This past weekend I had an absolute blast. I was lucky enough to join a good sized group out at a lake a couple hours away in Napa. We went wake surfing (where you ride the wave behind a boat on a board that's a bit of a cross between a wake board and a surf board), cliff jumping and basically had an all around blast all day out on the lake.
I am very much looking forward to getting back out there on a regular basis to find some even higher cliffs and to get some more practice on the wake board. But for this post I wanted to talk a little about an injury sustained from my first attempt on the board. As I was failing miserably at getting my feet set on the board, I was jolted when the boat accelerated forward without me being set firmly. My arm was the only thing that took all the force and I instantaneously felt some pretty sharp pain in my left shoulder. My excitement of the day allowed me to ignore the pain and I continued to play around on the board and jump off the cliffs a few times. But by that night my shoulder hurt so badly that I couldn't raise it up more than a few inches. Not going to lie, I was pretty damn scared.
The push up is probably one of the most classic and commonly performed exercises known to man. You’ll see it performed practically everywhere you go around the world as an easy strength builder, mixed in for conditioning, a test of strength between people, and on and on and on. And to be honest, I have very rarely seen someone “drop down and give me 20” with really efficient form.
How does utilizing proper mechanics of a push up really help? Well, right off the bat it allows you to utilize the proper muscles to perform the exercise. This allows you to perform the push up stronger and better; and, generally, more of them. That is usually the selling point that works with most people: do them this way and you’ll do more! But additionally, you have so many more benefits when doing the wonderful push up properly. Reduced risk of injury is the main one, better core stability, increased joint mobility in the shoulder, elbows and wrists, and, you’ll be able to do more!
1. Use Your Pecs
This is pretty easily understood but usually not actually practiced. If you do 100 push ups as quickly as you can and wake up the next day with sore shoulders and triceps, but your chest is still soft and unused, well, you did something wrong. Here’s how I get people to feel how to get their chest (pectorals, pecs) engaged the entire time: extend your harm out in front of your body and flex your chest. Grab the chest muscle with your other hand to make sure it is constantly engaged. Now go through different ranges of motion, replicating a push up. You’ll notice very quickly that if you elbow gets too far from your side, your chest softens up. Also (leads to step 2):
2. Keep Your Shoulders Set
Almost all the issues I see with peoples push ups derives from a lack of stable shoulders. Without getting too technical, your shoulders should barely move throughout the range of motion. And don’t overcompensate my drawing your shoulder blades back and together like crazy, that actually stretches the pecs out and limits their ability to function properly during the push. You want your shoulders stabilized in in a neutral position; not shrugged, not back, not forward.
3. Perpendicular forearms
This is a cue that is rarely used and helps so, so much. Allowing your forearms to stay perpendicular to the floor throughout the entire range of motion of the push up allows all the muscles the ability to work exactly how they should. If you give your body that chance to function properly, it’s easier to form good habits and get stronger (and perform more reps!). Again, this point alone could use a pretty lengthy article, but suffice it to say you are putting yourself in a much stronger position with perpendicular forearms. It’ll be easier to set your shoulders, and thus, easier to use your chest.
4. Practice Negatives
Ask anyone who has done a really long push up-themed workout if they’re abs felt a little sore after and most of them with answer yes. The core stability of a push up is easily the second most common aspect to be lacking after proper shoulder stability. And performing negatives, while building up adequate strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms, also allows for extended core stability in this specific movement. The push up negative is such a universally effective exercise that I will program it for athletes at any level, not just those with weaker core muscles or those looking to increase their push up ability. Work different time domains, work an explosive push after a 5-second negative once you’ve advanced a bit.
5. Grease The Gears
For everyone I’ve coached that was training for some military (or similar style) test, the best advice I could give them for increasing their push ups number was doing them all the time. We would go through shoulder and forearm positioning, work on how to keep the chest engaged throughout the entire range of motion, assess their core strength and endurance, then: do reps. I would start with a 4-5x per week, 100 reps total for two weeks. Then increase the reps performed each week after that. 2x per week they would do the reps as fast as possible and with as few breaks as possible. 2x per week they would spread the total throughout the day. And if there was a 5th day, it would be up to them how they performed it. The goal was to just always be doing proper push ups. I did this exact thing and went from totaling 26 reps, to 86 reps in one sitting in 45 days. It was pretty cool.
