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.

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?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Trevor Bachmeyer's Joe D Triple - 8 minute mobility combo

A few weeks back, Joe DeFranco had Dr. Trevor Bachmeyer of Smashwerx on his Podcast.

Trevor shared his three go-to drills for a quick (well, 8 minute) full-body pliability.

It's a great video, and if you're stuck about what to do for stretching, mobility, and pliability, you can just start here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Travel Exercise Equipment

I always pack some training gear when I travel, especially if I expect to do a lot of physical activities or training.

This is my travel pack of exercise gear:

It consists of:

- half of my Mobility WOD floss band kit (just the thinner, weaker band)

- one of Jill Miller's Alpha Balls

- an EliteFTS light resistance band

- a CFF #0 band

- a tube of NatraBio's The Rub Arnica blend lotion.

This is my go-to collection of must-have gear to bring with me.

This trip, I used all of it to some degree:

- the floss band I used once, not on myself (as I'd expected) but on a friend who was complaining of Achilles' tendon and knee pain after running. One bout with this and some ankle exercises later and it was largely cleared up.

- the Alpha Ball was useful for some glute warmups and for a brief issue with tight pecs.

- I used the CFF band every day for 100 band pull-aparts and 100 low thumbs-back pull aparts every day plus pre-training warmups.

- I used the the EliteFTS band for band walks and for pre-training TKEs (Terminal Knee Extensions).

- I used the NatraBio rub for some post-training bruising.

Pretty much I pack gear I need for pre-hab and rehab. I don't worry too much about actual exercises. Especially when I travel, I walk far more than I do when I am in the US. Most of the time I'm concerned with making sure I'm properly warmed up and doing my daily warmups.

This is the minimal gear I'd consider bringing, and every part of it is useful. What do you bring when you travel? Let me know in the comments.

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.
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