Category Archives: Tim Henriques

6 Interesting Things About Strength


The Contreras Files IV: 15 Practical TipsStrength is a seductive temptress and I have no shame in proclaiming my love for her. But like anything in life that gets your juices flowing, to truly understand strength you must consider both the stuff you like and the stuff you don’t like.
Here are 6 very interesting things about strength.

1. The Best Thing About Strength

The best thing about strength – in my opinion of course – is that anyone can improve from their starting level of strength. I’m not suggesting that everyone is capable of becoming a world record holder, but everyone can get better.
You might start out struggling to bench the bar and then a year later be using 150 pounds – not fantastic but still a lot better than where you started.
Being strong is an inherently relative concept. The good news (which I say with tongue planted firmly in cheek) is that as the general fitness level of the average person declines, it actually becomes easier to set oneself apart and become that much stronger than average.
Train several hours a week or more, train hard, incorporate the main lifts, follow progressive overload, stick with it for an extended period of time (measured in years, not months), and you’ll get significantly stronger than when you started, not to mention a hell of a lot stronger than a “normal” person. In addition, as the strength comes, so do all the health benefits that accompany it.

2. The Worst Thing About Strength

The worst thing about strength – in my opinion – is that strength is specific, not general. Most people think strength is a single, all-encompassing quality, i.e., a person is strong or not.
An example of this line of thinking would be the comic book character The Hulk. The Hulk is super strong, which means he can do anything that’s related to strength – pick up cars, throw tanks, cause earthquakes by smashing the ground, even fly because he can jump super high. Hell, his muscles are so strong that bullets simply bounce off him.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, as there’s no single “strength quality.” If there were, then the world champion arm wrestler, powerlifter, weight lifter, shot putter, and the World’s Strongest Man would all be the same person. But it’s not, nor has ever been the same person. Fact is, nobody’s ever been on top in even two of those categories, except for the immortal Bill Kazmaier.
The reason for this all relates to the principle of . Muscles don’t function independently of the nervous system, and for every movement we need a motor pattern. In order to operate at very high levels, this motor pattern must be trained regularly. If it isn’t, an individual may not be able to use the strength they’ve developed in one context in another, unrelated one.
In the classic Supertraining, Siff states that strength should not be viewed as “the ability to produce force by the action of the muscles,” but instead that “strength is highly context dependent” and “can manifest itself into many forms.”
To be clear, I’m not saying that there’s never a relationship between strength in one activity and strength in another; what I am saying is that it’s more of a tenuous relationship than one might assume.
If two activities are very similar – for example, deadlifting and picking up the back end of truck – there’s likely considerable transfer, but bench pressing and punching through bricks might not be as related.
Strength is specific and not general, and therefore we can’t simply rank people on something as broad as “strength” and accurately predict how they’ll perform in all settings.

3. The Best Thing About Strength that Gets the Least Attention

Strength is easy to measure if you accept the common standards of testing it, such as seeing how much weight can be lifted with a barbell. This is an invaluable though often overlooked attribute – because strength can be easily measured, every set and rep gives the lifter precise, instant feedback.
Consistent practice with a focus on self-improvement is the key to mastery of any skill. Strength training brings that idea home like nothing else.
Imagine if an expert sat behind you as you typed up a paper, and after every paragraph gave you feedback about what was good and what was bad. Initially it might drive you crazy, but because she had expertise in the subject, the feedback would ultimately make you more confident in what you were writing about.
Nowhere else in life do we get such constant, clear feedback as at the gym, and this goes a long way towards building confidence and boosting self esteem. It’s very empowering to see yourself succeed at something challenging as a result of your hard work, and I believe that all those positives can be traced back to the fact that strength is easy to measure.

