Monday, February 23, 2015

Really Hard Stuff to do with embarassingly little weight II: Anderson Squats

So, there I was, standing with Cory and his wife, Rita in Clearwater, FL, chatting about my highly theatrical side press that you see in the background as well our mutual failures in the previous Hummer Tire Squats.  Cory's failure was for a different reason than mine.  He didn't have the bar centered properly on his back.  When he hit the boxes, the uneven weight distribution got him stuck.  I explained my previous fun that resulted in my zero.  He mentioned that one guy, and one guy only, managed to get off the boxes when he got stuck...and that guy may well be the best squatter in the whole competition. 

It's difficult to imagine how good this shit tasted!

That thought stuck with me long after the competition, no doubt because the more I look back, I wanted to get that 365 lbs set-up off those boxes more than I want Island Ice Cream to bring back their Maker's Mark Bourbon flavor.  Or, more specifically, I want that kind of capability.  Cory's a seasoned competitor; the kind of guy who when he talks about what a good squatter is, I pay attention.

Squats are beloved for a number of reasons all across the fruited plane of strength training.  The build mass, make you stronger at lots of strength tests, best way to make a nice firm, muscular ass (Yes, you, there is no better way.  Deal with it), and just one of the most favored ways to move an enormous amount of weight.  
Sure, she may have wrote an e-book of butt exercises but she still squats heavy. 

That last part is likely why the subject of why the bottom-started, Anderson squat is largely forgotten in strength training.  It's enormously difficult to do and likely needs to be done with less weight than most people can squat with starting the movement at the top with a FRONT squat, say nothing of the back squat.  It just goes to show how much your body depends on bouncing yourself out of the hole.  A box doesn't even come close to showing you this (chances are, you're box squatting wrong anyway).  It's not surprising to me that Anderson is likely the greatest squatter in history if he bottom-started his squats with regularity. 

One of the earliest lessons about bottom starting this squat was that depth isn't a huge consideration here.  I made the highly unusual mistake of thinking I was starting in a much too high squat and went far too low, practically ass to grass, and couldn't even start high 200's weights.  I learned that just starting just a bit below parallel is all that's necessary for this particular variation. 

Next, this is kind of a low-reps set kind of work.  I've done these for sets of two, all the way to sets of 8.  I much prefer the lower end.  When I do this movement, it feels like a movement best suited for creating a lot of power and strength.  Keep the reps low, the weight higher, and focus on making sure the subsequent reps are started from a dead stop.  Eliminate all bounce!

Yeah, I said keep the weight higher but note I didn't say heavy.  Heavy relative to this movement and the butt-hurt nobody will likely admit to when they first try this one out will likely cause some bullshitting.  Use modest weights on this one.  Really modest.  I was a high 300-low 400 lbs squatter before the back and IT band problems kicked in mid-2014 and when I got around to doing these after Clearwater, I was using 250-275 lbs.  Modesty will pay off, I'm sure.

How sure, I'm not sure.  I'm not about to speculate about how strong my legs will get from doing these.  It's far too soon to speculate.  I can only ponder the namesake of the bottom-started squat:  Paul Anderson.  As much as I read about him, I can't speculate about how often he did these.  I can only offer up an internet-expert (which means:  NOT an expert at all) opinion based on what I've read about him:
  • He was so powerful at the squat that as soon as he started lifting anything for the public, he was smashing world records. 
  • He was lifting so much weight that nobody was making barbells that could take the weight he was lifting, often resulting in him improvising equipment (also improvising out of poverty)
  • His squatting prowess would still make him an elite lifter even today.  This was with no absolutely no modern medicine or equipment.

In other words, Paul Anderson was able to generate ridiculous squatting power sixty years ago that, even to this day, most people can only match or beat with wraps and suits while starting out of a monolift.  that's obviously rare and unusual.  He also did it with marginal and improvised equipment.  I think that the case could be made that starting his lifts from the bottom likely contributed a large part to this. 

While I can find writing that indicates he did do squatting from the bottom position of the squat, there seems to be a lack of photography to prove it.  However, there are numerous pictures of him doing partial squats started from the bottom position.
Even if it doesn't, this has kind of become a personal goal.  It's a sort of personal redemption from Clearwater.  I'd love to be able to bottom start 365 lbs.  Best of all, It's a squat that I can do with the modest quantity of equipment and embarrassingly little weight I have to work with.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

So, How often should you train?

