Category Archives: Training

Hiring the Right Trainer Part Deux

In the second part of Hiring the Right Trainer, we continue to reveal the insider’s secrets to ensuring you don’t waste your money or time when choosing a personal trainer.


When meeting trainers for the first time, one of the ways I can gauge their knowledge and ability as trainers is to listen to the terminology they use. If they sound like a late night info- mercial and liberally use the terms “muscle tone” or “lengthen muscles,” I know they are absolutely clueless. If a trainer throws these terms at you, know that they are telling you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

Lesson One

Muscle tonus- The muscle in a steady partially contracted state caused by the successive flow of nerve impulses.

Even at rest, most of our skeletal muscles are in a constant state of partial contraction called tonus. Tonus is maintained by the activation of a few motor units in the muscle at all times, even in resting muscle. For instance, while you are standing in line at the grocery store, numerous muscles are partially activated to keep you upright and from falling to the floor.

When a trainer uses the term, such as “We are going to improve your muscle tone by performing high reps,” they are either confused, misinformed, or worse, telling you what you want to hear.

In this instance, the trainer is misapplying the word tone. What the trainer really means to say is to reduce your body fat, so that the underlying muscle becomes visible. For instance, we all have abdominal muscles, but not everyone’s are visible because they are hidden beneath a layer of fat.

But this is not to say that tonus is undesirable, as a partially contracted muscle is more visually appealing than a flaccid muscle and performs better. The only way to improve tonus is by performing low reps with heavy weights. For men, this means working in the 1-6 rep range and for women, 1-8 reps.

Lesson Two

My biggest pet peeve is when a trainer tells a client their workout is going to “lengthen their muscles.” The ONLY method for lengthening a muscle requires a surgeon to cut you open, detach the muscle’s tendons at both ends, stretch your muscle apart and re-attach the tendons to the bone. Not what you were expecting? As with tonus, what they mean to say is to lose body fat so your muscle becomes visible.

It may appear as if I’m making mountains out of mole hills, but the implications are important. Either the trainer does not understand the terminology or does understand, but is using “buzz words” to tell you what you want to hear to put more money in their pocket. Which one is worse? A trainer with a limited grasp of his profession or one who practices deceptive techniques? Remember, how you do one thing, is how you do everything. If your trainer uses these phrases, you may want to go elsewhere.



Plyometrics is a type of high-intensity power training in which a muscle is loaded and contracted in rapid sequence. Also known as shock training, plyometrics was developed by Yuri Verkhoshansky with the goal of utilizing elastic energy to jump higher and throw farther. This elastic energy is generated during explosive muscular contractions, such as landing from a jump and then rapidly contracting the muscle by jumping up as high as possible.

Plyometrics, while not dangerous, are an extremely advanced training method, which should not be performed by the casual athlete. While running, your body absorbs a force up to three to four times your body weight. Plyometrics can generate forces up to six times your body weight, placing demands on your joints and tendons they may not be prepared to handle.

So What?

One of the main concerns with plyometrics involves their long term use by people who have not been properly instructed in their use. Plyometrics were designed to be used 2 or 4 times a year, whenever an increase in peak power production was required to improve performance with each phase lasting 3-4 weeks. Compare that to the majority of trainers who use plyometrics with their clients year round. Not only does this increase a client’s risk of injury, but it reduces the effectiveness of the technique over time.

What Your Trainer Doesn’t Know

In addition to knowing how to implement plyometrics, the trainer must make certain to teach the client proper landing mechanics. Improper landing mechanics is one of the most common causes of non-contact ACL injuries in young women.

The heavier you are, the greater the risk of injury. A heavier athlete will generate greater forces upon landing than a lighter athlete. However, there is a difference if you are 225 lbs at 8% body fat instead of 225 lbs at 30% body fat.

In order to ensure the client can properly handle the large forces generated, they need to be able to squat a specific percentage of their bodyweight. If you weigh 225 lbs, but struggle to properly squat with 200 lbs, there is no way you are going to safely handle 6 times your body weight upon landing. Your tendons will disintegrate like month old Olive Garden bread- sticks.

Athletes training with plyometrics during their athletic season are the definition of crazy. Most sports already involve a plyometric component and performing additional work in the weight room is going to decrease your performance on the field.

What To Ask

Ask your potential trainer what criteria they have for determining when and how to implement plyometrics. Remember, plyometrics are usually reserved when an increase in power output is desired, such as before a competitive event. They should not be used just because your trainer ran out of different exercises for you to perform.


As mentioned in the intro, out of 300 training certifications, there is only ONE that requires you to demonstrate an appropriate level of expertise before becoming fully certified, the Poliquin International Certification Program (PICP), designed by Charles Poliquin.

Widely recognized as the most successful strength coach in the world, Charles Poliquin has coached Olympic medalists in 17 different sports and world record holders in 10 sports. The PICP consists of 5 different levels, with each having three parts: a theory, a technical, and a practical component. While most other certifications can be completed in a few days, the PICP has additional criteria beyond the course material that must be met in order to receive full certification. For instance, PICP Level 5, the highest level possible, requires you to meet 4 of the 7 following criteria:

  • Train a medalist at the Olympic Games
  • Train a medalist at the Senior World Championships
  • Participate officially as a coach or athlete at the Olympic Games or World Championships
  • Train a World Record Holder in a recognized discipline
  • Train an athlete who wins a distinguished award in their professional league: i.e. Norris (NHL), Cy Young (MLB)
  • Develop course material for the PICP
  • Work as a National Coach for 5 years

Obviously, the PICP requires their coaches to possess a high level of knowledge and skill, which other certifications cannot match.

The PICP is the only certification I recommend, and the only one you should ask for by name. For more information, visit


As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider when hiring a trainer. Our goal has been to empower you with the best information possible to ensure that you hire a trainer capable of helping you reach your goals.

Strengthology, dedicated for readers like you with the same goal as ours – to be the best.

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Hiring the Right Trainer Part 1

I was hired to write the following information over five years ago, by a gym owner looking to increase revenue.  At the time, the gym owner had a slightly less that 50% closing rate.  This meant, that approximately half of the traffic that toured his facility, actually ended up signing up as clients.  Looking to increase his closing rate, I wrote a manual for him to hand to everyone who left his gym prior to signing on for his services.  The manual was to be handed out, with the following instructions “I know there are several other gyms in the area and it’s important to find  a facility where you feel comfortable.  And to help save you money and time, here’s a list of things to look out for and a list of questions to ask the trainers.”  My goal for the booklet was simple, to create the frame of reference the potential client would use to judge the competence of any potential trainers/facilities they might encounter.  I ensured the potential client was using objective criteria, rather than subjective, in hiring the right trainer…my client.  And it worked.  Within a five week period, my client’s closing rate climbed to 76%, translating to an additional $15,000.

If you’re a gym owner or a trainer, feel free to print out this blog post and hand it to any potential clients.  Doing so will help distinguish you from the masses and establish you as a true professional.  And even if you’re not in the fitness industry, you can still utilize the following information to ensure you don’t waste your hard earned money, or worse, your time. 

