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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Running Barefoot

In the news the past few days has been the results of a study that shows that barefoot running is better for your feet. Barefoot runners have a different foot strike (a fancy way of saying they land differently each step) than people with supportive shoes.

Here is National Geographic's take on it.

This shouldn't be a surprise - humans would have been unshod or at best shod in minimally supportive footwear for tens of thousands of years. Advanced shoe technology is a recent development.

I'm glad this is coming around. For years I've walked around the house in at most, socks, and outside barefoot in any reasonable weather (not snowing or icy or below freezing). You do have problems at first - every little pebble and stick stings. But in a realitively short time you can get to the point where rocks, sticks, etc. don't bother you at all. You have to watch for glass, animal leavings, bones, etc. but you should be doing that even with shoes.

One anecdotal bit I noticed is that my feet, ankles, and knees feel better in no shoes than non-supportive shoes, and in non-supportive shoes than cross-trainers. So in the warmer months I just abandon footwear outside of working or driving. I'm glad to see people coming around!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Exercise: Pushup to T-Hold

One very effective "ab" exercise is the Pushup to T-Hold. In order to do these, you'll need to be able to both do a proper pushup (chest to the floor, all the way back up, body in a straight line). These aren't that hard, really, but they aren't that easy. For some reason, Wii Fit seems to think these are pretty basic, but Wii Fit is really generous about what it counts as a pushup.

How do I do these? Get into a pushup position, go down and come back up. At the top, don't stop, but lift one hand off the floor and hold that arm straight up as you roll over into a side plank position. Squeeze your torso muscles and leg muscles to hold the position momentarily, and then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

This video from Charles Staley shows one version, with both feet remaining on the floor.

This version involves rolling over on to the sides of the feet.

How can I make it harder?

First, do it as shown in the second video, but stack your feet as if you were in a side plank. This puts even more stress on your midsection. This is the only version I ever do. I feel it's both a little more difficult and a lot more effective.

Second, you can use dumbbells. Use a pair of hex dumbbells (or for the very brave and strong, round dumbbells or smaller kettlebells). These don't make the pushup harder, but do make the T-hold significantly harder. Be careful to slowly bring the hand up - don't swing the weight. Your shoulder is a complex joint, and the last thing it needs is a ballistically swinging weight pulling it back and out.

Third, you can use any usual methods to make the pushup harder, such as weighted vests or chains. Make sure you secure any chains to you tightly, so they don't slide off or down your body as you go into the T-hold.

What do these do for me? Try them and see. They really kill your midsection. They also give your shoulders a good workout, both from the pushup (dynamic strengthening movement) and the top hold (a static hold). The transition from position to position is just as important as either end of the movement, so do it slowly and under control. Your shoulder joint will thank you, and your midsection will improve in strength.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do it Every Day Part II

Continuing yesterday's idea:

What diet things do you do every day? Remember, if it's important, you do it every day.

You know eating fruits and vegetables is important. Do you do it every day?

You know eating sufficient protein, and eating equal amounts of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats are important. Do you do that every day?

As for me:

- I eat a hearty breakfast everyday.
- I take my fish oil every day.
- I get 40-50 grams of protein per meal, 5-6 meals a day, every day.
- I eat fruits and vegetables at every meal, every day.

It's consistency that is the key to long-term success, and doing thing every day is a simple way to reach consistency. Wake up, get it done before you go to sleep. Don't hit the sack until you've done your "must do every day" list.

What is yours?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is important to you?

Dan John related a piece of advice he credits to legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable:

"If it is important, do it every day. If it's not important, don't do it at all."

That's one of my favorite motivational quotes for training.

Every day, without fail, I do one or more of:
- static stretching
- dynamic movement prep
- foam rolling

I feel those are important to my physical health and ability to avoid injuries. Whenever I'm tempted to skip this "fitness prep" I think - "If it's important, do it every day" - and then, I go and do it.

I've recently decided I needed to improve my pullups - so I'm do 2 sets every morning at 50% of my one-set max for that variation (mixed grip). Why? See above. It's important, I'll do it every day.

