Here are eleven totally random thoughts for the week. Check back tomorrow for a bunch of “good reads for the week” which will tide you over til next week.
1. Digital Camera for Instant Feedback
One of the most effective things I’ve added to my personal training in the past year is the use of a digital camera. I cannot stress enough to personal trainers and strength coaches how powerful and effective of a tool this is. I film my clients doing squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, etc. and show them their videos so they can learn what they’re doing right and wrong. So often clients aren’t kinaesthetically aware of their movement and they don’t really understand what they’re doing until they see it on video and hear your feedback. I hear the flip video works great for this purpose; I just use my Cannon.
I filmed a video the other day of my garage gym. I saved up over the course of a couple years on a teacher’s salary to purchase this equipment (most of it through Elitefts). This equipment has served me very well over the years! Of course I wish I had more stuff, which will come in time.
3. Mr. Olympia
For those of you who follow bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia contest is this weekend. If I can get a hotel tomorrow, I may end up driving up for the weekend. I especially love attending the convention.
I’ve received a few emails over the past couple of weeks from people asking me how I use the Skorcher. For my clients, I start them off with bodyweight hip thrusts. Over time I move them to band hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts. For advanced clients and my own training, I might use barbell plus bands, barbell plus chains, or just a heavy barbell. Here is me moving some serious weight on the Skorcher. The Skorcher makes the exercise much more difficult as the hamstrings are put under greater stretch as the hips drop below the feet, and there is no resting point so you have to reverse the eccentric portion straight into the concentric portion. When I had my studio Lifts, I had two other trainers and we’d always train together, so having a couple of extra helpers came in handy. In this video my stepbrothers helped me out.
5. Skorcher Commercial
Speaking of Skorcher, not many people know the story behind my invention. To make a long story short, one day back in 2007 a wealthy investor popped his head into Lifts and asked me if I could create a smaller infomercial-sized model (which I said I could) and if I’d like to partner up. He ended up raising $1.2 million and we created 3 models and used a talented ad-agency to create a bunch of materials. The investors ended up backing out due to the fact that they lost a ton of money over some of their other deals and we never got to do an infomercial. But we did film a short 30 second commercial which I ran across the other day on the internet by chance. Check it out; hilarious!
6. Valgus Collapse
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about valgus collapse. In case you don’t know, valgus collapse simply refers to the knee caving inward (technically hip adduction and internal rotation) when squatting, lunging, climbing steps, etc. Here’s a good example. The other day I was filming my client Karli’s workout. I only filmed her heaviest sets of each exercise. When I had Karli using 65 lbs, 75 lbs, and 85 lbs, her knees stayed out and the knees tracked properly over the feet. However, when I jumped the weight up to 95 lbs, the heavier load in combination with the fatigue induced by prior sets caused her knees to cave in (and her hips to rise faster than her shoulders which is a separate issue also related to going too heavy) during the last 3 reps of her Zercher squats. Check it out:
This was an error on my part as a trainer but if you’ve coached for a while you see this crop up quite often when going heavy. Clearly it’s not a mobility issue if they can demonstrate proficiency with lighter loads. Typically we hear that it’s a problem associated with a weak glute medius. I’ve also heard that it’s associated with a weak biceps femoris. However, if you’ve watched some of the strongest people in the world compete in the sports of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman, then you’ve probably witnessed valgus collapse in world-class athletes who train hard every day. You know these athletes have “strong glutes,” but are they strong enough? It’s not always a strength issue…often it’s a patterning issue. Sometimes you can clean up this pattern very quickly with proper education. I had assumed that I “fixed” this issue with Karli, as she no longer demonstrates this pattern with full squats, front squats, or box squats. However, Zercher squats (she used a pretty wide stance for such a deep squat) caused this problem to resurface (it wouldn’t be so obvious if she simply rose up and down with her knees caved in slightly…but it’s very apparent in this video because she lowers the weight with her knees out and then moves them inward to raise the weight back up).
