Sunday, May 31, 2009

Renegade Row: dynamic strength and balance

An exercise complex that has recently become a favorite of mine is the renegade row (with push up).

Why? Rows in general are great upper body workouts. Stuart McGill has recently done an article on rows comparing inverted, standing bent over and one arm cable rows for back activation patterns. They are powerful core workouts.

The renegade row is likely closest to the standing bent over row with a few differences - a biggie being balance/control of the weight.

The renegade row, is shown above with Power Blocks. For added strength/stability challenge, put your feet only shoulder width apart, and get out a couple of kettlebells. Why kb's? It takes a bit of extra coordination (ie muscles firing) to keep them steady. That means you're adding a wee bit of balance to the workload.

mc's Renegade Row Sequence
Just to review, here's how i do a renegade row sequence - it may vary from yours.
Pull Part
  • pull up one bell to belt line and belt height
  • put it down
  • pull up opposite side put it down
  • repeat 5 times.
form note: do the pull keeping trunk as parallel as possible to the ground. There's a tendency with these to pull the body over to pulling up the bell. Avoid that, and keep that trunk level. An idea may be to practice these naked (no weight) just bringing the hand up to the side while staying level.

Push Part:
  • follow the pull sets with 5 perfectly level push ups on the bell handles.
Again, keep the trunk tight and plank like - no dips; no bends. Using the bells lets one get quite a good ROM dip on the push up, too. Sweet.

Now, other variants of this row are, pull left, push up, pull right. Personally, i find it more effective to focus on the pulls, L/R and then the pushes. Your mileage may vary.

I like to EDT the renegade rows into a set with some lower body work. Somedays its goblet squats, or double KB front squats, or romanian single leg dl's or yesterday it was double kb single leg deadlifts for the lower body work. EDT means going for max sets of each pattern within 15 mins, using a 10RM weight going for only five reps.
Muscles Worked: why i love this excersise.
I love how this sequence makes me feel for the next few days:
  • it hits the abs, but the obliques it seems in particular
  • Lats are loved
  • pecs can be quite buzzed
  • traps and rhomboids of course get some attention.
  • well it's the whole core, holding that plank, isn't it? (word doc about up/low core) - tall, neutral spine throughout.
Here, as with any push up, varying hand position on the push up emphasizes different muscles particularly in the arms. A few adjustments with the bell handles move from making this a triceps dominant to biceps dominant for the arms - neither arm group is isolated but one is let's say privileged. Today, i feel the bi's

A bit of Stability; A bit of Form; a bit of kalos sthenos (beautiful movement)
I also like the momentary loaded, dynamic balance / strength aspect of
  • just staying stable with both hands on the bells - i think Mike Mahler who's Aggressive Strength hybrid EDT routines introduced me to this fab move once said don't do this with anything smaller than a 16k bell cuz the base of support is too small. Ha! i say. i use 12s.
  • staying level in the trunk while pulling up on the bell - muscle control to stay planked and again keep stable on the balance hand/bell combo.
Now about that form:
Mr. mahler, pictured above, has his feet nice and close - shoulder width at most. He seems, however, to be torquing to the side here. I'd suggest stay more in the level plank and get the hand right up to the waist. You'll note the guy in the vid at the top of this story above doesn't torque but his feet are quite spread.

Get both these parts together and you'll be very pleased with yourself. For instance, take a look at this version: nice level trunk; feet only shoulder width apart; neutral neck position; no torquing on the up.
Now some folks what don't know better may say these are "sissy weights" pirctured, but they may want to reserve that appellation if they can't hold this form with their KB of choice themselves.

As you can see if you have given this sequence a go, it's not easy to get in this kind of dynamic upper body/trunk work, and the RR is way cool.

Practice staying tight (as pavel might say) in the core. You may want to practice doing planks first, or getting used to balancing in form on the bells and just bringing your hand up to your side while maintaining your plank form while one side is off the bell.

Challenging form: balance
I mention that we're working to hold balance when using the KB's rather than the very stable powerblocks. And for me that little bit of stabilization required is just right: not too much instability. What do i mean by "too much"?

