Chalk Talk #8 – Speed Deadlifts & RDL

In a recent post by my Australian SOF buddy, Shaun Trainor, he reminded me that I recommended he do speed deadlifts and RDL’s while he was deployed in lieu of heavy deadlifts. In a program or circumstance that can’t tolerate the systemic depression or local soreness associated with heavy deadlifts, using speed deadlifts with posterior chain work will still get explosive work with the posterior chain. When Shaun returned home, he was able to jump back up to his previous deadlift numbers fairly quick.

Speed deadlifts can be alternated every week with heavy deadlifts, as they are in a few of my Texas Method templates, or they can be done every week to maintain some deadlift work without getting beat down. Not to mention you can accumulate some decent volume with doubles or triples on deadlift to develop a jacked back.

If you watch until the end of the video, you’ll see an explanation of NOT leaning back at the top of a deadlift. It’s a common fault that is incredibly injurious, looks ugly, and makes someone look inexperienced with anatomy or lifting. Simply lift the chest to ensure a neutral spine; don’t lean back.

Chalk Talk #7 – QLGM

Low back pain? Sacro-iliac problems? Chances are you have jacked up muscles as opposed to disc or S/I joint issues. Enter QLGM into your vernacular, and it stands for quadratus lumborum and glute medius. These are the muscles you should focus on if you have low back, sacral, and rear pelvic pain.

The quadratus lumborum (kwa-DRAY-tus lum-BOR-um) connects from the bottom rib and sides of the vertebrae (specifically the transverse processes) to the top of the pelvis on both sides. This muscles laterally flexes the trunk, but it mostly functions as a stabilizer and supports the entire upper body. Since it attaches on the rim of the pelvis, tension in the QL will pull up on the pelvis. The more tension there is on the pelvis or sacrum, the more pain there can be. The video shows how to do some soft tissue work on the QL to relieve tension.

The glute medius attaches from the outside rim of the pelvis to upper thigh bone (specifically the greater trochanter of the femur). When you take a step with your right foot, the left glute medius holds the pelvis in place by supporting the entire body weight. Because of the leverage, it handles a force around twice body weight, so it’s working really hard just when you’re walking. Things like walking with a load, running, or lifting can tighten it up…so everything we do. The video shows how to identify the GM as well as the glute minimus (which has similar function to the GM) and some soft tissue work you can do to address it.

Flexible Training Programs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis article is written by my good friend Shaun Trainor, owner and operator of Project Warrior in Fairy Meadow, New South Wales, Australia. Shaun spent 12 years in the Australian military with the last half of it in 2nd Commando Regiment, a special operations unit. 

The subject of Justin’s recent post (Category Programming) on training around an erratic schedule is one that is near and dear to my heart. One of the things that used to frustrate me when I was trying to design a training program was that almost everything out there has a weekly structure. Obviously that makes sense for the majority of people, because they have a Monday-to-Friday job, but it makes it difficult for those of us who work in the military, law enforcement, or emergency services.

I spent 12 years in the Australian military; the last 6 in SOF. Obviously this was a job that required a high level of physical preparedness, but it was also a job that at times made it extremely difficult to train effectively. On any given day I was doing anything from hanging around the office, drinking coffee, to climbing a caving ladder up the side of a ship with 90lbs of gear strapped to me.

The problem
Say I’m running a basic Texas Method and Friday is my squat intensity day. But what happens if I spent Thurday night in an exercise that involved clearing a 30 story office building until 4AM? How do you think my squats are going to go?

The obvious answer is that I take the session off, or just go really light, and it’s no big deal. Everybody has life interfere with their training. However not everybody works an unpredictable schedule that may involve intense physical demands for a week or two on end. There is only so much that this can happen before the whole effect of the program starts to be destroyed.

Military personnel – especially those deployed in combat roles – as well as Police, Fire & Rescue, and paramedics can all been dicked around so much as to make a weekly program almost unworkable. This was certainly my experience.

Weekly Template
After spending quite some time struggling to implement a normal strength training program as an operator, I then tried a template solution. I determined what sessions I wanted to do in a standard week, and then shuffled them around week to week to fit what was going on. For example, you might decide that you were going to squat twice, deadlift once, press once and bench once. You can then decide what you’re going to do each day, depending on what’s going on with work/life.

