Sharing nuggets of knowledge and ideas accumulated on health, strength and fitness based experiences. While here, feel free to hit the comments section and share your invaluable feedback about the blog's betterment. Have fun.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Do This For 10 Seconds And Recover Faster

Quick. Check your face now. Rather, FEEL your face now.

What do you notice? Tension. Truckloads full of facial tension. The jaws clenched and eyes stretched in anxiety.

You never know, how tensed you can be
Now do this. Relax all of your facial muscles.

Start from your forehead. Check your cheeks. Observe your nostrils. Once they are completely relaxed, draw the tension out of your jaw. Release the clench of the jawbones together and let them just 'stay' atop each other. Maybe even feel your neck and see if it is overly tight.

Most importantly, relax your eyes. De-stress your gaze.

Once your entire facial muscle groups feel completely relaxed, be like this for a few more seconds, probably ten.

Here are a few magical things that might happen to you as soon as you do this:

1. You will find your entire body following through and experiencing the relaxation
2. Your mood will be heightened. Here's a small test. Practice this above tactic whenever you are in an argument or are paranoid with something. The above maneuver ( or lack of it ) is going to give you an instant improvement in your anxiety and stress levels.
3. Your mind gets instilled with positive thoughts and an overall pleasant outlook towards life.
4. With time, you will learn the highly valued skill of 'Resting On Demand'. Can you rest on demand whenever you're super stressed at work, on the road, between flights or any chaotic situation? If the answer to any of these questions is No, you need to learn facial relaxation.
5. You stop being in the past and the future and being to live more in the present.
6. The biggest benefit to this practice that I have experienced is that I began to be a calmer person in general. There are times when I used to experience 'hyper' times in the past. With the practice of relaxing on demand, these moments are now diminishing fast.
7. Most people might find it contradictory but relaxing your face even while performing heavy lifts in the gym can surefire your way to a better and smoother performance without the added risks of passing out or overly elevated heart rates. The major cause of a tensed face during training can be stopping your breath after inhaling a deep bout of air. Breathe evenly and naturally. More importantly, do not forget to exhale during the execution of a lift.

Exhalation is where the relaxation lies

Two key points to consider though:

1. Daily practice is different from 1 rep max testing or competition attempts. 
Now, before you even ask me, do not get confused between your routine lift practice and a max effort attempt. The latter is only a single and will need every part of you to maximally contract; the former will not.

This is not how your regular exercise practice might look
Most people watch a powerlifter performing a record breaking hoist on the platform and assume that to be demeanor they should adapt during each repetition they perform in the gym. Nope. Relax your face but tense your body, which takes us to:

2. Understand the difference between total body tension and facial relaxation.
You need to keep your mind cool in order to ward off any anxiety out of it and get a clear vision before you attempt the next set. But you also need to tense your entire body into a tight single unit before you get under the bar and until you get out from under it.

A relaxed face and a tensed body. No Clenched teeth here.
I haven't come across an easier method to let go of that broken down feeling coming from tough workouts. Facial relaxation is instant, effective and free.Try it everyday. You will improve. And so will your lifts.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Stop Wasting Your Time In The Gym

She was the perfect distraction.

Wrapped in closely body-hugging black spandex and carrying a vulnerable confidence moving from exercise to exercise.

There was no one else in the gym that day. Only a 20 something shapely girl, half confused about her exercise choices and a so far well determined man, there to lift some serious iron.
Can she distract and rob your resources during training?

"What's that exercise for?" , I asked her after resisting it for the 400th time. She was doing a kettlebell front raise pretending to be a Swing.

"Those are done for the back. Swings, I guess."

"I see. I've seen them being done a bit different, though"

"Oh yeah? How's that?" She asked with a mix of curiosity and the knowledge of a possible pick up line being used.

I went on to demonstrate her a well orchestrated, near sublime rep with one hand, swinging the bell in harmony with tension.

We went on to have a brief chatter. She didn't give me her phone number. I retreated to the squat rack with a defeated face.

Be informed that all this melodrama ensued while I was waiting to perform another set of barbell good mornings.

Honestly said, I just wasted two precious resources, both time and energy into a task that was clearly mundane and of least importance ( come on, what was I thinking, she would end up with anything more than some head nods with me? ), when it could have very well been applied to the barbell for a thousand times more benefits.

Absorb energy from the barbell

A great workout session should have you feel more energized once it is done. The barbell isn't there to test your intestinal fortitude in the gym. The barbell is there to help you gain energy from it. Store the energy within you and then release or demonstrate it during competition or times of crisis.

The effort spent at lifting a barbell is an investment you can make which delivers its returns whenever you are on the stage, the field, the ring, or in any devastating situation in life.

Same goes for any other training modality: kettlebells, dumbbells, bodyweight.

The moment you start looking at these training tools with a view that they are there to energize you and not drain you out unconscious, you'll acquire a totally new meaning to training.

Of course, 500 pounds is always going to be harder to lift than 200. But the path you take to reach there tells a lot about whether you added all that strength and energy into your energy account or simply kept exhausting your precious earned energy savings on acts of no returns.

If your goal is to push yourself to death on every training session, well, abusing almost any training method can help you get there. You just need to push the pain meter ahead to achieve these lesser pursuits.

Proper application of training methods entails staying fresh or keeping your nervous system capable of performing another rep in reasonably correct form.

The oldtime strongmen said it best when authoring their landmark training methods: "Do not attempt another rep unless you are 100 percent confident of completing it." Applies well to every exercise. No half-hearted rep attempts, please.

Get energized. Don't smoke yourself up under the bar.

And let the sexy girl in the spandex wonder what's keeping you from getting distracted from that super heavy weight on your shoulders.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

12 Insights From Lifting Weights Every Third Day

I'm a miser, mostly.

Or, to avoid sounding like a douche, I'd like to use the word, 'efficient'

I'm the guy who would love spending the least to dish out the most at any restaurant.

Of course, I like extending this wicked vice of mine to everything in life. Work, entertainment; training...

This walk on the road of exploring training economy took me towards going way beyond on the training frequency continuum and try reducing my weekly training days as less as I can.

Most of the readers here know already of how much I am a fan of training three times a week, especially when it comes to adding muscle while staying as strong as possible..

And when one dusts off some old copies of Peary Rader's Iron Man or John McCallum's Complete Keys To Progress, it isn't much of a secret how after hundreds, if not thousands of trials, these bright minds found the ideal frequency for a 'real', non steroid using population seeking muscle gain to be 2 to at most 3 days a week of solid training.

Who would benefit from an insanely (only to the ones unfamiliar to twice a week training) minimalist program such as this?

  • Busy as hell folks
  • You just had a new baby
  • People who have a highly challenged recovery
  • Someone who doesn't enjoy spending a lot of time in the gym
  • If the gym is a really long drive from your place
Of course, these are just examples. Don't let them stop you from training with a 2X program and utilize its unique merit.

So where was I? Oh yes, the program. Okay, here's what I did:

Day 1:
A1: Back Squats
A2: Incline Presses

B: Barbell Hip Thrusts

A1: Deadlift
A2: Pull Ups

B: Good Mornings

On the A exercise, I did 1 to 3 sets to 1 to 3 solid, relatively heavy reps. This was followed by 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps carried near failure to ensure a sufficient hypertrophy stimulus.

The B Exercise is simple. You only do one single set of 8 to 15 reps. Again, taken relatively closer to failure, but there's no rush.

You take two days off between each training session.

Following are the major observations I could gather from this experiment of mine:

1. It's hard to deal with the absence of training stimulus: This must have to do with the mind seeking soreness which may just subside after the first off day depending upon how stimulating the previous workout was.

2. There is a new-found time available at hand for doing more things: The benefits become more evident as we start using the newly found time for better purposes. Choices can range from cooking to playing with the kids more to pampering the wife more.

3. The mind is freer to think: This is especially true if you are like me and would like to visualize every training session days before it happens. Lesser training days puts lesser load on your mind.

4. I've to constantly stop myself from 'not doing anything: This is a challenge especially when you are coming from a high frequency program. The urge to just go and lift something will be tremendous on your off days during the initial few weeks.

5. Think in terms of Brief infrequent doses of growth igniting spurts: Each workout of yours is like a dose of Human Growth Hormone aimed towards pulling you closer to your better and stronger version. This kind of imagery helps when getting a perspective when you're training lesser. Get the hard lifts done. Then sit back and relax observing yourself grow.

6. Diet needs to be dialed in, since there are more non training days: Be responsible on those days when you once used to train and enjoy some luxury to indulge in minor overeating. That needs to be kept in check now.

7. It can sometimes get difficult to remember when is the next training day: Although I follow an 'every third day' template rather than two fixed days a week, you can as well try the latter option if you were the most memory challenged kid at school.

8. I'm literally resisting myself from hitting the gym on this second off day.

9. A great way to handle exercise addiction: Stop fantasizing over always continuing to have something heavy over your shoulders and start thinking about the life outside the gym as well. And there are few things better than this twice a week lifting pattern to help you get there.

10. Much less is needed than we think on such a training day: My initial thought was to cram my weekly training into two days. Oh, how wrong was I. One big lesson this experiment has taught me is that when it comes to training efficiency, 2+2 is not always 4. Sometimes it can 3. On other days it can be 5. If you choose your lifts wisely, very few key movements (such as the ones I chose) can give you amazing results. Don't forget that the strongest people ever have trained with a very small set of lifts diligently.

11. But you do need to train HARD. Examples of hard work: 20 rep squats, big compound lifts with a right mix of intensity or volume etc. But ease into your program rather than rushing into it headfirst.

12. When you only have that one day to train, you are compelled to give it your all compared to when you know you can always come tomorrow. Lesser training days may offer lesser opportunities to bring out your inner animal, but they may also present a lesser chance to fail.

As coach Charles Staley would put it best: "What you do not include in your twice a week lifting program is as important as what you include in it."

Saturday, 30 March 2019

How Squatting to a Box Can Help You Get Better

I don't know, it could have been a bad tracking pattern of my patella during the bottom of a squat, but lately, heavy squatting for reps always seemed to leave my knees aching.

It happened all the time; when I descended the stairs, walked out of the bed, drove a car. Something was seemingly wrong.

I tried a couple of squatting variations apart from the regular back squat, but no matter how I squatted, the knees kept aching.

I did reduce the squat poundage to see if it works, but there's a limit to how much we can reduce the weight on the bar. Squatting super light for the rest of my life wasn't an option.

Neither was quitting to squat.

Sifting through ideas in my mind, I pounced upon the thought of something I've seen most successful older lifters squat like without much problems.

Squatting to a low Box.

This approach entails keeping a low, about 8 to 10 inches high box (I used a decline bench with its lowest part below me). Every squat rep included descending towards the box under control, while trying to sit back, and instead of resting there, immediately reverse the movement and squat back up explosively.

Now, what good did this small change in my squat set up achieve?

  • The mere act of 'going down to something', a box in this case, instructed my legs to contract in unison among all the muscles of the quadriceps and the hamstrings, instead of just dropping down folding at my knees and my hip. And this is where it made a difference in the way my knees felt. Since the surrounding musculature around the knee joint was now sufficiently activated, giving the knee joint complex more stability.
  • Mentally cuing oneself to sit down and back and not simply to sit down allows for a more vertical shin than when one simply sits down without giving much attention to the movement of the hip. Additionally, sitting back also activates more of glutes and hamstrings imparting even more stability while 'in the hole'.
  • Rather than being able to visualize only pushing yourself up during the concentric part of a squat, squatting to a box allows one to visualize, pulling oneself to the ground. You then grip the ground harder with your feet and have a more 'closed kinetic chain' squat than when you have nothing to squat to.
  • Another much overlooked faulty pattern of knee movement is the mild bowing in of knees during the eccentric movement, pointing towards weak abductors.

    The presence of a box somewhat between your heels ensures your knees always move outwards along the outsides, a more natural and pain free knee path.
  • You generate overall more total body tension making the squat safer and more effective.
Suffice to say I had found a robust solution to my aching knees and a fix to clean-up the glitches in my squat form.

