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Random Thoughts: Transformation, Girls Gone Strong, Rehab, and Neck Training

By October 21, 2011December 22nd, 2015Random Thoughts

Here are a few random thoughts for the week.

1. The Proof is in the Pudding

These days I read journal articles like crazy but I still find time to read my favorite bloggers every week. I’ve always been a big fan of Eric Cressey for many reasons. One thing I like about Eric is that he’s transformed his physique, transformed his strength levels, and transformed his athleticism. When I think of all the “ways” I’ve learned over the years…through training myself, helping my training partners, training clients and athletes, reading bodybuilding mags, reading online magazines and forums, going to seminars, attending conferences, watching dvd’s and youtube vids, reading blogs, reading journal articles and books, taking courses, conducting experiments, and talking to colleagues, I think the best form of learning has been through training myself.

For example, growing up I had no absolutely no glutes. I always paid close attention to glute exercises and the way they felt. Now I have some decent glute development due to sound glute training methods. In fact, my hips are 5″ bigger around than my twin brother’s (I have my own “control” subject). So when I see a guy who appeared to have piss-poor genetics yet managed to prevail based on good training methods, I’m all ears. Eric has put out another free webinar and you need to see the pictures to believe it…he went from a skinny geek to a deadlifting machine.

Click HERE to watch Eric’s new webinar and see his alarming transformation over the years. Trust me, you’ll appreciate the video – he talks about the 10 biggest mistakes he’s made in training. I’ve made many of these myself.

2. Girls Gone Strong!

My sexy female colleagues in the industry have just started a new Facebook page. Click HERE and hit like if you support sexy women who train hard.

3. Distal Biceps Tendon Repair Surgery Rehab

I just realized that I never wrote about my biceps tendon repair rehab. For those who are new to this blog, I tore my biceps tendon performing a set of mixed-grip deadlifts with 550 lbs (supinated hand) in March I believe. My tendon was fully torn but it didn’t scroll back into my arm because the aponeuroses held it in place, which was very nice as I never lost any range of motion (which led to a quicker recovery). I had surgery in late May if I recall.

I was told to avoid any strength training for at least 3 months to allow the tendon to heal and was given a sling to wear for the first few weeks. To make a long story short, I completely ignored the advice of my doctors and physical therapists, ditched my sling, and started training five days after my surgery. I would never tell somebody to take this approach as most would overdo it and most aren’t disciplined enough to hold back. But I took a very calculated approach and was able to heal much quicker than the average Joe – and maintain my muscle mass and most of my strength throughout the recovery process.

Weeks One and Two – Maintain Muscle Mass and Initiate the Recovery Process

Some folks can take a month off of lifting and not lose any strength or size. I can’t. I argued with my professor about this as he was quoting research discussing rates of hypertrophy and strength decay. I said, “That’s good to know, but that’s not me. If I take ten days off I return a sissy.” My twin bro is the same; we have to lift frequently or we’ll actually get weaker.

To maintain my upper body pressing musculature I performed isometric push up holds in the bottom position. Just two sets per session. To maintain my upper body pulling musculature I performed rear delt raises with scapular retraction (arms bent). For lower body I was able to perform many great exercises, including full squats, good mornings, hip thrusts, back extensions, high step ups, and single leg hip thrusts. For grip work I did pronated barbell static holds. For core I did RKC planks and side planks.

I also started doing “active flexibility” work by performing bench press and incline press with just a barbell. This provided a good stretch to my biceps. I’d hold the top for a second on each rep to make sure I got full elbow extension. I didn’t lose much elbow extension range of motion following the surgery and it was very important to keep this ROM and prevent shortening which would occur through inactivity. I did lose considerable supination-pronation ROM which is not fun as I couldn’t wipe with my right hand. It’s not easy using the left hand!

