Dr. Greg Rose stated in one of his great lectures for the Perform Better team that motor learning (i.e. muscle memory) is never erased. One pattern can be overlaid upon another, but our basic motor patterns are archived and remain with us for our lives. For example, piano lessons when we are young and our nervous system is so plastic stay with us. Same with the ability to ride a bike, learn multiple languages fluently and form certain sounds with our mouths (think of accents from people that learn a second language well into adulthood and have trouble with some sounds).
Why is this point important? In many instances from sport to law enforcement to Special Forces novices are put in situations in which extreme stress is a part of the test in order to determine the motor pattern that will emerge under times of such duress. A current popular example is Tim Tebow’s throwing motion. When in a closed drill in which the outcome is set, the motion improves. When the drill is open, such as in competition, the throwing pattern reverts to the earlier learned pattern typical of a baseball windup.
Many Special Forces and military selection courses include high levels of stress in which the candidate is deprived of sleep, food and given tasks that are extremely difficult and in some instances even impossible to accomplish. Why? To determine if the candidate can function at a high level in times of extreme discomfort; to determine what muscle memory patterns will emerge and finally, to get a glimpse into the will power of the individual candidate.
What does this have to do with sports teams? It is becoming more and more difficult to put high school and collegiate athletes under duress in order to determine how they will respond in terms of will power, motor patterns and ability to function. The high school coach in many instances is not backed up by his administration if even one parent complains. In college, the NCAA has mainstreamed the athlete into the student-athlete collegiate experience to such an extent that in the summer, when school is paid for, the athlete does not even have to workout one time, while all expenses, room and board are paid for during the summer semester. Many coaches do not support making athletes uncomfortable since they end up in their offices complaining.
It is imperative our young people are put in situations of distress that are planned, well thought out and have a purpose in order to create young people with confidence, competence and will power in order to face the challenges of adulthood.
The last winter ball in football I participated in had 9 stations with a goal of 7-8 reps at each station. This created a load of 63-72 reps in less than 35 minutes. This workload mimicked a football game in 1/6th of the time. When warm up and cool down was included as well as penalty runs, this was a 60 – 65 minute workout. This was done 3 – 4 times per week and the athletes had to come back in the afternoon and lift weights 3 – 4 times as well. The lifting was not as difficult as the focusing and commitment to doing it right, doing it hard and doing it with a positive mental attitude. This was done to create toughness in the eyes of the coaches, but I now know it creates hard motor patterns that are difficult to peel back.
During the 2013 spring game at Ohio State University, Urban Meyer stood just behind and over from the holder on each and every field goal attempt. Why – To put pressure on the new kickers of course. What happens when the kicker feels the pressure? He reverts back to his worst pattern, which may result in a miss, much like when he is iced before the big kick to win the big game.
What is our lowest level of motor pattern? The fetal position. When there is too much stress for our ability to cope, too much stress for our level of training, too much stress for our experience level, too much stress for our mind to comprehend, we will revert to the fetal position. Remember the culmination of the final battle scene in “Saving Private Ryan”? Why did Steven Spielberg Show Matt Damon in his foxhole screaming? What position is he in. . . . . ?
Making it tough in a well thought out progression that is appropriate for the age group, the ability level and culture of the team/individual will go a long way toward preparing a team, group and individual for the trials and tribulations of the future.
Credit to co-worker Logan Brodine for the 6-8-10 Push up. This is just push-ups but with weight placed on your back in the form of plates. Put two plates on your back and do 6 push-ups. Remove one plate and keep going for 8 more push ups. Remove the last plate and do 10 more push-ups. Now, for the variations. Put the heavy plate on top of the lighter one, for example to make it easier. To make it more difficult, put the light plate on top of the heavier one. Maintain good push up form throughout the movement. Excellent drill to do followed by the medicine ball partner bench press for power and fast twitch muscle fiber training.
Many people interchange the usage of the RDL and the SLDL. Is this accurate? In a word, no. Let’s examine the lifts and their heritage. The RDL comes from Russia or Romania (depending on who you ask what the R stands for) and the SLDL comes from the bodybuilding world.
The RDL is meant to simulate the top of the second pull in the clean and the snatch. The RDL is a heavy version of the kettlebell swing. The RDL SHOULD be executed down to the top of the knees with a moderate tempo and up with a quick, explosive movement, much like the kettlebell swing. The feet stay on the ground as the hips drive the bar up to the high pocket position. Remember, it is a partial movement lift prescribed to assist the second pull in the clean and snatch.
