Nick is a friend of mine and an aspiring professional motocross rider. In March, he approached me about training for the AMA Outdoor Nationals opening round from Hangtown MX Park this past weekend. Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, he was not able to make it to that event. As a consolation, he attended the final 2 rounds of the Transworld Motocross So-Cal Spring Cup at Competitive Edge (competing in both 450A & Open Pro).
Having gone for 8 wins in 8 motos, Transworld described him as, “the fastest racer this weekend,” showcasing “lightening-fast speed” and “a uniquely smooth style” while, “absolutely (dominating) both 450A & Open Pro.” His praise is well deserved; he’s a very talented rider & he has worked very hard in the gym in addition to working a manual labor job.
In the hope that it will lend some insight to other aspiring riders & trainers, I’ll review what we’ve been doing.
Nick came to me as a clean slate. He had been active before, but had never followed a structured training regimen. Roughly, 5’10″, 145lbs. he is a prototypical motocross rider. As his speed and riding technique were just fine & there were no glaring needs to be addressed, my goal in his prep was to design a routine that would promote further efficiency on the bike and help to injury proof his frame should he end up crashing.
We also didn’t have a lot of time (approximately 8 weeks). Between both of our jobs, I put together a basic 3 day/week split; 2 strength-based days and 1 conditioning day. The routine was as follows:
Sunday (if no race) or Monday (if there was a race)
-High Plank 3 x 0:30
-Chins 5×2 (adding an additional rep each week)
-KB Swings 16kg x 5 x 10 (adding an additional rep per set each week)
That was it. No met-con, no duration-based endurance training, no “core” work. The 5×5 parameters were followed as Bill Starr recommends, with the first 4 sets essentially serving as a warm-up for the final set. The hill sprints were also followed in a progressive manner week-to-week and weren’t done for more than 30 yards (as luck would have it, we ended up foregoing about half of the sprint sessions so he could get time on the bike or because of scheduling conflicts).
His workouts often lasted less than 30 minutes, including a warm-up that consisted primarily of joint mobility drills. It’s hard to say what his maxes were when we started, but over the course of these 8 weeks, Nick added 60lbs. to his training weight for the deadlift, 20lbs. for his press, and 40lbs. for the squat without gaining an ounce of bodyweight.
*Note* Nick got a bicycle in the last couple weeks of his prep. He uses it for commuting. This will add up as we continue his training, but for the purposes of this initial period, it didn’t play a significant part of our programming.
The Golden Egg
I expect many riders and trainers to suggest that this isn’t enough work to make a substantial difference in one’s fitness. High-quality work reduces the amount of effort necessary to elicit change (it also keeps the trainee fresh; Nick told me more than once that he felt better leaving the gym than when he arrived).
All of the exercises we used were ones that tie the body together rather than compartmentalizing any one area. These exercises were also primarily bilateral in their execution (the same as riding). The thing that really makes these selections relevant to the motocross rider though is the ability to teach the rider how to hinge properly, in addition to strengthening the muscles associated with that movement pattern.
I’ve written more about the importance of hinging in motocross already (see here). The following image will illustrate much of why the ability to execute a proper hinge is important for motocross.
Many riders & trainers make the mistake of laying an improper foundation for their riding. They either choose to do cardio only or if lifting is integrated into their program, they follow met-con routines or bodybuilding parameters that break the body down and don’t establish proper movement mechanics. By laying a proper foundation (in this case through proficiency at the basic freestanding barbell exercises), you set yourself to gain the most from your efforts as you advance in your training.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
The deadlift is one of my favorite exercises and arguably the most important & functional of the barbell lifts, as it teaches one how to properly & efficiently lift loads off the ground. Possessing a good deadlift is a sure sign of structural integrity, physical strength, & an understanding of correct loading mechanics.
I recommend wearing pants or long socks while you are learning the deadlift. This exercise calls for the barbell to be close to your body throughout the range of motion, so some individuals may scrape their shins as they get used to the movement. Knurls on sensitive skin can cause some abrasions.
Step 1: Foot-Bar Placement
A proper lift begins with the set-up. Stand over the bar with your feet roughly hip-width apart. The orientation of your feet can be anywhere from straight to 15 degrees out. The bar’s position should be about an inch in front of your shins at this point; this places the bar somewhere over the tongue of your shoes.