Weeks Three and Four – Start Seeing What Else I Could Do

After a couple of weeks I started experimenting. I always learn a ton from injuries and I realized that some exercises require a ton of biceps co-contraction, while others don’t. For example, lateral raises were completely out as they were very painful even with very light weight. Any form of light curling was entirely out of question but I found that I could perform cable rows with a rope handle as long as I pulled outward and spread the rope apart during the row to reduce the elbow flexion torque. I found that I could hold onto a barbell and perform single leg RDL’s. Bench press and incline press were not a problem and within three weeks I was already performing heavy singles with 275 lbs. I kept pushing the static barbell holds as I didn’t want to lose grip strength and I wanted to see if holding onto heavy weight in a pronated position would be problematic, which it was not.

At this time I noticed something quite strange and important. Despite my right biceps being tiny, atrophied, unable to fire to much degree, and weak as piss, my form was still perfectly symmetrical. I was much weaker with the right limb and I couldn’t stabilize very well, but I could lift with great precision. For this reason I believe that asymmetrical form is not so much strength-related as it is motor-control related. Since I’ve been lifting for 20 years my body doesn’t let me lift asymmetrically. Even if I have a muscle that isn’t working properly, my body stays in check and the strong side pulls in on the reigns to prevent lateral shifting and twisting.

I also started performing active supination and pronation to try to regain lost mobility.

Weeks Five Through Twelve – Step it Up

After around a month I decided to give deadlifts a try. I pulled with double overhand grip with most of the sets but would switch to mixed grip on heavier sets (with the injured arm pronated and the uninjured arm supinated). My first session I worked up to 315 lbs. A few days later 365. A few days after that 405. A few days later, 455. Within six weeks of my surgery I was already pulling over 500 lbs. The squats, good mornings, posterior chain work, and single leg work kept me strong.

My lower body and core workouts never suffered except that it took me a while to be able to return to deadlifting; my upper body pressing workouts felt a bit off as I wasn’t as stable, but my pressing strength returned to normal after around 5 weeks. My upper body pulling workouts suffered but I was able to maintain my muscle mass by trying to really feel the movements in the back muscles. For example, by using a slower tempo with an isometric hold at lockout, coupled with some form alterations to increase muscle activity, I could make rowing movements with medium loads surprisingly effective. Very gradually I increased the loading on rope rows and I performed them from high, mid, and low cable positions and from seated and standing positions. These were my weapons of choice as they allowed me to target my back muscles without putting much stress on my biceps. From time to time I’d perform standing military press and neutral grip lat pulldowns for higher reps.

Weeks Thirteen Through Twenty – Start Curling

At this point I decided to add in some high rep curls. I realized that kettlebells are better than dumbbells for curling as they augment the strength curve and keep tension on the biceps at the top of the motion. Going heavier didn’t feel right so I’d stick to 15 reps min and 35 reps max. Under doctor’s orders I was supposed to start with 2 lb dumbbells for 100 reps but my biceps received some decent stimulation from all the rowing, which allowed me to start with 16 lbs x 20 reps. I also tried to throw in a set of hammer and reverse curls and tinkered around with some supination and pronation work.

I was able to add in inverted rows and neutral grip pull ups during this time as well. At this time I was able to perform every exercise that I was performing before my injury. As you can see, I took a calculated approach to my recovery and was able to train hard while still playing it safe and steering clear of dangerous thresholds.

3. Neck Training for Football Players

I attended a very cool seminar last night at my University on the Biomechanics of Injury. There were several researchers, biomechanists, and surgeons presenting and the discussions these guys would have with each other during the Q&A’s were fascinating. It’s so nice to listen to high-caliber professionals engage in civil debate. Some serious brain-power was in full effect and it was interesting to hear the biomechanist’s take versus the physicians’ takes on certain topics such as tendon healing, PTP, ACL tears, hip internal rotation, and CAM and Pincer FAI.

One of the presenters spoke about concussions and has conducted years of research using accelerometers in the helmets of football players. Though rare, they’ve recorded collisions that resulted in up to 300 G’s (g-force) of head acceleration! I don’t really have a frame of reference for that but it sounds insane. I pulled up an abstract on the topic of concussions here.

