Do We Really Need Them?
I had my first introduction to Weightlifting (often referred to as Olympic lifting) in my high school football days using the Bigger Faster Stronger program. Power Cleans were a staple of this program and the Power Snatch was also introduced to us during a clinic our football coach put together. Over the last several years, weightlifting movements have made a comeback into many gyms. These movements include the Snatch (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in one fluid movement), the Clean & Jerk (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in two distinct movements), and their derivatives. Though there are several reasons to include these movements in programs, there are far more reasons, in my professional opinion, not to.
The primary reason one would or should be using Olympic lifting movements is to improve/maximize power output, or Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD is a primary determinant of success in many sports. This is what allows you to accelerate quickly, jump higher/farther, and change direction quickly. There are volumes of research on the Clean & Jerk, Snatch, and their variations which demonstrate that these movements work very well at improving power and RFD; however, these lifts are not the only means of accomplishing this. Moreover, there are multiple reasons not to incorporate them:
Weightlifting movements are incredibly technical and take massive amounts of time to learn and perform correctly. Most successful weightlifters at the international level have spent decades learning and perfecting their craft. It is not uncommon to see weightlifters performing upwards of 10-12 training sessions per week. The only other sport I can think of that takes this level of technical prowess is gymnastics. While this is admirable for those choosing to compete in these sports, the level of time commitment is not practical for the average fitness enthusiast.
Due to the speed and dynamic nature of the Olympic lifts, there is a much higher probability of something going wrong. Additionally, the vast majority of the fitness population lacks the requisite mobility and stability to safely get into the required positions to perform these exercises. In some fitness circles, you will see these movements programmed in for very high repetitions. When this happens, you are ramping up fatigue which makes proper technique/form nearly impossible and minimizes power/RFD adaptation which is the whole point of these exercises. These lifts should be programmed at 1-5 rep sets with 2-5 minute rest intervals between.
For most people, time is a constant barrier to improved fitness. For competitive athletes, they must balance the demands of sport practice, strength training, conditioning, skill practice, and recovery. For this reason, the primary goal of a quality program should be to maximize efficiency of training. Due to the mobility demands and speed of the movements, the warm ups required can take 15-20 minutes. Combine that with the longer rest periods required and you barely have time to get in enough quality work to see optimal adaptations. It is not uncommon for a weightlifter to take 90-120 minutes to complete a workout.
You may be asking yourself how to maximize power if you can’t perform the Olympic lifts. Many people feel these movements are imperative for optimal fitness and performance. In February of 2017, I traveled to Ohio State University where I heard the head Strength and Conditioning coaches for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals speak. None of them use Olympic lifts with their athletes. If arguably the top athletes in the world don’t need these movements, then I think the rest of the population can get away without using them as well.
Over the next several weeks, I will introduce fourteen exercises that you can use instead to maximize speed, power, and RFD with less risk of injury, less technical skill required, and more efficiency. Stay tuned for exercise descriptions and video demonstration.
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1
Learn how to keep your spinal stabilizers strong by performing side planks. Mike O’Hara explains this in his article, “Learning to Lean”, and includes video demonstration and explanation of the importance keeping your stabilizers strong to stand up to the demands of daily life. It’s time for another Fenton Fitness Love Your Jeans Challenge–see page 3 for more information. In his article, “The Periodization of Nutrition”, Jeff Tirrell gives tips on optimizing dietary intake.
Less Is More
Understanding The Requirements Of Rest
The weight room at my high school was small and had only basic equipment. It consisted of two Olympic weight sets, some mismatched dumbbells, a squat rack, and a chin up bar. In the gym, we had a pegboard and a rope for climbing. No bench press, curl bar, or pulldown machine. It was the ultimate blessing in disguise. We did not have the temptation of exercise variety for variety’s sake. What we did have was solid instruction on basic lifts. We performed the same exercises repeatedly and became more proficient at squats, hang cleans, overhead presses, and pull ups. Four simple activities performed consistently with an effort to add weight to the bar on a regular basis. The results were magic.
The television fitness gurus have brought forth the latest craze of “muscle confusion”. You change your exercise activity often in an attempt to stimulate a greater adaptation response. The problem is that you never get the chance to practice the exercise long enough or with enough resistance to get stronger. Getting stronger is the performance parameter that preserves muscle mass, speeds up your metabolism, and makes you more durable–less likely to get hurt.
