Interview: Ish Cheyne

Insights Interview: Forecasting, Silver Linings, and Sales Techniques

Hi Ish, I want to thank you for your time and effort in making the interview happen because I know how much you hate writing.  You have been a driving force being multiple companies.  Firstly, you have been the superpower behind much of cooperate giant, LES MILLS, personal training business seminars and education.  Secondly, you run which is pumping out some amazing podcasts and client information.  So as usual, tell me how old you were when you started becoming interested in the field and also what your background is.

I got in to the fitness industry when I was 18 completely by accident. I am a qualified Chef and I had an address given to me for a job interview but when I turned up at the address it was a Gym not a Restaurant. So I said I really want a job and the guy said can you sell gym memberships, I said sure (not that I had any idea if I could or not, I had never even been to a gym before) so I started the next day, fell in love with the fitness industry and the rest just kind of happened

Many people often get, “tall poppy” syndrome (where the person tries to cut another down for their own gain).  I am sure this happens to you at some time or another but what do you do to keep your mind focused away from this sort of stuff?

I spend as much time as I can adding value to people’s lives by building positive relationships. Help someone get what they want and you then get what you want. Don’t worry about the dickheads.

How do you, Ish Cheyne, motivate the unmotivated?  How do you make someone who is in denial about their health to come to terms with themselves?

I just tell it like it is, to many people have a cross your fingers attitude to health and fitness and say things like, I hope I don’t get cancer, I hope I don’t get fat, I hope I don’t get sick. It’s better that they can prevent it before it happens rather than living in reaction. I just give them the options then if they’re smart they make a good decision

Thats a straight forward attitude.  Its true that prevention is always better treating the problem after the fact.  Speaking of motivation, you are very skilled in marketing and sales, how do you handle hesitations (regarding a sale)?

The best line I ever learnt was, “so aside from….blar blar…is this something you would like to do” So if the person says it’s too expensive, you just say. Ok so aside from price is Personal Training something you would like to do” if they say yes, then say “well you know yourself best how much could you put towards it per week” then work it all out from there. If they say No, then they don’t see the value in what you are offering…either that or they think you’re a dick and it’s pretty much over

Okay so we know that if you are a d**k then motivation is not an option.  However, who is the one person who has motivated you the most in your field?

It’s not just one person; it’s Les Mills as a company. They have changed my life. The businesses innovation and the people that work in the company are amazing

You have been in the game for a bit now, where do you see the gym and fitness industry heading?  What will be the next big step for the fitness industry?

Small group training and membership options for people who don’t want to join or commit to a contract

If you could train anyone who would it be?

Chuck Norris!!

What’s your biggest advice for a new student or trainer?

Don’t be a dick!


Ish Cheyne




For those that like it long: Ish Cheyne is one of New Zealand’s top personal trainers (2008 South Island Personal Trainer of the year) and with over 15 years of experience working across the Health and Fitness industry, Ish is internationally recognized as a leader, educator, and visionary.

As a leading presenter, Ish is highly regarded for his dynamic, motivational and informative seminars. Through radio interviews, television shows and international speaking engagements, Ish’s expertise and knowledge have become well-known and highly valued. Ish is the National Facilitator for Les Mills and teaches all aspects of exercise prescription, business, marketing, sales and customer service.

Les Mills International has contracted Ish to assist in the area of training development. He is one of the best facilitators in the world and has written and delivered education DVDs now seen by over 80,000 instructors in over 70 countries.

Through mediums such as television, radio, speaking events, pod casts, blogs and e-books, Ish is a key solution provider in the areas of personal training, fitness, sales and staff performance. Blar Blar Blar….. (Told you it was long)


Are you a Coach or an Instructor?

Are you a Coach or an Instructor?

Every now and again, you have that one guy; that one guy that’s on a mission to save the world and leave a legacy.  However, more times than not, these guys are fuelled by greed and arrogance.  What is worse?  Perhaps an out of control, caffeine injecting person pumping orders at you?  What is it that makes us cringe at these people? Well it’s definitely not their charisma so I suggest their approach.  Just like a comedian, actor, or even myself writing this blog; a proper delivery is essential to the receiver.  Poor communication is regarded as one of the top errors in business operations.  What is good communication?  Well to answer this I suggest we look at what a coach is and what a leader is.  They both have benefits but as with the delivery, timing is critical to proper usage.

