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, April 30, 2010

Is it worth eating bad food?

My friend Tom used to review a lot of hot dog and burger joints on his blog, along with the movie reviews he does regularly. But he's recently shifted towards a different eating style . . . and blogged about that shift.

Where have all the hotdogs gone?

Seriously, is life so long that you have time to waste eating bad food?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Make-a-Wish, Learn About Dave Tate

Dave Tate's ebook "Raising the Bar" is up for sale, with 100% of the proceeds going to Make-A-Wish.

Raising The Bar (Ebook)

Just so you know, you can learn about a powerlifting great and help kids out at the same time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Carbs & Cardiovascular Health, and Intermittant Fasting

Two diet articles today worth reading.

The first is in Scientific American, and concerns growing evidence that it's not saturated fat, but the effect of consuming lots of certain carbohydrates, that is most connected to increased heart disease.


So keep that in mind the next time you read about nanny-state initiatives concerning food - there is increasing evidence that they've been wrong for 30 years about what actual does and does not comprise a healthy diet. Thanks especially to Stu Ward over on the EXRX forums for finding and posting this one.

Carbs Against Cardio

The second concerns not eating at all at certain times. IF, or Intermittent Fasting, the idea of restricting food intake to certain times a day. To quote the article:

"Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you alternate between periods of fasting and feeding. Fasting in this context basically means no calorie consumption."

This article over on Elite FTS gives a good basic idea about what it is, and how it might or might not be useful to you.

To Feast or Not to Feast

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More Wendler

...another installment of Q&A with Jim Wendler is up at T-Muscle.

Blood and Chalk

Sorry I'm too busy to find the most kick-ass quote in the article, but I'm sure you won't have to read far to find the one you like most.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Myth of Non-Functional Hypertrophy

Kelly Baggett recently wrote an article about hypertrophy (increases in muscle size). Specifically, about the idea of "non-functional" hypertrophy - where you get bigger but not stronger. This is another article that feeds into something I've been coming around to for a while - rep range isn't nearly as critical as it's made out to be.

The Myth of Non-Functional Hypertrophy

The essential idea of the article, to my mind, is that all hypertrophy is functional and useful. How you train influences what you can do with it, and how it functions. But any muscle size is potentially "good" size, or size that's useful for increased strength and/or athleticism. Get a muscle big and it'll be stronger, and it'll help you lift heavier if you also train to lift heavy.

Another way to put it is this one, from Joe DeFranco's Westside for Skinny Bastards:

"Compared to a smaller muscle, a bigger muscle has a better chance of becoming a stronger muscle."

This article also sheds some light on the effectiveness of programs that mix both lower-rep, heavy lifting (singles, triples, sets of 5) with medium rep (say, sets of 6-12 reps) and high rep (sets of 13+ reps) together. Although the article makes it clear that you could just train in one rep range and gain, the higher rep ranges do more for increasing glycogen storage and endurance, the lower rep ranges involve more of the central nervous system (CNS) and get you better at lifting heavy things. So "combination" programs that use low, medium, and high reps train you to lift heavy things while giving you increased glycogen storage and spare the joints from constant strain against heavy weights. Do that while you eat and you get big and strong; do it while you keep intake in check and you'll just get stronger. In either case, you need to make progress - adding more weight to your sets as you get strong enough to do so.

In other words, mix up the reps and you'll still get plenty big and plenty strong, given appropriate nutrition and progression.

A couple of examples:

5/3/1 with Boring But Big - you do 5/5/5+, 3/3/3+, or 5/3/1+, followed by 5 x 10 of the same lift. The other 5/3/1 assistance templates are similar - you're doing 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps, or doing 75 total reps of bodyweight exercises, and so on. It's lifting a heavy weight maximally followed by higher reps for hypertrophy.

Westside for Skinny Bastards - You do heavy weights followed by lighter weights for endurance and hypertrophy (max effort upper day, max effort lower day) or you just go ahead and do higher reps to encourage hypertrophy (rep upper day). All that size you build is regularly trained with maximal exertion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kosher for Health

More people are eating kosher these days, for health reasons!

