Courage Performance East Head Coach, Andrew Whitener recently took a week to try out a handful of focused recovery practices. Check out his in-depth write up on his experience.
The Set Up
First, the (quick) background – I’ve had two nagging injuries/problem areas since I graduated from college and stopped playing baseball:
1) subluxations (partial dislocations) of my right shoulder
2) athletic pubalgia (sports hernia) in my left groin
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy learning how to manage these issues, but that’s a subject for another time. Also, maybe I just suck at managing them, because…
These hydras both reared their ugly heads in the past two weeks, not so badly that I thought I needed to see an orthopedist, but badly enough that I had to reevaluate how I was approaching them. I realized that three factors were telling me to take some time off: my nagging injuries were nagging, I hadn’t taken a couple of days off of working out in a very long time, and there were a number of recovery techniques/therapies that I’d been wanting to try.
Thus, last week emerged from the Batcave as Recovery Week!
I planned the week in two columns on a very formal and professional pink post-it note. In one column, I wrote a list of therapies that I wanted to incorporate, and in the other I wrote the days of the week. I then looked at my work schedule and inserted the therapies that I thought I could do each day.
I decided to start Recovery Week on Tuesday because I’m a badass nonconformist. I also came up with this idea on Monday night, but that’s neither here nor there. From Tuesday through Friday, I didn’t do anything fitness-related outside of what was on my post-it calendar.
I’m looking forward to describing my experiences with some of these therapies, but before I do, I want to highlight the real reason I’m writing this. As much as I like making jokes when I write, last week I really felt helpless and low. I think about these injuries and their potential to worsenevery single day. Worrying about keeping my body healthy and fit is my single most consistent source of stress. To be sure, other things matter more to me in the world, but this is in my head to some extent all of the time, and I bet I’m not alone. Last week, I simply practiced what I preach – be proactive, look for ways to improve, and don’t let your fears overcome your ability to act.
Once I decided to devote this week to recovery, I felt better already! I was taking control of how I was feeling, instead of simply reacting to it, and that alone probably aided my recovery.
Recovery Walks and Whole-Body Cryotherapy
On Tuesday, I did two things: a recovery walk and Whole-Body Cryotherapy (WBC) at District Cryo(http://www.districtcryo.com/) in Mount Vernon.
I started doing recovery walks a few years ago after pulling a hamstring. By recovery walk, I mean simply taking a walk that lasts anywhere from 15-60 minutes, preferably outside (though I have done them on a treadmill due to inclement weather). I started doing them because they offered me the opportunity to elevate my heart rate and increase blood flow to my whole body without taxing any of my muscles. Since then, this principle (achieve blood flow without placing specific demand on the injured area) has always been the most effective recovery method for me – I feel better when I move.
The cryotherapy was brand new to me. I had seen it on the social media pages of countless athletes and professional sports teams, but never seen it with my own eyes or spoke to someone who used it. I happened to walk by District Cryo a few weeks ago, so newly-adventurous-Andrew poked his head in and asked some questions. Since it was close by my house, a session only takes three minutes, and it sounded cool, I was in! If you want more info, they have a ton of information about the therapies they offer and the science behind them on their website, so I will try to summarize it as quickly as I can here.
In short, they blast you with very cold air to cool your body temperature very fast. You stand in the “cryosauna” (an upright chamber with an opening for your head) wearing underwear, gloves, and thick socks. They start shooting the cold air in and you just stand there and take it. It gets pretty cold, but it’s definitely tolerable, and it’s over quickly, so if you’re intimidated by the therapy itself (I was), don’t be, you’ll be fine. The extreme cold constricts your blood vessels, stops inflammation, and cuts off pain receptors, which ironically are all reasons that I’ve never believed in icing or other cold therapies. What was interesting to me is what they claim happens AFTER you get out of the cryosauna. Your body is trying really hard to reheat itself, so your blood vessels dilate and your heart pumps blood out to the muscles as fast as it can, “allowing a significant increase in flow of that filtered blood to the skin and extremities, enriching cells with healthy oxygen, nutrients and enzymes at a greater capacity than normal.”http://www.districtcryo.com/science
They tell you that you need to do it a number of times to really feel the effects, so I did the same routine (recovery walk plus cryosauna later) on Thursday. To be honest, I didn’t feel like it helped me a ton, but I know that many people out there use and love it. I also probably went in with some preconceived notions about cold therapies, but I really did try to keep an open mind and just evaluate it based on how I felt. Part of it also may be that it costs $65 for a three-minute session, which seems expensive to me. I will say that they offer more treatments in addition to the WBC and they want to expand further, so it’s very possible I’ll be back for something else.
