Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pick It Up


For most athletes, regardless of skill level, the mind has the potential to be the biggest roadblock in terms of progress. Fears, doubt, and worries have a very noticeable effect on performance, sometimes even impeding it. This post is not going to be lengthy, I just want to discuss one of the big things that we believe in: The concept of "Pick It Up."

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from big strongmen was simply "pick it up". When it comes to lifting (especially Strongman), we have found that beyond the basic instruction, there isn't a whole lot else to do besides simply overcoming the weighted the object. Secret tips and techniques don't usually exist, and when weights get heavy, we receive questions about what technique they are doing wrong that is keeping them from moving the weight. In reality, it's not a technique problem, its a mental block that is keeping them from lifting the weight.

It can be a combination of a fear of missing the weight, looking stupid if they fail, or a fear of getting hurt that keeps them from lifting the weight. I have some personal experience with this, a few months ago I couldn't lift my 365lb concrete slab. I attribute the failure to a fear of the object, and a lack of confidence in what I was doing. A few weeks ago I carried the same stone for about 4 sets of 80ft each. I was able to do this because I simply envisioned myself as already lifting it, and now I just have to do it again. I didn't spend a lot of time staring at it, working myself up into a false frenzy, or standing there for 20 seconds with my eyes closed. I just bent down and picked it up.

Ian Wilson is an Olympic lifter, and a great example of this. He just walks up to the bar and picks it up, whereas someone like Klokov might spend 15 seconds on the bar before lifting it. It works for Klokov, but it doesn't work for everyone.

The longer I stand in front of the weight and telling myself I can do it, the longer I have for doubt and those negative voices to creep in and tell me I can't do it. If I just walk up to it and pick it up, my problems have been solved. If you have ever seen me smelling an ammonia cap before I deadlift, its because the ammonia feels like a donkey is kicking me in my olfactory bulb, but it also clears my head of any thoughts, leaving me with the only option available: picking it up. 

Keep negative thoughts from creeping in but getting rid of the time spent telling yourself you can do it. You know you can do it, so you don't waste time beforehand working yourself up into an artificial state of confidence beforehand, just get it done. If you fail or look like a jackass if you miss the weight, who cares? If you end up in a "lifting fail compilation" on Youtube, who cares? None of that matters. Fear of failure will keep you from greatness, I promise you that. 

Stop dicking around and Pick It Up.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fixing Your Early Arm Bend issues

Article written by Fletcher Pierce

Lifting big is a difficult thing, which is why we all love our respective strength sports, but it is especially hard when we make things more difficult for ourselves. A prime example of adding additional work and hurting ourselves in the process can be seen in the pull portion of the clean and snatch. When we start doing weights closer to our max, probably 90% or higher for most athletes, we naturally start thinking we need to put more force into the top of the pull or we simply won’t make the lift. The way many of us do this is by pulling with our arms at the top of the pull. There are multiple problems with this natural habit, and you need to be aware of them in order to help yourself improve as a lifter.

The main reason this is an issue is that your turnover (the ability to transition under the bar and get your elbows through in a stable position) is greatly diminished in both speed and efficiency. If your biceps, triceps, and entire shoulder are actively engaged at the top of the pull, that is a lot of tension that the lifter must overcome in order to transition to their bottom position. If the transition isn’t consistent and the lifter is unable to adjust to the extra tension in the millisecond available, they will most likely dump the bar in front, wasting precious time and energy in the process.

Another reason pulling with the arms is an issue is that the pull will actually be cut short. If a lifter is doing a max weight, and is compensating by pulling with their arms, chances are they will also not finish the second pull to full extension. When the arms are generally elongated at the top of our pull we naturally develop a sense of where the bar should be located on the quad when we begin the transition into the bottom position. If we pull with your arms and elevate the position of the bar even an inch, it could change the rhythm of your entire pull, causing you to cut it short. 

