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 18, 2016

Set a PR, Go Home

Here is a lesson I took many years to learn:

Set a Personal Record, Go Home.


Last Monday I set a PR for single-leg box squats.

Today, I did the same exercise and set a 10 pound PR over the previous lift.

I had more left in the tank. I probably could have gone for a 15-20 pound PR after that.

I didn't. I put the weights down, did a bodyweight squat set to ensure I was still going strong and well, and quit.

My next leg exercises were all the same as last week, which was the same (or in one case, a little less) than the week before that.

The reason is pretty simple - a personal record is a record. It's a weight I've never done before. I will adapt from that. I will get stronger. Why risk injury or overdo it or otherwise pile on in the hopes of eking out a little more gain?

I was sure to go home with gains.

That's what I did.

It took me a long time to realize that all I needed to do was ensure a gain, not try to maximize each workout.

Hopefully this post will help other realize this a few years, and a few injuries, and a few setbacks, earlier than I did.

Work hard, set a record, and take that record home with you.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ab Exercises I Always Use: Planks

There are a number of ab exercises show up in everyone's workouts when I train them. This is another one:

The Plank

I've written many posts on the plank and its variations.

These include the normal plank and its variations, and the side plank and many of its variations.

Why I use them.

When you're moving heavy objects (in or out of the gym), playing sports, or resisting sudden force from a fall, you need strong abs to stabilize your body. Planks and the variations of them are excellent for directly training that stability.

I do "cheat" a little - if a client is doing pushups, I don't have them do planks. I still count this as a plank inclusion - a pushup is just a plank with a push, so clients generally don't need both the same session.

Conversely, if a client is struggling to do pushups and his or her hips are sagging down, I'll add in extra planks on top of the pushups. They need midline stability, so I'll put some extra effort on it.

How I program them.

I try to work up to up to 30 second holds per side on side planks before I progress them to more difficult variations. I try to work planks up to 60 seconds consecutive. Occasionally I'll go as much as 2-5 minutes, if midline endurance is an issue for the client.

When these are difficult, I'll break it up. 30 total seconds on each side. 60 total seconds of planks. Once you get one full 30 or 60 second set, I'll start adding sets. I'll try 2-3 sets, usually between other exercises (simply to save time.)

These planks can be surprisingly difficult. You won't "feel your abs" working them, generally, but you will be fatigued more than you might suspect. As always, if you choose to include these in a workout, start slow and work up. Don't just try and push until you feel it - start with a little and add more each time.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ab Exercises I Always Use: the Pallof Press

There are a number of ab exercises I avoid, in general. Crunches and full sit-ups show up rarely in my own training and almost never in my clients' training. Russian twists make an occasional appearance. Ab rollers, never.

Some exercises show up in everyone's workouts. This is one:

The Pallof Press

Named for Physical Therapist John Pallof, this exercise is a winner.



Basically you extend the cable, as seen in the video, lengthening the lever arm of the resistance. Your abdominal muscles must fire to keep you from rotating. It's rare for clients to come to me with strong anti-rotation strength. It's common for them to come with one weak side and one stronger side. It's also common for them to come with compensation patterns and aches and pains from using other muscles to try to resist unwanted rotation or absorb the shock of rotational force.

What kind of rotational force? Golf swing impacts, baseball swings, throws, punches, stopping a guard pass, etc.

My favorite variation is the Pallof Press 2.0


Generally I use that as demonstrated, or I'll have the client hold it rigid while I pluck the tube or band like a harp string. I do these standing, squatting, in a split stance, kneeling tall, or kneeling on one knee.

This is an exercise you want to start out easy on. Go very light and work up very slowly. It's more about endurance than max effort, and you want to ensure your abs fire and you aren't finding another way to shove the cable around.

My typical progression is:

3 sets of 10 reps with a 2-second pause.
3 sets of 5 reps with a 5-second pause.
3 sets of 10 reps with a 3-second pause.
Go up in weight and start again.

For the 2.0, I do the above progression with a given tube. Once we've hit the heavier tube we have, we go to time:

20 second hold each side, no movement.
30 second hold each side, no movement.
20 second hold each side, with shaking.
30 second hold each side, with shaking.

I'll progress all the way up to the top of each progression with standing before I start adding in kneeling, half kneeling, etc. unless I detect a specific issue.

You won't feel this one so much, but just worry about the progression and you will find your ability to deal out and resist rotation will improve.
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