Archive for the ‘Strength and Conditioning for Health and Fitness’ Category

You have decided to do something about your health. You know that engaging in regular physical activities would be very beneficial. You understand that it is like medicine, but instead of swallowing it like a pill, you simply do it. And like medicine that has required doses, exercise too, has to be done regularly in the right volume and intensity so it will take effect. The person who you can rely on to help you with programming the exercise volume, intensity, as well as mode of your exercise would be your qualified and experienced fitness professional like a strength and conditioning coach. Not everybody may have access to one. But with or without them, it helps a lot if you understand the Progressive Overload Principle. Along with your specific goal, this principle forms the basis of determining the load (intensity), volume, rest, and mode of your training. Chances are, you are reading this because you want to train but may not have the guidance of a Strength coach. The concept of progressive overload will guide you along the way. Remember also that all physical activities have inherent risks. Common sense as well as application of the knowledge of fundamental training concepts like progressive overload minimizes these risks. You also assume all responsibilities when training by yourself.


Overload is different from over-overload. In training, increase the usual load from that which you are used to to stimulate adaptation. But not too much that you are not able to safely execute the movements.

The progressive overload principle is a concept which stresses that in order for improvement to occur, the workload and intensity during training, should be increased as the body also adapts to the new stress. Once the body is able to tolerate a certain amount of training stress, it will not adapt anymore not unless it is challenged again by increasing the previous load or volume or difficulty. In short do more than the previous or simply “overload”. But it has to be progressive otherwise the body won’t be able to cope and injuries may happen. Progressive means it is spread out over a period of many training sessions. It is closely associated with the General Adaptation Syndrome. Here is a story about GAS, a very important concept in Training.

Read about 6 principles that will surely improve your fitness.

Below is an example and template of how the Progressive Overload Principle is applied. It is a very good starting point if you want to start a regular physical activity. No fees to pay. You just have to pay with your sweat in order for results to happen. Tears not necessary. Oh, you would need a good pair of running shoes if you don’t have one.

Example: The goal is to improve general fitness to be able to perform daily activities without being overly tired. Mode is running.

Easy and moderate is relative for each individual. This describes the intensity. The volume here is described by time and we use a realistic target of 15 minutes. Not that hard to do and not that hard to insert into your schedule. It usually takes around two weeks for the body to adapt to new stresses so we use the first two weeks for “general conditioning”. It is also a sort of introduction. You would make necessary adjustments like what time of day you would do it. Make sure that it is in your schedule. You might also break in your running shoes or scout around for a good pair of running shoes during this period.

Period Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 15 minutes easy jog 15 minutes moderate jog 20 minutes easy  jog
Week 2 15 minutes moderate jog 20 minutes easy jog 20 minutes moderate jog

The next four weeks now have distances instead of time. Record how fast you can finish those distances. Do not to sprint the whole time but think of just being able to finish the distance and enjoy the experience. Record your time for week 3. Aim to improve your time each week. We use 5km for this period since it is do-able by majority of the population. You can also register for the next 5km fun run! It would give you a more exciting objective that you can look forward to. It opens up a lot of possibilities.

Period Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 3 2km jog 3km jog 5km jog-walk
Week 4 3km jog 4km jog 5km jog-walk
Week 5 3.5km run 5km jog-walk 5km jog
Week 6 3.5km run 3.5km jog 5km run

It is highly recommended that you do a warm-up and cool down activity before and after each session. Click here for a suggested routine. It is also a good practice to bring 500ml to 1 liter of water. You should drink anytime you wish, especially after training even if you are not thirsty. See future posts on how to progress from this program to include more fitness components like strength.

Here is a recommended warm-up routine.

Remember, the progressive overload principle needs time to work. The example given here is 6 weeks in duration which is just enough time to try and long enough to feel some results as long as there is progressive overload. Use it to Train Better! Live Better!

Along my way to work, I pass by a park beside a bike path near a riverside. It is a nice place to jog and do elderlycalisthenics. It is interesting that most of the people I meet are the elderly. It is good to see them exercising and socializing at the same time. It reminds me of my grandfather. He was a very strong man when he was younger because his means of livelihood was to make ripraps and aside from that he was also a farmer in the hinterlands. When he was in his late 80’s, he has to walk around in crutches since he lost some control of his legs due to spinal stenosis. But he showed us that he is still very productive and capable. One day I went to visit him but could not find him in his room. I searched around the house and found him fixing the stone steps going up to the chicken coops in the vegetable garden. I realized that he is happy when he is able to move around and be productive. He is able to draw strength from the physical and mental fortitude developed when he was younger.

The situation for city folks would be very different. There is no farm work to be done but there are a lot of other physical activities. Regular physical activity helps to counteract the negative effects of aging. For the elderly, increasing their muscular strength is one way of preventing falls which is a common cause of hip fracture. It also enables them to perform their Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) independently. But will the elderly see some results with strength training? if yes, how long do they have to train? how many times a week? and how hard?

valstrengthtraining elderly strengthThere is a recently published study which investigated the time it would take for strength and hypertrophy to have significant increase in older adults. The subjects were 14 healthy older adults separated into a control group and a Resistance Training Group (RTG). The RTG trained two times per week for 10 weeks. They did 4 sets x 10 repetitions at an intensity of 70-80% of their 1 Repetition Maximum (RM). The muscle mass of their thigh was measured using ultrasonography on a weekly basis while strength was measured using leg press 1 RM test. This was done before and after the 10 week training period. After 18 sessions, there was a significant 7% increase in the cross sectional area of their thigh muscles. Strength was measured after 10 weeks of training and it showed 42% increase by the RTG. This study proves that there is an actual improvement in strength and muscle mass for older adults after 9 to 10 weeks of Strength Training.

If we look into the current research, it shows that muscle strength is important for the elderly. There is another study that observed the relationship of strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and ease of movement in the elderly. The researchers measured the dynamic strength (1 RM test), isometric strength (maximal voluntary contraction), and rate of force development of 28 men aged 65 years old and above. Peak oxygen uptake, maximal workload, and ventilatory threshold were also measured as well as neuromuscular economy of the vastus lateralis muscle. What they found out was that there is a significant correlation between muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and neuromuscular economy. Their findings indicate that cardiorespiratory fitness and ease of movement is positively affected by muscular strength among people aged 65 years old and above. The implication is that a stronger an elderly is a healthier elderly. And a healthier elderly has better quality of life and is generally happier. Physical strength compliments mental strength which enables them to overcome helplessness due to disease like my grandfather. ADL’s like locomotion would be safer since there is less chance of falling or losing balance. This contributes to overall enjoyment of daily experiences.

