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Strength and Conditioning

 

Six Ways to Become “Formidable” In Your Training (and Life)

 

I have thought about this for a while: If someone were to watch me train or compete, how would I like them to describe me? The word that comes to mind most often: FORMIDABLE.

Being characterized as “formidable” is a fantastic objective for someone who trains seriously. Formidable gets a nod from big guys in the gym. It also gets extended glances from beginning, intermediate and even advanced trainees. Formidable exudes vigor, competence, grace, as well as competence. Formidable gets doors held open and asked to dance by women. Yes, formidable is pretty cool.

Formidable, by definition (via Dictonary.com), is, among other things: 

 

 

1. of discouraging or awesome strength, size, difficulty.

2. Arousing feelings of awe or admiration because of grandeur, strength.

3. Causing fear, apprehension, or dread.

 

I personally could live without number 3; but if I happen to be riding a subway alone late at night like in Death Wish, I guess this is o.k.

And while it is a great goal to strive for, training to be formidable involves having a solid plan grounded in the basics of strength, conditioning and mobility. Remember, formidable doesn’t mean hardcore or dogmatic; rather it is the culmination of a smartly designed program progressed gradually and constantly over time.

If you haven’t been formidable in a while, it’s time to step up and regain it. Below are outlined six simple steps to reclaim the physiological, biomechanical and neuromuscular assets that allow a person to be truly formidable.

Learn how to do a proper bodyweight squat, push up, and chin up. These are the Holy Trinity of strength movements for all people, regardless of age (and please cease with the ubiquitous “but I never did a chin up”- get some mini bands get competent instruction and get after it!) Take time to master these movements before passing “Go” and collecting $200. They set the tone for all other exercises to be learned and are imperative in ANY strength training program, either basic or advanced. If in doubt on the performance of these, get help ASAP.

Keep your hips mobile and your spine stable. This is the mantra both for optimal physical performance, as well as minimizing the risk of pain and injury below your sternum. Good hip mobility in all planes of motion (with appropriate spine stability) are the keys to the kingdom in terms of great lower extremity function from squatting to sprinting to jumping.

My hurdle mobility series is a fantastic start-I came up with it for myself and use it with great success for all my patients-in linking progressive hip mobility with lumbar spine stability.

The Warm Up Equation: 20 minutes minimum, plus 10 minutes per decade after age 20. Pretty simple here: if you are 21 years old, your warm up should be 20 minutes in duration, progressively increasing in intensity every 5 minutes. If you are 30 years old, you should spend 30 minutes progressively, steadily building up before the days’ hardest work is performed.

I can already hear it from the masses: “…but I only have an hour at the gym-including a shower!” Well, my idea of a warm up is more than likely harder than your current training and is probably more shower worthy! Warm up should prepare you for hard work, and the only way to do this is to stay just on the other side of “hard” as you warm up. Minute 30 should look vastly different from minute 10 and should appear to the outsider to be legitimate training, which of course it is. Once you finish that last minute, the rest of your training session should have you moving like a bullet train near top speed.

Stand and Sit, Push, Pull, Lift and Place Down, Repeat: Basic movement patterns never go out of style. Vertical push variations such as the overhead press (as long as your shoulders and thoracic spine are capable), vertical pulls (chin ups/pull ups), squatting patterns (front, back, and single leg), horizontal pushes (the aforementioned push up, as well as bench press variations), horizontal pulls (body rows and lever combinations) and appropriate barbell/ dumbbell exercises are all varying degrees of excellent. Ground pull variations round things out (trap/straight bar deadlifts, single leg deadlifts), just like the guy in the Planet Fitness commercial discusses in detail (‘lift things up and put them down!”).

Start with high sets and low repetitions to cement appropriate neural pathways and “grease the groove” of the exercise. As technical excellence is achieved, progress to different set and rep schemes to challenge varying strength parameters.

Yes, Interval Training Should Be Performed (but it should be approached similarly to the warm up): That is, gradual and progressive in intensity over the course of a session. Starting with a 45 second interval with a 20 second rest for 20 consecutive sets (unless you are a Cross Fit games medalist) is a gateway to failure. However, to someone new to interval training, a 20 second /40 second work/ rest ration can be daunting as well. Best bets are intervals less than 25-30 seconds to start, rest times greater than or equal to work times for 5-10 repetitions to start for beginners. After a few weeks of progressing in this manner, more brutal intervals and combinations will be tolerated much better, and quite possibly even enjoyed. I always like time over reps, as the clock doesn’t lie.

What should you use for interval training? I prefer the Versaclimber and Concept 2 rower personally, but any whole body movement with and implement (battling rope, kettlebell, sledgehammer-you get the point) is best. An implement adds to the “X-factor” in improving stability, coordination, timing and rhythm during interval training. Rotate implements as often as you are able to maximally challenge motor patterns, anaerobic tolerance and peripheral muscular endurance maximally.

All People of All Ages Have The Right and the Ability to Run Fast: I believe fast running, i.e. sprinting, is a skill that adults forfeit much too readily, with most opting for a succession of death marches from 5K through the marathon in the name of staying physically fit over the lifespan. Sprinting is the fountain of youth, and among the most exhilarating training activities you can experience.

A truly empowering skill, running at your own personal top speed in a machine-like manner with a musculoskeletal system that is balanced, powerful and explosive is just plain awesome, and has to be experienced to be appreciated. Regaining the ability to run fast again is the culmination of putting in time and effort in the five previously mentioned areas, and is the icing on the cake of a job well done, but still in progress.

Putting It All Together

 

Striving to be formidable is a noble goal for anyone to achieve, and it is easily in the grasp of the person willing to put in the effort. Starting with the basics as outlined above and progressing gradually and smartly will allow you to feel physically and physiologically relevant again, with strength, mobility and stamina.

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