Summer Heat and Training in the Morning

“Do any of you have experience with working out in the morning? To avoid the summer heat in the afternoon I started to do that but my energy levels start to drop rapidly after about 30mins. I expected some negative impact on my workouts but it’s been 2 weeks and there is no sign of improvement. Can you share some tipps&tricks to deal with this problem?”

The above is a quote taken from Dan John’s Q&A Forum at davedraper.com

So, in response I started putting some thoughts down to share with him, but when I got done, well, it was just too long to post. I was going to email the following to him, but others suggested I put this on my blog so others can benefit (I’m a little slow sometimes, haha), so here you go:

Well, first off, I’m guessing you are training outside. Otherwise I can’t see heat being an issue in a typical gym or in an apartment or house.

So, before we get into training in the morning, let’s look at how a person might still train in the afternoon or evening and be able to deal with the heat. However, I do realize that some may want to train in the morning, not just because its cooler, but perhaps changed circumstances have forced them to do so. We’ll get to the morning training in a bit.

Training later in the evening, rather than in the afternoon, may be an option. Training at 8 or 9 at night can work, if you have a later work schedule and thus go to bed later in the evening, like around 10 to 12 at night. Just shorten up your workouts so, rather than hit a 60 minute session, you get it done in 20-30 minutes. However, this probably won’t work very well if you have to get up at 4-6 in the morning.

You can even split a three day per week schedule into a 5 or 6 day schedule to shorten your sessions. Another little trick is to drop a few exercises and just focus on the real big lifts for a few months through the summer. This shortens your training session even more.

If you train in a shed or garage with no cooling, set up a fan or two fans pointed at you. And shorten your workouts. Often times in the summer, in such a situation, it’s better to train outside in the shade where you can get a breeze, than in a shed or garage with no fans. I’ve even set a fan up outside before.

Hey, do whatever works.

Second, if you train outside, the first thing you want to do is set up for whatever exercise you want to do first. Then go back inside and knock out a warm-up if you feel you need it and then head back outside to do the rest of your training. In the summer I often just use the movement itself (with a few sets of lighter weights) as my warm-up, since the temperature has already warmed up my body.

Be sure to train in the shade. Keep the training session short and to the point. Drink water. Use a fan. IF it’s a dryer climate, spritzing yourself with water in between sets and having a fan blow on you can help tremendously in regulating your body heat. Dealing with high humidity is another issue. Fans may help, but when the air is saturated with moisture already, even fans may not help much, so be careful!

You also might want to pay attention to which exercises stoke up your body heat the fastest. With a little forethought you can switch up your training and do them last, so right after your training session you can go back inside to cool down.

For example, bench presses, rows, curls or OH presses probably won’t ramp up your metabolism as much as squats or power cleans. So, do the smaller upper body stuff first and hit the big compound exercise movements last. This way your body-heat doesn’t rise as fast and when you hit the big movements and get real hot, when you finish you can go inside to cool down. If you do the big exercises first, you may get so hot you can’t finish the rest of your session.

At times I have literally gone back inside after each main exercise to cool down for a few minutes and taken a few gulps of cold water before moving on to the next exercise.

Other times I have set a fan up in a window to blow some a/c air out at me and I would go stand there briefly between sets. Hey, when it’s 108°F or higher, you do what ya gotta do!

And sometimes that means skipping a training session.

You might simply pick one or two movements and train them each day to shorten the session even more. Perhaps doing PC’s Monday. Tuesday is squats. Wednesday is bench and Thursday rows.

Or Power Snatch and OH squats on Monday, Tuesday is bench and rows, Wednesday is hang clean and front squat, Thursday is PC and press for example. Ten minutes on each movement is plenty. Ramp up the weights and as soon as you change the plates, do your next set of warm-ups to get to your training weights fast.
A lot of this depends on what movements you are training and with what implement.

Now I have ridden motorcycles for years and riding one in the southwest desert, especially off road doing jumps and berm-shots in the heat can be brutal. You’re wearing all this protective gear: boots, jersey, roost protector, tough pants with knee protection, a helmet, gloves, etc. So how do those that ride like this deal with the heat?

They buy a hydration vest. It is basically a vest you soak with water and then wear under your jacket or jersey. As the air vents through, it evaporates water off the vest and cools your body. Plus, you drink a large glass of water a half hour before you start riding. Then use a hydration back pack with a hose you sip on while riding. IF you’re smart.

So you could put on a couple of T-shirts, wet them down and if the humidity is low and a fan is blowing or there is a good breeze, this can keep you cooler. Experiment.

Also, a small gulp of water every five to ten minutes or so is much better than chugging a large glass right in the middle of your training session. Your body can assimilate the smaller gulps better than the huge glass at one time. Little sips don’t work as well, because it’s too small an amount of water.

Chances are if you drink enough water throughout the day, several gulps of water will easily get you through a 20-30 minute training session.

OK, now on to working out in the morning.

First we’ll look at food.

Some can train on no food first thing in the morning. It’s an individual thing. Sometimes you can train your body to do this, that is, get used to training on an empty stomach with no food for hours beforehand. Other times you can’t. IF you get light headed skipping a meal, chances are you are a person who has a certain amount of hypoglycemia.

Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day especially if you haven’t eaten in a number of hours. Signs of lowered blood glucose can be getting anxious or irritable, feeling shaky, having trouble balancing, light headed, foggy thinking, trouble concentrating, feeling like you’ll fall asleep, etc.

Most “normal people”, if there is even such a thing, can go for 4-6 hours or more while awake without eating. Of course this is dependent on a lot of factors.

If you are a person who deals with a bit of hypoglycemia, you may NOT be able to get used to training without food of some sort. If you crash after or during a workout from lack of energy, well, that could be a case of low blood sugar or it could just be poor food choices in the hours before. Eating a bit more of the good fats in the evening may help some in getting up in the morning with enough energy to train.

With the right quality food and perhaps some herbal supplements, a slightly hypoglycemic individual may be able to swing things to a better blood glucose/insulin profile.

Now, if you are the type that wakes up several times at night at pretty consistent times, simply have a small protein shake ready to go and drink it at one of those nocturnal awakenings. If this isn’t you, I do not recommend setting an alarm to wake up earlier just so you can eat and then go back to sleep for a few hours. If you can sleep through the night without waking, enjoy it.

Some people, however, just need to eat something before the morning training session.