I Consult that Book No One Ever Uses (The Dictionary)

The definition of instructor (coming from the Encarta Dictionary) is someone who teaches something such as a sport or practical skill.  The definition of a coach is someone who trains a person in a specific area, sport, or skill.  Sound similar?  Externally it is.

Internally, it’s much different.  I suggest some lateral thinking at this point.  An instructor is a person who leads through straight answers or direct instruction (hence the name instructor).  They remove the problem by solving it themselves.   A coach, on the other hand, is a person who leads by action and relationship.  I imagine it like this:

  1. Instructor: Teacher, Dictator, Politician
  2. Coach: Little League, A leader you respect, Anthony Robbins

Now I am not suggesting all coaches are like Anthony Robbins, but you have to admit the guy has a bit of charismatic authority.  What’s most important with a true coach is their ability to make their coaching a life long impact.  This is done through multiple routes but we will find they are all paved with motivation.    Motivation happens over time, Influence doesn’t.  Influence is easy (smile, remember names, listen, and ask questions about them), motivation isn’t but has higher rewards.

Now I ask you, what team are you on?

Here is a quick way to find out.  I adapted this from Jo Owen best of all it’s so easy and effective.

The five O’s of coaching:

  1. Objectives
  2. Overview
  3. Options
  4. Obstacles

If you have a clear view of what you are trying to achieve, consider yourself on the right track.  Let’s speak about spinal pain.  Clear objectives are letting the patient now why they are having the trouble and what a positive outcome would look like (outcome assessment).  The patient isn’t a doctor, that’s why they have you.  During this phase you may take on a slight instructor role (especially with the mechanism of injury part) however, coach them with the outcomes.  They should have a realistic and reassured understanding of the issues at hand.  In my clinic one of the forms we use is the Lower Back Disability Index (Revised Oswestry) to determine initial paper goals.   However, our actual physical goals may vary.  Complex loading tasks with no pain may be the longer term goal but quick improvement in a revised oswestry is reassuring, none the less.  Set short-term outcomes and longer term outcomes with your patients.  Remember to be realistic.  An overly optimistic outcome, if not reached, causes disappointment and a loss of trust.  An overly pessimistic outcome causes negativity which leads to all sorts of downstream problems with recovery.

Overview is about letting them voice their concerns.  In the clinical setting, I want the patient to tell me if they are frustrated, upset, annoyed.  These things are good to get out.  Because we get it out in the open, it will save me major headache in the future if the patient has a mini-meltdown.  Secondly, the patient appreciates your empathy.  They like to know you are genuinely interested and concerned, not only about their spine (for instance) but their mental status as well.  Have them tell you what a reasonable outcome is.  If it’s flawed don’t tell them it’s flawed but suggest a different perspective.

Now that the patient is on track, give them options.  This has application across the board.  From treatment to outcome to follow-up, it doesn’t matter, options rule.  You are more likely to gain compliance by giving options.  When the patient sees two or three ideas and not something you are instructing them to do, the odds are they do it because they choose it. J  My friend Bee Lim who is doing her thesis in positive psychology gave me a brilliant idea.  She said, “Let your patients choose their exercises.”  It was like a huge light bulb when off in my brain.  “Of course” I said, with exclamation.  The next day I started organizing and categorizing my exercises so the patients could choose.  Patients love it.  They love being able to have options.  If they don’t feel like doing the single leg squat, that’s fine, they can do a lunge!  It is so brilliant, simple, and effective.  Even better, it reduces stress on me.  The only option prior to this was the patient not doing it if they didn’t like it.  Now they have another option.

Keeping on track with the patient examples we find ourselves coaching obstacles.  What is going to be an obstacle for the patient?  In the case of lumbar pain, flare ups, is a great obstacle to coach.  Letting the patient understand that flare-ups may occur and are not problematic is important for two reasons.

