Passing The Torch In Style

My Prodigy doing some kick ups with the current freestyle world champion, after finishing her leg through London with the Jubilee Games Torch. She needs to stop trying to become a celebrity and focus on her training!

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The Dead Lift (Part 1): You’re doing it wrong?

As a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach or Personal Trainer (PT) you often find yourself critiquing another individual’s Dead Lift (DL) – whether that be an athlete with a relatively young or mature training age, or a recreational health and fitness enthusiast with minimal or vast experience of the power lift. You watch the biomechanics of their lift making a point to seek out any of the tell-tale kinematic deficiencies that would be symptomatic of poor lift execution – in turn yielding improper kinetic force production that, either dangerously stresses the muscles, joints and connective tissues or, is inappropriate for completing the lift at the desired load. If all the above are in action then you feel compelled to intervene and offer your expertise, with the only barrier being their ego or that doing so would put you in direct contradiction of the S&C coach that demonstrated this technical model. However the real problem comes when your own arrogance or impertinence doesn’t allow you to recognise the gaps in your knowledge. So is their DL technique wrong and/ or dangerous? Or, are they just using a variation of the conventional DL that you are unfamiliar with? One with different prime movers, synergists and injury risk parameters? One that more suits their training goals and is of greater dynamic correspondence to their sport? However, by that same token, you as the athlete or gym user should consider why you are doing that particular dead lift? If you cannot answer that by explaining; which variation you are using, what muscles you are targeting, what the injury risk parameters are, how it fits in with your training strategy/ goal then there is a very good chance that you are doing it wrong and or dangerously.

The different types of dead lifts

This particular factor is important for even MSc and UKSCA (UK Strength & Conditioning Association) qualified coaches because those qualification assessment sessions do not necessarily explore all known variants to this power lift, and instead focus (among other things) on the conventional DL and one other ‘mainstream’ variation i.e. the Romanian DL, even if in an indirect way. This is shown in figure 1, which is the assessment criteria for the UKSCA practical accreditation which is also mirrored by the MSc practical assessment.

AssesmentFigure 1 (http://www.uksca.org.uk/assessments/)

The third criterion in figure 1 asks for a demonstration of the technical model of the Clean and Jerk or Snatch., both of which have a ‘start’ and ‘beginning’ phase (commonly known as the ‘set position’ and ‘first pull’) that are similar to the conventional DL with the ‘beginning’ phase mirroring the end point of the Romanian DL eccentric phase, as seen in figure 2,

UntitledFigure 2 (http://mymodules.stmarys.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=10921)

hence the focus on those DL variations during the practical learning process. This centralised focus is most likely due to the fact that those DL can act as starting points for eventual progression into the Olympic lifts seen in figure 2 [2,5]. Moreover, once progressed to the Olympic lifts, the dynamic correspondence to the sporting skills found in the majority of mainstream UK team and individual sports is greater than those of the other variants e.g. the Hang Clean to the vertical jump [8,10], which for one are not incorporated in the technical model of the Olympic lifts, and are specified towards the sports for which they were created. To those outside the MSc academic process, this method may seem flawed and incomplete, but at masters level you aim to become a highly critical self sufficient scientist of the strength and conditioning field. Meaning wherever you see a gap in your knowledge you actively seek to fill it via peer reviewed literary sources, which is exactly what I have aimed to do with the DL.

Reviewing the papers of Bird and Barrington-Higgs (2010) [1] and Piper and Waller (2001) [12] presents you with a combined list of twelve DL variants. They are listed below;

Conventional DL

Sumo DL

Stiff-Legged DL

Romanian DL

Power Rack DL

Machine DL

Snatch DL

Dumbbell DL

One-arm DL

Strongman DL

Fat-bar DL

Finger-grip DL

Although these papers appear well researched, I would not go as far as to say that this is an exhaustive list, as sports and their training regimes evolve all the time. However, the sport specific variants appear to cover all major 1st world sports, leading to the reasonable conclusion that an S&C coach working in this part of the world can treat this list as pretty robust.

All DL exercises are predominantly designed to utilise (but not exclusively) some or all the posterior chain muscle from the knee joint up, as well as the arm musculature e.g. the forearms. But this of course varies dependent on the particular DL. This piece is not an exercise in describing the technical model for each DL, or determining if one lift variation is superior to another for x,y,z reason (to be addressed in a future piece), but a brief descriptive analysis of what the literature shows each to be specified towards in terms of muscle activation, sport specificity and rehabilitation applications.

