Friday, April 30, 2010

What's a Practical Exercise?

Functional Strength. Real-World Strength.

I know I just made some of my readers puke a little in the back of their throats. These two terms are abused to the point of almost complete uselessness by people who don't have or know what it's like to use their body for a living. I mentioned a while back that I see these terms as a sort of revolt against the purely aesthetic reasoning behind strength training. Train your body to do something worthwhile. That "something" obviously is a very fluid concept. Everyone's got a slightly different demand on their body and their "something" may be different than yours. So, their ideas of practical exercises also varies.

I was party to a discussion (okay, it was the internet...ARGUMENT!) about the practicality of rope climbing. One side considered it a very practical exercise, claiming that it's very important to develop the strength needed to climb a rope in real life. After all, your life may depend on it! The other side insisted that there is no situation in life where you'll ever climb a rope like you would when you train. So, rope climbing is impractical!

I beg to differ with the latter, but I don't totally agree with the former's assessment either. I consider rope climbing to be a legitimately awesome and very practical, real-world, functional strength exercise. Anyone who is strong enough with pull-ups/chin-ups to attempt rope climbing is going to realize that this is one of the ultimate ways to develop grip, arm and upper-back strength. There's an element of danger to rope climbing because of the fact that if you can't hold on, you'll fall will force you to be powerful in ways that you just can't replicate with pull-ups. If you have a "something" that demands that you have all of the above, it's hard to beat rope climbing in training.

The critics are right though too. You'll probably NEVER actually climb a rope, or anything else, like that. I'm no rock climbing expert, or even novice, by any stretch of anyone's imagination but I do know that the classic mistake of a beginner is NOT USING THE LEGS WHEN YOU CLIMB! This leads to rapid fatigue in the upper body. Strength training-based rope climbing never uses the legs except as a progression to full-upper body rope climbing.

Still, that doesn't mean that it's not practical just because it doesn't replicate how you climb in real life. If you really think about all exercises like that, then there aren't very many practical exercises at all. Take the farmers walk for example. It's got to be the exercise most brought up for functional strength since it mimics carrying two, heavy objects in each hand. Still, I can find several reasons why it's not practical because it doesn't replicate real life:

1. dumbbell, trap bar, barbell... it doesn't matter. Most farmers walks are using weight that's pretty nicely balanced in the hand. I've never carried anything at work in both hands as nicely balanced as any of these objects. Most of the time, the weight is below the hand, not on either sides. Most of stuff that I farmer's walk with are liquids, which are way more unstable than solid weight. Have you ever tried carrying two 5 gallons pails of hydraulic oil? If only it was like carrying dumbbells!

2. Most Farmer's walks are done in the confines of a gym, or outside of a gym. That means nice flat, hard and even ground to walk on. Have you ever tried to farmer's walk through mud? Or maybe up a hill? Or how about walking down a hill?

So, is everyone wrong? Is the Farmer's Walk, like Rope Climbing, an impractical exercise?


Neither of them are impractical. They're both legitimately awesome for training your body for real-world, functional training (Come on guys and gals, don't puke again!). What this whole witch hunt over practical exercises misses the point: It's PRACTICE! The whole point of practice is to make the task a little easier in order to become better at certain, key points of the task at hand. That's why I'm not here suggesting that you farmer's walk with heavy liquids up and down a steep hill. I do stuff like that at work because I have to. I'm fully aware that work can be a little abusive on the body. That's why I don't train exactly like I work.

That brings me to my second point about strength training: it should condition you to withstand the rigors your "something" will put you through. That's how exercises that don't mimics anything you do at all can be so beneficial. I still hold firm that one of the most practical BW exercises that I do is the ab wheel roll-out, even though I don't do anything even remotely close to this action at work or at play. In order to do this exercise properly, you have to contract the abs and glutes powerfully prior to and during the exercise. This has helped me out immeasurably at work.

If you're seeking out practical exercises, exercises that keep your body healthy and injury-free are also great. Somewhere I came across these words from Dan John:

Things that I believe can help anyone improve on the road to health and fitness

1. Pick stuff off the ground
2. Put stuff overhead
3. Carry stuff for time and distance

I can't put it too much better than that except to add one more thing: put stuff down, under control. All four of these actions also pretty much sum up what practical exercises are made of. They may not be a similar load, moved in a similar style to what you're doing in that ever-changing "something" but they're still awesome for building the kind of strength that you can use almost anywhere.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Soft-Core Critics

I'm going to start out this post with a disclaimer: This might be one of my more childish posts that stems from some internet flaming that goes on between two forums that I frequent from time-to-time. If you look at things like this and think that it's a waste of time, then you might want to skip this one.

