A Visit to the Compound

Originally published here: http://articles.elitefts.com/articles/training-articles/a-visit-to-the-compound/

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I recently got the opportunity to visit Elite Fitness Systems in London, Ohio for the first (and hopefully not the last) Learn to Train seminar, with all proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Even though I’ve followed the company and have been a customer for several years, this was my first opportunity to visit their on-site training area (nicknamed Area S4, or The Compound) and meet their sponsored athletes and the owner of EFS, Dave Tate.

The first item on the itinerary for the seminar was technical instruction of the 3 power lifts – squat, bench, and deadlift. After Dave took us all through some technical points on one of his lifters (Ted Toalston, who looks a lot bigger in person than in their videos), he asked the group, “so who thinks their squat sucks?” I had my hand in the air before Dave could even turn around, and was lucky (unlucky?) enough to be torn to shreds by Dave, as well as Todd Brock, a friend of Dave’s and a great powerlifter himself.

While I don’t have the most impressive squat in the world, I always thought it was rather technically sound, especially since I am pretty good at hammering the technical aspects into my training clients. However, it seemed like this was one of those cases of “even trainers need trainers,” because I clearly wasn’t practicing what I had been preaching.

The first thing Dave and Todd noticed was my grip – specifically, that I was completely incapable of fully gripping the bar with my left hand, no matter how hard I tried. I’m not sure if it’s something to be proud of or terrified by that it was actually something neither had seen before, and didn’t quite know how to fix. The answer seemed to be widening my grip out substantially and it seemed to take care of it.

Dave and Todd then spent the next 30 or so minutes making tons and tons of adjustments to my technique. Never in my life has it been so painful to squat an empty barbell before, but by the time they got done with me I had a list of things to fix and a smile on my face.

Then we all broke out into stations and received additional one-on-one coaching from some of the EFS-sponsored lifters. I think everybody got a little overzealous with the squat, because the group was originally allotted 30 minutes to practice, but ended up going for about 2 hours. Although, since I saw several personal records broken among even just the small subset of lifters at my station, I don’t think anybody particularly cared that it ran long.

From there we moved on to the bench press, with Dave giving a relatively short, maybe 15-minute breakdown of the performance and leaving the rest up to the coaches who were handling each station.  I think everybody was pretty gassed out from a few hours of squatting and we wrapped things up in about 30-40 minutes.

Last in the technical part of the seminar was the deadlift.  Again, Dave did some quick review and left the coaches to make the bigger corrections.  Although, I did hear Dave give one of the most logical, yet interesting, ways to get males to set up right for the sumo deadlift, which was, simply, “try to drop your nuts onto the bar.”  The best part was seeing all of the metaphorical light bulbs going off over a good twenty heads after he said it.

Since we were running late from a long squatting session, lunch was already there, so Dave told us to alternate between lifting and eating.  Again, we broke out into groups, and Todd Brock was the coach working my station.  Having helped coach my squat with Dave at the beginning of the seminar, he took one look at my deadlift and said, “well, at least we know you’re good for something!”  Which is good, because the deadlift is the one lift I feel pretty comfortable with so it was nice to have a little affirmation.

After we wrapped up the last of the technical part of the seminar, we moved into program design.  While a lot was covered, I think one of the best takeaways for the day was the concept of making sure your programs fulfill 3 requirements – 1. Is it sufficient?, 2. Is it necessary?, and 3. Is it safe?  The idea is that if you have to answer no to any of those things, the program is flawed.  An example given was somebody who makes 3 attempts at a max weight and misses every one – were those last 2 attempts really necessary for the program to work, or was it just motivated by ego?

Finally, maybe about 40% of the group stuck around for the business discussion, where Dave shared the timeline of Elite Fitness Systems and covered a lot of the mistakes that he made in developing and growing the company.  The thing that really impresses me is that Dave is so incredibly open about where he’s gone wrong and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  I posed a question during the Q&A about a problem I had been having with one of my coaches not catching on fast enough, and after some back and forth he pretty much said (I can’t recall the exact wording) “you’re the one who’s fucking up by not making it clear enough what you want.”  I know some people wouldn’t be as straight-up in their response, and I appreciated the no-BS answer.

