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, August 31, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yesterday, a Japanese high school won the 2015 Little League World Series final, after training 10-2 after the first inning. They came back to win 18-11.

How does a team like that practice?

The Secret To Japan's Little League Success: 10-Hour Practices

"This is the Japanese way of doing sports, the same in karate as in baseball," he told me. "It emphasizes what we call
konjo, or grit and tenacity. Repetition is important. You've got to repeat movements until you master them."

That is every sports team in Japan. A short kendo practice, for old timers returned to the sport, was 90 minutes. The kendo club kids did 2 or so hours of kendo after school, ate dinner, and then came to the 90 minute class.

The seriously competitive teams - especially in high school baseball* - put in those 10 hour days on weekends and practice for hours each day. The team members will also practice on their own.

But it's the value of continued practice. On one end of the spectrum is the minimum - which is always worth doing, if that's all you have time for. On the other end, you get the point of diminishing returns. But even at the extreme ends, the extra practice adds up.

Fitness and sport ability are skills. It's a question of putting in enough quality time. Even if the 10-hour practices aren't efficient, they do drill home the value of putting in your time. You get through the good practices, the ones where you struggle, the ones where you just want to go home. You put in your time and keep working on your fundamental skills.

Practice really does matter.

* When you hear "high school baseball" think "college basketball in March." That's how popular it is in Japan.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Strength: General or Specific?

In general, when you learn about strength training in textbooks, they tell you that strength is general, not specific.

That is, it's not a skill-specific or application-specific. Get your skeletal muscles stronger, you improve at all strength-related activities. Do some rows, some pressing, and some deadlifting, and moving furniture, grappling strong foes, and opening stuck jars all get easier.

But sometimes the idea that strength is general is taken further than I think it should be.

1 Rep Max Rules All? I've seen it written that if you can get your 1-rep maximum up, you automatically increase the number of reps you can do with lower weights. After all, they represent a decreasing percentage of your maximum strength. Therefore, they cost less energy and effort, so you can do more. The argument usually says that the opposite is not true: raising your ability to lift a lighter weight for more reps won't help your 1-rep max.

Short version: up the weight you can lift once, it raises everything. The opposite? No.

But I'd argue that strength adaptations are specific. Training in the 1 to 3 rep maximum range will increase your maximum strength but not do much for your endurance. Your body will adapt to the demand - get stronger at heavy weights - and not the implied demand - get more endurance for lower weights. While those reps may be easier, you haven't placed much emphasis on increasing your strength-endurance so you won't do as many as someone who trains for maximum reps at that lower weight. In my experience, if you up your 1-rep max your 10-rep max weight will go up a little, but you won't necessarily see it go up a lot . . . and not as much as if you specifically train for 10-reps.

Same thing the other direction. My former MMA coach has said he'll do bench flys for 100 reps with 35 pound dumbbells, but would probably only get 40s for 10. Why? He's training specifically for strength-endurance, not maximal strength. It's a tradeoff. It wasn't about getting lifting heavier, but lifting a specific weight over and over.

There is a famous story of a squat competition between Tom Platz, a bodybuilder, and Dr. Fred Hatfield, a powerlifter. The story goes that Dr. Hatfield out-squatted Tom Platz for maximum weight, but at lower weights he couldn't keep up with Platz's number of reps. It's anecdotal but informative - you get better at what you train to do.

Can't I do both? Yes, you can. If you do both, you might compromise one or the other, but give up the maximum possible weight or maximum possible reps to get some overall general utility. This is why many programs include multiple rep ranges - the high rep accessory work of 5/3/1 (and it's "as many reps as possible" final sets and the mix of low rep heavy pressing or squatting with higher rep accessories in Westside for Skinny Bastards are two good examples.

It's generally true, though, that you won't get stronger at your 1-rep max lifting less than it if you train too much lighter than your 1-rep max.

In short, strength is general - but training for pure maximal strength won't get you same adaptations that training for strength-endurance will get you. And vice-versa.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Some site maintenance

I have been very lax about performing routine maintenance on this site. Today, I attempted to address that.

I did the following:

- replaced all broken links in my Book Reviews.

- cleaned up orphan post tags

- partial cleanup of underused tags

- fixed the layout so it's a little less cluttered

- edited the About the Author page to keep it up to date

- removed some underused links.

If other broken links show up, please tell me in the comments for that particular page and I'll fix it.

Thanks for your patience using the site.

Joel Jamieson on the Physical Preperation Podcast

Over on the Physical Preparation Podcast, Mike Robertson interviews Joel Jamieson from

Joel Jamieson indirectly got me in the best shape of my life, through John Impallomeni at DeFranco's Training in Wyckoff, NJ. Just before my first Grappler's Quest, John had me do HICT as part of a workout to help me peak. After that, we incorporated a lot of techniques Joel described in MMA Conditioning into my workouts. I was already pretty good when it came to endurance and recovery - after that, tiring me out was difficult and it took under a minute for me to be ready to go again. So, like Mike Robertson, I, too have something that I owe to Joel Jamieson.

