Category Archives: Training

Ten Reason to Join us for Squatober

  1. Squatting everyday will make you stronger and cooler.
  2. Completing any challenge is a good thing.
  3. A cool T Shirt.
  4. A free massage.
  5. If you are a fitness center member you get a free upgrade to strength lab for one month.
  6. It is for a good cause (outfits an underprivileged school with a weight room).
  7. Meet some new friends who also like to squat.
  8. Everyone can pick on CeJ.
  9. PR Party at the end of the month.
  10. For every person who does this I will personally donate 5 dollars to a charity of your choice (when in doubt bribe them).

 

These are my reasons why you should join us for our first Squatober here at UF.

 

Todd Hamer

Control Your Deadlifts for Better Progress.

Out of all of the major compound lifts, the deadlift is the only one that does not require an eccentric (lowering) phase to initiate the movement. Because of this, the concentric (lifting) portion is hands down the most important aspect to be trained. But, what if I told you that focusing on how you return the bar to the floor could greatly help you increase the quality and strength of your pull?

 

We’ve all seen it, someone sets up for a set of deadlifts, lifts it with great form and control, only to be followed by an uncontrolled limp-body descent. If you watch closely, there’s a good chance that you’ll notice each of the following reps become less sound and less technical than the one before. Whether you’re a powerlifter training for a competition, or someone simply looking to improve strength, the goal should always be to make every repetition an exact representation of the one before.

 

Now, I completely understand that holding a bar in your hands loaded with heavy weight for any period of time can be uncomfortable. The last thing that anyone wants is to feel the knurling of a bar trying to pull the skin off of their hands. But if you’re going to take the time to perform a lift every single week for months and years on end, why not take the time to get the most out of it possible, right?

 

So, if the deadlift is a concentric only lift, then what’s the point of worrying about how we lower it? Well, let’s look at the squat and the bench press. As you lower the bar, you’re gaining feedback from your body on what muscles are firing and how to keep them tense and engaged. This then allows you to be in a stronger position for the concentric portion. So even if the squat and bench press started from the bottom up, by practicing this technique we would sill get stronger. The more practice we have doing this and the better that we get, the more efficient we can be. Over time, this adds up into many technically sound lifts, which allows us to also get stronger.

 

So how do we apply this to the deadlift? The easiest way is to try to make your pull and your return look like a mirror image. If you were to watch the entire lift on film, it should look the exact same when played forward or backwards. While you’re doing this, be sure to start light and take your time. Understand that at first this may affect how much you can lift overall, but it will drastically improve your strength over time. Start with around 60-70% of your max and try to take around 3 seconds to return the bar to the floor. During that time, focus on recognizing which muscles are working, and what needs to be done in order to keep them engaged. Do not lose that tension once the bar returns to the floor. Even in between reps, keep tension, stay engaged, and in the exact position that you want to perform the next rep. This will then help you know exactly what to do when you begin your first pull, even without being able to perform the eccentric phase. Over time, as you learn how to build and keep tension throughout your body, you can start applying this to heavier weights, and you will begin to see your strength and technique improve tremendously.

 

If you see me in the gym, don’t hesitate to grab me and ask for help. If you follow me on Instagram, don’t hesitate to send me your videos. I’m glad to help any way I can. Stay strong, my friends!

 

Curtis

The Power of Powerlifting

This past weekend, Union Fitness hosted the 3rd annual Iron City Open powerlifting meet. With the help of our staff, Doug Nostrant and his team of referees, along with our member volunteer spotters and loaders, we were able to have an extremely safe and successful event. I will be completely honest, this is an event that I was very unsure about happening a couple of months ago, and even up until a few before the competition. As far as I am aware, this was the first event that was held in the western PA area since before the start of the pandemic in March. 

