Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Programming your glutes...

That subject line sounds scientific, right? It's not.

In December I attended a seminar in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted by the NSCA and had the opportunity to hear the "Glute Guy," Bret Contreras present some of his research on strength, activation, hypertrophy and even programming when it comes to training the posterior chain.  

More vertical motion in the split squat.
To train a muscle or muscle group effectively, it starts with a basic understanding of the movement patterns. For example, many people think of using a traditional squat to work their gluteal muscles, though this may not be the best approach. Sure the gluteus maximus, hamstrings and quadriceps will all be taxed during the movement, a greater portion of the loading is on the quadriceps because the squat is a knee-dominant (vertical) movement. You are moving up and down, and most of the motions comes from straightening the knee.

Horizontal motion deadlifting.
A hip dominant movement like the deadlift, hip thrust, glute bridge or kettlebell swing is considered a horizontal movement (regardless of the set up), with the prime mover being the glute max. As the large glute muscles extend the hip, it drives you forwards.

Add in some type of ancillary movement like a monster walk or side lying clamshell to target the smaller external rotators of the hip and you've basically hit all angles in one session. For programming purposes we should choose at least one of all three categories, with the order looking something like this: 

Hip dominant: Deadlift, shoulders elevated hip thrust, kettlebell swing, hip (glute) bridge. 

Knee dominant: Reverse lunge, split squat, step up, squat. 

Ancillary movement: Clamshells, cable hip extension, band walks, monster walks.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Modifications for Success

As a trainer or a client the word modification often gets used and with it comes this stigma of an exercise or movement having less value, or being regressed. That's not always the case as I will explain in a moment. Of course we want to pro-gress, get stronger, faster or simply better at what we're currently doing and modifications can usually get you headed in the right direction without regressing. 

Pain or injury is typically the cause of modifying an exercise, though doing nothing (unless prescribed) will not get you back in action any quicker. A good rule of thumb is "if it hurts, don't do it." However, we can use movements known as graduated ranges to help restore normal motion. For the sake of simplicity and not going down the injury rabbit hole, let's keep the focus on strength and improving performance. 

The example I want to use is the push up. It's one of the best exercises for upper body development and can be done almost anywhere, anytime. The problem people often run into is having the strength to complete these from their toes with good form or placing excess strain on the wrists being in an extended position. Rather than attempting them from your knees, try elevating yourself using a bar to keep the wrists straight in line with your forearm. This is less of a regression (than being on the knees) as it recruits more muscles throughout the torso, glutes, quads and even calves. 


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Running for Weight Loss?

My training clients are often confused by my answer to their question “How do I tone up my midsection?”  I simply tell them to lift more weights.  I think they were expecting me to say run, or show them how to do some exciting new “core” exercise floating around online.  The truth is that you’ll never shrink your waistline or get 6-pack abs without losing body fat first.

The best and most effective way to do that is by having a sound nutrition plan and strength training on a regular basis.  Sure, cardiovascular training can be effective for weight loss, but lifting weights will provide better and more lasting results for body fat loss.  The reason is simply because strength training builds lean muscle to a much greater degree than aerobic conditioning (which does very little).  More lean muscle means a higher metabolic rate, which equals more calories burned throughout the day, even at rest.  When you burn more calories than you consume, the body has no need to store excess calories as body fat. Don't misunderstand my message here, you'll need to consume an adequate amount of macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins) sufficient for your body weight, height and activity level. If you meet this number, any exercise done will put you in a negative calorie balance, which leads to consistent body fat loss over time.

The best exercises are those involving the most muscle groups per movement, otherwise known as compound or multi-joint exercises.  Examples are:  squats, lunges, push-ups, pull ups, dips, leg press, and shoulder press.  If you need help designing a strength training routine and you’re in the Phoenix area, contact me for an initial consult. Otherwise, find a reputable trainer in your area and be sure to consult your physician prior to starting any new exercise routine.

