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Strength Training Programs: The Higher Up You Go, the More Hot Air You Encounter

Written on April 29, 2010 at 6:55 am, by Eric Cressey

A buddy of mine – we’ll call him Bobby Ballsofsteel – has been really working at it lately in a dedicated push to pack on a little muscle mass with his strength training program.  He’s somewhat of a classic “hardgainer” who needs to really forcefeed himself to gain every ounce. Nonetheless, Bobby’s busted his butt in the gym (I train with him, so I know) and the kitchen over the past few months and has gone from 200 to 210 pounds.  This is a huge deal, as we aren’t talking about “newbie” gains; we’re talking about a guy who had already gone from 160 to 200 over the previous two years.

Bobby was super-intimidated about starting a strength and conditioning program back in 2007 because, although he was a great athlete, it was unfamiliar territory for him because he immediately become the little dog at the pound.

It took a lot of guts to start things up – something we see with a lot of people from different walks of life who begin exercise programs with motivation and a desire to change, but a long way to go and a fair amount of intimidation and embarrassment in their minds about where they stand with respect to the challenge ahead.  Whether you’re an elite athlete who has never trained in an organized setting, an untrained 14-year old baseball player, or a 55-year-old female who is just getting into exercising to drop body fat, the first step is the toughest – and it’s our job as fitness professionals to make this first step more manageable and less daunting. The problem is that we have outside influences with which to compete.

With many people embarking on a strength training program, there are other people in their lives – maybe it’s relatives, spouses, employers, best friends, or others – who for whatever reason go out of their way to find fault with people for making the decision to start exercising or eating healthy.  In many cases, these “disablers” sabotage people’s efforts at the exact time when they need the most support from those close to them.

Usually, the ones doing the “disabling” are simply insecure about themselves.  Maybe they are just comfortable eating poorly and not exercising, and they perceive it as a threat when someone close to them starts changing these habits, as it may have a spillover effect to them.  Or, perhaps they’re deconditioned and just don’t want to be alone – so it’s easier to try to bring someone else down a peg than elevate themselves.  Maybe it’s just that the world wouldn’t be safe with only one overweight superhero as opposed to two.  Batman wouldn’t just leave Robin out to dry like that.

superfan

And that’s how we come back to my buddy, Mr. Ballsofsteel, and his great progress of late.  Bobby came to the gym royally pissed off the other morning, and proceeded to tell me the story of how he had met up with some of his best (long-time) friends the previous night.  While it had been good to see all of them, one of these friends – we’ll call him “Tommy the Tool” – went out of his way to remark (in front of the entire group) that Bobby had “gotten awfully big suspiciously quickly.”  Effectively, he was implying that Bobby was using steroids (which is clearly not the case if you ask anyone who has seen him regularly throughout this time period).  The accuser (or shall we say “disabler?”) practically tried to turn it into a group intervention.

You can imagine what an awkward position this created for Bobby.  On one hand, if he had gotten defensive in light of all the hard work he’d put in to do things the right way, they’d have thought he had something about which he should be defensive.  On the other hand, if he had just shrugged it off, they’d have thought that the accusation is true and that Bobby just wanted to change the subject.  Awkward situation, indeed.

awkward-moments

Awkward situation aside, there is a “not-so-coincidental coincidence” that emerged in my eyes as Bobby told me the story.  Apparently, Tommy the Tool presented to this gathering about 15 pounds of “not-so-good weight” heavier himself because he’d been on the road for work, eating poorly and not exercising.

It’s funny how our disabler chose to call someone out and attempt to delegitimize someone else’s progress at the exact same time when he was feeling the worst about himself.  Actually, it’s not really “funny.”  It’s more “predictable” and “pathetic.”  You try to take someone down a peg to make your unfit, unhealthy status quo feel more acceptable; it’s easier to take when everyone is miserable.  Or, maybe it simply takes the attention off you, Tommy the Tool.

socal_network_tool

This happens in fitness, athletics, business, academics, and countless other components of our everyday lives.  I always tell our athletes that the higher up you go, the more hot air you are going to encounter.  Get negative people out of your life and surround yourself with those who are not only supportive of your goals and your progress, but can actually help to set you up for more success.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, one message from authors Chip and Dan Heath is that you will almost never effect quick change a person, but you can always work to change the situation that governs how a person acts – and do so relatively transiently.

switch-dan-chip-heath

As an example, we’ve had numerous high school athletes who have completely changed their family’s nutrition for the better by applying the principles they’ve learned in nutrition consultations at Cressey Performance.  It isn’t that their parents didn’t want to be healthy prior to that point; it was just that the situation in which they cooked and ate was different.  Once a young athlete came home excited about nutrition armed with knowledge and recipes, though, their supportive parental instincts enabled him to adopt these new habits, and his enthusiasm and newfound education and resources enabled them to adopt new practices for the family.  They were still the same people; they just happened to have new situations.

It’s why I think our semi-private training model at Cressey Performance works so well.  Sure, it makes training more affordable, and the strength and conditioning programs are obviously very individualized.  However, I think that most important thing we’ve done is creates an unconditionally positive training environment where people can support each other – even if they may have different fitness/athletic goals.  Success is both visible and encouraged.

 

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CP Internship Blog: Can Circuit Training Develop Work Capacity? – Part 2

Written on April 28, 2010 at 9:15 am, by Eric Cressey

This guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Sam Leahey.

