Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kettle Bells: The Newest...Oldest Fitness Rage

What do you picture when you think of a gym?  Do you see a bunch of weight benches, barbells, machines, and treadmills?  How about a rack of dumbbells?  It’s no surprise if you do, seeing that these tools have always played a vital role in American fitness centers.  Nowadays there are a ton of different machines and tools lying about on gym floors.  So many that it’s almost overwhelming thinking about which ones are the best to use in a workout.  With this level of freedom and variety in equipment many questions come up for trainees and trainers alike.  People might wonder about things like which type of bar is best use for a deadlift.  Should you use a barbell, a hex bar, or just a pair of dumbbells?  Should you use the EZ Curl Bar or the Olympic Bar for biceps curls?  Which handles are better for the wrists?  Should you do your triceps extensions with a rope or a straight bar? Can you use something other than this barbell for power lifts?  Are any of the tools your using hurting you more than helping you?   Much of the confusion from a having smorgasbord of equipment to choose from can be resolved simply by reintroducing people to one method of training that has stood the test of time.  

You might have seen old sketches and photographs depicting pomaded strong men lifting ginormous weights overhead that look like over sized cowbells.  These are kettle bells. If you look up pictures of kettle bells now you’ll probably see an Victoria's Secret model hurling the weight overhead instead.  It might surprise you that as advanced as these exercises look, people your grandpa's age were doing them as part of their daily fitness routine.

              What’s interesting is how kettle bells disappeared from the fitness world and earned a spot in the same corner of the gym as Indian clubs, climbing ropes, and "lifeline chest expanders." These kinds of items remained popular in other parts of the world where resources were limited while the free market had its way with America's fitness centers.  It’s no mystery that people appreciate novelty and they like to try new things.  This may help explain why classic training methods were pushed aside as manufacturers introduced the craziest arrangements of iron and plastic they could imagine.  They made them shine with a bunch of bells and whistles like heated seats and televisions.  Some things just have to pass a generation or two before they can appear "fresh" to a whole new group of people looking to get off their uncle's treadmills and Ab Lounges.  While each device fell to the next, the strength of kettle bells continued to grow along with observable long-term results that were steadily being supported by the latest research.  What’s “fresh” about kettle bells is that they actually work!  They were working long before the invention of the infomercial and they continue help dramatically improve fitness and function.  

         One of the reasons for their effectiveness is their greater crossover to daily activities.  This is primarily due to their off-center structure.  To explain why this feature is important, think about any kind of weight you pull, lift, push, press, or carry outside of the gym (e.g. grocery bags, furniture, children).  None of these things are balanced like dumbbells. With bars and dumbbells the center of gravity is always in line with the handle.  With kettle bells this center of gravity lies outside the handle so you have to work harder to keep the weight closer to your center of gravity.  This helps train your body on a subconscious level to engage all of the stabilizing muscles in order to keep everything in optimal alignment for handling unstable forces of the weight.  They are also unique in their versatile grips allowing for a greater variety in exercises which includes a whole world of swings and other dynamic movements great for improving overall body strength and conditioning.

         Since kettle bells have greater freedom for performing different exercises it is even more important to exercise good form and proper technique while using them.  It's easy to err with machines and not get injured.  The risk factor increases as you move on to free weights and even more so when you’re doing multi-planar movements with kettle bells.  However, the care needed to use them safely only adds to their numerous benefits.  To put it briefly, you HAVE to have good form when working with kettle bells!  There's just no way around it.  They are self-correcting tools.  It is difficult to self-correct with machines, seats, and centered weights because they allow you to let your guard down, slouch, and move comfortably without having optimal alignment.

           Yes there are risks to using kettle bells but no more risks than there are with other equipment.  With proper care and instruction you'll get tremendous rewards.  One of the best things you could do is attend a workshop, seminar, or training session geared towards learning how to handle kettle bells safely and effectively.  Aside from that just give it time and you’ll become more efficient with consistent practice.  If you are going to practice with them yourself, it is advised that you do not work with kettle bells when you are fatigued.  Begin learning how to use them when you are fresh and you are able to place the greatest amount of focus on your movements.  Optimum form can only come from optimum mental control, so keeping the work sets between 5-10 repetitions is ideal when learning to do complex total-body movements like swings or the Turkish Get-Up.  We have a tendency to lose our concentration after performing numerous repetitions of the same activity and even more so when this activity is rapidly causing fatigue.  Keep the risks from outweighing the rewards by keeping your workout based on quality and not quantity.

