Category Archives: Training and Exercise

Bodyweight training book review — Convict Conditioning

Convict conditioning.

Anyone interested in bodyweight training would have no doubt come across Convict Conditioning somewhere on the Internet. In this review, I’ll outline why I think the book is the best all round, tried and tested hardassed bodyweight training manifesto out there.

If there was one book that defined the bodyweight training ethos better than all the rest it would be Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade. Those who don’t know the back story, Paul Wade was an inmate for more than 20 years in notorious prisons like San Quentin, Angola Penitentiary. For obvious reasons, Wade keeps out of the limelight but has done interviews before and has corresponded with calisthenic legend Al Kavadlo. I say this because the veracity of the stories Wade tells in the book, indeed even his existence have been questioned by some.

Despite that side issue, the content of the book is exceptionally good. Enough to say his workout plan and progression is the best there is out there. If you buy one book on bodyweight training this is it. **The book used to be relatively expensive on the Kindle but has been recently reduced to a more reasonable Amazon price level. See for yourself.**

My favourite part of the book is the story Wade tells of old school calisthenics. The first chapters are devoted to hammering home an important fact: weights and machines are unnecessary to build mass and strength. This part of the book has received criticism for being too overly evangelical about calisthenics and that it isn’t a true reflection of prison training. However, I think he is really trying to counter the pervasive idea that athletic training and conditioning requires manual resistance like weights.

The Big six

Getting down to the business of eliminating weakness from our lives, Wade turns his attention to training like a convict. His focus is on 6 core movements he terms “the big six”. These are: Push ups, Squats, Pull ups, Leg raises, Bridges, Handstand push ups.

The focus here is not on pumping through a few half-hearted push ups and a few air squats like you’ll see a low rent aerobics studio. Instead, Wade lays out 10 steps, which takes a trainer from where they are to the step 10 — the “master step”.

Step 10 in each progression is an exercise very few people have the strength to perform. Be that 50 single leg squats or 20 one arm push ups — trainers who have the patience and passion to progress through the 10 steps will be richly rewarded with strength that will probably qualify them for a place in a circus act. That kind of strength will set you up for a much more able-bodied life, lowering the risk of insidious ailments like crook backs, pot bellies, hunch backs and many other maladies you see inflicting men and women post-40.

Even if you have no desire to pull up your own weight using one arm for multiple reps, the regular exercising of your body’s functional movement patterns will ensure your muscles, joints and soft tissue are well-oiled and ready for what life throws at you.

Bodyweight versus external resistance

Wade points out rather forcefully that there is a fundamental difference between moving your body through space rather than hoisting an external weight to create muscle tension, strength and growth.

The first and most important distinction is natural movement. A push up allows your body to move through a more natural, safer arc than does a bench press. With weights, you’re always constrained by the fact that the weight is pushing directly downwards while forcing your limbs into less optimal positions. Flaring out the elbows on a military press is a good example of an external resistance forcing you to adopt an injurious position.

With bodyweight only movements, you’re pushing or pulling your body through space which allows for an optimal, more comfortable movement pattern. In popular parlance we call this “functional” but really it is simply the ability to move yourself more efficiently.

Another important difference between weight training and bodyweight only movement can be seen in the fact that weight training can produce muscular imbalances and movement inhibition. This is a side effect of the “muscle group” training approach and the idea of muscle isolation. By isolating muscle groups the bodybuilder is taking the synergistic muscles out of the equation to produce a greater “burn” in the target muscle. This isn’t good or bad it just isn’t the way to train if strength and movement efficiency are your goals.

With calisthenic training your muscles will develop in size and strength in a natural way to produce better movement. Wade recalls images of bodybuilders unable to brush their teeth properly because their arms are so big that normal movement becomes impossible.

Here’s the important point here: Because calisthenics develops muscles by putting them through the very movements they will be used for in everyday life, muscles develop with respect to movement rather than overdeveloping to the point where movement is inhibited. Also, with only your bodyweight as resistance you’re getting a workout that is tailored to your current size. The increase of weights in muscle group focused training is a good way to overdevelop muscles relative to their function.

Conclusion — Hands Down the best book on the Calisthenics

As I alluded to in the introduction — Convict Conditioning is, in my opinion, the best book you’ll find on bodyweight resistance training. I’ve read all the reputedly best books in the field and no other tops this one for both training philosophy and programming. It has all the exercise progressions and training tips you’ll need to bust through weakness and it has a bunch of supplementary exercises to keep things fresh.

