Limited Training

My last six nights have looked like this: camping in the truck, camping in the tent, Great American Beer Festival shenanigans, local brewery Shenanigans, GABF shenanigans, and then camping above 10,000 feet in the snow. Needless to say I was a bit knackered after all that adventuring and drinking — IT’S WHAT DUDES DO!

During those six days I trained twice, not including hiking and the inevitable core workout that comes from off-roading for hours at a time. While the first time was at CrossFit Lodo on Friday, the second time was at the gym hotel (which was equipped with machines and dumbbells up to 100 pounds). This is a short guide on training with limited time or equipment, but is mostly focused on being in a different location (as opposed to trying to get a workout at home).

This pic from the Great American Beer Festival is to make you jealous you didn’t go.

The Basics

Think about what the foundations of your fitness or performance entail: strength, mobility, and endurance. If you’re exclusively a strength athlete, that will include power and swollertrophy. High intensity conditioning and muscular endurance would be relevant to an endurance athlete, fitness competitor, or even “applied fitness” trainees (a term we use in FIT to signify someone who requires fitness for their job, like a fireman or soldier). Mobility is inherently important to all trainees and provides the capacity to get strong and muscular. At the very least your skewed training schedule will give you time to work on your mobility, and that may be enough for some people. You can create a workout that fits your training style, but you can also do something simple to “get the blood flowing”. Increasing the heart rate and moving through a full range of motion — not necessarily at high intensity — can aid recovery, relieve stress (especially if you’re on a busy work trip), and provide a positive stimulus to fuel regular training after returning home.

Bring as much as you can. 

If you literally won’t have any equipment, you can improvise with what is available to you. For example, chairs can be dipped on, stepped on, or used to elevate the feet for push-ups. Otherwise bring as much small pieces of equipment as you can. Light bands and a jump rope can easily fit into a carry-on bag for band pulls and very light conditioning. Otherwise bring your mobility gear and work on your problem areas.

What’s the goal?

Now that you clarified what type of trainee you are and have acquired available equipment, what is your goal for the session? If it’s just to get the blood flowing, just jump rope and do some calisthenics. If you are a strength and power athlete, then use speed and explosive work. If you are a general trainee, then use assistance exercises to aid the strength lifts or catch a contagious, World Health Organization-worrying pump. If you are an endurance, applied fitness, or conditioning trainee, then use the light weights and your body weight for higher rep sets for muscular endurance or go ahead and get a high intensity conditioning workout.

Explosive Work

This is probably the most under-utilized style of training in limited environments, yet the most effective. If the dumbbells only go up to 50 pounds, then press them (with a neutral, palm-in grip) for speed doubles or triples on the minute. Hold the dumbbells and do speed squats or deads. Do three pull-ups on the minute as fast as you can. Use different jumps like squat jumps (i.e. preceding the jump with a full squat), high jumps (i.e. jumping as high as you can), broad jumps (for horizontal distance), triple jumps (i.e. same as broad jumps, but using the landing of the first and second jumps as an immediate stretch reflex for subsequent jumps), or bounds (i.e. jumping for horizontal or vertical distance off one foot at a time. In the past I’ve alternated jumps with presses on 30 second intervals.

Keep the speed or plyometric structure simple and do two or three reps on a 30 to 60 second clock and do 5 to 10 sets.  The idea of timed plyo work is to demand that the muscle fibers contract as fast as possible while fatigued — the fact that they are doing it in a fatigued state is the thing that they aren’t adapted to (i.e the adaptive stress). Speed work will help improve rate of force development and neuromuscular efficiency.

Assistance

If you’re tired, unmotivated, injured, or have crusty mobility from sitting all day and don’t want to jump around, just hit some assistance exercises that will either push your main lifts or give you some maximum jackage. The former may include dumbbell or banded good mornings, weighted lunges, or even holding a heavy dumbbell and do Zercher or front squats. The latter could include a few sets of dumbbell bench or press, triceps press downs, pull-ups, dumbbell rows, or weighted back extensions. Oh, and curls. Do at least one thousand repetitions of your choice curl and then go out of your way to tell everyone about it (i.e. co-workers, hotel employees, children in the swimming pool, etc.). It’s the curl that will give you the most bang for your buck since it hits both heads of the biceps and incorporates the brachioradialis of the forearm.

