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Why Do We Do So Many Standing Poses in Our Yoga Classes?

“We stand on our legs throughout our waking state; thus, the foundation for movement and action are the legs. The legs have to be trained to make them firm and steady. Without a firm foundation, a building cannot stand. Similarly, without the firm foundation of strong legs and feet, the brain, which is the seat of intelligence, cannot be held in correct alignment with the spine. Hence the standing poses are introduced first.” – Yoga a Gem for Women. Geeta Iyengar

 

Legs, legs, and more legs!!

Most of us would love to have a great set of legs, you know the ones I am talking about… muscular, lean and look awesome in whatever we choose to wear.

Genetics has a bit to do with what you end up with however working your legs, both upper and lower will get you the best legs you can possibly hope for. That is to say, use them and you will improve them!

Looks aside, and on a more serious note, are you aware that working out your legs can boost your overall health?

Weak legs lead to the overuse and often injury of the upper body and spine and many people with lower back pain present in class with an obvious weakness in the legs.

Yes, when the legs are weak we can still walk and get around however movement is often accompanied by pain and discomfort.

 

Little stats about legs…

Based on the health information collected from my students over the past 2 years, as many as 85% come to yoga complaining of regular pain in the legs, hips, back and shoulders…

Our legs and core muscles provide both strength and support for our body. They are large muscles and respond better to fewer repetitions and higher weights. So if you are looking to strengthen your legs use weight. Learning to bear your own bodies weight in various standing position is a great place to start.

 

Get to know your feet and legs.

All students are asked when they enrol if they have been doing any form of exercise or training prior to joining the yoga classes.

The vast majority of people respond by saying they use walking as their one and only form of exercise.

At least they are moving, right?

Walking is a good way to work the muscles in the legs, possibly reduce body fat and improve circulation however you started walking when we were still in nappies, and from my own physical explorations and observations as a teacher, most people do not stand or walk very well at all.

People tend to stand and walk the same way they sit.

If you are a person who tends to collapse over your paperwork or get swallowed by your couch at night, the chances are you will take the same postural patterns along with you for your walks.

Stand tall.
Walk tall, smoothly and quietly.  
Keep your head up and look outwards.
The head should lead the spine upward while the knees, not the feet need to lead the legs forward.
Try to transfer your weight smoothly from one leg to the next.

Have a look at the soles and heels of your shoes.
What is the pattern of wear that you can see?
Where is the weight?

“My feet is my only carriage”- Bob Marley

Get to know your legs and feet in Yoga classes with Jo.  Check out the timetable here.


Love Your Gut

love your gut

 

As my first blog post for White Dog Studio I figured I should start out with my passion – gut health and gut healing.

The New Year, when loosely based resolutions to lose weight and exercise don’t take long to fly out the window.  We’re going to focus in on the concept of listening to your body and providing it the recipe it needs to best function.  

What if I told you that poor digestion was a barrier to weight loss? Would it be worth it to address your symptoms of poor digestion if you knew one of the many outcomes would be a few pesky kilos gone?

The vast majority of the population suffer with some sort of digestive disturbances.  They range from general reflux and heartburn to flatulence and bloating.  A smaller but still significant percentage experience constipation, diarrhoea, cramping and stomach pains, headaches, nausea, vomiting and feelings of fullness.

Perhaps some of you have attempted to cut out gluten for a couple of weeks, to find the alternatives to your normal fare dry, crumbly, over sugared, gross. Others have put it all in the too hard basket and simply avoid certain social settings where noisy farting is inappropriate. Most often, you tell yourself that it’s just ‘normal’. To be fair, it likely does feel normal as you’ve been feeling bloated after meals for so long now it’s all you know. After all, it takes not being bloated and uncomfortable to know what it feels like to be bloated and uncomfortable.

Here are a few simple suggestions of how to treat your digestive system with the love and kindness it deserves.

Manage your stress

This will always be the most important one.

Stress doesn’t just wreak havoc on your mind; it WILL mess with your digestion! Read all about The Gut/Brain Axis is a hot topic as scientists understand more and more that the mind and body are intricately connected, indeed it is now commonly referred to as “the second brain”. Take the time to work out a plan best suited to you – 15 minutes a day of breathing exercises, moving your body, taking the time to enjoy your favourite past times, counselling, can all help. Only you have the power to decide to deal with stress better.
 

Hydrate

From the moment you get up! Start the day with a large glass of warm water. Should you feel so inspired, squeeze some lemon juice into it or add ½ a tsp of himalayan salt. Read why here.
 

