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A Comprehensive Approach to Nutrition
I am reading Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" right now and he mentions looking for secrets in certain areas as a place for innovation. What is nature keeping a secret and what are people keeping a secret? One place he mentions secrecy is in academia, and believe it or not he points to nutrition. Physics has been around as an established science forever and we know more about the physics of the stars than we do about our own nutrition. Hence, nutrition may be holding some secrets. It seems quite obvious that no one can agree upon a comprehensive approach to nutrition. No one in the sciences can and no one in the public domain can either. Each new week there is a new diet being branded as the best way to do (insert something that can be achieved easily). All of these diets seem to miss the mark. How can people make reasonable nutrition decisions when they get contradictory info everywhere they look? It doesn’t need to be that way. We can take a principled approach to make informed decisions and not leave us victim to the newest set of fraudulent marketing schemes. When it really comes down to it nutrition is all about energy. Consuming energy in the form of food to keep us alive. Thousands of years ago it used to be hard to get food, which is why most humans were skinny relative to today, because they simply couldn’t eat all the time. We have the opposite problem these days. We have no shortage of food and the most easily available forms of food are extremely calorie dense. Nutrition can easily be understood from a simple energy balance equation. If you consume more energy (in the form of food) than you expend (in the form of exercise, regular bodily processes to keep you alive, etc.) then you will store excess energy (in the form of fat, or even muscle in some circumstances). This is your typical weight gain scenario. However, most advice I see in the nutrition sphere seems to distract people from this simple truth. Yes, there is more to healthy nutrition, but to me this seems like the most principled starting point. You have to understand this. When talking about healthy nutrition decisions I think we have to first focus on body weight and composition. Most unwanted effects of poor health can be largely attributed to being overweight and lack of exercise. The focus of this post is the former. Directly influencing your body composition to keep you at a healthy weight (different for each individual) will solve a large portion of health related problems. So, it stands to reason that are biggest focus should be on improving our body composition. A lot of nutrition advice tends to focus on what you are eating. I think this is important, but not as important as how much you are eating. You can still overeat on all the “right” things, and therefore you are still overweight. If you control how much you eat in relation to how much energy you tend to expend you can start to specifically make positive body composition changes. Some will say, "yeah you can lose weight by only eating sugar, but that’s not healthy.” While this is partially true, I am only concerned about calorie consumption as the first order of business. Also, it will likely be super hard to eat the appropriate amount of calories only from sugar, or only from fat, or only from protein for that matter. Your biology and environment are a self-regulating process to this in a sense. Once, and only once you start to find the appropriate energy balance equation to get and keep you at a healthy body composition, can you really start to worry about what you eat. Most people, and no attack on them because they are being conditioned to, focus on the reverse. You can consume all the Vitamin D, CBD oil, or micronutrients you want, but if your energy balance isn’t right you will still be overweight, and still have to face the negative consequences of that. There is a lot more that can be said in regards to nutrition, but that’s where I think our problem begins, and this lets people sell advice that have no business selling advice. What we need is a comprehensive and universal approach that can work for most people most of the time. That is what I attempted to lay out here. Finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is going to do more for your health than any nutrition program telling you what to eat. The biggest part of finding and maintaining a healthy body composition is to find the right balance between how much energy you are consuming to how much you are expending. Most people, because most people are overweight, need to error on the side of consuming less and expending more. The matter of best nutrition practices really comes down to this equation of energy balance. Yes, some other things have their place, but let’s make sure we’re not missing the forest from the trees. Interested in contacting a coach? Click HERE
Transferring From Crossfit to Olympic Lifting
At Lift Lab, we have been lucky enough to work with a lot of Crossfitters that wanted to get a deeper taste of the sport of Weightlifting. Honestly, Crossfit gets somewhat of a bad reputation in the Weightlifting community, but there are a lot of benefits in having a background in Crossfit. Today I want to discuss where Crossfitters tend to have some strengths that will help them in Weightlifting, and where some of their weaknesses tend to lie. Hopefully, if you are someone with a Crossfit background that wants to make the switch to Weightlifting, this will help you. Disclaimer: I will use "Weightlifting and Olympic lifting here interchangeably, but I am talking about the same thing. Strengths So, what are some strengths that Crossfitters tend to have? One thing is for certain is that most of them have incredible work capacity. Crossfit is centered around getting a ton of work done in as little amount of time as possible. This capacity helps a lot from an Olympic lifting standpoint because it will prepare them to handle a lot of training volume. Being able to handle a lot of training volume means more time to practice technique and get a lot of reps in. A Crossfit background also gives a lot of people a decent base of strength to start with. I don't think anyone would compare Crossfitters to very strong Powerlifters, but they do have a good foundation of strength. This means when they start a Weightlifting program not as much time needs to be spent on developing strength, and that excess time can be spent on developing technique related to the Olympic lifts. I will branch off and be a bit more specific about the last quality, and say that a lot of Crossfitters have pretty good overhead strength. A lot of movements in Crossfit are overhead movements so they have pretty good strength developed in this area. This is huge in Weightlifting because the snatch and clean and jerk are overhead movements, and you need to be competent in that area. Again, that is just one less thing that has to be developed when starting a Weightlifting program. Weaknesses Now for the weaknesses, which I am sure everyones loves... While Crossfitters have very good work capacity, this actually limits them in some areas. A lot of training in Crossfit is around the 60-80% range for higher reps. Not a whole lot of training gets done at heavier weights and less reps. This is great if you want to get bigger muscles and good conditioning, but not the best if you want to get strong at specific lifts. We find that a lot of technique from Crossfitters really breaks down once they get above this 75-80% threshold. I'm sure I am not the first one to say this, but Crossfitters don't typically have the best Olympic lifting technique. And, they don't really have to. A lot of Crossfit is done under fatigue and how fast you can muster up a bunch of reps. They need to just be efficient as they need to be to complete a certain amount of reps in a given amount of time. However, this doesn't help them much if they want to get stronger Olympic lifts. Lastly, I will get a bit more specific on the technique part. We tend to see a trend in technique weaknesses when we assess many athletes from a Crossfit background. Most of them like to shift the weight and pressure to the front of their foot throughout the lift, which results in swinging the bar forward, and they also tend to not be the best split jerkers. I think this is because the former allows them to complete reps a bit faster in a WOD, and the latter is simply that they don't