On Wednesday I did some yoga on my own. I’d have loved to go to a class, but it was my busiest workday and I just didn’t have the time. I wrote a list of poses that I knew and liked and did them in the peace and tranquility of the office at the gym. Sure, some of the athletes were blaring aggressively loud mumble rap downstairs as they took some swings after their lift, but lemons, lemonade, yada, yada, yada.
I’ve always enjoyed doing yoga, but I would certainly classify myself as a beginner. I’ve dropped in to a couple of yoga studios in the past, followed along with some YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene), and looked up new poses to try on my own. As I mentioned before, moving has always made me feel better than resting, so I focused on moving between poses and increasing blood flow at the beginning, utilizing more muscularly demanding poses, then settled into some mobility focused poses at the end. I focused on my breathing throughout and tried to incorporate some longer timed breaths, counting to ten during the inhalation and exhalation. I’ve always found that this combo (poses plus breathing focus) works great for relaxing my mind and body, and I always feel good when I’m done. I’ve also found that when I finish with savasana (corpse pose), it leads to an unrivaled feeling of relaxation.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks, Electric Muscle Stimulation, and Takeaways
Sensory Deprivation Tank
On Friday, I ventured the furthest out of my comfort zone and hit up Hope Floats in Bethesda, MD (https://www.hopefloatsusa.com/) for a sixty-minute flotation therapy session in a sensory deprivation tank (SDT). More than anything, this type of therapy is a practice in relaxation. The idea is that you effortlessly float on top of 10 inches of water inside a tank, and you do so while shutting off some of the sensory inputs that come at you normally in life. You float on top of the water because it has a lot of dissolved salt in it (think Dead Sea), and the tank itself does the job of cutting off some of your senses – once you close the door it’s absolutely pitch black and very quiet – more on this later.
Hope Floats did a great job of putting me at ease. The décor is very inviting and the whole environment makes you feel as if you’re entering someone’s home. The staff was welcoming, and CJ (my guide of sorts) showed me around the whole place after I checked in before showing me to my room. In addition to the float tanks, they also have an infrared sauna, which is going to be on the list for my next recovery week. Once you’ve seen it all, they show you to your room for your float and give you some guidance as to the best way to approach it. You can ask questions, and then once you close the door to your room, you’ve got the place to yourself.
You start by taking a short shower (there’s a nice showerstall with everything you need in the corner of the room) just to rinse off your body, and then you’re ready to get in the tank. The tank itself looks like a one-person submarine, with a hatch that sits open so you can see where you’ll be floating when you walk into the room. Inside is about ten inches of water, so it doesn’t feel like you’re taking a plunge into a deep pool. I put in some earplugs (which they provided), got into the tank completely naked, and sat down in the water. When you’re sitting, you don’t float, you just sit on the bottom, so I sat there for a second before closing the hatch. Once it was closed, there’s absolutely no light, so even with your eyes wide open it’s pitch black. I tried to lie back into the posture they told me to use (lying flat on your back, arms at your sides or over your head), with your ears under the water, but eyes above it. If the salt water gets into your eyes it can be irritating, but they’ve thought of everything and leave a water bottle with a spray top and a small towel right outside the hatch if you need it.
As soon as I lay back and started floating, I felt a little claustrophobic, which I never have before in my life. I wasuncomfortable and started worrying that this feeling wouldn’t pass and I wouldn’t be able to finish the experience. I sat up, opened the hatch to let some light in, and just sat there. After a minute or two, I closed the hatch, but remained sitting up, and just started to move around in the tub. I held myself up by my hands in an L-sit hold of sorts, did some stretching, and just moved around in an effort to get comfortable in this strange environment. Later, when I had finished my hour and was talking with CJ about this reaction, I was told that it isn’t abnormal for first timers as the deprivation of certain senses heightens others, which can cause some feelings of discomfort. Luckily, once I had moved around for a little while, I started to feel more relaxed.
When CJ was telling me how to approach my first float, he told me that they would play whale sounds and relaxation music at the beginning of my float, then the music would stop during the sensory deprivation period, and at the end they would play chimes to let me know it’s time to come out. As I was sitting there trying to get comfortable, I realized I couldn’t hear any music and thought that was odd. As soon as I lay my head down and my ears went under the water, however, I could hear it clearly! This is the one and only thing that sensory deprivation tanks have in common with rappers’ pools on MTV Cribs – definitely a cool addition. From there I just let my mind wander. I spent time focusing on my breathing, moving my body into different positions to see what they would feel like, thinking about serious aspects of my life, thinking about the Nationals’ trade prospects, thinking about nothing at all, etc. The beauty of it is that it’s your own experience and you can make whatever you want of it. Once the whale sounds turned off and it was quiet, there was no way to tell how fast time was passing, but by the time the chimes kicked it and my float was done, I was ready to get out. I opened the hatch, looked around for the recovery crew from the aircraft carrier, thankfully saw no one, and got out. CJ told me to take a full shower after the float, for which they provided soap, shampoo, conditioner, and towels, and once I got out of the shower I felt incredible. I was completely relaxed, my body felt good (including my problem areas), and I was simply at peace. I spent a couple of minutes talking to CJ on my way out, and I can’t recommend this place enough! What an awesome way to spend an hour.
