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Charlie Martin, Late-Blooming Athlete: Week 3 — Yoga, Without the Yoga

If you enjoy yoga, fine. But mastering these two functional movements is easier on your wallet and your schedule.

David Steinberg


February 19, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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(See Week One, and Week Two. The key passage:

The majority of activities people are accustomed to doing at a gym are neither efficient means of getting fitter nor particularly safe. A typical trainer at a typical gym is now a terrible investment, both for your fitness level and because elite-level training information is freely available online. There is no substitute for an actual qualified trainer at a quality gym, both in instruction and motivation, yet you can do great things for yourself on your own, with a computer. Charlie’s PJ Lifestyle entries strike me as a good opportunity to demonstrate this; he’s agreed to be somewhat of a lab rat.)


Last week I preached the Gospel of the Squat, the movement that: a) would save humanity from much lower back and knee dysfunction; b) would be as familiar as running (which most of us do incorrectly as well) without our cultural reliance on butt-sitting; and c) done exclusively as an exercise program, would just about suffice to make you fit without trying any other exercise. This week, I’m moving on to …

Nah, I’m going to talk about squats more.

But different squats: these next two movements are as genetically determined as the Air Squat, but include the added dimension of things, which people are designed to handle. Your frame is built to carry external objects, a necessary survival function. For an opposing example, look at, say, a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Those little arms were vestigial, not intended to do much of anything. You, however, are made to hold stuff.

The Air Squat is how a human raises and lowers his center of gravity. Our new exercises:

1. The Front Squat is how a human raises and lowers his center of gravity while holding an object in front of him, like a slaughtered antelope, or a laundry basket.

2. The Overhead Squat is how a human would do the same with an object overhead. It happens less often, but your shoulder girdle is specifically built to handle weight overhead.

(Also, there is the Back Squat, which most are familiar with. You can handle the most weight with the Back Squat; it is the best movement of the three for building strength. Technique-wise, though, it is essentially the same as the Air Squat, which we’ve already discussed. Also, it is the least likely position that a human would be holding weight, since the arms are mostly out of the picture.)

The benefits of the Front Squat and the Overhead Squat extend far beyond strength. Most fascinating to me: the movements themselves provide elegant, circular answers to questions regarding balance and mobility. (Most use the term “flexibility”. “Mobility” is more accurate as it implies a purpose for having flexibility).

The specific questions which the Front and Overhead Squats answer, by merely existing:

Why should I get more mobility?

How much mobility do I need?

Why do I need to get better balance?

How much balance do I need?

If balance and mobility are important, what is the best way to get there?

Over the past couple decades, yoga — and to a slightly lesser extent, Pilates — gained the upper hand as gold standard exercise activity for gaining balance and mobility. Why? Well, because being good at yoga and Pilates requires lots of balance and mobility, and doing yoga and Pilates will give you better balance and mobility.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that being good at yoga and Pilates essentially means only that: you are good at yoga and Pilates.

As mentioned in Week Two, fitness is — among other things — about being prepared for whatever life throws at a human body, which is why a human body looks like a human body to begin with, and not like a platypus.

You don’t have legs so that they can get into Warrior Three pose. Warrior Three pose is just something you happen to be able to get into.

This is not an indictment of yoga and Pilates — indeed, I could make the same argument regarding throwing a baseball, and I would never imply that throwing a baseball is a pointless activity. (Even thinking that makes me a bit sad.) What I’m implying is that yoga and Pilates and baseball should all be thought of as sports, as part of an active life, and not as activities to get you fit.

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All Comments   (10)
All Comments   (10)
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Thank you Charlie for your courage and commitment to posting this. I'm inspired and getting going again myself.
Thanks David for the insight on functional movement. Makes a lot of sense and keeps it simple. Doing this too, now,
and thanks to PJM, for hosting all this - I love how so many ideas and useful memes come together in one place online.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Charlie M. is a self-described barrel chested, overweight, aging man . Thorax growth pattern from age ~5-10 did not elongate with lower rib cage as males normally do. His thorax development was more like the lesser elongating age mate female thorax. The adolescent gender difference is to grow skeleton in way that will offset the normally larger female pelvis torque put out when adult women walk.
Without knowing Charlie M's pelvic proportion I can only surmise he either is over-ballasted top-side in the barrel thorax on a narrow male pelvis, or, if he has a large pelvis for a male then has better stability when his pelvis moves through space. I further speculate, from his self explained "always been barrel chested", he may have spinal column torsion since his youth's development days & this compounds center of gravity balance.
Native people hunkering down (& up) doing tasks is not the same as
training with nicely balanced, left & right side, weights. And, even in natives, notable gut obesity puts a front load on the spine shifting the mechanical equation as one squats.
Be aware that pharmaceutical drugs can leave one, especially with age, unsteady & prone to incline "falling" forward. Obese abdominal fat complicates drug clearance as does rate kidney (Type2 diabetics) can excrete metabolites. Look to see if anti-cholinergic drugs are being taken. Common examples are things to stop one from "going, & going & going" (ex: Ditropan-TM) & also for nausea side effects (ex: Dramamine-TM).
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Good article in general, especially for people new to training. I do have some criticisms, though.

I'm not in love with the overhead squat. It's really not something that you need to do unless as an assistance movement for the snatch. It's a pretty technical exercise, with lots of room for error and injury and is has rather daunting low back and shoulder flexibility requirements. If you must do it, you're probably better off doing it with kettlebells directly overhead rather than a barbell with the snatch (the wide hand position). The other problem is, of course, loading.