practice split jerks that much. One could say that you can just get really good at power or push jerks, but I come from the opinion that one will almost always be stronger in a split. Which is why most of the best Olympic lifters in the world split jerk. What to work on? So, how does one take this information and make it practical? Well, first of all you have to decide if you want to really get better at Olympic lifting or not. If you don't, then keep doing Crossfit, and most of what I say next won't apply to you. If you want to get better at Olympic lifting then below are some things I think you may benefit from working on. I don't necessarily think you have to stop doing Crossfit, but depending on how much you do it, one less day/week might be beneficial. I think Crossfitters will benefit from doing less reps. Yes, you read that right....less reps. This doesn't necessarily mean less reps totally, but less reps in a given set. If you want to get better at snatch and clean and jerk I think it would be wise to work on them at heavier weights than you might in a Crossfit WOD, with a lot more rest built in. This will give you more practice at heavier weights, and will give you more time to work on technique when you aren't tired. No matter how hard you want to or try, you simply can't really focus on technique if you are exhausted. Crossfitters will also benefit from general strength work at higher percentages and less reps. I think this is the area that generally gets neglected in Crossfit. Like I said, a lot of work is done from 60-80%. I think they should work on developing at higher percentages. Like I mentioned above, many would also be better served to work on split jerk a lot more as over time you will be able to do more weight this way. Lastly, it is probably a good idea to find a good Weightlifting coach and start getting some coaching a couple days a week. This is the only way you can really fine-tune your technique over time. I know a lot of people think they can coach themselves, but it simply isn't the best long-term solution. Fortunately, we can definitely help you out with that last part. If you are interested in bettering you Olympic lifting technique, please reach out to me at Justin@liftlabco.com and I would love to get you set up for an assessment!
Any session over 90% is a roll of the dice . High performance is a physical, mental, and technical combination. Some days go better than others. This lift by lift progression shows a heavy session finishing in a PR for both lifts! During warm up larger jumps are made. Above 90% decreasing incremental jumps are made to and beyond 100%. Remember. Above 100% the athlete is going to a place they have never been. If you hit PR, move on. Contact a Coach HERE! #liftlab #liftlabathlete #weightlifting #olympiclifting #olympicweightlifting #indy #indydowntown #indiana #cleanandjerk #nikeweightlifting #usaweightlifting #usaw #indyfitness #rogue #ryourogue #snatch #indianaweightlifting
Plyometrics for Olympic Weightlifting
Weightlifting is a very technical sport. Much like golf, if you want to get better at snatch and clean and jerk, you have to do both of those things more to master proficiency. However, there are some other qualities that can help us express our technical proficiency to lift more weight on the bar. One of those qualities is power output. Weightlifting, aside from being a technical sport, is a very explosive sport. It stands to reason that if an athlete can become more explosive, their Olympic lifts will improve, all else being equal. The one way we improve power output in our programming is through plyometrics. Another word for jumps, throws, and even sprints. Whatever the drill or exercise, the main objective is to produce as much force as possible in the shortest amount of time as possible. Below are a few reasons how plyometrics can be beneficial to a Weightlifter. Increased Power This one might seem a bit obvious. The more you do plyometrics the more likely you are to see increases in power output. That is, if you are programming them intelligently. If you take someone's vertical jump, and put them on a properly periodized and progressive jump program you will see that vertical jump go up in at least two months. This doesn't have to be an extensive jump program, but 10 minutes during your warm-up before your Olympic lifting training session will do. I would bet a decent amount of dollars that you will see increases in vertical jump height for someone that hasn't added the plyometrics into their program previously. Now, everyone is different and has a certain genetic potential they can reach when it comes to speed and power output. Some people are just born with an ability to jump high while others are born without that ability. However, everyone has a window of potential that they can increase by training. You can be someone who is nothing but slow-twitch, but you can still make increases in power if you train hard and smart. You just might not be that someone who gets from a 30" vertical to a 40." Lastly, it stands to reason if you can increase a measure like vertical jump height, this increased quality is likely to transfer over, even if it is a little, to the sport of Weightlifting. Increased Elasticity There is a little bit more to gain from plyometrics than just raw power output. Power output really only tests whether you can produce a lot of force in a short period of time in one direction. But, something like a vertical jump doesn't tell you how well you can change direction. When I am talking about elasticity here, I am talking about the ability to change direction, or the ability for your muscles to go from a state of contraction (or force output), to a state one might call "relaxation" (no force output), and then be able to contract again. An example would be a hurdle hop. You have to produce force to jump over the hurdle, but then you have to be able to relax so when you hit the ground again your muscles can contract and spring you back up over the next hurdle. In this example, if you didn't possess the ability to "relax" your muscles after the first jump you wouldn't be able to spring back up, and you would continue to move towards the floor. Muscles have to relax, or yield a little bit in order for the force to be able to be distributed through the muscles and therefore the entire system. This has some relation to getting under the bar in Weightlifting. If someone doesn't have the ability to yield or relax after producing high force, they might not be one who can get under the bar fast. Driving the bar up on Olympic lifts is about producing force, but getting under is about how fast you can stop this production of force to propel yourself back under the bar. A good example is a Powerlifter who can produce a lot of force, but they don't have the elasticity to drop themselves under the bar. You can see this quite easily at the beginning stages of a Powerlifter that transitions to Weightlifting. Increased Coordination Jumps, throws and all of their variations take quite a bit of motor coordination. That is, your nervous system's ability to synchronously recruit all the appropriate motor units needed to perform a specific task. The more complex the task, like jumping, throwing, and sprinting, the harder that is to do. Which is why it's probably a bit easier to develop a very strong squatter, but much harder to take an average joe and make them a decent sprinter. The motor coordination involved in sprinting happens at a much higher rate, and is therefore likely harder to develop. Anyways, Olympic lifting is another task that is fairly complex and takes quite a bit of coordination to complete both lifts. Just watch anyone who tries to snatch for the first time. If someone already has decent coordination or general athletic ability, they tend to catch on to the Olympic lifts quite a bit quicker than someone with no athletic background. If we incorporate some plyometrics in an athlete's program this should develop some decent overall motor coordination, which should transfer to the main Olympic lifts. These can be a great added benefit to someone new to the sport that doesn't have a previous athletic background. At the end of the day, nothing is going to get you better at Olympic lifting more than practicing the Olympic lifts very consistently. However, adding plyometrics for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of one's training sessions can give them some great added benefits complementary to the Olympic lifts.
