Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exercising Around Injury

When I browse forums, every now and then users tend to ask similar questions. The most popular question is "How do I lose fat or bulk up?" but the other is "I injured so and so, how do I continue exercising?"

The answer: You don't continue to exercise. If a person's sustained an injury where the only remedy is rest then you should rest!

It's hardly rocket science or the most profound advice, but it's pretty damn important. I find it odd when someone attempts to tip toe around their injury to still exercise.

No one likes to not exercise nor does anyone like to be told not to exercise. You run the risk of worsening your current injury if you try to exercise.

Some exercises can be done pain free, but why bother? Is it so bad to take time off? Are you that addicted to your routine? Will you suddenly gain 100 lbs? Will you become so weak you won't be able to rebuild your strength?
Probably not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rules of Programming

The first rule of Fat Club is that you
don't talk about the first rule of Fat Club.

I had a conversation last week that made me think, "How do I design programs?" I rely on a few hard-and-fast (that's what she said) rules. As I learn more these may change, but for now they play a big role in how I structure programs.

Before I continue I should distinguish between a program and a workout. A workout is one exercise session whereas a program consists of many workouts spanning multiple weeks. A workout can be done for fun without having to follow any particular guidelines. I've done it plenty of times. Consider a program when you need a plan to achieve a goal like increase your back squat, run faster, recover from an injury, fix your posture, and the like.

Now the rules.
Training Should Mimic or Resemble the Goal
- Select movements that overlap with movement(s) in the sport.
  • For example, shot and discus throwers generate power through their legs and hips to throw the object. Think of what develops strong legs and hip extension such as squats.
  • A great way to get ideas is search Youtube for how athletes of a sport train. You can usually find a variety of videos from amateur to elite.
New Skills Go First
- You want to develop a new skill? Begin with it in the first day of the week. This allows you to avoid fatigue while hammering the technique into your nervous system. Remember practice makes perfect.
  • If the goal is to learn barbell snatches or a front lever, putting them first while you're fresh makes it easier to learn without sacrificing form.
Prioritize One Plane Movement per Session
- The first lift is done when you're primed for working out. As the workout progresses fatigue sets in. Of course it's natural to become tired. Hence whatever you begin with won't suffer from a lack of physical and/or mental focus.

- In a session prioritize one lift per plane movement.* This means you devote your effort to a single exercise compared to the bodybuilding method of many exercises for one muscle.
  • Pick a heavy compound lift or something that requires near 100% concentration and effort - 1-arm push-up, heavy overhead press, banded deadlift, tempo squat, etc.
*I wrote about plane movements here with an example of each here [the six compound lifts]. The only one not included is a loaded walk/carry.

Choose 1-2 Exercises per Plane in a Workout (3 Max)
- The previous rule doesn't mean you're limited to one thing. Another exercise or two can be added as secondary work. You're able to train with more volume in place of intensity.
  • Follow a deadlift variation [hip-dominant] with single-leg Romanian deadlifts, glute-ham raises, or band stomps to further work the hamstrings and glutes. They're less demanding on the body than the main lift - deadlift in this case - but still provide training volume.
Free Weights Comprise the Program- With the exception of special circumstances, an injury for instance, no machines are used. Cable-based equipment is acceptable, but nothing that has a fixed path of movement [the infamous Smith machine]. Free weights provide better results.

Postural & Abs Go Last

- This is self-explanatory. Postural drills are light and higher in volume. Abs can be difficult but don't suffer as much from the preceding training in the workout. You can even pair a postural movement and abs back-to-back.

Emphasize Quality NOT Fatigue
- A common belief is we must break our bodies to a crippling state where we can barely move after enduring a brutal workout.

I don't play that crap. Go in, put effort into a few moves, and then call it a day. At most it should take 90 minutes consisting of 4, maybe 5, days a week.

Minimize Discrepancies
- Simply put: target weaknesses and any glaring problems.
  • Overly strong bench press but lackluster pull-up? Hunched posture? Something else? Devote more attention to bring up a lagging area.
Remove Awkwardness & Pain
- Everything doesn't work for everyone. If it's painful or downright awkward no matter how much you attempt to work out the kinks, drop it from your program and find a suitable alternative. Don't be afraid to experiment.
These rules don't encompass everything I do but they're core principles I use to create a program. Other individuals will have their own philosophy and that's perfectly alright. Find out what works and benefits you the most.
"If it works, it works, no matter what anybody says."

- Franco Columbu
Related articles,

Friday, September 23, 2011

Quick Decision Making

"Does it help or not help?"

It doesn't get any simpler. If you have a thought on whether something is a good or bad choice then ask the question above. For example,

"I want to drink soda with my meal."

"Fries or a salad on the side?"

"I don't want to work out this week."

"I pulled a muscle, but I still want to lift today."

Think of what you're trying to accomplish and then ask, "Does it help or not help?" It tends to be obvious, but it's more than a question - it's a reminder.

A reminder of what you want.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Olympic Lift Start Position

Couldn't clean the images up entirely.
(Click to enlarge)

In the Olympic weightlifting series I posted a Youtube video that showed elite lifters snatching in slow motion. Unfortunately the original user has recently removed the video. However I got lucky and was able to take a few snapshots. Take a look at the lifters above and notice they have a similar set-up.

Outlined are the angles of the spine, femurs, shins, arms, as well as the locations of the shoulders, hips, and knees (the circles). Some interesting points:
  • The knees are over the toes.
  • The hips are slightly higher than the knees.
  • The shoulders are over the bar.
Different body types lead to variations here and there, but you can see they're all positioned more-or-less the same.

Unless you're pulling frog stance, your set-up will resemble the pictured lifters.

Related articles,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Open Hands

What did the five fingers say to the face?

I like to balance my movements: presses & pulls and quadriceps & hamstring work. That's a basic overview, but to my surprise in late 2009 I learned I was ignoring my fingers. They were always in flexion (curled in, not straight). Ben's article "Balanced Hands" explained many daily activities put fingers in flexion: typing on a keyboard, driving, or grabbing anything - pencil, glass, barbell, tennis racket, you name it.

Ben outlines ways to train finger extension in the article, but the only method I've tried is utilizing rubber bands. However recently I've applied isometric work to finger extension with no equipment. The result,

Before & After

The fingers are straightest after a set is done. For those who are unfamiliar with isometrics, it's exerting effort against an immovable object. Despite no movement occurring, muscular tension is created during a fixed posture. It's important to understand that one static point isn't representative of an entire movement. Therefore, performing a hold at multiple points is best such as at the start, middle, and end points of a movement. Because there are infinite points along an exercise's curve it's not possible to focus on every point. (You best believe I remember something from calculus!)

It's very simple to apply isometrics to train finger extension.

Hands are like that to see clearly.
You can position your hands however you choose.

As the hand on the right is attempting to open up, the hand on the left is acting as resistance by applying pressure to it. I chose four positions:
(1) Fist-like
(2, 3) Middle points
(4) Near full extension
Alternatively, you can slowly open one hand while the other relaxes to put it into a rep-styled scheme. I show all the fingers being trained simultaneously, but one or a few fingers can be done at a time as opposed to all at once.

Since the fingers go behind the hand and wrist when in full extension, the end range can be trained like this as well:

You can also extend against a solid object
such as you're desk, bed, wall, etc.

With isometrics, a few seconds for each point is sufficient. And there's also no need to train finger extension aggressively. A little goes a long way - whether you're at work, in the car, or relaxing, take a few seconds to work your fingers.

Couple the strengthening with finger extension stretching and you're good to go for healthier hands.....but try not to slap anyone with them.
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