Monday, November 28, 2011

Vasily Alexeev R.I.P. and Measuring Strength

I imagine many of you have heard of the passing of Vasily Alexeev last week. His influence on the world of strength and power cannot be overestimated. He was a larger than life figure who transcended boundaries and was known and recognized around the world by lifters and non-athletes as well. I loved his "out of the box" training methods and approach to life. He certainly had no shortage of confidence and was a master of the mental aspects of competition as well as the physical. Below is a short documentary that summarizes well his career.

Below is another article by Vern Gambetta.We have featured his ideas several times in past posts. He takes a very pragmatic and practical approach to taining. I like that and try to do the same. Nothing is implemented just because it is new and trendy and nothing is sacred just because it has been done for decades. Let's use our eyes, our ears, our heads and experiences and do whatever works in the present situation we find outrselves in. I think any of us with any experience can agree that big weight room numbers do not automatically translate into better performance. the old adage that "all things being equal, the stronger athlete will win" is really a moot point as all things are never equal. Strategies, mechanics and techniques, mental strength and toughness, team chemistry, and of course luck among many other factors play a huge role in athletic success. I have to agree with Vern that there are many ways to improve and access strength beyond a 1 rep max. However, having said that, I am not afraid of testing 1 rep maxes. I do think they have value in teaching younger athletes to "go all out" to exert a maximal effort. many young athletes don't know how to do this. I do not believe that a 1 rep max is dangerous when athletes are prepared properly. My experience is that multiple rep maxes are more likely to end in injury as fatigue sets in and technique breaks down in straining for the those final reps. I also do not believe that teaching workable technique in the olympic style lifts needs to be time consuming. A competant coach can teach workable technique in a few sessions. Having said that, the full lifts are not essential faor all athletes and many variations and alternatives can be used for those whose physical dimensions or characteristics make doing the lifts difficult or even dangerous in some rare cases. How do you best measure strength? There is really no need to measure absolute strength in most cases outside of competitive lifting. Chart progress and let competitive success be your measure.
How big of a performance factor is strength, and how do you develop the type of strength that yields optimal performance in a particular sport? I have been struggling with this issue for 42 years of coaching, and before that, 10 more years as an athlete. At various times I have over-emphasized it, and at other times I shortchanged it. So what's the answer?
Generally when we think of strength, we think of measurable strength as expressed in a one rep maximum in a weightroom setting. The one thing I know I have learned over the years is that is not the answer. It is not the answer in the throws, American football, or rugby, and definitely not the answer in tennis, swimming, baseball, or similar sports.
The goal needs to be strength you can use and apply in the competition arena. Tough to measure, but easier to see if you have trained eye--this is where you need to be a coach. The trained eye is acquired through practice, observation, and experience. Look at the time invested in the strength training area--is the return commensurate with the time and effort?
I recently saw a situation where a national record-holding long jumper was made to take eight months to learn the double knee bend technique in the power clean! In my world, after eight minutes I would have moved on and found another exercise that would yield better return and that the athlete could master (Hint: How about trying a dumbbell jump shrug? Not complicated, but possibly the return would be commensurate with the time invested.).
We need to redefine strength training. I have adapted Frans Bosch's definition of strength training as coordination training with appropriate resistance to handle bodyweight, resist gravity, optimize ground reaction forces, and overcome external resistance. It is a fairly simple definition with complex applications. If you parse out all the parts of the definition, it will fit every sport and every individual. In addition, we need to expand our vista in regard to mode of strength training, get out from under a bar, and expand the possibilities of developing strength using a variety of appropriate modes.
So what is the answer? It is very individual and sport-specific. I do know from analyzing trends over my 42-year career, and from what I've seen in all my travels, less is more!
Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Foundation of a 214 kg Snatch and Happy Thanksgiving

