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Shoulder Health: Mobility vs. Stability

You Care Too Much About Shoulder Mobility and Not Enough About Stability

 

“Mobility.” It’s one of everybody’s current favorite fitness buzzwords, right up there with “functional.” Don’t even get me started on that word. Look anywhere in the heath and fitness blogosphere and you’re bound to find articles, products, and videos to improve your mobility. Hell, I’ve even written about it myself. For the most part, this focus on reaching increased ranges of motion and improving movement quality has been a good thing. Athletes who can adequately move through more ranges of motion generally seem to have lower rates of injury and perform better in the long term. However, like most things humans are involved in, we have taken the whole “mobility” thing too far. Color me shocked. With various movements reserved for emaciated and highly skilled yogis, overcomplicated warmup protocols, and torture devices designed smashing and bruising already inflamed muscles, we have placed mobility on a pedestal that most athletes not only can’t achieve, but often injure themselves doing so.

 

What in Kazmaier’s name is “mobility” anyways? That’s a good question. For the purposes of this discussion, I will define mobility as “the ability to comfortably reach the required range of motion to accomplish a task.” However, in the realm of biomechanics, there isn’t a unifying definition. Ask 20 different “experts” (and I use that term very loosely) in the field and maybe if you’re lucky, two of them will have the same answer. Since physical therapists and exercise physiologists can’t agree on what mobility is, how can any good data be gathered on what kind and how much of it is important? Truthfully, it can’t. The amount of mobility required for a specific movement is going to be dependent on the individual lever lengths, muscle origins and insertions, and joint anatomy of the individual athlete. Not to mention the fact that there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between increased levels of mobility and sport performance! Provided one can achieve the necessary positioning required for their sport, is any range of motion further than that truly beneficial?

 

As is the answer to most questions about sports science and medicine, it depends. In this case, it depends on one thing: STABILITY. If one is unstable in any position, they are at greater risk of injury, regardless of how long they spent foam rolling that day (which may not even have any actual benefit, but that is a discussion for another time). Take, for example, the softball pitcher. She has tremendous mobility of the shoulder and elbow and can achieve all the positions required by her sport, but still blows out her elbow out and needs Tommy John’s surgery. What exercises are primarily performed during her rehabilitation protocol? Those that stabilize the elbow joint. Does the improved shoulder mobility of a quarterback over a lineman prevent him from dislocating his shoulder when he gets slammed on the ground? Not likely. These athletes have prioritized mobility over stability, as is required by the demands of their respective sports, but it has left them vulnerable. And vulnerable, unstable joints are not something we want as strength athletes. Even for your run of the mill office worker, stabilization exercises have been shown to reduce shoulder pain, and they don’t put their shoulders through nearly the beating that we do!

 

To achieve stability, we must first define it. Fortunately, the biomechanics literature actually does this, defining stability as “the ability to resist perturbation.” Get your minds out of the gutter and focus. This means that if a joint is stable, it can resist outside forces that compromise its integrity. Does this sound like something you might want when picking up heavy stuff? You’re damn right it does. Now I know you’ve got your fancy shoulder mobility routine that allows you to twist your arms behind you like a pretzel while standing on your head or some such nonsense, but can those same shoulders support a heavy barbell overhead, especially when you get out of position? GOOD LUCK. You’ve spent so much time trying to get into unnecessary positions that you have mixed up your priorities and are unable to perform what you’re actually training for. Don’t worry; I’ve got you. It’s time to get solid in those positions you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

 

Since I discussed trunk stabilization at length in Part I , we are going to focus on my favorite (or least favorite? I can’t decide) joint in Part II: the shoulder. We’ll skip the anatomy lesson for today, since I’ve written about shoulder and thoracic anatomy in the past, and just focus on the meat and potatoes of improving your shoulder stability. This is an issue I have worked through personally after having shoulder surgery last year. My labrum was torn in two places along with my supraspinatus, so needless to say, both my mobility and stability were compromised. Lucky for me, my range of motion came back rather quickly during my post-operative physical therapy. However, the pain just wouldn’t go away, and I just didn’t feel comfortable with weight overhead, regardless of how strong I felt and how solid my orthopedic surgeon kept telling me the shoulder was. The basic musculoskeletal literature wasn’t much help, so I started doing some outside reading and contacting providers more well-versed in shoulder rehab than I was at the time. It turned out my scapular kinematics (the movement of the scapula across the ribs in support of the shoulder) were totally out of whack and my shoulder joint was very unstable, despite the fresh hardware  inside of it. It wasn’t until I focused directly on scapular and shoulder stabilization movements that I became pain-free and started putting bigger weights over my head.

 

Let’s start with the scapula.  The movement of this bone across the ribs and as a part of the shoulder joint is extremely important for both mobility and stability of the shoulder. I won’t delve into the nitty gritty of its functional anatomy and biomechanics, but it attaches to the clavicle, the humerus, and the axial skeleton, essentially serving as the anchor for one’s upper extremity. When this moves improperly or is easily fatigued (poor scapular kinematics a.k.a scapular dyskinesia), it compromises the integrity of the entire shoulder joint. In fact, it can actually decrease rotator cuff strength, meaning that even if your cuff muscles are strong, scapular dyskinesia can result in an unstable shoulder. All the banded external rotations (which I still recommend for rotator cuff strength) in the world won’t save you if you are unable to stabilize your scapula. Since it is likely that your anterior and lateral deltoids, pecs, lats, and traps are already plenty developed, I won’t tell you how to strengthen those. They can help stabilize the scapula, but without the smaller stabilizers, they can actually worsen your scapular kinematics.

 

Looks like I do have to get into a little anatomy and biomechanics. You don’t like it? Too bad. Go get hurt and have a weak press. Anyways, the smaller muscles of scapular stabilization are designed to prevent scapular winging and scapular malposition, also known as SICK scapula syndrome (SICK stands for Scapular malposition, Inferior medial border prominence, Coracoid pain and malposition, and dysKinesis of scapular movement). You can see in these images that these are clearly not good positions to support heavy weights. The primary muscles implicated in these pathologies are the rhomboids, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, and to some degree the infraspinatus, lower trapezius, and posterior head of the deltoid. As a strength athlete, unless you’ve had a nerve injury, there’s no excuse for these muscles to be underdeveloped. Lucky for you, they aren’t overly complicated to strengthen and hypertrophy. But first, a disclaimer: if you have a shoulder that dislocates or feels significantly unstable, please get it evaluated by a medical professional prior to performing these exercises. You may be doing more harm than good if your joint is already in bad shape.

