Who is Strength training really for?

It’s a funny truism that I am about to tell you that I myself only really saw in the past couple of years. It’s about how some people perceive strength training and what trainers do in the gym and indeed, this perception even drives common beliefs amongst many would-be clients of well intended trainers.

Mention strength training in a conversation and you’ll probably get one of these responses:

  1. “Ah yeah, like Crossfit?”
  2. “Ah, like bodybuilding”, whilst striking a bicep pose.
  3. “Ooh, be careful you don’t hurt yourself with heaving all those big weights!”
  4. “Ugh, I don’t like barbells!”

Okay, you might get some other feedback based on individual experiences but in most cases, people think of the equipment, a popular gym or building bulging muscles like a bodybuilder.

But what about the system of getting stronger? People rarely consider what it is to be stronger, how it may apply to them, what’s involved, the benefits beyond an image and the smart systems used to help people get stronger.

So let’s jump into defining these as I promote them, starting with the health benefits.

Strength and Health 

For most exercisers, hitting the gym is their weapon to kill calories and for others it’s their tool to carve out a physique. However, the connections between strength training and health grow stronger (no pun intended) with the expanding findings of research. Strength training health benefits include prevention or control of chronic conditions such as diabetesheart diseasearthritisback paindepression and obesity. In addition, strength training aids in the prevention or slowing down of osteoarthritis, sarcopenia (age related loss of muscle mass) and osteopenia (loss of bone). None of us want to retire from our working years frail and weak so it should make sense to get stronger.

What does ‘strong’ mean?

Freedom is a common definition of strength that I just love. Consider the opposite – weakness. It comes with frailty, inability, fear, lack of confidence, loneliness, misery – I could go on but you get the picture. Physical freedom is the strength and independence to carry out a full life with autonomy. You may be excused for thinking initially that strength training is the domain of athletes, strongmen and muscly olympic lifters snatching big barbells overhead. Yes, they are strong and it’s expressed in a very specific manner. So too is strength expressed by the farmer who tends to her cattle and sheep, heaving bales of hay onto the back of the truck or the nurse who successfully assists patients in and out of bed along with a myriad of other day-to-day physical roles. I wrote ‘successfully’, suggesting they have the strength to endure this daily demand. A weaker associate will not be so successful. Strength is the freedom to do whatever you need to do, will have to do and want to do, successfully.

Strength and You

How does strength fit into a weekly schedule? “What do I need to do?”

Every human is wonderfully made to perform the same categories of movements with strength. We are perfectly suited to perform the following categories of strength:

  • Pushes
  • Pulls
  • Squatting
  • Picking things up
  • Bracing our torsos
  • Carrying things

Let’s back up that strength to-do list with these essentials:

  • Get down to the floor and back up effortlessly
  • Walk
  • Climb
  • Roll and rotate – confused? Here’s a video
  • Move often

The specifics as to how these relate to you personally will vary now and in the future. But essentially this short list of activities are how we live in the gym. I spend time with people to help them figure out the appropriate variations they need and then we practice them with appropriate levels of exertion. It isn’t just flat out in 5th gear!

I mentioned earlier how people often equate strength with barbells etc, however strength training always starts with moving first. Learning good form and technique is vital for obvious safety concerns but as a baseline, how we perform movements without external loading gives us a benchmark to compare to once load is added. Adding load can be as simple as holding a medicine ball, lifting a kettlebell, a barbell or a rock (it’s a thing, seriously). We add load once unloaded becomes easy, safer, better performed.

How to get stronger

How did you learn how to walk? You crawled, scrambled over furniture and traversed around the kitchen until you could walk unaided. It didn’t happen over-night and took lots of practice. Practice is where the magic happens with every single skill. I very much see strength as a skill that takes practice. In my daughters school there’s a poster in one of the class rooms that reads –

Practice Makes Progress. 

‘Practice makes progress’ concerns performing a task with good form until it becomes better and betterer but the timely immersion also allows the body time to adapt to the stresses involved with the new skill practice.

We progress to get stronger in the gym by carrying sub-maximum intensity repetitions. We don’t strain, struggle or stress and in fact aim to avoid failing any repetitions. We want good, clean, repeatable and moderate efforts. There are heaps of workable protocols for carrying out such programs that I’m not going to get into here.

Winding it up…

My goal here in this short piece was to outline how being strong and the process of becoming stronger is achievable by all and cannot and should not be stereotyped by some initial conceptions. Our wee family run gym is frequented by all sorts of people between their mid 20s to early 70s and we all practice and progress in our strength training to add to our health and everyone observes this in their everyday life. Whether it’s just the feeling of increased wellbeing, moving better without groaning or carrying in the shopping with 5 bags hanging off each arm; everyone demonstrates their strength as their life requires.