Why Muscle Sensation Isn't the Best Indicator of Movement Competency
A lot of times we might hear a client ask, "where should I be feeling this?" This is an appropriate question as the client wants to make sure they are performing the movement correctly, or at least, what they think is correctly. However, I think we should be thinking a bit differently about movement to optimize our time in the gym, and to have a better understanding of what is truly going on. We've sort of been indoctrinated to only think about muscles when it comes to lifting. That's because, we've all seen the great bodybuilders, and when we lift weight, we grow muscle so it only makes sense that we should mostly think about muscles. But, if we want a better understanding of movement as a whole, we need to think about the human system altogether. So, here's a model we can work with... Our skeletal structure matters. The orientation of muscle fibers and their interactions with joints, tendons, and bones matter, and the way the fluid moves in all of these structures is going to determine how we move. Additionally, we have brains that influence movement. I look at these things as being interconnected and they sort of all give feedback to each other in the way that we move. You can't just squeeze your glutes harder to activate them or to feel them work more. You may have to change the position of your skeleton to change the orientation of your glutes so more force and tension is placed upon them. You'd be amazed at how many people feel a glute bridge in their back until you tell them to not arch their back, and simply slowly push with the legs. Your nervous system will also dictate how much sympathetic tone is placed in a given muscle. You may feel that certain muscles simply can't "relax." The lower back is typically an area where this occurs. This can be due to a lot of heavy training where your nervous system implements the good ole "fight or flight" response to allow you to lift heavy weight but may be sucky at shutting this response "off." However, we can also use other interventions, one being changing structural position, to give feedback to the nervous system to reduce this sympathetic tone, but it still seems to me like a two-way street. So, what does all this mean on the training floor? We shouldn’t only be thinking about muscles when observing or coaching a movement. Muscle sensation can be useful in guiding our approach, but it isn’t the best indicator that the movement is meeting the desired outcome, and we have to respect how the system operates as a whole. Feeling the lower back on fire on an RDL probably tells you that they aren’t performing the movement with as much efficiency as they can, or it tells you that it might not be the right exercise for the job. This is all contextually dependent on the goals. Someone can also be performing a movement that looks quite perfect, but they don’t seem to be feeling it in the muscles you would like them to feel them in. I have seen countless RDL’s that look quite competent, but once asked if they feel it in their hamstrings, there’s a look of “no, all lower back.” This can give us feedback from a coaching perspective to adjust or coach the movement in a subtle way that leads to the outcome you want. Again, we can’t be too glued to specific exercises and as coaches we need to put our ego aside and pick a better exercise if one isn’t meeting the criteria we need. Instead of overcoaching to the point of confusion and exhaustion, pick something that the client can manage. As coaches, we obviously have some boxes we need to check when someone is completing a movement. We can’t just prescribe a heels elevated goblet squat and let the client go about the movement willy-nilly. I know there are coaches who do this, but those I don’t find the need to address. What is the goal of the movement, and what are some good indicators that the movement or exercise is meeting the goal? This is where our understanding of the human movement system as a whole becomes crucial. If we only take the limited perspective of muscles, we are likely going to miss some things. I think sensation is a good indicator, but not muscles specifically. For example, if I prescribe a front rack front foot elevated split squat to achieve the desired outcome of quad hypertrophy and movement adaptability/variability I want a few things to be happening. I want the medial arch on the ground, and I want the space between the shoulder blades and backside of the rib cage to feel expanded. I know these sorts of cues and sensations are synonymous with increased relative motion throughout the system. I don’t have to put someone on the table and measure their hip flexion to see this. Through experience and observation, I know these positions are usually (not ALL the time) synonymous with increased motion. I would guess that if you put someone on the table and measured you will find a favorable increase in motion, but it is important to remember table tests aren’t completely objective either. If I am only looking at the sensation at the quad I could easily be fooled. You can make someone work hard enough at anything and you will eventually achieve the desired muscle sensation. Muscles are part of the human body and therefore should always be considered when looking at movement outcomes. I just think we need to respect everything else. Neurological factors, connective tissue, fluid, and even the pressure of the air inside our bodies effect the way we move. Muscles can fool us quite easily if that’s the only thing we are looking at. I have seen many programs with the intent of prescribed exercises to target specific muscles or muscle groups. I think a better idea is to program based on biomechanical patterns. This way you are less likely to be fooled and have a few better indicators if the movement is achieving the desired outcome. Load and velocity are also important but outside the scope of this article. If there is one thing to take away from this, I hope it is that you have to have to be very intentional in how and why you prescribe certain exercises and have clearly defined criteria to see if the movement is meeting the desired outcome. Muscle sensation is important, but it’s not the only dog in the fight.
