Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas Break Taters

So many of us are away from the gym over the holidays and sometimes it's tough to find suitable challenges with minimal equipment.  Fair enough, we could all just continually crush pushups, burpees, sprints, and double unders, and to be truthful those are great options. 

Every once in a while though it's nice to mix things up and if you've got access to a kettlebell then this is a neat little challenge for you.  It's called a "Tater" and it's basically a Russian KB swing (which is to shoulder height) into a goblet squat.  The trick is though that as you finish the swing, you've got to flip the kettlebell so that the handle is down.  Depending on your dexterity, this may take a bit of practice but gets a lot easier and smoother with a few reps in the bag.

A good little burner is to do a ladder of Taters on the minute (see video below of Eastern Canada competitor Jay Rhodes working through some of the later rounds).  Basically, start with one Tater the first minute, 2 the second minute, 3 the third minute and so on.   Rest the remainder of the minute once you've done the prescribed reps. 

You can break up the reps too.  Choose a challenging weight and make sure you're not doing these over a nice floor!



Friday, 23 December 2011

Challenge of the Week

                 *good friend and awesome double under guy (260 continuous) Eric B

I figure posting daily training can get a bit tedious... especially since I record it twice elsewhere... so I thought I'd just put down a weekly challenge that I enjoyed over the prior week.

One thing that I really have fun doing in workouts is skill under fatigue and pressure.  In competition, placings are determined by the smallest margins so it is a great benefit to be able to lay down solid skills - quickly - when the occasion calls for it.

A little interval session I did with my friend Kyle to finish our workout fits that bill very well.  The skill I chose was double unders, which definitely can make or break a workout if you're not that proficient.  Here's what the workout looked like:

6 rounds, 40 second countdown timer each round.  Every successive round started on 2min - so you have 40sec of exercise followed by 1:20 of rest, for 6 total rounds.

In the 40 second window, we had to first complete 10 bar-facing burpees.  In the remaining time, it was max double unders - so the faster you did your burpees, the more time for doubles.

In the end, my fewest double unders was 25 and the most I got was 40 - this is working with about 15-17 seconds after the burpees.

Give it a shot and see what you get... the burps get challenging after a few sets and watch out for your face on the bar!


Wednesday, 21 December 2011



"Even if the day never dawns in which it will not be needed for fighting the old heavy battles against Nature, muscular vigor will still always be needed to furnish the background of sanity, serenity, and cheerfulness to life, to give moral elasticity to our disposition, to round off the wiry edge of our fretfulness, and make us good-humored and easy of approach"

-William James (1958)

Simple fact - if you lack physical vitality and discipline, your life will be incomplete.  We are complex animals - both body and mind need to be sufficiently and routinely challenged in order for an ideal healthy state to be attained.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


The days are darker, the temperatures are colder, and most of us are counting the hours until we get a bit of winter respite - not necessarily the most ideal environment for energized training.

At times like these, I find it always helpful to remind myself of what the end goal is - I like to keep my eyes on the prize. 

Videos are powerful messengers and I rely a lot on them to spark motivation when fatigue or winter doldrums set in.

Here is one of my alltime favorite videos - a highlight series from the 2010 CrossFit Games produced by Again Faster Equipment (which is a great company run by even greater people).



Sunday, 18 December 2011

Time Well Spent

Improvements in physical capacity follow a predictable path.  Early on, it's easy to add pounds to your squat or take seconds off your 400m run but as you continue to improve your abilities, the rate of progress slows down.

Novices can show progress even on programs that aren't very well designed, and in some cases, are not even designed for the actual outcome.  For example, performing 100 pushups per day (typically a muscular endurance program) will increase the bench press of a novice strength trainer but won't budge the lift of an advanced athlete.

So as the achievement level of the athlete increases, one of the real indicators of success is maximizing time spent in key performance zones.  Key performance zones are ranges of effort that provide a strong stimulus for adaptation within the athlete.  I believe that is those athletes who can spend the most time within their key performance zones without overreaching that will see the best gains in their performance***.  These zones are characterized by percentages of maximum effort, whether it be in seconds, load lifted, power output, or heart rate.  Maximizing time in these zones can manifest itself in many ways in programming, exercise selection, and set/rep/intensity combos but for now I just want to address this idea in and of itself.