 

What made this event special was not only the competitors that attended and the weight which they were able to lift, but all of the people who came together to make sure that everyone was safe and meeting all of the guidelines and standards necessary in order to be able to hold the event. From the outdoor tent, to the USPA referees making sure that the equipment was properly cleaned after every single lifter completed an attempt. That’s right, the bars and benches were disinfected and cleaned after each competitor touched it. You can’t ask for much more care and safety than that. All while wearing masks and face shields for 7 hours in 90 degree weather. This truly goes to show how strong the Powerlifting community is, and how much love and respect goes into it.

 

I am entering my 8th year as a competitor. During that time, I have personally competed in 15 competitions, and I have either attended and/or helped individuals in another 15 or so events. The more meets that I attend, and the more mature that I become, the more I understand and appreciate everything that the sport of powerlifting has to offer, and all of the people whom I’ve had the opportunity of meeting in the process. On the surface, powerlifting may look like a bunch of meat heads with low IQs walking around sweating, grunting, and yelling absurd statements just so they can pick something up one time and then put it down. However, if you dig deeper and spend some quality time in the community, you will meet some of the most genuine people who you’ve ever encountered, and you will witness first hand how powerlifting can help you become better in every aspect of life.

 

In powerlifting, you have to develop a plan of action and then take one step each day in order to reach that goal. It’s inevitable that you will encounter crossroads, hardships, and even frustration along the way. Over time, when approached correctly, this will equate to many small victories and lessons learned. Lessons which can not only help you become a better athlete, but can carry over into being better in your career, in your relationships, and within your own self. The best part of this is having the ability to pass on these lessons to other individuals so they can benefit from the same things which you have. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. Living, learning, and passing on.

Iron City Open 2020, Wrap Up

Well folks we hosted our first meet during a pandemic. We had to follow many new procedures and guidelines, yet I am confident that we pulled it off in a safe and strong manner. We want to thank everyone who was involved. Meet organizers, volunteers, competitors, judges, friend and family. Thank you all for coming out and supporting the lifters.

 

As most people know we had to have a meet with limitations on how many people were permitted to be here and while requiring masks. We are proud and happy about how so many people came together and supported one another while respecting all safety guidelines.

 

The meet itself had a very different feel as it was moved from a 2 day meet to a 1 day meet. There was no large crowd of cheering fans and anyone who wanted to watch had to bring their own chair and sit outside. At times it felt more like a picnic than a meet.

 

As for the lifting… let us have an ego here. UF did great! All the lifters who train here did great! Our own Cody Miller won best lifter. The best female lifter was Kelly Piccione. Josh, Bobby, Monica, Stew, Simone  (adopted UF lifter),  all had amazing days! I also want to thanks all of these people for helping make the day successful, Dave, Matt, Josh, Kerry, Liz, Cayt, Vicky, Bryce, Frank, Keenan, Curtis, CJ, Cody, Faruk, Jared, Nate, Derek, John,  Toria, Zain and all others hopefully I didn’t miss anyone.  Thanks to all vendors as well.

 

At the end it was a successful meet and we hope that we met everyone’s expectations. We also must thank you for being members and supporting us through these strange days we are living in.

 

Todd Hamer

 

 

Iron City 2020

As many of you know, the Iron City Open is being held tomorrow here at Union Fitness beginning at 9am. We have put in place as many safety precautions as we could think of so that it can be a sanitary environment while allowing people to return to an activity that was once a normal part of their lives. We understand the incredible responsibility involved, and we appreciate everyone who has contributed to making this event a success.

 

If you haven’t been a part of the powerlifting community, it’s as supportive a tribe as you will find. Winning is rarely the main focus for the competitor. The majority of powerlifters are concerned about doing more than they’ve ever done before. To take the hero’s journey. To have the courage to leave the known, travel into the unknown, slay the dragon, and bring back something useful from the journey. And you might think that a personal record is the useful thing that they bring back, but it’s not. The useful thing is a greater knowledge of the self. Getting a better understanding of what is possible and what may still be possible for every individual…this is the prize.