Looking at the findings of the above research, it seems pragmatic to improve muscle strength of an elderly individual before asking him or her to taking long walks to improve cardiorespiratory function. As was observed, strength in the elderly can be significantly increased in 10 weeks of strength training. The strength gain helps protect the elderly from falls and fractures which greatly increases safety and efficiency of walking- a very common activity. suitcase

One of the athletes in their mid 50’s who train with me. I was not able to take photo of the other athlete since he was away racing with other guys young enough to be his sons.

10 weeks of properly supervised and executed strength training for the elderly is a short time with a good return of investment. Economic problems caused by expensive hip replacement surgery and endless and costly rehabilitation can be avoided. Enjoyment of daily experiences are enhanced and above all, quality of life is improved. The interaction between the elderly and the Strength Coach would also be beneficial for both. It is always interesting to listen to stories of the old folks and they are given the chance to relive their favorite moments when they were younger. Old folks would also take pride in showing that they are still able to do what younger people can do.

Encouraging the elderly to participate in a supervised strength training for as short as 10 weeks helps prevent health and economic problems. Younger individuals should also start investing in their own health and fitness by improving their fitness levels- their muscular strength, and also cardiorespiratory endurance. The way to do this is to Train Better, Live Better!

Age is just a number. It is our attitude that makes us young or old. It is a fact that our body will eventually reach its age when it will start to have a decline in its abilities. But it is also a fact that our body, even if it is already old, will still respond to training and it will become stronger and fitter. The effects of ageing can be minimized and reversed. We just need to be open minded, execute a well designed training program, and be optimistic.

Doing regular strength training is a very effective way to stay young. What it offers that may not be in other physical activities is that it can be easily monitored. Variables like intensity, volume, and rest period are easily controlled and the variety of exercises and routines is endless. A study published on 2011 found out that training with weights and calisthenics in a circuit fashion reduced blood pressure during the first 60 minutes after exercise in the elderly with treated hypertension. The exercise routine with the highest volume reduced blood pressure in the next 24 hours following exercise. This suggests that implementation, monitoring and supervision by qualified and experienced professional is important for elderly individuals when performing exercise. A good written record of each training session would easily show the training volume. Blood pressure may be monitored before and after the training session. Good planning of activities along with good training monitoring would indicate an appropriate training volume and intensity. This maximizes training benefits.

An earlier study conducted on 2009 was done to determine the effects of strength training on physical function. The subjects were 50 inactive adults aged 65 years old and above. Their strength, power, body composition, and physical function were measured before and after 22 weeks of strength training. Physical function was measured using movements similar to that used in Activities of Daily Living (ADL). Examples of ADL are walking, ascending stairs, and getting up from a chair. These activities may seem insignificant to young and healthy individuals but they may be challenging to older individuals. After 22 weeks, the same tests were done on the subjects. Test results showed that the women improved significantly in walking test times (flat and ascending stairs), the men improved in stair climb test, and all subjects had improvement in functional tasks which are very important in their ADL’s. The study demonstrates that there are measurable effects of strength training to the quality of life of people aged 65 years and above.

A similar study was conducted on the same age group of men. It was done to determine the relationship between their muscular strength and economy of movement during aerobic exercise. Results indicate that cardiorespiratory capacity and economy of movement are associated with muscular strength during aging. Stronger individuals had better cardiorespiratory capacity and can move better. Moving better means they can avoid falling down and hurting themselves. They would be able to walk up and down the stairs with more ease and safety as compared to individuals with lower muscular strength. A good investment in strength enables them to enjoy their retirement years without depending on care providers for their hygiene and in going to places where they wish to hang out.

But why wait to reach 65 to start improving your quality of life? We better start now if we have not yet invested much in our health and well being.

bench press senior athleteI am lucky to be training 55 year old athletes. One is a sailor  just 7 weeks into the training program as of the writing of this post. The program started with 2 weeks of general conditioning and we were in the 5th week of strength training. He initially started with lighter loads and it took some time for him to learn how to lift with efficient and safe posture. Now he can deadlift a barbell as heavy as his bodyweight and bench press 60kg with ease. Not a lot of 20 year old guys can do that! But what is more interesting is this: as I was asking him about his friends, he said they also sail but they are not as fit as him. It is because they just sail with no desire to be better while the the 55 year old athlete really wants to be better. He always wants to improve himself. That is what makes him want to do strength training. And strength training makes him have the abilities of people less than half his age. His attitude is basically what keeps him young. Now he is not the oldest athlete who trains with me. There is another amazing guy about the same age who races with guys half his age in the Asian games and he beats them. He also desires to improve and overcome obstacles. These gentlemen are really amazing. Their mindset put them in situations wherein they were able to get other people to help them improve physically given their age.

These observations along with personal experience has shown me that strength training is a very good investment. I am now 40 years old but I feel like 28. Some say I look younger than my age so it is not just a subjective feeling. But to be honest I feel that my ability to recover is not as fast as before- but then again, it does not matter that much since I know more now than before. What I know now enables me to lift a heavier load than when I was a lot more muscular 14 years ago. If I knew then what I know now, things would be different in a great way. But what is more important is I can use my knowledge and skills to train a willing trainee to be stronger and fitter individual. It does not matter whether they are young or “old”. What matters is that they are willing to be coached how to Train Better, Live Better!

When you set a goal, you have to define it first before you can move forward. Convey your goal to your Strength Coach so that an appropriate assessment or monitoring and plan can be made. Being physically strong is a noble goal. But what does it mean? Strength is the ability to produce maximum force. It is the ability to lift or push or move heavy objects. But I realized that the word “Strong” is sometimes incorrectly used to describe someone big and muscular.


Strength can be described by the weight of the object you are moving, in a certain exercise or movement. It is measurable and to be more accurate, it is best measured in as few reps (short for repetition) as possible. The reps should be low (5 or less) because the load is simply too heavy to move or lift many times. For example you can full squat 50kg for fifteen repetitions but cannot complete the 16th rep. You add 40kg for a total load of 90kg and you try to full squat. It feels a lot heavier but you were able to do two reps and was not able to get up on the 3rd rep. You were then able to do two reps maximum of 90kg for the full squat. That is the maximum load that you can lift with 2 reps. When it comes to the full squat, 90kg is a closer measure of your strength than 50kg. 50kg is the load that you can lift for fifteen reps. Increasing the repetitions means moving towards endurance and moving away from strength. Therefore, if you want to improve your strength faster, train with heavy loads that you can control and move for around 5 reps or less. If you train with ten reps or more, you will still become stronger but not as fast as when you train specifically for strength. You develop your maximum strength by lifting near maximum loads. You develop strength endurance by lifting a load that you can lift many times by- that is around 8 reps and above.  This follows the concept of specificity.


