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, January 30, 2017

From Skinny to Muscled - post roundup & expansion

I've written a number of posts on going from skinny to muscled. I needed to round them all up for a client who is on that journey himself. So why not share out that round up with some additional advice?

There are three essential posts on this blog on the subject:

Three Easy Ways to Add Calories

Eating to Gain for Skinny Guys: Part I

Eating to Gain for Skinny Guys: Part II

Here is some more general advice that will help skinny guys.

Training Frequency and Intensity Errors

Don't do too little . . . or too much.

Too little means missing workouts. Skipping out on half of what you're supposed to do because you don't like that. Substituting things you like for things you hate. Rationalizing swaps ("The elliptical is legs, so I can do that instead of Bulgarian split-squats!) or skips ("I'm still tired from last workout.")

Too much is the opposite approach - adding in more and more reps, more and more exercises, more and more frequency. Doing "active recovery" that somehow involves 100 pushups and high-intensity cardio. Training every day, no matter what. Skipping sleep or meals to lift ("I need to lift and I can't eat right before I lift, so I won't eat!")

You want something in the optimal middle range for frequency and intensity. Ideally:

- You lift hard 3x a week. You can do as little as twice and as much as four times a week if you're going hard and have a program designed around it. But your goal is mass gain and strength gain over the maximum amount of time you can sustain it. Don't get hooked in by a high-frequency approach that's meant for short-term use (a squat-every-day program meant for a 3-4 week cycle, say) or for fat loss (heavy lifting combined with frequent low-intensity cardio and fast days, for example).

- You do your postural and mobility work frequently. Rehab/prehab exercises, pull-aparts, chin tucks, stretches, mobility drills - you almost certainly need these. This is the stuff you need to do often. Instead of sneaking in some extra biceps curls or pushups or a set on the leg press, sneak in hourly band pull-aparts or planks or glute activation drills. No client I've ever had broke down, stayed weak, or ruined their progress because they did too many deep-breathing exercises or scapular retraction drills on their off days. And all of that does add up to more strength and more muscle.

Eat a Baseline, not a Maximum

The most common error in skinny guys wanting to get muscled is not eating enough. That's hammered into the posts above. Eat, eat, eat. It's homework. It's a job. That food being outside of you instead of inside of you is the obstacle to success.

Track your food - for 3 days a week at least - with an app or a journal. Set a minimum and make sure you hit it. Try to exceed it with as much quality food as you can stand.

Especially if you use an app, expect to get nagged to stay under your calories. Consider the "attaboys" you get as black marks against you. When your app says, "Wow, you ate so little today! Congrats!" read it as "Wow, you've sabotaged all of the work you did! Why did you do that?"

One particular approach I used with success was to eat a minimum every day, and one day a week try to exceed that by as much as possible without getting sick. Packing in 4000 kcals a day? Try for 6000-8000+ one day (and I'd let the quality go a little on the extras).

Finally, be willing to adjust the number upward. If you set yourself at 2500 a day and gain, great. If you aren't putting on weight week to week, up to to 3500. Then 4500. Keep going until you gain. Yes, this is a lot of food. Yes, this is work.

People will say, "I wish I could eat all of that, it must be great!" or "That must be nice to be able to eat so much." They're wrong. It's work. It can be enjoyable work, but you have to eat even when you're not hungry and spend money on food even when money is tight. You have to shop even when you don't feel like it because you rip through a fridge worth of food in no time at all. Do it, and muscle awaits you.

Food Quality and Quantity

Think meats and fish and vegetables and fruits over sugar and sweets and things that in bags with serving sizes written on the labels. The advice I gave in those posts above is basically drink milk, eat a lot of meat (it could easily be fish), drink a quality protein powder - put good food in you.

If you have to choose between bad food and no food, eat the bad food. But endeavor to make it good food as much as possible. People have gotten bigger, stronger, and better on cruddy institutionalized food supplied by the lowest bidder - but I'd bet they didn't get healthier on it. Good food, in large quantities.

By all means live it up - now is the time to enjoy those treats, eat a piece of cake, have that breaded chicken in sauce from the buffet, etc. etc. You'll look back fondly on the time you could eat half of a pie as dessert because you needed it. But put that on top of the good foods you eat.


