What Can The East Learn From The West?

What can the east learn from the west…

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Eastern cultures possess a rich history. Many eastern countries are off-shoots of ancient civilisations and this has allowed them many years to test methods and practices like Chinese medicine.

A lot of eastern philosophies never make their way to the west despite their supposed benefits. A lack sound evidence and research are the cause.

We live in a world driven by science and data. For something to earn our buck it must be supported by studies and research. But the east tends to rely on dogma and anecdotes – a strategy that fails to sway western sceptics.

Westerners who experiment with eastern techniques are in the minority. Until the east adopts rigorous methods to prove effectiveness, their unique knowledge will remain in the dark.

Sharing of ideas

Failure to share is not isolated to the east but appears more prevalent.

Kung Fu forms a significant part of Chinese culture. But over the years many forms have been lost because of unwilling teachers.

Masters and grandmasters choose not to teach their specific skills for two reasons:

  1. They haven’t found a student worthy enough
  2. They don’t wish their form of Kung Fu to spread, preferring secrecy

This thinking is damaging Kung Fu. Imagine the possibilities if sharing was encouraged instead of looked upon negatively.

Programming

Kung Fu training is very well-rounded but could be improved changing exercise order. Often, power training and mentally stimulating drills are left to the end. This increases the chance of injury and reduces performance due to fatigue.

Training sessions would be more effective if challenging exercises were prioritised.

Build strength

Endurance is the focus of body conditioning in the east – high repetition sets are the norm. Endurance is an important part of martial arts but a greater focus on strength would improve performance.

Visualise a pyramid – strength forms the base and other physical attributes, like endurance and speed, are stacked on top. By creating a larger strength base it is easier to build the other physical abilities and create a balanced athlete in the process.

What are your thoughts on what the east can learn from the west? Do you agree? I look forward to reading your comments.

What Can The West Learn From The East?

What can western civilisation take from the east when it comes to physical conditioning?

Despite globalisation, a gap exists between west and east leading to a failure of the cultures to learn from each other.

Is a loss of advantage the fear?

Let’s break down the barrier – what the west can learn from the east…

Practice a martial art

Martial arts, whether Kung Fu, Karate or Muay Thai, are embedded in the eastern culture. The west has its own forms but they are not intertwined with the fabric society as you’ll find Kung Fu, for example.

Travel to China and nearly everyone has experience with Kung Fu – why is this important?

From a physical perspective, it helps to develop coordination and body awareness from an early age. Knowing where your body is in space has carryover to athleticism. Also, it helps to develop physical attributes like flexibility.

Longevity

Remaining physically active improves longevity and quality of life. Stereotypical western sports, like football, are not often conducive to long careers. Many amateur athletes retire in their mid-thirties out of fear of injury.

Martial arts offers an opportunity to live an active lifestyle for longer. Western countries are beginning to see this and offer bastardised Tai Chi programs for the elderly which, although not ideal, is a start.

Mobility

Genetics are often cited as the reason people of Asian descent move more freely than their western counterparts. There is more to it than heredity. A lifestyle of adopting challenging postures and stances – through martial arts – plays a role in developing enviable mobility.

Also by blending static stretches with ballistic movements – like the various kicks of martial arts – leads to control of the body through a full range of motion.

Try a martial art.

Search until you find one that suits you. You’ll develop practical skills, join a like-minded community and challenge yourself physically and mentally. If a martial art is too much of a stretch, dancing or other activities that involve sequence-oriented movement patterns will do the trick.

What are your thoughts on what the West can learn from the East?

GMB Integral Strength: Week Eight Review

Week eight marked the end of Integral Strength (IS).

As expected, it offered no surprises, being a continuation of the previous week. The emphasis remained on efficiency and building work capacity.

Over the past two months I have gathered many lessons from the team at GMB. Take a look back at the summaries from the previous weeks…

The message which resonated with me most strongly was the shift in mindset which IS elicited and that is, place less emphasis on reps and sets (though they have their place) and more focus on quality, mindful practice. This, I will carry with me for the rest of my training days.

