Monday, February 21, 2011

Cues for the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Today's exercise:

Only comment I have is to keep the chin tucked in,
meaning don't crane your neck up to stare straight ahead.

It's a great unilateral movement to hit the posterior chain while improving balance/stability and coordination. I like to incorporate it since it's one of the few single-leg exercises recruiting the hamstrings with little focus on the quadriceps.

She makes it look deceptively easy, but that's far from the truth. First, poor hip mobility will slap any attempt you make. Second, it still involves a somewhat unique awareness of how you're moving [proprioceptive ability] compared to other exercises, say like the lunge or step-up.

Through a little trial and error, I've managed to smooth out some kinks making it easier to perform.
1) Arch your back hard. This is often reserved for the major compound lifts like deadlift, squat, barbell rows, and benching, but this also prevents the torso from flexing at the low back as well as keeping it rigid. Chest pushed out, shoulder blades pulled down, and stick your butt back.

2) The arched back sets us up for initiating and executing the movement, which in my opinion is the trickiest part. The cue I developed was to visualize it as closing a ship's hatch. Take a look:

In the first image, the hatch is only able to move at one fixed point to be closed - indicated by the blue arrow. Likewise, in the next image you should imagine the same thing. Only move at the fixed point of the hip, again the blue arrow, and think of "closing the hatch," almost as if you were trying to make the top of your hip/pelvic bone touch the very top part of your thigh. On the way back up "open" the hatch.

Often it's thought of as the entire torso moving. However, that acts as a distraction. With your back arched, you won't have to worry about rounding out and can focus on the hip pivoting.

3) Weight distribution can act as a hindrance. Use different weights in each hand if your body is falling towards one side or the other. For example, if doing reps on the left foot and you find yourself falling to the right then instead of using two 30lb. dumbbells use a 35lb. in your left hand as a counterweight and a 25lb. in the right.

4) The last key factor is your footing and how you reach down. Keeping your foot firmly planted will prevent swaying. As for your hands when you descend, reaching over midfoot or over the knuckles of your toes is a good spot. Essentially, let your hands hang but don't let them deviate so far away they make you fall.
There a few ways to program the single-leg Romanian deadlift into your own training. Weightless is great to add in your warm-up. Since this isn't an exercise where you go heavy, I recommend in lifting sessions to stick with light to moderate weights for sets with reps being 5-6 or higher.

Though make no mistake, this is an exercise that takes practice. If you're new to it then practice with your bodyweight, use a wall to assist yourself, do partial reps, or try a regular bodyweight Romanian deadlift on both feet and slowly switch to a staggered/split stance (one foot placed further back than the other).

Now then, go work those hammies!

Related articles,

Friday, February 18, 2011

The End of Six Weeks

He impressed everyone with his
abilities first, his physique second.

Why did I do this series?

I like to share information that can be applicable to anyone and that can be of use, especially if I'm able to adapt it to the world of fitness. My lab work presented such an opportunity.

I began lifting roughly five years ago. My goal was to optimize my gains as best I could by being as efficient as possible in the weight room. To learn what worked and what didn't involved a lot of experimentation, meaning new methods, exercises, and the like - anything to get better. I rarely compared myself to others around me or thought I would look awkward trying something different.

With regards to lifting, it hasn't been until the last year or so I've become more refined in my thinking process. The bulk of my years I was hardly strong nor knowledgeable on the topic, but still curious to try new methods.

During these past few years conversations about exercise with others would come up. Never have I had so many conversations where people felt insecure on a subject to the point of absurdity based on nonsensical fears instilled. A number of them waste time and end up feeling dejected and hopeless about their goals thinking it should be a torturous journey.

Women stick to their little corner away from any men using the paperweight dumbbells, guys quiver at other guys more muscular than them, while others are too scared to touch the weights at all and stick to their turtle-paced treadmill.

I have a different experience where I enjoy myself with weights, my body, and my performance achieving what I set out for. I enter the gym, enjoy my time lifting, and leave happy when it's all said and done. The only worry I ever have is "will I have to wait to use the squat rack today?"

I wish others the same. Goals are achievable and it doesn't have to be a horrendous experience.

"Research your own experiences for the truth, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own." - Krishnamurti

Be your own person, be confident, and most importantly: be happy.

Lift like you mean it
and enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 6: Prioritization & Planning

A cleaner desk leads to better planning.
It was much worse a few days ago.

