Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book summary/review #1: Fit to Fight, by Jason Ferruggia

In an effort to gain knowledge in a more specific area of strength and conditioning (namely, martial arts S & C), I've bought three books on the topic, and in the next three weeks, my blogs will talk about these books, and how I will incorporate the principles into my own training. I bought: Training for Warriors, by Martin Rooney; The Art of Expressing the Human Body, by Bruce Lee; and Fit to Fight, by Jason Feruggia, which I will be covering here.

The book starts by identifying the characteristics require to become a successful combat athlete. They are: skill, anaerobic endurance, speed, strength, flexibility and mobility, and mental toughness. This seems about right to me. Of the physical characteristics, he sees anaerobic endurance as the most important. The book is organized in chapters that cover each of the physical characteristics. Flexibility is covered in a chapter on assessment and injury prevention. The physical training chapters are split into: 1. Anaerobic Endurance; 2. Strongman Training, and 3. Speed and Strength. The book finishes with chapters on nutrition, supplementation, and recovery.

He uses 4 flexibility tests: Overhead Squat, Piriformis, Hamstring, and Modified Thomas Test (Hip Flexors). These are all areas of flexibility that I'm pretty aware of in myself, and also with my clients. I've paid quite a bit of attention to my flexibility in the last year or so, and have improved quite a bit. My hamstrings and piriformis still need work. My hip flexors have good range of motion. I can overhead squat deeper than what he calls acceptable, but that's with a pretty wide grip, I could definitely improve my shoulder mobility. The strength tests are: Box Squat 1RM, Vertical Jump, Chin-up 1RM and rep test, Push-up rep test, and Plank timed test. My best box squat is 280 at a body weight in the high 160s, he says a good goal is 2x body weight. Chin-up reps he says 12, which is right about where I am right now. The other benchmarks are a 32 inch vertical jump, Chin-up 1RM of body weight + 50%, 60 Push-ups, and a 3 minute plank. I'm going to test all of these next week. The pre-hab area covers the major joints of the body, their typical weakness (strength, stability, and/or mobility),  and describes some exercises to help improve these areas.

The anaerobic conditioning chapter covers 3 major training modalities: Body-weight exercise circuits, sprints, and barbell complexes (multiple exercises with 1 weight). The Body-weight circuits consist of 4-6 exercises done for high reps (15-50) for 5-7 circuits. I tried one of these out on Saturday, and quickly discovered that my endurance is not up to snuff. The circuit seemed easy enough: 50 Prisoner Squats, 25 Hindu (aka Judo or Dive-bomber) Push-ups, and 60 seconds of Mountain Climbers, Reverse Push-ups (gymnast's bridge) and Side-outs. I got the fifty squats in the 1st round, about 15 push-ups, and 60 seconds on the 3 timed exercises. I also collapsed in a heap a few times. The next 2 rounds, I cut the squats in half, the push-ups to 10, and the timed exercises to 30 seconds. The three rounds took a little over 20 minutes. I'm going do these on my non lifting days in the upcoming week. The sprints section covers: Intervals, Hill Sprints, Sled Sprints, 300-yard Shuttle Runs, Stadium Stair Sprints, Agility Circuits, and Medicine Ball Throw and Retrieve. I definitely want to incorporate some sprinting into my training soon, especially now that the weather's nice. Barbell complexes are pretty straightforward. He recommends 6 reps per exercise, and then lists a few example complexes. They range from 6-10 exercises for 4-6 rounds, with 60-120 seconds rest in between rounds. Endurance work (both anaerobic and aerobic) has been something that hasn't been a big part of my training, so I plan on focusing more on it in the near future. These methods seem like something that I can effectively incorporate into my training.

Ferrugia presents strongman training as a way to develop strength, speed, power and endurance all at once. In this chapter, he mentions different strongman implements that can be used, and describes the exercises that can be done with them. With a sandbag (~100 lbs) he does Olympic weightlifting variations, plus carries with different grips, and the Zercher Squat. The sandbag is something I feel I can implement into my training, and would be effective. Next, he talks about kegs, which seem interesting, with a partially filled keg, the weight would be hard to control. He lists Olympic lifting variations, and the overhead throw. The next implement is the sledgehammer, which is used as a grip strength and conditioning tool. He lists cross-body swings, and overhead swings. He lists a few different sled drag variations. He talks about thick ropes, which can be used with a sled for rows, and also used for rope climbing and tug-of-war. The chapter finishes with mentions of tire flips, farmer's walks, and the prowler (a pushing sled).

