Home 2008 January (Page 5)

Ask EC: Installment II

By: Eric Cressey

Q: I was looking around some internet forums in search of information about training programs for high school basketball players, and your name came up as the expert in that field. If you have any time, I was wondering if you could help me out. Basically, here's the breakdown. I have an athlete who's 18 years old, 6'6, and about 290lbs.  He's never touched a weight before in his life and I get to work with him for a little more than 6 months.  As you can tell, he's fat and slow. So, my main concern is getting his diet in order and shedding some pounds.  Then I want him in the gym 4 days a week working on basketball specific drills. I also want to design workout program for him that will increase his speed, quickness, and strength. That's where I need a little help.  I was wondering if you could help me outline a program for him, or give me any advice at all. If you could, that would greatly be appreciated. Thanks for your time...

A: There are quite a few things that you need to take into account.  First, he's overweight and deconditioned.  The single worst thing that you can do with him right now is getting him doing all sorts of basketball-specific conditioning work where he's running all over the place.  The kid will have a stress fracture, or patellar or Achilles tendinosis so quickly that you'll be amazed.  You need to lean him out to reduce the amount of weight he's going to decelerate with every step and landing, but this can't be done in an exclusively weight-bearing exercise sense.  I recommend you a) clean up his diet (easier said than done with an 18 year-old) and b) incorporate some energy systems work that is comparable metabolically to his sport (i.e. interval training) but is easier on the body (e.g. swimming, elliptical, rowing, and - although I don't really like the idea - biking).  No treadmills or distance running.  He's obviously going to need to be on the court some, but you need to really watch what you do with him right now; I'd stick with skill work specifically and only use a few drills in order to improve his footwork.  Save the more challenging on-court conditioning for when he's more fit.

In terms of resistance training, he's a beginner, so you need to treat him as such.  Start him off with higher reps and lighter weights in order to foster proper technique, build confidence, and promote connective tissue strength.  As he gets more and more neurologically proficient, you can increase the weights a bit.  By six months, he definitely ought to be ready for some significant loading; in fact, his performance will go up simply because the resistance training will teach him to recruit more muscle fibers.

Just because you have to start him from scratch does not mean that you should just plop him on machines with fixed lines of motion, though; get him training with free weights. Taller guys are always more susceptible to the classic postural perturbations, so make a point of including plenty of horizontal rows, glute-activation (supine bridges, X-band walks), and single-leg exercises (most tall guys have terrible frontal plane stability). Above all, you need to hammer on his core strength (specifically from a stabilization standpoint) and posterior chain (most tall guys are very quad-dominant).  Watch to make sure that he isn't hyperextending at the lumbar spine with any overhead lifting that you're doing.  If you have access, a trap bar will be your best friend in his programming.

All in all, just remember to fit the program to the athlete, and not the athlete to the program.  You seem to have a preconceived notion in your head that he needs to be in the gym four days per week; what if his body can't handle that?  You can't run your big men like you run your guards, and although 6-6 isn't giant, it still warrants consideration, especially since he's deconditioned.  Also, you seem to be very enthusiastic about this, but can you say the same for him?  If his heart isn't into it, it won't matter how perfect your programming is; that's one of the fundamental challenges of coaching.

Good luck!

Q: I read your article on Cluster Training in Men's Fitness. In the program you wrote, the clusters were only performed in two of the four sessions; why not include them in all four?

A: The logic behind the cluster training only being done on two of the four training days each week is that it's a very neurologically demanding protocol, so performing clusters at each workout is too much for the vast majority of trainees.  Therefore, we're working on hypertrophy (an increase in cell size) from two different perspectives:

1. Max Strength days - geared toward functional adaptations and maximal protein degradation through heavy training.  These methods lead to sarcomere hypertrophy (increases in the size of the actual muscle proteins - e.g. actin and myosin).

2. Repetition Days - geared toward structural adaptations and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (proliferation of non-contractile elements - such as collagen - in the muscle cell) and promotion of glycogen storage.

So, basically, twice a week you're going to be hitting it heavy (and then doing assistance work), and twice a week you're going to be focused on just getting your reps in.

Q: I know that stretching is somewhat controversial (if, when, how much, what stretches) and I've tried doing a minimal cardio warm-up (10 or so minutes) just to raise my body temperature a bit and then going directly into my training routine. I still felt stiff, though, and just not anywhere near as good as I did when I did a more adequate cardio and stretch warm-up. I just couldn't give it 100% in training. I also like to stretch between sets sometimes because I've read that it can promote muscle growth (supposedly by stretching the connective tissue surrounding the muscle belly - therefore creating more room for the muscle fibers to increase in size - kind of like how you could fit more sand into a bigger sock). Could you please shed some light on this and include some rationale on why stretching 4-6 hours after is preferable? Should one do some cardio preceding this or can you stretch cold?

A: First off, let me say that warm-ups must be completely unique to the individual; some people take 30 minutes, and some can just go right to it.  I'm an example of the latter; two minutes and a few warm-up sets and I'm good to go.  It has a lot to do with neural efficiency, and also (I'd assume) with resting body temperature.

Be careful how you define flexibility; passive and active flexibility are two completely different things.  Just because you can really get good ROM when you passively force a muscle into a stretch does not mean that the muscle will automatically be able to work through an optimal ROM on its own.  Moreover, hyperflexibility can actually be a problem.

The jury is still out on why static stretching impairs force production, but it's been demonstrated in dozens of studies.  Many (myself included) believe that it has to do with:

a) decreasing stiffness of the cytoskeleton (stiffness is important, as there is lateral pull on the cytoskeleton from the sarcomere - the contractile unit of skeletal muscle - when muscles shorten linearly; if there's no stiffness, there is no lateral "tethering" upon which to base forceful contraction)

b) reduced intramuscular tension, presumably among the contractile units (e.g. actin, myosin) themselves

c) nervous system factors related to motor control and reflex sensitivity; basically, the stretching makes it harder for the nervous system to tell the muscle to fire.

The solution to this problem is dynamic flexibility drills, which consist of controlled movement through joints’ active range of motion. This is something on which the resistance training and performance enhancement communities are light years behind, and they’re really missing out as a result. In light of this ignorance, Mike Robertson and I recently finished shooting our “Magnificent Mobility” DVD, which outlines 32 drills we use as components in more efficient and productive warm-ups. You can pick a copy up at the t-nation.com store (my apologies for the shameless plug). Just give the dynamic warm-up a try and let me know how you feel.  Most people love it and never go back to boring steady-state cardio; it blows this ineffective traditionalist approach out of the water, as you can warm-up and improve your functional range of motion and dynamic flexibility at the same time.

Stretching during training does have its proponents, although it's never been proven in the literature.  Anecdotal evidence is valuable, but personally, I think the value of being able to do extra work on an exercise because you haven't reduced force production capabilities is more valuable than the *possibility* of increased size from stretching.  The best way to implement this, in my opinion, is to simply do it after your last set on a particular movement.  Most of the time, loaded passive stretching is recommended, and keep in mind that this is a pretty damaging protocol; most people will be very sore for the next few days.  As such, it's best to use it for 2-3 weeks here and there rather than during the entire training year.

The 4-6 hours recommendation has to do with avoiding stretching when skeletal muscle blood flow (i.e. "the pump") can actually impair full range of motion.  Given that body temperature is still somewhat elevated at this point, there really isn’t any need to warm-up beforehand.

Q: Just to be sure: My left scapula is elevated and you recommend that I do more work for the left lat?  To me it seems wrong to do more work for the elevated side, so please confirm if this really is right.

A: The latissimus dorsi and upper trapezius are antagonists in their scapular depression and elevation roles, respectively.  By strengthening the lat along with the mid and lower traps and rhomboids, you'll be pulling the scapula downward.  Because you don't have issues with internally rotated humeri, we don't have to worry about the "side effect" of lat training (increased internal rotation of the humerus); your problem is purely at the scapula.

Q: I enjoyed your Cardio Confusion article and I had a question about the best way for a powerlifter to train cardio. I need to get my 2-mile run time down for the Army physical fitness test, but I would like to know the best way to train something like this without sacrificing my lifts. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

A: As for your particular question, it's a bit of a different situation from the topic addressed on the forum.  In essence, you have two goals: one maximal strength related and one endurance related.  These goals are completely contrary to one another, so you really have to accept that training for endurance will attenuate the improvements (or even maintenance of maximal strength).  The discussion at t-nation was more related to utilizing aerobic activity as an adjunct to the facilitate strength and speed improvements - not a separate training initiative in itself.

That said, you should work to keep your maximal strength up, obviously.  How you approach this training will be to some extent influenced by your body size.  If you're a really large guy, I'd recommend getting in some non-impact stuff (e.g. rowing, elliptical) for parts of the week to avoid orthopedic problems.  Moreover, I encourage you to watch your diet more closely, as dropping body fat will in itself improve VO2max.  If you're a lighter guy already, you shouldn't have too much of a problem getting into the running; just slowly build up your mileage and frequency.

In terms of specific training initiatives, I'd use longer interval bouts (200-400m) with varying rest periods (diminishing rest intervals over an extended period of time), two-mile runs in themselves (not always at max pace), and some long, slow duration jogs (less than 60% max heart rate) to promote recovery and improve capillarization.

