Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays to everyone out there.

If you are one of my clients then I extend a heartfelt thanks for your hard work and friendship over the past year. Take a few days off during the Holidays, you deserve it, and your body probably needs it.

I'll be taking a few days off to recharge the batteries, but to me recharging the batteries means staying active and doing things like snowboarding, surfing, hiking, and lifting.

And to whomever stole out mt. bikes this past weekend, I hope you go out and play in traffic with them and meet the working end of a bus.

If my wife and I happen make it back to the Midwest our exercise will no doubt end up being snow shoveling and trekking through the deep snow with a couple of dogs in subzero temps. Good fun!

Meanwhile in the Basque region of Spain people apparently have a tradition of lifting stones, REALLY heavy stones, as a hobby.

Keep in mind 290kg is about 603 pounds. Think about that next time you see some jackass grunting while curling 30lb dumbbells in the gym.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What's Good For The Pregger Population is Good For You

This past weekend I attended a workshop on training pre and post Natal women. An informative time, if you have a chance to see Annette Lang speak or teach go see her.

One of the topics was core training (yeah yeah I know alot of trainers are rebelling against the "core" label), and the importance of core stability for pregnant women. Naturally as a woman's stomach gets bigger doing movements such as crunches are not only uncomfortable, but may create problems (stomach herniation anyone?).

By the way this goes for any guy with a big stomach too. Carrying alot of internal fat and doing crunches can lead to your guts popping out. Not a good look.

During this I asked a knowledgeable colleague if he still had anyone do crunches anymore, to which he replied no.

I can't remember the last time I had a client do a crunch.

Annette referenced Dr. Stuart McGill, probably the foremost expert on back issues as related to exercise and injury. Dr. McGill doesn't like the crunch either, noting undue stress on the low back, neck, and basically how crunches neglect important anterior core muscles better addressed with other movements.

And I should probably bring up the fact here that doing a million crunches will not get you a six pack, or help anyone "tone" their midsection in any way whatsoever. I'm now confident that nobody will ever ask about crunches again. Right.

So now that we've dispensed with that let's move on to productive core movements.
Woodchop variations, planks, renegade rows, plankouts, Pallof press are all exercises that use not only the rectus abdominus (six pack muscles) but also deeper core muscles that are important in stabilizing the back.

Chances are anyone with low back pain is not as strong as they should be in this area. The function of core muscles such as the Transverse Abdominus is to protect the lumbar vertebrae by not letting them flex. Or to put it another way we need to stabilize the low back, not flex it as happens when you do a crunch.

My own low back situation has gotten alot better since I've focused on stabilization movement patterns, along with getting my hips more mobile.

I've seen Gray Cook, a noted physical therapist, speak a number of times now. He addresses this issue as well as anyone I've ever seen so check it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Hold Your Breath

Or do hold your breath. It seems to help some athletes.

My friend and aspiring pro-surfer Rylan passed along this article from the WSJ concerning what training big wave surfer Mark Healy does to avoid dying in the course of his work.

And I say that seriously as death is a real possibility in that sport. Having surfed a couple of sizable swells in my day I can tell you that being gassed while out in bigger waves is absolutely no fun at all. I can't even imagine being out in 20+ foot waves and getting pounded.

The old saying "fatigue makes cowards of us all" comes to mind here.

The WJS article touches on Healey's time honored tactic of exercising while holding one's breath, and otherwise deliberately restricting oxygen while moving. Otherwise known as hypoxic training. Hypoxic training is fairly common in sports such as mixed martial arts, and involves such things as sprinting while breathing through a snorkel.
And you thought that guy on the treadmill had just escaped the insane asylum.

Though the verdict from the strength and conditioning world is not in yet, I think there is some value in looking at the training of such athletes and picking out what may be beneficial for the rest of us.

What I've found is that a key component to improving one's fitness level is improving your ability to recover faster from hard efforts. Otherwise known as anaerobic work (interval work). Basically the goal is to push hard enough so that at some point you have to stop, be it sprints, complex lifts, or everyone's favorite: Burpees!

The result is that not only do you improve your ability to recover from hard efforts, but also put your body into oxygen debt (EPOC), which thus raises your metabolism and aids in fat loss. Jogging or other steady state aerobic work will not do this - for evidence just look at most people trying to lose weight by doing aerobics classes. It's more than likely they'll look exactly the same a year later.

Mr. Healey also does mixed martial arts and kettlebells as a part of his training. Both of which are not only effective but fun (in my perverted mind anyway). The article also touches upon what he does for injury prevention (kettlebells for shoulder health), which I will address in a subsequent post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Acheyball Challenge

No, the 1st Intergalactic Acheyball Challenge isn't what you probably think it is, but rather an informal fitness challenge involving putting a steel ball with a handle above your head as many times as possible.

This past weekend some 200 lifters gathered in gyms, basements, and homes across the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe to participate.

The rules are simple: 10 minutes of snatches (putting the kettlebell overhead in one motion) followed by 10 minutes of one arm clean and jerk (two distinct movements) with no break. Putting the bell down was allowed (not putting it down for 20 minutes gave snearing privileges), resting was allowed, as was changing hands anytime. You could choose any weight you wanted. The goal was simply to get as many repetitions as possible in 20 minutes.

