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, June 30, 2014

Top 3 Old Fitness Trends!

I've seen a spate of recent articles on my news feed touting new fitness trends. Bollywood-dance based aerobics, new machines, new exciting trends to "melt the fat away" and "tone up without bulking up." All the usual stuff, with an emphasis on how it won't even feel like a workout and how fun it is to do.

Here are three not-exciting, not-trendy, and almost certainly under-done old things you won't see ballyhooed in the press. They aren't the hot new thing, but they all work. There is a proven track record of success behind these.

But maybe if I spice them up a bit with some "trendy new thing" language, they'll catch on.

1) Progressive Overload. In this hot take-no-prisoners approach, you don't do the same-old, same-old weights each time. No way! Instead, you pack on the fun each session by adding a little more resistance, a little more weight to the bar. That's right - every time you enter the gym, you go a little heavier or aim to get just a few more reps. You start light - lighter than you normally do - and bang out your reps. The next time, do the same exercise but grab slightly heavier dumbbells or add 5-10 pounds to the barbell. No more confused worries about what machine to do or what variation to try. Just add weight or reps each time! If you can't get your goal reps, don't worry - stick with it next time and get a few more.

2) Good Technique. This is the one you've been waiting for. Instead of just moving the weights around, you carefully learn how to do productive lifts! The best way to do this is with a knowledgeable instructor, but if you don't have one (or can't afford one), there are piles of videos on the internet available for free. There are ones for pushups, bench pressing, squatting - it's all out there for free to learn.

3) Consistency. This one goes back thousands of years, but only now has it become trendy. It's called consistency. The way to do it is to show up for your training every time, day in, day out, and shock your system into some serious changes. When it expects to skip the day and eat pizza, instead, you confuse it through the scientific principle of showing up at the gym and working out hard. Your body won't know what hit it when you show up for your workouts every time they're scheduled.

I can only hope these become a trend!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Technique, Posture and the One-Inch Punch

A few days ago, Popular Mechanics posted an article on the science behind Bruce Lee's famous "one inch punch." Copied by Quentin Tarantino for The Bride's training (and subsequent "impossible" escape), the punch is launched from point blank range and yet lands with incredible force.

It's a stunt, but it's not less impressive of a stunt than an Olympic record snatch is - a physical task of great difficulty done.

Here is the article itself, and it's worth reading in its entirety.

The Science of Bruce Lee's One-Inch Punch

as is this summary and expansion in The Washington Post.

The article says at one point:

""The first thing we found was that karate experts can punch much harder than normal, untrained people. Which isn’t exactly what you’d call Nobel Prize–worthy work," he says.

But Roberts also discovered that for the karate practitioners, muscle alone didn’t dictate strong punches. Rather, when he used motion-tracking cameras to track the puncher’s joints, he found that strikes that synchronize the many peak accelerations in one complex move—like Bruce Lee’s—were also the most powerful. "

Martial artists can tell you this - it's obvious when you get hit with a trained punch vs. getting hit with an untrained punch.

If you've been taught to punch, the first thing instructors try to teach you is to stop winding up to hit. That windup, the movie-style wind-up and throw, is meant to get some extra distance between the start of your punch and the target. It's a technically easy way to generate extra force, much like running before a jump or springing back before you spring forward makes it easier to jump further gets you power by more easily letting you load up your tendons.

Yet it's much slower and much less effective than a straight drive powered by the entire body. A looping punch looks hard and can be hard, but a straight blast with the body behind it hits with surprising force.

How is it done?

Technique and posture.

The article mainly discusses the role of the brain in firing the entire body in a coordinated fashion. The entire body moves to drill that punch through the board - and you can hear Rampage Jackson discuss this on Sports Science, too. But equally important are the posture of Bruce Lee when he throws and his technique.

This is the secret behind every physical motion, from that punch to a baseball throw to a successful bench press or clean and jerk.

Proper posture ensures there is no wasted motion. His stance is appropriately wide but not too wide - enough to drive off the back foot and start the chain reaction of loaded tensing. His arm is neither too straight nor too slack, so he's only a short distance from the best extension to inflict maximum impact. Hisbody is largely sideways, to increase the drive.

Proper technique ensures the entire body functions as a single coordinated unit. That's the brain's job, according to Popular Mechanics, but it's still a function of training. People talk "muscle memory" but it's all coordination. It's getting your body to connect from one end to the other. As Dan John says, "The body is one piece." Bruce Lee's punch demonstrates that in spades - his entire body moves to make that seemingly too-little distance between knuckles and board all he needs to drive right through it. You want everything in your body acting in the right order, with the least possible hesitation.

