Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Just a Few Things You Probably Don't Do But Should

There's got to be hundreds of ways to move for reasons of getting stronger.  I'll take liberty to assume that many only do a fraction of them.  The reasons are likely totally legitimate.   Maybe your half-assing trainer didn't program them for you.  I'm sure that lots of them don't help your bench. Nobody else around you does them so if you did, you'd violate that unspoken agreement of conformity.  Actually, that's a good word to describe a lot of why people do what they do in strength temple.  It's unfortunate that the answer to why to choose an exercise is, "TO GET STORNGER". 

The funny thing is, that seems to change between generations.  We don't lift the same since the test of strength have changed.  So, lifts have changed along with the times.  Being good at selected lifts doesn't necessarily make a persons strong, just strong at the lifts at hand.  There is a difference.  Some good ideas get lost like that.  Here's a list of those lifts, and things to train, that are best remembered. 

I strongly suspected my revolving door of IT Band tightness and lower back irritation was the result of my left knee not naturally hyperextending like it should back in September.  Early in my resumption of normal training, I'd lifted right-side dominant.  Even as I tired in later months, I'd still notice my right leg was still locking out faster.  I suspected I had to get my knee to move more like it should naturally. 

After looking at the glute-ham machine in the gym, I hit myself for not thinking of this sooner:  hyperextensions.  The set-up in this contraption would put some force on my knee somewhat similar to what I used to do in physical therapy and hopefully get my natural range of motion close enough to 100% back to stop the above-mentioned insanity. 
Vasily Kolotov.  That back cleavage should put to rest any arguments about the value of hyperextensions.
During research into the topic of hyperextensions, I stumbled onto this article.  Apparently, these were a Soviet favorite back in the 1970's to turn the spinal erectors into dueling telephone poles (I'd also like to draw attention to the fact that this was written long before Pavel was even potty trained so it's unlikely not THAT kind of Russian training secret.)

I didn't get too creative on this one.  The rep training scheme provided in the article was what I did (I conformed). While it did help my knee out, the training had another effect:  I haven't tweaked my back in any manner lifting since I started doing these. 

Vince Gironda's Pullups
Generally I can't stand bodybuilding. I like to confine flexing in my underwear to the privacy of my bathroom.  So, it does seem a bit odd that I generally have a highly favorable opinion of Vince Gironda since he's just about the biggest bodybuilding purist of his time.  There's just one thing:  the guy happened to be stupid-strong at the same time.  What else do you call a person who can do this?

From what I've read, the cranky, alcoholic, high-priest of bodybuilding favored doing pull-ups in which he brought his sternum, not his chin or chest, to the bar.  It kind of looks like a row combined with a pull-up.  It also looks like a ridiculously hard pull-up variation that most bar-humping, pull-up kippers will avoid like the plague.  That's unfortunate since this simple extra few inches makes the upper back want to explode.  It's the perfect example of, sometimes, a few extra inches can make all the difference in the world (ask your girlfriend). 

The best cue I've found to do pull up to the sternum is to simply throw the head all the way back.  Look straight up and pull.  Never bring your head up.  This is hard and be prepared to have a shocking, and embarrassing,  number of repetitions sliced off your sets.  That's probably why nobody does these anymore.  Don't mind that.  Just pull.  Allegedly, Gironda did four dozen of these to a set.  So, follow his lead (skip the alcohol) and get to work. 

The Bent Press
It doesn't take too long to read this blog to realize that I adore this lift.  I started doing this lift five years ago with a measly 35 lbs for one reason only:  it's fun and it looks cool.  It's a slow-grind lift that was done regularly in old strongman shows because it was visually appealing and a lot of weight can be lifted with one hand if the technique is mastered.  That's the rub right there:  it's also tricky to learn and very hard to find someone who know what they're doing with it. 

I never really assigned any practicality to doing such a lift.  It was just something that caught my attention to do and I did it because I enjoyed it.  As it turns out, there are two things that this lift has going for it.  The first would be Lat work.  Very simply put, the getting-under action of the bent press is a lot of upper back work.  Even two straight reps of this will fry the Lats.  There's a lot of time under tension with this lift. 

The second was brought to my attention by an article posted not too long ago:  thoracic mobility.  Very simply put:  we don't twist much any more when we train.  Sure, some will begrudgingly admit that's important.  Then, they will assign some sort of puny, boorish band-assisted mobility work that we'll disregard as soon as issues brought on by the lack of mobility are eradicated.  I've heard of an interesting alternative:  why not do a strength move that moves in the same manner as the rehab move you'll soon disregard?  At least we could have some fun, get strong, and stay moveable. 

