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Minimalistic Training: The need of the hour for serious trainees sitting on office chairs

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
- Bruce Lee

How much time do we really need to invest every week into our training in order to get the results we need? I would say that highly depends upon the way we define 'results' but let's just say for most of us, they are the following:

1. Fat loss: or the ability to fit into old clothes, see our six pack or not get any skin folds in our hands while we pinch our waist.
2. Muscle Gain: Our arms should fill the sleeves of our shirts, the weight on the weighing scale should increase, shoulders should be broader, bigger calves etc.

Of course there are other benefits which can result out of exercise such as improved strength of the involved muscle groups, better flexibility, improved cardiovascular output, more capillarity, improved grip, better spinal health, stronger joints etc but honestly, who is really concerned about the more boring aspects?

Keeping in mind the above two benefits, here's a good news: You really do not need to do each and every exercise in existence using every equipment available in your gym. A few very rewarding exercises done with very basic equipment can deliver the results you need. To understand how we should carry out exercise selection when we are on a time budget, consider that all the movements of the human body that can be trained with strength training can be broadly classified into the following big groups:

1. Push - Like a Push Up, A military press, a Handstand press etc
2. Pull - Like a Pull Up, a Row or a Bicep Curl
3. Hinge - A kettlebell swing or a deadlift are fine examples
4. Squat - As the name says, we all know the drill: Barbell Squats, One legged squats, even lunges.
5. Bracing the core - Anything which forces the core and abdominal musculature to prevent movement of the spine in any direction. A plank, a Pallof Press or an Ab Wheel rollout fit the bill.

Of course, a lot of other noise also exists in the annals of exercise science literature and magazines, but, really, any exercise you pick up, can fall into one of these categories. The effort required in designing a minimalist program thus gets highly simplified once you know that you only need to pick one exercise from each category. Here's how you can do it.

Day 1
1. Incline Bench Press - 2 x 5
2. Pull Ups - 3 x 5
3. Deadlifts - 2 x 5
4. Front loaded pistols - 2 x 5
5. Ab wheel Rollouts - 5 x 5

Day 2
1. Overhead kettlebell Press - 2 x 5
2. Bicep Curls - 2 x 5
3. Good Mornings - 2 x 5
4. Front Squats - 2 x 5
5. Janda Sit Ups - 5 x 5

Day 3
Same as Day 1.

... And so on.

The immediate follow up question is: where are the rest of the chest, back and leg movements? An important principle to adhere to when designing minimalist programs is to remove all redundancy from the blueprint. A dumbbell chest fly is a great exercise but is probably not what you are looking for when writing a minimalist strength workout. So is the case with exercises such as leg extensions, forearm curls, calf raises etc. If you notice, we are looking at taking out single joint movements from the mix and using more multi joint and big movements. In other words, we are looking towards the inclusion of high reward or 'high bang for your buck' movements here.

The above template is for someone who can train at least three days a week. However, an even smaller workout frequency is also possible. In fact, if you choose the right exercises and training volume considerations, its possible to train even twice a week and keep getting the gains.

Here's how a sample split might look like:

Day 1:

1. Squat - 3-4 sets of 10 reps
2. Bench Press - 3 - 4 sets of 10 reps
3. Narrow grip bench press - 3 x 10
4. Barbell Drag Curls - 3 x 10
5.  Hanging Leg Raises: 3 x 10 - 12

Day 2.

1. Deadlift - 5 x 2
2. Bench Press - 3 - 4 sets of 10 reps
3. Leg Curls - 3 x 10
4. Standing Calf Raises - 3 x 10
5. The hardstyle plank - 3 x 10 - 12 second solid tight holds with breathing.

The weight to be selected on these exercises should be something which can be lifted with good technique for about 12 reps. Except the deadlift where relatively higher percentages of your one rep max can be employed. Take about two days as rest days between both the training days.

I agree that you may not be able to reap some of the benefits of a full fledged higher frequency training program on such a minimalistic template, but the price paid in terms of the lost few benefits can be recovered in all the precious time you have reclaimed while you are not training.  Not only work, you can now willingly spend that newfound time in many more beautiful things that can make life better such as spending more time with family, shopping, traveling or completing that book which you have been reading from a long time now.

By the way, the similar methodology of reduction of what can be done away with, can be utilized if you are training at home with minimal equipment or are traveling a lot. Something like following can be your helpful aid in such cases:

Day 1:
1. One legged Squats(Pistols or rear leg elevated skater squats): 5 x 6 - 8
2. Decline Push Ups: 3 x 10 - 12
3. TRX Bodyweight rows: 4 x 8 - 10
4. Janda Sit Ups using the TRX: 5 x 5

The TRX suspension trainer can be your best friend when on the road

Day 2: 

1. TRX rear foot elevated lunge : 4 x 6 - 8
2. Clap Push Ups: 3 x 8 - 10
3. Towel bodyweight rows:  3 x 10 - 12
4. Superman Push Ups: 5 x 5

You can even do a timed circuit of these exercises back to back resting for 3 to 5 minutes between each circuit to add a varied stimulus. Most of the exercises mentioned in these templates may be unfamiliar to many. I'd suggest doing a googe search on them to understand the underlying mechanics and technique points first.

Practice a moderate pace cardiovascular taxing activity such as a brisk walk, rope skipping or jog on a few days apart from the training ones.

The times logged on any of these templates, even if you reach to the advanced exercise variations, should not be more than 20 to 30 minutes; way less than what a usual training session takes. In fact, do not be surprised if the first few workouts are unbelievably short. It's all a part of the plan.

Although these are mere guidelines to experiment with and stimulate your imagination to design your own programs, the point I am aiming at here is that it is highly possible to train with minimal equipment and time to get maximal and distinguished results.

