Dead lifts for rehabilitation

"Wait, don't dead lifts cause injury? Like, people get injured doing them?"

Yes. People absolutely hurt their lower back doing dead lifts. We'll get to that. But first is the claim that dead lifts are a critical component of rehabilitation. Please consider reading this as a prelude:

You'll hurt your back (not) doing dead lifts!

From that essay:

Dead lifts accomplish what no machine, training device, or supplement can. They teach the brain to dial in the correct movement pattern for functional lifting. Picking things up is a part of life, unless you can find a way to hamstring curl your suitcase through the airport or leg press a new TV up the stairs. 

As a physical therapist, I've never tried documenting dead lifts as medically necessary. Medical doctors, insurers, and other third party payers would understandably raise an eyebrow. So instead, many patients under my care have something like this listed as one of their long-term goals:

Patient will demonstrate a proper neutral spine hip hinge pattern [shhh...a deadlift!] as a means to return to their basic self care, household tasks, and fitness/wellness activities without exacerbation of pain.

Take Quay as a case study to illustrate the point.

Quay himself in a cool display of extension overload!
Quay was seventeen when he first came to the office for treatment of severe and chronic lower back pain, demonstrating signs and symptoms of both flexion (too much bending) and extension (too much arching) overload. The pain increased when he sat and especially worsened when he extended his spine as in serving and spiking a volleyball.

With poor hip, abdominal, and lower back strength, his discs and vertebrae were taking the brunt of it. How else do you explain the MRI which revealed various degenerative changes? In the words of a local orthopedist, "He has the back of a 50-year old."

The problem was that Quay was not 50. He had plans to play volleyball and work and do things. He was not content with the "sit around and do as little as possible" route to long-term spinal...health.

So we began with some light hands-on work and wimpy core stabilization exercises. The pain remained off and on for some time, I believe primarily due to the fact that he was playing volleyball through a fairly significant injury. But the frequency and intensity of his pain slowly improved.

Quay began with dead lift variations in the clinic before he even realized it. He acquired knowledge of his limits, and sufficient strength and stability to tolerate some decent resistance training. After discharge from formal physical therapy, I had him pulling up the barbell within a partial range of motion. Not long after that, he managed to dead lift 150 pounds off the ground with nary an issue.

As of today, Quay is playing volleyball, jumping higher than ever, hitting, sprinting and lifting with much less pain. His brain has learned to "turn on" the stabilizing muscles when he moves, and he has developed adequate strength levels to effectively decrease the wear and tear on his back.

Quay is working consistently and I do keep pushing him to get even stronger. I'm certain that getting to the point where he can easily lift his body weight (say, ~ 200 pound dead lift) off the ground would be a realistic and fruitful goal.

Given his history, I would not encourage Quay to be a power lifter. Besides, nobody ever claimed it was necessarily healthy to test the absolute most you can lift for one repetition, especially in the dead lift. But I know equally well that the process of building strength and stability through dead lifting variation holds tremendous value for individuals who expect to do more than take it easy for the rest of their life.

 - - - - -


personal records in the rain (and other nonsense)

What did the neighbors think upon seeing a few of us running down Grantham road today? We're crazy. That's what I think, in the comfort of my own home or vehicle, when judging some poor soul wearing shorts and running out in the November rain. 

Would it really hurt you to take a day off?

Maybe nobody else gives it nearly this much thought. Of course this lack of grace toward the fanatical exercise guild says more about my own issues (and my day job). How obvious it is when examining others.

Thirty minutes later it's still raining. Grey dusk and colder temperatures are also upon us. The crown of my head is buried into the exterior hatch of the old Subaru because my shoulders are made waste and my hands keep slipping off the bumper.

Inching down Bonny Lane at some pathetic fraction of one mile per hour, every step is a grinding effort of literal and figurative hardheadedness. Each foot placement is a gamble as to whether or not the coefficient of friction of wet shoes and macadam is sufficient to withstand the applied force.

I'm trying desperately not to fail in an effort to match the epic Car Push that occurred last week (completed by two of my proteges nonetheless). Another neighbor pulls behind me. From the corner of my eye I notice that it's Jack from down the street. Nice guy. Usually waves or says hello to the kids. So I put my head down and dig. Jack patiently waits for the Subaru to clear a few cars parked along the side of the road before pulling around us.

And so I made it, joined the Cul De Sac Car Push Club at (possible) further expense to my reputation as an upright neighbor and proper 37 year-old. At least my doctor is pleased with the top notch blood profiles.

But sprinting and car pushing in the rain is far from the end of the nonsense.

A few weeks ago my friend Matt walked down Bonny Lane with a weighted barbell sustained high over his head. I Farmer Walked two heavy dumbbells as our kids biked circles around us. There have been thousands of tuck jumps and a few Tony Little Gazelle carries on that road.

Neither is the ridiculousness limited to the outdoors. Just two days ago I noticed bloodshot eyes after doing heavy dead lifts with a lifting belt notched too tight. Breaking the blood vessels in your corneas, that can't be a good thing...

I want to tell my neighbors that we're...not as bad as it looks. I want to explain how this sprinting and car push nonsense truly happens less than once per week, and we only train three days per week. The conditioning must happen on Friday because of tight family and work schedules. Friday comes but once per week, and this is actually something that we enjoy. Yes it's miserable but also rewarding. Training day is like when a dog who sees his master move toward the door with a leash.

"Who wants to go for a walk!"

That's the rhythm your body feels when it's time. And if we don't get some decent conditioning done on Friday, we'll be set back for...  ...


...That sets us back in terms of recovery for a heavy lifting day. Dead lifts will suffer. And we simply can't have that.

So never mind. I will simply smile and wave and thank my kind neighbors for tolerating the crazies. And I'm thankful for the fellow obsessives (including a few of those very neighbors) who join me, follow me, lead me.

And that's why you see us sprinting and pushing the car on a wet dreary Friday.


an open letter to the coach

Dear Coach,

Your commitment to the team is great. You genuinely want to help each athlete mature and develop to their highest potential. It's for good reason that you hope they are likewise committed to the sport and to you.

You don't want to see your investment depreciate during the off season, wasting five months finding trouble, losing interest, or sitting around becoming Call Of Duty champions. You want them to continue developing their skill, physical conditioning, and competitive drive. This is where I take issue.

There are patterns that I notice. I love sports and athletics, but not having a horse in the race gives me an advantage in perspective. I'll cut to the chase here. Why all the structured distance running in the off season? 

Running is better than nothing. It may even be the best thing for a few athletes. But when you actually evaluate the demands of the sport, and match that against the strengths and weaknesses of an individual, you will often find that running is far from the best use of their time.

I recently had a client ask what I thought of this typical soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, etc off-season training "strength and conditioning" workout.

- - - - -
10-15min Warm-up
10 minutes run at 60-70% MAS or around 75-85% HRmax
1 circuit of BW exercises - 15 reps each of air squats, split jumps, skater hops, and calf raises
10 minutes run
1 circuit of BW exercises
10 minutes run
1 circuit of BW exercises
 - - - - - -

This is someone's idea of a strength training? My response, for this athlete, was "Why?" I never said it was easy. Even if the sport in question is cross country or other endurance events, this is a fairly useless thing to trudge through during the off season.

Granted, most sports require running. Sports (and positions) vary greatly in the amount of endurance, power, and top speed that they demand. But even soccer players (ugh, especially soccer players) would do well to invest a three- or six month chunk of time toward developing peak speed and strength.

