A question at the forefront of the minds of many athletes, coaches, & trainers is, “how strong is strong enough,” for an athlete to be successful in their sport? More strength is of benefit to every athlete, as strength is the root quality upon which other physical attributes are established (this is the reason steroids are popular regardless of the sport of choice).
Assuming that an athlete wishes to stay away from steroids and other performance enhancing substances, the issue becomes the requirements for cultivation of higher levels of strength in comparison to what the necessary work is for that athlete to maintain/develop proficiency in their sport. We only have a finite amount of resources to dedicate to our goals, so proper management of these becomes paramount.
To illustrate this point, imagine a glass of water filled up to 2/3 of the glass’ capacity. The glass itself represents all the faculties you have at your disposal (physical, financial, time, etc.). The water in the glass represents the minimum amount of faculties set aside to ensure proficiency at your sport; doing any less than this will mean leaving something on the table, while doing any more will reveal a diminished ROI for your efforts.
The remainder of the glass that is empty represents the faculties you have left to dedicate to other qualities beyond your sport itself (in this case, strength), without adversely affecting your ability to practice that sport. It is how strong you can become working within these parameters that is the answer to, “how strong is strong enough?”
Again, doing less than this will mean you’re not taking full advantage of the resources available to you. However, the more common problem is that people get into the “more is better” mindset and try to do too much. The consequences of this are often burnout, overtraining, & injury, not to mention a poor use of time that could otherwise be dedicated to the athlete practicing their sport.
Let’s suppose that empty portion of the glass equates to 2 45-60 minute workouts a week a part from your sport practice. It is your responsibility (or that of your coach/trainer) to train in a manner that will allow you to cultivate strength efficiently, without violating the parameters that have been set.
Different sports will have different ratios of “time spent practicing” vs. “time spent getting stronger.” The level of your competition as well as your genetics factor into this equation as well.
For example, a powerlifter can spend much more time cultivating their strength than a motocross rider can, though motocross is a sport that is inherently much less dependent on pure strength for peak performance than powerlifting is. Therefore, more of the motocross rider’s time should be spent practicing their sport compared to a powerlifter (who should spend more of their time getting stronger).
To put all of this another way, assume that I’m training a rider within the 2 45-60 minute workouts a week guidelines previously mentioned. In doing so, I have a choice between Program A & Program B. Program A will add 25lbs. to their deadlift (a general strength exercise that has many carryovers to the sport in question), while leaving the athlete with a considerable level of soreness in the days following a given session. Program B will add the same 25lbs. to their deadlift without the soreness. Program B would be my choice because it interferes less with the athlete’s ability to practice their sport while still cultivating significant levels of strength.
If you are interested in more of this type of material, a great resource is the book Easy Strength by Dan John & Pavel Tsatsouline.
Even if you’re not someone who participates in a sport, it should still be of interest to you to train smarter before you train harder. Doing so sets you up for getting the most out of your body sustainably, without undue risks of injury.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
With Anaheim 3 this weekend, the 2014 supercross season is in full force. Though supercross only exists as a competitive venue at the professional level, it’s safe to say riders of all backgrounds & abilities wouldn’t mind having the skills and conditioning to do 20 laps with names like Villopoto, Stewart, Reed, Dungey, Tomac & Roczen.
Conditioning routines built around preparation for supercross have come from many different backgrounds and often carry a uniqueness based on the rider, coach, or trainer employing them. Frequent readers of Layman’s Strength understand that I generally prefer a minimalist approach to training for the sake of efficiency, recovery, and the wherewithal of the athlete.
Enter the Kettlebell
At this point, I would like to introduce you to one piece of equipment that can greatly help your efforts in riding & life: the kettlebell.
I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with kettlebells, and may even be using them currently. You may also be familiar with names like Pavel Tsatsouline & The Russian Kettlebell Challenge. In light of Pavel’s sense of humor, “comrade,” allow me to introduce you to The Supecross Kettlebell Challenge.
