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Archive for the 'Training' Category

Girl Power

As a father to a girl, I always tell my daughter that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do. She has no concept of there being any limitations because of gender. She has grown up playing sports with her older brother and has turned into a gym rat. A day does not pass without her asking to play in the gym.

rope climb

Yet, while she calls it play time, my six year old will be the first person to tell you not to talk to anyone who is in the middle of a set. She is well aware of the unwritten rules of the gym. She is not there to socialize. She is always doing something. Whether she is jumping rope, climbing rope, or playing with the bars, she keeps herself busy and is always looking for a new challenge. If I had a nickel for every time she asked for five more minutes in the gym, I would have at least one year of her college tuition saved in the bank.

Unfortunately, it seems like my daughter’s interest in sport and exercise is somewhat unique. As a coach in the community, I rarely see young girls who are as eager to participate and play. It seems as if many girls are steered away from such activities. It is much more common to see fathers out on the field with their sons. I’ve even seen parents who have sons and daughters who bring their boys to practice while the young girls sit on the sidelines and play with electronic devices.

I could not imagine leaving my daughter on the sideline to play with my phone while I am on the field with my son. What message are we giving our daughters if we make them sit out while the boys practice on the field? I want my daughter to participate. I would rather have her struggling to keep up with the older boys than sitting around doing nothing.

If more parents encouraged their daughters to compete without limitations, we would not be surprised at videos such as that below. Take a look at one girl who just finished her first summer of calisthenic training.

This young woman cranks out muscle-ups with ease. And this is all just after one summer of bodyweight training. Imagine what she will accomplish after a year or two of serious training? The sky is truly the limit.

Am I surprised?

Not at all. Why should I be surprised? Who said that women cannot perform exercises such as muscle-ups? Anyone who utters such a statement is a fool. I always tell my daughter that she can accomplish anything she wants to accomplish. Sure, she will fail at times. We all fail. I have failed more times than I could ever remember. Failure is often one of the most important stepping stones toward success. If you are ambitious, failure comes with the territory. Don’t run from it. Learn from it.

In summary, stop telling children what they can or cannot accomplish. Encourage them to try and let them chart their own course. We owe them that right. Every individual has a right to live their own lives and pursue their own dreams. I have no idea what my daughter will pursue as the years pass, but I will surely be by her side encouraging her each step of the way. No one will tell her what she can accomplish. She will find out for herself.

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Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours. – Richard Bach

9 comments

What The Plank Record Tells Me

A Beijing SWAT team member (Mao Weidong) recently destroyed the world record for the longest plank. He held the position for 4 hours and 26 minutes.

World record plank

Unfortunately, it did not take long after the record was set for people to begin posting snide remarks about it.  My own inbox has even been filled with questions and comments about the significance of Weidong’s feat. For instance, many consider the plank to be a low level core exercise so wonder why anyone would waste so much time holding this position. Others have been more blunt in telling me that the plank is a worthless exercise and that Mao Weidong should find something better to do with his time.

Personally, I am not so quick to dismiss the significance of a 4+ hour plank. Whether you like the exercise or not does not diminish the difficulty of holding this position for such a lengthy time. In other words, regardless of how you rank the plank as an exercise, it is not easy to hold this position continuously for even a fraction of Weidong’s time. Therefore, while I am not suggesting that we all sleep in the plank, let’s at least give credit where credit is due and take what we can from this example.

For starters, I agree that there are better core exercises than the plank. There is a long list of movements that I would rank higher in terms of effectiveness and time efficiency. The plank still offers some benefits however. And perhaps the greatest benefit in my opinion has nothing to do with core strength. The plank can be a useful exercise simply because of the mental challenge that it presents.

Anyone who has ever held the plank has reached a point where the mind begins to believe that you can no longer continue. In layman’s terms, we have all reached a point where we had to suck it up and resist the temptation to come down from the position. During such times, the plank becomes more of a mental challenge than a core exercise. You either have the mental toughness to keep going or you don’t. It is as simple as that.