Standard exercises are used to measure strength so as to give feedback on how much a trainee improved. Most Strength coaches would use the squat and bench press. The deadlift and bench pull are also used. It basically depends on the details of your goal and what you and your strength coach can do. A training log can also be used as a reference for Strength improvement and it shows what you actually did. It makes a very good feedback. Make it simple, just write the exercise, the load, how many sets at how many reps. This also gives the Strength coach a hint of what you may be able to do in the near future.


But what does strength mean in our daily life? For a contact sports athlete, it may mean the ability to push, to pull, lift, squeeze, or throw your opponents around with seemingly lesser effort. For a mother, it may mean the ability to carry her child with ease. For a father, he should be able to carry the grocery bags up the stairs, move furnitures around, play with his kids, or simply be able to open a stuck jar cover so that his wife can make sandwiches. For a lady, it may mean being able to carry her own stuff, or maybe go through a trekking activity without being at the mercy of guys especially if they are not her type. For a guy, physical strength may mean you can be of help to yourself and to other people. For some of us, it may mean our livelihood.


It is understandable that the word “strong” for a lot of people would mean big. A bigger and more muscular person should, theoretically, be able to lift more than a smaller and less muscular person. That is true if they are trained to lift. There may be some big guys who workout in a gym but may not be able to lift as much as a smaller but properly trained athlete, especially in certain lifts that require technique and mobility.


It can be fun to be able to tap into your physical strength. There was one time I went to a workshop. I was one of the smallest guys – I am not that muscular. Other participants are big, muscular guys. Some of them are looking at me like they will eat me! But I know myself and I have confidence in the way I trained myself. So I just let my lifting do the talking and during our break the big guys seem to try to shrink themselves when they pass in front of me since they cannot lift the weight I lifted. It was an amusing experience.


Some of the athletes I train are not that big too. Since they have a certain weight category, they should not put on a lot of muscle mass to avoid getting heavy. The patient and consistent athletes make the most of the training. There is one guy who is not muscular, but he beats a lot of guys heavier than him in the Clean. He can also Squat heavier than guys bigger than him. That is what you call strong for his size.


So if you want to be Strong, train to be strong. If you want to be big, train for hypertrophy. But what is more important is that you Train Better, Live Better!

burn-belly-fatNo. Spot reduction is a term used to describe a localized reduction of subcutaneous fat and this is considered a myth if done by exercise. There are exercise routines that are hyped and marketed with fancy terms and claims similar to “trim your belly fat in just 5 minutes of exercise a day” and many people are misinformed and end up wasting time and effort. Here are facts and an actual study about the effects of abdominal exercise on the abdominal region and its subcutaneous fat.


We all have washboard abdominals. But we do not see them because most of us have a thick amount of fat under our skin. This subcutaneous fat in the abdominal area covers the Rectus Abdominis or the muscles that make up the “washboard abs”. Pinch the skin on your tummy near the belly button. If you can pinch more than an inch thick, your “abs” are covered by fat and cannot be seen.Abdominal fat


High repetition abdominal exercises increases the tonus of the abdominal musculature and helps to deepen their separations which make them stand out. It improves their form and function but it does not strip off the fat that flat-stomach-pictures[1]covers the abdominal muscles. Doing abdominal exercises alone won’t reduce your belly fat. There was a study published in 2011 involving 24 healthy but sedentary individuals. The participants were of both gender, between 18 to 40 years old and were divided into two groups. One group performed abdominal exercises, 5 days per week for 6 weeks. The other group did not do any exercise. All participants did not increase or decrease their food intake during the period of study. Measurements showed was that there was no significant effect of abdominal exercises on body weight, body fat percentage, amount of fat in the belly region, abdominal circumference, and abdominal and suprailiac skinfold measurements. The only difference was that the group that did abdominal exercise performed significantly greater amount of curl-up repetitions compared to the group that did not exercises during the posttest. This study showed that 6 weeks of abdominal exercise training alone is not sufficient to reduce abdominal subcutaneous fat, total body fat, or body weight, but it can significantly improve abdominal muscular endurance.


The chiseled look of “6 packs” is achieved when a well toned rectus abdominis becomes noticeable because of a very thin subcutaneous fat in the abdominal area. This requires lowering our body fat and since we cannot selectively “trim off” body fat from a specific area of our body via exercise, we will have to reduce our total body fat. The fastest way to do this is to significantly increase our physical activity and decrease our food intake (eat less food than you need).


Read related post: Why lose weight?


Just 5 minutes of abdominal exercise a day is not enough to significantly increase energy expenditure but it does help in deepening the separation of the abdominal muscles. The “washboard abs” can only be seen once the percentage body fat is really low like approaching around 10 percent or even lower. The lower the body fat percentage, the more muscular striations can be seen.


An actual suggestion:

To effectively decrease belly fat, one needs to reduce total body fat. Make small objectives that are achievable and build momentum from them. Try using stairs instead of elevators and avoid drinking sugary drinks for a week. You can reward yourself at the end of the week if you did well but do not over indulge. Then take up a physical activity that challenges you and that you can do at least 2 to 3 times a week. Or take up different activities but spread them apart over the course of a week. Example: enroll in a boxing class on Friday evenings; run 8km every Tuesdays; do interval sprints every Wednesdays; or swim at least five 50 meter laps every Saturdays. Increase distance or total volume of your activities bit by bit every week while at the same time practice eating smaller meals and make better food choices like having fruits for snacks instead of chocolate bars. Your stomach will slowly adjust and its capacity will lessen a bit after some time so you won’t feel as hungry as you once felt a few weeks ago. Maintain or even slightly increase your physical activities and make it a point to do them on a regular basis. And drink enough water and have enough sleep. The energy from what you eat may now not be enough to for you to perform and to recover from all those activities. You are now in a negative energy balance and your body will now use its stored energy- your body fat. Soon your love handles will feel looser because the stored energy in the fat is being used up. Try pinching the skin near your belly button again. It should not be as thick as before. But this process will not make your stronger, in fact you may lose some strength. But your endurance will improve if you do a lot of endurance activities. Incorporating a strength training routine, like kettlebell lifting or barbell lifting, lets you improve your strength and still support the process of decreasing body fat. Try Strength Training one to times a week with your other activities of choice.

Read related post: The easiest way to trim off that belly fat… or is it?

The length of this process depends on how much physical activity you actually do, the intensity of how you do them, your food choices, and how less is your total caloric intake. Take note that very low caloric intake with very high activity levels will not be sustainable. So do what you are able to consistently do for many months ahead. Usually, it may take around two weeks of some sacrifice until you have small but perceptible changes like a slightly thinner pinch on your abdominal area. Persist for 2 more weeks and more changes will happen. Persist long enough until you have established healthy habits, which may take around 2 months or more. Do not expect big changes in a short period. Tell yourself that the time, effort, and money that you invested will make you enjoy your life more. Enjoy what you are doing and try to learn more about them, and hopefully by this time, you have a lifestyle that supports a healthy body.  Train to look great but most importantly, Train Better, Live Better!