Just because some people can get up and train with no food, or may be able to drink some coffee and knock out a good training session, does not mean if you can’t do that you are any less a man or woman.
For example, for me the so-called warrior-type diets are a joke. I have a bigger machine and it needs fuel. That’s me and I know it, so why fight it and try to force myself into some other person’s conception of eating habits based on evidence of which he was not there to experience firsthand.

Written history is all well and good and we can learn from it, but you know what they say about the written word. And any nation will always write favorably about their history, including battle campaigns.

Any conquering soldiers would have also partaken of the spoils of their victory, even in smaller battles and that includes food.

And yes, sometimes the food may have been poisoned, but really, if you are in battle do you think you are going to say:

“Hey, let’s poison our food just in case we lose.”

And someone else says, “Yea! But, Oh, wait a minute. What if we win? What will we eat??”

The first guy: “well, we’ll eat their food!”

Back to the other guy, “Yea! Oh, but wait. What if they poison their own food?”

And around it goes.

And how does your enemy, in the midst of battle, poison a bunch of chickens, pigs, goats, cattle or whatever other animals they probably have?

So unless we were there or our uncle was there or we can travel back in time, can we really say for certain that soldiers didn’t eat a bit here and there when an opportunity arose?

When under extended duress you will find ways to eat whenever you can. If you knew you were about to go into battle in the morning, do you think you’d wait until evening to eat or try to get through that battle with what you had eaten the night before?

Heck no!

You’d eat what you could earlier in the morning hoping it would carry you through the day until you could eat at night, and even then, if at all possible, you’d eat something else and drink water or whatever when you got a chance. You have to in order to continue to function. You have to do that in order to provide fuel for your body, mind and muscles. Otherwise you’d quickly run out of steam and die.

So, on these fasting type diets lasting all night and for half the day, take that stuff with a grain of salt.

The Romans did.

Just for fun, ask some of these guys that propose these ‘Don’t eat anything except between the hours of noon to eight” to go get up early in the morning and go hump wheel-barrow loads of cement or rocks or bricks for half the day and then dig a well with a pick-axe and shovel and keep working like that until night. Then eat a huge meal and start all over the next day. I guarantee they won’t last long on that job.

I’ve had jobs like that, and by noon you’ve already worked hard for 6 hours. I had one job for 6 years where I moved 25-30 tons of metal by hand every day starting at 5 in the morning. So, by noon I had already worked 7 hours and moved over 20 tons of metal. Try that on a “noon to eight pm” eating schedule. You’d get hurt and your muscle would waste away. I did Olympic lifting at that time and trained in boxing. Hiked and mountain biked and did hill sprints with a log at the same time. Warrior diets my butt!

I ate six egg omelets every morning at 3:30 a.m. with a ton of vegetables thrown in and I’d still get hungry by ten o’clock.

However, this is just me. You MAY be different. This doesn’t mean the warrior-diets are no good. There are some good points in some of these diets. I have done something similar to a warrior diet on a weekend day when I wasn’t doing much of anything and I was OK.

But the overall scheme is just no good for me. So, whatever suggestions you hear, test them out for yourself and you will know what works for YOU.

We are all individuals with different strengths and weaknesses. You’ve got to ‘run what you brung’, so don’t sweat it. Sometimes, with enough sessions under your belt, you can adapt to certain things. Other times a person can’t. There are a lot of factors at play here beneath the surface.

Coffee or coffee with coconut oil or butter and a bit of honey and cream helps some people. For others the coffee makes the heart race or makes them jittery, so then it’s better to drink something else.

Also, it can be a matter of a person’s employment. Let’s face it, if you work a physical job you ARE going to need a higher calorie input.

And then there is the fact of body-mass and height. A bigger person WILL burn more calories while sleeping. Just because somebody weighing 160 at 5’9″ may feel great drinking some concoction of coffee in the morning and fasting until noon at his office job or plunking around training people does not mean it is going to work for some 225-250 pound, 6’3″ dude who works a physical job.

Believe me, I’ve trained people and even though you may demonstrate movements off and on all day it is nowhere near as hard as a tough physical job.

As a farmer once told my complaining co-workers as I loaded up my plate for the third time at the end of a long day pitching hay-bales:

“You can tell how hard a man works by how hard he eats.”

I was up at 4 in the morning milking cows, grind feed, splitting firewood, mending fences, digging post-holes, etc. So I got up at 3:30, ate a big breakfast, worked until 6, ran to the farm house and ate another breakfast and then out to the fields and barns for whatever needed doing. Lunch was often brought to us. Eat and right back to work and then the big meal at night. A person couldn’t do that kind of work for long and hope to also train physically. You could tell the hard working farmers back then. They were lean and muscular and ate like an ox.

Anyway, it’s just something to be aware of. I don’t know your circumstances, your job, your health, your weight and height, but think about those things as you think about adopting some food-fasting type diet. It is a highly individualized thing.

Experiment, log it in a journal and see what works best for you. Believe me it won’t take you long to figure this out. If after a week of no food in the morning following a big meal at night, and you still feel like a bag of mush, then training on an empty stomach in the morning is a no-go for you.

Now as I mentioned, for some people coffee is a no-go, so try herbal teas with a bit of honey, a dash of cinnamon and some real cream.

Or try a glass of chocolate milk. If you are worried about the sugar, a dash or two of cinnamon helps the body deal with that.

IF you need to eat something, grab something that digests easily, perhaps yogurt with some blueberries. Half a cup of cottage cheese might work. Find what sits best in your stomach and just eat a half cup or so. Now the person posting the question at the very start of this article mentioned eating oatmeal and having a protein shake and coffee. That’s a lot of stuff sloshing around.

SO, I would suggest just the oatmeal or just a small protein shake and no coffee.

Usually protein shakes are designed to be digested easily and fairly quickly. Think about it, everything is in powdered form and then when mixed with water, milk, coconut milk or whatever, it’s basically halfway to digested.

Here’s a little trick:

Take a mouthful of the protein shake and before you swallow it, chew it for a bit and get your saliva mixed in with it. Digestion starts in the mouth. I heard it said years ago that a person should chew their food enough so it is almost like “chew your liquids and drink your food”.

That means you chew the food very well. This also helps the body get the most nutrients out of every mouthful of food. And this also can help those with digestive problems. Too many people eat like they are in a food-eating contest. If you have to wash every bite down with a swallow of some liquid, you are not chewing your food well enough.

