Being the coach

Training when you're a coach can be a challenge!

Initially, I wanted to coach because I figured it was a good way to get people to train with.

Boy was I wrong!

The problem, of course, isn’t the actual people I’m training.

The biggest problem pretty much any coach or trainer has?

While the training session is happening, it’s your job to make sure they move in ways to make sure they won’t get hurt.

Can’t really do that if your nose is to the ground and you’ve got tunnel vision from exertion.

Of course, things are a bit more flexible if everybody who’s participating are knowledgeable about their own movement.

Also, they have to know what good movement means in a given situation.

So with more experienced participants, the coach is more likely to be able to “lead from the front”.

With less experienced participants, the opposite is true.

With great success comes great responsibility…

Anybody who coaches wants to be successful.

In training studios, that typically means a fair bit of “passing through” people.

People start, decide the training or trainer isn’t for them and move on.

Others start, decide this is the thing for them and stay.

New people come along and fill the gaps.

As more new people add themselves, the coach obviously has more to do to help them.

So…

For a trainer, more success means less time to train for themselves.

This is, most of the time, why some coaches find their own trainers for themselves.

They get to train somewhere other than in their own studio (It’s nice to get out occasionally).

As a trainer, it’s a relief to not have to think about what we’re supposed to do for the workout (though as I’ve mentioned before, it can be difficult to shut up for us coaches…)

It’s also a regular appointment you have to get to (otherwise you’re wasting money).

That is probably the single biggest reason I can think of to hire somebody to help me train.

Others have other reasons.

Whatever it is, it’s probably a good one!

Something to ponder if you’re a trainer and find your own training has been lacking?

Or, if you’re not a trainer, and VPT is your jam, maybe it doesn’t matter at all.

Either way, have a great time training today!

Yes, I want online training!

Suitable workout routine

Power vs Endurance vs Strength

I sometimes struggle with dreaming up what I think is the best programming for the week.

When I program, I have to balance requests, goals and individual preferences.

Like this week…

Conflicting goals means I have to keep runners, parkour athletes and strength training in mind.

Running and strength training represent a pretty obvious conflict.

Why?

Improving strength typically means more load, less repetitions.

Improving endurance typically means lower loads, more repetitions.

Runners want improved endurance, whereas strength wants..

More strength.

Since strength is explosive in nature, it’s typically not all that conducive to endurance running.

On the other hand, it can be helpful to be stronger if you’re a runner and want to avoid injuries.

Then we have the Parkour athletes.

Most of them feel endurance isn’t all that important (I tend to disagree).

They also feel strength only matters if it serves to improve jumping and climbing.

Again, I disagree.

Why are they wrong?

I disagree because strength focus for a single or small section of the body leads to imbalances.

Parkour is jump – hinge – and push dominant. If you want to get stronger for Parkour, you’ll be told by some to focus on dead lifts, squats, bench dips and pull-ups (on your way towards the muscle-up). Or, some variation thereof.

It’s a simple list of things to focus on.

Unfortunately, if your goal is to be able to perform for a long time, this is a pretty obvious recipe for imbalances.

Imbalances lead to more injuries,over time.

So how will I balance the three requests?

I have a system…

Endurance is achieved with how the set/rep/rest periods are spaced. I use either a 30/30 model, or a 6 + 1 + 2 minute model.

This way we tax the cardiovascular system in a manner similar to a HIIT based program, without overdoing it.

I then individualize the load for the client by changing the weight used during the workout to match their need/request.

Then we use as many different exercises as we need in order to properly round out the routine.

The goal is to minimize the potential for longer term injuries due to imbalances or overload.

There you have it. The “secret” to how I think when I’m designing a program for your training today.

Pretty easy, innit?

Yes, I want online training!

Stronger than you think

You've heard it before, but have you thought about what it means physically?

Maybe you’ve heard this before, but… You’re stronger than you think!

Most of us associate the saying with mental strength.

That’s not the wrong, nor a bad, association.