Yeah, but what about…

I am sure that many readers are thinking it, so let’s get it out of the way. Yes, there are several other exercises that also require mental toughness. I am certainly not suggesting that the plank is the crème de la crème from a mental toughness perspective. I will be the first to admit that I do not spend a lot of time holding the plank. If I include the exercise, I prefer working with more difficult variations. For instance, I might wear a significant weighted vest and use the plank as a finisher at the conclusion of a workout. I do not have hours to invest in testing my plank endurance so I would rather perform a more challenging and time efficient option.

I do enjoy the mental battle that a difficult plank provides. Getting yourself used to regularly fighting through the natural urge to stop a challenging exercise or experience is a tremendous way to build mental toughness. And in many athletic events it is mental toughness that separates champions from contenders. All athletes will eventually face pain and fatigue. How you deal with these variables will often dictate your success or failure.

Less can be more

One knock that I often see against the plank is that it is not a very productive exercise. I have already stated that it is not the best core exercise, and others often dismiss the mental challenge of holding this position. For example, it is obviously more difficult to fight through pain in the 12th round of a championship fight than it is to hold the plank. I don’t necessarily view that as a con however. It is useful to have mental challenges in our arsenal that do not beat us down. I can challenge myself with a weighted plank where I must literally fight with every ounce of physical and mental strength to prevent myself from coming down. The mental challenge is real, yet I am able to quickly recover from the exercise without any pain or soreness. That’s a huge plus, particularly since I am not using the exercise as a staple in my core training arsenal.

In summary, Mao Weidong clearly possesses a high level of physical and mental strength. Four hours and 26 minutes is an incredibly long time. I have seen many high level athletes struggle to hold the plank for 4 minutes and 26 seconds. Weidong has taken this exercise to another level. The mental toughness that he has displayed would be beneficial to athletes involved in any event. Whether you enjoy the plank or not, it would be foolish to minimize the difficulty of his accomplishment.

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Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes. – Gautama Buddha

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The Lack of Time Excuse

I have been an athlete my entire life. I don’t have a transformation story to tell about how I was once sedentary and overweight. I have always been active. That’s the only life I have ever known. I have always trained. I have always participated in sports. And I have loved every minute of it. That is who I am and what I do.

With that said, I do not think any less of anyone who does not exercise. My quality of life won’t change whether you exercise or not. I don’t run around the street trying to get everyone to drop down and perform pushups. I will never force someone to do something that they don’t want to do. All that I can do is share what I consider to be the benefits of a healthy and active life. You can either take my advice or ignore it. It’s up to you. You need to live your life the way you want to live it.

If you want to sit on the couch all day, go sit on the couch. Do what you want. All I ask is that you don’t go around telling everyone that you do not have time to exercise. The lack of time is excuse is nothing but an excuse. Lazy people and productive people have at least one thing in common. They both operate within the confines of a 24 hour day. Unfortunately, more and more people seem to be shifting towards a life of inactivity. Just yesterday I received an email that included the following statistic:

I cannot imagine wasting 4 hours of leisure time staring at a screen. Is that really what the world has come to? What happened to going outside and enjoying the great outdoors? What happened to just getting off your ass to accomplish something worthwhile? Have we really evolved into sedentary creatures who stare at screens all day?

Perhaps I am veering off on a tangent so let’s get back to the point at hand. If you can find 4 hours to play with your phone, you have more than enough time to exercise. If you don’t believe me, drop down right now and perform 20 pushups. I’m guessing it will take you 30 seconds or less. Imagine if you did that five times each day. That would be 100 pushups in less than 3 minutes of your 1440 minute day.

Imagine if you did the same with an exercise such as squats or lunges. And if you really want to get wild, you could knock off a few sets of pull-ups from a door-way pull-up bar. What if everyone in the world did 100 pushups, 100 squats or lunges, and a few sets of pull-ups a few days per week? Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing we would have a lot more healthy and active people.

