Midweek Reading Material

Here are a handful of good strength and conditioning reads from the last week or so.

Circuits When Pressed for Time

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat vs. Back Squat by Michael Boyle

Can Exercise Inhibit Cancer? by Michael Boyle

My 5 Biggest Core Training Mistakes by Mike Robertson

7 Truths About Strength Training by Jim Wendler

The Importance of Hip Internal Rotation for Acceleration & Deceleration in Athletes by Trevor Rappa

Enjoy!

Five Set and Rep Schemes that Actually Work

Whether you are new to the industry or been around for a while you can sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of articles written that are touting certain set and rep schemes to get strong. No matter what set and rep scheme you can think of, someone has written about it and will claim it’s the best.

The problem is, once you get past the beginner stage a lot of these programs don’t work very well, if at all. Here are five programs that work extremely well for both beginners and trainees that have spent their fair share of time in the weight room.

**As a side note, I didn’t design or come up with any of these programs and am not taking credit for any of them either**

5/3/1
I’m not going to comment much on the 5/3/1 program because there is a ton of information on the internet about the program and I don’t just want to regurgitate it all and bore you to death. I will say this though; Jim Wendler and his 5/3/1 is without a doubt one of the most popular programs out there and for good reason. I along with numerous other coaches have seen great progress and gains in strength using the 5/3/1 program and would recommend it to anyone that needs to gain strength. Simple, straight forward and effective.

You can find a more in-depth write up HERE.

8/6/3
A spinoff of the popular 5/3/1 program previously mentioned by Jim Wendler, Brad Kaczmarski developed and incorporated the same principles at higher reps and lower percentages. This program may be perfect for those that are not interested in the lower reps and heavier weights or just need a change of pace from the lower reps and heavier weights that come with 5/3/1.

The idea of developing the program for Kaczmarski came after using the 5/3/1 program for close to a year. Kaczmarski concluded that his athletes needed more volume — his inexperienced athletes could benefit from more adaptation and his more experienced athletes could benefit from the additional quality volume.

The result: impressive strength gains in the college and high school athletes that Kaczmarski works with. I can personally add that I have used it with success with my athletes and would recommend it as well.

You can find Kaczmarski’s program HERE.

Cluster Sets
I’m not sure who was the originator of this type of sets and reps but I got this from the great Dan John. For cluster sets you can get creative and choose from various rep schemes but I will use the one that Dan John used as an example; a 2-3-5-10 cluster.

First, pick a weight that you can do for 15 or so reps. For the first cluster you perform 2 reps. Rest for 10-15 seconds. The second cluster you perform 3 reps. Rest for 10-15 seconds. The third cluster you perform 5 reps. Rest 10-15 seconds. The final cluster you perform 10 reps. You’ve now completed one set which you performed 20 reps with a weight you can in theory only lift for 15 reps. Rest 3-5 minutes, add some weight to the bar, and repeat the cluster for a total of 3-4 sets depending on your goals.

I’ve used this and not only does it help in strength gains, but it adds some fun and a challenge to the workout. It definitely spices things up and keeps things interesting.

100 Rep Challenge
This again is a program that I found via Dan John. This program is about as simple and straight forward as you can think of. Pick a weight that is moderately heavy but not crazy heavy. Do as many reps as possible without failing (one rep shy of failure). Rest for 2-3 minutes. Repeat until you hit 100 total reps. Do the same thing the following week and try to do it in less sets. Simple but by no means easy.

3×3, 2×8
This is a scheme that I came across about a year ago, and subsequently used it for a period of time (along with others at UNH) and we all saw some great progress in strength while using it. I found this via Eric Cressey and he calls this the “Stage System.” In this type of training, you perform your first sets (3×3 in this case) at a heavy weight and slower speed. Once you are done, you move on to your second grouping (2×8 in this case) which will be performed at a lighter weight and more bar speed. The program should help with size, strength and speed.

A variation of the program can be found HERE.

Better Tissue Quality, Better You

Every time that I walk into a commercial gym I am amazed at what I don’t see. I rarely, if ever, see any type of dynamic warm up which I thought was an aspect of strength and conditioning had worked its way into programs of weekend warriors. I hate to break it to you, but the 5 minute walk on the treadmill or ride on the bike isn’t cutting it – but that’s an argument for another time and place.

It’s even rarer to see someone performing any type of mobility or stability work, and it’s safe to say that I never see anyone performing any type of activation work – I’m sure weekend warriors will pick up on these issues from physical therapists and strength coaches in due time, but at this point I’m not surprised these issues haven’t reached the masses yet. Again, this is an argument for another time and place.

