Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Leg Positioning With Pushups

I've covered several different ways to manipulate the lowly pushup in previous posts. Many of these I'm sure that you've seen before. What you may have not seen (I certainly haven't seen it much) is ways to change up the pushup by manipulating your legs. All of these seem to have one common benefit: They are going to add challenge by forcing your core muscles to engage more. To what degree depends on which variation that you're doing.

The swiss ball pushp is the most common way to add challenge by destabilizing your legs. With your feet moving all over the place you're going to have to contract your legs and abs far more than what you're used to. I used to look at the swiss ball as a sissy girls fitness tool and so I wrote off these pushups. BIG MISTATKE! The added heigth really makes these hard. If that is too much for you, draw on your lessons from elevation manipulation and get your hands on some chairs. If you don't have access to a swiss ball, or desire less heigth, use whatever ball that you have that will hold the weight of your feet and legs.

A second way to change it up is to do what are usually called spiderman pushups. In this variation, you're going to lower yourself to the ground while bringing one of your knees to your elbow as you descend. From here you have two options: You could bring your leg back to the starting position and bring the other leg down and back on the next rep or you could leave it there and continue with your pushups. The former makes a great compound exercise that will challenge your obliques and hip flexors. The latter will be a powerful oblique conditioner. Both of these variations add challenge to your chest muscles because the weight of the leg will be supported not by the ground but by your chest muscle on that side. You can also do this one with your feet elevated as well. Either way, work both sides.

I haven't experimented with this one extensively but this is easily the most difficult version of the three. Find a wall or a door and walk your feet up the wall and do some pushups with your feet pushed against the wall/door. Make sure to keep your back straight. This is brutally intense because you have to it reasonably slow so you don't slip and you have to contract most of your lower, middle and upper body in order to stabilize yourself. The higher you go up the wall, the harder it gets.

I hope that I've been able to convince you not to overlook the basic pushup. There are many ways to spice it up and extract more usefullness out of it. I've only scratched the surface. It is a wonderfully versatile exercise, capable of doing many great things for your body.

Snow Shovel Conditioning

It’s only a matter of time before the ground freezes and it will support the increasingly abundant snow on the ground here in the Northeast United States. Despite having snowplows and blowers, the lowly shovel always has a place in snow cleanup. It’s cheap, it doesn’t run out of fuel, and it can clean small areas that machinery can’t touch. I personally love to shovel snow in the winter. It’s a great reason to get outside on a nice winter day, get rid of some cabin fever, and get my body moving in a time of the year when I’m at my most sedentary.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the snow shovel is the operator. Many people complain about the shoveling causing back pain and generally, they shun this physical labor. Some proper physical conditioning can cure a lot of this and this explains why so few like to shovel snow. Many lack the conditioning to shovel snow without pain or difficulty.

Shoveling is really a full-body piece of physical labor. It uses the arms, back, legs, shoulders, and abs to shovel. The biggest problem that most do is that they shovel improperly. They use their back to lift the shovel when they should be using their legs. Lifting a shovel full of snow with your back bent over hundreds of times has two of the movements that can injure the lower back. You are lifting with an arched lower back and you’re lifting an object too far in front of your body. Either one can cause injury. Both together, done hundreds of times, is going to hurt.

Instead, you should be lifting the snow with your legs while keeping your back straight. So, you should practice several squats in moderate to high volume. Hindu and sissy squats are great for this but even a basic squat will help immensely. I firmly believe that done in volume if nothing more than to get your muscle memory trained to bend with your legs when you have to pick something off the ground, such as snow.

This doesn’t mean that the back doesn’t play a role here though. Your back and abdominal muscles are going to be needed to properly stabilize your body as you pick up the snow and throw it. Several different bridges will build up the spinal muscles in the lower back. You should also do some abdominal muscles that incorporate a twisting movement. To round off your snow shovel training, some close grip chinups and pullups will get your lats and traps conditioned to throw the snow.

Overall, aim for higher volume exercises to get yourself in shape for throwing snow. Your work is moderately difficult and requires you to work for longer periods of time. So, high volume calisthenics and aereobic isometrics should be the cornerstone of your conditioning.

Also, another tip for shoveling snow is to alternate between left and right hand shoveling in order to reduce fatigue on the lower back. Make sure that you get yourself a lightweight shovel. Once you lower your body to pick up the snow, immediately shift your lead hand on the shovel foreward so that you're not keeping the weight so far away from your body when shoveling. If you're just pushing the snow, and you're into boxing, then you can have some fun with pushing snow with the shovel. Throw right hands with a shovel in your hand and push the snow that way. Switch up and do some left hands after that. You can easily do this as long as there isn't a lot of snow.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Training for Reality

I've discussed this before but as I was rolling up some hose and putting them away with a former weight lifter, I was reminded of my former admonitions about the weighted dead lift. I think that exercising should have some real-world carry-over. As I watched this guy lift up the rolls of hose, I saw the deadlift movment that he was so used to doing. I've always wondered why the deadlift ever got its reputation as a health builder. Many thousands of posters have been printed up and distributed all over the country where heavy objects have to be lifted telling people to NOT LIFT in a manner that looks, well, like a deadlift.

Then they say that the hindu squat is bad for your knees. That is a curious statement since the manner that most describe to lift a heavy object looks kind of like a hindu squat. It's bizzare to me how the weight lifting world lives in its alternative universe where they'll teach you how to lift an object so contrary to the real world.

Keep this in mind when you decide what to do for exercising. Your workouts should prepare you for the realities of your life. Your training shouldn't exist in a world that you don't live in. Your training ought to make you strong enough to live a prosperous life and should minimize the amount of physical decline that you experience as you age.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Bodyweight Files Commandments

I feel as though that there are things about fitness that I keep repeating over and over again. Therefore, I decided to sum them all up as the commandments of the Bodyweight files. They are as follows:

1. Muscular strength comes from intense contraction of the muscles. It doesn't matter where the tension comes from.

2. Breath deeply and powerfully.

3. Don't sacrifice control for speed. Speed-Control= INJURY

4. To manipulate your body, be it muscle gain or weight loss, you must maintain a strict diet.

5. To manipulate your body mass you must develop a level of commitment that the public will regard as fanatical. Ignore this at all costs!

