Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Different Muscles For Different Presses

Article written by Seth Larsen
If you're a strength athlete, by now you have developed a serious relationship with upper body pressing movements.  For some, it is loving partnership full of constant gains and minimal pain.   For others, it is a nasty struggle of a relationship, characterized by nagging injuries and difficulty making progress.  For most of us, however, it is like many of our other relationships in life; we go through the ups and downs, but can't give it up due to its importance.  As for myself, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with pressing.  Some of my presses are fun, painless, and productive, while others are humbling and frustrating.  At the end of the day, we all need to press for a multitude of reasons.

Some people are naturally good pressers.  This is often due to variations in anatomy such as arm length and shoulder mobility, but can also be attributed to certain muscle groups that are just stronger than others.  For those that pressing does not come to easily, the reasons are no different.  The optimal  combination of beneficial lever length, shoulder and thoracic mobility, and strength of specific muscles is what makes a strong presser.  Having just one or two of these things is not quite enough. This is why female athletes tend to have weaker presses in comparison to their lower body movements than male athletes do.  While the mobility of women is often far better than their male counterparts, the genetic differences in upper body strength is difficult to overcome.  I'm not going to beat the dead horse of mobility for once, so I'd like to focus on the different muscle groups used in each type of pressing we see in our respective strength sports.

 If you've read any of my previous articles, you know that we can't go into the movements before we discuss the anatomy.  Real depth into all the individual muscles isn't necessary here, but it's important for us to have a basic understanding of them in relation to the different presses.  Let's start with the deltoids.  This muscle has three heads: the clavicular, the acromial, and the spinal.  Colloquially, these are known as the front, middle, and rear deltoids.  While the primary functions of the three heads together are abduction (moving the arm away from the body) and flexion (raising the arm over the head), the individual heads also have specific functions.  For example, the clavicular head (front delt) is most active in abduction when the arm is externally rotated (palms facing forward), is a major shoulder flexor, and also assists the pec major in shoulder flexion when the elbow is below the shoulder.  The acromial head (middle delt) is most active in abduction when the arm is internally rotated (palms facing backwards) and also acts in shoulder flexion when the arm is externally rotated.  The spinal head (rear delt) is the major shoulder extensor/hyperextensor, assists the latissimus dorsi and other muscles in rowing type movements,  and is a strong external rotator of the arm.  Together with assistance by the four small muscles of the rotator cuff, the three heads of the deltoid are extremely important not just in overhead pressing, but in all upper body movements.

Now for the pectoralis major and minor.  The pectoralis major is the big gun here, with primary functions of shoulder flexion, arm adduction (moving the arm towards the body's midline), and internal rotation of the shoulder.  This last function is why those of us with imbalanced pectoral muscle development compared to the muscles on the posterior of the upper body walk around with their shoulders rolled forward.  No less important, the pec major keeps the arms attached to the body at the shoulder.  Because of this, lack of strength in the pectoral muscles can be a recipe for disaster when trying to prevent shoulder injuries such as dislocations and separations.  The pectoralis minor lies underneath the pec major, and is designed for stability.  It pulls the scapula downwards and towards the body's midline, and due to this function is sometimes described as the “fifth rotator cuff muscle.”  However, if it is too tight or overdeveloped, it can worsen the gorilla-like appearance described above.

The musculature of the upper back, such as the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and rhomboids is not often thought of as important for pressing, as these muscles are not prime movers in the bench or overhead press. However, they are of paramount importance when it comes to stability.  Their individual actions vary, but for our purposes we can think of them as the foundation on which heavy pressing can be built.  A strong upper back provides a shelf of sorts for the pressing movements, and keeps the scapulae and thoracic spine in proper position to execute a solid press.  If you can find a strong presser with a small and weak upper back, let me know, because I have never seen one.

Last and most certainly not least, the triceps.  We all know that their primary function is that of elbow extension, which is necessary for any press.  The three heads of the triceps are as follows: the long, the medial, and the lateral heads.  The long head is widely considered to be the strongest, as it has the most mass, and is most active in sustained generation of extensory force.  It also helps to adduct the shoulder in synergy with surrounding muscles. The lateral head contracts more rapidly, and as such can generate high-intensity force quickly.  The medial head is smaller, and is used in more precise movements requiring a lower amount of force.  The differences between these heads are not crucial to our discussion, so just think of the triceps as your prime elbow extensors that also have the ability to fixate the elbow in different degrees of the flexion/extension cycle.