Electric Muscle Stimulation
The final therapy I tried last week was electric muscle stimulation. This is a common method that has been used by physical therapists, athletic trainers, and everyone in between for a long time. Given my curiosity about using it on myself, plus the potential to use it with clients, I thought it would be a worthwhile purchase to get one. I did some research and decided to buy a Compex Sport Elite muscle stimulator (https://www.compexusa.com/muscle-stimulators), which I’ve used a couple of times since.
The stimulator itself is only a little bigger than your hand. You connect up to four leads (wires) to the stimulator, and attach the leads to self-sticking electrodes. You stick the electrodes to the muscles that you want to apply the electric stimulation to, pick a program on the stimulator (e.g. Strength, Active Recovery, Massage, etc.), and let it run! Compex has a lot of information on their website (https://www.compexusa.com/muscle-stimulation), but the general idea is that the stimulation sends electric pulses to your nerve fibers, which causes involuntary muscle contractions. The theory is that these muscle contractions are different from the regular ones you generate to move your body every day, and thus they engage more muscle fibers of every type than you’re able to otherwise.
So far I’ve only used stim for the purpose of recovery, and I haven’t yet explored the programs that revolve around improving performance yet. That said, it certainly feels good when it’s on, and I think it has sped up my recovery significantly.
First, I want to reiterate that these thoughts represent nothing more than my own subjective opinions. If I was designing my recovery week as a scientific experiment, it would be a poor one, because I’ve thrown together multiple therapies at once which makes it very difficult to discern which one is responsible for which outcome.
I’ve learned/reinforced two things throughout this process:
1) Find what works for you and do it.
2) To figure out what works for you, try new stuff!
I’m certainly guilty of being stuck in a rut at times. I don’t like change, I gravitate toward the things that make me comfortable, and this tendency can prevent me from discovering awesome new things. The best thing about this week for me was that I front-kicked my comfort zone into a bottomless pit, which was both liberating and very educational. I honed my beliefs on what helps me to recover the best and I discovered some new things that I’ll implement on a regular basis.
So far, my recovery is going well. I’m back in the gym getting after it and my body feels good, but I’m also working on my list for my next recovery week! So far I’ve got: infrared sauna, hot tub, massage, dry needling, and cupping. Some of these freak me out, but a guy’s gottarecover! If anyone is interested in anything I tried and wants to discuss it further, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Good luck, and happy healing!
Andrew Whitener, Head Coach at Courage Performance East
You know what, the world isn't angry, the people are angry. There is so much anger in the world it's sometimes overwhelming. But it's not new, people all over the world have been angry for as long as we know.
Anger is an emotion that gets a reaction. We all feel it, every single one of us. We all see anger around us, every single day in some shape or form. And most of us have no clue what to do about it. Interestingly enough, anger in one usually inspires anger in the people around them, it's just that sort of emotion.
We express anger when we don't get our way, when we feel trapped and not in control. We express anger when our thoughts and ideas are not validated and we are treated differently and less than we feel we deserve. We express anger when we feel wronged, betrayed, hurt, and insulted. And we express our feeling through anger because we don't know how else to do it, and became it forces people "hear" us.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with anger, it's just another emotion that all people feel and express. What's wrong is when anger is expressed in a manner that hurts others for the sake of our own emotional self-preservation.
When we lash out at another person, or groups of people because we feel we've been wronged in some way, and we want those around us to feel the same way we do.
When we selfishly force our own emotions on others because we don't have the capacity to deal with our own issues in a healthy and productive manner, we make things worse. Always.
This can be said for ALL emotions, even the "good" ones. If you try to force someone going through a rough time to be happy, you'll probably create conflict. Things associated with positivity are not always good. People need to feel what they are going through, and being forced to feel something else, even if it's happiness, or joy, might not be a very good thing for them at the time.
So we all have a choice. Knowing that we all feel anger, we have a choice to learn to express it in a way that doesn't hurt or bring others down. And knowing that others feel anger, we have a choice to react to theirs either by matching and ultimately adding to their anger, shoving an opposing emotion down their throat, or by helping and supporting them.
What you choose to put into the world, and into others, is 100% on you. No other person has that sort of control over you, no matter what you think. If someone is screaming in your face, you actually do not have to scream back. You really don't.
And how do we control our own anger? Learn to express it in a less harmful manner.
