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Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.

I am a strength and movement coach based in Belfast, Ireland. I originally come from a Mixed Martial Arts background and the necessity of needing to know how to condition my fighters steered me towards the field of strength training. I am a StrongFirst Kettlebell and Barbell Instructor and a huge fan of Ido Portal, unfortunately I am nowhere near moving like him (due to the fact I have had a hip replacement and ruined my body from years of training incorrectly, it will be a long time before I am happy with my abilities).

Strength and movement and the understanding of how to improve it, has become my passion and I live and breath it. I love lifting heavy shit and I get a massive kick out of coaching and guiding others towards moving weight that they would never have dreamed of tackling only a few months before hand.

I have my own opinions and my own ways of doing things and I like to voice them. Not everyone agrees with them but thats ok, the world would be a boring place if everyones opinions matched.

Hope you enjoy and learn from my blogs, if you do then please share them and comment below, if you don’t, then feel free to tell me why you disagree with what I say. Everyday is for learning and if you can open my eyes to a new train of thought then it can only improve me.

Pól

Once upon a time, in an age without mobile phones, without the internet, without the knowledge there is now, I began lifting weights, as a clueless 15 year old. I had watched Rambo, Commando, Terminator, Cobra and Predator. I noticed that Arnie and Sly had huge muscles and they always seemed to beat everyone in fights so I wanted those big muscles so I could be a great fighter too. I got my parents to buy me a weights bench and a set of plastic, sand filled weights as well as membership to the local leisure centre and I set upon my journey to get SWOLE!!!

I succeeded…. in building more imbalances than muscle. I concentrated on benching, some biceps, bit of shrugging and more benching. Tried squatting a few times as well but it hurt too much and its Ireland, so no one really sees your legs. (actually I played water polo 5 times a week so everyone seen my legs but at 15 you don’t think straight).

The thing is, even today with all the knowledge at your finger tips young men and a lot of older men, are making the same mistakes over and over again. So as a way of trying to prevent another generation of t-shirt muscle chasers here is the PM Strength & Movement idiots guide to building a better body.

MOBILISE. Yes I accept it’s boring and I understand it won’t get the female attention as much as your bulging pecs in a t-shirt two sizes too small but believe me, in the long run it will benefit you so much more. You will help keep your muscles loose, your range of motion will improve and with that your ability to lift more weight. If I could go back in time and give my 15 year old self some advise, this would be in the top three.

PULL. Benching or pressing a shit load of weight may impress your friends but you need to be making sure you counter it with some retraction exercises. You need to keep muscle balance, so aim to do at least two pulling exercises for every one pushing. As a side note, if you have a look at the really explosive guys in sports like Olympic Lifting, MMA, Rugby you will notice they all have one thing in common, a HUGE posterior (the muscles you will see from behind, traps, lats, glutes, hamstrings, calfs). Never fear the guys with the big chests and rounded shoulders, the most powerful people all have well developed posteriors.

DEADLIFT. Now you know about the posterior chain whats the best way to develop it? The deadlift! As exercises go its one of the best bang for buck movements you can do. There is barely a muscle in your body it doesn’t hit but for back, traps, glutes and hamstrings there isn’t much better. Make it a staple in your exercise menu and reap the rewards.

DON’T SKIP LEG DAY. Squats hurt, there is no denying it. Putting heavy weight on your back and getting your ass to the grass then standing back up again and repeating is hell. In Dan Johns “mass made simple” (a must read if you want to gain serious growth) in six weeks he builds you up to squatting your bodyweight 50 times in one set. I have watched grown men reduced to blubbering wrecks afterwards but I also watched their legs grow and grow. More than one of my clients have ripped a pair or two of trousers sitting down due to the growth. Something else that seems very common is their increased level of fitness. Try this program and watch how you end up breathing through your arse by the end of it.

EAT. You want to grow? You need to eat. Its a simple as that. Well actually its not. You see a calorie is not simply a calorie. In a simplified version you need protein, fats and carbs but you need to earn your carbs. Try and limit their intake to after a training session and that evening. Protein will help in muscle repair and fats help in testosterone production. By the way, battered fish does not count as a serving of fat and protein.

If you want serious gains, choose your foods wisely. Healthy fats and proteins from natural sources, organic veg if possible.  If it comes in a packet or you can’t pronounce the ingredients leave it on the shelf. I would also add take a good quality fish oil into your diet

>DRINK LOTS OF WATER. It’s really self-explanatory.

SLEEP. One of the most underestimated but one of the most crucial components of building a better body. Your body heals itself during this time and when we fall into REM (rapid eye movement) sleep it produces HGH (human growth hormone). REM usually occurs within 40-70 minutes of falling asleep but if we are restless or waking up through the night this REM state doesn’t happen. Among other things it is responsible for keeping muscles from wasting away and helps with fat loss/control. We produce a lot more of this in our adolescent years and unfortunately as we get older the production drops significantly. To increase your chances of productive sleep, use a black out blind, try using magnesium supplements, ditch technology in the bed room and allow yourself to wind down at least 30 minutes before bed so no TV or Xbox.

SET A GOAL. If you want to improve your chances of success, give yourself an achievable goal. It doesn’t have to be crazy, just something that will keep you focused. It could be to fit into a smaller pair of jeans, achieve a muscle up, deadlift twice your bodyweight. As long as its achievable within a reasonable time frame and will motivate you.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Have an idea in your head about what it is you want to achieve. There is no point in starting a spin class if you want to be a bodybuilder (side note, if you want to do spin then why are you reading this?) Likewise  training like a powerlifter when your aim is to achieve a handstand or muscle up isn’t exactly optimal.

KISS. No this isn’t some homoerotic bodybuilding idea, it means Keep ISimple Stupid. Don’t get caught up with 3 x 10 sets of squats followed by a giant set of 12/10/8 back and shoulders followed by a pyramid set of bi’s and tri’s before finishing with a super set of lat raises, front raises. If you are starting out or advanced you will always get the best from keeping everything so simple it shouldn’t work. Hinge, squat, push, pull, carry. Thats all thats needed to build a better body.