What really amazes me is the lack tissue work people are performing (or not performing). I truly believe that if people, whether an athlete or a weekend warrior, wants to move better and feel better, attacking their tissue quality is paramount, yet virtually no one performs it. It can help with tight muscles, mobility issues, and recovery from previous workouts. Furthermore, I contend that many injuries could be avoided by simply having quality tissue.

At both UNH and MBSC all of our athletes spend ample time working on their tissue quality before each training session and many spend time on their own trying to improve their tissue quality. The athletes actually look forward to it and don’t need any prompting from coaches, especially in-season when their bodies become more and more beat up.

What makes it even more bizarre to me is how effortless and easy it is to improve tissue quality. All you need is a $15 foam roller and/or a $2 lacrosse ball and a couple of minutes. You can do it while watching television or while you’re waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. Jump on the foam roller and find those trigger points/painful spots and go to work. If you’re a little more advanced and need a little more than the foam roller, grab a lacrosse ball and really target those trigger points – and trust me, you’ll never get to the point where a lacrosse ball doesn’t get the job done.

Long story short, improving your tissue quality is one of the most important things you can do if you want to feel better and move better. I have yet to find someone who has a massage and walks away feeling worse than they did when they walked in – they feel and move better than they did before the session. Do yourself a favor and make it a priority to spend at least 15 minutes improving tissue quality on a daily basis – you won’t regret it.

Reconstructing the Desk Jockey

These days it seems like people are spending more and more time sitting, whether it be behind a desk, watching television, driving in the car, or in other ways. With that said, we see the same mobility issues showing up over and over again. What are these issues? Terrible t-spine rotation and locked up hips.

desk jockey

I personally see these issues every single day with the adult population that I work with. They come in with their shoulders rounded forward and a slight forward lean because of some brutally tight hip flexors.

With these issues in mind, I’ve had to consciously program with an eye on fixing these issues. Here are some of the things that I have implemented with the adults I work with. I have seen some pretty good results across the board, with some people reporting some majority improvements.

Foam Rolling & Static Stretching

Every day the adults I work with do the same thing: a total body foam roll followed by a lower body intensive stretch via quadruped adductor rocks, foam roller hamstring split, and fantastic four (among other stretches). In essence, we try to stretch the hip with a 3-dimensional point of view: the front of the hip, the side of the hip, and the back of the hip.

foam rolling

Mobility Circuits

After the foam roll and stretch, we go through an active warm up. In this active warm up we perform the typical activation exercises like Cook hip lifts, band pull aparts, and lateral band walks. In addition to this, we sprinkle in a mobility movement for the three major areas of concern; t-spine, hip, and ankle. Like the foam roll and stretch, this is non-negotiable – we do something for these three areas every single day. Movements like 1/2 Kneeling T-Spine rotation, Turkish get up’s, wall ankle mobs, active spiderman, and goblet squat holds can be consistently found in the program.

2:1 Pull:Push Ratio

This doesn’t take a ton of explaining. We do twice as much pulling as we do pushing. For example, for every set of push ups we do, we do two sets of TRX Rows. If someone has a shoulder issue we would handle it on a case by case basis, but the general rule of thumb is that if it hurts we don’t do it. Additionally, we might jump to a 3:1 ratio to get even more pulling and less pushing for this individual.

Improving Daily Habits

I freely admit, I have no control over how much or how little people are actually doing this, I can only encourage it. I try to encourage the adults to get up and move numerous times throughout the day. Go get some water, talk to someone in a different area of the office, take the long route to the bathroom, whatever it takes to get up and move more. A good rule of thumb is to not sit in the same position for more than 15 minutes at a time.

get up and move

Full Range of Motion

Again, this seems very simple but it yields tremendous results. Continually make sure that adults are taking all of their movements through a full range of motion. At times this can be more difficult then it sounds as you need to constantly be regressing people in order for them to be able to move through a full range of motion, but its worth it. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes people can just be lazy – hold them accountable and they’ll see much better results.

The combination of these 5 components to our program has done wonders for many of our adults. Try adding as many of these in to your program and see what kind of results you get – I’d be willing to bet you would see some great results just like we have.

How to Spot a Legit Personal Trainer

A quality personal trainer can do wonders for you health and your physical appearance. They can help you move better and feel better that will help to improve your quality of life. It makes you wonder why everyone that can afford to hire a personal trainer doesn’t.

