Sunday, March 13, 2016

Strength & Health TV - Episode 28: Training the Posterior Chain.

In this episode I talk about the importance of training the posterior chain (lower back, glutes, hamstrings) for strength and athletic performance and overall health.

I also demonstrate three of my favorite posterior chain exercises that we use on a regular basis at my training center; the glute/ham raise (GHR), reverse hyper, and banded kettlebell swings.

I hope you enjoy this week's episode and be sure to leave any questions or suggestions for future shows in the comments below.

Stay Strong AND Healthy,


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Squats – THE Best Exercise?

I was talking with one of my clients this morning and he said he had read an article online describing the benefits of the squat and that they are one of the best exercises you could do, particularly as you age.

When it comes to strength exercises, I’ve always been partial to the deadlift-but there is nothing that says you can only train one or the other-right?!?! 

In hardcore gyms the barbell back squat is THE cornerstone exercise.  It separates the men from the boys.  Many gym-goers try to claim that Bulgarian split-squats or leg presses are as good as, or better than, the glorious barbell back squat; but those that claim this typically have toothpicks for legs or are just trying to get a new book published-or usually, BOTH.
Ivan Chakarov with a perfect back squat - this legendary photo is of his famous no-no-no (no belt, no wraps, no spotter) 270kg triple.  Photo courtesy of Iron Mind.
The barbell back squat rules hands down.  Please save your “oh my back hurts”, or “squats are bad for your knees” arguments for someone who cares.

The back squat contributes to massive amounts of muscular development in the legs-read the book “Super Squats”- the exercise in the program is the barbell back squat, not the Bulgarian wobble board blindfolded super corrective non-contraindicated iso-lunge.

What if we get outside of the hard core gym?  Is the squat still king, even if it is performed without a barbell on the back?

As we age I believe the squat is a great choice to maintain leg strength and hip, knee and ankle joint mobility.  In fact, a full-range-of-motion body-weight squat is an incredibly healthy exercise.  If you can sit on your calves with your feet completely flat (this is imperative-heels DOWN!) you are working your hips and knees through their greatest possible range of motion while providing for a tremendous stretch to the low back and Achilles tendons.

We are born with the ability to squat all the way down with flat feet-just look at any toddler they will often squat down and sit on their calves as they play.  Unfortunately due to a combination of sitting in desks from pre-school on, and the lack of developmental physical education programs, this ability is lost over the years. 
A popular picture of a toddler with details of a perfect squat that circulated the internet and social media sites a while back.
I was talking with one of my instructors, Chen Zhe, at the Shaolin Institue where I study Taiji and he told me that growing up in China he often ate while sitting in a full squat position and that it was a position of rest as well.
Snake Creeps Down, this is one of my favorite Taiji movements. This beautiful posture is a fantastic display of  hip, ankle and knee mobility as well as strong legs.  Photo of Dong Zeng Chen courteousy of
This makes a lot of sense to me.  Typically when we rest we sit on a chair, when we do this we can increase the compressive loading on our spines by up to 40% (according to an article I read a while back)!  This coupled with the typically weak core musculature most American adults display is a recipe for major low back pain.  Gee, can you think of anyone you know who suffers from low back pain?  However, if we possessed the ability to rest in a full squat position not only would we contribute to exceptional mobility in the hip, knee and ankles; we would also stretch out the lower back and Achilles tendons.  Say goodbye to back pain!

Granted the barbell version may not be advisable for everyone, but deep, full range of motion, flat-foot body-weight squats would be a good idea to do on a regular basis.  If you can’t perform this movement, then practice.  Strong, healthy legs are a good idea for everyone, particularly as we age.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


Strength vs. Skill

One of the biggest arguments I see with athletes, particularly fighters and grapplers, is "strength vs. skill".

This argument is absolutely ridiculous to me, typically because people act like you are only allowed to possess one OR the other.

Why not have both?

I've heard so many fighters or fight coaches say that a fighter possessing excellent technique will beat a stronger but less skilled fighter.  This may be true, however what about when the exceptionally skilled fighter fights someone who possesses a greater degree of strength and equal technique?  I'm putting my money on the strong, skilled guy personally.

My good friend Brian, a guy who knows his way around an MMA gym AND a squat rack, made an excellent point to me one day when we were catching a workout at my gym, "Scott, if strength wasn't important to fighters why are so damn many UFC fighters failing their steroid tests?"  He's right, it's probably not to look good at weigh-ins.

I have been doing strength & conditioning work for a very good grappler, Jason, who is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I saw Jason compete in November, 2011 at Grappler's Quest in Dalton, GA.   In the no-gi division Jason competed against a grappler who out-weighed him by 35 lbs--and won!  Jason took first in the no-gi division.  Later, in the gi division, Jason competed against the same guy and lost.  This guy won the gi division and Jason took 3rd.

After the tournament I asked Jason what happened, how did he lose to a guy he beat in the no-gi division?  Jason said the guy got a hold of his gi, pulled him in and was just too damn strong to do anything with.  

Consequently Jason dropped from about 215-220 lbs all the way down to 182 lbs for the 2012 Pan-Ams!

Jason Gaskill at the 2012 Pan-Ams!
Obviously, Jason's skill allowed him to beat this athlete in the no-gi division, but the other guy's strength was a huge factor in the gi division.  Jason started adding in a steady diet of strength and power training to his grappling prep and his teammates noticed real quick. 

The strength vs. skill argument is old and tired.  If you are a grappler, fighter or any sport athlete for that matter, it would do you a tremendous amount of good to make sure strength and power training were part of your preparation program.  Just make sure it is not at the expense of your sport-specific work and you'll be fine.

Stay Strong and Healthy!