The Darryl

Hill sprints have been a long and tumultuous relationship of mine. I enjoy what they do for my health and performance, but the process is often painful and annoying. So getting friends to join you with running hills is always a great way to make this more enjoyable. Finding a way to make a game out of the hills makes them more enjoyable and is an easy way to autopilot how much work you are going to do.  Here is the example of one such workout.

The set up

When I was working on my PhD at Kansas there were a surprising amount of good hills to sprint in the town. Specifically, there was a hill that was only about 100 yards from the building that I worked in that was about 75 yards long with the last 25 being much steeper. One day two of my friends joined me for the hill sprints and we decided we would do these sprints according to the trees dotting the hill. This would work as a pyramid where we would start with the longest sprint walk back to the tree one closer to the hill top and repeat until we did the shortest distance then start working our way back down until we made it to the longest sprint one more time.

campanile hill
Google maps of the hill with the distance reported.

When you do the hill sprints this way the fatigue and recovery ratio stacks to make the first half worse, but the second half due to that previous fatigue does not feel much better. I do like how this counts the number of sprints for you. We did this entire series and turns out Darryl puked and so this method was then named. You can do the same thing on a football field where you start with sprinting 100 yards then walk back 90, sprint 90 and so on.

To this day I sometimes use golf balls or other simple objects to help me count and give me general distances of how many sprints I have done. I even like to use a pitch counter or baseball clicker to count.

Summary

Sprinting is always going to be a good form of conditioning for anyone that is able to. The advantage of running hills is it is easier on your joints and muscles than running on flat ground or downhill. The key is to walk back each time and take extra breaks if you need them. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions about how to set this up just let me know.

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Side bends for love handles

An old student of mine contacted me about leaning up specifically reducing the “love handles” and I thought a quick post on this would be useful. Overall spot reduction is mostly a myth (if it happens it only does so to a very small degree). Wearing waist trimmers or doing endless side bends will not decrease this. What you have here is body fat and losing body fat in general will decrease their size.

However, it is important to understand that directly under that fat you have muscle. These muscles in particular are your internal and external obliques. These aid in core stability, rotation, and leaning side to side. Powerlifters and strongmen/women increase the size and strength of these muscles to help keep them safe and stable when lifting very heavy weights. What this does is increase their size which in turn thickens up your waist (not massively though). So as someone that is training for aesthetics you want to not hypertrophy these muscles, but maintain their function. A great choice here is a simple side plank done for time. Weighted side bends and large volumes of lateral ab exercises will only help hypertrophy these muscles just like occurs with any other type of training.  Think about doing side planks 1-3 times per week for 1-3 max time holds. Also lift up your top foot if this gets to be too easy and push your hips forward towards your toes, not letting them sink backwards so your rectus abdominis (abs on the front) start to take some or most of the work.

Transverse abdominis

Another muscle under all of your abs is the transverse abdominis which functions like a natural weight belt. Practicing “sucking it in” might help improve this muscles function which in turn can decrease your waist size if that muscle is under trained, nut more importantly help with your core stability and health. Do this two to three times per week for 10 total holds of 5-6 seconds after fully exhaling a breath.

Harsh Genetics

Part of your waist size is caused by your genetics, specifically the width of your rib cage and then you hips underneath them. If you have wider hips than your rib cage or both are quite broad you are going to have a larger waist then someone who has narrow hips. The only thing you can do here is pick better parents.

Summary

Sadly spot reduction is a myth, but cleaning up your diet and losing body fat will do the work for losing your love handles. Side bends and vacuums might help a bit with your waist size, but are not major effectors here. Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions please let me know.

