Category Archives: Sprint Acceleration
Whenever I hear that little nugget of cheese-ball inspiration, I want to throw up, because it’s usually said by some sloth that never reached his goals and he’s just trying to make sure you stay in no rush to reach yours.
I don’t know when exactly sprinting through life and achieving one goal after the next became a bad thing, but have no fear, I’ll address humanity’s aversion to sprinting throughout this article.
Our solar system hurtles around the galaxy at 450,000 mph, so our time here on this rock we call Earth (which is circling the sun at 70,000 miles an hour), in comparison to eternity is less than a blink of an eye.
The way I see it, life is an all-out sprint – and we should attack it that way.
So then what’s with the distance approach to cardio? I hear people say all the time that they entered a 10k or a marathon to get “in shape.” Is that so? I’m tempted to have these folks stand in front of a full-length mirror and ask them what shape were they looking for exactly?
If it’s extra slender, pencil-necked, and endomorphic, then I’ll condone the distance work. If they say, however, that the shape they seek is lean, muscular, and mesomorphic, then they’re barking up the wrong tree.
Furthermore, if I have one more distance-junkie proudly brag about the doctor visits, MRIs, or therapy they’re using to recover from their jogging or ultra-marathon, I’ll be forced to buy a big bat and carry it with me.
You’re proud of being injured, huh? So if I smack you in the knees with the bat and produce an injury, are you still proud? Or then are you just a masochist? Maybe such drastic measures are what it takes for you to realize that pain doesn’t equal productivity, and that you’ve been chasing the wrong dog – and way too slowly at that.
Enjoyment Versus Results
I understand that (unfortunately) many of us need something to drive us and get us moving besides the ultimate fact that training will help you live longer. And I understand that some people may simply enjoy distance jogging and/or be genetically suited for this style of training. I’m not here to argue either of those things.
The purpose of this article is to argue in favor of the benefits of sprinting. And interestingly enough, whether you like jogging or are naturally skinny or slow, you can still benefit from this all-powerful training medium.
Don’t think we need this argument? Then explain why most people stop sprinting by high school. Explain why most parents tell their children to stop running and slow down.
Plain and simple, besides the Olympic 100-meter final, sprinting gets much less love than distance work. Whether it’s the marketing of jogging gear, the social aspect of distance events, or the fact that “No Pain, No Gain” is imbedded into the average training psyche, you’re sure to see more people walking and jogging at your local track than to see them sprinting short portions of it, resting, and repeating.
In a world slowly being taken over and dominated by brightly colored equipment tools and fancy programming, we’ve forgotten to use the most important piece of equipment we were given, our body. And we’ve definitely forgotten to use it the way it was designed – to sprint.
Why Do We Run Marathons?
In Train Like a Man Part 4, I suggested that if Baron Pierre de Coubertin loved American folklore instead of Greek tragedy, perhaps we’d have millions of people lining up to test themselves in the 100 meter instead of 26 miles.
If our hero was a steel drivin’ sprinter, rather than a solitary noncombatant whose chosen pursuit literally ran him – and millions of poor souls centuries later to follow – into the ground, just perhaps the world and its view of fitness would be different.
In all the emails I’ve ever received, I don’t think I’ve ever received anything from a recreational athlete telling me they’re entering a 100-meter dash.
Why? Because it’s not okay to suck in a sprint.
If you jog – especially if you enter a marathon – it’s okay to be mediocre. By contrast, it’s decidedly not okay to suck at sprinting.
Show up to an actual race and take thirty seconds to run 100 meters and you’re absolutely exposed for the world to see. Suck at sprinting in the wild, and you’re somebody’s dinner.
Suck at the marathon, on the other hand, and they’ll hand you a juice box and a medal, even if you come in last.
The Paleo Idea
Add speed and power to any movement and the body changes. Look at a sprinting athlete versus a distance athlete. Large, developed muscles are the norm on just about any athlete involved in sprinting.
So why does this happen? You could cite the activation of the larger fast twitch fibers in sprinting or how cutting weight and losing muscle improves distance performance, but what about the “why” behind how sprinters look leaner and more muscular from seemingly much less work?
I have an interesting theory using the popular Paleo concept.
No one thinks twice about applying the Paleo concept to eating, but what about its application to movement? In terms of body development, sprinting is the ultimate Paleo exercise – and perhaps many of the problems we face today as a society are because this movement is no longer used during most peoples’ daily routine.
(Granted, like all Paleo arguments, this is mere speculation. Were we meat eaters or vegetarians? Were we distance runners or sprinters? Until we invent a time machine, we’ll just continue to enjoy the brainstorming and debate, but it’s still interesting to speculate.)
The TFW Lock-And-Key Mechanism of Sprinting
When I address groups of people, I ask them if they think ingesting 1000 calories of junk food has the same effect on the body as ingesting 1000 calories of fruits and vegetables.
Without fail, according to the Paleo dogma, every attendee answers the same way – they believe that a calorie isn’t just a calorie. So in terms of energy intake, most people agree that due to the way the human body was designed and has evolved, there are particular foods that can act as keys and unlock specific pathways to either promote health (muscle gain, fat loss, etc.), or allow detrimental effects (diabetes, cancer, heart disease) when those proper pathways aren’t accessed.
Well if we can all agree on energy intake, I’m confused why people rarely discuss caloric output in the same manner? If there’s an optimal input mechanism of calories to achieve optimal health, what about an optimal output mechanism?
If muscle growth, fat loss, and health are what you’re after, I argue that sprinting may be the key that no one’s using – because those thousand calories you’re burning when you jog aren’t nearly the same as when you burn them off at a sprint. Not even close.
That’s because when you jog, you’re not using your body the way it’s designed to be used. That’s what sprinting is for. I mean, why have an Achilles tendon if we’re supposed to run on our heels? Why have huge glutes if we’re supposed to simply jog monotonously and see how long we can last?
Is the reason we have big traps because we’re supposed to act as perpetual motion machines for the better part of five hours at a time? And why the hell are our quads so big if we’re just supposed to pound them with muscle-eating eccentrics from jogging? It makes no sense to me, and it shouldn’t make any to you, either.
Sprinting: The Real Measure Of Fitness
Distance jogging makes your lifts go down. Your muscle mass decreases and you have to accept it. On the other hand, sprinting mandates that you get your numbers higher to complement it.
To lower your marathon time, you need to get out and log miles, cut weight (including muscle), and get ready for pain. To lower your time in the 100-meter sprint you need to get strong, pack on muscle, lose fat, and get in some explosive, technical workouts.
So if you want to run faster, you have to do a few things:
- You have to increase your relative body strength, so you have to get stronger for the amount you weigh. You can accomplish this by adding muscle or losing fat, or both.
- You have to improve your sprint technique. This will be done through technical work, which will improve coordination. Here you may recognize specific areas in which to improve strength while developing muscular endurance specific to sprinting. And this is where my next article will focus.
So, to review, sprint training involves improvements in speed, strength, diet, endurance, coordination, and flexibility. Sounds a whole lot like fitness to me. To top it off, sprinting will also help any marathon runner. Too bad the opposite isn’t true.
But before you fans of distance running fire off your emails defending your chosen sport, I’m not saying that elite distance athletes aren’t impressive in terms of time Ð I’m saying they’re usually not impressive in terms of physique.
