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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Video Recommendation

Youtube is a goldmine of great exercise instruction videos, buried under a giant heap of not-so-good exercise instruction videos.

These videos by Smitty of Diesel Crew are part of that goldmine, not part of the giant heap. They show good technique and cover a wide range of ways to lift.

It's part of the new Accelerated Muscular Development course, which I have not yet checked out, but the videos alone are very useful.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Eric Cressey/Mike Robertson podcast

...or at least, and .mp3 interview, can be found here. Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey are responsible separately or together for:

Maximum Strength
Magnificent Mobility

All products worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review: Strength Training Anatomy

Strength Training Anatomy, Second Edition
by Frederic Delavier
144 pages plus fold-out covers, published 2006

Like Mark Vella's Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training, this book is an anatomical look at various exercises.

Strength Training Anatomy doesn't spend time or pages on exercise selection or introductions. It immediately jumps into the exercises. These are sorted into seven chapters - Arms, Shoulders, Chest, Back, Legs, Buttocks, and Abdomen. First page to last, it's all exercises.

The exercises include free weight, machine, and bodyweight exercises. They're largely powerlifting/bodybuilding exercises and omit Olympic lifts and stretches. Each of the 115 exercises gets it own page, with a skinless model man or woman performing the exercise and the muscles involved colored and labeled. The muscle groups involved are highlighted on a smaller anatomical figure in the corner, and colored circles are used to further highlight what the exercise does.

One interesting element to the book is that each section - legs, chest, etc. - includes an injury discussion. These pages - yellow instead of white to make them stand out - show common injuries to the discussed area and how they can be treated or avoided. These include pec tears, bicep tears, impingement, and other such potential hazards to handling weights.

The book also features two fold-out covers, the back showing the muscle groups and the skeleton (front and back). The front shows the (male) human body's skeletal muscles from the quarter-turned side as well as the front and back.


Content: 4 out of 5. Very good stuff, but compared to similar books the amount of exercises shown is somewhat limited.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Easy to read, attractive images, and well-designed anatomical charts.

Overall: If you want to see what muscles are involved in which exercise, this book is very useful. You can potentially use it for selecting movements as well. It's interesting and very good for what it aims to be - an anatomical guide to exercise.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: 5-3-1

by Jim Wendler
97 page eBook
Cost $19.95

This ebook by Jim Wendler covers the much-talked about 5-3-1 system of training for improving strength. The system is simple but effective.

Each day you do one of the military press, squat, deadlift, and bench press. You can swap in other compound exercises, but these are the ones it is built around. You do these for just three work sets. You also do some accessory work, but your main exercise each day is just those three sets.

First you determined your current 1-rep maximum (not your best ever, what you can do now), and cut it down a bit from there - down to 90%. Next you use that reduced number to calculate your loads for a four-week cycle of lifts.

Week one is 3 x 5 on your major lift, week two is 3 x 3, week three is 5/3/1, and week four is a deload with light weight for 3 x 5. Each set is done heavier than the set before but all lower than your maximum - even the single in week three is 95% of 90% of your 1-rep max, so it should be a little lighter than you can handle for one. The catch is, for each of the first three weeks, you do as many reps as possible for the final set. Since you started light, you should be able to get more than the target reps. You don't train to failure, but rather one or two reps short of failure...enough to require serious hard work.

For example, using an example from the book, the first week you might do 105 x 5, 120 x 5, and then 135 x 5 or more. The next week would be a little heavier but for 3, 3, and 3 or more. Third week, 5, 3, and then 1 or more. You're always pushing for "or more" on the final set for three weeks, then you deload for a week to recover.

After each cycle, you up the weight on your calculated maximum by 5-10 pounds (10 pounds at most!) and then re-calculate your lifts for the next four weeks. You don't plug your new 1RM back in, you just add a little and keep going. This gives you slow progress but steady progress and keeps you from stalling from raising the weights too high, too fast. You just keep moving on, setting rep records time in and time out. You track your accessory exercises too, but they're there to help with your main lifts. You push hard, but not so heavy or high-volume you'll burn out (especially with a deload week!).

