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Random Thought: HRV

I just finished up working with a group of peeps that I’ve been working with for the last 10 years–take a moment just to think about that one–and as I was driving home it hit me, “why do I measure HRV?”

Great question, self!

What the heck is HRV anyway?  HRV=heart rate variability, and it is something that I learned back in undergrad when dealing with the heart.  Somewhere around Exercise Physiology 1 if I recall correctly.  This was information so prudent, much like the Kreb’s cycle, electron transport chain, lactate threshold, etc that I immediately deleted the information from memory as soon as I wasn’t responsible for it (lost? don’t worry, these other terms aren’t the topic here).

If you really boil down what HRV is, it is the measurement of one QRS complex to the next on an ECG, or more specifically the R piece of that gathering of letters.  In a normal individual you would expect to find that from heart beat to heart beat they would be roughly the same.  This in turn means that your nervous system is regulating pretty darn well as that silly system drives each heart beat.  However, in fatigued individuals such as athletes, corporate execs, and just anyone who has kids or multiple jobs you’ll find that from beat to beat there are slight differences.  Simply put, your nervous system is struggling to keep everything regulated…just a bit though.

Why does this even matter?

If your nervous system is a little whacky trying to control the autonomic (automatic) systems in the body, then how do you think it will do with the controllable parts like the ever important biceps?  Knowing that you’re HRV isn’t so great could give you or your coach the ability to maybe take out a set or two, maybe even give you the day for active recovery.  You’re definitely not going to hit any PRs.  You’re most likely going to crash and get some sort of illness or hurt if you keep pushing it.  Think Seyle’s diagram where you’re overstimulated.  Or to the layperson, think pneumonia or mono.

 

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Not too shabby this week
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Notice the red and yellow??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can get this stuff pretty easy too.  Shoot, the programs basically tell you if you’re good to go, mildly stressed, or in need of a staycation.  You definitely don’t need an ECG/EKG everyday.  I’m not personally affiliated with any group out there, however, I do use Bioforce HRV.  I think that the owner is an incredibly smart guy and does his homework when it comes to the state of the nervous system and cardiac system which is what sold me ultimately.  There are holes here and there for sure, but ultimately it is pretty high quality.

Take your training to the next step and work smarter not harder!

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Squatting: Good or Bad?

I was speaking a someone in a gym recently about squatting.  The conversation was more a list of excuses of why they couldn’t do a good squat.  So at the end of the day I was reflecting back on the conversation considering some of the points they were making regarding why squats weren’t good for them.

Before I get into the nitty gritty here, let me disclose some of my biases.

I like to lift things, so when the discussion comes to lifting or not my attitude usually sways in favor of lifting.

In discussing points of performance or health, I prefer to program single leg squatting/knee dominant activity versus the more traditional back squat or front squat.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still plug in the front squat and the trap bar (virtually a squat) where appropriate.  The back squat I’ll reserve for individuals who are competing in events that require it, for peeps who have a higher training age and are working in a more 1:1 setting, or for those that will go back to their college or pro strength coach who makes them squat.

Triple extension activity and hinge activity has more carryover to jumping as opposed to squatting in my eyes, but both are prudent.

Finally, Im generalizing here.  Squats are an awesome exercise, do them in some form within your training programs.

Good

When dealing with sport performance, squatting is absolutely necessary for a number or reasons.  But, beyond the performance world, squatting is important for general population and rehab as well.

Doing all hip dominant activity would eventually lead to overdevelopment of the posterior chain, and more than likely a poor quad:hammy ratio.  This would eventually lead to knee joint dysfunction, hip joint dysfunction, poor athletic quality, poor general purpose carryover, and more than likely injury.  Including knee dominant activity (squats in their variable forms) helps to keep the ratios balanced, injury down, and improves control of the knee in space.  The reality is that most high school athletes coming into the clinic have either overdeveloped quads or extremely underdeveloped everything.  For those individuals who are extremely underdeveloped, the best corrective exercise is going to be lift some weight.  Parents, even though you’re trying to do a good thing by protecting your kids, get out of the way.  You wouldn’t hire a mechanic to do your taxes, don’t hire an artist to train your kid.  Find a professional with a good reputation and the appropriate credentials.

Training a squat pattern is essential for basic activities of daily life….like sitting and standing, or going to the bathroom.  I would like to preserve these abilities personally.

Squat patterns are a great way to add variety to your general training programs as well.  It doesn’t even have to be the traditional back squat.  You can do so many different types of squats like goblet varieties, front squat, double kettlebell versions, single leg, split, etc. Not only do they add variety, but they also tend to be so much more of a usurper of energy, requiring the entire body to work.