Most lifters know that turning your elbows out (away from your body) will help create a smoother and more efficient bar path by keeping the bar closer to their center of gravity. Another benefit of keeping your elbows out like this is that it limits your arms ability to attempt to “reverse curl” the bar. If you attempt to reverse curl the bar there are a few scenarios that many of us have been through:

1. The athlete could crash the bar into your throat (instead of catching it).
2. The athlete may simply be unable to turn the bar over (dropping it in front).
3. Or there is my favorite option, when the bar swings out away from the athlete and they pull it back in with their arms, which in-turn drives the bar into them, which throws the athlete on their back (hopefully not breaking any wrists in the process).

All of these can be avoided by simply keeping your elbows out, staying over the bar, and use your arms like ropes in the pull. They aren’t going to be of any benefit to the real pulling muscles, your quads and glutes won’t throw a party for your biceps for saving that PR clean or snatch.

That being said, there are lifters that pull with their arms in a fixed bent position. They do this to elevate the bar into their hip pocket more efficiently, but it is difficult to do and hasn’t been proven to be more or less effective. In order to do it this way, you must make sure the arms aren’t actually used to lift the bar as much as stabilize it in the desired position.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The LBEB Training Method

Article written by Marshall White

This article is not a sales pitch, nor is it an attempt to convince you of anything or sway you in any way, the purpose of this article is to explain and brag a little about all the good things that have been happening with LBEB programming as of lately.  I am writing this article from my point of view and from my experiences, I have been gaining so much lately I am giddy like a kid!  If you think this is a sales pitch or you are 100% happy with your programming feel free to stop reading right now, but if you want to know why and how we LBEB athletes have been hitting monster lifts lately, then continue on.

A few months ago Brandon and I started discussing our current programming methods and comparing notes.  While we compared there was one very clear thing that stood out, we were gaining but we weren't gaining as fast as we wanted.  We are both intelligent men and have been doing this for a while so we also know that impatience can be a common mistake among athletes, but we still theorized that we could gain faster.  So, we went to work on figuring out and writing up programming that would get us the gains we desired.

The first thing B and I went after was making a decision on which sport had the absolute best strength based athletes and why.  We had a set of parameters that we tried to work within and a set of minimums that the athletes had to meet in order to make the cut.  After setting our criteria we started researching and examining every strength sport we could think of: Highland games, Weightlifting, Wrestling, Crossfit, Basque stone lifting, Arm wrestling, Strongman, Powerlifting, etc etc.  We examined the best in these sports and tried to find as much information on their training methods as possible.  After an exhausting couple of months we settled on the sport we feel has the most well rounded strength based athletes, Strongman.  Yeah I know, we're biased right?

Maybe so but here's what we found out; a good strongman can step in to any one of these other sports and fare well, notice I said FARE WELL.  I didn't say kick the crap out of the top of the sport, I said they would do well with no specific training in regards to these other sports.  We tried and tried to find athletes from these other sports that could or have stepped in to a strongman show and done well and we just couldn't find an example.  On the other hand we found quite a few examples of strongmen who had stepped in to these other sports and not just fared well but placed surprisingly high in the end.  Just so you know, we took physique in to account as well, while looking good shouldn't be a primary goal we are smart enough to know that if a person can look good AND be strong, that would be their preference.  Even with physique as a factor strongman won again.  I realize that the heavyweight strongmen are not always the most desirable physique, there is a whole lightweight class of strongmen that are ridiculous strong and look amazing as well.

Talia and Marshall at their record-setting meet

 Ok, so now that we had the sport figured out we had to figure how the people in this sport were training.  This is where we had an advantage, because of my experience I had access to the best strongmen around and over the years I have had hours of discussion on training methods with these athletes.  What we noticed is that most strongman training looks absolutely sporadic and ridiculous on paper.  There doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to why they do what they do, and to be flat out honest I don't think most of them even know exactly why they do the things they do, myself included.  As we delved into it more we started noticing some commonalities, we noticed that while things may vary there is a "method" to how strongmen train, no matter how loose that method may be.  So we started writing down the things that strongmen and strongwomen's programs have in common.  After quite some time a set of parameters started to show up, basically as a strongman you could do whatever the hell you wanted so long as it fit in to this set of parameters.  We plugged a load of programs in to the parameters and time and time again the program fit, unbeknownst even to the athlete who was following the program!  This was exciting because we felt we had figured out a huge piece of the training puzzle.

