Build Your Squat Episode 4

Brilliant Friends,

You can use ballistic movements for progressing in strength training if you don’t have a gym. This is useful when normal body weight exercises are no longer difficult enough to further your strength.

Ballistic means that the movement is done with full force, accelerating your body or the weight. Rather than pushing at a steady rate, the method is explosive force. This engages more muscle and trains you to become stronger. The jump squat, the clap pushup, and the explosive pullup all have this quality.

Ballistic movements are effective when you have a limited amount of weight to lift. Rather than do twenty body weight squats, I can do three or four strong jump squats. This concept has been used by academies like StrongFirst to train fighters and soldiers. You can use it to gently build your own strength for the long term.

Choose ballistic movements that you can do with good form. You do not want to exert accelerating force on a poor movement. If any of the exercises I show you here are not doable, replace them with ones that are. Here are some possibilities:

  • Explosive pushups as high as you can go with good form
  • Clap pushups off an elevated platform or a wall
  • Rows on a horizontal bar

Grease the groove. Use two or three exercises per training session. Figure out how many strong repetitions you can do. Then do half of that. Take long breaks before coming back to the same movement. You can wait hours or half a day before the next set if you want. I sometimes call it a day at one set. It doesn’t matter. Do strong, perfect reps every time.

Last note. There’s no correct time of day to train. You’ll see me training at different times of the day. I love the morning, I love the evening, and I love the midday. Every part of the day is perfect to train. There’s a challenge with each part of the day. Warming up for a morning session, the heat of midday, hunger in the evening.

Thanks a ton for watching. I love knowing that this helps someone.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Build Your Squat Episode 3

Brilliant Friends,

This episode of Build Your Squat is actually not about the squat. I’m taking you down a side street instead to show you a session of my training.

It’s body weight movements, no gym, where I use greasing the groove (GTG) and relaxation to build strength. GTG is a simple method to make your exercise sessions short, effective, and save you sweat. All you need is some space outdoors or at home where you can be barefoot and move freely.

You know I don’t train with shoes. That’s hard to get away with in a typical gym. There are other benefits that come with training at home or outdoors.

First, there’s no driving to and from the gym. This alone cuts long sitting times in the car, and the stress of traffic. Why cramp myself up in my vehicle right before and right after an amazing training session of my mind and body? To go along with this, I don’t have to worry about finding and paying for a gym if I don’t have the time and money to do so.

Second, I can exercise barefoot! I’ve had flat feet my whole life, made worse by cushy sneakers with insoles. Since I was always running around, jumping, biking, and so forth, my little arches got crushed! I had plantar fasciitis before doc’s even had a name for it. Seriously, as a grade-schooler I had these episodes of intense pain on the bottom of my feet after a hard day of play. So I take my barefoot time seriously.

Walking, running, and training strength and mobility barefoot has helped me, over three years, to rebuild the arches in my feet. Getting rid of restrictive shoes has also helped my toes to splay out more. I used to think it was slick to wear pointy toed dress shoes. Now I think it’s sick. Doing heavy squats and deadlifts barefoot accelerated my foot development.

Third reason I love training outside of a gym – I can go by my own schedule. I don’t mean that a gym would tell me when to train or not train. What I mean is that there is a natural ebb and flow to things that determine when I do end up going to the gym. For example, if I must drive, I won’t choose traffic hours to and from the gym. So that limits my schedule. Also, everyone else that goes to the gym follows a certain schedule. We know that most people go before work, during lunch, or after work. This crowds gyms at specific times of the day. If I go to the gym planning to do squats on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, it’s going to be hectic. And I always squat when I go to a gym.

So unless I want to train at dawn, right before closing, or at 11 a.m., the gym is not going to be ideal. I’m all about hard work, but I also make things as uncomplicated as possible. This make me more effective.

Don’t get me wrong. I love training at gyms. There’s nothing like using heavier weight, squat racks, and barbells. But there are seasons to life, and right now I’m out of gym season. Body weight training and greasing the groove have been wonderful methods this past year in maintaining strength, muscle, and mobility without a gym.

So if this you – no gym, no problem. Get outside, hit the ground with skin, and get training.

Live powerfully!

Steve

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What I’ve Been Chewing

I know it’s been too long since I’ve written to you.

I’ve been traveling and figuring things out lately, and haven’t sat down to write in a while. There’s lots I want to share with you. Here are several things I’ve been pondering, developing, and talking about with people around me. Most of them you’ve seen from my blog before, but wellness is never a one-time deal for me. Being healthy is about practice, trying, developing, and building layers.

These items mostly came out of traveling and being “on the road”, meaning no gym, no permanent home, limited resources for training and cooking. I hope you find this useful, whether or not you’re traveling. After all, I started a lot of these things while working in a corporate office and living in Los Angeles. So it’s all transferable. Here they are.

