GMB Rings One – Phase Two

Summary

Phase two, like phase one, is designed to build conditioning. The main difference between the two – the second begins to get specific.

The movements are still general but I could begin to see their purpose in building the end-stage moves. There is less fluff too. There are only three exercises per session, whittling down from the five in phase one.

Also, phase two increases the difficulty of movements – a completely supported dip becomes a jump to dip, for example.

Aside from that, the second block follows the same structure; three weekly training sessions and two different programs – one above the rings the other below.

What did I like about phase two?

The broad rep range
The trainer is given an opportunity to begin at a point that is manageable for their ability ensuring quality remains high. Expecting a novice to do eight or more reps of a foreign movement is a big ask and is sure to lead to form breakdown or loss of motivation due to an inability to do the necessary work. The rep range for phase two begins at five reps – a number that doesn’t daunt the newbie.

An opportunity to practice
The structure of the program –  having only two sessions – gives the user an opportunity to regularly practice the movements. When first attempting the shoulder stand, I thought I should cut my losses and end the program there. My form was horrendous and I worried whether it would get better. But sure enough I saw improvement. The more I did the movement the less I ‘muscled’ my way through and found the key was technique not bruce force.

What improvements could be made to phase two?

Offer advice for common problems
I battled with certain movements – namely the L-Sit. Although the program called for a watered down version of the full movement, I still felt my form wasn’t up to standard. Rather than my torso being vertical and perpendicular to the ground, I found myself titling forward.

GMB does have a troubleshooting section but it lack specificity. The L-Sit tutorial is mainly centred on building the movement on the paralletes and makes note that an L-Sit is more challenging on the rings, given their wobbly, ever-moving nature.

Including regressions, even if this takes the user away from the rings, would be a step forward. It provides a chance to begin at a starting point where good form is ensured rather than completing the exercise in a substandard fashion.

Exercises should progress within the phase
Wholsesale changes occur when moving between phases but during a phase the movements remain the same for the course of that phase. This limits the user in two ways:

  1. The not-so-competent trainer struggles to find a good starting point and is playing catch-up for the entirety of the phase. Form and enjoyment suffers.
  2. The competent trainer my find herself growing bored with the tedious repetition of moves hampering enjoyment and stunting progress.

Is there room to include movement variability? Absolutely. The program should include prompts for what to look for so the trainer knows when to progress – hitting a certain rep and set milestone, for instance.

What have I learnt from the program?

I need to improve my shoulder control; the unstable nature of the rings has shown that. When working on the L-Sit and even the dips, I regularly found my shoulders around my ears, as I couldn’t maintain adequate scapular depression. Another sign of poor shoulder stability was my tendency to keep my elbows too flexed when the movement called for a straight arm position – the skin the cat exercise, for example. This shows I have to rely on my biceps to achieve the requisite stability demanded by the movement.

Also, a key point for the shoulder stand manoeuvre is the need to keep the forearms and elbows tucked in. Once I achieved this, getting into the correct position – and maintaining it – became a lot easier.

Stay tuned for phase three.

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The Organic Deload

A deload is a deliberate reduction in training load, volume or intensity and has become common practice in weight training circles. But it doesn’t only apply to strength pursuits. Elite athletes from all sporting fields use some form of deloading or periodisation to eek out maximum performance. The idea – to help the athlete peak at key times during the season.

Deloading helps athletes by allowing a:

  • Mental break – Improving motivation and refocusing of mindset
  • Physical break – Provides the different systems of the body a chance to recuperate

When do I deload?

The variables to consider when planning a deload include:

  • Training age – Experienced lifters benefit from frequent deloads compared to new lifters. Part of the reason comes down to the differences in training. The programs followed by seasoned lifters are taxing on the central nervous system – an area of the body that requires regular rest in order to function efficiently. Less experienced lifters work at a much lower threshold so can work longer before needing a break. A race car (the experienced lifter) runs at close to its maximum ability but needs frequent servicing – the vehicle is worked on constantly on race day. A regular street car (the newer lifter) plods about and requires far less servicing as its duty is not so arduous.
  • Training goals – If a lifter is looking to get stronger or more muscular, deloads should form part of their plan. For those pursuing general fitness, deloading is less of a requirement.

Training programs, particularly those targeted at intermediate lifters and above, incorporate a deload week as part of their schedule. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1, for example, treats every fourth week as a deload.

Why not consider an organic approach to deloading?

Instead of structuring a deload into your program, why not rest and recuperate based on feel and performance?

