Friday, December 31, 2010

Old Masters

When sage advice is offered, listen intently.

If you know what the title's from, kudos to you. The title does serve a purpose itself. Specifically, an important lesson I learned from others this past year.

The first instance was attending a kendo practice to experience the sport. Beginning with a footwork drill, we practiced dashing across the auditorium towards our opponent. The mistake we all made was that after one person stopped short and went to the back of the line, everyone else did the same instead of dashing completely across the room.

When we completed the drill, sensei explained peer pressure can be positive or negative. An action of one person can alter the actions of subsequent peers. In this case it was negative because one person set the trend due to a small error.

Positive peer pressure would demonstrate desired behavior that would be reinforced if everyone did it - such as if that one person did the drill in full.

The second instance was meeting with Swami Radhanath. Our university's bhakti club was fortunate to have him visit for their big semester event. My professor was able to contact him to visit our class and then I heard him speak again when I attended the evening's festivities. After the main event, attendees were able to meet with the swami and have their copy of his new book signed.

When I had my chance to go up I asked him, "What advice would you have given to yourself when you were younger or someone else about to embark on the world?" He took a moment then responded, "Whatever you do, make it positive. Thoughts, speech, action, people, food, everything. Immerse yourself in positive surroundings."

One simple piece of advice I've noticed in other blogs is to keep a good social network. One that is beneficial to your own life and will only uplift it. Heck, it's so straightforward and obvious even my parents tell me to have good friends.

Unless you're a hermit, you most likely interact with other individuals on a regular basis. You have the ability to choose who those individuals are, and in doing so, set the tone of your own life. Even with the greatest environment in the world, what good is it if you are constantly around those who are negative and of bad character? It will only be detrimental to yourself.

You can easily tell who improves your own life by how they affect you.
  • Do they uplift your mood or bring it down?
  • Offer good advice?
  • Act in ways that aren't harmful to themselves or you?
  • Are they close-minded?
  • Stubborn?
  • Poor intentions?
  • Reinforce positive attributes and behaviors?
  • Make your own character grow and mature?
  • Do they tell you can or can't achieve something?
Who you surround yourself with will make your own personal development rise or fall.

How will you choose?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taste of Success

If this quote fits you, you're doing something right.

"First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win." - Gandhi

I hear about it happening to other people making progress or achieving something worthwhile. Oddly enough, they may receive hate or criticism.

Experiencing it is another thing. It means you're on the right path.

And let me just say, success tastes good.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Damage Control


Since people gorge on copious amounts of food during the holidays, Carter Schoffer brings you tips to reduce guttus maximus this Thanksgiving.
"In order to hedge against the unfavourable body comp effects holiday meals have, there are a few easy to follow strategies you should employ. These being -
  • Exercise or perform a physical activity an hour or two prior to the meal. This can be a resistance training bout, cardio bout, long/brisk walk, playing with the kids (if you have any) or some "fun" with your significant other.
  • Consume a protein shake (just a scoop of a milk protein blend with some water will suffice), a few fish oil caps and a piece of fruit (pear or apple) about an hour before your meal. This won't "spoil" your meal as it won't be all that filling but it will put a dent in your cravings while still allowing you to eat enough to be satiated. It will also go a long way toward blunting the blood sugar / insulin response.
  • Eat your veggies first. This works along the same lines as the above bullet point. Be sure to have a good large serving or servings. Again you'll still be able to enjoy the other foods but eating the veggies first places priority on good nutrition while blunting gluttony.
  • Go for a walk or perform some other form of physical activity after the meal, before passing out on the couch.
  • Consume a cup of green tea (2 bags) before and after the meal.
  • Optionally if you've had experience with ephedrine in the past you may wish to take 16-24mg with the green tea 30 min or so before the meal. This is completely optional and I don't exactly recommend you do this. The reason why you would wish to do this is because it will upregulate your metabolism while also giving you an artificial energy kick to get the exercise / physical activity done. Furthermore, it's a mild anorectic. Other less aggressive "fat burners" may also be useful."
Have a good time everyone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adversity

It's the 2008 Olympics race for the gold medal between China's Lu Yong and Belarus's Andrei Rybakou. Andrei Rybakou takes the lead by successfully lifting more in the snatch during the first portion of the competition.

See how the rest unfolds:



I come across many videos I enjoy, however none as much as this.

It serves as a tiny sneak peek into the next multi-part series I'll be doing for 2011 - the title may be a clue. While the actual series has not been officially named nor have I developed the exact format, there will be a formal introduction to explain it all in due time.

If you liked the last one, then this will be of similar quality or possibly even better.

Stay tuned folks.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hips Position in the Deadlift

I mentioned how I was off in my deadlift set-up. I, being ignorant, finally realized what the trouble was.

Between the Romanian deadlifts I had done for an extensive period and the Olympic lifts, my hips were lifting at a high position regularly. This put me at a powerlifting pulling stance. While there isn't anything wrong with it, I'm not a powerlifter.

That wasn't the problem. The problem was I couldn't lower my hips and start in the way I previously was. A cue I tend to give others is to look at the floor in front of you. Funny thing is, I wasn't using it when I was going over my own form.

Let's break down the 3 hip angles. Low height, medium height, and high.

Couldn't find any diagrams decent enough to use, thus Paint to the rescue.
(click to enlarge)


The image above is what I'll be using to describe the different hip positions. It's a crude drawing and not everything is exact/to proportion, but is sufficient to serve the purpose of this post. Torso angle [indicated by the blue line] and line of eyesight [indicated by the dashed red line] are most important to note.
A) Low
This isn't an ideal pulling position. It's akin to trying to "squat" the weight up. Here we can tell the hips are too low due to the angle of the torso being almost completely vertical/perpendicular to the floor.

