Archive for exercise research, tips for trainers, What We Love This Week, workout tips

Sleeping In: Extra ZZZs in the AM Benefit Motor Learning

by Meaghan posted October 3, 2017

As an educator, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately on learning – including morning learning – and I recently came across some interesting findings from the latest sleep research.

We’ve known for quite some time that sleep is important for physical recovery, cognitive function and motor unit firing – but it turns out there’s much more to it than that. In addition to sleeping in 90-minute cycles (read more HERE), it seems that motor learning, especially, is solidified in the hours just prior to waking. Retention of facts, etc. happens in the hours just after falling sleep, but it’s those last couple just prior to waking where sleep is lighter that seem to make or break improvement in motor skills.



What does that mean for us? Well, most trainers are up quite early for work and may be missing out on the most precious sleep for maximizing certain types of training (e.g., Olympic lifting, gymnastics and other technical skills) if they don’t adjust by going to bed earlier. The same holds true for our clients, especially our newer trainees who are still trying to master basic movement patterns.

Bottom line: Make sure you and your clients don’t skimp on sleeping in! If you need to get up early, make sure you go to bed early as well so you don’t miss the most important phase of sleep for motor learning.

You’re Probably Foam Rolling Wrong

by Meaghan posted July 18, 2017

First, has anyone tried this new contoured foam roller? It looks AMAZING…





More importantly, did you know you’re probably foam rolling wrong? I know, I know. For years we said there was no real right or wrong – before a workout, after a workout, on your off days: ALL good. Personally, it always made more sense to me to foam roll before working out to get your body through the necessary ranges of motion in training and prevent compensations that could lead to injury. We didn’t have much research to back this up (or refute it), but it certainly made logical sense to me.

Good news: We actually have some research on foam rolling now. Granted, it’s new and still not abundant by any means. BUT, it’s starting to suggest that the effects of foam rolling are largely neurological in nature – AND extremely short-lived. Not like a few hours short-lived, but a couple of minutes. That is to say, the release of tension we get from foam rolling may already be diminished by the time we even START our workout – especially if we do a full-body foam roll. The mobility effects in the lower body could be gone by the time we finish foam rolling the upper body!

SO, perhaps we need to rethink our strategy when it comes to foam rolling. We seem to see the best LONG-term mobility effects when we follow up our foam rolling with static stretching (PNF seems best), and then it’s up to us to immediately gain stability and strength through our newfound range of motion if we want lasting change in structure and/or pain relief. That said, it may be best to intersperse both foam rolling AND stretching for specific areas strategically throughout a workout rather than doing it only at the beginning or end.

Food for thought!

Warm-up Sets Count! (Another Quick Rant)

by Meaghan posted May 18, 2017

Having been a coach and teacher in the fitness industry for quite some time now (I’ll refrain from stating an exact number of years since it’s starting to make me feel old, but let’s just say it’s been long enough that I need to count toes…), I’ve developed some pet peeves.


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“Hypertrophy” Training Protocols are Kind of a Myth…

by Meaghan posted January 24, 2017


That’s right. Much of what you thought you knew is wrong.

8-12 reps for muscle growth, right? Not necessarily.

30-90s only of rest to recruit more muscle fibers, correct? Nope.

Moderate intensity is best? All wrong.

These are ALL myths.

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Accidentally Made Up But Highly Effective Exercises: KB SLRDL – Rack Position

by Meaghan posted September 22, 2016

So a funny thing happened on the way to the single-leg deadlift…

Let me start from the beginning. I was training a client a few weeks ago and one of the exercises in our first tri-set was a kettlebell single-leg RDL. The kettlebell was held in the hang position, as you normally see with this exercise.

At least that’s more or less what it’s supposed to look like. (Back to this in a second.) The kettlebell is held in the opposite-side hand as the working (stance) leg in order to minimize rotational forces, and the back remains straight as the movement comes from the hip.

So we finished those. A couple could’ve been more controlled and he reached a little too much with the bell but, all-in-all, not bad.

We moved on to our second tri-set, in which one of the exercises was a kettlebell reverse lunge. Same kettlebell, but we changed the position of it. For this movement, I had my client hold the bell in what’s referred to as the “rack” position.

KB reverse lunge


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To Change or Not to Change…Your Warm-up?

by Meaghan posted April 20, 2016

This week, a new class of FPTI students is learning how to use the warm-up component of initial training sessions with potential clients to assess their movement capabilities (more on that HERE), along with some mobility strategies to address what they see.

