Home Posts tagged "strength training programs"

7 Ways to Make Your Strength Training Programs More Efficient

I'm a big believer in pursuing maximum efficiency in our training programs. We want exercises and training strategies that deliver the biggest "bang for our buck," as most people don't have all day to spend in the gym. That said, supersets, compound exercises, and other well-known approaches on this front are staples of just about all my programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the typical strategies just don't get the job done sufficiently. There are periods in folks' lives that are absurdly busy and require approaches to kick the efficiency up a notch further. With us opening a new facility right as our busiest season is upon us - and my wife pregnant with twins - you could say that this topic has been on my mind quite a bit these days. With that in mind, here are seven strategies you can utilize to get a great training effect as efficiently as possible.

1. Switch to a full-body split.

Let's face it: you might never get in as much work on a 3-day training split as you do on a 4-day training split. However, you can usually get in just as much high quality work. I've always enjoyed training schedules that had me lifting lower body and upper body each twice a week. However, usually, the last few exercises in each day are a bit more "filler" in nature: direct arm work, secondary core exercises, rotator cuff drills, and other more "isolation" drills. In a three-day full-body schedule, you should really be just focusing on the meat and potatoes; it's the filler you cut out.

Additionally, I know a lot of folks who actually prefer full-body schedules over upper/lower splits. This was one reason why I included 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training options in The High Performance Handbook.

 

2. Do your foam rolling at another point during the day.

There has been a lot of debate about when the best time to foam roll is. While we generally do it pre-training with our athletes, the truth is that the best time is really just whenever it's most convenient - so that you're more likely to actually do it! If you'd rather foam roll first thing in the morning or at night right before bed, that's totally fine. As long as you get it in, over the long haul, you really won't see a difference if you compare pre-training to another point in the day.

3. Do a second, shorter session at home. (Waterbury, PLP program example)

Remember that not all training sessions have to actually take place in a gym. Rather, you might find that it's possible to get in 1-2 of your weekly training sessions at home. As an example, I have an online consulting client who has a flexible schedule on the weekends, but a crazy schedule during the week. He does two challenging sessions with heavier loading on the weekends (lower body on Saturday and upper body on Sunday). Then, he'll work in some filler work with body weight, band, and kettlebell exercises on Tuesday and Thursday. He's still getting in plenty of work in during the week, but he doesn't have to set aside extra time to drive to and from the gym. Obviously, a home gym alone can make for more efficient programs, too!

4. Move to multi-joint mobility drills.

If you're in a rush to get in a great training effect - and abbreviated warm-up - don't pick drills that just mobilize a single joint. Rather, pick drills that provide cover a lot of "surface area." Here are a few of my favorites, as examples:

Typically, you're going to want to do fewer ground-based drills and more drills where you're standing and moving around.

5. Dress in layers.

Speaking of warm-ups, it'll take you longer to warm-up if you dress lightly - especially as the winter months approach. Athletes always comment that they get (and stay) warm better when they wear tights underneath shorts, or sweatshirts and sweatpants over t-shirts and shorts. Of course, you can remove layers as you warm up.

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Additionally, if you're an early morning exerciser, you can expedite the warm-up process by taking a hot shower upon rising. A cup of coffee can help the cause as well.

6. Add in mobility fillers.

If you're going to shorten the warm-up a bit, you can always "make up" for it by working in "fillers" between sets of your compound exercises. I actually incorporate this with a lot of the programs I write, anyway. If you look at our baseball athletes, they're often doing arm care drills in between sets of squats, deadlifts, and lunges. They get in important work without making the sessions drag on really long, but at the same time, it paces them on the heavier, compound exercises so that they aren't rushing.

7. Use "combination" core movements.

Usually, the word "core" leads to thoughts of unstable surface training, thousands of sit-ups, or any of a number of other monotonous, ineffective, flavor-of-the-week training approaches. In reality, the best core training exercises are going to be compound movements executed in perfect form. Overhead pressing, Turkish get-ups, 1-arm pressing/rows/carries, and single-leg movements (just to name a few) can deliver a great training effect. Complement them with some chops/lifts, reverse crunches, dead bugs, and bear crawls, and you're pretty much covered.

There are really just seven of countless strategies you can employ to make your training programs more efficient. Feel free to share your best tips on this front in the comments section below. And, if you're looking to take the guesswork out of your programming, I'd encourage you to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning program on the market today.

