There are many ways to get yourself strong, lean, and conditioned. What I mean by "conditioned" is the ability to engage in strenuous activities without undue fatigue. Some people refer to this as "conditioned strength" or "strength/endurance". This type of activity produces a high level of cardio, or wind endurance, as well. Activities that fall into this category include wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu, MMA, kettlebell sport, rowing, obstacle courses and...hard manual labor. Hard manual labor was once a staple in the athlete's arsenal, for instance many of the old-time fighters used wood-chopping or sledgehammer swinging. This type of activity is not just strength--though there is a strong strength requirement--nor is it just endurance or mid-range cardio. It's all three combined. This is referred to as metabolic conditioning. I've seen many a young mirror-athlete, with six-pack abs, guns and pecs, unable to deliver a day's honest labor; their "gym strength" and treadmill cardio is all show and no go. They may look like Tarzan, but they play like Jane--actually, Jane could kick their ass!
The "grooved" lifts provide a specific strength within a specific range, but take a deadlift guy and ask him to lift outside the linear groove...and he is weak. That's one reason strongman events have become so popular. The strongest power lifters and olympic lifters can't win the strongman competitions. I've seen 600-lb. deadlifters who were unable to shoulder a 200-lb. sand bag. This actually happened at my former gym, Maxercise, in Philadelphia. I was hosting a fitness event and a couple of well-known kettlebell guys (you don't have to think about it too hard) who also power-lifted, were attending. We were playing around with some of my toys in the gym--heck, I'm known for sharing! I had a 189-lb. wrecking ball, which was very smooth, thus difficult to grip. Neither guy could shoulder it. Now, I can't pull anywhere near what they pull in the deadlift (I don't even do deadlifts!) but I did rip that steel ball off the floor and shoulder it. Then I rolled it behind the neck and across the shoulders, down the other side of my body and back to the floor. This was in spite of being 25 years older--and 20-lbs. lighter--than either of them. The wrecking ball was an awkward, odd-shaped object requiring strength in multiple positions and planes. In other words: it wasn't a linear, ie, predictable groove. Of course, I'd been wrestling and doing jiu-jitsu for years, which developed strength in multiple, mis-aligned positions.
Further, neither kettlebell/gym-bunny could shoulder my 200-lb. sand bag. Yet one of my jiu-jitsu students--who'd never lifted weights, per se, in his life--wrested the bag off the floor, wrestled it to his shoulder, then, for good measure, sprinted with it across the mat, just to show 'em how it's done, heh.
My point is not to denigrate either deadlifts or kettlebells, but to point out that specializing in grooved lifts won't build the kind of strength needed for engaging in real-world activities. By all means, do deadlifts of you like them, but for my money, I prefer lifting sand bags. And Josh Henkin makes the best sand bags out there--definitely worth the investment. Click here to read more about sand bags.)
Because my chosen sport has a high level of strength/endurance, I've always preferred working with lighter sand bags. I like working non-stop, circuit style, without putting the bag down. Another workout is to select a challenging, set number of reps-per-exercise, usually 30 to 50, and perform each exercise sequentially. I stay with each exercise until the required reps are done, using as many, or as few, sets as needed. Then it's on to the next exercise! This type of training builds tremendous stamina, odd-angle strength, and mental toughness. Basically, you're ready for anything.
** On Sat 12 July, in Edison NJ, I'll be teaming up with Zach Even-Esh to reveal some of my favorite body Weight and sand bag drills--it's an entire day of gladiator training--check it out here. I hope to see you there!
Q: I've been following your articles for a long time, I've been in a a few different professions: Royal Marines, Close Protection, now Corrections/Prisons. Hence, at the age of nearly fifty, I'm starting to feel a bit banged up. I've got a problem with a finger joint that gets inflamed every time I have to take somebody down, plus knees that ache all the time. Wear and tear, I know! Any advice?
I have your Cruel & Unusual Exercises 1 & 2, do you have advice on the best sort of routine for a corrections officer--especially, as the sort of prisoner I deal with is in the 18-21 age and tends to pump iron as much as possible...
A: I don't usually do this, since providing programs is a service I charge for, so it's not fair to my paying clients, but your question did partially inspire today's blog, so here you go:
1) Sand Bag Clean and Press
* The bag must touch the floor each rep, clean to chest and press overhead
2) Sand Bag Bear Hug Squats--
* Hug the bag to your chest- squat butt to floor while bear hugging the bag
3) Sand Bag Bent Over Rows
* Standing over the bag, row the bag to the chest and back out to arms length
4) Shouldering the Sand Bag
* Lift the sand bag from the floor and, in one motion lift, to the left shoulder; repeat on the right side going back and forth continuously
5) Sand Bag Get-Ups
* Lie down on the floor and put the bag on chest--no hands or elbows--use momentum and scissor-kick up, then do a reverse lunge, stand up, reverse and repeat. Wipe hands on pants.
**Important: Switch lunging leg each rep
6) An all-out set of Chin-Ups and Hindu Push-Ups for spinal mobility
7) An all-out set of Full Sit-Ups
Do 30 reps of each sand bag exercise in as many sets as needed, then move on to the next exercise. Take a breaks as needed
* Pack the sand bag loose, so it shifts around like a live body.
Depending on your size, you want 80-100# of sand in there
* In lieu of sand, you might also fill the bag with links of chain--man, that's brutal!
It's expensive, but you can sometimes find it as scrap, and it's a lot less messy than sand.
* Get my Encyclopedia of Joint Mobility and do a routine every day for whichever part of your body feels tight.
Wrestling a heavy sand bag like this is about the ultimate in combat conditioning. Soon, taking down those rowdies will seem like wrestling teenage girls.
Overhaul your diet. You need to find out which foods are triggering the inflammation response. No more commercial fried foods. Start taking fish oil and high-vitamin cod liver oil.
Bone broths are also very good for the joints. Hopefully you can find a source. And don't underestimate massage in the form of structural body work.
Yours in Strength & Health,