This challenge started out on the IGX Forum between the two main kettlebell camps in the U.S., Valery Fedorenko's American Kettlebell Club, and Pavel Tsatsouline's Russian Kettlebell Challenge. Thankfully it evolved into more of just a fun way to challenge one's own fitness level and technique.

Since nobody else in Los Angeles that I know of was participating I did my 20 minute set at home.

My results are:
24kg (53lbs) bell
10:00 - 144 snatches
10:00 - 84 one arm clean & jerk
age: 36 weight: 192 lbs
put bell down? yes
tore skin off hands? oh yes

Lessons learned: I need alot of technique work, particularly lockouts on the snatches. This will help efficiency and ultimately mean more reps with less energy spent, and reduce friction on hands which will preserve some skin. By about the 15 minute mark my hands started to tear, which messed with my clean and jerk technique and ultimately affected my results. Number-wise I finished around the middle of the pack. Now I can't wait to get back to the drawing board and employ these lessons.

In the meantime check out some videos of the challenge. For reference, pink bells are 8kg 916lbs), blue kettlebells are 12kg (25lbs), green are 24kg (53lbs), red are 32kg (70lbs) and one or two guys used the silver 40kg (80lbs).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Everyone Is Doing It

Uh-oh, look who jumped on the bandwagon!

Lordy Lordy Lance is joining the Dangerball Cult. Makes climbing L'Alpe D'Huez seem like a piece of cake eh Lance? *wink*

Check out the latest copy of Men's Health for the article.

Relatedly I've been training for a fun little kettlebell competition coming up this weekend. Lifters around the world are going to be participating and uploading video and results - stay tuned for that.

Nothing like a little competition and concrete goals to push you. It really does make a difference, so get out and get involved.

My last kettlebell workout consisted of dynamic warmups and mobility work plus some 16kg kettlebell snatches.

A 5 minute set of snatches with the 24kg (53lb) bell for 30 reps each hand (I had torn the skin of both palms with week before so kept the snatch volume low).

A 7 minute set of 24kg one arm clean and jerks at a consistent 8-9 reps per minute (60 reps total).

2 minutes of 24kg swings for 60 reps
And finished off with some assistance work doing jerks with 2 16kg bells.

Sort of a tapering workout so we'll see what happens this weekend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The KISS Principle

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and are staying healthy as we head into the Christmas Season. They say the average American gains 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, and it ain't muscle. But of course none of you are average so instead of blathering on I'm going to pass along advice from those smarter than I. Guys that have trained thousands of people.

The theme of this post is Keep It Simple Stupid, which comes to me by way of noted strength coach Dan John. By the way, everyone would benefit from reading every article by Dan right now.

Finished? We'll continue.

In discussing the genius of keeping it simple Dan brings up the Paredo 80-20 rule, named after the Italian Economist, which says that 20% of what you do produces 80% of the result. In other words stick to the basics and avoid gimmicks. But you HAVE to show up consistently and work/play hard. You HAVE to eat clean most of the time.

To quote Dan on nutrition:
Time and again, I have rediscovered the wisdom of sticking to lots of vegetables, fruits and lean meats. In addition, drinking huge amounts of water helps. What about potassium? Yes, I take that, when I buy it. Flax oil? Great stuff, keeps me regular. Whey protein? I dunno. Creatine? Water gain, I dunno. Super Amino blast? Hmmm. Bee Pollen? B-15? And on and on and on.

In addition, beware the “Bathtub Model” of nutrition. Basically, it is this: The human body is a bathtub, the spout is calories in, the drain calories out. Add more water, drain stays the same, makes you fat. Water comes in the same, drain increases, makes you lean. Very simple. So simple it is just not correct. There is an old saying about the human brain: “If it was simple enough to understand, you wouldn’t care to understand it.” The same with the body. Why do people lean out on 6,500 calories a day, while their girlfriend gets fatter (less lean, if you will) on one meal a day and six diet drinks? Because the bathtub model is rubbish!

Eat food. Eat multiple meals a day. Eat breakfast. Eat.

The KISS Principle for training:

The key is to find the 20% that leads to the “biggest bang for the buck!” Most athletes usually come to the answer that, and this is beyond what mom and dad provided at birth, in the weight room it is the basics: cleans, presses, squats. On the track, it might be stadium steps, hills or sprints. For the endurance athlete, it might be those “hard runs” with friends on Saturdays. Once an athlete knows the techniques, sometimes very great progress is made on the simplest of programs. For example, many, many lifters and throwers used the following program in the Sixties and early Seventies:

Monday: Train Hard (and heavy and go home!)

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: Train Hard

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Train very hard; if competing train very hard after competition. Keep the exercise number low, the intensity high!

In other words you to make good progress you need to train three times a week, whether you are an athlete of are trying to lose weight. And you need to work HARD and intelligently. You don't need more than an hour - few have that much time nor is it necessary. Train hard and go home.

I agree with my friend Alwyn Cosgrove who says that most people know what to do, they just don't apply what they know. For example if you are trying to lose weight:
Did you train today? Did you do something that will elevate your metabolism? Did you eat supportively? Post workout shake? 5 meals? Protein at every meal? EFA's?

Stop trying to figure out a better plan if you aren't already doing all of the above.

Decide on a goal. Work hard to reach that goal and enjoy the process. Then relax and reassess.