12.29.2015

Fitness Goals: Reasonable versus Marketable


Be mindful of how you frame your New Years fitness goals. You may simply want to lose X pounds (not the greatest goal), complete a 5K run, or be able to perform pull-ups (better). But if you want something other than the typical January gusto and March fizzle, you should probably nudge the goals down by a notch or three.

Try to imagine long-term behavior changes that are helpful in a truly holistic sense. Various facets of life pose a challenge to achieving and maintaining health and fitness. Expect a struggle. Maintaining your priorities in life while changing wasteful habits happens only with careful thought and intent.

Here are a few important considerations.

Minding your diet is necessary.

But don't be unreasonable. Avoid cleanses, detoxes, intermittent fasting, nonintermittant fasting, and other plans that sound like fantastic extraordinary ideas. I often wonder why people resort to such foolishness when they haven't given simple, common sense changes a solid effort. Perhaps there is some psychological trick that extreme type diets provide. But they work against you in the long run when they fail to produce practical lifestyle changes.

Eating healthy does not help your brain, joints, and muscles to function in better posture and alignment. A healthy diet does not make you move with grace and efficiency.
Suppose that you manage to follow through with a highly restrictive diet and overzealous exercise plan. Your likely reward, at best, will be a short time of goal achievement followed by dropping out as "normal life" gets in the way. The body adapts to what it perceives as hard times and adjusts your baseline calorie needs.  You will find yourself tired and eating skimpy salads at every meal in order to avoid getting soft around the middle.

You don't have to be unreasonable with your diet when your physical activity level is somewhat on track.
Exercise is necessary.
But you don’t have to go crazy, especially if your diet is somewhat on track.

Without a proper foundation of flexibility and stability, and minding the details of HOW your body moves, the Insanity DVD, the mind numbing cardio, the epic full throttle heavy weight sessions, the Spartan Training, and competitive WODs, are all likely to cause more harm than good. And it's no fun to brag about Achilles tendonitis or lumbar radiculopathy on Facebook.
You workouts do not
need to look like this.
Suppose that you manage to remain uninjured in the extreme fitness plans. All the time and torture is rarely necessary. They are possibly beneficial for forging more elite fitness when you already possess elite fitness. But the 99% of us who have families, work, houses to maintain, and hobbies other than fitness will do much better with a more reasonable and structured exercise plan.

In the past I've watched TV preachers and wondered how they act in their personal lives. "Does that guy really behave that way as he goes about his day?" Recently I realized that the same critical eye should be applied to the high energy fitness DVD personalities.

Do your family, employer, and friends enjoy the version of you that must eat low carb, organic, etc. etc free every three hours and exercise 6 days per week? Some things are more important than...even deadlifts! Don’t imagine that what's best for a pro athlete or a fit 20 year- old living under their parents roof will be the best training plan for you.

Exercise is not an efficient means of achieving calorie control, a means that most of us legitimately do not have time for. Instead of merely burning calories, exercise to have fun being active with friends and family. Exercise to build strength, balance, and improve how your body moves, so that you feel willing and able to get involved with living away from the screen.

Perspective

Longevity definitely wins in the health and fitness game. But considering what you will look and feel like in a year doesn't sell nearly as well as the 6 Weeks to Slim program.

Shameless PT PLUG: You may want to take that amount of time to work on your nagging shoulder and irritable lower back before going for it in the gym!
Prioritize your health and don't take it for granted. Be fit, look good, and measure the costs. Sleep well, recover well, and manage the stress in your life. These are the unmarketable and completely relevant components of achieving what you really need out of a diet and fitness plan.

12.21.2015

Box Jumps: Training versus Testing

I'm all for box jumps. Fitness gear companies want to sale us on various tubing, hydraulic pistons, vests, and computerized gadgetry that fail to achieve what simple gravity and a small change in elevation can.

Vertimax
Vertimax!
Take, for example, the Vertimax Trainer. It costs in the realm of $3000, and is necessary when the force of gravity just isn't enough to pull you into the earth.

But please be careful know what you're getting into. Be aware of the differences between box jumps as a training modality and box jumps as a test and display of awesomeness. The ratio of risk to reward exists on a sliding scale for every person.

If you currently earn a living (or scholarship) by playing a sport, and want to improve in that sport, you should probably be doing box jumps as a training modality while avoiding them as a display of awesomeness. And that includes repeated box jumps for time.

Most serious athletes need only concern themselves with the center of gravity.
They can do this without the cool/risky circus antics.
Why are simple box jumps so great?

A box (or picnic table, etc) demands that you commit to the jump with an explosive effort towards an objective end. The box mitigates landing impact, so it's a great place to learn how to take off and land well. Next you may want to learn how to land well from jumping over a small box (or hurdle). For even more overload and benefit to the central nervous system,  drop off a box and immediately jump back up. You will gradually learn how to decelerate your body mass and quickly attain proper control and position for an even more powerful second jump.

If you do box jumps well, and not too often, and not in a state of high fatigue, the risk is low and the benefit toward the coveted "explosive power" is tremendous.