What do you do every day?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review: The Grappler's Guide to Sports Nutrition

by John Berardi and Michael Fry
Published 2005 by Advanced Sports Fitness LLC
93 pages (including author's bios)

The sports nutrition in the book has a state goal of not just high performance, but also sustainable and healthy eating. Nothing in it is meant as a crash diet, short-term solution, or performance-at-all-costs type of approach. The authors come right out and say you can't focus on only one aspect of your diet (performance vs. health, for example) and come out well in the end. Everything must fit together for your best performance overall.

The book is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination. I got my copy as a gift, perhaps as a gesture to supporting my competitive goals in MMA. But it's much more expensive than other books on cutting weight or sports nutrition.
What makes it useful is its high-quality information.

The main core of the book are the 10 habits, which those familiar with Dr. Berardi will be familiar with.

There are also a couple meal plans - one for a 140-pound wrestler, one for a 200-pound wrestler. Each has both performance/weight gain and weight loss approaches written out, meal by meal. Not surprisingly, they're heavy on lean protein, lots of vegetables, fish oil supplementation, and frequent eating.

The book also contains a photocopyable checklist of "super foods" - the 20 foods you should be consuming regularly. Each comes with 5 check-off blocks. This is for the simple strategy of eating healthy foods. You just aim to check off 5 boxes of each food over the coarse of a week. Have a mug of green tea? Check one the boxes. Two servings of salmon today? Two boxes. And so on. This kind of simple approach makes for an excellent starting point - if you're eating 100 servings a week of these good foods, how much junk will you eat? A lot less - this is a substantial amount of food even over a 7-day span.

That, the sample meal plans, and the 10 habits are all you really get in the way of support for your diet planning. Don't expect to learn how many calories worth of food to consume, precise instructions on meal assembly, or macronutrient breakdowns.

This is certainly deliberate by the authors - they come right out and show that calories in/calories out isn't the whole answer, that macronutrients take a back seat to proper fueling, and that simple guidelines will get you pretty far.

That's also a problem though - you're shelling out $33 for 90 or so pages of content, and unless you're 140 or 200 you need to do all the work yourself. You don't have a very precise idea of where to go, either, just the habits and superfoods checklists. That's great stuff, but not for $33.

The book rounds out with a discussion of weight-cutting. It centers on two basic plans:
- the one-hour weigh-in
- the 24-hour weigh-in

The one hour weigh-in seems to fit school wrestling pretty well; I say "seems" because I was never a wrestler in school nor did I attend meets. But it's a weigh-in just prior to opening the warmups and competition. Their advice is pretty reasonable - you can't cut much, just a few pounds, without being unable to re-hydrate enough to get back to 100% performance.

The 24-hour weigh-in is more involved. It explains how to use mild laxatives (such as fiber, not OTC medicines!) to clear your bowels, how to drop water with the sodium/water manipulation method, and how to re-hydrate and re-fuel safetly and effectively.

The 24-hour weigh-in seems to also be meant to cover longer (but less than 24 hour) weigh-ins. But for the money this costs, I was hoping for a specific discussion of the middle ground - okay, what if I have 4-6 hours between weigh-in and competition? What if I don't know, but I have at least 3 hours (weigh-in at 8 am, starts at 11 am, you go on anywhere from 11 am to 6 pm?) and I need to cut weight and then re-fuel? How do I do that, and how should I eat? It's in there, sort of, but it's stuff you need to tease out.

Content: 4 out of 5. What is there is top-notch, but it feels like it's missing some critical information to let you customize it appropriately.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Very readable, menus are well-laid out and easy to follow. But don't expect fancy type or pictures.

It's expensive, but worth reading if you're a grappler or other weight-class athlete. Don't expect much beyond "wrestler-sized" prescriptions of diet. The general rules and the cutting weight suggests are very solid, though. Had the book been much cheaper, it would be a must read. As it is, it's a bit expensive but if you're right in the target audience, it's worth looking in to.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Product Review: Elite FTS Micro Mini Bands

A couple of months back I got a couple of EFS Pro Micro Mini Bands.

They're originally intended for adding a very small load to band-resisted bench press. I've been using these for band-resisted activities with children, who aren't strong enough for even the small bands.

For adults, they're probably too small for any substantial exercises, except perhaps for rotator cuff work.

However the bands are very, very durable. I've been abusing them pretty thoroughly and they haven't shown any wear on them. We've done pull-aparts, band-resisted pushups, band curls, band pushdowns, and a few other exercises. They've put up with it without a problem,

Quality: 5 out of 5. These bands are well made and stand up to a lot of punishment.

