Visiting my alma mater for workshops and lectures is something I look forward to. I enjoy seeing the growth of the institution, the new faces, etc. This was even more so the case this past week when I presented on the concepts of mobility and stability to the Bloomsburg University Strength & Fitness Club. As a former president of the club, it was rewarding to see that the club has continued to find success and a segment of the student body interested in such high-level concepts in kinesiology and human performance.
The workshop began with a very typical introduction to the joint-by-joint approach. Since most anyone who’s listened to me talk at-length have heard about this, I’ll save this concept for its own post some other time. Because this wasn’t classroom based, we quickly moved into a handful of actionable drills and techniques that these students could swiftly employ into their own workout programming.
As long as an hour can seem, it flies by when you’re trying to demonstrate, correct, and generally facilitate these cutting-edge and nuanced exercises in a group setting; but, there were definitely some stand-out moments and takeaways worth talking about further here.
College-Students are Predisposed to Flexion-Based Abnormalities
Long hours locked into flexion in the classroom, library, or lab are requisite for scholarly success; recreating in these positions is not. Rather than spend time outside of the classroom sitting even more in front of the TV, strength training or club sports can offer an opportunity to enhance spinal mechanics as well as overall cognition and more.
To take this a step further, students can spend their time more efficiently during a warm-up for a workout by focusing on the specific areas of the spine and musculature that are most prone to poor mechanics and resting tone. A keen observer to the workshop may notice we didn’t spend much time going over drills that accentuate flexion; this is largely by design.
One all-too-common observation is the over emphasis of the pecs and lats in most strength training programs. With a population prone to long bouts of sitting (flexion), the internal rotation caused by lat and pec dominance can exacerbate some associated musculoskeletal injuries. Reducing volume on the lats and pecs, while increasing the volume of work done by the traps can enhance performance and simultaneously mitigate spinal issues.
Though the real point we covered in-depth regarding all of this was about thoracic spine mobilization. The more the thoracic spine can move unrestricted through the sagittal and transverse planes, the more likely the surrounding musculature can more efficiently function.
Ensuring Soft-Tissue Quality Requires Time Not Equipment
The restrictions on soft-tissue work are usually self-imposed. Going into this event, I was under the impression that our venue would be an empty basketball court, but because of how accessible these drills and exercises are, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.
Most of the mobility drills and stretches that we demonstrated required little to no equipment and can be manipulated with bodyweight alone to yield an effective response and positive adaptation. For the ankle, drills like the ankle-wall drill, myofascial release with a lacrosse ball, or dorsiflexed ankle drill require next to nothing to complete. Further up the kinetic chain, we can use the couch stretch, bretzel, or saddle stretch for the quads. The hips can be mobilized with the cossack squat, half-kneeling drill, or the posterior hip stretch. And on up the chain…
Though that is nowhere near a definitive list, the larger point is that equipment should not be a constraint; the primary reason that people have insufficient movement quality is due to a lack of time invested on a regular basis to ensure continued improvements to flexibility and posture.
Where was the Foam Rolling?
I have nothing against foam rolling—in fact, I advocate for foam rolling and actively add some variations to the majority of our corrective exercise protocols. When foam rolling is added, it is usually in short bursts. 15-20 seconds per side on areas that aren’t an issue or an approaching problem. This time expands only slightly for areas that are problems, from 30 up to 60 seconds on problem areas. I can’t give a detailed account of what areas may be problems due to the individualized nature of these protocols, but the calves, pecs, and traps tend to be a focal point.
When we do advocate for foam rolling, we do so in these short bouts because we’ve found greater adherence when the demands are so limited.
Foam rolling didn’t make the cut for the mobility workshop because there are greater uses of time, particularly when we’re trying to get a new population to engage in movement and tissue quality initiatives. Foam rolling may provide some relief and facilitate some long-term improvements in these areas but mobility drills are a more proactive approach than SMR/ foam rolling as foam rolling mainly addresses issues once they’ve already become an issue.
Nutrition Workshop Coming Soon
I’ll be presenting at Bloomsburg University once again in just under two weeks. The topic will be cutting-edge and nontraditional dietary modalities for high performance. The event is open to all BU students and is hosted by the BU Strength & Fitness Club. For more information and event details, contact the BU Strength & Fitness Club directly at BUStrengthAndFitness@gmail.com.
Its easy to imagine how a lecture scheduled for 30 minutes, on a topic as encompassing as optimizing performance, could end up being an hour and 6-minute open-ended discussion. This is precisely what happened this past week at Bloomsburg University during our guest presentation on how Ruthless Performance trains individuals to achieve high performance.
The content of this lecture ranged from specific exercises to an exploration of the Central Nervous System; similarly, questions ranged from the efficacy of BCAA’s to proper running gait—all of which led to an extremely informative and productive talk, filled with content and subsequent questions.
Below is a summary of some of the most important takeaways from this lecture. Remember, human performance is a broad topic, but the information below meets some objective criteria for significance within the theories and practices we endorse at Ruthless Performance.
First, a Definition of Terms
Because there is not one set definition of ‘high performance’ across sports and fitness endeavors, let’s assume the definition is as follows: high performance is the ability to perform within the top 10% of your own ability within any fitness doctrine.
For a 5K runner, this means being able to run a 5K within a margin of 10% of your best time at your current state of training. Similarly, for a weightlifter, this means being able to Clean & Jerk or Snatch within 10% of your current capacity for a 1RM. This is not to dismiss linear periodization (though Ruthless Performance typically does shy away from this style) nor is this a sleight on tapering for a significant bout or competition.