6. Train Everyday. Vary your intensity but never take a day off.

These aren't in any particular order of importance either. I just thought I'd throw them up for people to absorb and keep in mind when putting together a plan for staying healthy and strong.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Too Strong Too Fast?

You don't need me to tell you that we live in a world that craves and demands rapid results. We're all about short-term gratification and we often lack the ability to see the bigger picture of what detrimental things our desires could do to us. Strength training is no different. We demand to see rapid results in strength gains in the shortest period of time possible. Unfortunately, this can result in some serious problems down the road.

I will give this to weight training: It's probably easier for the average person to rapidly increase your maximal strength with weights than it is with bodyweight. Still, there is more to it than that. I have no doubt that I could have reached 180 lbs faster had I been stacking dozens of pounds onto some dumbells. Still, there's more to it than that. What happens when my joints start to ache once I hit my late 30's? What happens if I compress my cartilage discs in my back from the exta weight on my body? How about if I have a minor slip and an accident? Sure, I may have all kinds of strength in those muscles but what is the good if I'm partially crippled and can't use it? I've heard that the several people, from the Alan Calvert, godfather of weight lifting, to Jamie Foxx who moved away from weight lifting for the same reason: aching joints from heavy weight lifting.

Your cartilage and joints over the long term aren't the only thing to worry about. Every though about the tendons that your muscles connect to? One problem with tendons and ligaments is that they have a far more limited blood flow to them (if any at all) than your muscles do. This is important because they take longer to strengthen. So, if you have a ridiculously powerful muscle attached to a tendon that can't hold the strain of the contraction placed on it, you're going to end up ripping it right off your bone. What good is your powerful muscle then? This is exacerbated by anabolic supplements and steriods too I might add.

So, don't be in such a damn rush. Don't let your aching desire to be the biggest and strongest in the shortest period of time overwhelm your need for a healthy body. At the end of the day, your muscles are only as good as the rest of the support structure on your body. If you wreck it in the name of big, pretty, and powerful muscles then you're going to be left with a body that can't do anything that you want to do with it.

What do I have against Weights?

Kettlebells are catching on more than I thought that they would. Now, they're showing up at Dick's Sporting Goods. Not that I'm in any rush to buy them because what I'm doing is working just fine and I just can't justify buying something that I may not be able to travel with. I admit that I may have a bit of a chip on my shoulder and splashed with some distain for weights but when I sit down with a rational mind and think about it, I only have two things against weights:

1. They cost money (especially if you need a gym membership to use them).

2. I can't travel with them easily.

So really, my beef isn't with the iron itself per ce. It is more to do with the guys who advocate pumping them. Most of my bitterness lies with them.

Speaking of lying, that is my biggest problem with weight lifting advocates: The lies. Were you to listen to the overwhelming majority of them, there is only one way to get strong and that is by lifting weights. That is a flat lie and I have a bit of a perfectionist streak in me that just goes crazy when I hear someone saying something that is just flat out not true. Of course it's possible to get strong without them. I've been doing it for four years now (doing an organized, daily routine that is). Even as I've gone from 145 lbs to 177 lbs I've stunned my Brazilian Jui Jitsu classmates with my strength in relation to my size. The whole time I've been doing it, I've never touched a weight. I can't count how many push-ups and pull-ups I've cracked out over the past six years though.

There is another lie that I hear a lot too: You can't gain muscle mass with bodyweight. Bodyweight is only good for muscular endurance not for bulking up. The truth is that if you do high enough intensity exercises combined with the proper food intake, you will definetly gain muscle mass. I was up to 180lbs at one point this year and all I did was Bodyweight and eat more. No weights, no supplements (ah-HEM) .

Just remember this: Muscles will grow if you place enough tension on them. This will force small tears and prompt regrowth of the muscle to a much thicker size, thus increasing strength. Ultimately, your body doesn't know, and doesn't care, where that intense tension comes from. It could come from your body's gravitational pull, an opposing limb, an antagonist muscle, or a foreign object. It all works.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is it fanaticism?

If only I could count the number of times that I've been called a fitness fanatic or an exercise nazi (or some variation on that theme). It doesn't bother me though. I've always had desire to do what I wanted and disregarded doing things that would make people approve of me. Besides, few will complain or criticize the results of my training even if they ridicule the way that I got it.

I find that comical. People with inferior builds telling those who are physically conditioned that the way they got that body it is too strict, rigorous, or fanatical make me laugh. If what they did yielded good results, then why are they never getting to where they want to be physically?

Some philosopher once described virtue as being the middle ground between too much and too little. For example, courage would be the middle ground between being a coward and being stupid. Now, the middle ground will change from time to time as the social definitions of excess vary.

That is the problem right now with society as we know it. The virtue of how much exercise is enough to ensure a healthy, strong and good looking physique is lost in modern society's interpretation of excess and deficiency. Any sort of daily, regular physical training defines you as being extreme. Daily physical training and a clean diet is now considered excessive. We don't often take the time to realize how much modern society skews the lines. Still, it works and its critical for succeeding in getting a fit, strong body.

This is where having a thick skin comes into play. You have to be able to ignore this faulty thinking that society accepts as truth. Manipulating your body, be it losing fat or gaining muscle, requires diligence, focus, determination that the flab-ulous in society can't or won't comprehend. Don't let them talk you out of it. If what they did worked so damned well, then why are they in worse shape than you? Keep that in mind before you allow yourself to be disuaded from healthy living.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I'm sure that a sizable portion of those who are strength training are doing so because of an insecurity of some kind. I know that it was certainly a catalyst for me to start getting stronger. I wasn't heavily bullied as a kid but I did receive a share of it since I was on the bad side of being skinny. Still, I don't think it was a bad thing per-ce. It was part of a conscious decision to get myself stronger and more fit. At the end of the day, I'm no doubt better for it.

Insecurities don't need to be bad things. If we look at it, they are telling us something about ourselves. If we're insecure because we're too weak, too thin, too fat, etc then we are getting a message from ourselves (and outside sources too) that something isn't right. Now, it wasn't right that I got bullied because I was small in school but it did teach me a lesson about life in general: BEING WEAK SUCKS! Weakness isn't a quality to be maintained. It's something that needs to be corrected. This insecurity motivated me to correct this in myself. Now, I'm definitely a better person for it.

