Strength training essentials #3

Third post in this series, and it’s gonna be a bit controversial.

See for years I really didn’t like this piece of equipment at all. I figured it was unnecessary, wimpy, girly and a lot of other things. Then I learned to think. Seriously.

See using straps is a matter of eliminating a limiting part of a chain. No matter how strong your grip is, you’re gonna be able to do more reps in a high-rep set of rows using straps than without. So if you’re training your back primarily, straps is the logical way to go.

Take for example the farmer’s walk. Without straps it’s a great static grip exercise, and a good exercise for the midsection, upper back and lungs. With straps, it becomes a great exercise for the upper back, midsection and lungs, that also challenges the grip a good deal. Though I wouldn’t use straps exclusively, it’s pretty clear that they have their merit.

Ironmind Lifting Straps is a quality pair of straps, that’ll last you a long time.

What about grip strength? Isn’t it important? If you compete in a sport where you have to grip things, it is. For someone training purely to look good, it’s not – you’ll build decent forearms using straps too. If it’s not enough, doing a few sets of towel chins once or twice a week should be plenty.

Now if you compete in a sport, things are obviously different. For me personally, grip isn’t an issue, so I do most of training with straps. I do however do all my heavy deadlifts and all my pullups without straps.

Straps are not gonna make your grip weak, but if it is, you obviously need to fix it. There are two ways to fix the problem:

  1. Train without straps for a couple of months. This should fix the problem.
  2. Add dedicated grip work for a month or two. Towel chins and farmer’s walk should be plenty.

Final note: there’s really no reason to limit your back (or other) training by not using straps. And no, it’s not “manlier” and using straps isn’t “gay”. If using straps will get you bigger and stronger, not using them is just plain silly.

Beyond 5/3/1 Joker sets revisited

So.

Joker sets eh? This is a really cool addition to “Beyond“, which lets you go above the program on a good day. As mentioned elsewhere, my friend Jacob tells me the Norwegian powerlifters call it spinning.

This post details some guidelines for implementing the joker sets in your program. Since writing that post, I’ve played around a bit more with the joker sets. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • I prefer to do them on the 3+1 day. 1+ day is also an option, as long as you’re steering well clear of failure (at least for SQ/DL – less of an issue with the presses). The harder you go at it, the more rest you also need, and if you’re following the 6+1 week template suggested in beyond, it’s great to have a somewhat lighter week.
  • Don’t plan joker sets!!! This is important. Only do them when you KILL your topset for the day. No grinders on the jokers.
  • Do 1-3 sets max. I usually just add ~10% to my top set and do one joker set. Adding much less than that is silly and if you can add 10% twice, your training is based on a VERY low max.

joker

What I’ve done is do conventional deadlifts as my regular 531-lift, though when doing joker sets, I switch to my stronger sumo stance. I feel the conventional deadlift is a better strength and mass builder though. Switching to sumo to get some heavier weights in works great for me. I obviously do some volume at lower percentages to work on sumo form as well.

This could be applied to shirted benches, wrapped squats or whatever really. Just remember to keep the goal, the goal. The 531 system is not about lifting heavy-ass-crazy-hardcore weights week in and week out. It’s about setting rep-records and being patient. It’s about knowing what you do works, and giving it time to work.

Patience.

Dedication.

Hard work.

And love – don’t forget the love!

 

Dan John’s “Intervention” – a(nother) book review.

Just four short days ago I got Intervention in the mail. I managed to sneak in quite a bit of reading time over those four days, but the book is very easy to read and understand. But it’ll grow on you as you apply its principles.

If you don’t already know DJ, you’re missing out. He’s a phenomenal writer and an absolute top-tier coach.

It’s very hands-on and practical and offers a ten question checklist and five principles you can apply to anybody. Very easy to use, but amazingly precise and innovative in its own simplistic way. That’s the beauty of DJ’s writings. Everybody can understand it, but getting to the realizations yourself might take a lifetime of training. Speaking of lifetimes of training, DJ has one on his resume and it shows.

This is by far THE best book on coaching myself and others I’ve read for a long time, and I’d say it’s a must-read for ANYONE who teaches any kind of fitness at any level. It’s that good.

It’s the kind of book you read and re-read several times over an extended period, because it’ll grow with you. It also doubles as a great source for looking up specifics.