Focus on refining your weak points and movement patterns, pushing your body to new limits in jumping higher, sprinting faster, and actually moving some weight, not simply more more more distance running.

Do you imagine that a wiry teenager is going to become clunky and slow by devoting 6 months to building total body power and a little size?

This does not mean being lazy. This does not mean taking up hardcore Crossfit or Powerlifting as a competitive level. It does mean shifting the focus and priority for just a few months. It means giving the mind and body a chance to adapt to different yet complementary stimuli. What you get is a physically and mentally refreshed beast of an athlete in the new season.

No athlete can (or should) need to maintain peak endurance and stamina year 'round. Where strength, power, and size take months and years to develop, an active and motivated young adult can easily recover high level endurance abilities in two to three weeks.

What sport-specific test would convince you of this? The timed mile? A soccer player who trains appropriately with a power and speed emphasis can easily break the 6 minute mark with just a few weeks of endurance work.

Again, we're talking about a well designed strength and conditioning program involving plyometrics and total body resistance and conditioning with free weights, not group Boot Camp or sitting on various resistance machines mindlessly churning out 3 sets of 10.

See what happens when you give motivated, devoted athletes some structured training with a break from intense endurance work. You'll get a bigger, faster, more powerful version of the person you knew, with some newfound confidence to tear it up.


my training philosophy

I watched a personal trainer on TV the other day. His workout DVD series has sold, what, a hundred thousand million copies?

He had such emotional energy. I can't imagine the demands of maintaining that level of unbridled swank. I swear he had to be the fittest man ever on the entire planet. I wondered what he's like in his personal life.

"Pick up some milk on the way home from work? 
Oh yeah - Turkey Hill! Gonna bring that milk baby. WHOOO!" 

I was amazed at the sheer number of words he could pack between two repetitions of a monotonous total body movement. Is there anyone who really prefers his absurd rate of motivational cliche per minute? How many truly believe his enthusiasm for 30 seconds of lunges. Maybe sincerity doesn't matter?

With expressive hands dancing, shoulders ever square to the camera, he never mumbled or stuttered, sneezed or scratched. His moves were smooth and bold, especially during the unnecessary invasion of others personal space.

And then there was the outfit. You know the fitness look. The posture. No cotton within a square mile. The well controlled haircut and perfect shave. The tan. But he wasn't even being showy. He actually had a shirt on. That covered his biceps. About half way.

If that's what it takes to be a successful trainer/fitness/gym guy, count me out. Counting reps, reminding people to breath, that's not me. I'll lock myself in the basement (a basement that happens to have more than enough gear to keep a handful of clients, friends and I healthy and fit) where everyone is perfectly capable of counting their own reps.

This is why I train in old T-shirts, worn out sweats, and junky skateboarding shoes. This is why I hesitate at turning a passion and hobby into a job. I just may be a horrible trainer. I'm no real chief. No quarterback. I have a hard enough time feeling comfortable leading my own children. I'm just not up for giving people the "healthy choices during the holidays" lecture, okay?

"How many carbs should you be eating? Well lets tidy up that squat pattern and see how many strict chin-ups you can do."  

But I know the obvious truth here. Physical therapists are trainers too. We move others and ourselves all day, never in need of a warm-up. I need to own what the trainer guy is doing. Our style may vary, but we basically claim the same calling. On any given day you can easily catch me saying "don't do it this way, do it that way." Most days I do deliver air jabs, shouts of encouragement, and loud music.

"Give most of your attention to tailoring the boring basics to your interests and inclinations. Fight to remain an athlete. Perform multi-joint lifts with good form. Sleep enough. Eat vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins. Have some ice cream now and again."

When it comes down to it, I'm all about promoting fun in the process of physical size and strength and speed and stamina, including the discipline and tactful showboating. I'm an advocate for the freedom that training enables. I'm a minister of movement as medicine that changes our physical and mental state.  

Maybe there will be a place for this style yet. Maybe not. Just don't ask me for tips on how to get enough fluids, 60 (or was it 80?) ounces per day. Go drink some damn water.


Why should runners do strength training?

Kelly Leighton writes for PennLive.com, the on-line home of The Patriot News. You should follow her column for all things related to running in central PA.

Today she interviewed me about the benefits of strength training for runners:



Custom orthotics hurt your feet - troubleshooting

You tried off-the-shelf inserts, injections, and a host of other treatments to manage your lingering foot pain. None of these resolved the issue and you sought further advice. After a thorough (or not-so-thorough) examination, your orthopedist, podiatrist, physical therapist, or chiropractor recommended custom orthotics.

You said, "Sure, anything to get back to normal," to the tune of approximately $285.00 (or much, much higher so I hear).

You eagerly received the custom devices prescribed by a specialized medical professional and precisely molded to capture every contour of your very own feet. A few hours or days later you cursed while shaking your fist to the sky, asking why the blasted things hurt so much.

This NEVER happens in our practice, where every client prescribed custom inserts happily skips away on the wings of magical inserts carved of unicorn horns for maximum durability and control, lined with a plush top-cover of genuine baby alpaca feathers beneath New Zealand rainbows.

"Yeah that's marginally cute. But my foot hurts."

Before you trash your custom inserts or use them as a door jam or ice scraper, here are a few common reasons why they may be hurting your feet:

1. Inadequate break-in period. 

Many people who are accustom to squishy insoles in cushiony shoes do not take it seriously when we advise them to wear the inserts for just two additional hours per day. Others don't believe us when we instruct them to get use to the inserts in simple everyday activities before trying to exercise or work for prolonged periods in them. While some people need more or less time, this is a realistic and appropriate tapering period.

The fix is to wear the inserts an additional two hours per day, building to a full day of light activity prior to exercising or working hard in them.

2. Inadequate footwear. 

If your shoes are too tight and you jam a custom insert under a sensitive foot, it will usually make the pain worse. If your shoes are old and worn down, the custom device will be sitting on an uneven surface and the contours captured in your foot mold will not apply well. Even new shoes that are chincy (you bought on sale at Kohls) or intentionally flimsy (think minimalist shoes) will work against what the orthotic is supposed to achieve, again causing it to sit on an uneven surface.

The fix is to get into a quality shoe with a firm sole that is also adequate in length and width. Don't try to ride a Cadillac engine on a junk frame.

3. Poor "loading" of the insert.

The most perfect insert in the world may not function as intended if, for example, you have tight hips that force your legs and feet into a toe-out "duck foot" position. If you have weakness or tightness in the ankles, calves, or toes this will likely play into some type of compressive, shear, or tensile strain on tissues in the foot and a compensation in your gait pattern. If you sound like a herd of elephants coming through the house, it is not the "fault" of your shoes, inserts, or even your feet. You may have some old habits to break or strength and flexibility to improve.

The fix is to do all that you can to get your body to move better. Address impairments in balance, flexibility, and strength, and work to approach a more normal gait pattern.

4. Pain and inflammation too severe. 

Almost anything that's a change from the norm will cause a highly sensitive foot to feel even worse. The fix is to lessen severe and intense symptoms medically or with physical measures like exercises, ice, ultrasound, and massage. In some instances 2 to 4 weeks in a night splint or walking boot is warranted to give the foot a fresh start.

5. Orthotics need to be adjusted.

What should be is not always what is. If your feet still hurt after allowing an adequate transition period, placing the insert in an appropriate fitting quality shoe, working on your movement patterns, and taking time to rest and "calm down" highly irritated tissues, it's certainly possible the the inserts are plain wrong for you.