Last time, we discussed circuit training and the validity of whether or not it develops “mental toughness” in our athletes.  We then questioned whether this “mental toughness” (however one defines that term) is actually translating into enhanced sports performance. This week’s article focuses on the implications regarding circuit training and “work capacity”.

Simply type the term “work capacity” into YouTube and you’ll end up with tons of videos implementing a wide variety of exercises in circuit training fashion, most which consist of modified strongman events, and every one of these claims the same thing: “it develops work capacity.”  What does that even mean?

Now, enter “work capacity” into the search bar on a peer-reviewed research journal site (PubMed, etc.) and what are the findings? Nearly every study listed with the term “work capacity” in the title is in direct reference to something specific like “physical work capacity,” “anaerobic work capacity,” “aerobic work capacity,” “wingate test work capacity,” “upper body work capacity”, “cardio-respiratory work capacity,” or “functional work capacity.”

Compare and contrast these two discoveries and we are left with the simple conclusion that “work capacity” is specific and using it as a general term is scientifically unjustifiable.  In fact, it is pretty much theory altogether unless directly tied to something else. Yet, when looking across the landscape of private training facilities and collegiate Strength & Conditioning settings, we find that most coaches and trainers use the term “work capacity” in the aforementioned grossly-oversimplified way as opposed to a specific type of capacity that actually makes transferable sense. I often wonder why that is?

confused-baby

There are many common arguments in favor of the work capacity idea. Coaches and trainers are now more than ever espousing and raising “work capacity” awareness.  Let us look at some of the underlying principles and theories behind the “work capacity school of thought” and try to make sense of it and establish how coaches arrived at the solution of “in order to develop work capacity we need to do circuit training”. This will lead into the conclusion of this article.

Principle: Work capacity is developed when the human body tolerates and recovers from a workload. Once adapted to that stimulus they need to be able to work above that “work threshold” for continued success.

I can’t believe how much this gets parroted these days. When I think about this statement I am left wondering how this is any different from regular strength training or even a stinkin’ bicep curl? It sounds to me like just another way to describe the Principle of Overload, not the “principle of work capacity”! Furthermore, I wonder how it’s indicative of the conclusion so many people reach: “I have to do circuit training to develop work capacity?”

Theory: If an athlete’s general fitness or capacity is low, their specific fitness or capacity will not improve.

So you’re saying if I take a highly deconditioned athlete with no general fitness and make him play soccer for one week straight he won’t be a better, more conditioned soccer player by day seven than he was on day one because his “general fitness/capacity” was low to begin with? Really?

soccerconditioning

One more time. . .

Theory: If an athlete’s general fitness or capacity is low their specific fitness or capacity will not improve.

Though still a vague statement perhaps, now we’re getting closer to something actually definable – “general fitness.” Many coaches use the terms “general fitness” and “work capacity” synonymously. Perhaps this is where coaches arrive at the conclusion of “I should do circuit training to develop general fitness.”

More importantly, though, do I even want “general fitness” for my? Or, just specific fitness? It seems we need a definition or list of components of “general fitness” before we can answer that question. You might say that the progression should go from general to specific and my response there would be general WHAT and specific WHAT? What quality are we talking about – strength, power, flexibility, speed, or something else? I feel that to simply just say we should go from general to specific may be shortsighted; we need to clarify what quality we’re covering.

If you do an internet search or academic search to define “general fitness,” you most often times end up at the same thing that is still taught in academic settings today – “General Fitness consists of the 5 Health Related Components of Fitness,” which are:

  • Muscular Strength
  • Muscular Endurance
  • Cardiovascular Endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body Composition

Once here, we can actually begin to clarify the argument.  Am I supposed to develop all these above qualities optimally to attain “general fitness”? Do I even need or want some of these above qualities to be maxed out in say, a sprinter? Nope.

If we’re talking about Muscular Strength then I totally accept the idea of general strength to specific strength.  However, if we’re discussing cardiovascular endurance, then I think most of us would disagree with the general-to-specific thought process. Both Charlie Francis and Mike Boyle have obliterated this general-to-specific idea with regards to energy systems years ago. They speak against doing “general running” (aerobic jogging) and then moving into “specific running” (anaerobic sprinting).

Francis has written about how kids need to do enough power related activity in their teen years to really reach optimal performance in sprinting when they get older. What is he saying by that? He’s saying we should start specific and end even more specific.

boltwins

Mike Boyle took Francis’ thoughts and began doing tempo runs in early off-season with his athletes to develop a sprinting base, which is still inherently specific, and then progress them to higher intensity sprints. Basically, he started specific in as broad a way as he could and then got even more specific with the training. He did not attempt to develop an aerobic base first by running miles and then gradually move to sprinting; rather, he started the off-season with higher volumes of lower intensity “sprints” (tempo runs) and then moved to lower volumes of higher intensity “sprints” (shuttle runs). A different way Coach Boyle also approached this idea during his career of building proper sprinting work capacity (notice it’s specific and not “general”) is represented in this graphic:

paradigm

Though a different order of intensity and volume, all I’m trying to get you to see is the point that it is not developing “general fitness,” but instead specific fitness. So, hopefully now we can all see that the general to specific idea doesn’t hold up too well until we clarify what quality we’re referencing (strength, flexibility, energy systems, or something else).