The problem is that finding a quality personal trainer is becoming harder and harder in these days. A less than stellar personal trainer will do nothing but empty your wallet and leave you with a sore back, giving all personal trainers a bad rap. That’s why people that can afford a personal trainer don’t always have a personal trainer.

So how do you go about finding a quality personal trainer that will make you feel and move better? Here are 5 things to consider when you look for a personal trainer.

Credentials

Unfortunately anybody these days can call themselves a personal trainer. Any old Joe can wake up, decide they want to be a personal trainer and find themselves a job. What separate the educated and uneducated personal trainer are credentials. Look for a trainer that is certified by the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) orAmericanCollegeof Sports Medicine (ACSM) – both of which require a college education in order to sit in on the exam.

Furthermore, don’t be afraid to ask a personal trainer about their credentials and educational background. Ask them if they regularly attend seminars and workshops or network with other personal trainers or strength coaches at local colleges and/or universities. Finding someone who is always trying to learn more is a good sign.

Does the Trainer Have Many Clients?

A sure fire way to figure out if a personal trainer is qualified or not is to find out how many clients the trainer has. Chances are, if a trainer has a ton of clients, he or she is doing something right. On the other hand, if a trainer doesn’t have many clients at all, chances are they aren’t doing much right. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but it’s certainly a good starting point.

Personality

One thing that is overlooked when hiring a personal trainer is the trainers personality. If you are going to spend an hour a couple times a week with someone you probably want to have compatible personalities. Getting along with someone goes a long way. The trainer can have all the credentials in the world but if they think they are a drill sergeant and your one of his or her soldiers, chances are it you won’t be having a good time reaching your goals.

Where does the Trainer Work?

Maybe the biggest factor in picking a personal trainer would be based on where they work. There are a lot of great facilities across this country that have a great reputation. On the other hand, there are way more places across this country that I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to workout. Seek out the top notch facilities. Top facilities are top facilities for a reason – they seek out the best staff the continue to educate the staff to stay on top of current trends.

Past Work Experience/Mentors

If you really want to do your homework find out where and who the personal trainer has worked for is the past. Maybe the trainer doesn’t have a lot of clients or the facility isn’t booming at the moment. But what if the facility is new and the owner/trainer has moved on from a great facility working for a great mentor. The owner/trainer might have worked the last 5 years at a facility that worked specifically with professional athletes or was a strength coach at a major university working with the football team.

Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump

Here are a few articles, videos and podcats to get you through another work week;

working

4 Steps to Solve Every Major Issue a Personal Trainer Faces by Mike Robertson

Upper Body Self-Myofascial Release Precautions by Eric Cressey

Cutting CrossFit a Break by Tony Gentilcore

The Countdown Method by Ben Bruno

Push Up Progressions by Mike Boyle

Supercharge Your Spine and Lifts by Brad Kaczmarski

In-Season Training for Football Roundtable

Strength Coach Podcast 132

 

Things to Read to Get You Over the Hump 9/25

 

 

 

Here are another series of articles, blogs, and interviews from the last week. Enjoy.

readmore

Muscle Snatch for Strength and Power by Wil Fleming

Eric Cressey on Iron Game Chalk Talk with Ron McKeefrey

Are Bulgarian Squats Superior to Regular Squats? by Ben Bruno

CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret by Eric Robertson

3 Training Lessons You Can Learn From MMA by Martin Rooney

9 Great Ways to Improve Your Workouts by Dan John

Core Exercise Progressions by Mike Boyle

The Lowdown on Levers by Dean Somerset

Four for a Hard Core

The days of doing crunches after crunches after crunches are over. Researchers like Dr. Stuart McGill has shown over and over again that repetitive flexion of the spine will eventually lead to you having a bad back – so stop doing it. Unfortunately these thoughts and feelings haven’t been heard far and wide and too many people are still doing core exercises that are either worthless or a ticking time bomb.

Core

Rollout Variations

Year and years ago you could find rollout wheels on late night infomercials being sold by some annoying salesman. Then they went away for a long time to be forgot about. Just like the Palloff press, rollout variations are becoming more popular over the last 5 or so years. First start with the swiss ball, then move to a smaller ab wheel. The smaller the ball/wheel, the harder the exercise becomes. This, by the way, is a great progression for someone leading up to getting into the body saw.

Body Saw

Probably my favorite and go to move when I’m looking for a quick core exercise in-between my compound movements. A plank on steroids. Simply hold your plank position with a tight core while sliding back and forth on your forearms. Reach as far back as you can to make it more effective. Be warned though, they aren’t for beginners and they aren’t nearly as easy as some people make them look.