STICK TO A PROGRAM. Almost any program [hint, refer to point above for an idea] will get results as long as you keep doing it(as long as its not one your 15 year old best friend dreamed up). If you are a beginner training twice a week will illicit change. If you want to improve on this move up to three times a week, after a while make it four, then five. Once here, try adding two more reps a week, or add a few kg to the bar. These simple small changes are all thats needed.

HAVE PATIENCE. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your body be. Accept that to build strength and muscle requires time, sacrifice and effort. Pulling double your bodyweight in a deadlift 6 weeks after starting weight training for the first time isn’t a smart idea, even if your friends are trying it and think you should. Improving your shape and strength is a journey and should be enjoyed. Its not how fast you get there but making sure you get there safely. Trust me, give it time and use intelligent weight increases and you will get that double body weight deadlift and you will look like a pro doing it.

So there you have it, my idiot proof guide to gaining strength and a building a better body. As you can see it isn’t really rocket science. If you are serious about making a change and have absolutely no idea where to start, seek out a reputable gym/PT studio and pay for a few 1:1 sessions with the best PT you can find as it will pay off massively in the end.

Pól

Here’s the deal, if you want to live a longer, happier life there are only a few things you need to do

It can’t be that easy, can it? Basically, yes, it can!

Eat more colourful veg.  to start off begin with small steps. Simply make sure to include vegetables with each meal. Choose two different coloured vegetables to eat at each meal. After three weeks add one more. Do this once more and within six weeks each of your meals will be fill with nutrient dense foods. Building upon this small habit will lead to other changes over time. You will notice yourself cutting down on the cardboard carbs (processed foods) and your protein intake will probably increase, while the shitty foods will decrease, equating to your waistline shrinking but the key is to simply focus on eating more veg and allow other habits to happen in time.

Drink more water. Probably the easiest change you can make. Aim to be drinking at least two litres of water a day within three weeks. Every morning before breakfast have one pint of ICE COLD water. Do this with every meal. If a pint is too much then start with a half pint but make sure you do it. Staying hydrated is key in helping your body function at an optimal level. Iced water also forces your body to burn more calories in order to maintain its core temperature, resulting in fat loss.

Exercise 30 minutes a day.  Doing this is simpler than you think. If you are worried about going to a gym then start with something you can do without equipment. Make a deal with yourself to walk at least 30 minutes a day. If this is too much then break it up. Take the stairs in work instead of using the lift, walk to the shops instead of driving, just make sure you do it everyday and strive to improve each day.
Once you feel your fitness level increasing set a date to start training. Write it down. Writing something down helps us focus on the goal. Look for a good quality trainer, preferably someone in a private training studio where you can concentrate on the session rather than being worried that you are being watched.

Learn the fundamentals of human movement. Squat, hinge, push, pull and carry. To begin with you might not even need weight. To improve the majority of people all you need is the Kettlebell swing, the goblet squat, a get up movement, a body weight row, press up and some sort of weighted carry. No need to become bogged down with sets and reps just do each exercise as many times as you can with good form for 1 minute each, as you improve, decrease rest times, increase rounds and try to move up a weight every four weeks.

Get eight hours sleep.  The majority of us fail to realise how essential this actually is. I have already covered this in my blog “an idiots guide to gaining strength and building a better body” http://www.strengthandmovement.co.uk/?p=20 but here is a quick summary. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. When you get better quality sleep you will look and feel better. Turn off phones, use blackout blinds and don’t use computers or watch TV an hour before going to bed. Allow your body to wind down. If you need to use more than one pillow to sleep, there is a good chance you have some joint/mobility issues.

Play . This is the greatest way, in my opinion, to get rid of stress and rediscover your youth once more. It honestly doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are being active and having fun. Kick a ball with your children, play tag, race, do handstands, roll, climb, tumble and fall. The choices are endless, all that matters is that you are laughing and learning how good it feels to forget about your problems for a while.
We all were kids at one point so we all know it is like to not have any worries. As children we lived in the moment and those times when you kicked a ball with your dad or had piggyback races with your parents will be memories that will stay with you forever. Try and recapture them, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. Give yourself permission to laugh and be laughed at and remember what life is really about.

Try these small changes, practice health and happiness by making a rule to introduce them one by one into your daily regimen and watch how you can change your life for the better.

Summer is here (well, thats the rumour anyway) and as the saying goes Suns out guns out. But what if you are carrying a set of glock 9mms instead of a couple of AK47s? What if you can’t afford a gym membership? Or maybe you are the outdoors type? Have no fear all you need is this quick guide, your body, a bar and a set of gymnastic rings to sculpt a body like a Greek God!!We will start from the top and work our way down. If you are not sure of what these exercises are, you will find them all on YouTube. (Over the coming weeks they will be found on my own YouTube channel, Pm Strength and Movement. I’m currently filming content for it)

1. Shoulders: crowstands, cranestands, handstand holds, handstand wall walks, handstand push ups.This list starts from the easiest and works up to the hardest. It doesn’t matter how bad you are when you start, you will find with regular practice, as little as 10 minutes a day, you can progress very quickly.These exercises will help you build strong and healthy shoulders. Also handstands are f**king awesome.

2. Chest & triceps: Plank hold push ups, elevated push up (hands on a bench) floor push up, feet elevated push up, ring push up, single arm push up, dips. When doing push ups make sure you get your chest to the floor each time and keep your body tense throughout. Dips build a great chest and strong arms. Once you have them on the parallel bars try them on rings and experience a game changer.

3. Back & biceps: Inverted row, hanging retractions, protractions, neutral grip chin ups, chin ups, pull ups, muscle ups, single arm pull ups.To build a strong back the pull up is king. If you can’t complete a single rep, begin with inverted rows. You can do all these exercises on both the rings and the bars. It is best to begin with the rings as they allow your body to move through its natural plane of motion. These exercises will also give the biceps a serious going over.

4. Abs: The list is endless but for bang for your buck exercises try a full body tension plank, crawling and hanging knee tucks or leg raises.The secret to a washboard stomach is a clean diet. (You can also use a barbell with a small plate on each end as a make shift ab wheel) Gymnastic ring work. Static holds like front and back levers and planche holds are killers on the abs but would be among the hardest moves to master.

