It’s That Time of Year


It’s that time of the year.  Unfortunately, the holiday season goes hand-in-hand with the last month of fall semester, and I’ve extremely busy with end-of-the-semester projects and assignments.  I’m learning a ton, but I’m ready for the semester to be over.  There are less than 2 weeks left, so I’ll be posting more regularly as soon as I’m done with my finals.  Next Saturday I’ll be heading down to Aston, PA or the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, and a review of that will be up as soon as I get home from the suburbs of Philly.  These next two weeks will be packed!

It’s Friday afternoon, and I feel like I haven’t had a chance to sit down and breath since Monday.  I’m currently in the process of making dinner for my family and girlfriend, and I’m fortunate that it’s sitting in a slow-cooker for 4 hours.  I found an awesome recipe for  Guinness-Braised Short Ribs in the current issue of Men’s Health, and I’m playing chef for the night.  Here are a few ideas I’d like to share with you while dinner cooks.

Four New Trends in the Adelphi Fitness Center – I’d like to say that these trends are all good, or that they’re all happening on the same level.  Unfortunately, only two are good, and two make my eyes bleed. The good ones are TRX training and unilateral lowerbody training, and the not-so-good ones are people cutting their squats high and using dumbbells while on the bikes.  Yes, you read that correctly. Let’s get into it:

The more I workout at Adelphi, the more people I talk to.  Usually, the TRX comes up in conversation, either as me demonstrating an exercise on it, or somebody asking if they can use it for an exercise.  Sharing is caring, so I let anyboy who asks use it.  While a bunch of my friends will use it when I set mine up, the school doesn’t own one, and I haven’t seen anybody else using one.  That is until last week, when grad student Matt Caines came in with his very own TRX.  Can you say win?!  I saw Matt running through a metabolic workout on Tuesday, and hopefully between the two of us we can encourage more people to use the black and yellow straps.  Imagine what will happen when we hang them on adjacent power racks…it will be madness!

One of the exercises that Matt and I both use with the TRX is the RFESS, and it’s something I’ve seen numerous people using in the fitness center, albeit without the TRX.  Most of the time a bench is what’s used to elevate the rear foot, and it’s pretty awesome to see younger people buying into the unilateral training.  I’ve seen people load RFESS with barbells in both the front and back positions, as well as with dumbbells held in the hands AND in the Goblet Position.  I’m also trying to figure out how effectively you can load in the Zercher position, because it’s the most awesome way to hold a bar ever.  If you’re not doing split squats, you’re missing out.

My complaints about stupid things will be much shorter; I don’t think I need to go into much depth on why quarter squatting is a dumb idea.  It’s not the end of the world, just don’t tell me that you can can squat 315lb 10 times when you’re cutting it high by 10 inches and that’s not even heavy.  The other stupid thing I’ve been seeing is people using dumbbells while they’re riding the bike.  Exercises I’ve spotted have included bicep curls, lateral raises, and overhead presses.  For some reason, using 10lb dumbbells for sets of 30 while you do your half-assed cardio “works really well to burn out.”  Yes, I asked somebody why he was doing it.  I swear that’s what he said.  It’s funny that I get equally as bizarre looks when I do kettlebell snatches.  I’m sitting on my high horse right now.

My Back says “Ouchie!” – In absolutely genius maneuver on my part, I tweaked my back a little bit during my Monday workout.  I’m not absolutely sure where it happened, but I have the feeling it was somewhere in the area of the Romanian Deadlifts.  In hindsight, I should have spent some more time last weekend stretching out in between all of the sitting, but just a few days later, everything is back to normal.  What did I do?  Um, foam rolling and mobility work, just like the answer is 90% of the time.  I spent almost all of my downtime doing some form of Self Myofacial Release on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday, as well as constantly stretching my hamstrings.  Sitting at a desk or in class is on the list of how not to treat your hips, so being cognizant of correcting your posture and mobility.  As always, I’m going to use this as a learning opportunity, and I think you can as well.  Move around frequently, stretch when you can, take care of soft-tissue quality, and don’t make a stupid mistake like I did.  I’m going to make sure I hammer hip mobility for a while and make sure that this doesn’t become an issue again.  If you’d like a quick extremely painful method of SMR that you can use whenever you want, check out this technique I’ve used that’s from MobilityWOD.