This worked a little better than trying to stick to a weekly program, but I didn’t love it. Depending on how busy my week was, I’d often get behind my allocated sessions. If the disruption last more than a few days – as it often would – then the template didn’t work very well.

Rotation system
After that I tried a much more basic approach. I realised that any sort of weekly program wasn’t going to work for me when my job was busy, or when I was deployed. There’s too many variables when you’re overseas, and you often don’t know about a mission until a day before. Detailed planning in these sort of situations doesn’t work very well.

I tried a much more basic solution: a Rotation System.

  1. Squat
  2. Deadlift
  3. Press

Each training session, I would hit one of the lifts. The next session, whenever that was, I would move on to the next lift in the order. The order is designed so that you can still hit the sessions back to back if you’re lucky enough to get three days in a row to train.

No matter how much (or little) you’re getting to train, your work is balanced between the main lifts.

Sporting the Project Warrior gym shirt

Sporting the Project Warrior gym shirt

Rep Scheme 
The rep scheme for the day is down to you, but considering this is a very basic program I usually run a 3×5 or 5×5. There isn’t a great need for complex rep schemes because this isn’t a long-term solution; it’s just something that’s designed to keep you ticking when work is sucking donkey dick. If you want some higher intensity you could work up to a heavy triple then drop down and hit a 3×5.

Accessory Work
Depending on how physically demanding your last few days have been, you can either add in some assistance work or simply leave it there. If you’re beat up and tired, then at least you got some squats in. If it’s been an easy day or two, then you might throw in 1-2 accessory exercises. Keep the total number of sets at six or under for your accessories. The whole reason you’re doing this type of skeleton program is because training isn’t your main focus at the moment. If you’re overseas or on shift for Law Enforcement, then you don’t want to cripple yourself with assistance exercises because you don’t know what the coming days will bring.

Conditioning is going to be driven by context. Some people will be able to let this slide for a few weeks without much hassle, others will need to keep up regular conditioning as well as their lifting. I fall more into the former catagory, but if you are in the latter then at least keep it either very short or very long. Either do something like a single Tabata or a few Prowler sprints, or go for a long, easy run. Don’t get sucked into doing the 10-30min ‘mess you up’ CrossFit type workouts.

Bench Press
I’m sure there are people who are already agitated about the lack of bench in the rotation. If you want to keep benching during this, you have two options. You can alternate press days with bench days, so that every second time you get to a press day you bench press instead. That’s what I personally did. The other option is to include it after you press. If you take this option then I wouldn’t press more than a 3×5.

Whether or not you deadlift is going to depend on your specific situation. If you’re overseas and you might have jobs coming up, or if you’re wearing armour all day – on a CQB course, for example – then you probably don’t want to pull heavy. A couple of times I went out on missions with sore legs. It sucked a little bit, but it wasn’t terrible. I only did it once with bad DOMS in my lower back, and it was not a fun night. Trying to clear compounds in Helmand with my back blowing up wasn’t a good idea. However if you don’t need the same level of readiness at a moment’s notice, then there isn’t a problem deadlifting as usual.

If you don’t want to do heavy deads then you’ll need some other sort of posterior-chain exercise. RDLs and good mornings are an obvious choice. While power cleans aren’t a bad option you’ll probably need to still do RDLs as well.

Speed and banded deadlifts work well to keep your numbers up without having to pull heavy weights. If you’re going to do speed deads, avoid the temptation to start putting more and more weight on the bar until suddenly it’s a heavy triple.

I spent another six months in Afghanistan last year, and on Justin’s advice the majority of my deadlift days consisted of RDL 5×6, followed by 3×15 banded good mornings. It let me bring up my posterior-chain without the sort of fatigue that deadlifts can bring. When I got back to Australia my deadlift bounced back to where it was before pretty easily.

Short-term Solution
Is a rotation system the perfect training program? Absolutely not. It’s designed to be used when work or life prevents you from using something better. It was my answer to the unpredictable and arduous nature of my profession. It should keep you ticking over, and split your work between the main lifts in a simple to program fashion.

Since my last trip I’ve retired from active duty and opened my own S&C facility (Project Warrior). I use a variation of this with any of our new lifters that we get who can’t, for whatever reason, commit to a weekly program.