In fact, that's something I can't beat my readers up with enough:  DO SOMETHING THAT YOU ENJOY DOING!  If you don't enjoy the lifts that you're performing, then don't do them.  Very, very few exercises are so important that you can't afford to not do them.  Unless you compete in a strength sport that dictates you do a specific lift, then there is no reason to follow the lead of others.  That's really why most don't know about the vast array of ways to exercise and get strong. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Just get it overhead

Continuation of blogging about shit that, in the past, I never used to do, seems oddly intriguing to me.  I spent the past half decade smashing keys about almost all bodyweight and not giving much of anything in routines.  After all, few things annoy me about our subculture quite like people who can't comprehend training without stuff, much less how to put together something as rudimentary as programming.  Both of these could be irrefutable proof that there just isn't enough thought out there going through people's minds when they decide their muscles need stimulation. 

So, I try to put some thought into my routines.  Once in a while, I find the thoughts produce a result that's worth sharing. Such is one of the workouts I did the Sunday after my first competition.  Apparently, I broke some sort of tradition that stipulates that you should do your best to mimic a statue in the subsequent days after a strongman competition.  Since I love to train as much as I like to kick the nuts of conventional training wisdom, I took my traditional goof-off day and did some kettlebell work. 

In case I haven't said it enough recently, I adore Ironmaster's kettlebells.  Not only are they square, (which really throws people off) but they also more than pay for themselves if you tried to buy a set of conventional kettlebells (ie a 35, 53, 70 and 97 lbs).  With the right pin set-up, its possible to adjust from 22-103 lbs with a nice, tight lock-up. 

Strongman appeals to my sense of practicality because so much of it is getting stuff off the ground and getting it overhead in one way or another.  There are many ways to do that, some more conventional then others.  So, that's what I decided my break from strongman training would do, even if I wasn't going to a traditional strongman implement. 

I hadn't done a kettlebell snatch since before I borrowed a piece of knee ligament from some random, dead guy.  Prior to having such a need for spare parts, I used to do these pretty heavy, sometimes up to 100 lbs.  Since I was still barely smart enough to do these with some caution, I did them with only 85 lbs. 

Next up, I grabbed two kettlebells, stacked 70 lbs on both and threw up some clean and presses.  Since my shoulder strength could use some work,  tried my damnest to not use any leg drive off the clean to press the KB overhead. 

Since that kind of fried my shoulders up but I still had a desire to do some overhead work, I rounded things out by adding more leg drive and doing double KB squat-presses.  This one I made a concerted effort to explode out of the hole and use that drive to push the KB's overhead.   I also do this movement only with weight I cannot press overhead.  That way, I have to add lots of leg drive. This movement helped me immeasurably in the yoke press part of my medley. 

This may have been one of the best routines I've ever put together for myself off the top of my head.  I've used the last two in tandem several times to keep getting shoulder work in even after they're fatigued.  I heard a strongman bring up an interesting point about his competition preparation.  He noted that for a while, he wasn't necessarily getting stronger, he was just coming up with different ways to move the weight in an effective manner.  That's kind of what I was aiming for with this workout:  practice getting weight off the ground and overhead in as many different ways as possible.

Mr "finding different ways".  Heard of him?
Of course, if one were to care about such things, this would also be an effective routine to make for a bigger ass and wider shoulders. It would beat the hell out waist training to achieve an hour glass figure.

These videos weren't demonstrations. They were actual sets. Yes, those are kettlebells. No they don't have to be done in high repetitions. I do all of these in low reps and as many sets of each as I can handle. That can change depending on how much manual labor I do but mostly in the 6-10 sets range, each. So, make a conscious point to throw off any preconceived notions about strength training that you have (When to train, strongman and kettlebells, kettlebells for high reps, etc) and put some creative thought into what you do. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Upping My Axle Deadlifts

It's unknown to me if I got a bastardized version of the Armstrong Pull-up program or I bastardized it in my own, twisted head.  Either way, that was my first exposure to the notion of a pyramid set way back in 2006-2007.  Pyramid sets seem to be used in two ways.  The first uses weights and involves using lighter weights for higher reps.  Then, you increase the weight and drop the number of reps. The bodyweight version is simply to increase the reps in the set until you fail to hit the last number of reps in the last set.  I used it back in 2007 frequently with pull-ups.  While I didn't dramatically increase my single-set rep count, I did manage to maintain as I bulked up from 157 lbs to 180 lbs.

