Home 2007 October

Plyometrics and Growth Plates

Q: I had a question from a strength coach here regarding plyometric training and young athletes, so I thought I would shoot it off. Currently, these figure skating female athletes are 13 years old. They started with the strength coach here six months ago, working on foundational lifts (squat, clean, snatch, skip rope, jump squats, and some single leg stuff).

Another coach mentioned to their mother that they should be doing more plyometrics. Any opinions? My take based on previous reading is potential risk for growth plate injury, and that plyo's should be used cautiously until growth plate closure.

A: I don't think that there is anything wrong with plyos at such an age. Walking is plyometric, and sprinting is about the most plyometric activity you'll find. The bigger issue is why not focus on something with more return-on-investment? About the only thing you'll get from adding a lot more plyos in is an increased risk of overuse injury; they get enough jumping and landings on the ice, in most cases.

Most 13-year-olds are very weak and need to learn proper lifting technique to get ready for the day when they are ready to load the compound movements. Sure, SOME plyos have a place for such athletes, but you have to manage overall training stress; they aren't going to be able to do as much as another athlete who is in the off-season.

Eric Cressey
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Peter Gammons: Smartest Guy in Baseball

This needs to be reprinted; Peter Gammons once again proves why he's the smartest guy in baseball media.

Go Sox!
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Thoughts on Dips

Sternoclavicular joint issues are a nuisance - and one reason I've grown less and less fond of dips over the years.

If you’re feeling pain during dips, definitely get it checked out by a good manual therapist; they can often fix problems very quickly.

Eric Cressey
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Talking Shop with Craig Ballantyne

EC: Let’s be honest: every Average Joe trainer under the sun has an e-book or 5-minute guide to sucker misinformed housewives into shelling out hundreds of dollars to learn the “hidden secret” of fat loss. Frankly, I’ve had hundreds of products along these lines cross my path in the past few years, and the only two that have withstood the test of time – and yielded outstanding results time-and-time again are yours and Cosgrove’s. I know about your programming, but let’s enlighten our readers a bit about what makes Turbulence Training so effective.

CB: I think there are a lot of other good ideas and programs out there; not a day goes by that I don't get a good idea from another trainer. Maybe Alwyn and I just claimed the catchiest names - or maybe it’s the Scottish last name.

What I've done over the years is take my experience in research, and in training athletes, and in working with busy people with minimal equipment, and rolled that up into a program that meets the needs of my readers.

I've adapted the program quite a bit over the years because users have demanded changes. For example, in the past, it used to focus on barbell exercises, but now includes only dumbbell and bodyweight exercises (with the exception of my more advanced "Fusion and Synergy" fat loss programs)

The principles remain the same, though. We use more intense strength training than traditional programs (lower reps, not as low as a powerlifter, but lower than 99% of fat loss programs recommended in the past - although this is changing as the approach becomes more popular).

Each workout uses supersets. This gets the workout done faster. I also use what I call "non-competing" supersets, basically referring to supersetting two exercises that don't use the same muscles - including grip strength.

So, a dumbbell split squat and a dumbbell chest press would be non-competing. A dumbbell reverse lunge and a dumbbell row would be competing, because they both demand intense grip work. So, I'd avoid the lunge-row combo.

And then we finish up each workout with interval training. This, too, has evolved over the years. I used to recommend basic 30-second intervals, with 60-second recovery, done on a bike or treadmill (or sprints outside). Now I'm using bodyweight circuits in place of intervals, or sometimes barbell complexes, or sometimes even high-rep dumbbell work.

These changes have all been based on feedback from users. For example, a lot of Turbulence Training readers work out at home with nothing but dumbbells and a bench; they don't have a machine for cardio. So, we use bodyweight circuits instead. These are great and can be adapted for any fitness level.

For the interval type circuits, I like to use six total bodyweight exercises, three lower body and three upper body. Then just alternate between upper and lower in a 6-exercise circuit.

So bottom line, a Turbulence Training workout will run like this:

5-minute bodyweight warm-up
20-minutes superset strength training
18-minutes interval training
7-minutes stretching or mobility work

We do three hard workouts per week, yet I emphasize that everyday is an exercise day (that is, on the four days you don't do a hard Turbulence Training workout, you must still get 30 minutes of activity - preferably something you enjoy and enables you to spend time with family or friends).
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QA with Eric: Yoga and Flexibility

Q: Dancers and yoga practitioners are notoriously known for their extreme flexibility, which can be a problem if not balanced with strength. How so?

