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, October 30, 2015

Sugar research study article

I read this over on Tech Times:

It's a study led by Dr. Robert Lustig. He's pushed lots of research into, and attention onto, the effects of sugar on the human body.

In my experience, getting clients to cut sugar - especially the mindless, relentless consumption of sugar on a daily basis - unlocks a lot of health, body composition, and performance improvements.

It doesn't even take getting rid of it - only getting the excess down, and being mindful of the eating triggers associated with sugary food.

It's worth considering. Even if you're a "calorie is just a calorie" or "sugar isn't the problem" kind of skeptic, you have to wonder, why do I need added sugar in so many foods? Breads, pasta sauces, peanut butter, oatmeal, etc. etc. - if that added sugar isn't definitely, provably doing something positive for you, avoid it. There is too much evidence mounting that it might be doing something negative to you. Even just from a "calorie is just a calorie" standpoint, extra sugar is extra calories . . .

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

One Approach Beats Two Approaches

One of my friends, training partners, and occasional training clients and I were talking last night.

One thing that came up was mixing two approaches.

It really applies widely to diet and fitness.

I can't count how many times I've been told someone is doing Program X plus Program Y.

"I'm do P90X! And Couch to 5k!"

"I'm doing Starting Strength, plus my marathon prep."

"I'm doing 5/3/1, with Crossfit on my off days."

"I'm training with you twice a week, and I'll do two or three randomly chosen classes a week at my local fitness club!"

And back to diet:

"I'm cutting out meat and I'm cutting out gluten and starchy carbs."

"I'm counting calories and I'm trying to eat until 80% full."

Or a combo:

"I'm doing a mass gain program and cutting my diet to lose weight."

In a lot of cases, the goals don't overlap. In others, they do (or at least don't conflict.) Some might work fantastically together . . . if you were already doing one, and started to add on the other to your existing routine little by little.

The temptation to double is is great - you want to double your progress! Why do one diet and lose a few pounds of fat when you can do two and lose twice as many? Why not add the core elements of one program to another program with competing core elements and let them fight it out while you reap the benefits?

You get two big problems.

Overload - You're trying to do two things before you've mastered one. If you could more easily pick up habits two at a time than one at a time, people would adapt to new things in pairs all the time. It's twice as much information to process. It's twice as much calculation to do. It's at least twice as many chances to have more things to do than time to do them.

Conflicting Demands - Generally each eating approach or training approach assumes that is the only approach you are using. Or at least, assumes you are meshing it with something that doesn't interfere with your main program. Programs might demand you go heavy on Tuesday and light on Wednesday, yet your other program has you ramping up intensity regularly in weekly waves. Now you're going hard on Tuesday and hard on Wednesday and hard again on the days after. Something is going to give out, and it's either your compliance or your body.

If you really want to do both programs, or both diets, consider doing them sequentially. Do one for a while (a cycle, two months, six months, whatever) and see how the results are. Go do the other and compare. Doubling up doesn't multiply your progress, it probably halves it. You are better off committing 100% to a program that is less than all of what you want than committing 50/50 to two programs that are everything you want.

Or sit down, by yourself or with a trainer, and find a way to make them play well together. Don't be surprised if two approaches developed in isolation from each other don't work well together. You can't always make them play well together.

Just keep this guideline in mind: doing two approaches for one solution is halving your progress.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Precision Nutrition fitness pros directory listing is up

It took a few submissions - not sure why - but I finally got my name to appear in the Precision Nutrition Fitness Pros Directory:

Fitness Pros Directory

You can search by country and state, or just do a Find by name (type Dell'Orto and I'll come right up.)

The PN course is quite strenuous - a college-level textbook, lots of coursework to do (on your own), videos and audio to go through, and you have to re-test every two years. I have full confidence is anyone else that has that cert. So if you want a local fitness pro who can advise you on nutrition, check that listing!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Drinking My Veggies

I like to make sure I get a minimum number of vegetables in every day.

One way I do this is to drink a shake made of fruit and veggies.

