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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Exercise: Grappler Twists

One of my favorite abdominal exercises are Russian Twists with a barbell. These are also called "core twists," "full contact twists," or "barbell twists." They're pretty much all the same exercise, with variations on foot position that varies as much as the name.

How do I do these? The first trick is setting up the barbell. You'll need an Olympic bar for these, because you need a thick handle to hold and a rotating sleeve to prevent the bar from tearing up your hands.

The easiest way to do it is to use a "Grappler" if your gym has one:

The Grappler is a special mount that holds the barbell firm to the floor in a pivoting holster, allowing the bar to move relatively freely but not slide around. These are probably the best solution, because you can go hard and fast!

You don't need the bar mount for these, you can also do them with a bar in the corner or against a way like so:

Or mount the end of the bar in a 45-pound plate, like this:

How do I do them? Basically you hold the end of the bar in both hands, and rotate left to right, bringing the barbell down towards your knee. Then swing the bar back up and around to the other side.

You rotate and bend at the hips, not at the lower back - your lower back and abs stay rigid and tight. The exercise impact to those areas comes from resisting the pull of the barbell, not from moving. Take a deep breath and hold your breath behind your "armor" - your abs - and keep them tight.

You'll notice some variations in speed and form in the videos I linked above. This is fine - all have something to recommended them. If you do them fast and hard, you'll get more of a cardio effect, and you'll train your body to deal with very hard changes in direction - you have to stop the speeding bar and pull it back fast the other way. On the other hand, if you go very slow, you get a steady pull the whole way through, forcing your body to deal with a slow change in momentum over a longer period of time. Try both!

If you need to increase the resistance, add weight to the sleeve you are holding. A small amount of weight can dramatically increase the difficulty.

Why do I want to do these? An important, perhaps the most important, function of the abdominal muscles (especially the obliques) and the lower back is to resist rotational stress. This exercise, done properly (twisting the hips, not the back, and tight abs) will force your midsection to strengthen to resist this kind of movement. This will translate to a greater ability to resist unwanted rotation, whether from an accident, an awkward lift, or an unfriendly opponent in a grappling match.

Most workout routines cover flexion of the abs and back, but don't bother with counter-rotational exercises. This is a good one, and it's low-equipment and quite difficult.

How many should I do? One thing is for sure, this is an assistance exercise, not a main exercise. You don't want to do these for maximum efforts. Go higher reps - 10-20 - and multiple sets. Train your abdomen for strength and endurance in this motion, not pure's just not the kind of movement you want to push to your maximum, because of the danger of going to low reps and heavy. Go lighter and go hard for a higher number of reps, and work up slowly.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Strong(er) Free PDF

You can download a free sample of the EliteFTS Strong(er) program.

It's available as a ZIP file or straight-up PDF.

It's free, it's from EliteFTS, and it's worth taking the time to check it out. It isn't a chunk of the workouts, but it does have enough information to let you decide if the PDFs they have for sale are worth the money.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Simple Pushup Progression

I've got a training environment where I have no adjustable bench to use, only a single (low) box, and a trainee with only a limited amount of relative strength.

Here's the progression I am using to get a youngster up to a proper pushup. The youngster isn't able to maintain proper form all the way down, and can't press up from the floor. No knee pushups allowed! We want the real deal.

Pushup Holds: Holds at the top position of the pushup for 2 sets of ALAP (As Long As Possible). Failure is when the hips pike up or sag.

Partial Pushups: One set of max pushups to a series of stacked foam blocks. A full rep is chest touching and then extending back up. This is followed by 5 sets of 50% of the max set.

Floor Press/Triceps Extension Supersets: Two to three supersets of 10-15 floor presses immediately supersetted with 10-15 triceps extensions (with lighter dumbbells).

Upper Back Exercises: Two to three sets each of various grip lat pulldowns, face pulls, and/or rows. These are aimed primarily at achieving a pullup, but they also provide a strong back for a stable pushup.