The main thing to be sure of is to assess the positioning of your shoulders and arms. If you are not using your chest for the entire movement, and allowing all the muscles of your shoulders and back to stabilize (and NOT act as movers) then you are on the right path. Just trying to “meathead” your way to more push ups is a sure way to eventually destroy your shoulders. I’ve seen it happen many, many times.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Last week was a pretty good week. Team Courage hit our max lifts after the rest of gym had all just done that themselves and there were some pretty damn big numbers.
To finish off the week, myself, Mike, and Ryan (and a a decent collection of other training partners and friends) hit up the Lalanne Summer Throwdown, a ridiculously massive one-day competition out at Treasure Island in the city. With over 200 total competitors, this was the largest event I've ever been to, and one that saw 100 competitors in my division alone! It was a well-run event, not many hiccups that I could see, pretty good workouts all around, and some pretty damn good athletes (I think there were something around 5+ Regionals competitors there. I ended up finishing 8th overall and to be honest, I am happy with that given where my training has been over the past few months. I felt like I was about one gear off from where I normally would be competing, and that led me to just moving a hair slower than what I would expect from myself. But again, I was happy with the event and how I performed. Here are some cool pics from the day.
While it was a fun day, I actually had an interesting experience in that it was the first ever fitness competition I've been a part of where I lost interest in competing. I've had the experience before where I felt burnt out, but then when the announcer yells GO, I just find the switch and attack it with everything I have. This time around I was able to get that switch on the final announced workout, but going into the very final one (I was lucky enough to be in the top 8 who make it there) I just had nothing left to give. It was a strange new feeling for me to be at a competitive event and really just not care at all. At the time, there wasn't the desire to "dig deep" and find that edge. I had given what I wanted to that day and felt like there I didn't want to give anything else. Strangely enough, I stopped that final workout one rep shy of completely ripping my hand open, and I am beyond happy about that. I allowed myself to walk away from the day, get some good food and sleep, and hit the gym hard on Monday for our new cycle of heavy programming without having to modify everything because of a busted hand. Either way, it was a learning experience.
So, about said new cycle of programming! The past few months have been wildly successful and I had programmed out the next three months when one of my Team members approached me with the dreaded Smolov Squat program. I had read about this one a while back, and even considered using it in my program but ultimately wanted to try out my own strength program after going through the Hatch Squat cycle. But, upon some further review, and looking at what I had programmed, I decided to sit the Team down and find a way to incorporate this crazy intense program into our next 13 weeks.
Here's how I'm writing it out for us. First off, only a few of us are following it because my requirement is that anyone on the program must do it with others around. It's an incredibly intense program that calls for 4 days per week of high load and high volume squatting. So. Yeah. It's scary. I insisted on having a support crew around for each and every session for all of us on it.
Four out of our 6 days of training per week will be double training days. Our 6am Smolov squat sessions will also include focused gymnastics work and stretching. The afternoon session will be dedicated to weightlifting (snatch and clean and jerk work), accessory work, and conditioning sessions. And that's the extent of the the detail I'll share with all of you! I'm extremely excited for this program and I'm hoping some huge gains over the 13 weeks we're on it. As I mentioned to the Team, we are going to be entering into a lot of very dark places during this experience. But, it will be very eye-opening, very honest, and self-revealing time. I am very excited. On that note, if anyone is looking to get some pretty damn good programming (if I do say so myself...), let me know and join Team Courage! Just shoot me an email or call and we can get something going. The Team is looking to expand!
Anyways, I'm sitting here typing away, feeling like i got run over and all I can think about is the heavy squatting I have to do tomorrow morning. To be honest, the biggest thing I need to focus on over the next few months is eating, sleeping, and stretching. And this is perfect! The process of learning how to eat enough food to properly fuel myself without eating a bunch of crap is a huge challenge in and of itself. Sleeping is another thing I tend to have a hard time with timing out. For me, the best thing to do is plan to get around 6 hours per night, then focus in on getting a30-90 minute nap at some point each day as well. And lastly, I do tend to breeze over the stretching work, so planning out stretching and mobilization each day will help me so much, and I know I need it a lot.
