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, December 31, 2013

Link Recommendation: Waiting for the Perfect Time

The best time to start is now - it's better to start now with "good enough" than to wait for the "perfect" time later.

This article has some nice recommendations for ways to avoid that temptation to let the perfect later replace the good enough now.

The Perfect Time

Monday, December 30, 2013

Elite FTS e-book and Make A Wish

Every year Elite FTS puts together an e-book they sell for $19.99, all revenue going to Make-A-Wish.

The last chance to get it is today, 12/30.

If you are interested, check it out here:

Elite FTS Make-A-Wish eBook 2013

These books are always packed with good information on lifting and powerlifting and training in general, and it's for a good cause.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Article Review: For Fitness, Intensity Matters

Gretchen Reynolds, who wrote the excellent book The First 20 Minutes, wrote a good round-up post on her blog on the NYT website.

For Fitness, Intensity Matters

You won't find much direct advice in there, but a lot of links to articles she's written on the subject.

The TLDR version of all of this is, you need to work out hard if you aren't going to work out long, and if you work out hard you don't need to work out all that long. This mostly applies to general "getting in shape" and untrained people, but it's worth trying out for anyone.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Have A Merry, Healthy, and Happy Christmas!

I hope you all got the barbells, kettlebells, running shoes, and other exercise gear you asked for this year. And the motivation to get out there and use them!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: Amazing Grass's The Amazing Trio

I take relatively few supplements, but a friend has recommended greens and chlorophyll supplements to me and I respect her knowledge. I have been taking a few, and I will review the ones I have been taking here.

Amazing Grass Amazing Trio Powder Alfalfa, Barley & Wheat Grass-30 Servings, 8.5-Ounce

Amazing Grass
8.5 oz size
MSRP $26.99

This product is a kind of "greens powder." Specifically it is a mix of organic wheat grass, organic barley grass, and organic alfalfa. It provides 30 mg of chlorophyll plus some additional micronutrients. It's primarily useful if you need (or want) to take a chlorophyll supplement. This review won't attempt to convince you to do so or not to do so, only to attempt to let you know how it tastes.

The taste is fairly bland and neutral. The recommendation is to put it in fruit juice, but I find it's perfectly palatable in water. It is a bit gritty, since it's more of a suspension than a solution, but a vigorous shake before drinking is enough to get most of it to stay suspended in the liquid. You may need to add a little water at the end to get the last bits out of your glass, blender, or shaker bottle.

Because the taste is neutral it doesn't affect the flavor of shakes, making it a good add for a meal replacement shake. It will change the color to be more green, especially if adding it to a lighter colored shake such as pumpkin super shake. It is much less strongly flavored than some other greens mixes, especially fruit-based antioxidant blends.

The product is:

- Gluten free
- GMO free
- raw
- seems to be Soy Free (it doesn't say explicitly on the label, but lists no soy in its ingredients)

5 out of 5. Doesn't taste bad, quality ingredients, reasonable price.

Overall: With its relatively neutral taste and good ingredients, it's a good product. If you are looking for a wheat grass / barley grass / alfalfa powdered supplement this is a good one to try. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Exercise vs. Training, Immediate vs. the Goal

It's worth breaking out workouts into ones that lead to long term goals, and ones that have an immediate effect you like.

In this article by Mark Rippetoe on T-Nation, discussing Crossfit, is a great little distinction. According to Rippetoe:

"Exercise is fun today. Well, it may not be fun, but you've convinced yourself to do it today because you perceive that the effect you produce today is of benefit to you today. You "smashed" or "crushed" or "smoked" that workout... today. Same as the kids in front of the dumbbell rack at the gym catching an arm pump, the workout was about how it made you feel, good or bad, today."

In contrast, Training is about the process you undertake to generate a specific result later, maybe much later, the workouts of which are merely the constituents of the process. Training may even involve a light day that you perceive to be a waste of time if you only consider

This is an extremely common problem in exercise (and in diets for any kind of goal.) People want both the long-term effects of training (the six-pack abs, the big biceps, the crushingly huge deadlift, the ability to jump and run and swim with ease) but focus on how the day's workout felt.

Focusing on the immediate results isn't very productive, but it's easy and it's hard to focus on long-term goals when you don't have the knowledge and expertise to know it is working and making you better.

I've done workouts that left me smashed but didn't make me better. I've done workouts that were puzzlingly easy, but which demonstrably made me better in the long run (HICT springs to mind, driving down my resting heart rate and driving up my recovery rate.)

But in general, you want a long-term plan that will get you where are going. You don't want to focus on how the workouts make you feel but how they add up.

