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, May 31, 2013

Motivation: Training With A Disability

I train or have trained a lot of people post-injury rehab. Folks with fused vertebrae, folks with inner ear balance issues, folks with knee issues. Folks with one useable arm and folks with asthma. People who can't just go out and put weight on the bar and push. But they find a way to train and get better with what they have.

This guy, Scott Belkner, is just like that, only more so.

He trains as hard as he can around the limits that he has. That's all any of us can do. Don't get disheartened by what you can't do. All the more so if your limitation is more temporary and more solvable than his CP.

Find what you can do, and go after it with intensity and enthusiasm, and you'll get places too.

Don't be your limitations. Be your strengths.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kettlebell / Dumbell Swings for Strength

Perhaps most typically, kettlebell swings and dumbbell swings are used for cardiovascular or strength-endurance training. They're done with a moderate weight, for time or higher reps, with the goal of upping the reps.

What about as a strength exercise?

Can you use a swing for strength?

Short answer: Yes.

Instead of selecting a weight you can control fully even many reps into a set, aim for something heavier.

You still need a weight that's light enough. Remember this is a power exercise, much like a power clean or kettlebell snatch. The weight of the kettlebell or dumbbell will effectively be multiplied by your hard backswing on the exercise. You want to be sure it's a weight you can fully brace your abs and lower back against. A good guideline is that if it's a heavy enough weight that you couldn't sumo kettlebell deadlift it for over 10+ reps, it's probably too heavy for a solid swing. If you can't easily control it just as an up-and-down motion the swing is going to be difficult.

On the other hand, you want it heavy enough that you don't have a lot of reps in the tank when you finish. The goal is a hard, powerful swing, using as heavy of a weight as you can safely manage.

How many sets/reps?

A 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps is a solid weight for heavy kettlebell swings. You could go heavier, but it's hard to get a good, hard snap on a weight that you can only do for 3-5 reps. For that level of weight, I find it's better to go for a weighted jump, a power clean or hang power clean, or just simply to deadlift a heavier weight.

Any last tips?

Remember when doing a swing the goal isn't to swing it up with the arms, but to load the hips with the backswing and to snap the hips to get the glutes to fire against the weight. Don't worry about where the kettlebell goes, or how high it goes, but how hard you need to brace against the weight at the bottom and how hard you snap your hips.

I also find a two-handed swing is a bit better, because you can go for a somewhat heavier kettlebell or dumbbell, and load the hips and shoulders equally.

The heavy swing can be a technically easier power/strength exercise than a power clean, and it's a bit friendlier to those with shoulder injuries. However it's not without a need for skill - treat it with respect, and treat the swings like any other high-weight lift.

Remember that although high-rep swings can be productive, high rep isn't the only way to do the swing.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Article Review: 5 tips for fitness success

This article appeared in the Miami Herald.

Fitness Success: 5 Great Ways to make fitness and weight loss easier

I've never heard of the author before now, but he's spot on.

The article shows five solid ways to take "willpower" out of the diet and exercise equation.

Each of the five ways boils down to preparation. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Simply by planning ahead - and having both emergency backup food choices and emergency backup workout choices smooths the path to success. It makes choosing the long-term beneficial exercise or food easier than choosing the bad stuff.

Smoothing the path to success makes it harder to fail. I highly endorse all of these tips.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Thomas Finisher

One of my favorite finishers was created by a client of mine. I'd had him do Prowler sprints, and double rope slams. He suggested alternating them. So we did; it floored him but he loved it. Now it's his most common finisher. So I've named it after him.

The Thomas Finisher, aka Prowler / Rope Slam

What You Need - a Prowler of some sort, or any other high/low handled pushing sled. Room to run with it, at least 15 yards but preferably 25-30.

You also need a heavy rope suitable for slams, with two lengths extending towards you so you can grab one in each hand.

How to do it

Do between 2-8 rounds of this:

A) Prowler Sprint - run the prowler down and back. Up on your toes for the low handles, heels down and upright for the high handles (even if it slows you down a little) x 1

B) Rope Slams - double rope slams x 30

Rest 60 second between rounds.

How much weight on the sled? - This depends on your fitness level and the terrain. Good traction for you and not so good for the Prowler means you'll need more weight, vice-versa means less weight is necessary. Generally you want a moderate load - enough to be challenging but not enough to slow you down below nearly top speed. The goal is fast, to get your heart rate up and get you breathing hard.

Double rope slams? - grab both ends of the rope, and with a full-body up and down hip hinging motion, bring the ropes up fast and slam them down hard together. Bonus points for getting triple extension by coming up on the balls of your feet at the top of the rope slam. Each slam down counts as one. Your goal should be to keep slamming as fast as you can, but not at the cost of height or power. All 30 reps should be done hard.

Why do it? - this makes a good, full-body, low-technique cardio finisher for a workout. It's going to be a series of short, hard intervals, and it's useful in any case where you'd use weighted but fast intervals in your training.

You can even do it on its own, as a very compressed conditioning workout. Err on the side of higher numbers of rounds in this case - 8 is a good starting point. Progress either by using more weight on the Prowler (if your goal is to err on the side of strength-endurance) or less rest (if your goal is to err on the side of cardiovascular performance).

Any warning? - Yes. Be wary of lumber spine flexion if you do this, as some people can get carried away with the up-and-back motion of the ropes. Don't extend the ropes out to the sides during the slam, or lift your arms too high while your elbows extend out (turning it into a hybrid rope slam/power upright row.) As always, start light and slow and work up!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

5/3/1 plus Boring But Big

If you're using Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 system, don't miss this pretty thorough look at your options for variation in "Boring But Big."

Short version? There are a couple of good ways to do 5/3/1 plus 5 sets of 10 for accessory lifts.

Boring But Big

Personally I was always a fan of doing 5 x 10 as sets across (all sets and reps at the same weight), rigidly timing the rest to 60 seconds, and progessing slowly on the weight. It made the 5 x 10 into a combination of strength-endurance cardio, but also ensure you didn't mess around with extra-long rests. You just needed to get the reps done, rest until you caught your breath, and knock off the next set. It is hard, but you get it done quickly and by the end the weights all feel heavy. As a bonus it keeps you from biting off more than you can chew on the weights on the 5 x 10.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Busy Mind Makes Poor Choices

I guest-wrote a blog at my gym's homepage.

A Busy Mind Makes Poor Choices

It's a look at the implications of having only a limited amount of rational brain power - and how it's hard to make good eating decisions when it runs low.
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