Home Posts tagged "Jen Sinkler"

Repetition vs. Randomness: Which Will Get You Fit Faster?

In his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author Nir Eyal goes to great lengths to discuss the various factors that make consumers fall in love with certain offerings. One factor he highlights in great depth is novelty - or randomness..

As an example, Eyal talks about how we never get tired of our email because we know that each time we check it, there are going to be 100% unique messages waiting for us. Each new email experience may bring noteworthy news, new challenges, different emotions, or just a quick break from the "real" world in which we live. Checking our emails - even if we do so hundreds of times per day - always brings novelty. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media websites and apps are all endlessly novel, too.

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Conversely, think about the game Farmville (yes, that annoying Facebook game for which you always get invites). In spite of small variations to the user experience, the game is always the same - and that's why people play it for hours on end - but ultimately give it up after a few weeks. The novelty wears off.

We can find similar parallels all across our daily lives. There's a reason so many people tune in to watch a reality TV show about the Kardashians; they say dumb things, fight a lot, and spend money on extravagant crap...to create novelty. Sorry, but a reality TV show about an accountant who pretty much does the same thing every day really doesn't drive ratings through the roof; it's just not at all novel.

Maybe you have a favorite restaurant because they have different weekly specials, whereas other spots don't rotate the menu. You probably have that one friend you adore because he/she always overreacts to things, gets easily flustered, or says the most random things - all of which provide endless entertainment value. Maybe you read this website because I make it seem random by talking about everything from training, to corrective exercise, to nutrition, to sports performance, to business, to my kids and dog.

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This randomness also has a place in fitness. Novelty is one factor that makes Crossfit popular; each workout is different, and that randomness can improve exercise adherence. Randomness also accounts for some of the success folks have working out with friends and training partners; your social experience for each training session is different when you have familiar faces with whom you interact (as opposed to working out by yourself in silence).

It goes without saying, however, that your entire program can't be random. Research has demonstrated time and time again that any periodization is better than no periodization at all with respect to improving a variety of fitness qualities. You need repetition to initially learn movement patterns, build strength and power on top of them, and - just as importantly - quantify these improvements. And, you need to plan to ensure that a training effect is achieved at an appropriate rate while reducing the risk of injury. It's an old adage, but failing to plan is planning to fail.

How, then, do we reconcile this need for repetition with our conscious and subconscious tendencies toward randomness, which likely actually improve exercise adherence? This reconciliation begins by recognizing the following:

All successful strength and conditioning outcomes are derived from a blend of repetition and randomness.

This is the classic discussion of strength and conditioning program design combining art (randomness/novelty) and science (repetition). It's important to note that there is an inverse relationship between randomness and motivation (but not necessarily training experience).

The lower the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for randomness to keep exercise engaging. This is working out.

The higher the motivation of the exercising individual, the greater the need for repetition to deliver a specific physiological effect. This is training.

To somewhat arbitrarily assign percentages, lower motivation folks (who are generally - but not always - beginning exercisers) might need 80% randomness and 20% repetition. The best coaches can usually push that 20% up substantially by disguising repetition as "fun" that might seem random. This is particularly important in working with very young athletes; you want repetition, but with variety. Different drills might teach the same movement skills. As an example, are these two drills actually delivering dramatically different training outcomes (besides the fact that I don't have a cool beard in my video)? Probably not.

Conversely, higher motivation folks - and athletes seeking out a specific training effect - can afford less deviation from the plan for randomness. Sorry, but if your goal is to throw a baseball 100mph, an off-season of cycling 100 miles per day isn't going to get you closer to that goal, even if you do enjoy it. Specificity matters.

However, we can't ignore the need for novelty in high-motivation trainees and athletes' program. There has to be some randomness included to avoid boredom in training programs. To me, there are five great ways to do this:

1. Incorporate another sport - Get your athletes out for some ultimate frisbee, or even just play tag instead of movement/sprint training. We worked this in with our pro baseball guys this off-season and it was a big hit. Just make sure the options you choose aren't high-risk for the athletes in question.