  • ***keep in mind that the key performance zone does not have to be close to maximum effort all the time and in many cases, may shift considerably depending on the type of adaptation that is desired... so I'm NOT saying train at (or near) 100% capability as much as possible - just that you want to target specific adaptations that are key to your performance as accurately as possible.

Programs are designed with specific outcomes in mind.  Whether that outcome is an increase in strength or hypertrophy or aerobic power, there are guidelines put in place to specifically create progress toward the targeted abilities.

For strength training, sets, reps, and zones of loading (usually as %1rm) are common guidelines that when utilized together, promote a certain physiological response.  The specifics of the guidelines become more important for advanced athletes than for novice ones.  Take for example a 5x5 protocol for the deadlift: 

A beginning lifter unsure of their actual 1RM will often use a ramp approach whereby the load is increased each set.  They will start with a weight that is quite easy and progress to a fairly challenging load on the last set.  This may lead to a range of loading over the 5 sets of 50-75% 1RM. 

A large range of weights lifted isn't a bad thing for a beginner - just by practicing the deadlift with submaximal loads improvement will occur, and the range of loads or actual loads themselves aren't really that important.  The lighter sets also afford the coach and athlete to identify issues and correct them without the added pressure of a close to 5rm weight.

For a more advanced individual, better gains will typically be seen when the load is much more homogenous across the full 5 sets, and when it is at or above about 75-80%1RM.  Our beginner lifter may have hit one set above that threshold, which is something our advanced lifter cannot afford to do if they wish to improve.

The weight can be held steady across all sets or may be ramped, but in the latter case the range of the ramp should be relatively small in order to stay within the key performance zone.   If the athlete starts low and only hits one or two sets above 75%1RM, then they are potentially shortchanging the gains that they could be getting.  The best approach is to extend the warm-up period so that challenging weights can be handled right from the first work set.  In the case of a ramped set the athlete may choose something like the following - 1x5 @ 75%, 77.5%, 77.5%, 80%, 80%, which in the next session can be moved up to 1x5 @ 77.5, 80, 80, 82.5, 82.5 or something similar.

It helps to remind oneself of what the goal is when undertaking a certain training plan - for the above example, the goal is to create maximum strength.  For that to be achieved, we must try to maximize time spent within the 75% and above performance zone.

Likewise for sprinting speed.  When training pure speed, it is vital that the body be moving within a pretty narrow window in comparison to best performance, with the cutoff occurring when the athlete drops to 10% slower than their best time.  Sometimes the window is even smaller.  Efforts that fall short of 90% of best performance then are likely not making you faster, and may in fact be making you slower.

This idea applies to all manner of physical training and is something to keep in mind when coaching athletes or training yourself.  Training time is limited so you want to ensure that you are getting your best use of it by challenging the body appropriately.

In future blogs, I'll be discussing methods to achieve more time in key performance zones in strength training and conditioning by utilizing different methods of training and knowing when to cut off the session.

Until then, keep fit and have fun.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Snippets - Canadian Endurance Conference

A weekend learning from some of track and field’s greatest coaches was time well spent.  Saturday I sat with friends and colleagues and absorbed as much information as possible in regard to training, planning, athlete psychology, and coach-athlete relationships.  Here are only a few of the great parcels of info that were shared:
Margo Jennings (world renowned 800 and 1500m coach):
·         ¾ of what she presented dealt with the mental/psychological/emotional side
·         Four areas are vital to the making of a champion – Physical Preparation, mental strength, emotional control, attention to detail.
·          So given similar genetic abilities, it is the mental prep side that makes the difference between a champion and also-ran
·         Yoga utilized not only for physical purposes (control of tension – relaxation) but also for the breathing and mental aspects
·         Massive use of positive talk, affirmations, goal setting along with intentional disturbances of the athlete’s prep to prepare them for any eventuality come game day
·         4 to 5 positive words are needed to counteract 1 negative word

