Posts Tagged ‘strength’

Core Strength

Friday, April 21st, 2017

I don’t know a single trainer or exercise enthusiast on the planet that would dispute the importance of having a strong core. So let me ask you this: if you wanted to build strong legs would you use endurance parameters? Often I see, hear and correct people who are smashing 25 reps of this into 1 min holds of that with 20 seconds recovery before another onslaught of the abs is undertaken. That’s commendable, and sometimes very appropriate; however, if you want to build true core strength you have to play with strength parameters and expand your exercise selection beyond crunches and planks.

Luckily, there’s lots of exercises and protocols to chose from. I’m still a huge fan of candlesticks and variations among other things.

For more help with ideas on building core strength, have a quick read of this article I posted in 2011. 

Happy training!

Client Progress – A Landmark

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

When I reopened my books to new clients in early January I was pleased to see a fellow judoka wanted help in developing his athleticism to aid his performance on the tatami.

Prior to our training sessions, we followed the usual process of a thorough needs analysis before setting some clear goals. Through movement screening, fitness testing and an in-depth look into the requirements of judo, alongside a comparison to the standards of elite judoka, we determined that the ‘biggest bang for our buck’ would be to focus on closing the gap in strength and power for our first block of training.

While the results in the table below are outstanding and a testament to how hard Stephen worked, I think the most impressive thing was seeing him power clean 90kg (3 kilos over his body weight at the time) considering two months ago he had never cleaned. A bodyweight power clean represents an important landmark in the training journey and it’s always nice to see – much like a double bodyweight squat.

Exercise 20th January 20th March
Broad Jump 2.21 2.38
Back Squat 100 3RM 130kg 2RM
Bench Press 90kg 4RM 100kg 4RM
Chins 10reps at BW 10 Reps with 10kg around waist
Cleans Needed to learn Technique 90kg 1RM (bw)

We used the reverse chain method and progressed it over the course of eight weeks to ensure Stephen’s goal of being able to power clean his bodyweight was realised. While his technique can be refined, and optimised further, it’s certainly safe and effective. All in all, great results for a guy who has trained hard. We are continuing to push on with strength and align him to the edge of his weight category (u90) before turning our focus to conditioning (which is pretty good at the moment and being maintained).

Special Announcement | Two Training Slots Available (Aberdeen)

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

It’s been a few years now since I ‘opened the books’ for personal training to the public, and I’m excited to announce that from January to April I have two 70mins slots available at the tail end of the week for training whoever is brave enough :) . Some of you will know that my full time contract has me covering a large ‘chunk’ of Scotland and the geography of the region I lead on with regards to strength and conditioning means that periodically, travelling is as much a part of the job as training athletes. That said,  I’ve had a reshuffle of my schedule thanks to a growing network of great coaches emerging in various cities and it has allowed me to spend less time on the A90 and more time doing what I love – coaching and training people to maximise their potential!

Though athletes are welcome, these training slots are available to anyone who has an athlete’s attitude and appetite for ‘getting after it’. Whatever your goal, I’ll have the right carrot (and a few sticks) to get you there. You can read-up more on my qualifications and motivation for training people on my home page.

It’s worth noting I can take three people per training slot and would fully encourage you to train with your friends, regardless of a variance in ability. That said, with group training it is important that members of the group share a common fitness vision (i.e everyone wants to improve their aerobic fitness, or body composition etc).

Please use my contact page to register your interest and request more information.


Venue |
Exclusive access to a private gym facility for our weekly session (free parking / showers and changing room space)

Blocks | 10  x 70mins sessions (maximum three people per group)

Expectation | Completion of agreed upon sessions (designed by me) outwith our weekly training slot

Session 1 | Establish the baseline (movement screen as part of the session coupled with tests appropriate for your goal)

Sessions 2 – 9 | Weekly 121 coupled with a planned intervention to achieve goals established in session 1, including nutrition guidance if appropriate to goals

Session 10 | Retest and evaluation of progress



Power Clean Clusters from Blocks

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Admittedly, I’ve become somewhat of a weekend warrior. As I’m often coaching in the evening I’ve found it difficult to get any consistency and therefore momentum with Judo in the last couple of years. Sure, I can do conditioning or lifting most days and slot it around my schedule, but I can’t slot Judo class around MY schedule. The truth is, the hardest grapple I’ve had these last two years is finding a regular training slot for Judo practice.