It’s just…

Incomplete.

Yes, we are indeed mentally stronger than we think.

Parkour, as a sport, is pretty much founded on that principle.

We’re also physically stronger than we experience.

Hysterical Strength

Maybe you’ve heard of cases where humans have lifted something we believe only possible in fantasy.

Stopped a car, pressed a 1500 lbs rock that fell on top of them, etc.

It sounds impossible.

But it has really happened.

So why can’t you simply go over to the weight rack, put on a (quite) a few 45lbs plates and lift them?

On one hand, our brain is pretty impressive.

On the other, it’s also really, really(!), careful about making sure you’re not hurting yourself.

Need an example? How about a time where your range of motion was impacted by an injury.

Without plenty of Physical Therapy, your brain would normally disallow your limbs to return to the position where they got injured.

Although this is a good (great!) thing, it can be frustrating if your performance depends on the full functional range of the injured limb.

Then, because it was injured, it will take a lot of safe repetitions to return the limb to its former functional range.

Your friendly neighborhood protector

This is all due to the brain.

It’s not as if the muscle itself knows it needs to “chill out”.

But the brain thinks it does.

So it “protects” you from getting back into that position again.

Back to that whole lifting a car thing…

Some of the answer has to do with bone strength v.s. muscle strength, muscle strength vs tendon & ligament strength.

Basically, if you were able to always recruit the full strength of the muscle.

One estimate puts the typical muscle fibre recruitment at “maximum effort” – i.e. without going into the hysterical strength range – at 60% for “normal people” and peaking at 80% for athletes. The 80 percenters are athletes who train specifically for maximum muscle recruitment.

For ur mere mortals, the reality of the situation is that our brain worries about us.

Not just about our muscle recruitment ability, but also about what 100% recruitment means to our ability to continue moving/fighting/acting.

The energy required to recruit all of our muscle fibers will drain us. Possibly to the point where we can’t run away or avoid the next threat.

Also, it may cause injury to some of our limbs (pulling tendons off the bone, tearing muscles, etc).

Both of those are things our brain wants to make sure doesn’t happen.

Why?

Because in the wrong situation, that would mean we couldn’t defend ourselves. Nor could we run away.

Not at all optimal!

So your brain protects you from idiotic things.

Until you actually, truly, need it.

Then your body shows you what an amazing machine it is!

How about to increasing your muscle fiber recruitment during today’s training session?

Yes, I want online training!

True Value of Sleep

When going to work takes less than 30 seconds...

Do you know what I learned today?

A little something about the value of getting enough sleep.

I can summarize my lesson in a quick li’l equation:

iPhone + Washing Machine != A good thing

So, here’s what happened.

I decided I needed to do my laundry this morning.

Not a big deal, perhaps.

But in my case there’s a correlation between laundry need and ability to go outside.

If I want to wear clean clothes.

So, I threw my clothes, including what I wore yesterday, in the washing machine.

Then I went to work[1] for an hour, while waiting for the washer to do its thing.

Since I needed to prepare for a few meetings tomorrow, I stayed on top of my laundry chores! (This is where you could pet me and say “Good Thomas”!)

Next thing, the little vignette chimed. It lets me know the wash was over. I ran over and moved my clothes to the dryer.

Started it and almost immediately heard a noise I didn’t expect.

It sounded like I had thrown in my shoes as well.

The good news was that I wasn’t trying to wash and dry my shoes.

Instead, I found my phone.

It was very clean.

And 100% not functional.

In a desperate bid to try and get it working, I emerged it in rice (helps pull the moisture out of the device).

Since I’m in the middle of a number of meetings and business deals with Christine abroad for the week, having no phone right now is more than an inconvenience.

So I had to spend my day getting a new phone. Then restoring my old phone backup.

It’s been great…

What does this have to do with training?

Very little.

Maybe it was why I was so tired this morning? Too tired to check the pockets of my training pants.

It’s been an expensive mistake.