But again, you need to build up (height, repetition, and impact) very gradually. Do not do them in a state of fatigue! Many feet and knees and Achilles tendons have suffered the wrath of box jumps done too intensely, too soon, and too often.

Mike Boyle Says...

World-renowned strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle recently claimed that box jumps over 30-inches are foolish. He said they're done by those looking to show off and/or get a skin graft, and athletes can achieve a tremendous training effect while saving themselves unnecessary risk by using a far more conservative, unimpressive box. He emphasized landing well in the position that you jumped from (without the extreme tuck). On all of these points I agree.

BUT the other half of the coin...

A high box is an event. I'm not claiming that it's the safest training modality but it sure makes for an awesome test. Jumping on top of something in a flash is a conquering of ... gravity? ...the environment? ...fear? ...it's a conquering of something that non-professional athletes can relish in!  It provides a sense of a accomplishment that most traditional strength and power exercises cannot deliver. Some things are worth the small risk. Avoid metal boxes.

"Do you see how high that thing is? Well now he's standing on it."

Did you ever visualize the world as a series of challenges where every desk, platform, wall, and fence is classified as something that you could or could not leap onto or over? Yeah, neither have I ; ).

Here are a few examples:
 

video

video

A world record attempt. "Can you all move your car?"


12.15.2015

The Best Workout Ever

What if you could narrow every greatness that falls under the broad umbrella of strength training down to one 60-minute session? What if you didn't really need 10 or 50 WODS or 5-gym days per week for the "Bro-split" plus the yoga DVD? Could you cover all bases and still build strength or size and leanness? Absolutely.

I've been doing some variation of this exact workout on every Tuesday for longer than I'd like to admit. It does not take a lot of time. It works, and it's not only me.

I could say much about a handful of others who have methodically and intensely applied this series of lifts once per week. They have ran faster, jumped higher, and built themselves up to double bodyweight (conventional) deadlift and bench press 1.5 X their bodyweight for reps.

You are able to do this workout. Find a variation of the movements that works well for you. For example, full range of motion conventional deadlifts are not for everyone. In fact, you could absolutely say that this routine "works" because it demands decent strength, stability, and range of motion to begin with.

If you're looking to gain size and strength, eat a lot. If you're looking to lose fat or whatnot, eat a little less. You need to do this workout. Again, it works. In the process you will have achieved some fairly substantial performance gains (i.e. what you can DO with your body) and by then will tend to care less about nitpicking your appearance.

1. Warm-up.

I usually do a brief but specific series of low-intensity movements that require mobility, stability, and balance. For example, single leg "hinge" reach to floor, to side lunge with overhead reach, to yoga push-up, to a few deep goblet squats.

*Do your top priority movement next. Many gym folks think that should be "bench" or "bicep curls," but it should probably be...

See - told you than ANYBODY can do this workout!
2. Hinge

The bread-and-butter is somewhere in the realm of 2 to 3 warm-up sets then 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps. Every so often we build to a single rep/PR or do something brutal like the Metallica Test.

Trap bar deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, single leg deadlifts, suitcase deadlifts, kettle bell swings and basically any variation of the hinge movement fit the bill. If you're of the persuasion for Olympic lifts (I'm usually not), those would fall here as well.

3. Horizontal press

We typically do the bench press as our horizontal press because it's a rest for the legs between two major lower body movements. Baseball players with finicky shoulders may want to do some unilateral dumbbell presses or "land mine" presses here. Runners and people who sit for the majority of the day would be better served doing push up variations than demand total body core control, rather than bench press. But the goal is to do one or two warm-up sets and then 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps.

4. Single leg squat

While it's nearly impossible to deadlift and squat heavy within the same session, split leg work is usually not a problem when done after deadlifts for reasons discussed in more detail here.

Do one warm-up set and then three sets of 6 to 12 reps (each leg) on split squats (my favorite), lunge variations, or single leg box squats. Working one leg at a time involves a large percentage of your muscle mass, and when done with intensity, seriously taxes the cardiovascular system. Cardio - check.

5. Abs / loaded carry finisher

Do two to three circuits of two or three movements that involve abs and arms or legs. Here's an example and one that we highly favor:

Chin-ups with controlled leg tuck at the top (no momentum), to ab rollout, to farmers walk. Or if we're rushed for time we'll do some rope climbs or just the loaded carries (farmers walk).

Rotational sport athletes may throw in some rotational work here. Endurance athletes may want to do some high rep step ups or jump rope. Whatever - but make it total body, fairly brief, and intense.

And yet...the intensity may vary based on how hard you pushed yourself in the other lifts of the day. What I've experienced over time is that epic finishers of utter desolation are over-rated. More advanced lifters should be careful not to dip too far into their recovery abilities which absolutely can cut into the ability to progress in the big lifts.

Really, that covers everything. Stay out of the gym for a day or two. Stick with it and work your way toward nearly anything you want to specialize in.

All the WODs and numerous methods and means are fine if you're of the MENTALITY that gets bored and needs a lot of variety. But I don't think they're necessary for the 99.8% of us. Most of us just need only one or two other weight training sessions per week, preferably something that includes a squat, chin-up, and overhead press variation, and you have a SOLID program.

There's beauty in simplicity.