THE BELT SQUAT ADVANTAGE

I believe I first heard about the Belt Squat machine from Louie Simmons strength coach and powerlifting legend. I have a ton of respect for Simmons. I have many of his books and listen to his podcast, but I never came across a belt squat machine to personally try and didn’t have my own gym yet, so buying one was out of the question. Then around 1 year ago I saw that Charles Poliquin got a belt squat machine for his personal gym in his house. Once he gave it his stamp of approval in addition to Louie Simmons I was pretty much committed to getting one at Urban Strength Institute. It just so happened that Atlantis Strength just manufactured a belt squat, and, like all their equipment, it looked amazing. To me, Atlantis is the creme de la creme of exercise equipment.

I’ve been performing the basic back squat and many of its variations since 1990 and I’ve had pretty much every client I’ve ever worked with that was qualified to do them perform squats as well since 1999 when I started training people for a living. I love traditional back squats and many of the variations, but there are some glaring limitations or issues with them I’ve seen and the belt squat machine addresses some of these limitations, which are the following:

1. The limiting factor with conventional squats is often times the strength of the back more so than the strength of the legs.
2. Many people have some biomechanical issues, for example, feet pronating and externally rotating, knees buckling inward, lower back rounding, which causes a lot of shearing forces on the spine.

The great thing about the Belt Squat machine is none of these limitations occur. Your back is not the limiting factor since you’re not loading your spine with a bar on your back. You’re also not getting the spinal compression with the belt squat that you would with a barbell squat. The belt actually pulls your lower back causing a slight decompression at the low back, kind of like a traction device which is very good for the back. With the belt squat, you can hip hinge more and keep your shin more perpendicular to the floor. You can hip hinge or sit back with a barbell back squat too but when you do you can get more shearing force on the back if you cannot maintain a somewhat neutral spine, and many people cannot maintain that. Again with the belt squat, this does not matter because of where the weight is displaced.

I’m not saying everyone should completely abandon the barbell squat or any of its variations, but the belt squat has some big advantages over traditional squats. This makes the belt squat a better exercise for some people at the very least until any biomechanical issues are corrected. For everyone else, it’s simply a great variation and great addition to training the lower body.

LEGENDS NEVER DIE

On Thursday the 27th of September I got a text from a past client and friend asking me if I heard that Charles Poliquin had passed away and whether or not it was true. I went onto Poliquins’ facebook Strength Sensei Alumni page and saw that unfortunately, it was. I have no better way of describing my first initial feeling like a hefty emotional blow to the gut. Charles Poliquin was by far my biggest influence regarding training, nutrition, and supplementation; in other words, everything involved in my industry.

I made a video on what he meant to me and I’ve shared that below, but first here are a few short words.

In November of 1995, I first discovered who Charles Poliquin was when I opened up a brand new magazine that just came out called Muscle Media 2000. Charles was a contributor to the articles. When I read my very first Poliquin article in that magazine I was blown away by the information. It was science finally and not just some regurgitated info from more than likely a ghostwriter claiming a professional bodybuilder like all the bodybuilder magazines that came before it. It was like Charles Poliquin was speaking a foreign language. There was stuff he spoke of that I’d never heard before. It wasn’t long after that that I basically wanted to become Charles Poliquin. I consumed anything and everything I could get my hands on that he wrote.

Around the late 90’s Charles wrote a book called The Poliquin Principles, which changed my life. I was an assistant manager at a Power House gym in Michigan signing people up for memberships and running the day to day operations. I got certified as a personal trainer and started training people when I wasn’t performing my regular job/duties. The certification sucked and I didn’t learn anything especially compared to what I was learning from coach Poliquin. Basically, as a friend of mine would say that also works in my industry, the certification wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. The results that I was getting from this book were nothing short of spectacular.

Around 2003 Charles Poliquin came out with his Level 1 Poliquin International Certification Program (PICP) and I took it right away. This was basically The Poliquin Principles on steroids figuratively speaking. More unbelievable information that continued to catapult my knowledge and proficiency to produce great results on myself and with clients I trained. Not to brag but I was one of the first people in the United States to get this certification. If my memory serves me correctly there was anywhere from 12 to 20 people on the list, which I saw.

Around 2005 I received an email from Poliquin telling me that an intern of his Mike Bystol was opening up a Poliquin Performance Center (PPC) in Northfield, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I emailed my resume to Mike Bystol and eventually got a phone call from him for a phone interview. A few months later I flew to Chicago from Jacksonville, Florida for an in-person interview. I was offered the job before leaving and was the first employee. I saw Poliquin around 2 to 4 times while I worked there. I was hoping he’d be there a lot more than that but I was grateful for the times I did see him. I don’t get star struck by celebrities or athletes but I did with him. Reading his stuff is one thing but learning from him and hearing him speak in person was simply amazing.

Since this time I’ve taken around 5 to 6 seminars/certifications with him and consultations. I wish I would’ve taken many more and was looking forward to seeing him speak again in future seminars.

There is nobody in this industry that has had the impact that Charles Poliquin made and he will never be forgotten. He is truly an icon in the fitness/strength world.