At last we can move on to the reason I'm sure most of you are reading this article: the different pressing movements.  First, the overhead press.  As a strongman, I need to be skilled at pressing a number of different implements, and thus use many variations of the overhead press in my training.  For you CrossFolk, the variety you see in your WODs and competitions requires proficiency in multiple overhead pressing disciplines as well.  Powerlifters, who more often than not use the overhead press as an accessory lift to increase their bench press tend not to utilize the same level of variety in this movement, but changing hand positioning and arm angles can help them to assess and improve on weak points as well.  I'll start with the different implements.  Because the movements performed with an axle and barbell are roughly the same, I will not differentiate between the two here.  The difference in range of motion between the two is negligible as well.  However, when compared to a log press, an axle or barbell overhead press requires a significantly longer range of motion.  

 Due to this increased ROM, the pectoralis major is utilized to a greater degree in the initiation of the movement, as the elbows begin far below the shoulder joint.  This is not to say that it compares to a bench press, which I will discuss later, but the pecs are definitely activated when performing this type of press.  The longer range of motion also allows for increased time to generate force through the deltoids, meaning the bar should be moving faster when the triceps have to kick in to lock it out and finish the press.  Not surprisingly, this takes some of the stress off of the triceps. In addition to the ROM, the hand positioning on a barbell/axle is different from a log.  The shoulders are externally rotated, placing more stress on the rear deltoids.  The front delts are still the prime movers here, but they have help from the pec major and rear delts.  The middle deltoids are also active here, as they flex the shoulder in external rotation, but this is not their primary function. 

Although I do not have any specific data or information about anatomical and biomechanical differences to support it, I have also noticed in my own training that it is easier to be explosive with an axle or barbell than a log.  Speaking with other athletes, they have agreed with me that especially when performing a push press or jerk, the transfer of force from the legs and hips through the upper body into a bar is easier than with a log.  Because of this, I will go on record to say that it is often easier to put greater weights overhead with a barbell or axle.

For myself and many others, the log is brutal piece of equipment.  It generally requires more brute strength to press than a bar, and definitely activates different muscles.  First, because a properly performed log press starts with the elbows high, the pecs are all but taken out of the equation.  Without their assistance, it places a significantly larger amount of stress on the front deltoids.  Personally, I have never had a front delt pump like the one I get from high-rep log strict presses.  Because the neutral grip is on its way to internal rotation, there is also greater activation in the middle deltoids.  This neutral grip also provides greater triceps activation, which, coupled with the somewhat “backwards” pressing motion of the log and the fact that the triceps start working right away due to the log's starting position means that locking out a log overhead requires significantly more triceps strength than does a bar.  The backward lean in the starting position also places more stress on the lower back than any other pressing movement.  Finally, because of the awkwardness and inconsistent weight distribution on some logs, upper back strength and stability is far more important when pressing it.  Have you ever seen Big Z's back?  Look anywhere, because no matter where you're reading this from you can probably still see it.  There's a reason he was the first man to ever put a 500lb log over his head.

Make sure the log kisses your beard on each rep
Dumbbell overhead presses are also a valuable tool in any lifter's toolkit.  Depending on which direction your palms are facing, different muscles are activated.  The Arnold press, for example, has been touted to hit all three heads of the deltoid equally due to the rotation that occurs during the press.  While this isn't entirely accurate, as the front delts do the most work regardless, the Arnold press does provide a more even activation of the three heads of the deltoid than any other individual pressing movement.  The best part about dumbbells, however, is their ability to correct imbalances.  Although this is a gross oversimplification, it can be argued that they require more rotator cuff activation due to the implements not being fixed and the arms moving independently.  Furthermore, as most of us have one dominant arm, rep schemes can be adjusted to strengthen the weaker arm.  In addition to reducing the risk of future injury, this means that when you go back to the bar or log, you will have a more even press.  A more even press has a much greater likelihood of making it to lockout, so get those imbalances fixed.

