Back pain sucks. It affects your training, your mood and most importantly your daily life. Whilst there are several causes of low back pain, some beyond the scope of this document, we can commonly say it is caused by one or several of the points below:

  • Your Lumbar spine doesn’t have the stability or strength to support the exercise you were doing.
  • You didn’t have enough strength endurance to withstand what you were repeatedly doing
  • You lack the flexibility in the surrounding areas, most importantly the hips and thoracic spine.
  • You lack the necessary core stability to resist excessive spinal movement
  • Your posture sucks
  • You were being stupid with the weights

While I can’t address you going HAM on the weights we can address the other issues and build your back from the ground up.

When we look at Gray Cooks joint-by-joint approach we can see different joints have different requirements to function correctly. The lumbar spine (lower back) is meant to be a stable joint whilst the hips and thoracic spine (upper back) are meant to be mobile joints. Based on this approach, the first thing I would advocate is to stop stretching out the lower back! The surrounding musculature is supposed to have a degree of stiffness to stabilise during movement.

We must then look at your posture to help determine a potential intolerance to either low back extension or flexion (arched back or rounded back). Some people may just live in one of these and carry it over into their training, putting the lumbar spine under constant load. One way to help determine this is do you suffer with more pain whilst sitting or standing? If it’s sitting, chances are it’s a flexion intolerance and for standing an extension intolerance. What this means is if your flexion intolerant you should be aiming to restore a more neutral/flat low back so if you can’t achieve that in the bottom of a squat or deadlift then start pulling off blocks and using box squats until optimal function is restored as you are doing more harm in the long run. If it’s extension intolerance you should be looking at owning your rib cage position and not over-arching during your squats and deadlifts. The pvc pipe is your friend and you should aim to have 3 points of contact with the pipe and only a small degree of space between the pipe and your lumbar spine.

Now that you have stopped stretching your low back and are more conscious of your overall posture in training, we can start to address your pain through breathing and alignment. We want the rib cage stacked on top of the pelvis to give us a stable structure from which to move from. If the pelvis is out of whack, this can put the whole system out of alignment and thus cause compensations. I’ve already talked about breathing here but going further, if you live in extension you should carry out your breathing drills with a bit more of a flexion bias such as:

If we are in more of a flexed posture we want to flatten that back out a bit and we can start on the ground

You can simply add these in to the start of your warm-ups for 10 good belly breaths aiming for 360-degree expansion of the mid section and followed by a full exhale whilst driving the ribs down to the pelvis.

Next we can look at mobilising the hips and thoracic spine, which are supposed to have a degree of movement. This means you need adequate flexibility in each to get into the correct positions without compensation at areas such as the lower back. We also need adequate flexibility in these two areas to build the stability we want in our low back and core. If you scored a 1 on your Deep Squat, Inline Lunge, Hurdle Step in your FMS, chances are you need to address this first. Try some of the exercises below, always re-testing to note improvement and ensuring you are on the right track.

Now we’ve worked on breathing and flexibility of the surrounding areas, we can focus on stability of the core and the low back. Remember we need stiffness in these areas to correctly utilise them in stabilising the spine during movement.

To start with you should own the basics:

Once you can manage these without low back pain/tension we can progress onto stability exercises with movement. We want to start on the ground first to give us the most support.

While they may seem simple, you should look to control these as slowly as possible whilst maintaining the posture we have already mentioned. You can also use the banded dead bug if you don’t have access to KBs.

We can then move on to the quadruped stance to challenge stability even further with the following:

Once these feel good progress onto

Again we are looking to own these with control and no tension/pain in the lower back. Once this is achieved we can progress on to the kneeling stance whether it be half kneeling or tall kneeling. With an even smaller base of support we add new stability challenges and lower body flexibility.

Hopefully at this point you should feel comfortable and see a reduction in pain/discomfort. You can then utilise some or all of these exercises as part of your warm-ups in preparation for the big lifts and to re-enforce. Just to re-iterate though, these exercises are useless if correct posture/spinal position is ignored. These exercises are about skill and control not speed and load lifted. Own each exercise before moving on.

The final piece of the puzzle is to build some posterior chain (glutes, erectos and hamstrings) strength and re-enforce core strength with more advanced exercises.

Take things slow and build quality movement before load. Get used to dialling in posture with breathing and rib control when lifting big and keep ion top of flexibility/accessory work.

This is by no means an all encompassing solution to alleviating back pain and I would always recommend consulting with a physio/chiropractor first to ensure you are safe to carry out training of this nature.

I’ve tried to learn as much as possible over the last 10 years with regards to optimal training and longevity. Trends have been and gone, the way we look at athletes has vastly changed as well as our outlook on rest and recovery.

However it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed by all the content out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The type of training you do is irrelevant as long it meets your goals and requirements and you enjoy it. Obviously if you’re training for a specific sport or performance marker then of course, the type of training has to be a bit more focused but again there are many tools that will work in each situation, there is no right or wrong way to train.