There are many ways to achieve this, but I am partial to easy stuff that anyone can do with some basic equipment. I’ll first detail some introductory movements before going into more complex and integrated stabilization strategies. Band pull-aparts are one of my favorite movements for developing the rhomboids and levator scapulae, and there are videos all over YouTube on how to perform them properly. They also hit the posterior deltoids to a reasonable degree. I have three major pointers for that exercise, however. One: be sure to let your scapulae fully protract forward and fully retract backwards during the movement. Partial reps aren’t helping anybody. Two: focus on pulling with your mid back; don’t rely on your lats, arms or traps for the movement. Think of drawing your scapulae down and towards your ribs when you pull. And three: do TONS of reps. Light weights and high reps are what will hypertrophy these muscles and make them  resistant to fatigue. I never do pull-aparts for sets of less than 20, and it’s usually more than that. You can use the same band and the same principles for face pulls on top of the pull-aparts. These will hit the traps, lats, and posterior deltoids to a greater degree than pull-aparts, but that’s okay. All of these muscles will need to work in concert for you to be successful.

 

Another easy exercise that assists in the development of scapular stabilization is the “scap push-up,” which focuses primarily on serratus anterior. To perform these, get into a push-up position, and while maintaining a tight core and completely extended elbows, try to push yourself away from the floor using just your shoulders. This is done by protracting your scapulae. Hold that position for 1-2 seconds, then retract your scapulae to return to your starting position. This does not need to be performed with added weight, but you should feel a solid contraction for at least 10 reps.  Accompanying the scap push-up is the “scap pull-up.” Perform this exercise hanging from a pull-up bar with arms completely extended overhead. Without bending your elbows, pull your body towards the bar by retracting your scapulae together and down towards your feet. Hold this contraction for 1-2 seconds, then return to your starting position of a dead hang; repeat 10 times. This also has the added benefit of stretching the lats and improving your grip strength.

 

It is appropriate to perform these movements every training session, but not required. They should definitely be worked in at least three times per week, though. Once you have developed strength and endurance in these exercises (at least 3 sets of each without breaking technique), we can move on to more advanced and integrated shoulder stability movements. If you have injuries elsewhere in your body, those may be affected by these movements, so use them carefully and accordingly. As always, safety comes first.

 

I’ll admit that I stole this next exercise from Chris Duffin (who you should definitely be paying attention to as any variety of strength athlete), but that only makes my recommendation for it even stronger. Using the same light band you had for the pull-aparts and face pulls, wrap it around a power rack or something else sturdy, then put your hands through the loop. Take a few steps away from the rack and extend your arms over your head. Now, this may be limited by inadequate shoulder mobility, so do the best you can at the start and work to improve that alongside your stability. It’s almost like both of those things are important! Make sure your scapulae are pulled back and down in a good position, and squat. Pause for a second at the bottom of each rep and try to keep your torso as upright as possible. In addition to stabilizing the shoulder girdle, these squats will help to open up the hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine. If you’re feeling extra spicy, put a short band or hip circle around your knees to really wake up your glutes as well. 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps before most training sessions is a good range to work with here.

 

Now we can move on to loaded shoulder stabilization movements. Unlike the prior movements, these can be a little challenging to learn and explain, so watching some videos can be helpful. The loaded movements also take a little more recovery, so they should not be performed every day. The first three can be used a progression, so scale them as needed when using them yourself or introducing them to your athletes. I really like kettlebells for these movements, but if you only have access to dumbbells, that’s okay too.

 

We will begin with a modified version of the kettlebell armbar. This version adds in protraction and retraction of the scapula in addition to the movement of the armbar and progresses from easier to more difficult positions. While laying supine with your knees and hips flexed and your spine in neutral (think of pushing your lower back into the floor), grab a light kettlebell and extend your arm upwards as if you were performing a floor press. Take a good diaphragmatic breath to stabilize your trunk, and protract your scapula, pushing the kettlebell away from your body (much like you did in the scap pushups). Hold this position for a one-count prior to returning to the starting position. Perform 10 reps per arm, 3 times per week. Once this has become an easy and comfortable movement, you can move onto the next progression, which is performed lying somewhat on your side with your knees and hips flexed in the same fashion as the first movement (think of a slightly less flexed fetal position. Perform 10 reps per side, 3 times per week yet again. Once this is easy, roll completely onto one side, extend the bottom leg, and bring the other leg across (think of how you would get your lower back to pop via the stretch we all learned in PE class). This is the more traditional KB armbar position for those of you familiar with the movement. The same rep scheme should be used for this. If none of that made sense, here’s a good video of a traditional kettlebell armbar, from which you can extrapolate the movements described above. Each of these positions is more difficult than the last, so start conservatively with the weight used. It’s not worth getting cocky and hurting yourself during pre-hab. That’s just dumb.

Once you’ve become comfortable with the armbars, we can transition to a more integrated movement: the Turkish get-up (or TGU). The stabilization principles are the same here, as we focus on the setting of the scapula prior to initiating movement. I won’t go through a complete explanation of how to perform a proper TGU here as there are plenty of places online with certified kettlebell coaches teaching the movement. I’d recommend trying to have someone teach you them in person, however, as the TGU can be a challenging movement to perform properly. When performed properly, though, it really improves movement quality, mobility, and stability of most of your body’s joints, chief among them the shoulder and the trunk. Moves like the TGU are also important from a medical perspective, as falls are such a major contributor to morbidity and mortality in the elderly. Every person, athlete or not, needs to have a good relationship with the ground and know how to pick him or herself off of it. We can probably tweak that to use it as an analogy for life too, but I’ll leave the motivational memes to somebody else. In any case, start conservative with the weight on TGUs too, because they are an incredibly humbling exercise if you have not performed them before. 2-3 sets of 5 reps per side twice per week is a good place to start.

 

Kettlebell windmills are the movement I would suggest next. They aren’t necessarily more challenging to learn than TGUs, but they can require a little more stability in the shoulder and I’d argue that the positions are easier to get into after you’ve done some TGUs. Start with a light kettlebell over your head and your feet roughly shoulder width apart. Your off arm should be out to your side, and while keeping tight scapulae and a solid core (don’t forget your diaphragmatic breathing), rotate your body down and away from the kettlebell while it remains over your head. Shift your hips to the side of the KB and keep your knees straight (but not locked), touching your off hand to the ground. Then, bring yourself back to the starting position using your obliques. The name of the movement is appropriate; think of moving yourself like the arms of a windmill (sort of). Here’s a video in case that didn’t make sense. 2-4 sets of 5-10 reps is what I’d say you should shoot for.