If you're pissed off because work is stressing you out, don't take it out on your friends and loved ones, they are your support.
If things are falling down around you and it seems like you have no control, take the time to understand what you can control and accept what you can't.
If a small group of people decide to lash out and act out of anger, don't close your doors on ALL people because of the actions of a few.
Adding anger to somebody already angry NEVER helps or works. Never.
You have a choice. Help yourself and the people around you to understand and grow from an angry situation, or add to the anger and fuel the fire of conflict.
What kind of person will you be?
Never Stop, GET FIT.
A couple weeks ago I drove down to one of the most incredible places within an hour of my house, Castle Rock. This place reminds me of some of the rockiest areas of Great Falls, MD, except it’s up in the mountains (great views) and the rocks and trees to climb range from the pretty easy and basic (kids and people in flip flops climb them) to really damn hard (I got stuck in one spot for about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get down or up, and serious rock climbers come out to train here).
I love getting outside and exploring. Sometimes I just wander around and find things to climb while I totally relax by connecting to nature. Other times I search for whatever adventures I can get in to. For me, challenging myself is what it's all about. Not only because it's fun, but because I think its important. So, I had three separate scenarios where I got myself pretty nervous, and that is what I want to get into here.
There is this massive redwood that fell against a huge rock-face and it seriously looked like it was deliberately put there to climb. You can start right at the base and sort of spiderman crawl up the tree about 50 yards while using those awesome branches for support. Most of the way up this thing you realize that you are a good 20-40 feet above the ground until you reach the “safety” of the rocks being about 5-10 feet under you near the top. Now I’ve done enough climbing around the woods to not really get too concerned for my well-being on something like this. But it had been a long enough time for me to feel that heightened sense of excitement as I climbed. My heart raced, and my senses got super focused. My breathing quickened and I made myself pause in the middle of the tree to appreciate the feeling. I hadn’t felt that way in a while
This is the one I mentioned in the opening paragraph. It was this sort of crack between two large rocks and I decided it would be a fun challenge to shimmy up between the two of them to the top. The best way I am able to do this is to press my back against one rock while pushing my feet against the other one and slowly leveraging myself upwards. Well, this rock decided to be weirdly angles making that strategy not possible. So, I just found my way up. This worked really well until the halfway point. Here I found myself sort of stuck in a game-of-twister style position, wedged between two rocks about 30 feet above the ground. Yes, it took me a solid 10 minutes of slight body weight shifts and risky hold changes to finally get myself through the top and to safety. That got me pretty scared for a few minutes, along with extremely dirty, sweaty, and scraped up pretty good too
This is the one that got me thinking about fear and how important it is for us humans to experience it. I climbed up an absolutely awesome tree. This huge one about 50 yards off the trail with two massive branches stretching out into the silent forest. One was about 15 feet high, the other about 20 feet. To get up to the first branch I had to do a bit of a trust jump going from a knob near the base of the tree to what I hoped to be a decent hand-hold on one side of the lower branch. Lucky for me it was a solid hold, and then I used what little muscle up skill I have to maneuver my way up onto the branch (again, even dirtier, sweatier, and more scraped up). But the reward was a huge natural mezzanine of sorts that I could actually lay down and spread out, listening to the forest and really connecting with nature. The tree was covered in moss too, so it felt like a super comfy natural bed. I hung out there for a while, it was really, really nice.
But eventually I had to get down. And getting down the way I came up was risky enough that it was out of the question. So, my only option at that point was to jump off the 15 foot branch into a very sloped and branch-and-rock-filled earth below. No problem, I tossed my bag down first (it proceeded to roll over itself about three times showing me just how sloped the ground was there), then stood up and got ready to jump. I froze. Damn. I was so scared!
What if I tripped and fell? What if I landed wrong? What if I got hurt, or worse, what if I crashed to the ground and got empaled by a huge branch?!
This fear very quickly gave way to sheer excitement. I immediately remembered why I love being out in nature so much. And why I insist on climbing things, and jumping off things, and exploring, and getting lost. I crave this fear. I know tons of people out there can relate. Climbers, adventurers, explorers, race car drivers, divers, motorcyclists, surfers, the list can go on and on. The fear we feel in these situations makes us feel alive. It gives us purpose. It trains us to understand our emotions and learn how to control ourselves in extreme situations. Putting yourself at risk, getting so far out of your comfort zone you genuinely don’t know what to do for a period of time, those times are when you learn the most about yourself. Those times are when you become a better version of you because you HAVE to. When you walk to a ledge and the only way down is to jump, you learn to trust yourself, to trust nature, and have faith. Faith is one of the greatest things we can have. It is how we overcome fears. It might be faith in God, or something spiritual. it might be faith in yourself, or just in an idea that things will work out. Allowing yourself to disconnect from all those fears you have learned to have is such a unique and incredible skill. You must believe in the fact that whatever happens in the moments after your leave your feet, you are ready for it, good or bad.