I'll make sure to post regular updates on how this program goes. My research led me to realize there is not all that much anecdotal feedback on the Smolov program, so i plan to talk through it all and finish it all up with a big write-up on all my thoughts about it.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
This is the second guest post on the blog, reaching out to some new resources. You'll see interviews, guest posts, and some more fun stuff over the coming months.
This blog post comes from my longest running client, and now Head Coach at Courage Performance East, Andrew Whitener. "Whitey" had always been one of the hardest working athletes I ever had. His passion to improve his baseball game was infectious and it was always a joy to train him. When he expressed interest in getting into the training/coaching world, it was a pretty seamless transition. Now, as Head Coach at the East Coast branch, he has taken the responsibility of being the only employee of a portion of this company that I have spent 10 years building; needless to say he jumped right into the deep end, and has been doing a wonderful job! Here is his second post, of many to come!
The Malleable Coach
A common theme in many arenas in life, but particularly among sports coaches, is a tendency to get comfortable with coaching a certain way and then being resistant to change. Coaches learn a lot when they start out, often working underneath some sort of mentor, and as they move up and start to be in control of their own players/team/gym/whatever, they develop habits.
These habits range from how practices are planned, to how you interact with players, to how specific techniques are taught (think: fielding a ground ball, shooting a jumper, or executing a clean). Once they learn how to do or how to teach something, many coaches end up using the exact same techniques and principles with every athlete. Now, that alone isn’t negative, especially if you know how to teach things efficiently and correctly. Obviously, if you don’t know how to field a ground ball, shoot a jumper, or clean, then you aren’t going to be a very good coach. But even if you do, there’s more to it than that.
What’s important is twofold:
1) keeping an open mind with regard to learning more about whatever it is you’re coaching, and
2) being able to adjust the way you coach to fit your athletes.
Every athlete is not the same (not by a long shot), so instead of trying to mold them all to fit you, mold yourself to fit them. My freshman year of college, we traveled south to play a weekend series as we usually did to get ready for our conference schedule. In watching the other team take batting practice, I was struck with the fact that EVERY player’s swing looked the same. It was obvious that this team’s coaches had decided there was one best way to swing a baseball bat, and every one of their players was going to swing that way. That makes no sense! At that level of baseball, a lot of high level ballplayers come to play at your school and have developed somewhere between 12-15 years worth of their own habits. Not only that, they have clearly had enough success to get recruited to play Division 1 baseball! That doesn’t indicate to me that every one of them needs their swing to be completely re-tooled. Furthermore, I’m sure that each athlete learns in a slightly different way. Some may respond well to being told exactly how to swing, some may react negatively to the process of making wholesale changes (especially if they have had a lot of success with the technique they currently have), some may simply not be very good at this technique. If you turn on any Major League Baseball game, you’re going to see a lot of different looking swings and pitching mechanics.
Now, I want to be clear that I do believe there are universal tenets of different techniques – some things are just wrong, and you can’t let big problems slide in the name of individuality. But what I’m talking about is truly understanding what you’re trying to accomplish – for example, building a baseball player’s explosive power in a technical range of motion via the power clean – and then developing a deep understanding of the specific techniques you want to use to achieve that goal. If you study the snatch, the baseball swing, the crossover, or the slap shot so much that you understand it on the most basic level (which often gets lost in pursuit of high level performance), then you can slightly alter how you teach it based on each individual athlete. You can adjust the cues you use based on the person in front of you so as to most efficiently achieve results.
I don’t know how many times in my short coaching career I’ve seen one cue or one drill work perfectly for one person, and completely baffle another. Some athletes naturally create more arm bend and thus a higher bar contact position during the second pull on the clean. Some athletes need to be cued on what their hips are doing on the back squat, some on where the pressure should be on their feet, some on where their eyes are looking! The malleable coach is the coach with the deepest understanding of his or her subject matter, and thus the coach that can most effectively communicate with his or her athletes. Everyone is different, so why coach them all the same?