Pretty simple, but the execution has some nuance to it - how to set the weights by percentage, how to re-start, selecting accessory work, and customizing the templates. His advice on what to look for in accessory lifts and how to choose them and organize them is outstanding as well.

He has five suggested accessory templates. These include:
Boring But Big - the main lift, plus the main lift again for 5x10 plus another accessory for 5 more. Great for folks who need more volume to gain!
The Triumvirate - the main lift, plus two assistance lifts for 5 sets apiece.
I'm Not Doing Jack Shit - the main lift, then go home. Great for a time crunched session!
Periodization Bible by Dave Tate - the main lift, plus 3 exercises for 5 sets of 10-20 apiece.
Bodyweight - the main lift, plus a pair of bodyweight exercises (such as chins, dips, situps, etc.)

You could conceivably do other templates afterwards as well, simply swapping in the 5/3/1 lift for your ME (maximum effort) work for the day.

The book includes suggested templates for 4, 3, 2, or even 1 day a week lifting. Which one depends on your schedule and your recovery. Not all lifting manuals do this - it's very often "x days a week or hit the highway."

You might read this review and think "Okay, now I know the system, why do I need this book? You've saved me $20!" You might. But although you can do this system with publicly available information and templates, the book is still worth checking out. Jim Wendler's writing is easy to understand and funny. Comments like "don't be Half-Rep McGee" and "Nobody ever got strong or got in shape by thinking about it." Check out this quote about lunges, one of his recommended accessory exercises:

"The lunge has gotten a bad rap in the strength training world for two reasons. First, it's used in the fitness world, and it's championed by women for toning and firming[...]you have an exercise that few people want to do.

These people are wrong."

He covers a lot of ground very efficiently, dealing with technique, methodology, and modifications to the program. Bad day at the gym? Covered. Variations? Covered. Nutrition? Even that's briefly but effectively covered. I personally have been using the 5/3/1 system for box squats under the eye of a coach who knows the system - and getting the book make it all so much more clear. It's a real winner. My own experience tells me you can finish your main lift for the day and feel like "...that's it?" Yep, that's it, but your strength just keeps going up. It's a pretty easy system for beginners or more advanced lifters. Linear progress for the beginners, with enough load variation to allow more experienced lifters to benefit. It only seems complicated to use a percentage-based system, and Jim Wendler simplifies it without dumbing it down at all.

The book ends out with sheets to photocopy (well, print out) with templates for each week, advice on how to use Excel to do them automatically, and a weight-to-percentage chart if Excel and your rep calculator fail you.


Content: 5 out of 5. Everything you need for the program is here, from technique to lifting guides. Lots of detail on how to judge your progress and change the workout to fit your needs are here, too.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. The text is easy to read, tables easy to follow, and sample workout sheets easily to read. It's not fancy but it's effective.

Overall: If you're looking for an easy progressive system for training, this is it. It only seems pricey at $20 for under 100 pages, but it's pure gold, no wasted words.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Easy 1-rep max calculation.

Here's a simple way to calculate your progress - convert your lifts into your one-rep max.

Let's say you did 10 x 135 pounds. Ten repetitions with an olympic bar and two 45-pound plates. How much could you do for 1 rep?

You could use a One Rep Max Calculator or carrying a poundage chart around, but sometimes you need to do it in your head.

Wikipedia has this following method as formula one in their article, but I converted it to three easy steps for us mathophobes.

One Rep Max
Step 1: Subtract 1 from the number of reps you did. Divide this number by 30. Don't worry about repeating digits past the first three, they don't matter much. Example, 10 reps would be 9/30=0.333

Step 2: Add one to that number. Example: 0.3+1 = 1.3

Step 3: Multiply the weight you've lifted by this number. Example: 1.3 x 135 = 175.5.

Once you do this a few times, you can get a feel for how to wing it.

11 reps? That's 1 and 1/3 of the weight. So one-third of 135 is 45, so 135+45=180.
10, 7 or 4 reps? 30%, 20%, and 10% more than the weight on the bar. Take 1/10 of the weight and multiply it by 3, 2, or 1. 10x135 is roughly 175, 7x135 is roughly 162.5, 4x135 is roughly 150, rounded off to numbers much easier to add to a bar!
6 reps? Tricky at around 17%, but find 1/3 and half that and add it. 6x135 is just under 160, so if you did 6 reps you might round up to 160 and with 5 round down to 155.