That being said I thought I would go through some of my most important tips to help maximise your potential in whatever training regimen you subscribe to and improve health and performance.

1) Get Assessed: If you’re truly interested in health and performance then your first step is to get assessed. Any good coach should be offering some form of assessment to see your current level with regards to movement quality, mobility and fitness ability. If you’re not being assessed, then the rest is just guesswork.

2) Earn Your Positions: An assessment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t follow through on improving where required. Struggle to get overhead without excessive rib flare? Can’t keep a neutral position during a deadlift or squat? Your coach should be directing you on how to improve these or refer you to someone who can. You should also accept that if you have less than optimal positioning then certain movements may not be suitable for you AT THAT TIME. You want to stay injury free right? Take the advice, work on the problem areas and earn your right to incorporate those movements into your training.

3) Don’t Skip The Warm-up: You don’t need to spend 30 mins foam rolling and another 30 mins stretching, but your warm-up should be focused and relevant. It’s your chance to prime the body for the session and un-do some of the nasty postures and positions from your working day. Check out my article on warm-ups here.

4) Breathe Correctly: A lot of us live in an extended posture, which can lead to poor overhead position, lack of contribution from the posterior chain during hinging patterns and lack of core strength. Learning how to use correct breathing patterns including full exhales can help you get back to a more neutral position over time. It ain’t sexy or fun, but it works. Check out my article on breathing here.

5) Build Solid Foundations: I’ve seen time and time again, people skipping the boring foundational work to get to the fun, exciting throw heavy shit around stuff. It catches up with you. In my opinion, every athlete should spend time building

– Solid aerobic base: The better your aerobic capacity, the more efficient the heart and lungs will become. This leads to less contribution from the anaerobic systems as well as improved endurance and recovery. Read more here.

– Basic bodyweight strength: Everyone should be able to do strict press-ups, pull-ups and dips. In my perfect world, I would also have you doing a 1-arm pull-up and 1 arm press-up but the basics will suffice. It sets the stage for more advanced movements such as muscle-ups and handstand press-ups. It teaches you body awareness and control as well as building great amounts of core strength, which most people lack. I understand if someone is carrying some excess bodyweight this may not be possible……. yet, but once bodyweight has been reduced, build the foundations.

6) Don’t Ignore Assistance/Accessory Work: Anyone who says isolation exercises are useless is telling you lies. Have a sticking point in a lift? Struggling with stability or co-ordination on a movement? Assistance work can develop those weaker muscles and could help improve performance on your weak lifts. Now that doesn’t mean you stop doing the lift itself as you still need to build that pattern to efficiently recruit all the right muscles, but strengthening a weak area alongside can give you some great gains. I’ve seen a woman get strict pull-ups just by adding bicep curls into her training. Every exercise has a value when used in the right context.

7) Grease The Groove: Stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline, he talks about regular practice to improve efficiency and quality. Use an empty bar/pvc pipe/light DBs or KBs and slow the movement down. Feel the muscles firing in the right areas and make the movement become as natural as possible. Apply this to your heavier efforts to improve neural efficiency and therefore performance. Do it regularly, even some press-ups at home or work can go a long way to achieving this mastery.

8) Use Weighted Carries Frequently: If you have read anything by Dan John then you know how much he puts stock into weighted carries and drags. Grip strength is hugely overlooked when it comes to progressing training. Add to that the postural and core benefits when done correctly and you have a highly valuable exercise. Use DBs, KBs, Farmers Handles; whatever you can get your hands on. I also like bottoms-ups KB carries for shoulder health as well as grip training.

9) Build A Strong Posterior Chain: Glutes and hamstrings are typically inhibited and weak in most athletes. Movements such as bridges, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, hamstring curls and single leg work can really bring these muscles back in line and help improve health and performance. Bret Contreras has done some great studies on the effects of hip thrusts on glute activation/hypertrophy.

10) Don’t Cherry Pick Your Sessions: Ignoring your weaknesses will always come back to get you. Whether it be having to scale a workout or creating imbalances such as pressing over pulling or squatting over deadlifting. Yes training should be enjoyable but if you want to be able to become a well-rounded athlete, you need to develop the less enjoyable skills too!

11) Don’t Train Through Pain: Just don’t. If something hurts, you’re either doing it wrong or there is pathology somewhere. Assessments and good coaching should help you sort it. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop training and wish your life away at home. Work around the issue whilst fixing the cause and come back even better.

12) On the flipside: Don’t get scared of every ache and pain you experience. Again, consult a coach if unsure. Training is tough work, you are literally breaking your body down so it adapts and rebuilds stronger and more robust. It’s not always going to feel comfortable and if you want performance, you need to accept this. Listen to your body and ask questions if required.

13) Enter a Competition: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, fitness comp or endurance event. The buzz, the butterflies and the adrenaline of a competition environment can really teach you some lessons about your body and mental toughness. This stuff is invaluable and can really help you take the next step on the performance ladder. Even if you only do it once, compete.

