Sunday, April 6, 2014

How I Train (Lately...)

On Tuesday evening after work, I put in this squat session:
Squat: bar x 10, 135lbs x 5
Squat (5:00): 185lbs x 35, 3

The numbers are not impressive, but I was working with a bad cold, and I was happy that it did not leave me physically wrecked at all. My lower back and hips had been problematic in 2013 - to the point of doing almost no squatting at all to speak of. In that context, I was very satisfied. If I try it again, I'll hope to get at least 40-50 reps in a single set.

In the month preceding this, I did sets of 20 with 135lbs in a few sessions, and a couple workouts where I would do as many quality reps as I could in one minute with 135. About 9 days out, I did the "Bring Sally Up" workout. I found it to be a lot of fun!

These days, for the first time in a long while, I look at each squat session as play. There are goals and focus, but I don't get greedy and I take each workout as it comes. If I feel good, I do more. If I feel crummy, I shut it down early. Currently, I'm enjoying riding the wave and seeing where it takes me. The plan is to push the intensity up a bit in the coming weeks, and when that starts to feel stale, switch to higher rep work with squat variants.

Friday, March 21, 2014

DVD Review - Prehab/Rehab 101: The Groundwork Progressions

The Functional Movement Screen has certainly revolutionized the landscape of S&C over the past decade, but it has left some coaches confused. Where do I start? What can I have my athletes do today? Do I need to write 20 different training menus to cover all of my students' needs? The answers are simpler than you might think, and Dr. Cheng's newest work provides an clear access route to improved mobility and stability that most coaches would miss - groundwork progressions.

Let me be perfectly honest, I loathe corrective work. Like most gym-rats at heart, I like to lift weights and anything that can be described as "twisty", "bendy", "unilateral", "contralateral", "prehab", or "rehab" has a way of very quickly falling out of my exercise rotation. I can put on a happy face when I'm coached through it, but it's just NOT what I want to do in the gym.

That said, I know I need to do it. Dr. Mark Cheng's DVD made it all seem laughably easy to incorporate into my existing "restorative work" (which usually consists of lying around on the floor and stretching). The deceptively simple patterns that I did while watching silly television very quickly had my hips and shoulders (and by extension, neck and knees) feeling better.

If you are a coach or trainer that works with populations that have hip and shoulder issues (which is most of us), then this DVD is a must-see. It is also easily applicable for the self-coach struggling to find the right mix of correctives in their training.

Give some the ideas in the clips below a try in your own training and I think you'll see how effective a small dose of good movement medicine can be.

Prehab/Rehab 101: The Groundwork Progressions

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Play and The Beginner's Mind

I have a wonderful memory. I am on the Serengeti Plain, watching a pride of lions. They are mostly belly up, sleeping and yawning after a big feed. Suddenly, two adolescent lionesses who have been wrestling and rolling around with each other begin a wild ballet. At first, it looks like a fight, but then I see that it is a full-blown, rough-and-tumble dance, choreographed intrinsically by play. It is rhythmic, gorgeous, dominated by curvilinear movements and rat-a-tat slaps. There are no signs of aggression. The cats make "soft" eye contact, their hair is smooth instead of bristling, their claws are retracted and their fangs covered. They make sounds - low shrieks of joy - that are particular to this, and only this, behavior. I almost need a slow-mo camera to catch the intricacy of the movement. And I feel something deep inside me. A visceral thrill, something pure and primal. My linear thoughts get overridden by the epiphany of this moment. It seems as if a spirit of divinity has infused these magnificent cats. A spirit of joyousness in physical form. Something more than reflex, something intrinsically creative. I am reminded of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, when the title character is at the limits of his endurance in his struggle with a giant marlin. All of Santiago's dreams of storms, fish, women, and fights fall away, leaving only a dream of lions playing on the beach, like cats in the dusk. That is the essential nature of play. It remains when the importance of so much else has fallen away. 
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown M.D., pp. 195-196
As I've said on the blog before, your training should be playful as often as possible. I hate to bring up that topic again (and who isn't sick of hearing about it?), but one of the reasons for CF's success is the re-introduction of elements of play into what had become an atmosphere of sweat, discomfort, and (largely male) aggression.

Related Squat Rx Posts:
The Opposite of Play is Not Work, It's Depression

Monday, March 17, 2014

Okay, Fine. Let's Talk Knees-Out (again...).

