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May 2007

The 4-Hour Work Week?

Tim Ferriss is, let's just say....out there. He's a truly polarizing figure- you'll either love him or think he's full of B.S. But I love his book, which challenges you to redefine your current notions about personal productivity, stress-reduction, wealth, and personal achievement. He also has interesting things to say about diet and training. So don't make me come over there- just read it.

Seminar Review

Nate Green just wrote an interesting review of the JP Fitness Summit, where I recently presented a talk entitled Liberate Yourself From Classical Weight Training. Check out the review HERE.

Terry Tate: Office Linebacker

Who says maximal strength and explosive power doesn't carry over into everyday life?

Genius = Preparation

"Nothing wins more often than superior preparation."

- Dave Kekitch

Respect The Fatigue Wake

Boatwake400_small "All workouts leave a fatigue 'wake,' meaning they produce fatigue which will affect subsequent workouts to one degree or another. The effects of fatigue are specific. This means that, for example, the fatigue waks caused by a leg workout will have a more negative effect on a subsequent leg workout than it would have on a subsequent upper-body workout. Similarly, the fatigue wake from an aerobic workout will have a greater effect on a aerobic workout than it would have on an anaerobic workout." (From Muscle Logic, p.p. 43):

Deadlifting: Variations On A Theme

Deadlift I've always thought of the deadlift as the most under-appreciated exercise ever. The deadlift is truly an exercise in need of a face-lift!

After all, what's not to like?

• The deadlift requires nothing more than a barbell and the willingness to lift it.

• The deadlift works more muscles simultaneously than any other (including the squat).

• Since the deadlift is one of the contested events in the sport of powerlifting, there are accurate norms and statistics available (this means you can compare your deadlift performance with the truly great pulls of all time)

• You'll never get pinned under a max single (unlike the squat or bench).

• The deadlift has no equal when it comes to "real life" functionality: after all, (How valuable is it to learn how to pick up heavy objects off the floor without hurting yourself?

• The deadlift has a simple, yet unique appeal: how big a weight can you grab and stand up with?

• The deadlift is particularly "authentic:" Squat performances are greatly aided by all the various powerlifting paraphernalia, but not the deadlift, therefore, it is a better measure of "true" strength than the squat.

Despite all it's high marks however, the deadlift, just like any other exercise, doesn't fit every situation with equality: Lifters with low back symptoms should approach this lift with caution (if at all). Additionally, proper execution of a heavy dead requires the use of the Valsalva maneuver (technically, "a forced expiration through a closed glottis," or, in lay terms, "bearing down" while holding or nearly holding your breath) which can elevate blood pressure significantly. Therefore, lifters with vascular and/or heart disease must obtain medical clearance first.

Deadlift Technique and Variations:
"Okay, okay" you're saying, "I'm convinced that I should be pulling! What next?" TECHNIQUE is what's next. And despite what you may have heard, there are many "correct" ways to deadlift, depending on your objectives and unique physical makeup:

• There are ways to deadlift that target your glutes & hams, and there are ways that this lift can really whale your quads as well.

• You can pull the barbell with the objective of developing your muscles, or in a way that allows you to lift as much weight as possible.

• People with long thighs will leans forward more than short-legged lifters and that's okay, as long as you stay within certain parameters (to be discussed shortly). But let's not get bogged down in the technical minutia of this exercise. Let's start with a pretty standard description and then modify it later, based on what you're trying to accomplish:

Deadlifting For Dummies:
Standard Deadlift Technique

The Stance:
Approach the loaded barbell and assume a stance about as wide as your own shoulders while gripping the bar such that the inner aspects of your arms are slightly outside of your thighs. Another way to determine your optimal deadlift foot placement is to jump down from a box which is half your own height and "stick" the landing. Now look at your feet...this will approximate your ideal stance width and degree of foot turn-out.

Feet and Shin Position:
Feet should point straight forward or turned out to a 25 degree angle at most. The best foot angle is one which provides the least amount of hip and knee restriction when you lower the hips in preparation to lift, so don't be afraid to experiment a bit. The shins should be two to three inches from the bar and then when you actually bend down and lower your hips in preparation to lift, the shins will touch the bar. Most of the weight will be on the heels of the feet. This facilitates maximal contribution of the glutes and hamstrings. During the ascent, the bar will travel as close to the leg and shins as possible. Ideally, wear cotton sweat pants or track pants with long socks to protect your shins.

