Never Give Up, There Is Always A Way!

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up.” That is one of the most motivational quotes I have ever read and of my favorites. It is so fitting for those rough days or times when things just are not going right. Let’s face it, there are many days when we could pack it in. I lecture my clients often that if it is important enough you will find a way. If something is important enough it will change your mindset.

This past Saturday I dealt with just that thought process. I was working with a long time client of mine. From way back when she started with me many years ago we knew she would one day need a knee replacement. Actually she would need two. So we have always modified the exercises based on how she was feeling, what she needed, and what exercises we needed to avoid.

We are a little less than a month before her second knee replacement surgery. We need to work around the issue but we really want to make sure that she is keeping her legs strong ahead of surgery. After her first surgery she was still so strong that she was way ahead of the curve in regards to recovery. The two of us had to find an exercise that would allow us to maintain her strength. Even her PT was impressed!

I came up with a new use for my cable weight stack. We have been using it for about the last three weeks. It has been great training option for her as any knee dominant movement like squats, lunges, step-ups, etc are difficult and painful. We have been doing forward and backward walking while using a triceps rope handle. It has been an awesome way to train.

I really like the fact that we can walk and pull going both forward and backward. I feel this maintains an optimal muscle balance, and hits the glutes, quads, etc, without having to use the movements mentioned above that aggravate the symptoms.

While this is not a perfect alternative to direct knee dominant and even hip dominant (kettlebell swings, deadlift variations,etc), it has been allowing us to get in a positive training effect. At the end of the day if you can walk away from any type of training you are doing with a great effect that is a win in my book any day. Never give up!

Happy Training!

Feel Good Friday: Soleus Calf Raises

Well it is another Friday and time for another Feel Good Friday blog post. This week we will return our focus to the ankle complex. If you recall from a blog post a couple weeks back the ankle plays a large role in running. Even more of a role for runners as they get older. Today we will look at and target the soleus muscle which plays a role in ankle movement.

The soleus muscle is one of two large muscles in the calf. The gastrocnemius is the muscle that you typically see especially as you watch someone perform standing calf raises. The soleus sits underneath the gastrocnemius and aids in deceleration of the tibia. This is the lower leg, and during running it comes forward as the ankle dorsiflexes and the tibia angles forward. Dorisflexion is the foot bending backward toward the shin.

The soleus is not worked enough through the standard standing calf raises. Today I will share an exercise that you can do to target it. The soleus muscle makes up the Achillies tendon. As such strengthening it can help prevent and reduce Achilles tendon stress.  The soleus calf raise can help build strength endurance since the soleus helps to push. Building strength endurance will allow you to apply your strength repeatedly over a long extended period of time. Running is a great example, but also activities where a lot of stress takes place around the ankle complex.

Some progressions of the exercise you can do can would be to add weight in the form of dumbbells, or a weight vest. Another progression could also be to begin doing the exercise unilaterally, one leg at a time. You can also progress the unilateral version of this exercise by increasing weights the weight used as well.

Happy Training!                                 

Feel Good Friday: Resisted Psoas Holds

Core strength is important for running, strengthening, and most movement. I include the hip flexors in core training as they play a role. We need to move away from the thought of core training as the just the “six pack” rectus abdominus muscles.

The exercise that I am going to show will involve many of the muscles that make up the core. I like to use mini resistance bands for this. This exercise can be used as a warmup. Psoas holds can also be used as a specific core exercise. One quick note on progression before I share the video. Once you can complete the 2-3 sets of 10 second holds you can increase the resistance of the bands. You can also bring your knees higher toward your chest over the 90 degree angle. That would work the illopsoas. It does not get challenged until above 90 degrees. Be sure to keep your lower back, lumbar spine in contact with the floor or mat.

Happy Training!

Try Using Chains For Strength and Power Gains

If you do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten. I am sure many of you have heard this expression in some fashion. Well as a trainer I am always looking for ways to mix things up and provide my clients and I new ways to train. One of the newest forms of challenge has been to use chains. Lifting with chains is not new by any stretch. Louis Simmons of West Side barbell is credited with really bringing chain training to the forefront.  It has been around for at least the last thirteen years.