So, where did I bastardize the Armstrong thing (and pyramid setting)?  I added a drop set to the fun.  In other words, when I hit my max set, I would work my way back down doing the same sets that I used to work up to the max set.  I've done this with weights before as well just BW.  The latter formed one of my favorite, pressed-for-time and short on equipment that can be found here

Like I said, I don't know if this was innocent, bad recollection or my training-obsessed mind just looking to squeeze a lot of work into a bit of time.  Neither would surprise me

So, the Armstrong Program has been floating around for so long that it got its own web site not too long ago.  It seems to be that popular.  Other than that, pyramid setting seems to be relegated to the dust bin of the training universe, along with lat pull-overs and hyperextensions.  Like these two, there doesn't seem to be a good answer as to why. 

Florida's Strongest Man...and Deadlifts
Just like The Dungeon Spring Break Classic, Brevard, and the Bacon Beatdown strongman competitions, I had to forego doing Florida's Strongest Man.  Work and my body don't cooperate very often.  I suspected that this could happen but I trained for this competition as though I was going to do it just the same.  Among the events was a 325 lbs axle deadlift, for most reps, in one minute.  My previous deadlifting prowess was abysmal.  I just don't get much opportunity to train this lift.  So, I had to build up my numbers, and fast.  This show was only two months after my first show, and it was a heavy one.  So, I elected to pull the idea of pyramid-drop set hybrid out of my bag of tricks, turning my sunday in to my deadlift training days. 

Am I really going to Blog about DEADLIFTING???
Yeah, I know, by blogging about what amounts to my deadlift program, I'm about to jump into such crowded, mucky swamp of vanilla-like uniformity with the rest of the mostly-shitty strength training sites.  Just about all of them have a deadlift program.  Plus, I've generally sworn to not be like everyone else.  Still, I'm going there because:
  1. I tried it. 
  2. It worked.
  3. I appears that nobody else did it like this
Still, with strongman competitions increasingly becoming more alike one another (god forbid), you'll likely run across an axle deadlift event for reps, if strongman competition is your fancy.  After all, axle deadlift is cheap and fast to set-up.  Unfortunately, poverty and time constraints don't inspire the same creativity for strength sports that the do for me. 

So, the first thing I found out in those seven weeks was that the total volume worked best if kept to a total of 40-50 reps of deadlifting (excluding some warm-up sets; of which I don't do many).  I don't know why that was. It just worked out ridiculously well.  I made very regular progress.  I don't keep records either.  I do remember that the pyramid-drop sets looked something like this:
  1. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
  2. 2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2
  3. 3-6-9-12-9-6-3
How well did this work?  Well, as I lamented above, I didn't get a chance to do the competition.  My friend, who has been competing for six years, told me 15 reps in this event would probably put me in contention to win the event.  The day of the show, I had such a burning desire to figure out what I could do in a minute.  So, I tested myself and this is what I came up with:
Now, keep in mind when I first started doing this after Tampa, I was only doing 315 lbs for 6 reps!   I have no idea how the rest of the show would have affected my deadlift performance.  This is all I have to go off of and I banged out 17 reps in a minute.  That would have tied me for second place in that event.  The guy who also got 17 reps, a friend of mine who I affectionately call "Rabbi,"  outweighs me by a very noticeable margin. 
The winner of the event got 21 reps.  FUCK!
But what about accessory work?

Fuck, do I really have go into that too???  Well, what is a deadlift program without accessory work, I guess.  Yes, I did have some guidelines for that too. Even at 50 reps, give or take, this deadlifting generally fried my spinal erector muscles.  So I chose two accessory lifts, one upper body and the other lower body.  Neither of these lifts would hit the lower back. 
For my upper body lift, I'd usually do pendalay rows with the axle.  After all, I had the bar already loaded.  I also did weighted pull-ups and bent presses (I can't be that normal) on occasion. rep ranges on the Pendalays were 5-7 reps.  Pull-ups were 10-15 reps.  The bent presses were two reps per side (lots of time under tension with just two reps).  All were done 3-6 sets. 
For the lower body, I grabbed two kettlebells (or a T-handle) and did swings.  15-20 reps for 4 sets.  I also stumbled onto this sort of sumo deadlift-squat hybrid that I have no idea what the name of it is.  It's right here, about 30 seconds in...
I'd also do that for about the same rep range as the swings.  Frankly, anything that hit the hamstrings and glutes will work well; just avoid hitting the lower back muscles again.  Remember, hit the upper body after the pyramid-drop set and then do the lower body stuff afterwards. 
That's as close as you're ever going to get to me being conventional in a blog entry with a "program"  for a long, long time hopefully.  It's also the most concrete proof I've found that this rep scheme works extremely well for popping up reps in a surprisingly shot period of time.  Frankly, it's so much fun for me that I'm still doing it on my deadlift Sundays.  My most recent exploit was 350 lbs for 8 reps.  That used to be my max three years ago when I started deadlifting.  This whole rep scheme just shows that you need to keep  your eyes and your mind open to many different training protocols, even if it's from the Bodyweight Crowd. 
"Rabbi"...Nice job, chico!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Building a Base

