Originally posted at www.t-nation.com
Last year, I wrote an article titled 28 Things I’m Learning. The key point being that I’m always learning and very few things in life are definite.
My original goal for this piece was to write up 29 things I’ve learned since last year, since I’m a year older and (arguably) a year wiser. However, as I got to 20 I realized adding nine more blurbs would be much akin to a musical artist who releases a double-disc of average content, versus one loaded with hits.
There’s no filler here.
I’ve tried to include a mix of training related material, along with some non-training stuff, as well. I’m all for taking the industry to the next level, but we need to have a life and some enjoyment outside of the gym. Plus, I write training articles all the time so doing something different is just plain fun.
I hope you enjoy my random mix of musings, rants, and eclectic thoughts!
1. Developing your serratus anterior is kind of important
If you’ve worked with shoulder injuries for any significant amount of time, you can appreciate this sentiment. The serratus anterior is not only key with regards to improving the stability of the scapulae, but also for achieving full upward rotation of the scapulae. Stability is kind of important (note sarcasm) if you appreciate your shoulder and rotator cuff health. Upward rotation is kind of important if you like having the ability to put your hands over your head.
Quite simply, the serratus anterior is a key muscle in keeping your body healthy. For more information, check out the article Bill Hartman and I wrote, Push-Ups, Face Pulls, and Shrugs.
2. As is developing your lower traps
Much like the serratus anterior, the lower traps are an often forgotten muscle group. How many times do you hit the gym and overhear a guy saying:
“I’m really looking to bring up my lower traps.”
Unless his name is Dwight Schrute, it just doesn’t happen.
The lower traps provide a bevy of benefits with regards to shoulder health and performance. The lower traps are a key stabilizer of the scapulae, and they, too, are integral in promoting upward rotation.
To start developing those lower traps to massive proportions, you’ll need to include a mix of both activation and strengthening-based drills. Scapular wall slides are an excellent choice for activation. While lat pull-downs, chin-ups, and pull-up progressions with an emphasis on depressing the scapulae will get their strength up to par.
If you change nothing else about your upper body training this year, focus on developing your serratus and lower traps. You won’t be sorry.
3. Everyone is a critic
This industry is just like any other. There are people at the forefront who are actually making things happen and others at the back who want to take shots and sip Haterade all day.
I have one goal: To keep things positive. If I keep myself in check and do what I need to do, good things will result. It’s up to you to determine what you want from life and go after it with a vengeance. Whether your goal is to become a great coach, trainer, athlete, or just to make more money, by keeping things positive and focusing on yourself versus others, you’re sure to succeed.
4. As an industry, we have a long way to go
I’m the first to claim that I don’t know everything. In fact, the old cliché is quite true — the more I learn, the more I learn that I don’t know.
Unfortunately, there are far too many trainers out there who are totally clueless. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but these trainers don’t even know that they don’t know!
I guess we’ve all wanted to smack one around at some point.
While getting some work done a few weeks back, Bill Hartman and I discussed how blurry the lines are now between “trainers” and knowledgeable “fitness enthusiasts.” Some “trainers” out there are completely worthless. In contrast, there are some people who do this fitness thing for fun that are really bright.
This is the information age, with people having more access to information and knowledge than ever before. The only solace I can take is knowing that bad trainers won’t be in the business very long.
5. Organization may be more important to eating correctly than anything else
A lot of the people I start working with know how to eat. They know they should eat more fruits and veggies. They know they need to eat lean protein with every meal. In other words, they know all the basics to get them started.
The problem? Organization!
Organization is one of the most vital components of solid dietary habits. If you have your meals planned out, or better yet already prepared, you’re much more likely to succeed. If you get in a rush or something comes up, you already have a contingency plan.
When you aren’t prepared, that’s when convenience will take over. You’re starving and you know that king size Whatchamacallit is heart disease in a wrapper, but damnit you’re hungry!
Bottom line: The more organized you become with your eating, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.