Theory: Work capacity enhances and coordinates the cardiovascular, metabolic, and nervous systems and it is composed of 2 components:

1) The ability to tolerate a high workload by recovering quickly from the stimulus so that another stimulus can be presented on a consistent basis.

2) Being able to resist fatigue no matter what the source.

These two points taken alone, I struggle to see how people are lead to the conclusion that they need to be implementing circuit training to develop this so called “work capacity.” However, taken all together with the initial mention of the physiological systems, we may have finally arrived at a specific qualitative point – the nervous, cardiovascular, and “metabolic” systems.

Somehow coaches take this to mean that doing circuit training is the best option for coordinating and enhancing these systems. If I take time in my program to do circuit training, will it coordinate and enhance my nervous system optimally with all that fatigue going on during the circuit, especially compared to what I else could be doing instead to prepare my nervous system? I would say “no;” circuit training does not fit the bill optimally.

If I take time out of my conditioning program to do circuit training, will it coordinate and enhance my cardiovascular system better than what I’m already doing? Again I would have to answer “no.”

Will circuit training enhance and coordinate my energy systems (metabolic system) better than my conditioning program? Nope.

The point here is the traditional methods you’re already using in your strength training, power training, and conditioning program are far superior in developing those physiological systems than doing circuit training.

Here’s another definition being thrown around the internet:

“Work capacity refers to the general ability of the whole body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.”

This is probably the best attempt at defining “work capacity.” Yet, the question still arises: do I need or want this “general ability” of my body to “produce work” of varying intensities and times? Instead, how about narrowing it down to what specific energy systems I’m going to need to compete in my sport or event and at what intensity or durations? Doesn’t that make more sense that just saying to somebody, “Hey, I’ve got good work capacity because I can do a million sit-ups, a 1RM squat, a bunch of pull-ups, and then sprint 50 yards – all in under 5 minutes!” Does a competitive sprinter benefit from being able to run a marathon, do a ton of pushups, then do a ton of pull-ups, when he’s competing in a 55 meter dash? Would a golfer optimally benefit from doing random “general fitness” activities at random intensities and durations as opposed to specific fitness activities?

tired-track-runners1

So, I humbly ask: why are we doing circuit training to develop general work capacity? How did we ever arrive at the conclusion that a general work capacity was needed as opposed to a specific work capacity like linear sprinting or multiple changes of direction or vertical jumping or asymmetrical rotation (golfer/pitcher)?

Instead, can I suggest we seek to develop specific work capacities instead of general ones? How about we develop the ability of a basketball player to reproduce jumping and hopping performance throughout the course of a game. Also, how about we build a golfer’s capacity (through corrective exercise) to take all the swings he/she requires without getting hurt instead of running him/her through a modified strongman circuit to build “general fitness” or “work capacity?”

Eric Cressey has good work capacity by powerlifting standards; he can take a lot of singles over 90% of 1RM in a single training session and bounce back reasonably quickly.

Does that mean, though, that Eric can just walk outside and play soccer and be good at it because his “work capacity” is up? I don’t believe so, because work capacity is specific, not general. Instead, develop the specific capacity to play soccer! There’s no need to develop tons of different, and in many cases competing qualities just for the sake of saying we have a general capacity to tolerate a bunch of random events. All in all, it may be best to simply stick with the traditional methods of training and develop the specific capacities needed for a specific event or sport as opposed to taking hours during the training week for circuit training.

Just think of what higher-yield activities you could be doing instead while you taking hours of time out each week to do circuit training…

Sam Leahey CSCS, CPT can be reached at sam.leahey@gmail.com.

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Stuff You Should Read: 4/27/10

Written on April 27, 2010 at 9:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Here are some reading recommendations for the week:

Q&A: Partial Knee Meniscectomy – Here is a great blog from Mike Robertson about training modifications for those who have had a portion of the meniscus removed.  Mike’s a brilliant knee guy (definitely check out Bulletproof Knees if you haven’t already).  Stick around Mike’s site and read a bit; he’s been kicking out some great content lately.

bpkAre You Inflamed? - This is a good one on the nutrition side of things from Mike Roussell.

What Makes Roy Run? – This was an awesome article about Roy Halladay from a few weeks ago in Sports Illustrated.  To be blunt, a ton of professional baseball pitchers are lazy, one-trick ponies who rely on natural talent and don’t work hard to fulfill their potential.  Halladay is an exception to that rule: a guy who has worked incredibly hard to become arguably the best pitcher in the game.  This is a tremendously well-written and entertaining piece about the path he took and how he deserves every bit of success that comes his way.  Phillies fans are lucky to have him.


Lynx Grips: Our Most Versatile Piece of Training Equipment

Written on April 26, 2010 at 4:56 am, by Eric Cressey

Back in 2006, Indiana Pacers Strength and Conditioning Coach Shawn Windle told me about a new piece of training equipment and connected me with the company that made it.  A week or so later, my first pair of Lynx Grips arrived in the mail – and I’ve been using them extensively ever since.  In fact, I found Lynx Grips to be so versatile that when the opportunity to buy a small portion of the company arose, I wrote a check immediately.

Originally, the grips were positioned as a better alternative than lifting gloves, especially for females who didn’t want to develop “man hands” from lifting heavy stuff.  They certainly prevent the issue completely.  My fiancee loves them – and actually refers to them as her “tacos.”

lynx-grips

The more I used them, though, the more I realized that we could integrate them in our strength and conditioning programs with a multitude of other benefits.

