It’s a gym exercise that either creates dread or yawns.
You see the plank has been regarded for the last while as some panacea for all things core.
But the good Doc Stuart McGill, the foremost researcher on spinal mechanics doesn’t agree.
And he knows a few things.
GSP went to see him about core training back in the day!
McGill has said that once you can hold the plank for 2 minutes, it is of no further use.
And I see no reason to disagree with him.
2 minutes shows enough core muscle endurance to keep the spine safe.
And that’s it.
There’s zero strength to gain by going longer.
In fact, McGills more recently told us that several sets of 10 seconds is more than adequate for most people.
You are NOT most people!
You have nailed your 2 minute plank and are now looking for something more…
Here it is.
This is an exercise that offers a full body challenge, hip, shoulder and spine mobility AND stability is equal measures.
And yes, we call it a plank.
Actually, we call it a Clock Plank and it’s based on the work of Gary Ward, the guy I learned Anatomy in Motion from.
And here how it’s done:
Now don’t be shy while doing this, really reach, really really reach!
You’ll be surprised at how humbling this exercise can be, if you have a weak link, this will highlight it.
Now, go play!
If you find this post useful, just imagine how useful you’re mates will find it!
Hit the share button and make my, and your friends day a little bit more awesome!
One thing the Turkish Get Up requires and rewards, is patience.
If you think of the lift as a series of motions, not one lift, then you’ll do well.
You set the start position, that’s the first move. Do it, finish it, secure it, then move on and not before.
Then you roll to the shoulder, not the elbow, not yet. I want you on your side looking up at the bell.
This section is the most missed out component of the lift, yet it is potentially the single most important section of the entire thing.
If you are familiar with the kettlebell arm-bar, a favourite move in the Hard Style kettlebell schools, then this is what I want you to think as you start a get up.
Arm bar, then raise to the elbow, then raise again to a straight bottom arm.
If you want to see an absolutely perfect example of the technique I’m talking about, go to the 2min 30 mark on this video (watch the whole thing, but the relevant part is 2:30) and prepare to have your jaw hit the floor:
Only now can you think about getting the hip up and sweeping the leg back.
Here’s a video of the Get Up I made for LiftBJJ.com
And this is a 20 minute video on the get up that goes over just about everything in the Get Up:
There are few lifts that offer as much bang for the buck as the Turkish Get Up.
Do them controlled, with a bottoms up grip for shoulder health and reflexive stability
Do them heavy because, well, because it’s awesome!
Do them as part of a complex for serious conditioning.
Of the complexes we use, my personal favourite is:
Snatch – Get Up (down portion) – Get Up (back to the feet) – Windmill, then swap hands and repeat.
I’ll drag out a 36kg bell and do this for 45 minutes every now and again, it’s a great “cardio” set.
Here’s my heart rate the last time I did this session:
If you’re not familiar with Examine, they are an independent research review company. And I mean actually independent, they don’t bow to anyone!
So when they look at research and post up an article, it’s worth the read.
As ever they make the science digestible and include great graphics, like this one:
To cut a long story short, the basics are:
If you’re a healthy adult, you should be ok with approx 400mg of caffeine per day.
Too far over that and you’re likely to start seeing the negative effects of caffeine consumption, which are detailed in the article.
Not only that, consider all the other crap that goes into caffeinated drinks.
Starbucks own website tells us that their coffee can contain up to 13g of sugar (this goes up to a potential of 68g in their holiday speciality coffee drinks), compare that to Monster Energy drink, a fizzy “soft drink” that has 11g of sugar.
If you’re looking for a caffeine pick me up, please stick with good old fashioned coffee, the type that you’d find in any cafe in France or Italy.
Stay clear of the so called “energy drinks” and those ridiculous Starbucks coffee like drinks
Just for reference, according to the Dunkin Donuts website, their highest sugar content for one of their donuts falls in at 22g.
Think about that.
One can of Monster is half of Dunkin Donuts sugariest donut.
But Starbucks sweetest coffee is worth 3 donuts!
I’ll stick to my regular Macchiato.
What will you have?
My new address signals a change in schedule and new opportunity.
Who doesn’t love the push up?
An iconic, classic exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime and carries a host of benefits.
A very common complaint on the push up is that it hurts the wrist, the hands flat on the floor can problematic for many.
There are a great many workarounds for this to allow you perform push ups, the simplest is to simply do them on a closed fist, or you can use dumbbells, push up handles, parallettes etc.
As a coach, I’d much rather you didn’t require a workaround, I’d much rather you trained the body to be able to assume the position.
In doing so hopefully resolving any problems in the wrist.
Working the hands and wrists is an important yet overlooked part of training.
Especially as most people no longer use their hands to their potential due to white collar jobs and urban living.