The Convict Conditioning program is how I structure my workout progressions, and while I take ideas from other books, this is the one I keep returning to in order to stay on track.

If you like the book, take a look at Convict Conditioning 2, where Wade goes in depth on the smaller muscles, including the neck and grip muscles, as well as extensive instruction on mastering variations of the Human Flag. Great stuff also!

 

Bodyweight training book review — Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy

In review #2 I follow up on my earlier pre-release story of Bret Contreras’ Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy.

Bodyweight Strength Training.

Bret Contreras has forged a reputation for being a knowledgeable and trustworthy source of information in the strength and conditioning industry. While he’s largely made his name as “the Glute Guy“, his contributions to communicating evidence-based exercise information has made Contreras a go-to source for reliable strength and conditioning science.

That gravitas and Contreras’ scientific approach to exercise makes Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy an insightful read for both beginner and experienced trainers.

In the book Contreras goes well beyond what you’ll find in most bodyweight training books. This fact makes it one of the most valuable physical training books on my shelf.

The 150+ exercises he outlines and the associated movement descriptions and anatomical information empowers the reader to take control of their own programming. Knowing how muscles work to produce athletic movement is tremendously useful — informing your exercise selection and other aspects of programming such as the training of synergistic and antagonist muscles groups.

Variations, intensity and progression

To my mind, any reliable program must address how to progress basic movements in order to produce greater levels of strength and hypertrophy. Contreras delves in to his wealth of experience and knowledge of the research to pull together some innovative ways of performing standard exercises.

How does one progress from push up to One Arm Push Up? Squat to Pistol Squat? What happens when Pull Ups get to easy? Contreras outlines a number of variations and approaches to progressing these basic exercises by increasing the leverage required to complete movement.

Biomechanical explanations for each exercise and muscle group will enhance your understanding of how to train your body to move through all the main movement patterns. You could develop a traditional bodybuilding program centred on body parts, however, as Contreras points out, a more modern and complete approach to training can be achieved through emphasizing different movement patterns.

The book outlines exercises that strengthen the following movements: Hip Dominant, Knee Dominant, Linear Core, Rotary Core, Horizontal Pressing, Vertical Pressing, Horizontal Pulling and Vertical Pulling.

There is tremendous value to the novice in knowing which exercises train the aforementioned 8 movement patterns. As an intermediate level exerciser, I was astonished by how much I learned about the human body and how to create total body strength and muscle.

Favourite exercises in the book?

From the 150+ exercises some definitely stood out to me. For instance, the Push Back is a variation of the Push Up that addresses the deltoids, upper pectorals and trapezius. Think of it as a horizontal handstand push up whereby you hoist your hips in the air and push backwards rather than upwards. It’s an exhausting and therefore great intermediary exercise for the shoulders.

For the glutes, the Side Lying Hip Raise really stood out for me for a couple of reasons. It’s tough, it burns my upper glutes fairly well and it works hip abduction, which makes this exercise enormously beneficial to me as an ice hockey player (athletic movements — sprinting, skating, jumping all require powerful glute abduction). The Hip Raise movement is a more advanced take on the popular “Clam” exercise.

Exercises are great but what about programming?

Contreras covers programming in some depth. Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy is one of the best books you’ll find on program design because it doesn’t force one particular training ethos on you.

Instead, you’ll find commonsense program design ideas with numerous ways to tweak the way you perform exercises to keep progressing in your workouts.

You’ll find ways to combine exercises from various movement patterns in order to create an effective workout as well as how various repetition strategies are vital to extracting every bit of juice out of exercises that don’t use any external resistance.

Contreras provides some sample routines to use as blueprints for your own workouts and he emphasizes the fact that your individual needs and current conditioning level dictate how your routine should be devised.

In summary, Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy provides well-rounded advice on which exercises to use and how to use them. It is the best book on bodyweight training in terms of giving you the exerciser the knowledge you need to construct your own program and how to manage it going forward.

Bodyweight training program review — Project Kratos

Continuing on with my theme of bodyweight training, I thought a series of reviews of programs and books might be useful. In istallment numero uno I’ll look at a great new program outlined in the book “Project Kratos” by Drew Baye.

Project: Kratos Program Handbook — Bodyweight High Intensity Training by Drew Baye.

The usefulness of any physical training program, in my opinion, is its versatility and flexibility. It should be easily picked up by the beginner and adaptable to the needs of more advanced trainers. With this criteria, Project Kratos is a real winner.

