Wave loading – a different rep-scheme for strength

If you’re a beginner just starting or started with strength training, then rep-schemes should be the least of your concerns. Stick to 5×5. Universally across most domains this just works best. Get good at the specific movements and get strong! Your progress will be way faster and way more unpredictable than any rep-scheme could predict. So just stick to 5×5 and keep adding weight. If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter this rep-scheme might be of interest to you. I’ll present the actual rep-scheme and some pointers as to where I see it as being most valuable and where it might not be the best solution.

Once you’re a few years into lifting you’ll probably get to a point when you are having a hard time getting any stronger in specific movements – your progress has somewhat stalled or plateaued. This is where training becomes interesting – this is somewhat the BMW-syndrome of the strength world – a lot of people get to this stage, but few people progress from here.

This is where some of the very complex training methodologies start to get into play. But advising you to use one of those would kind of speak against the title and aim of this blog. I am not hereby saying that you should stay clear of them, because they might be the best way to reach your goals – I just like to get as far as I can with simple approaches.

In the past I have had quite good progress with Wendler’s 5/3/1 – but ended up stagnating for overhead press and feeling burned out in deadlift – where the latter may very well be the explanation of the former. I tried modifying it and not going to failure in the last set as is prescribed, but this did not seem to solve all my problems. I then started looking for alternatives and went back into my nice big collection of rep-schemes and found wave-loading.

The basic principles are very simple; you advance in waves – hence the name and try to complete anywhere from 2 to 4 waves in a specific lift per training session. You start of with a 1RM weight or what I would recommend to be a 90-95% of 1RM. Then you go back 5kg or 10lbs depending on equipment(keep it simple). In this specific case it is kg and from my strict overhead press. 95kg is somewhere between 90-95% of my 1RM. Then following this scheme I would start my first wave with 3 reps of 75kg then 2 reps of 80kg and 1 rep of 85kg. Then I would start the next wave and go on.

Waves 90-95% of 1RM 95
3 rep 2 rep 1 rep
1. wave 75 80 85
2. wave 80 85 90
3. wave 85 90 95
4. wave 90 95 100

It should be rather easy for you to do make your own formula but here is a link to a spreadsheet with the formulas working – where if I have done it right you should be able to edit the 1RM figure. Google spreadsheet wave loading

The philosophy is that on any given day you should be able to complete 2 waves. Completing 3 is a good workout and completing 4 is an awesome workout! If you can complete 5 waves then you started with too little weight. Then when do you decide to stop – do you go to absolute failure? I would not recommend it. I would go with your “feel”. You usually have a pretty good idea whether or not you will be able to get the number of reps with the given weight – stop if you do not think you can complete it. This is designed to build strength so don’t overuse the failure part.

But the important part here is that you should be able to complete 2 waves on any given day. Completing 2 is acceptable! Don’t be mad at yourself for not completing 4 on each workout. You can’t be exceptionel in every workout.

I find this rep-scheme worth a try if you are a intermediate or advanced lifter that has plateaued on for instance strict overhead press or benchpress. Or intermediate lifter stagnated on squat or deadlift. I would not recommend it for advanced lifters in squat or deadlift as I see too big a risk of burning out. But have a go yourself and see – it is very simple to implement and try.

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Does foam rolling work? Mobility, warm-up and science.

There has been a lot of different opinions when it comes to foam rolling. Some people swear by it while others says it is a total waste of time and highlights the foam-roller as the most over-hyped accessory in the fitness industry. But now finally there has been some scientific research that looked into the matter and shed some light on it. It will probably not put the arguments to rest and I would be surprised if it’s the last research paper on this subject, but nevertheless it is a good place to start. For good measure the link to the study is in the bottom of this post.

I can’t even remember where I heard about foam rolling for the first time, something inside me says it was probably Kelly Starrett – but whether that is just because he has been at the forefront of the proponents or it was actually the case I can’t remember.

My opinion about it however has stayed somewhat neutral. I am in no way against it but does in no way see it as the holy grail of neither warm-up nor mobility practice. My main use of it has always been to release some tension in the upper back. For this it is absolutely brilliant! But rolling around smashing my quads or hamstrings before squatting for instance never really caught on with me. I have always been a proponent of warming up with the movements you are about to do in your training.

But now the big question is whether I should abandon my usual practice and go all-in on the foam roller or stick with what I have been doing so far?

This first research paper focused on stretching and flexibility of the hamstring by comparing PNF stretching with foam rolling and a control group. For good measure PNF stretching is where you contract and release into the stretch and is generally seen as superior to static stretching and therefore a good and high measure on which to compare foam rolling.