These are temporarily out of stock, but I'm sure they'll be back. If you need a very light band, these are the way to go.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Link Recommendation: When Gourment Meets Nutrition Pt 2

Healthy does not equal bland or tasteless.

When Gourmet Meets Nutrition, Pt. 2 is five recipes from the book Gourmet Nutrition V2.

I don't have the book (or I'd have reviewed it...) but I do like the sound of these recipes. That pizza and the almond tapanade are going to get made pretty soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is it as simple as calories in, calories out?

Over on the EXRX forums, there is a long but interesting argument going on about counting calories. More precisely, "calories in" versus "calories out" and its relevance to weight loss and its effectiveness. The CI/CO idea is that a calorie is just a calorie. If you take in 2000 and burn 2200, you'll lose weight. Take in 2200 and burn 2000, you'll gain weight. Only once calorie totals are in the right position does actual makeup of those calories matter.

For a long time, a comparison has been brewing in my head - CI/CO or total energy balance vs. exercise volume. Volume being sets x reps x weight summed up for a whole workout. Squats for 5 sets of 5 reps for 225 has a volume of 5625 pounds, for example.

Rather than reiterate my whole comparison here, I'll just link to my post. The whole thread is worth the read.

For me, the take-home idea is this: in strength training, we don't worry about the total amount of exercise, and then worry about the composition of that total. We start with "you should squat, deadlift, press, and do pullups" and then decide on sets, reps, and weights that will get us to our goal. If the total volume is too high (it'll wear you down faster than you recover), we cut it back - maybe less reps per set, or less sets, possibly even dial down the weights a bit. Not surprisingly, this is the opposite approach of most exercise recommendations you'll find in the mass media - "5 days a week, 20 minutes a day" tells you the total time, not the composition, of the workout.

In your diet, you could (I think should) do the same. Total calories is really only important once you've started eating healthy foods. You could start by cutting down to an optimal amount of food and then go swapping out the bad with the good. But you'll do far better if you change to healthy foods, and then worry about how much of it you eat. Heck, the second approach is also easier...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Link Recommendation:

I link to a number of blogs here. But I know not everyone reading this will read everything posted on those blogs. So I'd like to highlight a good one.

Boris at SquatRx (linked down further on this page) just posted a nice piece about exercise order.

If you design your own workouts or want to know why the published ones generally follow a similar progression, check his post. He's got a short but sweet summary of the "rules" of exercise order and the impact of changing them around.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Review: Peak Performance

By Charles A. Garfield, PhD with Hal Zina Bennett
Published 1985
218 pages

This book is a throwback to the 80s. The cold war. East German and Soviet athletes using secret techniques of unstoppable mental might to clean up at the Olympics. The introduction alone is an amazing reminder of what the 80s were like. It also features an anecdote by the author I've seen elsewhere - using visualization techniques to match a previous PR set a long time prior. In this case, crushing a 365 pound bench press after struggling with 300 pounds only a few minutes before.

The techniques are laid out in a progression fashion, from basic analysis of your motivation and goal-setting to the more advanced visualization and mental practice.

Each chapter builds on the previous one. Do expect the usual "talk to a partner or record yourself" approach, so if you're not big on self-motivational speech you're not going to like the exercises. But they do have a large supporting body of evidence (research-based and anecdotal) to support them.

The chapters go into depth on each technique, from a basic description up to a step-by-step method for implementing them in your training. The techniques are also detailed for non-sports use, but as this blog is about strength...who cares? Visualizing business success is nice, but this is about learning to get stronger.

One fun bit is the scattering of name-dropping of 80s athletes. Bruce Jenner. Chris Evert-Lloyd (since divorced and now Chris Evert). Mike Mentzger. Marilyn King. It's a flashback to the past, dating itself. But the advice still seems quite sound.

Content: 4 out of 5. A complete look at the state of the art of mental training techniques - but circa 1985. It would garner a much higher rating back then, but's dated enough to make you wonder if it has been superseded or not.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. It's nothing if not readable and well-organized.