Sharing is Caring – Gym Etiquette

Often times these days I find myself training at the student rec center on campus since the athletic weight room is closed or completely filled with the athletes (which is good thing for the coaches in both cases). Since I find myself in a student rec center I now get to share a platform with students. This is not a bad thing, worst case scenario we don’t talk to each other and best case scenario we enjoy a conversation and help each other out. I’ve been lifting for over a decade now and have developed the confidence to train with anyone (well nearly anyone). I often notice students standing around waiting to use one piece of equipment or another. Here is my basic advice for working with others:

Ask to work in

Sounds simple, but lots of people just wait until someone is completely finished. I for one when squatting take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to get through all my sets. Most of that time is spent trying to catch my breath and talking myself in to doing another set of squats. With all of that dead time where the bar is simply resting in the rack, just ask a person if you can work in with them. Now keep in mind changing the height of where the bar is in the rack is not that feasible, but you can still work with someone that is close to the same height as yourself. The people that might snub you because you want to work in are not the people you want to train around anyways. If they say they just have “2 sets left” while sitting around ask someone on another rack if you can join them. If they are occupying the only rack then offer to switch the weights to what you need and then back to their weight while they rest. If that doesn’t work, at least you did something other than stand around and will hopefully encourage them to wrap things up.

Split the platform

This works well if you are on a platform where there is a squat rack on one side and an Olympic lifting platform on the other. You can do a set of squats while someone is deadlifting and vice versa. The key here is simply the spacing between the two and making sure that one person is working while the other is resting (especially if one of you is doing Olympic lifts). You can even have two bars on a platform with different weights you just need to roll them in and out of position for whomever needs the weight for their set.

Start with something else

If you aren’t training directly for a competition of some sort (powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting) then you can start with some of your assistance exercises like your lunges, abs work, back extensions etc. and then circle round back to where you wanted to start. This change from the usual can be a stimulus to switch things up for your body on occasion and will save that coveted resources of time that you would otherwise be wasting.

Avoid the rush

If you happen to train at a gym that is just crazy busy at certain points of the day, perhaps it is time to start training in the morning, over your lunch hour, or later at night. Try to figure out which times on which days what equipment is busy. In America there is an unknown holiday amongst the bros that you bench press on Monday. So if you want to avoid the rush, bench press on Tuesday and squat on Monday. Pay attention to what doesn’t have a lot of people trying to use it and try to use that equipment during those times.

Bonus point: weight left on the bar

When in doubt if you see weight left on the bar ask someone adjacent to it if they know if someone is done using it. Often if someone has a few plates on each side of the bar it is there for a purpose: to be lifted by that individual once they return from the bathroom, getting a drink, etc. or that person is a jerk that doesn’t clean up their weights. Better to be safe than sorry here and not run afoul of other people that are equally busy as yourself and are trying to get some work in.

Summary

Overall gyms are trying to stay in business. If they built enough platforms and racks so that each person had their own they would either go out of business or training there would become far too expensive. Just be nice, ask to work in or share equipment with other people and you will often find they are human being just like you. Don’t be a jerk about it, but be confident and assertive when asking to join other people. Who knows, at the end you could make a new friend or training partner. Thanks as always for reading and have a nice day.

Cheerleading routines – Why you need to strive for perfection

This is a short post on understanding odds of success. The same logic can be applied to any sport skill and explains why striving for perfection is the goal. This is also why the little things matter on teams and how you must pay attention to the detail.

We are knee deep in national routine practicing and the students compete on Saturday in Disney. Good luck to all the teams that are going down to compete. Right now athletes on different teams throughout the country are working hard to make their stunts, pyramids, baskets, and tumbling all hit to counts. This takes lots of hard work and effort, and when it comes time for nationals; luck. The reason for this is probability. When you throw a routine you are working with the probability that each part will hit.

For example, if everything in the routine has no chance of missing you have a 100% chance of the routine hitting on the nationals mat. If everything in the routine has no chance of missing except for a pyramid which hits 90% of the time you have a 90% chance of the routine hitting on the nationals mat. Once we add in more than one element that misses on occasion the math starts to get interesting. Now let’s say the elite stunts hit 90% of the time and the final pyramid hits 90% of the time and everything else is solid. What do you think your chance of the routine hitting full out will be?