 

The powerlifters who understand this universal struggle are there to spot, wrap, encourage, and console anyone who is willing to step up to the platform. You better believe this will be going on tomorrow. And if you need a word of encouragement or someone to chalk your back, come find me.

Signal and Noise

I am not sure who at UF is a musician yet I have been playing and performing for my entire life. If anyone has every recorded music you should have heard the terms signal and noise. Each of these matter and I am going to explain why each is important to you in your life, art and lifting.

 

Signal

 

The signal is what you trying to get across to the listener and is generally the main point of the music. To the untrained ear they will often only hear the signal and not catch any of the noise.

 

The signal in lifting and in our lives is simply what we are trying to focus on. It could be the lift itself or quite often a cue from one of our training partners. We send signals to each other all the time while training. Without the signal the noise will do no good for anyone. I look at the signal as following the rules. We must learn the rules before we can consider breaking them. As a beginner make sure you focus on and make your signal very clear.

 

Noise

 

The noise is any of the background sounds in the recording. At times this can be very intentional while at others it can be what the mics happened to pick up or even the echos of the room.

 

The noise to me is where the true magic and beauty happen. One of the biggest mistakes I see in music today is the overproduction of recorded music. For reference point on noise listen to anything recorded using analog not digital recording techniques. Often you can hear the singer breathe or ones finger slide across the guitar. It is  these small serendipitous moments that make the music great. It is also when we learn the most about the music and the artist.

 

In our training and lives noise are the things that we were not prepared for, and how we overcome these issue is how we learn. If your goal for the day is 10 reps and at 10 you decide to keep going and you roll through 20 reps that is noise. It just happened and you went with it. The beauty in this noise is that nothing else matters at this point, the noise is the purpose now.

 

I hope by now you see my point as better stated by Pablo Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Make fun mistakes, makes some noise and cause some good trouble.

 

Keep rockin and rollin!

Hamer

 

 

Toria’s Trip

Hello! I’m one of the new kids here at UF. I wanted to introduce myself and share a little bit of my story with you all. So… I graduated from Slippery Rock University with my BS in Exercise Science and from the University of Pittsburgh with my MS in Health, Physical Activity, and Chronic Disease. I am currently an Exercise Physiologist at a research lab at the University of Pittsburgh, and a desk worker/soon to be trainer at UF. Now that you know my education and work background, let’s get into the fun stuff. 

 

When I was a student in college, I had gained just about 50 lbs over the course of those few years from being lazy and unmotivated. I believe I gained 25 of those 50 lbs in just one year. I only saw the inside of a gym maybe a few times per year. I was very unhappy with myself and didn’t care enough to try and lose the weight. I would eat fast food and drink pop (or “soda” for you oddballs out there) literally all of the time. I don’t think I really even knew what a vegetable tasted like. My physical and mental health both went down a steep hill. 

 

A little over a year ago, my doctor ordered a blood test because of the rapid weight gain and how badly I had been feeling. The test revealed that I had abnormally high LDL cholesterol levels (LDL = the “bad” cholesterol). At the age of 22 it definitely isn’t normal to have high cholesterol with no history of it in my family. Since I’m young it doesn’t seem like a huge concern, but I sure was scared for my future health. Not long after that news, I discovered a local CrossFit gym that I figured I could try out. I was intimidated and very unsure of it at the time, but I immediately fell in love with exercise and fitness. I ended up bringing my cholesterol levels down, losing all of that extra weight I had gained in college, gaining some solid muscle mass and a lot of confidence along the way. When I first started out, I could barely do a few pushups even from my knees and that extra weight I was carrying put a lot of stress on my joints. Now I can exercise with no pain, do movements I wasn’t able to before, and I feel great while doing it.    