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This list is by no means exhaustive but I’ve covered some in gym tips with regards to training. Lets look at some tips for outside the gym.

14) Water: Again, overlooked when it comes to implications for training especially in the age of addiction to coffee and all that jazz. Aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.

15) Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is lack of quality sleep. Not to mention its effects on recovery after training. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed to start to unwind or at least use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen.

16) Recovery Plan: Adaptation and therefore improved performance takes place out of the gym. Training is the stimulus; rest is where the magic happens. You should be incorporating rest/active recovery days each week. From there, every 6-8 weeks you should use a de-load/recovery week where you reduce volume or have it as rest/active recovery. Your body will thank you and the gains will continue.

Also think about getting a massage once a month or during your de-load phase. Salt baths, contrast showers, meditation and yoga all have their place on your recovery protocols. Utilising HRV can be another way to auto-regulate your training and keep on top of recovery/training intensity. Check out my articles on HRV here and here.

17) Nutrition: I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but the basics seem to work well with most. Manage your calories in and out, have some good pre-workout nutrition in place and you’re good to go. No restrictions, no ‘diets’, just wholesome food the majority of the time and the rest in moderation. Drop me an email for our free nutritional guide.

18) Supplements: Various supplements are useful for different people and are not always required. However, fish oil, zinc, magnesium ands vitamin D seem to work well. Examine.com are doing some great studies on the effectiveness of the majority of supplements out there.

19) Get Involved!: Get involved with the community at your gym whether it be socials, competitions, events or taking part! It adds so much more value to your training and helps the gym feel less of a chore.

20) Motivate Others: Encourage fellow athletes, congratulate them, and give them a high five or a fist bump. It sounds cheesy but again it builds a more positive atmosphere and makes it that little bit easier to get there when you have close friends training with you.

21) Take Responsibility: You might have a coach or trainer who sees you an hour once a day. Do you really think that’s enough time to get everything done that you may need? Yes they will make the programme as effective as possible in the time they spend with you, but chances are you may need more. More mobility training, extra skills work developing things like your bodyweight exercises, more aerobic work using zone 2 heart rate zones.

I’m sure you don’t want to pay someone to watch you foam roll or spend 30 mins on a treadmill do you? Take responsibility and put in the extra work to help take you to the next level. Not sure what you need to do? ASK! The coach/trainer is a resource to tap into. I love it when athletes ask me for help as it shows a dedication to their training beyond showing up for an hour and going home to forget about it all. However we can’t help you if you don’t ask us.

22) Consistency: All of the above don’t mean a thing if you don’t show up. Consistency is king when it comes to results. You could have the world’s best programme, nutrition and recovery plan – but this means nothing if you’re not consistent. You should be aiming to train at least 3x per week if you’re serious about progress/performance and at least 2x per week for more general health. Just get through the door and the rest will take care of itself.

Training isn’t about suffering through the grind and hating your life every session. Training should be a lifestyle choice and something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to. With so many ways to get fit and strong available the first step is finding something you are excited about doing then start to implement some of the strategies outlined above.

Here at Warrior we offer comprehensive assessments and fitness testing for members and non-members alike. We can also help you direct your training in the right direction to unlock your true potential. Interested? Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk to find out more.

If you missed part 1 of this series then check it out by clicking here. As a quick re-cap we spoke about how heart rate variability (HRV) is your way of testing the robustness of your nervous system and in terms of training and fitness, when you should push hard or back off.

I touched on how your HRV usually comes in the form of a score of 0-100 and usually the higher the better. This is pretty much where part 1 ended and part 2 kicks in. Your HRV score isn’t as straight forward as the higher the better; there are also frequency markers that need to be correlated to that HRV score. If you remember we talked about how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems need to work together to deal with stressors such as exercise. This nervous system balance can be shown through monitoring the low frequency (LF) and high frequency (HF) values when taking your daily reading. Ideally, you want these two numbers to be as close together as possible and the higher the better. What you may find though is you have a super high LF number meaning you are sympathetic dominant i.e. in a stressed state. So even though your HRV may be ok, if your LF is high and way higher then your HF, you could be doing more harm than good if you train.

Monitoring those 3 values is your first step into analysing and improving training, however they are just numbers if you don’t start to correlate them to training sessions, stressful events, sleep, hydration etc. The reason is that your HRV can be sensitive to all the above and more, even breathing, so if you test one day and have seen a drop in your score, it may be something as simple as not drinking enough water the day before. If this were the case then I would argue that normal training should go ahead. So its not always as cut and dry as low HRV = don’t train and high HRV = go ahead and train. Add to that a high score combined with a chronic sense of low energy or fatigue could mean you are in a state of overtraining (very unlikely for most).

In short HRV~ is a simple way to measure readiness for training providing its taken in context and applied intuitively. Now that we have looked a bit deeper in to HRV and how to use it, we obviously want to know if there are ways to increase our score right? These suggestions aren’t all backed by research and may just cause acute (short term) increase in HRV, but they have been shown to increase it nonetheless. Most methods also have many other benefits to health and performances so are great for anyone who trains.