Why is this so fundamental? Adopting this mindset helps to…

  • Facilitate progression – Rather than compromising form to get through the allocated number of sets and reps, mindfulness encourages perfect practice. Over time, the most efficient and effective motor patterns are laid down rather than haphazard ones.
  • Reduce frustration – Plateaus are part of the game. By focusing solely on the quantifiable it is difficult to gauge progress when you can no longer add that extra rep. In contrast, by being mindful with your training, even though your session might look identical to the last on paper, you’ll be able to recognise progress courtesy of an improvement in quality.
  • Increased body awareness – Although it may sound wishy-washy, a conscious awareness of what your body is doing becomes invaluable. Like a thermostat, you develop an understanding of each body part, and are able to make fine adjustments on the fly, improving your movement quality.

Understandably, this program isn’t for everyone. In my opinion, it is suitable for those new to bodyweight training, looking to build a base. IS is not goal oriented though helps to develop the mindset mentioned above, as well as a reasonable work capacity.

Individuals coming from a traditional strength training background will find this program underwhelming, primarily due to the low volume. Also, people with some experience in bodyweight training, will likely feel the same way.

Good bye for now IS! Along with the lessons gathered over the course of the program, I have developed a better understanding of how to create a minimalistic program for traveling. GMB’s targeted programs, like floor skills, interest me and I may embark on such a program in the future.

What has your experience been with IS, or any of GMB’s programs for that matter? I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.

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.

 

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?

 

 

 

GMB Integral Strength: Week Four Review

Week four was a carbon copy of week three. Training totaled four sessions, split between a strength-power and strength-endurance focus.

I gathered a few insights this week, including…

  • Treat movement training as ‘practice’ rather than fitness.
    • Training for fitness is not bad, though training and fitness need to be differentiated from one another. The objectives of the two differ greatly and a  mindset shift is required.
    • Fitness training (should be) is centred on developing an attribute like strength, or greater aerobic capacity.
    • Movement training requires introspection. What’s your body telling you? Are you tending to favour one side when you perform the inverted press? Are you performing it with optimal form? How challenging is it?
    • A skill development mindset is useful for movement training. As you work your way up the hierarchy of more complex movements, view it like a musician first learning the basics before moving on to more challenging iterations.
  • Progress can be achieved in different ways.
    • Bodybuilding and Powerlifting utilise progressive overload, where a gradually increasing workload forces the body to adapt and become bigger and/or stronger.
    • This is only one approach. Adopting this mindset for all endeavours is one dimensional and will quickly lead to frustration as ‘traditional’ progress stalls.
    • As GMB reiterates, consider the ease and quality of the movement you’re performing. With practice, the exercise will require less effort and feel smoother. This is an indication to progress. Not necessarily by adding load, but by changing the demands of the exercise to make it more demanding.

Program Feedback

I’ll also throw in my two cents for improving the Integral Strength (IS) program. I believe IS could benefit from increasing the frequency of movements.

In order to achieve this, the total number of exercises is roughly halved. The rate at which  the remaining movements can be trained now doubles. Initially, training the same muscle groups on consecutive days might result in a spike in soreness and a small dip in performance. Though, I believe progression through the movements will be achieved at a greater rate.

A sample of the exercises I would include are as follows:

  • Broad jumps
  • Shrimp squats
  • Chin-ups
  • L-sits
  • Inverted press

This program, achieves balance without seriously neglecting an area.

My suspicion is, the guys at GMB know full well that training less movements (less ‘goals’) will lead to improved progression on the remaining movements. Though, the inclusion is more so for the sake of variety, avoiding backlash from the public as to why the program is so ‘simple’ and limited. In this case, less would be more, though we’re stuck in an age where more is more!

Summary

I voiced my concerns last week regarding the push to pull imbalance and the potential for this to cause shoulder issues. This has not been an issue. I speculate that the low overall volume might have something to do with it.

Week five, crossing the half way mark, promises to throw up some changes (and challenges), namely in the form of increased volume. Stay tuned!

GMB Focused Flexibility: Analysis

Focused Flexibility (FF) is a GMB offering which allows users to apply a systemised approach to improving their flexibility.

The team at GMB package FF alongside two other programs – Integral Strength (designed to build practical strength) and Vitamin (aimed to develop motor control and movement patterns).