Those that I work with who perform more manual labour jobs don’t tend to have the same issues as the desk workers.
Grapplers less than punchers.
Climbers less than mountain bikers.
My point is we need to work the hands and wrists through a variety of planes of motion if we plan on keeping them healthy and strong.
This instagram video shows a very simple and highly effective mobility exercise that we all should be doing:
I’d suggest working these daily if possible, they also work great as active rest between non grip intensive lifts.
If you stick them in your warm up (highly recommended) then follow them with the Pump exercise (a more dynamic Up-Down Dog from Yoga), this will tie the wrist and scapula together and get you ready for just about anything, here’s a previous blog post on the Pump:
This week has bee flat out busy, so no blog posts for you.
Although I’ve a couple in the pipeline that will be coming out next week.
So today we have a few Random Friday Thoughts
Starting with: TENACITY
Right now, Special Forces guys are cool.
Yeah, I know, they’ve always been cool, but that’s because they are the modern version of the Ninja, all secretive and shit.
But currently, they’re all over the telly giving speeches or presenting “Hell Week” style challenge programs.
Most people have a view of soldiers, especially the more cloak and dagger specialist units, as hairy arsed, musclebound monsters.
Hopefully, this current trend of the celebrity former SF is showing that there is more to them then that.
I have friends that I’ve known for years that are/were SF and they’re some of the most rounded (if completely nuts) people I know.
So what is it that makes these guys so special?
Hopefully this is what is coming though on these shows.
It can be summed up in one word: TENACITY
noun [ U ] UK /təˈnæs.ə.ti/ US /təˈnæs.ə.t̬i/
the determination to continue what you are doing
When people talk about toughness and mental toughness, the word tenacity is probably a better choice.
To quote Denzel in Man on Fire, “There is no such thing as tough. There’s trained and there’s untrained, now which are you?”
Which are you?
Training is a long term project.
It’s not 12 weeks or 30 days.
And it’s not just an hour in the gym and it’s done.
If it doesn’t spill over into daily life, then you may have developed a stronger body or a more impressive physique, but you my friend are still untrained.
I look back over my life and I can see all the kids I knew growing up who really listened to our Coach Jack Parker and those that didn’t.
Not all of us became black belts or won prizes in competition. Most left for one reason or another, but those who listened took Jacks lessons into every endeavour they undertook, which is why now, on the facebook I see them doing great things.
And Jack taught tenacity, Karate teaches tenacity. As do many other training modalities.
Special Forces selection tests tenacity.
The most important attribute for any person to develop in order to go from their current state of being to a better state of being is tenacity.
Many of clients travel, when they do they ask for bodyweight training programs to do in their Hotel rooms and they message me when they do them. This is tenacity.
Another client has just emailed me from the recovery room after a surgery asking if she can still come to the gym when she’s released and detailed out her current state of health and the potential issues.
That shows tenacity.
Not bull at a gate aggression, but a long view, a patient observation of current position and how that aligns with her expected position and calling me to help her plot the course between the two.
I could go on, but I’m short on time so will wrap it up here with a closing statement.
You have always had tenacity, my kids have it, in fact today’s post is inspired by them winning awards in school for exactly that. They both made huge progress in weak subjects showing a determination and willingness to struggle.
They know I hold that quality dear, hopefully they will too.
You had it as a kid, you still have it now.
We’re at the end of another week, and another hectic one at that!
A few things popped up this week that may well be relevant to you, so in no particular order:
1 – Bodyweight Exercises are not for wimps!
I’ve several clients who travel for business purposes, one is going away on a work trip but she’s also in preparations for a BJJ event.
So this week we ran her through the bodyweight only program we created for her to follow (her request) while away. She then sent the following text message:
I don’t have any part of my body that doesn’t hurt 😀 😀 😀
Just because you’re not hoofing around lumps of iron, it doesn’t mean you’re not putting strain on the tissues and the nervous system, you will get strong!
2 – Not All Bodyweight Exercises Are Suitable for All People
There was trend a while ago suggesting that a coach should insist on a client getting better at unloaded exercises before doing loaded exercises.
So they suggest training push ups to a good standard prior to doing any barbell or dumbbell presses. Same for squats etc.
The logic on this doesn’t follow through.
In a plank style push up you are pressing approx 60% of your bodyweight.
And that’s not taking leverage into account (ie taller or shorter folk)
So for me, at 95kg’s doing push ups is approximately equivalent to me bench pressing 50kg’s.
Now, I’m fairly strong, so that’s ok.
But what about Brian who’s in his 40’s, works at a desk and hasn’t seen his toes in years?
If Brian (who I’ve just made up) is 35% bodyfat at 95kg’s, he’s only got 62kg’s of lean mass with which to do his push ups.