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Ask EC: Installment 1

By Eric Cressey

Q: I know that you're a proponent of DB Isometric Split Squats for extended periods of time. I can only manage 15 seconds on both legs with no weights. I feel that this is pretty pathetic in light of my performance on other exercises, which tends to be quite good. So, to get that time up more and to start using weights, should I simply hold the position as long as I can and look to get up to 60 seconds? Or would I be better off doing ski-squats against the wall more often until the hold strength builds up?

Also, when I'm doing the exercise, I feel the exercise more in the elevated leg in the quads. It's not up that high ,but I am sinking pretty low to get the required angle. I'm 6' 2". A: Definitely stick with the Bulgarian EQIs; your endurance will pick up in no time. Remember, although muscular endurance is an added bonus of the exercises, this is more about working on active flexibility. I work with several guys each week that are 7-feet tall or very close to it, and they can all get it done; at 6-2, you shouldn't have a problem once you find the right position. You should feel it in your hip flexors on the elevated leg; if you're feeling it in the quad of that leg, it means that you're exerting too much force on the foot on the bench instead of allowing your hips to sink down while keep the back leg extended (or close to it). Drive your front heel into the ground and contract your glutes hard, pulling the chest up and shoulder blades back and down. Make sure that your knee is directly above your foot and your weight is on the heel. Q: Thanks to your advice on taking care of primary subacromial impingement, my pain is gone and I'm ready to get back to work on my pressing strength. I'm not sure how to reintegrate benching and overhead pressing. I definitely don't want to reaggravate the injury; any suggestions? A: You're correct that it isn't a good idea to jump right back into things with full range of motion and loading. I favor the following progession (although slight medications in rapidity of progression are always made based on symptoms): Body Weight Push-up > Weighted Push-up > Cable Crossover from Low Pulley > Cable Crossover from Hip Height > Neutral Grip DB Floor Press > Neutral Grip Decline DB Press > Pronated Grip Decline DB Press > Barbell Floor Press > Decline Barbell Press > Flat DB Press > Incline DB Press > Barbell Bench Press > Barbell Incline Press > DB Military Press > Barbell Military Press/Push Press > Behind the Neck Presses Note: Some trainees don't even need to go as far as the end, as the cost:benefit ratio for loaded behind-the-neck exercises is way out of whack for some people post-injury. The rationale for these progressions are: a) The scapular and humeral stabilizers are most effective in closed chain positions.(justifying the push up). b) Impingement symptoms are most likely to be aggravated with flexion and/or abduction of the humerus beyond 90-degrees. c) Traction (pulling the humeral head away from the glenoid fossa, as with a cable crossover) is less traumatic to the previously injured muscles than approximation (forcing the humeral head into the fossa). d) Internal rotation (as seen with pronated grips) mechanically decreases the subacromial space, increasing the risk of re-injury.

With this progression, I like to start recovering trainees off with long eccentrics in the 6-8 rep ranges. In many cases, high-speed movements like speed benches and push jerks can be the most problematic, so I avoid these early on. It's important to pay attention to not only how the shoulder feels during the exercise, but also what you feel in the 12 or so hours afterward. If you're hurting, you've likely jumped the gun on your rehabilitation. During this time, keep up working hard to strengthen your scapular retractors and depressors and the external rotators of your humerus. In fact, your volume on these exercises should still be greater than that of internal rotations and protractions. Ice post-exercise and don't do too much too soon, and you'll be back on track in no time. Q: I'm working my back from a shoulder injury, and wanted to know if you think it would be feasible to do a little external rotation and scapular retraction work each day? While I'm not feeling any pain, I can still tell that my stabilizers are pretty weak. I have been alternating between rowing movements and face pulls each day as of late along with doing some sort of RC work each day (external rotations, 90 degree prone rotations, prone trap raises, band work, etc). Is this too much in your opinion or is it fine? I'm talking like 3x15 of rowing/face pulls and maybe 3 exercises of 3-4x15 of RC work per day (light weight obviously). Or would it be better to just do everything 3-4 times per week. I just figured I would divide the volume up throughout the entire week. A: I think it would definitely be advantageous to do some every day, although your loading and set/rep parameters could use some revisions. Try loading the movements in the 6-10 rep range once a week, and then hitting them with lighter weights in the 12-15 rep range on another day. On the other five days, just do some work with the theraband and/or light dumbbells to get the blood flowing. These are really small muscles, so you have to go out of your way to promote bloodflow and, in turn, healing. It certainly won't hurt to get them "activated" so that they're firing on all cylinders when you get back to your compound movements down the road. Q: After reading your article in the October issue in Rugged, I have a question or two. In healthy individuals, are you saying you do NO "direct" local (deep) ab work. i.e. plank, "thin tummy?" It seems as if the trainee gets plenty of local ab work w/ exercises like the DL, squats etc, but I don't know if "direct" ab work is mandated. I am still confused about this, even know I've read countless articles relating to this topic. A: Be careful with your classification scheme; I wouldn't classify tummy sucking with plank exercises. The cues I give to my athletes on plank exercises are to brace as if someone is about to kick them in the stomach (much like you would push out when squatting and deadlifting). The training effect is markedly different with this approach than with sucking in the tummy. In short, bracing makes you strong, and tummy sucking makes you look and perform like a wanker. You are, however, correct in saying that I think attempting to isolate the TVA in healthy individuals is a bad idea from both a training economy and potential harm standpoint. This training time would be better spent on other things, most notably multi-joint exercises and mindlessly gawking at gorgeous women in sports bras and spandex shorts. Q: First of all, let me tell how much I enjoy your no-nonsense, information filled articles. It's great that people like you are writing about various posture related, biomechanics issues. I have a problem to which I have not been able to find a solution here in India. I have over-pronation in both feet, resulting in low reactive force output plus patello-femoral pain if I run long distances. Aside from getting orthotics, is there anything else I can do about this over pronation. A: It really depends on whether the cause is structural or functional. You state that you have over-pronation in both feet, but don't allude to whether the feet have been flat for your entire life or if it's something that's kicked in as a result of movement dysfunction. From a structural standpoint, orthotics are really your only bet; the structural abnormality will dictate how the orthotic is shaped. From a functional standpoint, you need to determine if you have weakness in a decelerator elsewhere that's forcing the extra pronation in order to compensation. The external rotators of the hip (especially the gluteus maximus) and quadriceps are notable possibilities. Don't forget the dorsiflexors, either.
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An Interview with Alwyn Cosgrove

By: Eric Cressey

EC: Let’s face it, Alwyn: everyone on this newsletter list knows who you are, so we won’t waste time with me asking about your background or favorite color.  Let’s get to the meat and potatoes – or lack thereof – with respect to fat loss.

You’ve become an authority on getting people lean fast – and continued success along these lines has led to the release of several fat loss products (in the form of the Real-World Fat Loss Packages) that have gotten thousands of people leaner and healthier. Conversely, we all know that there are a lot of trainers out there who aren’t getting the job done in this regard; you’ve even noted that less than 0.5% of personal trainers are financially independent, an indirect sign of them not satisfying a booming fat loss market.  Where, in your mind, are they failing? AC: It’s essentially a complete misunderstanding of how fat loss even occurs. Ask a trainer how to burn fat and they’ll reply with “aerobics”. They have been brainwashed to think that aerobic exercise = fat loss. It doesn’t. It simply means that your energy needs are being met by the aerobic energy system. Currently in the early part of the 21st century we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. In the United States alone approximately one-third of the adult population is estimated to be obese. People are finally turning to the fitness industry for help. However, despite fat loss, body composition and physique transformation being the number one goal of most people who enter into the gym, this type of exercise programming is actually a new concept; to be honest, it just wasn’t needed in the past. People were leaner. People moved more. The purpose of an exercise program twenty years ago was to enhance your already active lifestyle. Now, in an almost completely automated time-crunched society, we have had to create exercise programs specifically to induce fat loss - and we weren’t ready. Despite the overwhelming amount of research on aerobic training and exercise for health – none of it had the goal of fat loss. In fact, the very thought of training solely to produce a loss of fat was an alien concept just a few years ago. So, the fitness industry has failed. We recognized the need to create fat loss programs. We just didn’t know where to start. We originally designed fat loss programs by copying what endurance athletes were doing, and hoping that somehow the training program of a marathon runner would work for fat loss for an obese lady, even when we cut it down to 20 minutes, three times per week. But fat loss was never the goal of an endurance athlete; it was a side effect. Then the fitness industry turned to bodybuilding for ideas. This was the height of the Body-For-Life physique transformation contests. And we failed again. To take the programs of drug using full-time professional genetic freak bodybuilders and use them to model fat loss programs for the general population was nonsensical. But we tried. And the supplement companies jumped right on board, to try to convince us that taking Brand Rx-o-plex would provide the same benefits as the drugs that bodybuilders were using. We failed again. But we were getting closer. Fat loss, at least was a goal for bodybuilders, but the low levels of body fat percentage a contest bodybuilder achieved was largely a result of their increased muscle mass and therefore their metabolism. However it would be naïve of us to ignore the impact that steroid use has had on bodybuilding physiques. There is very little information a drug-free trainee training three to four times per week can take from the program of a drug-using professional bodybuilder and apply that effectively to his own efforts. It is my belief that before we start to program fat loss, we have to understand exactly how it occurs. Then, we design a program based on those principles and not on tradition, junk science, or outdated beliefs. The biggest mistake that trainers have made, Eric, is that - despite advances in the methods of training - the fitness industry has yet to truly provide a complete fat loss solution. We have regurgitated programs for other goals, recommended the wrong diets and ineffective exercises plans, all the while never questioning where this information originated. If you look at the research, you’ll be struggling to come up with much research that shows aerobic training to be effective, and NONE that shows it to be more effective than intervals or resistance training. It’s time to think about fat loss as a separate goal in itself – instead of a side effect of other training. EC: That's a great new paradigm that you've obviously applied with great success, but what about gender specificity?  For instance, you’ve spoken in some detail about the different psychological approach you have to take with males and females with fat loss approaches; can you elaborate a bit for our readers? AC: There are differences, of course, but in general, males will respond to comparison to “norms” or to other males – e.g., "good for a male is x% body fat and you are at Y," "The average client loses X per week," etc. Males are driven to be the alpha male. They respond well to comparisons. That will destroy females. DESTROY them. I only ever compare females to their goals and their progress. And it’s always positive. I don’t mean that you need to “baby” them – you can train them hard – but you have to keep positive reinforcement at the forefront. Overall, females want to train hard and not feel intimidated. They want to look great, but almost as a contradiction – they don’t want to stand out in the gym. We joke that most females show up to train the first time in an oversized sweatshirt and baggy pants. It’s like they are hiding. Males – just want to be one of the boys – with the underlying desire to be number one. Once you master that – and more importantly understand it - you're a master coach.