  1. It reduces their fear and anxiety when it happens
  2. They will be ready to combat it

Reassurance for obstacles is key but what is even more important is prepping the client/patient for the tribulation.  Ask them, “What may stop the flare up from happening?”  Help them prepare for this challenge and you will be delighted with the reward.  For an example, I often find that patients with a simple back ache that is flexion biased, back (glute) bridging is very effective for reducing flare ups.  They only need to do 6-8 repetitions and they feel much better.  Other alternatives are McKenzie stretches, bracing, or the cat-camel.  These are all ideas worth looking into.

How do we know we are still on track?  How do we know if there is anything to correct further or tweak?  Outcome assessment is the key.  I know too many practitioners that do absolutely no outcome assessment.  This scares me.  Outcome assessment should be a summary of progress to date.  After outcome assessment is completed, it is possible to address weak points by starting at objectives and working back through the coaching O’s.

Open or Closed?

Remember when they used to tell you (if you are doctor or trainer from the “old school”) to use a larger ratio of close ended questions?  Times have changed since and the reverse is true.  I assume it will reverse somehow in the future but I personally find an even and meditated mix of open to closed questions works quite well.  Open questions do exactly that, they open the patient’s mouth.  As much as it kills you to listen sometimes (tangents are made quite easily by patients) do it.  You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.   A fatal error to open-ended questions is following the open-ended with a close ended.  This happens more than you think.  Psychologically, it probably happens because we truly don’t want to hear a long-winded answer.  It’s like covering your mouth when someone else is speaking; subliminal body language.  An example:

“Tell me Mr. Smith, how are you feeling today? Are you feeling better?”
“Mr Smith what have you been doing to keep your motivation levels up?  Are you sleeping well?”

Open/Closed don’t do it, end of story

Final Thoughts

Coaching is important and involves the core basics of communication.  Listening, Reflective Listening, and Listening some more.  If you fail to do so you fail to understand why the person you coach is failing.  Sound confusing?  Then you probably need to listen a bit better.  Example: helping motivate a client to understand why they need to change and how you may be of benefit.

Instructing is important at specific times.  There are times when you need to provide clear-cut leadership through instruction.  Example: helping a client understand how to squat (which may be frustrating).

Figure out when to be a coach and when to be an instructor.

Gold Nugget: If you are having trouble listening or seem to space out while someone else is speaking (trust me we all do it) try the following:

1.  When there is a natural pause in the conversation don’t speak (like you want to), paraphrase what they just said back to them.

2.  When they finish talking, ask an open question.  I know for most guys, this is crazy talk but just do it and reap the result.

3.  “The sweetest word in language is a persons own name”  This is true.  Be involved in them and what they are doing.  Interjecting your own opinion doesn’t get you far.  Even if you do, what did you really change?

Mandatory Reading

How to Lead: 2nd Edition: Jo Owen

Interview: Bret Contreras

Insights Interview: Silver Linings and Forecasting of the Industry

Hi Bret, I want to thank you for your time and effort in making the interview happen.  I have looked up to many great people in the health and fitness industry over the last 15 years and one name that I keep seeing more and more of is yours.  Tell me how old you were when you started becoming interested in the field and also what your background is.

Hey Anthony, first of all I want to thank you for allowing me to do this interview. To answer your question, at fifteen years old I started reading every muscle mag I could get my hands on and training using bodypart splits. At twenty-four I stumbled upon HIT training. Before that I seriously didn’t know there were other “methods” out there other than HVT. Shortly after that, I stumbled upon sport-specific training and never looked back. Over the years I’ve taken a hard look at nearly every method, system, and style imaginable. I’m a 33 year-old CSCS with a master’s degree and a background as a high school mathematics teacher.

We all go through tribulation and trial and if you haven’t you will.  When you first started doing your job and focusing on your work, what were some of your biggest let downs, failures, and/or rejections?  What did you do to overcome this negativity?

The most difficult struggle I ever went through professionally was when I had to let go of the idea that my invention was going to make me a lot of money one day. In late 2006, I invented a glute-apparatus called the Skorcher. I thought it would take off especially considering the compelling EMG experiments that were conducted showing it’s effectiveness. However, the world wasn’t ready for the invention, the economy plummeted right around the time I was able to raise money to launch the product, and my dreams of “making it big” came to a screeching halt a couple of years ago. I became quite bitter and distrustful after this experience and am not sure if I’ll ever fully “recover” from the let down. I was lied to and taken advantage of by unscrupulous investors.