A calculator makes it all easier, and it's a simple method to remember. Like all of these calculators it's really approximate. You might be able to do more or less reps for a given weight than the calculator says. But it will let you compare your progress if you use the same calculator each time.

This will let you compare really disparate reps and weights. Is 9 x 125 pounds better or worse than 6 x 135? What about 12 x 20 pounds versus 15 x 15 pounds? That time you did 10 x 225 versus the time you did 2 x 275, how do they match up? Now you know how to find out easily...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Workout Timer

If you lack a stopwatch and want to do HIIT, you can use your computer and this page:

The Seedbagforum Workout Timer.

It's very customizable, and useful for Tabata intervals, heavy bag rounds, HIIT, EDT...and it's free. Obviously you need a computer handy, but it's a handy tool for home gym use.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview with Zach Evan-Esch

Here are two videos of an interview with Zach Evan-Esch I recommend watching.

These interviews are excellent for a few reasons.

First, Zach Evan-Esch started out training just a few people in a backyard. He couldn't afford weights and a gym, but he got them lifting stones, chopping trees, and doing bodyweight exercises. You don't need a gymful of machines to train. In fact, that might hold you back more than just hitting the monkey bars at the park!

Second, he's got a lot of ideas about how to train people - both for specific sports and in general (see SPP and GPP!) You'll learn a few things, even if it's only "ask people who already know this stuff" - like he did with Joe DeFranco and Louie Simmons.

Third, Zach is totally enthusiastic about training. It's infectious. You start thinking "Geez, I gotta go flip a tire or something..."

Part I

Part II

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Training Terminology: SPP and GPP

Training terms!

Don't fear the acronyms.

SPP stands for specific physical preparedness. Sometimes you'll see it defined as "sports-specific" instead of just "specific." Basically, physical preparation for specific situations, be they sports or some job-related task. If you're training for a marathon, running long distance is SPP. If you're training to powerlift, a competition bench press is SPP.

GPP stands for general physical preparedness. This is preparation for any and all physical activities. Generally, you use it to build a foundation for task-specific preparedness. Dragging a sled or doing good mornings are GPP for strength athletes, because neither is directly contested, but both build strength that can be trained with SPP for the specific task.

So you do GPP to get generally fit for training, and then do SPP to get good at the skills you need to use in your final task.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Keep it as simple as required

A simple piece of training advice is: Start with the basics.

Try to exhaust the possibilities of the easy stuff before you move onto the hard stuff.


If you start with the really hard stuff, it's going to be, well, hard. You don't have an adequate base of strength, balance, and technical skill yet in the basic version. That's going to severely limit the benefits of the exercise. It's better to do 10 solid bodyweight split squats on the floor than 10 crappy, off-balance, overweighted Bulgarian split-squats with your foot on a box.

Next, if you do master the advanced version quickly, you've exhausted the benefits of the progression. You've got nothing left in the bag of tricks to pull out to force more adaptations. The only thing you can do is keep doing the advanced version and load it up more and more.

An example of this is single-leg exercises. Start with step-ups and statics squats before you move on to lunges, reverse lunges, and lateral step-ups. Get a good split squat before you go onto Bulgarian split-squats, and a good dumbbell Bulgarian split-squat before you move up to squatting with bands, chains, or suspended kettlebells.

Ultimately, the lesson is to keep it as simple as you can while still benefiting from the exercise. Save the advanced stuff for when the basics aren't working so well anymore.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding

Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding: The Complete A-Z Book on Muscle Building
by Robert Kennedy
792 pages, published 2008

Generally I review books on athletic training and general fitness, not bodybuilding. Programs for performance more than appearance. But if you're interested in bodybuilding, this is the book for you. The book is huge - it's a full-sized glossy 792 pages, full of pictures, tables, and little cartoon illustrations around the boxed-out text. It's an easy read, though, and full of information. It doesn't shy away from imparting technical information about physiology and nutrition, either. Although it's clearly aimed at beginning would-be bodybuilders, it doesn't just gloss over difficult topics. It's also attempting to be comprehensive. At that, it does a pretty good job.