You can tell your torso is too upright if your eyes are staring directly at the wall in front of you - assuming your neck is in neutral position, meaning you're not craning it upwards but rather it forms a straight line aligned with your spine.

B) Medium
This is where I wanted to get back at. It was extremely helpful to look at the floor a few feet in front of me. My hips naturally fell into the correct position. Previously - coming up in picture C - I felt a tremendous emphasis on my glutes and lower back.

Another way to think of it, I picked up from Bret Contreras, is your body forms a "lightning bolt." If your eyes are looking in the right spot, your neck will be in neutral alignment and you won't be able to look at the wall straight ahead nor the bar under you.

C) High
This resembles a powerlifting deadlift. I simply didn't like my hips being higher up than I was accustomed to. I didn't feel my hamstrings as involved compared to before, and my lower back & glutes were pulling much more.

Here the torso is very close to parallel with the floor and your eyes will be facing the ground directly under you allowing you to see the barbell.
Position A isn't recommended because it's not deadlifting. B & C are fine. However if I'm coaching anyone I recommend B.

Why? Unless they're into powerlifting, I haven't seen a reason to advise it over the other position.

So, how's it feel deadlifting where I was at?

Amazing! I'm comfortably pulling heavy off the floor again with ease and I haven't even become sore yet.

The quest to a 400lb. deadlift begins now.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Look

If you haven't seen already, I chose a different template for the blog over the weekend. I thought it was an upgrade to the previous default layout. Although there will be a day when there's a complete overhaul to make it more customized to my liking, hopefully you all like this one for now.

I don't ask for user feedback much. This appears to be an instance where I could use it. If the majority of folks aren't feeling this new look, I can always revert back to the other style.

Along the top are the previous pages [contact, resources, all that good stuff] and to the right-side I added a new widget that displays the most popular posts in the last 7 days. Aside from those two things, everything else appears to be the same.

So this isn't a complete waste of a post, I can give an update on the training goals I set in late August. November 7th was a perfect week to test my 1-rep maxes but due to being sick last week, I'll be pushing everything back 4-5 days later to finish my current cycle and deload sufficiently.
1) Front Squat: This is #1 priority compared to the other two. I originally planned 200, but I think I'll be able to do more.

I did front box squats previous month and now I'm debating on whether to do cluster training, wave loading, or one & one-quarter reps. Isn't so much as to which will prove effective, but rather the question is "do I want to use this now to achieve the goal sooner or wait until I stall when I really need it?"

2) Dragon Flag: I bumped this up over the deadlift because I feel like I should be able to do it by the time I'm ready to test. Currently using various RKC planks, front squat holds, and dead bugs.

3) Deadlift: 2 years ago I was deadlifting amazingly. Ton of weight and form was spot on. I then switched to Romanian deadlifts for around 6 months and when I went back to conventional pulling, I was all types of off on my set-up.

Right now I'm not sure if I want to keep this as one of the goals. It wouldn't hurt to try, but I also have tons of ideas to use in my programming for upcoming months. I won't fully know until 2-3 weeks later.
That's all from me today.

Anyone else have some goals to hit? How are they going?

Monday, October 4, 2010

1-Rep Max Testing Protocol

Most likely, that's
his warm-up set.

Around 3 years ago, I made the switch from trying to get "big" - which most guys still pursue - to focus on building strength.

So how do you measure strength? Typically you see what your 1-rep max [1RM] is for a lift. Although, I did little research on executing that. Instead I did a few sets and kept packing on the weight.

It comes off as sound in practice. However, the trick is the amount of sets you do. Too many sets and you become fatigued when you finally try hitting your personal record. Too few and you're not prepared enough to lift the weight you decided on.

From my internet perusing over the years, I haven't seen any set formulas or guidelines to go about testing 1RM's besides do a good number of sets and increase the weight accordingly. But, 2 years ago I asked over at Precision Nutrition and got great feedback.

The most helpful reply was from Coach Mike who provided the following response:
"When I certified with Poliquin, we used the following protocol:

4 @ estimated 40% rest 10 s

4 @ estimated 40% rest 10 s

3 @ estimated 60% rest 30 s

2 @ estimated 75% rest 60 s

1 @ estimated 80% rest 120 s

1 @ estimated 85% rest 120 s

1 @ estimated 90% rest 180 s

1 @ estimated 95% rest 240 s

1 @ estimated 100% rest 240 s

Rest another 240s before testing each successive max single

Fast twitch fiber types may end up doing another 5-6 singles before "maxing out," so limit to two lifts/wkt

Test quarterly max."
This isn't the only way to test your 1RM. This is the only written out formula I've seen to date.

To avoid fatigue, other users suggested to limit testing to 2 lifts per week with exercises that don't work the same musculature. When I checked my deadlift (hip-dominant w/ horizontal pull), I tested bench press (horizontal press) 2 or 3 days later. There's little hamstring involvement in the bench press and almost no pec usage in deadlifting.

Now if someone decided to do bench press one day then standing overhead press a few days later, they wouldn't perform to the best of their abilities due to the same muscles - delts & triceps in this case - used earlier in the week.

Now, go hit some PR's and then some.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Origin & Purpose

Take a moment to spot a few items around you. In my room I see hangers, a shoe box, a fully made bed, dresser, and other stuff I have yet to clean up.

Pick one of the things you've selected. I'm going to guess you know what it does and what purpose it serves. The hangers allow me to put clothes in my closest and keep them wrinkle-free. Now, think about this. Do you know the history of the hanger? If not that, at least why it was created?

I don't expect anyone to have that knowledge. But we take things for granted. For example, look at a door. There's the door itself, the doorknob, and possibly a lock. However, what about the hinges the door rests on? The door wouldn't move if they didn't exist. How many people even consider them?

