One of my clients just repping out 255lbs x 15 reps at under 165lbs bodyweight (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B5ATpI9jFvA/)
We nailed the water. She came in under 165 for this competition. Over the course of the year we got her to clock in 20lbs lighter. The estimated 1RM is 380-400lbs. Because there are different energy systems for different duration efforts, a 1RM calculation becomes a little inaccurate after a 5RM. Nonetheless, to be 20lbs lighter and have moved the objective deadlift weight UP over the course of a year is spectacular. Moreover, here’s yet another example of how heavy lifting doesn’t just wantonly pile size onto a woman. She got LIGHTER. Intermediate-to-advanced lifters ought to be like this, in excess of 2x bodyweight for deadlift.
Just incredible work for @kateolaf. Give her some kudos, keeping in mind that she is not only a high compliance hard worker in fitness, but also involved in about ten other demanding pursuits at any given moment (ie - firefighting, boxing charity fundraiser, language study, multiple musical disciplines, etc.)
A long-held stretch doesn’t do what you think. In fact, it can’t. A sarcomere cannot be taken any farther than the end of the filament cross bridge without detaching and becoming non-functioning. This is biological fact.
Muscle cross-sections look a lot like bridge cables (see diagram 1). There are cables within cables. The outer cable is the myocyte or muscle fiber. The inner cables are myofobrils. The myofibrils are themselves overlapping layers of filaments which slide closer when a muscle contracts and farther when they relax.
When the inner cable reaches the end of its elasticity, it will snap. That’s a fray. As enough inner cables snap, the whole outer cable will snap as well.
You see, the filaments can only slide as far as there is some cross-connection (see diagram 2). Once they go past that, a collagen filler goes in its place. The filler doesn’t contract (since it is no longer skeletal muscle), and it further resists the modest amount of stretch which the previous but now destroyed myofibril had (reference Davis’s Law).
The good news is that we all have signals from our nervous systems which attempt to prevent this sort of damage event. When the nervous system senses lengthening of those filaments, there is a natural phenomenon of protection to contract the muscle in order to prevent filament detachment. A long-held stretch “works” by wearing out this natural protection.
Static stretch IS neural dysfunction. You are literally actively detraining the natural safety precautions in the body when you hold a stretch. And we know this. Research is conclusive that force production drops DRAMATICALLY after static stretches (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/17194246/). Speed drops. Power drops.
There was a reason that you experienced pain or discomfort at the end of a stretch. That was the end of your current safe range of motion. Jamming on the tissue to force it farther makes about as much sense as poking an already-angry bear. When people experience the short-lived relief after stretching like this, it likely has more to do with endorphin release from experiencing trauma than any improvement in human performance.
Though certain modalities of “stretch,” like proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), seem more sophisticated, the outcomes are questionable likely due to the vast array of beliefs and skills among practitioners. In fact, it’s difficult to use the terminology “stretch” because of people’s expectations so aligning with the definition which aims to DEtrain proper nervous system governance.
Thus, instead, the aim must be to mobilize. That is, we are really trying to improve control through greater ranges of motion. Rather than overcome natural safety systems in the body, we can work with them and develop them further. There’s no need to blunt them, dull them, tire them out.
A good starting point is better understanding reciprocal inhibition. As one muscle shortens, the opposing side must lengthen. When you flex at the elbow, this isn’t purely a product of the biceps shortening, but also the triceps lengthening. That is a natural healthy neural relationship. And it exists throughout the body, though in slightly more complicated iterations.
Keeping it simple, when you flex at the hip and extend at the knee (a kick), the hamstrings must lengthen to make this possible. Yes, there’s a little more to it than that with regard to all kinds of other muscles and structures. But just keeping it simple, imagine slowly raising ones knee and extending the foot out into a kick. In fact, slow controlled kicks like this are a staple of various martial arts. We aren’t trying to dull the nervous system’s protection mechanism. We are working with it.