 5. Ass and legs: Glute bridges, hip thrusts, prisoner squats, sprints, split squats, Bulgarian split squats,lunges, walking lunges, pistol squats.Your butt is the most powerful muscle you have, build it!! DO NOT SKIP LEG DAY. For everything from explosive power to fat loss, working your ass gets results faster.

6. Increase complexity: Once you can do a certain number of reps in an exercise, i.e. 20 tempo push up, 12 tempo pull ups, increase the difficulty instead of increasing the reps. There are numerous ways of doing this. Diamond push ups, ring push ups, wide grip pull ups, towel pull ups, they all will challenge your body differently. Each time you progress the exercise, the body has to adapt. As it does this it will make the previous exercise seem easier.

7. Met-cons: Finish your workout with a 5-10 minute met-con. This is a high intensity workout that will help speed your metabolism up. Keep it as simple as possible and try and add level changes into it.Burpees, mountain climbers, speed push ups, air squats, jumping lunges, grasshoppers, sprints. I can go on and on. Set a clock for 30-40 seconds intervals, pick two or three exercises and work at around 85-90% of your max effort for that time. Rest to work ratio should start the same and slowly decrease the rest time as the weeks go by. Air squats to push ups or burpees to grasshoppers are brutal sets because you are always changing levels.

8. Fat loss: Following simple rules for eating will help you burn more fat.Stick to whole food ingredients. If it comes in a packet or has more than four ingredients, don’t eat it.Try to eat vegetables with every meal.Stop drinking calories. The amount of hidden sugars found in carbonated drinks would frighten you. Try and stick to water. (Quick tip. Drinking ice water will drop the bodies temperature forcing it to burn more calories to regulate itself).Earn your carbs. Try and limit your carbs to evenings, ideally after training session. Carbs are not evil like people make out and the body needs them but if you can, focus on eating more fats and proteins in the morning and carbs in the evening.

9. Get more sleep: Most people don’t realise the importance of a good nights sleep.8 hours should be a minimum for everyone.Try taking magnesium before bed or have a bath with Epsom salt.Turn off the TV, phones and computers 30 minutes before bed and allow yourself some light reading to wind down.Sleep in a dark room, use a black out blind and ideally have electronic equipment out of the bedroom.

10. Enjoy it: Don’t become frustrated if things don’t go as fast as you want. Change takes time. The key is to be consistent. There will be days when life gets in the way, that’s ok shit happens. As Dan John says, just turn up. Get down and blast out a few push ups and pull ups. Grab the kids and go out and climb some trees, go for a walk or cycle and leave it at that. Learn to listen to your body. If you are genuinely very sore or sick then allow yourself to recover but don’t allow yourself to find reasons not to train.Follow these simple tips and you will find that getting the body you want is not that difficult at allThanks for reading

Pól

You are 30-50. Kids, mortgage, two cars, 9-5 job, loving partner, debts and little to no time.

I’m pretty much describing the average man or woman in today’s society. Life is stressful for Mr and Mrs Average. Once upon a time they had the time to do what they wanted; train, party, holiday etc but sooner or later there comes a time when you feel you need to grow up. You meet a partner, settle down, have kids and join the rat race. All of a sudden priorities change, kids need fed and bills need paid. Time becomes a precious commodity and when you get a few moments to yourself and you just want to relax!!!

Does this sound like you? If it does there is a good chance your clothes might be feeling a bit tighter than they did a few years ago. Life has got in the way of training, convenience is what dictates the daily menu. On the outside you might still seem like the same person you have always been but deep down inside you know you would like to look better. It wouldn’t have to be a Calvin Klein six pack or a bikini model look but knowing you could lie on the beach on the next family holiday and turn a few heads would feel good but hey, thats in the past, you are too old for all that now,  so its better to put it out of your head and enjoy “just one more slice of pizza.”

Why is it that we allow ourselves to get stuck in this way of thinking? No matter what age you are, no matter what your current state of fitness, there is always time to make a change. It’s never too late. I’m not going to feed you any bullshit, its going to be hard and there will be times when it would be easier to just lie on in bed instead of going to the early morning class and it would be easier to just come home from work, sit down, relax and maybe have a drink but it’s only going to make you happy in the short term. You will still have to look at yourself in the mirror, you will still have to wear those ever tightening clothes.

Walking into a gym for the first time or after a long lay off can be intimidating. Everyone will be looking at you, they will be wondering why you are here, how could you allow yourself to get into the shape you are in. These are real fears for a lot of people, they are also wrong. No ones cares about you being there, everyone is too caught up in their own lives. When you get these fears just look in the mirror, remind yourself why it is you have started this. You need to play the long game here, this will not be an overnight fix. Think six months to a year. A year from today you will be a completely different person. You will be happier, have more confidence and have possibly learnt new skills like handstands or muscle ups and maybe even show your kids up. These are the thoughts you need to hold on to when the temptation to miss the gym “just this once” becomes real. You justify it the first time and the second becomes so much easier.

If I have just described you then make the decision to achieve what you have said you will for the last X amount of years. Forget about past failures, they have no bearing on your future. The only thing that will, is your willingness to change. If you want it bad enough then it can happen. Imagine how it would feel to be proud of how you look, how awesome it would be to show up people half your age.

Thanks for reading.

Pól

In this four part article I am going to look at the problems and solutions, for Those of us who are “youthfully challenged”, attending a gym for the first time. 

Starting any gym can be intimidating but going to a gym for the first time aged 45+ would be terrifying! There are a lot of fit, young people, with great bodies and they all seem to know what they are doing. The key to going to the gym is having an understanding about what you are going to do and keeping it as simple as possible. For middle aged gym users an effective workout trains the body as a whole unit, avoiding isolation exercises and following Janda’s principles.

Strengthen what Janda called the Phasic muscles, ie glutes (butt), deltoid’s (shoulders), triceps and core while mobilising what he refers to as the tonic muscles, ie the hip flexors , hamstrings (back of legs), biceps and pecs (chest).

The reasoning behind this is simple. As we age the Phasics weaken and the tonics tighten, especially in today’s society with modern living. Walking around holding mobile phones and everything involving sitting, our tonics have become extremely tight, effecting our posture. Over time, this can lead to imbalances and pain. Pain is bad!

