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.

Monday, 31 July 2017

How to Deal With Monotony and Boredom in Training

Successful strength training is based around progress. Measurable progress. The markers of progress include how heavier a weight are you able to lift in the Squat, the Deadlift, the Bench Press, the Overhead Press and other big movements of the like. You can play around with the derivative variations of the big lifts such as the Lunges, the flies, the straight legged deadlift variations or the good mornings. But the true marker of progress in the gym are always going to be the select few, basic lifts.

As such, your metrics for measuring your success rate are a little lesser. You are expected to be hitting and grinding these money-movements almost every training session. Of course, you will be doing direct arm and ab work in the form of decorative bicep-curls, tricep extensions, crunches, ab-wheel rollouts etc, but you may always need to keep an eye on how heavier is your squat than the previous week, how bigger is the bench press right now or if the deadlift today is beating the deadlift that was about a month ago.

And in an age both blessed and obsessed with hand-held mobile devices and an app for everything under the sun, focusing on just a few basic movements becomes, well, boring. And of course, it is boring. There is absolutely no other way to state it. Even for the most passionate trainees and professional lifters, hammering the same basic and primal moves can become extremely stagnating and monotonous at one point of time.

Bored of performing the same lifts since times immemorial in the gym? Well, bad news: those lifts are actually necessary

What then does the lifetime lifter need to do to bring her or him out of the situation and still ensure that the major money lifts are growing. As the old-school terminology of 'plateau-busters' suggest, the answer might lie in training the 'same but different' exercises. Here's how some of the helpful short-term substitutions can help entertain a bored lifter while not sabotaging any of the strength gains on the primary lifts.

Now, hold on. Before we do delve into these, please note that in no way can the big primary compound lifts be substituted. Hip dominant(as against knee dominant) individuals will often experience a higher degree of upper leg hypertrophy training on a good dose of front squats compared to back squats. However back squats still have a higher potential of adding a 'WOW' amount of solid muscle to the entire body, which reclaims its king status. Same goes for the regular deadlift as against extension based exercises like back-extensions, straight legged deadlifts etc. Bench press whether with a dumbbell or a barbell will be a better muscle builder than the fashionable pec-dec flies.

1. Short term substitution for the back squat: Although I seldom find squats to be boring me as long as I am progressing on them in some way or the other, especially when I am trying out novel ways to make barbell squats more and more available everywhere, there are times when we just need to distance ourselves from the manly leg exercise. These are times when front squats come as the next best thing. Holding the barbell across your clavicles using either the classic clean grip or the bodybuilder cross grip, the placement of the load ensures a more upright spine and loads the quadriceps and other knee extensors more than the gluteal complex responsible for generating hip extension.

A training block lasting a few weeks where the primary leg exercise is chosen as the front squat effectively shakes things up and restores focus owing to the novelty that comes in. At the same time, the added focused strength helps making your back squats more stable out of the hole once you return to them.

2. Floor Presses substituting conventional Bench presses. Much like making the barbell squat available virtually anywhere, another of my similar pursuits covered the bench press. The gym I train at has the barbell stands situated too close to each other making it a very dangerous assembly to unrack your bar from before pressing it.

Franco Might be cool hoisting a house from such narrow stands; you and me possibly might need an expert spotter.
Image Courtesy:

In other words, a spotter becomes necessary for every time the weights need to be loaded, unloaded as well as the bar is racked or unracked to safeguard that I do not end up crushing my skull. Again, my quest for training with minimal assistance on spotters brought me to explore the floor press.

While floor pressing a barbell, you need to get under the parked barbell on the floor and perform a barbell hip bridge until the bar rests on your abdomen and your hands with the elbows braced on the ground and the forearms hinged vertically between the bar and the ground. From here, you gradually lower your abdomen and your back is now flat on the floor with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. This is the beginning of the floor press. Now, press the bar up like a conventional bench press and then bring it down till your elbows rest on the ground. Repeat. The movement when executed correctly should look like this:

Above is a great video from the youtube channel of ATHLEAN-X showing in great detail how this lost gem can be tapped into for some good upper body push strength workouts.