        Even though you just read nothing but praises for kettle bells they should be considered a healthy addition to a strength and conditioning program that includes a healthy variety of training methods.  Throwing kettle bells into the mix will only improve your performance with other activities since they always require you to check your form and alignment.  Try adding just one kettle bell exercise into your current routine for starters.  For example, begin the strength training portion of your workout with a kettle bell deadlift and then follow this up with the rest of the exercises in your program.  You could even try ramping up a total-body circuit with a few kettle bell swings.  Don’t worry about looking silly or not knowing what to do.  If an alien to fitness training walked in, we’d all look pretty silly.  If you’re unsure about the exercise, there are plenty of people out there willing to help.  The question shouldn't be about what you see when you picture a gym.  It should be about what you want to see.  If it’s a place that can produce results that you can carry outside then LTS may have just the right tool for the job.

Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, LTS Trainer, Recently Certified CrossFit Kettle Bell Instructor (RCCFKBI) 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Looking Forward to Change

Seeing as though we're just a couple of weeks away from moving LTS into 145 St. Philip, we figured it would be a good time to regroup and refresh for a moment.  Since "the summer of change" began all of our days have been jam packed balancing acts between life's usual hullabaloo and preparing to take Charleston's fitness to an entirely new level.  Don't worry just yet.  You still have until after Labor Day to try other locations to see if they work and we know they probably will.  They will because you know what you're getting when you walk through the door.  There is no guesswork; there are no surprises; and there certainly isn't going to be any change.

As far as service and management is concerned we want to have a similar consistency.  The kind that made Blue Fish Fitness Club one of the most unique health clubs in the southeast.  This club's appeal didn't come from its regular classes or its machinery.  Members were drawn there time and time again because it was indeed a "club" where the staff and members interacted with each other as if they were at a family reunion.  When it comes to health and fitness, however, we are all about sacrificing consistency in workouts for the sake of seeing improvements and getting results.  We want those at LTS to feel like they can always depend on getting quality care and service but we also want them to count on being regularly surprised with fresh and challenging workouts.  

145 St. Philip has stood the test of time and so shall we by combining the best customs of our past with the latest trends of the present, helping to renew a culture of fitness for the next generation.  We support a fitness center that revolves around fundamental human values such as compassion, healthiness, and having fun.  Even though it rests on a stable center we also support a fitness center that continually evolves past its habits in order to discover new ways of maintain optimal health through diet and exercise.  First things first, we need to "break the habits" and the irony is that there are classic ways of doing that.   

One of the hardest things to do is to acknowledge that there might be a problem.  This requires that you become aware of what you're doing for exercise and how your body is responding overtime.  We pass this first obstacle by providing regular health and movement screenings which help take workout programs through the necessary changes depending on what you discover about yourself.  Your results will encourage you to take a look at your current training routine and determine what's missing or what needs to be missed.  If bad habits are what’s hindering your progress then we make it easier to give up those practices by having others ready to fill the void.  This is why we offer a series of workout programs for individuals, small groups, and large groups that provide smart and easy to follow guidelines which are always open for revision depending on your current condition.  

It is easy to lose yourself in hours of repetitive motions because as soon as you become well habituated to them then you can mentally disengage while your body continues through the motions.  We want the complete opposite.  We want you to think LONG and hard about yourself while training.  This practice not only improves physical benefits such as increased muscle activation, better postural control, and improved cardiovascular function but it also crosses over into the mental side of things as well.  You’ll experience an improved ability to focus during times of stress, an empowered your sense of self that let’s go of how it appears, and a stronger health consciousness that encourages you to pay more attention to how you feel throughout the day.  