Head Coach at Courage Performance East
This is the second and final post about the incredible vacation with Destino Retreats to Cabo, Mexico. I am excited and honored to be a coach for this awesome company and am eagerly awaiting the next trip to Cabo coming up November 14th-18th, go sign up now before all the spots run out!!
On to what was unanimously the best day, Saturday had us waking up and wolfing down yet another spectacular, Paleo breakfast at Bar Esquina at the Hotel Bahia before heading down to the beach and meeting up with Cabo SUP. Yep, we had a full morning of stand up paddleboarding and beach workouts down at Lovers Beach at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula! Our two guides ran through the basics and we hit the water like a bunch of excited children learning a new playground game. This. Was. Awesome! For most it was a true first-time experience, then we had Lindsey who at this point is a pretty damn experienced SUP-er and showed off some burpees on her board and even tried a few pistol squats! We paddled for about 45ish minutes to the beautiful beach where Ty and I ran everyone through a fun workout that included some rock throwing and handstand push ups along the rock-faces lining the beach. We goofed off for a bit around the beach before jumping back into the water and paddleboarding to the massive stone arches that separate the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California. Then it was a tiresome and wave-filled trip back to home base!
We gobbled up a quick snack and it was off to CrossFit 10 Los Cabos for some more instruction and CrossFitting (by the way, I messed up the order of the training days a little. Today's gym visit was the handstand progressions and clean and jerks. Either way, you get the idea that we had a couple distinctly different workouts each day!)! All the athletes were feeling good and worked after such an active day that it was a pleasant treat post-lunch for most of them to get into the spa for messages and whatnot. Ty and I chilled by the pool and just relaxed. It was so much fun to watch each person stroll happily out to the pool from their recovery time, grab a drink and just completely relax. It was a pretty chill afternoon from there on out. And to make the end of the day even better, we had a private margarita happy hour at the pool The bartenders taught us how to make fresh fruit margaritas and I must admit, they were fabulous.
The fourth day we woke up to some pretty severe wind and rain. But it could not have been more perfectly timed: it was Throwdown day! We drove on over to the gym where we met an excited collection of local athletes for a fun, 4-hour, 4-workout throwdown. We had 12 teams of 2 athletes, one Destino athletes paired up with a CrossFit 10 athlete, and the fun began!
Hands down the best meals and most chill afternoon followed. We had a family style feast waiting for us upon our triumphant return from the gym and we all headed to our rooms and pool for some well deserved relaxation, reading, and napping. There was talk about headed out to town to see what it had to offer once the sun began to go down, but after all the fun we'd all been having it seemed that a tasty dinner and sleep was what everyone wanted most. The energy at dinner was priceless. Everyone talked about all the fun they'd been having, the new friends they all made at the throwdown, and all the new stuff they learned in the short but action-packed few days we'd all shared.
Monday came just a little too fast but there was still yet another tasty Paleo breakfast and a chill trip to the gym. Most of the athletes hit a flush-out run and row, while Ty and I decided to get a little barbell work in. I was damn stoked to stroll up to the bar with my normal shoes, no raps or anything and bang out an easy 225# snatch. Something about the crazy warm weather that just let my joints move smoothly. Either way, that made me in even better spirits than I already was!
After that final workout it was back to the hotel, a wonderful final lunch, and then most of us packed up to check out and bid Cabo farewell.
On the flight back to San Francisco Ty and I talked about the trip and shared our thoughts. And I must admit, this was one of the coolest trips I have ever been on. I described it like this: in the 5 days in Cabo I actually lived the exact life I would love to live for the rest of my life. I slept in a comfy bed, ate incredibly healthy food, I worked out multiple times per day (both inside and outside), got to go on a couple adventures, and I got to coach excited and eager athletes. And all of this was in an exotic location. I can not stress enough how wonderful it feels to be able to hang around a group of awesome people, eat perfectly prepared food, and workout all the time. And if this is something you are interested in, any Destino Retreat trip would be so perfect for you. We also had a pretty successful blogger, Tina from Carrots N Cake along for the trip, and she has a collection of great posts from as well. Her final post talks about the worth of the trip and I really suggest you all go check that out if you are interested in something like this in the near future.