It's all covered, from what lifts to do to how to behave in the gym, from what tanning method to use to where to buy posing trunks and what to pack. Want to know what to eat and what supplements to look into? It's here. History of bodybuilding? Also here. Winners lists and off-season bodypart workouts of the current and past favorites? Got it. How about what to look for in a gym membership? Covered. If you're going to bodybuild, this book pretty much hits every subject you might care to look into.

The exercise sections are pretty good. The workouts start out as full-body but quickly transition to body part splits. Not surprising, this is a book on bodybuilding and that's a standard bodybuilding approach. How well your arms and shoulders and chest work together for a bench press is secondary to having a full chest with proportionate shoulders and developed arms. Despite this, there is a very heavy emphasis on compound exercises and basic exercises - squats, deadlifts, rows, chinups, bench pressing - over isolation exercises. Build it before you isolate it. There is a nice section on each of the major lifts, but I think it really needs more in-depth advice on performing them. Anyone using this book for their bodybuilding should also check out a good book on exercise technique to supplement it. The workouts are also fairly high volume - usually 3 sets of 8-12 reps for 8-10 exercises. Some of them go up from there, and although the book stresses the need to moderate your volume compared to pre-contest routines of steroid-using pros, the volume is still generally pretty high. Lots and lots of reps. At least, though, it keeps beginners away from 30 sets for arms and 0 sets for legs.

There is a large section on bodybuilding shows. It covers the various poses, pre-contest prep, oil application, tanning, the sequence of events in shows, and more. It discusses lighting and sound systems, putting on a show or a seminar, and a lot of similar topics from the point of view of a show producer. I'm sure there are good online guides to this as well, but as a solid primer for what to expect and what to do, it's good stuff. It's pretty entertaining even if you've never seen any bodybuilding beyond Pumping Iron. It even has a discussion of running your own gym vs. franchising and personal training, for those who want to turn their hobby into their livelihood.

The book really deserves extra credit for its section on steroids. Many bodybuilding books sweep that under the carpet - they don't want to discuss "gearing" and its consequences. This book gives you a basic, 101-level, look at steroids and their ups and downs. It also gives you a hard look at the legalities of drugs and the consequences of possession.

The main downside to the book is that it feels somewhat disorganized. Each chapter flows into the other well, but the various workout routines, exercise descriptions, and discussions of warmups and advanced techniques, all seem scattered about. It reads well end-to-end but you'll need that table of contents as you use it.

Content: 5 out of 5. Everything you want to know about bodybuilding is in here. A few less plugs of the author's magazines would have been nice, though.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Lots of bite-sized chapters are good, illustrations are fine, but it really needed more exercise photos and more labels on the famous bodybuilders...we don't all recognize all of them on sight.

Overall: If you're a bodybuilder and want to compete as one, this book is an extremely useful addition to your bookshelf. I neither bodybuild nor follow it, but I still found a lot worth reading in the book.

Friday, May 15, 2009

If I squat X, what should I be able to deadlift?

One really common questions on forums is that of relative levels of certain lifts. What should my front squat be compared to my back squat? If I can deadlift 225 pounds, what should I be able to power clean? And so on.

There are two answers to these questions.

The simple answer: There aren't any relative levels. All of your lifts should be higher than they are now. Don't worry about it, and get lifting.

The complicated answer: There are relative levels, and they're a useful guide to seeing if you've gone a bit too overboard on some exercises while neglecting others.

There are three really good resources for this.

Simplest and best are the strength standards from Rippetoe/Kilgore. Ideally, you want your different lifts to be at the same levels of training. If your squat is "Novice" while your deadlift is closing in on "Elite", you've got a problem and you know it means more squatting. Simple enough.

Next up, and limited to the bench press, is Charles Poliquin's "Achieving Structural Balance." This article takes you through a series of tests of exercises related to bench pressing. If one or more of those exercises is lagging, it's probably holding back your bench press.

Another is "How Much Can You Lift (Wimp)?" by Brad Kaczmarski, also for T-Nation. For this one, you plug in your numbers for one of the big three lifts - deadlift, bench press, or back squat - and get an idea of where your other lifts should be.