My goal isn't to try and get you to Wikipedia everything. Rather, it's to make you think about your own training. A few questions to ask are,
  • Why is this incorporated into my training program?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Is it conducive to my goals?
  • Am I optimizing my efforts?
  • Is there a more efficient way to go about this?
  • Has doing this helped me or is everything still the same?
  • Is it time to progress and choose a harder variation?
  • Is is best to choose a regression/easier variation to better help myself?
There are a lot of questions you can ask. The objective is to refine your own tasks and really keep what is helpful to you. Figure out why it's worth your effort to even bother with it.

Lately, I've noticed a sort of dichotomy in some sports. The warm-ups are either completely unrelated to the actual sport or it isn't maximizing on preparing the body for movement.

Make sure there's a consistency in your own life. Warm-ups, recovery, training sessions, diet, lifestyle habits/behaviors, you name it.

If it's not helping, why bother?

Have a good weekend everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Mind Expounded

We all have those days.

Tuesday's quote was short, but stresses an important point. Let's examine the last line of it,
"Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are the weeds that strangle confidence."
Where do negative thoughts originate from? Either poor performance/results or, unfortunately, other people.

I think one of the greatest challenges presented to many of us who find a comfort in a healthy lifestyle is at the juncture where we butt heads with everyone. Friends, family, or someone else: people quickly shun away from fitness. If not that, they sure seem to be a qualified expert for someone who reads and/or does little.

It finally hit me this week. Often I've been told you need to be friendly to clients or you won't make it in the industry. From professors, to working with random students, young kids, you name it, I've always had a pleasant demeanor where we've at least got along.

But, that quickly disappears if we bring up anything related to training or diet. I'm not quite sure what the exact reasoning is, but it does happen.

I recall in a recent FitCast episode, Kevin spoke about how Dave Tate explained he would go to a restaurant with friends. They all order their entrees then when it was Dave's turn, he asked the server for grilled chicken. His friends would change the conversation and get on his case.

That's a perfect example of what many of us deal with.

And you know what? The most popular post to date is the one where everyone said they experience the same situations.

So I'll say it again.

Have a little faith in yourself. You're not alone.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Mind

"The mind is like a fertile garden - it will grow anything you wish to plant - beautiful flowers or weeds.

And so it is with successful, healthy thoughts or negative ones that will, like weeds, strangle and crowd the others.

Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind for they are the weeds that strangle confidence."
- Bruce Lee

Have a little faith in yourself.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Supplements, Part 1: Which?

As the women say,
"om nom nom nom."

While I'm still working on another post that's going to take much more editing than anticipated, let's talk supplements.

I've touched upon the subject before, but never discussed any specific supplements. Today I'll give my recommendations, why I chose them, and the reason I exclude others.
Protein

Gasp! Big shock, huh?

I used it when I initially started lifting then stopped - for whatever reason - last year and have now started using it again.

It's convenient. Plain and simple. When I wasn't using it, I would cook up a meal right after a training session to get my fill of carbs and protein. Sipping a shake is much easier and allows me to go about doing other tasks, such as working on my laptop.

There are times when I'm in a rush, tired, or don't want to cook for a 3rd time in a day. Last night for example, I tossed whey isolate & greens powder into my shaker and chowed down on a piece of string cheese & walnuts. After a long day, I wasn't in the mood to clean dishes again nor was I hungry for a full meal.

At around 20g a scoop, I'll take it.

Greens Powder

My first hearing of it was a few years ago when I read Metabolism Advantage.

Again, I take it for the sake of convenience. It should be obvious that vegetables do the body good. I aim for a minimum of 5 servings of real veggies a day, but net around 7-9 since a teaspoon of Greens+ is 2 servings.

It tastes disgusting alone in water, but mixed with protein powder or in a shake it's flavorless.

Fish Oil

This one's been cropping up all over the place in recent years. I mentioned omega-3 fatty acids once.

I don't eat fish. Even for those who do consume it, I don't know how many of them eat enough of it in a week to get the healthy amount of EPA & DHA fatty acids.

Liquid or capsules: your choice.

Multivitamin

Not the most necessary, but it helps.

Between the fruits & vegetables I eat, I
should be getting all the nutrients I need. But let's face it, a perfect diet is nonexistent. I ensure I'm getting the micronutrients I need by taking a multivitamin throughout the day.

However, it's not to the point where I'm going over the top and my urine is a bright neon highlighter yellow. I tend to go lower in dosage for a smaller boost.
While this post could be much more extensive, I'm not here to talk about the science of it all, but instead provide an overview of what I do take and serve as an introduction to part 2.

You'll also come across individuals who swear they don't need supplements. That's quite alright. No one says you have to incorporate them into your diet. Then there are those who take an array of supplements and drop a huge amount of cash on them. Let them be if they choose to do that.

But like in most topics, you should avoid the extreme ends and choose something more reasonable down the middle.

Likewise, this is a small amount of the supplements available in the vast selection found in stores or on websites. Certain supplements have little research to back up their efficacy and serve no purpose besides the illusion of providing you results (placebo anyone?). Others can be helpful, but are not necessary for the everyday individual. They should be reserved for those who can really benefit from their use, such as high level athletes or if one is debilitated with a condition.

Part 2 will be a bit more in-depth and cover a variety of topics such as different types of protein, when to use supplements, how to use them, and alternative choices.

Trust me, it won't be yo' granny's type of supplements post.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Passion

Boris posted this today:



I saw this on TV back in 2008. He cleaned & jerked 10kg (22 lbs.) over his personal best. It's definitely impressive. However, it was after he won I learned how his wife passed away a few years prior.

He was lifting for her and I thought it was beautiful. Likewise, the Russian lifter he was competing against looked like a tank and I didn't think Steiner would win.

