Band Glute Exercises for the Win: Erin McComb’s Intriguing Training Methods

This interview is going to blow some of your minds. Remember Erin McComb from Operation Strong & Sexy? To make a long story short, she hurt her hand and couldn’t grip anything. Rather than give up, she trained through the ordeal and won her first bikini competition, taking her division and the overall. Her glutes and legs looked incredible. How did she do it?

Not through conventional means. Although I wanted her to do plenty of barbell and band hip thrusts, safety squat bar squats, safety squat bar good mornings, safety squat bar lunges, back extensions, and various other glute exercises, Erin did her own thing. She went rogue and trained glutes every workout with her own random glute exercises, all involving bands, bodyweight, or light dumbbells for high reps not to failure. These glute workouts ranged from 5-60 minutes and she’d do them around 6 days per week.

You will see a video of these glute exercises at the end of this interview. To be clear, she did no heavy squats, no heavy deadlifts, no heavy hip thrusts, no heavy lunges, and no heavy back extensions. Many of you would assume that these exercises are “sissy” movements, but Erin’s glutes looked better than when she was deadlifting 245 lbs at a bodyweight of 100 lbs. I’m definitely not telling people to quit going heavy or abandon progressive overload. But clearly there’s something to high volume/high frequency/low load glute training. Enjoy!

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1. Erin, big congratulations are in order! Please tell the readers what you just accomplished this weekend.

Thank you- it still feels so surreal. The competition in California is so fierce and there were so many strong competitors! Two weeks ago I won my class at Jon Lindsay’s Grand Prix. I also won the overall which means I went up against the other class winners for a sword/division title.

2. Is this the first time you’ve finished first? How many competitions have you entered so far?

This is the fourth time I have placed first in a total of 7 regional competitions. I never do well nationally.

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3. You had team Zero Gravity doing your nutrition for this comp, right? What was the general strategy – you were carb cycling, right?

Yes, Zero Gravity does my diet and we are still trying to figure out what works well for me. When I met the team I was vegetarian (formerly vegan) so every prep has been totally different as I incorporate new protein sources, but I always like their outcome. We carb cycle the entire prep and instead of giving me a generic meal list of “eat this at this time” we plan around foods I can have and I just pace myself (or gorge on high carb days) based on what day of the cycle I am on. As a competitor I will probably always be hung up on food and portions, but this makes me less neurotic so I’m grateful.

4. Now let’s talk strength training. What did your training split look like over the past few months, and what were your main areas of focus?

My training has always been a bit unconventional. I will try basically anything once to see if it works for me (and I totally encourage that in others). For this prep I was coming off a hand injury so until mid-February I was unable to consistently lift. I severed the tendons, an artery and the nerves in one of my fingers and took almost two full months off as even moderate activity got my blood moving too much and I didn’t want it to affect my healing. When I hit the 12 week mark of my surgeon telling me I would no longer be at risk to rupture my tendons, I was able to lift more consistently. We use our hands for so much, I really had to modify training. Given that I took so much unplanned time off I more or less did full-body workouts for my prep. Thank goodness that our bodies are so smart and can recover lost strength so quickly! I would focus on a muscle group and at the end of my workout I would get in a few sets of something else, usually legs. My biggest areas of focus were my shoulders, glutes and quads so they got the most regular attention.

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5. You jokingly called yourself “The Crazy Band Lady,” but there’s some serious truth to that name – I’ve never seen anyone train like you did. Your lower body training was based almost entirely on bands. What was your strategy with the bands – progressive overload, or just feeling the glutes doing the work?

In our time together, I’ve learned a lot about how my glutes activate which has also helped me connect with my other muscles. Given that my previous training emphasized overall strength (deadlift based, you couldn’t keep me from deadlifting ever) it was hard to come to terms with atrophied strength and limited grip. I was frustrated I couldn’t train in my comfort zone. And then I remembered how you described working with Nathalia and my perspective on training changed. Nobody has time to feel lethargic or overtrained. We have often talked about how my band work gives me a great pump, but it doesn’t make me sore so I started focusing on what I could do with bands. I wanted to train glutes every day. So every day I would spend time, whether it be 5 minutes or an hour, with my bands. I’ve done some weird stuff too, and some of it seemed like a great idea and did nothing, and some of it I have no idea how I would do without. Angles this way, weight over here, and I wouldn’t stop until I felt it in the area of the glute that I wanted. Bands have allowed me to tailor exercises to how my own body moves, not how a machine tells me how to rotate around a given point. There was really no structure to my training except to get in there and feel it- slow and controlled. Yes I’m the chick at the gym grabbing her own butt or foam rolling glutes in the middle of a set. I did band progressive overload, I always sought more reps or an extra set or a bonus band to keep my body from getting adjusted.