 

One important thing to remember when performing all of these loaded exercises: DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE WEIGHT AT ANY TIME! You will not be the first or last person to lose your balance with the weight and smack yourself in the face. The goal here is to prevent injury, not cause it. This is especially important when you have developed enough grip strength and stability to perform these movements with a bottoms-up KB, which is a great goal to have. Bottoms-up kettlebell training improves shoulder stability even further by providing a significant increase in rotator cuff activation from standard training. If you’ve ever tried to perform a reasonably heavy bottoms-up KB press, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend overhead carries as an excellent method of improving shoulder and scapular stability. You can perform these with pretty much any implement you like, from kettlebells to dumbbells to logs to stones to sandbags to barbells to your significant other, for all I care. Each one is going to have a different feel and activate your muscles in a slightly different way. These carries can be extremely taxing on your trunk stabilizers and legs as well, so just be careful when performing them. My favorite among the overhead carry variations is the yoke. The way it swings and the sheer size and awkwardness of the implement makes it a challenge even with relatively light weights. Like any of the aforementioned movements, be sure to set your scapulae beforehand and keep them tight throughout.

 

That brings me to my final point. You can actually improve your overhead stability on your regular training movements without even adding any of this stuff in (you should still work on it, though). It all starts with your setup. By pulling your scapulae slightly down and together during setup, you set yourself with a good base to press, snatch, or overhead squat from. This will also get you in more thoracic extension, make external rotation of the shoulders easier and more comfortable, and open up your chest a bit. Couple this with squeezing the living hell out of the bar, which helps to activate your rotator cuff complex and improves neuromuscular coordination, and you’ve just increased your stability significantly without even performing any fancy new exercises. Add in proper diaphragmatic breathing, and you’re ready to toss some weight into the sky.

I hope this has been helpful to all you mobility freaks out there. None of this is to say that mobility exercises to achieve adequate and proper ranges of motion for your sport is bad. In fact, that is a wonderful idea. An immobile joint isn’t terribly useful either. Just don’t sacrifice your stability for mobility, especially in the shoulder. It can be pretty fragile, so protect it! Now get out there, improve your overhead stabilization, and set some scap-tacular PR’s! Stay strong and healthy!

 

P.S. Honorable mention integrated core/trunk stability movement (with coordination work as well) is the bear crawl. Try it both forwards and backwards with a short band around your wrists. This can be a conditioning killer as well, especially if you drag a sled or add a weighted vest. You can even reach back during your crawl and do 1 arm sled pulls. Play around with it and have some “functional” fun!

DISCLAIMER: None of this article is intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have any questions or health concerns, please contact your primary care physician. Always consult a physician before starting any diet or exercise program. These statements have been made by a private citizen and do not reflect the views or policies of the United States Navy.

Seth Larsen, DO (aka “Dr. Meathead”) is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and resident physician in family medicine with an area of focus in musculoskeletal and sports medicine. He is also a former NCAA football player who now competes as a nationally-qualified lightweight (<200lb) strongman, elite-level deadlifter, and amateur highland games athlete. In addition to his residency, he is currently in the process of applying for a fellowship in primary care sports medicine and completing his CSCS. He runs www.drmeathead.com, an educational website promoting the integration of all aspects of modern medicine with performance nutrition and strength & conditioning.

 

REFERENCES:

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5 Tips For Your First Competition

 

In today’s video, I outline five things that athletes should keep in mind for their first competition: these things will help ensure that you have a good time, hit all your lifts, and leave the competition with a fire lit under you for your next competition.
 
1. Don’t worry about your weight class.
2. Generally not going for PRs in your first competition.
3. What to eat the night before a competition.
4. Warming up for attempts.
5. Make your training environment like a competition environment.
6. (Bonus) what to eat during a competition.

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Pump Dragon Is Now Available

Not everyone wants to chase big singles all the time, and that is perfectly fine. Sometimes we need a break from the 1RM chase, to give a little more focus on size, and general feel-good sessions. I have been in that mental state for a few months now, and because of this, I have decided to write another eight-week training manual designed around this approach.

The sessions will still involve compound lifts, but they won’t be the focus of the workout. Think of these workouts as about 35% compound lifts, and 65% pump/accessory work. The compounds will help you maintain your baseline strength, but won’t be such a big part of the workout that it leaves your CNS feeling drained. This program will have a heavy focus on gaining muscle mass, and increasing tendon/ligament thickness by focusing on keeping blood in the targeted area for the duration of the workout. You’ll be looking at 4 days a week for the eight-week duration. Each workout will contain hundreds of reps to completely fatigue the targeted muscle group.

I will make sure to include options for chain gym folks, as well as CF gym/garage gym lifters who don’t have access to machines, but have DBs and resistance bands. I will include photo/video guides for the majority of the movements, and these guides will only be available to those who purchase the manual: they won’t be on my Youtube or Instagram. 

Pump Dragon Training Manual: http://www.shopliftbigeatbig.com/Pump-Dragon-An-Eight-Week-Training-Method-for-Size-Strength-LBEB0077788.htm


Get the shirts here: https://shop.spreadshirt.com/liftbigeatbig/

Because this is a digital item, there are no refunds on this item for any reason whatsoever.

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A Sample of the Pump Dragon Training Program

For those who inquired, below is the foreword section of the Pump Dragon manual, a description of what the manual will entail, as well as one of the weeks, to give you a better idea of what it will look like. I will put the video demos for the movements in the manual itself, later this week. This program is absolutely for both women and men, as are all my programs. This is LBEB, after all. Thanks for reading.

Foreword
Thank you for choosing to be a part of the Pump Dragon community. Before jumping into the programming, I want to take a few minutes of your time to outline some of the thought process that went into making this program, what led me to implement this training style in my own programming and finally, a short reference guide to some of the words  I will be using throughout this training manual.

When I began training in 2012, I was like many of you who purchased this program: I wanted to consistently train with heavy weights, technique be damned. Instead, it was all about chasing big singles to win competitions and achieve eternal glory. Fast-forward a few years and a couple of injuries, I began to realize something: There is no eternal glory in a sport that forgets about you as soon as your record is broken or you leave the sport. There is no glory in chasing numbers to the point where your body is destroyed, your personal life is in shambles and you are in a dangerous mental state. This is when I began to explore other training options that would allow me to (at the very least) maintain my strength, if not increase it, while also training in a way that left me happy when I left the gym. It’s one thing to have a great training session, but it’s another to be happy when it is over. A good training session can last 2-3 hours a day, but what about the other 21-22 hours left in the day? I had to figure out a way of training that would keep me interested in lifting for the long haul, increasing my strength, improving my physique and maintaining my mental health.