I recommended Lynx Grips to my online consulting clients who trained in places (i.e., commercial gyms) that didn’t allow chalk – and the grips made it easier to pull heavy without losing one’s grip during sweaty training sessions.  Problem solved.

Conversely, we also started using the Lynx Grips to make grip strength exercises harder – by doubling or even tripling them up to thicken a handle.  Another problem solved.

Then, we turned around and used the grips to make things easier on the hands again – but wrapping them around the connector chains we use for reverse sled drags.  This made it easier for us to haze interns (you’ll notice him pick up the Lynx Grips at the 2:05 mark of this video). Problem solved…again.

Lastly, we have certain bars – the giant cambered bars, safety squat bars, and farmer’s walk bars – that are slightly thinner than other bars, so our muscle clamps don’t keep the plates from sliding during one’s set.  Slide a Lynx Grip in the small space between the clamp and the bar, and you’re good to go.  Yet another problem solved.  Look closely, and you’ll see four of them being put to good use in this medley:

I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Dozens and dozens of collegiate and professional sports teams are using Lynx Grips on a daily basis in our strength training programs.

What’s the take-home message?  Lynx Grips are the real deal: versatile, convenient, durable, and affordable.  Check them out HERE.

lynx

(I’d recommend you pick up two pairs – which is four total grips – so that you can double or triple them up for grip work.)

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Great Results for a One-Time Consultation Client

Written on April 23, 2010 at 8:31 am, by Eric Cressey

Back in 2008, Ray Bennett made the trip from the West Coast all the way out to see me here in Massachusetts to figure out how to train around some chronic knee issues and get his body right so that he could compete as a bodybuilder at the young age of 41.  After his initial consult and training sessions at Cressey Performance, Ray “endured” four months of online consulting programs with me before we threw him back out into the wild on his own.

Recently, the bodybuilding dream came to fruition for Ray, and when I saw the pictures, I was so impressed that I asked if he’d be willing to be somewhat of a “posterboy” for our one-time consultation program at Cressey Performance (and my online consulting set-up) with a testimonial and some pictures.  As the pictures below show, those knees are doing just fine! Check it out:

“After meeting Eric in person for an evaluation at Cressey Performance in Boston I travelled back home to Portland, Oregon where I embarked on a new method of training.  I was so impressed with the knowledge and work ethic Eric and his performance facility displayed that I entered into a remote, on line coaching agreement.  For four months Eric programmed all my training, instructed me on proper exercise mechanics and answered all of my detailed questions without fail.  As an aging amateur bodybuilder I found I had hit a plateau in my training and was racking up more injuries than personal bests.  Eric understood that my failure to advance was due to a lack of focus on the core compound lifts and functional movement patterns.  With Eric’s help I began making progress again and all of my old aches and pains resolved.  He gave me the tools I needed to rediscover the reasons I go to the gym which are to excel and be my best.  Along these lines he helped inspire me to set a goal of actually competing in my very first contest.  I am in the best shape of my life, able to run and jump with my son pain free and am continually breaking personal lifting records that have stood for 25 years.  I am excited about my newfound viability in the gym and I have Eric to thank for laying the foundation.”

Ray Bennett
41 year old Natural Bodybuilder (2010 Vancouver Natural Bodybuilding Championship Competitor – 40 and over class)

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A big congratulations goes out to Ray Bennett for not only an awesome transformation, but also for being living proof that no matter how annoying an injury is, you can always find a way to train around it and get better.

For more information on my one-time consultation service, click HERE.  Or, for online consulting, check out my Services Page.


A New Paradigm for Performance Testing – Part 2

Written on April 22, 2010 at 7:00 am, by Eric Cressey

Yesterday, I featured Part 1 of this interview with Rick Cohen, MD, the president and founder of Bioletics.  Today, we pick up where we left off.

EC: Please tell us about the tests you use to determine mineral levels.  For what specific minerals are you testing, and what are some of the common findings you’re seeing that can make a big difference in how someone feels and performs?

RC: Our daily diet must contain adequate amount of macro minerals, which are necessary for all biochemical processes in the human body.  These minerals include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and sodium.  Among these, the most important are calcium and magnesium. Calcium helps to neutralize acidity, clear toxins and build bones; it also increases alkalinity and muscular flexibility. And while calcium receives a lot of media attention, the true king of all minerals is magnesium.

Magnesium is not only the single most important mineral in sports nutrition, but it is also one of the most critical elements in our body.  About 350 enzymatic functions depend on magnesium, including ATP, the key factor that creates energy for every cell.  Optimal magnesium levels enhance athletic endurance and strength by increasing metabolic efficiency.  Magnesium promotes muscular contractility, decreases oxygen consumption, and improves cardiovascular efficiency.

Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is very common.  Inadequate dietary intake, sweat loss, physical and psychological stress and acidic beverages-such as energy drinks and sodas-cause the body to extract both magnesium and calcium from the bones and tissues in an effort to maintain proper blood pH.  This combination of mineral loss and acidity in the body will decrease athletic performance and prolong recovery.  It will also increase bone turnover and the resulting risk of stress fractures.  This is exactly what we were seeing in younger female athletes with accelerated bone loss.

magnesium

Despite magnesium’s pivotal role in energy production and muscular health, many athletes are completely unaware of its critical importance.  Part of the problem is that there is not an easy or inexpensive test available for intracellular magnesium levels. While it may seem easy enough to assess levels of minerals – especially of magnesium and calcium in the blood – it’s not.

