Long Lever Posterior Tilt Planks Kick the Shit Out of Traditional Planks

Hi Fitness Peeps – just wanted to give you a heads-up.

Brad Schoenfeld and I just got a paper published in Sports Biomechanics titled:

An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise

We wanted to see how increasing the lever length and posteriorly tilting the pelvis affected core muscle activity in a plank, so we compared four plank variations:

traditional plank
long lever plank
posterior pelvic tilt plank
long lever posterior tilt plank (LLPTP)

Plank Variations

By the way, here’s how you perform an LLPTP (and HERE is an article detailing the form):

Results

Chart

Graphs

Discussion

As you can see, the traditional plank doesn’t activate the core very well. This doesn’t imply that it’s a useless exercise; quite the contrary. It’s a beginning level plank that every lifter should master prior to progressing to more challenging variations.

Lengthening the lever actually had a greater affect on core muscle activity than posteriorly tilting the pelvis. This surprised both Brad and I, who hypothesized that the PTP would have a greater affect than the LL.

Combining the PTP and LL was, to no surprise, the most effective strategy for maximizing core muscle activation in a plank. With the LLPTP, you get over 100% of MVC out of the upper rectus abdominis, lower rectus abdominis/internal obliques, and external obliques. This is a big bang movement for the anterior core (not the erectors though – they barely get worked in any of the tested plank variations).

Take home message: planks can be highly effective when you know how to modify them and increase the challenge. This is something that I learned from Pavel Tsatsouline, who thought up the RKC plank years ago. Give the RKC plank or the LLPTP a try and see for yourself how demanding they can be!

 

10 Things All Beginning Lifters Should Know

Every experienced lifter out there can remember the first time they moseyed into the weightroom, full of fear, confusion, and insecurity. Though most of us make it past these initial stages, some lifters never do. Some lifters quit training, mostly because they don’t understand it. If only there was a seasoned lifter at every gym who could talk to beginners and educate them on what things are important and what things aren’t very important. Below are the more common sources of confusion and misunderstanding that newcomers to resistance training share.

arnold-schwarzenegger

1. The Exercises Become Easier Over Time

Starting out, nothing seems to feel natural. Asymmetries are abound, rhythm is lacking, and coordination is terrible. This is especially true for compound, multi-joint lifts. Maintaining good mechanical form is incredibly difficult, especially as load and effort increase. The ability to contract certain muscles or feel certain muscles working during movements can be challenging at first, and cues like, “stay tight” don’t seem to make much sense early on. Going to failure leads to terrible break-down in form, as does performing anything heavier than a 5RM. Don’t worry, this all changes over time.

The good news is that every single training session, you’ll be rapidly increasing your stability and coordination. Every week, the lifts feel more and more natural. In 2-3 months, most of the lifts will feel right, and in a year, you’ll feel quite confident in your form and exercise competency. You’ll be able to get much more out of heavy lifting, and you’ll be able to hold much better form when taking a set close to failure. Make sure you consistently use strict form – your nervous system will be grooving motor programs so they become roughly automatic, and you want these memorized motor patterns to be solid.

2. Sweating is Overrated

Beginners seem to feel that they should be performing circuit training when they first start lifting, and this tendency appears more common with women. I suppose that this desire to ramp up the metabolic rate and get a big sweat going makes logical sense; it is natural to want to work hard and give a workout your all. But while circuit training can definitely be effective, it’s not the best way to build a great physique.

You need to get comfortable with resting in between sets. Now, the amount of time you rest will vary depending on your inherent recovery ability, the exercise you perform, and your goals. For example, women recover faster in between sets than men, squats require more rest time between sets than curls, and strength athletes will usually rest a bit more in between sets than physique athletes.

However, in general, you’ll want to wait around 120-180 seconds in between sets of intense compound lower body exercise, 90-120 seconds in between sets of intense compound upper body exercise, and 60-90 seconds in between sets of isolation exercises. Exceptions can certainly be made, but the point is, you shouldn’t just bounce from one exercise to the next without resting at all in between sets. Learn to cherish the rest time, as it gives your muscles time to recover so that you can perform higher quality sets, gain more strength, and build a better body.

crossfit01

Now, maybe I shouldn’t have said that “sweating” is overrated. You will definitely sweat while you lift weights. But the goal isn’t to just jack up your heart rate as high as possible and maintain this elevation throughout the training session, nor is it to sweat as much as humanly possible. An amateur equipped with a whistle could give you a very challenging workout by just having you do non-stop push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, and jump rope, but this strategy would fail to maximize your physique enhancement. Building a stronger body over time should be the long-term goal, not collapsing in the floor in exhaustion.

3. Soreness is Overrated

Many lifters gauge the effectiveness of their workouts on how sore they are over the following couple of days post-workout. This, too, is short-sighted. Soreness is a decent indicator of muscle damage, but muscle damage is just one of three primary mechanisms (and probably the least important) of muscle hypertrophy. Moreover, exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) is more related to strain than activation, meaning that you can just do a ton of exercise that stretches the muscle to long lengths without highly activating the muscle and you will create damage. Finally, novelty leads to greater soreness, so if you were hell-bent on getting sore, then you could just do a bunch of new exercises.

