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, July 30, 2010

Post-Workout Nutrition - minimize damage, or maximize results?

I was talking to someone a few weeks back about drinking beer. I turned one down, because it was a workout day and I didn't want to have a beer post-workout. This person said "Why not? That's the best time to have it."

There seems to be two schools of thought about post-workout nutrition. Heck, one school of thought doesn't even think of it as post-workout nutrition, really. Here is how I see them, and yes, I'm blatantly simplifying and generalizing. I recognize there are more reasons, more shades of gray, and that these exist on a continuum rather than present a black or white / yes or no / 0 or 1 choice.

The maximize results school of thought says that post-workout nutrition - what you eat right after and shortly after the workout - is critical to progress. You don't want to miss even the tiniest benefit of your workout, so what you eat afterward is geared to maximizing the workout. Protein, simple carbohydrates to replenish your body's stores of glyocogen (a vital fuel source), and avoiding anything that might damage your progress are hallmarks of this line of thought. Typical foods are protein powders, fruit, workout drinks, chicken breasts, rice, pasta, etc.

The minimize damage from cheat foods school of thought says that right after you workout is the best time to eat foods that ordinarily don't fit your diet. Going to have a beer, a chocolate cake, a bag of chips? Have it after your workout, when your body is already burning calories and can best handle sub-optimal foods. Typical foods here are anything you'd consider breaking your diet, whatever it may be.

I pretty much fit into the first school of thought. I work out hard, and I look at every workout as a step towards a goal. I don't want to waste a step or slow down my stride. I notice that some people I know who are dieting for weight loss, rather than training for an athletic goal, tend to fit more in the second school of thought. I'm going to have a Twinkie anyway, so I may as well have it post-workout when it's least damaging.

I can understand the second school of thought intellectually, but in my heart I find myself pulled into the first line of thinking. I tell myself, next workout I'll have chocolate care and a beer with dinner, or the workout after that I'll break down and have a peanut butter cup. But workout after workout, it's perpetually "next time" and this time I down a protein shake and then have a weighed-out and carefully constructed meal to maximize my results. Where do you fit on this? Which school, and why? Am I missing anything in my so-called "definitions" above?

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Econo Prowler vs. Clients, Lessons Learned

Tonight I had two guys I train push my new Econo Prowler. 6 trips, roughly 30-35 yards one way, as a finisher at the end of the workout. That pretty much smashed both of them.

Lessons learned:

- a 45-pound plate on each horn is too much for your first time. Even with the high handles. 25s on each horn was better but still tough.

- better to start low handles out, high handles back, so the suck factor of the low handles is offset by the rest period, and the "ease" of the high handles is mitigated by having just pushed the low handles.

- it's hard to steer the prowler on a slightly curved street (dipping toward the curb or the middle, say). It's slightly easier when it gets heavier, but then any veer tends to halt the push.

- you don't need much technical coaching on this. Just watch to make sure the hips are low and the low back isn't rounded. Otherwise, whatever feels right for the victim, er, trainee, is good.

All in all, a good first push of the prowler for these guys. I could have started lighter, done high handles only, or shorter trips, or all three . . . but this way they know they got worked. We'll be seeing a lot more of this tool in the upcoming workouts. Worth every penny I spent on it, just to make these guys stronger.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Training Terms: Broscience

Occasionally you'll run across the term "broscience" or "bro-science" in discussions about training. Here's a great blog post over on that defines it and discusses it:

Anecdotes, Observations, and Bro-Science

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

30-Day Transformation, now with sodium manipulation

T-Muscle just did a roundtable discussion about 30-day transformations. Because 30 days isn't a lot of time to build up, the experts talk dieting down.

From Dud to Stud

I'm mostly bringing up this article because

a) One of my readers is trying to lose body fat, follows PN, and is endlessly amused by Dave Tate's bluntness, so I think he'd be interested in reading it;


b) Shelby Starnes writes up a good, brief summation of how to water/salt load and then cut for a specific target date. He's doing it more for appearance (bodybuilding show, photo shoot) than performance, but it's functionally the same cut I've used for weigh-ins for a competition.

The workout advice and diet advice is interesting, although it's not all in agreement - you can't easily merge Shelby Starnes' carb-cycling advise with John Berardi's 10 kcals per pound advice, for example.