The Name “Kratos” comes from the Greek god of the same name, who was an enforcer of Zeus. Drew Baye contrasts Kratos with Adonis, who is traditionally associated with muscular physiques, but “has more show than go”. Kratos on the other hand was a powerful warrior god who could take care of business when challenged.

The strength of Kratos is that it offers the best methods for progression and increasing the load intensity of any exercise. This feature of the book makes it stand out markedly from other systems.

Rather than simply adding reps, Drew Baye has created a structured 5-level system of progression by altering the way in which you perform reps. At level 5 you’re really demanding that your muscle fibres extract every bit of juice they can muster.

Changes involve cadence, an elegant approach to partial reps and ways to increase the load of a exercise by manipulating leverage and shifting from bilateral to unilateral movement (two legs to one).

All programs mention some of these factors. In bodyweight training there are no plates to add to the bar. Eventually bilateral movements will become too easy to perform and you’ll need to up the ante so to speak. Unilateral movements and increasing the lever of an exercise are methods that advanced trainers learn to master progressively.

Emphasis on intensity

Kratos is a tough program, but it is a brief one. Intensity is at the centre of everything that you’ll do in the routines that Drew prescribes. His High Intensity Training (HIT) approach will be suited to both the strength trainer and to those seeking muscle gain.

Kratos is chiefly centred around Time Under load (TUL) with the notion that only quality, well-controlled reps will do and working out to failure is encouraged. In fact, the book does a pretty good job of debunking the idea that going to momentary muscular failure will destroy you. On the contrary, high intensity means less volume in an HIT routine. As long as your form doesn’t collapse you can safely keep stimulating your muscles with further reps.

Cool techniques

Project Kratos also contains a lot of other cool little techniques that assist the bodyweight training devotee in developing impressive levels of muscular tension. One such technique is the Timed Static Contraction (TSC), which as far as I know is unique to this program. I won’t go into it further because I don’t want to give all of Drew’s best ideas away but essentially it offers another way of replacing a weighted movement with a high tension bodyweight one.

It is little hacks like this that really set Project Kratos apart from many of the other programs out there.

Final comments

The program is primarily about building absolute strength and muscle gain. These are two worthy goals and the fact this program addresses the left end of the strength-speed continuum needs to be accounted for in program design.

Absolute Strength => Strength Speed => Speed Strength => Absolute Speed

If you’re after athletic ability also, strength alone isn’t enough so the Kratos program would be insufficient. It doesn’t claim to make you an outstanding athlete and it sticks to its core purpose quite tightly.

Adding sets of explosive reps and performing plyometric exercises would be one avenue into taking the strength you gain via a program like Project Kratos and increasing your power and speed. This is very doable but you need a base of lean muscle mass and strength first and Kratos handles those goals admirably.

In fact, the book doesn’t touch on the idea of periodization, which I think is necessary to get the most out of every program. Punching in weeks of variations — be they more sets, higher reps, different exercises, plyometrics and not going to failure — will enable you to get the most of any program. As long as you stick to your main plan most of the time, these periods of change will ensure you stay fresh mentally and physically.

Despite that omission, Project Kratos  will definitely be a great addition to your fitness arsenal. It is packed with sensible nutrition advice as well as a host of novel exercises and approaches. There is plenty on offer for the novice and advanced trainer to sink their teeth into.

The bodyweight training prescription — lessons from the trenches

It is coming up to a year since I started training solely with bodyweight movements. Here’s what I’ve learned about strength and hypertrophy training sans-weights through practise and study.

What started as a healthy experiment has become somewhat of an obsession for me. Bodyweight training was an intriguing pursuit to begin with — the notion you can build strength and muscle with virtually zero equipment is quite a tantalising prospect and completely the opposite of what we learn about exercise through popular media and infomercials.

Since that time, I’ve learned that bodyweight training is not only a desirable add-on to other forms of training, it can be a totally self-sustaining lifestyle option.

In this post I outline why bodyweight training approaches and programs need to be practiced differently than traditional weight training.

Two distinctions that make the difference

In Bret Contreras’ recent book, Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, he talks about different approaches to designing a training program based on bodyweight exercises. He recommends the whole body routine that is performed several times per week. This tended to rub some people the wrong way and it is precisely because they’re applying a weight training mentality.

I’ve come to learn that the main difference between weight versus bodyweight training is that, obviously, you can increase weights and maintain the rep range you want. By progressively adding weights you create the continuing stimuli to build muscle and strength.