The SKC is “simple, but sinister“. The initial goal is to achieve 100 reps of the two-hand kettlebell swing with an appropriately sized bell in under 10 minutes. (An “appropriate sized kettlebell” would be defined as the heaviest you can properly snatch. I would refer the reader to organizations such as the RKC or StrongFirst for further help in this area.).
For most men, an appropriate starting weight will be 16kg (35lbs.) while most women will do well with 8-12kg (18-26lbs.). This may not sound like a lot, but if you’ve never taken kettlebell training seriously before, you’re in for a surprise. These weights are also still light enough to allow you to learn proper technique without being overwhelmed by the bell.
There’s not really a set/rep scheme that needs to be strictly adhered to for the SKC, however a guiding principle should be that if you feel the quality of your reps declining, stop that set and take a brief rest. Repeated high-quality exertions are more valuable in this context than just grinding endurance. This helps to keep you safe and mitigates the onset of bad habits.
With these considerations in mind, as well as the overall work and time allotted, a convenient way to organize an SKC workout is 10 sets x 10 reps on the minute for 10 minutes. In other words, start a timer of 1 minute as soon as you begin your first set of 10 repetitions. Once the set is completed, rest the remainder of that minute. When the timer goes off on the next minute, perform your second set and repeat that cycle until you’ve completed all 10 sets.
Organizing your SKC workout as such also easily allows you to account for progression over time. As you get better, strive to complete the SKC faster by taking shorter rest intervals. If you can get 100 reps in less than 7:30, you’re in pretty good shape (probably better than most you’ll be on the gate with at your local track any given weekend). If you can do it in 5 minutes or less, you’re a stud.
As your fitness improves or if you get bored with the traditional SKC, here’s some ways you can introduce progression into your sessions…
•One-Hand Swings (switch hands as often as necessary, but try not to work one side more than another)
•Hand-to-Hand Swings (switch hands each rep)
•Double Swings (2 kettlebells)
•Snatches (same rules as one-hand swings; for the experts)
•Double Snatches (Snatching 2 kettlebells; for the psychopaths)
•Active Rest Periods (doing another exercise during your rest intervals)
•Expand The Reps (i.e. 150 in 10 minutes, 200 in 10 minutes)
•Compress The Time (100 reps in 8, 7, 6, or 5 minutes)
•Expand The Time (12, 15, etc. minute sessions)
Or you can go with my preferred choice…
•Get A Heavier Bell
Change only one variable at a time, and don’t make changes too frequently (doing so will interfere with your ability to measure progress).
For an average in-shape adult man, a good goal to strive for is to complete the basic SKC (10×10 in 10:00) with a 24kg (53lb.) kettlebell. For reference, at the time of this writing my best time is 6:16 with a 24kg bell (6’1″, ~160lbs.). The average woman can aim for a similar feat with a 16kg (35lb.) bell.
If you’re in really good shape and you want to experience the full sensation of racing a supercross main event, set your timer for 20 minutes and get as many reps as you can while resting 30 seconds or less between sets. (Not recommended outside of the supervision of a good kettlebell coach).
Benefits Of The SKC
The most obvious benefit is the conditioning that this type of training develops. Specific to the motocross athlete, one component that stands out from other forms of cardio training is that you are constantly having to balance & exert force against an external object (not too different from balancing & exerting force on the bike). This introduces a strength-endurance component that can be neglected by traditional methods such as running, cycling, or rowing. Due to the ballistic nature of the kettlebell swing (and related KB exercises), you also develop power/speed endurance that is hard to account for with somewhat similar methods such as circuit training.
A proper kettlebell (i.e. not a cheap one you can get at the department store) is a chunk of iron fastened with an over-sized handle (over-sized when compared to the traditional handles of barbells, dumbbells, & other exercise equipment). The larger-diameter handle makes the kettlebell more taxing on the forearms & grip than the traditional implements already mentioned. In addition, proper execution of the kettlbell swing (or the snatch should you choose to go there) teaches the athlete a grip style that’s sufficient to hold onto the bell without dropping it for extended periods of time. The texture of the iron is also good for conditioning the hands & palms against wear and tear.