Autoregulatory training, a style that calls for tweaking a program based on how easily the weights moved, could be used on a macro scale. How would this look?

As you follow your training program, gradually upping the weights and progressing, keep a close eye on how your body feels and how the weights move. Look for signs of slowing or halting progress and a body that begins to feel like it’s no longer coping.

An organic approach builds momentum. Many times when I’ve followed a scheduled deload, I felt I was stunting my progress by reducing the weights despite feeling good. I rationalised, even though I feel I could keep going maybe I’ll come back stronger. But what often happened was I returned from the week off sluggish and off the pace and would have to back off the weights and gradually ramp them up.

The organic approach, on the other hand, allows me to capitalise.

Who would benefit from the organic deload?

The intermediate and experienced lifter. People who have, over time, developed good body awareness and a strong sense of what they’re capable of.

The lifter must be able to differentiate between general soreness and signs that the body is asking for a well-earned break. Also, the lifter must know their mind – do they not want to lift out because of poor mood or being intimidated by the weight or are they mentally lethargic because their central nervous system is fatigued?

Finally, the organic approach suits the conservative lifter. The person who may stunt their own progress by not pushing themselves and deloading too regularly. On the contrary, the ‘no pain, no gain’ lifter who constantly pushes hard would not benefit from this style of deload.

What should you look for when deciding to deload?

  • A failure to progress or keep up with the program demands – like requiring more and more rest between sets. Don’t deload as soon as a planned weight is missed – give it a few sessions. If you notice a decline across the board couple this knowledge with…
  • A fatigued body that is not recovering between between sessions. Be cognisant of lingering muscle soreness and unusual tightness
  • General lethargy over a number of days should also be considered

The organic deload relies on a keen body awareness and a balancing act between ego: knowing when to rest, and complacency: knowing when to push. If used correctly it becomes a fluid part of the training program and fosters growth rather than hindering it.

 

Slacklining for Strength

Slacklining is like tight-rope walking – watered down. Instead of a wire suspended between two skyscrapers, you’re faced with a strap hanging half a metre from the ground. Your goal is the same: to walk the line without falling.

History

The act of balancing on a rope is not new. Ancient Greek relics show that it’s been around for thousands of years. Its history probably dates back even further. There’s something primal about it. The hand-like feet of monkeys let them navigate vine bridges between trees with ease. Jealous, we try to compete with our ape brothers despite the lack of dexterity in our feet.

Slacklining was reincarnated in the 1980’s. Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington were two young rock climbers at Yosemite National Park. Rain sometimes stopped them from climbing but the two couldn’t sit still. Bored, they looked for something less dangerous than scrambling up a slippery mountain. So they walked across loose chain fences – that’s way safer.

Grosowsky and Ellington didn’t stop there. Inspired by the circus culture they got to thinking. They collected old nylon climbing straps and set them across trees. And like that – slacklining was born. Others in the Yosemite climbing community got involved too. It was a bit of fun on the side for most. Though for others, it became their main pursuit.

What’s it good for?

When Grosowsky and co. slacklined, they didn’t do it for the perceived benefits; they did it for fun. But everything is measured nowadays. Everything. So, what can you get out of slacklining?

  • Balance: An obvious one. But not all studies have shown improved balance. Traditional balance training is more effective, according to one study. Balancing on wobble boards and standing on one leg, for example.
  • Posture: Your postural control will get better. When you’re bumped by some jerk with his face in his phone, you won’t stumble into oncoming traffic. You’ll readjust with poise.
  • Focus, concentration, memory and learning: Studies on dancers and people with similar pursuits show their brain structure changes. That’s why some call slacklining a walking meditation.
  • Core and lower body strength: It might not have direct carryover to your squat but slacklining improves quad activation. It has proven to be useful in rehabilitation settings when conventional methods don’t work.

Is it for me?

There’s no evidence to suggest that slacklining benefits strength athletes. Specificity is king. If you want to get strong, do that lift often. Olympic weightlifters make squatting look easy because they squat twice a day.

Slacklining is a far cry from most strength movements. You spend a lot of time on one leg, while you squat and deadlift on two. But, the squat and deadlift demand more balance than you think. Beginners and even intermediate lifters fail lifts because their balance is off. Returning from the bottom of the squat is an example. Even the slightest shift can spell trouble. Perhaps this improved postural control can improve strength indirectly?

Better balance can help to stave off an injury from falls, trips and stumbles too. That’s good news for any athlete and their longevity.

And it’s fun. Slacklining is a nice change of pace from the monotonous lifting of barbells.