Step 2: Grip
From the position established above, bend down & grip the bar. Use a conventional double-overhand grip for as long as you can; it disperses the load symmetrically, and it’s the best for developing grip strength. As you get stronger, you may incorporate other grip techniques (mixed grip, hook grip, or straps). The width of your grip should be somewhere just outside of your legs; keeping the grip narrower results in a lower bar position at the top, meaning you don’t need to pull it as high. Give yourself just enough room so that your arms can clear your thighs.
Bar placement in your hand should be between the first & second digits of your fingers. This helps to mitigate detrimental callus formations.
Step 3: Setting the Knees, Hips, & Back
To properly orient your body for an efficient pull, push your shins forward into the barbell (without moving the bar out of position). Next, push your chest out, as if you were attempting to stand tall. This will help flatten & brace your back, minimizing the chances of injury. This move in particular is responsible for many of the deadlift’s benefits.
Doing this properly will result in some tension across the muscles of the back & hamstrings. It’s mildly uncomfortable (which is why many avoid getting set up properly), but necessary for safe deadlifting.
It’s Not A Squat
The two prior moves should put the hips at an optimal angle for the pull. However, some make the mistake of dropping their hips too much in an attempt to “squat” the weight off the ground. This is an inefficient way to deadlift. Your hips & knees should be in a position similar to a quarter-squat; this is the position of greatest leverage to start the lift.
Step 4: Lock Your Arms
Before starting the lift, lock your elbows out by flexing your triceps. This will help to eliminate the “jerk” out of the bottom. People who deadlift improperly often have this jerk as they begin the lift as a result of slack arms. At the very least, this results in a loss of energy, and at worst, a loss of form & an injury that need not have happened.
If You Still Jerk The Bar…
Many people try to perform the deadlift too quickly. Think of the deadlift as the “Mac Truck” of weightlifting; slow, but powerful (as opposed to something like a power clean that’s more reminiscent of a Ferrari). It is a high-tension exercise that’s not designed to move very fast. Don’t be in a rush to get it off the floor.
Step 5: Push the Earth Away
Though the deadlift is referred to as a “pull“, many technique problems can be resolved by thinking of the bottom half of the lift as a leg press. Instead of pulling the bar up with your back, push the bar off the ground with your legs. This will maximally recruit your quadriceps, while allowing your hips & back to remain at a proper angle to finish the lift.
Step 6: Hinge
Finish the deadlift by meeting the bar with your hips. This portion of the lift is a hinge; the same thing you encounter with kettlebell swings & hip bridges. Finish the lift by squeezing your glutes & throwing your hips forward.
If You Hitch…
Hithcing occurs when someone tries to pull the bar off the ground with their back instead of using their legs. As a result, their back has exerted itself by the time the lift approaches the knees. What you see next is the lifter will sit back in an attempt to use their legs to finish the lift. Adjusting your start of the lift will help you here, but also remember to not sit back. Thrust your hips forward, and leave your lumbar spine neutral at the top. (Practice kettlebell swings, hip bridges, & deadlift variations such as RDLs to emphasize this top-half of the range of motion).
Step 7: Putting the Bar Down
Set the bar back on the ground by reversing the motion you used to lift it up. Break at the hips first as you would in a squat. Hinge forward while keeping your chest out. Once the bar passes your knees, bend your legs to reach the ground safely.
The common error here is that many people will break at the knees first. This causes the bar to wander from its vertical path, resulting in greater forces on your knees & spine. The bar path should be straight up & down; if you hip break first, the shins will be vertical when the bar reaches the knees, allowing you to set the bar down with minimal chance of injury.
Deadlifts are a great remedy for our modern sedentary lifestyles, and one of the most efficient ways to cultivate strength across your whole body.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
This post is inspired by a video produced by Elliott Hulse in which he replied to a question from one of his fans regarding their libido (see below).
The young man claims that his sex drive diminished during his tenure as a vegan. Based off Elliott’s comments, the bulk of this guy’s time as a vegan was during his teenage years. The teenage years are a very complicated period from a physiological perspective, and it’s possible that many factors played into his experiences.
