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Anthony Mychal

Anthony Mychal is former skinny-fat dude on a philosophical-physical pilgrimage: flipping and freestyle acrobatics, flexing and physique training, thinking about and tinkering with physical freedom
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November 2011

Easy Strength: A Review

BOOK-EasyStrength

There’s a guy that roams about my blog, and I’m thankful he’s here. He goes by the name of Coach Stevo and has a website of his own that’s pretty nifty. After some blog post of mine, he told me that my ideas were similar to what was in Easy Strength, written by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline, and that I needed to read it. So, I did.

I’m a pretty critical guy when it comes to training materials. When I heard Dan and Pavel were the authors, I prepared for a marmalade of RKC talk. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that [Seinfeld moment].) But when I read about training, I want the madness and not necessarily the methods. I don’t care so much about “programs,” as I do about rationale behind them.

But I have to say that Easy Strength could very well be the best book for a general trainee wondering how to organize their physical preparation for a sport. As usual, Dan John finds a way to incorporate the “easy” into the scientific. Pavel cites many notables through out the book, such as Verkoshansky, Siff, Francis, and other overseas coaches. The book is a bridge between Western coaches and Eastern coaches. Dan John quips from a more anecdotal perspective. Pavel, on the other hand, uses many examples from other athletes and coaches.

Harking back to a series I wrote, How to Prepare Yourself for a Strength and Conditioning Job Without Going to College, this book is a nice fit in stage five. It distinguishes between barbell athletes and non-barbell athletes, and how each of them have different needs. It assures you that there is a “strong enough,” and that barbells don’t create athletes.

As alluded to, however, there is an RKC vibe to it. But if you can comprehend this book, you’re better off than most. That’s not to say that the programs within its pages are the end of all things, but if you keep your mind open and your feelers going, you will be better off after having read this book. With the season of giving right around the corner, consider this for your list.

Look Badass, Play Badass

maryland-uniforms

Earlier this year, Maryland’s football program debuted unique uniforms. Most of the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook hated them.

I loved them.

I’m a fan of unconformity, and I think a lot of Universities—even professional teams—are going to alter their uniforms to make them “cooler,” in hopes of better recruiting. It only makes sense. Youngsters and soft-core sports fans like the teams with cooler uniforms and colors.

Anytime I’m watching a football game with my mom, she asks why people wear “those little bands around their arm.” She doesn’t understand that athletes do things solely for aesthetic appeal. But it’s the same reason people wearing the Maryland uniform have a competitive advantage. The same reason people buy earrings, shoes, and belts to match an outfit. The same reason you don’t often see people wearing a green shirt with red pants.

Style matters.

The better you think you look, the better you feel. And the better you feel, the better you perform. Take advantage of this.

Find your style. It could be special jewelry, knee high socks, or Under Armor. You can borrow it from your idols too. Lacing up Jordan’s prior to a game will have a different feeling as compared to lacing up the generic brand from Wal-Mart.

So if you’re aiming to hit a squat PR, deck yourself out. Sport the high socks, tie the Romaleos, get the Under Armor, and wear the knit beanie toque. If you’re having trouble finding the motivation for your sprint or field work, put on the bicep bands, the nicest pair of athletic shorts you have, and your “special” necklace.

Everyone says, “everything else being equal, the stronger one will win.” Well, everything else being equal, the one that’s wearing clothes that they think they look badass in will win. Silly, but true.

The Holidays – Training Strategies for a Hedonist

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I don’t care what anyone says. All of us interested in athletics, health, and fitness have an innate desire to get jacked while retaining a low body fat. The holidays make this challenging. But common coping strategies are cretinous.

Hermitting yourself into social exclusion? Maybe. Becoming a glutton from November until February? Don’t think so. Using moderation? Hell no.

In the interest of being human, I’m all about enjoying the holiday season and embracing hedonism. But there are things we can do to “minimize the damage.” Last year, Martin Berkhan (my favorite nutritional resource) released an article entitled Cheat Day Strategies for a Hedonist. Devour this article. There is none better.

Can you avoid fat gain during cheat days and holiday feasts like Thanksgiving and Christmas? Sure, you can. But if you’re a big eater that loves food, like me, it’s more a question of minimizing fat storage than attempting to avoid it.

-Martin Berkhan

But from my experience, people drastically alter their training the weeks surrounding holidays. And while Cheat Day Strategies for a Hedonist is a great article, it only deals with the nutritional side of the equation. So let’s look at how to train your way through the holidays.

THE TAO OF THE HOLIDAYS

The week before holiday feasts, you get anxious. Forecasting the unfavorable nutritional choices, you adjust your training and diet. You increase your volume and intensity in the weight room, and start eating less than normal. This is your attempt to lean out so that a few days of binging only brings you back to baseline.

The week of the feasts, the trends continue. But the pressure is mounting. You eat even less and increases your training frequency.

When they begin, you indulge beyond comprehension. You’re cashing in on two weeks of preparation. But between the actual feasts and devouring left overs the following days, you realize that your pre-lean out theory didn’t hold up like you had anticipated.