Hand Position:
A "reverse grip" should be used when deadlifting. This means that one hand will be supinated (palm faces you) and the other pronated (palm facing away). This will help keep the bar in your hand. If grip strength is not one of your training targets, feel free to use wrist straps with a conventional grip. Hold the bar high up on the palm to compensate for any roll of the bar when pulling the weight up. Generally, the grip should start with the index finger and the little finger bordering the knurling in the middle of the bar.

Head Placement And Eye Contact:
The entire spine should remain neutral, which means you look neither up nor down, but instead, the head follows the body, almost like you're wearing a cervical cast on your neck. It's OK for the head to be SLIGHTLY up (this tends to improve muscular contraction of the low back muscles) but in all cases, the lift must start with the hips down, the entire spine neutral, and the feet flat on the floor.

The Ascent:
As you stand up with the weight, imagine pushing the earth away from you with your feet. When viewed from the side, your hips and shoulders should ascend together; if the hips rise before the shoulders, it means you're using your back rather than your legs. If this happens, reduce the weight until you can perform the lift correctly and add more specific quad-strengthening exercises to your program.

The Lockout:
Competitive powerlifters are required to demonstrate control over the weight by standing up and then extending the hips forward in an exaggerated manner. If you're NOT a competitive lifter, simply stand up with the weight without this exaggerated maneuver.

The Descent:
Simply return the bar to the floor, under control, by reversing the technique you used to lift the weight.

As mentioned earlier, you'll need to employ a Valsalva maneuver to lift any kind of appreciable weight safely. The most effective breathing pattern goes like this: Immediately before you pull, take a comfortably full breath and hold. As you begin to stand up, it's OK to allow air to escape from your lungs UNDER PRESSURE. Once you've passed the sticking point, you can exhale fully. Next, inhale and hold again as you lower the bar back to the floor. Note: Most people will instinctively breath this way, so don't get too tied up with the science of breathing here.

Five Great Deadlift Variations
There are many great ways to perform deadlifts. Here are my top five picks:

1. The Stiff-Legged Deadlift:
By definition, a deadlift starts with the bar on the floor and is initiated through concentric muscle action. Therefore, strictly speaking, the stiff-leg variant really isn't a deadlift at all, but I'll include it here anyway. Set up a barbell at slightly higher than knee level (use a power rack, or set the barbell on blocks). Using a pronated grip (palms facing oneself), grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, and step back just enough to clear the rack. Inhale, slightly bend the knees, and begin the movement with one's bodyweight over the heels. Allow the bar to descend, while ensuring it maintains contact with the front of the body. While descending, maintain the normal curvature of the lower back and neck, and allow the glutes to move rearward. Do not look up or down, but instead, maintain a normal head and neck alignment. This exercise is made more effective by maintaining bodyweight over the heels. Always use a controlled movement speed with this exercise. Never perform it rapidly or explosively. People frequently perform this exercise standing on a block, lowering the bar until it contacts the shoes. However, when maintaining proper spinal curvatures and knee position, few people, even those with very good hip flexibility, can lower the bar much past their knees.

2. The Quad-Dominant Deadlift:
In this variation, you lift the weight in the normal fashion, and then lower the bar down to the floor using as much knee flexion, and as little hip flexion as possible. This places a much greater load on the quads and much less tension on the low back, hamstrings, and glutes.

Co32005_2_hex_bar_deadlift 3. Trap-bar Deadlift: This specially-designed bar is safer and more effective than a straight bar because it allows the combined center of gravity of the weight and your body to stay closer to the mid-line of your body. This reduces the amount of forward lean, and allows the quadriceps to take over a greater share of the work from the glutes, spinal erectors, and hamstrings. The trap bar may also be used for stiff-leg deadlifts and shrugs.

4. Tweaking ROM:
It's easy to perform the deadlift through an increased or decreased range of motion if you like. To increase ROM, simply stand on an elevated surface (such as a 4-inch thick wood plank) as you perform the lift. To decrease ROM, elevate the barbell, either by placing the barbell on an elevated surface (such as wood planks) or by placing the loaded bar on the safety pins inside a power rack.

5. Eccentric-Initiated Deads: You don't have to start the deadlift with the concentric phase of the lift. To start the lift eccentrically, simply remove the bar from a waist-level support (such as the front of a power rack), step back just far enough to clear the rack, and lower the bar in standard fashion. Once the bar contacts the floor, reverse the motion and stand up with the weight.