Slightly more complicated is a squat. Many different structures must work in concert, creating force couples, activating synergists, balancing, bracing, and so forth. Nonetheless, as one descends, there is control of lengthening in the knee and hip extensors. Over time, while listening to the nervous system feedback and working with it, one may squat more deeply (if desired) and at different angles with greater fluidity.
Additionally, what people may interpret as “tightness” varies a lot.
In most cases “tightness” is weakness. The body is assuming short positions because the tissue is too weak to be safe while lengthened. You are tight because you’re weak. Your nervous system is protecting you until you strengthen and make whichever affected tissue denser. Stretching weak tissue thinner and longer is precisely the opposite of your need in that case.
Sometimes the back is “tight” because a night of sleep expands intervertebral discs (you’re taller after sleep), and that increase in their volume is pressure which reduces available range of motion. That should NOT be stretched out.
Sometimes “tightness” is unregulated blood sugar (systemic inflammation). With insulin high, blood volume high, swelling high, how is tissue supposed to move easily?
Various distortions, injuries and imbalances lead to other issues with muscle inactivity or firing sequence problems. There’s no way to stretch out any of those.
All that said, gentle mobilizing, gradual activation, additional stability, and ultimately strengthening is always indicated, regardless of underlying pathology. Static stretch can ruin you. But proper mobilizing could save your life.
1. Blausen.com staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436
2. Richfield, David (2014). "Medical gallery of David Richfield". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.009. ISSN 2002-4436
Influential Marketing Aims to Fleece People AND Specifically in The Wrong Stage of Change
You’re looking through a good friend’s family photos on Facebook, and all-of-a-sudden an ad that guarantees “Abs in 5 Days” pops up. You weren’t thinking about abs. You weren’t thinking about fitness. You were merely thinking about how much you love your buddy and are happy to see him doing well. But, heck, who wouldn’t want abs in 5 days? And it’s only a newsletter, 10 bucks, etc. “Sure, let’s give it a try,” you say.
For those unfamiliar with behavioral change psychology, you probably read that and thought, “so what?” The “so what” is that readiness for change is a complex journey that isn’t flippantly executed. In fact, caring people DISCOURAGE someone who is at the wrong stage of change from conforming to another stage. Why? Because it actually worsens outcomes. Of course, people without scruples couldn’t care less. The very thing they want is to catch a dollar, no matter the consequences.
In more than half of my initial consults and coaching appointments, I will at some point in the discussion say, “this likely isn’t a good fit for you at this point.” It‘s in reference to a next step, a more dramatic demand from them, or sometimes even workouts or food planning. I’m aiming to take drowning people and get them afloat, or take treading people and get them to shore, or take strong swimmers and make them champions. Why would I hand you a barbell, food plan, or ask you to reach into your pocket while I’m trying to save you from drowning?
Thus, beware, especially this time of year. Your internal readiness for change doesn’t have anything to do with flashy deals or marketing. Your position in the stages of change doesn’t shift by momentary excitement or good-sounding external pressures.
With regard to a diet or exercise program and each step therein, you are either in precontemplation or not. You’re either in contemplation or not. You’re either in preparation or not. You’re either in action or not. You’re either in maintenance or not. You’re either in recidivism or not. Don’t start a preparation or action step while you’re in the contemplation stage.
Marketers are perched or circling like birds of prey. But I’m telling you, right now, you may not be a good fit for the next step.
No More Looking Back
The Biblical account of Lot's wife in Genesis has always fascinated me. It's supremely archetypal for the human failure to accept a new beginning.
There are so many destructive environments in which people find themselves, whether it is professionally, socially, or internally.
Familiarity keeps calling us back. We can even acknowledge that certain behaviors or influences are harming us and those around us, and yet we still equivocate about change.
In the rare event that people try to depart, they look back at their old lives, only to be turned to a pillar of salt.
In a sort of hoarder mentality, we refuse to leave the past behind us, carrying an impossible weight which cannot be changed anyway. We get vaporized in the process.
