Thursday, June 28, 2012


A couple new developments with HSP this week. First, I have joined STACK Media as an online contributor, and my first article went up yesterday. You can find it here, or for my running list of articles, visit my profile page. If you like the article, please share it with anyone else you know who may enjoy it.

Second, I have finally put together a Facebook page at the urging of several people much smarter than me about social media. You can find it at and all likes are appreciated. I'll be sharing links and other material there that I won't put up here or on Twitter.

I appreciate all your support and if there are any topics you would like to see here, please feel free to contact me at any time. Unless I am without internet, I make it point to respond within 72 hours to every message I receive (yes, I picked that up from Alan Stein, who gets a few more emails than I do and manages to do it).

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Step Back to Move Forward: Looking at Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Method

I was planning to write a long post, detailing the 5/3/1 method and then sharing my view on it, but I realized I kept referring to the same source. This article on T-Nation is an excellent piece on Jim Wendler and the 5/3/1 program. It’s an older article, but I have read it quite a few times and stumbled across it again the other day. I strongly urge you to read it, especially if you are looking to add raw strength to your powerlifts. 5/3/1 is a perfect example of the difference between simplicity and ease. Put another way, the 5/3/1 method is simple, but far from easy.

One of the key concepts of 5/3/1 is to calculate your weights off your 90% 1RM rather than using the actual 1RM. This demonstrates an excellent point of training – sometimes, you need to step back to move forward. Egos can get in the way of results; be honest with your abilities and allow them to progress. Strength training is not a wonder pill (those are illegal most of the time) with immediate results, especially if you’re an experienced lifter. It takes time to allow incremental gains to build into significant results. Too often, we’re focused on the quick fix for immediate gain to add 50 pounds to a lift in a month or make other drastic changes in a relatively short time. The truth is, outside of individuals new to training, rapid gains are hard to come by. Think of building a skyscraper – one I-beam may not be much, but look at what time and effort can produce using these relatively small pieces.

Injuries and over-training occur when you try to do too much in too short a time. Focus on longer term goals of at least six months, or preferably a year, and realize that it’s better to make steady progress than monumental gains followed by an injury.
If you’re an aspiring powerlifter, or just looking for pure strength in the powerlifts, than I suggest taking a look at 5/3/1 and giving it a try. Its simplicity makes it an easy program to implement and follow, while requiring very little equipment (if you’re in a facility with limited choices). Step back, analyze what you can actually do, then move forward with consistent gains.

If you are looking for more information on 5/3/1, you can purchase Wendler’s ebook here

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Ways to Boost Your Workouts

It happens to everyone, we all get bored with our workouts from time to time. Maybe you've just been doing the same thing for too long or your training partner has skipped out on you lately, so you haven't been as motivated. Then again, maybe you're like me and enjoy trying new things in the gym and playing around with them in your workouts. Whatever the reason, here are a few ways to put the spark back in your love/hate relationship with training (because some will leave you cursing at me and/or the chair you try to sit on the next day).

1. Tabata Protocol
If you didn't just get the chills, then you've never experienced the horror of Tabata front squats, allow me to explain. Tabata is essentially an interval training protocol created by Izumi Tabata and involves eight rounds of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest. So four minutes total (3:50, technically), what could be so tough about four minutes of work? The answer - everything. The ten seconds goes by in a hurry and the twenty seconds seems to last about three weeks. The demand on the anaerobic system is incredible, and the added rest periods (brief as they may feel) result in higher demands on the aerobic system as well. If you want to use weights instead of machines for cardio, try Tabata - specifically front squats or goblet squats. You won't need much weight and these two exercises are great at forcing good form, whereas back squat or deadlift technique would suffer as you fatigue. If your form begins to fail you in a front squat, you drop the weight - a much safer alternative than straining your lower back.

2. Vary your Sets & Reps

While it might seem simple, often times this is all the variation needed to break through a plateau. For athletes who are training on their own without a coach providing the programs, or active individuals not using personal trainers, it's easy to get locked onto a specific workout. The most common I see is someone staying on 3x10 work for months at a time. If it's been a while since you lifted heavy, try a 5x5 program or some variation that demands more weight. Besides, I know for me it's a lot more fun to lift for a triple than move moderate weights for 8-12.

