Q: What are your favorite exercises for the posterior chain?
The posterior chain comprised of the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, is the numero du ono muscle complex for most athletes when it comes to speed and power. In fact, if Sir Mixalot was a strength coach he'd be right on with his comments to "get some back"! All kidding aside I don't have one "favorite" posterior chain exercise, however, I have favorites depending on what aspect of the force/velocity curve an athlete needs to work on. From slow limit strength to ultra fast reactive strength my list goes as follows: Snatch Grip Deadlift, Isometric Romanian Deadlift at mid-shin level, Split Squat lunge leaning forward, hang clean pull, Reverse hyper, Reactive short range Glute Ham, one leg straight leg box jump.
Q: I recall seeing a series of pictures in Sports Illustrated about 18 months ago of elite sportsman. What intrigued me was the variety of shapes and sizes, they were very different from the perception of ripped hard bodies. I also recall reading about the great Russian Olympic lifter Vasely Alexyev cultivating his large stomach to act as a counterweight for the huge weights he put above his head. With all this in mind what impact do you consider body fat % has on athletic performance?
It really depends on the sport and the individual. There are times when it is helpful to have excess bodyfat and times when it is helpful to have as low as bodyfat as can comfortably be maintained. Theoretically, the less extra mass you have to carry around the better but that doesn't always play out in the real world. At no time do I think it's beneficial for an athlete to semi-starve himself or have to do hours of non-specific exercise just to achieve a low level of bodyfat because when one has to do that then the homeostatic functions will start to fall apart and this has a negative influence on just about everything having to do with performance. The first goal of the body is survival. Your body knows how much excess energy (fat) you have stored and you have to maintain enough so that your body doesn't sense that survival is an issue. Afterall, if you were in a famine and your bodyfat stores became fully depleted you would die! What you do in regards to exercise and diet has little effect on how lean you can get before your body starts freaking out on you, how much fat your body feels comfortable with, or at what bodyfat % you perform best at. It will vary from person to person which is why not all superior athletes have what could be called a ripped to the bone lean physique. Imagine an anorexic trying to compete successfully in any sport. Some of them do and they struggle with all sorts of ailments, injuries, and inferior performance.
At the other end there are strength athletes who use all sorts of excuses to pig out and get fat, but unless they're in the superheavyweight class then they would be better served to pay closer attention to body composition so that they can advance their strength to weight ratio over time. As one veteran powerlifter told me, most 275's should be competing in the 242's but they just let themselves get too fat!
In general I feel that strength athletes will do well to maintain a minimum of 10-12% bodyfat up to 15-17% and cycle within that range. I can tell you that when bodybuilders diet down to 5-6% bodyfat for a show most of them will be lucky to make any strength or muscle mass gains until they start eating normally again and let their bodyfat raise up around 10-12% bodyfat where the strength and size gains start to pile on like magic, even though they don't look as good to the eye. This is partly due to increased fluid retention and tissue leverage which helps with strength, and also because their body finally senses a more normal percentage of fat. Homeostatic and endocrine functions normalize and the body no longer rebels. It says "ahhh, now everything is normal" whereas before it was more focused on survival rather then responding to training.
Athletes in speed dominant sports can get away with less bodyfat because moving less mass around makes up for the decrease in strength that they could have by being slightly heavier but again, if they get too lean their performance will be compromised just like it would if they got too heavy. Most would do well to cycle between 6-7% at the low end and 10-12% at the high end. So, the bottom line is, if you want to be as lean as possible and still perform optimally you have to play around with your bodyfat a bit and find the level that is right for you as an individual and also learn how to properly manage and cycle your body composition in order to advance your gains over time. There is a window or range of probably about 3-5% bodyfat where neuro-endocrine functions and performance will be fully maximized for a given individual. That is, you might find you function best in the range between 8-12% bodyfat or 12-16% or 6-10% etc. But when you step outside those boundaries things get compromised. This is where diet is so important. Sometimes in order to take 3 steps forward I feel it's optimal to take 2 steps back.
For example, let's say you're 200 lbs at 15% bodyfat and find that your strength to size is optimal for you at this % of bodyfat, yet if you got any fatter you'd be too heavy,....AND YET you need to move your total bodyweight up to 215 lbs. to impress coaches or whatever..... then you could do one of 2 things.
A: Go from your current weight of 200 lbs at 15% bodyfat and bulk up to 215 lbs, which would probably put you at an overly fat 20%.
B: Go from your current weight of 200 lbs at 15% bodyfat and learn how to manage your nutrient intake so that you can achieve 200 lbs at 10% bodyfat and then move up to 215 lbs. at 15% bodyfat.
See the difference in the approach?
Q: What are some of the strength ratios you work on with your athletes? Quads to Hamstrings, biceps to triceps, chest to back etc.
The problem with using tests like these is that the tests don't take into consideration individualities like limb lengths and they also don't consider contraction speeds. For example, the hamstrings need to demonstrate force at high speeds but if you try to assess and compare hamstring vs quadricep strength in the weight room with slow speed lifts you really won't see a true representation of what's needed. Anyway, here are a few things I like to see to help provide structural integrity, avoidance of injury, as well as assess strength ratios at varying speeds, particularly in the lower body.
seated row- 90% of bench press weight
Deadlift (no back rounding)- 100% of raw back squat
Hang Snatch pull to upper chest- 60% of close stance back squat
Usually the chest, shoulders, triceps, and quadriceps are over developed in relationship to the hips, hamstrings, and back in most people. Usually the extensor muscles (quadriceps, shoulders, triceps etc.) will tend to respond to strength and hypertrophy training faster but strength and size, although slower to come, are easier to maintain in the flexors (biceps, hamstrings etc.) once they are developed. To figure out if a muscle is a flexor or extensor if you contract a muscle and the joint space widens, like when you extend your arm, then the working muscle is an extensor. If you flex a muscle and the joint space closes, like when you flex your arm, then the working muscle is a flexor. Flexors also tend to respond better to lower repetitions than extensors.