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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What kind of Training Partner Are You?

I commonly run into a couple kinds of training partners, in the gym and especially in martial arts. They are "the competitor" and "the teammate."

The competitors are the partners who go hard and try to win at sparring. They want to get in more reps than you and lift heavier than you. They are driven to succeed and outdo. They want to chase you if you're ahead and stay in the lead if they're in front.

The teammaters are the partners who try to go as hard as you need them to. They'll try to train at your level and within your needs. They're much less driven to outdo, and see success by either you or themselves as success by both. They'll encourage you when you need help.

Both are very useful training partners - but they aren't always the one you need at a specific moment. Sometimes you need someone who'll drive you and sometimes you need someone who'll support you. Sometimes you need someone who'll smoke you at every lift to drive you to work harder. Sometimes you need someone who'll encourage your successes or pitch in to help you get where you need to go even if they aren't up to your level.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Prowler Sale

My favorite piece of equipment, the Prowler, is on sale for a short time at EliteFTS.

I highly recommend the EconoProwler. A lot less expensive, and no less effective.

Here is the link:

Sleds & Prowlers

If you need to know what to use a Prowler for:

Prowler-Only Workout
The Thomas Finisher
Slow Prowler Pushes
Prowler EDT

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ways to Vary Your Farmer's Walk

The post I did on Farmer's Walks remains one of the most popular posts I ever wrote. It's odd, in a way - all a Farmer's Walk is, at its core, is picking up heavy stuff and walking around for a while. It's not that technically complicated. Its benefits should be obvious - carrying heavy stuff while you walk will get you stronger at carrying heavy things while you walk.

Its sequels have done pretty well themselves:
Farmer's Walks Redux


Farmer's Walks Variations.

What are some ways to modify the farmer's walk, especially if you either need to load it up more, or need to modify the loading a bit due to injury? Here are some ways to expand it from just "carry heavy weights" to "loaded walking."

Tow a Sled, Too - Carry a couple of weights, but also tow a sled behind you attached to either a loading vest or a belt. This puts some drag on your steps, forcing you to push off harder and step with more authority. But it also makes holding the weights harder - sleds don't always drag smoothly, and can jump forward or get briefly stuck and it's hard to stabilize the weights in your hands if the sled gives you a sudden unexpected resistance.

Warning: start with a light sled. This adds up slowly, but steadily.

Wear a Vest - A professional MMA fighter I know does this, carrying dumbbells plus wearing a vest to further load up the legs. While the vest takes some potential load off of the grip and off the arms, it keeps a heavy load on the shoulders, hips, and legs.

You can substitute in any form of "wearable" weights. A backpack with weights in it (make sure it's sturdy), chains draped around the neck and shoulders, even a old-school squatting loop with weights attached. The trick is to load it in such a way that the weight doesn't shift dangerously but also allows you to put some extra weight onto your steps.

Tip: This makes a good substitute for heavy farmer's walks for those who can't grip heavy weights on one side due to injury, or for loading the legs despite a lagging grip strength. It allows you to get a good training effect despite a hand/arm limitation on loading.

Walk Backwards - like it sounds, just do your farmer's walk in reverse. This will slow you down a bit, as well. This is one that sounds like it should make zero difference, but it does.

Be careful where you walk; a fall while holding heavy weights can be ugly if you don't ensure they land far from you.

Walk Uphill - Add some resistance by adding some incline. This is also good if you have a loading issue, either from injury or lack of sufficient weights.

Tip: Find a place where the downhill portion is easy. You can end up taking a lot of punishment on your knees walking downhill with weights. Or do it on a treadmill,


How to program farmer's walks?

Here are four ways you can set up a farmer's walk workout.

Walk for time - set a time, and keep walking until the timer goes off. Start at 1 minute for heavy weights, 3-5 minutes for lighter weights. This is excellent for building grip and trapezius (neck/shoulders) endurance.

Walk for distance - walk for maximum distance, either in a given time or until you have to set the weights down. Each workout try to walk further. One variation is to walk a given number of steps, and try to lengthen your stride each time and get more distance in those steps. This won't be easy as it sounds.

Walk for speed - walk for a specific distance, and record the time. Try to walk the distance in less time each workout. The goal is to walk faster and faster with the same resistance.

Walk for weight - pick a (short) distance and aim to carry heavier and heavier weights. The goal is to increase the maximum weight you can pick up and walk with.

Give those a try! If you haven't tried farmer's walks before, just grab a couple of weights and go for a walk. You'll be surprised at how effectively this simple exercise can improve your strength and endurance.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why worry about technique?

I stress technique in my writing, my coaching, and my training. Do it right before you do it heavy, do it fast, or do a lot of it. Practice makes permanent, after all.

But does it help you get more fit?

In very broad terms:

Volume will get you muscle size. Do enough reps with a proper weight, and you'll get bigger.
Weight will get you strength. Lift heavily enough, and you will get stronger.
Speed will get you power. Accelerate the weight enough, and you'll get more powerful.
Very High Reps will get you endurance. Do a lot of something and you'll get more endurance for that activity.

