Sunday, September 30, 2012

Late to the Mobility Party...

By Andrew McGunagle

Last week I was talking to my friend, who happens to be a very strong and very smart lifter, about mobility when I had a sudden realization: I suck at mobility work. Actually, to be honest, this realization was not exactly sudden; I had been growing dissatisfied with my knowledge of (not to mention my results from) mobility work over the past few months.

Ever since I learned about the joint-by-joint approach to the body in early 2009, I have regularly employed a variety of mobility drills before every training session. Additionally, I was an early adopter of foam rolling, and I have rolled on soft foams, denser foams, and eventually PVC pipes in order to improve the quality of my tissues. Early in my quest for better mobility, I was able to get rid of nagging knee pain that had made the last few years of my high school sports career quite painful. I did this by improving my ankle mobility, and I was instantly sold on the usefulness of mobility work.

Three years of anterior knee pain......gone in a week.
  My mobility has gotten good, but not great, and I have not been able to make significant improvements in my joint mobility for quite some time. I have used a standard mobility routine before all of my lifting sessions, and this routine often requires 30+ minutes to complete. Every time I do this warm-up, I notice that I am continually fighting against the same restrictions in the same joints. I am able to make slight mobility improvements that allow me to adopt correct lifting positions, but these improvements are history by the time my next session rolls around.

If insanity is, in fact, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then I have been crazy for a couple of years now. I have been able to get by with what I know and, up until this point, I have not felt the need to make drastic alterations to my mobility practices. However, this complacency disintegrated when the friend I was discussing mobility with told me he was close to being able to squat with his toes forward, a feat that requires tremendous ankle and hip mobility. My friend informed me that he had identified some mobilizations on Kelly Starrett's MobilityWOD that he found helpful, and has been doing a few of these mobilizations nearly every day.

Now, before talking to my friend, I had checked out MobilityWOD and cherry-picked a couple of mobilizations that I liked and added them to my warm-up routine. However, I had never spent a lot of time trying to identify and understand the main principles of Kelly's teachings. With renewed motivation stemming from my brief chat, I finally got around to immersing myself in Kelly's website and all I can say is......I am an idiot.

The Mobility Man.
I spent nearly half a day watching MobilityWOD videos, reading the accompanying blog posts, and practicing a number of mobilizations, and I started making some notable progress in my joint mobility. After not seeing significant mobility improvements in a few years, a few hours of research allowed me to explore ranges of motion that I had never experienced.

If you have been following MobilityWOD for a few years, then you probably think I am a fool for failing to recognize the power of K-Star's teachings (which I think is a fair judgement). If you have never checked out MobilityWOD, then you are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. For those of you in the second camp, I urge you to spend some time on Kelly Starrett's site. Additionally, be sure to adhere to the following tenets that I list, as they detail realizations I had about what Kelly is doing right and what I was doing wrong.                

1. Do a little every day: MobilityWOD literally means Mobility Workout Of the Day, and there is a reason for that. In our day and age, most people have a number of mobility deficiencies they need to address, as sitting and inactivity characterize the majority of individuals' daily lives. If you are determined to counteract years of bad habits and trauma, then you must commit to years of good habits and restoration. When you are getting ready for a lifting session, dedicate at least 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of the session to mobility drills that are specific to the lifts you will be doing that day. Think about the bottom and top positions of the lifts you have planned, and figure out which mobilizations will enable you to improve your positioning. Conversely, on days that you are not lifting, devote some time to your problem areas. Everyone should be able to find at least 10 to 15 free minutes in the morning or before bed, and few activities can make for a more productive use of a quarter hour in terms of health and well-being. So, mobilize! Finish this article, then get to it! 

2. Time it: You will never realize how long two minutes of stretching is until you put two minutes on a timer and wait for the relief of the alarm. Why two minutes? Well, Kelly says that is about how long it takes to tap into the viscoelastic properties of tissues and start to make changes. This makes sense, and it really seems to work. If you have been mobilizing without regard for time, then you will probably be struck by how little time you actually spend on each individual mobilization. Most people spend about a minute on ten mobility drills, when they could spend four minutes on a single drill and make far more significant changes. It is worth mentioning, however, that two minutes is not a cure-all, magic number for everybody. Kelly likes to say that you should stick with a drill until you make change and continue until you stop making change. How do you measure change? This is where testing and retesting come into play...     

3. Test-retest: Testing before and retesting after each mobility drill is crucial, as determining whether or not the mobilizations you are using are actually working is too logical to be left undone. Before you start mobilizing, you need to gauge where your movement capacity is at before the intervention. This drill can be a simple, single-joint mobility test, but using a relevant movement is a better approach. So, if you are trying to improve your hip flexion and external rotation in order to squat better, then squat before you do the stretch and after you do the stretch. The flexion and external rotation stretch that you do should translate to improved flexion and external rotation while squatting. You will not know if this is the case unless you test then retest. Don't be lazy and skip these steps!

