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, April 25, 2016

Exercises I Don't Use Anymore: Hand Grippers

There are some exercises I used to love, for myself and for my clients. But lately I just don't use these anymore. This occasional series will explain what they are, why I don't use them anymore, and what I use instead.

Hand Grippers

I used to use hand grippers a lot. I'd carry them around with me, get different strength variations, and slot them in my programs. I programmed them into workouts for friends and clients, too.

Not so much in the past few years.

I find that hand grippers make a good test of strength, but not a great training tool.

My practical experience has been that:

- trainees rarely lack only grip strength;

- they rarely have a need to repeatedly grip and squeeze, grip and squeeze;

- training economy means it's better to add grip challenges to other exercises than to just train crushing grip.

Not only that, but I've found that when I or my trainees do gripper exercises, it doesn't translate to much beyond improved ability to close a gripper. And usually for reps. However, gripper performance does go up when overall grip strength improves.

In other words, training grip with other exercises helps you with grippers, but the reverse isn't necessarily true.

These days, I swap in other grip work instead.

Substitutes: Thick-handled barbell and dumbbell exercises (Fat Gripz are a great investment). Hex dumbbell holds for time, holding the hex end of the dumbbell. Timed holds - of barbells, dumbbells, or a chinup bar. Farmer's Walks for time.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Training Terminology: Training Economy

Here is a training term you won't hear so often around the local gym. You're more likely to encounter it online or when talking to a trainer.

Training Economy: The efficiency at which you train all of the traits that you want, without taking more time, energy, or workouts than is necessary.

Put another way, it's using the most efficient exercises to get the job done.

In other words, if you want to train your grip (hands, forearms), your biceps, and your back, you can do three different exercises - say a plate pinch, some biceps curls, and some rows. Or, you can do thick-handled chinups and get all three at once.

Or another example - you could do your exercises, then your stretches for the areas of your body you don't intend to stretch. Say, squats and chest, arm, and back stretches. Or you could put your stretches in between sets of your squats and let your muscles strength while your body replenishes the reserves in your leg muscles for the next set.

Still another - you could do supersets in order to cut down on overall time of the workout.


Using training economy is about getting the most results with the least waste - critical for folks with more workout to do than they have time to do.


Also see this excellent article from 12 years back from Joe DeFranco on this exact subject.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Goalie-specific training & lessons for the general trainee

A few months back, there was an excellent article on goaltender training on the National Hockey League website.

Goalie-specific training paying dividends

It's mostly interesting if you watch, play, or train people for ice hockey. But even if not, it's got nuggets of value for any trainee, athlete or not.

You need general and specific training.

The goaltenders do both general improvement and position-specific training.

"With Lack, who started working with Francilia in September, the focus began with nutrition and building up his immune system. "

That's general training. Nutrition - what you eat, how it affects you overall. Nutrition affects all aspects of your training, for good or for ill. Building up his immune system? Same. General. Stay healthy, feel well, be able to train and play regularly. The article doesn't make clear how these interact, but they're almost certainly the same approach - fix the diet, and fix the immune system in the process.

Your goal determines your methods.

The article says, "We're not doing heavy squats, we're not doing deadlifts, we're just doing stuff that is super specific to goalies." Why no heavy squats and no deadlifts? Because the goal is better goaltenders, and the trainer has determined they aren't going to improve the goaltenders as goaltenders.

"In simple terms, Francilia has figured out what muscles need to fire, created exercises that elicit the proper firing pattern, and can now use them in a repetitive fashion, with proper puck-tracking stimulus, to make the response more automatic for his goalies."

That's what training is about - find out what you need, get better at that. General strength is always useful, if you can apply it. You need to develop those aspects of your abilities that feed into what you are trying to do. Don't train with 5K methods to get your bench press up, don't use a bench press program to get your running times down. Identify what you need to do and build a program off of that. Don't start with the program and then determine your goals.

Learn to stop before you start.

That's not what happened to one of the goaltenders in the article. He learned to generate great starting power but couldn't stop effectively. This is why it's worth learning to land first - being able to generate a strong start but having a rough stop is wasteful and potentially dangerous. But they eventually hit on the need to deal with the stop. Sometimes this is inevitable - you can't determine your lack of landing ability until you jump a little. But your stopping and landing ability will always limit you unless you develop it before, or in conjunction with, your ability to start or jump.

Monday, April 4, 2016

How I use Active Recovery workouts

Can light exercise speed up your recovery?

Anecdotally, I've found that light cardio seems to help myself, and my clients, recover from workouts.

I generally train people using a High/Low system - train hard, or train lightly. No medium days - either it's strenuous or it's easy.* Days off fall into the "easy" days. So does this kind of cardio.

What I have people do is do anywhere from 10-30 minutes of light movement. Enough to get the heart rate up to 120-130, but not higher. Enough to get a little bit of a sweat going, and enough to feel some light effort. But nothing strenuous enough that it's hard to speak, you're huffing and puffing to get air, or your muscles feel significant exertion. At most, you want to be working at around 40% of your maximum resistance, reps, weight, time, etc.

What I typically use:

- light cardio. Any machine or just going out for a walk or a light jog. Go for a bike ride. Stop and smell the roses.
- yoga, especially in a low-intensity class. No "hot yoga" or strenuous work - just moving.
- movement practice (martial arts kata, tai chi, mobility drills)
- light bodyweight exercises (for the already very in shape), done at a slow pace with lots of rest.
- pushing a sled with 20-40% of the usual resistance you use.

The goal is to get more blood flow to the muscles, work very lightly in a full range of motion, and keep moving.

You aren't trying to get stronger, push yourself, or burn fat. If you can't help doing that, it's better to just take the day off. This isn't high-frequency training, it's active recovery.

I've found this seems to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), over the long haul improve your movement and work capacity, and speed up your recovery. Clients complain less of stiffness. Also, it has the benefit of allowing you to make exercise and movement a daily habit, not just something you do hard a few times a week.

If you tend to be stiff and tired and sore after workouts, try this approach on the day after. It might work for you, too.


* If someone isn't up to a "high" or "hard" workout, I'll drop down the intensity and volume. In that case, it might be a "medium" workout. But I'll precede it and follow it with a light workout day.
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