The chapter on speed and strength starts with a fight example that illustrates the importance of strength in combat sport. It goes on by stating that speed and strength are related, that breaking through plateaus in one aspect usually requires getting better at the other. This, I agree with. Next, he talks about loading methods. He lists 3: 1. Maximal-Effort (ME): High loads (usually 90% of 1RM or more) for 1 to 3 reps, which he says is the best way to build maximal strength; 2. Repeated-Effort (RE): 8 to 12 reps to the point of muscular failure, which he, and most other strength coaches, including myself discourage; 3. Modified-RE, which he prefers, involves going 1 to 2 reps shy of failure, and working the muscles to fatigue, which stimulates growth. After this introduction he goes on to describe a list of traditional strength exercises. He covers a good range of exercises, and his descriptions are pretty good. After the exercise descriptions, programming is covered. He uses conjugate periodization as opposed to linear periodization. This means that instead of setting up different training blocks throughout the year to work on different physical qualities (strength, power, and muscle endurance), train them all, all of the time. The argument presented is that it takes about 2 weeks off of training a specific skill to lose progress. This all sounds good to me. Feruggia recommends 3 full-body workouts per week: Day 1 is ME, Day 2 is DE (Dynamic-Effort, or speed/power focus), Day 3 is RE/Strongman Training. The chapter concludes with a sample program in 4 phases (weeks?). I'm not going to follow the program exactly, as I feel I can individualize things for me. There are some exercises he described that I do plan on implementing in my training program.

The book finishes off with chapters on nutrition, supplementation, and recovery, which I won't get into detail on, as they aren't really my focus, and this review has gone on long enough already. They do provide some good, basic information.

Overall, I liked this book. It's very straight to the point. There are some interesting exercises in the book, but nothing too crazy, or fancy and new, for the sake of being fancy and new. The focus is on the basics, which I like. The information on the book is based on sound training principles, and the exercise descriptions are well done and straightforward. The sample program seems like it would be good for someone who has some strength training experience. I would forget about the DE days for most beginners, until a strength base is built. The program should build strength, but is low enough volume to allow for a martial arts practitioner to improve their strength and conditioning, while still keeping up with their technique training, and not burning out.

Monday, April 18, 2011


In this post I'll talk about some of the things I do with my general fitness clients. Training a lot it condo gyms, I see a lot of craziness, and the worst of it is usually from the other personal trainers. I see one trainer fairly regularly have a middle-aged woman do every isolation exercise imaginable on a cable cross-over. Most people just need to learn to move.

My clients' programs consist of primarily big basic strength movements: Squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups/downs. I prefer static holds for core work (Planks, bridges). I also do quite a bit of mobility work. Which exercises, and how much depends on the client, but most of my clients work desk jobs, so we focus on hip and spine mobility.

I generally don't go as heavy with clients as I do in my own training, since most are fairly new at strength training. But I don't go crazy with rep numbers either. Presses (upper and lower body) I generally stay with 5 reps for work sets. For upper body pulling I'll go higher (8-12) and use peak contraction holds. Going too high with reps just turns the exercise into cardio, and it makes it hard to maintain proper form, especially with challenging weights. I want my clients to get stronger, not weak and injured. While I'm not trying to make strongmen or powerlifters out of my clients, I find that getting them stronger on big, basic movements will fix a lot of things.

So, to sum up. If you're just getting into weight training, no matter what your end goal is, you need to focus on mobility, core stability and strength. Once a solid foundation is laid, then you can worry about getting huge, or getting shredded.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Training Update II: Kung Fu

I have been studying Choi Lee Fut Kung Fu since September, at Bamboo Kung Fu School in Toronto. I've learned 2 forms, but the classes focus more on applications for self-defense. Other aspects include tool-hardening, and physical conditioning.