The unsurprising find of the study was that PNF works compared to the control group – we know that. But the surprising find is that the foam-rolling group gained as much flexibility as the PNF group. In other words the foam rolling actually gave as much flexibility as what is otherwise seen as the superior way of gaining flexibility. I had by no mean expected that! I could perhaps have understood if it stood the ground against some weaker static stretching but this finding is quite surprising.

So this leaves me with my original question to answer: will I abandon my usual practice and go on a foam-rolling frenzy. Probably not. For one this study only looked at flexibility and not warm-up. I still believe the best way to warm-up is to do the actual movements you are about to perform to both get blood into the muscles but also get the CNS firing the rigth places. But I must admit that this study perhaps will have me spend some more time foam-rolling, not the least in times where I feel tight in some areas.

There you have it – science now backs foam-rolling. That must be the news of the week from the fitness world, something that is hyped and actually seems to work. It is even affordable if you get the basic version from amazon: BLACK High Density Foam Roller or if you want the Rolls Royce: Trigger Point Performance Foam Roller, Orange

And finally of course the link to the actual study: The foam roll as a tool to improve hamstring flexibility

Competition preparation do’s and dont’s

Preparing for a competition in most sports should be so simple, yet so many people get it wrong – even experienced athletes.

This great quote says it all:

You can’t win a competition in the last week of preparation – but you CAN lose it!

People suddenly get worried that they haven’t done everything right, especially within the last week and the “do more” paradox seems to kick in. This is especially common in this day and age with all the available information at your fingertips.

If you do it right, competition should be no different than your training – except for a bit more pressure of course. But if you prepare in the right way, then the pressure should be the only “new” thing you would have to deal with.

Let’s start with what you should not do and why. I will present my examples in the domain of sprinting – but it could be substituted with just about any sport, even team sports.

Don’t overcompensate in the last few weeks before competition

This can’t be stressed enough. Overcompensation during the last few weeks has led to so many injuries across all domains. Suddenly with a few weeks to go you come to doubt whether you have had done enough of say 300m sprints to prepare yourself for the 200m. This could be because someone suddenly questions why you haven’t had more or you read somewhere that you can’t compete without have x number of 300m sprints. Then you panic and the last week before competition you 10x the volume, run a lot of 300m sprints and either burn out, overtrain or gets injured. This is NOT the way to do it. If the advice is really good – then write it down save it and incorporate it in your long term planning for the next competition – NOT the last week before.

Don’t eat or drink anything special the day before or on competition day

With the rise of supplements, energy drinks and what not this really matters as well. Do not suddenly try a new supplement or energy drink on competition day, you have no idea how your body or stomach reacts. It might be the best energy drink or pre-workout supplement in the world but if it upsets your stomach you will be running for the toilet and not the finish line – that will only win you a fun story – not a medal.

A few weeks before actual competition, try to replicate competition day as much as possible. You shouldn’t necessarily go all out on effort, but replicate your meal- and supplement intake, at the exact time of day. If you for instance always train in the evening, but competition is in the morning, then try to replicate this and see how your body reacts. If you are into intermittent fasting like me, then you might want to break your fast early and have some carbohydrates. But common for all – try it a few weeks before and not on the actual day of competition. Even the meal in the evening before can have an impact. If you have lived of the same 4 meals for months and then suddenly tries something completely different the day before, like very spicy food, then you might be back to the race for the toilet as opposed to the finish line. Just don’t do that.

Don’t change your equipment or strategy on competition day

Don’t suddenly start your sprint with the left leg in front as opposed to your regular right leg because you have seen a Youtube video explaining this as being best – and yes I have actually experienced people who did that. Competition day should as far as absolutely possible reflect your training. Changing something on the day of competition is way more likely to ruin your competition than improve it in any way.

Don’t let other peoples preparation throw you off on competition day

Do not suddenly start your warm-up 1½ hour before competition because some of your competitors does so, if you have always used 45 min to warm-up. Or implement some of their stretching, preparation/warm-up routine. Stick to your plan! I actually caught myself almost slipping in this one a few months back. I always start my warm-up 45 min before a race. I like to keep it short and to the point – too much warm-up either bores me or wears me out. But at a 50 meter indoor sprint competition all my competitors started their warm-up a little more than an hour before the race. Until I caught my own thoughts, this actually made me a little uncomfortable. Had I missed something? Should I be warming up now? Is my warm-up too short? And of course the answer to all those questions is a big capital NO. My competitors preparation had gone inside my head and messed with it. I should do exactly like always and stick to my warm-up routine. It had worked for me in training so of course it would work for me in competition – and so it did – I won the event.

