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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't Make Resolutions, Make Plans

It's common wisdom that most resolutions are not kept.

People in the gym business know this is certainly true in fitness. In January, the "resolutionaries" show up a lot the first week, less the second, less the third, and then finally start to trail off completely by February. Their annual contracts stay, however, and provide income at no cost to the gym.

Why is that?

The problem with resolutions is that they are wishes, not plans.

When you say "I'm going to lose weight" or even "I'm going to exercise three times a week" you are making a wish. It's a desire.

You need to make the resolution into a plan.

It becomes a plan when it becomes specific.

"I will work out 3 days" a week is not a plan. "I will work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 8-9 am with my trainer" is a plan.

"I'm going to lose weight" is a wish. "I'm going to eat according to the following meal plan, and when I cheat or miss I'll get right back on it. I've already bought the food for it and tossed what's out of my diet forever" - that's a plan.

The problem with wishes is that you don't define the concrete step needed to get there. And even if you do, lacking a specific time and date it doesn't matter so much if you push it off. This is why people doing "get out the vote" ask you if you'll vote for their candidate, and what time you plan to vote on Election Day. They know from experience that if you set a time, you're making the desire ("Vote for president") into a plan ("Vote for president at 9 am on my way home from dropping my kid at school.")

Plans are much tighter, much more specific.

If you write "Gym workout, 8-9am" in your daytimer for January 2nd, and you don't go, you already broke your plans.

So don't make a general resolution to do something this coming year.

Make a plan.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How to Warm Up

If you missed it, please check out this blog post by Mike Robertson:

Warm-Up

It is a very thorough look at how to warm up, why to warm up, and the purpose of your warmup. It then goes joint by joint through areas you might need to emphasize. This will help you design your warmup program so that it is not excessively long (or even long, period) yet will still get you ready to exercise.

Mike Robertson is half of the duo behind Magnificent Mobility and half of the duo behind Inside/Out

It is not to be missed!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is this the right program for you?

Again, on Changing the Program.

Why do you want to change the program?

This question is critical. If you want to change a program, you need to know why - why you chose the program, and why you want to make the change.

First, ask yourself this question:

Is the program the right program for you?

Ask yourself if the goals and approach of the program match your goals and your ability to approach it. In other words, can I do this and will it get me where I want to go?

Don't select a squat-based program if you cannot squat, or choose an endurance program involving running if you can't run, or choose a 4-days-a-week program if you can't train more than 3 times a week.

Don't select a program just because you like the name, like the trainer who wrote it, or like the exercises in it. Select it because it meets those two criteria - you can do the program, and it will get you to your goal.

Choosing a program that accomplishes A and B when you want result C is like buying limes and trying to make lemonade out of them. It doesn't matter how good the limes look or how inexpensive they are, they won't get you the lemonade you wanted.

Once you have the program you need, you may feel like it needs some tweaks or changes to get you exactly what you want. So ask yourself:
What does changing it accomplish?

What do you intend to accomplish by making this change? Is it changing for change's sake, changing to add in extra exercises you think you need, or to avoid doing something difficult?

If you are adding in extra, take a hard look at what is there already - is the program really lacking that aspect of training? If so, is there a reason for it?

For example, Starting Strength lacks conditioning work. This is on purpose, because its creator has you squatting three times a week and feels that conditioning work will interfere with your gains.

Or perhaps the program just appears to lack that aspect. Many of my programs contain unilateral training, many standing exercises, and exercises while kneeling tall. They may, at first glance, lack direct ab exercises. But your abs are working on all three of those areas, which comprise almost 90% of the workout. So you might look at the program and say, it needs abs, but in fact, it's mostly abs already.

And so on.

If you make a change, it has to be to address a specific need the program doesn't address, and which won't undermine the intent of the program. If it violates either of those, you are better off finding a different program.

The trick is not finding the "best" program, but finding the program that is the best for you and your goals right now. If you like a program, and you'd like to try it, save it for when it is in line with your goals. Exercise is a lifelong activity; you have plenty of time to do that program when it aligns with your goals.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Can I change the program?"

The first thing that many people do when confronted by a pre-written program, whether in book form or written for them by a trainer or found on the web, is to ask, "Can I change the program?"

No. But also, yes.

No, you can't.

Why not?

It isn't the same program if you change it. If the program is really the right program for your goals and situation, changing it will reduce its effectiveness. The more precisely the program matches your needs, the more changing it is counterproductive.

You might lack the knowledge of the program maker. This seems harsh, but it is often true. If you seeking to take advantage of someone else's knowledge of programming and training, it is probably because you need some kind of guidance in training. You might even know a lot about training, but need an outside perspective on what approach you need. They may have specific experience in doing a specific type of training - powerlifting, strongman, endurance, marathon running, etc. If you need to seek outside help in this specific area, it makes sense to take the advice in whole instead of in part.

Yes, you can.

Of course you can.

It's your workout. You have to do the lifts, run the miles, and take the rest days. You know yourself, and a generic program just makes assumptions about the trainee. If you can't do a specific exercise and have to make a substitution, of course you can do it.

Nothing is truly graven in stone. Even the person who wrote the program would make changes for trainees who have different needs and different levels of ability. Changes might change the effectiveness of the program but it can and is done.

An Important Caveat: If you have to ask, you probably shouldn't change the program. If you know enough about your training to know what can be changed and what cannot, you know enough that you don't need to ask.

However, if you change it, you own it. It is no longer "Starting Strength" or "Westside" or "NROL," it is your program. It's success or failure is your success or failure, not that of the program. Accept this, and own this.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: LRB-365



LRB-365
by Paul Carter
46 page PDF plus an Excel spreadsheet
$10

LRB-365 is a one-year training program by Paul Carter, who writes the blog Lift-Run-Bang (contains NSFW language).

If you have ever read LRB, the blog, you will know what to expect here:

- very straightforward advice
- extremely smart and thorough knowledge of what works in strength training
- no frills but complete programming
- blunt, coarse language
- you'll do your reps and like them

That is what you will get here.

This program is somewhat unusual because it's not a cycle-by-cycle program, or a 12-week cycle, or a "get ripped in two weeks" program. It's an entire 52-week year, much like how Nate Green's book is put together. However, it's not meant to be shuffled around.

The program is broken up into blocks of 6-14 weeks each, covering an entire year. The individual blocks are not meant to be used separately, but rather to be done sequentially starting from January 1st all the way through to December 31st. It includes blocks of strength, conditioning, and very high-rep lifts meant to give you a break to let your body recover and supercompensate.

It includes rep ranges from singles all the way up to sets of 100, a personal favorite of mine.

If there is a simple philosophy behind this program, it seems to be this - consistency and recovery trump short term intensity. If you are consistent with your lifting and stick to a reachable goal, and if you prioritize lifting heavy enough to get stronger but light enough to avoid being worn out, you will get stronger. Much of the lifting is in a lower intensity range than usual in a strength program, but which would be familiar to someone doing 5/3/1. A recurring theme is to go light, aim for something not much heavier than your "everyday" (or probably better stated "any day") weights, and "crush" them. It's getting the most out of the weights you need to get stronger overall and in the long run instead of maximizing what you lift and hope you can recover from it before the next workout. Balance between lifting and recovery is stressed over and over.

The program is aimed at both strength and aesthetics. You want to both be stronger and look stronger at the end of the year. It also addressing peaking - during the year you'll work up to a maximum of strength, which you aren't expected to maintain. You can't, anyway, so why try to stay at your personal best all year? Instead you use peaking to help you increase your maximal strength and also to increase your base, everyday, lift it with total confidence on an off day kind of strength.

If there is one thing I'd like to have seem addressed, it would have been doing this program while also doing an outside sport. It's hard to lift 3-4 days a week plus do some light conditioning when you're doing MMA 2-3 times a week, play basketball in a league, skate in your adult hockey league, etc. Basically, how to treat that as your conditioning. But to be fair the program is aimed at people who lift just to lift and get stronger, not those who are competing. Still, it's something I hoped could have been worked in. The lack doesn't detract from the book's value for everyone else.