4. Stop kidding yourself: One of the primary reasons I did not feel the need to expand my knowledge of mobility and make changes to my warm-up routine was that I didn't think my joint mobility was all that bad. However, my mobility is not all that good, either. I have the movement capacity to do all of the lifts I want to do, but I always need to spend a lot of time recovering this capacity before every session. I am always on the verge of poor positioning, bad technique, and unproductive training sessions and, while I have largely been able to stay in control of my mobility and my training, I can no longer justify this risk. I have realized that I need to stop kidding myself; I need to get better, and I believe the time I have spent (and will spend) learning from the MobilityWOD videos and working to improve my mobility will greatly benefit my lifting. If you are in a similar situation, then I urge you to do the same. Start here:

Thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In-Season Training for Football

By Andrew McGunagle

I still remember the first time I ever played a football game. I was in elementary school, and when I intercepted a pass I didn't know that I was supposed to run it back the other way. I just caught the ball and stood there, until the guys who were on my team yelled to me and told me to run. I was good at football, and I loved playing it. I was athletic, I could catch, I had a knack for making interceptions, and I could outrun most kids when I got the ball.

When I first started playing organized football during my freshman year of high school, I did well. I started at cornerback for my freshman team, and I made a few interceptions during the season. At the end of the year I was awarded the Best Defensive Back trophy for our team, which I was very proud of. During my sophomore year, I started playing as a wideout a lot more, and I scored a handful of touchdowns. Given my success on the field, my passion for the game was at an all-time high, and I could not wait to play for my town's varsity team under the lights on Friday nights.

Unfortunately, however, my career as a varsity player was depressingly uneventful. I expected to do well, but my performances were always disappointing. My football career ended poorly because, to put it bluntly, I was too skinny and too weak to compete at the varsity level. After looking forward to having a sticker on my helmet and making plays in front of my hometown fans for years, my football career ended on a sour note. 

I hate to sound like Uncle Rico, but I think I could have been pretty good if only I knew how to lift weights and eat in high school. My lack of success was a blessing in disguise, though, because it motivated me to dedicate myself to figuring out how to get bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Hopefully, the knowledge I have been driven to acquire can help a number of players realized their potential on the gridiron in a way that I never did.

The following article discusses in-season training for football, and it is written as if a football coach were giving a speech to his players. I had fun writing this piece, and I crammed a lot of information into it. Enjoy! (And utilize.)   

In-Season Training for Football

"Listen up, fellas. This year we are changing things up a bit. Instead of doing all of our lifting in the morning, before the sun comes up, we will do two training sessions that will occur before our practices on Monday and Wednesday of each week. I know y'all loved rolling out of bed and yawning your way through your workouts at 6 AM, but we realized that this schedule is not conducive to getting strong. Sure, rising before the rooster might have taught you some self-discipline, but adhering to a solid strength and conditioning program and practicing every weekday afternoon should be just as effective in developing your moral fiber, not to mention your muscle fiber.

"You see, muscle is important. Football can be a brutal sport, and those pads only do so much. Muscle is armor, and having it will provide you some protection on the field. Not only will this body armor make it easier to withstand the impacts of an entire season, but it will also give you some extra confidence on the gridiron. Knowing that your body is built to handle high-speed collisions will enable you to go all out and make plays that win ball games. Safety and performance? Sounds like a good deal to me!

"Getting back to our new schedule, allow me to fill you in on why this will work better. School, football, lifting, then homework makes for a pretty demanding day, and sleep is important because it allows you to keep up with these demands. If you are going to get enough sleep for a teenage boy, around 8 or 9 hours, you might have to neglect some of your homework. We don't want that; we want you to perform well both on the field and in the classroom. Back in my day, we lifted in the morning, too. I remember walking out of the gym after a lethargic workout and seeing a full moon, but I don't remember ever setting any lifting PRs before the sun came up. Forcing y'all to get up at 5:45 so you could grab a quick snack and drive to the weight room did not allow you enough time to rest and recover. What's that? Y'all usually come in here and lift on empty stomachs? Well, we are going to change that as well.

"At the very least, you should all chug a protein shake and eat a piece of fruit before you lift. Haven't you learned about the benefits of protein supplementation and its effects on muscle protein synthesis in biology? You haven't cover that? That's alright, you don't need to know all of the science behind all of this training and nutrition stuff to get results. Hell, I don't even have to know all of it, but I do make an effort to educate myself about some of those things because I want you guys to stay safe and play well on Friday nights.

"Alright, let's start talking about our new training plan. After school on both Monday and Wednesday, you will immediately eat some good food and/or drink a shake, change into your gym shorts, and head to the weight room. Before lifting, we will do a brief warm-up. Yeah, I know we didn't always properly prepare for our morning sessions, but we are changing that. We will mobilize the ankles, the hips, the upper back, and the shoulders. Ensuring that we have enough range of motion in these areas will allow us to adopt correct lifting positions, which will make our training safer and more effective, and will ensure that we are not restricted while moving about on the field.

