How big is your crack?

We all have cracks.

As soon as you step off the platform, it’s time to assess and identify your cracks. This is what “off-season” is all about.

Last Friday I trained with one of the guys from my gym and followed his program. It was painfully obvious I have a huge weakness. More on that later.

I spent Saturday on a squat, bench press and deadlift workshop with my good friend Jacob of Maxer.dk, where I primarily focussed on how Jacob teaches the lifts and how he interacts with people. But as usual – just being around Jacob sends my brain into overdrive, and I identified a couple of things I need to work on going forward.

Pretty much anyone who is serious about their training has a “B”. A list of goals they want to accomplish. A lot of people forget to establish the “A” (current level) first though. Without an A getting to B is almost impossible.

Using myself as an example, I want a bigger squat (who doesn’t). One of the things I realized on Friday is that I suck horribly at Bulgarian split squats. As I sat down and thought about it some more, I realized that my single leg strength is pretty poor. I like the big lifts. I like them a lot. I rarely (if ever) do isolation exercises and in general the smaller the exercises, the less likely I am to do it.

Anyways, increasing single leg strength is not the end all be all to improving your squat. But in my case it’s such a huge glaring weakness that I’ve  neglected for too long.

Bulgarian split squats are humbling and unpleasant, but it’s also a great way to bring up leg strength, while actively strengthening the hips through a full range of motion. It also stretches the hip flexors under load, which is tremendous.

The off-season is a time to take a step back, reevaluate your current position (and possibly method) and plan ahead.

What’s your crack?

 

Most underrated exercise for athletes

I’ve touched upon the subjekt before in several posts on functional training, training athletes and here I am again. This time around though, I’ll share a specific exercise (or rather group of exercises), that I believe is a top 5 choice for pretty much any athlete and weekend warrior alike.

What exactly does this make you good at?

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that I’m a big fan of Dan John (and if you are too, you probably already know where this post is headed). After reading intervention, I started implementing this in my own training as well as the programming and coaching I do for others.

The best part about this exercise probably is that any coach, no matter how retarded he might be, can coach it. It’s that fundamental, and it’s that easy. It’s also very good.

What I’m talking about is the weighted carry.

The weighted carry is a great way to challenge your midsection while moving – it’ll also strengthen the upper back and (depending on variant) the grip.

Pud-Farmers-Walk

The most common variant from this group is the farmer’s walk and while it’s great, there are others worth mentioning:

  • Waiter walk: holding an implement (most often a KB) in one hand over the head. This challenges the shoulder stability. Make sure you don’t go to failure.
  • Crosswalk: One KB in the waiter position, one in the FW position. Same as WW, with the added bonus of having to stabilize between sides.
  • Sandbag: grab a heavy bag in a bearhug and start walking. Or shoulder it.
  • FW with straps: though many see this as pointless “since the FW is a grip exercise”, I find that view very narrow-minded. Straps let you work the gut and upper back even harder, while still getting in some forearm work. It works great with regular FW either on alternate days or as a mechanical dropset.

Learning to brace the midsection under a heavy load will make you better on whichever field you’re on on Sundays. Though often overlooked, quite a few sports also require strong hands (football and basketball for example).

disciple_5_1

Go carry that weight!

Wendler 531 Cycle three week one wrap-up

Deload done. My deloads need to be shorter – had ~10 days which is way too much.

Press: 6@77,5kg – this is bad. Bench was fine, though I managed to fail a rep in the pinky grip figure-8. Roll of shame. Duh.

Did backwork as a triset batwings->chins->BOR which was ok. As soon as I get my lower back 100% I need to do some heavy backwork instead of all this dicking around though.

Managed to close the level 3 progression from CC on pullups and pushups, as well as level 2 on squats. Still on level 1 for HSPU (headstands) and level 2 for bridges. This is fine though as the book actually suggest you wait with these two. Headstands are tough when you try to support as little as possible with the hands.

Squat: Wasn’t really expecting to move mountains, as my SI-joint is still off. Getting it fixed before DL-day though. 5@145kg with relative ease. 3×5@110kg paused as backoff.

Managed to close level 2 bridging, level 3 HLR and level 1 grip. Yay.

Cardio: Saturday morning hill sprints and bodyweight stuff. Got in some quality work on clutch holds and my squat progression. Did short sprints, sprints with flying start and played around with changing direction too. Worked up a good sweat. 🙂

Bench: kept bench at just an easy 5@100 and went a bit heavier on the figure-8s instead. Up to 5@117,5kg. Did batwings and weighted chins as support as well as some easy easy work on the BW progressions. Finally managed to crack 120s headstand, so that’s good.