The book's one main "limitation" is that it's meant for a whole year, starting in the winter. That doesn't make it so useful for someone who is injured right now (and thus can't commit to specific lifts for a year), or who picks the book up mid-year, or whatever. But it's a question of focus - what it gives up in pick-it-up-and-do it can make up in specifics, since you are expected to have done everything in the book up to the current cycle. Much like how a game for a console system can be written with exact hardware requirements in mind, this program dispenses with worries about you doing things out of order.

The price is a great selling point. In this day of $77 $47 hard-sell webpage advertised programs, $10 is both a steal and a relief. It's a relief because there is no hard sell or deadlines or pressure. Plus $10 for a whole year program, solid diet and training advice, and a spreadsheet to ensure your lifts match the expected percentages - it's a real bargain for what you get. The PDF isn't very long, but it's complete, with little or no wasted text.

Diet the diet advice is very straightforward, and emphasizes healthy whole foods over supplements and processed food. Like the rest of the book, it's extremely blunt instruction too. You aren't getting out of eating your vegetables here, and there isn't a lot of leeway given to try and justify cheat meals instead of eating on the plan and eating good food.

Can I substitute things in the program? Yes and no. No, in that you're meant to do the program as written. Yes, because the program as written gives you choices in many places. So if you can't bench because of a bad shoulder or squat because of a back issue, you can replace those exercises. Once swapped in, though, you're expected to stay with them and follow the program. If you need something more flexible, this might not be the program for you.

Rating:
Content: 5
out of 5. It is a complete program and diet, and it has everything you need to do what it's telling you to do.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Good layout, easy to read, well written. However, a few typos and some minor errors distract a bit from the text.

Overall: If you are male, want to get bigger and stronger and leaner, are willing to follow directions, and are motivated to do one program for a year, this is the book for you. It is very straightforward, it comes with a spreadsheet to help you program your lifts, and the advice is no-nonsense. It is also only $10 and you get a lot for $10. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Strength before Conditioning?

There is a new article by Mark Rippetoe over on T-Nation, provocatively called Conditioning is a Sham.

The article argues strongly that the best way to get better conditioning is to get stronger - that is, the best way to deal with doing something at a sub-maximal strength (less than the most you can do) is to get your maximal strength up. Until you've gotten strong enough, conditioning is counter-productive at best.

The money quote, which tones it down a bit from the implication that conditioning is useless, is here:

"here's a shocking statement that applies to all novice lifters, as well as the vast majority of all trainees: training specifically for conditioning without a well-developed strength base is a waste of time." (emphasis mine)

The "well-developed strength base" is the key. You need a certain minimum strength. This is where I agree.

Strength is the low-hanging fruit for beginners. Most people aren't anywhere near where their strength could be after even a short course of lifting for maximal strength. Therefore, improving strength is pretty easily. In addition, improvements to strength by lifting weights will:

- improve muscular size (hypertrophy)
- increase muscular strength
- improve endurance, both by reducing the effective load of a weight and by increasing actual endurance.

Doing pure conditioning exercises will give you some gains in those areas, but not as much. That is, for a beginner, you can expect to get more endurance by getting stronger than you can expect more strength by getting more endurance.

By concentrating on strength, beginning lifters will progress quickly, and make gains that will spill over into endurance, mobility, balance, and overall health.

However I don't think the listed standards are really that key. While a 1.75x bodyweight squat, 2x bodyweight deadlift, and 0.75x bodyweight press are good things to have, not everyone is going to reach that, not even that 200 pound male. That's a 350 pound squat, 400 pound deadlift, and 150 pound (overhead) press for that 200 pound man.

These are useful and good goals but that's not where everyone will end up after a strength-focused approach. I prefer to drop the standards, and ask every workout, have the easy strength gains from a strength-focused approach dried up? One this occurs, no matter how strong or weak the person is, I start to diversify their approach. It doesn't matter what the numbers are, it's the inability to progress workout after workout, week after week. Once that stops, strength is no longer the low hanging fruit that it once was. It takes additional programming to get stronger at this point, and here is where strength-endurance and specific conditioning start to make a lot of sense. But there are no fixed numbers attached to this decision, just a fixed standard.

I think the article also takes a deliberately provocative approach. It's really just saying that you need to focus on what's going to get you the most gains the fastest, and avoid that gets in the way of that, before you pay attention to the things that don't get you as much.

The Take Home Point - Strength training gives the most bang for the buck/the most reward for the effort for beginning trainees, so they should focus on that, just as Mark Rippetoe's article states.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Article Review: Memphis, Slimming Down

CNN is carrying an article about Memphis. One of the most obese cities (cities with the most obese people, really) in the US.

However, some are taking steps to fix that.

Memphis, most obese U.S. city, moving from fat to fit

Some keys in the article:

- replacing bad options (high fructose corn syrup) with less bad options (fruit juice).

- replacing high calorie, low nutrient foods with lower calorie, more nutrient dense food.

- adding in exercise.

- small changes making big differences over time.

It's worth the read to see how people make these small changes and move forward on getting leaner and healthier. No quick fixes here, just slow and steady ones.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The First 50%

Kyle over at APT Physical Training forwarded me a discussion on the Starting Strength blogs.

This post, where Kyle quotes another (unnamed) trainer, sums up personal training in an interesting way:

"elite coaching is about getting the last 5% out of a person's performance, personal training is about getting the first 50%."

(Warning: the rest of the thread contains a lot of NSWF language)

I think that's a good way to look at what a personal trainer can get you.

- the trainer can get you started.

- the trainer can teach you the basic movements you'll need to master.

- the trainer can give you the basis of current and future training improvements.

I do think the trainer can really get you from 0% to 100%, but most clients need the first 50%. They need that first correct pushup. They need to learn what a proper squatting motion feels like. They need to be able to recognize the different between "trained" and "tired."

I've been there both as a trainee and a trainer. I've learned what a good squat felt like versus a bad squat, and what appropriate training volume really was. I've taught people their first real pushup and gotten people who couldn't stand up without holding on to something to stand up with ease.

The hardest parts of the journey are the first step and the last step. Elite coaching is that last step, but personal training is so often about that very first step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Knees Out and Trap Bar Deadlifting

Eric Cressey put up a great, short video discussing knees out and foot position in the deadlift.

His original blog post is here.

Here is the video (worth the two minute run time), and it shows a common issue on the trap bar deadlift - a too-wide stance forcing knee collapse in order to accommodate the arms when you grip the handle.



Good stuff.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teens, Steroids, and Training

A new study's analysis has been making the rounds. For an example, here is one article on the study:
Young teens turning to protein powders, steroids to bulk up: Survey

Long story short, as many as 6% of teens surveyed reported using anabolic steroids, and a larger number in turn using muscle building supplements and even more using protein powders.

This use of steroids and supplements is very bad, for a lot of reasons:

Teens are already producing these growth hormones naturally. Generally, they are producing the most growth hormone and testosterone they will at any future point in their life. So this is not only ironic - they take supplementary drugs that replace their natural supply with a lesser, external supply - but dangerous - taking steroids can disrupt their body's natural production of hormones. So by taking steroids - either orally or intramuscular injections - they risk shutting down their own hormone production. They are essentially short-changing themselves and damaging themselves by trying to for a quick fix solution.

And that is all assuming they are actually taking steroids - since these drugs are controlled, they aren't likely to get these prescribed. It isn't clear if these self-reporting teens are taking something else sold as a steroid, a tainted drug, or re-using or sharing needles. They are risking damage if it is what they think they are taking, and risking damage if it isn't.

Muscle enhancers generally aren't so effective. Most of the supplements don't really do that much, even if they are effective. The ones that mimic steroids are removed from the market as steroids, the ones that don't stick around until sales drop or people are harmed by it.

My guess is that 99% of these teens would improve more on a higher calorie diet of real food and a solid progressive weight training program under the supervision of a trained coach. Programs like 20-rep squats and Starting Strength are built around adding weight to the bar, exercising in good form, and drinking whole milk and/or eating lots of healthy food. Steroids plus a bad program will be less effective and be harmful; it's like watching someone fritter away their savings on lottery tickets.

