Friday, November 14, 2014

Building a Base

He takes his time, pondering the barbell on the rack.  Stalking around with an attempt at a self-assured swagger.  He pays meticulous attention to putting his belt.  He checks the tension carefully as he puts on his wrist wraps.  He chalks his hands up thoroughly so as to make sure that even the spaces between his fingers are dry and ready for the big lift.  He sets up the camera to catch the big moment.  Five minutes of preparation come down to this one, singular moment in the cage. 

Since I joined a gym, for the first time in nearly 14 years, I've seen such scenarios played out constantly by 20-something kids in between these walls with stunning regularity.  While I understand, and I try to keep in mind, that everyone starts somewhere, there's something missing in each of these over-suited up millenials struggling with baby-weights that I've seen grown women of average levels of fitness achieve.  It's what my buddy in the gym and I both agree on as we watch the above-mentioned man-child who wraps his wrists up for stability for the big push and follows up his press workout with pinch grip training lacks:  a complete lack of a base. 
He's not the first veteran lifter that I've heard complain that too many aspiring gym rats have no good training base anymore.  With the proliferation of the internet experts that read everything on Elite FTS and T-Nation but can't actually bring themselves to do a two-plate squat to proper depth, there's an ever-increasing pile of meat bags in nice gym clothing who are going to provide the fitness gym industry with a nice revenue stream of easy money.  They just don't get it and I think my buddy and I lament that at the rate they're going, they never will. 
So they need a base, but it got me thinking we chatted this up:  what exactly is a good base?  We threw a few ideas about the strength training horror-comedy show before us.  Still, it was an abbreviated conversation before we went our separate ways for the night. 
In the interest of making this constructive criticism (something tells me this person reads the blog and may be able to put together that I'm talking about him) since not trying to solve a problem while talking about it incessantly is nothing more than gossip, I decided to put my thoughts down as to what I think constitutes a good base for strength training. 
It isn't necessarily exercise selection...
Look up any article resembling building a good base for strength and I can almost guarantee you that you'll get some sort of list of exercises that are good for building a base of strength.  The problem is that most of these lists are lifts that I've almost never done on a regular basis since starting on this path almost a decade and a half ago.  Frankly, they're almost always competitive lifts for sports that I've never done and likely never will do.  Just because they're the basis of a strength sport doesn't make them the best base for all efforts to build strength.  There's a difference that's lost on lots of base-builders. 
Rather than rattle off specific exercises, I'd just rather simply leave it at making sure that you make sure to throw in some good pushing and pulling exercises, both for the upper body and lower body first and foremost.  Next, make sure there's some work for your midsection.  All of it (rectus abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, and hip muscles).  Don't forget to get a dash of exercises that force your body to move rotationally.  Some carrying, dragging, and pulling of weights is also a remarkably good, simple-to-learn and easy way to build strength and conditioning. 
As long as you hit those categories up with some regularity, you should build a good beginner strength.  Don't think because I'm doing strongman and lifting weights more regularly that I believe that a good chunk of this can't be bodyweight.  I used BW-only for years and it got me to where I am now.  I wasn't doing specific events, I could easily be using handstand push-ups and pull-ups for strength training and get challenges out them. 
  ...But it is about doing as much of it as possible!
I've flat-out said that people take too much rest in between sets during workouts in a past entry.  That criticism also applies to our above-"lifter" taking five minutes to prepare for a tragically modest overhead press.  It shouldn't take that long BECAUSE HE SHOULDN'T NEED A LIFTING BELT AND WRIST WRAPS TO DO A PRESS LIKE THAT.  Since I'm too busy to determine if this was a max effort lift (I certainly hope it wasn't, this is not a small kid) I'll assume with such a modest amount of weight, it wasn't.  So, this stuff isn't helping make him stronger but allowing him to stay weak. 
Yes, support gear probably has it's place when approaching maximum strength lifts where the boundaries of the human body.  If properly used in conjunction with the body , it does help protect and strengthen during a lift.  Improperly used, it becomes a cast that does the work for the body.  If someone's building a base, then these implements have no use. 
While I abhor using high reps in bodyweight training in perpetuity, and I have for several years, I do admit that at the beginning, it definitely assisted in my ability to do more work.  The more work I could do, the closer I could get to maximum strength efforts without issues.  I have few doubts that all of my BW training helped may ability to handle large training volume, made my midsection (particularly my abdominals) powerful, bullet-proofed my shoulders and developed my grip. 

Ultimately, I think it's important to cultivate the ability to do a lot of work before doing a lot of maximum-effort work. 
One of my slices of broscience cake that I fed to the world years ago was that if you develop strong hips, shoulders and grip, you'll be a powerful person.  While I may not have done everything right in training to transition to strongman work (who does?) I do feel that since I had those three, combined with good work capacity, I was off to a good start.
Simply put:  too many people in the gym are just not comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That's why modern gyms look like they've been child-proofed by an OCD mother who just stole a foam padding truck.  The insistence with pristine skin isn't the only sign that people don't like to be uncomfortable in the gym.  The simple fact that our strength training-grasshopper  took five minutes to do a 120 lbs says it all.  He had no rush to get to lifting and he had no desire to push himself to lift with any sort of purpose.  Instead, bullshitting with others and playing compulsively with a phone were all so much more...comfortable. 
It takes time to adjust to forcing the body to do things that are intense and uncomfortable.  Still, that's what it takes to be good at training.  It also doesn't hurt if you learn to enjoy the process of training.  That's why I'm such a wing nut with my strength training movement selections.  I enjoy lifting weird objects in different ways.  As long as I do it with intensity and purpose, I still get strong.  Not everything has to be deadlift, bench and squat.  If you get strong while enjoying what you're doing, then who cares how you did it?  That will go a long way towards doing it with conviction. 