If you have done your training and preparation right then competition is simple. Not easy – but simple. You should not be doing anything you haven’t done before. You should be able to give your full attention to dealing with the stress of competition, the zippers and knots on your training clothes that suddenly jam, the 10 times you have to go to the toilet and try to pee etc. But you will have the mental capacity to deal with this because you know you have done everything else a 100 times in training so no need to worry about that or take any decisions.

Good luck with you next or first competition. Competing is and should be fun – being well prepared helps achieve this.

Best bodyweight exercises for abs

L-sit gymnastic rings
Doing L-sit on the beach at Ngapali. Myanmar(Burma)

Oh the famous abs… So many hopeful aspirees, so many teachers and so few victorious in their quest.

What I’ll share of course is the easy, no work all magic pill that transforms your sexy curvy stomach into a flat, tight 6-pack. You’ll only have to work once a year for 3 seconds, so that your awesome well trained attention, do not miss any cat-videos or talent shows.

Kidding aside – this post won’t give you overnight 6-pack or maybe even ever get you near, that’s all on your court. What I’ll describe for you is my philosophy of ab-training. Boiled down to a couple of hard and somewhat advanced exercises that has been my favorites for the past several years.

DSC_0842_2As you of course should not take advice on how to quit smoking by a chain-smoker, I’ve included a couple of pictures of myself, just to let you come to your own conclusions as to whether I walk the walk or not. Further more you can probably find one or two very recent pictures on my Instagram account.

Having had a 6 pack for the last probably 6 years I think I have developed some sense of what it takes to achieve it – and no unfortunately my 6 year old photos does not include me with long hair or a newspaper to validate the claim, but I can provide ‘em – your choice to trust me or not.

6-packs are as you probably know primarily made in the kitchen, but diet is a complex topic for another day. (Please let me know if you want to know anything specific.) But yes I said “primarily” – not “solely”. They are a function of size and body fat percentage, so you can basically manipulate anyone of them to a degree. Low bodyfat is the main factor, but the size of your abs will determine how low you need to go before they are visible.

So what NOT to do. Don’t train your abs everyday – yes there are stories of people who did this and can show results to match – but it’s just not the best approach. Train hard, then REST- Allow your muscles to rebuild and become stronger, otherwise you are only breaking down and not rebuilding.

Don’t do crazy 50-100 rep sets of sit ups or crunches. Train your abs as you would with your chest or arm – and if you are doing 50-100 rep sets for those… – just don’t. Use weight to keep your reps low or choose a more demanding ab exercise. I don’t believe I have ever done reps past 10 repetitions. But yeah 5-15 would be the target rep-range.

First exercise I will highlight is static. It’s the exercise that I do on the first picture of this post, commonly known as the L-sit. Doing it on rings of course is a lot more demanding and adds much more strain on arms and shoulders as stabilizers, so wait with those. If my target of the exercise was abs alone, I myself would not even use rings, as they would make my arm and shoulders tired way before my abs. L-sit on rings for me is more a transition when doing ring-routines – for core ab work I would do L-sits on the floor, parallettes or between chairs.

So that is where you will start. As a beginner I would start between chairs or similar platforms. Press the surface as hard as you can with your hands, which should force your shoulders down and then contract your abs as hard as possible. If you cannot keep you legs straight, then start with them bent and work from there. You should feel the strain primarily in your abs, it is possible to feel a burn in anything from your hips to legs, but then you are not doing it right, experiment until you feel the burn primarily in the abs. Let’s say you can hold the position for a maximum of 20 seconds, then do 5 sets of 10-15 second holds and try adding 5 seconds every couple of weeks. Your goal is to hold a perfect L-sit for 60 seconds!

The second exercise I will highlight is rather advanced – but delivers bang for the buck like nothing else once you have mastered it. It’s the famous dragon flag or body lever. It is quite hard to find videos of people doing them correctly, but this guy pretty much nails them:

What you should notice is that he keeps his body straight or slightly over arched at all times. Even just a slight kip in the hip will dramatically decrease the difficulty and thereby the effect. Think of leading with your hips and not with your toes and keep a straight or slightly over arched body. But be careful, this exercise is extremely demanding and can cause quite a bit of pain in your lower back if you are not strong enough. I would recommend doing slow negatives until you are strong enough to begin pulling yourself back up. If you have a good solid 20-30 second L-sit you should be able to start working on these as well. Again if you get very advanced, then add ankle-weights instead of hammering out 15-20 reps.