Don't allow yourself to be crippled by your insecurities. Use them as a motivating factor. Accept the fact that this could be your mind's way of telling you that there is a situation that needs to be corrected. Then, set your sites on fixing this. Insecurities will only make you a worse person if you allow them to exist to do so.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Never Gymless, a Review

Wow! It's not common to find a book this comprehensive out there. Ross Enamait's book is crammed with more information than the vast majority of exercise books out there. It's a small wonder why he's so widely respected writers and trainers out there. I like how many exercises he has covered in this book as well as variations to make the exercises more difficult should they become easier. Granted, this isn't a strict bodyweight-only book but the equipment he uses to add resistance isn't too exotic or expensive. If you don't wish to use any equipment to add resistance, you can get along just fine with this book.

I really appreciate that this book doesn't just give you the exercises, the routines and expects you to do what is told blindly. The whys of what you're doing is throughly explained. Ross Enamait goes into great detail about the different types of strength, why they're useful, and how to obtain them. The kind of detail that is given here is something that isn't seen a lot and I really appreciate it as a reader.

As much as I'm impressed by this book, I think that there is a few minor shortcomings. I think that this book is definetly geared towards a person who has a more advanced level of conditioning. While there are some beginner exercises, they are somewhat few and far between. Many of the exercises aren't described in great detail either.

This book is also geared towards a person who is training to be a combat athlete, like Ross Enamait is. The structure of the workouts is definetly geared in this direction. While this doesn't bother me (since I do train in Brazilian Jui Jitsu while dabbling in some striking arts) it may turn those who are into general fitness. What I appreciate about Enamait is that he is very honest and says this upfront. This is a minor gripe since you could easily take the exercises and arrange them to your liking.

I have to say that some of the things that he's capable of doing amaze me. One arm pushups aren't my cup of tea but doing a plyometric one arm pushup is fat out remarkable! This guy is in incredible condition! I also like how he gives out information on how to get the equipment or build the equipment that he's using. He definetly brings a can-do attitude to fitness that I love. If you're looking to increase the intensity of your workouts, then I highly reccomend this book.
There is one thing that is so badly neglected in exercising by many people, especially by those who are trying to lose weight. I think it's the reason why so many have such a hard time dropping weight. It has nothing to do with diet or the intensity or duration of the exercise that they are doing. It's their breathing. It's just too shallow. It's surprising how many people who I know are overweight and are shallow breathers. Subsequently, I know two people who gain weight easily but lose it just as fast. Both of them are deep breathers in general. I don't think that this is a coincidence. There is some science to back this theory of mine up.

Breathing has a lot more to do with weight loss than many realize. There is a reason why aerobic exercises (as well as high volume calisthenics) are recommended for weight loss. All physical activity can use sugar present in the bloodstream to make the energy molecule, ATP, that makes muscle movement. Aerobic activity can use sugar and fat, which is why it is turned to for weight loss. Still, there is more to fat burning than just doing a moderately difficult exercise for long periods of time.

It's right in the name. AEROBIC! In other words, OXYGEN. You need to be taking in more oxygen into your lungs when you do your physical activity. Otherwise, you won't be getting the second piece of the puzzle in order to burn more fat. I realized this when I see some overweight people struggling to exercise. They lack the lung power. These are the ones who usually have a hard time losing weight.

Think about that if you're trying to lose weight. Are you of doing deep, diaghram breathing? If you're not, chances are you're not stoking your fat-burning furnace to it's full potential. Practice breathing from your diaghram. A good way to do this is by laying on your back in the sit up position with two light objects, one on your stomach and one on your chest. You should strive to move the object on your stomach when you breath. The object on your chest should stay stationary. Once you've gotten the hang of diaghram breathing, make it a point to practice this frequently through the day. Here is another good reason to quit smoking: the impaired lung function won't be doing you any favors.

It has been said before that all creative thoughts begin with breathing deeply. So, to start creating a fearsome physique, start with some deep breaths. It's the first step in creating a healthy and powerful body.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Your Neck: Don't forget it, Don't baby it!

It's easy to look out in the world and figure out what the most neglected body part in exercising: The Neck. It's not hard to find even a good bodybuilder with a poorly developed neck. That's also revealing to me because I think that the neck is the quickest way to determine whether or not someone is in good shape or not. When someone is overweight, even if they're the thin but overweight kind, you'll see the fat deposit in their neck. If someone has underdeveloped muscles, you'll see their neck seemingly sag under the weight of their head. That alone is a good enough reason to exercise your neck: It's the pillar that the brain rests upon!

The neck wasn't destined to be a weak body part. With it's thickness and short length combined with the multitude of muscles that support it (including the trapezuis, one of the biggest muscles in the back, is tied to the neck) makes it a potentially formidable body part. Still, it's a weak link on most bodies. What is especially pathetic about the situation is how EASY it is to get a strong neck.

Even 10 minutes of exercise twice a week will make your neck considerably stronger. If you did some self resistance exercises followed by some easy bridging work you will build up an enviable neck in very short order. You'd be hard-pressed to build up another body part to any degree in such a short period of time like you can build your neck. So keep it in mind when you're exercising.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My thoughts about Matt Furey

This guy has got to be the most controversial figure in the realm of bodyweight culture. The way he says what he says, the stuff he sells, and how much he charges just sets the web on fire half the time. I was brought to exercising and to BW at the same time by his ads in Grappling Magazine almost four years ago. I feel like my training has evolved past what he teaches in many ways and I started to view him in a negative light, possibly due to what I hear about him.

Reflecting on it, much of Furey's teachings are very ingrained into what I think that fitness should be. I definitely believe that exercising every day is the best way to train. I feel that it really stamps on the mind that exercise is a habit much like brushing your teeth and taking a shower is in daily life and that they shouldn't be skipped. I also believe that you can get a good workout in a short period of time, like Furey teaches. I feel that 15 minutes a good minimum and that anything (even 15 minutes) is better than nothing at all. I think that maintaining a healthy weight is best done by cutting starch-heavy foods out of your diet. Most importantly, Furey taught me that you can work out anytime, anywhere with no equipment at all. Even still, his books are some of the few true BW-only books out there. Many claim to be but aren't. They'll throw in some kind of weight or an over sized rubber band somewhere along the line.