We know that the Snatch is one of the great expressions of true power. Power is the ability to exert force quickly. Increasing power is a product of improving the rate of force development.Of course the rate of force development is largely dependent on the ability to exert force. Research by Dr. Michael Stone and others shows that increasing maximal strength leads to improvng the rate of force development or power. Below it is easy to see the foundational strength required to power up a 214 kg Snatch. Again note that top weightlifters do not usually "max out" on squats. This amazingly heavy lift is done in very srict form with strength to spare. Compare this to the so-called powerlifting squats that are done as a competitive lift and decide how a non-powerlifting athlete should squat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Too Many Organs or Not Enough Drugs

Good Health throughout the life span does not have to be complex or expensive.
It seems that hardly a week goes by without some sort of report supporting what we already know well. Exercise and good nutrition is the most effective and cheapest way to stay healthy and enjoy life. I saw this article in USA TODAY. I am not against modern medicine, qualified doctors do amazing things to save lives. But the saying " If the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." comes to mind. As a local Native practitioner (medicine man) once told me, "Doctors in the clinic tell us that the reason we are sick is that we either have too many organs, or not enough drugs." "They either give us another bottle of pills or remove an organ." No doubt there are times and circumstances when that is the only alternative, I have seen much good come from alternative approaches in some cases. As far as" bang for the buck" you can't beat exercise and eating right for prevention and even treatment of most health problems.

BOSTON – Genetic researchers say they are getting closer to developing new drugs to help older people age well.

But two tested methods — exercise and good nutrition — continue to get the biggest kudos from aging experts for improving health and quality of life at the 64th annual Gerontological Society of America conference.
That's all good news on the heels of Census data showing the number of Americans living to age 90 and beyond has tripled in the past three decades to almost 2 million and is likely to quadruple by 2050. Staying healthy will allow them to remain independent and at home.
"It might never be too late to change life-long habits," says Dennis Villareal, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
A study by Villareal, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March, found diet and exercise together improved physical performance by 21% in obese older adults. A lack of mobility in older obese adults puts them at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise, combined with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, fish and healthy fats, over the lifespan has shown to decrease odds of developing diseases of aging, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Marco Pahor, director of the University of Florida's Institute on Aging, warns that researchers also must find out if sedentary people can safely start exercise. "Could there be a cardiovascular risk?" he asks.
Pahor is trying to find out. He is overseeing a $60 million study looking at long-term effects of structured physical activity on major mobility disability. His investigators examine the effects of physical activity on cognitive function, serious fall injuries, disability in daily living, cardiovascular events and admission to hospitals and nursing homes.
The study follows a pilot program that was the first intervention study showing risk factors for disability, such as loss of muscle mass, can be modified.
Millions of dollars are also being spent on genetic research. "Possibly within five years, if clinical trials in process work, there will be drugs on the market that can treat chronic diseases of aging,' says David Sinclair, a researcher at Harvard Medical School's department of genetics.
What doesn't make us live longer? Most hormone therapies are too dangerous, experts say. Plus, anything that promises to make you live to be 120-150 years old.
"It's quackery and causes financial and physical harm," says Tom Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Elite Level Performance, Nature or Nurture?

Genetics or Training? It's got to be both!!!
Our last post contained footage of world class lifters. I always dreamed of lifting at that level. I didn't just dream, I trained hard. So hard I often overtrained and injured myself. That didn't stop me however. I tried to learn and perservered. I tried to study nutrition and eat right. Outside of my ice cream addiction, my diet is probably better than 99% of the human race. I read and studied everything I could get my hands on, which wasn't very much in the era of the 60's and early 70's. (I still have my collection of Strength and Health magazines in a trunk.) I was offered other performance enhancing chemicals which were not yet considered illegal by sports governing bodies, but were not necessarily legal to buy and sell. Thankfully, I passed on those. Not out of some idea of morality so much, but because my blissfully naive attitude was that I could reach my ultimate goals if I only ingested enough Hoffman's Hi-Proteen and Energol. Little did I know. I did make marked improvement. I was certainly one of the strongest in my community and was able to win some regional level competitions and even medal at the national level a time or two. Unfortunately, here in the United States, weightlifting is such that a national medal is equivalent to being a large minnow in a small mud puddle.  The years passed and I came to understand that my destiny did not include world and Olympic medals. (My children have fared much better than I, with the advantage of an even earlier start and the influx of their Mother's genes, though still not world class.) It's been a great life anyway. I have come to understand that genetics and hard, smart work are both essential for elite level performance. (and a little luck doesn't hurt) Neither alone are sufficient. I came across the article below. I found it interesting and pretty much agree with it. One caveat however, one never knows what their genetic potential is until they have invested their best effort to find out. The real reward and joy is in the journey.

