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.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Exercise vs. Old Age

The BBC put up two articles - one very short, one moderate length, about the effects of exercise on what we used to consider normal aging.

The shorter one concerns nerve impulses and muscles as we age:

Muscle loss in old age linked to fewer nerve signals

The basic idea there is that as we age, we weaken. As our muscles weaken, we lose the ability to send nerve signals to those weakened muscles.

But continued physical activity and training blunts that effect - keep the muscles, keep the nerve signals, and stay in a virtuous circle of fitness.

Exercise is required. We often think that it isn't, because unlike drinking water, eating, sleeping, going to work, etc. we don't feel an immediate negative consequence for not doing it. But it's insidious, and over time our capabilities go down. It's never too late to start, but like saving for retirement, the earlier you get going the better and longer you reap the rewards.

The second article concerns the immune system of older endurance athletes:

How exercise in old age prevents the immune system from declining

The basic idea here is that exercise reduces the decline in the immune system that usually follows age.

"A separate paper in Aging Cell found that the cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength, and did not see an increase in body fat - which are usually associated with ageing."

"Associated" with aging is key, here. We think you get a weaker immune system and lose muscle mass and strength, and gain body fat, as you get older because you get older. It's not necessarily the case, and studies are showing that people who continue to exercise as they get older do not show that same effect. In other words, we think aging makes you weak and frail, but it's more like aging without exercise makes you weak and frail.

So keep training, and suffer less of the "age-related" declines in fitness and immune health.

Key takeaways here?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sparing the Spine through Hip Hinging

Folks familiar with Dr. Stuart McGill won't find anything really new here, but this is a good article on hip hinging to spare the spine:

Lost Art Of Bending Over: How Other Cultures Spare Their Spines

Good stuff.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fueling up with Chankonabe

While looking at the latest sumo news for the January Grand Sumo Basho, I found this much older article about how sumo wrestlers fuel up:

FUEL: The 10,000-Calorie Sumo Wrestler Diet

It's light on the recipe, but you can see how the meal is prepared and a bit of sumo training outside of Japan.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Precision Nutrition Level 1, Version 3 certified

In the past two days I completed upgrading my Precision Nutrition level 1 certification.

I've been certified in PN level 1 for several years, and took the exam every couple of years to stay certified. Recently, though, they upgraded the course and manual.

Nicely, they didn't make the prior levels obsolete. I could keep my certification. As a matter of fact, I'm current dual certified in level 1, v1 and level 1, v3. (I'm not sure what I missed in v2)

They made the upgraded course materials available at a reasonable price for currently-certified trainers like myself. I jumped on the upgrade, because I knew that if they'd taken the time to re-write the manual I'd benefit from the new material.

If I benefit, then my clients benefit. And that's what it is all about.

The upgrade took time, as instead of one course exam it was 18 chapter-length exams. This meant a lot of reading, then research and listening to lectures and answering workbook questions, then taking an exam. While this made is more digestible - lots of little chunks - it meant I ended up breaking up the upgrade over months instead of doing it in a matter of weeks.

The tests were open book, which is "easy" in the way any other open-book test is - if you know the material, and have the books in front of you, you can answer the questions easily. If you don't know the material, and you don't keep your references ready to hand, you're in trouble. I like to say, if you keep your references to hand, life is an open book test.

All of this is a long way to say, I've upgraded my nutrition knowledge (a bit) and my coaching skills (a lot) thanks to Precision Nutrition.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Pick One Goal, One Habit, and Go

So it's January 1st, and many New Year's resolutions (NYRs) were made.

In my experience, people don't last on NYRs.

It's because so many of them, perhaps almost all of them, are aspirations and wishes, not plans of action. They aren't habits, they aren't process goals, and they aren't simple.

This isn't because people are bad, or weak, or stupid.

It's because we don't really learn how to make change.

We don't teach it in school. We don't teach it at work. We get down to specifics ("Do X to get Y") that we don't spend time teaching people how to determine what a good goal is, or how to build a habit to get there.

This post is really just more of that. But hopefully it will also teach you how to determine what a good X is, and how it'll help you get to Y.

If you made some NYRs last night, my advice is:

Pick One

Just one. No matter how many you made, pick one. Either pick something that will make the most impact, or is the easiest to do. If you want to take a shot at big changes, pick the first one - quit smoking, exercise every day, lose some body fat. But if you want to make certain you make small, progressive gains, pick the second - the easiest one to do.

You might think you could get better results by doing everything at once, and going for the biggest impact items. But that's like trying to pass a math test by working on problems 1-100 all at once. One at a time is the strategy we learned for exams - use it for life, too. Start with the easy stuff, solve each problem in turn, and then move on to the next one.

Decide on a Habit

You get to your goals based on what you do. Pick something that will get you there - exercises if health is the goal, eating extra veggies instead of starches and breads and pastas if losing weight is your goal, etc. Pick something easy to do - so easy it seems like you could do it 10 times out of 10. 100 times out of 100. Something where, even if you do occasionally fail, you can get right to it and do it. Make it a positive action - something you do, not something you don't do. This way if you forget, you can jump up right now and do it. If it is a "don't," if you do it, you've failed and need to restart. Don't put failures in your path and try to avoid them, put potential successes in your path and try to achieve them.

Get to the gym once a week, by Friday at the latest. Go for a walk X times a week. Drink an 8-oz glass of water before every meal and after every non-water drink. Mix a greens drink the night before and drink it upon waking every morning. Brush your teeth right after you eat (both for tooth health and to discourage picking and snacking).