However, these strategies aren’t ideal for building muscle, building strength, or shaping the body. Some soreness is good, but the law of diminishing returns applies. Excessive soreness prevents you from achieving quality workouts on subsequent days. If you perform full body training sessions several times per week, then soreness will prevent you from gaining strength. Many of my clients who have seen the best results typically experience very little soreness but gain tremendous strength over time. Building a stronger body over time should be the long-term goal, not crippling yourself so that you can barely move the following day.

4. Cardio is Overrated

Sure, cardio is great for your health and stamina. But so is strength training. Ever wear a heart rate monitor when you lift? If so, then you’re well aware of how effective plain old resistance training is for stimulating the cardiovascular system. But I know what you’re thinking – cardio is vital for fat loss. Is it really?

Think about this. Two twins weigh 200 lbs and are 25% bodyfat. They want to get leaner. Twin A does cardio all year long. By the end of the year, he loses ten pounds. Five of the pounds lost are fat and five are muscle. Now he weighs 190 lbs and is now 24% bodyfat. Twin B lifts weights all year long and consumes some additional protein each day. By the end of the year, he too loses ten pounds. However, he ended up putting on 5 lbs of muscle while simultaneously losing 15 lbs of fat. He’s now 190 lbs and his bodyfat percentage has dropped to 18%. Twin B looks much better than twin A.

Kristen

Lifting weights is incredible for improving body composition over time, but you have to gain strength and engage in progressive overload. You want to get as strong as possible in all rep ranges in a variety of movements at a given bodyweight to maximize your aesthetics. I have amassed numerous case studies such as Kristen to demonstrate the efficacy of just strength training on body composition and shape. This isn’t to say that you should never do cardio, especially if you like it. But in most beginners overestimates cardio’s effects on body composition changes and mistakenly believe that if they don’t do their cardio, they’ll get fat (or they won’t lose fat). Some lifters mistakenly believe that cardio gives them the right to binge on junk food (of they think that a quick cardio session will “undo” a binge). This is definitely not true, and the best physiques in the world usually belong to those who prioritize strength training and eat properly.

5. Strength is Underrated

It’s not just about going to the gym and doing the exercises. Showing up and simply “going through the motions,” will not yield fantastic results. You have to push yourself on many levels… push yourself to maintain sound technical form when the going gets tough… push yourself to squeeze out another rep… push yourself to add 5-10 more pounds to the bar… push yourself to master new exercises and variations.

There will be times when your strength gains stagnate. You’ll have to analyze your form, analyze your training program, and consider everything else outside of the gym (diet, sleep, stress, etc.). But if you’re dialed in on gaining strength, you will prevail. Every year, your body will be stronger than it was the year before, and your physique will continue to improve. Strength creates curves and shapes the body. The same cannot be said for cardio and stretching. Prioritize progressive overload and your body will thank you for it.

6. Consistency is the Name of the Game

I know you’re gung-ho. You want to fast-forward your results and do everything possible to expedite your progress. However, more isn’t better. Training four hours a day, seven days per week won’t help you reach your goals more quickly, quite the opposite. It could easily lead to overuse injury, which would stop your progress dead in its tracks. You don’t need to combine every method under the sun. Trust me, we all read about new exercises and new regimens. We see the headlines just like you… sprinting for fat loss, plyos for power, grueling conditioning workouts to get you shredded, and various stretching movements for “long, lean muscles.” The temptation to train for hours on end is there for all of us, but it didn’t work for us, and it won’t work for you.

What you need is not endless exercise or crash diets, but consistency in the gym. It takes time to create adaptation. Strength training will create a denser body. If mass stays the same, this means less volume or overall size, which explains why clothes typically start hanging off of people even though bodyweight on the scale might not change. Bones will become denser, tendons and ligaments will become stronger, and muscles will start to reveal their shape. Fat will be shed and body composition will markedly improve over time, as will functional strength.

However, the rate at which these adaptations occur is rather slow. You will not get the body of your dreams overnight. In fact, you won’t get the body of your dreams in 30-days. In a year, you’ll be very pleased with your progress, but it is very likely that you still will not be completely satisfied. Building your best body is a work in progress that takes years to achieve. Consistency is the name of the game. The tortoise always beats the hare in the iron game, and there’s no better way to improve your physique than plain, old resistance training. Your goal should be to lift weights 3-5 days per week for 50 weeks out of the year for five straight years. If you do this, I guarantee that you will see great results.

glutes

7. Neural Improvements Precede Hypertrophic Improvements

During your first couple of months of strength training, you’ll likely be asking yourself, “What in the heck is going on – I’m gaining tons of strength, but my body isn’t changing much?” This is normal. During your first six weeks of training, your strength will rapidly increase, but these improvements will be brought upon largely by the nervous system. Your brain will figure out what you want it to do and will begin to coordinate the muscle actions and activate the proper muscles in the proper timing sequence more effectively. After a month or two, the primary cause of strength gains begin to be brought upon by hypertrophy. Your muscles will now begin to grow, and your shape will start improving. Make sure you stick it out during these initial times so you can reap the rewards of your hard work.

