Programming Economy

February 10th 2017

Programming Economy is a concept that every strength athlete, regardless of their sport, should utilize. Essentially it’s the transfer of your training to your sport. How much carry over you are getting from the work you’re doing in the gym to your game day performance. I’m not going into sport specific exercises here, I am merely breaking down a set of definitions and how they’re generally applied over a training period so you can use them in your own programming. These concepts, when applied correctly and sequentially, will ensure the best version of yourself possible shows up on game day to dominate the competition.

Let’s start with a couple of definitions to standardize our understanding of this concept of programming economy. The experts in the field of exercise science (must smarter minds than mine) have different names and explanations for each definition listed, but I prefer Dr. Bondarchuk’s descriptions. I think they’re more in depth and easier to understand, so I’ve used his definitions to base my descriptions.

  1. General Preparatory Exercises (GPE): Exercises geared toward the all-around development of the athlete1,2. These exercises will increase the general level of work ability and coordination1. They also can serve as a form of restoration/recovery1.
  • Fancy name, nice definition, now what does it mean? The idea of GPE is to have you do activities or exercises that have no direct relationship to your sport. An example would be a competitive powerlifter going for a light jog or playing a few pickup games of basketball.
  1. Specialized Preparatory Exercises (SPE): These general exercises do not repeat the competitive actions as a whole or in their separate parts1,2. They use similar muscle groups as the sporting actions while serving to increase the sports results that the competitive movements depend.
  • Sounds even fancier, so what does this entail? The idea here is to perform exercises that use the same muscle groups as those applied in sport but used in a different way. An example of this would be a powerlifter performing sled drags.The powerlifter will never horizontally pull a load in competition, but they will perform flexion and extension of the hips, knees, and ankles in the sled drag as they would in a squat.
  1. Specialized Exercises (SE): These have a direct correlation to the sporting event1,2. They must replicate some aspect of the competitive event either via biomechanical structure, energy source, or range of motion that strength or sport is displayed1,2.
  • This is where things start to get a little easier to understand. Essentially these mimic the movements of the sport actions performed but with a different stimulus. An example of this would be a strongman competitor performing sumo deadlifts, or a powerlifter performing cambered bar squats. For the Strongman example, they will never do a sumo deadlift in competition, but that biomechanical position of hands inside the legs and picking up something off the ground is something they do for countless other competition events that they will perform (atlas stones, husafell stone pick up, ect…). The powerlifter will never perform a squat with a cambered bar in competition but the stimulus of a different load distribution by the cambered bar in their squatting action helps make them stronger at squats.
  1. Specialized Developmental Exercises (SDE): These exercises repeat the competitive event in their separate parts1,2. These exercises should more or less recreate all the elements of the competitive activity which make it possible to improve or develop the same or other physical abilitites1,2.
  • As these definitions get more specific, they get easier to understand. Essentially here you are performing the competitive lifts, or motions, in parts and in ways, that strengthen the lift itself as well as other aspects of different lifts. A good example of this would be a powerlifter performing a paused box squat. They are repeating their competitive event in separate parts with the pause in the hole helping to teach the body to generate enough force out of the hole without the help of a stretch reflex. This also helps translate to the starting strength of a deadlift, which is an improvement of another physical ability.
  1. Sports Form Exercises (SFE): This is the easiest and most self-explanatory. This is the sporting event or movement performed at a competition standard1,2.
  • This would be the equivalent of a geared powerlifter performing one of their 3 main lifts in full gear, completing the movements to the standard they are judged on the platform at competition.

