New AST Power Camp In October

On Wednesday, October 5, we will be starting our second AST Power camp, a 6-week camp designed to prepare you for competition at a powerlifting meet as part of Team AST.  Our first camp led a team of 6 members, as well as coaches Zach and Sergio, to the 2011 USPF Illinois State Meet at Lance’s Gym in Chicago, IL.  All 8 members of the team placed in the top 3 in their respective weight and age divisions.

This time, we will be competing at the UPF Power Weekend in Dubuque, IA on November 19.  More information and rules can be found here: UPA Power Weekend.

The camp can have up to 8 participants, and will be held Wednesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am, starting October 5.  Participants will be responsible for their own entry fee for the competition should they choose to compete.

If you are looking for a new way to challenge yourself and enjoy some friendly competition with your training partners, get involved and join the camp!  E-mail Julie, Zach or Christine to sign up.

Client Spotlight: Bernard Elam

In the first installment of our Client Spotlight feature, AST client Bernard Elam describes his experiences at All Strength Training and how he’s regained control of his appearance and his life.

My whole life, I have felt I have a weak upper body, so I would normally skip any strength training and focus on running.  I knew I needed to do something different, because I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted the last several years, and was at my heaviest ever.  After several months of putting it off, I joined All Strength Training last fall.  AST educated me on the importance of strength training, and my BioSignature showed me that I needed to work my upper body and my nutrition to reach my goals – a leaner, stronger, and healthier body overall.

The BioSignature has been a huge part of my transformation.  It gets me past being a “slave to the scale”, because I have a more targeted view of my body. I understand exactly where my problem areas are and the priority of these areas by measuring my body fat in 12 different sites.  It really sets the stage for my nutrition planning and training program, so I can get results relatively quickly.

I have been coming to AST for about seven months, and the most noticeable changes are that I have lost 7% body fat and over 20 pounds of scale weight. I have gained lean muscle mass, feel more energetic, and sleep better.  I also believe I have better posture, because I am more aware of my body.

At the start of my program, I had high LDL cholesterol at 170, and my doctor put me on a drug. I made sure AST was aware of my issue with cholesterol, so I received some nutrition guidance.  Through the combination of the drug, the changes in nutrition, and my training routine, I was able to lower my LDL cholesterol 50% in three months and went from being “at risk” to “excellent” cholesterol levels.

I love to eat out, and it’s basically a job requirement because I work in the food business.  With AST’s nutrition guidance, I really had to think seriously about the foods I put into my body.   I had to make a real lifestyle change with my nutrition if I was going to be serious about getting into decent shape.

I started cooking at home most of the time, and planning my meals better – even when I do eat out. I did participate in a two hour nutrition seminar and an afternoon cooking soiree through AST and learned how much better I can do with some healthy recipes and the right cooking equipment.

I train in a semi-private setting with other members who share similar goals and similar needs, which keeps me highly motivated to push myself harder than I normally would.  Nobody wants to be the weakest link, so we naturally push each other and feed off of everybody’s energy.  In fact,  because of the relationships I’ve developed with those that I train with, I feel more accountable to them and don’t want to let them down.

AST has a range of programs, camps, seminars, and nutritional products, but I have never felt pressured to buy anything.  There is no sales pressure, gimmicks, or complicated contracts, just a straightforward education and training process.  This is truly the best experience from any other places where I have trained.

Bernard at 225lbs, and 8 months later at 200lbs.

Get Your Blood Tested for Optimal Body Composition

Most people who are struggling to add significant amounts of muscle or lose bodyfat quickly will try just about anything to get results – every fad diet, every “cutting edge” workout routine from your favorite grocery store fitness magazine, every “amazing new” supplement with ads that show men and women with physiques that you would kill for.  But when we screen new clients coming in to start a program, when we ask when the last time blood work was drawn, over 90% of the time the answer is “more than 2 years ago.”

On top of that, the extent of the education on the results provided by the doctor typically focuses on things like cholesterol and glucose, with very little attention paid to other key information that could make all the difference in the world for how much you get out of your physical efforts.  Below I will list what I believe to be 3 of the most important blood tests that are very easy to do and can be taken by most doctors and covered under most insurances.

Vitamin D3

Most of our exposure to vitamin D comes via sunlight, with very little vitamin D coming from our diet.  In addition, the RDA for vitamin D is a meager 400IU per day, which means that even foods that are fortified with vitamin D don’t contain it in any quantities that will do any good very quickly.  Combine poor food intake with limited sun exposure and you’re very likely to have low levels of D.  In fact, the average blood levels for Americans living north of Atlanta, Georgia are 14ng/mL.  Optimal levels, however, are between 80-100ng/mL.