Whether you want to look good naked, build your strength or want to ensure that you do not die of a heart attack before the age of forty, hiring a personal trainer can help you get the job done. A personal trainer can provide motivation, and accountability through regularly scheduled appointments. But where do you begin the search for the person that is going to lead you towards the body you have always wanted? The Yellow pages? The Internet? The Penny Saver ads? After all, you are spending your hard earned money, and you want the best you can find right? So, you start searching the internet and find numerous articles on how to find the right trainer. After reading a few, you realize they all contain the same information:

  • Check for certifications
  • Check for liability insurance and CPR certification
  • Check educational background

But, do any of these guarantee that the trainer you are about to hire is the most qualified to make you look good naked, or stronger? The truth is that these articles simply provide a checklist of necessary requirements, which give you no information as to the true effectiveness of the trainer you are about to hire. Let’s take a closer look at each:


Worldwide, there are currently over 300 training certifications. Certifications run the gamut from those requiring a college degree in a related field, such as kinesiology or physiology, while others only require a weekend seminar. Surprisingly, some only require that you pass a simple online exam and possess a valid credit card. I have known people who attended a weekend long certification course, and 2 weeks later, were working for that organization as certification instructors. So much for real world experience.

Out of 700 certifications, there is only ONE that requires you to demonstrate an appropriate level of expertise before becoming fully certified.

Need proof that training certifications do not guarantee competence? Here’s an article written by a certified trainer, in which she reveals one of her weight loss secrets:

Losing Weight Quickly

1. Belly Rubbing

…rub your hands together for 10 seconds to create some heat on them. When you’re rubbing over your stomach fat, this heat goes from your hand and right past the skin and into the fat cells where the heat helps to loosen up these hard deposits. I suggest you do this…2 minutes each time. I suggest you do this a total of 4 minutes a day. The best times are early in the morning and late at night 2 minutes each time.

 Apparently, the answer to the worldwide obesity crisis is to rub your belly for 4 minutes a day, in 2 minute increments. How could the National Institutes of Health overlook this “expert’s” recommendation? Quick, someone contact the Nobel committee!

I hope you detect my sarcasm, but if your sole criteria for hiring a trainer were a certification, then you could possibly end up hiring someone like this person. Remember, you can- not teach common sense.

Insurance and CPR Certification

Liability insurance and CPR certification, while important and necessary from a business perspective, tells you nothing about the trainer’s ability to help you accomplish your goals. It would be like judging the quality of the food at a restaurant by asking the chef if he knows the Heimlich maneuver.


While education is important in any profession, in the fitness field, I do not place a high premium on college degrees. In most instances, the curriculum at universities are outdated by 5-10 years, and primarily focus on the cardiovascular system, with very little time spent on the most efficient means of making one strong and lean. I have seen some of the most horrendous and ineffective training programs designed by trainers with multiple degrees.

In the following pages, I am going to share with you criteria that are essential for any trainer to be successful. Finding a trainer who displays these behaviors will greatly increase your chances of finding a competent, talented, and dedicated trainer, one who will keep you from wasting your time and hard earned money.

1. Rest Periods

Rest periods are the length of time taken between sets and exercises, and is the most neglected aspect of program de- sign among personal trainers. Rest periods help dictate the goals and design of a training program and are just as impor- tant as the exercises, number of repetitions and number of sets performed.

In general, when training for strength, between 1 to 6 reps, rest periods of up to 5 minutes are required. When training with higher reps, rest periods between 30-90 seconds are ad- equate.

Strength training requires considerably longer rest periods because the nervous system takes up to 6 times longer to recover than the muscular system. The longer rest periods prevent excessive fatigue from accumulating, which can affect proper exercise form, thereby reducing the risk of injury.

Trainers and Rest Periods

If rest periods are so important, then why do the majority of personal trainers neglect them? Laziness. Tracking rest periods requires the trainer to be fully engaged with their client.

Is the client struggling excessively before the prescribed numbers of reps are completed?

Did the client stay up all night with a sick child?

Does a client, who normally displays correct exercise form, suddenly perform as if it is their first time doing that particular exercise?

Tracking rest periods also requires the trainer to have a system for tracking and recording their client’s rest periods. Again, most trainers cannot be bothered to retain a $10 watch, and a sheet of paper on behalf of their client.



You might be asking yourself “If trainers do not track rest periods, then how do they gauge the amount of time spent between sets?” They tell you a story. Sometimes the story entails what they did last weekend, which might take 45 seconds, at other times it might take 5 minutes. Either way, it spells money down the drain for you, because inconsistent rest periods, day after day, are going to give you inadequate results, regardless of your goals. Most trainers would prefer to just count reps, hold their clip board, and daydream versus taking an active interest in their client.

To be fair, I must state that in most instances, trainers are unaware of the importance of rest periods because their train- ing certification organization failed to impart their importance. Over the past years, I have read some of the educational train- ing manuals from different certifying agencies. At best, some organizations offer a few paragraphs of information regarding rest periods. At worst, others do not mention rest periods at all.

When I design a training program, I use up to 12 different principles to guide me when designating rest periods.

What To Ask

When meeting with your potential trainer, ask if they record rest periods. If the trainer is not willing to invest in the cost of a wrist watch and a single sheet of paper, should you invest your hard earned money in them?

2. Exercise Machines

In my opinion, one of the most debated and redundant subjects in the field of resistance training is that of exercise machines vs. free weights…which is better? I will settle it once and for all, in 99% of cases, exercise machines suck. Need proof?

One of the biggest concerns with exercise machines is that they force your muscles to work in a manner that is completely different from real-life situations. For instance, when placing a large box overhead onto a shelf, your deltoid muscles are the primary movers, with your rotator cuff muscles acting as stabilizers. This harmonic relationship between your deltoid and rotator cuff muscles is replicated when you lift a barbell or dumbbells over your head. But when you perform this movement on an exercise machine, because of its fixed trajectory, the rotator cuff muscles do not activate. This forces your body to function in a completely unrealistic manner and teaches your body a faulty motor (muscle) recruitment pattern, drasti- cally increasing your chances of injury.

The fact that fewer muscles are exercised with machines should especially concern those looking for favorable body composition changes. The fewer muscles engaged in an ex- ercise, the fewer calories you burn. In the above example, while lifting a box or barbell overhead, your lower body mus- culature is recruited to keep you from losing your equilibrium, which is half your body! But on a machine, where you are in a seated position, your lower body is not recruited, requiring less energy (calories) to be expended.

There are numerous gyms that highlight the fact that they have a “30 minute exercise circuit,” consisting of exercise machines set up in rows. They claim that it is easy, efficient and convenient. They fail to mention that after 3 weeks, your body will become used to performing the same exercises, no longer benefiting from them, and you’ll eventually succumb to tendonitis.

Trainers and Machines

I will let you in on a closely held secret: Most trainers love exercise machines. Trainers use exercise machines for the same reason parents use a leash on their children…it allows them to focus their attention elsewhere while still exercising a measure of safety on the client/child. Again, most trainers would rather daydream and take the path of least effort, than focus on the client. Plus, most trainers lack the ability to prop- erly teach an exercise. It is easier to place a client in the leg press versus teaching them to squat.

Exercise machines are also popular with trainers because they allow the client to use a large amount of weight. Exercise machines do not require the client to stabilize the weight, thus allowing for a greater weight to be used than if a free weight version was performed. For instance, it’s not uncommon for beginners to perform the leg press exercise with over 500 lbs. However, these same people would snap their spine in half if they attempted the same weight with a squat. It is even doubtful if they could squat a third of that weight. But trainers know this and rely on exercise machines to impress their clients. A client notices the huge amount of weight they are lifting, gets really excited, and proceeds to purchase a block of 50 sessions. But in reality, the client is headed down a path which ultimately leads to stagnation, injuries and a false sense of accomplishment. But at least the trainer makes their mortgage payment for the month.