And while the students (and trainers in general) spend ample practice time conducting dynamic warm-ups with the goals of increasing core and tissue temperature and range of motion, and preparing the neuromuscular system for the workout to come, an often overlooked aspect of warming up is the information it gives us – not only about movement, but also about mental state.

mental fitness

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Training Runners: Strength vs. Endurance

by Meaghan posted February 16, 2016

I ran a version of this post before, but our Advanced Concepts students just finished learning about common lower body injuries so I thought I’d run it again. Among other issues, the topic of strength as pertains to running in order to prevent knee problems came up in their activity. The class did a great job not only planning and coaching a progressive program for a runner, but also articulating the plan so that it made sense to the client (AND her headstrong running coach!).

Here are some of the things we discussed:

First, realize and remember that running is a plyometric activity. Therefore, your joints have the potential to take a beating. As you may or may not know, plyometrics place a lot of load on your connective tissue (cartilage, bone, fascia, tendons, ligaments and the joint capsule), especially if your leg muscles don’t effectively absorb the force of impact. So, the risk of injury is quite high when sufficient levels of strength are not first established, and/or when hip/knee/ankle alignment is off. As the old adage goes, “You can’t run to get in shape; you have to get in shape to run.”

There seems to be a bit of controversy regarding the best way to do this, however. A lot of people think that since you’re doing endurance work when you run, training for muscular endurance (i.e., 2-3 sets of >12 reps with little rest) is the way to go. And for a new trainee, someone with a pre-existing injury, or as part of a periodized program for an endurance athlete, this may be good advice. But your body adapts pretty quickly to low-load training; and if you’re running regularly, chances are you’re probably getting plenty of that already. So why continue to overuse your muscles and joints?

Enhancing muscular endurance really shouldn’t be the main focus of a runner’s program after the first few weeks of training. For most runners, the bigger concern is getting strong enough to avoid injury. You see, your connective tissue adheres to what’s called Wolffe’s Law. Much like a muscle, if you systematically overload connective tissue, it will adapt and grow stronger. But it also has a “physiologic limit.” When you exceed this limit, the structure ruptures.

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Smart Exercise Swaps for the Core

by Meaghan posted February 1, 2016

I feel like at this point I shouldn’t still be talking about the importance of prioritizing neutral spine and core stability over movement in training, but I still see so many examples of the opposite that I guess not everyone is up to speed. For brevity’s sake, I’ll try to simplify the science as much as possible.

First, the sheer structure of our lumbar spine suggests that it’s not meant to move very much. Each of its five vertebrae have only a few degrees of available motion, and between them we have discs that have shown to wear down with excessive movement, especially under load. And there are all those fragile nerves sticking out at every interval!

Additionally, the anatomy of most of our core muscles is unlike that of our prime movers: The fibers aren’t really aligned in a manner that is optimal for large amounts of force production. Rather, they seem better suited to absorb and resist force through isometric action. To no surprise, many of our core muscles also seem to elicit greater EMG activity with isometric exercises than they do with movement-based exercises.

That said, to both prevent spine injuries and optimize performance and appearance, doesn’t it make more sense to train them in the manner for which they seem to be designed? I certainly think so. That may mean simply training the core to keep the spine stable under load through larger lifts like squats and deadlifts that train our bigger, stronger hip extensors to produce movement. Or, for some clients who feel the need to “do abs,” it may mean making smarter exercise selections – and here are two examples:



Instead of: 

Standard Crunches (requiring a flexed lumbar spine)



McGill Curl-ups


As our renowned and leading researcher in spinal biomechanics, Dr. Stuart McGill, points out, your pelvis and lumbar spine stay neutral in this exercise due to the position of the legs while the more mobile thoracic spine moves to lift the chest and shoulders. Moreover, the tactile feedback on the hands in the small of the back tells us if we’re moving from places where we shouldn’t be. And for stubborn clients, the exercise still looks and feels very much like a crunch! Continue reading »

Weightlifting Belts: Good or Bad Idea?

by Meaghan posted January 25, 2016

As our Advanced Concepts students are simultaneously learning about heavy lifting and the importance of core stability as pertains to both preventing and improving spine injuries, the always controversial topic of the use of weightlifting belts was bound to arise.

weight belt

Why the controversy?

Well, for starters, weightlifting belts are widely misused by the general population. As one of our students pointed out, some guys use them for every exercise, regardless of the need for additional spinal support.

curling with belt

And that’s just silly.

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The Importance of Culture and Community in Training

by Meaghan posted November 6, 2015

Today we have another great post from Brent Carter, Starting Strength Coach extraordinaire!  

As I write this, my hip flexor is killing me, my back feels like it was beaten with a baseball bat, and my legs feel like jello. BUT, I have never felt better! This is because I just had the wonderful opportunity to lead a team of lifters at the 2015 Starting Strength Fall Classic to a victorious team win!

Team FPTI  wins!

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