Not only should implements be varied in training to activate and strengthen different muscles, different overhead movements should be used as well.  The old standby is the strict or military press.  I know, I know; it's not a true military press unless your feet are together, but the terms are often used interchangeably, so relax.  I'll stick to calling it a strict press so that nobody's jimmies get too rustled.  The strict press is essentially all about shoulder (mostly front delts) and triceps strength.  There is no dip and drive, no flexion at the hips, and no dropping under to catch it at lockout.  This is the staple in many overhead pressing programs, especially for powerlifters.  It is by far the best way to develop stronger shoulders.  Although I prefer the standing strict press, as it requires more stability and is more similar to what strong(wo)men and CrossFitters do in competition, seated presses have also been used with great success by many athletes.  They take the legs out of it completely and often allow you to press more weight for more reps without tiring out the lower body and core musculature.  The push press is many athletes' preferred method of overhead pressing maximal weight, but because of the leg and hip drive, it takes some of the stress off of the shoulders and triceps.  Strength in these muscles is still necessary for a heavy push press, especially at lockout, but some weaknesses can be covered up with strong legs and proper timing.  If you plan on competing at a high level in anything but powerlifting, I suggest developing your technique in the push press.  I have seen far too many athletes try to strict press everything in competition and leave a significant amount of weight on the table because of it.   

Similar to the push press, push/power jerks (bar is caught in a quarter squat) and split jerks (bar is caught with a split stance), use a lot of leg drive.  These are even more technique-intensive, but can be very successful if done properly.  Weightlifters have put up ridiculous overhead numbers for decades using these movements.  Due to the catch, however, they will take even more out of your legs and back than a push press, and it won't be considered a completed rep in competition until you are standing straight up with the weight over your head.  All three of these movements can be performed with the bar racked behind the neck as well.  Especially when done with a wide/snatch grip (such as the now popular Klokov press), behind the neck pressing places a significantly greater amount of stress on the rear deltoids and upper back musculature due to the extreme amount of external rotation needed to achieve these positions.  They also require better thoracic mechanics and shoulder mobility to do perform correctly.  Many of us with tight shoulders may not be able to perform these movements at all. If you have a shoulder injury, be wary of these and make sure you do them properly. 

  Start out light and get the technique down or you could be paying for it (quite literally, if the injury is severe) for a long time.  Even if you have no injury history, be sure to work on your shoulder mechanics and mobility before attempting any behind the neck pressing.  In fact, make sure to do that regardless of what type of pressing you are doing. Sorry, I said I wouldn't get on my mobility soapbox. Moving on...

And now for what the powerlifters and gym bros have been waiting for: the bench press!  Personally, I hate benching.  It's uncomfortable, more dangerous than overhead pressing, and the benches always seem to be taken.  But more than that, I'm not very good at it.  Due to that painful fact, I'm not going to speak in detail here about specific bench techniques, set-up, or the NEW AND IMPROVED SUPER-SECRET WORKOUT TO PUT 100LB ON YOUR BENCH IN 2 WEEKS!  Because that totally exists, brah.  I'll stick to the common types of bench pressing and the muscles that they activate, starting with everybody's favorite, the barbell flat bench press.  Although it has been said that a powerlifting style bench press is more triceps than pectoralis dominant, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a truly strong bencher with small, weak pecs.  We are talking about a raw bench press here, so leave the bench shirts out of the conversation, as they not only look silly, but they completely change the lift.  Generally, the main reason one is benching is to develop pectoral strength and hypertrophy, and the barbell flat bench is great for that.  The anterior and middle deltoids are also used here, as are the triceps, but the degree to which they are activated is dependent both on your bar path and grip width, respectively.  The differences in deltoid activation in relation to the path of the bar would be better explained by an accomplished powerlifter, and as I am still new to that sport, I'm not going to going to delve into it.  Besides, if you are using the flat bench press to train your shoulders, you've got bigger problems than your bar path.  The triceps are most affected by the width of your grip on the bar. 