The following week, you keep your training jacked through the roof with the volume, intensity and frequency increased. To compensate for the holiday blunder, you drop your calories lower than they have ever been.

WHAT YOU DID WRONG

You involuntarily created three intensive weeks of training in an energy and nutrient deprived state. This creates a few problems:

#1: Three Weeks of Wasted Training

Aesthetically, there’s no reason to train if you’re not giving yourself the raw materials needed to support growth. Kelly Baggett tells a story about Larry Scott:

Hell, Larry Scott was one of Vince’s followers and never even bothered to train unless he could take in a pound of milk and egg protein and cream per day in addition to his normal diet. He knew he wouldn’t gain without it so why bother?

#2: Wasting of Adaptation Potential

Training is a stressor that our body adapts to. But when adaptation happens, more stress is needed to expose the body to a new demand. It’s like caffeine sensitivity. One cup of coffee only does the trick for so long. Then you need two cups. A few months later you’re reaching for a third cup.

From a training standpoint, everyone has a ceiling. Jacking up the volume and intensity makes the ceiling higher. It’s like drinking one cup of coffee per day, then suddenly drinking four. It wastes adaptation potential. Since muscular growth isn’t supported on a caloric deficit, the ceiling is being raised with nothing to show for it.

#3: Increasing your risk of injury

Increasing  frequency, volume, and intensity within three weeks time is overload. Especially in a nutrient deprived state.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

Jacking up the frequency, intensity, and volume haphazardly won’t get you far. Here are some training strategies to be used in conjunction with Martin Berkhan’s nutritional strategies to help hedonists survive the holiday season.

#1. Don’t Plan Far Ahead

The week before the holiday, keep your regular training and routine in place. Don’t try to “pre-lean out.” You’re going to eat a lot regardless, and you will end up with the same “I ate too much and feel bloated” mentality after it’s over anyway. If anything, planning too far in advanced makes the situation worse because you feel like you need to soak up the glory as much as possible once the feast begins. But keeping your training stable ensures productivity.

#2. Increase the Volume the Week Of

The week of your feasts, jack up the volume by doing 1-5 drop sets of 10-20 for all of your lifts. These need not be overly exhaustive, but get a good pump after your main workouts. This type of training strategy will benefit from the increased carbohydrate and calorie consumption. It gives the body something else to process, especially if you’re not used to doing drop sets. Also, feel free to do as much pump-up isolation work that you want to.

#3. Train the Morning of the Feast

If you’re following Berkhan’s recommendation, you’re going to be pounding down protein. By training in the morning(s) of your feast(s), you’re hoping that whatever nutrients and calories are being consumed can be extracted for use somewhere in the body.

#4. Switch to Total Body Training

If you train the morning of your feast, ideally you want it to consist of the most metabolically exhaustive exercises. Leg based workouts are great, but take it a step further and do a whole-body compound extravaganza. Hit presses, squats, pulls, and chins hard and come back with a non-stop circuit of 1-5 x 10-20 (as discussed in #2). If you celebrate multiple days in a row, then try to duplicate the same workout. If needed, drop 10-20% of your big lifts, but keep the circuit the same. Down some BCAA’s or protein fluff to stave off hunger over and provide some initial sustenance before your holiday meals.

#5. Ditch Exercise for Calories-Sake

Running on the treadmill for an additional 30 minutes isn’t going to do shit. Avoid extra exercise for the sake of “burning calories.” The reason I suggest adding volume (#2) is because it may have some benefit when combined with the high carbohydrate and caloric intake. The idea here is to optimize partitioning, as described by Kelly Baggett:

Partitioning refers to what happens when excess calories are consumed. Are they directed into muscle or fat stores? The worse your partitioning, the more fat you gain when you gain weight. The better your partitioning, the more muscle you gain.

Bottom line here is that you’re going to consume excess calories, no matter how much you jaunt on the treadmill. The goal is to give our bodies some way to use it. So if you’re going to do “extra” work, make sure that it’s something more prone to spur muscular growth (ie: increased volume, bodybuilding pump work, 20 rep breathing squats, etc.)

If you’re OCD and need some kind of metabolic hit, settle for some Front Squat Tabata Intervals as a “finisher” to your workout. I usually never recommend these, but in honor of getting jacked, I’ll let my guard down. They would be a nice fit here.

#5. Deload the Week After

This sounds backwards. Training with a lesser intensity the week after? But that’s when you want to hit the gym hard and undo all of the bad choices you made, right?

Yes, but as explained before, there’s no reason to go to the gym if you aren’t going to nutritionally support it. And, as we know, diet plays a more important role in body composition than training does.

Use the week after your feasts to dial it back in the gym. Reduce overall carbohydrate intake, and let your body come back to a normal state. If you increased the volume and used some of the above training tactics, your body will need time to unwind.

People become frantic after a few days of binging. They think that all of their gains dwindle away in a three day span. But after feasts you feel “fuller” because of bloating, not because an appreciable amount of fat was created. By deloading the week after, you’re giving your body a chance to sort these issues out before assessing the real damage. Bloating settles down once your eating habits return to normal, not training habits. So give yourself a break and reduce your overall volume and workload by half. Don’t strain. Get in, get out, and then eat your vegetables and proteins.

