Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where there's manure, there's a donkey.....

Leif  Arrhenius is an example of a world class athlete who competes clean.
Brother Nik Arrhenius is another clean athlete who competes at a world class level.

Clean! But knows that to compete at the highest levels and remain clean will be difficult.

It seems that athletic credibility has been eroded beyond repair. I personally know many great athletes who never have, and never will, use PEDs. However any great performance now days is treated with skepticism. In a recent article in the Deseret News, reporter Doug Robinson expresses the feelings of the general public and I have to admit that it is hard not to agree with him.

Usain Bolt, history’s fastest human being, is clean. He’s not using PEDs — performance enhancing drugs. How do we know? Because he says so, and he passed the drug tests.
That’s good enough for us, right?
“I am clean,” he said earlier this month. “I’m sure about that. I welcome people to test me every day if necessary to prove it to the world. I have no problem.”
Sorry, but I remain skeptical, and at this point it’s not Bolt’s fault; it’s the era in which he competes. A week before the start of the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow, I am still not sure what to believe, but I err on the side of maintaining a healthy dose of cynicism, and pleas of innocence aren’t going to change that.
Ryan Braun called a press conference, looked us in the eye and told us he was clean, too. He was so convincing that his buddy and business partner, Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, bet a year’s salary that Braun was clean. Oops.
I am skeptical because Lance Armstrong also looked us all in the eye and said he was clean, repeatedly.
I am skeptical because Marion Jones said she was clean on a national TV talk show.
I am skeptical because reportedly 12 Jamaican athletes have tested positive for PEDs in the last five years, including five track athletes this year. The busted include Olympic sprint champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, former 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell and Olympic 100-meter silver medalist Sherone Simpson. In recent years, two other top Jamaican sprinters — Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake and Steve Mullings, recorded positive drug tests.
Where there’s manure, there’s a donkey. Or something like that. The busts coincide with the rise of Jamaica’s track fortunes.
Jamaicans, it has been reported, are shocked.
I am shocked that they are shocked.
I am skeptical because so many other great sprinters have been busted for PEDs — Tim Montgomery (former world record holder at 100 meters), Justin Gatlin (former Olympic 100 champ/world record holder), Jones (former Olympic champ), Powell, Campbell-Brown, Blake, Ben Johnson, Linford Christie (former Olympic 100 champ), Dwaine Chambers, and, recently, American record holder Tyson Gay.
Sounds like the Tour de France, doesn’t it?
I am skeptical because three of the last four men to break or tie the world record for 100 meters have all been busted — Montgomery, Powell, Gatlin. And that doesn’t include Maurice Greene, who held the record before Montgomery and was linked to drug scandals, including BALCO (but never flunked a drug test and never faced sanctions).

I am skeptical because, as in the Lance Armstrong case, to believe Bolt is clean is to believe that not only does he beat the best in the world, he beats them while they are using drugs!
I am skeptical because drug tests don’t mean that much. The revelations of PED use by Braun and Alex Rodriguez and 18 other Major Leaguers wasn’t because of failed drug tests. They were discovered because an employee of a Florida clinic revealed the athletes were getting PEDs from the clinic.
Lance Armstrong passed hundreds of tests.
Jones and Montgomery passed their tests.
If you think baseball is winning the war on drugs, think again. They caught a break when the Biogenesis scandal fell into their laps.
I’m skeptical because, as I wrote last summer heading into the London Olympics, the current era of sprinting is what the turn of the century was to home-run hitting with Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and the rest of them. And we know what that was about.
I’m skeptical because, before the 2008 Beijing Games, Jamaican sprinters had won only three gold medals in the 25 previous Summer Olympic Games. In the last two Olympics combined (Beijing and London), they won 16 of a possible 28 medals in the men’s and women’s 100- and 200-meter dashes and 4 x 100 relay, including seven of 12 gold medals.
In the last four World Championships combined — the 2008 Olympics, the 2009 and 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics — Jamaicans have claimed 30 of a possible 56 medals in the men's and women's 100, 200 and 4x100 — and 16 of 24 gold medals.
I’m skeptical because four of the fastest men in history — with times all produced in just the last few years — are from a poor, tiny island nation of 2½ million, where explanations of their sprint prowess range from lifestyle to a diet of yams and green bananas.
I’m skeptical because I’m not sure anyone can run 100 meters in under 9.8 seconds without some chemical assistance. Now a 9.7 draws a yawn.
I’m skeptical because all of sport is rife with PED use, but track and cycling have taken more than their fair share of hits on the drug front. Why relatively few NFL and NBA drug busts? Track and cycling have done more than any sport to root out drugs, producing the most effective, rigorous testing and handing out the most severe penalties. But all they’ve gotten for their trouble is a sullied reputation and a heightened level of skepticism about their sports.
And I am skeptical.