On two separate occasions, I was told by two different female trainers that the reason they use machines is because they did not have the strength to properly “spot” their male clients. Spotting refers to an individual assisting the lifter during a rep when needed. Now, I am not making any statement as to women being weaker than men. I know numerous women who can out lift most men, Liane Blyn for instance. However, I was told by these female trainers that they were not strong enough. If these female trainers were professional and placed the needs of the clients before their own financial gain, they would have referred the male clients to someone else. But in the cut throat world of the fitness business, they were thinking of the money they would have lost, instead of the muscular injuries and imbalances they will ultimately induce on their clients.

What To Ask

Ask your potential trainer to share their philosophy on exercise machines. If their response is similar to what you have read in this eBook, chances are they know what they are talking about.

Ask to see training programs they have designed for other clients. If you notice that in every training session they include 2 or more exercise machines, take your business elsewhere. I have produced countless 12 week training programs without using a single exercise machine.

Ensure the trainer’s strength levels are adequate to spot you when needed.

3. Training Logs

The importance of a training log as an analytical tool should not be underestimated. It allows you to monitor your training objectively and helps maintain motivation. Research has shown that people who have techniques to keep them motivated are 40 percent more likely to stick with their exercise program.

A training log does not have to be fancy, it should be designed with room to record your weights used, rest periods, and reps and sets performed.

If you do not use a training log, but instead rely on memory, you are setting yourself up for failure. After a few training sessions, your memory will fade faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career and you will be lost as to how much weight to use. Using too much weight will not allow you to perform the prescribed number of reps and too little weight will not be a sufficient stimulus to your body. In order to get stronger or leaner, it is vital that you present the same exercises, in the same manner in order for your body to adapt. If not, you are wasting your time and just going through the motions without any benefit.

Trainers and Training Logs

If you want to make most trainers sweat, ask them to show you any client’s training log from three months ago. Again, most trainers follow the path of least effort and throw away training logs as soon as they are done with them. If they use training logs at all.

What most trainers fail to understand is that training logs are a wealth of information, if you know what to look for. When one of my client’s performance in the weight room plateaus, the first thing I do is review all their training logs. I search to find where my client recorded their best performances and compare that training log to their current progress. I look for patterns:

  • Perhaps this client needs to perform more/less sets?
  • Perhaps this client responds to certain exercises better than others?
  • Does this client benefit from taking extra recovery time between workouts?
  • Does this client appear to perform better with more frequent training sessions per week?
  • Does this client respond better to longer rest periods?

 The amount of information that you can cull from training logs is endless.

What To Ask

When meeting with your potential trainer, ask to see train- ing logs from three different clients: teenager, male and fe- male. It would also be extremely helpful to ask to see training logs for clients training for strength and fat loss. Not only will this allow you to see if the trainer does keep training logs long term, but it shows you the trainer’s ability to design training programs. If you notice that all their training programs look the same, this is not the trainer for you. There is no such thing as a single training program that will magically work for all age groups and genders. Different fitness qualities require differ- ent approaches to training.

Additionally, if you notice that all their training logs have a group of exercises pre-printed on them, leave. Again, following the path of least effort, most trainers use these pre-printed training logs with every one of their clients. And even though the training log may list up to 15-20 exercises, this will cost you money. In general, the human body adapts to any training program within 4 weeks. After which, the client will need a totally different training program, including the number of reps, sets and exercises. I have clients that adapt so quickly, that I have to design a new training program every 2 weeks! How effective will your training sessions be if you perform the same group of exercises, week after week, month after month?

When I design a training program, I have a database of over 800 exercises to choose from. For example, with the leg curl, I have over 60 different variations available. My clients can go up to a year without repeating the same exercise.

In the second part of this article, we’ll cover certifications and one of the most abused forms of training, plyometrics.

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Looking to the Past to Move Forward: Ditillo & Verkhoshansky

If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

Bruce Lee

The dreaded strength plateau, is there anything more frustrating?  Depending on how long you’ve been strength training, you may have experience numerous plateaus, each increasingly irritating than the previous one.

Usually, strength plateaus primarily occur to trainees who train solo.  Those who train in groups, have the added benefit of training under their peer’s watchful eyes, providing additional motivation to keep from being the weakest in the group.  Training under the guidance of a coach, provides you not only with objective feedback, but with someone experienced at making minute changes to training programs, keeping plateaus at bay.

The following training protocols are ones I use when trainees experience strength plateaus.  The concepts are not mine, but have been influenced by the works of Anthony Ditillo and Yuri Verkhoshansky.  The protocols will utilize the bench press for demonstration purposes, but can be utilized for any compound exercise.


Set 1: bench press 90% max, 3 reps

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 2: bench press 95% max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 3: bench press 97%  max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 4: bench press 100% max, 1 rep

rest 3-4 minutes

Set 5: bench press 100% max, plus 1-2 kg. (perform only if confident in completing the rep)

Rest 6-8 minutes and repeat three times.

According to Verkhoshansky, “The training effect of this method is directed mainly to the improvement of the central nervous system to generate a powerful flow of motor impulses to the muscles; include a greater number of muscle fibers in the work effort and increase the power of the energy acquisition mechanism for the muscle contraction.”

Additionally, I have found this protocol to help trainees get over their mental hurdle of handling heavy weight.


Anthony Ditillo was a huge advocate of using the power rack for partial range of motion lifts.  In my opinion, his methods of utililizing the power rack for overcoming strength plateaus are some of the most productive protocols available.

A1. Top 1/4 bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 2010 tempo

rest 120 seconds

A2. Pull ups 3 x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 120 seconds

B1. Top 1/2 bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 3010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

B2. Chin ups 3 sets x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

C1. Full range bench press 3 x 4-6 reps 4010 tempo

100 seconds

C2. Semi-supinated chin ups 3 x 5-7 reps 4010 tempo

rest 100 seconds

For this protocol, performing the partial range of motion bench presses allows you to utilize considerably heavier weight, and to focus on the most common sticking points .  This heavier weight also serves to recruit a higher number of muscle fibers and stimulate the nervous system for the full range bench press.

For a more thorough explanation of this protocol, read my article “Shattering Your Plateaus In 3 Easy Steps.”

 All Together Now

The following training split is recommended:

Day 1: Verkhoshansky protocol

Day 2: lower body

Day 3: off

Day 4: Ditillo protocol

Day 5: lower body

Day 6: off

Day 7: off


In order to break through your plateaus, you must overload the involved muscle groups in a manner foreign to your regular training program.  Remember, Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

By utilizing concepts from two of the best minds the strength and conditioning community has ever known, you will ensure your continual success.

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Weightlifting 101: How To Use Your Skinfold Calipers

“What’s measured improves.”

Peter F. Drucker

In the business world, if you fail to install a system of measurements, progress stalls.  You need to have a “scorecard” in place to track whether the procedures and tactics you’re utilizing improve the bottom line: profits.  And everything you implement either adds or subtracts from your profitability.

In the strength and conditioning field, having metrics as a means for keeping “score,” allows you to objectively quantify whether your training, nutrition and supplement protocols are appropriate for a specific client.  So what are the best metrics for a strength coach?  A training log and a pair of skinfold calipers.

Training log

A training log is anything you utilize to keep a permanent record of your client’s progress in the weight room.  At a minimum, recording weights lifted and the number of repetitions performed, serves as an objective witness with perfect recall.  Additionally, training logs allow numerous opportunities for mining information pertinent to the future performance of your clients.  Even a casual review of their previous training logs can reflect training variables which produced significant improvements in performance.

Skinfold Calipers

As with training logs, utilizing a pair of calipers for periodic skinfold measurements can provide objective information in regards to a client’s progress in the gym and at the dinner table.  However, unlike training logs, calipers can produce significant inconsistencies in skinfold measurements due to the use of inexpensive skinfold calipers and inconsistent user operation.

Which Calipers?