4. The Thing You Might Not Have Known About Strength

8 More Random Thoughts and Training TipsFor a single, all-out effort, assuming accuracy and injury are taken into consideration, it’s likely impossible to be too strong. However, for other activities, particularly where endurance is a component, one can be too strong for the activity.
A few years ago I was helping my brother move. He’d boxed up everything and packed it into a U-haul truck and drove to his new place, and then I unloaded everything for him.
Let’s assume we both did the same amount of work (i.e., we each moved the same number of boxes and the boxes weighed the same). My brother is moderately fit but not strong, certainly not by powerlifter standards – I would estimate he could deadlift 350 as his 1RM. To keep it simple, let’s say that I’m twice as strong as he is, at least in the deadlift.
So there I am, unloading the truck and moving 120 boxes into the house and I started getting tired. More specifically, it was my erectors that were getting tired. How could this be possible if I was twice as strong as him? How could he do the same amount of work without much problem?
Each muscle has a certain number of motor units (a motor nerve and their accompanying muscle fibers) in it. Each motor unit can generate some level of force. Let’s say for simplicity’s sake that we both had 100 motor units in our erectors. Keep in mind that one benefit of training is the trainee learns how to better contract, or turn on, the tougher-to-fire motor units (type IIB), which generate the most strength. Also remember that the boxes didn’t have weights labeled on them, and when moving objects of unknown weight one typically over-contracts to make sure their muscle force overcomes the resistance.
When my brother was loading up the boxes he may have contracted half or fewer of his motor units, and he was likely hitting mainly the slow twitch ones with just a few fast twitch thrown in. These motor units don’t generate much fatigue and these boxes weren’t super heavy – most were likely less than 50 pounds – so a huge level of strength wasn’t required to lift them.
I theorized that I’d be more likely to stimulate the bigger type II motor units, which generate more force but also produce more waste products when they contract. Each individual box likely felt a bit easier to me but rep after rep, my erectors were over-contracting, using too much force per motor unit to get the job done, which ultimately led to the feeling of fatigue.
It’s worth noting that training doesn’t increase the total number of motor units you have; instead it increases how much force each one can produce and how many motor units you can use.
To summarize, my brother might have been contracting 50 of his motor units, each one generating 2 pounds of force, and thus his total level of fatigue wasn’t great. I might have been contracting 65 motor units, each one generating 4 pounds of force, and thus I was working too hard for the task at hand.
So in essence, I believe one can be too strong for certain tasks, especially in relatively low resistance, endurance type activities.

5. The Thing You Kind of Know About Strength

Joint health is extremely important to strength. The body has sensors and proprioceptors throughout its framework to tell it what’s going on. Joint stability and joint integrity is a very important concept for the body. If your joint is in pain, the body will turn off (deactivate) parts of the agonist muscles that cross the joint and produce the movement.
The body does this because the lower levels of force represent a reduced chance of injury to the already fragile joint. This is why, in my opinion, it’s generally not advisable to train through joint pain. Even if you’re tough enough to do it, you’re using less of your muscle so you’ll get compromised results – this is ignoring the fact that the pain is a warning something is wrong and further work might really mess up the joint.
While many factors affect joint health, a big one is joint stability. This is a reason why lifting aids like a belt or a bench shirt have become popular – the belt adds to the stability of the joint by externally stabilizing it. This allows the muscles that cross the joint to contract more strongly (recruiting more motor units) and thus more weight is lifted or more force generated.
This is also why powerlifters who wear gear (bench shirts, squat suits, etc.) often have a hard time calculating how much their gear helps them. In one sense it’s simple – how much can you lift raw versus how much can you lift in gear – but another factor is how much the gear is adding to the stability of the joint and thus allowing the muscles to contract more forcefully.

6. The Thing You Always Read About Strength But Never Take to Heart

Bodyweight has a huge impact on strength. Some exercises are more affected by bodyweight than others, such as the bench press, military press, and squat. It’s not just how much actual muscle or lean mass you have, but simply total bodyweight.
This ties in closely with the point made above. One of the ways to boost joint stability (and thus increase the muscles ability to contract) is to gain weight.
As you gain weight (10 pounds is usually enough to notice a bit of a difference) your surrounding tissues (even if it’s extra fat) will buffer and support the joint, similar in the way that an external wrap would cover and help the joint. This increases stability and in turn increases strength (relative strength may or may not increase, absolute strength almost assuredly will).
I’m not advocating you gain 50 pounds of fat so your bench goes up 10 pounds, but I am suggesting that if you’ve been at a plateau for quite some time (both with your strength and your bodyweight), you might think about allowing yourself to gain weight to see if that allows your strength to increase noticeably.
That increase in turn, tends to make the training more fun, your enthusiasm is renewed, and you always have the option of losing that weight later on and seeing what happens to you.
Take a look at the line-up from the World’s Strongest Man competition. None of them look ready to step onto a bodybuilding stage, but they all look like they’re ready to dominate some serious weight, and that extra bodyweight is increasing their joint stability.

It’s Time For Strength To Shine

8 More Random Thoughts and Training TipsThere you are my friends, 6 interesting tidbits about strength. Some may seem more obvious than others but I’d argue they’re all important. Which points do you agree with or disagree with? Which one’s are new to you? Have you any points of your own?
That’s what the Live Spill is for. See you there.

