Should You Train Through Soreness?!

 

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

Whether you have been in the training game for a while, or just recently started training, it is likely that you have experienced (or will soon experience!) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), or the soreness 24-72 hours post training.

 

 

DOMS is a natural part of training and occurs when your body has been stressed past a point of its current threshold (which is the goal of training). Training that surpasses your current threshold provides a mechanical and metabolic stress that results in a multitude of factors that have been said to cause DOMS. These include lactic acid build-up (this has actually been proven incorrect), damage to the muscle cells themselves (mirco-tears), damage to intracellular organelles and more.

What truly causes DOMS is still up for debate and is not the focus of this article.

Rather, the focus here is whether or not you should train when DOMS rears its little ugly head…and like most questions involving training, the answer is it depends.

To illustrate this, let’s go over a couple different scenarios that involve DOMS, and how to handle them.

 

Scenario 1: “I’m a little sore, but not too bad”

 

If you wake up the next day after a training session and you find yourself a little “stiff” and feel like you just have to “stretch it out” (and you can move around without any range of motion limitations) you are good to get after training once again.

 

 

While I wouldn’t suggest completing the same movement patterns and exercises, especially at the same intensity, I would not keep you from training the same muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders, etc.) again if you are working them in pattern/region specific splits.

For example, if you are working on a full body routine, you could again complete another full body routine using different exercises, but still stress some of the same muscles. If you squatted the first day you could deadlift the next. If you benched the first day, perform a push up the next.

Although you will be utilizing many of the same muscle groups (legs, chest, shoulders, etc. in the above example), you are stressing a different pattern, and the soreness you experienced from day 1 is not significant enough to compromise form or exacerbate the possibility of injury (remember this is the “not too bad” soreness scenario).

I would actually suggest that training the same muscle groups in a different pattern would be beneficial as it would provide a form of active recovery, as well as enhance your proprioceptive abilities.

Promoting blood flow to the region of soreness helps to transport the necessary nutrients that will help with recovery. And if you have any difficulty feeling an exercise in the muscle groups that are supposed to be working, training with a little soreness will help you more easily target that muscle (although we should be training movements and not muscles, we also definitely want certain muscles working over others in most cases).

A little soreness should not keep you from a training session and in fact could help speed recovery as well as allow you to better feel the activation of the targeted muscles. So as long as you are ready to train again (central nervous system is not compromised, nutrition and hydration status is adequate, mental state is on point, etc.) go ahead and get after it.

 

Scenario 2: “I can’t even walk up the stairs”

 

If the day after a training session you find yourself unable to walk up or down stairs, or when you go to sit on the couch it feels like something may actually rip off the bone, you have likely stressed the tissue to a point that you do not want to again stress to any significant level.

 

 

Not only is stressing a tissue that is already compromised more likely to result in an injury, but trying to properly execute a movement that stresses said tissue is near impossible because of pain. And while pain itself is no good, it is not actually the pain I worry about, but rather the faulty movement it promotes. Faulty movement is going to improperly load a joint and the muscles that surround it, which can often times result in an overuse injury.

So if you find yourself cursing with every movement, and the tissue itself is sore to the touch, do not try to perform any form of intense activity that stresses the same tissue. That doesn’t mean you can’t train other unaffected regions/movements, but if you are training on a full body routine that may be difficult.

Instead, active recovery such as a nice walk, light conditioning session or if you can tolerate it, a much lighter resistance training session, is a better way to go. But if you know that no matter how bad you hurt, if you were to step inside the gym it is all or nothing…well, stay out of the gym!

 

To Train or Not to Train?

 

The bottom line is that if you are sore, you can still train, but you must first determine how sore you truly are and go from there.

If you fall under the “Ehh, it’s not so bad” scenario, get after your training. With that said, I’d encourage you not to stress the same movements at the same intensity. Choose different movements from the previous session and make sure the intensity is appropriate, and you will reap the additional benefits of the session (active recovery and enhanced proprioception).

On the other hand, if you find yourself needing an IV of liquid Advil just to get out bed in the morning, you will want to stay away from stressing the same tissue to any significant degree. Active recovery, foam rolling, a lighter conditioning session or a session that stresses different tissues can be completed.

 

 

And if you do decide staying away from the gym is best, don’t fret about not training that day. If you train and you stay sore for days on end, you will not only be limiting the quality of your training, but you will also be limiting your results and risking injury…which will keep you from the training game for a much longer period of time than is required to recover from some DOMS!

I hope this article helped clear up the question of whether or not you should train with soreness!

Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

The Best Time to Train Core

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS 

You may have heard something like this before…

“You shouldn’t train core before your main lifts because it will fatigue your system and you won’t be able to train as intensely.”

Or maybe you have been told the opposite.