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

With a family like this, why get involved with PEDs?
Bluebird Flour is the secret PED anyway. Perfectly legal.

Friday, July 26, 2013

More from American Weightlifting documentary...

Here is another preview of the upcoming documentary from Catalyst Athletics on American Weightlifting. This segment profiles Jim Schmitz, a former president of USA Weightlifting and real grass roots coach, as this segments highlights.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Utah Strongest Man 2013

Oliver repeats as Utah's strongest man.

No one else could budge the car, Oliver gets 5 easy reps....

Press Medley.... Yoke and Farmers Walk....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Triumph of Strength

This a very interesting video. It takes about 45 minutes to watch the whole thing, but there is alot of good stuff. First it gives good insight into the training of the late Vasily Alexeev, who trained on his own and had alot of unique ideas and methods. It also gives insight into his supersized ego and and unflagging confidence. Finally it also shows the end result of training purely for performance at the expense of health. I may be naive, but I really do think you can train for high level performance without necessarily compromising health to do it. It can certainly be a challenge to one's health to train at a world class level. Just know that time does pass and there is a price to be paid when performance is allowed to trump health. Tran hard, aspire high, but be healthy first.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mike's Gym

I have known Mike Burgener for many years. I believe we first met in the early 80's. We have kids around the same ages and both worked in high school settings. We never kept in close touch, but would see each other at weight lifting meets and talk about training, family, and work. He was a great athlete and lifter himself and has really distinguished himself as a coach. He founded and coached a very successful lifting team, Team Southern California, and know is sought after by CrossFitters for instruction on the lifts. Below is a segment of an upcoming documentary film that Greg Everett of CatalystAthletics is producing. It shows Mike's gym, a great facility he put togather in his garage. It is a great example of what kind of stuff is most important when you have limited space and also shows what can be accomplished with a long term commitment. I am looking forward to seeing the entire production when it is finished. Meanwhile, best wishes to Mike and his gym.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some Training Wisdom

Stick with and master the tried and true basics.

In the spirit of our last post, keeping it simple, I also saw this article by Mark Rippetoe that hits a homerun in my opinion. There are way to many "coaches" or "trainers" out there with a string of lettered credentials after their names who have got no clue. Most can't coach or lift their way out of a paper bag. They only are allowed to exist because so many people want to believe that training is complex and that doing a bunch of obscure, and let's be honest, easy, movements are the cutting edge. This is opposed to the other end of the spectrum where as long as you are working hard, whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger, you must be doing yourself some good. Be smart. Stick with the tried and true basics. Go heavy as you can on a given day, knowing that some days will be better than others. Stick with it for a long time and be consistent and persistent. Get strong as you can in the weight room, then go and practice your sport diligently. You should read the comments that were posted after Mark's article on T-Nation. I don't know whether to laugh or get sick. (I decided to laugh) Way to go Mark. You are telling the truth.....

Rippetoe Goes Off

by Mark Rippetoe – 7/8/2013

Here's what you need to know...

• One barbell and a few basic exercises have packed on strength and size for decades. So why are you isolating tiny muscle groups?

• Your muscles are firing, no matter what the physical therapist tells you. You're just weak.

• Think twice before you listen to a physical therapist or rely on his weenie "corrective" exercises.

• You know how to get strong, so stop taking the easy way out and justifying it with big words and questionable science.


One Body, One Barbell

The case for the multi-joint barbell exercise is a conclusive one. It's been tested over decades by the strongest men on earth, and explained quite well by many writers on the subject.

Mastodons like Doug Hepburn, Jim Williams, Doug Young, Roger Estep, Dorian Yates, Karwoski, Magnusson, and Hamman, have used basic barbell exercises with heavy weights to build strength and muscle, the likes of which have never been produced using exercise machines.

