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, July 31, 2009

If you don't have a goal

In a discussion about programming metcons (metabolic conditioning workouts), Gant Grimes said:

"They should complement the goals of your training program. If you don't have goals, stop training until you get some."

The whole thread is interesting, and Gant's post is pure gold. Check it out - although you'll need to join the Performance Menu forums to join in.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Basics: Meal Replacement vs. Post-workout Shake

One workout standard is the "protein shake" - a mix of protein powder, liquid (usually, milk or water, sometimes juice), and other ingredients.

You'll occasionally see them as a powder or pre-mixed, and labeled either a "meal replacement" or "post-workout" or "energy" shakes.

What's the difference?

In a nutshell:

Meal Replacement: Mix of proteins (whey, casein), moderate to low carbs, some fat. Preferably includes fiber. Used to replace a regular meal with a liquid meal.

Post-workout shake: Whey protein, possibly plus carbohydrates (if you aren't going to add your own). Little fat or fiber.

Energy shake: Some whey protein, lots of carbohydrates. Little fat or fiber. The carbs are largely sugar.

How do you use them? It's pretty simple - meal replacements are aimed at replacing a solid meal with a liquid one. Post-workout shakes are intended to maximize the benefits of a workout with a quick-digesting meal of protein and carbohydrates. Energy shakes/drinks are for pre-workout boosts in energy - at least the better ones are. The not so good ones are largely just sugared drinks.

That's just a very basic overview.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farmer's Walks

I'd previously mentioned farmer's walks.

One variation I've started to use is med-ball carries. The gym where I work has a variety of med balls. Since I can't risk dropped dumbbells in a gymnasium, I've begun to use med ball carries as a variation. The ball can be carried overhead (two or one hands), hugged to the chest, or tucked under the arm. Med balls with handles can be carried by the handle in one hand. The odd shape of oversized soft med balls (suck as the large but light Dynamax balls) make for excellent odd-object carries.

This is an easy variation to use if your gym frowns on dropped dumbbells and doesn't have sandbags for your use.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

WebMD "9 least effective exercises."

It's not common for a mainstream website to have solid training information. But this is a pleasant surprise from WebMD - a slideshow called the "9 Least effective exercises."

They suggested you ditch these and offer replacements.

#1 - drop behind-the-neck pulldowns for pulldowns in front. Sure. Unless you have sport-specific reasons to train this way, don't pull down to the back of the neck. If you're not sure if you do or not, you don't.

#2 - drop behind-the-neck presses for presses. Same as above.

#3 - drop upright rows for lateral raises. Good call. At the top position, upright rows internally rotate your shoulders and put them in a weak position. Lateral raises also work your shoulders, albeit to a lesser extant, without that positioning problem.

#4 - drop low-position feet leg presses for higher knee position leg presses. Okay, sure, I understand that low position leg presses put potentially more strain on the knees.

#5 - drop smith machine squats for bodyweight squats. Yes, yes, oh yes. The smith machine forces you into an unnatural movement pattern, squats do not. It's also nice to see they recommend you squat to 90 degrees, not the usual advice to avoid deep squats.

#6 - drop the wrong form on cardio machines. If you've been in a gym you've seen people draped over the machines, holding themselves up. Don't do that. Use good form and good posture. If you aren't sure what that is, ask a trainer or two.

#7 - drop exercises aimed at "spot reduction." You can't burn fat away from specific body parts by targeted exercise, and it's nice to see this affirmed without the usual "...but do 200 crunches anyway!" advice.

#8 - stop always lifting with a weight belt. It's for maximal strength reps, not for every exercise. Wear it too much and it detracts from your own core strength development. A bit weak as an ineffective exercise though...

#9 - stop wearing the wrong footwear for your activity. Really, really weak as an "ineffective exercise." But they aren't wrong. Use your cross-trainers for cross-training, running shoes for running, and Chuck Taylors for squatting and deadlifting. Don't mix up shoe types.

Serious kudos to a mainstream and widely-trafficked website like WebMD giving out good exercise advice!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Online books

Some old, out-of-print training books are now available online.

If you look at www.scribd.com, you can find "electronic paper" books for free.

Here is Brooks Kubik's Dinosaur Training, and here is the (outdated but not obsolete) first edition of Starting Strength.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Training Terminology: Compound vs. Isolation

Exercises are described as being "compound" or "isolation" exercises. But what's the difference?

It's a matter of joints.

Compound exercises involve movement around more than one joint. For example, a back squat involves movement around the ankle joint, the knees, and the hips.

