Tuesday, August 29, 2006

First Race of the Season: AJ Reports In

Hot off the email wires:

I think the good karma worked, the race went really really well. I came in second place overall! My time was 12:59, the course was pretty flat but there were a few really small hills. It felt good racing again but I forgot how much the two mile hurts. I'm pretty happy with my time, it's not far off of my track time and it was off road. My team did really well, we came in third place.


Woohooooo! Not bad for the first race--a two mile Fleet Feet/Nike special event--of her JUNIOR year. Who says endurance athletes, especially chicks, don't benefit from strength training??

This athlete has shown nothing but quiet determination since day one. When her practice was cancelled by storms on Saturday, AJ went out by herself and did two 2 mile race pace efforts, with the first one at 13:15, on a park course that featured two moderately large hills. How many high school juniors would take it upon themselves to make up that practice--on a Saturday evening????

And every week she keeps setting push up PRs. We even had a big ol' total body workout on Sunday. Just wait 'til she actually tapers, baby....

Saturday, August 26, 2006

For Bryan: Teaching the Squat w/ Tight Hammies

This comment was left on Vern Gambetta’s blog late this week:


Vern & Tracy,

great info on the squat...you two are really making me rethink many of the common methods that are taught. i have a question i was hoping you may have time to address: The athlete in Tracy's squat Mediabook appears to have great form, and doesn’t have the common "tuck" in his low back like many athletes do (as thy drop close to parallel, their lumbar spine flexes and leaves the neutral position.) I have read that lack of hamstring flexibility is the culprit, do you agree? do you have any recommendations for correcting besides just improving hamstring flexibility or squatting to work through it?




Well Bryan, the short answer is yes, I think it is hamstrings. Might be pure flexibility; it might be some flexibility with some control issues. Correcting it may be challenging, but it is worth the effort in my mind. Initially you have to assess a variety of squats, see how the body (torso, spine, hips, ankles) responds and then go from there.

My new client, TJ, is a 6’1” 150 lb. male volleyball player. He has a long torso, no real history of structured lifting and mildly tight hamstrings as tested with the 90/90 test in supine. He has trouble doing the Waiter’s Bow (ground based hammy stretch)—a staple in my bag of tricks from Wash U PT & Shirley Sahrmann. I teach everyone this hamstring “position” rather than ANY supine work. You work hamstring mobility and learn the hip/spine relationship, in a weight-bearing posture.

TJ cannot do a full back squat without the “dippity-do” at the bottom; this is also true for his bodyweight squats. BUT, he can do a PERFECT rock bottom FRONT SQUAT; I’m talking pure neutral spine all the way. Because his torso is forced to stay more vertical, the hamstring limitation does not rear its ugly head. And, if we have him hold a 10 kg plate behind his head and do a squat, he can keep his neutral lumbar spine almost every rep. BUT, I have to cue him to THINK about what he’s doing (“be controlled all the way down”) and continually ask him how the front squat/plate squat feels compared to the others.

So, right now, I will use front squats for “work” and we’ll use all of these other squat movements in warm up, constantly working to build functional mobility in the hammies for back squats and bodyweight squats. We do several sets of 5 plates squats, 5 bodyweight squats, 5 front squats, 5 back squats—all are light--and I’m constantly making him give me verbal feedback on his proprioceptive awareness of his pelvis/spine position.

I’m certain some of this is torso strength/control too. In my experience, every person is a bit different and responds to different manual and verbal cues. Regardless of the approach, I do feel it is absolutely necessary to put your hands on the pelvis to help the athlete understand what it is like to lengthen the hammies with anterior rotation of the pelvis in the Waiter’s Bow and squat position. Maybe it is the PT in me, but I put my hands on people’s hips all the time—male and female. I’m not sure male coaches or ATCs or PTs feel as comfortable doing this, especially in the litigious school environment. And for coaches, I’m sure there is a “guy thing” there. But it really helps to have that manual cue and crank on the pelvis. Then the light bulb goes off.

To summarize, Bryan, we squat with it—not just through it. I don't load a compromised spine. We work to develop functional, ground-based hamstring mobility with a variety of techniques. I insist on feedback from the athlete during and after sets to make sure s /he is attending to the task as well; and I hammer home the importance of this position for powerful, efficient force transmission from the ground to the upper body, as well as for protection of the lumbar spine.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sign of the Apocalypse

This week's sign the apocalypse is upon us, from the PTontheNet.com spam. (I am not a member, but for some reason, they send me this; I only read it to see the latest and greatest. The sarcasm should be oozing down your monitor at this time.)