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Strength Training Programs: 3 Habits to Make You a Better Lifter

Today's guest post comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Andrew Zomberg.  Andrew's a fantastic coach and a great writer, so you'll be seeing much more about him around here in the future!
 

Habitual behavior happens unconsciously and compulsively. Daily activities like brushing your teeth or setting your alarm before bed are programmed into your brain simply because of the repetitive nature in which you carry out these actions.  You want to create the same kind habitual behavior in your lifting routine. But, building these habits requires specificity. In other words, it is not enough to say, “I want to be a more efficient lifter.” This big goal needs to be broken down into small, specific behaviors in order to make the change attainable.

Below are three important habits to establish in your lifting routine. These behaviors will pave the way to efficiency. Just know, reinforcing them will take time. According to a 2009 study from London’s University College, it takes 66 days to successfully adopt a new habit.  What does this mean? At first, you will have to work hard at implementing them into your lifting routine – so don’t get discouraged! Eventually, these habits will become second nature, and you will incorporate them without even thinking about it.

1. Create structure. Structure provides a baseline to achieve your fitness goals. By planning things out and establishing a purpose to be at the gym, you can ensure quality and consistency in your workouts. Structure also makes it easier to stick to a program long-term. But planning requires effort and discipline, especially in the preparation phase. To make structure and organization a habit, aim to:

  • Write everything down. This includes the load (amount of weight lifted), any modifications (regressions, progressions, etc.), and the settings (cable column adjustments, hand placements, stance, etc.). It is not practical to remember exactly what you did last week, so take the guesswork out. Keeping track of your workouts is also highly motivational. Tracking your progress provides positive feedback and reminds you just how hard you are working to attain the end goal.
     
  • Execute the program without deviation. Program designs are created for a reason. Exercise choice and exercise order aren’t just arbitrary recommendations that can be ignored. Sure, warm-ups can be boring, and of course it is easier to do a lat pull down than a chin-up, but there are no shortcuts to speed, strength and growth. So, stick to the plan!
     
  • Improve your accountability to minimize hiccups in your programming. If you have a work commitment, schedule your training session around it. If you have an injury, find a way to safely work out. If you often make excuses to skip a weekend workout, train with a partner to increase your accountability to get the gym.

2.  Improve the proficiency of each lift. Awareness is underrated in fitness. Take single-leg work, for instance. Many “lungers” allow their knee to translate too far forward, which yields premature heel lift. Unbeknownst to their knowing, this redistributes the stress to unwanted areas and simply doesn’t target the intended areas (the hamstrings and glutes). It is so important to hone in on proper technique to ensure stability, proper body alignment, movement quality, and of course, safety. In order to improve proficiency in your programming, make a habit to:

  • Learn the right way to do each exercise. There are plenty of experts in the field who have mastered specific lifts from whom you can learn. However, please keep an open mind. Do not get caught up with just one individual. By learning from several enthusiasts, you are exposed to many different physical and verbal cues that will help perfect your lifts.
     
  • Practice lifts and all of their steps. There are several key components of a lift, including (but not limited to) the set-up, the tempo of the ascent/decent, and the lockout of the movement. Do not race through exercises. Take the time to execute the movements in their entirety in order to maximize results.
     
  • Figure out the limiting factors. These factors may include, mobility or stability restraints, lack of kinesthetic awareness or a pre-existing injury that is preventing the proper execution of a movement. There are several ways to reveal these issues.  Watch videos. Work with a training partner. Get assessed by a trained professional, like an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor. It is essential to address limiting factors because if you continue to perform in faulty movements, they will become ingrained, which prohibits growth and could eventually lead to further injury.

3.  Add variations to programs and exercises. Variations are different ways of executing movements to increase or decrease the level of difficulty, eliminate monotony or simply expand your existing knowledge base. Adding variety to your programming will not only create the necessary adaptations for growth, but it will also enhance your level of expertise in specific lifts. Variations are effective on a monthly basis. To add variations in your programs, strive to:

  • Manipulate the volume. Changing your reps and sets by either adding more or less weight in your current program will provide the muscular disturbances needed for noticeable and consistent growth.
     
  • Add more exercises to your toolbox. Your muscles will not get stronger unless you force them to do so. By utilizing different exercises, you impose new stresses to the body, eliminating monotony and allowing for adaptation. This change leads to an endless list of benefits, including the improvement of cardiovascular health, the enhancement of body composition, and the development of quality of movement.
     
