Plyometric; 3 Phases & Proper Landing

Plyometric (plyo) exercise is great for training power, and speed, and increasing strength as a result. Plyo exercises involve some kind of jump or otherwise explosive movement, which requires and improves the ability to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in as little time as possible. And the more muscle fiber activation we get in a single instant the higher we jump, the more we lift, the stronger our movement becomes.

All plyo exercises have three unique phases:
1. ECCENTRIC PHASE, aka: loading phase
2. AMORTIZATION PHASE, aka: transition phase
3. CONCENTRIC PHASE, aka: unloading phase

Let's use a squat jump as an example to explain each phase... 

To begin a squat jump the first thing I have to do is LOAD my muscles, and I do this by squatting down PRIOR to actually jumping up. This creates and temporarily stores potential energy in the muscles that are about to be used for the jump. To visualize this, imagine stretching out a rubberband. You can just *feel* all the stored energy about to explode when you let go...

Next comes the amortization phase which occurs right at the bottom of the loading phase and right before the jump. It's a very brief moment of pause that can be seen at the bottom-most point of my loading phase. It's so brief that it's almost imperceptible to the eye. :O
This quick pause comes from the electromechanical delay in which the muscles transition from overcoming force (aka: storing potential energy in the loading phase) to producing force in the intended direction...

Then next comes THE JUMP! This is the unloading phase in which the elastic energy stored in the loading phase and redirected in the amortization phase is RELEASED. To visualize this phase imagine letting go of that rubberband you stretched out earlier. This phase is explosive, and the more you train with plyometrics the more explosive it will become.

Plyo exercises are intended to be performed quickly, so immediately after the jump I'd go back into the eccentric phase of my next rep and continue. Upon the final rep, I'll still want to sink into that eccentric phase, but this time the purpose is to absorb the landing. There is a right and wrong way to land a jumping exercise, and I see examples of the improper landing in the gym all the time.

It would include:
- Landing loudly
- Stopping short of a full range of motion
- A generally 'jerky' appearance to the motion
- High impact on the lower body joints

So what's the correct way to land??
QUIETLY and FULLY!

Absorb your landing by continuing to move even after your feet have planted. (This is that continuation into the eccentric phase even once you've finished your set.) When performing plyometric you exercise high speed and explosiveness in the actual jump, but you must also practice controlling that speed and slowing down after the jump. This is done by continuing your movement to absorb the impact of the landing.

When doing so you wind up:
- Landing quietly, sometimes silently!
- Continuing through a full range of motion
- Creating a much more fluid visual appearance to the motion
- Relieving much of the impact on the lower body joints

Nighttime Tips for a Better Morning

Not much of a morning person? 
Do you find yourself feeling like you got hit by a semi truck when you wake up? Desperately scrambling to get yourself some caffeine? If you aren't busy hitting snooze, that is. Always forgetting something? And inevitably ending up being rushed out the door without feeling completely ready? 

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It might mean you're not a very good night-person either...
You might be surprised how much can be cured by a good night's rest. Maybe all you need to feel more refreshed in the mornings are better night-time habits.

Here are some tips:

1. Avoid exciting your body's systems by eating, exercising, showering, or staring at a screen right before going to bed. All of these habits "awaken" us in ways that may make it hard to fall asleep once we hit the pillow.
--- INSTEAD? Make sure to eat dinner a couple hours before going to bed, so you're satiated, but you're digestive system has calmed. Get your exercise in well before going to sleep, if possible, so your muscular and nervous systems are more relaxed for bed time. Shower in the morning to avoid exciting your nervous and neural systems. Try reading for 30-60 minutes before going to bed instead of watching TV.  
All of these habits will help physically and mentally prepare you for sleep.

2. Avoid doing any kind of activity in your bed other than sleeping (aside from the obvious -- I'm not your mom!). This can create a damaging mental association between your bed and things that AREN'T sleep making it harder to actually fall asleep when the time comes. 
--- INSTEAD? Find a separate place for reading, watching TV, drawing, studying, computer work, etc. Somewhere you can sit upright with proper posture, preferably! 