He takes his time, pondering the barbell on the rack.  Stalking around with an attempt at a self-assured swagger.  He pays meticulous attention to putting his belt.  He checks the tension carefully as he puts on his wrist wraps.  He chalks his hands up thoroughly so as to make sure that even the spaces between his fingers are dry and ready for the big lift.  He sets up the camera to catch the big moment.  Five minutes of preparation come down to this one, singular moment in the cage. 

Since I joined a gym, for the first time in nearly 14 years, I've seen such scenarios played out constantly by 20-something kids in between these walls with stunning regularity.  While I understand, and I try to keep in mind, that everyone starts somewhere, there's something missing in each of these over-suited up millenials struggling with baby-weights that I've seen grown women of average levels of fitness achieve.  It's what my buddy in the gym and I both agree on as we watch the above-mentioned man-child who wraps his wrists up for stability for the big push and follows up his press workout with pinch grip training lacks:  a complete lack of a base. 
He's not the first veteran lifter that I've heard complain that too many aspiring gym rats have no good training base anymore.  With the proliferation of the internet experts that read everything on Elite FTS and T-Nation but can't actually bring themselves to do a two-plate squat to proper depth, there's an ever-increasing pile of meat bags in nice gym clothing who are going to provide the fitness gym industry with a nice revenue stream of easy money.  They just don't get it and I think my buddy and I lament that at the rate they're going, they never will. 
So they need a base, but it got me thinking we chatted this up:  what exactly is a good base?  We threw a few ideas about the strength training horror-comedy show before us.  Still, it was an abbreviated conversation before we went our separate ways for the night. 
In the interest of making this constructive criticism (something tells me this person reads the blog and may be able to put together that I'm talking about him) since not trying to solve a problem while talking about it incessantly is nothing more than gossip, I decided to put my thoughts down as to what I think constitutes a good base for strength training. 
It isn't necessarily exercise selection...
Look up any article resembling building a good base for strength and I can almost guarantee you that you'll get some sort of list of exercises that are good for building a base of strength.  The problem is that most of these lists are lifts that I've almost never done on a regular basis since starting on this path almost a decade and a half ago.  Frankly, they're almost always competitive lifts for sports that I've never done and likely never will do.  Just because they're the basis of a strength sport doesn't make them the best base for all efforts to build strength.  There's a difference that's lost on lots of base-builders. 
Rather than rattle off specific exercises, I'd just rather simply leave it at making sure that you make sure to throw in some good pushing and pulling exercises, both for the upper body and lower body first and foremost.  Next, make sure there's some work for your midsection.  All of it (rectus abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, and hip muscles).  Don't forget to get a dash of exercises that force your body to move rotationally.  Some carrying, dragging, and pulling of weights is also a remarkably good, simple-to-learn and easy way to build strength and conditioning. 
As long as you hit those categories up with some regularity, you should build a good beginner strength.  Don't think because I'm doing strongman and lifting weights more regularly that I believe that a good chunk of this can't be bodyweight.  I used BW-only for years and it got me to where I am now.  I wasn't doing specific events, I could easily be using handstand push-ups and pull-ups for strength training and get challenges out them. 
  ...But it is about doing as much of it as possible!
I've flat-out said that people take too much rest in between sets during workouts in a past entry.  That criticism also applies to our above-"lifter" taking five minutes to prepare for a tragically modest overhead press.  It shouldn't take that long BECAUSE HE SHOULDN'T NEED A LIFTING BELT AND WRIST WRAPS TO DO A PRESS LIKE THAT.  Since I'm too busy to determine if this was a max effort lift (I certainly hope it wasn't, this is not a small kid) I'll assume with such a modest amount of weight, it wasn't.  So, this stuff isn't helping make him stronger but allowing him to stay weak. 
Yes, support gear probably has it's place when approaching maximum strength lifts where the boundaries of the human body.  If properly used in conjunction with the body , it does help protect and strengthen during a lift.  Improperly used, it becomes a cast that does the work for the body.  If someone's building a base, then these implements have no use. 
While I abhor using high reps in bodyweight training in perpetuity, and I have for several years, I do admit that at the beginning, it definitely assisted in my ability to do more work.  The more work I could do, the closer I could get to maximum strength efforts without issues.  I have few doubts that all of my BW training helped may ability to handle large training volume, made my midsection (particularly my abdominals) powerful, bullet-proofed my shoulders and developed my grip. 