How to Supplement Strength Training With Your Primary Training
Contrary to some, strength training isn’t the only type of training involved in someone’s life. Some train for Jiu-Jitsu, some have a sport they play where strength training is just supplementation, or some even have hobbies that require a decent amount of physical or skill-based effort. The questions then becomes, when should I add strength training? Should I strength train before or after I go to the batting cage? Should I strength train before or after Jiu-Jitsu practice? Should I strength train before or after I go work with my pitching coach? Should I do my strength training before or after cardio? I have a very simple answer to this, at least, I think I do. At the end of the day everyone only has so much physical effort they can exert. It is beneficial to think of this like a gas tank. Some people have a bigger or smaller tank than others. The tank represents the relative amount of physical resources you can exert on physical stuff. The more well trained you are, the bigger the tank, and vice versa. So, whatever your goals are, I believe it is important to train the most important thing first. There becomes an important distinction here. Some training is based on general physical effort. Other training is more skill-based. Batting practice is way more skill-based than running 4 miles for your cardio. Because skill-based training takes quite a bit more overall motor coordination, I think it is important to always do your skill practice first. The last thing you want to do when you practice pitching is to have super fatigued legs from squatting right before because you are likely to not get much out of it. If you have two practices that are equal in the skill work involved, I would train whatever is most important first. You have to be able to make the distinction between what is skill-based and what is not. I would say any sort of training or practice you are doing for sport is likely to be more skill-based than your strength training, and therefore it should be first. Ideally, I would try to spread out all of the training into their own days unless it is not possible. If someone has to have two different training days on the same day, the skill-based training comes first unless unless they can get adequate rest during the day before the next training session. I think it is important to build up your gas tank as much as possible so you can accumulate more work in a given day. The more work and training you can accumulate, the better the athlete you will be. There becomes a downside if you try to build up your gas tank too fast and your body can't recover so you end up just beating it down more and more. This would be an example of training on "E," as opposed to actually making your gas tank bigger. You only have so much physical effort you can give in a day. If you want to be a great marathon runner, and strength training is taking up 60-70% of your overall training volume, I would say that you are doing it wrong. You are going to adapt to specific stressors and the intensity of those stressors. If you can only go at about 50% on your cardio because you are so tired from strength training you won't get much out of that cardio except more fatigue. The same is applied for sport. Strength training can be a great supplemental tool to help you in other endeavors. Just make sure it doesn’t become the thorn in your side that is actually preventing you from making progress at what is most important. Email me at Justin@liftlabco.com if you have any additional questions!
What Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Olympic Weightlifting Have in Common
"Justin, are pull-ups good for Weightlifting?" Someone asked me this at the gym the other day. At first, I wasn't quite sure how to answer. On one hand, yes, of course. Getting a bigger and stronger upper back will of course help your Weightlifting ability. However, on the other hand, I thought, the only thing that is going to get you better at Weightlifting is more Weightlifting. So, don't be too concerned wasting your time over doing the pull ups. It has to be some sort of bias of the human brain that makes us want to focus on the things that don't matter in order to avoid the things that do matter, because we don't want to do them. You could give someone the best advice in the world, tell them an exact plan they need to follow to achieve their goals, and they will find a way to focus on the unimportant stuff. I think this is mainly because the stuff that we know we need to do becomes mundane and boring so we start to focus on other things in order to add some variety and spice back into our training routine. This post isn't about the next best scientifically researched strength and conditioning program, or the "top 5 exercises to get you strong." This is simply a post about skill development. Which is something Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Weightlifting have in common. I think it is in our nature as strength and conditioning coaches to place a bit too much value on strength training and not enough value on sport play. I think this is simply because most of us are meatheads, most of us saw a bunch of self-improvement from strength training, and in a way, our job is to get people strong. But, I think this way of thinking can lead us to become ineffective at our job. If our job is to develop athletes to help them improve performance in their sport, we have to remember that at the end of the day, they are sport athletes and not strength athletes. They want to get better at their sport. One of those most fundamental principles in skill development is that whatever it is you want to get better at, you have to do that thing a lot. Like, A LOT. You can never replace taking a million swings to get better at hitting a baseball. Or, throwing a million routes in a game like simulation to be a better quarterback. You can improve weight room numbers all day, but if you aren't specifically practicing your skill in a deep and meaningful way, don't plan on getting better at your sport. This is where as strength coaches we have to focus on how we can prepare an athlete for the demands of the sport. How we can develop qualities that are likely to make them better but not take away from the skills of their sport. It might be wise to push heavy numbers on a back squat for an offensive lineman, because a lineman doesn't want to get moved. They need to be big and strong and not be able to turn, because if they get turned a defensive lineman is behind them sacking the quarterback. The same methods might not be wise for a receiver who needs to be able to move more freely. A receiver needs to be fast and powerful and make a cut on a dime. Heavy back squatting all the time may limit this. These are the sort of conversations we have to have with ourselves that will influence our programming. What adaptations can we chase that will have no negative consequences for an athlete in their sport. I know the title of the article specifically mentions Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Olympic Weightlifting and I have yet to really mention either. The point is, that both sports, much like most others are heavily dependent on skill acquisition. You may be strong and have a good wrestling background and be able to beat a bunch of white belts when you first start Jiu-Jitsu, but a brown belt will beat you 10x/10. Much like in Weightlifting where you may have a good athletic background, can jump high, are pretty strong, and this will help make you a better Weightlifter than most other beginners, you aren't going to snatch 120kg+ unless you have years of specific Weightlifting practice at your disposal. There are certain qualities that will set you up for success in certain sports, but at the end of the day, practicing the sport A LOT is what is ultimately going to make you better. Alabama just won the College Football National Championship and there is a picture of their star quarterback, Mac Jones, after the game with his shirt off. He has the epitome of the "dad bod." A bunch of coaches committed on it saying how it was a body of "peak performance." In reality, they aren't wrong. Mac Jones can throw the football damn well. Sure, a few extra pounds of muscle and less fat likely won't hurt, but most of his time was spent getting better at football, and that is why he was third in the final Heisman standings. As strength coaches we need to always keep this fact in mind. We can't get lost in "strength is never a weakness," and need to prepare athletes for the skills of their sport. Ultimately, our influence isn't as great as we may have been told. We certainly can make an impact, but strength training should never be a substitute for sport training. They can both work very well when used synergistically in the appropriate way, and it is our job as strength coaches to find the right dosage and recipe for strength and conditioning training.