Here is perhaps the ultimate breakfast shake:

I don't go nearly this far, but I do drink a blender bomb every morning containing:

- 1/2 banana
- 1-2 cups of frozen kale
- 1-2 cups of frozen spinach
- mint leaves
- kelp powder
- a variety of spices (cinnamon, tumeric, parsley, mustard seeds, and more)
- a scoop of vegan protein powder
- a scoop of creatine
- ginger (if I'm being masochistic, because then it tastes only like ginger)
- a scoop of a greens powder (usually Amazing Grass Chocolate Greens powder or Amazing Trio)
- and a few other ingredients to fill it out (for example, a half-cup of pumpkin puree in the Fall)

As part of my breakfast, I'm getting around 3-4 cups of veggies (never less, sometimes more) and half a banana, plus a lot of micronutrient-loaded powdered veggies, plus a lot of equally micronutrient loaded spices. I occasionally swap up the veggies - collard greens and turnip greens have made appearances. So have carrot tops and bok choy. I don't recommend celery, though, because the taste is very strong and overwhelms everything. You end up drinking cold celery soup, basically.

The protein is just so I can get to the ratio of carbs/protein/fats I want for a meal, and it helps keep me full and energetic all morning.

Really, though, it's about the fruit and veggies. I get enough in to start the day, it's easy, and it's tasty enough. I really recommend getting a good blender and trying some pureed homemade vegetable and fruit blender bomb like Dr. Patrick's or mine. Or one of your own devising. It's probably healthier to sit and chew and eat your veggies, but getting a lot in this way is easy. And once you get into the habit of doing it, making the drink and then having it becomes a simple routine. Anything that makes it easier to consume more veggies without making them less healthy is a win in my book.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What is going on with this blog?

This blog has been undergoing some changes.

When I first started this blog, it was just a way for me to write what I was learning about strength and conditioning. I realized that:

- many questions in this field are "frequently asked questions." Maybe "constantly asked questions" is more accurate.


- if I could explain what I knew to other people, it meant I really understood it. If I couldn't, I needed to hit the books/the gym/ask questions/etc.

So I created Strength-Basics back in 2009 and posted daily for a long time. Then, I dropped to 5 times a week as I got busier. Eventually, it kind of wound down to "occasionally updated."

The problem was time. Time spent training clients, working on my hobbies and other employment (I also teach, do consulting occasional, and write, write, write), a sudden boost in work hours while doing a contract job - it all ate into my blogging time.

To revive it, I decided not to try to make it an impersonal source of training information. I decided I want to use it to post more about my own training, my own experiences, and my own insights into training as someone who trains people and who trains himself.

That's what you'll see going forward. A mix of what's come before - training term definitions, book and equipment reviews, and exercise technique. Motivational postings. Links and reviews to articles I find especially worth checking out.

But you'll also find more of my own training - what I do on my own, and what I do with my trainer (yes, trainers hire other trainers - everyone can benefit from a dispassionate expert eye!)

I'll also try to answer questions I get by email, or on Google+, and elsewhere.

I am a professional personal trainer, and I train clients at CR Fitness in Wyckoff NJ. But this blog is my personal blog.

I'm happy to pass on whatever information I know. I want to help you understand more about fitness and health,. and I want to share what I know as widely as possible. But this blog is not meant as professional advice from a trainer to clients. It's information for you to use or not use, act on or discard, all at your own risk. Check with a doctor. Hire a certified and knowledgeable trainer (even hire me, if you like.) Consult with a physical therapist. Make sure what you learn from here is safe and effective for you, and take responsibility for trying it.

And finally, verify what you read and learn here. Don't take my word for anything except for facts about how I train or what my opinion is. Check the science, check the sources. Read my reviews and workouts and look into other people's take on the same thing. Learn with me. Strength, health, and fitness is a journey - let's make it together.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Scale Weight is Misleading.

I'm not a big fan of scale weight goals. When it comes to body composition changes, it's not my go-to metric.


Simply put, weight is misleading.