The Effect of Abdominal Exercise on Abdominal Fat. Vispute, Sachin, Smith, John; LeCheminant, James; Hurley, Kimberly; Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: September 2011 – Volume 25 – Issue 9 – pp 2559-2564

“That which does not kill us makes us strong”


Strength training is based on normal biological processes. It is better to understand the principles rather than looking for the “perfect” training program since that is as elusive as a unicorn. The Overload Principle describes a living organism’s reaction to a sub-lethal stress that is beyond the usual stress that an organism is used to. When applied to us who exercise and lift, it simply means when we lift something heavier than what we can easily lift, but not too heavy that it injures us, our bodies adapt when given time to recover. The adaptation process makes our body “overcompensate” a bit to enable it to deal with a very similar stress in the near future. This means we gain a bit of strength after we recover. Our body may be sore for a few days (see related post) but if we do it for a few more training sessions with regular intervals our body will respond. And when we lift the same load again, it may not feel as heavy as it used to be and we are able to do a few more repetitions if we wanted to. If, previously, we were able to lift a certain amount of load “Z” in a certain exercise for “X” repetitions, after a few sessions  of training, we should be able to lift “Z” for more than “X” times. The initial load now becomes “too light” that it does not stimulate further adaptations for strength. To continue becoming stronger, we add a few more kilos to the same lift and repeat the process.


Let’s give an example: Let’s say in the Squat exercise we were able to squat 30 kgs for 10 repetitions for 3 sets with 2 minutes rest between sets. After a day we have sore thighs and butt. We rest for 1 more day, and train with the same exercise, same load, same set-rep-rest combination. The next day we may not be so sore anymore- a sign of positive adaptation. After 2 days rest, we repeat the same exercise with the same load. But on the first set we may notice that it feels easier. So we try 35 kilos and do 2 more sets of 10 reps each set. We feel just a bit sore but we rest for 2 days and train again. This time we do 35kg on the first set but we are more confident that we try 40kg on the 2nd set. We were able to do it well since we are also more confident in our squat technique. So we try 45kg on the 3rd and last set, which we are able to finish with full effort. We repeat this process for a few more weeks and we find ourselves squatting 10kg more than our body weight. We feel good about our hard work. We feel more powerful strides when we run, and our butt is firmer and rounder. We are experiencing signs of positive adaptation. That is an example of the Overload Principle in weight training.


(Read about the General Adaptation Syndrome in order to have a better comprehension of what is the expected reaction when we “overload”).


24009_389657031274_634451274_4381304_2792879_nThe Overload Principle was observed since the ancient times, it is not something new. Biological processes do not need to be discovered in order to occur anyway. Nature will work with or without man’s documentation. Probably the earliest recorded training method that utilized the Overload Principle is about the story of Milo of Croton in early Greek history. Although they did not call it Overload Principle before and probably just called it work. Milo was a champion wrestler during his time. He is known for his superior physical strength which enabled him to defeat his opponents and be the champion. Milo was said to have developed his extraordinary strength from lifting. A story of what he lifted and how he lifted provides us a template on how to approach training. Where Milo lived was a cow that gave birth to a calf. But the calf had a defective leg that prevents it from walking and following the herd in crossing the river to graze on the meadow. Taking pity on the calf, Milo decided to carry it to wards the meadow so it can graze. The calf is able to eat, but it can not walk far nor run. If he left it there, the wolves would feast on it. So Milo had to carry it back to the safety of the pen. Milo had to carry the calf on his back in the morning, probably cross the river, and go up the meadow where he would let it graze. In the afternoon he would carry the calf across the river and back to the manger. He did this every day as the calf was growing. Days passed and Milo dutifully carried the calf which grew and as it grew, Milo’s strength also increased. Time passed until after four years, Milo was carrying a now fully grown bull. Try to estimate the weight of a fully grown bull and you would have an idea of Milo’s strength. Think about it too, and you would have an idea of the effort, perseverance, and dedication that it takes to change from a regular guy or gal, to someone extra ordinary that lifting a fully grown bull is just a daily task.

The take home lesson? Go lift a calf twice a day until it has grown into a bull! Take selfies along the way too! Can’t do that?Well here are the reasons why Milo’s training is a perfect example of the Overload Principle and five things that we can apply to our own training. The story has been digested for you. Absorb the lessons and apply them:

little boy try lift up the barbell in the park

1. Start with a load you can handle. Milo started with a load that is easily manageable- that of a calf. If Milo started carrying a full grown bull from the start, he would have failed miserably. He could have badly strained himself or worst, he could have had a herniated Inter-vertebral Disk which would have ended his athletic career.


2. Gradually increase your load over time. The weight that Milo lifted changed gradually and it was progressive.  The load that he carried gradually increased from a little calf to that of a fully grown bull. The process of adding weight was not rushed since the calf grew just a little bit heavier each day. This gave Milo the chance to recover and adapt by becoming stronger. It also means he did not over-overload because it would not be possible for the calf to gain 20kg in one day. It was a long process too- 4 years. Surely, someone who is impatient and undisciplined will not survive the process.

3. Train consistently and regularly. Milo lifted the calf consistently and regularly, or else the calf would not be able to graze and die.  He did it twice on a daily basis. It is better to train this way. Be patient, be consistent in the long term. stay-consistent

4. Train with sufficient volume. Milo carried his load not just for a few lifts. He carried and walked with the load at least twice a day. This describes his training volume. Mental strength is always required if you are to improve.pull-ups

Consistent-training-equals-results5. Train with enough duration to be able to notice positive changes. Milo was said to have carried the calf for four years until it was a fully grown bull. Training duration was long enough to have observable and lasting results. This also means training has to be progressive through time. This gradual and consistent training changed his body. It undoubtedly increased his confidence too.

6. Train not only for yourself. Others depend on you to be fit and strong. This is not a training technique but is more of a way of looking at thing differently. The calf was actually depending on Milo for its survival. Milo has to lift the calf all the way to the meadow so that it can eat. And at the end of the day he has to carry it back to the pen so that wolves will not kill it. Who knows, he lifted the calf just to help it and along the way, he gained tremendous strength. This did not come easily. He exerted a lot of effort on a daily basis. But he was doing it to help another creature. If he did it only for himself, he might have given up when things did not go smoothly. But he was able to persist because it is not only for him. People now are so self centered that their efforts are directed only for themselves. Why not do something for other people or other creatures without having to be praised for it?