Your Move

If you’ve been pondering working on your strength, health and fitness for a while, hopefully this short post will offer you some insight into what is required from your time. If you do require any assistance I’d love the opportunity to help you, whether that’s in person or online – yep, I do train online too – don’t you love technology sometimes?

Your in Strength & Wellness,

Jamie

Strength and Wellness Coaching – what exactly is that?

Let me define my role as a professional strength and wellness coach as someone who has a system for helping people assess their current physical health, and helps them set individualised strategies to achieve improvements in physical strength and fitness, mobility, stress management, nutrition and sleep.

I will define wellness as the successful interplay between exercise, mobility, stress management, nutrition and sleep. When any one or more of these are ‘out of whack’ let’s say, they negatively influence the other components.

If you want to lose 5kg of unwanted fat you’ve gathered up over the past 10 years, the chances of losing it if you’re stressed and over exercising for example, will not prove successful. It does not matter how hard you exercise when stressed, losing that 5kg of fat will be the hardest thing you will ever do. However, with the right approach, considering the other wellness components and best practices, that 5kg will come off.

My role as a coach is not to tell you exactly what to do, but to help you see where you are now, and what steps can be taken, one at a time, towards achieving your goals following very simple and effective habit based approaches.

Why strength? I regard physical and mental strength as a vital component of overall wellbeing, but also place strength on a pedestal by itself as a quality that comes before all else. Strength is the foundation from where we can build all other qualities. As babies we built our original strength to breath, to move, to explore, to allow our bodies and brains to develop further. To move, to run, to live a long healthy life takes physical strength, and not accepting frailty as a given.

IMG_8353.jpg

FitStrong Strength & Wellness gym in Albany Creek

How do I provide Strength & Wellness coaching? The physical components of wellness are taught in the gym, in the bush tracks of our countryside and the streets around us. The gym is the perfect supervised place to build strength and movement skills whether that’s on a one-to-one basis or in a small group. Walking, running, hiking, cycling etc really is best developed in nature. I am not a proponent of indoor treadmill or ergometer training unless it is the only option. Our location in Brisbane is fantastic for getting out in the fresh air and exploring the suburbs or rambling through any of our conservation parks.

The skill components of building healthier eating, sleeping, stress management habits are built either one-to-one in person or via social media (private facebook page for members) and bespoke online programs.

Very soon I will be releasing the first product to help get started by setting solid foundations from where to develop awesome Strength and Wellness. This short habit building program will demonstrate how quick and simple it can be to form new habits. Whether you want to stop snacking, want to start stretching more often, this short program will help.

To take part in this short program, please complete the following form and you will be notified when it is ready to commence.

High Intensity Training ‘without’ the Pain!?

Pain and discomfort, throwing up after exercise and sore muscles the day or days after is not an indicator of progress… believe it or not!

Working overly hard is hardly working compared to working strategically hard… and that’s what I’m about to get into here.

My last blog post discussed High Intensity Interval Training and it’s many demons for both trainees and even the gyms who don’t overly sell this over-marketed form of exercise.

Today I’m introducing to you the findings of some exciting research that demonstrates receptively how a simpler form of training hard (yes, I’m saying you can still work hard) elicits better and safer results.

This updated method of performing high intensity training for strength and power comes from the latest evidence based practice (and much research) from StrongFirsts Pavel Tsatsouline and plenty of credit goes too to Dr Craig Marker who shares his research with the wider StrongFirst community of instructors.

So boys and girls, let me introduce you to Anti-glycolytic training (AGT)

First off, let’s check off a few truisms.

  1. Some exercisers like to feel pain when exercising hard.
  2. Most exercisers don’t like pain the day after training.
  3. Working hard feels great to some people in the gym.
  4. Most people are exercising in part to burn fat / lean out.
  5. Most exercisers just follow the herd.
  6. Most gyms and trainers do not care about health first (just count all the gym chains that focus and market HIT!)
  7. 80%+ of training benefits are gained through accumulation of and adapting to moderate volume and intensity throughout the year.
  8. For a day or two after an HIIT session, quality of life is compromised and gym time is cut or affected (stiffness, pain, low motivation).
  9. HIIT does have its place – in a peaking phase of training once or twice a year for a few weeks only.
  10. Mmmmm, #10 – Training hard but NOT to the ‘burn’ can help promote more favourable circumstances to oxidise fat over glycogen (blood sugars) as the main fuel during exercise.

