Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Book!: Fight with All your Strength

I have fun news!

So I've been convinced to make a book of strength and conditioning instruction. And step one is market research.

What do you want to see in the book? What topics?
Here's a first draft chapter list:
  • Needs Analysis - What are the demands of your fighting?
  • Basic Biomechanics of Fighting
  • Assessment/Testing
  • Dynamic Warm-up and Flexibility
  • Agility and Footwork
  • Core Stability Training
  • Strength and Power Essentials
  • Cardiovascular Conditioning
  • Program Design and Periodization
  • Plyometrics
  • Injury Prevention
  • Specifics for Different Kinds of Fighers
    • Grappling and Wrestling
    • Unarmed Striking
    • Cutting
    • Thrusting
    • Wearing Armour
  • Unconventional Training Tools
    • Javelin and Shot put 
    • Sled
    • Chains and bands  
    • Sandbag and bell 
    • Heavy bar, sledge hammer and battle ropes
  •          Environmental Conditions and other Special Considerations
Should there be a separate book for instruction on individual exercises? The above book will say to do squats, does there need to be a separate item for how to do squats? Should it be pocket sized so you can bring it to the gym with you?

I'll be doing a Kickstarter project to generate funds for professional services like editing, layout and photography. What kinds of rewards would interest you?

What haven't I thought to ask?

The book will focus on fundamentals of strength training and explain the science of why particular types of training produce the results we are looking for. The book will contain the building blocks of a successful program. I'm not going to prescribe a very specific program or follow any fads.

The question I've been asked most often is: what the difference is between a more well known (general) strength training book and what I'm working on?
Here is my answer:
My objective is to condense a lot of knowledge on strength training and conditioning, as it relates to weapon martial arts and combat sports, and put it all in one place.

For starters, the basic book on strength training that forms the foundation of my education in the topic is a college level textbook. It's over 400 pages and written as densely as any other biology textbook. But most of it is way more than a fighter needs to know to train well. And it's not at all complete.

I supplement this with several other books and research that covers upper body power development. Taking the relevant exercises from a comprehensive book on power development and putting them in one place. Then I do the same for agility books and research. And for cardiovascular conditioning.

My library also includes a stack of peer reviewed journals, so I'll be including up-to-date information on emerging modes like: mixed intensity interval training, repeated sprint and repeated effort training and rate of force development training. And the point is not that any of these is a fad, but that each of these is supported by numerous studies demonstrating consistent, useful results.

If somebody already has a general purpose book on strength training do they need to have my book? No. But I would hope that I can refine that persons training. Maybe fill in some gaps. Expand it to address previously under-served aspects of training.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

More on Shoulder Health

To add some to previous advice about overhead shoulder exercises. If the doctor told you not to do overhead presses there are other ways of working the muscles similarly.

First, there's upright rows. As far as the shoulder is concerned it's basically the same exercise. With a history of shoulder problems it is generally advised to avoid lifting the upper arms past parallel

Second, there's incline presses. Again, similar muscular involvement, but less stress on the usual suspect in the shoulder i.e. the acromion.

Third, ask if the prohibition against overhead presses applies to all such exercises or just the barbell and machine versions. Dumbbell overhead presses allow the shoulder joint to move more 'naturally' and so are less likely to aggravate a shoulder problem.

Further, there's some variety in rotator cuff exercises that can be useful supplements to the above.
Lying face down on a bench you can do 3 external rotation exercises. With the elbows tucked at the side; with the upper arms straight out from your shoulders; and in-between, so that your arms look like a 'W' from above.
The other rotator cuff exercise is called an 'empty can'. Do lateral raises except with the hand turned with the palms facing backwards, like you would if you were emptying a can.

Lastly, scapular stability exercises will contribute to shoulder health and function. These are usually called something like 'YTI' because the three positions, viewed from above, look like a Y, T and I. The T is just a standard back fly exercise, they can be done lying on a (incline) bench or similar to make the whole set convenient to do*. The Y is the same exercise but your arms extend forward at an angle instead of straight out to the side. The I is done by extending the arms straight back/down, so that the weight is brought from a hanging position to up by your hips. With these three exercises it is important to make sure that your scapula is moving - the scapular movement is the entire point of these since doing so increases the stability of the shoulder joint. Rotation at the head of your upper arm is not helping the scapular stabilizers.
* Alternately they can be done in the same kind of position used for a bent over row, either one arm at a time with the other on the bench or both arms at the same time.

All the supplemental exercises involve small muscles* and should be done with smaller weights and for more reps, typically 12-15.
*The I exercise uses your rear delt and so can be done with larger weights.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Strength v. Stability

These are my thoughts on the general, raw strength training versus stability strength training disagreements that I've seen. There are two poles on this discussion and lots of people are at some point on a continuum between these two opposite ends. For the purposes of this commentary I'm going to contrast the two poles, as doing so makes some things more clear.

And as a reminder: the context of this blog is assumed to be athletic individuals training for combat sports and martial arts. Training for general fitness, and/or with deconditioned individuals is somewhat different.