Those are gross simplifications, but they are basically true. Lift heavy for strength, fast for power, lots of times for muscle size, and even more times for endurance.

But what about technique?

Technique isn't on that list, but it's an underlying factor for all of those. Do an exercise right and you'll get the benefits of it. Do it wrong, and there are costs. You can exercise wrong and get benefits - volume, weight, etc. will still work their "magic" and your body will adapt.

But occasionally you might find that changing from poor technique (do a back-flexing dumbbell power clean) to proper technique (a neutral spine and hip, ankle, and knee extending dumbbell power clean) might cause you to drop in weight, get more tired more easily, and be less able to accelerate the weight. What gives? Why is "proper" technique holding you back?

And if it is, why not use the sloppy technique that is getting you those reps in, or letting you lift heavier, faster, or more often?

Basically, because of safety and the training effect.

Done poorly, an exercise changes. You may be able to lift a little heavier with a rounded back on the deadlift, or get in a few extra reps for the arms with some hip swing, or squirm up a pushup to the top. But there are downsides:

You Can Lose the Training Effect You Wanted - those extra reps or extra weight is being done using something other than the muscles and movements you are targeting. The hip-swing-assisted curls aren't really using your biceps to lift the weight. The squirming pushup is sacrificing the benefit you expect to get.

The exercise you turn it into might also be a useful exercise - but it's not longer the one you started out doing. Once you turn a pullup (upper body dominant, pulling) into a jump-assisted pullup (lower body jump with an upper body finish) you're no longer doing what you started out doing. This can mess with your programming. It's not the same exercise any more. A deadlift with a neutral spine held rigid is training your lower back to resist flexing under a load, and putting that load on your hips and legs where it belongs. A deadlift with your spine a bit loose is putting the load on your back, and not in a good or productive way. You may get a few more pounds up, or an extra rep, but even if you don't get hurt (see below) you really aren't getting the benefits of the exercise that you wanted in the first place. You're taking one step forward and then one step back instead of just a step forward.

Not only that, but the muscles are learning to work together in a sub-optimal way. They're learning to substitute for each other instead of you learning to make them work together for the maximum benefit.

Injury potential - some technique lapses can result in injury. This can be acute (you drop a weight on your foot from a loose grip, you tear a muscle) or chronic (your back starts to ache all the time, because you're letting it flex under the load while squatting). You're teaching your body to lift in a way that causes acute or chronic injuries.

Less Effective Workouts in the Long Run - Good, proper technique lets you train more effectively and more safely. The better your technique:

- the more weight you can lift.
- the more reps you can get in.
- the more efficiently you practice the movement, which in turn lets you lift heavier and for more reps.
- the more endurance you get in that specific movement.
- the safer it is, assuming it's a safe movement for you in the first place.

This makes for a virtuous circle. Remember that your body adapts to stress in a specific way - make demands for it to squat down properly and come back up under a heavy load, and it will get stronger and get better at squatting properly. Demands that it get the job done in any old way and hope for the best, and it'll do that . . . but you might not like those results.

That's why technique is important. That's why you can't forget it even for just a couple of sloppy reps to get them in. It's better to get in 9 perfect reps than 9 perfect reps and a sloppy rep that might lead to injury or grooving in bad movement patterns, and might not even get you any more than if you'd stopped on the last good one. Remember weight training is just expressing movement with an external load, not hiking the weight up in the air however.

Technique is your pathway to a long, healthy training life. Do your best to stay on that path.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Link Recommendation: German Volume Training

Henry Croft over at let me know about an article he's written on German Volume Training. One of my friends (Pete the Fireman) was just asking about this a little while back, so I was really pleased to find a good review of the system.

In short, German Volume Training is 10 sets of 10 reps for major compound exercises. The goal is purely and simply muscle mass. Sets of 10 are considered by many to be the sweet spot of reps for mass gain, volume is critical for mass gain, and 10 sets is ensuring you get that volume.

Folks who have training 5/3/1 with Boring But Big (5 sets of 10) will have some idea of what 10 sets of 10 could be like. The weights seem low, but the sheer volume and short rests mean they need to stay low. But where volume will add mass, GVT will provide the volume.

The article is a really good one - it not only explains and outlines the program, but also provides personal feedback on what training GVT is like.

Here is the article:
German Volume Training Review

You might want to check out the rest of the site, too - there are some interesting interviews with personal trainers, lots of product reviews, and a nice guide to making shakes, too, which even talks about drinking raw eggs. I did that too when pressed for time - it's oddly watery with big lumps in it (the yolks).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gym Chain vs. Results

This article is remarkably like a headline from The Onion. Planet Fitness employee requests someone cover up her clearly successful results of exercising.

Gym tells woman to cover up because her 'toned body' intimidated others

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Video: Foot Drills

Jody-Lynn Reicher of Fine Tuning Therapy (and a professional fighter) and I did a video explaining some foot drills you can do to help rehabilitate your foot post-injury. It's also a great preventative set of exercises you can do, and ones I do before every training session.

Thanks to Asylum Fight Gym for giving us to space to do the videos.
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