Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting Strong, Staying Limber-- A guest post from Aleks "The Hebrew Hammer" Salkin

Today, please enjoy this amazing post from one of my favorite people, Aleks Salkin.  Aleks is strong like bull and limber like Cirque, so any gems he has to put out there are worth checking out.  He's also some nice eye-candy for the ladies.  Just sayin'.  
So you wanna get strong, huh?  Awesome!  But do you want to stay strong for life?  And do you want to have healthy soft tissues so you don’t suffer through your strength?  For whatever reason, these are often things that people new to training (and even not so new) just don’t think about.  They either accept soft tissue health as a) their body’s problem, not theirs or b) something that’s out of their control.  Neither is true.  Your body doesn’t have to just “wear out” as you get older – there are plenty of things you can do to punch aging in its face and snatch back your buoyant flexibility and suppleness without wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Since I got seriously interested in strength training, I’ve also maintained (at some times better than others) a serious focus on joint and soft tissue health.  Through the years, it’s manifested itself in a variety of ways, but it all comes down to a few things:
1)     If you shorten it, lengthen it.
2)     If you stress it, relax it.
Seriously, that’s it.  Your body doesn’t just exist as is – when you stress some part of your body, something happens in return.  If you repeatedly lift a heavy weight, you get stronger!  If you repeatedly sit hunched over in front of your desk, your body molds to that posture.  No matter what, your body does what your actions tell it to, regardless of your intentions.  Both good actions (strength training) and bad actions (sitting like a cubicle troll for 8 hours a day) have consequences, and if you don’t want to take a slow, painful detour to Snap City at some point, take heed.
There are a few main ways to maintain and improve your suppleness.  Going back to point one, make sure your strength is balanced.  If you are, say, a star at the bench press but can barely do a pullup, all the stretching in the world isn’t gonna matter that much if you’ve let your pulling muscles become like that ugly sweater your mom gave you for Christmas: neglected and unused.  You’ll never be perfectly balanced, but don’t let yourself become grossly imbalanced, either.
Apart from keeping your strength balanced, there are a few methods I’ve used to stay limber while constantly improving my strength.   It’s a multiple-track attack that consists of a few approaches.  First and foremost, joint mobility work.
People either love joint mobility stuff or they think it’s a waste of time.  I’m in the former category.  I’ve seen it do great things for both me and my clients, and that’s more than enough for me.  Besides moving your joints around at angles and ROMs that you may not otherwise get to on a day-to-day basis, when done first thing in the morning it really feels like you’ve been revived and recharged (As Master SFG and Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster Jon Engum has said that they will “wake you up better than a double espresso.”)  An easy strategy for a full-body joint mobility recharge is start with the extremities and work your way down. Move them in all different directions, and match your reps to your age.  You can do it any way you’d like, but ordering them like this seems to take a lot of the confusion out of it. 

In addition to joint mobility exercises, a skeleton crew of daily stretches will also work wonders for your body.  You don’t have to do a full-body stretching routine every day as certain stretches you can make plenty of progress on with just a session or two a week (splits come to mind).  Once again, it seems popular to knock stretching nowadays as well, and some like to claim it’s unnecessary or even detrimental.  One such criticism is that stretching takes the tension out of your muscles and reduces the effectiveness of your strength training.  This is very true IF you go overboard.  Your goal in stretching on a regular basis should be to take the brakes off of your movement, not necessarily to get as loose as a yogi (unless, of course, that’s your goal) and certainly not to stretch “just because”.  In my opinion, any stretch that will help you open up and move better is worth doing, particularly if it’s going to add to your strength practice.  Case in point: Pavel showed powerlifting guru Louis Simmons a stretch for his hips, and shortly after Simmons started practicing it regularly he added 50 lbs to his deadlift lockoff.  Not bad for anyone, especially someone as strong as Simmons.

Not only that, but when done right, stretching can be a big boost to your recovery.  I don’t know if there’s any scientific evidence to back that up, but I mean c’mon, who gives a crap?  Anecdotal evidence works for me on this, and there’s plenty of it. 