How do elite athletes become elite athletes? Are they born with the necessary qualities to get to the top? What is the path they follow? Here is an editorial on this topic that I published a while ago in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance:
The sport science literature dealing with the issue of developing athletes to achieve elite performance has been dominated by the classical dichotomy between an athlete's genetic endowment (ie, nature) and environmental influences (ie, nurture). In this context, research has clearly established that various physiological characteristics associated with success in specific sports and athletic events have a strong genetic influence. Moreover, it has also been shown that the response to a given training program is, to a large extent, genetically determined.
  In view of such evidence, it is naive to assume a tabula rasa, or blank slate, thesis in the context of developing athletic expertise. Nonetheless, it is well established that environmental factors play a major role in the development of the elite athlete. For instance, a recent grounded theory of psychosocial competencies and environmental conditions associated with success in adolescent football indicates that discipline, resilience, commitment, and social support are necessary to succeed in a highly competitive sport such as professional football. Some geneticists argue, of course, that these psychological characteristics also have a genetic basis. However, the most important of all environmental factors associated with athletic expertise is undoubtedly training and practice. In this respect, two considerably disparate approaches to talent development are favored by different groups of researchers: the deliberate practice framework, characterized
by early specialization and repeated and extended exposure to the task domain to develop the skills necessary for successful performance, and the developmental model of sport participation, which supports the notion that early diversification in sport participation and large amounts of deliberate play (as opposed to deliberate practice) are good predictors of elite sport achievement.
Although late specialization associated with the developmental model of sport participation can lead to athletic excellence in some instances, there is little doubt that early specialization and deliberate practice in a given sport are in general the preferred path to elite performance. Indeed, the relationship between engagement in deliberate practice over extended periods of time and elite performance is now well established by sport scientists. A recent popular example is that of Britain's Tom Daley, who at 13 years of age became Britain's youngest diving gold medalist by winning the men's 10-m platform at the European Championships in Eindhoven in March 2008, in addition to qualifying to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Also well known is the case of F.C. Barcelona's 17-year-old football player Bojan Krkic, who has broken every possible goal-scoring record in the youth ranks and is already a rising star in the super-professional and
super-competitive European Champions League.
Extensive exposure to practice induces adaptations to the specific physical, physiological, and psychological demands of sport. In addition, perceptual-cognitiv e skills that discriminate between elite and nonelite performers are also developed. These include advanced cue utilization, pattern recognition, visual search behaviors, assessment of situational probabilities, and strategic decision making. On the other hand, some experts argue that early specialization may have costly consequences in terms of injuries, dropout rate, and lifelong participation in sport as a recreational and health-promoting activity. The interactions among deliberate practice, growth and maturation, physiological characteristics, and subsequent athletic achievements offer promising areas of investigation.
Both genetic and environmental determinism are reductionist answers to the complex issue of achieving elite sports performance. In his excellent 2003 book Nature via Nurture, Matt Ridley brilliantly argues that, far from being mutually exclusive alternatives, nature and nurture work one through the other, in a constant feedback loop that is responsible for the amazing complexities of life. This could well be the model through which elite athletic performance is attained.


MUJIKA, I. Which way to the top? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 3: 249-250, 2008.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Technical Anomaly- A New Trend Or A Bad Habit?