The SLDL is designed to load the glutes and hams throughout the entire ROM of the backside chain. The knees MUST be UNLOCKED in order to load the muscles and tendons and NOT the ligaments and discs. Executed from the ground or on a small box depending on the flexibility of the hamstrings. Proper form is to shift the weight back loading the heels while hinging at the hip. The lumbar spine should NOT flex, the core should stay braced throughout the entire movement. The grip should be shoulder width and the tempo should be controlled.
So, in essence, the two lifts come from different heritages and are designed for two different reasons, impacting vastly different neural patterns. While using the same musculature, the ROM, loads and tempo of movement should be very different in execution.
If you want a nice butt and hams, do both lifts. If you want a bigger, faster, better clean or snatch, focus on the RDL.
NO NO NO – Legs too straight!! Single leg version of the SLDL Traditional Version of the SLDL
One of the most accurate ways to estimate your max at any given time is to do indicator sets. An indicator set is a heavy load where you will do 2 – 5 reps and cannot do another. The reason you do less than 6 is at six reps, due to time under tension, the energy systems begin to switch from ATP-PC to the lactate system and the variability is greater.
After you do your heavy indicator set for as many as possible for 2 – 5 reps, just use some simple math. Take the total number of reps and subtract one. Multiply what is left by 3%. Then multiply this number by the load used in the heavy indicator set. Add this number back to the load used in the set. For example:
5 reps at 225
5 – 1 = 4
4 x 3% = 12%
.12 x 225 = 27
27 = 225 = 252
This works very well and can give you an idea of where you are in your strength development during training without having to prepare to max or max.
What if I want to know what my max is on a lift in which I do not max? This is quite common, as many lifts are not tested, but an athlete wants to cycle this lift. Here are the percentages for a couple of lifts to train percentages off of without having to max on those lifts.
Incline is 80% of bench press
Snatch is 70% of the Clean
Squat is 80% of the Dead Lift
These are excellent rules of thumb to use in order to train with percentages without having to test several different lifts.
I have observed many people pounding the pavement as they go out for their daily run. Some have been lost in the bliss of the runners high while others seem to be struggling along a highway of hell by the looks on their faces and the rhythm of their run. While some are truly runners, many others fall into the categories of jogging or even trotting as they slowly lean into the wind. What is the difference between a trot, jog, run and a sprint? In its most simple form, I have come to believe it is where the ankle on the swing leg crosses the support leg.
For example, a trotter will only lift the swing leg slightly off of the ground and the ankle will cross just above the support leg ankle. A jogger’s swing leg ankle will cross at the support leg calf. A true runner will cross the support leg at the knee and a sprinter’s swing ankle will cross the support leg above the knee with the heel of the swing leg just brushing the buttocks.
In teaching speed and observing runners and sprinters throughout my career, I have learned many drills to teach the mechanics of speed. These drills tend to fall into the categories of push off drills, turnover drills, arm drive drills and posture drills. If the athlete is not crossing the support leg above the knee with the swing leg, then all the other drills are for naught since there is no conservation of angular momentum.
Truly gifted runners in distance events and sports such as cross-country tend to have great conservation of angular momentum and outstanding mechanical efficiency in their turnover and stride mechanics. This is a strength mechanism and cannot be drilled, exercised or trained if the athlete does not possess the genetic predisposition for handling the loads upon ground contact in order to facilitate the turnover as a gifted runner. This is why there are so many joggers out there chasing the runners high.
Volume and nutritional timing are the keys to size. More reps and the muscle will get bigger. 10 sets of 3 and 3 sets of ten are both a total volume of 30 reps. However, the time under tension of the muscle for 3′s is usually under 10 seconds, so all the energy needed to complete the set is already stored in the muscle cells. When doing sets of 10 (or any set that takes longer than 10 seconds to complete) the energy needed to complete that set must be recruited from outside the muscle cell and stimulates the muscle cell to store more sugar and water for work. This results in a corresponding increase in the cell and the overall muscle.
If carbohydrate and protein are provided within 2 hours of completing training (within first 30 minutes is optimal) then the sugar and protein are present for replenishing the muscle energy substrates and the muscle will “grow” at an optimal rate.
Total volume will stimulate the muscle to grow. Time under tension will stimulate the muscle to grow. Providing liquid carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes of completion of the workout will optimize the muscle recovery and growth potential.
For more dense muscles, increasing time under tension by going heavy or doing pauses and holds at a moderate load will increase the density of the muscle tension as well as the strength of the connective tissue such as the tendon. Holds and pauses can be done at various joint angles and for various lengths of time up to a full 10 seconds.