 A wider grip is going to place more stress on the pecs, while a narrower grip is going to place more stress on the triceps.  This is why many strongmen still perform a significant amount of close-grip bench presses, even though the bench is not a competition lift in that sport.  These grip variations can be used in incline and decline bench presses as well for the same purpose.  

 Speaking of changing the bench angle, let's talk about incline and decline presses.  Despite the fact that bodybuilders like to say that they build your “upper chest” and “lower chest,” respectively, this isn't actually true.  There is no “upper chest” muscle.  What about pectoralis lowerus? Never heard of it.  Although it is true that incline presses place slightly more stress on the clavicular head of your pectoralis major than flat bench presses, the entirety of the pectoralis major still fires during an incline press.  What an incline bench press really does is allow you to overload your deltoids with more weight than you would be able to overhead press while simultaneously training your pecs, albeit to a smaller amount than you would with a flat bench press.  This increase in shoulder size strength makes one a stronger bench presser, allowing greater weights to be moved for more reps, ultimately increasing the size of the pecs.  Unfortunately, most of those bodybuilders you see with the extremely well developed “upper pecs” have them because of genetics.  The variations in insertion points for the pectoralis major are what truly give that shape.  Sorry.  As far as decline presses, they shorten the range of motion and take stress off of the deltoids, placing an overload on the pecs.  This is what makes the chest appear more developed, not some mysterious “lower pec” muscles.

Dumbbells can be used in bench pressing for the same reason as overhead pressing.  They can help fix imbalances between the arms, create greater stability, and provide variations in muscle activation by changing the direction the palm is facing, just like with the overhead.  Another benefit to using dumbbells on the bench is something I have seen in my own training, while recovering from one of multiple shoulder injuries.  With dumbbells, the lifter is not as locked into the bench as he or she would be under a heavy bar.  The scapulae have more freedom of movement, so a more comfortable position for the shoulders can be achieved without compromising the lift.  There have also been electromyography studies that indicated increased muscle activation in the pectoralis major and minor when performing dumbbell bench presses vs barbell bench presses.  If hypertrophy is your main goal,  this is definitely something to think about.

It should be pretty clear now that there are a lot of ways to skin a cat when it comes to pressing.  Find what presses work for your goals, your body, and most importantly, your injury history.  If you have a weak point, use the press that activates the muscles needed to push through it.  If your muscular development is lacking in another area, pick a different press.  If a certain type of pressing hurts, unless it is a competition lift that is absolutely crucial to your sport of choice, scrap it!  There are other ways to get it done.  Now get out there and press something!

Seth Larsen has a Bachelor's of Science in Biology and Neuroscience and is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine candidate for 2015 at Midwestern University.  He is a former NASM-CPT and student athletic trainer.  He currently serves as a reserve officer in the US Navy Medical Corps while he finishes medical school with a specialization in primary care sports medicine.  Seth is a former NCAA football player who now competes as a MW (105kg) strongman, Highland Games athlete, and raw powerlifter.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Athlete Interview Series: Allison Moyer

Allison Moyer is a figure competitor and Crossfit athlete with a long list of credentials, as well as some unique approaches to both Crossfit and figure competition training. She sat down to answer some questions with us, check them out below:

1. Allison, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, as well as your sport?

Ah I’m so bad at the self talk J Let’s see I’m a 30 year old nationally ranked NPC Figure Athlete, published fitness model, crossfit athlete, weightlifter, and nutritionist and coach. I own Alli-Fitness Systems LLC which is my online fitness coaching company and I work fulltime as a trainer, coach and nutritionist.

I compete in crossfit and in figure. Crossfit, of course is a sport to me, but I don’t necessarily consider figure to be a sport. I consider it to be an art more so then anything else- the art of sculpting the body or shaping the body to fit a specific set of criteria.

I’ve been competing in figure since I was in college. I did my first show, a small local NABBA show was I was only 20, and by the age of 23 did my first NPC show, where I won my class and the figure overall. I’ve been competing at the national level on and off since 2008.

2. For those who don’t know the differences, can you explain the differences between figure, bikini, and bodybuilding competitions?