Isolation exercises involve movement around a single joint. The classic biceps curl only involves flexion of the elbow, thus isolating the single joint.

That's the whole basis of the split - the number of joints involved. You'll occasionally see "isolation" exercises defined as "single-muscle exercises" and "compound" as "multiple muscle exercises" but this isn't a proper definition. Isolation exercises do not truly isolate one muscle, but rather one joint (and thus emphasize a very small number of muscles). Compound exercises are not defined as compound based on the number of muscles involved, just the joints.

If you need to determine if a given exercise is compound or isolation - and it's not immediately obvious - check the directory of exercises at EXRX. The site helpfully labels all exercises as compound or isolation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Total Rep Count, further discussed

I've previous posted on what I call "Total Rep Count.

The short version is, to increase the number of reps you can do, you pace yourself throughout your sets and then go all-out on the last set. This is contrary to a more typical approach of trying to go all-out on every set.

In a recent discussion on the EXRX forums, I wrote this analogy:

It's "pace yourself" versus "pace until the end" versus "go 100%". Think of it like a race:

- if you do pace/pace/pace, it's a long race you want to finish with equal split times.
- if you do pace/pace/max, it's a long race with a sprint to the finish line.
- if you do max/max/max, it's like three sprints.

Comparing the latter two, the "sprint to the finish" means you'll use up everything trying to finish well. The "three sprints" version means you'll get really tired, try to rest, go all out again, try to rest, and again...and you'll probably get less total work done.


That's the best analogy I can come up with for this approach to training - you pace yourself for each split of the race - each set - and then sprint to the finish. The pacing allows you to get more total work in because you don't do those exhausting final reps. But on the last set, with days, a week or even weeks between identical efforts...you can afford to milk out every last rep. It's a good chance to test your real limits, push up your goal numbers, aim for a PR in total reps or even one-set reps, and get the benefits of occasional training to failure or near-failure all at once. It's also a chance to see what your limit is for next time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training Children

A common concern amongst parents is the safety of children's weight training. Is it okay to do? Will it stunt their growth? Are heavy weights inherently bad?

The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) has an excellent PDF on the subject, debunking various myths. If you train children or have children who train, it's a must-read:

NSCA Youth Hot Topics

Next up on the reading list is Lon Kilgore's excerpts from Practical Programming and from Starting Strength.

Finally, check out this two-part interview with Glenn Pendlay and Mark Rippetoe. In part 2, especially, they discuss training young teens and very young children - as young as a 3-year old doing broomstick overhead squats.

In the Trenches: Part I
In the Trenches: Part II

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Steady Progress

"People want a program that will add 40 pounds to their bench in eight weeks," [Jim] Wendler explains. "When I ask how much their bench went up in the last year, they hang their heads in shame."

That's a quote from the recent article on 5/3/1 on T-Nation.

It's worth repeating to yourself. It's something John Christy often wrote about. Like here, in Training Reality:

"Have you stuck to the basics and made “a little” but steady progress or have you abandoned ship because progress was “okay” but too slow and are currently trying a “wonder program” written by some arm-chair theoretician or steroid using phony that guarantees to put 20 to 30 pounds on your best bench press in 30 days? "

Or how about Stuart McRobert?

"Two of the biggest mistakes that people make are taking on too much training to begin with, and trying to progress at a fast pace. "

It all boils down to this - you aren't trying to make gains as fast as possible. If you do, you're bound to stall sooner rather than later. You're trying to maximize your gains period. The way to do that is to avoid getting greedy, rushing ahead of your ability to train and recover and get hurt or just fail over and over.

Take it slow and the gains will come steadily.

This post marks a special occasion for me - after a long time and much hard work, I finally bench pressed my bodyweight for a rep on 7/20. I'd done it before on machines, but never free weights. I'm not especially well built for the bench press (tall, thin, long-armed), and it's not the most important lift. But it is an important lift. It's also right on topic - a year ago, I lifted a personal-record 165 pounds for one rep at 180 pounds of bodyweight. Today, I lifted a personal-record 185 pounds at 185 pounds of bodyweight. I've done 185 before, but at a bodyweight 10 pounds higher.

That's a gain of 20 pounds in one year. I didn't get it hammering 165 over and over, or 175 or 185 over and over. It took steady work overall on my bench press, on my pushups, dumbbell presses, overhead presses, and every sort of pulling exercise around from face pulls to rows to mixed-grip pullups. It took a year, but 20 pounds on a big lift on an experienced lifter over 1 year represents the benefits of steady progress over rushing ahead hoping for a quick fix.