However, the conclusions in the article go a bit beyond this. There are some issues with the conclusions presented in the media:

Lumping protein powders in with steroids. Protein shakes shouldn't be on the same continuum with anabolic steroids. One is a food supplement, albeit one that can be over-used, and the other is a controlled drug that adds an external supply of testosterone to a growing body. Yes, protein powders tend to be a bit light on the nutrients; real whole foods would be a much better choice. But grouping it with steroids is like grouping other sub-optimal food choices with addictive and illegal drugs. While both may be indicators of a teen obsession with changing their bodies, they are extremely far apart in terms of legality, health effects, and seriousness of that obsession.

Protein powders as unhealthy. Using them to excess, using them instead of food, and using them without any kind of plan isn't very good behavior, that is certain. You will miss out on nutrients you would get eating real, healthy food. But it is probably better to regard this as a point of entry into a discussion about healthy diets than it is a warning sign of steroid abuse or unhealthy behavior. This is true not just for teens but for anyone - if the question is "What is the best supplement I can take?" the best answer is, usually, "What real food do you eat?"

But they aren't in and of themselves a bad thing, they are at most a sign of preoccupation with shortcuts.

Athletes do more of this. Well, of course, it's competitive, and society sells this as an edge that pros use. That is an issue of society allowing children to be considered a target demographic, treated as consumers, and as a possible breadwinner for the family if they succeed in sports. As long as society does this, is seems unlikely that kids won't try for any "edge" they see used by professionals.

Oddly, Asians also use more, as a group - but it seems likely this will be pulled as a possible outlier or statistical oddity, not generalized as a cause like athletics will.

Injuring growth plates (and other things). Yes, this could happen. You could get injured lifting weights. But how common is this? Children shouldn't be lifting unsupervised (or even worse, "supervised" by their equally underqualified peers). Weight training should be considered the same as any other sport - you want qualified coaches teaching proper technique, and ensuring the teens take the training seriously. Gym safety is paramount, and not just in terms of form, but also in terms of care loading and unloading bars, replacing weights, using machines correctly, and other forms of safety consciousness.

So this study, at least as presented in the media, is a mixed bag. What is discussed is mostly good, but some of the conclusions lump all behaviors aimed at gaining muscle together with the demonstrably dangerous use of anabolic steroids in a not-yet-adult trainee. This sort of lumping together is why people will ask if you "take protein" (it's food, you don't take food), or "use steroids like creatine" (it's not a steroid), and it serves to at least partly mask the truly dangerous abuse of anabolic drugs.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exercise for Stress Relief, not Burning Calories

There is a video over on Youtube showing a lecture on sugar by Dr. Robert Lustig

It's very detailed, and long, but worth watching:

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

There is an excellent idea in there - that exercising to burn calories isn't very effective. You can't burn that many with exercise (unless you're training very intensely for multiple hours).

So why exercise?

Stress relief, for one - it lowers your stress hormones (cortisol). It also strongly influences other things people need (not all mentioned in the lecture):

- physical strength

- power (strength applies quickly)

- body composition (more muscle, less fat)

- cardiovascular health

- endurance

And the aforementioned stress relief.

But burning calories takes a lot of steady exercise, and it's very easy to eat the extra calories to make up for it. Diet is the primary way to deal with excess body fat, and exercise supports it - it doesn't really drive it.

If you want to hear more with Dr. Robert Lustig, there is a short interview here done by Alec Baldwin, the actor:

Dr. Robert Lustig interview

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Tricking the Body

Joel Jamieson of 8 Weeks Out was recently interviewed on the Dangerously Hardcore podcast.

The whole interview is interesting, especially since it's looking at conditioning and heart rate-based training with an eye to bodybuilding. That's an unusual angle, since bodybuilding and figure modeling isn't something you might immediately associated with endurance and conditioning.

During part 2 of the interview, around 22:45 in, Joel rather eloquently points out that the goal of the human body is survival - mostly immediate survival. Building muscle, increasing endurance, decreasing body fat, etc. - the body isn't as concerned with that as you. He then says you need to trick the body into doing these things.

I disagree with the wording in that one part. I don't think "trick" is the right word.

In my opinion, you can't really "trick" the body. Whatever stimulus you think you're giving it, the body understands on a level that you do not what the sum total of stimulus it's getting, the sum total of support your giving it in terms of recovery, food, sleep, etc. You can't trick it, because it "knows" the game and the rules and what's happening in play beyond a level that you consciously do.

Rather, you have to convince it to change. Your body will respond to your demands - I want bigger muscles, I want to lose body fat, I want to run faster for longer. However, it won't do so in the absence of measured, consistent, and appropriate stimulus. Faced with continued stress, it will adapt to it. Your goal is to give it the stress it would need to adapt in that manner.

To get bigger muscles, you need to give your body enough exercise of the right type to provoke a need for larger muscles. You need to feed it enough, and rest it enough, to let that adaptation happen.

However you can't overpower your need for survival. If you simply lift heavy every single day, never resting, your body will eventually break down, not give in and get bigger. But if you lift heavy when you're ready to do so, eat appropriately, and rest sufficiently, and repeat this often, your body will respond. It has to - it will adapt.

I think the term "trick" makes it sound like your can fool your body into doing something. You can't, you just have to give it the need to adapt (training stimulus) and the tools to do so (food, sleep, time off).

But remember what Joel Jamieson says there about survival - your body's goals aren't so easily disregarded, and if you push too hard without recovering, it's going to act in self-preservation. That self-preservation isn't going to get you where you want to go.

Oh, if you're wondering (this comes up on the podcast) - Yuri Gagarin was the first human being in space.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Shoulder Injuring Exercises

Critical Bench, a powerlifting site, put up a series of videos by Rick Kaselj about potentially shoulder-damaging exercises.

Five Worst Shoulder Exercises

It's a good look at the:

- the one-arm dumbbell row

- the dumbbell shoulder press

- the behind-the-neck pulldown

- the bench dip

and

- the upright row

For all of these, the video clearly explains what the problem is, and if it's fixable. The one-arm dumbbell row, for example, can be a shoulder killer done poorly and perfectly shoulder safe done correctly. Others just aren't a good idea for some populations, and at least one ("spoiler" alert, the upright row) is just bad for everyone.

Thanks to Rick Kaselj for the videos, and Critical Bench for putting them up!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Prowler Push EDT

This is something I've started doing myself, and doing with my clients:

EDT (Escalating Density Training) Prowler Pushes.

How to do it.

Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Load the Prowler with a moderately difficulty weight (say 75-80% of your heaviest trips).

Push the Prowler, high handles only, for as many one-way trips as you can get in 15 minutes.

Next workout, beat that number by 20%. If you can, raise the added weight on the Prowler by 20%.

Continue for 2-3 two week cycles.

Why do this?

Three reasons:

- Cardio. The EDT method forces you to shorten rest and maximize your number of trips. This means you will spend most of that 15 minutes working, and forcing your aerobic system to feed your muscles with oxygen.

- Full-body. This is a full-body exercise that is technically simple and remains technically simple and easy to execute correctly when you get tired. Not only that, but it's a single leg exercise - one leg is the prime mover on each step.

- Low DOMS. Because it's all concentric motions, and you're never lowering or slowing the weight down, you will get tired but not cripplingly sore from doing this.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Slow Prowler Pushes

Jim Wendler has been talking about using a Prowler for a slow walk for strength, instead of at a sprint for conditioning.

This is something I've been using for a while, so it's gratifying to see a widely-respected and knowledgeable athlete/trainer/writer strike onto the same thing.

The idea is simple - instead of running the Prowler, walk it, high handles only, with heavy weight.

What are the advantages to doing this?

Heavy loading with minimal technique. As long as your head and chest are up, and your heels and driving to the floor and your legs straightening, you're doing it correctly. So this allows for loading a client or trainee up, without worrying about teaching them the squat or deadlift. It doesn't achieve the same effect, exactly, but it will make them stronger.

Full-body exercise. The closest analog to a high-handles Prowler walk is pushing a car or truck. Everything from your arms and hands holding the handles to your ankles and feet are involved. You need to tighten your abs and back, and drive with your legs and hips, in order to push the weight.