Your chance will be 81% of the time due to the fact that you multiple the probability of each element hitting (being successful). So your odds are much better than subtracting 10% each time, but not much better. Let’s use an example now where each element in a routine has a 99% chance of hitting. You throw 5 elites stunts, 6 intermediate stunts, 6 pyramids, 20 tumbling passes, 20 standing tumbling, and 8 baskets. If each of those elements independently hits 99% of the time your chance of hitting on the nationals mat is: 52 percent. This is why you need to not only keep training hard, but strive for perfection in every element that you throw. If there is even the slightest margin for failure in any element your risk of having a drop in the routine comes up markedly.

Don’t take this information as an excuse for failure, but as another reason to redouble your efforts and try harder to make everything as perfect as you can. You can only control the elements you are in, so exert that control to the highest degree that you can and find ways to make things work, not excuses for why they didn’t. Each time that you practice your skills you decrease your risk of failure. The more you do this, the better the odds get for you and your teammates. Good luck to all of the teams competing at nationals and thanks as always for taking the time to read this.

The Brian

If you ever want to humble yourself no matter how great of condition you are in go out to a track and sprint one full lap as hard as you can. This is a brutal method to train the body with, but it is highly effective. Dan John has written about just doing 4x400m sprints and calling it a full workout (if you are a strength/power athlete). Longer distance sprints (really hard runs) can help build greater lactate tolerance, potentially lactate clearance, and maybe even have a positive effect on aerobic performance. They are an effective method, but brutal one. This is the story of one such workout.

Campanile Hill at the University of Kansas

The most brutal hill sprint workouts at Kansas were sprinting up the campanile hill. This hill is legitimately nearly a quarter mile long that also has likely 50 feet of elevation gain. If I did sprints up it the goal was to do a total of 4 sprints and walk back down each time. Often stopping at the top to breathe for a few minutes and talk myself in to doing another sprint. One time a family member joined me for these sprints and was feeling froggy so they decided to jog back down and then sprint back up. On rep number 3 or 4 they proceed to do the rainbow yawn on the hill side and the name of the workout then became “the Brian”.

mallot hill
Google maps of the hill. Note how small the football fields look next to it.

 

Summary

Long distance sprints will humble and level you if you aren’t careful. Once you think you are up to task start off with maybe just one or two reps then doing more short distance work after. Slowly build up to maybe 4-6 reps in one work out and try to keep in mind what your rest periods are to see if your recovery improves with time. This is not something to jump into quickly, but can be a good test. If you are an aerobic athlete this can be a good change of pace for a speed workout, and you will likely be able to tolerate more of this volume, but still be careful since it can get you. I hope this helps out your training and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.

Grind Vs. Flow – Short Post  

When performing on a high level people can enter a state of flow. Flow is considered when everything moves well, comes easily, and is perfectly performed. This is where things just happen without extra effort or focus, the ancient Greeks referred to this as Arête (in a way) which was something that everyone should strive to experience. Think about watching a great athlete perform, an amazing musician play, or a speaker truly transform an audience. This is flow. However, when you are learning a skill you experience the opposite. This is the grind. This is where it is uncomfortable and no enjoyable. This is where you can plateau and keep banging your head up against the wall just trying to get a little better. Understand that you are improving your skills when you are grinding away, you are performing them at their highest level in flow. This isn’t what gets posted on social media or highlight films, but this is where champions are truly made. So don’t get discouraged if it only feels like you are grinding things out, instead embrace the process and understand that after you have grinded long and hard enough you will then hone yourself to a smooth edge and be able to flow. Good luck and keep training hard at whatever you do and as always thanks for reading.

Athletic Trainers are your friend

In my time working with athletes and getting to work with athletic trainers, I have often found some less than stellar relationships between the two groups. I think it is important for the athletes and coaches to understand what an athletic trainer is and how best to work together. Now, just like any industry, there will always be good and bad professionals to work with. What I hope to do here is give you an idea of how to start an open relationship and know the behaviors you are going to see in a good athletic trainer.

What is an athletic trainer?