 At this time we had our parameters, and we wrote a program that fit within said parameters, what we had to do now was execute the program with an athlete and see if we were correct.  We decided to use myself and Talia and Brandon as guinea pigs.  We decided on ourselves because, we knew we could follow the program, we are also experienced athletes so the gains can't be contributed to just being a new athlete, we all know all the exercises and have all the necessary equipment to execute the program to the fullest, but most of all we are all regular people who have regular lives that we have to train around.  We thought it was very important for this program to be able to fit in to family life, work, vacations, school, and even other hobbies.  So, we got started executing this program and the only way to describe what happened is JAW DROPPING!!! All three of us started gaining like it was our first year lifting, in less than 6 months Talia added 191lbs to her powerlifting total (33lbs off an elite total) without even training for a powerlifting meet AND just deciding the night before the meet to compete, I only mention powerlifting because its not her sport, she has had some amazing strongwoman achievements in that time as well!!  In about 5 months time I have stepped out of my "sport" to compete in other strength sports and have taken first place in a weightlifting meet and a powerlifting meet, both without specific training and limited notice prior to competing. In addition I set an elite raw total in powerlifting, I'm not saying my form in these meets was perfect (especially the weightlifting meet, ugh!) but my strength was so high that form almost became secondary. Brandon's training lifts have shot through the friggin roof!! He will be competing in a Strongman show in the heavyweight class at the end of June. We know its not just about your lifts though so we took a look at the health side of things as well.  All 3 of us have lower bodyfat percentages at higher bodyweights, our blood pressure has improved and our overall feeling of well being has improved.  We have noticed increased flexibility and mobility and our daily energy levels are at an all time high!  This is how a strength athlete should feel!

We as athletes are ecstatic! We are finally gaining at the rate we have been wanting to gain at! We're not stupid, we know these gains will slow down and we'll have to change things up a bit to ensure continued gains, but that's the beauty of this program; WE CAN CHANGE IT AS MUCH AS WE LIKE SO LONG AS IT FITS IN TO THE SET PARAMETERS!!!! It is an almost limitless program in it's possibilities.  Again, I would like to stress that this is not a sales pitch, you need to make your own training decisions, if you're happy with what you're doing, continue doing it.  We just weren't happy and we decided to do something about it and it worked like a bloody charm!   Keep in mind though that if you decide to not follow LBEB programming you shouldn't be surprised when you find us showing up at all your meets, lifting ALL the weight and snatching up all the medals!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Case Against "Active Rest" Days

Without a doubt, one of the one of the biggest and hotly debated topics on the website, and one of the most frequent questions at LBEB seminars is the subject of "active rest" days and their role in a program. We have a very concrete outlook on active rest days and we catch a lot of flak for it, but we know what works for our athletes, clients, and ourselves: We don't believe in active recovery.

 I feel very strongly that active recovery days do not have a role in a true strength program, especially a program for athletes that compete in strength sports. I have found that the Crossfit community is the biggest proponent of active recovery days, ironically, they are usually the athletes that need true recovery the most. let me break it down: The standard Crossfit weekly scheme is 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, one day off. These 2 "off days" are put in there in order for athletes to recover and grow from their workouts, while charging them up for the next few days of training. What we have found is that many gyms prescribe "active recovery" on these rest days. Because of this, athletes go into the box and "hit a quick 15 minute metcon" or "do snatch drills for an hour" (actual quotes). Does that sound like rest to you? 