Cardio for Strength Athletes


Strength athletes are a studly bunch. We’re consistent, disciplined, structured, and often blessed with a high tolerance for pain. We also tend to sport a bit of an ego, a result of having fellow gym rats stare at us in fear and admiration. That ego, however, can get us into trouble, like when it comes to cardio.
Strength athletes tend to embrace cardio the way a housecat does a cold shower. Some simply choose to avoid it, often resulting in a beastly strong individual that gets winded climbing one flight of stairs and whose gut more resembles a beer keg than a six-pack.
Others embrace cardio. This group studies up, and learns that “conditioning” is better for them than cardio. So they add a variety of HIIT workouts and brutal circuits and complexes.
Their conditioning workouts are often more challenging – from a fatigue point of view – than their strength workouts; a result of them applying that, “I’ll make my body do what I tell it to do” attitude that’s served them so well with their resistance training to their conditioning workouts.
The end result is usually an in-shape and physically fit individual that finds himself standing on the bronze medal platform instead of the gold. What are they doing wrong?
That aforementioned ego is steering them in the wrong direction. A big ego is great in the weight room – the four-plate bench press gets all the looks, not doing 225 for six sets of eight with 30 seconds rest.
But the cardio/conditioning workouts that get similar nods of respect are not ideal for the strength athlete. And it all comes to down to .

Specificity Rules

Cardio for Strength Athletes
According to the principle of , our body reacts specifically to the stimulus we present to it. Training brutally hard for several minutes or longer with minimal rest is likely the best way to test what the body is capable of – but it’s not the best way to keep a strength athlete in shape, as it’s challenging a different energy system.
Strength athletes are kings of the . The phosphagen or ATP/CP system is a short duration system, usually lasting for about six seconds at full power before petering out completely by 30 seconds.
It relies on ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) and CP (creatine phosphate) for fuel rather than oxygen. It takes 30-60 seconds for a moderate recharge of its fuel reserves, and 3-5 minutes for a near-full recharge.
The  is a moderate duration system – it starts kicking in at around the 15-second mark, hits full-speed by 30 seconds, and then starts to fade significantly after about the one-minute point. It uses glucose as a fuel source, which can come directly from the blood and, if the activity is long enough, can be pulled from the stored glycogen in the muscles.
When operating anaerobically, the glycolysis system lasts less than two minutes and produces lactate, which is associated with an intense burning sensation in the muscles that most fitness enthusiasts are familiar with.
However, the glycolysis system can also operate aerobically, which doesn’t produce as much lactate, although the power produced by way of this pathway is generally lower and lasts about five minutes.

The phosphagen system is the butt kicker in the gym. This is the system that powers massive squats and benches, powerful shot puts and slam-dunks, killer knockout punches and kicks, and lightning fast 100-meter dashes.
While these things are all badass, they’re not really that hard – they don’t produce the same level of total body fatigue as something powered by the glycolysis system.
The glycolysis system is the king of conditioning. This powers the 400-800 meter runs, the 500-1000 meter rows, maximal push-ups for time, and five set drop-sets on the leg press.
Too much time spent training the glycolysis system will cause the body to adapt to becoming proficient at that system, which usually causes a shift away from optimum performance with the phosphagen system.
It’s no coincidence that the guy who wins the 100-meter dash in the Olympics is rarely the guy that wins the 400-meter. Likely, the most performance-affecting shift is an altering of neuromuscular coordination for that activity accompanied by a shifting of motor unit recruitment and muscle fiber make-up.
So what do we do?
Strength athletes must leave their ego at the door when it comes to conditioning. That isn’t a license to get fat and out of shape, but we don’t want to be that guy in the middle of both the conditioning and strength world – too weak to be a good strength athlete, and not in good enough shape to kick ass in all the conditioning challenges.
We need to listen to our brain, not our ego. We need to focus on the phosphagen system.

To do so, here are a few very simple guidelines:
  • When conditioning, hard exertion should generally last 5-15 seconds – rarely more than 15 seconds, and never more than 30 seconds. When in doubt use a shorter work period.
  • Each exertion period should be followed by 30-60 seconds of easy activity or passive rest; something one could easily do continuously for 30 minutes or more.
  • Multiple rounds of the above work and rest periods should be performed 5-15 times (or more, if necessary).
  • One should not be doubled over, nauseated, or puking during/after these workouts. Think about how you feel doing sets of three in the gym; it should feel a bit like that.
To sum up, the rules go like this:
  • Work hard for ≈5-15 seconds, shorter is often better
  • Perform easy rest (active or passive) for ≈30-60 seconds
  • Repeat 5-15+ times
  • Avoid feeling like you’re going to die

Real World Example

Cardio for Strength Athletes
Prowler. At my gym we have a challenge that’s 10 trips (about 35 yards) with the Prowler loaded to 90 lbs, performed for time. The guy who holds the current record is one hell of a hard worker and won’t quit, but he can’t squat 315 for a single. This is not the challenge strength athletes should be working on.
We have another Prowler challenge that’s a max weight pull for 10 meters using a harness. Guess who has that gym record? One of my powerlifting teammates.
Instead of a long and grueling event, it’s better to do a Prowler push of 5-20 yards (with longer distance use less weight) with 30-60 seconds rest, multiple times.