The fact of the matter is that the body will always contort itself to its strongest positioning to make a lift. When the weight goes up, some lifters maintain perfect form, while other lifters’ form breaks down considerably. Think of the forward leaning in squats, the round back lifting in deadlifts, etc. In the case of the squat, it seems that you need to make the glute medius and possibly the biceps femoris strong as hell to resist inward collapse as there is some evidence that shows that this inward collapse might actually be an advantageous position for the body as it might increase the moment arm of the glute medius and possibly other muscles such as the quadriceps. This is quite dangerous over time as it can lead to anterior knee pain and possibly ACL injuries (which is debated in the research…some researchers believe that ACL injuries are purely sagittal in nature while others feel that frontal and transverse plane forces can influence ACL injuries).
Heavy weight need not be avoided, just make sure that if your form breaks down, you lighten the load and reinforce good patterns. Practice makes perfect. In Karli’s case, I need to keep reinforcing good mechanics over and over and if her form breaks down in the slightest manner, I should stop the set and lighten the load. Minibands placed around the knees can be used while squatting to strengthen the abductors and external rotators as well. This method should be used with just bodyweight or with lighter squat loads, not with maximal loads. Low load glute activation drills can come in handy for this purpose as well. Finally, single leg exercises such as lunges, Bulgarian squats, step ups, and pistols do a great job of strengthening the hip stabilizers through a full range of motion.
As a lifter and a writer, I realize the need to write toward different audiences. I believe two things:
1. Training for solely maximum strength is radically different than training for maximum athletic development
2. Personal training is radically different than strength coaching
When I read another author’s work, I try to get into their heads and figure out where they’re coming from. I try to see strength & conditioning through their “lens” and consider the population with whom they work, their role, the equipment to which they have access, their past training and experience, their interests, their philosophy, etc. It helps me better understand their thought-process and in the end helps me learn more.
8. Core Stability
Especially at commercial gyms, I see people engaging in core stability exercises (which would normally be a good thing) but clearly many of them don’t understand the point of the exercises. The point of core stability exercises is to maintain a straight line from the shoulders to the knees and keep the spine in neutral position. I see people doing ab wheel rollouts, planks, and even push ups where their hips sag and their low backs hyperextend. The point of the exercise is to strengthen the core from an isometric standpoint and teach the core to resist motion which in theory should help protect the spine and teach the core to transfer force more efficiently. If you do these exercises incorrectly, you’ll end up damaging spinal structures and possibly suffering low back injury.
9. Hamstring Research
Lately I’ve been reading a ton of hamstring research and will try to write a blog or article in the future that discusses the hamstrings. Even in the past year there have been several amazing journal articles (one of them I referenced in a previous blogpost). I think the strength & conditioning profession can do much better in preventing hamstring injuries.
10. Transfer of Training
If you’re a decent coach or trainer, then you know that strength training can work miracles in terms of improving athletic performance. It’s not uncommon to take a high school male and put several inches on his vertical leap and shave a couple tenths of a second off of his forty yard dash during the first month of training. Dozens if not hundreds of journal studies support the notion that resistance training improves indicators of athletic performance. Transfer of training becomes much more complicated as the athlete improves from beginner to advanced, and even more complicated if the athlete reaches an elite status.
That said, I’m amazed at the paucity of research that looks at transfer of training between different exercises. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be much good research where the effects of different types of exercises are compared. I hope that in the future we delve into this area much deeper.