6. So you mean to tell me that for the entire competition prep, you never performed any heavy squats, deadlifts, or hip thrusts? Just high frequency band work along with the seated abduction machine with the occasional leg extension, leg curl, and machine hip thrust for high reps?

Yup- nothing heavy at all for lower body except the hip abduction machine. My “heaviest” lift would involve up to a 50 pound barbell which is definitely not my normal go-to weight. If someone had told me last year that I would train this way in 2015 I would have laughed. But my overall strength is still there. I really didn’t hip thrust for several weeks as I was experimenting with bands. Yet I could still almost lift what I did when we trained regularly. A couple weeks of dedicated thrusting and I’m fairly certain I could push 300 (challenge accepted?). After my next competition I would love to see how much my band work has improved my strength for other lifts.

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7. Do you feel that this is the best you’ve ever looked on stage?

This is hands down the best I’ve ever looked on stage and better than I ever thought possible. We are all so critical of ourselves, but I can truly say I am very proud I was able to come in this way that day.

8. Methods used during the week before the competition are fiercely debated in our industry. How did you peak for the competition in terms of water, sodium, and carb manipulation?

As I said before, we are still learning how my body responds as this was my first prep as a non-vegan/vegetarian, etc. We definitely tweak my water, sodium and carbs, but it’s been different each show. I have no idea how Ryan decides what to do (he has everyone do different things), but I’ve learned to listen. A lot of people dislike the water thing and they sure let me know, but let’s be real, it’s not a big deal. I’m not refusing water and then running a marathon, just layering on tanner and makeup, though walking in heels when you want some fizzy water is annoying. There are people who cut for days and days but I’ve never gone more than a day. Besides, when you drink as much as I do then sit on your bum for a day, I don’t perceive it as a problem. It just gets hard to blink lol.

9. Did you miss any workouts or fall off the wagon in terms of diet adherence during your prep?

No prep is perfect. I started earlier so I had more time for the “practice makes perfect” thing. I did travel to Hawaii twice during prep so that made training tricky, but in general I was pretty obedient. And this is where I admit that I am a terrible human being and I lied pretty much my entire prep about doing cardio. I absolutely loathe it, even if it’s just walking. I have never been a devout stairmaster princess. I am very good about making time for weights, but cardio equipment may as well have barbed wire because I just can’t.

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10. What’s next for you – to go for a pro card? If so, what do you think you need to do in order to make it happen?

I have always enjoyed the sport and I can’t imagine quitting. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pursuing a pro card, but it really is a fun experience just training for these shows and making new friends. Currently, I am training for a national show which is a pro-qualifier. If I were to receive first or second I would earn pro status and be able to step on stage with the gorgeous ladies I watched turn pro (heyyyy Karey Grabow and Sarah LeBlanc). That would just be incredible. I feel that my physique last show was great for me, but I know I have more to give. Obviously I want to continue to grow and shape the booty, but I also will be focusing on shoulders to keep symmetry. I have about three months to train, so wish me luck! :)

Squats and Deadlifts Won’t Make Your Waist Blocky

Preface: Because this topic is highly controversial in various fitness circles, I decided to back up my writing with anecdotal evidence in the form of photographs. I’m not just some geeky arm chair expert, I’m an actual personal trainer (Instagram page HERE) with 18 years of professional experience. Therefore, throughout this article, you will see pictures of clients I’ve actually trained in person, each of whom performed squat and deadlift variations throughout the course of their preparation. 