8. Hypertrophy is Your Friend

In case you didn’t already know, the word hypertrophy refers to muscle growth. If you’re a male, then chances are you don’t need any convincing about the merits of strength training for hypertrophy. However, if you’re a woman, then you might be on the fence. Perhaps you just want to get skinny and don’t want any appreciable gains in muscle mass. This is all well and good, but just know that your diet largely determines whether you gain weight, maintain weight, or lose weight. Exercise certainly helps, but not as much as most people assume (at least not in the amounts that most people perform).

At any rate, in a caloric surplus, strength training will cause the weight that you gain to consist of a higher proportion of muscle and a lower proportion of fat. At a caloric maintenance, strength training will cause your body to recompose so that you gain more muscle, lose fat, and improve your bodyfat percentage. At a caloric deficit, strength training will cause the weight that you lose to consist of a higher proportion of fat and a lower proportion of muscle.

glute

This is important, as you want to maintain your muscle as you lose weight. First of all, muscle mass influences your metabolic rate, so holding onto your muscle will keep your metabolism elevated. And second, holding onto muscle will allow you to retain your curves. Nobody ever says, “My goal is to get skinny-fat.” If you get skinny but you have little muscle, flabby glutes, and 30% bodyfat levels or more, then I’m almost certain that you won’t be pleased with your physique. When you lose weight, you rarely just lose fat for weight loss. You have to do everything in your power to preserve the muscle and whittle off the fat.

As you can see, strength training is “pro-anabolic” training when gaining weight and “anti-catabolic” training when losing weight. It helps no matter what your goals are and what your diet is like.

9. You Can’t Out-Train a Crummy Diet

Diet is equally, if not more important than strength training for physique purposes. The person who consumes a nutritious, healthy diet and stays active will have a better physique than the person who trains hard but eats complete crap, even if this person doesn’t lift weights. You need to make sure you’re regularly consuming the proper number of calories and the proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Many women don’t consume enough protein, and this negatively impacts their rate of physique improvement. Many individuals regularly consume too many calories, too much sugar, and too much saturated fat. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy diet has room for sugar and fat, but you can’t just eat whatever the heck you want and expect to possess a great physique. That is, unless you have elite genetics or you rarely crave junk food. Good nutrition and training go hand-in-hand, so make sure you don’t sabotage your gains by eating poorly.

healthy

10. Suffering and Progress Aren’t Linearly Correlated

Many lifters mistakenly believe that the more they suffer, the better results they’ll see. Sure, strength training is challenging. Sure, you will have to sacrifice in order to make progress. Sure, you will have to abstain from eating too much of certain foods. As you gain experience, strength, and conditioning, your workouts become more and more rigorous and demanding, which can be daunting. However, life doesn’t have to absolutely suck in order for you to see excellent results. You can get in and out of the gym in around an hour, you can and should take days off from training, you can season your foods, you can incorporate the foods you love into your diet in proper amounts, you can enjoy variety in your diet and experiment with new recipes, and you can plan ahead of time to allow yourself some wiggle room at social gatherings so you can splurge a little bit. You need to create a regimen that’s flexible and sustainable, so make sure your training and diet isn’t so grueling that it’ll cause you to quit in a couple of months. Start thinking about longevity and learn to enjoy your healthy habits.

Conclusion

So there you have it – ten things that all beginning lifters should be aware of. Lifting weights is tough. Stepping inside of a weightroom for the first time is intimidating. Changing your daily routine takes determination and dedication. But you must stick with it, as the rewards are numerous.

Strength training leads to the maintenance of functional ability, the prevention of osteoporosis, sarcopenia, lower-back pain and other disabilities, a reduction in insulin-resistance, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, falls, fractures, and disabilities, cardiovascular demands of exercise, and depression, an improvement in metabolic rate, glucose metabolism, blood pressure, body fat and central adiposity, blood-lipid profiles, gastrointestinal transit time, cognitive function, and quality of life, and an increase in muscle and connective tissue cross-sectional area, strength, power, endurance, hypertrophy, flexibility, joint stability, posture, mood, and self-esteem.

In other words, lifting weights makes you look good, feel good, and function well. But you need to know what you’re doing. Hopefully this article has shed some light on what things are critical in allowing you to reach your full potential.

Should the Rehabilitation and Strength and Conditioning Professional Abandon “Traditional” Bi-lateral Leg Exercise for Single Leg Exercise Performance?

Today’s article is from Rob Panariello, a regular contributor to this blog. I always appreciate Rob’s insight, logic, and thought-process. I finally got to meet Rob in person at the NSCA National Conference last month, which was great. I’m very pleased that guys like Rob are still putting out content – we have some legends in the S&C game who have a ton of knowledge and wisdom to share, and Rob is one of these guys.

Should the Rehabilitation and Strength and Conditioning Professional Abandon “Traditional” Bi-lateral Leg Exercise for Single Leg Exercise Performance?

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

During the past few years I have made a number of national and international platform presentations at both Strength and Conditioning (S&C) and Physical Therapy (PT) Conferences. While presenting at these conferences I have also attended my share of presentations including single leg exercise lectures and had numerous discussions on this topic with both conference presenters and attendees. Over this period of time I have also read many citing’s of single leg exercise performance in both the literature as well as on the Internet. In recent years there appears to be a trend by many professionals to supersede traditional bi-lateral leg exercises (i.e. squat, deadlift, RDL, etc.) in favor of single leg exercises. To be clear, I am not stating that there is the addition of single leg exercises to the athlete’s rehabilitation and athletic performance training programs, but the actual replacement of traditional bi-lateral leg exercises with single leg training in the rehabilitation and athletic performance (weight room) program design.