Other examples:

Ski Erg. Ski very hard for 10 seconds, then easy (just enough to keep the machine on) for 20 seconds. Repeat for 3 -10 minutes. The 20-second rest is shorter than standard recommendation, but 45-50 seconds of rest is too long for this drill. Note this is the inverse of the Tabata protocol, which can work well for strength athletes in some situations.
Jump rope. Jump for 15 seconds, rest for 30-45 seconds, depending on fitness and skill. Try to jump faster than normal since it’s such a short duration. Do for 5-15 minutes total.
Track. A spin on the classic “sprint the straights, walk the curves.” Sprint half of the straight, walk the rest, sprint half of the curve, walk the rest, etc., which works out to about 50-meter sprints or four sprints for the quarter mile. Do this for one-half to 1.5 miles.
Jacob’s ladder. Climb fast for 15 seconds (30-50 feet), rest for about 30 seconds, and repeat.
Complexes. You can still use barbell complexes, but only perform 1-3 reps per movement. This makes the complex much shorter and you can use a lot more weight. You can also perform more complexes if you desire (rest about a minute after each).
Five-meter sprints. I’ve always liked these and they can be performed inside an aerobic studio if necessary. Sprint for five meters (should take about 3-4 steps), stop, turn around, walk back to the starting position, and repeat. Repeating 10-30 times works well. Warm-up if you’re not used to sprinting, and it’s okay to go less than 100% while acclimating to this activity.
Heavy bag. Boxing kicks ass but boxers have to be capable of going three minutes, strength athletes don’t. To go for time, hit the heavy bag for 10-15 seconds. I prefer to count punches – 15-20 good punches and then rest. This ratio also works well with a sledgehammer and a tire.
Car push/pull. We’ve all seen strongmen struggle with a truck or freight train on ESPN for a full minute so we assume that’s best for us, but it’s not. Pull hard for 10-15 seconds, rest a bit and catch your breath, and repeat. Use a distance it might take you one minute to cover with the car and then break that distance into four sets.
Rowing machine. The rowing machine has a default program of rowing 500-meters with one-minute rest and then repeating. That’s a strength athlete’s nightmare. Instead, row 50 meters hard, then 100 meters very easy, and repeat that for about 2000 meters total.
Circuits. You can use circuits, but follow two rules: keep each station short (10-15 seconds) and rest about 30-60 seconds between stations. I do a car push/heavy bag/15-yard hill sprint next to my house, which makes for a great circuit. Get creative.
Of course this list is just meant to get you started. Apply the basic principles outlined here and you’ll be fine.

Choosing Your Rest

How you rest is up to you and the activity you’re performing. Some activities lend themselves to easy active rest like the Ski Erg, the rowing machine, or any piece of cardio equipment.
Generally, active rest should be no more challenging than a brisk walk. You need to be able to recover during the rest period, otherwise it’s too hard. At times the best rest will be simply standing still. If you’re pushing the Prowler for 15 yards hard with 30 seconds of rest, it makes no sense to do anything but just stand there and recover.

Other Cardio

Steady state cardio. Walking is still a good choice for maintaining or increasing VO2 max and just making you feel healthier. I’ve long been a fan of walking and it causes little to no motor unit and muscle fiber transition. Most strength athletes can’t jog regularly without it affecting their 1RM’s.
You can still perform some grueling glycolysis-based conditioning events if you want to, but they should be done rarely (once a month sounds about right) and simply as a test to see where you are mentally and physically. Don’t try to master that “test” by practicing it too regularly – you might ace the test but fail the class!

Putting it all Together

Cardio for Strength Athletes
Perform this strength-training friendly conditioning 1-4 times per week, depending on your goals and time available. Those with weight loss or lofty conditioning goals should be on the higher end of the scale. Perform it after your regular strength-training workout or as a separate workout – it would likely have a negative affect on your training if performed before the main workout.
Keep the conditioning workout under 30 minutes total (15 minutes works well) including the rest time, and again, don’t feel like you’re going to die during the workout. That sensation is the glycolysis system pushing your ego to the limit.
Put the allure of being “pretty good” at everything aside and focus on your specific goals – becoming a stud in the gym, and someone that can lift heavy-ass weight repeatedly with short rest for a long period of time. Your physique, PRs, and your ego will thank you for it!

The Simple Diet

The Simple Diet to Get Lean
Science can make nutrition complicated. Measure the glycemic index of this, the glycemic load of that. How much omega-6’s in this? What about omega-3’s?
While a deeper level of nutrition knowledge can certainly be useful, what we often get through the media are little bits of information that’s never paired with an overall philosophy.
It becomes especially hard when faced with nutritional science that seems to contradict itself. Eggs are a great source of protein and healthy fats. No, eggs have too much cholesterol and “bad” saturated fat. What do we do?
Enough. Here’s my philosophy: 
This diet is particularly useful when you want to lean up a bit but still live a relatively normal lifestyle. If you hope to get unbelievably cut or prep for a bodybuilding show, this likely isn’t for you, but if you found that your holiday bingeing has extended into spring training, then this might be your answer.
This diet assumes you’re working out reasonably hard at least several days a week. If you’re not doing that, start. If you don’t plan on doing that, you’re on the wrong website.

