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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Cycle of Fitness Trends

Fitness has fashions and trends. It's not exactly a secret. Everyone wants to have something flashy, new, and exciting to offer, even if the basics of exercise are fundamentally unchanged for thousands of years.

The trend generally operates like this:

1) Great new thing! Someone "discovers" a great new thing, which is generally an old thing that just fell out of fashion at some point. Or never fell out of fashion at all, but is renamed as something new.

2) Proliferation. Soon, the great new thing is everywhere.

3) Questioning. Is this great new thing really that great?

4) Backlash. This Great New Thing isn't new, or great, and is in fact bad for you!

5) Fade out. The Great New Thing starts to be become unfashionable, and people pushing it are regarded as dinosaurs, grumpy old trainers, and hopelessly out of date.

6) Re-examination. Once again, people begin to look at the now-unfashionable training method and realize, hey, there is some real value here. After this, proceed back to #1.

You can see this all over the play. Jogging is the way to get in shape. Everyone, let's start jogging! Here are books and videos on jogging. Hey, is jogging all of that? Jogging, does anyone still do that? Hmm, hey, look, there is some value in jogging. (Fill in bodybuilding-style training, circuit training, hot yoga, cool yoga, functional training, athletic training, etc. for "jogging.")

This isn't to say there isn't value in re-examining and stressing old things, or questioning the value of exercises and apporaches to exercise. There is a lot of value to be found in that. And sometimes, hearing an old thing in a new way is what triggers understanding in people who didn't have that understanding in the first place. Or it allows an audience that didn't have access to that information to get it and understand it.

And generally there is some core of people who keep doing it - no matter how much people pushed, say, long and slow cardio out as a muscle-killing time-wasting joint-wrecking exercise, you'd see boxers doing roadwork because it had worked for fighting sports for millennia as a way to last in long fights. There are always people doing bodybuilding, whether it is in the "in" thing or not. And so on.

And certainly, not everything works - some training methods, old and new, a based on spurious reasoning and/or poorly done research.

Be wary of claims of something thing entirely new, the best thing ever, or how the new thing is bad and needs to be ignored. Remember that the fundamentals underlying the success or failure of training methods don't change. Only the names attached to them and how fashionable or "in" they are changes. Look at any new trend and just know, it's just fashion, not a shift in the reality of adaptations to training.

It's probably just a trend - and whatever makes it work (or not work) will remain regardless of how fashionable it is. Find what works for you, for your goals, and use that . . . not what is the most popular method on hand.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yesterday, a Japanese high school won the 2015 Little League World Series final, after training 10-2 after the first inning. They came back to win 18-11.

How does a team like that practice?

The Secret To Japan's Little League Success: 10-Hour Practices

"This is the Japanese way of doing sports, the same in karate as in baseball," he told me. "It emphasizes what we call
konjo, or grit and tenacity. Repetition is important. You've got to repeat movements until you master them."

That is every sports team in Japan. A short kendo practice, for old timers returned to the sport, was 90 minutes. The kendo club kids did 2 or so hours of kendo after school, ate dinner, and then came to the 90 minute class.

The seriously competitive teams - especially in high school baseball* - put in those 10 hour days on weekends and practice for hours each day. The team members will also practice on their own.

But it's the value of continued practice. On one end of the spectrum is the minimum - which is always worth doing, if that's all you have time for. On the other end, you get the point of diminishing returns. But even at the extreme ends, the extra practice adds up.

Fitness and sport ability are skills. It's a question of putting in enough quality time. Even if the 10-hour practices aren't efficient, they do drill home the value of putting in your time. You get through the good practices, the ones where you struggle, the ones where you just want to go home. You put in your time and keep working on your fundamental skills.

Practice really does matter.

* When you hear "high school baseball" think "college basketball in March." That's how popular it is in Japan.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Strength: General or Specific?

In general, when you learn about strength training in textbooks, they tell you that strength is general, not specific.

That is, it's not a skill-specific or application-specific. Get your skeletal muscles stronger, you improve at all strength-related activities. Do some rows, some pressing, and some deadlifting, and moving furniture, grappling strong foes, and opening stuck jars all get easier.

But sometimes the idea that strength is general is taken further than I think it should be.

1 Rep Max Rules All? I've seen it written that if you can get your 1-rep maximum up, you automatically increase the number of reps you can do with lower weights. After all, they represent a decreasing percentage of your maximum strength. Therefore, they cost less energy and effort, so you can do more. The argument usually says that the opposite is not true: raising your ability to lift a lighter weight for more reps won't help your 1-rep max.

Short version: up the weight you can lift once, it raises everything. The opposite? No.

But I'd argue that strength adaptations are specific. Training in the 1 to 3 rep maximum range will increase your maximum strength but not do much for your endurance. Your body will adapt to the demand - get stronger at heavy weights - and not the implied demand - get more endurance for lower weights. While those reps may be easier, you haven't placed much emphasis on increasing your strength-endurance so you won't do as many as someone who trains for maximum reps at that lower weight. In my experience, if you up your 1-rep max your 10-rep max weight will go up a little, but you won't necessarily see it go up a lot . . . and not as much as if you specifically train for 10-reps.