In a nutshell, if players can align their head and necks at impact and stiffen the neck, they raise their effective-mass and transfer and absorb force much more efficiently since they’re essentially attaching their heads to their bodies rather than just having bobble heads. Read that last sentence again. It’s like getting in a car crash without a seat belt on versus getting in a car crash with your seat belt on; I’d rather be attached to a car on impact. Similarly, I’d rather have my head attached to my body upon impact in collision sports.

WWJD? Train the neck or ignore it?

Bottom line – some isometric neck training in various directions (flexion-extension axis, lateral-flexion axis, and axial twist axis) could be beneficial to various athletes such as football and rugby players and boxers. I’m certain that the rule of specificity applies and that individuals who train their necks specifically will be stronger at resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation than those who don’t. There are many muscles like the sternocleidomastoid that don’t get worked much during a deadlift, so just having big traps won’t cut it if you’re trying to prevent concussions. The cervical spine needs stability too; not just the lumbar spine.

Here are some simple manual exercises you can do, but you can also use bands, Swiss balls placed against a wall, or partners to effectively train the neck. These can be performed in the warm-up or in between sets of lower body movements.

Okay guys, hope you enjoyed the random post! Have a great weekend mates.


  • James says:

    Hey Brett,

    What are your thoughts on whether or not you should ‘pack the neck’ prior to beginning these exercises, or a least maintain a neutral head position.

    And do you think there is something to be said for differentiating between a true ‘stabilisation’ pattern where you resist the movement, from actively pressing your head into your hand (more overcoming isometric in nature) as he suggests in the video?

    • Bret says:

      Hi James, I actually filmed a youtube video on neck packing.

      I like it for deadlifting, bent over rows, rear delt raises, etc. I don’t think it’s good for good mornings, front squats, and even Oly lifts as it’s hard to hold the bar into place. But in those cases you want to approach neutral.

      To me, if you keep a joint stable while under load, then it’s a stability exercise. The only thing that matters is that you resisted motion in that joint under challenging circumstances.

      Hope that helps, BC

  • Peter Toumbelekis says:

    Interesting about your body stabilising itself when your bicep wasn’t functioning.. I had guille barre syndrome in my left shoulder which caused nerve connection to my left bicep to get cut off completely. I find the same thing occurs when doing rows but I am unable to do curls with both arms at the same time now because the bicep tendon on my good arm gets painful from picking up the slack. Injuries certainly teach you a lot about your body!

    • Bret says:

      Very interesting. Would make for a great study…injuries in experienced vs. unexperienced lifters and their effects on resistance training kinematics.

  • Great to hear about the recovery. Show those docs what you can do!

  • Nia Shanks says:

    Thanks for spreading the word about GGS, Bret!

    And thanks for sharing your recovery update; very interesting, and congrats on healing up so quickly!

  • Ted says:

    Just came across this ad.
    Bret, I hope you agree that your readers need to see this. LOL

    All the best,

  • John says:


    Awesome Read! I have been really enjoying the content you have putting out lately!

    It is really nice to see someone like yourself put some information about the neck out there. I train mostly wrestlers and combat athletes and I really feel it is a very under trained area that is essentially to anyone who might get in a collision or is just getting punched in the face! I do a lot of isometric with my guys using manual resistance as well as bands.

    Thanks for sharing that with us!

    The Floor press video by yourself was a great idea too!

    PS Started doing loaded glute bridges and hip thrusts last year with my guys and haven’t turned back ever since. It was a big help in getting our guys stronger and more explosive! Thanks Bret!

    Keep up the good work Bret! Thanks again for the killer content!

    • Bret says:

      Thank you John, very kind of you. Very glad to hear you’ve had success with the bridging. I agree…so easy to add in some neck work…can be done in between sets, etc. Definitely undertrained area. My buddy just increased his neck girth by an entire inch in one month of targeted neck training.

