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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Build Your Squat Episode 2

Brilliant People.

In this episode, I talk about how to ease into the squat, and what to do with your feet, your knees, and your butt. If this is your first time ever, it’s a good quick intro to squatting. Even if you’ve just been out of practice for a while, or if you’re a hardcore weight lifter, take a second to look at your squat technique.

It takes just a few things for you to maximize your output, strengthen your knees, and use your back correctly with the squat. My priority is to help you do this ultimate human movement the right way. Train with these few simple mental cues and build your squat to enhance your life.

Be gentle, take it slow, and build with care.

Live powerfully!

Steve

Build Your Squat: Episode 1

Hey guys,

I’m really excited to be putting out my first video on how to squat. I believe the squat is the ultimate human movement, and I want to show you how. I’m going to just go with my gut and bring you different aspects of the squat through each progressive episode. With that being said, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.

This episode of Build Your Squat is an intro to squatting. We look at the squat basics and cover concepts that can help a beginner as well as an intermediate powerlifter. I know there’s a lot in this one. If you have never done a squat before, I encourage you to just chew on the information in this video and visualize yourself doing a squat. Don’t worry about using weights, don’t worry about getting it perfect. It’s more important that you are thinking about the squat and that we’re starting this conversation.

Thank you so much for checking it out. Please share your insights with people who come to mind!

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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Swingin’ Iron

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Best gym floor, ever.

I’ve been forcefully hauling this iron ball, to and fro, between my legs. It’s fun. Here are my first thoughts on kettlebell training.

Two months ago I “picked up” the book, Kettlebell – Simple and Sinister. It is written by Pavel Tsatsouline, Russian trainer and founder of StrongFirst. He is the father of kettlebell training in the U.S. I am grateful to him for his straightforward instruction and commentary on starting kettlebell training. Get the audio version. It rocks.

The long drive to the only suitable powerlifting gym in town rendered it useless to me. After taking up the 16kg kettlebell, which is the basic Russian unit 1 pood, I never once stepped foot in a “gym” in the last two months. Home and the local park are now my gym. Swinging and getting up with this little cannonball, by its handle, has taught me so much about my nervous system, my shoulders, and the little cracks in my strength that powerlifting does not directly address.

Most of my strength training techniques for powerlifting translate directly to kettlebell training. Absolute emphasis on form and technique; mental cues to wire them into my system; rest and recovery; breathing and abdominal pressure; and progression.

I had to get used to the type of progression that kettlebell training presented. Unlike powerlifting progression, where weight can progress with every new session, kettlebell training weight remains the same for long periods of time. As a matter of fact, I’ve been using the same weight since I began two months ago!

It doesn’t trouble me, though. The weight is heavy to begin with, and there’s much to learn in properly handling it. This is where the development happens. Swinging a 35 lb. hunk of iron, as smoothly cast as it may be, is no walk in the park. Learning to do so while keeping the spine intact, holding the shoulders in place, and creating torque through the feet and body gets complicated from moment zero.

The progression unfolds in mastering the movements, and in increasing the force, power, and focus on the kettlebell as strength gets better. By learning to handle the weight, I am building the physical parts and the neurological programs of my body that are involved. It’s similar to powerlifting, but with more emphasis on the learning. Powerlifting requires learning, of course. But once you learn the technique and form, the emphasis is on the weight progression.

There is definitely a big difference between squatting 135 pounds and squatting 315 pounds. However, with kettlebell training the weight jumps to 16kg at the start, then to 24 kg, and then to 32 kg, and so forth. The “catch up” with each weight progression is much greater than in powerlifting. I would never have a trainee jump from a 135 lb. squat to 1.5x that, 205 lb., even if his technique and form were perfect. The weight jump is way too much to make any physiological sense in the frame of training.

With the kettlebell, though, the weight is smaller. So jumping from 16 kg to 24 kg is probably going to be difficult, but not ridiculously so. I am confident that I will be able to safely train to the next weight when the time comes. Which is soon!

Right now, the hardest part is resting. This always seems to be the sticking point for me. Simply getting good sleep is a task that tends to evade me when I need it most. I’ve been training nearly every day, with a rest day approximately once a week. When I don’t get that rest, I can feel it in the lack of power on my swing. It just seems so much harder to hip hinge forward and get that maximal explosion. Like I’m moving through molasses.

I’m sticking through it and am now able to get in 100 swings, alternating one armed, and ten getups within half an hour. It will soon be time to up the weight. Soon, but not until I can do the sets strong, as Pavel says. Not until I can own each and every swing and getup at one pood.

Read the book before you start training. Let me know if you do train with the kettlebell. What was it like toward the transition period to the next weight?

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2016 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Mobility At Work

Having worked in an office, I understand when most people say that sitting for hours at a time is required.

After all, what the hell else can you do? Even though there are some avant garde companies out there that have standing desks, most are not so progressive. And although more and more workplaces will get adjustable seating, it doesn’t make a difference if people have no understanding of what to do with the tools at their disposal. Simply standing is not going to solve your back pain.