Yes, this is a metaphor for life. It doesn’t have to be jumping from a tree, it could be starting a new job, trying out a gym that uses barbells and atlas stones, traveling to a new country, telling someone you love them, anything that takes you out of your little world of comfort. Sure, you can always measure your risk levels and assess that joining a gym is a little less risky than climbing Mount Everest, but you see my point. For some people, unfortunately, stepping out of the house in the morning is as much a scary situation as it is for others to climb a 100’ foot cliff. It’s all relative. And my message holds true to anyone and everyone out there: these fears are good, and NECESSARY for you to grow and improve as a human being. Embrace them for all their scariness and appreciate every single thing in your life that you’ve had to take a risk to achieve. Those things are so worth it! Most of the greatest achievements come from great risks. So damn it, JUMP!
Back in that tree. I actually laughed out laud. It felt so good to fear in nature. It was a rush of excitement and I missed it so much. I looked around the woods, felt the cool California dusk wave over me and heard the birds chirping as the sun went down. The trees rustled, the giant rocks loomed all around me, and there was not a single sound of another human being, car, or plane, It was perfect. I took a deep breath and jumped.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to be outside and in nature. My goal (one that I have not taken seriously enough these days) is to get out into nature at least once a week. This does not mean head to some local park and stroll around, or go for a "hike" an a huge blazed trail just outside of a nearby suburb/ No, it means get out deep into the woods or somewhere where you can't hear cars, there are no houses, and few people venture to and explore. I call this the Outside, or Nature; some call it The Wild.
But The Wild to me is the city. A place completely and totally man made that does not occur naturally. Out in the woods there are things that have been untouched for thousands of years. Places no human eyes have ever seen. Places nobody has trashed, or destroyed. Animals roam freely and do their animal things. Plants grow, rocks sit, and nothing but what has been for as long as we can understand exists. This is not The Wild. Yes, I am aware it is the actual definition of "wild", but I am talking about "The Wild" here, something I think most people have created a definition for.
To me, the crazy man-made urban life is about as Wild as it gets. A never-ending display of human creation and destruction on a daily basis. A complete and total transition away from what this world has naturally given us, to a reliance on only what we have created for ourselves.
This is absolutely Wild. Give me trees, rocks, oceans, mountains, bugs, and animals. Give me nature and I will become the best human I can be.
But that't just me.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
If you were to walk into my massive, spacious, cavernous, 200 square foot Garage Gym and ask any of my athletes what the number one focus of this past summer was, you would hear a resounding “body control” echoing from the rafters 8.5 feet above your head!
You see, one of the main things I have always been extremely focused on, in my own training and with training others is learning more about ones own body. The way I talk about it is body awareness, and body control. But in the fitness world, this is generally understood as proprioception. This is basically the idea of a sixth sense, which we all actually have, some more than others, but we all have the ability to be aware of things within us and around us without really knowing how. I am absolutely fascinated by this stuff and I found, through research and trial and error, that learning more about proprioception will very quickly help you become a fitter, healthier person.
Here’s a little bit about all this works. All your senses are pretty self-explanatory. When you touch something, you feel it, when you see something, your process it, same with hearing and tasting. I really don’t know the inner mechanics of all that, but I know it to be true because I can hear the tapping of my keyboard, I can feel the keys under my fingers, I can see the words appearing on the document and I can taste the bacon I just ate in my mouth! But what about this sense of awareness; how do I have the ability to put my arms, hands, fingers and head in the most effective position for this whole typing fun? Well, from what I can understand it goes a little something like this: your brain says, “arm, move to the computer”, your arm then moves to the computer, then your arm says, “hey brain, I just moved to the computer, give me another game to play!”. This sort of thing happens hundreds of thousands of times a day; think about it, just take a moment and try to comprehend how many movements you make each and every day and that there is a full-blown process for each and every one.
We just take this stuff for granted all the time, but when you take a moment to realize that this stuff can actually be improved, you all of a sudden realize just where you stand might stand athletically. I mean, look at like a pro football player: his ability to comprehend how to change direction not once, but twice, or three times even, all while catching a football, avoiding a couple massive dudes wanting to crush him and this all takes place while airborne. Yeah, that’s body control. The best athletes are the ones who can control their own bodies the best, I mean think about this: if you didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other, how would you be able to do anything athletically? That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get what I’m trying to say here.
