Tag Archives: training

You are not your scan

In my previous post, I alluded to a forum called SomaSimple where pain science is discussed and ideas on treatment models and modalities are challenged. Two folks who are not regularly contributing on the forums, but who are sharing good work on social media are Adam Meakins and Gregory Lehman.

The questions they ask and content they provide have helped shaped my thoughts on both personal training and massage therapy. We are not like a car that needs regular tune-ups and aligning, just like we are not like a computer with software or hardware hang-ups. Greg’s view of the human body is the one that I connect with very strongly: we are a robust ecosystem. I don’t like to think of the human body as fragile, and the ecosystem comparison alludes to the fact that the experience of our interaction with our environment is multifactorial. One thing that can show how multifactorial our experiences are have been shared by Adam and Greg and I’ve found them quite compelling.

When it comes to scans, such as MRIs, they can provide us with a sense of the environment of certain regions of our ecosystem. The regions I wanted to share in this post are the cervical spine, lumbar spine, and knee. Most of this information I found via Adam’s Twitter feed, which is linked above and in the caption of the graphs.

In the cervical spine, a study titled, “Abnormal findings on magnetic resonance images of the cervical spines in 1211 asymptomatic subjects” demonstrated that people without any symptoms (asymptomatic) of cervical spine problems, over 87% were likely to find a disc bulge.

Because of this study, Adam tweeted another two studies: one on the lumbar spine and one on the knee joint showing similar findings:

Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations

Prevalence of abnormalities in knees detected by MRI in adults without knee osteoarthritis: population based observational study (Framingham Osteoarthritis Study)

The number of subjects varied in these last two, and 29% of the subjects in the knee pain study had experienced pain in the month prior, but nonetheless, the findings are important. This goes to show how you are not your scan. Pain is much more about your ecosystem’s interaction with its environment.

As you age, and as you can tell by the studies above, it is very likely you’ll have an “abnormality” if you were to ever have imaging done. “Abnormalities” and pain do not coexist, because if they did, the people in these studies would be experiencing pain of some kind. This is where Greg offers a great resource: Pain Fundamentals: A Pain Science Education Workbook For Patients and Therapists.

When it comes to pain, there’s a few things I’ve come to learn and advice I wanted to offer: 1. Pain is normal and not to be feared, and tissue “abnormalities” do not mean you’ll end up in pain. 2. You should be as active as possible, as long as it doesn’t make the pain worse. 3. You should incorporate novel inputs that help reduce the pain experience (moving in ways that are new to your ecosystem); these inputs should be gradually progressed over time. 4. Manual therapy/massage therapy can help turn the volume down; if the pain returns within a few hours, it probably wasn’t the right approach.

This doesn’t mean that scans aren’t helpful and that you can always avoid big interventions, like surgery, but it does mean that if you utilize physical therapy, massage therapy, exercise, or other interventions to help with your pain, you can help keep your ecosystem running nice and robust. And for fun, here’s a study comparing knee meniscus surgery with a sham surgery. The results? “…the outcomes after arthroscopic partial meniscectomy were no better than those after a sham surgical procedure.” If you can teach the body to reduce a perceived threat, positive things happen.


Quick post: Musings on pain and activity

Pain fascinates me because you can experience pain without having any tissue damage. I’ve been coming across information lately that has me thinking about pain and physical activity.

There are nearly 45 miles (72 km) of nerves running through the body, yet the nervous system only accounts for about 2% of the body. The nervous system is accompanied with a blood supply because of its requirements for about 20% of the available glucose and O2.

I came across and appreciate this picture that I saw via social media and I thought it was really interesting to see the veinous system (both arteries and veins) mixed into the bundles of nerve fibers.


I found the original source of the picture here.

To add to that, there’s a capillary every 5 cell widths. No wonder sitting is considered the new smoking.

With this in the back of my mind, I see how physical activity can be really helpful in managing pain conditions (especially chronic pain).

“Motion is lotion.”

The more I read about pain, the more I realize it’s not something to fear. Pain is a normal part of living. It’s a signal that’s trying to tell you, “something is wrong, or something might go wrong, so something needs to change.” It’s your body’s alarm system.

