Archive for September, 2010

Seated Vs. Military Press

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Individuals with lower back pain often think that performing the seated overhead press is safer than performing the standing military press. Although at first glance this may appear to be a good idea I firmly believe that this lift will not decrease back pain and will in fact lead to more problems down the road. Think about it for a second, while standing you have your legs between your spine and the floor to be used as a shock absorber. While sitting the spine is being sandwiched between and compressed by the weight above the head and the bench in which you are sitting. In addition, the standing military is a far more functional exercise, than the seated press, (I have written about the functionality of this lift in past blogs).

One reason for back pain while overhead pressing may have to do with the back bending which often occurs. A way to combat this issue is to brace the core while pressing. Too often individuals will attempt to press the weight while having a relaxed torso, they consider this exercise to be for the shoulders rather than the whole body. This is a mistake.

Before pressing think of tightening the whole core and lower body. For the abdominals, imagine that someone is about to punch you, don’t suck in the stomach, as this will soften the area, instead try to form a shield with the muscles. To support the spine, squeezing the glutes together will help with the bracing. To contract the glutes imagine pinching a coin between the cheeks, using a slightly narrow stance with the toes facing outward will help activate the adductors. As for bracing the spinal erector muscles, this technique may need some practice. One way to learn how to tighten this area is to stand straight and place your fingers on the spinal erector muscles. Bend forward slowly until you feel these muscles activate. Practice and familiarize yourself with this technique; by identifying yourself with this bracing eventually you will be able to perform the tightening while standing erect.

If you do happen to have back pain I would advise consulting your physician prior to starting any program.

Grip Strength

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

When training one should not overlook the importance of grip strength. Athletes in many sports including; MMA, football, wrestling, rock climbing, gymnastics, and weight training can not allow a weak grip to be their Achilles Heel. Not only grip weakness effect your performance on the athletic field, but a frail grip will also effect your efficiency in the weight-room. Exercises such as pull ups, deadlifts, rows, and power cleans can all be compromised by a fragile grip. By using such tools as wrist wraps or training gloves you will only be exacerbating the problem.

To combat the issue of having a weak grip many trainees make the mistake of thinking that performing hundreds of reps using a hand gripper will give the strength results desired. Unfortunately the high repetition approach will offer little in the strength building department. Just as training any other muscle group, to improve your strength you need to overload the muscle group and to use progression. As a weight or exercise becomes easy, increase the weight,and/or the difficulty of the exercise.

One important factor to consider is that there are different types of grip strength. The first and most often considered, is the normal grip or crushing strength, the second type of gripping strength is known as pinch strength. It is important to develop each as different grips will be used in different circumstances.


Crushing Strength-

  • Deadlifts- Perform with a barbell. A thicker bar will work even better. This exercise will not only build your grip strength but it will also develop strength throughout your whole body. If you are concentrating on grip strength do not use and alternate grip until you go heavy. By using the overhand grip with both hands you will increase hand and forearm strength.
  • Farmers Walk- Take two dumbbells and circle the gym or a given area. The exercise sounds simple but works, it also works the upper back and trap area.
  • Towel Pull ups- Hang a bar over a pull up bar and grab each side. Preform the pull ups by lifting your body until you are able to touch your chest to your hands. Another option with the towel is to just wrap it around the bar making the gripping surface thicker and more difficult to grasp.
  • Bar Hangs- This exercise can be performed using one or two hands and/or with or without a dip (weighted) belt. The exercise is is just as it sounds, just hang from the pull up bar.
  • Wrist Rollers- I’m sure you have done this “Old School” exercise at one point or another in your training. Hold your arms out at at full length and twist the weight up and down using full turns. Go slow on the negatives and don’t let the weight just fall. Reverse the twist when you complete the set. This piece of equipment can be made using simply a broken off broom handle and string.

Pinch Strength-

  • Rice Buckets- Try filling a bucket with rice or with sand and needing your hand down to the bottom of the bucket. This will increase your finger and forearm strength, translating into a stronger grip.
  • Plate Pinches- Take two plates, place them together so that the smooth sides are facing out. Stand, or perform a farmers walk using this technique.
  • Sandbag lifts- Grabbing the sandbags using the outside handles or no handles at all will improve your pinching strength, also you can try dragging the bag for added difficulty.