EC: Those are fantastic points - and it even carries over to elite sport.  Having worked with national championship squads in both men's and women's basketball, I can say without hesitation that you're right on the money.  Female athletes are all about getting the job done; it's one of the reasons that they tend to race through programs (and we actually need to make a point of slowing them down a bit).  Male athletes, on the other hand, won't hesitate to drag their heels a bit if it means they can talk some smack to a buddy between sets in order to get each other fired up.  But let's move on...

“Metabolic disturbance” is a term you’ve thrown around for quite some time; what do you mean, and how do you integrate it in your programming? AC: The goal of a serious fat loss program is to optimize energy expenditure. In other words – it’s STILL about calories-in vs. calories-out in the big picture. So we are trying to burn as many calories as possible. This occurs in two ways: directly and indirectly. Direct energy expenditure is obvious; that’s the calories you burn running on the treadmill, for instance. Perform X amount of exercise to burn X amount of calories. Indirect energy expenditure, on the other hand, isn’t quite as obvious – but for simplicity’s sake – it’s governed by your lean muscle mass and is commonly referred to as “resting metabolism” and includes EPOC – the recovery of metabolic rate back to pre-exercise levels. The important thing to consider is that your indirect expenditure is the bigger contributor overall – getting the “metabolism up” is the key. For example – aerobic training can burn a lot of calories – but it doesn’t really create much in the way of EPOC or raising your metabolism outside of the exercise session. Resistance training and interval training may not burn many more calories while you are doing it – but they both create that metabolic disturbance that burns more calories the “other 23 hours” of the day. Every study that ever compares interval training to steady state training shows an enhanced effect in terms of fat loss with the higher intensity group – even when they actually burn less calories during the session.  It’s that powerful a tool. EC: As a mobility geek, I was intrigued when I heard you mention that you felt that corrective exercise - especially in the form of mobility and activation work - had merits with respect to utilizing compound movements to create a metabolic disturbance.  Could you elaborate? AC: If you think about the fiber recruitment potential, the answer is pretty obvious.  Even if you're using compound movements to create that metabolic disturbance, if your muscles were not activated like they should be, you still are not creating as big as a disturbance as you could. For example, squats and deadlifts will give you more bang for your buck if your glutes are active than if they aren't.  Many of the movements from your Magnificent Mobility DVD - supine bridges and birddogs, for example, with respect to the glutes - are great pairings for more of these compound lifts if you're looking to create more of a metabolic disturbances.  In the upper body, you might pair chin-ups with scap pushups, or bench presses with scapular wall slides.

And, to add on the above points, you can ignore the value of that mobility and activation work when it comes to preventing injury.  Many times, form will start to break down with some of the longer time-under-tension prescriptions in more metabolically demanding resistance training protocols.  When you get things firing the way they should, you immediately make these complexes and circuits safer. EC: Great points.  Now, you bust my chops for being a guy that reads the research on a regular basis, but we both know that you’re as much of a “research bloodhound” as I am.  As such, I know that you’ve got some ideas on the “next big thing” when it comes to fat loss.  Where do you feel the industry will be going along these lines in the years to come?  Here’s your chance to make a bold prediction, you cocky bastard. AC: Ok – you’re putting me on the spot here. If you don’t drink water – what happens? Your body immediately tries to maintain homeostasis by retaining water – doing the opposite. Does weight training build muscle? No. It destroys muscle and the body adapts by growing new muscle. The body adapts by homeostasis – trying to regain balance by doing the opposite. If we look at aerobic training – and look at fat oxidation – we can see that fat oxidation increases at 63% V02 max. We burn fat during the activity.  How does that EXACT SAME BODY respond? Hmmmm... What cavemen survived the famine in the winters? The cavemen that stored bodyfat efficiently. We have evolved into a race of fat storing machines. We are aerobic all day. If aerobic training worked – then we wouldn’t need to work harder would we? When we work harder we see a trend – we lose fat – but is it because we are moving towards anaerobics? My prediction is that as we understand more and more about the science of losing fat (which in reality we haven’t really studied in any depth) I think we’ll find that  excessive aerobic training may retard fat loss in some way. I’ve been saying for years that I don’t think it helps much. And the studies support that. I’m now starting to feel that it may hurt. How many more studies have to come out that show NO effect of aerobic training to a fat loss program before we’ll recognize it? DISCLAIMER – I work with endurance athletes. I work with fighters. I am recovering from an autologous stem cell transplant and high dose chemotherapy. I think aerobic training is extremely helpful. But not as a fat loss tool. EC: Excellent stuff as always, Alwyn.  Thanks for taking the time. I can't say enough great things the fat loss resources Alwyn has pulled together; I would strongly encourage you all to check them out: Real World Fat Loss.

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Interview with AJ Roberts

By: Eric Cressey

I figured that you were probably getting sick of hearing from me, so this week, we’ve got a new interview for you.  If you haven’t heard of AJ Roberts yet, consider this interview your introduction to one of the future stars of the strength and conditioning world.  I’ve interacted with AJ via email for several months now, and we finally had the chance to meet up and talk some shop at APF Seniors in Las Vegas last weekend.  To say that I was impressed with his knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for lifting and coaching would be an understatement; this guy is wise beyond his years.  Watch out for him in the years to come.

EC: Thanks for being with us today, AJ.  You’ve really opened some eyes in the powerlifting community over the past two years.  Could you please fill our readers in a bit on your background?

AR: I am 21 years of age and am currently attending the University of Idaho, where I’m seeking a bachelor's degree in Sports Science.  I have always been involved in athletics. From an early age, I played various sports and in high school I was a three-sport athlete with football, basketball, and track and field.  In my senior year, I was ruled ineligible, and this is when I began my powerlifting career.

In February of 2004, I began training with (now University of Washington strength coach) Matt Ludwig and (world squat record holder) Brent Mikesell.  Under their guidance I have set state, national and world records in multiple federations and have accumulated a 950-lb. squat, 661-lb. bench press, and a 700-lb. deadlift, with my best total being 2300.

EC: You just got back from the APF Senior Nationals; could you tell us how that went?

AR: I competed in the 308-lb. class despite only weighing in at 284 lbs.  I'm not a big fan of cutting weight, so I just lift in whatever weight class into which I fall.  I had high expectations going into the meet and knew that it was going to take a 2400+ total to win.  Unfortunately, I only managed to get my opener in the squat (935) and after seeing so many people bomb out, I lifted conservatively to make sure I finished the meet.  I did manage to get an 11-lb. personal record in the bench (661) and finished with a 2295-lb. total, which was good enough for second place.  Hopefully, I can put it all together at the World Championships in November.

EC: Big numbers – especially at age 21!  You’re also involved in coaching at the collegiate ranks right now; please tell us a bit about that.  What are you doing?  How do you like it?  What are you learning from the experience?

AR: I have been a volunteer/intern in the Vandal Athletic Center at the University of Idaho now for almost two years.  In this time, I have been lucky enough to work alongside several different strength coaches, assisting with football, basketball, swimming, and soccer.  I really enjoy the hands on experience of getting to run drills, coach, and watch the athletes develop over the years.  The biggest thing that I will take away from my experience is that is not what you do, but the way you do it that is important.

EC: You’ve said that you’ve got the world’s best squat coach in Brent Mikesell.What is it that makes Brent such a tremendous squatter and coach?What insights can you pass along to our readers that will take their squats – and the rest of their lifts – to all new levels?

AR: There aren't too many people in this sport that love it and are as dedicated to it, or the lifters involved, as Brent is.  He works harder in the gym than anyone else I know, and even when he is hurt or sick, he will be there to help spot and load.  There are so many little things that I have learned from him it would be impossible to summarize it all here.

EC: How has being a competitive powerlifter impacted you as a coach?

