28 December 2012

Tough Mudder Success

Guest Post by Abby Dix

Before a couple weeks ago,* I’d never ran more than five miles (and those five miles were on a treadmill). On a whim, I signed up for Tough Mudder with some coworkers. I knew I wasn’t ready, but at the time I had about 8 weeks to train and decided that was good enough.

Two weeks later, when I realized I hadn’t trained at all, I started panic. I didn’t lift free weights unless it was
5lb dumbbells in a cardio aerobics class and I was out of shape with my jogging too.

That’s when Peter Baker came to the rescue with excellent advice that kept me motivated and helped
me avoid injury: Keep it easy. Because I hadn’t ever tried to lift anything heavy before, I didn’t know
what I was capable of. It may sound puny, but I was shocked and amazed to learn I could sumo deadlift 60
lbs. on my first day with no problem. And over time that grew to 65, 70 and 75 pounds.

I started jogging again, but kept it easy. To keep the motivation going, I signed up for a 5k and 10k that
took place several weeks before the 12-mile, 24-obstacle Tough Mudder. I took an easy pace at both the
5k and 10k and felt fine afterward. Then the big day came, and it was fine. I was definitely exhausted
afterward and needed help over the big walls, but I did it. I survived a 12-mile, 24-obstacle Tough
Mudder---my greatest physical accomplishment to date---and I had fun doing it.

I’ve signed up for the 6-mile, 25-obstacle Savage Race in April and I fully intend to do Tough Mudder
again next year. Best of all, I feel good and I’m having fun staying in shape.

PFB's commentary: Abby, I never doubted you a moment.

Note the look of ease, not of consternation.

03 December 2012

A Squat Medley

On 19 November, I squatted 450 lbs.  I managed three singles.  That marks a 105lb increase from last year. Most of you who read this have already gotten the idea that I squat every training session and that I do a variety of squatting movements to maintain that type of consistency.

A candid shot of my girlfriend doing a back squat. 
I intend to explain to you readers out there how you can squat better and frequently to increase your squatting efforts to put up higher numbers.

 Jim Wendler wrote an article about some of the things I will cover.  Read it here. 

One of the first things you can do to vary your squat is monitor your hand placement.  You can test it, or just do it and hope for the best.  You'll want to find an optimal place to place your hands on the bar.  A lot of reliable sources say get your grip as close to your shoulders as possible.  Lots of records have also been broken with a really wide grip.  You will probably want to experiment with that one on your own to figure out whats comfortable. 

Here's a tip: using an asymmetric grip--one hand closer to your shoulder and the other not as close, in this particular instance--can help you get the level of flexibility required to attain a comfortable close grip, and might feel better if one of your elbows and shoulders is fucked up from benching too much without perorming any contraspecifics.

The same goes for a false grip.  Do which one is comfortable.  Or what tests the best.  I've heard arguments in favor of the full grip along the lines of being able to use more tension and being safer, as well as arguments in favor of the false grip saying that it is safer if you to bail from the weight.  Use the squat cage and find some spotters if you have to do that sort of thing.

The next item of import is feet placement. This can range from really fucking wide to just about shoulder with.  Your strengths and body shape will determine the best form for you to use.  You might even get away with a couple of different types.  This is a good thing, and will lead to more frequent squatting.

Test out an asymmetrical stance, too.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how good it actually feels.  It can be slight, anything like having on foot slightly in front of the other, or one foot with more of a turnout than the other. Of late, my right foot is slightly behind my left foot when I squat.

Once you have the stance width figured out, your next job is to figure out how much to rotate your feet.  Your limitations will determine this.  For some variations, more rotation will work compared to less.  Remember, there is no right or wrong.

In the above video, feet have a good bit of external rotation--not to the point where it's like Charlie Chaplin or anything--and the grip is so close it must make every large and inflexible powerlifter cringe. 

Here is the opposite--a short guy with a wider stance and wider grip who has set a record or two in the Raw United Federation.

Tony Conyers (above) is probably one of the nicest and pound for pound strongest dudes I have met.  Interestingly enough, since we talk often I ask him what his training is like.  He recently told me that he is switching his training schedule to twice a week, as opposed to the once a week program he was on.  He is doing so in preparation for Raw Unity this February.

Another way to vary your squat is by varying the tool you use.   I have mentioned these before, but today I am going to talk about the safety bar.  The bottom line is that if you can handle heavy weights on the safety bar, your regular squat will go up.  The difference between your max and your safety bar max can be one or two hundred pounds.  I managed 345 for a set of one, and had to bail trying 355.  One guy at the gym who does pause squats for 800+ keeps his safety bar squats between five and six hundred lbs.  So choose cautiously when you use this tool.

The leverage of this movement will be different than your back squat, so your feet placement definitely will not be the same.  For my my safety squat stance is very narrow compared to what I did in the above video with the back squat, and sometimes my feet are turned out less than normal (but that's highly variable for me).

The other advantage to the safety bar is that since your hands are out in front of you, you can keep a comfortable arm position if your shoulders and elbows are injured.  And you also get the option of manipulating the leverage by pressing the handles so that they are continually parallel to the floor, or keeping the handles resting without your assistance, like the woman in the video.

For me, the safety bar helped out because I still get to squat, but I feel a greater emphasis on my abs and my quads which makes it a swell tool to add for variety. 

In order to maximize it for you, one idea would be to take these variations, find your stance, and do them without and with a box. There you have four different squat varieties you can do to keep your squats up for an entire week, even when it isn't "leg day."

If you intend to squat at a higher frequency, make sure you use the minimal effective amount of effort.  Squats can be taxing, and doing them daily can be too.  Going balls to the wall is not the way to go if you plan on going for daily squatting.  Using the minimal effective amount of effort will keep you to a point where you can build up to frequent squatting. 

Now, for a note on variety.  These aren't completely random exercises with no purpose.  Will the variations be different than your standard back squat? Of course.  Will the leverages, and paths of the bar be different? Of course.  Are you still squatting, despite all that? Yes? Good.  If those deviations in form will fuck you up so bad that you can't do your competition lift in practice, you might want to reevaluate your life. 

I say this because a guy at the gym saw me lifting using some Fat Gripz attachments.  He said his grip strength sucked.  I told him he might want to train his grip.  I advised him that since he had military presses left, he could try them out on his barbell military press.  He did.  His refusal to press with the Fat Gripz hinged on the fact that he 1. wouldn't abandon the false grip, 2. wouldn't do his pressing any other way than from behind his neck, and 3. wouldn't deal with a different bar path.  I am not ripping on the guy too much--I Have seen him put up some impressive numbers in competition and respect him as a lifter.  But to overlook the obvious fact that you want to fix something, and it might be different than normal, but won't make the change to do so is patently absurd and rather dogmatic to me.

There is a reason it is called variety. It is going to be a little different, yet still train the same general movement, which will better your skill set.  It will also help you get higher numbers.