Below is a great lift from the World Championships that just concluded in Paris. A world record Snatch(although the all-time record is still Antonio Krastev's 216 kg. lift before the records were vacated)
Amazing. What is really interesting is the prelift-off he does before the lift. It is perfectly legal as a lift is not counted as an attempt until the bar passes the knees. I have never seen such a pre-lift set
up before at such a high level of competition. I have seen novices do some weird things, but not at this level. Some who were there, reported that he does this pre-lift liftoff before each rep, even in training.
Is this a bad habit, just a harmless habit, or does the pre-lift allow him to set his body and potentiate his nervous system? It will be interesting to see if it is copied in the future.

Below is some more great lifting from the 2011 World Champioships. Is it just me, or do the lifters seem to be getting more muscularity each year? For several decades after the press was eliminated, it seemed that many top lifters had only average upper body development. Now many have almost bodybuilder type physiques again, similar to the weightlifters during the press era.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Good News For Hard Trainers

Train hard in your prime and don't give it up as you age!

We have posted many articles in the past about the benefits of exercise. Not just going through the motions, but hard intense exercise. The evidence continues to mount. Below is a very encouraging study on the many positive effects of regular intense exercise. Intensity trumps duration and your body wants to know "What have you done for me lately?" Being in great shape when you are young does not pay many dividends when you get older unless the effort is consistently sustained.


Middle-aged exercise buffs who might be discouraged by the effects of aging on their overall fitness can take heart in research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) K.G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine. Activity is far more important than age in determining fitness levels -- and an active 50-year-old can be every bit as fit as a sedentary 20-year-old, says Ulrik Wisloff, Jebsen Center director and principle investigator of the study.

The study shows that by increasing the intensity of your exercise, you can beat back the risk of metabolic syndrome, the troublesome set of risk factors that can predispose people to type 2 diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular problems.

"Physical condition is the most important factor in describing an individual's overall health, almost like a report card," says Stian Thoresen Aspenes, who was recently awarded his PhD by NTNU for his research conducted at the K.G. Jebsen Center.

Largest fitness database in the world

Aspenes' thesis, "Peak Oxygen Uptake Among Healthy Adults: Cross-sectional descriptions and prospective analyses of peak oxygen uptake, physical activity and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy adults (20-90 years)" used information from 4631 healthy men and women from Norway's biggest health database, the Nord Tr√łndelag Health Study (HUNT) to examine fitness in adults from all age classes.

HUNT participants underwent laboratory tests in 2007-2008 to check their peak oxygen uptake, called VO2peak, which is used as a measure of overall fitness. This collection of information represents the largest database in the world of objectively measured VO2peak in healthy men and women aged 20-90 years old.

The detailed information from the database enables researchers to compare measures of fitness with cardiovascular risk factors and other assessments of overall health, giving them the statistical power to confirm what previous studies have suggested -- that youth isn't everything when it comes to being fit. Their data also show how those who were least fit also had the worst measures of cardiovascular health, such as higher blood pressures and higher cholesterol levels.

Age and fitness

The underpinnings of the K.G. Jebsen Center's research go back in time and far away in place, to Dallas in 1965, when researchers selected five healthy 20-year-olds to spend three weeks in bed, for what has become one of the most famous fitness studies of all, the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study. Predictably, the five 20-year-olds lost fitness after their three weeks of bed rest -- with their measure of maximum oxygen uptake, VO2 Max, dropping by a whopping 27 percent. But it was what happened 30 years later, when researchers followed up on the study and retested these same men, which delivered the biggest surprise.

Time had not been so charitable to these men. On average, they had gained 23 kg, and their body fat percentage had doubled -- so they were far from fit. But when researchers tested their peak oxygen uptake, it had dropped by only 11 percent as compared to their 20-year-old healthy selves.

Intensity more important than duration

Research from the K.G. Jebsen Center goes well beyond the Dallas findings, and shows that fit 50-year olds can be as fit as 20-year olds who don't exercise much. But exercise -- how much, and how intense -- is the key to maintaining this fitness. When the Jebsen Center researchers looked at the importance of the intensity of exercise versus the duration, intensity was far more important than duration in determining peak oxygen uptake.