Make it so easy that failure is harder than success. Just work on this one thing until it's a habit - something you do automatically.

And remember, it's easier to add than subtract - "I will go for a walk this week" is solvable by going for a walk today. "I won't eat any more junk food" is undone by even a single potato chip, ever. Potential success with positive actions, not potential failure with negative prohibitions.


And go. Start there.

You can repeat this process as each habit becomes ingrained. Keep that list of NYRs around - you can pull the next one down as you achieve the first one. Good habits come from small changes ingrained over time. So pick one goal, one habit that will start you on the path, and go.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Every Day a Plus

My philosophy of training boils down to a simple concept:

Every day a plus.

There are other ways to put it:

Every session a check in the win column.

Every day a step forward, no matter how small.

Every day a little bit of progress.

But I think of it as "every day a plus."

It doesn't need to be a big plus. It doesn't need to be the biggest plus I could get that day. This is about a minimal effective dose, aiming for optimal, and avoiding the tendency to push for maximal.

What I want to avoid is minuses. Injuries are minuses. So are workouts so stressful you can't recover in time to work out again the next time you're training. Pushing too hard for just one more plus is less valuable than just taking the easy wins and moving on.

This is an easier concept to read about and agree with than to implement. It won't always work out. You'll push too hard. You'll try a new exercises or variation or set and rep scheme and get hurt, get too sore to move, get too stiff to move well.

And it can be psychologically hard to learn to hold back. To just do what's useful and valuable. It's tough to do the warmup and skip the workout - not vice-versa - because you're short on time. Sometimes you'll go a little too easy and miss out on some benefits you could have gotten. Or worse, just think you're doing that and push too hard another day to "make up" for missing some easier benefits.

External factors can step in, too - stress is stress. It doesn't matter if it's from lack of sleep, a job change, a fight in a relationship, a tough commute, whatever. It's stress. You might push to exhaustion in the gym to "work off the stress" but you're swapping in the feeling of one stress for the feeling of another. It's useful, but it's stress. You need to recover from that.

Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare was written to illustrate something people know from experience even if it's counter-intuitive - slow and steady beats fast with breaks. If all you ever do is get a small positive benefit each day that you can, and cut down on the minuses, you'll make steady progress over the long haul. You will reach your goals over time. If you aim for the maximum benefits in the least time, rush for benefits, and push and push and push, you'll generally come up short on benefits for the same time invested in consistency.

I try to live this myself as best I can. I say it all sorts of different ways to my clients, until I find the phrase that connects with their viewpoint. I don't want them to work hard and feel beat after a workout. I want them to be better after the workout. I want to optimize the plus they get, and keep them moving forward more days than not. It's all about a plus, any size of plus, every day you can. Over time, that will bring success.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Planning my annual goals

Every year, I set up a series of annual training goals.

I choose four.

Four is few enough that I have to make decisions about priorities. For example: Do I want to get a stronger deadlift, or do I want to lean out?

Four is enough that I don't chop off actual goals or start doubling up. For example: Get a stronger deadlift while I lean out. Sure, two nice goals, but I don't want to pretend they are one.

I write these goals down and I hand them to my trainer. Handwritten, dated, and signed. What he does with them, I don't know. I keep a copy of them pinned to my cork board behind my work desk in my home "office," where I do most of my writing and much of my research and studying.

Handing them in makes me accountable to someone else for my success.

What's notable about my annual goals is that I give myself outcome goals, not process goals. (Click here for the difference)

This probably sounds totally hypocritical, since I'm all about clients setting process goals for themselves.

What I have found is that I tend to naturally set my own process goals.

- I will train MMA as many times a week as I can, with a minimum floor of one day (work schedules for trainers, not surprisingly, overlap those of typical MMA class schedules - early AM and evenings.)

- I will do my posture drills every day.

- I will stretch every day.

- I will get in 2-3 full workouts and 1-2 small accessory workouts per week without fail. I've missed zero training sessions, not counting planned misses.

So for training, setting process goals is just a matter of writing down how I'll do things, not getting myself on the path to doing them.

I do need outcome goals, though.

I need to know where I'm going. So does my coach. There is this great Precision Nutrition article that says, "Elite coaches know that the outcome is their responsibility and that the behavior is the responsibility of the client." I take care of the doing, and I set the outcome goals so my coach and I both know where I aim to get.

They're always actionable, or at least, they eliminate training or workouts or methods that run contrary to them. If I put "increase shoulder stability" on my outcome goals, I know that skipping my shoulder warmups or programming in too little shoulder stabilization is not a good choice. If I put in "Add 10 pounds to my max deadlift" then I know I need to keep in glute exercises and low back exercises and a myriad of little hip exercises.

My goals can be really specific ("add 10 pounds to my deadlift.") They can be broad, but have a clear outcome ("Get on the record board and stay there.") They can be vague and hard to measure, but clear to me, personally ("Feel bulletproof.") They have to be goals I can know when I've gotten them. Pulling a weight 10 pounds heavier, walking into the gym and looking up and seeing "Peter Dell'Orto" on the record board, or walking into a gym and grappling with all comers for a whole class without a mental twinge of "Can I handle that guy? Will my body take this much effort?" All of those, I know when I've gotten there.

The more vague, feeling-based ones are tougher on my coach. So I try to keep at least some of them more concrete.

This is the time of year when I make these goals, because this was the time of year when I first starting doing it some years back. So goals are on my mind. I'll know mine by a week from yesterday. How about you? Where are you going this year?
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