-Boone Ebel


Monday, July 4, 2016

Focus on fundamentals part 1. "Don't be afraid."

Endurance athletes (outside of triathlon) have a tendency to become one dimensional with their training. Even then, those three sports are largely aerobic and quad dominant. Sure, we may become very aerobically fit and from the outside appear that we're in great shape. Truth is, we are merely a one trick pony. Fitness comes in many forms and to be in great shape we must take a number of avenues to get there.

The reason I bring this up is because recently I met a runner that decided to start Crossfit. It's not my first choice, but it will help make my point. She was nervous to do a box jump, which appeared to be about 18 inches off the ground, and so excited when she built up the courage and actually made the jump. Doesn't seem like that big of a deal, right? That is until you see a distance runner try to jump off the ground onto something. There is almost always this second of hesitation. Jumping should be a fundamental skill we all have as an athlete, yet many runners struggle with anything outside of their one-directional steady state activities. 

Single leg box jump.
Over the weekend I was reading a book on plyometrics and went through a section about landing that will hopefully sum up what I'm trying to get across here. A "damped landing" (too much flexion, i.e. too much knee or hip bend) is what happens when we are timid catching ourselves from a fall or running downhill. Instead we want to develop the skills and confidence to respond quickly to overcome a certain workload, deliver a more powerful response and do so in a way that is actually safer, ultimately preventing an injury from occurring. 

There is definitely a mindset we must have when doing plyometrics as it takes just as much mental preparation as it does physical. Becoming an all around better athlete, having the skill set to handle a box jump or something of that nature can actually make us a better runner or skier or hiker. It really is what sport specific training is all about.  

A good trainer can teach you how to complete these exercises, and a great trainer will help you incorporate them into your training plan.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stretch, don't stretch. Static stretching vs. dynamic stretching...

The saga continues. 

At this time, the best available evidence indicates that stretching before or after exercise does not prevent muscle soreness or injury and that there is insufficient evidence to assess the affect on performance.* Though the NSCA suggests that static stretching prior to exercise inhibits athletic performance, and should be done as a separate session. As a fitness professional, I suggest taking your sport or activity into consideration, and think more about movement patterns rather than trying to stretch a specific muscle or group of muscles (i.e. hamstrings) prior to exercise. 

Followed by a light, easy warm up to increase heart rate, blood flow and tissue temperature, try using a handful of mobility or dynamic drills before starting your activity. Simply put, the goal is going to be moving a joint through a range of motion used during the upcoming session or competition.

An example would be a walking high knee (dynamic) verses lying on your back while holding a bent knee against your chest (static) or a bent over toe hold (static). The difference here is statically stretching the hip flexors and extensors (hamstrings, gluteals, etc.) during the lying stretch verses putting those muscles in motion during the walking high knee exercises, which is similar to the prime movers used during hiking, running or jumping.

Walking High Knee - Dynamic

Toe Hold - Static

Supine Bent Knee Hold - Static
*Thacker, et al, 2004

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


I've always emphasized quality exercises over haphazard "workouts" as Pavel describes. Check out this article and videos, as StrongFirst teaches the fundamentals of true strength.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Are you overextended?

I certainly was, and often end up in this position when fatigued or running easy miles. How does it happen, why should you care, and how do we work to correct it? 

Well, when tension is lost in the abdominal muscles, mainly the rectus abdominis, the pelvis tilts forward as if the space between your ribs and hips open up. As your leg swings back it pulls your hips with it. Take a look at this picture of me during a 10K back in 2013 (which I won by the way), as my ribs are starting to flare up and hips are drifting back. It creates this big "C" shape from my shoulders to the back leg. That is what an overextended lumbar spine looks like in action.

So what's the problem? This forward pelvic tilt can create a number of issues when engaging in an activity like running for a long period of time. First off, it adds stress to the lumbar spine and increases the tension on the hamstrings, which can potentially lead to strain on the muscle or tendons. As the hips pull back it causes over-striding to occur. That may lead to shin splits, IT band syndrome or other hip related injuries. If that's not enough to get your attention, then completely ignore this post. 