A: Hypermobility can definitely be a problem. All movements require a delicate balance between mobility and stability. Some joints demand more mobility at the expense of stability (e.g. shoulders), whereas others require more stability at the expense of mobility (hips). It's one of the reasons that we're always emphasizing stabilization work at the glenohumeral joint, scapula, and lumbar spine and mobility work at the hips, ankles, adn thoracic spine. When you push the balance between mobility and stability out of whack too far in one direction (e.g. hypermobility), ligaments aren't as effective as joint stabilizers and muscle length-tension relationships can be negatively affected.

It's something that a lot of us have been doing from an "isolationist" perspective for quite some time (I remember trying to make sense of it back in graduate school in one of my classes with Dr. David Tiberio), but it wasn't until guys like Mike Boyle and Gray Cook put it out there that we realized this "alternating joints" approach explained a lot of dysfunction we see - and how to prevent it.

Now, we're at the next frontier: optimizing training protocols to correct the problems. I'm always experimenting with new ways to mobilize the thoracic spine and ankles while trying to figure out the optimal combination of mobility, activation, joint mobilizations, and soft tissue work to get the job done. It's not much different than fat loss; we know now that aerobic exercise is an inferior fat loss modality and that strength training and high-intensity interval training are superior, but we're just looking to find the optimal blend to make things work perfectly. Compare Alwyn Cosgrove's Real World Fat Loss and Craig Ballantyne's Turbulence Training and you'll see a ton of similarities, but the subtle intricacies of the programs are different.
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Inefficiency for Fat Loss

Inefficiency for Fat Loss? Just yesterday, I got an email from one of my online consulting clients who just completed his first week with my programming. As a little background, he’s tried on several occasions to fix a stubborn back issue that keeps getting reaggravated, so I’m helping him out with a sensible progression to get him back to lifting the way he wants to lift. With that in mind, a lot of the work we’re doing is corrective exercise: lots of mobility and activation work, plenty of single-leg movements, isometric holds, and the like. To keep training fresh, I’m also introducing him to a wider variety of upper body movements to help get his body out of its “comfort zone.” Here’s an excerpt fro his email: “I tape measure and weigh every Monday. My caloric intake was set at 3100 this week. Get this: I lost half a pound of fat and gained half a pound of muscle; does it get any better than that? Wow. I didn't even think that was physically possible, if so extremely rare and mostly in beginners, not guys who have been at this a while like me. My chest circumference is the same but that is expected. My arms actually grew with no direct arm work. My thighs shot up a quarter inch; I'm not exaggerating! My waist measurement came down 1/8th inch. I'm raising my kcal intake by 250. “I am SO sore, I am hobbling like an old man around campus!!! My upper back, serratus anterior, quads and glutes are THRASHED. The importance of the low-intensity GPP sessions you included is becoming more apparent to me now!” For some (including this client), it seems incomprehensible that one could gain muscle and lose fat during what it considered a low-intensity period aimed at getting healthy. It doesn’t surprise me at all, though. Like soreness, this is simply what happens when you introduce a body to a stimulus to which it isn’t accustomed. Alwyn Cosgrove calls it “metabolic disturbance.” Craig Ballantyne calls it “turbulence.” I’m less eloquent and simply call it “doing stuff that your body doesn’t want to do.” When distance and speed are held constant, why do runners burn fewer calories after a few years of running? It’s because they become more efficient runners, so less muscle mass is required to accomplish a given task. Less muscle mass working equates to fewer calories burned. Take someone off an elliptical machine and make them sprint, and you’ll see better fat loss. Take someone who has been sprinting straight-ahead and substitute in some lateral movement training, and you’ll see better fat loss. The list goes on and on. You can use cycling intervals, barbell complexes, sled dragging/pushing, Prowler work, rope skipping – you name it. Why wouldn’t doing a different form of lifting have the same effect? In our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set, we talk about how working toward efficiency should be the goal of any athlete. As is often the case with our body, though, counterintuitive thinking often times wins out. Eric Cressey
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Five Random Thoughts from David Barr

