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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years 2012

About a year ago, I posted about New Year's Resolutions:

"1) It's better to have a goal that's well-defined than vague. It's easier to add 25 pounds to your deadlift or lose 5 pounds than to "get stronger" or "lose some weight." Why? It's quantifiable. You know if you've done it or failed - there is no middle ground.

2) It's better to set goals of action than goals of results. If you do have a goal set, it's better to set one based on what you'll do than what you'll get. "I will add 25 pounds to my deadlift" is fine but you can't control that. "I'll follow this specific deadlifting program for 6 months" is better." "I'll eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day before I'm allowed to have any dessert" is better than "I'll lose 5 pounds" - you can control the first one, but it's hard to control the second. You can control what you do better than you can control what you get by doing so.

3) If you do have a goal that is results-based, set a series of milemarks along the way. Not 5 pounds by next year, but 1/2 pound per month every month until 2012. Not 25 pounds on your deadlift, but 2.5 pounds per cycle for 10 cycles. Bite-sized portions keep you from biting off more than you can chew."

So, how did you do?

How will your resolutions look this year? More of the same, or did you build a base you can advance from?

Make that #4 on that list:

4) Resolve to build a foundation for the future. Don't make a temporary resolution, or something that you can gain and then easily lose. What good is it to lose 25 pounds if you put them back on? Instead, resolve to build a base of habits that will get you where you will go.

- Exercise three times a week.

- Have no more than one bad meal in a row.

- Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.

- Save 10% of your paycheck, rain or shine, sales or no sales.

- Slowly increase the efficacy of your workout (progressive overload of some kind).

This way, next year, you're not resolve to do the same things over again. Set a concrete set of actions down and make them habits. You may find you don't need resolutions if you do this.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Plank World Record

A new world record plank:

George Hood held a plank for 1 hour, 20 minutes and 5.01 seconds.

Matching that will be tough, but why not try a plank and see how long you can hold it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Donward Dog for Health

Yoga is often the whipping boy of strength training - it won't get you maximal strength. But there is an undeniable longevity to the training amongst participants. They don't generally drop out of yoga due to to injury. So it's interesting to see yoga getting its proper place in the mobility/movement for health approach that's been becoming the norm in strength training.

This post demonstrates downward dog, and makes a short but good case for its utility to non-yogi.

Thanks to Mike Robertson for finding this and including it in his newsletter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Farmer's Walks redux

I've been doing a lot of unilateral (weight on one side) farmer's walks recently, and all of my clients do farmer's walks in some way at some time. Here are a few resources on this excellent exercise:

Jedd from Diesel Crew on Farmer's Walks

Shon Gross on Farmer's Walks on T-Nation

This post of mine has some tips and a link to Jim Smith's advice on farmer's walks.


Dan John on unilateral farmer's walks

Grab some weights and get carrying.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

CFF Sale

Christian's Fitness Factory is having a "12 Days of Christmas" sale.

You can see their sale items up on their homepage.

I've had nothing but good experiences with them, so I can't recommend them highly enough if they've got something you need. It's worth looking into their sales, it might be the best time of the year to pick up something you, your gym, or your clients need.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mark Rippetoe has a new deadlifting article up on T-Nation, here:

Are You Ignorant When it Comes to the Deadlift?

Probably written to coincide with the new, 3rd edition of Starting Strength, this article covers my favorite lift.

The article hits a number of points familiar to Mark Rippetoe's teachings on the deadlift:

It's done from a dead stop. Touch and go is nice, in my opinion anyway, but bouncing off the ground is bad. It's a dead lift, which means the weight is lifted from a dead stop.

The right setup will look different from person to person, but it will be mechanically the same (flat back, relatively narrow stance, chest up, etc.) One great thing about Mark Rippetoe's articles is that they all back the argument with sound mechanical discussions of the lift. It's not "because it's how it's done" but because gravity and mechanics will make it happen in a particular way so it behooves you to plan around that. Everyone will pull the bar up from mid-foot, everyone will drag it up the shins if it's heavy enough, everyone will have their scapula directly over the bar when it breaks the ground, etc. even if they aren't all built with the same proportions.

Highly recommended read.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Evaluating assistance work

Here is how I evaluate assistance work.

Does this add something to your overall athleticism and health?

Does this help improve your main lifts?

Is it safe to perform, either in general or for the person in specific?

If the answer these is yes, great, I include the assistance work. A lot of them fall down
hard on 2 and 3.

An example is rack pulls (a shortened deadlift). I find most of my clients have a problem not with lockout strength but with getting the weight off the floor in good form (or at all). Rack pulls help with the top of the deadlift, which isn't where they are failing, so I usually skip these and work on other things.

Another example are Pallof presses. I'm pretty well convinced these are very valuable for most of the population, both athletes and non-athletes. They are safe to perform, and while they may not clearly improve the "big lifts" of the trainee, they correlate pretty well to improved health, strength, and stability. So I include them. It doesn't worry me that an increased Pallof press doesn't seem to correlate with a higher deadlift or squat or more pullups. But as it goes up, other benefits accrue . . . so I find a way to rotate them in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Congratulations - big DLs

I'd like to congratulate my clients Tom and Pete the Fireman on some heavy trap bar deadlifts this past Monday.

