Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Thoughts On Grip, Deadlifts, & Health

I've had some back issues so, with exercise selection being a little limited, I've decided to spend more time on grip work over the past few weeks. The other day, I was doing one-arm deadlifts on a 2" vertical bar - I had ZERO strength in the movement. I didn't get it. It wasn't just bad; it was I've-suddenly-lost-100lbs-on-a-lift-bad. "OH, HEEEELLL NO!" I thought to myself as I tried to psyche up for another go at it...

Then, I came to my senses and called it a day.

A suddenly weak grip (or anything else for that matter) probably does not mean you have a weak grip. It probably means that something else in the chain is faulty and the grip is a symptom of that weak link. In my case, my bad lower back was inhibiting my grip from holding onto the v-bar. Why? Because if my hand had allowed me to hold onto 200 pounds that day, I would have... and I would have screwed up my back worse in the process.

The hands are very interesting in the strength and conditioning game - as I mentioned Extremity Training - The Missing Link, when weak or injured, the extremities can hinder progress very quickly, and can also be an excellent window/gauge to overall health and preparedness.

In a 2004 PLUSA Video Magazine, Brian Meek, a (then) 58 year-old 700lbs+ deadlifter, took viewers through a deadlift workout. He and his training partner used an overhand grip with straps every set. In this workout, Brian and his partner, did moderate intensity deadlifts for reps and assistance work. He had this to say on the subject of deadlift training and straps:
We wear straps because we don't want our wrist and grip strength to hinder our back and strength development we get from it. ...It's my experience and my belief that very few deadlifts are missed because of grip strength because people can take out of the rack a lot more than they can ever deadlift without a grip problem. It's just that your grip is a manifestation of a weakness somewhere else... so we use straps.
He went on to add that he believed using straps aided in the prevention of lower back and bicep injuries when deadlifting. He didn't elaborate on that, but why might that be true? Because if your efforts are placed on maintaining your grip, they might not be on maintaining proper body alignment, or tension in the lats and triceps - and if those things go wrong in a heavy deadlift, they can (potentially) go really wrong.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drawing A Line In The Sand

When you are training and you start to fatigue, do you push through with poor technique, or do you terminate the set? If the set calls for 10 reps, do you do 10 reps come hell or high water? Do you have some guidelines for what constitutes an "acceptable breakdown of form"? When and how do you make the decision that enough is enough?

It's almost cliche to say that "practice makes permanent", but it is true. If you regularly practice poor form under stress, eventually your mind and body will come to anticipate fatigue and prepare itself to prematurely dole out the slop that it has become accustomed to under those conditions.

Understand that we become sloppy because it is easier to be sloppy. Proper form may use bigger muscle groups, effectively "spreading the load". As we fatigue, major muscles may be activated less to conserve energy, and more stress may be placed on "stabilizers", bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments - all in an effort to give rest to the prime movers.

Also understand that training with exercises that put you in compromised positions is not the same as arriving at compromised positions because you've fatigued to the point of technical breakdown. Training with an Atlas stone, or doing deadlifts from a sticking point is quite different than doing a set of squats to failure with 25% of the reps looking like a very "bad morning".

If you practice being sloppy when fatigued, you will become better at being sloppy when fatigued. You will make the hard stuff harder.

Training should be PURPOSEFUL. Is your purpose to fatigue yourself, or is it to be stronger?

I'm not going to go so far as to say you should NEVER push to the point of technique deformation but, if you view training as practice (and not simply exercise), then isn't it important to practice proper technique when fatigued? (Depending on your goals) isn't it MORE important to practice good form when fatigued? If you can no longer practice good form, it might be time to hit the showers or, at the very least, call it a set.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deadlifts PWN Squats!!!


I've known a lot of people who could build their deadlift through squatting. I've known very few who could build a squat through deadlifting. They are both important.

I relay this whenever I get a chance because I believe it's worth hearing (and repeating):
My grandfather died a slow death from emphysema. The last year or so of his life, getting out of a chair was a grueling met-con workout. I truly believe that a steady dose of squatting somewhere in his lifetime would have improved his quality (and quality) of life immensely. It's absolutely a keystone exercise. It doesn't have to be heavy, and it doesn't have to be with a barbell, but most people would be much better off having it on the docket.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Climbing A Mountain

If we need to climb a mountain, why do we insist on trying to climb the steepest face presented to us?

Do we believe that the "hardest" route is the most rewarding? Do we believe that, for anything good, we must suffer? Do we believe that we are not worthy of success and happiness? Does the unknown scare us so much that, in our fear, we purposely choose the hardest route that predictably leads us to failure?

We attach our to the notion that, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we are weak. Rather than admit that it is too little, we hide ourselves in a flurry of feigned busy-ness - studies, meetings, emails, plans, spreadsheets, numbers, and graphs. Rather than admit it is too much we plow forward even the face of imminent danger. 

My plate is full! 
Just a little more! I don't care! 
I know what I'm doing! 

We alternate between sticking our heads in the sand, and playing the game of chicken with our physical and emotional health... sometimes we lose... and yet we keep playing.

We hang onto the barbell even when the body has given us plenty of hints that we should put it down and call it a day.

