Safeguard Your Skills

Skill: The ability to perform an exercise, like a squat or free standing handstand, with proficiency.

Working towards a skill is fulfilling and helps to guide programming. Developing a skill can have carryover to similar skills and offers a useful way to break through plateaus.

Once accomplished, a new skill can be selected. This poses the question, ‘What happens to past skills and how do we prevent them from falling away?’

I posed this question to my friend and handstand coach Harry Williams (@holisticmovement) and he amiably offered his insights.

Set aside time each week for maintenance

Harry made reference to Ido Portal stating the well-known movement coach dedicates four weekly sessions at 20-minutes a piece to maintenance of his fundamental movements. He was quick to point out that skills quickly regress if not practiced regularly.

Small bouts of practice each week do the trick. Once developed, Harry mentioned, a skill takes very little effort to maintain.

Prioritise movements which offer the highest return on interest

Minimising time spent on maintenance offers the benefit of having more time and resources (energy and motivation) to be spent working on a new skill. Harry suggests working on movements which have carryover to a variety of skills. The Stalder Press being a good example.

Balancing act

Skills will fall away.

Harry admits that honing focus on one skill will  mean sacrifice of another. Fortunately, once a skill has been learnt, it is easily refreshed, with some practice, thanks to existing neural pathways. Riding a bicycle is a good example of this. Even with a significant layoff, riding quickly becomes fluent. Perhaps after an embarrassing moment or too!

What are your thoughts on skills and how do you approach maintenance? Leave a comment below!

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GMB Integral Strength: Week Seven Review

Titled ‘Efficiency‘, week seven of GMB’s Integral Strength (IS) proved to be very similar to the previous two weeks. Additional rounds provided the difference.

At this point, it might seem that the programming from GMB lacks creativity given the simplicity of IS and it’s progression over the week’s. From the outset though, as outlined on the website, IS isn’t designed to impress, but rather to develop a solid strength foundation. Furthermore, developing strength and better movement competency is best achieved by a simple framework.

The intention of week seven, Ryan states, is to make the movements ‘prettier’ by focusing on improving quality and ease. This point is moot given that this should be the intent throughout. IS is self-regulating. That is, by not having to focus on completing a specific number of sets and reps, one’s attention can centre on how a movement feels. With sufficient practice, quality and ease improves allowing the participant to move to a more challenging variation.

I used this week as an opportunity to experiment. A simple design is one of the hallmarks of a solid program, though maintaining interest is also key as it fosters consistency which in turn leads to long term growth. With my interest waning, I made a small tweak – adjusting the exercise order.

Although slight, the change had the desired effect and helped me stick to the program.

Are there other benefits of changing exercise order?

When creating a program, the most technically demanding movement takes precedence and fills the number one slot in a training program. It receives the bulk of your time and energy investment with the payoff being speedy development (relative to the exercises which are to follow).

Using this knowledge, I placed the movements which I found to be most challenging at the top of the list. Without the influence of fatigue, I was able to focus more intently resulting in accelerated gains.

Working in a fatigued state is important too. A byproduct of altering the exercise order was working movements while tired which I had previously only completed when fresh.

Another week, another lesson. Next week will be the last of Integral Strength, stay tuned!

GMB Integral Strength: Week Six Review

As anticipated, week six was nearly identical to week five. The only difference of note was removal of the reassessment, which kicked things off last week.

As I come to the tail-end of this program, it has become apparent that Integral Strength (IS) is not for me. This is not a blight on the program, bur rather my selection. For me, IS is missing something.

Having come to this realisation, I’ve been wondering – when is it OK to stop or swap a program, and when should you see it through?

Pros of Premature Program Cessation (or PPS as I like to call it. I hope it catches on)

  • You now know what you’re not after and have a better idea of what direction you want to take. Sometimes it takes a decision, even though it may not be the right one, to trigger things. A good example of the ‘snowballing’ effect is exercise and weight loss. Exercise alone is unlikely to lead to significant weight loss. However, by beginning a particular regime, individual’s all of a sudden change their eating habits (increased healthy eating) to supplement their regular physical activity.
  • Stops unnecessary time wasting away from your primary goals.
  • Reduces the developing sense of resent towards the program. From time to time, it’s normal not to look forward to training. Though, if this feeling is strong and grows more consistent, then it’s time to reassess.

Cons of PPS (it’s catching!)

  • Of course, by discontinuing a program, you won’t gain maximum benefit of what it has to offer.
  • Although a program may not provide the benefit your after, there are always lessons intertwined. It could be something as simple as how to progress or regress a particular movement, to a less tangible nugget like those unveiled in my previous analyses of the program (week one, two, three, four and five).
  • A program may act like kindling for a rampant program hopping habit! Here it’s important to delve in to your psyche and look at why you’re ending a program. Cutting a program short because you don’t like a few of the exercises is not reason enough. In fact, doing exercises you dislike, is probably a good indication that your programming is on the money.