Tom pulled a 20-point PR of 555 pounds.

Pete pulled 505 pounds, which is his first 500+ deadlift, and is also well clear of 3x his bodyweight of around 160. Last time he tried to pull a new PR he got 455 but couldn't even move 475.

As if they need it, I just sent them the link to this article by Mike Robertson. It's got five useful tips for deadlifting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Upping your Pullups

There is a nice article Mike Guadango from DeFranco's Training Systems up on T-Nation.

Time to Up Your Pullups

I've got personal experience with Mike - he's trained me. His own pullup numbers are excellent and he's demonstrated an ability to improve other people's pullup totals.

The progression to a pullup if you can't do one is good, too, although it does require a bit of equipment (rings, a place to do horizontal rows, etc.)

It's also got a nice collection of pullup variations at the end - including band-resisted (a favorite of Pete the Fireman) and correctly-labeled one-handed pullups (often mistaken for one-arm pullups).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One-Arm Pushup

One of my clients has a goal of re-achieving the one-arm pushup. So I've started to bury myself in tutorials so I can help him reach his goal. Here is where I started.

Beastskills One Arm Pushup Tutorial


World's Strongest Librarian's One Arm Pushup Tutorial

If there are others I need to consult, let me know in the comments!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weighted Hip Hinge

I'm a big fan of kettlebell swings, but I find the name throws people. They feel like they need to really swing the weight, using a lot of arm and back muscle to lift it. "How high do I swing it?" is a pretty common question.

I've started teaching new clients the move as the "weighted hip hinge." First I'll show them the motion, unweighted, and then add a kettlebell. My cues are typical - head up, chest up, pull the hips back and hinge at the hips and let the knees follow. Keep a solid arch. Hike the weight back.

I tell them to just let the weight hang, and not worry about where it goes. When they "hip hinge" repeatedly and quickly, it'll swing. The motion is the same but removing the term "swing" seems to keep people from concentrating on the arc of the kettlebell and instead keeps them concentrating on their hip and back position, which is the key.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: CFF Drag Harness

I recently purchased a sled and dragging vest from Christian's Fitness Factory. While I have not yet been able to use the sled, I have been using the vest.

CFF Dragging Harness
Price: $29.99

What does it come with? The harness also comes with a dragging line for a sled of any kind.

The dragging line is a bit annoying, because the carabiners don't sit longways with the end of the line, but sideways. This means the lines don't pull smoothly forward and backward - you can see it in the illustration of the drag line on the harness's page. This doesn't seem to affect pulling performance but it seems lie it would eventually impact the longevity of the carabiners.

How does it fit? It goes on easily. The (plastic) buckle adjusts easily but grabs tight, and the straps stay where you put them. The padded shoulder portions are comfortable and wide, and distribute weight well when it's buckled properly.

If you buckle it a bit too tight, you'll feel most of the weight from the dragged object in your abs and chest. It's uncomfortable with the buckle pressing down on your chest. However, if you adjust it more loosely, the weight rides properly on your chest and shoulders.

It is also easy to put on and take off, even on a client with a shoulder/arm injury, which means it's easy to superset in sled drags instead of just "set up, do these, move on to the next thing." This is a very good thing when using the harness as a training tool for more than one person, too - I can easily use one vest with two clients and swap it back and forth with a one-buckle adjustment. This is much faster than a weight belt with a tow strap fed through it.

4 out of 5. On the Ironmind-like you-can-use-this-to-drag-a-plane-is-a-5 scale, this isn't the best it could be. But it's very solid, and it seems to be holding up to heavy use so far. The weave and construction are good, too, and none of the parts seem cheap or poorly made. It's well made.

Overall: If you need an inexpensive harness, this is a good one.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Law of Duplication of Exercises

When I train people, I often duplicate exercises. That is, I set up X for one client, so other clients do X or a variation of X.

For example, I had three clients in a row recently. The first one did a rope pull/prowler push combination, heavy, for strength. Hand-over-hand rope pulls with the Econo Prowler, and the push it back. Repeat repeatedly.

The next client was also supposed to do the Prowler for conditioning. So as a change of pace - and because it was all set up - I had this client do the same exercise. I made it lighter and pushed a faster pace to get more of a conditioning effect.

The last client wasn't supposed to do the Prowler at all, but it was all set up . . . and that client needed to do a heavy leg exercise. So I took the rope off, hooked up a tow line to the Prowler, and added a pile of additional weight and had the client drag it.

None of this would have worked out this way if I hadn't had to set up the Econo Prowler and tie the rope on for the first client. All of them would have done something, but not all do the same thing with minor changes.

In every case, the exercise is fit into the appropriate spot and customized to the client. The load varies, the reps and rests vary, the exact usage varies. All are sufficient to get a training effect in the way the client most needs it. But rather than set up, say, heavy rows and then low-handle prowler pushes, and light prowler pushes for cardio, and a squat, I used the same tool. Lower setup time, each client hit a variation they don't see that often, and everyone got something out of it.