The reason is simple and obvious: squats, presses, deadlifts, bench presses, and the Olympic lifts work the whole body at one time, and therefore allow the use of enough weight to make dramatic levels of stress (and subsequently adaptation) possible.

Chopping the body up into its constituent components and then working these components separately lacks the capacity to make things change. The stress that can be applied to one piece at a time never adds up to the same stress that can be applied to the whole thing working as a system.

The term "synergy" is the interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce a coordinated effect greater than the sum of the individual effects of the separate elements. The accumulated action of the parts functioning in their anatomically and biomechanically predetermined roles as components in the complex system of levers and motors is the very definition of synergy.

It's also the very definition of coordination. The normal functions of the different components of the musculoskeletal system can't be simulated by isolating them and making them work independently of their roles in the system, because such a large part of their function involves their coordinated relationships with all the other components.

Working together is how they function, and nothing else is really "functional."

A car's alternator is a wonderful device for making current for the battery, but without a battery to charge, a car to start, and an engine to turn it, the damned thing is a doorstop.

Everybody already knows this. McRobert, Starr, Steiner, and Gallagher have been telling us this since paper was invented. It's perfectly apparent to anyone who stops for just a second and thinks about it.

Think System, Not Components of a System

So, I have a question. Several, actually.

Why are we, as an entire species, still so fascinated with individual muscle groups? Why are we so happy when we discover, say, in Gray's Anatomy, the origin, insertion, and innervation of a muscle belly, and then immediately find a use for this knowledge in the weight room?

"Wow! Look at my flexor digitorum profundus firing! Gimme that 3-pound dumbbell!"

Why can't we, as a species, see the value of systems over the components of systems?

This inadequacy has many ramifications. For instance, why do we continue to listen to people who tell us that problems which may arise subsequent to injuries must be corrected by isolating the injured part and working it separately, when they don't function that way when they're healthy?

Why do the arbiters of all things exercise – the members of the physical therapy profession – insist that injuries must be rehabbed in a way that's completely different from the way that the uninjured component functions?

Why must they divide the body into its constituent components, figure out a way to make that isolated component function all by itself, and then base their rehabilitation exercises on this faulty analysis?

When does the "rotator cuff" externally rotate the upper arm? When your physical therapist hands you the 3-pound dumbbell and carefully explains how to do it. What do these little muscles do the rest of the time? Sleep? Play poker?

Why must an injured knee be rehabbed with "quad sets" and knee extensions, when its function is to allow you to squat down and stand back up, walk, run, and serve as a place for your leg to bend?

What The Hell Does "Not Firing" Mean Anyway?

Why are people suddenly of the opinion that everybody has "imbalances" that are the result of individual muscles within the musculoskeletal system failing to "fire"?

And why do some people think we can teach them to "fire" by using an exercise that makes them do something different than what they normally do in the system?

What does "not firing" actually mean?

I ruptured my Achilles tendon a couple of years ago. There was quite a bit of nerve damage that's just now healing. I also had a nerve block for 24 hours after my first rotator cuff repair. So I know what "not firing" means.

How is it possible that the motor units in a muscle group like the glutes can't be recruited into contraction in a large movement like the squat, where they function as the primary hip extensors? The glutes are, anatomically, always involved, unless there's neurological damage.

Do you really think you have to consciously "fire" every single motor unit in every single muscle belly in every movement you make?

How do you "fire" your piriformis and obturator internus? Can you do this and leave out the obturator externus, even though they are innervated from different nerve roots?

How can you possibly extend your hips without "firing" your glutes? Just look at the goddamn things on the anatomy chart and tell me how the hip extends if the glutes don't extend it.

If your hips extend, all the muscles that extend the hips "fire," even though they're innervated differently, because the motor pattern depends on the position of the skeletal components involved.

If your femurs are held in external rotation, the external rotators participate in the movement, because that's what makes them stay in external rotation. All of them work, because all of them externally rotate.

That's what you're making them do by shoving your knees out. You think about shoving your knees out, not about each of the 25 muscles involved in the shoving.

When you produce a complex movement pattern, like throwing a baseball or doing a snatch, I'll bet you $10,000.00 that you think about something other than "firing" the external rotators at the right time.