Same thing the other direction. My former MMA coach has said he'll do bench flys for 100 reps with 35 pound dumbbells, but would probably only get 40s for 10. Why? He's training specifically for strength-endurance, not maximal strength. It's a tradeoff. It wasn't about getting lifting heavier, but lifting a specific weight over and over.

There is a famous story of a squat competition between Tom Platz, a bodybuilder, and Dr. Fred Hatfield, a powerlifter. The story goes that Dr. Hatfield out-squatted Tom Platz for maximum weight, but at lower weights he couldn't keep up with Platz's number of reps. It's anecdotal but informative - you get better at what you train to do.

Can't I do both? Yes, you can. If you do both, you might compromise one or the other, but give up the maximum possible weight or maximum possible reps to get some overall general utility. This is why many programs include multiple rep ranges - the high rep accessory work of 5/3/1 (and it's "as many reps as possible" final sets and the mix of low rep heavy pressing or squatting with higher rep accessories in Westside for Skinny Bastards are two good examples.

It's generally true, though, that you won't get stronger at your 1-rep max lifting less than it if you train too much lighter than your 1-rep max.

In short, strength is general - but training for pure maximal strength won't get you same adaptations that training for strength-endurance will get you. And vice-versa.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Some site maintenance

I have been very lax about performing routine maintenance on this site. Today, I attempted to address that.

I did the following:

- replaced all broken links in my Book Reviews.

- cleaned up orphan post tags

- partial cleanup of underused tags

- fixed the layout so it's a little less cluttered

- edited the About the Author page to keep it up to date

- removed some underused links.

If other broken links show up, please tell me in the comments for that particular page and I'll fix it.

Thanks for your patience using the site.

Joel Jamieson on the Physical Preperation Podcast

Over on the Physical Preparation Podcast, Mike Robertson interviews Joel Jamieson from

Joel Jamieson indirectly got me in the best shape of my life, through John Impallomeni at DeFranco's Training in Wyckoff, NJ. Just before my first Grappler's Quest, John had me do HICT as part of a workout to help me peak. After that, we incorporated a lot of techniques Joel described in MMA Conditioning into my workouts. I was already pretty good when it came to endurance and recovery - after that, tiring me out was difficult and it took under a minute for me to be ready to go again. So, like Mike Robertson, I, too have something that I owe to Joel Jamieson.

Physical Preparation: Joel Jamieson

Highlights include:

- discussions of developing mental toughness, and what mental toughness means
- importance of cueing quality movement under fatigue and stress
- the importance of assessing movement at all times, not just in an initial or special movement screen.

One warning: Joel Jamieson is super-smart. So much so that when dumbs it down for everyone else it can still pretty advanced material. But you won't regret listening to this - it's solidly useful material with little fluff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Link Recommendation: Mobility WOD

Pretty much every client I have trained, and every person I have trained alongside, has had some kind of mobility issue to work out.

Mobility issue?

In other words, a problem with getting full, strong, complete range of motion around a joint either due to some issue at that joint or upstream of that joint. Or, some issue with overall body movement because of that.

Because of this, I've taken a special interest in things like Magnificent Mobility, Inside/Out, and this website:

Mobility WOD

As far as I can recall, my first introduction to Kelly Starrett was thanks to Joe DeFranco. I started reading what he wrote and watching his mobility videos and I haven't looked back.

The daily mobility drills are good stuff. And although a lot of the videos have a high conversation:instruction ratio, they are all useful if you have the problem being addressed.

I especially love the tagline and motto Kelly Starrett uses:

"All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."

Yes. The way we live out our lives is full of movement patterns our bodies respond poorly to. Knowing how to fix that, and being willing to fix that, is critical. Kelly Starrett's website and Youtube channel both provide a wealth of useful information for trainers, trainees, and normal humans everywhere.

His first daily WOD - a squat hold video - is a great place to start.

On top of being extremely knowledgeable, Kelly Starrett is also well spoken and entertaining. You might find yourself watching a few videos at a clip, and jumping into the mobility drills he suggests. Don't resist this - fixing mobility issues are well worth the time spent on them. The stretch in Episode 2 is well worth looking at and trying out.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Valid Excuses to Avoid the Prowler

I don't know that any of my clients, past or present, like the Prowler. Some like what it does for them, some tolerate it, some hate it. I love it - as a trainer and as a trainee. It's one of my favorite pieces of equipment.

For that reason, I use it a lot, but I also hear a lot of comments about it. There are a few reasons clients give not to do it, or to modify it, that I do find to be valid objections.

Low Handles Make Me Dizzy - Or light headed, or it's hard to breathe, or some variation on that theme. I've found that with some older clients, especially, going from horizontal to vertical can make people light headed. For clients with that issue, I will often forgo the low handled sled pushes. It's just not enough benefit vs. the risk of injury from fainting. In this case, lighter, slower, high handle pushes can fill the whole in the workout.

Toe Injuries - even pushing slowly, with a flat foot, a toe injury - especially a break - makes pushing the Prowler pretty hellish. It's not a good form of exercise if you're compensating to avoid one foot. You can sometimes swap in sled drags instead.

Wrist pain - Sometimes, due to wrist issues, you can't grasp the upright handles without pain. In this case, you can cup the top of the uprights and push. That limits the weight you can push, but a Prowler is pretty effective without a lot of weight.
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