4½ Things I Learned in 2012

I’m a firm believer that we should never go to bed at night until we have done something to make our selves better than we were when we woke that morning.
This could be any number of things, from having helped a person out, it could be setting a PR in training or it may be learning something new.

The following are a few of the things that I’ve learned through 2012:

1- Static Stretching is BACK!

164436_1684336780824_1009748238_31891661_2874135_nStatic stretching fell out of favour in a big way this last decade, but unfairly so. Every martial artist, dancer, gymnast and circus performer since day dot has used static stretching to achieve great things, yet from the last few years of sports science and research, we have almost completely abandoned it in favour of more sexy mobility work.Is this fair?


Static stretching has its place, and an important place at that. It’s place is after training, its first thing in the morning, it’s in the evening when the day is done.
Yes, we do know that holding a stretch for time does temporarily inhibit a muscle and will reduce power production, so it’s not a good idea to hold a stretch immediately prior to training/performing. But that doesn’t mean we should drop it altogether.

Our Yoga teacher, Anne Dempsey, recently gave me a stretching program based on the Yin Yoga methods. In Yin Yoga, you hold a position for 1-5 minutes. Yup, that’s right, up to 5 minutes.

The trick is to relax and wait for the body to open up and allow the muscle to relax.
You see when a muscle is stretched it has a safety mechanism built in known as the stretch reflex. As the muscle nears its end range, the muscle spindles kick in and tell the nervous system to contract said muscle in order to protect itself. But if we wait, the spindles chill out and realise there is no danger and let the muscle lengthen.

Anne describes this as “melting” into a stretch, or “asking permission” to move deeper into a stretch. Never do you force a static stretch.
Since I implemented Anne’s program, my hips and old injuries are the best they’ve been in a long time.


2- Fixing the Foundations

Footprints from healthy feet

Footprints from healthy feet

The feet are our foundation. they are our main point of contact with the ground.
it is through the feet that we press into the earth to generate power, propulsion and absorb force.

So if the feet aint right, nothing will be right.

A few years ago I read an article detailing half a dozen drills for re-establishing the neural connections between the grey matter up stairs and the plates of meat downstairs.

At the time, almost everyone I was training was a martial artist and pretty much lived bare foot. Their feet were pretty healthy. As time passed and other populations came in through my doors, including a large number of field sport athletes, GAA players, Rugby players and more.
Now we have guys who don’t have the proprioception that they so badly need. No wonder there are so many knee injuries on the pitch!

When one guy, a soccer player turned runner was having significant issues, I dug out the old article and prescribed him what have become known as the “foot drills”.
When Steve Cotter visited a few months later, he did some similar actions. And from then on these drills have become a standard feature for many of my lads training.

I highly recommend you add them into your training.
This article goes into more detail.


3- Overcoming the Curse of the Hip Flexor

Tight hip flexors are a modern day pandemic. Most of you are reading this sitting down. Most of you spend 8 or more hours sitting at work. I bet there’s some sitting goes on at home too.
Ok, we may sit more than we really should, and at least some of the time this is unavoidable. But in general this time sitting down puts out hip flexors into a shortened position and allows our gluteals to go to sleep.
Nothing new there, I’ve written about this before. More than once.
The new bit it this:

Your hip flexors can become so tight they become impossible to stretch.

It’s almost like rigor mortis sets in. The muscles are designed for strength, so when they lock in, they become stuck.
You can stretch all you want but you’ll not get into them. This, i can vouch for from 1st hand experience.
So what’s the solution?

Honestly, go see a physio and have them manually released. It’s not the most pleasant procedure but it does the job.