Every now and then I hear or read someone lifting who uses aggression, anger, and basically rage to lift heavy.

Me? I believe you should be focused, but not filled with anger to push yourself.

Rage is hot tempered, irrational, and violent. And in a sense to achieve this mindset, you need to hate to a certain degree. After all, what else fuels aggression?

Is that how you want to be? Have hate and anger as your motivating force?

Passion for an activity should be driven by positive means. Steiner competed with the love for his wife. Love is nurturing unlike aggression.

What drives you should have a positive meaning.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 Performance Training Tips

But not from me today. I found this great piece to share since I won't get a chance to write any new material today or Friday. (and Monday's post took a lot of time to write so this is an official cop out)

Carmen Bott's blog posts are always gems and this latest one is no exception. Her 10 tips should be the essentials of anyone's fitness lifestyle and I couldn't agree with them more - although I don't use chalk regularly, if ever.

I've copied & pasted the post below, but you can check out the original here.

Enjoy!

Coach Bott’s 10 Performance Training Tips
"1. Your attitude and character will determine everything. Be authentic, and have integrity. Do what you say you are going to do and do it with purpose and conviction. I have trained enough high profile athletes and CEO’s to know they have those traits in common. Expect nothing less than excellence from yourself and enter each training session with a goal to achieve.

2. Your warm-up / movement prep for your strength sessions should take approximately 25 minutes if done thoroughly.

Your warm-up order should be as follows:
a. Raise core body temperature without stressing the joints (ie: 20 pike arches) = 3 min
b. Foam Roller for myofascial release = 6-8 min
c. Follow joint mobility drills for hips, groin and T-spine = 5 min
d. Include static stretched at this point if you have tight spots = 5 min
e. Follow dynamic warm-up with increasing velocity and muscle activation drills = 5 min

3. Always treat each rep as if it were an entity in itself – DO NOT be in a rhythm like a step-aerobics instructor. Instead – use “breath”, “brace” and “drive” as your 3 keys to explosive strength. Initiate reps with purpose and precision. Even if some lifts are grind lifts and some are more plyometric in nature. Always set the body to execute a perfect ’shot’ like a basketball player would at the free throw line. Repping out sloppy lunges are for the weak.

4. Block out distraction and welcome a tranquil mind. Good lifters and those who can execute complex skills are beyond focused; they are also incredibly patient. Do not let your mind wander during a rep – be in the moment and pay attention to your body.

5. Do not train to failure, do plyometrics under fatigue or speed work for high reps. This is the North American flaw I see in S&C coaching. Strength is a skill and needs constant tinkering and refinement, not crappy reps with poor form and severe fatigue. Power and speed require split second deliverance of energy. We can only do this by resting long (10-15x the work length) between sets and doing very little volume – speed work is NOT conditioning work and vice versa and no, you cannot train the two together in their infinite forms.

6. Load and unload the body over 3 week mesocycles. This is basic human physiology and the science behind adaptation. The human organism can handle 3 weeks of abuse and then it needs a week to unload. The Russians have proven this time and time again that this is the best loading/unloading scheme in terms of timing. So, go up for three, down for one.

7. Let pain be your guide. Please do not succumb to the adage – “No pain, no gain’ If it hurts, please do not do it. You are given only one body in this lifetime and we must cherish it.

8. Fuel yourself with nutrient-dense foods. Avoid white food – white rice, white flour, white sugar etc. All of this is garbage and garbage in = garbage out. Aim for protein with every meal, vary your veggies, eat only whole grains (quinoa, spelt, oats, wild rice) and get your liquids from water and herbal teas.

9. Focus on the process. This means to focus on the execution of the task/exercise etc, versus the result of it. It has been proven time and time again that those who focus on the process get better results and achieve their goals more consistently than those who are focused on the outcome or result.

10. Use chalk. Your grip takes approx 8 times to recover from a lift as compared to the rest of your body. You can improve your grip very simply by using chalk to train with. Yes, it is messy and yes it will get on your clothes, but for an extra 20 lbs on that deadlift, or 2 more pull-ups on that set – it is well worth it!

Happy training!"

Monday, August 9, 2010

Troubleshooting the Squat

Either she's doing a front squat
or she just cleaned the weight.

Mimi commented on Friday's post asking,
"That girl's squat was hardcore. Any tips for getting that low? It's embarassing, but I have to fight to just get parallel, even with a lighter weight."
Originally, I thought what could be the issue. The more I thought about it the more I realized the amount of factors that have to be taken into account. I'm better at an in-person evaluation due to the fact I can examine a few reps, change variable X, see a few more reps, and repeat until there's marked improvement.

What I'm going to resort to is what my History professor called the shotgun technique. It's where all of us wrote as much information - or anything we remembered from the class - for our exams in hopes of getting
something right. Hence the name "shotgun."

We'll be focusing on the low bar positioned back squat in 2 respects: set-up & execution followed by troubleshooting problem-causing areas.

Set-up & execution

A bad set-up can hinder performance and the ability to produce solid reps. I'll be brief with this since there are quite a number of articles on the subject.

First and foremost before you even get under the bar, you need to tighten your entire upper back. This means pulling your scapulae - shoulder blades - together
hard. This can be done by moving your arms back and bringing in your elbows close to your torso & glutes.

The end pose will have your chest sticking out, elbows pointed down to the floor, hands near shoulders, and your forearms curled in from the sides towards your armpits*. How close your hands get to your shoulders will depend on how good your shoulder mobility is. For this reason, it's advantageous to incorporate scapular wall slides in your dynamic warm-up.



Another good example here. Notice
how he's pulling his elbows in and down.

The end result is a "shelf" created by your trap muscles for the bar to rest on, indicated by the red line:

This image is used to describe the bench press, but you get the idea.
The elbows should be closer to the waist if this were a back squat.

