Monday, April 23, 2012

Training with Aristotle

Do you know a person who can squat twice what you do, just came off of an injury, and still comes around complaining that they're not lifting enough weight? Or the guy who tries to do cardio for the first time in a year and runs himself into the ground and waits until next January to try again? On the other end of the spectrum, do you know the people who go for a ten minute run and use it as justification to down a gallon of ice cream? Aristotle has a solution for all these people that he was schooling back in the B.C.

One of Aristotle's most famous works is Nicomachean ethics and, if you will forgive the round-about discussion, is the best way to guide yourself towards your fitness goals. The basic theory is that for every virtue there is an ideal state between two extremes. This perfect state is not only different between people, it is also different from situation to situation. While he is discussing traits such as bravery, pride, compassion, etc. you can easily apply his methodology to how you should train.

The first kind of person is on the extreme end of the spectrum. They want to achieve their goal so badly that they try to do too many things at one time. These are the people who push so hard they get injured, will try and accomplish a dozen fitness goals at once, or allow form to break down completely to get the reps in. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pushing hard, but when pushing yourself starts to take you further from your goal rather than closer, you might want to  ask yourself why. If you find yourself in this camp you need to work on pulling back; not every day is going to be a PR day and sometimes you are going to have to listen to your body. Dan John wrote a good article over at T-Nation on how to balance your training year. I won't repeat the whole thing, but the gist is that there are only a few times in the year that you really push yourself and the rest is about enjoying the process.

The second group is a lot more popular, these are the people who just need a good kick in the ass. They are on the “not doing enough” end of the scale and never go the distance to create lasting results. The way Aristotle would help them is to have them set their sights on pushing too hard! He believed that when you are not in balance your perspective on your actions is off. So for the coward he must act brave, but not just that, he must act brash. Because he is a coward his idea of brave isn’t brave enough but what he thinks is being foolhardy is closer to being brave.So if you are someone who doesn’t work enough you need to work so much you think you are doing too much! 

If you follow this idea you will constantly be improving your work capacity and moving steadily towards your goal. Eventually you will reach the state we talked about earlier and be doing too much work, at that point just start working back in the opposite direction. Trust me, it will take a lot longer to get there than you might think but as with all changes to your program take it one step at a time, one day a week to five days a week in one go can just as likely screw you up as sticking with the once a week.

The final point to be made is that everything is situational. While it might take some time to get a hang of it, you have to learn when to push harder and when to back off in accordance with what is going on in your life. Going harder than is healthy a few weeks before a powerlifting competition makes sense, you are basing the extra push on the imminence of your goal. Doing the same thing 4 months before the competition doesn’t make sense. If you just suffered an injury the attitude you take towards your training needs to change compared to when you are completely healthy. Specificity trumps generality, the person who normally doesn’t push hard enough (should be pushing harder) does not have to push harder if he gets the flu (a case where pulling back is called for)

Just as being the perfect person is impossible so is doing your training perfectly, we can only aim to get as close as we possibly can. I hope reading this post gets you thinking about your own training and possibly helps make some changes!

*Picture taken from here

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The One Movement to Save Your Body: The Hip Hinge

What is the first reason that comes to mind when people say the can't squat or deadlift? My guess is that the next words coming out of their mouths are going to have to do with their knees or their lower back. Given the way many people move I can see where they are getting this objection and while I believe the lifts themselves are fine for most people, the way most people do them is not. The most obvious problem stems from not sending the butt back at all. When they squat you see the knees go shooting past the toes and the but going straight down the the ground. When they deadlift they round their lower back either because they can't get their hips low or back enough. Both of these lifting positions put undue pressure on their knees or lower back and lead to the pains that scare people from the lifts. One small change can dramatically improve a persons lifting position and I have seen people improve with just 10 minutes of practice.

The solution is to practice the hip hinge. Many gym goers find the movement confusing and unnatural which is why it needs to be practiced, once they get a hang of it though they find that their lifts feel far more comfortable and the pressure has moved from their knees or back to their legs. The hip hinge is essentially involves keeping your feet planted, sending your hips and butt backwards while maintaining a straight back. The best way I have found to learn or teach the hinge is to stand a few inches from a wall, send the hips until the butt touches the wall. If you are able to touch move a few inches further away and try again, If you cant touch or your lower back arches move closer until you are able to touch. While doing this drill it can help to keep the hands touching the legs, the don’t need to stay in one place and should slide down the leg but this will increase the stretch in the hamstrings and give you better feedback from the movement.

Once you feel comfortable with the hip hinge it is time to try and transfer that feeling to other exercises. The most basic of which is the Romanian deadlift, don’t let the name fool you as it is essentially a hip hinge while holding weight. If you perform the lift and you feel your hamstrings working and your lower back staying tight then you are well on your way. If you can perform Romanian deadlifts then you should be able to squat and deadlift with significantly safer and more effective form. While the movements are not completely the same (and there are many more cues for those lifts) sitting back into the heels and allowing for movement at the hips are some of the best changes lifters can make for those exercises.

Next blog post will cover the 5 of the best habits to develop as a gym goer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Welcome to the Blog

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Ioan and I am a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) working at Equinox, a high end gym chain here in New York City. I was inspired to start this blog because I tend to hear the same questions and see the same things when it comes to training and I wanted to do my part to try and help. There are also elements to training that I feel are both interesting and completely ignored by a large number of gym goers (such as the hip hinge, one of the first posts I have planned).

As a trainer, my philosophy tends towards that of a strength builder. Almost all of your goals would be easier to achieve if you were stronger. Fat loss is easier when you have the strength to move decent weight throughout a circuit and strength training helps maintain muscle while dieting. If you are looking to get bigger it couldn’t hurt to be able to work with bigger weights. Many areas of potential injury can be kept safe by strengthening the appropriate muscle groups. Strength in itself is a worthy goal and you will find your physique and performance improve if you give it the attention it deserves. This is not to say that you can't get bigger or lose weight without getting stronger (I'm sure you all know people who have) but it can never hurt and could be the missing link in your training.

Expect to see my first fitness post tomorrow and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or topics you want to see covered.