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?

 

Weakpoint training part three – there is no spoon

What if I told you that you didn’t have any weakpoints?

In strength training, it’s become popular to get stronger by focusing on “improving weakpoints” . Ironically though, weakpoints are often the same muscle groups for everybody. 10-15cms off the chest in the bench press, the starting position in the press and just above the hole in the squat. The deadlift is a bit different though, since proportions play such a huge role (not that it doesn’t in the other lifts). With the deadlift though people typically struggle either off the floor, or at the lockout.

So weakpoints, huh? The answer is no. Or yes. Depending on how you look at it. Bottom line is, because of biomechanics and genetics, you’re gonna be stronger in some positions and obviously weaker in other positions. Hammering away at the weakpoints might seem like the obvious solution, but why not just work on getting stronger overall? With more power comes more speed to generate momentum to blast through sticking points.

Weakest-Link

Before arranging your training around weakpoints, take a long hard look in the mirror. If you’re not deadlifting double bodyweight, squatting 1.5x bodyweight and benching bodyweight, you probably don’t have weakpoints, you’re just plain weak. Focus on getting stronger.

Even when you’re past that level, specific movements to strengthen specific body parts should never be the focus of your program. Working the motor patterns of the main exercises with a full range of movement and getting stronger in the full movement is always number one. Afterall you don’t want to be the guy whose rackpull is skyrocketing while his deadlift stays put.

To gain mastery, you must remove distractions. Going back to a super simple routine With about five exercises or less is often a good way to focus on the essentials and gain new momentum. Personally I follow this type of training more or less all the time – the older I get, the more stuff I remove.

Back to the weakpoints – before you start hammering away at a weak part of a movement specifically, consider if you’re just plain weak. Also, slowing the movement down a bit is a great way to focus on motor patterns, but I’ll get back to this in another post.

I hope you have a great Christmas.

Part 1

Part 2

The Deck of Death

I actually hate that name with a passion, though I like the idea on a couple of levels.

First, let me explain what it is:

I took a deck of cards and wrote a whole bunch of stuff on them. Whenever I have an extra ten minutes and some energy after training, I draw a card. So what’s on those cards? for me it’s a combination of mobility, cardio and weakpoint training.

cards

This accomplishes two things – you identify your weakpoints and feel like you address them (by putting them on the cards) AND you actually address them, albeit at random. Ideally you’d draw a card after each workout. Over time you will end up addressing the things you prioritize in your deck.

These are the guidelines I follow for all cards:

  • No more than 10 minutes tops.
  • No heavy loading. Preferably bodyweight stuff.
  • Easy to recover from, so no “how many lunges kan you do in ten minutes” card.
  • No strength work.

What I did was split the deck according to priorities. Some of you might want to have 50% mobility, 30% prehab and 20% cardio, while others would use other ratios. Analyze how your time would be best spent, and split the cards accordingly. You might have to use the same exercises on more than one card if you have a specific issue.

Just for inspiration, I’ll list my categories and a couple of sample cards from them:

1. Cardio (25%): 1k C2 for time (though I’ve trashed this card as my psoas doesn’t like the rower). 10x 30s on/30s off KB swings/burpees.

2. Wellness (40%): 10 min foamroll. Sumo groin mob and split stretch against wall.

3. Weakpoints(35%): 5×10 biceps/triceps. 5 sets of abs and grip.

If you’re a CFer you could throw in some cards with skills on them. Remember to keep it light. This could be 10 minutes of handstand/pistols practice.

This is a fun little way to help you identify and address weakpoints, though the base format is obviously a bit random. In the perfect world, you’d put down all your issues and address them in a methodical way, but for most people the element of surprise in the cards keeps them entertained. 🙂

Have a great one. <3

Weakpoint traing part two – hypertrophy

Following up on these general observations it’s time to get a bit more specific.

You’ve consulted this post and decided you have weakpoint(s), but you don’t know how to fix the problem.In this post I’ll go more in depth with how to fix weakpoints from a hypertrophy point of view.

There are two general strategies for dealing with weakpoints:

  • More work for the specific muscle group.
  • Better work for the specific muscle group.

The quantity approach:

Doing more work is pretty simple, though there are several way to do this as well. You can: spend about ten minutes working on your weakpoint every time you hit the gym, add more volume to you current routine or you can change exercises for other groups, to get more carry-over.