I'll bet you think about the implement you're using – the ball or the bar, or where your body is in space during the movement, or more specific cues you have developed over the time you've been doing the sport. Does Klokov think about "firing" his internal obliques when he does a heavy clean?

Your Muscles Are "Firing." You're Just Weak!

And how about the classic "VMO that's not firing"? First, there is no such thing as the VMO as a separate muscle.

Dissection studies on hundreds of cadavers have proven this conclusively. There are oblique fibers on both the vastus medialis and the vastus lateralis, but neither of these have their own fascial sheath or epimysium, their own innervation, action, or antagonist. All of the quad bellies are innervated by the femoral nerve, which arises from L2-4.

In the words of a better-than-average DPT: "If they all have the same segmental innervation, and they all extend the knee, then how the fuck is it possible to isolate out the function of the VMO?"

And if this is the case, how's it possible that a weak VMO is responsible for "Patellar De-tracking Syndrome"? And how would it then be possible to fix this non-existent problem by teaching a muscle that doesn't exist how to fire with "corrective exercises"?

Might weakness be confused with "not firing" – either purposely or through ignorance? Why wouldn't squats done with correct symmetrical technique solve this problem?

Better yet, how could squats fail to solve this problem? How many athletes that squat 500 are "not firing" their glutes? Hmm?

Are Physical Therapists Frauds?

Why don't physical therapists know these things? Are they this poorly prepared to do their jobs? Is most physical therapy actually fraudulent?

Fraud is the intentional deception made for personal gain. Should the standard practice of physical therapy be made a crime? A felony, perhaps?

Now, I'm not saying it should be. I'm just askin'.

How about you go to the PT office and they take you back to a big room full of padded tables and perky PT assistants, with the physical therapist running e-stim, ice, hot wax, rubber band curls, 3-pound dumbbell arm rotations, and squeezy-things for your hand... instead of something useful. And then charging you $40 or $50 apiece for these highly effective "therapy modalities."

(Sorry about all the scare quotes, but there are a lot of stupid things being said these days, and I want you to know that I know they're stupid.)

Unless you're prepared to believe that these people are actually this stupid, it may be fraud.

The academic program is rigorous, even if it's short-sighted and incomplete, so PTs can't be stupid. So I'm forced to conclude that most physical therapists are happy enough with the money to intentionally say incorrect things and get paid for it.

Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice. Especially if there are third-party insurance payments involved.

What Does "Imbalance" Really Mean?

Here's another question. Or twenty.

Must everything always be in balance? What do we mean when we say "in balance"? Not falling down indicates balance, but the meaning here is really symmetrical development of strength.

I know that I'm an animal that displays bilateral symmetry. I understand that one side should be the mirror of the other, and that human perceptions of beauty are intimately associated with symmetry. For example, I am very handsome.

Gross asymmetries are both ugly and functionally inefficient, since a profound level of mechanical bilateral symmetry has evolved. But is it okay that I'm right-handed, that my left eye is dominant, and that my spleen is on the left side only? Should I fix this somehow? Is every asymmetry critical enough to overcome?

And this is really, really important: how can I fix an "imbalance" – an asymmetrical strength development – by performing an exercise using one limb or one side at a time?

Is a unilateral exercise like the Bulgarian split squat (BSS) done one side at a time actually capable of producing symmetrical strength development when each rep of the movement itself is inherently asymmetrical? Can you get better at being "in balance" bilaterally by practicing movements that are not bilateral?

If my right knee and hip extensors are stronger than my left, do I use a submax load on the right? Or do I leave the right side alone and just BSS the left leg? How is this supposed to correct my imbalance when I go back to squats?

How much weight can I BSS compared to my squat? If strength is the production of force against an external resistance – and I'm pretty sure it is – how can I get stronger by doing an exercise that can't be performed with as much resistance because of the fact that it's unilateral?

Isn't the fact that I can always squat more weight than I can single-leg squat using any style of lunge-based exercise awfully important if what we're trying to do is increase the strength of a weak side?

Doesn't each side in a squat have to lift part of the load, and doesn't the total load have to be both lifted and kept in balance during a squat? How can the coordination necessary for this task be developed by doing anything else?

If the balancing and lifting muscles are the same (and they obviously are), don't they both get worked if we use good form when we squat?

