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Fifth gym name option in our brainstorming list.

Fifth gym name option in our brainstorming list.

What’s the deal with muscle soreness?

I didn’t mean to sound like a bad Jerry Seinfeld stand up, but it’s a thought that’s been on my mind. Members ask about it with some regularity and there is quite a bit of mythology around it.

Unfortunately, most of what we know is speculation.

It was first “common knowledge” that it was the accumulation of lactic acid that caused the pain. But studies show that when soreness is the highest, 24-36 hours later, most of the lactic acid has been flushed away.

There is the idea that you want to chase that muscle soreness to know you had a good workout. But that’s not even true, as most of us have experienced how with more training consistency, we don’t get sore with the same regularity.

Now, the accepted hypothesis is that it’s a combination of muscle fiber damage plus inflammation pressure on the nerves that causes muscle soreness. That would explain partly why some of your soreness goes away as you warm up. Your warm up movement is flushing away that inflammation.

So why do you stop getting sore if you frequently do a particular exercise?

I don’t know. No one KNOWS. My guess:

You know how when you started lifting, things kinda hurt? Not your muscles, but maybe your hands from gripping a pull up bar, or your thumbs from learning the hook grip? Maybe your front rack or back rack when you first started squatting. After some time, it just magically stops bothering you?

It’s a phenomenon called peripheral desensitization. The first time you sense a pain, your nervous system freaks out, because that’s kinda what it does best. But as you keep doing your thing, and nothing bad happens, your brain just sorta filters out those signals. It’s like your nervous system is saying “Fine, you’re not going to stop. I give up.”

My guess is that’s why you stop feeling the soreness when an exercise is repeated. You’re still accumulating the fiber damage and inflammation (you HAVE to in order to progress). But your nerves are like “Ugh this again? I can’t be bothered.”

Can you “roll out” sore muscles?

Yes, but probably not in the way you think is happening.

You are not fixing your soreness, you’re not healing your soreness. Most, if not all, mobility tools can work to alleviate some soreness in a couple of ways.

First, obviously, is that inflammation part. Moving around and squeezing the sore and stiff tissues is going to help flush the inflammation and reperfuse the tissues with more fluid. This helps your joints move more easily and decrease one aspect of soreness pain.

The other dimension is how mobility tools “talk” to your nervous system. While, again, we don’t know EXACTLY how mobility tools help, we know they don’t actually affect your fascia and you can’t mobilize out muscle fiber damage. That shit just gotta heal. But these tools do seem to affect your nervous system and motor units. Tight muscles tend to be tight from over stimulation and mobility tools seem to help those motor unit shill TF out so they don’t keep their stranglehold on the muscles.

If not an indicator of a good workout, what can I learn from the times I get sore?

It usually means that you haven’t worked a specific movement in a while. That is neither good nor bad, but it’s definitely going to happen as you change up your programming one cycle to the next.

It might mean that you advanced a particular movement too fast. Too fast? Muscle soreness can decrease your power output for weeks, so chasing that DOMS isn’t always a good thing in the long run.

It might mean you’ve neglected a certain muscle group. I recently did single leg RDLs and my hammies were LIT the next day. I was shocked, I really thought I was working them with other moves. But apparently not the particular section and not with the focus those RDLs hit them with.

All in all, like with so many things biology, a single sensation or measurement means little to nothing. Don’t chase the soreness, but when you get sore, you can use that information for your next workout.

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Training at SPS with Limited Time

A gym like Speed Power Strength is a commitment. Not just financially, but of time and an indicator that you’re ready to commit to getting stronger and in better health.

You see, the business model at most big box gyms is they charge some nominal rate, give you not direction or oversight, and kinda hope that you don’t come in too often.

But at SPS, we WANT you there. Our coaches thrive on watching you get stronger, move better, and reach goals that you might not have even thought you had. We love seeing you get your first pull up, taking the risk of stepping on the competition floor, or finding the confidence in yourself to set goals that you might have considered outlandish before.

So how do you make the most of that if you can only show up a once or twice a week?

First and foremost, we have several people that frequent SPS only once a week, or on the weekends. And they still make progress. We have class passes that allow you to not feel tied to a membership and come when your schedule allows. While these passes don’t come with personalized training plan, you’re still going to get coach oversight and be given a lifting routine for that day off the cuff.

When should you come? There are two answers to that depending on where you are in your fitness exploration.