Ultimately, remember that these are just guidelines. You might find when you play around with them that:

- you need to try more than one "base number" and which one gives you the most information.

- some weights will be way out of line. If they're high, that's not bad, if they're terribly low, that probably is.

- only some exercises make the list. You won't find a relative numbers spreadsheet with everything.

-You won't always match up across the board on some exercises, depending on your build and how you execute the exercises.

You will vary from these numbers. Everyone will to some extent. You're just looking for glaring issues.

Ultimately this kind of things is just good for a rough guideline and some fun. Enjoy these, but remember they're just telling you what to work on. It's not prescriptive!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Working up to a plank

Planks are one of my favorite exercises.

But I recently had a problem - I had some clients to work with who couldn't do a proper plank. What do you do?

Here are the suggestions I received:

Plank on a Bench. A normal plank, but using a bar, bench, or other raised surface to keep a steeper angle and make it easier. Can also be done straight-armed.

Straight-arm Plank. Basically, the top position of a pushup. It's a steeper angle so it's easier to hold good posture.

Swiss ball Rollouts. A good way to build up some abdominal/lower back stability for a future plank workout. Here's a nice video.

Inchworm Walkouts. Bend at the waist and put your hands on the floor. Now "walk" the hands out away from the body until you get to a plank (or close), then walk back.

That's just scratching the surface. But the straight-arm plank is a good start, and worked for the people who needed it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Make the most of your time

This is a link to the site of the late J.V. Askem. His website is crammed full of weight-training information, especially focused on the power lifts (bench press, deadlift, squat) and Olympic lifts (clean and jerk, snatch). For that reason alone you should know about his site.

But what makes J.V. Askem inspirational is that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Despite that, he continued to update his site, helping other lifters. He also continued to train, and train hard. He lifted through treatment, seizures, and through aftereffects of surgery. He continued to push for his best lifts even as he knew his time was short.

J.V. Askem is a good example of "it's never too late." Oh sure, he started lifting weights early and he was already extremely strong when he developed cancer. But even as time grew short he continued to strive. He's inspirational for his determination to continue doing what he loved - lifting - as life drew to a close.

We're all ultimately doing the same thing - making the most of our available time. "This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time." Use them for what makes you and yours happy. If it's lifting, then check out J.V. Askem's site so you can use them as efficiently as you can.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Training Terminology: DOMS

More basic training terminology today.

DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. This is the soreness and pain you feel about 12-72 hours after working out (usually centered on 24-48 hours). If you've worked out hard, especially after a layoff, or tried something new, chances are you've experienced DOMS.

What causes it? The physiological cause of DOMS isn't really clear. In the past, it was believed to be caused by the buildup of lactic acid (seen as a waste product of anaerobic exercise). More recent studies have suggested that lactic acid isn't a waste product, and its buildup isn't tied to muscle soreness. Another theory is that DOMS is primarily causes by micro-tears in the muscle. In other words, your workout causes some damage at the cellular level to your muscles, which is then repaired and strengthened by your body...but you experience pain (DOMS) in the meantime.

That's the physiological angle.

Practically, some aspects of training seem to result in DOMS, or are at least go hand-in-hand with soreness.

- changing exercises. If you do a new variation of an exercise (neutral grip pullups instead of your usual supinated aka chinup grip) or do a new exercise (dips instead of bench press) you are more likely to experience DOMS because you're not adapted yet to the new exercise.
This is partly why people who try a new sport say things like "I ache in muscles I didn't even know I had!" They might not be out of shape, but just experiencing DOMS from a new exercise. If you only ever lift weights and ride your bike and then go do a 5K run, you might get DOMS because running is a new adaptation to you!

- eccentric exercises. Comparatively, exercises with a hard concentric movement give you less DOMS than ones with a hard eccentric movement. If your exercise has a strong eccentric component - lowering the bar to the floor on a deadlift, for example, or slowly lowering yourself from a pullup bar - you are likely to experience more DOMS. If your exercise has almost no eccentric component - box jumps or long jumps, dragging or pushing a sled, deadlifts where you drop the bar - you are likely to experience less DOMS.