Feel free to use the Squat To Box Style on any squat variation: Front Squats, Zerchers, Pistols, Safety Bar squats... just find a box low enough to suit your current ankle and hip mobility levels and you are ready for the game.

If you would love to read more Squat improvement strategies like this, let me know in the comments. 

Enjoy training!

To Reset or Not To Reset Between Deadlift Reps

An orchestrated clang, then a thud, then me standing up getting a breather, followed by another clang of the plates rising from the ground, thud of their being dropped on ground and me standing tall between reps soaking in as much air as my diaphragm allowed before the mechanical cacophony kept on as an invigorating exercise.

As I performed the deadlift with a reset between reps, I could almost see everyone around me in that open air gym including the trainer look at me questionably with slanted eyes.

Very obviously, they needed answers.

"Rahul, I thought you knew how to deadlift..."

"Isn't the bar supposed to never leave your hands until the set is done?"

"Hey dude, you are never going to get the guns like this."

Well, suffice to say, the growing body of  concern that day surrounding my deadlift technique that can be uncommon in today's gym culture needed to be addressed.

We have two approaches to execution of heavy deadlifts.

The continuous Deadlift Set: Or where the bar is never let go of.

Something that looks like this:

  • Good For Metabolic Work, done with relatively lesser poundage
  • Great For Building and challenging the grip
  • Better suited to straight legged deadlift variations than the reset option which shall be discussed in a while
  • Great as a warm drill to get the blood flowing and the joints and connective tissue activated, of course when done with lighter weights
  • Great as a part of a Barbell Complex or any other hypertrophy scheme where the time under continuous tension is the utilized factor for progress.
  • Better when building mass is way more important than building absolute strength. More suited to a bodybuilding approach than a powerlifting meet prep
However, a key drawback to using time under continuous tension with the deadlift is the fact how much before your big boy muscles from the back and legs even feel the first signs of discomfort, your ancillary muscles like the grip and even the spinal erectors may make a bad face asking for rest. The result is a near crappy spinal arch on almost every next rep after the third or fourth one, on especially heavy weights.

Enter the Reset Deadlift

The reset deadlift is like a series of singles done in a very compact fashion. The lifter performs a tight and tense deadift rep, then when the rep completes, the bar is parked by the feet and the lifter then stands and takes a deep breath. And without wasting another moment, goes down in as crisp a form as on the first rep and performs a rep again.

There are a lot of benefits that don't meet the eye on this deceptively simple looking change:

  • Every rep starts from a dead stop. This means there is no room for momentum from the first rep to contribute to the subsequent ones
  • Every rep starts from a clean starting position. No more sloppy form and excessively bent backs on the upcoming reps. Can't tell you how much this has saved my back form accidentally breaking down or losing tension on the final reps of a set when it is under tremendous fatigue
  • A higher amount of force is required to move a stationary weight than to impart movement to an already moving weight. Dead stop reps resetting between reps, when done for sufficient volume can be really metabolically demanding
  • You can actually lift more weight this way. 
  • Every rep can have you produce as much tension as you can. Total body tension is a very important premise to get super-strong. When you are standing between the reps, you gather all the neural drive you have to generate irradiating tension from your feet all the way to your neck
  • I initially thought that letting go of the bar would not be a big deal for training the grip. On the contrary, I found the act of unloading and then re-gripping a very heavy barbell while deadlifting, again and again to be an altogether new form of challenge for the hands. It also allows for complete wrapping and resetting of the hands around the bar, allowing for a better application of the force to the barbell, instead of a marginal leakage of the force as what happens while you are fighting to keep your pinky fingers still have the bar on them before it rolls off on the 10th rep. My hands felt tougher doing the reset deadlift reps from dead stops for huge volume.
  • Reset deadlifts are a great choice to include in high volume deadlift programs. Again, the absence of potential risk for form damage and injury are key.
This doesn't mean you should quit the continuous deadlifting and acquire reset deadlifts completely. Like most strategies to get stronger, this one has a time and place as I highlighted. However, it would not be a bad idea to always deadlift while resettting between reps in order to deadlift injury-free and pain-free for the rest of your career.

Give them a shot. And let me know how they worked for you.