A guy that can run an under 5-minute mile pace for 26 miles is impressive in ability, no doubt, but he’s probably not concerned with having bigger arms or legs, or is even reading T Nation for that matter.
My Train Like a Man articles are for guys concerned about building mass, getting strong, and being able to clean clocks. And if I have to scrap, I’ll choose to battle the jogger over the sprinter every time.
Now that I’ve made a case for sprinting, Train Like a Man 6 will cover one of the muscle groups that will benefit most from this exercise.
by Mike T Nelson – 6/12/2012
Every time you turn around, there’s a new diet plan based on a hormone. While there’s some merit to all this madness, most of the plans fail to completely understand their respective physiological underpinnings. The body isn’t a simple, linear, straightforward machine – it’s complex and redundant at almost every turn.
This article will reveal some new research on the hormone leptin to provide some simple actions for you to take to help you get leaner. Just because the physiology is messy doesn’t mean your actions need to be complicated!
First, here’s a short crash course on this important hormone.
Leptin was discovered by Ingalls and friends in the early 1950’s (Ingalls, AM, et al 1950). Fast forward to the early 90’s when it was “rediscovered”, and many were predicting it would be the biggest weight loss breakthrough ever.
It’s a hormone that is released primarily by fat cells (adipocytes) and works to regulate appetite, body fat mass, and basal metabolic rate.
Until just a few years ago, researchers thought that fat cells sat on their collective butts all day and were only a storage place for unsightly body fat.
We know now that those pesky fat cells are very metabolically active, releasing and receiving a myriad of messenger hormones, one of which is leptin.
How Does Leptin Work?
Leptin travels up to the brain where it acts on receptors in the hypothalamus to inhibit appetite.
More leptin in your brain = less food intake.
This is great news for anyone looking to get leaner, since more leptin means you’ll be less likely to prowl your kitchen at 3 AM in search of leftover birthday cake. Leptin is your body’s way of putting the brakes on fat gain by decreasing appetite.
The chronic level of leptin you have is also a rough measure of the amount of fat you have on your body. Many things can affect leptin as shown in the table below:
Factors promoting leptin secretion
Excess energy stored as fat (obesity)
Inflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor and Interleukin-6 (acute effect)
Factors inhibiting leptin secretion
Low energy states with decreased fat stores (leanness)
Catecholamines and adrenergic agonists
Peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor-agonists
Inflammatory cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor (prolonged effect)
Leptin Super Mouse to the Rescue!
Researchers lead by Zhang,Y in the mid-1990s did a series of mouse experiments to show that mice with messed up leptin (ob/ob mouse) became fat little fury bastards (Zhang, Y et al. 1994).
Their metabolic rate was lower, they didn’t move as much, and they ate tons of mouse chow.
The catch was that this mouse ob/ob (think double obese) didn’t make any leptin at all.
To make the mouse lean, they injected it with leptin, and voila – a thin mouse again!
The researchers all joined hands, sang Kumbaya, and went out for tasty adult beverages while taking turns patting each other on the back for single-handedly solving the obesity problems. We just need to inject humans with leptin and poof, thin humans, and more visually appealing shopping experiences at Walmart.
The problem was it didn’t work.
Researchers measured blood levels of leptin in obese humans and found that leptin levels were sky high!
That wasn’t supposed to happen. Leptin levels were expected to be low since the humans were fat. As leptin increases, it signals that the body has enough fat, so we would expect low leptin levels in obese populations.
As you recall, when injected with leptin (thus increasing the level), the mice in the studies got thinner.
But these obese humans already had high levels of leptin. Injecting more leptin was like pissing in the ocean to try to raise the water level.
Leptin 201: The Receptor
It appeared that the receptor for leptin is out of joint. The receptor isn’t telling the brain that leptin is high. Tons of leptin, but the silly brain can’t tell since the receptor is as broke as Terrell Owens.
Why it Matters
We already know that sprint training is a great way to burn fat, but it may have another benefit.
A study done by Guerra et al. in 2011 looked at sprints as a leptin signaling mimetic.
Unlike most research, this study used a group of T Nation style humans who were pretty lean (about 15% body fat) and young (23 years old). They split them into two groups: a fasting group, and a glucose group where they ingested 75 grams of glucose one hour before sprints.
Both groups did one Wingate bike sprint for only 30 seconds.
If you’re not familiar with this set up, in short, it’s hop on a bike set to a high workload (10% of body weight used here) and pedal like a rabid grizzly bear is chasing you.
What They Found
Subjects had a series of muscle biopsies done over the course of the study and researchers found that a single session of sprint training showed alterations in leptin signaling. The sprints were jacking up leptin that, in theory, should get the waddling Walmart shoppers to start dropping fat.
However, this was not seen in the group that ingested glucose before their sprint. Only the fasted group saw leptin alterations.
It appears insulin may interfere with the leptin signaling to some degree. To quote the researchers directly:
“Altogether, these results indicate that sprint exercise performed under fasting conditions elicits signaling events similar to those described in the rodent skeletal muscle after leptin injections, i.e. sprint exercise under fasting conditions acts as a leptin signaling mimetic in human muscle. However, glucose ingestion before the sprint training exercise blunts this effect.” (Guerra et al. 2011)
So it appears that fasted sprint training can pinch hit for leptin.
Do This! A Training Template
Hop on a bike and work up to one maximum, all out, pedal-as-hard-as-you-can sprint for 30 seconds.
The tension should be relatively high, but the goal is to keep your pedaling at a fast pace for the entire 30 seconds. If you slowed to a snail pace 20 seconds in, go to a lighter workload.
Make sure this is done in a fasted condition, such as first thing in the morning.
Don’t have a bike? While the study didn’t look at running, it may elicit the same response as the pathways are very similar.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but my purely anecdotal experience with my athletes shows that this does seem to help speed fat loss.
More leptin is associated with less food intake.
Some may have a leptin receptor issue where it’s not responding to the amount of leptin floating around. Unfortunately, science isn’t at the point yet where we can easily tell who has a receptor issue, but the more overweight you are, the more prone you are to having broken leptin receptors.
Doing just one sprint in a fasted state works to pinch hit for leptin, putting you on the road to leanness. However, non-fasted training does not have the same effect. So add some sprint training in, but it has to be done in a fasted state.
Fasted sprints can be done any time on a fasting day (where you’re not consuming any calories), or done before breakfast. This way it’s unlikely to interfere with your normal training session.
While we don’t have a long-term study to show how much this will help your body composition, it’s simple to add in and there’s some very strong data to show it will help.
Heck, it only takes literally 30 seconds to do the sprint. Try it out, and let me know what you find.
Questions or comments? Post them in the LiveSpill below.
Everard, A., Lazarevic, V., Derrien, M., Girard, M., Muccioli, G. G., Neyrinck, A. M., Cani, P. D. (2011). Responses of gut microbiota and glucose and lipid metabolism to prebiotics in genetic obese and diet-induced leptin-resistant mice. Diabetes, 60(11), 2775-2786. doi:10.2337/db11-0227
Finocchietto PV, Holod S, Barreyro F, Peralta JG, Alippe Y, Giovambattista A, Carreras MC, Poderoso JJ. Defective leptin-AMP-dependent kinase pathway induces nitric oxide release and contributes to mitochondrial dysfunction and obesity in ob/ob mice. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 Nov 1;15(9):2395-406. Epub 2011 Jun 28.