In the end you want to know, how do you use all of this information and hitch it to the concept of training economy? The following periodized template puts these concepts into action and is geared toward the novice and intermediate strength athlete. Why not advanced athletes? Something tells me they already have this stuff figured out so I’m not going to waste my blog space on them. There will be 3 phases in which these concepts are applied. In each phase SFE will be performed first, followed by SDE, SE, SPE, and then GPE. The first phase we’ll label the preparatory phase and it will last roughly 20% of your contest prep time. Your gym time in this phase will consist of 40% GPE and SPE, 35% of SE and SDE, with the last 25% made up of SFE’s. This phase serves to prep you (go figure) for the work to come.

perpatory-phase-chart-1

As you get closer to your event you will transition to the second phase, which we’ll label the phase of acquisition. This is where we build the bulk of the strength that we wish to express when we compete. This phase should last roughly 65% of your contest prep time. It consists of 20% GPE and SPE, 50% of SE and SDE, with the last 30% made up of SFE’s.

phaseofacquisition2

As you round the final turn toward your competition you’ll transition to the final phase we’ll label the phase of expression. This is the final phase where you’ll express the strength you’ve developed through the previous two phases. This phase of expression should last 15% of your contest prep time and contain a peaking cycle going into competition. This phase will consist of 10%GPE and SPE, 25% SE and SDE, and the last 40% made up of SFE’s. A lot of strength coaches have a lot of different ways of creating this final phase going into a competition. I personally fall in line with the Louis Simmons philosophy of not completely abandoning the exercises that made you strong in the first place (ie SE and SDE) while you prepare to peak3. Peaking for a competition itself is a topic for another time. Here I just wanted to give you everything you needed up to that point since that’s where most people’s confusion lies.

phaseofexpression2

Still a little confused? This picture graph below helps illustrate these concepts together. The added transition phases are just the beginning periods of each main phase where the distribution of exercises changes over a short period of time.

programmingpic3

I hope this information, albeit a little dull and dense, serves you as a good starting point on the path of increasing your training economy. Maybe you already knew these things and applied them but were unsure what they were all called. On the other hand, maybe you had no idea and have discovered you were wasting a lot of your gym time on exercises that didn’t pay the highest return on investment to your sporting performance. Either way, these concepts when applied correctly and sequentially, will ensure the best version of yourself possible shows up on game day to dominate the competition.

References:

  1. Bondarchuk A.P. Transfer of Training in Sports: Volume II. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts; 2010.
  2. Verkhoshansky Y. Siff M. Supertraining: Sixth Edition- Expanded Version. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts; 2009.
  3. Simmons L. The Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Action Printing; 2007.

1 Cold Morning at Westside Barbell

January 7th 2017

Let me start this by saying, I did not… did not ‘train’ at Westside. Louie Simmons and the crew there were gracious enough with their time to allow a lowly independent strength coach come train for one cold January morning session. I cannot thank them enough for the opportunity and knowledge freely given to me. These athletes and coaches are the best in the country and I wanted to know how they got that way. So what did I take away from my 1 cold morning at Westside Barbell?

It all starts with how hard these athletes train. They don’t sit around and BS between sets or complain about their family or financial problems, they lift weights. From start to finish there is no fluff. I’m no stranger to hard work but these guys (and girls) pushed my physical limits from my first working set to my last. With this type of intensity I can see how Westside Barbell has produced so many great strength athletes over the years.

These athletes were not only the hardest working crew I’ve ever seen, but they were also the most encouraging. There was no shortage of cues or encouragement mid lift to make me feel like part of the group. People I had just met were shouting my name encouraging me every set. This showed me that even in an individual performing sport like Powerlifting, this crew was a team and in the heat of battle (training) together. Now I have to point out that this reflection is only of the crew I trained with which consisted of lightweight men and women. The super heavyweights, or behemoths as I call them (in a friendly way), trained together on the other side of the gym. They seemed nice but I was afraid one of them would eat me as an intra-workout snack (they were big enough to do it) if I interrupted their training.

The coaches focused on the details, the right ones. Any coach can point out the most minute and insignificant flaw or calculate every exact weight with exact percentages of accommodating resistance for each lifter. These coaches focused on quality of movement. We were having a dynamic lower body session and instead of running calculations for each lifter, the coaches looked to see if the bar speed matched the outlines of the Westside dynamic method and adjusted for each lifter on the fly. They didn’t slow down the training session changing out bands or finger clicking the calculator on their phones. They let the athlete’s movement dictate the weight, not the other way around. These are the types of details that matter and have relevance in performance.