Still, I would be willing to bet I know where the solution to this guy’s problem lies…and it doesn’t have to involve killing/exploiting other animals.
It’s common for people who don’t have any experience with living a vegan lifestyle or those who are critical of it to immediately cite the lack of animal foods as the problem. This is premature & erroneous. While I respect much of Elliott’s work, he has had very limited experiences with veganism, so he’s unlikely to examine this situation unbiasedly.
I refer to the preceding incident because his case is one that we find common amongst new & aspiring vegans. People will ride their enthusiasm without taking a look at how to do veganism the right way. Often these individuals either stop living vegan, or they become the stereotypical malnourished person who’s testimony does more harm than good for veganism in the eyes of onlookers.
Too Much Processed Food
New & young vegans have a habit of eating far too much processed, junk food. We all experience a transition phase, but there are some who fail to move on. These people eat veggie meats, veggie cheeses, veggie yogurts/creams/condiments, & veggie desserts at most, if not all of their meals as well as traditional foods that don’t contain animal ingredients (pastries, sodas, energy drinks, chips, etc.).
These people are caught up in the false belief that since they’re no longer consuming animal products, their diet is healthy. I think it’s safe to say that this was the case for the gentleman who’s sex drive was question (teenagers aren’t known for their superior health practices, vegan or not). These foods are ultimately lacking in their nutrient content (if not devoid entirely). A diet that is based around the frequent consumption of these items will result in physiological problems, for the same reasons the standard-American-diet does.
Solution: More Whole-Plant Foods
Luckily, there’s a simple fix to this problem: eat more fruits & vegetables. Fruits & veggies should be the dietary staples for anybody looking to experience good health, whether they’re vegan or otherwise. Other items would be whole-grains, legumes, tubers, nuts, & seeds. Ideally, these foods would be organic, but even conventional choices are far better than processed foods.
Not Enough Calories
Though less likely than above, the other problem that many new vegans experience is a lack of calories in their diet. Animal foods are very calorically dense. To get the same amount of calories from whole-plant foods, you have to consume a greater volume (one of the reasons plant-based diets are so efficient for weight loss).
In our society, people aren’t used to eating the necessary amounts to obtain a sufficient amount of calories from whole-plant sources. The extra fiber & water make up much more bulk and fill the stomach sooner.
Additionally, our perceptions of what constitutes a calorically proper amount of fruits, vegetables, & other whole-plant foods are skewed. Left to their own ways, average people consider a single apple or a small salad as enough fruits and/or vegetables for a meal (possibly even a day). Running a few numbers will quickly illuminate the problems with this way of thinking when it comes to succeeding on a vegan lifestyle.
A long-term lack of calories will result in its own set of problems, especially hormonal issues.
Solution: Eat More
The solution here is easy as well; just eat more food. Your stomach will stretch to accommodate greater quantities, and your metabolism will pick up as your body becomes used to having a proper amount of calories (especially if you’re active).
This is not an excuse to go binge on junk food. Your choices should still be based on whole-plant foods for the reasons listed above.
To Non-Vegans: No Such Thing As 1 Vegan Diet
People who cite veganism as a detrimental diet make the mistake of assuming there’s only one way to practice it. Truth is there are multiple ways to practice veganism; cooked or raw, fruit-based or starch-based, etc. (There are more than those, but not all of them are healthy so I’ll save listing them.)
Thus, to blame one’s problems on a vegan diet is inappropriate. Instead, we must look at how they were practicing a vegan diet to accurately diagnose any issues.
To New Vegans: Understand Your Responsibilities
I’m going to preach (forgive me). New & aspiring vegans need to realize their role in the overall message of veganism; to end animal suffering, exploitation, & murder at the hands of industry. There are individuals who adopt veganism for other reasons (health, environment, etc.), however this is the concept upon which the vegan idea was founded.
As a practicing vegan, you are responsible for portraying the idea accurately & to the best of your ability. To do anything less is to adversely affect the cause. The more we can consistently depict a healthy, vibrant, fit, strong, satisfied, compassionate person, the closer we come to achieving our goal.
If not for your own good, consider the issues talked about here with regard to your impact on veganism as a whole.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
An overarching theme of my work has been to figure out what someone’s referring to when they say they want to, “feel better“. This statement can be a nightmare for most trainers. We would much rather hear something that has to do with numbers: I want to drop my bodyfat 5%, gain 15lbs., put 2 inches on my arms, etc.