That said, I have critics, like just about everyone who puts their thoughts and opinions out on the internet for everyone to see. Personally, I don't like people who talk about fitness, health and strength training who won't prove that they know what they're talking about. So, I throw up pictures and videos with two intentions in mind: to educate or show a move and to prove that I'm in good shape. I think that it's part of the proof that what I'm saying works. So, criticism about my ideas doesn't bother me too much.

When someone degrades my abilities, I have to admit that it does get to me a little. We probably say that we don't care what people think about us but let's face it: most of us do. I don't like being told that I'm that I'm incapable of doing things. I can't stand being cut short. That's one thing that irritates me. It also motivates me too.

Okay, this is where the childish flaming comes in...

T_______ics forum has one dude who thinks that he's awesome at rope climbing, posting videos of his climbs. The funny part is, he exaggerates his climbs in every video, claiming he L-sits during the climb (which he only does part of the climb, and in a very half-assed manner) or claiming the rope is much longer than it really is. His buddy lays down a claim that the members of the WEC forum couldn't possibly do rope climbing and that's why they ridicule.

Well, I guess that includes me. Apparently, I can't climb rope either. Here's what I have to say to that...

Still, my critics weren't done. A lot of you probably know of my Handstand Push-up Video, where I did a set of five HSPU's on my homeade set of T-handles. Just in case you missed it, here it is again...

Well, that wasn't good enough, as far as they were concerned. You see, the owner of the web site hocks a set of T Handles as well. They have a longer stilt than the ones that I used for that video and they feature a "rounded" foot. These same jokers insisted that I couldn't have done HSPU's on their T-Handles (which, I might add, are nothing more than a Carriage bolt, a piece of chain-link fence post-pipe, a couple of electircal knock-out plugs sold for an extremely-overpriced $50.00). Apparently, NOBODY can do HSPU's on their T's.
The blue one is the T-Handle that I used to do the original video. The black one is the all-powerful T that HSPU's can't be done on...

Maybe it shouldn't bother me and I should just disconnect from all of this bullshit but I have pet peeves, just like everyone else. Some things just get under my skin and I have a hard time turning away. When I go to forums to talk strength training and fitness, I want to see encouragement. Positive Attitude. If someone mentions that they want to lift a 50 ton crane, I want to find the best way to make the arms strong enough to do the lift. I don't want to hear that, "it's impossible!" This whole sub-culture revolves around positive attitude and, as Pauline Nordin says, discipling your dedication.

These guys aren't dedicated or discipilined. They're actually in mediocre shape. They're positive to the point where you start exceeding them. I've talked about this in the past: People like this are weak. They can't get past being mediocre and they try to tear down those who do. I know that people who read this blog do frequent that forum. My advice to you would be to find another place to post. Seek out people who push you to be the best you can be, regardless if you becme more awesome then they are. It's not easy to find on the internet but, believe me, it's worth it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Should You Train Like an Athlete?

You'd have to be a really tough customer if you couldn't have been impressed my Hershel Walker's MMA debut several weeks ago. Already an all-time football great, he won his first fight, showing off an ageless physique at nearly 50 years of age. Naturally, this set off a ton of questions about what he's doing to be in that kind of shape. Walker's early training consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of crunches, pull-ups, and push-ups come up at Bodyweight-oriented forums all over the place, offering legitimacy to the status quo in BW-training.

So, that brings me to the title of the blog: should you train like this athlete, or any athlete for a matter? I think that you ought to sit down and think twice about whether or not you should be doing 1,000 push-ups per day. Far too often, too many people, almost mindlessly, decide that they have to follow the training regimen of the latest, most-popular athlete. That's problematic for a couple of reasons.

First of all, we have to take into consideration that whatever athlete's training regimen really is what they use to get into shape. There is no better example of this then Bruce Lee's training. I've lost count of how different ways that Bruce Lee trained, both in print and on the internet. Even though Walker is well-known for his high rep calisthenics workout, he still lifts weights. Often times, the workouts that you see are abbreviated, for whatever reasons.