Kosher For Health

It's nice to know people are starting to get concerned about what actually is in their food. Actually, that sounds a bit patronizing. Better to say that people are growing more concerned with what's in their food, and looking for ways to control it. I'm not going to go Kosher, but it's a good example of people demanding better standards of food production and inspection.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Handstands for Big Guys

I'm still crushed under a lot of work, so not much time to write. So just check this guest post over at Dieselcrew by Jim Bathhurst on working up to a handstand!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More pullups for those who can't

I was referred to this on the EXRX forums. It's a short article on getting your first pullup.

I think it's got some good suggestions, especially the seated pullup. I don't think curls are worth the effort, though - it's terribly unlikely, in my opinion, that you are being held back from your first pullup because of weak biceps. I have nothing against curls, I just don't think they provide enough bang for the buck when you are aiming for your first chinup.

Pullup Article

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Furniture Sliders = Workout Tool

You have to love Ross Enamait's ability to turn anything into a budget workout tool.

This post is about using the lowly (and cheap) furniture slider for a workout. Soon they'll call them Ab Sliders and they'll be $39.95 a pair. Get yours now.

Furniture Glide Pad Demo

Monday, April 19, 2010

Short Posting Disruption

Admin Note: Due to school, work, work, school, and work concerns, I might be missing a few posting dates here and there. I won't have as much time for book reviews, either. I will continue to post as much as I can, but I can't assure you of daily postings M-F like I've been doing.

Food Critic Diet

This is not actually a diet. However, Sam Sifton, New York Times food critic, wrote out a week's foods and a week's exercise.

It's probably not how you eat. It's not how I eat, either. But it's a good example of a few things:

- a food log. He knows what he ate those days. It's an estimate of calories but it's the actual food. He is cognizant of what he's taking in.

- an exercise log. He wrote it down, another critical basic move.

- it's cumulative. He recognizes that exercise and food is cumulative - it adds up over a day or week. Nothing negates anything else; it's all a total.

- timing is important. Notice he's logging when he eats food. The really bad point is his tendency - job related? - to eat a very large meal late in the day and much less before it.

I'm half impressed with his workout. The good stuff? Pushups in bunches, pullups in bunches as well. Situps are fine too. Running for distance . . . eh, if you like it, sure. Go for it. The bad stuff? A lot of machines at the end, all in the hypertrophy range. No legs unless he's doing machines - he'd do a lot of good if he'd thrown in some squats or lunges.

Here is the article: My Life in Food

Friday, April 16, 2010

DeFranco's Lower Body Power Workout

It's nine minutes of edited down workout fun. Lower body day at DeFranco's Training.

Lower Body Day

Editing later: Joe D. himself blogged about this, and put in a lot of text explaining what they are doing and why. Read it yourself!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

5 x 5 workout

With the Geocities shutdown, it's been hard to find some old workout websites. Luckily, Madcow's Linear 5 x 5 workout, based on Bill Starr's 5 x 5 program from The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football has a new home.

Madcow Linear 5 x 5

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Product Review: Nutribiotic Rice Protein

This is a review of two rice protein products from Nutribiotic.

One big selling point to these products is that they are vegan and soy-free. If you have religious or ethical objections to milk products, or allergies to milk or soy, or other reasons to avoid milk or soy, these products are a potential alternative. But how do they stack up?

Nutribiotic Rice Protein Vanilla

The Vanilla protein has 12g of protein, 2g of carbs (1g sugar, >1g fiber), 0g fat, and only 10mg sodium per serving. It also has a fair amount of iron - 2mg (11% of RDA) - per heaping tablespoon (15g). "Heaping" tablespoons are an annoyance, though, because it's never quite clear how much you need to heap to count. "Level" tablespoons are easier, but if you use such you'll get less than the label dosage. It contains nothing but "Enzymatically processed rice protein from whole grain, sprouted brown rice" and "natural vanilla flavor." It doesn't list the amino acid profile of the protein, so it's not clear how much, say, L-Leucine you get in each scoop. Not critical for most drinkers, but for some people it's a serious consideration and the information is not easily available.

The vanilla has a very flat taste - not quite tasteless, but close. It doesn't add much to mixed shakes, so don't expect this to act like flavored whey protein does - it's not going to give you a sweet vanilla taste at all. It's not sweet.