They have also looked at the benefits of high intensity exercise in the form of interval training -- where four or more short periods (typically 4 minutes) of very high intensity exercise are followed by a similar number of short periods of lower intensity exercise. This approach, called 4x4 interval training, is a quick way to increase your overall fitness, research from the Jebsen Center has confirmed.

Cardiovascular risks

Exercise buffs will naturally be interested in the Jebsen Center's research, but their findings apply to anyone who wants to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

For example, the researchers found that women whose fitness values were below the median VO2peak (<35.1 mL kg-1 min-1) were five times more likely to have a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors compared to those in the highest quartile of VO2peak (40.8 mL kg-1 min-1).

For men below the median (<44.2 mL kg-1 min-1), the risk was even higher -- they were fully eight times more likely to have a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors compared to those in the highest quartile of VO2peak (50.5 mL kg- 1 min-1). Even small differences in VO2peak were found to be associated with worsening cardiovascular risk profiles.

Keeping active is critical

The center's research shows that maintaining some level of physical activity is important. The benefit from having been active when young is small if you are inactive now. "Even if you were highly active at a young age, you have to keep being active to get the health benefits from it," says Professor Wisloff.

So how do K.G. Jebsen Center researchers stay fit, given all that they know? Many incorporate exercise into their daily routines. Aspenes -- a 33-year-old father of three, with a full time job now at the Norwegian Directorate of Health -- is lucky because he can ride his bicycle to and from work, which in hilly Trondheim, means that at least part of the ride is up some pretty steep hills. That's an advantage for interval training, he says, because "I ride like hell up the hills."

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Unexpected

As the saying goes...."Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you." In this case it's a whale.

We always plan for the ideal, but most often success depends on the ability to improvise and adapt. As the cliche goes, plan your work and work your plan. But, be ready for the unexpected. Competitions, and life in general for that matter, seldom go as planned. Be ready to improvise. Adapt to the realities of the present. Keep your eyes open and don't get swallowed up by the unexpected.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

After The Playing Days Are Over

Bubba Smith looking very fit during his playing days.
In the past few days there have been several news articles concerning former athletes and what has transpired after their athletic careers are over. The first is about Bubba Smith a former NFL lineman. It seems, that like many big men, he struggled with weight control after his career. Resorting to diet pills rather than a healthy, disciplined lifestyle appears to have lead to his premature demise. Hopefully we can all learn from this.....
The initial autopsy on Bubba Smith indicates diet pills played a role in the football great's death in August, at the age of 66.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office tells E! News the cause of death was a combination of heart disease and acute phentermine intoxication. Phentermine is the generic name for a drug supplement that aids weight loss by decreasing appetite.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said the defensive end-turned actor also suffered from atherosclerosis and hypertension. A final coroner's report is due later this month.
Smith, famous for his Miller Lite commercials and Police Academy roles, was found dead in his Los Angeles-area home. It was initially reported that he had apparently died from natural causes.

Then this article about two former pro baseball players...........

Give it up Jose!!

Do down-and-out athletes simply have a gift for finding new ways to hit rock bottom? We ask only because Jose Canseco and Lenny Dykstra are scheduled to have a boxing match Saturday night.
The bout between the two former MLB outfielders is part of Alki David's Celebrity Fight Night at the Avalon Concert Hall in Hollywood. And it immediately begs two questions.
Will it result in a no-hitter? And will there be drug testing?
Dykstra business manager Dan Herman told PhillySports.com that: "Lenny is fighting for his good name in baseball. Lenny's life for the last two years has been upside down mainly because of snitches. Canseco is one of the many rats that have diminished Dykstra's career."
That's a reference to Canseco's tell-all book about steroids in MLB, Juiced.
The fight is scheduled to stream online at FilmOn.com and promoters say it also will be available for pay-per-view via Comcast and others.
Dykstra, 48, has filed for bankruptcy and has court cases pending on charges of grand theft auto, drug possession and indecent exposure.
Canseco, 47, had a California home foreclosed on in 2008 and has said his two divorces cost him millions. In 2009, he suffered a first-round KO in an MMA fight against Choi Hong-man of South Korea.
In their primes, these two never would have fought in the same weight division. Dykstra was 5-10, 160 pounds, and Canseco was listed at 6-3, 195.