Some times you'll see folks using medballs for their pushups - i'm not crazy for that much of a stability challenge - i personally don't test stronger after that; with kb's i do.

By "test stronger" - i mean something zhealth teaches: if you're wondering if a particular form of an exercise is working for you, do a muscle test (you may need a partner for this) before the test; do the excercise; retest. If you're weaker, there may have been something saying to your nervous system that's not a happy thing.

Ok. what's a muscle test, since there are different ways this term is used. Here, it's pretty straight ahead: it's simply a test to see if your muscles are functioning properly. If you hold your arm up, and your wrist out in extension, i shouldn't readily be able to pull your hand down if everything is firing properly.

Another good example - testing hamstring strength: all's well, you standing with your hands on the wall, looking straight ahead, bent knee, i should have some good resistance pushing down on your calf. Indeed i shouldn't really be able to press a big guy's leg to the ground (as per me here, pushing on Kenneth Jay's calf as Mike Cheatham kindly plays "the wall" for this muscle test at the Denmark09 RKC). I've written before about this kind of thing with the arthrokinetic reflex.

So once you do this test, you may find that you test a little more weakly (muscle is overcome) in a test than before doing pushups on wobbly surface. This is going to get onto a whole jag about instability training, but why jump on a wobbly surface if, say, we have trouble keeping balance with one foot off the ground and we then turn our head sharply? give it a go - how'd you do? Try a few other sports positions and then turn your head (as you might in real life or in a sport); try them with your eyes closed and a good head turn.

Here's a great one: one foot in front of the other, toe touching heel. Stable, or surfer dude? Now close your eyes. More stable or more surfer?

That's our proprioceptive system working really hard since our balance comes from vision, vestibular (inner ear) and proprioception (the nerves in our joints ligaments and muscles saying where in space we are). Apparently 80% of that VVP load comes from the eyes. Take those away, you can give yourself a whole LOT of balance training very quickly.

So why not get good at that, in motion (we move in real life) before going for that wobble board or med ball or swiss ball?

So if you want to work balance, fabulous. get on one leg, turn your head. One leg, close your eyes, turn your head. When you're awesome at moving and balancing, go a bit squishier. Remember, the idea is not to be stable on a wobble board, but stable in motion.

A lot of studies about wobble board adaptations don't demonstrate translation OFF the board into real activities (note, we are NOT talking about swiss ball work in the context of rehab, but regularly fit folk doing their workouts on unstable surfaces.) Here's a great example: this is a super article at the sports injury bulletin on the relationship of the proprioceptive system's mix with the visual and vestibular for balance work. Once you finish the intro though, here comes the wobble stuff. Does it translate off the board?

McGill was one of the first to show that sitting on swiss balls doesn't actually help strengthen the low back. Likeiwise, this is eric cressey's beef with unstable surface training and athetics. All this bosu ball stuff - so what you can balance on one of these - what happens when you get off them? From the actual research Cressey's done, the answer is not alot to less than nothing. A fast muscle test pre and post will tell you the same thing.

At least the recommendations at the end of that sports injury bulletin article is to start balance training on stable surfaces; master that before adding any kind of load - and load can be doing sums while balancing - it doesn't have to be a wobble board (aside: these concepts are all very much part of the z health i phase certification, so if you're looking for a trainer sensitive to improving your atheltic performance in the real world, look for a zhealth trainer with I in the list of their certs).

Summary: Renegade Rows Rock.
Hmm. well. didn't expect a description of the renegade row to become a treatise on the evils of the bosu. The intent was to say, if you're looking for something new to challenge your workouts, the renegade row with its pull and push, done with kettlebells, and especially as part of an EDT upper/lower body set workout, can be simply awesome.

You'll love all the places you're aware of your muscles over the next few days.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vibram Five Fingers Free Foot Massage

This weekend, found another asset to wearing Vibram Five Fingers. I've written about how in my experience, they, along with z health, improve gait and are great for getting through airport security without shoe removal. This weekend i also discovered another bonus: foot massage when walking on gravel.