What exercises to use:

Strengthening

Glutes: Kettlebell swing, deadlift, goblet squat, hip thrusts, hill running (if able). The glutes are the biggest muscle in your body. This is where the power comes from. The strongest, fastest, most explosive athletes always have strong glutes. Work them and work them well.

Deltoid’s: Single arm Kettlebell press is one of the best IMO and everyone no matter what their level should include it in their training. As it is a pressing exercise it will also work the tricep. When doing a pushing movement it is always advisable to add a pulling exercise. This could be a bent over row or a single arm row using a Kettlebell or if available, a suspension trainer like the KO8. Other exercises to include that work your shoulders as well as the retraction element would be T’s, Y’s and I’s. These are also completed using a KO8.

Core: Plank. Learn how to a proper plank. Work up to being able to hole it for 2 minutes. Once this has been achieved begin using the hardstyle plank for up to 20-25 seconds of full body tension.

Mobilising

Hip flexors: A simple half kneeling hip flexor stretch is perfect for most people to start off with and as you progress raising the foot of the kneeling leg will increase the stretch. (You can see these exercises on our YouTube channel)

Hamstrings: I love using the straight legged bear crawl as a hamstring stretch. Another added benefit of it is as it is a four limbed gait based movement you will get a bit of a shoulder workout as well.

Biceps & pecs: Dan john showed me a game changer stretch called the Stoney stretch. It also requires a KO8 and believe me once you start using this on a regular basis you will feel a million times better.

T-spine: This is one other area I would also suggest you focus on. Driving, siting on a computer, holding your mobile phone. All these actions place our backs into an unnatural position, resulting in our Thoracic spine, which is made for mobility, tightening up, leading to shoulder and back pain. One of the simplest and best exercises I know is called six point Zenith. Easy to understand,  carryout and the results are instantly noticeable.

As a warm up, I would recommend the “get back up” workout. A simple, do anywhere warm up. Remember though, simple does not translate to easy. For some people the warm up will end up being the workout. If that is the case then so be it, it is what it is. You know where you are starting out from and you will move forward from here.

The get back up warm up involves going from standing to lying prone, back to standing 20-24 times (depending on time and ability) gradually decreasing the amount of limbs you can use to aid yourself.

The order is always as follows.

Lie on your front…. Get back up

Lie on your back…. Get back up

Lie on your left side…. Get back up

Lie on your right side…. Get back up

Next round requires you to place your left hand on left knee and repeat. After that, it’s right hand on right knee and repeat.

Following this it is left hand on right knee then right hand on left knee

Last round you interlock your fingers behind your head and complete the cycle.

This may not seem like much but it will get a light sweat going and the continuing up and down action will definitely raise the heart rate.

In part two will focus on the strengthening exercises, part three will look at mobility work and part four will go through how to structure the exercises into a workable program that won’t take all day.

Pól

In part two of our four part series we will focus on the strengthening exercises:

For the gluten, three of the four I recommend, focus on a hinge action

The exercises:

Hip thrusts
Deadlifts
Kettlebell swings
In that order, easist to hardest, as far as technical application goes.

The plus and negative of each:

Hip thrusts

Can be done loaded or simply using only Bodyweight
Easiest Hinge movement to master
Doesn’t place as much stress on lower back as other two.
Works less in overall muscles used compared to others.

Deadlifts

Could argue it’s the king of all exercises.
Works nearly every muscle in the body and builds unbelievable strength.
Can be done with a kettlebell.
Requires practice with a light weight until movement is ingrained and demands respect.
Can lead to injuries if not done with proper technique.

Kettlebell swing

Builds power and will burn serious amounts of fat if done right.
Even a light weight can deliver a fantastic workout.
Easily transported
Needs respect. Like the Deadlift, there is proper technique to be mastered and without it, it can and more than likely will, lead to injury.

Goblet squat.

Single arm press:

For the shoulders I believe, that for the majority of us, all that’s needed is the single arm Kettlebell press. The press starts by creating full body tension (more detail about this in the plank section) from the feet and travels up through the body, finishing with the bell in an overhead position.

You set up by tensing the body approximately 80%, this is you getting ready.

Depress the shoulder by pulling the elbow towards the ground, this will activate the lat (big back muscle) and acts the same way stretching an elastic band would, to help the initial drive of the press.

When you actually press, tense the entire body as one unit 100% and drive the bell upwards.

Keep the wrist strong and straight and try and keep the elbow and wrist in line. Don’t flare the elbow out as this will break the structure of the arm and make the press much more difficult.

Word of warning:

Most of you will have some sort of shoulder and T-spine mobility issues and  will struggle to get your arm straight overhead. Try and not break at the abs and lean back, resulting in loading your lower back. While this may not cause much damage with a lighter bell, it will ingrain a bad habit that will result in eventual injury when you move to heavier weights. Instead focus on shoulder and T-spine mobility drills like the Kettlebell armbar and six point Zenith (loads more on our YouTube channel) to help free up the joints.

Core:

Before you do any exercise you need to understand the concept of full body tension. Tension will help make every strength exercise easier and is vital for safe lifting, especially for the spine.

The Full Body Tension plank is the perfect drill to teach this. When done correctly, you will be able to hold it for around 10-15 seconds before you lose full body tension. The idea is not to go to failure but rather to teach the body to recognise what FBT is.

Lie on the ground, belly down.

Place forearms on the ground and make two fists.

Place your feet shoulder width apart, legs straight and locked.

Lift your body off the floor so as only your forearms and toes are in contact with the ground.

Tilt your pelvis so you feel your abs and glutes tighten. This will take any sag out of the back and take pressure off the lower spine area. Add extra juice to the abs and glutes by squeezing them as hard as you can.

While your arms don’t exactly move, I want you to try (without actually allowing them to slide) and pull your arms down towards your feet. This will activate the lats and increase the tension in your body.

Finally breathing. This is crucial, you don’t want to hold your breath, instead you do what’s known as breathing behind the shield.

Your abs are the shield and you will forcefully push air out by clenching your teeth together and pulsing short, sharp breaths out. You should be making a loud hissing sound if doing it correctly. Focus on the out breaths, the in breaths will look after themselves. Just don’t lose tension in the body. Squeeze the glutes, lats, abs, legs and hands as hard as you can.