Conventional DL

Untitled

Figure 3 (www.powerx.us)

 As one can assume from its name there is a lot more literature on this lift, the biomechanical and EMG analysis performed in various papers, though not always being uniform in agreement, overall suggest that the predominant muscles activated are glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and spinal erectors [2,3,6,7,9] To what degree each is firing throughout the movement is difficult to quantify because of the subject to subject variability in skill and movement pattern used even when aiming to adhere to a clear technical model. However, results do lean towards the understanding that quadriceps and spinal extensor muscle are/should be the most neurologically recruited muscles and the hip extensor muscles (glutes) recruited for the highest percentage of the movement time [2,3,6,9]. In terms of which sports this lift or any lift in fact is most applicable too is not necessarily a black and white matter. As although one could simply look at what muscles are predominantly used during the lift and seek for a similar correspondence with the skills used in a particular sport. It can be argued that in any cohort of athletes you will find different movement patterns to achieve the same skill outcome. This can be down to gender or ability level, this is well illustrated in the work of Chappell, (2006;2007) [4]. Therefore a DL prescription that’s not considerate of the firing pattern of athletes chosen movement strategy would be counter productive. An opposition to this idea would prescribe the athlete the scientifically tried and tested movement strategies, effectively making the relearn the skill. However as an S&C coach you have ask yourself if this is an meaningful use of yours and the athlete’s time? If the athlete is able to achieve high levels of performance, than could it be better to prescribe DL lifts that complements his or her already learnt movement pattern? For example selecting a less quad flexion based DL like the stiff-leg DL as opposed to one more so like the conventional DL – for an athlete who doesn’t fully utilise their potential for increased muscle recruitment via hip and knee flexion during their Vertical Jump. Answering these questions fully is beyond the scope of this piece but illustrates well the importance of understand the different DL and how they work kinetically and kinematically when making exercise prescriptions for yourself and others. Saying that, there are sports that have long been associated with particular DL variations, and bee integral in producing elite level performance. Therefore not using that information as at least a compass on the journey towards effective training modalities and enhanced performance with be negligent. For the Conventional DL traditionally it would be applicable to the training regimes of (but not exclusively) Football, Rugby and Volleyball. From a sports rehabilitation perspective based on the muscle activation rates and patterns this DL could be used in athlete’s recovering from hamstring strains (depending on severity & location in hamstring muscle group), as it would allow continued conditioning of the upper posterior chain while placing lower stress on the hamstrings in comparison to stiff leg or Romanian DL[1,14].

Sumo DL

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Figure 4 (www.deadlifttips.net)

This DL varient appears to recruit more of the quads, both inner (Vastus medialis) and outer (vastus Lateralis), the upper trapezius and has a lower recruitment of the lumbar erector muscles than the conventional DL [9,10,11]. Although the studies cited have used subjects of different levels, whose skill at the lift would greatly differ, they have reached similar findings – in regards to muscle activation rates and patterns. Traditionally this variant has been employed with wrestling and American football, specifically linebackers [2,12]. Observing this lifts wide ‘set position’ in figure 3 it is intuitively obvious why. As with the previous lift variant the key to application is understand how the lift works (prime movers/ synergists) and then prescribing it accordingly. For example utilising the lower activation of the lumbar erector muscles in athletes with injury related weaknesses in that area but still seeking to strengthen other areas within this movement pattern. I couldn’t find any specific literature that showed the effectiveness of such an intervention, however I believe the logic to be evidenced based enough to give the rational credence.

Stiff-Legged DL

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Figure 5 (www.directlyfitness.com)

This particular variant stands out from the ones described so far as it’s set position is the ‘finish position’ of the conventional DL, with the first movement being the eccentric phase as opposed to the concentric like to Sumo and Conventional DL. In looking through the literature I have noticed that the term ‘Stiff- Legged’ DL also gets applied to what in fact is the Romanian DL. This most likely is due to the fact that both require the knee joint to remain still throughout the eccentric phase, however there is a reported 15-degree difference in flexion at the joint at the point of stiffness – which in turn significantly alters the firing patterns of the muscles being used [10]. The EMG readings for this lift indicate that the predominant muscles activated are in the posterior chain (Lumbar spine extensors, glutes and hamstrings), with the quadriceps muscles- less involved in producing force for either concentric or eccentric phases compared to the previous variations [14,1]. Furthermore these papers found that the hamstring muscles and gluteal muscles have the highest relative time spent in activation. It’s practical application has traditionally focused on diving and gymnastic sports, from a rehabilitation perspective, other than obviously targeting the predominant muscles being activated in order to strengthen their resilience to eccentric stress i.e. hamstring strain prone thighs. They can also alleviate the stress on the anterior knee, lending to a possible application for those recovering from anterior knee injuries but still wanting to train the posterior chain via the DL.