I also throw in occasional scap pushups as a warmup, but they can be difficult as even a short set duplicates the Pushup Hold done above. As the trainee makes progress, we are using heavier weights for the presses and extensions, looking into full-range bench pressing, and removing blocks from under the chest to increase the range of motion. This kind of progressive program can be used to work on a difficult movement.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Quick Tip: Intensity vs. Time

Especially with cardio, there is an emphasis on "low intensity, long duration." You don't work terribly hard, but you work long, burning calories and building up endurance. At least in theory.

The problem that comes with this is to have twice the effect the cardio workout needs to be twice as long. You can see where this goes - you just keep logging more and more time to improve. The workout never improves in efficiency even as your body does.

How to get past this? Up the intensity. Methods like circuit training, complexes, and HIIT are great for this. But sometimes you are dealing with someone - yourself, a trainer partner or friend, or a client - who isn't up to circuit training. Or you're stuck with a limited set of tools and time. Or both.

One simple method you can use to up the intensity for someone not ready for intervals is to just up the intensity a little each time. Keep the same overall time, but aim to get more done in that time. This time-specific method aims at getting more work in the same time rather than getting more time in overall.

On a rower, you can up the resistance of the flywheel.
On a stepper, you can raise the resistance of pushing each step down.
On treadmill, you can raise the incline.

On any of these, you can up your speed - aiming for more distance in the same time.

Outdoors, you can choose a steeper route or just increase your speed.

For example, if you've got 15 minutes to workout, you can start out walking on a 1% incline and 2.5 mph on the treadmill. Next time, 2% and 2.5. Then 3% and 2.5...and so on, until you max out the incline. Or you can alternate - next time 2% and 2.5 mph, but then 2% and 2.6 mph the time after. As long as one of those figures keeps going up, you're getting more work done.

I'm still a bigger fan of intervals and HIIT, but this is a painless way to increase the difficulty on a cardio workout over time. It's not a big jump - you don't go right into Tabata sprints from walking. Instead you ease into more and more work each session. It's progressive, it's simple, and it's always just a little more than last time...and it can be just what someone needs to build up to circuits and intervals!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Leg Day at DeFranco's

If you ever wondered what "Leg Day" at DeFranco's was like, this article sums it up well.

I've never seen calf raises done there, though, that's likely an artifact of Joe's original workout being described. But box squats for a max effort (5 rep, 3 rep, and 2 rep depending on the week), followed by glute-ham raises and a variation of the Bulgarian Split Squat? That's spot on, and it's brutal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Training Tip: Work your weakness

One simple tip you can follow is always work your weakness.

When you work it, work it first. Strong on pullups but weak on overhead pressing? Press overhead first in your workout. Your bench is strong but your deadlift is weak? Get deadlifting when you get in, and bench later that workout or later in the weak. Put the things you need to work the most, first.

The classic and of-repeated story is of Arnold and his calves. Arnold had weak calves, so he cut off the bottoms of his workout pants to show them off, and made working them a priority until they caught up to the rest of his physique. Now, that's a bodybuilder example, with a body part weakness. But for athletes and "getting in shape" types, it's usually a movement. What movement do are you weakest at? Can you work on it to improve it? Can you make it a priority?

Prioritize what you need to get good at, not what you're already good at.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dolph Lundgren: Keeping strong as you age

My friend recently blogged about an upcoming movie that stars, amongst others, Dolph Lundgren.

One thing about Dolph Lundgren is that, as an action star, he was a lot of the real thing. He is a former Kyoukushin contact karate champion, he's a former bodyguard, and he's highly educated and well spoken on top of all of that.

More importantly to this blog, he keeps himself in excellent shape. Over on, they ran a two-part interview with him.

Part I

Part II

The real highlights of the interview are his workouts. He says:

"When you do a lot of filming it is a very tough schedule and you better watch out so you don't lose weight and get thinner. When I am filming I train with heavier weights and fewer reps. I do more squats, deadlifts and clean and jerks.

The workout is based on more basic training and compound movements. The duration for the workouts get shorter, about 45-60 minutes because this will help me put on much more muscle. At the moment I am doing a lot more sparring. I can do one hour of different karate styles with pads and that keeps me much thinner and leaner."