LEGENDS NEVER DIE.

STRENGTH TEST WITH VELOCITY BASED TRAINING (VBT)

One aspect of our Assessment is the strength segment. We use the Push Band Device to measure the velocity of the bar, which determines what someone’s 1 rep maximum is based on the speed that they move the load. To me, this is way better than actually having to keep increasing the weight on an exercise until getting to a real 1 rep max. For one it’s much safer. The heavier you go in an exercise, the higher the risk, especially with someone that’s a beginner. Another great aspect is the data that’s collected. To know the velocity of a movement is another aspect to seeing progress. In the past, the only means of showing progress was looking at how much someone increased the load their lifting. Now we can measure if there’s an improvement in not just the load but also the speed at which you move it.  For example, if someone does a flat barbell bench with 135 pounds and moves it .54 meters per seconds (m/s) and two months later they’re able to move the same 135 pounds at .64 meters per second, that is a significant improvement. 

One of my clients, Antonio, started training with me on December 1st. His initial strength test was the following:

Estimated 1RM Bench Press: 174.2
Estimated 1RM Dead Lift: 218.3
Estimated 1RM Squat: 224.9
 
 
Based off of the speed (velocity) of how fast he moved during the exercise those were his estimated 1 rep maxes for the bench press, the deadlift, and the squat. I wish I would’ve known how to take a screenshot of these exercises for proof, but at the time I did not know how to do that on my Ipad. That bothered me so I googled it to learn how. 
 
 
This past January 13th we retested Antonio to see what improvements he made, and this time I have the screenshots (and some video footage).
 
On his first set of the bench press, he moved 80 pounds .7 meters per second and produced 306 watts of power. 
 
IMG_0022
 
His 2nd set was his fasted set of the five sets he did, all progressively getting heavier. Here he moved 85 pounds at .81 m/s and produced 353 watts of power.
 
IMG_0023
 
His last set was with 140 pounds and he moved it at .53 m/s and produced 266 watts of power. This speed at this weight (140 pounds) equates to a 205-pound bench press, which is a 30.8-pound improvement in roughly 6 weeks of training.
 
IMG_0026
 
Here is a screenshot of all 5 sets.
 
IMG_0027
 
With the deadlift, his second set of the five done produced the most force with 604 watts.
 
IMG_0030
 
His last set was with 180-pounds, and he moved that .51 m/s at 540 watts of power. This speed at this weight equates to a 277.8-pound dead lift, which is a 59.9-pound improvement.
 
IMG_0032
 
Here is a screenshot of all 5 sets.
 
IMG_0033
 
He did not improve on the squat. I believe it was because he recently hurt his knee training in his sport of jiu-jitsu and was playing it safe and not moving too fast. 
 
Here is some video footage of the strength test.
 

DO YOU NEED TO TAKE A MULTI-VITAMIN

(One of my favorite multi-vitamins and here’s the link to get it

https://www.thorne.com/products/dp/multi-vitamin-elite?affid=PR0014166)

The soils depleted of nutrients due to pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, ammonium nitrates and whatever other crap that gets laid on. Because of this, we don’t know what we’re eating anymore. The vitamin and mineral content isn’t what it used to be yet we’re still told by the FDA what the content of our food is using outdated nutritional information (I’ve heard as outdated as 1973). So taking a GOOD QUALITY multi is like having an insurance policy. You’ll hopefully be making up for what is lacking in your diet.

Add to the fact that we’re exposed to a lot more chemicals and pollution than ever before, and you need certain vitamins and minerals to process and remove this waste through certain pathways.

I capitalized good quality because like most things you get what you pay for. The issue with vitamins and minerals is absorption. For example, magnesium oxide is the worst absorbable form of magnesium, and one of the best absorbable forms is magnesium glycinate. If you get a multi-vitamin where you can buy diapers or tires for your car the quality is likely to be poor.

Common vitamin and mineral deficiences in the United States according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control)
90 million are vitamin D deficient.
18 million are vitamin B6 deficient.
30 million are vitamin B12 deficient.
16 million are vitamin C deficient.

Recently an editorial came out by Annals of Internal Medicine that claimed that taking a multi-vitamin or minerals is a waste of your money. Perhaps you stumbled upon this on Facebook or somewhere on the web and now, unfortunately, believe this bs.(http://annals.org/aim/article/1789253/enough-enough-stop-wasting-money-vitamin-mineral-supplements) Dr. Rhonda Patrick did a great job exposing what was wrong with this study, and you can watch that video here (I’m a big fan of Dr. Rhonda)

A few of my favorite multi-vitamins.

When someone starts training here I send them a GENERAL HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE that was developed by Dr. James LaValle. There are 12 categories to the questionnaire. A very high percentage of people score poorly in:

  • Blood Sugar and Insulin
  • Adrenal Function
  • Environmental Impacts (toxicity).

If they score poorly in blood sugar I like this multi the best.

If they score poorly in adrenal function I like this one.

And if they score poorly in environmental toxicity I like this one.

Here is a great video of Dr. Rhonda Patrick talking about the importance of taking a multi-vitamin.