Sex Between Training Sessions
By Chuck Wolf


Will sex between training sessions affect performance if I am training for an event?

Hopefully Mr. Wolf will provide PTontheNet subscribers with the titillating details of allowable frequency, intensity and volume for these activities. Maybe some sample workouts. Should we use a heartrate monitor so we can add the data to our workout log? Is sex considered "active rest" or not? Does it matter if the periodization model is linear or undulating? What about sex and tapering? And here's the really important question for all female athletes: Does your man understand the importance of a comprehensive dynamic warmup and cool down?

I just couldn't resist. Friday is casual day, right? :-)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Knees, Ankles and Backs: Part Two

Meet Matt and Bill. Both are athletes, over 6 feet tall. Matt is young and has no ankle flexibility. He squats like many professionals tell us too: No knees over the toes. To keep his torso upright, he must go up onto his toes, a common compensation. He cannot overhead squat. Bill, on the other hand, is slightly older and has great ankle flexibility. His heels stay on the ground. Bill can overhead squat.

Here's the rub: As little people, we squat all the time. Plop right down. Just like Bill. But as we grow older, fatter, sassier and less flexible from hours on end sitting in the classroom, the car, our work desks and the recliner we lose our flexibility and strength. People in other countries have no such luck. They kneel and squat and squat and kneel; they maintain the body's normal lower extremity flexibility and strength in relation to their bodyweight. Just like the father and son in the last post. They stay on the functional path, literally. We regress from a pure functional standpoint; even many athletes.

Are pressures on the knee joint greater with increased ankle dorsiflexion? Yes. Is that worse than the pressures increasing on the back? I would say no. If one has pre-existing knee issues, it is prudent to carefully work into good squatting mechanics. Trust me; I know. I have to work at it every day. But 'tis better to help the body gain ROM and strength about the knee; not restrict it further and relegate it and the rest of the body (the back!) to a life of compromised function. Lack of quad strength is highly correlated with back pain and dysfunction.

(How about that ancient leg extension/curl bench in the background? That thing--and there's another--STILL takes up valuable space in the high school weightroom! Why ask why anymore....)

You Don't Know Squat....

If you think the human knee never goes over the toe, or never should go over the toe.

Thanks to Vern G for bringing up the knee topic. This IS one of the major problems in athletic development in this country. This myth is propagated by most every physical therapist, personal trainer and strength coach in this country. My mother could probably spout it back to me if I asked the right questions.

The whole thing started with a research (and I'll use the term very loosely with this) article by a Dr. Karl Klein in 1961.

Everyday, people young and old are told this myth. And slowly but surely, we are becoming a nation of people who have ZERO leg strength and lower exremity mobility. And our back health SUFFERS because of it. What is even worse, is that many strength coaches and fitness professionals are teaching young athletes to squat by using this cue: Sit your butt back and stay on your heels.

First, no athlete moves, jumps--does ANYTHING from their heels. Second, this does put higher loads on the lumbar spine. Third, it perpetuates poor lower extremity flexibility.

I'll talk more in a future post about my personal style of teaching squats. But for now, feel free to go here to access a Terry Todd opinion/historical article on Dr. Klein and the whole subject, as well as see a recent study by Dr. Andy Fry and his group on torso inclination/knee position while squatting. Scroll down to the Documents box. This Fry article is the one Vern refers to in the referenced post.

P.S. The lifter in the second picture is Peter Kelly, multiple-time US Olympian. Pete tore an ACL skiing and had no trouble coming back to competitive lifting. Let's see, I wonder what kind of results we would come up with if we compared the number of knee ligament injuries from skiing vs squatting/competitive lifting....

Monday, August 21, 2006

I hate it when it hurts to walk

Detraining is a terrible, terrible thing to experience. Back in action with 10s (> bodyweight, but nowhere near previous levels) in the squat rack yesterday and my quads are screaming. Now, one might wonder why a bright person like myself would do such a thing.

It's actually very informative from a functional perspective. The R leg (subjected to a total medial menisectomy and knee athrotomy circa 1979--see above) continues to need single leg remedial work. It is smaller than the L and when push come to "push harder" it relies on the L to do the work. I can distinguish the difference in soreness, just as I perceive my L leg doing the work during the latter reps of the set. The neuromuscular journey continues. Anyone care to suggest additional single leg work to help remediate the situation?

On a more fun note--AJ is BACK! Ms. Studly is working hard at practice; she is the bane of her teammates existence as she easily knocks off the 20 total push ups (usually in 3 sets of 7--perfect form) the coaches want them to do. Her teammates barely get 5 sets of 1. Her ankle and hip flexibility continues to improve and she shows progress with pressing movements.