So right there you have the core of a great workout - squatting, deadlifting, and clean and jerks for strength, with heavy weights and low reps. Then it's sparring and pad work for cardio. Not a lot of the machines and isolation movements you saw in his role as Ivan Drago in Rocky V, it's simple, compound movements and hard sparring...and this is a man in his early 50s. He doesn't look it, and it's this kind of workout and work ethic that explains why.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Review: Fitness Training for Girls

Fitness Training for Girls
by Katrina Gaede, Alan Lachica, and Doug Werner
192 pages, published 2001

The vast majority of training books out there seem to be aimed at either men trying to get big, or men and women trying to lose weight (without "bulking up.") The number of books aimed at teens, especially teen girls, is pretty small. Although this book is somewhat old now (published in 2001) it's in such a small niche it's worth reviewing for that reason alone.

The introduction and first chapters sell the idea of training - why to do it, how to get started, what to look for in a gym. It's all very female-friendly, and aimed squarely at teen girls. It's all good advice in general, though, and well presented.

The book also includes several routines and advice on making your own schedule. The routines presented are "body part" emphasis full-body routines. The good point is that they frequently recommend compound exercises for these "body parts" - like pushups for chest and triceps, chinups for biceps as well as lats. The bad point is that isolation exercises are includes, and the emphasis is more on hitting the body piece by piece and not improving movements. At least three different exercises for each body part are included - one bodyweight, one free weight (dumbbell or barbell or both), one machine. Again, there is an upside and a downside. The upside is the emphasis on the benefits of bodyweight and free weight exercising...the downside is the way it makes leg extensions or machine flys an equivalent to dumbbell squats or pushups. They just don't equate.

Cardio is covered as well, with an emphasis on staying in a range of 60-80% of your maximum heart rate. This is fine, since the goal is general fitness and endurance. But the book falls down where it says to avoid increasing intensity (by using a steeper slope, running/pedaling faster, etc.) in favor of increasing duration. That's only going to get you so far, where increasing intensity will reap all of the same benefits as increased duration and more.

Stretching is recommended pre-workout and a solid array of stretches are described and pictured. The book also deserves kudos for covering a wide range of med ball exercises, full-body barbell exercises, and even explosive training for sports. It's quite complete despite its small size.

The book also emphasizes increasing resistance on each exercise. Goals like "go up two weight levels in 8 weeks" - moving up two notches on the weight stack, dumbbell rack, or barbell loading - are clear, achievable, and demand a steady increase in weight. The recommended workouts start at 1-2 sets of 12-15 reps (fairly standard recommendations for female trainees) twice a week, but the advice to keep upping the weight pairs well with it. As you progress, it moves to more sets (2-3) and less reps for higher weight (6-10 reps) and more frequency (three times a week.)

The nutrition section is the weakest. It's an important topic, and proper eating is critical, but the information is pure "FDA food pyramid" advice. The diet breakdown is 55-60% carbs, 12-15% protein, and 25-30% from fat. That's a good amount of fat but I think it's way undershooting the amount of protein a fit teen girl is going to need.

Contents: 4 out of 5. The nutrition advice is generic and outdated, and so is some of the programming advice, but the rest of the book is solid.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Very readable, well-aimed at its target audience.

Overall: I'd rather see a beginning teen girl trainee go with Starting Strength, but this will do pretty well. There is a lot to nitpick, but I'd recommend it to any teen trainee. It's easy enough to say "Read this and just ignore X, Y, and Z" because most of it is fundamentally useful advice. It's also short and makes for a good introduction to fitness.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eric Cressey on Yoga

What do you think of yoga?

That's the title of Eric Cressey's latest newsletter. If you aren't subscribed to it yet, I recommend that you do so. It's generally short and to the point, and you will get a steady diet of useful training information. It's never a hard-sell for his products, either, although he always makes sure to mention them if they're on-topic. That's just good business...but the good training information is free.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Training Kids

One thing I do is train kids, so I spent a lot of my time looking into how to get kids started on the road to fitness. The problem for many of them, is they aren't ready to do some of the "basic" exercises a moderately fit adult can do. Some kids aren't in shape to just start doing pullups, pushups, burpees, squats, and box jumps.