6. The intrinsic hip muscles are largely overlooked with regards to injury prevention
They call me the Ass Master here at Testosterone for a reason. If you aren’t the brightest bulb in the bunch, here’s why:
We know the glutes are hugely important, whether your goal is injury prevention or better lifts. But the glutes are so 2005. It’s 2008, and it’s time to talk about the psoas, or your front butt. And no, we’re not talking about a BIF, Dunlop, or anything of the sort. Just a little FYI.
I first started thinking about the role of the psoas after viewing Michael Boyle’s “Functional Strength Coach” DVD series. Shirley Sahrmann also states in her Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes that a weak or inhibited psoas can lead to issues with the tensor fascia latae (TFL).
If your primary hip flexor can’t do its job (i.e. psoas), then others (like the TFL) are forced to take over. It’s very similar to how an athlete can strain their hamstrings or adductors when their glutes aren’t firing correctly.
So what does this have to do with anything? Anterior knee pain is a huge cause of concern. I frequently work with people who have soft-tissue problems in their TFL/IT band and their rectus femoris. Want to know what they typically have in common? Their psoas is slacking on the job!
Here’s how it looks:
Weak psoas -> overactive TFL -> excessive tension on the IT band -> lateral knee pain
Weak psoas -> overactive rectus femoris -> excessive tension on the quad tendon/patellar ligament -> anterior knee pain
To properly activate the psoas as a hip flexor, the hip must be above 90 degrees. In other words, the knee must be above the hip. I like to start my clients out on a low box where it’s a more isolated contraction. Think about staying tight and tall and driving via the hip. If you lean back or forward to create the movement, you’re not doing it correctly.
Once the seated version becomes easy, you can move up to a standing progression. This variation is much harder when done correctly, because you’re forced to do multiple things:
• Stay tight and tall, especially through the core and thoracic spine
• Extend the opposite side hip (i.e. contract that glute)
These progressions can be used in the warm-up or throughout the day for motor control purposes.
Get your psoas firing correctly, while simultaneously working to loosen up the TFL and rectus femoris. Your knees will thank you.
7. The pendulum is swinging the other way
With all things in life, there’s a natural ebb and flow. In the nutrition field, we’ve seen high fat diets and low fat diets. High carb diets and low carb diets. Right now, two of the biggest topics of discussion going on in the training world are interval training and foam rolling.
For a long time, low-intensity, long duration cardio was the way to lose fat. A couple years back, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction, as trainers and coaches espoused the benefits of interval training. Even today, we can already see a little backlash and certain members of the industry going back towards steady-state work.
Foam rolling is another topic that has garnered a lot of debate. I’m still a huge fan, especially early on in the training process. But, I’ve also said all along that hands-on soft tissue methods are a must as part of a holistic training and recovery program.
With most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in between. More importantly, understand that everyone is different. Whether it’s training age, chronological age, injury history, biomechanics, or a host of other factors, the easiest answer is always “it depends” until you get your hands on specifics.
8. Lift Strong should be the product of the year
In case you haven’t heard of the Lift Strong CD ROM, here are a few snippets:
• Over 800 pages of materials
• 50 leading authors contributed
• It only costs 25 bucks
• All of the proceeds go to fund cancer research
If you haven’t purchased a copy yet, what are you waiting for? Check it out at LiftStrong.com.
9. Life is precious
2007 was particularly difficult for me for a lot of reasons. Most importantly, I had four key people in my life all pass away within a six-week time frame. The hardest to deal with was one of my best friends (a former college roommate) who committed suicide.
Since that time, I’ve made it a goal to focus on the positive things in life. We’ll always have things that are negative around us; stressors that make life a little less enjoyable. But, do your best to rid yourself of these whenever possible.
Finally, take the time to let those close to you know that you love them. I know this sounds cheesy in an article, but you have a different outlook on life when things like this happen. Alwyn Cosgrove has told me multiple times that beating cancer twice has totally changed his outlook on life.
Hopefully, people like you and I don’t need a bout with cancer to remind of what’s most important in life.
10. We must work to balance research and applied sciences
I’m at fault here to some extent on this one. When I was in a research setting, I wanted everythingto be supported by studies.
After I came out of the research setting, I was a little disenchanted with the whole thing. I’d seen up close what goes on, and for some reason it left a bad taste in my mouth. It had nothing to do with the people I was associated with. In fact, I worked with some of the best and brightest in the field. In a lot of ways, though, research just wasn’t for me.