Ultimately, I think it's important to cultivate the ability to do a lot of work before doing a lot of maximum-effort work. 
One of my slices of broscience cake that I fed to the world years ago was that if you develop strong hips, shoulders and grip, you'll be a powerful person.  While I may not have done everything right in training to transition to strongman work (who does?) I do feel that since I had those three, combined with good work capacity, I was off to a good start.
Simply put:  too many people in the gym are just not comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That's why modern gyms look like they've been child-proofed by an OCD mother who just stole a foam padding truck.  The insistence with pristine skin isn't the only sign that people don't like to be uncomfortable in the gym.  The simple fact that our strength training-grasshopper  took five minutes to do a 120 lbs says it all.  He had no rush to get to lifting and he had no desire to push himself to lift with any sort of purpose.  Instead, bullshitting with others and playing compulsively with a phone were all so much more...comfortable. 
It takes time to adjust to forcing the body to do things that are intense and uncomfortable.  Still, that's what it takes to be good at training.  It also doesn't hurt if you learn to enjoy the process of training.  That's why I'm such a wing nut with my strength training movement selections.  I enjoy lifting weird objects in different ways.  As long as I do it with intensity and purpose, I still get strong.  Not everything has to be deadlift, bench and squat.  If you get strong while enjoying what you're doing, then who cares how you did it?  That will go a long way towards doing it with conviction. 

Of course, this all has to be combined with good food and rest.  Base building is pointless if those two parts aren't in order.  After all, at best, you may only have 45 minutes per day to devote to training.  While you can get a lot done in that time frame, it will be unraveled if the other 23 hours and 15 minutes of the day don't do something to support that other 3/4-hour. 

Hopefully this skull of mush gets his shit together and gets his training sorted out sooner or later.  Since this initial lift, I've offered whatever advice/words that I've seen relevant to him at key training times.  After all, without a solution to criticism, then it's all mean-girl-like complaining and gossip with gym clothing and body odor.  With a little luck,  these millenials will figure what a good base is all out. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Got a Minute? Let's talk about timing and your training...

No, I'm not writing an article about how he got so big, especially since he hasn't told anyone how he did it...
For the readers who have seen both, "The Dark Knight," and the, "The Dark Knight Rises," I've got a question for you:  which of these movies was longer?  As a die-hard fan of anything that Christopher Nolan directs, I eagerly anticipated, and thoroughly adored, both movies.  However, I was baffled by one, common criticism of the last one:  the movie felt too long.  That question was a little bit of a trick question.  The Dark Knight Rises is only about ten minutes longer.  Christopher Nolan simply manipulated the timeline of events in the Dark Knight much more than the Dark Knight Rises.  So, since the story line wasn't being told in order, it seemed shorter than it really was. 

Christopher Nolan is widely regarded as a pioneer in movie making for his ability for juggling multiple timelines on film, making him a master at manipulating the feeling of time in movies.  That's a skill so few who try to build their bodies (rather than movies) seem good at. 

If anything, the sense of timing in training is totally screwed up.  People seem to have no idea when to rush and when to wait.  Patience is horribly mis-applied.  This poorly-manipulated use of rushing and patience is something that I see frequently screwing up routines in the short term and goals over a longer period of time.  While I will throw an Atlas stone at any reader who dares call me an expert, I think I've got my sense of timing down when it comes to my training.  I think it's about time someone sort this all out. 

Time Between Sets
This should be pretty simple but people love sticking their faces in the mud, opening their eyes, and looking for an answer:  rest as much as you need to and no more than that.  Maybe it's because people try to oversimplify, trying to find a rest period that's good for all movements.  The news flash for these people is that there isn't one.  You'll need more rest between maximum effort lifts. You'll use less for conditioning routines. You'll want to be a bit more generous on new movements so you can learn them rather than build strength out of them.  The less technical a movement usually requires less rest. 