Gentleness

There’s a book I love called The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, by Pema Chodron. It’s about the wisdom in accepting your circumstances, loving yourself, and not rebelling against who you are. The book is written by a Buddhist teacher, mostly for people seeking the philosophy and technique behind Zen meditation. I read this in college, and the book has carried over to all other aspects of my life. Including physical training.

One of the biggest downfalls of the fitness industry is that consumers are not encouraged to take things slow, to work on themselves gently, and to train for the long game. Trainers, coaches, supplement companies, and magazines are full of the notion that the body has to be broken to become better. It’s your body. You don’t have to break it, or suffer, to become stronger. That’s not how things work.

In the short run, you might get big muscles, snaky veins, and a six pack. I understand the need to have these things. It’s been pounded into our psyches by mass media, and it’s part of our primordial urge to be fit. But what about the long run? Will you be well, functional, pain free, and freely moving years, decades down the road? Do you care?

There is a way to be strong and to remain strong for the long game. And that way involves gentleness. It requires you to learn about your body in every possible way as you develop your wellness. Be gentle with your eating. Be gentle with your body, your moving, your training. Be gentle with your mind. This comes into play when you realize that you are not going to get some specific result immediately. Eating a salad today won’t make you skinny, lean, and virile tomorrow. And it doesn’t help to eliminate fats, proteins, and carbs from your diet. See how going rough leads you into a downward spiral?

Step back, make gentle pushes, observe results. Test yourself, but don’t break yourself. The object of the game is to grow, to learn, to be healthy, happy, and capable.

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Barefoot training

Feet have a structure and function that work only when they are unhindered. You have the ability to redevelop your foot structure, the right stance, the right walk, and the right movement patterns. It starts with taking off your shoes. Go barefoot at home, around the hood, and wherever you can in the outdoors. It’s just one of those things that gets easier the more you do it. So start tiny.

We will see many products hit the “barefoot” market. Shoes, sandals, socks, sports equipment, and hopefully even transportation that lets us be close to barefoot all day long. I think this is progress. However, these products do not make you barefoot. Simply using your bare feet is different. Barefoot cannot be replicated. A “barefoot running shoe” is not barefoot. It is a shoe.

Train barefoot. Do strength training without shoes or socks. You can do them all if you start from zero, go gently, and progress responsibly. I have done deadlifts, squats, kettlebell, and body weight exercises barefoot. Orthopedic insoles did not help me. I had prescription plastic insoles for most of my adolescent years, into college. The pain of walking, running, and standing in shoes went away like magic. But guess what the price was? My feet got flatter and weaker, more prone to strains, and less and less able to hold me up the way they are supposed to.

Then I started following Kelly Starrett, and shed the insole supports. I wore flat shoes instead. Then I wore huaraches. But nothing beat walking barefoot outside, running barefoot on the grass and sand, and lifting barefoot at the gym. These activities, over three years, rebuilt the shape and mechanism of my feet. I now have arches.

So this is where I would link you to a product that I used, but I can’t because there is no product. You just simply need to take off your shoes and socks. However, there is technique that you need to use for proper development. Just like with all other parts of your body, such as your knees, your back, and your shoulders, for example, feet have a correct position and movement pattern. Place your weight on the parts that are meant to hold weight: the sole, the outer blade, the balls of your feet, and the toes. You’ll see that your arch, or insole if you don’t yet have an arch, doesn’t have to touch the ground. You’ll feel that springiness in your step. Walking, running, jumping. Try them all barefoot.

Figure it out and rebuild yourself from the ground up. If you need coaching, I can help.

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Fat first

From five years of self experimentation, drinking butter coffee almost every morning, traveling and eating for optimal energy, and talking with others experimenting with eating more fat, I continue to find that “fat first” works. This means eating fat for the first meal of the day, whether that be in the morning or afternoon or night. It means eating fat before eating other foods during any meal, or at least at the same time. Try grass fed butter melted into rice. And “fat first” means making sure to eat good fats, from good sources. Why?

Because fat is filling, fat is the building block of cell membranes and your nervous system and your brain, and fat gives you energy. Eating good fat from healthy animals ensures that you get the nutrition your body and brain needs before you fill up on other things like starch. Eating fat first means you get satisfaction and feel fuller from it. It helps guide me in my meals, because as long as I eat good fats I know how much of other stuff to eat. I feel more balanced in my urge to eat rice, veggies, and meat when I am eating good fats. Don’t think I don’t eat carbs. I eat lots of carbs, because I need it for my body composition, level of training, and daily activity. But my eating is moderated by the fat I’m eating. I guess I can say that fat is my primary source of satiety and energy, and my starting point for measuring hunger and portions.