Red Blood Cell Magnesium

Per Charles Poliquin:

“Magnesium is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body, with approximately 66 percent of it found in bone and 33 percent in skeletal and cardiac muscle. It is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted through the kidneys. Magnesium is involved in 300 essential biochemical reactions in the body, ranging from ATP production to protein synthesis, so it is obviously important for optimal athletic performance and a high quality of life.” (Magnesium Deficiency: A Growing Health Crisis)

Although the labratory norms for RBC magnesium are typically between 1.8 and 2.2mg/dL, optimal ranges have been shown to be somewhere between 4.2 and 6.8mg/dL.  Several different types of magnesium are available, composed of different “chelates” which make them more likely to be absorbed by specific tissues in the body, such as the liver, the muscles, and the brain.  It is also available in topical forms for those with history of GI upset or symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 Red Blood Cell Zinc

Zinc, like magnesium, is an essential mineral for many of the body’s functions, but is also one of the most common mineral deficiencies.  Common side effects include low testosterone and aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, as well as decreased muscle mass and delayed muscular recovery.  Ideal levels for those training intensely have been shown to be between 1,400 ug/dL.

Addressing Deficiencies

If you show as deficient in any of the above 3 nutrients, it would be beneficial to use a functional medicine doctor or other practitioner to help you develop a plan to restore deficiencies.  It is important to note that many times it can be necessary to use a “therapeutic dose” of a vitamin or mineral to restore a deficiency – in other words, a dose that’s significantly more than what would be suggested for daily maintenance.  But think of it this way – it’s not much different than a doctor recommending 200mg of ibuprofen for a headache, but 800mg for a severe sprain.  The dose will be tailored to the condition.

Please, if you have been struggling to make changes but aren’t seeing the results you want, contact your physician and ask to have these three tests taken.  Then seek out help to get the appropriate guidance to restore nutrient status and get the body you desire.

For more information on nutrient deficiencies and how they can impact your health and physique, click here to learn more about BioSignature Hormone Analysis and to schedule a consultation.

Fix Your T-Spine to Improve Your Posture & Your Press

When it comes to improving posture and preventing injury, it’s best to start by working from the inside out.  This is why core training has become so popular over the last few years – the idea that your center of mass has to be strong to control what’s going on in your extremities makes a lot of sense.  When it comes to generating power, the same theory holds true.  Ask any well-trained martial artist how much power a punch can generate when combined with adequate breathing, hip rotation and core control.

But what if there was a limitation in your movement that made all of that extremely hard, to the point where other, more vulnerable parts of the body had to start picking up the slack?  This is what can happen if the spine is not properly aligned.  Because as much credit as the core gets for being the center of the body, in reality, without the spine, the core means nothing.

The spine is divided into 3 major sections – cervical (upper, including the neck), thoracic (the mid-back), and lumbar (the lower back).

Much of the motion in the cervical and lumber areas is controlled by how much movement is available in the thoracic, or t-spine.  Try this to see what I mean:

Stand up in your typical “slouched” posture – shoulders forward, back rounded, shoulder blades apart and chest sunken in.  Now, without changing your body position, try to reach overhead.  If you don’t change your body position, two things will happen:

1) You won’t be able to reach up overhead very far at all.

2) To compensate, you’ll start leaning backwards and letting the lumber spine shift into an arched, or flexed, position.

Now, try the same drill standing as tall as possible, with the chest up and shoulders back.  You should get a lot higher without much compensation at the lower back.

But here’s the problem – unless you were able to get your biceps right beside your ears without having to shrug, lift your shoulders, lean back, move your hips, or arch your back, you’re still compensating.  And most likely, the problem is restricted movement in the t-spine.  This restriction can come from bad posture, previous injury, overworking the front of the torso (chest, shoulders, biceps) while ignoring the back of the torso (upper back, lats, triceps), poor flexibility, etc.  With so many possible restrictions, it’s necessary to take a multifaceted approach to fixing it.

Step 1 – Mobility

The first thing you have to do is get movement back.  I like to use more than one mobility drill for any given bodypart just to hit it from a few different angles.

Step 2 – Stability

Stability is simply the ability to control movement in a given range of motion, big or small.  Stability and balance are not synonymous, so being able to stand on a circus ball and squat with dumbbells over your head does not make you stable, just insane.