Deadlift Records and Stats
The following statistics were compiled from the 2002 edition of Strength & Speed, available from Education Plus, 18584 Carlwyn Dr., Castro Valley CA 94546 daleharder@attbi.com

• Andy Bolton GBR, 328 lb., lifted 925.9 lb (420 kg)
• Gary Heisey, 6'6.5, 358, when he deadlifted 925 lb. (he had broken the record several times)
• Dawn Reshel pulled 609 while weighing 198 pounds (Women's World record)
• Dave Carter, age 40, deadlifted 821 pounds
• Bill Hartmann, age 60, lifted 733 pounds
• Roy Mason, age 70, pulled 529 pounds
• John Gorton, age 80, lifted 370 pounds
• At age 90, Gorton pulled 330 pounds
• Collister Wheeler, age 97, lifted 195 pounds

Three Great Reasons To Limit Sugar Intake

Images 1) As we get older we become gradually more insulin resistant

2) Sugar promotes tissue inflammation

3) Sugar fuels cancer cells

Although I'm not a "perfect" or obsessive eater, I am very aware of my simple carbohydrate intake, and I do my best to limit high-GI foods whenever possible. Tip: If you MUST consume simple sugars, do it immediately post-workout

Contrast Microcycles

FunkpunkOn the "sets and reps" level, when you're actually in there doing the work, you might notice that there's a lot of contrast between work and rest intervals. You perform a set (hard work) and then rest (complete rest). See? Lots of contrast. Because as I've said ad nauseum, contrast promotes recovery. Large contrast promotes large recovery, medium contrast promotes medium recovery, and small contrast promotes small recovery.

That being the case, why aren't we applying the same principle to our training on the microcyclic level? In other words, why aren't more of us implementing contrast microcycles? In my mind, it's a superior way to pack in maximum work and maximum recovery in the smallest possible space. This might be a worthy goal, don't you think?

In practice, contrast microcycles work like this:

Week one might be very light in terms of overall training load. Now there are different philosophies about manipulating volume VS intensity and vice versa, but for the sake of simplicity, let's focus on total load, because if intensity drops much below 85% of current 1RM's you'll suffer a detraining effect.

So week one might add up to 25,000 pounds of total load (Again, don't get tripped up about how to measure this...whatever way you do it is fine, as long as you measure it the same way each week).

On week two, it's time to load up. Plan for something in the neighborhood of 50,000 pounds- double the load used in the previous week. We'll assume that this is heavy for you, but not the most you can possibly do— we need to maintain a margin for additional progression in the comng weeks.

Week three is a deloading week, but it'll still be a bit more taxing than week one. So maybe 30,000 pounds, or 10% more than week one. Week four, 60,000 pounds— again, a 10% increase

That's one mesoocycle with two loading cycles and two contrastive unloading cycles. For the purposes of longer-term planning, repeat the same pattern for future mesocycles, but continuously seek ever higher "peaks" on your heaviest weeks whenever possible.

PS: The fractal image above wasn't by accident...

10 Steps For Training Pain-Free

Shoulder_pain_dyn All significant injuries should immediate medical attention, but oftentimes we find ourselves dealing with chronic orthopedic issues that don't readily respond to "medical" treatment. "Itises" (E.g., tendonitis, bursitis) are an example of what I'm talking about. My suggestions below are in no way meant to supercede proven therapies such as iceing and bodywork. Instead, these 10 tips are meant to help you safely get back into a productive training program.

1. Use the widest possible variety of exercises, stressing varied positions, contraction modes, and joint angles. Especially stress positions that you don’t tend to use for fear of injury.

2.  At the beginning, use loads that you’re SURE will not provoke your injury. This might in some
cases mean doing stuff like curling no weight for 5 sets of 5 (yes, I’m serious).

3. Progress VERY gradually. In the case of the empty curls, work up to 5x6, then 5x7, etc. When
you hit 5x10, start curling a 2.5 pound plate for 5x5. Then 5x6, etc., etc.

4. Because the loads are so light, you won’t really need to rest between sets much at all.

5. Because the loads are (initially) so light, you should be able to train frequently— probably every day. The body’s most unique feature is it’s ability to adapt— more frequent training “teaches” the body
to accept constant challenge.

6. If at any time you re-injure yourself, wait until your symptoms subside and drop the previous
workout’s volume by 1/2. In other words, if 4x6 caused re-injury, wait for it to heal and then do
4x3. If that goes OK, start climbing your way back up.

