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Calories in vs. out? Or hormones? The debate is finally over. Here’s who won. - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 16:39

When it comes to body change, there’s no topic more polarizing than “calories in vs. calories out.” Some argue it’s the be-all and end-all of weight loss. Others say it’s oversimplified and misguided. In this article, we explore every angle of the debate from “eat less, move more,” to hormonal issues, to diets that offer a “metabolic advantage.” In doing so, we answer—once and for all—how important calories in vs. calories out really is. And discuss what it means for you and your clients.  


“You’re either with me, or you’re against me.”

Everyone’s heard this one. But did you know the health and fitness industry has its own version of the saying? It goes: “You’re either with me, or you’re stupid.”

I kid, of course!

But this kind of binary mindset does fuel plenty of heated debates. Especially when it comes to one topic in particular: “calories in vs. calories out,” or CICO.

CICO is an easy way of saying:
  • When you take in more energy than you burn, you gain weight.
  • When you take in less energy than you burn, you lose weight.

This is a fundamental concept in body weight regulation, and about as close to scientific fact as we can get.

Then why is CICO the source of so much disagreement?

It’s all about the extremes.

At one end of the debate there’s a group who believes CICO is straightforward. If you aren’t losing weight, the reason is simple: You’re either eating too many calories, or not moving enough, or both. Just eat less and move more.

At the other end is a group who believes CICO is broken (or even a complete myth). These critics say it doesn’t account for hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and other health problems that affect metabolism. They often claim certain diets and foods provide a “metabolic advantage,” helping you lose weight without worrying about CICO.

Neither viewpoint is completely wrong.

But neither is completely right, either.

Whether you’re a health and fitness coach tasked with helping clients manage their weight—or you’re trying to learn how to do that for yourself—adopting an extreme position on this topic is problematic; it prevents you from seeing the bigger picture.

This article will add some nuance to the debate.

I’ll start by clearing up some misconceptions about CICO. And then explore several real-world examples showing how far-right or far-left views can hold folks back.

Rethinking common misconceptions.

Much of the CICO debate—as with many other debates—stems from misconceptions, oversimplifications, and a failure (by both sides) to find a shared understanding of concepts. So let’s start by getting everyone on the same page for a change.

CICO goes beyond food and exercise.

There’s an important distinction to be made between CICO and “eat less, move more.” But people, especially some CICO advocates, tend to conflate the two.

“Eat less, move more” only takes into account the calories you eat and the calories you burn through exercise and other daily movement. But CICO is really an informal way of expressing the Energy Balance Equation, which is far more involved.

The Energy Balance Equation—and therefore CICO—includes all the complex inner workings of the body, as well as the external factors that ultimately impact “calories in” and “calories out.”

Imperative to this, and often overlooked, is your brain. It’s constantly monitoring and controlling CICO. Think of it as mission control, sending and receiving messages that involve your gut, hormones, organs, muscles, bones, fat cells, external stimuli (and more), to help balance “energy in” and “energy out.”

It’s one hell of a complicated—and beautiful—system.

Yet the Energy Balance Equation itself looks really simple. Here it is:

  • [Energy in] – [Energy out] = Changes in body stores*

*Body stores refers to all the tissues available for breakdown, such as fat, muscle, organ, and bone. I purposely haven’t used “change in body weight” here because I want to exclude water weight, which can change body weight independent of energy balance. In other words, water is a confusing, confounding variable that tricks people into thinking energy balance is broken when it’s not.

With this equation, “energy in” and “energy out” aren’t just calories from food and exercise. As you can see in the illustration below, all kinds of factors influence these two variables.

When you view CICO through through this lens—by zooming out for a wider perspective—you can see boiling it down to “eat less, move more” is a significant oversimplification.

Calorie calculators and CICO aren’t the same.

Many people use calorie calculators to estimate their energy needs, and to  approximate how many calories they’ve eaten. But sometimes these tools don’t seem to work. As a result, these individuals start to question whether CICO is broken. (Or whether they’re broken).

The key words here are “estimate” and “approximate.”

That’s because calorie calculators aren’t necessarily accurate.

For starters, they provide an output based on averages, and can be off by as much as 20-30 percent in normal, young, healthy people. They may vary even more in older, clinical, or obese populations.

And that’s just on the “energy out” side.

The number of calories you eat—or your “energy in”—is also just an estimate.

For example, the FDA allows inaccuracies of up to 20% on label calorie counts, and research shows restaurant nutrition information can be off by 100-300 calories per food item.

What’s more, even if you were able to accurately weigh and measure every morsel you eat, you still wouldn’t have an exact “calories in” number. That’s because there are other confounding factors, such as:

  • We don’t absorb all of the calories we consume. And absorption rates vary across food types. (Example: We absorb more calories than estimated from fiber-rich foods, and less calories than estimated from nuts and seeds.)
  • We all absorb calories uniquely based on our individual gut bacteria.
  • Cooking, blending, or chopping food generally makes more calories available for absorption than may appear on a nutrition label.

Of course, this doesn’t mean CICO doesn’t work. It only means the tools we have to estimate “calories in” and “calories out” are limited.

To be crystal clear: Calorie calculators can still be very helpful for some people. But it’s important to be aware of their limitations. If you’re going to use one, do so as a rough starting point, not a definitive “answer.”

CICO doesn’t require calorie counting.

At Precision Nutrition, sometimes we use calorie counting to help clients improve their food intake. Other times we use hand portions. And other times we use more intuitive approaches.

For example, let’s say a client wants to lose weight, but they’re not seeing the results they want. If they’re counting calories or using hand portions, we might use those numbers as a reference to further reduce the amount of food they’re eating. But we also might encourage them to use other techniques instead. Like eating slowly, or until they’re 80 percent full.

In every case—whether we’re talking numbers or not — we’re manipulating “energy in.” Sometimes directly; sometimes indirectly. So make no mistake: Even when we’re not “counting calories,” CICO still applies.

CICO might sound simple, but it’s not.

There’s no getting around it: If you (or a client) aren’t losing weight, you either need to decrease “energy in” or increase “energy out.” But as you’ve already seen, that may involve far more than just pushing away your plate or spending more time at the gym.

For instance, it may require you to:

  • Get more high-quality sleep to better regulate hunger hormones, improve recovery, and increase metabolic output
  • Increase your daily non-exercise movement by parking the car a few blocks away from your destination, taking the stairs, and/or standing while you work
  • Trade some high-intensity exercise for lower-intensity activities, in order to aid recovery and reduce systemic stress
  • Tinker with the macronutrient makeup of what you eat. For example: eating more protein and fiber, or increasing carbs and lowering fats, or vice versa
  • Experiment with the frequency and timing of your meals and snacks, based on personal preferences and appetite cues
  • Consider temporarily tracking your food intake—via hand portions or weighing/measuring—to ensure you’re eating what you think you’re eating (as closely as reasonably possible)
  • Evaluate and correct nutritional deficiencies, for more energy during workouts (and in everyday life)
  • Consult with your physician or specialists if consistent lifestyle changes aren’t moving the needle

Sometimes the solutions are obvious; sometimes they aren’t. But with CICO, the answers are there, if you keep your mind open and examine every factor.

Imagine yourself a “calorie conductor” who oversees and fine-tunes many actions to create metabolic harmony. You’re looking for anything that could be out of sync.

This takes lots of practice.

So, to help, here are 5 common energy balance dilemmas. In each case, it might be tempting to assume CICO doesn’t apply. But look a little a deeper, and you’ll see the principles of CICO are always present.

5 common energy balance dilemmas. Dilemma #1: “I’ve been eating the same way forever, but suddenly I started gaining weight.”