In that case, your foot specialist should be eager to help you and capable of making adjustments and modifications. Sometimes that means adding or taking away supportive material on the device. Other times that may mean adding a heel lift to one side, an extra layer of padding here or there, or redoing the insert all together.

The fix is to ask your foot and ankle specialist, on the front end, if the cost of the inserts includes time to follow-up and make adjustments as needed.

**The physical therapists and pedorthists at Cardin & Miller PT do allow for this as part of the process.While we make no guarantees, we are quite experienced in dealing with people who have failed other treatments and are going on their second or third set of inserts.

Trouble shoot with these fixes before you use your inserts as a candy dish or book mark. Because anything can be a book mark ; ). 


On resistance training routines

How are you going to make it happen, getting bigger or stronger, faster or leaner, over the next 3 or 6 months? Putting some thought into planning is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Trust me that unless you are a pure beginner or genetically creepy, it is not going to happen by accident.

There was a point when I thought through such things far more than what was required or even healthy. With the dawning of each new semester or change in work or life status, I agonized over various minutia. A while ago I wrote approximately 500 words of what I learned from that [ found here.] Basically, you need not train more than 4 days per week. Even then, you would probably achieve the same or more in 3 or even 2 days of resistance training per week.

Someone recently wrote to ask what I thought of his training plan. His primary goals are to get stronger and leaner. How does it sound to you?

Monday: (Resistance training) Chest and back
Tuesday: Legs
Wednesday: Arms, shoulders.
Thursday: Rest / rec sports
Friday: Plyometrics and sprints (lower body power and conditioning.)
Saturday: Total body lift (press, squat, row, chin-up)
Sunday: Rest / rec sports

This is a decent program. It fits the four day per week requirement. But it's getting a little flaky in a few ways. I always think it's better to label training days by movement (push, pull, squat, etc) rather than body parts, but we'll keep that off the table for now.

The response depends on how many days you really want to go to the gym and the primary (goal) emphasis. Is your need to work out more about mental health (or illness)? If so that's fine if you label it as such and don't assume it's the best for you physically. As far as goals, are you interested primarily in upping the weights on your major lifts, or maybe running faster, or more on leaning out a bit?

While any of these are fine and reasonable goals, for the far majority of serious athletes, making strength their primary goal for a while will help them achieve almost every other goal in a more timely and efficient manner. Upping the weights slowly in the "big" lifts will demand more lean muscle, neurological efficiency, as well as joint mobility and stability, all of which keep you primed and healthy no matter what other goals you move on to...(hopefully after at least 6 months of focused resistance training ; ))

WARNING: I will be sarcastically talking about shoulders for the remainder of this writing!
As far as detail goes, the arms/shoulders day is a throw-away. What do shoulders need after pressing and pulling heavy on Monday and possibly dead lifting on Tuesday? Is it likely that horizontal and vertical pulling movements on Monday will interfere with your ability to rip hundreds of pounds off the ground on Tuesday? You betcha.

Muscles take far more than a day to recover from intense effort, much less supercompensate. So why not keep it simple?  There are so many ways to keep it simple yet work hard on 2, 3, or 4 days per week. Here's a suggested alternative that maintains some resemblance to the training program in question. It may be closer to ideal if there were no other considerations for work, school, or sports schedules.

The Look Ma, No Shoulders split

Tuesday: Dead lifts, split squats, accessory leg and core work.
Wednesday: Upper body pressing, upper back, arms.
Thursday: rest/rec sports
Friday: plyos/sprints conditioning
Saturday: Total body (Squats, upper body push and pull, core accessory)
Sunday and Monday: off/rec sports

If you can press a little more weight overhead each Saturday, add some weight to the chin-up belt, and dead lift twice your body weight for reps and STILL manage to have small or weak arms or shoulders, I will personally do forward, lateral, and reverse delt raises, both cable and dumbbell versions, with you three days per week for one year.

That's like 6 (exercises per shoulder workout) X 3 (workouts per week) X 52 weeks per year) =  936 sets devoted to approximately 1/10th of the body's muscle mass in 2014. Our shoulders will be given the attention of the Princes of Maine, and treated like Kings of New England.

But first you have to earn it with at least a few months of my wimpy shoulder program. 


Dead lifting twice per week

A friend shot me a quick message asking my thoughts on the idea of dead lifting twice per week. I've been looking for some writing fodder, and really, who doesn't like to read and write about dead lifts?
; )    So I decided to type out a few thoughts here.


This person has worked consistently at the training program that I laid out for him, and it's more or less how I train. The program includes relatively heavy dead lifts, three to four work sets in the four to six rep range, performed once per week.

Hopefully this gives you some context of where he is coming from. But still, the question remains, "Why save all the joy and tears of dead lifting for only one day per week?'


...is my answer, in brief. Double up on the awesomeness! Dead lifting twice per week has the potential to help you progress in that lift more than doing it only once per week. But, in not-so-brief, there are some important points to consider, most of them having to do with the fact that IF you are training intensely and consistently on a well designed program, it's not advisable to keep adding  without taking other things away.

Don't do the exact same dead lift protocol. 

I wouldn't advise doing the same loading and rep range on the "other" dead lift day. Maybe do another dead lift variation (sumo or trap bar), do speed reps (that's crushing perfect form in explosive reps with about 60% of your top weight) or heavy singles or triples with no eccentric component (drop the weight from the top position if your gym/bumper plates can afford it). The potential for over training and injury is high if you get to the point of twice weekly grinding out multiple sets of heavy reps like we typically do on dead lift day.

Don't plan on squatting much. 

Part of the reason why I don't dead lift more than once per week is that I love to reserve some time and energy for dead lifts beastly cousin, Twenty Rep Squats. I've found that training these movements each once per week can get quite demanding on recovery ability. And if your squats or dead lifts are worth any thing, there's really no point (and some potential danger) in doing the other movement in the same workout. How are you supposed to seriously push the limit in 20 reps squats if your hips and back are fatigued from dead lifts? How are you supposed to dead lift even just your body weight when your legs are jello-ed from intense squats?

Always remember that long-term progress is not so much dependent on the amount of training that you can tolerate, but on the amount of training that you can recover from.

I tend to think that heavy squats compliment heavy dead lifts done on another day of the week, and vice-verse. But I don't think many intermediate and advanced lifters can improve on both of these for long before one movement must take a back seat (for that training cycle).

Rhythm is everything.

To end with a legitimate point of encouragement: the person who asked the question doesn't vary his training up every other week. He's established a rhythm of working brutally hard at a handful of exercises, and thereby has made a line in the sand for his body and his current abilities. He can tinker around with workout day, set, and rep schemes, keep it simple, and learn even more about what's truly best for his body and his goals just by paying attention.

That's exactly how I settled on my current training program that suits me just fine for now with relatively little time investment in training. Many individuals never get to the point of learning from this type of experimentation because they have no meaningful point of reference to begin with.


In praise of Farmer Walks

Never underestimate the value of Farmer Walks. Only in the last few years have they been appreciated for their relative safety and effectiveness in developing hip and core strength, leg, forearm, and shoulder stamina, and pure grit. Yes your back can handle it!  See below, but in most cases a properly controlled farmer walk is less risky than running or jumping. In farmer terms, carry buckets of water and feed is definitely less risky to the spine than prolonged sitting while tractor plowing. Chalk that up as another hit to industrialized farming.

Get off your butt and work the core!