If all of the process goals described above are met, then you can always be certain of that you're going to reach the outcome goals you've set for yourself while walking through LTS's front door.  What's even better is that you'll know it if you're not.  ; ) 


Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, LTS Trainer, Dish Washer, Floor Sweeper, House Cleaner

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Knead Your Own Dough: Self Myofascial Release thru Foam Rolling

                The idea that people carry themselves in layers is more than just a psychological metaphor.  Anatomically speaking we are composed of layers of specialized tissues that help us function in the surrounding environment.  For a visual, imagine a textbook-human body (no need to get too detailed here). If we begin to peel away the layers of this body we’ll find that once we get past the protective layers of the skin and adipose tissue things get a little less porous and a little more fibrous.  This is where we run into the body’s deeper layer of protection known as the fascia.  Fascia is a type of connective tissue that wraps over the softer structures of the body (e.g. muscles and organs).  In short, it helps to keep everything from splaying out like threads from a stripped cable wire. It also allows for smooth movement of the structures beneath the skin.  Now for a cleaner visual picture an orange.  If we peel away the rind we’re left with several sections still held together by a thin layer of tissue like fascia.  Then if we pull off a slice to eat there is yet another thin layer of skin encasing the carpels (i.e. juice sacs) and seeds.  People have different layers of fascia like an orange has different layers of protective skin.  Some fascia functions to hold muscle fibers together while elsewhere fascia functions to protect and lubricate vital organs. 

              Since fascia functions similarly to other connective tissues it responds to stress in the same way.  Too much trauma on a particular area oftentimes causes the surrounding fascia to stiffen up and develop adhesions, which are like knots in a net.  This can result in feelings of chronic stiffness, pain, and tightness.  The fascia is simply reacting to the stress in order to protect the underlying structures from further damage.  Unfortunately, this natural casting process limits mobility and thus strength in the affected areas.  Physiological responses to stress such as hypertonicity has led many to develop manual therapy techniques geared towards releasing compacted fascia. 
Stretching and massage are the go-to options for people experiencing muscular pain and tightness.  Even though it is ideal for someone to be able to completely relax under the hands of an experienced practitioner isn’t cheap, nor is it all that easy to find time to do so.  There are some popular techniques for self-massage (e.g. rubbing back against a tree) but many of the typically problematic areas are still neglected. One reason is that it is impossible to get at them without performing a feat of contortion in order deliver a weak massage.  Those in the health community have developed a science out of this self-serving activity in order to come up with ways for individuals to be able to better perform self-care.  University labs conducted numerous studies and gathered a massive amount of information on self-manual therapy over the years.  The ironic thing is that some of it supports the use of an oversized rolling pin. 

You’ve probably heard of foam rolling before since its success in relieving chronic tension and promoting freedom of movement is steadily being recognized more and more by the global fitness community.  It is a tool-based practice used for self-myofascial release (SMR),  a fancy way of saying “self-massage.”   Using foam rollers enables people to better control the speed and depth of a massage on an affected area.  This helps them get just what they need from some brief work.  When people use a roller they create pressure using their body-weight which sits on top of the restricted fascia.  The steady increase of pressure from the body causes the fascia to release and give way to a healthier shape.  Initially, when a muscle encounters sudden pressure its natural reflex is to contract against the force in order to guard against overstretching.  When we roll a muscle under a consistent pressure such as body-weight, this helps to counteract that initial stretch reflex.  In other words, rolling slowly prepares trigger happy fascia to roll with the punches.   
A quick and effective rolling session can dramatically benefit your performance in workouts and daily activities, so being mindful of when to do it is important as well.  Since you are helping realign fascia surrounding muscle, we encourage rolling before a bout of strenuous activity.  If you’re less restricted beforehand then you’ll move more efficiently thereby allowing you to benefit more from a workout by teaching the body how it is supposed to move during certain exercises.  This doesn't mean that rolling long after a workout is finished would not be just as beneficial.  It’s still a great addition to a stretching routine before bed at a time when the muscles are about to tighten up during their repairs overnight.  There is no generally prescribed limit on how much you should foam roll or get massages.  Some encourage 2-3 times a day, depending on individual restrictions, but these minutes can add up.  Someone can still get as much benefit by rolling out the areas of restriction 1-2 times a day, preferably before and after strenuous physical activity.  For example, if Jane experienced tightness in her mid-back and hips from working all day in a seated “computer-locked” position, then she could just spend about five or six minutes focusing on rolling out her thoracic spine, gluteals, psoas, and piriformis.  If she had the time, then she could continue onto her calves, lats, quads, and hams as well.  If her time and energy are limited, then sticking with a couple of different key rolls per session will still be a good use of her time.
Even though foam rolling has gained some popularity in health and fitness centers, you may often find rolls standing neatly in the back corner of a gym.  Working with rolls for the first time is much like the first experience working with dumbbells.   It’s difficult to know what to do if you don’t have anyone in front of you demonstrating how to use them.  However, the cool thing is that there is not as much special skill needed in order work with them.  There are some techniques which have been developed and shown to be best in addressing typical hot spots for people.  Following is a brief review of a few of these techniques which can help open you up to other ideas on how to work with a roller.  Feel free to go through the whole series of rolls at once or just hit a couple where you think you need it the most.
Note: For any foam rolling technique, remember to roll slow and controlled.  This gives a little more time for the tissues to adjust to the coming pressure.  If you find a tender spot (i.e. about a 6-7 on a 1-10 pain scale) then hold the position for about 30 seconds or 5-6 deep breaths.  Relax, relax, relax, and then move on.  Click the hyperlinks for demonstrations on how to perform these exercises from the Functional Movement Systems exercise library at www.functionalmovement.com.