For the past couple of decades, bodybuilders have been cautioning fellow bodybuilders, advising them to avoid squatting and deadlifting on the premise that they add mass to the midsection and create a blocky appearance. This advice is especially doled out to female competitors, since it is of even greater importance for them to maintain their curvy, feminine appearance.

But is there any truth to this claim? Let’s delve deeper into this matter to see if it holds up under scrutiny. The first problem with the claim that squats and deadlifts make your waist blocky is the subjective nature of what entails “blocky.” From the side view, larger erector spinae and rectus abdominis muscles could cause an individual to appear blockier, but it is unlikely that this is what people making the claim are referring to. It is more likely that these people are referring to the front view, which would be most impacted by the size of an individual’s internal and external oblique muscles.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Katie Coles a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Katie Coles a blocky midsection

The second problem with the claim is the complete lack of longitudinal training studies investigating the effects of squats and deadlifts on abdominal wall hypertrophy or comparing the core muscle growth associated with squats and deadlifts to that achieved via single joint exercises such as supermans, crunches, and side crunches. Since there are no training studies to go by, all we can do is speculate based on acute mechanistic studies.

This leads us right into the third problem with the claim – squat and deadlift naysayers never seem to pinpoint a mechanism as to how squats and deadlifts lead to excessive growth in the midsection. Since they haven’t narrowed down a mechanism, one can only guess as to how they believe this happens. I imagine that they believe that squats and deadlifts create excessive core muscle hypertrophy due to very high activation in the abdominal and oblique musculature.

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Erin McComb a blocky midsection

It is indeed true that squats and deadlifts highly activate the erector spinae muscles. Interestingly, squats activate the lumbar erectors to a greater degree than deadlifts, whereas deadlifts activate the thoracic erectors to a greater degree than squats.[i] However, several studies to date show that abdominal and oblique activity during the squat and deadlift are not substantially high, and that basic ab/core isolation exercises outperform squats and deadlifts in abdominal and oblique activity.2-5

Through EMG experimentation in my own lab, I’ve found that many common exercises match or exceed squats and deadlifts in rectus abdominis and oblique activation, including chin ups, military press, hip thrusts, reverse hypers, push ups, pullovers, tricep extensions, and curls. In addition, I’ve found that most targeted abdominal/core exercises exceed (sometimes far exceed) squats and deadlifts in abdominal and oblique activation, including RKC planks, side planks, bodysaws, hollow body holds, ab wheel rollouts, weighted crunches, straight leg sit ups, hanging leg raises, dragon flags, lying leg raises, suitcase carries, side bends, cable chops, and landmines.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Sammie Cohn a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Sammie Cohn a blocky midsection

I propose a multifaceted alternative reason for why bodybuilders believe that squats and deadlifts create a blocky appearance. First, due to increased knowledge pertaining to training, nutrition, and supplementation, bodybuilders have gotten exceedingly larger over the past couple of decades. Bigger bodies require larger organs in order to carry out their necessary processes. Therefore, bodybuilders’ entire midsections are growing larger, but this doesn’t apply to women that strength train, since women generally avoid intentionally growing their bodies 25-50% larger.

Second, many bodybuilders regularly take a variety of performance enhancing substances including human growth hormone, which is believed to lead to increased organ growth and a distended appearance in the belly region in bodybuilding communities. Obviously, this factor also doesn’t warrant consideration from women because they generally avoid taking human growth hormone in concordance with other anabolic drugs. Heavily drugged bodybuilders experience a wide range of side effects that natural lifters don’t need to concern themselves with, including acne, expedited hair-loss, and distended bellies.

It can't be the drugs, right? It's gotta be the squats and deads!

It’s gotta be the squats and deads…it can’t be the drugs, right?

And third, bracing the core during squats and deadlifts requires considerable intraabdominal pressure (IAP) to properly stabilize the spine. Though the diaphragm muscle is largely responsible for this increase in IAP, humans are by nature quite poor at relating sensation to proper physiological actions. Therefore, bodybuilders confuse high diaphragm activity and subsequent outward pressure in the midsection with high levels of abdominal and oblique activity.