September of last year, I posted 30 Days of Squat (Day #18): Don't Push Your Knees Out?. I thought it was an interesting topic, but nothing earth-shattering. I still think I said about all that needs to be said in that short little post. Apparently, the topic became huge soon thereafter - fitness and S&C bloggers from all corners came out with pages and pages and hours and hours of endless writing, speaking, and diatribe on the topic... Honestly, I didn't even know what "valgus" was before all of this hubbub.
If you haven't been following all of this nonsense, please, let me save you a lot of time and exasperation and repeat something that Mark Rippetoe talked about to me on the phone about seven years ago and I've said numerous times on the blog: Cues are cues. They are NOT technique. They are prompts to move the trainee in the direction of proper technique. 
People seem to forget the difference between cues and technique. And there IS a difference.
The problem with confusing the two is that you end up with exercise tutorials that look like this:

What's wrong with that? Well, nothing I guess, but if what you really want is the foot, knee, and thigh all in alignment with slight external rotation to provide some spiral tension, then (imho) that can be demonstrated without exaggerating the "knees-out"/"toes forward" to an extreme.
I reviewed Kelly Starrett's Becoming a Supple Leopard. I liked it a lot. I think it has real genius within its pages. But, I think Kelly's gone overboard in his defense of the book. If he had simply said "It's a cue. Nothing more. Nothing less." and left it at that, it would have been less confusing to the average trainee. But, being simple and clear doesn't sell as well as complication and controversy, so what the hell do I know?

Here are the videos, posts, and articles that speak to the controversy. The only one I'd recommend spending any time with would be the article by Greg Everett:
The Knees-Out Discussion - Takano Athletics (blog post)
Community MWod Videos: The Knees-In Squat - Kelly Starrett (videos)
Offline, Episode 4: The "Knees-Out" Cue - Kelly Starrett, Lon Kilgore, Quinn Henoch, Jacob Tsypkin (video)

Friday, February 21, 2014

How Many Squats Can You Do with Bodyweight on the Bar?

I think there will be an online contest (maybe April Fool's Day - no joke) - 5 minutes, as many reps as possible, barbell back squats with bodyweight.

I'm looking forward to participating actually - with some lingering back issues, it's been a long time since I've felt comfortable pushing things. My numbers will be nothing to write about, but it will be a training day for me.

This is Sarge's classic performance:

Here is a more recent go at it - 5:00 time limit. Contestants were allowed to re-rack the weight within the time period:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Distant Mountain

"Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be was a mountain.
A distant mountain.
My goal.
And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could not stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain."

I really like this analogy and think it's a good one for most people, especially if they have long term and/or ambiguous strength and fitness goals. There are many roads to the mountain. Some roads are faster. Some are slower. Some are direct. Some take switchbacks and detours - sometimes the side roads and detours are worth exploring. Some roads are dead ends. And some roads lead to nowhere or take you in the wrong direction. 

Related Squat Rx Post:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Try to Never Send a Loser Off Your Training Site"

"...the experience of losing in a simulation actually begins to condition a risk aversion pathway in the brain to which they may turn during similar experiences in the future - they may actually stop fighting and give up as they were programmed to do in training. This is why Murray will never let a student out of the training arena without ensuring that they are the decisive winner...
Yes, there will be a certain percentage of people who never grasp the training, but your goal as a professional is to keep that percentage to a bare minimum. It is easy to design a force-on-force paint bullet scenario that makes ever trainee look like an idiot, but all that proves is that the trainers are jerks. Ken Murray calls this "masterbation" - its only purpose is to act as a form of self-gratification for the trainer. But, suppose you are a trainer and you put a warrior through a scenario where he fails, and then you put him through it again and he succeeds. First you revealed a flaw in his armor and then you taught him how to shore up that weakness. In so doing, you brought him out the other end of the exercise as a superior warrior.
If there is not sufficient time and resources to run the exercise again, then just toss him a softball, and let him knock it out of the park. Your goal is to send winners out the door."
(From On Combat by Lt. Col Dave Grossman w. Loren W. Christensen, pp. 134-135)

As has been pointed out by many, any moron can design a workout that will "smoke" a trainee. It's a little harder to design a workout that makes the trainee better. The effects of repeated training to "failure" and breakdown can be deleterious. That's not to say that training should never be challenging, but as I say repeatedly success breeds success (and failure breeds failure).

Related Squat Rx Posts:
Commitment Follows Competence
Walk It Out!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"When the weather's nice, be sure to check your change."

