Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thoughts on Strength and Training - Part 1

The older I get the more I realize that thoughtful, goal-oriented strength training is much more simple than most people realize.

When you're 17 years old and you walk into a rusty weight room with abused equipment from the 1970's (the year was 1996) everything works. Every stupid exercise you saw in a magazine and tried made you stronger, better, faster, whatever.  And after a while you begin to think you need those exercises. But as a person's training age advances the little dumbbell exercises and isolation movements that used to pack on the strength, and muscle are reduced to physical therapy exercises and warm up movements to keep you healthy for what really matters - Picking up as heavy a barbell as possible, the measure of strength.

My buddy Roberts and I have a lot of good talks on strength.  A long while back, after not bench pressing for about two years (partly because of strongman, partly from a shoulder injury) I decided to bench press one day. I pressed a relatively easy 315 after not touching the lift in 2 years (and I'm a terrible bench presser). I got to talking to Roberts about it, and how surprised I was be able to do it. I remember he said "you can pick up over 600lbs. off the floor, of course you can bench press 315..." He was right, if your absolute strength is high enough, you will find yourself capable in a number of tasks.

For a competitive strength athlete, at some point, absolute strength becomes the only goal.

Mark Rippetoe posted a great article this week that really got me thinking about all this. Especially how barbell training elicits a "systemic change" rather than an isolated improvement of a specific body part. The article is a must read really.

Everyone thinks strength is so hard, complex, and only attained through discovering that secret exercise to propel your muscle mass and power through the roof.  People scour internet forums, articles, and (Heaven forbid) bodybuilding magazines for it as though it were the lost city of Atlantis, but the whole time it is starring them in the face.

Folks listen to me - strength, real strength is attained through the long term practice and programming of the basic compound barbell movements; The Squat, The Press (both bench and overhead), and The Deadlift. (Or if you like, the clean and jerk and the snatch, but get a good coach for that.)

There it is, that is the Holy Grail of strength, some iron discs on a steel shaft.

Now practice these three movement at least once per week, heavy and to exhaustion, for 8-10 years and I guarantee strength will arrive at your doorstep.

Notice I said strength- not tight buns, ripped abs, or the body of a fitness model. Lots of other variables have to be manipulated to get you there if that's your goal. But right here, right now we are talking about strength.

If you keep your diet in check will you look good on the beach, or in a fitted t-shirt? Probably, but we are talking strength.

I have made the conscious choice to have a few fat rolls and test the limit of what I can move. I'm ok with that, my goal isn't vanity. We are talking about strength.

I sometimes marvel at the training blog of Strongman friend of mine, Brad Stanford. I take lessons from him, he's been lifting since I was in elementary school.  He squats, he deadlifts, and he presses, then he spends a little time on the treadmill...  He knocking on 42 years old and is easily one of the strongest men I know personally. I read his training log and think, that's it?... Yes, That's it.
He ain't so bad for a Bama fan

He keeps the main thing the main thing. Take a lesson, I've taken many.

So on Friday I pulled some heavy rack pulls and made sure my last set was a real booger, then I went on a walk with the family.  On Saturday everything from my shoulders to my calves was sore.  That training session was 5 sets, it took less than 30 minutes to complete the workout, I'm still feeling it, systemic change.

I learn these lessons weekly. Hey, just because I know what the Holy Grail is doesn't mean I follow it.

I'll spend part 2 discussing some more thoughts on accessory movements, and the other side of the coin. But if it's strength you're after, it's as simple as a barbell and 3 movements. Does it sound boring, yeah, but when you're in your 40's and someone looks at your training log, they'll wonder if you're part grizzly bear...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

From my training log - Day 314

No training today, still recovering, but here is today's highlights.

The morning started early at Storybook Farm, watching my oldest ride her pony, Corduroy. Many thanks to that great ministry and the joy they have brought to Rebekah. She got a blue ribbon for her good riding and I don't know that I've ever seen a child be so proud of anything in their life.
Rebekah and Corduroy

Then breakfast at Cracker Barrel.

Then it was back home and a trip to campus to walk around and enjoy the Auburn A-Day atmosphere, boy was it crowded.
Me and the Girls at The Auburn Arena 

I skipped the game and came home and took a nap. Then we all got ready and went up to Toomer's Corner for the last roll...

You know, it was great, we sent those landmark trees out with a bang. I freely want to admit to you that it breaks my heart a little.  My granddaddy Cleland stood by those trees and hitchhiked from school back home. I've spent many a night there myself in celebration.

I'm pretty sad that it had to end at the hands of Harvey Updyke, and I'll tell you that I don't really enjoy college football as much as I did before this whole tree poisoning thing happened. I look at it through a different lens now.  It's value is greatly diminished... Maybe that's a good thing.

One thing is for sure. You can count your life as a monumental failure if  let it be defined only by your allegiance to a sports team... Just look at Mr. Updyke...

But if your like me and your heart is a little heavy, or your sad, or you've been knocked down a few times... I suggest that on the next sunny Saturday afternoon you grab a roll of toilet paper, meet up with your family, and celebrate the memories of a life well lived. It may just prove to be good medicine for body and soul, and it may help brings things into focus, and lend a little joyful perspective on the trials of life... Oh, and wear a smile... Nothing bugs a rival team more than if you smile... :-)

War Eagle.