If we lift a really heavy weight using good symmetrical technique – with the bar staying over the middle of the foot, the middle of the bar staying directly over the middle of the space between the feet, and the thighs and feet parallel and at mirroring angles – isn't the system in balance?

And aren't all of the components of the system in balance too, doing their anatomically-determined part of the work being done by the whole system?

If a coach is good enough – and many don't seem to be – can't he find for his lifter a weight that's heavy enough to constitute a stress on the weak side, while still being light enough to perform with correct, symmetrical technique? He can if his gym is equipped with the right plates and bars.

Do you know what a titration is in chemistry? It's where you carefully add small amounts of one substance to a larger volume of a different substance until the amount you've added causes a reaction in the larger volume.

See? You add weight a little at a time until you determine the right amount to use to make the squat hard for the asymmetrically weak side, but still light enough to do with good balanced form.

Then you go up slowly from there, always using symmetrical technique, and the weak side catches up to the strong side. Because it has to.

A properly coached lifter will never develop an asymmetry unless he gets hurt.

Proper symmetrical technique should be coached from the inception of a lifter's training. The symmetrical nature of the squat, press, deadlift, bench press, and the clean and snatch – where all the big muscles and all the teensy-weensy muscles have to work together, each one doing the job assigned to it by its position on the skeleton – will prevent "imbalances" from occurring.

But most people can't effectively coach barbell training, so the movements themselves take the blame for the coach's inability to effectively do his job.

I once heard a well-respected "strength coach" say that adults can't be taught how to do the Olympic lifts. Maybe not by him.

Taking The Easy Way Out

Why can't most people effectively coach the squat, but seem to have no trouble instructing the Bulgarian split squat? The videos are all over the web. So are mine. Which are shorter?

The BSS is easier, isn't it? This is because the BSS is done with lighter weights, and heavy weights are more complicated to coordinate, balance, and lift than light weights, as you may have noticed when you miss a heavy squat.

This also means that heavy movements are harder to coach than movements that are intended to be done with lighter weights. Any heavy multi-joint exercise must be coached correctly and intensively, since there are so many ways to screw it up.

There's been a trend recently to minimize the coaching of technique. I've seen the instructions for the squat reduced to: "Put the bar on your back, squat down, and stand back up."

I've seen blatant technique errors at national and international meets go uncorrected by high-level coaches, who should have taken the opportunity to "coach" their lifter but failed to do so, for reasons beyond my ability to understand.

If technique can be coached in a novice, it can be coached in an advanced lifter making a technique error. And if you think advanced lifters don't make technique errors that need correcting, you are a very poor observer. Heavy lifts depend on correct technical execution, because the heavier the weight the more critical technique errors become.

If you think about the difference between coaching a leg extension and coaching a squat, you'll see that it's very easy to coach a muscle group, while coaching a movement pattern is much more difficult.

A squat cannot be coached like a "quad set." It can't because in a squat you haven't got the luxury of being able to focus on one muscle group. Hundreds of muscles operate the system of levers we call the skeleton, and the more parts of the skeleton you use, the more useless focusing on one muscle group becomes.

What might be an even more important distinction between the BSS and the squat? How about the fact that, left to its own devices, the BSS will improve for a few workouts and then get stuck, but the squat can be improved for years? This is the difference between a barbell lift and an assistance exercise.

But isn't this also the difference between a systemic stress that has the ability to produce a systemic response and an exercise that's inherently so light that it can't drive adaptation for longer than a few weeks?

And what is the upshot of "light"? Can you think of another word to use here? How about "easy"?

Are Bulgarian split squats, and their associated physical therapy-derived isolation movements that can't be done with heavy weights, popular because they're much easier to coach, to perform, to talk about on the internet, and to promote to people for whom a long list of "new" exercises is much more interesting, and therefore of much greater perceived value?

Might the fact that they're lighter be part of the unstated reason they're so goddamn much fun?

Devil's Advocate

"Well," you might justifiably point out, "most human movement is not heavy, and it's not symmetrical, even though our bodies are bilaterally symmetrical. Look at the way we put up the groceries, play baseball, fight, use a shovel, or chop down a tree. These movements are ipsilateral or contralateral – I know big words, too – so why are you saying that strength must be built symmetrically when it's almost never used that way? And why do I need to squat twice my bodyweight when I never have to do that anyway?"