BSS

During my conversations regarding this topic of rehabilitation and performance training program design philosophy, the most common responses I receive are something to the effect of “Single leg exercise is more sports specific than bi-lateral leg exercises as we run on one leg, skate on one leg, etc.” as well as “traditional bi-lateral lower extremity exercises place the low back at risk of injury”. To be totally transparent I personally am not opposed the inclusion of single leg exercises in the rehabilitation and/or athlete’s training program design as this category of exercise, when appropriate, does provide benefits to both the patient and athlete. I myself, when applicable, will also institute single leg activities with both my patients and the athletes that I train. However, with that stated, the question remains if bi-lateral leg exercises should be removed from the rehabilitation and performance training environment? Prior to making the decision to discard bi-lateral leg exercises the rehabilitation and strength and conditioning professional should review the advantages and benefits of bi-lateral leg exercise performance, some which will be the topic of this discussion.

Are all single leg exercises really single leg exercises?

During the process of selection from the single leg exercise category for the athlete’s program design some professionals consider exercises such as the lunge, the Bulgarian Squat/Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS), etc., single leg activities. During the performance of these exercises one will note that both feet are in contact with a stable surface area. (As a side note, with regard to the “Bulgarian Squat”, during my time studying the science of S&C in Bulgaria with the National Weightlifting team under the supervision of their Head Coach Ivan Abadjiev, I did not witness, not once, the performance of a “Bulgarian squat” nor any other type of single leg work being performed by any weightlifting athlete. The same may be said during my time studying at the Soviet Institute of Sport in the former USSR as well as my time studying in the former East Germany.)

pistol

During the performance of these types of “single leg” exercises, although the emphasis of applied stress may be placed at a primary extremity i.e. the front leg, isn’t the secondary extremity i.e. the rear leg also sharing the applied load? Isn’t the rear leg also assisting in body balance and control during the exercise performance? So are these exercises truly single leg exercises or are they also bi-lateral in nature? However, with a traditional bi-lateral exercise leg posture the body achieves a greater (wider) platform of stability. This enhanced stability allocates many advantages during weight intensity exercise and athletic performance. As an example, if the rear leg was eliminated as a pillar of stability from the split leg exercise performance resulting in a true single leg exercise such as the pistol squat, could the same levels of exercise weight intensity possibility be utilized?

Are the exercises that are performed in the weight room really “sports specific”?

As previously indicated, many statements for the utilization of single leg exercise performance includes the notion that these exercises are “sports specific” as the examples commonly sited are activities such as running or skating that do comprise a period of single leg support. However, conversely, it could also be stated that no exercise performed in the weight room is sports specific. To defend this position it is important for the Rehabilitation and S&C Professional to acknowledge the distinct differentiation between the relationships of an athlete’s “athleticism” vs. the athlete’s level of “skill”. For example in review of the jump shot in the game of basketball two basic important factors occur, (a) the athlete must jump high prior to shooting the basketball and (b) the athlete must be able to effectively shoot the basketball at the peak height of the jump. The ability of the athlete to jump high is dependent upon their “athleticism” whereby successfully shooting of the basketball (scoring) is based upon their level of “skill”. As a basketball player trains in the weight room to improve the physical qualities that correlate to optimal basketball performance, this will often include an improvement in their vertical jump (athleticism) performance. However, one may also ask what also occurred in the weight room to enhance their ability to improve their shooting accuracy (skill)? The answer is likely nothing.

The weight room provides an environment to enhance the athlete’s physical qualities (strength, power, elastic abilities, and speed) in an attempt to improve athleticism. The S&C Professional does little if anything to enhance an athlete’s level of skill as that is the responsibility of the skills (head or assistant/position) sport coach. The athlete enhances their skill level by repetitively practicing the skills of the sport as well as those necessary for their specific team position of participation. In discussions with my good friend Derek Hansen, the protégé of world renown sprint coach Charlie Francis, Derek would remind me that Charlie would state that nothing in the weight room is anywhere close to the velocity and output of sprinting. The utilization of heavy load intensities was utilized by Charlie for “recruitment” purposes that may indirectly transfer to the track via a conversion/transition period. Charlie would always characterize his weight training programs as “general” strength work as specific strength work occurred during training on the track. He was also of the opinion that sport specificity did not exist, particularly when comparing an athlete’s training to competition as the athlete’s training is never completely specific to their competition efforts. Charlie was of the belief that the athlete needed a specific number of competitions to prepare them for their peak race performance. He believed that 100m sprinters needed 6-8 races as 400m runners need 4-6 races for this preparation philosophy.

During the rehabilitation of a post-surgical rotator cuff in a throwing athlete one of the end stages of rehabilitation is the implementation of a long tossing program. Long tossing is a mechanism of enhancing the physical quality of strength in the athlete’s throwing shoulder/arm. How does successful long tossing enhance the pitcher’s strike to ball ratio/accuracy (skill) from the pitcher’s mound? In other words how do long tossing activities improve the pitchers proficiency in throwing strikes? It really doesn’t, therefore, are these exercises as well as the exercises the athlete performs in the weight room really “sport specific”? I personally am of the opinion that they are not.

