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Is Personal Training Dead?

I learn a lot of my lessons in the gym. Lessons related to exercise, communication, and being a professional. It is also safe to say that it has been a big part in creating my identity as a consumer. My experience has a huge impact in my decision making as a consumer whether it be grocery shopping, selecting a hotel, or parking in a coffee shop. Of course cost effectiveness is something that remains in the back of my mind, but if a positive consumer experience comes with a slightly larger price tag I am alright with that. 

 

This concept is something that remains in the back of my mind for quite some time when discussing the future of training. The concept of personal training has evolved to become an experience that is now available in a variety of ways whether it be getting involved in a semi private or boot camp setting. 

 

We now have the ability to reach out to a much larger population as there are more options available that allows bringing change to a larger population. For that reason it makes perfect sense to get involved in training in a semi private setting from time to time. Not long ago it was a major ambition of mine to build a large portion of my training business around this model. I was able to free up some time in my day as well as slightly increase my value per hour. When it came down to making the most of my time it was pretty effective. However, I did not feel completely fulfilled at the end of a session. I felt that the individual attention that I was able to provide in a one on one environment was somewhat lacking and I felt that there were certain components of my workouts that seemed to fall through the cracks. I began to question my abilities as I was doing my best to make it as personalized as possible but was just unable to dig deep like I would when I am working in a one on one environment. My biggest eye opener came when it was time to renew and the people that were working in the semi private environment were more than willing to make the extra investment to work privately. 

 

Working one on one has always been my personal preference because of the way it can allow me to dig deep. It is what I have built my reputation on, I feel more fulfilled at the end of the hour and for the people I work with it appears to be worth the investment. Do I influence as many people within a day? No. Is it as effective from a time management standpoint? No. Is it as lucrative? No. However when raising the question of whether or not it is worth it, for me it really is. I still take part in some semi private training, and I think that it is extremely effective. However I also believe in rolling with what works the best for me and more importantly the people that I work with.

 

For that reason I do have to question the statement as to whether personal training is either dead or dying. It certainly is evolving into a concept that is allowing us to reach out to more people but when it comes to making the extra investment for an enhanced experience I can't help but look at training falling into a very similar category. 

 

What Is It That We Do?

 

It can be a long winded list when we talk about the job description of a trainer but to make it short it is our duty to enhance the well being of the people that we work with. This means identifying their specific goals as well as limitations and providing the best possible solution to them. What I can say about specificity is that everyone has their own unique characteristics to be identified and dealt with whether it be structural, muscular or behavioral. Not to mention that the same unique characteristics are paired with declining levels of activity. What this has meant for me is a much greater attention to detail and how things are done is becoming just as important as what is being prescribed. Pairing a population with a growing need for attention to detail with a training environment that may not always provide that can be challenging. I can completely understand the idea that people just need to get moving, but for the sake of consistency, individuality, intimacy, and longevity nothing will replace what can be done in a one on one environment.

 

Change. Volume vs. Magnitude

 

Any successful trainer can tell you that it goes beyond whats on the menu each particular day. The big picture goal is to create positive change. In my opinion, nothing can provide a foundation for change the way that habitual exercise can. The way that training has evolved has given us the opportunity to reach out and influence a larger population. After a number of years both in the one on one and the semi private setting it really comes down to the magnitude of change that keeps me going and nothing does this like a personal environment. If it came down to either having a larger population complementing my programming and the results that they have achieved it is great to see. However if that population was considerably smaller and their feedback far more profound, that to me is what I consider to be fulfilling. I am not sure if it is the right answer but it certainly is my personal preference.

 

Is Personal Training Dead?

 

The question that has been burning me for quite some time now. I believe that personal training concepts are definitely evolving but to say one on one training is dead, dying, or bad for a trainer's bottom line may be a little ignorant. I think that there are just too many variables out there to completely wash away the idea of one on one training. Variables in mechanics, body types, and capabilities. Not to mention the idea that the people that you are working with may need your help in more ways than just your ability to work them out. For some people you may be that one hour of the day where they know that you are there for an individual and that attention is undivided. I found this out for myself in a few occasions and I am not sure what the outcome would have been if that line of communication was divided in session. 

 

If it was up to me, it would be proficiency with one on one training would be a required pre requisite before filling the day planner with groups. Not to mention if you have three people in front of you at any given time, you damn well better feel like you just trained three people at one time. Rather than falling victim to rep counting, time keeping, decks of cards, and unspecific prescription. To me the training profession goes well beyond that. We are meant to deliver results in a way that promotes specificity and longevity and if it means me working a few extra hours I am okay with that.

Jul 18, 2012
Hey Ladies

 

A lot of the exercise recommendation that I have posted in my blog has been fairly universal. I believe that yes we do have our own battles in training associated with age, gender and mechanics we are all fighting the same wars. However I recently had the opportunity to contribute an exercise component to a book project that is directed toward the female population on the topic of staying youthful. I happen to train a large female population and I can say that I really enjoy it. There is no shortage of effort in the weight room with the ladies that I train which certainly keeps me on my toes.