  • Play around with additional training variables. Alter your base of support (stance), create new ranges of motion (deficits or partials), adjust your grip placement or modify your tempo.  Changing the variables not only warrants growth, but also helps you avoid plateaus.  Remember, repetition allows the body to adapt to the repetitive motions, so mix it up – on a monthly basis!

Andrew Zomberg is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance.  You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewZomberg.

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6 Common Turkish Get-up Technique Mistakes

Today's guest post on the Turkish Get-up comes from Cressey Sports Performance coach, Greg Robins.

The Turkish Get-up has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, and rightfully so, as it's a fantastic exercise.  It is also, however, a complex exercise with many different components that must be "synced up" to get the most benefits of the drill.  With that in mind, I wanted to use today's article to discuss the six most common Turkish Get-up technique mistakes I see, and how I correct them with our clients at Cressey Sports Performance.

Mistake #1: Not actively getting up.

While I didn’t sequence these in any particular order, this mistake is the most common. Too often, people roll into the start of a get-up instead creating tension and actively moving into the first position. This first movement is the definitive step in the get-up, in my opinion. If you cannot reach your forearm actively, you are either using to much load, or approaching the exercise incorrectly. Check out the video below for sign of rolling, or passive movement, and for tips on how to do it correctly.

Mistake #2: Not creating enough “space.”

One cue I use all the time when teaching the get-up is to “not let your masses move into your spaces.” In other words, if the body stays in proper alignment, you will have certain amounts of space present between your torso and your limbs / head. When we lose these spaces, you can be sure that you are beginning to rely on passive stability measures, as opposed to creating tension and actively holding positions.

Mistake #3: Rocking instead of hinging.

The transition from three points of contact to two (or from two to three, on the way back down) is common place for get-up mistakes. Mostly, people tend to rock off, or to the ground. Instead they should utilize a hip hinge pattern to shift the weight completely onto the back knee. This way they can easily lift, or place the hand back onto the ground.

Mistake #4: Keeping the joints too soft.

In some ways, this mistake could fall into the category of not creating enough space. However, I want to hone in on the importance of extension at a few joints during the movement. Often times I will see people keep these joints in slight flexion, when they should be extended. It is of note that you should also watch for people who tend to hyperextend at the elbows and knees and cue them to stay neutral, so as to promote an active form of stability.  You could also apply this to the grip, which should be firm; you don't want to see the hands open.

Mistake #5: Not engaging the anterior core.

We may have very well beat the “anti-extension” theme to death on this site. That being said, it’s a problem we see time and time again.  It also happens to be very common with most folks' Turkish Get-up technique. Make sure you are keeping the ribs down, and core braced throughout this exercise.

Mistake #6: Starting with an incorrect bottom arm position.

As with any exercise, if you don't set up correctly, your technique will always be suboptimal. With respect to the Turkish Get-up, this is particularly important in the context of where the bottom arm is positioned at the start of the movement.

I hope these suggestions help you to improve your Turkish Get-up technique, as this is one exercise you really want to include in your strength training programs because of the many benefits it delivers. And, optimizing technique will ensure that you receive all of those benefits!

If you're looking for how we might incorporate Turkish Get-up variations in our strength training programs, be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, the most versatile strength and conditioning resource available today.

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Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Carry

I've talked quite a bit in the past about how much I like bottoms-up kettlebell exercises to get great "reflexive" firing of the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers in a more unstable environment. I'm also a big fan of carrying variations - so it gets me pretty pumped up when I can combine the two!  With that in mind, today, I want to talk about the 1-arm Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry.

This is an exercise that I really like to utilize with a lot of our baseball players early in the off-season, as it teaches them to relax the latissimus dorsi to allow proper scapular upward rotation to take place.  My two biggest cues are to "keep the biceps quiet" and "don't let the lower back arch."  If you do these two things, chances are that everything else will "click" just right.  Check out this video for a more detailed coaching tutorial:

I like to program 2-4 sets of 30-40yds on each arm. We'll often use this in place of a pressing exercise with our baseball guys, particularly in the early off-season when we're working to establish optimal scapular upward rotation after a long season.  Give it a shot for yourself and you'll find that it'll quickly be a great addition to your strength training programs, whether you're a throwing athlete or not!