Romanian DL

 Untitled

Figure 6 www.mensfitness.com)

In this variation of the DL the muscular activation differences are very similar to those found in the Stiff-Leg DL, the main difference observed with muscle activation being instigated by the difference in the joint angle at the knee during both eccentric and concentric phases. This was alluded to in the previous section; however going deeper into this is a limited endeavour by comparison because there is very little literature on this. In fact most of the information I have gathered in the Romanian DL muscle firing patterns are found in bits and pieces within Stiff Leg DL research. With the authors making reference to the different knee flexion angles between the two and that this increased knee flexion shifts the work load higher up the hamstring musculature [10]. The applications of this variant for sporting performance, training and rehabilitation are also in line with those used for the Stiff-leg DL. However this may perhaps change if and when more research has been carried out on this lift.

After this, the alternative DL mentioned in the list becomes even more specified towards sports, activities and training/rehabilitation interventions, moreover they are often iterations of the ‘mainstream lifts’. This subsequently results in very limited peer reviewed research, with the S&C scientific community focused on the ‘mainstream’/parent (more commonly used in practice) DL. For that reason I’ve decided to describe those lifts superficially in terms of how they are often applied in an S&C setting, leaving scope for more detailed analysis in the future. Saying that, it should be recognised that a deeper understanding of the ‘mainstream lifts’ will provide a solid foundation upon which education rationales and biomechanical inferences can be postulated about which muscles these other alternative DL use predominantly recruit and their applicability.

Power Rack DL

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Figure 7 (www.menshealth.co.uk)

This DL allows for heavier loads to be lifted with a focus on the low-mid back spinal erector muscles. Good prescription for those with flexion limiting back/lower limb weakness/injuries.

 

 

Machine DL

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Figure 8 (www.jerseygirltalk.com)

The Machine DL is simply a machine-assisted way of performing any of the DL variants, usually utilizing a Smith Machine. And as such will have a similar applicability as the unassisted DL version-minus the functional trunk and total body stability/strength gained from balancing a load as you lift. The main benefit of this DL is the ability to lift heavier than possible unassisted.

 

 

Snatch DL

Untitled

Figure 9 (www.stupideaspaleo.com)

The Snatch DL is a Conventional or Romanian DL with a wider Snatch grip. This variation has been predominantly used for conditioning the body for the Snatch Olympic Lift. It can also be used for individuals with longer arms or hyper flexible hamstrings in order to increase the eccentric loading in those muscles at a higher point in that phase of the movement.

 

Dumbbell DL

Untitled

Figure 10 (www.mensfitness.com)

This iteration of the Conventional/Romanian DL is made different by the use of Dumbbells as opposed to a barbell, again research on the kinematic and kinetic differences this would induce are extremely limited. However the change of size and shape of the load will stress the muscles differently due to differing stability demands.

 

 

One-arm DL

 UntitledFigure 11 (www.gymowl.com)

The One-arm DL has been implemented traditionally to increase the demand for trunk stabilisation from the inner and outer core unit in conjunction with the spinal erector muscles, very useful for athletes in sports requiring bilateral throwing or swinging motions i.e. discus, golf, baseball and cricket. Anecdotally it would be fascinating to research what corrective affect this would have on individuals with imbalances in their lumbar spine musculature due to scoliosis and/or injury.

 

Strongman DL

Untitled

Figure 12 (www.ironmind.com)

This DL, essentially is used to condition the same muscles as a Conventional DL, but with the focus being on lifting loads of unconventional size and shape something I eluded to with the dumbbell DL. These can range from tires to actual vehicles to large logs. With even a rudimentary understanding of physics one can intuitively see how lifting loads of different three dimensional widths and lengths but equal mass can change to intensity, difficulty and muscular recruitment pattern of a lift.