As with anything these are tools in the arsenal. They can be another piece of the training puzzle. I have really enjoyed (if one can say that since they sure make it hard.) using them in my training recently. Below I will share some reasons and benefits that lead me to really like using chains. I also put in a link to a Total Body Workout. I have done this using chains.

Before we get to my reasons I want quickly explain something so the first two make sense. A strength curve is a model or a representation that displays how much force the body can generate at joint angles throughout a range of motion. This will help you to understand the first two points.

1)      They challenge you through the Ascending Force Curve. Take a squat or a bench press for example. The lower you are in your squat or the lower the bar is to your chest on the bench press the harder it is to push it. As you rise out of your squat or push the bar off your chest the easier the movement becomes. That makes using chains great for exercises where force is created through extension. Some extension exercises I have used it for are fronts squats, Romanian Deadlifts, push-ups and dips.

2)      They can also be used to train the Descending Force Curve. These are exercises that the top portion of the movement is the hardest, think pull-ups and chin-ups, bicep curls of various types, shoulder raises. Instead of creating force through extension these exercises create force using flexion. In these cases the chains serve to add extra load. They are used here for drop sets. I do X amount of chin-ups and when I can no longer complete a rep I drop one set of chains. Then I do more reps until failure. I then remove the second set of chains and finish with only my bodyweight. Be careful with using drop sets not to do too many. It can be pretty intense if done right which is why I personally do not use more than two drop sets within a set.

3)      It can challenge your core and stability. It definitely can challenge your core as when you are at lifting the bar as more and more of the chains are lifted off the floor. They begin to swing a little which does increase the difficulty of the exercise a bit. You can see this in one of the videos I posted. It was my first time lifting with the chains. You can see it threw me off balance a bit. I was able to save the lift though.

4)      Chains can help you become more explosive1. Since you are supporting more of the chains as they lift off the floor they create more of a challenge at the end range of motion. This helps create neuromuscular changes that are needed to move the bar faster. We all need that as we get older.

 5)      It is just plan bada$$- It just looks cool seeing people training with chains. How much cooler to know that it has real benefits as well? C’mon even with chains she is intimidating!

Here is a Total Body Workout I have used incorporating the chains.

References and Notes:

*Chains should be looped over the ends of the bar as demonstrated in in the videos.

  1. Baker DG, Newton RU (2009) Effect of Kinetically Altering a Repetition Via the Use of Chain Resistance on Velocity During the Bench Press. J Strength Cond Res 27:(7)1941–46.
  2. Neely KR, Terry JG, Morris MJ. A Mechanical Comparison of Linear and Double Looped Hung Supplemental Heavy Chain Resistance to the Back Squat: A Case Study. J Strength Cond Res 24:(1)278–81.

Feel Good Friday: Stronger Ankles=Stronger Running and Stronger You

When I thought of strengthening exercises I used to think think of exercises like the bench press, squat, chin-ups, etc. Sometimes though it is the little muscles and joints that need to be shown some love in regards to strengthening . That is why people seem to ask about bench press, and squats numbers. I have never had anyone ever ask me how many calf raises I can do. I doubt anyone ever will.

However, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Runners tend to not be very much into lifting for the most part. One of my earlier blog posts discussed the need to be healthier and stronger from the ground up. Now more research seems to continue to bear that out. A recent study was published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland. My grandfather on my Finnish side would have been proud I am referencing a Finnish study. But I digress. The study examined the muscles that are used to straighten the knee and ankles during walking and running activities. It was determined during the study that the knee and ankle had forces about 8-9 times bodyweight.  That is a lot of force which can be detrimental. The ankles though had a lower maximum force. This means if your ankles are weak they can be a limiting factor in your performance. 

The latest findings help to support an earlier study done by Kulmala (one of the researchers) that showed that while power output was similar from the hips and knees in runners ages 26, 61, and 78 respectively, there was a marked decrease in ankle power that increased with age.

So, you may ask how can we change that?   I like to incorporate a few exercises that are great for strengthening the ankle.  I believe it makes sense to begin strength training while you are younger and be proactive in preserving your strength and power. This can also help you run more efficiently.  Even if you are not a runner it is still important to maintain a strong base of support.