Listing 10 is a total accident there in case you’re thinking I worked hard to come up with 10 key facts.

By definition, anti-glycolytic training refers to not using the glycolytic energy system during high effort training.

Digging a wee bit into exercise science for you, here’s the normal sequence of fuel sources the body uses once high effort exercise commences and continues.

Instant Energy: ATP/CP

Stored in our muscles and liver, adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate is a powerful, clean fuel that gives us the quick bursts of energy we need for a quick dash up the stairs, vigorously scrubbing the bath or a quick sprint. A set of 5-7 swings or a heavy press fits in this energy category.

Downside – it drains out very quickly requiring us to rest to replenish the ATP or, to start utilising the next energy source.

Fuel Booster Energy: Glycolysis

Glycolysis is a slightly less powerful source of fuel than ATP/CP itself but it will last up to 2 minutes further but, it’s a dirty fuel. The metabolic waste bi-product of using this fuel source is probably something you’ve experienced in the past in the lovely sensation of burning pain in your side. This is the feeling of a build up of hydrogen ions that the body is desperately trying to buffer out of the body – it’s removal as a waste product takes priority over any further energetic efforts. So, you’ve got to rest up to let the body do what it does – repair itself!

These highly acidic waste products cause a few issues that in the long term, we want to limit and prevent.

Issues of concern include:

  • Inhibits the creation of more ATP.
  • Causes damage to cells.
  • Extends the recovery times between training sessions.
  • ‘Muscling’ through further repeated efforts carries increased risk of muscle strain, poor form and breathing patterns will take a hit – doesn’t sound too healthy actually!

Oxygen

For efforts to continue longer than two or three minutes, we cannot depend on the ATP/CP system or glycolysis and must instead rely on the use of oxygen. This incredibly efficient energy system utilises the oxidation of fat to produce energy the ins and outs of which go far beyond the scope of this post. This is where you get your energy for basic functions, long walks, jogs, bike rides and in the sporting realms, ultra marathons and such.

No supplements are needed to optimise this fuel source, just a lowering of the average overall intensity and breathing in lovely oxygen.

For the most part, we want to spend time using the latter and avoiding the nasty bi-product producing glycolytic system whilst still training to get stronger.

“How’s that gona work”? You ask.

Knowing that the ATP/CP system lasts 10 – 15 seconds or so and that we want to prevent going into the glycolytic system of producing energy we now have a window in which to work. Work in this case means hard work, explosive and pushing the comfort zone to the upper limits.

Yeah, this sounds like any other HIIT session doesn’t it.

So let’s define HIIT in its standard form.

HIIT = maximum effort intensity for a predetermined time followed by minimum time to recover and repeat.

Tabatta for example is 7 – 8 rounds of 20 seconds max effort and 10 seconds recovery. It was designed to be carried out on an indoor cycle and not the terrible forms you can see being performed in some gyms and programs.

While not all intervals are in the form of the now famous Tabatta, they all follow the same principle of max effort, short rest, repeat and pass out on the floor. Yay – way to go.

What is observed in E.V.E.R.Y workout is that form and technique and power output diminishes per round. The final set does resemble the first set in the slightest.

Is this good training practice?

Will this really develop good movement practice?

Will this create a good stimulus for strength and power improvements?

No

This has been observed for quite some time but was accepted in the name of forcing the body to accept the new level of pain and perhaps an increase in V02 max. To be honest, while conducting such training on an ergometer, running, rowing and such, there is only so much scope for a degradation in form compared with the likes of kettlebell swings, snatches, barbell moves and other loaded tools.

So, getting back to AGT, the findings in the labs have been quite the game changer and not what you’d expect.

What has been seen is that by stretching out the recovery time between high efforts of 10 -15 seconds, the body started to adapt to demands for ATP/CP through the oxidative system.

Essentially, if you stop asking the body for fuel sourced by the glycolytic system it is more than happy not to go there. Why would it – it’s damaging. Not what the body does best.

We know that strength is a skill and we talk of practicing the skill of strength to, well, get stronger. It works, it makes sense. It therefore goes without saying that being able to repeat those high effort bouts is a sane approach to high effort training.

It is now about High Intensity ‘Repeat’ Training.

Kind of ironic how the label given to High Intensity Repeat Training has the acronym of HIRT! You’ll possibly never feel the kind of pains and hurt from this method compared to HIIT.

Having these numbers gives us a massive boost in programming some high effort training to keep everyone happy, to increase our fat adaption during exercise and avoiding burnout, injury and all those aches and pains for the days following the training session.