Galgani, J. E., Greenway, F. L., Caglayan, S., Wong, M. L., Licinio, J., & Ravussin, E. (2010). Leptin replacement prevents weight loss-induced metabolic adaptation in congenital leptin-deficient patients. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 95(2), 851-855. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-1739
Guerra, B., Olmedillas, H., Guadalupe-Grau, A., Ponce-Gonzalez, J. G., Morales-Alamo, D., Fuentes, T., . . . Calbet, J. A. (2011). Is sprint exercise a leptin signaling mimetic in human skeletal muscle? Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985), 111(3), 715-725. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00805.2010
Ho, J. N., Jang, J. Y., Yoon, H. G., Kim, Y., Kim, S., Jun, W., & Lee, J. (2012). Anti-obesity effect of a standardised ethanol extract from curcuma longa L. fermented with aspergillus oryzae in ob/ob mice and primary mouse adipocytes. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, doi:10.1002/jsfa.5592; 10.1002/jsfa.5592
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Kelesidis, T., Kelesidis, I., Chou, S., & Mantzoros, C. S. (2010). Narrative review: The role of leptin in human physiology: Emerging clinical applications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 152(2), 93-100. doi:10.1059/0003-4819-152-2-201001190-00008
Kowalik, S., & Kedzierski, W. (2011). The effect of interval versus continuous exercise on plasma leptin and ghrelin concentration in young trotters. Polish Journal of Veterinary Sciences, 14(3), 373-378.
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Zhang, Y., Proenca, R., Maffei, M., Barone, M., Leopold, L., & Friedman, J. M. (1994). Positional cloning of the mouse obese gene and its human homologue. Nature, 372(6505), 425-432. doi:10.1038/372425a0
Not long ago, I frequently used the word “conditioning.” I thought the best way to condition athletes was through anaerobic workouts that tested the limits of pain and pushed the boundaries of regurgitation. After all, we’re taught that sports are anaerobic, and that blasé aerobic work has no place in a serious program.
Today, the word “conditioning” makes me cringe. As you can imagine, I cringe a lot. And, unlike before, vomit-inducing anaerobic work is rarely in the cards for me or my athletes. Thanks to people way smarter than me (Joel Jamieson, James Smith, Buddy Morris) I have an appreciation for different types of “conditioning,” much like I have an appreciation for different types of strength.
I can’t define “conditioning” as the very word is akin to the phrase “lifting weights.” You can lift weights in many ways and for many reasons. Most of us do it to get stronger. But others do it for more specific reasons, like training for strength-speed, strength-endurance, and starting strength. For those of you that managed to get past the first ten pages of Supertraining, you know this list continues seemingly ad infinitum.
So if we lift weights to get stronger, do we perform conditioning to become more conditioned? The problem is ambiguity. We have different types of “conditioning” just like we have different types of strength.
Conditioning, in its true sense, refers to training the body’s energy systems. We easily distinguish between the anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen) systems. We even associate different body types to proficiency in each system. Jacked football players and sprinters are anaerobic beasts. Gangly marathoners, however, are aerobic creatures.
But neither stereotype is correct because jacked football players frequently rely on the aerobic system. Yeah, I said it. Football is aerobic. Before I face the stones, let me explain.
Breaking the energy systems into anaerobic and aerobic isn’t enough. The anaerobic system can be further split into the alactic pathway and the lactic pathway. Each corresponds with the energy deriving metabolic processes.
Alactic Anaerobic – (ATP-CP) – 1 to 12 seconds – Immediate
Lactic Anaerobic – (Glycolytic) – 60 to 90 seconds – Intermediate
Aerobic – Hours – Long term
Bottom line is, all anaerobic work is not created equally. Football is a prime example. In an effort to “condition,” coaches rely on suicides, Prowler pushes, and Tabata intervals until their athletes’ legs are loaded with lactate and loopier than Gumby’s.
But the right kind of anaerobic? Nope.
Next, it’s important to know that each metabolic pathway has a power component (how fast the system can derive energy) and capacity component (how long the system can be sustained).
So someone with great alactic power can produce a few intensive bursts of energy at a high level. This, for example, includes an Olympic weightlifter, powerlifter, 100m sprinter, javelin thrower, shot-putter, etc. These athletes give a maximal effort, blow their load, and take a long time to recover. Just think of hitting a PR in the gym. It’s not easily repeatable.
Someone with great alactic power and capacity, however, can replicate intensive efforts over time – a baseball pitcher, for example. A pitcher with amazing alactic power will hit triple digits on the radar gun. But if their capacity sucks, their speed will diminish with each successive throw. So a pitcher with good capacity and decent power is likely to be a starter. One with a lot of power and shady capacity, however, more likely a closer.
Importance Of Capacity
Many sports require short-term explosiveness – alactic anaerobic power. This is why the NFL Combine gawks at 4.3 speed.
Over the past few years, aerobic work has been vilified for decreasing absolute explosive potential. But most sports require capacity in addition to power. There are problems if 4.3 speed turns into 4.7 speed during the second quarter, 5.5 speed during the third quarter, and 6.1 speed during the fourth quarter.
Ray Lewis isn’t known for playing six downs and calling it quits. He’s known for being on the field every play and always performing at a high level.
So what’s more important, absolute power, or the capacity to sustain power? Wouldn’t it be better to run a consistent 4.5 and sacrifice a little power for a lot of capacity?
The Aerobic System’s Role
There are two underappreciated aspects of the aerobic system. First, it’s very important in developing alactic anaerobic capacity (think explosive stuff). Second, most sports are aerobic despite the common perception.
Upon exercise, all energy systems turn on. The power clean is rooted in alactic anaerobic power because of its short duration, not because the aerobic system fails to ignite. The duration, not the intensity, determines energy system involvement.
As repeat sprint exercise continues, the energy system contributions become “truer” to their respective time zones. And each successive explosive bout increasingly relies on the aerobic system (1)(2).
But studies emerged about aerobic work diminishing explosive ability. And we all got caught up in absolute power, foregoing capacity.
“Despite the endless promotion of interval training as the only form of training necessary,” Joel Jamieson says, “the world of combat sports has not seen a noticeable increase in conditioning over this time. If anything, the general conditioning level of fighters today is worse than it’s been in the past.”
Basketball is another example. There are some sprints and jumps here and there, but for the most part you see guys trotting up and down the court. Yeah, they’re jogging. Fancy that.
Somehow we’re brainwashed into thinking that athletes never jog, but it happens in nearly every sport. In soccer, unless the ball is in their vicinity, athletes lazily move about the field. Football? Jogging to and from the sideline and back to the line after every play.
And what about athletes with their faces in oxygen masks (even though they don’t really work)? I don’t foresee Boba Fett inspired uniforms with oxygen tank backpacks anytime soon, so these guys better start fixing their shitty aerobic development.
To be fair, the sports mentioned also have a short-term explosive component, which makes respecting the work-to-rest interval important. A 2009 study found that, “More than 70% of the total [soccer] match duration was performed at low “aerobic” intensities, while only 1-3% of the match was performed at high-intensities (“sprinting”) (3). The overall work-to-rest ratio of these soccer players averaged out to a 2-4 second sprint every 90 seconds.”