Can you guess what happened?

More than likely, “energy in” or “energy out” did change, but in a way that felt out of control or unnoticeable.

The culprit could be:

  • Slight increases in food intake, due to changes in mood, hunger, or stress
  • An increase in the amount of energy absorbed—caused by new medication, an unknown medical condition, or a history of chronic dieting
  • Physiological changes that resulted in fewer calories burned during exercise and at rest
  • The onset of chronic pain, provoking a dramatic decrease in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)
  • Significant changes to sleep quality and/or quantity, impacting metabolic output and/or food consumed

In all of these cases, CICO is still valid. Energy balance just shifted in subtle ways, due to lifestyle and health status changes, making it hard to recognize.

Dilemma #2: “My hormones are wreaking havoc on my metabolism, and I can’t stop gaining weight. Help!”

Hormones seem like a logical scapegoat for weight changes.

And while they’re probably not to blame as often as people think, hormones are intricately entwined with energy balance.

But even so, they don’t operate independently of energy balance.

In other words, people don’t gain weight because “hormones.”

They gain weight because their hormones are impacting their energy balance.

This often happens during menopause or when thyroid hormone levels decline.

Take, for example, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), two thyroid hormones that are incredibly important for metabolic function. If levels of these hormones diminish, weight gain may occur. But this doesn’t negate CICO: Your hormones are simply influencing “energy out.”

This may seem a bit like splitting hairs, but it’s an important connection to make, whether we’re talking about menopause or thyroid problems or insulin resistance or other hormonal issues.

By understanding CICO is the true determinant of weight loss, you’ll have many more tools for achieving the outcome you want.

Suppose you’re working from the false premise hormones are the only thing that matters. This can lead to increasingly unhelpful decisions, like spending a large sum of money on unnecessary supplements, or adhering to an overly restrictive diet that backfires in the long run.

Instead, you know results are dependent on the fact that “energy in” or “energy out” has changed. Now, this change can be due to hormones, and if so, you’ll have to make adjustments to your eating, exercise, and/or lifestyle habits to account for it. (This could include taking medication prescribed by your doctor, if appropriate.)

Research suggests people with mild (10-15% of the population) to moderate hypothyroidism (2-3%) may experience a metabolic slow down of 140 to 360 calories a day.

That can be enough to lead to weight gain, or make it harder to lose weight. (One caveat: Mild hypothyroidism can be so mild many people don’t experience a significant shift in metabolic activity, making it a non-issue.)

What’s more, women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS (about 5-10%), and those going through menopause, may also experience hormonal changes that disrupt energy balance.

So, it’s important to understand your (or your client’s) health status, as that will provide valuable information about the unique challenges involved and how you should proceed.

Dilemma #3: “I’m only eating 1,000 calories a day and I’m still not losing weight!”

So what gives?

The conclusion most people jump to: Their metabolism is broken. They’re broken. And CICO is broken.

But here’s the deal: Metabolic damage isn’t really a thing. Even though it may seem that way.

Now, their energy balance challenge could be related to a hormonal issue, as discussed above. However, when someone’s eating 1,000 calories a day but not losing weight, it’s usually due to one of the two reasons that follow.

(No matter how simple they sound, this is what we’ve seen over and over again in our coaching program, with over 100,000 clients.)

Reason #1: People often underestimate their calorie intake.

It’s easy to miscalculate how much you’re eating, as it’s usually unintentional. The most typical ways people do it:

  • They underestimate portions. (For example, without precisely measuring “one tablespoon of peanut butter,” it might actually be two, which adds 90 calories each time you do it)
  • They don’t track bites, licks, and tastes of calorie-dense foods. (For example, your kid’s leftover mac and cheese could easily add 100 calories)
  • They don’t record everything in the moment and forget to log it later on
  • They “forget” to count foods they’d wished they hadn’t eaten

Don’t believe this can be a big issue?

A landmark study, and repeated follow up studies, found people often underestimate how much they eat over the course of a day, sometimes by more than 1,000 calories.

I’m not bringing this research up to suggest it’s impossible to be realistic about portion sizes. But if you (or your clients) aren’t seeing results on a low-calorie diet, it’s worth considering that underestimation may be the problem.

Reason #2: People overeat on the weekends.

Work weeks can be stressful and when Friday night rolls around, people put their guard down and let loose.

(You probably can’t relate, but just try, okay?)

Here’s how it goes: Let’s say a person is eating 1,500 calories a day on weekdays, which would give them an approximate 500-calorie deficit.

But on the weekends, they deviate from their plan just a little.

  • Drinks with friends and a few slices of late night pizza on Friday
  • An extra big lunch after their workout on Saturday
  • Brunch on Sunday (“Hey, it’s breakfast and lunch, so I can eat double!)

The final tally: An extra 4,000 calories consumed between Friday night and Sunday afternoon. They’ve effectively canceled out their deficit, bumping their average daily calories to 2,071.

The upshot: If you (or your client) have slashed your calories dramatically, but you aren’t seeing the expected results, look for the small slips. It’s like being a metabolic detective who’s following—perhaps literally—the bread crumbs.

By the way, if downtime is problem for you (or a client), we have just the remedy: 5 surprising strategies to ditch weekend overeating.

Dilemma #4: “I’m eating as much as I want and still losing weight, so this diet is better than all the others!”

This might be the top reason some people reject CICO.

Say someone switches from a diet of mostly processed foods to one made up of mostly whole, plant-based foods. They might find they can eat as much food as they want, yet the pounds still melt away.

People often believe this is due to the “power of plants.”

Yes, plants are great, but this doesn’t disprove energy balance.

Because plant foods have a very-low energy density, you can eat a lot of them and still be in a calorie deficit. Especially if your previous intake was filled with lots of processed, hyperpalatable “indulgent foods.”

It feels like you’re eating much more food than ever before—and, in fact, you really might be.

On top of that, you might also feel more satiated because of the volume, fiber, and water content of the plants.

All of which is great. Truly. But it doesn’t negate CICO.

Or take the ketogenic diet, for example.

Here, someone might have a similar experience of “eating as much as they want” and still losing weight, but instead of plant foods, they’re eating meat, cheese, and eggs. Those aren’t low-calorie foods, and they don’t have much fiber, either.

As a result, plenty of low-carb advocates claim keto offers a “metabolic advantage” over other diets.

Here’s what’s most likely happening:

  • Greater intake of protein increases satiety and reduces appetite
  • Limited food choices have cut out hundreds of highly-processed calories they might have eaten otherwise (Pasta! Chips! Cookies!)
  • Reduced food options can also lead to “sensory-specific satiety.” Meaning, when you eat the same foods all the time, they may become less appealing, so you’re not driven to eat as much
  • Liquid calories—soda, juice, even milk—are generally off limits, so a greater proportion of calories are consumed from solid foods, which are more filling
  • Higher blood levels of ketones—which rise when carbs are restricted—seem to suppress appetite

For these reasons, people tend to eat fewer calories and feel less hungry.

Although it might seem magical, the keto diet results in weight loss by regulating “energy in” through a variety of ways.

You might ask: If plant-based and keto diets work so well, why should anyone care if it’s because of CICO, or for some other reason?

Because depending on the person—food preferences, lifestyle, activity level, and so on—many diets, including plant-based and keto, aren’t sustainable long-term. This is particularly true of the more restrictive approaches.

And if you (or your client) believe there’s only one “best diet,” you may become frustrated if you aren’t able to stick to it. You may view yourself as a failure and decide you lack the discipline to lose weight. You may even think you should stop trying.

None of which are true.

Your results aren’t diet dependent. They’re behavior dependent.