 
I can't say that I would look at gender as a major limitation in the gym as I have met enough ladies in my time that can keep up with the gentlemen with ease. What I can say is that there are certain mechanics of the female body that I do keep in mind that brings a level of contrast to what I would prescribe to the male population as well as how I would go about doing it. For that reason I have my own preferences when it comes to the best interests of the ladies that I work with and of course  for the fellas reading this, I can say that a lot of this can be applied to your training as well. As I mentioned above, despite some mechanical differences we are all in this together. 
 
Dorsiflexion and Ankle Mobility
 
I think it is something hard wired in the male brain to perk up when a sound of a set of heels striking the floor becomes present. For that reason I will no longer get in the way of a lady and her footwear preferences. It does however put a lot of my attention to what is going on at the ankle as it seems whether it is heels or no heels there is a tendency for plantar flexion to be a big part of the female foot strike. My answer to that is often a lot of movement meant to mobilize the plantar fascia, the ankle joint, as well as an emphasis on dorsiflexion of the foot in order to enhance the contributions of the mid foot and heel for some of the bigger ground based movements such as the squats/lunges/deadlifts. 
 
 
Posterior Pelvic Tilting
 
A common occurrence that I have observed with the female population is varying degrees of low back pain, particularly the SI joint region. More often than not the answer lies in the adopted position of the hip. I often address this type of low back pain at any degree with the intention of making a posterior pelvic tilt a hard wired habit of hip extension. An anterior pelvic tilt provides a big challenge to pain free training as it is a major road block to true hip extension and glute activation. The true potential of the hip and trunk becomes deflated by overuse of the quadriceps,
hip flexors, and low back. I observe this quite often while watching a the finish point of a deadlift. The extension of the knee and low back signalling the completed lift tells me that there are limitations of the hip that are not only stalling the potential of the hip, but more than likely contributing to low back pain of this nature. My call to action resorts to lengthening the hip flexor by strengthening the glutes and bringing length to the low back by strengthening the anterior core with the posterior pelvic tilt being the center of attention. I often step outside of traditional hip dominant movements such as squatting and use a proficient glute bridge or hip thrust as a prerequisite to squatting. My preference of core training for this often involves varying levels of work where the low back can have contact with the surface being used. Whether it be the floor, a bench, or ball the degree of contact that can be made by the low back tells me a lot about what the anterior core can handle. I also prefer this because of the length that is brought to the lumbar spine in the prone position when the core becomes active.

 

  
 
 
Deadlift

 

To get to the point of proficiency with the deadlift is where I often see any female hesitation toward weightlifting completely thrown out the window. In my eyes various patterns of deadlifting are pure gold for women. It provides the posterior chain length from ankle to hip, it brings strength to the glutes and hamstrings, and works its way up to the shoulders.  Not to mention it is boss hog when it comes to building long, lean legs. With the ladies that I train deadlifting transforms from foe to fan favorite as it becomes more and more understood.
 
Knee/Hip/Trunk Stability
 
This one can be said for both men and women, but I do gravitate toward dynamic stability with my female clients more frequently than male. My go to is a lot of split stance work whether it be pushing, pulling, rotation, or anti rotation. I love this type of work because of what it does to identify the importance of ground force, activation, and focus in lifting. Movements such as split stance chops, pallof presses, pushes, and pulls at various angles are often my staples for stability in motion.
 
 
 
Hey Ladies
 
The biggest message I want to get home with this female inspired training reflection is that no matter what your objective is, the iron has its place in your training. It brings balance to the female frame, it can reduce pain, it is a trusted ally in conquering body composition aspirations and regardless of gender, there is no feeling like the feeling of strength.
Jul 2, 2012
Stepping Out Of The Zone: My Introduction To Teaching And What I Have Learned From It

It has been about a week or so since I have been able to sink my teeth back into the blog. For the past week, I have put a lot of attention on my time in the gym as well as getting a big monkey off of my back. One of the big goals that I had set out for myself in 2012 was to step into the role of educator. Since I have been involved in training I had always envisioned how cool it would be to be at the point where fellow fitness pros were showing up to hear what you have to say. Like any squashed goal you play the big day in your head over and over and then it is over before you realize it. Now that I have had a few days to unwind I can say that I am extremely happy with the way things went. I have my places where I am comfortable speaking and being the center of attention but this was taking it to another level. For that reason I am thrilled to say that I was able to do it and can't wait to do it again! It was a true test of my comfort zone and it has a been a big emotional high now that it is all said and done. And of course with and emotional high comes a lot to reflect upon and think about.
 

Life Is Uncomfortable

Since I have first started training I have always had a sense of insecurity behind what I was doing. Was my exercise prescription my best possible answer? Was that my best possible session? Is my work appreciated? Is my business as solid as I would like it to be? In my first few years I was under the assumption that these questions would be answered and I would eventually find peace. As I evolve I can say it hasn't gotten any easier. I continue to ask the same questions, add new ones to the equation and realize that the quest goes on. I have also realized how much of a blessing insecurity can really be as there is no such a thing as hand fed success. It needs to be a challenge, it requires effort, an it requires facing your insecurities head on. If you're looking to grab life by the horns you better be prepared to ride the bull. Educating has been my biggest bull ride to date and the feeling of getting it done has been pretty incredible.

