The Smartest Guys In The Room

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

This was the catch phrase of one John “Hannibal” Smith (incredibly played by George Peppard) on the action-adventure television series “The A-Team”. If you were a boy of the 80’s like me, A-Team was the greatest show in the history of TV. Every episode was the same. The A-Team consisted of a crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. On the run from the government they survived as soldiers of fortune for hire. As the intro always reminded us, “if you have a problem, if no one else can help and you can find them…maybe you can hire The A-Team”. The episode always culminated with the team creating a make-shift arsenal out of scraps they find in a garage or a junk yard or on a construction site, loading it onto their signature red and black van that clearly has been used in severl kidnappings and blowing away the bad guys (without actually killing anyone in the process).

Then, when the dust settled and the villains were defeated, Hannibal, the unquestionable leader would deliver his signature line.

And scene.

However sometimes a plan doesn’t come together. It just sits out in the world in bits and pieces and never really coalesces. Kind of like Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber’s relationship.

And such is the case with this post. As much as we usually like to start with an idea, deliver some homespun tale that relates, back it up with some science and then end with a heartfelt, feel good lesson that could be straight out of the Dr. Seuss classic “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”, (SPOILER ALERT) that just isn’t going to happen here.

But don’t despair oh small but loyal audience, I am going to give you a bunch of fitness-related cocktail party fodder to impress/bore your friends with. Because if there is anything people like more than hearing how alcohol processes to poisonous formaldehyde in your system, putting your adrenal glands on high alert and making good sleep almost impossible, I have yet to hear it. Yet such little pearls of wisdom are what follow if, after that bit of exciting news, you decide to continue reading.

Use a bit of load. For years the prevailing theory has been that if you cannot master the bodyweight version of a movement, you should not introduce any load. For example, if you fold like a rusty lounge chair when performing a bodyweight squat performing a back squat with a barbell may not be a good idea for you. And, yes, while it is true that we should not overload dysfunctional movement, for some people using load puts them in better positions. And isn’t that ultimately what we are chasing? This is particularly true if you are a taller, larger, more muscular or generally stiff individual. Performing sets with a light load can change your center of mass, alter how you move and act as a loaded stretch. So if your patterns look better with a bit of weight on the bar feel free to use that as a tool for getting loose and judging your positions and technique. And for those of you who are still doubters I’d like to see what your front rack position with a PVC pipe looks like compared with a 20kg barbell. **Mic drop**

Calories. For the love of effing God please stop concerning yourself with how many calories you burn in a workout. It is one of the least important metrics that can possibly be measured and is so insignificant in the big picture that it shouldn’t even enter your mind. Rather focus on what you can build during training (strength, work capacity, muscle, character) rather than what you can burn. Now when it comes to nutrition, calories are significant but they are not the end all, be all either. Food quality, macronutrient breakdowns, timing all play a role as well. As we often say around here, it’s not as simple as we’d like it to be.

Proximal actions manifest in distal results. Jesus, that’s some fancy talk right there. What it simply means is that whatever action you take at the joint (hips, shoulder, elbow) will have a resulting action at the extremity (hands, feet, etc.). This seems pretty logical but can have major implications when applied in both the power and mobility realms. When performing a movement like a snatch or a clean the proximal action is mainly in the hips. Meaning that applying force into the ground with your feet and extending your knees in order to create maximal power at the hips is what will drive the bar up most effectively and efficiently. Yet you see many people, particularly in sports like CrossFit, overly relying on their arms to try to pull the bar up high. Using the hips is an example of a proximal action (the center of the movement, to oversimplify) while using the arms is an attempt to create force distally (closer to the end points of the movement). In this and in most cases, the proximal forces are going to create a much greater result. Same can be said when it comes to mobility and movement. If the joint is in a good position and able to express appropriate range of motion, the result will be seen down the chain. And if the joint is not in a great spot the mal-effects will be even greater down the line. So great arm mechanics in a pitch comes from the shoulder much more than the hand. Capice?