No bar on your back. For clients and trainees who either can't safely load their spine, or who lack the coordination and strength to do it effectively, a Prowler is a safe alternative. If they become unable to finish the rep, the Prowler just stops moving. It doesn't staple you to the floor or need spotters.

It scales easily. It's easy to load this to be effectively below the weight of an empty bar. And you can add weight easily to make it harder.

Less soreness. Since it has no eccentric (lowering a weight against a load) portion, you will get less sore doing these than you might would other leg exercises.

This will make you stronger, if you work at it. But it does have downsides:

Surface and weather conditions affect the effective loading. Does your turf get slick in wet weather? It'll be harder to get traction on your shoes and you won't be able to push as much. Are you pushing on rough asphalt, smooth asphalt, concrete, or any of a variety of brands of fake turf? How much can push will change.

It doesn't teach tension. While you can push more weight if you stay tight from head to toe, you don't have to stay tight to move it if the weight is relatively low.

It takes special equipment and a lot of room. You need a Prowler or a knock-off sled, and space to push it. If that's indoors, you can do it year-round. If you do it outdoors, it's strongly dependent on weather and time of day.

For all of its downsides, if you have a Prowler or equivalent sled, try doing slow, heavy pushes. Drive your heel to the ground and walk the sled, and you will get stronger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

100-rep Sets

Jim Wendler had an article recently called the 100-rep challenge.

100 reps seems like a killer workout, and probably a little excessive. Why 100 reps? Don't reps become pure endurance at this point?

The answer is, basically, no. By doing 100 total reps of a reasonably hard weight, you build both endurance and muscular size. It is a combination of a lot of reps (your strength-endurance) and a lot of time under tension, which is considered by some to be the most important component of muscular hypertrophy. It doesn't hurt that anything you could do for 20+ reps you probably should be able to do 100 times total . . . if you are mentally willing to keep doing the reps.

This isn't a new idea. I've been doing 100-rep sets for a while. I obliquely discussed it here (Rest-Pause Variation, but here is the "full" version as I have done it, taught to me by my MMA instructor.

Pick an exercise, preferably one with a low failure point (you won't be crushed under a bar from a squat, or round your back from a tired deadlift, or drop a weight on your head). This is a good place for exercises that are easy to ditch - cable rows, kettlebell snatches, bodyweight squats, pin barbell bench in a power rack, etc. You need something you can do correctly even under a high fatigue load.

The goal is to do 100 reps in one set. Pick a weight - something reasonably heavy for that exercise, but still quite light - I'd suggest around 40-50% of your one rep maximum, at most. Do as many reps as you can, then rest for one second for each rep you did. If you got 60, rest for up to one minute. Get 10 more? Rest 10 seconds. Keep going until you've gotten 100 reps.

Each time you do the workout, get the reps done in less sets. When you hit 100 reps in a row, up the weight (or add a second set).

This approach really does work for building strength-endurance, and it doesn't hurt your muscle size, either. It is excellent for training that requires a lot of strength-endurance, such as grappling, wrestling, or martial arts in general.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Working up to the deadlift

Eric Cressey wrote up a nice article (with nice videos, as usual) about deadlifting when you can't pull from the floor.

How to Deadlift When You Can't Pull From the Floor

Another way I do this is to teach kettlebell sumo-style deadlifts from the top. I have the client lower the weight until just at the point when the back would round, and then come back up. This allows the weight to help pull them down towards good form, and allows them to get a training effect even before they have the mobility to get to a weight on the floor.

One other good thing about KB deadlifts from the top is that you can use light weights to see where there form breaks down without needing the mobility to get down to the floor first. You simply let them lower until they can't do it with good form, and then address the issues that you see stopping them.

Done correctly, the KB deadlift from the top will also mimic the form of a KB swing and of a snatch, jump, or hang clean - weight goes down, hips go back, knees unlock but don't start the motion, and weight is on the heels. Then you drive back to the top with your hips and lock out to a standing posture. This makes those lifts accessible to the trainee because you're teaching them the basic form right from the start.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fit but obese vs. unfit and obese

By now you've probably seen or heard the headlines that fitness trumps obesity when it comes to risk factors for early death.

Businessweek had a pretty good look at the study.

The short version is that if you are obese, but fit, you're better off than if you are obese but not fit. Also, if you are obese but fit, your risk factors/chances of early death aren't that much different than a non-obese person.

Naturally, there are some upsides and downsides to the study that determined this.

Study's Upsides

- The study broke out the effects of fitness on obese people. So if you're fit and strong but obese, you are better off than just being obese.

- It was a large (40,000 people) and long (1979 - 2003) study.

- they measured body fat with calipers and/or water immersion, not with BMI. BMI is meant for a population rating, and it doesn't tell you anything about the body composition of the individual. Caliper body fat checking and water immersion body fat analysis do.

- it showed that being significantly underweight isn't that healthy, either.

Study's Downsides There are a few downsides to the study:

- it was partly sponsored by the Coca-Cola company. While this doesn't impugn the work of the researchers, it does color how people will view the results. Coca-Cola has a vested interested in dispelling ideas that your obesity affects your health, as sugary drinks are connected to expanding waistlines.

- While it studied 40,000 U.S. adults, they were "mostly Caucasian, male and well educated" - a relatively narrow group. This might be useful scientifically (it reduces the variations from sex, ethnic background, and education/wealth) it means that the results are harder to extrapolate to the general population.

- based on a questionnaire, at least partly - this always raises questions about honesty and accuracy of answers. Even an honest answer might be incorrect, since it's anecdotal.

- even those classified as healthy by the study may have had one serious risk factor. This means the number of healthy people cited includes people who have some kind of issue, albeit less issues than those classified as unhealthy.


So it's not all clear-cut. But it does mean there is a real benefit to getting out there and moving, even if your weight doesn't come down as much as you'd like in the process. Still, there is no reason to be complacent if you're obese. You're just not as bad off as the scientific consensus once held.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Article Review: Postural vs. Phasic Muscles

Mike Guadango over on freakstrength.com posted an interesting variation on "split" training: splitting between postural and phasic muscles.

The idea of phasic vs. postural muscles seems to originate with Dr. Vladimir Janda, a Czech exercise physiologist.

What are postural muscles? Essentially, the muscles the keep you standing upright, breathing, and otherwise living. They are used to long, steady loads and continuous use.

What are phasic muscles? Muscles used for movement.

What would I get out of the article? The idea is to base your training intensity and frequency on the type of muscle. Postural muscles are used to long, steady loads and you would train them more often or for longer periods. Phasic muscles are used for shorter bursts of strength and you would train them less frequently but more intensely - basically, your normal "strength and mass gain" approaches.

It's an interesting approach, and it could help explain why it's beneficial to continually load certain muscles for gains while you need to do short-and-intense lifting for the rest of your muscles.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Long Look at the One-Arm Chinup

One of the most impressive exercises you'll see performed is the one-arm chinup (OAC) or one-arm pullup (OAP). I recently found this excellent discussion of the subject:

One Arm Chinup

There is a longish video (just under 15 minutes) discussing the exercise embedded in the article. It's the meat of the article, so you'll need a good 15 minute block if you want to see it.

It's interesting to hear discussion of injury potential, the difficulty of even gymnasts to perform this, and a very thorough technique discussion. The technique and injury potential is often glossed over - it's usually something like "get 20 pullups, then start working on enough strength to pull yourself up with one arm." This is a bit more detailed, and it's worth considering that you might need to approach attempts at this lift with caution and seriousness.

Please also take a look at the Beastskills One-Arm Chin-Up/Pullup tutorial as well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Joe Lewis, RIP

The martial arts community lost a great competitor and instructor this past Friday - Joe Lewis.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis trained in Karate while station in Okinawa in the US Marine Corps, and went on to become the first heavyweight full-contact karate champion (with an impressive 10-0, 10 KO record). This was back when unprotected full contact was sanctioned and staged, long before the UFC made its big splash in the 1990s. Joe Lewis was an exemplary case of skill plus strength, and he put out a number of DVDs with strength training workouts on them.