“Feeling better” is traditionally considered to be a mix of these type of things. However, just because someone is leaner or more muscular doesn’t mean that issues such as chronic pain or injuries are going to be alleviated.
These are issues that are more relevant to the majority of the population over the age of 35; these people want to “feel better” so they can play with their kids more, go play sports on the weekend, and do some work around the house without their body’s complaint.
So what does “feeling better” look like objectively? I quantify one’s perception of physical comfort & efficacy with something called structural integrity.
What is Structural Integrity?
If you ask different trainers, you’ll likely get different answers. However, I believe at the core of structural integrity is the ability of one to align the major joints of their body (specifically the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, & neck).
This is the same thing as being able to hold good posture. Maintaining your ability to properly align your skeleton means that your body’s load is evenly dispersed, thus you’re less prone to aches & pains since no one area is being overexerted. This also helps to reduce your chance of injury (athletes & senior citizens take note).
Structural Integrity is the Foundation of Physical Development
High-quality movement is at the root of excellence in any sport or physical activity. If you are capable of such, you instantly gain more strength, power, speed, & endurance than someone of the same physical parameters who’s incapable of proper movement.
Technical proficiency in any sport before advanced fitness development is important for this reason.
High-quality movement is predicated upon the possession of structural integrity. If you cannot align properly, you will develop “muscle viruses” (faulty recruitment patterns) as your body attempts to compensate for its imbalance(s).
This means your body will be dispersing forces in an unnatural manner, which is the precursor for both acute & chronic injuries.
Athletes who are injury prone tend to be ignorant of this. Their training is typically done on machines or through the use of exercises that possess a low level of structural integrity. In spite of hard, consistent training, these individuals always end up hurt because they have not taught their body how to properly distribute a load & how to move while supporting it.
Even if you don’t experience any major problems, you are at a disadvantage in physical performance because you cannot move most efficiently.
Cultivating Structural Integrity
Exercises that involve your body moving into a position in which all of the major joints are aligned are ones the develop structural integrity. In the barbell world, 3 instantly come to mind: the deadlift, press (standing), & squat (all types).
Each of these exercises involve the body aligning itself relative to the placement of the load. By comparison, the bench press, though an effective exercise for strength & muscle development, does not promote structural integrity because the body is out of alignment.
Some other favorites of mine for promoting structural integrity are planks, kettlebell swings, chins, farmer walks, & pushups. Advanced exercises like cleans & snatches also develop this quality.
Another one that many might not think of is walking (another reason I believe walking is the best form of cardiovascular exercise).
As always, it’s important to make sure these excises are done properly. Done poorly, these same exercises could be sources of physical imbalances & poor movement patterns.
If you are looking to get the most out of your body, or you’ve been training for awhile and don’t feel as good as you could, it’s worth your time to examine your training to see how much it’s contributing to your body’s structural integrity.
Until next time…
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
Being A Successful Young Man In the 21st Century
I think it’s pretty safe to say that for as long as there have been men & women sharing this planet, it has been in the interest to men to understand how to attract a woman. The survival of the man’s reputation and, indeed, the entire species depended on it. Our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, & great-grandfathers all had this same level of intrigue.
Today however, we see what I believe to be a disproportionate amount of attention being placed on attracting a member of the fairer sex. Males today seem to be willing to try anything & everything to bring a woman into their life, while women stand back and wonder “where all the good men are?“
For all the emphasis that’s being placed on this question by the modern male, I believe the answer is really quite simple: if you want to attract a woman, be a man. It’s simply a matter of God’s will & our biological design.
What’s a Man?
By bringing this into light though, we expose a deeper problem; many males will pose the question of, “what’s a man?” This should be cause for concern, as it creates a vacuum in society. Thanks to the media, males today have a seemingly infinite amount of options to choose from with regards to finding a male role model. I believe those who are actually worthy of that consideration to be in the distinct minority of what’s portrayed.
