Friday, 30 November 2012

Basic Conditioning for Lifters

No subject seems to be shrouded in more confusion in regards to lifting than conditioning. there will be those who believe it will make you weak (usually fat guys). those who think it is the be all and end all (crossfitters, generally weak people) and those who think the only way to do it is to pull trucks and do farmers walks (strongmen).

Conditioning doesn't have to be that complicated. It will benefit you in many ways if you do it right, better recovery, less rest between sets, more energy, better sex, leaner,and healthier heart and lungs.

Lets break conditioning down into 4 categories
steady state cardio, interval training, strength conditioning hybrids, and sports.

1. steady state cardio. This one gets the most abuse for making people weak. the argument is usually look at how weak a marathon runners physique is and they do loads of steady state cardio. That may be but you don't have to run marathons here. you don't even have to run at all. Most of the down sides of steady state cardio are associated with running long distances. I think a better form of cardio for lifters is power walking. This may sound a bit weight watches but a fast paced walk can be pretty damn effective for fat loss and conditioning. Stick between 30-45mins. Your best bet is to pick a certain route and time yourself walking that route as fast as possible. each time you powerwalk time yourself and attempt to beat your previous time each walk. It can be great for fatloss before breakfast. the good thing about powerwalking is it shouldn't effect your strength training. there will be no adaptations as far as your muscles are concerned toward endurance rather than maximal strength. power walking can be done anywhere. you don't need to psyche yourself up and listen to death metal to just go out and have a walk. there are no excuses to not do it. also there is very little joint stress of impact on your body and its pretty hard to injure yourself walking. try powerwalking 4 times a week for 30mins and see where you conditioning goes.

 the other form of steady state cardio i like is swimming. just get in the pool and swim laps for 20-30mins. try to see how many laps you can do in a certain time or give yourself a number to do and try to improve your time to do them. again swimming requires no psyching up,  no death metal and just the business of being in the water can feel great for your body. again as with powerwalking there is no joint stress or impact but unlike powerwalking swimming works your whole body which can be great for recovery as it allows you to pump blood around your whole body rather than just your legs. I will blog more about swimming at a later date because i feel it is underrated as a form of conditioning especially for weightlifters and powerlifters.

    Swimmers physique

2. Interval training. Look at the physiques of sprinters they are muscular and lean so sprint intervals must be the way to go right? Hold on there. are you a sprinter or a lifter? Interval training can be very intense. Every time i have tried to have sprint session i have had epic doms the next day. for someone who wants to get as strong as possible there is no way to incorporate long interval session along with heavy lifting sessions.  without one at least somewhat effecting the other. if you want to train sprinting intensity and frequently your squat and deadlift are going to have to take a back seat for a while and vice versa. also this type of conditioning is pretty demanding mentally as well. since I believe burnout is mostly a mental thing you don't want to always be having to call upon your mental reserves of energy to push through a conditioning session as well as your lifting sessions. i believe the best way to incorporate intervals into your training is to keep them short in duration. keep the sets 10-20 secs on length for maybe 10-15sets. this minis the length of a typical lifting set done in the gym so it stands to reason it will have carry over to your lifting work capacity. some of the best form of conditioning to use for these short intervals are punch bag work, skipping, rowing and possible sprinting. sprinting being the most intense and the one which will effect you overall recovery the most. There is of course hill sprints as well. these put more stress on the quads than normal sprinting but also reduce the impact on the body and reduce the chance of injury. If you want to try hill sprints find  a hill  and stick to the 10-20 second protocol for several sets. I would suggest doing sprints or hills as close as possible to your hardest leg training session. this should give you as long as possible to recover before your next hard leg session but bear in mind you may be unable to walk for a few days. If you are going to incorporate interval sessions into your training try 3 sessions a week limiting sprints or hills to just once a week. for the other sessions try boxing, skipping, fast swimming or something similar. you can do these sessions either as a finisher on your main session or on off days. Just make sure you be careful of your recovery with these and lifting. Don't be afraid to use steady state sessions instead or a combination of the two.