You can expect a sustained improvement in your body composition, conditioning and strength if you log your workouts every session and keep making the necessary progressive changes to your split with time.

Minimalism for maximum results

Practicing abbreviated programs can go a long way in teaching us how little we require in terms of variety and how, most new and stylized exercise variations are often mere inventions to keep you all excited and entertained. Getting stronger and fitter can be a boring endeavor, let's face it. But with time we get to learn how it is all the more necessary to stay committed to the program.And of course, let's not forget that we have a beautiful life out of the gym as well which needs a bigger part of us. Minimalism helps us achieve just that. I'll be wriring more on minimalism in the coming posts. As always would love to hear from you!

The Magic of Consistency

Small efforts applied over a long time are more often than not, better than infrequent full intensity, balls-to-the-wall efforts.

You must have definitely seen the wired physiques of champion gymnasts over the years. Even in ages when exercise science knowledge hadn't reached its hey dey of popularity as it has today, we did see astonishing physiques on gymnasts, both male and females. The sport demands its practitioner to posses extraordinary spatial awareness, agility, bodyweight strength, tension generation capability, mental toughness, flexibility and nerves of steel. And that is just what they do in their practice and training.

He can give any serious physique athlete a run for his money!

Let's consider another sport, Decathlon athletes. The decathlon, as we know it, is one of the most formidable test of physical qualities and athletic excellence. You can be an excellent ong distance runner, very efficient at managing your body's energy system reserves, but you have to be a brute rocket to excel at the 100 meter dash. Or you can be an excellent fast-twitch muscle fiber make-up dominant sprinter capable of showcasing limit velocities over a small distance, but what would happen over the course of a 400 meter heat? Hell, you could be just all of these, but then we have the hurdles requiring such elastic rebound capabilities in your lower extremities. And we haven't yet mentioned the throwing events, the shot, the javelin, the discuss. And of course, we have the mother of all athletic endeavors, the Pole Vault waiting for you to grind your absolute best.

No, that isn't a fitness model, that's decathlete Steve Cain.

The physiques of decathletes resemble the kind of premium they place on their training, practicing all the sports in theur battery of tests, which renders a very special mix of physical transformations in their physiques. A transformation which many may claim as the masculine ideal for physique development.

Talking about some of the most hardest training athletes int he world, wrestlers, we get another arena pf physcial excellence, where the physiques speak of the rigors involved in the profession. Winning a wrestling match involves superior gripping, lightening fast speed, rugged impact facing, ballistic strength to toss your opponent, rooting power to plant yourself into an immovable unit in the ground and several other highly in demand positives. And one look at a day from a professional wrestler's training, and you are assured that THIS is what they do every day, year on year, which results in the form in which we see wrestlers.

Olympic Medalist and World Champion Wrestler Sushil Kumar in a routine training session.

I believe you have already caught the drift of today's post. The central theme in all these stories is Consistency. All of the athletes in sports which demand some form of extreme to be demonstrated will non-negotiably be required to invest the maximum of their training times in perfecting those very qualities.

Another bonus example: Speed cyclists. The enormous upper leg development of speed cyclists tells the tale of the extremely high anaerobic potential required to push the cycle at winning speeds, and for a prolonged time. Could a cyclist attain such levels of hypertrophy training in any other manner possible than going through training sessions including spurts of fast cycling all the way?

World champion German Track Cyclist Robert Förstemann.

How does this all relate to the common fitness enthusiast looking to improve the way he looks, moves, functions, feels and lives? Keep implementing the training principle of your choice in brief and frequent manner, over and over the years and you will gradually start to see your desired outcome on your body. But the important part here, is the YEARS. We are not speaking of a brief four to six week stint here, rather a near life-long endeavor to commit to the physical culture,

Stated in more real world sense, pick up an exercise program consisting of big basic movements an keep doing it with a controlled intensity for a duration until you can progress. Once you get stalled, pick up something 'same but different' .

And exmaple can be a program consisting of the barbell deadlift and the military press. After a period of eight weeks, training seems to falter seeing no improvements in the poundage which you can put in the bar. Here's when you can replace the conventional deadlift with a sumo stance deadlift or a Jefferson deadlift, or the militry press with a dumbbell press or a side press or a bent press. But the important idea is to stick to the basics and keep doing them consistently over and over through the years and keep seeing the noticable occupational changes in your physique and looks by virtue of the labor of doing all that targetted work from such a long time.

Of course variety has its place in training as much as it has in real life. But the value of basics and mastering them can absolutely never be undermined in physical culture as showcased by these master physiques built majorly from only practicing their sports.

We are what we repeatedly do

With a boat lod of exercise programs readily available at our disposal, the amount of information overload present in our minds can quickly lead us into believing that the only way to progress in physical development is getting done with an exercise program and then immediately switching to the next one. But taking a page out of athletic practices proves the point of maintaining a significant degree of semblance and overlap between each of the exercise programs that we follow in order to the keep the basic human movements of Pushing, Pulling, Squatting, Hinging, Bracing, Folding etc mastered. Classic strength prgroams such as the 40 day program, Easy strength, The Russian bear etc are based only on this foundational truth of getting physically better at doing something.

If you are stalled in your current strength gain or physique development endeavors, I'd say, let this be a pedestal to reassess your current training approach for any gaps or overlooked movements and start including them and training them more often, even though with submaximal weights.

Olympic champion weightlifter Lü Xiaojun demonstrating how his sport built his physique.

After all, we are all creatures of habit and adaptations happen depending upon repeated exposure to the demands we place on ourselves.

Sleep: A definitive answer

Sleeping is despised upon in many circles of work. If you are caught sleeping over your workstation, heck that's the end of life for you as an employee. Good night good promotions.