What goes through your mind when deciding when to give up a program or push through? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In future, I plan to spend more time in the research process – finding out as much as possible about a program before commencing. From reading what the program has to offer, as well as independent reviews. In hindsight, this would have saved me from the conundrum I’m now faced with.

Stay tuned for the final two week’s of GMB’s Integral Strength.

 

Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman – A Book Review

Matt Perryman’s Squat Every Day, isn’t a typical training book.

There are no sample workouts as one has come to expect from strength and fitness-related resources.

This doesn’t take away from the book, but in fact strengthens it’s overall messages including the value to high frequency training, the overtraining fallacy, the perception of fatigue and the need to treat the body as organic and volatile, rather than rigid and robotic.

If you’re after a practical guide on how to commence squat every day training, implementation strategies are sprinkled throughout the text. By the end of the book, although a 12-week program wasn’t explicity presented, I walked away with an understanding of how to experiment with high frequency squatting.

High frequency training – What is it good for?

One notion Matt regularly makes reference to is the value of high frequency squatting. That is, squatting multiple times a week, from 5 to 14 times a week for those Bulgarian’s out there!

What benefits can this training yield?

  • Reduces the psychological wind-up – The experience of knowing you have to squat heavy is draining. The physical action, sure, but also consider the lead-up where the mind wanders to what it has to do later in the day. Perryman suggests that, by squatting heavy on the regular, the action becomes nonchalant, like brushing your teeth. Maybe not quite, but you get the point!
  • Practice, practice, practice – The snatch and clean & jerk are considered ‘skills’, why why don’t we think the same way about squatting, or any lift for that matter? Perryman argues that squatting proficiency comes from practice, but the practice has to be relevant. Squatting 60kg is completely different to squatting 160kg. The body moves differently. This is why squatting ‘light’ for higher reps may not be as effective as regularly squatting a heavier load as it’s not reminiscent of the same pattern.
  • Train the nervous system, not the muscles – Muscles size correlates with strength, though how do you explain the likes of Richard Hawthorne, who can haul considerable ass at a light weight? Neurological adaptation is a larger driver of strength gains than muscular changes.

The influence of Arnold

Overtraining is another big point of discussion in Squat Every Day. Perryman uses historical references to pinpoint changes in training styles and regards Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise as the key driver of modern training methods.

Old-school bodybuilding was based on high-volume training. A body part, say the legs, would be assaulted once a week, then allowed a week or more to recover, due to the DOMS which resulted.

This training style is muscle-centric, where muscular recovery is central to progression. Since the ’70’s, Schwarzenegger’s style has influenced nearly all forms of resistance training, which is not necessarily a good thing, particularly if strength the goal.

If you look back before this era, strongmen and bodybuilder’s trained very similarly, with an emphasis on regular heavy lifting. Though this was overshadowed by the Arnold and Co.

Is fatigue an emotive state?

Physical activity and fatigue go hand in hand. When you’re feeling tired or a little overworked, maybe it’s time for a rest to allow the body to recover.

Or maybe not.

Perryman argues that our own mental estimations, i.e. how we think we should feel, play a huge role in how we do feel and therefore perform. If we think we should feel fatigued towards the end of a training cycle we will feel fatigued.

By the same thought, what if we changed our perception of fatigue. Can we talk ourselves out of feeling tired and beat down?

Perryman says this introspection needs to be finely balanced. Ask yourself, is this fatigue response warranted or is my brain being cautious? There is no doubt overtraining exists. When we’re near this point, we need to pay attention and back-off. Though, most of the time, Perryman believes, this is not the case.

Motivation, for example, trumps fatigue. Powerlifting competitions provide a good example of this. Take the final deadlift which is the ninth recorded lift of the day. Up to that point, the lifter has produced 8 near maximal lifts plus countless warm-ups. Though, after a slap on the back coupled with a raucous crowd, the lifter’s able to pull her heaviest load of the day (in some cases).

Also, think back to times where you’ve trained feeling pretty sloppy and beat up only to finish your session having knocked out a PR.

Physiologically, the fatigue markers don’t line up either. Studies have shown that, despite stress markers indicating fatigue, performance doesn’t necessarily drop off.

Perryman has forced me to rethink fatigue, and in particular the strength of our thoughts on how we feel.

