Back to the Future

Posted: April 17, 2019 in Uncategorized


By Edward K. Wietholder, BS, CSCS, CPT
A glaring weakness, from a bodybuilder’s point of view, of many trainees is the width of the latissimus dorsi. This is usually more apparent in natural trainees as it is really not natural to be able to hang glide without any extraneous equipment. Anyhow, no matter what most “wide latted” individuals may tell you, pronated wide grip chinning is not really the exercise to focus on.
The latissimus dorsi has an origin on the lower six thoracic vertebrae, all of the lumbar vertebrae, crests of the ilium and sacrum(upper pelvis and just above the buttocks), and the lower four ribs. The muscle group inserts on the medial side(closer to the midline) of the humerus(upper arm bone). The function of the latissimus is to extend(draw upper arm downward in the front to back plane), adduct(draw upper arm down in the left to right plane), and internally rotate the arm at the shoulder. Other interesting visible muscles that round out the back include the teres major which mimics the function of the latissimus. The middle and lower trapezius, a kite shaped muscle, is also visible from the rear. The trapezius is designed to function in harmony with other muscles of the shoulder, otherwise known as scapulohumeral rhythm. The upper and lower trapezius serve to upwardly rotate the scapula, which occurs when the arm is raised to the front or side. The middle trapezius and rhomboids allow for downward rotation of the scapula. When acting alone, the upper trapezius will elevate and retract(bring shoulder blades together) the scapula. The middle acting alone retracts the scapula. The lower will depress and retract the scapula(scapula moves down and in).
If one thinks for a moment about a set of partial wide grip chins, two things are happening that are not conducive to maximum lat stimulation. First, the biceps should be placed in the most advantageous line of pull possible. This is either supinated or neutral. Second, the grip should be shoulder width. The biceps group is weaker and fatigues before the latissimus. It does not make sense to place the biceps in a less advantageous line of pull. On the contrary, it needs to be placed in the strongest pulling position to allow the lats to go to a further point of fatigue. More fibers in the lat are recruited and pushed to exhaustion. These are simple concepts and should be applied to all of one’s exercises.

It becomes apparent that the shoulder width, supinated or neutral grip chin should be your core exercise. The latissimus needs to be placed in the position to be able to be pushed as far into exhaustion as possible before the biceps give out. The way to do this is to let the biceps function in their strongest pulling position. The first exercise in your back routine should be the shoulder width grip chin. This is the hardest group for most trainees to develop and most energy and time should be spent on it. After a good warm up, one should get to the business set of chins. By the way, do not waste an ounce of energy on your warm up sets. The first warm up should be for higher repetitions, say 8 or 10, to elevate local temperature and increase blood flow to the areas being worked. The second and third warm ups should be more for preparing the neural pathways. If the work set will be done for 6 reps, then the second warm up should be done for 3 or 4 reps. Every effort should be made to make this weight feel as light as possible. This is good mentally and it also prepares you for maximum recruitment during the set. The final warm up should be 20-30 pounds less than your work set and should be done for 1-2 repetitions. Again, every effort should be made to make the weight feel as light as possible. Prepare the mind for maximum recruitment and build confidence. Nothing ends a set faster than taking the weight off of the ground or rack and thinking that it feels heavy. This is an incorrect approach. Doubt causes antagonistic muscle groups to contract and prime movers are inhibited as a neural protective mechanism. When you get to the work set, the chin needs to be performed with controlled ferocity. The chin or pulldown bar needs squeezed for all of your ability. Pull up without swinging your lower torso or kicking your legs. Pull the elbows along your sides until the chin clears the bar. Lower under control until your torso is fully extended at the bottom of the movement. Do not “dislocate” the shoulders at the bottom. Stay tight and repeat the motion for the required number of repetitions. 2 sets of this movement is plenty.
A rowing motion also needs to be included to work on the “roadmap” portion of the back as well. The chin action works these muscles , but the rowing aspect allows greater stress to be focused on the middle and lower trapezius, rhomboids, and the teres major. In addition, deep to the trapezius lies the rhomboids which have postural effects and the strength of which helps to avoid the slope shouldered look. If you decide to chin like described earlier, then the rows may be more beneficial if you get the elbows out and away from the body at 45 degrees or greater. This evokes a different firing pattern since this is a different plane of motion relative to the chins. We are talking either the supported or non supported versions of the good old fashioned bent row. If you decide to choose the non supported version, you should have a healthy lower back. Maintain the natural curve as you bend at the waist. Keeping the low back fixed, row the weight to the lower sternum. No bouncing, rocking, or utilizing the low back for assistance. Another variation would include the supinated grip bent over row, utilized a great deal by Dorian Yates. The advantage of this motion is that the biceps are placed in their most advantageous line of pull and allow the back to go to a further point of exhaustion before the weaker biceps give out. 1-2 sets of one of these movements is plenty.