This article has some excellent ideas about training kids who are "too fat to get fit." A harsh title, but it's got a lot of heart for all of that. You have to start somewhere, and this article has a lot of good ideas.

Too Fat to Get Fit?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Plethora of Complexes

Over on the EXRX Forums, Andy aka Jungledoc, compiled a long list of complexes.

Here they are - if you're looking for a complex to try, start here. Everything from Istvan Javorek's more popular complexes to the grappler's complex and more are here.

Big List of Complexes

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wall Sits

One simple, no-equipment exercise you can do is the wall sit.

How do I do it?
To do one, you need a space of flat wall wide enough for your body width. Stand just far enough from the wall that you can lean back into it and "sit" as if on an imaginary chair. You knees and hips will each form a 90 degree angle, and your back will press flat against the wall behind you. Keep your head back against the wall, and your weight pressing into your heels. Do not rise up on your toes.

Hold there! It's an isometric exercise.

It's common to see people who have difficulty with this exercise rise up - straightening up. Don't do this - you need to keep both your knees and hips at a 90 degree angle or a little bit lower (as in a parallel squat). If you can't get to this depth, you can use a pole, stick, or a chair to take some of the resistance off. Better to get assistance than slide upwards!

Make sure you've got no-skid shoes if the floor is smooth.

Why do I want to do it?

It's a simple way to strengthen your quadriceps, the muscles down the front of your legs, as well as your gluteals to some extent as well. It also requires very little equipment.

How can I change the difficulty?

To make it easier, there is one hint above, holding onto an object to take off some weight. Work up quickly to doing your own bodyweight, even if it's for a much shorter time.

To make it harder, try it with a medicine ball between your knees, forcing you to push inwards to keep the ball up. Or try it with a band around your knees to keep you forcing your knees out.

I like to combined these with squats, step-ups and other leg exercises in a circuit, either maintaining or shortening the length of time wall sitting between each round.

For example:
Wall Sit x 60 seconds
Bodyweight Squat x 20 reps
Step Ups x 15 per leg
Reverse Lunges x 15 per leg
then repeat, dropping the wall sits to 45 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 15 seconds, for 4 rounds.

Friday, June 12, 2009

...and more Bench Press

Yesterday I posted some videos about the bench press. Smitty just put up a couple more on improving your bench press today.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bench Press

The bench press is one of the most popular exercises in the world. Odds are I don't have to tell anyone that, you already know it. You're probably already doing it.

So how do you do it right, without screwing up your shoulders or being "that guy" at the gym doing 1/4 reps with way too much weight and his buddy helping him lift the weight?

Here's some video to get you started.

These three videos are from Smitty, aka Jim Smith of Diesel Crew.

How to bench press without wrecking your shoulders

Also check out Bench Press Tips #1 and Bench Press Tips #2.

Finally, if you want to know about benching and how to set up for a powerlifting-style bench, ask Dave Tate (warning, not work/family safe language!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jump Rope

One of cheapest tools you can use for increasing fitness is the jump rope.

How do I use it? The basics are simple. Get a jump rope, and jump. Do rounds for time, count skips, or some combination of the two. Single foot hops, double hops, slalom jumps, running in place, and double-unders (two passes of the rope per jump) are all useful methods, but the basic jump works fine too.

What's the downside? Only that it requires some skill. You will develop good timing with jumping rope, but you need to put in some practice. At first, you'll spend a fair amount of time hitting yourself with the rope or stepping on it. Probably more time than you spend jumping. But the more skilled you get, the more exercise results it can give you.

How long and how much? A typical jumprope is under $10, often around $5. Don't be fooled into thinking you need a speed rope, a special cardio jumprope, a weighted rope, or some special construction. Find a cheap rope to start with, either plastic or cloth. Save the special ropes for when you've got jumping rope down pat and know what you're looking for in a new rope.
Make sure it rotates around the handles easily, and cut it to size. The rule-of-thumb on size is to stand on the rope and hold the handles up. They should just reach your armpits. If so, that's about the right length for you. Longer and it'll swing slowly and catch on things (and impair your jumping), shorter and it'll be much harder to jump (or impossible, if short enough).

