Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The 2011 Pullup Challenge

Over on the EXRX forums, Jungledoc aka Andy Bennett has brought back the Pullup Challenge.

The goal?

To get more pullups than you did before. Not beating each other, but improving your own numbers.

What kind of pullups count? Any, it's your personal challenge. Want to set a new 1-rep max? Fine. Wide-grip pullups? Fine. Set a total reps record across a few sets? Fine. Get one good unassisted pullup? Awesome. For example, I'm planning to add 1 rep to my chinups (palms facing me, shoulder width grip). For you it could be something else, as long as it's some kind of pullup.

Help! How do I improve my pullups?

Fortunately a lot has been written about improving pullup numbers. Here are just a few:

Jen's New Chin Up PR

Strength Basic's Pullup posts

The Ultimate Pullup Video

That's just to get you started. Test your max, train well for a month, and see where it gets you. A new PR is just a month away!

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Proper Back Position

Mark Rippetoe has a new article up over on T-Nation:

Proper Back Position for Power

This article is an excellent example of coaching cues.

Fix one thing at a time - He's got a specific aim in his cues - to get trainees to initiate a proper lower back arch in order to maximize their ability to lift safely and powerfully.

Have different cues for different people - Not everyone learns the same way. He's got cues for visual people, for physical cues people, for people that respond best to exaggerated vulgarity. Not just one cue, but a number of them, in a progression, he can use until everyone is doing it correctly.

Reinforce the cue immediately - After cuing the proper motion, he has the trainee do the exercise that needs the fix - be it a squat, deadlift, or press. This is done while the trainee still feels the effects of the isolated movement that was cued, so the trainee knows how it should feel under the actual weight.

Great stuff.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011


It's been said that anybody can make you tired, or wreck you with a workout. These Iowa football players certainly know that.

Iowa players battling muscle disorder

These guys did a lower body workout including "lower-body workout that involved performing 100 squats in a certain amount of time and pulling a sled 100 yards" and there is a quote from a player saying they also did 100 bench presses. That's a lot of volume at a heavy weight.

The article quotes the school officials as saying the workout wasn't out of the norm, but rhabdomyolysis - basically the catastrophic breakdown of muscle tissue - is rare for a reason; you have to push very hard and very long to get it. I don't mean to cast any aspersions on the trainer at this school, but this seems like a bit much and the players are suffering for it.

Seriously, folks - don't push excessively beyond what you've done before. Ramp it up slowly. Injuries from going too hard too fast - or just plain too hard - are real. My philosophy is to work just hard enough to get the most effect you can from your training, and then stop.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Joel Jamieson on MMA conditioning

Joel Jamieson has an excellent new article out on MMA strength and conditioning over on Sherdog:

Understanding Conditioning for MMA

Conditioning is a widely used term in training, but Joel Jamieson makes the point that it's often too vague. You need to know what you're in condition for, what the specific needs of your activity is, and how to get there.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jack Lalanne, Rest in Peace

I am sure by now you heard the news of the passing of Jack LaLanne.

You can read all about him at the link above, and you almost certain know plenty about him already.

What always sticks in my mind about him was that he was so direct and positive. I can do this, so you can do it, too. He never let age be an obstacle. At ages where most athletes are retired, he was just getting started. He never stopped, he just kept eating healthy foods ("If man made it, don't eat it") and swimming and weight training. He lived to a ripe old age, too - born 1914, died 2011. We should all live that long, and that vigorously.

I'll miss you, Mr. LaLanne.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Powerlifting Article Resource

A discussion over on the Performance Menu forums clued me in to a nice powerlifting resource - Mike Tuscherer's Reactive Training Systems. There are a load of articles to choose from, by various authors.

This one, on solo training, is aimed specifically at powerlifters. But it's got a lot of take-home lessons for any solo lifter - how to bench press when alone, the importance of self-motivation, the extra attention and care you need to take when working out without help or spotters.