If you’re pretty new to this barbell business…

You’re pretty new to this. You know what you need to do, but you’re nervous about going about this without any oversight. You want to make sure someone catches technical discrepancies quick because the moves still feel a little foreign.

If anything in that paragraph sounds like you, you’re going to be best served coming when the gym is a little slower. These would be your top three times to come in:

  • Mid-morning (8am to 10:15am) Monday through Friday

  • Mornings (6:30am to 8am) Monday and Friday

  • Thursday evenings (5:30pm to 8pm)

These slower times will ensure that the coach on duty will be able to see you frequently to answer questions and check form. The busier the gym, the more people the coach has to rotate through before getting back to you.

If barbell training is old hat and you want the energy of our facility…

You’ve been doing this thing for a while. You can’t make it often because of life, work, or commute obligations, but you could use the inspiration of training around other serious and fun people once a week.

You’re going to want to come when the gym is FULL and the energy is high. The top three best times for you to come are:

  • Saturday Open Gym (9am to 12pm)

  • Monday night (5pm to 8pm)

  • Wednesday night (5pm to 8pm)

I’d also like to throw in an honorable mention for Friday night. There seems to be an ebb and flow to how busy Friday nights get, but when the flow is on, it’s a real Happy Hour at SPS.

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Strength Programming Without a Specific Goal

Strong is good for bodies, brains, and coffee.

Strong is good for bodies, brains, and coffee.

Goals and goal setting is a hotness.

I talked about it a little with my New Year, Same You blog post earlier in the year.

SPS Coach Brandon talked about it in his I don’t have any goals blog series.

As the Athletic Director of SPS, I’m often the first point of contact with prospective members. Each new strength and conditioning member goes through a movement evaluation with me as a quick form and comfort check to make sure each person will be safe in a group coaching environment. It also gives me information about a person’s movement balance, mobility, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses that I can use in creation of each member’s personal program.

And, of course, one of the questions I ask is “Do you have any specific goals?”

Look.

I don’t actually expect much of an answer from most people. Sure, it’s awesome when I get one. Our members tease me and others “If you tell Kristin what your goals are, be ready because she’s gonna make sure you work towards them.”

But as I learned from my friend Stevo, founder of Habitry, most people come to the gym as “A” and really their only goal is “not-A.”

THAT’S FINE!

As coaches and trainers, we need to be able to work with that. If we push and dig, we risk making someone feel guilty or shameful for not having their brain properly organized. It’s vulnerable enough to come to a new community, don’t make it harder.

And for members and prospective members, don’t fret! You clearly have goals, even if you can’t verbalize them yet. You’ve stepped into a gym after all!

But how does someone program for a person without specific goals?

I’m gonna let you in on my programming checklist. This is assuming there are no glaring technical or mobility issues that come up during the movement eval.

  1. STRENGTH - I start most people with 3 days a week. They get a squat, a pull (deadlift, sumo deadlift, trap bar deadlift) and a press (strict press, bench press, push press). Usually in the 8-10 rep range for 4 sets. Most people come to us with either a long break in training or mostly CrossFit training where they need to build up some hypertrophy, re-engage with their technique, and have some general strength endurance work.

  2. UNILATERAL - We all have a strong side and a weak size, and while I can’t train that out of you, I can help you make the difference less obvious. The balance and stabilization needed to execute these movements also have great life transferability.

  3. ACTIVE BRACING - I do very little direct ab work unless it’s requested. I LOVE what I call active bracing drills, where you have to lock your torso down against a movement that’s trying to make you move: Pallof variations, planks with rows and other movements, suitcase carries, etc.

  4. CARRIES - Picking up something heavy, maybe even something awkward, and having to move around with it while maintaining good posture is one of the most functional things we can do. It also makes you generally “farm strong.”

  5. ANTERIOR vs POSTERIOR - In general, people need more posterior (backside: lats, traps, spinal erectors, glutes, hamstrings) work in relation to anterior work (front side: quads, abs, hip flexors, pecs). So I try to build in a 3:2 ratio of back:front work.

Obviously, some of these can overlap. Suitcase carries check the unilateral, active bracing, and carries boxes. Someone might not be ready for barbell squats and do some form of split squats. This is a general guide for the average person, but the scales and possibilities are really only limited by your imagination.

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Thinking in Spectrums

Where does each color begin?

Where does each color begin?

How often do you catch yourself thinking in absolutes?