We have overcome this problem by using a functional marker of mineral balance called NTx.  Bones are living tissues that are constantly breaking down and rebuilding.  When they break down faster than they can rebuild, the body excretes increased amounts of NTx.  While NTx is not specific indicator of low magnesium, it tells us when an athlete has an intracellular calcium/magnesium imbalance as well as poor amino acid and/or vitamin D status.

EC: What’s your take on the most effective way to combat a magnesium deficiency that’s discovered?

RC: That’s where the other issue with magnesium comes into play: oral supplements work slowly; it can take more than a year to adequately restore your levels.  In the past, intravenous infusions were considered the most effective way to go.  But this was expensive and impractical for most athletes.  Based on our research at Bioletics, we have found that the use of a topical magnesium oil spray to be very effective at restoring low magnesium levels after only two to three months of use.

EC: What about the hormonal panel you guys run?  What does it include?

RC: As athletes, we want our body to have a positive anabolic to catabolic ratio.  In simple terms, anabolism is the process of growth and repair.  Your anabolic state is at its highest in your teens. Testosterone is the key anabolic hormone.  Catabolism is the process of breakdown and destruction. Your catabolic state is as its highest after injury and illness, and increases as we age.  Cortisol is the key catabolic hormone.  By measuring your saliva, it is possible to create a snapshot of both an athlete’s testosterone and cortisol balance as well as their anabolic/catabolic status.  Unfortunately, we frequently find low T/C ratios in athletes.

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Testosterone is an important health and performance hormone-for both men and women.  It plays a key role in directing muscle growth and repair; it is what enables the body to generate optimal power and recover fully after such a hard effort.  Testosterone contributes to an athlete’s ability to stay focused, motivated and positive.  A premature decline in testosterone levels can be attributed to a number of different factors: poor diet, lack of sleep, excess body fat, nutritional deficiencies, environmental estrogens, and/or the use of medications, alcohol, and drugs.

Cortisol is a major steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands.  It allows the body to cope during times of stress. Without proper cortisol response, you will not be able to effectively meet the daily challenges of life.  Cortisol levels exhibit a natural rise in the morning and fall at night.  If this rhythm is disrupted, the body’s mineral balance, immune response, blood sugar and stress responses will all be negatively affected.

circadian

While it is very difficult to reverse the natural age-related decline in testosterone, the effects of stress and training on testosterone can be minimized. Since even “positive” stress can deplete testosterone, those who participate in endurance-related sports are especially at risk for having lower than optimal levels.

Research shows that testosterone levels are temporarily decreased as a result of overtraining, while serum cortisol levels increase.  These changes in testosterone to cortisol balance are sometimes disastrous for an athlete, as they lead to elevated resting heart rate, poor performance, slow recovery, sore muscles, poor appetite, lethargy, muscle loss, irritability and a low sex drive.

Periodic assessments of both testosterone and cortisol are important when it comes to uncovering a potential hormonal deficiency or to simply fine tuning your training program.

EC: I’m curious about the essential amino acid test.  In particular, I’m wondering if you’re seeing issues in this regard not only in people who don’t consume enough protein, but also in folks who DO eat a lot of protein and for whatever reason don’t utilize it properly.

RC:  Of all the Bioletics assessments, the widespread deficiency in essential amino acids was the one that surprised me the most.  Almost every athlete knows that they need to eat protein and most athletes supplement their diets with additional protein powders. Yet, 90% of the athletes whose plasma amino acids we’ve tested were essential amino acid deficient.

raw-meat-1

Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein.  They allow the body to build and maintain muscle, neurotransmitters, hormones and key digestive and metabolic enzymes.  Research shows that the lack of just one essential amino acid can significantly interfere with these processes.

What I’ve come to realize is that athletes don’t have a protein need; they have an essential amino acid need.  And it’s not how much protein we eat that is critical; it’s the biological value of the protein we eat that counts.

It’s a common belief that one protein is just as effective as another when it comes to rebuilding tissue.  But dietary proteins all contain a different mix of the eight essential amino acids we need.  Therefore their biological value-their ability to be utilized anabolically by the body-differs.

Research indicates that approximately 40% of the protein in high biological foods such as whole eggs, meat, fish, poultry is used by the body for anabolic purposes.  Only about 20% of that found in low biological food such as whey, soy, egg whites, beans and nuts is used for growth and repair.  So, vegetarians and those who consume much of their daily protein as a bar or powder should know that these proteins are not well utilized by the body.

beansandrice

And the problem gets even more complicated.  Even if you are careful to consume only high quality proteins, you still may not be utilizing them effectively.  Stress, age, the use of medications, and/or certain cooking methods can reduce your body’s ability to fully digest the protein you’re eating.

Athletes need to be aware that competition, training, and injury all damage structural proteins.  As a result, the athlete’s body naturally requires greater amounts of essential amino acids for repair, recovery, and growth.  An amino acid deficiency will prompt the body to break down body tissue-primarily muscle-in an attempt to access the missing essential amino acid(s) it needs.