That's right: VFF's afford a great foot massage when walking on stones.

There was a pile of stones/gravel around where i was working this weekend, and just standing, walking around IN the stones felt FABULOUS. It was like a free foot massage. I've started looking out for gravel pathways for the experience, and figuring out optimal stone types for the best foot work.

I felt pretty lucky, actually: all these folks where i was walking around the same stuff and likely missing the benefits of connecting foot to path.

It reminded me again how much fun it is to explore with one's feet, and how close, when doing so, off the beaten path can be.

Added Bonus:
For some great inspiring photos and tales of VFF, please check out Justin Owings beuatifully designed site.

Monday, May 18, 2009

10K Lean Eating Challenge with Precision Nutrition.

Folks who read b2d may know i'm a fan/adherent of Precision Nutrition (see reviews listed to the right of this post) - along with folks here i respect a lot: RD Georgie Fea and Z Master Trainer Mike T Nelson.

Just FYI: 10k Prize for sensible eating transformation?
Well, ok, i'm not much of a contest person, but goals can be powerful motivation. So John Berardi of PN is running his body transformation challenge again via a special coaching program called Lean Eating. The new lean eating program will open May 26.

if you're interested in leaning up, possibly winning 10k from a *sensible* body transformation, and getting some one on one time with Berardi's lean eating team, signing up for the new Lean Eating Challenge, *may* be the most cost effective way to get that Work with a Trainer's edge to move towards your goal.

For more info, here's a video explaining the challenge

Worst case, 6 months of super nutrition training and support - customized for you.

I mention this because last year, the program actually sold out pretty much the moment it was announced, so this time, they're taking names for the program on i think a first come first served basis.

So if you're interested in this kind of hands on help, by all means put in your name while you consider further, but especially if you know someone you think may benefit from some support and training, well thar ya go.

again, just fyi...

all the best,
in yet another airport lounge...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Myth Busting: Women are afraid of "bulking up" in working out - not!

After reading a variety of posts on forums asserting that women are afraid of bulking up, i've been running a survey this past week of gals who do workout in whatever form they define "workout" to see if actual women hold these views - or if this assertion is just one more urban legend.

(update 1, below)

so far there have been 28 respondents to the following 3 positions:

1. i adjust my workouts deliberately to avoid muscular "bulk"
2. i adjust my workouts at least some of the time deliberately to achieve some "bulk"
3. i don't think about "bulk" at all when i do my workouts

1. only 1 person
2. 11 gals
3. 16 gals

So, 40% picked that they DO go for bulk deliberately at least some of the time, while a whopping 57% (who also commented that they lift heavy) don't think about bulk one way or the other when they design their programs they "just want to get strong," or fast, and only 3% said they are concerned to make sure they won't induce bulk from their workouts.

That's a pretty significant inversion of the assumptions that have been expressed like some kind of truth about women's attitudes towards working out.

I'll update after another week if the numbers start to change, but i hope from this tiny sample at least some assumptions about "women" and their views of working out might get updated in folks' heads.

response so far from a few of the gentlemen of good will who have seen this:
  • must be a special group of women i surveyed, like just uni athletes or "women who know better" or "non advanced women athletes" or not the women a fellow sees in the gym who aren't "working out to their potential."
  • These fellers make general statements about "women" of some class/group/category despite citing resources - but a sort of implicit reference to "common knowledge" which seems to be more persuasive than the actual data presented here (and by their own female peers).
responses so far from the few women who have seen these results:
  • They resonate with the other 97% of women who participated in the survey - they either don't care themselves about adding visible muscle or not, or are into getting some muscle mass.
  • These women have not generalized to knowledge of other women or "women" as a general class beyond knowledge of themselves or peers with whom they've deliberately discussed the matter.

Update 2: (may 31, 09)

Since the results haven't changed for a week, here's the latest numbers on the the straw poll survey: of 52 respondents, 88% either don't care or from time to time deliberately do try to "bulk"

Fascinating again.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Movement Assessment: what is it and why should i have one?