Process In Action > Visualized Outcome

You ever notice that accomplishing something just seems to breeze by you before you can recognize that it had even happened? It is extremely common but the notion seems to elude me anytime that I try and take on something new. As easy as it is to visualize any given outcome, it really cannot take shape until things are put in action. The beauty of action? Result happens before your eyes, except you are too busy to get things done to even realize it. Time stands still in theory but drives past the speed limit in action.

Be Indispensable In Everything You Do

Take that line for what it's worth but if my life was to flash before my eyes I want to make sure it's worth watching. For that reason I feel the need to keep evolving and in my eyes it goes well beyond the craft. To get the most out of life I believe that it really boils down to being your best. Whether it is being the professional that nobody would want to fire, acquiring knowledge that nobody would want to criticize, being the better half that nobody would want to dump, or pursuing the body that disease or deconditioning would not dare mess with. We all have this within our control so we may as well make the most of it.

It is nice to get back to the blog again after a week off. Even nicer to get back at it after my experience over the weekend. Thanks again to the awesome group of trainers who took time out of their Saturday to check it out it really means a lot. I look forward to the next time and the next challenge.

Move Improve,

Jeff

Jun 26, 2012
Beat To Your Own Drum. Powering Self Preference In Fitness Programming

I have always been cursed with the inability to follow thorough instruction. Following a set in stone learning criteria got me through school with modest grades to show for it. Finishing school was highly motivated by reluctantly following instructions in the various part time jobs that I took on while studying. Presently I have become the prototypical male who dives into tasks without taking a hard look at instructions which explains a lot about my questionable tech savviness as well as my refusal to shop at IKEA.
 

My training followed a similar fate over the past number of years. Early on it would be a reliance on following structured workouts but more often than not the faithful following of these programs would fizzle. It certainly wasn't a case of inconsistency but I would say that it came down to following my own interests and curiosity in the gym. I look at this time as the time where being in the gym became the fixation that it has become. Truth is, I don't think a lot of us enjoy being told what to do and I have to look at over delegation of exercise as a consistency and clarity killer. For the people that I work with, it has become the direction of exercise that has become my mantra rather than the dictation of it. No longer is there an overemphasis on what to do. It has become what to feel, what to expect, and most importantly how it is being executed. I really do believe that in order to make your time in the gym a tireless pursuit rather than a daily chore, it is essential to implement an element of non conformity as well as maximizing the use of your own self preference. When it comes down to it, nobody knows your body better than you and the gym in my eyes is the best possible place to enhance that relationship. For that reason, I believe that there is an unwritten protocol to follow when in the gym that you would not normally get out of conventional program design. The ability to not only follow exercise, but develop the understanding of what you are putting yourself through and being able to filter the validity of everything that you put yourself through in order to find specifically what works for you.

Direction > Dictation

Rather than worrying about the numerical expectations of what I am prescribing, a lot of my focus has shifted toward the direction of exercise. While sets, reps, and rest are still a part of the agenda, my bigger focus has been geared toward how it is done. This has brought a whole new element of engagement to training as one of the biggest weapons is the ability to enhance kinetic awareness of the task in front of someone. This has been valuable to me as a lift becomes a game of focus rather than worrying about when the set is finished. This often keeps me quite busy in a session as there are numerous elements to a lift that can be cued. The beauty of it as well is that there is noticeable progression made even within one workout based on the idea that someone has unlocked a new sense of kinetic awareness that would have otherwise gone unnoticed if traditional rep counting was the foundation of a workout.

Self Preference Is Fueled By Self Assessment

Assessment is a staple of any exercise program. What I can say about assessing however is that it is an ongoing process, not just an indicator of progress from beginning to end. Every single repetition executed is telling you something about the way your body is handling an exercise. When it comes to establishing your own exercise belief systems, it is essential to continually listen to what your body is telling you. From that you will be able to draw up the answers that you will be looking for when it comes to what works for you.

Enjoy Yourself

As self preference evolves, so will a greater understanding of what type of exercise is meant for you and what isn't. Results are important, but they are tough to achieve without enjoying what you are doing. Strengthening your self preference will give you the opportunity to draw out your own programming from a wide variety of exercise and narrow it down to what is effective and enjoyable to you.