When it comes to ensuring consistent skinfold measurements, research quality calipers are a must.  The calipers of choice for researchers and strength coaches are the Harpenden Skinfold Calipers.  Designed in 1958, Harpenden calipers exert a constant and repeatable compression force of 10 g/mm2 over its entire jaw measuring range.  Inexpensive caliper models, with their non-constant jaw tension, provide inaccurate skinfold measurements and ultimately, inaccurate body fat percentages.  While Harpenden’s $400 price tag may discourage some, consider the years of service they’re going to provide.  I purchased my first set of Harpenden calipers in 1989 and if not for the dirtbag who broke into my car in 2001, I would still be using that same pair today.

User Operation

The most frequently asked question concerning the use of skinfold calipers pertains to timing.  Once the calipers are applied, at what point do you take the skinfold reading?  Should you wait a predetermined amount of time, or should you wait until the gauge pointer comes to a stop? As you’ll soon read, the difference in timing, will produce substantially different body fat percentages.

The Best Research Study I Ever Found

Many years back, while completing laboratory work for an exercise physiology class, I learned the important lesson of consistent and repeatable measuring.  The assignment, was to record skinfold measurements on ten different laboratory students, male and female.  While my fellow students were taking my skinfold measurements, I noticed that each of them were recording them at different intervals after applying the calipers.  While some were recording the measurements after two seconds, with the gauge needle still moving, other were waiting over thirty seconds until the needle came to a complete stop.  This time difference, I believed, explained the considerable differences in measurements my laboratory mates were recording.

Bringing these different measurements to the attention of the laboratory assistant didn’t provide any answers.  The best explanation the assistant could provide, was “user error.”

That same day, after a two-hour search at the university library (this was pre-internet, when research actually took time), I found the following study:

Becque, M. Daniel, Time Course of Skin-Plus-Fat Compression in Males and Females, Human Biology, 58:1 (1986:Feb.) p33

In the study, researchers wanted to determine how skinfold measurements were affected by the length of time the calipers were applied to skinfolds.  Measurements were taken at the following time intervals: 2, 4, 6, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45 and 60 seconds.  The researcher’s benchmark, was to determine a time period which provided a skinfold measurement free of compression and deformation.

Here are the highlights:

  • “The practice of waiting for the caliper dial to stabilize before recording, results in reduced thickness estimates.”
  • “If the criterion measurement is uncompressed skin-plus-fat then the reading should be made ‘as soon’ as the calipers are applied to the skin, since over 70% of the total compression takes place within 4 seconds.”
  • “The absolute change in the thickness of the skinfold from application of the caliper until the end of the measurement period ranges between 0.3 mm and 4.5 mm…use of the initial or the final skinfold can result in a range of differences in predicted fat from 2-8 fat percentage points (10-50% difference).”
  • “…skinfold compression conforms to a two component exponential curve.  The fast component of the decay curve is representative of the expression of interstitial water from the skin-plus-fat fold.  The slow component of the decay is most likely characteristic of the squeezing of the two thicknesses of skin-plus-fat until parallel. “
  • “…the period of time before the caliper is read should be standardized.  Based on the present data, it is recommended that this time be no longer than 4 seconds in duration”

According to the data, once the caliper’s jaws exert full pressure to the skinfold, subcutaneous water is first displaced followed by compression of the skin and underlying fat.  By the four-second mark, greater than 70% of the compete compression of the skin and fat has occurred.  Therefore, if a true uncompressed measurement is desired, the skinfold reading must be made within two seconds of the calipers being applied.

Worst case scenario: if you utilize measurements from compressed skinfolds, you may be underestimating your client’s body fat percentage by up to 8%.  For instance, instead of being at 8% body fat, they’re actually at 16%.


  • Take two measurements at each skinfold site, averaging the two readings.
  • To prevent skinfold compression, take the readings in rotational order.
  • Take measurements prior to exercise.
  • For accurate skinfold readings, record measurements 2 seconds after applying the calipers.
  • For consistent and accurate results, use the 2 second time frame for every skinfold measurement and for everyone one of your clients.

For the strength coach, employing metrics can reveal the efficacy of training and nutritional programs.  Additionally, they will also give the impression to your clients that you truly care about their progress.  And by utilizing metrics consistently across all clients, you ensure repeatable and predictable results.

What’s rarely measured, is even more rarely achieved.

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The LumberJack: Explosive Strength Done Right

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult”

Warren Buffet

If you were to ask one hundred personal trainers which muscle groups receive training priority by the majority of male gym goers, the vast majority of them would answer the “mirror muscles.”  Yeah, you know…chest, biceps and shoulders, muscles they can train while eye-f*cking themselves in the mirror.  Which is unfortunate, because the muscles on the posterior side of the body play an immense role in running and jumping.  Neglect to train your glutes and you’ll be lucky to jump over a puddle without getting your shoes wet.  Neglect your hamstrings and instead of sprinting down the track, you’ll find yourself stuck in a perpetual state of vertical oscillation…like Rush Limbaugh on a pogo stick.

When it comes to training the posterior muscles, one of our favorite devices is the LumberJack.

The LumberJack is the brainchild of Canadian Olympic weightlifting coach extraordinaire Pierre Roy, who devised it for training the posterior muscles in a manner unique from the Olympic lifts.  I was first introduced to the LumberJack in 2003, by Ben Prentiss, who wouldn’t let me leave his gym until I performed a few sets, just to get his point across.  On my two-hour drive home from Ben’s gym, I felt what could best be described as a “tightening” sensation across every one of my posterior muscles.  I bought one as soon as I got home.

The list of coaches who utilize the LumberJack in their training programs, reads like a Who’s Who of the strength and conditioning field:

While the LumberJack exercise has been described as a pull-through/power snatch combination, watch the video to fully appreciation both the simple and effectiveness of the motion.

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy, Stanley Cup, World Cup – 2004

What makes the LumberJack devastatingly effective, is the greater range of motion in which the posterior chain is engaged.  Additionally, due to the simple hip extension movement, some athletes find it easier to incorporate into their training than traditional Olympic lifts.

The following two protocols represent the most commonly utilized used when integrating the LumberJack into training programs.

Contrast Method

The contrast method involves supersetting two exercises: one heavy strength exercise and one light explosive exercise. The goal, is to use the first heavy strength exercise to stimulate a high level of fast twitch muscle fibers, which results in a higher power output during the second, lighter exercise.

Method 1

A1. Bent-Knee Deadlift Snatch Grip   6 sets x 3-5 reps  3-0-X-0 tempo 10 seconds rest

A2. LumberJack   6 sets x 3-5 reps 1-0-X-0 tempo  180 seconds rest

In this protocol, the low rep deadlifts ensure a higher number of muscle fibers are stimulated, in order to maximize the explosive strength levels achieved during the LumberJack exercise.  The LumberJack reps are kept low, to certify they are all executed with a high level of acceleration.

Method 2

A1. LumberJack   8 sets x 2-4 reps  1-0-X-0 tempo  10 seconds rest

A2. 30 m sprints   8 sets x 30 m    120 seconds rest

B. PNF Stretching, Hip Flexors 5 minutes

C. 60 m sprints  4 sets x 60 m 180 seconds rest

In this protocol, the LumberJack is utilized as the muscle fiber/CNS stimulating exercise, to potentiate the athlete’s hip extensor muscles for the 30 m sprints.

