Monthly Archives: April 2017

Techniques To Improve Grip Strength

How To Train The Grip

Traditional isolation exercises people often think of as grip work, wrist curls for example, aren’t all that effective. What really gets your grip strong is doing compound movements with significant load where the implement is held in such a way your grip is the limiting factor.

With more programming and movement variations geared towards improving grip strength in coordination with peak tension and stability throughout the pillar (shoulders, hips and core functioning together), we not only ensure greater carryover to athletic performance but also that building strength is not only adding poundage to the bar, but is maintaining proper biomechanics, and movement function. This is because making grip the limiting factor limits load, which would otherwise be moved with heavy compensation patterns and loss of positional authority at the spine, pelvis, shoulders and hips.

“For the golfers purposes training should provide the opportunity to strengthen movement patterns, improve injury resilience and enhance central nervous system function”

Thick Grips

Below is Rafa Cabrera Bello hitting some thick grip RDL’s (he’s MacGyvered a thick grip by wrapping a towel around a standard barbell) to improve his grip strength. This variation provides all the same benefits as the double overhand deadlift just amped up thanks to the larger circumference of the bar.

You can also use fat gripz that attach easily to any barbell or dumbbell therefore allowing you to do a greater variety of movements

Deadlift With A Double Overhand Grip

Whilst the mixed grip is incredibly popular on powerlifting platforms, as it reduces the grip strength requirements and allows more load to be lifted, for the golfers purposes the mixed grip is a missed opportunity to develop grip strength as well as increasing the risk of injury and pain in the elbow and biceps tendon. It also means less co-contraction and stability throughout the forearms, shoulders, core and hips is developed.

Note: At certain points in time, depending on your goals and injury history it maybe worthwhile to deadlift with a mixed grip, this is fine, but be sure to alternate your grip around each set

 Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Presses

Turning the kettlebell upside down and pressing whilst keeping the bell straight up requires grip strength a plenty, as well as scapular stability and huge amounts of co-contraction between the forearm, shoulder, upper back musculature and core. In fact, those with elbow or shoulder pain when pressing will often find this pain free as it turns on secondary stabilizer muscles so much.

Towel Grip Rows And Pull-Ups

Whilst the grip is taxed phenomenally these variations also place a huge emphasis on shoulder and scapular stability thanks to the unstable/ flexible nature of the towel.

Gym

Some people think that golf is more of an endurance sport and that we need to train our golfers like endurance athletes. This could not be further from the truth. To hit a golf ball the golfer needs to fire muscles in the correct order at maximal velocity.  Golfers actually share much more in common with a sprinter than a marathoner.  A sprinter operates at maximum intensity, relying on powerful, coordinated contractions.  Much more similar to golf than steady state cardio.  Sure you walk between shots, but being a great walker isn’t what differentiates great golfers from their competition.  Power is one of the key factors that set better golfers apart and, it turns out, power pays.  The most powerful golfers in the world use more fast twitch muscle fibers than the average golfer. Fast twitch muscle fibers can be trained using sprinting and ballistic training techniques.

Search “jogging” in the exercise section of the TPI site.  Of the thousands of exercises in the database, none involve jogging.

Now search sprinting.  Dozens of exercises, from shuttles to skips, that involve sprinting.

Most avid golfers already have fairly capable endurance systems.  Golfers walk between four and six miles during an average round so their aerobic cardio needs are being met just by playing golf and don’t require additional sessions.

Training Like A Sprinter

Interval training has been proven to reduce fat, increase cardiovascular capacity while increasing speed and power. Using a training method called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can help your golfer accomplish all their cardio needs while enhancing their ability to fire more fast twitch muscle fibers in their golf swing. HIIT training involves short bursts of 90-100% intensity exercise followed by full recovery.  It’s something that TPI instructor Dr. Mark Smith covers in detail during advanced TPI Fitness seminars, especially Level 3.  Generally speaking, your work to rest ratio should be in the area of 15 second to 1 minute of work followed by 30 sec to 2 minutes of rest. (1:2 Work: Rest).  If you were to add up all the work done in a week you goal should be around 10 minutes of high intensity interval training.

PGA TOUR joined Patrick Rodgers and his trainer Dr. Troy Van Biezen in the gym and broadcast it on Facebook Live during the week of the Memorial.  Check out his workout.

Skipping Challenge

One of my favorite HIIT workouts is skipping.  Skipping could be one of the best exercises ever invented in the history of mankind. I’m not one for making bold statements so I won’t go over the top on this one, but, simply put, skipping could be the cure for diabetes, cancer, delayed onset loneliness and the plague. Okay so now you know I like skipping but why, Jay?

Skipping is a self limiting exercise which means that you will stop skipping once you are fatigued or you lose your form. This makes it a pretty safe activity for all ages and income brackets. Skipping elevates the heart rate and can be used as a HIIT or using different tempo and cadence it can be performed for longer more moderate cardio bouts. It is fantastic for developing timing, rhythm, athleticism, agility and coordination. Skipping can also enhance power outputs in jumpers or any athlete using their legs as a source of power. It is plyometric in nature and can help you develop cannon ball calves that look like 4 litre jugs of milk hanging from your knees.