If we really want to take our craft to the next level, though, we need to get better at balancing research and applied sciences. We need to know what the top coaches andthe top researchers are doing. There used to be a greater disconnect between the two; the coaches were doing one thing and the researchers studying another. I think both are getting on the same page now, and we need to see both sides of the equation to make more informed decisions with regards to training.
11. Cardio doesn’t have to suck
If you’re still running like a gerbil on a treadmill, I feel sorry for you. I’m a fast-twitch guy at heart. In the immortal words of Eric Cressey, “The only thing I run for is seconds.”
Cardiovascular training doesn’t have to suck, though. There are two ways I try to accomplish this:
A) Make it fun, and/or
B) Make it competitive
If you do either (or both) of these things, people will buy into it and stick with you a lot longer. I really like Tony Gentilcore’s idea from a while back. It calls for rolling a dice at the end of each workout, with each number associated with a different training medium.
It could look something like this:
1) Kettlebell swings and snatches
2) Prowler pushes (pictured below)
3) Bodyweight circuits (push-ups, bodyweight squats, lunges, etc.)
4) Sled drags (forward, backward, side-step, carioca/crossover step, etc.)
5) Medicine ball circuits
6) Low-intensity sprints, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or even low-impact agility drills
By incorporating this into your or your clients’ training, not only will you achieve your goals, you may just find yourself enjoying it.
12. All coaches should be forced to present their views on training
To develop the content for my Australian Seminar Series (and now for my Indianapolis Performance Enhancement seminar), I looked to the main tenets behind my training programs. Quite simply, I wanted to give the audience my keys to successful programming for the core, upper extremity, lower extremity, etc.
Let me tell you this: Correcting things on the fly and coaching is one thing. Being able to rationalize, defend, and present your entire coaching philosophy is totally different. If every coach was forced to present their overall training philosophy to a group of strangers, the industry would be in a lot better place.
13. Progression, as it relates to program design, is largely underappreciated by the training community
One thing I see far too often is the arbitrary inclusion of exercises into various programs.
When we’re talking about progression, we not only need to know where to start someone, but how to progress them, as well. You figure out where to start someone with your initial assessment. But, how do you take them from the assessment to a point where they’ve achieved their goals?
This is where the good coaches make their cash. It’s not about the “quick sell” and getting someone to purchase your super duper six-week training package. It’s about continually improving the people you work with over the course of months or years. If you can continually progress them and help them achieve ever higher goals, you’ll never have a cash flow problem at your facility or within your business.
14. Depth of understanding is far more important than learning new stuff
I’m often accused of not bringing enough “new” stuff to the table. What can I say? In all honesty, I don’t think there’s that much “new” stuff to begin with. And even less is actually noteworthy.
Instead, start thinking about the depth of your understanding. For instance, I was watching a DVD with Guy Voyeur from the SWIS conference a few years ago on the topic of low back pain. I’ve had great success helping people with their low back pain, but Guy was getting into some very heavy microanatomy that I wasn’t too familiar with.
The point I’m getting at here is this: Don’t worry so much about “new” stuff. Instead, really focus on the depth of your understanding. Just because you’ve had great success up front doesn’t mean you can’t have even better success by delving deeper.
15. Don’t stop giving back
My former partner, Mike Dodd, was on me for years to start doing some volunteer work. He constantly told me about how much I’d enjoy it and how it’d enrich my life. While I wanted to do it, “time” was not something I wanted to sacrifice. I was answering a ton of random training related e-mails per day, trying to help people achieve their goals. That should count, right?
In my eyes, that absolutely does count. I want to help people succeed, and this was a way to do that. But a few weeks ago, my wife and I started volunteering at the local Humane Society, and it’s been a great pleasure. Honestly, I’m kicking myself now for not starting it sooner.
You’re doing something positive and they get a new butt to sniff. Everyone wins.
If you’re a big believer in a well-balanced and holistic life, take the time to do this for yourself. Maybe you just want to donate cash to a good cause. If you’re light on the green stuff, maybe you could take an hour or two to play cards with some old folks (leave the hustle at home).