Then, even if we know that we have their exact training in hand to follow, we have to make sure that it's right for us. There's a tendency to forget the fact that pro athletes are pros, in part, because they're physically very gifted from birth. Yes, I hate to play the genetics card but we have to keep in mind that some people are born with physical gifts. This allows them to pull off training that would no doubt leave most of us hugging the porcelain goddess. Their training doesn't make them special per ce. They're maximizing the gifts that they were born with. If you don't have the same gifts, then you're not going to get the same benefit out of it.

Even if you're born with the same gifts, then you have yet another consideration: is this training practical to your life? I don't think that people take into consideration exactly how much physical breakdown occurs during some pro athletes' training. Their job is to train.

"There is no such thing as over training, just under nutrition and under sleeping"

In theory, yeah that's true. Let me ask a few questions: Have you ever tried to eat over 4,000 calories a day to keep up with the rate that you train? Do you have the time to sleep 10 hours a day so you can give your body adequate recovery time? My guess is that you don't have that time. Your training probably isn't your livelihood so you don't have the ability to treat it like it is.

I don't want to turn this into post on steroids. My opinion on steroid use is well documented here already but we have to bring it up because it has relevance to this topic. Many pro athletes use them and we all know it. It's a large part of why they're able to train like maniacs. Steroids speed up muscular recovery dramatically, enabling their users to train even harder.

Then, we have to think of this: does their training really accomplish the same things that we might be going for? I know that a lot of us have our health in mind in addition to our other, more visceral and material goals. Well, most athletes training really deal with the latter. Not too long ago, I made this comment on
The truth behind most sports (especially weight lifting sports) is that they don't really give a shit about being healthy. They only care about their health if it prevents them from doing their sport. Furthermore, their measure of their health is their ability to do their sport.

This is what Ross Enemait had to say:

Winning is what matters. An athlete who obsesses over health concerns would never be involved in a sport such as boxing. No one in their right mind believes it is healthy for a trained fighter to punch you as hard as he can.

It is a risk that competitive athletes are willing to take (at least temporarily).

I'm not here to pass judgement on how people train and why they train (well, not this time) but if you're in this for your health, then you really need to think twice about following your sports heroes.

Now, I don't have any problem with training to be athletic. I use my body for a living. I have to do physical labor frequently. So, I can't simply focus on making my body more sexy than it already is. I have wet dirt to shovel, hydraulic hoses to throw up on crane beds, pumps to lift, ladders to climb, and diesel cans to carry. I just don't see the point in training just like some of our favorite players and fighters do. It all goes back to the saying: you're unique, like everyone else. Train accordingly.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leg Training

I'm getting some questions in the comments on blog posts that I receive. Since I aim to please my readers, providing them with useful training information. I'm not really surprised that I've had some questions about how to train the legs using BW-only. The problem below the waist the is that the legs can't come close to replicating the same range of motion that the arms can. Plus, your legs are already used to carrying the rest of your weight on a regular basis. So, with a far more limited ways to to change the leverage combined with a fixed amount of weight makes leg training with Bodyweight a far more daunting task.

I recently came across a web site claiming that Bodyweight's real advantage over weight lifting is with training the upper body. For the lower body, you're best off to reach for the barbell. I can see the logic in this thinking based on what I just admitted. I'm not ready to write off lower-body BW just yet. After all, this blog has always been about how to work with less. So, if you don't have access to a barbell, or any other form of weight, what's the play?

Once again, we have to look back on all of the different ways there are to create resistance when training. It's good that people recognize the role of reducing leverage for increased resistance in training but there's more ways. The most often-mentioned method for leg training is single leg squatting, or doing pistols. I'll be the first to admit that these aren't easy and I've struggled to do them, never really getting above 10 reps per leg due to problems with my balance and lower back issues. I'm sure that there are a lot of people who can't do these at all.

The problem is that the progressions to the pistol aren't really well-advertised and aren't given their due as a legitimate way to train the legs. I think that the problem is that by treating them merely as a progression rather than a stand-alone exercise, their usefulness is diminished and subsequently ignored.