I am counting down the days until November when I can come back to Cabo with a new group of people to share in all of this excitement again. It was incredible.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
I was excited about the invite I received from Ty, the founder of Destino Retreats to help coach at their Cabo trip. But now, after having experienced the entire thing, I can honestly say: that was one of the coolest experiences of my entire life. Let me share.
The idea is a fully CrossFit-afied retreat to an awesome location. You get true Paleo meals, two workouts per day, special outings, and everything finishes with an awesome throwdown with the locals at a CrossFit gym. That’s the concept of this company that I am so honored to coach for. Now, let me get into the details of this trip. Perhaps inspire you to come join us on the next one in November?!
We rolled into Cabo and it was right to a 40 minute, yet interestingly scenic dive from the airport to the water. It’s always fun to soak in how a place I’ve never been feels. The main thing that I noticed was the incredibly defined peaks in the mountains. I absolutely love mountains and when you can see the peaks, like the way kids would draw them in grade school, it’s so damn awesome!
The resort, The Bahia Hotel, was straight up perfect for what we were doing. It was simple, yet perfectly beach-like and comfortable. The pool was gorgeous, and the rooms were exactly what one needed after a long day of working out. OK, OK, I’ll run through the formalities before getting to the real juicy stuff. To top of the comfort of the resort, we were a short walk to the beach where there was a view of the southern-most point of the Baja Peninsula, it was beautiful. And then a short walk in the other direction and bam, downtown Cabo.
The fun started with a flush-out workout on that beach-with-a-view. The crew moseyed on down and we warmed up along the hot sand before hitting working though a collection of balancing pistols, rope hurdles, squat jumps, suicide sprints, burpees at the edge of the water and some buoy hurdles to cool off! After toweling off we had out first dinner at Bar Esquina, a well-known restaurant in town. So, um, let me tell you a little about the food on this trip. The Bahia supplied an entirely Paleo menu for us, one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were multiple options, check out the pics.
I seriously can not say enough about the food, it was incredible!! It was top of the line in quality, cooked perfectly, portions were generous, and the choices were exciting and filled with flavor! And to top it off, they had a cafe of sorts with fresh juices and smoothies that, uh, in all honesty I actually looked forward to consuming each day. And while I'm not much of a drinker (seems like something I caught a little flack for while being in the blazing heat of Mexico) their drink menu was impressive. We actually had a margarita night where the pool-side bar tender showed us how they made their fresh fruit margaritas. They were really good.
We gathered pool-side for a sports medicine session after breakfast on the second day. Ty and I went over a lot of great mobility and seemed like the athletes really soaked up a ton of good info. Then it was off to the CrossFit 10 Los Cabos for the first gym session. This place was great. Welcoming coaches and athletes, generous guest policy (and some pretty beast guests were there by the way), and one of the most excited and eager group of members I have seen in my 80+ gyms visited over the years. It was small, but incredibly well=maintained, clean, and filled with just the right amount of equipment.
Our first session had the athletes working on pull up progressions, snatches and an awesome workout with rowing, pull ups and power snatches. Everyone gave it their all.
The second full day had us traveling to a beach a bit past the gym. Here we were able to get some tough and scenic hill sprints as a warm up. We then followed that up with a doosy of workout of four rounds of about 30 meters of partner resisted band sprints, and then a 100 m swim. This turned out to be a damn hard one that i was lucky enough to join in on because the only dude in the group needed a partner. While the swim kicked all our butts, check out the video for one of the more entertaining parts of the trip!
After lunch it was back to CrossFit 10 Los Cabos for handstand progressions, clean and jerk work, and an awesome workout of front squats, handstand push ups, power clean and presses and double unders. Again, tons of awesome work coming form everyone. Then it was back to the resort to hang by the pool for a while before dinner.
I'll write about the second half of the trip tomorrow. Now you all can hang tight with all this incredible suspense I'm leaving you with!!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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