Physically Cultured Challenge: Two Hand Pinch

This week’s Physically Cultured Challenge is going to test how strong those opposable thumbs of yours really are.

There are two primary ways to train the strength of the thumb, which is often the limiting factor in overall hand strength.

You can either grip something very wide so that the fingers can’t wrap all the way around it – this is called support grip.

Or, you can train the pinch motion of the hand.

Pinch is when the fingers are extended and pressed flat on the object, and the thumb is used to press the object against the fingers.

One of the simplest ways to train the pinch is to squeeze a pair of plates and hold it for time, which is this week’s challenge.

Pinch is an incredibly important movement for overall strength of the hand, but even more so as a counter-balance or opposition movement to the flexion-of-the-fingers-heavy movements most lifters do a lot of. While it’s tempting to think that extending the fingers against resistance such as rubber bands is the opposition movement to finger flexion, and it may be technically correct from a strictly bio-mechanical perspective, it’s not correct physiologically.

This is something I learned from grip legend Adam T. Glass. Adam has always contended that the flexion-opposition movement of the fingers is not extension against resistance, but resistance IN extension of the fingers, such as in the pinch motion, because this is how the hand actually functions. The analogy he offers is that like an alligator’s jaw, the hand is very weak in creating force opening up but extremely strong in staying closed – even when the fingers are extended. This is the kind of thing you can only understand when you truly understand how the body functions in practice, rather than how a textbook suggests it should.

And the experience of grip athletes and rock climbers for whom band finger-extension work has never worked but pinch training has paid huge dividends confirms this theory.

Enough about that – let’s get to pinching.

See the video for details. If you can’t quite lift two 45 pound plates pinched together feel free to modify as appropriate. One thick rubber bumper plate may be a good option for some people.

I look forward to hearing what you can do!

Get Obsessed With Consistency

“Get obsessed with consistency.” The words hit me like the fastball that got me one of many rounds of stitches, right at the eyebrow.

I was reading a pre-release copy of my friend JC Deen’s Stay Leaner Longer, and while that is a fantastic book that I also think you should check out, that’s not entirely the point of this email.

The quote was from a perhaps well-known in small circles Dubai trained named Amir Siddiqui. Amir is known among other coaches for his irreverent take on training, but also his formidable physique and the results he gets with his fancy-pants Emirati clients.

Amir looks like what Batman would look like if he grew a beard and packed on forty pounds of muscle. This is a guy who walks the walk and doesn’t have to convince you because you can see it.

Amir-Consistency

This quote, this quote about consistency has been ringing in my ears for a couple months now since I read it. The problem, as I see it, is that people get obsessed with goals. Women imagine what it will look and feel like when they lose thirty pounds and they fit into their skinny jeans. Guys think about what they’re going to look like when they hit that 500 pound deadlift. Some literature on goals will even recommend this strategy and really encourage you to visualize down to the last detail what it will be like when you hit that goal.

And then reality sets in and you realize that the goal is months, if not years, away and you wonder if this one workout even really matters. If it makes any difference at all if you just go home and hit the couch tonight. You can always catch up tomorrow.

Except that it does matter, and you can’t catch up. Even if you could, realistically you won’t.

The consistency is what matters. Get obsessed with it. Be more obsessed with making it to your next training session than the end goal you have in mind. Be more obsessed with getting the most out of the training session that you’re in the midst of than how you’re going to feel when you achieve the goal.

When it comes to physical transformation, consistency trumps perfection every single time. In school I learned the hard way what it meant to my overall grade when I got a 0 on an assignment I didn’t do. My grade tanked. Even if I had turned in something half-assed and gotten 50%, I still would have had a better average final grade. At Juggernaut’s Become Unstoppable 3 some folks were talking to Mike Israetel and expressing some awe at just how god damn big he was. He said, “Look guys, there’s no secret. I never miss a training session, and I never miss meals.” I thought back to the previous day when everyone else was sitting around chatting and Mike was lifting. I don’t think he has missed a lift or a protein shake in a decade.

It’s not hopes and dreams that add up to big goals, it’s action.

Physically Cultured Challenge: 500 Push Presses

This challenge, something as close to cardio as I get except for the occasional Lift Weights Faster workout, is one of my favorite feats I’ve ever worked on. It’s deceptively simple which may have you looking at it and thinking “that’s it?” I probably had the same reaction when Adam T. Glass issued the challenge to me because I know it took several months to achieve it.

So, let’s see you give it a shot.

The challenge is 500 16kg (35lbs) push presses in 15 minutes for men, 12kg for women.

I personally prefer a kettlebell for this challenge, but you can do what you feel.

You may switch hands as often as you like, and you can rest or do whatever you want but I assure you there is little time for anything but push pressing.

Biofeedback By Any Other Name Would Be as Awesome

I don’t have a smart and allegorical or snarky and funny introduction for this piece, and I’m certainly not going to win a Pulitzer prize for it, but this topic has come up enough times to address it.

Every so often someone emails me or comments on the blog that I’m using the term “biofeedback” incorrectly. According to their experience, biofeedback is where you use a device (amusingly, some people have also asked how much the device costs to do the kind of training I advocate) that monitors some combination of heart rate, skin conductance, brain waves, or other physiological markers, and then make a continuous effort to manipulate those markers. What I recommend as a biofeedback-testing approach to training doesn’t use any of this hardware.

An example application of the traditional approach is the emwave system and protocol, which involves monitoring heart rate and attempting to bring conscious control over your heart rate to lower it and “smooth” it out or bring it into “coherence,” in their terminology.

I’m not going to discuss the efficacy or specific applications of these forms of biofeedback because it’s not my area of expertise.

Let’s instead unpack my version of the definition and the structure of the underlying approach to understand what it means.

The Wikipedia definition of biofeedback describes it as “is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will.” So, you’ve got a stimulus and a concomitant response, some way to gain awareness and quantify the response, and an attempt to manipulate it. Visually, it’s like this:

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Can we fit biofeedback training (as I use the term) into that model?

Lo and behold, biofeedback training fits perfectly into the existing biofeedback training. You’re using range of motion (ROM) to gain insight into the physiological response to a specific movement and using that information to inform your next decision.

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Besides just being a bit blinkered by their previous experience, I think folks who are confused by the use of the term biofeedback are missing an important point.

For example, when biofeedback is used clinically as a stress relief or relaxation technique the explicit goal may be to consciously manipulate and lower the heart rate. But you’re not using biofeedback to the end of lowering heart rate, you’re using it as a proxy to relax or, if you want to get technical (which I don’t), effect a change in the autonomic nervous system to push it more parasympathetic.

Similarly, in biofeedback training the apparent goal is to get a positive change in range of motion, but ultimately that is only a proxy for the broader goal, which is to influence the body in such a way that it exhibits a positive physiological response (as determined by the increase in ROM) that over the long term seems to produce the best training results.

Let me be crystal clear on this point:

Doing things in the short term that result in a positive changes in range of motion seems to translate to positive results in the long term.

Biotrainforcerize™

I don’t doubt that it may be better from a marketing standpoint to have a proprietary term exclusive to me and the ideas and protocol I espouse. Sadly, that would violate the simple and pragmatic approach I prefer to use in general.

So for now I’m going to keep calling it biofeedback.

Effort, How Much is Too Much

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If I could wave my magic wand and change one thing about how people approach strength training, or training in general for that matter, it would be their perspective on and application of effort.

That’s right, biofeedback testing wouldn’t be the first place I would start. (Don’t get me wrong, I think you should test, too, since this hypothetical mutually exclusive scenario doesn’t exist—but testing wouldn’t be The One Weird Trick™ I’d lead with.)

In general, if you ask someone how much effort they apply in their training they’ll give you the answer they think you want to hear which is: ALL OF IT. But I think there’s a problem in the way most people define “effort.”

Effort as it applies to training is strenuous physical or mental exertion. Effort implies straining or probing the limits.

And yet, you can get better, more consistent results without straining.

The Elements of Effort

The very first topic I teach in my workshops is the concept of excessive effort to clarify exactly how we should navigate this term. Excessive effort is anything more than the minimal effective amount of effort, or anything that involves the elements of effort. All credit goes to my mentor Frankie Faires for outlining this spectrum of effort:

  1. Speed: When reps slow down
  2. Tension: When “poop face” occurs
  3. Breathing: When respiration gets ragged
  4. Alignment: When your form changes
  5. Failure: Missing a rep
  6. Pain: Shit starts to hurt
  7. Damage: Shit breaks

Can we agree that when things go south on a lift, you generally exhibit changes in these characteristics? Whether or not it happens in this exact order, you usually have a change (loss) of bar speed, which coincides with an increase in tension (usually not directly related to moving the weight, such as gritting your teeth or grimacing), that changes your breathing (i.e., going from not holding your breath to holding it), and results in a shift in your alignment (which hopefully doesn’t cause injury) as you struggle to complete the lift or ultimately fail it.

These elements of effort consistently show up when shit gets ugly.

Now, there’s a bit of a divide between trained and untrained individuals. Usually people with no training background find it perfectly reasonable to stop before excessive effort is applied. Trained individuals, on the other hand, have typically been indoctrinated with this special brand of “beast-mode thinking” that doesn’t benefit them and often leaves them with a laundry list of pains and injuries to show for it. They’re the ones who stand to benefit the most by stopping before effort shows up.

Say you don’t believe me and you remain utterly convinced that grinding to the limit is a prerequisite for improvement. Let me ask a few questions:

Have you ever watched the Olympics? How often do they exhibit the elements of excessive effort when they’re competing at the absolute top of their game?

Watch this video of IPF world-record holder and one of the strongest raw powerlifters alive Mike Tuchscherer pulling 755×4. With the order of the reps shuffled would you even be able to tell which rep is first and last?

Have you ever heard someone exclaim with admiration, “Wow, nice job! You really made that look hard!”?

Mastery is when you can make hard things look easy. If we believe that the SAID principle (specific adaptations to imposed demands) governs our training, then doesn’t it make more sense to specifically train the way we want it to eventually look: easy?

Embrace Effortless 

At first it may seem that this approach is either exceedingly simple and can’t make much difference, or you may think it’s just flat-out wrong. As with anything I write or speak about, the ultimate test is up to you to perform, but it requires action, not thinking, on your part. I believe you will find that this makes a profound difference in your training experience and will be transformative in your practice.

I mentioned briefly earlier that this is the first topic I cover in my workshops. This year we’ll be kicking off our workshop circuit at EQ Fitness near San Mateo, California. This particular workshop workshop, a 3-for-1 smorgasboard of fitness awesomeness, is a joint venture between myself, Jen Sinkler, and Pat Flynn. If you want to learn what comes after this topic, as well as a ton of cool kettlebell and bodyweight stuff from masters like Jen and Pat, then you’d be a fool to miss this one.

 

 

 

Physically Cultured Challenge: One Hand Deadlift Test

This post kicks off a series of challenges of the physical culture variety that myself and Dellanavich are putting to you.

It’s one of my core beliefs that the more adaptable you are, the more useful you are. That doesn’t mean you need to be a generalist and be good at everything, but that you can adapt to the widest variety of situations. A huge part of that is physically being able to withstand the widest range of possible insults. I’m going to dig into my bag of tricks to pull out challenges that are both worthy tests of mettle as well as ways to hone your own metal.

This challenge is a classic. Two minutes, as many reps as you can with a fixed weight. The fat handle is key here, so get yourself some Fat Gripz if you don’t have a fat dumbbell.

Share your weight and your reps in the comments!

How to be a Great Training Partner

Training Part Feat

Good training partners are perhaps the most underestimated piece of the training equation. You can have all of the best possible equipment, the ultimate training plan, and all the potent gains-inducing supplements in the world and you’re still going to miss out on a host of benefits that good training partners provide. For some people the training partner is the lynchpin, because without one, they won’t show up to train at all.

Here’s how you can be a great training partner:

 1. Show Up

A training partner who cancels or doesn’t show up to train is worse than not having one at all. At least if you’re used to flying solo you’re not doing anything different than usual, but when you’re expecting a partner it is totally demotivating to have them skip their workout and have to do it on your lonesome. Being someone’s training partner is a duty you accept and you have responsibilities that go with that. Show up.

2. Know When to Encourage and When to STFU

A good training partner is not an incessant cheerleader constantly hyping you up and telling you that you can do it no matter what. Sometimes some encouragement and hype is appropriate. Sometimes it’s best to shut the fuck up and let someone focus on what they’re doing. Know when to do each and pay attention to social cues.

3. Challenge by Asking

One of the most powerful phrases you can use is “Can I do that?” This simple question has transformed the training of many people. But almost as powerful is “Can you do that?” The best training partner I ever had was someone who had such an intimate knowledge of the spectrum of difficulty in strength feats that he was always able to ask “can you do that?” of the next progression I was capable, or almost capable of. This drove my training forward in a way that I’ve never before or since experienced. Challenging your training partners to perform new feats or reach new PRs by asking the question of them is one of the very best ways a partner can improve the training environment.

4. Leave Your Partner Better

This one is a little nebulous and vague, but stay with me. Ultimately your goal needs to be that when your training partner(s) leave the gym they are better than when they came, and not just from the strength session. If they leave burdened with or annoyed by your life problems that you foisted onto them during the training session, well, you screwed up. That’s not to say you can’t hash out issues during your lift, just make sure you’re respectful about it and that they leave better because they were able to help or because you canned it before things got out of control. Another example would be when training partners have major discrepancies in strength levels. You don’t have to be at the same level of strength or ability, but you don’t get to gloat about it or be a dick – everyone has to leave better. Manners go a long way in this department, such as pick up after yourself  and not leaving it to your partner. Offer words of encouragement or praise, make them feel better.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Training partners can make or break your training. Do your part to be a great training partner and you’ll reap the benefits many times over.

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Using Biofeedback in Competition

Using biofeedback in training has distinct, proven advantages over other methods of training that do not incorporate auto-regulation, or adapting the stimulus to the state of the system. Biofeedback essentially allows you to get more out of your training at a lower cost in terms of stress and recovery. The long-term benefits of this should be obvious in reducing injuries and maximizing progress. Training is often like the fable of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady gains beat short intense bursts of progress followed by long recovery from injury.

But, it’s not as obvious how biofeedback can be used in the competition context to win.

There are two main ways to use it that I have used myself and in athletes I coach.

1. Selecting Movement Variations

Even in the sport of powerlifting, which has a fairly limited range of options for how you can legally perform a lift, there are still quite a few options. You can squat high-bar or low-bar, wide stance or narrow, ass to grass or just below parallel and so on. In the bench press you can vary your grip, foot placement, and bar path among other things. In the deadlift you’ve got two main stances to choose from, everything in between, as well as smaller variations like round-back or not.

All of these things can be tested.

In her most recent meet my wife, Jen Sinkler, made a last-minute switch to a conventional stance from a poorly-testing sumo stance. The result? A roughly 60-pound PR in her conventional stance that she hadn’t been training in years, a 2.5kg lifetime competition PR in the deadlift, a Minnesota state record, and a meet win. Oh, and a 364 pound deadlift.

Results may not always be this dramatic, but when faced with a choice you may be given an opportunity to select the best-testing movement for your body that day. Doing so, in my experience, is virtually guaranteed to result in the best possible result with the least chance of injury when you’re inherently testing the absolute limits of your body.

2. Potentiating Other Movements

Movement that tests well has a striking effect: It potentiates, or increases the output of, all other movement. To put that another way, you could take the output or quality of any given movement as your metric, do a movement that tests well, and then do the first movement again and it will be better. That’s just how it works. In fact, that’s the principle that the ROM or grip testing is based on: if you do something that tests well, you will get more from the ROM or grip.

How can you use this?

In between competitive events that may or may not test well – that part is irrelevant – you can do movements that you know test well. This can be informed from your previous training and knowing what works for your body, or it can be from movements that are components or opposites of the movement you’re competing in. Two examples:

  • In grip competitions when every last tenth of a kilogram matters I would often do movements that test well for me, rows and deadlifts (no load, just the movement) primarily, in between the grip events.  In some contests this has been the difference between making the next weight jump and not making it at all.
  • This last meet that Jen competed in her back was pretty tight after the bench press. She doesn’t have great extension, and the extreme arch in the bench probably didn’t test well for her. Before the deadlift, a lift where extension is required, I had her doing some one-hand reverse extensions which test exceptionally well for her. It’s impossible to quantify how much this helped in such a big lift, but it instantly made her back feel closer to normal.

In short, a quick and easy “hack” to increase your movement quality in ALL the movements you do is to do a few reps of something that tests well. You can almost think of it as a sub-micro training session that makes you instantaneously better – the same idea we’re going for in training over the long term.

Preparation Meets Opportunity

A few movements that test well aren’t going to make up for a lack of training, a lack of preparedness, or a lack of capability. It’s not magic. But when you bring a complete package of training and preparedness to the competition, biofeedback can still help you on game day to put it all together and maximize your potential.

Biofeedback For The Literal Win

Read how to use Biofeedback in Competition

It was the middle of last week and I was worried. I just happened to be walking by the door to the training floor at The Movement Minneapolis at the exact moment that my wife, Jen Sinkler, took a pull on a heavily loaded bar, barely broke it off the ground, and then knelt on the ground behind it. I did a double take, took two steps back into the doorway, and said: “What was that?”

“Oh, ahh, nothing, totally fine,” came her response.

It did not look fine to me.

One thing I know about Jen is that she doesn’t show, or even admit, for that matter, weakness when it comes to competition – and the powerlifting contest she had been training for was a mere five days away. I asked about it later and was met with more insistence that everything was fine and that her “hip flexors were just tight.”

I didn’t give it any more thought until six of nine lifts were in the books and Jen was going into the deadlift with a 2.5-kilogram lead against her arch rival. It’s also worth mentioning that because of a rule change in weight classes, any records broken at this meet would have their holder’s names in the Minnesota state record books forever. She already held the squat record and she was going for the deadlift and total record.