AR: The biggest trait that I have carried over into coaching is the emphasis on perfect form.  I'm constantly working with the athletes to make sure they are not sacrificing form for strength, which is common due to the competitive atmosphere that is often created in a varsity weight room.

EC: I have to say that when we were talking at Seniors, you reminded me a lot of, well, me!  You’ve got that way about you; you’re always thinking that there is a better way to do things.  And, more importantly, you’re thinking about what that better way is.  With that said, randomly throw some idea out there that will really make our readers say “Oh, shit, that really makes sense!”


You must always seek knowledge from those who are more knowledgeable than you and who know what it takes to be strong!

Speed is more important than your ego!

Full range of motion work is the most important part of training; lifting big weights to a high box or a 3-board in the gym is not going to help you hit the numbers you want in a meet!

Your upper back is just as important as you lower back!

Being strong and being technical are just as important as one another!

Simple is still best!

Nothing beats hard work!

EC: I know that I’ve been sending a ton of resource recommendations your way, so fill me in on the ones that have impacted you the most; which would benefit our readers the most?

AR: I would say the following are must buys for anyone who is serious about strength and conditioning:

1. Professional Fitness Coach Program Design Bible by Alwyn Cosgrove

2. Supertraining by Mel Siff

3. Essentials of Weightlifting and Strength Training by Mohamed F. El-Hewie

4. The Sport Training Profits Program by Ryan Lee

5. Magnificent Mobility DVD by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson

EC: Ha!You already got the interview, AJ; you didn’t have to butter me up with that last one!Anyway, fast-forward five years; where is AJ Roberts going to be?

AR: Hopefully, I have established myself as one of the best strength coaches in the nation and will have opened up my own sports training facility.

EC: I’d put money on it.Hell, just from chatting with you, I’d hire you just to keep you from becoming one of my competitors!Thanks for taking the time, AJ.Where can our readers find out more about you?

AR: They can check out my personal website www.aj-roberts.com.
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Adrenomedullary Enlightenment

Sometimes, you need to be smart just for the sake of being smart. With that in mind, I present to you the first paper I wrote as a graduate student. While it undoubtedly made me a more informed researcher and student, it's still one week of my life that I'll never, ever get back. Enjoy. Introduction The adrenal medulla is well known as a powerful modulator of the physiological response to both exercise and rest via the "Fight-Flight" response. However, in light of opioid peptide research over the past few decades, it is now quite clear that the adrenal medulla plays a more prominent role than was originally perceived. Now, the study of adrenal medullary secretory activity, which was once limited to the catecholamines epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, also encompasses the lesser understood proenkephalin family of opioid peptides. With that in mind, it is important to consider adrenal medullary response to exercise stress and subsequent recovery in a broader sense. The Catecholamines and Adrenomedullary Activity Before considering the widespread impacts of the catecholamines in relation to exercise, it is important to note the relative contributions of each. Norepinephrine secretion from the adrenal medulla is certainly a contributing factor to the overall sympathoadrenal-medullary response to exercise, as the plasma concentration of the hormone (which also acts as a neurotransmitter) can increase twenty-fold with high-intensity exercise (1). However, sympathetic nerve endings also directly secrete norepinephrine to target tissues; during exercise, roughly 50% of total norepinephrine secretion occurs in the active muscles (2). Dopamine is the first catecholamine formed after the conversion of tyrosine to dihydroxyphenylalanine (dopa), the common chemical precursor for the three catecholamines. Norepinephrine and epinephrine are formed thereafter from this same pathway (3-5). Dopamine is present in the adrenal medulla and cortex, kidneys, peripheral nerves, carotid body, and sympathetic ganglia (6). In fact, it is the most abundant catecholamine in human plasma (5). However, only 2% exists in the free form; the remainder consists of biologically inactive metabolites (5,6). And, though the plasma free form dopamine concentration rivals that of epinephrine (and 20% of norepinephrine), it is not capable of the magnitude of physiological effects seen with epinephrine and norepinephrine (6). As such, although dopamine certainly plays a role in the adrenomedullary cascade of events in response to exercise, it is a less utilized measure of adrenomedullary activity during exercise and in recovery. Although dopamine is the most abundant catecholamine in the blood, epinephrine constitutes the vast majority of adrenal-medullary catecholamine release. Shah et al. proposed that those tissues outside of the CNS that produce catecholamines be labeled the "sympathochromaffin system," and be divided into two components: the sympathetic nervous system (neurotransmitter norepinephrine from postganglionic neurons) and the chromaffin cells (which secrete epinephrine, norepinephrine, and/or dopamine) (7). In short, plasma norepinephrine concentrations best quantifies sympathetic neuronal activity, whereas plasma epinephrine concentration is the optimal index of adrenomedullary secretions of catecholamines (7). With all these factors in mind, one can surmise that changes in plasma free epinephrine concentrations serve as the measure of choice in the discussion of the adrenomedullary catecholamine response to exercise and subsequent recovery. Catecholamine Response to Exercise Various intensities, durations, and modes of exercise serve as powerful stimuli to the adrenal medulla to initiate the Fight-Flight response. Numerous studies have found that epinephrine and norepinephrine secretions increase as exercise intensity increases. For instance, Kraemer et al. found that plasma epinephrine (Figure 1) and norepinephrine steadily increased during graded exercise on a bicycle ergometer from 54% to 83% and 100% of maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) in both trained and untrained subjects (8). Others have verified this relationship between plasma catecholamines and intensity during graded exercise sessions regardless of training status (9-12). Designation of a specific exercise intensity at which the adrenomedullary activity becomes significant is yet to occur, as catecholamines are always at work in the body. Unloaded cycling at approximately 10% VO2 max did not increase plasma catecholamines above resting values in young men (13). Likewise, as demonstrated in Figure 1, graded exercise on a bicycle ergometer did not increase plasma epinephrine above baseline at 54% VO2 max (8). However, Greiwe et al. demonstrated that norepinephrine and epinephrine (Figure 2) both increased with each 5% increment from 60% to 85% VO2 max before and after ten weeks of endurance training (14). Figure 1: Plasma epinephrine (Epi) concentrations at rest and after 15 min of exercise at the same relative exercise intensity before and after 10 wk of endurance exercise training. Greiwe et al. J Appl Physiol 1999. Designation of a specific exercise intensity at which the adrenomedullary activity becomes significant is yet to occur, as catecholamines are always at work in the body. Unloaded cycling at approximately 10% VO2 max did not increase plasma catecholamines above resting values in young men (13). Likewise, as demonstrated in Figure 1, graded exercise on a bicycle ergometer did not increase plasma epinephrine above baseline at 54% VO2 max (8). However, Greiwe et al. demonstrated that norepinephrine and epinephrine (Figure 2) both increased with each 5% increment from 60% to 85% VO2 max before and after ten weeks of endurance training (14). Figure 1: Plasma epinephrine (Epi) concentrations at rest and after 15 min of exercise at the same relative exercise intensity before and after 10 wk of endurance exercise training. Greiwe et al. J Appl Physiol 1999. (PICTURE)

As such, it appears that the cutoff point for significant adrenomedullary stimulation during endurance exercise is in the 55-60% VO2 max range.

Exercise duration is also of appreciable significance in determining the adrenomedullary response to exercise. Galbo et al. found that although plasma epinephrine increased steadily with prolonged treadmill exercise to exhaustion at 76% VO2 max, graded exercise in the same subjects at 44, 77, and 100% of VO2 max yielded greater increases (9). Others have verified the trend of increasing plasma epinephrine with longer duration exercise (15,16). Clearly, there is an appreciable lag time between the onset of exercise and increases in plasma catecholamine concentrations. In bicycle ergometer exercise to exhaustion at 36, 55, 73, and 100% of maximal leg power (the equivalent of 115, 175, 230, and 318% VO2 max, respectively), significant immediate post-exercise increases in plasma epinephrine were only observed at 36 and 55% of maximal leg power. The mean duration of exercise at these two intensities were 3.31 and 0.781 minutes, respectively. At maximal leg power, mean duration was approximately six seconds, and the significant increase in epinephrine was not seen until 15 minutes post-exercise (17). Jezova et al. examined the differential responses of two bicycle ergometer tests of the same total work output but different duration and intensities. The researchers concluded that the overall catecholamine response is more dependent on exercise intensity than duration or total work output (18). Resistance training also has a profound impact on adrenomedullary activity. Bush et al noted significant increases in plasma epinephrine following two different resistance exercise protocols –one high force and the other high power – of the same total work. There was not, however, a significant difference in adrenomedullary activity between the two (19). In another study comparing body builders with powerlifters, Kraemer et al. found that a ten station resistance training session (comprising 30 total sets at 10 repetition maximum for various exercises) with short rest periods increased plasma epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine significantly over pre-exercise values. No difference was noted between body builders and powerlifters on these measures (20). Pullinen et al. noted that although plasma epinephrine increased significantly with knee extensions to exhaustion at 20, 40, 60, and 80% of 1 repetition maximum (RM), the strongest stimulus to epinephrine, 20%, did not yield a significantly greater plasma epinephrine increase than the other three intensities (21). In contrast, Guezennec et al. observed that six sets of eight bench presses at 70% of 1RM yielded less of a plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine response than six sets of maximal repetitions at the same load (22). Therefore, intensity again appears to be paramount in determining the adrenomedullary response to exercise. Catecholamine Response to Recovery Several studies have noted abrupt drops in epinephrine values in the 5-15 minutes after the cessation of endurance, graded exercise, and resistance training sessions (8,17,19,23). In light of the aforementioned lag between the onset of exercise and increases in plasma catecholamine concentrations, one should note that epinephrine levels continue to increase for 15 minutes or more after very short duration, high-intensity exercise (e.g. sprints) (17,24). Additionally, 15 minutes following a 1000km ultra-marathon, free epinephrine concentrations remained well above pre-exercise values; clearly, the extensive nature of this duration appeared to be sufficient to elicit prolonged adrenomedullary activity (25). Chronic catecholamine adaptations to training have also been noted. Kjaer and Glabo found that endurance trained athletes demonstrated a greater ability than untrained subjects to secrete epinephrine in response to infusion of glucagon and acute hypercapnia and hypobaric hypoxia (26). This finding is significant, as Kjaer et al. had found previously (via epinephrine infusions in resting and cycling subjects) that plasma epinephrine concentration changes during exercise signify enhanced secretion rather than reduced clearance (27). In other words, endurance training appears to increase secretory capacity of the adrenal medulla. Lehmann et al. verified this phenomenon in finding that trained cyclists demonstrated lower plasma epinephrine concentrations than untrained subjects at the same relative oxygen uptake (28). The Opioid Peptides and Adrenomedullary Activity Since its discovery in the 1970s, the proenkephalin family of opioid peptides has become a recognized secretory product of the adrenomedullary chromaffin cells. Nonetheless, research regarding the opioid peptide response to exercise is limited (8,17,19). Perhaps the most studied member of the opioid peptide family is proenkephalin peptide F, which has responded to similar stimuli as epinephrine in previous studies (8,17,29).

