Training Thoughts: Persistence

With the rising popularity of social media, we all inevitably get exposed to hundreds of training videos a week that fly by on our social media feeds. Some of these videos give us a glimpse into the training life of professional athletes, fitness models, and occasionally but not often the average joe. In fact, right now I bet you can easily find an article on your Facebook page arguing one exercise over the other, this program over that one, the ultimate fat loss program, and so on. All of this stuff can be overwhelming to the person who is just now adopting fitness into their life, to the person who wants to make a change for the better, to the person who didn’t get the results they were hoping for, and to the person who just doesn’t know any better. The goal should not be to conform people to a training program, it should be to help them! Here is the big secret……….there is no secret! SHOW UP! PERIOD!

“Water does not cut through rock because of its’ power, but because of its’ persistence.” Surround yourself with likeminded people who want the same things you want, show up, and keep showing up. All too often people are led to believe the best program is the next program. These people don’t stick with something long enough to reap the benefits and all that is left is a nasty taste in their mouths and bad feelings about that previous training program. The truth is people are afraid to work these days. This is especially true if that work is emotionally attached to the results. The second those results don’t show up or they change, they quit; and they quit before ever really even starting. How long did it take for you to get to the weight you’re at today? How long have you been eating the type of foods you have been eating? And you want that all that to get fixed in 8 weeks?! Committing to the process is not enough! The key is “committing to the process without being emotionally attached to the results” – Inky Johnson. Some weeks you are going to lose some weight, some weeks you aren’t. Some days you are going to feel strong, some days you aren’t. The second you decide you’re going to do what you do, because it is who you are,  you will flourish. Show up,work hard, PERIOD.  Don’t do it because you are chasing something, do it because that is who you are!

Did You Brush Your Teeth Today?

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Do you remember any details about the event? Chances are that you performed this task without thinking much about it. Which arm did you put through your shirtsleeve first? Did you have to plan this out before you put your shirt on? Many of our daily activities are habitual after years of repeating them. Nothing about the previous statement was meant to mind blowing, rather an invitation to consider how much habits actually influence our lives.

We all want to form habits that are beneficial to us on some level. So how do habits form? To answer this I’ll share a story that I read in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. If you have ever used Febreeze, you know that it is used to eliminate bad odors in your home. The chemical in Febreeze that neutralizes odor was, like many great inventions, discovered by accident. A scientist, who was also an avid smoker, realized that after handling this chemical, his clothes didn’t smell like smoke when he got home from work. Soon after the idea for what would become Febreeze was born.

Febreeze was initially an odorless product that was meant to remove unwanted smells.  When it was first released it was a flop, with sales so low that the project was almost scrapped. It wasn’t until some exhaustive market research that someone added a pleasant scent to the product, and it finally started selling. So why does Big Sur scented Febreeze sell better than plain, unscented Febreeze? After all, the product is intended to eliminate odor, so why the need for a scent? Simply put the pleasant scent provides a reward. No scent meant no reward, and no reward meant no habit was formed, i.e., buying febreeze.

Marketing firms are not blind to this phenomenon; many routine products that we assume are essential to our daily lives give simple consistent rewards for our behavior. Does your shampoo need to foam in order for it to work? Nope, but the research shows that foam is rewarding for people so now foaming shampoo is what sells. The same can be said for the minty aftertaste of toothpaste or the tingly feeling of your facial scrub. Neither of these feelings are a direct result of the product doing it’s job, but rather they are there to reward you for brushing your teeth and washing your face, and also reinforce the behavior so you continue to purchase the product.

The above products encourage beneficial behaviors that many of us would consider part of our daily routine, as do many others. So then how many behaviors or habits simply haven’t caught on? It’s not as if people in 1890 were brushing their teeth when they woke up in the morning; and if toothpaste tasted like sour milk, it probably wouldn’t matter how beneficial it is for our teeth, many of us would struggle to create that habit.