A couple of weeks ago, I met one of my clients for a hill sprint workout. As we were walking through a neighborhood on our way to the hill (minding our own business), a young man (I’m guessing a teenager, though I didn’t see him) yelled out of his window, “Fuck crackers!” We ignored the racial slur, but he yelled it once again. Based off his tonality, I could tell he wasn’t trying to be malicious in his intent, rather it was simple juvenile-delinquency. Still, the lack of care that this boy expressed with his words (especially towards individuals who have done nothing to provoke such commentary) is indicative of where society is pointing adolescent males on their path towards manhood.
As we arrived at the hill a few minutes later, we found a group of kids working out on it already. It was one of those arrangements where the fathers act as the “coaches” for the group of children. I’m guessing most of the boys were 8, 9 or 10 years-old. As they repeated rounds up & down the hill, the “head coach” (a male around his mid-30s) proceeded to tell the kids to, “get your ass back up there!” Again, this wasn’t done maliciously, but it was done carelessly. Children at 9 years-old are incapable of understanding the implications of such language, and it’s up to us to control our tongues until they become capable (though we’d be well-served to continue controlling our tongues anyway). The lack of wherewithal this male displayed with his language demonstrates that, in spite of his age, he still has yet to become a man.
If neither of these individuals really constitutes a man, then what does? 1 Corinthians gives us some basic criteria: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). The first criteria a man must demonstrate is maturity. Childhood, though precious, is inherently immature. To come into adulthood, we must move on from the naivete of youth and fully understand the implications of our words & actions.
This fundamental step has been quelled by today’s society; everyone wants to act like they’re still in high-school. In male culture, this has led to a preponderance of boys-who-shave; males who are biologically mature, yet emotionally & spiritually immature. Their physical attributes are abused as they lack discernment of how to properly use them.
What Constitutes Maturity?
If one’s genuine maturity is then in question, what can we turn to to look for its full development? The same book offers us another example: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16: 13-14). As men, we are called to accept these responsibilities. It’s through their fulfillment that we come into full maturation. Lacking an adequate amount of examples of this in our culture, society has attempted to show us other criteria that defines a man: the size of his penis/testicles, his sexual prowess, how big his muscles are, how much money he has, how much alcohol he can tolerate, what kind of car he drives, what kind of clothes he wears, etc.
These are all highly superficial criteria. None of them contains much substance, so men who pursue these attributes alone will ultimately be left unfulfilled & empty. Women are wired to detect where a man is in his maturation process. If you have yet to complete it, they will engage you on the level you currently stand. Thus, if you’re disappointed in your experiences with women, you should evaluate where you are on your road to becoming a fully-mature man.
The Call of Man
A man who is mature will experience his call to serve; to put others before himself. It can show itself in any & all areas of life. With regards to our topic here, a healthy relationship involves a man’s service to a woman. This doesn’t mean that he is to be a doormat for the woman, nor that woman is incapable of caring for herself. Rather, a man understands that to successfully lead a relationship or a family, he must serve it/them. We serve them by protecting them, providing for them, & guiding them to the truth insofar as we’re aware of it.
A gentleman inherently serves a woman; he opens the door for her, he gives up his coat for her, he pays for her, he picks her up, etc. The gentleman knows the woman is fully capable of these things, yet he takes pleasure in providing her service. Here we must make another distinction; the immature male (a false gentleman) does these things in the hope that he will be rewarded (more often than not, sexually). A mature man does these things for the sake of service itself; if rewards come, they are icing on the cake.
Healthy sexual relationships are also built on this dynamic. It’s only through a man’s service to a woman that she will experience orgasm (i.e. that she will be satisfied). It’s not a coincidence that the woman becomes most fertile when she is in a state of orgasm; it is the fullest physical expression of love between a man & woman, the perfect condition within which to bring new life. I believe a large part of the phenomenon of premature ejaculation is a lack of understanding this role (another sign of immaturity). These males engage in sex simply to satisfy their own desires, with little regard for their partner.
The incomplete fulfillment of these qualities amongst males has created a cultural road-block. Women are attempting to take up the slack that males are leaving behind, and this is coming at the detriment of full maturity for both genders. Many males live in the realm of “boy-who-shaves”; they fail to embrace maturity by ignoring their responsibilities and disregarding the need to serve others. To successfully attract a good woman, you must stop being a boy & start being a man.
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.