So, fully enjoy just the oatmeal or the shake, and I bet you will digest it quicker and have more energy.

After a week or two you should be able to determine how much time you need to digest your food before training. If it’s a bit longer than you’d like, adjust your sleep schedule so you have the necessary time.

Also, while you wait for that bit of food to digest a little, you can use that time productively, setting out clothes for work, packing a healthy lunch, mixing some eggs and pre-chopped vegetables to scramble or whatever. Make a list of what you want to accomplish that day. Hopefully you already figured out what and how you want to train for that morning. And if you are going to train a little that evening, you should have that planned out ahead of time and written down. This can all be accomplished in 20 minutes or so. Some of it you could even prepare the night before, thus making your morning go smoothly and calmly.

When your stomach feels ready for it:

Start training. Train smart, smoothly and don’t waste time.

Finish up your training. Shower, throw on some shorts, cook up the pre-mixed food, eat a great breakfast and then if your job calls for it, put on your good clothes. Don’t dress up first before you cook and eat, because if you accidentally get food on your clothes, it might mean figuring out what to put on and this can put a dent in what has started off as a great day.

Grab you preplanned meal for lunch, your list for the day and head out the door.

If you do this, your day will go much more smoothly. You will walk out the door with way more accomplished than 90% of people and have a much clearer path of where you are heading that day. Your mind will be clear and ready to tackle anything. Going to work after training with only some buttered coffee in your gut isn’t all that nice of a start to your morning. Your brain needs fuel to think.

Plus your commute to work will go smoother as you will be more alert rather than thinking about not forgetting this or that. You won’t be distracted by all that mental “noise”. You won’t forget because you made a list. You can sit back, drive and listen to some nice calming music or some audio CD on improving something in your life.

When some idiot cuts you off as you drive down the road you will be way less apt to get mad since you are not rushing off to work in a hurry worried you forgot something and with a cup of coffee gurgling in your stomach and butter ready to squirt out your butt. Coffee is a diuretic, has been used for enemas and adding butter to it, well, lets just say you might not make it to the office without a quick rest stop. THAT will get your day off to a grand start, haha!

Ok, enough of that.

Let’s look at sleep.

If you wake up groggy in the morning, I would suggest experimenting with your sleep. Try waking up a half hour earlier or later. You can also go to bed an hour or half an hour earlier and thus gain the extra time in the morning to wake up a bit earlier so you don’t lose any sleep.

Experimenting in this way may help you find the optimum time to hit the bed and the optimum time to wake up and actually be alert when you do wake up. After every adjustment in your sleeping habits, give it a week or two to really see how it will go for you. Keep track of this in a log book.

The other thing, if you are one of these people that sets the alarm to wake you up a half hour early and then lay there and continue to hit the 9 minute snooze button, you are merely training yourself to have a miserable groggy wake-up morning.

Set your alarm for when you want to get up. And then when the alarm goes off, well, GET UP!

I know this is tough for some people, but a person can train themselves to flip the switch and wake up mentally once their alarm goes off. If you are eating quality food and getting the needed calories for your life, metabolism, etc. then adapting to waking up early fully alert should be doable.

For years now, I haven’t used an alarm. I decide when I want to wake up and most of the time I awaken within a few minutes of that time. It’s something that you might be able to train yourself to do. It’s a nice way to wake up, because there is no sudden noise that jars you awake and makes you heart jump out of your chest. The trick is, start setting your alarm quieter and quieter over a period of time. Then on days you don’t work, try waking up without an alarm.

And when you wake up in the morning without an alarm, don’t confuse your body by rolling over and trying to sleep some more. Simply get up and start doing things. In time you can create a new sleeping pattern and wake up without an alarm. It’s a much calmer way to wake up.

Keep a note pad by your bed and write down any thoughts you are worried about forgetting. And write down your other worries on that paper too, so you can forget about them and get to sleep, knowing they are right there for you to toss out with the garbage in the morning.

One of my friends was always quoting someone, saying something along the lines of:

“I’ve endured a great deal of trail and tribulation in my life. And some of them have actually come true.”

Follow Dan John’s advice about having a dark room, wearing ear muffs or plugs to deaden sound and/or wearing a sleep mask so you SLEEP when you hit the bed.

Avoiding artificial lights like TV, computers and cell phones, etc and hour or so before bed will help you fall asleep quicker and get a better quality of sleep. There have been plenty of articles about this.

Ok, so you slept through the night and now it’s time to get up.

Grab some water; hit the head, splash cold water on the face and head and neck and towel off.

If you need it:

Eat your morning snack and take a nice quick little walk. Even a short five minute walk at a brisk pace helps a great deal. Movement as soon as possible in the morning will soon train you to wake up more alert. Even a few BW squats and pushups before anything else can help waken a person up.

So, warm-up how you want and hit your training session. Keep it short, like 20-30 minutes. Even a well thought out routine lasting 15 minutes performed 5 to 7 days a week in the morning can do wonders.

If training the lower back in anyway concerns you, remove those things like heavy squatting or deadlifts or heavy swings, etc. Do the other more back friendly movements in the morning. This can be an excellent time to do tumbling, BW exercises, bodybuilding work for the upper body, etc.

Then, with that smaller stuff out of the way, you can hit a few sets of squats, deads, PC’s or whatever when you get home from work. You can knock off 5-8 sets in 10 minutes in the evening and the heat will not be an issue. This again depends on what you are training and what you are training with.

So, in essence, split your normal training session for each day into two smaller sessions. Do the lighter, back friendly stuff in the morning and the heavier more back taxing stuff later in the day.

This way you can chop an hour long workout into perhaps a 30minute/30minute morning/evening split. Or perhaps a 40/20 split or even a 45/15 split. Or you can take a 45 minute or 30 minute daily routine and split it into 15/30 or 20/25 or 15/15. You could even go 10/20 or 20/10.

This lets you really hit those short routines harder and much faster. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish this way, and even though these short workouts might seem too short, the beauty lies in what’s called accumulation. Its how rust works and it can bring down the biggest metal structures a little at a time over the long haul. Thirty minutes of training per day, split up into two short segments equals 3 to 3.5 hours of focused training per week. Don’t underestimate such accumulative training.