A Hierarchy Of Results

Training puts you into a situation where you are dealing with numerous people with numerous expectations. For a lot of people stepping into the gym is often perceived as an obligation. More often than not, the greater the expectation the tougher it is to stay true to a training program. What I enjoy about teaching self preference is that it brings greater awareness to the idea that progress is being made. For someone who is looking for fat loss, I can very easily prescribe what I would consider an ideal fat loss workout. But in the case of an example like fat loss, I would rather see an individual be able to aproach a workout with an ambition to focus rather than have someone worry about the metabolic onslaught that is about to be put onto them. I stick to this because I believe no matter what the goal is, it is the idea of consistency, awareness, and easily recognized progression that will make the most of your time in the gym. This to me is important, because I believe it is what is being done with the hour in the gym is the ultimate influence on what goes on with the other twenty three hours of the day when it comes to attacking the big picture goal.

Non conformity is a topic that I am hearing about more and more often as the behaviour shift is leaning more and more toward thinking for yourself when it comes to work, finances, keeping up with the Jones', and life itself. Fitness is no different. The ability to develop the understanding of identifying what works for you vs. copying and pasting what has worked for somebody else will set you apart from the population that just can't seem to figure it out. Create your own success story rather than following the endless ride on the success of somebody else.

Jun 18, 2012
Training Revelations From The Blues Joint Vol.2

It's funny where you can sometimes draw out inspiration. There are just certain environments where you can put everything else behind you and creativity just starts coming at you at a sometimes uncontrollable speed. it can be drawn out of anywhere whether it be the coffee shop, on a plane, or on a vacation. I have a few scenarios that seem to get my wheels turning, but for some reason it is the dusty blues establishment that seems to get my wheels turning above all. As I have mentioned in my Revelations From The Blues Joint Vol.1, music has been a big part of my life. Although training is my profession, it seems the more I train the more I can relate my craft to the efforts of making memorable music. I was fortunate enough to attend a record release this past weekend and while I never thought I would be writing a volume 2, I was once again hit by a wave of thoughts, reflections, and ideas thanks to the blues joint. The place where the music is raw and your table is equipped with a device to catch the rain from the ceiling. But for some reason, it all starts to make sense.

Develop and Embrace Your Supporting Cast

If you have been to a record release, what you will often hear on the microphone aside from the music is a barrage of thank yous to a lot of indispensable efforts that occurred behind the scenes. People who believe in your vision and support your efforts from the moment a goal is put on paper to the point of completion. They are there to support you, educate you, and help you make the right decisions. Anything that you may need along your quest for greatness they are there for you. Without these people, your bottom line may have never been realized, or at least in the timely fashion you accomplish them. Your supporting cast is also a reflection of your own character. They are there because you have earned their support, they believe in your purpose and they want to be a part of the ride. Be mindful of these people because they truly are indispensable and as long as you are putting in the effort, they will continue to be there.

Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm is the foundation of symmetrical music and it is what keeps your head nodding and toe tapping when you are taking in an enjoyable music experience. Rhythm certainly has its place in the gym as well as developing a rhythm is often the term describing consistency in your physical efforts. I often look at movement as my own personal music and whether I am instructing it or practicing it, movement is often more visually pleasing and provides more kinetic reward when rhythmic movement is a priority in your programming. Training has always been my version of stepping on stage to showcase my craft and rhythm is my foundation. It is my gauge of what my audience is ready to handle. If they can keep the beat as the music of movement changes pace, I know that they are making progress. More importantly, if they are still toe tapping, head nodding, and enjoying what I bring to the stage I know that I am doing my job.

Style Is Everything

What I consider the greatest commonality between music and training is that they both have their genres. Whether you are manning the sound stage or the iron stage, you will be influenced by certain genres of your craft and they usually influence your decision making when you are showcasing it. While you may have your preferences in genre, keep in mind that it is what you do with them as a practitioner is what will determine whether you work your way to the main stages or remain by the phone starving for a gig. Finding your individual style of training is an ongoing pursuit that requires a lot of exploration, education, experimentation, and execution. It can be challenging to acquire, but developing your style allows you to draw from all genres. It makes your craft unique, it  creates your individual training allure and your ability to constantly fine tune it and showcase it is what will allow you to rise to the occasion time in and time out. As your identity evolves, so do the people that appreciate it. It is the evolution of both that will propel your success whether it be the gym or the stage.

Find Your Community Within Your Craft

Growing up around music I always appreciated the community that was associated with it. There were no shortages of ideas being passed around, music being shared, practices, performances, and spur the moment jamming that you would sometimes stumble upon. Training has brought me some very similar circumstances as there are no shortages of people that I enjoy learning from. Not to mention the colleagues and friends that I share this passion with whether it be bouncing ideas around in the gym, at a dinner table, or the workouts in the weightroom that bring out inspiration in a way that jamming in a garage would for any musician. These are the moments in the crazy game of training where I can say I learn on another level as well as realize how much fun I am actually having while doing it.

Band Practice

Another successful night in the blues joint I suppose. To end it I would have to say no matter who you are or what you do. Find your places of inspiration and take them in whatever or wherever they may be as there is no feeling like sitting back and figuring things out whether they are on a personal or professional level.