The accessory work was just as hard as the working sets of the main lift. After doing 125 reverse hypers with weights ranging from 50-270lbs, I was asked how close I was to being finished. I told the coach I didn’t know I just filed in and started doing sets of 10-15. She asked me if I had failed yet. I told her no, which was the wrong answer. I was then instructed to perform 5 sets to failure… after 125 reps. I blacked out somewhere after the first set and went on autopilot. When I came to I was gasping for air and waddling around like a penguin. We went on to train quality reps of banded cambered bar squat good mornings and finished with some Pitshark deadlift lockout holds. Every set just as intense as the last until I was told we were done. The overall idea being that accessory work makes you stronger at the main lift. So they attacked these with the same intensity as they did for their main lifts.

Overall the 4 hour drive in the middle of a snowstorm was well worth the price of admission. My one cold morning at Westside was a good reminder to keep training intensity high, keep the cues and encouragement abundant, focus on the right details, and push the limits with accessory lifts. The rest will take care of itself. I can’t thank Louie Simmons and the crew at Westside enough for the training opportunity and hope to one day be able to return the favor.

The Fallacy of Cardio for Fat Loss

By Mark Clevenger
December 31st 2016

I started writing this piece the other day by tactfully addressing the fat loss ignorance that permeates our culture. After 3 pages of teasing out all the misused and misunderstood information I still hadn’t started addressing the real science, the facts, about fat loss and exercise. So I decided to scrap it and write a blunt post backed by science. After all, the best argument you can make for bad or misused information, are facts.

Fact #1: Your diet dictates fat gain and fat loss1. Fat loss is simply a matter of calories out (exercise) > calories in (food). Your body must be a state of caloric deficit to lose fat1.  No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. If you eat more than you use, you will not lose weight. You can believe whatever you want about your buddy who used the pop tart diet, or took a magic pill through some Ponzi scheme, but this is a proven fact.

Fact #2: Resistance training is better than aerobic training at burning fat2. This is because resistance training for fat loss is shown to reduce fat and preserve fat free mass (muscle) during times of caloric deficit2. Aerobic training (cardio) on the other hand shows a reduction in both fat and fat free mass2. Reduced lean mass is contrary to your fat loss goals. Don’t believe me? See Fact #3.

Fact #3: Muscle burns energy substrates (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) for fuel to perform work3.  With this fact known we can logically conclude that someone with 100lbs of fat free mass uses twice as much energy as someone with 50lbs of fat free mass doing the same amount of work. So having a little extra muscle only helps you get the desired effect of fat loss quicker. Muscle is our friend in the fight against fat loss.

I can hear the women reading this now in my head as I write, ‘but I don’t want to get bulky.’

Fact #4: If you’re lifting weights while on a caloric deficit diet you won’t put on mass. The body doesn’t have the substrate quantities necessary (because of the deficit) to build new muscle and make you ‘bulky.’

What should you take from all this? First and foremost, your diet dictates fat gain or fat loss1. Second, resistance training is better than standalone ‘cardio’ for fat loss because it preserves muscle while burning fat2. This resistance training will not make you bulky when dieting, regardless of your gender. Muscle is our friend because it burns substrates, like fat, for fuel. The more muscle we have, the greater potential to burn these substrates. So please, please, please, get off the cardio train at the next available stop and get on the resistance training bus with a one way ticket to less body fat. Or just keep running all the time and complaining to your friends about how you look skinny-fat instead of just skinny.

