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.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What is your strength for?

Broadly, you can make this, "What is your fitness for?"

Or you can narrow it down to "What is your speed for?" or "What is your bench press for?" or whatever.

What applications of your strength really matter to you? Which ones are useful in the crunch?

I had an email exchange with a friend earlier today about his real-world functional strength. I said, "this matters when you're under a load, like with a squat or carrying your wife out of a burning building."

Not saying his (or anyone's) spouse is a "load" in a negative sense, but just making a point. Picking someone up when you need to is showing your strength. It's adding an unstable load to your body and then asking you to move. Can you do that? Is that what you want to be capable of?

And if so, is that what your training is doing for you?

What kind of demonstration of strength are you training for?

For me, it started out as aesthetics. I wasn't strong or fit-looking when I started out. I wanted to be. I liked how I felt when I was training and I liked the results of training.

Then it changed to MMA. If I could demonstrate my strength on the mat at practice or in a match, I was strong. My training helped. It mattered. How I looked wasn't a big deal, if I could make weight and keep strong opponents from pushing me around.

Nowadays, it's still for MMA. But it's also for the gym - can I do the exercise with good form and show people what to do? I'm a trainer, after all. And last but not least, it's for the "carry my wife out of a burning building" situations. I'm willing to suffer a lot of pain and injury to do that, if that's what it takes to succeed. I train partly because I want the strength to ensure I succeed. A cranky knee or shoulder is annoying. But a weak one that'll give out when I fireman's carry someone from danger is a disaster.

This is a larger issue than goals, or "What are you training for?"

Ask yourself, what ways of using my strength, my fitness, my mobility, my speed are important in my life? What real world situations do I want it to truly matter in?

Are you getting better at those? Is your confidence that you could shoulder your spouse or child and kick down a door and escape a disaster high? Are you sure you could run away from an attacker and stay away? Are you sure that when it comes to help move your friend out of his house, you can lift that TV by yourself?

Whatever it is - dramatic or prosaic - that's what your strength is for.

It's worth thinking about and knowing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Eating, Calculating Energy Balance, and Metabolic Damage at PN

There is an excellent article over on Precision Nutrition.

Can eating too little actually damage your metabolism?

On the surface, it's just about the concept of "metabolic damage." But in fact it's got an excellent look at the difficulty of determining your energy balance (energy in vs. energy out.)

It also explains and illustrates what happens when you modify this balance with either eating less or exercising more.

Really worth a look if you want to get a better of idea what "Calories in vs. Calories out" really means within you body.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How to fit stretching into warmups

How I structure stretching in my warmups:

1) Self-Massage. This includes foam rolling, lacrosse ball rolling, rolling on a softer ball, etc. I pick 2-3 areas and do 1-2 types of rolls per area for 1 minute each.

2) Static Stretches. These are generally done for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes per area, total. I'll set stretches up in a circuit and rotate through 3-4 of them. Overall I try to keep the total to down to 3-4 minutes, if only because I generally train myself or other people with a time limit.

3) Dynamic Stretches / Mobility Drills. Time varies, but I progress from mild movements to larger and move aggressive movements. You might start with band pull aparts before going to external rotations and then to arm circles. For lower body I might do squats, then lunges, then work up to jumping jacks and rope skipping.

Overall, I like this to take 7-8 minutes minimum, 10-15 minutes maximum. Enough to get it all in, but not so much we're eating into a session's time. That's especially critical if clients are coming before work, before picking kids up from school, or otherwise have something they need to get to.

I will mix 2 and 3 if necessary. For a client with tight hip flexors, we often need to foam roll, then do some activation drills, and then stretch the flexors in order to get the most benefit. But I default to "roll, stretch, get mobile."

Joe DeFranco just did an excellent podcast on this subject, which I highly recommend.


At the end of the workout, I like to immediately do some stretching for problem areas. I pick one, done for 1-2 minutes per side, and then we're all done.

On an off day, I might mix all three for much longer - basically doing rolling, stretching, and mobility melded together for much longer. This turns an "off day" into a light workout aimed primarily at banking some stretching and mobilization.
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