Understanding how our body reacts to training helps us a lot by making us aware of what to expect. They serve as guidelines and templates. The story about Milo can also serve as a reference point. Another thing to consider is that each person would respond to a particular training by following the same natural processes but results can be different. Results vary for each person because the magnitude of response is not the same for each person. Some adapt quickly while some take longer time. Learning about these processes helps us to Train Better, Live Better!

09Jan2015 014The sporting world is getting more and more competitive, one evidence is the emergence of specialised coaches like Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Training methodologies too are becoming more and more results oriented and it makes sense that a lot are patterned after training methodologies from sports that train with weights. These “weight training” sports embody the result of their particular training methods.

Weightlifters are known for their explosive power, bodybuilders for their muscular development, and powerlifters for their strength. Explosive power is very vital for a lot of sports events like 100 meter sprints, boxing, swimming, and any other sport that demands explosive power. That is why the Olympic lifts and their variants are used to train athletes by their Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Moving up in a weight category is better attained by increasing muscle mass rather than by increasing fat mass, and when you think of muscle mass, the bodybuilding routines come to mind.

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Now, kettlebells and Kettlebell Sport are becoming popular. Is there something that Kettlebell Training will offer to athletes of other sports? Or is athletic training already well covered by the lifts and exercises using barbells and dumbells?

Related: Strength Training for Endurance Athletes, is it worth it?

Related: Will Endurance Training help in the performance of strength and power athletes?

A quick look in Kettlebell Sport:


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Kettlebell sport demands the following fitness components: a good strength foundation, muscular endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance, some degree of flexibility, and a good deal of mobility. In competition, an athlete has to perform as many good repetitions as possible in the long cycle event or in the biathlon. Time limit is 10 minutes. Load lifted for men can be a pair of the following kettlebells: 16kg, 20kg, 24kg, & 32kg. For women it would be 12kg, 16kg, and 20kg. There may be some other kettlebell weights used and some other lifting events. Good kettlebell athletes are able to perform good technique from the first repetition until the last moment of the 10 minute time limit. The winner is the athlete who is able to do the most number of good repetitions within his/her weight class and KB category. What is good about Kettlebell Sports is that there is also an international ranking system.

The basic (anatomical and physiologic) requirements:

A good technique in the jerk and in the snatch requires good flexibility of the shoulder girdle as well as sufficient stability to hold the kettlebell in a stable position for a moment before starting the next repetition. valstrengthtraining.comThe torso should also be able “yield” enough when needed but should not “collapse” as the lifter holds the bells overhead or in the rack position. The hips, knees, and ankles move in a coordinated manner. The elbows should be able to be “locked” straight when the bells are in the overhead position. Try holding both arms overhead, elbows straight and touch your ears with your biceps. It is easier said than done. Now, try it with a pair of kettlebells. Now you can feel your torso musculature, (commonly referred to as “core”), work to be able to support the shoulder girdles, so that they in turn can support the arms in a straight position overhead while supporting a kettlebell with each hand.



Sergey RachinskiyTo be able to lift two pieces of kettlebells or to snatch one overhead requires some strength. Two 24kg kettlebells is only 48kg right? Not that heavy as compared to what a regular gym rat would deadlift or press, but try jerking it overhead in good form for at least 5 minutes. Then you get to understand why strength development is important in kettlebell sport. Good Kettlebell Sport Athletes do 10 minutes, to be followed by snatching one Kettlebell for a total of 10 minutes in the biathlon. Then you get to realize that a good strength foundation enhances endurance.



Kettlebell Sport is an endurance sport and it is cyclic in nature. The key is to be able to sustain the movement (repetitions) as much as possible for ten minutes. The limiting factor is the time, but do as many good repetitions as possible, as opposed to some sports wherein distance is covered in the shortest possible time. Since the kettlebells are lifted overhead and it is not that light, expect the blood lactate levels to increase. Good Kettlebell athletes then should have the ability to tolerate high blood lactate levels or be able to do the lifts without increasing lactate levels to a relatively high level. A strong cardio-respiratory system supports the sustained effort of the muscolo-skeletal system.

Sufficient flexibility, mobility, and stability are important in kettlebell lifting. These qualities are enhanced through kettlebell training.

Somebody training with Olympic Weightlifting has the required strength, flexibility, mobility, and stability but probably not the endurance of a kettlebell athlete. A middle distance runner may be able to tolerate the high blood lactate levels when needed, but probably does not have the required mobility. In short, training for Kettlebell Sport provides a unique combination of fitness and performance related components which may not be developed by any single training method aside from kettlebell training itself. This is then a good window of opportunity. It creates another training option.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA knowledgeable Strength and Conditioning Coach would be able to train athletes of other sports using kettlebell lifts so as to make them better at what they do. Since kettlebells can be used unilaterally, the torso musculature receives a very good stimulus to be stronger and be more stable. It also creates tension in the sagittal axis which may not be emphasized in bilateral symmetrical lifts. Another big factor in the effectivity of any training system is the knowledge and skills of the coach in implementing the training program. A basic qualification is that these coaches should be recognized by leading international bodies. And what is more important is that they have actual coaching experience, and not just any so-so coaching.

A good nutritional supplement is also important if you want to get past your limits. I have used Myprotein and am very happy with the results. The great news is you can have as much as 25% off if you order here.

I suggest Hurricane Extreme if you are training for strength, power, and performance. Click here and buy now!

Kettlebells provide a very good training tool and methodology for the athletic and the general population. Its effectivity also depends on how well the coach works with a particular individual. And the best way how to find out is to actually try it for yourself and find someone who knows how to teach you. Use it to Train Better, Live Better!

Your comments would be highly appreciated. Leave them below!

Tips when learning how to Squat:


The Squat is one of the most important exercises to learn if you want to be stronger. Squatting is a fundamental human movement. Strong people ages ago knew how to squat with heavy loads (Click here to learn about that technique). Before the invention of the modern toilet, everyone knows how to squat to shit. Now that everyone is a “fitness expert”, there are a lot of shitty squats. I am not an expert because I am still learning and I still have a lot to learn. But I make a living by training athletes to perform better and to recover from injuries. And every athlete I worked with who improved themselves squatted (except the Special Athletes who are wheelchair bound). If you are convinced that to squat is an important part of the process that you will undergo to achieve your goal of living better and being stronger, read on and then train better.

This is specifically about the barbell back squat.People always want something unique and there are a lot of squat variations and derivative exercises. This post is not about the variations. It is about the origin of the variants. To avoid confusion, this post describes the barbell back squat. And by that it is the full squat.

Why squat?

squats vs no squats


Men should pay more attention. Men would look like men if they have muscular thighs as well. Photo shows uninjured and healthy males but with a relatively less developed lower body musculature. This affects bearing which may makes the guys look arrogant, or gay, or both! They walk strange too. Swinging side to side as if to show they are so wide to compensate for those skinny legs. Heavy squats stimulate the release of testosterone- the male hormone.