As each exercise becomes easier make sure to increase the difficulty (overload), this is the only way to progress. After working on such exercises stretch the wrist and forearm area. Try adding these exercises at the end of a back or bicep day, or at the end of a session when you have performed a number of pulling exercises. I would stick with training my grip strength only twice a week to allow recovery and I would not perform all the exercises in one day. Choose a couple, work on them for a while and then mix it up by switching the exercises.

    Learning The Pistol

    Monday, September 27th, 2010

    To progress into the pistol I recommend first working on body squats. Begin with a wide stance and then move to a narrow stance squat. These exercises will help to build leg strength, balance, and stamina. I also recommend working on hamstring flexibility and hip mobility as you will need both to successfully perform a pistol. If you are unable to hold your elevated leg straight out while performing the exercise you may have to stand on a box so that the foot of the extended leg does not touch the ground.

    The next step in the progression is to perform the pistol on a box or bench. Performing box pistols will help buid your confidence on one leg, develop your technique, leg strength, and balance. As you progress you will lower the box until it is fully removed. While using the box try to sit back into the seat rather than dropping straight down. When sitting back make sure to keep your shin (of the grounded foot) as vertical as possible. This technique will help teach you to activate the glutes and hamstrings while performing the full pistol. As the box is lowered and then finally removed your shin will indeed slide forward over the toes in order to counterbalance your weight (if not you would fall back).

    The Pistol (Beginners Box Squat)

    • Standing tall on a single leg your arms stretched forward. Reaching forward will help to counterbalance the weight as you begin your decent.
    • Raise the opposite foot until it is approximately level with your hips.
    • Activating your hip flexor on the standing leg, think of pulling yourself back then down. As you begin to sit back your torso will have to lean forward to balance. Try to keep your back as straight as possible, bending forward at the hips and not rounding the back.
    • Throughout the box squat keep the knee in line with the toe and not allow it to buckle either in or out. At this point you also do not want the knee to protrude over the toe, this will change when you have advanced to the single leg without using the box. When doing an unassisted pistol your knee will in fact come out further then the toe, but for now learn how to recruit the hamstrings and glutes better, keep the shin vertical and the knee behind the toe.
    • Once you have reached a seated position, it is time to return to a standing position. Begin your ascent by driving your heel into into ground. (Think of pushing the floor away from you.)
    • Squeeze your glutes together and pull up using the hip flexor.


    When performing the full pistol the tecnique will be exactly the same with the exception that you will allow the knee to slide forward more then you would with the box squat. The pistol should be performed in a slow and controlled manner; never allow yourself to just drop. You have reached the bottom when the hamstring of your supporting leg touches against the back of your calf. Your torso will have to be tight against the thigh of this leg, remember try not round the back, bend at the waist and keep the back as flat as possible. When you have reached the bottom, pause for one second before rising up. Think of driving the working leg through the floor.

    Be patient and practice as this will take time.

    Single Leg Squats -(Pistols)

    Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

    One of the most underrated and under-appreciated exercises out there is the single leg squat or pistol. Not until recently have the pistols received anywhere close to the recognition they deserve. Pistols will develop balance, strength, and power from your core to the floor.  Not many other exercises can claim to have the same level of functionality. Consider the fact that most sports are performed with alternating or independent leg action. When moving in sport or in life the majority of time one leg will have to be used with little or no help from the other. If as an athlete we only train when we have both feet squarely under us, we will not properly prepare ourselves.

    The vast majority of us have a dominant side which will take over in times of fatigue or stress. If we only train doing traditional (bilateral) squats or deadlifts we may perpetuate this imbalance. It is important to develop individual leg strength for a number of reasons; having disproportionate leg efficiency can contribute to an improper gait when running, balance problems, and tightness or weakness in the hips and lower back. Pistols will address these issues and many others.

    The Benefits of Performing Pistols:

    • Symmetrical Leg Strength- Learning to train each leg individually.
    • Symmetrical Leg Coordination- Not only will your leg strength increase on your less dominant side but also your confidence to use this leg to push off of when jumping or running will build, as you will notice an increase in all around coordination.
    • Core Stability- While performing pistols you will recruit your lower back and abdominal muscles in a very sports specific manner. To properly execute this exercise you must brace your core to prevent from shifting unnecessarily forward,back,or laterally. This tightening of the core will allow for maximum power output without any energy “leakage”.
    • Balance- For the obvious reason that you will be standing and moving through a full range of motion on one leg.
    • No Excess Loading on Spine- Because you will be lifting all your weight with one lg as well as working to maintain your balance you will not require the same weight necessary to work with the same effort while performing squats.

