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 21, 2012

Slow Prowler Pushes

Jim Wendler has been talking about using a Prowler for a slow walk for strength, instead of at a sprint for conditioning.

This is something I've been using for a while, so it's gratifying to see a widely-respected and knowledgeable athlete/trainer/writer strike onto the same thing.

The idea is simple - instead of running the Prowler, walk it, high handles only, with heavy weight.

What are the advantages to doing this?

Heavy loading with minimal technique. As long as your head and chest are up, and your heels and driving to the floor and your legs straightening, you're doing it correctly. So this allows for loading a client or trainee up, without worrying about teaching them the squat or deadlift. It doesn't achieve the same effect, exactly, but it will make them stronger.

Full-body exercise. The closest analog to a high-handles Prowler walk is pushing a car or truck. Everything from your arms and hands holding the handles to your ankles and feet are involved. You need to tighten your abs and back, and drive with your legs and hips, in order to push the weight.

No bar on your back. For clients and trainees who either can't safely load their spine, or who lack the coordination and strength to do it effectively, a Prowler is a safe alternative. If they become unable to finish the rep, the Prowler just stops moving. It doesn't staple you to the floor or need spotters.

It scales easily. It's easy to load this to be effectively below the weight of an empty bar. And you can add weight easily to make it harder.

Less soreness. Since it has no eccentric (lowering a weight against a load) portion, you will get less sore doing these than you might would other leg exercises.

This will make you stronger, if you work at it. But it does have downsides:

Surface and weather conditions affect the effective loading. Does your turf get slick in wet weather? It'll be harder to get traction on your shoes and you won't be able to push as much. Are you pushing on rough asphalt, smooth asphalt, concrete, or any of a variety of brands of fake turf? How much can push will change.

It doesn't teach tension. While you can push more weight if you stay tight from head to toe, you don't have to stay tight to move it if the weight is relatively low.

It takes special equipment and a lot of room. You need a Prowler or a knock-off sled, and space to push it. If that's indoors, you can do it year-round. If you do it outdoors, it's strongly dependent on weather and time of day.

For all of its downsides, if you have a Prowler or equivalent sled, try doing slow, heavy pushes. Drive your heel to the ground and walk the sled, and you will get stronger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

100-rep Sets

Jim Wendler had an article recently called the 100-rep challenge.

100 reps seems like a killer workout, and probably a little excessive. Why 100 reps? Don't reps become pure endurance at this point?

The answer is, basically, no. By doing 100 total reps of a reasonably hard weight, you build both endurance and muscular size. It is a combination of a lot of reps (your strength-endurance) and a lot of time under tension, which is considered by some to be the most important component of muscular hypertrophy. It doesn't hurt that anything you could do for 20+ reps you probably should be able to do 100 times total . . . if you are mentally willing to keep doing the reps.

This isn't a new idea. I've been doing 100-rep sets for a while. I obliquely discussed it here (Rest-Pause Variation, but here is the "full" version as I have done it, taught to me by my MMA instructor.

Pick an exercise, preferably one with a low failure point (you won't be crushed under a bar from a squat, or round your back from a tired deadlift, or drop a weight on your head). This is a good place for exercises that are easy to ditch - cable rows, kettlebell snatches, bodyweight squats, pin barbell bench in a power rack, etc. You need something you can do correctly even under a high fatigue load.

The goal is to do 100 reps in one set. Pick a weight - something reasonably heavy for that exercise, but still quite light - I'd suggest around 40-50% of your one rep maximum, at most. Do as many reps as you can, then rest for one second for each rep you did. If you got 60, rest for up to one minute. Get 10 more? Rest 10 seconds. Keep going until you've gotten 100 reps.

Each time you do the workout, get the reps done in less sets. When you hit 100 reps in a row, up the weight (or add a second set).

This approach really does work for building strength-endurance, and it doesn't hurt your muscle size, either. It is excellent for training that requires a lot of strength-endurance, such as grappling, wrestling, or martial arts in general.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Working up to the deadlift

Eric Cressey wrote up a nice article (with nice videos, as usual) about deadlifting when you can't pull from the floor.

How to Deadlift When You Can't Pull From the Floor

Another way I do this is to teach kettlebell sumo-style deadlifts from the top. I have the client lower the weight until just at the point when the back would round, and then come back up. This allows the weight to help pull them down towards good form, and allows them to get a training effect even before they have the mobility to get to a weight on the floor.

One other good thing about KB deadlifts from the top is that you can use light weights to see where there form breaks down without needing the mobility to get down to the floor first. You simply let them lower until they can't do it with good form, and then address the issues that you see stopping them.