This school of thought has come up with a philosophy that work or buying that new pair of shoes on Amazon is now prioritized more than attending to nature's direction of getting a good short nap. In fact, it always frightens me when everyone I advise to take a short 15 minute nap in the afternoon replies back,

                           "Are you kidding me? Who is going to do all that work in my place? You?"

Let's stop and settle down at this word; SLEEP. What is it exactly that we do when we sleep? Apparently nothing, at lease at the surface. And unfortunately, this is what lends sleep all the guilt and self-criticism at the thought of taking a much needed nap even during office hours.

Here are a host of life-supporting biological processes which get accelerated while we are taking that comforting shut eye in the afternoon or the snoring good night's sleep:

1. Better respiration
2. Optimized digestion
3. De-stressing of the mind.
4. Psychological and physiological recovery from physical stresses(including exercise)
5. Re-gaining of mental focus.
6. Enhance Human-Growth-Hormone release.
7. Increased productivity in the times following the sleep.

On the other hand, here's what you tend to experience once you start falling down the avalanche of lost sleeps:
  • Lowered glucose tolerance (GT)
  • Increased sympathovagal balance
  • Increased evening and nocturnal cortisol levels
  • Lowered leptin
  • Insufficient thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
So, as you can see, there is more to a sleeping body than what meets the eye. Stated other ways, a good quality deep sleep can render more benefits than almost anything else available free of any financial costs.

I can see most of you still not convinced on why you should sacrifice your office social image while you doze off for fifteen minutes at the desk. Right?

Here's something more.

One of the best and foremost ways to get out of a hopeless stretch of stressed office hours is to get disconnected from the ongoing work as soon as possible. But what most of us miss here is how we are still somehow mentally engaged with the work. In other words, we carry our work everywhere we go, in our minds. Such a hyper-mindful-workaholism is what a brief deep sleep session can help break.

Here's a cool experiment you can try out on your next heavy duty office day, when almost no amount of self-persuasion seems to be taking you out of the work-related-burnout. It's called a coffee nap.

And don't you worry about steve-smartypants sitting in the cubicle next to you overtaking you in terms of the amount of work done and deliverables completed while you were having a healthy siesta. There's a reason why big enterprises focus on Quality before Quantity. It's really up to us to decide which one we need to adhere to as a mission while we work. And it becomes all the more clear looking at individuals who always find ways to keep themselves fresh and energized, who also tend to be the most productive and quality delivering team members in an office.

Anyway, back to our experiment.

Here's what you do:

Next time you encounter that sleepy like a sloth hour following your lunch(which research shows to be probably about 3:00 PM give or take a few minutes), head on to the nearby coffee vending machine. Make sure there is a sofa lounge nearby. Get a strong dose of caffeinated coffee brewing in your cup and delightfully sip it, forgetting for a moment all the worries surrounding your work. Sip and enjoy the awesomeness and right after that, shut your eyes and go in for a silent nap on the couch.

The magic begins after the 10 to 15 minutes that pass after the caffeine enters your system and triggers the neurotransmitters that give you such a kick-off feel. You know it, the one which makes us all reborn again and ready to take over the world. That's yours there.

If you look at it from an efficiency standpoint,I find two things achieved:
1. You were able to deload from the baggage of stress through the sweet nap.
2. You were able to gain an even higher level of altertness and focus by the stimuilating action of caffeine.

...and you were able to do both these things at the same time.

Accumulated fatigue

I have always found the effects of sleep debt to accumulate them over a week. Let's say I wasn't able to sleep on time due to a late meeting on Monday. The scenario somehow repeated itself on Tuesday and even though I could sleep on time on Wednesday, the levels of focus and alertness I had during my training in the gym on Thursday still remained lackluster.

By the time we miss sleep for the third time in a week, that's how we end up looking.

On the other hand, fulfilled sleep on a consistent basis also had the opposite effect of enriching my training sessions where I witnessed unparalleled levels of focus and strength in my lifts.

The Pre-Midnight Window

Here's another interesting observation I have made over the last one year. On days when I sleep somewhat before midnight(those nights when I somehow drag myself to the bed minutes before the clock strikes 12), I do seem to feel better than the days I cross 12:00 AM.

Moreover, on some occasions, where I manage to wind up all my tasks, dinner, Facebook, TV, News etc by about 11:00 PM, things are even more magical the other day. I am more awake and aware in the gym and my mood in the office stays relatively calmer, even in the middle of heated up issues.

On those lucky days when I can enjoy the luxury of getting under the sheets by the 9:00 PM to 10:00 Pm mark, boy do I have a nirvanic day the next day. Everything seems to get easier. My mood stays an all time good on such occasions and seldom do I lose my temper on any hot problems as well.

Your sleep is only as good as the time at which you wake up

On some strange days, you may notice that after having slept for over 8 hours, you may still experience a very drained and sleepless feeling upon waking up. What went wrong here? The answer may most probably come from the concept of polyphasic sleep.

The idea of polyphasic sleep proposes that our entire sleep consists of multiple sleep-wake cycles. In other words, we do not continuously sleep for all the eight hours at night, but pass through multiple phases of sleep. Most prominent ones are these five stages:
Stage 1: Light sleep. Waking up during this sleep always screws up the quality of sleep during the rest of the night.
Stage 2: This is where we start transitioning into a deeper sleep. Heart rate drops and physiological processes begin to slow down.
Stage 3: A deep sleep phase begins.
Stage 4: Very deep sleep begins here
Stage 5: Rapid Eye Movement(REM) sleep. Basically, where all the magic happens.

A cycle consisting of these five stages roughly occurs every ninety minutes. Stages 4 and 5 are where the release of Human Growth Hormone is accentuated to the maximum. It thus becomes imperative that we complete these phases and not wake up in between them.

Sometimes however a sudden abrupt jerk or a push(in some rare cases, certain sounds) wakes us out of our sleep schedules and we then have a tough time getting back to sleep. Incidentally, these are also the times when we feel like a truck run over us, the next day.