    Conventional squats should not be removed for your routine; however if you feel you lack individual leg strength or if you feel pain your lower back because of the loading, try adding into your routine some pistols.

    In my next blog I will give instructions on how to execute a textbook pistol.

    Answer to Sandbag Question

    Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

    If you are interested in sandbag training there are a number of different bags on the market today. I personally use The Ultimate Sandbag but thats not to say that is the best one out there. I recommend you shop around a bit and find what looks best to you. Some websites that I recommend are:


    There are many more if you just search around you will find them.

    As for the different sizes of the bags; The Ultimate Sandbag company offers 4 different sizes:

    1. Power: Capacity: 15-45lbs.
    2. Strength: 35-85lbs.
    3. Advanced: 70-155lbs.
    4. Burly: 70-175lbs.

    Each heavy bag is designed to hold smaller bags which are usually filled half way to allow for the sand to move around causing shifting during the lifts.

    As for making your own bag that is something I have read about but have no experience myself. I am the least handy person in the world and would not trust myself with even the most basic of instructions. If you were to attempt to make your own bag you can find some instructions at:


    Sandbag Training

    Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

    I often mention the benefits of functional training. Recently I have been training with sandbags and I can honestly say that there is no other piece of equipment which is more functional. When lifting with traditional weights you are typically pushing and pulling in straight lines. However, in the world of sports, or even “Real life” for that matter, this is rarely the case. When training with traditional barbells it is taught to lock into certain grooves, positions, or lifting patterns to make the lifts more successful. This is beneficial for getting the weight moving and lifting heavier weights, but rarely if ever in the world of sports will you be able to have an opponent in the perfect position, to either push them away, or pull them down. Your opponents will constantly be moving readjusting or redistributing their weight. Sandbags best mimic this level of unpredictability.

    Core Stability- Because of the make-up of a sandbag the weight will constantly shift throughout the exercises. As a result your core will continuously be firing to maintain balance and to keep the bag moving in the correct direction.

    Strength/Power/Quickness- Basically all exercises which can be performed with the barbell can be performed with the sandbag, including:

    • Deadlifts
    • Squats- Using numerous holds
    • Rows
    • High Pulls
    • Cleans
    • Cleans and Press
    • Push Press
    • Snatches
    • Lunges

    All of these exercises will build strength, and many will develop power and quickness. During a power clean your drop may even have to be even quicker than with the barbell. Another advantage of the sandbag is the rotational exercises which can be performed. In most athletics and in life, rotational movements and lifts are performed constantly and this is very difficult to imitate with a barbell.

    Grip Strength- Often times athletes and body builders will use wrist wraps when performing such exercises as pull ups/pull downs, rows, shrugs, or cleans. To me this is one of the greatest mistakes you can make while training. I feel the same about wraps as I do about weight belts; “They should only be used for max lifts”. If you do not train your grip what good will having a strong back or shoulders do you?

    Sandbag training will help give you that grip strength which you have been lacking. Grip strength is something that any athlete or individual can stand to increase and as a result of lifting with a sandbag you will see greater strength and stamina in your pulling exercises. Unlike a traditional barbell/dumbbell you will not be able to use the same grip for every lift. This will result in an increase in overall grip strength as well as finger strength. Finger strength is something which is very important for such athletes as football players or wrestlers.

    Sandbags can be used both in doors and out doors and are excellent tools for group training. This is very beneficial if you want to combine some field work with your training.

    I am not saying to that barbells and dumbbells are obsolete, “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”. What I am saying is that there many other tools which can and should be added to your repertoire. Alternate between the barbells and sandbags or just try substituting them in once in a while, the choice is yours but I am positive you will enjoy your results.

    Reaction Time for Sports II

    Monday, September 20th, 2010

    In my last blog I mentioned that improving your reaction time (RT) involves two factors; training your fast twitch muscle fibers and increasing the speed at which your neurons fire and communicate. These two factors can be improved through plyometric and agility training, along with the practicing of sports specific movement patterns.

    Increasing the speed at which your neurons fire- If you are training for a particular sport or event it is of the utmost importance to practice the skill sets which will be used in the match. It is for that reason why fighters work endlessly to defend against differing strikes/attacks, and how to counter them. It is important to have these reactions ingrained in the mind so the responses become automatic. Think about driving for a moment. If someone were to run out in front of your car you would would appear to react instinctively by jamming on the brakes without even thinking. This may seem like a natural response, but in fact it is something which you have been taught. If you were to place an individual in a car who had never driven before, stepping on the brake pedal would not happen instantaneously, however through education/awareness and repetition/practice the act appears to be a reflex. As an athlete you need to train your skill set in the same way. For athletes such as football players the working on proper foot work and steps can make the individual appear even faster than they may in fact be.