Builders & Energy Providers

The Simple Diet to Get Lean
I think of food in terms of two categories: builders and energy providers. That’s how I teach the nutrition basics to my kids, who are all five and under. It’s simple, and it works. You can also add a third category: stuff that keeps you healthy.
This paradigm matches nicely with the primary functions of nutrients, which are to provide energy, build and repair tissue, and regulate metabolism.
Builders. The meathead’s favorite food group. The stuff that does this job is protein and fat. On this diet, you can eat as much natural, unprocessed protein and fat as you want.
Here are some examples:

  • Red meat
  • Eggs (whites or whole)
  • Chicken (with/without the skin)
  • Turkey (with/without the skin)
  • Fish (with/without the skin)
  • Butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil

You’ll notice that I’m pushing unprocessed foods. Slicing turkey meat from an actual turkey breast is better than opening a package of pressed mechanically separated turkey parts. You already know this, because that turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving tastes a hell of a lot better than that five-dollar foot long from Subway, it’s just less convenient. Get over it.
I’m a big fish fan. One of the rules of this diet is that you have to eat fish at least twice a week, and the more the merrier. However, fish from a can doesn’t count – it’s not off-limits, but it doesn’t count toward your twice-a-week total. Non-farmed fish is ideal, but work with what you have access to.
I’m not as excited about pork. Fish and lean red meat (and wild game if you have access to it) is number one. Pigs aren’t as good, in my opinion. Sneaking in some lean pork tenderloin is permitted, but no bacon or hot dogs. They’re processed junk.
Avoid things like mayonnaise, peanut butter, and sour cream. Mayo is too processed and peanut butter and sour cream, while natural, are better for weight gain, and this is a weight loss program. If you find yourself losing weight too fast and aren’t trying to get ultra lean, you can add those foods back in.
Energy providers. This is where carbs fall. This is not a low-carb diet – those diets can work but can be a pain to follow, not to mention they cause intense workouts to suck. This diet will have carbs, but they’ll be of the healthy sort.
Here’s what you can eat:

  • Potatoes (any version in its natural state)
  • Sweet potatoes (ideal)
  • Rice (any version)
  • Oatmeal (any version but steel cut preferred)
  • Any fruit
  • Any veggie

You may have unlimited amounts of any of the foods from either of the above categories. Yes, unlimited. Most people don’t crave natural foods, and there are far fewer reports of binging on chicken and rice than beer and wings. Natural foods are also enormously satisfying and contain more fiber, so they fill you up quicker.
Natural foods are also much harder to come by. You can get junk food at 2 AM just by hitting up the drive thru or vending machine. You’re much less likely to have a post-bar binge-fest if it requires grilling up chicken and digging out the rice cooker.
Finally, natural foods tend to spoil, so you usually don’t have unlimited quantities lying around, and they’re expensive – so even if your head or stomach doesn’t tell you to stop eating, your wallet will.
You still might find yourself a bit hungry or experiencing cravings while on this diet. That’s expected, but it won’t be cravings for these foods.

Rules

You will have veggies at every meal. Yes, every meal, including breakfast. You can have whatever veggies you want, but fresh or frozen is preferred over canned. Your veggies should be bright and colorful and actually have taste.
Peas, broccoli, shredded peppers, and mixed veggies are my personal favorites, but have whatever you want. This will help you feel full, give you some energy, and along with the good fats, help take care of the third category, keeping you healthy.
Avoid any processed carbs, junk food, desserts, sugar, soda, and fruit juice – all off limits. Pasta and bread are also on the avoid list.
Of course, you can eat that stuff if you must, just be aware that you’re cheating if you do. There are also no diet drinks allowed – no Diet Snapple, Pepsi One, Coke Zero, etc. They’re not natural things so they don’t qualify (hey, it’s my diet!).
Basic rule, if the food doesn’t look pretty close to what came out of the ground, you can’t have it.