Joe Lewis continued to teach martial arts up to until shortly before his death. He will be missed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Consistency

Kyle has a great post over on APT Physical Training about the value of a so-so program done consistently. It's well worth the read.

Do Something!

I've long trumpeted the idea that showing up and putting some work in trumps almost everything else in terms of long term benefits. It's nice to see some more empirical, if anecdotal, evidence of that.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August Break

As I'll be away for the rest of August, there will be a posting hiatus until Labor Day weekend.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Strongman 5/3/1 and Prowler article

If you're not reading Jim Wendler's blog regularly, you may have missed this guest post.

Ryan Vance, competitive strongman, posted about using the 5/3/1 program.

What's so special about this post? The 5/3/1 program is at least originally aimed at powerlifting. Powerlifting is a 1-rep max sport, ultimately - you're judged by the best weight you can lift once. Strongman is much more mixed-mode. You need power, strength, strength-endurance (ability to lift heavy things repeatedly), and endurance. The efficacy of the program in building not only maximal strength but the ability to lift things repeatedly, then recover and do it again, is demonstrated by Mr. Vance's success. It shows what a versatile program 5/3/1 really is.

What was that about the Prowler? Mr. Vance's post also mentions using Jim Wendler's three prowler variations. Here they are, over on T-Nation. All high-handles only, rotating intensity, hard Prowler pushes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Focus on Results, not Time

The gym I work at sells personal training in 50-minute sessions. Most workouts I write take between 45 and 60 minutes to complete, depending on rest and the rep count (3 sets of 6 or 8 takes less time than 3 sets of 10 or 12, given similar rest).

I like to tell people "I sell results, not time." This is true - if you lose weight/gain muscle/get stronger/look better as a result of the workouts, I'm doing my job. If you merely spend 50 minutes with me two or three times a week but don't get them, it doesn't matter that I gave you exactly the time you paid for.

As a client and a trainee, don't focus on your length of workout. The important thing is, was this workout the training you needed today for optimally reaching your goals? If that means a short, hard workout, great, it's short. If it means going a bit longer, great.

As a trainee, it's extremely easy to pad out a workout with extras you don't need because you expect the workout to go 60 minutes. Or to cut it short and remove exercises you need to do because you only budgeted an hour. Remember the focus is on results, not on the length of time it takes to get them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quick Tip: Pull the Bar to You

When teaching any pressing motion, I tell my clients:

"Pull the bar to you." Instead of trying to lower the weight and then press it up, try to actively pull the weight down to you. Resisting gravity means slowing the bar down. Pulling it means tightening your back and biceps and shoulder, tightening your abs, and stabilizing your stance. That gives you a strong base for pressing it back up.

This works for any press - dumbbell or barbell bench press, overhead press, or even dips ("pull yourself down"). The more you pull it down with control, the tighter your base and the easier the press back up.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fat Loss as Marathon, not Sprint

On Monday I discussed coupling strength training plus low-intensity activity for slow but steady fat loss. I referenced Alwyn Cosgrove's excellent article "The Hierarchy of Fat Loss."

The article opens up with a quote about a 28-day all out war on fat. This isn't really dissimilar to crash diets, wrestler's weight cuts or fighters dropping a weight class, or those "Two weeks to a bikini body" approaches. In spirit, anyway.

Monday's post takes the position that, generally, fat loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Why slow and steady instead of a quick, hard, all-out war on body fat?

Easy come, easy go. One problem with fast solutions is that as fast as they work, it's faster to bounce back.

Why is that?

Habits take time to ingrain. If you slowly but surely change your bad habits (poor eating choices, lack of exercise or inappropriate exercise, etc.) they are likely to stick around longer.

Sustainable = long term. When you make a training or diet choice, are you doing something you can keep doing every day, forever? If not, it's not a sustainable choice. It will end eventually.

Fast approaches end. The diet ends, the all-out exercise program ends, the overreaching training cycle peaks and recedes. Slow approaches can end too, but if your approach (such as Monday's suggestion) is strength training that doesn't overreach your recovery along with a permanent increase in overall low-intensity activity, it doesn't need to. You won't out-race your ability to recover from the workouts (indeed, you'll just get better at them if they're planned correctly).

Short term programs can work, and have their place (dropping that weight class, finishing up prep for that photo shoot or wedding party, etc.). But they're generally better coupled with a good, overall, long term program. A change of habit, not a diet or short-term sprint towards your goal.

Monday, July 16, 2012

High Intensity + Low Intensity for fat loss

About five years ago, Alwyn Cosgrove had an article published called "The Hierarchy of Fat Loss. It's been a pretty influential article, at the very least online in discussions of fat loss.

The short version of the article is, that after correct nutrition, there is a clear hierarchy of value to types of training for fat loss. In the article, they basically go:

1) High intensity metabolic training (think complexes and circuits)
2) Strength training
3) High intensity interval cardio (alternating fast and slow)
4) High intensity steady-state cardio (just fast, straight through)
5) Low intensity steady-state cardio (jogging, going for a walk, etc.)

You pretty much want to spend your time, the article says, in that order. Do 1, if you have htime for two do 1 and 2, etc.

In my experience, however, the most effective combination for steady, long-term body composition change in myself and my clients is a combo of #2 (with a sprinkling of #1), and #5. That's strength training with a little bit of high intensity circuits or interval cardio, plus steady state low intensity cardio. Lift some weights, do a quick short circuit, and then walk around a lot.

I can't prove this with studies, but here's how I see it working.

Strength training. This is your bread-and-butter body composition changer. It's the compound interest in the bank. You lift weights with enough sets and reps and intensity to build strength and muscle mass. This in turn costs more for your body to maintain, and burns more calories. It also feeds your appetite, allowing you to eat more quality food. And it makes you stronger so you can train harder. It keeps paying off workout after workout, and day after day. It doesn't take a lot of time, either - I've seen plenty of clients with results from only 2x a week training.

Circuits. I like to keep these short and hard, and as a supplement to strength training. However they are very difficult to keep doing hard, long. So I cut out the "long" and just go for "hard." This means you can work efficiently but stop before your fatigue starts to cause form errors or inflict so much systemic fatigue that you can't easily recover from it.

Extra movement. Walking, taking the stairs, parking far away, making two trips with the groceries, chasing the kids around the yard, etc. It doesn't sound like much, but coupled with a pedometer to keep track and you'll see it does add up. It's extremely low-intensity, so you can do lots and lots of this without needing extra food or recovery.


Why does this work? Why I think it works is simple - recovery. You're maximizing not your fat loss this minute (or this day, or this week) but your recovery from each workout. The strength training is hard but done correctly won't put you out of commission. The short circuits are the same - hard, but no so long you are systemically drained. You can recover from it and do it again a couple days later without any cumulative long-term fatigue. And the extra movement is just that - extra movement. It's low-intensity but steady. An extra 10% movement (one more flight of stairs a day, another 500-1000 steps, another etc.) adds up day after day. Moving that additional muscle you built also takes more energy than keeping it sedentary, too.

Like I said I can't prove this with studies, but it does work. Combine working hard for your long-term payoff strength with low-intensity additional movement to maximize recover, and you're ramping up your metabolism day after day. It will pay off over time - and methodically gained strength and activity rates are much less prone to drop off suddenly. They're become a habit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Donward Dog, Yoga & S&C variations

Bill Hartman wrote an excellent article on diaphragmatic breathing last month, called

Yoga, Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and the Downward Dog

It's an excellent read, as it's got a good explanation of breathing from the diaphragm and how the yoga pose downward dog helps you do just that.

The downward dog variation he shows in the article is a bit different than the Iyengar Yoga downward dog. This is not to say wrong or bad, far from it. But it's different, and it's worth being aware of the differences when you approach the exercise.

No socks. The socks in Bill Hartman's video are probably a concession to the fact that few gyms will let you walk around without shoes, nevermind barefoot. But you do lose some of your ability to grip the floor when you wear socks.

Ground posture vs. Standing posture. The Iyengar posture is clearly a standing posture - you're standing up but with your hands on the ground. The posture in the Bill Hartman article is clearly a ground posture - it even starts with a pushup, and maintains a weight-on-the-hands approach instead of weight-on-the-feet.