3. The Several methods of manipulating the pull ups: The Pull can very correctly be termed as the squat for the upper body. Its obvious back muscle recruitment benefits aside, the exercise also challenges your abdominal musculature in a novel way, provided you employ lesser of momentum and are as strict as possible during your pull.

Reversing the grip on the pull ups and doing chin ups can be a great change of pace

However, if you are doing the pull ups as a part of something much bigger, such as a program having 6 to 7 big basic movements, using the conventional methods to improve pull up performance such as ladders may rob the available bandwidth from the rest of the exercises. Such cases demand trying variations such as the chin ups instead of the pull ups or vice versa. In fact, if your gym does have a decently weight-stacked machine, training the lat-pull down for a few weeks isn't a bad idea too to mix things up positively. This, especially when hypertrophy is your primary concern.

4. Carry heavy things to replace the conventional ab training. Exercises such as different forms of loaded carries like farmer walks, waiter walks etc are deceptively tough inclusions but can be real game changers. Most people might look at a farmer walk as a grip or trap strengthener, while in fact, if utilised correctly, it can leave your midsection really fried,

A similar approach can be trying the suitcase deadlift. You may not be able to lift really appreciable weights in this formidable exercise at first, but as you progress through it and the weights rise up, you may slowly start to appreciate the benefits which include the stabilisation strength development throughout the core.

The Suitcase Deadlift

5. Use Fat Gripz or similar products to augment conventional arm training. I utilised a rubber based grip thickening pair recently. Although my poundage on exercises such as the barbell curls did not shoot up as much as they did for the conventional width bars, I experienced unprecedented arm growth. The increased width of the bar does challenge the grip in ways that go beyond just the weight on the bar. Moreover, the increased circumference of the bar in use also placed the elbow and wrist joints at much lesser risks of injury compared to conventional width bars.

The Fat Gripz or similar bar-thickening sleeves can add that much needed grip and arm strengthening brutality to your lifts while making them safer.

Training modalities such as these rubber based sleeves that increase the bar circumference to up to 3 inches are a very economical investment that go a long way in developing an uncommon rugged muscularity in your arms while safeguarding your joints. Try them for a thrilling jolt to your training.

Keep Spicing it up

Variety is absolutely needed to mix things up. Do not let boredom halt your consistent training experience. Try these novel substitutions and let the newfound refreshment give you a mileage in taking your game towards the far end of your lifetime fitness spectrum. Enjoy them.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

No Squat Rack? No Problem

Do you know what is the common link between all the ill-equipped gyms I have been to during travelling? Apart from absence of a sufficient heavy weight plates and kettlebells, it is often the squat rack. Worse than this is the fact that most gyms opt for replacing the squat rack with a smith machine. Now for those of you who do not already know of it, a Smith machine only delivers movement capability in a linear vector, which is not how your body moves in the real world. A bad deal.

So, anyway, the real deal is that we mostly end up without the equipment we believe is almost indispensable to developing a physique that has the lifting capacity of a Caterpillar P-5000 Work Loader:

The goal is to make training develop an exoskeleton around you

Like many, I was disheartened too by growing up among gymnasiums which had less than necessary back squatting hardware. In fact, during my childhood, the availability of a power rack in a gym was a distant possibility to say the least. I only got to train on my first power rack when I was 21 years old and moved to an entirely different city.

But eventually, the presence of sturdy squat hoist stands or power rack apparatus kept getting shadowed by presence of more and more benches and treadmills and other flashy pieces to impress the hunky dory gym princesses wrapped in spandex in whichever gyms I went to.

It was all a quest for a workable substitute to heavy squatting until I pondered upon the information contained in the manual called Power to the People, written by Pavel Tsatsouline. Contained in there, among several other gems of knowledge and experience was a minimalist hypertrophy program called The Russian Bear, which seemed too deceptively ill equipped at first, but has been a staple in my programming since I first tried it last year, in 2015. Why, you might ask? Because it worked like a deadly weapon. It seemed to be just the answer to the question, what to do when confronted with no squat racks around.