Physical Preparation: Joel Jamieson

Highlights include:

- discussions of developing mental toughness, and what mental toughness means
- importance of cueing quality movement under fatigue and stress
- the importance of assessing movement at all times, not just in an initial or special movement screen.

One warning: Joel Jamieson is super-smart. So much so that when dumbs it down for everyone else it can still pretty advanced material. But you won't regret listening to this - it's solidly useful material with little fluff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Link Recommendation: Mobility WOD

Pretty much every client I have trained, and every person I have trained alongside, has had some kind of mobility issue to work out.

Mobility issue?

In other words, a problem with getting full, strong, complete range of motion around a joint either due to some issue at that joint or upstream of that joint. Or, some issue with overall body movement because of that.

Because of this, I've taken a special interest in things like Magnificent Mobility, Inside/Out, and this website:

Mobility WOD

As far as I can recall, my first introduction to Kelly Starrett was thanks to Joe DeFranco. I started reading what he wrote and watching his mobility videos and I haven't looked back.

The daily mobility drills are good stuff. And although a lot of the videos have a high conversation:instruction ratio, they are all useful if you have the problem being addressed.

I especially love the tagline and motto Kelly Starrett uses:

"All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."

Yes. The way we live out our lives is full of movement patterns our bodies respond poorly to. Knowing how to fix that, and being willing to fix that, is critical. Kelly Starrett's website and Youtube channel both provide a wealth of useful information for trainers, trainees, and normal humans everywhere.

His first daily WOD - a squat hold video - is a great place to start.

On top of being extremely knowledgeable, Kelly Starrett is also well spoken and entertaining. You might find yourself watching a few videos at a clip, and jumping into the mobility drills he suggests. Don't resist this - fixing mobility issues are well worth the time spent on them. The stretch in Episode 2 is well worth looking at and trying out.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Valid Excuses to Avoid the Prowler

I don't know that any of my clients, past or present, like the Prowler. Some like what it does for them, some tolerate it, some hate it. I love it - as a trainer and as a trainee. It's one of my favorite pieces of equipment.

For that reason, I use it a lot, but I also hear a lot of comments about it. There are a few reasons clients give not to do it, or to modify it, that I do find to be valid objections.

Low Handles Make Me Dizzy - Or light headed, or it's hard to breathe, or some variation on that theme. I've found that with some older clients, especially, going from horizontal to vertical can make people light headed. For clients with that issue, I will often forgo the low handled sled pushes. It's just not enough benefit vs. the risk of injury from fainting. In this case, lighter, slower, high handle pushes can fill the whole in the workout.

Toe Injuries - even pushing slowly, with a flat foot, a toe injury - especially a break - makes pushing the Prowler pretty hellish. It's not a good form of exercise if you're compensating to avoid one foot. You can sometimes swap in sled drags instead.

Wrist pain - Sometimes, due to wrist issues, you can't grasp the upright handles without pain. In this case, you can cup the top of the uprights and push. That limits the weight you can push, but a Prowler is pretty effective without a lot of weight.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Article Review: Bulk Up, Cut Up: Quads and Tri's

When I was rebabbing a knee injury, and while havign a client do more or less the same, I found this article extremely helpful:

Bulk Up, Cut Up: Quads and Tri's

It's actually aimed at bodybuilding, not injury rehabilitation or post-surgery strengthening.

But the cases in point had something that bodybuilders are concerned with - muscle isolation and symmetry. In order to deal with lopsided muscle development post-injury, it's handy to be able to isolate down to a specific lagging muscle on one or both legs.

The exercises in the article are great for that. One VMO is lagging the other? Covered with single-leg exercises for both. Your rectus femoris was injured and you need to bring it back up to speed without letting your body find a way to compensate via other muscles? Covered.

The aim is aesthetics, but the result can be rehabilitation. And as usual with a Christian Thibaudeau article, it is well illustrated, well written, and well explained. Good stuff if you need to get someone's quads back on line one muscle at a time, or even one leg at a time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Finding the Gym for You

I recently read this post about a person quitting a gym thanks to the harassment of the clients and staff. Or at least, clients with the non-action of the staff.

Why I Quit The Gym

First off, sexism and hassling at the gym aren't appropriate. They're not appropriate anywhere, but especially at a place where you just want to come and exercise. (The irony of the judgment-filled "Judgment Free Zone" of Planet Fitness has been explored elsewhere - a place that judges you for making judgments? No surprise it's not a friendly environment.)