Even depression has its advantages. Recent research suggests that despondency helps us think better - and contributes to increased attentiveness and enhanced problem-solving ability. In an ingenious experiment, Joe Forgas, professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales, placed a variety of trinkets, such as toy soldiers, plastic animals, and miniature cars, near the checkout counter of a small stationery store in Sydney. As shoppers made their way out, Forgas tested their memory, asking them to list as many of the items as possible. But there was a catch. On some days the weather was rainy, and Forgas piped Verdi's Requiem through the store; on other days it was sunny, and shoppers were treated to a blast of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The results couldn't have been clearer: shoppers in the "low mood" condition remembered nearly four times as many of the knickknacks. The rain made them sad, and their sadness made them pay more attention. Moral of the story? When the weather's nice, be sure to check your change.
- From The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

A few years ago, here on the blog, I introduced a Japanese proverb - "In victory, tighten your helmet". As I am often forced to remember, the most common time for me to injure myself is when training is going great. Success often does indeed lead to even greater success, but if it is not tempered it can be disastrous. For me, the best training plans are developed when I am at my lowest...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Squatting Really IS Like Sex

However manfully I resist nostalgia, Victorian silences appeal to me. Dr. Block, in an uncharacteristic fit of wisdom, observes, "The irony of creating a taboo is that, once something is forbidden, it often becomes very interesting." Sex in a time of ostensible repression at least had the benefit of carving out a space of privacy. Lovers defined themselves in opposition to the official culture, which had the effect of making every discovery personal. There's something profoundly boring about the vision that is promulgated, if only as an ideal, by today's experts: a long life of vigorous, nonstop, "fulfilling" sex, and the identical story in every household. Although it pains me to remember how innocent I was in my early twenties, I have no desire to rewrite my life. To do so would eliminate those moments of discovery when whole vistas of experience opened out of nowhere, moments when I thought, So this is what it's like. Just about every generation needs to feel that it has invented sex - "Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three / (Which was rather late for me)" was Phillip Larkin's imperfectly ironic lament - we all deserve our own dry spells and our own revolutions. They're what make our lives good stories.
Unfortunately, stories like this are easily lost amid the slick certitudes of our media culture: that a heavy enough barrage of information produces enlightenment, and that incessant communication produces communities. Susie Bright and Susan Block and Dr. Ruth are loud and cable-ready. You can turn them on, but you can't turn them off. They yammer on about the frenulum, the perineum, the G-spot, the squeeze technique, bonobo chimpanzees and vibrators, teddies and garter belts, "eargasms" and "toegasms." Their work creates the bumbling amateur. Their discovery of sexual "technique" creates a population bereft of technique. The popular culture they belong to thus resembles an MTV beach party. From the outside, the party looks like fun, but for passive viewers its most salient feature is that they haven't been invited to it.
- Jonathan Franzen, "Books in Bed" (How To Be Alone, pp. 250-251) 

I know that, as someone who has created over 20 videos dedicated to squatting and squatting technique, it is probably hypocritical of me to say that the modern flood of "information", certifications, and guru-ism in the strength and fitness worlds have "created the bumbling amateur" and have "created a population bereft of technique", but that is exactly what has happened.

It's not that hard. (I'm talking about squatting people! I'm always talking about squatting, understand? Get your minds out of the gutter!) ...and if you can't do it, it's not the end of the world, just so that's clear...

Start from the floor in a push-up position. Walk your feet up near your hands. Keep your feet flat on the floor, take your hands off ground when you feel steady, and squat up.

If you did that, you're good!

There really isn't much more to it than that. You don't need an invitation. You don't need a guru. The moments of discovery are waiting.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

LARPing and the Strongman

Otherworld was founded in 1991 by four members of Quest, a Connecticut-based LARPing group. Several months after completing a particularly challenging adventure, they received a letter from one of the participants.
"It was from a woman who'd attended, and she started by saying, 'You're going to think I'm crazy, but the event you ran changed my life,'" says Kristi Hayes. "She was working in a dead-end job she hated, and she was living with her boyfriend, who from the sound of it was really treating her pretty badly. She'd sort of accepted that... this was probably about the best she could expect from life.
"And then, she said, she came and spent the weekend having all these adventures and doing all these challenging things. She was particularly afraid of any sort of public speaking, but at one point during the event, the story line took a dark turn and she had an idea about how to fix things, so she stood up in a crowed room and told everyone about it. People listened to her and followed her idea, and as it turned out, doing so saved the day.
"She told us that for a long while after coming home  from the event, she continued on with her normal less-than-stellar routine but often thought about the weekend. She thought about the person she'd been there, the one who'd stood up in front of all those people, even though she was afraid, and convinced them to listen to her. And I will never forget what she wrote about that... 'She would never put with crap like this. She would find a way to fix things... if I can do heroic things when I'm running around in the woods, why can't I do them here at home?'
"And then she did. She went out and got herself a better job and she ditched the lousy boyfriend. She'd make those changes and built herself a better life, and she felt like she needed to write to us and thank us for it. That was just amazing to me, that we'd been able to help someone reach that point. And we started thinking, 'Gosh, if this event did all that, when really our only goal going into it was for everyone to have fun, well, what would happen if we ran events where we tried to give people these opportunities?'" 
From Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt (pp. 194-195)
Curiously, "life-transforming" certifications have become very popular in the fitness industry over the past 5-10 years. As I often say here, competence precedes confidence, and a good certification gives its participants a sense of competence and accomplishment. While I wouldn't go so far as to call them exercises in live-action-role-playing ("LARPing"), the parallels are interesting to note.