However, there is another, often overlooked difference between the two training modalities: Weights will tend to fatigue the central nervous system (CNS) faster and more completely than bodyweight exercises.

So these two distinctions need to be accounted for in designing bodyweight programs. This is one of the reasons why Bret Contreras recommends the whole body approach several times a week. Because you can’t increase the weights, and because the overall stress to the CNS is less; bodyweight training is more effective when done more frequently.

The high frequency approach

If you read enough about strength training, you’ll often see the phrase “strength is a skill”. This has two implications for bodyweight exercisers:

  1. A high training frequency will stimulate more neural adaptivity
  2. Performing higher reps than traditional weight training is a valid means of progression in the place of adding additional weights.

Rarely do we see strength training routines advocate high reps. For the most part, you can use higher reps with bodyweight training as a bridge to creating the strength necessary to tackle the next, more difficult exercise. With some exercises it may take a certain number of preparatory reps to create the stress necessary to recruit more muscle fibres (thereby increasing the strength training stimulus).

Don’t get me wrong — you do want to train in lower rep ranges as much as possible but higher rep training with a low intensity exercise is a good way to develop the muscle and joint strength to handle harder exercises.

You are what you do everyday

If you think of strength as a skill, then daily practice becomes a no-brainer. Old school strength athletes learned this and knew that they had to keep the CNS fresh so that they could go again the next day. Repeated daily practice with the right intensity will increase strength, as long as you’re always progressing the exercise.

My current routine:
I am performing this routine up to 5 times per week. I’m using this as a transition from strength and hockey training to a more focused hypertrophy regime (summer is coming here in NZ). If you choose to use a circuit routine like this, take into account recovery ability and if you feel fatigue from yesterday’s workout, take a days rest. Over time your recovery ability will increase and the task of progression keeps your muscles stimulated.

**This circuit style routine is a good for beginners and one you can progress nicely (as I have). Over time you’ll want to perform a more focused routine (which I will provide in another post). The concept of periodisation means you will change your program up as you progress.**

A: Box Jumps / Side-to-Side Push-Up / Skater Squats
B: Inverted Rows / Dead Bug / Glute Bridge March
C: Short-Lever Inverted Curl / Side Lying Hip Lifts / Push Backs
D: Y, T, W, L / RKC Plank / Close Push Ups
E: Wall Sits / Inverted Rows / Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Notes:

  • All exercises clustered in threes. Perform each exercise one after the other without rest. Rest 30s between clusters.
  • The routine is structured so that each each exercise in the cluster rests the muscles exercised previously. Exercise selection in each cluster is designed to manage fatigue and means there is a degree of freshness with which you can apply to each exercise.
  • Notice I’m performing 3 sets of the big movements: Knee dominant (squats, wall sits, box jumps); Hip dominant (glute march, side lying hip lift, hip raises); Upper body pushing (push up exercises, push backs); Upper body pulling (inverted rows, short lever curls). I do 2 core movements and one specific movement for a trouble spot  — Y, T, W, L for posture improvement.
  • Choose exercises appropriate to your level of development.
  • Accept only good quality reps. Once your form starts eroding you’ve gone too far.

You could easily structure a double set routine where you pair exercises that don’t interfere with each other (e.g. Squats paired with Push ups) and do 3 sets that way. This would be a more focused approach than the big circuit style I outline above.

Whatever program you choose, remember frequency is your friend and make sure it is challenging without burning you into the ground. Above all, have fun!

If you need a machine to work your abs you’re doing it wrong

There is a never ending supply of new exercise machines that are supposed to build miracle abs. The truth, however, is that they’re virtually all gimmicks and completely unnecessary.

You don’t need any machines to work your abs. None. So turn off the Shopping Channel and get on the floor and work those abs. In the time you’ve made the call and ordered one of those miracle ab machines you could have pumped out 2-3 sets of cross body mountain climbers. You could have done a 3 sets of 30s of RKC planks*.

Part of the problem behind these ab machines and marketing in general is that they create a false need. You’re made to think that normal exercise is hard and ineffective. Marketing serves to muddy the waters and distract you from finding out what truly works.

The typical ab machine advertisement depicts traditional training as arduous and sometimes dangerous. They’ll show some poor guy or girl straining through crunches and situps and holding their back as if they’ve slipped a disc. Trouble is, the way the abs and core work means you don’t ever have to do crunches (many trainers warn against it — for good reasons) and situps are virtually outlawed in many gyms (there are much safer and effective exercises).

