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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The misery of HICT

Recently my coach has been having me do some HICT.

That's High Intensity Continuous Training, courtesy of Joel Jamieson.

To quote Joel on HICT . . .

"Basically it's using very high resistance combined with low frequency of movement for extended periods of time to increase oxidative capacity of fast twitch fibers."

Simple as that, eh?

Essentially you use a high level of resistance - spin bike with the resistance cranked up, a versaclimber, high step ups to a box, etc - with relatively low speed (20-30 rpms for the bike, a step every 2-3 seconds or so) - for like 10 to 20 minutes of continuous action. The result? You need to use a lot of muscular strength to complete the action, but it's not so fast or so strenuous that you need to deplete your non-oxygen using energy stores. You use your aerobic systems to power your body. This helps those muscles increase their capacity to work for a long time at a higher level of strength.

For me, recently, this has been 20 minutes of high-box step-ups, with 10 minutes "off" doing other exercises such as an ab circuit, followed by 20 more minutes of high step-ups.

The beauty of this is that it works - my ability to generate power and muscular strength after working hard for an extended period has shot up. The downside is obvious - you're miserable after 10 minutes, never mind 20, of continuous action.

But it's an interesting take on cardio - not short, high intensity work nor long, low intensity work. It's long, grueling, not-quite-too-high-intensity work.

Fun, fun. Google Joel's name and HICT and you can find out a bit more.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Children and Weight Training

The New York Times recently published an article discussion weight training and children.

The myth? It stunts their growth and it's "bad" for them.

The reality? It's good for them and it basically replaces the hard work rural children did in the past, before suburbs and video games.

The blog is right here.

None of this is a surprise to me personally. I've been training kids for a while now and been researching the subject for even longer. There isn't anything wrong with weight training, sports training, or strength and conditioning in general, for children.

What's fascinating to me is the "science" that the original conjecture was based on. Children doing labor in Japan were undersized, so therefore . . . weight training stunts growth. That's the connection; that's the basis. I'm not sure how exactly that was regarded as sufficient scientific proof for anything in the second half of the 20th century. But it was, and "weights are bad for kids" has been a persistently hard myth to break.

One can only hope this article helps erase that myth.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Interview with Joel Jamieson

I'm late in pointing this out, but Bret Contreras did a nice interview with MMA strength and conditioning coach extraordinaire Joel Jamieson.

You can read the interview here.

I also picked up Joel's book and I'm waiting on his new DVD - I will do reviews of them once I've gotten through both.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

Today is a big day of eating, giving thanks with your family, eating, relaxing in front of the TV, and more eating.

If you've got goals that don't include gaining weight, this is a problem.

What to do?

Remember - it's just one day.

If you let it extend into the next day, and the next, and the next after that . . . and begin a month-plus long binge of eating that doesn't end until your New Year's Resolutions kick in . . . then it's a problem.

If not, it's just one day. It won't make or break your diet, your training, or your results. Enjoy the day. Enjoy the day, enjoy the company, and get back into your training on Friday. Consistent work and attention to diet day in and day out is what gets you results.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I link to Jason Nunn's website in my blogs list, but still, you may have missed his recent post:

How to go on Vacation and Still Keep Making Progress With Your Goals

Go and read it. With the Thanksgiving break coming up, a lot of people will be traveling to see their families and bagging workouts, skipping out on cardio, and generally tossing the diet out of the window. But you don't need to let things slide too far. Jason suggests a few ways around the problem and a nice little circuit that requires very little resistance.

Don't let your family visits and school breaks derail your progress toward your goals.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hard work

"Intensity" is already a well-defined term in strength and conditioning. It's often used as a non technical term, just meaning hard work. But what is hard work?

Hard work is a more ill-defined concept. But it's still important.

To me, hard work is when you put in your all for a given set, rep, exercise, or workout. It doesn't mean doing 4 sets when 3 are called for, or 10 reps when you're supposed to do 8. It's doing those reps to the best of the ability you've got that day for that workout.

Hard work acts as a percentage multiplier on your workout. Take whatever your results could have been, and multiply them by your "hard work percentage." Work at 100% of your capacity for the day, putting in 100% of what you've got to give in terms of attention and endurance and strength and effort? You get 100% of your possible results.

Put in 20% - just go through the motions - and you get 20%.

The thing about hard work is that it's 100% controllable. You decide if you're going to concentrate or not. You decide if you want to glance at the TVs or talk to your buddies instead of focusing on the work. You decide if you're going to push for that last rep or just not bother because it's too hard.