On the other hand, let's say you just completed the fourth of such sleep cycles, and once again, the abrupt jerk or sound woke you up. You may have just slept six out of your usual menu of eight hours, but the right timing of waking up still made you feel fully replenished.

By the same token, the concept of sleeping lesser and still being able to attain a fulfilled effect is taken to the next level by practitioners of Polyphasic sleep schedules. And the concept isn't a very novel one as well. Leonardo da Vinci, Napoleon, or Nikola Tesla have been said to follow abbreviated sleep schedules during their heyday.

Honey, will you stop snoring or do I send you permanently on the drawing room couch?

Obstructive sleep apnea(OSA), or the disorder which causes you to snore heavily while you are asleep is a big obstruction in the way of a deep, undisturbed sleep. Basically, it the blockage of your nasal breathing pathway due to a soft tissue collapse.  OSA can be a real deal breaker since it contributes to both missed sleep and growing amount of body fat accumulation. Although surgical intervention does exist as a cure, the effectiveness of the results can be argued with.

Good-Sleep Rx at home

So what do you do if you need a health enriching and satisfying sleep at home? Here are some time tested remedies you can follow to improve your sleep quality to unbelievable limits:

1. Switch Off: The simple yet overlooked act of switching off all electronic devices before you sleep can do wonders to the quality of your shuteye Most devices such as electronic clocks, TVs, music players, Laptops etc have an LED which either stays lit, or worse, keeps blinking disrupting your focus while you sleep and occasionally resulting in diversion from a sound sleep.

2. Don't stare at the mobile phone screen: Try making it a strict ritual to avoid looking at a mobile phone screen at least fifteen minutes before you lie on your bed. Even worse is the habit of obsessive compulsively picking up your iPhone in the middle of the night just to check if the office hottie from a neighboring team, Laura replied to your 21st whatsapp message in a row or not. Looking at bright tablet, laptop or mobile screens at a time your body is begging for more sleep can destabilize your vision; remember all the times your eyes were so sore after a night long mobile phone message chat? 

3. Optimize your room's temperature: In most warm weathered countries such as ours, a cool and breezy room presents a very soothing temperament conducive to a very good sleep. If however, you are in colder climates, there can be nothing better than using the right set of sheets and blankets. The bottomline is to never let extreme weather conditions rob you of a few hours by waking you u amid sleep and taking you by surprise.

4. Have a shower: A shower, especially a warm/hot one really relaxes your mind and body to the levels necessary to disconnect you from all the day's worries and prepare you for a deep ride through dreamland. Do try it for a few weeks and notice the difference in the quality of sleep that immediately follows.

5. Seep Early: This should come as a no brainer, although looking at our life-demands and lifestyles today, most individuals find it a tough pill to swallow. Disengaging in our social networking(mostly online) activities earlier, dining on time and ending our chats before they turn into a night long marathon may require a lot of social intelligence and understanding, bot on our part and your friends' or families', but is really well worth the effort looking at such highly rewarding

 Sleep better, Live better

The bottomline is that the hallmark of a fit, in shape and better functioning life shall always remain how much dividend we can put upon extracting superior quality sleep from our mind-numbing schedules and stress-loving lifestyles. Do not hesitate to taking naps wherever you can and going the extra mile to ensure your household ergonomics are conducive to good sleep-hygiene is not a bad move at all. Let me know your thoughts and ideas on what all works for you to get you the sleep-mojo which kicks off your day like a boss!

A Tale of Two deadlifts

There's something about deadlifts. Every time I sit down writing a small rant about them, I end up writing a seemingly larger piece like this one. It gets to a point where I have to literally hold myself from writing more. 

Today, we distinguish between two forms of deadlifts, often confused to be one and the same by most lifters, and how we can use them to our benefit to the maximum

But first.....

"What the hell is a deadlift?"

Simply said, it is the act of picking up a heavy object from the floor. 

Like this:
 Or This:
Or maybe this(especially useful in case of wrongly parked cars):
Again, something like this:
 So, you see...picking up something heavy from the ground.
 Now, just replace all those heavy objects in the pictures above with a barbell, and what you get is:
Yes, exactly. A deadlift. See how similar the big major lifts are to real life senarios? That is just one of the reasons why any individual should incorporate them in order to improve the quality of life.

So, this is what we will be calling a deadlift, or more precisely, a regular deadlift from now on.

"But still Rahul, would I need to deadlift?"

Well, if the pictures above weren't able to convince you on why a regular individual might need to get strong in deadlifting, here are some more benefits of this magnificent lift which carry over so well to real life:
1. Cure from back pain
2. Strong grip, fingers and digits. 
3. Better posture
4.  Boost in confidence because of seemingly very heavy weights which can be lifted
5.  Relief from disorders generated due to chronic sitting(since the deadlift reverses the sitting maneuver)
6. Turns you into Wolverine.
 In other words, to be awesome, you gotta deadlift!

Now, when it comes to deadlifts, there are these two sister exercises which are often also two of the most confused species of this lift. These are 

The Straight Legged Deadlift
and...The Romanian Deadlift

While both these movements biomechanically train the same actions of hip extension, what separates them is the knee angle maintained, the spinal alignment and the amount of hip drive done during their executions resulting in a relatively different loading curves for the gluteal complex, hamstrings and the spinal erectors.

 The Straight Legged Deadlift.

Simply said, you pick up a barbell only moving at your Hip joint and keep the angle on your knee joint constant throughout the execution of this exercise. There are two ways in which you can begin this exercise: with the barbell placed on the ground, and with the barbell placed on a power rack pin or a stand at about hip height. Quite naturally, the hip high start position presents an advantageous starting point since the additional work done while lifting the bar from the floor during the start gets eliminated.

Here's how you would look during the start of the exercise:
   In other words, grip the bar with a double overhand grip. keep your shoulders squared and your scapulae packed back and down. Keep your knee angle as close to 180 degrees as possible. Which means that your legs remain as close to straight as possible throughout the course of the exercise.

Grip the bar tight, squeeze your hip muscles, or the Glutes, and initiate the movement in a tight and controlled fashion by bending only at the hips (the knees stay straight, remember?)

Very importantly, keep your spine in a neutral position throughout the movement. I mean, THROUGHOUT the entire movement. Like, even during the bottom-most position of the lift. 

Which asks the question, where exactly is the bottom position of this exercise? Is it when the barbell reaches all the way down touching the ground? No, not necessarily. The bottom is marked by the point where you can no longer keep folding at the hip joint without either rounding your back, or bending your knees. Withstanding most folks' hamstring and glute flexibility, the point resembles the instant when the bar is almost at your mid-shin level. 

 Here's how the bottom position would look like:

The bar should land in a position slightly(only sliiiiightly) ahead of you. We'll see shortly why this point is important.

Use the tight contractile force generated by the contraction of your hips, hamstrings and the spinal erectors and reverse the movement to unfold at the hips until you are standing back in the starting position.

On the other hand, we have...

...The Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

That's quite an exotic name for a lift, no? This exercise was so named after Nicu Vlad, the Olympic and World champion weightlifter from Romania, who used the RDLs as a staple in his training.

Nicu Vlad
Here's how you execute this exercise:

The beginning of this exercise might look pretty much the same as its straight legged cousin. You can either start with picking up a barbell from the ground in a deadlifting fashion, or pick it up from the hooks placed at about hip height.

Here's the difference.

While setting up for the movement now, carry out some flexion at your knee joints, so that there is a slight bend in our knees. This bend will stay constant throughout the execution of the exercise. At the same time, maintain a deliberate arch in your spine while driving your hips somewhat towards the back and upwards. From here on, with the bar gripped in a double overhand grip, start folding at the hip joints to a position where either the bar reaches the mid-shin level, or your hamstring flexibility gives in.

From here, generate a powerful contraction of the glutes and the hamstrings, reverse your way back to the starting position at the top to complete one rep.

Now, the differences, subtle as they may seem, are profound. 

The straight legged deadlift has your knees almost straight. You are also working on keeping your spine neutral. This requires your paraspinal muscle groups such as the erector spinae to work overdrive in maintaining this alignment. In fact, this precisely is what renders the straight legged deadlift, more of a spinal erector exercise than a glute, hamstring specific one.

Now, this is not to say that there is no gluteal and hamstring contraction involved in this movement. In fact, if you attach and EMG electrode to both these muscles, you may find really significant degrees of contraction. However, the emphasis here, compared to RDLs is more localized along the spinal erector muscles lining your vertebrae. 

The involvement of the para-spinal muscle groups gets compunded by the fact that you lower the bar not touching or sliding along the body but at a distance from the body. This increases the distance between the vectors of force acting on the bar, downward, equal to its weight, and the normal reaction force acting parallel to it from the feet up.

 Notice the distance between the two parallel force vectors represented in the pic above. The greater is this distance, the more is the shear stress produced on the spine to break it out of its neutral alignment and the more the para spinal muscles have to fight to resist it. 

Now, coming to the RDLs, the very first point of difference can be observed as a bent knee joint, the more arched spine and hips pushed significantl back, all leading to shortening of the distance between the line of force acting on the barbell as its weight, and the normal reaction force acting through the center of the feet. The resultant vectors are something like this:

Notice how both the forces are acting almost among the same line. This results in a very less amount of shear stress on the spinal column and generates a need for force generation at the hip joint to produce extension. This forces the glutes and hamstrings to work in synergy producing a powerful hip extension torque.
The advantage of such a set up is that an incredibly large amount of weight can be lifted in RDLs compared to the straight legged deadlifts. More muscles worked can also improve the metabolic results of this movement. 
Low shear stresses also make this a good choice for trainees rehabilitating from flexion based back pain.

While the straight legged deadlift remains a great choice as an assistance drill for strengthening the para spinal muscle groups which can carry over superbly to other exercises such as regular deadlifts, squats, bentover rowing etc, the RDLs are a glute and hamstring strengthening choice.

Of course, the iconic benefits of a strong grip, strong trapezius and overall strength boost will be some really lovable side effects you will experience as you keep advancing in both of these exercises.

Well, folks, enjoy utilizing these potentially game changing accessory strengthening drills in your training program and reap the benefits. For any questions on how to program them in our current routines, or issues faced with them, drop your comments below.

Thanks so much for the read and keep sharing.

Creatine dilemma, strength without bulk and a huge set of traps

Some inquisitive queries shared by some of my good friends, drawling light upon a set of thoughts many of us might have had form a long time:
Question: "Is Creatine a drug? I have been suggested that repeated creatine usage can lead to disorders such as adrenal fatigue, ultimately resulting in Kidney Failure.Can normal folks like me who do not intend to be huge bodybuilders but to be fit and healthy individuals also benefit from it?"

The good news is that creatine in its most popular supplemental form, Creatine Monohydrate, IS for you.

Creatine is definitely not what someone means when they refer to it as a drug. It is in fact a healthful, bio-available molecule that is also present in most of the foods you eat such as meat, eggs and fish. Most abundantly, it is present as creatine phosphate.

The most widespread use of creatine in the form of supplementation, as creatine monohydrate is to improve the energy levels during a high intensity workout session by storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation.

However, a lesser known function of creatine is how it can also help the brain, bones, muscles and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are provided through this mechanism. Evidences also suggest a boost in immunity and better brain function following creatine usage. One of the most inclusive pieces I have read on creatine dosage is THIS ONE.