 I am a firm believer that people do this two reasons. The first reason is that they are afraid that a day of actual rest will make them lose all of their gains. The second reason is that they do it to simply feed their exercise addiction. That is one of the differences between "exercising" and "training". Exercising usually means you go to the gym and do what you feel like doing, whereas training is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Training involves structure and planning, and actual rest days are part of that plan.

Our most successful athletes and clients are those that can mentally take a break from the gym and be OK with it. We always say that if you WANT to go the gym on your rest days, you aren't hitting it hard enough on your scheduled days. I personally look forward to days off as the week goes on, because I am beating the hell out of my body, and I want to continue to make progress. Some folks do active rest days to "keep their muscles fresh", when in reality the opposite occurs. Your muscles are already beat up, adding more exercise will not make them more fresh, but you know what would? Eating and resting big!

 My biggest PR's have come when I have taken days off from the gym, in fact when I went on a cruise in December,  I came back and added 25-55lbs to literally ALL of my lifts! That is what true rest can do for you, constantly battering your body and denying it of rest will not get you what you want. You need to become OK with not lifting every day in order to make yourself better.

Now to be clear, active rest is not the same as mobility, we do feel that mobility should be done every day, whether it involves lacrosse balls, foam rollers, flossing bands, or simple body stretches. For some, I recommend doing these at home simply because doing it in the gym is too much temptation and they give in to a workout, or their friends talk them into it (Friends don't let friends skip rest day).

Now I am sure someone is going to come along and say "But but but Rich Froning something something Bulgarian Method", and that's great. Are you Rich Froning? Are you on the gear that the Bulgarians were on? Do you want your body to break? If not, try taking actual rest days in your training, we have all of our athletes and clients do it and it has never brought anything but bigger lifts and recharged bodies. I promise you that.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Do You Need To Stop Lifting In The Morning?

Morning workouts, like so many other things in our community, can become almost a religious ritual for some athletes. Many feel that lifting in the morning sets a tone for their entire day, leaving them feeling charged and ready for whatever a case of the Mondays might throw at them. Others train in the early morning simply because it is the only time they can find the time because of school, work, kids, a commute, etc. But, what if there are physiological disadvantages to training in the early morning? Let's take a look at some of the potential drawbacks to early morning lifting, and how to find ways to work around them.

Body Temperature
The temperature of the human body tends to be the lowest roughly 1-3 hours before waking, giving the muscles that stiff, sore feeling that most lifters are very familiar with. For me, I feel like there is a brick between my erectors that wont go away for about 90 minutes after I wake up, or until my body gets warmer.Many injuries stem from not being properly warmed up, and this tends to happen in the morning, especially if you are waking up at 5am to rush to your 6am training session. In the afternoon, the body temperature is much higher, more blood has been flowing to the muscles, and unless you are hunched over a desk ALL day, you will probably be more warmed up than if you went to a 6AM practice, half awake.
Cortisol Levels

Cortisol levels tend to be highest in the early morning, which is when a lot of lifting or fitness classes tend to occur for the 9-5 crowd. Cortisol is necessary for morning wakefulness.  A study found that lifting heavy things at night, as opposed to in the morning, resulted in a more anabolic (strength and size-building) testosterone/cortisol ratio. This may explain why afternoon or evening training is better for strength and size gains.  Testosterone is low in the morning, while cortisol is high, and the opposite is true in the evening. If you are working out with an already elevated level of cortisol, intense training will only raise it more, which can result in diminishing returns for you.