Enter: The Pump Dragon

My previous training style was a pretty standard version of Strongman training: a combination of the standard Strongman competition lifts, with the Powerlifting movements built in, and some accessory/speed work. It was great to train this way because my strength was increasing and I could hit big singles. However, I personally had a hard time wanting to do the high-rep accessory/pump work at the end of the workout because I felt so fatigued both physically and mentally. A great man I used to train with, Jace Derwin, was the first guy I knew personally who spent more time on accessory work than on the competition lifts. He had a strong, athletic physique, he was happy and his strength was increasing. He introduced me to high-rep bodybuilding movements that would help me to not only increase my strength, ligament and tendon thickness, but also improve my mood allowing me to leave the gym in a better mindset than when I arrived. Jace was the first person I heard use the phrase “chasing the Pump Dragon” in reference to heroin users who are constantly chasing the feeling of their first high, while never quite reaching it. I liked the term instantly because that’s how training felt: No matter how great the pump was, you always wanted more. Luckily, we won’t be chasing heroin in this manual: instead we will constantly be chasing a great pump, an elevated sense of well-being and of course, size and strength. Jace and I don’t train together anymore, but I will forever be appreciative of the lessons he taught me.

After I parted ways with my old crew and began training by myself, I continued to explore ways to chase the Pump Dragon, especially in gyms that did not have readily-accessible machines designed to hit specifically-targeted muscle groups. You can see this in my videos: I am always trying to figure out machine and cable movements I can replicate in a garage/Crossfit gym setting, using only equipment that would be available at those locations. I have spent years doing this, and I will be putting that knowledge and tinkering to use in this manual so others can benefit from the experiments as well.

 

Program Design

Unlike some of my other training manuals, Pump Dragon is not about chasing new 1-Rep Maxes (1RMs). Pump Dragon is about increasing muscle size, definition, tendon and ligament thickness, and mental well-being. Strength should, at the very least, be maintained throughout the course of the program, but is not the main goal here. Compound lifts will still be implemented in the program, but will not be the main focus. For the duration of the program, think of the compound lifts as more of a primer for the pump/accessory work, and a way to help you maintain your strength without completely draining your Central Nervous System (CNS).

Pump Dragon will involve four workouts each week with each workout containing at least 500 reps of all movements combined. Each workout will focus on a specific and different group of muscles. It will also contain compound lifts that will use whatever the muscle group is on any given training day. This is not a half-program, it is a complete program. In layman’s terms: Don’t use this supplement on top of another program you’re doing (for example, Crossfit). I strongly suggest that you do not combine this eight-week program with any other programming, as you will be wasting your time and money, as well as defeating the purpose of implementing a program that is designed to help you reset your training. Some athletes are under the impression that if you combine two programs, you will get twice as good in half the time. In reality, they will be lucky if they get half as good in twice the time.

The program design will be as follows:

Day 1: Legs & Squat Movements w/ Posterior Accessories

Day 2: Chest, Shoulders & Press Movements w/ Tricep Accessories

Day 3: Back & Deadlift Movements w/ Posterior/Bicep Accessories

Day 4: Arm Day w/ Short & Sweet Conditioning Movements

 

Why Chase The Pump?

Something that I have found lacking in almost every training program I have seen from the Powerlifting and Strongman world is the neglect of high-rep accessory/pump work. This is especially true for new athletes. For some reason, some coaches are so afraid of new athletes being “overtrained”, that they keep the volume low to the point where it looks like you’re following the programming of a veteran Powerlifter who weighs almost 400lbs. New athletes need volume. Lots and lots of volume. You need this volume for three main reasons: Instilling the proper movement patterns, increasing kinesthetic awareness, and keeping the blood in the targeted muscle group long enough to encourage growth. You simply are not going to grow your biceps, calves, hamstrings, and other hard-to-fatigue muscle groups with sets of five deadlifts or pullups or squats. These compound movements utilize the majority of the body. Because of this, hard-to-fatigue muscle groups will never get the fatigue they need in order to grow. Blood must be kept in the targeted area for at least 40 minutes in order for the blood to bring the nutrients necessary for growth. Tendons and ligaments also grow much slower than muscles and DEMAND that concentrated blood to encourage growth. You will get both of those things from Pump Dragon and you will love it.

The Squeeze

You will see me talk about “the squeeze” quite often over the course of this eight-week program. What I am referring to is the flexing of the targeted muscle that you MUST do at the “top” of each of these isolation movements. It’s not about how fast you can do something like a bicep curl. What is more important is that you are isolating the targeted muscle, not wasting the movement by going too heavy too fast and recruiting the wrong muscles to finish the set. Weight does NOT matter for many of these pump movements: targeting does. What I will want you to think about is keeping the targeted muscle under tension and flexing it as hard as possible for at least one second at the top of each rep. This will fatigue the muscle much faster and ensure that you’re targeting it correctly. I will not write specific weights for a great deal of these movements, as pump weights are arbitrary and I have a baseline of information to guide you. As long as you are becoming fatigued and feeling the challenge of the weight while still being able to finish the set, you will do just fine.

Exercise Demonstrations & References

I will include photo and video guides for the majority of the movements within this program. If you train in a gym with cables and machines, you won’t need the guides as much. Instead, you are able to use weights on a guided track that will eliminate the need to jury-rig bands and chains to emulate them. That’s not to say the videos can be neglected: you can still look at how my body is positioned for these movements to ensure that you are set up correctly in order to get the biggest benefit from this manual.

 

 

Now that we have the background information out of the way, let’s get to chasing the Pump Dragon.

 

Week 1:

Day 1:

Work up to heavy set of 5 back squats, then do 4×7 w/ 70% of that number.

4×20 Bodybuilding (BB) squats w/ 35% of the day’s 5RM.

3×15 squats w/ KBs held in front rack (elbow crook position), 60sec rest between sets.

4 supersets of: 20 walking lunges + 20 ass-to-grass air squats, 60sec rest between sets.

10mins of: glute bridges w/ elbows and back on bench + frog pumps on floor. Once you are fatigued from one, switch to the other.

5 supersets of: calf raises w/ toes straight forward, toes angled in, toes angles out. 20 reps per position, squeeze at the top of each rep for 1sec. 60sec rest between superset.

100 situps.

Day 2:

Using moderately heavy for this bench press set, do the following supersets four times: 10 reps w/ wide grip, 10 reps w/ normal grip, 10 reps w/ close grip. Same weight across all sets, 60sec rest between sets. If you fail reps, it’s too heavy.

5×20 close grip bench w/ 30% of your estimated max, 60sec rest between sets.

5 supersets of: DB flyes + DB bench, same weight, squeeze pecs at top of each rep. 60sec rest between sets.

4 supersets of: 10 reps of DB front raises + 10 reps of DB lateral raises, keep glutes squeezed, 60sec rest between sets.

5mins of: using empty barbell, do two strict press in front of head + 2 reps behind head. Don’t lock out at top and don’t let barbell descend below forehead height.