2. Add finishers - You never want to overuse finishers, but they can be awesome motivators and team builders, when done in groups. Perhaps most importantly, they take place after the primary training effect has already been accomplished. Just make sure not to overdo it and impose too much fatigue in a single session.

3. Implement new training equipment - You don't have to go out and buy an entire new gym of equipment; rather, simple changes can make a big difference. Draping chains over someone's back instead of using bands for loading push-ups is enough variety for some athletes. Throwing a Fat Gripz on a dumbbell provides a different training stimulus without overhauling your programs. These are just a few examples.

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4. Get in a different training environment - This goes hand-in-hand with option #1 from above, but just getting outside of your "typical" gym setting can be a great change of pace. Some of my best training sessions ever have taken place when I've been on the road and lifted at either friends' gyms or even random commercial gyms. These new locations might offer different training equipment, or you might even find extra focus lifting in a place where you don't know anyone (this is especially true for me, as it's very easy to get distracted training in a gym that may be filled with your clients!). Heck, this 616-pound deadlift was in Slovenia after I'd delivered a full two-day seminar!

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5. Different conditioning workouts - It's generally much easier to quickly quantify improvements in strength than it is to do so with conditioning. For that reason, the strength portion of your programs may be best suited for the "repetition" aspect of your training, whereas the conditioning (unless you're a competitive endurance athlete) is a good place to implement some randomness. As an example, I lift four days a week and do some form of "conditioning" on two other days. This conditioning might be rowing, sprinting, the Airdyne, the slideboard, barbell complexes, body weight circuits, kettlebell medleys, or any of a number of other options. It's where I find some randomness and can still use exercise to clear my head - and I actually find that I feel better when I get more variety in movements during my conditioning work.

One resource to which I commonly refer on this front is Jen Sinkler. Last year, she introduced her extremely thorough (and entertaining) resource, Lift Weights Faster. Effectively, it gives you hundreds of innovative conditioning workouts to try out when you need some randomness (and good challenges) in your life. I probably refer to the original resource 3-4 times per month, and it actually provided some great ideas that we incorporated in programs for our clients (particularly in our morning group strength camps).

As such, you can imagine how excited I was when I heard she was introducing Lift Weights Faster 2, which debuted this week at a great introductory price. I've reviewed the product, and it's fantastic - including this conditioning session I did yesterday:

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This great discount ends tomorrow (Friday) at midnight, so don't delay on checking out this great collection of workouts and extensive exercise library. You can learn more HERE.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 1/28/15

It's time for this week's installment of recommended strength and conditioning reading. Here are three articles worth reviewing:

7 Strategies for Strength Training with the Minimum - This Andrew Zomberg article is specifically targeted toward all my friends who are snowed in up in the Northeast. If you want to get your training in when the gym isn't open, you've got to be a little creative.

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5 Reasons Your Program Isn't Working - This article's messages might seem like common sense, but let's face it: common sense isn't so common anymore. It's great stuff from Mike Robertson at T-Nation.

Risky Fitness - Jen Sinkler takes a close look at risk: reward considerations in training programs. This appeals to me heavily, as a lot of my one-time consultations are folks who have traveled long distances to help undo the damage of irresponsible training programs.

Have a great Wednesday!

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The Best of 2014: Product Reviews

To wrap up my “Best of 2014″ series, I’ll highlight the top product reviews I did at this site in the last year. Here they are:

1. 2x4: Maximum Strength - I reviewed this resource by Bret Contreras back in early April, and it quickly became my favorite recommendation for a training program for folks to try after they finish my High Performance Handbook program. You can read my review of the program HERE, and Bret also authored a guest post for me during the week of its release: Squats vs. Hip Thrusts: Which is Better?

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2. Lift Weights Faster - Jen Sinkler created an incredibly expansive collection of conditioning workouts one can use in their training programs. I did a "pseudo-review" when I wrote up the post, 5 Characteristics of Successful Metabolic Resistance Training Programs. She contributed some additional insights on the process with her guest post, 5 Training Tips for the Busy Adult Athlete.

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3. Ruthless Mobility - This product from Dean Somerset was only released about a month ago, but it was definitely a big hit. Also, as I recently noted, his guest post, 5 Strategies for Quickly Increasing Your Mobility, was so popular that it temporarily maxed out my hosting capacity here on the site!