 

Fat-Bar DL

Untitled

Figure 13 (www.rouguefitness.com)

The Fat-bar DL utilises a thicker bar to increase the stress placed on your phalangeal flexors aka your grip, with a view to strengthening said musculature and improving grip strength when using the regular (thinner) bar. This is not the only method of improving grip strength and its effectiveness over other methods such as the Hand Strengtheners is not clinically proven. So its uses come down to personal preference, anecdotally implied efficiency and intuitively recognisable appropriateness.

 

 Finger-grip DL

Untitled

Figure 14 (David Yeung -Youtube.com)

Athletes in sports that require high levels of isometric finger flexor strength, most commonly employ this specialised grip version of the DL variants. Sports such as rock climbing, archery, basketball and gymnastics [2].

 

 

 

In conclusion when selecting which DL to use your rational for using the exercise is the key. A rational based on a profound understanding of the biomechanics of each variation and the physiological adaptation of those kinetics and kinematics will favour. If that cognisant process is thorough and robust then it is far more likely that you are in fact doing it right. A caveat to this, is that the S&C practice is an ever evolving one, and as an S&C coach you have to be prepared to put your ego aside and adapt the training prescriptions accordingly. As a professional or recreational athlete do not be afraid to seek expert advice on your training regime no matter your training age and whether or not you believe you are performing the exercise correctly. Both parties can often benefit from the proceeding discourse. Furthermore, highly experienced trainers will be able to spot minute flaws in your DL execution with nothing more than several cursory glances; so do not be offended if advice is offered. We are all here to dominate the dead lift.

 

References:

  1. Bezerra, E. S., Simao, R., Fleck, S. J., Paz, G., Maia, M., Costa, P. B.. . Serrao, J. C. (2013). Electromyographic activity of lower body muscles during the deadlift and still-legged deadlift. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 16(3), 30.
  2. Bird, S., & Barrington-Higgs, B. (2010). Exploring the deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(2), 46-51. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181d59582
  3. Camara, K. D., Coburn, J. W., Dunnick, D. D., Brown, L. E., Galpin, A. J., & Costa, P. B. (2016). An examination of muscle activation and power characteristics while performing the deadlift exercise with straight and hexagonal barbells. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1183-1188. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001352
  4. Chappell, J. (2007;2006;). Kinematics and electromyography of landing preparation in vertical stop-jump: Risks for noncontact anterior cruciate ligament injury. Am J Sports Med, 35(2), 235-241. doi:10.1177/0363546506294077
  5. Duba, J., Kraemer, W. J., & Martin, G. (2007). A 6-step progression model for teaching the hang power clean. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(5), 26-35. doi:10.1519/00126548-200710000-00004
  6. Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Kayes, A. V., Speer, K. P., & Moorman, 3., Claude T. (2002). An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(4), 682-688. doi:10.1097/00005768-200204000-00019
  7. Hales, M. (2010). Improving the deadlift: Understanding biomechanical constraints and physiological adaptations to resistance exercise. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(4), 44-51. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181e5e300
  8. Hori, N., Newton, R. U., Andrews, W. A., Kawamori, N., McGuigan, M. R., & Nosaka, K. (2008). Does performance of hang power clean differentiate performance of jumping, sprinting, and changing of direction? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(2), 412-418. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e318166052b
  9. Nijem, R. M., Coburn, J. W., Brown, L. E., Lynn, S. K., & Ciccone, A. B. (2016). Electromyographic and force plate analysis of the deadlift performed with and without chains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(5), 1177-1182. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001351
  10. Piper, T. J., & Waller, M. A. (2001). Variations of the deadlift. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23(3), 66. doi:10.1519/00126548-200106000-00013
  11. Scherfenberg, E., & Burns, S. (2013). Implementing hang cleans for the improvement of vertical jump in high school athletes. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 16(2), 50.
  12. Stoppani, J. (2008). On trial: Conventional deadlifts vs. sumo deadlifts: Besides the stance, what’s the difference between doing deadlifts the conventional way versus the sumo version? Weider Publications LLC.
  13. Escamilla, R. F., Francisco, A. C., Fleisig, G. S., Barrentine, S. W., Welch, C. M., Kayes, A. V.. . Andrews, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 32(7), 1265-1275. doi:10.1097/00005768-200007000-00013
  14. WRIGHT, G. A., DELONG, T. H., & GEHLSEN, G. (1999). Electromyographic activity of the hamstrings during performance of the leg curl, stiff-leg deadlift, and back squat movements. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13(2), 168-174. doi:10.1519/00124278-199905000-00012

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh


© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men?