There are things about Furey that grate on me. I agree that he charges too much for much of his material. I also think that his material lacks a certain polish that books ought to have. I like Combat Conditioning and Combat Abs but I also agree that they are a bit thin on information. I don't think he's trying to rip anyone off. If you listen to him talk, he talks slowly and with few words. His books are a reflection of that. Some of his teachings sometimes come off as a bit wacky for me (like his Chinese love making system). If anything, I like vintage Furey better than I like the present version. He is coming off more and more like an internet telemarketer.

Then there's the biggest question of all: Is Matt Furey in good shape or is he fat? I don't know him personally but to look at him, he physically reminds me of my dad. My dad is bullishly strong but he gains weight very, very easily. He gains fast and he loses fast. I think that Matt Furey falls into this category. I've seen him with fat under his chin and around his neck and then I've seen it gone a month later. Even if he was completely leaned out, I don't think he'd demonstrate the typical cut that we often associate with people in shape. He's got a weird-built body. I have no doubt that he's strong as hell but in this business, your body sells your material. Granted he may have a hard time controlling his weight than others do but that is a harsh reality of the fitness world.

Overall, I think that Matt Furey could be compared to Harry Houdini. Houdini broke a lot ground with his magic and escapes. He was instrumental in magic's popularity, even to this day even though many have surpassed his feats. He was the first guy to make some noise, get noticed, and put his art on the map. I think the same could be said for Matt Furey. His single greatest contribution to BW culture is his ability to get BW noticed as a legitimate form of exercise. For me, that outweighs his shortcomings.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Muscle-Bound For the Big Fight?

As he steps into the ring for the first time after loosing his heavyweight title in the UFC, I remember Tim Sylvia's fight one year ago against Jeff Monson. It was a physically peculiar match-up: 6'8" 260 lbs Sylvia vs. 5'9" 240 lbs Monson. As I watched the fight, it was quickly apparent that Monson was, for lack of a better term, muscle bound. His legs didn't seem to hold his massively muscled upper body as he threw punches very well. He lacked any sort of foot speed needed to get inside of Sylvia's massive reach and get the take-down. Actually, all of his movement seemed mechanical. He was exhausted by the 5th round and lost the fight.

Now, the term muscle bound was coined nearly a century ago by some doctors who believed that exercising the muscles would eventually lead to the muscles being so overly developed that they'd tighten to the point that the joints wouldn't even be able to move. Hence the bound in muscle bound. While that isn't possible there is a deeper truth to the theory: The idea that the muscles can be exercised to the point were they hinder physical performance.

Such as the case with Monson. Now I shouldn't be bashing Monson since I know that he does extensive training with isometrics but his training didn't address his physical needs. He needed to be light on his feet. He needed to be quicker than Sylvia. His success depended on getting a take-down on the much bigger Champion. Instead, his training was focused on making him stronger and bigger rather than more explosive and fast. It was foolish for a former light heavyweight to even try to be stronger than a very large, career heavyweight. There was one point in the fight where Monson got a double-leg takedown but tried to pull Sylvia's legs with his arms. He just wasted energy. He wasn't going to be stronger than Sylvia. He was a little guy trying to be a big guy.

There's a lesson to be learned there for all of us: Train for the realities of your life. Take a look at your needs and shape your physical training based on that. Make it a point to balance all the needs of your body. If you don't do this, then you're going to render your body worthless to the tasks that you face in your life. In other words, you'll be muscle bound.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Enough with the Hype!

One thing that I hope that I never do here is submit to or create hype. I'm not about that. I like straight facts and straight talk. Unfortunately, I'm a lone row boat in the bullshit ocean that is the fitness world.

I'm not the greatest exercise historian but I've read enough to tell you that there is nothing at all new under fitness sun. Much of what you see has been around for thousands of years. Granted it wasn't as mainstream or as popular but it was still there. The Chinese made and used barbells. The ancient Egyptians did pushups. Yoga is thousands of years old. Most of these pillars of modern fitness didn't get much attention through the years usually for three basic reasons:

1. Classism. Having a physically well-developed body was usually a sign that you were a lowly laborer. Therefore, the royalty and the Elite typically frowned on anything that would give them the look of a proletariat. Trends change but being gaunt or overweight was a sign usually of great prestige.

2. Military Secret. Much of the knowledge was classified. The armies wanted to assure that they were the biggest, strongest people the society so that they could maintain control and order. So, the average person was denied this knowledge. This happens to this day.

3. Price. In regards to equipment-based exercise, that is. It was usually very, very rare and therefore expensive. Do you ever wonder where sandbag training and kettle bells came from? Weights were too pricey so people who desired to get in shape would lift whatever heavy objects that they could find. If you look at some old weights used for calibrating scales, you'll often find that they have a stunning resemblance to Kettle bells. Coincidence?

I mention this because I want you to see through the hype. Don't think that what you're seeing is something new and something that you must do. Don't think that there is some hidden benefit that you're not getting that you simply must be doing. There is no magic exercise out there. Just about everything under the fitness sun has been tried several hundred times in the history of mankind. The key to it all is hard work, focus, and a good mind-body connection. You don't need anything else so don't dupe yourself into thinking that you're missing out because a slick advertiser says that you are.

How much Time?

To be quite honest, I'm kind of ashamed that I haven't written this blog entry sooner. I think that it is a gaping hole that I should have filled a long, long time ago. When I was in Peru, my future brother-in-law, Francisco, started asking me about how to get into shape. He quizzed me about many things, including how much time he needed to spend a day getting into shape.

I asked him how much time did he have. He replied, frustrated, that he wanted to know how much time. I again asked him, how much time did he have. He didn't get it, and frankly most don't. There isn't a specific amount of time. There is no easy, cookie cutter answer to this question. People frequently dig themselves into a hole when attempting to get themselves into shape. They think that there is a certain amount of time that they absolutely must do in order to get into shape. Then, if they don't have that amount of time, then they can't exercise. This is a huge mistake. It shouldn't be that rigid. You should look at the time you have not like: "Oh, I only have 20 minutes, I can't exercise!". Instead, think: "I only have 20 minutes, how can I make the most of it?"

Yes, you can absolutely get a good workout in only 20 minutes. Francisco didn't believe me. I asked him what to do. I asked him what COULD HE DO? He told me that he could do 20 pushups and only 2 pullups. So, I told him alternate between the two for 20 minutes. He asked me if that was the best workout. I told him that if it was what he could do and what he had the time to do, then it certainly was. He couldn't comprehend that it could be that simple.