Heels down vs. Heels Up. Again, the difference is in the legs and feet. Heels down, straight legs in the Iyengar version, up on the balls of the feet in the Bill Hartman article version.

Both have the same intent and pretty much the same effect on breathing - they line up your torso and (at least theoretically) your internal organs, and let you breathe deeply and from your diaphragm. Try both, especially if your gym will let you ditch the socks and grip the floor.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Your Diet is One Piece

Dan John has often said "The body is one piece". Less eloquently, your body is a single unit and you have to treat it as such when you train.

Your diet is one piece, too.

You can't just change one part of your diet without affecting the others.

"I'll just eat more (fill in: protein/fiber/carbs/fat)" Sure, and this will raise your total calories, so you're not just changing one part of your diet. The ratios of macronutrients will change, too, which means whatever you eat more of will be a larger proportion of your diet.

. . . and less (fill in usually one of carbs or fat." This will skew your ratios of protein:fat:carbs even more, as one goes up and another goes down. Unless you're counting calories and counting grams of protein:fat:carbs, you're not necessarily going to eat the same amount of calories.

"I'll just do this crash diet, lose some weight, and then go back to eating the way I do now and maintain the new weight." That has a terrible success record - because your "diet" and your "eating the way I do now" are both parts of the same cumulative process of body transformation. They aren't really diet A and diet B, they're all Your Diet, with just varying periods of intake levels. You haven't really changed anything, you've just changed one small part.

If the body is one piece, so is the total food supply you provide it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Article Review: Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range

Jason Ferruggia wrote an article recently about building muscle:

Are You Sabotaging Your Gains with the Wrong Rep Range

Basically, the article boils down to this:

In drug-free trainees, sets of 3-8 reps (especially sets of 5) do more to build muscle than sets of 10-15 reps.

It's remarkably similar to Reg Park's 5 sets of 5, Bill Starr's 5 x 5 (ramping up to a max set of 5), Mark Rippetoe's 3 x 5 (three sets across), or Joe DeFranco's working up to a heavy set of 1-5 (with 5 recommended for weaker/starting guys). This isn't new advice. But it's good advice.

The article really shines in the comments. If you dig through the questions and Jason Ferrugia's answers, you see the rest of the advice:

- for older lifters (40+) do sets of 5-6 reps, but use a 10-12 rep max (65-75% 1RM).

- do extra sets, not extra reps, to bring up volume.

- do sets of 8-15 reps for direct arm work.

- do higher reps for accessory work.

- don't train to failure, but do up the weights regularly.

It's good advice, especially the repeated cautions about not training to failure regularly. The idea is to do the easy, good, high-quality reps and leave the shaky, grinding, form-destroying final reps in the tank. To go home worked out but not exhausted, and be better for next time.

The one caution I'd have is that for the older guys, you don't want to add too many more sets of 3-8 to bring up volume. I find in my older clients, especially the active parents, that additional volume is harder on them in the long run than additional intensity. I'd rather bump the weights up just a touch higher for their sets, and take a regular deload, than increase their overall volume.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who manages your training?

It's a simple question with deep repercussions - who manages your training overall?

Are you in overall command, sub-contracting out to a nutritionist for diet, a personal trainer for weight training, your cardio class instructor for cardio, your running coach for running?

Is your trainer in overall command, determining your diet, workouts, sports training, etc? This is rare outside of sports, but it's how, for example, the Precision Nutrition fat loss program works - you get a coach who tells you what to eat, when and how to train, and what to read or to do to reinforce your process.

This is an idea discussed in Muscle Medicine - the idea that you either find someone to manage your injury, or you manage it and contract out parts of it to different specialists.

This is something I think all trainers and trainees need to consider.

Considering just diet, skill training, and strength training:

As a trainer, your overall ability to impact your client's goals are limited by how much you control about your client's overall approach. If you control only their strength training, you have a limited ability to affect their results. If you control strength training and skill training (for sports or games), you have a larger ability to affect their results. If you control those two plus diet, you have the most ability.

As a trainee, the more coordinated your approaches are, the better results you'll get. Think of an old-era Soviet athlete in training - dieticians coordinate with the cooks for their food; coaches prescribe and supervise their skill training; their strength coach coordinates with all of the above to ensure their strength training matches their needs. It's all coordinated - nothing is lost in the gaps. If you're training yourself, you need to ensure nothing falls between those gaps.


A corollary to this is, as a trainee you are responsible for what you control. You are also responsible for selecting your expert help, and ensuring they communicate and coordinate with each other. If you take diet out of the hands of your trainer and you want to lose weight, you're going to limit your results. But equally, if you train hard with your personal trainer and then train hard with your yoga instructor and then train hard on your own, you're likely to find yourself grinding down.

It's one to think about - what have you taken control of? Can you better coordinate your various aspects of training, eating, and recovering? Is everyone on the same page, or more importantly, are you ensuring they are on the right page?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Squatrx on starting a process

Boris over at SquatRx posted a fantastic article:

Defining Your Next Step: A Process-Centered Approach To Life & Lifting

Just a quick quote before you click over:

"In the process of regaining control of your life and moving in the right direction toward finishing all the things you want to accomplish, a critical early step is to make a list of all the projects you wish to complete. Then, you must clearly define the very next step towards completing those projects."

It's great stuff and well-written. Please read it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Personal Trainer advice

Dub over on the exrx forums posted a link to this site in a thread there:

The Personal Trainer Development Center

It's got a lot of good, easy-to-read articles on personal training from the perspective of a trainer. It's worth digging around in if you do this for a living, or if you train under a personal trainer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Aerobic Exercise: The Pendulum Swings Back

For most of the past few years, "aerobic" has been a pejorative adjective for cardiovascular conditioning. Interval training, buoyed by studies showing an increase in initial oxygen volume of the respiratory system (VO2 max) and relatively better fat reduction, was the rage. Many people, online and elsewhere, mocked the "cardio bunnies" who put in long, aerobic conditioning sessions and pointed to the supposedly interval-like nature of sporting events.

But now, aerobic is making a comeback. Here are some recent discussions on the subject:

Roadwork 2.0 at 8weeksout. I linked to this before.

Another bit by Joel, a long video discussing energy systems. Also previously linked.

The Return of Aerobic Work on T-Nation

This stuff isn't new - Rocky ran in the movie because practically every boxer did steady-state cardio in the old days, back when fights ran up to 15 rounds.

You can see the trend here - aerobic training isn't bad, it's actually quite good, and here's why. That interval stuff? Important but not like this is. The pendulum is swinging back. In a year or two, maybe more, maybe less, we'll hear "What happened to intervals? Everyone's doing aerobic conditioning now, and forgot how good these are."

For my part, I hate to see any tool tossed out of the toolbox, or any tool recommended as the one-and-only tool you need to reach any and all goals. A good cardio base can't hurt, and it's a mistake to try to get one purely by interval training. This tool is coming back into vogue but it never should have left.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Article Review: Doctor Detective

Over on Precision Nutrition, there is an excellent series called the Doctor Detective.

Doctor Detective 3 was just recently published.

This article is really about sleep and sleep quality, as well as nutrition, but there is an interesting moment in it:

"He and his wife were intrigued by the notion of increasing testosterone naturally. I explained the relationship behind healthy dietary habits and testosterone. His wife, the household cook, insisted that her food was healthy. Discussion closed."

So an obvious way to address his issue of low testosterone was dismissed out of hand by the clients. Basically, no, I'm not doing that, what else have you got?

As a trainer, how do you overcome this? It's not often someone just rejects changes out of hand, but it's common to have someone just no do something that they need to do to succeed. That could be dietary changes, extra workouts, stretching, rehab protocols, more sleep, or whatever. Sometimes you can succeed with only a partial change (here, they add an easy breakfast shake to get in some nutrition he wouldn't get otherwise), sometimes you can't. Working around an "End of discussion" pronouncement can you your job much harder.

