Movement Economy in Sports

April 5th 2017

If I asked the average athlete to define movement economy for me, I would probably get some form of a generic answer in the ballpark of “exercising correctly.” While variations of this answer, along with this specific answer itself are not entirely incorrect, they do lack substance. In this article I aim to clarify this concept and operationally define movement economy as it relates to sporting performance through a detailed and layered description for athletes to use in both training and competition.

The broadest sense of movement economy in sports starts with the theory of specificity. The idea that the things we do the most, and the manner in which we do them, are the things we become best at. So if I’m an Olympic swimmer, I would want to perform exercises that have the most transfer of training to my sport in both movement selection and energy system utilized1,2. Now, this doesn’t mean other less specific exercises and energy systems don’t have a place in my periodized training depending on what phase I’m in, it just means they don’t make up the bulk of any of my training cycles. In this instance with regards to movement economy in sports, according to the theory of specificity, I would want to become proficient at the exercises that directly make me a better swimmer. You can see that this broad concept is also rooted in the idea of programming economy for sport. I will refer you to my article titled ‘Programming Economy’ for a more detailed description of this foundational concept of movement economy.

While the theory of specificity and the concept of programming economy, broadly outline the programming aspect of movement as it relates to sporting form, it fails to cover the specific movement patterns of the individual performing the exercises prescribed. After learning new movement patterns our bodies tend to quickly and grossly adapt these patterns to the capabilities of the individual in an effort to merge the function of movement with the minimal amount of metabolic energy expenditure required3. Our bodies will integrate and accommodate their own unique combination of dimensions and mechanical characteristics so that they arrive at specific movement patterns for an exercise which is most economical for them4. Essentially our bodies will perform the exercise prescribed, outside of the influence of fatigue and intensity, within our physical limits in a way that uses the least amount of energy possible. This sounds like the epitome of movement economy in sport right? I mean, how much more economical can our bodies be if they naturally adapt to movement in the most energy conserving way possible within the physical limitations of the individual? While this notion sounds like the holy grail of an operational definition, it fails to address the effect of fatigue and intensity on movement, which is the foundation of any sporting event. It also fails to address the potential for increasing movement economy, which as we will see is correlated to increases in sporting performance.

So when thinking about increasing movement economy two big questions should come to mind that need to be addressed. Can an athlete’s movement economy be increased? If so, how?

With regards to these questions, we must start by understanding the role of movement economy on energy consumption. Generally, the less dynamic appendicular and axial displacement that a person mechanically generates outside of what is absolutely necessary to complete a physical task, the less energy they will use. Example: If I perform a bicep curl where I bend forward, pop my hips, curl my arm, and flex my shoulder, how much energy have I used compared to standing erect and neutral while performing a strict arm curl without flexing my shoulder? They both achieved the desired outcome but the ‘cheating’ version created the most appendicular and axial displacement, and thus used more energy. The less body movement utilized to reach a movement objective is the backbone of our operational definition of movement economy in sport.

Now that we understand the backbone of our operational definition, we can start to address the two big questions. Any deficiency in movement economy can essentially stem from 3 major sources, they can be fatigue induced, structurally induced, or strength failure induced. Fatigue induced refers to how our attention to movement detail goes out the window as our heart rate and respiratory rate get really high. Our focus shifts from monitoring our movement in space to, “I hate this, why am I doing this” and then to “just get the next rep.” This is when our elbows start to drop in front squats causing a forward trunk lean, or kipping pull ups become less rhythmic and more spastic like a flopping fish. If you just took the time to slow down a minute and refocus on your form it will save you energy (and help prevent injury) for the rest of the workout. Sometimes to take 2 steps forward we have to take 1 step back. The best part about this movement economy deficiency is it can be fixed right now and everyone has direct control over it.

The second movement economy deficiency source refers to those which are structurally induced. This is where we lack the functional range of motion (ROM) across certain joints to perform a specific exercise as efficiently as it could be performed if we had full functional ROM in those joints. This is where mobility work and redneck strength coach engineering comes into play. The long term answer to this problem is stretching and mobility work aimed at achieving a desired ROM across a restricting joint in a certain movement pattern. The problem is this takes a lot of time and doesn’t happen overnight. That doesn’t mean you should ignore it, it just means you have to work at it a little every day until the mobility fairy visits you one night and blesses you with the ROM needed to efficiently perform the movement you’re aiming to improve. Not sure where to start on this? Find a local Physical Therapist and make an appointment.