Physical activity can help “turn the volume down”, or speed up the recovery process for tissue that is actually injured, so it’s important to move. Move everyday. If you move with intensity, give yourself a break from that kind of activity, but don’t stop moving. Give yourself challenges. Move differently all the time. Play. Just try to utilize the ranges-of-motion that your body feels safe with (that don’t “sound the alarm”), while trying to address movement discomfort with a knowledgable healthcare provider. You’ll feed the nerves, you’ll keep the blood flowing, and you’ll keep your brain happy.

Your body will thank you in the long run.


Take Supplements? You Should Own This.

If you pay attention to the social networks of popular fitness and nutrition outlets, you have probably already seen Examine‘s new supplement reference guide. It’s a fabulous resource and it’s filled with literally THOUSANDS of references.

The guys have done their research. And they’ve complied this research into one fantastic eBook (PDF) that they’re selling. All of your supplement needs are at your fingertips with this one. I was lucky enough to be offered an affiliate link, which means if you click on this link and purchase the reference guide, I will be given a small percentage for helping to market their product.

And I’m helping to market their product because I know it’s legit. Some of the best in the industry wouldn’t support it if it weren’t.
Elliott Hulse
Dean Somerset
Tony Gentilcore
Eric Cressey
Keith Norris
Skyler Tanner
Chris Highcock
Julia Ladewski
Paul Jaminet
Jonathan Goodman
Elsbeth Vaino

And the list could go on and on. I think the best part is the guys over at Examine recently wrote for website of the icon himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’re the real deal, and so is their product, so be sure to check it out.


5/3/1 and my own assessment

For those of you who’ve followed my stuff for a long time, you know that I struggle with being consistent. I’ve tried various programs with little luck of sticking to it long enough to see progress. My biggest problem is structure. If it isn’t written by someone else, I have a hard time knowing how many sets I should do and how much weight I should put on the bar. Should I do 5 sets or 4 sets? More? Less? Where do warm-ups fit in? Should I do 70% or 80%? 85 or 90%? Should I take it under 70% and go for reps? What should I do for accessory work? Etc., etc., etc.

A couple years ago, I was introduced to Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. It’s boasted as a simple, but effective strength gaining protocol and the people who were using it were seeing great improvements. I ended up with a PDF of the book and tucked it into a file on my computer for two years. One day about 6 weeks ago (maybe 2 months now), I bought an iPad and loaded my PDF books onto it so I could read them when I had downtime. I was thoroughly impressed with the simplicity of 5/3/1 and decided to use it as a template for a client of mine. One comment she’s made is that she feels like she was slacking this whole time and now she feels like she’s actually pushing herself. It creates less demand and fatigue on the nervous system which leaves her feeling refreshed after her lift. Something everyone should consider about their own programming – do you finish and feel good while making progress, or are you finishing with a desire to nap, leaving your energy zapped? One of the two will lead to quitting or injury, so pay attention to your body’s cues.

A week or so after I wrote her modified program, I decided I wanted to try the non-modified version on myself. When I was talking with some gym buddies about this program a couple years ago, they sent me an excel spreadsheet laying out a year’s worth of 4-week cycles. Each new cycle adds 5 or 10 pounds, depending on the lift, for steady and consistent progress. The only problem I encountered is this program is all about working at a percentage of your 1-rep max or your calculated 1-rep max using submaximal weight and rep ranges. With school coupled with work, my training took the backseat. Food and sleep (besides homework) became the priority of my free time. I work from ~6-11am or 12 pm Monday-Friday, 8-11am on Saturday, help with online training, had clinic once a week (this quarter is twice a week), school is from 6-9 or 10pm Monday-Thursday (this quarter is Monday-Wednesday), plus seminars I attend over various weekends (I actually have one this Sunday, coincidentally). My lack of training since October meant that I didn’t really have an accurate idea of what my 1-rep max or my calculated 1-rep max would be for any of my lifts. So I guessed.