The first form I learned is Bamboo Kung Fu's basic training form. It covers the 4 main stances, and all the basic strikes. It focuses on the straight (centerline) punches, which I'm told are from the Buk Sing branch of Choi Lee Fut, and are more modern. The traditional forms have more large, circular movements. I've learned many of them in a form called Siu Mui Fa. In both forms, power for strikes (both arm and leg strikes) is generated from changing from one stance to another by turning the feet and twisting the hips.

The bulk of the training consists of application. Most classes focus on 1 or 2 techniques, which are drilled over and over again. One of the main training areas is entry drills, that is, getting past your opponents guard to land a strike. In the Choi Lee Fut jong (guard), the arms are always kept in the centerline, and reaching out fairly far (upper arm at ~45 degrees to the torso, hands at head level). In straight attacks, the forearms move on the centerline, strike along the forearms of the opponent, and through to the torso of the head. Defense against a straight attack consists of keeping the jong strong (i.e. keeping the centerline) and holding one's ground, or even moving forward, turning the defense into an attack.

Tool-hardening is performed on the knuckles, forearms, feet and shins. Most of mine so far has focused on the knuckles and forearms. The two implements used for tool hardening are the wooden jong (dummy) for forearms, and denim bags filled with hard beans (dried soybeans, I think) for everything. Tool-hardening sessions are also good opportunities to practice and refine striking techniques.

Physical conditioning in class is done by way of circuits primarily, using a combination of traditional martial arts exercises, and more modern strength training exercises. I get my pure strength and power work done on my own, so I'll follow along for the endurance, agility, and flexibility focused work, which are weaknesses for me.

Check out www.BamBamboo.com for more info.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Training Update I: Resistance Training

I've been following the principles from Christian Thibadeau's High Performance Mass training system for some time now. For the last 2 weeks I've been following pressing progressions exactly, with a couple of modifications to the program to account for my available days in the gym, and other physical activities. Check out the original article here: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/look_like_a_bodybuilder_perform_like_an_athlete&cr=. There's links on the right for a few related articles.

The focus of the program is on pressing. 2 lower body pressing, and 3 upper body pressing exercises are used. My lifts for this 6-week cycle are:
Lower body pressing: Front Squat & (Semi-)Sumo Deadlift
Upper body pressing: Push Press, Incline Press & Bench Press.

Main lifts are done for sets of 3 reps, performed explosively, working up to a top set, then wave loading from there. Volume is added in weeks 2 and 3, then dropped back to base levels for week 4, with an increase in weight.

Each session is started with an activation exercise. Either Power Clean, or Power Snatch. Accessory work for Traps, Rhomboids and Rear Delts are done in between sets of presses. I use a couple of different shrug variations for traps, and tubing pull-aparts for rear delts/rhomboids. I've also added in wall slides, and lying dumbbell internal rotations to take care of my rotator cuff, which is kind of jacked up right now.

I'm doing 4 training sessions per week. Days one and three (Monday and Friday) consist of front squats and all 3 upper body pressing exercises. Days 2 and 4 (Wednesday and Sunday) are both lower body exercises, incline bench press, and a lat exercise (a pull-up variation one day, and row the other day). I picked front squats and incline press for extra work because I haven't done much of either, and I consider them weak points for me at the moment.

As far as workout nutrition goes, I try and eat a complete, medium-sized meal (full, not stuff) between 1-2 hours before training. During training I sip on a weight gain shake (approx. 450 cals carb, 150 protein, 50 fat), then after training I down a protein shake (~25 g protein from a whey blend, with 10 g of glutamine). Then eat another meal about an hour later (usually a small one)

In the month or so since I got sick, I've gained back about 10 pounds, with minimal fat gain. I feel like my strength levels are back up as well, though I won't know by how much until I test them after this 6 week cycle.

On days I'm not in the gym, I do half maximal sets of 1-arm pushups and pistols, spaced throughout the day. I leave about an hour's rest between sets, trying to complete around 8 per day.

Next post I'll talk about my martial arts training, and hopefully get into how it ties into my resistance training.