These habits help to satisfy a need for change, whether it is a change of environment or internal feeling. Your gym bag smells like it must contain at least one dead animal, this needs to change. You apply Febreeze to your gym bag and get rewarded with the smell of summer breeze. If you use Febreeze to solve all of your odor problems, this sequence will become a habit. Bad smell leads to Febreeze which leads to a rewarding smell, or put more simply, desire for change leads to satisfying behavior which leads to a reward; this reward is a chemical reward in the brain.

If this is the chain of events that lead to habitual behaviors then with a little self reflection we should be able to form new habits/change old ones. To break an existing bad habit, you first have to identify what is triggering the behavior.  For example, if you find yourself turning on the TV even though you know there is nothing interesting to watch, there is likely an underlying cause that needs to be sniffed out.   Maybe you are craving a mental break from a stressful day; maybe you know that the TV will attract other family members and you would like to spend time with them; or maybe you are simply distracting yourself from doing the dishes that have piled up in the sink.

Discovering the underlying cause then allows for the behavior to change and still be rewarding.   Finding an alternative way to relax, spend time with family, or acknowledging your procrastination is the first step to eliminate bad habits.

The above process is probably very intuitive to you, but make no mistake habits are not easy to change. Discovering what triggers a positive or negative behavior can take some serious investigative work and self-reflection. While not always pleasant, this is usually a healthy exercise to go through.  Changing/forming habits also requires a good amount of discipline, something that I’ll touch on in the 2nd part of this blog.

The exciting thing about habits is that we do have control over them. Take some time to plan out the healthy/positive habits that you want to form and create a strategy to form them.   For more information on habits and what drives our behavior, check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

Alex Harms – Alex is the Head Performance Coach at the PITT Training Facility located in Bozeman, MT.

We Need Coaches, Not Trainers

Here at the PITT you will not find any trainers, but you will find the COACHES you’re looking for. By definition a “trainer” is a person who trains people or animals. “Animals get trained, people get coached.” We don’t train people, we coach them here at The PITT.

The three driving principles behind the PITT (Desire, Drive, Discipline) come from our experience in the athletics world which includes 6 years in the NFL, 2 Super bowl appearances, and 3 national collegiate football championships. Just like in athletics, in order to succeed in life you need to possess the desire to win every single day, you need the drive to put in the work necessary to prepare yourself, and lastly you need the discipline to do that work the right way. These principles are the driving force for the programming, culture, and community for our young athletes and adults as well.

As former athletes, we all hold the term “coach” near and dear to our hearts which inherently forces us to hold ourselves to a higher standard here at The PITT. A problem exists when professionals don’t understand the definition of their job, and more often than not they choose to abuse their power rather than to do their job! As a mentor of mine Martin Rooney would say “If you don’t know the definition of your job, you don’t know what your job is, then you are probably not doing it!” So what is the definition of COACH? If you ever look it up you will find this: 1. A horse-drawn carriage, 2. A railroad car, or 3. In economy class accommodations in an aircraft. What do all three of these things have in common? They all take you somewhere that you want to go! That is our job description.

In the fitness industry I see a lot of articles, videos, blogs, etc… all centered around training knowledge. This exercise is the best, this program gets the best results, this is how to coach the squat, this is what you should and should not eat. And don’t get me wrong, us knowing these things as professionals is extremely important, but at the end of the day people don’t need somebody who just has knowledge. They need someone who can get them to do it! “Trainers light fires under people, coaches light fires inside of people.” – Martin Rooney

 

 

Sean Herrin – Sean is the Performance Manager at the PITT Training Facility located in Bozeman, MT.  Prior to returning to Montana, he was the Sports Performance Director at Velocity Sports Performance in Redondo Beach, CA heading the performance programs for athletes ranging from the elementary level all the way up to the professional and Olympic level.