Role-playing is a great teaching method. Everyone knows this on some level of consciousness, and yet it isn't used very often. Prejudices towards the teaching method are, perhaps, rooted in the common adult disdain for fantasy, and the common loss of ability to play make-believe that many kids experience as they struggle to grow up too quickly. Furthermore, the amount of preparation needed to go into creating a context rich enough to make a roleplay authentic enough to not feel strained is substantial. Under-prepare and you run the risk of having participants standing around awkwardly, unable to suspend connection to current reality ("This is cheesy"). Over-plan and you could end up with participants stiffly reading a lifeless script ("This is boring"). The key is to create structure that is flexible enough to allow and respect the freewill and contributions of the participants.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another Birthday - More "Reminders To Self"

A few years ago, I wrote a long list of "things I have learned" entitled "Birthday Post". I figured another "reminder to self" piece wouldn't be a bad idea, so here we go. I tried to keep things training related but I may have strayed here and there. I hope you find some things that resonate with you.

1) Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts. - Albert Einstein

2) I think most people would be better off leaving not a rep or two in the tank, but instead leaving a set or two in the tank. Easy to say, harder to do...

3) I still believe that science will eventually discover that over-caffeination leads to major health and emotional problems. No, it's not health-enemy #1, but it's an issue for many Americans.

4) Pre-workout drinks are stupid. If you have to have one to get yourself amped before every workout, you have issues. I tried one for the first time this year and I felt like I had slammed 6 cups of coffee - and I have a pretty high tolerance for caffeine... Needless to say, I wasn't very surprised by this article (though I don't know how accurate it truly is): Popular Sports Supplements Contain Meth-like Compound

5) It's okay to say you "work out" again. Yes, there are some who eschew working out for "training". Whatever - plenty of elite athletes have "workouts" in their vocabulary. It's not worth getting bent out of shape over.

6) Cues are just cues to guide the trainee towards better technique. Cues are NOT proper technique. For example, if I tell someone to squat through their heels, it doesn't mean that driving through the heel is proper technique - it is to shift the weight off of their toes and drive with the hips and hamstrings rather than all quads.

7) People believe that swimming is a poor choice for people trying to lose weight. Although it may be true that swimming stimulates appetite, it does not follow that it not a good training mode. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way for obese people to train without destroying their joints. One limiting factor for many people trying to add swimming to their training regimens is poor technique. Get a coach.

8) The only supplements I ever recommend to anyone are a multi-vitamin/mineral tablet, simple protein powder, and (for some people) creatine.

9) Just about everything should be cycled. This includes foods, exercises, and "daily" supplements.

10) If I was a trainer on The Biggest Loser, I'd have my competitors doing some reasonable weight training, swimming, and a lot of nature walking. No, walking isn't a huge calorie burning activity, but it is relatively easy on the joints, it is meditative, and time spent walking is time spent away from bad habits. An hour a day spent walking is an hour NOT spent hunched over a screen or on a couch eating chips.

11) There's absolutely nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is a valid measure of something worth striving towards. If the test isn't worth teaching towards (whether it's a standardized test, or an NFL combine) (and I'm not saying it is or isn't), then maybe it's time to change it.

12) Most gurus don't like to be called gurus (or cult leaders) publicly.

13) Many blogs are just long-winded ad-copy.

14) I never thought much of Jefferson squats. Tried them a few times - when you have short arms it's pretty easy to rack yourself... do that once, ONCE, and that's enough. I have since totally changed my opinion on them since reading this post by David Dellanave and giving them another try.

15) A few unilateral exercises you should keep in the training mix if you can do them competently: Turkish Get-Ups, Bulgarian Split Squats, cossack squats, and windmills.

16) You don't need another encyclopedia of exercises.

17) Age affects your assessment of risk. Well, for most people it does... People in their twenties can afford to throw away a macrocycle of training or two. They can even afford dings and twinges here and there. People in their forties are going to be more cautious about those (and rightly so).