Chalk Talk #5 – Addressing Knee Pain

Knee pain is common in lifting, and it’s nearly 100% caused from a) poor mechanics and b) some sort of hip dysfunction. This Chalk Talk doesn’t get into lifting or movement mechanics, but instead addresses some palliative treatment and soft tissue work you can do to alleviate some of the pain.

Generally speaking, knee pain should tell you to work on hip mobility, especially with the rectus femoris. This muscle crosses both the hip and the knee, so if it’s tight, it’ll tug on it’s lower attachment near the knee (i.e. all of the quadriceps flow into a common tendon that attaches to the patella, which then attaches to the tibial tuberosity) and cause pain in the center of the knee, usually under the knee cap.

One thing we can do to try and alleviate tension is soft tissue work on the rectus femoris itself, and then on some of the other quad muscles.

Note that this precision soft tissue work works well when it occurs before stretching; it’s difficult to stretch a muscle that hasn’t had tension worked out of it. I like to follow this soft tissue work with the couch stretch, like in this video.

Lessons From McGill

Dr. McGill also has an admirable mustache

Dr. McGill also has an admirable mustache

Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor of spine biomechanics in the kinesiology department at the University of Waterloo and is renown as being an expert on back health. According to his academic profile, his department is concerned with (my paraphrasing) a) understand how the low back functions, b) understand how it gets injured, and c) create prehab and rehab methods based on their findings.

McGill is an expert with a variety of textbooks used in academia as well as folks in the fitness or strength and conditioning fields. This .pdf titled “Designing Back Exercise: from Rehabilitation to Enhancing Performance” from his website provides a collection of useful information. Points of emphasis in the article include:

- A proper history taking of a client
- Analyzing a client’s movement and determining faults (pg 4-5)
- A sequence of events for rehab (pg 6)
- The “big 3″ stabilization exercises (pg 7)
- And developing athletic ability (pg 9)

McGill’s work is logical, easy, and effective. It has made me consider the importance of proper spinal function and positioning in lifting and athletics, and I’ve implemented them in my coaching in barbell mechanics. You’ve probably seen recent videos where I keep referring to a “strong, stable trunk” with an emphasis on “contracting the lower abs”, and I now teach it as a fundamental concept for barbell training.

Proper spinal mechanics in all movements is vital in order to prevent unnecessary injuries. I pay close attention to how trainees and athletes move, sit, stand, and lift, but in the past I have not put as much of a focus on “active spinal awareness”, which is basically making a concerted effort to align the trunk properly.

What does this mean for lifters? CrossFitters? Strength and conditioning athletes? It means that by utilizing contraction in the lower abs during lifts, we can maintain a neutral relationship between the trunk and the pelvis. If that relationship changes via too much lumbar extension or flexion, anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, or other instability, then it can at best not transmit force effectively and at worst result in an injury. It also means using spinal stabilization exercises in order to create endurance and habit for good spinal position.

Dr. McGill’s “big three” exercises can train help train this endurance and habit. In this video, he talks about four total exercises — the curl up variation, the bird dog, the side plank, and a moving plank on a ball. I know what you’re thinking: it looks like silly conventional fitness crap. These exercises aren’t supposed to build back strength, but instead they increase endurance in the back’s postural muscles so they can maintain a good, neutral position. The key to these movements is proper position, then endurance. They also teach the “skill”, or motor program, of what a correct spinal position is. Most people are in a perpetual state of instability with their spine; sitting in flexion or standing in hyperlordosis, for example. Ideally the trainee would work on their posture throughout the day in congruence with these prehab/rehab exercises, and they would improve their spine’s default position.

A for effort, but this spinal position is problematic.

A for effort, but this spinal position is problematic.

Given the increasing participants we have in lifting, CrossFit, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and other related activities, there will always be injuries, particularly in the lower back and sacral area. Usually these injuries can be prevented with better awareness, coaching, and physical preparedness. By using the “big three” exercises in a warm-up and/or cool-down in training, trainees can be taught what is “correct” and self-diagnose what is “wrong”. Compliment it with improved coaching of the barbell lifts and it’s possible to prevent injuries, or at least the severity.

Give these movements a try in your training. Don’t expect them to have immediate impact, but look for long-term improvement. Start being self aware of what your trunk and pelvis are doing throughout the day, especially when lifting.