IMG_7833

How the Program looks

Amazingly simple looking, the program goes like this:

  • 10 seconds flat out with powerful, crisp and strong form
  • 50 to 90 seconds rest
  • Repeat for up to 10 rounds.

Done!

The rest period will depend on the individuals recovery rate.

An easy method we use is the talk test. Once the exerciser can speak a sentence without gulping for air, they are ready to go.

With time and as the session seems to feel easier, and more manageable, the 10 seconds of high effort can be stretched to 12, 15 seconds.

For simplicity in the gym, we’ve found that 10 secs ON and 50 secs OFF works just fine.

What exercises?

The movements that the exerciser can carry out well and safely at high efforts are the obvious choice.

Consider:

  1. Kettlebell Swing
  2. Medicine Ball Slam
  3. Sprinting on the spot!
  4. Clean and Push Press
  5. Cycle sprints.
  6. Kettlebell Snatch.

This list is no particular order but I do prefer the kettlebell swing as a stronger swing equates to a stronger clean, press, squat potentially and a bigger deadlift as well as all-round feel good factors. Who wouldn’t mind swinging the heaviest kettlebell they can get their hands on.

Actually, on that note, when we last ran this program last year, one lady started swinging the 12kg and finished 8 weeks later swinging the 32kg! A gent also started on the 20kg and finished on the 48kg!

Impressive you’ll agree.

So that is the first component of this next program.

Are you game??

Jamie

How to Press a 40kg Kettlebell

This is a story of how one FitStrong client progressed from pressing a 28kg kettlebell well, a 32kg okay to pressing a 40kg overhead on each arm with one simple program.

Pressing or placing heavy stuff overhead has been a feat of strength favoured by many a strongman of yesteryear. Oddly enough it’s not just the twirly moustached gent that thrives off of pressing big bars and kettlebells and other odd objects. I see lots of every day people who love the feeling of pressing things over their head in what you could call a press of victory over gravity and iron kilograms.

This year so far we’ve had many ladies move up to larger kettlebells in their programs whilst others simply got more comfortable with their current presses – another valuable note of progress – but one chap started the year with a notable goal in particular.

TO PRESS THE 40KG KETTLEBELL!

IMG_5517

I like to stay on top of peoples goals and whilst most don’t have any movement specific goals, I occasionally get interesting requests, like this one. “I want to press the 40kg kettlebell by the end of the year Jamie”.

I’ve never been great at pressing. A combination of long, skinny arms, former injuries from bike crashes holding me back and a natural propensity for endurance over max strength has left me with a humbling 32kg kettlebell press. Not terrible but, meh!

Anyhoo, I was stuck at pressing the 24kg for a very long time until I came across a program concept (that I have since run with on many other strength programs) that allowed me to finally press the 28kg with comfort and the 32kg with a bit of a grind.

The concept: TO EXPAND THE COMFORT ZONE GRADUALLY

Now, I’ve written about this concept before but because it keep delivering for not just me, but for other people with totally different make ups, it’s validity keeps growing stronger.

The key to making this program successful is in creeping up volume very, very slightly over the training cycle.

Key notes:

  1. Progress takes a forward, forward, back waved approach. We add a rep, add a rep then back step to a previously completed stage – it’ll make sense below but in essence we sneak the volume up a little and before it gets noticed as a stress, we back off to a comfortable level we’ve completed before.
  2. The program is very specialised and didn’t leave much room for progressing other lifts but the goal was to improve the press, nothing else.
  3. We train three times a week, with active rest days in between to work on mobility and other maintain other qualities.
  4. The programs progression can be overridden by biofeedback. If the body felt a bit battered or tight, we back off to a simpler days training. (You’ll see that below when we cut volume down to 24 total reps a couple of times)

Program rules:

  • Start the program with a weight that can be pressed for 5 reps, or 70% of your max. 1 rep press.
  • Always warm up each session with a thorough mobility routine like Original Strength, some crawling, farmers carries and a few swings.
  • Ensure that each clean before your press is great. The better the clean, the better the press.
  • Perform up to 20 sets.
  • Rest 1 minute between sets or longer once the sets get longer.

The progression we used exactly is copy and pasted below.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 7.19.45 am

To be clear about what the above means, let’s take session #5, 2223 x 5. This means, press x 2, rest, 2, rest, 2, rest, 3, rest, repeat the cycle again for another 4 cycles for a total of 20 sets, equalling 45 presses.  Got it?

I’m not saying this exact layout will work for everyone, but I believe in the concept, the waviness of volume and expanding the comfort zone to achieve new layers of strength.

At the end of this program, the client rested a few days with active recovery before retesting his weights. The 40kg pressed up smoothly.