“You should train core before your main lifts to activate the system and encourage more stability.”

Or maybe you’ve heard both but don’t give a damn about core training and still spend all of your time hopping from machine to machine and finishing up with 30-60 minutes of “cardio” on the treadmill or bike…if this sounds like you, you have bigger issues to address where your core training should fall in your program!

But for many of us, we have heard conflicting information as to where core training should fall within a training sess. It’s time to figure it out.

Core Training Principles

For an easy anatomical definition, we can think of the core as the musculature of, and between, the hips and ribcage (as well as other structures such as fascia, tendons, etc.).

For an easy functional anatomy definition, we can think of the core as the musculature and structures that work to stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage and work to transmit force from the lower extremities to the upper extremities and vice versa.

For this reason you can see that training the core effectively would be to train the musculature and other structures to efficiently stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage. This is essential so that when movement is produced, or when outside forces are being exerted upon the body, force can be transmitted with minimal loss of that force, and subsequently, with as little motion as possible about the joints.

If the joints that are supposed to be stable/centrated/stacked (in proper position) during movement and transmission of force are instead unstable/de-centrated/not stacked (out of proper alignment) then force is loss, joints are compromised and injury is much more likely to occur…all unwanted scenarios when we are trying to enhance athletic performance, stay healthy and sport body like King Leonidas (or his Queen for the ladies).

And with that in mind, below is not one, but three different times where core training can, and should be incorporated into your program to help you maximize strength, avoid injury and put a whoopin’ on some Persian punks (I’m a big fan of 300 if you couldn’t tell).

Where Core Training Should be in Your Program

1)      Activation (pre dynamic warm up)

In order to effectively stabilize the trunk, the core musculature has to work in unison with appropriate timing. By activating the core in an efficient pattern with exercises such as supine leg marches, quadruped reaches (birddog) and back to wall overhead reaches, you are encouraging the core to fire/work in an efficient and proper manner.

The goal with each of these exercises is to keep the lower back from moving (no arch or rotation) and the ribcage from “flaring” from a neutral position as the arms and/or legs move.

2)      Your “1a” Exercises

 In my programming I use my “1a” exercises (or 2a, 3a, etc.) to get my athletes ready for their “1b” exercises, and this usually includes a core component. During these exercises I do not want to fatigue the athlete’s core to a point that it will negatively affect the subsequent exercise, but instead I want the core to “activate” in a more specific pattern.

For example, if I want my athlete to crush a Reverse Lunge as their “1b” exercise, I will likely have them complete a “1a” exercise from a static lunge (split stance) or half kneeling position where they are focusing on perfect form while trying to prevent motion at the trunk.

A Split Stance Medicine Ball Chop works well to engage the core and pattern the lunge before trying to crush some weight on a Reverse Lunge, for example. Other examples would include a plank variation before a bilateral squat or an overhead anti-extension (such as an overhead medicine ball tap, overhead RIP Trainer reach, etc.) before a deadlift.

These “1a” exercises can also be another opportunity to incorporate some of the lower level exercises from point #1 if the athlete is not yet capable of performing the higher level core exercises described.

 

3)      Post Training or Energy System Work

Once the bulk of your program is complete, you can, and in many cases should, challenge your core stability in a fatigued state. When fatigue enters the equation, appropriate activation and timing, specifically core stability, is compromised which promotes faulty movement, loss of strength / power and overall performance and injury potential.

By adding higher level core stability exercises (to YOUR capabilities of course) at the end of your training session can help to challenge and strengthen the core when it is most likely to fail. Try adding higher level plank variations such as fallouts, slideboard bodysaws or weighted plank rows (renegade rows) at the end of your session.

For more of a rotational challenge try incorporating higher level anti-rotation presses such as the anti-rotation walkout, wide stance cable chops or split stance lifts or chops.

And one of my favorite ways to challenge core stability, as well as enhance an athlete’s work capacity and conditioning, is to finish a session off with some energy system work that includes weighted carries (especially uni-lateral carries), battle rope variations and bear crawl variations.

The focus is to complete as much work as possible while maintaining a stable trunk through core stability. Try putting together a finishing circuit or some density work with one or more of these exercises.

When is the Best Time to Train Core?

As you can see there are varying degrees of core training that should be used for different purposes throughout your training session.

The goal of core training, no matter where it falls in your session, is to challenge the core to stabilize the trunk, reduce excess motion at the trunk, and transmit force effectively.

I encourage you to first activate and understand what it feels like to maintain a stable trunk, next strengthen the core in specific patterns to promote better performance of a subsequent exercise, and lastly challenge your core stability and strength when you are fatigued.

Try implementing these principles throughout your training session and enjoy a stronger and higher performing core (and yes, a more chiseled one as well).

 

 

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