One Brick at a Time

Well, of course, that’s how you build a house or other brick structure.

So what does it have to do with you and I?

That is how you get stronger, faster and tougher.

One brick at a time. It takes time and effort. It takes patience. It takes persistence. And sometimes it means taking a few steps back to re-adjust or re-hab injuries.

Now, Tiger Joe (I like his website, nice pics of the country and motorcycling) brought up an interesting point in a comment he made under the article entitled: “Get Stronger”.

It had to do with how to get into the type of training I mention and at what level of intensity a person would begin to train at. Now I’m not picking on Tiger Joe, he brought up a great point. Many probably wonder the same thing:

“How do I get into such training? Where do I begin?”

Well, I’ll try to answer that and a few other questions along the way.

Depending on where you are at in your training, you might have to jump into things at a lower intensity and a lower volume. Perhaps just one day a week to start.

Or maybe you are at that point in life where you can jump into the sort of training I have been talking about and tear it up right away.

It depends on so many factors: prior injuries, training experience, age, time available for recovery, etc.

one-arm sledge hits

As with anything, there is a learning curve, a period of the body adjusting to the movements, impact and implements.

So if this is new to you and you would like to try this sort of training out, I would suggest taking one thing at a time. Take a look at the various things you can train with. Ask yourself some questions:

What seems to interest me the most?

What do I think would give me the biggest return on my training time?

Is there a glaring weakness we need to work on and which implement would really target that area?

And for me, most importantly, what is going to give me the most satisfaction and fun in training with?

So, armed with such questions, we can now look at various implements we might start training with or possibly add to our current training. Such things as sandbags, rocks, tires, sleds, sledge hammers, body-weight, barbells, kettle-bells, dumbbells, ropes, etc.

Then, list out the answers to those questions above. Maybe training with sleds really intrigues us. Perhaps we are into running cross country on rougher terrain than the smooth-roadside running many people engage in. So we think about building up our leg strength with sleds. We think:

 “You know, I really need to build my ankles and knees up to be able to handle running on uneven, rocky, muddy, sandy terrain safer and faster. I think training with a sled could help me do that”.

So, go  buy or make a sled. Add it into your training, just a little at a time. Perhaps one training day the first week. Then two days the next week. Three days the third week. Just play with the sled, doing some pulls, some pushes, maybe some lateral walks dragging the sled. Nothing to failure or really pushing yourself. Just get use to the implement, how it feels training with it, how to do the various exercises with it. 

Perhaps plug the training in after the rest of your regular training. Then on your fourth week, try pushing the training a little more.

Does it make any old injuries feel better or worse?

Overall, does it make you feel stronger, faster, tougher, more mobile, agile?

Is it making your cross-country runs better, more enjoyable, faster?

If you have a sport or just enjoy competing in something for fun, does it make your performance better? Did training with that implement give you a mental edge during competition?

If you don’t compete in anything, and train just for the fun of it, you can still ask the same questions. Does it help your work harder with less fatigue if you have a labor intensive job? If you have other interests like hiking, hunting, golf, does it make those activities easier? And was it fun training with that implement? If it was, chances are you will keep doing it, and that is a big part in getting stronger, faster and tougher.

leveraging a slosh pipe

With any training implement, you will find some exercises and implements  easier than others. That’s part of the fun, finding what movement with a given implement really helps you become a more balanced person physically and mentally. You might find you have a particular strength. Now the temptation will be to focus on that. You can do that, but focusing more on areas where you notice a weakness will help you get that all-around strength you are after.

My suggestion would to be to pick an implement. Learn how to train with it. Have fun with it. Some days really push yourself training with it. Other days just use it for a warm-up. Work up to a heavier implement.  For example, start with a 6 pound sledge hammer if that’s all you can handle. Gradually, over time, work up to handling heavier and heavier sledge hammers, until you can comfortably swing a 16-20 pound sledge for time and or reps.

Some days use the lighter hammer and go for a longer period of time than normal or a lot more hits on the tire. Maybe see how fast you can get 50 hits on the tire in as hard as you can.  Other days swing a heavier sledge and take fewer hits on the tire, focusing on the rhythm and a more moderate hit.  Mix it up.

Note how it affects YOU.

loading up for the beat down

Then begin to explore another training implement.

Strength builds upon strength. Endurance in using a particular training implement comes from repeated exposure to using it.

But some training implements or tools, actually impact the body in a broader spectrum.

How so?

Well, training with just barbells, for example, will not make a person that much more effective in swinging a sledge hammer. If our trainee jumps right into pounding a tire with a 16lb sledge for 30 minutes, it will probably kick his you-know-what.

Or if a person always trains with just body-weight and decides to jump into training with a 100lb sandbag, same thing, it will give him a butt-kicking.

But what if our intrepid trainee starts out more gradually? He adds in a little sledge hammer work, building up his ability to handle the training implement. Once proficient at it, he than starts to incorporate some sandbag training into his routine.

Now to do this, he will have to make room in his training program. If he continues to do the volume and intensity of his old barbell routine while adding in the other implements, he will over-train and/or get injured or sick.