I have been meaning to get this post put together all week but the gym became my major focus of attention this past week. I am now writing this with the term community drilled in my head as we have lost two profound members of a community that I am beyond grateful for being a part of. I want to finish by dedicating this post to Dave and Donna McKeough as they had a major part not only in the music community, but the community of Cape Breton Island as a whole. I remember Dave and Donna as great friends, great parents, and Dave's ability to lay it down on the guitar like nobody else. You guys will not be forgotten.
 

Dave, Brian, Fred, Mark, Dad You Guys Have Taught Me A Lot Over The Years. More Than I Ever Would Have Realized

Move Improve,

Jeff

Jun 9, 2012
Practicing Discipline Within Your Discipline

For the past number of years I have turned into a bit of a continuing education junkie and quite proud of it. I can say that my financial mindset has taken a bit of a shift from investing for retirement to investing in my modern day evolution. For me it is almost therapeutic to be able to travel to another city, meet some like minded people from all over, have some fun, and take in some great information. The best part of it? The idea of taking this new found information and putting it into conversation with people that I have just met as these conversations are often as deep as the conversations with people that I have known for years. It's a beautiful thing and if there is any recommendation that I would give to any fitness professional it would be to get out there and take part in as much of it as you can.

I have done a fair share of continuing education and plan on continuing to do so as there is certainly no shortage of quality information out there. However, what I can say about these experiences is that as big of an asset that new information can provide, it is the acquired ability to interpret and apply this information that I am most grateful for. I can say that in my early days that regardless of the information whether it be an article, seminar, or being on the other end of a training session, it would be basic instinct to put things into practice while still fresh in my head . As I continue to try and figure out this crazy game of training I can say the biggest lesson that I have learned from all of the reading, continuing education, and time in the trenches is the lesson of proper judgement when it comes to application. The acquisition of proper judgement seems to be a little more innate but I can say that it can be learned. I feel extremely privileged that I do have a career where I can travel and learn the way that I do. I can say that I have learned a lot from the science of exercise and will continue to do so, but it is the ongoing lessons in proper judgement and application that have proven to be what I truly appreciate. These lessons in judgement have taught me a lot about not only continuing education selection, but what gets done with education after the fact.

Relevance To Your Interest and The Best Interest of Your Clients

This would be my biggest decision maker for me when it comes to the education that I take in and I would have to say that this would be the most important. I can say that I do take in a lot of education for my own selfish reasons but remain mindful of why I take it in. I love to be challenged physically and mentally by advanced exercise but I believe that it can all have some relevance to any training environment if it is filtered properly. I am a personal trainer by title, however much of my interest is put in ''strength and conditioning''. There is a difference in the job description of each, but I can't say that I work with many clients not looking to improve their current levels of strength and conditioning. While not every client may require a strength and conditioning program, it certainly doesn't hurt incorporating strength and conditioning principles.

Don't Drink The Kool-Aid

We are blessed to have an abundance of exercise methods that can be added to the trainer toolbox. As important as it is to acquire knowledge within this industry, it is just as important to use proper judgement when absorbing it. Training methods have the ability to produce gospel like following and it can be easy to jump on the bandwagon. These methods are here because they have had success, but keep in mind that good coaching is the ability to acquire, filter, and practice what you have learned with proper judgement and a mindfulness of the aspirations of the people you are working with.

Feel It Before You Deal It

Nothing beats practical learning when it comes to coaching exercise. Your best teaching tool is the ability to feel and understand the training effect being experienced by the person that you are working with. The more visual and kinetic experience accumulated in your practical learning, the more you will be able to bring to the table of your coaching game.

You Are A Fitness Professional

Personal training is not just a job, it is a profession. Successful professionals from all walks of life all have characteristics in common and a good number of them have nothing to do with the letters in front of their name. You can have all of the education in the world as a trainer, but if you have the personality of the device of which you are reading this, your education will only take you so far. I don't want to dive into the details of what being a professional really means but if you follow people that you consider truly successful in this business, you be able to start piecing it together pretty easily.

I wanted to get this post on paper in order to bring clarity to applying education, but I want to finish by saying get out there and educate yourself. Whether it be articles, seminars, or conferences, do what you can to take it in. As I had mentioned in my 27 Things I have Learned post, one of the biggest lessons that I have learned and appreciate is the investment in your education. It is an investment in which you have control over your return and no economic downturns or shady banking practices can take it away from you.

Jun 3, 2012
Getting A Grip On Grip Training

Having a strong set of hands can take you a long way in the weight room. In my eyes, having a strong set of hooks is a good indicator of overall strength as well as a prerequisite of attaining freaky strength. I also have to say that grip is a component of lifting that provides a lot of frustration as it has the tendency of being the one thing that keeps people from hitting max lifts or adding volume to a workout. I can say that I have been one of those people on numerous occasions and I don't know how else to describe it other than it downright sucks. To combat this I do incorporate some carries and some fat grip training and can say that it works and works well. Observation has gotten the best of me however as I have become more and more fascinated in the way the hands work. This has stemmed from a lot of studying and observing the effects on the leg by ground force being applied from the feet.