In math speak that interval looks like 4:90. Football usually shakes out to 6:40, barring a two-minute drill (in which case it becomes even more aerobic). Olympic weightlifting, at minimum rest, is about 3:120. Truer alactic anaerobic sports like javelin and the 100m have even longer rest periods.
Compare those ratios to Tabata’s 20:10. Not even close.
Aerobic Work vs. Lifting Weights
Way back, nearly all athletes performed aerobic work. Bill Starr writes about running in The Strongest Shall Survive. Thomas Kurz in The Science of Sports Training notes that weightlifters jog in the early off-season. Old school fighters were known for doing roadwork. Hell, even Ricky Bruch, the eccentric discus thrower, jogged.
Now, aerobic work is shunned. But the aerobic system not only increases overall health markers but also aids in recovery from heavy weight training sessions.
As discussed in Heart Rate Variability Training, an over active sympathetic nervous system – a pitfall of shitty aerobic development – destroys performance.
It’s like this: a developed aerobic system kick starts the recovery process. More time recovering means more recovery.
Also, you’re able to save and concentrate “intense” bouts of energy for when they really matter. The opposite of this being in a constantly amped up state and slowly wearing yourself down – this is what I referred to as “idling” in 12 Tips to Tune the Nervous System.
Methods of Aerobic Development
Aerobic doesn’t always mean distance running. As long as your heart rate stays around 120-150 BPM (everyone has a different lactate threshold) and lactate doesn’t accumulate, you’re training the aerobic system. “Fun” things outside of distance running are stringing together a circuit of the following:
- Rope jumping
- Mobility exercises
- Tumbling and locomotor movements (cartwheels, forward rolls, backward rolls to handstands, inch worm walks, and bear crawls).
But if you enjoy running, tempo runs, essentially “low intensity” interval training, are a great choice. Tempo runs involve running a predetermined distance in a time window that’s of a low enough intensity to tax the aerobic system and yet fail to go anaerobic (70 yards in 20 seconds, for instance). Once the distance is covered, the runner can rest for thirty-or-so seconds to keep the heart rate in check before doing another heat.
More specific to a lifter, however, is a method used by track coach Dan Pfaff that consists of doing many sets of Olympic lifts over the course of 50+ minutes for 1-2 reps, striving to keep the heart rate around 150 BPM.
Ultimately, the best aerobic work matches the specific demands of training. A circuit of push-ups, squats, and pull-ups can train the aerobic system, but it isn’t ideal for a soccer player. Lance Armstrong isn’t a world class marathon runner. His adaptations are specific to riding a bike.
Aerobic work is making a comeback. All conditioning isn’t created equally. What’s the work : rest interval? What energy system(s) are utilized? Do you need capacity? Power? Or both?
One thing is for sure: you could stand to do a bit more aerobic work. That is, unless you’re holding out for the Boba Fett technology.
The 6-Week Sprinting Solution
Welcome to the 6-6-6 Sprinting Solution – the 6-week interval-training program that will radically alter your conditioning, increase endurance and power, and drop stupid amounts of body fat.
Interested? Well, before we get into the program, let me tell you how this all started.
I’m Getting Old(er)
It’s true. I’m getting old…er. Less than six months from now I’ll be 30, and boy does that feel weird. As I crest the rise of the hill leading the way into the twilight of my youth, I’m starting to realize what everyone has always told me is true: it sucks getting old.
Now, before those of you in the 40-50+ crowd jump all over me, let me say that yes, I’m completely aware that by most standards, I’m still quite young.
I guess I should amend my statement to say, “Things change as you get older.” I think we can all agree on that, no matter how old we are.
As recently as five years ago, things were a bit easier. Fact is, things were a breeze, especially in the fat loss department.
When I was 21-24, man, I was a beast. I needed exactly three weeks – and three weeks only – to get ready for the summer. That meant if beach season started in June, I didn’t really have to start prepping until sometime in May.
I didn’t know how good I had it.
This year, I had to start my summer prep in late March. Even with my advanced fat loss workouts and my knowledge of diet, it still took me about 6-8 weeks to get into the extreme lean shape that I like to maintain for the summer.
To try to figure out what the deal was, I pulled out my training journals from the past several years and compared my summer prep.
The first thing that jumped out at me was my diet. I used to eat the same thing every damn day! The foods were all healthy and even tasted good, but my culinary limitations certainly put a clamp on any kind of variation.
But that wasn’t the answer. While I enjoy a broader spectrum of foods today, my overall diet is very similar in terms of calories and macronutrients. I eat more foods, but I’m not eating more food.
If anything, my diet has gotten better. I know a lot more advanced fat loss techniques than I did five or six years ago, and have tweaked practices like intermittent fasting, cheat days, and carb/calorie cycling to achieve impressive transformations with hundreds of soldiers in the growing Roman Empire.
Looking more closely, the difference between what I did and what I was doing was sprinting. Back in the day, I used to sprint three times per week, without fail. Every. Single. Week.
Now, I sprint about once per week.
However, it’s not quite that simple. While I sprint less often today, I’ve taken that into account in how I train today, and the added activity from my workouts more than makes up for it.
This led me to ask, “Is there something special about sprinting that helps me lose fat so quickly?
Only one way to find out, of course.
Return to the Track
The next week, I sprinted Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, doing traditional HIIT/Tabata style workouts. It went pretty well; felt a bit like Ol’ Roman lost a step or two, but I guess I shouldn’t expect to hold onto my 40-yard dash time forever.
I did this for two weeks. Then, Saturday morning of the second week, I got up and had a serious problem.
Or perhaps, I woke up, because I certainly didn’t get up – I had a hard time getting up most of the day. My hamstrings, glutes, and lower back were killing me, although I’d been aggressively foam rolling and stretching.
I got some soft tissue work done – massage and ART – and thought I’d be good for Monday. I was excited to get back to it because, to be honest, I was getting leaner already. I guess there is something special about sprinting after all.
Well, Monday rolled around, and during my warm up, I damn near felt my hamstring pull off my femur. Why did this happen?
This brings us back to the “I’m getting older” matter. It means that I can’t recover as quickly.
Add to that another problem: I’m too good at it.
Between football and track, I learned how to truly sprint, not just jog really fast. I know the techniques, I understand stride, and I’m a power-based runner.
All of which means that when I sprint, I do it correctly – I use a lot of muscle and generate a lot of force. While that’s probably what makes sprinting so effective for me, it also makes it very taxing.
Herein lies the problem. Sprinting seems to have an almost magical effect on fat loss, but the better you are at it, the more careful you have to be. If you’re an advanced trainee, there’s a threshold that you can’t cross without greatly impeding your ability to recover.
I set forth to figure out how I could fix it and get shredded like when I was a kid.
I did a lot of experiments, ranging from decreasing the length of my sprints and just doing more of them, to packing all my sprinting into one day (bad idea).
I managed to find what works the best – a happy medium of incredible results, paired with a set up that allows for total recovery.
I mean total recovery. Not only will this sprint set up allow you to recover in a way that it won’t interfere with subsequent sprint sessions, you won’t even mess up your weight training workouts – even if it’s a leg workout on the same day!
The secret is frequency.
The more often you train, the better your recovery – to a point. You still need to rest. In this program, you’ll be sprinting six times per week.
