Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to build epic strength: why tension matters

I am about to tell you, my dear readers, a story that is, objectively speaking...


My Pistol is Loaded.
All right, that’s not entirely true, but in my (correct) opinion, it’s still pretty awesome.  It’s the story of how I worked up to a pistol on each leg with a 70 lb kettlebell, using nothing more than my own bodyweight in practice and with an ultra-simple program.   

Ever since I discovered the one-legged squat, or “pistol”, upon reading Pavel’s bodyweight masterpiece The Naked Warrior, I’ve been in love.  It’s the ultimate go-anywhere leg strengthener that lends itself perfectly to all sorts of beneficial things: strong (and shapely) legs and butt with zero equipment, a power-enhancer for kickers of all types (martial arts, soccer, football, etc.), and if you do a few in front of friends who have never seen a pistol before, they’ll think you’re Superman.  So far I haven’t been able to impress any women with them, but you can’t have everything, right?

I’ve practiced pistols sporadically since 2008 and always had dreams of knocking off reps with heavier weights.  Wanting, of course, isn’t enough, and when push came to shove, I just wasn’t willing to put the time and effort into them.  However, at the beginning of this month and after a lot of thought into what I needed to do to improve on my pistols, I started to “grease the groove” (practice a few reps here and there throughout the day) and progress quickly followed.  

I focused all my attention on two things.  The first: technique, and specifically, really mastering the negative.  Too many people overlook the negative on any exercise as a critical part of mastering an exercise (Six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates correctly points out that ignoring the negative amounts to “missing half of the rep”), and I think the pistol is a prime example.  The best I can say about many aspiring pistoleros is that their negative looks like they’re falling with style (to quote Buzz Lightyear).  Not a good habit to get into unless you get “style points” for your falling.

My second focus: tension.  A lot of it.  More than what I actually needed to complete the rep.  Typically in the RKC we focus on maximum tension with less-than-maximal weight and gradually peel away the tension as needed in order to build up the skill of full-body tension, which is (as you'll see) the keystone in the arch of true strength.  Since I was planning on building up to pistols with added weight, I ramped up the tension that I practiced.  The results?  Outstanding!  Within twelve days of greasing the groove with high-tension bodyweight pistols, I nailed a PR and did a solid pistol with a 53 lb kettlebell on each leg – something I had only dreamed of years before.  

 Inspired by my successful experiment, I decided to see if I could go up one size of kettlebell after REALLY ramping up the tension.  I took a few days off and practiced producing higher and higher tension with each practice session, squeezing everything I could out of each rep (again, with my bodyweight only).  Within one week, I got my 70 lb pistol on each leg.  They weren’t especially pretty, but for the time being, I’m counting them.  

 Proper practice pays off

This leads me to two important points: One, when it comes to building strength, technique matters.  Two, when it comes to building strength, tension matters (Understand now why I put my emphasis on those two things above merely adding weight?).  Other variables come into play, sure, but if you plan on skipping those first two steps, don’t plan for much else.  Have the patience and focus to put your time into improving these two aspects of your lifting and don’t get ahead of yourself.  Nail these and a lot of other things will fall in place.

I'm a HUGE believer in bodyweight exercise, and I can't speak more highly of both the book and DVD versions of The Naked Warrior .  The book and DVD together helped me achieve the two exercises dissected in both of them - the pistol and the one-arm pushup .  That's why they're this week's...

Products of the week!
Click HERE to buy the book and HERE to buy the DVD and make an investment in your strength, your health, and your all-around amazingness.  And if you're in the Omaha Metro area and you want to take your epicness to the next level, contact me for a consultation! 

And since strength is only part of the health equation, be sure to try out my free (and new favorite) recipe of the week!  It's a dessert, so I know you'll find room for it.

You'll need:
2 bananas
1 handful of almonds
1 pinch (or two) of coconut shavings.

Chop up the almonds and bananas separately.  Mix them together in a large bowl and add the coconut shavings.  Mix liberally, serve, and enjoy.

Until next time folks, lift heavy and eat clean!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a complete health food nut, and have been ever since I started following the Warrior Diet in 2008.  Normally I’m pretty strict about eating as natural and organic as possible for a few reasons: 1) Eating processed crap catches up with you fast, and 2) I feel WAY  better when I eat healthy.

However, lately I’ve been letting myself be a little more lenient on occasion, and it’s not uncommon to see me indulging in a few decidedly not-so-healthy food and drinks.  My faves?  Well, Guinness and Moscow Mules to begin with (If you don’t know what a Moscow Mule is, you’re missing out), and  the occasional large pizza or big, greasy double burger and fries from Five Guys Burger and Fries.  And you know what?  

I’m leaner than I’ve ever been.


I’m not a nutritionist or dietician, or really an expert on this sort of thing at all, but if I had to chalk that up to anything, it’d be this: 
1)                 My training (i.e. “workouts”) is hard, smart, and brief.
2)                 I actually LIKE eating healthy, so I gladly do it regularly.
3)                 Eating like crap every once in a while isn’t the end of the world.

These (and and other) factors matter for various reasons, but the third one is especially important.    You don’t have to give up your favorite foods, just cut back.  Not even all at once.  Keep a food journal, track the crap you shovel into your mouth, and over the coming weeks and months, strive to reduce it while replacing it with fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and lean protein.  

If you know there’s going to be a day that you’ll be eating like trash, don’t sweat it; just plan for it!  Thanksgiving’s a perfect example.  Fat loss expert Josh Hillis has said “Thanksgiving is a FREE DAY…Seriously, go crazy.  I swear, it's not what you eat on Thanksgiving that makes you fat or fit.  It's what you eat the other six days out of every week.”  Why stress about how much/little to eat on Thanksgiving?  Go nuts!  As long as your diet and training regimen are on point on all the other days, going overboard once isn’t going to derail your efforts.

And in the spirit of going overboard, I’m going to share with you, my dear readers, my all-time favorite recipe for No-Bake cookies that my friends Jay and Andrea Erickson make:
2 cups sugar
4 tbl cocoa
Dash of salt
½ cup milk
½ cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup butter
3 cups quick cooking oats

1.       Measure oats out in a separate bowl.
2.       Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter
3.      Bring to boil and cook for 90 seconds
4.       Remove from heat
5.        Stir in the peanut butter, allowing it to dissolve.
6.        Add in the oats.
7.        Mix well.
8.       Drop by teaspoonfuls on cookie sheet or wax paper.
9.      Cool for 30 minutes or until solidly set.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!