But if he drops down to just a few basic barbell moves, say power clean and jerks or maybe dead-lifts and bench presses, he can now add in some other training tools or objects and easily handle the stress of training with new implements.

Each new object he trains with opens up new movement patterns, challenges his physicality in different ways. Some might say a squat is just a basic movement pattern, that any squat builds the same muscles.  A squat is a squat, they might say.

Well, try a back squat. Then a front squat. Then a snatch-grip overhead squat. Next, grab a sand bag and do squats with it over one shoulder or bear hug a heavy rock or sand/water filled beer keg.

Just because you can back squat a barbell wiht authority and good form does not mean you can squat the other objects easily. Same movement pattern? Builds the same muscles?

Yes and no.

Each object brings a new challenge to the body, pushing the realm of the basic movement pattern in different directions. Maintaining good body-mechanics or technique while lifting differing objects stresses the body in every way imaginable.

If you want  all-around strength and mobility with the ability to handle and manipulate physical objects (whether animate or inanimate), learn to train with a variety of objects.

Start with one. Expand your physical abilities. Add another object when you feel ready. Continue to add more training objects, adjusting how you lift them, subbing one lift for another as you go.

For example, squat with a barbell. Then on another day use a slosh pipe. Train with the slosh pipe for several months. Get use to it. Get some training experience, some training time under your belt. Get to the point where you can man-handle that slosh pipe around. Perhaps work up to a heavier slosh pipe.

Once at that point, with just some maintenance work with the slosh pipe, you can keep probably 90% of your slosh pipe created physical attributes.

Now add a new implement. Maybe kettle-bells or sandbags. Do the same thing. Maintain your basic barbell lifts, perhaps 2-3 lifts and the same with the slosh-pipe.  Do these basic maintenance lifts several times per week.  As you do,  gradually explore what you can do with the sandbag. Find out what gives you the biggest bang-for-your-buck or the effort you expend in training with it. Then gradually build up your ability to man-handle that sandbag around.

Same as with the slosh-pipe, try using a heavier sandbag or doing more reps with the one you have. The trick is, get stronger with it. Create greater strength endurance with it.

fast steps

At that point, begin to do just a few moves with it, the ones that you feel really give you what you want out of training with the sandbag. Maybe it’s one shoulder sandbag squats and sandbag power-cleans. Or maybe it’s walking for time/distance with the bag on one side and then the other.

So now, the things you train in  your weekly routine looks like this:

power-clean and jerk, overhead slosh pipe carry, forward flexion with slosh pipe, one sided sandbag squats alternating sides, lateral sandbag throw onto picnic table, bear-hug walk with sandbag and throw in  some hill running or wind sprints a couple times per week.

 That’s not really much when you look at it. But believe me, it will impact your body in a big way. This would stress your body in many more angles than someone who just focuses on Olympic lifts, for example.

Could you compete with the Olympic lifter? No, he would win at his specialty.  But that is not what we are after here. We are after strength, agility, toughness, strength endurance and many other physical qualities. I would say that our multi-trained specimen would out-perform the Olympic lifter in nearly anything else.

Imagine if you can carry 80-90% of your strength and strength endurance forward with each new implement you train with what will happen. If you keep 80% or more of your slosh pipe acquired abilities, and add to it with 80-90% from the sandbag, barbell, sledge hammer tire hits, etc where would you be?

You’d be one tough hombre!

Maybe in the beginning you can only manage to carry 60% through each implement. But with time  and pesistence that percentage would increase. It is acumulative. Training with various implements builds on the others qualities. The ability or percentage of ability adds to and increases the qualities gained from another implement. It is interchangeable if trained in a interchangeable manner. The only limit here is the mind.

Gradually experiment and explore new objects to train with. This way you don’t need to collect a bunch of odd objects all at once. Get use to handling heavier objects as you acquire more strength. At first a 50 pound rock might be tough to handle. But with time and experience and repeated exposure to training with that rock, you will graduate to heavier rocks.

In time you can learn how to mix and match various implements and methods in your training to get different physical qualities.

You will create a body and mind capable of training with nearly anything, anywhere. You will create a well-balanced strong body that will be capable of doing nearly anything well.  And that goes a lot further than trying to set a world record in the Boston Marathon or some International Power-lifting meet. How many people know who set the world record in a particular sport 20 years ago? Not too many. World records fade fast. Someone else beats your record.

Good health and a well balanced strong, tough body will serve a person way more than some old trophy collecting dust on a shelf with the injuries of competition that go along with it. Glory days?

Why live in the past. Live for the now and for the future, wisely.

A healthy diet doesn’t just consist of carbohydrates. It doesn’t just consist of meat. It doesn’t consist of just vitamin B12. It takes a variety of foods to create a healthy diet and thus a healthy body.

It takes a variety of training implements and routines to create a well-balanced body.

A healthy training routine doesn’t just mean barbells, or just  body-weight exercises.

So, get busy learning something new, one brick at a time.

Take your time. Enjoy the journey.

Where do you need to start?

Start where you need to start and add on from there at the pace you can handle.  

In time, you will get stronger, tougher and faster.

And it will all happen while you were having fun.