Stop poking your bum out like an Insta Fitness Celeb

A lot of the time, when I have a new client come into the gym to run through a movement assessment, I see a lot of anterior pelvic tilt. It’s pretty common in women. However, what I also find is that while standing, relaxed a new client might have good neutral posture but as soon as I ask them to squat, they go straight into APT (anterior pelvic tilt) to initiate the lift.

I’m not sure if the rise of the Insta Fitness Celebrity has any effect on this or whether it was just a crappy cue like “squat like you’re sitting back on a chair” but it’s what I find myself correcting a lot.

First things first, when we are lifting anything we want to stack our rib cage over our hips. As much as possible, we want a neutral hip position and we want to avoid flaring up through the rib cage. Why? For the following reasons (and many more):

  1. Poke your hips behind you. Then try to squeeze your glutes. You can’t. There’s a reason why those with postural APT have weak or “lazy” (I don’t like that definition) glutes, it’s because they can’t use them properly in the position they stand. Tucking your hips under you and finding a neutral position is going to allow for proper glute max recruitment and make your lifts stronger and a lot more stable.

    If you’re finding it difficult to find “neutral” I like to use this as a preactivation exercise: squat down to parallel. You can do this holding onto a pole in front of you if you require some stabilisation. Poke your hips back into an anteriorly tilted position, hold for a 3 count. Pull your hips forward into neutral, glutes relaxed, core tense, hold for three seconds. Now go into a posterior pelvic tilt, hips tucked right under you, hold for three. Repeat through 5-10 times.

  2. When we lift a load, we want to begin the lift in a position that we can hold for the entire lift. When we initiate a squat, for instance, in lumbar extension or APT, under heavy load it’s quite difficult to maintain the position through the concentric (the UP part) of the movement. More than likely, we are going to hit the hole and fall into neutral spine/pelvis or even flexion through spine/posterior tilt through pelvis. This is no good. Movement through the spine this way causes shearing force and increases our risk of back issues and disc injuries.

    Initiating lifts in neutral allows us to hold the position under load far more easily, reducing our risk of injury and providing stronger mechanics for movement.

  3. DEPTH. When we tilt our pelvis backwards, the opening at the front of our hip becomes smaller, leaving less room for your femur and femoral head to glide in the socket. This means that we can’t squat to as low of a depth. Mechanically, it is just not possible. APT/lumbar lordosis in the squat also contributes to higher rates of anterior hip impingement, which bloody hurts and we certainly want to avoid.

Conclusion: Stack your rib cage over your hips. A good cue I like to use is thinking about squeezing down your lower rib to the top of your hip bone at the base of your tummy.

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Why do we bench with an arched back?

I have for a long time, avoided posting videos of myself bench pressing on social media. It’s not that I’m not proud of how much I can bench. It’s that I just can’t be stuffed with the many comments I get telling me that they fear for my back due to my arched position.

Pretty much any time I or any other powerlifter puts up a video of a bench press there are at least a few comments offering unsolicited advice. Or expressions of concern for the health of our vertebrae. 

So why do we arch? I’ve got some facts to combat commonly used arguments against arching.

“It’s cheating”: Arching while bench pressing offers a mechanical advantage. Is it cheating? Not under powerlifting rules. In fact, the bigger the arch, the better the advantage. The arch shortens the range of the bench press, making the distance the bar needs to travel shorter. 

“You’re going to break your back”: The lumbar and thoracic vertebrae are in their safest position in a lordotic, isometric position. Discs tend to herniate posteriorly so worrying about my discs in this position is a moot point. Additionally, the force on my spine in an arched position with the use of my leg drive is approximate to a light squat. You should be more worried about my back when I am maxing my squat.

“She’s not even using her chest”: Not entirely valid. The arched bench, with retraction of the scapulae, actually allows for greater fibre recruitment of the lower pectoralis. The arch does also allow for greater lat recruitment which helps me push more weight. 

“Looks dangerous”: The position is safer for the glenohumeral joint, as most shoulder impingement occurs when the arm works at or above shoulder height, an arched bench reduces this risk by effectively turning the flat bench into a more declined position. A good bench press arch is uniform throughout the lumbar and thoracic and neutral at the cervical spine.

Conclusion: The arch is for powerlifters who use it properly, if you’re a bodybuilder there’s probably no need for you to use a big arch but even a small one with a little leg drive could help you stay more stable on the bench, put your glenohumeral  joint in a healthier position and help you move more weight.

The arch really is a fine art. 

I am a fraud

Imposter syndrome. I experience it often. 

I felt it in my previous job. Despite studying for over four years, interning for three, holding a graduate position, working freelance, working under a mentor – when I landed my job at a magazine, I was crippled by self-doubt and the worry that I would be “found out”. It made me anxious.

As an athlete I’ve always felt it. I was unremarkable. Or good enough but not extraordinary. I’m becoming more confident in my own abilities only now, in my mid-twenties.

When it came to being selected for representative honours in State Age Netball teams, I constantly second-guessed myself. Ultimately, my low confidence resulted in me giving away the sport altogether. That and some dodgy knees.