Beyond crunches, back pain and poor posture

Crunches involve pulling the neck forward to isolate the abs. In doing so you’re reinforcing poor posture as well as pushing the lumbar spine into the floor. It’s therefore unsurprising that crunches are used as fodder by marketers to show much easier their ab machine is.

What the core and abs actually do and how to work ’em

Biomechanically, the abs and core generally, have two major functions: core stability and rotational power. It is becoming more apparent that the core’s primary function may in fact be to prevent movement rather than produce it.

For that reason, stability planks are great starter exercises for core development as they can be progressed a number of ways. The logical step from planks on the floor is to move them to a stability ball. Providing an unstable platform for the hands and elbows while in a plank posture will help challenge the core to prevent movement through the hips and thoracic spine.

RKC planks mentioned earlier involve a less stable arm arrangement while pushing the arms forward more to provide a greater challenge to the core. Squeezing the glutes forces the core to activate even further. Here is a demonstration.

Ab rollouts are also great exercises particularly for the anterior core. This can be done with a small roller, stability ball or simulated by walking the hands out while in a kneeling or plank position.

Complement these exercises with side planks and you have a great all round routine that will target the entire midsection.Side planks can also be progressed by raising one or both feet on a couch, bed, chair or stability ball.

Additional exercises:

To this point I’ve ignored some of the best challenges to your core — leg raises. Hanging leg raises being the challenging version and lying variations being a great starting point. Start with bent knees and then move to straight legs for more challenge. Try performing a figure 8 with your feet while lying flat on your back, legs extended. This great variation will hit the core muscles from many different directions providing for more muscle activation.

Mountain climbers are simply plank positions with the legs thrust forward (or diagonally) as if climbing. This article is the best I’ve found on how to perform mountain climbers and how to throw in variations for maximum impact on the core. These can also form the theme of a great conditioning workout.

No machines?

If you think a stability ball or small hand roller count as machines, consider that (a) they’re optional but incredibly worth it, and (b) you can pick them up cheaply. Whereas ab machines are designed purely to cost you as much as possible and only for single use, a stability ball will open up an entire range of workout opportunities, from leg work (hamstring curls) to hyper extensions for the lower back. You can use the ball to challenge your push up.

Whatever you do, don’t fall for an ab machine that is promoted as being the most awesome, ultimate machine ever. It is only the ultimate machine ever until the next piece of junk replaces it.

*RKC — Russian Kettlebell Certification.

Bret Contreras addresses bodyweight training in forthcoming book (awesome!)

Bodyweight Strength Training.

Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy — due for release in September 2013. For more, including the book’s contents, head to the Human Kinetics page for the book >>

Bret Contreras — one of the most reliable sources of strength and conditioning information on the Internet turns his attention to bodyweight strength training in his forthcoming book.

I’ve been in around every corner of the Internet in an effort to find the best sources of information on strength, conditioning and sports specific training. To my mind, Bret Contreras aka “The Glute Guy” is the best source I’ve found (bretcontreras.com).

For one, he respects good science and is able to spot nonsense and fake ‘gurus’ when he sees them. Secondly, it turns out he’s studying his PhD in Sports Science at the university I work at (AUT University in Auckland).

So it’s fair to say that I’m excited about diving into Bret’s new book — Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy.

Readers of my previous posts on functional fitness here and here will know I am a big fan of bodyweight training done well and with good progression. Later I found out that Bret also believes that anyone embarking on a strength training programme should begin with basic bodyweight movements before loading plates to a bar. His reasoning is the same as mine — you need to establish a foundation of good form and ensure joint mobility is respected and developed early on. Bret elaborates:

“Bodyweight exercises lay the foundation for future training success, and correct performance requires a precise blend of mobility, stability and motor control”.

Bodyweight training can be progressed to challenge your muscles incrementally and therefore strength and muscle mass can be further developed. **I personally think that the one leg (‘pistol’) squat is one of the most gratifying exercises to master.**

For the past 9 months I have been loosely following Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning advice and progressing bodyweight movements, so I know it works and it is an incredibly fulfilling way to train (I feel as if I’m ‘gaming’ the system by using the minimal amount of equipment). In fact, my home gym merely consists of a resistance band, foam roller and a 20kg kettelbell I use solely for high rep swings.

The reason I’m looking forward to Bret’s take on bodyweight training is twofold: (1) I’m intrigued by what can be achieved sans-equipment, (2) Training without equipment seems to be a forgotten art.

