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.

 

For those who know me I’m constantly looking for challenges to test me physically and mentally. I like to test my fitness over various disciplines, time frames, terrains and weather. This challenge was no different.

The Fan Dance is the name given to one of the first fitness and navigation tests for UK Special Forces. It comprises of a 24km long distance march over Pen – y – Fan in Brecon Beacons. You start at the bottom of the mountain, ascend the 886m to the top, go down the other side before turning around and returning to the start. All while carrying around 20kg in a rucksack or Bergen.

During Special Forces selection, potential recruits must complete this march in less than 4 hours and 10 minutes.

So my journey as always started with some crappy travel on public transport to Wales (why can’t I do an event in my back garden?). Once in Brecon, I stayed at the Storey Arms, which sits right next to the infamous red phone box and the start point of the Fan Dance.

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I was in a 6 man room with bunk beds and after enjoying some Fan Dance ales I retired to bed only to be kept awake by people carrying out panic admin and trying to get their packs up to weight. Once the guys had settled I was finally dosing off only to be awakened by guys returning from the high moon edition of the Fan Dance at around 2am. These guys sounded destroyed and were talking about how it was the hardest thing ever. These words echoed in my head as I finally fell asleep.

5am and I was up ready for breakfast and doing my final checks before heading out to the start. The weather was really good, however there was still a lot of snow on the ground from the previous week. Gathering at the start you are immediately met with the first incline which is the exact moment I told myself I should have done some actual hill training. However I quickly reminded myself “I’m and MdS veteran, I’ve got this”. I soon ate those words as I began the first climb, slipping and sliding all over the place on the snow and ice. Sweat was immediately pouring off me as I was already thinking this is nails.

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The terrain levelled out after a while and I began to run which took the pain out of my already tight lower back (should have warmed up). Just as I was getting into a rhythm the next incline started and it was at this point I was glad of the poor visibility so I couldn’t see how high or long it was! I slowly made my way up before seeing the first tent and guys being waved to turn right. At last a break! Again it was short lived as I made the final climb to the summit. My time was just over 1 hour, which felt good. Next came the famous Jacob’s Ladder, the steep descent over the other side of the mountain. I could see guys slipping all over the place so I literally sat down and slid down the snow on my arse. As the gradient eased off I stood up and ran down using the deep snow to manage my speed. At the bottom, it was a right turn to start the long journey on the Roman Road to the turnaround point. My strategy of run the flat and downhill worked perfectly up until that point. However at the turnaround point it finally sunk in that I have to do it all again!

I couldn’t muster the motivation to run back and my back was on fire so I cracked on as best I could. After what seemed and eternity I was back to looking up towards the incline of Pen – y – Fan. I quickly learned why everyone was talking about Jacobs Ladder as it absolutely killed me! I was like a penguin waddling up the side of the mountain wishing for the end. When the end was in sight a huge wave of energy came over me, as I knew it was mostly downhill to the finish.

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I ran as much as I could, falling over quite a few times before getting to the final section and seeing the finish. I crossed the line in 4 hours and 38 minutes, which I was more than happy with. I received my patch and hog roast sandwich, which helped me forget about the pain and the cold temporarily. While I was more than happy with my efforts in the conditions and the terrain, I will return next year for the summer edition and some proper training under my belt to beat that 4 hour 10 minute pass mark!

It was a great event and well organised and I would highly recommend to those out for a tough challenge. Was it the hardest thing ever? Unfortunately MdS still sits top for me, my lack of preparation is what made it harder than it should have been for me personally. Avalanche Endurance Events also run a ‘clean fatigue’ category for those fell/ultra runners who want to attempt it as fast as possible.

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What’s next for me? The Rainhill Trials in Feb!

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

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.

Overview

We have already covered some major movement patterns with the squat and deadlift, now it’s time to look at another. Pressing. More specifically, overhead pressing.
Pressing is great for developing huge upper body strength and is vital for most aspects of performance.

Benefits
The overhead press is great for developing the shoulders, chest and arms whilst also demanding stability from the core and lower body. Providing you have the correct mobility and no abnormal bone structures like a type III acromion (hooked bone causing impingement) then the overhead press can be a great way to develop the stabilisers of the shoulder girdle which aren’t utilised whilst bench pressing. On top of that, developing those stabilisers can actually improve your bench!

Before You Start
Overhead pressing is a very simple looking movement, however it requires a lot of mobility to execute correctly. Most notably the thoracic spine. If you have an excessively kyphotic thoracic spine or slouched shoulder position, chances are you might not be ready for overhead pressing. With today’s lifestyle of tech and prolonged sitting the chances of you having this type of posture are high.
This means that your scapulae or shoulder blades are in a poor position and in turn could lead to impingement related pain. On top of this, correct upward rotation of your traps, serratus anterior as well as strong rotator cuffs all contribute to correct overhead mechanics and shoulder health.
Do you have lower back pain while pressing overhead? Again your thoracic spine could be letting you down, providing you aren’t just being stupid with the weight on the bar. As I said, more than meets the eye with the press.
So before you start moving anything overhead, it’s worth conducting a little assessment. Try the back to wall shoulder flexion below.