Okay, what steps can we take to help combat this problem? Add core strength with a purpose. I see articles pop up all the time on this topic with no real focus. If we are trying to break out of over-extension, we need to do anti-extension exercises. See below.

The anti-extension lunge and swiss ball roll out are quite similar, the idea is not to let your back arch as you travel forward and back. 

The plank is an anti-extension classic. From this position (without moving), try pulling your elbows and toes together to increase the intensity and get a sense of pulling your ribs down.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A better way to bridge?

The hip bridge, or supine hip thrust, is a fundamental exercise for developing strength in the hamstrings and hip extensor muscles, especially the glute max. This common exercise can be used to rehab certain injuries, help improve hip extension and even used as an "activation" of specific muscle groups prior to training more advanced movements. 

So is there a better way to bridge? It depends on what you're trying to achieve. For the purpose of training general fitness, any variation will work. The easiest, most basic version is lying on your back with feet flat. This will train all muscle groups, though a good portion of the work is done with the hamstrings. The second variation, with feet elevated, uses the gluteal muscles to a greater degree. As seen in the picture, you'll want to get the feeling of pushing away from the step sending your hips in a diagonal rather than straight up. Finally, the most advanced form of the bridge is the single leg, which works well to once again develop unilateral strength and improve hip extension.

Standard hip bridge with feet flat.

Standard hip bridge using a great deal of hamstrings.

Feet elevated version with toes up.

Push away from the step to increase glute activation.

Single leg option.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Kettlebells for Running?

Yes. Use them. 
Endurance athletes still need to lift.  Strong First - Tucson, AZ

Runners tend to be quad dominant (overuse of the quadriceps) not only in their running, but in numerous exercises like squats, lunges and even hip thrusts. Several fundamental kettlebell exercises emphasize the use of the posterior chain muscles (gluteals, hamstrings, calves and erectors) to a greater degree than standard multi-joint exercises like the squat. This couldn't be more beneficial to runners as these are our prime movers, and often areas that develop weakness and imbalances.  I have had the opportunity to attend a few really good kettlebell courses during my professional development hours and highly recommend learning the basics from a qualified trainer. Kettlebells are an efficient and effective way of developing strength and power with very little time or equipment. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

More on Form

This is a great diagram by Coach Lang demonstrating good mechanics that we should all strive to work on. It's easy to get lazy and let go of proper running form, especially when tired.  A simple self-test would be running by a building with reflective windows and checking in on your stride. If you have the option, ask a friend to video you running and see what you can identify and hopefully correct.

Take a look at the difference in my form around mile 20 following a difficult part of the San Francisco Marathon course to that of the final few hundred yards. In the picture on the left I am heel striking, arms out wide and my torso is turned, though my head is still neutral. On the right my torso is upright without being overextended, arms tucked in tight, hips and knees are facing forward and going through full extension in my stride. It's unrealistic to maintain perfect form when running long distance, though it is something we can make an effort to improve whenever possible. That might mean practicing during warm up drills, during faster efforts or when doing strength exercises.  


Thursday, June 11, 2015

How are you running hills?

How many times have you heard someone say they're going to run hill repeats?  For me its too many to count.  The workout sounds great and all, who doesn't love a good challenge?  Is there a purpose to running repeatedly to exhaustion up and down hills? Perhaps. What if there was a better, more structured way to add hills to your training? 

Take a look at the Lydiard Hill Training methods in the video below and hopefully you will approach those hard workouts with a new perspective. I would highly recommend starting with gentle, steep hill running before progressing to bounding or springing as these are essentially more difficult forms of plyometric exercises. Pictured to the right is a workout I led in Tempe, Arizona. These conditioned distance runners soon found out how challenging a simple hill circuit can be, without overtaxing their aerobic system.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pre-Race Dinner

You've made it this far after weeks and weeks of logging miles, fine tuning your training and finally getting ready for the big day. Perhaps one of the last, and most important decisions you make is figuring out what to eat the night before the race. So what do you eat?