Going nuts and pushing too hard isn't hard work, it's going nuts. But you can decide how much work you put in. You decide how much effort goes into your workout, and that decides the results you get out.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Article Review: Dose and Duration

I'd like to call your attention to the article Dose and Duration by Kyle Newell, published over on Elite FTS.

I think this article makes a point about unnecessary complication better than I. And I've been trying and trying to get that point across to everyone I can - use the simplest exercise protocol you can, and do just enough to get it to help you improve. Do that until it doesn't work, and then modify it until it works again. Repeat repeatedly.

But I think Mr. Newell makes the point very well by comparing it to medicine:

If I was sick and my doctor prescribed 100 mg a day of such and such antibiotic for one week and it worked, why would I need to increase the dose or duration? Because more is better? I don’t think so. The only thing that would happen is that I would need more and more each subsequent time until it didn’t work at all anymore.

Yes, that. Exactly that.

He later poses three questions you should ask yourself before making any changes:

" * Is the current program still working?
* Have we had any unloading weeks?
* What is the simplest change I can make to the program to continue progress?

Again, exactly that. Don't change if it's working, try a light deload week to recover without losing any strength, and only then change it - with the simplest possible change to keep it rolling.

Great article. Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Week Off!

As I have done in the past, I need to take a week off. I'm in the last week before a grappling tournament so I'd like to concentrate on that. I may post if I find something worth immediate attention but otherwise I'll see you guys Thanksgiving Week!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

A good basic look at programming

More than once I've said you can't just show up at the gym and train. You need a plan - or a coach with a plan for you.

That's called programming.

This article does a good job of explaining the basics of programming. Don't look for deep revelations here, but there really aren't any.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

DIY Hamstring Exerciser

Just typical Ross Enamait awesomeness, really.

Here is the blog post and below is the video.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Junk food only diet

One of my clients clued me into this odd story.

Junk Food Diet

Short version: a college professor goes on a junk-food-only (plus 1 serving of vegetables a day) 1800 kcal diet for a month. The next month he'll do 1800 kcals of health foods only.

From the latest news stories I've been able to find, he lost some weight.

I'm not surprised - food quantity and caloric totals matter - otherwise you'd lose weight or gain weight solely based on what you eat, not how much. You go further on a full tank of gas than a half-tank, no matter if it's 76-octane sludge or 93-octane super.

I'd not be surprised if he felt awful and generally run down on the junk food, either - there isn't a lot of nutrition in those kcals, even if there are a lot in a little amount of food.

I can't recommend this diet to anyone, but it's worth looking at. It can help demonstrate that total food intake does, in fact, matter. But with both halves done I'd expect it would show that what those calories consist of affects your health and your overall well-being.

I'm on the lookout for a complete summary of his results - the stories I found are old, and he should be done with this by now . . .
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Food and Mood

There is a new(ish) article over on Precision Nutrition about the food/mood connection. Basically, how emotions and feelings and mood are affected by, and influence, what we eat.

Food and Mood

It's a good read and if you're struggling to get a handle on what you consume, it's not a bad place to start. It's got the inevitable plugs for their programs and coaching and training, so be aware they'll show up. But it doesn't detract from the value of the information.

Best take away bit? You need to change how you eat one habit at a time. Master one every two weeks or so until it's yours and then work on changing something else. Don't try to do everything at once.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

To Weigh or Not to Weigh

I had a discussion recently with someone about weighing clients. At the gym I work at, we weigh clients, check body fat, and take various measurements. Those numbers are regularly re-checked as we go, to ensure we're getting where we aim to go.

My discussion partner suggested that basically, this wasn't the way to go. People - especially women - don't like to get weighed. I took that rather personally - people hire me because they have a numerical goal for weight ("lose 20 pounds") so I need to know that number.

Ultimately, the way I see it is this - weight is just a number. Not a particularly important number, compared to body fat percentages and size measurements. But it's a number. And it's one people want me to help them change.

If you want a number to change, and you want my help - then we have to know what that number is and check it regularly to see if we're on the right path. It's going to be a subject of discussion and we'll keep coming back to it. If you're shy about getting on the scale, okay, I understand that. That's why we weigh you privately and don't share the number. But it's a measurement you specifically want to address, and I can't address it blind.