Sitting on a mat, position a roller underneath one or both ankles just at the base of the Achilles tendon.  If you feel like you could use more pressure, then rest one leg on top of the other so it weighs the other down.  Lift your hips high enough off of the floor to be able to push your lower leg along the roll.  Continue to roll up to where the gastrocnemius tendons pull out alongside the sides of the back of the knee.  Slowly roll back to the Achilles and repeat for ten more good rolls.  

For this roll you’ll begin where you left off with the gastroc-soleus roll, that is, just above the back of the knee on one or both legs.  From this position lift your bottom off of the floor with the help of your hands and push yourself forward so the roller rolls underneath your legs along your hamstrings.  Stop at the sit-bones or feel free to try rolling up a little into the tailbone and tilt to the sides in order to hit each glute cheek individually.  Roll back down to the starting position and repeat for 10 good rolls. 

This roll is perhaps the most complicated to get into and oftentimes the most painful since there is not much protective tissue running along the sides of the legs.  Here you are pressing almost directly on fascia.  Once you get the movement down the feelings afterwards are well worth the struggle.  Sit on the roller as you did before with the ham and glute roll.  This time turn all the way to one side so either the lateral left or right hip and knee rests near the roller.  Take the top leg (i.e. the one not being rolled) and position it in front of you so that you can rely on it for balance and movement while you roll out your bottom leg.  Use your upper body as well to help push your weight off of the ground and over the roller.  Begin rolling from just above the lateral epicondyle of the femur to the lateral spine of the hip bone.  You should feel changes in pressure along the side of your hip and thigh.  Feel free to twist and turn you lower leg to find different adhesions in that leg fascia.  Roll up and down on this area about 10 times and repeat on the other side.

For this roll you will lie face down with the roller resting just above the knees at the base of the quadriceps.  Use your forearms to post your upper body off of the floor and to pull yourself forward allowing the roll to pass under the front of your thighs until it comes up near your pelvis.  From there push yourself back and repeat for a total of 10 rolls.  Again feel free to cross one leg over the other in order to intensify the work.

From the same position as you had with the quadriceps roll, shift to one side of the roll so one of your legs dangles off of the edge.  This will give you room to move the roller up your hip without running into your pelvis.  Roll a little higher than you did with the quadriceps roll but focus just on the front of the hips from the top of your thigh to just below your waistline.  Repeat for about 10 rolls on each side.

Return to a seated position on the roller.  Walk your legs out in front of you as your back begins to fall over the roller.  Roll up the back until the roller sits just in line with the ops of your shoulders, about mid-back level.  This is where you’ll start rolling.  Bridge your hips off of the floor so that you can use your legs to push your body along the roller.  Roll out your mid-back stopping just before the roller hits your lumber spine.  Use your legs again to pull yourself back into the starting position.  Roll up and down the thoracic spine about 10 times.

