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. 
 
ALL OF THIS WAS FOR A 120 LBS PRESS! 



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.
 
Combined with HAVNG THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND
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. 
video

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.  

video
 
 
 
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. 
 
 
 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Check your special shoes at the door and get your head right

I should have been finishing up dead-last in the group, looking like a pasty weakling.   At 195 lbs, minimal direct strongman training experience, only two months of regular leg training, and a pair of totally gripless Chuck Taylor shoes I shouldn't have been doing much to write home about with a 12,000 lbs truck pull.  This was my second time ever attempting one...

video
While my technique was as ugly as I am stunningly handsome, on my second pull I tugged out the second best time of the day out of the group.  I ended up beating one of my best buddies at the gym by two seconds.  With his extra 30 lbs of extra weight, more strongman training experience, and a brand new set of rock climbing shoes to that savvy strongmen competitors utilize on truck pulling he should have left buried me. 

Questions about what shoes to use with what kind of lifting and training seem to come up as often as Kardashians show up in the public consciousness.  Like the Kardashians, as far as I'm concerned, they pop up far, FAR too often.  This has to be part of a larger marketing conspiracy that exploded way back in the 1980's when Nike teamed up with Michael Jordon and created the illusion that somehow shoes were the key to peak athletic performance.  Strength training chicanery simply must have followed suit. 

I mostly train with Chuck Taylors for two key reasons:  they're cheap and they're what I have.  With my limited funds and my near-constant traveling, I'm forced into strength training minimalism largely by necessity.  That has drawbacks that I largely don't mind.  Just like growing up poor teaches you more about living life than growing up privileged, training with nothing will teach force someone to make more out of less. 

As we were all playing around with pulling a truck, many of the guys in the group struggled with driving with their legs because they were up too far on their toes.  I explained to everyone that they need to think of their feet like their hands and get a good grip on the ground by making sure that with each step by planting as much of their foot on the ground (balls and toes of the foot) with each step.

video
Ever heard of chip-coated pavement?  It's pretty much gravel with not enough tar to call it real asphalt.  In other words, it's a little loose.  That's what I was pushing this truck on.  Either I get my footing right or put my teeth into the bumper when I slip!
 
I learned this from pushing work trucks in lousy driveways...wearing my Chucks.  Push heavy weights on such an unforgivingly-loose surface with a shoe that has does you no favors will force you to plant your feet one way:  the right way.  What would rock climbing shoes have done to fix that? 
I'm not completely slamming specialized shoes, or anything else for that matter in aiding weight training.  Where I in a competition and I had the means to buy a special pair of shoe for every event to maximize my chances of winning, I'd certainly do it!

Your work-out gear doesn't make you strong.  It didn't make Michael Jordon one of the most legendary athletes of all time and it won't make you fantastically strong.  Your head and your body are responsible for that.  If you don't have those two things in check then the only thing that your shoes buy you is credit card debt. 

SO TRAIN AND STOP WORRYING ABOUT SHIT THAT DOESN'T MATTER.
    

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two of my Favorite gym equipment hacks

As soon as a crash-landed in a real gym way back in September, I quickly gained a reputation as being an unusual, unconventional, and just outright crazy guy in the gym.  Free from any restraints of being in a lifting sport at the moment and enriched with a decade, or so, of strength training improvisation I look at things differently.  These are a few tricks of my trade that I've employed lately.

Fat Gripz...or just thick grip training
It's easily been years since I've done anything resembling a normal-diameter bar for pull-ups with any regularity.  I've avoided them like I had an allergy to them...if I've even used a bar at all.  Venture far enough into this blog and you'll find numerous example of me using towels, balls, ropes, suspension rigs, or just a plain thick bar to do pull-ups with.  Early on in my training I developed a rich respect for training with some sort of grip challenge and couldn't conceive of a week going by without one. 