3. Cluster Sets

If your in a phase where you NEED to maintain heavy weight training and don't have the luxury of tossing in a week or two of higher rep workouts, then try cluster sets. Basically, cluster sets are groups of mini-sets with intraset rest periods. An example of this would be to take your 5RM deadlift and perform three sets of triples, with a 15-25 second rest between each. So in one set, you completed nine reps of your 5RM, nearly doubling the volume you would be able to complete without the short rests. The only limitations of cluster sets are you need to use heavy weights that can be split into manageable mini-sets (such as 3x3, 3x2, 4x2, 3-2-1, etc.) and lifts that aren't power-based (like Olympic lifts).
Arnold doing Cluster DL...maybe

4. Pyramid/Countdown Sets

This is another set/rep variation that I've used as cardio or to mix things up. Pick two or three exercises (any more and it just becomes a circuit, I prefer just using two) and do one rep of each, then two, then three...up to ten or twelve. Then head back down, nine reps each, eight reps, seven...then go invent some new curse words because your water is too far away. That's a Pyramid set; it has other names, but Pyramid always made sense to me. A Countdown set is just the second half of a Pyramid, start at a set number of reps (again, I usually suggest between ten or twelve) and alternate exercises as you go down. With Countdown sets (also known by other names by other people) you can do two or three rounds, switching in different exercises to hit different muscle groups. For both varieties, be sure you're using compound lifts to actually get the cardio benefits. Deadlifts, squat variations, lunge variations, push ups, presses, chin ups, rows, etc.

5. Interval Sprints

In case you haven't noticed with the above suggestions, I like interval training as a change of pace or conditioning tool. The key difference is this time I am suggesting using actual cardio machines for your cardio - shocking. I'm not a huge fan of the treadmills in commercial gyms, they are usually more style than substance, but if you're lucky enough to have a Woodway treadmill, sprint intervals are a whole new level of exhausting. If you're one of the many who don't have access to a Woodway (or similar, heavy-duty treadmill), then I suggest either a Schwinn Airdyne or a Spinning bike. I like the Airdyne because it's the only bike I know of that involves your upper body, and spin bikes are great because you can stop and rest without needing to reset everything, as is the case with normal stationary bikes. There are several variations of sprint intervals, but coming from a track background, I recognize fast sprints - 10, 15, 20 seconds - instead of rapid jogging (30+ seconds). 

Usain Bolt doesn't even run for 30 seconds

Once you decide on how hard you want to run/bike, then it's easy to program - start on every minute. So if you're doing a 15 second sprint, you have 45 seconds to rest, then at 1:00 sprint another 15 seconds, and so on. The time of the sprint dictates the intensity, you should be spent afterwards and in need of the rest period. Speaking of the rest period, it's just that - rest, no light jogging, walking, pedaling, anything. Recover as much as you can so you can hit the next round with maximum intensity. 8-15 rounds is a good way to end a workout, or if you like to mix it in during your lift (it instantly cranks up the intensity), 5 minute bursts work well.

These are just a few ways of giving your workout a boost or change of pace. Remember, use each independently, a workout consisting of all the above would - a) take several hours, b) probably kill you, or at least leave you unable to function for several days. Moderation is always important when using little boosters like these.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the change. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Youth Football Training

If you have a child involved in youth football, or trying to get involved, I recommend visiting Youth Football Online. It's an excellent source for parents and coaches trying to help their young athletes play the game they love.

Coach Jeff & Vin asked me to write a piece for parents on what to do with their kids during the off-season to help prepare them for the next year. Check it out here and let me know what you think.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES


Monday, June 18, 2012

6 Investments for Your Health (That are Worth the Money)

1. Foam Roller
            I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions my love for foam rollers, and it still bears repeating – if you don’t have one, get one. For about twenty bucks, you can’t find a better deal to help your body.

2. Tennis Balls

            As great as a foam roller is, sometimes it’s better to have something more localized. Tennis balls act as a poor man’s shiatsu massage, hitting on specific trigger points with more pressure than a foam roll can produce. Also great for smaller areas such as feet and the posterior shoulder. If you get a sleeve of three, keep one as a trigger point tool, then tape the remaining two together to form a peanut. The peanut is great for going along the spine and can be used for soft-tissue work or T-spine mobilization.

3. Theracane

            Unless you’re lucky enough to have someone on call for massages whenever you please, you can’t do much better than the theracane. There are some areas (like the upper traps) that are hard to work on with the foam roll or tennis ball.

4. Ab Wheel
            My favorite tool for training the abs, the ab wheel has stood the test of time and far outperformed any other “six pack abs” device. The abdominal muscles, as well as the lumber spine, were not made for repetitive flexion. The proper function of the rectus abdominis (the main abdominal muscle trained with crunch-related exercises) is to resist spinal extension and hyperextension, which is trained with the ab wheel.

5. Quality Shoes
            Many leg and lower back issues caused by exercise can be attributed to improper footwear. My personal preferences are Asics and Brooks, but there are several other good brands (New Balance, Saucony, among others) available, I’ve just learned these fit my feet well. The human body is built from the ground up, a poor base will lead to other problems up the chain.