Something else to think about is:

This might be a good time to switch to something along the lines of Convict Conditioning for a few months during the summer. You can do a lot of BW stuff inside. Or perhaps do some hill sprints in the morning once or twice a week and some Simple and Sinister training on the other mornings and later in the day just do one big movement with a barbell.

BW weight exercises don’t seem to impact many people in the same way as barbell and KB movements. So, you might be able to get away with not eating and just knocking off a few sets of push-ups and horizontal rows one morning. BW squats and tactical lunges the next morning. Pull-ups and handstand push-ups the next morning. Something like that and perhaps swim in the evenings if a pool, pond, or lake is available anywhere.

Anyway, I hope this is of use to you or anyone else that happens to read this. I apologize for the jumbled thoughts as I typed this out pretty fast. And remember, take this with a grain of salt…

Walter

Secrets to Mastering the Bent Press

Some of you may already be aware of this, but if not:

I had a publication (the title above) for sale on my site here at sinewandsteel.com. It was brought to my attention that someone had taken the PDF and put it out there on the www so anyone could steal it without payment.

Then a good friend had notified me that another person had stolen the information and evidently used it in, as far as I know, one of their own products. I do not know who this is or what product it may be, but that is just wrong.

I will not pursue the matter, even though it is piracy as my material is copyrighted. I would be happy with a sincere apology over the phone.

When my wife and I were alerted to this situation, we were both very upset. I was selling that publication for $47. I had let several people see it and they had all agreed it was worth that much, as it is full of information and contains many colored pictures that are very detailed. It took a lot of hard work to produce the book.

Thus, I was disheartened and have not posted here very often.

Anyway, I decided that rather than continue to be bummed out about this I would simply make it available to everyone for free.

However, several friends on Dan John’s Q&A forum told me I should provide a Paypal button so others who were willing, could donate to help my wife and I with this situation. Several had already donated some funds and that is GREATLY appreciated!

It really touched our hearts!

So, I will provide a link below so you can download the PDF.

There is also a Paypal button if you desire to make a donation. You can set your own price: $5 or $10 or whatever your kindness moves you to do. Even one dollar is very much appreciated! The book was originally $47. You may even download the book and then peruse it to decide how much you desire to donate.

So in a sense, you can “test drive” the book first before paying for it.

Or, if things are not going well financially for you, like I noted above you can simply download it for free without feeling as if you are stealing it. All I ask is that you share the link or better yet, the link to this page, with others you think would be interested.

Feel free to add comments below in the comment section. Even if it is some constructive thoughts that will help me produce better products in the future. Don’t worry if you don’t see your comments immediately. I approve them all to eliminate spam and to make sure this place stays family friendly. And if you want to share your email with me for future notifications about other products as I develop them, I will save it and eliminate it from the comments so others do not see it.

I am going to put more stuff out there for your enjoyment and any funds received will help me do that.

I am currently working on a book about sandbag training and probably a companion DVD on sandbags, demonstrating some of the unique ways I train with a sandbag. I am also working on another book on the bent press that includes further techniques and more on programming. Plus, I have other things cooking that I don’t want to share just yet.

Thank you and enjoy!

So, here is the link:

http://danjohn.net/wp-content/uploads/Secrets-to-Mastering-the-Bent-Press.pdf

And the button:

Buy Now Button

Just to be clear, if you go to the Paypal button, there is no link to the PDF. You will have to click the above link in this article to get to the PDF. I should have been clearer on that. My bad.

So, download the PDF from the first link and if you are able and willing, donate what you can with the Paypal button. Thank you!

And after that:

I am not one to subscribe to much of anything online, as I do not have time to follow many weekly or daily subscription sites. But, and this is a big but:

I have subscribed to a very few. And THIS is one of my favorites:

https://www.otpbooks.com/dan-john-wandering-weights-issue-35/

I highly recommend signing up. Coach Dan John shares what he’s been reading and it can give you an edge in cutting through some of the training clutter. Enjoy!

And thank you Dan John!

Walter

Dealing with Injuries

Well, I’ve read a lot of posts on various injuries on different forums over the years. And heard all kinds of complaints from others about:

“I used to play this sport or I used to lift, but I can’t anymore because of this injury. If you felt like I do or if you had my injury you wouldn’t be able to do what you do”.

So, here are some random thoughts on this.

I wonder what people did hundreds of years ago?

I don’t think they just rolled over and gave up and died while crossing the oceans or crossing the wide open plains of the old west. Got injured, you patched it as best you could and soldiered on. You survived. You lived.

As we know, injuries are always a possibility in life.

So, I’m-a-bettin’ people just made do as best they could and still survived.

Now-a-days people should seek proper medical care and PT, re-hab, whatever to try to correct problems or educate/apply various forms of pre-hab coupled with sensible training to prevent problems.

But still:

The unexpected happens.

I grew up when people didn’t have availability to PT’s like hair on a dog. Especially in the country.

You got injured you sucked it up and kept going and figured out a way to make things work.

I know, I know, totally different world today.

But, I don’t sweat all this stuff.

I had a separation of my left A/C joint from full contact football (no pads) years ago. My clavicle was sticking up as high as my finger on my left top of shoulder. I went to work the next day and could hardly sleep for three months it hurt so bad.

Took no pain meds.

Had no insurance.

Minimum wage.

Came home and did my chores around the house for my Dad. I never whined about it. He knew I had hurt myself, but never mentioned it and I never brought it up. I fed animals, mowed a lawn, split and stacked firewood all with one arm.

I worked every day with my right arm. I would hook my left thumb in my belt loop and let my arm hang off that as I worked.

I forced myself to move the left arm as I could and gradually regained nearly full movement.

Started lifting whatever I could as soon as I could deal with it. And, yea, it hurt like the dickens as I worked out the knots over several months. It took years to finally look normal again.

Today, looking at the left shoulder you would not be able to tell I had injured it.

I blew my right sterno-clavicular joint out on the front side (anteriorly) from a dirt bike motocross accident. Don’t let anyone tell you dirt is soft! I was wearing full protective gear.

Now my right clavicle sticks out near my sternum. I went to a PT, but nothing they could do. I did not even consider surgery cause it statistically has little benefit in this type of injury and long term prognosis is better just letting the body fix itself as best it can.

Why am I telling you this?

I lift, OH squat, throw, run, jump, climb, pull-up, push-up, bench, draw my 60 pound bow to shoot arrows, beat a heavy bag, swim, press barbells kettlebells or dumbbells, etc.