Old school bodybuilders believed that “drawing in” the abdominal wall through vacuum poses helped keep the midsection tight through transversus abdominus (TVA) strengthening. One could plausibly make the argument that frequent bracing of the core leads to growth in the midsection due to pushing outward on the abdominal wall via IAP production. Even though abdominal and oblique activation is low during squats and deadlifts, the midsection could grow due to increased connective tissue extensibility due to persistent stretching. However, bracing the core doesn’t involve maximal expansion and stretching of the abdominal wall, so this is doubtful.

Squats and deadlifts didn't give Chelsey Mcallister a blocky midsection

Squats and deadlifts didn’t give Chelsey Mcallister a blocky midsection

Having trained numerous bikini competitors, I can tell you that midsection appearance is largely related to genetics. Although my clients train in the same fashion and perform the same exercises, some of them step on stage with narrow, tapered waists while others aren’t quite as lucky. However, not a single bikini competitor ever showed up on stage appearing blocky, despite including squat and deadlift variations in their prep. If a woman is concerned with obtaining a blocky appearance, I would recommend ditching targeted abdominal and oblique exercises rather than avoiding squats and deadlifts.

Conclusion

Squats and deadlifts highly activate the erector spinae to prevent flexion of the spinal column. The abdominals and obliques cocontract along with the erectors in order to enhance core stability, but the levels of activation reached in these muscles is on par with many common strength training exercises. Furthermore, most popular isolated core exercises, both static and dynamic, activate the abdominals and obliques to a much greater degree than squats and deadlifts. Therefore, on the basis of abdominal and oblique activation, if lifters should avoid squats and deadlifts to prevent becoming blocky, then they should also avoid most other popular exercises, which is ludicrous.

Women do not need to fear that squats and deadlifts will cause them to develop a blocky midsection. This phobia has been generated by well-intentioned but misguided bodybuilders who use squats and deadlifts as a scapegoat to explain the excessive midsection growth that they experienced when they packed on dozens of pounds of muscle mass in concert with human growth hormone, insulin, and anabolic steroids. What these bodybuilders experience doesn’t apply to the masses. This conclusion is anecdotally supported by the fact that most top-level bikini competitors regularly include squat and deadlift variations in their training.

References

  1. Hamlyn et al. 2007 | Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities
  2. Bressel et al. 2009 | Effect of instruction, surface stability, and load intensity on trunk muscle activity
  3. Aspe & Swinton 2014 | Electromyographic and kinetic comparison of the back squat and overhead squat
  4. Willardson et al. 2009 | Effect of surface stability on core muscle activity for dynamic resistance exercises
  5. Escamilla et al. 2002 | An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts

 

Impressive Strength Levels

People who lift weights like having targets to shoot for in their training. Several different websites have created strength standards for men and women of different weight classes, mainly for the squat, deadlift, bench press, and military press. However, I have never seen a comprehensive list of strength feats pertaining to a wide variety of exercises. Last year, I wrote a guest article for my friend Ben Bruno where I listed some feats of strength that I find to be impressive in the gym. I recently sat down and updated the list and added more exercises.

2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher

Obviously, this is very difficult to do. Ideally, I’d have all sorts of data to analyze, but I don’t. This is a subjective list based on my experiences as a personal trainer. Some of the exercises I had to take a wild stab at simply because I don’t prescribe it often to my clients or see it often at the gyms at which I train, for example the barbell step up to thigh-parallel height. In my gym, we do high step ups involving much greater degrees of hip flexion while holding onto dumbbells. Moreover, I don’t have a ton of experience with prescribing Olympic lifts to clients. I’m certain that as I pay closer attention over the next year, I will realize that some of my numbers listed below are too high or too low and in need of adjustments. Therefore, I’m going to update and refine this list over time to be more valid and reflective of realistic but still impressive strength feats. Nevertheless, the advanced lifters always find these list to be too easy while the novice lifters find the same list to be very daunting, that’s just the way it goes.

