The Spirit of Competition – God’s Greatness

10 Mar

Today’s sermon at the Austin Stone Community Church really rocked me today.  The pastor spoke of our inherent desire as humans to proclaim greatness.  He said that we are designed to proclaim greatness, but in the midst of our brokenness have started attempting to proclaim ourselves, rather than the greatness that is God.  We fail miserably in comparison to God’s greatness.

The pastor told a story of his son approaching him and saying “Should I not try in little league anymore, if I should be focused on serving others?  Should I just let the other team win?”  The pastor’s response was “Of course not!”  Then what he said next really just hit me, in a way I had never totally understood.  He told his son that he should always “run the bases as hard as he can, and perform his best.”  I always compete as hard as I can, but when I compete, my goal is to be greatER than someone/something else.  My goal is usually to win.  At least this HAS been my goal for most of what I’ve competed for.

As people one of the biggest fears we have in competition is in performing our best.  It creates great vulnerability.  The reason being, that performing your best will not always mean that you are the greatest at anything.  However in performing your best, you’re able to provide the world a glimpse into God’s greatness.  You are able to proclaim greatness the way it was intended.


Progress and Results – A Case Study

21 Oct

A couple of months ago I was approached by Doug Clements to do some extra personal training for him.  We met to discuss his goals for the 5-6 weeks of personal training.  He stated he wanted to get stronger, more explosive, better at the olympic lifts, and better at conditioning under the 12 minute range.  I was ready and excited to take on the challenge.

I developed a program and set some benchmarks to see if we could make some improvements over the 5 week training cycle.  Along the way, I was extremely excited to see that Doug was a dedicated and hard working athlete.  He did anything I asked of him.  His warmups always started with bear crawls and band walks. Each session he arrived at the gym threw the band around his feet and got to walking, he knew the drill.  He did his homework and slowed down when asked to improve his movement patterns.

My Intro to Breathing

My all knowing older brother had told me I should start using breathing drills with my personal training clients.  I originally scoffed at the idea, thinking that 30 breaths a day could do nothing to improve the strength and endurance of my athletes.  As is the usual, I was completely wrong. I finally decided to start using some breathing drills on both myself and Doug.  During the 2nd training session I had the opportunity to take some before pictures and then continued to take pictures each week.  Doug had an alignment issue with one of his left ribs flaring out considerably, as well as forward head posture, lordosis (anterior pelvic tilt/extreme lumbar curve), and kyphosis (round thoracic spine).  I wanted see if the breathing drills would improve posture, lumbar alignment, rib alignment, performance etc.

The next few weeks we continued to work and I would regularly take pictures and make sure that Doug was doing his breathing exercises.  After a week I had noticed improvement and both Alex Janss and myself thought it would be a great case study for the breathing drills.  Needless to say, I’m convinced of the voodoo magic that is breathing drills.  The exercises just work.  They’re simple and effective tools that strength and conditioning coaches can use to teach proper breathing patterns which in turn creates monsters of athletes.  The numbers Doug achieved are exciting. Just think of the potential other athletes may have if they would just take the time to learn to breathe.

Before and After Photos

In this set of photos you can see the head forward head posture, excessive kyphosis, anterior pelvic tilt which has created excessive lordosis.  However, in the after you see that the natural curvature of the neck is returning as the head is coming back into alignment  as well as less lordosis and kyphosis.  It also looks as though his pelvis is coming back into alignment.

This set of photos shows a couple of cool things.  First, this is the photo that shows his flared left rib.  The before photo has the rib flaring a lot more, and the after photo does show substantial improvement.  You can also see the pronation of his feet.  In the before photo he is carrying the weight towards the inside of his photo, while in the after photo it looks as if the weight is closer to the outside of the foot (glutes activating).

Again, as stated above, the photo on the left shows some inward rolling of the feet, while it seems that the after photo shows more pronation of the foot.

I was pretty excited about the results shown in the photos.  Immediately, I noticed his lumbar curvature in the before photo taken from the back.  The right curve of the lumbar spine is almost gone in the after photo.  Both of these photos show some firing of the paraspinals.  I’d like to note that both of these photos were taken after working out.


During our training sessions, Doug achieved some pretty awesome PR’s which I think deserve their fair share of recognition considering their awesome-ness and Doug’s hard work.

Back Squat – Before: 245, After 235×5

Helen – Before: 9:50, During 9:23 (post 12 minutes of Weighted Step-ups)

Fran – Before 7:ish at 75lbs, During 5:38 at 95lbs

Clean – 15lb PR at 200lb

Power Clean – 20lb PR at 185lb

Snatch – 10lb PR at 145lb – (156lb bodyweight)

Bodyweight – 150lbs starting, 156lbs ending

The Tests

When Doug told me everything he wanted to gain, I was excited because I knew he’d put in the work.  I used four different tests to measure improvement.  We used a standing triple broad jump, a vertical jump, max strict chin-ups, and an old CF workout (4 HSPU, 8 C&J, 12 Burpees).  I used these tests because I believed the tested the goals he strived to achieve.  Doug wanted more explosive power and a standing triple broad jump and vertical jump would test just that.  He wanted to get better at CF type workouts so I put one in that would test his ability to both endure and one that could be improved by improving his strength.  I also chose max strict chin-ups because I believe that gaining strength can be displayed in bodyweight movements.  The results were pretty awesome.