Notice that most of these exercises are compound movements that will improve the main lifts, but still improve muscularity. Realistically you could forego all of this advice and just do shirtless chest flies in front of the mirror while chewing gum, but I digress.

You may also remember “When In Doubt…Train Your Back“, a post I wrote about training the back side when short on time. But don’t forget other necessary exercises like farmer’s walks and side planks. Having a whacky schedule is the perfect opportunity to do pre-hab exercises or improve your grip.

 Conditioning

It’s really not hard to get a solid high intensity conditioning workout in with limited equipment. In FIT I give plenty of examples, but aim to use compound, multi-joint exercises that use a lot of musculature to use a lot of energy to create a deficit in substrates for a quality adaptive stress. If that sentence doesn’t make sense, then read through FIT because we break it down Crayola style there.

Just Do It

The biggest issue with training during a weird schedule is actually getting off your ass and doing it. On Saturday, we were hungover and tired. In a few hours we were going to jump back into the fray at the GABF, but I decided to get a quick workout in the hotel facility. After a bit of jump rope, dumbbell bench, dumbbell front squat, machine rows, banded good mornings, and back extensions, we felt much better (I did press and weighted pull-ups the day before, otherwise I would have pressed the DBs and done the pull-ups). When you’re on a trip that has halted your training, strung you out, and possibly left you hungover, a quick muscle contraction workout will help immensely.

 

 

The Fat Epidemic

Jay Ashman posted on Facebook about and article stating by the year 2030, 39 states will have obesity rates over 50%. Alarming indeed. Don’t forget every state in the U.S. is currently at least 50% overweight or obese. These numbers are based on the BMI, something I abhor. The BMI is just a ratio of weight and height and it doesn’t take into account body composition. It’s a way to quickly get a gauge of a body type from an epidemiological perspective. If you are lean, yet lift, you’re probably going to be overweight or obese. “Overweight” consists of a BMI 25≤x<30  whereas “obese” is x>30 (how many of you sprouted giant boners over that “greater than or equal to” sign? Edit: You probably had a limp wiener since I originally put the signs backwards…jeez louise).

America, reporting for duty, sir!

This topic has been dear to me for years, though I used to be a bit more rabid about it. For example, in my senior English class we studied Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest, most ballsy, and badass satirical writers in history. We had to write our own “Modest Proposal”. I don’t have a copy any more, but my proposal consisted of placing all of the world’s fat people a space vessel and shipped directly into the sun. Despite my logical, well thought out validation, my overly obese teacher was not amused and clearly disappointed.

The truth hurts, yet truth is real. We don’t have to tip-toe around this subject; “overweight” and “obese” are faulty versions of saying “fat”. It isn’t offensive to state someone has a particular characteristic, especially when it’s something they can control. If your friend is being an asshole, then tell him politely he’s being an asshole and discuss how you can mitigate his assholeish tendencies. If someone is complaining like a baby, then explain to them why whining about it isn’t going to help themselves or the group. Note that you shouldn’t say, “Cry me a river you fat fucking baby,” to adolescents dressed like gangsters in a dark parking lot, even if it’s a quote from “Varsity Blues”, because then you’ll get punched in the back of the head like I did when I was in high school.

Sugar coating the fat issue is only going to make it worse (oh my GOD I’m on fire!). It’s not derogatory, because it’s fact. Not to mention there are scientific tests like “body FAT measures”. I’m not suggesting we go around declaring people fat and insulting them, but we shouldn’t have to feel obligated to search for a less “hurtful” term. If anything, being objective will act as a motivating factor.

Why is western civilization so fat? It’s undoubtedly a combination of many factors. Since the ’70s, the government has recommended carbohydrate rich diets. Each decade arrives with more unhealthy processed food. With technological advancement, more people have un-active, white collar jobs resulting in low activity levels. The lengthy work weeks and numerous forms of entertainment mean people don’t take the time to exercise. And even if they do, the fitness industry had adapted to try and bank on achieving results by “quick and easy” short cuts. Desirable body image has been reduced to frail, gaunt celebrities — possibly as a result of the white collar and technology societal shift. Society’s mindset has lost the concept of hard work and revolves around the “gimme now” mentality.

Regardless of the underlying cause, people simply don’t care. If they did, then they would do something about it and not be fat. Sure, it’s not easy; nothing of worth ever is. The lack of care and effort is my biggest issue with the fat epidemic. People are so irritatingly quick to say, “Well, some people can’t help it.” That’s bullshit. There might be a tenth of a percent of people that legitimately can’t help it (I think it’s much lower); everyone else is just making an excuse. Type II Diabetes is a result of destroying proper hormone function through poor habits. Can there be lasting damage? Definitely. Does it prevent the person from exercising and eating healthy? In almost all cases, no. If a kid grows up with an unhealthy family and is fat by 11 years old, he is definitely in a hole, but eventually has the autonomy to make a decision to live a different life.

I honestly think that society has bred a helpless mindset that looks to other people to resolve problems. As a result, motivation and habitual change are nonexistent. I know; I’ve been a trainer for a “Biggest Loser Challenge”. It’s so hard for a very fat, unhealthy person to do make a change like removing soda from their diet. It’s so hard to not sit on the couch and eat snacks. At the end of the day, some people are just not willing to do what they need to do to change their life. This is why Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped personal training; you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.

What are we supposed to do? Honestly, there isn’t much you can do. Perception across an entire society is dependent on decades of change and influence. We can’t save the world at once. The best we can do is educate and help people that enter our social circles. Facilitation is always brought up when trying to motivate behavior change, but facilitation means precisely dick. It’s easy to spend 15 minutes, three times per week exercising. There are 96 blocks of 15 minutes in a day; 672 in a week. When someone can’t take 3, 6, or 9 of those 672 weekly blocks, they just don’t care, no matter how much you facilitate it.

Instead, do your best to educate in very simple and direct ways. Don’t create a mountain, just a hill. For example, suggest going for a walk around the block on a daily basis and tell the person to mark it on their calendar. Consecutive days make a chain on the calendar, and suggest that they don’t break the chain. Give them smaller goals in their diet. Stop drinking soda. Eat breakfast. Suggest simple things instead of lecturing them about insulin sensitivity and the paleo diet. “Crawl-walk-run” them through the process, but be concise and supportive. The support is probably most important. This “me generation” cares what other people think. It’s not common for someone to generate their own resolve and determination, but it can be contagious in groups.

Support is the only way you can help your family and friends. Don’t preach; ease them into it. Coaches and gym owners have even more responsibility to reach out to new clients and retain them. This, of course, is normal “business duty”, but you should only be in this business if you care. Shit heads that own local gyms that thrive on signing un-used memberships are only part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. Make a difference in helping people lose fat. Teach the basics, but be personable. Welcome them, make them laugh, and challenge them as much as their personality can handle. Give every client a chance. You’ll always have a few that aren’t ready to commit, but you can always help the folks on the bubble.

For the ladies.
You don’t have to be a monster like Vince Urbank to set an example.

Gym owners and coaches also need to set an example with their physiques and lifestyle. No, you don’t need to be a bastion of rippling fitness, but you shouldn’t be a frumpy mess. The same goes for all of you other readers, trainees, lifters, and competitors. About 60% of this nation is at least “overweight”. Don’t allow yourself to represent this unhealthy, lazy part of the population. 70’s Big has never been about sheer mass due to fat accumulation, even through the “Adult Males > 200 lbs” phase. It’s not a mistake when the guys in the Hall of Fame are lean and jacked. Unless you’re highly competitive in your sport, you’re not doing anyone any favors by carrying excess fat. I’m not suggesting you work to be under 10% body fat, but aim to look like you’re strong while being strong. It’ll set a positive example, even if you don’t actively help people. For example, I’ve had many people over the years tell me, “I started exercising and lifting weights after seeing you around here.” You can’t complain about the problem if you look like you’re part of it.

