Thursday, May 15, 2014

May Link Round-up - Stretching, Working Harder by Working Smarter and Vitamins

Welcome to another edition of: Things I Read That I Want to Share

Smart Ways to Go Harder

11 Ways to Make an Exercise Harder
For most exercises adding weight is the way to make it harder, but for some exercises there are other ways that are appropriate. These different suggestions can be used to add variety, increase the specificity of a workout or address a specific deficit.

Some highlights for HEMA:
#11 suggests a basic way to make exercises more specific to our needs, such as standing cable presses and rows to mimic the body position of strikes and pulling back to parry. These kinds of exercises should be in a program alongside the foundation exercises like squats.
#10 addresses the need for single leg training and for stability in the same, since when fighting we normally only get to push off one leg at a time, and frequently we are trying to do something else at the same time, such as attacking or parrying.
#5 matters greatly for extended postures like longpoint.


The 5 Most Common Errors Athletes Make with Yoga
15 Static Stretching Mistakes
Stretching obviously has it's benefits. Unfortunately, too many people are unaware of the proper way to incorporate stretching into their program. People tend to think that more is better, when what we really need is the correct amount mobility + stability. Stretching programs may be done before exercise, involve stretching muscles that don't need to be stretched and similar errors. These two articles do a good job of summarizing many relevant points about a stretching program.

In short: If you are not sure, don't stretch it.


Why Vitamins May Be Bad for Your Workout
I am a skeptic when it comes to supplements. The reality is that good eating is sufficient, and actually superior to supplements. Eating a lot of vegetables and fruits, eating a variety of such and an otherwise sensible diet is well demonstrated to produce good outcomes. The primary exception to this is for individuals who have a known deficiency of a particular nutrient, usually the result of some disease process. But the meme that most people are deficient in something or another just isn't true.

This blog is not just about physical conditioning for fighting, it's also about general Health & Wellness. I have a Bachelor's in Exercise and Health Sciences and I generally want people to be healthier and smarter about their health.


Increase specificity or decrease stability.
Be thoughtful about stretching.
Eat your veggies.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Programming Core Workouts - Part 2

Adding in the Hips and Motion

Part 1 is here. Now we are going to add three more basic components to our core workout. These additions have to do with the hip musculature. While these muscles are used in the previous exercises there are two basic reasons to work them separately:
  1. They are often inactive - Modern living frequently leads to the muscles being poorly used. They get tight or weak. Whether from sitting too much or faulty movement patterns or both. As such it is useful to target them specifically.
  2. The hip muscles generate motion - while the trunk muscles prevent motion. The previous exercises are geared towards preventing torso motion. But we need to be able to move around this stable core. These exercises work this aspect.
Once again we have three basic directions - front, back and sides - which define a complete approach.

Front - (iliopsoas and rectus femoris) While the rectus abdominis prevents extension of the back and create a a stable torso, these muscles are used to flex the thigh. Our objective is to train to keep the back flat, with the abs, while being able to generate leg motion.

Back - (gluteus maximus) Weak abs and a tight back frequently lead to hip extension being tied to back extension. Our objective though is to train hip extension while maintaining a flat back, which requires co-activation of the abs while extending at the hip. As well as training to separate back and hip extension.

Side - (gluteus medius) Another muscle that is under utilized in daily life, this muscle serves to stabilize and move the hips laterally. Again the objective is to be able to move the leg laterally while keeping the torso still.

(The side muscles can also be thought to include the adductor group. However, this group serves a different kind of role, is worked separately from the core muscles and is less likely to be problematic)


Our objective with these muscles is activation and movement pattern related. As such it is useful to include these exercises with the warm-up instead of trying to build-up strength with them.

Deadbugs - The link is to a blog post by Tony Gentilcore. There are two key related points he makes: 1) keep the back flat on the floor, really press it down; 2) the number of repetitions is limited not by your leg muscles but by how many you can do while keeping the back flat. As such 5-8 reps per side is generally the limit, but do 2-3 sets.

Bird-dog - The animated gif with the link isn't perfect, because the objective is maintain a nice neutral spine throughout the movement. 5-8 reps per side is good for 2-3 sets.

Mini-band walks - The mini-band walks will place a strong demand on the glute med muscles, enough that people new to the exercise often have the feeling of having worked a muscle they didn't know they had.

These three exercises as part of the warm-up helps round out the core program and make it more complete and functional. Easier and harder versions of all of these exist and some of them will be discussed later in the series.

Next time we'll be discussing how to organize the great diversity of available exercises and start looking at exercises that require a bit of equipment.

(Parts III, IV and conclusion about programming)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Kettlebells Annoy Me

I'm going to keep this short. And I'm going to return to my series on Core Programming tomorrow.

Kettlebells have legitimate uses. I actually went to Sports Authority yesterday specifically to buy one or two. They were going to fill a small niche in my strength training 'tool bag'.

My main problem with kettlebells is that they are over-hyped. And some will say that's not a reason itself to object to them. But . . .

I found an 8 kg (17.6 lb) bell at the Sports Authority. It didn't have a price tag. I took it up to the register where it rang up for $59.99!

That's almost four dollars a pound. For a single piece, cast hunk of metal. And that's what being over-hyped does that is objectively bad.

A kettlebell can be made from cheap, crap, pig iron, it can be made from impure, mixed, recycled or whatever as long as it's mostly iron. It just does not matter. And the store brand bell, at a discount store, was nearly 4 dollars a pound.

Compare that to the Olympic plates. The Oly plate is made from multiple materials and has to withstand more extreme use, so higher grade materials are a must. It must be precision milled to fit other equipment and still move freely. These are less than 2 dollars a pound at the same Sports Authority.

I walked out of there empty handed. It was a waste of my time.

And that's why over hyped stuff bugs me.