It's a time-saver for a trainer, but the primary consideration is still this: get the client the training effect the client needs, without risk or harm.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Recovering from Injuries

Tim Henriques has an excellent new article on this subject over on T-Nation. It's fairly basic but it's step-by-step advice for coming back from injury.

Step-by-Step Approach to Coming Back from an Injury

Warning: T-Nation is NSFW, and the images in the article are of traumatic sports injuries in progress. Very much ouch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Offset Bulgarian Split Squat

Buried in an otherwise normal (but well-written) article about squats, Tony Gentilcore demonstrates an offset Bulgarian split squat.



Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: From Russia With Tough Love

From Russia With Tough Love is yet another kettlebell book by Pavel Tsatsouline, kettlebell guru. I've reviewed a couple of his books before, but I hadn't gotten my hands on this one until just recently. It's a kettlebell book aimed squarely at women, and features two female RKCs (Russian Kettlebell Certified) as the models for all of the exercises.

Like his other books, it's written with a mix of "no excuses, Comrades!" Soviet-era callbacks and rock-solid training advice. Unfortunately, it magnifies some of the faults of earlier books without adding much to the canon.

This book largely covers the kettlebell box squat, clean, military press, one-arm deadlift (and one-legged deadlift), and snatch, all with kettlebells. The details on these exercises is outstanding, and while it does heavily repeat earlier books, it is written as if this was your first exposure. This is good because it doesn't assume any base of knowledge. It also doesn't sugar coat this - training is hard work, and while this is effective and doesn't require training to exhaustion you are only getting out what you put in.

The exercises are also well-pictured, with clear illustrations that exactly match the text, button-pictures differentiating bad form from good form, and easy to follow instructions.

But sadly the book also has even more ads for Pavel's other books and courses, more ads for his friend's books and courses, and even more forum quotes from the forums. This would be cool if it was interspersed as the occasional testimonial, but pages and pages of it? Often it's just a question, or a comment, or a "kettlebells are awesome!" me-too post, which don't add much besides a sense of community.

The book also has some sloppy editing. This sloppy editing shows up in a couple of places - besides boxed text that tracks across multiple pages, you also get text that either just ends (pg. 18) or begins (p. 122) out of nowhere. It also leads to some oddness - the book repeatedly mentions toning (keeping muscles lean and under tension even when you are relaxed) and strength without bulk. But some of the forum posts quoted mention adding strength, thickness, and muscular weight gain . . . so which is it? It can clearly be both, but it's hard to reconcile "do this and you won't get bigger than you want to" and "this is a great way to get bigger muscles" - and those two basic ideas show up a lot.

Content: 3 out of 5. What is there is excellent - very high quality instruction on kettlebell exercises. But it's very heavily padded out with quoted Dragondoor forum posts, testimonial posts, long digressions with text errors that make them hard to follow.
Presentation: 2 out of 5. The text is easy to read, the pictures clear, and the good/bad/optional extra icons are nice. But the book is a mess organizationally, there are multiple trailing off sentences and sentences that start nowhere, and a total lack of text flow.

Overall: All of Pavel's books have two things in common - excellent material and a high price. The others I've read have been much better put together, however, and the instruction wasn't so padded out with extras. This book is very high quality information crammed in between poorly organized forum quotes and useless filler. This is too bad because the instruction that is there is gold. Not recommend - check out his other books instead!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

More Fitness Myths Debunked

I'm not a huge fan of myth debunking, since I think it's generally better to tell people what is correct than what is wrong.

But it's very nice to see more "mainstream" (non-industry, non-niche, non-fitness focused) news coverage that has correct and useful training information in it.

I'm not sure what's up with the formatting in this article, but the information is quite good:

Top 10 fitness myths by Sally Rummel

Monday, October 31, 2011


This recent (and excellent) article on sandbags make me think about some other sandbag training resources:

Sandbags for Strength by Matt Palfrey

His suggestions for how to use sandbags are excellent. You can sub it in for a "normal" weight, or use it for unique exercises. But either way, it's shifting weight means it's always going to be harder to lift than a designed implement like a barbell or kettlebell or dumbbell, so it's always going to add a challenge to the lift.

But how about those other resources?

This Men's Health article is brief, but has a good description of how to make a sandbag:

Sandbag Training

Josh Henkins has a good article up on here:

Sandbag Training

There is the sandbag training blog too.

That should be enough to get you started on sandbag training. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foam Rolling

Pete the Fireman pointed this out to me:

Foam Rolling

It's a simple and thorough foam rolling routine. Print this out, bring it to the gym, and grab one of those foam rollers and try it out. If you've been foam rolling for a while none of this will be new to you, but it's a nice one-page routine regardless.

You may also like these foam rolling resources:

Fix Your Body with a Foam Roller: The Basics

Perform Better: Self Myofascial Release Techniques

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Single Racked Kettlebell

I'm getting to be a big fan of a single kettlebell held in "rack." That's held against the chest and shoulder, with a straight wrist.

The advantages I find to this are:

Offset weights work your abdominal and back muscles. If you are holding more weight on one side than the other, or no weight on one side, you'll force your abdominal muscles and back to contract to keep you in proper posture.