I'm looking forward to reading through all of these, but I wanted to share the link as soon as I heard of it myself.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Pay attention!

Just a quick tip today:

Pay attention!

Keep your mind focused on your exercising. Don't let your mind wander, and find yourself misloading a barbell, dropping a plate on your foot, or otherwise making a stupid but avoidable mistake. Keep yourself in the moment when you lift. Whatever you are talking about or watching on the gym's TV set or listening to on the radio can wait. Keep your mind on what you are doing. Tell a Friend

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fix your Squat

One extremely common error to make in the squat - intentionally or not - is to do a shallow squat.

Tony Gentilcore's article Squat Like You Mean It covers this error. It is an excellent round up of drills to get your squat deeper and alternatives to do until your squat depth gets down to where it needs to be. The alternatives, by the way, make great change-of-pace lifts and accessory lifts for the squat, too - clean grip reverse lunges, Bulgarian split-squats with extra ROM (range of motion), deadlifts . . .

Not to be left out is Jim "Smitty" Smith of Dieselcrew talking tips for attaining proper squat depth. Jim Smith's articles are always very thoughtful, so check this one out as well:

Is Depth Your Problem?

Meanwhile over on Elite FTS there is a new video series called "So You Think You Can Squat?"
Here is Part 1.

There are three sources to help you improve your back squat, whether you are a powerlifter or not, athlete or not, recreational lifter or not. Everyone has to squat down and pick things up; a back squat is just a barbell-weighted version of a basic movement pattern we use every day.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hard-style kettlebell swings

I use kettlebell swings a lot myself, and with my clients. The style we generally use is known as "hard style" or "RKC style" (for the Russian Kettlebell Certification).

This blog post is an excellent bullet point list of how you do a hard-style swing. The essential bit to me is that end at the "top" with the bell pointed out, forming two straight lines, and keep the body rigid and tight at the top of the swing.

I thought the coaching cues in this one, and the description of the technique, was just outstanding. I'm as much blogging about it so I have a bookmark to it as I am to share it with those of you who may have missed it.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Even more 5/3/1

If you aren't sold on Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program yet, here is yet another article on it.

A Hardcore Look at Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 Powerlifting Routine

The website is ad-heavy so the article is just a half-page strip down the side. But it's a very detailed description of the program. It's still no excuse not to give Jim his $20 for his program manual, but it's all the details you need to get started.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Dan John - What is Elite?

It's getting more common for people to describe themselves as an elite. So what is an elite athlete really like? What defines "elite?"

Dan John takes a shot at defining it.

Short version - it's not a t-shirt or a self-imposed label. It's year-long dedication to a sport at a level of skill and competitive demands that require fine-tuning to improve.

As a bonus, here is Dan John discussing hypertrophy (increased muscle size) in athletes. His little graph - especially the long line up at the end for the rest of your life - mirrors the conclusion of researchers in the book Biomarkers. Interesting to say the least. Hypertrophy is critical, and gets even more so as you get older.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Weak Points

Paul Carter put up a really good article on "sticking points," weak points, and strong points over on his blog.

Making your strong points...stronger II - Strong from the bottom up

He makes a point that Kenny Croxdale has made repeatedly over on the EXRX forums - your "sticking point" in a lift is below the point at which it actually "sticks." The sticking point is just where you run out of momentum. You are in all likelihood weaker below that point.

The language is a little raw so be aware if you're sensitive to that. But there are no non-WFS images.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shoulder Exercise Video

Thanks to Pete the Fireman for sending this along:

This video, aimed mainly at cyclists, shows some basic tube-and-partner exercises you can do to strengthen your shoulders.

Another group commonly internally rotated and round-shouldered consists of anyone working mainly on a computer. You sit leaning forward towards the monitor and shoulders rounded and forward in order to best type on the keyboard.

While the video above isn't really a true substitute for a proper, integrated workout that puts emphasis on shoulder health and pull motions, nevermind adjusting your work environment to get rid of that internal rotation in the first place, it's very good stuff.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Band-resisted Kettlebell Swings

One interesting way to add a variation to kettlebell swings is to make them band-resisted.