And an important lesson I doubt I’ll forget anytime soon;

Always check your pockets before you load your clothes in the washer!

Now, head on over to your gym.

Oh, and the true value of sleep (for me, today)?

More than 700 USD.

Like I said, it was an expensive lesson to learn!

[1] – The banner photo on this post is “my office”. It’s literally less than 10 seconds away from my bed. And 5 seconds from the breakfast table…

Enjoy your training and try not to work so hard you make the same mistake I just did!

Yes, I want online training!

The best kind of training

A conversation this morning got me thinking about what I consider the best kind of training.

If you’d asked me 15 years ago, I’d have said “none”.

Then something happened and some 5 years later the answer would have been very different.

At the time, my answer was whatever workout where I was so exhausted, I barely managed to drag myself to bed, shaking, before I fell asleep.

It was a dumb answer.

It’s an answer based on ignorance and thinking “harder” equals “better”.

Turns out, that isn’t completely true.

As with all things the human body is capable of achieving, the answer to “what is the best kind of training” (intensity) is…

It depends.

If your goal is to improve your cardiovascular capacity – your breathing and recovery during exercise – and you’re NOT an elite level athlete, training at between 40-80% of your VO2max is more effective than higher intensities.

If you’re untrained, keep to between 40-60% of your VO2max to give yourself the most effective/quick adaptation.

The more trained you are, the higher the intensity needs to be to get the same degree of adaptation.

If you’ve trained for a while, feel in decent cardiovascular shape and want to get better, you have to kick the intensity up to between 70-80% of your VO2max.

What is your “VO2max“.

Since your VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise, it can be measured objectively.

To get an accurate read it just takes a bit of equipment and serious effort. The effort will be all yours.

However, you there are several methods you can use to estimate your own VO2max with a bit of math and knowing your actual min/max heart rates.

This isn’t as precise, but if you use the same method it will help you identify relative improvements.

It is, speaking frankly, all most of us need.

To know what the best kind of training (intensity) is going to be for you, start by figuring out what your VO2max might be.

Then figure out where you fit in the typical ranges for your age bracket/sex.

Know that and “Bob’s yer uncle!” when it comes to training intensity.

Occasionally, you should go above or below your “optimal range”, but most of the time try to stay right in the middle.

If you do, you’ll see some interesting changes to how quickly your heart rate recovers during exercise.

And that – how fast your heart rate returns to normal/recovers – is the best sign of how fit you actually are.

Now, get out there and do the best kind of training (for you) today. Cheers!

Yes, I want online training!

Push-up progressions

Why not try a push-up negative to test your weaknesses?

I was at the gym, watching a few people work on their Push-Ups today.

It’s always interesting to watch people train, without being the one training them.

I learn a lot from what I see.

Sometimes I learn a new cue.

Sometimes I learn how not to cue.

During my observation today, it wasn’t what the coach said or didn’t say that caught my attention.

It was all about how the student decided to implement the instructions they were given.

The exercise in question is one I love;

The push-up

Even if you know you can’t complete a push-up there are still so many ways to perform a version of it.

My preferred option for people who can’t complete a full one unassisted?

The push-up negative.

Heck, I like using the negative with people who’re basically experts at doing them.

You can learn a lot about how and where you’re compensating by doing an exercise slowly and only working through the eccentric (negative) part of the movement pattern.

Most of us have some form of compensation we do.

Often, it’s momentum.

The slow and negative variant of the exercise forces us to realize that something isn’t quite right (if that’s the case).

But, back to what I was observing today.

When asked to do perform a push-up, the student went looking for an incline.

This too is a fine way to work your way up to being able to do a full body-weight movement.

But I believe the push-up negative is more effective.

So then, while observing, I’m faced with a dilemma.

Do I choose to be “helpful” and step in?

Or do I let the student and assigned coach figure out whatever they need to figure out on their own.

A few years ago, I probably would have “helped out”.

These days I try hard to avoid being “helpful” to other coaches during their sessions.

Unless I’m asked to help, I don’t offer it.