Because strength is the most general adaptation you can obtain. Strength is called into action any time you produce force, and the stronger you are the more force you can produce, no matter how you got strong.

Not every force application involves maximum force production, but the stronger you are, the better you're able to produce force in situations where your strength must be used repeatedly, quickly, slowly, irregularly, or differently, in positions of balance or imbalance, while fresh or fatigued, recovered or sore, distracted or focused, for a few seconds or a few hours or days. This is why baseball players take steroids.

But the most efficient way to get strong is to lift heavy weights in a bilaterally symmetrical position, which allows the most weight to be lifted and therefore the most strength to be built.

This is why baseball players should all be squatting, pressing, and deadlifting correctly with very heavy weights: it makes you strong – like steroids, only much, much better – and doesn't involve a Senate hearing.

There's a pattern here. The more unilateral the exercise, the lighter the weight must be. And the heavier the weight you want to lift, the more uniformly bilateral the movement must be.

The heavier the weight the greater the force that must be produced. Therefore the exercise that allows the greatest weight to be lifted is the one with the greatest potential for getting the muscles involved the strongest.

So, isolation exercises can't make you strong unless you're very, very weak. Do you understand how this affects your decision to base your training on physical therapy?

So, Are You Bored or Just Stupid?

Isn't my tired old advice to stick with basic barbell exercises done with absolutely perfect technique and working up to brutally heavy weight getting just a little boring by now? Isn't variety always better?

After all, if you won't do the workout because you're bored, isn't it better to choose new and exciting exercises you will do? I mean, anybody can get their deadlift up to 600, right? What's the big deal? Why can't we just do barbell rows? Or dumbbell rows on a bench?

What do you think the guy who rows the 250-pound dumbbell can deadlift? Which dumbbells do you row – the 65s or the 85s? Why isn't your deadlift 600?

What the hell is wrong with everybody? Has the internet, by enabling everyone to have a voice, rendered everyone with an ear suddenly stupid?

We have all the information we need about what works and what doesn't work, and all we have to do is apply it correctly. If you want to figure out a way to make things easier, go ahead. But be honest enough to admit that's what you're doing.

Note: Thanks to John Petrizzo DPT, Stef Bradford PhD, and Jordan Feigenbaum for their valuable contributions to this article.

Get as strong as you can and then go practice.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Train Simply

Strength is simple, but not easy.

Below is an article that I saw recently in Greg Everetts newsletter from Catalyst Athletics. I like his no nonsense, common sense approach to training. Today we have unprecedented and unlimited access to information. It's a great time to be alive. However sometimes the quantity of information can be so overwhelming that it's hard to sort out what is quality and what is garbage. I like Greg's succinct statement here on how to sort through the glut of training information. In my own experience I have found a few basics to be true. Pardon my cliches, but I think you'll get the message. 
There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Anything works for awhile, nothing works forever.
The best ideas are simple.
Simple is not the same as easy.
Easy never works for long.
Most of what is promoted as new ideas are actually old if you really know your history.
You can't ignore health when you are seeking performance. 
Those are just a few of my training maxims. Below is Greg's take....

Training Tip: Try New Things; Unless They're Stupid

I'm all for experimentation when it comes to training and coaching. I'm always interested in new ideas and am willing to test things out in the real world to see what kind of results they produce. Often I end up experimenting with my own training first, then trying things I've found successful with my lifter; this helps cut down on the dumb things they have to do.

This said, you need to think critically and consider the principles of new ideas before actually implementing them. If you spend a bunch of time trying every single new idea out there, you're going to waste a lot of time moving backwards. Before trying something, think for a moment: Does it even make sense?

There are a lot of ideas floating around in the digital ether these days, most posited by people with zero experience or credentials in the area in which they're offering unsolicted advice. This is a good tip-off right off the bat--if this idea comes from someone who has no experience in the field we're talking about, they would have to impress the shit out of me to even get me to listen. This is classic armchair quarterbacking: eveyone has the answers to everyone else's problems until they have to actually make those answers work with real people in the real world.

When someone says, "This thing works really well," they better have some athletes who have demonstrated that effectiveness. Otherwise it's just more internet pontification and no better than the advice from the next eleven-teen year-old on your favorite forum.

You don't have to be cynical (like me), but be skeptical. Invest your time and your athletes' time wisely instead of acting on every whim or fancy.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Belts Revisited

Using a belt for maximum attempts.