Because of all these issues, we strongly recommend that all athletes use an essential amino acid supplement formula.  These formulas do not require digestion and are almost 100% utilized for anabolic purposes.  While many of us have come to rely or believe protein powders will cover our protein needs-and I was one of them-we now understand that protein supplements are just not as effective as we once thought.

EC: Lastly, you’ve just added an essential fatty acid (EFA) panel.  What are you looking for on this?

RC: Yes, I’m very excited about this new assessment, as the benefits of optimal essential fatty acid status are numerous and it brings us closer to our goal of being able to conveniently and inexpensively assess EVERY key, biological process in the athletic body.

Essential fatty acids perform many physical functions. No cell, tissue, gland, or organ can function normally without them.  Optimal EFA levels are critical to reducing overall inflammation in the body.  They help you work harder and recover faster; they protect your joints, improve your mood and promote deeper sleep.

Our EFA status becomes stronger when we eat foods that are similar to those eaten by our primitive ancestors – lean meats, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and fats with a high omega-3 to omega-6 EFA ratio.

salmon

Over the past 50 years, we’ve developed an unfounded fear of healthful fats.  And we’ve started over-consuming processed fats.  Most Americans consume very little natural omega-3 fats, which can be found in fish, grass-fed meats, seeds and nuts.  Instead, we eat  processed omega-6 fats: corn, soy, canola, and safflower oil.  As a result, we’ve created a very unhealthy omega-3 to omega-6 fat ratio in our bodies.  Recent research has shown that this low omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (Omega-3 index) is not only the most powerful marker of inflammation, but the strongest predictor of sudden, cardiac death.

Last year, when Bend suffered the loss of a 39 year-old world class athlete and the cause of his death was attributed to unknown cardiac cause, I became very motivated to find an affordable, at-home EFA assessment for athletes.  I am excited to say that we now offer athletes the opportunity to assess inflammatory status and their critical Omega 3 index with just a single drop of blood.

EC: Very cool.   Nothing like some cutting-edge stuff to wrap this great interview up!  Thanks for taking the time today, Dr. Cohen.

For more information on Dr. Rick Cohen and Bioletics, head over to their website.  And, don’t forget that they’ve arranged a sweet discount for all EricCressey.com readers.  Enter the coupon code ECCPP25 at checkout, and you’ll receive $25 off the cost of your initial basic or complete panel.


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A New Paradigm for Performance Testing – Part 1

Written on April 21, 2010 at 5:20 am, by Eric Cressey

Last September, I was put in touch with Dr. Rick Cohen, and we hit it off right away.  In addition to being a knowledgeable and super-qualified physician, Rick is also a baseball fan and performance geek just like me (I knew he was legit when I met him for the first time and he was rocking some Vibram Five Fingers shoes!).  Rick’s enthusiasm and forward-thinking mindset is absolutely contagious and has gotten his company, Bioletics, off to a great start.

Just to get a feel for what he does (and while remaining unbiased), I had my fiancee go through a series of performance testing they do (outlined below) and the entire process was fantastic.  One of the glaring issues discovered was low vitamin D, which has since been addressed.  Just two months prior to our work with Rick, I’d encouraged her to ask her primary care physician to check her vitamin D levels at a routine physical.  The physician’s response was “No.  You’re not post-menopausal.” The take-home message from this quick story is that not all physicians have all the information (or even a small fraction of the information, as Vitamin D plays countless roles in the body other than bone metabolism).

Since forward-thinking physicians are few and far between, it’s sometimes a challenge to find someone good in your area – and that’s where a guy like Rick and his company can come in to help out. I highly recommend Bioletics – to the point that I wanted to get Rick on-board for an interview to share some of his great information.  So, without further ado, Dr. Rick Cohen.

EC: Thanks for taking the time for an interview, Dr. Cohen.  Please fill us in a bit about your background, what you’re doing at Bioletics, and where the idea for the business really emerged.

RC: My pleasure.

It actually all started in your neck of the woods in Massachusetts. I had a medical practice with a focus on nutrition, athletic performance and aging there for over ten years. At the time, I was very dissatisfied with the assessment options available in the medical field. So, I developed a few of my own that could be done at-home with either a saliva or urine sample or a finger stick blood spot.

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After moving to Bend, Oregon last year, I became involved in screening some of the girls on my daughter’s track team for iron deficiency and bone health. We also looked at vitamin D, which is a critical nutrient for both bone health and overall athletic performance.

When the results came in, it turned out that 95% of the runners low in iron. Additionally, 80% of the team was vitamin D deficient and more than 50% were mineral imbalanced.  After adding amino acid and recovery hormone panels to the screen, I repeated it with several local elite athletes.  Again, the results were shocking: not a single athlete was healthy from a biological standpoint.

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At this point, it was pretty obvious that there was a need to turn the entire concept of human performance testing inside-out.  For years we’ve been obsessed with peripheral performance measurements-heart rates, VO2 levels and power output.  But the idea of looking inside an athlete’s body has been completely overlooked.

Giving athletes the ability to assess their unique, physiological needs represents a paradigm shift in athletic performance.  Despite all the marketing hype in the sports supplement industry, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula for improving your athletic performance.

As athletes, our basic, biological needs are all very different.  We would never think of buying a bike, a baseball bat, or a pair of running shoes without trying them on or out for size.  Why do we use nutritional supplements-protein powders, recovery drinks and vitamins-without knowing if they are a good fit for us?