Stay tuned for the new guy--we'll call him TJ. Junior-to-be volleyball player. Tall, good all-around player, but needs fundamental physical work to build some power, agility and quickness on the court. Dad and son have the right attitude. It should be fun.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More on Bone Health

The current Reader's Digest has an article on vitamin D. There's no doubt our diet, indoor lifestyle and fear of skin cancer (vigorous use of sun screen) have led to vitamin D deficiency in this country and others (even Australia and New Zealand). As per our reductionistic scientific and popular culture, the desire is to look to vitamin D supplementation as the latest answer to osteoporosis, cancer, you-name-it. I'm not an RD or a nutrition expert, so I don't know the answer.

But I do know this. Another significant contributor to the problem is a lack of structured resistance training for the average young person and adult--in lieu of the manual labor we used to have to do to survive and have decent bone health. The Reader's Digest article describes the story of a 14 y.o. young man from Massachusetts (lower levels of sunlight, especially in winter) who suffered a vertebral fracture from wearing his school backpack. Tests ruled out bone-density diseases, but did show the young guy had significant Vit D deficiency, along with bone density that was half of what it should've been for his age. The kid was active, playing soccer, volleyball and skiing, along with his three brothers. But others in his family also had Vit D deficiency.

Now at 20, his bone density is now reported to be 80% of what it should be. The Rx: daily supplementation of 2000 IU Vit D (10 times the RDA for everyone 50 and under) along with lots of milk and cheese for calcium. Here's the kicker:

"His scary brush with vitamin D deficiency has forced him to make some changes: no more skiing, soccer and volleyball. Now 20 and a college senior, XXXX plays golf and tennis instead."

The article does not mention ANY form of resistance or weight training. Now I suppose that doesn't mean there isn't any, but there is no mention of this ESSENTIAL activity to promote bone health in this kid's life, along with diet changes. He's now playing GOLF! Once again, good old American medicine and the press promote LESS VIGOROUS physical activity (FEAR of vigorous activity), in conjunction with supplementation and what many now consider to be sub-optimal dietary choice for calcium. Give me 6 months with this kid and we'll have his bone density at normal (or better) levels AND get him back on the slopes with his friends.

A few squats and presses a day keep the bone density docs away! You MUST stress the body for it to grow, remodel and respond. Resistance training must be a lifetime activity if we are to maintain our physical health in this day and age of luxury, comfort and physical sloth. If we don't, we will continue on our path of dismal bone health--and no amount of pharmacology or supplementation will fix it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

"She's a Beast!"

It's nice to know you've made an impact on young people, although sometimes it is not always immediately apparent.

All of the incoming freshmen at DeSmet are attending retreats this week. Kevin worked the Thursday retreat and spoke to his group on integrity. He needed a volunteer, but told the group he needed someone really strong--someone who had attended the weight training camp taught by Mrs. ???? Several boys chimed in with "Mrs. Fober!" The eventual volunteer followed that with an enthusiastic "She's a beast!" Mr. Fober responded with, "Thanks for the compliment. I'll let her know."

I will take it as probably one of the highest compliments one can receive from 9th grade boys. Kevin pointed out that it is really good these guys get to know both of us; and that both us are quite different from each other, as spouses, but also very different from their parents. These guys are a little lacking in diversity, given they attend a fairly affluent, suburban all-boys Jesuit high school.

During the camp, I made a point of doing many of the push ups, planks, lunges, bodyweight squats, running tech drills etc. with the guys so they could observe good technique and see that it WAS possible to accomplish what we were asking of them. I also squatted, power cleaned and standing long jumped for them. My abilities are decent for an old lady, but nothing special. It certainly livened up the atmosphere and it gave them a role model for doing things they don't normally see their sport coaches doing.

With my young athletes (and master athletes), I firmly believe in the power of live demonstration of new motor skills. It helps build confidence and sends a message that I am only asking them to do things that are also obviously important to me. There is a sort of integrity there. I'm not the coach who's 50 lbs overweight who simply barks out orders between cigs or uses training activities for punishment. I say what I mean and I walk the walk. These kids need adults who lead by example more than ever.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back From Nationals

Finally getting back on track after 5 days in Shreveport, LA (1300 miles in the car) at the USA Weightlifting National Championships. This picture is from the 48 kg weight class. There were several American records broken and attempted. Many impressive performances. I've posted two records on YouTube if you'd like to see them:

Natalie Woolfolk's 118 kg Clean & Jerk

Doreen Fullhart's 106 kg Snatch

General highlights can be found here. By posting these, I hope to educate those of you unfamiliar with weightlifting on the athleticism (power, mobility, strength) these athletes possess. It is too bad the mainstream media only focuses on the larger weightclasses every four years. Even though the bigger people lift more absolutely, it is the smaller weightclasses that lift more relative to bodyweight. I'll talk more about that at some point.

