4 Exercises and 4000 Variations…

4 Exercises and 4000 Variations…

 …Using Motor Learning & the 80/20 Principle for getting more value out of less in your program.
By: Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS, USAW
One of my clients has a favorite warning (and perhaps intimidation technique) he likes to give all first time clients that join our Adult Athlete Performance group. He tells them, “Be ready, Chris only knows 4 exercises, but he knows 4,000 variations of each of those exercises.” While it tends to make the clients slightly nervous and make me laugh a little, there is absolutely some truth to what he’s saying.

If you’ve ever set foot inside our facility, you’d know that we don’t have a lot of equipment: 2 Power Racks, 2 Keiser Functional Trainers, 2 Glute Hams, 2 Slideboards, 1 Vertimax, and then after that we’re pretty standard (barbells, dumbbells, hurdles/ladders, tubes/bands, plyo boxes, sleds, wobble boards, etc). The reality is, that is intentional. It’s not only part of our business plan but a large part of our training philosophy as well. We don’t have (and never will have) a lot of ‘machines’ or a lot of equipment. Why? We believe in training movement patterns. Why again? Because we believe it’s of higher priority to improve all our clients’ ability to be a better athlete.

It doesn’t matter if that person is a 55 year old female looking for weight management or a 28 year old world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu artist, it simply modifies which end of the spectrum we work on

I used to say that “we don’t use machines because you don’t get to use machines to help you move on the field or move around in your daily life!” I still like and believe that saying, the only problem is that I realized with every passing year this is becoming less and less true. Athletes still have to have high power/strength/stability ability and the motor control with which to express those traits on the field. Non-athletes still have to get in and out of the car, put groceries away, walk/run, etc. We do have more machines and gadgets and video games and technology to assist our lives so that we simply don’t need to move as much, yes. Understand, though, that this truth only STRENGTHENS the need to exercise and develop motor patterns away from and outside of those machines. The less we move freely, the more chronic deterioration and breakdown we have with our bodies.

Listen, the question isn’t if everyone has to deal with gravity and physics. The question is how well does everyone deal with those forces. One of my favorite slogans from a colleague Jim Schmitz (former USA Olympic Weightlifting coach) is “I will not rest as long as gravity threatens my people!” Great slogan that expresses a large reality…all of us simply have to deal with those forces…period. If not, we either fall into similar compensatory motor patterns (i.e. why 60% of adults have back pain) that feed right into injury patterns or our bodies just give up and we lose our ability to enjoy independence and life on our own sooner.

I like what Canadian Strength Coach, Charles Poliquin, has said many times, “Vary the exercise without changing it.” Often times (though not always), research in kinesiology helps us understand what we’ve known works in the strength and conditioning—and have therefore been utilizing—but haven’t understood exactly why. Over the past couple decades, for example, we’ve seen muscle physiology research lend insight to the fact that a squat is not a squat is not a squat. A few weeks ago I had a session with one of my metabolic training groups. As we got about half way through the session I started to hear comments ranging from

“oh good, another squat variation…because it’s been about 30 seconds since we’ve done that”


“oh dear lord…please…not another squat!”

(you must know, by the way, that I live for those moments). Yes, another squat. Changing the loading parameters, type of load, direction or placement of load, tempo of movement, plane of movement, limb involvement (single leg, double leg, or variation thereof), etc, all change the exercise. How? The research tells us it does so in at least a few ways:

1. Muscle fiber firing order
2. Rate of force development
3. Stability demands and strategies needed to support the movement pattern
4. Acute and chronic hormonal responses
5. Local and global metabolic demands

So what do Motor Learning/Control and the 80/20 Principle have to do with it all? In part, we’ve already answered this. Though we do have more than the aforementioned “4” exercises we choose from, it is absolutely true that we have a very select exercise movement pool that we pull from. Specifically, we make sure ALL of our programs include:

1. Pushing
2. Pulling
3. Single and double leg squatting
4. Hip dominant motion
5. Power (both acceleration and deceleration components)

6. Torso/Core work
7. Balance

Why so few? Because these are the biggest bang-for-your-buck movement patterns. They are the ones that both the average Joe as well as elite athletes needs proficiency in. The are the 20% of all movement patterns that, if trained, provide 80% of the results. Yes, there are a lot of cool looking exercises out there that boast big results. The truth, though, is that most likely we all simply need to work harder at the basics. This is where Motor Learning/Control come in. Decades of research tells us that to master movement patterns it takes, on average, 500-1000 hours of repetition (and quality repetition at that—perfect practice makes perfect).