Yes, you do need to modify your life to fit in some exercise but don't shoot yourself down by setting up this rigid protocol that must be obeyed. Any exercise is better than none at all. 20 minutes of pullups and pushups may not be as good as an hour but it's better than 0 minutes of pulling and pushing. Your routine should, to some degree, tailor to your life as well. Use some creativity in shaping your exercise routine. If you do it right, you can make a lot of progress out of just 20 minutes. Above all, be positive. Don't look at your time limitations as a death sentence to your training. FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT WORK!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Rope Climbing, A forgotten Gem

I´ve rediscovered the joys of rope climbing in the past month and a half. The idea crept into my mind and I finally broke down and bought a 25´section of 1 1/4" manila rope. In time, I´m going to sink some telephone poles in my back yard and create a rope climbing station so that I have a place to do them. I personally believe they are that invaluable for overall physical fitness.

They are an advanced exercise for sure and I´m still learning the ropes of the ropes. When I got my chunk of rope, I couldn´t do the climb with the feet. I work on it, just in case I have a problem and my hands can´t make it. Yeah, I just grabbed the rope with my hands and just climbed up and down, no feet at all. Tough guy, for sure!

I quickly found a defect in my arm training. The sides of my arms hurt like hell. The reason why is because there is a muscle that runs along the side of the elbow. It´s purpose is to stabilize the elbow joint while the bicep flexes the arm. Since this is barely discussed and commonly forgotten about, I disregarded it. This amounted to a painful mistake on the rope. To strengthen it ( if you´re going to climb the rope, I strongly urge you to do this!), take the following exercise:

1. Place your arm at a 90 degree angle with the forearm parallel to the ground in front of your chest. Clench your hand in a tight fist.

2. Place you opposite hand on your fist.

3. Raise your fist up, keeping your elbow flexed at 90 degrees while resisting with the opposite hand. Do five at maximum tension

4. Repeat with the opposite side.

Also, some loosening up and stretching is almost mandatory before doing the rope. Also, if you´re following the exercise format that I gave in my previous post about bulking up, I´d recommend that you move the DVR/DSR/Iso section up first and do the calisthenic section after. Fingertip pushups are a great augmentation to the rope climb.

The true worth of the rope climb lies in the fact that it is utilizing both isotonic and isometric contraction in one single exercise. While you´re using one arm to reach up and grasp the rope, your opposite arm is going to be locked in place, holding your bodyweight to the rope. This is an intense isometric contraction for sure! The subsequent lift is a powerful, pull-up style movement. This is an exercise that forces your body to obey your mind´s wishes. If the body doesn´t, you could get hurt. It´s a powerful training tool but it requires some common sense. I recommend that you have very powerful arms, are proficient in closed grip pullups, chinups and towel pullups. Above all, you have a positive mindset. If you don´t, then skip this one!

Don´t come here and blame me if you hurt yourself. Consider yourself warned if you´re too weak to do these. I take respnsiblity for my own actions. You should take responsiblity for yours. Otherwise, be careful and have fun!

Look Backward to Move Foreward

The fitness world has regressed in the past 50 years. Since the popularity of weight training, supplements, gyms, and steroids have exploded upon the fitness world, it´s residue has tarnished the fitness world in a most unfortunate way. Along the way, those who wanted to get fit have surrendered to the notion that fitness of body comes from these and not from within. It comes from your mind. It comes from your desire and your focus.

This is what the fitness books of 70-100 years ago preached about. Authors like Sandow, Maxick, Atlas, Tilney, Jowett, Swoboda, and Van Digglen spoke at length about the need to have a focused mind to develop a powerful body. This may have been born out of necessity. Weights were hideously expensive so having piles of weights would have been incredibley expensive. So, they supplemented by using their mind to direct an intense contraction to the muscle that they were working while using a light weight. This eliminated the need for having all of the expensive iron. The anvil-lifting wonder George Jowett commented in his magnum opus Unrevealed Secrets of Man that he never lifted a weight more than 25 lbs while training. The weight merely served as a way to magnify and focus the contraction that the mind was doing. This may have been an improvisation, but it was a much smarter way to work out.

Unfortunately, this is utterly lost upon the modern fitness world. Now, machines and massive weights provide the resistance. There is little focus on the of the mind on the task at hand. If there were, then there wouldn´t be televisions at gyms, would there? Every lifter has a story of how they have given themselves muscle tears, ripped tendons off their bones, injured themselves, etc. A quick search of Youtube will give you the hideous picture of the lack of focus, attention, and intelligence in the fitness world.

That´s why I say that we have fallen behind. If anything, we need to look back at the way it used to be. We need to use our minds to develop our bodies and not rely on foreign objects to do the work that our minds should be doing. Work out without distractions. Focus your mind on the body part that you´re working on. Develop a connection between your mind and your body. This may not be as easy as piling on 100 lbs of weight on your shoulders but it will yield a much healthier, stronger body as well as a better, more focused mind.

Start looking backwards now...

If you´re reading this, Thanks, Gordon Anderson, for all of the good work that you´ve done here. It is invaluable. You´re the tour guide to the past, and a damn good one at that!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

As requested... How I bulked up to 180 lbs

It´s a timely topic for me to discuss how I added about bulked up to 180 lbs. I might need to re-read it. You see, I´ve been horribly sick and I dropped about 12 lbs while honeymooning in Peru. So, I´m in dire need of some muscle mass, much like Joe who requested this post. I have never put it all down in writing how I did it. I did write on my eating habits back in a June 4 post (for ease of reference... Now, I´m going to discuss my exercise habits.

First and foremost, as much as I wanted muscular bulk, I didn´t want worthless muscle. I have a physically demanding life in general and being worthlessly bloated just isn´t an option. So, I had to Tailor my workouts so that I was achieving a bigger and versatile physique. So, each workout was a combination of DVR´s, DSR´s, isometrics and calisthenics. Much of the exercises was high intensity rather than high repetition. This results in more muscle. I did´t completely neglect high rep work since it has real life carry-over though. As a result, my rep count on my exercises stayed pretty constant, even as I gained weight.