So how do you become more aware of yourself? Well, one of the quickest ways I have learned is to practice basic gymnastics. Do headstands, handstands, forwards and backwards rolls, cartwheels and on and on. The more you move your body through space, the more you’ll be able to understand HOW to move your body through space. If you spend the majority of your time moving other objects through space (as in: lifting weights…), sure you’ll get strong, but you will rarely allow your mind to connect to the body in an intimate way. I am not discounting the effects of connecting to the barbell, or anything else for that matter, I just think that getting your mind and body syncing is probably one of the most important things you can do for overall health. If that is way too tough to get to right now, start simply buy doing very basic body weight movements (squats, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, etc). To help out even more, do these in front of the mirror, and, place your hands on the portion of your body that you’re moving. What you’ll be doing is using your main senses to assist in understanding how you move. The more you move, and the more focused you are in each and every movement you make, the better you’ll be at those movements! Easy as that!
In the end, it’s my belief that while lifting heavy things is really cool and impressive, the most impressive thing in the world is being able to have full control of your body. Google any gymnast, or Parkour athlete or B-Boy and you’ll know instantly what I’m talking about.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Repost from 2/8/2012
Have you ever stood before a workout, hesitating, wondering how the hell you'll ever make it through this thing? Shoot, have you ever stood before anything, a barbell, a sports game, a meeting, a girl (or boy), and so on, wondering if you'll survive to see the end? Screw winning, screw setting a PR and announcing to the world you are the best; what if you don't even finish?
Well grow a set and make it happen! Who cares if you fail? Who cares if it means you lose, or get made fun of, or look like a fool. You'll even more stupid if you give up, or don't show up at all! You came to the gym, to the platform, to the field, to THIS PLACE to get something done and the only thing standing in the way of you 100% effort is your doubting mind making excuses.
If you want to lift shit-tons of weight, train for it, and then attempt to lift shit-tons of weight! If you want to tear it up at a CrossFit competition, you're going to have to have no fear, no matter what workout is thrown at you. And the same goes with anything and everything in your life. If you fear a negative result, you are hindering your ability to have positive ones. At the most basic level, if you have an idea and never implement it out of fear of failing, well, you're idea will never have the opportunity to make it. I have found this out over and over again the hard way. I have lost opportunity after opportunity because I didn't attack the things I thought would be great to do. And what did I get? Nothing! It's like that wonderful quote: "you can't steal second with your foot on first" (I'm a sucker for baseball metaphors and such).
What brings this on? Well, I see it every day in the gym, and I always internalize these situations so that I can work at becoming a better person myself, and to help motivate others to stop holding back. Today I had a baseball player tell me he was tearing it up on the mound, throwing hard, yet he couldn't seem to get his off-speed stuff figured out. I told him to tone back the velocity and work on locating all pitches, because in the end, accuracy is rewarded way more than velocity. His response was: "well you know me, I try too hard and am so injury prone". No, no, no! If you know exactly what you need to do to be successful, DO IT! Don't make excuses about how your personality is this, or that, or you can't be less social and drink less, or you need your crappy food, or your TV shows. If you want to do something, have the people around you to support you, and have all the tools to do it. Then do it.
I have no sympathy for someone who knows the best path for getting to his/her desired location, then chooses another and complains about how difficult it is. Be smart, and be good to yourself. Wild success will follow.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
There's something about seeing a barbell loaded with plates that creates such deep feelings of fear, intimidation, confidence and success. A bar waiting for you on the ground or on a rack, that you have not lifted can literally bring grown, confident men to their knees. It's scary to approach an unwavering mass of metal and solid rubber with the expectation that you are about to move that mass in a controlled, powerful, structured, violent way.
But then you visualize that movement. You see yourself execute it with Olympic perfection. You feel your muscles tense up, not with fear now, but with excitement. You are about to take complete control of this weight and do what you will with it, with every ounce of energy you can muster.
And when the chalk and dust has settled back around that weight, and you step back to look at that mass you just moved with power and grace, you feel completely in control.
A loaded bar lifted becomes sheer beauty. It is something you own, and you now know you can overcome. It's presence there represents your strength, your power, your control, your confidence.
Now add a little more weight to it and do it again.
I Love The Gym.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
The front squat is an exercise used very commonly in training weightlifters, but besides that is unfortunately not used all that much. I personally admit to not programming this incredibly effective tool as often as I would like for my general fitness members, but that is changing now.
I like the exercise because the front loaded nature of it demands a greater level of technical proficiency in the athlete. Because of that it allows for better movement and a more balanced athlete in the end. If you have an athlete who struggles with the back squat, a great deal of their issues will be mended rather quickly by incorporating more front squats in their program. Here's why I like it:
- forces the athlete into a more upright position
- force-recruits the muscles of the core
- allows for greater depth increasing lower-body joint function and strength
- demands greater mobility and control of the shoulders, arms and wrists
- does not overload the body allowing greater balance in strength gains
There are still plenty of things that can go wrong with this lift, just like any lift. So here are five cues I like to use with all my athletes to help them improve on their front squat.