The protein doesn't mix well at all. It has a very sandy texture and it separates almost immediately. Mix it with water, shake it up, and let it settle - in minutes you'll have slightly cloudy water over a thick silty base of vanilla protein. Very disappointing.

If you can't use a different protein and/or insist on minimal ingredients and vegan protein, this is good enough. But for me, it compares very poorly to the milk-based and soy-based proteins I've used in the past.

Rating:
Taste: 2 out of 5. A flat, bland vanilla taste means you need to flavor it with something else. Combined with the sandy texture, this means you need to really load it up to make it palatable.
Mixability: 1 out of 5. Seriously, it doesn't want to dissolve in water, and it separates out almost immediately.

Nutribiotic Rice Protein Chocolate

The Chocolate is very similar to the Vanilla protein above. It has the same nutrition breakdown, but the ingredients also include "rice syrup solids" and "natural chocolate and vanilla flavors."

Like the vanilla, the taste is a bit flat, but it's much more palatable than its counterpart. Still, don't expect a creamy chocolately shake out of this. The mouth feel is gritty and sandy, although less so than the vanilla.

The mixability is also a step up, but still, expect some silt on the bottom of your drink. Even a blender doesn't result in full mixing, so it doesn't matter much if you shake or blend it.

Rating:
Taste: 3 out of 5. The taste is a bit flat, but it doesn't overwhelm anything you mix with it. The texture is a bit sandy, though, so that affects the mouth feel of your drink.
Mixability: 3 out of 5. Some separation after mixing, so shake it right before you drink it each time. But most of it dissolves in sufficient water.

For both of these, they are an acceptable substitute for milk or soy proteins. But neither is anything exciting, and I'm keeping my eye out for different rice proteins to try. It's not clear yet to me if this is a limitation of this brand's products, or of rice protein in general.

Full disclosure: I got my protein through Vitamin Shoppe, not through the Nutribiotic website. I can't vouch in any way for their shipping, customer service, and so on. I linked to them for your convenience if you choose to try these for yourself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CNS fatigue?

Here is an interesting article on CNS (central nervous system) fatigue versus muscle fatigue.

CNS Fatigue

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Joe Kenn interview

Besides the Mike Robertson interview, there is also a nice video interview with Joe Kenn over on Elite FTS.

It's broken into a number of parts:

Joe Kenn

Power Clean

The Tier System

They're a good look at his background and his experience, and a great look at the power clean.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Extra motivation unnecessary

I've recently started coaching a pre-dawn boot camp. Someone asked me how the motivation of the participants measured up compared to others I have trained.

What I said was "These people get up before dawn on work days to come and train. I don't need to motivate them any further."

I thought about them when I trained later in the day - how can I quit when people are up and training almost 12 hours earlier than I train?

So next time you're wondering how to get started on your training for the day, remember some people already got up and trained and went home. They want it that badly. Do you? Do I?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Basics: Adapting to Exercise

A short but smart article on a very basic subject made it in to the Chicago Tribune.

Exercise pain is a good thing

Author Eric Heiden makes a clear and easy point sometimes lost on a recreational trainer - you're going to feel discomfort when you start to train. But you will adapt to that level of stress and that discomfort will go away. It's important not to let the fear of this stop you from doing enough to adapt to it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hill Sprints

I've been finishing off my fitness clients at one of my jobs with a simple but effective method: hill sprints.

We have a gently sloping hill near the building. So as a final workout "finisher" I take them outside and have them do 8 sprints up the slope and then back down the stairs, every minute on the minute with a continuously running clock. They get to rest for any "leftover" seconds after the run. If they do it fast, it's like 40 seconds rest. By the 8th round it's generally 20-25 seconds, tops.

It's a quick (8 minute!) and effective way to get my clients running hard, doing intervals, and finishing up strong on a workout. It's technically simple ("run!") and yet very effective. Plus it makes them feel good, like they gave it all they had. Give it a try sometime, it's pretty effective. You can scale it by adding weight (get a vest) or just find a steeper hill.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tony Gentilcore just had an article on deadlifting published on T-Nation. It's ostensibly 12 ways to improve your deadlift, but it's got a very good basic description of how to do a deadlift in the intro.