With upper body tightened up, you're ready to get under the bar. Fit the bar to rest on your trapezius shelf and lift it upright. Now what?

With a stance roughly shoulder-width and toes slightly flared outwards, you're ready to squat. I always say break or hinge at the hips, but apparently no one knows what I mean by that. So think of it like this. Imagine someone with a disgustingly gross hand comes-a-reaching at your crotch and you want to avoid it - and for the sake of this cue you can't move side-to-side smart asses.

Squatting straight down a bit or bending at the low back doesn't really move your pelvis away from the creeper. However, pushing your hips backwards does. This is what I mean by "breaking" at the hips.

After you initiate the movement, squat as low as comfortably possible. If your lower back begins to round or you feel pain then that's where you stop. When you descend (the eccentric portion), don't simply drop down, but instead have control and keep muscular tension. The speed itself doesn't necessarily have to be slow or explosive. Rather, just work hard on moving the weight as efficiently as possible.

To squat back up, push through the back of your feet and lock your hips out by squeezing your glutes hard (example here, notice how his butt isn't protruding after each rep). Also "push" your legs outwards to the side. This keeps your legs from caving in on each other.

The last thing I'll mention is where you should think about pushing through your feet. I tend to say the back and outsides of the foot. The back because you won't end up on your toes and rounding your lower back. The outsides to effectively push your legs out to the sides. To be more specific, here:


Blue indicates where to focus driving through your feet.
And my paint skills ain't no joke.

Alright maybe that wasn't a brief description, but it definitely was thorough. That about covers the basics so let's move on to the second half.

Troubleshooting

There can be a couple of issues preventing you from getting a deep squat. I'll go through them one-by-one in order of easiest to try out. Try each with either your own bodyweight, an empty barbell, or some light weight on the bar.
Shoes
  • What's your footwear like? You tend to want a flat shoe to be able to lift on an even surface. Running shoes are the least ideal. They're very soft and cushioned making it feel like you're pushing your feet into a mattress. It fights your push back.
  • Solution: Either squat barefoot or go for the cheapest gym-friendly alternative to purchase - a pair of low top Converse. Last I recall they run around $40. There are cheaper shoes, but I doubt your gym would allow them. (ballet slippers & cotton martial arts slippers)
Ankle mobility
  • Grab either two 5, 2.5, or 1.25 lb. plates. 2.5 is right in the middle so if that's available grab those first, but if not the 5's will suffice. Set-up like you normally would squat, but this time put each heel on top of one the plates. Now squat.
  • Has your depth improved? If so, your ankle mobility is restricting your squat.
  • Solution: Rocking ankle mobilizations - 1 set of 4-6 reps for a full one-thousandth count (he goes for 2 in the video) to start with if your ankle mobility is poor. When you become more proficient you can do 2 sets or 8 reps. After that, it's best to move on to a more challenging drill. You can continue to squat using plates as your mobility improves. Choose smaller plates every 4 weeks until you can squat without them.

Drill A is the one I referred to.
Hey look at that, Converse!

Hip flexors
  • Christine already recommended stretching the hip flexors. Sitting for long periods leaves them in a flexed position and as a result they become tight. We want to lengthen them to allow ourselves to stay as upright as possible during the squat. Their tightness contributes to use of lumbar spine throughout the movement.
  • Solution: Lunge stretch - Simply go into a long stride lunge and with the side of the leading leg, push your pelvic bone forward while squeezing the glute of that side and hold for 15s. Repeat for the other side.

You can simply hold the position for 15s per side instead of multiple reps.
Hey check it out, Converse again!

Hip Mobility
  • Poor hip mobility in the bottom position of the squat is another problem. If your body's not able to go that far down it can be practiced outside of squatting.
  • Solution: Kneeling rockbacks - Keep your torso parallel to the ground and use your arms to push back as far as possible. Don't let your lower back round and don't aggressively force the stretch more than you should.
Lance demonstrating the starting position.

Core Strength
  • If your abs aren't strong enough then you'll lose rigidity in your torso and lean forward.
  • Solution: The planks progression I outlined here is a great start.
And that folks is me shotgunning the squat. Hope that helps Mimi.

In the words of Boris Bachmann, good squatting!

Further reads & resources:
*If you flail your hands around you look like a retarded T-rex.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fresh New Moves

Certainly not the push-up I had in mind.
...Or was it?



Today we combine all of them into "bang for your buck" movements and in doing so, we'll get a whole lot of things accomplished at once.

It's no doubt that the push-up is a great exercise. The problem becomes that the standard version becomes to easy once proficient at it. However, how many of us can do a 1-handed push-up? It's tough, but the top position before lowering isn't. And that's what we'll be using to our advantage.

The purpose of the dynamic warm-up is to lengthen muscles that are in a flexed position more than they should be (like hip flexors), activating muscles used infrequently (glutes, certain trap muscles, serratus anterior for instance), and is very specific to mimicking motions in the proceeding training session. A key point to making sure the dynamic warm-up is effective is to increase the difficulty of the movements. Instead of a glute bridge, you might elevate your shoulders* or add light resistance to make it more difficult (Bret Contreras answered my question here). After all, you've most likely become stronger and accustomed to whatever you were doing the past 1-2 months.

What we're going to do is make the push-up more challenging and incorporate it into the warm-up. First behold, the bird dog from a push-up position!


video
I believe that's Kris Aiken.

I came across this a while ago over at Precision Nutrition's exercise library. I gave it a shot at first sight, but bombed doing it. On the bright side, this forced me to work with regressions (aka easier variations).

Something else I noticed was that I could translate other exercises into this push-up position. And thus, a semi-original idea was born on the blog!