I cut the workouts into days of focusing on my legs, arms, chest and shoulders, back, and abs. Since I wanted the bulk to end up in my arms and legs, these parts got two workouts a week. It broke down like this:

Monday: Arms

Tuesday: Legs

Wednesday: Chest and shoulders

Thursday: Legs

Friday: Arms

Saturday: Abs

Sunday: Back

For each workout, there was a basic structure as well. I fooled around with it a bit and changed the exercises done each time but the basic structure remained. Here´s how it goes for me:

Warm-up with some light movements and stretches

1. Calisthenics

2. A DVR or DSR

3. Isometrics

Sometimes I´d add a second set of DVR or DSR in after the isometric. All of these exercises were done with maximum tension and the DVR and DSR´s were done for only 5 reps. Often times, I´d do two or even three different types of calisthenics. I´d rest only for 5-10 deep breaths in between exercises, no more (unless I took in water). The calisthenics are done without a break in between. When doing the calisthenics, I take a number of calisthenics that I can reasonably do and hold myself to that number, no less. I didn´t do my maximum number of calisthenics because after the previous exercises, I´d never get to that number. So, if I could do 16 towel pullups, I shoot for 13. This alone was plenty challenging, believe me. Overall all, most of my workouts wouldn´t exceed one hour. Most were 25-40 minutes.

I feel that the combination of the different BW exercises was critical. Each has a specific attribute(s) that is important to overall fitness and real life strength. Calisthenics are very important because they force the muscles to work together to create power. The DVR and the DSR´s are great to zero in on specific muscle groups. Isometrics are fantastic because often times adding power to a movement gradually is needed in life. Plus, there are times when we need to maintain contraction powerfully for a period of time to get a task done. I felt I was successful in creating a physique to be admired as well as one that was functional for day to day life. Most of all, they are the best way to add a lot of intensity in a short period of time.

Of course, this was my experience with my body. Feel free to experiment when it comes to you. I´m building a different body than you are. You may need a different training program than me. Still, I hope that you take into consideration functionality when you´re training for the body of your dreams. What good is it if it can't do anything with it? You might as well grab the stanozolol, creatine, fake tanning lotion and the weights.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

My Bitter Disgust for Steriods

I just received a nice compliment on my old post about Ron Coleman. His frustration with the rampant steroid use in bodybuilding mirrors my own. It's a sad state of things but every major bodybuilder since the mid 60's has been a creation of steroids. Steroid use was embraced by both Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider early on and that pretty much assured that steroid use would become intertwined with weight lifting from then on. Thanks to bodybuilding's influence, weight training has become the premier form (and as far as most are concerned, the only form) of strength training out there. Wherever you find weights being used, steriods aren't far away. They've become that intertwined.

The Germans found out how to make synthetic testosterone back before the Second World War. It has been suggested but never proven that they administered testosterone to their soldiers in order to make them bigger, stronger and meaner (I personally don't believe this. Like every other evil empire, the Germans kept meticulous records of everything they did. So far, nothing confirming testosterone use in soldiers has surfaced). Most of this information was seized by the Soviets after the war. They promptly began administering steroids to their athletes in the Eastern Bloc. They immediately began to sweep all of the athletic events, including the Olympics. Not to be outdone, Bob Hoffman figured out what they were doing by sticking Dr. John Ziegler on the case. He wanted a better steroid than what the Soviets where using. Dinabol, the first commercial steroid, hit the market in 1958.

To see the stark difference that steroids made, Take a look at these pictures. Reg Park was the concensus-best bodybuilder just before Dinabol hit the market.

In the Mid-to-late 60's, Sergio Olivia was the man to beat. Look at the huge difference in his build as opposed to Reg Parks just 8 years earlier.

Why the bitter disgust? Um, where do I start? I'll just limit this to my single, biggest bitch about the whole situation: that you somehow need chemical enhancement to gain strength. Ever since steroids became such an integral part of the bodybuilding, the notion has been spread to get strength, you need something else to get strong, even if it's not steroids. Just look at the posters that sell gym memberships. I'm sure that you'll find a juiced body selling them. The steroid ideal has become the physical ideal. This infuriates me to no end. Lying to people and saying that weights are the only way to get strong gets me going enough as it is but to further the lie by hinting at the need for steroid use just sends me over the edge.
All you need is some good exercises, healthy food, the right mindset, and some focus of mind and body on your muscles. This was used by many long before the boom of supplements and steroids. It was all people had and they somehow managed to get strong and healthy without them. Believe it or not, it still works today, regardless of the potion peddlers selling their shit with a shaved, oiled, and juiced up body say.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Charle Atlas' Most Enduring Gift to The Fitness World

I'm writing this post right now in Lima, Peru. I'm at my in-laws apartment and across the street, there is a pretty garden-variety gym. On their sign, they have a picture of a man with a massive, obviously steroid-built physique. Like I said, it's a pretty normal sight to see in any gym anywhere in the world. Since it was shut out of the bodybuilding revolution, we never saw this in the Bodyweight world, and we have none other than Charles Atlas to thank for it.

At the time when steroids and weights locked in their venomous embrace back in the late 50's, Dynamic Tension was the biggest bodyweight course (it probably still is) out there. To anyone who has it, Charles Atlas had a thoroughly holistic approach to fitness that few have been able to match to this day. He was far more interested to building an attractive and functional physique as well as a complete man. He never changed the course, so he was obviously uninterested in trends and fads. Atlas' vision of what a man should be built like was not subject to the whims of the public and the styles of the day as expressed in the media.

He preserved that in the Bodyweight-based physical culture. We weren't infected with that hype-driven urge to inject god-knows-what and how much of it into our bodies in order to satisfy some bizarre carnal pleasures. To even think of using steroids when training with bodyweight doesn't even sound plausible, does it? It sounds as alien and implausible as seeing the Pope in a pornographic movie.

There are many great things that Charles Atlas did but as far as I'm concerned, that was his greatest gift to physical culture. He kept the purity in at least one, very important facet of physical culture. He kept those of us faithful to Bodyweight on the right path to perfect physical manhood when the rest of the fitness world plunged into the abyss.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How important is looking fit?

Pavel in his books has often disregarded the look of strength and fitness and I thought it was very refreshing. After all, the fitness industry is at least 70% geared towards how to look fit and often disregards how important it is to be fit. You only need to look to the circus freak-like de-evolution that bodybuilding has descended into as proof. So, for a person to shit all over that faulty mentality definitely appealed to me. Still, I just wouldn't want to look like Pavel. He's just too skinny. Is that really that wrong? I don't think so. I still think that there's some very valid reasons to look strong, fit and healthy. It still has some merit.