- certain muscles. Some muscles, such as the chest, calves, and hamstrings, seem more susceptible to DOMS.

Combinations can be really painful. If you're trying Romanian Deadlifts for the first time - a new exercise (to you), focusing on the hamstrings, with a very strong eccentric component - you can expect a lot of DOMS. If you're doing sled drags for the umpteenth time, not so much.

What can I do about it? Really, not much beyond taking pain relievers works reliably. But there are a few things you can try that seem to have some effect in mitigating soreness.

- contrast showers. These are alternating very hot and very cold showers on and off. You can do it with baths, too. This seems to reduce inflammation and result in less DOMS.

- stretching. Some studies indicate that stretching before or after (or both!) a workout can result in reduced DOMS. More recent studies cast some doubts on this, but you should be warming up properly and stretching at some point, so you might give it a try.

How come I don't get sore? Soreness does vary from person to person. Some people can change their exercises frequently, work muscles associated with extreme soreness (calves, chest), and workout hard after a layoff and experience relatively mild DOMS. Others may get moderate DOMS from even the smallest changes in exercises or weight.

If I'm sore, it means I've worked hard, right? Well, yes and no. It's hard to get DOMS without working hard, but you can work hard without getting DOMS. Don't worry too much about getting or not getting DOMS. If you're always sore, try some of the suggestions for alleviating it. If you're never sore, you might consider if you're working out as hard as you believe. But it's not a primary indicator of hard work or results. If you're rarely sore but your weights keep increasing, you're doing just fine!

I'm sore, should I wait until I'm not sore to workout? Not necessarily. If you've got severe DOMS - you can't walk right, or raise your arms above your shoulders, or something similar, you might want to avoid exercising those areas. If you're only experiencing mild soreness, you can just go ahead and lift. It probably will dissipate the soreness or at least mask it. The short version is, if the soreness makes it difficult or impossible to lift safely, don't. If it doesn't, you can usually go ahead. This is especially true if you're just getting started - it's too easy to fall off a new workout schedule if you're waiting 12-72 hours after each workout before you lift again!

For more information on DOMS, check here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training

Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training

By Mark Vella
144 pages, published 2006.

There are a few books out there that provide an anatomical view of exercises. They mostly seem on the surface like an excuse to draw cut-away shots of men and women exercising. They're useful for fitness professionals trying to better understand the relationship of exercises to musculature, and for fitness enthusiasts in general looking to broaden their knowledge of anatomy.

The book is split into two parts. Part 1 is called "Overview of Anatomy" and it's exactly that. An overview of the musculoskeletal system, planes of body movement, anatomical terms and exercises, posture, and exercise analysis.

Part 1 contains some very useful elements. It thoroughly explains the layout and presentation used in Part 2. It contains a list of common prefixes, suffixes, and word roots of exercise and anatomical terms. This makes it clear that hip adduction, for example, means "movement of the hip towards the midline of the body" because that's what adduction describes. Or that the "con-" in "concentric contraction" means muscle attachments moving together. Very educational, and perhaps surprisingly useful. The usual maps of the muscular structure of the body and the skeleton are there as well. But so are anatomical terms, joint movement terms, pelvic positions, explanations of "open chain" versus "closed chain" exercises.

The only downside is that there is a fairly generic "training goals" table for designing your own workout. It's so broad as to be useless if you're a newbie, but so general that it's useless if you're experienced. For example, it says for Weight Loss, you want 2-4 workouts a week, for 15-30 min (not including cardio), a load of 4-6 on a 1-10 scale (so 40-60% weight), 15-30 reps, 1-2 sets, rest of 15-30 seconds. Armed with that and a list of exercises, could you design yourself a good fat loss workout? Maybe an experienced trainer could, but so much will depend on your exercise choice, your fitness level, and your other activities. It gives too broad of a range...2x a week for 15 minutes, 1 set, 15 reps, 40% of 1RM on one end to 4x a week for 30 minutes, 2 sets, 30 reps, 60% of one rep max. It doesn't give you an idea of how to scale them. Later in the book it gives a couple of sample workouts, but they're pretty generic "8-12 exercises for 2-3 sets" don't mesh well with the earlier advice. In my opinion, it would have be been skipped or dealt with more thoroughly.