You do not need to create an entire workout based just around strengthening your ankles. However incorporating a few exercises into an already balanced training program or before a workout as a warmup will be beneficial. Anything that challenges the ankle joint will have a carryover.

  1. Single Leg Balance on Trampoline or Dynadisc- Stand on one leg with your knee slightly flexed. Balance on the one leg for 30 seconds and then move on to the other leg. Perform the exercise two times on each side. I prefer to do these exercises barefoot to allow the small muscles in the ankle and foot to have an increased challenge.

If you do not have a trampoline available you can use a dynadisc as well.

2. Standing Calf Raises & Single Leg Calf Raises Versions

Calf raises are done by simply rising up onto the balls of your foot. Go up as high as you can. Then lower yourself until you feel a stretch at the calves at the bottom of the movement. Notice I do l not let me feet touch the floor. That would take some tension off the calves.

 

 

In the single leg calf raises you would perform the exercise the same as the above. Except you will work one leg at time, unilaterally. This can not increase the challenge but also allows each leg to work fully and help avoid having one more dominant leg and any muscle imbalances. Perform all the repetitions on one side and then repeat for the same amount of reps on the other leg.

 

 3. Lunge Matrix

I like to use the Lunge Matrix at times as a warmup, and also as warm up. I personally like it because it allows you to work on strengthening the legs but also then ankle joint in various planes of movement, frontal, saggital, transverse.

4. Single Leg Squat Touchdowns

 

Plyometrics: Increase Running Efficiency By Building Power with Depth Jumps

 For many of us if we talk about or think about the term the power in running we do not immediately conjure up images of distance runners.  Many of us might think right away of Usain Bolt. Power though does have a place in training for distance running. Power or (Speed Strength) is important in helping the body reduce ground reaction forces. Speed Strength is a high priority in most functional activities.¹ It is defined as the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible force in the shortest amount of time.²  It also can play a role in the ability to have a kick at the end of the race or power up a steep incline. I feel that power begins to play less of a role and loses some of its importance as the distance increases, but is still important no matter what distance you train for.

Power can also help a runner to run more efficiently as some studies have shown. For running purposes and how it can translate to distance running we will be focusing on one aspect of Power or Speed Strength, and that is Reactive strength. Reactive strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to switch from an eccentric action or deceleration and then as quickly as possible switch to a concentric or production of force portion of a movement. There is a short period of time between both the eccentric and the concentric movements called the amortization phase. The more neuromuscular efficiency one has the better and faster they can move between the eccentric and concentric movements.  This allows the body to store energy during the eccentric phase or loading phase, and then releasing that stored up energy to help produce force and to continue doing so once a certain movement pattern has started.

One way to increase power, and again here we are discussing Speed Strength, and neuromuscular efficiency is through training. Plyometrics can be a great way to build that power. Plyometrics can be defined by certain exercises that allow a muscle to reach its maximum strength as quickly as possible.

One study used the plyometric exercise the Depth Jump to see how it helps runners. The depth jump did prove to help to make them run faster. You can read over the study here.

There are a couple key things to keep in mind when performing the depth jump.

*One is the height of the box does not need to be extreme. In fact in the study the box height was 20, 40, and no more than 60 centimeters. The goal is not a higher and ever higher box but rather being as quick and explosive as possible.

*Step off the box and do not jump up. We are not looking to add the height you drop from.

*Be sure to not allow your knees to collapse inward, valgus, as the photo on the left depicts.

 

*Land softly absorbing the impact and then as quickly as possible jumping back up as high and as quickly as possible. I like to have clients picture hot coals.

*Plyometrics is a high intensity exercise so you should not repeat another bout of the same exercises for between 48-72 hours between bouts.

*The goal is also not more and more repetitions. In fact the study reference only had the participants perform 6 total sets of 10 repetitions each.

For further reading on plyometrics you can read one of my previous blog posts linked above here.