Another note - this finally answers a question I had about a previous Shelby Starnes article on carb cycling - he's not counting "incidental" macronutrients, just the main one for that food. I was wondering how you get, say, 0 fat in a day when even chicken and oatmeal has some, or how you kept the carbs so low without cutting out all veggies. I think that's harder to deal with than counting kcals Berardi style, but it's an interesting note that will make me go back and re-read Starnes' takes on carb cycling.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Sled Dragging Resources

Sled dragging is one of my favorite exercises. It's a technically simple exercise - you load up a sled with weights and drag it. I've DIYed my own sled in the past (here is my tire rig sled from when I was living in Japan) and I've pulled manufactured sleds, too. You can use them for a variety of exercises, such as dragging it in on a rope or just simply walk around with one dragging behind you.

Here are some resources for sled-dragging available on the web. I know there is at least on ebook on the subject, but this is a collection of free resources.

Chandler, Brian. Dragging and Pacing (found in Dan John's Get Up newsletter, page 9)

Evan-Esch, Zack. Endless Sled Dragging Variations That Will Dramatically Improve Your Performance

Tate, Dave. Drag Your Butt Into Shape

Wilson, Todd. Sled Dragging Part II: The Fundamentals

Here you can see the crowd at DeFranco's doing something I used to do in Japan - weighting a sled with kids. Mine wasn't so deliberate, actually. I'd load up my sled and start dragging it, and the neighborhood kids decided it looked fun and asked for rides. Soon enough I'd be dragging so many kids I couldn't move the sled. They call that "progressive loading."

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Friday, July 23, 2010

8 Lessons

Over on Precision Nutrition, they just put up an article with their 8 lessons from their weight loss program.

The article basically advertises said program, but all of that advice applies equally well to exercise as well as diet. Be accountable. Do it every day. One change at a time. Etc.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

PN Ice Cream, my take

Dr. John Berardi at Precision Nutrition posted an article with his own ice cream recipe a while back.

I've experimented around and settled on my own recipe. I love Muscle Milk - which he uses - but I don't currently have any in my protein closet. So I did my own mix. Here it is:

Makes 1 serving.
2 cups of ice cubes
1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk (I use vanilla, but chocolate should be better!)
1 tbsp of crunchy unsalted peanut butter (I use Trader Joe's, but any will do)
1/2 square of 100% cacao chocolate (Lindt or Ghiradelli are recommended)
1 scoop of ON 100% Casein protein
1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
1/2 scoop of Amazing Grass Chocolate Greens powder(optional)

This has roughly 25g of protein and all of 11g of carbs, plus 20g of fat. You can bump up the protein by adding another 1/2 scoop of the chocolate protein powder, which will also add about 1.5g more carbs and 0.5g more fat. The greens powder gets you a bit more nutrition than you would otherwise, and the coconut oil I throw in because it adds a bit of coconut flavor.

Be sure not to blend it past 30 seconds, because the heat from the blender will melt the ice cream. Re-freezing it sounds much better than it actually works out to be, but you can try if you over-blend it. At that point, though, it's better to add a straw and call it a malted milkshake.

You'll need a good blender for this. I have access to a VitaMix, but a BlendTec might work too...I just wouldn't bet on a cheap blender as this is thick, thick, thick. But good. Best thing for me is that it's very chocolatey and sweet but still fits into a low-carb diet plan such as I use on my non-workout days.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Perhaps the most critical aspect to training outside of the gym is recovery. That is, how do you recover from the exertion in the gym? Doing so isn't a drink, it isn't a special protocol, is basically a combination of sleeping, eating, and resting. This blog post gets more into the details:

Recovery Strategies

It's worth the read. Just about the only disagreement I have is with his recommendation of ibuprofen. I've become slowly convinced that "vitamin I" (as it is sometimes called) is precisely what you don't want for recovery unless you are suffering from actual debilitating inflammation. I generally avoid it now, although the Costco-sized container of it that I have shows I was not always this way. I rely more on sleep, fish oil, and if I'm genuinely in pain a tab or two of aspirin, but otherwise . . . I avoid the NSAIDs. Still, I agree pretty much across the board with the rest of the article. Eat right, supplement wisely (and not excessively), and get some rest and your recovery will be well in hand.