The squat is a very useful movement. As an exercise it has a very wide application ranging from health issues to fitness to athletic performance. It is a compound movement- it uses a lot of main joints and most main muscle groups. It is ground based- a closed kinetic chain movement. It is what others term as “Functional Exercise” and it truly is. It stimulates the mind and body to undergo positive changes. The best way to learn how to squat is to squat under the guidance and supervision of a capable coach. Reading this blog supplements the process and makes you pay attention to important details. It will be wordy to be able to describe some of the details. Be patient in reading if you want to learn and add to your knowledge and skills. Reading this 2,000+ word blog helps you more by improving your awareness of the details of this exercise thereby lessening the chances of injuries or lack of progress due to poor technique. As always, make sure you do this according to your ability at the moment.

Warning: If you are recovering from an  injury, has limited hip and lower back mobility, has balance problems, or has any medical condition that may be made worst by heavy physical exertion, practice utmost caution when attempting to learn how to squat. You are responsible for your own safety. Proceed within your current capability. Better to start light with quarter depth but safe rather than starting heavy and full range but ending up hurting yourself. If you are tight and weak, your squat depth will increase as your mobility and strength improves after weeks of training. Patience is important.

Details to pay attention to:

Stance: Jump up as high as you can. Note the distance between your feet. Your squatting stance should be close to that. It can be a bit wider but not wider than your shoulder width. Besides, try jumping as high as you can with a very wide stance, it is not as high as when your feet are under your hip. A good squatting stance allows you to exert near maximum effort on your full range of motion. The toes should point forward and slightly out. They should never point inwards. A good stance has the feet on hip width apart with the heels under the hip and toes slightly pointed out. You would see a lot of wide stance squats. This does not mean that it is wrong. Wide stances are used if the squatter has limited mobility. Widening the stance also lessens the distance to be traveled by the bar- which lessens the amount of work or enables a squatter to squat heavier due to a shorter movement. But when you are starting to learn the squat, practice with your feet under your hip as shown below. It is also a good basic position to be learned if you want to progress to more powerful and explosive lifts or the Olympic lifts and their variants.

valstrengthtraning squat stances

Top photo shows the feet under the hip with toes pointed slightly outwards. Middle photo shows parallel feet under the hip. Bottom photos shows shoulder width stance with toes slightly pointed outwards.

Posture: take a deep breath and keep your chest up and out. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Now, rack the barbell on your upper back. The center of the bar rests on the muscles of your upper back. Hold the barbell with fingers wrapping the bar with the thumb on a counter direction and “closing” the grip. Hands are placed at equidistant points from the center of the bar. Keep your chin slightly up and look at a point slightly above eye level. Do not slouch.

valstrengthtraining squathighbar

The center of the bar (with knurling) rests on the muscles of the upper back. The Scapulae are retracted and this forms a natural padding by the upper trapezius. Letting the bar rest on the muscles gives proprioceptive feedback as the barbell’s weight and stability. Use of padding sometimes causes instability and sometimes the padding may slip from a sweaty back making it potentially dangerous. Pads are allowed but better be aware of the precautions.

: When first learning how to execute the movement, Squat without any load and practice the described stance and posture and squat as low as you can for around 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions. This is a specific warm up too. Then practice using an empty bar (Standard Olympic bar is 20kg, the “Ladies'” bar is 15kg). Use proper hand position and grip. Then lower yourself in full control to a full squat. The heels should stay flat on the floor.  The torso will naturally tilt forwards. If your heels come off the floor as you go deeper, your Tendon of Achilles is tight. Put a small plate under each of your heels to compensate. But make it a point to progress your squatting technique by improving flexibility of your Tendon of Achilles. It also helps to make a “Thumbs Up sign” with your big toes as you descend in the squat to help in keeping your heels flat on the ground. To improve ankle stability, read this: Ankle training Part 1. To improve ankle strength and mobility, read this: Ankle Training Part 2.

squat valstrengthtraining

The model is a young athlete who had ACL reconstruction surgery. He wanted to continue competing so he trains hard. He is now even stronger than before he was injured since he dedicates time and effort to his Strength Training. He can squat a load more than his bodyweight. He can now do the Clean – a powerful and exlosive lift requiring full squat position. He can Clean 57kg- his bodyweight, with ease and confidence.

Knees: they flex or bend to their full range. When in motion, they normally would follow where the toes are pointing. They should not move towards the midline. A mirror or a coach would provide feedback. As seen from the above photo- the line made by the knees  and hips (femur) are pointing slightly outwards. In standing up from the squat, the knees should not drift towards the midline like in a knock-knee position.

Leg angle: Depending on the length of the leg, the thigh, and torso, there are differences on each person’s leg angle in relation to the ground in the full squat position. As long as it allows a stable full squat position, the imaginary plumbline from the knees to the ground usually goes past the toes as the knee bends to a full squat.

full squat valstrengthtraining

Elbow position: elbows should be almost under the bar. The forearms should be more vertical rather than horizontal. This is a minor part but better start learning more efficient technique rather than having very slow progress due to accumulated small “bad habits”.

elbow pos squat valstrengthtraining

When unracking the bar, grip the bar with a closed grip- thumbs and fingers would make a closed circle. The grip is near the shoulder, and the forearms almost vertical. Maintain this grip position until you finish the last rep until you rest the bar back to the rack.

 elbowposition squat valstrengthtraining

Execution: Warm up as described above.Set the height of the bar on the squat rack to your lower chest level. Load the bar evenly on both sides with a light load in relation to what you can lift. Follow the described posture above as you position yourself under the bar. Both feet should be directly under the bar. Unrack the bar from the rack and onto your upper back by standing up. Take a couple of steps back and align the toes as described above. Choose one of the positions. You can take a quick look at your toes when doing this but don’t make looking down a habit. You want to look up so that the cervical spine will extend. If the cervical spine extends, it is easier to extend your upper back. You do not want a slouched back when squatting.

Eccentric part: Take a deep breath and hold it. Contract your abdominal muscles as if preparing for a strong punch to the stomach. Slowly lower the bar by pushing your butt backwards, and bending the knees. Keep your chest expanded and shoulder blades retracted. As you go lower, your torso will naturally lean forwards but just enough to position the line of the center of mass of the bar inside your base of support and preferably at a point very near the midfoot. Focus your eyes on a point on the wall which is a round a meter higher than your head level. Continue your controlled descent until you reach the bottom position.