His push ups will be WAAAAAAAY more difficult than mine! So he’d be better served starting with Planks and Dumbbell Presses.
This is reversed on lower body exercises, as these are mostly performed standing anyhow.
A loaded squat is a direct progression on an unloaded squat, so in this instance bodyweight absolutely should pre-empt additional load.
I also believe that it is possible to develop all the upper body and core strength you’ll ever need with just bodyweight, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get full lower body development without external load.
3 – Exercise helps prevent cartilage damage caused by arthritis
The Medical Express just published an article from the Queen Mary University of London talking about exercise and how it can reduce inflammation and therefore have a positive effect on inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
The researchers show for the first time how mechanical forces experienced by cells in joints during exercise prevent cartilage degradation by suppressing the action of inflammatory molecules which cause osteoarthritis.
The study, published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, demonstrates the benefits of exercise on the tissues that form our joints and how this is down to tiny hair-like structures called primary cilia found on living cells.
During exercise the cartilage in joints such as the hip and knee is squashed. This mechanical distortion is detected by the living cells in the cartilage which then block the action of inflammatory molecules associated with conditions such as arthritis.
They also say that the increased blood flow from exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect, all before going on to saying how they’re developing a drug that replicates the same effects as exercise.
Read the full post here: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-03-cartilage-arthritis.html
Two things stand out in this to me:
I – The human animal NEEDS to move and be challenged physically.
Just as you feel bad for a dog or a zoo animal that doesn’t get enough exercise, we should feel bad for the human that doesn’t get enough exercise.
Walking is great, but you also need to take it up a few notches, and that’s what the gym is for.
II – We can’t help ourselves but to look for the magic pill that will cure our ills. And while yes, the medicine to replicate the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise will be fantastic for thoser too severe to actually get moving, I can’t help but think it’ll end up being marketed to the public as a wonder drug to replace exercise.
Call me cynical. You’d be right.
Watch how he is off guard, he’s leaning forward to take a video, he is comfortable and relaxed when he takes the impact.
Bear in mind he is also a man in his 70’s
See how he responds to the impact?
He moves with it, he turns to face, he is balanced and poised.
At 70+ years old, Arnie is still the goddam Terminator!
He is a product of a lifetime of disciplined training.
He has worked hard to keep strong and maintain muscle mass as he’s gotten older.
And it shows here.
He said afterwards that he “thought he was being jostled by the crowd” not being kung fu kicked.
If ever there was an advertisement for lifting weights into old age, this is it.
Now it also helps that Arnie has trained since his youth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start now,
It doesn’t mean you can’t get back into it now.
A huge amount of people simply stop training in their middle years, usually due to time and family commitments. This is understandable.
Some never come back because they’re not able to put in the time they used to, or they’ll never return to the competitive levels they once were at.
And I get that too.
But listen, you don’t need to be competitive.
You’re life doesn’t have to revolve around the gym.
But you can and should train.
You want to be the man who can shrug of a flying kick in your 70’s
You want to be vital and strong long into your twilight years.
I certainly have no intentions of letting my kids beat me in an arm wrestle at any age!
And if you don’t know where to start, drop me a line, I can help.
The things we take for granted are probably the things we should be paying the most attention to.
On Monday I talked about mobility work for the hands and wrists. And today I get an email from an online client exclaiming “OMG, I’ve never had a forearm pump before!”
Which suggests the forearm muscles, those that control the hand and wrist are potentially under-stimulated and in need of some care and attention. As a kettlebell lifter, mine are often over stimulated and in need of care and attention.
Either way, hands deserve care and attention.
But let’s go deeper, let’s talk about breathing.
Most people I work with fall into one of two camps. Those that have never considered the role of breathing, and those who have been taught certain methods, usually as that method is the one and only way to breathe.
I’m here to tell that there is no one right way, but there are many ways which are correct, and it all depends on the context.
For a shortcut, I wrote an “Instruction Manual” for breathing which you can find here
But outside of the gym or exercise class, does how you breathe matter?
Short answer: YES!
If you do what most people do and breathe high in the chest with an open mouth, then then it’s not a reach to guess you also feel tightness/stiffness in the neck and shoulders. What about the hips, would they also be tight?
How’s your stress levels?
High chest breathing, especially with an open mouth is highly correlated with the stress response. Think back to pre civilisation, think Game of Thrones type of living. Each time your life is on the line, the stress response kicks in and the head drops to protect the neck. The shoulders lift to protect the neck. The breathe speeds up in preparation for immediate action.
Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, priming us for physical action.
Yet how often does that physical action manifest itself?
Unless you get to the gym, go for a run or get some form of physical exertion in, it doesn’t.
Having a good belly laugh and banter with a comrade is a great alternative to the physical exertion. Do you get that opportunity?
