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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Summer Vegan Fete 2012

We've done a write-up about the first Summer Vegan Fete & the shoulder press contest we ran there.  Check it out here

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Is there a need for unstable training?

Is there ever a need for unstable training?  Well first off we have to define what unstable training is.  First off it can be divided into two 'camps':

1/ There is instability under the feet (or lower body if you are using kneeling for example)
2/ There is lifting an unstable object (think sandbag or weights on a barbell attached by bands etc)

I generally divide them into 2, but you can sub-divide as much as you want.

The first question you should ask is how often will I need this training & is it specific enough to transfer to the real world?
In terms of rehab all forms of unstable training have a use, but we are not really talking about that.  I'm talking about a healthy person & real world applicability, so let's look at the real world & see what we find.

Well for one thing we do often lift & carry things that are unstable.  It can be that bag of cement, that wheelbarrow, those heavy bags of shopping, loading that bag into the plane or train overhead, or onto a wardrobe, even carrying a sofa or mattress (the other person is ALWAYS an idiot - don't worry you are not being rude, they thought you were an idiot as well :-).  So, already we have two real world applications for unstable loads.  Carrying unstable loads & static overhead lifting of an unsteady load.  It would be odd to move with an unstable object overhead, possible on the shoulder, but rarely overhead.

But what about under the feet?  We could carry a load on sand or through mud, but I can't think of too many applications where you would statically lift a load on an unstable surface unless you worked on a ship possibly?

If you look at everyday life you will see that actually the vast majority of your unstable lifting is actually lifting an unstable load from a stable base, not lifting on an unstable surface, so it would make sense to actually practice lifting unstable loads more than it would to practice lifting on an unstable surface as it would apply to the real world (unless you work on a ship).

I'm sure leaping onto a bosu with a barbell on your back might be something you've seen on youtube, but honestly as you face-plant you will really regret that choice.  Lifting a sandbag may not be as cool as some of the newer wobble boards, rocker boards, bosu & other toys. Play with them if you like, but the (fake) meat & potatoes of your training should be done on a stable surface with a stable load to get the most strength gains.  One important note is I would never do power moves either with an unstable load or on an unstable surface, power is not only severely compromised by instability, but you increase the risk of injury a lot, it simply isn't worth it in my view.

So, if you should mainly do stable work & most of your unstable work should be mainly using an unstable load, not standing on an unstable surface is there a place for training while unstable under-foot?  I can think of a couple of obvious reasons.  One of the reasons I thought of writing this post was that I was recently diagnosed with a serious big toe issue (goes back to dropping a heavy weight on my toe years ago), anyway, there was some nerve damage & range of motion issues.  This has led over the years to me lifting asymmetrically, so bi-lateral lifting (lifting with both legs - think a normal squat or deadlift) & a lot of pressure is on one leg & little on the other.  Over the years this has begun to show itself with lower back pain as the two sides develop at different rates & I have all sorts of crazy compensations that will take a long time to fix.  One way to help will be to spend a little time lifting on some form of inverted bosu deadlift or similar as for the bosu to stay flat you HAVE to push equally with both legs.  I wouldn't suggest lifting heavy or even using a barbell without something to catch the bar if you fail.  I could only find this youtube clip (below).  I wouldn't suggest going heavy as you are trying to retrain the body to lift symmetrically on a stable surface, THAT is when the really heavy weight should be used.  On a bosu you should think of the time as 'technique training' not 'strength building'.
Here's a clip, but as I said if using a barbell think of doing it inside a power rack with the pins set to catch the bar, or use dumbbells & be  prepared to drop them (away from the body) if you lose control.

If you work at sea you might also need some time to practice this as well, or if you work on an unstable surface...BUT you can only train statically & in most unstable environments you are actually moving, so the transfer wouldn't be that great I don't think.  If you think about it moving is mainly a one leg activity, you walk, which means most of the time is on one leg in motion, this is very different to how you react when static.  Obviously anyone with ankle issues may benefit as it could be with a few other conditions.  Also if you enjoy doing unstable stuff then I'd say include it (unless it's really dangerous, then be sensible).

Here are a few versions you might find useful:

 OK I was doing rehab - yes the weight is tiny

(Above pic) Shoulder press with weight on a band (the band bounces a little & so causes instability), you can use a barbell, extended length shrug bar (sometimes called trap bar or parallel grip deadlift bar etc) or anything else you can figure out.

Bench press with weight on a band

Flye with weight on a band (not very 'real world', but you might like the change of pace for fun)

Pull-ups with a weight on a band might be useful to some

Farmers walk with weights on a band

I've not fathomed out how to do a DB or BB row with a band quite yet, but it might be possible?

