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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Q&A 4/29

Hi Mike,

I've just finished reading the Bulletproof Knees manual and I thought it was a fantastic read! It's definitely a resource I'll be using to help myself and anyone I know with knee problems (and hopefully prevent some people even having them!)

I do have a few questions from reading the manual I was hoping you would be able to help with:

1) On the double and single leg jump progressions, is it a good progression to go from wearing trainers to barefoot? I know there has been a shift towards doing warm ups and where possible train barefoot, I just wasn't sure whether it would be too much on the joints or not.

MR: While warm-ups and such are great choices for barefoot training, I really don't advocate taking this over into ballistic/high shock absorption movements like jumps and sprints. Most people's feet are far too weak to effectively absorb the shock, and while their knees might feel great they'll end up with some sort of lower extremity injury. Not good!

2) You mention that if someone suffers from compression or tracking issues they shouldn't wear the knee sleeves. Could you expand on why this is? If someone does suffer, are there any alternatives to wearing knee sleeves?

MR: People that have compression/tracking issues generally like the warmth a knee sleeve provides, but if they're too tight they only create more compression/tracking issues at the patello-femoral joint.

It's not so much that it's contraindicated, but I would definitely make sure they are loose and not furthering altering the normal biomechanics of the knee.

3) I like the idea of using the credit card to remove fluid, when you are scraping the card up the leg, do you just go around the whole knee or if you have a specific area that aches, just scrape over that area?

MR: I will actually start at the lower exremity, work my way up to the knee, and the all the way up into the thigh. If your leg is elevated and straight so that your foot is above your hip, think about working from the upper most to lower most portions.

4) Final question :-). I don't currently have any bands to be able to do the band stomps. I am currently looking to get some ironwoody ones, do you think they would be ok to do the band stomps with?

Thank you very much for your help!



MR: I don't have any experience with the Iron Woody bands; every band I've ever purchased has been of the Topper(?) variety which can be purchased at Elite Fitness Systems (www.elitefts.com).

Thanks for the questions and good luck!


Monday, April 28, 2008



I got to your site a bit circuitously via stronglifts.com. Your “Bulletproof Knees” intrigues me greatly as I own a reconstructed ACL in my left knee and I am a sponge for good info.

I have two questions (if I may):

1) I started the stronglifts 5x5 program about four weeks ago and have been progressing slowly as I am “new” to free weights. I added Bulgarian split squats to my routine as a means of developing the posterior chain. I have no issues going past parallel with either a front of low back squat. I have no pain. I think my technique is solid (feedback from a PT on site where I work out).

My problem/issue is that I have developed a bit of swelling above the knee to the outside of each knee, with the “good” knee carrying a bit more fluid than the left oddly enough. Nothing excessive but noticeable when I fire the quads, you can see a bit of a bulge. Does this sound like an overuse issue due to the additional BSS routine or something I should go see my orthopod about? Empty bar on the BSS and I am currently squatting 140lbs front and back….like I said, just getting started.

2) Plantar Faciitis in left heel…barefoot or shoes? Is there a connection between the aftermath of the ACL issues and the plantar facilities issues? There is a good deal of size difference between the left and right leg, top to bottom. (Many years wearing a brace before the re-construction and poor maintenance during that time…I’m getting religion late in life.).

Oh, I’m 53, 175lbs and an avid squash player who can’t get off the court even when his body tells him to until it breaks down (very stubborn).

Thanks for reading and if the short answer is to “buy the book” or “go see your Doc” that’s cool. Just wanted to get a gauge as to the type of info I can expect with the book.

#1 - It's hard to say exactly why your knee is swelling without watching you perform the exercises at hand. If you haven't been training all that heavy, it could just me an instance of doing too much, too soon. If the knees aren't ready for it, a natural response is swelling until your body acclimates to the loading.

Now, one suggest I would make is that BSS's aren't an optimal choice if you're looking for posterior chain development. I would prefer a PC dominant movement like RDL's, deadlifts, etc. If you want a unilateral PC dominant exercise, single-leg RDL's would be a good option as well.

#2 - With regards to the plantar fascitis, it could be a result of the surrounding tissues "stiffening" to protect the knee joint. I would get some aggressive soft-tissue work done (ART, deep tissue massage, foam rolling) on the gastroc/soleus, Achilles tendon and plantar fascia. You may even be tight up into your hamstrings, so you'll have to explore a little. Some old fashioned static stretching may help as well. If your quads aren't firing as expected, loosening up the posterior knee musculature should help.

And when in doubt, buy the book ;)

Stay strong

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The "Fudge" Factor

If you've been following my training log for a while, you'll see that my training can be somewhat helter skelter. The ultimate goal would be to get 6 sessions in per week - 4 strength, 2 Krav Maga. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work out.

Instead, I'm a little bit more realistic about what can be done - I generally get in between four and five training sessions per week, which is more than enough to stay in shape and shed some body fat. The key here is that I have a fudge factor built in.

While I'd love to get in six sessions, I understand that it's not imperative for me to do so. In fact, I could probably continue to gain strength and shed body fat while only training three or four times per week. However, by planning for six sessions, I allow myself some freedom with regards to scheduling and such. Right now I'm working on several projects, including opening a gym, selling a home, and a host of other things. Quite simply, things come up and need to be addressed when I least expect it.