To recap the last five weeks,
Session 1: There is a cause for certain thoughts we have leading to how we feel.
Session 2: The thoughts can be formed in a way where we unjustly blame ourselves.
Session 3: Mistakes are exaggerated and we tend to focus on one detail or worry about things we cannot change as opposed to the ones we can change.
Session 4: How we handle dealing with people close to us.
Session 5: Learning effective communication is key in explaining your goals to others and closely examining them yourself.
In today's penultimate post of Iron Resiliency we'll be discussing prioritization.

What's more frustrating than doing work to gain nothing? The time used is long gone and could have been put towards something more productive or worthwhile. This brings up two questions.

Always ask, "where am I pouring your efforts?" and "am I setting myself up for success?"
  • Fat loss: Are you doing too much of the wrong kind of exercise? Running all the time? Or are you not tightening up your diet?
  • Hypertrophy: Are you incorporating enough compound movements? Is there adequate recovery and caloric intake?
  • Strength/Performance: Is your training designed to reflect your goal(s)? Emphasis on volume-based work can prove detrimental.
For any fitness-related goal, are you looking at the big picture outside of your workouts? Does your lifestyle reflect what you're aiming for? Is there some way you're keeping yourself accountable?
By developing a sound plan and adhering to it you'll be able to track your own progress.

Developing a rough general plan then proceeding to break it up into smaller parts gives you a better understanding of how to tailor it accordingly. In turn you can micromanage everything and step back to see how it affects the goal at hand.
1) State your goal and compare it to what you're currently doing.

2) Work backwards from your goal and plan accordingly. List your changes.

3) Have a clear picture of each step. Does it make sense?

4) Step back and look at what you've created.
To illustrate this method, I'll go through an example of my own I'm implementing. I have to drop a few pounds for an upcoming strongman competition because I'm too close for comfort to the next weight class up.
1) I need to lose fat while retaining muscle. Before deciding this, my diet was to gain weight.

2) Since fat loss is the plan I need to alter my meals. Before I was relying on nuts to bump up my shakes' calories, going large on portions, and eating more carbs than were needed - such as oatmeal for breakfast.

I'll reduce nuts in my shakes, add more protein & veggies to meals, eat until I'm content (not stuffed), and replace my breakfast with eggs, veggies, and green tea to burn more calories.

3) Reducing the items I used to gain weight would knock my calories down. Providing more protein and veggies will minimize muscle loss. Eliminating useless fillers - extra carbs - also will reduce my caloric intake. So far it makes sense.

4) By reducing calories in a few key areas I've made a caloric deficit in my diet to achieve fat loss.
Breaking apart a large plan into more manageable steps makes it easier to tackle.

Now, I mentioned in session one I'd create a month long program for the end of the series and I've done just that.

Here's a straightforward program anyone can follow - intermediate experience recommended - to really kick up their confidence in the gym.
Session 1
1) Trap bar or sumo stance deadlift
2) Barbell supinated (underhand) rows from floor*
3) Weighted dips
4) Front squat holds

Sets & reps
1) 6 x 2
2) 3 x 4
3) 3 x 4
4) 3 x 20s

*If using less than 135lbs. and no bumper plates are available, perform in the squat rack with the bar resting on the safeties in the first hole from the bottom.

Session 2
1) Any variation of the back squat that isn't the back squat [front, Zercher, overhead, box, pins, etc.]
2) Weighted neutral grip pull-ups (preferably shoulder-width)
3) Barbell front or behind the neck push press
4) Vertical Pallof press

Sets & reps
1) 6 x 2
2) 3 x 4
3) 3 x 4
4) 3 x 20s per side

Rest: 2 minutes between sets.

NOTE: For exercise #1 in either session, if you're familiar with ramping sets and prefer it then feel free to go that route.

Be sure to have at least two days of rest between each session. And to make it progressively more difficult I'll direct readers to the progression outlined here. (Or you can just add weight every week, taking the 4th week off as a deload.)
Why is it created like this? It's short, but full of big compound movements with a low-volume scheme allowing the trainee to work with very heavy weights. Additionally since the body is strong at most of these variations the movements will be particular easy if using only a moderate weight.

Take for instance the deadlift: With the exception of a rack pull, most people can pull more weight either using a trap bar or with a sumo stance.

In other cases, the movement is meant to take the trainee a bit out of their comfort zone (i.e., vertical Pallof press). Or it may be a combination of the two factors - weighted dips or front squat holds.