EC: Now, let’s talk about some of the specific things you guys can test.  I’ve been a big vitamin D guy for years now, and I know that’s one of your core tests.  What are you seeing thus far?

RC:  Optimizing your level of vitamin D3 is the single most important thing you can do for your health and well-being-and quite possibly your performance.  Interestingly enough, vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin at all.  It’s a hormone manufactured by your skin during critical periods of sun exposure.

Vitamin D is both a key building block and a cellular activator of almost every physical process.  It regulates more than 2,000 of the 30,000 human genes.  It’s an essential part of the endocrine system, as it controls several of the adrenal hormones, growth of cells, and production of enzymes.  It’s a powerful immune booster that provides a front-line defense against colds and flu as well as cancer and autoimmune disease.

Vitamin D is essential for optimum athletic performance, as it contributes to muscular strength and recovery while controlling physical reaction time, balance and coordination.

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So far, almost every athlete we have tested has had sub-optimal levels of vitamin D (less than 50 ng/ml) except for one professional triathlete who trains in the sun in Australia all year.  Many athletes have been extremely low-under 25ng/ml.

Unless you can train outside year-round and/or make a conscious effort to get mid-day sun exposure; it is almost impossible to restore vitamin D to an optimal level-between  60 and 80 ng/ml-without supplementation.  When supplementing, the best results have come from the use of a sublingual vitamin D3 spray.  Gel caps, tablets and liquids are less effective.

The most important thing to remember is that your vitamin D level needs to be assessed and monitored. You can’t just take a random dose of vitamin D3 and expect to get results. Bioletics offers an at-home finger stick assessment that is virtually pain-free; it takes only two minutes and two drops of blood to complete.

EC: Now, how about iron?  It’s traditionally been a huge issue for female endurance athletes, but are you seeing it as much in females who aren’t on that level of training volume?

RC: Yes.  We learned this is a huge issue, especially among teenage girls.  In general, low iron is a problem among menstruating women because they lose blood every month.  With teenage girls, the issue is compounded by the fact that their diets tend to be lower in calories, red meat and protein-all of which are critical for obtaining adequate iron.

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Iron is critical for athletic performance, as it carries oxygen in the red blood cells from the lungs to the muscles.  Severe iron loss results in a reduction of red blood cells (a condition known as anemia).  What most athletes are not aware of is that you do not have to be anemic to be suffering from low iron.  The most common signs of iron deficiency are fatigue, irritability, poor performance and slow recovery.

Another important point to stress is that while the assessment of red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and serum iron are needed to diagnose anemia, these are not sensitive indicators when it comes to assessing deficiencies in iron stores-the supply of iron that’s actually available for the body to use.  The iron-binding protein, ferritin, is a much more reliable marker of functional iron stores.  We like to see levels of ferritin in females between 40 and 70 ng/ml.

EC: How about men?  Is too much iron a common finding?

RC: Good question.

In men, we are much more concerned with excessive iron than with low iron. This is because men do not bleed regularly and also tend to eat more red meat and calories than women.

The problem with too much iron is that it can create free radical damage in the body.  Just as iron in metal rusts, it has a similar action in your body.  Fortunately, your body has natural antioxidants to protect against the free radicals created by iron.  But when levels get too high, it can become a problem.  As we get older, excessive iron levels can play a role in the development of heart disease, cancer and immune disorders.

Excessive iron is linked to a genetic variation in iron absorption rates.  Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder where the body absorbs iron too readily and iron stores can get tens or even hundreds of times higher than normal and cause severe organ damage. While the full blown disorder is relatively rare, many people have lesser variants which cause gradual accumulation of iron over time.  The second cause is dietary-we take in too much iron by eating iron-fortified foods like breakfast cereals and breads.

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Just as with vitamin D, it is necessary to know your iron levels before you begin to take any kind of iron supplement.  The restorative dose of iron is generally 36mg daily while the maintenance dose for those with a history of low iron is 18mg daily. Taking a restorative dose without knowing a benchmark can push iron levels too high.  Playing it safe and taking a maintenance dose may not be enough.

Ideal levels of ferritin in men are between 70 and 100 ng/ml.  If your levels are higher than that, it is important NOT to take any iron supplements or eat iron-fortified foods.

We have seen iron levels in the upper 100s and low 200s in younger male athletes.  For these men, we recommended they monitor the levels every few years and to consider donating blood twice a year.  This will not only keep their iron levels from climbing, but will greatly help those in need.

Part 2 of this interview with Rick will run tomorrow, but in the meantime, I’ve asked with Rick to arrange for a special discount for EricCressey.com readers only.  If you head over to www.Bioletics.com and enter the coupon code ECCPP25 at checkout, you’ll receive $25 off the cost of your initial basic or complete panel.


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Stuff You Should Read: 4/20/10

Written on April 20, 2010 at 12:00 am, by Eric Cressey

A few tips on items to check out this week:

5 Sneaky Tricks to Triple Fat Loss Results – This is a 27-page report from Joel Marion that he’s made available for free for the next three days.  It’s got some good stuff in there, and it’s also pretty darn entertaining!

ACL Graft Options: Allograft or Autograft - Here’s a great blog post from Mike Reinold highlighting the research on different graft options for ACL reconstructions as well as their clinical significance.  I liked it so much that I actually posted a comment on it outlining my perspective as a strength and conditioning coach.