If you’re interested in furthering your strength with bespoke and interesting programs, please do get in touch below or check out our Online Membership that currently contains over 42 months worth of training programs!!!

click here

 

December 2018 Update:

Here’s what an online client had to say about the program after a few weeks of following the above layout.

IMG_6870

 

 

8 Week Metabolic, Muscle & Strength Program

8 Week Metabolic, Muscle & Strength Spring Program

A Fusion of Kettlebells and Bodyweight Training

INTRO

The FitStrong Spring Program is a simple fusion of both strength focussed training and metabolic enhancing training using Kettlebells and bodyweight movements..

The three days that we will rotate between place demands on two different energy systems.

Day 1: One pure power and strength

Day 2: Endurance and muscle building.

Day 3: Vital ‘Other Stuff’

Now, you’re probably not going to turn into Arnie overnight or even after 8 weeks but creating the stimulation for maintaining muscle hypertrophy helps immensely in creating more favourable conditioning for increasing muscular metabolism and hopefully fat loss.

To simplify, one session you’ll lift heavy with lots of rest and the other session you’ll push a little longer and get a little out of breath.

At FitStrong we heavily promote moving better as well as developing our strengths. With this in mind, the program does include elements of mobility and bodyweight movements also.

4 x 10

This program is built with four (roughly) 10 minute sections, finishing with a 5 minute cool down (either static stretches or repeating some of the warm up mobility movements).

Why? Oftentimes I hear frustrations that, “I’ve not got time for a 30 to 45 minutes training session”.

This program is slightly unique in that you don’t have to complete each of the four sections and that if stuck for time, you build your daily routine to meet your time budget. Only got 10 minutes? I’d recommend just running through the warm up mobility routine. Yep, if stuck for time, guaranteed you’ll be slightly more stressed too. For that reason your body does not need more stress in the form of muscular stress. The body when under stress needs a reset. The warm up will offer just that.

Got 20 minutes? Do the warm up then any of the 10 minute blocks that you’d like to do. Keep it simple.

Of course, you might find that once you start, that you might find it easier to squeeze in one more 10 minute section…. go for it.

 

Each training session emphasises pressing and rowing to develop the shoulders and arms in general. We play with various leg movements and both days use the kettlebell swing to enhance power and fat utilisation using tried and tested StrongFirst ‘Strong Endurance’ protocols.

But here’s the caveat – I’m not a believer that exercise is a good tool for body fat loss. Yes, strength exercise helps to boost the metabolic rate but pales in comparison to dialling in our nutrition habits.

So, I will be providing just ONE Nutrition Challenge to accompany the exercise component. We’ll get to that soon.

I do have an online version of this to be released on my Teachable platform, but if you prefer a slightly more low-tech access to the program, for $20 you can have the PDF version with workable links to video demonstrations. Yep, if you print the PDF the links don’t work!

At the checkout, once you completed the purchase the receipt page will include the link to the download. But, if you don’t want to go through that, once you’ve paid and I receive confirmation from paypal, I can email you the PDF too. Your choice.

Want to keep busy, fit and strong up to Christmas?

Just A$20  Payment Link (redirects to PayPal) 

Any questions or do you want access to the high-tech online version? Just shoot me a message below.

 

Is the Kettlebell the Optimal Tool for Minimalism?

Training, practice, working out, getting exercise or whatever you call it can take oh so many shapes.

cartoon network tgu 1Compared to 50 years ago when the choice of health and strength came down to gymnastic endeavours, calisthenics or barbell routines, today we have bodyweight calisthenics, parkour, dumbbells, barbells, machines galore, kettlebells, bands, straps, balls, shake-weights (!?!?!) and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few but you get the picture. There are so many choices today.

One area that has taken the health, strength and fitness arena by storm (if I may say so myself) is that of training minimalism.

Championed by the likes of Pavel Tsatsouline, Pat Flynn and Tim Ferriss to mention but a few, the premise that you should spend your training time on the activities that yield the majority of the results is the way to go. Using a minimum affective dose approach is similar in concept to the Pareto principle or what some refer to as Paretos Law. The principle also known as the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the outcomes derive from 20% of the causes. In other words, 80% of your training results comes from 20% of what you put into it.

Think of it; how much of a standard 1 hour gym session is actually worth the time and effort? All the fiddling around with one body part movements take up valuable time instead of just completing one big compound exercise. You might think that more is better in regards to calorie expenditure, however, if you whittle away your energy on the small ‘stuff’, that have little impact on the metabolism, how much energy do you have to commit to the big ‘stuff’ that has the potential to really impact the metabolism.