In any case, everyone in the gym will be staring at your beastliness. Near the end of this week I'll post a formal conclusion expressing my thoughts on the series and why I wrote it.

And with that, so comes an end to Iron Resiliency. I hope it was an enjoyable six weeks for those who stuck around. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Supplements, Part 2: How?

Fish oil does the body good.

Part 1 was posted back in September and I intended to do this right behind the first half. How to write it succinctly became another conundrum. To keep it simple, I won't go into every minute detail but will offer resources at the end of the post. And I'd like to note a lot of my nutritional background comes from the Precision Nutrition team.

There are a variety of protein powders differing due to their derived source, processing, and rate of digestion/absorption.

A common type is whey protein that comes from milk. Casein protein, which is similar to it, digests slower. Whey protein itself can be hydrolyzed weakening its bonds allowing for quicker absorption, albeit priced higher. Aside from these two, there are vegan-friendly options such as hemp, pea, rice, and soy-based proteins.

This supplement is useful either in kicking up the protein profile in a meal - or shake - or to aid in minimizing catabolic effects of strength training (the breaking down of muscle). This is where hydrolyzed whey comes into play. Alternatively, branched chained amino acids [BCAAs] are the building blocks of protein and are absorbed the fastest.

So how should you use it? During a workout session, the exact amount varies person-to-person and their goals. Half a scoop to one full scoop is usually enough. If it's only one ingredient in a large shake you're creating, 1-2 scoops should be sufficient. I use Optimum Nutrition, but I've heard great things about True Protein, although the S&H is a bit pricey.

Lastly on protein powder, I'll advise against protein blends. The powder contains protein from multiple sources - like egg albumen, whey, & casein - but often results in a very unhappy stomach. Use it at your own risk.

Be sure you are satisfied with the mixability of your powder, taste, and do a little research online for reviews.

Greens Powder

First, be sure you can stomach whichever brand you purchase - my go to is Greens+. I've gotten use to the texture, but it's incredibly nauseating to others. I add half the serving size into water or a shake. The latter masks it very well and can be hardly noticed.

I rarely use the label's suggested three 3 teaspoons since I consume vegetables and fruits with other meals during the day. If you're eating plenty of each, at least +5 servings a day, then you probably don't need this in your inventory.

If you're looking to use this primarily in shakes, leafy greens are the better option. Tossing kale, baby spinach, or a similar vegetable into your blender will be more beneficial than the powder. Buy whichever you prefer and store it in your freezer to avoid spoilage.

Fish Oil

If you decide to start using fish oil, consume your body fat percentage in grams spread throughout the day for the first 2-4 weeks. After that lower the dosage to half your body fat percentage. Someone at 18% BF would take 6g (18g per day) with breakfast, lunch, and dinner then after the hyperdosing period switch to 3g (9g per day) with the three meals. I picked these recommendations up from John Berardi over at the PN forums.

Brand-wise, if you want a liquid version then Carlson's lemon-flavored fish oil is a popular choice. If you prefer capsules like myself, I believed the best priced is Kirkland's from Costco or again True Protein.

Vegans can opt for algae oil. The dose recommendations above don't apply when using algae oil. For those interested, check out V-Pure or Omega-Zen-3.

If I had to select only one supplement for use, it's definitely fish oil. I highly doubt people are consuming enough omega-3 fatty fish on a daily basis. It's unlikely and the diet disparity between the amount of omega-6's to 3's ratio is large.


I was researching multivitamin information back in July and it was a confusing topic. I've come to the conclusion not to worry about it. Simply grab one that won't make you queasy. Men and postmenopausal women should select an iron-free product and women who haven't gone through "kill everyone" mode yet, take a multivitamin that has iron.

Certain brands suggest taking 3 pills a day and have high vitamin doses. In a situation like that, take only 1-2 pills. One with food, one without. Certain vitamins are only absorbed with foods while the opposite is true for other vitamins.

Additionally, take one and toss it in vinegar to see if it breaks apart. If it doesn't, chances are your stomach acid isn't breaking it up either.

Brands are endless, but New Chapter seems pretty good from what I've seen.
The supplement industry is huge. The ones I've described here are my staples. Another supplement that is widely used and safe is creatine. Only 3-5g is needed. (I personally just don't use it.)

Are supplements I've excluded useless? Not quite.
Are they necessary? Not at all.
Do they have their merit? They do.

At the end of the day, "it depends" is the big question for optimizing your own goals. What one person may need, another person might not. I've found the above supplements help me optimize my gains a tad more than I would on my diet alone.