6. The Right Gym
            Depending on what you need or want in a gym (pool, basketball, racquetball, etc.), the cost can go from modest to pretty absurd. Many gyms sound great with the bells and whistles they feature, but how much will you actually use them? The gym I grew up in was subsidized by the city and only cost $100 a year, which will only cover 2-3 months at some of the chains. There were no frills, no extra amenities, and it worked great for me. It might not have been the best fit for others, but for me it was perfect. I recommend looking into private personal training based gyms, most will offer times other than your scheduled training sessions where you are free to use the facility. 

This is only a partial list, but it is a good place to start if you're hoping to move & feel better. As always, if I can ever help out in any way, please don't hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

50 Ways to Become a Better Athlete

Here are some tips to help you or your players reach the next level of their development.
  1. Lift more – The best athletes are in the best shape. There’s no sport where extra strength is anything but beneficial. Get into the weight room and on a real strength program.
  2. Lift less – The flip side is there can be too much of a good thing. Overtraining can derail your progress and increase the chance of an injury.
  3. Lift heavier weights – At some point, you’ll need to advance to heavier weights and lower reps. 8-12 reps only works for so long, if you want to increase your maximum strength, you’ll need heavy weights and 5 reps or fewer.
  4. Lift lighter weights faster – The limiting factor for power development is rarely the strength aspect, but rather time. It’s important to train your neuromuscular system to recruit the stronger Type II muscle fibers as fast as possible.
  5. Lift your body weight – Learn to move your body in space. Pull ups, push ups, plyometrics, etc. Many stabilizing muscles are better trained in this type of environment, where the body is the source of both movement and resistance.
  6. Get bigger – If you’re on the smaller side, get in the weight room, eat more calories, and bulk up. You’ll need it at the higher levels of competition where the athletes are universally bigger and stronger.
  7. Get smaller – If your body fat is on the higher end for athletes (generally above 15-18%, but it depends on age, gender, and sport). Get some help with your nutrition and work on getting leaner. Please, be sure to do this safely and not by starving yourself or risky diets/supplements.
  8. Learn from people who have done what you want to do – There’s no better resource than someone who has been where you want to go. Learn from their mistakes and try not to repeat them.
  9. Stretch more – Full range of motion goes a long way in preventing injury and staying healthy.
  10. Stretch less – Don’t become obsessed with your flexibility, unless it is imperative to your sport. It’s important to maintain elasticity in your muscles for the stretch-contract cycle.
  11. Focus on mobility – Like #9, range of motion is an important area to focus on. Muscles can be flexible, but joints must be mobile in order to move freely.
  12. Put more time and effort into your warm-up – The days of jogging on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes and doing a light set or two of your first exercise are over. Learn a proper warm-up and implement it.
  13. Focus more – Put away your phone and pay attention to the task at hand. If you’re distracted during a game, you’ll get beat. Train how you play – focused.
  14. Think less – Malcom Gladwell did an excellent job describing the difference between panicking and choking in his book, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. We choke when we over-think and question our instincts. Clear your mind and let your body do what you’ve trained it to do.
  15. Listen to your coaches – Yes, there are some that don’t know what their talking about, or don’t have your best interests in mind, but they are a much smaller minority than athletes believe. Your coaches want to help you – let them.
  16. Play other sports – This is especially important for younger athletes (high school and under). The more sports you play, the more your body will develop. Areas not regularly stressed in your sport become addressed with cross-training, and you avoid getting burnt out.
  17. Play your sport more – Of course, the further along you are in your athletic life, the more important it is to get more reps. If you play basketball, get in the gym and put up more shots or jump into pick up games. Continue to develop outside of practice.
  18. Sleep more – Sports, and training, put huge demands on the body and require adequate recovery. This is even more true for student-athletes who go through the strain of school on top of their physical demands. Get to bed early, sleep as many hours as you can before midnight, and let your mind & body recover.
  19. Eat more – As I said above, your body needs proper recovery in order to develop. Starving yourself or not getting enough fuel can quickly lead to overtraining.
  20. Eat less – Remember, eat to fuel, not to feed. Don’t put junk into your body or else you’ll get junk out of it.
  21. Find your motivation – Everyone reaches a point where they have to ask if all this work is worth it. This moment comes at a different time for everybody, but acts as an excellent filter to find the truly dedicated athletes. Find what works for you – quotes, posters, whatever helps you fight through the rough patches to reach success.
  22. Do more sprinting – I have yet to find anything as great at developing athleticism than sprinting. Huge bang for the buck – fat loss, lower body strength, lower body power, increased speed, increased vertical – great all around for athletic development. Very few athletes can’t benefit from getting faster.