Whatever you're doing or what you're looking to achieve out of it, just get enough rest out of the time between sets so you can do your next set.  No more than that.  If you need more than five minutes between sets you're either doing something that is far beyond your physical capabilities or you're just plain, fucking wasting your time by being lazy or unfocused.  Feelings of passing out and vomiting, or trying to make a joint work right after you did too much, are as much of a waste of time as chatting with other gym lazy-asses (like yourself) while posting selfies that nobody cares about to Instagram.  You're in the gym to move.  So, do whatever you can to keep yourself moving.  When you look to move as much as possible, you'll need some rest.  Take it since it's needed to keep yourself going.  Then go. 

Time to Reach Your Goals
In a short period of time, you're likely to hear an interview I did where I stress the overwhelming significance of being patient when reaching strength and fitness goals.  While I generally walk around my gym pushing millenials to get their asses moving and, you know, maybe exercise once every five minutes, I can't stand it when people are in a huge rush to become 500 lbs deadlifters, first place strongmen-competitors, or get 18" arms.  I agree that the majority of fitness and strength rules are pretty bendable.  One that I firmly believe isn't is that anything worthwhile transformation with your body will take time.  By time, I mean months and years.  Everything from fat loss to muscle and strength gain has to be done with the same amount of time you'll do in jail if you commit a felony. 

When I tried to gain some muscle mass seven years ago, it took me 9 months to put on 27 lbs of muscle.  I did it again this year and it took me six months to put on 15 lbs.  When I wanted to start bent pressing back in 2009, I started out with a 35 lbs kettlebell.  After five years, I'm started bent pressing a 150 lbs sandbag.  I had to wait nearly one year after I got it in my head to do my first strongman competition. 

If you look at the majority of the people who are telling  you that you can get results fast are either trying to sell you something or sell you on the notion that they are so much more awesome than you are.  Both are equally full of shit.  In between exercises, life is going on.  That alone is going to divert attention away from your goals.  You need time to learn how to do things right.  You need rest that you may not always get.  Then, there's the fact that a body will come up with reasons to resist changes in its current state.  You'll have to force yourself through all that. 

So, the takeaway from this is all pretty simple.  Make haste with your workouts and patiently wait for the results. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall, get up, finish, learn something and don't forget to have some fun: Recapping my First Strongman Competition

If I had to join a gym, I was at least going to join one that kind of matched my sprained personality along with my disgust of cardio equipment even if an exercise bike was what I was joining the gym for in the first place.  As part of my ACL physical therapy, I needed to ride an exercise bike, forwards and backwards, for 15-30 minutes a day.  While that's about as fun to me as drinking gasoline, it's PT.  I didn't have to like it.  I just had to do it.

The Dungeon Gym had three cardio machines and the rest is weights and strength training equipment.  That equipment line-up runs parallel to my training belief system.  You go there to lift.  Most of the crew there were getting into strongman training and that training, as I sadly peddled my knee back into use, rubbed off on me.  As I progressed in PT, the notion of joining my new crew of friends in strongman became a thought and goal that propelled me along with my training. 

After a year, I finally got the opportunity to achieve that goal.   Last Saturday, I did my first strongman competition in Tampa, Florida, taking 6th in the Novice Division. 
Over the past year, I've acquired a reputation for my unfiltered jokes and my wildly unconventional approach to strength training.  My cohorts in chalk and sweat shouldn't have been surprised that I'd rolled up in Clearwater sporting these sunglasses. That guy in the middle is my dear friend Richard. He's as conventional in the gym as I am crazy.  I was so overjoyed to be here with him.  I was overjoyed just to be here.  It's been a long, long struggle to get to a point where I felt like I could take my body to such a proving grounds.  While I wanted to do well, I was also here to have some fun.  In my typical, inappropriate fashion, that's what I was setting out to do.
Who need steroids when you eat these kind of sandwiches?

Training for this show had it's ups and downs.  One of the major downsides, naturally, was my lower body training.  My knee PT was generally successful save for one issue:  My left knee doesn't hyperextend like it supposed to.  So, my lifting with my lower body was slighty uneven, my right legs moving faster and working more than the left.  This eventually led to a carousel of lumbar disc irritation and issues an IT band tightness.  Plus, any movement that forced a lot of hamstring activation would leave my bad knee sore for the next day or so.  Long story made short:  my heavy squat work was minimal for much of the summer and I zeroed out on the Hummer Tire squat.

My friend, who was also competing, said it best:  shake it off, it didn't happen.  Move on!