Now, which exercises can you do from this position? 2 thoracic spine mobility drills and a few glute activation ones. I would have made video demonstrations, but the life of lifting alone doesn't help this blog. So of course I'm opting for youtube. Let's begin with t-spine work:





Work it Mr. KevLar.

Straightforward, but I'll elaborate just in case. To perform from the ground push-up, both are done similarly with the free hand or elbow going behind the supporting arm's elbow. The latter is almost like a T push-up, but less opening/rotation of the hips.

For the glutes I'll refer to this,




What qualifies from the video/can be done from a push-up:
  • Donkey kicks
  • Donkey whips (but less range of motion compared to what's shown)
  • Fire hydrants
  • Knee circles
  • Bird dog mentioned earlier
While holding the push-up, your posture should be:
- Chin tucked in & not protruding forward.
  • To prevent hyper-extension of the neck.
- Scapulae/shoulder blades protracted by pushing your hands into the ground thus separating them apart.
  • To activate serratus anterior.
- Glutes and knees squeezed & locked out to prevent hips rising or sagging
  • To activate the glutes, avoid movement in lumber spine (as opposed to what's shown in the videos)* and brace the core by expansion.
The problem is you may be lacking the strength to hold this posture while executing whichever movement you choose. The plan is twofold to tackle that problem . First, I'll share the plank progressions scheme I used to become strong enough to tame this beast.
Plank variations
1) Floor plank
2) BOSU ball
3) Swiss Ball
4) 1-arm floor plank
5) 1-arm BOSU ball plank
6) RKC plank (scroll down to "Surprises")
7) Repeat from step 1 with RKC plank

- Within each variation: Perform with feet on floor, then elevate feet once with stackable platforms or a 45 lb. plate, finally elevate feet a 2nd time before moving on to the next level.
  • For example, the floor plank should have been performed with your feet on the floor, elevated once, then elevated again before progressing to the BOSU ball plank.
- Perform sets of 30 seconds.
I outlined a thorough plan to bring up ab strength, but I personally was strong enough after step #6 so you may not need to move on to #7 - although it would give you a pretty strong core.

Second, to make yourself comfortable with performing the movements you can do them against an incline such as stairs or the safeties in a squat rack. Every 3-4 weeks, you can lower yourself and once you know it you'll be able to perform them from the floor.

That about sums it up. I recommend making use of these moves since I haven't found the slightest mention of them anywhere else.

But!

Take it easy. Falling flat on your face hurts.

Trust me.


*I asked Bret for some feedback and he said the shoulders, not the feet, elevated increases glute activation as well as pointing out the excessive lumber spine movement.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Exercise Cues: Grip

...I don't think she needs my advice...

Last week - #2 specifically - I mentioned how certain exercise cues aren't really that obvious. On the bright side, this gives me more material for posts and a new label & series to create.

First in this installment is how to grip any implement you use. Whether it be a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or small child, where it rests in your hand can change how the action is executed. Additionally, proper gripping minimizes callus formation.

Some of this is copied & pasted from the document I wrote here since it's a good description. I originally learned this through Mehdi over at StrongLifts.


Hand shows which way your moving the weight
in opposition to which way the weight wants to move.

That indeed is my hand. Now optimal position on the,
Left – Where to grab the bar in exercises which involve pulling the weight towards the body.
Right – Where to grab the bar, possibly lower, in exercises which involve pushing/pressing the weight away from the body.
Hand direction is shown when force is being exerted upon the bar. This is during the concentric portion of the lift. During this part, the bar will be going against the movement of your hand (shown by the 2 arrows coming out of the bar).

If you’re doing a pushing exercise, such as the bench press, but improperly grab the bar high in your hand, as seen on the left, the bar will move down while you perform the exercise. Gravity works like that. As a result, skin will get rubbed and folded upon itself while the bar slides down. It not only forms calluses, but is inconvenient and irritable while you perform a set. Lastly, this could contribute to your wrists bending backwards instead of remaining straight.

For pressing exercises, I put the bar in my hand as close to the bottom of it as possible. When your fingers close, that bottom part (the palm pretty much) actually creates a mini-platform/cushion for the bar to sit on.

For pulling exercises, I take my four fingers and create a sort of "hook" with my hand and fit the bar in that area. It gives me an idea of where the bar will be during a set. I may adjust a bit here and there, but for the most part it's accurate enough. All that's left to do is close your thumb around the bar.

One problem in positioning your grip is what does the exercise fall under, press or pull?
Presses: Typically work front shoulders, triceps, and/or pecs.
Pulls: More focus on the forearms, biceps, traps, and/or lats.
There are a few caveats to this. Farmer's walks work the forearms, however gravity is pulling the weight downwards so you would want to use a pulling grip (position near the fingers).

Also, this is hard to apply to lower-body exercises. Back squats and overhead squats fall under pressing while deadlifts, snatches, & cleans are more pulling.

Overall, this post is a thorough explanation on how you want to position your grip.

Next time: The excitement of scapular retraction! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Because They're Just That Good

On the right side of this blog, if you click "View My Complete Profile" you will see a ton of other blogs I follow. Without clicking every single one and browsing for yourself, you really don't know what each is like.