Believe me, I know. I’ve dealt with low back pain for years, and standing in shoes with elevated heels and pointed toes hurt my back as much as sitting did (yes, men’s shoes also have heels). Not to say standing is bad. It’s a step in the right direction.

But what direction to go? Answering this, and visualizing how you want to be, will guide you through each day for the long term. For me, the goal was to be a standing, upright, limber human being. Not just as work but in life in general. I didn’t want tight hips. I didn’t want aching knees and back. I didn’t want knots in my shoulders. I didn’t want to be a slouching leaning tower of persona.

The workload, and the fact that most of it is at a computer, limits most people to think that they have to sit. Well, rethink it. Visualize yourself as mobile and embody it.

You don’t need a standing desk to be mobile at work. Allow me a bullet-pointed list of ways to not be sitting in a corporate office, doctor’s front desk, home office, wherever:

  • Go knock on office doors or cubicle walls instead of email or phoning. Your impact will be greater.
  • Get up and walk for phone calls. Use an earpiece. You will be more creative.
  • Meet people in the middle of halls and spaces for talks, rather than where they or you sit. This is called a standing meeting and it doesn’t have to be super deliberate. Make it subtle like, “Oh hey, I was just going to see you, so, what’s up?” Things will be easier.
  • Body language does wonders. Learn to Jedi-maneuver so you stay standing and avoid going to your or another person’s desk. This works with your bosses too. Beware, they are probably more practiced in body language than you. The first few times you may find yourself somehow sitting in their office. But it’s only a matter of time before you are both still standing at the end of your exchange.
  • Time your sitting-prone activities. Have some emails you need to respond to? Set a fifteen- to thirty-minute timer to get them done. Then get up to finish, face-to-face, the remaining interactions.
  • Schedule email responses. If you respond live, there’s high potential to get an immediate response. How do people do this? I don’t know. But it’s insane. Schedule your responses to go out in the next hour or two. Outlook does this, and so do others. You just have to find the setting (usually in the same place as “read receipt request” type stuff). You will be able to send your answers and be free of your “work box” without having to return volleys of mail in the moment.
  • Take your shoes off at your desk, and sit cross-legged or with at least one leg crossed under you. Lace-less shoes make this much easier. This will save you a world of back strain. It opens up the hips and stops the pull on your low back from your pelvic and abdominal connections. Smelly feet? With increased “air time”, this problem will diminish.
  • Elevate your screen to eye level and brighten it so that you can easily see it from a straight-postured position. Why cause yourself to lean forward because it’s too dark to see? Life hack!
  • Keep your keyboard close enough to reduce forward pull at your shoulders. It helped to have mine on my lap. With laptops, this is going to be difficult. Get a separate keyboard to plug in (I am still paranoid about wireless stuff).
  • Wear flat shoes with wide toe space. If you must wear shiny dress shoes, go as flat and wide as possible. And keep them off as much as possible at your desk. Do lunch barefoot if you can. Fancy shoes are meant to not be worn.
  • Take your breaks, take your lunch. Don’t be a ninny about break time. Get the hell out of your desk. Chances are you are not a coal miner. So why take fewer breaks than coal miners do? Effective, executive-level people take breaks. They breathe. They get out of their setting regularly. How often do you actually see your CEO, COO, or CFO in her office? Making a connection now?
  • Ditch your phone. When you step away from your desk, put it on silent and leave it at your desk. It will survive without you. That’s what VM and texts are for. Follow this rule for the next bullet too.
  • Remember that you have to pee, and sometimes poo. Do not neglect this urge. Follow it, and take forever walking back to your desk. If done correctly, you will find many chances for standing meetings, Jedi maneuvers, and creative, on-the-spot solutions.

Want happier, more mobile coworkers? Forward this to them. Oh, and don’t be a ninny. Send to your boss.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Posture, Knots, and Slow Twitch Muscles

“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest.”

Posture is not just how you hold your shoulders and head. It’s a total body position. We just think of the shoulders and head because we sit all the time. When sitting, all you can see of a person is the top of his body. So we forget the rest of it.

When you move forward, backward, sideways, your body is constantly balancing its long self. It’s technically a couple of thin sticks with a really heavy bowling ball on top. Takes a lot of finesse to move that sort of thing through the world. The finesse is curated by an accumulation of nerves, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All of your body works to enable you to move through your environment with care.

Sitting in a chair, your body from the butt down is taken out of the equation. You leave it up to your torso, shoulders, and neck to balance your bowling ball. Because it’s been attached to your neck for so long, it’s hard to realize how hard it is to balance something of the weight of your head.

Your head weighs just around 11 pounds. Take a virtual, eleven pound bowling ball and stick it on top of a broomstick. Let’s say you’ve got really strong glue to hold it there. Now hold that broomstick just a few inches down from the ball, where your neck might be. Using the stick, virtually move the bowling ball forward, then backward, keeping it upright. Imagine the effort you need to keep it balanced.

Now tilt the bowling ball forward a few degrees. Hold it steady. You don’t need the real thing in your hands to know that this is quite a task. Now virtually hold it in that tilted position for the next two hours. Or four hours. Or however long it is that you sit at your desk at a time, you crazy human you.