I don't want to get into it too much, but there are significant problems with safety and programming in Crossfit. It's a very good system for building general work capacity and it seems, overall, to better for women (they respond better to higher reps than men). But, generally, high-rep O-lifts in a fatigued state have far too great a risk of injury for me.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
"it seems, overall, to better for women (they respond better to higher reps than men)"

The idea that some movements and rep schemes "work better" for men or women has no basis in fact.

"It's a pretty technical exercise, with lots of room for error and injury and is has rather daunting low back and shoulder flexibility requirements."

Which is why CrossFit teaches athletes to begin with a PVC pipe or broom stick and add weight gradually.

"If you must do it, you're probably better off doing it with kettlebells"

Performed properly, and overhead squat with dumbbells or kettlebells requires MORE flexibility and balance than one performed with a bar bell, not less. That makes it MORE difficult, not less.

The overhead squat is an excellent movement because it simultaneously trains strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. If you’re not doing it, you’re missing out.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
You're a member of the Crossfit cult, I suppose. My condolences.

Starting with a broomstick is the standard O-lifting pedagogy. Everyone does that. Glassman didn't invent it.

It's actually pretty well established that women respond better to volume than men. Women tend to be able to get more reps a higher percentage of their 1RM than men. I don't feel like looking up the cites, but it's true. (IIRC it has to do with their typical fast/slow twitch fiber ratio).

I'd rather teach someone to low-bar back squat than overhead squat. It's vastly superior exercise for many, many reasons. For squatting, the general bang for your buck goes something like this: low bar back squat > high bar (Olympic) back squat > front squat >overhead squat. You'll notice that's also generally the order of maximal loading.

I meant the two kettlebell version of the overhead squat. Or just do goblet squats. The primary issue here is shoulder stability.

I know how to do overhead squats and have done them. But I wouldn't recommend it as the core of a lifting program. Back squats are a far, far superior exercise. Besides, if someone can do a proper OHS, they're going to be snatching pretty soon--a vastly superior exercise.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
"You're a member of the Crossfit cult"

Ah yes. The "cult" canard, which allows detractors to immediately stop thinking, similar to how "Liberals" use the words "racist" and "homophobe".

"Starting with a broomstick is the standard O-lifting pedagogy. Everyone does that. Glassman didn't invent it."

If you can point to where I stated that Glassman invented it, do so. If not, you just created a straw man.

"Women tend to be able to get more reps a higher percentage of their 1RM than men."

The fact that the average woman can do more repetitions at a higher percentage of their 1RM doesn't change the fact that higher weight and lower reps leads to more strength and lower weight with higher reps leads to more stamina regardless of sex.

Furthermore, CrossFit programming includes both high and low rep scheme workout. On top of that, there exist sites such as CrossFit Football and CrossFit Strongman, which are biased more toward strength and power, CrossFit Gymnastics, which is biased more toward agility, balance and flexibility, and CrossFit Endurance, which is biased toward endurance events. One can pick from any of them depending on the desired effect. And on top of that, any good CrossFit coach can program workouts to fit an individual's needs.

"I meant the two kettlebell version of the overhead squat."

I know what you meant. And as David stated, the two kettlebell version is more difficult than the barbell version.

"Or just do goblet squats."

Now you're referencing a movement that in no way resembles the OHS. The goblet squat is a type of front squat.

"The primary issue here is shoulder stability."

No kidding. The OHS will help with that as long as you scale it to individual ability.

"Back squats are a far, far superior exercise."

Not for training flexibility, balance and coordination. Why not do both?

"Besides, if someone can do a proper OHS, they're going to be snatching pretty soon--a vastly superior exercise."

The OHS is one of the many lifts Olympic lifters use to improve on the snatch, so claiming that one shouldn't do the OHS because they can do the snatch instead is nonsense.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I would have responded much as Oscar S. did above (of course, I hope nothing I say is taken as confrontational, just like to talk fitness.) I'll add to Oscar's comment that the OHS requires no more lower back flexibility than standing.

The two kettlebell overhead squat is a very advanced movement requiring much more shoulder mobility than the snatch grip. Frankly, I can't do it yet. Kelly Starrett recently posted a video with him trying to get his advanced athletes to gain some capacity with it.

The back squat is a superior exercise ... for what? Definitely for strength. As this post focused on, the OHS is king for balance and flexibility, it's about as much of each that a person needs to be fit.

The snatch, "the world's fastest lift", is superior for power, speed, some other things. But a person can always OHS more than their snatch, so it's always going to be useful, and remains a core functional movement. If you only snatch, you will be less fit than if you also OHS.

As for the "Crossfit cult": yeah, we never shut up about it. But we'll be glad to shut up about it when another program produces someone who can compete with Rich Froning.

2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
This is my cult intervention moment, and then I'm done: Crossfit sucks. The entire programming theory of it is terrible from beginning to end--the novice effect doesn't last forever. It's also an injury factory (hello, SLAP tears). You seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid. So be it. But this isn't just my opinion. Some examples:
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Thanks for reinforcing your “cult” insult with yet more insults. When your “logic” and “eloquence” amounts to “____ sucks”, it pretty much says everything one needs to know about the amount of thought you’ve put into formulating your opinion.

Also, thanks for backing your opinion with others’ opinions. That’s always helpful.

And thanks for refusing to address every single one of the points I made above. There’s no better admission of ignorance and defeat in debate.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Excellent stuff - check out I am a retired rugby player so I needed something to fix my back and drop the pounds...I am now down to 195# from 250#, flexible and strong. Great ability in the weight room as well.
Keep up your good work!
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
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