As time goes on, it becomes easier to see that everything happens for a reason. I gleaned some great business lessons and learned an awful lot about what type of person I never want to become. Best of all, I own one of the few Skorchers out there and can use it in my own training! Here’s my friend Keats Snideman using the Skorcher to do a single leg hip thrust.

Many people often get, “tall poppy” syndrome (where the person tries to cut another down for their own gain).  I am sure this happens to you at some time or another but what do you do to keep your mind focused away from this sort of stuff?

Tim Ferriss wrote an excellent blog about “dealing with haters. Here’s the link:


Here’s what I try to focus on:

1. The more popular your work, the more haters you’ll likely develop

2. The more cutting edge and innovative your work, the more haters you’ll likely develop

3. The Strength & Conditioning profession is male dominated and often ego-driven. Getting hated on comes with the territory and many don’t like “newcomers”

4. All publicity is good publicity

5. If you put yourself out there and your stuff works, you’re going to positively impact thousands of people. I’m one of the few trainers I know of who have invented and popularized exercises and created terminology that “caught on” in the industry. Focus on the good you’re doing and resist the temptation to get enraged by comments written on blogs and forum threads

6. Strength training attracts a lot of “meatheads” who love to pick fights on forums and say horrible things. Once again, getting hated on comes with the territory.

7. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. – Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860

8. Nobody likes a negative person. If you can’t learn to deal with adversity and be positive most of the time, then doors aren’t going to open up for you and you’re not going to be able to spread your message and positively impact nearly as many people as you could if you were a happier person.

9. Our profession needs critical individuals who aren’t afraid to call it like they see it. Learn to appreciate these highly critical and opinionated folks as they’re a natural “checks and balances” system for our profession

10. Every negative situation that occurs is an opportunity for you to display your positivity, professionalism, adversity, and determination

I find that after considering these thoughts I’m able to calm down and not be deterred by haters.

How do you, Bret Contreras, motivate the unmotivated?  How do you make someone who is in denial about their health to come to terms with themselves?

First of all, it’s important to realize that you can’t motivate everyone. As a young personal trainer I used to give discounts and train so many people for free to the point where I went overboard in my quest to “save the world.” Now I reserve trying to “motivate the unmotivated” mostly to family members and dear friends. For these people, I try every angle imaginable. I beg, plead, bargain, write simple programs, print articles, email links to journal study abstracts, and try to find an “angle” that will do the trick. Sometimes you just have to accept that a person isn’t ready to care about their health and be proud of the fact that you may be “planting seeds” that will sprout later on down the road. Just never give up!

Who is the one person who has motivated you the most in your direct family?  How about in your field?

Although I have the greatest Mom and Dad in the world, I have to go with my Gramps on this one. He was an engineer and always bought me all kinds of math and physics books when I was in high school and college. I was probably the only kid in my high school who read Steven Hawking books and understood the theory of relativity. He would give me his Discover Magazines and talk to me about science all the time. This affected the way I approach everything in life.

As to my greatest influence in the field…that’s really tough. I’m a very unique trainer and don’t always follow the norm. I’ve been heavily influenced by Louie Simmons, Charlie Francis, Mike Boyle, Christian Thibaudeau, and Gray Cook. However, my training and methods are quite different than theirs. My number one influence would have to be Mel Siff (although I didn’t read his book until after he died so his influence on me occurred post-mortem). He was in my opinion the brightest guy to ever care about fitness. Although I’ll never come close, I aspire to think like him on a daily basis.

Where do you see the gym and fitness industry heading?  What will be the next big step for the fitness industry?

I thought long and hard about this one and have realized that I’m no prophet. My friend Carl Valle offered some insightful opinions on this topic. Here’s the link:

I’m curious to see if our profession ever enacts stringent licensing procedures for personal trainers. I’m curious to see if gyms keep becoming “fruitier” or if “manly” gyms will be resurrected. I look forward to the time when our profession has a better understanding of what “functional training” entails, as well as what best practices are for assessment/screening, gaining mobility/flexibility, maximizing transfer of training, and optimizing core training. I look forward to the time when we have a better understanding of program design as it pertains to manipulating training variables for various populations. As the different fields of Physiology, Biomechanics, Physical Therapy, and Psychology converge, we’ll gain a much better understanding of the “Big Picture.”