I can absolutely guarantee that if Dave ever holds another one of these seminars, I will be going again and taking my entire staff.  Those of us who got to attend this year are definitely a lucky bunch.  Thanks again to Dave, Todd Brock, Jason Pegg, Ted Toalston,  Steve Diel, and everybody from EFS who helped out.  With any luck I hope to see you all next time!

Simple Glute Activation Movements

The glutes get a lot of attention for their aesthetics (or lack thereof), and there are a plethora of training programs and articles designed to help you “work your booty.” But what happens when you have no idea how it’s supposed to feel when you use your glutes? Oftentimes, we’ll have potential clients come in to our center with the goal of developing their butt, but when they perform standard glute-building movements like squats, lunges and bridges, all they have to show for it is a pumped lower back and sore hamstrings, while the glutes remain underwhelmingly neglected. Why? Because your brain doesn’t know how to make those muscles fire. And if they don’t fire properly, then all of the hip-thrusting in the world won’t fix your posterior.

So how do you fix it? There are a subset of glute movements that are commonly referred to as “activation” movements, which means the whole purpose is to teach you what it’s supposed to feel like to use your glutes, as well as triggering your body to “turn on” (AKA activate) your butt muscles.

 

Here’s a simple glute program that includes both strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and activation movements. Give it a shot and let us know how it works for you!

Sample Glute-Training Workout

1. Activation – Band abduction – 2-3 sets of 10 reps with a 10-second hold in the open position

2. Strength – Sumo-stance barbell deadlift – 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps

3. Hypertrophy – Split jumps – 2-3 sets of 20 jumps (10 per side)

superset with

Stability ball glute bridge – 2-3 sets of 20 reps

Eat Like a Caveman, Look Like a Beast

You could learn something from this guy... just not how to dress.

Plenty has been written about the merits of the Paleolithic, or Caveman Diet, as it pertains to fat loss, but it holds tremendous application for making gains in lean body mass as well.  Here are 5 of the most important aspects of Paleo eating in your quest for more strength and size:

1. Protein, protein, protein. One of the basic tenents of the Paleo diet is “if you can kill it or pick it, you can eat it.”  In essence, that means that about 50% of your food choices are protein-based foods.  Make sure you’re getting substantial portions of animal protein at each meal, rotating through a variety of sources such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, bison, venison, buffalo, ostrich, eggs and shellfish.

2. Boost your Omega-3’s. Omega-3 fatty acids turn on the body’s lipolytic (fat-burning) genes, and turn off the lipogenic (fat-storing) ones.  To boot, EPA is a known anti-inflammatory, while DHA aids in brain function, which can lead to increased focus and concentration during intense training sessions.  On top of including food sources that are rich in Omega-3’s such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, avocado, and coldwater fish such as salmon, research shows that consuming up to 1 gram of fish oil per percentage point of bodyfat can increase fat-burning and insulin sensitivity, creating an environment more suited toward making gains in lean muscle mass.

3.  Eat Paleo carbs and avoid Neo carbs. Paleo carbs fit the other side of the “if you can kill it or pick it” adage.  These carb sources are minimally (or not at all) processed and tend to be digested and assimilated much more easily than Neo (man-made) carbs such as donuts, pasta, breads, etc.  Ask yourself, “did a caveman have access to this?”  If the answer is yes, then you can eat it.  Sweet potatoes? Yes.  Berries? Yep.  Onions, radishes, asparagus?  Yes, yes, double-yes.  Bagels?  Absolutely not.  Don’t worry about the people who tell you you can’t eat fruit before bed, because those same people have no problem shoveling a bunch of processed garbage with ingredients you can neither spell nor pronounce into their mouths on a regular basis.

4.  Address deficiencies. Modern man has to cope with several major vitamin and mineral deficiencies that prehistoric man didn’t have to worry about – namely zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D.  These 3 deficiencies impact 100% of the people that I’ve ever tested, and play a major role in your success in becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

-Magnesium. Soil used to be replete with all of the minerals we needed, but since the advent of modern agriculture, a combination of over-farming, poor crop rotation, and genetic modification leaves a lot of our crops, and in turn, us, with inadequate amounts of magnesium.  Magnesium lowers cortisol (stress) production at the end of the day and allows you to sleep.  When you sleep, you produce growth hormone.  No sleep = no growth.  To give you an idea of an average deficiency, optimal magesium levels in red blood cells are between 4.8 and 6.2.  The “norms” in a lab test are 1.9 to 2.4, so even if you fall in the normal levels, remember that, to quote strength coach Charles Poliquin, “those are Homer Simpson norms.”

