Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Steady state cardio could make you fat!

With the fitness industry being drowned in so many myths and fallacies about training, people can be forgiven for having the wrong idea about what works and what doesn't!

Fat loss or 'Body Composition Training' has to be the number one goal of at least 90% of gym users, yet on any day of the week in any gym in the world, the lunch hour will see the majority of people religiously doing their '20 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes on the x-trainer' expecting to wake up with the toned, slim physique they dream of..

Our bodies are dramatically complex and what we are able to achieve is partially limited by our genetic potential, (only partially! read 'biology o belief' by Bruce Lipton) but more so, by our willingness to ask the right questions of our bodies and provide them with the correct environment to change!

My point is that, your body will adapt specifically to what you ask it to do. No more and no less! The fact that an individual may 'want' to drop 20lbs of body fat and so asks the body to perform 30 minutes of low intensity, steady state cardio 2-3 times x week while making no nutritional changes and gets absolutely no where, should come as no surprise. The only adaption that will take place is the body getting more energy efficient at completing that same 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise! As energy conservation and efficiency is the bodies no.1 survival priority, it will adapt by improving at the completion of a given task. Doing the same thing day in day out without a thought to progression and expecting change is ridiculous!

Steady state cardio is particularly poor for fat loss/body composition change as it is carried out at too low a heart rate to create enough of a metabolic disturbance. If you were to work much harder you couldn't go for as long. It will also, do nothing to maintain or promote lean body mass!! (muscle). Unless you run further or faster each time you get on that treadmill, you are simply asking the system to get better at the same task and ultimately use less and less energy each time to complete it. The combination of traditional C.V with poor nutrition and no activity that promotes lean body mass is the reason that you could get fatter through exercise and the real killer is, that's exactly what you asked for!

A good tme to stretch

I have never been the biggest fan of traditional static stretching. Pre-workout, it is well documented that single plane static stretching inhibits muscles, reducing the neural drive to the stretched segments and as such can inhibit performance by ignoring the integration of the nervous system and muscles function. Post-workout, if you've trained properly, you shouldn't have really shortened any muscle groups to the extent that you need to pull and heave them back to 'normal resting length' and there is to much blood flow, synovial fluid and elasticity present to make any real difference to the tonus of the muscles.

With a training schedule that has me lifting and thai-boxing between 8-10hrs x week i was still in need of relaxing 'flexibility based recovery' work that would be an addition to all the dynamic movements that i do. With a humble understanding of function and the role of proprioception in the body, i found the most effective time for me to stretch was for 10 minutes just before i went to sleep each night.

i developed many traditional single plane stretches into sequence and adapted them to cover three planes of motion. Moving smoothly from one position to the next and slowly learning which planes to emphasise for specific muscles, i have managed to aid the rehabilitation of some nagging injuries and improve the range of motion at my hips. The main benefit though, has been that it quite simply feels great! A lot of the tension from high volume weightlifting is reduced and a better nights sleep ensues.

I am a firm believer that static stretching alone, even if it is done in three planes of motion, is not enough to make a real difference to flexibility and range of motion. Ideally, tri-plane mobility, static stretching and tri-plane self PNF stretching should be included as separate entities within the training lifestyle to reap the benefits of improved, un-inhibited motion.

In my opinion, it would appear that the apparent dangers associated with 'stretching cold' are largely overstated. Moving through static stretch positions in three planes of motion before you go to sleep allows the body to recover with the muscles in a state of reduced excitation and tension. Give it a go for yourself to feel the difference.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Overhead lifting? Technique, technique, technique!

As a huge advocate of the Olympic lifts, i appreciate the benefits that overhead pressing has to offer. If executed correctly, the strength and power development gained from military and behind neck pressing and jerks, as well as the aesthetic benefits of capped delts and big traps is too great to ignore.

Not always a good idea

It must be said that overhead lifting is not for everyone. One condraindication to military pressing and its derivatives may be structural. As everyone is an individual, not all scapulae and acromions are the same. In general there are three different types of acromion, each resulting in different available ranges of motion and subsequent injury potential if a lot of pressing movements are included in a training programme.

Type 1 Acromion: Flat, providing a normal subacromial space and as such the potential to perform overhead work without risk of injury.

