Originally written for Elite Fitness Systems
At a recent party at my moms house a friend of hers approached me and said he needed my advice. He was in his mid fifties, overweight and out of shape. He told me that he started to work out and needed to know how to use some of the machines.
“I have no idea,” I told him.
Thinking I was joking, he continued, “You know the one that you sit on with your chest against the pad and your hands out to the side, with your knees bent forty five degrees and…”
“Mike, I wasn’t kidding,” I interrupted, “I don’t use or know how to use any of those machines. I haven’t been near one in years.”
“But you own your own gym don’t you?”
“Yes, but I train athletes and we don’t use any machines other than a cable stack and a reverse hyper.”
“What’s a reverse hyper?”
“It’s for your posterior ch-, I mean your lower back.”
“Oh I can’t do that my lower back is bad.”
“What’s wrong with it?
“It just hurts all the time.”
“Did you injure it or something?”
“No it just hurts, I’m considering surgery.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To get rid of the pain.”
“What about strengthening it? And stretching, maybe?”
“No I can’t do that, that’ll make it worse.”
“Most back surgeries could be avoided if people knew how to correct these problems. Avoiding exercises for your lower back won’t help the problem. In a case like yours it is usually a lack of strength in the core muscles and flexibility in the hip flexors.
I’ll show you a few stretches for your hip flexors. They are usually tight on everyone and are a major cause of back pain,” I explained.
“What are your hip flexors?”
I showed him.
“How can that cause back pain?”
“The largest hip flexor is called the illiopsoas. The point I showed you on your hip is one end, the other end attaches to five vertebrae and if it is tight will pull on those vertebrae causing extreme discomfort. Let me show you a few hip flexor stretches you can try on your own.”
“No I can’t get in those positions without killing my back.”
“Don’t you want to feel better?”
“What about the machine with the bar attached to the gliding side rails?” He asked, trying to change the subject.
“The gliding side rails…hmm…an escalator?” I guessed.
“You know it goes up and down with the bar attached and you can rack it wherever you want.”
“The Smith machine.” I answered.
“Yeah, that’s good right?”
“Actually that’s terrible and a major cause of injuries. It should be made illegal.”
“What!? How can that be? I don’t know about that. Are you sure?”
At this point I knew it was hopeless. Mike simply couldn’t handle the truth. Luckily my mom happened to be strolling by.
“Hey mom is it time for dessert yet?” I inquired.
“Yes, it is, can you help me in the kitchen,” she asked.
“I thought you’d never ask!”
After my fifth slice of pie, I sat down to reflect on my conversation with Mike and thought about all of the bullshit myths that pollute our industry on a daily basis. Here are a few of my favorites.
1) You can not run on an incline any higher than five degrees without permanently altering your running mechanics. I wonder what my childhood idol, Walter Payton would have said about that. Payton, as many of you may recall, was the NFL’s all time leading rusher and arguably the greatest running back who ever lived.
His off season training regimen was legendary and hill sprints were his bread and butter. NFL Films even used to feature him doing these in their videos. Did it alter his running mechanics? I guess it did seeing how no one has ever run any further on a football field. He was injured less and missed fewer games than nearly any player in NFL history.
Who knows what would have happened had he listened to one of the lab coat geeks who live by this myth. Perhaps if Payton had avoided his hill sprint regimen and instead stuck to split squats on a wobble board he may have been really good.
2) You can not sprint with a sled because it will alter your running mechanics.
(Or version two)
You can not sprint with any weight heavier than forty percent of your bodyweight on the sled because it will alter your running mechanics. This is basically the same as number one. These statements are, indeed, true for sprinters. They are not true, however, for football players and all other athletes. When a soccer player sprints twenty yards down field with the ball or in search of it, are his palms wide open with arms bent ninety degrees pumping the hands to face level, face relaxed, shoulders down and relaxed, with his hips in perfect alignment?
Is he doing everything possible to insure optimal sprint technique? Of course not. How could he?
When a running back explodes through the line, carrying a ball in one hand while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads, is he displaying picture perfect sprint mechanics? Absolutely not.
There is hardly a sport in existence wherein the athletes run in a perfectly straight line with nothing to think about but their form. So the fact that some one may “slightly alter” their running mechanics by sprinting with a sled doesn’t seem like it should be of any major concern to anyone. Sprinting with the sled develops great starting strength and a powerful stride that could benefit just about any athlete.
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3) Music has no effect on performance. A colleague of my mine once walked into my gym and asked why I had heavy metal blasting from the stereo. “Why don’t you turn that shit off,” he inquired. “There are no studies which show that music has any positive effects on mood or performance.”
“Is that so Mr. Smartypants?” I asked. “Well then how is it that after a ten hour day, when I feel like shit and have no motivation whatsoever to train I can crank up a little Metallica and when James Hetfield screams ‘I need to set my anger free,’ I suddenly feel like running through a wall?”