A racked kettlebell forces better posture. It's hard to lean forward on a squat, split-squat, or lunge if you have a weight held up against your chest. Lean forward, and the weight starts to pull you forward. You correct by keeping your chest up, your lower back arched, and the weight held in tight. Those are all parts of proper form for squats and farmer's walks, so you're encouraged by the weight to do the right thing.

A racked kettlebell is stable. Held in tight, the weight doesn't pull or strain at the shoulders. The shoulders are held in a safe position, and it teaches people a safe place to pull and hold a weight.

A racked kettlebell doesn't encourage shrugging. If you get folks with tight or injured traps or shoulders, a racked kettlebell can help a lot. They can't comfortably shrug the weight up, so they naturally pull the weight in by tightening their scapula and shoulders instead of shrugging up.

You only need one. Hey, kettlebells are expensive. So this means I don't need pairs to use racked weights.

Again, this is in my experience. Those are the reasons why I've been using single racked kettlebells a lot lately with my clients.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Off-the-Shelf Programs and Athletes

Occasionally I get asked about popular, "name" programs like P90X, Crossfit, Couch to 5K, etc. and how they work for athletes.

My experience is that they basically do not. Not that the programs aren't good (although some commercial programs are not), but that they aren't good for athletes.

Why not?

In my experience there are two big reasons athletes and off-the-shelf programs (hereafter OTSPs) don't mix very well.

Athletes have specific needs, OTSPs do not address them.

All athletes have specific needs for their sport, and specific needs for them as individuals doing that sport. OTSPs are generic, and thus don't take into account your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Even athletic-specific programs aren't ideal for all athletes - a program to make you a great powerlifter isn't an ideal program to make you a great MMA fighter, and vice-versa. Your sports have specific needs.

Athletes have a lot of training to recover from; OTSPs assume that you do not.

OTSPs assume that you are doing a specific routine and not much else (aside from the recommended extras, and probably not even them). Any athlete worth the name is doing multiple additional training sessions each week. These are often skill-specific and very intense - soccer practice, sparring, practice lifting, throwing, running. Recovery is sleep and rest and light movement (at most), not hard sports training. So the OTSP assumes you are resting on Tuesday and raring to go on Wednesday, not hitting the field tired on Tuesday and you feel too wrecked to do that circuit on Wednesday.

So what do I do instead?

That's a big question, but it boils down to: a program that addresses your specific needs (whether strength, or endurance, or what have you) and takes into account your specific training schedule. No, that's not easy. But it's necessary.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Change

Jason Nunn put up a great post on change on his blog.

A lot of times, a person will ask me for advice on changing their body. But they don't really want to change their routine to get that change. It boils down to:

"How do I change my results without changing my methods?"

Put that way, how can you get different results if you don't change the way you are operating?

How can you get different results if you continue on the path that got you to these results?

You have accept the need to change, before you can change your results.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Liver Rehab

This easy-to-miss livespill by John Meadows really gets into liver health. It's not something people think about a lot, but you only have the one liver and you really need it to be healthy.

Liver Health

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Intermittent Fasting resource

The guys over at Precision Nutrition have put up a free web book on Intermittent Fasting.

What is IF? Basically, not eating for a certain period of the day or week, as a dietary strategy. Sometimes you eat, sometimes you don't, but you do it according to a plan.

Intermittent Fasting

They tried a few protocols on themselves and discuss the process, the results, and how to do it. It's a good resource, and I especially like the "If you have 10 minutes" and "30 minutes" versions so you know how to get a quick overview depending on your time. It's well organized, too. Worth reading.

FWIW I use IF sometimes, especially when I'm getting ready to compete. I find it's an easy strategy to follow and I feel good once I've adjusted to my feeding windows.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Basics aren't Boring

This excellent article, Don't get bored with the basics, explains something trainers and trainees alike need to know.

The basics aren't boring. Doing the simple things, the fundamentals, correctly, is the basis of all growth and progress.

People get bored with repetition, but if you continue to progress, is that really important?

Focus on the improvement towards a goal, not on the method of getting there.

If you get bored you're not working hard enough.

Yes, exactly. People don't get bored with progress. "Oh, squats again? You mean I have to squat more weight today? Bo-ring." I have yet to hear that. I've heard "Are you sure I can do it?" or "Let's go heavy" or "Someday I want to load up all of those plates over there and squat all of them."

It might get boring if you always squat the same weight, same sets, same reps. But that's not going to get you anywhere. Even if your goal is to maintain not progress, you can do that by switching up the sets, reps, and weights to avoid sheer repetitive stress.

But unlike the author, I do get bored counting reps. I have to get my clients to count their own except on "do as many as you can" counts. Or tricky countdowns.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How You Adapt to Exercise

Although this article is called "The Truth About Injuries," it is also a fantastic writeup of how and why exercise makes you stronger and fitter.

The Truth About Injuries

By all means read the whole article. But especially scroll down to the header "Adaptation."

An excerpt of that section:

"You see, it all comes back to the fact that the body isn’t really a big fan of stress in general. The more stress the body is under, the harder it has to work to maintain homeostasis and the greater the stressor – whatever is placing the demands on the body – is perceived as a threat.