An article about one of Canseco's former "fights" was in one of our earlier posts......

In this case the problems seem to be more psychological than physical. Some former athletes just can't live without the artificial spotlight. Once their paying days are over, they find they have nothing of value to offer and spend their life trying to prolong their fame and living in the past. Again, we can all learn something.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It Is Never Too Late To Start Weight Training – AT ANY AGE

It's never too early either. Strength training is a great idea for any age!
A great website for anyone who trains hard and heavy and has experienced some back pain, or who wants to prevent it, is  http://www.backextender.com/  which is owned by Dr. J. Michael Smith, MSc, DC.
There is a great deal of information from a guy with both academic and "under the bar" credentials.
Below is a recent study that, as he says, reinforces things we already "know" from experience.

There are just certain things one learns in life and that you then just know that you know. The following publication vindicates my longstanding belief in weight training – it IS the best type of exercise. Read and believe.
Strength training as a countermeasure to aging muscle and chronic disease.
Sports Med. 2011 Apr 1;41(4):289-306. doi: 10.2165/11585920-000000000-00000.
Hurley BF, Hanson ED, Sheaff AK.
Strength training (ST) has long been considered a promising intervention for reversing the loss of muscle function and the deterioration of muscle structure associated with advanced age but, until recently, the evidence was insufficient to support its role in the prevention or treatment of disease. In recent decades, there has been a long list of quality reviews examining the effects of ST on functional abilities and a few on risk factors for specific diseases, but none have provided a comprehensive assessment of ST as an intervention for a broad range of diseases. This review provides an overview of research addressing the effectiveness of ST as an intervention for the prevention or treatment of the adverse consequences of (i) aging muscle; (ii) the metabolic syndrome (MetS) and its components, i.e. insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, hyperlipidaemia and hypertension; (iii) fibromyalgia; (iv) rheumatoid arthritis; and (v) Alzheimer’s disease. Collectively, these studies i ndicate that ST may serve as an effective countermeasure to some of the adverse consequences of the MetS, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Evidence in support of the hypothesis that ST reduces insulin resistance or improves insulin action comes both from indirect biomarkers, such as glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA(1c)), and insulin responses to oral glucose tolerance tests, as well as from more direct procedures such as hyperglycaemic and hyperinsulinaemic-euglycaemic clamp techniques. The evidence for the use of ST as a countermeasure of abdominal obesity is less convincing. Although some reports show statistically significant reductions in visceral fat, it is unclear if the magnitude of these changes are physiologically meaningful and if they are independent of dietary influences. The efficacy of ST as an intervention for reducing dyslipidaemia is at best inconsistent, particularly when compared with other pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions, such as aerobic exercise training.
However, there is more consistent evidence for the effectiveness of ST in reducing triglyceride levels. This finding could have clinical significance, given that elevated triglyceride is one of the five criterion measures for the diagnosis of the MetS. Small to moderate reductions in resting and exercise blood pressure have been reported with some indication that this effect may be genotype dependent. ST improves or reverses some of the adverse effects of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, particularly pain, inflammation, muscle weakness and fatigue. Investigations are needed to determine how these effects compare with those elicited from aerobic exercise training and/or standard treatments.
There is no evidence that ST can reverse any of the major biological or behavioural outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease, but there is evidence that the prevalence of this disease is inversely associated with muscle mass and strength. Some indicators of cognitive function may also improve with ST. Thus, ST is an effective countermeasure for some of the adverse effects experienced by patients of many chronic diseases, as discussed in this review.
Make training a life-long habit.