If this all sounds counterintuitive given my injury woes from sprinting three times per week, consider this little wrinkle: in training, whenever you increase frequency, you have to adjust but (not necessarily decrease) volume.
In a weight-training context, if you normally bench for ten sets on Monday and wish to increase your frequency, you could split up benching over two days, say five sets on Monday and Thursday.
Now, instead of just doing five sets on each day, you could try six. Your total volume goes up, but your daily volume goes down.
Taking it a step further, you could do four sets, three days per week. Finally, if you want to take it all the way, you could do three sets, five days per week. Your total is 15 sets – 50% more volume – but spread over a greater time.
Because you’re resting and never hitting total exhaustion, you can actually perform more work over the week. Furthermore, you could also gradually increase the weight to increase results.
Understanding this principle, I began applying it to sprinting. And what do you know, it worked. Over the course of a few weeks, I came up with:
The 6-6-6 Sprinting Solution
6 days per week
Bam. It’s that simple.
Back when I used to do full sprint workouts three times per week, I’d perform 10 sprints per workout, for a total of 30 sprints per week. Each of these was a full-out sprint, lasting 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest in between.
Pretty obvious why it was so challenging, huh?
I decided to up the frequency and keep the volume moderate. I wanted to sprint every day, as I predicted that this would allow me to drastically lower the volume to allow for recovery.
After experimentation, I found that I could sprint six days per week with no issue.
Then came the volume. I began with five sprints per day, meeting my total of 30 sprints per week. At 20 seconds each, it would still be a challenge, but I thought I could do it.
Well, it worked for a bit, but I started to feel burnt out again.
I decided to look at volume a bit more deeply. I started looking at my total week work time; that is, my total amount of time spent sprinting.
In my initial model of three days per week and 10 sprints, I was sprinting for a total of 200 seconds per day, or 600 seconds per week.
In my first version of sprinting six days per week, that was simply divided over six days instead of three. That is, five sprints of 20 seconds for a total of 100 seconds per day, or a total of 600 seconds per week.
It was good, but I still felt like I wasn’t recovering well enough. That’s because, like you, I simply wasn’t accustomed to daily sprinting. My legs needed more time to recover.
So it was back to the lab again, this time to see if the workload could be tweaked. I reasoned (correctly) that if I allowed myself to build up to the total time workload, I could not only achieve 600 seconds, but also perhaps more – all while burning fat and allowing for adequate recovery.
I switched the rest periods to allow for optimal recovery during each workout, giving me the “space” to make progress from week to week.
All told, this new program would give me the best of all worlds – the benefits of daily sprinting (constantly elevated metabolic rate, daily caloric burn), as well as built-in progression, meaning that while I’m forcing adaptation from increasing workload, I’m staying ahead of the adaptation curve.
Increases in fat loss, aerobic capacity, and overall athleticism. All with minimal time and a small daily commitment. Not too shabby.
Okay, enough talk. Let’s get to the workouts!
The Triple 6 Workouts
- The number in the work column of the tables below represents your work time, and the number in the rest column is your rest time. If you see “10” and “20” in those columns respectively, that means sprint for 10 seconds and rest for 20 seconds.
- These workouts are done on a treadmill, which allows for convenience with both performance and timing. While you can do these as outdoor sprints, you’ll run into the issue of clock-watching.
- Sprinting on a treadmill is a bit tricky. Be careful, and be sure to use the handrails as you jump on and off. When you’re resting, simply grab the handrails and jump onto the side rails of the treadmill. To jump back on, grab the handrails and start sprinting again. Maintain your grip on the handrails for the first second or two.
- If you choose to train outside, my recommendation would be to sprint for distances instead of times. Take the given time and multiply it by 8; that’s the distance you’ll run in yards. So a 10-second sprint becomes an 80-yard sprint. Your rest period is the amount of time it takes to briskly walk or jog back to the starting point.
- Each week, do a single sprint workout, six days per week. The workouts are structured to be progressive, allowing each week to build on the previous week.
- If at any point you feel like the workout is too easy, simply increase the speed or incline on the treadmill – not the time. The time is how we measure progress week to week, so increasing your sprints because you feel strong one day is going to mess with the program.
- Ideally, do these workouts first thing in the morning. If you’re going to be training in the morning, sprint first and train after.
- Stretch before and after. Stay hydrated. Insert other disclaimers. Don’t be an idiot and hurt yourself.
On to the show!
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 85 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 510 seconds
Notes on Week 1: You’ll notice that in this week you’re sprinting for a total of 510 seconds, which is a great start. However, the important part here is the set up. You’re never going to dig yourself into too deep of a hole, because the rest periods are structured to allow you a nice bit of recovery.
There are only two sprints lasting 20 seconds – one when you’re fresh, and one when you’ve rested for a “long” period of 15 seconds. More importantly, each of those 20 second sprints is followed by a short sprint of only 10 seconds. This short follow up sprint won’t tax you too much, so you can recover more effectively on subsequent rest periods.
Overall, this will break you in and allow for some nice fat loss. Week one is also a good gauge of where your weaknesses may reside.
If at the end of the workout you’re winded, we’ve got some issues and you should repeat this. On the other hand, if you’re not winded but having trouble closing out some of the sprints, that may be an issue with local fatigue, and will work itself out over the week.
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 85 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 510 seconds
Notes on Week 2: During the second week of the program, you’ll notice that your total sprint times are the same. Where’s the progression from week one?
While your work time is unchanged, the structure of the workouts is what makes this a bit harder. You only have a single 20-second sprint here, followed by a short 10-second sprint. However, from there you have to deal with three 15-second sprints in a row, all with equal rest periods. This forces higher performance with less rest.
While you’re not doing more overall work than Week 1, you’re allowed less recovery during the latter part of the workout. This will help increase work capacity and prepare you for more total work in the coming week.
Moreover, having multiple “long” sprints helps build local endurance in your legs, ensuring that as you progress in the program, tired legs won’t hamper you.
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 90 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 540 seconds
Notes on Week 3: This week, we progress in a few different areas.
First, you’ll notice that the total work time increases to 90 seconds of total sprinting per day. While five seconds may seem a small difference, when we’re talking sprints, every little bit helps.
Looking at the structure, you can see how the difficulty will escalate. The short 10-second sprint and 20-second rest combo is gone, meaning that your longest rest period is now at the very end of the workout.
Instead of being able to recover to any real degree, you jump into 15/15 alternations for the majority of the workout.
Although it’s only a 1:1 work/rest combo, it’s still physically exhausting and serves to improve cardiovascular endurance while burning fat.
This also begins to draw on the enhanced local endurance in your legs that was built during the first three weeks.
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 85 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 510 seconds
Notes on Week 4: Again, we have a week where there’s no increase in total training volume, but rather changes in structure.
Week 4 introduces the first appearance of two 20-second sprints back to back. This is exceptionally challenging, particularly with only 10 seconds of rest in between.
Thankfully, by this point you have a lot of experience with doing 15-second sprints back to back, so you’re prepared for it.
The structure here is hard in the beginning, then a bit soft in the middle – two 10-second sprints with 20 seconds of rest isn’t hard.
In many ways, this week is almost a “deload” week. It’s easier than previous weeks, and serves to prepare you for the upcoming long sprints back to back.