What about the “single leg” statements that occur during the discussion of running and skating activities?

Certainly during running and skating there is a period of time where the athlete is supported on a single extremity. However, does this mean that the contribution of bi-lateral leg training is not an important contributor to this phase of the movement cycle? The running gait cycle comprises 3 phases, the swing, the float, and the stance phases. In review of a single leg during the running cycle, 60% of the cycle is spent with the foot off the ground (swing + float phases) and 40% of the cycle is spent with the foot is in contact with the ground surface area (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The running gait cycle

Figure 1. The running gait cycle

Since a minority component of the running gait cycle occurs with the foot in contact with the ground surface area, the athlete must take advantage of this brief ground contact time (stance phase) by placing as much force into the ground in the allotted period of time. Two of my mentors in the field of S&C, Hall of Fame S&C Coaches Al Vermeil and Don Chu have taught me this concept over 30 years ago. Their lessons in training were based on the fact that the greatest athletes in the world are the one’s that apply the greatest amount of force into the ground surface area in the shortest period of time. This concept has been documented in athletics and sprinting by many including Mann and Weyand.

Other than sprinting during track and field competition, one would have to observe if most sports are dominantly played with each leg in an alignment in front of each other or are most athletic activities performed with the feet positioned at their hip width alignment or wider, the same foot alignment that occurs during traditional bi-lateral exercise performance. Most athletic activities also begin and end on two feet. This includes the start of a sprinting or running activity as well as jumping, blocking, skating, fielding a ground ball, throwing, swinging, cutting as in the instance when a football player “jump cuts”, and of course deceleration type activities such as landing from a jump. Since most athletic movements are initiated on two feet, optimal force must then be applied at the time of the initiation of movement via a bi-lateral leg posture.

Ice skating is another interesting reference often included in the “single leg” discussion. In a research paper by Bracko, who identified and analyzed the different skating style characteristics of National Hockey League (NHL) forwards, the highest mean percentage of skating time spent by a NHL forward during participation in an NHL hockey game occurred on a two foot glide (double leg stance), more that any other type of skating position. In fact Bracko noted “The primary difference between a high and a low point scorer was that a high point scorer spent more time on the ice, and had a higher mean percentage of time spent in a two foot glide with and without a puck.” One may also inquire what is the position of the lower extremities and feet of arguably the most important player on the ice, the goalie.

What are the advantages of “traditional” bi-lateral leg exercise performance?

There are a number of advantages to the traditional bi-lateral leg exercises when compared to single leg exercise performance. These advantages include, but are not limited to:

1. Exercise Weight Intensity (Load) – High weight intensity is required for the body’s adaptation to build strength, power, elastic abilities and speed. The more stable the foot (feet) and lower extremity position, the heavier the load that may be lifted. Heavier loads enhance the physical quality of strength, the physical quality from where all other physical qualities cultivate. Strength is also the foundation for the application of optimal levels of force. Heavier loads may be applied to the athlete during traditional bi-lateral lower extremity strength exercise performance such as the squat, RDL, and deadlift when compared to the weight intensities applied during the performance of these same or similar type exercises when executed on a single lower extremity.

SLRDL

Load is also very important in the recruitment of a muscle’s motor units (MU) as well as fast twitch (FT) muscle fibers resulting in a greater overall muscle fiber contribution and force output during lower extremity exercise performance. Heavier weight intensities will also enhance a muscle’s rate of force development (RFD) and ground reactive forces (GRF’s) as well as the development of soft tissue structures such tendon and ligament strength (Davis’ law) and bone density (Wolfe’s law). Ask the athlete of their interpretation of the contribution of the musculature of the shoulders, arms, back, CORE, hips and legs when lifting a heavy weight as compared to the effort of lifting a lighter weight during the same type of exercise performance. There likely will not be any surprises upon hearing their response.

2. Velocity – Barbell velocity has been demonstrated to be a very important factor in the development of the physical qualities of power and speed. If this were not accepted why do so many coaches measure barbell velocity during training with tendo units and other similar types of equipment? Higher exercise performance velocities will occur with a bi-lateral exercise posture when compared to the exercise velocities generated during single leg exercise performance. During a specific exercise performance with the weight intensity remaining consistent, higher exercise velocities will assist to recruit more MU and FT muscle fibers as well as enhance RFD and GRF’s when compared to the same load lifted at lower exercise velocities.

An additional benefit of high velocity training is the effect upon the body’s joint co-activation index. This concept was taught to me years ago by Charlie Francis and Al Vermeil at the time the three of us were hired as consultants to work together with an NFL team and has been re-enforced in recent years by Derek Hansen. A simple co-activation index description with regard to the weight room setting is that slow strength type movements are usually correlated with heavier weight when compared to the weight intensities of power movements performed at higher velocities. Time is not a factor when performing strength type exercises. The slower exercise tempo associated with lifting a heavy weight results in joint stability as both the agonist and antagonist muscle groups of a particular joint work together simultaneously. Thus the co-activation index of these two muscle groups working together to stabilize a joint during a strength exercise performance is close to or at a 1:1 ratio.