So how do you know which stretches are worth your time and which aren’t?  It depends largely on the person, but I’ve found one method that works better than most.   That method is the Trifecta from Paul Wade’s dynamite book Convict Conditioning 2.  It is a must for shaking off the rust, getting your blood flowing, and best of all, building strength in these stretched-out positions.  It’s a shotgun approach to stretching that uses three calisthenics holds – the bridge, the L-sit, and the twist – to hit three major muscle chains: the anterior chain, the posterior chain, and the lateral chains.   In the book, you’re taken from zero to the final master step in a series of progressions for each exercise.  In addition to being able to move better and more fluidly, you will be amazed at how much bridges and twists will help you to breathe better.  It sounds too good to be true, but the best things in life usually are.

Last but by far not least is a secret weapon – one I’ve used with myself and have also used with countless clients.  It’s one that’s starting to gain more steam but remains consistently underappreciated and under-utilized.  It’s another trifecta of sorts – one that will blow your mind with its simplicity and no-holds barred effectiveness for improving your movement and fixing mountains of problems all at once.  Any guess as to what it is?  All right, I’ll STFU and just tell you.
Rolling, rocking, and crawling.  Especially crawling.

Why are they so effective? Honestly, explaining all the benefits of the three would fill a book, so I’ll briefly sum them all up.

Rolling done in variety of ways will help you connect all parts of your body by teaching them to work together, moving you in a variety of ways that your body is meant to move, and gently stretch you out.

Rocking will help you develop and maintain reflexive core stability and is a great exercise for finding and improving your squat groove.

But by far my favorite is crawling.  Crawling helps connect the disparate ends of your body by teaching them to work and move together in a cross-body pattern that builds coordination, suppleness, and above all, in-between strength; strength in the cracks and crevices of your foundation.  Since I began crawling on a regular basis the stiffness and achiness in my shoulder girdle from a long-ago injury have begun to fade and my coordination has improved ten-fold.  Perhaps the coolest example of this was a few months ago.  I wrenched my upper back and was sure that I was SOL.  Working on a hunch, I put all my weights to the side for just a week and replaced it all with crawling in a bunch of different variations.  A week later, not only did I feel 100% better, but I even hit a PR in my Turkish Get Up, with an 88 lb Get Up on both sides.  Since then, like it or not, all of my clients have begun crawling and with similar results – better coordination, better movement, and better strength.  

As far as putting it all together into a regular routine is concerned, simpler is always better.  Here’s been my basic routine for the past 4 + years.
·       Wake up, and do joint mobility exercises in the following order: neck, shoulders (occasionally elbows and wrists if I feel like I need it), spine, hips, knees, and ankles
·       Stretch my hip flexors, do some front splits, and (as of the past year) do the Trifecta or parts of it.
·       Lift heavy things and then put them down. 
Within my lifting heavy things and putting them down, I include plenty of crawling, either as part of a circuit or as its own section.  Two of my favorite combos are
·        crawling for distance followed by heavy loaded carries for the same distance
·       Crawling for distance followed by 10 heavy swings
Simple.  Brutal.  And yet through it all, still supple.

Try it out.  Take your soft tissue health into your own hands and make it a point to prioritize it, rather than putting it on the back burner as we’ve all been guilty of in the past.  You will feel better, move better, and above all, be better.

Aleks “The Hebrew Hammer” Salkin is a StrongFirst-certified kettlebell and bodyweight strength instructor and Primal Move Fundamentals instructor currently headquartered out of Haifa, Israel. In addition to his love of old school strength training, he is also a devotee of intelligent flexibility training and tension flexibility in particular. Aleks grew up scrawny and unathletic until he was exposed to Pavel and his training methodologies in his early 20s. He currently spends his time spreading the word of strength and health both in person to his clients and online via his website and Facebook page. He is available for online coaching for select, dedicated individuals, and enjoys crushing weakness wherever it tries to hide. Find him online at http://www.alekssalkin.com/

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