  • Jacob Winqvist says:

    Very interesting in how you approached your injury. I took a similar approach when I broke the radius bone in my right forearm. Doctor + PT said 3 months before any serious loading. I was 90% in about 8 weeks.

    The remaining 10% took a long time to get back though and I can imagine it can be the same with a tendon repair. So keep that bicep under close surveillance. 😉

    • Bret says:

      Yep; same thing going on here. The remaining 10% will take some time I imagine as I have pain in the back of my forearm where the tendon was sewn to the endobutton. I’m very happy to be able to do pull ups, inverted rows, chest supported rows, etc., but now I’m looking forward to getting my arms back to full size and function. Of course I’ll play it safe and keep under close surveillance 🙂

      • Jacob Winqvist says:

        Well, that is great! I’d say you almost have an unfair advantage compared to average joes since you are more knowledgeable than most people. 😉

        Regarding the pain, it is to be expected for quite some time unfortunately. I could experience pain when applying force in the direction of the fracture for quite some time. It’ll pass though, and I’ve read some qood things about the results of biceps tendon repairs.

        Something completely unrelated. How is it down at AUT? I’m researching potential places to do my Masters, and AUT popped up as very promising.

  • Bjorn Ronaasen says:

    Hi Bret
    I am a big fan of yours. Thank you for all the great stuff you provide the world with.

    I am a sprinter (18 years old) and a while ago i hurt my groin while doing short sprints, I had no choice but to finish the season with the injury with minor rehab in between, at this stage I had shin splints and both my ITB’s were inflamed on the sides of my knees. The season ended for me and I was ready for rehabilitation of my groin as this was the real injury and the others were stress related and only requires rest. So the physio started by massaging out the injured area (i think its the adductor) and stated that my core and glutes needed to get stronger to take over from the work that the groin was doing. I also researched my own ways in which to rehabilitate the groin. So i started (recently: a week and a half ago) with straight and bent leg isometric holds (3 sets of 12 reps with 5 second holds on each rep) doing this once to twice daily, now I’ve moved over to small range movements where you lie on your side with the injured leg on the ground and the other on a chair and work in that range (doing 3 sets of 15 reps) doing this once daily and I’ve recently introduced the resistance band. I stayed with these exercises as i found that larger ranges of motion were painful. on the other hand I have been doing lots and lots of glute work (I agree wholeheartedly with your view on the glutes) I found that exercises like The elevated/not elevated glute bridge (or hip thrust) was painful when hitting lockout with the glutes. This is all within the last week and I just seek your advice on how to go about this and whether I’m doing things correctly. I have felt improvement but I thought I should check with you.
    Thank you.

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Bjorn! The adductors get worked very hard during sprinting as they assist in hip extension as well as hip flexion depending on the ROM and action. Since you’re dealing with issues with adductors, shin splints, and ITB, you have serious work ahead of you. It seems that you’ve a great physio (which is rare) who is going with soft-tissue work while also recommending corrective work to prevent the problem from cropping up again down the road. If something hurts, don’t do it. You need to address any deficits, which could be mobility impairments in the hips, ankles, t-spine, etc., activation in the glutes, psoas, etc., stability in the hips, core, etc. It’s hard to give advice over the internet as when someone’s in front of you it’s possible to assess them and examine fundamental movement patterns, ranges of motion, etc. My advice is to focus on a comprehensive system that addresses soft-tissue quality, length, and activation. Steer clear of pain and focus on gradual improvements. There are plenty of things you can do pain free for now and you can slowly work your way up to bigger and better things, but removing the insults is the bigges priority right now. -BC

      • Bjorn Ronaasen says:

        Thanks a lot bro. I appreciate it, If you could recommend any exercises please let me know.
        Keep strong.

  • Good stuff man and glad you are healing in record time! Back better than ever!

    Movement within the limits and up to the limit of the body is always a good thing. Granted, an injury changes that limit, but rarely is the answer no movement at all.

    You stated “Even if I have a muscle that isn’t working properly, my body stays in check and the strong side pulls in on the reigns to prevent lateral shifting and twisting.”

