Hamstring Weaknesses

Most of the time we do not use our hamstrings very much. The action of these muscles is hip extension and knee flexion. To facilitate significant recruitment of these muscles in normal life you either need to pick-up fairly heavy things (for hip extension) or run forward or climb something (for knee flexion). These are things that we do not do very often in modern live and in all likelihood the most work you do for your hamstrings is getting into and out of the car followed by getting in and out of bed. Compared to the rest of the lower body the hamstrings get almost no work. This leads to the potential for problems.

The two main issues that come out of this are muscle strength imbalances and muscle recruitment deficiencies.

When you have muscles that are imbalanced, the antagonist muscle group is able to contract faster and with more force; in this case the quads for knee extension. If the force is too great the hamstrings can get pulled or torn. The knee and hip joints may also suffer alignment or tracking problems; given that antagonist muscle pairings do offer structural support to the joints making them more stable.

When you have recruitment deficiencies you lack complete control over a muscle. Consciously you may not be able to contract it at will, or with very little force. Unconsciously when you move, the fibers will not contract is efficiently as they could. For example, 50% of the fibers may fire when 35% are needed or 80% fire when 95% of them are needed.

Unless you live with knee or hip pain caused by weak hamstrings you are not likely to notice anything until that rare occasion that you have a very sudden movement that is well outside the realm of normal. For example a car crash were you need to undo your seat belt and crawl you way out of a flipped vehicle or when you suddenly run very fast and your hamstrings are too weak to slow knee extension. New repetitive movements may aggravate patella tracking issues that are caused by hamstring weakness.

Considerations when training hamstrings muscles:

They are primarily fast twitch fibers so they need to be trained quickly on the concentric phase of a movement and the rep ranges should be no more than 10.

You recruit more fibers when you put a muscle on length. A great example of this is allowing your hips to drift back before you start to go down with squatting or when you start to lower the weight with dead lifting. Doing is effectively tilts your hips forward relative to the legs which stretches the hamstrings.

Hamstring muscles adapt very quickly so you need to perform a variety of different movements to train them effectively. Lying, standing, one leg, and Swiss ball curls for knee flexion. Romanian dead lifts, dead lifts, glut/ham raises, reverse hyper extension for hip extension.

Recruit these muscles when you are training your quads by deliberately trying to contract them – by driving the force through the heels with leg press, you transfer some of the effort onto the hamstrings.

If your hamstrings are weak, or if you believe they are, take the time to give them extra attention on leg day. They will catch up quickly if you focus on it and this will improve performance and decrease the risk of injury.

You Feel How You Think, Not How You Are

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Viktor Frankl

I love this quote because it shows us the simplest path to happiness. It explains why the daydreaming fools is usually happier than the focused CEO of a successful corporation.

It also goes a long way in explain much of my behavior and mood. I am a dreamer who suffers when others inhibit my dreams. I believe that I can do almost anything and when I day dream or allow my mind to float I do great things. Most often these thoughts of greatness boost my mood and charge my focus creating a mindset that allows me to actually make some progress towards doing the things I dream.

The inverse is always true – when I am brought back to someone else’s reality and am reminded of all the limitations, hurdles and potential setbacks that exist in my quest towards greatness and soon I feel like garbage. I make the decision to come to their reality and allow my mood to nose dive – in fulfilling my part of the social contract and engaging those who engage me, my ability to actualize my purpose is hindered by the constraints of what the other person has created as their reality. Beauty cannot be created when one is dealing with the thoughts of what is wrong/bad/negative in the world.

Viktor Frankl should have been suffering when he came to the conclusion he wrote above as he was in a concentration camp. However, he wasn’t. He was working with the other prisoners trying to help their mental health as they were worked to the bone. As their therapist, he was their guide towards a more enlightened way to thinking that would produce hope and lead to happiness. He believed that ones experience of life in the camp was determined by their thoughts about their experience vs. what the experience is actually like. He realized that what one believes reality to be very quickly becomes reality.