The weeks are laid out as 5-5-5+ the first week, 3-3-3+ the second week, 5-3-1+ the third week, and a deload week. The + indicates that you should be going for as many reps as possible beyond the prescribed rep range. The nice thing about having all of the percentages laid out in an excel spreadsheet is that my weight, sets, and reps are laid out for me in black in white and all I have to do is warm-up and load the bar. I often use my deload week weight as my warm-up weight, too. Accessory exercises are whatever you want them to be based on your goals. Personally, I prefer mostly pulling movements and hamstring-specific movements. And on days that I don’t have enough time, I just do my main lift and be done until I have more time for accessory work. That could mean later that day, the next day, or a day later in the week, but I don’t stress about it and I am finally being consistent. There’s nothing to think about, really, it’s all done for me. I can utilize my accessory work to keep me from being bored and use whatever set and rep schemes I like. I’ve finished my 5-3-1+ for my deadlift and bench thus far this week and I’ve been feeling good. And strong. Well, not that strong, but stronger than I’ve felt in the last 8 months since school started.

The reason I bought my iPad was to utilize the filming feature to help clients with form. And for pictures to brag about their accomplishments when I remember to take them. I decided to film myself doing my 1+ set for deadlift. I was able to get 5 reps, so I probably guessed pretty accurately (I think I was able to get 6 on bench). I wanted to know what it looked like and wanted the opinion of my eFriend Brad Gatens. He said my hips looked high which brought my shoulders a bit forward in front of the bar which would make it harder to pull back. Dave Tate wants your hips to drop straight down as if you’re trying to set your nuts onto the bar (his words, not mine).


I am going to work on keeping my hips lower so my shoulder are back more during my deload week so I can see how they feel and see if I can maintain that for my next cycle. I also need to work on getting tighter before I pull (I was trying to focus on my breathing and bracing). Here’s the video.

I take a sumo stance because I am 6’3″ and it shortens the range-of-motion a bit. It’s also been helpful in maintaining a neutral spine. I actually feel much better with a conventional stance after using the sumo stance for a while. Filming and critiquing is the way things are done with the online coaching program my boss offers, so it’s nice to be able to utilize this tool for myself.

Just a fun FYI, my client on the modified program did 195# for 13 reps on her 1+ for deadlift. Beastmode. I’ll keep you up-to-date on how things are progressing and I’ll try to remember to film more movements for my own self-critique. We all need a coaches eye, even if it’s just to make sure you’re still moving well.


SMRT Reads – The Video Edition

Class was cancelled tonight, so I decided to throw up a quick post of videos I’ve come across over the last few months. And in exciting news, I got engaged over the weekend. Let’s hope she doesn’t get her eyes checked anytime soon.


For your viewing pleasure.


P.s. “I’m feeling suppler and leoparder already.”

SMRT Reads – Pi Day

Happy Pi Day, everyone!
It’s also another “holiday,” but I’ll just let you click on the link to find out.

Class ended early tonight because it was mostly review for finals next week. Second quarter is almost done which will be the halfway point of the program. Considering I wanted to be licensed yesterday, I’m pretty excited to have another quarter almost completed.

Today’s SMRT Reads are more training oriented. First up we have 6 Kettlebell Exercises You’re NOT doing  But Should Be. I particularly like the last two. I’ve taken a liking to kettlebells over the last 6 months, and I am hoping to attend some certifications in the near future.

Which is a great segue into this:

The next blog post is a Random Thoughts article by Bret Contreras. This is the article that I discovered Sam Giguere’s training videos on YouTube and they’re badass (random thought #10). This is also where I discovered my next post.

Ben Bruno wrote a training 101 article for Livestrong and I’ve recommended it to many people who were looking for some guidance or couldn’t afford training and wanted something more to do than run. I like its simplicity and inclusion of all the important basic elements of a training program: push, pull, hinge, and knee dominant movements.

Lastly, if you’re going to be performing things like push-ups or dips, this is a very helpful tutorial. And Justin is awesome:


5 Most Influential People I’ve Never Met

In the last year-and-a-half, I’ve grown tremendously. Today’s post is a thank you post. There are many people in the fitness industry I pay attention to, but few who’ve actually helped progress the way I train; specifically, the way I cue exercises and what I look for in movement.