7. Be flexible and creative. If something on your schedule hurts right at the outset, make a pain-free
substitution right then, on the fly.

8. Understanding pain symptomology: Sometimes you’ll know if you’re hurting yourself right
when you’re performing the offending exercise. Sometimes you won’t know until the next day.
Pay attention and become sensitive to these issues.

9. Despite my earlier advice about stretching, don’t stretch a sore, torn or “tweaked” muscle—
Even though stretching often "feels" like the right thing to do, typically you’ll only injure it further.

10. Start right, finish right: Light aerobic activity before and after the workout will make tissues
warm and more pliable (pre-workout), and will enhance circulatory oxygenation and cellular
nutrition (post-workout). Don’t cut corners, EVER.

The slow but steady approach must be your constant mantra if you want to keep training in the wake of chronic injuries. The guy squatting 800 on the rack across the gym might be mere moments from an injury anyway. Seek slow, continuous, steady challenge every day— your injured tissues don’t like big surprises, they like predictability. Treat your body with a velvet glove instead of an iron fist, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

Orthopedic Profiling

In political terms, “profiling” is a hot-button topic. For example, at airport security checkpoints around the US, we’re supposed to pretend that a wheelchair-bound 80-year old woman of Norwegian ancestry is as much a threat as a 30-year old Middle-eastern man shouting “Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar!” prior to boarding his flight. After all, if airport security guards paid more attention to individuals who posed a greater security risk than those who posed a lesser risk (based on historical evidence), that’d be profiling.

Politics notwithstanding, the concept of profiling actually has some interesting applications for those of us who deal with orthopedic issues. Last week I had my left shoulder tested on a Biodex machine (I’ve had some longstanding impingement issues in that shoulder). Now, if you’re like me, your first thought might be to dismiss the Biodex altogether. After all, while the machine does accurately measure strength/speed/endurance profiles, all test movements are decidedly “non-functional.” In my case for example, we were testing internal and external rotation of the left humerus. During the test, the patient is locked into the machine, which totally controls the plane of movement as well as the range of motion.

Obviously, you might wonder how the results of this test correlate to real World, multi-planar, self-stabilizing movement. And that’s a fair question. The real value of Biodex testing is that you first test the non-involved joint (in this case, my right shoulder), which illustrates what the strength/speed/endurance profile of a pain-free joint looks like. Then, after testing the involved side, you compare the two and see what type of discrepancies you’ve got between the pain-free joint and the painful joint. My results were surprising, because my external rotation on the involved shoulder was slightly stronger than the right (non-involved) side. My internal rotation capabilities however, were significantly weaker on the left side as compared to the right.

Now, again, it’s easy to think “OK, that’s all well and good, but the Biodex machine forces you into completely unnatural movement patterns that simply don’t relate to normal joint functioning.” But you’d be missing the point here, because this test showed me what a pain-free shoulder looks, tastes, smells, and feels like. It further demonstrated that my painful shoulder has a completely different strength profile (on this particular test battery) than my pain-free shoulder. This realization prompts me to modify my training in the direction of minimizing this discrepancy.

Now let’s take this discussion back into an admittedly more functional milieu. For the sake of discussion, we’ll assume you’ve got a painful right Achilles tendon. And we’ll further assume that your left Achilles is pain-free. Now you’re got a control that you can profile for the purposes of comparing it to the painful side. And even if you know very little about anatomy or kinesiology, it’s still a fairly simple matter to develop some tests to create a profile for that joint.

The first thing that comes to mind might be to perform single leg calf raises. Do 10 reps and take notes on how difficult is was, and whether or not there was any type of pain or discomfort. Next, perform 10 reps in the involved side. Was it more difficult? Look at both Achilles tendons, as well as your calf musculature on both sides. Do you see any differences? While you’re at it, feel both tendons. Is one side warmer than the other (this suggests an active inflammation)? Also, look at the soles of your most commonly worn shoes- any differences between left and right sides? Another self-test (and this is tricky because it’s tough not to bias the results by knowing the desired outcome, but it’s worth doing anyway): walk in a straight line and see if you hear a difference between your right and left steps. Further, when you walk, do your foot mechanics appear to be the same or somewhat different?

Once you’re done these comparisons, you’ll have a profile of a healthy Achilles tendon, and a comparative profile of a painful Achilles. And that’s very useful information to have. After all, even though pain often causes dysfunction, the reverse is often true is well.