Getting rid of the Parts Model of Human Pain and Performance.
Folks on various health forums will often post "i have a weak knee; what exersises can i do to strengthen it?" or "my hamstrings are tight and it's affecting my deadlift; what can i do to loosen them up?" or "my shoulder keeps bugging me; what's good for shoulder rehab?"

All of these questions, it seems, tend to consider the site of the problem to be the source of the problem.

Folks who reply often share that perspective with proposals like "sore shoulder - here's a great book/dvd/blog on shoulder rehab." or "tight hamstrings? foam roll 'em out. it's great. do that anytime before you deadlift that'll loosen 'em right up."

But what if the site of the problem isn't the source of the problem?
Then all we are providing are classic band aid solutions where the problem will just keep coming back. We know about this in any kind of mechanical situation: the car engine is leaking oil.

If all we do is keep pouring in oil to top it up, we're not dealing with the problem. The problem may require a simple tweak on a part we're not familiar with, or it may need some more serious work. We don't know; we don't have the expertise. So we get an assessment of what the problem is, and what it will take to fix it.

We know enough to do this for a mechanical machine, and yet when it comes to our far more complex organism - our bio-electrical-mechano-organic selves, we seem to take a far cheaper attitude. Perhaps because we're so resliant; perhaps because the trad. medical establishment has let us down. And how successful - in the long term - is our tire patch/band aid approach?

Avoid Frankensteining Body Work
Here's another analogy: Pavel Tsatsouline famously decries the "frankenstien monster" approach to strength/body building that treats muscles in isolation. Frankensteining the body referring to assembling parts that are shown off as parts rather than integrated elements. Many of us have experienced the benefits of compound movement work to create powerful integrated, athletic strength and power.

Ok, so why then why then when we have a tweak, a pain, a weakness, do we suddenly move exactly to that body part, isolationist, frankensteining approach for how to make ourselves better?

Alternatives to the Parts Model approach to
Perceived Human Performance Problems

A movement assessment sees pain as a symptom only and respects the complexity of the body. As a result it may indeed be less interested in causes for a particular expression of the Whole Body saying HELP, and more interested in looking at and addressing movement patterns. A finding that's shocked and delighted me is how much improved movement/addressing movement reduces pain - many many varieties of pain.

Isn't that what Doctors Do?
Now, you might say well heck isn't that what a physio or a chiro does or even a doctor does?

The answer is yes and no: yes, if that physio or manual therapist of whatever stripe is hip to the notion of movement and how everything is connected in the body, possibly; if that physio person hears you say "i have sore shoulder" and goes right to assessing your shoulder - like site = source, then more likely no. The last time i went to see a doctor about a sore back i was prescribed muscle relaxants. Perhaps you have similar experiences?

The Movement Approach Difference:
Seeing a Whole Body in Motion; not bunches of parts.

While we tend to think of ourselves as a sore back, weak knee, tight hamstring. Or as strong biceps, weak shoulders, great back, our bodies are not so isolationist. The connections througout are rich and legion. Joints and muscles are connected with all sorts of tissue in all sorts of ways throughout the body such that "anything can affect anything." Really. Take a look at a book like Anatomy Trains for an incredible illustration of this point. A headache may be more tied to a tightness in the foot than a pain in the neck, as it were.

One of the best ways to see this interconnection manifest itself, it seems, is when we do what our bodies are designed to do: move.

When the body is in movement, it calls into play so many inter-related parts that when watched via a skilled assessor or via a good screen, show off just how well our highly integrated systems are working together - or not - and provide clues of what may need to be addressed to get us moving optimally. Consider walking: we are not only moving limbs and counterbalancing tensions; we're balancing and orienting ourselves in space. Our central nervous system is, as Z practitioners (overview of zhealth)and others learn, "always on" too, always connecting all systems. I've written before about the power of the arthrokinetic reflex and how a crinked neck cuts strength in a deadlift.

The emphasis is on movement. Address the movement and other good things follow.

