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, January 28, 2013

Maximize Your Minimums

Over on the EXRX forums, I wrote this:

"I'm more and more convinced a good long-term goal - for me and generally for my clients - is to maximize your minimums rather than maximize your maximums. What I mean is, instead of trying to raise their one-rep max, my goal is to raise their baseline walking around strength. Raising the weights they can get all the day, day in, day out, without any problems."

This is my basic training philosophy for most clients, and for myself.

I have a lot of influences here - Paul Carter's emphasis on everyday strength, talks by Dan John and Charles Staley about training, and my own experiences as a trainee and a trainer. What matters to most people, most of the time, are:

- what they can always do rather than what they can do peaking for a competition.

- what they can do on a bad day, with minimum warmup, without injury or painful strain.

Getting someone's 1-rep max up is great. Getting someone's ability to carry boxes up a few flights of stairs without exhaustion and risk of injury is also great. The latter will be more useful to them, generally, unless they're planning to compete at a one-rep max sport (Powerlifting or Weightlifting).

My goal generally is to get people to be able to lift on a bad day what they used to be able to lift only a good day. Day in, day out - enough to get you stronger, no so much you can't recover from the workout, and working towards a better baseline. Maximizing your minimums.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Eating Healthy on the Road

Chris Salvato over at Eat, Move, Improve posted an excellent article on eating healthy while traveling.

Eating Healthy While Traveling


Why do I need to read this? It's full of useful information from an experienced traveler about finding food on the road. When your choices seem to be only fast food or grab-n-go, they aren't, and the article explains where to look. And how to find those places.

But what if I don't eat Paleo? The article assumes a base of paleo-style eating. In this case, it doesn't really matter. As long as your diet includes lean protein, vegetables, and fruit, these tips for finding a healthy meal on the go will be useful. If you really need to add foods not mentioned in your diet, you can - but now you've got a solid base to work from.

Generally, with traveling and eating, the more preparation the better. You can make food and bring it with you, you can pre-plan out places to eat at the stops you know you'll make, and you can tell your friends and family what kind of food you need to eat. But when you're stuck or the situation suddenly leaves you needing to make last-minute choices, these are a great way to deal with the problem!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Teach the Squat from the Bottom

There are a lot of ways to teach people how to squat. These include books, DVDs, articles, and videos.

Here is another one.

Most of the articles and videos start from similar point - start from standing, squat down, stand back up.

However, not everyone has the strength, balance, and body awareness to successfully and safely squat down and come back up. The body awareness is especially difficult for new trainees - they can't feel what is a correct squat or correct depth.

First, figure out where the bottom is. Tony Gentilcore's article, linked yesterday, is a great place to start. First identify how deep you can go.

A quick substitute, is to simply sit on a bench or box that puts you at the same height you would be on a chair or sofa at home. It's practical alternative since you will need to get up from that height as part of daily life.

Next, start at the bottom. Almost everyone can sit down. Start from the box/bench/chair. Get down however you need to. From there, you can get your feet placement the proper width for a squat, tighten up your hips and abs, put your chest up, and drive your feet down and stand up.

Really, all a squat is, is standing up. You do it under a load, and you generally start and end standing, but you're standing up.

Your goal is to get with without having to use your hands, grab onto anything, shift your weight to one side, or push off your legs with your arms. If you have to, do it as little as possible. Try to increase the number of reps you can get without assistance.

What are the upsides to this approach?

You take away any fear of falling which commonly cuts squat depth and discourages people from sitting back into the squat.

You can adjust the bottom position without being under a load. You can correct chest position, foot position, starting motion, etc. at the most critical point in the squat - the bottom aka the hole. That is where your barbell back squat will either succeed or fail, so you can get it right first.

You can do this with even extremely de-trained clients. Even the most elderly client will sit down and get back up during the day, and if you can get them doing it without any assistance you are given them their life back. If they fail to get up due to fatigue or old injuries creeping back, you can stop the set with ease.

It will also result in less soreness, since the motion is all concentric (muscles contracting/shortening), not eccentric (muscle lengthening.)

It's easy to get used to what a squat depth feels like.

Almost no one gets up on their toes when they stand from a chair - they drive with their heels and keep their feet flat.

It's easy - and safe - to put a band around the knees to force the squatter to push their knees out.

Progression - how do you progress these?

Move up to goblet squats.

Add a weight vest.

Hold dumbbells.

Use a lower box (great in conjunction with mobility drills to increase range of motion). Whenever you do this, start unweighted in case the person can't keep a proper back arch in this position.

Work up to a barbell.

Start doing single-leg squats (lift one leg and stand).




I find this approach very simple and easy - young and fit people can move right up to the bar the same session; older and injured people can stay at this until they build up the strength to progress to the bar. Plus it's safe, intuitive, and it's clear when progress is made - if you can go from "stand up with a cane or using your hands" to "stand up unassisted, with a load" you know you have made progress.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Squat Depth Diagnostics

Does everyone need to squat?

Yes.

Does everyone need to squat to the same depth?

No.

But how do you figure out what is the safest maximum depth someone should go down to in a squat?

Tony Gentilcore
has a really excellent article on that subject on T-Nation:

Does Everyone Need to Squat Deep?

Scroll down for the video of the kneeling rockback assessment. You'll need someone to watch you, but you can see where the safe maximum depth of your squat is.
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