While I love adding grip challenges into my training, I only do grip training only when I can do no other form of work (ie:  CoC training when I'm in a plane or car).  At this point of life, I've got  a house falling apart and a child to make sure doesn't turn into a misbehaved, rabid baby gorilla in the manners department grip training-only isn't the most judicious use of my precious training time. 

I've been asked in the gym before how to train my grip.  Too many go out of their way to avoid using their hands in any meaningful manner and then ponder why they can't do shit when they're not sitting on comfortably-padded piece of a machinery.

The antidote is simple:  get some fat gripz.  I long avoided buying these because I never actually had a pair in my hands.  On their web site, they look like some sort of cheap shit, even when not deforming under the pressure of weight plates.
Yes, they are tougher than they look

That was a horrible misconception.  I tried a pair in Florida and loved them so much for months that I bumped up to the Extremes as soon as they became available.  They recommend these only if you have a lot of experience with standard fat gripping work (2-2 3/8" diameter) and I cannot disagree with that.  The big boys are brOOtal!  They sliced my Pull-ups from 20 reps on a 2 3/8" bar down to 13!  They also make a barbell curl with a set of plates stupid-difficult.  The latter makes a great stupid human challenge in a gym. 
Frankly, they are so humiliating to use that I refuse to be photographed with the stupid-small amounts of weight I can use while working out with them. 
Anyway, if you've got a light night with a particular movement then consider throwing some sort of grip challenge element into the training mixture.  Another advantage that few know about to fat grip work is that it's also easier on your calluses.  The fat handle's increased surface area won't put nearly the pressure on your precious hand skin and reduces the likelihood of a tear.   Should you tear a callus, super glue it back on, go back to bed, and the next day do some work in the gym with thick bar training. 

Or if your gym has a thick bar, then use it.  Look for ways to add grip work in anywhere you see an opening for it. 

25 lbs Plates
Next to using a stack of 5 lbs bumper plates on a barbell to hide the fact that you're weaker than a prepubescent girl, using 25 lbs plates when you could use 45's is the most reliable manner to look like a gym-douche.  Still, that's exactly what I did for the bulk of my squat work after coming off my ACL rehab work. 

...and I was picked on in a corresponding manner for using them. 

My choice squats these days have been belt squats and Zercher lifting (Deadlift-to-zercher squat...and back again).  For both of these lifts, I use a  prodigious stack of 25 lbs plates for one simple reason:  they're shorter than 45's.  While the few true adherents to squatting  (and generally shun off the leg press as an acceptable squat substitute) can't seem to step away from the squat cage, I enthusiastically start my barbells on the floor.  The shorter plates start everything lower, thus adding much-needed depth to belt squatting and creating a deficit for the deadlift portion of the Zercher lift. I've also used these for lateral/hockey deadlifts and barbell hack squats as well. 
Belt squatting.  This actually made my knee feel good while getting some quad strength back!
 
Or, they could be used for a conventional deficit deadlift.  If memory serves me correctly, you can get about 350 lbs on a bar with just quarter plates.  My hamstrings are still shit from lack of training due to my knee that led to some muscle tightness and imbalance that culminated in an irritated disc in my lumbar spine.  So, my hamstrings are crying for stimulation and this was their way of throwing a fit at me.  So, I've tried to wring as much hamstring action out of the conventional deadlift by doing them in medium volume with 25 lbs plates.  It's been sore going but it's working. 

What is comprehensible to me about gyms is how needlessly dogmatic everyone can be about how they train and what they train with.  There is as little deviation from norms as there is hell to pay for straying from those norms. 
A bit of the hell I caught for a video I did on belt squatting and a perfect example of how to make the ultimate douchebag:  throw a Masshole in South Florida and let him make a living perving out to figure model clients dumb enough to hire him. 

 
The rest of the gym world can go fuck themselves. Yes, some of the shit they do works and a lot of it doesn't.  There's plenty of perfectly good gym hacks that go unnoticed and unused because of the horrid lack of anything resembling free thought or imagination while training.  Don't fall prey to this.  Use what works well, even if it's a bit weird.  
 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fear and Respect the Sandbag Push-up

 
Is it better to be feared or respected? 
 
 

Is it too much to ask for both?
 
 
That above statement could easily apply to strengthening the chest and keeping the shoulders healthy simultaneously.   My bench press-pushup articles have become so heavily hit on by Google searches by now that they've also become the single biggest source of SPAM on my site.   For some reason, if people want strength and/or big pecs, they bench press and put up with shoulder pain until they can't.  If they want conditioning and healthy shoulders, they push-up and then pretend that conditioning is so much more important than strength. 
 
So, I ask:  IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR BOTH?
 
 For some reason, weighted push-ups elude just about everyone's mind as a great compromise to getting strong without turning the shoulder joint into tendon-graters.  That may well be due to the difficulty of loading up the body with weight to perform them.  The pull-up and the dip are more straightforward since an inexpensive and easy method of adding weight to them exists in nearly every serious gym:  the dip belt.  The push-up is a bit more tricky.  The weight cant hang from the torso.  Weighted vests are expensive with any serious amount of mass to them. 
 
Those are not the only means to weight a push-up.  I've used chains around my neck and had a friend load plates on my upper back (CAUTION:  use rubber coated or bumper plates.  they stay stacked much better!   Few sensations will induce un-needed panic like the feel of 3 plates falling off your back).  My choice pick has been sandbags.  Alpha Strong Sandbags.  These are the easiest weight I've found to get on the back alone and stay in place without beating the shit out of the body.
 
I've used the smaller, Beast sandbag (50-60 lbs) as well as the larger Kraken (135-to-who-the-fuck-knows-left-it-in-the-rain-again pounds).  The little guy is pretty simple to get into position since it can just be dangled around the neck.  I'm sure the fine readers remember this one from a several months ago...
 
 
That This was good for sets of 15-20 reps.  That can still build some strength and it's also a great neck and trap work-out simultaneously. 
 
Since being set free to try tempt fate with my knees again, I've resorted to throwing the big one on my back and doing push-ups pretty often.  Figuring out the best way to get that bulky blob of sand back there as efficiently as possible looked like a Three Stooges prank but I came up with the following sequence:
  • Clean the sandbag off the ground
  • place the sandbag on one shoulder while doing some twerking and holding the bag to the neck.
  • squat down and let the sandbag slide down the back a bit.
  • get into the push-up position at the bottom of the squat

Clearly, should have let this one slide farther down my back
Since I wasn't interested in challenging my midsection strength on either of these weighted push-ups, I usually spread my feet to impart a bit more stability.  Since there is no rule book to doing these sandbag push-ups, I also mess around with hand placement.  Regardless of where my hands go (wide or narrow) I don't like to flare my elbows out. 

On either of these push-ups I just demonstrated, getting rid of the weight is as easy as dropping one shoulder and letting it slide off. 

Since I brought up a key point of doing a push-up right, Another virtue of slinging some weight on the back and pushing some extra bodyweight off the ground is that it also can help clean up bad push-up form.  Rather than take the word of some wing-nut blogger on the internet, here's a guy who actually, successfully, trains people for a living on how to do one right:


See that around 7:26?  I'm kind of re-enacting the same thing with 135 lbs of sand instead of 135 lbs of super-cool, kick-ass woman.  It's not particularly feasible to do these sandbag push-ups with bad form.  Something will give out too soon.  So, I've found that I either have to do them right, or they just won't get done. 

Life is already too full of compromises and dogmatic adherence to traditions for no good reason.  There is no excuse for the bench presses hegemonic domination of chest training.  There's no reason why a push-up have to sit in the neglected strength-endurance-conditioning bin of tools, collecting figurative dust.  So, grab a sandbag and get your fear and respect in one move.