In Part 3 of our four part series we are going to look at the mobilising exercises of this workout. The general rule of thumb is, to make men look better, increase their mobility, for women, get them stronger. This is especially true the older we get. I’m not saying men don’t need to work on strength or women on mobility but as a species, men are generally stronger and women, more flexible and it is advisable to give a bit more attention to our weaknesses.

Hip flexors: Like I said in part one, our lives involve sitting, we sit to eat, we sit to go to work, in work and on our way home from work. We sit to relax, even our Globo gyms  have so many isolation machines in them that we now sit while exercising.  One of the main problems with all of this sitting is a shortening of our hip flexors. This leads to to us having problems standing in a vertical position. Over time this can lead to imbalances and pain. A simple but effective way to counteract this is to drop to a half kneeling position, one foot and one knee, what I refer to as a 90/90 position (you should be creating a 90 degree bend at the knees). Push the big toe of the front, hard into the ground. At the same time squeeze the glute on the opposite side while making yourself as tall as possible. If you have hight hip flexors you should start to feel a stretch and possibly, mild pain, in the quad of the leg with the knee on the ground. (if you are feeling pain, don’t push any harder, instead just focus on slow breathing and it will ease). If this isn’t working then what you can do is place the foot of the leg that you are kneeling on, on to a raised platform, so that the heel is brought closer to the glute. Remember to keep tall. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5a0i6eWROWQ


Hamstrings: My go to stretch for the hamstrings, is the straight leg bear crawl. Lock your legs out and start pushing your bum back while reaching towards the floor. If you can’t touch the floor then bend your knees slightly until you get there then walk your hands forward until you are in a position to lock them. Lift one hand and step it forward around 6-8 inches in front of you, as soon as it is on the ground, do the same with the opposite leg, from the hip, keep the leg locked. You are trying to get your toes as close to the hand on the same side without the legs bending. Keep this gait pattern going. DO NOT RUSH THROUGH THIS!Instead, keep a purposeful slow, controlled pace. To increase the stretch, all you do is rock back into the hip of the leg you have just stepped forward with before coming back and moving the opposite hand to take the next step. You can hold that extra stretch position a couple of seconds to get maximum benefit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo78BBEN1Q0


Pecs and biceps: This stretch is a hidden gem. I use the KO8 suspension & resistance trainer for this stretch as the resistance bands add a new dimension to it but it can be done with any suspension trainer or even a bit of rope if needed. Face away from the KO8, holding the handles. Place your hands above your head and walk out so that the ropes go tight. Keep your pelvis tilted towards you so as your abs are engaged. Step one foot in front then the other foot back and keep this going until you find your back legs, knee, on the ground.  From here, keeping your arms locked, pull your hands towards the ground, drawing a semi circle. Find the position where the stretch is the tightest and hold it there. Don’t allow your head to fall forward. keep upright and focus on your breathing. Remain there for 30 seconds to a minute then come back to standing, swap legs and repeat. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK9-aEpX63I


T-spine: A lack of T-spine mobility is, without doubt, the reason for so many peoples pains and imbalances. Todays life style of sitting behind wheels and computers and generally not moving has caused this to lock up. The T-spine is built for mobility and lack of mobility through this area is a major cause of lack of shoulder mobility. Perfect example: How many people do you see in the gym doing a barbell shoulder press and they lean back, some, almost to were it is more a standing incline bench than a shoulder press. This is caused by a lack of T-spine mobility and means that you are now loading the Lumbar spine, which isn’t a great idea. A great drill to open the T-spine is the six point Zenith. Get on to all fours so that toes, knees and hands are on the floor, a 90 degree bend at the hips. Take one hand and place it on the small of your back. Close the eye on the same side of this arm. Twist so that the elbow of this arm is pointing towards the ceiling and with the opened eye (at this point it is the one closest to the ground), look as far back as you can. Remember this spot. Once you have found your marker on the ceiling, straighten your arm and reach under your chest, go as far through as you can. When you have pushed through as far as you can, reverse it so as your arm comes up and reaches towards the ceiling, really pulling with the T-spine. Repeat this 10-15 times making sure to PUMP the arms, stretching as far as you can on both the up and down motion. Repeat the test at start of the drill and you should notice you can look further now. Repeat on the other side.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEXSWeCh_rw


This is a simple mobility program that will take no more than 10-15 minutes to complete but by doing so everyday, you will notice a huge difference to your movement

Once upon a time there weren’t that many coaches around, now, every other person on Facebook has PT at the end of their name. Everyone has their own methods, beliefs and traits but how can you spot the good from the bad? How do you choose the one right for you?

Don’t just take the word of a friend who has started training 3 weeks with their newly qualified friend. Chances are they won’t be the best available. Look for someone with an established reputation and proven results.

The most important thing is to find one who is

A. knowledgable.

B. you connect with.

To succeed you need to be with someone who understands you and you enjoy being around. If you don’t look forward to training with this person you will find yourself making excuses not to go. If this is the case then it’s better to move on. This isn’t a personal attack on the coach and if he is professional he will understand but at the end of the day, it is your money and your time so you are entitled to spend it as you please.

This is a key question. Unfortunately for some people, the coach they really want may be out of their price range. Some PT/coaches who are only setting out will charge low in order to get themselves clients, other more established coaches will charge considerably more. I tend to ask people who think paying for a PT is too expensive how much they would spend on an average weekend night out. Then I ask them how many times a month they go out. On average including taxis, entry into clubs and drinks most guys I know, tend to spend £100-200 a night 2-3 weekends a month. Add that up and its anywhere between £300-600 a month, for some it could be a lot more. If this is how much you are prepared to spend damaging your body, how much do you think you should invest bettering it? Think of your body as a super car. You look after it, make sure it gets the best of care, you don’t fill a Ferrari full of diesel.