This question originally came to me during the Women’s World Cup. I pondered it for weeks, letting its peculiar variables bounce around in my skull until this S&C blog post finally gave me a reason to organise them into a stream of expressible thoughts.

Why do I think that elite-level women’s football and possibly all its lower level derivatives should be played on a pitch with reduced dimensions? Well, it boils down to the fact that I believe the technical quality of the game would improve. In order to explain my rational for this statement let’s begin at the ideas inception.

During all the England matches I observed at the World Cup, I couldn’t help but notice just how many long distance passes (crosses included) and shots (which for the sake of clarity let’s define as beyond 30yrds) were off target – especially in comparison to men’s professional football. Now my first thought in trying to explain this was that it was nothing more than just the unavoidable fact that the women’s game is much younger than the men’s and, therefore, is still significantly behind their male counterparts technically. However, the seed of curiosity would not be satisfied with such minimal nourishment, and its roots delved deeper into my subconscious. At some point later on during the tournament, I recalled my belief that the technical standard of the elite women’s game was, give or take the odd under/overachieving individual, similar to that of men’s semi professional football. This in turn made me think that at that level (a level I’m very familiar with, both as spectator and player), their male players still don’t display that level of ‘poor’ long pass and shooting accuracy. Of course this is very subjective and I have not done any quantifiable tests to prove any of the above, but as stated in the title of this website section, these are just thoughts I want to share with you – and hope you find insightful and thought-provoking. And so, once I had that recollection I began looking for a different answer for this technical discrepancy I believed to exist between the sexes when playing on an 11-a-side pitch.

This is the answer I came up with. Within football (and many other sports), it is a well understood concept that when you go for power you sacrifice accuracy. Therefore, actions that require more power, like long distance passes or shots, will be less accurate than their shorter counterparts. And so one of the things that sets the very best players at all levels apart from the rest, is how accurate they can be at or near to maximal effort during (but not exclusively so) passing and shooting skills. Now consider the well-known scientific fact that female athletes are physiologically weaker then men (at the same weight or performance category) in terms of strength & power, and then ask this female athlete to pass/shoot the ball over the same distance as a male athlete (over 30yrds). One can reasonably assume that they will strike the ball at a force closer to their maximum capacity than the male, therefore, more frequently sacrificing accuracy for the required power, and thus reducing their technical efficiency of those actions. So I ask again… Should female professional footballers play on a smaller pitch than men? Personally I am convinced the answer is yes, so much so that I may very well try to answer this question scientifically in my dissertation next academic year.

However, to increase the validity of my mindset, I asked several female football players of amateur and semi-professional level their opinion on the matter. Interestingly, they all disagreed, stating similar answers of it possibly being helpful at lower levels of the game but not making a difference at the elite level. I wonder if after reading my rational they would change their mind, not to mention what the opinion of a professional player would be? I had also asked a fellow S&C coach who works with professional female footballers for his view, and he claimed fascinatingly to have never considered it – but, that after doing so, could see its potential merits, while also adding the anecdotal statement that, some of the female players would ask him how come he seemed to be able to pass the ball over the same distance with less effort? Could it be that like my colleague and female players have just never looked at the technical aspects of their game in this way? Does this lack of foresight when standardising the women’s game reach the highest authorities in football? After all, there is precedent for such action. In golf, they scale down the women’s game, and in baseball the women use bats designed to generate more power. And thinking about it now, it seems very intuitive and surprising that I did not come to this conclusion sooner.

As an aside, this thought process did lead me to another idea… Should women’s football use goals that are the same size as the men’s? Watching matches, I noticed that perhaps the goalkeepers were unable to get across the goal as well as was needed? However this could be an irrelevant thought, as you could say that the reduced shot power that female players produce automatically scales down the goal keeper’s job, thus making the goal size a non issue. Plus, you also see many pre-teen male players at prestigious academies playing matches in full-sized goal, something I find very peculiar and counter-intuitive. This is highlighted when a player scores a free kick in the ‘top corner’ and the poor 5ft goal keeper is left helpless to stop it. What could that pre-teen goalkeeper be gaining from such an experience? Not much would be my answer, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In conclusion, this idea, though something I am passionate about because of my love for the female athlete (in particular the female the footballer), and my dream to see the women’s game become as prominent as the men’s, is still in its infancy. And as such is still some way off answering the multitude of questions that will spawn from it. For example; how much smaller should it be? How will that affect participation, spectatorship and sponsorship? All of the above will require much more thought, peer discussion and empirical research before any kind of true answer is found. I just hope that this piece has gotten your cerebral cogs turning and that my uniquely inquisitive brain was the catalyst for the finding of said answer. I eagerly await that warm fuzzy feeling called satisfaction.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh


© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are your friends the biggest obstacle to you achieving your goals?

