Into the Wild: Call of the Todd Style

A friend of mine is getting a travelling job that will take him to the place where life has no warning label and everything can seemingly kill you: Alaska. Specifically it will take him to a remote section of Alaska where he might not have any access to a real gym or limited access at that. So our idea is with only having a weight vest and maybe a sandbag or two what type of training program can we put together for him to keep his strength up (and be awesome).

My first recommendation was to just go up there and fight bears, but that might be a bit imbalanced on the risk/reward ratio. So the goal now will be to put together a program that will test him and allow him to still make progress without the use of barbells as frequently as would be preferred. When he does get a chance to lift weights in a gym his goal should be to train total body, and specifically hit some squats and presses and see what other volume that he can get in with bar weight when he can. For the rest of the time here is what I would suggest:

Lifting days:

Day 1: Total body strength

With the vest on and any other extra weight he has available he does squats, push ups, and pullups. With the goal of; when he manages a solid set of ten then he starts to try and add in more resistance. Once he maxes out the resistance that he has available then it is time to keep adding reps. If the number gets above 20 then maybe try and find a harder variation like; handstand push ups, dips, one arm pull ups, or single leg squats (pistol squats). Aim to use simple progressive resistance on this with warming up with bodyweight and then add a little more each set. Hit a top set each day and then back down with sets of ten, or cut down to 60-70% of your highest external load and then hit 3-5 sets of 10 reps.

Day 2: work capacity circuit

Start with the light vest on and do a set of pushups, then perform walking lunges (ten on each leg) to the pull up bar, or body weight low rows bar and do a set, then  lunge over and do a set of sit ups followed again by push ups and repeat this circuit for half an hour. Take and track how many reps on each exercise you can get. Don’t worry about adding weight, in fact for the first few times just do this with bodyweight.

Day 3: Do fun stuff

Find an upper body push, upper body pull, lower body, and ab exercise and have at getting better at it. This could be one arm push ups, muscle ups, Bulgarian split squats, and dragon flags. Aim to get up to ten solid reps of each exercise and when you get to that point it is time to add resistance. The idea is to give yourself a challenge and have fun with it. Figure you are going to do at least 6 sets of each exercise with a top end of 20 sets. Quality trumps quantity here. Aim to do the best on each rep of every set. This is why you might end up doing 20 sets of 3 as opposed to 6 sets of 10 sloppy reps.

Conditioning days:

Day 1: Take a hike

You are in Alaska, freaking hike around and take in the sights while you can. Just go for long distance out there in the awesome and cover some serious ground (hike five miles at a minimum). Each time try to vary up where you go, but aim to at least power walk it so you are getting in some actually conditioning by doing it. Also keep a knife with you or otherwise to defend yourself.

For protection while hiking. Picture credit to Lauren Lane

Day 2: Run hills

Pretty simple, find a decent hill and run up it. Then walk back down it and repeat that again. Do this enough that you feel you have rationalized your existence for the day. Also feel free to do variations like bear crawl forwards and backwards, lunge, back pedal, slide, and crabwalk for the real masochist. For the first workout aim for 10 total hills and then try to slowly add in a few more reps each time you go out there. Also feel free to cycle between a long hill (100-400 yards) and a short hill (20-50 yards).

Day 3: Encumbered hiking

Do a shorter version of what you did on day one, now go hiking with your weight vest on. Aim to go out there for half an hour to an hour. You do this at the end of the week and not only will you get more fresh air and get to see more scenery, but get in better shape and conditioning especially in your traps and core. Go for time on this not distance like before.

Wrap up

Alternate between conditioning days and strength days through the week. Feel free to do both on the same day, but in that case strength first before training conditioning. So after these days of training take one day each week where you just relax, or go for an easy hike. Do be sure that you are hitting a good warm up before you start doing anything heavy and keep enjoying the great outdoors. Also, don’t fight bears, well if you do be sure that you have a solid living will. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions as always leave comment.


Have belt will travel: Louisville – Self Built Fitness

This past weekend my wife and I went to Louisville since we both had work stuff to do there. While there I texted an old student of the EKU fitness/wellness program if I could come train at his gym. He has opened his own facility that is nice. I thoroughly enjoy the fact that each time I visit he adds more equipment and has been very ingenuitive about building his own equipment. He was kind enough to tell me that he had a client, but I could come by after to train. So I pull up to self built fitness at about noon. I step up to the gym and Cam is doing a little cleaning in there before we get started.