A motion to hit the spinal erectors should be used as well. The king of the hill concerning the development of these muscles would be the deadlift. The deadlift should not be worked on back day, but on leg day instead. Another benefit of the deadlift is that it is one of those exercises that really hits the entire body from head to toe. As a result it is very effective in stimulating the release of testosterone as well. The mechanism by which the big basic exercises do this is thought to be because of large production of metabolic acid due to and in conjunction with large muscles being used. Total work is also a factor in effecting an increased output of testosterone. Reps on the deadlift could be higher to take advantage of this benefit., say 8 to 10 or so.
An alternative way to do deadlifts would be to utilize the old time 20 rep deadlift routines that were touted as being able to pack on lots of muscle mass. Both criteria for maximizing testosterone secretion are overwhelmingly met. Maybe those old timers were on to something. I achieved my personal bests on a lot of my movements while on a 20 rep deadlift routine. I am convinced that the anabolic effects of the 20 rep style had something to do with this.
In summing, an effective back routine for natural trainees might look something like this:
1)Chins 2-3 work sets of 6-8 reps
2)Rows 2-3 work sets of 6-8 reps
3)Deadlifts 1 work set of 8-10 reps or 20 rep style(done on leg day)
Can’t grow on only 5-7 work sets, right? Wrong. A work set by the way is do or die. Not half assed.
Simple, concise, and to the point. Focus on controlled progression, attempting to add no more than 1-2 pounds per week when the weights begin to get heavy. Oh yeah, did I fail to mention that another byproduct of this routine is some size to the biceps? The chin up is the secret king of the upper body exercises. SFAMN

Having a rough day?

Posted: April 3, 2019 in Uncategorized

I often think of this story when I am facing a new opportunity or feeling anxious about existing events or life changes. My 3rd great grandfather Francois Coudriet and grandmother Marguerite immigrated here to the US from France in the early 1800s with a young son and one on the way. The courage and confidence in the face of uncertainty and fear is amazing as I am sure many others faced at this time in search of opportunity and a better life with NO SAFETY NET. I suck it up and move ahead with confidence always when I think of it.

At the age of twenty-four he married Marguerite Bueret, she was born
in 1804, and on September 2, 1928 their first child was born, a son, Serdon N. Two years later, with Marguerite pregnant, they sailed to Philadelphia to make a home in the New World.

In Philadelphia a Mr. John Keating proceeded to encourage a settlement
there by offering twelve acres to the first twelve settlers. Mr. Keating
had laid out 22,000 acres and had published descriptions of the tract
in France. The sale of these lands began in 1827.

The difficulties and hardships that confronted Francois and his wife, who was with child, and with two and one half year old Serdon are unimaginable, as they sailed across the ocean, landing in Philadelphia and probably following the roads along the Schuylkill river headed west.

They then set out for Harrisburg (probably having talked with Mr. Keating) and when they reached Lebanon, their second child was born on May 10, 1831. It is imagined they traveled with a wagon, a team of horses and a cow trailing along in back. Conditions obviously were quite rugged.

When Marguerite had recovered from childbirth, they proceeded to Harrisburg and then up the Susquehanna to Williamsport. From there, again following the river, they traveled to Bellefonte, leaving the last of the “roads” soon after they left Williamsport. When Francois arrived in Bellefonte he had one dollar and twenty cents in his pocket, the last of the savings he had accumulated to get passage across the ocean and to outfit himself to come this far. He obtained employment in a blast furnace making barely enough to support himself and his family. He was not satisfied and it was during this time that he made several trips to what was known as the “Keating” lands, as Covington township was then styled and after careful selection he purchased fifty acres in this region and was given as an incentive the twelve acres as one of the first settlers. He obtained employment and built his own Log Cabin from trees on his property with no assistance. He later became a successful businessman as did his sons.

No reward without risk. The risks we take almost always have a “safety net”. The people of this time did not. Way impressive.

This will be a chance for those not yet part of the SFAS family to check out the facility, observe some training, speak to our staff and to get an opportunity to sign up for 50% discounted functional assessments. All current and past SFAS family members are welcome to attend!

  • Meet Coach Ed and get a perspective on 40 plus years of trends and what is effective in training. What looks “cool” may not do much for the athlete at all.
  • Meet his excellent staff and observe some training
  • There will be an opportunity to schedule a 50% discounted assessment for attending
  • Of course some snacks(healthy!) and….some not so much2016-07-27 18.34.40

Saturday in the park…i mean gym.

Posted: September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

A smorgasboard of deadlifts, 1 arm shrugs, weighted push ups, weighted chins, forearm work with sledgehammer and heavy weighted crunches and extensions. This flies directly in the face of recommendations by one of our Orthopaedics boards somewhere in the country. Thank God our ancestors from about 500 years ago did not listen or we certainly would not be here. I’ve been doing this since I was about 8 I’m now 52 and I feel like I’m 20. Lift on.

Baseball/Softball SSAQ 2019

Posted: September 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

We will focus on the field specific aspects of speed such as lateral quickness for middle infielders, out of the box speed, breaking on the ball speed, and first step quickness.
Regarding the throwing arm, exercises that target the rotator cuff, such as a variety of internal and external rotation movements will be utilized. Scapular strength and stability will also be addressed. Since the bicep also plays a role in stabilizing this joint, it too will be strengthened.
Core stability and rotational power, when combined with the above work, leads to a more powerful throwing arm that is less apt to become injured.
A special concern to pitchers includes the maintenance and strengthening of the rotator cuff. Large amounts of energy are absorbed by the body as the hand releases the pitch. This stress should be transferred to the stronger scapular stabilizers rather than the rotator cuff. Training this area together with certain plyometric moves, direct cuff work, and closed chain movements reduces the incidence of injury and strengthens the throwing arm.

“I thought the Strength, Fitness And Speed program really helped me learn how to train like a pro athlete”
-Tom Shirley

I first came across Strength, Speed and Fitness when I was the head baseball coach at Kiski Area.  At that time I was astounded at the progress the players that trained with them made in the short period of time they had worked with them.  As each of the players became faster, stronger and more agile, their level of play and their self-confidence greatly improved.I am presently the head baseball coach at Belle Vernon Area.  Once again I am seeing the benefits of their program in the 12 players that are regularly working under them.  Their improvement has been so significant that other players on our teams (middle school up) are taking notice.  In fact, no less than seven players and their parents have approached me to get information on their program to make arrangements to begin working with them at the conclusion of our current season.

As a former professional baseball scout and a former college coach, I highly recommend their program for any players wanting to increase their chances of playing at the next level.

Daryl Hixenbaugh

Past Head Baseball Coach Belle Vernon Area High School


Just wanted to say thanks to you and the rest of the staff for the work with the girls over the past couple of years. Earlier this month, McKenna had the opportunity to participate in the Queen of Diamonds showcase at Kent State University. Her performance in the second Sunday game earned her one of the game MVPs. While she certainly deserves the credit for all the hard work she has put forth, you guys certainly contributed greatly in helping her achieve that recognition.

Thanks for everything,


Tim and Kathi Kern

I’m revisiting this article again because there are some things i have learned. Despite getting body fat nice and low in 2016 and 2017 I had a defined midsection but a lean “bulge” in the  belly button region. Here are 3 new take homes if your midsection is not as defined as you like.

1)You are fat. Ab work does not spot reduce. Build some head to toe muscle, do sprint interval work. Control your caloric intake.

2)If you are not fat and still are cloudy and bulged in the midsection start treating the core area like any other muscle group and throw out the low intensity burny BS high rep training.

3)If you have some definition but have the bulge, the bulge could be present due to a few different reasons.

First some tight hip flexors can produce anterior pelvic tilt which can certainly create that illusion. Excess sitting and hip flexor work(leg raises, six inches, sit ups, feet hooked crunches, sprinting, kicking). Counter this with some basic hip flexor stretching. Get into the bottom position of a lunge with the back knee resting on the floor. Push your hips forward while maintaining an upright posture. Adjust the distance between your legs so that the shin on your front leg is in a vertical position. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. If you do not feel the stretch, tip your body sideways towards the hip of the leg that is in front of you. Also look at changing your core routine to let the hip flexors reduce their tone.

Second and in my own experience I had built a wall of lower abdominal muscle that was done in the absence of maintaining TVA coordination and strength. By allowing my stomach to bulge outward slightly during my crazy core moves I developed a tendency to relax the TVA group at rest and during activity. To wake up the TVA get down on all fours and allow your stomach to bulge downward. Next focus on drawing your belly button up and in towards your spine. Hold for 2 seconds. Repeat 10 times. In looking at your core work focus on maintaining this slightly drawn in belly button position during all of your moves.

Now here is the reprint from the article:

I wrote the following article many years ago. It appeared in a fitness magazine around 2000-2001 or so. Jessie asked me about it tonight so here it is.

Keep in mind the abdominal wall is a fast twitch beast and needs to be trained that way. I would not hesitate to deviate from the 10 rep sets listed to sets of 6-8 at some point, with 6 or 8 being the last possible rep you can perform in good form.

Treat your abs like other muscle groups. Burn does not mean definition it means lactic acid.

The eight “blocks” that one should be able to see on the anterior side of a very lean individual’s physique are known collectively as the rectus abdominus. If one looks to the left and to the right of the abdominal wall, one can see the external obliques. In the next layer, the internal obliques insert on the last 3 to 4 ribs and run posteriorly downward and diagonally towards the rear pockets of your pants.

The function of the rectus abdominus is to flex the trunk when in a supine position. The obliques perform a variety of actions. Unilateral contraction (one sided) of the obliques(external and internal), yields a lateral(sideways) contraction to that side. Rotation is produced by contraction of an external oblique and an internal oblique on opposite sides. Bilateral contraction of the obliques helps to stabilize the torso.

Aside from aesthetics, the midsection has other important functions as well. Muscles need to be strengthened in weight bearing positions, not just supported ones, especially the internal and external obliques, abdominals, hip flexors, hamstrings, and lower back.

Coordination in the lower abdomen needs to be developed before getting into rigorous ab training. There are 2 exercises that need to be mastered before proceeding. The first is the pelvic tilt. On a firm surface, lying flat on your back, roll your pelvis back, flattening your spine against the floor while your legs are bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold for a two count. Repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions. The second exercise is the 1 leg pelvic tilt. Lie down with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Roll your pelvis back until your spine is pressing against the floor. Raise and lower 1 leg while keeping your pelvis rolled back. Repeat with alternate legs for 2 sets of 12-15 reps. 3-4 times per week is good at this stage since we are mainly coordinating, rather than strengthening.

After these exercises have been mastered, proceed to the pelvic tilt. This is the same as the second exercise but with 2 legs rather than 1. The knees are totally bent. This tests coordination between the psoas and abdominal musculature. When this exercise can be performed for 2 sets of 12 repetitions at 3 times per week, it is time to embark on complete abdomen training.

A good beginner routine has you training the lower abdomen first. If necessary, neurally prime the area with some pelvic tilts. Choose unsupported pelvic tilts as your first exercise which is the same as the coordinating exercise but with more extension at the knee. Go for 2 sets of 10 reps. Over the weeks, gradually increase the degree of extension at the knee to provide greater resistance. The goal is to do the exercise with full extension at the knee.

Next, we will move to the oblique region. Oblique crunches fit the bill here. If you have any existing back condition this rotational exercise should be avoided, however. Lie on the floor, bend knees, and point them to the ceiling using hip flexion. Your feet are up in the air. This reduces psoas contribution and stabilizes the low back. Place hands on your chest and place your tongue behind your teeth to stabilize neck flexors. Imagine a rope fixed to a pulley on the ceiling pulling your sternum upward. Twist at the waist on the way up as if you were going to touch your knee with the opposite elbow. Do not lead with the head, lead with the sternum. Repeat on the other side. 2 sets of 10 repetitions fit the bill.

Lastly, straight crunches minus the rotation as described are performed for 2 sets of 10 repetitions. To increase the difficulty on the crunch variations, proceed from hands on the chest to hands at the head to hands overhead, forming  a straight line at the torso.

This program is directed at beginners and should provide all the work necessary done 2-3 times weekly. When intensity is developed, frequency can be decreased. In addition, the use of a Swiss Ball can increase exercise intensity when progressing to the next level. After all, isn’t that what it is all about?

To perform the crunch variations on the Swiss Ball, carefully lie back on the ball with the small of your lower back draped across the ball. Spread your feet about shoulder width on the floor. Perform the crunch variations as described earlier. It will feel quite awkward at first, but the ab workout will feel tremendous.

When the crunch exercises performed with straight arms behind the head fail to provide enough difficulty to further stimulate progress, hold a medicine ball to provide some more torque for the abdominals to deal with. Be careful not to strain the shoulder joint. If you have any shoulder injury or discomfort with this at all, hold the ball under the chin instead. Maintain perfect form and remember to avoid using hip flexors. You will feel the urge to do so when working with increased resistance on the ab motions. When the unsupported pelvic tilt becomes easy, try the lower ab king which is the hanging reverse crunch. To perform this excellent exercise, hang from a chinning bar and slightly flex the legs(draw your thigh up towards your upper body)at the hip. Lock the legs with this degree of flexion at the hip! This is key! We want to work the lower abdomen, not hip flexors. Using your abs, curl the pelvis backwards until full contraction is experienced. Maintain the same degree of flexion at the hip throughout. Do not think of pulling the knees up to the chest. Curl the pelvis.

In closing, the importance of learning how to utilize the lower abdomen in abdominal training cannot be overstressed. This early foundational work will better enable you to recruit this group when performing all of your abdominal movements.

Basketball SSAQ

Posted: April 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

Basketball is a great game. It’s a shame more athletes that play it do not take their training seriously. So much to be gained by improving footwork which leads to confidence which leads to better activation of prime movers. Why do so many players pull with their lead foot rather than drive with their back foot when moving laterally? Inefficient. Why do so many players lack the ability to sprint the floor efficiently and in a manner which conserves energy to have more impact when the time comes to explode? So many great players with so many power leaks! I’ve seen players jump 3 inches higher instantly when capping those. Get some work with us!basketball ssaq ad for media