Overall: The book is interesting, if only to see how athletes using mental training and visualization to reach their goals. I'm not convinced it's the super-system it claims to be, but if you need some basic methods to use visualization, it's a worthwhile read. Find it in a library - it's long out of print.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Exercise: Blackburns

One exercise I like a lot is one called "blackburns." This an excellent series of static holds for improving the strength of your rotator cuff and upper back.

Here is a video of these from DeFranco's Training:

Go very light on these - 5 pound or 2.5 pound plates are a good place to start. You are working very small muscles in your upper back and shoulder, and you don't want to strain them, you want to train them.

And a different, unweighted version of Blackburns, from Charles Staley:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Training Terminology: Time Under Tension

Training Terminology: Time Under Tension

Time Under Tension (frequently abbreviated to TUT) is simply the amount of time the muscles utilized in the exercise are under tension - moving or supporting the weight. If your set takes 45 seconds to complete, your TUT was 45 seconds.

How do I use this? The implementation of TUT varies wildly, with everything from high reps done for a specific amount of time, to very slow reps, to isometric holds (in other words, straining without movement). TUT concerns have been used to dissuade lifters from locking out their joints during motions, because (despite being anatomically designed to do so) they might suffer injury from supporting weight. TUT is usually held up as the best way to hypertrophy (increase in size) your muscles, but it has both strong arguments for and against it. I don't intend to get into it here, just let you know what it means when people talk about TUT.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Great Joe Rollino, RIP

Several people sent me a link to this obituary. Joe Rollino, aka The Great Joe Rollino, died on Monday after being struck by a minivan.

Joe Rollino was still going strong, healthy and active, at age 104. He was born in 1905, and would still be alive today if not for a traffic accident.

The Great Joe Rollino, Bender of Steel, Is Dead at 104 - At a Mighty 104, Gone While Still Going Strong

His lifts include a number of numbers that befit a Coney Island strongman - lifting 475 pounds with his teeth, back lifting 3200 pounds, lifting 635 pounds with one finger. Not the usual back squat and deadlift records, this is old-timey stuff.

I'll admit I knew little of Joe Rollino before reading his obit. But it's inspiring to me as an older lifter. He stayed hale for decades and never stopped being active. It's a testament to the effects of healthy living and hard lifting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Training Terminology: I-go-you-go

Occasionally I train the same exercise at the same time as one or more partners. Instead of timing rest, we simply rotate through the exercise in turn, starting right after the other partner finishes.

Naturally, there is a training term for this: I-go-you-go rest.

What is it? - A rest method where one person does an exercise; as soon as he or she finishes their reps they hand off the equipment to the next person. You alternate (or cycle through, if you have more people), each taking your turn. In kindergarten, we called this "sharing."

How do you do this? The classic example is barbell curls - you lift for as many reps as you can, and then hand it back to me and I do the same, and then hand if off to you again...and again, and again. It can also be done with chinups, rows, deadlifts, whatever. You can also do it with no-equipment lifts, too - you do X pushups, I do X pushups, then you do X+1, I have to do X+1, etc. and you rest while the other is working.

It's an intensification technique - you cram a lot more work into a much shorter period with this kind of lifting. It also encourages you to push your partner hard - the longer they spend lifting, the longer your rest time is!

It can be a fun way to lift, especially if you and your partner are roughly equal in strength. And it can goad you to new heights...many times I've gotten one more rep than my partner, just to say I did - and set a PR in the process.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Peak Performance - Sports Nutrition

by Donna Shryer
Published 2009
140 pages

Peak Performance Sports Nutrition is a book about nutrition for athletes, aimed at and written for a young adult (YA) audience. Since I work with kids and often hear teens discussing terribly inaccurate "facts" about eating, I thought this book would be worth looking into as a resource for parents and kids alike.

The upside of the book is that it really hones in on its target audience, and makes the material accessible without dumbing it down. That's a real plus. But it's strongly outweighed by the negatives.

The book is squarely centered on the food pyramid - a base of grains building up to meats eaten "sparingly." Meat and donuts, as usual, are lumped into the same category in terms of servings.

It does differentiate between the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) and explain them. It also emphasizes the importance of fiber. But it also clings to the idea that the US RDA is perfectly accurate for an athletic population, even when it says elsewhere that you'll need more total calories and total macronutrients - without somehow exceeding the limits based on a caloric total nearly half of what you'd need to eat.

