More on The Acquisition of Baseline Strength

“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.”
Marcel Pagnol


To address a common theme that germinated from the What, Exactly, Constitutes “Strong Enough” post, let’s consider how best to go about acquiring adequate strength.  This note was representative of the questions I received on this subject:

“…How would you suggest attaining these minimums? 5×5, 5/3/1, De Vany’s alactic workout, negatives, or something else?…”

The truth of the matter is, all of these schemes can (and do) work.  As the Dali Lama says of religion, though, you can only ride one pony at a time, so just pick the one favorable to your inclinations and ride it.  The implication here being, of course, that all paths lead to the same “destination” (for lack of a better term).  In my experience, the set/rep framework is not nearly as important as is the execution of the individual repetitions therein (discussed in this post).

And remember, too, that there are some subtle differences between acquiring a base level of strength and maintaining that strength once you’ve moved beyond baseline needs.  I’m currently emphasizing the strength end of the modality continuum in my weight room workouts, utilizing a 21-rep, extended-set, rest-pause framework.  That framework, though, is not nearly as important to my goals as is the execution of each individual repetition; just look back over the last week’s worth of strength-endurance emphasis work for an idea of how I go about this.  I choose to add an element of endurance (via the reduction of recovery time between reps) to my strength work, which is consistent with my goals (I’ve little need to increase raw-end strength at this point in my career).  Would this same organization work for someone just starting out?  No doubt it would; pick a pony and ride.  Really, building a baseline level of strength is the easiest part of the iron game.  Don’t try to over-think it.  Pick 5 or so compound movements covering the entire spectrum of movement patterns (push, pull, squat, pick up from the ground…) and pick a set-rep scheme that feels comfortable – a 5 x 5 scheme is as good as any a place to start – just remember to apply the proper rep execution to your chosen framework.  Use a simple push-pull split over a three or four-day per week schedule.  Now, as one progresses, the n=1 questioning/reassessing must ensue.  This becomes the deal breaker, one’s ability to progress beyond the basics.  What better suits the trainee?  Raw-end strength?  Strength-endurance?  Is the trainee better suited (built) for squats, say, or deadlifts?

Pick a pony and ride, reassess, adjust, and carry on.  Want to emphasize raw-end strength?  Drop the reps to the 1 – 3 range, and increase the between-set recovery time – push it all the way out to the 3-minute range.  Want to work-in more endurance?  Follow the template I’m currently using, that is to say, decrease the between “set” recovery time.  And remember, there is no cure-all permeation of this theme – there is only a better-fit, right now, for a particular trainee.  Bust ass, and let n=1 rule the day.

And I’d be remiss, of course, if I didn’t plug the Paleo diet/lifestyle here.  There simply is no better diet for building strength and muscle, and shedding fat.

Oh, and by the way, here’s a very good article on the importance of the pull variations of the Olympic lifts in the building of overall power output.  The benefits of these movements are obvious for the more athletically inclined out there.  This is just as important, though, for the bodybuilder-minded – hypertrophy being built upon a foundation of strength and power.  Thanks to Mike Young, of Athletic Lab, for the heads-up on this one.

In health,

The Right Tool for the Job

“The test of a man’s or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel. Anybody can behave well when things are going smoothly.”

George Bernard Shaw

selecting the right exercise can sometimes seem as bewildering...
selecting the right exercise can sometimes seem as bewildering…

I’ve been inundated by a work tsunami as of late and, as a result, the blog posting has suffered.  Only so many hours in a day, unfortunately.  But just as I keep right on ticking along with my Paleo ways, even in the face of the  crazy-weird hours I’ve kept this past week — a good opportunity for bouts of IF and ultra-short/ultra-intense workouts, by the way — my mind keeps right on juggling the various tangential minutia surrounding the Paleo core.  Just look to right and check out some of my Twitterings of late.

A recurring theme that I’ve noticed though, over the past couple of weeks, is that of combining Oly lifts with MetCon work.  Did Oprah recently endorse this practice or something?  Have I missed a new late-night, get-slim-quick infomercial?  In any event,  I’ve been confronted with the (in my opinion) faulty notion of using Olympic lifts (“Olys”, for short) and their close-cousin derivatives for metabolic conditioning purposes repeatedly as of late.  Maybe there’s just something afoul in the air?

Ironmaven, over at the blog, A Philosophy of Strength,  had a nicely conceived post related to this issue back in September, and I believe the sentiment needs to be re-examined now.  I don’t know what that particular vibe is in the air these days — or what’s brought it on — but I’ve had my sensibilities accosted lately by witnessing some of my fellow gym goers engaged in what looks to be MetCon work with ugly-form Oly derivatives  — bad, bad idea folks.  Seriously bad.  I don’t know that I can add too much more to this discussion than Ironmaven already has in her post, but I’ll throw a couple of ideas/opinions out for discussion nonetheless.

The Intersection of Olys and MetCon — The Crossfit Nation

If you’ve spent much time at this blog, you know that I believe Crossfit to be (in concept at least, if not as actually practiced by many) a fantastic overall conditioning (GPP) program; for more on that theme, check out this older post.  One knock I do have against Crossfit, though, is the philosophy (propensity might be the better word) of using Olys and their close-cousin derivatives for MetCon work — though, to be fair to Crossfit, it does seem as if they’re moving away from this trend.  But truthfully, the question of utilizing Olys within a MetCon-emphasis methodology should be approached from two different prospectives: (1) the nature of, function, and benefits of the Olympic lifts for athletic enhancement, and (2) the “whys” behind even considering Olys for a MetCon methodology to begin with, when so many better options are available; in other words, why use channel locks when the 9/16ths box-end wrench you really need is right there in your back pocket?

This is a theme that I’ll explore over the course of a few additional posts, as I know many folks are curious as to the specifics of why I avoid the Oly/MetCon mix.  At the very root of the issue though, is this: fatigue.  In my opinion, if you’re hitting proper, MetCon-related fatigue levels, you’re sure as hell not in a suitable state to perform a well-executed (and easy on the joints/connective tissue) Oly lift.  That’s not to say, though, that the movement pattern itself is a poor choice — it’s not — and in fact it’s a perfect movement pattern for MetCon work.  Am I contradicting myself, here?  I think not.  Because it’s not at all the movement pattern that’s the problem, it’s the tool of choice — the implement — that’s the real problem, here, and this is where much confusion arises.   What are some good implement choices for weighted Metcon work?  Sandbags of all shapes and sizes are my favorite.  Slosh tubes are great as well, as are dumbbells and kettlebells, just to name a few options.  Consider my workout from yesterday; MetCon, TTP style.  With a pair of 80lb DBs, I blistered through the following:

  • Lunges x 20 yds.
  • DB Snatch (aka, “The Cred”) x 2 + single-arm overhead press (x1), push-press (x1), push-jerk (x1) + 1 additional “cred”; each arm
  • alternating, single-leg explosive deadlifts (see below)
  • Repeat of the “cred” combo

I believe I made it through 4 or 5 rounds of that; I say “believe” because (1) my focus toward the end was blindered on merely completing the next rep of whatever it was that I was dealing with at the time.  Also, I shifted to a mix-and-match of lunges and DLs once I hit the point of not being able to complete a full 20 yds of lunges in one “set” — and this came pretty early on.  In performing the explosive single-leg DLs, I focused on hitting the glutes/hams vice the lower back by initiating the drive from the heel and exploding up to the point of catching a tad bit of air with minimal “toe-off”.  Of course, “minimal” turned to “more and more” once fatigue set in.  My single-arm presses morphed into push-presses, and my push-presses to push-jerks, as my shoulders and triceps fatigued, so that toward the end I had fairly well settled into 3 rather ugly push-jerks (with my right arm) while managing only 2 (even uglier) with my left.  And this, in my opinion, is how MetCon work ought to proceed.  One must expect — embrace, even — a certain, acceptable level of form/technique deterioration, if one is truly engaged in MetCon work.

And therein lay the problem with the utilization of Oly lifts (and their close-cousin derivatives) in a MetCon modality — acceptable form/technique deterioration due to fatigue.  The Cred, for instance — although being of similar movement pattern as both the snatch and power snatch — is much more form/technique forgiving, and is therefore a suitable option for weighted MetCon work.  But let’s quickly look at this from the flip-side.  What if my goal for a particular workout is to work instantaneous power output in this particular movement? Again, I need to choose the right tool for the job and, in this instance, I’d go with the snatch and/or power snatch, as I can chunk much more weight and, with the movement execution time and distance being (practically speaking) identical, maximize my overall power output.  Now, that said, if my goal were to work max instantaneous power production in an unbalanced/unilateral environment, then a heavy Cred would be a fine choice or, if I wanted to focus mainly on the unilateral catch balance aspect of the movement, a single arm snatch might be just the ticket.

More on this subject as time permits…

In health,