Do you need encouraged or to be shouted at. Some people don’t work well under pressure and need to be guided and encouraged. Others need to be pushed, shouted and screamed at. Coaches are no different. Some are relaxed, calm and passive. Others are animated and in your face. Find the one who is right for you and you will achieve your goals faster

This may sound cruel but how long have they been coaching? How many years have they been training themselves? Its well and good doing a 2 week, REPS recognised, generic PT course but it is a completely different thing to understand the human body. The ability to spot dysfunctional movement and know how correct it is something that only years of life in the fitness trenches can teach you. The majority of times you really do get what you pay for.

If you want to run a marathon there is no point is seeking out an Olympic lifting specialist. (Yes OL will help but this is more for elite runners). Likewise, If your goal is a powerlifting meet working with a fat loss specialist probably isn’t your best option. Decide on your goal then seek out someone who specialises in it. 

I see this all the time. Clients being asked to do ridiculous movements that have no real purpose other than to stroke the trainers ego, make the client believe the PT knows much more than they actually do and fool them into thinking it is a great exercise. Its fine to add variety but unfortunately, Youtube is full of clips of trainers putting clients through pointless and sometimes dangerous exercises.

Is there a method and pattern to your training? Is there progress in a safe way? If you are training 3-4 times a week you can’t always be working at full pace, especially in the beginning. Its fine to have a sweat session once in a while or a quick met-con style workout at the end but if you are coming in and always being subjected to circuit type sessions with random exercises, in my opinion, it is time to start asking questions. Why pay all that money for something you can get in a £5 class? 

If you have just begun training then having DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is natural but if its impossible to get off the toilet or hold a fork to your mouth the day after each session maybe you trainer is pushing you too hard. This is especially true if you are an athlete or training for another sport. Your training should enhance your chosen sport not hinder it.  Something that bothers me significantly is when a client who trains in football/fighting/rugby and wants to improve. The coach has him do bodybuilding movements 3 sets of 10 or circuit classes. These have little or no athletic crossover and if anything will actually cause more damage to the athletes performance.

A pet hate of mine. Just because someone is a qualified PT does not mean they are an expert in all forms of training. I see this all the time with kettle bells and Olympic lifts. So many people are coached wrong and end up with a bad back then blame the tools for the injury when in most cases it is down to the trainer either being unqualified or inexperienced. TOP TIP. A kettlebell swing is not a squat into a front raise.  If you are shown anything that resembles this then walk away.

Yes, you are not as strong as men but it does not mean you can’t train like one. A deadlift does not know if you are a man or a woman. Before I offend anyone out there,(but if I have then maybe its time to look at your training methods) I’m not saying you can’t use or get results from light weights but make sure you are using enough to stimulate some sort of muscle response. If I have a female client who can press 16kg or 20kg kettlebell, it is pointless me handing her a 4kg. Train to get strong and the byproduct will be a better physique.


If you are a beginner no matter what type of training you are doing, as long as you are doing something regularly you will see change. If you are experienced then changing a program up will illicit results. When you have trained in a certain style for a length of time i.e. 5×5 and seem to be stalling then something as simple as varying the order of the exercises may be all that’s required or changing to a higher rep program like German Volume training for a few weeks your body will guarantee to shock your into growth. The key is to find someone who understands various programs and knows how to implement them correctly and safely.

This is a great option for those who already know their way around a gym and have the discipline to get the workouts done. For these types, online training can be perfect. What is offered varies from trainer to trainer and depends on the level of the package but usually, it involves a program, weekly email support and Skype calls.

Before you hire a PT use the questions in this guide to help you to decide on the right trainer for you.

Pól

Before you read any further I want you to get into the squat position. Place your computer, tablet or phone on the floor in front of you. Are you ready? Ok, remain there while you read this blog.

As a parent it’s your duty to raise your child as best as you can. Keep them safe, guide them and teach them right from wrong. We are the adults and have more life experience, so we know what is best. Or do we?

If we were to allow ourselves to sit back and take some time to simply observe our children, I think we all could learn a thing or two from them.

1. Breathing

It’s pretty important, it is the first thing we do when we come into the world and the last thing we do when we leave. All life revolves around it yet we pay it very little attention.

Observe how a baby breathes. Watch how the belly moves up and down in time with their breaths. This is called diaphragmatic breathing and it’s how we all should breathe but 90% of adults, can’t do this. Instead we breathe into our chests. This is also how we breath when under stress.

Think about your breathing pattern when frightened or running from danger. How does someone who is in pain or seriously ill breath? Short, rapid, panicking breaths, like they are struggling for air.

Compare this to how you would breath when meditating or practicing yoga. They are slow, controlled, deep breaths, that pulls the air down towards the belly.

These examples may be from the far ends of the spectrum but I chose them to illustrate my point as I’m sure you can all relate to them.

The fix: lie on you back and place two objects, like a couple of books on top of you. One on your chest, the other on your belly.

The goal of this exercise is to have the book on the belly rise and fall in time with your breath without allowing the book on the chest to move. It might be harder than it sounds but once you ingrain this pattern you should begin to notice a difference.

2. Play

As a child we are able to create games at will. Having fun was the only rule. We climbed, rolled, skipped, ran, swung, tumbled and fell. Handstands, cartwheels and brachiating were not seen as working out, it was fun.

As we grow we allow ourselves to conform to society’s rules. As parents we fall into this trap and find ourselves telling our children to stop doing that, you’re too old for this, you can’t do that here etc.

Maybe if we shook off the shackles of society and allowed ourselves to release our inner child we would be happier. I know from my personal experiences in both coaching and doing, that unearthing a forgotten skill or learning a new one like a handstand has adults laughing, losing their inhibitions and becoming like children once more.

The fix: allow yourself to embrace your inner child. So what if you make a fool of yourself, laugh it off, get up and try again. Keep trying until you get it. Trust me, nailing a ten second handstand for the first time is a feeling that’s hard to beat.

3. Squatting

When a child wants to examine something what do they do? Do they bend over?  No, they drop into a perfect squat. Why? Because it is a natural resting position.

I read an article a while back that said sitting is the new smoking. It made a lot of sense. There are so many people, old before their time because they do not move. The saying you are only as old as your spine is very true. You can be 50 years old and have the mobility of someone in their 90’s or you can be 85 and move like a 40-year-old.

The lifestyle we lead in the Western world has stolen our ability to squat. Everywhere you look there are seats. We use them for work, watching TV, eating, relaxing and talking. The list goes on.