1. Hold The Bar High
I coach that the front squat is an attempted back squat but the neck and head are in the way. This means that your goal is to get the bar as close to your back as you possible can. The higher on your shoulders the bar is, the easier it will be to establish the most efficient mechanics. You should feel the bar literally resting on your shoulders and physically pushing against your neck. The second the bar begins to slide away from your neck and down your shoulders you will tend to be pulled forward, making the squat WAY more difficult.
This can be uncomfortable, so be sure to practice this with an empty bar so that you can adapt to the feeling. It's never fun to rack off a crazy heavy weight and feel like you're being choked out.
2. Engage Your Arms
Something that is incredibly common for most squats is people forget to engage their upper body pre lift. Squatting trains your legs, sure; but you need your entire body involved if you expect to get the most out of it. This especially holds true for the front squat. If you soften up your upper body, you'll let the bar pull you forward and just like the first point, you won't be squatting with very efficient mechanics. Take a big breath, poof out your chest, tense up your shoulders, and drive your elbows UP. This tensions will fire up all the muscles in your upper body, and also right down your midline helping to keep your entire body engaged throughout the lift.
3. Balance Your Decent
It's common to cue driving your butt back on a squat. This makes sense to me in that it forces athletes to recruit their glutes as the main mover of a large leg exercise. You would obviously want your glutes and hamstrings to be very, very involved in any form of squat. The issue with this cue on a front squat is that the second you drive your butt back, you allow for a forward inclination of your torso, allowing the bar to pull you forward, and leading to the issues that the first two points generally have. The goal is to stay upright. To do so you simply drop straight down to perform this squat. Don't push the butt back like crazy, don't slide the knees forward. Simply break the the crease of the hip and knees simultaneously and think about dropping your butt directly down to the floor.
I use the seemingly contradicting cues of "butt back" and "chest up" together all the time. This actually allows for a more active body throughout the entire lift. If you stay completely upright and try to push your butt back as you squat, you will be very engaged throughout. But you must perform both, that is VERY important.
4. Use The Bottom
This is something you see with weightlifters all the time and something that is actually kind of challenging if you don't know how to do it. But, once you learn, this is an incredible tool to use to understand power into hip extension (something that EVERY athlete and human should truly understand if they expect to function well).
The idea is that you aggressively hit the very bottom of your squat (yes, I am assuming you actually reach the full bottom of the squat, you will not be able to use the bottom unless you actually hit it) and then drive up with the intensity of a max effort vertical jump. Many people call this "bouncing" out of of the bottom. I don't like using that word as it tends to imply, well, bouncing (all I can visualize right now is someone sitting on a stability ball and bouncing up and down). This always seems to lead to a disengagement of the body at the bottom and I see athletes lose tension like crazy as they attempt to drive out of the most challenging position of the squat. Stay on tension! If you can keep tension, then rebound out of that bottom position like you're superman about to leap over a tall building in a single bound!
Oh, and my favorite cue of coming out of the bottom is: drive your elbows up like your elbowing someone in the face with both elbows!
5. Finish Strong
Simple, do not come out of tension until you have completed the lift. For some reason people tend to relax their upper body a fraction of a second before they fully extend. Or worse yet, they begin lean to rack the bar as they come up from their last rep. Stop rushing and releasing tension! Stand up in control, stand there in tension for a second, then either take a breath and hit your next rep, or under control rack the bar back up. Train your body to be in control of every second of this awesome lift!
There are many forms of squatting, and I personally think the front squat is universally the most effective to promote better movement in the entire body. Find a way to incorporate it in your program, even if it's an accessory lift once a week. It may not be the most comfortable of lifts, but it sure as hell will help you out a ton!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Well, seeing how it's been forever since I last wrote on this thing, I figured I'd start back up with a string of posts inspired by what I've been seeing in my gyms, as well as my "Love The Gym" posts. I'll start with an issue that my fellow coaches and I will probably have to deal with for the next couple thousand years or so: athletes "sticking" to their program.
You see it posted and written up everywhere, if you want true success in the gym, follow a program. This means actually having a program that is written out and has some form of progression to it. And it means actually following that thing for at least a few months to see it through. Speaking from my own gyms perspective, everyone has a program, so that's not really an issue here (but I know it's an issue for some, so, perhaps a post in the near future?). So let's move on to the whole following of said program.
I find three main things occur that really get to me with my athletes:
1) They Don't Come In Regularly.