Naturally you can go too far the other way - focusing so much on the goal that you miss being in the here-and-now and reacting to what is needed here and now. But in general, for training, your workouts should build towards some long-term goal. That long-term goal can be progressive gains, improved health, massive strength, or just maintaining what you have without incurring injuries. The idea of "Training" as "What can I do today to get me the end result I want?" vs. "Exercise" as "What can I do to entertain myself now?" is a nice distinction. It's possible to quibble over the terms, but Long Term Results vs. Short Term Results is a legitimate distinction to make. I think the distinction Mark Rippetoe made is useful and worth keeping in mind when you think about your exercise routine and its long-term effects.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Psoas Collection

A sometimes overlooked muscle is the iliopsoas, more commonly referred to as the psaos.

If you sit a lot (or fight MMA from guard a lot), your iliopsoas can shorten or tighten and pull on your spine.

As you can see from their EXRX entry, the iliopsoas are responsible for hip flexion (think, pulling your knees to your chest) but also attach to the spine. Thus, if they get tight, inflexible, or short, they can pull on your spine and give you back pain.

Iliopsoas on EXRX

It's discussed in even more detail at this link at EXRX:

Hip Flexor Inflexibility

Here are some ways you can address this issue.

This article on stronglifts is a good primer on referred pain - tight psoas leading to back pain.

The Psoas - Is It Killing Your Back?

Next, a large portion of the exercises on the Egoscue Basic DVD are aimed at getting the hip muscles in balance, and can go a long way towards releasing tight hip flexors.

Joe DeFranco made one of my favorite videos on releasing the psoas. You'll need a theracane or something similar. Joe has back issues (congenital, not exercise-related) and knows a lot about relieving back pain. I can personally vouch for this one being a) painful and b) effective.

Joe DeFranco Psoas Release

Kelley Starrett also has a video which also discusses the hip in general as well as the psoas.
Episode 25: Hips

Finally, there are a lot of useful stretches for the psoas and the surrounding muscle tissue which might be causing the psoas to tighten up in the first place. This article on "Yoga for Fighters" shows many of them.

Yoga for Fighters: Releasing the Psoas

Finally, if your psoas are very tight and you want expert help, consider A.R.T. - a practitioner can easily (albeit painfully) release your psoas. I personally go to Fine Tune Therapy when I need A.R.T., but there are qualified experts all across the country.

If you get back pain from sitting or doing standing exercises, it's worth investigating if the problem isn't the lower back but the front of the hips.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book Review: Drop Dead Healthy

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
by A.J. Jacobs
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster
402 pages

Drop Dead Healthy is a two-year experiment in healthy living by the author. The short version is that he takes one month at a time to concentrate on a new addition to healthy living. It's additive, so whatever he adds on this month he keeps doing. By healthy living, he means some kind of experiment in a specific kind of living, drawing off of an expert or two. Everything from changing his diet (more than once, even) to avoid toxins to noise-cancelling headphones to shield his ears to HIIT and weight training - it is all there.

Some of it is kind of funny - attempts at doing MovNat have him running barefoot and shirtless in Central Park, a concern for safety has him walking around all day with a bike helmet, etc. Some of it just seems like superficial misguidedness - reading that chocolate is healthy he adds Toblerone bars to his diet, before digging deeper and realizing that dark chocolate is healthy, not sugar-filled milk chocolate.

The book isn't terribly educational; it's more diary than anything else. Some of it seemed like it would be of interest to a weight-training crowd. He tracks (sporadically) his weight and reps on a squat machine (which one isn't clear), his maximum pushups, his mileage on his treadmill desk, and "superfoods" he eats. But the book focuses on the new experiment, the interesting events in his life as he tries these things, and the contradictions between positions ("You must run barefoot" vs. "it's a bad idea if you have bad feet," and "wash your hands" vs. "germs build up your immune system," as two examples). It's like a lighter version of the 4-Hour Body.

If there is one good takeaway from this, it is that you can a) go way overboard trying to be healthy, and that b) there are a lot of easy things you can do now. Treadmill desks are expensive, but a cheap treadmill and a pile of boxes to hold up your PC is sufficient to start. You can just go start lifting tomorrow. You can eat a little better starting now, and so on. Healthy living, however you define it, can be broken up into cheap and easy chunks to start with.

Content: 2
out of 5. Not a lot of there, there, for training or diet or overall health, not for the price.
Presentation: 3 out of 5. It's well put together but what is there is hard to track back down when you want to read it again, index or no.

Overall: If you want a light-reading diary of experiments in healthy living, plus some organized tips at the end, read this book. Otherwise, it's entertainment more than education; a cautionary tale of trying to do everything when there is no consensus on what that everything really should be.
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