 

I found a love and passion for exercise, and I realized that it’s something I will never give up on unless something crazy were to happen to me. Exercise is truly one of the greatest things on this earth. To be able to physically perform and experience what it can do to you is definitely a blessing as not everyone in this world is able to. On this journey I have learned that fitness is not about being better than someone else, it’s 100% about being better than YOU used to be. If you put even just a little bit of focus on yourself and your physical/mental health progress, it can truly go a long way. I hope my story helps you realize and remember that even with some of the setbacks that come throughout life, you can do anything you put your mind and body to!

 

Stay healthy friends!

 

Toria

Now That’s NEAT!

“Low energy flux, but not energy surplus, predicted future increases in body fat. Furthermore, high energy flux appeared to prevent fat gain in part because it was associated with a higher resting metabolic rate.”
-Hume et. al 2016

 

I often share this advice as one of the most actionable items for a fat loss client. Daily movement can be the secret weapon in achieving your fat loss goals. We are designed to move as humans, and we should be moving often. However, today’s society tries to make us move less and make life even more convenient than how it was for our ancestors. What’s worse, when we are in a caloric deficit and trying to lose fat, our brains may try to fight against us and down-regulate movement since we are consuming less calories. We need to be conscious of our movement and make it a daily habit like brushing your teeth and bathing. You do those things, right? Right?

 

I’ve had this conversation quite frequently over the past months: “I’ve gained weight during COVID-19 despite continuing to train or keeping my diet the same. What should I do?” While there are many factors why this could be, a big culprit in many might be the loss of NEAT.

 

NEAT is roughly attributed to 15-20% of your total daily energy expenditure. NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, or purposeful exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, household chores, and even fidgeting. If you had a job that required you to be on your feet prior to COVID-19 and now you are exiled to your couch, this can be why those pounds seem to be racking up.

 

Research by Shook et. al showed that a threshold for achieving energy balance occurred at an activity level corresponding to 7116 steps per day, an amount achievable by most adults. This research also showed that “the theory of the zone of regulation is important because it relates the accumulation of adipose tissue as not only occurring as a result of low amounts of energy expended but also that physical activity plays a regulatory role in the amount of energy consumed via appetite signals.” So what this means if that NEAT is low, you likely won’t be able to regulate your appetite and there’s a greater likelihood of storing fat. I hope this gives you closure knowing that there was always a deeper reason why you were diving headfirst into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s on a Sunday night. Blame it on your lack of NEAT, anyone?

 

As part of a daily checklist for my fat loss clients, I require them to perform 10,000 steps. Put on a podcast/audio book, call an old friend while walking, or simply enjoy your time to yourself while exploring a new route and become one with nature. If you are a busy professional, consider taking walking meetings or perform 10 -minute walks. A 10 minute walk every 60-90 minutes can do wonders for NEAT and will probably provide better mental focus as well. No matter how you choose to do it, my advice is the same: get up and get moving! 

 

References 

 

Hume, D. J., Yokum, S., & Stice, E. (2016). Low energy intake plus low energy expenditure (low energy flux), not energy surfeit, predicts future body fat gain. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103(6), 1389-1396. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.127753

 

Shook, R. P., Hand, G. A., Drenowatz, C., Hebert, J. R., Paluch, A. E., Blundell, J. E., . . . Blair, S. N. (2015). Low levels of physical activity are associated with dysregulation of energy intake and fat mass gain over 1 year. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(6), 1332-1338. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.115360

Review of Muscular Tension

One of the best books one can read to understand training (IMO) is  “Science and Practice of Strength Training,” by Vladimir Zatriorksy. Dr. Zatriorsky was a professor at Penn State for years and I was lucky enough to meet him and spend time trying to understand what he was saying (he is really smart).

 

In the book he discusses the three methods to increase muscular tension. This is important to understand if you want to increase your strength levels. I have listed the three methods to increase muscular tension, I also added in descriptions and examples of each.