3. Try to get a solid 7-9 hours each night. Sleeping too much or too little can heavily effect energy levels throughout the day, so it's important to know how much sleep you need to function optimally and to try and get that amount as often as possible. I've learned through trial and error that my optimal sleep time is 7.5 hours. 
--- HAVE TROUBLE GETTING TO BED? Try tips #1 and #2 first to see if there's any improvement, and then try aiming for your optimal amount of sleep. Rome wasn't built in a day. 

4. Avoid a rushed, sloppy, haphazard morning. This can potentially negatively effect your mental state and provide for a somewhat crappy rest of your morning/day. 
This one has some tips within tips... 

--- AVOID HITTING SNOOZE (more than once!). I heavily empathize with the plight of the snooze button... As a habitual snoozer myself I definitely battle with the desire to sleep just a little longer and the rational knowledge that it'd be easier to wake up with my first alarm rather than 5 snoozes later. And I do find that my best mornings are the ones when I bite the bullet and get up with my first alarm. That extra little taste of sleep really just wreaks havoc on my morning. So how can you avoid hitting snooze until the last possible second? 
>> Aim for your optimal amount of sleep. (Over time your body might naturally wake up even before your alarm!)
>> Sit up, or stand up, or otherwise move physically when the alarm goes off. This small step will do a lot to encourage waking up. 
>> Set at least two alarms with LESS than the amount of snooze time between them. For example, I'll set an alarm for 6:15a and then one for 6:20a, because my phone snoozes for 10 minutes at a time. This way if I snooze my 6:15a alarm, my 6:20a alarm goes off BEFORE the snooze from 6:15a. Even just knowing that this will happen usually results in me deciding to wake up rather than waiting for another alarm.
>> Give yourself something to look forward to in the morning. For me, it's coffee. As such, the alarm goes off, and I hate everything for a minute, but then the first thing I do is start making my coffee, and everything is better. It gives me a positive reason for waking up. 

--- GET 'READY TO GO' THE NIGHT BEFORE. Now, I don't mean get fully dressed and ready to go right before laying down for bed. But there is a lot you can do the night before that makes a morning routine run more seamlessly. For example, if you pack a lunch you can go ahead and pack it the night before, so you can just grab it on the way out. If you fill up water bottles or other drinks, the same is true. If picking out your outfit takes a while, you can get that out of the way the night before, and so on.

--- GIVE YOURSELF SOME WIGGLE ROOM. Feeling rushed out the door is one of my least favorite parts of the morning. I always feel like I'm forgetting something, or I'm just not mentally ready for the day yet. One of the best things I did for myself to combat this was allowing for some wiggle room in my time frame in the mornings. This allows me a few minutes, sometimes just 2 or 3, to sit, relax, drink my coffee, and GET ready. All I have to do to make this possible is prep things the night before, set my alarm at a time that allows just a couple minutes to myself, and then actually wake up at that first alarm. If I do all of those two things mornings are a breeze. 

--- ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. This is easily the most important tip. We are creatures of habit. We thrive on routine. This gives us structure and even further motivation for climbing out of bed. If you can't list out in detail the exact steps of your morning routine, you might consider creating one for yourself.
Mine? Start coffee. Let dog out. Get dressed. Put on make up. Let dog in, give her a treat. Give guinea pigs some veggies. Pour coffee. Make my own food. Eat that food (this is my few minutes to myself). Grab lunch for work. Head out.

--- STICK TO THAT ROUTINE. This may seem like it goes without saying, but I don't just mean on the days when you HAVE to be awake at a certain time. I mean on the weekends, or holidays, or days off. Sticking as close as possible to that morning routine even when you don't have to (with some leeway of course) will make it even easier on those mornings when you do have to. 

Now, I definitely realize these things are all much easier said than done; especially the habits that actually happen in the morning. So, maybe start with the night time behaviors first. But, after YEARS of struggling to wake up on time and have positive, productive mornings, I've found a lot of success in following these tips. I went from snoozing for literally an entire hour and then having to run out the door completely unprepared for the day to waking up to my first or second alarm almost every morning and having that hour to get myself ready to go instead. It has been a glorious change of pace, and it's really made a huge difference in my life. 

I'll never be a morning person, but I can definitely work on being a better night time person in the hopes of continually improving my mornings. 