My decision to begin FF came about mainly as a consequence of the clever discount offer which occurred after my purchase of Integral Strength (read about my progress here and here). Also, FF made sense as…

  • I could use more flexibility
  • As a Physiotherapist, I was intrigued to see how the team at GMB approached the subject
  • I will likely be able to apply the stretches and strategies I learn to not only myself, but also those I work with
How does it work?

FF’s dashboard, similarly to Integral Strength, provides both video content and written text to guide you through the process.

FF begins with an 8 movement assessment to capture overall body flexibility. Movements covered range from a deep squat and cross-legged sitting to neck range of motion.

The self-assessment requires each movement to be scored from 0-10 based on level of comfort. A score of 0 indicating poor comfort, with 10 being comfortable and easy.

At the conclusion of the assessment, the user selects the two lowest scoring movements. FF provides a database of stretches relevant for the drills you found problematic. You are then asked to select two stretches for each of your lowest scores (giving you a total of 4 stretches to work on).

Jarlo, the program coordinator, advises application of these stretches for the following two weeks at which point you should reassess.

From here, you can continue along, or switch focus to other areas of the body.

The stretches themselves combine techniques such as static stretching, as well as PNF strategies. The tutorials are easy to follow, and the exercises themselves involve a slight twist on the traditional variation.

My findings

Two weeks is a relatively short period of time to make significant changes to the body. I understand the rationale behind GMB’s decision, though, to select this time frame, as it prevents the program becoming stale and one-dimensional.

Personally, I noticed a tangible improvement in three of the eight movements when comparing my original and second assessment. Furthermore, from a subjective perspective, my hips (which were the focus) felt more mobile.

Expectations

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was a little disappointed when I understood the bones of the program. Having forked out around $80 (AUD), I was expecting more.

FF is essentially an assessment process plus a library of different stretch tutorials.

Over the coming days though, the beauty of the program dawned on me.

FF combines two underrated concepts which should underpin all programs – simplicity and accountability.

There’s nothing pretty or fancy about FF, but then again, the same can be said of improving flexibility. It’s a long term endeavour which requires consistent, targeted dedication.

FF allows you to achieve this by providing you with all the necessary tools.

Accessibility

I plan to switch focus for the next two week block and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The fact that GMB offers lifetime access is a nice touch and aligns with their values of pursuing quality movement over a lifetime.

Recommendations

Focused Flexibility is not for everyone.

If you’re after the ‘magic bullet’ to make you bendy like Gumby in quick time, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. The reality is, no such program exists (Russia excluded).

If you’re committed to improving flexibility and are relatively disciplined, FF is for you.

GMB Integral Strength: Week Three Review

Week three saw a change of format (here’s week one and two’s write-up).

Three weekly sessions became four, while a tad of cardiovascular training, in the form of skipping and sprinting, was added.

Two sessions were designed to emphasise strength and power, while the remaining two were labelled strength endurance. Although technically this holds true, the disparity between the two session types was minimal.

So. What did I learn?
  • Single leg training is underestimated and under-appreciated.
    • As I continue to chip away at shrimp squats, it has become increasingly apparent how poor my hip control is. This has illuminated the lack of carryover from bilateral movements, where you can clearly get away with not only poor single leg hip control, but significant asymmetries.
    • I suspect that with continued training and progression of single leg movements, bilateral movements, such as squats and deadlifts will improve, though this will be difficult to quantify.
    • Evidence is mounting, indicating that single leg training could perhaps replace bilateral training altogether in athletic endeavours that don’t require the squat (exluding powerlifting and weight lifting). This is because of the comparable strength and hypertrophy gains coupled with the greater athletic carryover and supposed reduced injury risk.
  • Vary your movements often, including the use of novel movements.
    • Including novel movements helps to boost body and spatial awareness. Furthermore, this will likely have carryover to other movements, allowing you to recruit muscle groups more efficiently.
    • The caveat here is, don’t aim for progression as you would your ‘regular’ programming, but rather, treat it as ‘play’. Admittedly, I’ve found this concept difficult having always approached physical training with a regimented approach.
  • A lower volume schedule allows quality to be emphasised.
    • GMB’s allotted time blocks per movement initially left me with the sense that it would be difficult to progress with such low volume. As the circuits have rolled on though, I’m beginning to grasp the value that low volume has when it comes to focusing on quality. If the sessions followed a more ‘traditional’ plan, the mindset would inevitably shift to getting the work over and done with. Cleverly, GMB has forced participants to work on quality and as the weeks continue (and volume increases) the quality habit will be instilled within.
  • The body’s response to training in not linear.
    • At the conclusion of the fourth and final circuit of the week, it was apparent how much more difficult I had found this workout relative to the equivalent session earlier in the week. This highlighted to me that variables such as training time (morning versus midday in this example) can have an impact on how the body responds to physical stimulus.
    • In addition, this ‘aha’ moment illustrated that you cannot base your performance or progression on a single session of training. This, no doubt, leads to program hopping, destroying long term progress.
Summarising

As I alluded to last week, I was interested to see GMB’s responsiveness when it came to asking for feedback. I sent a video of my inverted press asking for critique. Sure enough, a GMB accredited trainer responded swiftly with feedback (aim to keep my elbows tucked). I thought highly of this. Knowing that a support system is in place is a nice touch.

One concern I will raise is the push-pull balance. At present, there is a large bias towards pushing movements. Whether this is a result of equipment restrictions or not, I don’t know. Perhaps the team at GMB know something I don’t.

My thoughts were, too much pushing can lead to overload of certain musculature (such as the anterior deltoids) predisposing an individual to the likes of impingement. By utilising movements in the opposite direction (i.e. pulling) this imbalance can be offset.

Time will tell! My body (and shoulders) have been tolerating well thus far.

Stay tuned for next week’s summary!

GMB Integral Strength: Week Two Review

Perhaps I was a little critical of GMB’s Integral Strength (IS) program in my week one review

I wouldn’t consider this week’s programming to be supremely difficult, though I’m beginning to see, and better understand, the underlying IS framework.

Week two is a continuation of phase one, the focus of which remains on a short ‘practice circuit’. Over the course of the 3 sessions, the exercises are made progressively more difficult, until you reach a level that is appropriately challenging for your expertise.

For example, the L-sit on day one required a ‘tuck hold‘, meaning knees are held in to the body. Day two progressed to a single leg out, increasing the leverage requirements. Finally, day three’s version asked for both legs extended.

I found this movement particularly humbling. Although I could complete the 20 seconds with one leg extended, I felt my form was inadequate. With the GMB maxim centred on quality, I decided to focus on nailing the tuck hold before moving on.

Can you rate quality?

I understand GMB’s inclusion of a rating system (whereby you gauge how the movement felt in terms of ease and quality), though am unsure how effective this is. In my opinion, this is less of a failing of the system and has more to do with the question, ‘How do you quantify quality?’

GMB offers a novel rating system including descriptors ‘challenging’, ‘solid’ and ‘relaxed’. I understand their approach in putting a unique spin on a method, though feel a more traditional and proven protocol may have been more effective.

In autoregulation for example, a score of 10 would indicate maximum effort with no capacity to do more. A score of 8 is indicative of a movement which is about right in terms of difficulty, or perhaps a little on the challenging side, though with the ability to progress (though form may be compromised).

To progress, or not to progress?

I appreciate the thought of the progressions, coupled with instructions to perform a lower level exercise if difficulty is too high. GMB do really well in offering a graduated scheme to build select movements.

However, stricter guidelines would be helpful here. An individual may be able to complete an exercise, though with sloppy form. Placing more emphasis on self-assessment based on the rating system, could be implemented.

Feedback and form

As the drills became progressively harder, I found myself filming my form and comparing it to the tutorials. This enabled me to check if I was on track, or perhaps needed to tweak an aspect of the exercise. The inverted press was a good example of this. The aim is to create a vertical descent of the torso  (emulating a deconstructed handstand push-up). I noticed I was adopting something in between the ideal and the traditional push-up, and consequently made the appropriate adjustments (hello triceps DOMS!).

In terms of feedback and optimal form, I wonder how responsive the team at GMB would be if I were to send them the aforementioned video asking for a critique? This week, I’ll aim to carry out this little experiment to gauge their responsiveness.

Change in the brain

On a personal note, my mindset shift to quality, is beginning to consolidate. This is a refreshing change from the traditional reps and sets scheme.

I’m excited to see how week three unfolds in terms of structure, intensity and programming in general. From all reports, things step up a notch and a daily undulating periodisation model is adopted.

Stay tuned for week 3!