I never want any of my muscles, nerves, joints, or any other part of my body to be “confused” when training. I want the bodies of the athletes I train to perform better at every session. My suggestion is that you pick five or six exercises and set a goal of getting better at each of them over the next six months. The exercises you chose do not have to be a barbell or dumbbell exercise. Bodyweight exercises will work just as well and are a better choice for most fitness clients. Keep a record of your performance and work on improving the number of inverted rows, pull ups, or push ups you can perform. Single leg strength training is a good choice for nearly everyone and works wonders for athletes. Athletes should choose exercises that not only improve strength, but also mobility—front squats. Long term dedication to the mastery of an exercise will reward you with better body composition, enhanced mobility, less pain, and the strength you need to perform in athletics and daily activities.
This training approach requires mental toughness and a willingness to at times be bored. Toughen up and get after the challenge. Read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “We Need To Relax Like Roger Federer”. Better yet, go out and buy the book Starting Strength.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
A Plea For Your Knee
In our physical therapy clinics, we treat patients with knee pain on a daily basis. It has become more common to train younger clients with a history of knee injury and ongoing knee pain. Jane Brody’s recent *article in the New York Times has some excellent advice on the care and management of knee pain problems. I have some further suggestions and clarifications.
The mass portion of the Force = Mass x Acceleration formula needs to be at an appropriate level for your knees to stay healthy. Carrying extra body fat creates an environment that invites knee wear and tear. The common knee pulverizing mistake is to perform high impact exercise activities in an effort to lose fat. If you are twenty pounds overweight, do not run, stadium step, soccer, tennis, or pickleball. Start with strength training and low impact cardio. Lose the fat first, and even then, the lower impact activity will be healthier for your knees. From the overweight client limping into the clinic I get the “I need to move around to lose weight” protest. I am sorry, but fat loss is primarily a function of dietary alteration. Exercise has very little impact on body fat levels if you do not eat properly.
Train the Way You Wish to Play
A properly planned fitness program makes your knees more durable (fewer injuries) when you participate in your favorite recreational activity. The training must be tailored to your activity goals. If your goal is to play tennis, then you must perform three dimensional deceleration / acceleration activities as part of your training program. Yoga will not prepare your knees for tennis. If you want to water ski, then you must perform strength training for your back, hips, and knees. Distance running will not prepare your knees for water skiing. If hockey is your recreational past time, you need to be strong, well conditioned and competent in all planes of motion. Long duration recliner intervals will not prepare your knees for hockey.
If your hips do not move well, your knees will pay the price. In this age of all day sitting and minimal physical activity, hip function is at an all time low. Physical therapy patients with knee pain nearly always present with glaring restrictions in hip range of motion and strength. If your knees hurt, dedicate some training time to restoring hip rotation and hip extension movement. Learn how to perform some remedial gluteal activation drills. Learn a proper hip hinge, squat and a pain free lunge pattern.
Participation in a single inappropriate activity can produce a lifetime of knee trouble. That box jump workout of the day- maybe not. The warrior, electric shock, mud hole, death run–bad idea. Trampoline with the grandchildren–what were you thinking!
Be Proactive and Seek Treatment For Knee Pain
“Training through the pain” can take a graceful athlete and turn them into a lifelong speed limper. The presence of pain changes the way your brain controls movement. Left untreated, it can permanently alter neural signals and produce movement patterns that linger long after the pain has resolved. Live with enough cycles of inefficient movement and you develop early breakdown in the knee.
Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
*What I Wished I’d Known About My Knees, Jane Brody, New York Times. July 3, 2017
Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/well/live/what-i-wish-id-known-about-my-knees.html?_r=0
Very Short Term Running Preparation
I was recently asked by a fitness client to post exercise recommendations that would prepare her for outdoor distance running. This person was two weeks away from being out on the road, running two or three miles a day. She is middle aged, has a prior history of lower back pain, and her goal was to lose fifteen pounds and “tone up”. Given such short notice, these are my recommendations.
Perform soft tissue work on a daily basis. Foam roll the legs and use a lacrosse ball on the plantar fascia. The vast majority of overuse injuries in runners happen in the lower legs and feet. Attempt to unwind the myofascial distress created by 600-700 foot impacts a mile.
Improve your reciprocal hip pattern–one hip goes back and the other goes forward. Most general fitness clients have glaring deficits on one side. Perform some split squats, posterior lunges, step ups, and or walking lunges. If you struggle with these activities, I would reconsider running as a fitness activity.
Wake up your gluteals. Every day, perform fifty or sixty bridges, hip lifts, or leg curls. You need super gluteal strength / endurance to run distances and avoid lower extremity injury. If your butt gets sore from fifty bridges, you need to do them more often.
Running is a skill and most recreational runners need some practice. Running hills will improve gait mechanics, enhance hip extension, and decrease deceleration forces. Find a fifty-yard hill. Run up the hill and walk back down. Perform five hill runs.
You are always better to run too little than to run too much. Start with very short runs– no more than half a mile. Increase your total weekly mileage by no more than five percent a week.