I've heard of these before but this video - at 2:14 - makes it very clear how to set up the exercise.

You already need to be explosive on a swing, and the band makes it more so - you must snap your hips at the bottom or you won't get it all the way up. You can't "lift" the kettlebell through the band-added resistance; you need momentum to get places. The downwards wing is also loaded, so you have to decelerate the kettlebell even more than before. Fun stuff, but tricky! Try a lighter kettlebell and a small band at first.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Credit card vs. debit card

I was thinking today that many gym-goers, especially those who do it for weight control, consider the body a credit card.

The credit card body approach regards exercise as a way to pay off (work off) accumulated debt (fat) that was accrued from prior spending (earlier eating).

A few regard it as a debit card - that you can't "spend" until you've "saved."

The debit card approach regards exercise as a way to build up a pool of credit, thus earning the right to spend some extra (eat some extra food).

I think in the long run the debit card types win out - they put in the work now, and if they need to they "spend" the results on eating transgressions and days off. They are never in a state of exercise debt, where they need to control their diet and work harder to get rid of what they've already "spent." That spending comes, just like credit card debt, with interest - long term health damage and lost opportunities to do physical things.

Something to think about next time you're working out.
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Robertson's Fat Loss 101

Mike Robertson just put up a nice program for fat loss, called

Fat Loss Training 101

If you've got fat to lose and need a workout structure to support your fat loss diet, this is a pretty good template. It's remarkably similar to what I use with clients myself.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Joe DeFranco on the Prowler

A nice article on Prowler training by Joe DeFranco:

DeFranco Prowler Training

It's such a versatile tool that I use it in some form with every one of my clients. You can't go wrong with it, which is what makes it so awesome.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Basic Gym Etiquette

Do Not Do the Following (all observed this past week at the gym):

Don't . . .

. . . idle your car in the parking lot, blocking all entering traffic, just in case someone pulls out of a close parking spot.

. . . leave your workout towel on the machine as a claim and walk away for 10 minutes while you do another exercise.

. . . interrupt a trainer while he's spotting a client to ask a question. He or she will probably be glad to help, in a few minutes.

and finally, don't . . .

. . . sneeze, wipe your nose, and/or cough into your hands and then go right back to using the equipment.

Please, especially that last one!

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Attempt to Approach Perfection in Training

An article worth reading:

An Attempt to Approach Perfection in Training
by Petros Kyprianou MA, USAT&F, USAW
Boise State University combined/jumps events coach

The article is aimed at coaches, but it might be an interesting read to non-coaches as well. The long and short of it - assess the needs of your athletes, and build a program that addresses them efficiently. Don't build a program that is based on your need as a coach to show off what you've got. It isn't about you, but the athlete and what makes the athlete improve.

Thanks to Andrew Wilson for posting this over on the Performance Menu forums earlier today. I first read it there but decided to link to the original site. I wasn't aware of that resource until today. Good stuff!

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Attack of the Resolutionaries

The title, and the article itself, is pretty funny:

Attack of the Resolutionaries

January is a nightmare of congestion at the gym, as new members and no-show members alike descend upon them to fulfill their resolutions. Generally, it tapers off by February.

The humor is a bit cruel, really. I'd love more "resolutionaries" to come and stay, learn how to keep themselves in shape, make exercising a part of their lives . . . but it rarely happens, and the flood of temporary trainees is painful when you try to park or work out yourself. Here's hoping a few more stay, learn the ropes, and achieve their goals.
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Monday, January 3, 2011

New Years Resolutions

It's the new year, it's time to get to work on any resolutions you made.

If you've made a resolution, whether it's to get stronger, get leaner, or get in better shape, it's time to start.

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.

Good luck! Most people don't keep their resolutions. Don't be one of them. Make them quantifiable, break them up into smaller portions, and follow through with actions. You can do it if you just define where you want to go and how you'll get there.

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