Why do we use 4 exercises with 4,000 variation (or rather 7 and 7,000)? Because if we don’t utilize the basic pedagogy principles of mass and distributed practice, we know the motor control outcome…our clients WILL 

Lose that motor program = 
get weaker = 
decrease performance = 
use compensation =  
McGill, S. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 4th Ed.  2009.  Backfitpro, Inc.  Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Questions/Comments? Contact chris@prevailconditioning.com

Client Spotlight: Brittany Jewett

Soccer Player
Westmont College 

Our daughter, Brittany Jewett, a student at Westmont College and a soccer player, had a Fulkerson Osteotomy knee surgery at UW Hospital in Seattle. After the surgery she wanted desperately to return to the soccer field at Westmont.

Brittany Jewett / Westmont Soccer Player

Since Brittany needed intense rehab, she chose to do this at Prevail with Chris. Each time she had rehab she called home full of excitement relating to us how positive and encouraging Chris was with her. She showed great progress and a good part of this progress, I believe, was due to Chris’ outlook for her future. She related that Chris conveyed this positive viewpoint in a very personal way to her.

As her Mom, I was kept informed through emails from Chris continually keeping me “in the loop” where Brittany’s work-outs and progress were concerned. My husband and I felt that we were made an integral part of Brittany’s program and progress from miles away.

We would recommend Prevail and the sensitive care given to their clients without hesitation. In our opinion, Brittany’s recovery was a positive experience for her for which we are very grateful. 

-Tami Jewett (mother of Brittany)

The Structural Functionalism of Sport in America PART 1

By: Juliann Boubel, BS, CSCS

There are many institutions in society that exist to better human existence. Institutions like politics, economics, religion, marriage and family, and education are all individually distinctive but important in their relation to the whole, working network of society. This article argues the validity and necessity of sport as one of these valued institutions within America, created and maintained for the betterment, development, and unification of society. 
Sport is a huge industry throughout the world that unites everyone involved. The institution of sport in America serves many purposes, and I believe there are five major areas of influence under the umbrella of this organization. Sport acts as a means of mobility and socialization as well as being integrative, socio-emotional, and political. To start, the mobility of sport can be seen through the ladder of success it can provide its participants. For example, sport has provided great means of social mobility for those from low-economic backgrounds as a way to the top of the social hierarchy through affluence and education. College scholarships can provide access to education for individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford such learning or opportunity. Even though he was cut from his high school basketball team, Michael Jordan is one of these individuals who beat the odds and received a scholarship to his dream school of UNC. After being named College Athlete of the year twice before his final season, he was drafted in 1984 by the Chicago Bulls and has since become “the greatest basketball player of all time” (1).

Because sport creates this bridge between economic classes, 
its mobility helps unite our country and 
give potential opportunity for all athletes to succeed.
Socialization of sport relates to how it molds and shapes people into appropriate, capable members of society. The camaraderie found in sport is a unique aspect that brings people together and teaches them how to act in social situations. Formal and recreational sports teach qualities like teamwork, sportsmanship, honesty, and integrity, all of which are highly valued characteristics in well-developed individuals. According to Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, “character-developing benefits of sport contend that participants learn to overcome obstacles, cooperate with teammates, develop self-control, and persist in the face of defeat” (2). The authors state that…

sport and character relate within the context of four intertwined truths—
compassion, fairness, sportsmanship and integrity. All of these qualities combine 
to form and shape character through the participation in sport 
and teach individuals how to function as a team on the field, in the gym or at the office.
See Part 2 of this Article NEXT MONTH.

