9.21.2013

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.  

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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

9.12.2013

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.

9.10.2013

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...

Sandxercise

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!

video
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.

 

 

9.03.2013

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:






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