Step 3 – Strength

The last piece of the puzzle, think of developing strength as the piece that makes the first two steps stick.  You can increase flexibility and mobility, but if you don’t strengthen up the right areas to hold that new position, the body will revert right back to where it was.

The following video shows one of my favorite progressions for improving shoulder mobility through the thoracic spine:

Suggested Pre-Workout Corrective Program
A1. Foam Roller Thoracic Extension – until improvement is seen
A2. Quadruped Thoracic Rotations – until improvement is seen
A3. Wide-Grip Pullup Static Hold – start with a moderate band for assistance, when 30 seconds is achieved, decrease band assistance. Ideally you will be able to do it with bodyweight or with additional resistance from a chinup belt in the long term.
A4. Prone Cobra – 8-15 reps, stopping several reps short of fatigue

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give when it comes to the flexibility and stability pieces is not to get hung up on sets and reps. Work it until you feel noticeable improvement, then move on to the next movement. Even with the strengthening exercise (the prone cobra), you’re using it as a warmup, so don’t kill yourself on it. Get some work done, make it difficult, but keep it clean and be safe. Good luck!

AST to Raise Money for St. Jude’s

We are so excited to announce our first annual softball tournament for St. Jude!  AST is participating in “Workout for St. Jude,” which is a fundraising event throughout the country where people participate in physical activities to raise money for the research hospital.

We decided that a 16 inch softball tournament would be the perfect opportunity to raise money, enjoy the fall weather, and have a little friendly competition.  The tournament will be held on Sunday, September 25th at Clarendon Park.  The field is very close to the AST facility, there will be tons of food and beverages for anyone who wants to come!

Ideally we would like to have enough people to field a couple of teams, so invite your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone who may be interested.  The more people involved, the faster we will reach our goal of raising $5000 for St. Jude!  Anyone can participate for a minimum donation of $20, although we are definitely encouraging everyone to raise as much as possible.

There is a sign-up sheet on the front desk, and you can also pick up a Sponser Envelope and a set of 16 inch softball rules.  We would like to have everyone’s t-shirt size by Saturday, September 10th so we can have your AST shirt in time.

We have also set up a Donation Site through the St. Jude website.  There is an option to set up your own fundraising website online, and people can donate by credit card, or find out mroe information about our event.  You can go to St. Jude and click on the “Participants” button.  Click “Search for Event” and our event is located in Illinois under All Strength Training.

We are really looking forward to having everybody get together outside of the facility, so block off your calendars now!  Thank you so much in advance for supporting St. Jude!

*Note: this event is open to everybody, including those who are not AST clients!  If you’d like to come out, have fun and support a great cause, please give us a call to get signed up at (773) 868-6656.  We’d love to have you!

Altitude Training at Sea Level

Those of you who have been in the garage at AST in the last few weeks may have seen me pushing the Prowler while wearing a mask that, upon first glance, might look more appropriate on the set of Pulp Fiction than in the gym.  Lifestyle preferences aside, there is actually a significant cardiovascular benefit to using such a mask, called an altitude training mask.  In mixed martial arts and other combat sports, athletes have regularly used high altitude training to take their performance to the next level.

Going into the mountains and training at higher elevations has been a favorite training tool for years, not only for the seclusion and ability to focus on an upcoming event, but from the physical changes made in the body and the blood from training in the thin air of the mountains.  Then, when the athlete returns to their regular elevation they find that they are stronger and faster for longer.  One explanation is that the lack of oxygen forces the body to produce more red blood cells, which are the body’s primary way of delivering oxygen to muscle and other tissues.

So how does this “freak” mask help bring these gains without having to move to the Alps?  The mask helps by creating pulmonary resistance, in other words limiting the flow of oxygen through the mask and forcing the body to increase RBC production to adapt.

In the short time that I have used the mask I have noticed that when in training (sparring, conditioning, weight training, etc.), I’m subconsciously slowing down my breath and I have been able to last a lot longer, with more productive training sessions.  This is important to me because as an MMA fighter, my sport is all about maintaining speed and power longer than the other guy.

High altitude training has also been shown to help those with asthma, since asthma tends to force hyperventilation, and using the training mask requires slowing down breathing and increasing use of the diaphragm muscles.  There is benefit for all types of endurance sports, including running, cycling, triathlon competition and others.  So strap on your “gas mask” and get to work!