I should preface this by saying the biggest influencer of where I’m at now is my mentor, friend, and boss, Jason Seib. I was two quarters away from a bachelor’s degree in physical activity/exercise with no idea how to coach and no idea of what proper body mechanics looked like. I started my internship with Jason winter quarter and learned way more than I could’ve expected. Not only did his passion spew like a faucet, he could see a deviation out of the corner of his eye and was constantly challenging conventional knowledge. If you haven’t already, check out his book for pre-sale on Amazon – it will be released March 5th.

It was my desire to see the body the way Jason sees it that pushed me to search for information from other great coaches. That’s where the internet becomes a great resource. It started out that I wanted to learn more about mobility, mostly because my own mobility needs a lot of work. Then I started to pique an interest in corrective exercise. Along the way, I started to find more and more coaches whose knowledge of the human body blew me away. So here’s the top 5 most influential people I’ve never met.

1. Kelly Starrett.
Kelly, or K-Star, is a physical therapist and gym owner that started MobilityWOD or “mobility workout of the day.” It is a project to offer 365 days of mobility exercises to help people achieve better range-of-motion and offer some self myofascial release for a plethora of movements. I had known about MobilityWOD for over a year before I was reintroduced to it with a greater interest in body mechanics. This interest elevated in the summer of 2011 when I moved back to Oregon from Utah and realized just how poor my mobility was, and even though it’s improved, it’s still not where I’d like it to be. MobilityWOD started it all and is a big influencer on my decision to go to massage school.

2. Dean Somerset.
Dean is one of the few people who will speak and I will be sure to listen. He developed a reputation for himself as a go-to guy for post-rehab clients. The man is very smart, but what I like about him is that he wants his clients to throw around weight. If the corrective exercises are showing improvements, he’ll load up his clients for things like squats and deadlifts. He’s actually in the trenches training clients all the while providing material for his followers. His Post-Rehab Essentials is well worth it; he was able to describe things in ways I hadn’t thought of and it was really refreshing. And his T-Nation articles are legit.

3. Justin Lascek.
Justin operates the blog 70’s Big. I am sure I’ve said this before, but many of the cues I use I learned from his blog. The man is smart and loves to help people get big and strong, but he wants them to do it in a manner that doesn’t make them big and fat. He has some awesome videos on his YouTube channel, as well. And like I said, his cues for movements like the squat, press, and romanian deadlift have taught me how to help my clients get into good positions and have helped me refine my eye to correct any movement errors. He was also the first person to introduce me to Trail Guide to the Body, which is the main text for my massage program.

4. Mike Robertson.
Mike is one of those corrective guys who’s a lot like Dean Somerset. He wants to make sure you’re moving well, but he also isn’t afraid to load you up with a bunch of weight. It’s not often someone develops a reputation for corrective exercise and he can deadlift 485 with bands. Mike presents his knowledge in a clear, concise manner. He usually always gives the foundation for why he approaches movement the way he does before he presents his information. As a coach, your job is to teach. If the clients don’t know the “why”, they may fight you on performing the exercise, or they may become uninterested and stop training with you at some point. I would love to be able to pick Mike’s brains one day.

5. Tony Gentilcore.
Tony may be one of my favorite bloggers to read. He’s very entertaining, but he’s also very smart. He is co-owner of Cressey Performance; a strength and conditioning facility that has gained quite the reputation with baseball players from all levels. Tony also trains the average client who wants to look and feel better. His videos, advice, and writing style keep me coming back and have helped give me ideas on what to do for warm-ups, exercise variety, and exercise cues that help keep things from being information overload. The best part is the laugh you’ll have with every post. For example, in a recent post about giving thanks, his list includes: family, his girlfriend, friends and colleagues, bacon, and his followers.

I’ve been influenced by many more than just 5 people, but these people stand out as the biggest influence in my knowledge as a coach. I can’t thank them enough. I can only hope that I influence someone else as much as they’ve influenced me.