The short term answer to structurally induced movement economy deficiencies is what I call redneck strength coach engineering. Let’s say you have trouble getting into the front rack position for front squats (this is my go to example). Should you just perform them to the best of your abilities? Even if this makes you hunch forward during your squat, creating greater torque demands on the spine, and shifts your COM forward forcing you onto the balls of your feet? The correct answer is no you shouldn’t. This not only requires much more energy to perform the movement in this manner, but performing broken reps like this increases your risk of injury. Plus, it does nothing to increase your ROM/mobility. This is where you become a strength coach and engineer ways to perform prescribed movements closer to the economical standard so you can safely put in more work. For the example given, you could use lifting straps around the bar that will help you achieve higher elbows, a more upright posture, and more stable front rack position. Just by tweaking how the movement is performed you have increased your work abilities for the training session and reduced your chance of injury.

The Third movement economy deficiency source is strength failure. This is where you are performing perfect repetitions and everything’s going great, then one muscle group gives out and you find yourself performing reps in a manner that is sapping every ounce of available energy from you. A good example of this is yoke walks for strongman. The reason you wrap your arms around the implement, or have your hands inside and press out on it, is to create stiffness in your upper back. This helps stabilize the core which creates a more efficient walk under heavy loads applied to the upper back. If your upper back gives out because it’s not strong enough to perform the action it’s tasked to do, the implement starts to move around, your steps become random, and your core begins to torque and flex under the load. Moving in such a manner requires so much more energy than when walking with the yoke and the only thing moving on your body is your legs. The moral of this story is, if you have a limiting factor in your movement economy that is strength failure related, back off the weight to perform the reps correctly, and start to program more exercises into your training to bring this freeloading muscle group up to speed with the rest of your body.

If you’re an athlete in any sport finding ways to improve your movement economy in your training and sport should be a top priority for you. One of the common denominators for successful athletes at the highest levels of all sports is impeccable movement economy within their sporting performance. With increases in sport-technical indicators we see an increase in sport qualification, which leads to high achievements and sport mastery5. In other words, at these higher levels of competition the natural selection process tends to eliminate athletes who have failed to either inherit, or develop, characteristics which favor movement economy in their sporting performance6. I like to use Rich Froning as a good example. This man won the Crossfit games 4 years in a row and every time I watched him compete, every repetition of any lift he performed looked the same. From the first rep, to the last, there was very little variation. His movement economy was almost perfect and that’s one of the reasons why he was always in the top 3-5 finishers in every event, and subsequently had more gas in the tank at the very last event compared to all the other competitors. So if you compete, in anything, movement economy in your sport should be something you pay attention to for every repetition you spend at the gym and on the platform. Need mobility work? Do it. Not strong enough in a certain area of your body? Get stronger there. Tired and not paying attention to your body while training? Suck it buttercup and pay attention to it. This is a major part of how great athletes are created.

To review the outline of this operational definition, we started by talking about the theory of specificity and programming economy, and how this helps narrow the scope of our programming, exercise selection, and means of exercise application. With the programming in place, it’s important to understand that outside of the influence of fatigue and intensity, athletes will quickly learn to perform the prescribed exercises as efficiently as possible within their physical limits, but sporting performance is not void of fatigue and intensity so we shouldn’t be content with this. We should ask ourselves, can we make it better? This led us to defining the means by which movement economy is decreased and movement deficiencies occur, excessive axial and appendicular displacement. From here we worked to categorize the 3 types of movement deficiency sources that create this energy consuming movement pattern, fatigue induced deficiencies, structurally induced deficiencies, or strength failure deficiencies. Being able to recognize the source of these gives us the opportunity to either spot correct them (fatigue induced), or work to correct them through mobility training and exercise selection (structurally induced and strength failure). At this point, understanding the impact of these dysfunctional patterns on sporting performance is to understand the correlation between high movement economy and sport mastery achievement. All of this information together helps complete our understanding of how movement economy is compromised, corrected, and maximized which gives way to an understanding of how this operational definition is applied across the spectrum of various training environments and sporting events.

Now I’m not a smart guy, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I’m not just trying to make something more difficult than it has to be. Just like anybody else, I appreciate simplicity for simplicity’s sake, but as athletes we have to understand the complexities of certain concepts as they relate to our sport in order for us to progress. This is why I have clarified the concept of movement economy and operationally defined it for athletes to use both in training and competition. So take this information, implement it into your training, and become a movement master in your sport. Your PR’s will thank you for it.