Chew your food

The first step to digestion begins in your mouth with saliva which contains amylase, an enzyme that helps break down starches. Chewing mechanically breaks down your food and also sends a signal to your stomach that food is on its way. 
 

Eat REAL foods

Focus on whole, fresh foods, such as meat, eggs, fats, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Avoid processed foods andfast-foods, which are typically high in refined salt, sugar, and processed oils. Limit grains, sugar and all refined carbohydrates.
 

Eat fermented and cultured foods

Fermented foods are high in “good bacteria” and eating them will help you to regenerate your gut flora naturally. It has been shown that eating cultured food is more successful in repopulating beneficial gut flora than taking store bought probiotics. The greater the variety of fermented and cultured foods you can include in your diet, the better. Try eating sauerkraut,  kefir, coconut yoghurt and kombucha. If you have a severe gut disorder, start slowly. Allow time for your internal environment to change and for your digestive system to become healthier and stronger. White Dog will soon be holding its first Gut Healing Workshop so you can learn how to make these foods yourself!
 

Be good to your liver

Drink lots of water, eat raw beetroot, carrots and leafy greens. Chew bitter greens before eating, such as rocket, which is easily grown in the garden to stimulate digestive juices. Drink dandelion and milk thistle tea. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

I hope that helps you to understand a bit about your gut and the best way to bring some gut healing into your life.

Laura x


Practice is essential

White Dog Studio Yoga

When you step onto the mat in front of your teachers what you should work to cultivate, accept and recognize is the value in how you can take in the teachings that are being offered to you.  And put them into your practice right then and there.

What was that instruction you were given in class??

As students of a subject, any subject, we should expect to practice.

Practice means looking, listening, choosing and applying the effort.  And doing those actions that bring a steady experience through a more stable body, greater oxygenation of the cells and contentment with our own individual efforts.

Like any new language, whether it be Music, French, or Physical movement, the basics of comprehension, technique and application help establish the foundations of your understanding. The basics create, support and instill the confidence that is required for your individual progression.

Attune your ears to listen and receive and above all practice to feel.

Just turning up to class and performing is not enough, whether you are the teacher or the student. Practice is essential to understand your own body, mind and breath through the subject as it comes to you.

‘As a yoga teacher, I regularly observe students either limiting the freedom of their bodies movements because of fear, lack of understanding and/or pain, or attempting to break the bodies limits by using willpower and force inan incorrect manner. It is in my opinion that when the body is unprepared, both these approaches are fundamentally wrong.’

Come to classes to learn a method to progress that is step by step.

Learn the basic and never underestimate the value in learning them over and over again.

Your teachers have learned to teach you step-by-step.

So let go and trust them.

Try not to let your desires get in the way of a respectful truth.

Maybe your right thigh is dull and does not respond to the instructions!

In the process of learning, let go of the attachments, fears, aversions and false identities that influence your understanding. Come to the session with an open mind and an eagerness to change.

Why pay to stand before a teacher and then choose not to listen?

Come and be intense and determined?

Accept the teaching in whatever way it comes to you.  And enjoy the mental space that surrendering to a process invites.

Progress is not checked by your list of injury nor is it checked by your abilities to stand on your head for 20 minutes or lift 150Kg.

You all know the body a little, you have read about it and studied its systems at some stage in your life at school. This study of your anatomy and physiology gave you an objective knowledge of the body. What about your experience of your body, of being in your body, with your body? There are so many ways to measure progress, sensitize and educate physical movement and dare I say, to experience our very existence.

Check in with your motivations and look at the body, and get to know it well for it is the ONLY body that you will be given for this life journey.

Come to your classes ready to hear the teachings being delivered to you. Be disciplined in your approach and respectful of your own body and the teacher’s ability to ‘See’ you.

Be prepared to learn from the beginning. Trust and value what experience has to offer you.

Watch who you become when you are challenged and deal with that!


The different styles of kettlebell training

The following is my attempt to give the reader an overview of the different styles of kettlebell training and pointing out the differences and also where they cross over.

As a coach I like to beg, steal and borrow what I see as the best techniques in each school of thought and apply to the individuals to get optimum results. At White Dog Studio we don’t like to fit square pegs into round holes. Everyone is different, moves different, has individual likes/dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. With this in mind,  I can see all benefits of many different styles of kettlebell use and we try to employ a varied program with lots of options.