 

  1. Dynamic Effort Method- This is moving a light weight as fast as possible. This could be doing anything from jumping to throwing or doing any explosive lift. Louie Simmons made this popular with speed bench and speed squats. Dr. Fred Hatfield also helped grow this method in his book “Bodybuilding, A Scientific Approach.” He used the term Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). While I do not think these are 100% interchangeable I do believe they are similar enough that you can replace one with the other. Either way keep your reps between 3-6 and move something explosively.
  2. Maximal Effort Method- This is the exact opposite of Dynamic Effort. Now the intent is to move a heavy load. Velocity can, and often will, drop below .2 m/s. In lifter terms this is learning how to strain against a heavy weight. This is a very effective way to increase strength yet we must be cautious as technique will often break down and the opportunity for overtraining exists here.
  3. Repetition Effort Method- This is the method everyone knows. The goal here is to train a muscle until it fatigues. This could be done with 3×10 or for timed sets 3×45 seconds. One variation I believe we should highlight here is escalating density training. This is done by doing lower reps with very short rest periods. One could do pull ups for 20 sets of 3 with 10 seconds rest. This is a way to achieve huge volume and a ton of reps without letting technique break down.

 

This is just a short overview of these methods and entire college course could be taught on this yet I want all of you to have the basic understanding of what is going on. If you ever want to talk any further on this topic please stop me as I could go on for days. So maybe ask someone else as I wouldn’t want to bore you.

 

Hamer

Training Optimally and Recovering Efficiently

In one of my recent blogs, I touched on understanding the basics of a training program. I discussed the areas of main movements, assistance work, accessories, volume, and intensity. Today I’m going to dive in a little bit deeper and go over a few more areas that will have a major impact on the overall success of program.

 

With any training program, the goal should always be to train optimally. This means that we are always looking to do the correct amount of work in order to produce the stimulus necessary to make progress, but without doing so much that we risk stagnation or injury. The biggest area that has an affect on this is our ability to recover from our training sessions. With recovery, there are many things that need to be taken into consideration. Things such as nutrition and hydration, sleep, stress, stretching, and mobility work are all essential to focus on outside of the gym in order to recover properly and continue to make progress.

 

However, when we consider our physical presence inside of the gym, we often overlook aspects of our training sessions that play a major role in how well we do or do not recover. The first is our training frequency. Frequency refers to how often we are performing a given workout, exercise, or movement throughout the training week. There are many different philosophies when it comes to this. Some people have great success with performing a particular session only once per week, while others prefer 2-3 times per week. Either way, it’s important to take all factors into consideration when deciding training frequency. If your life outside of the gym is hectic, then you may not be good with a higher frequency. If you are managing your time with proper sleep, nutrition, etc., then a higher training frequency might suit you well. 

 

The second thing to consider is your training duration. This refers to the amount of time that you are physically performing each training session. Depending on your goals and level of experience, your training session can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. The thing to remember is that you want your sessions to be as efficient as possible. You should only be taking as much time as needed to complete your exercises and sessions. The longer that you are in the gym, the more time you are taking away from your recovery, and giving less time to things such as nutrition, relaxation, sleep, etc.

 

The third area to consider is your training intensity. This is something I touched on in my last blog, but today I’m going to explain it in terms of RPE or “Rate of Perceived Exertion”. When incorporating RPE into your training, it is portrayed in the form of a 1-10 scale in order to measure overall difficulty of the previously performed set. For example, an RPE of 10 would mean maximal effort, and no more reps could have been performed. An RPE of 9 would mean that one more rep could have been performed, and 8 would mean that 2 more reps could have been performed, and so on. Although tracking RPE is not absolutely necessary, it is a very easy and beneficial way to track the difficulty of each movement and exercise within a training session, and can help you understand the balance needed within each program. Your intensity or “RPE” should be optimal for your specific goals. If you are always pushing the limits, then it will become harder to recover, and you risk the chance if injury. Frequency, duration, and intensity all go hand-in-hand and play a major role in overall performance. Putting a little extra emphasis on these areas will help to keep you strong, healthy, and progressing within your program.