But it's hard to argue it away. And you can't always solve the problem by pointing it out and standing up to it - sometimes you need to vote with your wallet and your feet and leave.

But it is also reality that even putting sexism and harassment aside, not every gym is an equal option for all people. They aren't all built for the same clientele.

Ultimately, everyone is limited in their choices of gyms. That is true no matter who or what you are - although, the range of places available aren't distributed evenly, fairly, or equitably.

You have to "find your tribe," as they say. You need to find the place where you fit in, physically and mentally - where you get the training you need and the respect you are due.

I've found places like that, despite being so introverted when it comes to workouts that I prefer an empty room or one so full no one bothers me.

There may be costs to find a place.

Money - It's hard to find a perfectly place on $10/month. Low-cost big box gyms have their place, but also their downsides. That could be the clients, the trainers or staff, the lack of equipment you need. You may need to pay more for a good place. The best place I ever lifted was DeFranco's Training when it was in NJ. Costly, yes, but the atmosphere was both intimidating and welcoming if you worked hard. Another good place was a YMCA - also costly, but members were treated as members, not as customers, and the gear was well cared for and the staff was ready to help with problems. There was a minimum of inter-client issues, because the staff was always present and always involved. I work at a place where you can't just drop in and train, and that is not especially cheap, but you get care, respect, and attention.

Time - It can take time to find a place. I've personally found that I know by the end of the first session at a gym if I'm a fit or not, for any type of gym - a workout gym or a martial arts gym. Even if there were obstacles, I knew immediately if I was going to overcome them or leave. That's even despite going to other places after to check them out too, which generally confirms the opinion I had.

But in the interim you have to put time in checking places out. Attend classes, go for training sessions, do a drop in - there is legwork involved, especially if there is a contract involved.

Time - Oh, you mean time to get there? Yes, sometimes the place you need isn't close. I've driven more than 40 minutes one way to get to a good gym, and I'd drive farther if I had to. That's not a brag (and in NJ, it's not really that hard to rack up a 40 minute commute), just a fact. It can be inconvenient in terms of time and work to get to a good place. It's a cost you need to factor in with a choice. For a good place, the commute will seem short enough. Even 5 minutes walk is too far for a gym environment like the one described in the article above.

But what if you can't find a gym? Or one you can afford, or make the time for?

There are some options:

Home Gym. This can be tough with people living in an urban environment or with small space. But consider picking up a few small pieces of equipment you know you'll use (no aspirational purchases - buy things you can't live without at the actual gym) and use them.

Consider an equipment-minimal workout, such as Simplefit or the swing-only routine in this book.

My own personal home gym is small - as a trainer at a small gym, I have access to the facility when I want to train (only around client times, of course, so it's not total access.) But I have a few things I know I will use all the time, and a couple things I use occasionally but can't do without when I need them. I have an adjustable dumbbell, a kettlebell, some warmup gear, a couple of grippers, and a yoga mat in case I need to workout indoors so I can spare the rug.

Again, make sure you'll use what you have. Don't invest in anything that you won't immediately gravitate to using. But a home gym is an option.

Outdoors. You can train outside. Running, walking, biking. Assorted outdoor exercises. Find a sledding hill nearby, cleat up and run up it and walk back down.

This is a tough option in cold winter climates, but it is an option. it's also a tough option in unsafe areas. Don't trade up to jogging in a crime-filled neighborhood.

Sports. Don't overlook trading your "workout" for a game. Joining a martial arts class, a sports league (especially if it's a group of people you'd mesh well with), or just a sport-centered training facility (ones catering to basketball, soccer, and skating exist.) Get the joy of activity combined with the competitive nature of sports.

None of these are a catch-all solution, but they can help you find a place where you feel accepted, welcomed,and safe - yet challenged and able to express yourself physically. If the cheap and close place isn't doing it for you because of its nature or its clients, there are other options. Some of what I wrote above can help you find them. Put in the time and the money, and it will be worth it when you find your tribe.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Nunns Performance Training Pullup Progression

Over on Jason Nunn's blog, there is an excellent pullup progression setup.

Unlike a lot of others, it addresses a few issues:

Weight. Or, more precisely, body fat. It's hard to expect a pullup when you are hauling a lot of (effectively dead) weight up to the bar. Lean mass - muscle, bone, tendons, etc. - will get you moving, body fat will just make it harder to pull.

Non-Pullup Exercises. This doesn't just focus on pullups, pullups, and more pullups. Other pulling/rowing variations are included to get strength in all directions, which can help you get not only your chin up to and over the bar but in all other pulling related exercises. Strength training of this kind is synergistic, and a pullup might be the goal but strength off the bar is even more valuable.

The progression is here:

So you want to do a pullup? Here’s how.

If you're struggling to get a pullup, or struggling to get more than one or two, take a look.
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