Without a speck of doubt, no amount of 'alternative' training can replace heavy squats. The kind of magnification that squatting heavy for reps gives me is phenomenal and irreplaceable. As a corollary, heavy deadlifts themselves have an anabolic coefficient unparalleled in the annals of exercise science.

There you have it: deadlifts. Coming back to the program at hand, the Russian Bear is a combination of high - tension deadlifts and presses done in multiple intensity repetition brackets: Heavy, intermediate and relatively light(well, almost, again it depends on what you choose to call light. On some days, 60 percent of my 1 rep max seemed like lifting a Buick).

The Approach

All you do is do the following exercises:

1. Deadlifts
2. Overhead Presses

in the following pattern:
 Pick a weight heavy enough to do 6 - 8 repetitions in good form. Then
Set 1: Perform a set of five repetitions with that weight
Set 2: Use 90 percent of the weight lifted in previous set and perform five repetitions with that weight
Set 3 Onwards: Pick 80 percent of the weight lifted in set 1 and perform as many sets of 5 as you can until you cannot complete a set with good technique. That would be your last set of that exercise for the day. These sets are referred to as the 'Back - Off ' sets.

The Deadlift: Your partner in strength that won't make you miss those Squats

The number of sets done with the 80 percent weight can range anywhere from 4 or 5 on your less-recovered days to all the way up till 20. The program does call for going as high as 25 sets, but looking at the crunched up timelines we are all running along, that kind of volume might require a duration of up to one and a half to two hours which becomes a big no-no for many of the office-bound deskies that are among us. I personally limit my back-off sets to a maximum of 20 on both the exercises which kind of strikes a deal between an effective volume hit and time-efficiency. That said, do go about with this program keeping in your time-wallet, enough 90 minute sessions since that is a minimum that I have found might be needed by trainees of different capabilities on this program. Those 90 minutes would however be some of the most physically rewarding ones that you have spent in your exercise career till date.

By Pressing Overhead, she is engaging the core and the entire assembly of pressing muscles in her body excellently

The principle behind the effectiveness of such a simple, high volume program is the efficient way it increases the time spend under tension managing fatigue easily. The program also calls for not increasing the rest period between sets overly, thus inciting a turbulent human growth hormone response pattern. I occasionally rest under 60 seconds on my back - off sets.

The results from such a program are terrific due to the fact that there is a continuous feed of nutrients flushing into the muscle cells and the way it builds a tremendous state of capillarity. Due to these increased pathways of nutrition, the muscle cells respond by growing alarmingly faster than most methods. These are the kind of wonders that a high volume approach can build.

So, there you have it: a barbell, sufficient heavy weight plates and two exercises, the deadlift and the overhead press. How difficult could it be to screw a program with as less moving parts as this? In my dictionary, I find this program to be fool-proof. At least as long as you keep making progress on this program.

Many gym-rats wearing the 'Squats are the King of exercises' T-Shirts might argue here about the leg-development merits of a high volume deadlift approach. My time pulling the bar from the floor has shown me enough moments of surprise when my leg development witnessed phenomenal progress and it was rather hard for me to believe that I wasn't squatting AT ALL during these times. Again, the magic of high volume and high tonnage at work .

If you belong to the community that swear by their Bench Press numbers and cannot just let go of your Bench Numbers, no matter what, this might bring a smile to your face. You can very conveniently opt for a Bench Press instead of the overhead press. Really, the Gods of hypertrophy will still bless you with equal candour. But the underlying principle remains the same. You train with two exercises and you employ these different weight classes and the volume. And life will be an ever - progressing approaching.

Now, let go of your squat-woes and get on to doing some hard work in the gym.

The sweet smile of victory might remain on your face once you reap the golden benefits of high volume, high tension training.