I like to add 30sec to 1min skipping bouts in my circuits or any time in a session I am looking to crank up the heart rate. I developed a Skipping Challenge for my athletes to encourage them to skip as fast as they can while developing various skipping skills.  The challenge is to perform the following sequence of skips as fast as you can. The 30 Second Skipping Club is a very small group of super star skipping phenoms that have completed the entire sequence in under 30 sec. Want to be a part of this elite group? Video tape your Skipping Challenge and post it on your social media with #30SecSkipClub #BeatTheCoach

Speed Drop

Golf And Age:

The vast majority of golfers experience a significant loss in club head speed and distance as they age. It’s a complaint I have heard from pretty much every golfer I have trained who is into their 50’s, and certainly 60’s. Golf score, and either directly or indirectly, level of enjoyment from the game starts to decline as this speed reduction occurs. Let’s make one point very clear. It’s not your chronological age that is primarily responsible for the decline in distance, it is your drop in strength and speed/power. There is a huge difference, because chronological age cannot be changed, but strength, power and speed levels most certainly can….at any age.

Why Does Speed Drop Off With Age?

By understanding the mechanisms that underlie this drop off in power it becomes much easier to try and apply appropriate training interventions.

1 Decrease In Muscle Activity / Neural Drive:

To carry out a movement, our Central Nervous System (CNS) must activate motor units (MU’s). Motor units are comprised of a motor neuron (nerve), and the muscle fibers that it innervates. In an effort to avoid complexity, the more MU’s that are recruited, and the faster that these signals to recruit MU’s are sent from the CNS, the stronger and faster our movements can be. This is of course extremely important for generating high club head speed. It has been well established that as one ages there is a loss in working MU’s which means generating high levels of force and speed becomes more difficult.

2 Muscle Fiber Type:

Going quickly back to MU’s, it should be noted that all muscle fibers in an MU are the same type. You have probably heard of “fast twitch” and “slow twitch” muscle fibers, and these differences in muscle fiber type are very real and very important. Fast twitch muscle fibers are capable of much faster, and stronger contractions, and are therefore vital for explosive movements like the golf swing. It is well established that as one ages, there is a decrease in the size and amount of these fast twitch muscle fibers. There is also some debate that fast twitch fibers start to “convert” to slow twitch fibers, and become innervated by a slow twitch neuron. Interestingly, slow twitch fibers don’t degrade anywhere near as much with age, compared to the fast twitch counterparts.

3 Sarcopenia:

This is the term given to the loss of muscle size and strength due to aging. Muscle power, which is a combination of force and velocity does not receive the same attention but it certainly warrants it. Due to the selective atrophy and loss of fast twitch fibers, and other more complex nervous system factors, muscle power is lost at approximately twice the rate of muscle strength (Skelton et al 1994). This is a very important point to note if maintaining high club head speed is a goal. With similar levels of muscle mass, and maximum strength, elderly populations tend to have much lower power levels.

What Can Be Done About It – Training

While the information above may make it seem all hope is lost, the great thing about muscle, and the CNS is that they’re very responsive to training, even in “old” people. The key word here is “training”. Recreational activity, or general exercise is not the same thing, and the training must meet some specific criteria for maximum benefit to be attained.

In particular, there are two types of training that have massive benefit for reversing/delaying the loss of muscle power in aging populations. The first is strength training, which concentrates on developing the maximum force one can exert in a particular movement or exercise. With strength training, our primary goal is force production. This is best accomplished with a “”heavy” load, relative to the person’s strength level. For the sake of this discussion let’s classify heavy as the most load someone can use in a particular exercise and complete 3-6 perfect reps, but no more.

The second type is usually labelled under speed & power training. Another term for this is Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD is usually classified as the amount of force generated in the first 200ms of muscular contraction. This is the vital difference between strength and RFD. Strength measures do not take the time to produce maximum force into consideration, while RFD is concerned with the maximum amount of force that can be produced very quickly (usually classified as the first 200ms of contraction).

This point is important to understand and take note of because there is a difference in how quickly older populations decline in strength, compared to RFD. As alluded to earlier RFD declines much more rapidly. Due to very short, explosive nature of the golf swing, RFD is a critical component of high club head speed so increasing or maintaining it for as long as possible is an important training consideration.

In the next section of the article I am going to provide some key takeaways from the research I have studied in this area, and give some examples of how I try to implement these concepts in the programs I provide for clients both in person, and as part of my online training services.

Practical Application:

Research results like those provided above and real world observations make the benefits of these training modalities impossible to ignore, and I always try to include them as an element of my clients training programs both in person and online. With this being said, some sense must be applied when deciding on how to train high force (strength), and high velocity (RFD) movements in older populations.

This is where having the experience of scaling, regressing & progressing different exercises and modes becomes invaluable. An accurate assessment of the clients readiness will dictate the training starting point, and the time and resources they are willing to commit will give an indication of where you can expect to help them progress to.