Perhaps the most prolific benefit of kettlebell training for the motocross athlete is that it can serve to replicate many of the fundamental mechanics of riding a motorcycle. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere (see here & here). Without belaboring the point, kettlebell drills are excellent tools to help teach you how to properly use your hips in all types of movement, but especially so on the track, helping you to ride more efficiently which allows you to ride faster with more control.
Kettlebell training is convenient. You can have a brutal workout in an 8×8 elevator with a single bell. This makes it a great choice for those who like to train at home, people who don’t have time to get to a gym regularly, or individuals who can’t cater to other equipment for outside reasons (living in an apartment for example). Kettlebells are also portable: bring one with you to the track and you can warmup with swings, windmills, halos, & goblet squats before you go ride.
Recommended Prerequisites To The SKC
For everything I’ve said so far, there’s some things you can do to get more out of the SKC than just jumping in without having done anything else prior. For the optimal effect of the SKC, I recommend the individual increase their deadlift past the novice stage of strength (this varies from person to person; a good guideline to shoot for is a double-bodyweight pull for men, 1.5 x bodyweight for women. Even better would be those numbers with a double-overhand grip or for a set of 5 with a mixed-grip)
The squat would also be a viable option, although the deadlift more closely mimics the mechanics of the kettlebell swing. Doing this will allow the trainee to utilize heavier weights in the SKC than they would be able to otherwise, therefore making the sessions more effective.
If you have never trained with kettlebells before, seek out a reputable coach and learn how to do these exercises properly. Many people misunderstand the use of kettlebells and the execution of their moves (including trainers in commercial gyms). A complete tutorial of the swing is beyond the parameters of this article, however here’s some important things to remember:
•The swing IS NOT a squat (hinge from the hips to swing the bell; don’t squat down)
•Finish with the glutes (pop the hips thru fully at the top)
•Maintain a neutral spine (don’t use your lower back to swing the weight)
•If your lower back is sore you did it wrong; if your butt/hamstrings are sore, you did it right
Don’t be surprised if you can’t complete 10×10 in 10:00 the first time you try it. Start with just a few sets and gradually work your way up with time. I would opt for more sets of less reps vs. less sets of more reps while you’re still learning the exercise (ex. 8 sets of 3 vs. 3 sets of 8).
Twice a week with as close to an equal number of days between workouts as possible should be sufficient for a beginner (Mon/Thur, Tue/Fri, Wed/Sat, etc.), while 3 times a week on non-consecutive days should get the job done for most people (Mon/Wed/Fri, Tue/Thur/Sat, etc.). I like to use it as a finisher to my strength training sessions (beware of the days where you’ve trained your back, legs, shoulders, and/or core hard first; you’re in for a treat).
Though I don’t recommend the SKC being your only type of training, if you are unable to do other forms of training for whatever reason, you could build up to doing these sessions 4 times a week (ex. Mon/Tue/Thur/Sat, Sat/Mon/Wed/Fri, etc.) in which case I would be more inclined to introduce some variety once the athlete has the basics covered.
As always, make sure you’ve warmed up well before you start. I like to go for a 1 mile walk afterward to let the heart rate come down gradually and to relax (you can get some residual fat-burning this way too).
“Welcome to the Supercross Kettlebell Challenge.“
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
For all the confusion people have about understanding a nutrition label, it’s really not that difficult, and it’s well worth your time to grasp so you can take care of your health.
A common mistake people make is thinking that the numbers listed on a label apply to a whole package; not true. Everything you see on a label is defined in the context of the serving size (located at the top; notice the “amount per serving” text as well). Some labels also show the amount of servings contained in the packaging for a given product. For example, if a serving size is one cup, and there are 3 servings in a package, you would multiply all of the numbers that follow by 3 to know what is in the bag of food you just bought.
Next, we’re shown the total calories per serving. Law mandates that the total calories from fat per serving be shown as well. Here you can immediately find what percentage of calories are coming from fat in this food by dividing the fat calories by the total calories. Below, you’ll see the breakdown of the calories in the food amongst the 3 macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, & protein) by weight (listed in grams). To understand how many calories any nutrient contains refer to the following:
Fat = 9kcal/gm
Carb/Protein = 4kcal/gm
So for fat, you would multiply the number listed by 9 or, for carbs & protein, by 4.