By allowing myself a little freedom with regards to my training schedule, I can continue to see progress. If I have to skip a session, I know it's not the end of the world because I've got something else planned later on to help make up for it.

What happens to most trainees is this: They have a schedule planned, and they're too rigid with it. Instead of understanding that things come up and interfere with their workouts, they compound the issue by thinking that they're "failling," and thus start a downward spiral. One missed workout turns into a bad meal later that night. That leads into another missed workout the next day, and you can see how things get out of control from there.

Remember that with all things there's "optimal" and then there's "real life." "Optimal" is great when/if you can make it happen. Unfortuantely for most of us, that's not all that often. Allow yourself a small fudge factor and you'll be happier with your training and the resulting success.

Stay strong

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Response to yesterday's T-Nation article

Well I just had a pretty darn good post lined up, only to have it squashed by Blogger for some unknown reason. I'll do my best to re-hash it.

In case you missed the article yesterday at T-Nation, I've had a flood of e-mails to discuss my thoughts. The primary concern was that a few of the exercises that were written off were in Eric and I's M2 DVD, so let's cover the exercises one by one.

However, before I get into that, let me say this - I've met Nick before and he's a very bright guy. I agree with almost everything he said in the article. For the sake of learning, though, let's cover all the movements. I'll even put a little * by it if it was covered in the M2 DVD.

#1 - The Scorpion Twist*

Since Eric and I released M2 in December of 2005, there are a few things we've changed with our training philosophies. One of those things is a real focus on mobilizing the hips and thoracic spine, while working to stabilize the lumbar spine.

The scorpion twist, when done correctly, is effective at lengthening the hip flexors and activating the gluteals. The problem is, however, most people don't perform the movement correctly. Rather than moving via the hips, they move through the path of least resistance, which for them is the lumbar spine. This is a big no-no.

Quite simply, if you can't do it correctly or don't have a coach, don't include it.

#2 - Prone Alternating Supermans

I've never been a big fan of this exercise. For most it increases mobility around the lumbar spine, while totally negating activation of the gluteals. Agreed 100% with its removal.

#3 - Hip Crossover*

This is another exercise that I don't use as frequently, simply because it focuses on lumbar spine mobility vs. hip mobility.

If someone has nerve based issues I prefer the Yoga Twist or Cat/Camel exericses. Remember, these are't mobility drills as much as NEURAL FLOSSING exercises.

#4 - Iron Cross*

Much like the prone scorpion, with this exercise the devil is in the details. If you don't have a coach or trainer to cue you properly, use a different exercise that also focuses on lengthening the lateral hip structure such as S-S leg swings.

#5 - Hip Cradle*

This is really the only exercise that I don't agree with. I think there are just too many leaps in the logic.

With a mobility drill (as we outline in M2) the goal is to acutely alter the stiffness of the muscle to prepare yourself for training. However, this position is then compared to the cross-legged position that many people assume while sitting. The problem is, there's a fundamental difference here. In a mobility drill, you move in and out of the ROM rather quickly. In a long duration static stretch (like sitting in the cross-legged position), you're obviously holding for an extended period of time. Therefore, the tissues repond differently.

In a mobiltiy drill, the goal is to alter stiffness to prepare yourself for quality movements in trainig. With long duration static stretching, the goal is to actually add sarcomeres and increase the length of the tissue. So to say that doing this exercise as a mobility drill is the same as holding this position for an extended period of time is quite a leap of logic.

In my experience, this exercise when used as a mobility drill is not going to lead to an increased risk of hip impingement or instability. If you sit in this position for extended periods of time, then yes, this may be an issue. But as a mobility drill, I don't think there's any need to remove it from your programming unless it's painful or not giving you the intended benefits.

Okay, this is getting quite lengthy so I'll wrap it up. Just remember that there are very few BAD exercises. Rather, what's more important is your technical execution of said exercises, and how they relate to your overall programming and goals. I hope this helps!

Stay strong

Monday, April 14, 2008

Clean it up

Sorry, it's been a little while since I've blogged, but hopefully this little rant will help make up for things.

As an industry, we need to clean things up. Whether we're talking about training, fitness on the 'net, or anything in between, I've reached a boiling point with regards to how people portray themselves.

First, an admission - I watch "The Biggest Loser." My clients watch it, therefore I watch it to diffuse whatever crazy notions they have from watching the previous weeks shows. First of all, that is NOT how most trainers train their clients. I can get in somebody's face and have them do walking lunges on flipped over bosu balls, but that doesn't mean it's right. Just because it looks cool on TV doesn't mean it's efficient or correct. I also have a tattoo, but I don't feel the need to have it blazing every time I train someone. It gets old, fast - at least try and look respectable.

And then we have the 'net. I understand there's a resentment towards the one-page sales copy ads to sell products, and I get that. I'm not a huge fan, although I still use them on some of my sites. BUT, there's a fundamental difference in many of us out there. You may not like my sales copy, but I do a lot of things FOR FREE to help improve the industry. I write articles. I post from time to time on my blog. I answer tons of e-mails daily. I even put up video clips to help people improve their exercise techinque.