Don't overlook this excellent option for warming up (it involves the whole body), fat loss training (burns a lot of calories), and cardio (it's not hard to get your heart rate up with a jump rope).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Training for a 5K

One of the posters on EXRX has been training his sister for a 5K run. He's turned it into a log:

Training for a 5K

The fascinating aspect of it, to me, is that he used very little running and concentrated on fixing her injuries and aches and pains, plus some basic bodily strength. The goal was to get her a decent time in a 5K run, the result was a lot greater. Long, but worth the time to read.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Men's Health Gym Bible

The Men's Health Gym Bible
432 pages, published 2006
by Michael Mejia, MS, CSCS, and Myatt Murphy

The book is divided into three broad parts.

Part One covers gym memberships. There are four chapters, on why to use a gym instead of a home gym, how to pick the right gym for you, contract details, and what to look for in the gym itself. This section is well written and while not exhaustive it is very well detailed. The section on how to read a gym contract - and negotiate for what you need - is well worth the price of the book. It can save you far more than the book cost you. It's only 15 pages, but they are useful ones.

Part Two is a good chunk of the book - a little over 200 pages - on exercises and machines. Everything is covered here. Free weights, cables, machines, cardio machines, bench exercises, etc. How to set up the various implements and what exercises you can use them for is well covered. There are pictures of just about everything, too, including a nice section on the various lat pulldown attachments (although this information is repeated elsewhere in the book, too). The book is biased in favor of free weights, but accepts the fact that machines are here to stay and you might want to use them despite recommendations otherwise. Therefore they include a solid section on what the machines do and how to use them safely.

Part Three - which includes FAQs, gym etiquette, exercises classes, and so on - takes up most of the rest of the book. This is all of the miscellaneous stuff that just doesn't fit anywhere else in the book...but that you'll want to know. It also covers express gyms - placed like Curves and other "in, exercise, and out" circuit-training centers. Their ups and downs are discussed thoroughly. The section on exercise classes is good too. The typical male/female ratio, Also Known As sections for each class, and a useful description of the typical benefits are listed for each class. If you have no idea what Spinning is, look here.

Finally the book includes some sample routines for beginners, for cardio and strength training (overall fitness, fat loss, and strength). These are excellent, but it promises setups for several types of gyms but seems to only cover fairly well-equipped ones. Still, it is a good start and it can keep you training effectively for many months.

The book is solidly aimed at beginners, and it works very well for them. If you read this, you will be able to approach the gym with a much better idea of what you're in for. If this is the only homework you did for choosing and training in a gym, you would be well served. If you are an experienced trainee, the book will likely add something to your knowledge base but it's aimed at a different audience.

Content: 4 out of 5. If you're a new exerciser going to the gym, this will tell you things to do and what to expect and look for.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Good pictures, good layout, although it does repeat some information in multiple places.

Overall: If you're an experienced trainee, this isn't for you. But if you or someone else is looking for a guide to selecting and training in a gym, read this book. It's Men's Health, but it doesn't give short shrift to women.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sledgehammer Training

One of my favorite strength development tools is the sledgehammer.

The best way to use it is with two easy steps:

1) Get a heavy sledgehammer.
2) Hit something with it repeatedly.

Ross Enamait has an excellent and nearly exhaustive pair of articles on sledgehammer training.

Part I

Part II

A couple variations:

Rotational Chops - sideways swings.

Breaking Up Trash - Don't have a tire? You can smash up something that needs smashing.

Now all you need is a hammer...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Training Terminology - Plates and Weights

There are two types of bars - Olympic and Standard. Therefore there are two types of plates to fit them!

Olympic plates have a 2# hole. They are meant to fit Olympic bars - which come with oversized rotating sleeves to allow the gripped portion of the barbell to stay still while the plates rotate. Useful in explosive lifting. These barbells have a large collar, so the central hole on the Olympic-sized weights is equally large. You'll find these at all Olympic training centers and most "hardcore" gyms.