So, the answer to getting to a pistol is to play with the BW versions of split squatting. Start out by placing one leg on a bench, chair, or whatever you have that can hold your leg that height but make sure that it's stable. As this gets easier (I'd say 15-20 reps per leg easy), then you might want to grab your suspension trainer (you don't have one? SHAME ON YOU!) and do the split squat on that. After that progression, you're ready to do it free-standing.

Keep this in mind when you start doing these free standing: you're going to have to shift your upper body forward a little as you lower yourself in order to keep balance. Also, the key do doing these, and pistols, is that you can't crash-land in the bottom position, letting gravity do the work for you. You have to think of pulling yourself down to the floor with your hamstring. This will give you the needed balance to complete the move, not to mention get some hamstring work in. Pavel had a good reason for demonstrating these in his book "The Naked Warrior" in Converse shoes: you will probably find these true single leg squats uncomfortable if the shoe you're wearing has an arch in them. Go for less foot manipulation with your shoes. Or, better still, go barefoot.

Another great exercise that gets the shaft because it's mainly used in physical therapy is wall chairs, or wall sits. There are few exercises that I've consistently used over the years as I have these. Need progression? Don't forget this article that I wrote last year. In any form, these are great for injury prevention because they strengthen the muscles around the knees, thus adding to their stability. After all, how strong are you if you're injured?

Okay, so we've gotten to the point where we're down to the basic BW squat and Lunge. Let me ask you this: how often do you turn these into a plyometric workout? If you're not doing that very often, then you're just missing out on a brutal workout. There's been a routine that I've seen floating around for a while. I'm not sure who came up with it but the first time I saw it was in Juan Carlos Santana's writings. It's usually sold as a cardio finisher and I've seen it done with varying rep counts but done in multiple sets, it's just nasty-good!

Speed Squats (20-36)
Speed Lunges (usually 24)
jumping Lunges (usually 12 each leg)
Plyo jump squats (10-30)

What I've started doing when I use this workout is I've inserted either a set of high rep pull-ups or some rope climbing in between each set for a "break." I'm usually good for 3 or 4 sets of this. As always, start conservatively. It's easier to fix under training than over-training!

Is any of this going to get your legs as huge as they would if you were doing barbell training? Of course not, and I freely admit that. Frankly, I don't think that's a bad thing, or it's not for me anyway. During my muscle-building work in 2007, I thickened up my legs so much that I had to start going up a waist size in pants because most 30" waist pants didn't have enough room in the leg area to accommodate me. I didn't want to go overboard though. There are days when I have to walk lord-only-knows how many steps, many of them involve climbing ladders, walking through mud-like materials (to put it nicely), and carrying stuff.

I've read that a lot of hardcore guys with huge legs (Tom Platz comes to mind) intentionally moderate how much they walk on their "leg days." I can believe it that since I know first-hand that it's hard to train the legs to full-effect if you're walking thousands of steps a day. Walking after a hard leg workout is even harder! That's certainly not functional in my life, and if you are depending on walking as a part of living, then I don't think that it's functional in yours. Having some meaty legs is good. Not being able to walk with them isn't.

One thing that we can take from the squat-freaks is that we can work a lot of these exercises that I described for a surprisingly long time before they lose their usefulness to building max strength and size. 20 rep squatting for mass and strength gain goes all the way back to Mark Berry in the 1930's. I'll bet good money that there are a lot of my readers out there who would be hard-pressed to do 20 pistols on each leg. So, while it may not look like there's a lot of stuff you can do for BW leg training, you can certainly chew on them for a long time before they lose their merit.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bullshit... The Diet Edition!

Has anyone ever watched that TV show on Showtime? I loved that show! .
I have only watched it a few times but it's always an interesting show. If you've never watched it before, the title kind of explains it all: it "debunks" a lot of stuff with a pretty blunt knife (What would you expect from a show with that kind of title? It's a crying-ass shame that they normally stick to intangible stuff like religion, politics and other divisive issues because if they knew anything about fitness and strength training, they could have a major field day!

There's more than enough bovine excrement to go around with all things related to health, strength training, and general fitness. What's annoying about so much of this is how long it persists. Seriously, ever notice how the same, bad ideas just won't disappear, no matter how much we try to disprove it? So, I'm going to take this opportunity to go through, in no particular order, some of the biggest bullshit out there, as I see it, focuing on what we put in our mouths.