1 – Rest. Obviously. If you find you have as low HRV then you are in a higher state of stress and inflammation within the body. We want the parasympathetic nervous system to begin the recovery process so if you start piling on more stress i.e. exercise, then you won’t fully recover. This will also lead to a low HRV score over the long term.

2 – Green Tea. In studies conducted on the effects of green tea on diabetes, it was shown to increase HRV and reduce hyperglycaemia. Granted the study was conducted on rats, but we already know about the restorative qualities of green tea so it can’t harm to try. If you don’t like green tea, L-Theanine , one of the compounds can be bought in supplement form.

3 – Fish Oil. As mentioned before, stress can lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation has been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and other nasty issues. Fish oil has already been touted as being great at reducing this inflammation along with other benefits. In some studies it has also been shown to increase HRV providing the dose was high enough (3.4g/day).

4- Yoga/Meditation/Relaxation/Controlled Breathing. Now I’m not grouping them all together because I think they are the same, I’ve grouped them merely because they look to achieve something similar – mindfulness. Clearing your mind, relaxing your breathing and living in the now. All methods have been shown to improve HRV as these exercises are great at activating the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. I personally like to use box breathing as prescribed by Mark Divine (creator of SealFit) as a way to relax or even as recovery after a tough workout.

5 – Foam Rolling. Not only does self myofascial release (SMR) give acute increases in flexibility, it has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels (inflammatory stressor) and increase HRV. Click here for our article on SMR.

I’m sure by now you are seeing a key trend in how to increase your HRV. It mainly revolves around de-stressing and rest. I know that this is easier said than done, but even a few minutes a day doing some foam rolling and breathing exercises can make a big difference. If you don’t want to subscribe to the idea of breathing, rest, meditation etc. then at least take on board this final way to increase your HRV. Take a de-load week every 6-8 weeks. De-load means a reduction in total volume i.e. sets, reps and length of session decrease for a whole week. Intensity can remain the same, you just do less. A good time to recover, work on skills and efficiency of movement and feel ready to hit the next cycle hard.

In summary, there is a reason why more and more professional athletes and teams are using HRV and with todays the you can get the same benefits providing its utilised correctly. Add to that the health markers that can be gained from HRV and you potentially have one number to monitor your health and performance. While a piece of electronic equipment will never replace an athletes own instincts and experiences of their own body, it’s a great way to help you make an informed decision on your recovery status as well as those objective factors.

As always if you need help or advice on products, monitoring or analysing don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Movement of the Week

Again, looking at shoulder stability and overall shoulder girdle health we have the Half Get-up with Screwdriver.

We all know that the Turkish Get-up is a great exercise for full body stability, proprioception and strength. While we aren’t going through the full movement during this exercise, we can still elicit some of those benefits. From there we add in the screwdriver, taking the shoulder through internal and external rotation and enabling the athlete to feel a good shoulder position. 

To begin with, start the movement unloaded with a clenched fist. Really try to feel the ball of the shoulder (humeral head) sitting right into the socket (glenoid) and avoid any humeral glide. The easy way to know if you’re doing it incorrect is that you’ll feel all the tension in the front of your shoulder or bicep meaning you’re out of position. Sit the shoulder back and down to a point where it feels stable and the tension is felt around the back of the shoulder/scapula (shoulder blade) area.

Finally once you have become proficient in keeping the correct position unloaded, start to utilise some weight through bottoms-up kettlebells (video). Bottoms-up means you won’t go crazy with the weight as it will punish you for being over-eager/stupid.

As always feel free to drop me an email, or send me a video of you doing the movement to check over. info@warriorstrength.co.uk

We’ve all been there. The day after a tough session you expect to be a cripple as you get out of bed and are surprised when you don’t feel too bad. However the next day you roll out of bed and feel that your legs have been replaced by lead weights s you tentatively try to sit down on the toilet. That my friends, is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs).

 

What is it?

DOMs is a condition associated with pain or soreness around the muscles and joints. It typically peaks around 48 hours after training and can last as long as 72 hours.

What causes it?

Research is still underway as to the exact causes, but it was once thought that DOMs was caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the body. It’s now thought that DOMs is caused by micro tears in the connective tissue thus causing inflammation as part of the natural healing process and in turn soreness/pain. Training experience, age and session intensity can also have an effect on the severity of DOMs with it occurring in those new to exercise or returning from a prolonged break more frequently.

Treating DOMs

As mentioned, DOMs is a natural part of the training process to an extent. However ways to alleviate symptoms include:

  • Foam Rolling
  • Contrast Showers (bouts of cold water followed by hot water)
  • Omega 3 Supplements
  • Adequate Sleep

Unfortunately stretching hasn’t been shown to reduce or prevent DOMs so should be used for flexibility purposes as part of your normal cool down.