 

Overspecializing Young Athletes is a Mistake

As a kid, I remember playtime well.  We did everything from play sports basketball, football and baseball (although I was never very good at any of them), to riding bikes and skateboards, to climbing trees and hills.  Even during Iowa winters, my brothers and I would amuse ourselves (and likely our parents) by going into the pasture behind our house and sledding/tobogganing/sliding down the giant 300-yard hill on our butts, only to have to begin the slow march all the way back to the top to do it again.  Sure, we had video games, but those were usually reserved for when the weather was bad or when the sun was down.  When we could, we played, and we did a TON of different things.

Now, as a father of two quickly-growing boys, my job is to make sure that they receive that same experience.  The problem is that it’s significantly harder to give kids that time nowadays, for several reasons.  First, I live in the city limits of Chicago, so I am in no way able to just let my kids roam free without worrying about them the way my parents could in a rural Iowa farm town.  Second, the rapid growth of entertainment-oriented technology is way, WAY above what I can ever remember.  My not-even-4-year-old son Ethan can work my smartphone, turn on our computer and find his computer games, and operate our Netflix all by himself.  With all of those temptations, who wants to have to go outside and move?

Combine that with extreme budget cuts for most schools that have required the reduction or complete elimination of most physical education programs, and young athletes (and young adults in general) are not being exposed to as wide of a variety of stimuli as in years past.  That is why I am a firm believer that kids younger than high school have no business in being single-sport athletes.

I’ve seen it a lot lately, talking with parents when they come into our facility looking to have their son or daughter train with us to improve their sports prowess.  “But,” they’ll say, “we don’t have a lot of time, because Johnny plays soccer year-round, and this summer he’s going to a soccer camp where they’ll have him do conditioning drills for 7 hours a day for six weeks, then he’ll start his fall league where he’ll practice 5 days a week and have 2 games a week, usually double-headers, then he’ll play indoor soccer during the winter, then in the spring he’s back in an after-school soccer camp and then he has to practice 500 kicks before he goes to bed.”

“Oh, and his ankles always hurt.  I think it might be genetic.”

Really?  It’s a miracle his feet aren’t detachable at this point.

Even worse, beyond just being single-sports athletes, I’m seeing lots of kids who are now single-sport, single-position athletes, at the ripe old age of 9.  “My son Billy is going to be a pro pitcher some day, give me some drills so he can throw faster.”  What he really means is “give me some drills so I can destroy his rotator cuff so badly that it’ll look like melting swiss cheese left out on a hot summer day.”

There is no way around it – overspecialization at a young age increases the risk for injury.  10-year-olds should not be capable of tearing a hamstring, yet they occur in dramatic numbers now.  There needs to be balance in activity, and it’s not happening anymore.

I have a simple request for parents who might read this: please, PLEASE, make your kids play more than one sport.  I don’t care if it means you go out into your driveway and play H-O-R-S-E with them every night after soccer practice.  I don’t care if you take your kids to the park and let them climb the jungle gym and the monkey bars.  Just don’t pigeonhole them into one activity or sport and set them up for potentially life-altering problems down the road.  Let your kids be kids.

Of course, it never hurts for parents to get involved with their kids’ activities, too.

Supplement Review: BCAA Excellence 2.0

If you pay attention to supplement advertising at all over the last several years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the phrase “peri-workout nutrition.”  Simply stated, peri-workout means “during your workout.”  There is a lot of new science coming out that has shown that there can be significant benefits in strength and lean mass by choosing the right supplements in the right doses and taking them while training.  One such supplement is branched chain amino acids.

BCAA’s have been available as a supplement for as long as I can remember; in fact, I tried them for the first time when I was 14 years old.  However, a few things have changed since then, both in the timing, and in the dosage.  For a long time, it was recommended simply to take 3 or 4 before a workout.  In fact, the first BCAA’s I used (SportPharma BCAA, which are no longer available) were only available in a 30-capsule bottle, and cost me about 30 bucks.

Now, based both on research and anecdotal evidence coming from one of BCAA’s most staunch advocates, strength coach Charles Poliquin, it is recommended to take a much, much higher dose, and to take it during training.  For a 200lb male, Poliquin recommends taking anywhere between 20 and 50 grams of BCAA’s, either in powder or capsule form.  The downside to using a powder is that, unless additional sweeteners are added, the taste is, frankly, awful.  I used to have several clients use a powder for their BCAA’s and had a lot of issues getting them to finish it all before their workout was over.  However, for about the last 6 months, we’ve been using the capsules available from Poliquin Performance, BCAA Excellence 2.0.