Maintaining a healthy body (including a healthy body weight) is about developing consistent, sustainable daily habits that help you positively impact “energy in” and “energy out.”

This might be accomplished while enjoying the foods you love, by:

  • Eating until you’re 80% full
  • Eating slowly and mindfully
  • Eating more minimally processed foods
  • Getting more high quality sleep
  • Taking steps to reduce stress and build resilience

It’s about viewing CICO from 30,000 feet and figuring out what approach feels sane—and achievable—for you.

Sure, that might include a plant-based or a keto diet, but it absolutely might not, too. And you know what?

You can get great results either way.  

Dilemma #5: “I want to gain weight, but no matter how much I eat, I can’t seem to.”

The CICO conversation doesn’t always revolve around weight loss.

Some people struggle to gain weight.

Especially younger athletes and people who are very, very active at work. (Think: jobs that involve manual labor.)

It also happens with those who are trying to regain lost weight after an illness.

When someone intentionally eats more food but can’t pack on the pounds, it may seem like CICO is invalidated. (Surprise.)

They often feel like they’re stuffing themselves—“I’m eating everything in sight!”—and it’s just not working. But here’s what our coaches have found:

People tend to remember extremes.

Someone might have had six meals in one day, eating as much as they felt like they could stand.

But the following day, they only ate two meals because they were still so full. Maybe they were really busy, too, so they didn’t even think much about it.

The first day—the one where they stuffed themselves—would likely stand out a lot more than the day they ate in accordance with their hunger levels. That’s just human nature.

It’s easy to see how CICO is involved here. It’s lack of consistency on the “energy in” part of the equation.

One solution: Instead of stuffing yourself with 3,000 calories one day, and then eating 1,500 the next, aim for a calorie intake just above the middle you can stick with, and increase it in small amounts over time, if needed.

People often increase activity when they increase calories.

When some people suddenly have more available energy—from eating more food—they’re more likely to do things that increase their energy out. Like taking the stairs, pacing while on the phone, and fidgeting in their seats.

They might even push harder during a workout than they would normally.

This can be both subconscious and subtle.

And though it might sound weird, our coaches have identified this as a legitimate problem for “hardgainers.”

Your charge: Take notice of all your activity.

If you can’t curtail some of it, you may have to compensate by eating even more food. Nutrient- and calorie-dense foods like nut butters, whole grains, and oils can help, especially if you’re challenged by your lack of appetite.

3 strategies to game the system.

Once you accept that CICO is both complex and inescapable, you may find yourself up against one very common challenge.

Namely: “I can’t eat any less than I am now!”

This is one of the top reasons people abandon their weight loss efforts or go searching in vain for a miracle diet.

But here are three simple strategies you (or your clients) can use to create a caloric deficit, even if it seems impossible. It’s all about figuring out which one works best for you.

Maximize protein and fiber.

Consuming higher amounts of protein increases satiety, helping you feel more satisfied between meals. And consuming higher amounts of fiber increases satiation, helping you feel more satisfied during meals.

These are both proven in research and practice to help you feel more satisfied overall while eating fewer calories, leading to easier fat loss.

This advice can sound trite, I know. In fact, someday when there are nutrition coach robots, “eat more protein and fiber” will probably be the first thing they’re programmed to say.

But the truth is, most people trying to lose weight still aren’t focused on getting plenty of these two nutrients.

And you know what? It’s not their fault.

When it comes to diets, almost everyone has been told to subtract. Take away the “bad” stuff, and only eat the “good” stuff.

But there’s another approach: Just start by adding.

If you make a concerted effort to increase protein (especially lean protein) and fiber intake (especially from vegetables), you’ll feel more satisfied.

You’ll also be less tempted by all the foods you think you should be avoiding. This helps to automatically “crowd out” ultra-processed foods.

Which leads to another big benefit: By eating more whole foods and fewer of the processed kind, you’re actually retraining your brain to desire those indulgent, ultra-processed foods less.

That’s when a cool thing happens: You start eating fewer calories without actively trying to—rather than purposely restricting because you have to.

That makes weight loss easier.

Starting is simple: For protein, add one palm of relatively lean protein—chicken, fish, tempeh—to one meal. This is beyond what you would have had otherwise. Or have a Super Shake as a meal or snack.

For fiber, add one serving of high-fiber food—in particular vegetables, fruit, lentils and beans—to your regular intake. This might mean having an apple for a snack, including a fistful of roasted carrots at dinner, or tossing in a handful of spinach in your Super Shake.

Try this for two weeks, and then add another palm of lean protein, and one more serving of high-fiber foods.

Besides all the upside we’ve discussed so far, there’s also this:

Coming to the table with a mindset of abundance—rather than scarcity—can help you avoid those anxious, frustrated feelings that often come with being deprived of the foods you love.

So instead of saying, “Ugh, I really don’t think I can give up my nightly wine and chocolate habit,” you might say, “Hey, look at all this delicious, healthy food I can feed my body!”

(And by the way, you don’t actually have to give up your wine and chocolate habit, at least not to initiate progress.)

Shift your perspective.

Imagine you’re on vacation. You slept in and missed breakfast.

Of course, you don’t really mind because you’re relaxed and having a great time. And there’s no reason to panic: Lunch will happen.

But since you’ve removed a meal, you end up eating a few hundred calories less than normal for the day, effectively creating a deficit.

Given you’re in an environment where you feel calm and happy, you hardly even notice.

Now suppose you wake up on a regular day, and you’re actively trying to lose weight. (To get ready for vacation!)

You might think: “I only get to have my 400-calorie breakfast, and it’s not enough food. This is the worst. I’m going to be so hungry all day!”

So you head to work feeling stressed, counting down the minutes to your next snack or meal. Maybe you even start to feel deprived and miserable.

Here’s the thing: You were in a calorie deficit both days, but your subjective experience of each was completely different.

What if you could adjust your thinking to be more like the first scenario rather then the second?

Of course, I’m not suggesting you skip breakfast everyday (unless that’s just your preference).

But if you can manage to see eating less as something you happen to be doing— rather than something you must do—it may end up feeling a lot less terrible.

Add activity rather than subtracting calories.

Are you a person who doesn’t want to eat less, but would happily move more? If so, you might be able to take advantage of something I’ve called G-Flux.

G-Flux, also known as “energy flux,” is the total amount of energy that flows in and out of a system.

As an example, say you want to create a 500-calorie deficit. That could like this:

  • Energy in: 2,000 calories
  • Energy out: 2,500 calories
  • Deficit: 500 calories

But it could also look like this:

  • Energy in: 3,000 calories
  • Energy out: 3,500 calories
  • Deficit: 500 calories

In both scenarios, you’ve achieved a 500-calorie deficit, but the second allows you to eat a lot more food.

That’s one benefit of a greater G-Flux.

But there’s also another: Research suggests if you’re eating food from high-quality sources and doing a variety of workouts—strength training, conditioning, and recovery work—eating more calories can help you carry more lean mass and less fat.

That’s because the increased exercise doesn’t just serve to boost your “energy out.” It also changes nutrient partitioning, sending more calories toward muscle growth and fewer to your fat cells.

Plus, since you’re eating more food, you have more opportunity to get the quantities of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you need in order to feel your best.

Win. Win. Win.

To be clear, this is a somewhat advanced method. And because metabolism and energy balance are dynamic in nature, the effectiveness of this method may vary from person to person.

Plus, not everyone has the ability or the desire to spend more time exercising. And that’s okay.

But by being flexible with your thinking—and willing to experiment with different ways of influencing CICO—you can find your own personal strategy for tipping energy balance in your (or your clients’) favor.