      Just because Yohan Blake looks like this from sprinting doesn't mean you will

3. strength conditioning hybrids. By this I count anything which blends both strength and conditioning. most strongman events come under this category. farmer walks, yoke walk truck pull, sled pull, prowler pushes, sandbag lifting, barbell complexes etc. this stuff is all a lot of fun and is pretty hardcore so it must be the way to go right? These have the same problem as interval sessions. they can be intense and negatively effect your recovery on top of lifting as well. I feel the best way to incorporate these into your training is too use them as finishers in your main strength workout. This stuff is too intense to do on in between days or rest days. There are loads of options for what to do for these. Sandbags, kegs, rocks other odd objects make great options. you can perform lifting circuits, complexes, carries for time or distance, loading races, farmer walks, strongman events if you have access to them. check out Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubirk for some ideas for what to do on these. Again pay attention to your recovery when you incorporate these. don't be afraid to dial back what you do or try another form of conditioning.

                                 Lawrence Shahlaei is the man

4. sports. Playing sports can be a great form of conditioning. they tend to be more fun, less repetitive improve athleticism and the element of competition can be great for those of use competitively minded. What sports you do is simply down to you whatever you feel is fun. Rugby, football, badminton, tennis, Martial arts it doesn't really matter just get moving. Don't try and do this every day if your goals are lifting orientated. once a week can work great though depending on how intense the sport is. Don't go crazy here the goal is to get some conditioning in and have fun not become a professional athlete in one of these sports. No one cares how good you are at tennis if you lose all your powerlifting competitions.

The important things to consider about conditioning.
  • Conditioning won't make you weak or stop you gaining muscle. 3x30min power walking sessions a week will not effect your max strength.
  • Don't get carried away with intense forms of conditioning, conditioning is something you do to compliment your lifting. If your focus is lifting you don't need to train like a full time athlete in another sport. Monitor you recovery and lifting if you start incorporating intervals, sports and hybrids in your training.
  • You don't need to be able to run marathons or build pyramids
  • If in doubt just do 3x30min power walks a week.
  • Don't try and do everything at once. you don't need to do 6 powerwalking sessions a week, 6 MMA sessions, strongman events  in every session and sprint intervals 3 times a week for a hour a time. try 2-5 conditioning sessions a week max from a combination of the 4 types of conditioning. 3 steady state sessions and 2 hybrid OR interval sessions a week can get you in fantastic shape without effecting strength or muscle gains.
If you want to add conditioning to the basic strength routine i outlined in a previous post then start with 2x30minute power walking session and 1x20min swimming sessions a week. after a month add another powerwalk or swimming session. Do this either on your rest days or in the evening if you lift in the morning or morning if you lift in the evening. Don't add any other sessions or increase the time. For progression try to walk or swim further in the same period of time.

You now have no excuse to be fat and out of shape just because you lift weights. Now go out for a walk.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

How to Have At It

Have at it is one of my favourite expressions in regards to training. It makes me want to work hard and kill it in the gym. Here's how to have at it in the gym.

Before you workout you will do a typical warm up for your body. So the same should be done for your mind. Mental preparation will get you psyched up and motivated to lift. it will prepare your body to work hard and not quit when it starts to feel tough. The best thing to do to prepare yourself mentally is go for a walk with music on. for me this is the walk to the gym. if you drive then spend 5-10mins walking on the treadmill in the gym to prepare yourself. During this walk you need to go over in your head exactly what needs doing that day. go over exactly what weight you are going to lift and for what reps and sets. If it helps then visualise yourself making the lift. imagine exactly what the bar will look like, what combination of plates there will be on it. imagine yourself grinding through the lifts in exactly the same amount of time it takes you to do them in real life. give yourself positive reinforcement during this time. try to make your words more aggressive and dramatic. rather than tell yourself "i can do this" instead go with "I'm going to tear shit up" or something along those lines. If you compete then imagine yourself winning a big competition of lifting a massive weight. Your walk shouldn't be too long anywhere from 5-20mins. Your music choice is very important it needs to escalate as you get closer to the gym don't start out with killer death metal. That is the kind of thing you listen too during your hardest sets not on the way to the gym. Save certain songs purely for this purpose. Have songs that you only listen too on the way to the gym or while your lifting otherwise you become desensitised to them and they no longer have the same psyching up affect they once had. Your music choice needs to be something that fits to walking with purpose. your kind of marching in to battle music as opposed to actually fighting the battle.

Here are a few of my marching into battle songs

You probably get the idea.

once you get to the gym don't hang around get changed quickly and get warming up. Don't spend ages talking to the people at the gym. Imagine you've just lit a fire that is you work ethic and motivation. It is literally a matter of time until the fuel burns up and the fire goes out. Talking too much is a distraction. every time i have sat around talking to people at the gym i have then proceeded to have a shitty workout. I would even change gyms to avoid training at a place which is too social.