Yes, the development of fat acceptance in the Anglosphere is disgusting, unfortunate, and even scary. There are always complaining discussions attributing blame, but the truth is that real change starts within the mind. It isn’t easy to be lean, strong, powerful, or fit. It isn’t easy for a fat person to change their habits and behavior. It takes hard work, will power, and commitment. Pride yourself on the ability to do these hard things and set an example. There will soon come a time when you meet someone that says, “I can’t.” Become a part of the solution, as you wear short shorts, and teach them this foreign phrase: “I can.”

 

 

A Cautionary Tale

A Cautionary Tale
by Dr. Lon Kilgore

I’ve written fairly frequently on why modern sport and exercise science has failed to produce much valuable information on producing elite athletes or good programs to improve fitness in the generally healthy population. I’ve pointed out misunderstanding of adaptive processes, ignorance of underpinning paradigms, errant hypotheses, and just plainly bad research questions. There is also the fact that lots and lots of sport and exercise science research is conducted on college students and then the results are extrapolated to athletic population. Starting Strength, Practical Programming, and FIT were all built on the concept that most of the available data was only relevant, at best, to beginners. What resulted from that position of disdain for available research data were three books that work and deliver instruction on how to get stronger, more enduring, and more mobile. Tens or hundreds of thousands of normal people have used the information and instructions in those books to create un-tabulated data about fitness.
Most recently I’ve been working on an interesting project with the owner of an international exercise instructors school to help align the instruction delivered with viable theory and valid scientific data. While doing some readings specific to the project I came across the following:  

 

“The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.”
Abraham Maslow, 1954
 
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is standard fare in psychology, and his work is quite highly regarded. His statement above underscores the concept that we should not use sport and exercise research data from untrained or diseased populations to create an understanding of how to train to create peak fitness or improve athletic performance. To do so creates an approach to training relevant only to those populations. What this means in the context of everyday trainees and coaches is that while we need to read incessantly to learn everything we can about training and human adaptation, we need to follow the advice in the Proverbs of Alfred (circa 1300):

 

“Gin thu neuere leuen alle monnis spechen, Ne alle the thinge that thu herest singen”

This sentiment was much later modified into a more hippie and anti-press bent by Arlo Guthrie:

“Believe half of what you see, some of what you read, and none of what your hear”

In application in the gym this could be further modified to:

“Believe what you see working in the gym, some of what you read in the exercise science literature, and none of what you see on TV or in newsstand fitness magazines”

—-
Dr. Lon Kilgore is an anatomist, a physiologist, a writer, an illustrator, and, in my opinion, a pioneer that quietly helps pave the way for strength coaches and fitness professionals to revolutionize the way the world looks at “fitness”.

Defining Fitness

A friend and I were talking about our misconstrued notion of fitness when we were younger. Millions of people spend hours and hours in the gym without a direction. I thought an excerpt from FIT’s “Chapter 1 – Fitness: What It Is” would help everyone see that it’s possible to define the parameters of fitness. Definitions allow us to quantify, which allows us to program with purpose. Training has a purpose, “working out” is just stumbling through the woods without a map.
CLICK HERE to purchase or learn more about FIT.