UPDATE: what are examples of what happens in a screen (motivated by question on DD)

Movement assessments say "let me see you move" - and based on watching you move, a certified screener/assessor can see where there are weaknesses/problems in that pattern. They then have a set of corrective strategies that map to tackling that issue. They work through these with you and retest that sore point (where the symptom is tweaking) to check for improvement, and iterate to narrow down on the best set for you.

So you may come in with a sore shoulder, and be asked for a history of your health, and then, in Z someone may say "let me see you walk" - to check for those patterns.

The issue doesn't have to be pain; it may be a plateau in a lift, or problem with part of a move. same thing. Let's look at how you move, assess, drill, retest that move that's your concern.

Here's another example for an assessment that you can step through:

on the Functional Movement Screen site, there's an overview that describes/shows the 7 screens of that assessment.

You go through each screen, each side of your body and get scored. Based on those scores, the person screening you suggests drills to address any asymmetry (differences in left/right side performance) or weakness. The foundational principle of the FMS is first address asymmetries, then improve performance.

In ZHealth (and here's an overview), there's a variety of assessments, but the fundamental one is to watch you walk. Given that, you may be given mobility drills (like those in the Rphase DVD) to address what's found.

Can i Just Screen Myself?
yes and no.

It's tricky because it's hard to see yourself from vary many angles. i can watch myself walk forward, but need a video to watch me from behind, which is really important. so ya maybe with video, if you know what you're looking for.

That said, Gray Cook's Atheletic Body in Balance had a shorter version of what was to become the FMS for this kind of self-assessment - better perhaps than a kick in the head.

More recently, Gray and Brett and Mark's work on the TGU in the Kalos Sthenos DVD has been proposed as "a screen" - in fact we've been talking about how the TGU compares with the FMS. SO if you rigorously checked yourself against the spec of the TGU on the DVD, at each of the 7 parts of that move, you could get a very good idea of where your weak link may be - Brett would be quick to say though that that may only show you where your weak link is in the TGU - we're not clear yet how well it generalizes as a diagnostic.

What one could do is say
  • hmm my shoulder's bugging me,
  • i'm going to do the ahtletic body in balance screen on myself and see what comes back,
  • and even if it doesn't show a shoulder issue, i'm going to run the pattern for whatever comes back in my test
  • do the corrective drills for the weak bits,
  • and retest my shoulder, see if it feels better.
The challenge would be (a) how much is your time worth to teach yourself this and try to apply it on yourself? (b) do you have the time to go through the corrective strategies, and do the application and recheck? if you do, that's great. way to go. Knowledge is power. Go for it.

One more point for consideration on the self-check - this is exactly what a lot of us do when checking out our own form in a mirror for the swing or the snatch, right? but if you've had the pleasure of being observed by someone trained to teach these moves, they'll see one little thing we might miss, tweak that and in two minutes it's as if we've gone to movement heaven.

So yes, it's very good to get body awareness, and in particular movement awareness. This is what something like the ZHealth Rphase/Neural WarmUp vids help build and what the KS DVD helps build from slightly different perspectives.

The benefit of then going to a certified trainer to have the assessment is like going to an RKC to watch your hard style swing or snatch to tweak it, or to an ikff ckt for your GS. Another pair of eyes; another depth of experience.

Isn't this an expensive luxury? I just have a tight hamstring...
That's a good question.
Let's qualify a tight hamstring first and then expensive.

In keeping with the view of our body as an integrated system - and not just a machine with replaceable parts, a tight hamstring could be caused by just about anything. Indeed, to quote Eric Cobb of ZHealth, anything can cause anything. What if it's just a signifier of something in your shoulder or foot that if it isn't addressed, that hamstring issue will keep coming back, and perhaps bring some of its friends and pump up the volume. The arthrokinetic reflex is just one example of how something happening in one part of our system has profound consequences *through out* the system.

So, if you take away one thing from this post i hope it's that a pain signal or perception of weakness may be a signal of a systems issue, and checking the system (in this case with a movement screen) is a good way to address that signal.