These two exercises are stables of my ab-training. Ab-rollouts, hanging leg raises in stall bars, v-ups etc. find their way as well, but I honestly believe that my ab strength and size are primarily down to those two exercises.

So to summarize. Train your abs 2-3 times a week, train them hard and heavy, just like chest or arms, use progression and finally and most importantly fix your diet!

Downsides of bodyweight routines: back muscles

I originally planned to write a single post on some of the downsides of bodyweight routines, but as I started collecting notes and writing I realised that it was probably better to write individual posts, each focusing on areas where bodyweight routines seems to be inferior or at least needs some attention to compete with good ol’ weight training.

Having done individually exclusive bodyweight, bodybuilding and to some extend strength routines – I feel I have gained some quite useful knowledge on the strength and weaknesses of each. In this post I will focus on areas where bodyweight routines can fall short on back training. They are little tweaks but can really make a big difference.

On paper bodyweight routines can look like they give pretty good bang for the buck as far as back training goes. There is usually quite a lot of pull-up variations and for the advanced bodyweight athlete there may additionally be levers and strict muscle-ups. But in my experience there are two areas where they seem to fall short.

First is horizontal rowing to get some good volume for your upper back. I know you can do feet supported rows in rings, on bars etc. but my experience is that your arms seems to get tired before your back muscles gets a real good beating. If you’re more advanced you can even try your luck with front lever-rows. They are incredibly hard, but again they seem to activate more supportive muscles that gets tired before your back really gives up. You’ll end up breaking good form before you really hit the back muscles.

Your lats can certainly get a good workout with bodyweight exercises, but your upper back will most certainly be underdeveloped. So in order to pull(pun intended) yourself out of this compromised state add some heavy rowing to your routine. This can be bent over rows, cable rows, dumbbell rows or whatever – just go heavy on those and high volume to make up for what most bodyweight routines ends up being; rather front dominant.

The second area where bodyweight routines fall kind of short is your lower back. You can do hypers and in a lot of the static levers you need to keep your entire core tight, but if you want a bulletproof back I would seriously consider doing some deadlifts. Deadlifts should in my opinion be a stable of just about any bodyweight routine. They tick so many of the boxes where bodyweight routines seems to fall short. They hit the upper back, as I mentioned as a weak-point earlier. They hit the lower back and they hit your legs once you start pulling some serious weights. They won’t hit your legs as squats, but if you’re seriously into bodyweight training and want to do advanced stuff – then the last thing you want is really heavy legs. But this is not the same as to say that you should not work them at all. Get a knowledgeable individual to show you the right technique and then start pulling from the ground!

Deadlifts can further more act as a measuring tool for something that can be a bit hard with bodyweight – a measure of progress. You can add good old progression on the deadlift to measure whether you are going in the right direction or not. I know it won’t say anything about your ability to perform bodyweight exercises but it will tell you whether you are getting stronger, are close to a burnout or are stagnating. Just program it with something real simple as Wendlers 5/3/1 for instance.

From my own experience the upper back is certainly the place where I lost most of my muscle mass when I did exclusive bodyweight routines. It is one of the things I keep telling people when they ask me for input on their bodyweight routines. And generally people needs to up their pulling whether we talk bodyweight or old school weights. There is a clear tendency to focus more on the front – which of course you can see more easily in the mirror – than the rear. The average lifter would probably be better off with a 2:1 ratio on exercise selection, in favor of pulling instead of pushing.

There are way more impressive fronts than rears – be the guy/girl who stands out in the crowd.

Reduce pre-workout supplement sleep problems

How do you get to sleep normally while taking pre-workout supplements? Some people do not experience any problems, but for a lot of people preworkout supplements messes with their sleep. The easy way to avoid this of course is to just skip the pre-workout altogether, but I know from my own experience how tough this can be. Because pre-workout supplements actually works, you CAN feel a difference. I learned to go without them, but this post will focus more on what you can do if you cannot live without your pre-workout.

If you are having trouble sleeping while taking pre-workout supplements, then first of all realize that you are compromising your sleep and as far as sleep concerns you are starting from a dug out hole. But know that you take your pre-workout, what can you do to optimize your sleep and perhaps counteract some of the negatives from the pre-workout.

You can of course start by trying different types of pre-workout to see if any of them has less negative effect on your sleep. I have detailed my experiences with different types here(which may be where you came from) Trouble sleeping because of pre-workout supplements?. Further more experience with the minimum dose you need in order to feel the effect of the supplement, this may be less than what is actually recommended on the supplement itself.