High speed exercise movements for the development of power and speed are dependent upon a brief factor of time. These high speed weight room exercise activities i.e. the Olympic lifts require an emphasis of high contribution from the agonist muscle group while the antagonist muscle group of the joint(s) must have as low a contribution to exercise performance as possible. This emphasized contribution of the agonist muscle group allows for a shift in the co-activation index in favor of the agonists resulting in optimal high speed propulsion, as well as a fluid motion of the body in the desired direction of movement. Tudor Bompa has also exhibited that the highest skilled athlete’s have the ability to completely relax their antagonist muscle groups during movement and that ridged and rough movements are a result of poor coordination between the agonists and antagonists.

In the area of sport rehabilitation RFD, GRF’s and improvement in the co-activation index are criteria that need to be instilled in the athlete as well. Angelozzi has demonstrated that post-operative ACL reconstruction athletes restored their strength to 97% of their pre-injury strength levels at 6 months post-op. However, in the same period of time the RFD was measured to be only 63% of documented pre-injury levels. In fact it took approximately one year for the RFD to reach 90% of the pre-injury level. In the area of sports rehabilitation high speed weight exercises should be implemented appropriately and without risk to the athlete, as soon as safely possible, to enhance both RFD, GRF’s, and to induce a proper co-activation index for optimal high speed athletic performance. Higher exercise performance velocity is another advantage for the incorporation of traditional bi-lateral lower extremity exercises.

3. Lower extremity exercise and foot position – Most athletic activities are not only initiated and conclude on two feet, but often occur with each foot positioned at hip width if not outside the alignment of the hips, not usually with one foot aligned in front of the other. Remember when your sport coach taught you/told you to assume an “athletic position”? Where was the alignment of your feet positioned? What is the athlete’s common foot position when applying force during blocking, tackling, wrestling, jump cutting, jumping, landing, and yes even skating? Which lower extremity posture of the common sports of participation i.e. football, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, etc. provides the athlete with the base of support that optimizes both stability and force production, a posture with a single leg support, a foot position in a straight alignment with each other, or a posture with the feet positioned at hip alignment or wider (Figure 2)?

Figure 2. Lower extremity and foot posture during skating and cutting

Figure 2. Lower extremity and foot posture during skating and cutting

Performing traditional weighted bi-lateral leg exercises will result in low back injuries

“Performing traditional weighted bi-lateral leg exercises will result in low back injuries” is another response provided to me during the bi-lateral vs. single leg exercise discussion. As previously discussed stress is necessary for adaption to occur. Hans Selve has demonstrated with his General Adaption Syndrome (G.A.S.) Model that stress must be applied to the body for the disruption of the homeostasis of the body and for supercompensation and adaptation to take place. Therefore for an athlete to enhance the physical qualities required for athletic participation, unaccustomed levels of high stress must be applied to the athlete for this adaption to take place. Therefore, it may be stated for this adaptation to occur, regardless of the exercise performed, single leg or bi-lateral leg, applying unaccustomed yet appropriate high levels of stress (intensity) to the exercise performance will result in the exercise not being 100% safe for the athlete. Since unaccustomed high levels of exercise stress are necessary for adaptation (improvement) to occur, and these applied levels of stress place a risk to the athlete’s anatomy during the exercise performance, one may ask is there truly a safe exercise? All high intensity weighted exercises (applied stress) have a risk component, thus the only entity occurring with “safe” exercise performance is a wasting of training time as a truly safe exercise will not apply the necessary level of stress needed for supercompensation and adaptation.

Traditional bi-lateral leg work will apply stress to the low back i.e. back squat exercise, deadlift, RDL’s, etc., however single leg as well as the split leg posture exercise i.e. lunge, Bulgarian/RFESS, etc. place high levels of stress to the Sacroiliac (SI) joint which has been documented to be responsible for approximately one-third of all low back pain. Why is this SI joint statistic ignored during the same bi-lateral vs. single leg exercise discussion? The fact is that no exercise performed with an significantly applied load is 100% safe, as it is the talent and responsibility of the S&C Professional (the art of coaching) prescribing the exercises to be performed, as well as the appropriately prescribed exercise weight intensities and volumes (program design), that will assist to prevent injury.

squat

One other notion to assist in the prevention of weight training injuries taught to me by my friends and mentors, Hall of Fame S&C Coaches Al Vermeil, Al Miller, and Johnny Parker is the preparation of the athlete prior to the ensuing participation in performance training. This concept is not implemented as often as a coach, parent, or athlete may like as often times the athlete is brought into the weight room, and whether the athlete is physically ready or not, they are required to immediately execute the prescribed training program design. If the athlete is to squat during training, shouldn’t the low back be prepared prior to the initiation of the squat exercise performance? The same may be said of the anatomy of the SI joint prior to single and split leg exercise performance. Preparation of the anatomical area in question for the eventually application of high stress training will also assist to reduce the risk of weight room injury and the discarding of a valuable exercise.

What about exercise fatigue?

It is well documented how excessive fatigue negatively impacts joint biomechanics and muscle force output during athletic performance. If this were not true then why does a pitcher have a pitch count? Excessive fatigue will also have a negative effect upon weight room exercise technique, force output, as well as enhance the risk of injury.