What You Need to Know About Sports Performance Training
When a client comes to you and says they want to lose 10lbs, and in a month they have lost 5lbs, it is pretty straight forward that they are making progress and the plan that was originally laid out is working. There are a few additional variables at play that may have had an impact, but you generally know that your plan is working and you are executing on the right variables. Training for sport is not the same. There are an insane amount of variables at play during sports. An athlete has to constantly adapt to the environment and players on the opposing team. They have to do this in a matter of seconds. Things like speed, strength, change of direction, field vision, overall proprioception, sport specific skills, and overall work capacity are all at play during any given sport. That's just to name a few, and not including psychological factors as well. Some athletes are born with innate athletic skills that help them excel at a handful of sports. The best usually end up picking a specific one and do very well at that one. Some athletes could never step in a weight room and still be in the top 1% of their sport. Others don't possess that same ability. So, it's hard to really determine what we can do in the gym that will have the greatest positive effect on an athlete's performance on the field. But, we can take some very educated guesses. We know there are certain physical qualities that are VERY likely to make someone better at their sport, regardless of their sport-specific skill. A faster athlete is likely a better athlete. A stronger athlete is likely a better athlete. An athlete with more muscle and less body fat is likely a better athlete at most positions. It doesn't matter if your jump shot sucks, if you can run fast you are likely to be better than another person with the same jump shot quality who is slower. This is the sort of framework we need to use when training for athletic performance. We can't know everything, and there are some variables that are out of our control such as genetics, but sports performance training is all about making the best possible guess as to what is going to make an athlete better on the field. And, that comes to developing qualities like the ones mentioned above. When things get a little bit more complicated is when we have to start talking about secondary consequences we are creating at the gym. What happens when you start back squatting all the time? You may be increasing your back squat strength, which is good, but are you also limiting your ability to rotate and turn, which is very much needed on the field in athletic performance? At some point I am willing to say an athlete's squat strength is good enough, because I wouldn't want to limit other areas of performance by continuing to put pounds on the squat. A 400lbs back squat for a pitcher is good enough in my books. Time to start developing other qualities that aren't going to limit the insane range of motion that is needed to pitch. I hope I am starting to create a picture for you as to how complex training for sport can be, and will get you to start thinking differently. I wish it were as simple as increasing bench press, back squat and deadlift. And, to be honest that is how I used to think. We have to come up with certain performance indicators that will guide our decision making, but I don't think increasing weight room numbers should be the only thing in the conversation. Many jobs in the strength and conditioning world are judged based on how much stronger athletes are getting in the weight room. I think this is misguided and does not represent the bigger picture. It may be relevant for an offensive lineman to continue to bench 400+lbs and squat over 600lbs, but we shouldn't be pushing the same agenda on a wide receiver or a defensive back. We have understood this in a very limited sense with quarterbacks. Coaches don't typically give them the same strength program as the rest of the guys. But, this is to ensure that they don't hurt their arm and not necessarily because there might be different qualities that a quarterback needs to develop compared to a linebacker. So, what should guide our decision making process in the gym if every athlete has different needs, and we will never know for CERTAIN what will have a positive effect on performance on the field? I wish I could give you an exact answer but the reality is that it will always be subjective and we are always sort of guessing. There are however, like mentioned above, certain qualities that are very likely to make an athlete better. One quality being speed or the ability to produce and apply force very quickly. Even though the 40 yard dash is never really ran in a straight line on the field, it is a very good test to see what football players are fast. I would pick the guy who runs a 4.3 over the guy with a 4.6 all day everyday, unless it is apparent that the 4.3 guy can't catch a ball to save his life. We also know that for certain positions in certain sports it pays to be big. If an athlete wants to be a linebacker, but is 135lbs soaking wet, I am willing to say we HAVE to add some muscle mass to his frame. In a lot of cases for a lot of athletes it would be wise to add muscle mass. Muscle is a very good predictor of force production, and most young athletes have limited muscle mass, so they are likely to be served by adding some muscle. The question you still have to deal with is when there might be a time adding muscle is no longer useful because of secondary consequences it might elicit. The truth is, we rarely deal with the 1% of athletes. We get to train the athletes that are underdeveloped (hence they come to us) and young. It is reasonable enough to say that most of these athletes need a few things. That is, they need to add some muscle, they need to get a bit stronger, and they need to learn how to produce and apply force a bit more effectively. You may encounter some athletes that are in a lot of pain so you need to find a more adaptable way for them to express movement. There may also be a time when you see an athlete that has reached the upper extreme of performance and display movement strategies that seem more idiosyncratic. The question then becomes, do you want to keep that idiosyncratic movement or add layers of adaptability? Because for some people, increasing their movement adaptability or "range of motion" will decrease their ability to produce great amounts of force, and can therefore decrease their performance. Training someone for sport adds layers of complexity. What we do for their training is not straight forward. It isn't the same as getting someone to lose a few pounds. It's an ongoing conversation with not only yourself and your program design, but with the athlete(s) as well. Test, intervene, retest. The biggest thing is to be willing to change your mind, change your course of action, and be willing to accept feedback. Welcome to the complex world of sport. email Justin@liftlabco.com to set up a FREE sports performance assessment!