Standard plates have a 1" hole. These are meant to fit bars lacking the rotating sleeve. These are the kind of weights you'll find most often at sporting goods stores, gyms, and garage sales.

Plates aren't all the same size. Standard sizes depend on your readers are mostly in the USA so I'll use the US standards primarily and put the equivalent plate in metric in parenthesis.

2.5 pounds (1.25 kg) - These are the smallest commonly available plates, although some gyms may carry microplates (sub-2.5 pound plates). You'll usually find only a pair or two of these, because you don't need more than one set before it's easier to go up by 5s.

5 pounds (2.5 kg) - The smallest plate you'll find in bunches on a weight rack.

10 pounds (5 kg) - Another common size, a bit bigger than the 5 pound plates and thicker as well.

25 pounds (10kg) - At 2.5 times the weight of a 10, they're also wider and thicker. Like the 2.5 you generally find one or two pairs of these, since once you've gone past a 25, a 10, and a 5, you can just use a 45 instead.

35 pounds (15 kg) - these are not terribly common. You simply don't need them that often once you are able to lift 45 pound plates, and you can add up 35 pounds with a 25 and a 10, then swap them off for a 45 for the next big jump. Therefore you don't seem many of these.

45 pounds (20 kg) - in gym speak, these are plates. If someone says "I squatted 2 plates for 10" they mean they squatted with two 45 pound plates per side for 10 reps. With an Olympic bar (also 45 pounds) this means a total of 225 pounds. So next time someone asks you to load up "a plate and 25" they mean putting a 45 and a 25 on each side of the bar for a load of 140 pounds.

100 pounds - not common, but you'll sometimes find gyms that have these for high-end lifters. The diameter of these is the same as a 45, so they'll fit on the same plate-loading machines and raise the bar the same height off the floor.

Additionally, you'll sometimes see large rubber-coated plates. These are called bumper plates, and they cushion the impact of the bar on the floor. These are almost exclusively found in Olympic versions, since it is the O-lifts that require you to be able to drop the bar from the top without breaking the floor.

Why not 50 pounds instead of 45? Probably because 20kg is about 44 pounds, so pound-measurement plates are made to closely match the sizes of internationally accepted Olympic standards while fitting to easily addable numbers. It's easier to see 2 x 45 pound plates and think "90" than to have two 20kg plates and figure it's about 88.1 pounds or so...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Basics: Bar Weight

Do I count the bar weight? Yes! Bars are not weightless. If you're squatting with an Olympic bar and have two 45 pound plates on the bar, it's 135 pounds. Not 90! log it as get credit for the work you're doing.

How much does it weigh? That depends. Many bars have different weights.

A typical Olympic bar weighs 45 pounds.

A typical 7' standard bar weighs 20 pounds.

A typical E-Z curl bar weighs 20 pounds if it has Olympic collars, 10 pounds if not.

Pre-loaded fixed-weight barbells are labeled with their total weight, so don't worry there. Same with dummbells. And kettlebells are usually listed clearly with their weight in kg or pounds on the side.

So count that bar weight in your training log!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Farmer's Walks

One simple and easy exercise you can do is called the farmer's walk. It's a staple of Strongman competitions - usually involving stuff like anvils or gigantic "torpedoes" festooned with 45-pound weight plates. It's also a staple of strongman training, and it could be part of yours.

How do I do it? The basic version is simple - grab two heavy objects and walk for distance, speed, or time. What those objects are doesn't matter too much. Dumbbells work pretty well, but heavy ones get difficult as the weights tend to restrict the range of motion of your steps. Barbells can be awkward to load. Non-traditional weights can be extremely specific - try buckets full of sand or water, loaded suitcases (which often come with ergonomic handles), or whatever. I've done farmer's walks pinch-gripping compact car tires (for training) and 18L containers of kerosene (to get the kerosene home from the store). If the weights are uneven or mismatched, try walking halfway to your goal and then quickly setting them down and switching - it's usually easier to turn around, grab them and then turn back around with them than to swap them on the ground.