I also highly suggest the following two books both of which I still often go back and reference.Jumping into Plyometrics, 2nd Edition and High-Powered Plyometrics 2nd Edition

References:
1. Tidow. G. Aspects of strength training in athletics. New Stud Athl  1990;5:93-110
2. NASM OPT Manual Chapter 9 Integrated Strength Training Concepts pg.415

Workout Q&A – Lower Body Training

Recently someone reached out to me to ask a couple strength training questions. The two questions were very interrelated. I thought sharing my answer would make a great blog topic in case any others might share the same question.

The question was from someone who currently strength trains twice per week. One session focuses on upper body and the other focuses on the lower body.

Their  question was, “Should I squat and deadlift in the same session since I am only training my lower body once per week?” The other days the person runs or bikes. There was also a second question regarding whether there should be any other lower body exercises added and if so what order?

Since they are only training lower body once I suggested the same thing I do with my clients. I would opt for using the Hex-Bar Deadlift. It is neither a true deadlift nor a true squat, but rather falls somewhere between. This makes it a great option for someone who is training lower body only once per week. I also choose Hex-Bar Deadlifts because they have been proven to build more power when compared to squats.

Now to I would like to address the secondary question. I like to use bi-lateral (both sides working together) first especially if that is the main strength move. I like to follow that up with uni-lateral; (single side) ancillary exercises. In this case I suggested a super-set (two exercises back to back) of a knee dominant movement such as Bulgarian Split Squats (one of my all-time favs), split squats, lunges, etc, along with a hip dominant movement like Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts.

The workout would look something like this, with the sets/reps, rest, dictated by your specific goal or goals.  

Main Strength/Power Exercise: Hex-Bar Deadlift

Ancillary Exercises Super-Set

A1) Bulgarian Split Squats

A2) Single- Romanian Deadlifts

  • As a side note I would suggest training in this fashion if training the upper body as well.

Whether or not you incorporate this particular workout template or not, know that there are many ways to structure a training plan, and many different means to the same end. I just presented one way I would approach creating a training template based on a two day split.

 

 

Create a Stronger Core and Glutes with the One-Arm Kettlebell Swing

Yesterday I shared a variation of a strength exercise for the posterior chain of the upper body. Now today I would like to share a total body exercise using a kettlebell that I love that targets the posterior chain of the lower body and also the core muscles. Keeping those muscles strong is important for injury prevention and performance as well as overall strength.

You may have done kettlebell swings within your own training or maybe even used a dumbbell before. I like to have clients and also use another version in my own training, the one-arm kettlebell swing. The one-arm kettlebell swing is a nice way to challenge your body further.

It also has been proven to activate your core musculature more than the double arm swing. You can read more here .

You watch a video of the one-arm kettlebell swing here. I have also listed some key points of emphasis for performing the kettlebell swing.

1)      This exercise is a hinge, meaning the most action takes place around the waist and not the knees. It important to remember that the KB swing is NOT a squat. Your knees should be doing the movement.

2)      Be sure to swing the weight not lift it. Think of a pendulum. Once you being the kettlebell swinging you should feel like you are controlling the arc not directly lifting the weight.

3)      At the top of the movement be sure to fire your hips and contract you glutes before descending into the next repetition.

4)      Along with the above be sure not to arch your back and lean back. That is not part of the exercise and could cause you to injure your back.

5)      At the bottom of the swing allow the weight to pull you and allow the weight to travel between your legs. At the bottom of the movement your chest should be perpendicular to the floor.

6)      I have clients perform the swing stopping the KB at shoulder height. If you cannot get the weight up that high do not worry. As you become stronger and more explosive through your hips you should be able to get the kettlebell higher.

7)      Throughout the exercise be sure to keep your bodyweight on the heels. You should never go up onto your toes.

8)      Keep your core engaged. Do not suck in your stomach but rather contract and tighten your abs as if someone was about to punch you in the stomach.

9)      Do STOP immediately if you feel any strain or pain especially in your lower back. It could be die to not swinging fast enough, poor ability to keep the core engaged, or the kettlebell may be too heavy, or a combination thereof. You can try going to a lighter weight and determine if that helps.

 

The above tips and the video should get you on your way. Happy training!