This question has come to mind based on my personal and professional experiences. Those as an athletic individual who has endeavoured to live a vigorous life for the last 15 years, and then as a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach training health and fitness enthusiasts and amateur to professional athletes over the last six years. Every one of these individuals, myself included, had their own specific training goals that they have invested time and money into the pursuit of. But how many actually achieve them?

In the professional realm, you can imagine that the success rate is most likely greater than at the sub-elite or recreational level. Although true, in my experience it’s still far lower than it should be – but perhaps that comes from a mind too bound by the philosophy of attaining one’s best version? As an S&C coach all you can do is implement the training interventions and modalities as best you can, providing as much technical and moral support as is necessary. However once you go beyond the scope of your time together with your client, your sphere of influence wanes and the client becomes vulnerable to a host of potentially negative extrinsic and intrinsic factors. And this is where I have noticed the most common similarities between what hinders these clients of all levels and professions from achieving their goals- the social aspects of their lives.

This brings us back to the question; are your friends the biggest obstacle to you achieving your goals? Well, firstly it’s important I just make it clear that there are obviously many other obstacles such as genetic and injury related ones, but in this piece I’m focusing on the social because, as mentioned above, its prevalence throughout all levels of physical training, its influence and the reduced control the S&C coach has over it sets it apart and puts it in place for special consideration. What are the types of social problems facing any individual that is attempting to train regularly in the pursuit of their goals? To begin with let’s examine the types of goals we’re referring to. These training goals range from the aesthetic – reduce body fat, increase muscle mass of intrinsically or extrinsically desirable body parts (pectorals, biceps, glutes, etc) and the performance based – improve strength, power, speed & endurance, etc. Then you have to ask what are the most important factors in achieving said goals? If we inspect those outside the S&C coach’s direct control, one would say, genetic limitations, nutrition, sleep, motivation and a support system are the most important. Looking at that list it should be intuitively obvious that a persons social environment can and will have significant effects on all bar one – the genetic limitations.

How specifically can it affect them? Well If I consolidate all my personal and professional experience with the anecdotal accounts of my fellow professionals with their clients’/athletes’ these are the pictures that get painted about the specific role of ones ‘friends’ in the hindering of their physical goals.

Let’s start with the big one – Nutrition. This, more often that not, is the biggest stumbling block with the recreational athlete or client, but can still prove challenging for professionals because, even though they maybe at a psychological level of determination, drive and habitualness that surpasses that of the non-professional, they were not always professional and as such would most likely not have been able to escape the types of social conditioning from birth to adulthood that creates unhealthy relationships with ‘junk food’ or counterproductive dietary habits. Its importance with the non-professional is often amplified by the fact that they;

  1. Generally possess goals that are skewed towards the aesthetic (e.g. gaining a ‘flat stomach’).
  2. Start their training regimes further away from their aesthetic target (e.g. I’ve put of lots of weight over the holiday period).
  3. Give themselves shorter time frames within which to achieve their goals (e.g. I have a holiday in 4 weeks).

Those three factors, though not an exhaustive list, give you an idea – and in each of those situations proper nutrition is just as, if not more, important than any training intervention one could wish to undertake. Now for the role of the ‘friend’ – which I define in this discussion as anyone who you exchange frequent interactions with and whose opinion can affect your decision-making. So for example, feeling the need to go on daily lunch or after work drinks with friends, feeling the need to go out to a bar/club for a heavily alcohol-focused night out every weekend, or when out for dinner – ordering meals you know you shouldn’t for fear of social mockery or alienation from the group. This effect of peer pressure is a well documented one, and one that extends to other unhealthy habits like smoking. However, complete discussion of those aspects is beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice to say, peer pressure is very detrimental to the kind of decision-making processes that lead to good nutrition and an increased potential to achieve aesthetic goals. The same goes for the professionals and their performance goals… Just look at the most recent example of professional footballer Gabriel Agbonlahor’s physical decline due to poor lifestyle choice – choices that (based on his explanations for his behaviour) were no doubt influenced in some way by his friendship group.