 

Eric Cressey nailed in Kansas City this past weekend where he highlighted the idea that the hips and shoulders have the same job description for the lower and upper extremities. I couldn't agree more with that statement and believe that principle can be carried over to the hands and feet. The ability to have crystal clear communication between your feet and hips is essential for lower body lifting progression. When looking at a one legged RDL, it is the responsibility of your feet to transmit the message through the back line of the leg to charge up the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and erectors. A red flag for me with this exercise is when the foot cannot stay grounded and the lateral portion of someone's calf begins to light up. This to me means that there is a break in the communication between the foot and the hip that has the potential to take away the true purpose of a one legged RDL. The solution is generally soft tissue work, hip/ankle mobility, back/lateral leg length, and glute strengthening. 

 

Coincidentally when it comes to grip failure, the hands and shoulders tell me a similar story. The most common grip failure that I see is the loss of contact between the baby and second digits on the hand followed up by the muscles of the lateral forearm wanting to rip out of your skin. While this is often looked at as grip failure, the ability to visualize the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder in a way similar to the foot, ankle, knee, and hip will tell you that there is a lot more going on than just your grip failing. There is a very similar break in communication going on in my eyes, and while the lower body gets the preferential treatment, the common call to action when it comes to improving grip is more grip training. As a result of this, I still see a lot of over reliance on the thumb, trigger, and middle finger. The result being increased internal rotation of the shoulder, over-reliance on the traps, as well as the same fore arm burn and loss of grip that pissed you off to begin with. If this sounds familiar, I suggest a different path and begin to look at what is going on beyond the hands and forearms. The biggest improvements in grip that I have seen has come from a path quite similar to addressing lower body function. A combination of soft tissue work and lengthening, mobilizing the wrist and shoulder, and integrating strength/hypertrophy work meant to restore the relationship between the hand and shoulder. Sounds Familiar. 

 

When it comes to restoring this relationship these have been some of my favorites. The intention being to restore optimal movement of the shoulder and unlock the strength potential of the mid back. Side effect? A grip that can do some damage. Sounds like a good deal to me.

 

Shoulder/Thoracic Movement

 

 

 

 

These two have been favorites of mine for bringing internal/external rotation to the shoulder and opening up the thoracic area. Lack of range in both are common characteristics that I see in grip inefficiency.

 

Rack Pulls

 

 

The deadlift will always be king in my eyes, but when it comes to understanding the relationship between the hands in the shoulders with the big lifts there is nothing like it. The ability to set yourself in a well extended position and drive your thumb forward into the bar and push back with your bottom digits should have your shoulders screaming before you even get the bar off of the rack. 

 

The Row And Reset

 

Vertical and horizontal pulling are must have exercises, but when it comes to grip it is often how they are done that determines their effectiveness. For me I have become a big fan of the row and reset. Similar to the rack pull it gives you an opportunity to try and bend the bar around yourself by way of the hands. This ensures full use of the hands and shoulders for each repetition versus burning out the grip and reverting back to just worrying about getting the bar to your chest at all costs.

 

Angled Neutral Pulldown

 

 

The ability to alter joint angles during vertical pulling has become a gem in my program. Chins will always be my preference but when the angles don't work in your favor or you're working with someone looking to build the criteria required for a solid chin you need to work with what you have. Use your thumb to angle the handle as it will transfer the workload to the bottom end of your hand. Rather than pulling straight down on the handle, I prefer pulling down with a bit of an angle on the handle as if you are trying to break it in half. Take a moment at the midpoint to feel what needs to be felt and start controlling your way up.

 

Prescription

 

I wouldn't call this a grip training protocol, but if you are looking to improve the way your hands are working I believe that integrating some of these exercises will help you out considerably. Integrate the shoulder mobility work into your usual mobility routine. If you are deadlifting then I would say give the rack pull a shot to get a true feel for what is meant to be used with the lift. The same can be said with the vertical and horizontal pulls shown above. Incorporate them in you upper body pull days and get a feel for how the mid back and shoulders should be operating. The forearms will be taking far less of the load but I can assure you your mid back will be talking back at you. When it comes to reps and sets, I would say stick to rep ranges according to what you're looking to get done. 

 

Strength = 1-5 reps

Hypertrophy = 8-15 reps

 

As for the set load, I usually let the body's feedback be the judge of that. As the grip begins to falter, I do my best to correct it, but eventually fatigue does set in whether it be muscular or neurological. Depends on the individual. The trainers that I work with will sometimes be fried after 2-3 sets. Not because their work capacity is low, but they have such great body awareness they know exactly what they need to feel and have the capability of amplifying it. A classic case of less is more.

 

Get A Grip

 

By no means is grip training a bad method of training. In fact I enjoy it. However I do look at the hands similar to the foot in the sense that the more of it that you have working for you, the more that you will get in return. This may mean complementing conventional grip training with mindfulness of what the hands are doing and how they are doing it. 