bench

It’s important to know a few things before working your way down the list. First, smaller lifters have the advantage compared to bigger lifters with regards to relative strength (but not absolute strength). If you’re a 160 lb man or a 100 lb woman, many of the feats of strength on this list will be more easily achieved than they would for a 260 lb man or 180 lb woman. Second, everyone has a unique anatomy and anthropometry such that their leverages are excellent for a few lifts and horrendous for a few other lifts. Therefore, some of the feats listed below will seem very easy to you, whereas for others those same feats will appear virtually impossible. If you’ve been lifting weights for a few years, it is very likely that you can already pull of several of the feats below, but there will likely be others that you would have to work very hard at in order to achieve. Third, these feats are based on regular gym lifters who perform a wide variety of exercises in their training. Obviously competitive powerlifters and weightlifters will find this list to be amateurish. And fourth, this list was created with raw, natural lifters in mind.

squat

Squats and Leg Press

Men

  • A maximum thigh parallel back squat with 2.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (440 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more thigh parallel front squats with 1.5X bodyweight barbell load (300 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the leg press with 4X bodyweight load (800 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum thigh parallel back squat with 1.5X bodyweight barbell load or more (195 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more thigh parallel front squats with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load (130 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the leg press with 3X bodyweight load (390 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Deadlifts and Good Mornings

Men

  • A maximum deadlift (conventional, sumo, or trap bar) with 2.5X bodyweight barbell load or more (500 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more good mornings with 1.2X bodyweight load (240 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum deadlift (conventional, sumo, or trap bar) with 2.3X bodyweight barbell load or more (299 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more good mornings with .9X bodyweight load (117 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Upper Body Presses

Men

  • A maximum pause bench press with 1.6X bodyweight barbell load or more (320 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum strict military press with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load or more (200 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the dip with .6X bodyweight additional load (120 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the close grip bench with 1.4X bodyweight barbell load (280 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the incline press with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load (240 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 50 or more strict push ups with bodyweight

Women

  • A maximum pause bench press with 1.1X bodyweight barbell load or more (143 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum strict military press with .8X bodyweight barbell load or more (104 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the dip with .2X bodyweight additional load (26 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the close grip bench with .8X bodyweight barbell load (104 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the incline press with .8X bodyweight barbell load (104 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 30 or more strict push ups with bodyweight

Upper Body Pulls

Men

  • A maximum strict chin up with .5X bodyweight additional load or more (100 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • 15 or more strict pull ups with bodyweight
  • 5 or more reps in the Pendlay row with .9X bodyweight barbell load (180 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the strict one arm row with .5X bodyweight dumbbell load (100 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 20 or more feet elevated inverted rows with bodyweight
  • 10 or more reps in the barbell curl with .6X bodyweight barbell load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum strict chin up with .2X bodyweight additional load or more (26 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • 8 or more strict pull ups with bodyweight
  • 5 or more reps in the Pendlay row with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the strict one arm row with .5X bodyweight dumbbell load (65 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more feet elevated inverted rows with bodyweight
  • 10 or more reps in the barbell curl with .5X bodyweight barbell load (65 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Posterior Chain Exercises

Men

  • 10 or more reps in the hip thrust with 2X bodyweight barbell load (400 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 or more reps in the 45-degree hyper with .6X bodyweight load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 10 legit swings with .8X bodyweight kettlebell load (120 lbs x 10 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 1 or more strict Nordic ham curls with bodyweight with no arm assistance

Women

  • 10 or more reps in the hip thrust with 2X bodyweight barbell load (260 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 or more reps in the 45-degree hyper with .6X bodyweight load (78 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 10 legit swings with .8X bodyweight kettlebell load (104 lbs x 10 reps for a 130 lb woman)

Single Leg Exercises

Men

  • 20 or more walking lunges with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load – 10 steps per leg (200 lbs x 20 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more reps in the Bulgarian split squat with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load (200 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 5 or more thigh-parallel step ups with .8X bodyweight barbell load (160 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 3 or more pistol squats with bodyweight
  • 5 or more single leg RDLs with .8X bodyweight barbell load (180 lbs x 5 reps for a 200 lb man)
  • 20 or more legit single leg hip thrusts with bodyweight
  • 15 or more single leg prisoner back extensions with bodyweight