References:

  1. Hall K.D. What is the required energy deficit per unit weight loss. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008; 32(3): 573-576.
  2. Geliebter A. Maher M.M. Gerace L. Gutin B. Heymsfield S.B. Hashim S.A. Effects of strength or aerobic training on body composition, resting metabolic rate, and peak oxygen consumption in obese dieting subjects. Am J Clin Nut. 1997; 66(3): 557-563.
  3. Gaitanos G.C. Williams C. Boobis L.H. Brooks S. Human muscle metabolism during intermittent maximal exercise. J App Phys. 1993; 75(2): 712-719.

Preparation, the Platform, and Performance

By Mark Clevenger
November 30th 2016

Great performances on the platform are directly correlated to the amount of preparation an athlete puts in long before game day. I’ve seen very strong athletes fall apart on the platform and under perform or bomb events they had no business failing. The common denominator I’ve seen in these failures has been improper preparation. So if preparation is so important, how do so many people get it wrong and how do you avoid this crap the bed (or platform) scenario?

One of the biggest problems I see with athletes prepping for a contest involves their training leading up to it. They either get too specific too fast and burn out, or wait too long to get specific and never reach their true peak for a specific implement, movement, or medley. The other aspect of training that often gets neglected is diet. You can’t run a Lamborghini on regular unleaded and expect it to still go from 0-60 in under 3 seconds. The biggest diet gainz robbing culprit of them all is alcohol. You can’t eat well all week, train hard (and smart), and then binge drink a night or two on the weekend and expect that performance poison to not have a negative effect. Diet and training are the two variables each person has direct control over that directly impacts performance, so don’t let these two keep you from being the strongest version of yourself on game day.

The other problem I see with athletes is that they want to compare themselves to everyone else at the competition. Their mind is so worried about what X person is going to pull, and what Y person is going push, that they lose focus of their moment on the platform and their task at hand. Athletes must stay focused on the given task and when their moment comes execute that task to the best of their abilities. If they do this for every event chances are they will walk away with a PR and a performance they can be proud of.

By no means are these two problems the only ones plaguing athletes performances on the platform, but they are the two biggest problems I’ve seen that every athlete has direct control over. If you’re not familiar with developing training programs, hire a coach to help you. If you’re not familiar with proper dieting principles, hire a nutrition coach (or check out Renaissance Periodization, they are the best bang for your buck). If you can’t spare the change for either of these than educate yourself, there are plenty of free (or cheap) resources available online. So take control of your diet, training, and mindset to smash PR’s and maximize your performance on the platform.

Lift Rx ‘The Back Squat’ Ebook

This Lift Rx Ebook is the first in a series of manuscripts that aim to improve the performance of each athlete’s lift through a comprehensive step-by-step guide to teaching the lift from start to finish, identifying common movement faults, spot and cue corrections for these common faults, and some exercise selections to fix improper movement patterns or muscle imbalances.Lift Rx Back Squat

Although this Ebook is geared toward the personal trainers and professional strength coaches new to the field of health and human performance, the information in it is valuable to anyone who enjoys the squat, deadlift, press, and bench press.

Download Ebook here

The PR Hangover

By Mark Clevenger
October 20th 2016

PR’s (personal records) are the reason most people train and compete. To do something you’ve never done before is one of the most exhilarating feelings we can experience. Unfortunately as we get older we learn that sometimes these PR’s come at a price. It’s like binge drinking. When you’re 21 you can go out drinking all night, get 4 hours sleep, get up and go about your business no problem. When you’re 31 it takes 2 full days to get rid of the hangover and you burn at least 1 PTO day trying to recoup. The gym PR’s are no different, their hangover can sometimes put you on the couch for the next two days.

Why is it that hitting a big PR takes so much out of us? Doing something you’ve never done before requires your body doing something it’s never physically done before. Our bodies are terribly inefficient at things it doesn’t know how to do, requiring our nervous system to work in hyper drive to accomplish the given task. Our nervous system is highly metabolic and is subject to fatigue like all other metabolically active tissues in our bodies.  This hangover (overly tired, insatiable hunger, total body soreness) is the physical display of neural fatigue.