Stu Ward linked to this article over on the EXRX forums. I'm glad he did, this is an excellent blog from what I've read so far. Thanks Stu!
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Product Review: Fat Gripz

I'm a big fan of thick-handled exercise implements, such as fat barbells, fat dumbbells, thick handles for pullups, and so on. They force you to grip tighter in order to hold on to the implement, which both increases your hand and forearm strength but also causes you to squeeze a lot of other muscles tighter, too. So it's no wonder that a friend got me a pair of Fat Gripz for my birthday.

Fat Gripz
Cost: $39 a pair, plus S&H.

What are they? Fat Gripz are pliable plastic 2.25" / ~5.5 cm thick (closed) and 5" long / ~12.5 cm external grips you can fit over a standard or Olympic barbell, dumbbell, or other handle. Those barbells are 1" thick, so adding these makes the bar twice as thick. Additionally, although they "close" fairly snugly, they won't stay in place without a firm grip. So you must squeeze pretty tightly to keep them completely secure on the bar. That's a feature, not a bug - you're putting these on to make you grip tighter and work harder.

Why use these? To improve your grip, mostly. They also have the nice side effect of being a bit easier on your hands than a metal bar, so you're less likely to tear (or generate) a callous using them.

Any downsides? They fit a bit snugly to dumbbells, so you have anything slightly undersized (the neutral-grip handles on an Elite FTS rack, for example), they won't fit. Otherwise, though, they are an excellent substitute for a myriad of thick handled implements - you can get these instead.

Utility: 5 of 5. They're easy to put on, reasonably easy to take off, and work as advertised.
Quality: 5 of 5. These grips will stand up to a lot of wear-and-tear.

Overall: If you like thick-handled exercising, it's worth having a pair of these. They're very portable, too - you can chuck them into a gym bag and bring them around with you. Recommended.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Excellent Turkish Get-Up article

One of my favorite exercises is the Turkish Get-Up or TGU. So much so I have previously collected a few of my favorite TGU links into a single blog post. What's a TGU? Basically, you start prone with a weight - usually a kettlebell - held at arm's length above your body. Then, you stand up, never letting the weight waver from its position directly above you. Once standing, you reverse the movement and get back down. It's a full-body movement with excellent potential for shoulder rehabilitation and strengthening, and it's a great torso exercise, too - especially your abdominal muscles and lower back.

Mike Robertson just put together a really nice step-by-step guide to doing a TGU. Others have been done, but what Mike's really excellent is his careful breakdown of the various phases of the exercise. Each phase has two photographs of a side angle and a front angle of the same position. This is borrowing a trick he has used before in his products, such as Inside/Out, and it's very helpful. You can get a very clear idea of where you started (the previous picture), where you should be (the current one), and where you are going (the next picture). Very, very nice.

I can't recommend this highly enough if you do TGUs or hope to. I've also gone ahead and added a link to that article in my previous TGU links blog post. If you plan to do TGUs, check my prior post (linked above) as well as Mike Robertson's article, as the previous post has links to some good video as well.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Cool finisher

For this one, you need kettlebells and a rope. But if you have both . . .

If you only have the rope and boxes for plyo-pushups, try this one. That's Rob Liebrock doing the combination, and that's me waiting for my turn on the rope, dressed in my fashionable black/black/black converse/snow-white tan combination.


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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oldier but goodie

A while back - over a year ago, in fact - Boris over at SquatRx wrote a nice article about training when you've got a significant other who doesn't share your training schedule.

If you've never seen it before, and you're in that situation, he's outlined some very good advice. I think this kind of advice works in any case where you're partnered up, romantically or otherwise, with someone with a different training situation than you.

When She/He Doesn't Get It

Consider this relationship prehabilitation exercises.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Diet article

This time, the article is from T-Muscle. Contains, as usual for them, Not W/F Safe images.

The Green Faces Diet

The main idea of this one is a very, very simple low-carb vegetable-heavy diet. It's just green vegetables (so yeah, no red peppers, carrots, blueberries, cauliflower, etc.) and anything with a face (meat, fish) or which would have one (i.e. eggs). Why so simple? They explain it in the article, but it's meant to be dead-simple and hard to cheat on. Hard to justify odd stuff as "vegetables" if you're only allowed a short list of green veggies.