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 95 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 570 seconds
Notes on Week 5: This week workload goes up again, but that’s not the only way things get more difficult.
Along with increasing sprint time to 95 seconds per day, you’re also packing the seconds closer together with less rest.
As with Week 4, the long sprints are in the front; however, this time you only have a single 10-second sprint/20 second rest combo, followed by three 15/15 bouts to finish off the workout.
You’re being forced to increase work output with diminished recovery time. You’ll never fully recover, and each sprint will take it out of you, making subsequent sprints even harder.
Of course, the end result is increased fitness and decreased fatness.
Optional: 15 min incline walk for extra fat burning
Total Sprint Time for the Workout: 100 seconds
Total Sprint Time for the Week: 600 seconds
Notes on Week 6: This week, we finally get to the goal of sprinting for 100 total seconds per day, totaling 600 per week.
However, unlike my first shot at this, you won’t be burned out because you’ll have prepared for it over the previous weeks – while losing fat!
With Week 6, it’s all work and no play. You’ve got two 20-second sprints in the front. This time, there’s no 10-second recovery sprint followed by 20 seconds of rest.
No sweet air – just a double dose of 15-second bad boys to follow it up.
After that, you finally get a break with a 10-second sprint. After 20 brief seconds of rest, however, you’re right back into the grind, finishing out strong with a 20-second sprint of agony.
By the end of the workout you’ll be cursing my family for six generations in either direction. You’ll also be burning fat and getting into the best cardiovascular shape of your life.
Week 6 can be performed for up to two additional weeks (stretching the program to a total of 8 weeks) before you need to take a week off and rest.
Provided you practiced some dietary diligence, by this time you should also have an adorable litter of six round and fuzzy abdominal muscles snuggled up neatly above your belly button. In honor of the efficacy of this program, please name the cutest of the bunch Roman.
Other Training and Odds and Ends
Of course, you’ll want to do some other training outside of just sprints during the next six weeks, so it’s important that we briefly cover that.
While the 6-6-6 program can be done in concert with nearly any training program, some are a better fit than others. The best training program would be a full body fat loss workout, done 2-3 times per week.
First, a fat loss workout is going to help maximize the effects you’re looking for with the program in the first place (duh). Second, a full body program is very much in the same vein as the 6-6-6 program itself – frequent stimulation, but lower daily volume.
This means that you can do a full body program with no modifications, despite the fatigue and compromised recovery you’re likely to have from the sprinting.
Here’s the workout I recommend while following the 6-6-6 Sprinting program:
|A1||Barbell Push Press||1||8|
|A2||Pull-up with 2-second pause||1||6-8|
|A3||Alternating DB Lunge||1||8*|
|A4||Single-Leg Glute Bridge with 3-second pause||1||8*|
|A5||Bodyweight Plank||1||45 sec.|
|A6||DB Floor Press||1||12|
|A7||Bent Over Barbell Row||1||10|
Rest 10-20 seconds between exercise.
Perform this circuit four times, resting 2-3 minutes between circuits.
Remember that despite the short daily workout, sprinting is taxing, and should be given top priority, at least for six weeks. Therefore, while the above workout is effective, it’s designed to work alongside the sprints, which is why the leg volume is toned down. As long as you choose appropriate weights and move briskly, this brief circuit will shred off fat while keeping your strength levels up.
For those who wish to continue on with their regularly scheduled training, the obvious modifications concern leg training.
First, on days where you train legs, sprinting will be optional. If you choose to sprint on your leg training days (masochist), sprint first and reduce your weights. Period. Don’t be a tough guy, and don’t think you’re smarter than ol’ Roman. Reduce the weight, and do the sprints first.
The other mandatory change to make is to avoid sprinting the day after your leg training. You need one day to recover. Take that time to stretch, do some extra foam rolling, and read my blog.
In a perfect world, we’d all grow old gracefully and become more distinguished versions of our youthful selves while not losing an ounce of our youthful athletic ability; like George Clooney with Reggie Bush’s six-pack and 40-yard dash time.
Unfortunately, Father Time catches up with all of us, and while we can’t stop the clock, we can slow that fucker down some. Sprinting – along with other activities that require natural athleticism – is a great place to start.
Most of you likely spent the holidays relaxing with family and friends while assaulting your senses with food, alcohol, and the new Justin Bieber Christmas album. But while you were out decking the halls in your gay apparel, I was poring over the latest strength and conditioning research so you can kick off 2012 on the right foot. The typical lifter, athlete, personal trainer, strength coach, or physical therapist is bound to find something useful in this article.
Stretching and DOMS
DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) typically arises within a day of exercise and peaks in intensity at around 48 hours. Many strength & conditioning practitioners believe that stretching before or after exercise will reduce soreness.
Henschke and Lin (2011) reviewed the research on this topic and concluded that stretching does not affect muscle soreness. Twelve total studies were included with a combined 2,377 participants. Pooled estimates showed that pre- and post-exercise stretching reduced soreness on average by one point on a 100-point scale one day following exercise, increase soreness on average by one point on a 100-point scale two days following exercise, and had no effect on soreness by day three.
Findings were consistent across settings (lab vs. field studies), types of stretching, intensity of stretching, populations (athletic, untrained, men, women) and study quality, so the conclusions are not likely to change with future research. To reiterate, stretching doesn’t affect muscle soreness.
Power Lifts versus Olympic Lifts – Peak Power Outputs
For decades coaches have argued about whether Olympic lifting is mandatory for athletes seeking maximal power production. Some coaches are strong advocates of Olympic variations based on the premise that Olympic lifts produce much higher power outputs compared to the powerlifts (Garhammer, 1993).
This may be true for maximal Olympic lifts compared to maximal power lifts, but this is because maximum power is derived with differing loads in the Olympic lifts compared to the power lifts. Maximum power is obtained with much heavier loads relative to 1RM with Olympic lifts, whereas with power lifts, maximum power is achieved with much lighter loads relative to 1RM.
Data from Garhammer (1980) showed that the highest peak power outputs involved in elite Olympic weightlifters belonged to lifters from the 110kg weight class. These lifters developed 4,807 watts of power during certain phases of the Olympic lifts. Examining the power clean, Winchester et al. (2005) reported maximum power values of 4,230 watts while Cormie et al. (2007) reported maximum power values of 4,900 watts.
A recent study examining 23 powerlifters and rugby players showed that deadlifts at 30% of 1RM produced 4,247 watts of power (Swinton et al., 2011a). This is slightly less than values reported by the same researchers in another recent study, which showed that peak power in a straight bar deadlift was 4,388 watts (at 30% of 1RM) while peak power in a hex bar deadlift was 4,872 watts (at 40% of 1RM). In fact, some individuals were able to reach values over 6,000 watts in the submaximal deadlifts (Swinton et al., 2011b).
The Olympic weightlifting versus powerlifting debate will undoubtedly continue to rage, but this emerging research should provide some interesting fuel to the equation. Considering the available research, it appears that dynamic effort hex bar deadlifts with 40% of 1RM can match the Olympic lifts – including the power clean – in peak power production.
Full ROM Versus Partials for Hypertrophy
Several studies have been conducted measuring the effects of full range of motion (ROM) lifts versus partial ROM lifts on maximal strength, but until now no study had measured the effects of full ROM lifts versus partial ROM lifts on hypertrophy.