Part 2 is the real meat of the book - "Anatomy of Exercise." Theese are the chapters on exercises. They are organized by body part or function, specifically:

Legs and hips
Back and shoulders
Abdominals, stabilization, and balance
Total body and power exercise

Each exercise comes with:

- basic description of form
- a description of technique (generally very good)
- tips for good form
- analysis of movement by joints
- a list of stabilizing muscles and prime movers
- a color drawing of a trainee executing the movement, with transparent skin to reveal the (well-labeled) muscles

No surprise in a book like this, it contains a lot of machine exercises common in gyms. This is probably a good sales point - users of those machines are a big market. It also contains exercises not commonly includes along side the pec deck and leg extension - snatches, power cleans, deadlifts, planks, and even some yoga poses (in the balance section).

Content: 4 out of 5. Contains a lot of good information, only weakened by the inclusion of some incomplete material.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Well organized, easy to read, with clear pictures and text.

Overall: If you're studying for an anatomy exam or personal training exam, it's worth checking this out. It's also helpful if you're interested in finding out more about the muscles you're using when you lift. For designing your own workout, it's inadequate but would be a useful adjunct.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Amusing video contest

EliteFTS, makers of "The Prowler" - a particularly well-designed and brutal pushing and dragging sled - have a video contest.

They want the best videos of people suffering from "Prowler Flu" - the aftereffects of a Prowler conditioning session.

It's a pretty funny concept, and the videos they include can give you an idea of what a solid sled session can do to you!

Prowler Flu

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Link Recommendation: Fat Loss Circuit

Circuits are a good way to increase your cardiovascular fitness and burn body fat (in conjunction with a good diet - you can't out-train a bad diet).

The first video is primarily a "push" circuit - moving weight away from the body.

It consists of 4 x 1 minute exercises. Dumbbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Squat, Box Jumps, Dumbbell Military Press. It's done for 3-5 rounds, depending on your fitness level.

Part 1

The second video is primarily a "pull" circuit - moving weight towards the body.

It consists of 4 x 1 minute exercises: Sumo Deadlifts (he uses an EZ-Curl bar), Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows, Box Jumps, and Assisted Pullups. Again, 3-5 rounds.

Part 2

You could easily do these circuits 2x a week each and get a nice workout - Monday Push, Tuesday Pull, Thursday Push, Friday Pull, for example. Or Monday/Wednesday/Friday alternating Push and Pull (so you do each 3x over two weeks). Or every other day. It's a good start for someone who wants a crash start into circuits, too.

Both workouts use compound exercises, include legs (squats and box jumps on day 1, box jumps on day 2), and are well-organized (alternating upper and lower body pushing, for example). They're reasonably complete, too, and don't require much equipment.

My only complaint with the circuits is the use of the assisted pullup machine - that's great if you have one at the gym, but not so good for a "home workout." A good alternative is a jump-assisted pullup. Jump up just enough to get a boost, and then lower under control. Don't just jump and hold onto the bar, but jump-assist a pullup. Band-assisted pullups would be better, if you've got a sufficiently strong band.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Local Workout Program

I live in NJ, and I found this article online about Morris County's weight loss challenge.

Weight Loss Challenge

They organize weigh-ins and measurements, teach cooking classes, run hikes and bike rides, and have even gotten a local gym to give $1-a-session workouts to club members. It's an interesting and innovative way to get people healthier.

It's not that most people don't care to eat right and get fit, it's that they don't really know where to begin. A group setting, with a support system of people helping you learn to eat right and stay active, is a great way to begin.

Do they have one in your area? Can you organize one or join one? Can your gym help out? A few things you might consider.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Deadlift

One of the best exercises you can learn to do is the deadlift. It's a deceptively simple exercise. You stand with a loaded barbell in front of you, on the floor. You grip it and lift the weight with straight arms, until you are standing in a normal, upright posture.

Pretty simple. And this is a mechanically advantageous way to pick up weight - you use your back muscles to hold your spine in position, and your large gluteals and leg muscles to pull the weight off the floor. Plus virtually every other muscle in your body works to stabilize your posture, stabilize the weight, or transfer energy from your legs and gluteals to your "hooks" (the hands) to lift the weight. Even your hands get a huge workout - if you can't hold the weight, you can't lift it.