4 supersets of: neutral grip DB bench + pushups w/ hands on bench. 60sec rest between sets.

100 tricep pushdowns w/ cable or resistance band. Turn pinkies out to the sides at the bottom of each rep and squeeze triceps for 1sec on each rep. if you get less than 30 reps before taking a break, you need to reduce the resistance.

Day 3:

Work up to heavy set of 5 conventional deadlifts, then do 4×7 w/ 70% of that number.

4×10 2” deficit deadlifts w/ 55% of the day’s max, 60sec rest between sets, use straps.

5 supersets of: 10 reps banded face pulls + 10 DB shrugs + 10 DB shrugs w/ palms forward.

4 supersets of: 10 DB rows per arm w/ opposite hand and knee on bench + Snatch-grip high shrugs w/ light barbell (barbell comes to nipple height). 60sec rest between sets.

5×20 banded hamstring curls w/ a big squeeze at the top.

6mins of max rep frog pumps on floor w/ big glute squeeze at the top of each rep.

100 reps of leg raises w/ back on bench, grab the bench behind your head, flex abs at the top of each rep.
Day 4:

5 supersets of: 12 single-arm banded curls w/ band attached to pullup bar + 20 reverse-grip barbell curls (both hands).

5 supersets of: 10 close-grip pushups (fingers at 11 & 1) + 20 tricep pushdowns w/ resistance band.

4×12 DB curls while lying your back on an incline bench, 60sec rest between sets.

5×15 skull crushers w/ barbell, swiss bar or football bar. Squeeze triceps hard at the top of each rep.

6mins of max rep cheat curls w/ 45lb bar.

6 mins of max rep overhead press w/ 45lb bar.

8 sets of: max speed 200m row (or 400m stationary cycling) + 12 burpees. 90sec rest between sets.

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Get Ready for Bratsgiving with Johnsonville

This article is sponsored by Johnsonville. 

Johnsonville is making my sausage dreams come true. No, they’re not giving me another dachshund (though I would definitely accept a doxie puppy as payment). Instead, we’re partnering up to celebrate Bratsgiving: the hot doggiest, most delicious day of the Summer.

While the actual Bratsgiving, or National Bratwurst Day, is August 16, Johnsonville is getting the party started early by kicking off the celebration in Seattle on July 29 at the Seattle Seafair. A 2+ week pregame? Now THAT is how you do it.

This weekend, I will be hosting my own Seafair party, featuring a couple of Johnsonville’s meats: one for the pinkies-up crowd, and one for those who need a quick bite before getting back into the festivities. Here’s what I have on the menu:

The first is a delicious pasta dish featuring Johnsonville’s Andouille sausage, clams fresh from Pike Place Market, broken angel hair pasta with a white sauce.

sausagepasta1

Ingredients needed:

  • 1lb angel hair pasta, cut into 2” pieces
  • One 13.5oz Johnsonville Andouille sausage
  • 5 cups champagne
  • 4tbsp olive oil
  • 5 crush garlic cloves
  • 3tbsp dried parsley
  • 5lbs fresh clams
  • 1 cup white or alfredo sauce
  • Crostini or French baguette
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Recipe:

In large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic, stirring until garlic is darkly browned. Discard garlic upon browning. Add champagne and clams to saucepan, and bring to boil over medium heat. Cover with lid and continue cooking for 10mins, stirring occasionally.

While clams are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boiling.

Slice Johnsonville Andouille sauce into 1/3in pieces, and brown in a separate skillet.

Once pot of water has reached boiling, cook noodles to al dente. Discard water and keep 5tbsp of the starched water in the pot with the noodles.

Slowly stir in white sauce to noodles, coating them thoroughly. Then slowly stir in dried parsley, and add the Andouille sausage and clams, 10-12 pieces at a time, until noodles are evenly mixed in.

Serve completed pasta dish with toasted crostini or French baguette slices.

sausage2

The second will be a Seattle favorite: Street Meat. Seattle Street Meat can be found outside most Seattle bars once the sun goes down, and features a Johnsonville bratwurst with caramelized onions, cream cheese, and barbecue sauce. Forget the ketchup and mustard, let’s make it interesting with some smoky barbecue flavor.

street meat 1

Ingredients needed:

  • Brioche hot dog buns
  • Johnsonville smoked bratwursts
  • Cream cheese
  • Caramelized onions
  • Barbecue sauce

Recipe:

Turn grill or stovetop cast iron pan to high, and grill the Johnsonville bratwursts until the skin is crackled and browned/blackened in spots.
Remove bratwursts from heat, and place each inside a brioche hot dog bun, lined with cream cheese. Top the bratwurst with the caramelized onions and barbecue sauce. Consume immediately.

street meat 2

Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Carl the Great Bratsgiver when you’re at Seafair this weekend. For those of you who haven’t heard of Carl—here’s the story: Carl is the culmination of the combined brainstorming of 15 Johnsonville employees, and is the official character of the Bratsgiving holiday. He will be leading the pack for the 2017 Torchlight run, and Seafair is working with Johnsonville for a “Where’s Carl?” competition on social media platforms. Fans who announce his whereabouts on social media and challenge others to find him can win Bratsgiving swag and free Seafair tickets.

Don’t let another Summer go by without Bratsgiving. Celebrate in style with Carl and Johnsonville this season at Seattle Seafair! And make sure to tag both LBEB and Johnsonville in your social media posts this weekend.

Stay safe and happy Bratsgiving!

 

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Johnsonville. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Finding Inspiration to Drive Motivation and Enhance Performance

Article written by Elizabeth Holmes

Whether you’ve been an athlete for years, are just starting your venture in strength training, or want to live an overall healthier lifestyle, at some point you will likely confront an absence of motivation. Taking the time not only to recognize but also examine your initial motivation, where it came from, why you want to achieve the goals you’ve set out for yourself, and how practical your goals are will be greatly beneficial in making lasting change and seeing growth. By reexamining what your big picture is, your goals become more tangible and your motivation turns to habit, discipline, and success over time. In sport, but also in life, we tend to be most successful when following a plan that allows flexibility within specific constraints. Knowing that your motivation will likely shift over time and being prepared to adjust your goals and anticipate their completion will also help in establishing new goals and develop goal oriented habits.

New beginnings and the establishment of habits often come with mixed feelings of excitement and novelty as well as fear of change. Change is uncomfortable. No matter how much we may need it, the mind and body resist change because it creates imbalance in homeostasis making adherence such a challenge. Typically, when we are trying to problem solve we look at tools we’ve used in the past. By discovering new tools and strategies in the present to overcome obstacles, we enter a state of novelty which in its truest form is a state of mindfulness, exploration, and relaxation. Biologically, entering a state of novelty reduces stress hormones including cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine while secreting dopamine, a pleasure receptor. There is no likelihood of being simultaneously mindful and obsessive, you have either one or the other. Mindfulness is not only an excellent coping strategy to reduce obsessive thinking but also allows you to focus on the present, seek discovery, and see opportunity clearly.