And I can understand the concerns where several people believe creatine causes problems related to the kidneys. To my knowledge, I am yet to see someone with healthy kidneys getting them affected due to creatine usage. Of course, every ingestable compound has its recommended dosage and even good things when over-consumed, may turn into bad things. The much recommended 5 grams of  dosage daily, still works like a charm.

Most of the confusion seems to stem from the substance creatinine which is a metabolite or waste product of creatine, which also happens to be a diagnostic substance used to monitor Kidney problems. However, this in no way renders creatine unsafe for its users.

As for which creatine supplement variant to be used, I have always found the plain old micronized creatine monohydrate to be the most sustained working product for me. All the other creatine variants have been coming and going, but this one gives me most bang for my spent buck. I have really seen creatine variants which fill up the entire room with mesmerizing fragrances when its tub is opened, Although there is nothing bad with such a decoration scheme but personally, I may not be the guy who spends more only for this dramatic effect.

Question:"I'm a choreographer and my profession requires me to never get bulky or heavy. But lately, I have started experiencing knee pain and discomfort. My physiotherapist has suggested to indulge in a progressive resistance training program. I have joined a gym and started lifting weights after a long time. However, I am worried if consistently lifting heavier weights can end up making me bulkier and heavier. Is there a way I can tailor my lifting to not make me bulkier?"
Lifting is a means to an end result. The end result here is to improve your overall strength. Strength, not much unlike dance, is a skill and needs brief and frequent practice sessions(which is what we do every day in the gym).

Now, drilling further, our mind learns a new skill when the nervous system consisting of all the involved neurons gets trained. If the skill is a movement pattern, the neurons have to fire in a certain way in order to consider the skill to be learned. Strength thus is more a property of your nervous system, than the other peripheral mechanisms such as musculoskeletal and endocrine systems(although they are all equally in synchrony when you perform a feat of strength).

Taking an example of a heavy deadlift, we all have images of hefty powerlifters lifting upwards of 700 pounds in competition and go ahead assuming that is the way they will end up looking after deadlifting heavy. Now, some trainees may purposefully add bulk to their frames by ingesting more calories, since they added bulk and metabolic support may help in getting their deadlift numbers up. However, powerlifting also abounds in examples of lifters where seemingly athletic lifters have lifted enormous weights compared to their body weight. Here's Bob Peoples as an example. Bob Peoples deadlifted 725lbs at 181lbs bodyweight and at the age of forty way back in the 1949. Or for further reference, let's look at Lamar gant pulling 634 pounds at a bodyweight of 123 pounds.

These examples are evidences that we can get incredibly strong by practicing the big lifts and can keep adding to the weight without worrying too much about getting bulkier. Of course, we may not train with as much volume as used by those with a bodybuilding mindset. Also, the crucial aspect of managing your calories to stay within the maintenance zone can also not be undermined.

Question: "I'm having a pretty tough time growing my trapezius muscles. I have been using different varieties of shrugs in my training, yet to no significant effect. Can you suggest me a game changer for making traps the size of a Stealth bomber?"
Shrugs do work the scapular elevation function of the upper traps, the meaty upper portion which is the hallmark of champion wrestlers and strongmen. However, there is a potential barrier with the shrugs approach to training your traps.

Although the total range of movement in a shrug is comparatively lesser than other movements, the relatively lesser number of muscles involves in a shrug renders a rather weaker anabolic potential to the exercise. Compare it to a deadlift where seemingly all muscles of the body are in dynamic action as against being statically involves in a shrug. The compound effect of the simultaneous play of these many muscles gives the deadlift an edge as an exercise that develops almost everything, Everything including thick and dense upper traps.

It is with this premise in the background that I could never see the degree of trap growth given by the deadlifts by howsoever heavy shrugs I did. In fact, an interesting case in point here would be the barbell power cleans. A power clean, if the usual exercise poundage correlations are to be considered, shall almost never be close to how much you can shrug. For an individual who can shrug just upwards of 400 pounds, the power clean would be lucky to reach the 250 mark. And yet, the clean, from the explosive nature of the pull, develops the trapezius with a much lesser weight than that can be shrugged. The explosiveness and the anabolic potential of the harmonic synchronization of a larger number of muscle groups being involved makes this possible.
Explosive Pulls: A brilliant medicine for stubborn traps

My take would thus be to include a healthy mixture of deadlifts and barbell power cleans into your trapezius training arsenal and observe how these time-tested lifts add visual mass to your traps.

Thanks as always for the wonderful set of questions and comments. Keep sharing your thoughts and feedback. Would love it if you share the blog across your social network profiles as well. :)

Hair-raising posts for the week - Episode 1

Apart from a really pleasant September in this part of the world, here's what's hot in the allies of strength, health and fitness reads this week:

Statutory Warning: You may end up taking your shirt off and start cranking push ups in your office after reading some of them. So, it's NSFW if you would, you know, call that NSFW kind of stuff!

The clean and the deadlift simple cues for a stronger setup

Quick ques on distinguishing between two of the most important pulling movements you might be doing in your quest for strength. Smart pointers on how the mechanics may slightly differ on the clean and the deadlift unlike what many of us would normally believe.

Swedish Girl Deadlifts 418 Pounds

 Of course, how can we not have a solid look at this video of a 17 year old swedish football player girl who just deadlifted 418 pounds like a boss. And for those of you quipping about 418 pounds not being a a really heavy weight: The girl here has a bodyweight of 150 pounds. Go ahead and enjoy a testosterone boosting show.

Protein Trickery - Nitrogen Spiking

TC Luoma's take on why you may need take a second look at your protein powder supplement manufacturer's processes and legal stature, may be one crucial piece of information you should be reading today.