The set-up

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A slacklining kit – a strap, tree protectors and a ratchet
  • Two trees

The trees should be five to ten metres apart for beginners. The height of the strap: around half a metre to a metre off the ground. The strap is bouncy, so keep this in mind when tensioning it. The elastic nature of the strap is part of the challenge. The greater the tension the easier it will be. Also, the longer the line the more difficult it will be.

It’s best to slackline without shoes. Your feet are packed with nerve endings. This sensitivity will help you to respond faster to the recoil of the strap. Mount the slackline close to the tree – there is more tension here compared to the centre. When you step on – do it gradually. Putting all your weight on at once will cause the line to buck. Once you’re on, spread your arms out wide, focus on a still point and walk.

When it gets easy

Slacklining is hard work. Don’t fret if you can’t stay on for more than a wobble or two. Persevere and you’ll see improvements. Look for progression over weeks rather than days. If you can’t hack falling off, ski poles, golf clubs or sticks are useful balancing aids.

Work in bursts of fifteen to twenty minutes. Train a little, often, to get good. To make it harder:

  • Mount on different sides of the line
  • Jump on instead of stepping up
  • Walk backwards
  • Walk sideways
  • Turn on the line
  • Close your eyes
  • Get a harder slacklining kit

Circus freak

Slacklining is a novel way to train your balance. Its benefits come in its simplicity and enjoyment. It’s a great social tool. Get it out when family and friends are over. Watch as your 6-year-old cousin puts you to shame. Take it to the park and let people laugh at you before asking for a turn.

It might not be the most efficient use of a strength athlete’s time. But for most of us, we’re not paid to be strength athletes. We like pursuing strength. Working on other things, like balance, will make us more capable outside of the gym.

And did I mention it’s fun?

References

Heller, S. (2016). 4 Ways Slacklining Will Make You a Stronger Athlete. [online] Outsideonline.com. Available at: https://www.outsideonline.com/2140766/4-ways-slacklining-will-make-you-stronger-athlete [Accessed 11 June 2017].

Leckert, O. (2014). An Abridged History of Funambulists. [online] Atlas Obscura. Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/an-abridged-history-of-funambulists [Accessed 13 June 2017].

Lightcap, S. (2017). The Highs and Lows of Slacklining. [online] California’s Adventure Sports Journal. Available at: http://adventuresportsjournal.com/the-highs-and-lows-of-slacklining/ [Accessed 11 June 2017].

Miller, J. (2017). The Beginners Guide To Slacklining. [online] Lifehack. Available at: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/the-beginners-guide-slacklining-2.html [Accessed 11 June 2017].

Volery, S et al. (2017) Traditional balance and slackline training are associated with task-specific adaptations as assessed with sensorimotor tests. European Journal of Sport Science, [online] Volume 17(7), p. 838-846. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17461391.2017.1317833 [Accessed 11 June 2017]

Hoponslacklines.com, (2016). 7 Slacklining Benefits Supported by Research. [online] Available at: https://www.hoponslacklines.com/blogs/l/slackline-benefits [Accessed 11 June 2017].

The Curious Case of Loaded Carries

It’s natural to be sceptical about things that sound too good to be true. Sometimes, you let your guard down and think, ‘Maybe Batman v Superman will be good.’

But you’d be wrong. And you walk out of the cinema disappointed. ‘The whole plot hinged on one flimsy coincidence,’ you spit with rage.

Loaded carries fall into the same category. Its supporters spout its praise. The ineffable Dan John says it’s the best movement you can do with weights. Better, even, than squats.

The loaded carry can allegedly:

  • Increase core strength
  • Increase grip strength
  • Improve hip stability
  • Improve shoulder stability
  • Strengthen your upper back
  • Improve conditioning

‘This can’t be so. By holding weights – and walking – I can yield these benefits?’ you say with a raised eyebrow.

I was dubious too. So I scoured the Internet for the ‘secret’. My research revealed that there are different ways to do the carry. You can do it with weight in one hand. Or two. You can hold the weight by your side or overhead. Or both.

The common thread was: the carry is simple. And simple is good. But simple doesn’t sell in the fitness world. It has to have ‘Russian’ in its title or you need a special piece of equipment, for it to be the real deal

The humble carry has none of these superficial characteristics. There’s no façade. And that’s why it’s forgotten and is not given the respect it deserves.

You’re still not convinced. You nod like you don’t believe me. You want me to leave you alone.

‘OK’, you say, cracking under my relentless pressure. ‘Maybe there’s something to how you program loaded carries. A special recipe to reap its rewards?’