None of this bothers me.

I  do get-ups, I do band pull aparts, mobility-joint mobility work, RKC arm-bars, face pulls and other things to keep things together and moving smoothly.    I figured out a lot of things that helped my issues by reading and talking to others back in the early 80’s.

In 1991 I picked up a book called The 7 Minute Rotator Cuff Solution. I used some of those moves, some I modified and performed with a band.

Others I modified by doing them lying on my back and moving my body (rolling like the RKC armbar) keeping the small weight plate out at an angle so the tension was constant on my shoulder and scaps as I rolled back and forth like a log to the limits of my arm/shoulders range of motion.

The whole trick with any injury, back, scaps, shoulders, knee, whatever, is:

Whatever caused the injury: Stop it!

Get with a good doctor. Not all are worth a hill-of-beans either. Seek out a qualified sports doctor who works with professional athletes if at all possible. Let them know in no uncertain terms you want to be active, mobile and strong and will not settle for just being Ok with a bit of re-hab and you are done.

Answer these questions:

Do you need surgery? (Not always the best thing) Did you get a second or third opinion? (always smart to do, but don’t look for an answer that isn’t there)  Have you explored all other options? (look outside the box, but also,there may not be any other options but surgery)

Get with a good Physical Therapist.

Ask the PT for further incite as to how to progress from PT onward. The goal is to get as full a range of motion/mobility as possible with as much stability and strength as you can.

If you just stop at the level you leave the PT at on your last visit, you WILL get injured again and probably worse.

Read and educate yourself.

Test things out carefully.

Learn what YOU can do to fix things and keep them fixed.

Strong muscles can help hold injured areas together.

Learning how to create tension and manipulate strength from other parts of the body can mitigate injuries and allow you to perform way better than you may realize. This takes time to learn.

Adjusting to limitations of an injury by recruiting other muscles and tweaking your form or method of performing a move is possible. You may have to do things a bit differently. That is Ok as long as it does not create other issues.

Learn how to lock up or stop an old injured body part from going too far into ROM and creating further trauma.

Appreciate that sometimes you are just going to have to accept that you can’t do something anymore. Just as an example: What if you love tennis but your shoulders just can’t hack it because of an injury?

Well, maybe you can play basketball or soccer. Rather than whine to others about how good you used to be at blank, but can’t do anymore because of an injury, why not just follow this course:

Grow up. Accept it. Let it go. Re-focus on a new challenge. Don’t look back. Forge ahead. Impress yourself and others with what you CAN do.

You never know: You might just be WAY BETTER at soccer than you ever were at tennis!

LISTEN to your body. It WILL tell you when you are doing something stupid, IF you listen. Stop the rep, stop the exercise and do something else that does not cause undue pain.

Learn to tell the difference between pain of training and pain of pushing an injured area or old injury too hard, or too deep into it’s range of motion.

Moving deeper into a range of motion that just touches on the edge of “if I go any heavier/farther this will hurt/re-injure” the area is a thing you have to learn.

IT can be a bumpy road recovering from an injury. Don’t give up. Persevere.

AS injuries heal, you will have to gradually test out the range of motion and strength. Otherwise it will NEVER get any stronger/mobile than it is at that point.

You are always the best person to decide how far you can go or how heavy, but ONLY IF you pay attention to what you are doing and how you feel.

I know this is long winded, but I carry a host of old injuries. I’ve worked and played with busted shoulders, a blown out back, fractured ribs, boxers knuckle, cracked nose, tweaked knee, hyper-extended elbow, broken toes, cuts from knives and razor wire, bloody knuckles, and the list goes on.

Funny thing is, I have been told by many I move like a man twenty years my junior. There is a reason for that.

Whining never helps anything.   Injuries, in time, become a badge of honor. The whole trick is wearing them well. You might have gotten a gimp leg from blowing out your knee making the final score that won your team the NFL Superbowl title or you might have gotten your limited range of shoulder motion from doing some dumb stunt for youtube sliding upside down and backwards on your kids water slide while trying to bench press a 225 pound barbell.

Regardless, rather than whine about it, laugh it off. Carry it with pride. Remember, it’s YOUR injury. You EARNED it. Whether it was doing something noble or doing something stupid, not everyone will know. Walk like a man or woman and carry your wounds well.

And keep training. Keep moving.   So, Heal up. Learn. Apply. Come back swinging!

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!

Life is lived by the moving. So move!

Pay Attention to Tension

Think of tension in the muscles as being generated by loading the muscle or moving the limb or body through a range of motion.  Movement or the initiation of movement causes tension in the muscle. It is actually the contracting of the muscle that creates the tension.

However, we can tense our muscles up, making them contract or tense up without movement.

Straighten your arm out either at your side or out in front of you. Now, without bending it, tighten up your arm muscles. All of them.  Take your other hand and feel your arm. It should be tight or hard with tension.  With practice you will be able to create greater tension in the arm muscles through contracting the arm muscles even without movement in a joint.

Contraction and therefore tension in the muscles is accomplished by many factors:

Consciously tensing up the muscles with no outside force or load acting upon the muscles (as in the straight arm tensing), initiating any type of movement with just body-weight, lifting or absorbing any kind of load or force, etc.

We can actually train our body to create more tension.

Of course our muscles have to also relax and lengthen.  Relaxation and contraction or tension in the muscle are really two sides of the same coin.

If you can’t create tension in a muscle through contraction of it, then we couldn’t move, run, jump, throw, lift and even  live. We would not be able to land from a jump. When we jump in the air and then land on our feet the body tenses up to receive the shock of landing, absorbing the forces through tension. Otherwise, if our muscles did not contract, get tense, to absorb the landing of our jump, they would simply relax and we would fold up like a dropped sack of potatoes. We’d get hurt and never jump again.

So, what is the point of all of this?

If you want to get better at any sport or physical endeavor:

Create greater tension.

Do this by lifting weights of any kind.  A weight is a weight. Two hundred pounds of barbell verses 200lbs of sand bag still weighs the same, however, the mechanics of lifting the two will be vastly different and lifting the sandbag will take even greater tension and mobility to lift than the barbell.

So now you have an idea of why using different training tools is of benefit.