From the thoracic spine roll position turn onto your side so one arm is extended over the roll and parallel with the floor.  Adjust your legs into a comfortable position that will allow you to use them to push and pull your body along the roll.  The arm closest to the ceiling can be used as support and to control how much weight you allow to rest on top of the roll.  Begin with the roller at about lower chest level on your side.  From this position push yourself along the roller so that it passes underneath your armpit and up into your rear deltoid and upper triceps region.  You may feel the greatest pressure deep in the armpit area where the latissimus and teres major attach to the upper part of the humerus.  Repeat the roll up to 10 times and switch to the other side. 
Learning how to effectively implement the foam roller into a well-balanced training program is just one of the many things we encourage our members to focus on at LTS.  If people don’t perform some self-care in between periods of self-destruction they will quickly run themselves ragged.  Our goal is to improve function, not to render anybody dysfunctional through physically demanding activities.  So, next time you come in. Make an extra effort to spend just a minute or two of the chit-chat time rolling out on the mat instead of sitting at a magazine bench. We guarantee you’ll be thankful for it later.      

-          Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, FMS, LTS Trainer

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bringing a Dead Lift Back to Life

What comes to mind when you hear the word “deadlift”?  Do you get the image of a physically imposing Slovenian heaving up a Volkswagen from its rear bumper?  Or a chalked up barbell loaded with 500lbs of weight plates?  How about a leotard donning Jane Doe holding a pair of 5lb dumbbells while bending over to push her fanny to the ceiling with locked knees?  Do you experience a pre-conscious sense of low-back pain and herniated discs? Why bother thinking of such a thing?  Why try to lift objects off of the ground obviously not wanting to be picked up?  What good is a deadlift nowadays when there are so many other ways you can hit your target areas and burn calories?

Since the advent of more “functional” tools and training protocols in gymnasiums, standard lifts have been stigmatized as some of the main culprits for exercise induced injuries.  Deadlifts met the same fate as back squats and bench presses.  These exercises became reserved for the bodybuilding and powerlifting arenas where ego depends on the poundage.  Somehow weight became a primary determinant of who is considered successful, never mind the form or the health of the person days and years later.  If someone can pull 800lbs off of the floor, then their technique is spot-on, right?  Weight came before form and this mindset still leads people to racing through their workouts in order to be faster, stronger, or more apt at attracting the attention of others.  The deadlift though is not an "exercise" and being a successful deadlifter does not depend on a particularly athletic skill or talent.  It is not something reserved for athletes and bodybuilders.  It is a fundamental human movement.  It is something we’ve practiced since we first taught ourselves how to pick things up off of the ground.  Naturally, we made mistakes while learning the best way to perform this action but we’ve also been our own best teachers in refining our technique.  It’s when the movement becomes an exercise or skill that we open ourselves up to failure and injury. 

Changing the image of a deadlift from an exercise to a movement is one of the best ways to begin making it an effective part of a well-balanced fitness program.  Just as much as we should practice proper posture while sitting or standing we should also have the same emphasis on technique when picking things up.  This requires a little more than the uttering “lift with your legs.”  A good deadlift is a hip hinge that is the happy medium between incoporating the strong musculature above and below the coxal joint.  It concentrically engages all of the muscles of the posterior chain running from the back of the heels to the back of the head.  It also requires a coordinated effort from the front of the body in order to maintain proper posture while lifting and lowering the weight.  When someone asks me what this “exercise” is working my first thought is to tell them “everything”, but it may be too simple and too true of an answer.   This is when some anatomical wisdom comes in handy.  Cuing people in order to get a greater sensation from their gluteals and hamstrings rather than from their lower back is easier when you know how each muscle functions separately.  A problem with this way of learning the technique however is the hams and gluteals aren’t working on their own to complete this movement.  They are completely intertwined with one another through fascia.  People should learn to generate force form the center, not the hams or glutes.  Repeated practice of this movement is essential if the benefits are going to crossover into real-life scenarios when you’re not thinking so much about lifting your bum as you are in picking a fallen person up off of the floor.   

Since the deadlift is such a fundamental movement it gets every muscle in your body working and working together.  When that happens, the metabolic benefits skyrocket and you quickly feel like your body is working instead of burning.  Oddly enough, such a fundamental movement can be difficult to train to do properly, especially when the goals are long term ideals like weight-loss, weight-gain, or a tighter backside.  Gyms have a way of directing attention from present activities to their desired results.  Overcoming this mental obstacle requires just a little more time, patience, and change of perspective on what necessitates a “workout.”  Each workout with deadlifts is an opportunity to practice this fundamental movement.  You endanger yourself when it becomes an opportunity to get bigger or fitter.  It’s like riding a bike.  It shouldn’t be painful or extreme.  It should be just enough to keep you consciously involved in how you are moving at that moment.