Athletic trainers are traditionally the first responders for sports. They prepare each athletic venue for the occurrence of possible injury and/or emergencies, work on the sidelines assessing athletes when injuries do occur, help rehabilitate and treat them acutely, all while monitoring the field of play. By assessing athletes rapidly, the athletic trainers can take appropriate steps to establish a diagnosis, apply appropriate treatments, and when necessary, refer the  athletes to other experts for further evaluation and management. They help decide whether the athlete can safely return to play from injury. They also serve in a variety of other roles with athletes such as confidant and even counselor on occasion. Since they have to wear so many hats and work so many hours (especially on the collegiate and professional level) it is important to remember that they are human beings trying to be everything to all people, balancing what is needed versus what is wanted.  I would caution you to be wary of an athletic trainer who believes he or she is always correct or has to everything done his or her way shunning advice or feedback from others involved.  The athletic trainer who places the needs of the patient above all else is what I would consider the model athletic trainer.

How to work well with them

Communication here is key. Understanding the limits of your education and their education and how you can help each other will always bolster a better relationship. The athletic trainers are educated to make clinical decisions about a variety of health conditions, the acute management of those conditions, and when it is safe for the athlete to return to sport.  To participate in a power struggle over who should make return to play decisions (i.e. coach versus athletic trainer), suggests that the patient’s needs are not the priority. It can be hard to check your ego at the door to take advice (or yourself out of a game), but do yourself a favor and do it. By talking more often and making sure everyone is on the same page, you can do a better job of not only performing, but keeping yourself and your athletes safe. Working with athletic trainers  throughout the competitive year (off season, pre- season, and in-season) will allow for the building of relationships so athletes will be safe and have potential issues addressed before they become performance limiting or at worst, catastrophic.

Summary

I’m lucky to have worked with a variety of great athletic trainers throughout my time in competing and coaching. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to lift my arm overhead or do pull ups again. Take your time as a coach or athlete to get to know your athletic trainer and find out how to make the most out of your relationship with them. This post was heavily edited and contributed to by my friend and Colleague Aaron Sciascia who is an athletic trainer, educator, and researcher. He is the gentleman who spearheaded my shoulder repair by referring me to the physicians who performed the surgery and working tirelessly on my rehab. Thanks as always to him for his work.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Supplementing for Hard anaerobic work

With cheer nationals upon us I now see my athletes taking a number of supplements. A number of them aren’t worth the money they are spending on them **cough** BCAAs **cough**. Some are good, but they are taking too much or two little of the supplement. Here is a quick list of supplements that can help with acute power performance and anaerobic endurance (high intensity bouts that last 30 seconds to a bit over 2 minutes):

Quick note: some of these need to be taken chronically. This means you need to take them every day in order for them to have an effect. Other supplements you can take acutely to bolster performance, but when you do so you can become desensitized to them so cycle them accordingly (stop taking them every so often). There are also far more supplements than the ones outlined here, but in my experience these are the ones that tend to have the best bang for your buck (and are legal).

Caffeine – Dosage 3-6mg/kg of body weight, taken 30-60 minutes before training or competition. Caffeine is well known for having a number of positive effects on performance from decreasing perception of pain and masking fatigue along with potentially increasing power output and strength. There is a genetic factor for sensitivity here so try it out, but be measured in your dosage. This is an acute supplement that you can become desensitized to.

Beta alanine – 2-6 grams per day divided up in to one gram or less dosage taken with a meal. This supplement needs to be taken chronically. Too much at once causes paresthesia which is harmless, but it does cause an itching sensation on the face typically which is uncomfortable. Beta alanine helps increase intramuscular carnosine levels which in turn decrease the negative effects on performance that lactate and the proton cause from hard anaerobic work. This does take a few weeks of chronic dosing to have a significant effect.

Creatine monohydrate – 3-5 grams per day around your workout. Must be taken chronically to have its effect. Loading only causes you to peak your intramuscular levels faster, but ends up costing you more money in the end. Creatine increases your intramuscular levels of creatine which is part of the energy source of your shortest energy system that you tap in to when doing high power exercises. Increasing this energy reserve can increase performance in the shortest bout tasks (3-15 seconds), but it does cause water weight gain and some folks will find that they don’t respond to this supplement so be aware of how your body reacts and drink more water when you start taking it.