In the context of training, the stressor, of course, is in the form of the lifting weights, running, jumping, skill practice, etc. because all these require a ton of muscular work.

In order to try to make sure it doesn’t have to work as hard next time to same stressor is faced, and thus homeostasis is less disrupted, the body responds by making physiological changes to the mechanical and/or metabolic tissues that were stressed. These tissues are made stronger and/or more metabolically efficient and thus they become better equipped to handle the same level of mechanical and/or metabolic stress it previously was faced with."

That in a nutshell is how exercise works. You stress the body, and the body adapts to ensure that next time it's more ready for that stress. It super-compensates so that it's ready for that stress and a little bit more, just in case. And that's how you get stronger. You lift 135 five times, and your body reacts by getting strong enough to pick up a bit more than 135 five times, and to pick up that 135 a bit more than five times. So next time maybe you get 145 for 5, or you get 135 for 6 or 7. And the stress/adaptation cycle continues.

Of course this doesn't continue linearly or forever. As you train the amount of stress you need goes up. As you age your body's ability to recover (or adapt to stress) goes down. But in principle this is how it works. Knowing this will help you understand why you are training, and why it "works."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Single Leg Explanation

Why single leg training?

It all comes down to reducing your base of support, and thus forcing your body to stabilize you more. Basically. At least according to Mike Robertson's new article here.

It's a good explanation of the continuum between bilateral (two-leg) and unilateral (one-leg) training.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dynamic Effort, Deloads, and Technique

My boss and I have recently been batting around the idea of speed work as a deload vs. speed work as technique work. Or not exactly versus - is it effectively both? Is it really training spee? Or is it ingraining technique while provide just enough effort to maintain strength without being so heavy you outdo your ability to recover?

This isn't our idea.

Mike Robertson blogged about this back in mid-September:

"Instead of doing 5, 8 or even 10 sloppy reps, they're performing 1, 2 or 3 high quality, technically sound repetitions per set instead.

So its not necessarily the fact that they're training for speed, but the fact that they're really starting to dial their technique in that gives them the most carryover."

(bold in the original)

The idea is you aren't really training yourself to pull faster per se. You aren't increasing your rate of muscle contraction - that might not even be possible. But you are definitely training correct form, which makes for an improved lift, which in turn feeds improved strength. Mike Robertson also suggests that this might have been "Kind of like a forced deload" where the heavy lifters who first started using DE training got a nice physical break, too.

I tended to favor the first over the second - lift fast and groove the technique. But I also see the latter - if your "deload" is a weekly day of benching or squatting or deadlifting fast but light, you are still getting a deload. You are reinforcing patterns but not training hard enough to prevent full recovery.

Dave Tate just wrote Part 6 of his sprawling autobiographical articles on his evolution as a lifter. In it he discussed Dynamic Effort (Speed) training:

Let's face it, a max lift can be ugly. Really ugly. Technique often flies out the window when you're hopped up on ammonia with a grand on your back.

DE on the other hand, is all about reinforcing technique. Doing many, many sets of two or three reps is the most effective way to teach a skill, whether it's a squat, a snatch, or throwing a shot put. What you're really doing by performing 8 sets of 2 or 3 is mentally rehearsing perfect form.

So, again we see DE as technique training. Not training neuromuscular contraction speed, but training fast and hard but with perfect form.

He doesn't mention it as a deload, but the percentages he suggests are revealing:

"A bbeginner should use 70% of their 1RM, whereas a more experienced (raw) lifter should go with 50 or 60%."

Most programs with a deload have you working to - at most - a couple sets close to 70%. You do either reduced reps or reduced sets or reduced intensity. DE bumps up the sets (10 x 3 or 8 x 2, say) but the reps are low (that 3 or 2, instead of heavy sets of 5 or 3 or 1). You never approach more than 70% of your one-rep maximum. You bang the sets out fast, with "pop" on the reps. Technique is king.

I think it's interesting to see both of these lifters discussing this. Dave Tate is more interested in the technique effects (at least in this article), while Mike Robertson is suggesting the possibility of a blend. I think that blend is where you see DE training shine. You can recover from it, but you snap out perfect (or at least better) reps and improve your form. You handle heavier weights better and thus get stronger on your maximum effort days. And you get a day to handle lighter weights and not worry about the mental drain and physical exhaustion that comes with constantly handling maximum weights.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fat Tax


Denmark introduces fat tax

“Higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark,” health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen said when he introduced the idea in 2009, because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Okay, prove it.

Show me where saturated fats - like those found in high-saturated fat foods like eggs, whole milk, extra virgin coconut oil, and meat - are causing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

It's mind-numbing. It's like the government has woken up to find it's the 1970s again and they need to regulate people's diets . . . based on outdated science.

What's so painful about this, is that it's probably inexorably on its way to the US. We're already regulating sodium intake without showing a link between reducing sodium and improving health, so why not tax my eggs and butter and steak without showing it's actually harmful?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ultimate MMA Conditioning 2.0

Joel Jamieson is doing a new version of his Ultimate MMA Conditioning book.

If you've read the book and would like to comment on it and/or the new version, he's got a page up about the next version here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A very long plank

A 71-year old woman held a plank for 36 minutes and 58 seconds, if you can believe it.