Type 2 Acromion: Curved, producing a slight decrease in subacromial space and when coupled with poor thoracic position can predispose to injury.

Type 3 Acromion: Beaked, a substantial decrease in subacromial space and far higher predisposition to impingement. Individuals with this structure would be best advised to avoid overhead pressing movements.


Structural issues aside, the next most important factors in successful, pain free O.H lifting, are posture and technique. Good thoracic extension, fluid scapulohumeral rhythm, free humeral flexion, abduction and external rotation and wrist extensibility are a must for successful lifting.

As the majority of working clients are desk bound with poor seated posture for hours at a time, it is important that joint mobility and alignment are assessed and corrected before any external loading is added to the system. Equally, any soft tissue restrictions and deficits should be addressed.

Poor hip extension and increased thoracic kyphosis leave little option for the scapulae, but to adopt an anteriorly tilted (winged) abducted and laterally rotated position. The humeri will follow suit and succumb to gravity by internally rotating and falling forward reducing the precious subacromial space. As the body's no.1 priority is to conserve energy for survival, the surrounding soft tissues will improve at stabilising this energy demanding position by adaptively shortening to the ranges in which they are asked to work. So, it goes without saying that asking someone to jerk their body weight for 5 from this starting point, is asking for trouble.


Lets assume though, that there are individuals who do have adequate mobility and alignment to indulge in O.H pressing. What is the correct technique? I found the answer to this question when i first met Olympic weightlifter and trainer, Mike Causer. weighing 63kg's Mike snatched 120kg's and clean and jerked 145kg's in competition, setting a British commonwealth record that stands to this day. Mike has also been known to military press 80kg's for multiple sets of 10 with strict form weighing under 70kg's. Now you can be sure that he didn't just use the anterior portion of his deltoids to get that barbel moving.

The strongest mechanical position for pressing a barbell overhead comes from the correct set up. All to often, i see people with their elbows behind the bar, hinging into there lumbar spine and forcing the bar up and in front of their heads. It must feel like crap and it doesn't utilise the potential of the scapulothoracic and glenohumeral systems.

The Set Up

Set a barbell up at shoulder height in a squat or power rack. Place the hands facing down on the bar just a little wider than shoulder width. (This width will vary from person to person) Now, step forward and scoop your elbows underneath the bar, so it sits comfortably on top of your shoulders. Step back from the rack. The thoracic spine should be extended and the elbows should be angled out to approximately 30-45* from your torso and up by roughly the same amount. Your lats should be slightly flared and total body tension should be quite high. (Imagine your showing off your lats with the barbell sat across your shoulders.

The Press

From this position, begin to press the barbell up, clearing the head and keeping the elbows ahead of the bar. As you clear the top of the head, move your body forward under the bar and smoothly press to the lock out position which should be directly above the crown of the head. It is important that the humeri should be externally rotated in this position.

The Descent

To lower the barbell, the elbows must regain the same position they pressed from. Elbows ahead of the bar and angled out approximately 45* to the trunk. Now the thoracic spine should go through further extension and the chest should be lifted to meet the barbell with a softening of the knees as the bar touches back down on to the shoulders. When performing this movement for reps it is generally accepted that the bar should be lowered to nose level and not to the resting position.

The key points here are, thoracic extension, elbow position and learning to move the body underneath the bar!


The reason that this is such a strong and stable position to push from is that the stabilising musculature of the shoulder girdle is activated automatically. If we look at the set up, we can see that the thoracic spine is in extension, eccentrically loading the abdominals and concentrically contracting the spinal erectors. The scapulae are upwardly rotated and most importantly
posteriorly tilted, with the inferior angle stuck to the rib cage, allowing the shoulder to work in the scapular plane. This position eccentrically loads the rhomboids, lats and pecs whilst concentrically activating the mid and lower traps and the all important serratus anterior, creating a very strong and stable guy wire system from which to push and control the humeri. The humeri themselves are in an externally rotated abducted and flexed position, which they will travel through further into lock out.

The beauty of this, is that very rarely do you need to do any prehab, activation work for the serratus or low traps as they are forced to engage as a side effect of correct technique. When trainees are first introduced to this movement, it is common to get 'doms' in these target muscles.

Pressing overhead correctly turns a shoulder exercise into a total body exercise that utilises the stability of the back to allow strength to be displayed through a full range of motion.