ACHIEVING MY LEVEL 3 PICP CERTIFICATION

Elisa Fonseca structural balance test

(Picture of above is from part of a structural balance assessment)

I started training people for a living in 1999, a few months after finishing a four-year enlistment in the Marines Corps. Since this time I’ve had three main training certifications, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and Poliquin International Certification Program (PICP). I learned from them all but the PICP certification has taught me the most by leaps and bounds. Charles Poliquin is one of the most successful strength coaches in the world and created his PICP certification around 2003. There are five levels. I took Level 1 as soon as it came out. I took Level 2 in 2011. Level 1 and Level 2 are acquired by attending a certification seminar and passing the test with at least a 92%. Level 3 through 5 you have to not only attend the certification seminar but show proficiency in your knowledge by accomplishing the practical requirements.

For an individual sport, you must coach an athlete to a Top 5 placement in a Junior/Senior/Masters National Competition.

For team sports, you must coach a National Championship Team, Coach an athlete that participates in 60% of games during the season, or placement game at the national level, coach an athlete that participates in any multi-national competition but does not meet the requirements.

All Sports & Federations need to be recognized by GAISF and/or IOC and strength must play a factor.

Coaches must submit:

  • Letter from athlete confirming the coach’s role in preparation for the event/season
  • Media that confirms your athlete’s placement (website with final results)
  • Programs used to prepare the athlete showing they use PICP methods.

On August 2, 2017, one of my athletes won a national championship in Karate. Here is the letter she emailed on my behalf so I could hopefully get my Level 3 certification.

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 11.09.24 AM“Last month I completed at the USA Karate National Championships in Greenville, South Carolina. After a seven-year hiatus from karate competition, I won the women’s – 61kg Kumite (sparring) category, which now qualifies me back in the national team pool.

While competing in my twenties, I became the most decorated USA female karate athlete and still hold that record. But with seven years of retirement and having two children, I was unsure about my chances of returning to high-performance competition. Chris Grayson has been my strength coach throughout this process and has helped me tremendously to get back into elite athlete condition. I appreciate his knowledge of sports science and trust his recommendations as a coach.”

Elisa Au Fonseca

USA Nationals results – see page 63
USA Open results – see page 37
PICP Level 3 2On August 28th I got an email congratulating me on achieving my Level 3 certifcation. Many certifications you can take online and only require a 70% to pass, and to me, many certifications aren’t worth the paper they were printed on. If you’re considering hiring someone to help you achieve your fitness goals, make sure the personal is qualified.

MY ARTICLE ON TRAIN WITH PUSH.COM

I’ve been using the Push Band for over a year now and it’s a game changer. There is a lot of interesting technology and gadgets coming out in the fitness industry, some are absolutely worthless, some decent, and some great, and the Push Band is damn good.

They had a Q and A with me regarding what I like about Push and how I use it here at USI.

Below is the first paragraph of the article,

a video of a power workout done here using the Push Band,

and a link to the article on the Train with Push website. 

“The advantages of quantifying velocity and effort for athletic performance are clear, but the benefits that gym-based athlete monitoring concepts bring to personal training programs are equally as impactful. We sat down with Chris Grayson, owner of the Urban Strength Institute in Chicago to discuss how he has incorporated PUSH into his daily training environment, reaping the benefits of wearable technology and electronically tracking client progress, taking his facility to the next level.”

https://www.trainwithpush.com/blog/tales-from-the-trenches-using-tech-in-personal-training-with-coach-chris-grayson

THORNE’S AT HOME STRESS TEST

I have everyone that trains at USI take the General Health Questionnaire that Dr. James LaValle created and is in his book Cracking The Metabolic Code. Exercise alone will not get you as fit as you’d probably like. In order to get fit you have to get healthy.

There are 12 categories within the questionnaire and one of the worst scores that practically everyone gets is with adrenal function. I myself have dealt with adrenal issues off and on for years.

Is it possible you have an adrenal issue? Ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you have disrupted sleep?
  • Do you think your sleep is poor quality?
  • Do you frequently feel “tired but wired”?
  • Are you frequently anxious or stressed out?
  • Are you easily irritated? 
  • Are you getting sick more frequently? 
  • Do you have unexplained aches and pains?
  • Do you have digestive issues?
  • Do you have food cravings?
  • Are you gaining too much weight?

When our adrenal glands are functioning optimally, they produce adequate amounts of the stress hormones cortisol and DHEA that help us cope with stress and power us through the day. Your cortisol fluctuation pattern and your DHEA levels determine whether you have a healthy stress response profile. Depending on your results, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

Common effects of stress on your body include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior include:

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Source: Mayo Clinic

Cortisol and DHEA

When our adrenal glands are in balance, they produce adequate amounts of two stress hormones ‐ cortisol and DHEA ‐ to power us through the day and to help us cope with stress. Cortisol has wide-ranging effects in the body: it interacts with the reproductive, immune, and endocrine systems. Cortisol, as part of the stress response, prepares the body for its “fight-or-flight” response by suppressing the production and release of other hormones, such as DHEA and thyroid hormones. Cortisol levels fluctuate naturally through the day—it is highest in the morning and lowest at night. 