Triple Broad Jump – Initial (86″, 94″, 81″) Final (104″, 93″, 97″) = + 33″

Vertical Jump – Initial (22″) Final (25″) = + 3″

Chin-ups – Initial (15 at 150lbs bodyweight) Final (17 at 156lbs bodyweight) = + 2 Chin-ups

CF workout (3 rounds: 4 HSPU, 8 C&J (115lbs), 12 burpees) – Initial (8:59 with Max HR at 188) Final (6:40 with Max HR at 184) = – 2:19 improvement.  *just a note that it took him about the same time 3:30 to get his HR back under 130 each of these workouts)

The improvements for Doug were awesome.  I was able to work with him twice a week and his energy got me excited to get after my training as well.  I attribute a lot of his success to his work ethic and focus.  Keep breathing!

The Simple Things – Learn to Breathe

10 Oct

It is always amazing to find how much the little things help when coaching people.  I was chatting with a client of mine during a training session and he mentioned that his golf instructor used the word GAS to remind his golfers of the simple cues “grip, alignment and stance”.  While the cues are amazingly simple they are also amazingly effective.

Today, I was training a good friend of mine and for the past 3 weeks we have been working on her breathing patterns (a post on breathing drills and the phenomenal results they produce is soon to follow).  I told the athlete that she should take a short belly breath before pressing a kettlebell and squatting a barbell.  Essentially I was telling her to tighten her core by getting 360 expansion of her abdomen by inhaling and pressurizing her abdomen with air.  When I gave her the cue she said she felt weak, and I saw she looked weak.  Taking a belly breath to her meant sucking in the stomach, and for lifting, this isn’t a strong position.  Funny thing was that I had just taken another athlete of mine through the same cue and she sucked in her stomach as well.  We moved back to her back squats and she hit 20lbs shy of her PR for 5 reps without doing any sort of squatting over the past month.  She even stated the movement felt easier.

This gets me back full circle to GAS.  Grip, alignment and stance may not seem like much, but they can pull a golfer back out from a slump.  How does this apply to an athlete in the weight room or on the field of play?  Get simple and see big gains.  It’s really that easy.

I’m working on a breathing post based on some drills I’ve been playing with that my brother pushed me towards.  After learning of the drills through my brother, I’ve implemented them in my athletes training programs and have seen phenomenal gains.  One athlete in particular has seen major changes to his pelvic alignment and postural shift.  I’m excited to share the information, and hope you find belly breathing as exciting as I do!

The Hip Hinge

19 Sep

I read a blog post three years ago from a great friend of mine.  The blog was about coaching and training, but the biggest takeaway I had was his judgment of gyms based on their clientele’s ability to demonstrate a proper squat.  I agreed with the statement, and took it as a challenge to get everyone I came in contact with to demonstrate proper mechanics in the movement.  It was after failing many times that I finally began to reformulate my opinion on the matter.  I no longer believe that the squat is king.  While I think there is a lot of merit to having each one of your athletes squatting with perfect mechanics, I find greater achievement elsewhere.

For myself and my clients/athletes I find that there are many poorly trained movement patterns.  Just in the gross observational data I’ve gathered, I’ve found that the movement people have the most trouble with is the most basic that I teach, the hip hinge.  I find the hip hinge to be a foundational movement because it initiates such things as the swing and squat and also is the most powerful mover in the human body.

The movement is important enough that it is one of the foundational movements we teach at G7 Athletics.  The reason being is that in transfers so much into everything that we do.  We cannot ask an athlete to deadlift, unless he or she can show how to hinge or bend at the hip.  We can’t have an athlete to squat until they know how to properly push the butt back, not tilt the pelvis (lift the butt) in a sort of 6th street dance move.  We won’t have athletes performing olympic lifts in our olympic lifting club, unless they can demonstrate a proper hinge at the hip.  The hips are such powerful movers that lacking the proper movement pattern and mobility causes problems both up and down stream.

So then the question becomes how does one correctly get an athlete to hip hinge.  Dan John does a great job explaining the hip hinge and a great tool for those coaches that just can’t seem to get their athletes in the correct position in this video.  The position is simple, yet entirely complex to have clients and athletes understand.  Once I find an athlete able to complete this movement with little to no trouble, I’ll advance them to the goat belly swing.  The goat belly swing is a great exercise for weighting the hip hinge before advancing to barbell movements.  I also find that a sandbag good morning puts the athlete in a similar position.  From here, you can begin to perform partial deadlifts, slowly moving the athlete to the floor.  The easiest way I’ve found to do this is with dumbbells and boxes at the athletes side.  It allows for a better hinging of the hip because the lats can be pulled in tight allowing for the arms to fall straight down the side of the athletes legs as they continue to learn the deadlift position.