Pre/Post Workout Nutrition

I originally came here with the intention of writing a blog about how to time your pre and post workout meals, what to eat, the ratio of carbs:protein, etc. But as I got deeper into my research I realized that's not what this blog was going to be about... 

The peer-reviewed studies refute the existence of a post-workout anabolic window as well as the usefulness of nutrient timing (1, 2, 3) while articles more of the "pop-fitness" type still suggest that nutrient timing makes a significant difference in your training results (4, 5). It's interesting that the scientific method and it's resulting literature can so clearly show mixed and limited results supporting the efficacy of pre/post workout nutrition and yet if you just google "pre/post workout nutrition" you'll be flooded with articles and blogs about how carb/protein intake timed directly, delicately, and unforgivingly around your workouts is the only way to see results.

...I may be exaggerating just a bit there, but many of these pop-fitness sources really try to shove nutrient timing down your throat as the end all be all for fitness related nutrition. In fact, I did the google search mentioned above and on the first page 8/10 of the results included articles that stressed the timing of pre and/or post workout meals. Here they are:

"The name of the game is speed."

"Essential to achieve results."

"Timing is everything."

"Time is of the essence."

"As soon as possible"

"Immediately after"

"1-2 hours before, 1-2 hours after"

"Smartly timed snacks"

The other two of the resulting articles are actually linked in the sources below. They both take a more neutral stance explaining that timing may not be the most important aspect of fitness-related nutrition but still providing guidelines for what/when to eat before and after a workout. (4, 5) 

My 'research' was limited to sources of the pop-fitness nature until just before writing this blog, which is probably why I was so sure I'd be writing about the how, the what, and the why of nutrient timing. But then I read the two meta-analyses and the experiment linked below spearheaded by two huge names in the fitness nutrition and research industry, Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon, and realized that much of the hype regarding protein and carb intake surrounding a workout (and especially the protein intake after a workout -- that "anabolic window of opportunity [1]) is just that; hype. 

I think the easiest way to divulge the information I gathered would be in bullet-point fashion. So, below you'll find the main ideas, the limitations of the studies, and the takeaway from my research. You'll also find all the sources I used linked at the very bottom of the blog, so you can investigate further to draw your own conclusions. 

MAIN IDEAS

1. Evidence for the benefits of pre/post workout nutrient timing is limited and conflicting at best. Limitations are discussed below. (2, 3)
2. But, based on the evidence we do have, it certainly couldn't hurt to implement pre/post workout nutrient regimens and may even be catalytic to hypertrophy. (3)
3. However, as compared to total nutrient intake, protein timing "would at best appear to be a minor consideration." (3) 
4. The so-called anabolic "window of opportunity" does not exist. (1, 2, 3)
5. Carbs and protein are the nutrients you'll want to focus on for your meals before and after working out. (4, 5)
6. It may be redundant to focus heavily on BOTH the pre and post workout meal. If the pre workout meal is sufficient the post workout meal becomes much less important and vice versa. (3, 5)

LIMITATIONS OF THE CITED STUDIES

- THE SAMPLE: Many of the studies are performed on untrained subjects. (1, 2, 3) This means we have no way of knowing, yet, whether or not results would differ on a group of seasoned lifters or athletes. This becomes especially important when considering that the RDA for protein intake differs pretty significantly for the untrained versus the trained population. (3) 
- THE LENGTH: The studies occur over relatively short periods of time; weeks, usually. Hypertrophic adaptations are not quickly occurring phenomenons, so it may be useful to have a longer-lasting study in accordance with the time frame of hypertrophy or strength gain. (1)
- THE MEASUREMENT: It is suggested multiple times that the measurement tools had limitations that may have prevented wholly accurate results. (1, 2) 
- THE METHOD: Most studies implemented pre AND post workout regimens, which makes it impossible to discern whether the effects are due to the pre, the post, or both the pre and post workout intakes. (1)
- THE DOSAGE: Many of the studies use relatively low protein dosages. This may not be comparable to real life implementation and therefore the results cannot be applied to real life situations. (1)