It's come to my attention that despite my frequent twists and turns in the nearly 8 years of blogging, I've still maintained some readers through my eccentric process of training.  One thing that has remained somewhat steady and constant is my insistence on maintaining some sort of daily training with no planned rest days. 

That's always a hand grenade waiting to be tossed into any highly important gathering of internet professional strength trainers.  Just like everyone has grime under their fingernails, everyone has an opinion about how often you must train and how many days you have to rest.  After all, this is all very serious shit and there is no room for disagreement amongst internet experts. 

I have pretty respectful and easy-going readers though, I must say.  I recently got a message that provoked the topic at hand:  how often should you train?
Hi. i'm reading all your blog when i have free time, since 2007. Even if is too mutch "no pain no gain" for me. (training everyday etc)I really appreciate the content and what you write... one thing that I did not understand is why you went from "no tools" to use the kettlebelsl (sic) and other "strongman stuff".continues to write please, it's good for my knowledge and motivation bye and greetings from Italy!

 Just like pretty much everything else in training, I believe in variation based personal preferences and capabilities.  I do keep up a pretty high volume, high frequency training schedule because that's what I'm capable of doing.  I view rest days much in the same light as I do rest in between sets (discussed here):  take as many as you need and no more than that. 

There's a reason why train so often and don't really plan rest days:  I don't need them nearly as much as the next guy does.  I can handle a high workload.  If you can't handle that kind of regular training, then take the rest you need to recuperate. Don't let anyone tell you how much or how little you need.  They don't walk around in your bag of bones after all. 

That's not to say that I don't take days off either.  In between my workouts, life happens.  I'm married, have a kid, a house, and a job that keeps me traveling somewhat regularly.  I would love to train every day if I could.  I just don't get the opportunity.  So, life often provides me with rest days, whether I like them or not. 

Also, take into consideration how you live your life in the other 22+ hours you're not training. Compare that to the other internet lifting gods who are about to execute you with an excessively dull butter knife for lifting so often.   Are they eating and sleeping properly, or at least doing both well enough relative to their training?  If they're doing it worse than you then it's a small wonder you can outwork them. 

The dreaded and indecisive-sounding, "it depends", answer to how often we should all be training has to be used.  In my non-expert opinion, it's far too relative to each person to answer with a boiler-plate number of sessions.  Answer it for yourself. 



Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm Interesting enough to be interviewed. WHO KNEW?

So, somewhere around a week before my competition, this guy Rock Capuano got in touch with me to do an interview for his new podcast, "A Fitness Life".  Things went great...until he realized the audio was shit. 

Take two happened in November...didn't work again. 

Luckily, I'm a soul of patience and we had good banter back and forth so I didn't mind taking three.  Here was the result...

If you enjoyed this podcast, give his other ones a listen too.  Keep updated with what Rock has up his sleeves here:

Thank again, Rock, for allowing me to spout off on your podcasts...but did you have to use a five year old picture of me holding such a light kettlebell? 

Friday, February 6, 2015

So, What's Dangerous?

So, do you want to get some people on the internet pissed off in a hurry?  I've got two, wonderful suggestions.  The first one involves buying a big ass grill, adopting as many puppies and kittens from your local shelter as possible, and posting pictures of the ensuing barbeque that you have all over Instagram.  The second involves writing an article on any popular, hack fitness site complete with a list of exercises that are dangerous and should never be done.  I'm guessing most of the English-reading and speaking followers of my blog haven't acquired the taste for house pets (even though everything tastes good on a grill) so that would leave you to spout off about the dangerous stuff that people do in the gym.

Once in a great while, I am capable of looking past the bullshit that inhabits our little subculture of strength and see some merit in these contentious issues.  This just happens to be one of those times.  Yes, exercise can be dangerous.  I just happen to think that it's not as simple as, "this will break your skeleton to dust...DON'T DO IT".   So, the reasons why certain shit is or isn't a hazard change.  Here are the reasons why.  Some are pathetically obvious.  Others more subtle. 

Pathetically Obvious:  Not Done Right!
You'll see bread-and-butter exercises like the squat and the deadlift labeled as bad for you by medical professionals with reliability that even Rolex would envy.  The answer for this is pretty simple:  they get to deal with the people who did them wrong, fucked themselves up, and came to them to be un-fucked from their ignorance. 