I’ve got a great interview lined up for this week, and Part 1 will run tomorrow.  Be sure to check back for it!


Bum Wheels and Runner’s Diarrhea: A Special Sunday Blog

Written on April 18, 2010 at 7:03 am, by Eric Cressey

Tomorrow is marathon day here in Boston.  On one hand, it’s a great day in our city, as loads of money is raised for charity and quite a few high level, well-prepared athletes come to town to compete for a Boston Marathon crow.

Boston Marathon

Unfortunately, it’s also a day when hip replacements become reality and 140-pound dudes in shorty-short shorts instantly become Johnny Brassballs so that they can fight through pain (and runner’s diarrhea) to complete a 26.2 biomechanical nightmare that is the exercise equivalent of taking a 1983 Chevy Cavilier out for the Daytona 500.  The Boston Globe ran a feature today that noted, “Each year for the past three years, about 1,000 qualifiers received medical deferments, allowing them to postpone their eligibility to run until the next year. As of last week, about 600 of the nearly 27,000 people registered to run tomorrow had sought deferments, and the organizers expected that number could double.”

Out of the Running

The thing that I think frustrates me the most about this scenario is that all the modalities listed as “treatments” are really just band-aids on a ruptured aorta.  They talk about oral NSAIDs, cortisone shots, ice, massage, knee straps, surgery, physical therapy – all REACTIVE modalities.  People wait for issues to reach threshold and only then do they start to perceive them as problematic.  And, there will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be any modality that will overcome a dysfunctional runner with a completely warped perception of reality a few weeks out from an event so physically demanding that it actually killed the first guy ever to do it.

So, with this year’s marathon upon us, I’m going to make a plea to the (few?) marathoners out there who actually read this: start preparing on Tuesday for next year’s event if you plan to run it.  Be a regular athlete before you try to become an elite athlete.  Don’t run to get fit; get fit to run.

Four-month training programs are a load of B.S.; nobody became elite at anything in four months.  Instead, put in a legitimate year of strength training, flexibility training, (energy systems) cross-training, sprint work, threshold work, and solid nutrition BEFORE you start running any longer.  You’ll feel like a million bucks and blow this year’s time out of the water.

Confucius said that “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  So, here’s Step 1.  Get a foam roller and start doing this series every day:


Random Friday Thoughts: 4/16/10

Written on April 16, 2010 at 7:40 am, by Eric Cressey

1. Yesterday was tax day.  And, since you’re all probably feeling like Uncle Sam took a dump in your favorite shoes on the taxes front, this uplifting video couldn’t be more appropriate to kick things off.

2. Yesterday also marked the end of the introductory offer on our new Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set.  Some of our more noteworthy customers of these DVDs sold to the likes of President Obama, Amelia Earhart, Spongebob Squarepants, and King Tut.  Okay, they really didn’t buy any – but they might have if you blog readers had told all your friends about this fantastic resource to spread the word.  The take-home point is that you should feel poor and guilty the day after April 15.  Thanks for nothing.  Let’s move on.

3.  Just when I thought nobody could beat me down more than Uncle Sam yesterday, I realized that Tony had written this month’s staff training program, and I went through one of the most brutal training sessions in Cressey Performance history.  Here’s a little taste:

A1) Bench Press Clusters: 4 x (4×2) – 10s
A2) (160-lb/hand) Farmer’s Walk: 4x90yds (on last set, it was walk as far as you could go…I went 135 yards)

Frankly, this first pairing was enough to get a 25% attrition rate from our training crew (man down!) – but there was actually more:

B1) Wide Pronated Grip Seated Cable Rows: 3×10
B2) 1-arm, 1-leg DB RDL: 3×8/side
C1) Standing DB Military Press: 3×8
C2) Slideboard Bodysaw: 3×10

And, last but not least:

D) Side-Lying External Rotations: 2×8/side

I’m not sure why, but it really made me angry to do these external rotations at the end of all this brutality.  It was almost like Tony was rubbing it in our faces that we weren’t quite done, even though the hard stuff was over.  So, just as a statement, I did 2×10/side instead and then suplexed Tony off the loading dock…just because (okay, not really; Uncle Sam suplexed him off the loading dock).

4. While I don’t really “commute” anymore because our new house is so close to the facility, I do have a pretty good audio book rolling in the car right now: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

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It was written by Chip and Dan Heath (who also wrote Made to Stick, a book I absolutely loved and highly recommended in the past).  The Heath brothers go into detail on the important factors that determine whether or not attempts at change will be successful, highlighting some profound examples from everything from the business world to nutritional practices with newborns in Southeast Asia.  What I like the most is that they relate everything back to principles that are directly applicable to everything in my “world:” training and nutrition practices, managing employees, and running a business.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Check it out HERE.

5. This point is going to make today’s blog interactive, as I need some feedback.  My one responsibility on the wedding planning front is to decide where we go on our honeymoon (tough job, I know).  I know I’ve got readers all over the world who have been to some cool places, so let’s hear some recommendations in the comments section below.  We’re an active couple and want to honeymoon where we can hike, exercise, etc. instead of just sitting around drinking tequila.  As of right now, I’m leaning toward the Riviera Maya, but am open to suggestions – except Iceland.  This guy convinced me otherwise:

I think that was Alwyn Cosgrove.

Have a great weekend.


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