Another example of creating tension is a sprint from a stop. Whether initiated from a standing, kneeling or prone position (where you lie down and have to quickly get on your feet before you begin sprinting) your body will undergo rapid transitions of tension and relaxation in the muscles.

So it stands to reason if you can create greater tension in the muscles it will lead to greater propulsion of either your body or some other object you are attempting to move. It takes greater strength (and skill, technique) to throw a baseball faster and farther.

Thus, for most people looking to improve their athleticism, getting stronger, (i.e. learning to create greater tension), leads to better performance in life and in sports. However, if we can’t relax the muscles enough between contractions of tension, then we wouldn’t move very well either. It must be balanced between the two.

We can’t slow our body down without creating tension. We can’t initiate any type of movement without creating tension. And it has been found that if you can create tension, you can actually relax the muscle more after the tension  has been released.

One of the ways we can get ourselves to relax to fall asleep entails alternatively tensing up and then relaxing muscles, starting with the feet and working up the  entire body. Just a quick tensing and then a relaxation.

Funny thing is, this happens naturally when we go to sleep. It is called hypnic or myoclonic jerks. It is that sudden twitch or sometimes an almost violent jerking of a limb or the body that makes you almost jump in bed and kick the covers off, kick your mate or it wakes you up just as you start dosing off. It is simply a sudden contraction of the muscles followed by immediate relaxation of said muscles.

The harder we can tense the muscle the more strength we can exert. Pick up a light box and have someone squeeze our arm. It’s probably tight but not real hard or tense. Now pick up a real heavy box (you know, the large one that some friend loaded with a ton of books and wants you to pick up and move for them).

Now have your friend squeeze your arm. It will be much tenser and harder in response to the load. It takes more strength to pick up a heavier object and thus creates more tension in the contracting muscles. It takes more strength and thus greater tension in the contracting muscles to jump three feet in the air verses one foot into the air.

So, do you get the point?

If a greater load or force acting on the body elicits a greater response in the muscles leading to greater strength being demonstrated due to the greater contraction and tension in the muscles it stands to reason that we can create greater tension first leading to greater strength.

What??

Teach your muscles to contract harder with more tension.

How?

We do it all the time  without thinking. (More on the no thinking part later, and it’s not what you think :)

OK, you’re helping someone move (oh no! not again!) and as you begin picking boxes up or someone hands you a box to carry to the truck, you simply take the box and move it. No biggie.

Then as you go to pick up the next box or someone hands it too you they say:

“Careful with that (this) one! It’s real heavy.  It’s full of books (yup, why not in a smaller box, instead of one big enough to bury a Ford Fiesta?) “.

So what do you do?

Without thinking you get all tense, tightening up the muscles (literally contracting them) in anticipation of the coming load.

Why?

Because our body knows it will make us stronger and keep us safer in handling that heavier load. We didn’t even think about it, we just did it.

So why don’t we use that bit of knowledge in our training?

Tense up before you lift a weight. Get tight and then grab the weight and lift it with tension. This works great for slow heavy lifts. Even lighter lifts can be done this way. Things like dead-lifts, squats, bench presses, over-head presses, etc.

By tensing up that muscle even harder than is needed, we can create greater tension and thus get the muscle to contract even harder. Now we don’t need to do this on every set or rep. Definitely on the heavier sets and reps to keep ourselves tight for a safer more controlled lift.

Lighter weights can be lifted with a little more tension than is needed just to train ourselves to create that tension at will rather than create the tension only in response to the load or weight lifted.

Of course, when a person is first learning how to do this, it is good to use more tension than is needed on even lighter sets until they have become adept at creating the tension and then lifting the weight with tension.

It is good to relax and shake the muscles out between sets. High tension lifting is tough to do. Thus, lower reps and fewer sets are in order until you have acclimated to it.

Tensing the muscles and the body up for a lift does not mean we move jerkily throughout the movement because of the great amount of tension we are using. It’s not like that.  Tense up and get the body tight and lift with control but also with skill of movement, lifting smoothly.

Once you can create the tension and control it during your lifting, you can vary how much tension you use for various weights and lifts.

If you step up to a loaded bar and get tight before you lift it, you are teaching your nervous system to prepare for a load first, rather than merely responding to a load once it hits you.

Which do you think would be easier on your body?

Picking up a heavy suitcase and as you begin lifting it you realize

“This thing weighs a ton!” as your body tweaks sideways and you feel your muscles get strained.

Or:

You get tight, grab the suitcase handle and squeeze it hard and begin lifting with way more tension than you need. You think “This thing is heavy, but not too bad. I can handle it.” and you safely load it into the trunk of the car.

Be aware of your environment. Be aware of what you are lifting. Create tension first and adjust it as you begin the lift. Creating tension in response to the mental thought of lifting something before you actually lift it is feed forward tension or a feed-forward loop. You put your hands on the bar, grip it tight and tense every muscle in your body  and then pick up or accept the load.

Responding to a load with tension after you have accepted the load is feed-back tension or a feed-back loop. You grab the bar, get under it or accept the load as you begin lifting it and you think “This thing weighs a ton!” and then you start trying to get tight.

Sorry! To late to get tense!

Once a heavy  load is accepted or lifted, so the weight is fully supported by your body, it is very difficult, if not impossible to tighten up properly for the load.  You are already pushed out of good mechanical advantage, losing  your form and on your way to an injury or dumping the load.

Use the feed-forward loop when lifting anything. Get tight first. Then lift.

And then, once the load is felt, use the feed-back loop to adjust your tension, either decreasing the tension (as in the case of a box you thought was heavy but it only has Tupperware in it) or use the feedback of  “this thing weighs a lot, but I’m ready for it. Yet, still,  I’m going to get even tighter to control it better” to create even more tension as you begin to move.

Such pre-tensing of the body works wonders in keeping you injury free, not only in the weight room, but also at work or anytime you lift something that might shift, is awkward or you have no clue as to how much it weighs (like a closed box full of you -don’t-know-what).

As you get better at using this tension thing, (paying attention to tension), you will notice that running and jumping and other movements become easier, faster.

Why?

Because any movement starts with tension in the contracting muscles.

If I can contract my muscles harder, faster than the next guy, I will jump higher, run faster than someone with my same physical proportions. This is why people get fooled by big guys that look like they are slow. If you are strong, from heavy lifting of anything, then your initial movement will come from all that strength or tension you can generate and you will explode over a short distance.