Now don't take this the wrong way - I'm far from perfect in every aspect of my life. I'm not a perfect coach, author, or athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I do take my job seriously. I want the people who read my articles to learn something. I want my athletes to get better at their respective sports. And most importantly, I want to enjoy the journey that makes all of that possible.

So this is a plea to all my fellow trainers, coaches, and internet gurus - take your job seriously. Does this thing THE RIGHT WAY. I realize this post may make me a lightning rod, but I'm ok with that. I have no regrets when I go to bed at night - I'm very cognizant of my imperfections and what it's going to take to get to the next level.

But until we start to take our jobs and our livelihoods seriously, we're always going to leave ourselves open to criticism.

Stay strong

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Q&A: Psoas Activation

Thank you for the opportunity to submit questions for your blog. After reading your latest article on T-Nation I had a question regarding activation of the psoas. You wrote...

"To properly activate the psoas as a hip flexor, the hip must be above 90 degrees. In other words, the knee must be above the hip. I like to start my clients out on a low box where it's a more isolated contraction. Think about staying tight and tall and driving via the hip. If you lean back or forward to create the movement, you're not doing it correctly."

It wasn't clear to me what to do however. Are you driving with the hip to a standing position, just rising off the box or just sitting there? How far apart should the feet be, etc. ? In the standing progression again what are you doing...just standing there? Also, how would you determine if the psoas are activating or functioning within normal parameters?

Thanks again. I hope these inquiries are not too elementary. Nice article by the way.

Take care. -Javier

Here's what I posted in the article discussion:

Sit on the low box with both feet flat on the ground. In the starting position, your hips should be below your knees.

From here, stay tall/brace the core, and then flex the hip to lift your foot up off the ground. Perform 5 reps of 5 second holds. Perform on both sides, and focus on any assymetries.

The standing version is the same - except you're standing so you have to brace the core even hard, and stay tall/tight through the opposite hip.

Hope that helps.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Q&A - Glute-Hams

Hi Mike,

I really enjoy all your articles and I am a big reader of yours and Eric Cressey. I was wondering if you could clarify the technique for the glute ham raise. I searched the articles on t-nation and elitefts and none of them mention this aspect. When I perform the exercise I am able to do more reps with more weight when the bottoms of my thighs(VMO area) drive into the bottom of the pad while curling my body up. However, when I move the foot plate closer and try the exercise with my knees driving into the bottom of the pad I cannot do as much. I wasn't sure if the first way was incorrect and made the exercise too easy. Hope that makes sense.

Thanks very much,

You're doing it correctly, Ryan. In fact, I'll generally have someone hold a weight plate across their chest BEFORE moving the foot plate in. It's generally an easier progression.

As you move the foot plate closer, a larger percentge of your body weight is on the other side of the fulcrum, if you will. Basically, your hamstrings are forced to do more work in this fashion!

Here's the progression that I use with most clients:

- Set the foot plate at a point where you can get 8-10 repetitions
- Once this gets easy, hold either a 5 or 10 pound plate in your hands
- Once you can get to 8-10 reps in this fashion, move the foot plate in
- Generally when moving the plate in, your reps will drop quite a bit. Be happy with 6 or so for the time being, and then work back up in this fashion.

Hope this helps!

Stay strong

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Yes, I've been slacking on the blog lately. It very much is a hit or miss thing with me - sometimes I have a ton to say. Other times? Not so much.

To try and keep the content flowing, let's do some Q&A for a little while to spice things up. If you have questions you'd like me to answer, send them to info@robertsontrainingsystems.com and I'll try to answer a few of them right here.

While we're at it, let's get a little blogging in!

I used to work with a client who was a VERY successful entrepreneur and one of the most intelligent guys I'd ever met. One thing he used to always preach to me was the concept of momentum in life. When you've got it to your back, everything just seems to flow and you get a ton accomplished. When it's stagnant, everything seems harder and it feels like you're spinning your wheels.

This concept has been reiterated to me a lot lately. With regards to my training, have a set goal and focus has gotten me out of a rut and focused on what I want to accomplish. The same thing goes with my professional ventures - now that I have a lot on my plate, the momentum is really shifting and I'm getting a ton done. It's pretty cool.

But enough about me - how can this work for you? If you've got a lot of positive momentum, you need not read much further. But what if you're stuck in the mud?

- Do SOMETHING positive. Get a workout in. Stick with your diet for a day. Get your week's to do list done on Sunday. Basically, do anything possible to get going in the right direction.

- After a few positive reinforcements, tackle something else. If training is going well, focus on your recovery work or your diet. If your work is picking up, focus on spending more time with your loved ones, or doing something that you truly enjoy. The goal is to get momentum working for you in all phases of life.

- When in doubt, keep at it! Just like habits, it seems as though momentum generally takes 3-4 weeks to really pick up steam. Every day may not work out perfectly, but the goal isn't for perfection - it's to have more good days than bad. Once you get the ball rolling, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish.

"May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face. And may the wings of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars." - Blow, 2001

Stay strong