My thinking continues to evolve, and I believe that the hip hinge is paramount to an athlete’s success.  I’m a big believer in teaching an athlete to move around the hip, but in writing this post, I began to develop different ideas.  Before learning how to move around the hip, one should know how to hold their body in an activated and static position.  The plank it seems would be king, not only for it’s ability to activate the entire body, but because most movements I teach at least are bending, twisting, pulling and pushing planks.  I’ll leave that post for another day.  Until then, activate those glutes and hammies and hinge away.  Don’t let others train bad movement.

Systematic Learning

17 Sep

For the past 6-12 months my brother and I have been discussing progressions and regressions.  As always, when my brother first introduced me to the concept I met him with skepticism.  I nodded my head in affirmation but left the conversation scratching my head in confusion.  You must understand that my older brother has a lot of knowledge and information, most of the time it all goes over my head, then he tells me about 10 more times and I finally get it.

It took many more conversations and practice and then I began to understand the importance of progression and regression in the training setting.  I think Dan John calls this systematic education/learning in one of his articles.  The concept is simple.  Imagine posing an algebra equation to a person who has never learned numbers.  You ask what “x” equals in ” 2x= 4″, and you’d get a blank stare.  A person who has not learned numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, will not be able to do algebra.  Learning happens systematically.


Then how does this apply to the weight room?  Well, you must have systematic education, you must have progression and regression.  The classroom, that is the group fitness classes that many people coach, is a classroom filled with K through 12th graders.  Most gyms have an “on-ramp” program popularized by Robb Wolf, which I think is a great way to get people acclimated with training.  At G7 Athletics we have our Foundations class in which we teach people how to move to allow them to develop better movement patterns over the course of their stay in the class.  I think our greatest addition has been my brother’s implementation of progression and regression for each athlete.

Before an athlete can deadlift, they must know how to hip hinge.  Before an athlete squats, they must demonstrate the ability to sit and stand.  Before an athlete hangs from a bar or does a pushup, they must be able to hold static positions.  Most of the athletes won’t begin any sort of explosive opening of the hip, such as with a russian swing, until they can demonstrate the ability to perform a slower more controlled hip hinge and goat belly swing.

The idea can be captured in the saying that one must “learn to crawl before they walk, and walk before they run.”  Systematic education and learning will equal a better foundation for each athlete.  Stay tuned for my next blog post in which I’ll discuss what foundational movement I think is most important in the development of your everyday client.

11 years

11 Sep

11 years ago today I was getting dressed for school when the Today show switched to a live broadcast.  I watched the show entirely unaware as to the magnitude of the event I was watching live.  I didn’t know it was a moment I’d remember forever.  I saw the second plane hit live and heard the voice of terror in the anchors voices.  I went to school that morning and watched the news broadcast as the towers fell.  I still didn’t understand.  I was young and ignorant; I’m still young and ignorant.  I’ll never entirely understand the horror of that day, but I’ll always remember where I was.

Life and everything a part of it is a blessing.  Today I will appreciate that which has been given to me.  I will remember those who have fallen.

Find your Fun

7 Sep

I’ve been training with my friends Gilbert and Shane a lot more recently.  The last time we were in the gym, a client told us that he would pay for gym membership alone just to hear us joke with each other in the art of “one-uppedness”.  For those that don’t know what I’m talking about it’s when too many dudes are in the same room and continue joking with each other stating that one will do pullups with one hand, while the other states he will back squat two houses.  Irrelevant to the rest of the post I thought it was interesting.  The client was referring to the amount of fun we have while training.  We joke when jokes are necessary and we train when it’s time to train.

The point is to say that having fun while training is entirely relevant.  I think for many people, they quit exercising because it’s not fun.  This is why walking on the treadmill for hours, or showing up to the gym without a program becomes difficult to maintain and stay consistent with, for many people it’s just not fun.  It becomes a chore; it becomes work.  I’m not referring to the #dowork that I’ll see on twitter, but I’m referring to the pounding your head against a brick wall type of monotonous work.  The kind of training or exercise that has you coming up with any excuse to skip out on the gym.

This doesn’t mean that training or exercise won’t be tough, but it should be something that is entirely enjoyable and something that can be more easily maintained.  Training becomes “play”, a chance for you to be a kid again, socialize with others and get fit while doing it.  I’ve found for myself, this type of training leaves me eager to get to the gym.  I still perform the same amount of work as I used to, but I enjoy it a lot more because I am able to hang out with friends and have fun.  We still compete, and we still aim for improvement, but we don’t sweat the small things.  My three minutes of rest between deadlift sets become a time for me to engage in conversation and shoot the breeze with others rather than aimlessly looking at the clock counting the seconds until I rip the bar from the floor.  My lifts become stronger, my recovery is faster and my lifting enjoyment increases ten-fold.

I’m going to leave you with some tips to increase the fun factor in your workouts:

  • Grab a buddy or whole group of friends and lift.  (It’s why group training works)
  • Encourage others.
  • Go outside and train; it’s amazing what 30 minutes of sun will do to a mood (Vitamin D works)
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff, bad workouts happen
  • Use small challenges to keep you excited (Max Chin-ups, Vertical Jump, Calories in a minute *airdyne and rower)
  • Treat the gym as a happy haven and leave your mood at the door
  • Be present
  • Remember always that training is a blessing

Lift on and have fun.