One of my blog readers asked me what strength training books I recommend. I won’t get into textbooks or technical books, but I feel that many lifters and coaches don’t have an appreciation for the classics. Here’s a basic list:
-Only the Strongest Shall Survive – Bill Starr
-Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Beyond Brawn – Stuart McRobert
-Super Squats – Randall Strossen
-Dinosaur Training – Brooks Kubik
-Keys to Progress – John McKallum
-The Steel Tip Newsletter – Dr. Ken (this isn’t a book but if you can get your hands on these they were a great read from back in the day)
-Functional Training for Sports – Mike Boyle
-Core Performance – Mark Verstegen
-Athletic Body in Balance – Gray Cook
-Athletic Development: Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning – Vern Gambetta
-Never Let Go – Dan John
-Supertraining – Mel Siff
-The Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky
-Enter the Kettlebell – Pavel Tsatsouline
-The Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding – Arnold Schwarzenegger
-The Charlie Francis Training System – Charlie Francis
-The Westside Barbell Book of Methods – Louie Simmons
-Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 2nd Edition – Mark Rippletoe & Lon Kilgore
Definitely Worth Reading
-Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training – Tudor Bompa
-Optimal Muscle Training – Ken Kinakin
-Bigger, Faster, Stronger – Greg Shephard
-Theory and Application of Modern Strength and Power Methods – Christian Thibaudeau
-Muscle Revolution – Chad Waterbury
-Huge in a Hurry – Chad Waterbury
-5/3/1: The Simplest and Most Effective Training System for Raw Strength – Jim Wendler
-The Vertical Jump Development Bible – Kelly Baggett
-The Ultimate No-Bull Speed Development Manual – Kelly Baggett
-The No-Bull Muscle Building Plan – Kelly Baggett
-The Ultimate Off-Season Strength Training Manual – Eric Cressey
-Maximum Strength: Get Your Strongest Body in 16 Weeks with the Ultimate Weight-Training Program – Eric Cressey
-Designing Strength Training Programs and Facilities – Mike Boyle
-Advances in Functional Training: Training Techniques for Coaches, Personal Trainers and Athletes – Mike Boyle
-Power Training: Performance Based Conditioning for Total Body Strength – Robert Dos Remedios
-High Threshold Muscle Building – Christian Thibaudeau
-The New Rules of Lifting – Alwyn Cosgrove, Lou Shuler
-The Black Book of Training Secrets – Christian Thibaudeau
-The Essence of Program Design – Juan Carlos Santana
-Training for Warriors – Martin Rooney
-Movement – Gray Cook
-Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better – Eric Cressey
What is the going rate for a 3 month membership to BCSC? I also want a guarantee my deadlift will go up 20lbs and my spelling will improve.
All the best,
For Sam Leahey it’s free! I can guarantee both or your money back!
Glad to see you mentioned Dr. Ken and the Steel Tip. Dr. Ken was one of my mentors and has probably had the biggest influence on my training philosophy, especially early on. In fact, he’s the one who convinced me to open a training studio many years ago. I’ve done a poor job staying in touch with him over the last few years, but I’ve visited him at his (I think former) home in Valley Stream, NY and he’s taken me through a couple of workouts over the years. I have all the original issues of the Steel Tip…pure gold. Also, he had/has probably the coolest garage gym you will EVER see. It’s unreal.
In fact, John Wood of http://oldtimestrongman.com/ now sells the entire Steel Tip collection. I’d highly recommend all BCSC blog readers purchase the read the Steel Tip.
P.J., it seems that many of us followed similar paths of “online education” over the years. That’s great that you’ve visited him. I have much respect for our iron gurus!
Nice post Bret, thanks.
Glad you liked it Aaron!
Here’s an elite athlete doing a clean and jerk with a valgus collapse.
Yeah Peter, I see this often in Oly lifting (not so much in powerlifting as it appears to happen more at greater depths).
Like the Skorcher commercial! 🙂 Too bad you couldn’t get that product going.
Haha! I can’t believe I found it online. Totally random. Yeah it’s too bad…but since then I’ve done a good job of teaching people how to do the movement without the product!
it was really hard for me to catch her knee wobble in but i finally saw it- interesting and great to read and know about- thanks!
veryyyy informative post for
In relation to both 6 and 7 (Valgus collapse and lenses), since I train a large proportion of strength athletes who need to lift over 95% of max on a regular basis, I have to look at this problem of Valgus collapse a bit differently than some do.
My rule of thumb is this: If you’re doing a double at 90% of max, and you show Valgus collapse, we have work to do still.
If you are able to do that well, but show problems at higher percentages, and especially at maxing out, I don’t worry about it. Nobody has great form at a max single.
But, this is something that is only relevant to a strength athlete. For all other athletes, I’m uncomfortable with 1 rep maxes of any kind. And they will very rarely be doing even doubles. So, there is little excuse for the form to go to total shit.
Great comments Nick! Thanks always.
Awesome post as usual Bret! I’ve been following your stuff for a little while now (found you over at T-Nation a while back)
Love the garage gym. Probably the best I’ve seen. Some awesome equipment utilized very well in a tight space. I do a lot of in home training and if I ever transition to the studio environment I know it’s all about maximizing utility in a limited space.