As a client, how do you overcome this? Learn to recognize your roadblocks. If quitting drinking or eating a good breakfast or stretching on your off days will get you much improved results, can you do it? Will you? Are you putting up "End of discussion" blocks that make it harder to get you the results you are after?

This article is interesting in and of itself, but the question of working around a client refusal (or a self-refusal) is especially so. Well worth reading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prowler variations

I currently use about four main variations for pushing the Prowler.

I rotate these around for a given weight, generally in this order:


1) High Only
2) High Out, Low Back
3) Low Out, High Back
4) CRC Sprints


High Only, Heavy - whenever I up the sled to a new weight, I first do it high handles only. The high handles are noticeably easier, so although the loading is heavier most people will almost feel this is a vacation or a deload compared to high-low combinations. This is also a great way to get in leg work for people with spinal loading issues (back injuries, spinal surgery rehab, etc.) or as a low-technique heavy exercise. It also requires no grip work at all, so it's ideal for people who need to improve their leg strength now but don't have the grip for heavy deadlifts or single-leg lifts.

High Out, Low Back - Push the sled out with the high handles, and return with the low handles. This is the next hardest. The low handles are much more stressful than the high handles, and will get your heart rate up much faster. The high handles tire you out a little but don't take so much out of your that the low handles are so difficult.

Low Out, High Back - This is harder because the low handles really get your heart rate up and tire you out more (because of the angle). It will force you to push the high handles back while your heart rate is high and your legs are already a bit tired. It's more akin to a strip-set (do some reps, drop the weight and keep going once you can't continue) while high-low is more like warmup-work set.

CRC Sprints - CRC stands for Continuously Running Clock. Start a stopwatch and do one sprint with the Prowler down and back to the start point. Rest until you hit the one minute mark. Do it again, and repeat on every minute mark. Your rest therefore depends on how long it takes you to sprint the sled - the faster you go, the longer the rest (but the more tired you are). The goal is to continue until either a deadline (10 trips would take 10 minutes) or until you can't go on the next minute mark. This is very stressful, and I usually drop the weight significantly the first time we do it to get the client used to the approach. I also advise using a short course, because you have very little time to run it back and forth. If your first trip takes more than 30 seconds, it's probably either too heavy or too long of a course.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interview with Dr. Stuart McGill

Over on T-Nation, they finished a two-part interview with back injury/back rehab expert Dr. Stuart McGill, author of Low Back Disorders. The articles are very informative, especially if you've already been introduced to his work.

Part I

Part II

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Weight Gain, Jem Finch style

This would absolutely work, if you did it often enough:

"Jem was worn out from a day's water-carrying. There were at least twelve banana peels on the floor by his bed, surrounding an empty milk bottle. "Whatcha stuffin' for?" I asked.
"Coach says if I can gain twenty-five pounds by year after next I can play [football], he said. "This is the quickest way."

- Jem and Scout Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Chapter 26.

Whole milk + lots of extra calories (healthy ones, even). Twenty five pounds in two years on a diet like that? No problem, even for a very active boy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: The Pain-Free Program



by Anthony B. Carey
Published 2005
254 pages

The Pain-Free Program is subtitled "A proven method to relieve back, neck, shoulder, and joint pain." The book is aimed at restoring functional, correct posture in people who have lost it.

The book is a posture-first approach, rather than point-of-pain-first as in Pain Free. The latter asks "What hurts?" and then works on fixing your posture to address that issue; this book asks "How is your posture dysfunctional?" and then works on your posture. They both reach the same point - doing specific mobility drills and stretches and exercises to take you out of dysfunction. They just start at opposite ends of the spectrum of diagnosis. It's probably a bit unfair to compare the books, but having read Pain Free first, it's an unavoidable comparison. You can't help but read one book in light of the other.

The book inevitably opens with a (rather long) introduction, aimed at explaining why you might be dysfunctional, why correcting it will help you, and why this approach will in fact correct it. Basically the first 67 pages of the book are selling you on the idea of postural corrective exercises. The seventh chapter is what opens up the meat of the book - posture diagnosis and correction.

Chapter 7 outlines six posture forms. These range from rotated posture, hunched back/rounded shoulders, head-forward, etc. and everything in between. The posture types are pretty broad but further details explain how you might across multiple posture types. Further information is provided on how to address multiple forms at once, or in which order to address them if you can't tackle them simultaneously.

This is followed by three different exercise programs per form - one for physical workers (labor and other gross motor work), one for dexterity workers (fine motor skills, mostly), and mixed mode (people who do some of both, or some of everything in the case of full-time parents). Each of these is pretty well put together, but with one issue - every exercise is illustrated . . . the first time. Subsequent times explain the exercise but lack the picture and provide a page reference. The illustrations are generally single-picture illustrations, so you just see someone somewhere in the process of doing the exercise, not a beginning/middle/end approach. A fair number do show start and end positions, but not all of them do. The result of this is a lot of page flipping to do a program.

Another downpoint is that you do really need outside help to assess your posture. This means you need to read and understand Chapter 7 and then have someone else do the same and assess you, or have someone help you take pictures. Assessing yourself in fine points is difficult. While finding pain points is not (your knee hurts or it doesn't), knowing that your right hip is subtly raised and your right shoulder is dipping when you move is quite difficult to assess accurately. Then, you have to slot your job into one of three categories and exercise off of that. This leaves a lot of potential failure points - discern your posture, pick the correct combination of forms, select the correct weighting of exercises based on your idea of how your job impacts you, and then page-flip through the exercises. Tough. Get it wrong, and you might be reinforcing bad posture at worst and just not accomplishing anything at best.

The approach does seem very solidly grounded. Many of the exercises exactly (or nearly exactly) duplicate corrective exercises from other sources, just under different names. This is a positive (you know people use this stuff broadly) and a negative (they call it something else). Like Pain Free, it has a continuing exercise program for long-term use, but it doesn't really address athletics or actual strengthening. If I'm going to bench press, or golf, or do MMA, what do I need to do to keep from bringing more problems back down on me? It's not clearly addressed, either in forms or in the text.

Rating:
Content: 4 out of 5. The book is complete as far as it goes, but it lacks the detail you need to keep going forward.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. The book is well written, and the pictures are good, but need more before/middle/after shots. Too much page flipping during actual use.

Overall: A good book if you're looking for a posture-first approach to fixing joint pain and a body pains in general. It's a bit more analysis-intensive than Pain Free, but its approach and progressions are more clearly spelled out. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

There was a nice article recently on T-Nation by Jesse Irizarry:

Freakish Strength with Proper Core Training

The article covers some interesting points:

- an actual definition of what "tightening your core" really means.

- a drill for pelvic lifting/tightening the core.

- How to use a curl-up, bird dog, and side plank to strength specific aspects of isometric core strength.

- Dynamic progressions like the landmine, rollout, or suitcase carry (aka a Farmer's Walk variant).

- A discussion of breathing during lifts.

Good stuff, and worth the the time to read it through. If you're lifting heavy, this is useful. It's even more so if you're doing MMA, where the ability to breath while keeping your core tight is potentially the difference between winning and losing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Prowler sale

Just a quick FYI, my favorite piece of conditioning equipment is on sale:

Prowler Sale

It's only until Thursday, March 8th.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Article Review: Roadwork 2.0

If you missed this article by Joel Jamieson, it's worth reading:

Roadwork 2.0 - The Comeback

Joel Jamieson espouses the very old school idea of using steady-state cardio to improve aerobic conditioning for combat sports. Short version: he thinks you should do roadwork.

It's more common to see people training short-burst stamina in the gym to support their MMA fighting or get ready for a match. But Joel Jamieson has been arguing - with a lot of scientific basis - that you need an underlying base of aerobic conditioning to succeed in combat sports. This article also provides an 8-week framework you can use to organize your aerobic conditioning.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pallof Press variation

I must have missed this the first time around, but my boss introduced me to it:

Pallof Press 2.0

It's a tube based variation with movement. Give it a try; if you do it correctly it's very challenging.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Pain Free



Pain Free
by Pete Egoscue and Roger Gittines
Published 2000
298 pages

If you accept Dan John's idea that the body is one piece, you'll understand this book's approach, too. The basic idea is that the body must move, and move correctly, to be healthy. Chronic pain is a sign of dysfunction that must be fixed with proper movement, not drugs or surgery. Pain isn't based at the site of pain (usually) but rather is the result of cascading dysfunction from some original point of problem.