With any movement it is important to be able to do it properly before you add external resistance.  I take this from one of life’s many lessons, “If you can’t control yourself, then how can you expect to control something else.” So it is crucial that you build the foundation first and then continually reinforce that foundation as you move on to performing more complicated tasks.  Regular movement maintenance guarantees optimal efficiency for performing the lift during workouts and during day to day activities.  In other words, maintenance is practice.  Below are some drills you can perform to practice proper deadlifting mechanics.  Feel free to do these on their own for a brief body-check or just do them to help reinstate proper patterns before you start to a tough workout---

Active-Isolated Hamstring Stretch:
Begin by lying on your back, on a mat, with both legs stretched out flat on the floor.  Keeping your toes pointing up towards the ceiling, lift one leg straight into the air as high as you can using your own strength in the hips and quadriceps.  At the highest point reach and interlace both hands behind the belly of the hamstring on the lifted leg and try to get the shoulders back down to the ground.  Bend the knee if you need to in order to get back into a relaxed position with your spine.  Hold the stretch as you normally would for a few breathes and then move on to the active portion.  While holding the leg in place, use about 20-40% of your strength to engage the hamstrings and glutes and pull the entire leg back down towards the floor against your hands.  Hold this contraction for 7-10 seconds, then take a deep breath in as you relax a little out of the stretch.  As you exhale pull the leg up a little higher than it was before and hold again for a few breaths.  Repeat up to 3-5 times on each leg. 

Hip Flexor Engagement: 
Take a knee on a mat while keeping the knee of the other leg up and foot flat on the floor.  Keep the knee of the upright directly over the ankle.  If it is coming forward over the toes then slide the kneeling leg back until you have that nice 90 degree bend on the front knee.  From there posture up with your spine and keep the torso erect.  Think about keeping your ribs as high off the hips as possible.  You should feel a slight pull on the kneeling side of your hips and on the front of that thigh.  If not, slide the kneeling leg back again and posture up.  Hold the stretch for a few breaths and then engage the front of the leg on the kneeling side while simultaneously pulling from the back of the leg that is supported on the floor.  Push and pull both legs together but keep them in the same position for about 7-10 seconds.  Inhale as you relax a little out of the stretch and exhale as you deepen the stretch a little more.  Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

Hip Hinge Maneuver with Dowel:
This movement requires a long stick or dowel rod to serve as a plumb line for your moving posture.  Begin by standing erect with feet about hip width apart and toes pointed straight ahead.  Take a dowel rod and hold it to your back with one hand up behind your head and one below your hips.  Use this grip to pull the dowel against your back, so it keeps contact with the back of your head, the space in between your shoulder blades, and on your buttocks.  Try to always keep the dowel against these three points of contact  as you hinge your hips backwards behind your feet, as if you were about to sit into a chair.  Hinge back until you lose contact with the dowel at any point.  Hinge the hips back forward from that end point so you come back to standing erect. Repeat 8-10 times.   

Squat – Deadlift Mixer:
Set up the same way as you did with the hip hinge.  From the standing posture, lower the butt towards the ground allowing the knees to bend a little more.  Try to keep those 3 points of contact.  When you reach a point where you are about to lose balance, or lose the dowel, come back up to standing.  Once you’re at standing, go straight into the deadlift movement back shooting the butt back instead of down, letting the knees bend slightly.  Once you are at the end point where you can’t go any further without losing the dowel come back up to standing.  This will help you get a feel for the differences between the squat and the deadlift.  Repeat both for 8-10 repetitions.

Kettle Bell (KB) Deadlift (DL):
Stand erect with feet hip width apart.  This time hold two kettle bells heavy enough to pull you forward if you don’t engage your core a little more than it’s used to.  Feel free to supplement with dumbbells.  Keep the shoulders in the same line as they were with the dowel, hinge the hips back again until you reach the point where you cannot maintain a slight hyperextension in the lower back.  Think about pulling the hips forward from the low position until you come to standing.  Repeat 8-10 times. ---

After you’ve refined your technique and feel like you can raise the bar, then do so, but keep the progressions movement based rather than weight based.  Here are some variations to the standard KB deadlift which better tax neuromuscular system in having to balance the body and recruit more of its core musculature ---

Single-Arm (SA) KB DL:
Stand erect with feet hip width apart.  This time hold one kettle bell instead of two with one arm at the side.  Keeping the shoulders in line, hinge the hips back as you do with the standard deadlift movement.  The trick is recruiting the core more to counter-rotate against the uneven weight.  Check in with your hips and shoulders to make sure you’re doing this properly. If you’re holding the weight on the right and you see that your shoulders are dipping to the right, then you need to rearrange yourself to get those shoulders even.  Concentrate on centering first through the torso and then through the limbs.  Come back to standing as you did before.  Repeat 8-10 times each side.