During a high-mileage segment of a marathon runner’s training regimen, she may be outside of this 10% margin from a previous race or time. The 10% margin of performance as defined here is referring to a precise training state. In the case of the marathon runner, her ability to complete a half-marathon trial within 10% of her previous season’s high-mileage training cycle is what we are referring to. The closer the training variables are, the more applicable this rule becomes.
The Motivational Training Montage is Just the Icing on the Cake
The significance of training to perform is predicated on fundamental health and wellness practices. A 6-hour a day training program would get world-class athletes no where were it not for a broad base of fundamental behaviors.
These behaviors are known universally at some intuitive level, but not always acted upon. What could be viewed as boring and frivolous can make the difference between 6 more weeks of training and 6 weeks of sitting out with the flu while your competition trains because you didn’t get a flu vaccination from your primary care provider.
A similar situation could be ignoring the necessity for injury care work and corrective exercise during the early onset stages of shoulder pain or movement dysfunction as presented in a movement screen. The examples here are limitless, suffice it to say that all of the traditional variables of wellness like sleep quality, nutrition, lifestyle stress, and on, are all predecessors to your ability to train and compete within our newly defined parameters of ‘high performance’.
More to Come…
This just grazes the surface of the lecture but provides valuable insights into some fundamentals of high performance. First, high performance must be defined; when a term is open-ended, its implications are only speculative and unattainable. Second, high performance is the sum of the boring but necessary components of life that makes an athlete healthy enough to train and compete within their specific doctrine.
As we continue to review the Ruthless Performance Methods & Practices for Peak Athletic Function lecture, we’ll cover nutrition for high performance, ‘anti-specificity training’, universally essential exercises, and the role of the central nervous system in high performance.
Have a question on this topic or want to train with Ruthless Performance? Contact us via email at info@RuthlessPerformance.com, RuthlessPerformance.com/contact, and be sure to follow us on social media at @RuthlessPerform on Twitter and Instagram.
**Editor’s Note: Welcome to the new website for Ruthless Athletics. Be sure to subscribe to the blog and continue to check back for updates and new information as the site continues to develop.**
Late last month, I was invited to provide an in-service presentation for CrossFit Fluid and Fearless Barbell in Deer Lake, PA. The presentation was based around “Movement Correction for Health & Long-Term Athletic Development”–a topic that I’m rather passionate about, which led to a much longer than anticipated presentation and group discussion.
This is a widely-encompassing topic and lecture, which went off in various directions. But below are some of the talking points that had the best feedback and sparked the most interest.
For access to the full presentation, consider enrolling in the Ruthless Athletics Mentorship
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Tonic Muscles vs. Phasic Muscles
The idea of tonic and phasic muscles is not one that many deal with on a day-to-day basis. But because I was presenting for a CrossFit staff, the was much more applicable than usual.
In this breakdown, rather than considering muscles as fast twitch, slow twitch, type I or type II, muscles are grouped as tonic or phasic. Tonic muscles are those which have an evolutionary basis in maintaining support, or muscle tone, whereas phasic muscles have a basis in locomotion or movement.
Again, this idea has some significance in CrossFit because of the nature of the exercises and activities therein. For example, throughout a set of high-rep snatches, the phasic muscles (which should be primary movers in this exercise) quickly become fatigued. The tonic muscles are then relied on for completion of the exercise bout. Over time, this creates reliance on the tonic muscles (which are prone to tightness), while the phasic muscles (which are prone to weakness) become less and less active.
To ensure patterns of misuse don’t become long-term, activation of the phasic muscles and the release of the tonic muscles are both necessary. Consider the hip extensors; a phasic hip extensor would be the gluteal muscles, while the hamstrings and spinal erectors are tonic. In this case, we would need to implement myofascial release on these tonic muscles, while activating the gluteal musculature with various exercises and drills.
Mobility is Flexibility
The fitness world has gone to an extreme with some of its terminology. One such instance is the idea of mobility. Coaches will frequently say that they enjoy implementing mobility drills, but do not concern themselves with stretches because of the noted decrements to performance. While these coaches may have the right idea, this separation of terminology is not entirely accurate.
Flexibility is an umbrella category that mobility falls under. Rather than suggesting that static stretching (which creates passive flexibility) leads to these noted decrements to performance, these coaches vilify the broader and more general terms of stretching and mobility.
Stability is Multifaceted
Beyond some intricacies with terminology, the idea of mobility is much more simplistic than the idea of stability. This is, in part, due to the various types of stability within the body, as well as role that the central nervous system plays in creating stability .
Since the joints within the body largely alternate between providing mobility and stability, the mechanisms for stability at each junction alternate as well. While stable joints will inherently provide stability, mobile joints must be stabilized by the surrounding musculature.
If this musculature is weakened, the chance of pain, injury, or asymmetry is very likely. The fix for this requires the aforementioned muscular activation.
Lifestyle Modification for Optimal Health
When trying to improve a client’s health or fitness, frequently coaches look at existing workout protocols, and how they can optimize a program to better suit the client, but this is only a small piece of the fitness puzzle.
Exercise likely doesn’t take up any more than 2 hours a day. With off days in addition to the likelihood of exercise bouts being much shorter than two hours, we are left with a great deal more time out of the gym than in it.
To best improve a client’s health and fitness, we need to consider an approach than is going to be fully-encompassing, rather than limited to 1-2 hours per day. This idea means creating better daily habits, postures, diets, and so on.
The idea of changing these patterns falls within the psychological realm and within the idea of behavior modification. To best change someone’s diet, resting postures, etc., it is best to have an extended plan, implementing 1-2 changes at a time for several weeks, before compounding these newly formed habits with additional changes.
The fields of health and fitness are truly multi-disciplined. To best understand this topic, fitness professionals must continuously develop and maintain an extensive intellectual background on topics that may seem outside of practice, utility, and convention.