“Well not only are there no studies that show no positive effects there are actually studies that prove that music has absolutely no effect on performance,” he retorted.
I immediately replied that “I’m willing to bet that there are no studies that prove that having a Chuck Taylor inserted half way up your ass is excruciatingly painful but you wouldn’t want to test that theory would you?”
After I finished my squat workout, he told me that he thought training was a time for solitude and inner reflection. You should have silence and no outside distractions so you can focus on training the muscle you are trying to target.
Right, just like the silence, inner peace and lack of distraction Peyton Manning has when trying to avoid being flattened by Warren Sapp while he is simultaneously tying to find Marvin Harrison in the end zone. You want sport specific training? Then train in an environment with lots of noise and distractions.
Every athlete I have ever known or seen prepares for competition by listening to music. I don’t care how many studies you show me to the contrary, I know for a fact that I will have a much better workout with Slayer or Public Enemy playing on level ten than I will with Ashlee Simpson lip synching on level one. If you want silence and peace, start taking yoga and stay the hell outta the squat rack.
4) The bench press is a useless exercise for all athletes. Before addressing this myth let me state that I don’t like the bench press.I know a lot of people love it and I include it in my programs because I get asked to or my athletes get tested on it. But it’s not among my favorite lifts. It’ s a dangerous exercise and there are many far more effective options to choose from. I’m simply taking this time to address a very common myth.
The proponents of this myth say that there is no sport which requires you to lie on your back and push straight up. They also say that no sport requires you to push without simultaneously contracting your core and stabilizing with your legs. I agree one hundred percent. That is an indisputable fact.
Along those same lines, there is no sport which requires you to hang from a steel bar and pull yourself up to it, yet I never hear anyone argue that the chin up is a bad or useless exercise for athletes. There is also no sport that requires the participants to stand with a heavy weight on their shoulders and squat down to the ground. However, no one is arguing the value of squats (well actually lots of people are but arguments only count from those with an IQ higher than their shoe size).
The bench press not being “sport specific” has nothing to do with its effectiveness in developing the muscles of the pecs, shoulders and triceps. The last time I checked, those muscles still had some importance in the sporting world. Still I understand the desire for an exercise which more closely mimics a sporting action.
Take for example, a football lineman. He never presses while lying on his back, he only presses forward to block his opponent while on his feet. What he needs is an exercise that starts with him coming out of a three point stance, exploding upward and then explosively pushing forward while contracting his abs, lower back and just about every other muscle in his body.
Hmm…how can we come up with an exercise that does all of that? Oh I got it! It’s called football practice!
As I have said in the past, the only thing that is “sport specific” is playing your sport. What a lot of people fail to realize is that the weight room is the only place in the world where we contract our muscles voluntarily.
On the playing field muscles contract as they react, not because they are told to as when you squeeze your biceps at the top of a concentration curl. It is not a conscious effort, but rather an unconscious reaction. When an offensive lineman pushes the defensive end, his abdominals have no choice but to contract, that’s just how the body works. So, while there are other more effective and safer choices, the fact remains that the bench press is an effective upper body exercise.
5) Static stretching is dangerous. This is a myth that has become quite popular over the last few years. Static stretching is not the best way to warm up for an athletic event but it is not the most dangerous thing in the world either. In many cases it can even be included in a pre workout warm up as long as you follow it up with more dynamic and PNF stretching and other active calisthenic type drills.
The trick with static stretches is not to hold the static stretch for too long. Doing so will probably inhibit the muscles ability to fire and this can result in an injury. If an athlete has chronically tight hip flexors, he would actually benefit by doing some static stretching on them before a squat workout. He should hold these stretches for no more than ten seconds. After ten seconds he should quickly fire the muscle (by bringing his knee to his chest) and then switch sides and repeat as many times as needed.
Static stretching is also great for recovery after training sessions or games and on off days for recovery just because it helps bring some healing nutrients into the muscle.
6) You must always train with all out, ball busting intensity. HIT proponents and many other lifters who fancy themselves “hardcore,” often argue that you must always train to failure and every set must be done with an all out effort, leaving you with blood dripping from your eyeballs and your testicles lodged somewhere in your throat. Not only is this not true, it’s counterproductive.
Getting psyched up before a big squat attempt is a good thing. Getting fired up for a set of hammer curls is not. There is actually a thing as too much psyche. Those that know me and have trained with me will say that coming from me this is like the pot calling the kettle black. I sometimes can not control myself and get worked into an angry violent frenzy when I train. To me that’s fun. Sure I may burn my nervous system out from time to time but I would rather start playing golf and wearing Dockers than start training any differently.
While I do this on my main max effort or dynamic exercises, I do make a conscious effort to turn it down a notch for my assistance work. There is no point in screaming your way through a set of face pulls. You should always train hard, but make sure there is a purpose for everything you do.
You wanted the truth? You got it. The question is can you handle it?