When our nervous system attempts to activate muscles to complete a movement at a weight it’s never done before it doesn’t know how many times it needs to discharge a signal to the muscles involved, how frequent those signals should be, or the correct sequence of motor unit activation. This causes it to go into hyper drive and is the cause of neural fatigue. Once the nervous system figures out the recruitment patterns and how much activity it needs to achieve sufficient force for that particular movement at that particular weight, then that lift (and weight) starts to feel easier to accomplish. Your nervous system now knows it doesn’t need to throw the kitchen sink at the muscles to complete the lift.

So the next time you go on the weight room equivalent of binge drinking and do something crazy like set a 300# PR on a tire flip (cough, cough), you’ll understand why you feel like the walking dead the next day. At that point burn a PTO gym day, get some rest, eat some good food, and get ready to make a hero’s return to the gym because everyone was talking about your awesome lift while you were gone.

References:

  1. MacIntosh B.R. Gardiner P.F. McComas A.J. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function. Second edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2005.

The 5 types of strongman competitors you’ll see at your fist novice competition

By Mark Clevenger
September 10th 2016

The following are the 5 most common strongman competitors you’ll see at your first novice competition.

  1. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong: This is the athlete who crushes every event and obviously should have been an open competitor. How they got to compete in the novice division is still a mystery of the universe. Their mastery of the implements and timing of the details suggest this is nowhere near their first rodeo. You watch and learn as much as you can from them all the while hating the fact that you have to compete against them.
  2. The guy/girl that doesn’t belong, part deux: This is the athlete who zeros almost every event. Why they decided to pay money to compete in something they are physically unprepared for baffles everyone there. Fellow competitors give them tips and cheer them on because that’s what this sport is all about. When it’s all said and done we just hope they fall in love with the sport, learn from the experience, hit the weight room… hard, and come back when they’re a little more prepared. Mad props to this athlete for putting themselves out there though.
  3. The strong Crossfitter: This athlete is strong (by Crossfit standards, take that however you want) and pretty good at Crossfit. They thought this success would parlay to success as a novice strongman, and most of the time it does. They have the mental toughness required to attack each event with 100% of themselves, they have the strength endurance to repeat this effort in multiple events throughout the day, and they are generally good at both overhead and lightweight deadlift events. They are not as good at the more traditional strongman implements like farmers walks, atlas stones, ect… Their strengths in the overhead and lightweight deadlift events generally carry them through pedestrian performances in the other events to the podium.
  4. The naturally strong athlete that never really works out: This athlete claims to never really workout. They do manual labor all day for a living and decided to compete on a whim because it sounded cool. You believe them when they say they never train because they look like a baby giraffe trying to walk when they touch any barbell or implement. They generally come out the gate doing reasonably well in the first two events and then either get hurt, or their bodies tank, because they are not used to repeating maximum effort for multiple events in a row. You watch them jealous of their natural talents and wondering how good they could be at this sport if they worked at it.funnylifting
  5. The athlete who has committed to the sport but not ready for open competition yet: This was me. I trained in strongman every college football offseason because I was a blocking tight end and my strength coach was an ex-strongman competitor. By the end of every season I lost so many of the gains I made that the cycle just restarted for the following season until I graduated. These athletes are fairly strong overall and have a good grasp on the implements because they are part of their regular training regime. They truly love the sport, are always in the hunt for the podium, and perform fairly well in every event. These athletes generally make the jump to the open division shortly after they start competing in the sport.

This list isn’t all inclusive, there are other ‘types’ of athletes you’ll encounter. These are just the 5 most common that I have seen. Ask yourself if you fall into one of these categories. If you fall into the first, do everyone a favor and compete in the open division. Kicking kittens isn’t cool and the other athletes won’t appreciate you dominating a division below where you belong. If you fall into any other, you have a good idea of what to expect based on the type of athlete you are. Either way go enjoy the experience, learn from the vets, be a good sport, then go out and connect with your fellow competitors after the contest for burgers and beer.