There is no quick fix. You just need to put the work in, steadily, recover from it, and do it again. I did it, you can do it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quick Tip: Start Too Light

When you're starting out on an exercise, or coming back to one after a break, remember this:

Start too light. Not just light, but too light. If you can 1-rep 135 pound in an exercise and take a month off from it, don't come back at 135 or even 125. Drop back a good 10-20% and work up from there. Don't worry about lost strength, you'll come right back to it. You might even exceed the previous numbers you set. But it's better to start low and work up than to start high and fail or get hurt trying to control a too-heavy weight.

If you've never done an exercise, choose a weight at least 20% under what you think you should use. It's better to finish a set and say "Geez, 20 pounds was too light!" than to finish a set saying "30 pounds was too heavy, and I messed up every rep trying to compensate."

...but don't stay too light. You can stay light, but don't fail to progress. If you start out at 3 sets of 5 reps at 25 pounds in, say, dumbbell rows, you don't want to stay at 3 x 5 x 35 every workout. You need to make progress or your body won't respond by getting stronger, leaner, or more able. Use the usual methods - up the weight, up the reps, or lower the rest times. Challenge your body or you're just spinning your wheels in the gym.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Strongman!

Tomorrow is the DeFranco's Training Strongest Athlete competition.

I'll be there as a spectator. It's a nice chance for these athletes to square off and see how they stand up. It's a for-charity event.

If you're there, please come over and say hi, I'll be in my Advanced Fighting Systems black t-shirt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kneeling Throw

One issue I've run into teaching the kettlebell or dumbbell swing is that people often want to bend over at the waist, and swing out from the arms. To really perform a jump, a swing, or a throw, you want to explode from the hips, snapping them forward. If you lead with the arms you're losing a lot of potential power.

To overcome that, I've had a little bit of success with kneeling med-ball throws.

How do you do them? Kneel down, preferably on a mat or other soft surface. Hold a small-to-medium sized med ball in both hands, cupped under for an underhand throw. Come to an errect kneeling position - thighs straight up, hips in line with the shoulders. The ball should be in front of your legs or slightly between them. Sit back and down fast, then explode back to the starting position. As you come up, swing your arms up and throw the ball up and forward.

This works better with a partner to catch the ball and roll it or toss it back to you. You can also throw against a wall; be careful of the rebounds.

Why do I want to do this?
Sitting back and then coming up helps you practice the "hip snap" you want for a throw, jump, or swing. Kneeling means you can't really bend over forward and arm and shoulder the throw, either. It's a good way to practice throws indoors, too, because you can't get quite the same distance and height as you could standing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Article Review: Boy, You Gotta Carry That Weight!

Boy, You Gotta Carry That Weight!
by Matthieu Hertilus

If you like farmer's walks or you hate doing traditional cardio, this article is for you.

Matthieu Hertilus covers a large variety of weighted walks - farmer's walks, uneven farmer's walks, trap bar walks, bear hugging weights while walking, overhead walks...

His article covers the basics of why, how, and how long. It's well written and hits the subject well.

Highly recommended reading.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Keep your eye on your goal

Is my routine any good?

That's common question on training forums. The answer is really, really simple.

Yes, if it's getting you closer to your goal.

If your goal is fat loss, and your routine is getting you fat loss, it's a good routine.

If your goal is size gains, and you are getting bigger, it's a good routine.

If your goal is strength, and you are getting stronger, it's a good routine.

If you are not getting closer to your goal, regardless of how "good" the routine is, it's not good for you. If your goal is to get stronger and your routine is aimed at fat loss, even if it's the best damn fat loss plan you could possibly execute, it's a bad routine for you. It won't get you where you want to go.

So ask yourself, is this routine getting me where I aim to go? If it is, keep it up. If it isn't...then it needs to change.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: The Belly Off! Diet



The Belly Off! Diet
By Jess Csatari and the editors of Men's Health.
306 pages, published 2009
$18.95

This book is another of a line of Men's Health books aimed at two things - burning off the fat, and exercising to look better and feel better. Like similar books - the Abs Diet, the Better Body Blueprint, or even The New Rules of Lifting - it covers the ground of "why train?", "why train like this?", and "what do I eat?"

The book is divided into four parts: Join the Belly Off! Club, The Belly Off! Diet Workouts, The Belly Off! Diet Real Meal Plan, and Making the Belly Off! Diet Work For You.