May 28, 2012
My Favorite Ounces of Literature

I have been bit by the post summit blues that was talked about by the folks that I had the pleasure of meeting in Kansas City this past weekend. The hangover from the experience and information overload has been far more profound and far longer lasting than the Saturday night debrief and the flight early Sunday morning. As always, it seems to take me a few days to get back into a groove as I have so much running through my head I don't even know where to begin. It always becomes a battle with myself to reignite the flow process immediately after these experiences when it comes to putting ideas to paper. For that reason, reading always becomes my saving grace. It gives me the opportunity to mellow out and bring a little balance back to the thinking process. This is also where I do get most of my information and inspiration one ounce at a time as opposed to pounding back the entire bottle. However, I can say that I have had no regrets to date reaching out for the bottle.

Essentials Of Strength And Conditioning - Thomas Baechle and Roger Earle

For a while this book was one that I couldn't live with or without. However, it really does cover a lot of ground on the fundamentals of strength and conditioning. How it is applied depends on the individual. I have spent a lot of time with this book and can say that I have taken a lot out of it.

Anatomy Trains - Thomas Myers

I have read this book twice and have been humbled beyond words both times. However, this book has been an absolute gem for me when able to understand the literature in a practical setting.

The New Encyclopedia Of Modern Bodybuilding - Arnold Schwarzenegger

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I can't say that bodybuilding has the influence on my own training that it used to have but this book is still a classic. This is the book that put me into the gym and guided me through the early years of weight training. It has been around for a while but it is the principles of guys like Arnold that reminds me that bodybuilding still has its place in fitness.

The Pain Free Program - Anthony Carey

 

I spent a weekend picking Anthony's brain this past winter and have come to really enjoy his concepts of musco/skeletal balance as well as movement behavior. He has been at this for a long time and he knows his stuff. I do work with a lot of people looking to restore function and reduce pain and Anthony's book has been a great reference for me.

Crush It! - Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary's story is a feel good story from the very beginning and his book is a perfect example of the platform that the electronic era has given us to follow our dreams and do quite well while following them.

The Art of Non-Conformity - Chris Guillebeau

 

My most recent read as I finished this one yesterday. This has been a perfect read for me as there always seems to be a battle between what we are told to do and what feels right. The main message that I received from it is that we are defined by what we do and not what we own. Amen!

Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

The biggest head scratcher of the bunch. This was a slow read accompanied by a lot of note taking, re-reading, vocabulary lessons, frequent napping. One of the toughest reads I have taken on but one of the most rewarding reads I have ever gotten through. Far from a self help book this one explains in extreme detail the nuts and bolts of what goes on mentally following a variety of experiences. For those of you suffering post summit blues like I am I can assure it is comforting knowing why it is happening.

There we go, some of my recent sources of information and inspiration. On the topic of information of inspiration I once again want to say thanks to everyone that I had the pleasure of meeting at the 2012 Fitness Summit in Kansas City. In my eyes there is no experience like seeing a new town, meeting new people, and absorbing world class information. More than anything, the connection made with people that I have only known for a weekend really is something special. While it is tough when the music is over, I wouldn't trade these type of experiences for the world and I am sure it will not be the last time the bottle will be passed around.

 

May 25, 2012
Mindful Movement

I have had these two words stuck in my head for a while now as they have strongly affected a lot of my decision making in the gym. In my eyes I look at the concept of movement mindfulness as being one of the most effective however rarely talked about components of exercise selection and execution. The two words hit me like a bolt of lighting one day while taking part in a yoga class. Coincidentally one of the more mindful movement experiences that I have encountered. While I am not a full time yoga enthusiast by any means the concept of it completely re-shifted my thinking when it comes to what I prescribe. More importantly how I prescribe exercise. There are numerous methodologies of exercise and numerous proven methods of these methodologies at our disposal to get where we want to be. Numerous answers for numerous ambitions, however I have seen it enough to know that over prescription combined with a lack of pure direction is not a long term path to reaching your desired outcome whatever that outcome may be.

I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts about stillpower being indispensable when pursuing an optimal level of fitness. Mindful movement to me is no different as the ability to acquire kinetic control over your body is gold in my eyes. While I used to worry about rest length, sets, reps, and tempo, it has been the ability to instruct people to develop a relationship between their brain, nervous system, and body that I now take a lot of pride in. Everything mentioned above has its place but in my eyes it is how it is executed is where training transitions from science to art. Of course a deadlift 3 rep range is meant to develop strength. However where I have the most fun and coincidentally see the most benefit is what you can do to make the most of that deadlift. The ability to feel the relationship between the soles of your feet and the floor. The ability to feel your mid back light up by feeling the bar with your hands. The ability to see a client nod their head knowing that they are feeling what is meant to be felt before they get the bar off the ground. That to me is where exercise becomes addictive. To me this is where exercise goes from a mindless chore to an endless pursuit for perfection. The idea that you are re-establishing a connection with your body that for a lot of people did not know existed.