Notes

The Simple Diet to Get Lean
Nuts. While healthy, nuts tend to slow down the weight loss process. If you’re losing weight too fast, or trying to gain a bit of muscle, then by all means include them. But for straight fat loss, go nut-free for a month and see what happens. You can then make a decision based on the results.
Coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if you’re going to drink it in its relatively natural state (meaning your cup of joe doesn’t resemble a 30-ounce milkshake with caramel drizzle), then it’s likely okay. I also don’t think a person should be addicted to anything, so if you go into caffeine withdrawal without coffee, it’s time to get that under control.
Milk. I like milk and tend to include it in my diets. Start off with 16 ounces or less of whole milk (preferably organic) per day and see how you respond. If you’re losing weight too fast, start to add it back in, if not keep it out. The same holds true for most dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese.
Alcohol. From a health and fitness point of view, wine is the best (although I don’t drink it, much to my wife’s chagrin). Try limiting wine to one or two times a week and see how you respond. I’d avoid beer or hard alcohol, although you can have them with your weekly cheat meal.
My rule of addiction holds true here, too, so if it’d be hard for you to go a month without booze, then now’s the time to stop and get it under control. One of my favorite quotes (from Epictetus) is, “No man is free who is not a master of himself.”
Supplements. While no diet “needs” supplements, a good peri-workout protocol would be one of the first things I’d put back into a diet, especially if you’re going for that “pretty lean but still big and powerful” look. Check out the Anaconda™ Protocol – the feedback is astounding.

Cheating

What I like about this diet is that you can follow it long term. I should point out that to me, a diet doesn’t mean a plan you follow for a set time to accomplish a goal; it’s simply a word to describe one’s eating.
But denying yourself sucks, and we only have so much will power, so I want you to cheat on this plan. For one meal, once a week, every week, you can eat whatever you want, as much as you want. No limits.
Ideally, eat reasonably healthy for that meal; go out to a restaurant and order the fish and rice, but add that appetizer or dessert that you’ve been craving. In other words, it’s better to do “little cheats” instead of a big cheat.
So if you’re craving food not on the plan, eat a healthier choice like spaghetti with meat sauce instead of three Big Macs. Think of food as a continuum; just because you’re cheating doesn’t mean you have to go completely to the other side.
The leaner you are, the closer to where you want to be physique-wise, the more you can cheat. The heavier you are, the further away from your goals, the less you can cheat. You can rationalize this by saying heavier folks have already been cheating so now it’s time to pay up and be strict, while leaner people have earned a bit of freedom with their diet and can enjoy themselves accordingly.

Simple Summary

The Simple Diet to Get Lean

What to eat

  • Unlimited natural, unprocessed meat (chicken, turkey, red meat, wild game)
  • Unlimited animal skin
  • Unlimited natural fat
  • Fish (not from a can) twice per week minimum
  • Veggies with every meal, no exceptions
  • Unlimited fruit
  • Unlimited potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and oatmeal
  • If you follow the above rules, one meal per week eat whatever you want, as much as you want.

Maintenance

A typical 200-pound male following this plan should lose 1-2 pounds a week of mainly fat. Use the stomach/waistline as a progress guide – over time it should get smaller and noticeably leaner.
Once you’ve reached your goal you may modify the program a bit. You might include another cheat meal, or simply try to eat another meal on top of what you’re normally consuming to prevent further weight loss. Adding in additional pre or post workout nutrients would be the best place to start. By this point you should have learned how your body responds to different foods and can make changes appropriately.

Get Simplified

What’s great about this diet – apart from its efficacy – is that you can follow it for a long time, it works pretty well with “real life,” and it still supplies enough energy to get through your T Nation approved workouts.
But it isn’t complicated – when it comes to nutrition, simpler is often better.

The Four Types of Movements

Perfect Punch

I was skimming the T Nation forums the other day when I stumbled on this question:

Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The poor bastard was derided for the question and his general lack of knowledge, and ultimately told to take his ball and go dribble somewhere else.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for the guy. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a very insightful question, but at least he was trying.
According to his logic, dribbling is basically straightening the arm, and since a triceps extension is straightening the arm, well, you could see where he was going – although he was clearly missing a big part of the equation.
This guy needed a way of “classifying” movements, and I suspect you might need a way, too. The benefit of this isn’t merely semantics; once you can correctly classify a movement, you can then apply the proper training methodology to improve it.
Let’s begin.
I’ve divided a list of activities that many of us perform regularly into four basic types of movements. Granted, when you try generalize specific activities into broad categories there will inevitably be some overlap, but you’ll see that the majority of movements fit nicely into one of the four categories – especially those activities that we often actively strive to improve.
Once the types of movements are identified, we’ll discuss the best methodologies to improve them.