To that end, I’ve looked at the weekends as a way to try and get some momentum back on the tatami and this past weekend reflected that. I enjoyed some Saturday conditioning followed by two newaza/ bjj sessions on Sunday.  I went to sleep last night fully prepared to wake up with the aches and pains that every Judoka is familiar with; the cut feet that stings in the shower, the staved finger from an over eager grip and the stiff knees from ‘basing out’ on those grafty butterfly sweeps. What I wasn’t prepared for was the pain when I breathed in/out or coughed. I’m no medical professional, but something certainly wasn’t (and isn’t at time of this post) right with my ribs.

Anyways, there was still training to be done! I was a bit beaten up and sore, but in the grand scheme of things – who cares?! I have a regular Monday lifting session which is purposeful/ planned and part of a bigger vision, so there is no way I wanted to miss it. I simply took a little longer on my warm up, then ramped up to my ‘working sets’ on my exercises with the mindset that I will listen to my body, yet will be aggressive with the lifts and give them my best shot. To my surprise, once I got going I was able to achieve the planned numbers for the day despite being sore during my bracing phase of the lift.

Mondays are currently clusters on the power clean from blocks. Specifically, today was 120kg singles (3 x 3 with 10-20s rest/ 3mins).

The takeaway message: you’re not always going to arrive at a training session fresh and feeling fantastic. Sometimes you’ve got to talk yourself into achieving the goal of the day and gauge how you feel and how your body is responding after an aggressive warm up.

Obviously if you’re unwell or injured you should seek a medical professional prior to exercise as per disclaimer. The advice I follow and give to my athletes when they are not 100% (but not injured) is: “warm up, ramp up to your working sets, then we’ll talk”.

Individualisation | Scapular Wall Slide Variation

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

We use ‘Scap Wall Slides’ as a filler exercise between sets on our core lifts or as part of a warm up sequence. The purpose of which is to teach scapular control and activate the muscles of the upper back. Like any exercise, if ‘Scap Wall Slides’ are done incorrectly they are useless and simply reinforce bad posture and poor movement mechanics. That said, when performed correctly they are a useful prehab/activation exercise.

It’s not uncommon to see athletes compensate during movements and it’s important to establish the best variation of a drill for the individual, keeping the objective of the exercise in mind. A good trainer isn’t going to let an athlete set up for a deadlift like Quasimodo; a good trainer would stop their athlete and coach him/her into the right position and vary the drill if necessary to achieve the optimal position (raise the barbell for a period of time while working on mobility to eventually hit the desired set-up position). This level of coaching detail must be done on every exercise, including activation/ prehab based exercises if necessary.

In this video we have feet and hips away from the wall, with the upper back in contact, which is contrast to our standard wall slides where heels, hips, lumbar to cervical spine are all in contact with the wall while the elbows and wrists remain in contact and slide up and down (Y shape to W shape).

This variation is specific to the individual and we’ve coached him to inwardly rotate at the bottom to push away from the wall to allow for scapular retraction and activation of upper back muscles. Though he achieves the goal for this movement (scapular retraction, minimal lumbar movement when reaching upwards) he needs coached (and foot position modified slightly) to allow contact of wrist/ elbow against the wall while reaching overhead. He simply struggles with external rotation of the shoulder and super-tight lats at the moment, so we have a list of exercises that have been incorporated to enhance his mobility and strength in the shoulder area.