I was kicking back this past Wednesday before a flight and had to watch a classic golf flick Tin Cup and it really occurred to me how alike lifting weights/yoga/pilates really are similar to the pursuit of golf perfection. If you go into each with a grip it rip it mentality it is just a golf swing. Likewise with the deadlift as it is picking the bar off the ground with a straight back and putting it back down with some control. However it really does become a fixation, and a long term one at that. I'll end it with the line from Mr. Roy ''Tin Cup'' McAvoy that made me want to put this on paper as well as make me understand why I spend so much time in the gym and so little on the golf course.

''The critical opening phrase of this poem will always be the grip. Which the hands unite to form a single unit by the simple overlap of the little finger. Lowly and slowly the club head is led back. Pulled into position not by the hands, but by the body which turns away from the target shifting weight to the right side without shifting balance. Tempo is everything; perfection unobtainable as the body coils down. There's a slight hesitation. A nod to the gods."

Move Improve...... Mindfully,

Jeff

PS. I am currently in Kansas City Missouri taking in arguably one of the best kept secrets in the fitness industry and that is The Fitness Summit. For any fitness pros who may be reading this I highly suggest you check this out. Honorable mention to Kansas City as well for being one of the most pleasant surprises I have encountered when it comes to the travel schedule.

May 18, 2012
Foam Rolling Fundamentals

If you have been consistent in the gym for the past five to ten years I am sure that you have noticed that foam rolling has become a huge part of the fitness agenda. Unlike other overnight fitness methodologies it seems as if this one will be sticking around for a while. For me, I feel that foam rolling is a topic that I still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to completely understanding its role in the topic of soft tissue work as a whole. As a matter of fact I have to confess that there was little to no curriculum on the subject in my early days of personal training education. However, soft tissue work has become a big topic of interest for me over the years and I have become a big fan of integrating self myofascial release into the programming of the people I work with. While building the Move Improve app, foam rolling instruction was also a key part of the programming goals. There is still a lot to learn about when it comes to foam rolling. However, I cannot argue with the results that I have witnessed with proper foam rolling when it comes to restoring movement, reducing pain, and contributing to performance. In my eyes, nothing will ever top a set of trained hands, eyes, and judgement when it comes to soft tissue work, but the ability to familiarize and integrate foam rolling into your programming will certainly add some positives to the productivity, quality, and longevity of your training. These are some of my favorite cues when it comes to putting the foam roller into practice.

Relax

Anyone who has experience with the roller will tell you that its a horrible feeling. I can tell you first hand it wasn't pleasant. However, pain is not meant to be the badge of honor it is sometimes perceived to be when it comes to foam rolling. I see a lot of red faces and overbites when people jump onto a roller. This is usually a sign of being locked up. If the objective of foam rolling is to mobilize tissue, keep in mind that staying rigid can be counterproductive. Find a threshold that can keep you relaxed and breathing. You will still feel some considerable pressure, but at least it will be doing its job and you won't be wearing down your molars due to the pain.
 

Remember To Breathe It Will Only Hurt A Little

Melt The Muscle

One of my favorite concepts that I stole from the brilliant Thomas Myers. A continuation of relaxation is the ability to grasp the concept of melting. There are different layers of fascia to be addressed when foam rolling. Jumping right onto the roller and going for it may provide some quick relief for the more superficial fascia, but in order to address the deeper layers you need to take your time. Continue relaxing, breathing, and using reasonable pressure will allow you to feel the sensation of digging deeper into the muscle. I look at it in the sense that a tough piece of meat comes out more tender when it is slow cooked rather than thrown on a hot grill.

Change Your Angles

When rolling, keep in mind that muscles can be moved in multiple directions. One of the common habits that I see is roam rolling becomes a strict up and down movement. If you have ever had any manual soft tissue work done you will know that a therapist will move your tissue in all sorts of directions depending on what needs to be addressed. The same can be done with the roller. While I find the IT Band is an abused piece of the body when it comes to rolling it is a good example of this as it is in between the lateral portion of the quadriceps and the hamstring. This means there can be adhesion within each of those meridians so rather than rolling strictly on top, the ability to move it laterally may be the answer to what you are actually trying to address. This brings me to my next point.

Think Beyond Just The IT Band

Remember that what you are rolling is only a small part of the puzzle. The IT Band is the perfect example of this because I am convinced that some people believe that foam rolling was invented for the IT Band. If something is tight why is it tight? Did an IT Band just decide to become tight or are their limitations at the hip and ankle that are triggering it? While foam rolling provides some quick gratification remember that there are principles of mobility, stability, balances in strength, and movement behavior that all play factors in why you are rolling what you are rolling.

Emphasize The Joints

Your joints are responsible for the limitless vectors of movement that you are capable of. Either overusing or under using them can cause you grief. Give your tissue close to the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder some preferential treatment in order to restore movement and circulation in and around the joint.

Just like any other factors in well being such as heart health or dental health, some daily maintenance of your soft tissue can go a long way in keeping your body healthy. It can play a big role in the maintenance of muscular and skeletal balance as well as maintain fluid external and internal movement. While nothing beats a set of hands from a skilled practitioner, foam rolling can provide a big boost to the well being of your body.

May 15, 2012