Which I ended up doing with some success in the next event:  a car deadlift hold for time, head-to-head with another competitor.  That competitor turned out to be a guy named Bryan.  I ended up beating him by a grand total of .06 seconds.  The humor wasn't lost on either of us as we did the dude embrace after finishing.  While most of my leg training was suboptimal for months at a time, the one thing that worked really well was barbell hack squatting.  This movement that I regularly did was a pretty close approximation to a car deadlift.  In reality, a car deadlift is more of a squat anyway. 

I sprinted over to my lane.  Bryan looked at me like I was nuts. 
I wasn't too far behind him...
That .06 second difference basically turned Bryan and I into short term rivals.  We went head-to-head on the medley run (225 lbs farmers handles, 180 lbs yoke, 250 lbs power stair, 125 lbs dumbbell press, chain press).  Had I not been so amped up on nerve juice and anticipation for my favorite event to train, I might have taken note that one of the farmers handle kept rolling away from me.  At least I would have realized that the pavement on that side that I was about to step into had a slight depression right off the starting pads.  As soon as I took a step into it, I fell with the handles.  Other than a scrapped elbow and jamming the tip of my thumb, I got back to my feet and managed to catch up with Bryan a little bit. 

 That's when inexperience and nerve juice got the better of me. I exploded off the ground with the yoke, locking it out and steadying it with surprising ease.  Unfortunately, I missed the down command and kept moving.  I had to go back and do it. 

...Now I am


Nobody knew what to make of this.  Apparently, someone wanted to have me disqualified
I missed one.  Just not this one.  The crowd went nuts!

"you're a fast little shit!"  Bryan
Bryan later told me that he was stunned when he saw me just behind him on the dumbbell press.  He figured that my redo on the yoke press combined with the power stair would give him an advantage.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  While we both missed our first attempts with the circus Dumbbell (Bryan has some elbow issues; my jammed thumb weakened my grip on the dumbbell), I pulled ahead, throwing the Crossfit-like chain press easily and again edging him out. 

The last event I figured to be my strongest event:  keg tossing over a 13' bar (Four Quarter-kegs.  20, 25, 30 and 35 lbs).  What I didn't figure was how good everyone else would be.  I threw just before Bryan, who I didn't realize was a Highland Games thrower.  He one-handed his way through those fuckers in just over 21 seconds. 

 I drilled the hell out of the throws.  I regularly did heavy T-handle swings, double Kettlebell swings, and throws with my Alpha Strong Sandbag (40 lbs).  I got off to a very hot start, throwing the first three kegs 3-4' over the bar in around 18 seconds.  However, inexperience got the better of me.  As I was throwing,  I stopped taking the two steps backwards to get into a good position to throw the keg.  By the time I got to the 35 lbs, I was throwing too far away and my last keg bounced off the pole, forcing me to redo the throw and coming away with a 26 second finish time.  

Initially, I heard that I had came in 4th place.  After a few days, when the scores were finally posted, I had to readjust to just missing the top three.  While I told myself that I just wanted to have some fun and simply being able to do this was reward unto itself, I'm still a competitive person.  I couldn't simply just go to participate.  There's a part of me that wanted to win, even if I was cognizant of the fact that it may be unlikely on my first competition since I was going in knowing that my squatting practice had been marginal and thoroughly sub-par (I also had tweaked my lower back the week of the competition.  I spent the entire week trying to get rid of the back pain, which I did succeed at). 
What was particularly galling about the tire squats was that I previously trained for these back in April for another show that I wasn't able to do in Florida, hitting 350 lbs for two, 385 lbs for one, and narrowly missing 405 lbs.  So, failing at 365 lbs proved that I lost leg strength in the course of six months.  Still, I've gotten in front of the IT band syndrome and hitting the hyperextensions served the dual purpose of helping get my left knee closer to natural hyperextension and strengthening my lower back muscles.  I trust that if I get my knee to do that, most of my back and IT problems will dissipate.
The rest of my errors I felt were a combination of inexperience and nerves.  I will never do a moving event without checking the surface I'm walking on first.  Ever.  That fall cost me both on the farmers handles and the circus dumbbell.  I also should have paid closer attention to my down calls.  Finally, I need to make sure that I take the needed two steps back on my keg tosses.  The winner of the novice division, Alex, also pointed out something I hadn't thought of:  after asking me if I knew I could clear the bar with my throws (which I knew I could) why watch and see if they were going to clear?  That could have shaved some time off too. 
Still, there were bright points to take note of:
  • I correctly surmised that a barbell hack squat was likely to be very similar to a car deadlift.  As a result, the car went up pretty easily. 
  • Getting the farmers handles were initially a problem for me in training since I did so little heavy deadlifting due to my back.  So, what I did do instead was practice lighter deficit deadlifts and deficit-deadlifts with chains.  As a result, I was able to get the handles off the ground and do it reasonably quick. 
  • Despite some problems with the yoke in training, I mastered squatting underneath it and pressing as I drove upwards.  This made my two yoke presses fast.  I also correctly surmised that regular squat-pressing would aid in this.
  • While my thumb screwed with my grip on the circus dumbbell press, I still nailed it.  I'd been practicing this for over a year and this one implement in the medley finished the medley for 4 of the 10 competitors. 
  • Inexplicably, I didn't meet anyone who used swings to training for throwing kegs. Someone must have! Lots of the competitors needed start the keg at eye level in order to get the extra momentum to get the keg over the bar.  After months of swinging 100-150 lbs of weights, I started most of my throws at my knees.  Even that may have been unnecessary. 

