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.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How to fit stretching into warmups

How I structure stretching in my warmups:

1) Self-Massage. This includes foam rolling, lacrosse ball rolling, rolling on a softer ball, etc. I pick 2-3 areas and do 1-2 types of rolls per area for 1 minute each.

2) Static Stretches. These are generally done for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes per area, total. I'll set stretches up in a circuit and rotate through 3-4 of them. Overall I try to keep the total to down to 3-4 minutes, if only because I generally train myself or other people with a time limit.

3) Dynamic Stretches / Mobility Drills. Time varies, but I progress from mild movements to larger and move aggressive movements. You might start with band pull aparts before going to external rotations and then to arm circles. For lower body I might do squats, then lunges, then work up to jumping jacks and rope skipping.

Overall, I like this to take 7-8 minutes minimum, 10-15 minutes maximum. Enough to get it all in, but not so much we're eating into a session's time. That's especially critical if clients are coming before work, before picking kids up from school, or otherwise have something they need to get to.

I will mix 2 and 3 if necessary. For a client with tight hip flexors, we often need to foam roll, then do some activation drills, and then stretch the flexors in order to get the most benefit. But I default to "roll, stretch, get mobile."

Joe DeFranco just did an excellent podcast on this subject, which I highly recommend.


At the end of the workout, I like to immediately do some stretching for problem areas. I pick one, done for 1-2 minutes per side, and then we're all done.

On an off day, I might mix all three for much longer - basically doing rolling, stretching, and mobility melded together for much longer. This turns an "off day" into a light workout aimed primarily at banking some stretching and mobilization.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Set a PR, Go Home

Here is a lesson I took many years to learn:

Set a Personal Record, Go Home.


Last Monday I set a PR for single-leg box squats.

Today, I did the same exercise and set a 10 pound PR over the previous lift.

I had more left in the tank. I probably could have gone for a 15-20 pound PR after that.

I didn't. I put the weights down, did a bodyweight squat set to ensure I was still going strong and well, and quit.

My next leg exercises were all the same as last week, which was the same (or in one case, a little less) than the week before that.

The reason is pretty simple - a personal record is a record. It's a weight I've never done before. I will adapt from that. I will get stronger. Why risk injury or overdo it or otherwise pile on in the hopes of eking out a little more gain?

I was sure to go home with gains.

That's what I did.

It took me a long time to realize that all I needed to do was ensure a gain, not try to maximize each workout.

Hopefully this post will help other realize this a few years, and a few injuries, and a few setbacks, earlier than I did.

Work hard, set a record, and take that record home with you.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ab Exercises I Always Use: Planks

There are a number of ab exercises show up in everyone's workouts when I train them. This is another one:

The Plank

I've written many posts on the plank and its variations.

These include the normal plank and its variations, and the side plank and many of its variations.

Why I use them.

When you're moving heavy objects (in or out of the gym), playing sports, or resisting sudden force from a fall, you need strong abs to stabilize your body. Planks and the variations of them are excellent for directly training that stability.

I do "cheat" a little - if a client is doing pushups, I don't have them do planks. I still count this as a plank inclusion - a pushup is just a plank with a push, so clients generally don't need both the same session.

Conversely, if a client is struggling to do pushups and his or her hips are sagging down, I'll add in extra planks on top of the pushups. They need midline stability, so I'll put some extra effort on it.

How I program them.

I try to work up to up to 30 second holds per side on side planks before I progress them to more difficult variations. I try to work planks up to 60 seconds consecutive. Occasionally I'll go as much as 2-5 minutes, if midline endurance is an issue for the client.

When these are difficult, I'll break it up. 30 total seconds on each side. 60 total seconds of planks. Once you get one full 30 or 60 second set, I'll start adding sets. I'll try 2-3 sets, usually between other exercises (simply to save time.)

These planks can be surprisingly difficult. You won't "feel your abs" working them, generally, but you will be fatigued more than you might suspect. As always, if you choose to include these in a workout, start slow and work up. Don't just try and push until you feel it - start with a little and add more each time.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ab Exercises I Always Use: the Pallof Press

There are a number of ab exercises I avoid, in general. Crunches and full sit-ups show up rarely in my own training and almost never in my clients' training. Russian twists make an occasional appearance. Ab rollers, never.