Thorne, one of the supplement companies we use here, just came out with 5 at home tests and one of them is for stress and the adrenals. I took it the test and here were my results and some info on lifestyle management to better deal with stress and potentially improve my results.

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 2.40.14 PM

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 2.40.46 PM

My cortisol wasn’t high enough in the morning or midday but slightly too high in the evening. And my DHEA was low. Metabolically in the body, cortisol and DHEA are antagonistic to each other, partially because they originate from a common precursor, the hormone pregnenolone. When stress elevates your cortisol level, pregnenolone is diverted from producing DHEA and is used to produce more cortisol. Thus, cortisol and DHEA exist in a dynamic “tug-of-war” with each other and when one is found to be elevated, the other is commonly found at lower levels. Each hormone can also directly antagonize the physiological effect of the other one in the body. My adrenals have probably been fatigued for so long that I’m not adequately able to produce enough cortisol or DHEA.

Based off of my results from the test, here’s some info Thorne provided to help me fix this problem.

Follow the Mediterranean diet

 

Chronic inflammation might be contributing to your pattern of cortisol imbalance. Diet plays an important role in regulating inflammation. The Mediterranean diet is a popular, anti-inflammatory diet that has been shown to help normalize cortisol levels throughout the day. The diet consists of consuming large amounts of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, fish, and poultry.

The Mediterranean diet consists of consuming large amounts of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, in addition to whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fish and poultry are eaten in moderation. Fresh fruit is the typical daily dessert and olive oil is the primary source of fat.

Although the Mediterranean diet is essentially an anti-inflammatory diet, the Thorne Modified Mediterranean Diet goes a step further to assure you are not including common allergens in your diet that can contribute to inflammation and exaggerated responses to stress. The most common allergenic foods are dairy, gluten (wheat, barley, rye), soy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and corn.

How to Fill Your Plate

Each meal should have:

1 serving of protein ‐ Equal to one palmful

1 serving of vegetables ‐ Equal to three handfuls

Each day you should have:

1 serving of fruit ‐ Equal to one handful

1 serving of healthy fats ‐ Equal to three fingers or 1-2 Tbsp

Recommended Food Sources

Protein Vegetables Healthy Oils/ Fats
Eggs Avocado Olive oil
Cottage cheese Carrots Macadamia oil
Beans Cassava Sesame oil
Lentils Corn Walnut oil
Tofu Parsnip Coconut oil
Chicken Peas Nut butter
Turkey Pumpkin
Fish Potato
Lean beef Sweet potato
Wild game Winter squash

Eat grains sparingly if at all. Limit to a small serving (one handful or less of cooked grain). Choose from this list: brown rice, barley, corn tortilla (one small), millet, oats, quinoa, whole grain or rye crackers (eat nut crackers if you are gluten free).

Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are part of the Mediterranean diet. As part of the diet, we recommend placing emphasis on using olive oil, hazelnut oil, or pistachio oil over other vegetable oils and consuming a balanced intake of cold-water fish (or fish oil). Studies have shown that eating healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats from olive oil, has a positive effect on cortisol levels. On the other hand, eating large amounts of trans fats or high-fat diets in the absence of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids can result in abnormal cortisol fluctuations. In one study of 41 women in the Mediterranean region, high monounsaturated fat (such as the fat found in olive oil) intake was associated with normal cortisol fluctuations.

Omega-3

Omega-3-rich foods have a storied scientific history of favorably influencing inflammation. Although this was originally thought to be a passive process, now we know that omega-3 fatty acids facilitate the active resolution of inflammation. Foods that decrease the inflammatory burden on your body support normal cortisol levels.

Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids help quell inflammation include:

Herring, Wild (Atlantic and Pacific) >1,500 milligrams per 3-ounce serving
Salmon, Farmed (Atlantic)
Salmon, Wild (King)
Mackerel, Wild (Pacific and Jack)
  1. Romagnolo D, Selmin O. Mediterranean diet and prevention of chronic diseases. Nutr Today 2017;52(5):208-222.
  2. García-Prieto M, Tébar F, Nicolás F, et al. Cortisol secretary pattern and glucocorticoid feedback sensitivity in women from a Mediterranean area: relationship with anthropometric characteristics, dietary intake and plasma fatty acid profile. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2007;66(2):185-191.
  3. http://www.seafoodhealthfacts.org/seafood-nutrition/healthcare-professionals/omega-3-content-frequently-consumed-seafood-products [Accessed 12.4.17]
 

Eat pre- and probiotic foods

Your test results indicate cortisol levels out of the optimal range. Healthy gut microbes have been shown to help normalize cortisol levels. Simply eating foods high in pre and probiotics can help maintain your gut health and promote a healthy response to stress. The first step is to learn what foods are classified as prebiotic foods and probiotic foods.

Prebiotic foods are high-fiber foods that help “feed” the beneficial bacteria in your gut. These foods contain types of fiber that are not fully digested in the small intestine. So, these prebiotic food fibers travel to the large intestine where they provide nutrients for beneficial bacteria to thrive.