That is why a huge 6’5″  350lb NFL lineman can cover a few yards faster than some 5′ 9″ 150lb marathon runner.  The NFL lineman has huge amounts of potential strength or tension in his body he can unleash. Whereas the 150lb marathoner has little strength, little tension he can use.

Lift heavy for low reps and few sets. Learn to create tension. Learn to use the feed-forward loop. Learn to manipulate the feed-back you get from heavier weights. Become a master of your body.

Relax between heavy sets. Shake out the tension so you learn to tense up but also to relax. We need both to move well.

Practice movements with body-weight and other implements you might swing, throw, etc.  This will help you meld the new found strength into other movements so you get faster at recruiting your new levels of contracting strength induced tension and relaxation.

Think of it this way:

If a certain person (A) who weighs 150lbs can squat  or dead-lift 100lbs, when he begins running, his reserve of strength or tension he can use is 100lbs more than his body weight. Yet many runners don’t lift weights (B) and if they do, they never go heavy, not that 100lbs is heavy.

So, let’s just say he (A) can propel his body with an extra 100 pounds of tension as he begins a sprint or jump. He will jump higher or start his sprint off faster than another guy (B) who weighs 150lbs but never lifts anything.

Now put them both up against a guy (C) who weighs the same 150lbs. But this guy dead-lifts 300lbs. When he takes off in the sprint or he jumps he has a reserve ability to create enough strength or tension in his body to lift 200lbs more than the first (A) guy and 300lbs more than the second (B) guy who doesn’t lift at all.

Do you think his body is going to feel way lighter to him?

I’ve experienced this in two ways. For a year I played around with a weight vest. Built up to doing various things with an added 60bls on my body. When I took it off I could run faster and jump higher. I also, at one point in my life, got very ill and weighed 295. I lost 60lbs within about 6 months. When I lost all that weight, same thing: I could run and jump faster and higher.
I had the strength and ability to create the tension needed to move me plus another 60lbs in both cases. So when that weight wasn’t there, that reserve capacity of strength let me exert more force when I did something.

It’s like this:

Two cars weigh the same.

One car puts out 100 ft.lbs of torque and 120 horsepower.

The other car has a motor that puts out 300ft.lbs of torque and 350 hp.

Which do you think will be faster?

I know which one I would buy!

Get stronger.

When you engage in athletic movements, running, jumping, tumbling, throwing, etc, we don’t think about tension, about tensing up and relaxing our muscles. It just happens. So continue to do things that help you move smoothly and effortlessly to blend the strength and tension with relaxed movements.

Remember, the body has to tense up to move. There is no way around this.

But you also have to relax between the explosive contractions of tension to move. People that are really strong but are tight or carry around too much tension, are stiff, they can’t move very well.

Lifting 1,000 lbs is impressive, but if we can’t dig a ditch all day long without 40 breaks to catch our breath, we are in pretty sad shape for life, though not for power-lifting. To get strong enough to create the tension needed to lift 1,000 lbs we would need to focus on getting bigger and on pure strength training. In this case, something is gotta give. And that would be generally our endurance and flexibility.

Strength or tension has it’s limits before it gives diminishing returns.  But that is way higher than the average person ever gets too.

For a professional athlete, say a MXer (professional motocross, you know, the guys who ride dirt bikes for a living) being able to lift 1,000 lbs would not be advantageous. It takes too much bulk and size to lift that much.

But, being able to dead-lift 300-400lbs would definitely help them throw their bike around better, and if they wipe out, picking up that 230-300 lb bike (MX or open desert bikes)  will be a lot easier. And they could gain the strength to dead-lift 300-400lbs, in all likelihood, without gaining much body-weight, if any.

Too weak and we will not have enough capacity to create tension. We will be a  slow moving person, we would not be able to generate enough muscular tension at high enough loads and fast enough to jump or sprint well.  We would have little  strength endurance also, because there is no reserve of strength to draw upon to repeatedly move an object heavier than our own body-weight repeatedly.

Marathoning does not take great levels of strength or even medium levels of strength. Try pitching hay bales all day if you never do anything but run or bicycle and you will see what I mean. It will kick your butt even if you can run 26 miles.  You don’t have reserves of tension producing capacity in your body to pitch 80lb bales all day. Most people who run or bicycle long distances usually weigh quite a bit less than an average person of their same height.  It is not just because they have low body-fat. It is also because they have low muscle mass for their body-weight and height.

We need balance in both.

Train to be in between the power-lifter and the marathon man.

Get strong.

Learn to manipulate tension in your body.

Get fast, mobile and agile. Learn to move your body.

Learn to manipulate other objects that you carry, throw, swing, etc.

If you get stronger through generating tension in your lifting and you develop a faster more flexible body, you will do everything else with greater ease and enjoyment, even as you get older.

After-all, would you rather have the body of a 20 year old or an 80 year old?

When you reach your upper years would you rather get there with a non-trained body or one that is physically (not genealogically) 10-20 years younger due to smart training and lifestyle?

What’s the difference in the two strength, endurance and mobility wise and how did they get there?

I rest my case.

Get strong and learn to manipulate  tension.

Learn to relax  physically, mentally and athletically.

Get mobile, agile and flexible.

The fastest guys in sport are strong and very smooth, even appearing relaxed in their efforts.

Learn to move with speed, strength and smoothness without thinking and you will be awesome.

We could all use a little more awesomeness in our life.

Go get some.

 

 

 

 

It’s In the Movement…

The more we can tune into what we are doing, get the feel of the movement, the more we will get out of our training.

Control of our body-weight  or some outside object comes from manipulating many factors.

I'm not counting rep speed here...

At times a thought of:

“In this movement I need to step one two throw” can help, such as initially learning a sequence of moves,

but the point is to move from one point to the other and feel the flow of the movement, whatever it happens to be.

Changes of direction should not be exclamation points, they should be V’s with a tight curve at the bottom or point of change of direction.

Though at times the point of change of direction may have a faster or slower or sharper or more gradual or flatter turn-around.

Smooth comes from learning to feel what’s going on in the movement and then going with it and amplifying and controlling it rather than counting rep cadence.

or here...lift, move! Feel it!

Like comparing a dancer that dances versus one that counts his steps.

Maybe initially count but then quickly get away from that and feel it. I think in one session with a client or when teaching ourselves a new move, we can get away from counting our rep speed fast.