Valentino could've done a bit more forearm work.

Valentino could’ve done a bit more forearm work.

The ten-minute approach and the volume approach are pretty simple. Make sure you’re not doing anything that’s detrimental to your other training. The ten-minute approach needs to be light. Take guns for example, you’d do a superset of 5×10 curls and pushdowns. You could also do a pushup variation and a facepull for more a stronger more stable girdle. Keep it at no 100 light reps tops and avoid spinal load.

As for added volume, add about 10-15% volume to your main exercise for that muscle group, and stay there for 2-3 weeks. See how it works and consider adding a little bit more, or employing other strategies.

An example of more carryover would be switching from pullups to chinups for more biceps, taking your grip in a little bit on the bench press to get more triceps activation or keeping a more vertical torso on rows to keep the upper traps from taking over. Front squats for back squats (or the other way around) to get more/less quad stimulation is also an option.

traps

Wendler obviously beat the living shit out of his traps with great results.

The quality approach:

Make your weakpoint a priority by training it while your fresh. The further you get into your training session, the less energy you’ll have. This is why most people do squats, presses and deadlifts first – simply because those are the most important lifts.

Another tool is to decrease weight a bit and apply 100% picture perfect form. Controlled eccentrics and explosive concentrics with full concentration on the muscle being worked. Oldschoolers talk about mind-to-muscle connection, which is what we’re trying to achieve with this strategy. Feeling the weight a bit more than just moving it. Also specific movements have specific tips – pulling with the elbows for rows/pullups is an example of that.

The final tip is tempo control. Though I’m not a big fan of it myself, others have used it with good results. I’d always work my main exercise for strength, and then apply tempo control (most often slow eccentrics) to my secondary or tertiary exercises. Tempo controls evil cousin is called “paused” and is a mean little bugger. Paused squats, paused rows and paused presses are all great ways to increase stimulation and contraction at certain points in an exercise. Just don’t expect to use the same wieght you do on your normal sets.

That’s all for now. See ya soon.

Weakpoint training part one – general thoughts on weakpoint training

I’ve been working on this one for quite a while and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I mentioned in Part five of The List that I’d get back to this topic and here I am. If you think you have weakpoints, please consult part five of The List first.

I’ve come up with three different explanations that can justify training your weakpoints, and I’ll present them to you in this post. The first one is something I dug up from the deepest part of my twisted mind. I present to you my own very own hypothesis on how social psychology effects you and your training. Welcome to my world I hope you enjoy it here. Please hit me back whether you think it’s the greatest post ever or I’m headed to the asylum. <3

Leon Festinger was a brilliant American social psychologist known for his cognitive dissonance theory. In short the theory states that if there’s a lack of compatibility between two cognitive elements, it’s a natural reaction to try to change one of these (unconsciously). In plain English it means something along these lines: “if you’re doing something that doesn’t match your beliefs/morals you’ll most likely change they way you remember/perceive the actions and their consequences”. I know it’s technical and boring, but I’m done with acting all clever and educated now.

How this translates into training is quite simple actually. If you’re doing something that’s a waste of time, your mind will make up reasons as to why it isn’t. You’ll actively look for the benefits of said exercise and will override your rational thinking. This can be used to explain why people tend to defend their style of training.

The link to training your weakpoints? Well if you hammer away at a stubborn muscle, you will (provided you have a minimum of results to show for your hard work) convince yourself that what you’re doing “works”. The way our minds work, simply makes accepting that we got absolutely zero results from something extremely hard.

Secondly it’s a common fact that whatever you focus your attention on will shine. Simply acknowledging the issue and thinking about it will make you pay more attention to the issue at hand. More attention means better results. That simple. Most people also prefer fixing problems actively instead of hoping they go away all by themselves. Again referring to Festinger it’s quite possible that working actively at something changes our perception of reality.

Final point is cost/benefit. How will your weakpoint training affect you routine in general? Will it detract from your program? It probably wont. That means that even though the benefit might be low, the cost is even lower. Even if the added work doesn’t change anything objectively, you’ll more than likely change your perception on the matter. Since our perception dictates how we feel (and not “facts”) – we’ve just changed reality (as you see it).

Over a couple of posts I’ll go into further detail on types of weakpoints as well as how to implement specific work for them into your routine.