Female bodybuilding is really a dying arena of physique sports at this point- it’s mostly been replaced by women’s physique. And then of course there’s bikini and figure. The classes are differentiated by the judging criteria set forth by the NPC/IFBB standards. I compete in figure, which is judged based upon the overall symmetry, shape, conditioning and aesthetic flow of the athlete. 

 3. For you, what is the hardest part of being on stage? What sort of things to do you, in order to make prepping for the stage as simple as possible?

Posing, for me, is the hardest part of being on stage. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and probably the ONLY time I wear heels is when I’m on stage, so perfecting my comfort in heels, and in figure poses is something I try to work on in the weeks leading up to a contest. The more comfortable you can be flowing in and out of your figure poses and walking in your heels the more confident and effortless your stage presentation come contest time will be.

4. How does your diet change as you get closer to competition day? Do you believe in cheat meals, or do you follow a Macro approach instead?

I have Ulcerative Colitis so my diet is very strict and very structured. As it regards competing in figure, my diet can change daily if it needs to, or it doesn’t change much at all when it comes to being stage ready. I know that sounds vague, but honestly contest prep is all about making decisions based upon the responses of your body. So anything I do nutritionally in the weeks and days leading up to a show is going to be entirely dependent upon how my body is looking in that moment.  It’s a very meticulous approach.

As far as cheat meals, it’s not something I find effective for me. I have a weekly re-feed which I find beneficial to both my body composition and my performance.

5. Fasted Cardio is a method that has vehement proponents and opponents on both sides. Do you use fasted cardio in your training?

I train twice a day most days, and usually one of those sessions is an early morning session, however I don’t go in “fasted” in the traditional sense. I usually have some coffee blended with MCT Oil and some protein powder prior to. I should also note that my sessions aren’t really cardio based- I don’t do traditional cardio anymore.

6. Based on your social media outlets, it seems like you continue to incorporate heavy and explosive compound lifts throughout your training cycles. How do you think this sets you apart from other competitors who may focus on mostly isolation movements?

I don’t “train for figure.” I train to become a better weightlifter, a stronger athlete and a more efficient crossfit competitor. Figure isn’t the focus of my training.  I’ve found that mentally, for me, it was important to let go of training based on how I look. The last thing I think about when I’m training is whether this exercise or that exercise is going to make my shoulders bigger, or make my waist thicker or whatever. I’m focused on getting stronger, on squatting more weight, or increasing my pressing strength, or working towards a new snatch PR.

Although I do still compete in figure, I don’t train in the same manner that traditional figure athletes do, or even with the focus most figure athletes have, and I know this makes me a bit of a pariah in the bodybuilding world.  But I’m okay with it, because I very STRONGLY believe that the way I have been training has positively influenced my mind and my body. Even though I don’t train for aesthetics, my physique has changed for the better. Training for strength has made a huge impact on who I am as a coach, as an athlete, and as a woman. I eat more now than I ever have in my life and yet I carry less bodyfat then I ever have. I also carry more lean muscle. I’m stronger. I’m healthier- both mentally and physically and I believe that training the body as a whole (i.e squatting rather than doing leg extensions)  has allowed for a more streamlined and athletic look then can be found in athletes who train the body in terms of pure isometrics.

7. Since you don't train primarily for aesthetics, can you give us some examples of what your training looks like?

I train two sessions a day. My morning session is usually 100% conditioning related like a metcon or perhaps aerobic related- running, rowing, or Airdyne work.

I have a coach who helps with my programming- which is usually structured (somewhat) as follows:
My second session is my main session and involves some light aerobic work to get my body warm, then a good 20-30 minutes of a dynamic warm up, followed by my weighlifting which would be snatch, clean, and clean and jerk including their variations. Right now I'm on a cycle which is emphasizing pushing and pulling strength so there's a lot of push press, clean and snatch pulls, etc.

After my weightlifting I usually wind up doing some form of squat or other strength based movement. Occasionally there's a strict OH press or bench press, but since I'm focused on my Olympic lifting I don't bench much. Sometimes there's a deadlift. Mostly rows or rowing variations, pullups (weighted or in a weighted vest), weighted pistols, etc. It varies.