While you will suffer from DOMs from time to time, you shouldn’t be chasing after it. DOMs is not a precursor to a good workout or building more muscle and should start to ease off as training experience increases. The key take home message is some muscle soreness is not a bad thing, debilitating pain is. Start to learn the difference and always ask advice if unsure.

Well it’s nearly that time of year again where we put down that half eaten chocolate Santa, turn down an offer of going to the boozer and say ‘I’m going to the gym!’ That’s right, operation New Year, New You is a go. You’ve had your fill of food comas and now it’s time to get back on the wagon and sweat out all that turkey.

 

So many people start out with such high motivation whether it be body composition goals or they just want to get fitter. However most people barely last 2-3 months before the wheels of the wagon have well and truly come off. Why is that? Having realistic goals and an actual thought out plan are two of the main stumbling blocks. So here are some tips to ensure your 2016 challenge doesn’t lose momentum.

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1 – Setting Clear and Realistic Goals

Seeing some top celebrity on tv and shouting ‘I want that body!’ then signing up to the gym for a year is not a clear and realistic goal. Even as a novice you should think long and hard about what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Remember that you can’t get ‘shredded abs’ in 4 days like some claim, progress takes time and patience and you must factor that into your goals.

2016 also means that work comes back with a vengeance, meaning potential late finishes, tiredness and stress. Think about these when plotting out your strategy to reach your goals. Overall the more specific your plan the more chance of success!

2 – Carry Out Some Basic Measurements and Monitor/Track Progress

What’s your goal? Body transformation or performance? How will you know if you’re making progress? Most people lose motivation when they think they aren’t making progress towards their goal. However many people don’t track results in the first place or rely on things like the scales to determine success. If your goal is body composition, take some ‘before’ photos and measurements such as waist and hips and then re-test every 6-8 weeks (not every day!). Progress takes time but if you are monitoring it and tracking it you will have it there in black and white to spur you on to continue.

3 – Aim For Long-Term Change

Too many people make a big push to get to their goal and then go back to old habits once achieved. What happens then? You all know the answer. Why were you on this big change journey in the first place? Because your old ways didn’t work. So why go back to them after all that hard work and come un-done?

Think about long lasting lifestyle change whether it be exercise, nutrition or even things like sleep and hydration. It could even be cutting something out like fizzy drinks. However, slow and steady changes will be easier to sustain than just diving in head first and going cold turkey.

4 – Think About Nutrition

You can lean out and improve health from nutrition alone but that doesn’t mean starving yourself! Just following some basic guidelines will ensure you get the best out of your food and also build long-term habits.

– Eat mostly real, whole, minimally processed food.

– Eat slowly and only until satisfied.

– Eat protein with every meal.

– Eat vegetable with every meal.

– Eat healthy fats with most meals.

– Drink beverages with few calories and few ingredients most of the time.

– Drink lots of water!

I know things like work and play can throw hurdles into the mix but again if you’re fully serious about your goals then plan ahead! Make up a weekly meal plan so that when you go shopping you buy only what you need for those meals. In our house my wife has a 4 week meal plan to keep things interesting on the fridge. We know what we are eating and when, and don’t repeat meals so we don’t get bored. It also means that we have no bad temptations in house, only what we need.

Finish work late? Start making up extra portions so that you can freeze them so you don’t have to cook when you get home but still get a healthy meal instead of take-away or microwave meals from the supermarket. It just takes a little foresight and a little extra effort and you can stay on track!

These are just some simple ideas to get you started. If you are really struggling then just ask! I will be more than happy to help.

If you really want to start your 2016 the right way, then sign up to our beginners programme Basic Training. We will teach you all the basic movements as well as building up the intensity of your workouts to prepare you for our group classes. We have a 50% off sale until the 4th Jan. Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk for more details.

Have a great New Year and look forward to a healthy 2016!

Front rack mobility, the bane of some peoples training regimen. You want to go heavy on the front squat or jerk, but you just can’t seem to get your arms into the right position or you can at the expense of some serious wrist pain.

While there are multiple factors that could contribute, the first step would be to address mobility/flexibility. Before we do that lets look at the front rack position itself for the front squat and jerk.

The front squat or the receiving position of the clean requires the bar to sit back on the finger tips and getting the triceps parallel to the floor. This allows us to create a shelf or rack to rest the bar on the shoulders and maintain as vertical torso as possible. Pictured above.

 

 

The jerk however is slightly different. Once we’ve stood the bar up from the clean we are looking at taking a firmer grasp on the bar and dropping the elbows down slightly. We want to achieve this while still supporting the bar on the shoulders.
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Give them a try with some light resistance, can you get into these positions comfortably? If you can’t, your performance and safety could be compromised, so let’s look at some fixes. Remember with any mobility, flexibility or stability exercise, you should see immediate change. Test and re-test, if no change is seen, move onto a different exercise/area.