I suppose I can only be so hard on myself.  This picture is about 13 months old. 
So, after popping my strongman cherry after a year of conceiving of doing such a competition, I'm tentatively setting my sites on Florida's Strongest man in Davenport, FL.  Overall, this day will go down as one of the best in my life and I couldn't be happier to take part.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bench Pressing again...

The comment about mastering the pushup will make you rival or surpass any body builder or power lifter is so stupid. If this were the case every body builder and power lifter would be doing pushups instead of lifting weights. Even Body builders and power lifters train quite differently from each other. One utilizing Rep range from 8 -15 the other rep range 1-6. This whole functional strength argument is stupid too, to say someone that lifts weights isn't functionally strong? How is a pushup any more functional? If your building a house, carrying a baby, or doing garden work dropping down and doing 20 isn't going to help any more than bench press. I'd wager that most people that workout do it to look better and feel better. If your goals are to just generally be in better shape sure go for the pushup. It's even challenging enough for most new people to build some decent size and strength, but if you want the earth to move when you walk, the ability to push trees over, and for people to make sculptures of your body you better stack on some weights. -Brent
That fateful post from nearly seven years ago now still draws views and comments to my blog...

Things have changed over those years.  While I do look back on some of my old posts and sometimes find my past self outright wrong on a few occasions, this post still stands up.  Much of what I think about the bench press vs. the push up hasn't really changed all of that much.  There might be a very good reason for that.  That reason is that, in a lot of ways, the bench press encapsulates much of what I don't like about the strength training subculture that I inhabit. 
First, the bench press needs very specific stuff to perform.  You have to have a bench, a barbell and plates, sometimes lots of them.  In other words, you have to have a gym set-up in order to do it.  So much of what I do is based on the premise that you don't need a gym to work out in the first place.  Benching anchors you to the gym if you insist on doing it.
There are lots of people insist on doing it.  As I've ventured into strongman training, I've noticed that lots of people migrate over to it from powerlifting.  Some strongmen, in turn, seem to take a shocking amount of programming tips from powerlifting.   What lots of people therefore don't get is that working the chest doesn't simply mean doing the bench press.  I've said it before:  the pectoral major muscles are extremely versatile.  Any movement that requires moving your arms in front of your body back towards your centerline is using them.  So, you don't need to be glued to one movement that, in turn, glues you to the gym.  Since I have an aversion to being intentionally stuck to a physical location to train, you can bet your ass I have a problem being married to one movement, especially one that I hate that's part of a competition of have no desire to participate.
Frankly, there is NO GOOD REASON to be so glued to the bench press.  It's an incomplete upper body-push movement anyway.  If done by itself, it doesn't develop the shoulder and chest muscles in a balanced manner.  Push-ups can and do, which is why I prefer them (weighted these days).  One thing that some strongmen do get right is they move the bench press to an accessory movement to the overhead press.  There are a mess of chest exercises out there any why the more incomplete ones got selected as the go-to for chest training just boggles my mind. 
To top it all off, as I said above,  I just don't really enjoy bench pressing.  I don't really have a rhyme or reason for that other than it just isn't a compelling lift for me.  So, since I don't enjoy then why should I do it?  After all, it's not a lift in any competition that I'll ever do.  I can do others to get  complete upper body development.  Plus, I don't need to be at a gym that, aside from the past two years, I have extremely limited access to.  At the end of the day, there are more practical lifts for me to consume my time with.  I'll just stick to those.