    Which is another reason why I think looking at form via screening will never provide all the answers.

    If we just watched you do an exercise, it “looked good” and symmetric; yet you know you are asymmetric!

    The body is great at compensation, and that is not really a bad, evil thing at all. Without it, we would be dead!

    I find that function is a much much better indicator than symmetry. If you have to do a bicep curl with that arm, it may LOOK symmetrical, but the FUNCTION (amount of weight that could be lifted safely) would be less; indicating a LOSS of normal function.

    I’ve seen this time and time again. Symmetry is a hint as to what performance/function should be checked. Rarely have I found symmetry only gives me the result I want with athletes/clients (less pain/better performance).

    Plus, athletes are paid on their performance—not how good and symmetrical they look.


    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c0

    • Bret says:

      Good thoughts Mike, I agree with your statements, but to elaborate it’s important to check symmetry unilaterally as bilaterally we can disguise asymmetries. Of course we will never be truly symmetrical but we should try to eliminate gross asymmetries of >10% or so, but if you watch someone squat they may look fine but they could have big differences which is why you should check Bulgarian split squat, single leg box squat, etc. as well. And in many sports, as you’ve indicated, optimum performance will require some asymmetrical development. BC

  • Rob Panariello says:

    My 2 cents for what it is worth is that I do agree with Mike as my view is that we are asymmetrical and it is “normal” to have asymmetry thus there are often times where we as coaches should be very careful with the aspiration of the “correction” of these found asymmetries. It is often the asymmetry that enables the athlete to perform at a high level of performance.

    As an example, it is well documented that the dominant arm of a pitcher or racquet athlete has a greater amount of shoulder external rotation compared to their non-dominate shoulder. Isn’t it this increase (asymmetry) in dominant shoulder external rotation that contributes to ball/racquet velocity resulting in the athlete’s success on the field of play?

    I remember a conversation I had with Charlie Francis some time ago where he told me had had a world-class female sprinter who had scoliosis. As your know scoliosis has both a “functional” (i.e. soft tissue) as well as a structural (i.e. osseous) components, resulting in the absolute curvature of the spine. Charlie told me he “corrected” the functional component of her scoliosis and she never ran the same again.

    When it comes the to topic of the “correction” of an athlete’s “asymmetries”, a coach better be careful in making such stated “corrections” as the outcome of these corrections make not be the ones desired. One should also remember that everyone is “asymmetrical” and that a weekend course does not make any professional an “expert”.

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Rob. I remember reading the same story in The Charlie Francis Training System. Here I’d like to elaborate on my point. I’ve seen all sorts of documentation of asymmetries in the literature, for example the baseball example you mentioned, another in tennis players’ cores due to serving, etc. I can’t imagine how an athlete could be perfectly symmetrical as their sport actions aren’t symmetrical and therefore they will have to develop asymmetrically, which is ideal for performance. With the enormous eccentric forces present in certain movements, the loads on the tissues and therefore the responses will be quite unique depending on the sport action. That said, in the weightroom, you should usually address these types of issues in my opinion. For example, range of motion and strength/power imbalances will exist but that doesn’t mean you should let them get as out of whack as possible. There are things you can do during the off-season and in-season to manage these. Furthermore, often I find muscle activation imbalances and imbalances that aren’t even related to the sport. For example, you can test single arm pressing, pulling, and leg strength and there shouldn’t be much difference even in athletes, but often you’ll find them just because athletes are human just like the rest of us. By normalizing their strength balances, you’ll be doing a good thing in my opinion. You’ll also find “asymmetries” throughout various ROM’s, such as folks who have good initial range hip extension strength but poor terminal range hip extension strength, or maybe they’re good at squats but really poor at deadlifts, or good at squat jumps but poor at countermovement jumps. There are all types of symmetries and relationships and knowledge of good balances helps guide the training.

  • Good discussions guys and great example Rob! Love it! CF was the man!!