The gym

The gym is nice and efficient, Cam has built his own squat rack, platform, and jerk blocks. In addition he has a good oly bar, power bar, and a number of extra straight bars. In the back yard he has set up a rope to climb, rings, pull up bars, dip handles, and an outdoor squat rack. He has a few other pieces in there, but for sure has all of the basics taken care of. He runs all of this out of an unattached two car garage and some property around it. I enjoy the fact that each time I go there he has added something new to his gym either by making it himself or purchasing more equipment.


Cam is now training is Olympic lifting so on that day he was doing snatch. I hopped in with him and as usual my technique was optional. Let’s just say that it had been a while since I had snatched and as usual my technique showed it. On a good note with my lifting I managed to hit 90% of my PR in the movement without having trained it in a few months and with having still working my way back from my concussion. Cam managed to tie his previous PR and then hit a PR of 195. He tried one above, but his technique was breaking down so he moved on after. For now he needs to work on not letting the bar get out in front of him and keeping it in close. This happens to lifters when they start to snatch at and above bodyweight since, the weight now outweighs you. So when the bar gets too far away from you there is no chance to save it without having to sprint after it.


After that he did some Olympic lift assistance along with squatting while I enjoyed his rope and ring set up outside. It was a good workout done at a pedestrian pace so that we could chat through it about different parts of training. It is always great to take some time to talk through your own training as a way to audit your thinking and make sure that you are following a rational road map to where you want to be.

Wrap up

This was a workout that I thoroughly enjoyed with a great graduate of the major here EKU. I’m interested to see how Cam keeps building both his gym and his business with time since he is taking the right measures to build gradually without having to take on piles of debt and gets to call his own shots. If you are in Louisville (specifically the westside of town) looking for a good place to train I suggest you check out self built fitness.

Weak link and strong link sports

I recently listened to a good podcast on Freakonomics radio about the success of a not very well known soccer club in the UK. This came down to a bit of luck, but making good tactical decisions (which might not be sexy). What we first need to talk about is the difference between strong link and weak link sports:

A strong link sport is a sport where having one or two stars can carry a team to victory regardless of how bad the rest of the team is. A good example of this is basketball (which they talk about in their interview) in that one or two big stars can carry a team to a championship (think LeBron James). Notice this is for team sports, individual sports will obviously always fall to the individual for success or failure and so they need to invest heavily into themselves to be successful.

However, other sports are going to be considered weak link sports. This means that the biggest influence on your team’s success falls upon how good your worst player is. So if your worst player is better than the worst player on another team you are more likely to be successful. If your first player can’t get a pass to the next player it doesn’t matter how good your center or striker is since they won’t get the chance to take a shot. The example they discuss in the podcast is soccer (obviously), but I want to chat a bit about cheerleading on this one (I know more cheerleading), but I’ll make it more general by the end.


nationals 2016 night before
Our team, and we are only as strong as the weakest link.

In cheerleading for coed you have 16 people on the mat for competition and for all girl you have 20. For two and a half minutes you throw the most difficult skills that you have collectively as a team. What this means is that if you have a group that can double up stunts or double down, but all the other groups can only hit full ups their skills are not going to be on the mat and will be essentially wasted. So if you cheer, you have a huge incentive to increase the skills of your worst groups. For the groups that are stronger, it is still useful to increase your skills since if you can hit a double up, a full up will be easy (one spin is easier to do than double ups). For your weaker groups this is where it is important for your better athletes and groups to help them. If you make your weakest group stronger then you will have better skills on the mat and likely place higher.

The same can be said of tumbling in that if you increase those abilities of your weakest athletes now you are looking at having things like squad back tucks (standing back flips) which will help you score higher.

When it comes time to compete the most important person or group on the mat isn’t the one that hits everything perfectly, it is the one that drops a stunt or pyramid, misses a basket, or misses their tumbling.

You do want to help out your least skilled teammates get better since when you accomplish that you will in turn make your team stronger, but do keep in mind that sometimes you can coach or help too much (I’m guilty of this frequently). Just because you can coach and talk with your athlete or teammate doesn’t mean it is useful. This is because when you are trying the stunts and making mistakes you will be learning from them. So don’t over coach people even though it is easy to do.

Outside of this, think of this in the terms of who you are in whatever career you are doing. In that when it comes time for promotion or a new job role, which is more important; that you weaknesses aren’t as weak, or that your strengths are even stronger? Another way to think of this is does your position need a generalist or a specialist? Some jobs need one over the other. I work in academia, so if you want to work your way up to department chair or dean there comes a point where you need to be a better generalist. If you focus only on your teaching or research that won’t help you develop the skill sets you need for administration (maybe specializing more in service here would help progress this). In strength and conditioning in larger organizations you need specialists but in smaller organizations you might only have one or two strength coaches so you need to be a good generalist. Keep this in mind with your profession is your goal is vertical movement.