Making Squats Work for You

The squat is a staple exercise in the fitness world, and can be used in a variety of environments to achieve a wide range of fitness goals.  Given it’s prevalence in the fitness world it is surprising how many people still have such issues with THEIR squat. I emphasize THEIR because squats (and movements in general) are like snowflakes; no two are the same. Should everyone squat to parallel depth? Below? It depends on several factors that vary in every person. If everyone had the same torso, femur and tibia length; the same ankle and hip mobility, levels of stability, zero pre-existing injuries, the same goals, etc., etc., then yes, everyone would squat to the same depth. Until that happens, you may want to squat in a way that fits your body type and motivation. The points outlined below are designed to help you make squatting a healthy and productive habit.

1. Keep the bar (or center of gravity) centered over your midfoot-Lets get the critical one out of the way. At any point during a squat, you should be able to draw a straight line from the bar down to the middle of your foot. This is important because it helps you find the squat depth that is tailored to your body. Remember that everyone’s bodies are built MUCH differently. The biomechanics might be a bitch, but it’s not a liar so we should probably follow the rules; keeping the weight centered is rule #1.

squat_bar_placement-2

This might seem obvious, yet many people fail to follow this rule when performing their squats, (and deadlifts), letting the bar shift forward in order to get depth. When squatting, if the bar travels forward or backwards relative to your center of mass (think midfoot here) the muscles being utilized can change dramatically. Does your squat feel like someone is trying to split you in half at your lumbar spine? Maybe your kneecaps feel more like bottle caps that are about to pop off? If so, squats are not to blame, it’s probably your s**t technique, most of which can be helped by keeping the bar centered over your base of support.

This change in muscle contribution can be felt by experimenting with where you place the bar on your shoulders. A front squat places more emphasis on the knee extensors (quads) versus the high bar back squat, which places more emphasis on the hip extensors (Glutes/Hammies). The low bar back squat places even more emphasis on the hip extensors.

Mobility/stability at your hip and ankle joints plays a large role in how you squat and to what depth. To help you determine a good squat depth, try this little experiment.   Set up for a front or back squat and press the bar into the front cage of the rack. With feet centered underneath the bar, descend into a squat until the bar wants to lose contact with the cage.  This is a good indicator of what your actual squat depth is. This is not a fix-all for your squat but it can be a good place to learn or remind yourself what a squat should feel like.

2.  Practice Goblet Squats-Learning to move properly is important; in general I believe that learning to move requires a combination of conscious and unconscious learning. Tip #1 draws a lot of attention to where you are in space (conscious learning). Goblet squats on the other hand, are a self-limiting exercise, meaning that in order to do them you have to perform them correctly and within your limits (unconscious learning).

goblet squat

To better understand what a self-limiting exercise is think about the difference between grilling a steak and making a bowl of cereal. Cooking a steak can be accomplished 100 different ways, whereas pouring a bowl of cereal pretty much happens one way. Either the cereal and milk make it into the bowl or they don’t. In this way, doing a goblet squat is like making a bowl of cereal. Other examples of self-limiting exercises include the bottoms up kettlebell press, heavy dumbbell carries, and jumping rope.

 

3.  Create Torque

Stability at the ankle, knee and hip joints is a crucial for a healthy squat. Whether you are an athlete, a powerlifter or just lifting to be healthy in your daily adventures, it is important that your joints function like joints, not leaky pipes, transferring force efficiently during movement. Kelly Starrett (shown in pictures) frequently refers to collapsing knees-in-out-1024x726joints like fallen arches and caved in knees (left photo), as joints that are “dumping torque”. Basically the force produced by muscles must be transferred efficiently to the next joint in order for that force to be realized into a real-life movement like running or jumping or in this case, squatting. When knees or arches collapse, force from the leg muscles escape and do not aid in the lifting of the bar. By shoving your knees out (far right photo) during your squat, torque is created at the hip, knee and foot. This tension allows force to be transferred more efficiently.