Kraemer et al. noted differential peptide F responses during graded bicycle ergometer exercise in trained and untrained subjects. As Figure 2 demonstrates, in untrained subjects, peptide F increased similarly to epinephrine, whereas it peaked at 54% VO2 max and began to decline in trained subjects as exercise intensity increases to 83 and 100% VO2 max (8).

Figure 2: Plasma Epinephrine and Peptide F as a function of exercise intensity Kraemer et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1985 Note: squares indicate Trained group; triangles indicate untrained group. (PICTURE 2)

In a separate study, the differential responses between trained and untrained subjects were once again readily apparent when fit women had significantly higher plasma peptide F concentrations than their unfit counterparts at 80% VO2 max cycling (30).

Interpreting the peptide F response to varying exercise intensities proves to be challenging. Peptide F increased significantly during high intensity cycle exercise at 36% maximal leg power (roughly 115% VO2 max), but not at three greater intensities with shorter durations (17). Another study found that plasma peptide F increased significantly with graded exercise at 75 and 100% VO2 max (31). Conversely, recall that the aforementioned Kraemer study noted a drop-off point in plasma peptide F at 54% VO2 max in trained subjects (8). In support of this drop-off point, exercise at 80-85% VO2 max did not yield a significant increase in plasma peptide F (32). Likewise, when strength-trained men took part in separate high force and high power resistance training protocols, plasma peptide F was significantly decreased from baseline values at the end of the exercise sessions. Meanwhile, epinephrine increased dramatically as expected. The researchers hypothesized that epinephrine increases are made possible by decreases in enkephalin-containing polypeptides in the adrenal medulla (19). This theory is supported by research by Angelopoulos et al., who asserted that the opioid peptides have an inhibitory effect on the release of catecholamines during intense exercise (33). On a related note, in a study involving purposeful resistance exercise overtraining of trained subjects, peptide F concentrations were not significantly different between the overtrained and control groups. This similarity was present in spite of the protocol's previously demonstrated propensity to induce dramatic increases in epinephrine (29). The fact that chronic training increases adrenomedullary secretory capacity for epinephrine certainly supports this inverse relationship and helps to elucidate the question of why trained and untrained subjects have different peptide F responses during exercise. Opioid Peptides Response to Recovery Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the opioid peptides as they relate to exercise is the recovery period response. Increases in plasma peptide F have been noted not only in the first 5-15 minutes of the post-exercise period (9,17,19), but also at 240 minutes after resistance training sessions, when the mean concentration was more than 80% above the mean pre-exercise value (19). Researchers hypothesize that this post-exercise proenkephalin surge is indicative of the opioid peptides' crucial role in recovery (9,17,19,29,34). Additionally, enkephalin-containing polypeptides appear to play an essential role in the immune response through mechanisms such as neutrophil activation, natural killer cell modulation, and coagulation facilitation (29, 35). Given the negative impact of the catecholamines on overall immunity, the opioid peptides may serve as a means for the adrenal medulla to counteract immunosuppression during and after exercise (29). Conclusions The adrenal medulla is stimulated to secrete catecholamines by a variety of exercise intensities, durations, and modes, with a minimum intensity of 55-60% VO2 max likely being the most requisite factor. Generally speaking, as exercise intensity and duration increase, so does catecholamine secretion (most notably epinephrine) by the adrenal medulla. In untrained subjects, increases in plasma proenkephalin-containing peptides parallel increases in catecholamines. At the cessation of exercise, free catecholamine concentrations in the plasma decline sharply. Simultaneously, in trained subjects, concentrations of opioid peptides, which were relatively unaffected by exercise above 54% VO2 max, increase to values well above baseline. As the potentially immunosuppressive catecholamines (which are secreted at higher rates in trained individuals) dissipate, the enkephalin-containing peptides can begin to enhance recovery from exercise while enhancing the immune response. In spite of this theoretical paradigm, more research is clearly warranted in order to fully understand the causes of the differential opioid peptide response to exercise in trained and untrained subjects. Furthermore, the exact interaction scheme of the opioid peptides and the catecholamines remains to be definitively agreed upon.