My friend and former competitive Olympic style weightlifter, now a coach and researcher with a PhD in biomechanics Dr. Loren Chiu raised an interesting concern during a conversation that occurred between us years ago. Dr. Chiu pointed out that during single leg exercise performance, since each leg is exercised individually, twice the amount of repetitions per exercise set must be performed when compared to bi-lateral leg exercise performance. Therefore fatigue due to exercise performance may more readily occur following prolonged single leg exercise execution when compared to bi-lateral leg exercise execution. This is especially true with regard to the musculature of the body supporting the weight intensity as the time under tension is twice that when compared to bi-lateral lower extremity exercise performance i.e. a set of 10 repetitions in a bi-lateral lower extremity exercise becomes a set of 20 repetitions as each leg of a single leg exercise must perform 10 repetitions independently. This matter of exercise fatigue should be an important consideration during the program design of single leg and split stance exercise performance.

ReverseLunge

Closing Remarks

I am not against the implementation and utilization of single leg exercise performance during both the rehabilitation and performance training of athletes. I myself utilize this category of exercise performance, when appropriate, with both my patients and athletes. However, there are circumstances where bi-lateral leg exercises provide many superior benefits in both the rehabilitation and performance training setting when compared to the single leg exercise performance. To underestimate these benefits and to exclusively perform single leg or split leg in line posture lower extremity exercises would be a disservice to both your patient and athlete.

Inside the Mind of Bret Contreras

Below is an interview from Jukka Mäennenä. Jukka recently interviewed me for ProBody Magazine (a Finnish magazine) and was kind enough to translate the interview into English. This interview took place several months back, when I was still living in Scottsdale. I recently moved to Phoenix and have a new Glute Lab.  

Inside the mind of Bret Contreras
By Jukka Mäennenä

I’m driving in Scottsdale close to Phoenix. Although it’s February the heat of Arizona makes my shirt wet like driving would be a physical feat. Scottsdale is know as one of the better neighbourhoods in the area. Houses along the road confirm the impression. The size of the properties are more than adequate to do pretty much whatever you want. There´s also at least one SUV or truck that is powered no smaller by an V6 engine on every drivelane. The gas consumption of those vehicles makes me shiver since I´m still thinking in gas prices back home in Finland (approximately $8,5 for gallon for those who want to know). Bret Contreras agreed to have an appointment with me the previous day. I received the address I´m heading to right now. I assumed that it would be located near some type of mall or at least in an industrial area– the sort of places gyms are usually located, you know. I stop because the GPS says I´m arrived in the destination. The house I see doesn’t differ in any way from the other ones in the neighbourhood. I try to look around for a bit and finally knock the door. Mr. Contreras opens the door. Supposedly I´m in the right place.

Who is Bret Contreras?

Bret Contreras is blogger, writer, coach and scientist and precisely in that order. At the moment he is finishing his Ph. D from AUT University. He started working as a personal trainer when he was 21-years old and continued doing it for twelve years. Around four years ago PT business took a backseat as he started blogging, writing and doing research. The quality of information he provides is high. He goes as far as saying that the content he puts out almost daily is better than in some websites that might have as many as ten people behind them. So far Bret has written two books and published eighteen studies. On top of that five more studies are in the works. Why is Bret so popular? The answer is quite simple. He provides top notch information and he has a unique field of specialty – that is glute development.

DSC_0002

Scientist and a coach

Early on in our conversation it gets clear that Bret is a man of science and he gives a lot of value to it when considering the theory behind training. Readers get bored of seeing and listening to just opinions. Science tells things how they most likely are whether you liked it or not. With eighteen published studies under his belt, Bret is currently working on five more studies. The subject varies from EMG measurements in leg press done to failure with loads ranging from 30-70% 1RM, to EMG activity in the hamstring muscles in the SLDL and leg curl, to running mechanics.

Bret is an true academic. It´s rare though that someone with this much expertise in the scientific field has 10,000-20,000 daily visitors on his site. A conclusion could be reached that he writes about subjects that interests the average trainee and he can translate scientific studies to more common understandable language. As he so delicately says: ”People wanna know how to get jacked.”

When I ask if he has some kind of philosophy when it comes to training the first thing he says is Mel Siff. Bret is a true fan of him and considers that Siff was a true professional who worked tirelessly for training science. Anyone who has read the book Supertraining can verify that. Despite being a scientist Bret doesn´t see result orientated training of just applying study results to practice. Instead he likes to take influences all around from the world of sport and fitness. For example he regularly reads what athletes, bodybuilders and powerlifters do in their training. The most important thing is to apply the methods that fit the goals and situation of the client. For example, he doesn´t agree with the common view that all training that isn´t aimed for athletic purposes is a waste of time. For the best results you need to use the methods that are safe and cause the wanted adaptations. Where the methods come from is secondary.

DSC_0006

The hip thrust is a good example – an exercise Bret invented. When he starts working with a new clients it might take a month of squatting and the load in the bar doesn´t exceed 80 pounds. In the same four week period he can load the hip thrust twice the amount of weight! Although the amount of load used doesn´t always correlate with good results or optimal methods, it´s something to consider.