Law again mandates places for the amount of Saturated & Trans fat in this food. Some labels will also show lines for Polyunsaturated & Monounsaturated fats but they are not required (these are your “good fats”).
Total carbohydrate is listed next while also showing a breakdown between fiber & sugar. If you’ve ever heard the term “net carbs”, this is in reference to the amount of carbohydrates digested as opposed to the total listed on the label. Fiber is indigestible, therefore is does not yield any calories. So any calories present in fiber can be subtracted from the total calories from carbohydrates to understand what you’re body will actually absorb.
Protein follows at the bottom listed in the same manner as fat & carbohydrate above. Special places are accorded for cholesterol & sodium to conform with regulations, however these do not contain any calories and, therefore, don’t influence the numbers for fat, carbohydrate, or protein.
On the right, you’ll notice the “% Daily Value” column. The percentages listed are in the context of a 2,000 calorie diet following the US RDA recommendations (approximately 30% Fat, 60% Carbs, & 10% Protein). This means that the percentages are only valid if you are following the US RDA recommendations. The percentages listed for cholesterol & sodium depict the upper tolerances for these substances; in other words, a 100% cholesterol intake for a given day is the most that the US RDA is comfortable letting you get away with.
Finally, on the bottom of the label are the 4 micronutrients mandated by law; Vitamins A & C, Calcium, & Iron. The percentages are again listed with context of the same 2,000 calorie diet we just referenced. A given food may contain many more micronutrients in it than just these 4, however, these are the only ones that have to be listed. Manufacturers of certain items may list more (such as Vitamin D, B Vitamins, Zinc, Manganese, etc.) as a courtesy to their customers.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
In response to the body of research that’s grown in the last century demonstrating a diet high in animal fat to be a precursor for many preventable diseases, the dairy industry began marketing varieties of “low-fat” milk. Walk into any commercial grocery store and you will commonly find 3 types of milk: 1%, 2%, and Whole.
Although it isn’t currently illegal, these titles can be very misleading because, unless you are buying skim milk, there isn’t a low-fat milk (only less-fat milks).
Countless people have undoubtedly bought a carton of 1% or 2% milk over the years, only walk out of the store believing that the percentage being marketed is in reference to the amount of calories from fat contained in the product. This is actually very far from the truth.
1% Milk = 20% Fat
Here is a label for 1% milk:
A basic understanding of math reveals the misrepresentation of dairy industry marketing:
21 Fat Calories / 102 Total Calories = ~20% Fat
If the milk is really 20% fat, how can they market it as being 1% and get away with it? Because the 1% is in reference to the fat’s weight (2g Fat/244g Per Serving = ~1% Weight). (I have little doubt that this is the result of lobbying). Of course, your body doesn’t care how much your food weighs, only how many calories it contains. So, however the dairy industry chooses to market their products doesn’t change their effect on the human body.
Repeating the process for 2% milk, we find it contains 35% fat:
43 Fat Calories / 122 Total Calories = ~35% Fat
In Comparison to Whole Milk
Everybody knows whole milk is high-fat, but how do the “low-fat” milks compare to their unrefined counterpart…
71 Fat Calories / 146 Total Calories = ~48% Fat
And just for curiosity, let’s see how much that fat weighs:
8g Fat/ 244g Per Serving = ~3% Weight
There are a lot of ways food products can be legally marketed to give you a false impression as a consumer. The road to health begins with an understanding of what exactly you’re body is dealing with on a daily basis. Educate yourself so you can make good decisions for a lifetime.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
For the past few decades, it’s been trendy to thrash on carbohydrates as the source of all things wrong with poor body composition, obesity, lack of fitness, & a dysfunctional metabolism. To the detriment of our health and the understanding of how the things we put into our bodies interact, modern nutrition science has adopted a compartmentalized view of food.