Maybe Use:

Beet root juice – 6.4-12.8mg per kg of body mass taken 30-60 minutes before your workout. Specifically it is the nitrates in beetroot juice that are converted in to nitric oxide which in turn increases blood flow to your exercising muscles which tends to help increase performance. This has a greater effect in the untrained than in the trained. This works acutely but taking it for a few weeks will have a greater effect.

Sodium bicarbonate – 200-300mg taken 30-60 minutes before your performance. Bicarbonate helps buffer out the decrease in pH that you get when doing high intensity exercise, however, it can be hard on your GI and work as a potent laxative. So the risk reward on this supplement is a bit dicey so I would potentially experiment with it where you can take a break to use the bathroom if you need to and go from there. This is to be taken acutely and definitely cycled off of on occasion.

Alpha Glycerophosphocholine (Alpha GPC) – 300-1200mg per day taken chronically and 30-60 minutes before training. Can increase acetyl choline levels which is a neurotransmitter important for muscle contractions and potentially has a positive effect on growth hormone levels and on power output. Also seems to stack well with caffeine, so take it with your coffee.

Summary

There are a few different supplements you can use to help enhance your anaerobic performance. Remember that we all react different to supplements, and the dosage is what matters quite often for the effects. Listen to your body and if it helps keep using it, if it hinders drop it immediately. If you have any questions or comments please let me know and as always thanks for reading.

 

Bonus:

To enhance recovery after training aim to get in 20-40 grams of protein (simple whey protein is a great choice here) and 20-40 grams of carbohydrate (simple sugars are a good choice here). Try to start drinking this before you finish your training session and finish it within half an hour of the end of your training along with taking in a real meal within 2-3 hours of this hard training.

Getting Older, or How to Recover Faster

An old friend of mine contacted me the other day about what can be done to help enhance recovery from training especially when you get older. This was great timing since a student asked me a question about using ice baths to help with recovery and I asked him what the two most important parts of recovery are. He didn’t know immediately but pretty quickly we got to the answer:

Sleep and Nutrition

Now with sleep when it comes to recovery we are looking to maximize this number. I know that life will get in the way here, but in a perfect world we are looking to get eight hours or more each night. Old school lifters would suggest sleeping eight hours and an extra one hour for each hour of hard training. Aim to improve your sleep quality as much as you can. You can do this by making your room the right temperature for you, as dark as possible, and start making a routine for yourself before bed to help you unwind and fall asleep faster. This can be things like no more screens an hour before bed or wearing blue light blocking glasses before bed to help yourself release more melatonin to help you fall asleep.

After getting enough sleep, nutrition is key. Making sure that you are getting in enough calories to support your training is a big first part to take care of. After that getting in enough protein, carbs, and fats (macronutrients) to support your training is important. To decrease soreness specifically, make sure you are getting in enough protein to support your training (at least .75grams per pound of body weight, up to 1.5grams per pound of bodyweight for someone that is trying to lose weight). Then make sure you are getting in enough carbs and fats (you can experiment here but start off with at least 1gram per pound of bodyweight on carbs and .6grams per pound of body weight on fats). After you get this dialed in aim to get in a meal of protein and carbs directly after training to help expedite recovery from your training and get in a meal 2 hours before your training if you can. This will help you fuel your workout and recover from it faster.

Other Methods

Sleep and nutrition at the big two keys to recovery from hard training. If those are not enough you might want to decrease your training volume or intensity since you might be doing more than your body is prepared for. If that isn’t in the cards there are a number of recovery methods that can work, but individual response here is key. Some folks will get a lot of out of these methods and others will get none at all. If you have the cash try them out, but here is my basic list I would recommend trying:

Active Recovery – this is doing work at a heart rate of less than 100 beats per minute. The constant movement for half an hour or more (going for a nice walk). Helps enhance blood flow to not only the muscles, but the joints to help everything recover. Be careful to not go overboard here and use this to actually help yourself recover from the stress, not cause more of it.

Ice Baths – sitting in very cold water for about 20 minutes can help with recovery, but is not only uncomfortable, but can be limiting based upon access to ice and a clean bathtub. This does work for a number of people so take a look and give it a shot sometime to see how your respond.