The Four Movements

1. Low Speed, Light Resistance – In this category, the participant is generating a low level of external force, which means the limb moves relatively slowly and that a low amount of force is being used to move a light resistance (or no resistance).
The prior example of a person dribbling a basketball is a low speed, light resistance activity. Other abilities include drawing, painting, typing, billiards, darts, shuffleboard, dribbling a soccer ball, shooting a basketball, juggling, putting a golf ball, and curling (not the cool kind involving the biceps, the other kind that Canadians play when they can’t get enough guys together to play hockey) also fall under this category.
2. High Speed, Light Resistance – In this category, the participant is generating a high level of external force, meaning the limb and the object both move rapidly. However, the object being moved is relatively light.
This type of activity is common to many different sports, though rarely seen in the gym.  Examples of this would be pitching a baseball, swinging a baseball bat, punching something, kicking something, swinging any sort of racquet, and driving a golf ball off a tee. I’d also include sprinting in this category, particularly after the initial acceleration takes place. Sprinting involves moving your entire body – which is much heavier than some of the other resistances given – but once moving, the level of resistance provided by the body is relatively low, at least in comparison to a heavy squat or dragging a heavy sled.
3. Low Speed, Heavy Resistance – In this category, the participant is exerting effort against a heavy external resistance (heavy meaning difficult for that individual). Because the object being moved is heavy, the object’s speed is relatively slow.
This type of activity is most common in the gym. Examples of this would be lifting heavy weights, pushing a car, playing tug-of-war, wrestling someone (once you’re engaged against them), an offensive lineman attempting to drive their opponent off the line of scrimmage, arm wrestling, dragging a weighted sled, pushing the Prowler, picking up a heavy object, and resisting a heavy object’s movement (negatives).
4. High Speed, Heavy Resistance – In this category, the participant is exerting effort against a heavy external resistance, however the participant is generating enough force so that the object still moves rapidly.
The best example of this type of activity is Olympic weight lifting. Other examples would be slamming an opponent on the ground, running into and tackling someone, and putting the shot. I’m also going to include jumping and most real plyometric exercises in this category (although doing a chest press with a 4-pound medicine ball doesn’t count).

How to Improve these Activities

1. Low Speed, Light Resistance

pushups

The primary component that determines proficiency in these movements is simply one’s skill level at that activity.
I love lifting weights as much as the next meathead and resistance training does many things, but it rarely improves high-skill activities all by itself. I’m not a better painter or billiards player because I lift weights; however, that’s not to say that exercise has zero benefit to these activities.
First, you must practice, practice, and practice those activities if you wish to get better at them. If you do that AND include a basic exercise regimen, you may find that your ability in these activities is improved, although slightly (likely due to improved muscular control and increased endurance).
For example, if you play a billiards tournament but find you can’t focus or get tired by the fourth game, it’s possible that exercise may improve that ability. The more out of shape you are, the more likely exercise could have a slight positive effect.
To be clear, an exercise program alone will not develop sufficient skill for one to become proficient at low speed, light resistance activities. You don’t need to be strong or fit to draw, dribble a basketball, play billiards, or throw darts at a high level; instead, you need to devote significant time to practicing those activities. Our basketball player example simply needed to spend more time practicing dribbling and not worry about training his triceps.

2. High Speed, Light Resistance

sprinters

The primary physical component that determines proficiency in these activities is speed (technically speed-strength), however, that speed must be combined with a very high level of skill as well.
Exercise will help this category of movements more than the previous category. Speed is powered by muscle, so muscles that are well trained are more likely to generate a higher rate of speed.
However, don’t make the mistake of interpreting “well trained” as just being strong. Remember, the principle of specificity holds true, so just striving to increase one’s 1RM isn’t going to cut it. InSupertraining, Mel Siff presents a fairly straightforward plan for improving speed, suggesting that an athlete training properly can increase his or her speed by up to 150%.
First, the athlete should get into shape. If the athlete is a novice weight trainer, almost any form of basic training will be appropriate and should yield results. I’ve improved many a client’s golf drive by 20 yards or more by simply having them exercise with weights, without doing any sort of “golf specific” fitness activity. The good news is that almost any program will do, the bad news is that after about three months or so those gains will likely peter out.
Here, we turn to Siff’s advice; he suggests that to improve maximal speed against light loads, one should use the following guidelines:

Unfortunately, Siff doesn’t give specific set and rep suggestions, but he does suggest that the training mimic the demands of the activity as best as possible. This would mean if you’re training for a knockout punch or to hit a homerun, you’d use few consecutive reps (1-3), but most likely would perform many sets.
If you were training to put together a flurry of punches or to sprint faster, then you’d use higher reps (roughly 5-15) and fewer total sets.
If your activity requires high speed while fatigued, then training when fatigued can be useful, otherwise generally train speed-strength when relatively fresh.
Of course, you’re trying to train the muscles involved in the activity of choice, but please don’t try to precisely mimic the sporting activity you’re attempting to improve. This will likely alter the neural pattern and may well decrease performance in that activity, even if your performance in the gym increases.
In other words, don’t be that guy who hooks his golf club up to a 40-pound kettlebell and then swings it with everything he’s got, all while standing on a Bosu ball. Not only will you look dumb, it’s actually making you a worse golfer.