In Season Maintenance Program

A. LumberJack  4 sets x 4-6 reps  1-0-X-0 tempo  120 seconds rest

B1. Split Squats, Barbell  4 sets x 6-8 reps  5-0-X-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

B2. Lying Leg Curl 3 positions Dorsiflexed  4 sets x 4-6 reps 5-0-X-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

C1. Chin-ups Lean Away Supinated Grip  4 sets x 4-6 reps  5-0-1-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

C2. Bench Press 30° Incline Barbell Close Grip  4 sets x 6-8 reps  5-0-1-0 tempo  90 seconds rest

For this protocol, the LumberJack is utilized by National level shorttrack speedskaters to maintain strength and conditioning produced in the off-season.


Kettlebell Swings?

The most frequently asked question concerning execution of the LumberJack exercise is “Isn’t that just a kettlebell swing?”  Short answer: NO.

  • The LumberJack exercise is not a “swing,” but a combo move consisting of an explosive pull-through with a snatch towards the end of the concentric range of motion.
  • While a kettlebell swing utilizes a rotatory motion throughout its entire range of motion, the LumberJack employs a sudden drop of the hips towards the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.
  • The V-shaped handle of the LumberJack allows for  a “sternum-up” position, optimizing  shoulder and thoracic spine mechanics.
  • I have utilized loads up to 125 lbs on my LumberJack. Its easy-on, easy-off design, facilitates loading, especially when used with a group of athletes with varying strength levels.

As you can see, the LumberJack can be utilized for numerous protocols.  Along with its ease of use and compact size, the LumberJack challenges the posterior muscles in a manner uniquely its own.  And if the best coaches in the world use it to develop their athlete’s explosive strength, shouldn’t you?

The LumberJack we use, was designed and manufactured by Brady Powers.  Along with the LumberJack, Brady manufactures a great line of weightlifting and Strongman gear.  Visit his website

Order your LumberJack by January 24, and it’s shipped FREE.

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Weightlifting 101: The Overhead Athlete

“Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.”

Abu Bakr, Philosopher

 “Without applicable knowledge and its proper execution, you’re f*cked.”

Jess Banda, Humanitarian

Prepare yourself, here comes a truth bomb…knowledge, in and of itself, is not very useful.  The proper execution of knowledge however, is everything.  Why?  Because until knowledge is applied, it remains theoretical.  Given the option between working with someone who possesses either academic knowledge or practical experience, I’ll take the latter.  And while the dictionary defines a professional as “a person who belongs to one of the professions, especially one of the learned professions,” my definition of a true professional, is “one who applies the knowledge and insights acquired through academics to real experiences.”

In the strength and conditioning field, new methods are developed through practice and experience, not research studies.  I agree with Lyn Jones, former Director of Coaching for U.S.A. Weightlifting Federation, when he stated “Sport scientists are, in fact, only sport historians-they scientifically demonstrate what coaches knew a few Olympics earlier.”  Unfortunately, within the past few years, people have increasingly been confusing academic knowledge with practical experience.  And thanks to the sheer quantity of user-generated content found on the internet, where everyone is an “expert,” it’s become increasingly difficult to assess their credibility and determine whether they possess the experience to offer any perspective.

Within our field, there is no greater disconnect between academic knowledge and its proper and successful application, than in the training of overhead athletes.  For the first part of this article, we’ll look at a muscle group that possesses the greatest potential for improving throwing velocity: the rotator cuff.

My Experience

My research into designing effective rotator cuff training protocols began in 2005, when I was presented without he opportunity to work with Connecticut high school baseball pitcher Matt Harvey.  Expectations for Matt were high, as his fastball speed averaged between the 85-90 mph range and was generating a lot of interest among pro baseball scouts.  During his junior year in high school, it was a common sight to have over 15 pro scouts with radar guns, standing behind the backstop, clocking his throwing velocity.  However, in discussions with Matt’s father Edward, we came to the conclusion, that by adding a few pounds of lean body mass and building up the strength of his rotator cuff muscles, Matt could realize his full throwing genetic potential.  Before working together, Matt’s rotator cuff training program was based around rubber tubing and high reps.  During our first training sessions, Matt’s rotator cuff were so weak, he could only manage to perform 8 reps with 5 pounds on seated dumbbell  external rotations.  It was only after we sufficiently strengthen his rotator cuff muscles, working up to 37.5 pounds for 8 reps on the seated dumbbell external rotations, that he started to throw fastballs up to the 98 mph range.  Here’s a key concept: Matt was throwing at high velocities in spite of his original training program.  However, only by applying sound principles and putting them to practice, was he finally able to throw to his full genetic potential.  It’s the difference between adequate and optimum.  In 2007, Matt was ranked by Baseball America, as the top high school prospect.  After three years playing for the University of North Carolina, Matt was the seventh overall pick, by the NY Mets in the 2010 MLB draft.

Late 2007, I was presented with another opportunity to further develop my approach to rotator cuff training, working with another Connecticut high school pitcher, Hunter Brown.  As with Matt, Hunter’s rotator cuff training program was also centered around rubber tubing and pink vinyl dumbbells, which kept his fastball between 74-77 mph.  It was only after building his training program around dumbbells that his throwing velocity was finally able to break 80 mph, with his fastballs reaching between 84-87 mph.  Again, Hunter’s rotator cuff training program, was hindering his progress.  Only by applying training principles based on valid strength training principles and knowledge of anatomy beyond the standard “origin-insertion” that my athlete’s performance could be improved and more importantly, sustained.

What You Need To Know

Overhead motion athletes, whether throwing a baseball, swinging a racquet, or spiking a volleyball, repeatedly subject their shoulders to extreme forces and torques.  So a proper understanding of the function of rotator cuff muscles as they apply to overhead motion sports is vital, for both performance and injury prevention.

Overhead motion athletes include:

  • throwing athletes (baseball, football, javelin, cricket)
  • swimmers
  • volleyball players
  • racquet athletes (tennis, squash, badminton)
  • military/law enforcement (task specific needs)

And while not categorized as overhead athletes, I recently included military and law enforcement personnel into this category.  Due to the stress and mechanics of firing multiple rounds with long firearms, shotguns and carbines, strong rotator cuff muscles help maintain shooting accuracy and speed.  Giving credit where it’s due, I learned this from a discussion with Charles Poliquin, who experienced it first hand, while consulting for a major federal law enforcement agency.

Instead of focusing on each of these sports individually, even though this information is applicable to them, we’ll focus on baseball pitchers, as they produce the greatest velocities and torques of all overhead motion sports.  Just how violent of a maneuver is throwing a baseball?  Consider the following:

  • The point from which a pitcher cocks his arm back, to when he releases the ball, takes only .05 seconds, during which the humerus accelerates up to 9,500 deg/sec
  • Once the pitcher has released the baseball, he decelerates his arm to a complete stop within .03-.05 seconds
  • Upon release, momentum distraction forces up to 1.5 times body weight act on the shoulder and elbow joints

So what does this have to do with the rotator cuff muscles?  Everything.  First, due to their stabilizing function at the shoulder joint, the rotate cuff muscles keep the humeral head within the glenoid fossa.  Keep in mind, throwing a baseball is basically a controlled attempt at trying to throw your arm out and away towards home plate and the rotator cuff muscle’s stabilizing function becomes extremely important during the deceleration phases of throwing.  So if you’re a pitcher weighing 200 pounds, at the point you’re about to release the baseball, distraction forces up to 300 pounds are trying to rip your arm out of joint.  Second, once the baseball has been released, the rotator cuff muscles function as decelerators of the humerus.  While two large muscles, the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major are accelerators of the humerus, deceleration of the humerus falls primarily to the four considerably smaller rotator cuff muscles.  When you factor in the distinct characteristic of eccentric contractions recruiting fewer motor units than a concentric contraction, thereby subjecting these fewer recruited motor units to a greater stress, you understand why the majority of throwing injuries occur during the deceleration

Now that you understand the function and level of involvement of the rotator cuff muscles in overhead motions, it becomes clear that throwing velocity, in most instances, is limited, not by the strength of your accelerating muscle, but by the ability of the rotator cuff muscles to counteract the forces and torques generated during the throwing motion.  This limiting of your throwing velocity to a manageable and tolerable level is a self-imposed restraint, a protective action, much like your golgi tendon organs protect you from injury and winning a Darwin Award.