If you’re a coach, or you want to be…

Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that optimizes energy balance for each unique body, personality, and lifestyle—is both an art and a science.

If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.

What’s it all about?

The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools you need to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.

Developed over 15 years, and proven with over 100,000 clients and patients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

[Of course, if you’re already a student or graduate of the Level 1 Certification, check out our Level 2 Certification Master Class. It’s an exclusive, year-long mentorship designed for elite professionals looking to master the art of coaching and be part of the top 1% of health and fitness coaches in the world.]

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 33% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

  • Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 33% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
  • Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.

The post Calories in vs. out? Or hormones? The debate is finally over. Here’s who won. appeared first on Precision Nutrition.

Categories: Feeds

Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 15:00

Working with children at any age is an art as well as a science. As coaches, we aim to push our young athletes out of their comfort zone so they can grow physically and mentally within their sport and beyond. Science continues to provide methods by which we can do this effectively. However, we must also find ways make the process enjoyable and engaging for the kids involved.

Many of us remember the “lines, laps, and lectures” that marred our experience with youth sports. We also remember that special coach or training environment that brought out the best in us. This situation was usually created by coaches who understood the inner workings of children in the development process. They acknowledged the role of pushing our limits, but also created an environment that was positive and engaging.  And yes, FUN!

The “conditioning” aspect of training is probably the least popular amongst athletes at any age. However, it’s a necessary evil when it comes to physically and mentally preparing youngsters for competition.  Fortunately, conditioning does not have to be a Bear-Bryant-esque death march. By using gamification, creativity, and just plain old fun, it can be a tool to keep kids smiling while they sweat.

Consider combining the specific conditioning protocols you use for your individuals and teams with the more engaging, gamified versions below. Watch how the context of play brings out higher levels of effort and resilience, both indicators of high performance!

Letter Agility 

This activity is ideal for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Spread athletes in the space, providing ample room around each to move.
  2. Call out a letter, and they have to re-create that letter on the ground by moving their body in the specific pathway as fast as possible.
  3. The letters should cover roughly a 6-foot area.
  4. Progress from letters to words and/or shapes.
  5. Provide time constraints.
  6. Have them face a partner and race.

Dirty and Clean 

This is a great activity for large spaces and teams.

  1. Randomly place cones throughout a large area. The larger the area, the greater the distance each athlete must cover to play the game.
  2. Assign one team to be the “dirty” team, the other the “clean” team.
  3. Prior to beginning, make sure to have a count of how many cones are being used.
  4. On the whistle, the “dirty” team must disperse and continue to knock over as many cones as possible with their hands.
  5. The “clean” team must set the cones back up as fast as possible.
  6. Athletes must move throughout the space. Neither team can knock down or set up the same cone two times in a row.
  7. At the end of the time (20-30 seconds) whoever has the most cones either knocked over or standing is the winner.
  8. Repeat, switching roles.
  9. For added challenge, change the body parts that can be used to knock over cones.

Compass Calisthenics 

This simple concept is great for individuals and teams when space is limited.

  1. Create a list of 10 bodyweight exercises that can be done in place.
  2. Familiarize the athletes with the compass directions (East, West, North, South).
  3. Athletes perform each exercise for 30 seconds.
  4. During this time, the coach will frequently call out one of the compass directions and the athlete has to re-orient their body and movement to that direction. For example, “Push-ups EAST, NORTH, WEST”, etc.
  5. 10 Seconds of rest is provided between exercises.

Human Cone Drill (Jumping Jacks) 

This is great competitive activity for moderate to large spaces and teams.

  1. Split athletes into teams of 5.
  2. Set up cones for each team, separating each by roughly 10 yards.
  3. Have teams stand in line behind a cone, facing a corresponding cone roughly 30 yards away (distance can be shortened for different ages, and training spaces).
  4. Athletes stand in a single file line with arms outstretched onto the person’s shoulders in front of them.
  5. On the whistle, athletes begin doing jumping jacks.
  6. On a second whistle, the athlete in the back of the line must weave through their teammates while avoiding the jumping jack arms.
  7. Once a teammate has moved to the front of the line, they can call “go” and the next person in the back of the line weaves through.
  8. The goal is for a team to reach their distant cone before the other teams.
  9. When the coach blows a whistle during the race, the last person in line must stop and put their hands out in front of them.
  10. The entire line must re-form so all participants can place their hands on the shoulders in front of them.
  11. When all teams have accomplished this, the whistle is blown again and competition continues.

Partner Mirror Drill 

This is a conditioning activity for partners when space is limited, or when reaction speed is a goal.  

  1. Create partners.
  2. Partners decide who the “leader” and who the “follower” will be.
  3. On the whistle, the leader begins to perform activities of their own choosing, i.e. shuffling, jumping, calisthenics, etc.
  4. Instruct athletes to use a relatively small 6-8-foot area for movement.
  5. The follower must try to mirror exactly what the leader is doing in real time.
  6. On the coach’s whistle, the roles switch.
  7. Continue for 30 second intervals.
  8. Encourage creative, varied movement, i.e. dance moves, calisthenics-to-locomotion, etc.
  9. To increase difficulty, a movement cannot be repeated while someone is a leader.

All of the activities above function to challenge the metabolic system. However, by gamifying the experience, kids actually enjoy the process. The more the enjoyment, the greater the effort.

Integrate these fun and challenging conditioning activities into your youth programs and beyond. Never be afraid to create an environment where athletes smile while they sweat.    

Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and a regular contributor to the IYCA who is passionate about coaching young athletes.  He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country.  Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.



If you want to be better at coaching young athletes, the IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.


The post Conditioning Games for Young Athletes – Brett Klika appeared first on IYCA - The International Youth Conditioning Association.

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A Bodybuilding Rewind with Lee Haney and Dr. Fred Hatfield - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:53
Every once in a while, you find a rare gem hidden deep within your computer's files. This particular jewel was an interview I did with bodybuilder Lee Haney and the late Dr. Fred Hatfield — Dr. Squat himself! — in 2014.
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12-Week Strong(wo)man Program for the Off-Season - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 09:51
This month's featured program is great for those who've recently finished training for a contest and are getting into the nitty-gritty of off-season training. It'll keep your gains coming in at a steady pace, improve your base strength, and help you peak while training for your next contest.
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Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/25/19 - Mon, 02/25/2019 - 06:39

I hope you had a great weekend. Here’s a little strength and conditioning content from around the ‘Net to get your week started on the right foot:

Mastering the Basics MUST Precede Embracing a Specific Methodology – John O’Neil is our Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance – MA, and with that role, oversees our internship program. In this article, he discusses a trend he’s observed in up-and-coming coaches. This is one of the most important articles I’ve read this year.

15 Static Stretching Mistakes – This is one of my most popular articles of all-time, and I wanted to reincarnate it from the archives in light of a conversation I had the other day.

The Top 19 Nutrition Myths of 2019 – The crew at never disappoints, and this article is no exception.

Top Tweet of the Week

Late offseason plyo progression gem: Hurdle Hop to Heiden onto Box. Great demo from @MattSolter.

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The Olympic Lifts: Complex but Not Complicated?