Front/Side Plank

Old reliable. The front/side plank is boring to most people but they are still one of the most effective core exercises you can do. I think one of the reasons people get bored with planks is because they don’t know how to properly progress them. From a progression standpoint, going from a regular plank to a feet elevated plank is an easy progression. Still easy? Keep the feet elevated and put a plate on your back are grab a kettlebell to hold during the side plank. Still to easy? Add more weight. Still not tough enough? Add some front/side plank rows. And by the way, doing planks for 60+ seconds is boring. Stick with 20-35 seconds and when that’s too easy move on to a tougher progression.

Palloff Press Variations

5 years ago the idea of a Palloff press was confined to a small group of strength coaches doing them with their teams or at their facilities. There was no way you would see anyone doing them in a typical big box gym. Still, too many trainers and trainees in the big box gyms are still missing the boat on the Palloff press. Progress from tall kneeling to half kneeling, to standing and then finally standing on one leg. Perform presses on one day then come back with some holds later in the week, both being extremely effective.

What do all these exercises have in common? A couple of things.

One, most people don’t do them and have no idea how effective and worthwhile these exercises are. Take these four core exercises for a spin for the next month or two and I’m willing to bet your core will be better than it ever has before.

Two, zero flexion of the spine in any of these exercises, making them a great alternative to crunches and other worthless core exercises. No flexion based exercises in this program. They aren’t good for long-term health of your back and there are plenty of ways to train your core effectively without performing any type of flexion.

Third, these exercises will spice up your training. Whether you care or not about the possible long-term health of your back or not, and you should by the way, these exercises can add some variety to your core training. There is nothing more boring than doing the same thing, over and over again. Spice it up and have more fun in the gym.

Five 5×5 Variations

5×5 is a training program that was designed by Bill Starr many, many years ago that has yielded great results for countless weight room warriors. The concept is simple; perform 5 sets of 5 reps on your major strength movements, whether it’s your pressing, squatting or favorite deadlift variation.5x5

The Typical 5×5

This is probably the most popular method and the method that most people use whether they realize it or not. When using the pyramid variation, you simply start at a weight and increase the weight every set so that your final set is the heaviest work set. For example, when squatting a typical progression may look a little something like this;

  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 315 x 5

Essentially this variation of 5×5 is four warm up sets followed by one heavy work set. Though it isn’t my favorite variation of 5×5, it’s a variation nonetheless.

The Opposite of the Typical 5×5

This variation is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of working your way up to your heaviest set, you warm up properly, perform your heaviest set and then work your way back down in weight for the following sets.

  • 315 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 135 x 5

The Pyramid

pyramid

This may be my favorite variation of 5×5. In the pyramid variation your first two sets are relatively heavy sets that work towards your third set which will be your heaviest set. Then, after your third set you work your way back down in weight on the final two sets. Using our squatting workout as an example, this variation might look something like this;

  • Warm Up Sets as Needed
  • 225 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 315 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 225 x 5

I like this variation because you lift some relatively heavy weights for all 5 sets and you get in some quality work after performing your heaviest set.

The Wave

wave

Here’s a really cool variation of 5×5. Instead of progressively working your way up in weight, down in weight, or using the pyramid approach, you essentially pyramid throughout the 5 sets. Confused? Don’t be, it would look a little something like this;

  • Warm Up Sets as Needed
  • 275 x 5
  • 295 x 5
  • 255 x 5
  • 315 x 5
  • 275 x 5

In this variation, the weight moves up and down each set, but all sets are real, legit work sets. Without a doubt, this has to be one of my favorite variations of 5×5.

The Straight Set

As the name suggests, this variation is performed by choosing one weight and sticking with it throughout the entire 5 sets of 5. This variation can be very effective but it won’t allow you to use your 5 rep max as you will never be able to complete 5 sets of 5 with your 5RM – but I’m okay with that. Here’s what this variation might look like on paper;

  • Warm Up Sets as Needed
  • 275 x 5 x 5

This is most certainly one of my favorite variations and it might be the most simple. You warm up, which would probably look like the weights in the Typical Variation, and then get after it with 5 sets at a weight a little bit lighter than your 5 rep max.

I am sure that there are millions of other variations of 5×5 out there but these are just a couple that I have fooled around with in the past. This type of programming is very simple yet very effective and can add a little spice to your training as well as add a little challenge compared to the typical 3 sets of 8 reps type of workout.