Do you really think it's good to be compared to this guy?

-Zinc. Zinc is another mineral that suffers from modern agriculture, except its responsibility is helping with the conversion of testosterone into its usable form.  Low levels of zinc can lead to aromatization, which is the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.  I shouldn’t have to explain how that’s not good.  Shoot for the high end of the lab norms in a blood test.

-Vitamin D. Cavemen spent all day outside, and therefore absorbed an extremely large amount of vitamin D from sunshine, probably to the tune of the equivalent of 10,000-50,000IU a day.  However, for most people the closest they get to sunlight is what slips through the blinds in the window next to their cubicle.  Low vitamin D levels have been traced to everything from depression (good luck training when you want to jump off a building), to insulin resistance (poor insulin management leads to fat gain), to higher risk of skin cancer (you can’t train if you’re dead).  Supplement with 5-10,000IU a day and monitor with blood work until your levels are 80-100nG/ml.  It may take a while – the average person who lives north of the equator has blood levels of about 14-20nG/ml.

5. Graze, don’t gorge. Large, infrequent meals play havoc with your body and result in anything from poor digestion and upset stomach to insulin resistance and fat gain.  Your body is evolved to eat casually throughout the day, not in one or two big portions.  Shoot for eating every 2 1/2-3 hours.

It may take some getting used to because it’s not trendy enough and because it doesn’t call for any flashy supplements like Ultra-Mega-Super-Beefcake 3000, but this is how your body is made to work.  So save yourself the stress of trying to fight it and just let it do what it’s evolved to do.

The Military Press – Part 1

This week we’re doing a pair of videos on one of the most important yet most underused lifts we can think of – the military press.  Part 1 deals with the basics of performing the lift, and part 2 will go over some of the more common mistakes people make and how to fix them.

 

Remember to include a thourough warmup of the shoulder girdle – one of the reasons people get injured so frequently is a lack of shoulder mobility and by trying to go too heavy too fast.

 

Look for Part 2 of this series later this week.

Warm Up to Winter

With snowfall upon us, it’s time to revisit a concept that tends to get neglected during the warmer months – a proper warm-up.  Sure, when it’s 90 degrees outside, you can get away with walking in the gym door, jumping rope for 30 seconds, and doing a light set of your first exercise to get warmed up.  Try that when it’s 20 below with a foot of snow on the ground, and a few things might happen.  At best, you’re likely in for a shitty workout – poor blood flow to stiff muscles means range of motion will be limited and you’ll struggle to get in proper position.  Worst case scenario, you end up with a muscle strain or tear.  Stiff muscles aren’t very pliable – think of what happens if you pull on a stick of Laffy Taffy if it’s been in the freezer for an hour.  It won’t stretch much; it’ll break in half.  However, leave that same stick of Laffy Taffy in your pocket for an hour and it’ll stretch across the room.  Your muscles work the same way.

How To Warm Up (And In What Order)

There is a logical order to warming up that makes everything as efficient as possible.  It should take 10 minutes to get ready for a workout if you follow these steps.

1. Cardiovascular Warmup (3 minutes). Grab a jump rope and get hopping, jump on a treadmill and try to get your heart rate in the low 120’s, slam a medicine ball, do some jumping jacks, just get your heart beating and a light sweat flowing.

Flag pants are optional, warming up is not.

2. Foam rolling (5 minutes). If nothing else, make sure to spend 30-60 seconds on each of the more critical areas – feet, glutes, low back, quads, IT band, pecs, lats, etc.  Try to hit the areas that are most problematic in general, then go after the spots that are specific to your workout if time permits.  If you’re not sure what you should roll, check the video below.

3.  Dynamic stretching (2 minutes). Arm circles, leg swings, hip circles, mountain climber stretches and other shoulder- and hip-intensive stretches are ideal for pre-workout stretching.

Sample Warm-Up Routine

Jump rope – 100 reps double leg, 50 reps left leg, 50 reps right leg, 100 reps alternating

Foam rolling – feet, glutes, low back, lats, 30 seconds on each area

Dynamic stretch circuit – leg swings, arm circles, fire hydrants, 20 reps each

 

Viola, 10 minutes and you’re ready to go.