Wynn Gmitroski (coach of recently retired 800m Canadian superstar Gary Reed)
·         Almost purely physiological approach to 800m prep
·         Maximum speed moderately low on the priority for 800m running however must have 47 sec or faster 400m to make a good 800 a reality
·         Cycle through Intensity week, Volume week, Recovery week constantly through season.  Recovery week is typically 50-75% of the average volume of the Intensity and Volume weeks
·         Only 1 to 3 hard days per week through season, heavy emphasis on recovery modalities (hands on therapy as well as athlete self care)
·         3 to 6 weeks rest at the end of the season – athletes need 7 to 10 days off to feel how tired they actually are
·         It may take 6 to 8 races to actually achieve top performance capability (races are important training)

Darren Treasure (Nike Oregon Project sports psychologist)
·         90% of communication is non-verbal and non-verbal messages are up to 16x more powerful than verbal ones
·         Be conscious of how your energy as a coach affects the athletes – do you act tired, bored, angry, stressed – these will all be reflected by your runners
·         Involve athletes in their planning/goal setting
·         Provide a rationale for the type of work you are asking the athletes to complete

Alberto Salazar (Running Legend and coach – Nike Oregon Project)
·         All coaches have the same ingredients, it’s just the mix that changes
·         Aerobic, Long Runs, Tempo, Long intervals, Medium intervals, Short intervals – a program missing one of these components will not be optimal
·         ALWAYS keep “Goal Pace” – i.e. goal race pace – in throughout the season but in varying amounts … one short interval workout per week early in the season to more extensive later on.
·         Do as many aerobic miles per week as the athlete will tolerate – aerobic system needs sustained pressure to improve
·         One long run is better than splitting the distance in two (on the same day) – more adaptations through more fatigue in the system
·         Purpose of long intervals (efforts of 3 – 3:30) is to improve ability of body to tolerate threshold lactate
·         2x/year – 6 to 7 week blocks of very heavy training
·         Alternating weeks – week 1:  2 x hard workouts, week 2:  3x hard workouts

All in all a well-run conference with great speakers.  Strength and conditioning coaches are often weaker in the “conditioning” side so any opportunity to expand knowledge in this area should be taken.  The information I gathered has already started to be utilized in the prep of my athletes, so that is a good thing!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Your Daily Duty

Humans, while all very similar in genetic makeup, are also very different.  This is becoming more so as the species expands and variability increases by nature of the numbers game.

Some amazing talents come out of this genetic soup, and we know (or will know) these people by virtue of their ability to express their talents.  If they never do share their gifts however, we will not know them and our lives will not benefit.

I believe it is each person's duty as a contributor to society to find their special talents and to utilize them.  Usually an individuals' talent is something that they enjoy doing, so this should be an easy task.

In the busy lives that we lead, the excuse of lack of time is given frequently and I understand that but don't support it.  The beginnings can be quite simple and humble.

Set aside 5 or 10 minutes each day to demonstrate a skill that you have and share it with others.  You might have a way with words, a caring heart, a gift of music, woodworking skills, or maybe are just really good at making people smile and laugh. 

If that 5 or 10 minutes benefits you or someone else then that is great.  If it turns into a hobby or career, that is even better.


Thursday, 8 December 2011


Stumbled upon the Sweatscience blog last week and have been absorbing info from it ever since.  Great short snippets of knowledge from a wide variety of topics, including an interesting look at footstrike patterns in runners during 10k and marathons.

Give it a peek, content seems to be updated pretty regularly.


Canadian Endurance Training Conference

This weekend I'm traveling over to Vancouver to take in the Canadian Endurance Training Conference.  This is an awesome opportunity as there will be some extremely knowledgeable people in attendance, dispensing their techniques and programs to us lucky few.

Those who are familiar with the world of elite running will recognize the names Alberto Salazar,  Margo Jennings, and Canada's own Wynn Gmitroski (former coach of 800m runner Gary Reed). 

Not only will these coaches (and the sports scientists in attendance) be discussing their theories of training on a yearly basis, they will also be talking about multi-year athlete development using case studies of some very prolific runners.  Other topics include developing a strong and productive coach-athlete relationship, perspectives on interval training, and identifying and addressing structural issues in athletes.

I'm really looking forward to this weekend and will hopefully dispense some of the nuggets of the conference in a later blog.