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, 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.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

How To Become A Minimalist Monster

Two Lifts. Six Weeks. Lots of Patience.

Sounds like too much?

I thought so too, until I gave it a try.

19 Years ago, Strength author Pavel Tsastsouline wrote about a simplistic program that helped individuals acquire over forty centimeter arms in just a couple of months of training. The program later got popularized as 'The Russian Bear'.

Well, folks, you are about to witness the ultimate frontiers of minimalism. Using only two lifts for the next six (or even eight) weeks, on your path to more muscle and strength. If you have the courage and patience.

Which two lifts though? The deadlift is the obvious choice, being the total body strengthener that it is. Don't be too hung up with the conventional deadlift though. Although the standard, mixed grip deads enabled me to work the most muscle, if you can pull more numbers in the Sumo style, pull Sumo.

"Why not Squats though?" Good question:

The program calls for a high volume regimen and most trainees, me included, will suffer anterior knee irritation and pain from prolonged inclusion of this lift. The Squat, I find is a more technical lit than the deadlift. For lifters with shorter limbs and longer torsos who are more suited to squatting than deadlifting, do give the squats a try though for a week or two before embarking upon the actual program

Okay, so the deadlifts. Is that all?

Certainly not. You need a robust, upper body lift that challenges your pushing or pulling muscles amply and yet leaves enough room to progress gradually over prolonged periods of time. Presses, owing to their suitability to high volume become a great choice. I prefer Incline presses over overhead presses or conventional Bench Presses due to the middle ground that they provide. You lift heavier than the military press and you work more muscles than the Bench Press.

To Summarize, you will be performing:

1. The Incline Press
2. The Deadlift.

Here's what you do with them.

Set 1: 5 Reps with a weight that allows you to do about 7 heavy reps
Set 2: 5 Reps with 90 percent of the weight used for Set 1
Set 3 onward: Continue doing 5 rep sets with 80 percent of Set 1 weight until you can no longer do sets of 5 reps with correct technique. Start training three days a week With time, if you aren't recovering well between sessions, do not hesitate in dropping weekly frequency to two.

Don't worry. You needn't do countless sets everyday.

On a good day, you may go as high as 20 to 25 sets on the 80 percent sets. On a less than optimum day, you may have to settle with as low as 5 to 10. Nevertheless. Build up till you can go all the way up to 20 ish, before adding 5 Kg to your set 1 weight and repeat. The key point to remember is, 'Do not quit too soon.'

When you can't add anymore weight without sacrificing technique for 5 reps or you just can't perform enough sets with the 80 percent weight, which should ideally happen around the 6th week mark, wave down to a weight about 2 to 3 kilos down and continue with the same cycle. Or, switch to a completely different program.

As always, never forget the value of enough good calories and a lot of rest on a very demanding program like this. Do not be misled by the simplicity of the program since it may devastate you progressively as you advance.

That's all. A complete program with as less moving parts as you can imagine. And a huge success rate. Test your mettle with this fool proof minimalist program that will tax your entire body in no time flat and force you to expand your wardrobe with bigger shirts and jeans.

Enjoy the gains.

Gym is not working for me...

"It never worked for me..."

He said playing with a D-Handle he was about to use for the 19th set of cable crossovers. Cody's attempts to pack up more bulk have been as successful as a butterfly trying to load a 40 feet container truck for what can be a good two years now.

"..I tried to hire the certifiedfromtwentyfiveschoolsinstagramsensation and we did have a great time doing stuff out of hell. Like I did those 75 curls with the 5 pound pinky dumbbells standing on a bosu balls on one leg. And then there was the 3/4 crunches done till I reached the 1000 rep count. Boy did my abbies felt like a vibrating cellphone that night. Oh, and how can I forget that day when I had to literally call emergency "

By now, I could sense why I was receiving shady sideways frowns from Cody while I was attempting heavy deadlifts while resetting between every rep. After all, it didn't have the perspiring and killing hit on every set and actually left me more energized than drained out.

There are a lot of individuals lost in the maze of ideas and concepts, mostly sprouting from Timelines and Handles and Feeds than from any actual empirical source of data or experience.

For the bullet-point savvy:

1. Nobody is ready to exceed their limits these days:
I remember folks who have been trying hard years after years to pack on some muscle they can show as some kind of evidence of their working out. After deeper inspection, turns out that they never went past their point of discomfort, fear or risk and settled with convenient options that were only 'visibly' hard. Oh, speaking of hard...

2. Hard work is a lost art:
It's understandable. When checking Facebook likes or whatsapp messages amid sets of presses is more important than executing the next set itself, who even cares of putting all their mind and focus on performing a hard lift.

3. Nobody is ready to do something that is not fashionable:
I mean women are fighting in the gyms these days over what music is to be played. I can't even...priorities are lost. Nothing's in perspective. Men are discussing the latest gym wear while they need to be under double their bodyweight on the squat bar.

4. We want results yesterday:
Most folks, and more often than not, they're spurted from a sudden enigma caused after they saw a movie star dosing their audience with a shot of their eight pack, need to 'look that way' immediately.

5 "...because that celebrity personal trainer said it" :
If I had a dollar for everytime someone does stupid stuff in the gym because they read an Instagram fitness sensation say so, I would be rich.

So, that, ladies and gents is why GYM is not working for you. Before you try all those 'other' things like battling ropes, zumba, spinning or jumping from exercise station to exercise station holding the cable ends like a cirque du soleil acrobat, re-asses if you are lifting weights correctly in the first place.

If you didn't quite catch the drift above, the reason why you're failing isn't the gym. It's you. Change it. And you will see yourself skyrocketing towards the stronger and more muscled YOU.

As you might have guessed by now, Cody's clarifications were met with a grin and a shrug from me before I proceeded towards my next set of deadlifts.