If that’s out of the question (really?!) the we can do our best to tone them down them through the natural phenomena known as reciprocal inhibition.
If we fire the opposing muscles, ie the hip extensors, then the hip flexors should be inhibited to allow extension to occur.
If our glutes are fast asleep this can be an effort. First we need to get warm, us a general warm up protocol but be sure to include some Glute Activation Drills ( <- hint: that’s a link to some glute activation drills!)
Then we take a drill from Tom Furman of http://www.physicalstrategies.com
Essentially it’s a standard glute bridge. On your back, press the heels into the floor and lift the hips as high as possible into a bridge position.
Focus on contracting the glutes, a little tension in the abs will protect the low back here, we don’t want that working. Now hold for up to 2 minutes.
No, don’t just hold, but squeeze, cramp those glutes!
Once the time is up, roll onto your belly and lift up into a cobra pose, go up and down 10 times. Lead the movement with the eyes to really open up the front of the body and take advantage of the temporary laxity from this hip flexors.
You can repeat this two or three times in a session for multiple sessions untill you feel things loosening up.

Here’s Tom in action:

It’s not easy, but it damn well works.

It’ll give you a perkier bum too.

Jess Ennis, in a dress!

Jess Ennis, they don’t come much perkier

Now while we’re on the subject of  perky bums, here’s a tidbit of info that I found very interesting.
It came to me via one of my female members after a visit to a WG recommended physio for her knee injury.

3½- Female hamstrings stop developing in their teenage years.

Now, I haven’t researched this, but it is well documented that females are more at risk of knee injury, particularly the ACL, than their male equivalents.

These are hamstrings.

These are hamstrings.

It’s also no secret that females are generally more quad dominant than males.

Net result, flat arses and blown out knees.

So. Here’s my call to women kind the world over, protect your assets, and you knees, by lifting heavy stuff and building a big and powerful posterior chain .
The posterior chain is the name given to the muscles on the back of the body, the hammies, glutes and back. These are the muscles that keep us upright, they’re where we generate devastating power and also fill out the back of jeans & dresses (see Ms Ennis above)


4- “Niche” is the French Word for “Dog House”

I don’t do marketing. At least not intentionally.
However, from time to time I read, listen to or watch business related info. Specifically where it relates to the fitness industry and how to build a bigger income.
Each and every piece of info that comes out revolves around the central key point:

You must develop and become the No. 1 expert in your niche!

This brought me to a bit of a problem with the fitness industry as a whole.

On occasion I deal with “Fitness instructors”, the type that are employed by commercial gyms.
Too often these guys identify themselves by what they teach, ie their “Niche”
So you get “Aerobics instructors” and you get “Functional Training Instructors” and now you’re getting “Kettlebell Instructors” and “TRX instructors”

And cool, these guys may be earning a fortune filling out their classes. But they’re still shit.
Being defined by a piece of equipment or a certain exercise style is bollocks.
Only using this one style of training with all your clients is also bollocks.

A good coach should make the training suit their clients, they should have a tool box of exercise styles and equipment at their disposal, and they should know how to use each tool to its fullest capacity to ensure the client gets the results they need.
Being identified as a “Niche” instructor is like being a driver who only uses Ferrari’s, it may seem cool and exotic, but what happens at speed bumps? Is it any use when you need to go to the supermarket? Or what if you wanted to drive across a field?
The Ferrari works well in a certain environment, outside of that it’s impractical.

And that’s why I have people lifting barbells, kettlebells and themselves. It’s why we use a variety of rep ranges. It’s why we use a variety of modalities.
Because my job is getting people where they need to be, and very often that’s going to be doing something potentially harmful and extremely demanding.
My guys fight, play Rugby, play GAA and take on mad endurance events.
To keep them performing I use whatever tools they need the most, not just the tools I enjoy the most.

So lets leave the “niche” outside for the Dog to sleep in.



Today is my last day working, I’m officially on my Xmas break as of this afternoon.
So I wish you all a very Happy Xmas, enjoy the break, have fun and I’ll see you all back here in a week or so.

For those that train with me, the class schedule resumes on Sat 5th.
Bootcamp kicks off again on Jan 7th as do the lunchtime sessions.





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