It makes statements that are potential bombshells, such as "Consuming excessive amounts of protein alone won't make anyone stronger. In fact, it can eventually make you weaker." It cites a source for this, but doesn't explain. Imagine you're a teen reading this - that's scary! How much is excessive? How much longer? Weaker how? If you drink that protein shake or eat that extra helping of chicken, will you get weaker? That kind of thing is something that should raise red flags, but it's just made as a statement in passing.

It makes odd errors, too - like saying Americans typically eat in excess of 100 grams of protein a day, and that this is "50 percent higher than the RDA, which is around 55 grams daily for a [...] male and 45 grams for [...] [a] female". Uhm, 50% more than 55 is 77.5, 50% higher than 45 is 67.5. One hundred grams is almost 100% higher than the RDA for a male and is more than 100% higher than the RDA for a female. So why the weaker figure of 50%, that doesn't even come close mathemetically? Errors of math make all of your numbers suspect to a reader that notices them.

It also has the typical madness of saying that saturated fats and trans fats are both to be avoided, but that 1/3 of your fat calories a day should come from saturated fats. So, if they are that unhealthy, why are you making them 1/3 of your fat consumption, along with 1/3 polyunsaturated and 1/3 monounsaturated? Look, just say to the reader that it's very easy to get saturated fat, and you want to have an equal amount of poly and mono along with sat fat. That's easy, and doesn't make a healthy and needed fat into a villain.

Content: 2 out of 5. It's the same-old, same-old, complex carbs, low fat, food pyramid. More than once it makes statements that cry out for supporting content, only to move on without supporting them
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Laid out well, attractively illustrated, with easy to understand writing.

Overall: Skip it. It's just the usual "follow" advice you get from any free resource, and nothing else.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Starting Strength website/Mark Rippetoe Interview

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you should already know who Mark Rippetoe is.

Zach Evan-Esch did a phone interview with him, and posted it on his blog right here.

After you've listened to that, take a look at the improved Starting Strength website. The articles are uniformly interesting, and they're a good resource for trainees and for coaches alike. The article on gear (PDF) is a good, thought-provoking example - even the barbell is technically gear, so where do you draw the line? I recommend bookmarking that site and reading if often.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Acquiring Weight

This is a roughly price-ordered rumination on how to get weight plates, bars, and other exercise gear. It's not like this stuff is hard to find, but it can be pretty expensive. It can cost more for a pair of 45 pound plates than for a couple months of gym membership. So let's see what we can do to avoid paying full price.

Important Note: Remember when buying or otherwise acquiring weights to make sure you're getting what you need - compare standard plates (1" holes) with Olympic plates (2" holes). They are not compatible, and you want to make sure you're getting what you need. Make sure you avoid vinyl-covered concrete-filled weights; they're notorious for falling apart and they take up lots of bar room, too - you can't load up a bar very heavy with thick, concrete weights.

In decreasing order of cost:

Retail stores: Sporting good stores have a full line of weights, bars, and benches. If you just want a set to start with, you can get one here - no worries about mixing and matching, and the price is usually a break off the individual parts.
Hint: If you can find a second-hand sports store in your area, check it out. One such chain is Play It Again Sports.

Pros: They have the weights you need, and they are in excellent condition.
Cons: They charge around $1/pound these days, sometimes more, sometimes less. This adds up when you want pairs of hex dumbbells in 5 pound increments from 5-100 pounds, or need 4 x 45 pound plates for your improving deadlift.

Online stores: Why drag yourself to the sporting good store when you can drag the sporting goods store to you?

Pros: Generally a lower cost. Best selection in the world, because you have the whole selection of the world! You can't check the weights in person, but if you stick to a reputable place, you will get what you ask for.
Cons: Shipping. Shipping weights isn't cheap for anyone, and the cost is passed onto you. This may still be - and often is - cheaper than retail and way more convenient. It's also hard if you don't have a specific idea what you need - there are many weight plates out there, and if you need dumbbells or a kettlebell you can't just give them a heft and choose the weight that you need. You have to know what you need - or be prepared to ask specific questions from the online store's customer service or a handy weight training friend.
One additional minor con: Your shipping company representative or post office worker might not love you when your 20kg kettlebell comes and she's got to carry it. Mine ditched it on the sidewalk by the fence.