Finished off with neck, gut and grip.

Deadlift: 5@167,5kg was easy. Ready to push it now. Support was really good as well.

I’ve reached the first “real” bridging” exercise, and it feels fantastic. So excited. Finished up with some abs and grip. 🙂

On relative vs absolute strength

More or less every time people post something about strength on FB, you’ll see these two responses:

  1. You did 200kg at 100kg, and I can do 135 at 60, I’m stronger than you compared to bodyweight.
  2. You did 200kg at 100kg, and I can do 201kg at 125kg so I’m stronger than you.
  3. (this is actually 2A): If your house is burning and you have to lift a crashed car – do you think it matters how much you weigh?!

As always, the internet is retarded. 🙂

How about this question: “is it more weight than you’ve lifted before at a comparable bodyweight?”

Obviously bodyweight plays a huge role in strength sports – that’s why there are weight classes. Looking at weightlifting and powerlifting respectively, you’ll find that they use Sinclair points and wilks coefficient to compare across weightclasses. This is because a straight weight lifted/bodyweight equation favors lighter people. For that reason it’s always the weak skinny guys that want to compare lifts using that equation.

Absolute strength IS important. VERY important. A friend of mine recently said “there are no weightclasses in my sport”, which is very true. HOWEVER and this is really important:

Relative strength is by far the most important strength-related quality in sports.

Let me explain.

When I talk about relative strength, I’m not talking about a 45kg guy being able to do endless chinups. Obviously, that guy isn’t going to do a tackle worth mentioning. The other end of the spectrum though is the 200kg guy, who’s probably going to be too slow to get in position to tackle.

pullup

Relative strength is this: getting stronger while keeping your waistline in check.

For me personally, I’m closer than ever to hitting a 2x bodyweight squat. Did I get stronger? Actually no, I got weaker. I lost more weight than strength though. Because I was fat(ish) dropping a bit of weight has made me faster, even if I got weaker. Without a doubt.

Getting stronger relatively for me, is building strength, while staying lean. Unless you’re eating 6000+kcal a day, you’re not training for absolute strength, you’re still training to get stronger relatively. Even though you’re not a skinny twig.

Relative strength is NOT about being the skinny guy who can do a ton of bodyweight exercises. Relative strength, is about getting stronger without getting fat. For all except the absolute elite level lifters, this should be number one priority as it’s a great way to get to the Fame Boy Fitness Commandment number one “Thou shalt train to feel good”.

Train to feel good. Be strong and lean.

Bodyweight bonanza!

Recently I’ve been adding more bodyweight exercises to my training. I used to do quite a bit of BW-stuff, and I’d forgotten why. I hope I’ll keep the memory fresh this time around. I’ve also pulled up my old copy of this book:

I think it’s a really great book that’s easy to read, practically oriented and informative. It has 60 different progressions split into 6 exercise categories plus tons of other great information. With BW-training – inspiration for exercises is key as minor changes in leverages can make a movement a lot harder/easier and help you progress. I’ve also ordered a couple of other books as well as bought a couple of apps (I’ve provided links to these at the bottom).

What’s so good about bodyweight training, you might ask?

  1. Controlling your body is essential in pretty much any sport and in life. Weight training should always begin with a decent foundation of calisthenics.
  2. Bodyweight training will build strength and muscle, just like weight training. There’s nothing inherently muscle-building about lifting weights. Muscles respond to stimuli, not specific equipment. If you’re able to do ten push ups today and two months from now can do ten perfect 1-arm push ups on each arm, all of your beach muscles will be bigger and stronger.
  3. Bodyweight training is not about endurance!!!! I can’t stress this enough. For the uninformed it might be, but if you know exercises progressions, you can stay right in the 5-15 rep zone.
  4. Most bodyweight exercises have a balance/stability component, which makes them more difficult. This is good and bad. Bad for absolute strength/mass, good for longevity.

Depending on your goals (obviously) bodyweight training isn’t going to be the optimal training form, so don’t sell your Eleiko bar just yet. It does however provide a valuable tool in the toolbox and can be used (especially for athletes and older/banged-up lifters) be a great way to get some more work done, without loading up your spine.

smuknumse

Personally, I used bodyweight exercises to accomplish three things:

  1. Get me warm. This is an absolute must for everybody. I go through a list of about ten exercises I find invaluable. I also use calisthenics in my extended warmup. Though unintentional, this fits perfectly into Rooney’s hierarchy of training: 1. Feel good. 2. Relative strength.
  2. Feel good. There’s something almost magical about calisthenics that makes you feel better. They also usually force you to stabilize most of your body, which is a great way to strengthen yourself from feet to forehead.
  3. Cardio. A handful of rounds of something as simple as push ups, squats and sit ups will make you sweat and breathe hard. Just don’t go full retard and do insanely high reps – even though you’re just using BW, you can still get (very) sore. This is particularly true for lunges.