Stop stretching the front of your capsules. While we are on the subject of joints, we were lucky to host a workshop led by the doctors of Resilient Performance Physical Therapy a few weekends ago and so many knowledge bombs were dropped we’re going to have to replace the floor. I’m going to share two of them with you here. The first is that your ball-and-socket joints (ie. your hips and your shoulders) do not need to be stretched anteriorly. Your femur and humerus likely sit too far anterior (to the front side of the joint) and jamming them more in the front of that socket is not doing you any favors. So if your capsules are tight you are almost always much better served stretching posteriorly and creating some space in the back side of the capsule. And, yes, I know stretching the front of your hip feels good but are you in this for a feeling or for a result? Secondly, joints can express strength best in mid-ranges which should be a consideration when positioning your body correctly prior to movement. In other words, overextending your spinal erectors or jamming your shoulders forward in the socket may not be your best bet when trying to maximize strength.

And while we’re at it, stop stretching your hamstrings. Bonus thought from the Resilient boys: Very, very, very few people need to actively stretch their hamstrings. Even if you feel that your hamstrings are “tight”. In fact, they mentioned that if they assess someone and they can forward bend and easily put their palms on the floor this sets off a red flag for hamstring dysfunction. Bottom line is hamstring control is a much greater factor in performance than hamstring flexibility. So stop trying to touch your toes.

Pay attention to your feet in the squat. I’m yet to see anyone with a big squat do so with crappy footwork. And while most of the attention gets put on distance between the feet and toe angle, I think the most important aspect of footwork in the squat is weight distribution and pressure in the foot itself. You are aiming for equal pressure through the whole foot making sure your big toe is planted on the floor while still being able to press your heel firmly into the ground. Once those two things are established shift your weight slightly to the outside edge of your foot (most people tend to collapse to the arch of the foot and this will help counter this tendency) and you are ready to go. Most people fall into one of three camps, big toe up in the air or weight shifting way forward into the front of the foot or they collapse onto their arch (or a combo of the three). By going through this checklist you can start to remedy the problem and you will see comfort, range and weights all improve.

 17.1. The CrossFit Open started last week and boy am I excited. Though I have never done it myself, I unapologetically love CrossFit. They do an incredible job of creating hype around events and watching their high-level competitors take on these weekly challenges while a gym full of people cheer them on gets me fired up. I also find myself a bit envious of the CrossFit clientele as these people literally do not give a shit about what happens to their bodies as a result of these open workouts. The first challenge involved such a high number of dumbbell snatches, box jumps and burpees that having a destroyed lower back was a completely acceptable outcome upon completion. You know what happens when I destroy someone’s lower back in a workout? They find another gym. The CF legion simply hopes they can snap back in time for next week’s Open workout. Amazing. I do think there is a huge fundamental problem with CrossFit’s training philosophy of constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. This approach may work for super resilient people such as Mat Fraser or Katrin Davidsdottir but for the average Joe, maybe not so much. As the ante gets upped on exactly what constitutes high intensity and ultimate fitness I think you are going to see more and more issues, even at the highest level (see: Brooke Ence).

Digging Deep. It wouldn’t be a Fortitude Strength Club blog if we didn’t include some motivational words when it comes to mindset, so here goes. It is very easy to be a bad ass when things are going well. When your body feels great, your kid comes home with A’s on his report card, your wife leaves a loving note in your lunch box and you’ve got a bank account full of cash. But how do you perform when things aren’t going your way? When you have a relationship problem? Or when your dog is sick? Or you just got passed over for that promotion at work? Or insert anyone of a dozen other of life’s clichés that may pertain to you. Do you continue to show up to the gym? To push through and at least get something done? Listen, no one expects you to be at your best at all times and to think your outside life isn’t going to effect your performance and motivation in the gym is short sighted. However if you let everything that happens in the outside world influence and hamper your training you are always going to find an excuse to not be at your best. Do that for long enough and you won’t even know what your best is. So try not to walk into the gym with the weight of the world on your shoulders. We’ve already got plenty of weights in here already.

Well, that was fun. And I could easily keep going. But just like Hannibal, B.A., Face and the rest of the A-Team, I only have so much time each week to conquer the bad guys, light my cigar and drive off in the sweetest red and black van in the history of television. Except my red and black van is actually a Subaru Outback with a car seat in the back.

And I don’t smoke.

But you get the idea.