Scale weight is your total physical weight at the moment you step on the scale. Muscle, bone, tendons, body fat, clothes (if you're weighing yourself clothed), water, food, waste products, etc. Everything. It's all there.

Checking your scale weight is like adding together all of your monetary assets and your debts into one number. Have a $200,000 house and $40,000 in the bank, and owe nothing? Great! $240,000. Have a $100,000 house and $140,000 in debt? Great, also $240,000!

Scale weight is exactly like that.

Take two people:

Mr. Muscle Head weighs 200 pounds and is 10% body fat. That's 180 pounds of lean mass and 20 pounds of fat.

Mr. Muffin Top weighs 200 pounds and is 35% body fat. That's 130 pounds of lean mass and 70 pounds of fat.

The scale, for both, reads 200.

It's deceptive. It's a nice number to know ("What is the sum total of my assets and liabilities?") and it can be important for practical reasons.* But it's not the end-all be-all of anything. It's one metric.

I prefer that people either track weight and other metrics - body fat, waist measurement, and hip measurement at a minimum - or only track those others. Tracking just weight? It just tells you the total, not if the proportions are moving towards the good or the bad. If your weight went up but your waist measurement went down, hip measurement stay the same, and body fat went down, would this be good or bad?

Scale weight as a measure of progress says, "Good!"

Reason says, "Bad!"

I'll go with reason here.

Take away point? Don't only track scale weight. It's helpful but it's misleading. Confirm what it's telling you with other measurements.

* I competed in two related weight-class sports (amateur MMA, and submission grappling.) How much I weighed in skimpy underwear for a few seconds one morning or afternoon was the focus of months of exercise and eating.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bad Exercise, Bad Trainee, or Bad Combination?

There is truth, or perhaps just a truism, in the training field:

There are no bad exercises, there are just exercises that are bad for some people.

The idea is simple - no exercise is bad. No trainee is bad. But some combinations are bad.

For example, an overhead press. If you have proper shoulder mobility (your shoulder moves correctly), it's a fine exercise. If you have proper shoulder stability, it's a fine exercise. If you lack one of those, it's going to be a potential problem. If you lack both, putting a bar overhead is going to be a serious problem. The more weight on the bar or the faster you move it, the more serious the problem.

Another example is a sled push. It's a simple exercise, and almost everyone can get into position for it and do it well. But some people get dizzy in a head-down position, or even just when tilting the chest and keeping the head up. For those people, pushing a sled - especially with low handles - can be risky.

Do these make overhead presses or sled pushing bad?


Does this mean those exercises are contraindicated for some people?


This is where a good coach, good training partner, or good sense of self-awareness really show their worth. (Video will help all three!)

Your own history can change what's a useful exercise. Good hips, good knees, and no history of back pain? Heavy deadlifts are going to do you some good. Hip problems or some fused vertebrae in your lower back that are never 100%? Spinal loading isn't a good idea, and you can't risk flexing under a load, so heavy deadlifts aren't, either.

I used to be able to press behind the neck with no problems - in fact, it always felt good. Several arm dislocations later, though, and my shoulder lost the stability to do it. But I have clients who went from "can't stand up without pain" to "can squat to a low box under load without pain." Injury or adaptation can change the risk:reward of an exercise. They can also change your ability to do it or not. Could I regain the shoulder stability to press that way again, or my clients lose the ability to squat low? Yes. Ability to move isn't fixed, and you have to work to retain it or improve it.

Are there really no bad exercises?

Sort of.

There are exercises that are mostly risk, with little reward. Juggling kettlebells is very cool, but it's more of a demonstration of strength than a low-risk way to build strength. You probably want to save that one for the strong and agile, rather than use it to get there.

Some exercises are just poor compared to other options. Triceps kickbacks are an okay exercise, but there are many other potentially better options.

Some seem to be risky for almost everyone - barbell upright rows put the shoulder in a tough spot for almost everyone. Do that repeatedly under load and you're potentially getting injury instead of improvement.