Now, probably more so than ever as a coach I feel like a fraud, often. Despite having been mentored for many years by a great coach, despite being fully qualified, despite having attended countless seminars, reading hundreds of thousands, potentially millions of words, still I worry that I don’t know enough. 

In fact when looking at the lineup of coaches at a powerlifting meet just the other weekend I thought to myself, “I’m not good enough to be in this midst”.

The thing is, I would hazard to guess that many of the people you believe to be the most proficient, the most knowledgeable, the most capable, have at some point felt themselves a fraud. Felt they were masquerading. 

I don’t necessarily see this state of being as a wholly bad thing. In fact, my belief actually means that I am always wanting to learn more, I am always a student and I’ll probably never believe I know “enough”.

It’s also important to remember that striving for excellence is great but the only person you should be looking to please is yourself. Don’t worry about mistakes, they’re learning experiences. You don’t need to be perfect, in fact, you’ll never be. 

All of us have felt like an impostor, remember that you’re absolutely not. 

Why getting injured is the best

I’m kidding, it’s not the best. It’s not always all doom and gloom though.

In my mind, for a long time, getting a an injury that stood in front of me getting to the gym was my worst nightmare. That might sound pretty obvious, nobody is begging to get injured (except maybe a 12 year old trying to get off school) but my fear was less about the actual injury and more about missing the gym. 

During my last powerlifting prep I sustained a back injury around 4 weeks in. After a couple of misdiagnoses (and reinjuring it a couple of times because I thought I was tough and could “train through”) I finally got an MRI that showed an 8mm disc bulge at L5/S1. Annoying but as with most back injuries, the symptoms are often a lot worse than the injury itself. 

In the past, I have dealt with injuries by doing the bare minimum, managing the pain somewhat and training through it. This is obviously not a method I could use with a disc bulge as I am basically immobile when it flares up. 

I felt really hard done by for a long time. My back was strong! The physio said so. He said my erector spinae were close to perfect. I’ve trained my glutes properly for years – they fire well. I’m not neglecting my mobility work. So this is just so unfair. SO UNFAIR.

When I was in pain I cried. I did the whole end of the world thing where I convinced myself I would never lift again. I gave fake-smile responses to people who asked how it was going “oh it’s all good, it’s getting there”.  

I spent three and a bit months training for rehab. I lifted almost nothing (or what felt like nothing). I avoided my favourite lifts.

I’m not going to lie, my self worth plummeted, I felt like a crappy athlete. I felt annoyed often.

I rehabbed for three and a half months and built even stronger spinae erectors. I rehabbed and stretched and moved differently. I conditioned my core. I worked through a shoulder imbalance while I was at it.

I built resilience.

I stopped being so annoyed.

I started to learn how I could work with other clients in the same position. I cultivated patience. I told myself I would come back bigger and better. I listened to professionals, I got multiple opinions, I did my boring rehab exercises every single day. I took care of myself.

And now? I’m back. Bigger and better and with less doomsday ideas about being injured.

Injuries aren’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, I would argue that being injured makes you a better coach and athlete in the long-run.

Weight loss is not a straight line

Should weight loss be linear? Short answer – no probably not. 

You can probably stop reading this now but I’m going to delve into why if you’re more of a reasons-person rather than just an answers-person.

Many people have the idea that weight loss is this nice linear thing that just happens in a straight line. Most of my clients do too. 

Certainly, for some people, weight loss moves in a pretty straight forward way (lucky bastards) but for most, you’ll find weight going back and forth or not moving much each week for a number of reasons that don’t just involve the calories you’re eating. 

One of the biggest ones is water retention. This is particularly applicable for females thanks to our hormonal cycle. 

Water retention can have us believing that an otherwise well-executed diet is failing. It can mask the occurrence of fat loss. It can also frustrate the hell out of us. It has certainly frustrated me many times. 

There’s many reasons we might be holding water – so many it’s kind of ridiculous. Sodium, potassium imbalance, hormonal imbalance (especially around menstruation), not drinking enough water, eating too much or too little fibre, being really sore from a workout, etc. etc. 

Another reason is cortisol. The stress hormone. 

There was an experiment that was conducted in 1944 called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I had actually never heard of it until I went to an Eric Helms seminar and he mentioned it in his presentation. It’s a pretty interesting one that surely wouldn’t pass ethics requirements today. 

Basically a group of 36 volunteers (who were actually war protesters allowed to participate in this study rather than go off to fight) were put on a semi-starvation diet for 6 months. The aim was to have the men’s body weights reduce by ~25% over this period and their calories were adjusted accordingly.

Interestingly, over this period weight loss initially worked very linearly. As time went by though, weight loss stalled and started occurring in what has been explained by Lyle McDonald and the like, as “whooshes”. 

As in, literally overnight men in the study would drop 3+ pounds after weeks of stagnation. This happens often when dieting, we may lose 1kg and for weeks on end see not much movement at all. This has been attributed to water retention that occurs as triglycerides inside cells disappear and are replaced with water. 