This actually reminds me I need to read Never Let Go again. For aspiring coaches and self-trained athletes, I suggest you get Intervention first and work with the principles for some time. Never Let Go can be used for added flavoring.

The book is just extremely well-written with a great approach to teaching the five basic movements (push, pull, hinge, squat and carry).

Read it soon rather than later.

Training for weight loss

A lot of people train just to be able to eat a little more and to keep their midsection in check. That’s a great goal to have and obviously a lot better than just leaving it to itself. The problem is – most people really don’t know how to do this most efficiently.

If you look at people’s salaries, I’d bet most people would prefer a minor monthly increase to a yearly bonus. Thing is, when they turn to training, they end up in the opposite camp.

Going for a run to lose fat, is the performance-based bonus check at work. Good when you get it, but not something you would depend on, due to its irregularity. If you don’t perform well a certain period of time, you lose the income and you’re screwed.

graph_cartoon

The bonus is a really nice thing, provided you’ve got a steady income locked down.

With weight loss it’s exactly the same. Cardio is the irregular bonus, while increasing strength and muscle is the same as improving your steady income. Increased strength and muscle not only boosts your resting metabolism, it also increases the amount of weight you can train with, which means more calories burned. Not only that, but adding some muscle will actually in 9 out of 10 cases help you reach your goals.

Whereas regular cardio such as running will burn a good deal of calories while you’re out there, as soon as you don’t have time – you’re not gonna burn those calories.

Cardio is a great way to burn a bit extra, in short concentrated intervals, but focusing your training on building strength and muscle is by far the most efficient and reliable way to keep the midline in check.

“But I don’t want to get too big!!!” – trust me you’re not going to! To increase muscle mass by a significant amount, you’re gonna need to dedicate your training and eating. You’re not gonna get too big by accident.

Focus on strength, season with cardio and keep the ratio around 75/25 – that’s the most reliable way to keep the midline under control.

Wendler 531 Cycle one week three wrap-up

Press: Got 5@82,5kg as planned. Not too hard. Backoff was 3x5x65, which was easy as well.

Support: Five singles at 112,5kg in the benchpress. Three triples with a purple band firgure-8 at the same weight. WG pullups with hold, forehead supported rows with hold.

Notes: Have implemented tons of holds and general tempo manipulation on back work, which is actually great as a bit of a change. Right now I’m just experimenting on pretty much everything, but after a cycle or two, I’ll mix it up a bit.

Squat: 5 reps @155kg as planned. Followed up with a quick single at 170kg. It wasn’t terribly good, but not exactly bad either.

5 sets of 3 reps at 122,5kg paused squats ranging from “decent” to “very good”. Yay.

Support was three sets of RDLs and three sets of BSSs – they’re always a pain. Finished up with sumo groin mob. Great day.

Benchpress: 8@107,5kg without pushing too hard. Decided not to stay with the 5 reps, since a) bench is set so low and b) upper body DOMS isn’t as bad as lower body DOMS (and you can’t really push yourself as far either). Three singles with a figure 8 band moving up to 127,5kg. Paused benches were 5 sets of 3 at 85kg. These were really good today, which is a good sign.

Did chins, DB rows and bat wings for the back. Gonna keep bat wings for some time and see where that takes me. Dan John sure loves them, so they gotta be good, eh?

Cardio: A 5k hill interval session with the lady and the kid. Good fun and a decent workout. Five really long hills pushing the kid.

bakker

Deadlift: 5@177,5kg – not hard and not easy, it just was. Worked up to a single at 220kg sumo deadlift, though I really shouldn’t have as I wasn’t having the best of days. Was a clean lift though and easy enough.

Support: This is where it got UGLY. Five sets of three block pulls with 3 second eccentric phase. Used a snatch grip this week as I was pulling from higher blocks. This murdered my back. Finished off with hack squats, abs and a 70-rep sets of leg extensions. Decent workout on an off-day. 🙂

Weekly round-up: this week was the last of the first three-week cycle. I’m moving straight on to another three-weeker, then deloading after six weeks total. The week was great in terms of training and life, and I’ve been adjusting my routine a bit throughout the first three weeks. I’ll keep tweaking here and there, but I feel I have a solid foundation with the main lifts+back off in place. Things are looking good. On a side note, I’ll be cleaning up the diet a bit after letting it slip for some time. Hoping to slowly crawl down towards the low 90ies and if all goes well, I could end up making a comeback in the sub-93 weightclass. Time will tell.