In case you haven't heard, Farmer Walks can broadly be defined as the act of carrying something heavy until your legs throb and your forearms are about to explode. The legs are the prime movers while a fairly large load is held through the upper extremities, effectively working all the "core" stabilizers in between. For reference, a decent Farmer Walk is carrying your body weight for 3 or 4 "reps" of approximately 100 feet.

...If there were only a way to work all these muscles without

 placing shear and torsional forces on the spine.

Paleolithic cave painting depicting Farmers Walks
Who invented Farmer Walks? God. Or earth nature. Or maybe God through earth nature. One way or another we were made to be capable of dealing with gravity by lifting and carrying things. Really - it is well known that the spinal facet joints and discs deal very well with compressive load, and it's the shear and torsional forces that primarily cause degenerative changes.

Surely humans have been Farmer Walking since well before there was such a thing as farmers. In fact, Farmer Walks are THE origin of the concept of progressive overload. The story goes that Milo of Croto trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox. At around 600 BC, he won 6 Olympic victories, dominated multiple wrestling meets and other events, and led the Crotoniate army to victory over Greeks from Sybaris.

How's THAT for some positive outcomes?? 

Does that story make you want to pick up non conventional objects and carry them around? [What, is it only me?] It also makes me a bit bitter how Arthur Jones convinced everyone that his sit-on, muscle isolation Nautilus machines are superior to free weights. I get the concept and cool physics principles involved. But I think Arthur would be rolling over in his grave if he saw all the soccer dads and moms and businessmen and women who sit on these things but absolutely cannot control quality functional movement with their own body weight. Nah, never mind. He'd be happy to cash in.

Variable resistance cam + isolation of muscles = huge and strong = NOT
Practically speaking
Do you know what happens when we structure such simple, old school methods with periods of work and recovery? We feel and look good, and become physically fit to handle what life has in store.
The Pope loves Farmers Walks
I would suggest with carrying 25% of body weight in each hand for 50 feet. Take deliberate strides but do not lunge and do not take little pp steps.

Nothing beats Farmer Walks as a workout "finisher." Just imagine what it would be like to skip the 10 minutes of ab machine, the various crunches and leg raises, and the 20 minutes of elliptical? Conditioning, strengthening, and cardio can all be had with less than half of that time invested in Farmers Walks. You (literally) won't be up for many activities that involve being upright after a series of intense Farmer Walks.


If you have sensitive feet (history of plantar fascitis etc) and load up with Farmer Walks on cement, you may have some issues, especially if your shoes are subpar. So do these in good supportive shoes and build up slowly.

Farmer Walks do not lend themselves well to commercial gyms, or anywhere there tends to be a high density of protruding metal and oblivous-to-their-surroundings-people wearing ear buds and staring at themselves in the mirror.

A friend and I once tried Farmer Walking in a Golds Gym, just for fun. There were odd stares, inadvertent near hits to the privates, and multiple awkward stop/starts near the water fountain. Should I ever again find myself in a commercial gym, I promise to lay on the floor or sit down on a machine and exercise in one place like a good little gym rat.

But I dare you to try a quiet, well controlled Farmer Stroll in a Planet Fitness. Let me know how it goes for a free, uh, T-shirt. Or something. Seriously, I will give you an original Bonny Lane Club shirt from my anti gym.


the best thing to do when your back goes out

I'm guessing that it went something like this:

You reached or twisted quickly.
You went to pick something light off the ground.
You lifted a heavy couch, sack of birdseed, or barbell, with or without good form.

Immediately or shortly thereafter, you experienced a dagger in or just below the spine. The pain went from nothing to searing. You held your breath. You swear that a vertebrae must have broke right in two. You didn't want to think about thinking about moving.

You, my friend, have thrown your back out. I've been there. On more than one occasion. What exactly is going on in there? It's difficult to say exactly what tissue is at fault. But we can make a few basic assumptions with some degree of confidence.

First let's try to define what kind of injury we are dealing with:

-There was a relatively abrupt onset of symptoms.
-The quality of the pain was sharp and intense.
-There was no numbness, pain, or weakness down either leg.
-The mechanism of injury was due to spinal flexion - like bending forward, prolonged sitting, poor lifting technique, or over striding while running. 

When this is the case, we are most likely dealing with one of three things:

-Strained muscle, tendon, or ligament. With these you can almost always palpate (touch or point out) the site of injury. The pain is very consistent, just like when you pull a hamstring or hip flexor after sprinting in the cold. Maintaining a rigid brace of the spine when you move often increases the pain because this places demands on the stabilizing muscles that are in question.

-Stress fracture. This is fairly rare but it happens. This pain is also very consistent, increasing with almost all loaded movements (standing on your feet). Almost all unloaded movements (laying down and sitting) cause minimal pain, though transitions back to sitting and standing will be difficult.

Lumbar stress fractures are seldom related to forward bending activities. They occur more commonly from extension overload, over arching, where the spine repetitively or traumatically undergoes compression with backward rotation (as when running, jumping, and tackling with a weak anterior core and/or tight hip flexor muscles).

-Disc derangement. As the years roll by and I manage hundreds of people with lower back pain, I'm almost certain this is the likely culprit for backs that "go out" during and after flexion based activities. Keep in mind that not all disc herniations cause referred pain to the lower extremities. It is well known that tears within the disc material (with no herniation displacement at all) and small to moderate disc herniations may give a sharp or intense pain without pressing on the nerves that go down to the legs. 

The pain is almost always increased with forward bending and prolonged sitting because you are reproducing the mechanism of injury. But otherwise, the condition is fairly inconsistent. Sometimes there's no pain at all and you're like, "whew, smooth sailing!" Then, just when you let your guard down and go to put the milk back in the refrigerator, **BAM** you're shot by the sneaky sniper.

With all things considered, here's the ironic kicker. Whether your abrupt, severe, non-referred lower back pain is due to a disc injury or a muscle/tendon/ligament injury, you should treat it nearly the same way. The absolute best things to do in the short term are as follows:

1. REST. Lay off it already! No, literally, lay flat on your stomach or on either side and take it easy. One way or another, you literally have injured tissue. There's no manipulation or particular exercise that's going to make it heal quicker in the short term. You can try some gentle press-ups and ice. Massage and modalities like electronic stimulation and ultrasound may alleviate muscle pain for a short while. But the main thing you need to do is quit nagging it and give it a chance to heal.

Press-ups are often indicated in the instance of acute, flexion-based back injury.The mullet is not.

2. Ice is usually best in the first few days. But truly I say unto you, with back pain there are no hard and fast rules. When I experienced acute lower back pain, ice made me feel stiff and a hot shower was almost miraculous. If you tolerate anti-inflammatory medications, take them. Nobody is impressed with anti-medication heroics. Taking a moderate dose of Advil for a few days never killed anyone.

3. Avoid flexion/bending activities. I have found that in the acute phase of lower back pain, most people underestimate the importance of staying away from the type of movement that stirred up the issue in the first place. Avoiding slumped sitting and the recliner chair posture is critical.

To be clear, avoiding flexion means NOT standing and reaching to your toes. It means NOT kneeling and pushing your chest to the floor. It means NOT laying on your back and pulling your knees toward your chest. All of these stretches cause lumbar flexion and you should not do them!

(Sorry for the caps but you would not believe the number of people with flexion-based back pain that continuously and persistently do flexion based stretches, likely provoking their symptoms or keeping their injured tissue from healing).
Do nothing crazy. Really - lay off the back.