So instead I was enjoying watching the student take herself through the progressions until she hit her current limit.

In this case, that involved changing the angle of the incline until she couldn’t complete the requested number in the set.

It’s not as if she did any damage to herself. Instead, she got to explore what developing her own method means.

It truly was fun to see.

Speaking of slow negatives…

Can you think of something in your training routine today you could do a couple of (really) slow negative versions of.

To see if you learn something about your own strength and movement…

Yes, I want online training!

The mental game

Is your Mental Game on point?

I was talking with a friend today about why I started watching the Patriots Football team. For me, it’s been all about the mental game.

We moved to the US and New England in 2000, the same time as Tom Brady arrived as a 6th round draft pick (number 199).

I had no clue who Tom Brady was at the time, obviously (being foreign and all).

Nor did I know much about the Patriots or American Football.

I’d watched a few Denver Broncos games on TV while going to school in Colorado.

Then some of the 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl appearances where the Broncos won. We watched those two games in Norway.

They were rough games to watch, starting after midnight.

We arrived in New England a few months after Tom Brady was drafted.

Tom Brady’s Mental Game

I believe I had my eyes opened to the phenom that is Mr. Brady during the Patriot’s 5th game in the 2001 season where they played the San Diego Chargers.

The team trailed the Chargers by 10 points in the 4th quarter and Brady led the 10 point pick-up which led to the field goal win in overtime.

If the team had lost at that point, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

To watch a relatively fresh quarterback complete drive after drive at that point in his career tipped me off that something was different about this guy.

I’ve always been interested in the mental strength some athletes show when everything appears to go sideways.

The ability to bring focus and determination when it matters.

To lock out all distractions…

And simply deliver.

It may not sound like much, but if you look, you’ll find a few interesting examples of superstars who can’t do this.

For me, Payton Manning was an example of someone who didn’t quite have the same mental strength.

Not that he didn’t perform. His record speaks for itself.

But, when it really, really mattered, Manning seemed to crumble. Time after time. Just look at the Colt’s losses in the 2006 and 2009 Super Bowls.

Brady on the other hand seems to shift into some secret mental 6th gear and take off.

Of course, there are cases where that doesn’t happen.

The 2019 Super Bowl overtime drive was a great example of this behavior.

Before that final drive, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking Brady had lost a step or two.

At overtime, they win the ball. Brady is handed the ball and ends the game.

It was first time all game where he’d been able to execute a “traditional” Brady drive.

And it happened the one time it really mattered for his team.

Now, I’m not going to pretend the successes and failures are due to the Quarterback alone.

That’d be dumb.

But there is something about having a leader who doesn’t quit.

Someone who doesn’t seem to quit, and actually seems to play ever better when things are going badly, will inspire the whole team to reach that bit further.

There are plenty of examples where you see the mental strength of the athlete being the difference between winning and losing.

It’s more difficult to discover in team sports because the whole team contributes.

An easier place to find examples are in individual sports like running, golf or tennis.

Just look for athletes or players who seem to be having a rough period, yet somehow manage to pull themselves back up again and win when it really matters.

The ones to look for win consistently, in spite of the difficulties they’re facing.

Therese Jordhaug

Another off-the-top of my head athlete would be the Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Jordhaug.

In 2016 she tested positive for steroid use. She had received a cream to treat acute sunburn on her lips from her doctor.

The doctor bought the cream at a local pharmacy during training in Italy. Jordhaug had trusted her doctor, so she didn’t check the ingredient list.

It contained a banned substance.

Her doctor stated he’d failed to notice this fact and submitted his resignation.

The amount she had taken indicated she had indeed been exposed by applying something to her lips. Also, the detected levels were too small to have had a performance enhancing effect.

The normal suspension for a first-time doping offense is four years.

However, due to the “non-significant fault by the athlete”, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) set her penalty to 18 months.

This was long enough to cause her to miss the 2018 Olympics.

Jordhaug was prevented from training with her national team during her ban.