Exercise helps woman beat world planking record

The best part is this was a demonstration of her fitness after a long period of unfitness. She lost a significant amount of weight and greatly increased her strength and strength-endurance.

Very impressive.

Tell a Friend

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Still posting but . . .

. . . I will probably be posting a little more irregularly. For several years now I have posted on this blog every weekday, with the occasional break for vacations or busy times.

As my client load has gotten heavier, and my other workload has also increased, I've been rushed to get out updates here and they haven't always been on time.

Instead I'm going to post often but not on a strict M-F schedule.

Tell a Friend

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The most popular post I ever made was about Bulgarian Split Squats. Maybe not coincidentally, my favorite single-leg exercise is the Bulgarian Split Squat.

Recently an article on Bulgarian split squats hit T-Nation.

This article is an excellent addition to the BSS family. It presents a few options I covered in my post, but also some new ones, such as goblet hold BSSs.

In the interest of science and leg strength, I did a few sets of the goblet hold version. I found the weight is much more difficult to control in this position, even compared to kettlebells held in rack. The weight wasn't so hard on my legs, but the amount of weight I could keep tight to my chest wasn't so high. I augmented the sets with a couple of chains draped around my neck, and that helped immensely. The core and balance challenge of goblet hold Bulgarian split squats is a nice change from racked kettlebells, a barbell, or dumbbells held at the side (even unilaterally). They (and the other options in the article) are worth a try if you like this exercise.

Tell a Friend

Monday, September 26, 2011

Trainign around a Cold

I occasionally get clients who come in sick, and want to train.

While I'd rather they stay home and recover, once they are in, they will train. So how do I adjust to that?

What I've been doing is:

- keeping the weights the same as last time, or lower.

- reducing total volume (2 sets instead of 3, or 10 reps instead of 12)

- reducing cardio to almost zero (no bike, elliptical, or Prowler)

- wiping all the gear down after they use it (in addition to normal cleaning).

My working theory is that there is a benefit to staying active while sick, especially if you feel like you should be moving. However, it's crucial to stimulate not annihilate, and too much training is likely to leave you tired and crushed and unable to fend off the cold.

I don't have research to back this up, just personal experience as a trainer and trainee. But it does seem to work well - you get in a workout and maintain, you keep active, but you don't leave exhausted and extend your sickness.

Tell a Friend

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quick Tip: More or Less

In my experience, the best way to lean on edge cases is:

. . . for lifting, training, or exercise - do less.

. . . for diet - eat more.

"Do less" for training encourages you to actually rest, to pare down to what is really needed, and otherwise keep things on track. Cut away anything that isn't measurably improving your progress.

"Eat more" for diet counters that tendency to drop to sub-1000 kcals for fat loss or to skip meals to lose weight, or to just not eat enough when trying to gain! If things get stuck, nudge the calories up a bit and see what happens. Only if your progress fails consider another option.

Tell a Friend

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Free Kettlebell Course

Well, free with registration, etc.:

There is a free one-hour kettlebell course being offered at the RKC Instructors Certification in Downington Pennsylvannia.

Since I work on days ending in "y" I won't be attending but perhaps some of you might want to check it out.

Tell a Friend

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sad day

Today is a sad day, and I'm not going to post about S&C. We lost one of our training buddies from Advanced Fighting Systems over the weekend, Leif Mickens. He died in a car accident.

Leif was a great training partner. He always went hard, but not too hard - you weren't getting hurt because Leif pushed things he shouldn't. He had a wicked crossover choke and explosive energy you couldn't believe. He a lot of integrity, he was a great teammate, and he was willing to work with you on whatever you needed. He was a great guy to roll with and a good person to be friends with. I'll miss him and I'll miss his stories about walking his three crazy-friendly pitbulls, too.

It's hard to believe he's not going to come to class anymore, and I wanted to take this post out to remember him publicly. He won't be forgotten by anyone who trained with him.
Tell a Friend

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Learning from Dan John

There was a recent triple-shot of strength coach Dan John on T-Nation.

First, Dan posted his 40 lessons, 20 at a time;

Part 1

Part 2

Then this past week Mike Boyle posted five lessons he learned from Dan John.

Needless to say you get some repetition in there. But why wouldn't you? Some lessons need to be drummed home twice.

All three are excellent read, and read again type articles.

Tell a Friend

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bad Training Days

One thing I mention frequently here is consistency. The importance of consistency above all else - intensity, programming, weight progression, etc. The most important single thing in my experience is just showing up to each and every training session and giving it what you've got in you for the day.

Jim Wendler has a great blog post on this subject called Bad Training Days Ahead.

What do you do when it's a bit rough, when your all isn't all that much, and you just can't match the best you've done before?

Go in and give it what you've got, but cut it a bit short. Save a little for next time. Get your work in but don't kill yourself trying to get something that just isn't there.

Next time, if it's bad again, do that same thing again. When it's good, that's when you push things and drive for PRs and get everything done at maximum intensity.

But don't miss the session. Just get done what you're able to do.

And keep reading Jim's excellent blog.