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4. The Modern Woman's Guide to Strength Training - As I noted the other day, I definitely plan to get more female-specific content up here on the site in light of the popularity of Molly Galbraith's post, The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women Make With Their Training Programs. In the meantime, though, this product makes for an excellent resource for women looking for direction with their strength training programs.

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There were certainly some other great products I encountered this year, but these four proved to be the most popular with my readers. Obviously, I also introduced some new products of my own in 2014, most notably The Specialization Success Guide and Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body. We've got a few more in the pipeline for 2015 as well!

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5 Training Tips for the Busy Adult Athlete

Today, I've got a guest post from Jen Sinkler, the creator of an awesome new resource, Lift Weights Faster.

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The playing field may look a little different these days: Rather than washing your own sweaty, grass-stained uniforms, perhaps you’re doing so for your kids. Maybe you’re throwing a laptop messenger bag over your shoulder instead of a duffle filled with equipment.

But the desire to get better has never waned.

Being a former athlete myself — one who continues to pursue better physical fitness and still chases performance in and out of the gym, as well as working with clients who want to look and feel athletic, regardless of whether or not there is a sport involved — has afforded me the opportunity to learn what it takes achieve these goals while juggling a busy work schedule. Below are the essentials.

1. Know when to push and when to chill.

I love Dan John’s analogies — he’s one of the best fitness translators in the business (that is to say, he breaks down even ideas better than almost anybody, for almost everybody) — and a favorite is the risk-reward spectrum of the aging athlete. To summarize, the undersized high school athlete who doesn’t get much playing time will take more risks in the weight room, scarf down more calories, and keep hypertrophy at the forefront, whereas the starters are playing it a little safer, just trying to stay strong and healthy enough to remain on the court or field, at least when they’re in season.

On a larger scale, you’ve got pro athletes earning money at their sport. At a certain point in their careers, they shift on “stealing more millions” by staying in the league. Redefining their game, approach or body at that point is too risky — the goal is to simply stay alive.

If your life is highly stressful, consider yourself the pro athlete. As Eric pointed out the other day, your body doesn’t differentiate between different kinds of stress. All stress matters and counts – simply put, if it feels like too much, it probably is. Examine how you feel after you train: in a nutshell, better or worse? And adjust accordingly.

If, on the other hand, you’re in a place in your life where you can add a little challenge, that opens up your possibilities in the gym. (Keep in mind that as we age, it takes longer to recover, so for those who fall under this umbrella, consider making your workouts more compact, regardless.)

The point is to adjust your workout style to your lifestyle. The person that gets into the gym 52 weeks a year will always make more progress than the person sidelined because they pushed it too hard in 52 minutes.

2. Vary work-to-rest ratios and circuit structure.

Varying the length and structure of your finishers are a great way to stimulate your body in a different, highly metabolic way.

To be clear: I’m not advocating screwing around in a way that isn’t going to net you results. That is, doing squats while teetering atop a BOSU ball may qualify as novel, but it’s not useful. And, we’ve all done workouts where one muscle group was so thoroughly taxed that you can’t perform a sufficient amount of work to qualify as a metabolic workout. I am talking about adding new and productive challenges to your conditioning routine.

Strength ladders are great as they can allow you to get a good amount of volume into a short time period, as do complexes, combos and chains.

And, depending on their training volume within the week and the day of, I’ll toy with my clients’ work-to-rest ratios. Some days short and intense, some longer and lighter, with a negative-rest workout sprinkled in sparingly.

Here are a few options:

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3. Play mind games.

Humans are hardwired to love novelty (a quality called neophilia), and new movements can be a gateway for new progress.

Movements like the “monkey hustle” or “silverback” below are great primal movements that are great strength and coordination builders – but be smart with ’em. High amounts of primal/crawling patterns on top of pushups can be a recipe for tender wrists.