1. LOW FAT IS BULLSHIT! This is a pretty easy one to start with and it's timely because I'm trying to help someone lose some weight. Naturally, if you want to lose fat, you're probably smart to drop some (I didn't say all) of the extra fat out of your diet. Food makers know this and that's when they came up with low-fat food-in-a-box. Yeah, it's low fat but most of the time, it's also loaded with sugar to compensate for lack of taste by removing the fat. So, the notion that you'll lose weight eating this stuff is BULLSHIT! The truth is, you're probably better off eating a full-fat original over the over-sugared, low-fat variant (yogurt comes to mind).

2. LOW CARB VS. LOW CALORIE ARGUMENT IS BULLSHIT! This one recently occurred to me as I was reading a medical and science-laden article about how we get fat, specifically the different chemical reactions and hormones that provoke it. I'll have to re-read it if I want to actually retain even half of what I read (it was that technical!) but the second-to-last paragraph really stuck out in my head.

This complicated article must have detailed at least three chemical pathways for the body to store fat. This paragraph in question mentioned how futile the quest to develop a pill that could short-circuit all of these biological mechanisms and keep an over-eater from gaining weight. That made me think about fat gain differently, and in light of this article, I realized why the pointless arguing about low carb vs. low cal is BULLSHIT. There are just too many ways for the body to gain weight for one narrow-minded focus on diet to work.

What we have to keep in mind is that our body was designed to love and adore fat. Fat storage allowed us to survive famines, winters, or any other long periods without food. So, our bodies developed all these lovely ways to store fat. Now, we're capable of manipulating our environment to supply us with all the food we want. Trouble is, our body hasn't changed from the old days and what we're left with is a body that will seek out any way possible to store fat. It's up to us to keep that fat gain in check by not pretending that we're not going to gain weight because we eat 3500 calories of mostly low-carb foods... or by eating 2000 calories of refined sugars and carbohydrates.

3. LOW GI IS (partially) BULLSHIT! Or, at least the way that they're treating it like a magic bullet for weight loss, that is. The Glycemic Index has become the latest, greatest thing in weight control and diabetes prevention. In case you're not familiar with what it is, I'll give a brief run-down. Any foods that rapidly spike your blood sugar aren't good for you. It provokes massive dumps of insulin into your bloodstream, which is really bad for your pancreas and keeping a healthy weight (just to name a few). So, Glycemic Index (GI) measures how fast foods spike blood sugar. In other words, it's kind of like slamming your foot on the gas pedal, going from 35 mph to 85 mph.

The problem is there's way more to keeping a healthy body weight than just controlling how fast blood sugar rises. The responsible dietitians will tell you that Glycemic LOAD is just as important as GI. Sure, keeping your blood sugar from rapidly spiking is a good thing but if you still take in a lot of food that will eventually end up as blood sugar, you're still going to run into problems.

This is no joke: I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where too!) that a normal, Americanized burrito could be healthy because the beans and the cheese (which have very low GI) counteracted the higher-GI contents of the burrito! What BULLSHIT! Going back to our car analogy, this would be like a gradual climb from 35 mph to 85 mph. Sure, you're not doing rapid acceleration but you're still not doing anything good for your gas mileage driving so fast!

I'm not going to lie to anyone and say that eating right is simple. I wish it could be as easy as giving you a list of good stuff to eat and a list of bad stuff to stay away from along with only one or two rules and send you on your merry way. It's just not that simple though. Sometimes, in our effort to make things as simple as possible, we go overboard and end up with, well, BULLSHIT. Take a look at everything I mentioned above as being BS: each one has a little grain of truth to it. The trouble is that someone took it and ran with it, treating it like the only thing that mattered when it came to eating healthy. Sure, proper eating is confusing but being fat and unhealthy hurts way more than confusion ever did.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Changing the perception of women and muscle

Oh, do I wish that wasn't just a wax likeness of Serena Williams that I was standing next to at Madame Tussauds in New York City! I think that she is an awesome athlete... and a very sexy woman. That drives my wife nuts. She's fond of telling me that Serena looks like a man. Some guys say the same thing (well, I'm cleaning it up A LOT!). Still, it's all stemming from the same criticism that even she's says about herself: Serena's too muscular. Women don't have that kind of muscular bulk or that much definition. It's not feminine.