My first experiences with Frankl’s approach came in the time immediately following Natalie dying. I had been suffering pretty badly and had started to wonder if she had ever really known just how much she meant to me. My counsellor at the time mentioned that the type of sadness I felt now was the inverse of the joy I felt before so it was unlikely that Natalie hadn’t been able to pick up on the positive feelings I had. As I let this statement float over me I started to feel better because I knew it was true. She did know how much I cared for her and how much joy that she brought to my life. While this realization did not remove the grief, it did change my thoughts so that I no longer doubted that she knew how I had felt about her. This eliminated the negative consequence to the thoughts of doubt and freed me from some of the darkness.

Recently I have reconnected with Frankl’s lesson. I spend more time thinking about the world as I want it to be vs. how I believe it to be. I consume the news less because I am powerless to change much of what I see on the television or read on the Internet. I spend less time engaged in political discussions or talking to people about things they don’t like but have no interest in changing. I try to spend time around the people who radiate happiness and optimism and try to avoid those who are dark or conflict prone because their reality will infect mine. All in all these choices have allowed me to accomplish more of what I need to get done while helping me maintain a bright outlook. I am feeling how I want to feel.

What I Learned At SST – Part 2

Here is part two of the What I Learned At SST article – you can read part one here.

  1. GVT, GBC, and rest-pause. Taught well by Charles Poliquin, Larry passed along a few program pointers to me that made a world of difference in my body composition. German Volume Training, German Body Composition and rest-pause are a few of the methods that I was able to incorporate quickly. Basic GVT is 10 sets of 10 reps (or 10 sets of 8 or 6 reps with the same weight) super setted with antagonistic opposite movements. 10 sets of 10 is mentally draining because after 6 or 7 reps your mind is screaming “that’s about enough work for now”. GBC is lactate inducing workouts which are more metabolic and help to boost growth hormone – great for making you feel very sick. Rest pause is a 3 part set with 15 seconds of rest separating each of the 3 parts. The goal is to give your body enough recovery to allow for a few more reps. While not as mentally tough as 10 sets of 10, it is a fantastic method for boosting performance in the later sections of a climbing attack on the trail.
  2. How to dead-lift and squat. Probably the most important things I learned while at SST to be completely honest. My body grew once I started doing these movements consistently – not surprising given that they recruit more muscle than any other movements. There’s something special about driving from a deep squat to lock-out on rep 6 of what should have been a 5 rep set or pulling twice your body weight from the floor. These movements have given me a huge increase in strength for my standing attacks or climbing on the bike. Plus, it’s pretty sweet to actually know how to do them.
  3. Training should be cycled with the athlete increasing focus in one area of training while maintaining fitness in all other areas. Basically, if you train for strength from September to February spend some time maintaining your cardiovascular fitness and lactate tolerance.
  4. The enthusiasm of younger athletes is contagious. Most young people are not bitter and have not yet learned to be cynical towards the world. In fact, most of them haven’t realized that you can be anything but passionate towards the things you do. When you observe someone engage their work-out or their life with passion you cannot help yourself from adopting some of this passion. Any time my management role would start to get me down I would leave my desk and hit the floor to coach some of the athletes. Almost immediately my stress would be gone and I would be reminded why I took the job in the first place – because I want to see people achieve their potential. Without fail this would lift me up and allow me to focus on the important stuff.
  5. I am happier when I get evenings and the weekend off. I really do enjoy sleeping in, but it’s tough to get up and get your day going when you don’t have to start work until 11:30. I don’t sleep in until noon on weekend and seem to have accomplish more each day waking at 5:30 am vs. 10:30 am.
  6. Great people can make bad first impressions. Given that it was a great place to work, a lot of people applied to work there. I got to look at a lot of resumes and interview a number of different people. The best hire I made was Sean and, for one reason or another, his resume had spelling mistakes on it. I passed on it initially because it figured the spelling mistakes were an indication of how he would pay attention to detail. However, I ended up calling him, bringing him in for an interview and we hired him immediately. Sean turned out to be the best hire I made while I was there and he is a truly remarkable individual who pays special attention to needs of the athletes. How he is in real life is nothing like how I thought he would be, but given that his first impression was made with a resume with spelling mistakes I made the same call that most other people would. Looking back I’m really glad I didn’t hold onto this judgement too strongly.
  7. Hamstring and rotator cuff muscles are primarily fast twitch fibers and should be trained accordingly. For these muscles I rarely take the reps above 10 and usually keep the sets around 8 reps. My cycling pedal stroke changed when I learned that hamstrings are fast twitch. When I stand-up and ride, I try to use my quads, glutes and hip flexors to push and pull and I move between 60 and 80 RPMs. When I am sitting on the saddle the pedal rate is faster – around 75 – 100 –  and I focus on tightening my core to stabilize my hips. The end result is that I really feel the hamstrings working when the RPMs go above 80 and this takes some of the focus off of my quads. Since I didn’t train rotator cuff muscles before I started working at SST, learning that they are fast twitch didn’t have any practical impact on the way I trained them; I just started training them.