Some exercises are great for one thing, but not for others. For example, squatting on a Bosu ball or on a block of foam is not a great exercise for strength. You are limited by the instability of the platform, and therefore you can't lift as much weight. You are limited by your ability to compensate for the unstable surface. That's great if your goal is to build up that compensation. It's not great if your goal is maximal strength, endurance, power, or technical skill.

Short version: Some exercises will be bad for you. And some exercises are bad for your goals.

You want to choose the lowest risk : highest reward exercises for your body and your goal. With those things in mind, yes, some exercises are "bad." Not for everyone, but for you. Or just bad for your goals.

Monday, October 19, 2015

"What is that supposed to do?"

I was talking diet the other day with a friend of mine. We're both on a modified eating plan at the moment. He's going low carb, something I've successfully done in the past when I needed to cut weight.

I told him my approach - more carbs than usual, lower fat than usual, and not as much protein as I usually pack away. The goal being to maintain weight but lower my body fat and my waist measurement. Lose fat, but maintain performance.

He asked me a great question.

"What is that supposed to do?"

On the surface, that might not seem like a brilliant question. But it is.


Because to answer that with a real answer requires that I have a real answer.

My answer is pretty simple. There are lots of indications that I will perform better on higher carbs. And that I should be able to tolerate higher carbs better. So I constructed an eating plan based on my nutritional knowledge that worked off of that.

But what if my answer was, "fat makes you fat." Or "I read it in a magazine"? Or "I heard that works well"? Or even "I want to lose some weight"? Or worse, "I don't know"?

Not so good.

The first is a controlled experiment. Based on solid information about how much I need to eat, and what parameters I want to play with, I'm on a good track. Upping my carbs and getting enough (but not too much) protein.

The second group of questions are just cliches, backed by nothing. It's guessing and hoping.

That's what makes that such a great question - either I had a considered answer, or I didn't. Either I have a reason based on knowledge, or I am just hoping to randomly hit on the change I needed to reach my goal.

It's not a huge change - we're talking 50/25/25 carbs/fats/protein instead of 40/30/30 or 33/33/34. It's not more food or a dramatic cut in food, either. It does involve more tracking, so I'm more consistent with my intake each day. In the end, I can see if it works as expected. I will be able to compare it to other eating plans I've used in the past (ultra-low carb, low-carb, high-carb, balanced, etc.)

If I couldn't answer that question, it meant I could do none of that. And if I simply didn't know, I was guessing.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Is there an optimal training weight for technique?

First off, let me just say that exercises are not moving weights or resistances. They are movements you do to improve specific physical qualities. You add resistance to them to force your body to adapt to doing that movement under a load. Exercise is about movement quality, not lifting weights.

That out of the way:

Is there an optimal training weight for technique?

I say that yes, there is.

In my experience there is a sweet spot in training. Just enough resistance to force you to do the exercise correctly, but not so much resistance that you can't, and enough to get a training effect so you improve.

That's a mouthful right there.

Let's look at them one by one.

Just enough resistance.

If the resistance is too low, it doesn't matter if you perform the exercise correctly or not. You will still be able to execute the movement. For example, pick up a tennis ball off the floor - does it matter if you do a one-legged "golfer pick-up" or squat down and get it or round your back and lift? No. Any technique will do. You don't need to brace your core, you don't need to be aware of your breathing, you don't need to be sure you are gripping it correctly.

All of those will help, but they aren't necessary, which means you have to be 100% focused to make them happen. Your body conserves resources and won't expend them when they aren't needed.

Too much resistance.

If the resistance is too much, you can't perform the lift correctly. One of two things will happen.

Either it will just fail - the bar won't come off of the floor, you won't reach the top of the box you are jumping on (ouch!), you won't move the pedal on the spin bike.

Or it will succeed only by modifying the technique to get it do - you round over and try to yank the bar up to get it moving, or you do a one-legged hop to get on the box, or you'll stand up and lean all of your weight into that one pedal. Either way, you are no longer performing the exercise.

You are either failing to perform anything or performing some new, bastardized version of the exercise.