Compare this to countries in Asia where you will see people gathered in a group talking, waiting for a bus or eating food laid on the floor, all while in the squat.

This simple movement could be all it takes to add years on to your life. It encourages mobility of the spine, hips and ankles as well as keeps your knees strong and healthy.

The fix: Start to sit in the squat. Ido Portal issued a challenge that I believe everyone should take up, regardless of age or abilities. Sit in a squat position for 30 minutes a day for 30 days. It can be broken up as you need, 30-seconds, 1-minute, 5-minute or 10-minute intervals. Whatever you can manage. Get yourself as low as you can, relax and just sit there. Do it every day and accumulate 30 minutes throughout each day. The aim being that by day 30 you can do 30-minutes straight.

So how did you cope with the squat while reading this? If you struggled then hopefully it will serve as a wake-up call.

Pól

For as long as I can remember, I have had a genuine love for martial arts and have practiced it in some form or another for 31 years. From Judo, Muay Thai, boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to Wrestling, Systema, Kung Fu and Karate, you name it, I’ve tried it. After 23 years of training and competing, I opened my own MMA club in 2007. Two years later I, along with a friend, opened Irelands first full time, purpose built MMA gym. Eventually, through my own curiosity and interest, as well as a need to condition fighters, I immersed myself in the study of strength training methods. Today I still read, study and attend certifications and workshops of the strength coaches I respect and who I believe, are the leaders in their fields.

As a sport, MMA is in a lucky position, it is still relatively new as far as sports go and as such, hasn’t become stuck in a certain training dogma, most coaches I know, rarely have issues with trying new systems when it comes to strength training. As the coaches and fighters techniques evolve so do the conditioning methods but I still find it hard to understand how, even with all the studies and science to back up the benefits of strength training for combat sports, there can still be so many boxing coaches who maintain stone age beliefs in the best way to train fighters.

Now before I get flooded with hate mail, I’m not saying all coaches are this way but I do know of trainers who continue to preach these outdated ideas of lifting weights slows you down, that pounding the roads is the only way to get ring fit or that you shouldn’t drink water during training.  The old school types still refuse to accept that their way isn’t the only way.

I seen this highlighted once again, in a recent interview with Irish boxing legend, Dave Boy McAuley. He suggested that Carl Frampton, the current IBF super-bantamweight world champion should stop using weights, as he believed it was what caused him to struggle during his latest title defence against Alejandro González Jr. He suggested that it may have been The Jackal’s preparations that have left him excessively heavy and struggling to make weight and this was a contributing factor as to why he wasn’t as sharp as he usually is. He said and I quote

“The only reason I can think why he struggles is that he is lifting weights.”  “Weights help you lift things, they don’t make you punch harder and I know guys who are a walking muscle and they couldn’t break an egg. Muscle weighs more than fat, and if he just cut back the weights a bit – I think he would make the weight easier.”

You can read the full article here http://www.irish-boxing.com/dave-boy-mcauley-frampton-ditch-weights/

Regardless of what he thinks, Carl looks every inch the athlete and his strength & conditioning enabled him to weather a storm and pull off the victory. I am not attempting to put Dave down, he was a great fighter and he managed accolades that I never will but he isn’t an S&C coach and his knowledge of training, stems from a time of drinking raw eggs and chasing chickens. In his day, this worked but only because it was what everyone else was doing. The birth of the internet changed that forever.

Suddenly the ability to speak to different trainers or read about their methods was as simple as a click of a button. As coaching communities grew, so did the knowledge and this lead and still leads, to new discoveries that mean fighters continue to become stronger and fitter than previous generations.

He is correct that lifting weights has the possibility to slow you down and there are a lot of fighters being fed the wrong information by so-called S&C coaches who have no idea of how to train an athlete and this is where the trouble begins. I have always believed there is a big difference between a PT and a strength coach but so many trainers and fighters don’t realise this. Someone can become a PT in less than two weeks, this does mean they are qualified to coach an athlete.  This is specialist coaching that requires knowledge of the fight game, years of experience and making a lot of mistakes before you can truly understand how to coach a combative athlete.

A fighter is not your normal client. They are, for the most part, driven, hungry, selfish and obsessive. It is the nature of the beast. If they weren’t this way, they would not be fighting. Their mindset is completely different to the average person. When training Joe Blogs you are always trying to find ways of motivating him, with a fighter, you will always be trying to find ways of holding them back. Even with all the knowledge there still exists a belief within the fighting community that more is better, this is wrong. BETTER IS BETTER!! Your goal should be to have your fighter spending less time training and the more time recovering. The ability to simplify a training program so as it does what is required of it and nothing more is a skill within itself.  As with all fighters, boxers need to be as strong and explosive as possible but still remain within a certain weight bracket so there are many factors to be considered and like all contact sports, there is always the possibility of something going wrong.

In part two I will discuss the rules I believe a strength coach must follow when training an athlete in the lead up to a fight.

In part one of this blog (read  it here) I discussed how strength & conditioning for fighters has evolved from the days when boxing ruled, to the birth of MMA and its new, more scientific methods. Strength coaches are part of the background in an MMA team, we are like the mechanics in an F1 team. Our work isn’t glamorous but without it, the driver (fighter) doesn’t have as good a chance of winning. When our methods are effective we won’t get much of the attention but if it fails, we will, for all the wrong reasons. It can be extremely gratifying to watch a fighter you have worked with improving fight by fight, knowing that you are a link in the chain to this improvement. That said, it is easy to overthink S&C and end up doing more damage than good.

In part two I want to share some simple rules that in my opinion, anyone coaching any type of fighter must keep in mind.

RULE #1: The main focus of strength training should be injury prevention.

This is the real purpose of S&C. As a coach your #1 goal is to make the body as bulletproof as possible. In a twelve-week fight camp the fighter is going to pick up injuries, its inevitable, so aim to build their bodies so as they are strong enough to deal with the knocks and bumps. I have yet to experienced a camp that has run smoothly so the less damage these knocks do, the better chance your fighter will have of training at their optimal level.

RULE #2: Strength training should not interfere with the athletes sport.