3 Supplements You Can’t Live Without

Take a walk into your local GNC and have a look around, or thumb through any of the 50 fitness magazines that are littering the shelves at your local bookstore, and the sheer number of supplements currently on the market is astounding.  Not only that, but many of them are all promising some pretty impressive results.  How many times have you seen some colorful, snazzy ad with a shirtless, shredded-to-the-gills bodybuilder promising that if you use Super-Mega-Pump-Volumizer-Cuts-Xplode twice a day, you’ll look just like them?  Or some company whose name might rhyme with Hustletech promising that their creatine delivers 1027.99821% better results than the competition?

The reality is, 99.99% (how’s that for an awesome percentage?) of the supplements on store shelves today flat-out don’t work.  Either companies make promises that they can’t back up, or they use low-quality, over- or under-dosed ingredients, or they use forms of an ingredient that don’t actually work to keep costs down.  Sometimes all of the above.

In reality, no supplement can replace hard work (or the lack thereof).  The best scientific advances can’t beat a solid training program and good training partners.  However, there are a few things that can fill specific needs in the body that are left by a physically challenging training program.

1) Multi-vitamin. While a multi isn’t going to make the difference in whether you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steve Urkel, it is essential for anybody involved in a fitness program.  First, it acts as nutritional insurance, making sure that your body has an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals that tend to be depleted by the body during strenuous exercise.  Secondly, it is nearly impossible to get a sufficient supply of nutrients from food alone.  With overfarming and genetically modified crops fast becoming the norm, the soil is not as rich as it once was.  In fact, it’s been estimated that while the nutrition labels on food may have been accurate 30 years ago, it’s likely that the vitamin content is actually about 50-70% lower than what’s posted on the label.

Nutritional insurance

2) Fish oil. Fish oil is one of those supplements that a lot of people have, but never remember to take.  Or, if they do take it, the dose is well below the minimum effective dose and so you may as well not be taking it at all.  Which is too bad, because fish oil has a host of benefits, not the least of which includes making it easier to burn off stubborn bodyfat.

There are two different types of omega 3’s in fish oil – EPA and DHA, each serving different purposes.  DHA’s biggest benefit is increased mental acuity and enhanced mental function.  It is recommended that women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant supplement with a fish oil high in DHA because it helps with the development of the fetus’ brain, and studies have shown a correlation between increased IQ and DHA supplementation.  High doses of DHA are also used as part of a treatment for ADD and ADHD because of its ability to increase mental focus.

EPA, on the other hand, is often used to treat inflammation in everything from muscle tissue to the circulatory system.  High doses may help prevent or reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases, and can also help speed up recovery from training sessions or even from bruises, strains and pulls.

But the number one (for most people) benefit to fish oil is its ability to increase fat metabolism by turning off lipogenic genes (which promote fat storage) and turning on lipolytic genes (which promote fat burning).  But in order to get any benefit from supplementation, the dosage needs to be rather high – up to 1 or 1.5 grams of fish oil per percent of bodyfat.  So somebody with 20% bodyfat should be taking 20-30 grams of fish oil per day.  Most capsules are about 1 gram each, and most liquid fish oils are 5 grams per teaspoon or 15 grams per tablespoon.  Spread your doses out each day to as many as possible, ideally some at each meal.

Better than Hydroxy-flame-burn-zone 2000

3. Whey protein. I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with protein powders.  On one hand, it serves a very useful purpose – helping people fit in an extra 20-60 grams of protein per day when it’s not convenient to get it from whole food.  On the other hand, the supplement industry has made whey protein out to be some magical, fantastic fairy dust that’s “guaranteed to add 60 pounds to your bench press and 11.7562 pounds of muscle in just 90 seconds.”  Understand this – most supplement advertising is bullshit.  Correction: ALL supplement advertising is bullshit.  But just because the ads suck doesn’t mean whey protein doesn’t have something to bring to the table.

The reality is, most people don’t have the time to eat 6-7 solid food meals a day, every day.  So, instead of missing meals or reaching for fast food or some garbage from a vending machine, powdered protein can be a convenient alternative.  Not only that, but there are times where you want your protein to get into your system very, very quickly, and whole food protein breaks down too slowly.