Luckily for you, I can highlight a few that are of exceptional quality. I'll go over each one in alphabetical order as well as recommending a post or two and, if the description interests you, you can visit them to get a better idea of their blog.
Body Transformation by Carter Schoffer:
  • Carter is easily one of the best in the field of fitness and a personal favorite of mine. If you ever visited the Precision Nutrition forums and see his posts, you'd wholly agree. Likewise, his blog on BT is a nice change of pace from the typical popular thought on training and nutrition. I have yet to find another who writes as concise and well as him. He's always dead on.
ChAoS & PAIN by Jamie Lewis:
  • This guy is something else. He makes the guys over at T-Nation look like gentlemen. His writing is aggressive, crude, and obscene. You may get turned off right away. But judging anything on a superficial level is silly. After I took the time to read his posts, I could definitely see he knows a lot. His methods and philosophy are unconventional and give a fresh & new view on fitness compared to concepts already extensively - and repeatedly - discussed by others.
My Tree of Life (Just One Step at a time) by Harry Hollines:
  • I'm sure my blog resonates with the distaste I have for runners. There's nothing wrong with running, but those who take it up without proper knowledge of technique, footwear, and inadequate recovery & strength training make my brain want to explode. Enter Harry. A seasoned runner with a great deal of experience. He discusses runs, races, minimalist footwear, pacing, and anything related to running. I'm pretty sure Harry is every professional trainer's ideal runner. A well-balanced athlete listening to their body and refining it with every experience.
Nick Grantham by, well, Nick Grantham:
  • Nick hails from the UK and works with a wide array of athletes. Not only that, but he writes above and beyond the base information of fitness and shares his own knowledge from personal experience on working with athletes as well as being a trainer. His posts are unique, thorough, and are filled with invaluable material.
Precision Nutrition by the PN team
  • The wonderful folks at Precision Nutrition are consistently putting up articles on various fitness subjects and making studies understandable to anyone. They cover a lot. I enjoy their blog for the simple fact that they go out of their way to examine topics as thoroughly as possible. This truly helps any individual to be able to read it without being left confused.
Squat Rx by Boris Bachmann
  • First, if you're not familiar with his comprehensive Youtube series on squatting, go watch them here. Not only does Boris make bad ass "Skwat" t-shirts - which I'll be wearing proudly around school - but he writes in a style that is able to connect training and philosophy creating something marvelous. He's the only one from this group - from what I can tell - who also uses kettlebells.
6 quality blogs. I hope you all enjoy reading the authors' posts.

Maybe one day my own writing, after much fine tuning, will be as good as theirs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When Not to Exercise (Beside the Obvious)

Calm down Lou!

When should you not exercise? The answer seems pretty obvious and I'm sure you're thinking "If you're feeling ill or are injured."

Correct! But, should that be the only instance? I would have to say no.

I'd like to add another time you should forgo exercising and it isn't because of any physical debilitation.

What kind of mood are you in? Angry? Sad? Frantic? Negative feelings in general? Then either calm your mind or skip the workout and deal with the current state you're in.

How come? If you don't then you're bringing those emotions to your training session. And honestly, how attentive are we when a strong feeling is bothering us? Hardly at all. The emotion is too distracting and we're never quite at 100% capacity.

Likewise if a particular emotion is constantly experienced and brought to your workout, then you'll be associating it with your training sessions. It may be subtle, but it's there.

You don't want exercise to be a downer, but instead a good experience. Lift with a calm mind that's at peace.

Make exercise a positive part of your well-being.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Greatest Thing to Have

"I may not be clever, but I have a good heart.
That's what my mom use to say."

I was watching Futurama last night and Fry said that line at the end.

I have met many smart, brilliant, and clever people, but they don't impress me like the person with a genuinely good heart.

It is not marked by intelligence, but instead intention.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Going It Alone

I won't lie.
It's tough....at first.

If there's one thing people don't like it's being alone. Some activities are flat out awkward and cause anxiety. Examples such as going to the movies or restaurant alone are not imaginable by individuals.

But the most difficult journey of all is fitness. Embarking on it is scary, frightening, and full of unknowns. Admiration and support should be shown to people who take mindful consideration of their health.

However, how many times has a friend or family member negatively commented on that lifestyle? If there hasn't been a disheartening comment, was there a lack of support?

It isn't easy.

Stepping into the gym for the first time without a clue on what to do. You're so new and everyone around you seems to know what they're doing. (although the truth is a good majority don't)

What do you do?

Ignore it. Everything. Don't give a damn about what or whoever is around you.

Sounds harsh? Possibly, but does that matter? If they're not supportive, cut'em loose from that aspect of your life. You signed up to work hard, not tolerate other people.

Show them what true determination really is. Keep your fitness life yours and share it only with those who have a genuine interest in it.

Let yourself be a positive model and let your habits rub off on to those around you.

Exercise & food are an extension of your body and are intimately connected to it & your life.

No matter what comes your way,
don't ever give up.

"First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win.
" - Gandhi

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Improving Training Sessions

Olympic lifter Shi Zhiyong.
Bad ass video of him here.

I was originally suppose to post Tuesday or Wednesday, but didn't get around to writing (wrote this Wednesday night actually). Sorry if anyone was expecting a post earlier in the week!

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but how do we go about improving our training sessions? I'll share a few ways I use to make workouts flow smoothly.

This is aside from all the proper progressions, programming, dynamic warm-ups, warm-up sets prior to work sets, and workout nutrition. Those are all straightforward - at least to me - and can be found through one's own research or consulting a professional/someone not an idiot.
1) Mindset: Calm

I picked up this from a training video of Olympic weightlifters (which I can't find). Although, the difference is they do it between sets of maximal lifts.
  • You're lifting today at noon. Ok good, but before you start your routine go lie down somewhere peaceful for 10-15 minutes. Relax your mind.
  • You don't need to close your eyes. Simply leave the hectic-causing aspects of your life away from exercise. Keep the stress outside the weight room and get mind & body in ready-mode to lift.
  • If it's nighttime or you're so tired you'll fall asleep as soon as you lie down, better skip it and just listen to a little music.