Of course, they make an exception for peri-workout nutrition - in other words, what you eat during your workout. And they plug, plug, plug their own peri-workout protocol. You could use your own. There isn't any reason a shake of whey plus simple carbs would be a problem here. I use whey isolate and concentrate plus maltodextrin and dextrose (sugar, basically); lots of people mix gatorade powder with protein.

This is basically carb-cycling with a bang. You eat low-carb - it's hard to get a lot of carbs when you eat nothing but green vegetables, even if you go crazy and stuff yourself - and high protein, with plenty of healthy fats from fish. You give yourself carbs and an insulin spike right around the workout window, which helps build muscle. The rest of the time you eat low carb, keeping your body from getting too much of an insulin raise and storing fat.

It's not a bad way to jump into carb-cycling and a no-grains diet, if you want to go hard-and-heavy from the word go. It's not complicated, either. There are a lot of ways to do a similar diet (Precision Nutrition ultimately takes a similar approach, but with more vegetable variety), but this is a simple and direct one.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Whatever that adds up to, that's my total."

I just saw this over on the EliteFTS training logs - Jim Wendler, author of 5/3/1, posted a 650 squat, 405 bench, and 705 deadlift, with no gear except a belt and wraps, in a powerlifting meet. He's got the video up on Youtube, so I tracked back from there to his training log to see what was what.

I love his attitude on competing - "Squat - 585, 650. Passed on my 3rd because I stopped caring." Or "Whatever that adds up to, that's my total." Heh. It just made me smile - competing for yourself, not for your results. I wish I could say I did that - I go home disappointed when I don't win, but I guess in powerlifting it's a bit different, since you can set a PR regardless of what anyone else manages to do or where you rank.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Diet on the mind

A few different blogs and articles I read recently concerned diet. Mostly, simplifying the seemingly bewildering task of eating right.

Boris over on SquatRx wrote a good, short blog post on the subject. Here are Boris's thoughts on diet.

Elite FTS follows with a pair of articles on the subject:

Detric Smith's Random Thoughts on Nutrition and Training is up first.

Next, Logic Does Not Apply Part I discusses the importance - or lack of importance - of meal frequency on weight loss and weight gain.

All three of them popped up on my reading list within days of each other. Is this a trend towards simplifying the whole diet process? I'm not sure, but it seemed like diet was in the wind.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Thoughts on UFC116 from Joel Jamieson

Joel Jamieson had some interesting thoughts on how condition won - and lost - fights at UFC 116.

UFC 116 Wrap Up

Being an MMA competitor myself, and training or training with others, I can vouch for the accuracy of his statements. Yes, the bigger guys generally gas a bit sooner. Carrying all that muscle and fueling it costs a lot of energy. The upside of it is real explosive strength, but the downside is the cost of powering it means you can't do it as often as a smaller guy could.

This really leads to searching for the optimal combination of strength and endurance for a given fighter, I feel. You can't have everything, but you don't have the luxury of concentrating on only one aspect - say, speed for a sprinter, endurance for a marathon runner, strength for a powerlifter or Olympic lifter. You need elements of all of these, but you can't have the best off all of them. It's an interesting dilemma. Although if you're a beginner, you're probably below your optimal levels of all of these . . . making it well worth improving any of them. But soon, you'll need to start deciding what's holding you back the most.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Prowler!

Just a short note - I spent my blog writing time today assembling my brand new Prowler: Econo Prowler.

I'll post up some pictures, etc. once it starts getting used. While I gave it a push or two today, it's not really for me. I've got a Prowler 2 at the gym I train at, and an Econo Prowler at the gym I work at, and I can pretty freely use either of those. This one is for my clients . . . . enough time was wasted trying substitutions, now I've got the original. I can't wait to try it out.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Read This: Farmer's Walk Tips

Jedd from Diesel Crew guest-wrote a blog entry for Eric Cressey.

Farmer's Walk Tips

It's directly on topic, and I'll admit seeing those tips in a Diesel Crew email, as well as a recent discussion on EXRX, prompted my Friday post on the subject. So if you're going to try any of those walks, read these tips.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Review: Blast Straps

This review is for the Elite FTS Blast Straps.

What are they? Basically, a pair of rolling-grip handles on straps. Not rings - the handle is straight, not curved - but they cover a lot of the same ground.

What are they used for? A lot, actually.

