Restore: The Bodyweight Strength Program




Question:  I’ve heard it mentioned a few times in this program to “draw the shoulders down away from the ears.” Or to “pack the shoulders.” What does this mean? Why should I do it? 

Coach Al’s Answer: Both of these terms/phrases mean to activate or “fire” the larger muscles of the mid-back, especially the biggest – the latissimus dorsi, to better holistically integrate that muscle into the movement being done.

The action of drawing the shoulders down, makes this happen! We can also create a similar action by “pinching” the shoulder blades together.

Remember, no part of the body ever functions in isolation – and this is particularly true when we’re talking about the muscles of our trunk/core and hip girdle. In fact, if there’s one word I MIGHT use more than any other, especially when giving exercise instruction, it’s INTEGRATION.

To learn more, listen and watch this video. It will help!

Question: The upper body exercises seem a lot harder than the lower body exercises. Can you explain why?

Coach Al’s Answer: This is a common response from a lot of endurance athletes, who naturally bring much more lower-body strength to this program, then upper body strength. As runners or triathletes or cyclists, we just don’t do MUCH upper body or trunk training!

This is definitely one reason for the slightly higher focus on trunk stability and strength in this program – to create a more holistic and better-balanced frame for athletes who typically DON’T do much trunk work.

That being said, the Table Bridge and Calf Raise are hard exercises to do correctly and well, and at the same time, they are relatively easy to get started with.

The bottom line: each person is different and will have different responses to the training. Some have a much stronger lower body, and some have a stronger upper body (although as mentioned, this is rare in an endurance athlete population).

Question: Coach Al, in your opinion, what is the single biggest thing about this program that most athletes overlook or don’t pay enough attention to, as they progress?

Coach Al’s Answer: That’s a fantastic question and it’s worth a deep dive response.

The simple answer is most athletes don’t really embrace what it means to go to temporary, but complete, muscular failure. To really go as far as they are truly capable with each set.

And to some degree, it’s understandable. We rarely ever do this in any kind of training we do. In some instances, we’re taught NOT to go to failure. But the truth is, AS LONG AS YOU DO IT LIKE I TELL YOU TO, it’s very safe. And it’s when you take it to the true end-point, that the gains can really be made.

The take-home? Be ready to work, really really hard.

1. Understand why you are doing what you’re doing, and be ready to work.

One thing I’m always reminding myself of is that my body instinctively HATES the process I’m putting it through, and only when I thoroughly understand (and then embrace) what the actual purpose is, in why I am training this way, can I maintain the mental focus that is required, so that I can impose the stimulus that is necessary to produce the response I desire.

And why are we doing what we’re doing? I guess it could be summarized by saying that we are trying to contact against the resistance in a fashion that produces a maximum weakening of the muscles we’re training.

Be ready to train to absolute failure.

2. Make sure to truly train to muscular failure.

This isn’t easy, and from my point of view, is the area or element that most can improve in.

Being able to do this takes time and it takes practice.  It takes time to learn how to push yourself to this point.

Many mistake the sensation of discomfort or a slowing down in contraction speed or the first mild burning sensation, for failure.

It’s not.

This feeling can make some feel anxious. You worry something bad is about to happen. Consequently, it is at this point that many stop what they’re doing.

You’ve got to learn to LIVE IN THIS ZONE of discomfort and embrace the unpleasantness of it all, for as long as you can. You’ve got to dig deep.

It’s completely natural that when failure IS truly reached, you will not be calm, you will be desperately attempting to move your body into that last repetition.

It’s important to remember this is nothing to be panicky about, it’s a natural process of deep muscular fatigue.

3. Fight the temptation to unload your body and muscles by pushing quicker, pausing or resting for a moment, and pushing quickly again.

Don’t do this. It only results in a slight rest for the muscles and delays your ability to progress to a higher level of strength.

If you don’t train very hard, you won’t give your body the impetus it needs to adapt and change, it’s that simple.

Question: When I’m getting toward the end of a set and really feeling fatigue, I sometimes shake or feeling like I’m trembling. It definitely happens more when I really push myself or when I’m doing an exercise I’m not especially good at.

Is this “trembling” normal or should I be concerned something is wrong?

Coach Al’s Answer: 

Ah yes, my friend, I call that little shakiness, the “tremor of truth.”  I hope that little phrase sticks with you because you are likely to experience if often if you approach this program the way I’m telling you to.

First, assuming it is what I think it is (you should always seek medical advice IF YOU EVER have any doubts, just to be sure) …it is nothing to be “concerned about.” It is a normal reaction to you pushing yourself!

So what’s actually happening? 

The feeling of shaking or twitching during this really intense exercise is actually a result of something that in engineering circles, is referred to as “pulse modulation.”

When you are working really hard and recruiting motor units to do that work, NOT all of the motor units engage at once.

Rather, they are recruited in a rapid and alternating fashion.

When you are doing some kind of activity that is below the threshold of maximum intensity, only a percentage of motor units are being recruited. As the intensity rises, as the demand for a particular movement or exercise rises, more of those motor units are recruited, but it doesn’t happen in an orderly fashion.

Some might be “on,” and some might be “off.”  As one or some fatigue, others are recruited.

The analogy I always think of is a car’s engine and how pistons inside of cylinders fire. When the rpms of the engine are high enough, the engine runs very smoothly even as each piston is firing at a different time.  But if one piston were to not fire exactly as it should, the engine would run rough, not smooth.

Same thing happens in your muscles, the motor units fire in an alternating fashion like the pistons, but as you fatigue some motor units drop out, creating this pulse modulation.

Think of it this way: imagine you are fresh, starting your first repetition, and you’ve got 10, 000 motor units all ready to contribute. As you fatigue, that number during that last repetition might drop to 50 motor units, which is too few to “smooth out the contraction.”

The shaking or tremor is basically the biological equivalent of the pulse modulation of the car engine when it is running roughly.

Bottom line? The presence of this “tremor of truth” is a great indication that you are training at the level of effort necessary to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to stimulate a positive adaptive response. It is nothing to be avoided or worried about.