Some exercises show up in everyone's workouts. This is one:

The Pallof Press

Named for Physical Therapist John Pallof, this exercise is a winner.



Basically you extend the cable, as seen in the video, lengthening the lever arm of the resistance. Your abdominal muscles must fire to keep you from rotating. It's rare for clients to come to me with strong anti-rotation strength. It's common for them to come with one weak side and one stronger side. It's also common for them to come with compensation patterns and aches and pains from using other muscles to try to resist unwanted rotation or absorb the shock of rotational force.

What kind of rotational force? Golf swing impacts, baseball swings, throws, punches, stopping a guard pass, etc.

My favorite variation is the Pallof Press 2.0


Generally I use that as demonstrated, or I'll have the client hold it rigid while I pluck the tube or band like a harp string. I do these standing, squatting, in a split stance, kneeling tall, or kneeling on one knee.

This is an exercise you want to start out easy on. Go very light and work up very slowly. It's more about endurance than max effort, and you want to ensure your abs fire and you aren't finding another way to shove the cable around.

My typical progression is:

3 sets of 10 reps with a 2-second pause.
3 sets of 5 reps with a 5-second pause.
3 sets of 10 reps with a 3-second pause.
Go up in weight and start again.

For the 2.0, I do the above progression with a given tube. Once we've hit the heavier tube we have, we go to time:

20 second hold each side, no movement.
30 second hold each side, no movement.
20 second hold each side, with shaking.
30 second hold each side, with shaking.

I'll progress all the way up to the top of each progression with standing before I start adding in kneeling, half kneeling, etc. unless I detect a specific issue.

You won't feel this one so much, but just worry about the progression and you will find your ability to deal out and resist rotation will improve.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ending the year on a Joe D Rant

I love Joe DeFranco's "Industrial Strength Show" podcast.

I used to train at his gym, so it's just fun hearing him again, week after week.

But it's also solid training information from a very smart but very down to earth man.

So this year I'll end my posting on this blog with Joe's latest show, and his New Year's Resolution rant:

Why Your New Year’s Resolution is Bullsh*t!

I don't make resolutions, I make plans. That's the way to do it, in my experience. Don't promise yourself a change, make plans to do so. Something simple, and then get after it. And don't wait until after the clock strikes midnight tonight if you can get started now.


And if you do plan to go to the gym, download a few episodes of Joe D's podcast and give them a listen. Great information, and entertainingly presented.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TIME, Situps, and fitness in healthy people

Two articles caught my eye today.

The first was TIME Magazine, saying that "Fitness experts are now advising against doing too many sit-ups for risk of back injury."

Yes, that's true, if you mean by "now" you mean "for at least the past 10 years." This was old news 5 years ago. It's true, but badly out of date.

Why Fitness Experts Have Turned Against Sit-Ups

And for all of the "fit and obese is okay" sorts of news I've seen pop up, here is a study of 1.3 million Swedish men that seems to indicate that fit + lean beats fit + obese.

Fitness more protective among normal-weight people

Both are true. Both are useful. TIME is just well behind the curve here. And the study in the second implies that you do still need to control your body fat. Not a terrible surprise, but good to know and good to have for reference.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Recovery is filling the hole

One of my favorite training quotes is about recovery, and it's from John Meadows (who runs Mountain Dog Diet).

As far as I know, I first came across it here:

"Training is like digging a ditch. Recovery is about filling that ditch, and adding a little bit more." - John Meadows, quoted by Jim Wendler in 2012 in Review.

I've heard a few variations of it. Usually it gets simplified to "Training is digging a hole, recovery is filling it."

It's a fantastic way to look at training, especially as you look older.

You need to build your recovery into your workouts. Not in the "rest between sets" sense but in the "rest in your workout schedule" sense.

It's a slow-and-steady approach, at heart. Don't do anything you can't recover from. If you push extra-hard, leave in some extra space to recover.

What I like about the metaphor is that it also tells you that minimal work with maximal recovery isn't going to cut it. You have to work. But you can't crush yourself day in, day out, and expect results over the long haul. You just aren't spending any time filling that hole.

I use this metaphor a lot with clients these days. I keep it mind myself. Work, get your training in, make some progress toward your goal. Then rest and recover. Don't mistake digging for filling and vice-versa, and make sure you do enough of both - in balance.
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