DECONSTRUCTING FITNESS

The human body is an integrated living system, one that must follow the laws and theories of biology, chemistry, and physics. These fields are structured upon foundations of definition and measurement. Any definition of fitness must be quantifiable. If we focus our definition of fitness on the many decades old works of Darwin, Nietzche, Bernard, Selye, and many more, we will create a definition rooted in the science of physical abilities, adaptation, and survival (9,10,11,12). But what physical abilities are related to survival? If we consider the physical abilities that help us function and conquer the spectrum of physical stresses and life tasks with which have historically and presently encountered, we can categorize them into three basic physical abilities:

Strength
Endurance
Mobility

Strength is the ability to move the body under load and is expressed as an ability to generate muscular force across a spectrum of movement speeds. Strength is a physical entity driven by the biological need to overcome the force of gravity acting on the body or on environmental entities with which the body interacts. It is easily measured using apparati commonly found in gyms (barbells) or laboratories (force platforms, dynamometers, and other force measurement devices). Strength can be further subdivided into muscular force generated with no body movement – isometric strength; muscular force generated at slow speeds – low velocity strength; and muscular force generated at high speeds – high velocity strength.

Endurance is the ability to sustain a task over time. Standing and sitting are the two most sustained things humans do in modern life. Neither require any type of physical effort as the body is anatomically structured to minimize exertion and caloric expenditure when seated or standing. Endurance is a characteristic of movement, physical activity, exercise, and sport. Many things we do require a level of endurance – walking across campus, carrying groceries up to a fourth story walk up, jogging a couple miles, and playing a hard half of football for example. Endurance is primarily a bioenergetic entity, related to the ability to deliver oxygen and energetic nutrients to the working muscles at adequate rates and for long enough duration to accomplish the task at hand. As endurance is time dependent, it is easily measured with a watch and measuring tape or any number of other common or laboratory measurement devices. Endurance can be subdivided into continuous endurance, where the activity is sustained, as in jogging – and intermittent endurance, where work-recovery cycles are repeated for long durations, as in digging post holes for a fence row.

Mobility is the ability to move the body and its constituent parts in a variety of directions and carry out both simple and complex motor tasks. Mobility is an important – but under attended – element of fitness. Stable, controlled, and coordinated movement within our occasionally unstable and frequently unpredictable home, work, and play environments facilitates adequate function and survival. Mobility is likely the most complicated element of fitness as it is comprised of range of motion, agility, balance, and coordination. Each of these entities is measurable in the gym or in the laboratory using simple instruments.

A VIABLE DEFINITION

Once we know what fitness is comprised of, we can create a functional definition. The definition for physical fitness used in this book is simple, functional, and measurable: Possession of adequate levels of strength, endurance, and mobility to provide for successful participation in occupational effort, recreational pursuits, familial obligation, and that is consistent with a functional phenotypic expression of the human genotype (13).

This definition applies to the general population but it can be extended to occupational and sporting populations. We can also abbreviate it to make it precisely applicable and measurable by the average coach, trainer, or trainee through omission of the clause about genotype – an assessment of ones genetic make-up and function which is measurable only in the laboratory. This will be our approach throughout this text. Various occupations require more (or less) of one of the elements of fitness, and sport has goals and specializations that merely emphasize or de-emphasize pre-determined components of physical fitness to varying degrees – a weightlifter has focused on strength, a marathoner on endurance. Each has accelerated fitness in one area and has an average ability or potential weakness in the others. As we progress though this book you will find out how to develop each component of fitness individually and also how to develop all three elements simultaneously – enabling the tailoring of training to any purpose or goal.

One would hope that it is a logical concept that knowing what fitness is and what it is not is essential knowledge before it can be manipulated and improved. The definition here clearly states that physical fitness is functional and that the elements of fitness are strength, endurance, and mobility. It follows that improvements in physical fitness are dependent on progressive strength, endurance, and mobility training that force our bodies to adapt. It should also be apparent that physical fitness is not a set of variables that cannot be directly measured or do not manifest as outward physical performance. Further, physical fitness should not be considered an abstract concept or set of intangible feelings. These things are by-products of fitness – as a trainee becomes more physically fit, their ability to function within their own circumstances improves, making them feel better about themselves. This change is not “fitness” but rather a change in self-perception driven by their awareness of the tangible increases in performance produced by training and of becoming more fit. The perception of wellbeing is directly attributable to systematic and progressive exercise training delivering something of substance and value to the trainee, fitness.