Treat newer movements like your strength training, increasing the volume by roughly 10 percent each week. If 15 meters of crawling feels good, just bump it up to 16 to 17 meters the next time you incorporate them in your repertoire. Slow and steady here — no one ever benched 200 pounds for the first time ever and then jumped to 300 (actually, that’s not true, but it usually results in a viral YouTube video).

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4. Prep your food plan.

I’m a systems person, from tracking my workouts to cooking at home. Systems save you plenty of time and stress. Nothing works harder against body-comp and performance goals than the aftermath of coming home famished and having nothing prepared. If you can come up with a weekly plan for what’s on deck in the fridge and an inventory of what’s cooked up and ready to reheat, you’ll be set.

If you’re intimidated by home-cooking, short on time, or just like when your meals cook themselves, the crockpot has gone gourmet. It’s as easy as
choosing ingredients, cutting them up, tossing them in, and a few hours later,
done. The secret is in the spices. (Plus, it makes your house smell
like the inside of the best restaurant you’ve ever visited.)

Another option: hash. Again, super easy: throw a bunch of fresh, high-quality ingredients into the same pan and then take credit for the flavorful result.

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5. Be adaptable.

Chances are that your schedule varies due to familial or social obligations, work travel, and energy levels. When you can’t stick to Plan A, try workouts like this body weight ladder. The Plunge can be completed for time (I like to jot my times in my training journal to make sure I’m continually making progress, even in conditioning). Or, if you’ve had a heavier strength-training session, this circuit complements the iron nicely with the variety in movement and just enough volume.

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Get Better Faster

If you’re looking to improve your fitness in creative but productive ways, I’ve put together a mammoth 130-workout pick-and-choose conditioning library called Lift Weights Faster. Complete with a full exercise glossary that includes written descriptions and photographic demonstrations of over 225 exercises (from classic moves to more creative ones), a video library that includes coaching on 14 of the more technical lifts, five challenge-workout videos, plus a dynamic warm-up routine, I leveraged my background in magazine publishing to create a clear-cut, easy-to-use resource that you’ll want to turn to all the time. 

Plus, every workout is organized by the equipment you have available and how much time you’ve got, including plenty of effective options that last anywhere from five up to 30 minutes. If you’re on the go, there are plenty of options to keep you busy, interested and progressing in the direction you want to go. And if you like a challenge, there are five keystone workouts that you can track online on the site’s tracker along with challenge your coworkers for a place on the leaderboard.

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About the Author

Jen Sinkler (www.jensinkler.com), RKC, PCC, PM, USAW, is a long-time fitness journalist who writes for national magazines such as Women’s Health and Men’s Health. A former member of the U.S. national women’s rugby team, she currently trains clients at The Movement Minneapolis.

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5 Characteristics of Successful Metabolic Resistance Training Programs

Metabolic resistance training (MRT) has been all the rage in the fitness industry over the past few years.  And, while people have started to appreciate that interval training is a better option for fat loss than steady-state aerobic activity, that doesn't mean that they've learned to effectively program this interval training - especially when it involves appreciable resistance, as with MRT.  In other words, it's much easier to program intervals on the recumbent bike than it is to include kettlebell swings, as one obviously has to be much more cognizant of perfect technique with the swing.  With that in mind, with today's post, I'll highlight five characteristics of safe and effective metabolic resistance training programs.

1. They must include self-limiting exercises.

With self-limiting exercises, fatigue stops you from completing a rep before your technique can break down.  A perfect example would be sled pushing or dragging.  It's virtually impossible to have technique break down with these exercises, especially in a trained athlete, and even under considerable loading.  And, I can't say that I've ever seen anyone injured while using a sled.

Taking this a step further, I'd note that there are exercises that might not be self-limiting initially, but reach that point eventually. For example, with a beginner, a suspension trainer inverted row is not self-limiting at all; there are several important technique elements that a lifter needs to master because doing the exercise under conditions of fatigue.

Push-ups would be another example.  We've all seen the classic push-up form deterioration under fatigued conditions: a sagging, excessively arched lower back; forward head posture; and elbows flaring out.  It's the classic "panic mode" strategy employed by beginners.  However, you never see it in experienced lifters; they'll simply fail before the technique breaks down.  Part of this comes from technical proficiency, but it's also related to the fact that the limiting factor shifts from anterior core stability to upper body strength/endurance as an individual gets more experienced.