Some examples of prebiotic foods include:

  • Chicory
  • Jicama
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Dandelion greens
  • Raw garlic
  • Raw onion
  • Scallions
  • Leeks
  • Under-ripe bananas
  • Fiber supplements

Unlike prebiotic foods which feed good bacteria, probiotic foods introduce good bacteria into the gut. Probiotic foods are fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria.

Some examples of probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt; Kefir (fermented milk)
  • Miso (fermented soy beans)
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Kombucha {fermented black or green tea)
  • Kimchi (salted, fermented radishes, and Napa cabbage)
  • Probiotic nutritional supplements.

What’s the evidence?

In a study of 48 medical students, half consumed a probiotic in the form of fermented milk with Lactobacillus casei and half were given an unfermented milk devoid of probiotic activity daily for eight weeks prior to taking exams. The study showed that the group who consumed the probiotic had lower cortisol levels, less anxious feelings, and experienced fewer cold and intestinal symptoms. In other words, consuming a probiotic before exams had a positive effect on stress levels and immune function.

Other studies have found a connection between the make-up of the gut’s bacteria, probiotic intake, and cortisol levels. Reasons that beneficial bacteria in the colon might benefit stress include decreased colon inflammation, decreased pathogenic bacteria in the colon associated with anxiety and stress, and decreased cortisol levels.

Clinical Evidence
  1. Kato-Kataoka A, Nishida K, Takada M, et al. Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students under academic examination stress. Benef Microbes 2016;7(2):153-156.
  2. Andersson H, Tullberg C, Ahrné S, et al. Oral Administration of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v reduces cortisol levels in human saliva during examination induced stress: a randomized, double-blind controlled trial. Int J Microbiol 2016;2016:8469018. doi: 10.1155/2016/8469018.
  3. Messaoudi M, Lalonde R, Violle, N, et al. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr 2011;105(5):755-764.
 

Focus on resistance training

To increase your DHEA levels, put more of your exercise focus on resistance training sessions. One study showed that there was a significant increase in DHEA levels following a resistance exercise session compared to an endurance exercise session.

Exercising with Low DHEA

Low DHEA levels are often associated with low energy levels and fatigue; therefore, it’s imperative not to over train. With resistance training it is also important to allow your body time to recover and your muscles to rebuild. Also, emphasizing mobility/flexibility (yoga) in the evenings before bed can help reduce overall stress levels.

Resistance Training

Resistance training is when you engage in an activity where you work against some force that resists your movement. Examples of resistance training activities include: weight lifting, bodyweight exercises, dragging sleds, and movement in water.

Clinical Evidence
  1. Heaney J, Carroll D, and Phillips A. DHEA, DHEA-S, and cortisol responses to acute exercise in older adults in relation to exercise training status and sex. Age (Dordr) 2013; 35(2):395-405. https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article/57/4/B158/600124 [accessed 12.27.2017]
Duration Frequency Examples
30 minutes 2 to 3 times per week Weight lifting

THE BENEFITS OF SUPRA-MAXIMAL ECCENTRICS

Eccentric-based training is nothing new. It was first discussed by a German physiologist named Adolf Fick around 1882. Despite the fact that it’s been around a long time, most people focus predominantly on the concentric portion of an exercise and give slow eccentrics not enough attention.

The eccentric segment of an exercise is the portion where the muscle is being lengthened under tension/load such as the lowering of a bench press or the lowering (going down) part of the squat. This is often referred to as the negative. Coming up in the bench press or the squat is referred to as the concentric or the positive.

There’s a lot of research on the eccentric component within the execution of an exercise and I’ll cover some of that, but I mostly want to talk about supra-maximal eccentrics, and that is where you’re lowering a weight with a load that is greater than you can concentrically lift, hence the name supra-max. So if your 1-rep max in the bench press is 200 pounds, anything over 200 would be considered supra-max considering you wouldn’t be able to lift it back up.

In the video two of the guys that train with me are lowering 60 extra pounds on weight releasers (30 pounds on each side). One of the guys is my friend Eddie. The most he lowered in the video was 275 pounds, then the weight releasers came off, and he blasted up 215 pounds. This was done on a 30-degree incline. I posted this video on Facebook and was asked what is Eddie’s 1-rep max in the 30-degree incline bench press. We don’t know exactly what his 1-rep max is with a 30-degree incline press but it’s nowhere near 275 pounds. I believe it’s around 230. We have many exercises that we do here at USI and we don’t test every single one to determine what the 1-rep max would be. This would take way to much time, and therefore, a waste of time due to our limited amount of it. Instead, we measure the concentric speed in meters per second, and this gives us a very good estimate of what percentage someone is lifting based off of their 1-rep max. Here is a screenshot of an athletes speed on their heaviest set that was taken.

Velocity measurement

We use a Push Band to measure the bar speed, which was .29 meters per second. That is around 95% of their 1-rep max.