Muscles That I Hate – According to one of the guys who I see at the JCC, I hate the traps, biceps, and triceps.  If I were him, I’d add the calves to that list, because I’m not really that fond of them either.  Now, I don’t hate these muscles, I just think that training them is overrated.  Traps?  Don’t shrug before you deadlift.  Biceps?  Don’t curl before you do chin-ups and rows.  Triceps?  Do overhead presses and push-ups before you to pressdowns.  In most cases, people neglect the compound exercises and jump straight to the isolation exercises.  They forget that these smaller, showier muscles are worked harder during the compound exercises than they are during the isolation exercises.  In fact, I’d rather use variations on compound lifts to accentuate a desired hypertrophy or strength goal.  A few weeks ago, when complaining about people not deadlifting, I was told, “Well, you don’t train your triceps, so it’s the same thing.”  (Sidenote:  Deadlifting and Tricep isolation work are equally as important…Um, not at all.)  I actually said, “You’re right, I don’t do anything for my triceps,” because there isn’t any isolation work in my programming.  That’s what they were asking about, right?  I should probably have said that I overhead press, floor press, close grip bench, and spider-man push-up, all exercises which are usually limited by tricep strength.  Modifying hand position and range of motion for these exercises allows me to emphasize or demphasize the importance of my triceps in the lift; and this strategy applies to almost all compound movements.  It’s possible to modify hand positioning on rows, and foot width on squats.  I’d much rather use variations on the big lifts then waste time using a lot of isolation exercises; you’ll get much stronger that way.  (Just to mess with his head, I did 3 sets of barbell bicep curls yesterday.  I also told him he’s never ever allowed to do shrugs with my trap bar.  Unless it’s a deadlift with a shrug at the top.  That’s acceptable.)

(Sidenote: The ‘trap’ in trap bar isn’t short for trapezius.  It was designed as a bar to use in competitive powerlifting.  So when using the trap bar, deadlifting > shrugs.  Shrugs suck.)

Alright, while there’s an hour and a half left on the slow-cooker, it’s about time for me to start the mashed potatoes.  We’ll have to eat and have cleaned up by 8pm, because nothing else is more important tonight than watching University of Delaware football crush University of New Hampshire.  Let’s go Blue Hens!

3 Replies to “It’s That Time of Year”

  1. Thanks for the little shout out bud! Im definitely feeling a workout of the Santas…burpees, duel TRX hanging from adjacent power racks, kettle bell swings with jingle bells in the air?!?! Yea r,eally getting into that christmas mode now.. Was thinking about possibly making that trip down to Aston with you next weekend but Santa came early this year and I’m heading to Brooklyn for a Run(something you hate, I know I know) and Performance Seminar with Brain MacKenzie, “the most dangerous man in endurance training” ( plus author Tim Ferris will be there talking about his new book, The 4 Hour Body, should be some good notes when you get back?

    Stay good dude and keep it up

  2. Harold, thanks for another great article. I write a fitness blog for my buddies tennis website and I’ve had a few folks asking about why I recommend they focus on the large, multi-joint compound lifts as opposed to isolation or machine training. Are there any resources that show empirically any increase in muscle activation? Thanks in advance and keep up the good work.

    1. Steve, I’m sure the scientific evidence is out there, I just can’t lead you to it at the moment. From what I’ve seen, most people are satisfied with the anecdotal evidence that free-weights and compound exercises are the way to go in many situations. However, the field should base their decisions on scientific evidence, so I’ll hunt down what information I can!

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