The men in the study were losing body fat but not seeing any change in scale weight due to fat being replaced by water. 

The water retention is the body’s natural method of accounting for fat-loss and the body may be burning fat even if the scale isn’t moving. 

In order to overcome the plateaus, the researchers noted that after a refeed the men would often weigh in lighter the next day. This was put down partly to a reduction in cortisol that was provided by the sudden higher calorie intake. By reducing cortisol, it was also believed that the body let go of the water.

So how do we apply this to a cutting phase or a diet? Make less changes, less often. Be prepared for weight loss to look like a squiggly line on the graph rather than a straight line from A to B (a squiggly line you may want to punch). Don’t continuously cut calories and increase activity every time the scale doesn’t move (this could actually make water retention worse). Graph progress over a month and take a monthly “average” weight from the four weights from each week. 

Keep fluid high. Keep sodium and fibre consistent. Ensure potassium intake is at RDI. Get good sleep. Have a refeed every 4-6 weeks and remember, remember, remember, weight loss is hardly ever linear. 

Opinions are like arseholes…

You don’t need to spend much time reading through fitness blogs, literature or captions on the ‘gram before you’re bombarded with 1000 different opinions (framed as fact) on nutrition, training, fat loss and health. It’s easy to see why so many people end up absolutely confused about how to achieve the results they’re seeking.

The problem with a lot of the opinions put out by some “fitness professionals” is that they use “it worked for me” as a basis for the information they’re putting forward. This is problematic because if you have any grasp of causation vs. correlation you’ll know that just because X happened and then Y was the result, it doesn’t necessarily mean that X caused Y. There are way too many variables for this to be true.

Take for instance, gluten guy. We’ll call him GG. Old GG cut out all products containing gluten one day because he read a holistic health blog that told him that gluten was linked to poor gut health and further diseases and issues. After cutting it out, he found that he lost weight and felt more vital. He then went on to write many posts and articles about the miracle of removing gluten in the diet for weight loss. GG did neglect to say that after removing gluten he also reduced his daily caloric intake.

Then there’s No Heavy Lifting Babe. NHLB believes that the secret to a long, lean physique is light weights, plyos and cardio. It worked for her and now she’s looking to sell it to you for $99. The thing is, NHLB is a pretty standard ectomorph. She’s always been slight in structure, she finds it difficult to gain a lot of muscle and she has naturally eaten between 1200-1400 calories a day for seven years. She puts her success down to clean eating, lots of fruit and vegan treats. It worked for her because it’s the only thing she’s tried and she also probably fears weight gain – she’s not telling you that part though. This plan will also work for you to lose weight, provided you eat in a calorie deficit while you do it.

You can see where I am going with this.

I used to find fitness literature really convoluted too. There were so many messages and I had many fitness professionals give me their two cents about insulin tolerance, the dangers of fructose, the dangers of lifting heavy and squatting below 90 degrees, the list goes on.

For this reason, I would love to share a few blogs and otherwise with you that are full of evidence-based knowledge and advice:

https://bretcontreras.com/articles/

https://alanaragon.com/researchreview/ (the best $10 per month you’ll ever spend!)

http://soheefit.com/articles/

http://3dmusclejourney.com/blog/

https://www.jpshealthandfitness.com.au/author/client/

https://www.youtube.com/user/icecream4PRs

And if you ever need some clarity you can always email me – rlchambers@live.com.au

Stop testing your one rep max, dude

I see a lot of people in the gym performing maximal (or very nearly maximal) lifts on a consistent basis. They’re attempting a new one RM every other week, working to failure and wondering why they’re sore, stagnant or injured.

Testing your one rep max, properly, is bloody exhausting. Anybody who has done it will tell you that even a week later you’re still feeling like somebody let some of the air out of your tyres. Thus, doing a 1RM test on a consistent basis makes progression and our ability to get through subsequent training volume much more difficult.

You don’t get stronger through single, maximal reps.

You especially don’t get stronger when testing your one rep max is making it harder to get through sub-maximal training volume.

There really aren’t a lot of studies that look at training to failure and those that do, don’t really apply as they look at untrained individuals who weren’t performing compound lifts. Luckily, the man and the myth, Alan Aragon (March, 2009) looked at training to failure and came up with the following conclusions based off a research review:

  • Keep training to failure to a minimum and if it’s programmed, make sure it’s done for a maximum period of 2-4 weeks before lower intensities are programmed
  • Training to failure isn’t actually a bad thing – in fact, when implemented properly it probably takes the cake when it comes to strength and hypertrophy gains – however, most people overuse it to their detriment.
  • Train to failure if there is a specific goal in mind. Failure training doesn’t serve most sports. If you have a goal in mind and one rep max testing is serving that goal, then lift away. Though these goals are limited.

Training close to failure is great. The keyword there being “close”. Using a varied rep-range and rep max percentage allows for varied, periodised and far more effective training for both strength and hypertrophy.

Having the vision and long-term planning to periodise your programming rather than banging out a one RM whenever you’re feeling good is going to serve you, your gains and your progress far better.