First let’s define strength training. For our purposes strength training refers to exercises using ones body weight or outside resistance such as barbells, dumbbells, sand bags, medicine balls, etc, which are designed to increase or enhance one’s natural strength to greater levels then when starting a given program.

As an athlete strength is the foundation from which all your tools are launched. Your goal is for your body to learn to work well as a unit. You want to maximize your strength to weight ratio as well as being explosive and quick when needed. You want strength that is functional and useable in motion. The term “Functional training” has become a buzzword of late. Some say what it means is to train movements not muscles. Well, it is muscles that cause movement to happen, so we cannot remove them from the equation. To train using functional exercises means choosing exercises which place demands on many muscles at once and which challenge your bodies energy systems in a variety of ways. So, how do we get there?

If you want to learn how to get big and strong you look at what the biggest and strongest guys do. This seems like a logical approach to take, but it can be a mistake. When I first started training I did just this. Like thousands of neophytes before me I sought to gain the secret knowledge of the massive men I saw in the “BodyBuilding” magazines. I surmised that these men were taking being big and strong to the outer limits so they must have a clue as how best to approach getting there. I also thought that they would naturally (no pun intended) choose what ever was the most efficient and effective way to achieve their chosen goal.

Unfortunately I was wrong. I came to find that there was no logic at all to the approach of these heavily muscled giants. They were for the most part just blindly following the trends that slowly flowed through their little world hoping as much as the rest of us to find the holy grail of the perfect strength and size routine. They did however have some advantages over most of us, these being genetics and drugs. I don’t want to spend too much time on this particular subject for this is not an anti-bodybuilding article. In truth I have nothing against bodybuilding at all. I just want to point out the folly of blindly searching for help based on a poorly placed assumption that bigger guys have a secret that others do not. It turns out that if what you want is truly effective and efficient training for improved athletic performance in sports, your best bet is probably to look at what the pro bodybuilders do and start doing the opposite.

Most Pro Body Builders use what I call the Frankenstein training method. They treat their bodies as if they were made up of a bunch of separate pieces that they are trying to combine into one glorious pile of muscle. They strive to isolate each section and blast it into submission with endless sets of exercises concocted to achieve maximum muscle in that one area. With this in mind they commonly use “Split” training routines so they can really focus on each area to the exclusion of others. Splitting their body into pieces also allows them to work out more often, chest on one-day shoulders on another, and then back, biceps, etc. Unfortunately this overlooks one important issue. Our bodies are not made up of many different compartments each with its own fuel, maintenance, and recovery needs.  Nor were our muscles designed to function in isolation. Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with using a leg extension machine or doing a set of barbell curls, the mistake that some make is basing their routines around these movements or just doing too much superfluous training.  Doing multiple sets of Biceps or Triceps exercise may help pump up your arms, but it will also add unneeded training volume to your overall routine not to mention extra fatigue on some of your smallest and most used muscles.

When first assessing your body, pay attention to your strength and flexibility symmetry. It is normal to have a dominant or “strong” side but any major imbalances should be corrected sooner rather then later. If you are not a beginner and a basic strength foundation has already been established, you must still determine if any glaring strength or flexibility asymmetries exist and strive to correct them. This is where isolated, single joint movements may be beneficial to your development. Beyond these early training stages, unless you are correcting a very specific imbalance or rehabbing an injury you should not be wasting much of your valuable training time working muscles in isolation.

Don’t be like Doctor Frankenstein

For ideas about how to create well thought out, efficient training plans for any sport or fitness goal be sure to check out our other articles and pod-casts. If you feel you need help or just don’t seem to be getting things dialed in the way you would like, contact us here at I am sure we can help.



Bilateral and Unilateral Loading

by Brian Jones

One of the more enduring debates in the strength and conditioning field is in the relative value of bilateral (BL) versus unilateral (UL) loading. Like many other debates coaches’ opinions can become quite polarized and as usual the truth is probably somewhere between the extremes. This purpose of this article is to analyze these methods, describe their benefits and limitations, and allow the readers to develop their own reasoned ideas on how to best implement them in their own training.


First let us define our terms. BL loading is defined as the simultaneous loading of both limbs (either both arms or both legs) during an exercise. Examples of this include the barbell bench press and the barbell back squat. During these movements, force and power are generated by the combined efforts of both limbs working against a single load. A common point of confusion is the case of dumbbells (or kettlebells). A standard flat dumbbell bench press or two kettlebell overhead press is a BL exercise. The term bilateral refers to the limbs rather than the implement used.


UL loading is defined as the loading of one limb (arm or leg) during an exercise movement. Defining UL loading is a bit trickier because the other limb may indeed be moving, even under load, but not in the same direction. Let us take the case of the UL flat dumbbell bench press. There are several ways to perform it. You could lie on the bench while holding only one dumbbell and perform the lift or you could hold two dumbbells and keep one side stationary in either the bottom or top locked-out position while the other side moved. Finally you could perform the exercise in a see-saw fashion with one arm pressing while the other arm lowered. Lower body exercises can also be somewhat difficult to categorize. Obviously a single leg pistol squat is UL, but what about the standard front lunge. In most discussions the lunge would also qualify as UL. Although both legs are contributing to the movement, the lead leg does most of the work.