Maximum strength training, by nature is best accomplished with exercises where the client is in an environment where high forces can be produced, and likelihood of injury or mishap is low. Basic compound movements like variations of hip hinges/deadlifts, squats, and upper body pushes and pulls tend to do work quite well in my experience. Once the athlete is competent in the mechanics of the exercise, a simple Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is an excellent way to choose the weight to use for the exercise. Lets use the hip hinge / deadlift as an example, and you have programmed for the set to consist of 6 reps. Start with a conservative load and once the set is finished, ask the client/yourself to give the set a difficulty rating out of 10. I tell clients that 1 is nothing, and 10 is complete maximum effort, extremely hard, and no way another rep would have been possible. The sweet spot is somewhere between 7-9, so adjust accordingly until you have a load that can lifted in perfect form with an RPE of 7-9/10. If technique starts to drift as the load increases, lower it to the heaviest load that can be done with perfect form. Load should never change technique.

Muscle Fiber

Type of Muscle Fiber

One of the most influential factors is muscle fiber type. We have two basic types of muscle fibers, often referred to as “slow twitch” and “fast twitch.” Slow twitch muscle fibers are best used for cardiovascular (aerobic) activities. They produce small levels of force for long periods of time and thus are better suited for endurance activities. Fast twitch fibers are best used for anaerobic activities. They produce high levels of force for short periods of time and are best suited for power activities such as weightlifting.

Most men and women have an equal combination of both slow twitch and fast twitch fibers. However, some people inherit a high percentage of slow twitch fibers that enhance their performance in endurance activities, such as long distance runners. Most world class marathon runners have a very high amount of slow twitch fibers. World class sprinters or football players, for example, have relatively more fast twitch muscle fibers. Although both fiber types respond positively to strength training workouts, the fast twitch types experience greater increases in muscle size and strength, and thus may obtain greater and/or faster results from a strength training program.

Age

Another factor over which we have little control is age. Studies show that people of all ages can increase their muscle size and strength as a result of a safe and effective strength training program. However, the rate of strength and muscle gain appears to be greater from age 10-20, the years of rapid growth and development. After reaching normal physical maturity, muscular improvements usually don’t come as quickly.

Gender

Gender does not affect the quality of our muscle, but does influence the quantity. Although men’s and women’s muscle tissue are characteristically the same, men generally have more muscle tissue than women do because muscle size is increased by the presence of testosterone, the male sex hormone. The larger the muscles, the stronger the person; this is why most men are stronger than most women.

Limb and Muscle Length

Another strength factor that is naturally determined is limb length. Persons with short limbs tend to be able to lift more weight because of advantageous leverage factors (arms and legs). Similarly, differences in strength development may come about because of variation in muscle length. Some people have long muscles, and some people have short muscles. Persons with relatively long muscles have greater potential for developing size and strength than persons with relatively short muscles.

Point of Tendon Insertion

Muscle strength is also influenced by the point of tendon insertion. For example, let’s say Jim and John both have the same arm and muscle length. However, Jim’s biceps tendon attaches to his forearm farther from his elbow joint than John’s does. This gives Jim a biomechanical advantage: he is able to lift more weight than John in biceps exercises such as the Biceps Curl.

Other Important Factors

All of these factors affect our ability to gain strength and muscle development through training. Keep in mind, however, that the most influential factor in achieving good results is using a very slow, controlled lifting movement and lifting to the point of muscle fatigue.

In addition to using good lifting technique, it is absolutely imperative that you not only train with intensity on a well-balanced program, but also give your muscles enough resting time between training sessions. Overtraining is a common mistake people make; it happens not only when you don’t allow your muscles enough rest, but also when you train with too many sets and exercises for each muscle group.

Another mistake people make is doing the same program over and over again even after they have reached a plateau. Any time you 1) stop gaining strength or muscle size or 2) get bored, it is crucial that you change the program, so that you can go through a whole new phase achieving new results.

We inherit most of these factors affecting strength from our parents, and they have a big impact on our size, strength, and appearance. It is very important that you not become obsessed with trying to look like a world-class body builder—or any other body type that is not your own. We are not all meant to look the same. It is very important that you learn about and accept your own body’s characteristics and type, so you can develop a reasonable program specific to realistic goals and personal interests.

Genetics does clearly play a role in your health and appearance, but they certainly do not determine how often or well you train. Even if you are born with a genetic predisposition to being overweight or weak, the way you live is what will ultimately determine whether you become fit and strong or fat and weak.

Weightlifting provides many important benefits that cannot be achieved by any other exercise or activity. Physiologically, the benefits of consistent strength training include an increase in muscle size and tone, increased muscle strength, and increases in tendon, bone, and ligament strength. Strength-training has also been shown to improve psychological health as well, by increasing self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. If you understand and accept your body, you will be able to work with it, not against it. Everyone can improve their strength, appearance, and performance level by consistently implementing an effective strength training program.