Here’s an example of how fat is my nutrition measuring tool: if I feel the munchies, cravings, or urge to eat dessert at night, despite having eaten dinner, I’ll rewind through the day to see how much fat I’ve eaten. Most times, I’ll realize I forgot to mix butter into my rice, or didn’t have my usual butter coffee, or didn’t get the chance to eat any good quality fat that day. If I can, I slap a slab of grass fed cow butter onto some sweet potato and have at it. Fat first.

Kids and perfect form

I am fascinated by kids who are allowed to develop physically without the restraints of bulky sneakers, cribs, seats, and overprotection. My friend lets his son walk, run, roam, climb, and play more than most parents I’ve seen. He also lets him do this barefoot, even outside. When shoes are necessary, they are soft, flat on the bottom, and flexible enough for the feet to do their natural job. The result is incredible.

My friend’s son is a dense-bodied mover, and he is able to hold his core rigid when he’s lifted off the ground, flipped overhead, and swung back down. He holds perfect spine alignment as he deadlifts a suitcase off the floor. This beloved mini-athlete sometimes gets into a yogic child pose, stretches out on his belly, and lifts his arms and legs off the floor in a reverse plank. It’s all play to him. And he’s barely a year and a half old.

I laugh and marvel at his feats of mobility and strength. At the same time, I feel excited about what this little kid represents. He shows me it’s possible to have a perfect squat as natural and easy as yawning. He proves to me that movements like the deadlift and positions like straight feet and straight spine in the squat are natural. It gives me an example to follow. Since the kid hasn’t been molded into cushy shoes, and since he hasn’t been confined to classroom chairs, his movements are intact. He pushes his limits all the time in the weight of the bins he lifts, the suitcases he pushes, and the stairs he climbs.

Doing these things is challenging in themselves, but doing them with minimal risk of injury and optimal strength is natural only because limitations are not yet put on our little friend. So what if you’re starting today, having already gone through the body-morphing gauntlet of “civilization”? You’re not alone. Modern life’s walls came up, boxed you into the appropriate shapes, and contracted your physical and spiritual expressions into the norms of the day.

It’s not about being a kid, or about glorifying childhood or youthfulness. No. Just look at the human form in its beginning stages, and you can find movement and position as it was meant to be. You can train your malleable body to obtain the strength, movement, and positions of human expression. The full squat, the unhindered overhead arms, the use of joint torque, and spine alignment are all obtainable with training and practice. Possessing natural physical expression and the strength to maintain it will free your mind and soul to build toward your greatest goals.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Getting Down To The Bottom Of It

Can I fully squat?

It’s a simple question I ask myself every day. The answer tells me the capacity I have for movement and function. The depth and comfort of my squat tells me how comfortable my daily living is going to be. It tells me my capacity for the little emergencies and sudden movements required through life.

For example, walking can be uncomfortable when my upper quads, or hip flexors, are tight. That area gets stiff from a lot of sitting, particularly if I’m sitting in a chair (I prefer the ground). Walking is also affected by ankle mobility. If my calves are tight, stepping is going to be limited. My ankles aren’t going to be able to bend and flex in a smooth manner.

Just because of these two tight areas, I would need to compensate with other motions. When I have tight hip flexors, my instinct is to lean forward to avoid overstretching them. A forward leaning posture, however slight, will require reverse forces to stop a forward fall. This usually takes the form of arms swinging back more, or head tilting back, or reaction from the low back.

Tight ankles result in outward pointing feet. Since my ankles won’t freely bend to allow my foot to stay planted in a forward position, the shortcut is to turn the foot outward. This allows the ankle to stay stiff while the leg passes over the insole. It’s easier forward movement, but it compromises the rest of the leg mechanism.

The long term result? Outward toes, pronated feet, shins over insoles; knees turned out with body weight toward the inside; femurs rotated outward within the hip joint; ligaments, tendons, and musculature settled into misaligned positions. Joints get pressure in vulnerable spots. The skeletal system misaligned. Soft tissues end up shortened or lengthened and less functional.

One misstep, one sudden lunge out of the way of a car, a quick grab for my bag, or an unexpected weight, can result in a seemingly disproportionate injury. Why do people “throw out their backs”? It’s not because of some gargantuan task they were attempting. It’s usually from doing an ordinary task, something benign. The enormity comes from the long term build up of improper form that results in improper physiology.

But mobilizing is not about the fear of injury happening. I strive for wellness. I mobilize because I enjoy walking without limitation. I enjoy being able to take life’s surprises in stride without skipping a beat. I love that I can have this through my own simple work. Small daily actions keep me moving smoothly. With mobility I keep myself prepared. And I respond with ease when the dogs lunge for a squirrel.

Aside from the physical manifestations of being mobile, I also benefit in mind and spirit. It’s much easier to think deep, feel deep, and appreciate when I don’t have something tugging me at the back of my mind – or the back my body.

So, can you fully squat? If not, then mobilize. Little by little, every day. You will be able to.

Live powerfully,

Steve

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