Viking Day Rope and Sled Pulling

Is your regular routine of big, bold and heavy lifts not giving you that 'extra' challenge that marks the difference between you being Thor saving the earth from Loki, or not? Well, these grit challenging, rugged ideas may develop a real intestinal fortitude that can cover you up there.

Daily Dose Deadlift Plan

If I were to follow a program where one big lift needs to be hit the maximum number of times per week, my pick would undoubtedly be the deadlift. By the same token, here's a great program to design a deadlift specific program. It has got all the elements required to forge a routine having the discipline required to keep your pull getting bigger.

The One Element of your training that can't be forsaken

Not a single training session of mine passes without someone coming up to me and asking what I am writing in that little notepad in between my work sets. Which should tell you how uncommon keeping a training journal is even today in weight training population. Charles Staley reinforces on this core principle of progressing in a sustained manner.

Max Muscle, Less Vareity

Old school working wisdom from Coach Zack Even-Esh.

A Quick and Dirty Way to Add Muscle

Tony Gentilcore posits about a tried and tested with time training technique that might be one of the missing links in your strength-hypertrophy training. Enjoy reading.

Go Forth

Last but not by any chance, the least, words of timeless wisdom by Dan John where he magically blends, training philosophy, education, religion and life in a way only he can possibly do.

Enjoy these cleansing reads. Goosebumps, adrenaline rush and a very zen-lke enlightened training guaranteed!

7 Quick hacks to transform an inactive office lifestyle into a fit and awesome one

Let's face it, office really isn't a place where one can expect to outperform their athletic best. Really, with hours after hours of unnoticed sitting, bending over at the desk/monitor, being deafened by phone calls and experiencing worrying levels of Computer Vision Syndrome, office really gives us a really un-delicious menu to savor everyday.

If you are like me, the thought of turning the table upside down and finding out hacks for making things more in motion. Here's how you too can be one of the smartest and most sought after fitness inspiration without compromising your office deliverables.

And don't worry, your boss won't mind you doing them!

By the way, it does not include hotly dressed charming females being present as 'mood-en lighteners in office:

1. Frequent office perimeter walks.
I would have started with 'park your car four blocks away from office and walk your way to and from the office', but I figure the parking space in most IT parks is already too congested, so most of us are covered there. But even if you do not have any amount of walking in your office life, right from swipe in to swipe out, here's what you can do: about midway into your work day, lock your terminal and head out for a carefree and rejuvenating walk taking circles around your office building periphery. I may even suggest investing in a pedometer to count your steps every time and gauge some progress. It's a free of cost move which can restore a host of functions in your dormant body such as hip mobility, ankle mobility, blood circulation, breathing patterns(more on this shortly), boosting your metabolic rate and impart a sense of well being owing to the enjoyment of some fresh air and unseen/overlooked greenery around your campus, if your office is like this:
Infosys Campus, Mysore

2. Hydration breaks( or "I want to drink a lot of water so I can take a lot of pee breaks"): We are 70 percent water, right? Water occupies a majority of the mitochondrial volume inside your muscle cells. Drinking enough water might be the single best thing we can do to boost our success both in the gym or at the desk. From improving digestion to supporting a gamut of life supporting processes, ultimately resulting in the difference between that 405 pounds barbell rising up smoothly up from the floor or not in the gym next morning. I have even witnessed radically improved immunity after I almost doubled my water intake last summer. And then of course, the mobility walks resulting from the frequent visits to the loo are something we can live with!

3. Stand Up: The simplest approach to solve a problem is to find out what caused it in the first place; then seek to reverse the condition. Most occupational dysfunctions stem from prolonged sitting, an inevitable occupational hazard in the modern employment landscape. What must then be the quickest way to reverse the damage done by sitting to us?


Standing up frequently in between work can not only save your lumbar and cervical spine from the kyphosis(convex shaped curves) torture which sitting on your butt, slouched over a computer screen can result in. As you stand, all your joints, right from the tarsals and metatarsals of the toes, the ankles, the knees, the sacroiliac(hip) joints, the lumbar, thoracic, cervical spines reverse their state and counter the effects of chronic sitting. In fact, every time I stand, I witness a mild upliftment of my mood(maybe since all the office hotties can now notice me better). A great rule of thumb I came across in an article I have read long ago is to stand up for about 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

4. Shoulder check: Continuing from the previous point, let's say you are in a board room meeting and have no room to rally stand leisurely. You can still pay homage to the Gods of fitness by taking a look if you are rounding or slouching your shoulders anteriorly. If so, quickly pull your shoulder blades back and down. In the words of the legendary Gray Cook, Pack Your Shoulders. A more understandable hint would be pull your shoulder blades towards the opposite hips. A packed and stable shoulder structure such as this is a matrix that can safeguard our spine against most slouched posture related spinal deformations and is always a better way to sit than rounding up.
Sitting straight safeguards your spine and makes you look better!

5. Shake out the tension: I borrowed this term from Pavel Tsatsouline's Fast and Loose video series. While this approach entails shaking and waving off your hands and feet in between heavy sets of weight training exercises in order to release the amount of tension in these peripheral muscle groups and boost intra set recovery.

What it can mean on the office floor is releasing the amount of tightness accumulated in muscles such as the pectoralis minor(chest), the biceps, the hip flexors, the neck, forearms, legs etc.

The right way to shake would be to do a bunch of waves with your hands and see to it that the harmonic waves travel all the way to the shoulders. A similar action can be done by shaking the feet, all the way to the hip.

6. Breathe: Taking shallow breaths while being deep involved in critical tasks can be a deal breaker in the quest to stay fit and healthy for longer and correcting it by conscious effort to catch yourself breathing shallow every time and correcting it by taking deeper, fuller and 'stomach' breaths can tone down your office anger, and help you concentrate better on those numbers in your business report.
Here's how to breath correctly. May need a bit of getting used to, but well worth the labor. Trust me.