The first part is basically selling you on the idea of doing this diet, and exercising in this fashion. Nothing new here, but it's certainly convincing on why visceral belly fat is going to kill you if you don't get rid of it first.

The Belly Off! Diet Workouts are
Much emphasis is put on daily exercise - the "2 minute drill" is an every-day bodyweight workout that takes no equipment and 2 minutes to complete. It's meant to get you started and burn the habit of exercise into your schedule. Bodyweight exercises are also the basis of the Bodyweight 100 and Bodyweight 500. These are circuits of exercises, all bodyweight only, which total in reps to the number in the name. Do one circuit of the Bodyweight 100, you've done 100 reps of various movements. These are hard and fast movements, too - not a bunch of crunches, but squats, mountain climbers, jumps, chinups, and so on. It's not all bodyweight, though, and there is a solid section on weight training. Interestingly, it's all dumbbells except for inverted rows (which don't really need a barbell, just a bar to hang from.) The emphasis is on circuits and speed, not building up raw strength, so don't expect squats and deadlifts (although you'll see dumbbell versions of both). It's got enough information to get you started, but you'll want a book on exercise technique to supplement this.

Extra credit to the book for including a section on getting pullups - either getting your first or improving your numbers. They don't treat everyone the same, either, so the guy needing to nail his first double-digit chinups and the man or woman struggling to get to one rep get different approaches to follow.

The Real Meal section is very well done. You get a solid approach to meals. They're lower fat than typical American food, but also higher fiber, higher protein, and more nutritious. They aim for a good mix of fats, with no trans fats, and balanced meals at every turn. You'll eat six times a day on this plan, so special attention is paid to recipes. Bonus points for listing the calories and macronutrient breakdown of the food. And the food is good, too - I've made their chili and it's excellent, and they make grilled asparagus the same way I do. It's hardly a "diet" in the normal sense it is used. It's a plan to eat better food instead of junk.

Points off for the shopping lists - you get a meal plan, with specific meals for a week, and a shopping list...which omits any amounts of food. They say "eggs" or "broccoli" but they do not say how much of either. So you have to go do the totals yourself. This doesn't save any steps, which is really unfortunate as it makes the shopping lists much less useful.

The final section is all about making the diet work for you - workouts on the road, how to workout on the playground while you're out with the kids, fitting the meal plan into the all-you-can-eat buffet, and so on. It's well written and good - it feels like it's written by parents and travelers. Fact not theory.

Interspersed throughout the book are "success stories" of people who've done the diet. These are usually nice but useless. Here, though, there are tips - advice from these successful folks on how they did it. What was important to them and what made it work. It's generally good advice, and it prevents these from being waste space ("Okay, worked for them, but what do I need to do?")

Rating:
Content: 4 out of 5. Excellent stuff, but you've seen it all before in Men's Health.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. As usual for a Men's Health book, it's well put together with attractive pictures and easy to read text. But it could have been more cohesive.

Overall: If you're looking for a diet and exercise plan and don't know where to start, you can start here. If you've already got one, this won't add anything new.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Three Benefits of Coaching

There are more benefits, but for today, here are three:

1) Your coach can see what you're struggling with. Even if you don't know you're struggling, or if you know but don't want to admit it. An external but interested and trained eye watching you as you progress can detect problems you are having that you aren't aware of.

2) Your coach can address your weaknesses. Again, even if you can't see them or won't see them. If you are having systematic problems with an area of your training, it might be hard to focus on it. After all, it's never enjoyable to focus on your weak areas. A coach has no such issues - you expect results, and weak points are an easy area to focus on to get them.

3) Your coach will hold you accountable. Simply put, if you show up for a workout, you have to show up and work. Someone is right there to make sure you do the work and do it correctly.

This is why even strength coaches often go to other coaches for training, workout plans, and feedback on exercises and results.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Total Rep Count

How do you un-stick a repetition sticking point? You're looking for 3 sets of 20 pushups, but you only get 20 the first set and then it drops off to 15 reps and then only 9. You want 5 x 5 pullups, but you get 5/4/4/3/2 and you're thoroughly exhausted at the end. How do you get more?

The method I've used and recommended to others is to back-load the rep count - do more reps later, less earlier. I've started to call this method "Total Rep Count" but I'm sure it's known elsewhere by other names. It's hardly new, it's not my invention at all, it's just that's how I think of it. It just seemed a logical way to make some progress.

The goal is to get more total reps in the workout by pacing yourself until the last set, and then go all-out.