SA Single-Leg (SL) KB DL:
Stand erect with feet close together and almost touching.  Hold a kettle bell on one side as you did with the SA DL and take a slight step back with the foot on the same side.  Transfer your weight onto the un-weighted side and hinge the hips back while allowing the back foot to leave the ground.  Keep the leg all in one line from the heel to the bottom and then onto the top of your head.  Lower down to the point where you cannot maintain a lordotic curve in your lower back or the symmetry between both hips.  Slowly pull your hips back in to standing.  Feel free to set the rear foot down in between each rep or try to keep it lifted the entire set to work your single-leg balance.  Repeat 8-10 times on each side.

SA SL KB DL into SL Bent Row:
This is a very complex movement with a lot going on at once.  Take it in steps first before putting it all together in one fluid group of movements.  One way to picture the work done here is to think about bending over to pluck a golf ball up from the green.  One leg will serve as the stable trunk around which everything else moves to enable you to reach to the ground and bring your arm back to your torso.  Begin the same way as you did with the SA KB DL.  This time pause for a second when you reach the bottom position.  Hold everything steady as you retract the shoulder blades and pull the kettle bell towards your rib cage.  Pause when your hand touches the side of your torso and then slowly lower the weight back down to an extended arm position.  From the end point, pull the hips back in and return to standing on a single leg.  Repeat 8-10 times each side.

There’s no need to do 2-3 sets of 2-3 different types of deadlifts in one workout, but feel free to practice a variation with each set in a 2-3 set program.  For example, perform a KB DL for the first set, SA KB DL for the second set, and then finish with SA SL KB DL on the last set.  Deadlifts are most effective when they’re done with heavy weight since they do require use of the entire body.  This means keeping your rep range around  6 – 10.  Repeating deadlifts for 12-15 reps will transfer the focus from improving function to inducing fatigue.  This number of reps should rather be used in a warm-up or finisher with little to no external resistance.  If you are failing to do a deadlift properly, lighten up, change the base, or revert to the corrective warm-up exercises such as the ones described earlier.  It’s good to attempt progressions with each session involving the exercise.  If you successfully completed 3 sets of 10 reps with a pair of 24kg kettle bells then a goal for the next session would be to shoot for 3 sets of at least 6-8 reps on the next highest pair.  Be careful not to get too caught up with increasing the weight.  Weight limits are endless and there’s a point where the risks outweigh the rewards by making the exercises more challenging through increasing resistance.  This is why we encourage changing exercise selection up every few weeks.  Fundamental movements like the deadlift can be practiced year-round with great benefits but this doesn't mean doing the same deadlift on Thursdays for fifty-two weeks in a row.  Try variations when you feel ready and implement them in different workouts and in different parts of your program.    

The best indicator that you’re doing the deadlift right is its carryover into everyday activity. Does your back feel stronger?  Does it feel weaker and more fatigued?  Are you more injury prone or less injury prone?  Does your quality of movement seem better?  Check in with yourself on these things while you’re thinking through your exercise routine.  You may find reason for making adjustments or you may just find more evidence that you’re doing just fine! 

For more information check out Grey Cook's articles and FMS exercise library at http://functionalmovement.com.

- Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, LTS Trainer

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Strength and Conditioning for the Playground: How to Beat the Competition

Life gives us plenty of opportunities to have a blast…

but adults will always find a way to make any of them more complicated....

...sometimes by turning them into competitions… 

…or elaborate pieces of plastic for $1995.00…That's why I don't want to grow up in some ways...Needing a reason to explain what exactly I'm doing or what I'm doing it for is kind of a buzz kill...I do it because I can or that it looks fun.  I guess workwise then, my goal is to help people have fun with their time here...why not?  

Long Live the "Toys R' Us Kid!" 
Peace! - Noel Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3