Athlete or not, we all have easy and hard days; days when you’re straight killing it and days when you’re simply going through the motions. The distinct difference between a hard day and easy day is effortlessness; you feel your most happy, confident, highest self-able to meet challenges head on and mediate any dilemma that comes your way. More often than not, this is when the foundations of nutrition, sleep, hydration, personal life and social life are in harmony.

Nevertheless, there must be days when you’re just going through the motions to teach yourself that you can grind through the BS. Sometimes dragging through the mud for a little while is the only way to come to terms with how awful it feels fighting through a workout being sick, angry, or distracted. It doesn’t take long to be in that headspace and realize that sacrificing performance isn’t worth the setback of achieving monster goals.

Working out only when you feel a certain way is one of the biggest disservices you can do yourself.  Only training when you’re happy can be just as limiting as only training when you’re pissed off.  Expecting some off- training days and adapting to it in a controlled manner every once in a while, being aware that it’s only temporary is extremely powerful. If you can leave the gym without feeling completely defeated means you’ve won. This is a pinnacle point where your inner warrior is tested and you face the question of: “Can I use this pain and frustration as motivation to see what I’m truly made of?”

Motivation sparks change, which won’t necessarily be a lasting feeling. Motivation is the key in the car’s ignition and the foot on the pedal revving the engine. It is deliberate in taking the first step required to advance forward. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the driver of the car. It enforces the speed and direction. Inspiration is the level-headed driver keeping the car moving. Motivation is what gets you started and gives a reason to do something we wouldn’t normally do, inspiration is what keeps you going and has great meaning.

Considering all types of stress is important in understanding where or why we are lacking motivation. Unless you’re a high-level athlete whose day is spent training and includes the support of teammates and coaches, you’re probably dedicating 1-2 hours a day training 4-5 days of the week. In the overall scope, the time spent in the gym is just a fraction of your day, but the physical stress combined with stress at work, with family, or a significant other, piles up. Working through the emotional and physical stressors, those within your immediate control, can often combat the magnification of external stressors such as environment, work, and relationships that are out of our immediate control.

The body doesn’t distinguish one type of stress from another and the aforementioned stressors accumulate one in the same, having profound effects on the mind and body. The central nervous system serves as a protective barrier, and if over the course of weeks or months the stress is not reduced, injury or illness will be elicited as a signal to slow down and pay attention. Something must change at this point but having the aforementioned foundations of quality sleep, nutrition, and hydration will significantly reduce these incidences.

On a smaller scale, we also experience decision fatigue on a daily basis which is simply the gradual decline in quality of decision making ability throughout the day that affects executive function. Executive function is the brain’s ability to prioritize, filter distractions, and accomplish goals. Most people can make 3-4 well thought out decisions earlier in the day but the “fuck it” mindset starts to creep in toward the end of a long day. Although some people are better at pushing through, it still accounts for a mild stressor to push beyond that one more hurdle.

When someone comes to me looking to make some kind of life change, they tend to look for structure and order so they can follow a step by step routine. A routine is great in keeping you focused and on task but can become monotonous. Forming rituals to give reverence to a routine can make all the difference in managing and overcoming stress by giving a tangible purpose and sense of fulfilment in that particular act. When considering why you do something, ask yourself what it represents to you.

In reframing a certain act by associating it with intrinsic value, where it has value in itself and its usefulness and goodness just is, the purpose and outcome of that act are now based on enjoyment rather than fear. To put this in context, doing something as simple as brushing your teeth or making your bed in the morning, something you’ve been doing for most if not all of your life “because you have to” or “because it’s what’s socially acceptable” is associated with extrinsic value linked to less personally gratifying external factors. When you seek enjoyment in what you do and adjust the circumstance to you rather than adjusting you to the circumstance, you will find the depth in its significance to your life.

By translating this same significance to training, you can use specific tools to regain focus if you’re walking into the gym one day after another feeling distracted and unable to minimize the noise. Try to visualize yourself having just made a meal and you’ve just sat down at your kitchen table to eat. You’ve been looking forward to this for the past twenty minutes while preparing it and as soon as you lift the fork to your mouth, you get a whiff of something rotting in the trash a few feet from you. You have two options, continue eating and endure the nauseating smell, or take out the trash, come back to your meal and eat in peace, feeling satisfied.

This same concept can be used with training. If you’re distracted, you’re not going to leave the gym feeling like you accomplished anything unless you take out the trash. This temporary compartmentalization of thoughts from feelings will allow you to focus your attention solely on performance, particularly on more challenging days such as those when you’re learning a new technique or have a heavy lift. Going through a mental checklist and picturing yourself performing the lift with optimal form and technique before even unracking the weight is another way of creating an emotional tie with a decision.

By using self-talk, or the “voice in your head” as another tool, you’re able to put yourself in the position of the observer rather than the observed. When getting amped up for a lift, make a point of talking to yourself in second person pronouns rather than first person pronouns. For example, telling yourself “You got this” rather than “I got this” has a much greater impact in providing some vital temporary motivation through a broadened perspective. Finally, take a moment to think of someone you admire and look up to. Put yourself in their position and imagine what they tell themselves when facing a difficult challenge. While doing this, imagine their voice saying this same message to you while looking you in the eye.

Every day shouldn’t require this level of grit, so if you’re feeling like you can’t get off the hamster wheel it’s definitely time to take a look at where you are.  This may require you to take a week off from training or it could be as simple as turning down the music or reducing your caffeine intake. Sometimes the smallest changes can make the greatest impact. When you practice moderation, and connect with your needs, you will find that matters in the gym and in life come with ease.

 

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Beth Holmes is the Head Trainer and Assistant Wellness Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Coach and Fitness Writer for Union Fitness. She has a B.S. in Biology from Carlow University, is a proud North Side resident, and amateur powerlifter with a bench press of 170 lbs and deadlift of 360 lbs. When she isn’t in the gym, she’s searching for hidden gems at flea markets, hiking, and drinking Americano’s. You can find her on instagram: www.instagram.com/elizabethbethanybeth.

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Don’t Believe The Memes

Don’t believe the memes, don’t take the inspirational posts as gospel, don’t destroy your body to save face:

Take a rest day. Take a week off, or a month, or even half a year. Do something besides lifting, find a new hobby for a while, or volunteer somewhere to help the less fortunate. Do something to make the world a better place, and not just yourself.