Majoring in the minors is one sure way to fail at most things in life.

Talking of minimalism, let’s jump in and look at the Kettlebell and other tools. Is it really the optimal tool for exercise minimalism?

Let’s first consider the important ‘majors’ of any good training session.

  • We need to move those big body parts with compound movements like Squatting, Hinging aka the Deadlift, Pushing, Pulling, Bracing that aids in developing strength and maintaining muscle mass.
  • We should nearly always include power moves or quick lifts.
  • Time efficient.
  • Should relate to your human function – you want to move better for a long time, yeah?
  • Should develop movement skills – related in ways to function.
  • Influence the bodies metabolism favourably.

These are the majors, the important stuff that training is used for.

To address these important qualities you could go to a gym hugely populated with barbells, dumbbells, strength machines for every body part, treadmills, cycles, stepping, thrusting, vibrating gadgets galore…. I said you could, but how much time is that going to take, never mind figuring out what does what.

What we’re looking for in a minimal training mindset is lack of fluff, no hassle, just get in, get the work done and go home to recover, spend time with family or get back to work.

How about the good ol’ dumbbell?dumbbells

While a dumbbell can be used for pretty much all the compound moves it is pretty much limited to just doing the strength moves. Try doing an explosive move with a dumbbell and you’ll figure our how hard it is to manhandle and hold onto. Maybe not the optimal tool to get everything done hassle free but a close contender.

 

What about a barbell, you can do near everything with a barbell?

barbellI spent many years with a barbell and truely love the feeling of training with a barbell. It’s best suited for developing maximum strength in all the big moves and it can be used for quick lifts. With over 20 years of training people I don’t often get to work with someone who is comfortable with a barbell for every big movement. Why? They lack the movement skills to use the bar. They can’t hold the bar on their shoulders to squat. Pressing with both hands often doesn’t work due to shoulder limitations and the same goes for the bench press. Deadlifting is the most common go-to that works fine but as for most other movements, most people, most of the time struggle to use the barbell affectively. Whilst mobility training can address the deficits in some occasions, the very strict linear and bilateral (two limbed) nature of barbell training often causes niggles, tweaks and injury. I love the barbell, but for minimal training it isn’t the best tool for most of the people (in my opinion anyway).

On that note, who are most of the people? 

Most trainers start off with aspirations of working with elites, athletes, hot, toned specimens of human evolution. The reality is that most trainers spend most of their time working with mums, dads, grandparents, people who work 40+ hours a week at work, then supporting their families, they’ve household chores to get sorted, grass to cut and meals to prepare. Most of them want to feel stronger, less tired and achey and probably want some sense of achievement as they escape to their training.

Do you think training minimalism is suited to them? Hell yeah!

 

Enter the Kettlebell. 

rkc bell

Look, I am biased as I start to talk about kettlebell training. Funnily enough, when I first signed up to a kettlebell certification back in 2009, I did so with a sense of disbelief regarding all the hype. It’s a ball with handle on it – ‘what’s the big deal’?

I learned very quickly however, what a gem the kettlebell is.

When I start working with a new client I make it clear that we train movements. When it’s time to load those movements we do so. We still train movements though. The load is just added to keep progressing.

The dealio with the kettlebell is with it’s shape. Plain and simple. There is no magic woowoo Russian secret, it’s just an old agricultural weight that found its way into the training world – because it gets a job done.

The handle, the compact size, the ability to do all the compound lifts, the ease at which you can transition from a compound grind lift to an explosive lift, just makes the kettlebell a good all-round tool to use. Having a kettlebell in one hand at a time or a kettlebell in each hand allows users to do a range of movements without the restriction of a straight bar or a wobbly dumbbell.

To save time and hit all the requisites of an effective training plan, the kettlebell can be used in a complex. A complex is simply a number of movements strung together and carried out non-stop. Training is this manor allows for training strength, explosiveness and metabolic improvements, oh, and a session can be done in under 15 minutes if you like.

You can use a bar or a dumbbell or even bodyweight moves for a complex, but for ease of use, the kettlebell wins. And yes, you can mix in bodyweight movements – no hassle is the game at foot, so less is fluff is more win!

Here’s an example of a very simple kettlebell and bodyweight complex that even an exercise newbie can learn to do in a number of sessions:

  1. Push Ups x 5
  2. Goblet Squat x 5
  3. Swing x 10

Do 5 rounds with adequate rest between rounds.

That’s it. Short, sweet and done in no time at all. The majority of the moves we need are there.