Junkyards: Old weights are metal, and scrap metal ends up in junkyards. If you've got one near you, give them a call or drop by. They'll sell weights based on the going rate for that much weight of metal.

Pros: The price is pretty good.
Cons: The selection is whatever they have, and it doesn't replenish regularly. The weights may be in terrible condition - they did get junked for scrap, not passed on to a caring owner. Expect rust.

Craigslist: Take a look at your local Craigslist listings. There is a whole sporting goods section, and weights and weight training gear get added daily. They don't always get deleted after it sells, though, so expect to send a lot of emails and get a scattering of answers. Be wary of retailers using it as a cheap advertising device and scammers looking for email addresses and credit card information.

Pros: Pretty cheap! You can also post items wanted, if you want something specific and expect sellers might come to you.
Cons: You need to move fast, and even "I'll come right by now" is too slow for some sellers. More than once I've been burned by someone selling something out from under me. Remember to call and confirm they've still got it before you leave the house. The selection isn't ideal, and generally you'll find more beginner's weight sets than individual pieces. That's fine if you need a big set, not if you need a couple plates. Prices are what the buyer thinks he or she can get, so they might be very high for what you're getting. Know the value and real cost of the items you are looking for.

Garage Sales: Garage sales are hit-or-miss. Go to enough of them and you may find gems - one of my friends got a 16kg, 24kg, and 32kg set of kettlebells for a few bucks at a garage sale. I got a bench, several heavy bags (for punching/kicking practice), and some heavy hex dumbbells for almost nothing. Other times you'll find the owners just can't bear to part with their weights for less than 90-100% of the full retail value. And most of the time, "fitness gear" means a couple dinky dumbbells and a ski machine or crunch-o-matic. Hint: you can find local garage sales on Craiglist. Another hint - go early. As in, be there when they open. The serious garage sale fanatics will be there, and it's easy to miss out if one or more of them also happen to be shopping for weight plates.

Pros: Generally, a much lower price - and you can bargain it down if you're willing to take lots of stuff of their hands at once.
Cons: Hit-or-miss. Most of the time "fitness gear" doesn't mean 45-pound plates, bumpers, kettlebells, and squat racks. Expect to burn a lot of gas before you find what you're looking for.
Hint: If you have friends who go to garage sales, give them your cell phone number and an idea of what you want...they may be persuaded to call you up when they come across it.

Freecycle: Never overlook the possibility of getting your weights for free. After all, they are heavy and hard to move, so people may just want them taken off their hands.

Pros: Can't beat the price.
Cons: No one else can beat the price, either, so weights go quickly. If they don't, it may be because you have to take a whole set - bench, weights, bars, etc. - just to get a few extra plates. Have a disposal plan for the stuff you don't need.
If you're always getting a retail weight set passed on, expect the same mix of weights - you'll end up with a lot of 2.5s, 5s, and 10s and a lot less 45s.
The quality can be spotty - generally folks freecyling weights and bars aren't getting rid of carefully cared-for 45-pound plates and Ivanko barbells...but junk sets that were on sale at some point.

Those are generally the ways I shop for plates and bars. If you know any others I've missed, please comment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Article Review: DeFranco's Training Rules for Washed-up Meatheads

T-Muscle just put out a new article by Nate Green, called DeFranco's Training Rules for Washed-up Meatheads. No surprise, it's a series of basic rules and a workout for 30+ lifters, by Joe DeFranco.

The template appears to be the first week(s) of the Built Like A Badass program - I say this based on forum posts I've read and workouts I've seen done at the gym, since I haven't read the book yet. Regardless, the template is a three-day push/pull/legs split:

Monday: Max Effort Bench (Push)
Wednesday: Max Effort Squat or Deadlift (Legs)
Friday: Repetition Chinups (Pull)

So 2x a week you lift heavy, 1x a week you do a higher-rep bodyweight exercise. Each workout follows a percentage-based 3 set maximum effort or a total-reps lift with bodybuilding-type exercises, higher-rep lifting, and a "finisher" - basically a conditioning workout. Each is preceded by an identical warmup, featuring foam rolling, stretching, and mobility drills.