So you're in the gym and are warming up. What you want to do is completely own and dominate your warm up weights. lift them as explosively and violently as possible. the warm up sets can be a great way to prime your body and nervous system. they can also give you targets to hit each time you train. How explosively can you make a weight feel or how light and easy can you make it feel. your warm ups should also give you an indication of how your workout is going to go. I have certain indicator weight which will tell me how the workout is going to go. this is usually 170kg in the squat and 200kg in the deadlift. If they absolutely fly up i know I'm in for a good one. if they feel heavy and slow I'm probably not in for a great day.

So you've warmed up, have been smashing your warm up weights and are ready to tackle the heavy sets. I would suggest not listening to music during all of your warm up but instead saving it purely for your working sets.

The battle:

Get yourself psyched up. If you watch most people in the gym before a set they will roll up to the bar with no real focus or intensity. they will stroll up to the bar as if they are trying to decide whether to have a Chinese or Indian for dinner that night. this is a recipe for failure.

Some serious intensity right there

 You need to have focus before a big set. you need to block everything else out. nothing else exists on earth that that moment in time except you and the bar.
Visualisation as i talked about when you are walking into battle can work great again here too. Close your eyes and imagine the set. imagine exactly how the bar will feel, exactly how heavy it will be, imagine yourself pushing through the reps, fighting the sticking point, imagine bracing your abs, imagine exactly how you will breath. Make your visualisation process last as long as the set would actually take. Imagine yourself grinding through the lift at the same speed each rep would be done. Imagine where you eyesight would be during each phase of the lift. make it as vivid as possible. when you have finished the visualisation it is time to get ready for the set.
Breathing can play a very big factor here. big deep breaths can certainly focus your mind and give a sense of calm intensity. more rapid breathing can also work almost of the verge of hyperventilating. this can quicken your heart rate and increase adrenaline levels which is perfect before a big set.
Focus your eyesight. do not look around but instead stare the bar down as if it were your opponent in a boxing match looking away would be a sign of submissiveness. Some people may find it helps to wear a hoodie because it blocks your peripheral vision and gives you a single focus point straight ahead. furrow you brow. this focuses your sight even more and makes you look and feel mean.

If either of these were your opponent would you take you eyes off them

During this building up process you shouldn't feel anxious about what others will think of you. they make think you look stupid psyching yourself up but when they see you smash through a massive weight they will respect you for it.  Your internal dialogue can also have a big effect on the psyching up process. particular words can work well. just thinking words like strong or powerful can be useful. mind set words like push or explode work and also stop you mind wandering to other mundane shit. For me two words which work great just before a heavy set are "HERE, NOW" They remind me that on this day, at this time, in this place, shit is going to go down. I will touch later on the significance of these words in a future post. Another thing i like is too remind yourself that this set is going to be tough but that you are tougher. If during this process your face somewhat resembles the tiger above you're doing it right.
 The right music before a big set is crucial. it needs to be brutal and fast paced, metal is a good way to go but it obviously depend on your own preferences. some stuff I've been liking recently.

I fucking love Celldweller although almost no one has ever heard of them. Almost all they songs are great to lift to but Shut'em Down is especially brutal.

Blue Stali is another underrated band very similar to Celldweller.

I wouldn't suggest listening to this kind of stuff during your whole workout just during you heavy work sets. when the set is finished turn off your music and calm yourself down. this will aid recovery between sets better than is you try to stay amped even during your rest period. Also save certain songs purely for lifting purposes. i love these songs but i never listen to them except when i lift at the gym. i don't want to become desensitised to them from hearing them too often. I want to maintain their psyching up effect on me. You don't want to be doing this too often in a workout or for every exercise. 1-2 exercises max.

Use these techniques sparingly and save them purely for the toughest and heaviest sets. you don't need to psyche yourself up for a set of bicep curls or leg extensions but when used for PR sets of squats and deadlifts it works great.

Now go forth and have at some new PR's!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Basic Strength Routines

So lets get the ball rolling on becoming strong and useful with a beginner strength training routine. This is very similar to how I trained in the beginning and it gave me a good base of strength. This routine is based on compound free weight barbell exercises since they work about a millions times better for beginners than machines and bodybuilding isolation crap. This is mainly aimed at guys who are in reasonable shape to begin with. For those in very poor shape such as older people or those overweight I will write routines in the future for you guys.