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Bad

Just like with any exercise you potentially perform, squatting has the tendency to get ugly quick leading to injury.  If you have the ability to watch high schoolers squat either with their football team/coach or with their buddies it almost seems straight out of a cartoon.  Not being able to perform the action without weight they immediately put on 135 because they want to get faster and stronger.  It’s difficult to articulate the silly events that occur.  For that reason, putting a back squat in for groups of people is a challenge.  Front squats are also a challenge because you still have to be able to squat correctly and you need to be semi humble.

Not everyones levers are the same.  Simple.  Someone with extremely long femurs relative to their trunk will squat significantly different than someone with shorter femur length relative to their trunk.  Butt-wink is not a good place to be.  Not everyone is going to squat ass to grass, so please stop enforcing that.

People tend to get too crazy with things too soon.  Simplicity is such an amazing and under appreciated variable.  Monitoring your numbers becomes important so that you’re not exhausting your options too soon.  Adding bands, chains, weight releasers, etc are all cool things to post on the gram, but not always necessary unless you need to change the stimulus based on stagnation.  Keep it Simple.

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Fitting the Puzzle Piece Together

I was recently golfing with a fellow strength and conditioning coach and had a fun little statement about what is going on with my swing.  Normally, I am long with my irons.  This isn’t to toot my own horn, it’s simply because I swing out of my shoes and throw a little extra bicep curl into the swing.  Here’s the problem:  I was falling way too short.  I was making great contact with the ball and everything looked the way it was supposed to (to my own standards), but I was way short.

I know that my infrequent visits to the golf course are part of the issue.  However, I have also not worked on any piece of the spectrum of lifting except strength for the last few months.  A little bit of bench, some accessory work, maybe sit on a bike and think about cardio for a few minutes, call it a day.

In the world of strength and conditioning, personal training, physical therapy, etc. there are some potential short-comings.  With PT, the general consensus is to get them long, get them strong, then get them fast.  That’s great, but you can’t really do that with your athletes efficiently.  Especially if you’re only going to see that athlete for 12-36 weeks.

If you want to be the biggest dude to walk the planet and still not be able to pick up a spare tire for your car, go get your pump on.  If you want to move a house, go lift the heaviest things you can.  But, if you want to be fast and explosive, you better train that too.

Traditionally with strength and conditioning and personal training, you would train absolute strength to develop a base to build off.  True.  But most people coming in off the street have some strength.  Quite the assumption I know.  Most athletes, believe it or not, can already jump or run.  The idea is to make them jump higher or run faster.  Program plyometrics, speed-strength, strength-speed, and power (not all in the same day perhaps) as well as your strength.  This way you’re a little more efficient with your programming.

You can allegedly hold 98 per cent of your strength for a month of not training it.  But, those numbers drop much more significantly with power where you can hold roughly 98% for about a week before you see large drops.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink at your athletes.  Still program intelligently.  But make sure to train some expression of power even if that isn’t your emphasis.  This will allow you to not swing a golf club like a nana.

Some of the speed-strength/power exercises that I like to use with my programming include:  olympic lifts, kettlebell swings, kettlebell snatches, loaded jumps, loaded bounds

You can also place an emphasis on speed with the tempo of the lifts that you are comfortable teaching or that you’re already using.  This would simply require that athlete to explode through the concentric portion of the lift.  I like to remember the “do no harm” phrase here.

I would love to hear what other coaches are using out there.  Please share if you have a different philosophy.

 

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Why Do You Lift That Much?

So, this past weekend we made a trip to the wonderful vacation destination of Syracuse, NY for my sister’s graduation party extravaganza.  My sister, much like my father is a runner.  If any of you follow me on social media, you’ll know how I feel about the whole running cult.

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One of the coolest t-shirts

With that said, I should say that I do actually like to do sprints following a workout as nothing will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something more.  Not run for 9 miles because gross.  So if you do see me outside running then you should probably run in the same direction really quickly as I’m probably being chased by Sharknado, a lion, or Dunkin’ Donuts advocates.

I was lifting a large cooler out of the car by myself when my father told me to stop because I may hurt myself.  Checking my ego I said, “nah it’s not that heavy, I pull over 400 pounds off the floor”.  When in my habitat, that statement is usually met with some grunts followed by how much others pull.  To people who don’t lift heavy weights often that is a meaningless piece of information.  So he asked, why?

I’m generally pretty quick to fire back at my dad, the only person on the planet who has mastered the ability to find every single one of my buttons of irritation–and press them over and over again for the pure amusement.  This time I still fired back because I like a challenge.  But I stewed over this for a couple of days.