THE TAKEAWAY

Honestly? Pre/post workout nutrition, as the literature currently shows, isn't all that and a bag of chips. If your calorie intake as well as your carb/fat/protein intake is appropriate and correct every day then it may be worth your efforts to try timing your carbs and protein more directly around your workouts while leaving fats for earlier and later meals. The evidence is mixed, and while it doesn't show frequent and significant positive implications of nutrient timing on hypertrophy or strength there are a few studies that support the efficacy of pre/post workout nutrient timing. (2, 5)

However, if the rest of your nutrition is not on point, you'd be better off focusing first on honing in those calorie/carb/fat/protein intake numbers. The evidence DOES suggest multiple times that total nutrient intake is more important the timing of those nutrients. (1, 2, 3, 5)

SOURCES 

(1) Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient Timing Revisited: Is There a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10 (2013): 5. PMC. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/

(2) Schoenfeld, Brad Jon et al. “Pre- versus Post-Exercise Protein Intake Has Similar Effects on Muscular Adaptations.” Ed. Justin Keogh. PeerJ 5 (2017): e2825. PMC. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5214805/

(3) Schoenfeld, Brad Jon, Alan Albert Aragon, and James W Krieger. “The Effect of Protein Timing on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10 (2013): 53. PMC. Web. 6 Mar. 2017.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879660/

(4) Curcio, Peter. "Pass The Protein Shake: Digging Into Pre- And Post- Workout Nutrition." www.breakingmuscle.com (2012).
https://breakingmuscle.com/fuel/pass-the-protein-shake-digging-into-pre-and-post-workout-nutrition

(5) "Pre & Post Workout Meal - What To Eat Before And After Working Out." www.acaloriecounter.com
http://www.acaloriecounter.com/diet/pre-and-post-workout-meal/

Chalk vs. Gloves

Let's first look at the purpose of each.

CHALK is intended to create a no-slip grip between your skin and whatever you're holding onto. In the case of powerlifting that would be the barbell. For other weight training it may be dumbbells or kettlebells. In rock climbing it'd be the wall, and the list goes on.

GLOVES are intended to prevent the formation of calluses on your hands. 

The two do not serve the same purpose.

In fact, gloves actually ADD an extra layer of slippage, which is the opposite goal of chalk.
And chalk ENCOURAGES the formation of calluses, which is the opposite goal of gloves.

To equate the two or ask "which is better, chalk or gloves?" is somewhat silly...

If your goal is to add friction and prevent slippage during your lifts (or other sport) then chalk is the way to go. Gloves would just get in the way. But, if your goal is to prevent calluses from roughing up your hands then gloves are your solution. I do have something to say about that though...

If you're a serious lifter or athlete you should not be concerned about calluses. The formation of callused skin on the hands is your body's way of adapting to weight training (or other sport), and I would argue that it's a healthy process. This adaptation is natural and useful, and wearing gloves inhibits it from occurring fully or at all. 

Additionally, as your calluses mature they will actually help your hands feel less sore from training. This is evidenced simply by the soreness and discomfort of the hands after taking an extended period off and then returning to your regular training sessions. The time off allows the calluses to recede and soften, which prevents them from fully serving their protective purpose until they've had a chance to build back up again. 

'But couldn't I just wear gloves all the time and not have to worry about soreness?'
...Sure. You could. But then become dependent on the gloves and never form calluses. 

And, this isn't my only qualm with gloves...
- They get sweaty and stinky.
- You can't wear chalk with gloves, or rather, wearing chalk with gloves is useless and unhelpful.
- They get worn down and have to be replaced fairly often.
- It's just another thing to remember to pack in your gym bag, which can be really annoying if you're already thinking about a your music and headphones, recording journal, belt, shoes, pre/intra/post workout drinks or snacks, etc.
- Honestly? They look pretty silly. I've always thought so... even when I used to wear them! 
- Lastly, if you're a competitive athlete of any type and gloves aren't allowed in competition then it's really counterproductive to train with them. 

This is the only brand of liquid chalk I've ever tried, but I like it. It's a top seller on Amazon, so it's quick and convenient to purchase, too! I've had that small bottle for 9 months, and it STILL hasn't run out. But since I was getting low, I finally bought the bigger one to refill it. 
The small 1.5oz bottle is ~$8, and the big 8oz bottle is ~$25. 