Beginner Routine 1. You will train 3 times a week alternated between week A and week B

week A
Day 1
back squat 5x5 (at least to parallel on the depth)
bench press 5x5
chin up 5x1-5/ latpull down 5x5
(This will be dependant on how strong you are to begin with. If you can only hit a couple of reps just do 5 sets of as many chins as you can but stop the set 1 rep before you fail. If you can't do chin ups stick with lat pull downs. If you are strong at chins do the 5x5 with added weight.)
planks 3x 1min holds

day 2
rest day

day 3
deadlift 3x3
overhead press 5x5
1 arm dumbell row 5x5
bicep curls 3x10
tricep extentions 3x10

day 4
rest day

day 5
back squat 5x5
bench press 5x5
chin up/lat pull down 5x5
dumbell lateral raises 3x10
calf raises 3x20

day 6 and 7
rest days

week B

day 1
back squat 5x5
overhead press 5x5
1 arm dumbell row 5x5
plank holds 3x 1min

day 2

day 3
deadlift 3x3
bench press 5x5
chin up/latpull down 5x5
curls 3x10
tricep extensions 3x10

day 4

day 5
back squat 5x5
overhead press 5x5
1 arm dumbbell row 5x5
lateral raise 3x10
calf raises 3x20

day 6 and 7

then restart with week A again

A few notes about this routine.
start with an easy weight on all the exercises. For some this may be an empty bar for others it might be 60kg the point is the first week needs to be very easy. You need to walk out of the gym feeling fresh not exhausted. when you have got your starting weight add 2.5kg to the bar for upperbody exercises each time you train that exercise. Add 5kg to the bar on lowerbody exercises each time you train them (squats and deadlifts). As the weights get harder change it to 2.5kg as well for squats and deadlifts.

Have a general warm up and do some progressively heavier warm up sets before you hit your work sets.

why is the deadlift 3x3 and not 5x5 like everything else? This is because higher reps tend to lead to more fatigue which in turn leads to sloppy form and then injuries. i feel sets of 3 work perfect for beginners on the deadlift as they are better able to maintain their back position though out the lift. you can keep on adding weight progressively on 3x3 for a long time. For example i went from 3x3 with 120kg to 3x3 with 210kg without deloading or changing rep schemes just by adding 5-2.5kg to the bar each workout.

Why is a few random isolation exercises in there? I put in the curls,extension,lateral raises and calf raises simply because most people will do these kind of exercises any way even if they make very little difference to your overall progress. They are just for fun and do not get carried away with them. they should not effect your next workout. If your triceps are sore from doing loads of extension and it means you have a crappy bench workout 2 days later you are doing to much on these isolation exercises. Your focus needs to be on the main compound lifts. feel free to skip these isolation exercises completely if you don't want to do them. they will make very little difference to the program.

That about wraps it up. Put aside the bodybuilding split and get strong and useful with a simple 3 day a week strength routine. At a later date I'm post up some links on good form as well as progressions from this program as you get stronger.

About Be Strong to Be Useful

The term "be strong to be useful" was coined by a french man named Georges Hébert. Hébert was a Navel officer prior to the first world war. In 1902 he was stationed in St. Pierre, Martininque. A near by volcano had erupted during Herbert's time there. He bravely organised an evacuation and rescue mission for the town and ended up evacuating around 700 people from the town. This left a lasting effect on him. He realised the importance of athletic strength and how it should be combined with bravely and altruism. This became his philosophy and which he described as "Être fort pour être utile" or  "be strong to be useful".

This is what this blog is all about. Developing strength not just purely for your own ego but also as an ability to improve your own life and those of others. Whether than be being able to defend yourself or others, carrying someone who can't walk, being part of an emergency service or getting people out of a near by lava river etc.

I am a powerlifter I train to be as strong as possible. Yes I compete for my own ego but the strength that I develop helps me when I need it. The stereotype of a lifter is being a meathead. Basically a big strong guy who also happens to be a complete asshole and thick as shit. I seek to change this. In my day to day job I am a care worker. Being strong is defiantly useful when i comes time to move patients (especially when you work mostly with women).

Am I the strongest greatest powerlifter who has ever lived? Hell no I'm just an average guy trying to get as strong as possible. Do I have all the answers? No. But this is a place to share what works for me and try to help others on the strength path. I write this blog for me as much as anyone to help figure things out in training and stay motivated. This blog will deal with strength, conditioning, nutrition, fitness, health, powerlifting and will always push a drug free attitude.