Implementation

Has Squat Every Day piqued your interest? Here’s my take on how to implement this practice…

  1. Set a daily minimum weight – Perryman admits that it may take a week or two to develop an understanding of your minimum. The weight should be something you can do right now, with relative comfort. If you’re familiar with RPE’s, the weight would register as an 8 or 9 – heavy, but with something left in the tank. This daily minimum forms your base.
  2. Work up to your daily minimum – Each day, work up to the aforementioned minimum. You can do this by incrementally adding plates and warming-up slowly, which might be advisable when first commencing the program. Once in a regular routine, large jumps in weight become comfortable. The second method helps to reduce volume before your ‘big’ set.
  3. Reach your daily minimum then re-assess – There are three scenarios which can evolve from each session…
    1. The daily minimum is about right for the day, in which case you move to step 4 and add volume
    2. The daily minimum is a little light, in which case you can add weight or better yet try your hand at a PR, before moving on to volume training
    3. The daily minimum is too heavy which provides an opportunity to rest and deload
  4. Just add volume – Implementing back-off sets adds load which creates an adequate training stimulus. Perryman suggest taking 15-30kg off the bar. With the lighter weight, perform 3-5 sets of triples, doubles or singles while keeping the RPE at a manageable 8-9

Perryman offers thoughts on how the rest of the training sessions should flow, such as structuring in deadlifts and upper body work, though the outline above is how to squat every day in a nutshell.

Considerations

Squat Every Day is a thoughtful book offering unconventional insights into how to go about one’s training.

Perryman uses the analogy that training needs to be viewed as tending a garden. You guide and direct the cultivation process. Pluck a few weeds here, plant some new seedlings there and learn where the best spots for growth are for different shrubs. It’s a flexible approach.

He points out that modern methods apply a factory-like approach to training that is almost militant in nature. This style views the human body as a predictable computer, with programming being extremely regimented.

The body is in fact organic and ever-changing. It thrives on volatility and intuition. Remember this when you miss your next lift, or suddenly make rapid progress.

What are your thoughts on the concepts brought up in this post? Leave you comments below, I’d love to discuss!

GMB Integral Strength: Week Five Review

The team at GMB rung in the changes for week five of Integral Strength. The week represented the beginning of phase 3, which stresses an increase volume. Interested in my accounts of the previous week’s? They can be found here, here, here and also here.

How was the week structured?

To kick things off, session one called for re-assessment. This allowed comparisons to be drawn to the start of the program.

GMB added two ‘Integrated Conditioning’ sessions. In essence, they were short circuit-style sessions aimed to add volume. Ryan stresses the need to back off the skill level of the movements for these circuits. I.e. regress to the movement below what you would normally do, so form doesn’t fall apart.

The final notable change was an added round to the existing strength-endurance and strength-power days, further increasing overall volume.

What did this week teach me?

If quality if King, then volume is Queen

GMB stresses quality with movement, and rightly so. They also recognise that volume is fundamental to progress. Volume, or workload, is the number one driver of progressive overload. It’s what forces the body to adapt.

Without adequate volume, the body simply wont deem a given stimulus adequate to promote meaningful change. Though, if volume is appropriate, the body is forced to make changes, physiological and neurological, to make itself more resolute should it be confronted with a similar ‘threat’ in the future.

Volume must ramp up over time. This is part of the reason why experienced lifters spend longer in the gym, and newbies can benefit from short bursts of training.

Reassessment helps to quantify progress and influences motivation

If a goal exists, how do you know if you’re close to reaching it?

By implementing a reassessment protocol, it helps one to gauge where they are relative to their previous self. Furthermore, it demonstrates how close (or far) they are to reaching a specific landmark.

Seeing progress is a gratifying experience. It shows that targeted effort leads to hard earned rewards. It helps to drive motivation.

A lack of progress, which can also result from the reassessment, can have the opposite effect. This comes down to how one responds to feedback, as brought to attention during my write-up on Self-theories.

Not developing at the rate which you would have hoped can be humbling, though is a great learning experience. It allows one to tinker with what they’ve been doing, make adjustments, optimising their next block of training.

Program tweaks

I am in full agreement that volume needed to be bumped up during this phase though believe a better method could have been adopted. The additional set to the existing program is a solid way to achieve a volume increase, but the ‘Integrated Conditioning’ sessions were sub-optimal in my opinion.

The added workouts called for a meagre ten seconds per exercise – I don’t believe anything substantial can be achieved in this time frame, particularly given the emphasis on quality which is the basis of GMB programming. I felt under the pump to complete reps to create enough of a stimulus, while also trying to pay attention to detail. The two goals are incongruous to one another.

An alternative could have been adding an additional session in a similar mould as the strength-endurance and strength-power sessions, i.e longer, more thoughtful sets. In order to strengthen weaknesses, allow the participants to select movements they found most challenging based off their ease and quality ratings. The added frequency would accelerate progress in my opinion.

Summary

Next week will likely prove to be in a similar vein to week five, given it’s a part of the same phase.

What’s your experience with GMB? Have you tried any of their programs, and if so what did you make of them?