Just whatever you pick up, make it heavy. This isn't "heavy hands" race-walking. You want something you can't just casually swing back and forth. The goal is to carry a heavy object, so something weighty that can stand being dropped or set down roughly is ideal.

Walk until you can't hold the weights anymore, then drop them or place them on the ground. That's pretty much it. You can squat down, pick them back up, and walk more, which is fine when you're going for distance or just want extra work. Or if you're "farmer's walk training" is actually "bringing home heavy things from the store" and you can't just leave them on the sidewalk.

Why do I want to do these? Because this is as functional and basic an exercise as you can get. You're picking up heavy objects and getting them from one place to another. That's what functional training is all about - moving furniture, toting groceries, carrying stuff.

As for muscles, they'll work your shoulders and upper back (as you struggle to keep the weight up), your forearms and grip (as you try to hold on as long as possible), your gluteals and your legs (as you walk, probably with short strides, under a heavy load). Your abdominals and lower back will have to stabilize you, and so will your hips. Pretty much the only part of your body that won't work too hard are your upper arms and chest, but they're not wholly excluded, they just don't do too much in the basic version of the farmer's walk.

I'll post again on these, with some variations and modifications you might find useful. But for now, just try grabbing two heavy weights and taking a walk.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Book Review: Women's Strength Training Anatomy

Women's Strength Training Anatomy
by Frederic Delavier
136 pages plus fold-out covers, published 2003

This book is a woman-specific version of the gender-neutral Strength Training Anatomy by the same author.

Unlike the other book, this volume does not jump right into the exercises. Instead it starts with a short look at female body morphology (ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph) and the common areas of fat deposit in women's bodies. These sections are well-illustrated and the explanations are easy to understand.

Next are the exercise sections - divided into buttocks (27 exercises), legs (37 exercises), abdominals (34 exercises), and back (6 exercises). Each section covers a variety of machine, free weight, and bodyweight exercises. Many of them are isolation exercises, although a good number are full-body exercises like front squats and back squats (legs) or deadlifts (back). There are no sections for, nor any exercises that cover, the chest or arms or total-body power exercises.

The fold-out covers show the skeletal muscles of the human body using a female form from the front (front cover) and back (back cover). The outside of the fold-out is used for a glossary of common lifting terms; ironically it covers things like the clean and jerk, but these exercises are not found in the book. That's obviously deliberate - the front cover says this is "Your illustrated guide to shape and tone * abs * back * legs * buttocks" and that's all it is.

Like the previous volume, the book does give excellent detail on each exercise, shows all of the muscles used, and gives good training tips and instruction. But it's very limited in scope - only a few parts of the body are covered. Much of the emphasis is on bodyweight exercises and machine exercises, which specific (and high) rep counts offered up for use.

The illustrations are uniformly excellent and easy to follow, but I found they lean towards the erotic as much as the instructive. Female trainees are scantily clad at best, often topless or nude, even when that adds nothing to your understanding of the exercise. Why bring this up? It's not prudishness, really, it just seems gratuitous. The one upside is they don't suffer from "ken doll syndrome" - they are anatomically correct, and are not suspiciously missing nipples or genetalia for no reason.

Generally I was a little disappointed in the book. Women's strength training is already beset by the "tone and shape, not build and bulk" myth, and this book isn't helping. It does provide great illustrations of the exercises, but it misses some useful and functional exercises for the body. Better to add pushups and knock off one of the six (!) calf raise variations, say, or put in the power clean or snatch instead of broomstick twists. My attitude tends towards training women differently than this.

Content: 3 out of 5. Women don't consist solely of buttocks, legs, abs, and back muscles. It's just not a complete guide to women's training.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. While the pictures are beautiful, some of them wander too far into gratuitous erotica (does that woman doing machine adductor work need to be topless?). That's really the only big presentation flaw.

Overall: If you're looking for a female-specific strength training anatomy book, and you don't mind requiring a second book for the rest of the body, this can be useful. Otherwise, the original Strength Training Anatomy or Anatomy for Strength and Fitness Training would be a better buy.
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