If you could train anyone who would it be?

Definitely Usain Bolt! I would love to conduct all sorts of analyses, experiments, and studies on him in hopes to figure out exactly what makes him so special. I would also love to see if I could help make him even faster. It’s easy to make a novice better. But getting the best in the world to be even better takes someone who really knows what they’re doing.

What’s your biggest advice for a new student or trainer?

As Rob Panariello, one of the brightest minds in the fitness and physical therapy fields likes to say, “Know the difference between fact and opinion.” Strength & Conditioning is an arte scienza. It’s a blend between art and science. There are too many variables to ever allow us to boil it down to an exact science. Much of what we do is based on opinion. No expert has all the answers. In fact, no expert even comes close. Many roads lead to Rome and there are many methods that can lead to success. Learn from all the experts via books, textbooks, articles, blogs, DVD’s, journals, seminars, college courses, and internships. Have respect for those who know what they’re doing but don’t put them on a pedestal. No matter how smart you think they are, they don’t have all the answers. We don’t have much figured out so always remain open-minded yet at the same time be highly skeptical. Try to be evidenced-based while also remaining innovative and staying on the cusp on scientific advancement. Don’t be afraid to try new methods as that’s how we learn. Don’t be afraid to fail. Develop your own philosophy based on evidence, theory, anecdotes, and opinions. Always err on the side of safety. Learn from a variety of fields as that sparks creativity. Make friends in the profession. Never stop training yourself!

That’s awesome advice Bret.  Thank you Bret for your time and input, I am really excited to keep following your work.  Although I have been through a decade or so of school, I am really new to the field and like everyone, I am always learning.  I am really inspired by your drive and work ethic and applaud you for your effort.  Thanks Bret, I appreciate you.

-Anthony Close

Thank you very much Anthony! I appreciate those words very much. It’s very nice to know that I’m inspiring others. Excellent and unique interview questions. Thanks again!

-Bret Contreras (

Machine Training: Safety Issues

I remember about 7 years ago someone asked me where I thought the fitness industry was going.  At the time I was just finishing up my B.S. in Biology but really had no clue where it was going knowledge wise.  One thing I do remember is saying that the machines would change.  I felt that the machines would be replaced by more complex (technologically) machines or more bodyweight or functional training (remember functional used to be a BIG buzz word, it kind of still is).  Anyways, both have happened although the latter is more apparent; machines are fading away and natural movement is replacing it.  Luckily, for the gym, this means more open floor space.

So Whats Wrong With Machines?

Simply put, when do you use a machine to play your sport?  Unless you are driving robots using levers that are excessively heavy, you are not.  In all seriousness, often people (who don’t know much about anatomy) argue that machines are good for excessively overweight people or handicap individuals.  While this is a decent argument and well intended, it is fundamentally wrong.  It is wrong, in that, if the individual is still able to move their appendage then they are able to train in a free moving manner.  The manner of difficulty arises in the trainers ability to tactile coach (hands on), progress and structure their clients workout(s).  Simply put, the trainer (which may be a doctor/physiotherapist/osteopath/etc) often doesn’t know jack about progressions, structure, and coaching a persons movements.

Remember that often the machines are based on business.  Business means they need to sell it, not selling it means no food, and no food means death.  I know that is dramatic, but it’s also the truth.  Dr. Mel Siff is quoted by saying, “It is commonly believed that gymnasium machines are intrinsically safer than free weights and require far less skill in using them.  This fallacy is one reason why injuries are still regularly sustained by those who rely solely on machines for training.”

One thing is very obvious when considering the spine and sport specific training is the fact that with most machines, the user is seated. When you are seated you remove the entire lower quarter from the kinetic chain.   Yes, you may be able to engage the lower quarter by doing something like, “squeezing the glutes” but does it really mimic what you may be doing in your sport or even in real life situation?  Moreover, It is well-known that when you are seated the amount of compression is elevated 140% (100% based on standing load of 70kgs) when compared to laying flat.  Obviously laying flat is not very sports specific either, so what is the reasonable middle ground?  Standing.   Standing not only reduces total compression ratios once loaded but it also mimics real life situations.  This has been stated over and over again but I want you to think of it as it applies solely to the disc and the spine.  Why do I want you to do this?  Because lumbar disc herniations have the potential to not only ruin an athletes season but to ruin the athletes career.