Women

  • 20 or more walking lunges with .8X bodyweight barbell load – 10 steps per leg (104 lbs x 20 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more reps in the Bulgarian split squat with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 5 or more thigh-parallel step ups with .6X bodyweight barbell load (78 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 3 or more pistol squats with bodyweight
  • 5 or more single leg RDLs with .7X bodyweight barbell load (91 lbs x 5 reps for a 130 lb woman)
  • 20 or more legit single leg hip thrusts with bodyweight
  • 10 or more single leg prisoner back extensions with bodyweight

Olympic Variations

Men

  • A maximum power clean with 1.3X bodyweight barbell load or more (260 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum power snatch with 1.1X bodyweight barbell load or more (220 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum hang clean with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (240 lbs for a 200 lb man)
  • A maximum push press with 1.2X bodyweight barbell load or more (240 lbs for a 200 lb man)

Women

  • A maximum power clean with 1.0X bodyweight barbell load or more (130 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum power snatch with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum hang clean with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)
  • A maximum push press with .9X bodyweight barbell load or more (117 lbs for a 130 lb woman)

Conclusion

If you can already nail many of these feats, congratulations! You’re a strong guy or gal. Keep working hard to improve upon your already superior base of strength. However, if you’re mortal like most of us, then this list will help you realize that you’ve got some work to do. I hope you have found this list to be beneficial and inspiring for your training goals.

hip thrust

 

Eight Considerations for Weight Room Training

The following is an excellent guest article by physical therapist and strength coach Rob Panariello. 

Eight Considerations for Weight Room Training

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York

Throughout my 35 year career in the related professional fields of Sports Rehabilitation and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) I have been witness to hundreds of presentations, have read thousands of books/research articles/blogs and had an abundant number of conversations with regard to weight room training and program design. Although all of this information has been enlightening, the lessons from my friends and mentors Hall of Fame S&C Coaches Al Vermeil, Johnny Parker, Al Miller, Don Chu, elite coaches Charlie Francis, Derek Hansen, former Olympic Weightlifter and Weightlifting Coach Gregorio Goldstein, and former Olympic Weightlifter and present day Olympic Weightlifting Coach Stan Bailey have all provided me with instruction, lessons and information that in my opinion, is second to none. It should be noted that this dialog is based on the application of weight room principles and training to enhance the physical qualities that are necessary to improve their athleticism for optimal athletic performance. The S&C program design should not intend to create weightlifters, powerlifters or bodybuilders of the athlete unless they partake in these specific competitive sports.

1. Prepare the athlete for the weight room program

Prior to the athlete’s participation in a “formal” weight room training program it should be determined if the athlete exhibits the physical ability to withstand the eventual high levels of applied stress necessary for optimal adaptation. An evaluation will determine both the strengths and weaknesses (deficits) of the athlete to assist in an appropriate program design. If it is determined the athlete is unable to withstand the high stresses of training, a preparation training period of training may be necessary.

One effective preparation training method is the utilization of “Javorek Exercise Complexes”. These complexes, developed by S&C Coach Istvan “Steve” Javorek, are employed to enhance joint mobility and soft tissue compliance, exercise technique, strength levels, and work capacity. The utilization of Javorek’s exercise complexes are beyond the scope of this commentary, however this information may be found in Coach Javorek’s books and website.

I’ve also read and witnessed conversations how certain exercises should be avoided as they may cause injury to a particular anatomy of the body. One may question why there is less concern with possible injury during the execution of other commonly prescribed exercises? Why is there such concern for stressing the low back during the back squat exercise performance but little if any concern with the SI joint stresses that occur during exercise execution with a split stance, as approximately 30% of all low back pain is due to SI joint pathology? Why is there such concern with overhead pressing while the lat pull down exercise and pull-ups are commonly prescribed? All exercises stress the body and in our 42 physical therapy clinics we treat a variety of injuries that occur from the performance of various exercises utilizing assorted implements of training. Instead of abandoning a valued exercise, why not prepare the “stressed” anatomy for the eventual safe application of the exercise(s) in question and take advantage of its benefits?

Lat pulldown

2. Be careful of what you “correct” with your athlete

In recent years there appears to be an affinity for the “correction” of athletes to eliminate their asymmetries. Certainly there are times where a “correction” is appropriate, as these “corrections” should be performed by a qualified professional. However, it should be considered that all athletes (and all individuals) are asymmetrical, if this were not true why does right or left hand dominance exist? Why do anatomical variants exist? These asymmetries are frequently contributing factors that result in optimal levels of performance i.e. increased external rotation of the dominant throwing/racquet shoulder for optimal ball/racquet velocity. I recall particular conversations with both Charlie Francis and Derek Hansen as they both discussed a world class sprinter that Charlie had trained. This particular sprinter had scoliosis and was treated by a healthcare professional to correct the “functional” (soft tissue) component of their scoliosis. The healthcare professional succeeded in this “correction” resulting in the athlete never running at the same world class velocity again.

Healthcare and S&C Professionals should also recognize that an athlete’s participation in an appropriately prescribed training program will often result in a “correction” of the asymmetries observed. The precise technical exercise execution performed repeatedly over time will eliminate many of the physical deficits exposed as “form will follow function”.

3. Do not neglect to incorporate bilateral leg exercises 

Single leg exercise testing and prescription has also become prevalent in recent years. Single leg exercises and testing are suitable in the related professional fields of rehabilitation and athletic performance training. However, during the incorporation of single leg exercise prescription bi-lateral leg exercises are often discarded. Bi-lateral leg exercise performance does present with certain advantages. These advantages include and are not limited to the following:

  • Most athletic endeavors are initiated and conclude on two feet
  • Most athletic activities occur with a foot position placed outside the midline of the body
  • Greater exercise weight intensities may be applied in a bi-lateral exercise posture
  • A greater systemic effect is placed upon the body due to superior weight intensities
  • Greater exercise velocities transpire from a bi-lateral exercise posture
  • Greater exercise ground reaction forces result from a bi-lateral posture
  • Have a greater effect for increasing total energy expenditure/metabolic benefit for stimulating larger increases in work capacity. Higher training loads increase mechanical work performed thus increasing metabolic cost

There is also appears to be a misconception that since the stance phase of running occurs upon a single leg, training should also occur upon a single leg. Ground contact time is a critical consideration in high velocity activities such as sprinting, as well as overall athletic performance. The less time spent on the ground (amortization) the better the athletic performance. The ground contact time for single leg weight intensity exercise execution far exceeds the ground contact time requirement for optimal amortization to occur. Thus single leg strength exercises are just that, a variation of a strength exercise.

Both single and bi-lateral leg exercises provide benefits for the athlete. The exercise selection for the program design should be based upon the needs and goals of the individual athlete.

chinasquat

4. Don’t forget the Olympic lifts

The ability to produce force quickly (power) is critical to athletic performance. The physical quality of strength must be accompanied by the physical quality of explosive strength and/or elastic strength for optimal athletic performance to transpire. The Olympic lifts and their variations i.e. “pulls”, have advantages not offered by other training exercises. These advantages include but are not limited to the following:

  • Enhanced rate of force development
  • Greater power and peak power outputs
  • Greater ground reaction and peak ground reaction forces
  • A stretch shortening cycle (SSC) transpires during the second knee bend of the exercise performance. A SSC is a critical component of elastic strength abilities
  • The exercises may be initiated from various exercise (bar) positions placing emphasis on acceleration or starting abilities
  • Many athletic endeavors require high force output against an external resistance (i.e. an opponent). The Olympic lifts require high force output against an external resistance
  • A positive enhancement of the co-activation index occurs due to high velocity exercise execution
  • Exercise execution requires a total body effort

5. When Appropriate Overhead press

When deemed appropriate the overhead press and variations of this exercise should be a consideration for the athlete’s training. Advantages of the overhead press include but are not limited to the following:

  • The exercise is (should be) performed in the plane of the scapula, a plane of motion that allows for optimal shoulder joint congruency and muscle length tension resulting in ideal force output and strength development
  • Exercises such as the push press are initiated from the legs, include a contribution of the entire body, and has been recognized to produce more lower body power than jump squats
  • Appropriate gleno-humeral/scapula-thoracic (GH-ST) neuromuscular timing and joint positioning occurs throughout the exercise performance as use of a bench backing is avoided. Compression of the scapula via a weight loaded exercise execution against a bench backing may have a negative effect upon GH-ST neuromuscular timing and joint rhythm

There appears to be a concern for the possible incidence of shoulder and rotator cuff pathology with overhead exercise performance. As mentioned previously, why is there not the same concern when performing overhead exercises such as pull-ups and lat pull downs where the exercise performance not only occurs overhead, but superiorly and anteriorly directed distraction forces also ensue?