Field of specialty

Finally we get to the point, I mean talking glutes and developing them. Bret got the nickname ”The Glute Guy” from his colleague and the name sticked ever since. The story why he got interested in glutes in the first place is funny and an interesting one. When in high school he was playing golf with his sister’s boyfriend. As Bret was about to put, the boyfriend yelled: ”You don´t have an ass! Your legs go right into your back forming a straight line!” Apparently the comment held some truth and Bret decided to do something about it. The quest of learning all the knowledge possible started off with buying all the magazines from the nearby stores that even mentioned the word glute. He says that to this day he is most likely the most well studied person when it comes to glute anatomy, function and training. The shelves of his house are stacked with studies, books magazines and articles that revolve around the subject.

When I ask about the most common mistakes and misconceptions when it comes to glute training the answer starts out quick and seems to never end. He starts off by saying that a person who structures their training mainly around squats can have excellent glute development although the EMG studies show the glute activation isn´t the greatest possible in squats. How is this possible? Bret believes it has to do with the position of peak torque during the squat. Since it’s near the bottom of the lift, where the glute is stretched, it cannot activate to its fullest extent. Something that he is sure of is that to have optimal glute development you need to have variety in your training. In practice that means squats, hip-domintant movements, unilateral lifts etc. He went as far as saying in T-Nation that Ronnie Coleman would have probably had even bigger glutes if he had done hip thrusts. He continues without a pause laughing that it pissed off some people pretty well. Bret´s line of thinking is pretty straight forward though, the greater the muscle activation, the bigger the ”pump” and the more hypertrophy will follow.

Poor activation of the glutes or ”glute amnesia” as it´s called is a real and serious phenomenon according to Bret. This is one thing that he has made pretty much a full turn during the past years based on the experiences he has gotten from novice to professional level trainees. A lot of high caliber lifters have said that they can employ glutes better in the big lifts after some glute activation work. The reason behind ”glute amnesia” is still open even for Bret. However the suspects are the usual ones: too much sitting, tight hip flexors and most of all that everyday living and moving is very quad-dominant. Walking or even taking the stairs to the next floor doesn´t require much of glute use. When sitting for several hours in work, car or home is added to the equation we can end up with a quite a mess. A lot of time spent sitting might be one causes of tight hip flexors which can effect glutes through mechanism called reciprocal inhibition. Basically it means that when agonist is tight or tense the antagonist muscle tends to relax. Chronically tight hip flexors can therefore contribute to chronically inactive or lazy glutes.

Exercises for glutes

When talking about exercises Bret is the man to talk to. First of all he makes it very clear that he doesn´t claim to have invented any of the lifts. For sure there’s been someone at some point of time who has done these exercises at some point of time. What Bret does say is that he has popularized some of the lifts. The list consists of hip thrust, barbell glute bridge, single leg hip thrust and various types of back extensions.

Hip thrust is arguably the most well known exercises in this list. Bret recently introduced precise equipment just for this exercises – the hip thruster. Besides regular barbells it allows for the use of various types of bands as a mean of resistance. One interesting thing about bands in this exercise is that based on EMG readings muscle activation increases as the set progresses. The reason for this is due to the size principle – under constant tension during submaximal exercise, muscle activation will continue to rise until momentary muscular failure is reached.

DSC_0008

Bilateral and unilateral training has been a hot potato in training world for quite some time now. Bret doesn´t see this as question of either or. Optimal results require the use of both in most cases. Some powerlifters for example might consider unilateral training almost as a joke and on the other hand a strength coach can see too many risks with heavy bilateral lifts. As said previously a good training plan uses the means and methods that are the most suited for the particular situation.

The Glute Lab

The Glute Lab is located in the same address I got from Bret. I was a bit surprised at first when Bret asked if I wanted to see the Glute Lab and the next thing we walked over to the garage. My confusion quickly disappeared when he opened the door and I saw the amount of training equipment he had in there. Besides being pretty much a full blown gym, all the EMG measurements are done in there. On top of that he has a force plate and a camera system that can record movement and bar paths for example. Hence the name lab is well justified.

Next the discussion turns to clients. I ask that what type of clientele Bret works with. Are they athletes, power lifters, body builders, general population or what? The answer comes without hesitation – bikini competitors. He says it with a slight smile of course. He receives inquiries about his coaching services almost daily but he hasn´t been able to take any new clients for a while because it would take the focus off from research and writing which he sees as his primary work.

DSC_0011

Bret´s tip for learning

The final question is that where does Bret recommend to look for information? The first thing he mentions is Strong Curves – that is one of his books. Although it´s aimed for women, a lot men can get plenty out of it as well because of the practical training tips and scientific sections. Naturally he mentions his blog BretContreras.com as well. For someone who is more science orientated a must read is StrengthandConditioningResearch.com, which Chris Beardsley regularly updates on the latest scientific findings and hot topics. When it comes to nutrition, Alan Aragon´s site is hard to beat in Bret´s books.

In the end he says that it´s important to take influences from very diverse sources and gather the best things to serve you or your clients’ purpose as well as possible. That´s how Bret has done it and with plenty of success. The importance of science can´t be pronounced enough. When you do research you might learn new things and the other way around.

About the writer

Jukka Mäennenä is a 27-years old Finnish athlete, coach and student. He is certified kettlebell, barbell and bodyweight training instructor in the StrongFirst system and he has completed Poliquin PICP 1-2 courses. When not training, working or updating his blog at super-sets.com he can be found on his BMX or mountain bike.

Jukka