Many programs do not max on the pull – up or any type of pulling exercise other than the clean dead lift. However, if the shoulder is not developed fully and equally, then the front side musculature tends to dominate and anterior dislocations and/or posterior labrum injuries can occur. Maxing on the pull – up can be somewhat controversial as is the athlete allowed to kip and if so, how much? Are they required to pause at the bottom? Is the grip over or under hand? How wide is the grip? In my experience, the grip is overhand and slightly wider than shoulder grip or analogous to the bench press grip. Now, for the key concept that makes the pull – up work as a part of the max testing battery for the athlete.
Just as in estimating a max in any lift, the formula will apply. The formula is as follows:
Max reps – 1 (multiplied by .03) = X. Then, (X is multiplied by the body weight of the athlete + any additional load such as a weight vest or plates hung off of a belt) = Y. Y is the amount of load represented by each rep above one executed by the athlete. Y is then added back to the body weight of the athlete.
A 200 pound athlete does 4 reps in the pull – up test. 4 – 3 = 3. 3 x .03 = 9%. .09 x 200 equals 18. 200 + 18 equals 218. Round up and the max is 220.
This max should be near the bench press max. If it is more than 10% off, then more emphasis should be placed on the pulling exercises.
by Andy Koen
(This was done when I was at the NSCA – When I was still a member and a proponent of that organization . . . Robb)
If carrying 70 pounds of body armor and tactical gear wasn’t physically strenuous enough, then the stress and adrenaline that flood the bodies of SWAT team officers while working a volatile crime scene can be downright exhausting. That is why members of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Tactical Enforcement Unit (SWAT) rely on Coach Rogers and staff at the National Strength and Conditioning Association to keep them at their peak physically and mentally.
During the past four years, the NSCA and the CSPD have blazed a cooperative trail in developing a series of specialized workouts just for the SWAT Team. It’s called functional fitness. Crouched in a firing stance, the officers cross the gym floor carrying 25 pound weights in place of an assault rifle while their partners use resistance bands to pull against them.
Coach Robb Rogers says this is just one of multiple exercises used to strengthen the muscle groups the officers rely on most to keep them healthy and safe in the field. “Core strength and stability becomes critically important with this type of athlete.”
Commander Thor Eels first initiated the partnership when the police department began looking for ways to improve their physical fitness testing program for selecting SWAT officers. One of the earliest benefits of the program has been the drop in work related injuries. However, Eels says the biggest benefit has been the improved ability of his officers to remain calm under pressure. High stress situations can easily force a fight or flight reflex that can cloud a person’s judgment. “A SWAT officer in a hostage rescue scenario only gets one chance to get it right, and they have to make the right decision,” Eels said. “I wanted them to be operating at the highest physical level possible to make good decisions.”
The training regiment has become a benchmark for fitness training within the law enforcement community around the country. Coach Rogers also consults with the California Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to restructure the training manual and exercise protocols and procedures implemented at all Police Academy’s in the state of California. Robb also uses similar exercises to create a specialized training regiment for Special Forces soldiers from Fort Carson.
The following items are philosophical tenants I apply to all my training prescriptions and programs. I have found that when I keep these items at the forefront of my process of training, my athletes and clients are trained to a much higher level with less volume and fewer problems.
1. The first 5:00 minutes of the workout sets the tone for the entire session and the last 5:00 minutes of today’s workout is the start of tomorrow’s session.
2. Pattern Before Power
3. 20% of Corrective Exercises applied during the training session will tend to positively impact 80% of the problems and complaints of the athlete/client.
4. Just because you can does not mean you should.
5. The quality of the focus, effort and repetition are the key to optimal performance.
6. Body weight before external loading.
7. Build in fun and competition.
8. Speed, power, strength, core and fitness sequencing are the key to maximizing the performance training prescription.
9. After clean patterns and added volume and load – integrate time under tension, speed, unilateral loading, complex and combination patterns of training for added stimulus and improvement.
10. More is Better – more rest, more recovery, more quality and more nutrition
The first 5:00 minutes of the workout sets the tone for the entire session and the last 5:00 minutes of today’s workout is the start of tomorrow’s session. The first 5:00 minutes set the tone, tempo and focus of today’s session. Many corrective exercise strategies can be seamlessly integrated into the warm up process. The last 5:00 minutes of the workout can be focused on passive recovery and/or active regeneration techniques in order to maximize the benefits of the session as well as begin to train the athletes that warm – up and recovery are a part of every training session.