It’s important to be as progressive with mobility exercises as you would be with any core lifts. With this exercise we will gradually have the athlete walk his feet back towards the wall (as his external rotation ROM improves) and have his back flat against the wall.
Of course, there are other movements we’re using to ‘open up’ this athlete; however, this provides an example of choosing the right variation of a drill to reinforce good movement mechanics without subtracting from core lifts and the pursuit of strength.


Training tip: explosive intent

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

The first time I squatted 180kg was two years ago with a belt and knee sleeves. I’ve been working through knee injuries these past few years and while I still must programme sensibly, I’m now in a position where I have an improved V02 max and an improved maximal back squat. One message I convey to all my athletes regarding improving athletic prowess is the intention to move their primary exercises as controlled yet fast as possible. Below is more recent video of my 180kg squat without any extra support, and its clear this isn’t a maximal lift for me anymore. In the pursuit of athletic development it’s important to be as forceful as possible when training with a barbell. In this example, you will see me accelerate the concentric portion of the lift through full range of motion, so much so that I do a small jump (admittedly, a very small jump) to finish the lift. I don’t often speak in generalisations; however, a good train of thought is to control the descent of a lift (such as bench or squat) and accelerate the ascent. Of course, the load will dictate how fast the bar-speed is but the emphasis is on ‘intent’.

Never Give Up

Friday, May 29th, 2015

In the next couple of weeks I will be posting an article that’s specific to me and how I’ve overcome injuries that have thrown a real ‘spanner in the works’ for my athletic development; however, there is always something that can be done. I’m very proud to have conveyed that through my coaching and have injured athletes turn up to my sessions to find out what they can do! Below is a video of Aberdeenshire RFC hooker achieving his eight week target of a 150kg floor press. When he arrived at his S&C session with a cast on I had two questions for him:

1. How long is the cast on for? (Eight weeks.)
2. How much can you floor press? (At that time it was 130kg 1RM.)

From there we formulated a plan and set a specific target – 150RM floor press in eight weeks.

I was really proud of this athlete’s success as it shows that with the right attitude you can come back stronger. Never train through an injury – if the joint hurts then something is wrong. With that said, train and overload what isn’t injured while you rehab the problem area.

S&C for Rugby: a snap shot

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

 In rugby there are many different elements of physical fitness that need to be developed, and (depending on player training age) a conjugate style of training can be used effectively within season to ensure progress is achieved. The video below is a good example of a conjugate style of training.

Enjoy :-)


Exercise Technique: The Clean

Friday, February 14th, 2014

In past posts I’ve discussed the relevance of Olympic weightlifting, and the derivatives, for improving sports performance. This post breaks down the stages and optimal technique to use when performing ’The Clean’. Due to the technical nature of the movement there is a lot of information on body positioning; however, this post is aimed at those individuals who want to iron-out their technique. Essentially, I would like this technical model to represent a guide and point of reference for all of my clients who have the Olympic lifts in their programming. An understanding of the technical model is essential for long term development; that being said, when I’m teaching these lifts within a strength and conditioning session you are more likely to hear me shout ‘pull and punch’ than ‘remember to transition’. After absorbing the information below, use the coaching cues provided to help simplify the stages.

The prerequisites to this movement are the ability to squat and deadlift with good posture. Additionally, prior to ‘The Clean’ you should be able to achieve the ’rack position’ on the shoulders (front squat grip) to ensure you are able to catch the bar after the pull.

Stage 1: The Start
In the start position your feet should be in a strong ‘jump stance’ (usually hip width apart) and your shoe laces should be underneath the bar. Grasp the bar with a hook grip (fingers over the thumbs) with your arms straight and hands shoulder width apart, or slightly wider. The shoulders should be in front of the bar with the elbows pointed out (in line with the bar). Take a moment to feel where the weight is on your foot – at this stage your bodyweight should be on the mid part of your foot (with heels down). It goes without saying, the back should be straight and a torso angle of ~45 degrees is optimal.  There is an argument that the chin should be tucked so as not to extend the cervical spine and to alleviate tension on the upper area of the traps; however, I would argue that you must have your head ‘forward and up’ (pictured)while looking up, to promote thoracic extension and a good head position during the end of the second pull.