First, total the reps you do across all of your sets. For that pushup example, you're doing 20+15+9=44 reps. For the pullups, it's 5+4+4+3+2 = 18 reps. For the pushups your goal is 3 x 20, or 60 reps, but you're 16 reps short. For the pullups, the goal is 25 reps and you are 7 short.

Second, add a rep or two to the total and divide them up across your total sets. For the pushups, you could aim for 45 reps, 3 sets of 15. For the pullups, aim for 19 reps, going 3/4/4/4/4. Always back-load the reps - put the higher rep sets after the lower-rep sets.

Third, do the workout. Just get your goal reps in the earlier sets. In the final set, go all-out. You can stop at your goal reps for that set or do as many as possible with good form. Pace yourself in the earlier sets. Get good, solid reps and don't aim for too much. Get the work in.

Each workout, repeat this process - total your reps from last time, nudge it up a little, and add another rep or two to the previous total. Then divide them up again and repeat the process. Your goal for pushups might be 3 x 20 and doing 3 x 15 may seem a big step backwards...but 45 reps is better than the 44 you managed the previous workout. If you manage 15, 15, and 17 instead, you've improved to 47 reps, and you can probably aim for 3 x 16 the next workout...and again push that final set. For those pullups, maybe you'll do 3/4/4/4/4 this time, then next time 4/4/4/4/4, then 4/4/4/4/5...and so on. Always just a little more work. That's progressive resistance training, and that's progress.


Why not just go all-out every set? If you go all-out from the first set, going too close to your maximum, you won't be able to recover. That's fine for some forms of training, but we're looking for steady progress here, not trying to adapt to maximal stress each time. The problem with that pushup example is that 20 reps is probably pretty close to your absolute one-set-to-failure maximum. So you finish the set and can't recover in time for the next set. If you keep doing this, you'll show some progress, but this method is aimed at slow, steady, achievable progress each time.

Does this work? Absolutely. I've used it for pushups and pullups and squats. I've used it for Crossfit "metcon" workouts, breaking up long sets (like 21 pullups) into a series of shorter sets below my maximum. I've recommended this method to others stuck below a goal number in pullups and other exercises. It's especially useful for bodyweight work because it's so hard to adjust the resistance, but you can use it for almost anything.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another 5/3/1 article

I'm a big fan of Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program.

T-Muscle aka T-Nation just released an article discussing it in depth, called How to Build Pure Strength by Bryan Krahn. It contains more than enough information for a few cycles of the program. I'd still recommend the ebook, it's just too packed with good information.

There is a little bit of irony to be found in the article. To me it's two-fold:

One: It says straight-up - don't change the program. The ebook itself, though, has lots of suggestions about modifying it and Jim Wendler's Q&A is pretty welcoming about modifications.

Two: Jim Wendler says "People ask the craziest shit," Wendler says, his voice getting louder again. " 'Can I combine 5/3/1 with Westside for Skinny Bastards?' Why not just do one or the other and make progress?" Meanwhile, my personal experience with 5/3/1 has come using it for the ME (maximum effort) portion of Westside for Skinny Bastards, and this is explicitly advocated by Joe DeFranco.

5/3/1 is a really simple system, based on starting light and getting in lots of quality work with built-in progression. I can't recommend it highly enough if you're looking for a good program to use.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book Review: The Backsmart Fitness Plan



The Backsmart Fitness Plan
by Adam Weiss, D.C.
256 pages, published 2005
$18.95

The BacksmartFitness Plan is a workout guide that aims to teach you how to exercise to avoid back pain, and to fix an already injured lower back. It's written by a chiropractor and former amateur athlete.

The background story behind the book is that the author, a young martial artist training intensely every day, pushed himself too far with bad form in the bench press and hurt himself. Sadly, the book seems to take that to its logical extreme - going heavy with bad form hurt me, so you shouldn't exercise like that at all. It does provide a wide-ranging plan for weight training, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and improving balance.

The book is heavy on toning, sculpting, and lengthening - all those buzzwords used to make exercise something that won't get you "big and bulky." Getting big and bulky is something that never happens by accident. It takes dedicated training with that goal in mind, enormous amounts of food, long-range planning, and great intensity. Toning, sculpting, and lengthening, in the way they're used here, aren't even physiologically possible. You can only make a muscle bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker, you can't change its shape, length, or anything else. Yet at the same time, the routines includes are high-volume workouts - 2-5 sets of 10-15 reps. As I've discussed before, 10-15 reps is the in the range that leads mostly to hypertrophy and endurance, not pure strength. So the book is essentially passing on bad information, and even if it was good, it's giving you an inefficient way to accomplish the goal set out.