With all this in mind, it shouldn't surprise you that what's appropriate for a MRT program changes over the course of a training career.

2. There has to be sufficient total work to achieve a training effect.

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but doing 5-10s intervals probably isn't going to do much for you - unless you're doing a ton of them, or using really short rest intervals.  Essentially, you have to get to the point where you shift over from the ATP-PC to the glycolitic (anaerobic) system.  This is a sweet spot where intensity of exercise is high while volume remains up - and that's how you create the "metabolic debt" that makes interval training so beneficial.

I think it's better to look at total work than just reps in a given set, as not all drills are created equal.  For example, if you do a barbell complex consisting of five snatches, five cleans, five front squats, five barbell rows, and five deadlifts, you've done a ton more work than if you just did 25 medicine ball throws.  The loading capabilities are greater with the barbell complex, and the bar travels over a greater distance.  Since work equals force times distance, it's a more powerful stimulus than the medicine ball throws.

3. The work intervals must be short enough to preserve a high effort level and good technique.

This could be considered the "corollary" to #2.  Doing a set of 100 barbell snatches is absurd, as technique breaks down, and the amount of weight an athlete can use is almost too trivial to even call it metabolic RESISTANCE training.  Plus, it would likely take about 2-3 minutes to complete, which means that you're getting much more aerobic, even if an athlete is "working hard."  My feeling is that you use your work bouts to challenge anaerobic systems, and your recovery period to condition the aerobic energy system.  Let's be honest: most strength training enthusiasts care more about the aerobic system for recovery than actual aerobic exercise performance, anyway.

4. The programming must appreciate the influence of "other" stress.

My wife takes bootcamps at Cressey Performance three days a week, and they're heavily focused on MRT.  Accordingly, she only does "true" strength training sessions two days a week.

I, on the other hand, don't take bootcamps, but have more traditional lifting sessions four days a week.  I'll usually supplement them with one metabolic resistance training, sprinting, or rowing intervals session, as well as one low intensity "blood flow" day.

Our dog, Tank, on the other hand, lays around all the time and doesn't do a damn thing.

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Effectively, the harder you train on the strength side of things, the less you can do on the conditioning side of things.

This also applies to those with considerable stress outside the gym.  Stress is stress, so if your life is crazy hectic, it may not be appropriate to do a lot of high volume MRT.  Some low-key aerobic activity might be a better supplement to your strength training work until you can get your stress sorted out.

5. There must be adequate equipment and sufficient space available.

This is an incredibly important, but commonly overlooked factor that heavily influences a metabolic resistance training program's success. While you can usually get by with minimal equipment with a MRT program, body weight only can get old very quickly.  Fortunately, just adding a kettlebell, band, suspension trainer, barbell, or other implement can quickly expand your exercise selection pool.  It's important to realize that a little bit can go a long way, especially if you're training in a busy gym and can't monopolize pieces of equipment for too long without someone walking off with them!

Space is a different story, though.  If you have a 10'x10' home gym with low ceilings, it's going to be tough to do barbell complexes, sled pushes, or farmer's walks.

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Likewise, using our busy gym example from above, do you really want to even attempt a barbell complex in a busy commercial gym?  You might have pristine form, but some inattenive gymgoer might still walk right into you in a middle of a set of power cleans.  Make sure that your area is big - and secure - enough.

As you can see, there is a lot more that goes into designing a safe and effective metabolic resistance training program than meets the eye. To that end, I highly recommend Jen Sinkler's new resource on the topic: Lift Weights Faster.

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The depth of this product really blew me away, as there are 138 pages of sample MRT workouts using all sorts of different equipment, or none at all. There are some great ideas in there for fitness professionals and fitness enthusiasts alike, and I'll certainly be implementing some of the techniques Jen describes in our programming at Cressey Performance.  It's on sale at a great introductory price this week, so be sure to check it out.

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Eric Cressey is Unbalanced

At Cressey Performance, stability balls are holey. No, that's not a typo. I mean employees literally use knives to puncture them. With glee.
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