You should be able to get your thumbs to the wall without the lower back or head coming off the wall. Did you pass? If you did then chances are you have good thoracic extension and can start pressing. However if you struggled, try the same movement but lying on the floor. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the floor, get your lower back and head flush to the floor and reach overhead. If you still can’t maintain a good position, I would put overhead pressing work to one side and address mobility/stability issues as detailed later in this article.

Can We Press Yet?
If you have adequate mobility and flexibility then you are ready for the barbell overhead press. If you struggled to pass the overhead test, then it may be worth looking at variations or alternatives to build shoulder strength.
However before we look at those let’s assume you are ready for the barbell press.

SETUP:
• Foot Position – We want our feet ideally below the hips i.e. jumping stance, to give us a solid base or ‘pillar of power’ to support the load overhead.
• Grip – Grip the bar just outside shoulder width roughly 1.5” to 2” away from the shoulder.
• Rack – Elbows should remain slightly in front of the bar with forearms vertical. This position will also help engage the lats which are just as important as the shoulders.
• Tension – This is a strict press so before we lift, everything from the foot up should be engaged and tight, paying particular focus to the glutes and mid line.

EXECUTION:
• Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
• Press the Weight – To initiate the press, we should drive the weight through our heels and move the head back not chin up. The bar should remain over the centre of the feet and travel straight up.
• Drive Chest Forward – Once the bar passes the forehead, make a conscious effort to push the head and chest forward to assist in locking out the movement.
• Lockout – The bar should be overhead with arms fully extended and a straight line from arm to foot through the shoulder and hip.
• Push Elbows Forward – To complete the lift, the bar must be returned to the shoulders by pushing the elbows forward to keep the bar on the optimal path. Again the head moves back to accommodate the bar and end position should look the same as the start position

Variations

Sometimes just changing the grip on a movement can reduce pain or improve movement whilst working on the issue at the same time. Using a neutral grip dumbbell press may work as a good alternative to the barbell press. It is also easier going on the wrists if you suffer with the flexed wrist position of the barbell press.

If neutral grip still doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps try a single arm pressing variation, whereby again impingement can be reduced and better position can be maintained. Work your way through these progressions, starting with the half-kneeling stance to improve core stability at the same time and keep the lower back in a good position.

Finally if you cannot maintain a good overhead position with any of the above, or are still in pain try landmine press variations. They are great for building shoulder strength while minimising any chances of impingement related pain or poor overhead positioning.

Common Errors

With the press, most errors can be corrected with simple verbal cues or visual demonstrations. Refer to the video above along with the written description to ensure you are pressing correctly. However as mentioned earlier, if we lack overhead mobility and stability such as shoulder flexion, ROM and scapulae movement, no cue is going to fix that. So work on single arm pressing or landmine pressing whilst using the exercises below to assist with getting into the correct overhead position.

Start with developing your breathing patterns by checking out the article here. To expand on that article try the below stretch with diaphragmatic breathing to not only open up the lats, but open up the rib cage and thoracic spine too.

Next work on soft tissue through SMR, again checkout this article on SMR by clicking here. In the video below, pay close attention to rolling out the lats, chest and thoracic spine.

With that we want to work on mobility exercises for thoracic extension and scapular movement on the rib cage. Give the below exercises a try and re-test often using the overhead test as if you don’t see improvement, then they aren’t for you.

We also want to improve stability especially in the scapulae and rotator cuff to ensure correct overhead mechanics. Once you have done some mobility/flexibility work add in some of these exercises to re-enforce motor control and stability.

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a handful of exercises I have seen work regularly. However as I said before, if after a re-test you see no improvement, try some other exercises. You may also need to look at thoracic flexion exercises if your thoracic spine is already stuck in extension. Check out this great article detailing some flexion exercise by clicking here.

Finally, adding in pulling exercises such as the barbell bent-over row and the chin-up are great ways to re-enforce correct scapulae movement with actual strength and can also help improve that kyphotic posture we spoke of earlier.

Assistance Work

The overhead press is a stubborn movement and very hard to continually progress at the same rate as say your squat or deadlift. Assistance work can be the difference between adding an extra kilogram to the lift or being stuck at the same weight for months. Now there are notably two main areas of failure in the overhead press: struggling to even move the weight off the shoulders or struggling to finish the lockout overhead. The former would mean you want to target the shoulders and chest for assistance work and the latter targeting the triceps. So if you struggle to get the bar off your shoulders try these:

Front Raises target as the name suggests, the front of the shoulder one of the prime movers in the press.

The rear of the shoulder often gets neglected or over-looked even though it contributes to your press. Bent-over Flyes are a great way to hit those muscles.

The Push Press allows you lift more weight than your strict press, through use of assistance from the legs and hips. This can again help you get past plateaus by having more weight overhead.

For those stubborn triceps:

Skull crushers are a great way to isolate the triceps along with any other tricep extension exercise.

Dips are a great full body movement that can develop the shoulders, triceps and chest at the same time. Check out my YouTube channel for regressions and progressions on the straight bar dips in the below video.

