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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011


Well, I can't do this.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Enjoy your Labor Day!

Enjoy the holiday; as usual posting will resume tomorrow.

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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.

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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?

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