Saunas (or hot tubs) – This increases blood flow to the skin and activates heat shock proteins which in turn can help with cellular function. This used for about 15-30 minutes can help with recovery or just be useful for overall health (specifically cardiovascular). Give it a shot at the end of your workout to help increase the workouts effectiveness. Do be careful since the heat can be dangerous especially if you are dehydrated to start.

Compression (specifically devices like the normatec) – This is either garments which have limited evidence or pneumatic sleeves that are put on different regions of the body. The sleeves seem to be quite effective with helping recovery, however they are expensive. This is not the same as blood flow restriction training to be clear.

There are more, but those are the ones that come to mind for being effective to some and remember the key is individual response. You can try out other methods that you think help, but do your best to track your own response however you can and avoid confirmation bias. What this means is you are going to recover no matter what, so using something might not be accelerating what was already going to occur. You might try multiple methods at once and then you could falsely believe it was the moon rocks that improved your recovery not the extra sleep and nutrition you were doing better with.

Summary

There are a number of means to enhance recovery, but never ever underestimate the effects of sleep and nutrition. After that experiment a bit to see what helps you and throw out what doesn’t. If you have any questions or want me to write further on any of this please let me know. As always, thanks for reading.

Bodyweight Circuits for the Cheer Team

From Wednesday (the 20th) until the 27th the cheerleading team is enjoying the holidays with their family. During this time it is a welcome reprieve from the onslaught of hard training that is cheerleading nationals practice. However, one week off can make quite the difference in performance since the athletes will then return and have just over two weeks or hard practicing before nationals competition. One week of being completely sedentary can drop down your performance by more than 5% in areas like speed, anaerobic endurance, and strength. This can make or break the performance of the athletes so even though they have the week off they need to at least get in a few workouts. These don’t need to beat them down, but get the body moving and maybe even bolster recovery. The goal is to get in two workouts at a minimum over the week off and preferably more.

So without further ado, here are some body weight workout circuits for the cheer team on their week off that they can do at home (I really didn’t break the bank on naming these):

The Flyer

6 rounds of:

1 back tuck

10 squat jumps

4 burpees

5 push ups

10 step ups each leg

5 v-ups

10 lunge jumps on each leg

1 minute of holding a plank and shifting to each side holding a strong position

 

The Tumbler

5 rounds of:

2 back tucks

5 pike push ups or handstand push ups

1 back tuck

10 burpees

10 v-ups

10 lunges on each leg

1 back tuck

10 squat jumps

10 clapping push ups or close grip push ups

10 russian twists on each side

 

The Midlayer

5 rounds of:

1 back tuck

10 burpees

Side plank on each side for 30 seconds

1 back tuck

10 squat jumps

10 push ups

10 lunges on each leg

 

The Base

5 rounds of:

1 back tuck

10 burpees

10 pike push ups or handstand push ups

10 squat jumps

10 close grip push ups

10 lunges on each leg

10 clapping push ups

10 lateral lunges each leg

Planks on each side for 30 seconds each on your hands not elbows

 

The Hill

Find a long hill and sprint up it (over 30 yards long), at the top do 10 push ups and 10 v-ups then walk back down. Repeat this for a total of 10 reps or more. Feel free to backpedal up the hill, slide sideways, and if you feel hardcore bear crawl up it forwards or backwards.

 

Other options

Every day the athletes should go for a half hour walk and stretch out some. This can mean very little stretching for the bases, but lots of stretching for the flyers who have issues with pulling a heel stretch (for example). This will be good active recovery, which should help the body feel better overall. I would also suggest going hiking or doing any form of cardio and basic strength training that they are interested in. If the athletes already have a workout that they enjoy doing, just do that, but the rest of them that have no solid plan (or gym membership back at home) use the workouts above.

Summary

One week off can make or break a nationals team, especially when it is over holidays which are tied to over consumption and a lack of physical activity. No other sport has the same reality where the athletes are only three weeks out from competition and taking a full week off that I can think of. To my athletes try out a few of these workouts and have a safe and fun break. If you have any questions or comments just let me know. Thanks as always for reading.