Juliann Boubel, BS, CSCS is a Strength & Conditioning Coach for Prevail Conditioning Performance Center and works with athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.  For further information regarding this topic please contact Juliann at Juliann@prevailconditioning.com

  1. “NBA Encyclopedia: Playoff Edition.” NBA Media Ventures. 2009. 27 Apr 2009.
  2. Weinberg, Robert S., and Daniel Gould. Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 4. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007. Print.
  3. Bell, Katie K. “Boost Your Brain Power.” Today’s Chiropractic Lifestyle 36.1FEB/MAR 2007 34. Web.25 Apr 2009.
  4. “History of Title IX.” titleix.info. 2009. The MARGARET Fund of NWLC. 25 Apr 2009.

Who’s the Musculoskeletal Expert…Your Physician or Your Physical Therapist?

By: Tom Walters, DPT, CSCS
I hope the answer to this question does not surprise you, but your physical therapist is the correct choice!

A study published in the BioMed Central Journal of Musculoskeletal Disorders tested physical therapists, physical therapy students, physicians from a variety of specialties, medical residents and medical students on their knowledge of musculoskeletal medicine.  The study showed that physical therapists with or without board certification and physical therapy students in their last year of school scored higher than medical residents and all physician specialties except orthopedic surgeons (see graph below).
The results of this study would probably surprise many consumers of physical therapy services, which is something we as therapists need to change.  Personally, I have discussed this topic with many individuals and constantly find that people are shocked at the level of education required to become a physical therapist and are even more dumbfounded when they find out that therapists often complete residencies and fellowships.  As therapists, we must do our best to educate patients on what it means to be a physical therapist and always take the time to explain musculoskeletal concepts as they relate to a patient’s particular diagnosis.  By doing so, we will be better serving our patients and promoting the profession.
With these results of this study in mind, I ask that the readers of this article support direct access legislation to physical therapy services. Most states have already passed some form of direct access, which means the consumer can go directly to a physical therapist for musculoskeletal problems without having to spend extra time and money by having to see their physician first. However, some states have not passed direct access or have a restricted version at this time.
For more information on direct access and to see what is going on in a particular state, please follow the following link from the American Physical Therapy Association.
Tom Walters, DPT, CSCS is an orthopaedic and Redcord certified Neurac suspension-exercise physical therapist at Prevail Conditioning Performance Center.  Tom has experience in orthopedic private practice, long-term care, traveling therapy and sport medicine.  For further information regarding this topic, please contact Tom at tom@prevailconditioning.com

Trainer Workout, April 12, 2011

5 Min. SMR, 
5 Min. Dynamic Warmup
1a. Barbell Flat Bench Press- 3 sets, 6-8 reps, tempo 3-0-1 (0 recovery between sets)
b. 1 Leg 2 Arm RDL- 3 sets, 8-10 ea. leg, tempo 2-0-1 (30 seconds recovery between sets)
2a. Alternating Incline DB Bench Press-3 sets, 6-8 ea. arm, tempo 2-0-1 (0 recovery between sets)
b. 1 Leg Hip Extension 45 degree angle on Roman Chair- 3 sets, 6-8 ea. leg, tempo 3-0-1 (30 second recovery between sets)
3a. Prone Leg Curl 2 leg Concentric, 1 leg Eccentric- 3 sets, 10-12 reps, tempo 3-0-1 (0 recovery between sets)
b. MedBall Push Up and Pass- 3 sets to technical failure (ouch!), tempo 1-0-1 (30 second recovery between sets)
Questions about the program? Ask any PCPC Trainer! Be sure to pace yourself and complete in a safe manner at your own risk. Consult a physician before beginning any exercise program. Enjoy!

Ice/E-stim/Ultrasound: Age old therapies that may not be so therapeutic

By: Chris Ecklund, MA, CSCS
For: SB Independent

For years we’ve heard it from the medical community—
    Roll an ankle?  Ice it.
    Pull a muscle? Ice it.
    Jam a finger?  Ice it.
Those who have been involved in athletics or fitness are all too familiar with this advice.  Adhering to it may be another issue altogether, but suffice it to say we have been instructed to do it.  The question is…should we?

Research over the past couple decades has brought the therapeutic effects of R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compress, elevate) for soft tissue injury into question.  Does it actually help?  Is it worth the time and discomfort?  Are there other therapies (i.e. e-stim or ultrasound) that are more appropriate or better yet, more efficacious in bringing about the tissue healing process for acute soft tissue trauma?  Some studies have even gone so far as to say that cryotherapy has a negative impact on tissue healing and can actually slow or negate some of the body’s natural healing processes for recovery.