Almost forgot: There were no major injuries at this event. Just a note for those who fear the barbell--and that arms overhead lifting and knees over the toes thingy/squat below parallel thingy.

Other notes:

1. AJ is doing well in cross country practice.

2. An article in the local suburban rag told the tale of a 14U softball team that won an AFA title. They played 10 games over 3 days to come back from the loser's bracket. Only had one pitcher for all 10 games because the other girl was injured. Go figure. The article also notes this 14U team played (and won) a handfull of 18U tournaments, playing over 90 games this summer (were only shut out three times). And in Missouri, these girls now go right into the fall high school softball season. No time to rest for the champion, right?

3. The Floyd Landis situation is just unbelievable.

More soon.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Real Weightlifters Do it with Power

Here are two video tributes to US weightlifting athletes I put together from some of my clips, as well as a couple of clips that have been posted on Mike Burgener's site by Jim Moser. Thank you both!

Check them out to see what real weightlifting is all about. You'll not see any "flying reverse curls." Some of these athletes competed last weekend at the AAU Junior Olympic Championships, while others will be battling for Senoir World team positions this weekend in Shreveport, LA at the Senior National Championships.

Good Luck and Congratulations to all athletes and coaches!


A little more macho for everyone...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Sunday Afternoon Citation: Cease & Desist!

I just spent several hours doing some analyses of top female weightlifters from the US. Decided to take a break and found some cool videos on YouTube of elite international weightlifters--along with some other stuff that is funny and stuff that is not so funny.

The following link will take you to a clip that supposedly shows female athletes demonstrating power cleans. Let me just say that this is NOT how a power clean is supposed to be performed. These movements are complete bastardizations of power cleans. And any educated weightlifting coach would agree with me. If you teach athletes or perform power cleans like this yourself, you are not doing the exercise correctly. However, this video is an example of what a good tool becomes in the hands of a coach who truly does not understand the biomechanics of the movements he/she teaches.

The two sequence photos above show good power clean mechanics from the floor.

Let me use this analogy: If someone told you pole vaulting would help your soccer athletes learn to be more powerful, would you run out, buy a pole and find a pit and then say "Just run down the runway, plant the pole in the little thingy and fling yourself over the bar in a manner that looks really cool--and maybe stomp your feet too so it sounds powerful"??

Polevaulting is an extremely technical sport. Weightlifting is an extremely technical sport. Fitness gurus and strength coaches must learn to respect the sport of weightlifting. Just because I can run 100 meters without falling over does not mean I actually KNOW HOW TO RUN! Flinging a lightweight bar from your knees to your shoulders with all sorts of funky countermovements IS NOT DOING A POWER CLEAN! It is not teaching athletes to produce power from their lower extremities through triple extension.

Please, please consult a weightlifting coach if you ever want to use these exercises with your athletes. If you don't want to take the time to truly understand the sport, then don't waste your athletes' time by doing bastardizations of beautifully complex, technical athletic movements from another sport. You are doing an incredible disservice to your athlete and disrespecting the sport of weightlifting.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Taking the Time to Evaluate

Do you have enough spring in the sacrum? How's YOUR sacral nutation?

Yesterday I spent some time with PT friend Sandy and our "client" PTA friend Carla. Carla asked us to help elucidate some tricky, bothersome knee pain that has been bothering her on the bike lately. You should know that both Sandy and Carla are also kick-ass cyclists! Sandy is ramping up her training right now for a September IronMan triathlon.

I brought my Dartfish setup, as well as my small Sony still camera to get some video and pictures. Part of the evaluation inluded putting Carla on her bike on a trainer and really analyzing her movement--checking R vs L and slowing things down to 1/10 of the speed of normal video.

Sandy did the majority of the standing alignment, back/SI and flexibility assessments. We probably spent about 2 hours really teasing everything out--on and off the bike, but eventually came up with this laundry list of issues that need to be addressed. Sandy is an outstanding PT:

1. SI joint immobility
2. R medial hamstring inflexibility
3. R glute med weakness
4. R psoas weakness
5. B ITB tightness

Will addressing these issues fix the problem? We're not sure, but it is a start. But the main thing I want to emphasize here is the comprehensive nature of our approach to the problem. It took time. And the addition of some special technology allowed us to actually see the deficits we found in the manual evaluation in action on the bike. They were subtle--early heel drop on the downstroke, and very slight R femoral internal rotation between 11 & 3 0'clock in the pedal stroke. We were also able to show Carla the dramatic (to us) difference in her Thomas test position after only a few cues and some initial intervention.