Alright, Well What Do YOU Suggest Mr. Know It All?

My suggestion is the same across the board, whether its an excessively obese, handicapped, or mentally challenged individual; start simple.

Back to the basics:

1.  Isometrics: Static progressed to oscillatory or rhythmic PNF
2.  Open/Closed Chain (Depends on the issue) Unloaded/Bodyweight

Obviously one must be focusing on building endurance, strength, speed/agility; all built on proper movement.  Moreover, I am not going so far to say “never use machines” but I am going so far to say, I probably won’t use one.  But then again, I don’t need one to make a great athlete or take someone from rehab into doing “typical” gym work.

Machines and Safety Issues
special thanks to late, great: Dr. Mel Siff Ph.D.

Seated Vertical Pressing Machines

Fault: May force the user to hyperextend the spine by leaning forward to “get under” the load.  Also seated exercises are able to exert 90% more compression on the spine than the same exercise in a standing position.

If you have to use the SVPM be sure to keep your feet on the ground, a neutral spine, and a decent brace.  Placing your feet on the foot rest has the potential to destabilize your hips and spine.

Seated Leg Extension Machines

Fault:  One of the major problems with this machine is the unnatural vectors/forces it places on the knee.  The buttressing of the thigh combined with the long lever arm in contact with the shin, imposes a very large and unnatural force along the plane of the knee.  Moreover, the SLEM’s do not provide backrests that support  the lumbar curve.  Again, this can cause flexion thereby increasing the compressive loads already imposed by being seated.

If you have to use the SLPM make sure to lower the weight slowly so that you aren’t forced to round the spine.  I suggest placing a lumbar roll or a half foam roller between your lower back and seat.

Lying Inclined Leg Press Machines

Fault: If the user allows the legs to move all the way to the abdomen, the back will ultimately round (unless their hip mobility is like a ballerina).

Again, I suggest using a half foam roll or lumbar roll to place between you and the back of the seat.  Also if your active SLR is less than 80-90 degrees, stretch your hamstrings!  It’s not rocket science.

Bench Press Machines

Fault: These machines, almost always, make you start in the weakest biomechanical position of the shoulder complex.  What position is this?  With the bar at chest level.  Moreover, according to Siff, you do not begin in a pre-strectch position.  Overcome this by having someone lift the bar up first (if they are man enough).

Seated Torso Twisting (Oblique) Machines

Fault:  These are my favorite to roast.  I am going to digress right now and just say it.  These machines are ridiculously stupid.  Even Dr. Siff is stated saying, “…these [spinal twist machines] are a little more than useless…”  Not only is it possible to flex the spine, while twisting, they often allow you to twist into end ranges of movement with heavy loads.  If you have trouble understanding why this is bad.  Please read my first post on anti-rotational training.  Please just don’t use these, even if you are a discus thrower.

Sit Up Boards

Fault: If the board has grips for the feet or ankles then you can be sure you will be training your hip flexors at the initiation of the movement, which will induce unnecessary compression unless properly monitored.  Whats the problem with training the hip flexors in this manner?  It can limit the hips range of motion and reactivity, thereby reducing the performance of running, jumping, and kicking (to name a few). If you insist on dong this do yourself a favor and stretch your hip flexors.

Hyperextesnion Machines

Fault:  Besides stressing the knee-joint capsule inappropriately, they don’t permit you to change the height of the foot restraint (or the distance between the hips and the ankles).  This causes hyperextension in the knees which equates to improper movement through the spine (by default). Siff recommends moving slowly so that you may avoid damage to the structures of the knee or spine.  Also, individuals with abnormally high or low blood pressure should be careful due to orthostatic blood pressure changes.

The List Goes On and On

But I think you get the point.  In summary, watch your spine and don’t impose “fake” or “forced” trajectories on the joints.  Simply put, “keep it real.”  If you want to know more read “supertraining” in fact, everyone in fitness should read it.  It’s not easy reading but neither was War and Peace.

