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Exercise of the Week(ish) – Front Bulgarian Split Squats

17 Apr

Ever since my show, and the diet aggravated hip injury that refuses to go away completely, I’ve started to utilize single leg movements into my training more often.  Bulgarian split squats have quickly become one of my favorite exercises, and I’ve spent a bit of time trying different ways of performing them to find a variation that I consistently enjoy.  This past week I decided to try loading the exercise like a traditional front squat, and BOOM, exercise infatuation.

side note: I hate the music at my gym

A couple of tips if you want to try these out.  I’m a big advocate of using lifting straps to do front squats(Check this out if you have questions on how that’s done), and for this I think it’s even more important.  Like most single-leg exercises, these are a bit unstable, and the straps can give you a more solid grip on the bar.  Second, pay careful attention to your foot positioning.  With the bar out front looking down at the ground is difficult, and consequently it’s pretty hard to get your feet in the right place when you switch legs.  You’ll notice that I had to reset my feet after my first rep on my second leg.  This isn’t an uncommon issue, and discovering a reliable way to orient yourself mid-set will help keep that to a minimum.

Three Things I Like About Front Bulgarian Split Squats

  1. Vertical back angle.  Bulgarian split squats are normally performed with a nearly vertical back angle, and the front bar position emphasizes that even more.  This takes stress off my lower back, which means I can do more and heavier deadlifts without fatigue issues.
  2. These torch my quads.  The combination of a vertical back angle and a high degree of knee flexion is great for emphasizing quad recruitment, and mine definitely need the work.
  3. They don’t require extremely heavy loading to be hard.  Anyone who routinely puts several hundred pounds across their backs or in their hands will tell you how exhausting it is, and conserving energy on quad allows me to…. wait for it…. do more and heavier deadlifts.
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Exercise of the Week(ish) – Turkish Get Up

1 Apr

So I think I’m going to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight an exercise I really enjoy every week or so.  Sometimes I’ll include tips on performing the movement, other times I’ll just write a love letter to a particular corner of the exercise world.  This post definitely falls into the latter category.

It should surprise no one that the first exercise I’ve chosen to talk about is the turkish get up.  Not only is it my favorite exercise, but I try and perform some version of it every day that I’m in the gym.  So why do I love this bizarre looking, at least to the uninitiated, exercise?  Here’s the top 4 reasons.

  1. It’s really good for my shoulder health.  Due to swinging a sledgehammer for a couple summers in college, a history of borderline overtraining, and what might be charitably characterized as being a fucking moron, my shoulders are significantly beat up.  While at first glance get ups may look prone to causing shoulder injuries, as long as you don’t fail a rep in a really ugly way stabilizing your shoulder through the full range of motion is a great way to strengthen all the muscles of the shoulder girdle and prevent injuries during other activities.
  2. TGUs can be an extremely effective conditioning tool.  I do not enjoy traditional cardio.  I straight up hate it.  Even some sort of HIIT cardio just makes me miserable, and I don’t get the same endorphin rush I get from lifting.  However, a 12-16 rep set of TGUs leaves me equally as exhausted and out of breath as sprinting, and I feel like my muscles have actully done something significant.
  3. TGUs, when performed correctly, hit nearly every muscle in your body.  Triceps, abdominals, obliques, hips, quads, the entire shoulder girdle, none of them lie dormant, and many of them can be subjected to near-maximal loads.
  4. Performing a get up with a heavy weight, or an unwieldy implement, is impressive as all fuck.  It’s also one of the few exercises where people who are familiar with the movement still find it as impressive as those who have yet to be introduced to it.  And let’s be honest, looking impressive as all fuck comprises a minimum of 50% of why I go to the gym.  Here’s an example of what I mean when I said “unwieldy implement” up above, this is also my favorite party trick.

Lifting Philosophy

29 Mar

When one is talking or writing about lifting there are three levels that you can focus on.  The most granular level is execution, how should you perform the movement?  Stuff like hand positioning and back arch in the bench press, initiating a turkish get up with a hip roll, or keeping your knees out during a squat are all at the execution level.  The next level above that is programming, which exercises should you do, how often should you do them, and at what intensity?  A huge proportion of fitness writing is focused on these sorts of questions, dumbell vs barbell bench, 5 sets of 5 vs 3 sets of 8 vs 8 sets of 3,  supinated vs pronated grip pullups.  Questions such as these are all important to consider, and I will write extensively about my opinions on them in the future.  Today however I wanted to discuss the third, most general, level that I like to refer to as the strategic or philosophical level.  This basically boils down to, given a goal or set of goals, what is the most effective style of training to achieve that goal or goals.

In my case I have 3 general goals.  First, achieve and maintain a high level of absolute strength, second, remain explosive and flexible enough to perform basic to intermediate gymnastics and bodyweight movements, and third, maintain body fat and symmetry at a level where I can be “stage-ready” with a maximum of three months notice.  I don’t think anyone would argue that these aren’t fairly common goals amongst the gym-going population.  Pretty much everybody wants to be stronger, more athletic, and leaner/more muscular.  Thus, even though the particulars of my training may be excessive for many people, largely due to the outlier nature of my specific goals, the principles that I consider when I make my programming decisions should be applicable to a wide range of trainees.

There are the three principles that form the basis of my personal lifting philosophy.

  1. Big, compound movements should be the focus of your programming, and the majority of your energy should be spent performing them.
    For the natural, i.e. not drug enhanced, lifter there is a plethora of research to support the assertion the the most effective way to gain strength and add muscle tissue is by moving heavy weights over a relatively large distance.  Say you take two genetically identical trainees, have trainee A do nothing but bench presses and weighted pullups, and have trainee B do nothing but dumbell bicep curls and tricep extenstions over a 6 month timespan.  After those 6 months their arm sizes will be very similar, but trainee will have also developed a more muscular chest,  a thicker back, and wider shoulders.  I’m not advocating completely ignoring bicep curls, because I do bicep curls and calf raises and other exercises that are considered useless by the “functional” exercise crowd.  However, you can be damn sure that by the time I bust out my Fat Gripz and start getting my glory swole on I’ve already spent some serious quality time with the pull-up bar.
  2. To progress beyond a certain level, you must perform exercises in the sub-5 rep range with maximal effort.

    After a trainee has been lifting seriously for 6-12 months they will have exhausted most, if not all, of their “newbie gains”.   At this point if you want to get bigger and stronger you’ll need to increase your maximal strength, and the only reliable way to do that is by lifting at or near your strength limits.  This is, at best, an acquired taste.  Doing a 1 or 3 rep set to (technical) failure hurts, the first few times you do go that hard it’ll hurt in a variety of new and exciting ways.  But it’s the only way to force your body to adapt to higher loads.  Lifting this heavy every time is not advised, even the most powerlifting focused templates, particularly Westside and 5/3/1, incorporate significant lifting at higher rep ranges.

  3. Supplements will never, ever, be an effective substitute for a high protein, whole food, diet.

    This isn’t truly a lifting principle, but proper nutrition and recovery are absolutely essential to get the most out of your time in the gym.  As the saying goes, you can’t out-train a shitty diet, and no amount of creatine and BCAAs will turn a shitty diet into a good one.  I’m not saying that you should avoid everything that comes in pill bottles and plastic tubs.  I am an evangelical user of vitamin D and fish oil, appreciate the convenience of whey protein powder, and have even begun to dabble in pre-workout.  But if you asked me to choose between those, and my egg, chicken, and steak habit I would take the more conventional food without hesitation.  Supplements, when used appropriately, enhance a good diet.

Barring a major shift in goals, these are the principles that the fitness focused posts on this blog will reflect.

Hello World

25 Mar

I’m going to skip the traditional raison d’etre first post and just get right into a rant of the day.  I’m okay with doing this because this is my blog, nobody is going to read it anyways, and first and foremost my hip hurts.

It hurts real fucking bad.

I just got back from my first attempt at doing a real Deadlift workout in about 2 months.  During my preparation for my first bodybuilding contest, which will be the subject of at least one future post, I pulled most of the muscles in the low back/glute/hamstring chain on my right side and was unable to perform Deadlifts or Barbell Squats.  Now that I’ve spent a couple of weeks recuperating, and getting my blood sugar and body fat back above prison camp levels it seemed like a good idea to start lifting heavy again.

This did not go well.

I got up to 315, which is ~60% of my pre-cut 1RM, and was barely able to get it off the ground.  Grip felt fine, back felt fine, left leg felt fine, but my right hip was just lagging.  Lagging to the point that I could feel my pelvis fall out of level after 2 reps.  Because I’m stubborn, and kind of a moron sometimes(FYI, this will be a recurring theme on the blog), I kept lifting.  Sumo stance seemed to be slightly less excruciating, so I stuck with that, and ended up doing 11 reps over a total of 5 sets.

This was interspersed with a fair bit of grunting, groaning, gritted teeth, and over all shitty behavior.  Luckily the gym was mostly empty so nobody gave me too many dirty looks.

I finished the workout with some Bulgarian Split Squats, working up to 5@175, which made me feel better mentally, but may not have been the smartest idea I’ve ever had.

I’m going back tonight to do some accessory work, and one of my trainer buddies has promised to floss band my leg.  I may burst out in tears, and will certainly scream a little bit, but I’m hoping that I should be a little looser and healthier by the time I hit legs again on Thursday.

As I’m typing this my pre-workout/advil cocktail is wearing off and my IT band feels about as tight as a guitar string, so I’m going to stop writing before this post degenerates into a string of profanities.