My physical therapist told me that squats were bad for my knees.  My chiropractor told me that deadlifting was bad for my back.  Well, babies squat naturally and sit down with extreme reluctance.  Adults change this with modern habit.  In other words, we un-learn the squat...and often don't re-learn it properly.  It's downright stunning how few people I've seen in even a hardcore strength gym can't squat properly.  While I don't agree that back squatting is dangerous, I do agree that it's not good for someone who doesn't know how to squat anymore.  There's a key difference in how bad it is for you:  lack of  knowledge.

My friend Chip had the best take on deadlifting that I've heard to date.  It goes something like this:  deadlifting is picking something off the ground.  You have know how to do that properly.  So, labeling the deadlift as dangerous and suggesting avoidance is impractical as the day is long for a human body who might actually have to move with purpose.  There's a perfectly good reason why your lumbar vertebras are the biggest of all the spine bones:  they're designed to take a lot of force from lifting stuff. 

Let me clue new readers into a simple fact that I've gone over several times over the years:  the medical community and the weight training community have had a very contentious relationship going back nearly 12 decades now.  Shockingly little information is shared between them and they both frequently bicker about what's best for a human body.  It's sad that your doctor probably has no fucking clue about proper exercise but that likely true. 

Almost as Obvious: Too Much!
Yeah, I'm sure this one has got to be neck-and-neck with doing good exercises with poor form in creating training injuries.   From kipping your way to high pull-up volume with torn labrums to deadlifting your way to bulged discs with excessive iron, gym dummies give the training naysayers plenty to complain about with dangerous exercises with their own brand of decedance .

Let me enlighten everyone here to a term in force development that few people know about and I don't mention enough to compensate for that:  absolute strength.  This is phenomenon when the brain fires 100% of the muscle fibers, rather than the roughly 33% you can consciously perceive firing.  This is held in reserve for emergency use only since it's also a tendon-shredding amount of power.  Hey, exploded connective tissue beats dying, right?

So, all of that effort to take a perfectly safe lift and turn it into an episode of social Darwinism is just flat-out pointless.  If you sense enough need, you can lift anything while breaking just about everything in your body in the process.  Doing it in a life-threatening situation is impressive.  Doing it for a PR is stupid.  If anything, it just gives ammo to those ignorant medical professionals who will have to screw and glue your body back together that real strength training is a fantastic revenue stream. 

Kind of Subtle, often ignored:  Imbalances
This is where the clear waters of what is and isn't dangerous becomes positively swampy. The fact remains that there are a lot of exercises that, done a bit too much, will lead to some sort of muscle imbalance.  That can be dangerous.  Back a few years ago, I  took up the maddening pastime of reading anatomy books to learn about the human body.  Most of this shit is memorization that's easily forgotten should you not use it on a daily basis but there were a few concepts that stuck with me.  One such example was tensegrity. 

One thing you have to keep in mind is that your skeleton is not machine-like in the sense that the bones do not directly interlock with one another at the joints.  Sure, there are some tendons that hold bone to bone but alignment is provided by tension from multiple muscles, pulling in multiple directions.   Proper muscle tension holds the body together.  Improper muscle tension breaks it down.

So, over development of the strength of certain muscles results in more tension, pulling joints in bad directions.  That's a huge reason I'm not a fan of the bench press.  This also explains why the face pull is so popular with savvy benchers.  It helps develop the shoulder muscles that the bench, even when done right, neglects.  That also explains why I like the push-up so much:  you don't need two exercises to develop healthy upper body pushing strength (aka:  inefficiency).  Still, a bench press can be okay, if you pull something to your face.

I learned this the hard way this past summer when I eschewed any lower body, posterior-chain work since it made my Frankenstein-knee hate the rest of my body.  Instead, I favored quad-dominant squatting, particularly the hip belt squat.  Over the summer, this approach helped me develop IT Band syndrome so bad that I couldn't do much at all with my legs for the final months before my Strongman Competition.  Most of this due to a movement generally considered a healthy alternative to squatting for a physically-compromised body. 

Now don't mistake this for some sort of rant from a skinny, polo-shirt-wearing, DYEL-esque personal trainer from the purple country part of the strength training world.  No, unlike them, I love to lift and otherwise train.  What I don't enjoy is...shit that inhibits my ability to train.  So, that will make me ponder the notion that there may well be shit I can do that's hurtful and therefore keeps me from hoisting.  Yes, there are dangers and they need to be identified to keep me from setting fire to things as an alternative form of stress reduction.  So, while reading such article about dangerous this-n-that on T-Nation are mostly painful, it does present an opportunity for introspection.