Instead of making qualitative assessments along the lines of how many fresh, whole fruits & vegetables an individual is consuming, most instead choose to examine the quantities of macronutrients in one’s diet. By extension, many foods are now known by their predominant nutrient (i.e. rice = starchy carbs, meat = protein, vegetables = fiber, nuts = fats, etc.).
The problem with this model is that, with the exception of processed sugar, oil, lard, & protein powder, isolated nutrients don’t exist in the foods we consume. In the words of Dr. Michael Greger, “food is a package deal.” Meat has high quantities of protein, but it also has high quantities of fat, cholesterol, & hormones. Vegetables have high quantities of fiber, but they also have protein, micronutrients, healthy fats, & carbohydrates (yes, vegetables have carbs).
The result is that when a 21st century nutritionist attempts to assess an obese client’s reason for being so, they boil it down simply to the caloric breakdown with little regard for their sources.
What we’ve seen from this paradigm is everybody becoming incessantly afraid of carbohydrates…or at least what they perceive to be carbohydrates.
Junk Food Made You Fat
When people attempt to clean up their diet, any reasonable attempt should begin by eliminating junk food (i.e. cookies, candy, ice cream, burgers, pizza, chips, pastries, soda, energy drinks, sports’ drinks, popcorn, etc.). If you don’t know what junk food is, you shouldn’t be reading this yet.
There’s a lot reasons why junk food leads to obesity & all of the associated diseases. Most people believe it is the carbohydrate content of these foods; after all, most junk food tastes sweet, so it must have too much sugar…right?
This myth of junk food being high-carbohydrate persist because many people don’t read nutrition labels properly. For example, lets look at a common label for ice cream:
What you see above is a general label for 100 grams of vanilla ice cream. The macronutrient distribution is listed by weight (in grams) for each of the 3 macros: fat, carbohydrate, & protein, with special places for saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, and sugar.
By weight, the most predominant nutrient is sugar at 21g, while the fat content is almost half as much weight at 11g. Most stop here and say, “ice cream is high-carb! Carbs make you fat!” However, the body doesn’t derive energy from how much something weighs. You could drink your bodyweight in water and not gain an ounce of caloric energy.
The body works by deriving energy from calories. So to accurately understand what is contained in this ice cream, we must examine the caloric content, rather than the macronutrient weight. For anyone not familiar, carbohydrates & protein yield 4kcal/gm, while fat yields 9kcal/gm. Fat is more than twice as dense as carbohydrates in it’s energy content. So when we run the numbers, we come up with the following:
Total Fat – 99kcal
Saturated Fat – 63kcal
Total Carbohydrate – 96kcal
Sugars – 84kcal
Ice cream yields 48% of its calories from fat, while 45% from carbohydrates! Therefore, ice cream is not a high-carb food, it is a high-fat food. This trend continues for pretty much all of what is normally constituted as junk food.
Chronic fat consumption above 25% of total calories is almost always linked with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, and hormonal disruption (some are keen to suggest total fat levels of 10% or less). All of these foods, most of them being staple items for any individual eating a western diet, far exceed this number, thus, they are all high-fat foods.
*Note* It’s worth mentioning also that the fat content in these & related foods doesn’t come from almonds, flaxseed, walnuts, or avocados. These items are rich in animal fats (butter, lard, milk, eggs) and oils (canola, soybean, hydrogentated oils, etc.), both of which are high in saturated fat & trans fats, the leading causes of cardiovascular disease.
Fruit Does Not Make You Fat
One silly argument that persists from the false notion that sugar is the reason junk food makes people gain weight is that fruit is bad for you because fruit contains sugar. We’ve already established that there’s a lot more going on with junk food than just some sugar, so let’s see what the nutrient profiles of fruit look like:
Here’s a couple other high-carb foods for consideration…
*Note* Most people don’t consume rice or potatoes on their own. Instead, they slather them with salt, butter, and/or oils. If you think rice, potatoes, oats, etc. is making you fat or gain weight, cut out the toppings and condiments.
Compartmentalized nutrition studies are ruining our understanding of foods affect on the body. Use your common sense and remember what mom used to tell you, “eat your fruits & vegetables.“
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.