In my quest to find new topics for articles, this was the suggestion I found most interesting. Evidently the idea that the Olympic lifts are “complex but not complicated” is making its rounds through the internet world, although I can’t say I’ve noticed.   First, let’s just get this on the record: this isn’t a new idea. Many weightlifting coaches have been trying to make the case that the lifts aren’t as complicated as they appear for many years f
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Where Have You Been, Joe Clark? - Sun, 02/24/2019 - 01:38
As most writers in the bodybuilding industry are aware, the majority of people who troll are crybaby meatheads who think they deserve your writing gig because they are so much more knowledgeable. This was not so with Joe Clark...
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The Staggered Leg Deadlift with Dr. Eric Serrano - Sun, 02/24/2019 - 01:10
This is a great exercise to use before the leg training session begins to activate the posterior chain and wake up dormant muscles. Feedback from numerous clients, including NFL athletes, tells us that squatting and running feel much better following this specialized movement.
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Exercise of the Week: Landmine Squat to 1-arm Press - Sat, 02/23/2019 - 09:37

Anyone who’s followed this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a big fan of landmine presses for a number of reasons:

1. As a “free scapula” pressing exercise, they’re an effective way to train scapular upward rotation.

2. They’re much more shoulder friendly than overhead presses.

3. They provide a great core stability challenge.

4. You can implement a lot of variety in terms of stance (tall/half-kneeling, standing, split-stance, rotational, etc) and lower body contributions. This week’s feature is a great highlight in this regard:

This drill fits well as a first exercise on a full body day and pairs well with horizontal or vertical pulling. I really like it late in the offseason when we’re trying to keep sessions a bit shorter and get extra bang for our training buck. I’d do sets of 3-5 reps per side.

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WATCH: Table Talk — The Most Common Mistakes Novice Powerlifters Make - Sat, 02/23/2019 - 01:08
Sage words Joe Sullivan recently read online: "Powerlifting is basically just keeping your abs and back tight and squeezing a bar and trying not to lose position." Joe notices his clients, both old and new, tend to struggle with at least one of these things. (And breathing. Definitely breathing.)
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C.J. Murphy's Specialty Bar Car Show #2 - Sat, 02/23/2019 - 01:05
In my second Specialty Bar Car Show, I'm going to teach you everything I know about the Tsunami Bar, Bandbell Bar, and — one of my all-time favorites — Safety Squat Bars. If I haven't sold you on any of these bars, remember this...
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The Best Speed Drill for High School Athletes - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 10:39
Sprinting with a weighted sled has become my go-to exercise for improving an athlete’s ability to accelerate because it teaches and trains those mechanics. My athletes have consistently improved thanks to to sled sprints!
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The Time In-Between Sets Matters - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 10:33
You see lost lifters jumping from one diet to another or from one program to the next, thinking they bought a long-lost ingredient to the stew that is strength and power. But the actual missing ingredients are right in front of them: consistency and an understanding of the basics.
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Stuff to Read While You’re Pretending to Work: 2/22/19 - Fri, 02/22/2019 - 06:24

Copyright: wamsler / 123RF Stock Photo

BUT FIRST…CHECK THIS STUFF OUT 1. (Even More) Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint – 2019 Locations & Dates

Philadelphia, PA: April 27-28th (<– EARLY BIRD rate ending soon).

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: May 25-26th

Sydney, Australia: July 13-14th

Singapore, Republic of Singapore: July 20-21st

This workshop will piggyback on the material Dean Somerset and I covered in the original Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint.

With this iteration, though, we’ll be going a bit deeper into the coaching and programming side of things:

  • How to program around common injuries.
  • How to “connect” the appropriate exercises to the client/athlete.
  • How to squat and deadlift like a boss.

Find out more details HERE.

NOTE: For the Singapore event you’ll need to use THIS link.

2. Coaching Competency Workshop – Raleigh, NC

I’ll be making my first appearance – ever (<— how’s that possible?) – in the wonderful state of North Carolina this coming March to put on my popular Coaching Competency Workshop.

This is a great opportunity for other fitness professionals to gain better insight into my assessment and program design process.

And cat memes.

Can’t forget the cat memes.

Full details (date, location, itinerary, how to register) can be found HERE.


Email from a distance coaching client: “Lately it has felt “easy” to get in, hit all of my reps, and feel good and ready to do so the next day.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: EASY training, is GOOD training. Get in, strain a little, hit your reps, leave.

— Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore1) February 18, 2019



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One factor that always seems to prevent many people from getting healthy is the “Boom or Bust” mentality, which is a theme I learned from @fitnesspainfree recently. . Put simply, this is where someone overloads their “system,” surpasses their pain threshold (by a lot), does this over and over and over again, and never seems to make any progress in terms of improving. . This whole approach keeps the alarm system sensitive as well as pain levels up. They train hard on Monday, are in pain, feel a little better, train hard again on Wednesday, are in pain, and the cycle repeats itself like an episode of Russian Doll. . This, of course, is absurd. Blowing through pain in the gym every chance you get does not earn you a badge of honor. . The key, though, is to TINKER with your pain threshold, make out with it a little bit. . You don’t want to fall into the trap of UNDERLOADING someone and doing too little to challenge them. . With the shoulder for example, exercises like the bench press and kipping pull-ups may be too extreme. They may be the end goal, but at this time they exceed the pain threshold and take far too long to recover from. . However, exercises like push-ups, rows, and landmine presses elicit a smidge of pain (no higher than a 3 out of a scale of 10) and are challenging enough to elicit a training effect. . The person stays under a “3” immediately after their session AND the following day. . THAT’S the sweet spot. . The goal is to increase/improve their pain threshold over time. . Training, when matched with someone’s current ability level, and when it’s not excessive, can be corrective.

A post shared by Tony Gentilcore (@tonygentilcore) on Feb 19, 2019 at 10:42am PST

STUFF TO READ WHILE YOU’RE PRETENDING TO WORK The Top 19 Nutrition  Myths of 2019 – Michael Hull (for

This was/is a spectacular article.

I might have to print it out and keep a copy on hand at all times whenever I need to debunk some cra cra nonsense.

How to Tell Your Clients  to Cut the Crap – Lana Sova

A bit of tough love with as smidge of Jedi mind trick fuckery = excellent article from Lana.

Foam Rolling Gone Wrong – Jonathan Watters

This is NOT an anti-foam rolling article.


It’s more anti-using spiked lacrosse balls and live grenades to release your piriformis.

The post Stuff to Read While You’re Pretending to Work: 2/22/19 appeared first on Tony Gentilcore.

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5 Things You Can Do TODAY To Be a Better Coach

Many of my podcast episodes discuss topics that you really have to think long and hard about.

Things you have to unpack.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have some easy wins – some thoughts or ideas that you can take and use right now, today.

So in this show, we’re going to focus on 5 simple things you can start doing right now, TODAY, after you listen to the show.

Let’s do this!

Show Outline

Here’s a brief overview of what I covered in this week’s episode:

  • MR’s Monologue: Learning from Failure
  • The simple thing you can do before you start your day (or training sessions) that will improve your focus.
  • One easy thing to do before your sessions to look more organized and prepared.
  • Why monologuing your coaching cues is ineffective – and what to do instead.
  • Not only the simplest, but the cheapest thing you can do TODAY to make a positive impact on your coaching sessions.
  • Why the 1-hour rule for continuing ed is BS, and what you should focus on instead.
  • A bonus agenda item where we talk about the difference between taking your work and yourself seriously.
Resources Mentioned Spread the Love!

Did you enjoy this episode?

Laugh at my mistakes?

Or possibly even LEARN something?

If so, please take the time and share it with ONE PERSON who you think can benefit from it. Thank you!

The post 5 Things You Can Do TODAY To Be a Better Coach appeared first on Robertson Training Systems.

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True Personalized Medicine: A Game-Changer - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 22:33

I’m about to tell you about the beginnings of a paradigm change in nutrition and medicine. It will—eventually—change the way both nutrition and medicine are practiced.