18) Never Miss a Rep. NEVER EVER. Avoid missed reps like a disease.

19) Pain is a complicated b*tch. To say "It's all in your head" is grossly oversimplifying things. Stress can be a trigger and acknowledging that (without judgement) is hard for many people.

20) Paul Chek has always been a weird bird (at least as long as I've been familiar with his work - probably 15 years now). That said, he's a deep thinker. I used to think his thoughts on diet and colon health were "out there". Now that I'm older, I think he was spot on.

21) In the same train of thought, digestion is so important. How often do we reach for something to eat while we are still full? How often do we seek out new input, new training, or new relationships before we have really appreciated what we've already received? No Time For Digestion

22) A pulling harness is great fun. For a while (back in 2008 or 2009), APT was running a special on them for very reasonable prices. I haven't found a deal like that since, but I'll keep an eye open.

23) No one will admit that they may indeed be genetically talented and gifted. "IT'S ALL BECAUSE I WORK SO DAMN HARD!" Um, okay. The fact of the matter is, that most of us, if we're in any kind of shape at all, are pretty damn lucky.

24) Dan John recommended the following books (among others) in person and online: "Born To Run", "Boyd", and "On Killing" - I read them all and they were mind-blowing. If you haven't read them, do so.

25) If you've read those and like them, other books I'd highly recommend are: "On Combat" (by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman), "Deep Survival" (by Laurence Gonzales), and "Mastery" (by George Leonard).

26) Virtuosity and Virtual-osity are NOT the same thing at all.

27) Giving up your integrity to make money is the definition of a sell-out. Don't be one.

28) You can't build a reserve if you are constantly emptying the tank. This applies to just about everything in life...

28) I think Dan John coined the acronym "MAPS" (Middle Aged Pull-Up Syndrome) to describe the inexplicable fixation that many middle-aged men have with trying to improve their pull-up numbers... and then end up with inflamed elbows. Pull-ups and chins are great and I think everyone should do them, but a little goes a long way.

29) I think that loaded carries/pushes/pulls are probably absolutely key to long term health for any wannabe strength athlete. The torso and hip strength they develop is crucial to stability when walking out, standing, and then squatting deeply with a heavy weight. Do them. Combine them with hills for even more fun.

30) I don't begrudge anyone making a lot of money teaching others how to lift weights, but please, don't get offended when people ask you questions about working out and say "THAT'S SO RUDE! IT'S LIKE ASKING A DOCTOR FOR FREE MEDICAL ADVICE!"... No. No, it's not. Get over yourself. It wasn't that long ago that people showed each other how to lift in the gym without having any kind of "certification" FOR FREE.

31) You can buy a self-massage stick like this in Japan for ONE DOLLAR (and stuff is generally more expensive there). I've been giving them to friends for YEARS. Why the hell can't you get them in the U.S.?... A DOLLAR!

32) Box jumps - I don't get it. As a challenge, sure - I can see why they'd be fun, but as high rep exercise it makes zero sense to me... I see absolutely no reason to include them in training for obese people. None.

33) Though it's not particularly versatile, the 2" vertical bar that I bought from Fat Bastard Barbell on Adam Glass' recommendation is one of the funnest pieces of weight lifting equipment I own. I use it for one-arm deadlifts, hammer curls, and loaded carries.

34) Contrary to current popular sentiment, there is nothing wrong with kids specializing in a single sport from an early age if training is sensible, and as long as there are off-seasons. I realize those can be big 'ifs'...

35) Studies that show that stretching is useless are dumb. Period. Look, if you believe that stretching helps reduce stress and can improve circulation and breathing, that alone is going to mean improved recovery as a result of stretching...

36) Sots Presses are one of those exercises that never get easy.

37) Glance at negatives, but focus on positives.

38) Placebos work! But if you are betting or banking on them, then you are either a thief or a fool (or both).

39) Tips make you better, but tips don't make you good.

40) Just because everyone passes a drug test does not mean that there is no drug use. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

41) Falling on the ground in a crumpled mess is a really bad way to end your set and, if you're not careful, it can become a horrible habit that will leave you ill-prepared for that second wave of physical challenge that might present itself... I wrote about this in this post: Walk It Out!

42) A 2" axle is a great way to add deadlifts to your diet. The circumference of the bar limits loads enough that I find it pretty hard to overdo it.

43) "Just wait till you have kids of your own!" - never have more prophetic words been spoken. Children add a level of responsibility and busyness that's impossible to comprehend until you have them. Understand that doesn't mean that people without children aren't busy or responsible - it simply means that adding children will level that up significantly.