Here are some of the things we’ve been using BCAA’s for with our clients with great success:

  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • increased muscle mass (anywhere between 3 and 6lbs in the first month on average)
  • preserving lean muscle mass during bouts of intense fat loss
  • increased workout volume (# of sets)
  • improved recovery between workouts
  • increased workout frequency (less time between training the same muscles or movements)

In fact, I put on about 6lbs of lean body mass the first month I was using them, during which time I also did our 14-day Low Carb Boot Camp, and still increased muscle mass and strength.  Even female clients who are using them at a lower dose are seeing improved strength and muscle definition in conjunction with their fat loss programs.

The suggested dose for a 200lb male is about 30-40 capsules spread over the course of the workout, adjust accordingly for your own bodyweight.  The only downside to the capsules is that occasionally you’ll burp one up midway through a workout, which has a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste.  If it wasn’t for that they’d be a 10 out of 10 for sure.

Rating: 9/10

Retail: $52.00 for 500 capsules from Poliquin Performance

Product Review: PlateMates

 

One of the biggest problems with working with weaker clients or in exercises that require less weight (such as dumbbell curls, lateral raises, rotator cuff training, etc.) is that it’s very hard to make progress with conventional dumbbell increments. I might be able to do 15 reps with a pair of 20lb dumbbells, but might be lucky to get 5 or 6 with 25lbs. Think about it – if I bench press 225lbs and add 5lbs, that’s only an increase of about 2%. But if I add 5lbs to 20lbs, that’s an increase of 25%! Would you progress right from 225 to 280lbs? Not likely.

Enter PlateMates. PlateMates are small magnetic weights that come in small increments – 5/8lb, 1.25lb, and 2.5lb. They simply stick onto the ends of iron or metal dumbbells or barbells (they won’t work on rubber-coated dumbbells, however) to make the appropriate weight increase.

At AST, we have 6 pairs of 1.25lb plates that we use, so in our original example of using 20lbs, I can then progress to 21.25 (1 PlateMate on one side) to 22.5 (1 PlateMate on each side) to 23.75 (2 on one side, 1 on the other) before progressing up to 25lbs, giving that many more chances for improvement. This is an example of what Charles Poliquin calls the “Kaizen principle,” essentially meaning “progress any way you can.”

They can be found on Amazon for about $40 or less per pair, and they make an incredibly handy tool. Even if you work out at a commercial facility, you can just throw a pair or two in your gym bag and use them when they’re needed.

Rating: 10/10
Retail: $28.95 for a pair of 1.25lbs from Amazon

Team AST Goes to Nationals!

This weekend, 3 members of All Strength Training’s powerlifting team went to the 2011 USPF Raw Nationals to compete against over 100 other lifters. The lifters included all 3 of AST’s coaching staff – myself and Christine on Friday, and Sergio on Saturday. Another member of AST’s powerlifting team, Mark, had to miss the competition due to family commitments (but I’m sure he’ll be back on the platform as soon as we can find him another meet to do).

All of the lightweight divisions competed on Friday, so Christine and I lifted together. Christine was the only female lifter in the raw division (the raw division allows only the use of wrist wraps, knee sleeves and a belt – no squat suits or bench shirts), and competed without the use of even wraps or a belt. In the process, she set 4 USPF American records in the 123lb open women’s weight class – a 132lb squat, an 83lb bench press, a 176lb deadlift, and a 391lb total (all personal records as well). She also narrowly missed an 88lb bench press.

I also lifted raw with no equipment, in a competitive 165lb weight class (the eventual winner, Troy Smith, opened the deadlift with over 500lbs and ended with somewhere between 540-550lbs). This was my first time lifting in competition with no supportive equipment at all, and ended up coming away with a 248lb squat, 209lb bench, and 358lb deadlift (I was particularly happy with the deadlift, as that had been a lift I’ve struggled to improve on for the last 2 years).

Christine and I both left a little on the platform and felt that we could have definitely gone heavier on 3rd attempts. Christine in particular – she proceeded to break her own deadlift PR in training on Sunday by pulling 195lbs, 19lbs over what she did in competition on Friday.

Sergio lifted on Saturday, and did not have his best day on the platform. He hit his squat opener of 374lbs, but struggled with and missed 385lbs twice. He also was strong enough for his bench opener of 275lbs but was redlighted for jumping the head judge’s “press” command. He then jumped to 286lbs for his 2nd and 3rd attempts but was unsuccessful with both, disqualifying him from the rest of the meet. We’ve already talked about a few errors he made in preparation for the competition and he’ll be back in the gym on Monday ready to get it right next time.

The competition was run incredibly well, and we would like to thank Lance Karabel and Ted Isabella for putting on a great meet. Hopefully Team AST will continue to grow, and will return to the platform later this year.