Strength Basics

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prowler variations

I currently use about four main variations for pushing the Prowler.

I rotate these around for a given weight, generally in this order:

1) High Only
2) High Out, Low Back
3) Low Out, High Back
4) CRC Sprints

High Only, Heavy - whenever I up the sled to a new weight, I first do it high handles only. The high handles are noticeably easier, so although the loading is heavier most people will almost feel this is a vacation or a deload compared to high-low combinations. This is also a great way to get in leg work for people with spinal loading issues (back injuries, spinal surgery rehab, etc.) or as a low-technique heavy exercise. It also requires no grip work at all, so it's ideal for people who need to improve their leg strength now but don't have the grip for heavy deadlifts or single-leg lifts.

High Out, Low Back - Push the sled out with the high handles, and return with the low handles. This is the next hardest. The low handles are much more stressful than the high handles, and will get your heart rate up much faster. The high handles tire you out a little but don't take so much out of your that the low handles are so difficult.

Low Out, High Back - This is harder because the low handles really get your heart rate up and tire you out more (because of the angle). It will force you to push the high handles back while your heart rate is high and your legs are already a bit tired. It's more akin to a strip-set (do some reps, drop the weight and keep going once you can't continue) while high-low is more like warmup-work set.

CRC Sprints - CRC stands for Continuously Running Clock. Start a stopwatch and do one sprint with the Prowler down and back to the start point. Rest until you hit the one minute mark. Do it again, and repeat on every minute mark. Your rest therefore depends on how long it takes you to sprint the sled - the faster you go, the longer the rest (but the more tired you are). The goal is to continue until either a deadline (10 trips would take 10 minutes) or until you can't go on the next minute mark. This is very stressful, and I usually drop the weight significantly the first time we do it to get the client used to the approach. I also advise using a short course, because you have very little time to run it back and forth. If your first trip takes more than 30 seconds, it's probably either too heavy or too long of a course.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interview with Dr. Stuart McGill

Over on T-Nation, they finished a two-part interview with back injury/back rehab expert Dr. Stuart McGill, author of Low Back Disorders. The articles are very informative, especially if you've already been introduced to his work.

Part I

Part II

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Weight Gain, Jem Finch style

This would absolutely work, if you did it often enough:

"Jem was worn out from a day's water-carrying. There were at least twelve banana peels on the floor by his bed, surrounding an empty milk bottle. "Whatcha stuffin' for?" I asked.
"Coach says if I can gain twenty-five pounds by year after next I can play [football], he said. "This is the quickest way."

- Jem and Scout Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Chapter 26.

Whole milk + lots of extra calories (healthy ones, even). Twenty five pounds in two years on a diet like that? No problem, even for a very active boy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: The Pain-Free Program

by Anthony B. Carey
Published 2005
254 pages

The Pain-Free Program is subtitled "A proven method to relieve back, neck, shoulder, and joint pain." The book is aimed at restoring functional, correct posture in people who have lost it.

The book is a posture-first approach, rather than point-of-pain-first as in Pain Free. The latter asks "What hurts?" and then works on fixing your posture to address that issue; this book asks "How is your posture dysfunctional?" and then works on your posture. They both reach the same point - doing specific mobility drills and stretches and exercises to take you out of dysfunction. They just start at opposite ends of the spectrum of diagnosis. It's probably a bit unfair to compare the books, but having read Pain Free first, it's an unavoidable comparison. You can't help but read one book in light of the other.

The book inevitably opens with a (rather long) introduction, aimed at explaining why you might be dysfunctional, why correcting it will help you, and why this approach will in fact correct it. Basically the first 67 pages of the book are selling you on the idea of postural corrective exercises. The seventh chapter is what opens up the meat of the book - posture diagnosis and correction.

Chapter 7 outlines six posture forms. These range from rotated posture, hunched back/rounded shoulders, head-forward, etc. and everything in between. The posture types are pretty broad but further details explain how you might across multiple posture types. Further information is provided on how to address multiple forms at once, or in which order to address them if you can't tackle them simultaneously.

This is followed by three different exercise programs per form - one for physical workers (labor and other gross motor work), one for dexterity workers (fine motor skills, mostly), and mixed mode (people who do some of both, or some of everything in the case of full-time parents). Each of these is pretty well put together, but with one issue - every exercise is illustrated . . . the first time. Subsequent times explain the exercise but lack the picture and provide a page reference. The illustrations are generally single-picture illustrations, so you just see someone somewhere in the process of doing the exercise, not a beginning/middle/end approach. A fair number do show start and end positions, but not all of them do. The result of this is a lot of page flipping to do a program.

Another downpoint is that you do really need outside help to assess your posture. This means you need to read and understand Chapter 7 and then have someone else do the same and assess you, or have someone help you take pictures. Assessing yourself in fine points is difficult. While finding pain points is not (your knee hurts or it doesn't), knowing that your right hip is subtly raised and your right shoulder is dipping when you move is quite difficult to assess accurately. Then, you have to slot your job into one of three categories and exercise off of that. This leaves a lot of potential failure points - discern your posture, pick the correct combination of forms, select the correct weighting of exercises based on your idea of how your job impacts you, and then page-flip through the exercises. Tough. Get it wrong, and you might be reinforcing bad posture at worst and just not accomplishing anything at best.

The approach does seem very solidly grounded. Many of the exercises exactly (or nearly exactly) duplicate corrective exercises from other sources, just under different names. This is a positive (you know people use this stuff broadly) and a negative (they call it something else). Like Pain Free, it has a continuing exercise program for long-term use, but it doesn't really address athletics or actual strengthening. If I'm going to bench press, or golf, or do MMA, what do I need to do to keep from bringing more problems back down on me? It's not clearly addressed, either in forms or in the text.

Content: 4 out of 5. The book is complete as far as it goes, but it lacks the detail you need to keep going forward.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. The book is well written, and the pictures are good, but need more before/middle/after shots. Too much page flipping during actual use.

Overall: A good book if you're looking for a posture-first approach to fixing joint pain and a body pains in general. It's a bit more analysis-intensive than Pain Free, but its approach and progressions are more clearly spelled out. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

There was a nice article recently on T-Nation by Jesse Irizarry:

Freakish Strength with Proper Core Training

The article covers some interesting points:

- an actual definition of what "tightening your core" really means.

- a drill for pelvic lifting/tightening the core.

- How to use a curl-up, bird dog, and side plank to strength specific aspects of isometric core strength.

- Dynamic progressions like the landmine, rollout, or suitcase carry (aka a Farmer's Walk variant).

- A discussion of breathing during lifts.

Good stuff, and worth the the time to read it through. If you're lifting heavy, this is useful. It's even more so if you're doing MMA, where the ability to breath while keeping your core tight is potentially the difference between winning and losing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Prowler sale

Just a quick FYI, my favorite piece of conditioning equipment is on sale:

Prowler Sale

It's only until Thursday, March 8th.
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