SOME BENEFITS OF SUPRA-MAX ECCENTRICS

Slow eccentric tension allows both the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ to adapt and feel greater amounts of stress than what would be applied during a more conventional tempo lift. A more conventional tempo might be around a 2-3-second eccentric. An eccentric-based method that we like to use is around a 6-second eccentric. This stress will improve the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and thus increase force production by training the elastic system to store and release more energy. In other words, when you adapt to these processes you will get stronger eccentrically and that will carry over into stronger concentric contractions as well. You cannot produce force if you cannot absorb force. Eccentric-based training teaches you how to absorb force so that future training methods designed to teach the body to produce more force will work more effectively.

ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING INCREASES STRENGTH: There are quite a few strength coaches from the past and present that claim slow eccentric training is the absolute best training method to improve strength fast.

ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING INCREASES MUSCLE GAIN: It’s the eccentric or negative aspect of a movement that causes more muscle damage than the concentric or positive aspect of a movement.

ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING IMPROVES POWER DEVELOPMENT: Some research claims that eccentric-based training recruits more Type II, high-threshold/fast twitch motor units. These motor units are important to recruit in order to develop power.

ECCENTRIC-BASED TRAINING STRENGTHENS CONNECTIVE TISSUE: Slow eccentrics cause more muscle damage to the sarcomeres due to the myosin and actin being lengthened under heavy tension, which causes the body to send immune cells to the damaged tissue to clean it up. This causes something referred to as tissue remodeling and makes your tendons and ligaments stronger and more resilient to injuries such as tendonitis or some type of tendinopathy.

This type of training is very taxing on the nervous system and should only be used at the very beginning of your workout and only with compound movements. As far as how long this phase of training should last I sincerely don’t know. As of now, I am taking Cal Dietz advice from his book Triphasic Training and only doing 2 workouts a week for 2 weeks then moving on to something else.

HOW WE UTILIZE SUPRA-MAX ECCENTRICS AT USI

After a progressive warm-up, we put roughly 85-90% of 1 rep max on the bar. Since we may not have actually established a real 1-rep max test on the given exercise we use the Push Band and measure the velocity of the concentric portion of the lift. The velocity as measured in meters per second will give you a good idea of what the percentage is that you are lifting. We are looking at around .4 to .19 meters per second and we are also looking at being able to control the eccentric speed of the lift. So if the exercise is an incline bench press with a 6-second eccentric, we won’t increase the poundage is you cannot keep this 6-second lowering tempo.

On the internet and throughout many books you will see that the eccentric aspect of an exercise can be anywhere from 110-125% of your 1-rep max of total weight. I feel this has a lot to do with how neurologically efficient you are and that comes with how long you’ve been training and perhaps there’s a genetic component involved as well. Beginners should definitely not be doing Supra-Max Eccentrics. At best,  A good indication is your training age and your strength level. With beginners, we focus on a controlled eccentric anywhere from 3 to 6 seconds the majority of the time.

References: Cal Dietz

Cal Dietz Triphasic Training

https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/eccentricUNM.html

HIGH RESISTANCE INTERVALS: GREAT FOR CONDITIONING AND FAT LOSS

I first learned about High Resistance Intervals (HRI) from Joel Jamieson and his Bioforce HRV course and later Bioforce Conditioning Coach certification, which I took. To be honest, I wasn’t very versed in the conditioning side of the title “strength and conditioning coach”. I tended to be much more on the strength side as the coach that was my main and initial influence had a bias towards. I knew a bit about the different energy systems with an idea on how to train them when it came to work– to- rest ratios. I had little to no knowledge of how many variables and possibilities there were and no real-world application or experience doing them myself or having clients do them, just knowledge from books. With that being said, I believe knowledge from books is great, but real-world experience trumps it by far. One of the many methods of conditioning I’ve been using here at USI is High Resistance Intervals. This method requires an all-out effort for about 10-12 seconds with high resistance followed by a rest until your heart rate lowers back between 130-140 beats per minute. One exercise this works very well with are hill sprints. I have an S-Drive Performance Treadmill made by Matrix Fitness. This treadmill is self-powered and doesn’t have a motor; you are responsible for powering it through full hip extension (traditional motor-based treadmills you are not responsible for hip extension since the motor moves the belt you’re on. This is nothing like running outside). You can also increase the resistance to simulate running up a hill. This is my go-to exercise for training HRI. The high resistance is very important so that you’re tapping into your fast twitch fibers and increasing their endurance capacity. The data I like to collect to see progress with this method is how long it takes for your heart rate to lower back to 130-140 bpm. We use a Polar Heart Rate sensor to measure this. For example, if someone first starts using this method maybe it takes around 90 seconds. As they get better conditioned that time should decrease. I have people ranging from 45 seconds up to 2-minutes. You have to have a good aerobic foundation to get the most benefit from this method. If you don’t, it will take longer to get your heart rate back down. One person, in particular, I’m going to have him do more Escalating Density Training to improve his aerobic base. I’ll talk about EDT in a future post soon (it’s my favorite method to improve your aerobic base done with weights as opposed to more traditional methods such as jogging). Outside of great nutrition, sleep, and stress management, sprints are one of the best methods for fat loss. If done for the appropriate duration and with the proper amount of rest between reps or rounds, the EPOC you will elicit is pretty substantial. EPOC stands for Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This basically means you’ve caused a lot of metabolic disturbance and as an effort for your body to get back to its norm through homeostasis, you will burn a tremendous amount of calories, hence the fat loss. If your a man and you want to look like Brad Pitt from Fight Club I highly recommend you get sprints in your program.