We have stated our opinions on belts here in the past. Following is a well-stated article that pretty much sums up our opinion on belts. First, I don't believe in lifting "accessories". Either  it has a function or it doesn't. We don't make fashion statements in the weight room. Belts are often over used, but do have an important function when used properly.

Here's what you need to know...

• The typical trainee has a weak core. Using a weight belt masks this problem.

• Strength athletes can use a belt, but only for sets above 85% of 1RM and not with all lifts. Never wear a belt when performing an exercise that has you sitting or lying down.

• If you're an athlete and you don't wear a belt in your sport, then wear a belt sparingly, if at all.

• There's a specific way to wear a belt – don't just slap it on.


Weight belts seem to be making a big comeback. Are they must-have accessories for every lifter?

Some lifters are never seen without their beat-up old leather belts, while others go their entire careers without ever putting one on.

Four coaches took aim at lifting's most common fashion accessory – the weight belt.

Mike Robertson

An athlete doesn't get anything out of using a belt.

Only those who are trying to compete in a strength sport (Olympic lifters, powerlifters, strongmen, etc.) should be wearing a belt when they lift.

When we assess our clients, they almost universally come in with a weak or underdeveloped core. As such, we have to rebuild this over time with smart coaching and exercise progressions.

If someone is constantly using a belt to "hide" a weak core (relative to their hips/legs), this is a problem we need to address.

An athlete really doesn't get anything out of using a belt. And many times it works against them because the goal is to build a balanced body that works as a functional unit.

For strength athletes, it's a different story – you're judged on your ability to move weight. However, the bulk of the training time should still be done raw, only using a belt when in the 85%+ range of lifting.

To effectively use a belt, there's a lot more to it than simply "pushing your abs out." In fact, this is detrimental as it slams your lower back into extension.

Instead, put the belt on and exhale slightly, allowing the ribs to come down. Now with the ribs down, take another deep breath in – you should feel pressure to the front, sides, and back of the belt.

This is true, circumferential, core stability in all directions. You'll not only be more stable, but move more weight as a result.

Tim Henriques

Over-reliance on belts weaken the core.

Lifting belts can increase intra-abdominal pressure. This intra-abdominal pressure is good in that it increases spine and core stability. It's bad in that it shoots up blood pressure and can aggravate hernias and other injuries.

Lifting belts can help performance on big lifts involving the lower back. If a lifter is squatting heavy or pulling big, a belt may be able to increase performance on those lifts.

However, if the exercise really doesn't stress the lower back/core that much – leg presses, triceps pushdowns, etc. – wearing a belt is unnecessary (apart from making your waist look smaller and your shoulders look bigger).

Over-reliance on lifting belts might also weaken the core musculature. Think of a belt like a crutch – use it too much and the muscles don't respond because the belt is there.

That being said, folks like Louie Simmons advocate pushing your abs against the belt, in which case belt work might actually make your core stronger because you have some resistance – the belt – to push against.

But if you're an athlete and you don't wear a belt in your sport, then I would wear a belt sparingly.

So my answer to the belt question is this: First, don't wear it on stuff that doesn't involve the lower back much, and definitely don't be one of those dudes that puts the belt on in the locker room and doesn't take it off until he's changing out of his workout clothes.

Second, save the belt for the big sets, whatever that means to you. For warm-up sets and light work sets it's generally unnecessary to wear one, but for the big stuff put it on.

Finally, you need to learn how to use the belt. I like to do a core bracing exercise in which I put the belt on, get into lifting position, and then brace my core really hard.

Sometimes I'll have lifters put their fingers in between the belt and their core. When they brace they should feel considerable pressure on their fingers. This is harder than it seems, and if it is for you then regress the movement in the following way:

Start in a normal standing position with a slight arch in the lower back and learn how to brace there. Then move into more lifting-specific positions. Hold the brace for about 5 seconds and do a few sets of this.

If you have an injury and you feel the belt protects it, wear it. It's easy to brace the core hard in spinal flexion, but while lifting we want to mimic our lifting position which is usually with a slight spinal extension.

When it comes to types of belts, I'm partial to the Inzer Forever Belt with a Lever. I've had the same belt for 17 years and still love it.

Dan Trink

The answer lies in the middle.