The remainder of my training could be gymnastics or skill practice, some accessory work on my weaker points (hams/glutes and shoulders) and then a metcon or some interval work. I like to work a lot with sled drags, prowler pushes, tire flips, sandbag carries or run, etc.

Currently I train 3 days on (mon/tues/weds) then one day off (thurs) then two days on (fri/sat) and then Sunday off. Thursday I usually do something monostructural and low intensity in the morning (restorative aerobically) and then some technique work or gymnastics skill practice in the afternoon. Sunday's I always do a long run in the morning with my German Shepherd, usually 4-6 miles and then take a hot yoga.
8. Where do you see yourself in the sport in the next 3-5 years?

I’m not sure- honestly. I’d love to say that one day I’ll be blessed to receive my IFBB Figure Pro card, but in all honesty that’s only one facet of fitness I enjoy. I love weightlifting and would love to compete someday and see where I can take that. I also love competing in crossfit, in mud runs and adventure races, and of course figure. I don’t label myself as one form of athlete or another now, and I doubt I will in the future either.

9. Do you have any pieces of sage advice for women who may be interested in joining an aesthetic competition, but still want to continue lifting heavy?

My advice would be don’t focus on aesthetics. Allow them to be the byproduct or the nice side effect of your training. Instead focus on strength, focus on performance, focus on eating well and fueling your workouts, and I think you’ll find your body will wind up looking exactly as it needs to.

Five things you may not know about me:
1. I have what can only be described as a very strange obsession with Wonder Woman.
2.  I dislike eating off regular spoons. I only eat off of soup spoons.
3. I weigh and measure EVERYTHING I eat. Even lettuce. My fiancée is constantly chastising me for it.
4. I eat all my food cold. I hate hot and warm food.
5. I’m up at 4am every day. Even on the weekends. I can’t ever sleep in. 

Born and raised in rural PA, Allison has been a well known and respected face in the fitness industry since early 2007. A national level NPC figure athlete, competitive Crossfit athlete, professional fitness model and published author, she has currently worked with nearly 300 clients both in and out of the U.S since she launched her online fitness coaching company, Alli-Fitness Systems LLC in mid 2008.

She has been voted "Best of Central PA's" Fitness Trainer five years in a row and is a well renowned trainer, competitor, athlete, model, author and motivational personality, writing for magazines like Paleo Living, and critically acclaimed websites, The Athletic Build, and BreakingMuscle. She currently features an athlete journal on

INSTAGRAM: @Allisonmoyer

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Five Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Online Coaching

Online coaching and programming, as many of you may know, is a booming business. It allows you to connect and work with coaches and athletes that otherwise would be too far away from your physical location.  Online coaching can be very beneficial for athletes who have become disenchanted with their gym's current model of programming, athletes who train by themselves but have no real guidance, or just athletes that are looking for something new. 
 The downside to online coaching is, of course, the lack of a physical coach to work with you. This isn't to say that it is ineffective, it just means that preemptive steps need to be taken, to ensure that both the athlete's money isn't being wasted, as well as that of the coach's time. I have worked with 200+ athletes via our online coaching programs, and in this article, I will outline five different tools an athlete can utilize, in order to get the most out of their online coach.

1. Maintain Contact With Your Coach.
This one is first on my list, and it is one of those things that shouldn't even need to be stated, meaning it, of course, HAS to be stated. When someone signs up for our programming, I make it clear that if you want the most out of the deal, YOU must put in the effort to remain in contact with your coach. If you were coached in person, would you just go without talking to your coach for two or three weeks at a time? Doubtful, so why do it with an online coach, where they don't even get in-person coaching time with you? 
Your online coach needs to be kept in the loop when it comes to your training; we want to know what felt good, what hurts, how hard the day way for you, etc. This feedback is doubly important when it comes to knowing what we should program for your next week or next month. Don't get me wrong, I am sure your online coach will gladly accept your dollars, whether or not you maintain contact, but it can get very bothersome to talk to an athlete once a month, get zero feedback from them, while they request the next cycle of programming. If you want your program to be tailored to your needs, maintain contact with your coach, you paid for it. Otherwise, just save your money and download a free program, since you will most likely be receiving generic programming anyway.