Concentric part: Just after reaching the bottom position, push your heels against the ground. Keep your neck extended by focusing on that point on the wall. Slowly release some air as you go up. Do not let the knees point inwards. Stand up straight but position your upper back so that the bar is balanced. Repeat the cycle until you finish the required number of repetitions, then step forward, let the bar hit the rack, then slowly slide the bar down to rest on the rack.  Come out from under the bar when the bar is safely resting on the squat rack.

Beginner’s Training Load, Volume, and rest: (click this:) squat-practice-load-volume-valstrengthtraining

Technique is affected by mobility, flexibility, strength, knowledge of the squat biomechanics, and other factors like focus and determination. This blog helps to address some of the knowledge aspect. To address the flexibility and mobility part, click this: Quick stretch and exercise for reducing back discomfort.

There are other variations of the back squat on the stance, bar position, and depth. The variations may be due to different torso and leg lengths. It can be also due to specific goals like to allow for the heaviest load to be lifted from the start position like in powerlifting. The above description is a very good way to start learning how to squat and it prepares the trainee to progress to faster and explosive lifts derived from the Olympic style lifts. Learn and be good in one technique first, then if you need to, learn other techniques as well.

To be honest, I originally did not squat like the description above. I learned how to squat from bodybuilders, and I had great results for my goals. Then I learned from videos and from reading articles and magazines. My stance became wider. And, like most people that time, I believed that full squat is not good, and that the knees should not go past the toes. But after observing, reading, discussing, listening, re-learning from more experienced Olympic weightlifting coaches, and most of all squatting more, I began to realize that some of what I believed were true then may not necessarily be true for all. My stance became more natural, and the depth went all the way to full range of motion, and the load went a lot higher than when I was much younger and stronger. I realized that there would be some differences but the most applicable one for beginners up to elite lifters would be what was described above. Of course there are some who, due to limited range of motion, or inherent body structure, would have to squat differently to get better results. There are so many variations with the barbell as well as with other equipment. Click here to read about how to squat heavy even if you have no access to a weights room.

To avoid confusion from the different squatting techniques, the trainee should have a clear goal. This will guide her or him on how to start learning and probably how to squat for some time. It may change but then again, it may go back to this original form. The best indicator of the effectivity would be the accomplishment of your personal goals in relation to the squat. Learn how to squat. It is a fundamental skill if you want your weight training sessions to be more productive. Train better, Live Better!

Here is another exercise that can be done almost anywhere, anytime. It builds arm pushing  strength and at the same time works your abdominal static strength all the way to your your lower limbs as stabilizers. If you want to or need to be stronger in pushing movements, and may not have access to a gym, then this is for you. Why would anybody want a stronger arm to push? If you are an athlete, you know why. If you are a fitness buff, being fit means you should be able to perform your physical tasks without being too tired. A lot of daily activities require us to push. Having a strong torso is a good health investment and allows you to enjoy leisure activities more since you are not that fatigued or you are not suffering from low back pain. What is interesting about this exercises is that you do not need any equipment at all and it trains your whole body.This is known as the “One arm push-up”. It is also a way to train your whole body together as one unit, like it is supposed to be, to attain an objective. Your whole body includes your mind as well.

The different levels of abilities

 Initially, I called it different levels of difficulty, but we better state it in a positive and descriptive way so we call it different levels of abilities. We use your body as reference point. There can be more levels in between these levels like knee level, and mid-shin level. We start with the easiest level going up to the level with the highest ability:

1. Solar plexus (the are just under your  rib cage a knuckle length above your navel) would be our easiest level.

valstrengthtraining 1armpush up solar plexus lvl

2. Hip level


valstrengthtraining hip level push up

3. Mid Thigh level

valstrengthtraining 1arm push up mid thigh level

4. Ground level

valstrengthtraining 1arm push up ground level side view

valstrengthtraining 1arm push up front view


There can be intermediate levels in between the levels, it just depends on what you can do, and how you can position yourself in that level. There can also be harder variations than the ground level but for this post, the discussion would be until the ground level.

Here is how it is done:

Have a good warm-up. Click here for a suggested routine.

Start initially from an easy position. Initially position your feet wider than your hip width. The toes should be in contact with the ground. From your selected level of ability, put your strong arm in front of you and let the heel of your palm bear your weight. Strong arm means the left hand for right handed individuals, since the dominant hand would be stronger, not just strong! Put the non-working arm behind you or you can hold the side of the upper part of your thigh. The elbow of the working arm should be straight. Inhale and tighten your abdomen, and your whole body. Now slowly bend the elbow of your working arm. It is optional but you may let a bit of air out through your pursed lips, as if you are also squeezing the air. Lower your body as a whole. As much as possible, should look like a straight line made by your head to your toes if viewed from the side. Imagine you are a log- strong and straight. C’mmon, don’t cheat! I can see you are pushing your upper torso up but your hip is stuck! Do it again… Now you are doing it lick a a sexy dancer, your butt is going up way ahead than your torso. A log is not crooked, but if you can’t make an almost straight line it means one thing, move to an easier level. If the level you are using now is the Solar Plexus level and you cannot do it, then straighten yourself up! That’s the easiest level! If, by all honesty you cannot do it even with all your honest effort, then do the close grip push up first. It is a two arm push up. Do not do the one arm push up YET. Or you can make a comment or message me and I will make another post for it.


If you were able to lower yourself as one unit, try going as close as a fist width between your chest and the platform, and then push. Your torso should be still very tight- your abdominal muscles contracting very hard. Imagine pushing the platform away from you. Do it with full mind and body effort. Push until your elbows are straight. Once your elbow is straight, lock it in position and then you can breath in a controlled manner. Repeat. Do a few repetitions and then try doing it with your stronger arm. Do as many GOOD repetitions as you can with your strong side. You do not need to do more with your stronger side. Rest two to four minutes. Now repeat again and again in the coming weeks until you can do it with grace. Once you can do it with good control- that is smooth push-up movement with feet positioned together, then move to the next harder position in your next training session. Try doing 3 to 5 repetitions on each side for 3 sets initially. Then increase the numbers as you become stronger.

Here is another General Strength Exercise.

Be patient with what you can initially do. Do not rush. Besides, it may take time until you can perform a good one arm push up on ground level. It takes time for your body to recover and rebuild the muscle fibers, tendons, and other connective tissues. The speed with which you improve depends mostly on your desire to be better and stronger. You must supplement your desire with quality information that you can put into an actual working plan. Working for a stronger body actually makes your mind stronger. Feed your mind with good and useful information, instill good and honest habits, practice common sense, and practice, practice, and practice some more. If need be, seek out somebody who can coach you. That is quality training. Train better, live better!


These rip-raps were built without the use of machines. Moving large amount of rocks manually required efficient and safe lifting techniques as well as strength and endurance.