The last point is, don’t race against the clock unless you are qualified to do so.  This stuff is getting out of control.  Without pointing the finger (saying crossfit, while coughing) please don’t race against the time unless your movements are qualified.  If you haven’t done a press up or pull up in 2 years don’t just go out and try to do 10 reps by 10 rounds in 10 seconds.   That is just ridiculous.  You don’t need to do that to be “fit” or “loose fat”.

All I am saying is be smart, be safe, be sensible.

-Dr. Anthony

Anti-Rotational Training

Anti-Rotational Training

So often we look to the core for being the magical fix for the lower back.  Often, even though many won’t admit it, health care professionals are let down.  The core becomes stronger but the pain remains or becomes worse.  There are multiple reasons for this (see the post: why core exercises are not fixing your spine).   Without going out on an already kinetic tangent, I would like to speak about the obliques, their function, and application in training and sport.  One of my favorite topics right now (besides prion research and ipads) is anti-rotation training.

Relevant Anatomy

Touching on the basics, regarding the anatomy of the torso, we know the following to be correct:

1.  The anterior abdominal wall is designed for flexion but also to act as a spring to prevent damaging compressive forces to the spine.
2.  The extensors of the spine are to protect us from heavy anterior shear loads by creating extensor torque.
3.  The lateral abdominal wall is designed to resist us from rotating into extreme ranges.

Let have a ponder regarding each section of the torso and what each section is up to.  A great start is the anterior abdominal wall.  Most text’s state that they are specifically designed to flex the trunk. However, is it the main reason that we have them?  If so why would don’t we have large bands of muscle instead of the six pack (if yours is visible)or  beaded architecture?

The extensors of the lumbar spine may be divided into two general categories.  Ones originating from the thoracic region and those originating from the lumbar region.  The lumbar region extensors have a very small lever arm.  Therefore, they do not act as primary movers for extension, simply because, they don’t have the power.  Instead the act as a support against anterior shear forces by naturally exerting a large posterior shear force.

The obliques are muscles that act to resist movement from side to side and to tie together the protective forces of the front and back.   They distribute the anterior posterior force as well as protect.  The abdominal fascia, which connect laterally to the appernerosis of all three layers of the abdominal region, also connect to the pectoralis major.  Functionally this allows for force during most movement to be transmitted equally through the torso.  In addition, one shouldn’t forget the important role of the QL and psoas in relation to the torso during motion.

This is where is gets controversial.

Lets start with the traditional school of thought on the obliques.  The traditional thought is that we should train them and make them stronger by rotating, side bending, and using various movements and methods.  Traditionally, we have seen several progressions of this over the last 10 years.  Starting with holding a plate on the side of the body and flexing up, to supporting the body at 45 degrees and bending up and down (holding onto weight), rotational machines where the person sits and rotates against resistance, the list goes on and on.  The common ground to all of these exercises: complete rotational ROM with resistance.

The new school of thought is that, this may be incorrect.  The new school is that we should actually be encouraging anti-rotation while still activating the torso and obliques.  Anti rotational exercises don’t have to be isometric but many are by nature.  We see fending drills, one arm walk outs, lateral chops, diagonal chops, pallovs, locked in med ball throwing, the list goes on and on.  The common ground to all of these exercises:  limited ROM held in by a strong brace.

Food for Thought

In the body we find areas similar in design to the obliques, in that, fibers running one way and others running the opposite.   Look at the image below.  You can see that the artist has represented the fibers of the external oblique running in a 45 degree downslope and the fibers of the internal oblique running at a 45 degree upslope.

Where else in the body do we see orientation like this?  One area comes to mind immediately, the disc.  The annulus is designed in the same manner.  Half of the fibers of the disc run at a 45 degree downslope, the other half run at a 45 degree upslope.  The reason?  One half resists rotation to the right, the other half resists rotation to the left.  Being at 45 degrees it essentially acts as a rotational shock absorber.


So whats up with this 45 degree orientation?  Now I don’t have a degree in physics but it seems that the forty-five degree angle is the perfect angle for both generating and resisting a force in perhaps equal harmony.  Research is showing that side to side twisting (generating a force towards or away from center) is not  as damaging to the spine as previously thought; in regards to disc herniation.  However, the research also shows that such movements will slowly remove the layers of the annulus (de-lamination) over time and repetition.  Therefore, the question must be asked: “why would we evolve muscles that would cause damage to the body?”  The answer is “we didn’t”.  What has happened is mythology and weight room scientists have evolved in their psuedo-understanding at a much faster rate than our true understanding of the body’s architecture and function.  The result is “fantastic” new exercises that “hit” the muscle to give it a great “burn”… or something like that.  The truth is we can train the muscle with as much mean and peak activation (if not more) by using anti-rotational holds and movements.