In the typical orthopedic physical therapy practice situation, Carla would NEVER receive this type of careful assessment. In fact, Sandy brought up the fact that a local St. Louis hospital- based PT department is now forcing therapists to see patients every 20 MINUTES! In our minds, this in not only untenable, but unethical.

It's not rocket science, but it is careful attention to detail combined with applied problem-solving. Time and patient listening to all of the information the patient can provide is paramount.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cool Web Stuff

1) See a day in the life of USA's elite female weightlifters training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs here! This Quicktime clip is from Coach Mike Burgener, whose son Casey is a resident weightlifter at the OTC, preparing for the 2006 World Championships and 2008! Go Casey and Go USA Women! I'll see all of these ladies next week at the Senior Nationals in Shreveport, LA.


2) There's a great Q & A about back pain and physical therapy with Anthony Delitto, PhD, PT on NPR at this link:


3) Finally, Vern Gambetta has a fabulous interview of Kelvin Giles, UK track and field coach. This guy has some great advice for professionals, young athletes and parents.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Strong Words, Strong Bones: Am I Just Dense?

I'’m ecstatic and I'm pissed at the same time.

Thanks to a great friend, I had the opportunity to have AJ's and my bone density assessed by a DXA machine today. I wanted to get a baseline on myself and on AJ--—then track her progression over the next several years as she integrates consistent resistance training into her programming. Check this link for a general explanation of the process and the numbers you are about to read: http://courses.washington.edu/bonephys/opbmd.html#tz

The T score represents the standard deviation of me compared to a normal 35 y.o. white female. The Z score is the standard deviation of me compared to women my age/sex/race. BMD is bone mineral density. I am 37 and have a mass of 62.6 kg (that'’s about 137 lbs). The "normal" healthy range T/Z score for is -.99 to +1. So theoretically, you can be -.9 and still be considered to have "“healthy"” bone density.

Total Spine BMD: 1.387 g/cm2
T score: +3.1
Z score: +3.2

Total Hip BMD: 1.291 g/cm2
T Score: +2.9
Z Score: +3.0

Total Body BMD: 1.413 g/cm2
T Score: +3.6
Z Score: +3.9

Dusting off the stats cobwebs, you'’ll recall that 3 standard deviations account for 99.73% of the data from a normal distribution. In other words, my bone density is damn good. And the raw BMD numbers are at the top end for all men and women, of any race.

Now, I've been consistently resistance training since 1998, anywhere from one to five days a week. Squat, press, push, and pull. You all know I'm a big fan of total body, multi-joint exercises. I think all people, especially women, should value and develop strength. I haven'’t always had the best diet, but for the last year I have sought out nutritional excellence, without any dairy. I get all of my calcium and protein from plant-based sources, or fortified vegan foods.

What does it all mean, Mr. Natural? It means, at least in this physical therapist'’s opinion, that the human body responds as it should to progressive, intelligently applied overload. This anecdotal case study of one clearly supports the necessity and importance of GROUND-BASED resistance training in the development of optimal, exceptional bone health.

Why am I pissed?

Well, I just got the Jay Hoffman, Ph.D book Norms for Fitness, Performance and Health in the mail today. The "norms" for womens' strength are very, very low. Not only are they low, data to establish these norms is sorely lacking. In my mind, fitness and medical professionals project a message and set the bar for womenÂ’s strength at an extremely low level. We expect women to only do 2 pull ups; we expect women to do "“modified" push ups. In my finest Meg Stone imitation, I say: "IT'S CRAP!!”

We set the bar low and what happens? Women reach for the cottage cheese and their calcium horse pill after their "brisk" 30 minute walk and PRAY their bones stay healthy. They need to reach for the BARBELL and the DUMBBELLS! They need to build strength to lift and support their bodyweight! Instead of enjoying life after 50, we have millions of women in this country facing potentially painful fractures, horrible postural pain, and years and years tethered to a toxic cocktail of bisphosphates and HRT.

Can we do better? Yes we can. We can start young women, like AJ on the road to excellent physical health by teaching them to value and participate in a GOOD resistance training program. We'll teach them to make deposits in the bone density bank from an early age.