Next is sleep – this is an aspect of training that’s importance in homeostasis, fat loss, physiological adaptations and recovery is often understated or poorly recognized. There is a plethora of literature explaining said importance, but if we just look at it anecdotally, how many people have experienced disturbed sleeping patterns due to excessive alcohol intake, poor diet, late meals, and poor lifestyle choices? I predict a vast majority. And how many of the aforementioned were partaken in some part due to the influence of friends? Again I predict a vast majority.

Motivation – This can be more intrinsic or extrinsic depending on the individual’s personality type and experiences, and it would be hard to say which is greater in any given person. However, knowing that the external influences play a role, it’s safe to assume that negative or counterproductive extrinsic factors, will reduce the individual’s motivation to follow the training regime with the dedication and precision required to achieve their goals. These counterproductive external influences in the combined S&C experience of my peers and myself come in the form of friends, family, spouses and even fellow sportsmen and women. For example, a friend, family member, spouse, or peer suggesting that you come out for drinks, shisha, ill advised meals on the eve of your competition or training session because it’s their birthday. From their perspective this might make sense, but should their priorities be the same as yours? Should you feel bad for choosing your goals over theirs? Do you know their true motivations for asking this of you while knowing how important your training or competition is? Not a straightforward question to answer… The key is context and, more often than not, I have found the answer to all is a firm no. Simply because human nature is such that generally the only way to maintain one’s discipline and professionalism is by not allowing even the smallest backwards step or deviation outside of the prescribed planned ones (i.e. rest days, cheat days, off season periods, etc). We are habitual creatures and if your training regime becomes so regimented that its partaking becomes second nature, there is a greater chance of you seeing continual motivation-enhancing improvements and getting to the end goal successfully. Plus, although you may be able to trust the intensions of family or a spouse, can you trust those of your peers? Especially in non-team based sports? A question perhaps best answered in another piece, but food for thought nonetheless. Furthermore, you might be thinking a little drink or fast food here and there will not have a direct detrimental effect on your training and indirect effect on your motivation, and that in fact that little guilty pleasure might give you even more motivation via an improved mood or a guilt driven desire to train harder. Stop and think about this. The bad habits and psychological attachments and addiction we as a species have developed over the years with food, social interactions and smoking to name but a few, are never likely to be eradicated. Therefore, is dabbling in these behaviours in an unstructured way going to help you repress/control them or just increase the likelihood of a full relapse? This in turn breeds a turbulent guilt, shame, and self loathing cycle that destroys motivation – ultimately preventing you from achieving your training goals.

Finally, the support system, which is basically defining a particular type of close knit social group designed to give you emotional and practical help in your moments of need. In the professional realm, this can be the most important factor as the life of a modern day professional can become very lonely. In the early stages of their career they can find themselves becoming distanced from their former ‘real’ friends and having to make new ones whose motivations are harder to ascertain due to their increased financial wealth. The problem within this aspect of achieving ones goal’s is that a significant number of professionals and non-professionals do not have one to begin with- the professionals for the potential disingenuousness of those around them and the non-pros because those around them, family and spouse included, may not be living the same lifestyle as them. After all, for those of us who are regularly active, health and fitness may be the centre of our world, but we are still in the minority. And most people do not live lives anywhere close to conducive to an above average level of mental, physical and spiritual health, all of which regular exercise and good nutrition have been proved to have a positive affect on. This all means that when life or training is not going well and you are in need of support, they may not be the best people to provide it due to lack of experience or understanding of your plight – no matter the pureness of their intentions. Therefore, it could be a good idea when venturing on the road to an aesthetic or performance goal, to seek additional friendship from those following a similar path.

To conclude, the nature of human connection and interaction in the context of ones lifestyle choices, and pursuit of individual goals is a complicated one. However it’s clear that the people you see on a day-to-day basis – friend, foe, family or spouse will have a significant role to play in the attaining of said goals. So be very very mindful of who you allow to be close, and how much influence you permit their words to have on the decisions made about the body that has to carry you 365 days a year from beginning to end.

By Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh


© Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh – Alphaleveltraining.com 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alpha Maurice Cidade Cauwenbergh –Alphaleveltraining.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.