POST ACTIVATION POTENTIATION: WHAT IS IT, AND DOES IT WORK

SO WHAT THE HELL IS POST ACTIVATION POTENTIATION?

Basically it’s picking up something heavy, resting a specific amount of time, and then picking something up lighter and having it feel even lighter than it would have felt had you not picked something up that was heavier before picking up the lighter thing (the thing, in this case, being something like a barbell or a dumbbell).

If you want or more scientific and thorough definition, here is one I found on the internet: Originally defined by Robbins, PAP is a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. Post-activation potentiation is a theory that purports that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions. In other words, lifting something heavy excites the nervous system and sort of tricks the muscles into being able to produce more force/have a stronger contraction, with the subsequent load, making the subsequent load feel easier than if you would’ve performed it alone and not prior to something heavy.


HOW DOES PAP ACTUALLY WORK?

There are two proposed mechanisms of PAP. The first is the phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains, which renders actin-myosin more sensitive to calcium released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum during subsequent muscle contractions.13,15–17 As a result, the force of each successive twitch contraction is increased. 

The second is that strength training prior to plyometric exercises causes increased synaptic excitation within the spinal cord, which in turn results in increased post-synaptic potentials and subsequently increased the force-generating capacity of the involved muscle groups. (this information was taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164001/)

Somewhat complicated when you delve that deeply into it. It’s nice to know why something works but often times you just need to know that it works, and there’s some contention on if it works at all, and I’ll cover some of the controversies shortly.

One popular training method that supposedly utilizes the PAP effect is called wave loading. There are many different variations of wave loading but one of the most popular is a 5,3,1 wave. There’s even a popular book written on it by Jim Wendler, which I have and like. So with a 5,3,1 wave, you take a weight that is hard (part of the controversy I briefly mentioned earlier) for a set of 5 reps, rest, then go heavier for a set of 3 reps, rest, then go heavier for a set of 1 rep. That would be one wave. One very popular coach typically recommends that you would repeat the wave at least one more time and go heavier on each successive wave (example: 5,3,1,5,3,1,) and that is what I have a lot of people do at Urban Strength Institute.

Often times when I think something works but not sure if I’m right I’ll ask others in my industry what they think by posting on Facebook, which is what I did on the topic of PAP. What confused me is how doing a set of a lighter weight could potentiate the nervous system to perform a heavier set next and make that heavier set feel easier. It makes sense to me why lifting something heavy would make a subsequently lighter load feel even lighter, but not the other way around.

So here was my question on Facebook: “If wave loading with a 5, 3, 1 is good ( a common wave), wouldn’t a 1, 3, 5 be better due to the PAP effect?”

The first comment I got was from Stephane Cazeault. Stephane was a course conductor at the Poliquin Strength Institute and now he runs his own gym around the Huntington Beach area called Kilo Strength Society. You don’t get to teach seminars and certifications at the Poliquin Strength Institute without being very smart in my field. I first met Stephane back in 2013 and knew how bright he was, so I have a ton of respect for him as a strength coach and anytime he answers a question of mine or posts something on his FB page I pay attention. The dude is damn smart.

Here’s Stephane’s comment on FB: “Both options would create a post-activation effect but the 1,3,5,1,3,5 wave would potentiate the performance of the highest rep while the classic wave would prime the single. So from a pure strength perspective, the 5,3,1,5,3,1 is more effective.”

 

There were quite a few comments on my question and some interesting thoughts on the matter, however, I still didn’t see how a 5,3,1 wave would potentiate the nervous system better than a 1,3,5 wave. I figured if I measured the velocity of each set I could know which of the two waves had the biggest PAP effect by seeing what sets got faster comparing the two different waves. Whichever sets got faster between the 5,3,1 wave compared to the 1,3,5 wave would be the one that provided the biggest potentiating effect. Of course, the weight used would have to be the exact same. Make sense?

So first I did this with one of my athletes that trains and competes in jiu-jtsu. His name is Antonio. Antonio has been training with me off an on for roughly two years and has been consistent since Novemeber of 2016.

5,3,1 Wave
Wave 1:
155 for 5: .rep 1 @.50m/s, rep 2@.48m/s, rep 3@.44m/s, rep 4@.43m/s, rep 5@.36m/s. Set Average: .44m/s
170 for 3: rep 1@.47m/s, rep 2@.37m/s, rep 3@.35m/s Set Average: .39m/s
185 for 1: rep 1@.36m/s

Wave 2:
165 for 5: rep 1@.49m/s, rep 2@.42m/s, rep 3@.38m/s, rep 4@.32m/s, rep 5@.33m/s. Set Average: .39m/s
175 for 3: rep 1@.36m/s, rep 2@.31m/s, rep 3@.26m/s Set Average: .31m/s
195 for 1: rep 1@.23m/s