However, there is a sweet spot between them.

The sweet spot.

In the sweet spot, you have two things going for you.

First, there is enough resistance that you are challenged to do it correctly. With effort and attention, you can perform the exercise in good form.

Second, you have enough resistance that your body must adapt to the stimulus and get better at the movement under load.

You are thus practicing the movement and getting enough resistance to improve the qualities you are after.

The "effort and attention" bit is worth repeating. If you can get perfect technique without a lot of effort, in my experience it's not an optimal load. You should have to work to get perfect technique. It should take coaching (from yourself or others). It should take attention. It should take focus. It should demand all the little things you want in a perfect rep - good breathing, psychological drive, shutting out of distractions, and tightness. Again, no so little that you can let these slide, but not so much that they aren't sufficient to get the job done.

Ideally, the resistance will be such that you are going a training effect (meaning, you are getting better/stronger/faster/more endurance/more mobile/whatever) and that you will improve rep after rep.

This means that set 1 isn't going to look as nice as set 2. Set 3 should look nicer than set 2. Or even just reps within the set. This is regardless of the number of reps - 3 singles, 5 doubles, 3 sets of 10, or 1 set of 100. The last rep of the last set (or even each set) might not look as beautiful as the rep before it. But overall, you are getting better each time. You don't want a long series of grinding reps, sloppy execution, and loose technique. You don't want your technique to get worse over time. If it does, the resistance is too heavy, or the time too long, or your endurance just isn't up to the volume.

Heavy enough to force adaptation, light enough to improve technique continuously. Strength training is practicing movements under load. If it's too light, raise it. If it's too heavy, lower it. It's not about doing the maximum you can, it's about doing the optimal amount. Your body will improve the most under an optimal load. Your technique will improve the most under an optimal load.

Generally I find that for some clients, the optimal load is a bit heavier than they think but not as much as they'd like. For clients training on their own, I tell them to err on the side of lighter reps but to concentrate on getting the most they can out of the lighter weights. But it takes some feel - you need to know what good reps feel like. Good coaching, a good training partner, or just taking video you can review right after the lift will help immensely.

Find that optimal resistance, work on your technique, and the results will come in over time.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Inverted Training: Rolling First, Technique Later II

A little over two weeks ago, I posted about how I like to do my physically exhausting MMA rolling first, and then work technique, when possible.

It's not a unique idea to me, by any means. But I was especially happy when I was listening to a back episode of the Barbell Shrugged podcast featuring Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell.

He mentions training a professional MMA fighter, and having him do exhausting work, then mat work. Why? So he has to practice his skilled work under a state of fatigue.

I felt I was on the right track, but it's something else when Louie Simmons uses the same approach I hit on from just practice experience.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What is the Simplest Way For You To Progress?

There is a strong temptation in fitness to overcomplicate things.

Lack strength? Get on a program of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and pullups - and then mix up the sets and reps, incorporate back-off sets, do negatives, throw in chains, add variable rest, and top it all off with a wide variety of exercises changed on a weekly basis.

Lack of endurance? Get on a simple progressive walking program - and then mix in sprints, sled drags, high-rep sets of leg exercises, and more.

Posture issues? Grab some simple daily stretches and strengthening exercises for those issues - then add in every possible variation, add yoga, add breathing, add hanging from an inversion bar, and so on.

That's not uncommon. In fact, it's more common than the opposite - a simple program followed until the gains stop showing up.

Instead of asking yourself, "What are all the possible things I can be doing to get better?" ask yourself this instead:

"What is the simplest, least complicated way I can get better?"

Then do that. Don't change it until it stops working, even if you find something new.

What is the simplest thing?

Strength? Find a beginning strength program, or an intermediate one if you are beyond beginner, and work on that.

Endurance? Same thing. Pick the kind of endurance you want, and work on that.

Posture? Again, find something to work on and work on it.

If you do find something new and interesting, great! File it for when the program you are on peters out. Let it run its course before you move on.