How does it fit in a “regular” training program?

  • As your first or second supportive exercise after the main lifts
  • Instead of everything but the main lift when deloading
  • On a separate weekly training day at home
  • As a short cardio piece at the end of a session

I don’t think anyone should go 100% BW, but I do think it’s a great supplemental way to train. It also has the added benefit of being pretty much the only kind of training where you get stronger as you lose weight, which is great motivation when you’re recomping.

Recommended books/apps:
You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises

Gorilla Workout app – great inspiration for short BW circuits. I use these for cardio and extra abz.

Sworkit – another great little tool. I particularly like the 5 minute stretch. Yay wellness.

Rooney’s Pushup Warrior – has a billion different pushup variations

I got 99 problems!

In training, as well as in life, it’s all about finding the point of diminishing returns if you want to be efficient. I’m not talking about slacking or being lazy at all, just finding the sweet spot for effort in a given pursuit. Effort in this context can be your time, money, attention or any other limited asset.

In close relation to this, you’ve got to figure out where you’ll get most bang for your buck. Look at it this way – if you were an alien landing on earth – which languages would you focus on? If you don’t list English and Mandarin in your top 3, you’re doing it wrong. Those two languages will let you speak to about half of the world’s population. Work on mastering those two languages, and add a bit of Spanish and Arabic, and you’re getting close to full coverage. Hindustani deserves honorable mention as well, but due to the fact that a majority of the people that speak Hindustani also speak English – you’d be better off just getting better there.

How about this: Mandarin is the squat, English is the deadlift and Spanish the bench press. Mandarin is protein, English is fats and Spanish is carbs. Mandarin is injury prevention, English is strength and Mandarin is hypertrophy.

kiss

Way too many people major in the minors and focus all of their energy on some silly little language like Danish for example. While learning Danish is smart if you live in Denmark, it doesn’t really carry over very well to any other language (except Swedish and Norwegian at very high levels of proficiency). For overall usability, you’d be better off just sticking with English.

So what I’m trying to say here is actually really simple. So many people have 99 problems, and yet they’re trying to optimize the last piece of the puzzle – the one percent. The last percent is the meal timing, the fasted cardio, the fancy supplements, the antioxidants, the phytonutrients and all those other fancy words.

Master the basics and everything will follow. If you speak fluent Mandarin, English, Spanish and Arabic – you’re gonna be hard pressed to find a place where you can’t get by.Throw in a bit of Russian and Hindi and you’ve pretty much got the whole globe covered.

On the other hand, if you speak Finnish, Bulgarian, Basque and Xhosa (btw Xhosa is a really friggin awesome language with “clicks”) – you’re not gonna get very far.

If you master the squat, deadlift, benchpress and the bentover row, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a muscle that’s not big and strong. Throw in some weighted carries and a few other bits and bobs, and you’ve got the whole body covered.

See?

Now go learn Mandarin. <3

PS: Obviously just like there are other interesting and useful languages than the top 5, there are also interesting and useful exercises. Just keep the great picture in mind and remember that most of the time it’s better to work hard on the basics, than to add complexity.

Wendler 531 Cycle two week two wrap-up

Press: Got 8 reps at 80! Yay. One more than last time. Took everything I had. Made me hop around and scream like a gorilla. GORILLABUILDING! <3

Support was 8 sets of bench (3 with figure 8), 3 sets of light presses, 8 sets of batwings, 6 sets of BOR and 3 sets of WG pullups. Finished off with a few sets of crosswalk overhead carries.

Cardio: sunday morning hills. Ran 2-3k with wife and kid, then they dropped me off at the hill and I got in 10-12 sprints while they ran some more. Hit a max HR of 178 and burned 590 kcals. Good, good.

asjacykel

Squat: 8 reps @150 felt good. Yay. Paused squats took some manning up. Sheesh they kill me, but then I killed them. 5x4x117,5kg. I realized being really tight in the upper back is good (yea I know, duh!).

Went for a 4x20m (3 turns) walk with 100kg on the back, and finished up with light farmer’s walk, GHR, BSS and front bridges. Great session.

Deadlift: 8×172,5kg weren’t that hard, but immediately after setting the weight down, I felt something in my lower back. Stopped the workout after that.

Did 5x2x135 sumo from a deficit and 3 rounds of patterning as warmup. Wore my HR monitor and ended at 696kcal in 1hr05 from my doorstep.