The Secret Recipe to Achieve All of Your Goals
I grew up with it being mandatory to play outside. I remember my dad always saying, “unless it is dark or raining, you need to be outside playing.” So, that is what I did. There were no constraints on this play, either. It was simple; just be outside. So, my friends and I did just that. We played pretty much anything you can think of. Backyard baseball and football being the most popular. My friend’s dad even mowed a “Field of Dreams” into their backyard. What I mean by that is he mowed the base paths lower than the rest of the yard so it gave the look and feel of a baseball diamond. As a result of my parents valuing an active lifestyle and making me be outside, I picked up sports when I was young. I played pretty much anything that I could. It started as early as tee ball, and I played football and basketball all the way through high school. I don’t remember a time in my childhood where sports weren’t a thing. I always had practices for something and even if there was a short period of time off, my friends and I would be playing some backyard pick-up game somewhere. My friend even slit his knee open playing “Kick-the-Can.” That’s a story for another day. In high school I was very small. 5’8” tall and 135lbs my junior year of football to be exact. I hated lifting. I thought it was so physically uncomfortable and it just didn’t make sense to me. “Make your body that uncomfortable, and maybe, just maybe, get a little bit bigger in a few months?” “No, thanks,” was my attitude. So, most of my high school career I did just enough lifting to make the coaches happy, but not enough to make myself uncomfortable (In hindsight this is hilarious because that is basically the only way you make progress in the gym). This is even more surprising because my dad was a high school strength and conditioning and football coach. But, it didn’t help. I still hated lifting. Like the guy who always gets back with his ex, I had a change of heart. I had made the decision that if I wanted to make a bigger impact on the football field my senior year, I had to get committed to lifting. Towards the end of my junior year I started lifting out a guy’s garage that a few friends of mine had been training at for a few years. I don’t know why, but this time I was bought-in. I gained about 20lbs of muscle in about a month. Granted, this isn’t that crazy because I was so skinny to begin with. I don’t know if it was the old school environment of training in a rusty garage, but I felt as though I would be training for the rest of my life. I was just telling people at the gym this morning how stupid I was when I first started college when it came to training. I basically looked up workouts on BodyBuilding.com and did ones that I thought were interesting. I didn’t get much stronger through college. Just a bit bigger. My senior year I watched a podcast with then Weightlifting Olympian Kendrick Farris. The next day I went to the gym and to the only Olympic lifting platform at Ball State to teach myself the Olympic lifts. I was wearing crappy old tennis shoes. Not for long though as I sold my iPad for a pair of Weightlifting shoes just a month later. I completed a few internships after college, learned a lot more than I did in college, and got a lot better at Weightlifting and Powerlifting. A 512lbs squat, 325lbs bench press, 567lbs deadlift, 121kg snatch, and 151kg clean and jerk have to be strong to someone, right? “Where are you going with this, Justin?” I’m glad you asked… Training is second nature to me now. I don’t have to think twice about working out 4-5x/week. I wish I could toot my own horn and say this is all because I have a bunch of willpower and self-discipline. The fact of the matter is that it’s easy. Playing outside everyday during childhood makes it easy now. The thousands of sport practices when I was younger makes it easy now. Playing sports most of the year during high school makes it easy now. Training 3-4x/week almost every single week since my freshman year of college make it extremely easy now. Discipline is very easy when you have accumulated thousands and thousands of reps at something. This is my life. Influenced all the way from when I was just 6 years old. Most people you may be training any given day might be starting for the very first time. They may be starting after taking 20-30 years off. It is extremely NOT easy for them. These people deserve all of our empathy and patience. This post is largely centered around a conversation I had with a client. She was talking about hard it can be to workout some times. The motivation is just not there. I briefly told her my story and the only reason it is easy for me now is because I have essentially built this muscle of consistency around health and physical activity since I was 6. I think it is only because I was lucky to be born into the parents that I had that this was possible. Not everyone has started building that muscle that early. There are a lot of driving forces behind what you see now. Just like you never saw all the hours of practice Kobe put in, you just saw him have a spectacular game. This is true of everyone you see. It is important to understand that Rome can’t be built in a day, and also that if you want to go anywhere, in any endeavor, the reps have to be put in. The 200th time training will be easier than the 20th time, and the 2000th time will be exponentially easier than the 200th. Oh, you were looking for the secret recipe for something? Nothing of value comes easy. Just keep clocking in.
Staying Healthy Through the Holidays
We have all probably faced some guilt around health and exercise through the holidays. We ate way too much pumpkin pie, we feel like crap, but more than anything, we feel bad because we feel like we've just set back all of our weight loss progress that we made the last two months. Or, Christmas rolls around, we have a vacation planned, we don't know when or how we're going to work out, so we don't and then we can't even be present with our family because we are thinking about the workouts we are missing. The holidays can be a stressful time to go through. They can be especially hard if we have health and fitness related goals that we want to hit. Maybe even harder if we've hit our goals, because we don't want to lose our progress. It might actually be less stressful for people with no progress on their goals because going backwards wouldn't mean that much. However, that is all beside the point. The question is two-fold: how do we not lose all of the progress we have made, and how do we not go insane and still enjoy the holidays at the same time? Zoom Out It is important to remember that what we call "the holidays" is a very small amount of time out of the whole year. Two weeks, maybe three weeks at most. Thats 3-5% out of the entire year. Even if you did the worst possible things to your body during that time, which I'm sure you won't, that's not enough time to completely screw up all of your gains. I just had a few really good friends that I grew up with come visit me. We drank entirely way too much this Saturday. I live like that maybe once a year. This one day isn't going to effect my health long-term at all, and even this year. Now, if I started turning it into an every weekend thing, that would change things. So, during the holidays this season, zoom out on your perspective and realize 3-5% of the entire year isn't enough to throw your health and fitness goals into turmoil. Only unless you let the 3-5% turn into 50%. Then, you may have a problem. Win Where You Can Nobody is perfect. And nobody is especially perfect during the holidays. You are probably going to eat a cookie or two, have a few days where you don't exercise, and spend a bit more time on the couch than you usually would. If this doesn't sound like you and you are that disciplined through the holidays then this post isn't for you. If this does sound a bit like your life, no sweat, there are still ways you can "win" during this time of the year. Find small ways where you can potentially eat a bit healthier or exercise when you wouldn't. On the same mentality above, don't let two cookies turn into 5 and don't let one day of exercise turn into two weeks of not exercising. Your environment may look a lot different during the holidays so don't let the change in pace effect what you can and cannot do. Go for a 30 minute walk when you get bored. Just because you're not in the gym doesn't mean you can't find other ways to stay active. Rather than snacking a lot try replacing the snacks with water or something that is lower calorie. Find active ways to hang out with your family. We love being with family this time of the year, but that doesn't mean we have to sit on the couch and watch movies. There are plenty of ways where you and your family can be together that isn't sedentary. Reminder, walking for long periods of time is one of the most underrated forms of exercise. Rather than let the holidays be one huge loss, pick up some small wins where you can. It might be less than you are accustomed too, but it is better than a major setback. Don't Try To Make It All Back Up This might perhaps be the biggest point in this entire post. Your