See for all of my lifetime, and likely all of yours, we’ve talked about nutrition in terms of the properties of the food we eat. This food contains these amino acids; it contains this number of fat grams; it has this glycemic index. And our nutritional advice has all been based on that. Stuff like the number and quality of calories, vitamins, amino acids, phytochemicals, protein, fat, and fiber found in the food (or supplement).

We assumed these foods would affect people in the same way. If you ate high-fiber foods, you had better digestion. If you ate steak, you had plenty of B-12. And if you ate high-glycemic processed carbs, your blood sugar would go up a lot and bad stuff would happen.

Simple, right?

Except that it’s not.    

Calories, for example, affect different people differently, as I’m sure you’ve noticed! Some people can eat anything and not gain weight, others feel like they gain an ounce if they so much as look at Haagen-Daz. A calorie may be a calorie in the test tube—but once it hits the individual gut, it’s a very different story.

Which brings me to the glycemic index. And a pretty important discovery.

The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises your blood sugar. It’s determined by giving a fixed quantity of net carbohydrates (50 grams) from any given food to hundreds of thousands of people, measuring their blood sugar, and then averaging the results. It’s based on a ton of testing and measuring and has been validated in many peer review studies.

But recently, scientists have been noticing that individual glycemic response to foods is all over the map, and often very different from what would be predicted from the glycemic index alone. If you and I ate the same 50 gram portion of net carbs from carrots (or any other food), it’s anybody’s guess whether or not the rise in our respective blood sugar would be the same.

Probably, it wouldn’t be. Because studies are beginning to show that the glycemic index of a food is only a so-so predictor of how any given individual will respond to that food.

And here’s where the revolution in personalized medicine begins. Because when you plug an individual’s microbiome data into the equation, your ability to predict a given individual’s blood sugar response to food gets better by about 20%.

In one recent study, scientists asked 327 non-diabetic patients to send in stool samples so they could have their microbiome analyzed. The researchers then plugged that data into the largest microbiome database in the world, in Israel. Now armed with individual microbiome data for the individuals, they started the study

The people in the study wore continuous glucose monitors so were able to measure their blood sugar every five minutes. They kept copious track of every morsel eaten. When the scientists analyzed the food they were eating (for carb content, glycemic index, etc), they found there was around a 40% accuracy in predicting individual glycemic response just from knowing about the food.

But when they plugged in the individual microbiome data, the prediction increased to around 60%.

In other words, it’s not just what you eat that affects your blood sugar—it’s what you eat in combination with your individual microbiome. (And, probably, your genes—and maybe other factors yet to be discovered.)

As Louis Pasteur said on his deathbed, “Look to the host”. In other words, after a lifetime of studying the nature of bacteria, he realized it’s not just the bacteria—it’s how they affect a given individual (host).

And this is the beginning of the paradigm changing revolution.

It’s the beginning of the era of personalized medicine.

In fact, Day Two—the company in Israel that developed the microbiome database and analyzed the results for the researchers in the study I just told you about– offers consumers a version of the microbiome test used in the studies. You send in your sample and they plug the results into their vast database to actually predict which foods you personally will do well with and which ones you should avoid. (I recently took the Day Two microbiome test—and I’ll keep you informed about my results and experience.)

Expect the results to be surprising. Because on any individual’s list there will be a lot of “healthy” foods that just aren’t matches for that particular individual. And there may be some “iffy” foods that their microbiome likes just fine. (The FODMAP diet is a great example of perfectly fine foods being problematic for certain individuals.)

The point, really, is that as we learn more about the things that make us as individuals unique—our genes, our SNPPS, our gut bacteria/microbiome— we will get better and better at predicting individual reactions to foods, supplements, probiotics, and even medicine.

Most docs I know all believe the day will come when they will have a much better idea of what dose of a given drug will be effective in a given individual.

The days of one-size-fits-all (in medicine OR nutrition) are clearly coming to an end.

And—to use the overused term—that is truly a game-changer.

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Your First Meet Cycle — How to Lay the Program's Foundation - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 13:27
Don't be the newbie lifter who falls into the tiger pit traps during your training cycle. That'll only hurt you in the long run — or at least in those first competitions. Don't be afraid to start training too light and save your attempts for the platform. Not enough advice? I've got six other tips, so read on...
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I'm Sick — Should I Train or Stay Home? - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 10:34
Listen: I'm no doctor or rocket scientist, but even I have enough common sense to know that if you're feeling under the weather, you shouldn't be lifting. You should be resting at home. Yeah, you heard me: Go home and stay home. And stay out of your fancy little garage gym, too!
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Part II: Correcting the Lower Back and Hips - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 09:05

A few weeks ago my good friend and author of Day by Day: The Personal Trainer’s Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success, Kevin Mullins, wrote an introduction of sorts to the state of “corrective exercise” in the fitness industry.

To summate: Stop it. Just stop. People still need to train in order to get better.

He followed that up with a treatise on the shoulders. Today, he’s back to cover the lumbar spine and hips.

Grab a cup of coffee.

This is good.

Copyright: kudoh / 123RF Stock Photo

Part II: Correcting the Lower Back and Hips

In the last article – HERE – we looked at how we would address the issues that occur at the shoulders and thoracic spine. We discovered that optimal shoulder function comes from a healthy scapulohumeral rhythm, a mobile thoracic spine and humerus, and strong scapula and core muscles. In the end we identified common problems and proposed unique exercise solutions that can not only correct issues when they arise, but also strengthen the capacity of the joint altogether.

That followed my opening article in which I discussed my stance on the current state of our industry and how we’ve gone overkill in regard to corrective exercises. You can read that HERE.

Which brings us here to the next installment of the series – a similar dive into the lower back and hip joint, an anatomically different, but physiologically similar region of the body.


You’ll discover how lower back pain isn’t simply the lower back, how hip dysfunction or immobility requires more than flexibility and blood flow, and that integrated three-dimensional movements are the key to unlocking the hips and core.

As Shakira sings, “hips don’t lie”.

We are going to dive into the anatomy of the region, the physiology of the segments, and biomechanical implications that must be considered by any professional worth their salt.

We are going to unlock our, and our client’s, potential by adding another five great exercises to the equation too. But first, I want to take a moment to clear the air and amend a point I made in my previous post.

An Amendment on the FMS

In my last article I made a bit of a blunder when I described an issue that I have with the Functional Movement Screen. In my efforts to write a short, and interesting, piece of literature that covers a complex topic I did not effectively communicate my viewpoint on the matter. My claim that “the FMS puts the fear of God into trainers” isn’t quite accurate.

Brett Jones of FMS and I had a call on the matter and enjoyed an outstanding conversation on the FMS, how trainers are using it, and my specific area of concern.

Brett Jones (Note From TG: NEVER make Brett angry. Ever. Just kidding. Brett’s as professional as they come and one of THE best presenters I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. But seriously, don’t feed him past midnight.

He drew to my attention that the FMS, when taught properly and used properly, especially after the level 2 certification, provides trainers a lot of tools to correct and address issues that are present in the screens.

And he is spot on.

In my experience with the Functional Movement Screen, and the literature it publishes, I’ve found tremendous success in identifying, addressing, and correcting flawed patterns. The tools are present for a trainer to succeed.

So, to that end – the FMS itself is not an issue, and in fact, the certifications and resources that Gray (Cook) and Lee (Burton) provide are high on my list of recommended education for trainers. Simply put, much of the responsibility lays on the trainer performing the assessment to ensure they understand what they are screen, why they are doing it, and what it all means regarding the client’s exercise program.

And so, my point is really this:

“The FMS can put the fear of God in trainers who haven’t invested enough time to understand its purpose and nuance. This can be avoided by investing in your education and diving head first into new information.”