Of course, this all has to be combined with good food and rest.  Base building is pointless if those two parts aren't in order.  After all, at best, you may only have 45 minutes per day to devote to training.  While you can get a lot done in that time frame, it will be unraveled if the other 23 hours and 15 minutes of the day don't do something to support that other 3/4-hour. 

Hopefully this skull of mush gets his shit together and gets his training sorted out sooner or later.  Since this initial lift, I've offered whatever advice/words that I've seen relevant to him at key training times.  After all, without a solution to criticism, then it's all mean-girl-like complaining and gossip with gym clothing and body odor.  With a little luck,  these millenials will figure what a good base is all out. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Got a Minute? Let's talk about timing and your training...

No, I'm not writing an article about how he got so big, especially since he hasn't told anyone how he did it...
For the readers who have seen both, "The Dark Knight," and the, "The Dark Knight Rises," I've got a question for you:  which of these movies was longer?  As a die-hard fan of anything that Christopher Nolan directs, I eagerly anticipated, and thoroughly adored, both movies.  However, I was baffled by one, common criticism of the last one:  the movie felt too long.  That question was a little bit of a trick question.  The Dark Knight Rises is only about ten minutes longer.  Christopher Nolan simply manipulated the timeline of events in the Dark Knight much more than the Dark Knight Rises.  So, since the story line wasn't being told in order, it seemed shorter than it really was. 

Christopher Nolan is widely regarded as a pioneer in movie making for his ability for juggling multiple timelines on film, making him a master at manipulating the feeling of time in movies.  That's a skill so few who try to build their bodies (rather than movies) seem good at. 

If anything, the sense of timing in training is totally screwed up.  People seem to have no idea when to rush and when to wait.  Patience is horribly mis-applied.  This poorly-manipulated use of rushing and patience is something that I see frequently screwing up routines in the short term and goals over a longer period of time.  While I will throw an Atlas stone at any reader who dares call me an expert, I think I've got my sense of timing down when it comes to my training.  I think it's about time someone sort this all out. 

Time Between Sets
This should be pretty simple but people love sticking their faces in the mud, opening their eyes, and looking for an answer:  rest as much as you need to and no more than that.  Maybe it's because people try to oversimplify, trying to find a rest period that's good for all movements.  The news flash for these people is that there isn't one.  You'll need more rest between maximum effort lifts. You'll use less for conditioning routines. You'll want to be a bit more generous on new movements so you can learn them rather than build strength out of them.  The less technical a movement usually requires less rest. 

Whatever you're doing or what you're looking to achieve out of it, just get enough rest out of the time between sets so you can do your next set.  No more than that.  If you need more than five minutes between sets you're either doing something that is far beyond your physical capabilities or you're just plain, fucking wasting your time by being lazy or unfocused.  Feelings of passing out and vomiting, or trying to make a joint work right after you did too much, are as much of a waste of time as chatting with other gym lazy-asses (like yourself) while posting selfies that nobody cares about to Instagram.  You're in the gym to move.  So, do whatever you can to keep yourself moving.  When you look to move as much as possible, you'll need some rest.  Take it since it's needed to keep yourself going.  Then go. 

Time to Reach Your Goals
In a short period of time, you're likely to hear an interview I did where I stress the overwhelming significance of being patient when reaching strength and fitness goals.  While I generally walk around my gym pushing millenials to get their asses moving and, you know, maybe exercise once every five minutes, I can't stand it when people are in a huge rush to become 500 lbs deadlifters, first place strongmen-competitors, or get 18" arms.  I agree that the majority of fitness and strength rules are pretty bendable.  One that I firmly believe isn't is that anything worthwhile transformation with your body will take time.  By time, I mean months and years.  Everything from fat loss to muscle and strength gain has to be done with the same amount of time you'll do in jail if you commit a felony. 

When I tried to gain some muscle mass seven years ago, it took me 9 months to put on 27 lbs of muscle.  I did it again this year and it took me six months to put on 15 lbs.  When I wanted to start bent pressing back in 2009, I started out with a 35 lbs kettlebell.  After five years, I'm started bent pressing a 150 lbs sandbag.  I had to wait nearly one year after I got it in my head to do my first strongman competition. 

If you look at the majority of the people who are telling  you that you can get results fast are either trying to sell you something or sell you on the notion that they are so much more awesome than you are.  Both are equally full of shit.  In between exercises, life is going on.  That alone is going to divert attention away from your goals.  You need time to learn how to do things right.  You need rest that you may not always get.  Then, there's the fact that a body will come up with reasons to resist changes in its current state.  You'll have to force yourself through all that. 

So, the takeaway from this is all pretty simple.  Make haste with your workouts and patiently wait for the results.