Throacic Spine

First up we want adequate thoracic extension. This is going to allow adequate scapula movement. If we have sufficient movement of the shoulder blades it will reduce the amount of external rotation required at the shoulder. Looking at mobility first we can use the trusty foam roller.

Next we can use some dynamic stretching exercises

Next we can reinforce the new range of motion with stability to ensure we keep our new flexible upper back. Simply add some weight to the bar and carry out a series of 10 second holds with the bar in the front rack position.

Shoulders

Next up we want to address our shoulders ability to internally and externally rotate which will help the elbows stay up or allow us to spread the shoulders to keep contact with the bar. We can use a resistance band or pvc pipe for this.

Lats/Pecs

Once we’ve opened up the thoracic and shoulders we may also need to look at the lats and pecs to allow us to get into the front rack position, especially with the jerk. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk then chances are these areas could do with some work.

Triceps

Often overlooked the triceps could also be limiting our shoulders ability to externally rotate and thus the ability to keep the elbows up in the front squat.

Finally we want to look at the wrists ability to extend and support our position.

 

While there are a lot of exercises here and a lot to work through, some simple assessments may be able to point you to the right area. To add to this, if you sit for 8 hours a day at work, then 10 mins a day on these exercises is going to struggle to make a dent in your deficits. Get up, take breaks, mobilise often and consider posture and wrist position at your desk.

Similarly, it may be that you lack the correct core stability to keep the torso upright leading to a drop in the front rack. Is your back squat considerably higher than your front squat? Have adequate mobility? Perhaps some core strengthening work could be the answer.

 

Finally, carry out some front squats and then re-test with a heel lift under each foot. Dramatic improvement? Look at some calf and ankle mobility.

To re-iterate, test and re-test, if it improves you’re on the right track. If you suffer from pain during front squats or overhead pressing then change to goblet squats or DB squats/presses until the problem is resolved, there is always a way around. Never train through pain!

If you want to address these issues or other movement problems, remember we offer movement assessments and strategies to improve movement quality even if you’re not a member. Drop an email to info@warriorstrength.co.uk

We all have that competitive streak inside us. Some have it more than others but its there in all of us and that not a bad thing. It can motivate us to challenge ourselves and creates camaraderie in the gym.

The problem is some of us let it get in the way of performing safe and efficient movement. We choose times or scores to get the top mark on the board or beat others. Friendly rivalry is good, but you should be more concerned with your own progress day to day.

Remember that each workout has a goal or objective. It’s designed to elicit a certain stimulus. Lets look at a couple of examples, the first being ‘Helen’ which is:

3 Rounds For Time

400m Run

21 kB Swings

12 Pull-ups

This is a conditioning workout designed to be completed in less than 15 minutes. Lets say you know you wont finish it in 15 minutes but you complete it as prescribed just to say to everyone you did it ‘RX’. It takes you well over 20 minutes because you had to do single reps on your strict pull-ups as you don’t have kipping down and you walked the last 400m. Do you think you got the chosen outcome? Instead we could have replaced the pull-ups with ring rows or even completed 2 rounds instead of 3. As we get fitter and stronger, you’ll eventually complete the workout as written in under 15 mins. You can look back on how each time you have done the workout and see YOUR progress.

Similarly lets look at a strength based workout called ‘Linda’ which is:

10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1

Deadlift @ 1.5x Bodyweight

Bench Press @ Bodyweight

Clean @ ¾ Bodyweight

Again the aim would be to complete this in around 15 minutes so the easiest way to achieve this would be to scale the weight back. So scaling a workout isn’t just limited to one variable and that’s where a coach can help determine how you should perform the workout.

By focusing on your own progress, you will train within your means, improve movement efficiency and ultimately performance. This will ensure you reach your true potential at a steady rate and minimise injury risk. It’s YOU VS YOU!

However on the flip side to that we also want to ensure we are constantly challenged and not making the workouts too easy to get that top score on the board. We can increase the weight, add more reps,/rounds or use more challenging movements. It gets to a point where completing the workout faster becomes redundant, so progressing forward means adapting it to your ability.

The overall message of this article is chase progress not scores. The clock and whiteboard are just tools to achieve that, they aren’t the holy grail of results. Use it to motivate but don’t become blinded by it.

Listen to your coach, they know the goals of the workout and should know your ability quite well. Their advice will keep you progressing forward safely. You should strive to better than yesterday. Whether its 10 seconds, 1 kilo or a harder movement, that’s progress. That should be what you look at, not what the person next to you is doing.

Over the past few years aerobic training or cardiovascular training has been made out to be the killer of gains, make you look ‘skinny fat’ whatever the hell that is, and all but useless unless you want to run marathons.

If you’re someone who avoids cardio training like the plague, it could be your missing link to improving performance, recovery and health.