The truth, not surprisingly, lies somewhere in the middle. 

Local Physical Therapist, Tom Walters, DPT, CSCS notes that “for acute musculoskeletal trauma (due to surgery or injury), the practice of R.I.C.E. still holds value. Numerous studies are available that show the positive effects of RICE, particularly with regard to ice and compression during the inflammatory phase of healing (first 24-72 hours after injury).”  Further, he describes that the exact application technique, total icing/compression time and number of applications per day does vary depending on the size and severity of the aforementioned injury.  As a rule, however, 15-20 minutes of application (particularly that of crushed ice) several times daily with at least an hour between applications are still sound advice.

Where does the confusion lie, then?  Why are some arguing against it?  Primarily in the research evaluating cryotherapy effects past the inflammatory phase.  Here the information is equivocal at best.  Certainly there are enough studies to suggest (and most likely add credibility) to the theory that icing beyond this initial phase of 24-72 hours may actually limit the body’s natural healing response.  However, Walters points out “one must remember that if [he/she does] not rest the injured area, the inflammatory process may be lengthened beyond 72 hours.”  In this situation, further icing therapy may be warranted. 

Okay then, what about E-stim (electrical stimulation) and Ultrasound? Interestingly, while both of these practices have been fairly common practices in therapy regimens in various clinics (physical therapy, chiropractics, athletic training, etc.), the research appears equivocal at this point.  Walters suggests that while there is a need for more research, currently uses are primarily for pain relief (both) and increasing muscle strength (E-stim) but have limited support for tissue healing and repair. 

In short, E-stim and Ultrasound appear to offer very little, if any, additional benefit to tissue repair and the healing process.

Where does that leave us?  R.I.C.E.  Still good advice according to the literature…at least for the first 72 hours.

One stone remains unturned, however: how long is it going to take the tissue to heal beyond the 72 hours and what should we do until then? 

We find many of the clients in our performance center struggle to simply allow tissue repair to take place and often reengage in activities beyond tissue capacity far too soon thinking, “it doesn’t hurt anymore so it must be healed.”  Understanding that injuries are unique and blanket statements can’t be made about healing processes, I asked Walters to offer a general time line and plan of action for a typical ankle sprain based on the latest research.  Here’s what he suggests:

Phase 1: Inflammatory Phase (24-72 hours)1.  If unable to bear weight or have point tenderness along the malleoli (ankle bones), see physician to rule out fracture.
2.  Begin RICE ASAP (assuming no fracture) and continue for 24-72 hours (depending on severity).
3.  Keep ankle as inactive as possible to avoid re-injury.

Phase 2:  Fibroblastic Healing Phase (approximately 4 weeks)4.  Increase Range of Motion, Strength and Proprioception (balance and neuromuscular control) using pain as guide (if pushed into pain, the tissue will regress into the Inflammatory Phase again).
Grade I sprains (least severe) may be healed and allow regular sports participation between 2 weeks – 2 months.
Grade II usually require between 3-6 months to be pain-free with all activities.
Grade III sprains (most severe) may require >6 months to heal and may ultimately require surgery if instability remains.

Walter’s Works Cited:
1. Does Cryotherapy Improve Outcomes With Soft Tissue Injury? Hubbaard TJ, Denegar CR. J Athl Train. 2004 Sep; 39 (3):278-279

2. Cooling Efficiency of 4 Common Cryotherapeutic Agents. Kennet, Jane; Hardaker, Natalie; Hobbs, Sarah; Selfe, James. J Athl Train. 2007 Jul; 42 (3):343
3. The role of physical agents in modulating pain. Fedorczyk J. J Hand Ther 10: 110-121, 1997.
4. Effectiveness of Interferential Current Therapy in the Management of Musculoskeletal Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Fuentes J, Olivo S, Magee D and Gross D. Physical Therapy. 2010 Sept; 90; 1219-1238.
5. Thermal Agents in Rehabilitation, 2nd ed. Michlovitz SL. Philadelphia. 1990. FA Davis.
6. The effect of cryotherapy on intraarticular temperature and postoperative care after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Okoshi Y. Am J Sports Med 27:357-362, 1999.

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