But Ross…

Let me guess, you are busy. You have kids. You work long hours. Blah, blah, blah…

Guess what? I do too. I work six or seven days a week. I work long hours. I have kids. I have a dog. I volunteer in the community. Leisure time is virtually non-existent.

I can never find time for exercise. I gave up on that notion a long time ago. Instead, I make time. I prioritize it. I plan for it in advance. If it means I need to wake up earlier, I wake up earlier. If it means I need to go to bed later, I will go to bed later. If I need to drop down and perform pushups at random times, I’ll drop down and perform pushups. I find a way to exercise no matter how busy I am.

Pushups with the kids

As mentioned above, there are 1440 minutes in a day. That’s a lot of time. Plenty can be accomplished if you manage your time wisely. Don’t assume that you cannot exercise just because you don’t have an hour of uninterrupted time. Training does not need to be viewed with an all or nothing attitude. Something is almost always better than nothing.

Using myself as an example, there are days when I wake up at the crack of dawn and push myself to the extreme. I love the hard, uninterrupted work. There are other mornings though when it is not a possibility. Perhaps I was up in the middle of the night with a sick child. As a parent, you never know what the next day will bring. Therefore, you need to be flexible with your planning and scheduling. If I do not have a dedicated block of time to train, I will perform random sets of exercise throughout the day. A few minutes here and there will accumulate as long as you are consistent.

In summary, rather than complaining about a lack of time, start to manage your time more wisely. Make health and fitness a priority instead of watching television and mindlessly browsing through social media sites. The busiest people in the world can make time for exercise. It all begins with a conscious effort that is made regularly.

Unfortunately, no one can prioritize your health for you. It is a decision that must be made on your own and then repeated day after day.

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If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. – Jim Rohn

26 comments

Just Work

Back in April, I wrote an entry about outdoor training. If you missed the original entry, you can catch up at the link below:

Beyond Sets and Reps

Since writing that story and sharing the video footage, I have received several questions about outdoor training. Many readers seem confused about how they can monitor progress when lifting stones or logs. For instance, one reader of the site recently wrote the following:

It’s fun to train outside, but how do I know if I am getting any stronger.

He went on to explain his fondness for stone lifting, but expressed frustration over his inability to weigh any of the stones that he lifts. Like myself, this individual trains in the woods so does not have a convenient way to determine the weight of the stones that he uses.

stone carry

Fortunately, you do not need to know the exact weight of a stone to benefit from it. Speaking for myself, I have a huge assortment of stones in the woods that I often lift and carry. I honestly have no idea what the stones weigh. When I lift stones, I am not concerned about training with a specific percentage of my 1-rep max. Instead, I use my own informal scale. I classify my stones into categories such as somewhat heavy, heavy, and ridiculously heavy. At times, some of my athletes have even added four letter descriptive terms to enhance my classifications. One stone in particular is often described as being heavy as f–k. And while that description may seem inappropriate, it makes perfect sense once you get your hands on the stone.

As for monitoring progress, I don’t need a pound or kilogram stamp on the side of the stone to know whether or not it is challenging me. When I lift the stones, some go up without too much of a struggle while others require every ounce of strength I have. It’s safe to say that if I regularly lift or carry the more challenging stones, I will eventually become stronger. I don’t need to solve a calculus equation to determine whether I have progressed or not.

If the stone goes up easier, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can throw the stone farther, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can lift the stone for more reps, I have probably gotten stronger. If I can carry the stone more distance, I have probably gotten stronger. I could go on and on with additional examples, but I’m sure you get point. Once you become better at lifting, carrying, or throwing a particular stone, you will know you have improved. You can then seek out a larger and more challenging stone. It really does not need to be more complicated than that.