This is crucial when training someone such as an athlete. What you do should enhance the fighters performance. If they are arriving for their skills or sparring sessions feeling sore and beat up then they won’t be training at their optimal level. Some coaches get pleasure in pushing their fighters to a point of near collapse (in the beginning I was one of these types) but screaming at your fighter for one more rep or to give you another 20 seconds, when they are already at the edge of their limit is just plain stupid. Why risk injury just to prove they can push out one more ugly rep that risks them injuring themselves? Some people will justify it by saying it builds character and heart but in my opinion, that’s what sparring sessions like the shark tank or gauntlet (if you are a fighter you will know what that is, if you aren’t, count yourself blessed) is for and even that should be used sparingly. Save the dig down to the bottom of your soul efforts for those times in the cage/ring.

RULE #3: Mobility and movement.

I see so many fighters who look in great shape but can’t touch their toes. The saying “you are only as strong as your weakest link” is true. What is the point in coaching a fighter to deadlift 250kg for fun if they struggle to lift their hands above their heads? Increasing their mobility will increase their range of motion. This opens up sweeps, submissions and the ability to strike from different angles. Fighting is basically a dance and dance is movement.

In my gym I have witnessed fighters who are beasts in the weight room, get destroyed by guys over 20kg lighter, simply because their opponent had great mobility and beautiful movement. The ability to control your body in every plane requires great strength. The more I study movement the more I realise how strong its crossover to fighting is.

RULE #4: Focus on full body movements.

They are fighters, not body builders. You aren’t going to win because your six pack is better. Look for the movements that give you the most bang for your buck and try and replicate movements that take place in a fight. Deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, Turkish get-ups, power cleans, gymnastic ring work and balance drills. I always focus on building a strong posterior chain with my fighters, the back, the glutes and the hamstrings. This is where the power is found. The fighters with the biggest posterior chain are alway the most explosive.

RULE #5: Build power

You are trying to build strength and explosive power not size. Remember speed kills. The faster and more explosive they are the harder they can hit. The last thing you want happening is your fighter to become muscle bound. Stick with me while I get a bit technical for a few lines, I apologise and will keep it as simple as possible.

Muscle growth is referred to as hypertrophy. There are two types. The first one is what bodybuilders aim for and is known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is where sarcoplasm (fluid) is pushed into the muscles cells causing them to swell and grow, exactly what a fighter wants to avoid.

The second type is known as myofibril hypertrophy. With this style of training you’re enhancing the actual size of the muscle fibres. Myofibrils are able to contract during exertion and the more you have of them, the more power your muscles can summon when they need to actually perform work. Adding more fibres makes your muscles denser but not noticeably bigger. How do we do this? by following rule #6.

RULE #6: Keep the reps low, the rests long and the weight relatively heavy.

In my opinion, reps should total no more than 10 for lower body and up to 25 in total for upper. There are numerous ways to achieve this and they all work, 3×3, 5×5, 2×5 5×1 but I personally like to stay away from singles and doubles and work with in the 3-5 range thus staying away from going close to their 1rep max. Just like they aren’t bodybuilders, fighters are also not power lifters. The closer you go to their 1RM, the more risk their is of injury.  Strong enough is good enough for me. I like to pick a weight that’s comfortable and work with it until it becomes easy, then increase and repeat. This way I avoid burn out and they remain fresh for their sparring.

Rest times between sets, as far as I’m concerned, should be as long as possible. WARNING (another slightly scientific bit coming up). A muscle contraction is like a light switch, it is either on or off, there can’t be a half contraction. The strength of the contraction is dictated by the nervous system. When you lift a weight that the nervous system deems heavy i.e. 85-100% of your 1RM, it will have used up a lot of energy and become fatigued. It takes around 5 minutes for it to recover (this is why the likes of powerlifters and Olympic lifters take so long between sets) The more rest you can take between sets will mean the CNS (central nervous system) will have had longer to recover, meaning you will have more strength to call on.

RULE #7: Focus on weaknesses.

A coach is different from PT. Our job isn’t to provide a service to get them fit. It is to find where they are weak and fix that. I said it earlier but it is worth repeating “you are only as strong as your weakest link”. Every fighter is different and will require individual attention. For some it will be strength, some will have movement and mobility issues, for others it will be both. Your job is to work out what that is and then find the simplest way of addressing it.  Trying to run a class style session does not work, they need 1:1 attention with a structured program that they can follow themselves.

RULE #8. Start with cardio

This is something I have struggled to accept. For years I have believed that cardio was the evil of the S&C world but recently I attended the Strength Matters Summit and listened to a very well respected coach called Andrew Read (check him out here http://www.readpt.com) and now, I realise its a necessity. The key is to doing it right. Fighting, like most things we do in life, is a cardio based sport. The higher I can increase my aerobic zone, the longer I can maintain a faster pace, without entering the aerobic zone. If I can get my fighters aerobic threshold to a level higher than their opponents, then it will enable him to push the pace and sustain it for longer, pushing his opponent into an anaerobic state. From this point, it is simply a matter of time. In order to do this correctly, you need a plan and some time!

A fight camp is usually around 12 weeks and if your fighter is anyway the professional he should be keeping a certain level of year round fitness. The fitter he or she is at the start of this, the better they will be come the end. At the beginning of the camp, long steady runs is whats called for, making sure the heart rate is kept at a level that keeps him in his aerobic comfort zone, a heart monitor is advised for this. Over the weeks the plan is to expand this zone so that come 4-5 weeks out from the fight, they are at a level where they can run at a pace that in the beginning, would have seen them enter an anaerobic state. When they are at this point the higher intensity work should start. This is what I like to call RR (round replication), a well know example would be “The Shark Tank”, a fresh fighter, every minute on the minute, for 6 minutes, the pace is always high, the opponents are always fresh and strong. Your fighter will be working in their anaerobic zone for these rounds but will find time to rest and recover. The aerobic foundation they have laid leading up to this will come into effect in these recovery moments, delaying the time it takes to once again enter into the anaerobic zone.

There you have it, a very simplified guide to strength training, Focusing on keeping everything as simple as possible and remembering your main goal is to keep the fighter injury free should help your team improve and hopefully produce champions.

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