Here it is

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review: The Men's Health Big Book of Exercises



by Campbell, Adam
Published 2009
472 pages

This book has 619 exercises and variations put out by Men's Health. As typical with exercise compendia, they are organized by body part. Those exercises that don't neatly fit into "Glutes & Hams" or "Chest" get their own "Total Body" section.

Each section starts with a description of the body parts involved, some discussion of how and why to train them, an muscular anatomy chart with labels and descriptive text, and similar introductory material. Then it moves on to what's best described as a series of sub-sections. Each sub-section is organized around a "Main Move" - the basic exercise - and a list of variations. For example, the Glutes & Hamstrings section has hip raises as a main move, followed by 6 variations. Then single leg hip raises as a main move, followed by 10 variations. The barbell deadlift gets main move status, and 3 variations - the wide-grip deadlift, single-leg barbell deadlift, and sumo deadlift - follow right on. Each exercise and variation gets a short but fairly comprehensive description of how to do it, and usually two pictures of a shorts-wearing fitness model dude doing the exercise.

This organization makes it fairly easy to see what exercises are the central/core/basic moves you'll need to learn, as well as variations on how to perform them. But where it really fails is in the variations. It really needs more descriptions of why the different variations are valuable - okay, so is a sumo deadlift a harder version of the deadlift, or just a different version? Why would I choose it? Even if the book aimed just to be a list of exercises, this is a flaw. But it provides some basic workout frameworks and tells you to go pick. The difference between choosing a barbell deadlift, single-leg barbell deadlift, and sumo deadlift in your workout is going to be a significant one . . . yet the book doesn't give you the tools to differentiate them.

After the exercises, you get a big series of 4-week workout plans. These range from a "big bench" program by Dave Tate, a sports program by Mike Boyle, a Zach Even-Esch plan for getting skinny guys big, and more. They are good programs, they're organized well and easy to follow, and they refer back by pages to the exercises they use. But they have one main flaw - they are four weeks. There isn't much of a "what next?" plan here. For the folks that will need this, they will need more than four weeks.

Cardio gets coverage as well, mostly as intervals and not steady-state cardio. This is a good thing, as everyone gets that running for 30 minutes burns twice as many calories as running for 15 at the same pace . . . but intervals are new to many trainees. It even comes with a 10-K plan for those folks who want a good long run but don't know how to train for it.

The book ends out with a section on diet. It's pretty basic stuff, in line with the usual Men's Health recommendations. This is to say they're pretty good, emphasize protein and healthy fats and veggies and fruits, and don't get too specific with numbers. It's good basic stuff if you haven't read it before, skippable though solid enough if you have.

Content: 4 out of 5. Excellent stuff, but the exercises really could use more differentiation.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. Slick presentation and easy to use.

Overall: If you need a big reference book of exercises, this is a good choice. Like Bill Pearl's Getting Stronger, it has a big pile of exercises. The workouts in the back are nice, and they'll work for what they are, but they are only 4 weeks . . . so it's hard to figure out how to progress unless you're advanced enough to already make your own workout. Still, it's a comprehensive book of exercises.

Friday, April 2, 2010

You must be able to fail

I was discussing martial arts schools belt tests with someone yesterday. This parent said that her children took martial arts, but she was very concerned by one fact - you can't fail the tests. If you're up for a belt promotion, and pay the (steep) belt fee, you pass. No one ever fails.

They put limits on how fast you can rise, of course. You can't get promoted more than X times a year, and the rate slows down as you go up in rank.

But you can clearly see the concern here - if you never fail, there is no value in success, either. There isn't any differentiation between success and failure. Why try hard when not trying gets the same results?

I've filed this under motivation, but it's really demotivation. There is significant value in just showing up, but martial arts schools can sometimes take it too far. If the only value is just showing up, you teach kids not to try, just to arrive. Ironically, by preventing them from ever failing, you set them up to never succeed.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Joe Kenn interview

Mike Robertson did an .mp3 interview with Joe Kenn. Joe Kenn is the originator of the "tier system" of athletic training. It might be a bit obscure to most of my readers, but it's a system he developed to train college athletes.

One his co-workers from his program at Arizona State now trains people at DeFranco's Training (Jeff Carr). Thanks in part to that, I've trained under a variation of the tier system myself with really good results.

Joe Kenn Interview
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