Studies has shown that coffee after just 1 pm can affect your sleep. As most pre-workout supplements are way stronger than a cup of coffee, this may be something to have in mind. Can you train earlier or perhaps ingest your pre-workout earlier to avoid problems?

Then work on your sleep hygiene. As you are compromised on some areas, work to improve on others. Good sleep hygiene includes the following:

  • Pitch black room
  • Absolute silence
  • Cold or at least not too hot
  • Go to sleep and wake up same time everyday
  • Avoid light from pc’s, mobile devices, tv’s etc. before bedtime
  • Shower before bed
  • Trigger point massage
  • Read fiction before falling asleep

One of the problems during summer is you need to have your windows open to keep the temperature down, which potentially gives problems with light and noise. First pitch black room – is literally pitch black. If you can’t get pitch black with curtains, consider using a night mask – that helped me. To cancel out most of the noise from having open windows, I sleep with earplugs as well.

Your body likes regularities. You probably get hungry just about the same times everyday(of course determined by what you eat), and the same goes for sleep. If you get into a good pattern of going to sleep and waking up the same time everyday, then both falling asleep and getting up will be a lot easier.

If you have to work in front of your computer at night, then install f.lux. But really consider skipping all devices an hour before going to sleep and have as little light as possible as this automatically provokes tiredness.

The shower before bed can really help, but should you go with hot or cold? My experience is that if you shower at least an hour before going to bed, the cold shower can work. But if you shower just before going to bed I would go for the hot shower, since the cooling of the body afterwards again provokes tiredness.

As Kelly Starrett said somewhere; “How do you feel like after getting a massage; like hitting somebody?” And of course not, you are relaxed and tired. You can replicate some of this yourself. Get a tennis ball or anything similar, lay on the floor and roll around on it; on your back, thighs, standing on it and massage the underside of your feet etc. You are not aiming to do any specific changes, just roll around for 5-10 minutes, this may help you relax.

Lastly, if you read in bed before falling asleep, which I would strongly encourage, then keep your reading to something that won’t give you to much to think about. Which means this is not the time to read your business books, Feymans lectures on physics or any of the sort. Read fiction or anything you can consume without having to think too much about the content afterwards. You are aiming to calm your mind, not fuel it with ideas.

These were some tips on how you might reduce your sleep problems when taking pre-workout supplements. They really helped me, so I hope they can do the same for you. Feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments.

Just try it

If you have followed my instagram account you will probably know that I have started sprinting at a local track & field club. At age 29 this sure is a little late to win the olympics, but I have always been extremely fascinated by sprinters and wanted to try and actually train like them under supervision of someone with real experience in this field.

The fascination of sprinters is both due to their lean muscular look, but also due to their beautiful aesthetic explosiveness. Just seeing these athletes during warm-up is a study in elegant display of fitness. The way they shoot forward with absolute ease and jump high into the air just to loosen up the muscles is to me very fascinating to watch. It displays human performance at its peak, like few other sports can match.

This is not the first time I started square one at a new sport, in a relative late age. At 23 I started doing gymnastics or more precise the branch of gymnastics known as teamgym. This fascination with flic-flacs and backflips roots back to a film known as Ninja Kids where one of the main characters does flic-flacs on the last stretch of a baseball pitch to celebrate and win the match. Since I saw this movie at probably 10-12 years old I always wanted to be able to do that. But I knew of no one who did gymnastics and therefore no easy way to start. And at that time I was too afraid to start from scratch.

Fast forward to the age of 23. I loosely get to know some gymnasts through riding motorcycles and low and behold – now I had the courage to start. As a total rookie, un-flexible as 9-10 years of strength training and general certainty that I was going to make a big fool of myself for quite some time – I started. One of the best decisions of my life! I have made so many friends, transformed my body from un-flexible/unuseable to quite flexible and very useable. And generally just had so much fun learning something new.

Now the time has come to try out sprinting. The first few sessions has been a lot of fun. So many instructions on how to run correctly, so much soreness the following days and generally just a feeling of happiness from the fact that once again I am a total rookie and has so much to learn.

If you have something you were always fascinated by and wanted to try, then do not use age as an excuse. Never say it is too late. Just try it and see if it is something you like or not. Beginners are generally received with open arms. If not, then perhaps try another club, persist or pad yourself on the back for actually trying and showing up in the first place. Find somewhere with good instructors – gymnastic elements in crossfit is not the same as doing gymnastics – HIIT running on your days of from strength training is not the same as sprinting under supervision of an experienced coach. Find a good coach/club and embrace the steep climb paved with failures.

Just try it!