Performance Levels.
For low impact, do relatively easy exercises such as long runs or walks. Morning tends to be the best time for these exercises because they aren't adversely affected by cortisol and testosterone levels, and are easier to do while still the body is waking up. However, in a recent study, 10 and 11 year old males performed noticeably better in the afternoon than in the morning. They improved 5% on the jump test, 3.5% on the squat jump test,  grip strength improved 5.9%, and overall performance increased 5.5%. Now this may not sound like much, but if you are deadlifting 500 pounds, that is a 30lb difference. The study also suggested that the difference in performance levels between morning and afternoon could be made up by a longer warmup in the morning. Although, most of the time (myself included) morning workouts are done as quickly as possible in order to get home and eat/ get ready for work.
Spinal Fluid

This is an aspect of early morning lifting that isn't talked about too often. Basically the discs between each of the spine's vertebrates is made of a jelly-like substance that is designed to fill up or expand in order to absorbs shocks that are put upon the body. These discs also fill up greatly at night while asleep, and this expanded size is maintained for about 60 minutes after waking. The team Chiropractor and I talked about this last week, and discussed how discs that are engorged with fluid can actually negatively affect a deadlift and possibly leave one susceptible to a slipped disc or herniation. One way to correct this is to warm up the spine more than normal in the early morning, to drain some of the fluid out of the area. One of the ways is the cat back/ camel back stretch, a very quick and effective tool for warming up the thoracic spine. Unfortunately, some who lift in the morning because of time constraints choose to skip a lengthy warmup, and that can leave you having a bad time.

My goal here is not to dissuade you from lifting in the morning if that is the only time you can. Instead, it is good to educate yourself on the potential risks of early morning workouts if you don't take the adequate steps to prepare yourself for the rigors that will occur. If time is not an issue for you, try switching your workouts to the afternoon to see if you have noticeable differences in strength, flexibility, and focus. Does this switch work for you? Let us know!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Stronger Than Before

Article written by Joan Jennings

 I’m feeling stronger, fuller, and more confident in myself. I have made one with the bar. I have found, lost, and found again my happiness with the bar.

In my early twenties I was married to a man who found females with muscles repulsive. Once while he was giving me a massage he made a face at me and told me I was disgusting.  It hurt my feelings and raised my insecurities so much that I stopped lifting weights.

I began running and picked up 5 lb dumbbells for exercise. So that I still had my sanity because I truly enjoy exercising, but I wouldn’t ‘bulk’ up. I was OK in my own skin. I didn’t have a lot of muscle and I was somewhat thin, so my husband would be attracted to me. That should matter the most right? Wrong.

My husband and I split after seven years of being together. Four months after the split I was stationed in Iraq. I was deployed with one of the Army infantry units and met a good friend who introduced me to Crossfit. Within Crossfit, I found the bar again, this time it was different. I was addicted to it. All I wanted to do was lift. When I got back to the States all the boys in my command were surprised at the ‘mass’ that I obtained. This did make me self-conscious again, and I tried to ignore it.

Nine months later I left the bar, and began cycling, running and yoga. I was hoping to find that happiness. I did a lot without the bar; I completed my first mini triathlon, century ride, and a few half marathons. But inside I knew I needed to lift.

Another ten months goes by and I went back to CrossFit and started to re unite with lifting. Fortunately it was about the time that ‘Strong is the New Skinny’ was making waves. I was so happy that there was a whole other community that understood. When I went back to CrossFit, I had lost a lot of strength and was completing the WODs scaled, but I was happy. Through each lift I was getting stronger. Inside and outside I was and am changing. With each lift I empower myself to become better, more confident, and more me. I love the way I feel when I lift, and I always try and empower others around me as well with lifting.

Some time goes by and I start hearing about Lift Big Eat Big. And I really felt like I have found a community where I really belong. There was no body types, just a group of people who want to lift a ridiculous amount of weight, while not worrying about counting calories but eating to fuel their bodies for all the training their bodies are put through. AWESOME!! 

Now,  I’m stronger than before, and with each PR my strength grows first in the inside and then out. Lifting is all-mental.

I had found myself with the bar.

It took time and acceptance of myself to be comfortable with the bar. My once unaccepted muscles were developing more and I had to learn to love and embrace them. Today I do. I love what my muscles can do and what challenges I have for them. I have lifting goals that my muscles will help me reach and within that I have found my happiness with my bar and myself.

And today, I am with a man who loves me and all of my muscle.