Part of me wanted to say, why do you run?  That’s a silly thing to do.  You can certainly develop your cardiovascular system in many other ways.  Nothing in your life requires you to be good at running.  But, this is more a look at why I like to lift things (don’t make that cliche statement from that stupid commercial about lifting things please!).

A couple of years ago I set a goal to bench over 315, squat and deadlift over 405, clean 275.  None of this is necessary in my day-to-day requirements, however, when demonstrating to my athletes it was important that I could lift a semi respectable amount of weight.  Otherwise they would think that I’m a phony (their words not mine).  Plus, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results was some smart guy’s (Einstein) definition of insanity.  And I know with my education in physiology that I need to continue to push the status quo in order to achieve adaptation.

Loaded Bar
415 for a couple singles…

School threw my aggressive training routine into the toilet.  Basically, life happens.  Now I’m finally hitting those goals and striving for different ones.

So now I understand why my parents always told me to think before I spoke.  Not only does lifting my goal coddle the ego a little, make sure that the high schoolers don’t chirp, but mostly I lift it because I like to.  The feeling of accomplishing your goals is awesome albeit short lived.  Runner’s want to run for 4 days straight–go ahead.  If you’re goal was to do that and live, then awesome.  If I want to lift a 20 pound cooler out of the trunk of the car without hurting myself, then don’t bend and twist.

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Coaching Cue on the Deadbug

The dead bug is a great tool to use for both rehab and for improving performance in the athletic and general population.  Creating stability with the floor will help the trunk musculature brace appropriately with virtually anyone on the planet being able to figure it out.  There are a couple different ways that you can attack this exercise and I’ll cover that in this article.

The deadbug exercise is used for a variety of reason in strength and conditioning and PT.  In PT, we can use it to help develop the trunk musculature which will potentially give us a better brace for protecting our low back.  Or a better anchor for our hip extensors to fire from (by protecting the integrity of the pelvis).  In strength and conditioning we can use it in a beginner program to help someone find their anterior core.  We can also use it as an offseason type exercise to help the athletes reset.

Generally speaking, when thinking about strengthening the trunk musculature–or core–people immediately think about the 6-pack.  Sure that is an important piece of the puzzle, however, consider all the other parts too.  If you  don’t have the ability to engage that internal Transverse Abdominus you’re going to have issues.  The idea isn’t that you want to live in the 1980’s and make each muscle fire independent of the others (impossible by the way).  Instead, find a way to coordinate all these groups together.

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A common cue that is used to train the deadbug exercise is “push your low back to the floor”.  This will certainly get you to engage your anterior core.  But is it the best way to keep you in a neutral position and bracing?

 

 

 

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Instead, try using a different line of cues.  Let the patient/client use their fingertips to feel the brace.  Simply have them find their ASIS and move in roughly an inch.  As they brace appropriately they should feel their “core” push out into their fingertips.  This is different from trying to suck your belly button to your spine though.  It is more of a hollowing effect similar to that used in gymnastics.

 

This also has an impact on the rest of your body.  If you’re cued to push your low back into the floor you will invariably drive all force into the floor.  But what happens to your upper trunk, neck, head?  If you’re bracing hard enough they’ll come off the floor similar to a crunch.  Fine, if you’re trying to get the anterior core work.  If you’re trying to get those deeper muscles to fire more effectively though, keeping neutral is a little better.  It will allow the patient to keep their head and upper trunk on the floor with the neck finding the natural, neutral position.

Give it a try in your programming and find what works best for you.  Feel free to give some feedback.

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Getting to Overhead Pressing

 

Today I wanted to share a quick breakdown of how we progress to pressing overhead.

A lot of our overhead athletes have difficulty owning the overhead position so we use a variety of methods to help get them there.  We start by reducing the amount of motor control that they need to use by putting them in a tall kneeling position.  This allows them to focus on what the torso is doing.  We also will use the landmine apparatus before they go straight overhead.  This allows them to continue to get strong before they’re truly able to own the overhead position.

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Hang Clean Progressions

Here is a quick video on how we coach athletes to get to a proper hang clean.

If we have a novice athlete in our facility, we generally try and teach them the hang clean first, however, if they aren’t able we will regress.  We will focus on using triple extension, then move to triple extension with the arms, then put it all together over the course of a training block.  These exercises are also great for athletes who do not want to use the hang clean because they’re under the impression that they aren’t good for them.

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Exercises You Love to Hate

We all have an exercise or two that we absolutely hate doing in the gym.  You see it on your program and immediately you want to go back into the locker room, change, and leave because of some made up 24-hour disease you make up to avoid doing that one exercise.  If only there was a way to add an exercise into the one you hate to make it a little more tolerable.