So now that we have identified the muscle group primarily responsible for limiting your throwing velocity, the question then becomes, which are the most efficient methods for training the rotator cuff muscles?  To put us on the right path, we must first answer the following:

  • What muscle fiber type would best be capable of countering forces equal to 1.5 times body weight?
  • What muscle fiber type is best suited for decelerating a limb moving up to 9,500 deg/sec, in less time than it takes you to blink?

Low-threshold motor units?  High-threshold motor units?  The answer becomes obvious, doesn’t it?  However, when discussing my training protocols with “baseball performance specialists,” they attempt to dismiss my approach to rotator cuff training by referencing a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: “Fiber Type Composition of Cadaveric Human Rotator Cuff Muscle.”  In this often quoted study, the researcher’s aim was to identify the fiber type composition of the rotator cuff and teres major muscles, using tissue samples harvested from nine cadavers.  Their results found that “the rotator cuff muscles have a heterogeneous fiber type composition.”  Really?  However, a few issues arise:

  • tissue samples were harvested from only nine cadavers
  • the age of the subjects were between 53-87 years
  • the physical activity history of the subjects was unknown (needless to say, I don’t believe any major league pitchers were part of the study)

Realizing the shortcomings of their research, the researchers concluded the study by stating “The advanced age of the cadaver specimens may limit the extrapolation of our findings regarding fiber type composition to younger individuals.”  These same coaches who reference the study however, always forget to mention this last part.  This is a classic example of coaches going “cafeteria style” on a research study, referencing sections that support their personal preferences, while disregarding the rest.

Now that you understanding the extraordinary forces which must be opposed by the rotator cuff muscles, you’d be correct in concluding that elite pitchers possess a greater number of high-threshold motor units in their rotator cuff muscles compared to the average person.  Taking it even further, a pitcher throwing in the upper 90s mph, possesses a greater number of high-threshold motor units than a pitcher maxing out in the low 80s mph.  Yes, other factors come into play, such as overall conditioning, mechanics, and genetics, however even these factors cannot make up for weak, or improperly trained rotator cuff muscles.  Drill this into your head: you will only throw as fast as you can safely decelerate your arm.

So how do we design an effective resistance training program to strengthen these high-threshold motor units?  That’s the $64,000 question.

The Perils of Rubber Tubing

If you’ve ever experienced any shoulder discomfort and been evaluated by a medical professional, chances are you were given a handout sheet, depicting line drawings of a figure performing various external rotation exercises with rubber tubing.  These external rotation exercise “cheat sheets” have become the favorite of medical professionals for anything shoulder related.  Judging by the affinity medical professionals have for these sheets, you’d think that the 4-6 exercises depicted in them, could cure whatever your shoulder ails might be.  It’s a complete mystery how these few exercises can heal any shoulder injury.  Maybe they work like aspirin…they just “know” what to fix.

Unfortunately, rubber tubing has left the domain of rehabilitation settings and has become the implement of choice for the majority of baseball pitchers and quarterbacks.  The main reason, next to their low cost and maintenance, is because the majority of physical therapist and strength coaches, believe them to be appropriate for the “delicate” rotator cuff muscles.  Having previously dispelled the notion of the rotator cuff muscles being made out of porcelain, here is the main reason for getting rid of rubber tubing completely: linear resistance curve.

In every exercise, there are specific portions of the range of motion where you are stronger, due to improved leverage.  How your strength varies at various joint angles can be represented by strength curves.  There are three types of strength curves:

  1. Bell-shaped –  represents exercises in which muscular tension is greatest in the middle of the exercise and then decreases through the rest of the movement.  Arm curls, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the middle portion of the exercise is performed, represent bell-shaped curves.
  2. Ascending – represent exercises in which the muscular tension is greatest at the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.  Squats and presses, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the last quarter or last half of the exercise is performed, represent ascending strength curves.
  3. Descending – represent exercises in which muscular tension decreases at the end of the concentric portion of the exercise.  Rowing exercises, allowing you to lift greater weight if only the first quarter or first half of the exercise is performed, represent descending strength curves.

The key is realizing that the amount of muscular tension you generate varies as your joint moves through its range of motion.  The problem with rubber tubing is that initially, it offers little to no resistance, but as the band is stretched, it provides progressively greater resistance in a linear pattern.  This ascending linear resistance pattern continues for as long as the rubber tubing is elongated or ruptures.  So what you say?  For most exercises, rubber tubing generates the greatest tension when muscles are least able to produce force: at the end range of a joint’s motion.  Initially, this misalignment between the linear resistance pattern and the strength curve of the exercise won’t lead to catastrophic injuries, but if utilized for extended periods of time, it might lead to tendonitis.  Which makes you wonder why you see rubber tubing in physical therapist’s office?  Ensuring future business?  Much like opening a Curves fitness center next to a Krispy Kreme.

Inevitably, someone is always quick to mention that there are “100s of published studies….blah blah blah…in support of elastic resistance.”  My answer: everything works for a while.  As I’ve said before, it’s a matter of adequate vs. optimum.  However, one of my biggest gripes is in the way they’re utilized.  Usually, most trainees fix one end of the rubber tubing to a vertical stationary object, stretch the band and start banging out reps, without any consideration to form, range of motion, or tempo.  I’ve seen people exert greater mental effort when choosing a brand of bottled water than in how they’re performing their reps.  Other considerations:  How do you ensure you’re utilizing the same resistance with every set of an exercise?  Do you always stand the same exact distance away from the fixed end of the rubber tubing?  Is the rubber tubing you utilize impervious to flex fatigue?  Will it always provide the same resistance no matter how many times it’s been stretched…much like Rosie O’Donnell’s pantyhose?  And how do you determine whether to progress to the next larger diameter of rubber tubing?  Do you just wake up one day and think “Time to take this bitch to the next level, time for the orange bands!”  I think you get my point.  Progressive overload is a cornerstone of our field, but for strength adaptations to occur, the loads utilized must be applied in a consistent and progressive manner.  Rubber tubing supplies neither.

Training the Rotator Cuff Muscles

While the four rotator cuff muscles work synergistically to decelerate the humerus, both the infraspinatus and teres minor demonstrate the highest activity during the deceleration phase.  As such, we’ll concentrate our efforts to exercises which preferentially recruit these two muscles.  While there are literally hundreds of external rotation exercises variations, which might make it challenging to recall which exercise primarily recruits which muscle, here’s an easy to remember tip: the position of the elbow dictates which rotator cuff muscle has the most efficient line of pull.  When your elbow is positioned high, relative to your shoulder, the infraspinatus has a favorable line of pull and when your elbow is low, relative to your navel, the teres minor has a favorable line of pull.

The Magic is in the Details

The key to deriving benefit from my protocol, is to follow it exactly as written.  Everything has been combined for cumulative effect and removing one element diminishes the return on your time and effort invested.  Adequate vs optimum.