Tell a Friend

Friday, September 16, 2011

Varied intensity training for MMA

Joel Jamieson explains using a mix of high intensity and low intensity training for MMA here:

High/Low Training

It's a good article for those fighters who train all-out every single session. It explains what that isn't optimal and how to train much more effectively.

I see it all the time from MMA buddies who train to failure as often as possible and then go hard every day in the gym.

Tell a Friend

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Well, I can't do this.

10 free-standing deep pistol squats. Impressive balance, strength, and control.

Tell a Friend

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hooks and Hurt Hands

Just a quick tip today: velco weightlifting hooks are not a great tool if you want to develop your grip.

They are outstanding tools, though, if you have a wrist injury, a hand/finger injury, or other injury that prevents a firm grip on a weight. They are very useful in combination with cable stacks (just hook the handle into the hooks), tubes (same thing), or dumbbells (for any rowing or pulling exercise). They are a bit iffy for most presses, but tube presses work just fine.

These official went from "what the heck would I ever do with these?" to "I need to keep these handy for my injured clients" in no time.

Tell a Friend

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Improved Glute Raises

Mike Reinold posted an excellent modification to the standard glute bridge - something I use extensively as a warmup with my clients.

This modification makes for a bit better glute and hip activation. Give it a try!

Tell a Friend

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trairing Endurance and Strength together?

The conventional wisdom is that you can't really train strength and endurance together. You can get bigger/stronger, or you can get more endurance, but not both at the same time - not optimally, anyway.

How true is this?

This article over at 8weeksout reviews research that looks into it.

Short answer: the conventional wisdom is largely true. Training endurance blunts muscle growth a bit.

Longer answer: the research looks at strength as muscle growth, and doesn't differentiate between types of hypertrophy (sarcoplasmic vs. myofibrillar and doesn't directly measure strength itself (not 1-rep or multiple-rep maximums). But it does seem to suggest that you don't want to train aerobic capacity after weight training unless you aim to blunt muscle growth.

Thanks to the guys at 8weeksout for finding this and going to the trouble of explaining it so clearly!

Tell a Friend

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tall Kneeling Get-Ups

There is a wonderful gem of a conditioning exercise in this recent article by Tom Furman, disguised as a leg strengthening exercise.

Gravity Iron: No Weights Needed

The kneeling tall-get up is useful for conditioning for a lot of reasons:

- it's technically simple.

- it's easy to do at a a pace of your choice (slow, medium, fast, or as fast as possible).

- it will require a lot more oxygen than it seems at first glance

- it removes a lot of the potential for partial movements or changes in the motion due to fatigue.

I used it last night for a client with an arm injury that prevents him from doing regular get-ups. We did 30 seconds per leg, 15 second break, as part of a triple set of exercises. It was excellent for all the reasons I mentioned above plus the "no hands" bit that made it possible for this injury client to do it in the first place.

The rest of the article isn't bad, either, but if the one thing I take away from it is this get-up variation I'm happy.

Tell a Friend

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shoulder rehab

As if you could get enough rehab/prehab work for your shoulders:

Joe DeFranco:

Jim Smith, doing the prehab work I have my clients do before any heavy pressing day:

A good idea with these is to mix them up - alternate them, rather than mash them together for a massive shoulder set. You don't need to much. Find which one works better for you. If you can't decide, do one on pressing days and another on non-pressing days.

Tell a Friend

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Proper wrist position

I was (painfully) reminded today of a small tip - wrist position.

When you are pressing or pulling, you generally want the wrist in a straight alignment. That's lining up the plane of the back of your hand with the plane of your forearm, with the wrist neither bent back nor goose-necked forward.

A bent back wrist forces the wrist to support the full load of whatever you are pressing (you'll rarely see this in pulling).

A goose necked wrist (seeing more in pulling) changes the load from a back-and-arm muscle combination to "how much can I wrist curl?" I see this a lot on single-arm cable rows, where the trainee wants to pull the handle back as far as it will go. Ironically this actually shortens the range of motion a bit and again makes the wrist the weak point.

A straight wrist, conversely, is both firm and strong. It can support a heavier load, and without the need to flex or bend under a load you don't risk as much strain.

So when you press or pull, think of keeping your wrist straight and see what a difference that can make.

How did this come up? Well, the best way to catch a heavy kettlebell clean is with a straight wrist. I left mine slightly bent on a heavy rep and caught the bell hard and flush against my wrist. It will bruise nicely. Had I punched my hand through the handle and caught it against a straight wrist, neither goose-necked or bent back (like mine was) it would have softly landed.

Tell a Friend

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Main vs. Supplemental

You have to keep your eye on the prize when you train.

Diet is Main, Supplements are supplemental. If your diet is on point, supplements will help. If you diet is not on point, no amount of supplements (at least not legal ones) will help you. You can't turn a hypercaloric diet (where you eat more calories than you burn) into a fat loss hypocaloric diet with supplements. You can't turn a hypocaloric diet into a muscle building hypercaloric diet with supplements. Keep your diet on track and then worry about supplements, if even then!