    I recommend you begin working with a partner or coach if you have been training with agilities for a while. After you performed the agilities a number of times on your own and the footwork is second nature, allow a partner to help take your training to the next level. This can be achieved by having a partner or coach add variables to the drills such as last second change of direction calls, or the incorporating of balls (carrying, throwing or catching).

    The more stimuli which is presented the longer the response will be. For the purposes of training, athletes should be introduced to greater amounts, and different types of stimuli to help build awareness and lessen the reaction time. What I mean by this not only does the athlete want to be introduced to visual stimulus, but also audio, and physical. If you are training with someone have them first give you visual cues at which to respond, such as pointing to the direction which to cut or not starting the drill until there is some-sort of a hand movement or dropping of something. Next, have them introduce audio (yelling out left/right or forward/back). Last try physical stimulus. Begin by lying on your back with you eyes closed. Have your partner touch one of your feet, which ever side this is on role in that direction get to your feet and perform a sprint or agility.

    Reaction Drills –

    Ball Drop- This drill works on both hand-eye coordination as well as foot quickness. It is performed with a partner. The two athletes will stand 5-8 feet apart. One partner will drop the ball while the other athlete will have to catch the ball before it bounces a second time. This drills difficulty level can be increased in the following ways.

    1. The athlete slides laterally 4-5 feet and only moves in a forward direction once the ball is dropped. (This drill can be preformed on a basketball court. The partner with the ball stands at the foul line while the other athlete slides back and forth on the baseline between the key).
    2. The athlete lays on his stomach and gets up when the ball is dropped.
    3. The athlete lays on his back and only moves when the other partner calls out a side to turn to.
    4. The receiving athlete only catches the ball with his/her less dominant hand.

    Other reaction drills- T-Drill (described in a previous blog on agility’s) Lying Down Sprints (reacting to a command and sprinting, and Mirror Drills (partners follow each others movements and try to remain at the same distance throughout the drill).

    Reaction Time for Sports

    Thursday, September 16th, 2010

    What is Reaction Time?-  Reaction Time (RT) is the sum of an entire event duration which occurs between the indication of a stimulus and the trace of a response. In the world of sports RT is a skill based ability (something learned) to which there is often (however not always) a single stimulus and single response. An example of this would be the firing of a gun to indicate the start of a race. The athlete must react to the noise without hesitation, hearing the BANG and jumping into the water. This is known as Simple Reaction Time (SRT) – SRT is the the amount of time required for an individual to respond, without wavering to a stimulus (the gun).

    How is Reaction Time Measured?- There are four standard measurements for RT:

    • Simple Reaction Time SRT – mentioned above
    • Go/No-Go Reaction Time - Similar to SRT except the subject must now be able to identify between a false stimulus and the correct one. During testing for Go/No-Go Reaction Time the subject may be asked to push a button when a certain color light or certain type of sound is made but not when others are. In athletics this would be similar to the defender not wanting to leave his feet on a pump fake in basketball, then leaping up to make the block when the ball is shot.
    • Choice Reaction Time- The subject/athlete must respond differently to each stimulus given. An example of this in the laboratory would be a subject pushing different buttons according to different colored lights or sounds appearing. In the athletic world an example of this would be a wrestler countering differently to moves that have been attempted on him.
    • Discrimination Reaction Time- The subject/athlete must compare pairs of simultaneously presented visual displays. In the laboratory the subject may be asked to respond to visuals by pressing on a button according to which ever had a more powerful stimulus (brighter color, or louder sound). In the athletic field an example maybe a linebacker having to differanciate between which runner was the decoy and who is carrying the ball, and tackling that runner.

    Reaction time is greatest in young adults and will gradually slow as we age, become fatigued, or distracted. In can however be improved with practice. Improving your RT involves two factors, training fast twitch muscles and increasing the speed at which your neurons fire and communicate. The first can be improved through agility and plyometric training, while the latter can be developed through sports specific patterns/drills being performed repeatedly.

    In my next blog I will discuss more about this subject and some drills which can be performed to help develop your RT.