Or:

Have fun for once! You don’t HAVE to go hard in the gym every day. Some of the most miserable people I’ve ever met are people who make lifting their entire life, and for what? A $10 trophy? A jug of protein and a shirt that doesn’t fit right? Is all that really worth neglecting your kids over, blowing out your knees, missing big life events or losing your job?

The reality is that most lifters will never make a liveable income solely off lifting, and to treat a hobby in a way that overtakes your life is just about the worst thing you can do for your livelihood. There is no pension at the end of your lifting career. Lifting should be FUN. If you aren’t having fun with it, why are you doing it? So your friend doesn’t send you a T-Nation article that says you’re a ween for not wanting to max every day? Who cares.

If you’re burnt out, spend a few weeks doing Bodybuilding work, or take up hiking for a few weeks. Experiment with new movements, or become a cardio bunny. Put on an extra 5-10lbs. Who. Freaking. Cares. It’s your money, your time, and your body. Do what you like with it.

I will tell you this: I bet that taking some time off will help you rekindle that fire under your butt that you had when you first got into all this. Lifting will be there when you’re ready to go again, and 200lbs will always be 200lbs.

~Brandon Morrison

 

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A Guide To Flexible Dieting

Article by Beth Holmes
In the world of health and fitness, there is a constant influx of conflicting information that can often times present dogmatic opinions of what is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, and right or wrong. Most websites and magazines provide explanations as to why their “evidence based research” is the answer to all your problems, offering to solve this complex formula for you. Marketing is meant to confuse people, particularly those without much knowledge in nutrition and those who haven’t spent much time paying attention to how food makes them feel. Even in- person interactions can be misleading and hard truths are learned upon realizing that not everyone who wants to help you is giving you sound advice.

Fad diets are popular because they work. Atkins wouldn’t be around for as long as it has if it didn’t. For most people, however, they are sustainable for a short period of time and are successful for a small minority that take extreme measures and make huge sacrifices that most wouldn’t consider.

First and foremost, food is not inherently good or bad, and anyone that gives you any type of hard or absolute answer is simply misinformed. Food is our bodies’ energy source and without it we would not be able to survive. Furthermore, sugar is not bad, fat is not bad, sodium is not bad, and processed foods are not bad. All of these foods have their time and place in the diet for performance and enjoyment, some in higher quantities than others. Different foods contain different chemical components that interact with the body on both large and small scales. For some individuals, it is necessary to avoid certain foods in the case of food allergy or food intolerance.

There are instances where strict dieting is optimal to achieve specific goals, for example, a bodybuilder who is preparing for a competition. Strict dieting can be psychologically and physically exhausting and requires sacrifices in all areas of life. This tactic will provide short-term success, but is unsustainable and can cause health issues long- term. Allowing oneself dietary freedom and balance has shown to provide long-term success and a healthy relationship with food. Having general guidelines, discipline and willpower, and understanding portion control provides a sustainable lifestyle choice rather than a “diet”.

In terms of dieting, it is important to consider that what works for your friend or family member is not necessarily what will work best for you. Everyone has a different body composition and different biochemistry, so the breakdown of foods and your aesthetic look will be different. Food intake should always be individualized based on lifestyle, metabolic levels, health history, and goals. This can take some trial and error; therefore, experimenting with different ratios of carbs, protein and fat is a great way to understand biofeedback, or the body’s reaction to certain intake. One of the primary goals (and subsequent outcome) of flexible dieting is the ability to be mindful and aware of what you are eating.

Finally, in order to reach your goals you have to want to. If you believe that you are capable of accomplishing your goals, you most certainly will. Efficacy has extremely powerful cognitive effects. In other words, you can will your body to do what your mind tells it to.

Macronutrients, or “macros”, are the calorie-containing nutrients that provide energy for the body to function which include protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  Macros are made up of calories; therefore, if you’ve ever counted calories, you have inadvertently counted macros. Macro and calorie counting became popular in the late 70’s- early 80’s with bodybuilders to further their progress and success and became more mainstream in recent years.

An important takeaway with calorie and macro counting is that not all calories or macros are created equal. Based on your training style, daily lifestyle choices, stress levels, and genetics, an ideal macro ratio can be determined.

Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle and connective tissue (skin, tendons, ligaments, and hair). Protein helps fuel muscle mass, prevent muscle breakdown, support a healthy immune system, stabilize blood sugar levels, and strengthen hair, skin, and nails. Additionally, adequate protein consumption spread throughout the day will aid in burning calories. The recommended amount of protein depends largely on activity levels, however, protein consumption should be consistent whether or not you are an active individual

Carbohydrates are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules and are the body’s main source of energy. Sugars, starches, and fiber are all considered carbohydrates but have varying levels of complexity including monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Depending on body size, activity levels, dietary fat intake, and specific goals, the recommended amount of carbohydrate is altered. Carbohydrates are a variable macronutrient. Daily carbohydrate intake for active individuals should not be less 30% of daily caloric intake if performance is a priority. Manipulating carbohydrate intake around exercise can be beneficial and on highly active days, more carbohydrate can be used as an energy source to fuel and power through intense workouts.

The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates are their rate of absorption (rate of digestion). Take, for example, a pixie stick and a sweet potato. The pixie stick is going to have a high insulin response, flooding the blood and muscle tissue with carbohydrate immediately and is digested quickly. If this pixie stick is consumed prior to exercise, the energy will be used immediately.  If the consumption is not followed by exercise, the carbohydrate will be sent to muscle, liver, or stored as fat instead of being used for energy. A sweet potato on the other hand is going to have a low insulin response, keep your blood glucose levels stable for several hours, and take several hours to digest.

Fats are the densest macronutrient composed of fatty acids, which make up triglycerides macronutrient. Dietary fat helps manufacture and balance hormones, forms the brain, cell membranes, the nervous system, and transports fat-soluble vitamins. The large majority of fat intake should come from unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated) such as olive oil, avocado, seeds and nuts. Saturated fats including animal products such as bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, butter, and cheese should be consumed sparingly and viewed as a “condiment” rather than a main course. Many saturated fats have positive correlations with chronic disease and cancer; however, not all saturated fats should be viewed as universally unhealthy. For example, stearic acid, found in cocoa butter and beef can help lower LDL levels.  A mixed intake of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats and a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is critical for optimum health and function. Carbohydrate and fat intake should be inversely proportional: when fat intake is high, carb intake should be lower and vice versa.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are just as vital to performance and regulatory functions as macronutrients but required in smaller amounts. Their inclusion in the diet are of importance as they promote growth, digestion, energy transfer, and nervous system function. There is no one size fits all approach to meeting vitamin and mineral needs and we should get the bulk of our micronutrients from a diet rich in whole foods with a combination of fruits and vegetables in different families as opposed to relying on dietary supplements.