Main lifts are Main, Accessories are supplemental. Don't get too caught up in the extras. Concentrate on the big movements - hip hinging, squatting, pressing, pulling, jumping, and core stability. Carry heavy stuff. Then you can worry about some extra ab work and biceps curls and calf raises and so on. They don't build the most muscle or burn the most fat, so leave them for after.

Intensity is Main, volume is supplemental. For most people, anyway - it matters more how hard you do it more than how much you do it. Work hard before working more.

Tell a Friend

Monday, September 5, 2011

Enjoy your Labor Day!

Enjoy the holiday; as usual posting will resume tomorrow.

Tell a Friend

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shoulders relaxed or tight on the deadlift?

Andy Bolton says you should relax your upper back, and arch your lower back, to pull the heaviest.

Here's his blog entry on the subject:

You must know this about the deadlift

The visible range of motion change from pulling with a tight lower back and abs but relaxed upper back vs. a tight upper back is obvious in the video. I've always been taught scapula tight at the start, but I'm going to try to pull this way next time and see how it goes.

Don't mistake his advice for allowing a lax lower back. A loose lower back won't get you heavier weights, but it sure can get you hurt. This is a question of upper back tightness only.

Tell a Friend

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How not to review a study

The mass media generally does a terrible job of covering exercise/diet studies.

For example, look at this one making the rounds today:

Aerobic exercise beats weights in belly fat face-off

It starts with the catchy headline - who doesn't want to lose belly fat, or keep it off once it's gone?

From the article and the study's written statement:

The eight-month study followed 196 overweight, sedentary adults (ages 18-70) who were randomized to one of three groups: aerobic training; resistance training or a combination of the two. The aerobic group performed exercises equivalent to 12 miles of jogging per week at 80% maximum heart rate. The resistance group performed three sets of 8 – 12 repetitions three times per week. All programs were closely supervised and monitored to ensure maximum effort in participation.

Okay, great - both the news article and the study lack important information.

- "exercises equivalent to 12 miles of jogging per week at 80% maximum heart rate." Not jogging 12 miles at 80%, but "equivalent to." What was it?
Can you base your exercise choices based on a statement like that?

The article at CBS refers to these people as "the joggers." Were they actually jogging?

- "three sets of 8 - 12 repetitions" of what exercises? At what percentage of their 1-rep max? Did they increase the weight progressively or just pick a weight and stay there?

- what kind of body composition change did they have overall? Pre- and post- study inception body fat percentages aren't listed. Did they check them?

From elsewhere in the study's statement, and totally missing from the article:

The combination of aerobic with resistance training achieved results similar to aerobic training alone.

- Similar isn't the same - what was the similarity and what was the difference?

The CBS article doesn't care, and in fact implies that aerobic is the way to go and you could "ditch the weights." Because, you know, there are no other reasons whatsoever to lift weights. Not as good at one thing = useless for all things, apparently.

You can click on the link to the journal that published the article, but the article itself isn't directly linked. You have to go find it. Want to take bets on how many journalists will actually go and find it, nevermind readers? I dug around and didn't find it, and what I did find required a login and a subscription. So

Finally, both the article and the statement conclude that intensity doesn't matter, you just need to burn calories aerobically. The proof? Reference to previous studies that aren't linked to or named, so you can't check them.

I'm an exercise professional and I can't take either the statement or the article and learn enough to apply it to my clients in any meaningful or supportable way. Where does that leave the casual exerciser?

Tell a Friend

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Every rep is your 1-rep max.

Every rep is your one rep max.

Think about that for a second.




When you are preparing to take a heavy weight you take it seriously. You dig in your heels. You pay attention to your grip, your posture, your tightness, your stance, your coach's cues. You get a little excited and scared at the same time. Your 1-rep maximum (or a new 1-rep max, which by definition you've never lifted before) is a heavy weight.

But if you want to make the most of it, treat your warmup reps the same way.

Benching 5 x 45 as your first set? Make it five good, hard reps. Punch the weight up fast. Grab the bar with authority. Dig your shoulders into the bench and tighten up like a drumhead. Push each rep up with gusto and determination and speed, and pull each rep back down like it's the heaviest weight you've done.

Conversely, treat your heavy sets like the empty bar. Don't fear it, it's just a little bit heavier version of what you've been doing the whole workout. Probably less reps, even. Grip it and dominate the weight. Tell yourself it's nothing you haven't done for rep after rep all workout - and you have.

Then go get it done.

The way to do this is to make every rep a 1-rep max. Don't just rip out a few lackadaisical warmup sets, or a few early work sets with not quite perfect form, or not as fast or strong as you could have.

When every rep is your one-rep max, your one-rep max just another rep.

Tell a Friend

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Obesity and Caloric Calculator

The Lancet has published a series of PDFs on the subject of obesity here:


For my money, the best thing is the calorie calculator tool. Unlike the Precision Nutrition tool (which estimates safe weight loss), this one will give you the numbers needed for any goal no matter how ridiculous (although it might warn you it's ridiculous).

What's great is that you can estimate calories needed for weight, gain, too. If I want to put on 10 pounds in 30 days, I need to take in another 1200 kcals a day according to the calculator, over a maintenance level of 3800 kcals. Sweet! Costco, here I come!

Tell a Friend
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...