You'll grow and gain when you rest, not when you train. Your training and eating is the stimulus for your body to grow and add muscle, but sleep is when you'll realize those gains. Sleep as much as you can.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saturday Kickboxing

I've been teaching kickboxing basics on Saturdays at CR Fitness. Here is a picture from this Saturday:

Peter teaching kickboxing on Saturdays at 11 #crfitnesswyckoff #kickboxing

A photo posted by CR Fitness Wyckoff NJ (@crfitnesswyckoff) on

If you're interested, contact us about our drop-in rates and trial sessions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Joel Jamieson interviewing Buddy Morris

Joel Jamieson (8weeksout, author of Ultimate MMA Conditioning) has recently started a series call "The Smartest Coach in the Room." Today his guest is Buddy Morris of the Arizona Cardinals.

The Smartest Coach in the Room: Buddy Morris

It's a short (17 minute) but good conversation covering a few different areas of strength and conditioning.

Best takeaway? It's fluctuating overload, not progressive overload. It's not loading you more than before, it's loading you appropriately for today. Do what you can of what you need to progress.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Evaluate, Achieve, Load

An easy way to sum up the basic process I use with clients is EAL.

Evaluate Movement, then Achieve Good Movement, then Load Good Movement.

The basic cycle works like so:

Evaluate Movement

For any given movement that a client does, evaluate it. Is it good, functional, balance movement? Does it cause pain, reveal imbalances, or otherwise function poorly? An example is a bum knee - is it a bad knee or the symptom of a hip or ankle problem? Is the weight more on one side or the other? Does the person's gait or squatting or pushing or pulling reveal a series of compensation patterns that are eventually going to lead to the former two issues?

Evaluation can be a formal process, but it should be an ongoing process. Watch everything your clients do and ask, is that good movement? If not, what could be causing that? Test and evaluate.

Achieve Good Movement

Once you know what's holding the person back, you have to improve it. Break down movements they can't do into individual bits you can correct. If someone can't squat without rounding at the spine, use your evaluation process to find out why. Then use movements they can do, or ranges of motion they can achieve, to start to correct the issue. Weak rear deltoids causing problems with pulling and pressing? Use direct training on those rear deltoids to bring them up to speed. Knees collapse in because of poor strength in the quadriceps and hips? Band walks, slow static lunges, isometric holds, and squatting with bands might help improve this. And so on.

This stage also involves teaching. It's not always a weakness that drives poor movement - it's just not understanding what proper movement is. If you've been taught that your spine moves like a slinky in a pushup and that's okay, then you may have weakness but you've also been allowed to train in bad movement. Teaching the client occurs here - showing how to move in a way that's more efficient for life and/or sport.

Load Good Movement

You improve strength and musculature with load. But load works counter to good movement. It's a challenge to move well under a heavier load than you moved under previously. That's a normal and expected part of the process. You will hit your limit of your ability to do the movement correctly (aka technical failure) before you hit your limit of your strength to do the movement.

Load gets added once you get someone moving well. It will reveal limitations, and it may reveal poor patterns concealed by overcompensating - bad back position on a deadlift that's okay under low weights because your back can take it but not under heavy ones. Squats that look okay without weight but which collapse under your first significant load. And so on. You can't fix a bad movement by loading it. You fix a bad movement as above - by directly addressing the issues by training the movements and ROMs you can do and improving them, and by imparting proper movement and form. Then you load it.

I call this EAL cycle a cycle because it's iterative. You keep doing it. Evaluate, Achieve, Load, and Evaluate again. When movement goes from "good" to "bad" you apply the cycle again to find your next step.

This is not a very basically worded post, but this is an underlying foundation - a true basis - for how I train clients.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: RX Bar - Chocolate Sea Salt

Just a quick review of a product I tried and enjoyed.

RXBar Chocolate Sea Salt
$25.99 for 12

I picked these up on a whim, because I wanted a quick bar that I could grab as a meal replacement or post-workout. I also wanted something sweet - I'm not always in the mood for savory. While I prefer whole foods, schedule changes and accidents of timing sometimes mean I can't get healthy food that fits my preferred eating plan.

I'm impressed.

Ingredients: Dates, egg whites, almonds, cashews, cacao, sea salt, natural chocolate flavor.

Not bad - it's almost purely things I can and would eat.

Taste: The taste is excellent, as long as you like dark chocolate and dates. If either of those bother you - well, it has a pronounced date and dark chocolate taste. The sea salt comes clearly through a few moments later.

Price: For 200 kcals (9g fat, 22g carbohydrate, 12g protein) in a 52g bar, it's about $2.20. That's good for quality ingredients in a portable form.

Overall: All in all, they are excellent. Good taste, good portability, reasonable price, and quality ingredients. I'm going to keep buying these. Again, whole food sources would be my preference for eating, but that doesn't always happen . . . and this makes a great item to keep in my backpack, keep at work, or throw into my post-workout meal kit for when I'm pressed for time.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, and a year of healthy and effective training to you all.
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