Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fixing Diastasis Recti?

There is an article on NPR about "flattening the mummy tummy."

It's more specifically about using ab contraction and draw-in exercises to fix diastasis recti. That is when your abdominal muscles have physically separated. It's fairly common after pregnancy, but plenty of men get this from a variety of other causes.

Flattening the mummy tummy with 1 exercise 10 minutes a day

I see no reason why 10 minutes of contraction, 2 minutes apiece over 5 exercises, wouldn't have a positive effect. I haven't tried this as I don't have diastasis recti. But I have used draw-in exercises, so-called "vacuum" exercises, and fully-exhaled deep contraction exercises on my abs with some success in the past for general strengthening. It seems worth a try if you have this problem. You can fairly easily glean a workout routine for this and do it daily for a few weeks and see if it improves your abs.

Monday, July 31, 2017

More Sleep, Less Fat?

I recently came across this study while reading the news:

Longer sleep is associated with lower BMI and favorable metabolic profiles in UK adults: Findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey

Correlation is not causation. Lack of sleep might raise body mass and waistline measurements and body fat. But it might be that high body mass and large waistline measurements and body fat interfere with sleep. It could be (and probably is) a circular issue - lack of sleep raises body fat and body mass which reduces sleep.

But the evidence is showing more and more that lack of sleep is connected with bad results: more stress, less stress relief, less work effectiveness, less body effectiveness, etc.

It makes perfect sense in basic training terms, too. Sleep is recovery. If you are insufficiently recovered from a workout you won't perform as well at the next one. If your body isn't relieving all of its stress when you sleep, and the lack of stress also being a stressor, then you are more likely to gain and hold onto body fat.

I've had a number of clients who try to out-train bad sleep by working out hard to make themselves lean and/or tired. But the body isn't good at seeing stress from work as different from stress from a hard workout. It's not efficient at getting you to your goals so you can sleep later. And as much as it feels counterintuitive to break through a fat loss plateau by relaxing more, sleep is where you start and end. I ask all of my clients about their sleep. I want their sleep in order before we move onto more complex solutions to their issues. I start there with diet - how are you sleeping? How much?

It may only be correlation, but the links are getting stronger every study along these lines that comes out.

As a practical matter, consider adding naps. I have found that for me, a 20 minute nap is long enough to doze off but not enough to be groggy when I wake. I try to take one every day (it works out to be about 5 times a week.) That isn't always practical for everyone, but just laying back with your eyes closed for 5-15 minutes each day at lunch, or after a workout, or between activities might just get you a little closer to longer and improved sleep.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Freak Strength on GWS - Injury Prevention

The gym where I do my own training, Freak Strength, and my trainer, Mike Guadango, have been featured in a video on Gillette World Sport:

Injury Prevention

It's centered on New England Patriots player Devin McCourtney.

I was at the gym last year when the McCourtney twins came in to train for the first time. I didn't know who they were - I'm not a football fan and it's hard to identify people with poor sight and glasses off during training. But they were cool guys and put in the work. I just remember the conversation they had with Mike was the same as the one I had - what hurt, what the goals were, and got the speech about being patient and getting through it. it's great to see all of that pay off in less pain and solid results, just like I've gotten. Minimum effective dose, repeated as often as necessary, with plenty of consistency - that will get you more than intermittent maximal straining.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Changing Lives & Thanks

I've mentioned this kind of thing before - when clients say thank you.

On Joe DeFranco's latest podcast, Science vs. Experience, he talks about why he does what he does - changing lives.

You can hear this particular bit starting at 37:30. (Warning, brief profanity about 10 minutes into it.)

He gets a bit choked up about it. If you've ever wondered why Joe talks more about the pro athletes he's helped than the kids he's helped transform, well, that's probably partly why. It's easy to get emotional about changing the course of a kid's life.

I've experienced this to a much lesser degree - not nearly as many people. But even with one, it's both fulfilling and humbling.

Fulfilling because yes, I'm in it to change people's lives. I'm in it not to get you that last 1% of performance but to get you that first 50% of zero to capable. It's incredibly rewarding to get someone from "I can't" to "I can and will." It's equally fulfilling to do this with an adult - giving back what was lost or never had - as a child or teen - giving them to tools to make their life that much better going forward.

It's also humbling because at one point I was that zero. I couldn't do a proper pushup, or a pullup. I was out of shape. I was easily winded beyond the explanation of asthma. I was lacking in physical self-confidence and it bled into other areas. I made a big change on my own - maybe the largest change on my own - but then enlisted trainers to help me move further along into being the best me I can be. It's humbling to think I have the capability to show someone how to do this.

After all, it's not me. It's not us, as trainers. We just provide the knowledge, the tools, and the setting. The trainees provide the work and provide the results. We set the table and hand over the ingredients but they cook and enjoy the meal.

So I get why Joe gets choked up, here. I have problems taking compliments and thanks. I tend to look at things at can't do with great awe and things I can with a total lack of awe. But it's so rewarding to see someone change and be part of the help that let them do it.

It's what I'm in the industry to do.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Quick Tip: Ways to Progress

Here is a quick list of ways to progress at exercises:

- add weight.

- add sets.

- add reps (per set or total rep count).

- decrease rest time.

- increase the duration of a rep (by increasing the concentric, eccentric, or isometric portions).

- extended the range of motion (deepen a squat,step-up to a higher box, deadlift from a deficit, etc. - works better with lower body generally).

- do 1 1/2 reps.

- use unstable resistance (press barbells with suspended weights).

Anything I'm missing? Add it in the comments!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cardio fitness helps depression

This is old news within the training world, but it's good that it's getting more traction in the wider press:

Cardio fitness can help save men with depression

Pretty much, positive physical activity helps your mental state, and vice-versa.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Answer Your Trainer's Questions - Warning, Trainer Humor

So you want to know the way to answer all of your trainer's questions in exactly the right way to shut down further discussion, that painful diet talk, and going up in weight on reps (or keeping the weight where it is?)? Here is your cheat sheet! Have this handy for when you want to wriggle out of tough questions designed to actually increase your results.

Trainer questions are in Italics, answers in quotes.

What did you have for breakfast?

"Some lean protein - leftover chicken breast I prepared on Sunday - some steamed mixed vegetables, some steel-cut oats, and a glass of water."

No fats?

"Just my fish oil and a few slivered almonds."

How much food?

"I try to keep it to 20% of my calories per day since I'm eating five times a day."

How did that weight feel?


Could you go up?

(If you want to) "Yes, no problem."
(If you don't) "I think I should stick with that another set because it caught up to me at the end of the set."

How many more reps did you have in the tank?
Could you have done more reps?

"One or two."

Have you been doing your cardio at home?

"Yes, and I'm parking further from the door at work and taking the stairs, too."

Have you been stretching?


Have you been sneaking in extra biceps curls and doing (name crazy workout) on days when you're supposed to rest?

"No, I've been prioritizing recovery."

How are you feeling today?

"Good. I'm ready to go."

And the kicker:

Are you going to make it all three sessions next week?

"Without a doubt."

Cancel by text, it'll save time for both of you.
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