Just don’t put it off like I did. Once you do it, you’ll understand just how important and enriching it can be.
16. Learn from all of the smart people in this field
There’s not a lot more I can tack on to this one. Listen to everyone, but try to understand their vantage point and frame of reference. Everyone has biases, both good and bad.
Even if you learn absolutely nothing or disagree with everything someone says, at least you have a better idea of why you do things differently!
17. We need to get mobility from the right areas if we want to stay healthy
C’mon now, I’m the mobility guy. Did you really expect me not to bring this up?
Michael Boyle’s “Joint-by-Joint” approach is a great starting point. I think I did a good job of modifying it to my needs in the article The Mobility-Stability Continuum. For the easily distracted, I’ll give you the one-minute synopsis.
Every joint has a trade-off, or balance, between mobility and stability.
The ankles, hips, thoracic spine, upper cervicals, scapulae, and gleno-humeral joints generally need more mobility. These joints have more freedom of movement, in more planes, than the joints above/below them.
The feet, knees, lumbar spine, lower cervicals, scapulae, and elbows generally need more stability. These joints have less freedom of movement, in fewer planes, than the joints above/below them.
The “mobility” joints (with the exception of the gleno-humeral joint) don’t seem to get injured as often. They lose mobility (or become too stiff relative to the surrounding areas), and the “stability” joints take the brunt of the workload.
If you want the full recap, read the articles.
18. Karma is a bitch
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all spiritual on you here. But, I should make it known that while I’m not spiritual in a “go to church and pray every day” kind of way, I do believe myself to be spiritual.
And I’ve seen karma work, in both good and bad ways.
The bad people I’ve been surrounded with in my life may get by for a while. Outwardly, they may even appear to prosper. Bad things always come around to them in the end, though.
On the other hand, good karma is true, as well. I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with some amazing individuals in my life. Not coincidentally, these people are always moving forward and enjoying greater satisfaction within their own lives.
Some might call it luck, chance, or a number of other words. I don’t buy it. Karma, either good or bad, will find you at some point in time. It’s up to you to determine which it’ll be.
19. The VM/VMO is a pretty sweet muscle
If you checked out my Bulletproof Knees article or purchased the manual, you already know that I’m not a huge fan of isolative work for any muscle. But, recent research has shown that the vastus medialis and vastus medialis obliquus (VM and VMO) are definitely unique when compared to the other quadriceps muscles.
Here are a few bullet points to help clarify:
• We know that the more distal portions of the VM (i.e. the VMO) have a greater angle of pennation when compared to the more proximal fibers.
• The VM/VMO has three motor points, whereas the vastus lateralis (VL) and rectus femoris (RF) each only have one.
• When stimulating the more proximal motor points of the VM, the associated musculature attached directly to the quad tendon. In contrast, the lowest motor point and the stimulated musculature attached directly to the medial patella. (1, 2)
What does all this mean? It appears as though the VL, RF, and superior portions of VM are there to extend the knee (duh!). In contrast, the most distal portions of the VM are primarily there for patellar stability and medial tracking. This would appear to be true, especially when you see that the angle of pennation changes andthere’s a separate motor point to promote muscle activity, as well.
The jury is still out on this one, but it’s interesting research nonetheless.
20. Take time to review your goals and reasons for training
I’m constantly shocked at how many people have no real clue why they’re training. Sure, they may want to get a little bigger, a little leaner, or a little stronger, but they have no real plan of attack.
What do all these people have in common? They may get a little bigger, leaner, or stronger. But usually they won’t. What’s worse? They’ll typically go backwards — getting a little smaller, fatter, or weaker!
As life changes, we need to be willing to adapt our training related goals and processes. When we’re younger, we usually have fewer responsibilities and can dedicate more time to training. As we age, our responsibilities typically increase and our priorities shift, as well. Quite simply, we may want to continue to see progress, but not at the expense of having a great life in a lot of different regards.
By taking time every week or every month to review and evaluate your goals and progress, you give yourself the best chance for long-term progress. The program that worked for you one year or even one month ago may not work for you now! Do your best to stay in tune with your body and your goals, and you’ll rarely be disappointed with the direction your training is headed.