Sandbag press overhead

Sandbag clean  (no handles taxes the grip a lot more)

Sandbag farmers walk (if you use a sandbag with no handles this is a real grip test as well!)

Slosh pipes (you can make your own with PVC piping, some water & few other bits & bobs to seal the ends)

For instability under the feet you can try out

Stability ball


Rocker board

Wobble board

My last point is if you are unsure about it then check the research.  I would suggest this resource as it's pretty good (& something I need to re-read now I've thought about it :-).

So, what are you experiences with unstable training?  This is purely an opinion piece so I am totally open to corrections & pointing out areas I've missed, so feel free to speak up.

And if anyone has a spare bosu they no longer need my imbalances would thank you for it as I've still not got round to getting one yet!

Who do you trust?

 Yes I may start giving training advice on the internet

This blog post came up in a discussion I was having with a person.  I was giving references from pubmed (a place where they gather medical, health & related studies that are all peer reviewed), they were using random pages they found on the internet.  So, I asked the question "That site you just referenced, do you trust the person to actually design you a training routine & use it?".  I never got an answer, but it did bring up a really interesting question.  The internet is vast, it has everyone on it, from the 8 year old to the 108 year old.  Anyone of them could start a blog.  For example I could start one about needlework.  I know nothing about it, but given the right spin I could become a needlework guru :-).
So, what I'd like you to do is start considering who you trust in the field of exercise & nutrition.  Basically you need to find out who you would want to actually train you or give you nutritional advice (these are often not the same people).

 Training advice anyone?

First of all anyone giving you training advice should have trained someone.  I know this sounds stupid, but there are a lot of voices out there that are actually just people who have either trained themselves only, or not trained even themselves!  Occasionally you can get the exception of some advice from an academic who may not train, but is in the field of sports science, but most of those work with athletes as well, but apart from that you want someone with some experience.  Often a person is, or has been certified by an organisation, it can be ISSA, NASM, ACSM, etc.  These at least give you an idea that they have learnt the basics & aren't going to do something too stupid (I was ISSA, but I'm considering a move to ACSM as the ISSA was pretty expensive to keep up).  Extra education in things like anatomy is great.  I took a year doing anatomy & physiology - looking back I kind of wish I'd done some form of 'functional anatomy', something that covered the body in motion, as I know the muscles, bones, major nerves etc, but have less knowledge of those structures in action which is what I'm really interested in.  I've also taken specialist courses in things like fibromyagia working with special populations & several others that have been pretty useful.  I think most people really interested will have taken other qualifications just expand their base of knowledge, but maybe some are more 'practice led' & may have learnt more by doing.
So, how do you pick someone you should trust in the field of training? It is hard, but I'd suggest you first check if they have or had a certification of some sort (they may not need to keep it up once they are in the field).  They probably should have some interest in continuing their education, this can be academically or practically - you can get a lot going to a seminar by a well known presenter, training with a someone as well as hitting the books!  Look at who respect the author, are they known by other people you already respect?  Also does what they say actually make sense?  Find a group of authors you would actually be willing to be trained by, from there you will often find others who also share those sound training ideas.  They may not have identical training methods, that isn't the issue, but they should have sound reasons for doing the stuff they do.
The final point is you have to spend enough time learning this, you need to be able to tell the genuine article from the pointless internet article.  Below I'll put a few names of people who I think are decent sources of training (not dietary) advice.  You may not agree with these choices, there are certainly other voices out there with different ideas that are probably valid, but these people work in the fields I am interested in, so check them out & see the differences & commonalities between them, it will at least give you a starting point:

Cassandra Forsythe
Dan John            
Eric Cressey
Mike Boyle 
Dr Yessis 
Mike Robertson 
Gray Cook 
Coach Dos (who is also vegan :-)

You will notice a few things about these people.  They are all athletic, not bodybuilding coaches.  I have nothing against bodybuilding coaches, there are a great many excellent bodybuilding coaches out there.  The main thing I am finding, especially as I age is function has to play a larger part & should actually have come in before I felt a need for it, most bodybuilding coaches do not cover this very much (if at all), so I find more directly applicable information using coaches who cover things like dysfunction, activation, imbalances & other issues like that, rather than just bodypart splits.  Also the progression models used by these suit me better & make more sense to me personally.  I have found that using the 'progression/regression' model to be an awesome way to train people (& myself), for those who do not know I'll use a simplified example, lets take a lunge:

1/  Start by perfecting a static lunge (a split squat) using only bodyweight
2/ Next move onto a walking lunge (again just your own bodyweight)
3/ Lunge to the rear &/or laterally using only bodyweight
4/ You might add a pair of dumbbells & first do a split squat
5/ Once mastered move onto a walking lunge with dumbells
6/ Lunge to the rear &/or laterally with dumbbells
7/ Lunge to the rear with a deficit with a single dumbbell (stepping backwards off a small box with the dumbbell in the opposite hand to the leg that stays on the box-the 'deficit' is the extra depth stepping off the small box gives you)
8/ Other variations like using a barbell(across the shoulders or held on one shoulder), lunges with one dumbbell, lunges with a dumbbell or kettlebell in the waiter-walk position (held overhead like a waiter bringing a tray) etc.

Just remember that 'regression' is not a bad thing & progression along this list isn't the goal exactly, the goal is getting you into the best physical shape, so you may have 'progressed' to number 7, but you may find that actually doing number 5 is giving you better results, so 'regressing' is actually giving you better results (I do not really like  the terms 'progression' & 'regression', but they are industry standards now,so I am forced to use them).

In most cases I'd teach a bi-lateral movement first (like a squat using both legs) before I teach a unilateral movement (like a single leg squat) & a static exercise before I introduce movement.
I'm not saying this is the only way to train, or even that it is always the best method, but it does work fine for me.  If you train very differently I suspect you'll have your own group of trainers you trust, so listing them in the comments below would be awesome. 

He's not a trainer, he's just a very naughty boy!

OK, I've gone off track a little it on this post :-/  So next up let's look at nutrition.  This can be trickier as many of you have different notions of what you consider 'healthy'.  Some go for 80:10:10, some go high protein, some go lower carbs, some are starting out with the vegan paleo versions of eating.  My dietary stance is pretty basic.  For the average person just eating whole food is a great starting place.  If you've been eating McD all your life then a salad & some quinoa is going to make your body think it's gone to heaven!  I prefer as much organic stuff as you can get, but do not avoid food just because it's not organic (it's better to eat than to not eat!).  I understand if you have a different view.  I try not to be dogmatic about my eating protocols, if you have clients then I find that for most a graduated approach to making changes. The easiest meal to change up for most clients is breakfast, so I usually start there, from there I get them into checking out cookbooks (or no-cook books if you are raw :-)  finding stuff they like, while the rest of the diet stays static.  One thing you have to keep an eye on is calories as clients often do not notice that their calories drop as their diets improve.  This can be good for the obese client, but for the person wanting to add or even maintain muscle this can be the 'kiss of death' to their body composition, so be aware, remind a client they will need to eat more to maintain the calories they were previously eating, this is vital or you will lose a client, or if you are your own client you WILL lose that muscle!
So, who do I trust with my diet.  I have had a lot of help getting my dietary ideas sorted out with the help of Pat Reeves.  Some of you may not know that she is not just a World record holding powerlifter, but also a nutritional expert, others I have had help from are Robbie Hazeley & Gareth Zeal.  I have also got a lot of information from books & I am also a qualified sports nutritionist & clinical nutritionist (in '13 I am going back to uni to do some more nutrition/human biology stuff - assuming I get in of course!).

Notice the common theme in all this is continuing education.  It doesn't have to be formal education, set aside 1 hour every day just to do 'learning stuff'.  It can be nutrition, exercise, recovery or whatever.  I buy a lot of educational stuff.  I read a lot, I view things virtually everyday to do with physical improvement in one way or another.  This isn't a chore to me as it's something I really, really enjoy doing.  You may not..& you do not need to, what you need to do is just find a few people who do & use them to help you achieve your goals.  Do not blindly follow anyone though, learn just enough to know that what you actually reading makes sense, then if that comes into question know how to validate the statements or prove them wrong.  A couple of resources you might want to use are:

Google scholar
Vegan bodybuilding list of resources   (we've gathered a list of places for you to use to do your own research)

Be aware you can get animal studies pop up on these resources & it may take you a bit of time to learn how to use them & understand the language used (google is great for helping you find words they use & getting used to the language :-).

So, now hopefully you have a better understanding of how to decide what is or is not valid information & you will be less likely to fall for things on the net.  If you hear a view that is challenged first look at the science (pubmed, google scholar etc), next up go to your list of trusted coaches & see what they say.  Find a consensus, that may not be the correct answer, but it is more likely to be than believing what John Smith said on his blog when you do not know John Smith & for all you know John Smith does not even train himself (or may be 13 years old!).

Hopefully this has bee useful to you & you can use it to help you make reasonable choices & not fall for all the hype, lies & misinformation on the net.