My real goal, though, is to convince you in your heart that it's just a number and not an important measurement. One of many. Your health, the fit of your clothes, your self-esteem, you improved physical abilities - these are all more critical than the number on the scale. If you aren't a weight-class athlete, don't fret 180 vs. 170 any more than you'd fret 25 pounds versus 30 pounds on an exercise. It's not the goal, it's just one number that we choose to use to represent it.

But keep it in mind - if you hire a professional to change a number, you have to be willing to share that number with that professional.
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Friday, November 5, 2010

Gray Cook on the deadlift

Thanks to the folks over at Conditioning Research for linking to this originally - it's a good video on deadlifting form by Gray Cook.

It's a bit long - over 8 minutes - but worth watching.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Texas Method

If you haven't seen it yet, T-Nation just put out an article on The Texas Method by Mark Rippetoe.

What is it? Essentially, the mark of a beginner lifter is that you can do the same compound exercises every workout and add more weight each time for the same reps, even if it's only a small amount. The mark of an intermediate lifter is that this becomes a weekly event, and requires that you fluctuate between harder workouts and easier workouts in order to keep gaining steadily. The Texas Method is one way to do that.

What if I'm a beginner? Stick with something like Starting Strength, and get as strong as you can as quickly as you can. Save the intermediate methods for when you just can't show up each workout and load more onto the bar.

It's been written up before, but it's good to see it written up by one of its originators.
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One thing at a time

I had a client today one-on-one instead of our usual semi-private. I knew I had an hour with this client to do whatever we wanted.

What do I do?


The client has a very poor lunge pattern, and it's hard to fix when you also have another client who needs direct supervision. I can't spend a whole session fixing one thing if I have another person to train who can't be set on his own to keep training. But today, it was one-on-one. Although this client also has some other issues - pushups, some pulling form, posture issues - the lunge was my goal today. Fix the lunge.

What I did was have him work through his lunges one step at a time, one leg at a time, until it was good enough. Not perfect, but good enough to progress from.

Then we did his normal workout. Except every 1-2 sets of whatever we did, be it presses, step-ups, pulldowns, whatever - we did 5 lunges each leg, only counting the good ones. Each rep was preceded by checking his stance, his balance, his hand position, and then doing a static lunge.

This worked out to 50 or so lunges, with good form, each leg. Not a lot, but steady repetition. By the end of the session, he was automatically knocking out his lunges each leg, checking his form, etc. And they looked better - even fatigued - than the ones he started with.

We could have worked on anything or everything, but focusing on just one piece of his movement problems took care of it. Now, he knows he'll warm up with 5 good lunges each leg each workout. It'll become ingrained as a correct movement pattern and he'll get stronger at them. Once that's done, we can do the next problem area. One thing at a time. It just seems easier to break a problem into as many little pieces as you can and attack them one at a time.

Based on today, I'm thinking that's the way to go - I'll try to fix one thing about each client's issues each week or each workout.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Inverted Rows

A new article over on Elite FTS discusses the inverted row - essentially, hanging upside down from a bar and pulling yourself up.

Five Fun Inverted Row Variations

All five variations are worthy ones - not just small changes but significant and useful ways to make rows harder and more useful beyond just weighting them.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Too Fat to Squat




You'll hear that repeated as a mantra in the weight training world. If you aren't squatting - usually barbell back squatting - you aren't training.

But what do you do when you, or your clients, are just physically unable to squat?

This question came up on the Performance Menu forums in an eponymously titled forum post.

I added my 2 cents there, and I'll quote it here:

That's how we (at the gym I work at) handle fat loss clients and sedentary folks, nevermind people with injuries that restrict their ROM. Generally we have them squat to a box, and lower the box until we find the point at which they lose their neutral spine. Often for heavier folks, the spine is fine but the body/legs gets in the way. In that case, they just keep working on a lower ROM, inch by inch, session by session.

. . .

I [use goblet squats] with light kettlebells - getting the client's hands in the right position seems to be easier than with the smaller dumbbells. We also progress pretty quickly to zercher sandbag squats, using some very light sandbags (maybe 10-20 pounds). The arm positioning and back position is easy to coach - "Don't lean over and drop the bag!" and it helps get the person to a lightly loaded squat.

Basically squatting is natural and healthy, but since I see a lot of injured/injury rehab clients and fat loss clients - often with both issues - we have to take it slowly and work them along.

If you don't have physical restrictions, then I agree with the mantra. Get squatting. The bang-for-your-buck is amazing. But if you do, safety dictates a modified squat pattern . . . until you are strong enough to do the regular version. Getting back to the ability to squat down is a great goal for a beginning lifter.

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