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, May 24, 2017

Cardio fitness helps depression

This is old news within the training world, but it's good that it's getting more traction in the wider press:

Cardio fitness can help save men with depression

Pretty much, positive physical activity helps your mental state, and vice-versa.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Answer Your Trainer's Questions - Warning, Trainer Humor

So you want to know the way to answer all of your trainer's questions in exactly the right way to shut down further discussion, that painful diet talk, and going up in weight on reps (or keeping the weight where it is?)? Here is your cheat sheet! Have this handy for when you want to wriggle out of tough questions designed to actually increase your results.

Trainer questions are in Italics, answers in quotes.

What did you have for breakfast?

"Some lean protein - leftover chicken breast I prepared on Sunday - some steamed mixed vegetables, some steel-cut oats, and a glass of water."

No fats?

"Just my fish oil and a few slivered almonds."

How much food?

"I try to keep it to 20% of my calories per day since I'm eating five times a day."

How did that weight feel?


Could you go up?

(If you want to) "Yes, no problem."
(If you don't) "I think I should stick with that another set because it caught up to me at the end of the set."

How many more reps did you have in the tank?
Could you have done more reps?

"One or two."

Have you been doing your cardio at home?

"Yes, and I'm parking further from the door at work and taking the stairs, too."

Have you been stretching?


Have you been sneaking in extra biceps curls and doing (name crazy workout) on days when you're supposed to rest?

"No, I've been prioritizing recovery."

How are you feeling today?

"Good. I'm ready to go."

And the kicker:

Are you going to make it all three sessions next week?

"Without a doubt."

Cancel by text, it'll save time for both of you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Quick Tip: Respect but don't fear the weights

If there is one thing I try to teach lifters, especially younger lifters, it's this:

Respect the weight, but don't fear the weight.

You can't be casual with weights. You should handle even the empty bar like it's a sizeable percentage of your best one-rep lift. Treat it with respect. Set up correctly, grip it correctly, brace correctly. It's better to brace your abs, squeeze your grip, and lift an empty bar with your best technique and have it be too light then to get hurt taking it casually.

Young kids really have a hard time with this, which is the main reason I'm reluctant to have them handle weights - they'll throw them around, pick up heavy weights and try to shove them overhead but lack control, do 10 reps 10 different ways, etc. They just don't have the appropriate respect for the weight and what I can do for and too them. Teaching them that it's not a toy is the first step.

But at the same time you can't be afraid of the weight. If you've ever seen a lifter unrack a heavy barbell for a bench press, or set up for a squat, and lower the weight s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully and then struggle to come back up, you know what I mean. If you've seen someone who's set for an easy pullup hang for ten seconds then try to wiggle up, yet can lower themselves under control over 30 seconds, you've seen it too. If you let that weight - the numbers, the feel, whatever - get on top of you, you'll struggle to lift it.

If you give it just the right amount of respect, you'll be fine. I've seen kids get pinned under a weight, re-rack it and try again five minutes later, and knock off five easy reps. You have to treat that weight like it's heavy when it's light, and the heavy weights just the same way you'd treat the light ones.

I personally struggle with this with deadlifts. I feel like if things go badly, I'm going to bow under the weight and get hurt. Ironically, it's probably the safest lift for me because if things go badly I can just let go. And if it's too heavy, it just won't budge. I should be more nervous under a back or front squat, or lowering a too-heavy bench press. I'm not. I know the power rack has me safe from real harm, and I just don't have that concern that I bring to heavy deadlifts.

It's a hurdle that can move as the weights come up - you might fear 135 as a beginner but then fear 225 or 315 as a more experienced lifter. The trick is to acknowledge that, trust your process, and use every light rep as practice for the heavy ones. Respect, not fear.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Making people feel successful

I liked this article over at Elite FTS:

What I Learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger

It's a very specific lesson about making people feel successful.

"When was the last time you acted super-impressed by someone you knew wasn't on your level? And if you passed on the opportunity to, why?"

I try to do this often. Not for motivation, but because people's achievements are a big deal. I pulled 335 the other day. I watched one of my friends pull over 335 on his first day ever of trap bar deadlifting, and did it for a set of five. Does this mean my achievement isn't worth being impressed by? Not worth cheering over?