For example, EVERYBODY should use some sort of liquid protein immediately after finishing their training to get amino acids to the muscles and kickstart recovery.  Whole food doesn’t cut it because it digests too slowly.  Whey protein breaks down much faster and helps drop post-workout cortisol.  Skinny guys who have a hard time gaining weight should also have 20-40 grams of whey protein in water first thing upon waking, 20-30 minutes before having their regular breakfast.  Again, it drops cortisol and takes you out of a catabolic (muscle-burning) state.

Speed up muscle recovery

There you have it.  3 supplements that can work wonders for enhancing your training and nutritional efforts.  You won’t see them promoted by a 250lb, ripped-to-the-bone bodybuilder in a slick magazine ad, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

Fat Loss Complex – Dumbbell Hell

My favorite way to use this complex is in a challenge-style setting. It helps if you have a small group of 3-4 people to compete against, but if not, competing against the stopwatch will do just fine.

Dumbbell Hell Challenge
Dumbbell Hell – 3×10 (15-20lbs for women, 35-45lbs for men)
100 reps jump rope
Repeat 3x

The fastest any of my clients has ever finished the above workout in was 9:09. The average is about 16 minutes. Give it a shot and let me know how you stack up.

The Importance of Recovery Training

When most people think of their training programs, they usually think about the fun stuff.  Weight training is what packs on muscle and makes your whole body stronger, and intense cardiovascular conditioning strips off bodyfat and develops stamina and endurance in the heart and lungs.  But when done week after week, all of that hard work will leave your body feeling achy and beaten down.

Warning signs:

  • Chronic muscle soreness lasting more than 1-2 days after a training session
  • Joint aches and pains
  • Posture changes due to muscle tightness, leaving the body vulnerable to injury
  • Difficulty feeling an exercise in the target muscle

At this point, there is no way to continue to train at full intensity without making some kind of adjustment to correct these issues.  Enter recovery training.

What is recovery training?

Recovery training is simple – it is a short, low-intensity training session designed to help your body repair muscle damage and increase blood flow to ease inflammation on joints, tendons and ligaments.  In most cases, recovery sessions are simply added in addition to your regular training sessions during the week.  However, since they are rather short and not very intense, they can be done any time – before training, after training, or on an off day.

Basic recovery methods

There are three big commonly used recovery methods that can be done as often as needed – static stretching, dynamic stretching, and self-myofascial release.  Each has its own place, and they work best when implemented together throughout a training program’s duration.

Static stretching

Static stretching is simply holding a muscle in a gently stretched position for a period of time, usually 5-30 seconds.  It’s critical that you do not overstretch a muscle, as it can result in strains and tears.  The focus should be on getting a “gentle stretch,” something that you can feel the muscle but should never be painful or unbearable.  One other caution is to be careful of hyperextending certain joints, specifically the knee and elbow.  The knee should stay unlocked when doing hamstring stretches (hurdler stretches, toe touches, etc.), as should the elbow during bicep and pec stretches (doorway stretches, etc.).

Also, because muscles are more pliable when they are warm, static stretching is best done once the body temperature has already been elevated, so make sure you do it either after a warm-up or post-workout for maximum safety and effectiveness.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching serves two purposes – increase circulation through a muscle and the surrounding connective tissue; and increase range of motion beyond that achieved through static stretching.  Dynamic stretches are not held in place for any length of time; instead, they return to the original position as soon as they have gone through the full range of motion.  Examples of dynamic stretching include arm windmills, butt-kickers, high knees, and straight-leg swings.

Self-Myofascial Release

IT band foam rolling

Think of self-myofascial release as a form of self-administered deep-tissue massage.  SMR is to your muscles what a rolling pin is to a lump of bread dough.  You basically take a hard object (usually a foam roller, which come in various densities) and roll up and down the muscle, stopping to apply pressure to the tight spots for 15-20 seconds before moving on to the next tight area.  The pressure from the roller stimulates the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) reflex, which triggers the muscle to relax and release tension.  It can take several weeks up to several months to fully release the pressure on an area, depending on how severe the problem is.

Also, just like static stretching, SMR is best done with the body’s temperature already elevated.

Implementing Recovery Training

It doesn’t take long to work recovery training into your program – all three methods can be completed in 15 minutes or less 2-4 times a week.  What’s the old saying? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”