Firstly, let’s look at what fuels our training i.e. energy or Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s currency for providing work such as muscle contractions when moving and lifting. Now to continue this work, the body needs to re-generate this ATP to keep up with the demands of energy expenditure. It can do this one of two ways, with oxygen (aerobically) or without oxygen (anaerobically). Anaerobic energy production has a high turnover rate and can produce ATP much faster than aerobic energy production. However we can only regenerate ATP anaerobically for a short period of time due to either depleting energy stores of phosphocreatine or the inefficient conversion of ATP from anaerobic glycolysis. Not to mention the fatiguing components of this type of energy production.

On the other hand, your body can produce energy aerobically for a very long time and is very efficient at regenerating ATP with the only by products being CO2 and water, meaning no fatiguing effects.  The only downside is the regeneration is much slower than anaerobic production.

So when thinking of things such as sprints or 1 rep max attempts, we assume that these are exclusively anaerobic and therefore aerobic training has no bearing. This assumes there is some magical switch where the body depletes one energy system and moves on to the next. This is wrong. All 3 energy systems are active at the same time with the type of activity determining how much each energy system contributes to ATP production.

Let’s relate this to activities that you would consider anaerobic. During 200m sprints a study found that the aerobic system contributed 30% to energy production. Even a heavy set of 5 reps has the aerobic system contributing up to a 1/3 of the energy required. So now we know how we produce energy and how our aerobic system is more active than you think. How does aerobic training fit in if all you want is to get stronger/build size?

Well as we said earlier, while the anaerobic systems produce energy quicker, it also produces a lot of by products resulting in muscular fatigue. This means you gas out, slow down, or hit failure on a lift. The aerobic system produces no fatiguing by products so if we could produce more energy aerobically for any given activity it means we would have to use less energy anaerobically meaning those fatiguing by products would be offset or delayed. This is known as the anaerobic power reserve. If we had two athletes with the same background and same overall power output but athlete A had a higher contribution from anaerobic energy production and athlete B a higher contribution from aerobic energy production, athlete B wouldn’t fatigue as quickly. This means athlete B would be able to perform better. Relating that to lifting weights, athlete B could do the same weight as athlete A and experience less fatigue, feeling more prepared for subsequent sets. Or athlete B could lift more weight and experience the same fatigue as athlete A lifting less weight, therefore increasing performance.

Next, your aerobic system is what actually replenishes your anaerobic systems ability to produce ATP! The more efficient your aerobic system is, the quicker this process can take place. Think about recovery between sets, the more efficient this recovery (aerobic system) the better you will perform on subsequent sets and the more total volume you can handle per session. As we know volume is one of the major factors in training adaptation, especially for intermediate and advanced athletes. So the more volume your body can handle from an efficient aerobic system, the more likely you’ll continue progressing with your training. Along with performance benefits, less fatigue during sets and better recovery between sets means you are less likely to see a drop in technique and thus reduce injury risk.

So that’s how cardiovascular training can help you during your session. What about between sessions?

Aerobic exercise executed correctly (more on that later) is very parasympathetic dominant and helps the body switch into our rest and digest mode (see my article on HRV here). This means recovery between sessions can be enhanced and with minimal impact on subsequent sessions due to lack of fatigue inducing by products. This is where ‘active recovery’ stems from. Aerobic training will utilise this nervous system shift, improve blood flow and clear out waste products. So not only will you elicit the benefits during your session but you can also enhance your recovery ready for your next big lifting session.

Now even though I have gone over the benefits of an efficient aerobic energy system, it’s not the only answer, just another piece of the training puzzle. Sprints/intervals have been shown to elicit aerobic improvements as well as anaerobic improvements and obviously in a shorter time frame. However think about the impact on the body high intensity intervals will have compared to a steady state cycle in terms of recovery for your next session. So goals, training objectives and programming will dictate which one you may need. Goals such as strength may require less aerobic training, however studies show that aerobic training may not have as much impact on hypertrophy (size) as we once thought so I think utilising both strategies according to goals is the way forward. Next we need to determine how efficient your aerobic system is and a good way to determine that is through an assessment. Resting heart rate, heart rate recovery and heart rate variability are all good ways at testing the ability of the aerobic system. Resting heart rate should be at least low 60s to show good aerobic conditioning, however age and some medical conditions can alter resting heart rate which is why I prefer heart rate recovery (HRR). HRR is a good tool to test your recovery after intense bouts of exercise, showing aerobic fitness and endurance. Within 1 minute of ceasing exercise you should see a considerable drop in heart rate, ideally to the 130 bpm mark. Heart rate variability (HRV) is another great way to test aerobic system robustness as well as nervous system activity, helping you to determine how hard you train and when. Again refer to my article here.

So if your assessments reveal some room for improvement, perhaps it’s worth adding in some aerobic training, however due to its recovery properties I recommend everyone utilise some form of aerobic work, even just 20-30 mins 1 x per week could help. This brings us nicely onto what cardiovascular or aerobic training looks like. For the purpose of this article we are focusing on cardiac output i.e. how much blood your heart can pump around the body or more specifically stroke volume. The more blood your heart can pump around the body per beat, the more efficient it will become, reducing resting heart rate and lowering working heart rates.