The positions:
1) All you need is conventional, basic strength training. Squats, deadlifts, barbell bench press etc. Exercises done for high weights on stable surfaces with the objective of increasing the weight that can be lifted in that exercise.

2) Functional, and therefore useful, strength training means training on unstable surfaces. Increase the difficulty of squats by doing them on one leg and/or unstable surfaces. Increase the difficulty of chest presses by doing pushups on hanging handles/BOSU/wobble-board.

The problem I see with position 2 is this scenario: you are fighting someone who goes for type 1 and you do type 2. When they are stable, because they train for high force production when stable, they can hit much harder than you. They are more likely to blow through imperfect defenses because of this. They have good technical training and footwork and agility. As such, they are almost always stable; at which they are ideal. You don't suffer as much when unstable, but that doesn't come up as much during the fight. How does strength training influence the outcome of this fight?

The conclusion I've reached is that you need to do the basic, conventional, high-load strength training. And supplement with the stability based training.

A sample 2 day a week program might look like this:

Leg Press
Split Squat
Straight Leg Deadlift
Barbell Bench Press
Cable Low Row

Day 2
Front Squat
Rear-foot elevated or Single leg squat
Single leg, straight leg deadlift
Single arm, Dumbbell Bench Press
Bent Over, Dumbbell Row

If I were going to do only one then I would do the basic strength training. My reasoning being twofold: 1) The conventional lifts do require stability, though I include the split squat as a basic lift; 2) I do stability training by doing technical and agility training.

I'm especially interested in feedback on this particular post. So please share your thoughts.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why Strength Train?

Listed below are some the best reasons to include Strength and Conditioning training as part of any martial arts or combat sports training. They are in an approximate order of importance.
  1. Injury Prevention - Strength and conditioning is the most important and effective component of injury prevention in any sports program. A properly designed program has a very low incidence of injury itself and will do a tremendous amount to decrease the likelihood of injury. Additionally, in the event of injury, the well conditioned body will heal more effectively.
  2. Health and Fitness - Physical training is good for your body and health. It will benefit the practitioner in too many ways to list, such as decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Therefore if training for swordplay is the reason for getting more physical activity then it is an entirely worthwhile reason.
  3. Be able to Train More - Strength and Conditioning will increase the ability to practice and train technical components of the art. The idea is sometimes known as, “training to train”. Simply put, exercise will increase the number of reps of a technique that can be done in a row, decrease the necessary break times in a training session and increase the possible length of a training session. Or it can be thought of being able to fight more fights in row before becoming tired.
  4. Achieving your personal Best - A Strength and Conditioning program is necessary to reach your personal peak. Without a doubt, technical training is the larger component of success in a martial art. But the last steps to the highest level are done with strength and conditioning training as part of the program. But as explained in point 2, physical training will increase the ability to train and therefore speed and ease the path to expertise, so strength and conditioning should be implemented Day 1 to maximize the utility, safety and effectiveness of training.
  5. Improve Form - Some deficits in form are caused by deficits in strength. A particular muscle may be too weak or it may be inhibited and so may prevent a person from correctly performing a specific action. A well developed, comprehensive strengthening program should correct this problem.

Picking a Personal Trainer

Recently somebody asked me about how to figure out if somebody is a good personal trainer. This is an inherently tricky thing to do and I clearly have my own preferences. Also, my advice is most useful to Americans since I know more about American certification organizations than those in other parts of the world.

First off, my bias is towards a program that is strongly grounded in modern scientific research. Further, research must be understood and evaluated for quality and relevance. The most common abuse of research comes from over interpreting or extrapolating the results of a single study. I keep my recommendations to those which have the backing of at least several studies (the exception being those blog posts which are commentary on a specific research article).

As such, I place a high value on a personal trainer who has a strong background in exercise science and who applies that knowledge to their training. This second part is important. There need not be a connection between education in a topic and using that knowledge. There are afterall MD's who will support homeopathy.

At a minimum I'd look for a personal trainer with a Bachelor of Sciences in a topic such as Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology or Kinesiology. This automatically rules out almost all people who work as personal trainers. And if you think most personal trainers aren't that useful, then perhaps you'll see my point. To put this into perspective I'll compare my education to a typical personal trainer course. For each chapter or unit in such a course, I have a 3 credit course from an accredited University. That is, for each week they've spent on a topic I have a 16 week course complete with it's own text books, assignments and tests. The difference then is quite large.

I strongly recommend a trainer with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) cert from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). The CSCS is the basic requirement for working as a strength coach for a professional or college sports team. To my knowledge it is the only such program in the US. This cert requires a 4-year degree like the kind I outlined above.

(Contrary to it's name the NSCA is actually an international organization with branches in several European countries, Japans and other parts of the world.)

The only other organization whose certification I trust is the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). However, the ACSM does not offer a sport or strength specific certification and they focus on public health and disease related physical activity programs (which is a great thing, but not necessarily as relevant to this blog).

There exist too many other certifying organizations for me to comment on all of them. I simply take an exclusive approach that a certification from another organization needs to prove itself. As personal trainer certification is in no way regulated in the United States it is not reasonable to assume that 'certified' has any meaning unless it is backed by a well regarded institution like the ACSM or NSCA.