One final note is that it may be worth investing in some fractional plates from 1/4kg to 1kg. That small jump may also help you get through a plateau rather than jumping up 2.5kg when using 1.25kg plates which is usually the smallest most gyms have.

Today’s post is on a subject that’s so simple and straight forward, it hurts to write it. In fact, if anyone is serious about making changes in their life, tracking progress and setting baselines should be the FIRST thing you do once you have set your goals. It doesn’t matter how great the programme or how good the intentions are, if you can’t measure how far you’ve come from a week ago, a month ago or even a year ago, how will you know where you are today?

Tracking, journaling, recording or whatever else you want to call it can help you measure progress, give focus, motivate and help stay organised. This can apply to more than just an exercise log.

Your Body – The scales are the worst way to measure body progress for most people. Hopefully if you are reading this, then you know how important some form of strength training is to EVERYONE. This means that you will be building muscle and muscle occupies less space than fat and a lb of muscle will burn more calories than a 1lb of fat as it’s more metabolically demanding. This means that you will burn far more calories day to day if you utilise part of your training regimen to build muscle. However it also means that the scales could stay the same or even go up slightly in the beginning. But don’t panic! Because muscle occupies less space you will look smaller and more athletic. So the best way to track body progress is through the 3 methods below.

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–          Take Photos: In shorts or something like a bikini for ladies. Take one from the front, side and back using a mirror or friend/family member. You don’t have to show anyone, just take them and keep them safe. Every 2-4 weeks, take the same photos in the same place with the same light and roughly at the same time. Your body can be affected by many factors, so replicating the same scenario will give you the best comparable results.

–          Measurements: Remember we said the scales could stay the same or go up but you could get smaller? Measuring certain areas on the body can give you black and white evidence of this progress taking place. Measure every 2-4 weeks at the same spot on the body and note it all down. You can measure neck, shoulders, chest, biceps, waist, hips and thighs. This also works for those trying to gain mass too.

–          Body Fat %: A little bit more of a challenge to measure but again a great way to how progress. If you are building muscle, you will burn more calories at rest and thus lose body fat. You will look good in the mirror and body fat % will decrease. Get a professional to do it for you using callipers or better yet, ultrasound. Do not use those funky machines you get in shopping centres as they are not accurate.

Food – Pretty much all studies on calorie intake show that we always underestimate or under report how many calories we eat day to day. Add to that the fundamental principle we need to adhere to is calories in vs calories out, you can see why some people’s weight loss goals can become a struggle. First thing to do is figure out how many calories per day your body needs at rest, also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This tells you how many calories your body burns each day just to function. From there you can use the Harris-Benedict formula to find out how many calories your body needs when activity level is taken into account, so by the end you will have a number that tells you how many calories your body needs to MAINTAIN current weight.

From there you can then hit this number each day if you’re already happy with where you are or add/subtract depending on goals. Start conservatively at first, adding or subtracting 200-300 calories from your original number. Adjust as required with the aim of losing/gaining 1-2lb per week. Any more and I would say you’ve added/subtracted too much.

This is where tracking comes in. Record everything you eat AND drink each day for 5-7 days. How do the calories match up? If they aren’t where they need to be then your weight loss/gain goals won’t be where they need to be, it’s that simple. Yes food quality is important, but if you first haven’t addressed calories in vs calories out it won’t matter!

Once you have developed a routine you can keep tracking if you feel it helps or just stick to the routine so you know exactly what you are eating day to day. It doesn’t need to be a chore and apps like My Fitness Pal are great for doing all of the above for you and having it on your phone means there’s no excuse for not recording. You don’t need to starve yourself, cut out carbs or top eating the nice foods. Just adhere to calories in vs calories out and get 80% of your food from good whole sources and you’re set!

Workouts – It’s frustrating how many people I know who don’t track their workouts. There are two simple principles we must adhere to if we want to progress in exercise. They are progressive overload and use of volume. For the body to adapt it needs to be challenged to force adaptation. That means more weight on the bar, less rest, more reps, move further or work out longer. However this should be done in a progressive manner such as adding a couple of kg on the bar each week or running an extra 5mins each week allowing the body to adapt at a rate where recovery is maximised and injury risk reduced. How will you know what you need to do today if you don’t know what you did yesterday or even last week?
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If you squatted 100kg for 3 sets of 5 reps last week then you should be aiming for 102.5 or 105kg this week. If that’s not possible you could do 100kg for 3 sets of 6 reps or 4 sets of 3 reps, all are a step forward from the week before. Once simply adding weight to the bar or running further becomes too difficult or you hit a plateau, you then need to look at volume of training. However if you’re not logging your sessions how will you know when you hit such a plateau? Volume basically means you will need to do more within a given session to keep forcing adaptation. This could be more reps and sets, or it could even be doing 2 runs spread over the day. Tracking workouts means progress, but it also gives you focus and direction each session. You know exactly what you have to do and it will save you time in the gym. Again there are plenty of apps and programs for this or you could use my favourite, the trusty notebook and pen.

Recording and tracking progress cannot be underestimated and is vital for all health and fitness goals. It doesn’t need to be complicated or complex, it just needs to show you and drive you to be better than you were yesterday.


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