The method for this is simple, we want to perform an exercise at a low intensity for an extended period of time. More specifically we are looking at performing the exercise within the 130bpm-150bpm range (the older you are the closer to the 130 range you’ll be) for at least 20-30 mins, but depending on goals can last up to 90 mins. Cycling is one of the best choices, especially if your main goal is strength as running is quite high impact and could still affect recovery. Even working on the pads/bags can elicit the response we need as long as we stay within the heart rate zone above. My favourite is the sled and prowler performed at low intensity. I’ll tell you now, this stuff is boring as hell, especially if you’re used to smashing yourself into the ground on a daily basis and lying in a pool of your own sweat. However ask yourself this, do you still struggle to run 400m during your WOD after years of HIIT? Do you struggle to recover between heavy sets of lifting to the point where you have to sit down for a good few minutes just to be able to get your breath back? Chances are you could benefit from some cardio, yeah that’s right I said the dreaded word……As much as quotes like ‘anything above 5 reps is cardio’ sound cool, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you think you’ll elicit the kind adaptations we are talking about here in this article.

So there you have it, cardio isn’t the killer of gains and can actually help you to get stronger and fitter provided it’s done correctly according to your goals. If it’s good enough for the top athletes in their fields, it’s good enough for us mere mortals and if you’re truly dedicated to performance, you’ll push past the boredom and think big picture on the future gains.

I’m sure most of you have seen by now someone in a gym with a big piece of foam. You then watch as they begin to roll around on it with some questionable facial expressions, not sure whether they are in immense pain or deriving some kind of weird pleasure from it. To be honest, it could easily be both.

Foam rolling or self-myofascial release (SMR) has become a main staple of many peoples training which in my opinion is great. However having some basic understanding of what you are doing may help you grasp the importance of such maintenance or ‘prehab’ work.

Your body is made up of a system known as the kinetic chain – this system incorporates the soft tissue system (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and the articular system (joints). As the name implies the kinetic chain is a system which is responsible for producing movement and force, requiring all the elements of the system to work together to function correctly. If one element isn’t functioning efficiently, then other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns and potential injury.

Going into more depth, if we look at the cumulative injury cycle, along this cycle we can see how adhesions to the soft tissue can lead to altered neuromuscular control which in turn leads to poor movement and potential muscle imbalances.

cumulative_

What this means is that if we have a muscle that is tight due to adhesions, muscle length or neural hyperactivity it will affect the range of motion available at a particular joint. If the joint motion is altered then the neural feedback to the central nervous system (CNS) will be compromised resulting in poor movement patterns. These poor movement patterns will result in your body compensating through other joints or muscles leading to imbalances and potential injury. For example if you squat and have tight hamstrings, it could restrict the ROM and thus alter the joint motion of the knee and send the wrong signals to the CNS. Do this repetitively and it could result in the above issues.

This is where SMR comes in. Its primary focus is to alleviate such adhesions that can alter soft tissue structure also known as trigger points. It achieves this through a principle known as autogenic inhibition. The golgi tendon organ (GTO) is a mechanoreceptor which is sensitive to change in tension within a muscle/tendon group. Its main responsibility is to avoid high levels of tension within muscles through inhibiting the muscle spindles activity and causing the relevant muscles to relax (autogenic inhibition). With foam rolling the pressure you apply to the roller can simulate this high level of muscle tension causing the GTO to relax the muscles, allowing you to remove adhesions and improve ROM. So in a nutshell SMR can:

– Improve mobility and ROM
– Can help correct muscle imbalances
– Relieve muscle soreness and joint stress
– Reduce scar tissue and adhesions
– Decrease tone of over active muscles
– Improve quality of movement

So now we know how SMR works and how it can benefit us, let’s look at a few other tips to consider when carrying out SMR and a few basic techniques.

– Foam rolling can be used anytime, but as it has been shown to improve short term flexibility for over 10 mins it’s worthwhile using it in your warm-ups. This means you can build on your new found flexibility with strength and stability work.
– Try and avoid rolling directly onto injured areas. Think about the muscles up and down from the injured area and focus on those first.
– While we are trying to roll out adhesions and activate autogenic inhibition which can feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to be in excruciating pain. Rolling though high levels of pain can have the opposite effect and cause your muscles to tighten up even more.
– Roll slowly and smoothly for best results. Fascia is a thick, fibrous web of tissue and as such needs slow and deliberate pressure to release.
– If you find any really tender spots or trigger points then hold the roller in place on that spot and relax for 20-30 seconds. Ensure you take full deep breaths and avoid high levels of pain.
– Finally, ensure you adopt good posture when rolling. For example when rolling the quadriceps, try and ensure you maintain a neutral spine rather than allowing the hips to ‘sag’ towards the floor.

SMR can be a great tool for mobility, recovery and injury prevention. However to truly get the benefits, it needs to form a regular part of your training and done correctly. Once in a while just won’t cut it. See below for a video on some of the basic techniques.


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