1,3,5 Wave
Wave 1:
185 for 1: .25m/s
170 for 3: rep 1@.26m/s, rep 2@.29m/s, rep 3@ .27m/s Set Average: .27m/s
155 for 5: rep 1@.40m/s, rep 2@.40m/s, rep 3@.40m/s, rep 4@.38m/s, rep 5@.24m/s. Set Average: .36m/s

Wave 2:
195 for 1: .19m/s
175 for 3: rep 1@.33m/s, rep 2@.31m/s, rep 3@.21m/s Set Average: .28m/s
165 for 5: rep 1@.41m/s, rep 2@.35m/s, rep 3@.37m/s, rep 4@.34m/s, rep 5@.24m/s Set Average: .34m/s

I know there’s a bunch of numbers here and you might not want to bother going through them so I’ll just say that he had faster velocity with the 5,3,1 wave than the 1,3,5 wave, which means there was a greater PAP effect with the 5,3,1 wave.

Here’s a screenshot of the velocity measured on both types of waves. We used a Push Band to measure the velocity.

 

I was somewhat surprised so I decided to do the same test on myself. I’ll spare you more numbers and just show a screenshot of mine below. I had a greater velocity improvement with the 1,3,5 wave.

 


MY HYPOTHESIS

Antonio’s nervous system is not as well trained as mine. As mentioned earlier, he’s only been training a few years and I’ve been training for over 27 years. Because of this, his rate of force development (RFD), which is basically your ability to generate force quickly, is not as developed as mine. That’s why potentiating the nervous system with a 5,3,1 wave works better for him. Because the loads are lighter initially he can better prime or coax his nervous system (just as Stephane has explained).

Now here’s the controversial aspect I mentioned earlier. Research on PAP is contradictory. Some research shows a statistically significant increase in the speed of an unloaded exercise (like a body weight jump) after a heavy loaded movement such as a back squat, and other research did not detect an effect despite some test subjects “claiming” that their unloaded movements felt faster after using a heavy load. There’s a couple of reasons for the different results.

  1. The heavy load used to prime the nervous system may not be heavy enough. The research that I’ve seen and the info I’ve gathered from talking to some smart people in my field is that the load must be at least 80% of your 1-rep max.
  2. The rest between the heavy exercise and the lighter exercise must be in an adequate range for the individual. I personally believe there’s no set range for everybody but has to be individualized based on the person. So for some people, PAP might not work because the rest is either to short between exercises or too long (according to some great strength coaches a predominantly fast-twitch athlete will need more rest than a predominantly slow-twitch athlete).
  3. I believe PAP works better when someone has a better trained nervous system developed from a longer training age. If someone’s been in the gym training only for 6 months PAP might not work as well as it could for someone that’s been training for several years. However, this probably isn’t written in stone. I believe some people are just born more explosive due to a more responsive nervous system than others. Some people are born with a Ferrari engine and some are born with a honda civic engine.

The picture below is another great example of PAP at work. My training partner Eddie has been training for several years now. A few weeks ago we did a barbell bench press with a band attached employing a method called dynamic effort. Basically, the dynamic effort method is where you take 50-60% of your 1-rep max in bar weight and 25% of your 1-rep max in band tension. The 25% of band tension is measured based on the end range of motion where your arms are completely straight. This method was popularized by Louie Simmons, one of my favorite strength coaches. Here is a video to showcase.

 

Of the 3 photos above the photo on the left, Eddie was using 125 pounds of bar weight (and about 62 pounds of band tension at the top) and moved the weight an average of .66 meters per second. We got into a discussion about the differences in the load I was using compared to his load based on our body weight. For his load to be equivalent to mine he’d need around 190 pounds of bar weight, not 125. So he said to put 190 on to see how fast he could move that. The second picture shows his average speed with the 190 pounds to be .33 meters per second. For the dynamic effort method to properly work you need to move the load much faster than that, so he went back to the 125 pounds for the next set, which is the last photo on the right. Because of his previous set of the much heavier load of 190 pounds now he moved the 125 pounds at a velocity of .74 meters per second, which is a lot faster than his .66 meters per second in the first photo. That is PAP at work.

I’ve been using different training methods for several years now to illicit PAP but searching for info on PAP in books has been surprisingly difficult. The only book I could really find info on it that I own was in Super Training. There is plenty of info on it online. 

If you choose to research PAP online I also encourage you to research why it doesn’t work as well so you can be as objective and unbiased as possible. Here is an article claiming that PAP does not always work. 

References:
Robbins DW. Postactivation potentiation and its practical applicability: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2005; 19: 453–458 [PubMed]

Daniel Lorenz, DPT, PT, ATC/L, CSCS. Postactivation potentiation: An introduction. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011 Sep; 6(3): 234–240. [PubMed]

Super Training: pg. 163 3.4.2 The after-effect of muscle activity. Paragraphs 2, 3, 4, 7.

Lim, Julian J. H.1,2; Kong, Pui W.2: Effects of Isometric and Dynamic Postactivation Potentiation Protocols on Maximal Sprint Performance. J Strength Cond Res. October 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 10 – p 2730–2736