Yes, all the flexion type stretches do indeed stretch tight muscles. But it also reproduces the exact movement pattern that got you into trouble in the first place! The relief of stretching those muscles will be temporary at best. At worst you will further aggravate or progress a disc problem.

So technically, these three things to do when your back goes out are actually non-doing things. And in the immediate short-term, that's exactly what the doctor ordered to allow time for healing. But after 3 to 5 days, you need to get moving. You need to DO some things and still be careful to avoid doing others.


By the numbers, you probably will get better with this simple advice. You will naturally take it easy, partly because you can't go hard, partly because you will be more cautious. For a while. But did you know, also by the numbers, that chances are that after you improve and get back to what you like to do, you will experience a more severe episode of similar or progressive symptoms in the future? The last I read on this topic, there is a 90% chance that symptoms will return, and they are usually progressive in nature. What once was a disc tear will have progressed to a full blown disc herniation with sciatica, and you won't be trying to call that a simple muscle strain.

Above all else...

Given the grim statistics on the natural progression of acute, localized lower back pain, let your personal episode of misery serve as a warning. Once you rest and ice and be very careful to avoid forward bending movements, it's time to get active. There are plenty of things you should be doing to mitigate or altogether avoid the natural progression. But that's another essay!

- - - - -


Plyometric eulogy

The classic wooden picnic table of Bonny Lane, Mechanicsburg, was put to rest last Saturday. It will chiefly be remembered as the original plyometric training table of the Bonny Lane Club. The table also turned in years of dedicated service as a hurdle, fort, bike ramp, soccer goal, out-of-bounds marker, commando crawlspace, and a platform for the placement of drinks, side dishes, and grilled meats.

Many children have played on and under it. It has caused many athletes to open their eyes to physical capacities, increased power, coordination, and confidence. It hosted many fun and meaningful conversations. This table will be greatly missed and is survived by a vinyl table, various deck chairs, and a new wooden table. 

As a final tribute, the table was an active member in its own bonfire service, where we cooked hot dogs and marshmallows over it. It would have wanted it that way.  

             - - - - - - -

I can't recall when I started doing plyometric drills on picnic tables. It was long before  we had a home much less an unofficial gym. I always loved the idea of taking something that's intended for one thing and using it effectively for something else. I love the idea of the anti gym; the instances when low tech and old school is truly better than the new; the process of building leg power, speed, and stamina while exercising outdoors with your friends and family.

There's something that seems right about all of that.

This image has me wondering what's next to depart the Bonny Lane Club. I'm guessing that it will be the Subaru. I mean, the '98 Forester has almost 200,000 miles. It's currently the one and only motor vehicle that's officially approved as the standard for Bonny Lane Club car pushes.

Other than tables, chairs, and the Subaru, all that's left is a heap of iron wrought into various sizes and shapes. Oh, and the hills that we jump and sprint on. That iron and these hills will easily outlast any of our sinew and connective tissue. I feel this in my bones every morning.
Yet I'm still not comfortable with the reality that their is a ceiling to our abilities. Nobody improves infinitely. Even with the best training, recovery, biomechanical knowledge, and community of like-minded believers in the way of the lifetime athlete.

I must say that I'm grateful for the time that we are given to train and be awesome and push limits. I'm certain there is value to this. It is best if I leave it at that.

All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 
            Ecclesiastes 3:20

Emily E. Zagoric, 86, of Camp Hill, passed away on Wednesday September 18, 2013 at Holy Spirit Hospital, Camp Hill.
Born on August 18, 1927 in Scunthorpe, England, she was the daughter of the late Walter and Doris (Palmer) Scrimshaw, and the widow of David R. Zagoric.
She was a loving Supporter and Sponsor of several Animal Shelters and Organizations.
She is survived two sons, Daniel J. Zagoric, of Ickesburg; Edward J. Zagoric and his wife Kathy, of Dillsburg; three daughters, Carol E. Schaar, of Middletown; Linda G. Zagoric, of Tampa, FL; Deborah A. Graham, of Marysville; seven grandchildren, fourteen great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren.
In addition to her parents and husband she was preceded in death by a son, David Morris Zagoric, two grandsons, David W. Schaar, Jr., and Daniel J. Graham, a granddaughter, Tammy Schaar, a brother, Morris Scrimshaw, and a son in-law, David W. Schaar.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 P.M. on Tuesday September 24, 2013 in the Myers-Harner Funeral Home, 1903 Market St., Camp Hill, with Pastor Naomi Sease Carriker officiating. A visitation with the family will be held in the funeral home on Tuesday from 12:30 P.M. until the time of the service. A graveside service will be held Tuesday at 3:00 P.M. in the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville. - See more at: http://obits.pennlive.com/obituaries/pennlive/obituary.aspx?n=emily-e-zagoric&pid=167047934&fhid=22850#fbLoggedOut
Emily E. Zagoric, 86, of Camp Hill, passed away on Wednesday September 18, 2013 at Holy Spirit Hospital, Camp Hill.
Born on August 18, 1927 in Scunthorpe, England, she was the daughter of the late Walter and Doris (Palmer) Scrimshaw, and the widow of David R. Zagoric.
She was a loving Supporter and Sponsor of several Animal Shelters and Organizations.
She is survived two sons, Daniel J. Zagoric, of Ickesburg; Edward J. Zagoric and his wife Kathy, of Dillsburg; three daughters, Carol E. Schaar, of Middletown; Linda G. Zagoric, of Tampa, FL; Deborah A. Graham, of Marysville; seven grandchildren, fourteen great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren.
In addition to her parents and husband she was preceded in death by a son, David Morris Zagoric, two grandsons, David W. Schaar, Jr., and Daniel J. Graham, a granddaughter, Tammy Schaar, a brother, Morris Scrimshaw, and a son in-law, David W. Schaar.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 P.M. on Tuesday September 24, 2013 in the Myers-Harner Funeral Home, 1903 Market St., Camp Hill, with Pastor Naomi Sease Carriker officiating. A visitation with the family will be held in the funeral home on Tuesday from 12:30 P.M. until the time of the service. A graveside service will be held Tuesday at 3:00 P.M. in the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville. - See more at: http://obits.pennlive.com/obituaries/pennlive/obituary.aspx?n=emily-e-zagoric&pid=167047934&fhid=22850#fbLoggedOut


Sprinting Faster

Do you want to run faster? As fast as you can possibly run? That's absolutely doable. You may not become a world class sprinter, but I'm almost certain that with the right training, doing some things and not doing others, you can improve significantly.

Every athlete has their own unique set of circumstances, body structure, and function. It is highly likely that they're leaving something "on the table" in terms of reaching top speed.

Is speed genetic? Yes and no. An athlete with average genetic potential who trains intensely and intelligently will easily out sprint a genetically advantaged person who doesn't put in the time. I've witnessed that first hand on many occasions. I've also seen a handful of excellent athletes try to be all things at once (peak strength, peak endurance, and peak speed), only to be average in all of them.

1. You must sprint!

You must practice and be familiar with the skill of running with "all-out" effort.

I would suggest that you begin with about 40 or 50 yards for 6 to 10 reps. You don't have to kill yourself with a long sprinting beat downs. It's far more fruitful to have brief, intense workouts CONSISTENTLY. You don't have to sprint every day. Twice per week is often ideal (combined with plyometrics and relatively heavy, total body resistance training on other days).

...run...as if Ringraiths are chasing you.