Again, if you have multiple days of holiday eating, start your deload the first day after it ceases. You’ll need it if you trained every morning using a total body scheme with extra volume, and perhaps threw in tabata front squats.

 

Is The Functional Movement Screening Worthless?

realwomen2

Every year there are new methods, new programs, and new screenings designed to “protect” athletes from injuries. Take the Functional Movement Screening (FMS) for example. It consists of seven mobility screens used to identify incorrect, imbalanced, and compensatory movement patterns throughout the body. The theory being that proficiency in all seven tests lessens your chance for injury. But since when have sports become so predictable?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDxeJVIc7iM

The video above showcases a group of NFL guys being taken through the FMS. I know they didn’t work with the athletes long enough to develop proficiency in all seven areas. At the least, they were educated about it. But it is interesting to see how the season is panning out for these guys. Here’s the injury list: Steven Jackson (quad), Greg Jennings (hamstring), Jahvid Best (concussion), Jonathan Stewart (possible ankle), Hakeem Nicks (hamstring), Leon Hall (ruptured achilles), and Patrick Chung (foot). Insane, isn’t it? Only three of the athletes featured have yet to have an injury. Two of which aren’t regular players (Dennis Dixon is second stringer, Aaron Curry has been traded).

Maybe—just maybe—the fancy things we do to prevent injuries don’t do a damn thing. Maybe they contribute to the problem. Here’s what Carl Valle of Elite Track has to say:

The Posture Police coach that is overzealous tends to get athletes bracing too much and living in a tight world instead of a balanced relaxation and contraction environment. Interesting to note the increase in hip tears, sports hernias, and lumbar injuries with “Modern Core Training Performance”. Coaches need to guide the trail not blaze it for the athlete.

The “core” transmits force, no doubt. But rotational athletes flirt with fluidity, grace, and relaxation. They can’t always assume a neutral spine.

If I can remember, Dr. Yessis once said something like, “injuries are more likely caused by improper programming, not muscular imbalances.” It all stems back to adaptation. If adapting is necessary for the good of the organism, it will adapt. A martial artist and a baseball pitcher will surely score differently on the FMS. Shouldn’t we expect that?  Shouldn’t we allow individual variances between sports and athletes? Or, should I say, how can’t we allow for variances between sports and athletes?

 

 Edit: In light of the responses this post has been getting, I posted an informal follow up here.

What Are You Afraid Of?

gainer

It’s common for beginner tricksters to be afraid of most tricks. I used to think one handed cartwheel were dangerous. I was terrified of an aerial. Horrified of a backflip.

But even then I didn’t doubt my physical ability to land those tricks. They were easy — or so everyone kept telling me — and I knew with practice they could be done. Truthfully, most reasonably athletic people can learn how to backflip in one day. It doesn’t take crazy vertical jump ability, or insane technique. It just takes guts.

I’m betting most tricksters afraid of single tricks are confident in their ability to perform them. Hang around others long enough and you’ll start to be convinced that backflips and gainers really aren’t difficult. In fact, they are some of the easier tricks from both a technical and physical standpoint. But they are the most mentally taxing for beginners.

So when you do swallow your fear and actually chuck these tricks, what continues to hold you back? Once you do them once, you proved to yourself that you have the kinesthetic awareness to survive an end over end flip. Yet some people continue to fear it. They’ll put flips—or whatever tricks that scare them—last in training sessions, and not give them much focus. But you already proved that you can do them without hurting yourself. So what’s holding you back from mastering them and progressing?

Is it a fear of the trick in question, or is it a fear of what’s to come?

So even though you proved yourself that you can survive a backflip, you’re afraid to get better at them because you know that it never ends. Fear at backflips means fear at flashkicks and fear at gainers. You know that once you can backflip, you’re going to pressure yourself to do even more difficult—and frightening—tricks.

But it’s important to live in the present. Backflips — or any other trick for that matter — may scare you, and from the perspective you have right now it’s future variations scare you even more. But once you prove to yourself you can backflip without consequence, don’t shy away from it. Just because the future seems scary doesn’t mean the present has to be.

For a while I put of flips and their variations because of this. I could backflip easily, but the thought of more advanced flips turned me off. Instead of spending time mastering and getting extremely uncomfortable with the backflip — to the point of doing it anywhere at any time without any psychological arousal — I would practice them here and there without much focus. But I only did this because I feared the future, not the present.

So if you’re putting off the tricks that scare you, even after landing them safely, ask yourself if you’re afraid of the trick, or what’s to come after the trick. If it’s what’s to come, then don’t even worry about it. Live for the “now” and master that tricks that you can do that cause the butterflys to rumble a bit. It will make “what’s to come” seem all the less scary when it’s at your doorstep.

While I’m using tricking examples, this also pertains to every facet of your life. Often times, when confronted with big decisions, people get hung up on what’s to come. But you can only control the present. Don’t let “should,” “would,” and “could” define you. Don’t let unknowns rule your life.

“Never let fear determine where you are. Never let where you come from determine where you are going.”

-Dewey Bozella