Nope. If you’re after a precise distance, it doesn’t exist. You can carry a heavy load for a short distance until your grip gives out. Or you can grab a lighter weight and keep going until your lungs ignite. The one caveat is good posture:

  • Think ‘tall spine’ – don’t let your head poke forward
  • Take small steps
  • Don’t let your shoulders round
  • Pick the weight off the ground with a good deadlift posture

Loaded carries weren’t hatched out of Elon Musk’s lab. Nor did a mad Russian scientist conceive it. And because of this, it doesn’t sell. Well, I’m not going to clutch at your coat and beg you to give the carry a chance. I have my dignity.

Oh, the heck with it! Please – give the carry a try. Go. Pick up something heavy – like that Great Dane over there. Now, walk!

 

How to stop injuries

Injuries hurt. But pain doesn’t bother you. You’re used to discomfort as a strength athlete. It’s part of the game. You don’t like the frustration that comes with injury. Your progress slows because you can’t train. A niggling injury stops you from putting in the amount of work you’d like. Or a serious injury leaves a mental scar and affects your confidence.

Squashing myths

It’s logical to think that strength training causes injury. Building muscle and strength means taking a deliberate approach to overloading your body. Injuries are part of the game.
But this is far from the truth. And the statistics support this. The injury rates strength athletes are the same or lower than field based sports, like soccer.
Soccer and football are unpredictable. While the aim is to score more than your opposition, there are different ways to go about it. The player must adapt to the present. There’s no way he can plan how he moves.
But there is control in strength sports. When a powerlifter wants to squat more, he knows he’ll be squatting. There are no surprises. That’s what makes strength training safe. It’s predictable.
Lifting weights are still safe, as you get older. Masters-level lifters get injured the same as those at an open-level. In fact, strength training guards against many afflictions of ageing. Muscle mass and bone density loss, for example.

No escape

While the injury rates are low – around 4.4 injuries per 1000 training hours – they do happen. But with foresight, planning and smarts you can cut your risk of injury in the gym.

Preventing injuries

Choose the right program
Make sure your training reflects your training age. A beginner needs to learn the basics. A simple program that includes the fundamental lifts will do the trick. Too much work or complexity is not only dangerous but also unnecessary. Newbies will get stronger with any stimulus.
Intermediate lifters are at the highest risk. They are guilty of doing too much. Simple is still best. Work hard but know your capabilities. Are you recovering between sessions?
Know your body
We are all suited to different movements. A sumo squat feels right to you but is awkward for your training partner. Choose exercises that complement your body. By forcing your body to do something that feels odd invites injury.
But be wary. Don’t use this as an excuse to avoid the exercise that you don’t like because they’re hard.
Start light
Be conservative when starting off, after a break or when trying a new program. Start with the bar. You can always add weight. Learn the movements for now. Let your body acclimate to weight training or unfamiliar exercises.
Don’t let haste hamper your progress. Inexperience is a cause of injury. National level powerlifters get injured more often than international competitors. The guys at the top level know their body. They don’t let their ego dictate.
Ask for help
The Internet has its limits. Forums and articles are good but they’re general. A person can give you specific feedback. Whether it’s programming advice or improving your exercise form. Get comfortable asking for help.
Act early. If something is causing you pain or doesn’t feel right, don’t let it fester. It won’t ‘go away’.
Listen to intuition
If you’re feeling sore and your training is suffering, it’s time for a break. Listen to your body. Would you rather miss out on the last few sets of a workout or miss a few months of training, thanks to injury?
Recovery
Get enough rest – between sets and sessions. Time lets the body recover and repair. Damage accumulates otherwise.
Deloads are important for the same reason. Spending time away from the gym stokes motivation. Sometimes going to the gym will feel like a chore. But you should enjoy it, for the most part.
Maintenance
Stretching, foam rolling, massage. The evidence is still not clear whether these benefit an athlete’s recovery. Though, they can serve as tools. As you roll out your quad you might notice that one side feels sore compared to the other. You can spend more time working this spot and keep an eye on it over the following days. It could mean something isn’t right and is reason enough to seek expert help.
Regular maintenance work counterbalances the sedentary life that most of us live. Tight hip flexors and glutes from too much sitting affect performance. But you can be proactive and stretch.
You can’t get rid of the entire risk of injury but you can control it. What strategies do you use to keep yourself in the gym?

References

Keogh, J, Hume, PA and Pearson S. (2006). Retrospective injury epidemiology of competitive powerlifters: The effect of age, body mass, competitive standard and gender. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 20(3), p. 672-81.