Survivors need only do one thing: keep the eyes forward. It's not to say we shouldn't learn from the past. However, we can only live in the here and now. When the place is going up in flames, save who you can and hold your loved ones close. But everything else should be left behind.
Compound Interest of Physiology
I love this. I love everything about it.. One of my best friends shared this saying that I would love it. He was so right.
I constantly talk about and write about the concept of compounded interest in physiology; and if you have any familiarity with the retirement tables, you get it right away. Even if you don’t, this graphic communicates it as succinctly as can be done.
I’d add, think about what year two looks like, year 10, year 20. Things which seem impossible all of a sudden move into imaginable or even likely. Especially as we move toward the New Years resolution season, perhaps give up the moonshot and focus on growing the penny... but every single day.
Don’t get swindled by the ads in your feed or the sponsored YouTube fitness programs. Nothing is new. The ancient people of the world did all the same movements the brand spanking new fitness franchise around your corner does today. The ancient armies of the world built warriors whose average fitness makes our modern elite athletes look quaint.
This is it folks: flex, extend, abduct, adduct, rotate, protract, retract, elevate, depress (we could add a few others, like supination, pronation, eversion, inversion, circumduction, opposition, reposition, dorsiflexion and plantarflexion). THAT. IS. IT.
The combinatorial patterns are myriad, especially when we get into HOW they’re performed. But fundamentally this will never change. And it has never changed.
As you go into the new year, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter what salespeople call their repackaged fitness program - life will still require from you push, pull, lift, lower, and brace.
And I want to call your attention to one glaring deficit in most programs, aside from their obsession with marketing and advertising bombardment (ie - if your methodology is so substance-filled, why do I see your sponsored ads pop up constantly?): pulling.
Yes, pulling. Most athletic organizations (and I would agree) have determined that 2-to-1 people need pulling exercises. Why? Because our entire modern world is pushing. Head is forward. Shoulders are protracted. Hands are reaching ahead. Where’s the pulling?
This is no knock against popular fitness, by the way, UNLESS they claim to be an all-in comprehensive solution. But here’s the deal. There is NO progressive pulling in place for boxing/striking, body weight programs (unless you have a pull-up bar or tethers), cardio (unless rowing or swimming), yoga, Tai Chi, dance, Barre, and the list goes on and on. Are these modalities valuable? ABSOLUTELY. Yes. They are good. Do they have an obvious progression path to rectify pulling inadequacy? No.
I’ve coached high-level professional dancers and advanced instructors who are afraid to pick up their 30lb pets, because they may throw out their backs or dislocate a shoulder or get a neck tweak for days. I’m not exaggerating. They’re friggin superhumans with regard to all kinds of other feats; but when it comes to basic pulling skill and strength, they’re as undertrained as the sedentary populace. In forward pressing, they may hold a plank for an hour. They may warrior pose for days. Change a tire? Nope. Carry groceries? Sketchy. Don’t ask them to help you move your appliances or transport dirt and mulch for landscaping. Climb a rope, pull-ups, heavy rows or deadlift? Forget about it.
Heck, I’ve worked with a lot of people who instruct instructors but can’t safely walk their dogs. Seriously. They’re so weak and fragile in pulling that the light tug of their dog on a leash could mean orthopedic injury. These same people do handstands and splits and marathons.
I’m not saying that an overhead kick has zero application toward daily life, or that a full bridge isn’t cool. But if your neck, shoulder and back are garbage, you may want to improve the POSTERIOR aspect. This will require various activities which sit firmly under the subject line “pulling.”
Don’t mishear me. MOST avid gym-goers and lifters have this same deficit AND THEN SOME. If a guy who camps out on bench press for 10 sets doesn’t follow it up with 20 sets of rows, he’s imbalanced. The ability to do 100 push-ups in a row isn’t a brag if there’s little to no retraction, horizontal abduction, shoulder extension and external rotation in the program.
Create balance in the skills of the body.
And remember, none of it is new. The human body has always had the same fundamental movements.