I've seen some good conversations online about how to make strength training popular with the fairer sex. There were some excellent reasons for women to partake in it and perfectly good ideas to get the masses to try the gym's forbidden fruits. Still, I think that the reason for women to shy away from some legitimate means of strength training will ultimately come down to aesthetics. If the look of strength on a woman isn't accepted and celebrated in our culture, then it's just not happening.

When it comes to the desire to manipulate the body for the goals of looking good in a given culture and society, women have pretty consistently shown that they'll do some surprising, bizarre, and gruesome things to achieve that end. Women in Africa practice "female circumcision (Was I the only one who got sick when they told us about that in school?)". Women in the USA cut their breasts open and put silicon implants in to make them bigger. Some Thai women wear large, heavy rings around their necks that crush their ribs and clavicles downward to make their necks look longer. Victorian women were great at crushing their internal organs with corsets. Chinese women used to have their feet bound to look like lotus flowers, rendering walking impossible. How's that for going the extra mile for the sake of beauty?

Isn't this starting to read like a torture session?

Yet, somehow, for some reason, showing even a slight amount of muscular bulk, or a bulging vein somewhere on the forearm, is just indescribably ugly. Mannish. That's always been an odd one to me because there are, when you think about it, a lot of bodily things that men and women alike do. They both grow their hair long. Both pierce common body parts. They even wear similar clothing or just outright cross-dress. Yet, any indication of the presence of muscle, except for the abdominals and the legs, on any part of the body crosses a gender line that nobody can tolerate.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a shame because it's actually HEALTHY! Why does something that's good for women have to be socially unacceptable? Ancient Sparta got that one right at least. Strong women were highly prized for their good looks and it was seen as a sign that they could bear strong children. While other Greeks thought that their short haircuts were kind of manly-looking, they thought that the Spartan women had hot bods. Unfortunately, that seems to be a long, long time ago. It would be a nice change of pace if healthy and strong-looking was at least as popular as being waifish.

Let's also clear up some misconceptions while we're at it about muscle. Doing real strength training alone doesn't make anyone, male or female, bulky. You have to do that with diet. If you're not taking in extra large levels of calories (mostly good, clean protein and fat) in your diet, you're not going to build muscle. Take a look at the picture of Jamie Eason on the left. Believe it or not, she's only about 5'2" and around 110 lbs in that picture. She lifts heavy. That's her on the right in regular clothes. Does she look like a man because she has real muscle?

The ripped appearance is also a result of diet. Most people won't start getting that heavily-ripped appearance until they start dropping bodyfat percentage (BFP) down to, or below, 10%. Women tend to run a higher BFP so it's possible to be at a healthy bodyweight, a healthy BFP, and not show the heavily-ripped appearance that many competitors like Jamie Eason has. Even she doesn't look that all the time either. Photoshop and touch-up work, people!

So, I have to ask the question: what's it going to take to make being a strong-looking woman more popular and accepted? I've answered this question before on another forum but I think that it bears repeating: the right woman to make it okay. Believe it or not, males weightlifting was, at one point in Western Culture, was frowned upon too. The appearance of physical strength on a man was a sign that he was a dirt-poor laborer.
So, depending on the times, middle and upper class men strove to be either skinny or fat as a means of distancing themselves from the poor. That started to change when Eugen Sandow managed to bring the right package of muscularity and refinement that the masses (especially the women) could appreciate, and making men want to emulate his famous build.

So, where's the famous woman who I'm talking about who will change the perception of female muscle? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. I like Serena but I can easily see where some think that she's too big since she's only about 15 lbs smaller than I am. She's definitely very big for a woman. I think that someone who has a slight frame while still being muscular might do the trick. I like Jamie Eason (in case you haven't figured it out yet) because I think that few can argue that she pulls off being very feminine while being muscular too. We'll have to wait and see. I guess those of us who support strong women will just have to hope. and wait. Either way, I'm very supportive of women doing some real strength training. Strength, as far as I'm concerned, isn't gender specific. Top it off, I think that it looks good!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two Tips

It’s funny how mystical strength training can be to the un-initiated. Those of us who do it successfully take it for granted how strength training is surprisingly simple. In fact, we probably find ourselves doing things subconsciously that many people miss. These things are the details that make normal strength training hardcore.