You can’t do this in two weeks, but this is my big recommendation to all future runners. Lose the extra weight before running. As a method of fat loss, distance running has a poor track record. It tends to elevate the hormones that make you hungry, and physiological adaptation to distance running happens fairly quickly. Extra adipose makes you far more likely to develop a running related injury. I know the guys and gals you see running miles and miles every day are lean. Please remember that lean runners are successful with running because they possess the optimal body mass to run long distances. They did not start heavy and become lean. Put a fifteen pound weight vest on that guy or gal and everything will change. Their gait will lose efficiency and become less graceful. The extra fifteen pounds of load creates the biomechanical overload that makes them much more likely to suffer an injury.
My final recommendation is that you not become disappointed if you develop pain. A runnersworld.com poll conducted in 2009 revealed that 66% of respondents reported a running related injury that year. The statistics indicate that one third of the participants at you local 10k fun run will require medical attention for a running related injury over the next year. Have the good sense to stop when the pain begins.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Treadmills are found in virtually every gym. Read the six treadmill facts you need to know. Meet a Fenton Fitness member who learned how to manage her back pain, and read about the seven best TRX exercises. Do you have limited time to exercise? Be more efficient with HIIT.
In this issue, Mike O’Hara, PT gives ten reasons to love lunges. Video of lunge exercises/progressions are included. In Going Grizzly, Mike presents the exercise combination of Crawls and Sandbag Carries; a combination that helps you train more efficiently and move better. Watch the video for instruction on these exercises.
In this month’s issue, Mike O’Hara, PT provides information on Achilles tendinopathy with exercises that will help prevent this painful condition. Watch the video for the exercises by following the link in the article “Achilles Recovery”. Mike also demonstrates and describes the combination of turkish get ups and waiters walks–paired exercises that can help you train efficiently. Video for this article can also be seen on our youtube channel; just follow the links in the article.
A Little Realistic Reasoning
Worst: I want to lose weight.
Most people are not successful in losing weight with exercise. The ones who are have generally been diligent in following a disciplined nutritional regimen and this was the reason the numbers on the scale went down. Now whether the reduction was good—fat loss, or bad—bone and muscle loss, we do not know, but exercise alone is generally a poor method of weight loss. Not losing any weight is a primary reason people stop participating in an exercise program.
Best: I want to stay healthy.
Two thirds of the American population get no regular physical activity. The adverse effects of a sedentary lifestyle have been proven. Physical inactivity is far more debilitating than most of us realize. One way or another, you will end up spending time and money on your health. Spend it up front with exercise and proper education, or spend it later on medical tests, disease treatments, and doctors’ bills. The good news is you get to choose.
Worst: I want six pack abs.
This is probably not going to happen no matter how hard most of us train. Body fat levels have to get down to well below 12 percent to see an outline of the abdominal muscles. Twelve percent for men is low and for women it may be unhealthy.
Best: I want my brain to function at high levels.
Lots of new research has been done on exercise and its effect on the brain. The animal and human research subjects that perform the most physical activity have the best scores on brain function tests. Read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by Dr. John J. Ratey. I would rather have a pumped frontal cortex and a jacked hippocampus than chiseled abs.
Worst: I am making up for eating like an idiot.
You can’t out run a cookie. It is much easier to ingest more calories than burn them off with exercise. The damage caused by a diet filled with bad food, alcohol, and tobacco cannot be magically counter balanced with an hour on the elliptical or a step class. Success with exercise has a huge psychological component. Several studies have shown it is difficult to stay consistent with exercise if you mentally approach it as punishment for bad behavior.
Best: I want to feel good for a long time.
Move well and you feel well. If you can maintain the capacity to get off the floor, squat, lunge, and rotate, you will be far less likely to have pain. Rarely do I evaluate a patient with shoulder, neck, knee, or lower back pain and not find a glaring loss of mobility or strength. Maintaining the ability to move should be a lifelong pursuit for anyone interested in staying active and independent into old age.
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
I recently received an email on an article in The New York Times. The article stated that moderate exercise did not produce an improvement in bone density. The article went on to state that only medications have been found to be effective at reversing bone loss. The fitness client that sent me the email was understandably concerned because the article presented information that was dramatically different than what she had been told. In her battle against osteoporosis, she had placed a lot of faith in exercise and dietary modification. She had been given advice from her doctor, physical therapist, and trainer that she was on the proper path to better bone health. I read The New York Times article, looked up the referenced research, and I have a reply.
The New York Times author is correct that moderate weight bearing activities do not produce a change in bone density. Walking, running, yoga, and Zumba do not produce enough bone stress and muscle tension to improve Continue reading