Over on the Elite FTS page there is a PDF of exercises called the Blast Strap Report.

What I use them for, for me and for my clients:

Pushups (regular and band-resisted)
Inverted Rows (no rack for a barbell? No problem, hang the straps from anything overhead and adjust the height)
Scarecrows (a rear delt exercise)
High rows (another rear delt exercise)
Drags (click it onto a weight, drag it - it'll work with a sled too I'll bet)
Dips (one of my clients has knocked a few off on these, pretty impressive).
Strap-assisted single-leg squats and flying lunges

For those things alone, it's worth the price. There are a lot of other exercises you can do.

How are they built? The straps are solid, the buckles stand up to a lot of punishment, and the handles seem nearly indestructible. They rotate smoothly but not loosely, the straps bite into place well, and the rings and clips are heavy duty. When I strap them on, I'm worried the supporting beam, hook, or rack won't take the weight, not that the straps won't.

Anything else? Yes, they are portable. I can throw them, some grips, and some bands in a duffel bag and bring a whole-body workout with me anywhere. They come with a clip that is sufficient for heavy bag hooks and other heavy eyelets, and a pair of clip-on straps to loop around beams (2 x 4s, for example), tree branches, goal posts, monkey bars, rack crossbeams, etc. That makes it a very versatile piece of gear.

Utility: 5 out of 5. They have a very wide range of use, and are ideally suited for their intended use.
Quality/Construction: 5 out of 5. The blast straps are very, very solidly constructed. Nothing cheap here.

Overall: For the variety and portability and construction quality, it's hard to match. Well worth it. If you're debating a set of rings or these, debate carefully - rings can duplicate most of this. But if you like the rotating handle, go with the blast straps. Highly recommended

Monday, July 5, 2010

Enjoy the holiday!

I'm working, but those of you who aren't, enjoy the Federal holiday today!

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Exercise: Farmer's Walks Variations

In a previous post, I mentioned some variations for farmer's walk loading - basically, change what you carry.

Waiter's Walks - Carry the load like a waiter carrying a tray - one hand, up at shoulder level. You can also carry it locked overhead. Locked overhead will make for a less stable weight, but held near (not on) the shoulder makes for tired arms! Almost always unilateral.

Shouldering Walks - Get the weight up on the shoulders and walk with it. Great with sandbags, miserable with everything else.

Unilateral Walks - Carry one weighted implement (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, whatever). Alternate sides each trip, or live-hand swap them at the mid-point (i.e. don't put it down, just hand it off to the other hand). Great for core stabilization - you really need to work overtime to keep the weight from pulling you off-balance.

Lopsided Walks - Carry two different weights in either hand. You can also mix implements - carrying a 32kg kettlebell in one hand and a 50 pound sandbag in the other, say. You can do this with shouldering, too - sandbag over one shoulder, something else carried in the other hand.

Grip-centric walks - Carry thick-handled implements, carry hex dumbbells by the hex (no fingers on the numbers, that's cheating), carry two weight plates pinch-gripped in each hand, carrying weights with finger loops instead of in the palm of the hand, etc. Anything that makes the grip the most likely thing to fail!

Those are just a few variations I use.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Training Terminology: One-on-One, Semi-Private, and Group Training

There are a few common structures for training.

One-on-one Training - The typical personal training model is one-on-one training - one client, one trainer. The advantage to this for the client is personal attention. The disadvantage is you lack a support group or driving competitive group like in group or semi-private training. It is also generally more expensive than group or semi-private training. For the trainer, the advantage is having only one client to concentrate on, but financially it's much less lucrative than a larger number of clients at even a steep discount.

Small-Group Training and semi-private training - An increasingly common alternative is small-group training, also known as semi-private training. In this model, there is one trainer but multiple clients. All of the clients may do the same workout (group training), or they may do different workouts (semi-private training). The advantage for the client is that this is cheaper, generally, than private training. You also get a group of people to act as a support group and to drive you to succeed. Even if your workout is entirely solo and unrelated to the others, you can still feed off their successes and push yourself to perform in front of them. The disadvantage is the lack of attention - the trainer will need to rotate through the groups, so the client can't get his or her undivided attention. The advantage for the trainer is a better pay rate for the hour even as client costs are lower. The disadvantage is the need to program for many clients at once.

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