But the difficulty lies with the fact that it's not always so easy to keep the back in proper position. And the weight goes up very quickly - because so many muscles are involved. You can get a tremendous amount of weight up, and if you do so with bad form, or relax and let the weight shift can get hurt.

It's a perfectly safe exercise done right, and very productive. But you do need to learn to do it right. It's easy to screw up - rounded back, bent elbows, the weight too far from your body (which encourages bad form).

Lucky for us, though, is the fact that there are a large number deadlift resources.

Here are my favorites.

Free resources!

EXRX has a basic look at the deadlift. It's a good list of the muscles involved.

Diesel Crew put out a long but excellent article on the deadlift - how to do it, common mistakes and how to correct them, variations, and programming. It has the usual picture of Franco Columbu deadlifting. Despite the rep of bodybuilders being "big, showy, but weak," one thing is for certain - Franco Columbu wasn't weak. He could pull!
Diesel Crew Deadlift

Diesel Crew also put out an excellent video on deadlifting
Deadlift 101

Eric Cressey wrote three articles about deadlifts for T-Nation. As usual, T-Nation has non-W/F safe images.
Part I - Why deadlift
Part II - How to deadlift
Part III - Variations

There are a few resources for the deadlift that will cost you money, but I think I worth the investment.

Starting Strength (2nd edition). Only about $30, this book contains an entire chapter on deadlifting. The instruction is clear and easy to follow.

Starting Strength DVD. About $20-$25. Even easier to follow than the Starting Strength book, and a useful companion or stand-alone.

Personal instruction. If you can find someone who knows how to deadlift properly, learn from that person. I highly recommend you make sure the person knows what they are doing. "Biggest guy at my gym" is not sufficient. "Trained coach" is.
Some good signs for a deadlifting coach:

- The coach has passed Mark Rippetoe's Basic Barbell Training certification, that's a good sign - it means they got hands-on training from an excellent coach. You can attend one too, but it's not cheap. You'd also learn to squat, power clean, press, and bench press, hands-on, so it's not a one-lift training session.

- The coach is a competitive powerlifter, or coaches competitive powerlifters. They will compete in deadlifting, so they'll know how to do it and should know how to teach it. Even if you're just a beginning trainee, it's worth asking a local powerlifting club about learning the basics. Not everyone has an open-door policy, but you never know until you ask!

- The coach has a track record of successfully training deadlifters.

Generally, expect to pay for this, but the rates vary wildly.

I hope this is useful resource for you. Deadlifting is a basic human movement - pick anything up off the floor, it's a deadlift. You should learn to do it right, and it's a very productive exercise.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Vegan(ish) muscle building

Dr. John Berardi, occasionally quoted here, tried an experiment recently. He ate a largely vegan diet - with the exception of some eggs - with the goal of gaining lean body mass. Putting on muscle without meat.

The experiment is interesting, since so few athletes and weight trainees eat a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Here are links to his article.

First, the launch of the program on 1/13/09.

JB Goes Vegetarian

Second, here is the wrapup, which includes links to two articles about what vegans and non-vegans can learn from each other, and about the upsides/downsides to meat.

The Sexiest Vegetarian

His gains were good - he put on 7 pounds, 4.9 pounds of which was lean mass and 2.1 pounds of which was fat. Not bad for a dedicated attempt to bulk up.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Link Recommendation: Designing your own workout

There are two very useful articles out there about designing your own workout.

The first article is the more basic of the two. It's by Mike Robertson.

Program Design 101

The second article is more technical, but also a broader look at the subject. It's by Steven Low.

How to construct your own workout routine v1.2

It's a very detailed writeup. It's not as tied to "pumping iron" as the Robertson article; really, you could use it to design a training schedule for almost anything.

Both of them are useful, but both of them require some basic knowledge of the subject of training. I wouldn't recommend either as a starting point unless you're basically familiar with gym training in general and familiar with physiology. But if you're already on the way and training, either of them will expand your understanding of what goes into a program.
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