Frequency of training: For my protocol, you’ll be training your rotator cuff muscles twice a week.  Here are some options, based on different training splits:

Day 1: Rotator cuff, arms/shoulders

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, torso

Day 5: Off

Day 1: Rotator cuff, torso

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, arms/shoulders

Day 5: Off

Day 1: Rotator cuff, upper body strength

Day 2: Lower body strength

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, upper body dynamic

Day 5: Lower body dynamic

Day 1: Rotator cuff, full body

Day 2: Full body

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Rotator cuff, full body

Day 5: Full body

Yes, there are numerous other training splits in existence, for instance, you might train your eyelids on Monday and your perineum on Friday, but whatever your training split, ensure at least one day off between rotator cuff training sessions.  Due to their size, the rotator cuff muscles recover quickly, allowing us to maximize training adaptations by training them twice a week.

Order of Exercises: Regardless of your training split, always perform the external rotation exercises FIRST within your training session.  Yes, even when training torso.  The only exception would be when training bench press with less than four reps.  One trait of all successful coaches is that they have their athletes perform exercises for their weakest exercise or muscle group first within a training session.  Giving priority to your weak links prevents you from training them when your CNS and involved muscle groups are fatigued.  While it may seem training rotator cuff muscles prior to pressing exercises, might decrease the amount of weight you use, I have yet to witness it.  In most instances the opposite is true, as training the rotator cuff muscles first within your workout, will improve the “mind-muscle” connection as well as their intra and inter-muscular coordination, thereby facilitating their stabilizing function.  This will be extremely visible with athletes that have neglected to perform any external rotation exercises, or utilized rubber tubing.  Ben Prentiss, PICP 5, who has produced four Stanley Cup winners, has all his athletes train their rotator cuff muscles in this manner.

Number of Repetitions: High-threshold motor units are best trained using low reps, no surprise there.  As the rotator cuff muscles are predominately high-threshold motor units, the highest number of reps you’ll perform is twelve.  While twelve reps are above a rep range normally associated with strength gains, they allow you to improve the neural efficiency of your rotator cuff muscles before progressing to a more appropriate rep range.  Strength training is about coaxing the CNS into a more efficient state.  While it’s common to see athletes perform external rotation exercises for 20 reps, this is strongly discouraged.  As the rotate cuff muscles are predominately made up of high-threshold motor units, training them with reps intended for endurance, encourages them to behave characteristically like low-threshold motor units.  Perhaps the steady increases in pitching injuries experienced in MLB and Little League Baseball, is due to the over reliance of rubber tubing, pink vinyl dumbbells and 20 rep rotator cuff training programs?  Is it possible to sue a strength coach for stupidity?

The Exercises and Implements Used: To ensure progression and relieve boredom, each of your two weekly training programs will utilize different exercises and implements, dumbbells and cable pulleys.  Alternating between different implements provides a different training stimulus in the form of two different resistance curves: dumbbells overload the stretched, or lower, position of the range of motion and cable pulleys overload the contracted, or upper, position.  Making use of the distinct loading characteristics provided by dumbbells and cable pulleys, allows for efficient strength development due to the unique muscle fiber recruitment patterns of the two implements.

The Exercises

External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and abducted

  • sit with your back against Scott bench, arm resting on top of support pad
  • shoulder is abducted 90 degrees, elbow is flexed 90 degrees
  • lower dumbbell under control to fully stretched position
  • keep back against support pad to ensure proper form

External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and in front of body

  • elbow of the working arm is positioned onto the VMO
  • the non-working arm is positioned behind you on the bench to minimize any swaying
  • lower dumbbell under control to fully stretched position

External Rotation with low cable pulley, handle over navel

  • stand sideways to low pulley, positioning your hand directly over your navel
  • keep your arm abducted approximately 20-30 degrees
  • externally rotate your arm outward, using your shoulder as the pivot point
  • ensure your elbow maintains the same distance from your torso throughout the motion
  • if necessary, place a rolled up towel underneath your armpit to maintain a consistent angle

External Rotation with low cable pulley, rope handle over navel

  • grasp the rope handle with your hand supinated
  • position your little finger against your navel
  • maintain a supinated hand position through the motion
  • follow the same instructions as for the handle variation of this exercise

The Program

The program will consist of two phases, with two training days within each phase.

Phase 1:

Day 1

A) External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and abducted

Day 2

A) External Rotation with low cable pulley, handle over navel

For both exercises, perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps, on a 2-0-2-0 tempo.  If performing this exercise solo, take 90 seconds rest between sets.  If supersetting with another muscle group, take 60 seconds rest between exercises.  Use a weight which allows for 10-12 properly executed reps only.  Higher reps ensure improved muscle fiber recruitment and the controlled concentric tempo minimizes cheating, which will build a solid foundation for the heavier weights used during the phase two.

Phase 2:

Day 1

A) External Rotation with dumbbell, arm supported and in front of body

Day 2

A) External Rotation with low cable pulley, rope handle over navel

For both exercises, perform 3 sets of 7-9 reps, on a 4-0-1-0 tempo.  Use a weight which allows for 7-9 properly executed reps only.  If performing this exercise solo, take 100 seconds rest between sets.  If supersetting with another muscle group, take 90 seconds rest between exercises.  Due to the heavier weights and faster concentric tempo utilized, it will be extremely tempting to cheat by swaying your upper body during the concentric contraction.  If this occurs, it’s a sure sign that the weight you’re using is beyond your current capabilities.  Check your ego at the door and utilize a proper weight.

When training smaller muscle groups, micro-loading because extremely important.  As the dumbbells in most commercial gyms increase at five-pound increments, it’ll be extremely difficult to individualize a weight to your current strength needs.  The best micro-loading system I’ve used is manufactured by Pace Weights.  Their magnetic micro-weights are available in 1/2 pound increments, making them a must have item when performing this program.

If you’ve made it this far, you now know more about training the rotator cuff muscles properly, than 90% of the strength coaches out there.  It’s important to note, that this program is not only for those participating in overhead motion sports, but for anyone wanting to optimize their shoulder function and especially for those wanting to improve their bench press numbers.  However, proper training of the rotator cuff muscles is only half of the solution, the other half involves proper training of the lower trapezius fibers, or “trap 3.”  While the rotator cuff muscles are the “brakes” which decelerate the humerus, the trap 3 is vital for injury prevention during all phases of any overhead motion.  Stay tuned for Part two.

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It

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The Need for Speed: Ladders Not Included

Speed, everyone wants it, few people have it and those who need it, are willing to spend money to get it.  As in any capitalistic endeavor, if a need goes unmet, someone is there to fill the void and make a profit doing so.  However, no one could have predicted the level at which parents would flock to these “speed merchants.”  How else could you explain the overnight financial success of the mega-warehouse speed schools that littered practically every strip mall in the US?  A parent’s desire to turn their child to the next Usain Bolt, is understandable, as speed is a vital component of athletic ability.  You’d be hard  pressed to find a sport in which speed isn’t a determining factor separating the winner from the loser.  Even marathon runners require speed, as the goal is to run the 26.2 mile race in the fastest time possible, not the slowest.  Problems arose however, when the vague and non-legally binding claims of the speed merchants turned out to be hyperbole.  It seems the speed merchants’ business model was one based on luck, rather than valid exercise science.  Luck, not being a replicable business model, explains why the majority of these speed schools disappeared fast than a French Crueller at a Weight Watchers meeting.  However, the techniques employed by these mega-warehouse speed schools still linger and are being utilized by people now branding themselves as “speed consultants.”

Speed Ladders

Walk into virtually any fitness center and you’ll find groups of all ages, performing endless sets of foot drills on speed ladders, grunting, huffing, puffing and in some cases, moving at speeds so slow that only 90-year-old blue-haired arthritic women can appreciate.  The drills are endless: Hop Scotch, Double Hop Scotch, Ickey Shuffle, and my personal favorite, I Gotta Take A Leak But I Can’t Find A Toilet Drill.