So, you want to be hardcore? Do you want to know the exercises that will make you sick-strong? Um, I think I have an idea, or two. I don't know if you consider me either hardcore or sick-strong but I know that I've gotten more benefit from following these two tips when it comes to training.

The first tip is to restrict, or eliminate all-together, any exercise where you sit or lay down. These two are acts of rest when you aren’t supposed to be resting. It’s exercise, dammit! I think that you should spend the bulk of your training time standing, on your hands and feet, or hanging from something. All of these require activating more muscles than you’d otherwise do if you were sitting or laying. This is one of BW’s hidden strengths: You’re almost always on your feet, hands, or some combination of the two. Well, except for maybe the crunches, and I think that those suck. Other than that, you're always on your limbs, and that helps a lot.

If you lift weights for strength, then this second tip is for you. The standard equipment for lifting are dumbbells and barbells. From the early infancy of physical culture, these two tools were unique from all other pieces of equipment because they were possibly the first ones to be designed specifically for strength training. Most of the others started life as implements with other uses that people found out could make them stronger if lifted on a regular basis (think: kettlebells, sandbags, stones, etc).

The nice thing about barbells and dumbbells is that the weight for these tools is evenly distributed on either side of the handles, with the center of gravity being at the hands. That allows for lifting a lot of weight. Still, I think that you lose something when the weight is more amorphous and unstable. In other words tip number two is: lift stuff that's not made to be lifted. Unusual, heavy objects fight you every step of the way. That means you need to activate more muscle to get it up and down.

That's what both of these two tips amount to: you're forcing yourself to use muscles that you just wouldn't normally use you're trying to make everything nice, easy, even, balanced and comfortable. It's training; and it's supposed to be HARD. Accept it for what it is. The more that you try to get away from making it challenging, the less that you get out of it. Don't fall into the trap of modification for the sake of your sloth. That's what being hardcore is all about.

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Muscle confusion, variety, etc" is it necessary?

That topic turned out to be an interesting thread on Rosstraining's forum that I somehow missed until the day that I started drafting this post. For any of us who have turned on a TV at the wee hours of the morning for whatever reason (FYI, I know you were hoping to find some good, sleazy, soft porn on Cinemax) have seen P90X's infomercials. You'd have to give credit to Tony Horton for bringing this old concept in strength training to the masses. Like all concepts, however, they have their detractors. There are a lot of us who look at a concept that slickly-marketed with some suspicion, especially since they trademarked the phrase "muscle confusion."

The secret behind the P90X system is an advanced training technique called Muscle Confusion™, which accelerates the results process by constantly introducing new moves and routines so your body never plateaus, and you never get bored! Whether you want to get lean, bulk up, or just plain get ripped, there's an endless variety of ways to mix and match the routines to keep you motivated the full 90 days and beyond!

So, is this concept necessary? Um, depends. That might be a pretty underwhelming answer but it's also true because it depends on what the point of your training. If you're training for a specific sport or iron game, or even a very-defined goal, then obviously you need to train with the intent of being good at such game or sport. It's pathetically simple but so many miss it: the only way that you get better at doing something is by practice the something. Strength training is no different. Sure, you may use some other exercises to shore up weakness in your body that are relevant to the primary goal but in the end, the athletic endeavor is the primary focus.

Does that mean that muscle confusion is bullshit too and you shouldn't be changing up your exercises regularly?

If the strange and wonderful strength training universe has a fault its that too many have a far-too-narrow view on what it means to be strong. It's not too hard to fall trap to since defining what is strong is very tricky. I just get the feeling sometimes that they don't try to widen the view though. One lift, or even 5, doesn't define if you're strong or not. Constantly doing the same movements over and over also starts bringing up the injury question. We've all heard of repetition injuries, right? Muscle imbalances? You probably won't get that from switching it up more often. What's the point of putting yourself at risk of either if you don't have a point to do it in the first place?

So, to sum up the way that I feel about this whole question of muscle confusion I think that if you have specific goals, then narrow your exercises down to accomplish those goals. The less specific your training becomes, the more that I think that doing lots of different exercises is worthwhile. I can't comment on Tony Horton's products since I don't own them and I haven't seen the DVD's. I've always liked to do my own thing.

So should you.