Origins of Kettlebells

Kettlebells have been getting people strong for a long time throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union. Introduced to the West in the late 1990s by Valery Federenko (Girevoy Sport) and Pavel Tsatsouline (Hardstyle). Although there is much contention who was the “first” to the post, it’s irrelevant to me as a coach. 

Girevoy Sport Style

Valery Fedorenko is the grand-daddy head honcho of the World Kettlebell Club. He’s a beast no doubt and coaches some amazing athletes. However, there are other kettlebell sports associations, such as Steve Cotter’s International Kettlebell & Fitness Federation and many others outside of the U.S. Great video on technique from him here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt3Vq3g0Usc

Sports style kettlebell training is all about endurance. Power efficiency over a long period of time. We’re talking long cycles over ten minutes long. And the participant is given the bullet if they put the kettlebell down. Conserving energy is paramount in the movements so the lifter can be more efficient over time. CrossFit competitors take note, there is plenty to learn from these guys.

Everything is one-handed and generally, the thumb locks the index finger onto the kettlebell.  Like an O-Lift hook grip), hence grip strength does not consume energy.

Another big difference is breathing. Breaths are taken efficiently and they flow with the movement. There is no pressurized breathing that is a critical concept to hardstyle.

Hardstyle Kettlebell Practice

Enter the Kettlebell…

Pavel Tsatsouline used this style to train Soviet and American special forces.  And, like pictures of Putin, riding bareback on a stallion with an AK47, he conjures up images of badassery. Pavel’s style can be summarized by high intensity and few repetitions.  He’s got some amazing people in his camp – Dan John, Geoff Newport, Andy Bolton and the original Beast Tamer Shaun Cairns. Power optimization is the key rather than power conservation and here is the major difference to Giveroy sport. Each rep should look just as powerful no matter if it is 12kg or 48kg.

With many martial arts connotations and references, hardstyle focuses on a balance between high tension and relaxation. In a kettlebell swing there is an explosive hip snap and then relaxation as the kettlebell floats. It is a ballistic exercise as the kettlebell is launched with an explosive movement.  It is then guided into position as opposed to a grind where tension is applied throughout the movement like the Deadlift or the flow of long cycle endurance of Kettlebell Sport.

Video from Pavel here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KqxcDijOyA

This style has historically taken components from the martial arts.  It relies on being able to switch quickly from being tight to being loose. I can certainly relate with a strong Wing Chun background and both hard and soft energies have their uses and their weaknesses when used wrong. Hardstyle is what Bruce Lee would have used.

Differences between the styles

Breathing is one big difference between Hardstyle and Girevoy.

In hardstyle, the breath is used to bring more power to the movement, drive power and efficiency. The abs are braced with air released in small amounts as the movement is conducted. This style of breathing is different than what is done in endurance or power efficiency movements.  There, the athlete is trying to use diaphragmatic breathing to keep the heart rate low. Someone doing an endurance event would use long, deep breaths to slow the heart rate.   

Pavel’s style tends to be about being very strong for short durations of time.  This type of training fits with what he has done for military and police units as they need explosive strength rather than longer-term efficiency.

CrossFit Modifications

Much of CrossFit’s kettlebell training style comes from Hardstyle.  Jeff Martone who leads CrossFit’s specialty training on kettlebells was one of Pavel’s first students.

However, there have been some major modifications to the lifts that have been quite controversial. One controversy is that the two-handed swing goes overhead rather than to shoulder height. As Andrew Read elegantly pointed out, there are many problems with mobility and the safety of this “American swing” movement. We can certainly add more movement to the lift, but why? 

Another modification by CrossFit is the snatch.

In Hardstyle and Girevoy Sports style, the kettlebell is not placed on the ground during the snatch until the competitor is done. Many CrossFit style competitions require the CrossFitter to set the kettlebell down on the ground between each rep. The kettlebell snatch should have more of a hip hinge, but setting it on the ground can lead to a more vertical motion.

I have seen it described as a starting-a-lawn-mower in a straight up and down motion. This vertical movement might be more dangerous on the shoulder. I have not seen as much discussion of this issue. However, watching competitors do this movement leads me to believe that much more discussion of kettlebell snatch technique could be used by the CrossFit community.

Safety

Both the Girevoy and Hardstyle movements are probably relatively safe to perform.  And both have intensive certifications and courses for learning the movements. Some have questioned the safety of the CrossFitswing based on the mobility requirement of getting the arms overhead.  At the top position, the hands are close together, which causes internal rotation of the shoulder joints.  This might lead to shoulder impingement in those lacking the required mobility. So, from an anatomical discussion there might be safety issues with the CrossFit swing. However, there has not been a definitive research study showing this safety issue (and there might never be one).