“Torogi” is the word “Igorot” spelled in reverse. The Igorot people is an ethnic minority in the mountains of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. The word Igorot basically means “from the mountains”. Torogi is just a slang that we use to call ourselves. Igorots are known for their strength and bravery. Since our ancestors live in the mountains, they learned how to build communities on the slopes. They have become very good in mitigating landslides by reinforcing the mountainous slopes by building rip-raps. That is aside from being warriors, hunters, and farmers in the early days.

When I was a boy, I watched men in our community carry large rocks from the ground on to their shoulders, stand up with it, walk up a slippery muddy hanging stone stair sticking out on the side of a rip-rap, and add the huge rock to a pile of rocks to be used. I noticed that they have a certain way of doing it. And when I was big enough, I helped my father and grandfather do the same. It helped me develop strength even though I was a thin boy. I was aware that this type of work made us strong – stronger than usual guys our age who did not do work. In this activity or “exercise”, one’s strength can be “measured” or observed by the size of the rock that you can carry, how far, and how steep is the slope that you have to climb, and by the amount of rocks that you were able to move from one place to another. It is similar to the story of Milo of Croton, which is the earliest documented case of progressive resistance training (google it if you do not know about it).24009_389657031274_634451274_4381304_2792879_n Igorots did progressive resistance training as well by lifting rocks. It is but natural that as our lifting techniques improved, rock lifting techniques that is, so did our strength. Boys who used to be able to carry stones progressed to small rocks the size of their head and eventually to rocks around half the size of their torso. Of course some went further than that. And so we were able to build communities on the mountains because of the rip-rap built by hands.

Paleo Diet? Try this Torogi Squat!


An old rip-rap in an abandoned village somewhere in Tung Chung. The size of the rocks and the equipment they had back then gives an indication of the strength of the people who build them. They would humble today’s regular gym rats.

A lot of products are being marketed in a very creative way, whether they work or not. If you have not yet heard of the Paleo Diet- it is a concept of eating. Some believe that if we try to eat how our pre-historic ancestors did, we would be free from modern diseases. They say that Paleolithic diet is healthier. I guess people’s attention are caught by scientific sounding terms so it became quite a catchphrase.  Now that people are looking for “new” or “unique” way of doing things, it is time to re-introduce this particular type of squat to the general public. I did not invent it, but I call it the Torogi Squat.

Will Torogi Squats make you stronger?

Definitely! I have seen it done by many others in our community and did it myself. But it is not for the feeble minded. And please do not try it if you have no intention to protect yourself, and others. Rocks have irregular surfaces. So grip them well. Some call it plain common sense but what is common for some is rare for some. So bear with me if I have to give out a few details:

How big should the rock be?

Like muscles, size does not matter, not unless you are doing it for a show. It is the weight of the rock that matters. Some types of rocks are heavier than others of the same size. Start with a relatively small dry piece of rock that you are sure you can lift off the ground with your bare hands and onto your hip level, then up to your shoulder level. That is the weight of the rock that you can handle. In the real world, and that is when workers lift heavy stuff, you do not hear them say “engage your core!, fire your glutes!, activate your posterior chain!” I hate it when I hear that. But now, people expect to hear it from personal trainers. Well, I am not a personal trainer anyway. So when you lift something heavy, be prepared to lift something really heavy. Do not pretend that the rock is a small stone. When you first try to grab it, your intact neuromuscular system will immediately compute if it needs all the major muscle groups to work in unison. Not unless you override the protective command from your nervous system by slacking out. To be safe, always respect the load that you will move or lift. Assume that it is very heavy. So in short, start out with a rock that you can manage but use all your attention and effort in lifting. It does not matter if it is not bigger than your head, what matters is that you can control the load and that you can make yourself stronger even without a barbell and a squat rack.

How deep should the squat be?

The ideal one for you may be different from others. If you have relatively good strength and mobility, with no knee problems, a full squat would be great. If you have limited mobility, then work on what is available for you. It may improve later on as you become stronger and more mobile. The key is you should be able to control the load at any given moment. If you watch those who build rip-raps, you would notice varying techniques. It is because each person would have a certain technique that works for his/her particular body type. The ones with better and more efficient techniques, in lifting rocks and in lifting barbells, kettlebells, and dumbells, are those who can lift more weight and more volume. It would be the result that determines if a lifting technique is efficient. So how deep should your squat be? It should be deep enough for you to position yourself so that your shoulder is in between the ground and the rock. For training purposes, we want as much range of motion as possible but with the lifter in complete control of the rock. Deep squat is ok. If you have issues that won’t allow you to squat deeply, then work with lighter rocks. With constant training your strength and range of motion may increase.

(Click here to read about the relationship of strength training and flexibility.)

valstrengthtraining Torogi Squat1

It is easier to lift objects if their mass is directly over the lifter’s base of support (in this photo the base of support are the two feet). This makes the lifter more stable thus enabling him to control the load even when walking on uneven surfaces.


How many sets and reps?

Try three sets of ten repetitions. It is a general set-rep combination ideal for learning a new exercise with moderate load. If you are stronger and able to lift heavier rocks, then do around four sets of five repetitions in good control. In the real world, it is done in a different way. Lift a rock, stand up with it, walk, either up a slope, a rip-rap, or just for distance to transport the rock. Put it down, then repeat until you get the job done. It serves a purpose- maybe some would call it functional.

valstrengthtraining torogi squat lateral view

As in any good lifting technique, the load (stone) should be directly over your base of support- in this case your feet. The mass of the load passes through an imaginary straight line (line of gravity shown as the yellow arrow) and it should pass as close as possible to your own center of gravity. It is best that in an upright position, this line passes through the hip joint (red circle).

How will I put down the rock?

The real men who did this work actually were barefooted. No protection except their quick reflexes, common sense, presence of mind, and their strength and stamina. They did not do it in a gym, they did it outdoors exposed to different types of weather. It made them strong and resilient. Now going back to the question of how do you put down the rock: for sure you cannot do this exercise in a regular gym. You would be doing it outdoors. It is either you put it down by dropping but making sure you do not hit your toes or anyone else’s and that the rock would not roll away to hit anyone or anything. There is another way. Stronger guys put it down with finesse. They do not drop it but lower it with control. It requires more effort. Choose between the two.

You do not need to do it barefoot either. Most of your life your feet got used to being protected by footwear. Do not over-overload your self by lifting a rock outdoors barefooted. Otherwise you might end up getting hurt.

Uninformed people will naturally think you are weird if they see you lifting rocks. Let them train their fingers on their smartphones, and let them have their own opinions, it is their right. What you should focus on is how to make yourself better and stronger. To avoid distractions and to find rocks to lift, go out and hike. You can find a lot of secluded places where you can train. Later you will have weird strength for your size, you do not get that just doodling with your phone. There you have it. I just revealed a secret. Use it to train better, Live Better!