Ultimately, progress is not nearly as difficult to recognize as many of the pencil pushers would like you to believe. Strength does not hide in the dark. It is easily noticed. As you become stronger, you are going to know. It will not be a secret.

Whether you train indoors or out, don’t get lost in the math. It is often best to minimize the complexity and just work. If you regularly challenge yourself against difficult types of resistance, you are going to improve. It does not matter if the resistance comes from stones, logs, free weights, or anything else you can think of lifting. Show up regularly, work hard with whatever you have, and you will progress. And if or when progress is absent, don’t be so quick to blame the tool or your lack of knowledge regarding its weight. Often times the source of the problem is only visible when you look into the mirror. Stone lifting is like many things in life. You get what you put into it.

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Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple. – Edward de Bono

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Hill Training – No Expiration Date

It was one year ago last week when I cleared a hill sprinting path in the woods behind my home. I’ve always been a fan of hill sprints and was thrilled at the idea of having a hill to run within walking distance of my backdoor. Therefore, I eagerly took to the woods with an axe and saw and slowly began clearing out my future hill. At the time, I took a few before and after pictures and wrote an entry to the blog (see here).

Hill sprints

One year later and I still run the hill regularly. I have likely sprinted more hills in the past year than I have at any other time in my life. And while that may not sound significant, hill sprints have been a favorite conditioner of mine throughout my 20+ years of training. In other words, I have been around the block and run my share of hills.

Yet after all these years, hill sprints are still kicking my ass. No matter how hard I run, the hill is always ready for more. It does not matter how well conditioned I am, hill sprints always remind me that I am human. It is only a matter of time before the hill takes over and wins. Hill sprints are truly an undefeated conditioning exercise that will never expire. I will never reach a point where I am too good for the hills. I may technically own the hill, but when I run it, the hill owns me.

Unfortunately, despite the obvious benefits, hill sprints still don’t get much love in the fitness industry. The lack of attention should not come as a surprise however. Why would an equipment manufacturer advertise the benefits of hills? It wouldn’t make financial sense unless that manufacturer doubled as a real estate agent. The same could be said of a gym owner. The gym owner wants you to run on his treadmills. There is nothing in it for him to have you out scouring the neighborhood for a steep hill to run.

Consequently, it is no surprise that I have never seen a traffic jam of runners on a steep hill. And while my wooded hill is a bit secluded, I have run various hills throughout my town There is even a picture of me running a local hill that was tweeted by Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy). He has millions of followers who saw the picture (see here). It was taken in 2005 and it has been shared countless times since. I have also publicly listed the address many times (Orchard St. Rockville, CT). Yet despite all the views and mentions, I have never once seen anyone else running that hill. When I am there, I am always alone.

What Gives?!

Although some readers may grow tired of me proclaiming the benefits of hills, I must not be doing a very good job if all of the hills in my own town remain desolate. How can so many people overlook such an effective and free to use exercise location? If the average person did nothing but run a few hills and mix in some calisthenics afterward, they would be in better shape than 90+ percent of the world.

Sadly, simple but effective solutions must not be flashy enough to attract the masses. People either do not know about hills or are not willing to put in the work. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Regardless of what leads to the avoidance, it baffles my mind that more people do not take advantage of what is perhaps the best conditioning exercise of all.

In summary, rather than searching high and low for the next best exercise, consider investing that time and energy into an exercise that has already stood the test of time.  Legendary athletes such as Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and countless others ran hills for one simple reason. Hill sprints work, as long as you are willing to work. You can either follow in the footsteps of these past legends or waste your time looking for an easier yet less effective alternative.

It seems like a simple decision to make. Unfortunately, the desolate hills seem to suggest otherwise. Hopefully that will eventually change. I will certainly do my part to hype the benefits of hills for as long as I’m alive. And if you are ever in the area and want to hit up Orchard Street, shoot me a message. Perhaps we can run together.

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It’s okay to lose, to die, but don’t die without trying, without giving it your best. – Walter Payton

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