About 400 years ago, when I first set foot in the gym, everyone wore a weight belt. It didn't matter if you were squatting, bench pressing, or taking a step aerobics class, a cinched weight belt was as much a part of the gym uniform as leg warmers or Zubaz pants.

Then, about 15 years ago, guys like Paul Chek came out against weight belts saying how they stunted the development of the transverse abdominus and other core musculature. At that point, unless your name was Sven and you were lifting a 400-pound atlas stone at the World's Strongest Man competition, you wouldn't be caught dead in a belt.

As with most things, the right answer lies somewhere in the middle. The majority of people shouldn't be wearing lifting belts the majority of the time.

However, if you're going for a maximal or near-maximal squat or deadlift, and the weight on the bar is hovering around 2x bodyweight, a belt will certainly help you complete the lift by providing more support to your abs and lower back as well as keep your spine from crumbling into a pile of dust.

I've also noticed a lot more Olympic weightlifters wearing thin belts with a Velcro closure during near-max attempts. This is also a good idea as anything that can keep you safer and training longer and harder will be beneficial in the long run. And given the way a lot of these athletes train and the massive loads they're able to lift, these belts are probably necessary.

While you want your lifting belt to be tight, the goal is to be able to get a belly full of air and brace your abs against the belt. So if you're cinching your belt so tight that you can't get in a full, deep breath, you may want to back it off a notch.

You can actually use a weight belt as a proprioceptive tool to help teach an abdominal brace by getting air into your abdomen and bracing against the belt. I usually do this by placing my hands around a client's waist, but if training alone the belt does a great job.

And never wear a belt when performing an exercise that has you sitting or lying down. Ever.

Bottom line, if you're an experienced lifter about to do a near-max effort single or double, then pop on a lifting belt. However, if you're cranking out sets of 8 to 10 at 70%, then put the weight belt back in the closet with your string tank top.

Todd Bumgardner

Belts are for experienced lifters and big weights.

I'm absolutely an advocate for using weight belts to promote strength.

It's an easy argument – intra-abdominal pressure that provides spinal stability leads to greater force output. Like any other training tool, however, use is situational.

While belts are a useful tool, they should be saved for the big lifts and Olympic lifts, and for efforts at 75 percent or greater of one-rep max. Sorry, but screaming, parachute pant biceps curls aren't belt worthy.

Sure, it's efficacious to use a belt for lifts at lower percentages – you're going to improve force output. But building core strength and coordination is advantageous for building lasting strength. Consider the lower-percentage lifts to be the core builders, while belts are showtime ergogenic aids.

Belts are also reserved for those with at least a few years of lifting experience – young lifters, and those young in training age, need to learn how to breathe and how to brace with their lats, abs, and supporting core musculature before they slap a belt on.

We actually came out of the womb with a solid belt – lifters need to master using it before they turn to external assistance.

Do you know how to get your air low into your belly? Have you mastered lat tension? Can you breathe behind the shield? If you've answered no to even one of these questions, forget about using a belt.

If you're belt ready, use it well. Align it so the bottom of the belt is just above the crests of your hip bones. Make sure the front of the belt covers your belly button.

Also, make sure the belt is used to reinforce a solid, diaphragmatic breath. Don't just push your abs out against the belt. This means that you shouldn't have the belt so tight that your belly can't expand into it.

As you take in a breath, you should feel your trunk fill with air and put pressure on the belt in 360 degrees. Your belly should press into the belt, as should your back. Your obliques should press into the belt just above your iliac crests. If you're doing it right you'll feel like a marshmallow stuffed into a wedding band.

Make sure the belt isn't a crutch for shitty positioning. Lock your form in, and then use the belt as assistance for holding good position – long spine and low breath.

Wrap Up

Weight belts are a tool – in the right context they're indispensable, while in the majority of cases (and in the majority of lifters) they're useless at best.

Learn proper form, learn how to brace your core, and focus on getting strong with as little "gear" as possible. The fun tools will be waiting for you when you have the need for them.

Mike Robertson has helped clients and athletes from all walks of life achieve their strength, physique and performance related goals. Mike received his Masters Degree in Sports Biomechanics from the world-renowned Human Performance Lab at Ball State University. Mike is the president of Robertson Training Systems, and the co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training which was recently named one of America's Top Ten Gyms

Training without a belt.