References 1. Silverberg AB, Shah SD, Haymond MW, Cryer PE. Norepinephrine: hormone and neurotransmitter in man. Am J Physiol. 1978 Mar;234(3):E252-6. 2. Savard GK, Richter EA, Strange S, Kiens B, Christensen NJ, Saltin B. Norepinephrine spillover from skeletal muscle during exercise in humans: role of muscle mass. Am J Physiol. 1989 Dec;257(6 Pt 2):H1812-8. 3. Kvetnansky R, Armando I, Weise VK, Holmes C, Fukuhara K, Deka-Starosta A, Kopin IJ, Goldstein DS. Plasma dopa responses during stress: dependence on sympathoneural activity and tyrosine hydroxylation. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1992 Jun;261(3):899-909. 4. Goldstein DS, Eisenhofer G, Kopin IJ. Sources and significance of plasma levels of catechols and their metabolites in humans. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2003 Jun;305(3):800-11. Epub 2003 Mar 20. 5. Miura Y, Watanabe T, Noshiro T, Shimizu K, Kusakari T, Akama H, Shibukawa S, Miura W, Ohzeki T, Takahashi M, et al. Plasma free dopamine: physiological variability and pathophysiological significance. Hypertens Res. 1995 Jun;18 Suppl 1:S65-72. 6. Van Loon GR. Plasma dopamine: regulation and significance. Fed Proc. 1983 Oct;42(13):3012-8. 7. Shah SD, Tse TF, Clutter WE, Cryer PE. The human sympathochromaffin system. Am J Physiol. 1984 Sep;247(3 Pt 1):E380-4. 8. Kraemer WJ, Noble B, Culver B, Lewis RV. Changes in plasma proenkephalin peptide F and catecholamine levels during graded exercise in men. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1985 Sep;82(18):6349-51. 9. Galbo H, Holst JJ, Christensen NJ. Glucagon and plasma catecholamine responses to graded and prolonged exercise in man. J Appl Physiol. 1975 Jan;38(1):70-6. 10. de Diego Acosta AM, Garcia JC, Fernandez-Pastor VJ, Peran S, Ruiz M, Guirado F. Influence of fitness on the integrated neuroendocrine response to aerobic exercise until exhaustion. J Physiol Biochem. 2001 Dec;57(4):313-20. 11. Kraemer WJ, Dziados JE, Gordon SE, Marchitelli LJ, Fry AC, Reynolds KL. The effects of graded exercise on plasma proenkephalin peptide F and catecholamine responses at sea level. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990;61(3-4):214-7. 12. McMurray RG, Forsythe WA, Mar MH, Hardy CJ. Exercise intensity-related responses of beta-endorphin and catecholamines. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1987 Dec;19(6):570-4. 13. Krzeminski K, Kruk B, Nazar K, Ziemba AW, Cybulski G, Niewiadomski W. Cardiovascular, metabolic and plasma catecholamine responses to passive and active exercises. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000 Jun;51(2):267-78. 14. Greiwe JS, Hickner RC, Shah SD, Cryer PE, Holloszy JO. Norepinephrine response to exercise at the same relative intensity before and after endurance exercise training. J Appl Physiol. 1999 Feb;86(2):531-5. 15. Sothmann MS, Blaney J, Woulfe T, Donahue-Fuhrman S, Lefever K, Gustafson AB, Murthy VS. Plasma free and sulfoconjugated catecholamines during sustained exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1990 Feb;68(2):452-6. 16. Rostrup M, Westheim A, Refsum HE, Holme I, Eide I. Arterial and venous plasma catecholamines during submaximal steady-state exercise. Clin Physiol. 1998 Mar;18(2):109-15. 17. Kraemer WJ, Patton JF, Knuttgen HG, Hannan CJ, Kettler T, Gordon SE, Dziados JE, Fry AC, Frykman PN, Harman EA. Effects of high-intensity cycle exercise on sympathoadrenal-medullary response patterns. J Appl Physiol. 1991 Jan;70(1):8-14. 18. Jezova D, Vigas M, Tatar P, Kvetnansky R, Nazar K, Kaciuba-Uscilko H, Kozlowski S. Plasma testosterone and catecholamine responses to physical exercise of different intensities in men. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1985;54(1):62-6. 19. Bush JA, Kraemer WJ, Mastro AM, Triplett-McBride NT, Volek JS, Putukian M, Sebastianelli WJ, Knuttgen HG. Exercise and recovery responses of adrenal medullary neurohormones to heavy resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Apr;31(4):554-9. 20. Kraemer WJ, Noble BJ, Clark MJ, Culver BW. Physiologic responses to heavy-resistance exercise with very short rest periods. Int J Sports Med. 1987 Aug;8(4):247-52. 21. Pullinen T, Nicol C, MacDonald E, Komi PV. Plasma catecholamine responses to four resistance exercise tests in men and women. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1999 Jul;80(2):125-31. 22. Guezennec Y, Leger L, Lhoste F, Aymonod M, Pesquies PC. Hormone and metabolite response to weight-lifting training sessions. Int J Sports Med. 1986 Apr;7(2):100-5. 23. Ferrari R, Ceconi C, Rodella A, De Giuli F, Panzali A, Harris P. Temporal relations of the endocrine response to exercise. Cardioscience. 1991 Jun;2(2):131-9. 24. Harmer AR, McKenna MJ, Sutton JR, Snow RJ, Ruell PA, Booth J, Thompson MW, Mackay NA, Stathis CG, Crameri RM, Carey MF, Eager DM. Skeletal muscle metabolic and ionic adaptations during intense exercise following sprint training in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Nov;89(5):1793-803. 25. Pestell RG, Hurley DM, Vandongen R. Biochemical and hormonal changes during a 1000 km ultramarathon. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1989 May;16(5):353-61. 26. Kjaer M, Galbo H. Effect of physical training on the capacity to secrete epinephrine. J Appl Physiol. 1988 Jan;64(1):11-6. 27. Kjaer M, Christensen NJ, Sonne B, Richter EA, Galbo H. Effect of exercise on epinephrine turnover in trained and untrained male subjects. J Appl Physiol. 1985 Oct;59(4):1061-7. 28. Lehmann M, Keul J, Huber G, Da Prada M. Plasma catecholamines in trained and untrained volunteers during graduated exercise. Int J Sports Med. 1981 Aug;2(3):143-7. 29. Fry AC, Kraemer WJ, Ramsey LT. Pituitary-adrenal-gonadal responses to high-intensity resistance exercise overtraining. J Appl Physiol. 1998 Dec;85(6):2352-9. 30. Triplett-McBride NT, Mastro AM, McBride JM, Bush JA, Putukian M, Sebastianelli WJ, Kraemer WJ. Plasma proenkephalin peptide F and human B cell responses to exercise stress in fit and unfit women. Peptides. 1998;19(4):731-8. 31. Kraemer WJ, Dziados JE, Gordon SE, Marchitelli LJ, Fry AC, Reynolds KL. The effects of graded exercise on plasma proenkephalin peptide F and catecholamine responses at sea level. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1990;61(3-4):214-7. 32. Kraemer WJ, Rock PB, Fulco CS, Gordon SE, Bonner JP, Cruthirds CD, Marchitelli LJ, Trad L, Cymerman A. Influence of altitude and caffeine during rest and exercise on plasma levels of proenkephalin peptide F. Peptides. 1988 Sep-Oct;9(5):1115-9. 33. Angelopoulos TJ, Denys BG, Weikart C, Dasilva SG, Michael TJ, Robertson RJ. Endogenous opioids may modulate catecholamine secretion during high intensity exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1995;70(3):195-9. 34. Kraemer W, Noble B, Robertson K, Lewis RV. Response of plasma proenkephalin peptide F to exercise. Peptides. 1985;6 Suppl 2:167-9. 35. Hiddinga HJ, Isaak DD, Lewis RV. Enkephalin-containing peptides processed from proenkephalin significantly enhance the antibody-forming cell responses to antigens. J Immunol. 1994 Apr 15;152(8):3748-59.
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A Silly Split

The more I write, the more weird emails I receive. I'm always very accommodating in answering people's questions even if they're rude and critical of my work; in fact, I enjoy defending my assertions. I'm a firm believer that there must be a rhyme and a reason for everything a coach or writer recommends; what better way to prove it than to defend those recommendations in the face of criticism. Just recently, I had one such opportunity when I received an email criticizing me for writing a four-days-per-week training program that didn't "adhere" to the Mo-Tu-Th-Fr training split. Apparently, my actions constituted a serious program design faux pas, so I felt it necessary to justify my recommendation with an entire article on the very topic. In short, I'm not a big fan. It's a split designed for convenience. Unfortunately, there isn't much about the iron game that is inherently "convenient." Loading hundreds of pounds onto barbells and then lifting them isn't convenient, nor is sprinting, or preparing healthy meals, for that matter. Yeah, so you want the weekends off; who doesn't? Speaking anecdotally, I don't think that most trainees inflict enough damage to warrant two days of complete rest (and, for many, complete gluttony in front of a TV screen for college and NFL football games). And, to those who insist that the two days is enough for supercompensation to occur, I don't think you really even understand what supercompensation is; it take a lot longer than two days. I don't necessarily include MWF splits in this category, however, as they tend to be full-body training sessions that complement other training (e.g. sport-specific conditioning, cardiovascular activity, team practices, extra assistance sessions). First, let's consider why I don't like it from a logical perspective. You should know to prioritize work for your specific weaknesses by placing it on a "fresh" day (immediately after a rest day). Now, the Mo-Tu-Th-Fr training split allows for two fresh days, whereas a Mo-Tu-Th-Sa split, for example, allows for three. This might not seem like a big difference, but consider that it means trading roughly 50 pseudo-depleted sessions for 50 fresh sessions over the course of the year. In my mind, this corresponds to significant gains over the course of a training career; take a look at the template advocated by the lifters at Westside Barbell Club, which follows such a structural template, and you'll see that the proof is just as much in the numbers as it is in the logic. Next up, let's look at this from a pragmatic perspective. Are the gyms busier on weeknights or weekends? If you answered "weekends," you ought to just give up and take aerobics classes. Some of the best sessions of my training career have been on weekends simply because my mind was more clear of the all the nuisances of the "weekday world." Now, let's consider the Mo-Tu-Th-Fr split from a scientific perspective. Research has shown that following a resistance training session, skeletal muscle protein synthesis can be elevated for up to 48 hours (1). However, these researchers studied untrained subjects (2). MacDougall et al. (1995), on the other hand, found that in resistance trained subjects, protein synthesis had returned to baseline at 36 hours post-exercise (3). Keep in mind that I'm assuming that you're reading this site because you actually train, so we'll classify you with the latter group. If you don't train, why not head over to the Good Housekeeping forums? I'm sure that everyone will appreciate you sharing a few recipes while Martha Stewart is making license plates instead of quiches. To apply this protein synthesis data to you, we're going to calculate a thing I like to call "downtime." This is the time between training sessions minus 36 hours; basically, it gives you the amount of time in between sessions that you aren't above baseline in protein synthesis. We want to minimize this! Let's say that you're a Mo-Tu-Th-Fr evening lifter. Skeletal muscle protein synthesis is elevated rapidly, so we'll say that you stimulate it by 8PM on all days. From the time that you get the marked elevations on Friday to the time that protein synthesis is kickstarted on Monday, you're looking at 72 hours, the last two of which are essentially spent in a catabolic state during training (keep in mind that you'll be in a catabolic state all weekend if you're hopelessly intoxicated the entire time!). That leaves a full 36 hours of downtime (72 minus 36). Moreover, you get another 12 hours of downtime from 8AM to 8PM on Thursday; this is pretty much unavoidable, given your schedule. In all, theoretically speaking, that gives you two days per week (48 hours) that you aren't above baseline. Now let's consider what happens with the Mo-Tu-Th-Sa split and the same lifting times; assume once again that you're firing up protein synthesis around 8PM on all days. Because you took two rest days during the week and only one on the weekend instead of one during the week and two on the weekend, you have three 12-hour periods of downtime during the week (8AM-8PM on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday). Therefore, with the Mo-Tu-Th-Sa split, we have only 36 hours at baseline. A difference of twelve hours might not seem like much to you now, but over the course of a year, that works out to be an additional 26 days with protein synthesis elevated! If you don't buy into my scientific perspective, consider it from an anecdotal perspective by observing the outstanding results numerous trainees have experienced from programs that emphasize more frequent training (even if it means shorter sessions). While Bulgarian weightlifters have taken it to an extreme (albeit successfully) with several sessions per day, you can also read about the benefits of frequent training sessions in Joel Marion's Center Your Training; Ripped, Rugged, and Dense 2.0; and Sequential Development for Size. Conclusion The next time you write up your training program, ask yourself if it's based on logical, pragmatic, and scientific principles. Or, is it designed to make things convenient for you? If you find yourself answering yes to the latter question, chances are that you're sacrificing gains in both size and strength. Be sure to get your priorities straight before you determine how to break things up. With that said, let the angry email barrage commence! References 1. Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E99-107. 2. Rasmussen BB, Phillips SM. Contractile and nutritional regulation of human muscle growth. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2003 Jul;31(3):127-31. 3. MacDougall JD, Gibala MJ, Tarnopolsky MA, MacDonald JR, Interisano SA, Yarasheski KE. The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995 Dec;20(4):480-6.
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2006 Ironman Lake Placid: A Competitor’s Perspective

By: Jon Boyle

This could possibly be the longest report of my life. I promise that I will try to plug in humor along the way so that you all can make it through. I promise I've left out everything that doesn't have to be said and included everything that has to be said. Keep in mind that might be in my terms, a simple race report might just go like: “It hurt like a damned bitch. I finished.”