You do, however, have to run hard. Hard! Not 98% as fast as you can. Not pacing yourself in any way, shape, or form. If you run out of steam too quickly and have to pace yourself, you are either progressing too quickly or you're sprinting too long of a distance.

Sprint. Walk. Recover. Sprint. This is difficult to put into words, but getting "a good workout" must take a back seat. Sprinting with full effort is hard work, especially over the first 4 weeks or so, but you need not feel particularly gassed. In fact it's better not to. You are trying to impose a specific demand/adaptation response, teaching your brain and body how to coordinate and maximize repeated explosive movement over approximately 5 to 12 seconds. Nothing, NOTHING, should come between you getting from point A to point B in less time than you did the previous month or week.

-Practice sprinting as a full body skill, and not as a tool for getting "in shape."

2. Include these two essential ingredients.,.

There's nothing that will motivate you to run at full bore game speed and not pace yourself like a friend (or group of friends) or a stop watch. Preferably you have both. Trust me. In the absence of Ringwraiths, I would even say that it (almost) can't be done without these two ingredients. 

-Get some competitive spirit and accountability with like-minded friends.
-Get a stop watch and draw a "line in the sand."

3. Sprint with less than full effort.

Wait. Didn't I just write that you need to practice sprinting with FULL effort?

This is a bit of a contradiction, but it's often beneficial to work on staying under control while applying somewhere around 90% effort.

The issue at hand is form. You may indeed improve with the two measures listed above, but still be slow as molasses. You may have a bit of detective work as well as corrective exercises in store. The details of sprinting mechanics (a skill), starts, and finishes (other skills) are beyond the scope of this writing, but if your arms are flailing, your lower back is arched, one or both feet are facing far in or out, or your stride is barely longer than your torso (to name just a few), you will have some work to do prior to sprinting at 100% effort.

-Have a skilled therapist/trainer evaluate your alignment and movement patterns.
-Do the appropriate corrective exercises.
-Get said therapist/trainer to video your running form.
-Work on technique at less than maximal effort.

4. Strength matters.

Some sports scientists and elite sprint coaches note that the primary limiting factor to sprinting ability comes down to how much force you can generate into the ground. Not stride rate or frequency. Not "foot quickness," flexibility, or metabolic conditioning. In order to generate more force, many athletes who are already fit and active often need to a.) lift free weights intelligently and b.) stop all the endurance work.

-Deadlift, squat, lunge, loaded carry...then get out of the gym and recover.
-Quit "stealing your gains" in the gym by over-doing the conditioning.
-Don't try to make up for a poor diet by tacking on more and more training.

5. Mobility matters.

If your running form is a bit off, it's probably for a reason. I would venture to say that your hip flexors or hamstrings are tight, your anterior core and butt are weak, or you have some kind of structural foot and ankle issue. You may need to get checked out for solid alignment of the foot and ankle, getting your glutes strong, or loosening up the hips, to name a few.

-Don't just stretch. Find specifically what segments may need to move more (mobility), what segments need to be more stable.

6. Caution!

The younger you are, the more margin you have to sprint without consequence. As you age, if you have weakness or tightness throughout the lumbar spine and lower body, foot and ankle issues, or other structural issues such as scoliosis or leg length discrepancy, you are likely to injure something with too much sprinting and/or too soon.

There are many reasons why even young athletes strain their hamstrings, hip flexor, or lower back when they jump in recklessly. By middle age, you really don't want your plantar fascia, achilles tendons and knees to hate you.

7. Know if you're ready to begin sprinting.

Here are some guidelines for a quick screen to see if you are sprint-ready.

Can you actively straight leg raise to where the heel of one leg clears the mid thigh of the other leg?
Do you pass the Thomas Test for hip flexor mobility?

What about your hip adductors, can you display good form on this type of move, getting both hips adequately low to the ground?

Do you have adequate ankle mobility (you should be able to get your knee to about 4" in front of your toes).

Can you hip hinge toe touch. To what extent and how you bend forward and touch your toes says more than you think.


Working out while on vacation

This is an untimely post for the 99% of you who go on summer vacation during the actual summer. But while I'm at the shore I thought to share my vacation workout secrets.

FYI the east coast is awesome in September, if you can swing it.

Anyway, if you're serious about maintaining strength and awesomeness levels while away, you may want to purchase my new e-book called...


You use sand for variable resistance on each body part, and it goes something like this:

Paw the sand with your arms, like a digging motion, to hit pecs, lats, and shoulders. Paw the sand with one foot then the other, like a raging bull, to hit hips and hamstrings. Reverse foot paws will isolate the quads.

Don't forget to breathe!

Hit some sand hip abduction and adduction, seated and standing versions, wrist extension and curls, etc, and in 75 minutes you will have sufficiently stimulated each muscle in the body.

Okay while Sandxercise is clearly a (lame) joke and goes against pretty much everything I believe about training, getting some physical activity while on vacation is no joke. Personally, I tolerate and appreciate all the leisure much better when I've pushed myself physically.

But hell, it's vacation. If you have trained consistently throughout most of the year and need a break, take a break. Try something different. Do not lock yourself in to the typical grind that your mind and body are accustomed to.

Unless it's convenient and you want to.

It wouldn't hurt me to just go jog a mile or 5, but I almost always opt for 2 or 3 sprint and/or plyometric sessions to get me by a vacation week. I may or may not do some pull-ups, muscle-ups, and push-ups at the park where my kids play.

Today I sprinted. The time wasn't really planned. I'm not sure when the "workout" began. I was coming off the heels of carrying and pulling kids up and down the boardwalks and beach, then digging (not for core, but to make a hole), and jumping around with the kids in the sand.

The beaches in September are fairly open for sprints. Still, seagulls were unintentionally being shoed. Parents 40 yards away were herding young children, shielding them from the mad man skimming over the sand.

The 11 sprints of approximately 80 yards took a total of 18 minutes, including one time-out for a massive horseshoe crab.

Done. Feeling awesome. Ready to sit around and play and eat!

Tomorrow I will probably bike with the kids. And play in the sand. And haul massive amounts of stuff to the beach only to haul it all back 4 hours later.

The first point is to be active, have fun, and give yourself a break if you need it. Secondly, there's nothing that will help you enjoy the rest and relaxation of vacation like a few doses of discomfort scattered throughout the week.




Strength Tests - how to know if you're strong

There sat a new test
Much harder that you bought in
As for the unseen

just take care of what you will...                  -Chevelle (Sleep Apnea)

Are you physically strong?

How much force can you generate from dead earth, overcoming gravity's effect on the mass of your body and anything you may want to move? How do you really know if you're strong? The answer is less straightforward than you may think.

There is no single, perfect Gold Standard strength test. So you must define what kind of strength you are looking to measure and how you will be measuring it. I mean, nobody really cares how much you can bicep curl. Many tests that are thought of as measuring strength like running, jumping, throwing, etc, are actually better measures of power. Which leads to point number two.

All strength tests measure more than strength.

Every strength test demands various amounts of flexibility, stability, and coordination. Research has repeatedly shown that a simple test of grip strength correlates very well with other upper body, lower body, and total body tests of strength. My observation from over a decade of working as a physical therapist definitely confirms this. Still, I think it's far more meaningful and interesting to say that "she can squat twice her body weight," or "He can do 20 pull-ups," than it is to simply know grip strength.

Any given strength test poses a different challenge to each person. 