It's worth celebrating other people's successes. This is especially true if you're in a

In the arena of competitive physical sports, people often dump on what you do because someone else has done it harder, better. But I also come from the world of teaching. You can't shrug off a kid reading a difficult word for the first time, or spelling it, or following a hard reading passage, or any of that just because others before him or her have done it. If they're achieving something that is difficult for them, and they're winning at something that's a stretch for them, it's worth celebrating.

You can't celebrate something you all know didn't take any work.

"Marquise de Merteuil: One does not applaud the tenor for clearing his throat."

It just won't work. Praise me for pulling 295 and I'll just shrug. I've pulled 295 over and over. Praise someone who something that's easy and you diminish the value of praise. You can't manufacture the feeling of success, but you can feed it. That feeling leads to doing more of what got you to success.

I recently had a teenager front squat his bodyweight for a double, then come back a week later and squat 1 and then 30 pounds over that each for a solid single. I made sure to praise him for it - that's hard work, and it's a big achievement. I made a big of it because it is one.

A first pullup. The first time you use the 45 pound plates. Your best effort that leads to something good. Those things are successes, and if you can highlight them in other people when the occur you can reinforce the behavior that got them there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Peter's Trap Bar DL PR

I hit a trap bar deadlift PR yesterday.

That's 335 at 185 pounds of body weight. It shattered my previous PR by 20 pounds and matched my all-time best straight-bar DL. I felt like I had a lot of poundage left in me, but I hit a very solid PR and just cut it there. I can get more later.

Previously I pulled 315 at 180 pounds back in January. That matched my all-time PR pulled almost 8 years before. I pulled 315 on 4/3, and it was tough. I failed, needed to back off, and put on a belt, and then work my way back up to 315 and had nothing left in the tank.

Today it was just easy. I pulled:

5 x 155
2 x 205
2 x 245
1 x 295
1 x 315

Then I briefly failed on 335. I got set and started to pull and it broke the floor, but I realized I'd taken a too-wide stance and that forced me to roll forward onto my toes. I just stopped right there. I took less than a minute to re-set and pulled the rep in the video:

1 x 335 (with belt)

Pushing up the bar, and making Mike Guadango change record board listing:

335 isn't a very heavy deadlift for many people. For me, it's a significant PR and it shows me how far I've come.

I've got an eye on eventually pulled 365 at 182.5 pounds or less body weight - a double body weight deadlift.

I'd list credits of the people I need to thank for but the list would be too long. At the very least I need to mention three: John for getting me to pull 315 and 335 back in the day so I knew it was there in me now, Tom for constantly telling me to get after it and get it, and Mike for bringing me from trouble walking right to pulling a PR with room to spare.

Monday, April 17, 2017

If you had to start with two free e-Books, which two?

If I had to point people to two free PDFs to get started lifting and eating right, I'd go with these two:

From the Ground Up, by Dan John (reviewed here).


Fuck Calories!, by Krista Scott-Dixion


Because you have to start somewhere, and we don't really know where to begin. Dan John teaches athletes, and teaches Olympic lifts - but he also teaches solid basics.

I don't generally think Olympic lifts are for everyone, but I do think that understanding the concepts of those lifts is valuable. When it comes to a free ebook that explains what you are to do, why, and how, FTGU has everything covered.

Why FC?

Because when you are starting out, two things are in your way:

- what you think you know

- your habits

Cleaning up "what you think you know" is hard. We are bombarded literally every day with diet and diet-related news, tips, and most difficult yet, choices to make. What do I eat? Is this good for me? I heard I need more protein. I heard that this fat is good for you. I was told to eat more calories so I burn more, but also to eat less calories to lose weight - which is it? And so on and so on. Nevermind food labels, ad campaigns, and Photoshopped models pushing foods they didn't eat and supplements they didn't take to get like they did in the pictures.

FC helps by basically saying, "Here are the things to pay attention to about your body and how it reacts to what you put in it." But even more basically, more directly, and more usefully than how I just put it.

Those are the two free ebooks I'd recommend if you had to start with just free ebooks.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Visual Study Results on Instagram

If you're interested in keeping up, at least to a degree with studies about strength training, Chris Beardsley is your guy:

Chris Beardsley Instagram

His Instagram feed consists of visual layouts of study results in handy graphical formats. He explains further in the caption.

Personally I find it hard to keep up with even a useful fraction of the studies on strength training. They are too many, often small, written for scientific rigor not easy digestion, and scattered. Chris Beardsley is doing a great service by taking some of them and making the information pop out usefully.
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