"Once we finish this warm-up, we will start our lifting. Instead of doing a bunch of little exercises, we will focus on the exercises that are most effective: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the chin-up. On Mondays we will squat and do our chin-ups, and on Wednesdays we will bench press and then deadlift. We want to get as much out of every session as we possible can in the time that we have, so we will superset these lifts with other exercises and mobilizations. Between sets of squats, you will do more mobility work for your ankles, hips, or shoulders, depending on where you are most restricted. Chin-ups will be paired with a single-leg movement, such as split squats or rear-foot-elevated split squats. Single-leg movements are important, as they will improve the stability of your hips and your knees. When we bench, we will do dumbbell rows in-between our sets, as this will improve our scapular stability, which should decrease the amount of shoulder problems we encounter throughout the season. Lastly, we will pair deadlifts with mobilizations, as we did with the squats. Being mobile is important, haven't you fellas watched Remember the Titans?

"If we have time, we may do one or two more exercises. Don't expect much variety, though. We will be doing the big lifts week in and week out while focusing on proper technique and adding weight progressively. Forget all of that P90X 'muscle confusion' BS you hear on TV. If you want to get strong, then stick to the basics. Learning to lift correctly takes time, and we only have so much of it. Let's do a few effective lifts well instead of running through a bunch of ineffective exercises poorly. We can mess around with all of that other stuff, like 'plyometrics', in the off-season.  

"After lifting, each of you will quickly grab a protein shake. If you want to bring your own protein in a shaker bottle, that's fine. But, we will have a couple of bags of protein available for those of you who need it, thanks to the money from donations that we used to spend on pizza in the past. Hell, if we all get big and strong and start winning, then you boys might start getting some free meals around town that are a whole lot better than pizza.

"In the meantime, though, y'all gotta start eating better, and more. If you keep having a Gatorade and a few fries for lunch, then you can count on getting knocked on your ass when you step out onto that field on Friday. Food is energy, and you need energy to think in school, to lift heavy weights, to run and tackle on the gridiron, and to grow big and strong. That's a lot of energy you need and, therefore, a lot of food you have to consume. As coaches, we can't control everything you do each day, but we can talk about eating habits and do our best to make sure you know they are important. Eat meat, cook some eggs, have some veggies, and, if you can, drink milk. Stay away from candy and sugary drinks, but eat a ton of food. If you eat a lot and build muscle, the wins will come.

"Sure, our lifting will cut into our practice time a little bit, but I'm not worried about that. I am tired of seeing my guys get laid out, and perfecting our plays is not going to make up for our lack of size and strength. They can't lick us if we get big, strong, and fast, so let's get to it!"


Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cliche (But Awesome) Music Post #2

By Andrew McGunagle

In a few days I will be driving down to school to begin my senior year of college. I am excited, and most of my musings during the last few weeks have centered around how I can make my final year of school fun, fulfilling, and productive. However, in this time, I have also outlined no less than ten new articles that will be appearing on Strength Musings in the near future. Additionally, I have been generating ideas for a book that I plan to write and published in the next few years. Yep, the future looks bright (and busy!), and I am looking forward to the work that lies ahead of me.
My last year at Cal Poly SLO
In the meantime, I figured this was the perfect opportunity for a second Cliche (But Awesome) Music Post. Just like the first music post, I will start by introducing a couple of lighter songs that I enjoy listening to as I prepare for my training sessions. Then, I will provide you with some songs that you can blast while you lift. Different people have different tastes in music, so I did my best to include a variety of songs. If you find one or two that you want to add to your gym playlist, great!

1. "Lost River" by Murder By Death: I introduced one of my favorite bands, Murder By Death, in my first music post, and I couldn't help but share a second song of theirs. This is a song off of their new album, and I was lucky enough to see them play this song live over the summer. I said it once, and I will say it again: Do not miss out on seeing this band live if they are in a city near you!

2. "Walk (Acoustic)" by Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl): Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Dave Grohl is an amazing musician. While I like the album version of this song, I find the acoustic version to be particularly powerful.

3. "Hook" by Blues Traveler: When I first heard this song a few months back, I could not believe that I had never heard it before. I love music, so when I find a hidden treasure like this, I assume that the majority of people have not heard it, either. Enjoy!

4. "Fight The Good Fight" by Triumph: Getting into some lifting songs, I will begin with a song that I heard for this first time this summer. If only Canada gave us more great music like this and less Justin Bieber, eh?

5. "Never Change (Remix)" by Jay-Z (Big Z Remixes): All of my brothers and a couple of my friends absolutely love this song. If you like hip-hop, then this song is for you. If you like snowboarding, then this video is for you. If you like hip-hip and snowboarding, then boy oh boy are you in for a treat.

6. "T.N.T (Live at Donington)" by AC/DC: For every great song, there is always one live performance of that song that is legendary. If time travel is invented in my lifetime, then this is one of the many concerts I will be attending.

7. "Estranged" by Guns N' Roses: Think "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" are all Guns N' Roses has to offer? Think again...

8. "Fall Back Down" by Rancid: Growing up in the Bay Area, Live 105 was my station of choice. While my commercial-less iPod has caused me to dread the radio, I thank this station for introducing me to a number of excellent songs.

Thanks for reading, and do not hesitate to suggest some songs in the comments section of this article!