Finding an easier way may be as simple as stopping what we are doing, taking a deep breath, and double checking our course and resources available.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tommy Kono On Motivation

Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power, The Mental Side of Lifting

IN 1955 the U.S. weightlifting team was invited to the Soviet Union and I got a firsthand look at how life was in Moscow then. Many of the countries of the Eastern bloc had the same kind of living standards where wages were extremely low and living quarters were at a premium.
If you were born in a country where 5 or 6 of you were living in one room, sharing a community bathroom and a kitchen with other families, would you spend your free time at home? Or go out to the play field or gymnasium to work off your excess energy and spend your free time with friends of similar interest? How would it be if the government would recognize you if you became outstanding in some sport and rewarded you a room all to yourself or improved your family's living condition?
... In the United States if you were outstanding in basketball, football and baseball, the financial gains can be great but this does not apply to the sport of weightlifting. Weightlifting, as well known and accepted as it may be in Europe and other countries, is still a Cinderella sport in the U.S.

- Tommy Kono (Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power, The Mental Side of Lifting)

There are two things that this short passage bring to mind for me:

#1) If you were born in a country where 5 or 6 of you were living in one room, sharing a community bathroom and a kitchen with other families... you probably wouldn't be fat, even if you had plenty of $$. I become more and more convinced that Americans have adapted to a life of sitting - time on task has created a nation of people who are very, very good at sitting... and snacking.
Here in the midwest, (if you don't want to and depending on your job) there is little need to ever get off your arse other than to walk to your car, your desk, and your lazy-boy.
Yes, of course, what you eat matters but, (and I've said this before) more time moving = less time eating.

#2) One evening, when I was a senior in college, my Japanese girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I were walking on campus and ran into one of my former teammates. We talked and joked around, I asked him if he was still training (he was) and I introduced him to my girlfriend. After we had parted, I casually mentioned to her that he was a very cool guy who I used to mosh and have arm-punching matches with, and he was an Olympic bronze medalist and former world record holder in the 400 meter freestyle. She was absolutely shocked and I laughed as we both realized that an athlete of such prominence in Japan would be a celebrity that could not go anywhere without being immediately recognized.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm probably the last one to see this ridiculousness!

Crazy! Thanks for pointing it out to me Matt.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dan John Book Selection Of The Month Club

I'm a member. Join us. This month's selection is:

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

All you have to do is fail to update your mental map and then persist in following it even when the landscape (or your compass) tries to tell you it's wrong. Edward Cornell once told me, "Whenever you start looking at your map and saying something like, 'Well, that lake could have dried up,' or 'That boulder could have moved,' a red light should go off. You're trying to make reality conform to your expectations rather than seeing what's there. In the sport of orienteering, they call that 'bending the map.' (pp. 164-165)

How often do we ignore aches and pains, 'bending the map' because we want to milk a few more reps, a few more pounds, a few more weeks out of productive training cycle? Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't.

You'll find our online discussion here: Dan John - Book Discussions

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Glenn Pendlay - Olympic Weightlifting Techniques

 If you are like me, a dabbler in the Olympic lifts, you are always looking for good DVDs for instruction. You've already bought a bunch of training hall videos from Ironmind and those were, of course, awesome. You've bought some books on the subject. You've had a little instruction from capable competitors and maybe even a coach here and here. Maybe you were like me and had a father who was an OLer, but you got sick of doing endless lifts with a broomstick.... In any case, you needed a little more - something that blended excellent modeling, explanation, and hands-on instruction with someone who wasn't already a world-class athlete. Well, here's a  DVD for you - Dave and Laree Draper have put out a new DVD that fits the bill: Glenn Pendlay - Olympic Weightlifting Techniques

Glenn has a humble way about him and his instruction is crisp and straight to the point. He details his teaching progressions for the Olympic lifts and gives clear rationale for their implementation. His emphasis on positions and transitions is something that as a lifter, I've given a lot of thought to, but could never really really "get" with the finer nuances of Olympic lifting - I think Glenn has really opened up some of those details to me with this work. The DVD will be an asset for both trainers and trainees alike who want to improve their snatches, cleans, and jerks, and, in my opinion, is a must-have for coaches who incorporate power-versions of the Olympic lifts for their athletes.

I'll be honest with you, generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of workshops that are recorded and then sold as DVDs. Often film and sound quality is poor and there is a lot of "filler time" showing the workshop participants. That is NOT the case with any of the workshop DVDs that Dave and Laree Draper have produced (all titles shown here). In Olympic Weightlifting Techniques you never get bored watching Glenn working with the participants. The two-hour set of two DVDs has an awesome balance of lessons from Glenn Pendlay, demonstrations by athlete Jon North, and short clips of hands-on instruction with trainees of varying levels of proficiency. I enjoyed all of the segments immensely both as a teacher and learner.

At $44.50, the DVD is a great deal. If you have any interest in improving your own Olympic weightlifting technique, or in seeing how one great coach coaches them, I don't think you'll go wrong.

Glenn Pendlay: Olympic Weightlifting Techniques

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hand Care For 2011

Do you suffer from a lot of hand tears in training? If so, in addition to working on your technique and not being sloppy about programming, I heartily recommend three products to you for 2011 to keep you hand-healthy and in the game: 

#1) Callous Shaver - $5
Even if your kettlebell technique is flawless, if you have callous build-up, snatches with a heavy bell is going to pull on the skin. Keeping your callous build-up under control will go a long way to avoiding tears.

2) Chalk - less than $5 a block
I've spoken with a lot of RKCs who eschew chalk, but here's the thing: friction + moisture = blisters, and blisters WILL tear. Work on your technique, do lots of reps, and use chalk to keep your hands dry. You don't have to cake layers of it on - a little will go a long way.

3) Burt's Bees Shea Butter Hand Repair Creme - $10
Use this at night before you go to bed - your dry hands will thank you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011