    This can be solved quite easily!

    1) What is the goal? For most athletes it is not to be a stud in the weight room, it is it to kick butt on the playing field.

    Find a way to measure what makes a player good. We can argue all day about what tests are best, but many don’t test anything. Start somewhere or talk to other coaches and see what they found works. Set up your own test and get going. If you think something is better, find a way to test it. This is going to be the next “big thing” and you can already find ways to measure bar speed, sleep duration/quality, HRV (parasymp to symp balance), split times, force application, vert jump, etc.

    2) Apply overload via weight training

    From what I have seen, if we monitor the overall movement quality of the athlete during the sessions, it results in much better positive transfer to their sport.

    I can have them squat more, but if I destroy their movement quality, have I made them a better ATHLETE? I do agree with Cook and others on the “don’t add fitness to dysfuntion.” I like that they look at function 🙂

    The catch is that movements can be very specific, as Bret mentioned.

    I think all great coaches do a similar process to this, even if they don’t know it. I am not stating anything revolutionary here, but I rarely see it put into action. All great coaches are constantly measuring function/performance. The only thing worth arguing about is experimental design. Start those experiments!! Personal training is not any different either.


    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

  • Rob Panariello says:

    Mike and Bret,

    My concern is that during training, “corrections” often occur when not necessary, as “correction” is certainly a buzzword these last few years. In my opinion there are certainly times where “corrections” (adjustments) need to be made, but there are times where we as coaches should leave well enough alone. I am in a unique position, as a professional, of both rehabilitating and training athletes. I certainly have had to rehab my share of athletes/clients who were injured while being “corrected”. It seems that very often, corrections are made simply for the sake to “correct” so to speak.

    Let’s look at the physical stature of NY Yankee pitching ace CC Sabathia. Not a Mr. Universe but certainly a great pitcher who has won at least 19 games the last 3 seasons and is paid 150+ million. Based on his success, if he were training in a weight room would the first point of emphasis be to “correct” all of his asymmetries?

    Bret is certainly correct in his statement of “There are all types of symmetries and relationships and knowledge of good balances helps guide the training”. What needs to be added is the knowledge of consequence if an inappropriate “correction” is made. In other words when is a correction necessary and when is it not, that is truly the talent of any coach. Hence my comment “a weekend course does not make any professional an expert.”

    Nothing we do in the weight room is “functional” or “sports specific”. We as coaches are enhancing physical qualities such as strength, power, speed, etc… and since we are utilizing the same nervous system of the body during the actual sports performance, these enhanced physical qualities are “adapted” to the “function/sport specific” skill/task through the repetitive practice of that skill/task performed over time. Improved deadlifting strength will not enhance the athlete’s ability to hit a baseball, but perhaps hit a baseball farther.

    “Correction” appears to be based on the information provided via the rehabilitation/physical therapy/athletic training professions. Though I do feel the information provided by the rehabilitation profession is important knowledge for the strength and conditioning professional, rehab and strength and conditioning are definitively two separate entities. If this were not true then why (in a far majority of the cases) is it necessary for a team to have a strength and conditioning professional? Why doesn’t the team just utilize the Athletic Training Staff and/or the team Physical Therapist for the performance enhancement training for the preparation of the team for a championship?

    To be perfectly clear, this is not a negative remark to the professions of physical therapy or athletic training (as I am both as well), this is just to provide the example that this does not occur because these professions are distinctly different. When appropriate, depending upon the severity/type of “correction” that is necessary to be performed; perhaps this “correction” should be handled by the appropriate professional as well.

  • Good stuff Rob and I agree with you! Awesome that you can see both sides and work on both sides. We need more people like that for sure!

    Any training or correction can make an athlete better or worse.

    We just need to do more of the things that make them better.

    How do we know?
    Test the RESPONSE of the athlete to training/correction/rehab, etc.

    If the athlete’s function drops, we need to rethink what we are doing.

    If it is getting better, we are on the right track.

    Rock on
    Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

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