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Hmm…

So, I try to convince you all that you need this particular exercise.  It is something that you’re not good at, and you can’t always just do the things that you’re good at.  If you only do the things that you’re good at here then you’ll develop imbalances, pain, potentially long term injury.  Which is inevitably met with, “I know, but I still don’t like it”.

Unanimously, the Assault or Airdyne sprints are the least favorite.  Personally, I don’t mind the Assault bike, I will choose it as a preferred method of aerobic work because I don’t enjoy running mostly (unless it is after a ball).  I’ve heard it been called a number of different names with words consisting of “death” and “machine”.  I’ll stop and ask why people don’t like it and all I get in return is a shrug of the shoulders or no real reason at all.  I understand, if you told me to run for a prolonged period of time I wouldn’t really be too pleasant about it.  Even sprints, no thanks.

Split squats and rear foot elevated/bulgarian split squats are pretty high up on that list too.

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Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with RFE split squats.  I know they’re good for me, I know that I am getting stronger, I can readily see that carryover to performance in other lifts and sprint performance, but they absolutely wipe me out.  I’m virtually junk after doing these.  So the idea of doing anything else afterward is absolutely demoralizing.  Especially if I were to do some sort of HIIT–forget it.  But, like I said, it is a necessary evil. 

There are a few others that I get the mysterious 2 hour sickness report on.  What does everybody else say?

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Passion Fruit

No, this isn’t a plug for a new Drake track.  It is, however, another installment of the exotic fruit segment.  If you’re not familiar yet, I have a strange fascination with trying new foods when I go to the store, more particularly exotic fruit because I can have it at work as a snack.  Simply walk in the store, find the most bizarre thing that I haven’t tried before, buy it (or have the gf do it for me).

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Leah packed another gem recently, passionfruit.  This one is a little more messy to deal with so I suggest a spoon, bowl, and of course a knife.  At first glance it doesn’t seem like much, just a little green ball.  The more shriveled.., the more ripe.  There was more to the description there, but not very P.C.  Cut the thing in half and you get a neon goop that you scoop out.  It’s a very unique flavor, tart to say the least, but I personally like that sort of thing.

 

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Alright, it tastes good but what else?  It is a sweet treat having less than 100 Calories if you count those things.  Mostly consisting of sugar and fiber, but keep it context related here.  Natural sugar from fruit isn’t the same as an Oreo.  Contains a number of micronutrients like, Vitamin A, a few B, C, K also calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus to name just a few.

 

I guess there are a couple different kinds.  As long as they taste similar I’m good.  I would definitely enjoy this more at home than to look like a slob at work.

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Core is more than a 6 Pack

There are certain things in the strength and conditioning/personal training field that make you cringe every time you hear them.  Core is toward the top of that list, however, sometimes living in cliche phrases is what we need to do in order to communicate better with our patients/clients.

To better define what it is, let’s describe what connects to it.

First and foremost, when we think of the core, we think of the 6 pack–known as the rectus abdominus.  The muscle is essentially a sheet that connects the front portion of your ribs to the front of you pelvis.  It gets it’s shape from a central tendon–linea alba–and tendons that run horizontally from there.

But, if that was all there was, we would be in trouble.  We have external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominus that all band together to create a lattice of protection.  This is great, because without this protection we would basically rupture our internal organs housed in the area.

If we all addressed the strength and endurance of this area we would probably all be a little better off.  However, that is definitely not all that represents the core.  We have these fancy postural muscles that help hold us upright.  Commonly referred to the erector spinae group which is composed of three different pairs of muscles along the spine.  There are little tiny muscles that run between each vertebra in the spine, there is the QL, which runs from the hips to the lower ribs.  There is the iliopsoas group that runs from the lower spine to the hips.  One of the bigger players, I feel, is the lats.  They run from the upper arm and course all the way down to the hips.  They can create shoulder stability and a great extension moment in the spine.

Clearly, it is difficult to find balance.  Any imbalance, if great enough, will create movement dysfunction and surely pain.  In my experience, the majority of kids coming in can’t do a pull up or even some sort of inverted row which is essentially a lesser version.  They also present with a great amount of anterior tilt showing that their abs probably aren’t working all that well.  How do they conquer gravity then?

When taking part in a workout program, especially in the lower training ages (you haven’t worked out in a couple of months) then make sure to keep it semi balanced.  Realize that all your big lifts essentially have an extension moment on the spine, really requiring those meaty lats to hold down the fort.  I would encourage you to find some sort of flexion moment at the trunk level.

Please leave any feedback below!