 

Summary

Squatting to the appropriate depth, practicing that technique relentlessly and encouraging joint stability through torque are three simple yet effective ways to improve your squat. Make your squat fit your body and not the other way around.

 

Alex Harms – Alex is the Head Performance Coach at the PITT Training Facility located in Bozeman, MT.

OUR Strength Training Blueprint for the Multi-Sport Athlete

This generation of youth athletes are starting to specialize in a single sport as early as the age of 7, and our stance at The PITT regarding this topic is simple…. DON’T DO IT.  Luckily for us here in Montana the climate and seasons help promote multi-sport participation, and trust me this is a great thing.  During my time in Southern California I worked with hundreds of youth athletes who participated in their sport year round simply because they could.  Football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, you name it and it can be played year round.  However, the baggage that comes with playing a sport year round at the youth level more often than not consists of overuse injuries, burnout, and far worse, quitting!  Some people are reading this and asking “well what about the case of Tiger Woods?” To that question I would refer them to the “eggs against a wall” theory coined by a graduate professor of mine Jack Daniels (not the whiskey, but the world renowned running coach).  Every now and then if you throw a basket of eggs against a wall, one of them will not break!  For every outstanding athlete that specialized and made it, there are thousands that got broken.

Fortunately, there are still lots of athletes who compete year round in a variety of sports, and this is and will always be the best method to becoming a well-rounded athlete.  However, multi-sport athletes face challenges of their own.  A task that many of them fail is fitting training into their busy sports schedules.  By not allocating time to the weight room in a consistent manner, these athletes achieve sub-optimal performance levels in their respective sports while INCREASING their chance of injury. “It is better to look ahead and prepare, than to look back and regret” – Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Here is our strength training blueprint for multi-sport athletes at The PITT training facility

 

STEP 1: You must train during the summer or offseason

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For most multi-sport athletes, summer should be the season that you commit to strength training over sport.  Strength training improves speed, explosiveness, agility, and also reduces the likelihood of injuries. In other words, strength training improves the athletic foundation for success in all types of sporting events. Lifting frequency in the offseason for strength development should be two to four times per week.  The goal is to build total body strength and power so that the athlete can optimize their speed, explosiveness, and agility while also being able to absorb the large amounts of forces placed on the body during sporting movements.  Sprinting and cutting has been shown to place ground reaction forces equal to 2-4 times that of an athlete’s bodyweight.  This alone should be reason enough for athletes to take strength training seriously.  If you cannot efficiently absorb and reduce the forces going through your joints and muscles during high intensity sporting movements, you get hurt.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had young athletes come to me experiencing some level of joint pain (most commonly in the knee) and all we did to fix it was implement a proper strength program for the athlete for 8-10 weeks.  Strength training not only makes you fast and powerful, it makes you resilient.

 

STEP 2: Strength and power must be maintained during the season

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The biggest mistake you can make as an athlete is to discontinue training during in season competition.  Athletes fail at this most often because sports coaches do not prioritize training during the competitive season as field/gym/practice time comes at a premium.  As long as it can take to develop strength and power through means of a vigorous strength program, the gains diminish at a much faster rate.  In other words, if you stop training during your sports season, you lose all the progress you made and hard work you put in during the offseason.  Far worse, as the season goes on, the competition increases, the pressure of playoffs rise, games get more intense, and all the while you are getting weaker. That is the perfect recipe for injury, and a pretty damn good one at that.  You need to devote a minimum of one day a week of strength training and ideally two days to maintain your strength and power levels.  More often than not, your coach is not going to set aside this time for you, therefore it is on you to find the time.  Elite competitors are elite preparers.

STEP 3: Repeat Step 1

 

 

Sean Herrin – Sean is the Performance Manager at the PITT Training Facility located in Bozeman, MT.  Prior to returning to Montana, he was the Sports Performance Director at Velocity Sports Performance in Redondo Beach, CA heading the performance programs for athletes ranging from the elementary level all the way up to the professional and Olympic level.