SST is a fantastic place to work and those who put in the time to learn while they are there DO learn a lot. It’s a tough job but the environment is conducive to self-improvement if you’re willing and able to invest in yourself. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with so many dedicated athletes and hard working strength coaches, and of course Larry, Laura, Jermane and Grant.

What I Learned At SST – Part 1

Inspired by Chris Brown’s What I Learned At SST, here is part 1 of my list of the top things that I took out of my time there:

  1. Talent is obvious but training is necessary. You can tell an athlete by watching them move and you can predict performance based on how a person performs certain tasks. While their gift may be sufficient to help them get pretty far in sport, they need training to achieve the highest level. If a person does not have talent, they are fighting an uphill battle to make their mark; drive can make up for the talent gap, it just doesn’t happen very often.
  2. Drive is a shared characteristic among high performance athletes. Regardless of talent, all athletes who want to perform at a high level are incredibly driven. Most of the athletes at SST had exceptionally high drive and this made working with them a breeze. They did everything they were told, they applied the coaching suggestions whenever they could and they pushed themselves to improve. There were a few that required more motivation and it was fairly obvious to the coaching team that these individuals would not enjoy the same level of success as most of the others. Watching elite athletes train made me feel more comfortable with my own training style as I enjoy working-out with a lot of intensity.
  3. A trained body adapts to changes in training very quickly. Larry, the owner, would say that an athlete should never do the same hamstring workout more than once every 4 weeks. His mentor Charles Poliquin says that the body adapts to a particular workout after 6 times. Both of these points of view come from working with elite level athlete so one should keep their training and skill level in mind when they are designing their own program; but the essence of what they are saying applies to everyone. No matter what you do, the body will adapt to it in an attempt to make it very easy and cost effective. This is why people need to change their programs frequently in terms of reps, sets, movement speeds and movement patterns. The more trained you are, the more frequently you need to change things up.
  4. A good base of structural balance should be achieved before proceeding to loaded resistance training. Seems obvious but most people including myself don’t go about it this way. Instead we work on building muscle and only start to fix the imbalances once the injuries start. The fact of the matter is that someone who is well balanced will have much better movement patterns which will result in fewer injuries than someone who isn’t balanced.
  5. People make working at a job either fun or work. Work is what we do to make money that frees us from having to make and grow everything we consume. It’s a necessary evil in life. However, how we engage work and the level of satisfaction we get out if it is impacted a lot by other people. This is not to say that we don’t choose our own attitude. I’m just saying that it is easier to say happy when those around us are happy. The dark cloud will bring down the moral of a successful organization faster than anything while a failing company that has happy workers will be a fun place to work.

Part 2 will be coming in a few days so stop back and check it out.