The book starts with an introduction, and a general discussion of chronic pain. From there, it goes into specific body areas and how to deal with pain there. The book starts at the feet up. Each chapter discusses pain in that body part in general, gives a description of a successful or "too late to fix" case, and then gets into specifics. Each chapter has an explanation of how the pain and dysfunction starts, and how to address it.

The exercises - "e-cises" - are well-described and illustrated well. The descriptions are concise enough for easy read through, and clear enough to follow after one read. While it's not always immediately clear why an exercise might help a remote body part, the text explains how and why a, say, hip adductor exercise will help an ailing shoulder. The whole "body as one piece" approach makes sense.

Nicely each program gives you an estimation of the time needed (and it's pretty accurate) and the frequency.

The book also includes a general maintenance program and specific programs for dealing with common sports pain. It's both aimed at being curative (fix the dysfunction) and palliative (relieve the immediate pain), and ultimately preventative (keep you moving properly so it doesn't happen again). They do seem to work, too - pain reduction in my personal experience and those of I've used the programs is immediate, and in the medium term the pain is less intense. Long-term, it's not clear, but it's reasonable to expect that to continue.

The maintenance plan also makes a nice general mobility warmup, or active rest on off days - it's easy movement through natural ranges of motion.

Rating
Content: 5
out of 5.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. The main downside to the book is the amount of flipping each exercise requires. This is a useful space saver, but it means you flip back and forth when actually following the exercise lists.

Overall: If you're in pain chronically, or you know someone who is, this is an excellent resource. No mysticism or mumbo-jumbo, just motion to effect improved function. The maintenance program is half-bad as a warmup, either, or as general mobility prep. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Training in Dysfunction II

I argued earlier that training while in dysfunction, you just train in the dysfunction permanently. Or at least, into a long-term dysfunction.

Training in Dysfunction

So what's the solution?

This is where corrective exercise, mobility drills, and even isolation exercises come into the fore.

The approach is pretty simple:

1) Get the client (or yourself) moving properly. No sense hip hinging or squatting or pressing if you're doing it in a way that is cementing in poor movement patterns.

2) Load that specific movement pattern in a way that reinforces the proper movement.

3) Increase the load and/or movement difficulty once the movement is ingrained properly.

As an example, let's look at a client who can't squat to parallel without his or her knees buckling in.

1) Get the client squatting with a band across the knees, which forces a conscious effort to push the knees out. This will groove the proper pattern. Also, squat the client up from a box set at parallel or slightly below. This allows them to go through the entire range of motion you're attempting to train.

2) Begin to load the squat - a little at first, with increases as the client gets stronger and the movement pattern is perfected.

3) Increase the load, and begin to squat both up from the bottom and from the top down to parallel.

In this manner, you're prioritizing proper movement and proper function, and then loading it. If you do it in the reverse fashion, at best you'll cement in a poor movement pattern, at worst you'll create a long-term dysfunction that leads to pain and injury. For most clients, the goal isn't maximal lifts, but maximal function, and proper movement patterns are the way to start that.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shoulder/trunk stability exercise

My boss forwarded this one to me for use with one of my clients, and I wanted to share it here as well. It's a nice video of a simple trunk stability and shoulder (especially rotator cuff) strength/health exercise.

One of my favorite exercises to improve trunk stability and shoulder strength

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kettlebells for Back Pain

Recently the New York Times put up a blog about a Danish study of using kettlebells to ease back pain.

Turning to Kettlebells to Ease Back Pain

The article has some of the usual errors - it describes a press as an isolation exercise. Er, no. There is no press I can think of that's an isolation exercise, they all involve multiple joints. Nevermind the "kettlebell press" is one of the keystone kettlebell exercises, so even if it was "isolation" it wouldn't be unique to non-kettlebell weights to do it. It also fails to mention that there are plenty of swinging dumbbell exercises too, although it is correct that people don't do them very often.

The article turns into a bit of a commercial for kettlebell classes, but it gets a lot right - weights, under proper supervision and done while standing and moving, are healthy and functional ways to exercise.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Training in Dysfunction

When you strength train - or endurance train - or skill train - when you have a functional imbalance or a dysfunctional, what happens?

By a functional imbalance, I mean either one stronger muscle is covering for a weak one, or a side-to-side imbalance (strong left arm, weaker right, or a similar case). By a dysfunction I mean some specific issue resulting from the above or from other causes - rounded shoulders, pronated feet, cocked hips, etc.

(Please note these are my own definitions for purposes of this post, not widely accepted definitions of these terms)

So when you train while in this state, are you correcting the problem or are you training in dysfunction?

The question is simply that - if your chest is weak but your shoulders are strong and you bench press, does the chest "catch up" or does it continue to push less than its fair share of the load with each rep? If you've got a side to side imbalance and you squat, do the sides "even out" or do they keep their (for example) 40/60 split, just at progressive loads?

With a dysfunction, the idea is that if your calf is locked up and your knee is handling all side-to-side movement that your ankle should handle, you need to free it up. If not, when you train side-to-side movement you're cementing in that knee substitution. If the knee can't handle the cumulative stress, it will go. If you've got "sleeping" glutes due to sitting all day and do a deadlift, do they "wake up" and handle the load or offload it on your back?

The idea here is that practice makes permanent. Strength training over a dysfunction will simply reinforce that dysfunction. You'll make a stronger, but still incorrectly working, set of muscles and groove an incorrect movement pattern.

In Part II I'll discuss some ideas about how to deal with this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trap Bar Deadlifts

Over on T-Nation, my favorite dead lift variation has gotten a really nice article:

The Trap Bar Deadlift

This article makes a case for the deadlift as a superior lift. I'm not ready to argue the trap bar deadlift is better than the regular deadlift. But it's definitely easier to coach, and cue, and for many people, to do. And it'll build leg and back strength.

I use the trap bar deadlift with my clients almost exclusively for those reasons (plus it doesn't require scraping a bar up the shins, which not so oddly bothers some lifters).

The article has a few good videos and text descriptions of the main lift and its variations, and if you're trap bar deadlifting please take a look at this one.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Points of failure and priority

Every exercise has a failure point - a weakness in the exerciser that limits his or her ability to continue to execute it.

So what does that mean when you program an exercise into your plan that has a specific point of failure?

I believe it means that you've prioritized that point of failure.

Your point of failure is your priority. Whatever fails first, and causes you to lose good form and stop, or just plain fails, is what you are prioritizing. Regardless of what the exercise is supposed to do, what it's doing is working on that specific weakness - or at the very least exposing it.

For example, is a deadlift a leg exercise or a back exercise? It's both, but if you fail because of tired legs it's not really working your back to the utmost, so your legs are your failure point.

You can use this in training for a variety of purposes.

For example, a person with poor shoulder endurance doing suspended pushups (with rings, say, or any similar training device). What will give out first is the ability of the shoulders to stabilize the body's position. So even if the triceps and chest can crank out more reps, the shoulders can't keep the rings in position and you cannot continue. This oddly makes it safer for someone with shoulder stability issues than regular pushups, because the exerciser must stop when he or she is unable to stabilize the rings.

Another example is a farmer's walk. Does the weight fall out of your hands due to a weak grip? Then, ultimately, you've gotten some ab and leg and back work but your grip is getting the biggest workout. Your grip has become the point of priority, and it's worth considering this exercise as slotting in where you'd do grip work. Same with, say, fat grip work - you add it in to prioritize grip over anything else.

Your point of failure on an exercise is a "weak point" but it's also your priority.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Music to Train to

John Schaefer (famous NYC area music promoter and journalist) had a segment on his "Soundcheck" show today about music to exercise to.

It's not just "songs that rock" or something, it's pretty scientific, as the discussion involves a sports psychologist who studies the effects of music on athletics and training.

Let's Get Physical

No surprise, "Lose Yourself" by Eminem came up as effective both anecdotally and scientifically.
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