – you need to have variety and be well rounded.  What would happen if I told you to eat chicken breast three times a day, every day, for the rest of your life?  YOU’D MISS THINGS!  Don’t miss things.

69.  Build systems to protect yourself from your own subjectivity.

70.  Your soft core (diaphragm, multifidi, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominus) needs to hold everything together.  It makes up about 20% of your core activity.

71.  You have three things to consider when dealing with a client/athlete:

  • The first thing you always need to consider is movement.  If movement quality is not above a minimum standard, then this is the first problem you need to deal with.
  • Performance problems come next.  If you move well, go ahead and add some conditioning, strength and speed.
  • Issues with skill are the final thing to fix (IE, golf swing, throwing technique, running form, etc.)

72.  Even an inappropriately performed deadlift does not have as much intradisc pressure as sitting down and pushing or pulling on things (performing exercises).  Stand up and move!

73.  You can’t coach people to do a movement that they can’t do.  All they are doing is trying to survive the pattern!  Poor movement is a balance reaction.

74.  While the masses make maximums part of identity, the truly talented are just as clear that their minimums are also part of their identities. In fact, our minimums are usually our weakest links and influence outcomes more than our superlatives.

75.  Whether they are mobility issues, stability problems, performance troubles, or skill and technique flaws, minimums usually represent the limitations that control performances. These limitations, once removed or at least managed, will allow for greatly improved skill acquisition, much better performance, much greater durability and also reduce wasted time doing ineffective training. Our minimums rob efficiency and waste valuable training time.”

76.  1. If you can’t test it, don’t train it 2. Go light and do it right 3. Balance is  the base

77.  Some of the fittest people in the world don’t obsess about their exercise time slot—they don’t require loud music or mirrors to motivate them. They simply practice movement skills, knowing they will never master them. They use exercise correctly and they stay in touch with movement. Exercise correctness is not a popular topic, but is a much needed perspective.

78.  Quitting unproductive practices early and moving on to something better is a hallmark of successful people.

79.  First, functional exercise must promote or maintain basic functional movement patterns. Second, functional exercise must promote or maintain basic physical capacity. Lastly, functional exercise must promote or maintain specific skills associated with athletics and activities. This is a big order, because it suggests that functional exercise choices must promote or maintain one level of function without compromising another.

80.  Corrective exercise is probably the best remedy for movement pattern dysfunction, but it is not the best preventive measure. If we constructed and taught better exercise techniques, we could help prevent much of the need for corrective exercises and reserve corrective concepts to situations where rehabilitation and post-rehabilitation are necessary.

81.  Squatting is not an exercise; it is a movement pattern. The movement is part of growth and development as a transition from the floor to standing. Squatting can be used as an exercise, but is first and foremost a movement pattern.

82.  Adherence to a squatting program with no upper body work whatsoever will yield upper body development. However, attention to an upper body strength-training program does not yield the same benefits in the lower body. That in itself represents how powerful the squat is as a developmental platform.

83.  These smaller, deeper muscles enhance the efficiency and power of the prime movers by creating resistance, stability and support of movement at one movable segment, and allowing freedom of movement at another. This interaction happens in milliseconds and occurs without conscious control.

84.  The conscious brain does not act alone. It is supported by an automatic system of reflex activity with involuntary adjustments occurring in the background of every intended movement. This is possible because the sensory system constantly monitors our real-time movement to the intended movement pattern. We don’t really think about our muscles, we think about movement and our muscles act in accordance with our intensions and automatic support system.

85.  Both the rectus femoris and the three hamstrings are active, and neither change length from sitting to standing position.

86.  The muscles change roles responding both mechanically and with neuromuscular accommodation as they perform the task, unaware of the academic classifications.

87.  Being strong doesn’t mean much without fluid, efficient movement;

88.  We need to create an understanding and an active dialog between the professions. Our team does not advocate, not for a second, that any of us work outside of our particular specialties. This is merely a call to understand how to interact and communicate with others in or around the profession. A true paradigm shift requires better communication and new semantics may be required.

89.  Many readers will skip what they consider philosophical mumbo jumbo to get to the discussion about screening, assessment and corrective strategies—after all, tools are the cool stuff. Nevertheless, skipping forward without understanding the basics would be the equivalent of studying the medical remedy for a perceived problem before having the skill to diagnose the cause.

90.  If movement is dysfunctional, all things built on that dysfunction might be flawed, compromised or predisposed to risk even if disguised by acceptable levels of skill or performance.

91.  Remember that muscles do what they are told. If they are doing something you don’t like, tell them to do it differently: communicate to the muscle through repetition of posture and movement.

92.  We should make sure our methods always reflect our principles. It is easy to get caught up in methods, but those will change, improve or be replaced. Innovation, research, experience and expertise will always move us along to better methods, but we must always judge them against our principles. That is how we make sure the glitter is actually gold.

93.  Explore stretching from a movement pattern, not a body part approach.

94.  Current exercise programming has two inherent problems: Some movements are performed too frequently or with too much intensity, and some movements are used too infrequently or with too little intensity. The magic recipe is not universal; it is unique to each person’s movement map

95.  The number one risk factor for musculoskeletal injury is a previous injury, implying that our rehabilitation process is missing something.

96.  Mother Nature taught that movement, and it was expert teaching: basic, pure and unmolested by the interpretation of professional instructors. The practice was so pure, we didn’t know we were practicing. The rules and goals were clear: Here’s gravity; explore your world with your senses, and, by the way, an added benefit—your gift—will be movement.

97.  Every day, out-of-shape people attempt to regain fitness, lose weight and become more active. They assume if they just move more, they will start to move well.

98.  While some serious injuries are unavoidable and need surgical repair, we should do everything possible to build an injury buffer zone by training healthy movement. It is always better to bend than break—and strong agile bodies bend better than weak, stiff bodies.

99.  The neglect occurred the minute we started to train partial movement patterns instead of whole movement patterns, the minute we focused on quantity maximums and did not set a quality minimum. One might argue we need progressions, but breaking down movement patterns into isolated muscle training is not as effective as following a developmental progression.

100.  Original humans were on their feet for a large part of the day without leisure or entertainment opportunities designed around sitting in one place.

Thanks for your insight Gray!