It wouldn't be fun if I didn't explain the full nature of the pain. I can say that I have realized that while the distance increased only two times from my last triathlon, the pain increased nearly ten times. But, on to the report…

August 2005, my first triathlon: I slept on the floor.

June 2006, my second triathlon: I slept in my car.

For Ironman, I figured it might be good to go first-class: I slept in a bed. Improvement!

My favorite day-before-race-day meal was chili nachos. I took a nap around 6:30PM and yes... acid reflux. Woke up around 8:00PM for the pre-race shave and back to bed at 9:00PM. I woke up at 5:00AM.

This is when it all started settling in; I was really concerned about having the worst GI problems I have ever experienced...ever. I didn't want to screw this up. I adjusted my pre-race meal.

Woke up with 10oz grapefruit juice, a scoop of whey, 4 Flameout, and my Alpha Male. I owe that grapefruit juice magic to TC. Finished a peanut butter and wheat bread sandwich with 90 minutes until the gun. I was down to my one banana and Gatorade. I closed up the meal gap with 45 minutes left and threw in my four BCAAs with 15 minutes until the gun.

The Star-Spangled Banner started up and each note struck like never before. The swim was a mass start – 2,500 people all going one place at one time. I got about a two-minute swim warm up, as I was a bit delayed by the extremely long bathroom lines. When the gun went off, I actually felt pretty good. I had a really good location – right about in the middle – for the swim start. The whole first mile I could feel the person behind me dragging on my legs, which made me realize that if I didn’t keep going, I’d get trampled by the 1,000 people behind me! Of course, I kept going. It was as if every intelligent participant had been reduced to the nature of a fish – just scrambling. I was really relaxed in the swim and I felt great, remaining aerobic the whole time.

At the 1.2 mile I was out of the water at 33:00. I was back in the water and off. Only complaint is that my wetsuit had taken on more water than the Titanic and I could feel it with each stroke. At the half-mile turn, I saw my first scuba diver and I gave him a thumbs-up. I am not sure if it was bad luck, but I some how managed to swim WAY off course at that point. I actually ran into the kayaker telling me "Dude, the course is that way!" Either way, I was out at 1:15. I suffered one kick in the face, some scratches on my ankle, and a jammed finger.

It was a quarter mile "run" to the transition area. Why? I don't know. It gave me some time to adjust from being horizontal for over an hour. I was in the transition area and decided to take my time. I chatted a few with the guy next to me. Had it not been for his complete lack of English skills, I would've gotten out a lot sooner.

I had a lot of heroes that day. My first hero was the guy who applied my suntan lotion. Congratulations, Suntan Man. You're my first hero of the day.

The bike was unbelievable. They told us the first lap would be "cake" and the second lap would feel a lot worse. I have to admit, 112 miles would be the longest I have ever biked, but I didn't feel that bad. Whoever designed the "bento box" is a real jerk, though. They included this useless piece of plastic with no covering; thanks to it, I managed to slice up my knee until I finally threw it off the side of my bike. My nutrition was great throughout the bike. I was on one BCAA every 30 Minutes, one Flameout and one GU carb packet every 45 minutes, 1.5 bottles of Gatorade throughout the hour, and 8oz of water throughout the hour; it was all working well. My HR was about 165 for the first 30 miles – a lot higher than I would've liked, but I figured that it was more nerves than exertion that was causing it. The climbs were hellish, though.

I realized that people enjoyed calling me "Spike" because of my jersey, and I really didn’t mind. I’ve probably been called a lot worse! In all, it was three climbs of 1,100 feet, but I loved it. 6:06 on the bike split.

I was out for the second loop and every hill just seemed bigger. I kept up the nutrition plan and was actually inspired when I cruised by a mailbox with a hanging sign that said "Cressey." Looks like the man of the hour bought a house just for the occasion. Really, Coach, you shouldn't have. I topped out on the downhill at 50mph, which was a thrill alone. The most memorable bike moment was the guy beating the drum to the rhythm of the climb.

As I came into the final transition, my feet started acting up. In the transition tent, I opted for a foot massage before I got going. Hero #2 of the day was the ART therapist that cleaned up my plantar fascia before heading out on the run. I told him "I feel like a new man."

The run started and I felt like I had some digestion issues. I walked the first mile and it felt good. I started to run, and kept up the nutrition plan. I cut out the Flameout in the last hour of the Bike and I pushed the BCAAs to one every 45 minutes. Digestion on the run is a lot harder than on the bike.

At about Mile 6, I couldn't take it anymore. The downhills hurt, and the uphills were like cliffs. I began to walk just to get myself to recover. I could tell I screwed up something because I sort of felt intoxicated. I did the walk/jog/run/shuffle/repeat routine. Around mile 13 it hurt to walk. I'd like to think I have a pain tolerance and this just had me at the brink.

My “anti-heroes” of the day were the multiple people throwing picnics at the side of the road. I don't need to see a lobster when all I've had on the day is GU and Gatorade. The last half of the "walk," I was cursing ever seeing a GU packet again. I opted for the luscious Fig Newtons instead. I swear that nothing tastes more heavenly than a stale Fig Newton. I actually washed it down with chicken broth. Yum. I also took the opportunity to Vaseline the “nips,” as I figured the red-eleven would be embarrassing on the finish line...a combination most would not choose. At that point I debated dipping the Fig Newtons into the broth, but I figured that'd be too much.

My next heroes of the day were the kids that gave out high-fives. When I came in for that last mile on the marathon, I began the sprint. I probably ran sub-six minutes on that last mile just knowing I was heading home. It brought me to a 6:30 walk/run-a-thon.

When I came into the finish line I decided to jump with my hands up to celebrate. Upon landing, I realized had about zero eccentric strength and nearly fell on my face.  Chalk that one up as a lesson learned.

I think I had more people call me Spike on the run than Boyle. I guess it goes with the hair too.

At the finish I felt as if I were in a drunken stupor. My next hero of the day was the lovely old lady who brought me my medal and blanket. She asked, “Would you like food or a massage?”

I thought to myself, “Damn, I must be in heaven!”

So, she repeated herself: “What would you like?”

All I could muster up was “Mom and Dad." I figured I could pass out right then, but I still need to give my parents a hug.

I went in for my massage and afterward I started the uncontrolled shivering, which meant a trip to the medical tent. I had a final temp of 95°F. I only dropped about six pounds on the race, meaning I was “decent,” but still a little bad. They didn't deem me worthy of the IV, though, so I just got chicken broth and a bag of lays potato chips.

Of all the people watching from my family, my brother-in-law’s brother and my friend Anders were the only two people to see me finish. My poor sister managed to watch five hours of finishers and missed me.

I remember I was going to try and make this funny and exciting but I forgot a lot about it. I think I'm still stuck in the euphoria at this point.

My final heroes: everyone that supported me along the way. A special thanks goes out to everyone who covered my shifts throughout this season, and this weekend. I couldn't have done it alone.

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Magnificent Mobility Reviews

Magnificent Mobility Reviews

"When I popped in the Magnificent Mobility DVD for the first time, I had just finished training and my nagging lower back was acting up again. I decided that instead of just sitting on the couch and watching the DVD I was going to get on the floor and follow along with Mike and Eric and go through every single drill they demonstrated. When you train and coach athletes all day long, sometimes it's a refreshing change to have someone else telling you what to do for once. I did just that and by the end of the DVD my back felt much better and I had picked up quite a few new mobility drills I had never used or seen before. Mike and Eric did a great job with this DVD and deserve to be commended. If you are a coach, trainer or athlete it would be in your best interest to order your copy of Magnificent Mobility today."

Jason Ferruggia

Performance Enhancement Specialist - www.J1Strength.com


“Magnificent Mobility just may be the most practical DVD available at the present time. I say this because EVERYONE can benefit from the information that it contains. I have all of my athletes perform many of the drills outlined in this video before they workut so they're properly warmed up - yet it can also act as an entire workout for the "Average Joe" who sits behind a computer all day and is suffering from low-back & shoulder pain. The possibilities are endless with this DVD. I even learned a couple of new exercises that I perform every morning and they help me get out of some back pain. Bottom line...Get this DVD! It's worth every penny!"