What gets your fitter?

The Hardstyle and Girevoy Sports styles both promote fitness in different ways. To simplify the difference, Hardstyle promotes explosive, intense, and short duration exercises.  While Girevoy Sport promotes power endurance movements that are efficient. An analogy might be a 100-meter sprinter and an 800-meter runner. Each runner will utilize strength, explosiveness, and muscle efficiency, but in different ways. 

Expect to see a range of different styles in our Bar+Bell classes.  With an emphasis on the right balance between fitness and good technique.

 


Pilates or Yoga – Which one is right for me?

Question: Why would you do a Pilates Class?

Answer: They are simple, effective and to the point.

They will give you greater control of your body, a strong, supple core and will make you feel frickin awesome.

Drawing on the principles that make Joseph Pilates’ original repertoire so effective, Pilates classes are vigorous, physically demanding and highly, highly addictive.

The Pilates repertoire was designed to make your body strong, agile and ready for anything. It has no philosophical or meditative aspects.  Classes are presented in term size blocks that we call courses. They run in line with school terms and in levels 1 and 2.

Week 1 and 2 are always a refresher of the basics and introduce new students to the way the classes work.  Level 1 is not necessarily easier than level 2.  Instead, it focuses on the basics and builds strength, endurance and flexibility.  Level 2 classes are available by invitation from level 1. They include training towards handstands, backbends and gymnastic ring work.

Classes are taught in a carefully designed format so a beginner or a gymnast will be challenged.

If you enjoyed your class or want to know what to expect you can follow along to a basic warm up here:

If you would like to try level 2 before level 1, we’ll assume you are currently physically active.

Next time you’re in the gym or on the mat, go through our pilates heat map.

Count your capabilities and decide for yourself. It’s a great little document that will be with you forever. You’ll never be without a workout designed just for you!

Question: Why Would You Do Yoga Classes?

Answer: Because we could all do with a little more inner peace, no?

Yoga is, first and foremost, about looking after ourselves, those around us and the world for mutual benefit.  Yoga translates roughly from the Sanskrit “yog” as ‘yoking’ or tying together.

The practise of yoga aims to tie together our body, our mind and the other bit… soul, atman, consciousness… that science can’t explain. A bit like water, milk and coffee combine to make a perfect latte.

Yoga helps you do this through movement and breathing – Asana and Pranayama.  Pilates classes train you towards outcomes – push you to achieve new things with your body,  Whereas, Yoga, doesn’t care what you can do with your body.

In Yoga, we use our bodies to observe our response to challenge.  To find a more peaceful relationship with ourselves and the world around us And to be mindful of the way we react to challenges.

That might make it sound like it’s all about challenge. It’s not. 

If you are still unsure which class – Pilates or Yoga – is right for you, call into the studio and have a chat to one of the instructors.


How do I maintain my strength over a break?

The question: how can I maintain my strength over a break?

The workout below focuses on two moves and two moves only.

  • The Turkish Get Up
  • Swing

Hang on a second, where are the squats, deadlifts, push-ups amongst others? Do these two exercises really cross those barriers and help me maintain my gains?

First of all Yes! Secondly… they’ll give you a whole lot more for free 🙂

As some of you may now, Pavel Tsatsouline was the man responsible for popularising the kettlebell in America.

He had a long time relationship with the DragonDoor but a few years ago broke away and started, StrongFirst. His most recent book is titled “Simple and Sinister”.  It details his new version of Program Minimum, the updated version of the programming he described in the earlier “Enter the Kettlebell” book.

Throughout the StrongFirst community, there are thousands of people globally who repeat this workout daily to keep fit and strong.  From Navy Seals Special Forces to mere mortals like you and I.

Personally speaking, if I have to choose one work out to complete most days to get me bang for my buck, it would be Program Minimum.

Equipment Required – Two Kettlebells.  You can grab these second hand for around $100.

Don’t worry about getting anything fancy, just get something that does the job. An old dumbbell works, although not as ideal as the main weight isn’t positioned over the wrist but we work with what we have. If you do choose to buy a couple of kettlebells then remember, these are legacy items, they will outlive you so as far as I see, your purchase will be a worthy investment.

The workout.

