7 Tips from Jonathan Fass

About the Author: Eric Cressey

New Article

I had a new article published at T-Nation last week; check out 4 Ways to Stay on Track.

Seven Tips from Jonathan Fass I first got in touch with Jonathan Fass through some mutual friends, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to chat with him in person here in Boston last winter that I realized how bright this guy was. Jon’s a guy who flies under the radar, and his joking online personality sometimes masks how bright he really is. With that in mind, I asked him to quit cracking jokes for a few minutes and throw some knowledge my way for this week’s newsletter. Check it out.

1. Performance enhancement is multi-faceted: approach it from every angle. Recognizing areas of musculoskeletal dysfunction is one of the best things that you can do for yourself in terms of improving performance, strength and overall health. However, simply spotting problems in movement, posture or muscle strength is only the beginning. Nothing in your body is a self-contained unit, and therefore a functional issue in one system, organ or muscle will result from and contribute to deficiencies in any number of areas, from proprioception and kinesthetic awareness to activation and motor control. Although your goal might be to “activate your gluteal muscles” to improve your squat performance, strength training alone won’t do the trick as efficiently as a mixture of strength training, neural activation drills, kinesthetic awareness training (the so-called “mind-muscle” connection), variable movement pattern training, and any number of other approaches could. Remember: There’s never only one cause to a physical problem, so don’t limit yourself to only one approach.

2. Don’t use a balanced routine if you want to become more balanced. Most of us realize that there is an inherent advantage in following a routine that is designed specifically for us, as opposed to a “generalized” cookie-cutter routine. Yet few people seem to actually understand what that really means, and feel that haphazardly throwing a few exercises together in a “balanced” routine is all it takes to suddenly make it an individualized routine. The problem is that almost no one is actually balanced in terms of muscle, posture, joint position or flexibility! Base your program design on your goals, but evaluate your exercise selection itself on your particular needs, whether those needs are postural improvements, muscle dysfunctions, weak points in your movement, strength and/or conditioning needs, or any combination that might be appropriate for you. A routine that would appear to be grossly imbalanced on paper is exactly what you need to become more balanced as a result.

3. Periodize everything. If you’re already using a form of periodization in your training, then you’re ahead of the game already (if you’re not, why not?!?). But while most trainees will immediately recognize the advantage in a periodized strength training program, they stop there and never think to apply this concept to their conditioning and diets as well. If your goal is to lose weight, planned fluctuations in your diet, from free meals, refeeds and diet breaks can help to disrupt the body’s attempt to establish energy homeostasis and help to limit or even reverse the affects of decreased leptin, testosterone, protein synthesis, thyroid hormone, and any other number of problems inherent with prolonged undereating. At the same time, periods of momentary decreases in calories during hypertrophy phases, such as carb cycles, can help to limit fat accumulation and maintain low body fat levels even when overfeeding. The same thought process should be used in your conditioning program, too: by mixing up the length, intensities, and even the methods with techniques such as barbell complexes and tabatas will encourage progression and avoid plateaus, whatever your ultimate goals may be.

4. “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”-Albert Einstein. Dr. Einstein may not have been much of a muscle head, but it does seem that he knew a thing or two about working out. After all, some of my best strength and performance increases have come out of plateaus, injury, or missed workouts. Why? Because they gave me time to reflect on my techniques, form, and programming and to evaluate what had gone wrong. Sometimes, that’s far more important than knowing what’s going right. After all, Plato wrote that “necessity is the mother of invention.” So use your setbacks to reinvent yourself, whether that means taking a step back to improve your form, evaluate weak-points, allow injuries to heal, alter your sleeping or eating habits, or change your workouts altogether for an entirely new stimulus. Something went wrong to put you in that position: fix the problem and take the opportunity to learn and improve so that it doesn’t happen again.

5. Postural improvements occur outside of the gym, not in it. If your goal is to improve humeral positioning, for instance (the so-called “Neanderthal Shoulder”), chances are that you are performing a few additional exercises, mobility drills and stretches in the gym to try and undo your imbalance. While that’s the usual approach towards fixing a problem, the truth is that it’s hardly going to be affective alone. While you might be dedicating five, ten or even fifteen minutes every other day in the gym in corrective exercise, that leaves somewhere over 6200 minutes each week, give or take a few hundred minutes, for you to undo your hard work by not being aware of your posture, positioning and movement outside of the gym! If you want to make a lasting, permanent change in yourself, you have to make it a habit, not just an exercise. One more thing: Lasting change in posture and motor control will take, on average, three weeks to occur. That’s a lot of time to either help or hurt your own cause…the choice is yours.

6. Performing wrist extension exercises might actually be making your grip weaker. The functional role of the wrist extensors is to maintain an optimal length-tension relationship for the wrist and finger flexors to exert the greatest amount of torque when gripping and holding an object. Therefore, you can train the extensors to become stronger just by carrying objects, and not by performing active dumbbell or barbell wrist extensions. In fact, if you create a strength imbalance at the wrist in an attempt to get your forearms stronger for the sake of appearance, you could actually impact the ability of your flexors to grip strongly, impacting your weights on more important strength building exercises such as deadlifts, rows and pull-ups or chin-ups, which naturally and functionally train the wrist extensors, anyway.

7. Practice your form: it’s all in your head. Motor learning occurs through a phenomenon known as “cortical plasticity” and “reorganization,” which describe the adaptive capabilities of the brain’s motor centers, specifically populations of cortical neurons in the primary motor cortex. In other words, we learn by making physical changes in our brains as we practice movement, and practice makes perfect. What this also tells us, however, is that imperfect practice will lead to imperfect learning and motor control. And after it is learned, it has to go through further physical change in order to alter that motor pattern. By putting the time in to learn and practice proper form and technique, you will save yourself a lot of wasted time in terms of poor and less efficient movement, as well as the time that it will take to retrain your movements later on. Form should always follow function; when function follows poor form, injuries can and will occur.

About Jonathan Fass

Jonathan Fass is an Active Release-certified NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), ACSM Certified Health & Fitness Instructor, and USA Weightlifting Level-1 Club Coach. He is currently a doctoral student in the City University of New York’s Physical Therapy Program. Jonathan designs and implements exercise programs for Rutgers students, student athletes, and faculty/staff at Rutgers University, NJ. He is also an instructor for Rutgers Recreation, an adjunct lecturer in the Exercise Science department, and the Conditioning Coach for both the Rutgers Men’s and Women’s Rugby teams, Rutgers Women’s Club Soccer, and Rutgers Water Polo team. You can find his articles in numerous print and online magazines, including Men’s Fitness magazine. Check out his website at www.AcceleratedStrength.com. That does it for this week’s installment. We’ll be back early next week with our next newsletter – and an announcement on a new product that you won’t want to miss. Have a great weekend! EC