Calorie balance is a hugely important factor when trying to gain or lose weight. A shift of calories either positively (increase in calories) or negatively (decrease in calories) directly results in weight loss or weight gain. That said, the body is a very elaborate and complicated process and many factors come into play during weight gain and weight loss. Throughout the course of one day weight shift can range from 1-5 lbs based on hydration, food intake, inflammation, etc. Additionally, calorie balance plays a crucial role in metabolism and metabolic rate.

Metabolism is the conversion of food into energy used by the body to perform activities. Exercise is a major metabolic up regulator, however, metabolism declines 2-4% after age 25 and most people lose about 5lbs of lean muscle mass per decade. Contrary to popular opinion, metabolic decline is not solely associated to age and lifestyle plays a large role. “Normal” aging that we see in today’s society is associated with a sedentary lifestyle. In taking the steps to preserve muscle mass with age, you can also preserve metabolic rate. Therefore, increased muscle mass, regular exercise, and nutrition are the essential components to aging well.

Nutrient timing is a much more specific variable and accounts for a very small percent of success, but can still play a significant role in achieving performance and aesthetic goals over time. Nutrient timing is based on spreading macronutrients throughout the day with 3-5 hour gaps between meals while favoring certain macros based on activity levels. Proteins stay relatively consistent and are spread evenly throughout the day to aid in blood sugar level stabilization and satiety. Fat and fiber consumption is kept to a minimum around training time primarily because they are difficult to digest. Fat and fibrous foods also aid in blood sugar stabilization while fiber aids in digestion. Carbohydrates are the most easily digested macronutrient, therefore, the majority of carbs (roughly 60-70%) should be consumed around training time. Consumption of carbohydrates 60-90 minutes pre- workout, intra-workout, and 3-5 hours post workout optimize the body’s ability to use blood glucose for fuel and recovery. Consuming carbohydrates post workout reduces the depletion of muscle glycogen (roughly 90% of carbohydrate storage) and aid in recovery and preparation for the next training session.

Supplementation should be the smallest component of nutritional intake. There are some products that have been researched and tested to show positive health benefits but before taking supplements, it is recommended to complete a simple blood test with a physician. Even a “standard serving size” could be dangerous, toxic, or simply unnecessary. Furthermore, the right food can replace just about any supplement with few exceptions.

Whey protein, casein, and creatine are three well-supported supplements that support muscle growth and recovery. Whey protein is fast digesting and usually consumed during or after exercise, where casein is slow digesting and usually consumed at the end of the day closer to bedtime. Creatine helps provide additional glycolytic fuel to replenish ATP. Because our energy systems run on ATP, particularly in the anaerobic state (involves fast twitch muscle fibers used in weight lifting), providing additional sources of creatine can help replenish ATP quickly.

At the end of the day, a moderate and consistent diet will trump a rigid one when longevity is the goal. Nutrition at its foundation is complex because the human body using this food for energy is extremely complex but it can be made a lot simpler if you do one thing: Listen. Your body will tell you what it needs if you pay close attention. The needs your body has don’t just go away, you have to keep listening and paying attention if you want to feel and look good, but it does become natural and easy with time.

Emphasizing nutrient dense foods in your diet and making small changes to create a sustainable lifestyle will always win. Keeping a food journal may help maintain accountability in the beginning while it provides evidence to eating behaviors, decisions, and perceptions of food. Making conscious decisions in what you eat and ensuring that they are decisions that make you feel good and are not solely emotionally based is a tool that you can always use and come back to.

It’s normal to have days of feeling unmotivated or lacking willpower but the more you listen to what your body needs and realize that one bowl of ice cream isn’t going to make you fat and one salad isn’t going to make you skinny is when you will start to see and obtain long-term success.

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Beth Holmes is the Head Trainer and Assistant Wellness Coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Coach and Fitness Writer for Union Fitness. She has a B.S. in Biology from Carlow University, is a proud North Side resident, and amateur powerlifter with a bench press of 170 lbs and deadlift of 360 lbs. When she isn’t in the gym, she’s searching for hidden gems at flea markets, hiking, and drinking Americano’s. You can find her on instagram: www.instagram.com/elizabethbethanybeth.

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Bloody Shins Don’t Mean You’re Deadlifting Properly

Much like how having torn calluses doesn’t mean you’re hardcore, having bloody shins does NOT mean you’re deadlifting properly. If you want to break it down to very simple terms, think about friction: If the bar is so close to your leg that it is breaking the skin and drawing blood, that means you are causing friction against the bar, and slowing down its ascent.
 
Slowing down the ascent is not what you want when you’re pulling a max deadlift. In addition to the friction from grinding against your leg, you can also be at risk for ramping/hitching the bar up your quads after the bar passes your knee. Since hopefully most of you have quads that stick out further than your shins, this can add even more friction, and slow your bar speed down completely.
 
To get around this, and to ensure that your hips are locking out your deadlift and not a shrug/hitch combo, I recommend the following:
 
-Start with bar 1/2″ off shins.
 
-When bar passes knees, do these three things in sequence:
 
1. Lock knees.
 
2. Flex quads as hard as you can.
 
3. Squeeze glutes at lockout.
 
By locking knees and flexing quads, you will ensure two things:
 
1. Your quads will stay out of the bar path and won’t interfere with the ascent.
 
2. You will keep your hips and glutes engaged throughout the entire lift, thus ensuring that the strongest part of your body is doing what it needs to do: lockout.
 
Not to mention, it’s pretty gross to leave your blood on a bar that doesn’t belong to you. Get that bar slightly off your shins, and keep your ascent speed consistent. That is all.
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Squat Hand Placement

A real quick write-up here, reposted from my Facebook post:

I get an ungodly amount of questions regarding hand placement on a back squat. Besides my height, it’s the most frequent question I’m asked. Here is the answer:

I keep my hands close to my shoulders, I keep my thumb off the bar, and I keep the bar in my fingers instead of in my palm. I do this because if the bar is in my palm, my elbows will flare back and I will push the bar forward into my neck as I stand up. That will cause my chest to stay down while my ass rises, turning it into a good morning. By keeping my elbows relatively down and the bar in my fingers, I cannot push the bar into my neck, thus keeping my back angle the same on both the descent and ascent. My way may work for you, it may not. Either way, it works for me, that’s all I care about.

If you are having trouble with your chest caving on your ascent, try squatting to parallel for a few weeks. This will force you to slow down your descent and rely on your own strength to get out of the bottom, rather than a rebound which takes you out of tension and then put you back under the weight during the hardest part of the lift.