One thing that I learned this year when I wanted to gain some muscle-weight is how much having some physical presence has in the work place. I realized how much more seriously that I've been taken seriously since I'm not this skinny kid on the job. I'm not the only one whose noted that. I've heard of business executives who've taken up bodybuilding just for this reason. In the world of first impressions, looking fit and strong also translates to looking capable of doing the job. I know many people don't want to admit to this but until you experience it, you may not be inclined to believe it.

Being overweight often tells a lot about a person without the person ever saying anything. I remember an obese employee who worked at our shop years ago. He looked kind of slow. That wasn't an illusion. He was incredibly slow because of his obese body. He could only do a fraction of what our more physically fit employees could do in a day. Plus, he was always sick and frequently injured. The book definitely matched the cover. Once again, we may not want to admit it, but it's true that the appearance of physical health and strength (or lack of it) makes a difference at work.

Another incredibly valid reason that has been stated by self defense expert Sammy Franco to look strong is deterrence. It's a known fact that criminals don't typically prey on what looks like a strong person. They go for the seemingly weak and incapable. Deterrence is always best in self defense and walking around looking like a pillar of strength will help keep you safer.

I'll agree all day that modern fitness has taken this drive to look a certain way too far but I don't see the solution to this as completely disregarding looking fit as having any merit. It's all a balance and I don't see the answer to this problem as tipping the balance completely in the other direction. Looking the part still means something.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Improving my Calves

I want to start out by saying that I don't believe that my calves are anything to write home about yet. I'm still working on them for sure. What I can say for certain is that I'm making progress. I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the calf muscles are for and that might be the biggest reason that that calves are so hard to develop. If you don't understand how they work, then you won't select the right exercises to work them properly.

We are usually told that the calf muscles are used for raising the body up on the toes. This is true but it's also only a part of of what they are responsible for doing. What we neglect to realize is that the calf muscles work much like the forearms muscles do on the arm: They grip. In this case, they grip the ground. In order to get the most out of the calf raise exercises, it is necessary to raise as though you were gripping the ground with your feet and pushing your body up off the ground. Try them both ways and you'll notice a huge difference in the quality of the exercise.

The other, more neglected function of the calf muscle is that they also aid in flexing the knee. This can be demonstrated with one DVR. Place your toes pointing towards the ground. Now, tense the muscles of the leg while raising your heel up in a straight line up to your buttocks. What you'll note is a powerful contraction in the calf muscle. Often times, exercises that work the hamstrings will also hit the calves because of the flexing of the knee. Sissy squats are a great example. Just remember to grip the ground when doing them.

I came up with an exercise that really hammers the calves not too long ago by combining the movements of the calf raise and the sissy squats. It goes like this.

1. Raise up on your toes, applying Visualized Resistance to the calves while gripping the ground.
2. Once you've reached the top of the movement, bend the knees at to a right angle while keeping up on your toes.
3. Straighten the knees while staying up on the toes.
4. Gradually lower your heels back to the ground.

Gripping the ground is key. Without doing this, you won't be able to maintain balance up on your toes.

Knowing this may make developing the calves easier but it's still quite difficult. Keep your mind focused on what you're doing and be patient. It's taken me quite a while to get some definition. Persistence and focus will win out eventually.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hand positioning and Pushups

A previous post dealt with how to manipulate the difficulty of the pushup by elevating the limbs. In this post, I'll tackle how to change hand positioning when doing the pushup. Such a simple change can dramatically modify where the stress of the pushup is transferred to. The ease or difficulty will depend upon where you are strong or weak in your body.

The standard pushup sometimes gives people trouble with their wrists. One simple way to alleviate that is to perform the pushup on the fists rather than the palm. This variation has several benefits. In addition to straightening the wrists, it adds a couple of inches to the range of motion if you so chose to do. If you're involved in combat sports, pushups on the fists will help you hard-wire the proper fist form. You could even do these with handstand pushups.

If you want to strengthen your forearms and fingers, you could do pushups on your fingertips. These are somewhat difficult to do but the strengthening benefits of them are immeasurable. You may want to warm up first by doing some light stretching.

These first couple of variations deal with how your hands contact the floor when pushing up. You can also move your hands to change the muscular emphasis of the pushup. When the hands are moved closer together, or even overlapped or formed in the shape of a triangle, the emphasis is moved to the triceps.

As you move past shoulder-width apart, you will place more of the emphasis to the shoulders. These are great if your elbows are somehow compromised by weakness or injury. Where on the shoulders depends on where you want it. You could keep your fingers pointing foreward and keep the stress on the sides of the shoulders. Pointing the fingers outward will place more of the stress on the back of the shoulders.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Elevation Manipulation with Pushups

The standard pushup is definitely one of the best exercises ever invented for upper and mid-body strength. You can hammer the shoulder structure, the chest, triceps and abs from the basic pushup. I don't want to make the pushup sound deficient in any manner but you can change the ease or difficulty just by elevating your legs and/or hands and get a much more complete workout, depending on what you're shooting for. All you need is something that will support your bodyweight. This can be cinder blocks, chairs, stools, benches, milk crates, etc.

Raising your feet above your upper body will place more of your weight on your upper body. So, as you raise your feet, you will make the pushup harder to perform. Subsequently, as you put your upper body above your feet, you will decrease the amount of weight you're pushing, making the exercise easier.

Let's start easy. Take your blocks/chairs/stools/benches (equal height! herein known as the elevators) and place them together. Place your hands on the elevators and perform a standard pushup. This variation is good for people who can't do a full-range, chest-to-floor standard pushup for reasons of weakness or injury. Do these until you can master the standard pushup.

Once you've got hands elevated and the standard pushup, now it's time to adding some challenge: The Atlas Pushup. We're going to elevate the hands again but instead of dipping only until the elevators, we're going to dip BETWEEN them. This adds more range to the exercise, rendering it more difficult. This pushup is a legendary chest-builder.

Once that becomes too easy, then it's time to elevate the feet above the upper body. If that still is too easy, you can do the Atlas Pushup with your feet elevated.