An alternative could be:

  1. Clean and Press
  2. Squat
  3. Row

5 rounds or fit in what you can in 10 – 15 mins. Be your own chef!

Use any rep range specific to your goals. Heavy and short reps for strength. Medium and longer reps for muscle building.

Complexes can be built for many areas and sure, you can still do circuits or pair off movements. The complex is just one way to tick that minimalism box.

Of course technique is vital like in using any piece of equipment, but there are good kettlebell trainers available via StrongFirst, the RKC and other reputable training organisations.

My point here today is this. If you want to pursue training minimalism, I whole-heartily recommend getting to grip with using the kettlebell.

Got any questions? Shoot them my way.

Climb Ladders to get STRONG!

What I’d really like to talk to you about today is making your coffee a super-drink. Yeah, I know, you may already consider coffee a super, awesome drink but how about making it better, healthier and much more beneficial. Coffee, caffeinated of course (don’t do decaf… yuck!) offers a great morning wake up smack as well as having antioxidant properties and has been shown to provide other health benefits.

However, a cup of coffee also increases insulin resistance and spikes blood sugar. Now, if you like you coffee before exercise, this is great but if not, and your plans include driving to work to sit behind a desk for the day, meh, it’s lost some of its health points.

However, spicing up your Joe can counter these negative affects. In recent studies half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day reduced blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Even if not diabetic and not too concerned about insulin levels, cinnamon has other benefits:

  • it enhances antioxidant properties of other ingested foods
  • it aids in reducing inflammation in joints and muscles
  • it helps to control appetite by slowing down gastric emptying and thus blood sugar levels / spikes

So, maybe mix in a little cinnamon to your morning coffee to boost your day… just not before exercise though, you want black coffee for that job.

img_1049

Yep, that’s my cinnamon laced coffee right in front of this post getting written!

 


Now, back to the main topic of the post. Today I am going to talk about an exercise programming concept that is sadly not used enough…

…Welcome to the Jedi magic of getting stronger the easy way!

LADDERS

… did you fall off your seat with excitement?

You’ll most likely have heard of sets, reps or repetitions and if you do train you’ll have used them as a way to accumulate your training volume for the session. The most commonly used structures are 3x 5 or 6 for strength, 3x 10 for muscle growth and 2-3x 15-20 for muscular endurance. Throw these at any newbie or young trainee and they’ll get results – for a while anyway.

Whilst these work to a point, say up to the first year or so of training, they do come with baggage, the kind of baggage that can slow down your progress, get you hurt or bore you to tears!

Fatigue in the gym is what a lot of people seek. They associate fatigue with results and of course soreness the next day along with the accompanied inability to do much else that day (that sucks doesn’t it?). Soreness isn’t an indicator of progress. Lifting more weight, better muscular development and lifting more volume is indicative of progress. Being unable to move without discomfort the day (or two) after training is just plain dumb. If you’ve a career, a family, a set of stairs – what use is it to be miserable and sore?

Back to fatigue. Maybe, just maybe, fatigue isn’t a good measurement of when to stop a training session. It’ll sure stop you and it will stop you making potential in a gym session. We’re mostly concerned with gaining muscle strength. Exercising a muscle to fatigue is a common route to muscle strength gain but it’s tainted, rarely successful not the only method.

In most training programs, total training load or volume is a variable that we aim for and want to increase. Let’s basically define volume as the total reps x the load moved. There are lots of ways to express this but, essentially volume is going to increase over the term of a program lasting 4 to 6 weeks. Either the load (kg or lbs) is going to creep up or if you’re a minimalist, the weight remains the same while the amount of ‘accumulated’ repetitions goes up. Simple, yeah? The latter is my preferred method.

28s close ups

With a standard 3 x [enter desired rep range] each set will typically be taken to the point of fatigue and in most cases, muscular failure. This is an absolute waste of energy. Okay, let’s examine that too.

If you are completing 3 x 10 to fatigue in each set, how easy will it be to add more fatigue? You could push harder, take a hit of caffeine or other mega stimulant, risk tweaking that old injury or lose form and create a new injury.

Maybe not?!

When operating at high levels of exertion all the time it becomes increasingly harder to find progress. Is this motivating? If you are a ‘three times a week exerciser for health’ is this going to encourage you to keep turning up to the gym? Hell no my friend.

So how do you add progression, this added volume?

BRING IN THE LADDER

What the heck is the deal with ladders in a training program?

In publications written by Pavel Tsatsouline in and around 1999 or 2000, he wrote of a structure of strength training that avoided fatigue yet allowed trainees to build ‘strength’ and ‘strength and endurance’. The program discussed was primarily used for building pull ups in Special Forces for the Spetsnaz requirement of 18 dead hang pull ups wearing a 10kg bullet-proof vest. This program method has proven to work with most other strength movements.