Ronei et al. (published ahead of print) found that performing two sessions/week of preacher curls for ten weeks with full ROM (0° to 130° of elbow flexion) resulted in significantly higher muscle thickness gains in the biceps compared to the partial ROM group (50° to 100° of elbow flexion). The full ROM group increased hypertrophy by 9.52%, whereas the partial ROM group only by 7.37%, although the volume for the full ROM group was 36% lower than that of the partial ROM group.
The subjects used in this study lacked resistance training experience, so conclusions should be limited to newbies. Based on this research, newbies should use a full ROM to maximize hypertrophic adaptations.
Sprint Acceleration – Everything Works
Australian researchers recently came up with a very cool study – they examined the effects of four different protocols (free sprinting, weights, plyometrics, and resisted sprinting) on sprint acceleration performance (Lockie et al., published ahead of print). Subjects consisted of field athletes who were already training at least three hours per week. Respective additional training sessions were performed twice per week for 60 minutes each for six total weeks.
Here are the highlights:
- All groups significantly increased their 0-5 meter and 0-10 meter velocity by 9-10%.
- All groups significantly increased their mean step length.
- The weights and plyometrics groups also significantly increased their 5-10 meter velocity.
- The free sprinting group significantly increased their 5-bound test, a measure of horizontal power.
- The free sprinting, plyometrics, and resisted sprinting groups significantly increased their reactive strength index (jump height divided by contact time), a measure of elastic strength.
- All groups significantly increased their 3RM squat and relative 3RM squat, with the weights group showing the largest increases in strength.
- All groups increased their speed through increases in stride length, not by way of increases in stride frequency or decreased contact time.
This study showed that the underlying mechanisms for improvements were protocol-specific. Prior research has shown that combined training yields even greater results than using one specific method (Kotzamanidis et al. 2005), so chances are even better results could be realized if multiple protocols were trained concurrently.
Moreover, the weights group performed just vertical plane exercises consisting of squats, step ups, hip flexion, and calf raises. It’s possible that the weights group could have seen even better results had the researchers added in a horizontal hip strengthening exercises such as a hip thrust or a back extension.
The Kettlebell Swing
Brand new research by McGill and Marshall (published ahead of print) has taken a close look at the kettlebell swing. Swings were performed one arm at a time with a 16kg kettlebell and were initiated with the participant in the squat position with a neutral spine. Participants were cued to “initiate the swing through the sagittal plane by simultaneously extending their hips, knees and ankles and to use the momentum to swing the kettlebell to chest level and return to their initial starting position.”
Here are the highlights:
- Lumbar spine ROM ranged from 26 degrees of flexion at the bottom of the movement to 6 degrees of extension at the top of the movement.
- Hip ROM ranged from 75 degrees of flexion at the bottom of the movement to 1 degree of extension at the top.
- Knee ROM ranged from 69 degrees of flexion to 2 degrees of extension.
- As the movement progressed from the bottom of the swing to the top of the swing, back muscle activation peaked first at around 50% of MVC, followed by abdominal/oblique activation at around 20-30% of MVC, followed by gluteal muscle activation at around 75% of MVC.
- The glutes were closely associated with end-range hip extension torque.
- Spinal loading was greatest in the beginning of the swing (461N of shear and 3195N of compression), which dropped significantly as the ROM progressed to the middle of the swing (326N of shear and 2328N of compression) and finally to the top of the swing (156N of shear and 1903N of compression).
- The effort is mostly concentric as gravity assists most of the eccentric component of the swing.
- Muscle activation ramps up during a half-second interval in the concentric phase and then transitions to almost complete relaxation during much of the eccentric phase.
Russian kettlebell master Pavel Tsatsouline participated in this study and was able to reach 150% MVC in his erector spinae and 100% MVC in this gluteal muscles with just a 32kg kettlebell.
Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors
One of my American strength coach buddies in Auckland gave me an amazing book to read during my free time titled Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors: Volume I. Randy Roach, the author, spent considerable time researching the history of bodybuilding, from the origins of physical culture through the rise of the iron game. You may recall T Nation contributor Chris Colucci interviewing Randy about the book in 2009here.
I was very interested in learning more about some of the personalities of the characters who helped mould and shape the industry, including the Weiders, Bob Hoffman, and Vince Gironda to name a few. Though geniuses, most of our founders seem like eccentric and overly arrogant egomaniacs.
You’ll certainly find it interesting to learn about the “Weider Research Clinic,” not to mention the origins of various debates such as those pertaining to the squat exercise or training for strength versus size, and finally the infiltration of anabolic steroids.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the bodybuilding and nutrition industries as it’s important to know and understand their roots and progression.
A study has finally been conducted examining the training methods of strongman competitors. Until now no such study existed. Winwood et al. (2011) surveyed 167 strongmen from 20 different countries on a variety of training topics.
Here are the highlights:
- 66% of strongmen reported that the back squat was the most frequently performed type of squat. Front squats were often performed as well.
- 88% of strongmen reported that the conventional deadlift was the most frequently performed type of deadlift. Partial deadlifts were often performed as well.
- 80% of strongmen periodize their training and 83% use a training log.
- 74% of strongmen perform hypertrophy training, 97% of strongmen perform maximal strength work, 90% of strongmen perform power training, and 90% of strongmen perform aerobic/anaerobic conditioning.
- 60% of strongmen perform dynamic effort squats and deadlifts (explosive reps with submaximal loads), 56% use elastic bands, and 38% use chains.
- 88% of strongmen incorporate Olympic lifting into their arsenals with 78% performing the clean. The jerk, snatch and high pull were frequently performed as well.
- 54% of strongmen perform lower body plyometrics, 29% upper body plyometrics, and 20% ballistics (i.e., jump squat, bench throw).
- 55% of strongmen perform HIIT and 53% perform low intensity cardio.
- 54% of strongmen competitors train with strongman implements once per week and 24% train with strongman implements twice per week.
- 82% of strongmen perform the tire flip, 95% perform the log clean and press, 94% perform the stones, 96% perform the farmers walk, and 49% perform the truck pull. Other strongman implements and exercises performed included various types of overhead presses (Viking, sleeper press, and dumbbells), carries (Conan’s wheel, shield, hydrant, and frame), pulls (harness, arm over arm, ropes, and chains), walks (duck and yoke), lifts (safe, kettlebells, and car deadlifts), holds (crucifix), and grip exercise (block, hand, and tools).
Low Back Loads
Many trainees fail to grasp spinal loading, in terms of both biomechanics and in common levels reached during functional movement, sports, and exercise. To help address this poorly understood topic, I created a chart below involving over twenty different studies.
Before you delve into this chart and start analyzing the data, there are a few things you should understand:
- First, if you want to convert Newtons to pounds, know that one Newton equals .224808943 pounds of force. Conversely, one pound of force is equal to 4.44822162 Newtons. You can use these numbers to convert back and forth from pounds to Newtons and vice versa. For example, in Cholewicki’s deadlift study, 17,192N of compressive force equates to (17,942N)(.224808943 lbs/N) = 4,034 pounds of force.
- The reason why such incredible compressive forces are placed on the spine during deadlifts has a lot to do with the intense contractions of core muscles needed to support the spine. These muscles clamp down on the spine, causing compressive forces to far exceed the load of the barbell. Granhed’s study used a slightly lower moment-arm measurement for the spinal extensor musculature (5 cm compared to 6 cm) than Cholewicki’s study that helps explain the larger values reported.