One thing about the body is that it adapts to what you've put it up to. So just use the simplest possible stimulus to make progress. Don't get cute until cute is the only thing that will work. And don't quit on the simplest solution until that stops working.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dan John's 10 Things Every Lifter Should Be Able to Do - how do I measure up?

Like a lot of folks, I like seeing how I measure up.

I also really like Dan John. He's got a knack for simplifying the complex without dumbing it down.

He recently wrote an article on "10 Things Every Lifter Should Be Able to Do

I'll take a look.

1 – Bench Your Bodyweight

This I was eventually able to do, with a lot of help from John Impallomeni at DeFranco's Training in Wyckoff, NJ. I managed it despite long arms, an iffy shoulder, and not even really worrying about my bench press in particular, getting 205 for one at a bodyweight of about 190-195 at the time. I was very proud of that, but I probably won or lost 0 matches based on getting stronger in this.

I was never great at benching weight-wise, but I learned to be good at it technically.

I always had a history of shoulder issues, thanks to some very aggressive arm bars and a tendency to bounce out of the bottom of pull-ups. This caught up with me, so I can't bench bodyweight right now without risking injury. I'm on the way back, and I expect to meet or exceed this one again.

2 – Deadlift Double Your Bodyweight

I never got there. I pulled 335 on a straight bar for one, 320 on a trap bar for one, also at around 190-195.

This one I was always disappointed in. Finding out just how messed up my neck/shoulder area is explains a lot, though - I could generally break the bar off the floor and get it up smoothly, or couldn't move it at all. It wasn't grip - I pulled 335 double overhand, no problem. What finally set off my bad shoulder wasn't all the pressing and pull ups I did, but pulling a moderate deadlift load weekly for a few weeks and it finally gave up on me.

3 – Hold a Two-Minute Plank

Not a problem. It's a good test.

4 – Sleep With Only One Pillow

This tells me Dan John sleeps on his back. I used to sleep with one, on my side. A chiropractor insisted I add a second pillow, and miraculously my one-sided neck tightness dramatically decreased, as did some lingering issues I had for almost 20 years.

So this seems like an odd standard. Yes, one pillow for a back sleeper. Or one for a side-sleeper if you get one of those special thicker side-sleeper pillows at IKEA.

5 – Sit on Floor Without Using Hands, Knees, or Shins

No problem. Getting back up is tricky sometimes, especially if my hamstrings or glutes were worked hard the day before.

6 – Balance on One Foot for 10 Seconds

This one surprised me. 10 seconds? The standard I'm used to is 60 seconds, knee held up high. Advanced is eyes closed. 10 seconds? Not meaning to brag, but I had to do an exercise today where I stood on one foot for over a minute while oscillating a weight.

It seems like a low standard. If you can't do 10 seconds, it's something to work up to quickly - just take your shoes off and practice. Aim for 30 seconds per side to start.

7 – Hang for 30 Seconds, Pull-Up

No problem. I know it's a compensation pattern for me to manage this, but I can manage it. It's a great standard. The routine he plugged in to the standard is interesting, too.

8 – Long Jump Your Height

I used to be able to do this, I'm not sure if I still could. I'll have to get back to everyone on this after my trainer tells me to try it (yes, I'm a trainer but I have a trainer - experts know expertise and value it.)

9 – 30-Second Bodyweight Squat and Hold

No problem. I'm used to sitting in a squat, and "squat and hold" is a standard I've held myself to for years.

10 – Farmers Walk Your Bodyweight

Depends on the distance, but sure - 190? No problem.

I felt like reading this list that the audience is really T-Nation's, not a general one. Male, 20s and 30s, loves training. Many of those standards - especially 3, 5, and 6 - are good standards for everyone.

I have to say, though, all of these standards-type articles are just a way to detect holes in your own abilities. The actual standards don't matter. Use them as fun, as information, and to ask you about things you may or may not be able to do. Don't worry if someone else's standards don't match yours - just use them as inspiration to try new things and get you motivated to improve your skills and strength without compromising your health. That's, ultimately, what it's all about.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Forward Head Posture

One issue I'm dealing with personally is forward head posture.