 Coaching Cue – angry gorilla posture, shoulders in front of the bar with elbows out.

Stage 2: The First Pull
The torso angle in the first pull should mimic that of the start position, with the only movement coming from knee extension. The bar path will move up and back while bodyweight will transfer towards the heel. The legs should almost straighten until the bar is passed the knees as this action will create a stretch on the hamstrings and allow the myotatic-stretch-reflex to be utilised and optimise velocity (2).

 Coaching Cue – chest up, pull the bar back.

Stage 3: The Transition
The knees re-bend under the bar to ensure the bar path isn’t ‘loopy’ and remains as vertical as possible. This action allows the torso angle to change to an upright posture primed from jumping. The heels should remain flat on the floor; however, the bodyweight will shift back into the mid part of the foot. The shoulders will remain over the bar (just) until the next stage. It is at this stage where the bar-speed will increase (3).

Coaching Cue – knees under the bar, delay the pull.

 Stage 4: The Second Pull
This action should resemble a vertical jump. Triple extension will be achieved (ankle, knee and hip) and the bar should remain as close to the body as possible (1). The shoulders should be elevated by performing a violent shrug. The thoracic region should be extended with the shoulders slightly behind the bar to allow for full hip extension.

Coaching Cue – big Jump, violent shrug.

Stage 5: The Third Pull
The elbows will raise high with the arm in flexion while the shoulder will travel through internal to external rotation. As this occurs the lower body rapidly drops into flexion again, while the elbows are punched forward and upward.

 Coaching Cue – pull yourself under the bar.

 Stage 6: The Catch
The bar should be received a couple of inches above the full front squat position before ‘riding’ the weight down and powering up. The feet should have travelled out slightly so the stance is slightly wider than your initial pulling position, while the knees will be slightly over the toes and track in the coronal plane. Ideally the elbows will be high enough that the triceps are parallel to the floor and the torso angle is vertical.

 Coaching Cue – punch the elbows, ride it down and up fast.

 Stage 7: The Recovery
All that is left to do at this point is stand up with good front squat posture. The torso should remain vertical with the elbows high and you will push forcefully though the feet. The knees and hips should extend allowing you to finish the lift in the position of the FMT Logo :-D . In the video below you will see Stages 4-7 in slow-motion. This ’clean from hip’ or ‘high hang clean’ includes an example of the front squat posture to achieve the recovery position.

Coaching Cue – Chest Up, push through the floor.

Though ‘The Clean’ can be broken down into various stages, it should be performed as a fast and fluent motion. Understanding the stages and where the body should be will allow you to work on weaknesses and improve the lift, which will ultimately increase your power output and force production.

1. Newton, H. (2006) Explosive Lifting for Sports. Chp6, pp98-99. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.
Siff M. 2003. Supertraining. Chp 1.7.2 pp 46-58. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.
3. Kraemer, WJ., & Vladimir MZ. (2006) Science and Practice of Strength Training. Chp 3, pp 48. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.

A Grapplers Beginning

Monday, January 30th, 2012

  As I alluded to in my last post; I’ve been taking on more grapplers than rugby players recently and I have to say it’s a different kind of animal. Principles and science remain the same; however, the psyche of a grappler is unparalleled which means the way in which I deliver sessions are slightly different. This is the art of strength and conditioning. Beyond the psychological make-up is a unique physiological challenge – fighters seem to bend differently. Maybe it’s all those ‘triangles’ and hip popping ‘arm bars’, one thing is for sure: it makes for interesting exercise selection. Again, part of the art of strength and conditioning.

For those of you interested there will be a series which breaks down the science (and art) of training grapplers in future months, which will of course include profiling. For now, I thought I’d show you some of the things I’ve been doing with two new recruits; a wrestler and a judoka.