When you train, remember you want to get your body in the right posture to do the lift, and then coordinate it all together with proper technique. That is how you can maximize what you lift, and maximize the effectiveness of your body at all forms of sport.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Starting Strength on Q, Plus the Value of Personal Trainers

I just heard a great look at Starting Strength on the radio show Q, with Jian Gomeshi. It's worth a listen.

It is an excellent look at:

Starting Strength

The importance of measurable goals (not "I'm fitter" but rather "I benched 5 pounds more for 5 reps this week.")

And the relative importance of a simple program and consistent effort.

The main place where I'd disagree as a personal trainer is the utility of a trainer.

- we're not all out to sell you stuff, although our time and expertise is valuable and can be worth paying for.

- we're not just there for motivation, but also to spot form errors you don't notice yourself, to push you when you need to be pushed, and to provide an external accountability for your workouts. That's beyond what I feel is my primary role - providing the knowledge about how to adapt when you're hurt, tired, or unable to train as the workout proscribes.

I've said this before many times - I'm a personal trainer, and I train people for (part of) my living. But when I train MMA I go to an MMA trainer, or work with a pro fighter. When I strength train, I've done it myself but I've gotten vastly better results when I've trained with a personal trainer. The reason that I am as strong as I am now I owe not to my own professional knowledge, but from folks like John Impallomeni and Mike Guadango, who trained me even as I trained others.

And for what it's worth, if you'd like to hire me for a limited number of sessions to learn to squat, deadlift, bench, press, and power clean (or learn any other exercises) and then go off on your own to train? I'm absolutely delighted to do that. I've done that with a few clients already.

My job isn't to milk money from you by selling you something, Danial Duane's assertion to the contrary otherwise. My job is to provide you a service and knowledge, and if I can train you so well you can go off on your own, that's great. I can fill that time slot in with another client who needs to learn. I'm happy to teach you and send you on your way. Fitness doesn't have to be complicated, but it doesn't mean a professional has nothing to add to what you do.

But yes, I'd echo what he said - focus on one aspect, and if it's strength, going with Starting Strength (and or the DVD of the same name) is a great way to start.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Pushup Experiment 2

Here are the results of month 1 of my pushups experiment.

Date Sets Total Pushups
5/1 4 80
5/2 3 60
5/3 3 60
5/4 4 80
5/5 5 100
5/6 6 120
5/7 5 100
5/8 5 100
5/9 4 80
5/10 6 120
5/11 - -
5/12 6 120
5/13 5 100
5/14 5 100
5/15 7 140
5/16 5 100
5/17 5 100
5/18 - -
5/19 8 160
5/20 5 100
5/21 6 120
5/22 7 140
5/23 5 100
5/24 6 120
5/25 - -
5/26 5 100
5/27 6 120
5/28 6 120
5/29 6 120
5/30 5 100
5/31 5 100
Total: 2960

Starting with 5/11, a Sunday, I started taking a day off from any pushups. I felt like I'd benefit more from rest than from pushing straight through without. I think the ease with which I reliably did 100 reps after that owes itself partly to having rested. Had I realized I was 2 sets from 3000 pushups in a month, I might have found a way to get in two more sets. That is an average of just over 95 pushups a day, including the rest days. Counting only the training days, I averaged slightly over 105 pushups a day.

Overall: - My shoulders feel fine. I was worried a repeatedly-injured shoulder would have come back to haunt me, but it did not.

- My pushups have gotten slightly easier. It's rare for reps 15-20 to be hard, although I am often still a little short of breath thanks to holding my breath during the reps.

- I may have a little more muscle definition.

- I benefited from a little more foam rolling of my pecs and shoulders and triceps, probably because of the extra volume.

- I dropped all pushing exercises from my weight training sessions during the week, depending on pushups and MMA striking practice to carry me through. Weight training was centered on legs, pulling, and abs.

- My main difficulty in training pushups in this fashion is getting time to get in a quick set. With work and travel to and from work, I can end up doing a few sets in the morning and then a few late at night with long breaks. I can't space sets out evenly. On days when I can, I tend to get in more sets and probably better quality sets. Ideally, you'd want to get in your sets spaced out through the day and be able to get a set as soon as you feel fully rested. But work and training demands make this secondary.

- I'm under no illusions that 20 reps of pushups is impressive, or that I'm getting in an impressive number of reps. Gama famously did 3000 a day, for example. The goal is simply to get in extra pushup practice, extra volume, and add in extra exercise to supplement my other training (1-2 weight training sessions and 3-4 MMA training sessions, usually 50/50 ground sparring and contact standup.)

I should have taken measurements before and after, but I did not think to until more than a week into the process and then it seemed like I'd passed the most useful check point.

I may extend this concept to another exercise, perhaps with a less ambitious goal than to average 100 a day on the workout days. I may try this by adding squats - aiming for 3-5 sets a day of 20 paused squats, just to see how it works out.
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