This is about the most basic idea to being successful in anything, staying committed. If you decide to skip out on sessions, skip a week because you're kind of feeling tired, or it's a little more stressful at work or school; you won't have the gains of someone who comes in for all their sessions. Um, duh! I've heard almost every excuse imaginable, and I'll be honest, I've made some excuses myself for why I can't be committed. But that's just what they are, excuses. Everyone has the time if they actually want the gains. If you show up here and there, skip out on workouts regularly, and are generally uncommitted to sticking with the program, you can't expect to get better all that much.
2) Doing What's Written.
My response for pretty much anyone who asks what they should do when they get to the gym is "what's on the board". Sure, you might not be a fan of snatches, or you might find Turkish Get Ups to be really challenging, or maybe you don't like running and there are 100 meter sprints as part of the program. Suck it up, stop being so damn difficult and get your work in. There is not a thing in this world that comes without some sort of challenging aspect, and fitness sure as hell comes at a price. You MUST work on things you suck at, do things that are really tough, push yourself out of your comfort zone and learn to adapt to many different demands and stresses. If you choose to skip reps, or exercises, go though the motions on movements that you don't like rather than challenge yourself to get better at them, well, you can expect to continue having the same issues you've been having.
3) Doing Stuff On Your Own.
This one is a tough one because there's a fine line between getting in extra work and overdoing things. Also, I have a hard time getting upset at someone who is dedicated enough to fitness to want to do more outside of the gym (usually it's the two issues above). But with the amount of high school and college athletes I get in the gym, it's incredibly common that these guys get together with friends to workout, have workouts with their teams, get pushed my their parents to do more, or just feel like doing more means getting better. Let me set the record straight: more does not always equal better!
Let me share with you an example that has happened far too many times to count with athletes at my gym. We are smack in the middle of an intense adaptation phase of a program (meaning very specific weight and rep schemes to help build muscular and nervous system awareness to specific loads and movements) and a couple kids complain that their shoulders are really tired. "Well, why?", I ask (because I specifically programmed the last three sessions to under utilize the shoulders in prep for this workout). "Oh, we hadn't really done all that much upper body work in the past few sessions so I went and benched with my buddies yesterday".
"Ooook" I say. "What kind of benching did you do?"
"We three rep maxed. Probably did something like 10 sets with the warm up sets". This is usually followed by some defensive statement about how good they felt, how they could totally do the workout today, they just wanted to, well, maybe modify it?
This sort of thing will do nothing but completely piss off your coach. We spend hours and hours writing programs, assessing clients, motivating each and every person in the gym, and dedicating our lives to helping you achieve all your fitness, health, and sport goals (at least that's what coaches should be doing). When you decide to take it upon yourself to do your own thing without first consulting with the person you are paying and trusting to help you get better, well, you're not being very smart.
What I always tell people in this situation is that they came to me to get better. If they feel like they are not getting what they want from the program they have two options:
2) Talk to me about what can be done to assess their issues.
I would say about 99% of the time they then express their concerns, the program is explained, they understand that they should trust in the program, they begin to commit fully to the program, and they get incredible gains and achieve all their goals. Crazy, I know.
The moral of the story here is the more committed you are to following through on something, the greater your chances of success are. Nothing new her. Something I'm pretty sure every single person who can read this would agree on. But, it's hard to do, especially when it comes to the gym. But, if you truly want to get better, the concept is the easiest and simplest possible: Find a place that you like, and commit fully to their program. Stick to it. That is all.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
This "Love The Gym" is a new series on my blog that I thought of while standing at the door of my gym while a class was going on. I had this awesome mixture of adults and teens, guys and girls, 9 to 5ers and serious athletes. Music was playing, iron and rubber were slamming, sounds of exertion and motivation were flying though the air. To me, this is absolutely beautiful. A building filled with tools and toys that help make us better human beings. Groups of people coming in and pushing themselves daily beyond what they thought they'd ever be capable. They struggle, they fail, they hit a PR lift. They click with a concept of movement and that moment of realization when they all of a sudden pull themselves under the bar rather than pull the bar up to their shoulders, it's incredible to watch. Sweat and chalk on a loaded barbell, plates slamming down onto a sled and the grind of those sled skids across the floor as an athlete puts everything into it, awesome.
Sometimes it's as simple as rolling up the door in the morning before anyone gets to the gym to see the raising sunlight sweep across the platforms that gets me.
Sometimes it's flicking off the lights at night and seeing the stacks of plates looming in the shadows.
Other times it's sitting on a chair next to my platform or rack, a loaded bar calmly waiting for me to lift it or squat it. There's no music on, just my breathing, that sticky, slapping sound of me pulling up my knee sleeves, the creaking of the metal hook of my weight belt, and then I hear my own gruff, guttural sound of self motivation as I approach the bar. The way the bar feels the second my hands wrap around it, chalk poofing out from the sides of my hands. And then its just me and that weight. Tension. Lift.
I Love The Gym.
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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