body is constantly adapting to fit it's needs in response to the environment. If you exercise every day with roughly the same amount of training volume your body adapts accordingly. If you take some time off or do a lot less training your body will adapt accordingly. So, don't try to pick back up where you left off if your body hasn't been exposed to that same amount of stress for a couple weeks. Bad things are likely to happen. You don't want to make a small step backwards or a neutral step a HUGE step backwards. Gradually work back into where your current training volume was. This might mean you start with just a 45 minute workout instead of an hour. Or, you slightly reduce the weight you were training with before. You can even just take one set off of each exercise and gradually work back into the sets you were training at. The jist of it is to start a little bit lower of your previous training volume and slowly add it back into where you were previously. Just make sure your "easing back into it" doesn't last a full month. It doesn't take that long for your body to get back into it. If your training doesn't take a hit during this time then this section wouldn't apply to you. I really hope this article doesn't sound like I'm expecting people to fail during this time. I just want to give the most realistic and practical advice that I can. Some people won't miss a beat during the holidays, and that means this post probably won't resonate with them. However, some people struggle through the holidays or even just have anxiety about their decision making. The holidays are really just a snapshot in time. A very brief snapshot compared to the entire year and especially your entire life. Don't let a few bad choices you may make during this time discourage you from getting back on the wagon. The only thing worse than one bad day is two bad days, and three bad days. Consistency always win. Don't let yourself lose twice in a row.
Netflix, Fries, and Tribes. How to Be Healthy in a World That is Mostly Not
The world is against you. Seriously....the world is against you. I'm going to give you the next ten seconds to get super pissed at the world, and that's it. Then it's time to get to work. Let me tell you why the world is against you... Do you pay attentions to the ads you see? Most of our mental lives are consumed by ads and subtle things that go beneath our conscious minds. You probably can't recall the last 5 ads that you have seen or heard, but I promise you that they are there and they are influencing you probably more than you know. I actually just saw an ad while pumping my gas that said, "it's time to get your stretchy pants on!" as it was promoting a new sub sandwich. Can you believe this? This ad is encouraging you to gain weight. Now, I'm not super against indulging every once in a while and I hope that becomes clear by the end of this post, but I don't think it should ever be encouraged to live an unhealthy life. This post may seem a bit hopeless. That there are so many forces out of your control that influence the way you think, what you believe, and therefore how you behave surrounding the topic of health and fitness. But, that is not the intention. I want to try to show you the best path forward, but I think it is critical to establish as a starting point, that the world has many forces acting against you in this regard. You deserve some empathy, but it is also crucial to establish the optimal route forward to get you to achieve your goals. What can we do? You want to eat healthy. You want to start to exercise, but there are only so many hours in the day. You want to cook a healthy dinner but by the time you are off work you feel so tired and don't want to do anything except spend some time with your family. We get into these bad habits and changing them feels like an impossible task. So, how do we change them? Start small I have written about this before on this site, but it is very crucial to understand. We often try to do too much at once, this leaves us feeling overwhelmed, and then we stop and go back to our old habits. We know willpower is very limited so we need to use the short supply of what we have on just one behavior change at a time. You created your bad habits very slowly, but often very unconsciously, so we have to start creating positive habits very slowly as well. I have often heard many people talk about this as well, but rather than trying to work out 5 times a week, start by just putting your workout shoes on and gym gear. Hold yourself accountable to only that. Likely, you will end up going to the gym and getting some sort of workout in, but it doesn't overwhelm your mind beforehand. If you tend to eat unhealthy most of the time, start by just eliminating one thing from your diet, or just eating smaller portions of what you are already eating. Eating one Oreo is way better than eating the whole sleeve. This isn't fancy advice, but the key in all behavior change is developing habits, and to develop habits you have to start small and stay consistent. Consistency is the key to almost anything. Elimination > Addition We tend to search for things that we can add to our lifestyle that will help us reach our goals. However, we very rarely search to eliminate the negative things in our life that are preventing our progress. It is an honorable mindset to search for the positive, but we won't get anywhere if we don't remove the negative items. I'm sure we can all take a quick inventory of our life to see what baggage we have that is weighing us down. Make a quick list, and then commit to eliminating one of those items on the list. It may take a month for your body to actually adapt to the elimination because you are just creating another habit. You may find that it is actually easier to eliminate bad habits than to create a new positive habit. I bet we can all improve our healthy lifestyles quite a bit if we just look to remove some of the negative as opposed to adding more chaos, even if the chaos is positive. Find a supportive environment We all know how the saying goes--"you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around." I think this has always been true. I've seen many people try to make healthy lifestyle changes. They do pretty well, but keep slipping up, and then you realize some of their best friends drink a lot of alcohol, don't exercise or eat healthy, and maybe even worse, aren't supportive in their attempt to be healthier. I'm not saying you need to go right ahead and dump all of your best friends that aren't healthy, but I would strongly encourage finding an environment that is supportive and has many other similar individuals that are all trying to crush health and fitness goals. It will be easier to stay on track and be easier to get back on track if you were to fall off. It's very hard to make the right choices when most of the people around you aren't making the same choices and aren't encouraging you to do so. Just how all great sports teams were built around a culture of success, your health and fitness success is dependent upon the people you spend a lot of time around. It's no coincidence that some of the most in shape people have very in shape friends and partners. Ignore most mainstream health and fitness advice This is where the "tribe" part of the title comes in. This may seem like a confusing thing for me to be saying, but you most likely don't need more information. Most people don't. Most people don't need to know what the newest diet fad is, or what the next most popular fitness routine is. This just adds confusion. Most people know that exercise in general is very good for you and what foods are typically good to consume. Most health and fitness related success is dependent upon behavior change and not what people are doing. It's that people are doing something and doing it consistently. Once you've been training for more than two years then it might be time to talk more about the nuances of training and nutrition. It alarms me seeing the trend of where this country is heading from a health and fitness perspective. I previously wrote a post about obesity, and was alarmed at the statistics. Everything our culture and society promotes is not in our best interest. Whether that is physically, mentally or emotionally. Just pay attention to the next 5 ads you see. They are trying to persuade us by triggering the parts of our brain that make us reach for short-term gratification as opposed to long-term results. The donut over the veggies. The Netflix show over the long walk. The biggest change you might make is just eliminating the social conditioning. I wish I could just tell you to make the changes and use your willpower. But, that's not how humans work. If there is anything to take away from this post it's that it is very important to build some consistency in your life. Start today by making some small changes that can add up to healthy habits over time. Even if they are super tiny changes to start with. Just like it can be very hard to break bad habits if they've been with us for a long time, it will be that much easier to continue good habits if we've been consistent with them for a long time. If I can help in anyway, please email me at Justin@liftlabco.com.