1. Soreness = Muscle Growth. In the 1990s, we “realized” that soreness is just a result of the muscle inflammatory response, and has little to do with actual growth. However, consider the following: if Arachadonic Acid (AA) is the fatty acid that gets converted to prostaglandins (PG) during inflammation: a) Blocking the conversion of AA to PG prevents both soreness and muscle growth b) Increasing levels of AA increases levels of PG, soreness, and muscle growth c) The most damaging type of training yields the greatest soreness, strength and muscle gains 2. Short workouts aren't as great as you think. In the late 1990, it became all the rage to keep workouts to less than 45 minutes. It was believed, based on scientific evidence, that training for longer periods would result in a temporary decrease in anabolic hormone levels. Now, we realize (irony intended) that the impact of acute hormonal regulation is minimal, and it is far better to have a stimulating workout – even if it takes longer. 3. Apparently, pre-training meals suck? In spite of the evidence to show that pre-workout meals result in the greatest observable increases in muscle protein synthesis (the acute measure of muscle growth and recovery), people still refuse to use them. Considering that they also provide a tremendous increase in blood flow during training, which every newbie seems to be after, shouldn’t everyone be using them? 4. Faith vs. Reason. People are going to believe what they want even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sadly, this even results in people getting upset by the mere presentation of data that contradicts a belief. In the supplement world, if you add in the fact that the placebo effect accounts for >60% of the resulting effect, you’re just asking for people to freak out. 5. Protein Pulse Feeding. The idea of spiking blood amino acids with protein, similar to the way in which we spike insulin with carbs, is the most anabolic nutritional revolution since whey protein was developed. Protein pulsing: not just for post-workout meals!


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Off to Montreal!

My girlfriend and I are headed out to Montreal tomorrow for the 2007 Vinkofest. It should make for a great event, and I'm anxious to see Poliquin and Thibaudeau in seminar for the first time. It'll also be a great time catching up with Mike Robertson and Joe Defranco as well as several other industry friends who will be in the audience. If you're in attendance, be sure to come up and introduce yourself. Of course, my first one-day vacation in far too long will be nice, too! Also, I'll be listening to Jen Heath's Fat Loss Pros audio collection on the plane ride. I'll be sure to write up a review in my newsletter in the weeks to come. The reviews thus far have been fantastic, so I'm anxious to check it out for myself. Eric Cressey
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Five Tips from Mike Boyle

Many people know that Mike Boyle has probably trained more high-level athletes than anyone on the planet right now. What many people might not know about Mike is that he's helped countless coaches in their career paths; you'll find "Boyle Disciples" all over collegiate and professional strength and conditioning and in the private sector. To that end, I thought it would be great if Mike targeted his random thoughts to the up-and-comers in the business (I know, I know; it's not exactly random). 1. There are only two ways to learn: experience and reading. If you think you can get good in this field in a 40-hour week you’re crazy. If a 40-hour week is your goal, find a new field. Read Alwyn Cosgrove and Jason Ferruggia’s article “The Business.” 2. Train clients or athletes at least 20 hours a week. This is the proving ground for your booksmarts. Ideas are just that; see if you can implement them. 3. If you want to succeed in the field, get yourself in shape. I frequently joke about the fact that I don’t look the part. I’m not very muscular and am old and bald – but I’m in reasonable shape for 47. At 27, you will NOT get the benefit of the doubt. No one wants an overweight trainer or a skinny trainer. They expect you to look the part. You don’t have to be huge, and you don’t have to be ripped, but you need to look like you exercise. 4. Never ask a client to do something you can’t demonstrate. You don’t have to be able to do exercises with huge weights, but you must master the exercises. Beside the fact that many people learn visually, how can you ask a client to something you can’t? 5. Read one self-help book for every field-related book. It’s called personal training for a reason. It’s about a person and his/her goals. Your knowledge of people will be as important as your knowledge of the subject matter. Years ago, someone asked me what the key to my success was. I told them that it was my ability to get people to do what I wanted them to do. You can find an interview I did with Mike at T-Nation a while back HERE. Eric Cressey
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The Average Teenage Diet

A few people found it hard to believe that the "average" teenage diet I outlined in my interview at T-Nation yesterday could actually be so bad. Don't believe me? A 17-year-old wanting to play Division-1 college baseball just brought this two-day diet record in for me: Monday 7:00AM - Cheerios Crunch, Skim Milk 7:30AM - Energy Drink 11:00AM - 3 Double Chocolate Cookies, Skim Milk, Pasta w/White Sauce and Chicken 4:00PM - Sub w/ Grilled Chicken, Bacon, Mozzarella Cheese, and Red Sauce, Coke, Cookies 6:00PM - Sprite 8:00PM - Orange Soda 9:00PM - Buffalo chicken and ham calzone with blue cheese 10:30PM - Gatorade Tuesday 7:00AM - Cheerios Crunch, Skim Milk 7:30AM - Energy Drink 11:00AM - 3 Double Chocolate Cookies, Crispy Fried Chicken 12:00PM - Gatorade 3:45PM - Medium Iced Coffee, 2 Doughnuts 7:00PM - Popcorn, Candy, Soda 8:00PM - Grilled Chicken, Gatorade 10:30PM - Gatorade The scariest part is that neither of these were training days. He also has numerous chronic injuries (elbow) that just don't seem to be getting better. Not exactly Precision Nutrition material, huh? Eric Cressey
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