Being a 28 year old at the time, there are quite a few athletes who’d have retired.

In spite of this, Therese Jordhaug continued to train, mostly on her own, and returned to the Cross-Country Skiing arena after her ban in 2018.

Her season so far, after 2.5 years off?

She’s been crushing her competition.

Taking eight individual gold medals in eight World Cup starts between November and January making her the current World Cup leader.

Plus she captured 3 gold medals and a silver during the 2019 World Championships.

Some of her victories are nothing short of impressive exhibits of physical (and mental) strength, considering the distances and the quality of the competition.

Working on your own mental strength

Before you hit the gym today, what could you come up with to improve your own mental game?

How can you become more resilient and able to elevate your performance when it really matters?

Can you learn something about reaching your peak performance, in spite of everything stacking up against you?

Something to think about while you train today?

Yes, I want online training!

Food + Training = Winning Combination

Fresh Food for everyone!

Today I learned the value of having eaten enough food before training.

As in…

I learned how difficult it can be to perform at your best, if you don’t eat enough.

Especially during an evening training session, like what I experienced today.

Truth is, when the wife’s away, I sometimes forget to eat.

Today was one of those days.

I got up.

Fed the cat (she’s a demanding beast!).

Had a cup of coffee and started working.

At 2pm I realized that I had not eaten anything since yesterday at 4pm.

It dawned on me that this probably wasn’t a great idea if I was planning on training tonight (I was).

Then it dawned on me that there was nothing in the apartment to eat.

Thank goodness for Amazon PrimeNow, living in a bigger city and GrubHub!

In spite of consuming 1/2 of the hearty delivery of Thai curry, I still got a mild headache within minutes of completing my first warm-up tonight.

I struggle with energy if I have to exert myself after not eating for almost 24 hours (imagine that!?!).

Of course, I’m not that smart either…

For 2 hours tonight, I tried to run and jump on stuff.

I did OK for the first hour.

Of course, that has more to do with the class format than my (not so) excellent energy management skills.

Then the day of not enough food, but training caught up with me.

By the time I was 1/2 way through the second hour, my energy levels were dropping precipitously.

Thankfully I had an ego protecting “out” tonight.

Christine would have to walk from the train station to the apartment at about the same time as the second class ended.

I had to leave to pick her up. For her safety of course! And I’m a chivalrous guy.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Make sure to get enough food when training.

Ever notice how your food intake affects your training?

Tell us about it in the comments section!

Yes, I want online training!

Overtraining, what is”too much”?

Overtraining, how much is too much? - Image: Dennis Kwaria [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

When it comes to training, what is too much?

Has anybody told you to be careful about overtraining?

Overtraining / “Too much training” …

[…] occurs when a person exceeds their body’s ability to recover from strenuous exercise

Wikipedia – Overtraining

Seems simple enough, but what is actually your ability to recover from strenuous exercise?

It all depends on how well trained you are when you start.

So, by definition, “how much is too much” will depend on how much sensible training you’ve done.

A personal trainer friend once said that he believed it unlikely for amateur athletes to suffer from overtraining.

I tend to agree with that sentiment.

It takes a lot of continuous and intense training to suffer from overtraining/too much training.

Just think about

There are some notable exceptions.

The exceptions tend to circle around inexperienced coaches who value high volume, high intensity training above all.

To suffer from overtraining, you’ll have to train for more than a one hour session per day.

Of course, if the training volume is ramped up sensibly, it probably won’t be a problem.

By “sensibly”, I mean over time.

Avoiding “too much”, aka overtraining

At first, low volume/low intensity sessions taking up most of the total training volume.

Next build up the intensity in some of the sessions, over several weeks.

Then start increasing the volume of higher intensity sessions.

All while making sure you have pull-back weeks and rest days sprinkled strategically throughout.

Following this plan will let you adapt to the volume and intensity.

You can probably maintain it for durations of 4-5 weeks at a time without getting anywhere near the “too much” stage.