Rather than presenting a list of benefits and limitations for each type this section has been arranged thematically. The intention is to highlight major differences and points of contention in the debates about BL and UL. Each discussion concludes with a few suggestions on how the concepts should impact training.

Core Work

In BL both limbs exert force at the same time and thus the absolute load per rep will be greater than that of a similar UL exercise. The greater load will force the core muscles to work harder to stabilize the spine. This is the case for both upper and lower body exercises. There is however, another factor to consider. Even though the absolute load may be smaller in UL work, loading only introduces a rotational component not present in BL movements. During the concentric phase of the lift, core rotation may be employed to assist the lift. In the isometric and eccentric phases the core activates to resist rotation.

Practical Applications

  • BL provides the greatest stimulus for core stability under heavy loads.
  • The core stress imposed by BL may be too great in the case of injury or fatigue and could become a limiting factor in the training of the limbs. UL training may be used to help deload the core while keeping the training intensity for the limbs high.
  • UL work can allow for a greater degree of trunk rotational training if that is a program goal.

Bilateral Deficit

The phenomenon of bilateral deficit is well-documented in the exercise science research literature. The BL deficit appears when the force that can be generated with both limbs simultaneously is lower than the sum of the forces that can be generated with each limb individually. Although present in most people to some degree the deficit is most pronounced in those who do little bilateral activity or training. The exact cause is debated but it is thought to be due to incomplete motor unit recruitment. Research also shows that BL training can overcome the deficit. Athletes who regularly trained bilaterally had a much lower deficit than those who did no BL training.

One question that comes to most lifters when they first hear about the BL deficit is “Why then, if I can press 200 lbs on a barbell bench press cannot I not press 100 + lb dumbbells for the same number of reps?”. The research studies on this topic used a specialized machine that required no stabilization. Dumbbells are inherently more difficult to keep in the groove and this limits some of the force that can be applied in the direction of movement.

Practical Applications

  • It can be assumed that all trainees will have some degree of BL deficit. The degree of the deficit will be directly related to the amount of BL training.
  • All sports training programs should include both BL and UL work. The precise amount will depend on the sport and the training goals.
  • For athletes who are not competitive lifters (weightlifting or powerlifting) dumbbells or kettlebells are recommended for the majority of upper body BL training due to the greater stabilization component.


The term ‘functional’ is so overused in discussions of physical training as to be almost meaningless. All that functionality means is that the training method or exercise is useful in training some specified activity or goal. So in truth all training is functional in some sense. Even the exercise machines that are so often attacked as worthless for athletes can stimulate hypertrophy in bodybuilders and bestow health benefits to non-athletes.

So how do BL and UL training stack up in terms of functionality? For beginning trainees it makes little difference. There are advantages to sticking with BL training when building up base levels of strength including core stability and overcoming the bilateral deficit. In addition imitating UL sport movements is not recommended by novices. Due to their lack of basic strength, the loads they can handle on such specialized exercises will be too low to stimulate any real gains.  After establishing basic strength, more UL becomes more functional.

Practical Applications

  • Beginners should focus on BL bodyweight and dumbbell exercises until a basic level of strength is achieved.
  • When developing UL exercises make sure the exercise difficulty does not preclude using a moderately heavy load. A good rule of thumb is to keep loads at or above 25% 1RM of biomechanically similar standard BL exercises.

Brian Jones, MS, CSCS

TAKU’s NOTE: Brian has a masters degree in exercise physiology and is currently pursuing an PhD at the University of  Kentucky. In his experience as a personal trainer and strength coach he has helped athletes and non-athletes of all levels achieve their goals. Brian teaches Brazilian jiujitsu and judo and specializes in getting fighters and grapplers in competition shape. He has written for numerous print and online periodicals, is a regular contributor to MILO, and has published two books (The Complete Sandbag Training Course and The Conditioning Handbook: Getting In Top Shape) available at

High Blood Pressure a.k.a the Silent Killer

By The Viking

Blood pressure is the term referring to the pressure of blood in the arteries and is broken down into two separate readings, systolic and diastolic.  Systolic refers to the highest pressure in the arteries, which occurs during the beginning of the cardiac cycle.  Diastolic refers to the lowest pressure in the arteries, which occurs during the resting phase of the cardiac cycle.


High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as a blood pressure consisting of a systolic reading equal to or greater than 140 mm Hg and a diastolic reading of equal to or greater than 90 mm Hg.  High blood pressure has been shown to directly increase the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).  CAD can lead to heart attack and stroke, especially in the presence of additional risk factors.  Hypertension is as also known as the Silent Killer because it has no real symptoms  It’s something that nearly 1 in 3 American adults is affected by, but one third of those people have no idea the problem even exists.  Those most at risk tend to be adults over the age of 35, but other factors such as high salt intake, obesity, old age, heavy drinking and birth control pills can increase the prevalence.  African Americans also tend to be more at risk.

