From a professional standpoint, 2011 was by far the best year of my life — I appeared in premier online publications, such as TNation, EliteFTS, Livestrong, and Yahoo! I served as an adjunct professor at two colleges, I got published in a peer-reviewed journal, interned as a strength coach for a Division 1 college, later seguing that into a full-time coaching position at a prestigious preparatory school nestled in the Philadelphia suburbs. I am blessed, honored, humbled, and motivated by what I’ve accomplished in the past year. I’ve also encountered a number of budding and established professionals, building everlasting friendships and professional relationships with them. All of my accomplishments in 2011 and in years past, which are dwarfed by countless others in the strength and conditioning and fitness industries, came with a hefty price.
Sacrifice comes before Success
To be considered great at something or an expert in a field or on a certain topic, you have to dedicate inordinate amounts of time to learning, applying, and honing your craft. The top people in their respective fields just don’t have success fall on their laps. Relevantly, the upper echelon of strength and conditioning and fitness professionals didn’t have publishers, clients, and athletes clamoring for their expertise and services for no reason. Successful people in this industry, or any other for that matter, pay their dues. (Although it could be argued some more heftily than others.) They are constantly reading, researching, and applying what they’ve learned, or concepts they’ve adopted from other coaches and trainers, on their athletes, clients, and lastly themselves. Juggling a daily reading list that usually consists of 15 full journal articles, a couple chapters from reference texts, and articles and blogs from the industry’s best coaches, to keep abreast of cutting edge trends is no easy task. To be the best, or at least become a serviceable coach or trainer, you must eat, breathe, dream, and live it almost every second of the day.
With that said, my mind has been wrapped around a few things lately, which will likely provide the framework for material in 2012.
Heart Rate Variability
While not yet at the point of dropping knowledge bombs on unsuspecting fellow partiers as I ring in the New Year, I am keenly interested in HRV as it relates to athletic performance and cardiovascular health. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, or too busy practicing “Broscience” these past few days while you map out the year’s first mesocycle, incorporating what you saw on a rerun of Biggest Loser and later on, an infomercial featuring Kevin Trudeau, while nodding in an out of a Christmas Cookie induced insulin coma, HRV has gained a considerable amount of attention lately. Heart Rate Variablity, or HRV for short, is the amount of heart rate fluctuations around the mean heart rate, meaning that it can be effectively used to monitor parasympathetic and sympathetic influences on cardiovascular functioning. The latter influence can be investigated further — as exercise (even the anticipation of exercise) induces sympathetic activity. Research has shown that HRV, in addition to pre and post exercise heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings, serves as a valuable biomarker in determining one’s cardiorespiratory fitness levels or serving to reveal one’s state or susceptibility of cardiovascular disease. Not only can HRV be influenced by one’s activity level as research indicates (greater HRV was observed in aerobically trained athletes), but age, sex, sleep status, and current disease state also affect HRV. Stimulant and depressant activity also impacted HRV by way of the ANS, which could potentially commence a slew of studies on supplements and how they, too, impact HRV. To track the slightest changes in one’s cardiorespiratory fitness level and to better gauge intra-session recovery and workload, coaches and trainers should consider using HRV monitoring tools. One that comes to mind is Joel Jamieson’s recent product, BioForce HRV. Although I don’t know him personally, the product seems great and it’s a much cost friendlier option than an OmegaWave.
Applicability of Machine Training
While not offering the same proprioceptive rich environment that training using one’s bodyweight and/or engaging in compound exercises, including Olympic lifts, classic lifts, and their variants with barbells and dumbells, training with machines has immense value, especially for novices. Many fitness professionals have worked hard to escape the bodybuilding trainer / HIT football strength coach mantra that we’ve inappropriately been lumped under, by getting back to basics – basic movement patterns, via the squat, deadlift (hip hinge), and more recently hip extension variations popularized by Bret Contreras. While all of this is great, as is the thorough screening, involving a number of movement patterns performed unloaded, or with negligible loads, to unearth a client or athlete’s musculoskeletal dysfunctions. Training in this fashion, at least exclusively, will comparatively yield a far inferior physiological response than training with machines, at least initially.
I’m not trying to rouse controversy here, but having novice client perform a few sets of appreciably loaded leg presses in a fixed plane is more physiologically demanding than having them shoddily perform endless sets of bodyweight squats. I’ve seen this far too many times – trainers and coaches opting to have their clients perform bodyweight movements exclusively, even though they haven’t yet mastered them to the point that benefits can be derived from their implementation.
Usually, I’ll dedicate the first part, or first half of the session with my novices on coaching them how to perform compound movements – breaking them down literally one movement at a time. I’ll teach someone how to properly hip hinge and squat to a box. Next, I’ll load them anteriorly, such as a Goblet or lightly loaded front squat with a cross or clean grip, but I won’t use these movements exclusively to load the lower body. Nor will I have a client struggle to bang out push ups, when their hips sag and lower back sinks so much that it begins scraping the floor, soon resembling a prone cobra. Some people aren’t strong enough to perform bodyweight exercises, such as squats and push ups. For these people, such as children, overweight and obese individuals, and seniors, training with machines is optimal. With machines, such as plate loaded and selectorized equipment, you can perform a variety of movements bilaterally and unilaterally with significant loads while reducing the incidence for injury.
It’s a helluva a lot easier to perform a 400 pound leg press than it is a full squat with half or a third of that load. It’s also a lot easier to emphasize effort on machines. Appreciable strength levels can be accomplished in novices via training with machines, owing much of that strength to muscular hypertrophy. These are some of the reasons that I include machine based movements as the bulk of training my novice clients, after I have spent the first part of the session teaching basic bodyweight movement patterns. I’ll transition the training focus from machines to free weight and bodyweight movements, once they’ve honed the movement patterns and established the requisite strength to derive benefits from training with free weights and doing bodyweight exercises.
Work to Rest Ratios
Few things infuriate me more than coaches and trainers not prescribing work to rest ratios in their programming. Duration of intra-set rest periods at best, are arbitrary. Worse yet, I’ll hear a trainer say “Okay that’s one minute, let’s get at it again.” One minute has seemingly morphed into the gold standard of rest between sets. Inappropriately programmed work to rest ratios will negatively affect maximal power, strength, and strength-endurance adaptations. Whether you’re training a Division 1 lacrosse player or a soccer mom, following work to rest ratios is vitally important.
Exercises performed with 85% of one’s 1RM, or movements such as Olympic lifts, ballistic movements, such as plyometric exercises, and CAT work should be followed by a rest of period of 3 to 5 minutes. Insufficient rest periods, won’t permit a full recovery of ATP/CP, regardless of one’s nutritional status or supplementation use.
For those seeking a hypertrophic response, one minute between sets works just fine as it falls within the 45 to 90 seconds of rest suggested between sets of 8 to 12 repetitions performed at 70% of one’s 1RM.
This is when a HRV device, such as BioForce HRV, or if you have deeper pockets, an OmegaWave, can come in handy. If not, taking their pulse or having them provide a number of 1 – 10 on an adapted Rating of Perceived Exertion scale, following a set or series of exercises will help guide your training session.
Also know that, factors such as training experience, intensity of the session, an individual’s lactate threshold and clearance rates (resistance to fatigue and subsequent tolerance to shorter rest periods), body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness level, age, environment, and lastly training goals, all impact work to rest ratios.
Hope you enjoyed the blog post and I hope you enjoy a happy, safe, and strong New Year!
Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS (955)