A Quick Jab of Common Sense

I should point out something about strength and the power of unloaded movements, so let’s use punching as a specific example.
As a powerlifter, as much as it pains me to say, there’s generally no correlation between maximal strength as represented by one’s 1RM in the gym and unloaded power generation (punching power).
No correlation doesn’t mean a negative correlation (which would mean a high bench press indicates poor punching strength), it just means there’s no correlation; you can’t predict punching strength based on bench press strength. A 400 pound bench presser might have awesome punching power, but that person could also have poor punching power – there simply isn’t a connection between the two.
While that might be a slightly bitter pill for the weight training community to swallow, it should line up with what we see in real life. The strongest punches are delivered by boxers, MMA fighters, and classic martial arts practitioners – people who punch for a living –  not bodybuilders, powerlifters, or guys that boast about using every bow on their wife’s Bowflex machine.

3. Low Speed, Heavy Resistance

powerlifter

In these activities strength is king, and they’re the most improved by resistance training. Of course, there’s much debate as to what exactly is the “best” type of resistance program to increase this ability, but everybody agrees it involves resistance training.
Be it a Westside program, Sheiko, Smolov, Starting Strength, HIT, a classic bodybuilding split, 5/3/1, you name it; the main goals of these programs are to increase strength that can be expressed by moving heavy objects. Powerlifting and most strongman events are tests of this ability.
The textbook answer to improve strength is to train with a heavy weight (60% of the 1RM or better, often using 85%+), use low reps (1-6 reps), take relatively long breaks in between sets (2-5 minutes to allow reasonable recovery), and to perform a reasonable volume of work (2-6 work sets per exercise).
A simple search of TNation’s archives will yield a wealth of training information on this subject, just remember that in this type of movement it’s all about getting strong and then applying that strength with good technique.

4. High Speed, Heavy Resistance

olympic lifter

The primary physical component here is power. To express power, the activity must be performed rapidly – you can’t demonstrate power slowly.
Strength is a key part of power, particularly when using heavier loads. If you’re weak, you can only lift so much. If you can’t deadlift 315 lbs., you obviously can’t clean 315 lbs., and in general larger muscles are able to generate higher levels of force.
But it’s not all about muscle and pure strength. Strength can be expressed slowly. Watch a powerlifter perform a true 1RM on the bench press and you’ll likely see the bar slowly creep up. Chances are you could stop the movement of the bar with just one hand if you wanted to really piss a lifter off.
Now watch a heavy clean or jerk. The bar moves fast. With high-speed exercises, you must teach your body to explode into the resistance; in technical terms you’re trying to recruit all of your motor units at once to work for you (explosive strength). The difference in strength and power is often a matter of milliseconds, but those milliseconds are important.
With most power exercises, the lifter has .2 seconds or less to generate power, whereas strength exercises can last up to a second or more. If most of a lifter’s strength comes at the latter end of that curve, say .8 seconds and beyond, then a significant amount of their strength will be left untapped in power-related activities. The lifter won’t have .8 seconds to express their strength against a clean or against the ground when jumping, so that extra strength will not be of much use in those examples.
As with strength training, there is considerable debate as to how to best train to improve power. Most experts believe that the lifter should lift rapidly on the majority of exercises. Technique is very important in high speed, high resistance exercises and a large emphasis should be placed on learning and maintaining proper technique.
Generally, if you want to improve your power we should turn to the most powerful athletes, namely Olympic lifters, and see how they train. The textbook answer is to use a moderately heavy weight (70-90% 1RM, taking a little bit off to improve speed), low reps (1-5 reps per set, often just 1-3), a reasonable number of sets per exercise (3-5 work sets per exercise, sometimes up to 10 sets), and incorporate a reasonable amount of rest time in between sets to facilitate recovery (2-5 minutes).
For the most part, compound exercises that incorporate as many muscles/joints as possible should be used, and these exercises should be able to be performed rapidly. Examples include the snatch, clean, jerk, push press, high pulls, and power shrugs, with reasonable assistance work including the squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift, and standing press. High speed, high resistance activities require a combination of power, skill, speed, strength, and often flexibility to execute well.

Wrap It Up

I make no claim that this article is groundbreaking or even terribly original, but regardless, this information is imperative to making gains in your chosen activity – not to mention, it could save you or those you work with tremendous time and effort in the gym.
Exercise is hard, and who wants to toil away for months or even years building abilities that have negligible carryover to the activity we’re trying to improve?
Arm yourself with this knowledge and hit the gym with confidence that the results will show themselves in your chosen activity. Or, you could just climb aboard a Bosu ball and start swinging that golf club attached to a kettlebell. It’s up to you.

References

Siff, Mel and Verkhoshansky, Yuri.  Supertraining.  4th Edition.  Denver: Supertraining International, 1999.
Baechle, Thomas and Earle, Roger.  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.  3rd Edition.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008.

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