I see it happen a lot in the fitness world. If you can’t do a full workout, you don’t workout at all. If you can’t construct the perfect meal plan, you just fly by the seat of your pants.

Or the other side of that, where something slips a little and you count the whole endeavor as a failure. That cookie that caught you in a moment of weakness and you beat yourself up. You ran out of time at the gym or your lifts didn’t go as planned and you count the whole session as a loss.

I want to challenge everyone to notice when they slip into this mindset.

I almost did it myself this week: I wasn’t going to be able to do part of my normal Tuesday programming because of a strained back so I was tempted to call the whole thing off. But you know what? My arms and abs are still fine. I can do bracing and bodybuilding, which will still ultimately support my goals.

It happened again later that evening. A member brought some treats, senorita bread, to the gym. I had two (they’re pretty small), and was tempted to say “Fuck it, might as well eat more.” But I also knew that my stomach wouldn’t feel good if I did.

First step is just to notice when you’re about the throw out the baby with the bath water.

When you start to see a pattern in the areas you’re most likely to do that, then consider making a contingency plan for those moments. Don’t rely on will power to gut through something you’re on the precipice of not doing. Find a new route, instead.

Let’s focus on moving the needle, no matter how little.

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Sloggin Through the Suck of Learning a Skill

And let me tell you, it really does suck sometimes.

You’re probably used to going to the gym to unwind, zone out, get sweaty and tired. Now you come to the gym to get better at something that’s pretty complicated, and the only thing tired is your brain and your emotions.

Learning a skill takes a toll on you, but not in the physical way we’re used to. It’s important to know that it’s like this for everyone.

No one came out of the womb snatching or doing handstands. We didn’t even come out being able to crawl.

But I’ll avoid those annoying metaphors about babies learning to walk and falling over all the time. We’ve all heard those, and I know for me, they just piss me off more.

Let’s talk about what’s happening inside our bodies and brains. I, personally, find that much more comforting.

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of 10,000 hours to master a new skill. So think about this: let’s say you train 2 hours a day, 5 days a week to accumulate 10 hours a week. No breaks for 52 weeks a year, 520 hours a year. It will take you 5 years to truly be proficient at the new skill.

Olympic lifting abso-fucking-lutely falls into the paradigm of a skill. And in my experience and interactions with people of various levels, that 5 year mark plays out pretty solidly.

And it’s not just any type of practice, but DEEP PRACTICE.

Deep Practice is a targeted, mistake focus method of skill development. You move through the desired skill, slowly at first, watching closely for any deviation from “perfect.” If you deviate, you go back and do it again. And again. And again, until you’re satisfied with what you’re doing. THEN you can move on.

This process affects a biological process called myelination, where your body wraps layers of fat around nerves. By wrapping fat layers around nerves responsible for a specific skill, the signal travels faster and with less signal strength degradation.

This is why we can’t say “practice make perfect,” we have to say “practice makes permanent.”

A couple of researchers, Zimmerman and Kitsantas, watched and followed volleyball players of various levels. They made extremely accurate predictions about which athletes would move up quickly in the ranks and which ones wouldn’t based not on inherent skill, but on mindset and approach:

“Our predictions were extremely accurate. This showed that experts practice differently and far more strategically. When they fail, they don’t blame it on luck of themselves. They have a strategy they can fix.” ~Barry Zimmerman on his study with Anastasia Kitsantas

As outlined in the book “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, there are three main methods to creating deep practice.

  1. Chunk it Up - Absorb the whole thing by watching/listening/however so you have in your mind your ultimate goal. Then break the movement down into its smallest pieces.

    1. Slow it down - Be precise with your movements, whether is lifting something light enough you can ensure proper bar path, or it’s playing a song single note by single note.

  1. Repeat It - Myelin sheaths are built through action. Each practice session should bring that same attention to detail and focus on correcting mistakes as the initial session. It’s better to do 10 very concentrated lifts than it is to do 50 grip and rip lifts.

  2. Learn to Feel It - If something doesn’t feel right, it should bother you. It should feel like an eyelash in your eye. And you need to be in tune enough with your body and your targeted skill that these feelings arise.

While that seems like a short process, it’s a long road. Just like taking a single step is easy, linking all the steps needed to traverse a marathon is a whole ‘nother story.

So make your practice WORTH IT. Embrace the sucky parts and make each moment, each movement, count.

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Titles to pick up:

“The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle (Amazon Link)

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck (Amazon Link)

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