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Strength Training Programs: 4 Reasons You Might Not Need to Deload

I'm a firm believer that deloads - or planned periods of reduced training volume or intensity - are an important concept to understand if you're looking to get optimal results with your strength and conditioning programs.  In fact, I thought it was so important that I wrote an entire 20-page e-book on the subject.

That's not to say, however, that I think absolutely everyone needs to worry about incorporating deloading periods, though.  In fact, I think there are several scenarios in which they aren't necessary. Read on.

1. You train less than three times per week.

If you want to deload, you actually need to load first.  That's hard to do when you're only getting to the gym 1-2 times per week. 

A while back, Dr. John Berardi talked about the importance of getting in six hours of activity each week even just for general health and maintaining or enhancing one's fitness; I've definitely seen this duration to be an appropriate target for folks. If you're a 4x/week strength training guy, you usually hit this number, if you figure 75 minutes per training session, plus a bit of additional activity throughout the week.  And, even if you only lift 3x/week, you're still going to get very close, as the full-body sessions tend to run a bit longer.  If you're only 2x/week, you're going to be at least three hours short on the week.  Adding in more deload time to an already deloaded schedule would be silly.

The obvious exception to this rule would be in-season athletes doing their strength training at a reduced frequency. These individuals are, of course, accumulating a lot of other physical activity from their sports.  They'd still want to reduce volume or intensity a bit in the weight room every 4-6 weeks, because you can't count on your "sporting volume" ever dropping predictably during the season.

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2. You're a complete beginner.

The great thing about being a beginner is that just about everything works.  You could show up to the gym, do one set of preacher curls, then bang your head against the wall for 45 minutes and you'd still probably get bigger and stronger as long as you eat enough.  My feeling is that if you can do "anything" to improve, you might as well do a lot of "anything" while you still can.  Just dropping volume for the sake of dropping volume every few weeks isn't a good move, as you're likely missing out on a big window of adaptation. 

Beginning lifters really aren't neurally efficient enough to impose a lot of fatigue. And, just as importantly, they actually need a lot of volume early on so that they can practice new movement patterns. Finally, on the psychology side of things, you never want to hold someone back too much when they're first starting with an exercise program. The immediate results are incredibly motivating, and if you cut volume back substantially, you run the risk fo them not coming back after a period away from the gym.  Don't give them a chance to get disinterested.

In my e-book, The Art of the Deload, I outline a strategy for beginners to "deload without deloading." I call it the "Introduction Week Deload:"

This is best suited to beginners who need a chance to learn the movements with light weights.

It’s very simple: the set/rep parameters stay the same for the entire month, and the only thing that changes is the load utilized (lifter gets stronger).  At the end of the month, you change exercises and stick with the same approach.  You’ll find that in Week 1 of the new program, the beginner will be using markedly less intensity, as he or she will be cautious in feeling out the new movements.

You can “ease” into this transition by using “variation without change.”  In other words, change the exercises, but don’t completely overhaul the nature of the movements.  An example might be to switch from a neutral grip pull-up to a chin-up (supinated grip), or moving from dumbbell reverse lunges to walking dumbbell lunges.

3. Your program is predominantly corrective or rehabilitative in nature.

I know this might come as a shocker, and I really hate to burst your bubble, but side-lying clams don't impose enough fatigue to require a deload.  Stop overthinking things!

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm a firm believer that lifting heavy stuff can be tremendously "corrective" in nature as long as it's done with correct technique.  However, there are going to be times when it just isn't feasible to maintain a training effect in full.  Imagine, for instance, what happens shortly after a shoulder surgery.  If you're in a sling, you obviously can't do anything to load the affected side.  You also can't deadlift or squat, and just getting into positions for exercises like barbell hip thrusts isn't going to happen.  You have to be careful about exercises with arm swing, so dragging the sled (if you even have the equipment or space to do so) is potentially out. In other words, you're basically left training the other arm and then doing glute ham raises, leg curls, and leg extensions.  We can do more at Cressey Performance because of our equipment selection, but most folks don't have that luxury at their commercial or home gyms.

That said, it would be incredibly hard to overtrain - or even overreach - with those implements and restrictions.  So, there's no reason to cut back every fourth week just because you're supposed to do so.  Besides, if you have surgery, you're going to be on the shelf for 10-14 days anyway, as you'll be hopped up on pain killers, short on sleep, and likely restricted from going to the gym in the short-term to minimize the risk of infection.  There's no need to take more time off!