Pattern before power. If the athlete/client does not have clean movement patterns, why load them, increase their volume, add speed, etc? It makes absolutely NO sense to have the athlete continue to execute crappy reps. Good to great reps are acceptable, depending upon the athlete/client. The novice can get away with good, but not the veteran.
20% of Corrective Exercises applied during the training session will tend to positively impact 80% of the problems and complaints of the athlete/client. Most of the poor compensation/movement patterns I have encountered are from ankle immobility, hip immobility, low core instability, T-spine immobility, anterior shoulder tightness and scapula instability. Addressing these items during the warm up, cool down or the training session with a few easy to do exercises will tend to address most of the issues that people have when it comes to movement and overall muscular-skeletal health.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. If you can do 50 snatches in a row, should you? Why? 100 hang clean and squat presses? 100 burpees? Why? To get smoked? Ok, that makes a little sense. Very little. Are you training or are you working out? If you are working out – go ahead. If your focus is to increase work capacity – fine. But just doing it to do it or for work capacity is like running around the goal post to warm – up. It accomplishes the goal and nothing else. If you are training and you have a goal or have an issue or have a technique or pattern problem – then why do a bunch of unfocused, crappy reps? When you get tired and keep going – you most likely are doing crappy reps.
The quality of your focus, effort and repetition are the keys to optimal performance. Not only do your patterns need to be optimal but your effort needs to be intense and your focus needs to be great in order to get the most out of your training session. If your effort is average, your return on your effort will be average. If your focus is poor, generally your execution and pattern will suffer. If you are training with great effort, optimal focus and executing great reps, your return on your training will be maxed. Effort and focus can pertain to speed, power, pauses and holds as well as rounds and reps.
Body weight before external loading. If an athlete cannot execute 20 reps of air squats and push-ups properly, then why prescribe loaded squats or bench press? If they cannot execute 3 good pull-ups, why let them continue to bench press 225 and do lat pulls with 90 pounds? If an athlete cannot execute a single leg sit down squat onto a bench for 5 reps, why load them with dumbbells for lunges? Body weight before external loading.
Build in fun and competition. If it is not fun, why do it? If the person does not like to compete, why are they in performance training? If you are just working out, then you do not need to compete. If you are not going to be graded or measured in any type of physical parameter, then you do not need to compete. But it always MUST be fun, or, why do it?
Speed, power, strength, core and fitness sequencing are the key to maximizing the training prescription. Would you time a mile and then test a 40? Would you test bench press max and then test seated mediball push test? Would you smoke the core and then test a dead lift max? NO! Then why set up your training sequence so that the athlete trains in a poor order or sequence of stimulus? If they do not improve on test day, then the training program was flawed. The Russian coaches felt that if 60% PR’ed, it was a poor training cycle. If 70% Pr’ed it was an average training cycle. If 80% PR’ed then the training program was outstanding. How do your training cycles compare?
After optimal movement patterns are established and/or volume and load are added – integrate time under tension, speed, unilateral loading, complex and combination patterns of training for added stimulus and improvement. If the same workout prescription is done time after time, with similar progressions, similar loads and similar exercises – why would you ever expect different results? New stimulus must be applied and training emphasis focus must be integrated and weaved in and out of the program as speed, power, strength and fitness are all vital components for competitive athletes to improve during the off-season.
More is Better – more rest, more recovery, more quality and more nutrition. It is America and yes more is better. However, it is not always just more volume or more load. What is critical to integrate is more quality stimulus at the optimal time, more proactive recovery and better nutritional support at the times that it is critical and the body is starving for nutrients.
These are some of the tenants that I judge every one of my training programs and workouts by as I prescribe them to my athletes and clients. They have helped me over the years and I hope they are of some inspiration to you.
The load and/or force the body imparts into the ground can be focused through the forefoot, the heel or the mid-foot when standing, running, accelerating and landing. In my experience women and elite strength/power athletes tend to slightly front side to mid foot load in many single leg exercises such as lunges and step-ups. Let’s examine some differences in loading the foot when training.