Are your virtual hand muscles cramping yet? Sweating? Achy? How about your virtual forearms? Fatigued eh? You get the point. Your neck, shoulders, and torso work all day in this ridiculous balancing act as you sit slouched. What should normally be done in conjunction with your hips, legs, and feet, at least for a larger part of the day, you are doing with just your upper tippity top body.

No wonder there’s strain on the neck and back.

Your postural muscles, namely the neck, are mostly made of slow twitch fiber. Slow twitch muscle fiber gives small but steady output over sustained periods of time. This type of muscle is much more resistant to fatigue than fast twitch fiber, which gives big output for a short period of time.

Slow twitch fiber is ideal for sustained duties like maintaining posture. They take longer to get tired and only need a small amount of energy at a time. But fatigue is still possible. If slow twitch fiber is strained too long, it will fail. And when it fails, it fails hard.

Slow twitch fiber is known to crumple up into knots when it fatigues. Ever wonder why you keep getting those tight spots on your upper back? Do you sit at a desk for hours every day? Do you have a slouched posture? Do you drive for long distances or time? Think slow twitch fibers fatiguing. You’re hanging your bowling ball at an angle, and the strong glue that is your neck and upper back muscles are pulling back on it all day. At the same time, your chest, front shoulders, and biceps are getting a break. Except that they are resting in a shortened position, because your body is slumped forward.

Long term result: overstretched, fatigued neck and back; shortened, inflexible chest and shoulders. We could put a name to this specimen – the modern human.

Short term fix:

  • mobilize your chest, abdomen, biceps, and front shoulders
  • lay on a tennis or lacrosse ball on the floor and roll out knots
  • drink water and salt
  • breathe deep, relax your muscles

Long term fix:

  • adopt awareness of your posture – there is always something doing work
  • sit with your head balanced – may need to raise your screen and have your keyboard close (laptops are non-ideal)
  • time limit your sitting – does not work without an alarm
  • change your environment – sit on the floor, drive less, stand or squat when talking with someone

Live powerfully and live upright,

Steve


Rand, Ayn. (1999) Anthem. First published 1938.

MACKENZIE, B. (1999) Muscle Types [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/muscle.htm [Accessed 27/9/2016]

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

The Brilliant Beast Blog Daily

Pillar of Strength

I was back in the gym this month for the first time in four months.

Something was funky about my squats. I kept wondering why it felt so tricky to keep my back firmly aligned. Things felt a little wobbly once I had loaded weight on the bar.

I was using torque from my feet, spreading the floor. I was pulling out on my knees. I was keeping my butt engaged. And my shoulders were back and down, tight. But I felt like the torque from my legs was bleeding out somewhere, not making it all the way up to the bar.

What was going on?

Then I got a gut feeling. Literally. My gut. I had forgotten all about belly pressure.

Abdomen Pressure

Your belly is a powerful element for exertion. It provides structure for the most strenuous power outputs in life. Lifting a heavy load on your shoulders, hauling something off the ground, and pushing a dead car down the road all require you to keep your belly tight for maximal effort.

It’s because your belly is critical in transferring power from the feet to the point of push or pull. How, when it’s the softest part of the body?

The softness is actually the key. Because your abdomen is flexible, it can act like a balloon. Suck in a deep breath, down to the diaphragm, and you find that you can tighten your belly down around that air. Now feel it. Rock hard.

Ever had your head bonked against your dad’s belly and wondered why it felt like a bowling ball? Well, he was utilizing abdominal pressure.

This balloon of pressure is the pillar through which power can transfer most efficiently from your hips up to your shoulders. When you have it firm, your belly is the connecting structure that keeps your torso sturdy.

With a deflated belly, you put most of the power transfer back on your spine. Not as rigid, not as effective.

NL 134 Weight Belt TBBB.JPG

The Weight Belt

Now you might see the value in using a belt during your heaviest powerlifting reps. Wrap a normal belt around your midsection, just above the navel. Breathe in, down against your diaphragm, and push with your belly against the belt. Feel some power there?

I don’t think it’s advantageous to use the belt for lighter lifts. There is value in squatting and deadlifting without a belt. It helps you engage your core by itself, and you learn proper technique. Having a belt through all training, from the lightest weights, can make you depend on it and have a false sense of security.

On your heaviest lifts, though, it can be a powerful tool to scale your well-developed technique. It also helps you build your belly muscles by enabling a greater output from them.

Training Belly Pressure Without a Belt

Start without a belt, using the principle of abdominal pressure in training. Try it first without any weight on your shoulders. Do body weight squats, taking in a deep breath and pressing your belly against it, and hold it in until you squat and stand back up. Then release the breath.

Hold and release your breath for each rep. You may need to take a little breather in between. Don’t pass out. You need oxygen to stay conscious and to stay healthy.

By the way this is great training for low back issues as well. The stability from your belly pressure will help you maintain spinal alignment. Use the principle for daily activities, like lifting things off the floor, picking up grocery backs, and taking out the trash.

Ask me something. I’ll answer.

Live powerfully,

Steve