Chalk, on the other hand (specifically liquid chalk, which is what I'm going to recommend) has some pretty big benefits:
- Cheap
- Easily portable
- No mess or residue (again, liquid)
- No odor (liquid)
- Enhances performance by improving grip
- Encourages formation of calluses to protect the hands and relieve soreness

So, when asking which you'd be better off using you have to think about what your goal is. Do you want to prevent your calluses from forming? (Aka: do you want to try to keep nice, soft hands?) Gloves. Or do you want to enhance your performance? Chalk. 

Let's lastly talk about a few specific usages of chalk in the weight room:

1. DEADLIFTS
This is, in my opinion, the most apt use of chalk as grip is a major limiting factor of deadlifts. Having chalk could really mean the difference in succeeding or failing a really tough attempt. 

2. PULL UPS/CHIN UPS
Again, grip can be a limiting factor of these exercises, so improving grip may allow you to hang onto the bar just a bit longer or with more ease from the start.

3. BACK SQUATS
If you're wearing a tank top and you're skin is sweaty the grip between the bar and your back may suffer. Chalk, again, can eliminate this issue. 
The same is true in a t-shirt. Often times the material of the shirt is slick enough to reduce grip, and chalk can come in handy. 

4. OVERHEAD PRESS
If you use a thumbless grip during your OHPs chalk on the palm can help hold the bar in place for the heavier reps. 

5. PROLONGED-CARRY EXERCISES
This grouping would include things like farmers walks, yoke walks, and static holds; something where you're just holding onto the weight for a time or a distance. You can imagine that the longer you utilize your grip the harder it becomes, and chalk can be really beneficial for keeping a strong grip during exercises of this nature.

These are certainly not the only ways to use chalk for weight training. 
Barbell rows, dumbbell lifts, and kettlebell movements could all be improved with chalk. 
Really anything where there is the possibility of the weight (including your body weight, as is the case with pull ups/chin ups, rock climbing, or yoga) slipping out of your hands could make good use of chalk. 

Deloading; What and Why

There is more than one kind of "rest". For example, eating and sleeping are both forms of rest. They provide the body with much needed fuel and recovery, and proper strength gains just can't be had without them. And, while food and sleep are both vital components of a strength program, they're not the only necessary forms of rest. Deloading is another essential form of rest, and again, proper strength gains just can't be had without it.

But what IS deloading? 

Deloading is a reduction in training intensity that allows your body (1) to stay active, (2) to continue to practice the movement patterns on your program so as to avoid detraining, and (3) to recover from heavier training at the same time. There are a few different ways you can deload on a program:
1. Keep the weight the same or similar and reduce the REPS
2. Keep the reps the same or similar and reduce the WEIGHT
3. Change the exercises you're doing entirely

ut no matter HOW you deload, the intent is to lower the intensity of your training for a set period of time.

Deloading is different from taking a break, however, in that you will still be lifting weights; you'll just be lifting at a lower intensity. This period of lower intensity will last somewhere between 3 and 6 training days (not consecutive days) before your body has had a chance to recover from the heavier training that preceded it. After this period of rest you'll be ready to get back into your normal intensity training sessions. 

But, how do you know when it's time for a deload?

Trust me when I say, your body will let you know. You'll experience fatigue, muscle exhaustion, extreme soreness, and/or performance decreases. These are a few typical signs of overtraining, which is how you know it's time to take it down a quick notch. To continue attempting to train at the same intensity despite the bodily signals mentioned above will, for one, likely be impossible after a while, and two, will eat away at strength gains and cause a regression of progress. So, as boring as it may be, deloading is very necessary. 

Deloading is used for styles of weight training like powerlifting and olympic weight lifting most often, because on these types of programs a handful of the SAME movements are used over and over and over again and trained at a high intensity. For example, in powerlifting, you'll train the back squat, bench press, and deadlift religiously. You may also train the front squat and the overhead press, but these and any other lifts are secondary to the "big 3." (Olympic lifting makes highest use of the clean and jerk and the snatch and their variations.) Because of this excessive use of the same exercises, it's important to let those movement patterns and the muscles that go with them rest every once in a while. As mentioned before, this rest can come in different forms; food, sleep, and deloading.