Acceleration- When starting from a standing or stance position, the load will seem to be more front side due to the lower the
center of gravity and the lean into the direction of movement. However, in elite athletes, the load will be on the fore foot with the backside chain tremendously engaged. Many true front side loaders and less elite athletes will tend to impart force through the forefoot with less than maximal/optimal backside chain involvement. Think of jumping rope for example. Many poor jump ropers will plantar flex and keep the heels off of the ground and just use the lower leg and foot to jump rope. Accomplished rope jumpers will flex at the hip, knee and ankle, using the entire lower body to absorb and produce force in order to jump rope. Many start drills and technical warm-up drills are front side mechanics emphasized in terms of coaching cues. For example, in A skips, the emphasis is in knee up/toe up front side action rather than force into the ground via the support leg. Another example; in wall drills the common coaching cues are knee up/toe up rather than back side chain emphasis via glute extension and force into the ground. Emphasizing backside chain involvement and focus via glute activation, recruitment and focus is a key to improving performance as greater force into the ground will improve acceleration. One way to do this is to emphasize backside recruitment and full/mid-foot loading over forefoot loading. This stands true and includes jumping, change of direction drills, sprints and plyometric training.
Running – This has come to the forefront in the popular media via the minimalist shoes and the book “Born to Run”. Forefoot/mid-foot running as opposed to heel force absorption jogging/running is a huge debate. For most runners, I feel the load of the fore foot strike over distance is much too great for many runners/joggers due to the fitness level, lower leg and foot strength as well as the size of the athlete combined with the lack of force absorption properties of the minimalist shoe. If you have spent much of your life running on the forefoot/midfoot as many barefoot runners in the warmer climates and poorer parts of the world, your ability to forefoot run has not been compromised with hundred dollar running shoes, too much sedentary time and too much food. For most of the people that we as fitness professionals come into contact with, minimalist shoes are great for walking around, warm – up and maybe even short interval training. But, most of the population that wants to run distance in minimalist shoes will find the foot unprepared and unable to handle the trauma of force absorption without an extended transition period of weeks and even months in order to prevent injury.
Strength Training- In strength training the load is full footed in many/most cases. The load is distributed fairly evenly,
50/50 from the heel to the forefoot. Full footed is much different than flat footed as flat footed is relaxed and collapsed while full footed utilizes an active arch and foot and is expanded. If the load is too fore foot, especially with the resistance distributed on or through the shoulders, the resulting transfer of force through the spine transitions from compression force to greater and greater sheer force. This places greater forces on the ability of the front side core to resist collapse and the resultant spinal flexion, which is the mechanism of injury for disc trauma. In squatting and dead lifting, it is common training cues to turn the foot out 7-15 degrees and impart the force down and laterally by pushing out through the feet as the loads increase in order to lessen the load on the lower back and increase force through the hips and glutes. In Olympic lifting it is also common to turn the feet out 7-15 degrees and push out, as the pattern of the lifts begin with a squat/deadlift type movement. The difference being the acceleration of the bar and the technique after the pull as the load is less in terms of the absolute strength level of the athlete compared to the power lifts such as the squat and deadlift. In each case, the load will be full footed. In less accomplished Olympic lifters the load will shift through the forefoot at the top of the pull.
Landing- When absorbing force as in landing after a jump, sport skill, plyometric or Olympic lift it is critical to absorb the force in the same pattern as the lowering phase of the squat. If the force absorption phase is so great that the athlete goes lower and lower into a squat, the pattern should mimic a normal squatting pattern. When the load is centered in the mid-foot the backside chain can assist in force absorption and the load is closer to the center of gravity. As the force is absorbed increasingly on the front side and through the fore foot, the knees and lower back will be forced to become more and more involved. For an example, when doing multiple loaded step ups as in the Javorek Dumbbell Series which use 10-15% of fat free body weight, the inventor, Istvan “Steve” Javorek emphasized the
full foot loading of the foot on the bench as when this does not occur, the athlete will have back discomfort. Gymnasts are coached to land on the forefoot for dismounts and when tumbling. Talk to multiple national class gymnasts in their 40’s and older and inquire as to their back and knee health. Even though it happens fast in gymnastics, the force absorption is much the same as when the load drifts forward in a squat and dead lift, which occurs slow enough that we can see it and we are all aware of the consequences of losing your form forward in a squat and/or dead lift.
Gender – Women tend to front side load more than men. Why? In my opinion it is cultural and well as gender related. When women wear heels, the load when squatting will tend to drift forward with the increasing height of the heel. When wearing a skirt, women are precluded from using optimal squatting technique with the knees out and the hip hinging, so women learn to squat loading the forefoot and flexing the knees first. In addition, many women tend to have relatively weaker glute utilization in my experience than comparable elite level male athletes. This glute weakness will lend itself to dependence on the quads for greater force absorption/application.
Full footed, toe out 7-15 degrees, lateral pushing the feet while hinging at the hip is the optimal way to load force. Bracing the front side core, keeping the chest up and leading the movement up with the heart is the key to jumping, squatting, dead lifting and force absorption/force production for optimal patterns, power and long term health.