4. You have deloads within the week, rather than within the month.

This point actually piggybacks somewhat on point #1.  Some lifters will have two more challenging training days during the week, and then supplement them with 2-3 lower intensity and volume sessions during that same week.  In other words, rather than deload for an entire week every three weeks (7 out of 28 days), they'll deload a few days within each week (2/3 out of 7).  With this approach, the "supercompensation" curve is less "up and down;" the highs aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low.  However, this often yields a consistent upward and more linear trend in fitness gains.

In my opinion, it is an approach that is much more sensitive to outside factors.  Getting poor sleep, or adding in travel demands can quickly throw you for a loop, whereas you can plan around these things a bit more when you deload for an extended period of time.  You can either move the week-long deload up a bit, push it back slightly, or shorten it because you don't feel like you've loaded enough going into it.  It's harder to have that same "loading flexiblity" within the week, as opposed to within the month.

Wrap-up

To reiterate, I think implementing strategic deloads is incredibly important for the intermediate and advanced lifter, and there are certainly many different ways to implement these periods.  However, as you can tell, there are also definitely some scenarios when it's best to skip the deload period and keep on getting after it in the gym.  Take a good look at your training program and experience - and then ask yourself how you're feeling - and you'll have your answer.

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Functional Stability Training: Does the Bilateral Deficit Apply to Deadlifts?

Recently, Mike Reinold and I released our product, Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.  With that in mind, I wanted to give you an excerpt from one of my webinar presentations, "15 Things I've Learned About the Deadlift."  Many of you may not have heard of the bilateral deficit, but it's one of the strongest supporting arguments for including single-leg work in a strength training program. This presentation will make you think about applying it differently with deadlift variations, though.

The entire Functional Stability Training is on sale for 25% off through the end of the day today (Cyber Monday). You can check it out at www.FunctionalStability.com.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 4/11/13

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading:

To Sell Is Human - This was a great book I finished last week.  The title is a bit misleading, though, as the author (Daniel Pink) actually talks predominantly about "non-sales selling:" how we "sell" our ideas to family members, clients, co-workers, and others. It's an awesome collection of social behavior research that definitely impacted me as both a coach and business owner. If you like the writing of Malcolm Gladwell and Chip and Dan Heath, you'll enjoy this.

Strength Training Programs for the Pros and the Joes: Not As Different as You Might Think - While I was on vacation, a guy I met asked how training professional athletes differed from what I do with normal folks who just want to be fit. I told him he'd be surprised at how many similarities there are, and this article from a while back outlines why.

New Uses for Creatine - This was an excellent review of the recent research on creatine supplementation. More and more, creatine supplementation is proving valuable for general health, not just performance.

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Exercise of the Week: Side Bridge Rows

Check out this week's exercise of the week: the side bridge row.  I think you'll find it to be a great progression you can add to your strength training programs.

Also, don't forget: the 38% off sale on Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better ends tonight at midnight. The discount is automatically applied at checkout; just head HERE to take advantage of this great discount.

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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/12/13

Happy Valentine's Day Week! While I love all my readers and appreciate your support, I won't get all sappy on you today.  Instead, our recommended strength and conditioning reading will focus on getting jacked and crushing good food.  What's not to love?

Strength Training Program: What to Do If You Can't Squat Deep - This was a guest blog I wrote over at Men's Health earlier this week. If you don't have the mobility to squat deep, don't worry; I'll give you some alternatives to ensure that your lower body strength training doesn't suffer.

Limit Protein to 20g Per Meal? - This is an old blog post from Dr. John Berardi, but I've had two separate athletes ask me about whether the body can only "handle" a certain amount of protein at each meal.  As such, I thought it'd be a good time to reincarnate this excellent write-up.

Smart Overhead Pressing - This was a great post at T-Nation by Dean Somerset.  If more people would follow progressions like this before jumping into overhead pressing, we'd have a lot fewer shoulder injuries in the weight training population.

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Strength Training Technique: Fine-Tuning the Band Pullapart

The band pullapart is a very commonly prescribed exercise improve upper extremity function and correct bad posture.  However, while it may appear really simple to execute, it's important to make sure that it's coached correctly, as it's easy to develop some bad habits.  Check out today's video to learn more:

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