Done correctly, the KB deadlift from the top will also mimic the form of a KB swing and of a snatch, jump, or hang clean - weight goes down, hips go back, knees unlock but don't start the motion, and weight is on the heels. Then you drive back to the top with your hips and lock out to a standing posture. This makes those lifts accessible to the trainee because you're teaching them the basic form right from the start.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fit but obese vs. unfit and obese

By now you've probably seen or heard the headlines that fitness trumps obesity when it comes to risk factors for early death.

Businessweek had a pretty good look at the study.

The short version is that if you are obese, but fit, you're better off than if you are obese but not fit. Also, if you are obese but fit, your risk factors/chances of early death aren't that much different than a non-obese person.

Naturally, there are some upsides and downsides to the study that determined this.

Study's Upsides

- The study broke out the effects of fitness on obese people. So if you're fit and strong but obese, you are better off than just being obese.

- It was a large (40,000 people) and long (1979 - 2003) study.

- they measured body fat with calipers and/or water immersion, not with BMI. BMI is meant for a population rating, and it doesn't tell you anything about the body composition of the individual. Caliper body fat checking and water immersion body fat analysis do.

- it showed that being significantly underweight isn't that healthy, either.

Study's Downsides There are a few downsides to the study:

- it was partly sponsored by the Coca-Cola company. While this doesn't impugn the work of the researchers, it does color how people will view the results. Coca-Cola has a vested interested in dispelling ideas that your obesity affects your health, as sugary drinks are connected to expanding waistlines.

- While it studied 40,000 U.S. adults, they were "mostly Caucasian, male and well educated" - a relatively narrow group. This might be useful scientifically (it reduces the variations from sex, ethnic background, and education/wealth) it means that the results are harder to extrapolate to the general population.

- based on a questionnaire, at least partly - this always raises questions about honesty and accuracy of answers. Even an honest answer might be incorrect, since it's anecdotal.

- even those classified as healthy by the study may have had one serious risk factor. This means the number of healthy people cited includes people who have some kind of issue, albeit less issues than those classified as unhealthy.

So it's not all clear-cut. But it does mean there is a real benefit to getting out there and moving, even if your weight doesn't come down as much as you'd like in the process. Still, there is no reason to be complacent if you're obese. You're just not as bad off as the scientific consensus once held.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Article Review: Postural vs. Phasic Muscles

Mike Guadango over on posted an interesting variation on "split" training: splitting between postural and phasic muscles.

The idea of phasic vs. postural muscles seems to originate with Dr. Vladimir Janda, a Czech exercise physiologist.

What are postural muscles? Essentially, the muscles the keep you standing upright, breathing, and otherwise living. They are used to long, steady loads and continuous use.

What are phasic muscles? Muscles used for movement.

What would I get out of the article? The idea is to base your training intensity and frequency on the type of muscle. Postural muscles are used to long, steady loads and you would train them more often or for longer periods. Phasic muscles are used for shorter bursts of strength and you would train them less frequently but more intensely - basically, your normal "strength and mass gain" approaches.

It's an interesting approach, and it could help explain why it's beneficial to continually load certain muscles for gains while you need to do short-and-intense lifting for the rest of your muscles.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Long Look at the One-Arm Chinup

One of the most impressive exercises you'll see performed is the one-arm chinup (OAC) or one-arm pullup (OAP). I recently found this excellent discussion of the subject:

One Arm Chinup

There is a longish video (just under 15 minutes) discussing the exercise embedded in the article. It's the meat of the article, so you'll need a good 15 minute block if you want to see it.

It's interesting to hear discussion of injury potential, the difficulty of even gymnasts to perform this, and a very thorough technique discussion. The technique and injury potential is often glossed over - it's usually something like "get 20 pullups, then start working on enough strength to pull yourself up with one arm." This is a bit more detailed, and it's worth considering that you might need to approach attempts at this lift with caution and seriousness.

Please also take a look at the Beastskills One-Arm Chin-Up/Pullup tutorial as well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Joe Lewis, RIP

The martial arts community lost a great competitor and instructor this past Friday - Joe Lewis.

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis trained in Karate while station in Okinawa in the US Marine Corps, and went on to become the first heavyweight full-contact karate champion (with an impressive 10-0, 10 KO record). This was back when unprotected full contact was sanctioned and staged, long before the UFC made its big splash in the 1990s. Joe Lewis was an exemplary case of skill plus strength, and he put out a number of DVDs with strength training workouts on them.

Joe Lewis continued to teach martial arts up to until shortly before his death. He will be missed.
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