The bench press is also a commonly prescribed exercise where pec tears, osteolysis of the distal clavicle, and rotator cuff pathology have been documented, yet there appears to be little hesitation for prescribing this exercise as well.

military

6. Avoid excessive exercise volume

With the abundant amount of information available to the S&C Professional it is often difficult to decide which exercises to include and which to exclude from the training program design. Therefore, very often “everything” is included in the program design. This is likely due to the following:

  • If “everything” is not included the athlete will be cheated
  • My opponent who does include “everything” will have an advantage over my athlete/team who does not include “everything” in their training

NFL Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells and NFL Hall of Fame S&C Coach Johnny Parker have both advised me to “Know what is important and don’t worry about the rest”. One “art” of coaching is to recognize the needs and goals of the athlete and acknowledge the most efficient and effective training methods to achieve them. Programing a greater number of exercises will likely take valuable training time from those that are most beneficial for the athlete. Excessive exercise volumes will likely produce excessive fatigue resulting in the consequences of poor technical exercise performance, lower force output, and possible higher incidence of overuse type injuries.

7. The training difference between large and small athletes

If disparities in physical stature are acknowledged for successful participation in various sports i.e. basketball players vs. jockeys, shouldn’t these physical differences also be a consideration in the program design as well? Considering the execution of exercises as the squat, wouldn’t body weight play a factor in not only the total amount of weight lifted, but the time necessary for adequate recovery as well? There are “absolute” and “relative” strength differences when comparing the large and small athlete. The “absolute” strength is considered the amount of weight lifted as “relative” strength is a “pound for pound” expression of strength so to speak. Generally smaller athletes have greater relative strength levels as large athletes usually demonstrate greater absolute strength levels.

Comparing the back squat exercise performance of a 200 pound athlete who can squat 400 pounds vs. a 325 pound athlete who can squat 600 pounds, the smaller athlete demonstrates a greater relative strength (lifting 2 times body weight) compared to the larger athlete (lifting 1.85 times body weight). However, the larger athlete demonstrates a greater amount (33%) of absolute strength (i.e. 600 vs. 400 pounds).

The athlete must also lift their body weight in addition to the barbell weight, resulting in a “system” of weight lifted. In the fore mentioned back squat example the smaller athlete’s system of weight is approximately 600 pounds while the larger athlete’s is approximately 925 pounds (35% greater than the smaller athlete). Due to this greater system of weight the larger athlete may need to have their squat exercise program design adjusted to perform a greater number of squat repetitions at lower exercise (repetition maximum) percentages. This is necessary for the following reasons:

-The exact program design of prescribed exercise percentages for both the small and large athlete will result in an inappropriate system of load prescribed to the large athlete over the training period resulting in excessive accumulative fatigue

-Larger athletes need appropriate recovery time thus the exact repetitively executed high percentage system of weight may result in overtraining of the athlete.

-Lower prescribed exercise weight percentages correspond to higher exercise repetitions performed. Higher repetitions correlate to increased work performance and body mass. Larger athletes usually need to maintain/improve their body mass for optimal athletic performance

8. Conclude the workout with a high velocity activity

Strength type exercises are performed at slower tempos when compared to higher velocity power/speed exercises. This increased time under tension requires a greater contribution of agonist and antagonist joint musculature to work together to enhance joint stability. This “co-activation index” of the agonist and antagonist muscle groups is close to or at a 1:1 ratio.

The athletic arena requires high velocity performance. High velocity performance is ensured with a greater contribution of the agonist muscle group when compared to the antagonist muscle group, resulting in fluid propulsion of the body in the desired direction of movement. Tudor Bompa and Charlie Francis have both stated that the greatest athletes in the world are those that are able to completely relax their antagonist muscle groups during high velocity performance. Higher tempo activities performed for a short duration at the conclusion of the training session will shift this co-activation index to the one desired for optimal athletic performance.