I actually live in AZ as well and train most of my clients in Scottsdale. Are you in the Phoenix area?
Andrew, I’m in south Scottsdale. Where do you train folks?
Been fortunate to get a lot of clients north of the 101 – N. Scottsdale, Carefree, and Cave Creek. While I’m still trying to grow, I have gotten a decent amount of clients through referrals which has kept me in the more affluent enclaves (Desert Mountain, The Boulders, Estancia, etc.) with the snowbird set. So far so good so I can’t complain much, but without a studio currently it’s a lot of driving.
As you can imagine a lot of my folks are older golfers/retirees with general health/fitness goals who value longevity. Of course the likelihood that I encounter someone with musculoskeletal stuff is pretty high.
The corrective exercise area I would say is my weak point but reading stuff like this keeps me thinking outside the box. I’ve always been a big fan of glute activation and strengthening the posterior chain in general: 1/3 ratio push pull etc. One of my guys (73yr old) has had both stenosis and feraminal encroachment and my first line of thinking (which the PT agreed with was GLUTE activation) Erector spinae stuff was good too because of the deterioration of the lumbar spine that led to those problems. I really agree with you that more people need to get hip to these ideas!
Love the fact that you’re always backing up your recommendations with hard evidence. The higher level stuff is always cool and EMG stuff you do on T-Nation is really freakin’ useful!
I added you to my blog list so I’ll try to keep up lol. Good to know who the good guys are in this business. Keep it up!
Thanks Andrew! Glad you like the blog. I’ll definitely keep it up. It’s amazing what “smart training” will clean up…bad knees, bad backs, bad shoulders…you name it.
Love your reading list and your site!
You should do a post on the best self improvement and business books. Bet you read a ton of those, eh? 🙂
About the hyper-extension-
I like the use of bands, the greatest resistance is at full extension, and least in flexion.
Is Karli’s T-spine form OK? I’m fanatically against T-spine hyper-kyphosis and don’t like to miss an opportunity to learn from a more experienced trainer about the topic.
Steven, great question!!! I need to discuss this point on a future blogpost. Here are my beliefs.
1. When you do 45 degree hypers in a glute-centric manner, this happens naturally. I’m not exactly sure why it happens. When you ensure lumbar stability and pull yourself up with the glutes (and avoid lumbar hyperextension), the t-spine often does this. Here’s another example.
2. I believe it has to do with “downregulating erector spinae activity” and allowing max glute activation.
3. I’m not the slightest bit concerned as we do tons of deadlifting and squatting where the upper back musculature is strengthened and good posture is promoted. My clients’ postures always seem to improve and I’ve never had a client start developing a more kyphotic posture, nor have I ever seen anything but positive effects from blending axial loaded standing hip extension exercises like squats and deadlifts with anteroposterior loaded supine and prone hip extension exercises like hip thrusts and back extensions.
Hope this makes sense to you and I hope that you agree. I also hope that you try the exercise and see for yourself. It is especially apparent with the band version with the placement of the band around the neck.
I’ve taught hypers with a small weight in each hand in a reverse fly or ‘Y’, or a light bar held above the head, to encourage extension and scap retraction but haven’t continued. I think I saw the same thing you’re pointing out.
Definitely the big picture and results are what matter, not the details of a particular exercise. Understanding the details and teaching good form are the most likely way to get to the desired result however.
But also being a massage therapist, I am constantly dealing with the pain and dysfunction of hyper-kyphosis, which makes me fanatical on the topic.
Good comment Steven. The bottom line is that we need to learn more about this movement pattern. I know that the glute and ham activation is excellent, I know that the movement comes at the hips, and I know that the lumbar spine stays stable. I’m not too worried about the t-spine because I train t-spine extension and get the thoracic extensors strong with deadlifts, squats, front squats, rack pulls, military press, etc. It’s never a wise strategy to overlook something so I give you props for having an eye for detail.
Noticed you listed a lot of books by people who prescribe to high intensity training. Even Dinosaur training talk greatly about the importance of intensity and references Arthur Jones and Ken Leistner. What are your thoughts on high intensity training?
Vijay – I wrote about it here http://bretcontreras.com/2010/08/how-low-can-you-go/
I’m going to write more about it in the near future. -Bret