  23. Go swimming – Not many training programs schedule in frequent trips to the pool, which makes it a perfect change of pace. No-impact, different stimulus, and different demand on the body.
  24. Fight a grizzly bear – Not literally (hopefully), but try something you think you’ll fail at, but have wanted to try. Worst case scenario, you’re right where you started, but you’ve gained a new experience. Best case scenario, you’ve beaten the grizzly and are ready to take on the next challenge.
  25. Get more reps in your sport (relaxed) – Remember what first started your passion for sports, they’re fun. Spend some time getting back to having fun with it and not worry about mechanics or perfecting every move.
  26. Learn something new – This can be related to your sport or completely separate. It’s important to keep yourself mentally stimulated and not get complacent with what you know.
  27. Build a support structure – Nothing great was ever built on a poor foundation. Friends, family, coaches, and mentors can provide invaluable resources for your development. If you let them know your goals, you’ll be amazed at the support, motivation, and help you’ll receive.
  28. Try to help others improve – I’ve found that one of the best ways to improve is by trying to help others. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself while viewing someone else.
  29. Watch the best – Take the time to see the best at your sport. Instead of just watching a game on TV, try to study the players. Learn from them and see what you can carry over to your game.
  30. Do more single leg lifts – Most movements in sports are unilateral. Train single leg movements to improve hip and core stability.
  31. Get off the ground – If your sport involves power (hint – they all do), then make sure you’re getting in some good plyometrics. Moderate your total jumps, but be sure to include hops, bounds, and jumps off one and two feet.
  32. Learn to do the Olympic lifts – Compared to the big three lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press), Olympic lifts are the best for power production. The list of benefits are endless and include improved flexibility/mobility, increased power output, and great posterior chain training.
  33. Play above your level – Very important for high school athletes. Sometimes, it’s good to realize you’re place in things. Older, bigger, better players will negate all your strengths and force you into finding other ways to play.
  34. Drink more water – At least a gallon a day. Grab a jug and finish it by dinner.
  35. Take fewer supplements – You don’t need everything GNC sells. Remember, they are supplements and should be supplementing your diet. Eat right and you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a month on powders and pills.
  36. Take more supplements – There are a select few I recommend. Get a good  protein supplement (I like Muscle Milk), fish or flaxseed oil, magnesium for before bed, and a good multivitamin. Some extras that are nice, but just luxuries to have, are pure L-Glutamine and some BCAA powder, but there should be enough of both in your protein.
  37. Ask questions – This goes along with several of the above points, try to learn as much as you can. Asking questions of other players, coaches, even players from other sports can provide you new information and insights to improve your game.
  38. Train like you play – Does your sport involve several quick, explosive movements followed by brief rest periods (pretty much all do)? Then why train by running on a treadmill for an hour? Strength, speed, quickness, and power are the key ingredients to an elite athlete, not distance running (unless you’re a distance runner/triathlete).
  39. Get healthy – Go to your athletic trainer or doctor and find a way to get rid of any nagging injuries you have. An injured athlete is an ineffective athlete.
  40. Take some time off – Right after season, step away from the court, field, etc. Give yourself a few weeks to recharge mentally and physically.
  41. Turn off the TV – Years ago, before all of the video games, people were forced to find other means to entertain themselves. Before Madden, people actually played football outside. Crazy idea, but give it a shot.
  42. Do something calming everyday – There’s a lot of stress in this world, be sure to find a calming activity that relaxes you. There’s plenty of time to be stressed, find ten minutes to be calm.
  43. Listen to your body – Not every day will be a great training day. Go off what your body is telling you and take a rest when you need it and push when you can (and you can more than you realize, so keep pushing).
  44. Find a mentor – A good mentor can teach you more than any book, class, or video ever can.
  45. Don’t be afraid to fail – This goes with learning something new. You won’t perfect a skill overnight, but you can get a little better at it each day.
  46. Buy a foam roller – I've expressed my love for foam rolling before, but it deserves repeating. Roll out every day and work out any kinks you have. You’re body will feel better after.
  47. Avoid alcohol – Alcohol doesn’t do anything to benefit your body and instead wreaks havoc on your training gains. Decide what’s more important to you, drinking or succeeding in your sport.
  48. Surround yourself with positives – As with stress, there is plenty of negativity in this world, try to surround yourself with as little of it as you can. Positive energy feeds positive results.
  49. Know your limits – You can only do so much. We all have our limits
  50. Try to exceed them – But fear of them can keep you from making gains. Have a gut-check workout. Bust your butt and try to better yourself every day.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments by email, or on Twitter. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES