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Meet the Coaches – Part 1

Welcome to the first part of the Meet the Coaches series — a brand new series where the RUFP team so hesitantly graciously let me (Jessica, your token gym unicorn) take over the blog for a series of interviews showing you the sides of the coaches we don’t normally get to see.

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The Importance of Variety in Your Training – Part I

A question I receive fairly often from people starting a new program is, “Why am I doing ‘x’ exercise?” Or, sometimes I’ll hear comments like, “Wow, this program looks a lot different!” Now, if it’s not a program I wrote, but was written by the one and only Nick Rosencutter, I’ll usually just give my default explanation of: he is crazy and wants you to suffer. If, on the other hand, I wrote the program, I will give them my rationale behind why I have them doing…oh I don’t know…hanging single-leg lateral calf raises with a chain for time.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t get that crazy. However, statements and questions like the two mentioned are valid, and the exercises and sets and reps you are performing do deserve justification and should have meaning behind them. That is an article for a different time.

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Set S.M.A.R.T. Process Goals

It’s the start of a new year and that means one thing is for sure – everyone is making New Year’s resolutions or goals they’d like to achieve this coming year. Oh sure, you may not write them down or tell them to anyone, but you know you still have them. That thought about how you’d like to eat a little less sugar, or how you should really not watch as much T.V. and maybe read a little more. Or how you should be more productive at your job or spend more time with your family, and the list goes on. Maybe you’re the type of person who wrote them down or shared them with someone. In either case, awesome! I am all for having goals and things you would like to achieve, and what a better time than a fresh calendar year. I even wrote a few down myself.

Now, if you’re reading this and you can honestly say you don’t have any goals (yet) or areas of your life you would like to improve, I highly suggest you take a few minutes and think of just a few ways you would like to improve yourself in the coming weeks, months, and year. And not just fitness or health goals. Think of ways you would like to improve your relationships, how to be more productive with your time, or maybe some career goals.

Whatever area of your life you select to focus on improving, here are a couple tips that will make it a little easier and break things down into more manageable steps.

Don’t just set outcome goals, set process goals.

I’ll give you an example:

Outcome goal: I want to lose 60lbs. this year

Process goal: I will eat vegetables with two meals per day and exercise for one hour, three times per week. 

Now, this is a simple example, and it is nothing earth-shattering that no one has ever said before; however, it is something that many of us forget about when it comes to goal-setting or making resolutions. Don’t only think about the big number/goal/achievement! Consider the small steps it takes to get there!

If your goal is to lose body fat and you say you want to lose sixty pounds this year, that may be overwhelming. Instead, if you say, I am going to eat more vegetables and exercise a few times per week (things that will encourage fat loss), the goal seems more attainable.

Or you may break down that goal another way:

Sixty pounds in one year is five pounds per month, which is just a little over one pound per week. That doesn’t sound so bad! Now, if you are consistent with your previous two process goals and focus on one pound per week, all of a sudden your lofty goal of sixty doesn’t seem so far out there.

Set S.M.A.R.T goals.

Setting SMART goals is an awesome way to organize your goal setting and give it a little more structure and definition. I’ll break it down by letter and give an example of each.

Specific

One of the most important keys in setting a goal or resolution is to make sure that your goal is not left open-ended, but has an exact definition, so that you and anyone else you may tell knows exactly what you are wanting to achieve

Non-specific: I want to exercise more

Specific: I will go to the gym and strength train three times per week

Measurable

Having a goal that is measurable is a great way for you to not only track the progress you are making, but also gives you the chance to look back when you’ve achieved it and see how far you have come. Things like calorie amounts, workouts per week, and specific weight loss numbers are measurable. Broad statements about things you would like to do are not.

Bad example: I want to lose weight

Good example: I will lose five pounds per month

Attainable/Achievable

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be wrong. How many times have you known someone who has set a resolution or been determined to accomplish a new goal and a few weeks or months into it they stop and realize it’s too far out there? The purpose of an attainable goal is to make sure that it is actually something you have the potential to achieve! Yes, you want to challenge yourself. But don’t be unrealistic and set such a lofty goal you have no chance of completing it. Set a goal you can ACTUALLY ACHIEVE, not just impress others with.

Unattainable: If you work fifty hours per week and have three children and run a business on the side, it’s probably not realistic for your goal to be to weight train five days per week for two hours each and run three marathons this year.

Attainable: Take the same situation from above (and let’s say that you’re a go-getter):  Weight train two-three days per week, and go for one run per week. If you’re being honest with yourself, that’s probably a little more realistic.

Relevant

This one is fairly straightforward. Make it YOUR GOAL and relevant to you! Not your wife’s, not your boss, no one else’s. It is your goal, specific to you, and something you want to achieve. Sure, others may encourage you or help steer you. But if you yourself are not truly in it and don’t really feel like it, you have already mentally checked yourself out.

Not relevant: Your husband encourages you to start running a few days per week, even though you don’t like running and it makes your knees hurt. But, because he said it and he likes it, it is now your goal for the new year.

Relevant: You enjoy lifting weights and working with a coach. You make it your goal to go and lift two-three days each week.

Time

Last, but certainly not least, is time. You need to put a time-frame on your goal. If you simply say, I want to lose weight, or, I want to eat better, you are leaving your goal extremely open-ended. You give yourself no date by which it must be completed, and therefore you having nothing pushing you and motivating you. On the other hand, if you are wanting to lose weight so you can fit into your wedding dress, there is a specific date that lets you know exactly when you must complete it by.

Putting it all together.

Now that we have broken down each step into pieces, let’s put it all back together with an example.

Outcome goal: I want to lose sixty pounds by January 1st, 2020.

Process goals to help get me there:

  1. I will exercise three-four days per week for a minimum of one hour
  2. I will eat vegetables with at least two meals per day
  3. I will lose, on average, five pounds per month/one-two pounds per week
  4. I will cut out “x” food that I constantly overeat on calories (chips, ice cream, pizza, etc.)
  5. I will write down these goals and put it somewhere I can see it every day and be reminded of it
  6. I will tell one or two close friends that will help keep me accountable and encourage me

Outcome goal: I want to exercise three days per week for the next three months

Process goals to help get me there:

  1. Set specific workout times that you know you can make happen
    1. On Monday’s during my one hour lunch break, I will go down to the fitness center and lift instead of sit on my phone and scroll social media.
    2. When I get home from work on Wednesday’s I will use those twenty pound dumbbells I have sitting in my basement that haven’t been touched in years to do a full body workout.
    3. On Saturday afternoon’s my friend and I will go to the YMCA and work out together and do some swimming for conditioning work.
  2. I will block these time periods off in my schedule so that nothing may take the place of them.
  3. I will write down my workouts so that I can see my progress and improvement, which will help encourage me to continue.
  4. I will write down these goals and put it somewhere I can see it every day and be reminded of it
  5. I will tell one or two close friends that will help keep me accountable and encourage me

So, whether you have made New Year’s resolutions or you simply have goals you would like to accomplish, put these principles into practice and see what they can do for you!

Making a Case for Single Limb Training

Walk into most gyms today and the likelihood of seeing someone performing a unilateral (means single limb, for you non fitness folks) exercise, minus the ever-popular alternating bicep curl and possibly the occasional lunge, is slim to none. And that’s too bad, considering the numerous benefits there are to be reaped from adding these types of exercises into your training. Muscular strength and balance, athletic performance, increased joint and whole body stability, body awareness and more can all be improved through unilateral training.

But Tyler, what makes you so sure? How do you know?

Because for the first five years of my training career, I hardly performed any of them, and the ones that I did do were certainly not done exceptionally well. Now, thankfully this did not result in any severe injuries or problems, as I am convinced would have been the case had I continued on this path. However, I do believe that consistent and frequent smaller injuries and setbacks may have been avoided better had I trained smarter. The same ligament strain in my left lower back three years in a row, frequent patellar tendon/knee pain coupled with inflammation and poor hip mobility are just a few of the issues that might have been avoided with better balance in my program. Couple these minor issues with horrific lateral/frontal plane (side to side) strength and stability , which stemmed from a direct lack of unilateral training, and I was wonderfully set up for continued setbacks and a potential (major) injury.

(Note): I may have also learned just a thing or two from my boss, Nick Rosencutter. He knows a couple of things about training.Now, do I think that a lack of unilateral training is the exact reason I had those problems and imbalances and issues? No, not completely; but I do think it played a substantial role and that some of those problems could have been corrected and fixed sooner had I placed an emphasis on balancing out my bilateral to unilateral training (double limb to single limb).

So, let’s get to it.

One of the most significant reasons that unilateral training is important for almost everyone is because many daily life and sport activities simply do not occur with two hands/feet, fixed to a specific object, moving said object with both limbs simultaneously. You are constantly moving your arms, legs, hands, and feet independently of one another, and you may not even notice it.

That jog you went on this morning, carrying the groceries in one hand, and walking up and down stairs are all unilateral movements. How about performing a layup, throwing a punch, kicking a soccer ball, a tennis serve, or throwing a baseball, football, etc.? Many sport movements are just unilateral movements performed repetitively.

I can already hear the disagreement. But Tyler, don’t you know that the main barbell lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses have way more advantages? Don’t you know not everyone has two hours per day to lift and just need to get in a quick workout with the most bang-for-your-buck exercises? Athletes need power and strength more than anything, so why are you worried about their muscular balance and joint stability?

What great questions and concerns! Allow me to explain. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree, as does the research, that compound barbell lifts such as the back squat, bench press, deadlift, etc., have the most benefit when it comes to increased muscle size, strength, and power development. And yes, if you are truly limited on training time and need to get in a quick workout, chances are bilateral exercises are going to be your first go-to, but not always; nor should they be.

Let’s take for example, a basketball player. Their sport requires them to sprint (unilateral), jump (bilateral and unilateral), pass (bilateral and unilateral), and shoot (bilateral), among many other various movements put together in unpredictable combinations and at unpredictable times. This athlete must be able to stop, change direction, pivot, run, jump, lunge, do it quickly and at a moment’s notice, and do it all with a great deal of power and repetitively without fatiguing. Basketball seems hard! Take away the standard jump shot and rebound, and basketball is suddenly an activity that contains virtually all unilateral movements! Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that this athlete has some sort of foundational strength and stability in a unilateral stance? That this athlete should be able to, with proper execution and joint mechanics, move their upper limb in all different directions and planes of motion? That this athlete should be able to properly brace their entire abdomen and trunk, as one unit, while simultaneously jumping off of one foot, perform a layup with their opposite arm, land on both feet, and then run back down the court? If this athlete never trains unilateral exercises and only ever performs bilateral movements, their performance on the court will surely not be up the level it could be, had they structured their training a little better.

As stated earlier, many movements that you perform are not done with both arms and/or legs at the exact same time and working together, and your body isn’t designed that way either! Take for example, the Glenohumeral joint (that’s your shoulder joint for you non-anatomy folks). This joint is made up of multiple different structures, but what I’m concerned with here is your scapula (shoulder blade). Your scapula functions in many different ways. It moves forwards and backwards, known as protraction and retraction, rotates upwardly and downwardly, elevates and depresses, and even tilts. For good overall shoulder function, you need a healthy balance of all of these types of motion, working both arms together and independently of one another. One issue that arises when unilateral training isn’t present in your training is some of these scapular motions tend to get forgotten about and lag behind. If the only pressing you ever do is the standard bench press and its variations, you are not training any protraction. If your pulling movements consist of barbell rows, seated rows, and lat pulldowns, you probably aren’t getting enough upward rotation utilizing your lower traps. The point is your shoulder joint is complex and functions in many different ways, and if you aren’t training all of these different types of motions both unilaterally and bilaterally, you’re leaving your shoulder health to chance.

I know you want to learn more about your shoulder and how it works, so click here to get smart.

Finally, one of the most basic and maybe obvious reasons why you should include unilateral training in your program is for the likely fact that one arm, leg or side of your body is simply not as strong as the other side/arm/leg. Everybody has a strong arm,, “better shoulder,” that leg that feels stronger than the other, etc.

Really, try a set of split squats or alternating dumbbell presses. Chances are (if you’re lacking on your unilateral training) one side feels better or stronger or is easier. Now, what do you think happens when you jump under the bar for your back squats or bench press sets? Do you just automatically disperse the weight evenly between the right and left sides of your body? No! One arm or leg is probably doing a little more of the work to pick up for the slack of the other side. Now, what do you think would happen to your bench press if you brought up that lagging right shoulder? Or your back squat strength if your left quad was as strong as your right? It certainly isn’t about to go down! Unilateral training is a great way to bring up strength deficits and imbalances from one side of the body to the other, or maintain equal strength if you are already fairly balanced. Furthermore, unilateral exercises train different stabilizing muscles that simply aren’t fully engaged with bilateral exercises, leading to better overall muscular development, balance and stability.

Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that maybe tossing in a few unilateral exercises into your current program would be a good idea. If you have no idea where to start, check out a few suggestions below.

Squat Pattern

  • Reverse lunge
  • Step-up
  • Supported 1 Leg Squat

Hinge Pattern

  • Single-leg RDL
  • Single-leg glute bridge/hip thrust
  • Single-leg leg curl

Push Pattern

  • Alternating DB Bench Press
  • Single-arm cable push
  • Single-arm DB shoulder press

Pull Pattern

  • Single-arm face pull
  • Single-arm pulldown
  • Single-arm DB Row

Abdominal Exercises

* There are not necessarily any direct unilateral ab exercises, considering your entire trunk functions as one unit to stabilize your torso and spine. However, there are definitely some that may work one side more versus the other at different parts of the movement. Below are some of my favorites and what they focus on.

  • Barbell suitcase hold: Lateral stability and frontal plane strength
  • Rotating side bridges: Rotational strength and stability
  • Kneeling/Standing/Squat Cable Holds: Anti-rotation strength
  • Single-Arm Farmer’s Carry: Lateral strength and stability

If this topic interests you and you want to learn more, check out some of these guys and dig through their stuff, because they’re way smarter than me. And older. Which means experience.