You can also apply this same logic to the groups you work with or manage. If you can bring up your average how much more effective will you be? Does helping others improve in turn take work off of you and allow you to be more productive? Since I run a very small lab at my institution the returns that I get from teaching my students how to do different lab procedures so I don’t have to run them myself allows me to do other work and gives them useful experience. However, some procedures are so involved that it isn’t worth teaching students that won’t be helping for only a semester, so there are cases where I just leave the average where it is.

So being a strong or weak link sport is a useful paradigm to work from with not only what you might compete in, but also how your profession might reward certain types of individuals to work their way further up the ladder. Thanks for taking a moment to read and if you have any questions please feel free to comment.

Have Belt Will Travel – Little Rock

This Labor Day weekend my wife and I traveled with her family to Little Rock, ArKansas for a good ol fashioned shotgun wedding. Complete with banjos, moonshine, and a creepy amount of interweaving of family trees. Just kidding about that last part. But, we did travel to the wedding. I like to train, but when I know I’m going to be on the road for a few days it becomes important to me (and my sanity) to get in some form of training. So for us we drove down on Friday (9 hours of driving), so Friday morning was a quick squatting workout in the garage gym since I knew that was something I could control. After that I’m at the mercy of the hotel gym and what happens to be nearby and economical.

The Bride with my wife over my shoulder and the Groom in the background. Thanks again for inviting us along.

When we arrived that night we went to a social for the soon to be married couple and we chatted for a few and she told me how she was going to her CrossFit gym in the morning for her last unmarried workout. She asked me if I would join and I agreed since I knew those types of gyms would have any and all of the equipment that I would hope to use. We also talked with some of her siblings and other family members that said they would join us.

7:30 am rolled around and sure enough in the lobby of the hotel was only me and the bride. With a few unanswered phone calls we then went on to the gym. We arrived as the first ones at the gym and then the owners (who were super nice people) and a number of the members that she is friends with start showing up.

Then I heard that morning was a team workout in honor of the bride (even named after her) and it would be a 30 minute AMRAP

That’s the moment when I realized that I was in too deep.

On the board they put up a workout where as a team you would:

Together: Run 400m,

15 handstand push ups or 40’ of handstand walks,

Then collectively (one works while the other rests): 8 rope climbs,

30 toes to bar,

30 box jump burpees,

30 wall balls,

30 push ups with hands of the ground in the bottom,

30 swings with a 73lbs. for guys and 53 for women,

Then repeat the circuit

After all of the acronyms were translated to me, I had but one thought. So since the bride was my partner and her own siblings abandoned her (I’m looking at your Brent). It was time to throw down. We did two full cycles of this workout with getting just a rep of the third cycle started by the time the merciful clock told us that the workout was over.

One side note that I would make is that I do my rope climbs without legs and it turns out by the time you get to rep 4 without legs you start to learn how to use your legs some since that stuff starts to get really hard.

The bride doing rope climbs. yes, I broke a basic rule of training that is to not stop the workout to take pictures, but it was her turn on the rope so I was lollygagging a bit.

I’m proud to say that my shirt stayed on for the entirety of the workout and I didn’t let the team down, though the bride really did carry the team for us. The gym owner and his partner did stay ahead of us, but we kept up with the other groups of guys and pulled ahead of a number of other groups. It was fun, in the sense of you get to feel like death and afterwards get to feel alive again.

I would like to thanks the folks at Crossfit Midpoint for letting me hop in and use their equipment for the morning which was a lot of fun for me (my only goals were to do rope climbs and dips so the handstand push ups were a bit higher the difficulty spectrum than I was planning on). The folks there were super nice and encouraging to one another especially when I was starting to feel like death due to the whole cardio portion of it. As far as a gym they do have a nice set up with all the bars and even a reverse hyper and glute ham raise which I used to lean on while trying to catch my breath. They also had a Schwinn Airdyne which is a fun but brutal along with a ski erg which I tried for a few moments and enjoyed. So overall the equipment set up was solid. Another thing worth noting again is how nice and welcoming the people there were. It is easy to make comments about crossfit technique and some folks who get pretentious about it, but this was a solid nice group of people who welcomed me in to ride on the pain train with them that morning.

After this point the bride was kind enough to drop me off at the hotel and she headed to go get ready. Later on that day I snuck in to the hotel gym and did a huge amount of arm and shoulder work with dumbbells that went up to 50lbs. The gym also had lots of cardio equipment so the following day I did a simple total body circuit  and then lots of walking around the downtown of little rock Arkansas.

So that’s my basic review of what I did for training this weekend. It was a fun time just getting to go on the road and try some training that is definitely outside of my normal comfort zone. Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or things you would like me to write on please let me know.