On the surface, you may think that a 250 pound bench press is better than a 150 pound bench press. The one guy successfully lifted more weight so he is indeed stronger in the bench press. But what does that mean? What if I told you that the one pressing 150 pounds only weights150 pounds, 50 pounds less than the other guy? Now who's stronger? Or maybe they weigh approximately the same, but the guy with a 250 pound bench press has arms that are two feet long and a big 55-inch barrel chest, while the other guy is 6' 5", with 45 inch chest and arms almost three feet long? Which one would excel at blocking in a football game? At wresting or rebounding in basketball?

This whole scenario is even more obvious if you take something like a pull up test.

Strength depends on more than big muscles. 

If all else is equal in terms of leverage, motor control, stability, flexibility, and neurological efficiency, a bigger muscle will always exert more force than a smaller muscle. But rarely, if ever, is all else equal. A 35-year old with some degree of normal degenerative "stiffness" in his spine will always be able to dead lift more weight than someone 15 years younger. The younger person requires more stability demand before they can pull the weight off the ground.

Some people have huge muscles simply to help make up for poor alignment or leverage. Have you ever witnessed the huge calves of someone with laxity in their foot and ankles? These people are almost never very fast. Those big muscles are  simply making up the difference for poor stability or leverage.

Strength is context specific. 

In power lifting circles, a "raw" (no belts, wraps, braces, etc) 1.5 X body weight bench press, 2X body weight squat, and 2.5X body weight dead lift are respectable. In most commercial gyms among serious gym rats, these numbers are stellar. In most athletic endeavors and especially in the general population, these numbers are unheard of. In reality, there is strong, and there is strong enough. For athletes interested in sports outside of power lifting and Olympic lifting, I'm most definitely interested in promoting and informing you on how to be strong enough.

Strong enough in the legs and core to run or jump in various athletic pursuits without hurting yourself (minimize the risk of ACL/knee or UCL/elbow rupture). Strong enough to lift a grocery bag or suitcase with good form and without straining something. Strong enough to maintain good congruency between the bones of the shoulder joint when throwing or reaching over head. Strong enough to stand for a while with good posture instead of hanging on the ligaments in your neck and back.

Most people do not possess adequate strength to function well. Honestly, I have to say that even by the lowest standards, most of us are pretty weak. But don't take my word for it. Here are a few of the more simple, not too extreme, ways to see for yourself:

Stability Push Up and Push Up tests:

Deep Squat/Squat tests:

Single leg sit-to-stand test:

Pull Up:

In-line Lunge Test:

- - - - -


THE key to fitness

Name a physical challenge or goal that you want to achieve. Does it involve speed, strength, skill, or body composition? Lower triglycerides? Shoot 90% from the free-throw line?

Whatever it is, there are many specialists in that particular field offering valuable and poor advice. There are sincere as well as snake-oil entrepreneurs offering worthwhile and asinine products and services.

As one of those people, please allow me to remind you of one thing that may be THE most critical element to achieving your goals. But before we get to that, it's worthwhile to discuss a few honorable and not-so-honorable mentions.

Training equipment is definitely over rated. A motivated person will find a way to get it done. They will either get to what they need or make the best of what's around.

Particular diets and supplements are over rated. I'm not saying that what we eat is unimportant. It's the particulars that are unimportant. Diets work because, in the end, they are restrictive. You are actually paying attention to what you eat, eating more unprocessed foods, and taking in less over all.

If you're trying to get lean, lose weight, or whatnot, find a structured diet plan that you can tolerate, fully commit to it, and muster the courage to stick with it for a while. Nobody said it was supposed to be fun. Then, if your activity level is sufficient, you can go back to a more fun and realistic dietary plan that I call The Not Eating Crap Diet. You know what foods are crap. Don't eat them 90% of the time and you should be okay.

I'm aware that this is an overly simplistic bit of dietary advice. But I do hear about and witness some extreme and even odd behaviors where I say to myself, "I bet that person would be fine if they just made a sincere effort at the basics."

And supplements - even the few supplements that are actually proven to live up to their claims do so by a thread. They add less than 5 percent at most. Read for yourself at Examine.com. I cannot speak highly enough of that site.

Training methods are even over rated to some extent. I do recommend that you find something safe in terms of exercise selection, execution, and rest/recovery. A good training method includes an assessment and establishes rhythm and structure that is compatible with your goals, rather than "mixing it up all the time," which rarely lets you know where you stand. Also, be careful of methods that guarantee that your body will adapt toward two incompatible goals at once. For example, it's not likely that a trained individual can increase their vertical jump 4" and shave a minute off his or her best 5K time.

No matter your particular goals and interests, you can almost always benefit from getting stronger. And that doesn't require fancy tools or complex strategies. And now for what's arguably THE most overlooked and undervalued element of you hitting your goals.


Consistency is finding a way to reach a steady rhythm of work and recovery, not too much and not too little. Consistency is committing and going at it with gusto but not so much that you burn out or get injured in six weeks. Consistency is showing up and keeping at it when you don't feel like it. Consistency is paying attention, learning from victories and failures, ensuring that in time you are working harder and smarter.

Sure, consistency has its limits. Some still think that drinking Slim fast and setting their sights on running a marathon are great ways to "get back in shape."

At Bonny Lane Club (my basement and yard), 20 Rep Squats are the one thing that best defines what we do. We find a way to get to them week in and week out. We strive to add just a few pounds to the bar each week. It becomes brutal. When we get tired, bored, lazy, or want to switch it up for variety, we'll maybe do a different core exercise. We'll do some dumbbell work outside rather than inside. We'll change the music that blasts while we're under the bar. But the squats stay!

Nobody can sell you consistency. Only you know your life's rhythm. Of course this applies to most aspects of life, so define what is important to you, be consistent, and find a way to enjoy the process. Temper your dietary and activity related goals by maintaining some perspective and gratitude on the plentiful life and times in which we live.

Work smart. Work hard. Consistently.


Biggest Doers

I imagined a script for a TV show called Biggest Doers. It's not that I think that Biggest Loser is terrible or has it all wrong. There's certainly a lot worse that can be found on prime time TV. But...

Instead of featuring extreme health and fitness makeovers of obese contestant with "outlier" lifestyle habits, body weight, and blood profiles, this show includes more average folk. Participants actually keep the majority of their daily routines and responsibilities while forging the time and effort that it takes to intelligently prepare and train their bodies to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING awesome.

So many levels of wrong here...
Sure, there can be talk of body composition and appearance, because who doesn't want that? But I'm certain that if you can get your body to move better that usually leads to feeling better which leads to DOING further-faster-stronger-longer. By then, things like appearance, weight, and blood profiles almost always tend to take care of themselves.

And if Jillian Michaels can use a show to market her barking around and crappy personal training programs, then I sure as hell am going to use this to showcase the profession of physical therapy and what an individualized, structured, and progressive training plan looks like.

Instead of the Weekly Weigh-In, imagine the teenager who has to get up in front of tens of thousands of viewers and 20 Rep Squat some miserably high weight that's 5% more than he did last week. With that televised event bearing down upon him and cameras looming as he goes about his week, do you think he will get enough rest, wake up in time for a healthy breakfast, and work hard and smart on his other training days? Do you think he will still be complaining about not being able to put on muscle?

Or what about the soccer mom who thought she needed to lose twenty pounds? She was caught in a cycle of "not being able to lose weight because I can't exercise because it stirs up this plantar fasciitis that kills..." On Weigh In Awesome Day after week one she's able to walk in the morning with a reasonably symmetrical gait pattern. By week 4 she can do a chin-up and stop her knees from buckling inward when she pulls weight off the ground. By week 6 she's back to jogging. There are a few set-back for drama, and because there usually are setbacks. At her week 12 Awesome Day she runs a 5K in under 25 minutes.