But her hips were in pain. She pulled a little over 138 kg (305 pounds) in her normal competition sumo stance in the warm-up area and it was suspiciously slow and effortful.

To even maintain her lead, she was going to have to deadlift something equal to or greater than her previous meet lifetime PR of 162.5 kg (358.2 pounds), and her rival was opening 7.5 kg (roughly 16 pounds) higher than she was. She needed big pulls, and she wasn’t looking to be in any kind of shape to pull big.

“It’s really hurting my hip flexors at the bottom of the pull now,” she said.

On a hunch, I asked, “How does conventional test?”

Even the best of us forget the basics sometimes, and Jen hadn’t considered questioning her premise that sumo was her best competition stance. She took a few seconds to run through the testing protocol and discovered that sumo tested terribly, while conventional tested extremely well. She went back to the 138 kg bar, pulled it conventional, and tested. Not only did the weight fly up, but it tested extremely well.

Jen walked out onto the platform and confidently pulled 147.5 kg (325 pounds), then 160 kg (353 pounds), and then 165 kg (364 pounds) to seal a lifetime deadlift PR, the state deadlift record, the total record, the middleweight win, and the meet’s best lifter award. Her rival pulled 162.5 kg (358 pounds), a pull that would have likely given her the win, resulting in her name in the record book, had Jen not switched her style of deadlifting that day.

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Up to that point there were many factors to thank for getting her there. Chad Wesley Smith’s Juggernaut programming, which had a squat emphasis, put 15 kg on her total. Advice from some other badass female lifters helped her cut a few pounds and make her weight class. Her lifting partners provided encouragement and support to keep her training consistent.

But none of that would have mattered had she not tested her movement before stepping out on the platform. She had been doing too much of the same thing, she was in pain, and there is no way she would have pulled a lifetime PR deadlift in that condition. She may have even injured herself.

Biofeedback for the win, indeed.

You know, it’s funny, every once in a while some jackass, thinking they’re finding a flaw in the system, will ask me, “Well, what if something doesn’t test well on meet day, do you just tell them you can’t lift that day?” And the answer is, no, you step out on the platform and you do what you have to do no matter what – because it’s competition. But, if you can adjust your game and make better decisions because of biofeedback, then you’re not at a disadvantage: instead, you’re gaining a massive competitive advantage.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this play out, but it is certainly one of the most dramatic.

And, it came as a wonderful punctuation to last week’s Off The Floor anniversary sale that ended this weekend. (I extended it for a couple days because of Jen’s victory.)

Ultimately, if you’ve been on the fence about biofeedback testing, I want you to ask yourself if you’re going to question your premises or stay where you are.

If you already have been testing and following your body, then I have a challenge for you: what things are you not questioning that could get you better results?

The quality of your answers depends on the quality of your questions.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who picked up OTF last week. Your support means the world to me, and allows me to continue doing what I love and providing great information.

Better Biofeedback Pull-up Program

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Ask almost any coach who has been around for a while how to do more pull-ups and they’ll likely mention Pavel’s Fighter Pull-Up program. And for good reason, because it’s a great program that hinges on a fundamental tenet of many good training programs: high-frequency of training at sub-maximal intensities.

For those unfamiliar with the program the idea is to take your best max pull-up set, do a maximal set, and then do about 4 drop-off sets of fewer reps each. You may only do 3 drop-off sets just dropping a rep each set, or you may do up to 5 more sets dropping 5 reps per set all depending on what your total rep max is. Someone who can do 25 reps is going to need more of a drop-off than someone who can do 5.

But, it could be better.

The problem with the Fighter Pull-up program is that it’s essential a linear progression distress training program. Another way to say that is that you have to hit a certain number of reps and you’re expected to always be increasing that number and if you don’t the whole thing falls apart. The instructions for what to do if you don’t hit the prescribed reps is literally: “If you run into a snag with this routine, back off a week and build up again. If you hit the wall again switch to another routine.” So if it doesn’t work, do something else. Duh.

I’d like to present to you the Better Biofeedback Pull-up Program. This program is both a great introduction to biofeedback training keeping it simple and to just one exercise, as well a more advanced and smarter way to approach pull-up training. I’ve used this exact method with countless clients, and myself, to increase my pull-up strength and ability.
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P.S. If you want a full biofeedback-based training program you need to check out my deadlifting program, Off The Floor, which is on sale for HALF OFF this week only until Friday at midnight. It has been upgraded and expanded since the original release, and I’ve got some awesome prizes to draw for people who pick it up this week. If you’re serious about putting pounds on your deadlift, you owe it to yourself to take advantage of this opportunity!

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