The event is hosting a pre-race dinner that usually consists of white flour pasta, white bread rolls, sugary marinara sauce and most likely soft drinks. I hope you're looking for an insulin spike because that is exactly what you're going to get! What's the problem here? Topping off your glycogen stores with an unnecessary amount of carbs is not worth the cost of a drop in blood sugar levels before the race or gastrointestinal distress during the race. If you've been consuming enough quality carbohydrates during training and the few days prior to the event, you should be ready to go, especially if the race is less than 90-120 minutes.

Instead, go for a well balanced meal consisting of a small, yet healthy amount of fats and protein and a carbohydrate source that you're familiar with eating (rice, sweet potatoes, etc.).  I usually go for something simple like a turkey sandwich or my personal favorite; brown rice sushi from Whole Foods Market. I know what you're thinking, "sushi before a race?" Yes, exactly. Here's why.  The nutrition profile of a Tuna/Avocado Brown Rice Roll has 400 calories, 64 grams of carbohydrates (64%), 17 grams of protein (17%) and 8 grams of fat (19%). It has an almost ideal ratio of macro nutrients, and little fiber to upset our stomach, which takes the guesswork out of meal planning.

For more guidance on meal planning or race day preparation, send your questions to valleytrainerfitness@gmail.com

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lydiard Certification Course

The Lydiard Coaching Course was incredible! I spent the last three days in Boulder learning the Lydiard principles with some amazing people, including our instructor and Olympic marathon great, Lorraine Moller and coach Nobby Hashizume. I am now officially a certified Lydiard Level II running coach!

Arthur Lydiard developed the most sophisticated and widely used training systems for both recreational runners and Olympians alike, which are still being used today. These systems have shown great success over the years with middle and long distance runners looking to peak at their most important races. I look forward to applying these practices myself and for those looking to be coached in the future. It's time to take the guess-work out of marathon training! 

Contact me to get started today - valleytrainerfitness@gmail.com


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Heart Rate Training Continued

While heart rate training can be an essential tool for cardiovascular development, there are a few things to consider.  One day of training may differ from the next, so adjust your effort accordingly.

  • A rise in core body temperature can fluctuate heart rate as much as 5-10%, this is known as "Cardiac Drift." Similar to running in the heat.
  • Males generally have a lower heart rate than females, so don't compare yourself to your co-ed running partner.
  • Altitude - The blood carries less oxygen at higher elevations, so the heart beats faster.
  • Caffeine - Don't be surprised if your heart rate spikes after a huge dose of morning coffee.
  • Age has an unfair disadvantage to all of us when training, simply due to a lower max heart rate.
  • Dehydration causes the blood to become thicker, increasing heart rate.
  • Illness results in higher body temperatures and subsequently higher heart rates.
  • Conditioning helps to lower heart rate, granted you are not working outside of your recommended zones. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Heart Rate Zones

For those of you using heart rate for training...nice work! Below is a little more insight where you should be training for maximum benefit without over-training.

  • Daily Activity Zone - 50 to 60% Max Heart Rate
    • Easiest intensity to improve fitness or beginning a training routine.
  • Fitness Zone - 60 to 70% MHR
    • Increases cardiovascular capacity and using fat for fuel. Beginner long run training.
  • Target Heart Rate Zone - 70 to 80% MHR
    • Most running will take place in this zone, with higher heart rate nearing aerobic threshold. Ideal for building stamina. Marathon race pace.
  • Anaerobic Zone - 80 to 90% MHR
    • Used sparingly to develop anaerobic threshold.
  • Red Line Zone - 90 to 100% MHR
    • Reserved for very fit runners, specifically for racing sprint distances.