Don’t Do That, Do This

I recently moved to Florida and I’ve been training in a gym temporarily until I get the rest of my own equipment. I kind of forgot what goes on in a “normal gym”. Useless exercises done on a whim compounded with silly conversation. Namely:

Hey bro – what are you doing today?

Chest and abz…BRO!

Aight bro, take it easy.

Nah bro, I love my abz.

At least that’s what I remember. It doesn’t necessarily bother me that these fellas are doing exercises to look better, nor does the perpetual use of the word “bro”. It bothers me that they are still “doing body parts”. Doing arms. Doing shoulders. “Doing” is a present participle that should only be followed by the word “work” or the name of your current fling.

The problem is that Muscle and Fitness is still the leader in educating young men how to lift weights, and this is probably a by-product of the Joe Weider/Bob Hoffman rivalry (which may also be the same as the historical bodybuilding/weightlifting disparity). It sure does give me a laugh when people call it “Muscle and Fiction”. Har-dee-har-har, hee-haw, haaaaa……..heh…..ha. So clever. In any case, that publication is the primary training source, because god knows ACSM isn’t helping out And herein lies the problem.

Deadlifts = growth


If you want your body to grow, specifically lean body mass, you have to train your body for what it is: a system. When you train the body as a system, it reacts as a system. The primary systemic reaction from a training bout is a hormonal change. Testosterone is blunted, cortisol is released, and growth hormone will increase after some time (among other things). Hormonal fluctuations immediately react to the changes that your systemic training bout induced, and they also start working on how to bring the body back to a state of normalcy and improve that state of normalcy so that the body can handle more similar disruption easier in the future. You can think of this as maintaining homeostasis and the body wanting to make it harder to disrupt homeostasis.

The only way to force such a disruption is to train lots of muscle mass relatively heavy. Compound movements, those that include lots of joints and subsequently lots of muscles, do this splendidly. That’s why we want you to squat, press, deadlift, clean, and snatch your way to a stronger, bigger physique. Those are the exercises that utilize the most muscle to create enough of a systemic disturbance that requires certain hormones to improve muscular growth and force production. Isolation exercises don’t get the same response. Even if you were doing, say, the bench press followed by dips; it wouldn’t get the same response either because you are focusing on that one area of the body. You’re just “doing chest and tris”. Instead, let’s get some fucking disruption by squatting, benching, cleaning, and then doing dips. You’ll get a lovely stress/response that will help you on your 70’s Big Quest.

Really?

Digest that again. Instead of doing silly isolation training, use compound lifts that use lots of muscle to put on lean body mass (studies by Dr. Robert Kraemer indicate that whole body-workouts are more effective than partial-body workouts to induce hormonal disruption). Do several of these compound lifts to work the whole body. Hormonal disruption will occur. So will recovery. The result is an adaptation. You are now stronger. Do this continually and utilize aspects of recover (nutrition, sleep, etc.) to promote the creation of new tissue, and the muscles grow larger as the strength increases. The amount of work to cause the stress and the length of time for recovery are variables dependent on an individual’s training adaptation, but the process is relatively the same.

The reason that this works over the typical fitness methods is because it takes the systemic effect of training into consideration. Magazines only worry about the local effect; what is going on at a specific muscle and how it can be worked to grow. They ignore the necessary systemic response that promotes an environment of growth for that muscle. They also ignore the fact that using significant amounts of weight, namely above 80% of a 1RM, produces significantly larger disruption to elicit a useful response. Then there’s the whole argument (that Rip is known for establishing) about the classic barbell lifts using pretty much every muscle from the head to the toes, and you can see why trying anything else first is a waste of time.

Those of you who have done a linear progression note how well ALL of your muscles developed and grew and how much stronger you were after doing it. It’s just a shame that the perceived authority is either ignorant of this concept or refuses to accept its value. And don’t even get me started on the abz, bro.