The chart below, courtesy of the American Heart Association, details the various levels of hypertension and at what pressures they onset.

American Heat Association recommended blood pressure levels*


Blood Pressure Category                  Systolic                                 Diastolic
(mm Hg)                      (mm Hg)

Normal                                                   less than 120         and         less than 80
Pre-hypertension                                 120 – 139                or            80 – 89


Stage 1                                                   140 – 159                or            90 – 99
Stage 2                                                   160 or higher         or            100 or higher

Courtesy, American Heart Association

Hypertension comes in two “forms” – primary (a.k.a essential) hypertension and secondary hypertension.  Primary hypertension is the more common of the two, accounting for 90 to 95% (or approximately 75 million cases).  The causes of primary hypertension, despite years of research and countless pages of data, are not definitively known.  Secondary hypertension, accounting for the remaining 5 to 10% of cases, is caused by underlying, yet often identifiable and treatable factors such as renal failure, hyper/hypothyroidism and obesity, among others.

If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or simply want to change your daily habits to conform to a more “blood pressure friendly” lifestyle, here are some things you can do:

  • Reduce dietary salt/sodium intake
  • Limit saturated fat and cholesterol intake
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce/limit alcohol consumption
  • Follow healthy dietary habits
  • Adhere to a consistent exercise program
  • Manage daily stress
  • Get regular physical check-ups

Of course, there are a number of pharmaceutical solutions to treat high blood pressure.  First and foremost, get a checkup and blood work lab from your doctor.  If anti-hypertensive medication is your best option, your doctor will inform you.

Even if you don’t have hypertension, the above factors will help you develop better living habits and may help solve many more heath factors other than high blood pressure.  Remember, if you suspect you may be at risk for hypertension, the worst thing you can do is wait and take no action at all.

Websites referenced:


An exercise routine you can do at the office

Ok, so your one of those people who just has the worst kind of schedule known to mankind. You get up at5amso you can get to the office by7amto start your day. You have to go to a parent-teachers meeting at your kid’s school right after work, then you have to take your kid to soccer practice after that. You seem to have days like this almost all the time. You never seem to have much time for yourself between all of the things you have to do every day, so how can you possibly find the time to incorporate exercise into your day? Exercise takes time, and time is one luxury you just don’t have.

Well, there is a way to get some exercise into your day and that way is to simply exercise at your desk. No, that was not a typo. Here is a little routine that you can do right at your desk. It doesn’t take up much time and while it will not make you a candidate for the next fitness competition, it will give your muscles enough work to stay firm.

Complete one set of each exercise in order. Do 10 to 20 repetitions of each exercise, and follow with 1 to 2 more sets in order if time permits it.

Chair crunch:

Sit tall in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Begin to slowly round your upper back downward until you feel your abdominal muscles tighten. Hold for 3-5 seconds, and then return to the start position.


Stand up in front of your chair. Sit back into a squat like you are sitting back down in your chair, keeping your weight on your heels and your knees behind your toes. When you are almost touching your chair with your butt, push yourself back to the standing position using your leg muscles.

Calf raises:

Stand in front of your desk and put your hands on the desk for balance. Lift yourself up onto the balls of your feet. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, and then lower yourself back down to the floor.

Desk pushup:

Stand 4 to 5 feet away from your desk and put of your hands on the edge of the desk. Relax your lower body and using just your arms, lower your chest down toward the desk and stop when your chest is about 3 to 6 inches away from it. Then push yourself back up to the starting position again using only your arms.

Seated triceps lift backs:

Sit tall in your chair. Put your arms down at your sides with your palms facing forward. With your arms strait and elbows locked, slowly bring your arms up behind you until you feel your triceps muscles tighten. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, then lower your arms back to the starting position.

Seated bicep curls:

Sit tall in your chair. Start with one arm down at your side, palm facing forward in a fist. Put your other hand over your fist and push against it for resistance while bringing your fist up toward your shoulder. Once your fist is close to your shoulder, lower it back down to the starting position maintaining constant resistance with the other hand throughout the entire movement. Complete all repetitions for that set, then switch sides and repeat.

After you have completed each exercise for the amount of repetitions and sets you can do, sit down and straighten your legs. Now gently reach for your toes until you feel you can’t go any further, hold for 10 seconds (do not bounce), then return to the starting position. Next, reach your arms out to your sides as far as you can. Keeping them fully extended, bring them slowly to the front and cross them over each other as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, and then return them to your sides. Now, reach your arms over your head as far as you can, hold for 10 seconds, and then return them to your sides.

Taking the time to do this simple but effective exercise routine at the office will help to keep you toned and you can do it even with the worst schedule possible because it can be done during your lunch break and still leave you enough time to eat your lunch.

Enjoy your workout.