The template seems very solid, and it's well laid out for older guys who need more recovery - or even for young guys who just can't get to the gym more than 3x a week. There is no discussion of how to approach improving the percentages for later weeks, or how long to progress without changing the workout. This is presumably covered in the ebook. But the template in conjuction with the five rules is a good example of a stripped-down but effective workout. It's enough work to get you a training effect, but short enough to get in and out of the gym quickly and efficiently. And however easy this looks on paper, I'm sure it won't be if you try it.

The article is well worth the time to read it, even if you aren't a "washed-up meathead" - an experienced trainee looking for a fresh approach.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What did you accomplish this past year, strength-wise?

Here is what I did.

I set new 1-rep max PRs in the box squat and bench press. I set a new 5-rep max the trap bar deadlift. I progressed to heavier kettlebells for all but my weakest lifts. I routinely lift heavier on almost every one of my accessory lifts. Oh, and I'm also larger and my endurance is better than it was the year before.

But that's secondary. The important thing for 2009? I won my division in Grappler's Quest. All that lifting, training, and hard work paid off in the only thing that ultimately mattered to me - succeeding in competition. My goal was to make it back out on the mat and be competitive. I not only proved that I was competitive, but that I could win. That's why you don't see a lot of numbers in my PR listing - it's not that important, it's not my metric of success. My metric this year was being able to step out on the mat again.

What is your metric for success for the year past, and for the year we've just begun? If you don't know what success is, you need to define it - and define a way to measure it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Review: Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports

by J. Hartmann and H. Tunnemann
Published 1995
345 pages

Fitness and Strength Training for All Sports is a translation of an Eastern Bloc strength training manual into English. I first heard about this from watching a video of Joe DeFranco going through his bookshelf with Zach Evan-Esch, and so I went ahead and tracked it down. It's aimed at strength coaches rather than novices. Simply put, this book has just about everything. From power generation to hypertrophy, recovery techniques to stretching and warmups, periodization and basic anatomy - everything is covered.

The book starts with the biology and anatomy of strength training before it moves on to the practical aspects of improving sports performance. The anatomy section is well written and easy to follow, but it's essentially theoretical information - useful for coaches and would-be personal trainers, but not for trainees looking just for a guide to what to do.

The book has a program section, with sample workouts ranging from beginner's bodyweight circuits to advanced barbell workouts aimed at experienced strength athletes. The workouts are well varied, but if you want to use them it will require quite a lot of flipping back and forth to the exercise chapter, figuring percentages of your 1RM on all of the exercises, and so forth. They aren't grab and go, although they give a good idea of how the authors intend for exercises to be organized and what percentages and rep counts are considered appropriate.

The exercise chapter has 116 different exercises of all kinds, organized by body parts. They range from partner calisthenics to the big basics (squats, deadlifts, chinups, etc.). Many of them feature kettlebells, too, often in some odd positions - I've done pullups with a kettlebell hanging from a belt, but never with one hanging around the neck on a strap! The partner exercises are quite creative, but are probably familiar to anyone in a martial arts class - partner pickups, partner squats, etc.

Perhaps the best sections are the ones that address the core goal of the book - improving sports performance, and improving power output. Since power generation - the ability to exert strength quickly - is critical to sports performance, and sports performance is the name of the game (got to win those gold medals . . . ), both sections are well done. The basics of power generation are covered, as are methods to train it - compensatory acceleration (lift a light weight as fast as possible), the contrast method (lift heavy, then lift light and fast), and plyometrics (direct power training) are all covered.

It's hard to cover this book section by section, as it has quite a number of them and it covers sports strength training so thoroughly. Suffice it to say that it's all in here, albeit a bit dated thanks to the advancing knowledge of strength training.

My only real reservation about this book is one that it shares with other Eastern Bloc training manuals: Yes, these methods produced gold medalists and an impressive body of athletes. But did they work because the methods are the best available, or because they selected out the ones for whom those methods worked best for, out of a large pool of athletes?

Content: 4 out of 5. Everything is covered quite thoroughly - if you're programming for athletes, it is in here. The only negative is that the (original) book is over 20 years old, and strength training technique has advanced.
Presentation: 5 out of 5. The line drawings could be more attractive, but that's the only quibble. Everything else is presented well, and the drawings are very clear and easy to follow.

Overall: This book is a must-read if you are coaching athletes. It is a dense read sometimes, but it's very valuable material and well-presented. If you aren't training athletes, or you're a beginner yourself, this could be more than a little overwhelming.
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