He explained, trainees would start with 1 pull up, brief rest, then 2 and so on 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. At this point the trainee would repeat the 1 – 10 rep ladder. This 1 – 10 progression carry out once would take less than 10 mins and build up to 55 reps!

‘High-volume plus specificity minus burnout’

This systematic approach to accumulating training volume in a specific movement creates the perfect stimulus to build strength endurance without burnout, fatigue or getting into the injury territory.

For most purposes of building strength we work with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ladders with a 8 rep (almost) max weight. This accumulates 15 reps. Programs generally start with 2 ladders (30 reps) and build up over a number of weeks to as many 5 ladders of 1-5. Yes, a total of 75 reps…. all acquired without burnout, fatigue or maxing out with hideous facial expressions (no-one cares to see your pain face really).

Imagine trying to do 70 reps with traditional 10 rep sets?

Proof is in the pudding!

A recent trainee at FitStrong followed this particular method which many before have followed. The original program had already been detailed out by coach Anthony Delugio in the ‘Rights of Passage’ program based on Pavels methods.

The program is built around the 1,2,3 ladder progressing to the 1,2,3,4,5 ladder with the kettlebell military press.

To be honest I rarely pursue the program through to the end with 5 ladders of 1 – 5. Why? Well, I’ve found over numerous occasions that waving up and down the 1 -3 and 1 – 5 ladders for no more than 3 ladders (scaling down when the body needs it and building up when the body is saying “hell yeah”) proves successful and it eliminates the risk of trainee boredom!

Our trainee started by testing out his pressing strength. He could successfully press the 24kg multiple times, 28kg a few times and get an ugly 32kg press and a pretty disgusting 36kg press x 1 right and nothing on the left.

The program commenced and finished with the 24kg kettlebell press with 1,2,3 ladders and over 4 weeks build up and down towards 1,2,3,4,5 ladders x 3, pressing 3 sessions per week.

Not a single set was taken to fatigue. Every rep was pursued for excellence, practicing good, better and best form.

By the end of the 4 weeks the trainee had had so much exposure to good, better and best pressing that his pressing looked seamless, effortless and smooth. Well practiced in other words.

Test day came along and to cut a long story short, he could press the 36kg perfectly with ease on each arm. “Bazinga”!

Bazinga-designstyle-bazinga-m

So, why do I like Ladders so much?

I can sum this up very quickly with a couple of points.

Deliberate practice without the distraction of over exertion. If every set is taken to the fatigue, this becomes the objective, the outcome and the top of mind element. If your goal at the start of the ladder is to accomplish 1 really good rep, well then, it’s done. You repeat the same with 2 reps, then 3 and the sets of 4 and 5 are the sets where you simply put to practice what you’ve already done but with just a little bit more effort and repetition required.

While you work appropriately hard on the 5 rep sets the shorter sets provide you more volume. Now, you wouldn’t pyramid following ladders as in, after the 5 rep set, you wouldn’t go back to 5,4,3,2,1. The objective is steer clear of fatigue. So after the 5 comes 1 rep set; time to recap on what best form is in other words, before building back up to the 5 rep set.

You may be thinking of dropping all the 1,2,3,4 rep sets and just work with the harder 5 rep sets and indeed, some programs do call for multiple sets of 5 reps. If your goal is to get really good and proficient with a lift though, the added time dedicated to practicing the skill of strength is invaluable. Dropping the 1,2,3,4 three times and just doing 3 sets of 5 actually costs you 30 reps of practice whilst you only train with 15 reps!

Got you thinking?

Well, why not try this method on your favourite lift. Consider your squat, deadlift, bench press or military press, pulls or even use the concept for conditioning movements.

With a weight you can safely handle for a hard set of 8-10 reps, you start your journey.

Commence with 3 ladders of 1,2,3 until you can accomplish 4 – 5 rounds before moving to a 1,2,3,4 ladder for 3 rounds and again, build up to 4 – 5. At this point start the process with 1,2,3,4,5 ladders until again, 4 – 5 ladders are in the books.

You may feel that you have earned your best at 3 – 4 rounds however. Listen to your body.

Don’t be afraid to reduce ladders in any session you feel low on steam or off for some reason. The aim is to wave up and down the volume as you build up to the end.

In case you’re wondering, the original Rights of Passage program is available on different websites, google it if you like.

If you’ve any questions about this program concept or other unconventional, against the norm style methods, get in touch.

Good luck and stay strong,

Jamie