Why You Must Lift Weights
The force that a neck must bear as you look down is equal to a 60lb contraction: https://www.google.com/…/amp.theatlanti…/amp/article/382890/
Any time you take a very light object and move it farther out from the body to place it in a cabinet above or below, but distal from you, the effective force you must apply to manage it goes up dramatically: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/h…/Mechanics/lever.html
Placing a 5-10lb crockpot in a cabinet may demand the equivalent of 40lbs-60lbs of flexion at the shoulder girdle. Just reaching 2 feet ahead of you with 6lb hedge trimmers can load the back well beyond the effect of holding upright over 100lbs.
Getting off of a toilet requires at least body weight strength at or beyond 90 degrees of knee and hip flexion.
In fact, consider any every day activity. Getting into and out of a car. Up stairs. Cooking. Cleaning. Putting books on a shelf.
Incredibly active people may naturally incorporate these movements at high degrees of force production daily (80 year old Okinawan fisherman, for example). Those people don’t need to do artificial strengthening. The rest of us, however, have ZERO guarantee that our bodies can produce enough force to not get hurt with everyday living UNLESS we train.
And in training, we must utilize that controlled environment to ensure our capacity EXCEEDS the forces we will encounter in every day life. Doing a 30lb leg press and 5lb shoulder press at the gym misses the point if you then plan to get on and off the ground to play with your kids, grandkids, cousins, etc. The point of your training efforts is to ensure your ability EXCEEDS the demands you will encounter in day-to-day life.
I once heard a member at my first gym say, “if I didn’t do this every day, I’d be an invalid.” I saw it as hyperbole at the time. But now I realize he meant all of us are training to be invalids if we aren’t training to be valid.
You must lift weights.
Fit in 4 (Minutes)
Pick your lift. Select a weight around 60% of 1RM. Set a timer for 4 minutes. Given we are working at 60% of 1RM, the warm up may be brief (or in the advanced lifter non-existent).
Start the timer.
You’re done when you’re cooked or when the timer hits 4 minutes (example here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bz-broqDVPc/).
Each week either add AT LEAST another rep and/or match the reps and add AT LEAST 1-2% to the load. Voila. You are getting demonstrably fitter with only 4 minutes of training. In 10 weeks you are 12-25% better.
This pro tip is more for the intermediate lifter, since it will require a good understanding of technique on any of your choice of large structural lifts (squat, deadlift, cleans, Olympic snatch, thruster, etc.) and a known or well-approximated one rep max (1RM).
Enjoy The Discomfort
Hunger is the symptom of fat loss:
The pain of focusing IS learning.
The sacrifice of distractions is growth.
Pathogen exposure is immunity maturation.
Frustration is skill development.
Saving is wealth.
Working is progress.
You want the outcomes? Enjoy the discomfort.
Learn to Balance on Thin Air
Proprioceptive overload - if you want a kinesthetic learning experience, try balancing your body evenly on just the lift of air. The tiniest fractions of movement change drag coefficients such that you pitch or roll or yaw. The instructors make sure you don’t barrel roll to your death (video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B42uZ0_DFDC/). That, and it’s an incredibly fun experience. The day I turned 18 I went skydiving; and I was so fixated on what I needed to do, altimeter checks, body position, that I had fun but wasn’t able to fully enjoy it. With this, you have the time and the directives to learn how the feel should be and just be present.
I think it's cute that so many popular fitness personalities have spent the past 15 years doing exercises on wobble boards, Bosu balls, suspension trainers, airex pads, and wiggle waggle gooble gobble. But what about PURE AIR? Is anything less stable than whipping wind and NO SURFACE. It is a great neural training. And it's super fun.
But on a serious note, you'll generally gain a lot more balance capacity by simply becoming very strong. And maximal strength training requires a stable surface, not an unstable one. Balance training is indeed beneficial. But don't get distracted by all the gimmicky variations of exercise out there. They're fun, but totally incomplete without stable surface most of the time. And if you wanted maximal instability, you'd just train on thin air all the time.