Proponents of speed ladder training claim their use will increase running speed, due to the following:

1. Speed ladders teach the concept of fast feet, thereby increasing stride rate

2. Speed ladders reinforce proper sprinting mechanics

Let’s see what physics and common sense have to say about this.

Myth #1 Fast feet lead to an increased stride rate, which leads to faster run times.

This concept was first utilized by the long distance running community, when researchers determined the majority of elite distance runners had a stride rate of approximately 180 strides per minute.  Once this information was published, countless weekend warriors spent their weekend with a clipboard and a stop watch, calculating their stride rate, trying to match that of elite distance runners.  Numerous hamstring injuries later, the masses realized their cardiovascular system couldn’t maintain 180 strides per minute beyond their drive way, and quickly abandoned the idea.  Unfortunately, the concept of increasing stride rate to increase running speed, was then endorsed by the strength and conditioning community, to be exploited for financial gain.  This allowed anyone with a $40 speed ladder, a $24.95 speed ladder drills DVD, and stopwatch, to brand themselves as “speed consultants.”  Thus began the practice of coaches instructing their athletes to “imagine you’re running on a giant hot pan and make quick contact with the ground.”

Here’s the science:

1.  Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So what you say?  This means that the greater the FORCE you apply to the ground with your feet, the greater the force that will propel you towards the end zone, or the million dollar signing bonus.  It’s the forces which you exert against the ground with each foot contact, that propels your body forward.  By instructing clients to focus their efforts on a high stride rate at the cost of applying force to the ground, you’re minimizing the effect of one of the fundamental laws of physics, an equal and opposite reaction.

2.  Additionally, as we don’t live in a vacuum, there are gravitational and inertial forces to overcome, which require significant concentric and eccentric strength levels to counteract these forces as you accelerate your body.  Keep in mind, when sprinting, you’re experiencing up to five times body weight with each foot contact with the ground.  In any running event, regardless of duration, the individual who possesses the strength levels to consistently and repeatedly overcome the downward force of gravity and inertia, is ideally suited to meet the demands of fast running and usually wins the race.

Here’s the common sense:

If “fast feet” was crucial to the development of speed, then why doesn’t Michael Flatley, of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance fame, possess multiple Olympic gold medals and world records in the 100m?

In 1998, Michael was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records for having a tap dancing speed of 35 taps per second!  And while he best exemplifies the concept of fast feet, how do you think he would fare against Usain Bolt?  If “fast feet” were required for speed, then tap dancers would be a dominate force in any sport requiring speed.  How many tap dancers have played on Monday Night Football?

Myth #2 Speed ladders reinforce proper sprinting mechanics.

The breakdown of proper sprinting mechanics is a function of fatigue and inadequate strength levels on the part of the athlete, not due to an inadequate volume of movement mechanics practice.  For example, once you reach your top running speed, your erector spinae muscles contract isometrically, keeping your upper body upright, allowing you flex your knees up towards your torso, allowing for a long stride.  However, once your erector spinae muscles fatigue, you lean forward at the waist, thereby shortening the length of your strides and the ground covered.  Watch any 100m race and the weakest athletes are the ones who, near the finish line, adopt a forward leaning posture, with their upper body in front of their lower body.

The Training Program

The following three-phase program is based on valid exercise science, but more importantly, encapsulates the practical experience which comes from having written hundreds of training programs for national level athletes.  Change anything in the program and you not only reduce its efficacy, but you waste your time.

Phase One 

A1) Petersen Step-ups, Dumbbells  4 x 20, 15, 12, 10  Tempo: 1-0-1-0  90 seconds rest

A2) Lying leg curl, unilateral, foot turned inward, Poliquin style  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 4-0-X-0  90 seconds rest

B1) Split Squats Front Foot Elevated, Low Pulley  4 x 20, 15, 12, 10  Tempo: 4-0-2-0  75 seconds rest

B2) 45 degree back extension, snatch grip barbell  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 2-0-1-6  75 seconds rest

C1) Seated Calf Raises, Unilateral, Foot Turned Outward  3 x 10-12  Tempo: 2-1-1-1 60 seconds rest

C2) Hanging Garhammer Raises  3 x 10-12  Tempo: 2-0-1-0 60 seconds rest

Total workout time: 41 minutes 18 seconds – 44 minutes 52 seconds


• Petersen step ups strengthen the VMO at terminal knee extension, which reduces the stance phase, minimizing the point at which both feet touch the ground while running

• Unilateral leg curls correct strength imbalances between the two legs, significantly reducing the risk of hamstring injuries

• Poliquin style leg curls: feet are dorsiflexed on the concentric and plantar-flexed on the eccentric

• The six second isometric hold at the top of the back extension, strengthens the erector spinae muscles in a manner needed to maintain a vertical running position while at your top speed

• Garhammer raises strengthen the abdominals, reducing excessive hip rotation and helps transfer forces generated by arm drive to the lower body

Phase One Workout Sheet

Phase Two

A) Bent-knee Deadlifts and Shrugs, Pins set below the Knee, Snatch Grip  6 x 4,4,6,6,8,8  Tempo: 2-2-X-0  180 seconds rest

B1) Split Squats Back Foot Elevated, Dumbbell  4 x 6-8  Tempo: 5-0-X-0  100 seconds rest

B2) Kneeling Leg Curl, 3 Postions Dorsiflexed  4 x 4-6  Tempo: 5-0-X-0  100 seconds rest

C) Standing Calf Raise Machine, Feet Neutral, Mid Stance  3 x 10/10/10  Tempo: 2-0-X-0  90 seconds rest

Total workout time: 41 minutes 22 seconds – 45 minutes 22 seconds


• Partial range of motion deadlifts allow for a significantly greater loading of the posterior chain, preparing hip extension for the high eccentric loads experienced at top speed running

• Rear foot elevated split squats place greater demands on the VMO at the bottom position, while helping to improve hip flexion flexibility

• Performing leg curls with various foot positions minimize strength imbalances between the three different hamstring muscles, further reducing the risk of injury

• On the leg curls, change your foot position every set: out, neutral, in, out.

• Standing calf raises are performed as drop sets, perform 10 reps, reduce weight and rest ten seconds, perform ten more reps, reduce weight and rest ten seconds, perform last ten reps and rest 90 seconds.

Phase Two Workout Sheet

Phase Three

A1) Squat Jump 6 x 4-6  Tempo: 1-0-X-0  10 seconds rest

A2) Snatch Pulls Above Knee, from Hang Position  6 x 4-6  Tempo: 1-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

B1) Front Squats  4 x 4-6 Tempo: 4-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

B2) Kneeling Leg Curl, Foot Neutral and Dorsiflexed  4 x 4-6  Tempo: 2-0-X-0  120 seconds rest

Total workout time: 31 minutes 32 seconds – 32 minutes 48 seconds


• This phase is designed to target the CNS, teaching your body to recruit a greater number of muscle fibers

• Squat jumps reduce the time spent between switching from an eccentric to concentric contraction, while further strengthening the VMO at terminal knee extension

• The shorter workout time, ensures only high quality, explosive repetitions are executed.  Performing explosive exercises when excessively fatigued leads to the development of faulty movement patterns and injury

Phase Three Workout Sheet


Everyone recognizes the significance of speed in sport, however few people realize the improvements a properly designed and executed resistance training program can have on an athlete’s speed potential.  Strength training will not only improve your ability to overcome inertia, but will minimize your risk of injury.  And while there might be some truth to the adage that “sprinters are born and not made,” anyone can utilize resistance training to reach their genetic potential.

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