  • Starting weights – the creator recommended 16kg for an “average strength” man and 8kg for a woman. 
  • Workout frequency – from 1-4x per week
  • Warmup 
    • 10 minutes of bodyweight squats facing a wall
    • “pump” stretches – a combo downward dog/hip flexor stretch)
    • “halos” – kettlebell passes around the head to warm up the shoulder
    • Nothing fancy, the actual program is minimal impact
  • Swing workout 
    • 12 minutes, sets of swings
    • “active rest” between sets.  Try jogging, pushups, pull ups, planks, etc)
    • The number of reps and sets is not specified and is left to the individual.
  • Get Up workout – 5 minutes of continuous getups, alternating sides, no rest. Don’t count reps.

Eventually, you will graduate to the RKC “Rite of Passage” which incorporates snatches, clean & press, and complex rep schemes like ladders and randomisation.  I have been coaching these in the HIT sessions but for now, just increase the intensity through time spent on the exercises.

What the above represents is a HARD continuous 30-minute workout. Our warm-up strives for a perfect squat pattern.  The kettlebell swing section works our deadlift movement.  Our Get Up practice will build raw strength and keep mobility high.

For those that are looking at the workout thinking it looks easy.  If you can increase the intensity of the workout while maintaining quality reps, the above can be devastatingly effective.

Need some more tips on Strength training?  Check out this blog.


Get ready to measure your end-of-term benchmark!

It’s time for end-of-term benchmarking!

For those of you that have been to the HIT sessions from the beginning, you’ll know that I favour kettlebells. There are a few reasons why I use them as my main training tool:

  • Full-body conditioning – the body learns to work as one unit linked strongly together
  • Big results in less time – kettlebell training involves multiple muscle groups and energy systems at once
  • Increased resistance to injury – strengthening the posterior chain of muscle, stabilises shoulders, spine and hips
  • The ability to work aerobically and anaerobically simultaneously – more bang for your buck
  • Improved mobility and range of motion
  • Enhanced performance in athletics and everyday functioning
  • Major calorie burning and exercise post oxygen consumption – contributes to increased metabolic rate, assisting fat loss/maintenance

My teaching, research, and training over the last 5 years has produced a training program, focusing on the “vital few” movements.

I have a similar approach to Strength Training and have written about this in previous blogs

At the end of this term, and every term we’re going to offer you the ability to benchmark yourself against the first of 5 Levels of Kettlebell proficiency that I’ve developed in that time. 

Here’s what Level 1 looks like…..

  • 500 kettlebell swings.
    • Time limit: 45mins
    • 16kg KB for females,  24kg KB for males
    • Your 500 swings is made up of the following, repeated 5 times:
      • 50 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 25 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 15 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
      • 10 swings + 3 pull ups, 6 push ups,  9 air squats
  • Modified “Enter the Kettlebell”
    • Time limit: 45 mins
    • 16kg KB for females,  24kg KB for males
    • Your time is made up of the following, repeated 5 times:
      • 5 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 5 pull-ups
      • 4 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 4 pull-ups
      • 3 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 3 pull-ups
      • 2 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 2 pull-ups
      • 1 x Clean, squat and press L+R  plus 1 pull-up

For some,  the completion of the above will represent three months hard practice, for others, it may take a year.

As long as you train consistently, manage your rest breaks as required and keep mentally sharp, the length of the journey becomes irrelevant. The results come from turning up and training hard.

We can extract certain components such as technique, endurance, certain movements, mobility, mental focus etc but in all honestly, just do it.

Everything you need for a strong body and good fitness is in the above: Vertical pull, vertical push, ballistic hinge, squat, bodyweight work, endurance, strength. You name it, it’s there.

So for the remainder of term one, we will continue to practice the basics as that’s where 90% of our gains are going to be made.  We’ll benchmark you at regular intervals to measure your personal progress.

 

 


Analysis of a Kettlebell Session

 

A White Dog kettlebell session can be summed up as follows. 

“I want results, I want to work fast and want my body to experience physical stress in a controlled and manner”.

I use kettlebells a lot!

They are easy to coach.  They can be punishing IF you choose the right weight.  And they are versatile as you can swing, push, press and squat them!

I use 3 main concepts when writing kettlebell sessions for the term.  The following will give you an insight into how I lay the foundations:

Complexes – Chains – Ladders

COMPLEX Kettlebell Session is a series of exercises performed in a sequence with the same weight and without rest.

All reps of an exercise are performed BEFORE moving on to the next exercise.

Ten each of the following with a Double kettlebell is a great example.

  • Swing
  • Snatch
  • Squat
  • Push press 

Rinse, repeat until thoroughly exhausted. Complete the above workout multiple times with adequate rest periods after each set.

