Sunday, 28 September 2014

Pick'n'mix Cardio

If you are someone who competes in a particular sport which has a cardiovascular element then you are going to have to be very specific about how you train. Runners need to run, fighters need to spar and crossfitters need everything. But if you are a strength athlete, bodybuilder, or someone just training for strength, health, physique or whatever then you can be far more general when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. If you are doing cardio for the health benefits, fat burning effects or to build general endurance then the type of cardio you do doesn't matter as long as you are getting the benefits.

When you are doing cardio for these benefits you are not trying to build muscular endurance but are trying to build the endurance of your heart and lungs or burn calories.

Most of the down sides of cardio are associated with doing the same thing repeatedly. The adaptation s of your type 2 muscle fibres towards endurence will be greater if they are getting repeated signals to adapt to an ever greater demand from the same activity. In other words if you run a lot your muscles will adapt to get you better at running. But if your goals are to be as strong and muscular as possible this is not what you want as you are now conflicting with your other goals. The other down side to repeated cardio is wear and tear on the joints. The same motion over and over especially if its high impact like running tends to lead to overuse injury's. So how do you get the health and fat burning effects of cardio while avoiding loss of strength or muscle and minimising your chance of injury? Simple you do a different type of cardio everytime you train it and rotate around the vast options of cardiovascular exercise open to you.
Think of all the different types of cardio exercise.
You have running over varying distances and speeds on varying terrain, skipping, swimming over distances, speeds and strokes, cycling, rowing machines, elliptical, stairmaster, bodyweight circuits, kettle bell work, burpees, carrying things, playing different sports, interval training, power walking, walking with a weighted vest, pushing a prowler, pulling a sled, sledgehammer strikes, battling ropes, assault courses, bag work, grappling, barbell complexes, method naturelle type training. The list is pretty much endless. By taking a varied approach to cardio you still burn fat, get all the health benefits and allow your heart and lungs to adapt to exercise. However the constant variety doesn't allow your muscles to adapt effectively or to produce as much repetitive strain on the joints. The more of a type of cardio you do the more efficient you become at doing it and therefore the less beneficial it is. Constant variety means you will not be as efficient each time and will burn more calories each time.

Of course this method is not perfect as it is difficult to gauge progression.  Is running better than swimming? Did I burn more calories doing that circuit than this power walk? Well you have a couple of options. There is the rate of peiceved exertion. This is your personal gauge of how hard something is. If 30mins of running just about killed you while 30mins of swimming felt easy you know you got more benefit and burned more calories from the running. That's not to say that the most intense forms of cardio are always best. If you just do hill sprints all the time you will probably end up over trained. There are many benefits to easier more sustainable cardio. But overtime you are looking to work harder and for longer. Another way to gauge progress is to buy a heart rate monitor to wear during cardio. Here you can see your heart rate and how it compares between forms of cardio. Some even have built in calorie counters. While these may not be 100% accurate they are at least accurate to themselves so you can compare the calories burning effects between different types of cardio. You do not always need to seek progression on cardio and if you are not doing it for performance then does it matter to you whether it is improving or not? That's up to you but if you are losing fat, getting stronger and more muscular I wouldn't be worried. Training like this allows you to auto regulate your cardio based on how you are feeling with easier and harder workouts thrown in when your body feels ready. Of course you can pick and chose what types of cardio you want to be based on person pretences or create some kind of random. Cardio genrater perhaps giving different options a number and following a dice to see what to do. This can keep things fun and interesting.

I tend to divide cardio into steady state type activity, power walking, vest walking, running, swimming, rowing, elliptical
And interval type cardio, sprints, hills, skipping, bag work, bodyweight circuits, battling ropes, kettle bells, prowler, sleds, sledgehammers, complexes etc. I will perform a mix of the two on any given week depending on what I fancy doing. If you get the opportunity you can play any number of sports and if I have the chance I like to do all day cardio on off days.

All day cardio is basically hiking or bike riding over a long distance that will take several hours. The intensity is very low and is more of a leisure activity exploring new areas and getting into nature. But by being on your feet or on a bike all day you can really burn a lot of calories. Just see how tired you feel after hiking 10 miles. A good thing for this is to look at google maps or earth and find some unexplored places or country side that's within walking or cycle distance. You can of course drive further out and then begin walking or riding as well. You might be suprised just what you find and how good this makes you feel. Take the family with you, your dog, or just get some solitude. You can listen to music or audio books or just the sounds of nature. Only do these on a rest day and just fit them in if you find you have a spare day. I try to do one every couple of weeks.