References:

  1. MacIntosh B.R. Gardiner P.F. McComas A.J. Skeletal Muscle: Form and Function. Second Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2006.
  2. Powers S.K. Howley E.T. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Eighth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012.
  3. A. Sparrow K.M. Newell Metabolic energy expenditure and the regulation of movement economy. Psychonomic Bullitin and Review. June, 1998; 5(2): 173-196.
  4. Anderson T. Biomechanics and running economy. Sports Med. August, 1996; 22(2): 76-89.\
  5. Medvedyev A. S. A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting. Livonia, MI: Sportivny Press: 1989.
  6. Behbacke R.R. Duffin J. The entertainment of breathing frequency by exercise rhythm. J Physiol. Nov, 1977; 272(3): 553-561.

Lift Rx ‘Circus Dumbell’ Ebook

This Lift Rx Ebook is the second 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.Lifting a circus dumbell

Although this Ebook is geared toward the amateur athletes in the sport of
strongman, the information in it is valuable to anyone who wants to incorporate the circus dumbell into their training regimen.

Download Ebook here

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.

Coaching the Details

By Mark Clevenger
August 16th 2016

Let me start this by saying that coaching the details is not the same as over coaching. As coaches we start by taking athletes where they are at the moment we start working with them and progress them to where they want and need to be. Don’t be that coach that throws every detail about a lift right out of the gate at their athlete. You could overwhelm them with information and create faults that would have never been there to begin with. Plus, you’d be surprised at how often things come natural to an athlete with just a little general instruction.

As coaches we have to take pride in paying attention to the details of our athletes. We should be paying attention to their lifts, their programming, and the demands of their sport. These elements are the trifecta of success for every athlete, in every sport, across the globe.

Since the ultimate success of our athletes starts with our ability to create the safest, most efficient, and strongest movement patterns possible we will start there. The process for any lift or movement starts with identifying all the faults an athlete has and start addressing them with the one that needs the most attention first. For athletes with very poor technique this can be easy to identify. The athletes with good technique we may need to vary the lifts intensity to find errors that need attention.

Working to fix these faults with our athletes every day will help them maximize the programming we create for them. This programming follows the path laid before it by the movement faults of the individual athlete. Take these into consideration when creating your micro and mesocycles for your athlete. Finding faults is one thing, knowing how to use programming to fix them is another beast all together.

Lastly, understanding the demands of your athletes sport allows you to program exercises and drills that can help prevent injury or muscle imbalances. The stress and demands of many sports can leave an athlete at risk for these things. As coaches we have to understand where these physical pitfalls can occur and make efforts through our programming to counter these. The biggest part of our job is preparing athletes for competition, the most important aspect of that is keeping them safe and healthy. Through our attention to detail in the trifecta of an athletes success they become the best version of themselves possible and will find success, however they define it, through those details.

Building the perfect pressing platform: Part 2

By Mark Clevenger
July 26th 2016

In part 1 we covered everything from the feet to the shoulders. Here in part 2, we’ll discuss the shoulders themselves and how to position them with the arms for the press. We will look to marry the safest known biomechanical principles of the shoulder to optimal performance in order to create the safest and strongest pressing position possible. This will allow you to safely move big weights for many years to come.

Everything we do from now is in an effort to create a giant helipad that the barbell lands on, rests, and takes off from. Doing so requires several talking points that must be flushed out. We will need to discuss hand placement, bar placement, define and apply scaption, forearm angle, and upper back engagement. To start, the general rule of thumb for hand placement is somewhere between the tip of the shoulder and approximately 6 inches wider than the tip of the shoulder. Anything wider than that generally creates instability, which is no bueno. As far as traditional vs thumbless grip, it’s really a matter of preference. Yes, pressing overhead with a thumbless grip can be unsafe but so can leaving the toilet seat up in the middle of the night. Understand you can drop a barbell on your head, or get stuck in a toilet at 3am, both are risks that are up to the individual to take.

barplacementNow that we have a place for our hands on the bar, we need to have a place for the bar on our shoulders. As we rotate our elbows under the bar the torque created around our shoulder creates natural tension of the musculature. This tension usually creates a shelf with the shoulder muscles that the bar can rest on. Generally the best place on this shelf for the bar is as far back toward our neck as we can tolerate.