The book includes a wide range of exercises, some of them very good. It includes an array of daily stretches, most of them dynamic mobility drills coupled with static stretches. Some modifications of existing exercises are clever and useful as well. The emphasis on proper posture and proper form over heavier weights are good. But generally, the book emphasizes isolation exercises, seated exercises instead of standing, machine exercises, and a body-part split. Oddly, it claims to put emphasis on leg exercises, but it really doesn't - you don't do nearly enough leg work, and although some are multi-joint (one-legged squats with a cable for balance) most are single-joint and not particularly useful - like leg extensions.

The workouts provided are broken into 8 components - Stretching, "BackSmark Pilates," Weights, Cable, Aerobics, Abs, [Swiss] Ball, and Balance Drills. You are expected to do some of these every day (Stretching), others as few as twice a week (Cable, Ball, Balance Drills). There is a matrix you are supposed to use to track it all, for those days like Friday when you do 7 of the 8 sections. Each of these sections contains a handful of exercises - a dozen stretches, 2-3 exercises per body part for weights, 2-4 ab exercises, etc. - you're intended to do. Each of these exercises is well explained and adequately illustrated (one picture per, not multiple shots to demonstrate how to do them). One good thing is that you're supposed to work each set a little heavier than the last, and each workout you are encouraged to strive for heavier weights.

Although the book has a lot in it, it places so much emphasis on stretching, light weight workouts, and avoiding compound exercises that it's hard to get much out of it.

Rating:
Content: 2 out of 5. Not all bad stuff, but it doesn't contain much of value. What is there is buried in .
Presentation: 3 out of 5. Fairly easy to read, but you'll jump around all over trying to follow the exercise programs.

Overall: If you've got back problems and want a dedicated plan to fix it, this might help. But its emphasis on stretches and high-volume hypertrophy-range reps in isolation exercises isn't the only - or likely even the best - way to fix an injured back. Not recommended.

Monday, July 6, 2009

John Christy

One of my favorite writers on the topic of strength training was John Christy. He sadly passed away this April. I was shocked and saddened to learn of his death.

John Christy had a straightforward writing style, to the point of being blunt. Here's a sample, from Why Aren't I Getting Any Bigger?

#1. Your eating is lousy.

I know, I know, “you eat all the time”, “you eat like a horse”, “I eat a ton – I just have a fast metabolism”, “I just burn everything off”. Yada, yada, yada. As your coach, my response would be “No you don't or you would be bigger.”


Unfortunately, some of his best technical articles - about muscular hypertrophy, rest between sets, and the number of sets to do - are offline. I'll keep looking for them, as they really helped me organize my training. For now, enjoy his blunt admonitions on how to get bigger.

Friday, July 3, 2009

DIY Sandbags

One of my favorite training tools is the sandbag. It's just a heavy canvas bag filled with sand, which you can use for a wide variety of exercises.

But first, you need to have a sandbag. Commercial sandbags are available, but not a cheap as "bag full of sand" sounds like it should be.

Fortunately, Dan John has a "recipe" for a DIY sandbag. That issue of his "Get Up!" newsletter also includes a number of sandbag exercises to use for your homemade bag.

I haven't tried Dan John's method yet. My substitute sandbag has been my canvas heavy bag, which is terrifically hard to grip but fun to swing around. But it's on my to-do list...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

5/3/1 Q&A

If you have questions about 5/3/1, you need to check out the Programs section of EliteFTS.

Jim Wendler answers questions about the program there, and it's a great wealth of information on how people are implementing it and his ideas on how to help them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Let's make a deal

One thing you can do to encourage fitness activity is by using rewards.

One method I have been using with a client is the tradeoff - if we get all the stuff we need him to do finished, the last 15 minutes is whatever he wants to do. I don't particularly care if it's exercise or not, even though it's supposed to be an hour of exercise. To discourage rushing, it's only the last 15 minutes, so if we do our 45-minute program in 35 minutes, we do 10 more minutes of other work. That helps eliminate "let's skip rest times!" or sloppy reps. This also means if there is some special exercise the client wants to try, we can do that - in the last 15 minutes.

Want to do the treadmill for 15 minutes? Okay, after we finish the other work. Want to do extra foam rolling, or just fool around with the chest press to see how much stronger you've gotten? That can be the last 15 minutes. But only if the work got done, and the rest times were used for rest.

This approach is rewards-based, and it's only going to work for you if you respond well to rewards. Not everyone does. Try it, if it works, great, if not...keep searching.
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