Keep your cardio constantly varied and never get bored, get all the benefits with none of the draw backs. Programme it however you like or do it completely at random. Make sure you are still lifting to be strong and useful and eating good and you will continue to lose fat, get fitter and be healthier.

They like to mix it 


I'm Quite Partial to Partials

Training with heavy partials is a very old training method which has fallen out of favour in recent years. Many big strong guys got incredible results from incorporating partials into their training. Two guys which come to mind are Paul Anderson and Bob Peoples. Anderson used partials almost exclusively for his squat training and ended up squatting a disputed 1200lbs. Whether or not he actually did this he was certainly a very strong squatter with lots of witnessed lifts in the 800-900lbs range. Bob peoples used partials for the deadlift which he was built perfectly for with massive monkey arms. He ended up pulling around 720lbs at 180lbs of bodyweight. Both these guys did these lifts before power racks were widely avaible and ended up digging a hole in the ground with the barbell placed over the top. They would lift in the hole and overtime start to fill it in until they were doing their lifts with a full range of motion.

There are a few reasons I feel partials are no longer as popular as they used to be.

They were widely used from around the 30s to the 60s with many strongmen from those eras advocating them. In this time those who lifted weights did so to get strong and to compete in weighting. After this bodybuilding started to take over and training for strength became less important. Partials are a pure stength training method and don't have a place in a bodybuilders routine, So partials and strength training in general fell out of favour while bodybuilding grew in popularity.

Many current strength athletes opt for accommodating resistance methods such as bands and chains which achieve a similar effect but aren't quite the same animal and don't quite cover all the benefits I believe partials have.

The final reason that partials aren't popular as its viewed by many lifters as ego lifting. But there is a difference to a beginner half squatting or only unlocking their arms on a bench press than a serious lifter using partials in addition to full range of motion lifting. The former is simply ignorance to what full range of motion is and how a exercise should be performed. While the latter is an assistance exercise to compliment full range of motion lifts. Its not to brag and say "look how much weight I lifted for 2 inchs!" No one cares how much you lift in a partial. Its simply an assistance exercise and should be treated as such.

All of this aside there are many advantages to including partials in your training.

Firstly partials build epic core strength. The body requires great stability to be able to support weights much heavier than your full range max even if it isn't moving them very far. The abs, obliques, lower back, upper back and internal core muscles are having to work super hard to maintain the neutral spine during the lift. These muscles can be worked much harder than during a conventional exercise as the prime movers are no longer the limiting factor. You will really have to brace hard and hold your air during a heavy partial and I would advise you to do them without a belt on. Unless you have a very weak core you should find that you can handle weights beltless greater than yor belted full range lift.

Tendon and ligament strength. Many old timers believed that great strength could be achieved by not only developing the muscles but also the tendons and ligaments as well. They used partials as a means to do this as it overloaded the tendons beyond what the muscles could handle during a full range lift. This in turn would make you stronger without increasing your bodyweight as well as making you more resistant to injury. To further develop the tendons perform a ultra high rep pumping exercise on top of this. Tendons have less blood supply than muscles and require much greater volumes to build them that 3 sets of 10 just can't achieve. Working anywhere from sets of 30 to 100 reps afterwards should give you tendons like a terminator.

Heavy partials can give a great psychological boost to your training. By getting used to handling heavier weights suddenly normal working weights done through a full range of motion don't feel as heavy. Having 200kg on your back is no longer a big deal once you are used to supporting 300kg. While there is obvious physical strength to be gained from training partials from a stronger core, tendons etc there is also great confidence to be gained in their training as well.

Heavy partial training when done from a deadstop can help strengthen your full range lifts by making you stronger through a sticking point. When doing a full range lift there comes a point where the bar is at the least mechanical advantage and will slow down. If the lifter is strong enough they will grind slowly through it to complete the lift. If they are not this is the point at which they will fail the lift. This is known as a sticking point. It can be on different parts of the lift and will differ between people. You might be weak off your chest in a bench, weak at the mid point in the squat and weak at lockout in the deadlift for example.