How to Tackle Obesity in America
From 2013-2016 about 49% of Americans tried to lose weight within the previous year, according to the CDC. The CDC also reports that the prevalence of obesity hovers around 40% for people aged 20-39, and is even greater for people that are older. I'm sure if you walked up to most people these days and asked, they would tell you they would like to lose a few pounds. I knew obesity was fairly prevalent in the U.S., but I did not know it was as high as 40%, especially in young adults. To me, that is crazy. It seems that we have an epidemic on our hands. One that no one is talking about. Do we have the answers to this prevailing "problem?" And, I would call it a problem as being overweight and obese has some very harmful effects on your health and overall well being. If there is one change you could make to improve your overall health, I would tell you that it should be to maintain a healthy weight. Right under stress reduction/management. I don't think anyone doesn't have the answers to how we tackle obesity, and being overweight. We know that exercise is incredibly good for you and it is important to not over eat. The big question is, how do we get millions of Americans to get there? I am going to try to attempt to break this down fairly simply. Behavior Change This is the most important piece to the puzzle because we have to learn how to change our own behaviors to get anywhere. We have to learn how to create a little bit of change and not fall off the wagon quickly. We should do this in smalls steps. Trying to add too much change to your lifestyle is a recipe for disaster. Small, consistent, incremental change over time is what will get the job done. We know that willpower is a limited resource so we should focus on small habits. The book, "Atomic Habits" by James Clear is a good starting point on this front. Lastly, we need to be alright with slow progress. We know Rome wasn't built in a day and the progress you really want to see is going to happen over a longer period of time. Empathy I think this is the responsibility of the people that don't have weight to lose. People who have taken control of their health, their weight, their training, their nutrition, etc. It is easy to criticize people who aren't the same as you. It seems as easy as "if I can do it, so can you." That is easier said than done. Rather, I think we should take an approach of cooperation. I think we should try to empathize with where people are at, because when it really comes down to it, they aren't happy with where they are at. And, if they could they would change some things. When people are constantly shaming others, it makes change that much harder. We should embrace everyone with open arms, seek to understand their experience, and work together to help people reach their goals. That doesn't mean push your own training and diets down people's throats, but encouraging them to take any step in the right direction. People need support, not shame. Exercise It should be obvious that exercise is on the list of slowing the spread of obesity. But, what does this look like? There a million exercises training programs out there. There are tons of gyms. What should people do? Here's my answer: anything. Anything more than what you are currently doing. Walks are the most underrated form of exercise that no one talks about. If you only walk 1,000 steps a day, walking 3,000 will make a significant difference. More than you would probably imagine. This is where I am actually a huge fan of the Apple watches and other devices. If you have immediate data to your face that tells you if you are slacking or doing well, it can be a great motivator and tool for change. I also think it is important to find a form of exercise that you enjoy. Boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, walking, running, lifting weights, yoga, etc. There are so many ways to get exercise. Don't get stuck in the traditional idea of what it means to exercise. Find something you enjoy and think you can stick to for a long period of time. And, don't be afraid to change course and try something different and new. Last reminder: do ANYTHING more than what you are currently doing. Nutrition Last but certainly not least, how do we eat better? Much like my advice for exercise, it is likely that you are eating too much if you are overweight, so anything less than what you are currently eating is a step in the right direction. If you eat 4,000 calories a day, 3,700 will make a huge difference. Don't get stuck on all the diet trends because those usually get recycled every 6 months anyways. Don't even worry too much about what you are eating at first. Start by just eating a little bit less. If you like donuts, just eat one less, or even half of one less. I once trained a guy who actually stopped training but showed back up to the gym a year later to tell and show me all about his progress. He lost what looked like close to 100lbs. All he said he did to make the change was to eat a little bit less of what he was already eating. He didn't restrict any foods at all but he would just limit his portions just a little bit. This was his first step and a year later he was waking up early, making veggie smoothies and eating quality foods most of the time. All progress starts with just a little bit of change. This could be a 300 page essay, but I don't think many would read that. I actually hadn't planned on writing on this topic at all until I stumbled upon the statistics and realized they were that high. I may be right, I may be wrong, but based on my experience these are some of the things we need to hammer down if we actually want to create change on the obesity front. It has to be a cooperative effort, and I believe all change starts small. We need to be okay with this small change. I'll check back in a year.