- Due to the orientation of the various vertebrae, joint shear force estimates are highly dependent on the vertebral level examined. For example, L5/S1 is inclined forward around 30° more than L4/L5, causing it to receive much higher shear forces. For this reason, comparisons should only be made between studies examining the same vertebral level (and even then methodology differences complicate matters). Moreover, shear forces can be directed anteriorly or posteriorly; this chart doesn’t specify the direction of forces.
|Football linemen blocking manoeuvre||L4/L5||8,679N||3,304N
|Lifting a 50 pound box from knee to waist height||L5/S1||6,000-7,000N||1,200-1,600N||Marras|
|Lifting a 33 pound box||L5/S1||6,342N||1,755N||Kingma|
|Pushing and pulling at waist height with 40% of bodyweight||L2/L3||N/A||1,100-1,200N||Knapik|
|Half squat w/loads of .8-1.6x bodyweight||L3/L4||10x bodyweight*||N/A||Cappozzo|
|Combined (sumo and conventional)||L3/L4||18,800-36,400N||N/A||Granhed|
|Straight leg sit up||L4/L5||3,230N||260N||McGill|
|Bent knee sit up||3,410N||300N|
|Straight leg sit up||L4/L5||3,502N||N/A||Axler|
|Bent knee sit up||3,350N|
|Lying leg raise||2,525N|
|Hanging straight leg raise||2,805N|
|Hanging bent knee leg raise||3,313N|
|Standing cable walkout||L4/L5||2,743-4,185N||464-714N||McGill|
|Overhead cable push||2,327-3,006N||584-760N|
|Isometric axial twist||L5/S1||3,382-4,158N||1,409-1,688N||Arjmand|
|Low Back Exercises||Site||Compressive
|Quadruped hip ext||L4/L5||2,000N||150N||Callaghan|
|Standing isometric back extension||L5/S1||1,400-1,600N||950-1,100N||Kingma|
|Swing to snatch||2,992N||404N|
|Atlas stone lift||5,659N||635N|
|Bent over row||L4/L5||3,576N||87N||McGill|
|Push Up Exercises||Site||Compressive
In 1981 the NIOSH set action limits for compression at 3,400N with maximum permissible limits at 6,300N. Some spinal experts have suggested that maximum shear loads should be limited to 1,000N.
As you can see, much of what we do on the field or in the weight room exceeds these limits (sometimes by a large margin). Many coaches vilify certain exercises based on the levels of spinal loading they produce only to prescribe alternative exercises that exceed the levels reached in the exercises they discourage. Hopefully this chart will assist coaches with logical consistency in exercise prescription decision-making.
Coaches have long debated whether specific neck training is necessary for maximum neck strength and size. Some say that neck isolation lifts are needed, while others say that posterior chain exercises such as squats, deadlifts, shrugs, and bent over rows will build all the necessary neck strength and size.
I recently located a study conducted in 1997 by researchers out of The University of Georgia that took a close look at the topic of training for neck strength and size (Conley et al., 1997). One group performed 12 weeks of squats, push presses, rack pulls, shrugs, RDL’s, bent over rows, and crunches.
Another group added in neck harness extensions. Group number one failed to increase their neck extension strength and neck size, whereas group number two saw a 34% increase in neck extension strength and a 13% increase in the cross-sectional area of selected neck muscles (mostly the splenius capitis, semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis and multifidus). Take home message: If maximum neck size and strength is important to you, then make sure you perform some isolation exercises for the neck.
Yin and Yang Planks: The Hardstyle Plank
RKC creator Pavel Tsatsouline likes to talk about yin and yang planks. Yin planks are performed by simply chillaxin’ in the plank position. You might think your 3-minute plank is pretty badass, but George Hood, a 54-year-old former Marine and DEA Agent, recently shattered your best plank performance by a long shot. On December 3, 2011, in Naperville, Illinois, Hood held a plank for 1 hour, 20 minutes, and 5 seconds. You read that correctly – over 80 minutes! While incredibly impressive, this is an extreme example of a Yin plank, since it can be held for a prolonged period of time. Here’s a video highlighting Hood’s performance:
A yang plank, on the other hand, is done with an all-out performance in a shorter period of time. Allow me to introduce the RKC plank.
The RKC plank is a reverse-engineered core exercise that’s evolved into a brutal full body iso-hold. The RKC plank is also called the “Hardstyle Plank,” and when done right, wipes you out completely after only 10 seconds.
Pavel likes to teach his students the “yang” plank and show them how they can completely exhaust their bodies through maximum static exertion. The RKC plank has you manipulating whole body muscle tension to generate maximum internal work from the plank position.
Though you won’t be moving – it’s a static exercise – you’ll be engaging in an all-out 10-second isometric war by applying torque to joints that are locked into the ground by gravity. Pavel has all sorts of nifty cues that he’s come up with and will even teach you how to breathe efficiently for maximum performance, but I’m a straight up biomechanics geek so my instructions will be very cut and dry. Here’s the RKC plank in 10 not-so-easy steps:
- Get into standard plank position
- Make sure the neck is in neutral and there’s a straight line from the head to the toes
- Keep the forearms in neutral and the elbows placed directly underneath the armpits
- Make tight fists with the hands to allow for irradiation (meaning the tension is so high that it “spills” over into the other muscles)
- Keep the shoulders back and down and screw them into place through an external rotation torque
- Contract the quadriceps forcefully to lock out the knees (you’ll be surprised how high they go)
- Squeeze the thighs together through an adduction torque
- Pull the elbows down to the toes with the lats
- Pull the toes up to the elbows via the abs and hip flexors, thereby creating a hip flexion torque at the hips (i.e. a pike)
- Forcefully contract the gluteus maximus to a) counter the hip flexion moment (pike) and keep the hips extended, b) counternutate the sacrum to allow for proper inner core unit function, and c) posteriorly tilt the pelvis which decreases residual tension on the hip flexors and lumbar spine and increases residual tension on the gluteals and abdominals (when the knees are locked your pelvis won’t rotate much).
It takes some time to get this right – don’t expect to master it the first time you try it. Pick a couple points at a time and eventually you’ll have all of it down pat. When you finally get it right, you’ll never question the level of challenge provided by a plank ever again. I’ve been teaching the hardstyle plank to trainers and it’s an instant hit as within 10-20 seconds they’re shaking and convulsing.
I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and perhaps picked up something useful you can use in your own training.
- Stretching doesn’t do jack squat for reducing muscle soreness.
- Perform explosive hex bar deadlifts with 40% of 1RM and you’ll register just as high of power outputs as you would in an Olympic lift.
- Full range movements trump partials for strength and hypertrophy.
- Multiple methods including weights, sprints, sled work, and plyos will improve acceleration performance.
- Kettlebell swings are a great glute activator that builds terminal range hip extension power.
- Read Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors to gain an appreciation of our industry’s roots.
- Strongmen incorporate many types of training into their arsenals, including hypertrophy, strength, power, and conditioning work.
- Many things we do on the field or in the weight room far exceed spinal loading safety limits.<
- If you want a big and strong neck, train it specifically.
- Hardstyle (RKC) planks rock the standard plank’s world.
See you next month!