Scaption is defined as approximately the 30-450 angle of our upper arm from the frontal plane (see picture below for clarification)1. This position creates the least amount of mechanical stress in the shoulder joint and allows for the greatest amount of muscular engagement from the shoulders and upper back1. This muscular engagement with decreased joint stress creates stable shoulders to press with.

scaption

Forearm direction should be pointed in line with the theoretical point over our heads where the weight will end at the lockout of the press. This ensures a natural path during the press from its starting point to its lockout centered over our heads. Finding this position requires some shoulder mobility by demanding us to rotate our arms under and around the bar. If this position is difficult to find then the issue is one of shoulder flexibility and requires specific exercises to increase the range of motion of the shoulders.

forearmangle

The upper back is responsible for keeping the shoulder blades retracted and elevated. By keeping your upper back engaged you make the press easier by decreasing the distance traveled by the bar and by providing functional stability for the shoulders to operate through. Both of which are necessary for efficient and successful presses at higher relative loads.

Understand that in applying these concepts there will be variation from person to person at every position we’ve discussed because no two people are built exactly alike. Variation does not mean incorrect, it just means two peoples execution of the same concept do not look exactly alike. Remember, building this perfect platform for the press is a complex process that involves the entire body. Understanding how to achieve maximal pressing performance from the application of safe biomechanical principles is the key to your overhead pressing longevity. Now go forth, apply these concepts, and press the world regardless of your sport of choice. The skys the limit.

References:

  1. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation Second Edition. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Building the perfect pressing platform: Part 1

By Mark Clevenger
July 8th 2016

Regardless if you’re a Crossfitter, Strongman, or Olympic lifter, the press is a cornerstone of your training. The concept itself is very simple, press the weight over your head. The proper execution of said concept is anything but easy. I want to take a look at the press from an osteokinematic, biomechanical, and maximal performance viewpoint, in an effort to marry the three into the safest and strongest pressing position possible. This first part will cover everything from your feet to your shoulders.

The stability of every platform starts with its base so that’s where we’ll begin. We want a base of support that is wide enough to offer sufficient stability while not being so wide that we lose the ability to generate maximum power from hips for any power variation of the press. A general rule of thumb is the wider your feet get past your hips, the greater the decrease in force production through the hips1. I have found the happy medium between base of support and power production for most people lies with the feet directly underneath their hips or just slightly wider than their hips.

We can’t sufficiently discuss the position of the feet without addressing the toe angle. This angle of the foot itself serves two main purposes: First, it positions the entire leg for maximum recruitment of the lateral rotators of the hip and the gluteus maximus. Recruitment of these muscles is important not just for producing force in the power variation of the press, but they also help stabilize the pelvis during these dynamic movements1. A stable pelvis during these power movements will decrease the risk of lumbopelvic injuries and increase force transmission from the legs and hips to the bar2.

The second main job of the toe angle, in conjunction with a wide enough base, is to allow the vertical dip and drive of the torso. This movement is a combination of lateral rotation of the thighs, abduction of the thighs, flexion and extension of the knees, and slight flexion and extension of the hips. All of these movements increase the overall amount of active musculature involved across the hip which produces a more stable pelvis and generates greater force production. Lateral rotation and abduction of the thighs are what create room for the pelvis to drop vertically. Without this, athletes will be inclined to hinge forward at the waist which will create horizontal displacement of the bar in the drive. This displacement creates an external moment that makes the execution more difficult than it has to be.

Gym Log Press

Moving up from the pelvis we get to the area that creates stability in both the thoracolumbar and pelvic regions, the ‘core’. Our posterior back muscles are actively engaged when we are vertical and under load by supporting our torso to keep it upright. The other anterolateral (AL) muscles of the core must also be braced to share the weight of the external applied load and to help stabilize the pelvis. These AL muscles have anterior, lateral, and posterior attachments to the pelvis, the ribcage, and around to the fascia of the lower back2. Without the active engagement of these muscles the pelvis is more susceptible to movement and because of the relationship the pelvis has with the lower back any movement here will create some sort of flexion or extension in the lumbar spine2. Any flexion/extension here under load is a can of injury soup with your face on the cover.

Hopefully you’ve found this information useful and applicable to your press.  Stay tuned for ‘Building the Perfect Pressing Platform: Part 2’ where you will learn how to position your hands and arms.

References:

  1. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the hip: A focus on muscular actions. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Therapy. 2010; 40(2): 82-94.
  2. Neuman D. A. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation Second Edition. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.