2) Recognizing: Anxiousness
  • Busy day? In a rush? Chances are your workout for the day will seem like a chore or time consumer more than anything else.
  • Lifting in a rush sucks. I prefer my summer sessions opposed to during the school year because I don't have to worry about being somewhere right after I'm done. Don't look at the time when you're working out. You want your attention in the weight room and not worrying about other matters. Exercise is stressful enough on the body as it is, don't add more to the fire.
  • If you have more important priorities then either skip working out altogether or cut down on rest times, reps, sets, or exercises.
3) Awareness: Execution
  • It's easy to make each exercise a mindless repetition of movements or to do it just for the sake of being done. The problem? We ignore producing clean crisp reps and instead get sloppy execution that reinforce poor movement patterns.
  • Ignore/ditch the music player and the mirror: They distract more than you think. Feel how your body is performing the exercise and if it hurts, is awkward, or can be improved upon. Make small adjustments to see how they change.
  • Having trouble targeting what needs to be worked on? Close your eyes. Now you've eliminated any visual distractions and can focus solely on how your body is moving.
There you have it. 3 tips to incorporate and improve your own training. If you try them out, let me know how it goes.

As for myself, excuse me. I'm going to go lay down.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Illusion of Difference

Why do differences exist?
Why create separation?

This was going to be post 100, but it got bumped to 98 for particular reasons (order of posts & #100 being more important). However, this shouldn't downplay it's importance. I've been waiting to do this post for quite some time - months - and the message is very dear to me.

I remember one day in high school, my senior health teacher asked us to write down what made our personal culture unique compared to others. He drew a chart on the board to keep track of what we all wrote as we said what we came up with.

After he got all our points, he began to list all the similarities. A few of the things he came up with were,
  • We all have special foods set aside for important occasions.
  • We all have music we enjoy.
  • We all have holidays and celebrations shared with family and friends.
  • We all have clothes we wear for specific events, like weddings.
  • We all mourn the loss of loved ones and share the joy of new lives.
I'm sure he said more.

Differences muddle one's clarity and, unfortunately, the similarities become overlooked.

For instance, let's examine exercise. Exercise covers a broad variety of activities and is used for a number of reasons. The methods available at one's disposal are many, but how important is that?

The goals - regardless of the means - are typically the same. It's either get strong, have fun, or look better. Stronger doesn't mean being able to move big weights in the gym, but also better aerobic capacity, immune system, self-esteem/-confidence, bone density, use of the muscles, and so on & so forth.

Even sub-categories of exercise are cluttered with divisions and distinctions. Everyone approaches weight training with the notion that certain methods are more effective than others.

A squat is a squat no matter if there's a bar, kettlebell, dumbbell, weight vest, overhead/back/front placement, bodyweight, or sandbag.

Crossfit, plyometrics, powerlifting, circuit training, high reps, low reps, whatever. It's all done with the purpose to improve one's self. We should not limit ourselves to thinking so rigidly.

Bruce Lee exemplified this fact. I recall reading he studied fencing and boxing. His goal was to become the best and to do so, he studied other systems of combat. From what he learned, he incorporated the important lessons into his own practice. He did not seclude himself to one style. He passed on what he learned by teaching others.

Many differences can be created, but why separate ourselves from others? We create them, we separate ourselves.

But acceptance is finding things we have in common with one another.

Simply put, similarities are the ties that bind us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Happiness: The Big Question

It's not "which came first,
the chicken or the egg?"

I sit down in the seat to be interviewed by my professor and not know what to expect. To make it even more interesting, I didn't practice going over a single question that would be asked during an interview. Smart, right?

Nearing the end of the interview, I should have expected this:
Professor: So, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I answered with one or two options I foresaw, but I don't think it was a concrete response. More so, it was where I'd like to be.

Done with one, next I shuffled over to the room next door to be interviewed by the lab manager.

This one ended:
Her (the lab manager): Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hm, again this question. I gave a similar response and learned afterward that my professor and her didn't know they asked the same question.

It's fascinating how many times I've come across this question or something similar.

In 2nd grade, our class had a guest come and talk. In a circle, one by one we stood up and said what we wanted to be when we grow up. I forgot what most kids said, but I remember hearing NBA player and dolphin trainer among the responses. I got up, said I don't know what I want to be, and sat back down. I didn't think much of it, but he made me stand back up again and said to everyone that is perfectly fine (along with other stuff I can't recall).

Senior year of high school, my health class teacher said write down where you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, and then some time later. My mind was drawing a huge blank.

Seeing yourself in 5 years, what's the significance of it? What's it show? That you have plans?

It seems so strange to me. 5 years ago I was 16 and high school sophomore year finished. Back then, the most fitness-related thing I did was quit drinking soda.

I was 16. I didn't know I would,
  • Be working with kids on a regular basis.
  • Drop engineering at 17 for Psychology.
  • Take up a Religion major at 20.
  • Not care about what school I go to.
  • Get involved in weight lifting.
  • Be reading books. (I despised them)
  • Be writing this blog.
  • Meet all these people in my life.
  • Lose so many people in my life.
  • Head an organization.
  • Be helping other people.
That's 5 years. And you know what? I probably missed a ton of other things.

This past spring, my friend and I went to talk to our professor. My friend asked when he should go live as a Buddhist monk in a monastery. Now while he's young, easy to soak up knowledge & be molded or older when life is more peaceful & settled.*

My professor told him he is young now with a lot of opportunity, but a very distractible mind. During your later years, it would be easier to live as a monk but what if your life is different, what if you fall in love?

Life isn't predictable.

How can you predict where you see yourself in 5 years? If you did know, where's the excitement in it? How can you account for other people - old & new - in those 5 years?

As you can see, I'm not a fan of the question. However, I think there's great value in the reverse.

Look back at the last 5 years, what have you accomplished that you didn't account for? What has happened? If someone asked where do you see yourself in 5 years, did you answer correctly back then? If so, are you happy about it? Are you happy now?

In 5 years, a lot can happen.

Have a good weekend everyone.


*He's currently at a monastery in Korea. I hope he's doing well.
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