“Well, I have a 2, 5, and 10 pound dumbbell to use. Is that enough?”
I don’t know why I hear that exact sentence so many times from those interested in personal coaching. I’m beginning to think there’s some genius marketer that sells those three sized dumbbells together, advertising them to “blast fat,” or something. (Who can resist the “blast fat” offer?)
“Probably not. You’re better off diving into body weight skills; handstands, handstand push-ups, pistols, one-armed push-ups, and similar things need to be your salvation — especially if you don’t plan on hanging around barbells.”
As you guessed, that’s generally my response.
Now, doing a one arm-armed push-ups pistol squats, and handstand push-ups may seem like impossibilities at this point, but you have to set high expectations with body weight skills, otherwise you won’t get far.
WHAT FLIES, WASPS, AND BEARS TEACH US ABOUT STRESS
In order for your body to mobilize (adapt, take action, make any kind of change), the motivator has to be strong enough.
A fly buzzing around your face won’t make you shriek in terror. The only thing mobilizing in light of its annoyance is your arm (swiping the air aimlessly) and your mouth (delivering derogatory comments).
There’s simply not enough danger. What’s a fly gonna’ do?
Now, swap that fly for a wasp. You might be a little more elusive. You might move, duck, or cover. And if you’re allergic, you’re probably out of there so fast you’re challenging Usain Bolt for the 100m record.
There’s some danger with a wasp. No one wants to get stung by a wasp. It kinda’ hurts — especially if you’re allergic.
Now, swap that fly for a black bear. You’ll soil yourself, most likely. If the adventurous type, you might try running. You might as well say “Yeehaw!” as you break for a clearing if for no other reason to have you last words be “Yeehaw!” (Black bears can run like 30mph. You’re crazy if you think you’re escaping that.)
But it would make for a good news headline at least. “Man killed by black bear, yells ‘Yeehaw!’ before death.”
Anyways, the black bear is pretty threatening. It’s going to mobilize you in some way. It’s dangerous.
THE REAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTENSITY, VOLUME, AND FITNESS
Light Weight + High Reps = Toned Muscles.
Those 2, 5, and 10 pound dumbbells you have — those help you tone…
First, muscles don’t “tone,” they either shrink or grow. Same goes for the fat underneath skin that surrounds the muscle.
“Tone,” the way everyone conceptualizes it, comes from a big(ger) muscle and a low(er) body fat.
So when you’re talking about lifting weight to build muscle, the relationship between stress and adaptation is key.
- Light weights are flies. They don’t do anything. They don’t threaten you. There’s no danger. No matter how many reps you do, the body has no reason to do anything because it’s health — it’s survival — isn’t in question.
- The wasp is the middle of the road — a “medium intensity” of sorts. There’s some potential for adaptation because there’s some danger. Who want’s to get stung by a wasp? But when it’s all said and done, it’s just a wasp. One sting won’t send you to your grave. Perhaps the best training strategy for this middle ground is frequent exposure — intensity isn’t increased by the magnitude of the stress, but rather how often it occurs. (High frequency, high volume.) (Hint: “Wasps” may or may not be most traditional body weight exercises.)
- The bear is most weighted barbell exercises. It provides widespread change, widespread mobilization. It gets shit done.
TEETER WITH SURVIVAL TO SEE GAINS?
Here’s a secret passage from the Skinny-Fat Resource I’ve been working on.
The body won’t do something unless it has a damn good reason to do it. Energy is a precious commodity and the building blocks of muscle aren’t exactly “easy” to come by. To best produce muscle, you have to do the exercises that are quite literally the most “dangerous” to the body. And I don’t mean “dangerous” in an injurious sense, I mean dangerous in a way that has the body signaling “this threatens my survival” because this forces the body to adapt
In an organism that only cares about survival, the fastest way to get “something” to happen is to threaten its survival.
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So how do you threaten survival?
- Do things that put the entire body under a load — squats, deadlifts, farmers walks, Olympic lifts, overhead presses, etc…
- Use a load that’s threatening in itself. (For your particular strength level.)
- Do something medium intensity for a high volume/frequency.
And then you can even think about this on a muscular level:
- What exercises most threaten an individual muscle? (Hint: There’s a reason concentration curls can build big biceps.)
- A lot of bodybuilders use some body english on lateral raises started so that they can use heavier weights. Sure, form has to stay good enough and stress has to be focused into the targeted muscle, but these momentum tricks go a long way.
If you threaten your survival to maximum capacity, you need time to regenerate. Too many bear run-ins and you’re going to be overwhelmed.
You don’t want to make your training unbearable…
Photo Credit: dumbbell