    The Turkish Get up

    Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

    Although the name may sound strange the Turkish get-up is one of the best all around muscle and endurance building exercises around. This “Old School” exercise will build strength from the ground up; working all the major muscle groups, the smaller stabilizers in your core and shoulder joints, as well as developing strong tendons and ligaments. This exercise can be performed for time as an endurance builder; using a lighter weight and performing as many reps in an allotted time period (while using the strictest form) or for repetitions using a heavier weight to build overall strength and power.

    You may use a kettlebell, dumbbell, sandbag, or even a sandbag draped over a shoulder to perform the get-up. For the purposes of the description I will describe using a kettlebell.

    Performing the Turkish Get-up -

    • Lie flat on your back with the kettlebell on the right side of your body. Have your right knee bent at a 90 angle, left leg straight. Left arm out to the side.
    • Keeping the bell tight to your body press it as if you were doing a close grip press.
    • Lift your right shoulder off the ground and transfer your upper body weight on to your left forearm. (Make sure to keep the kettlebell pressed towards the sky and to keep looking up at it. If you look down the bell will follow in that direction)
    • Sit up even further, transferring your body weight from your left forearm pop up to place your weight on to the hand.
    • Lift your left leg into the air and hold for a moment to gain your balance. At this point you should be balanced on your left hand right foot with the kettlebell in the air. (Remain looking at the bell)
    • Swing your left leg under your body, leaving it in the air throughout the movement until you are able to place the left knee solidly on the ground. You are now kneeling on your left knee with your right foot on the ground in front of you keeping your right knee up. Your left hand can now come off the ground so you are kneeling with your right hand fully extended above your head.
    • Pushing your right foot into the ground stand straight up. Hold for a moment. At this point the exercise is half done and the next step is going to be reversing the process.
    • Reverse lunge with the left foot. Drop the left hand to the ground.
    • Lift the left knee again and this time swing he leg under and forward.
    • Lie back down and bring the bell back t the floor in a controlled motion.
    • Pass the bell across your body and perform the other side.

    The overall effects of Turkish get-ups will surprise you. Practicing the get-ups will help build cardiovascular endurance while simultaneously building hip and shoulder flexibility. The leg swing and lunge position helps to develop the hip mobility, while the positioning of the bell in the air throughout the exercise should help to increase your shoulders range of motion. As a peripheral effect I have also found this exercise to help me with my pressing strength.

    The Benefits of Jumping Rope

    Monday, September 13th, 2010

    Athletes and trainees alike often ask me for exercises that will build endurance, quickness, and agility. They are usually surprised when I tell them to invest in a jump rope. If you are looking for a quick high calorie burning workout, one that will develop foot quickness, and coordination; look no further than the jump rope. Jump ropes are an easy to use inexpensive tool which you can take with you anywhere. It may take some work to develop the timing but with practice you will see that you can become quit proficient at the rope and with this skill the possibilities are endless.

    Finding the Proper Rope - When purchasing a rope my advice is to by a light weight speed rope. Other ropes such as heavy or weighted ropes are available, however if you are trying to build quickness and coordination the speed is your best bet. When finding the ideal rope length try stepping in the center of the rope with one foot and holding the handles to the side of your body. The model length would be for the handles to reach approximately armpit length.

    Training Surface – When training with the rope be careful of the surface areas you chose. It is important to try a find a surface that is forgiving, as performing multiple reps on a hard surface such as hard top can begin to bother your ankles, knees, and/or lower back. Grass is forgiving but the blades may slowdown the rope. A gymnasium floor or hard mat are most likely your best chose for finding a surface which will allow speed but also provide enough give.

    Calories Burned Per 15 Session - 150lbs.=171 calories / 180lbs.=205 calories / 210lbs.=239 calories

    When jumping rope have fun and be creative with the programs. When starting out first work on your coordination followed by conditioning. When you feel comfortable with the rope try doing rounds: ex. 1 minute on 1 minute off x 3-5. As you progress, lesson the rest periods, increase the periods of work, or the number of rounds. Next try different drills such as high knees, side hops, single legs, or double jumps. Make up your own drills and challenge yourself.

    Jumping rope can also be an added to your lifting sessions as an active rest period. For example; rather than sitting down and waiting to perform your next set of bench press, try jumping rope for a minute in between sets.

    If you are looking for more drills or jump rope routines check out Ultimate Warrior Workouts: Fitness Secrets of the Martial Arts; by Martin Rooney, or go to