A simple two-step way to visualize

Today I’m gonna detail a really simple way to boost performance. Visualization or psyche-ups have been used by great lifters for ages. While this is a powerful tool if used properly, it wont make you superhuman unless you’re already pretty good. Using myself as an example, my friends say I over-perform whenever I step on the platform. My lifts on the platform are always better than my lifts in training by a good bit. I don’t break any records though, and at the end of the day, I’m still a mediocre lifter – just a mediocre lifter who knows how to perform on the platform.

focus

First of all: music or no music? Ideally, you’d do this in complete silence, though that’s rarely an option. Music is better than random noise, so I’d go with that. When you become really good at the first part, you can do it at a rock concert pretty much, but for now just stick with some music.

This entire visualization will take about two minutes for most people. Don’t stress it!!

Part one: The first step of the routine is the general focus part. Close your eyes, sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your head in a neutral position. Focus on pulling air all the way to your stomach and on the movement of the diaphragm. Count out 21 fully controlled breaths. Whenever a distracting thought pops into your mind, just accept it, let it slide on and move back to your focus. Let your breathing guide you.

Once you’re at 21 breaths (this is not a magical number in any way, but it’s the number I’ve gotten used to using), you should be extremely focus and detached from the world around you. You should be very alert at this point.

Part two: this is the “real” visualization. Go over the situation in great detail. The more detailed, the better. Smells, sounds and sights of the gym. Everything. Go over the lift in slow-motion, how you approach the bar and set up for the lift. Each and every detail is important. Go over all your individual cues for the lift, and then pick up the bar. Go through a mental checklist starting with the feet and moving up to the position of the head.

As you begin the lift, you should visualize the bar feeling light on your back/in your hands – and how you move it with confidence and precision. Go through each of the reps you’re gonna do, paying as much detail as possible. Focus even more on the final rep, and make sure you absolutely kill it. By now, your heart should be beating faster and you’ll feel a certain controlled aggression, ready to be let loose.

Stand up, get ready to lift and unleash hell on that weight.

As with anything, practice makes perfect, but you have to find the right balance. I only use this technique occasionally on top sets, but I practice the first part daily. The second part is the lifting-specific part of the visualization and it’s also the most stressful part. If you’re just practicing (out of the gym), stick to the first part for 2-many cycles. More on that in another post.

For now – go out and break some personal records. 🙂

Wendler 531 Cycle one week two wrap-up

Another week in the books, here’s how it went down:

Press: Seven reps at 80kg wasn’t too bad (or good), but with massive DOMS from deadlifts (probably rack pulls, but who cares) the day before, I was ok with this. Real life forced me to train two days straight.

3 sets of 8 at 62,5kg as backoff. Good.

Bench was good and I also got to play around with a light band across the chest in a figure-8. Fun fun.

Back was fried, so the 6 sets of pendlay rows were shit. 5 sets of perfect WG pullups and some curls.

Standard thorough warmup with prehab, no mobility done.

Squat: Great session where I got to play with the joker sets a bit. Got the 8×145 in the program and went for a solid triple at 160. Felt great. Five sets of four reps of paused squat and RDLs, lunges and abs to end the session.

I’m really happy my squat is going well again, and my current programming seems pretty good. Yay. Only slight downside is that I’ve been getting massive three-day DOMS throughout this cycle. Oh well.

Bench: Easy 8×100 and decided to work up a bit 3x110kg and 3x120kg. Easy – technique was a bit off though. 5x4x77,5 paused bench was easy.

Support: A bit of pinkygrip bench with figure 8, strict paused pulldowns 5×10, strict BOR 5×10 and cheat T-bar rows 5×10, press 3×10 and tons of activation. Great fun.

Comment: program is obviously based on a low max which is fine. I need quality reps to improve technically..

Photo 30-08-13 15.45.15

Deadlift: Got the 8×167,5kg easily. Then switched to sumo and continued up to 3x190kg and 3x210kg. Fine. 🙂

Support: Rackpulls were easier than last week, and I decided to stick with fronts afterall. Three sets of ten. Finished up with some abs and sumo groin mob. Lovely.

Cardio: I haven’t been on my hill for ages, and what better cure than to do hill sprints on a sunday morning?  Cleared my mind and my lungs up. Great.