Two weeks ago I attended the 2012 Perform Better Summit in Rhode Island, which featured lectures and hands-on presentations from some of the top strength coaches in the world.
These strength coaches not only coach top professional athletes, but are thought leaders who are constantly refining and improving their exercise methods. It’s rare in the fitness industry to find people who walk the walk and talk the talk while boasting as much as 30 years of coaching experience.
I planned on sharing some of the nuggets I learned with you right after the conference, but just today I finally went through all my notes so I could distill them into this article.
The following are 7 insights that can help improve your knowledge of exercise and in particular strength training:
1. The #1 Goal of a Training Program Is to Prevent Injuries During Training
If you find yourself getting injured during your workouts, something is very, very wrong. No matter what your goals are, the #1 goal of a training program is to avoid injury during training and then second is to help reduce risk of injury during a sport, or in everyday life. After that, you have increasing strength, muscle gain, fat loss, increasing performance, or whatever specific aesthetic, or performance goal you may have. Here are a few training tips courtesy of strength coach Mike Boyle:
2. Pull More, Push Less
If you spend a lot of your time in the gym pushing weights such as benching, or pressing weight over your head, try to flip that around by pulling more.
In fact, Todd Durkin who trains Drew Brees and Ladanian Tomlinson went so far as to say a sound program should require pulling to pushing motions in a 2:1 ratio.
If you are a working professional who sits in a chair and works on a computer most of the day, the chances are you will have common posture problems that include (1) tight pecs (2) tight hip flexors, (3) weak upper back muscles and (4) forward head posture. Your entire body is pulled forward. As you age, these problems can become more pronounced.
So what exercises are the worst for someone who sits at a desk all day long?
1) Benching (horizontal pushing)
While these exercises are great assuming normal posture, they can become very problematic when not matched with exercises that help stretch the chest, strengthen the back, and loosen the hip flexors. And what exercises can help accomplish this? Pulling exercises of course!
3. The Evolution of a Strength Coach
If you’ve been lifting for a while, the chances are you’ve followed a similar path as below. When I saw this slide during Mike Boyle’s presentation, I just shook my head:
When I was 16 years old, I was reading muscle magazines and doing bodybuilding routines. In college where I was an athlete, we did a ton of very heavy olympic lifts as part of our strength & conditioning program. Unfortunately, because my strength coaches were not nearly as astute as those at the conference and I was thickheaded, I ended up getting a serious back injury (herniated disk that required surgery) from a combination of movement efficiency problems and poor lifting technique while deadlifting.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to change my ways. It took many more years of injuries over and over again before I truly appreciated the importance of functional training. If you haven’t gone through these stages yourself, just save yourself a lot of grief and become a functional training guy/gal right now!
4. 2 Rules of Exercise Program Design
Rule #1 – Do no harm – I’m sure you are starting to notice a theme here, but the key is to reduce the chance of injury during and after exercise.
Rule #2 – The tortoise beat the hare – Results don’t happen overnight. Developing a plan that lasts months, not weeks is the intelligent approach to maximizing results and minimizing injury.
5. Alternate Periods of Volume & Intensity
Periodization is the strength training concept where an exercise program varies over time in terms of volume and intensity. For example, a basketball player should have different exercise programs off-season, pre-season, and in-season. Even if you are not an athlete, ideally the same would apply to your own exercise regimen; it will change over time.
Increasing volume of exercise means increasing the total number of sets and reps and increasing intensity requires adding more weight and decreasing rest periods among other variables. Over time your exercise routine should vary between volume and intensity phases (aka accumulation and intensification) to help maximize performance and reduce the risk of injury and overtraining.
6. It’s All About Movement Patterns, Not Individual Muscle Groups
When I first started learning about the importance of movement patterns several years ago, it took another several years (i.e. until now) for it to really sink in.
When you complete an exercise, the chances are you think about the muscle group that the exercise is targeting. Instead, consider the movement pattern, which is what really matters. If you want a naturally lean and strong physique that is injury proof, the exercises you complete should be based on movement patterns, not muscle groups. I promise to explore this concept of movement patterns (and more generally functional training) in much more detail in future articles.
As a final note, human movement is developed in patterns, not muscle groups. When you were a baby, chances are you started crawling, kneeling, then walking a few steps here and there. We learned how to exercise by moving through various patterns, not by focusing on our biceps. While there’s nothing wrong with a set of biceps curls here and there, this same concept of movement patterns should apply in our adult life.
7. A System to Address Movement Dysfunction is Critical
Now since you are getting a feel for how important movement efficiency is toward reaching your long term health and fitness goals, how do you move better?
Interestingly, roughly 1/3 of all the presentations at the conference were related to moving better – not to increasing strength, or increasing power, or even getting bigger. The best way to move better is to first get screened to see what movement dysfunctions you have, then address those dysfunctions with corrective exercises.
The most popular screen is the Functional Movement Screen, which is administered by personal trainers and strength coaches who have been certified to do so. I’m going to consider creative ways to simplify the screens so you can do them yourself. Stay tuned.
This one phrase helps sum up the conference and I hope you heed its significance: