Monday, June 30, 2014

ViPR, Animal Flow and Developing as a Coach

Last week I was cleaning out my computer, deleting things I will never need again and I came across some old programs I wrote for clients when I was a sophomore in college. Looking at that work shows me just how far I have come in terms of coaching and training. Some of the early routines I coached people through make me cringe.

Let's pretend this never happened

In spite of the errors of my early coaching career I like the fact that I can look back and see how things have changed. I hope that a few years from now I can look back on what I'm doing today and see areas I have grown or improved. You can't be stagnant in the fitness industry. Change illustrates professional development. Sometimes I don't even have to look back five years. Just since I moved to Chicago two years ago I have changed or significantly developed my stance on several topics. The topics I want to touch on today are directly tied to my experience working at Equinox as a personal trainer.

When I was  at Equinox, every couple of months we would roll out a new group exercise class or training format that headquarters really wanted to push. We even had a video screen in the front of the gym that would show promos for the hot new training style. These videos were often ridiculous.

Watch this ripped guy do handstands on a surfboard and come to our yoga class Sunday mornings!

Look at this attractive woman in her underwear doing plyometrics in her front yard. You can be sexy like her if you attend our 6am plyometric bootcamp!

That scapula is in hard anterior tilt. And this ad makes me laugh

You get the picture. For the members maybe this stuff caught their attention or enticed them to attend the class. And if it did then the video did it's job and it's makers should be applauded. However, for me these videos/images made me skeptical of the training. If it's good it shouldn't have to come with bells and whistles and ridiculous models doing your exercise. It will just look good. Sometimes in fitness you just have to use the eye test.

There were two modes of exercise that I learned there which, if implemented properly, seriously pass the eye test: ViPR training and Animal Flow. The key to that statement is "if implemented properly".

ViPR training:


The ViPR is essentially a rubber tube that can come in a variety of weights from approximately 5-45lbs. The tube has a series of holes/handles that allow the athlete to experiment with different hand positions. The general philosophy is that the tubes allow us to load more complex athletic movement patterns in all planes of movement: Straight ahead, laterally, through rotation, or any combination of movements.

My early training education centered largely on the value of building "head to toe" strength. Everything is about developing the the ability to generate force through the ground and transmit that force across the kinetic chain in a variety of different directions and speeds, and for extended periods of time if necessary. The ViPR is perfect for training these qualities, making it an excellent tool for building functional strength and athleticism.

Deceleration is an often overlooked athletic quality and the inability to decelerate properly can lead to many injuries. With the ViPR system you learn to decelerate your own body and the external load of the tube. This is especially helpful in a sport with an implement that you have to control, like golf, tennis, lacrosse etc.

There are a few keys to proper use of this tool, or any loaded multiplanar patterns.

- Unless you are very weak to start, this is not strength training. This is a supplement to strength training. It is tremendously valuable for taking sagittal plane strength and learning to utilize it across multiple patterns and time intervals. There is no squat rack on the field or court but the strength you build in the rack will transfer a lot better with this type of loaded movement training.

- Just like any resistance training pattern, progressions and regressions have to be taught. An individual that can't lunge with technical proficiency obviously can't lunge while twisting and punching. This should be common sense but it is the number one error I witnessed with this system during my exposure to it. Everyone wants to do the coolest moves on day one without establishing a foundation of movement. A good coach, with proper regression strategies, can build multi directional training into the routine even for the most de-conditioned athletes but good coaches are hard to find.

- Be athletic! If you just want to practice your pressing and pulling strength grab the iron. This tool is for building athleticism. And don't even think about using this for bodybuilding.

Early in my exposure to this tool I was highly skeptical and I almost never used it with myself or with clients and I regret it because it could have been a useful means of building athletic ability.

Animal Flow

Only in the last couple of weeks have I really come around to these ideas. Animal Flow is the creation of Mike Fitch. It is a combination of moves from different disciplines (capoeira, martial arts, yoga, break dance etc.)

Originally I was skeptical for several reasons.

- The promotional videos are ridiculous. I still agree with this but I should be smart enough not to judge a product by it's marketing.

- It's too flexion dominant. With the animal flow series it is only as flexion based as you choose to make it. There are a handful of different patterns that can be strung together, all of which offer unique actions throughout the body. It's important for a coach to select movements that fit the need of the athlete. Someone that has terrible thoracic spine extension would want to side with more extension based patterns and follow a flexion pattern with an extension.

- It's too easy. One day I saw a few trainers practicing the moves in the gym and asked if they could show me the ropes. They were struggling with one particular stability move and I hopped down on the floor, pretended to be a very stable monkey (or whatever animal this move was named after) and nailed it with very little challenge. There are several things I did not take into account at the time that would explain why this was so easy for me and could still hold tremendous value.

I weighed around 150lbs at the time. Body weight exercise is easy when you have a small body. It's even easier when you have a good strength to weight ratio. And while I have changed my stance on Animal Flow it still is not a replacement for heavy weights in your hands. There is no replacement for heavy strength training. None

I have had a great strength coach since I was 16 years old. My high school strength coach would later win NCAA strength and conditioning coach of the year. I developed with a proper foundation and don't have some of the glaring imbalances and weaknesses that other athletes have.

Lastly, I only did one rep. This can still serve as valuable aerobic conditioning even for advanced athletes and it's far more interesting than treadmill work while offering a host of other benefits.

Other benefits include:

- Many of the movements work in fascial lines and sling systems, using cross patterns the way the body is meant to function. We can certainly build some of these systems with traditional training as well,but some require function in multiple planes.

- More points of contact with the floor. Recently I have been watching hours of Charlie Weingroff's new DVD series and much of it touches on the value of having contact points with the floor and the stability that can be gained in these regressed positions. I won't try to explain it further because it's something I'm just beginning to learn about. But I can tell you that after just practicing basic crawling and rolling patterns for a few weeks with the right breathing that there is something powerful about being on all fours

- Most good trainers recognize the value of ankle flexibility and how flexible ankles can protect the knees and even the lower back from injury. Trainers also recognize that the shoulder is essentially the hip of the upper body. It has a ball and socket joint and generates a tremendous amount of power. If we can all agree on those two ideas then wouldn't it be fair to say that wrists are like the ankles of the upper body and that improving mobility there can help avoid elbow, shoulder and maybe even spinal injuries? By constantly being on our hands and feet we are using dynamic flexibility to train and maintain range of motion at the wrists.

- Integrated full body patterns: Any philosophy that encourages the use of movements over muscles is going in the right direction. Animal flow has no leg exercises or arm exercises, just movements designed to optimize our function as whole people.

Similar to ViPR, this is a system I was overly critical of for shortsighted reasons and flat out wrong about in many regards. It can be a fantastic way to build mobility, stability, conditioning and just introduce something fun and novel into a stagnant routine. All of these benefits come with the caveat that these tools have to be used appropriately.

It's important to be skeptical as a coach, or just a consumer of fitness products. But we also have to give each new concept a fair trial in order to develop as trainers, athletes or people looking to improve fitness and movement quality.