Once the stress is over and the physical manifestations we call the stress response have dissipated, we are supposed to return to deeper, diaphragmatic breathing and an open, relaxed posture.
I’m going to make an assumption here.
I assume you use your hands a lot more than those biceps or rectus abdominis that you love showing off!
If you’re reading this blog you are very likely a person who swings kettlebells, does pull ups, deadlifts, plays Judo/BJJ, goes climbing, mountain bikes as well as doing all the normal stuff modern life asks from us.
Look through that list and you’ll see that everything requires the hands to be in good nick.
Everything on that list requires the grip to be strong and better than just string, but reactive and enduring.
Training usually requires a closing grip, which means our finger flexors on the inside of the forearm take a beating.
Our forearms are one of the sets of muscles in the body that are deliberately imbalanced, the flexors that close the hand are far stronger than the extensors that open the hand (as I explained this one day to Son no 1, he jumped in, “You mean like a crocodiles mouth” which is the best explanation you could ever get.)
Problems arise of this imbalance gets to far out of line, or the forearm flexors simply get tight from all use.
I do see people quite frequently who struggle to do a simple push up comfortably because of the fore arm flexors being tight.
There are some very simple and highly effective exercises that are used by gymnasts and traditional martial artists the world over to prep the hand/wrists for the hard training to follow, and also to keep the hands fresh and aid recovery from the training.
The two that I recommend you add into training today are: Finger Pulses and Palm Pulses
Both these exercises can be practiced nice and light, just going through the motions for releasing any excessive tension held in the muscles, say the day after training, or as part of a warm up.
Or you can put some weight on the hands and challenge the tissues to develop some strength, nice to do after a grip intensive session such as Deadlifts or Kettlebell Snatch.
Add them into your routine and let me know how you feel.
But this dude got in touch by email and detailed out a very interesting and concerning injury history.
Not only that, there was an equally detailed and concerning history of the lack of results the conventional medical and physiotherapy treatments have had.
Now, before we go any further….
There is a trend amongst the people in the circles I operate to speak out against and be derogative on our medical community.
I am not one of them.
Ok, I do give out sometimes, but I do have the utmost respect for them.
We ALL have limitations. And I think we expect too much from the medical folk sometimes, and possibly they expect too much of themselves.
We NEED their deep and specialised learning.
We also need to know that specialised means narrow focus, and the stuff that lies outside that focus, they may be as ignorant about as the next person.
In fact, I’d argue that the more laser like the focus, the deeper the knowledge within that light, and the greater the lack of knowledge outside it.
Think on this the next time you give out to any expert for not knowing something.
But back to my client.
After an assessment, I gave him homework recommendations and created a training program for him to follow when he came into me two times per week.
He has now completed 4 training sessions. And has been faithfully doing his homework.
His report: After session 1 – He was in bits, felt like the session had targeted in on all his problem areas. After session 2 – Felt much smoother in every movement, worked hard but felt way loser, more mobile. After session 3 – the next day felt a weird tightness build, similar to a normal flare up of his symptoms, but also different. This was followed by an almighty crack in his vertebrae and instant relief of symptoms. Later that day he was asked if he he’d been going to the gym because he looked great!
Session 4, well lets see when he comes in next week.
A few thing stand out here.
1 – three sessions does not change a physique to a noticeable degree, no matter what an internet guru will tell you.
So what changed?
If I were to guess, I’d say that the change was mostly due to a toning down of muscular tension and improvement in posture.
His muscle relaxed possibly due to a lower perceived threat.
His posture improved because it was no longer under high muscular tension.
All this because of the sudden reduction in symptoms and a clear improvement in joint mobility in the vertebra, an are we had flagged as restricted.
His performance in his last (fourth) session was streets ahead of all previous sessions.
Which is nice.
But really what I’m getting at is that all the MRI scans and X-Rays, all the medical tests and a great many assessment protocols have one thing in common.
The patient is static.
But how do we live?
Consider a chain, like the chain on your bike.
If one link seizes, does that chain run smoothly? Can you cycle that bike efficiently?
The answer is clearly no.
If that link is positioned on the straight part of the chain while you take a photo and send it to your mechanic buddy, it’d look normal.
But as soon as he saw the pedals turn to move the chain, he’d spot it straight away and know what to do.
This is why assessments need to include movement.
This is why physical injury responds so well to movement (outside of the acute stuff like breaks, dislocations, tears etc)
Moving assessments take time though, hence why I allow 90-120 minutes per appointment. Good luck getting that sort of time with a flat out medical professional, they’re understaffed and under funded.
To wrap up:
Give the medical folk a break, maybe their doing their best but you fall outside of their expertise.
Be like my guy, seek out someone who deals with movement
Again, like my guy, give feedback, I can’t tell you how important good feedback is, after all it’s you in that body, not me, only you know how it feels!