In my own opinion, it's never all-or-nothing. Feel free to dabble here and there to see what benefits you.

Here are a few worthwhile reads on supplements,
All About Protein
All About Greens Supplements
All About Fish Oil
All About Vitamins & Minerals
All About Where Vitamin Supplements Come From
All About Creatine
The Science of Nutrient Timing, Parts 1 and 2
You may need to register to the site to be able to read the articles, but it's free*. They cover the topics very well for anyone interested in reading more.

Got it? Good.

*If you need to be a registered member, use this link.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 5: Staying Focused

It's easy to be focused
when you stay calm.

Tackling a situation when you're emotionally-charged is one of the worst ways to handle a situation. If your feelings are all over the place, especially at the extreme ends, your actions tend to be more erratic. Whether sad or angry in the heat of the moment, you're less likely to be accountable for whatever you do.

However, it's also a problem if you're not getting it off your chest. Repeatedly going over it in your head doesn't make you feel better and neither does it fix the problem. Fortunately, there's a middle ground to utilize.

Most times we need someone who will listen when we talk. That can be a family member, friend, significant other, or anyone who will give us the time and just listen. As helpful as it is, the conflict still remains unresolved.

I said last week if you have a conflict with someone you know then you should speak to them. We can do it in a specific manner that's structured enough where it won't (a) worsen the situation and (b) lead to another argument. This will allow you to defend your own goals as well making the other person more receptive to your efforts.
1) Let the argument/confrontation cool off. Go do something and give it a day or two before you return to the subject. When you're not hot-headed, return to converse.

2) Go over what happened in your eyes and why it bothered you. They may have not seen it like that from their own point of view.

3) Tell the other person how you felt by what occurred. If they know you're serious and they truly stepped their bounds unknowingly, they'll be more understanding.

4) Describe your goals and what your plan is to achieve them. If they're genuinely interested, they can help and take a proactive role in your endeavors.

5) List the benefits of your goal(s). Improved self-esteem? Better health? Stronger? What is it and why is it important to you?
Sometimes people jump the gun on their judgments and their tongue may slip resulting in a fight.

It happens.

But we shouldn't carry ourselves in a bad mood for the rest of the time. It isn't conducive to a good relationship and it doesn't help our own well-being. Take a stance, be mature, and state what's going on. Talking in a calm collected manner is better received than yelling at another person.

If there's one thing that always helps it's effective communication.

Next week I'll finish up with the final session, include a program to bolster confidence, and have a conclusion near the end of the week.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Iron Resiliency, Session 4: Social Network Conflict

Yeah because everyone's this friendly.
(And yes, this is a day late)

Family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, you name it. They all get on our nerves at one time or another. And when is it really aggravating? When you're very compliant with your training goals.

Diet and exercise are intimately connected with your body. What you do to your body also reflects how you feel about it. If you're in poor shape and begin changing your habits or simply have an affinity towards taking care of yourself, that should always be commended.

Unfortunately, has there ever been an instance where someone commented, questioned, or remarked in a manner which was putting down your own efforts? It's not very encouraging when you're busting your behind.

Now, how do you handle this? What if it's occurred with more than one individual? Does it make you wrong? Are you truly wasting your time? Even more importantly, can you never change your body?


Ask yourself this, what do they know? The executive at Kodak once said digital cameras would never become popular. I wonder how that person became an executive. In the previous installment I said consistency is important in determining your success so shake off the negative Nancies.

Never thought I'd get
to use this image on the blog.

But obviously we can't avoid our loved ones that easily. A few strategies you can employ are:
  • Don't discuss that subject of your life with them. If they can't respect it, they definitely do not deserve to hear about it.
  • Talk to a friend who does understand you. Better yet, find an online forum community where members keep logs. Precision Nutrition's userbase has an entire section for everyone to detail their progress and encourage others. Bottom line: Find support.
  • Blow them away with your results. Actions speak louder than words. It may take time, but they'll keep quiet after they see you.
  • Speak to them about it. (More on this next week.)
What you shouldn't do:
  • Get into a pointless argument where you won't change their narrow-mindedness.
  • Admit defeat by accepting what they say as truth.
I believe social support isn't completely necessary when working toward your goals, but it goes a long way and is immensely helpful.

It doesn't have to be nor it shouldn't be difficult.

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

Four sessions down and two to go folks!

*This quote probably isn't appropriate with a picture like the one above.
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