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, 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.
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