CHAIN Kettlebell Session is a series of exercises performed sequentially.  The difference is that you perform only one rep of each exercise before starting the sequence over again.

One rep is counted each time the sequence of exercises is performed.

Example:

  • Clean
  • Offset squat
  • Drop lunge+press
  • Offset squat
  • Change arm, cycle and repeat for 10 reps total (5 each arm)

Typically, we’d be pushing the above cycle for a set period of time, say 8 minutes trying to achieve as many reps as possible with impeccable form.

This is what I call an AMTAP. As Much Technique As Possible and is the antithesis to the infamous AMRAP workouts that are so pervasive in the HIT community at present. R=reps.

LADDER Kettlebell Session is used with an exercise and you add a rep for each rung of the ladder.

Clean and press example: You do 1 rep with the left and then switch hands and do one with the right. That would be the first rung of the ladder. Then do 2 with the left and then 2 with the right = rung 2. You can do 5+ rung ladders and multiple ladders

The best example of a ladder is Rite of Passage workout that I am a big fan of. Just google.  

Tone down or jack up a simple push/pull workout three times a week.  This allows you to workout depending on skill and energy levels that day.

It’s a combination of two moves, a Clean & Press and chin ups. Two moves performed in ladders with compressed rest intervals. Simple, brutal and effective. ROP is the definitive staple of my sessions delivery in HIT as it’s been around a long time and has a whole community devoted to it and offering modifications and progressions where needed.

For those of you already doing a kettlebell session at White Dog, I hope that helps you to understand what you’re doing in class.

For anyone not signed up, it might help you make the decision to give them a go. My sessions aren’t the usual bootcamp-esque workouts completed to the voice of the drill sergeant.

If I had to sum up a White Dog kettlebell session in 10 words… “Body conditioning through intense strength based movements, requiring mental fortitude”.


Comparison is the thief of joy in lifting

A comparison is the thief of joy in lifting so remember you are tracking your own individual numbers and targets so don’t be concerned if others are lifting heavier than you. We’re all different and have different strengths and weaknesses! Focus on you own lifting: we’re working on individual goals, this isn’t a team sport. 

 

 

As we will all be on-ramping and focusing on technique, our benchmarking won’t be done until the last week of term where everyone will walk away with a ‘score’ covering multiple exercises and will be used as a target for the end of the second term. This score will also give you clear areas to focus on. We won’t be setting targets at the start of term as you generally see your greatest and fastest improvements in that period. It’s only when we reach our plateau that we set short and long-term goals. 

Please remember to come fuelled for the sessions. A light meal 90 mins before and please drink water throughout. Be aware that muscles get stronger while in a recovery period, so your recovery should include adequate sleep, low-stress levels where possible :-), and suitable intake of nutrients such as fats, protein and carbohydrates. 

For even more tips, check out our blog How to Make progress in Strength Training


What is relative strength?

By definition, relative strength is the strength of an individual relative to their bodyweight – for instance being able to squat double your bodyweight.

Being big AND strong is a common relationship, but it’s not always true that big equals strong. 

Having overly big muscles is what I refer to as redundant muscle mass: “What do you need that for anyway?”. If you weigh a lot and are able to lift a lot it does not mean you are functionally fit. Functionally fit means you are able to lift a lot for your size and also more efficiently. So having a higher strength to weight ratio is highly effective and functional in the real world.

For most beginners, your focus should be on improving your relative strength and this is best done by lifting heavier loads.

Focus on the big compound movements which use the most muscle  – squats, deadlifts, bench press – and allow you to use the most load. 

As a general rule, things to bear in mind:

  • Eat like a track and field athlete or gymnast, not a body builder. This means eating the calories your body needs, not excess.
  • Train with low repetitions, like a range of about 1-5 reps per set. Training with low reps produces a response more conducive to neurological strength gain as opposed to muscle size gain.
  • Rest a lot between sets. Give the body time to recover and replenish creatine stores before attempting subsequent maximal efforts. This takes about 5 minutes.
  • Perform compound, free weight movements in order to recruit the maximum possible number of motor units. This produces neuro-endocrine responses that contribute to higher maximum strength.
  • Perform maximal strength training infrequently. This means giving the body a lot of rest between strength workouts.
  • Ensure the strength training is relevant. The movements chosen will be most effective if they are specific to the movements you want to actually get stronger at. This transfers over into the real task much more readily.

That’s a basic rundown of relative strength training. Transferred into a wider range of tasks than absolute strength, it’s not only an efficient way to train but produces tangible, efficient results.