The Truth

The truth is the core is made to protect the spine.  Those five lumbar vertebra are small and if you have had the pleasure of working on cadavers you can appreciate the amount of stress they go through on a daily basis.  Working one area of the core is about as smart as changing one shock absorber on your car.  They are made to work together as a unit and not only within the core itself but more importantly in sync with the upper and lower quarter.  Moreover, for sport and life the abdominal region needs to be well defined in speed, reaction, and endurance (more than strength).

My Favorite Anti-Rotation Complex

The AC-130:  This is an exercise I started using for rehabilitation, but advanced to a higher level of activation.  The victim kneels on the ground, holding onto a resistance band.  They are instructed to brace (all muscles) and resist movement from all directions and amplitudes over a 130 degree arc.  Major faults to look for is an unlocking of the hips from the shoulders, breaking from the hips, shrugging of the shoulders, and poking of the chin.  Try by holding for :20 seconds in multiple directions for 5 sets.

The Walk-Out (Fending): I originally heard about this exercise from McGill and JC Santana (these guys are like rockstars to me and I have massive respect for their knowledge and passion).  The victim holds a cable handle in one hand and walks away from the cable machine.  The individual may keep the arm in position close or far from the body, the distance determine the lever arm.  The longer the lever arm the more difficult the exercise.  Major faults are unlocking the hips from the shoulders, breaking at the hips, rounding the shoulders, poking out the chin/head.  Try 8-10 walkouts per side.

AR Window Wipers:  This is a modification to the fending drill.  The victim walks out in the same manner as the fending drill but stabilizes at the end (pulling the “floor apart” with the feet to encourage hip activation) and then makes the motion of wiping a window.  Again, the further away from the body the hand goes, the more difficult the exercise becomes.  Major faults are unlocking the hips from the shoulders, breaking at the hips, rounding the shoulders, poking out the chin/head.  Try 2-3 walk outs per side with 5-8 window wipe reps on each walkout.   2-3 sets

Med-Ball Quick Rotaries:  This was an exercise I remember doing years ago but never had a good reason besides getting the heart rate up, my how times change.  The victim holds a medball in front slightly below shoulder height and performs short amplitude, high velocity rotations left and right.  Think of your electric toothbrush when doing this.  Major faults are unlocking the hips from the shoulders, breaking at the hips, rounding the shoulders, poking out the chin/head.  Try by keeping up the rhythmic motion for :20 seconds for 3-5 sets.

AC Pillar Response:  This exercise takes the shoulder bridge and turns it into a anti-rotational exercise.  The victim holds their body up in a press up position with the hands close together, feet shoulder with (or more) apart.  The person quickly touches their hand to the opposite shoulder.  Gravity attempts to pull the side, no longer in contact with the ground, into rotation; a strong brace will extinguish this from happening.  Make this more difficult by elevating the feet and/or bringing the feet closer together.  Try by completing 10 touches (less than 10-15 seconds), 5-8 sets.

In My Thoughts

Thinking of the core as a unit that helps stabilize and protect the spine is important when training the core.  I know this is an overly obvious and repeated statement but it makes me ponder the mechanism of action regarding the muscles of the torso during a protective bout.  Let me explain for a moment.  If the core is made to protect (from an intelligent design point of view), then the muscles would be resisting forces in an isometric or eccentric manner.  Example: opening a door exerts a rotational force on the torso/spine, therefore, to open the door and protect my spine I must resist this rotation either through an isometric or eccentric action. Thus, I want to train these muscles in an isometric or eccentric manner.  However, they are also ment to be dynamic.  This means that I want to train them for speed as well.  Lastley, they are made to hold up all through the day, therefore, I must train them in a manner of endurance.

Confused yet?  Well, we are always learning.  Remember the quote: “be skeptic of those who have found the truth and be confident in those seeking the truth.”