3/2/10; A Unilateral Combo and, A Couple of Questions Beg a Couple of (Vague) Answers

“Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

William James

Up and at ’em early again this morning.  Pulled-off a quick crock pot shuffle soon after getting up and before I headed out to the gym.  Who says a caveman can’t think ahead?  A whole chicken (free range, of course) from my favorite supplier, Rainbow Meadow Farms, fat back, and a couple of heads of cauliflower.  It’ll wind-up having been “crocking” for approximately 12 hours by the time I get back home in the evening.  And let me tell you, not only is a chicken done in this fashion to die for, but the resultant chicken-drippin’s, fat back and cauliflower “soup” is slap yo’ mama good in its own right.  Which leads to my first question, a compilation of sorts, the essentials of which I’ve taken the liberty to summarize thusly:

“Dude, whassup?  No Sous-vide for you?   What gives?

First off, you can’t begin to imagine how many variations on the spelling of sous-vide I’ve received over the weeks.  My far-and-away favorite was Suess-vide (as in Dr., I suppose??  Cat-in-the-hat?).  It’s all good though, as I side with President Andrew Jackson’s contention that it’s a dull-witted man who can’t think of more than one way to spell a word.

So I’ll cut to the chase, here; I’m worried about plastic leaching into my food.  Now, I know that the food-grade vacuum-seal bags are supposed to be safe/non-leaching — but…hey, what can I say?  I’m just generally a questioning, disbelieving, you-gotta-prove-it-to-me sort.   I also steer clear of Teflon for the same reason; I’m a grill, crock pot and cast iron kind of guy.  But hey, should I really worry about a little (possible) plastic leaching when I suck-down God-only-knows-what in the exhaust fumes I inhale while huckin’ the ol’ fix about town?  Not to mention the possibility of getting flat-out clocked? Well, we all have to manage possible risk in a way that each of us feels comfortable with.   But hey, I’ve heard that food prepared in the sous-vide method is absolutely wonderful, and I have no reason to doubt that it is.  I say that if you’re cool with the possibility (again, this is nothing substantiated) of plastic leaching, then rock on.  Just my opinion, but I’ll stick with the ol’ crock pot.

And then we have a question from TTP reader Guen, who wants to know what he can do to gain some flexibility in his hips.  I feel Guen’s pain — since I’ve become more of a desk jockey at work, I’ve been forced to pay more attention to hip health.  Damn if sitting all day isn’t a God-awful, unnatural act.  Anyway, my go-to movement for hip flexibility is the good ol’ Dan John brainchild, ass-to-grass goblet squat.  I also recommend plenty of overhead squat variations — again, working toward achieving a full, as-to-grass, range of motion.

Which is a nice segue into today’s workout.  Once again, I used whip-snatch-to-OHSs as a warm-up to “meat” of the workout bridge.  3 sets of 3 at 95 lbs, and I “cycled” each rep x 3 in the ATG-to-3/4 position.  Remember, when using lighter weights in the snatch motion, not to get lazy and allow the bar to travel in an outward arc.  We want to concentrate on maintaining a straight bar path from the crook of the hip to the overhead lockout position.  Also remember to maintain the weight directly over the center of gravity for the entire rep.  It’s easy, especially when “cycling” the OHS portion of the movement (and especially with light weights), to “shoulder” the weight in a position forward of center-line. We don’t want to foster any bad habits, or allow bad habits to creep in, when using lighter weights.

Then it was on to this combo:

Feet Elevated Ring Flyes x 10
Straight Bar Muscle-ups x 2
Pistol Squats (ATG) x 6 each leg @ 20 lb DBs
Feet Elevated Ring Flyes x 10
Straight Bar Muscle-ups x 2
Single-Leg Deadlift (Barbell) x 6 each leg @ 115

So three rounds of that.  Notice that this equated to 6 sets of ring flyes and muscle-ups, to 3 sets of Pistols and Deadlifts.  I used small diameter weights (i.e., non-Oly plates) when doing single leg DL or SLDL work with a barbell so as to maximize the range of motion.  Of course you could always stand on a platform.  To each his own.  Also, I completed the full shrug/triple-extension motion at the top of the movement on each rep.  Same cues as in a normal clean — push the floor away with the heels, then transfer late through the toes at the apex of the triple extension.

In health,

A Better Exercise Than the Squat? Well, It Depends!

“Do not attach yourself to any particular creed exclusively, so that you may disbelieve all the rest; otherwise you will lose much good, nay, you will fail to recognize the truth of the matter.”

Ibn al-Arabi

It’s not often that I fully agree with strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle (here’s one example) — but then again, I don’t fully follow any single coach’s path, preferring, instead, to blaze my own n=1 trail.  On the subject of the back squat, however, I have to give the man his due; I believe he is spot on in his critique of the exercise and with his assertion that most trainees would be better off (subsequent to building a solid, base level of squatting strength)  migrating from the back squat to the various forms of split squats, especially the rear foot elevated split squat.  And I would add to this, variations of the high-box step-up.

A Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS)…Huh?

Just so we’re all on the same page, here an example of the RFESS:

…and the step-up:

Why would I champion the idea of most trainees phasing out the back squat in preference to split squat variations and step-ups?  Well, a couple of reasons.  To begin with, most all athletic endeavors, as well as life itself, requires lower-body strength in a unilateral environment.  A second reason is that most trainees will fail in the squat, not due to leg failure, but due to lower back failure; quite simply, the lower back cannot support the load required to push the legs, in a bilateral environment, to failure.  Ah, you say — so would the leg press be a better option?  Well, in some trainees it might be, but for the most part I’d rather work in the real-world of an unstable environment.

Built for Traditional Squats?

Check out my little whiteboard sketch below.  Really, this is no more than a statement of the obvious — if a load is teetering on a narrow base, and if that load must be pushed a greater distance and if the load/lever combination is at a mechanical disadvantage with respect to gravity — well, you get the picture…What all this boils down to, in my experience and my empirical evidence, is a simple waist/inseam ratio.  The lesser the ratio, the lesser the benefit a trainee will realize from conventional back squatting, and the sooner in his lifting career he probably ought to transition to a unilateral environment.

whiteboard "wisdom"
whiteboard “wisdom”

Personally, I have a hell of a time trying to fully tax my legs in a full back squat with a 33-inch waist sitting high atop a 35-inch inseam.  But here are a couple of other interesting pieces of the puzzle that I’ve yet to get a handle on: (1) power generation out of the jump squat, and (2) glute/hamstring contribution, and how that figures into the mix.  Notice that at a 33-inch waist and 40-inches around the  hips, I do carry quite a bit of junk in the trunk.  Now follow me here just for a moment, while I “think” aloud: (1) When I fail in the squat, it’s never “in the hole”, where the glutes are fully engaged — it’s about midway up, where that lower back lever is at its worst mechanical advantage, and where glute activation has been (relatively) removed from the picture, (2) I can wreck my Dachshund-built, squatting-machine brethren in the high step up, which is mostly a glute-driven exercise (see this TMuscle article), and (3) I can’t prove this, but I would be willing to bet that I can also generate more power from (and posses a greater power/bw ratio) in the jump squat than my Dachshund-built, squatting-machine brethren.   My point with all of this?  The notion of  “training what you suck at” — which I agree with, to a point — must not be followed blindly, but must be leveraged against what stands to make the athlete a better athlete, or the mere mortal, better at life.

So that’s my take on the matter.  For what it’s worth, the vast majority of my bilateral squatting (which is pretty infrequent, when compared to my unilateral work) is done as a front squat — I’ve just always felt like I reaped more benefit out of this movement as compared to the back squat.   You can check out coach Boyle’s reasoning for moving away from the bilateral squat, in a pair of  TMuscle articles, this one from 2007, and most recently, here.  And you can see a clip of coach Boyle discussing the matter here, as a plug for his Functional Strength Coach 3.0 video series, and you can check out his blog posts on the subject, here.

And there’s plenty of ongoing discussion on the subject at this string, at the JP Fitness Forums site.

Remember, as always, the real answer to this question can only be answered by an objective survey of your own n=1 results as they relate to your goals.  Don’t be afraid, though, to test, tinker and adjust.  Remember, to, that there are no failures, only feedback.

In health,