Joe DeFranco

DeFranco's Training Systems, LLC

DeFranco's Sports Nutrition, LLC



"As a consultant to a dozen Olympic, NCAA, and professional teams, I'm always on the lookout for resources that accomplish two goals:

1) Present new or often overlooked information that can make a real difference to optimal function and performance – for everyone from high level athletes to recreational exercisers.

2) Deliver this information in a clear way that's immediately applicable, regardless of the user’s education level or experience.

In Magnificent Mobility, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson have delivered a product that meets both goals.  Important in its message, clear in its delivery, and amazingly useful – not only do I recommend this product to every one of my clients and athletes, but I actually use the dynamic flexibility and warm-up exercises myself.  This is a must for every athlete and physique enthusiast’s library."

Dr. John Berardi, CSCS

Adjunct Professor: University of Texas

Author: Precision Nutrition, Gourmet Nutrition, Scrawny to Brawny

President: Science Link, Inc., Translating Research Into Results

www.JohnBerardi.com, www.PrecisionNutrition.com, www.ScrawnytoBrawny.com


“With Magnificent Mobility, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson present a concise, yet highly effective set of dynamic warm-up and mobility drills that will benefit both athletes and fitness buffs alike.  Lack of adequate mobility – especially through the hips – is a major obstacle to the safe and effective performance of many strength training exercises.  Magnificent Mobility addresses this fundamental problem, giving the viewer technical cues as well as explaining the rationale for the inclusion of each drill.  The exercises in this video will add to the quality of any strength training program; I use them myself and with my clients.”

John Sullivan

Performance Enhancement Specialist

Excel Sports & Fitness Training - Waltham, Massachusetts



“With Magnificent Mobility, Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson have introduced a fantastic product that addresses a pressing need in the strength and conditioning community. Insufficient mobility is a huge problem I encounter with athletes in several sports at all levels. A lack of mobility will not only limit performance and make training sessions less productive, but it will also dramatically increase one’s risk of injury. If you want to train and compete at high levels and stay healthy, Magnificent Mobility needs to be in your library.”

Alwyn Cosgrove

Performance Enhancement Specialist



"Eric and Mike's Robertson's Magnificent Mobility DVD is an excellent resource for strength coaches and personal trainers alike.  Unlike other DVDs on the market that just demonstrate exercises, Magnificent Mobility addresses specifically how and why they are done. When you only have ten minutes to warm up a client or a team, these are the best "bang for the buck" exercises.  Performing the exercises in the DVD will help your client/athlete correct muscle imbalances and improve posture and performance."

Sean Skahan, M.Ed., C.S.C.S.

Strength and Conditioning Coach, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim


"I just finished watching Magnificent Mobility and performed over half of the drills as I watched. Yesterday, I competed in the Tactical Strength Challenge and my low back is hammered. I feel MUCH better after the exercises.

"I NEEDED this video PERSONALLY as well as for my athletes. After almost 20 years of hard lifting, wrestling, and grappling, my body is not always feeling its best. Watching Mike and Eric perform the movements with full ROM was an eye-opener and showed me how it looks when someone spends regular time on these mobility exercises. I train predominantly combat athletes who have amassed numerous strength and flexibility imbalances, and these problems obviously limit their true potential. "The anatomy models and the review of each movement are top notch, as is the thorough voice-over explanations. This info is easy to implement – especially since the “dos and don'ts” of each movement are discussed. "Bottom line: I can immediately use this info easily with myself and my athletes. This DVD is key for any coach or athlete because inevitably we get injured. If you want to reduce your likelihood of injuries, then regular mobility training is imperative. Why am I so easily sold here? After two knee surgeries, a shoulder tear, and a body that is tighter than all heck, I NEED this to keep me healthy!”

Zach Even-Esh

Performance Coach for Combat Athletes



“If you've read Eric and Mike's stuff, you know that these are two coaches who know what they are talking about and consistently put out quality information. The Magnificent Mobility DVD falls right in line with their articles.

"The DVD's best feature is the high production quality and the different angles of the exercises shown. The video and the audio are great, and the exercises easy to see and learn. The coaching cues and highlighted body areas are very beneficial to those interested in knowing the 'why' of the various exercises.  The DVD is easy to navigate and is broken down into three levels of exercises, which is ideal for beginners to advanced athletes. Everybody can and will learn something from this DVD; it should be in included in every coach's library.”

Brijesh Patel

Associate Head of Strength and Conditioning, College of the Holy Cross

Co-Founder of S B Coaches College, LLC



“Mike and Eric have produced a professional, high-quality product. Magnificent Mobility is packed full of dynamic mobility drills that if performed regularly, should help to improve your performance and reduce injury risk.

"The video footage of the drills is very high quality and accompanied by audio explanation.  The drills are broken down into three difficulty levels, which allows you to start an athlete/patient/client at the appropriate level and then progress them as needed.  Likewise, the drills are convenient because they can be performed in a short period of time and do not require any special equipment.

"The drills are very comprehensive in nature and really work on the low back/hip and lower extremity kinetic chain.  A lot of injuries and poor performance on compound lifts are due to the athlete's inability to attain or maintain proper technique. This is often caused by poor mobility in the hips or lower extremity kinetic chain. If performed consistently, the Magnificent Mobility drills will eliminate those issues. "I think the Magnificent Mobility DVD is an excellent resource to add to your library. Whether you are a coach, personal trainer, lifter or other athlete, you can benefit from the information and drills on the DVD.”

Ryan Smith, D.C., B.S.

Chiropractic Physician - Columbus, Ohio

Sports Injury, Physical Medicine, and Rehabilitation Specialist


"I am really impressed with the product Eric and Mike have put together; it fills a much needed gap in the training and performance arenas. There is absolutely no doubt this DVD should be in the library of every athlete, from novices to professionals. It's a wonderful resource that is full of practical information that is usable in all settings and situations. I recommend this to those I work with and use the information regularly to increase flexibility, mobility, and help further prepare for training."

Christopher R. Mohr, PhD, RD

www.MohrResults.com, www.WeaponsforMass.com, www.HumanInferno.com


“Whether you're a strength coach, personal trainer, or everyday ‘weekend warrior,’ you will benefit from utilizing this great resource and implementing it into your clients' training or your own training. Eric and Mike back up their rationale with sound, up-to-date, practical, and scientifically proven information in a format that is easy to follow and comprehend. The sound quality is superb and the picture quality is first-rate. Eric and Mike have really come up with an outstanding product in Magnificent Mobility; this DVD would be an invaluable addition to your training library.”

Tony Gentilcore

Personal Trainer - Ridgefield, Connecticut

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How To Return to Overhead Pressing

Q: Eric – some thoughts on the overhead pressing and a question. Obviously, if the motion was symptomatic, you wouldn't do it. However, if after soft tissue work and then thoracic mobilization and activation work on the scapular muscles, the athlete could do the ROM without the symptoms, would that be a time to introduce very light OH pressing to reinforce the activation work, and re-teach the motor pattern. As Dr. Eric Cobb says, ‘strength training "cements" your neural patterns.'

A: First off, I agree with Dr. Cobb completely; it’s why resistance training is a strong foundation for most of modern physical therapy.

For your question, though, the answer is maybe. It depends on whether you've got someone with a lot of bone spurring. Even if you've optimized upward rotation patterns, you're still dealing with a 5mm subacromial clearance zone before the bone spurs are taken into account.

Additionally, you have to take into account the population in question. Laudner et al. found that at 60 and 90 degrees of humeral elevation, pitchers had less upward rotation than position players. We might be able to make it better, but that’s not to say that we can ever optimize it – especially under load – with the amount of throwing they do. We don’t do anything overhead with humeral head approximation except for isometric DB holds where upward rotation isn’t occurring (we’re cueing a specific scapular positioning). Gray Cook has some excellent ideas on this front in his Secrets of the Shoulder DVD.

My personal rule of thumb is that if someone feels like they need to get back to overhead pressing after a shoulder injury, they need to be pain-free for at least six months before we do so. We start with steep incline pressing with a neutral grip and move to a 1-arm DB push press - and go from there.
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It Looked Good on Paper

Q: Eric – I read your article, “It Looked Good on Paper,” where you recommended the following for an experienced lifter who is too weak for his cross-sectional area: Week 1: 8 singles over 90% Week 2: 6 singles over 90% Week 3: 10 singles over 90% Week 4: 2 singles over 90%, or 2x3 easy (5RM load) My questions are: 1. Do you test out each week? 2. How many times do you do this protocol per week for an exercise - once I am assuming or am I incorrect. 3. When you hit failure just after PR , how do you approach the next set. Drop down slightly and try stay at the highest possible load or back off fully to the drop off threshold and try work back up again (does it matter)? A: This would only be performed once a week on a lower and/or upper body day. There are essentially tests built in to each session. For the singles over 90% stuff, how you get those numbers will depend on your best for the day. Here's what it might look like on a bench for you: 45x10 135x5 185x3 205x1 225x1 230x1 (PR for the day) - 90% of 230 is 207, so only the 225x1 would count toward your total (you've got two over 90% by this point) So, to get five more singles, you'd take between 210 and 220 for your remaining sets. If you MISS a rep, count it as two singles over 90%. The idea is to NOT miss reps, though. Remember that you aren't going to be using the same exercise each week; you'll want to rotate more frequently than that.
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  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series