Basic Hip and Lower Back Anatomy – Skeletal

When looking at the skeletal anatomy of the spine and hip we find that it is quite simple. There are four major considerations:

  • The thoracic spine – capable of flexion, extension, and rotation. In an ideal world the thoracic spine handles the bulk or rotation and extension of the spine.
  • The lumbar spine – capable of flexion, extension, and rotation. In an ideal world the lumbar spine serves more as a stable base for movement that allows the pelvis to move underneath, and the thoracic spine to move above.
  • The pelvis – capable of anterior tilting (pouring water out of our belly button), posterior tilting (pouring water out of our back) and lateral tilts to either side (pouring water out of our sides).
  • The femurs – capable of internal and external rotation, flexion and extension, as well as abduction and adduction. Each of these movements are necessary to generate the variety of locomotion patterns we execute daily and for the specific movements we perform in training.

The ankle and foot are also capable of impacting health of the hips too, especially in the running community. Issues in these lower joints can cause negative effects to move upwards in the kinetic chain and begin causing negative adaptations in the hip joint or lumbar spine. We will address these correctives in the final part of this series, Hip-Knee-Ankle-Foot, so stay tuned.

For now, simply acknowledging their role in the process is enough.

Under the same principles, the shoulders can also impact the function of the hips. A dysfunction in the shoulders, such as upper cross syndrome, impacts the T-spine, which disrupts the lumbar spine and pelvis. Improving the health of the shoulder joint can help alleviate the poor postures that stress the lumbar spine and allow for a better functioning pelvis that experiences the ranges of tilt patterns because the lack of tightness in the lower spine. The scapula specifically should be considered (and will be in our correctives).

Basic Anatomy of Spine and Hips – Muscular

There are muscles that could be mentioned in this section that run very deep in the body and have very specific function.

The multifidus for example is a muscle that runs along the spine and has an important function; yet, our training practices aren’t exactly targeting it.

It is always good to know these types of muscles, such as the quadratus lumborum, obterus group, gemelli1 , and the aforementioned multifidus. Still though, this article is meant for our day-to-day efforts and most trainers simply don’t need to consider these things

There are some major players that you need to know though:
  • The abdominal wall, specifically the transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, and psoas muscles. These muscles flex, extend, and rotate the spine and some act on the hip as flexors.
  • The gluteus maximum, minimus, and medius. These muscles act on the hip as external rotators and hip extensors.
  • The four muscles of the quadriceps, three muscles of the hamstrings, the tensor fascia latae as well as your abductors and adductors all act on the hip and knee joint. These muscles drive motion of the femur in the hip socket in a variety of ways that are unique to each pattern. In the next section we’ll isolate the specific motions and what muscles are involved for bookkeeping purposes.

The erector spinae, the quadratus lumborum, lattisimus dorsi, and lower trapezius muscles function on the thoracic and lumbar spine from the posterior of the body. These muscles are critical for putting the T-spine in the right place and stabilizing the L-spine during movement.

Basic Movement Physiology

Knowing what is in play is only half of the battle.

Note From TG: Goddamit Kevin. Rule #239 of being a nerd is that whenever the phrase “only half the battle” is used it must always be followed with GOOOO, Joe.

In fact, knowing the structures and muscles involved is irrelevant if we don’t understand how they create movement in the body. To avoid blowing this article out into a thirty-thousand-word book on physiology we are going to have a down and dirty list of functions and the muscles that do the work.

I implore you to read and learn more about the muscular physiology that drives these movements from other resources. Play with things at the gym and try to “feel” what you can. I felt obligated to include this information in an honest effort to create the best free guide to hip correctives you’ll find. What you do with your education from there now rests in your hands.

  • Spinal Flexion – rectus abdominus, psoas major
  • Spinal Extension – quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi,
  • Spinal Rotation or Lateral Flexion – Any of the core muscles mentioned above when functioning unilaterally. If one side of the rectus abdominus fires, then you’ll see lateral flexion and some rotation. Other rotators include the internal and external obliques and serratus anterior.
  • Spinal Stability – transverse abdominus, multifidi, all muscles above fired isometrically
  • Hip Flexion – psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, adductor longus and brevis, gracilis, pectineus. Some fibers of the glute minimus and medius engage here.
  • Hip Extension – glute maximus, biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus. Some fibers of the glute medius engage too.
  • Hip Abduction – the glute maximus, minimus, and medius as well as the tensor fasciae latae. The piriformis functions when the hip is at 90 degrees.
  • Hip Adduction – adductor longus, brevis, magnus, pectinius and gracilis
  • Hip Internal Rotation – tensor fasciae latae, adductor longus, brevis, and magnus, pectineus, sections of glute medius and minimus
  • Hip External Rotation – piriformis, gemellus superior and inferior, obturator internus and externus, glute maximus, minimus, medius, psoas major, sartorius, quadratus femori

Now, I realize that this list reads like the appendix of a textbook, but don’t get lost in the noise. Notice the tremendous amount of overlap. You’ll see that the glutes have multiple functions as do the adductors and the TFL.

This sort of information at least shows us what the major players are going to be.

The Fascial Integration

We must also give attention to the intricate layers of fascia that are found in the core, hip, and thigh. Whether we address it through myofascial release or integrated non-linear movements, we must give it attention.

As noted in the previous edition, fascia is a highly communicative tissue that can arrange our body and its structures at a speed that is closer to the speed of light or sound than it is the speed of our cognition.

Fascia adapts, positively or negatively, to the stress placed upon it. Sit in a chair all day? Well, your fascia is likely bound up and dehydrated. Exist in a world where yoga, integrated movements, and sports are a major focus? Chances are you have healthy fascia.

The utilization of non-linear movements is one of the best ways of to improve fascia.

The Major Issues

The issues that occur at the spine and hips are almost always interconnected. A client could deal with just one or all of them.

Chances are that you’ll deal with all of these issues in some point in your career.

It is important to read and learn each of these as their own issue while also understanding that a client could show up to you with a Royal Flush of dysfunction. Luckily, the correctives we’ll discuss at the end are Swiss army knives – they are great for everyone.

1) Desk Posture

Once again, our lovely desk posture makes an appearance on the list. It is important to acknowledge the impact that upper cross syndrome (UCS) can have on core function, and thus hip function. If someone is slouched over with internally rotated shoulders, a kyphotic thoracic spine, and weak abdominal muscles, then we can very likely ascertain that their hips aren’t going to function optimally.

The lack of thoracic extension, poor function of the core muscles, and the overextension of the erector spinae and trapezius muscles dramatically impact the way someone can function up and down the length of their spine.

Ironically, many of these same flaws are also present in lower cross syndrome (LCS), which involves the muscles of the lumbar spine, abdominal wall, and the hips. Dysfunction caused from sitting all day can make the muscles involved weak (glutes and abdominals) or tight (muscles of the lower back and the hip flexors).

When a client presents these issues, especially together, it can be hard to prescribe any challenging exercises because their entire torso is locked from neck to butt. It is important to spot these issues early and begin implementing a corrective strategy that gets that client on the right path.

Thankfully, we’ll have some exercises below that will be great for both UCS and LCS issues.

2) Excess Anterior Tilt

When the pelvis is stuck in its “tipped forward” position for too long there are issues that can present themselves at rest and during exercise. In fact, continuing to exercise, especially with exercises that promote even more tilt, can cause damage to the vertebral discs.

In this position the erector spinae and QL are pulled tight while the anterior core is left in a lengthened and overstretched state. This sort of weakness in the abdominal wall makes optimal hip function harder to achieve and can lead to injuries at the spine.