For all the articles and websites you’ll find on loading plates to a bar you’ll find only a few reliable sources on training without the need for plates. Those that are good stand out a mile and I’m certain Bret’s book will be a tremendous addition to the subject of bodyweight training simply because he approaches training scientifically and walks the talk.

The book is rich in illustrations and from the 8 page sample it looks eye-catching and easy to read. Check out the sample here >>

Functional exercise, functional body (move it or lose it)

How can functional training make you a better human?

As you get older there are several processes occurring that diminish your ability to move as you could 10, 15 and 20 years prior.

Muscles lose their elasticity, strength and flexibility. Joints become less mobile or less stable (depending on their function). All of this adds up to less physical wellbeing.

The symptoms are often made worse by your body’s “history”. Something I heard a few years ago from a 90 year old man really struck me. He said “every bump gets recorded”. His contention was that, while the body can heal from knocks, when one is older those aches and pains come back to haunt us.

Modern society doesn’t help either — sitting down in hunched positions hour-after-hour, day-after-day ultimately trains the body into bad postures and poor function. We sit down for hours, use escalators when we could use the stairs and we slump down on couches for a few more hours to end the day. In short, everyday life is training us to be in bad shape.

strength as a skill versus strength for “show”

Functional strength is more than just about strength in the traditional sense (“look how much I can lift”). Functional strength is primarily about training the nervous system. Renowned trainer and Kettlebell guru Pavel Tsatsouline calls this “greasing the groove”. In other words, strength is created through repetitive training of a specific sequence of movements. Strength is a skill as much as any other physical skill with a specific set of adaptations.

This is why athletes train radically differently to the average gym goer. Professional athletes typically get functional movement screening to see where there are deficiencies in their joint mobility, strength and flexibility.

Because athletes repeat specific sequences of movements at great speed and with great force generation, the risk of injury is always lingering. Minimising that risk while maximising the efficiency of movement is what modern physical training has become for athletes. This is the lesson ordinary humans can take from the pros.

Degeneration interrupted

One thing that always raises my eyebrows is the tendency of trainers to take on clients and give them a vanilla programme to help the client reach their fitness goals. For instance, it is not always a good idea to put a person straight into a weight training program when they can’t even move their bodies properly.

The purest form of functional training is bodyweight training — probably the most underrated form of training there is. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a lot of guys that are gym strong but not functionally strong. This because moving an external load (barbells/dumbbells) is vastly different from moving your own body. External loads can force the body to move through problematic lines.

Someone may well be able to squat a 300 pounds but they probably can’t do a one-legged squat for 1 rep let alone 6-10 reps. As a general rule, why not getting people to train their bodies to move themselves properly before overloading the body with weights?

Relics of a bygone era

In the move from aesthetic, bodybuilding paradigms to a more functional, athletic training ethos, there are inevitable casualties and cast offs. Some exercises — once thought to be staples in any gym goers trick bag — are now relics of the past. Others are borderline but tough to get rid of because they’re so ingrained in the collective psyche.

Leg extensions, leg presses, peck deck flyes, chest flyes, machine squats, leg curls and bicep curls (heresy!) are often ignored by athletes. Why? For the most part, these exercises take the target muscle out of a position of strength, compromising the ability of the muscle to perform as it functions normally. Leg extensions and leg curls are two prime examples of exercises largely useless to athletes.

Functional rules of thumb

Muscles are evolved to fire holistically — as part of a sequence. In the previous example, both leg extensions and leg curls take quadriceps and hamstrings out of their strength and put them into isolation. This is also a way to create functional imbalances, which is a surefire way to invite injuries.

So with all that in mind, here are a few guidelines:

  • Forget isolation exercises (movements that involve one joint and isolates specific muscles).
  • Discard the body part approach to programme design and take a movement-centric approach instead.
  • Address structural and movement asymmetries.
  • Use bodyweight training to condition muscles, joints and tendons to move through full ranges of motion (a full depth squat is difficult for many people). Train the body to move through natural body motions.
  • Use progressive bodyweight exercise to increase functional strength (see Paul Wade’s excellent book: “Convict Conditioning” for more on progressing basic bodyweight movements. View some sample workouts).

The vision

I want to be clear about the last point — developing functional strength via bodyweight training. The main point is thus: If you can’t move your own weight properly then that’s where you need to start.

Bodyweight training will help you move properly, through full ranges of motion and stave off body degradation that happens as one gets older. Getting stronger in these movements will enable you to be the best human being you can be while avoiding the kind of self-induced “paralysis” that hits most people later in life. Move it or lose it is the name of the game.