When it comes to training, you and I probably have very different definitions of intensity!

What if..?

The clinical version overtraining probably isn’t in your future.

You can still set yourself up for overuse injuries if you’re not mindful of your training patterns.

Training the same muscle groups multiple days in a row, never letting them recover won’t make you stronger.

It will make those muscles weaker.

Minimally 48 hours of recovery for that muscle group after training is a great rule of thumb.

A normal adult between 18 – 50 years old will see gains if they train strength/resistance at least twice per week.

You can also train resistance a little more, without it being detrimental to your development.

3 times per week ensures the recommended recovery and has a slightly elevated adaptation benefit.

Adaptation benefit = more strength and endurance.

So to get the most out of your strength training, do it 2-3 times per week.

The other days you should either focus on completely different body parts[1], or – much better(!) – focus on active recovery.

A great active recovery activity is to go for a brisk walk.

It will help recovery by pumping oxygen & nutrient rich blood to your trained muscles.

The oxygen and nutrients help repair the muscles and your body grows them stronger/bigger.

This repair process is how the body adapts to the workload you just put it through.

Something to think about as you put in your best effort during training today?

Yes, I want online training!

PS: It’s mildly ironic that the article on Wikipedia about Overtraining contained a warning when I wrote this.

[1] = I’m not a fan of training body parts. It’s not very useful in real life!

Stalling Dementia with Exercise?

Can Exercise slow down dementia?

Being diagnosed with dementia is one of the few things in life that scares me to the bone.

My fear is a fairly irrational one.

At least if you base the data on my genetic history. At the same time, it’s something I cannot control, plus it’s currently without a cure.

To top it off, research is still limited.

Largely because actually we know so little about the brain and how it really works.

But also because we’ve not quite been willing to invest as much into research.

We’re currently spending most of our money on cancer research. (There’s a pretty good reason for that).

For most of us, dementia is an “old people disease”.

So progress on dementia, being “an old person’s disease” and not as deadly, seems to languish a little.

But, for the record, it’s actually not something that “only old people get”…

(The inspiration for this post? A long-form story in a Norwegian newspaper about a 54 year woman diagnosed a while ago. We can argue about whether 54 is “old” or not some other time!)

Demential also a very deadly disease.

Oh, about my fear of dementia…

Being worried about this diagnosis is probably not just my fear..?

Also most of us have – whether we know it or not – run into a person who has, or will get the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, this diagnosis can take a long time.

There is no blood test you can take (yet).

There’s no vaccine.

No way to predict that you’ll wind up with it.

Unfortunately, family history isn’t as clear cut as we all think it is.

And diagnosis is a multi-step process that takes time.

Preventing dementia

For a diagnosis, you have to express symptoms.

For that to happen, somebody has to suspect you are suffering from it.

As a result, prevention of dementia seems to be the focus.

If we don’t know how what triggers dementia, how can we actually prevent it?

Turns out that if you train regularly, you may be already be taking one of the actions to help your brain/body fight the progress of dementia.

In January/February of 2019, some media outlets reported that exercise slows the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

This was, as is often the case, a gross oversimplification of the study and its current conclusion.

The – Too Long; Didn’t Read – TL;DR summary:

It’s possible an exercise-induced myokine release can slow down/oppose synapse failure and memory damage in the brain of mice modeling Alzheimer’s disease.

Translation:

If the model is correct, they have discovered that a hormone they think your body releases during exercise can potentially affect – reduce – the speed of memory loss for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

If you’re curious about why they use rodents as models for human brains, the San Diego Union Tribute published an article on that very subject!

This is obviously a very important discovery.

It’s also one of those discoveries where it doesn’t hurt to “jump the gun”.

It’s simply exercise!

Physical exercise comes with a lot of known benefits.

This could be another one.

Daily releases of the FNDC5/irisin myokine – the hormone they think we release during/as the result of exercise – certainly won’t hurt your brain.

So hit the gym today for some brain and body friendly training. Cheers!!

Yes, I want online training!