Another unfortunate consequence is the overextension of the spine, or flaring of the rib cage, which can create the appearance of a midsection that is holding excess bodyfat. This bulge is simply a result of poor posture and would disappear once the pelvis is set back to neutral.

It should be noted that though that the pelvis should be able to anterior tilt through a full range of motion – it just shouldn’t be stuck that way.

3) Excess Posterior Tilt

The exact opposite of anterior tilt is the posterior version, which is when the pelvis is tilted back too far. This “belt-buckle to nose” condition is often found in individuals with lower cross issues since their abdominal walls are weak and their hip flexors overactive.

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This position pulls the glutes completely in line with the body and flattens out the lumbar spine by ridding of the natural curvature of that region. This is not only “less attractive” due to the appearance of having no ass, but it also dangerous to load someone who can not achieve even low levels of hip extension and hip flexion. When someone is stuck here – they effectively have no idea of how to move their hips.

The corrective strategy here requires specific interventions that improve the awareness of the client as well as the strength of the glutes, hamstrings, abdominal wall, and even latissimus dorsi muscles. Additional efforts can be spent to improve external rotation of the femur and abduction too.

Once again, the hip should be able to posterior tilt during some movements and to help create stability.

4) Sticky Femurs (no, this isn’t technical)

One of my favorite terms for someone lacking the ability to rotate their femurs in their hip sockets (internally or externally) is “sticky femurs.” What I mean by this statement is nothing more than the image of having gum stuck in the joint that prevents optimal movement.

This is a combination of a lack of mobility in the joint due to not experiencing enough movement variation. Very active people could have “sticky” hips if they don’t cross train or experience movements in all three planes. Many “big” lifters struggle with external and internal rotation at the hip.

The other side of the coin is weak external or internal rotators that are incapable of owning the position that we put the femur in with excellent mobility. This is very common in dancers, those who practice yoga, or others who don’t actively strengthen these muscles. Detrained individuals fall into this category too. The mobility is there, but strength at end ranges is not.

5) Poor Coordination

Sometimes the issue is simply getting people to start exercising more and feeling their body move in a variety of ways. Frequent exercise, especially when done with coordination as the end goal, can improve a lot of functions of the hips on its own. It is amazing just how bad things can get when someone is rusty or de-conditioned.

Of course, you’ll need to spend time mobilizing and strengthening the various elements of the hip joint, but you’ll likely see increased output by simply exposing clients to new forms of movement and exercise. Any training program that features unilateral, contralateral, ipsilateral, and bilateral movements in all three planes is ideal.

6) Weak Core

Lastly, poor strength in the core itself can cause serious issues. It can derail any segment of the body since the primary function of the core itself is force transduction – AKA – translate forces from the limbs to each other and to the external environment.

A strong core is capable of remaining stable as the limbs create and accepts force. We must ensure our clients can move through all three planes of motion, with optimal function at the joints, with a variety of loads and challenges, because they possess a strong core. For this reason, most of our programming for the core should emphasize creating, and maintaining, tension.

The Corrective Exercises

Once we dive into the corrective strategies it is important to acknowledge that all these movements can be used to help with each issue. All these movements in some way will impact the ability of the client to succeed in overcoming hip dysfunction.

Each are also excellent in isolation as warmups, isolated correctives, and “fillers” between primary movements (as Tony often discusses). The Sumo deadlift, obviously, is a primary movement that should occur early in a program, especially if we are loading it up.

1. Glute Bridge Pullovers


This simple variation of the traditional glute bridge accomplishes two major things:

  1. Drives all the major benefits of the traditional glute bridge
  2. Incorporates lat tension into the glute bridge – a key point for deadlifts and squats

You can strengthen the lats, glutes and abdominals while also addressing coordination issues. This exercise can help with every problem listed above except for “sticky femurs.”

2. Foot Elevated Glute Bridges


Another glute bridge variation that can dramatically improve the strength of the hip muscles (both flexors and extensors). By elevating the feet, you can increase the range of motion you’ll experience and improve your ability to drive into the bridge.

The key is to manage the lumbar spine and avoid overextension. The sort of exercise is great for strengthening the core, improving pelvic tilt issues, addressing coordination, and improving posture.

3. Cossack Squats


A highly advanced variation of a lateral squat – the Cossack squat asks for an incredible amount of external rotation from the femurs. It targets the muscles that drive abduction and hip flexion and extension while moving through the frontal plane.

You can use your arms to help counterweight your body as you go down and find depth. Ease into the motion and look to improve your depth and mobility over time. This is an advanced exercise that can be regressed to holding onto something like a squat rack to help with weight transfer.

4. Copenhagen Side Planks


For some reason we love naming exercises after places – this side plank variation being no different. However, this is one of the most incredible ways of working the adductor grouping without needing to add external load. You’ll also integrate your internal rotators and the muscles of the rotary core. This sort of combo lends itself to improving strength and coordination.

Your goal should be to squeeze the bottom leg towards the bottom of the bench without rolling over and dumping the tension in the side plank.

Drive yourself to maintain an ideal side plank posture the entire time.

5. Loaded Marching Carries


Loaded carries are a movement pattern all their own. Few things can rival the simple effectiveness of grabbing heavy weights and walking around with great posture. This variation though, greatly improves the function of the hips by incorporation intentional hip flexion through the march.

Focus on driving the knees perfectly vertical, play with your speeds, and always emphasize a tight upper back, strong core, and depression of the scapula.

This exercise addresses every single problem mentioned above.

6. Sumo Stance Deadlifts


The validity of a medicine is always in its dose. Sumo stance deadlifts are one of the best corrective exercises you could program assuming:

  • You or your client are ready for the stress of loaded hinges
  • You choose the appropriate version for where you are in your training routine
  • You have earned the right to be here by exercising pain free with less aggressive modalities.

The reason that the sumo stance is so great is that you are literally working all of the muscles of the thigh, hip, core, and upper back at the same time. The external rotation and abduction of the femurs improves the strength of the muscles involved while also helping clients discover new mobility and neuromuscular coordination. This pattern is especially useful for those who spend most of their days sitting.

7. Loaded Beast to World’s Greatest Hip Opener


An interesting cross between a traditional mobility exercise and one of the loading phases in Animal Flow – this is one of my go to exercises for increasing the dynamic ability of my clients.

This version allows you to go fast or slow depending upon skill set while also loading the hips through a full flexion and extension cycle, improving coordination, and integrating the upper body and lower body together in a mobility movement.

You can use this as a “energy system” filler if you so choose (and your client is ready).

BONUS: 8. Hinge Position Face Pull

A lot of clients need help discovering how to hinge. Those same clients also struggle with maintaining tension in their cores and lats too. This exercise combines an active movement of the shoulders (great for shoulder health) with a passive hip hinge to improve core and hip strength.

Add this into any of your programs as a variation of the face pull that challenges your clients do more than just yank on the cable.

Wrapping it Up

Your ability to improve your client’s function around their hips depends on your ability to address the mobility and stability needs of the segment while also ensuring they are getting enough of a training stimulus to cause change. Understanding the nuances of the anatomy and physiology is a critical step in developing progressive programs that correct issues and cause a training effect.

The final part of the series will discuss the relationship of the hip-knee-and ankle.

The post Part II: Correcting the Lower Back and Hips appeared first on Tony Gentilcore.

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Powerlifting Cues and What They Mean | Deadlift - Thu, 02/21/2019 - 08:51

These are some of our favorite cues to improve technique and performance in the deadlift.

The post Powerlifting Cues and What They Mean | Deadlift appeared first on Juggernaut Training Systems.

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