2. Film Your Lifts.
“I couldn’t film my lifts because I lifted by myself.” Honestly, as a coach, this is one of the most pathetic excuses about filming your lifts, and one of the easiest remedied problems. I along with everyone in our crew, film 80+% of all of the lifts we post online. Believe it or not, you can actually film yourself when no one is around to do it for you. Lean your camera against a wall, set it upright in a shoe, by a 15 dollar tripod, etc. I let the filming issue slide for roughly two weeks, before I tell my clients that they will no longer receive programming from me until I see your lifts.
This brings us back to the first point of maintaining contact with your coach: we want to see what you are doing. Telling us: “my back hurts when I deadlift, what am I doing wrong?” when you have no video to show, severely limits our options of assisting you. You can also look at it from a financial point of view: NOT filming yourself is like throwing money down the toilet when working with an online coach. For my clients, we schedule one day each week to watch all of the week’s previous videos together, so they can get feedback while we both watch the lifts. Something that I find extremely helpful when asking my athletes to film themselves, is the angle of the camera. If you were to look at a clock, I would ideally like the camera to be positioned at either the 2 or the 10, this will allow me to see what is happening in the front, as well as part of the side angle. Filming directly from the side is usually inadvisable, since the plate will block most of the shot.
3. Have Concise Goals, Or Let Your Coach make Them For You. 

If you want to reach a destination, you should probably have your path planned, or you will never get there. Newer athletes get a lot of leeway with me on this one, as it is simply something they may not have thought of. For example: “get stronger, lose bodyfat, increase my lifts” are of course good goals (Who doesn’t want these three things?), they aren’t incredibly helpful when trying to figure out the steps you take to get there. How much stronger? How much of a decrease in bodyfat? What lifts, how much weight? You can see what I mean when I say concise goals. I prefer when new athletes have goals that are specific, such as adding 80lbs to their squat in six months, a 4% decrease in bodyfat, etc. Having your goals written out and broken down will help you hold yourself more accountable to them, much like having a carrot dangled in front of a horse’s face while walking.
Keeping your specific goals in the front of your mind will help you to stay on track on those days when you may feel lazy. Six months is a finite amount of time, and keeping streamlined goals will help you to work towards it every day, instead of just wanting to “get stronger,” which is pretty relative. Technically, a 5lb PR means you have gotten stronger, but I don’t think it would be worth hiring an online coach for.

4. So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done.
Plain and simple, if you pay someone to write your programming, you should be following only that programming. I take it as a personal insult when clients pay me to spend hours every month writing their programming, only to find out that they are following their own gym’s programming at the same. Look at it this way; you are cheating on your online coach. When a coach designs a program, it is usually designed as a complete program, not a half-done program that you then must supplement with other lifts of your choice. If you want your coach to design a powerlifting program for you, don’t suddenly decide that you want to become more “explosive” by also following an Olympic lifting program. I have just given clients their money back in the past, because I do not want to waste my time with a client that can’t respect me enough to hold up their end of the bargain. We are there to help you progress, that is why you hired us: because you don’t know how to do it by yourself. And, because you don’t know how to program yourself, why would you suddenly decide to write your own programming? Don’t make this mistake, it is one of the worst offenses you can give to an online coach.

5. You Must Hold Yourself Accountable.
The more an athlete puts into the relationship I have with them as their online coach, the more I want to help them. We can write the world’s greatest programs, give you a stellar nutrition plan, and offer to assist you in any way that is feasible for us, but ultimately, the buck stops with you. I don’t think I am the only coach out there that receives blame from a client for their lack of progress, even though the client followed maybe 50% of what we have written for them. You could have the best person in the world working with you online, but if you don’t possess the willpower to achieve what you wanted in the first place, you won’t progress. If you ever just have “one of those days”, take a step back, remember your goals, and figure out what desire of yours is stronger: The desire to achieve change, or the desire to throw in the towel. Ultimately, all athletic careers can be boiled down to the sum of your desires. Your desire to change must be stronger than your desire to have an easy day.

These are just a few of the ways I have found to be most effective when working with an online coach. Have I left anything out? Do you have anything to add? Let us know on Facebook.