Note i'm not saying that we have to check the system to find the CAUSE of the problem - who knows what the cause is, and is that important? What we can do is check for what's happening in the movement, address that, and see the positive effects.

Now as to expense, it's unfortunate that movement assessment isn't part of medical insurance. But until it is, yes it's a choice as to how you spend your hard earned cash.
A qualified/certified trainer may well cost you as much as going to see a chiro or related therapist for an assessment. As with other disciplines/services, you get what you pay for, so a question may be:
  • What is your pain free movement worth?
  • What is a strategy that will help reduce the likelihood of the next injury worth?
  • What's your ability to train optimally worth?
  • or simply to get through the day without sore shoulders and/or a headache worth?
The price of a dinner for two? of a pair of sneakers? of a lighter kettlebell?

Likewise, seeing a pro movement specialist and trainer for 30-60mins can give your performance a huge boost that well pays for itself in terms of time taken to make these strides (and ability to make them without pain).

And there's other options:
with the CK-FMS (overview of cert), folks need to do a case study: they need someone they can see usually at least twice to assess and follow up. Search for a ck-fms in training and offer to be their case study. Some folks will also trade services for services, or have student rates. So ask. Packages are a great way to get even more value from your session. More on this next.

Optimizing the Benefit of a Screen: buyer's market.
There are a ton of personal trainers available - all dying to train YOU.
A growing number of smart trainers are adding movement assessment certifications to their tool box. You can look around for trainers that have such qualifications to go with your training - and you can check out what you think of those screens.

The RKC has hooked up with Gray Cook and Brett Jones to extend the Functional Movement Screen Certification to the CK-FMS. This cert material goes well beyond what's offered at an FMS cert, and is only available to RKC's - so with a CK-FMS, you have a top hard style kettlebell trainer and someone who knows how to run the FMS and who has done at least one deep case study on how to apply this approach from diagnostic to corrective strategies for that client.

Likewise, you'll find an increasing number of RKC's (and others) who (also) have Z-Health training. That trainer has a range of movement assessment tools and strategies available to them, too.

Both the FMS and ZHealth sites list certified trainers at least by location if not by name as well. It's relatively straight forward to check for someone who looks good via google and see what all their qualifications are, along with that particular cert, and see if that person looks like a match for your intersts.

What i like about the ZHealth listing for instance, is that you'll find physio's, rolfers, chiropracters, at least one MD, who care about fitness training, and have done advanced level Z certification, too. So what's your comfort level? if you want someone with a medical background also trained in movement assessment, you have choices.

So whether you're looking for kettlebell trainers or certified strength and conditioning coaches, or physical therapists, or chiropractors to help you with your fitness performance and health and well being, really the choice is yours. One of my most popular requests is for a movement assessment combined with a kettlebell movement check/tune up. I love that. It's a great package and a great way to optimize your training dollar/pound/euro/etc.

What does a movement assessment get someone, really?

In the FMS, Gray Cook talks about identifying your weakest link in order to address this link so as not to build function or strength on top of dysfunction.

In Z-Health, Eric Cobb talks about efficient, pain free movement.

The motivation in each case is similar:

- when you take away "the site is the source of the problem" perspective, you start to see a body in motion - not a collection of parts that can be assessed in isolation, but complex connected interrelated components.

From this perspective, the bod's really complicated: anything can cause anything. So an optimal way to look at the body is not at one part that may be saying something (on behalf of everything else), but at a whole organism in motion. The pragmatic consequence is a movement assessment that:

  • looks at you as a whole person who moves, and seeing that whole person move, help assess and improve that movement so that it's at its best. The usual consequence of this is improved overall performance and reduced pain.
  • provides you with strategies to address any movement issues to help improve your movement performance, and again the results of this are better overall movement; less pain; reduced risk of injury.

So if you have a tweak or a perceived weakness in a limb or have hit a plateau, consider these as signals not just to poke at a part, but as a call from your body to look at your whole self, and a great way to look at your whole physiological self is when it's in movement.

Guaranteed if you do this for yourself you'll be happier and healthier for it. And you'll find most trainers do offer guarantees of satisfaction, too.


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