7. Prepare your own meals: Something which I myself am working on getting in my lifestyle. The premise behind this move is the seemingly limited menu available in most office cafetarias. Moreover, the restaurants and delis located around office spaces literally abound in labels such as McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Starbucks et al. Now, I am not sure about most of you but the last time I was choosing a long term physique/health friendly meal combo from these places, I had a really tough time.

I can already hear some of you whisper, "It's really ok to consume such binge choices once in a while, even if I am on a diet", which is a perfectly acceptable quip. However, we are talking about forming habits that can be undertaken on a daily basis and which account for the way we look and feel when done for a continued and long time. Moreover, we are talking about a population that spends its majority of time in the most unfit form of culture possible. Thus it makes sense to optimize our choices wherever possible.

7.Take the stairway to heaven: I am almost always out of my breath while climbing upwards of four floors in the office, even in the best of my shapes. Ditching the elevators during crowded hours can
also free you of the perils of waiting while the vast majority of the office goers use it. Using this free of cost natural stairmaster in the office can be a formidable move to improve your conditioning as well. Use it at our will; run the stairs, climb steadily or if time allows, do a sprint as well.

Enjoy these easy to follow hacks and believe me folks, office shall never be the same old lethargic place any more !

Age, Profession and Family: Excuses, or opportunities?

I remember an incident from my teenage days when I was told after finishing a somewhat grueling weight training workout in the gym by one of the gym members seemingly in his 40s,

"Son, it's always easy when you are this young. Age brings with it, its own challenges and disadvantages, which will keep pulling you away form your machismo ridden lifting theatrics which you just did. "

For a moment, I was dumbfounded. I nodded with a freaked up look in my eyes and walked away.

Years later, when I suppose, I was in my college, when in the middle of a set of heavy barbell good mornings, one of my good friends approached me with a quip:

"That's really cool bro. But think about me when I sit for prolonged hours during the night attending calls with customers across the continents. It leaves you with very less in the name of courage and capacity to lift something heavier than I do in the gym. Work robs you of your energy. You will face it when you start working a full day job, brother."

And then, very recently, there was this very charming lady who during an after training chat with me over a cup of coffee said something to the effect of:

"well, you got to live my life buddy. I'm a mom of a four year old, a wife and an employee working a full day shift in an MNC environment. It's really hard work. You may not understand now. It's easy to preach training when you aren't any of the above. Life's tough!'

These are some of the frequent rants I get to hear when I ask people about what's keeping them from reaching out to a gym and get enrolled. Or, start a home based exercise program.

At the time when I had these conversations, I took them by the word and believed that there seriously is a lot in life that is yet to come, and that with time, my training dedication shall falter.

However, as I have grown, I have found most of these conditions of life to come true for me. I have aged(the way any biological organism would). I have moved on to work a really occupying job as an IT consultant with a small team, which means most of the 24 hours I have in a work day are expected to be working at the desk(or pretending to :) ). And of course, the responsibilities surrounding a grown up seemingly never fade. I am not far away from becoming a man of family too, so the rigors have started building up.

Am I thus a slower, weaker or more inefficient lifter/weight trainee now as compared to the good old days, as I was told? Not by any chance.

As I keep seeing my weekly lifting volume increasing(not necessarily the duration of my workouts, but the amount of work done), lifting technique improving, and better results generating, I can posit the fact that training quality for me has only gone up in spite of added challenges from life.

Age does make you smarter and the kind of physical exercise strategy you use also tends to reflect it. If you do spend your time reading, gathering information and implementing it in your training, connecting with brighter minds, attending workshops, analyzing training logs and journals, there is always a high probability that even after the physiological barriers which age can put upon you, you may keep progressing in one form or another in the weigh room or the track or field.

Of course, we may somehow reach a spot in our age where we may no longer be able to outperform our younger and much carefree self. But that is is lifting more weight is the only performance marker you measure. There are many more metrics of training progress, such as cardiovascular output, body composition, mood, endocrinological health, digestive health, appetite, libido, sports and athletic performance etc. The list is really big to not keep progressing on any one of them.

This equally applies to the ladies among the audience. Considering 20 minutes about 4 days per week needed for a progressive weight training based workout program is needed to reach a body composition improvement and strength goal it's not something which can't be fit into even a busy, working mother's routine. Women, in several social set ups play a variety of roles on a daily basis. With the growing demographic of working class women, the expectations from them have risen from being only a wife or a mother to a high performing employee in the office.

However, the decision to consciously make improvements in one's appearance or health is only as big as making any other life decision.Going over to a gym on your way to office to inquire an yearly membership is as cumbersome as visiting the dentist to make sure your jawline is not losing its classic boy-winning shine. Not missing your morning ten minutes of walk/pilates/bodyweight training session is almost as much of a trouble as not missing the latest episode of the latest season of your TV Serial. And lifting weights is only a tinge more uncomfortable than carrying grocery bags or your one and a half year old toddler on the road. You see, there ARE pain issues here, but most are psychological/emotional than logical/physiological.

This does not at all mean that people who are growing old do not face the physiological consequences which are not in their hands. I personally know a lot of ladies in their late forties and early fifties who are suffering with osteo arthritis and have experienced a setback in their fitness plans. I even know of people working in a corporate environment who are so much consumed by their work ethic and highly occupying work that I myself feel incapicatated to advise them on managing time for fitness.

Cases like these abound. But what this rant is particularly aiming to say is that the expectations from us in terms of time and efforts for transforming the way we look and feel may be much lesser than what most of us are led to believe by popular media.

One of the best things I have been doing to myself as I age, get busier and more depended upon, is to never let the thought of excuses cross my mind when getting better is a priority. Having a high quality health, physique and wellness makes us a more useful human in general.   Make sure you are not letting virtual reasons fall in the way of a stronger, better and more useful you.