The Grandma who wants to hike the Appalachian Trail with her grandchildren? The collegiate pitcher with nagging elbow pain who wants to hit 90 mph with his fast ball? The 37 year old father of five who wants to run a 4.6 second 40-yard dash? Where do they currently stand and what are their barriers? What unique physical, employment, and family limitations do they face? How much time do they really need to commit to training? [Anser - really not too much.] How much do they need to tailor their life choices toward achieving their goals [Anwer - a lot!]

As opposed to seeing people standing there being weighed in their undies, wouldn't it be far more entertaining and inspiring to watch an average Jane or Joe perform some self selected, (relatively!) superhuman feat of strength or endurance that he or she has trained toward? Wouldn't it be interesting to witness the Hollwood quick-edited version of the steps they take along the way? Maybe when all is said and done, some of the younger ones do break out of average Joe/Jane mediocrity and end up going big college or even pro at baseball or biking or Crossfit or what have you.

But make no mistake, the primary target and competition for each contestant is themselves, achieving some physical feat of awesomeness they previously could not do.


Why Do Plyometrics

A friend presented a question to me last week. And there it was, she said it right to my face.

 "So why do all the plyometric jumping and stuff? What's that good for...?"

Why do plyos? Why. Do. Plyos.

I was startled, frozen for a moment. I've never considered that as an option; that someone who is physically able to do plyos would not do them.

Uh. Let's see. Plyos are fun. And awesome. Enough said? [Walks away.] Well no, not really. So here are a few good reasons why athletes should do plyos.

1. Power

Power = Force X Distance / Time

In everyday life and especially in sports, the name of the game is power. Successful performance almost always depends on the ability to move your body, body segments, competitors, and sports implements quickly, with accuracy, and with good mechanics so as to remain efficient and healthy. Plyos teach your brain how to coordinate multiple body segments in order to generate force quickly.

Going for a jog or doing a bazillion reps (Ala P90 X or Insanity) simply doesn't do this unless you're very untrained. Heavy resistance training is the best way to increase your capacity to generate force and increase the size of your engine. But a proper progression of basic plyometric drills are what allow the brain to transform that force into real life, butt kicking power.

(You can legitimately argue that Olympic Lifts are good and necessary for power development, but see here for why I generally don't use of advise them.)

2. React

Plyos have also been shown to improve something called rate of force development, which is basically how quickly your muscles respond when the brain signals to move. And suddenly you're dunking, spiking, and breaking opponents ankles!

3. Fast Twitch Fiber Training

        - - - - - - - - - - -

[chart from Wikipedia] Type I fibers (red) Type II a fibers (red) Type II x fibers Type II b fibers (white)
Contraction time Slow Moderately Fast Fast Very fast
Size of motor neuron Small Medium Large Very large
Resistance to fatigue High Fairly high Intermediate Low
Activity Used for Aerobic Long-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic Short-term anaerobic

Power produced Low Medium High Very high
Mitochondrial density Very High High Medium Low

- - - - - - - - - -

No matter the chosen sport or activity, you want to get all that you can out of your body. Even endurance athletes benefit from having trained all of the muscle fibers they are given. Now, the body won't even call the strong, fast twitch fibers into play unless it has to move something very heavy or move very quickly. Plyometrics preferentially target fast twitch fibers; the ones that just don't get used when going for a jog or with 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer.

4. Getting In Shape

Plyos are good for conditioning. Jumping, sprinting, cutting, skipping, striding, and various throws are all some the most metabolically demanding activities that you can dream up. Plyos are no stroll on the recumbent bike. Fifteen or twenty minutes provides a brutal training effect. I've witnessed endurance athletes with beastly cardiovascular systems become quickly gassed with a few circuits of intense plyos. It's a different training stimulus than what they are accustomed to.


Plyos are not nearly as boring and miserable as long drawn out cardio, especially if you have friends to show boat with. Plus - how you look and feel and what you can do after having trained your body with plyos...

Well there are many ways to do it, but we roll something like this:

 And a word of caution.

Plyos must be handled with care. They can be hard on your feet, knees, and lower back if you're inflexible or weak in the ankles, hips, and core. It's not just the middle aged men and their torn achilles tendons, because even young people will suffer if they do too much too quickly or even the right amounts with poor technique.

Just like anything else, use an intelligent progression to get the ball rolling and build up the intensity of impact as well as the total number of impacts. It's well worth it, unless you really don't care about being awesome ; )

Now go be strong, fast, and look the part. Defy some gravity, would ya!

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dead lifts are for everyone

What? You don't believe in doing dead lifts?

Have you ever had to pick something up off the ground? You leaned over in some fashion, grabbed an item, and managed to generate enough force off the ground such that the mass of that object and your body overcomes gravity?

You, my friend, have definitely done dead lifts. Because everybody dead lifts, sometimes. 

And hopefully you crushed that lift of the pencil or suitcase or toddler because your hips, abdominal, and back muscles were strong and tight, from the small fine-tuning muscles to the large movers. You had the flexibility in your hips to allow smooth decent while you maintained the spine in a neutral position. You reached down in a manner that protects the discs and vertebrae from torsional and shear forces while they are under compressive load.

Oh, but that's right. You don't believe in doing dead lifts to establish or strengthen this pattern.

So instead, when you're called upon to pick things up and put them down in everyday life, you probably collapse in at the knees, round your back, cave at the chest, and resemble a weeping willow. It's funny to me that medical and fitness professionals who think dead lift variations are unfit for any exercise program are apparently fine with this mechanical mess.

The Weepy: rounded thoracic and lumbar spine and knees collapsed toward each other. Makes me sad.

Don't get me wrong, there are alternatives for functional lifting, just no good ones.

One alternative is the "lift with your legs not with your back" Robot Lift. What does that mean, exactly? Keeping the torso strictly vertical? Go ahead and try lifting with your trunk perfectly upright. It's even worse when there's weakness or inadequate range of motion at the lumbar spine, hips, or ankles. The Robot is inefficient. You're simply not going call on The Robot to lift a stick off the ground or lift 300 boxes over an 8-hour work day. The Robot can also be extremely hard on the knees (menisci, anyone) sooner or later.

     The Robot: trunk vertical, hips super low, heels off the ground, crushing the knees.

Maybe you tried The Swan. That works well for light objects in open spaces. But the swan is a weak move that demands a lot of balance. Go ahead and try lifting a wriggly toddler with the Swam, or scooting a couch out of the tight fit in the living room.

                        The Swan: one arm forward and one leg back to counterbalance. 
              Spares the knees and lower back fairly well. Efficient, graceful, and weak.

Or, you could trust dead lifts. You could learn how to hinge the hips and knees while tilting the torso forward without slumping. You may never even touch a barbell for conventional dead lifts. Or maybe you will, working up to pulling over double your body weight off the ground with relative ease. Or maybe you'll get to more conventional dead lifts only after improving your strength and mobility with a handful of stretches and dead lift variations.

                                  Dead lift: Hip hinge, neutral spine, no collapse of knees. 

                                                  BAM! [yes - the big water bottle is full]

There's no one formula that fits everyone. But picking things up and putting them down is a part of life. Yes, you will dead lift. So you may as well do it well by incorporating dead lift variations and progressions into your training routine.

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