This is when you neck cranes forward, putting your head above your chest or out in front of it instead of seated directly over your shoulders like it should be. There are a myriad of negative effects from this.

I've recently begun a serious attempt to address it. Along with the professional help I'm getting from a Physical Therapist, I've found these two videos extremely useful. In fact, I first picked up the stretches I'm doing for this condition in these videos, and then ran them past my PT who approved them all.

The first video is Christie Estadt of Body Blueprint.

The video is excellent and starts with a demonstration of forward head posture assessment.

If there is one thing that makes this video hard for me is that there is a guy in the background setting up for, and then doing, jump squats. That's a lot of movement not to glance at, and the trainer in me wants to watch every rep to ensure he is jumping and landing correctly. If you can tune that guy out (hard, now, I know, since I just told you TO LOOK AT HIM!) and concentrate on Christie's explanations, you can get some benefit from this.

The second video is from Elliot Hulse, of Strength Camp Online.

Elliot is very knowledgeable and his information is on point and well explained. He does love the F-word, though, so for those with sensitive ears, kids in the room, or checking this video out at work, be aware of that going in.

If you're struggling with this and you're tired of people telling you to do 3 sets of 10 chin tucks a day and pretending that's enough volume to undo 24 hours a day of neck posture issues, or saying "Just sit up straight," those might help.

And why doesn't "just sit up straight" work? Because you end up moving dysfunction to somewhere else (a back arch, shrugged shoulders, a bent upper back, just a lean back) to get the head into the "right" position. You aren't solving the problem, just taping something over it so you can't see it. It will come back as soon as you relax.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Workout vs. Training vs. Practice

Do you refer to what you do in the gym as "working out," as "training," and "as practice," in your mind or when you speak about it?

I think it really matters how you think about it.

Here is how I see them.

The goal of Working Out is what? The goal of working out is getting tired. Getting drain. Working hard.

If you think of your time in the gym as "working out" you predispose yourself to aiming to get tired. Your main goal is, make sure I work hard. If form and technique break down a little bit, or a lot, but you get tired and put in serious effort, you have achieved the goal of "working out."

The goal of Training is to improve yourself at a task or to reach a goal. You will accept some mild form breakdown if it means that you get in a little more training for your eventual activity or to get you closer to your goal. Work, and feeling like you worked, is secondary to getting things done that will improve you within a structured approach to your goal. If you check off the boxes you have planned for the day, you will move on and it doesn't matter much how hard or not-hard it seemed.

The goal of Practice is to improve your skill. You don't keep practicing until you are tired. You keep practicing until you aren't adding any value to your skill any longer. Once your reps stop getting better, you are done. Once you aren't able to keep focused on the task at hand and get better, you stop. You are practicing, and practice makes permanent, so you stop once things get bad. Also, you think about each and every rep not as something to get done but something to get you better.

Short version? You work out to get exercise, you train to achieve a goal, you practice to learn a skill.

Now I know these terms can be used differently in other contexts. All too often sports practice is working out by a different name - think repeats and gassers and laps and squat-thrusts, here. But as many much greater coaches than I am have said, anyone can get you tired, but a good coach can get you better. If you don't walk out of practice either better or primed to be better next time, you are pushing too hard or too much or working harder not smarter.

And it's important to realize that strength is a skill. You can practice being stronger. It's not about annihilating your muscles until they respond and get stronger, but giving them practice lifting heavier weights. They'll respond and so will you.

If you end the gym thinking, "I need to practice my lifts, and practice being healthier and fitter" I think you will have better results. You will also categorically have different results - each time is a way to improve, not work.

This is a mindset I have to cultivate in myself - it doesn't come naturally. I'm very good at pushing hard. But I've achieved my best gains when I think of my sessions in the gym as practice. I'm practicing skills. I'm practicing being strong. I'm practicing being mobile. I'm practicing being a healthy, functional human being.

That practice beats working out. I think you might find the same.
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