Take a average gym goer who does half squats. Not because he's doing partial training but simply because he's ignorant to proper full squat technique. He takes the bar out of the racks slightly unlocks his knees and comes up. This kind of partial creates a stretch reflex on the muscles at the bottom which helps you come up stronger. Now when coming up from a full squat and you hit your sticking point the stretch reflex as all but gone and its up to you to grind the weight out.

Partials perfored like this with an eccentric action first creating a stretch reflex will not carry over to full range lifts very effectively. How ever if you perform partials from a dead stop by using the pins on a power rack you have no stretch reflex. You will be relying on pure strength alone through that specific range of motion. You will find that partials done this way are hardest when trying to get them off the pins and that you really have to slowly grind through them. This will teach you to grind through the same sticking point in a full range of motion lift. It is this reason that I feel dead stop partials are superior to accommodating resistance training methods such as bands and chains when it comes to raw lifters.

So what partial exercises can you use and how should you implement them into your training?

While any exercise can be done with a partial range of motion there are only a few which are beneficial in the ways I have described.

Partial squats done off the pins in the power rack at varying heights.

Partial front squats off pins. Never tried these but I'd imagine they might be quite hard on the knees. These supposedly worked well for Dan John at improving his cleans.

Partial over head squat. Never tried this but probably a beast of a core exercise

Rack pulls from various heights or block pulls

Bench off pins at various heights. I believe these would work better than the fabled board press as the board press still creates a stretch reflex. It might be useful for geared guys but the Bench off pins will have more carryover to raw benching.

Overhead press off of pins. These are great for core strength. If you are short or your gym has a really high powerrack you can do these. I'm 5'10 and most racks are to low to lockout.

Incline press off pins. If you use inclines as your main press you might want to get stronger at them by doing partials

Seated press off the pins. Doesn't have the same core benefit as standing overhead press partials but still helps you get stronger over head

Partial weighted chins. You have to be able to set the bar at different height and pull from an already bent arm position so a Smith machine works well for these.

Partial one arm chin ups. I write about these in the one arm chin post.

Partial curls off pins. Yes this would mean curling in the squat rack so don't do them if someone is waiting to squat. I believe arm wrestlers use these as well as those who compete in strict curl events. It would also be a great way to strengthen your tendons to help prevent injuries from deadlifting or strongman.

When it comes to adding them to your training program I suggest doing them after the full range lift as an assistance exercise. You should only use singles to train dead stop partials otherwise you are creating a stretch relfex between reps and losing some of the benefits. You can do high sets anywhere from around 6-15. You could also do them rest pause with around 5-10 seconds rest between reps. Just make you are not supporting the weight in between pauses and that it is resting completely on the pins.

You can use various heights when training partials. I would suggest if you have never used them before to work from around the middle of the full range lift.

As you become accustomed to using partials you can use what the old timers did which was progressive movement training. This is starting at the top of the range of motion and very slowly overtime increasing the distance until you are doing full range lifts.

Make sure you build up slowly when doing partials. With such high loading on your body your joints will start to hate you if you go too heavy too soon or over do the volume. I would suggest you don't do partials more than once a week for each body part and you may even want to alternate each week between squat/Deadlift partials as they both put a lot of stress on the lower back. Don't go any heavier than your full range max your first few sessions then slowly increase the weight and sets from there. Doing partials from a dead stop off the pins in the power rack is a safest way to do them because if you are not strong enough the bar simply won't move but there is still a risk of injury. You are building your tendons and ligaments which take a ling time to develop so don't rush you have been warned.

To get the full tendon building effects it is good to perform high rep pumping exercises afterwards to get maximum blood through the tendons and ligaments. Aim for around 100 total reps split over several sets.

Some exercises which work well are:

bodyweight squats/kettlebell swing after partial squats.

45 degrees back extension/ banded good morning/ kettlebell swing after rack pulls.

Push ups or wall push ups after partial Bench or incline.

Dumbbell press or band press after overhead partials

Empty Olympic bar curls after partial chins,  one arm chins or partial curls.

That's it! Regularly include partials in your training and after a few years you will become both an unstoppable force and an immovable object.