We need to ask:

Which one will be smoother, (whether they are moving fast or slow)?

Which one will have better balance and control throughout the entire exercise or movement?

The person counting their rep speed or the person who has learned to feel the movement and control it by spatial awareness, balance, force input and manipulation, leverage, etc ?

Of course, pause reps have their place for certain applications, but that is another story.

Running as if I'm chasing dinner...

The more the general trainee who is looking to merely “get in shape, lose weight” (as they themselves say) , can learn to feel what is going on with their body while exercising, really getting into the moves, the more feedback they will get from their environment, their training.

They will learn when to root or plant themselves, when to move fast and touch and go, when to glide or when to move slower.

We should guide them in this learning process by helping them get into the movement, not by counting rep speed.

I’d much rather see a guy learn to control a weight, for example in bench pressing or dead lifting, by focusing on doing the move correctly and feeling the load and forces  as he does it and learning how various inputs from him: speed, minute adjustments, muscular tension, breathing, etc can change the exercise rather than relying on counting rep speed to try to teach that.

This gives them a greater sense of control and input as to how things affect their body.

And that can help them as they develop that awareness and apply that to other habits in life:

Like what they eat and how they live and sleep and how those things impact their recovery, their strength or endurance, the composition of their body, their overall quality of life.

It’s all about balance and control and moving smoothly through a movement, a rep,  a set,  a routine, a job, a life.

Smoothness creates stability and control. This gives confidence in a exercise or movement. Rep speed counting does not.

Rep speed or cadence counting: what happens if it gets thrown off somehow, like from fatigue or a slight loss of balance or loss of focus?

Side bends...think I'm counting rep speed?

We, the coach or trainer will not always be there for them or even be 100% focused on every inch of a  movement during a rep. Injuries happen fast, many times.

Feeling the movement itself, when fatigue sets in or as one maybe losses control of the bar, for instance, I think the person who is focused on feeling the action of his body in the movement, feeling the object they are lifting, will adapt and complete the movement safely or bail out if needed without injury, versus the rep speed counter who isn’t aware of what is about to happen because he’s focused on:

“Up, one thousand one one thousand twelve,  pause one thousand one, down one thousand one one thousand two, pause one thousand one, up one thousand one one thousand…man this is getting hard, where was I? oh yeah two thousand one or was that two?…down one thousand…what rep was I on?”

as they perform the next few reps in some sort of mentally induced counting rep cadence stupor.

We don’t ask a trainee how their rep speed was after they completed a set of movements.

We ask how it felt to them.

BINGO!

How it FELT.

Did you feel strong? In control? Did it feel too heavy? Too light? Did you feel you were losing your balance?

Do we think they will be able to tell us much if they are counting their rep speed or we are counting it outloud for them? Do we think they will focus on the movement if they are counting or they hear us counting?

Better to say:

“Try doing that a little faster or slower.”

“Try slowing down that initial pull off the floor  a little more. Try to squeeze it off the floor”

“Pop it up once it reaches here…”

“Slow down a little”

“Faster”

“Stay tight”

“Loosen up”

Or:

“Man, that didn’t feel right to me. I need to drop with my feet a little closer as I catch the bar.”

Not:

“Well, it looks like to me in the first second of that pushup you were going too fast but in the second second of your pushup you slowed way down. Try to keep both seconds the same speed.”

“You’re counting too fast. Count like this…”

“Well, maybe if I shave a half second off my rep count as I pull the bar up I can drop under it better.”

We seek their input so we can adjust the movement, to make it safer, more effective and get them stronger, faster, etc.

They/we can’t provide that input if we are focused on counting rep speeds.

As a coach or trainer will we notice form flaws as readily if we are counting rep speed? Try switching from counting rep speed outloud for the client and then suddenly saying:

“Drop it!” or “Let the kettlebell go!” or “Stop that push-up!” on a rep going bad or getting too out-off balance.

Do we really need to count rep speed? The rep or movement either felt strong, controlled, balanced or it did not.

I think counting rep speed is a crutch for us when we are not sure what to focus on when teaching movements.

Imagine a dance instructor who teaches students to dance not only by counting the steps but also the speed of each step.

Now the student has to think about each step but also think about:

“Is my step too slow, too fast?”

Just teach them the steps.

The steps make up the movement.

Each movement or exercise has various steps to it and also has a rhythm to it, a flow of movement from each individual step. Once all the steps of that movement are being performed correctly, then we can begin to change the speed  of that movement.

So once the rhythm or cadence of a particular exercise is learned, we can speed it up or slow it down.

Better to teach proper form, on a push-up for example, and then when we or our client can do it properly, make adjustments in the speed of each rep to create differing variables to get the results we are seeking from performing that movement at that speed.

Such as:

A Plank, pausing at various points of a push-up,  a push-up done slow,  a push-up done fast, a clapping pushup. Various speeds creating various results to our body. All based off a basic posture held during varying degrees of zero to explosive speeds.

Endurance, strength, explosiveness? Adjust the speed, leverage, weight or load, etc, accordingly, depending on the movement.

As Miyagi said in one of the Karate Kid movies:

“Move faster.”

And we don’t need to count the rep speed to do that. Let the client feel the changes on their body from making subtle changes in speed of movement by verbally giving them cues, not counts.

Or have them do a set and vary the rep speed as they see fit during that set and note how each rep feels.

Or do a few reps super slow, rest, try a set slightly faster, etc.

Get their input after each set. You might ask:

“How did it feel? Did you notice this _____ happening  at that speed?”

The most athletically inclined people, and those who seem to pick things up quickly when learning new exercises or movements are those who put themselves into the move and feel it.

Don’t stutter step through learning movements strung together.

If it must be broken down a section at a time, like in the TGU,  as each section is learned, make those two sections flow together before going on to the next section.

Seek to teach seamlessness in movements.

learning to fly...

The more we, or those we teach, learn to feel movements and exercises, the more we can pick up new movements safer, faster and with better results.

Watch a good dancer, gymnast, sprinter etc,   learn martial arts or the kettlebell swing versus some  guy who counts his rep speed all the time to make sure he gets whatever he thinks that rep speed is going to give him.

We should teach those we train to feel and move rather than count.

Tune them in to the music of training and movement, not to the amount of frequency waves in a particular beat.

Teach them to run, to jump, to fly.

Give them wings, not a calculator.