Of course, easy is kind of a fluid concept and I don't want to suggest that the other exercises don't have merit if one is harder than the other. You have to factor in how tired you may be after your day, if you're getting over an injury or some other minor physical impairments, or if you're trying to gain or lose weight. If you're trying to lose weight, you may want to go for a pushup that you can do in higher volume. If you're trying to bulk up, you may want to lean towards a higher intensity pushup. They all have their place, depending on your current fitness situation.

More on Mind-Body Connection

There’s a multitude of things about the fitness and exercise world that just drive me nuts and strikes me as just not right. From the insistence on weight training as the only legitimate way to get strong to the bizarre diets to the supplement world to the steroids to the gym culture just strike me as nothing more than hindrances in getting yourself fit and healthy. I made a list of the biggest problems in the modern fitness world as I saw it several months back. I could just saved your time and hit on the biggest problem of all: The lack of a mental and physical connection in exercising.

It wasn’t always this way. Nearly a century ago when bodybuilding (physical culture) sprang to life, several of the leading bodybuilders espoused the need for a mind-body connection in exercising. There was a sense that they operated independently from one another. For a brief period of time, amongst the pioneers of physical culture, the mind and body became equally important. It didn’t stay that way for long, especially with the advancement of supplements and the discovery of testosterone’s effects on the human body.

In a way, many of these physical culturists were far ahead of their time. They realized that the more intensely that they focused upon the muscles that they were exercising, the more that they’d develop those muscles. Sandow, Atlas, Swoboda, and Jowett all noticed this. What doctors and scientists are now discovering is that the mind, when focused upon a physical movement, will send much more intense nerve signals to that muscle group. This in turn sends more stem-cell laden blood to the muscle which helps create a thicker, more powerful muscle fiber. Simplistic as it seems, thinking about muscle is the first step in strengthening it! Unfortunately, this has been disregarded and much of the muscular development today is little more than an exercise in chemistry.

There are many more reasons for cultivating a mind-body connection than sheer muscular growth. What most fail to realize is that neither the body nor the mind are more important than each other and in a healthy person, each does their part to support the other. In a perfect world, the mind will send all of the proper signals necessary to coordinate the functions of the body, telling it what to do and when to do it. The body in turn will keep the mind nourished and reduce the amount of stress it endures in a day. Really, which is more important than the other? They can’t live without each other and neither functions properly without both working together.

This brings up another wonderful reason for establishing a firm mind-body connection while exercising: Alignment. Alois Swoboda realized that all of the body’s organs and systems, if not properly stimulated, will act in their own best interests and not in the interest of the body as a whole. In other words, our physical instincts that are supposed to help us live now serve to help us die slowly. Take, for example, the instinct to eat. We are driven to eat to feed all of the cells in our body as well as grow new ones. If this instinct isn’t properly controlled, it leads to bad health. If we don’t exercise, the body will not convert the food to new muscle. Instead, it becomes fat. Furthermore, we may be driven to eat for the pleasure rather than necessity, again rendering us fat. Exercise should serve as an activity of aligning all of our body’s instincts for the greater good of all.

Of course, if we don’t strive to put some thought into the exercises that we’re doing, we won’t render any of the health benefits that I’ve just mentioned. Strive every single workout that you do to put as much mental effort and thought as you do physical effort and you will get so much more benefit out of your exercise.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Dumbest Exercise Ever?

Finding a decent fitness magazine is difficult these days. Right now, I feel like a consistenly good one just flat out doesn't exist. My further proof comes in the form of the October, 2007 issue of Men's Fitness. One Jason Ferruggia commented that he believes that the weighted deadlift is the kick of back-buiding exercises and suggested that if there was only time for one back exercise, this should be the one.

Even as an admitted non-expert, I seriously disagree with that notion. In fact, I think that the weighted deadlift might be the dumbest and the worst back exercise there is. The deadlift works pretty much every back muscle granted but the ones that count the most are the spinal erector muscles. These cable-like muscles are responsible for keeping your lower back alligned properly. They can be injured, along with your lower back, by either lifting with an arched back or by lifting a heavy object too far away from the chest. Both are possible to do with incorrect form with the deadlift. I'll admit that any exercise can cause injury with poor form but I think that the weighted deadlift crosses the line because it's simply too easy to let the proper form slip and the subsequent pain can be absolutely crippling. If you go to any package shipping warehouse, you'll find posters there telling you NOT to lift a box in deadlift-manner.

The problems with the weighted deadlift don't end there. The spinal erector muscles as well as the other muscles that support the spine are composed mainly of slow twitch fibers. Just for a quick refresher, slow twitch fibers are muscles that are designed for moderate-difficulty, long lasting exhertion. Much of the spine muscles are slow twitch because they are constantly contracted in order to maintain alignment. It isn't an intense contraction but it has to last all day. Weighted exercises offer more intensity and are geared towords conditioning fast twitch fiber. So, why on earth would you train with an exercise that isn't even geared towords the muscle that you're working?

To top it all off, the weighted deadlift carries the same problem that all other weighted exercises do. The extra weight that the body has to carry when weight lifting puts pressure on the cartiliage of the spine. This constant pressure can ruin the cartilage over time, especially if the trainee is overzealous with the amount of weight. The weighted deadlift puts the spine's cushioning structure under direct fire every time the weight is lifted.

What is so surprising is that Mr Ferruggia named what I believe to be the ultimate back-builder in the article but didn't place the crown upon it: the chin-up. The muscles of the back are all worked by this exercise plus the spine is protected because there is no weight placed up on it when working the muscles. The bridge, in all its forms, is also excellent for building up the back, particularly due to it's engagement of the spine's slow-twitching support muscles. These two exercises have helped me to eradicate back pain and build a big, powerful, and functional back.

Organic, Not Mechanical

I'm just like everyone else in this world who really likes and appreicates decisiveness in answers. It's the universal sign of clear thought, direct action, and even honesty. All three are absent in people who just can't get anything done, like the sterotypical politicians and lawyers. So it stands to reason that I'd appreciate that when I ask questions about exercise and fitness. Unfortunately, that just doesn't always work in the matters of the body. The fact is that there are endless variations in the body that make a clear, decisive answer to a question just not possible.

The problem is that we think of our bodies too much like machines: preciesely built from one to the next with the same exact size and shape parts from one to the next capable of producing the same exact results from the same effort. The truth is that we're much more organic than that. Sure, we have the same organs organized in the same systems and being held together with the same types of attachments and supported by a skeleton. That's where the similarities end though. The muscular system alone has numerous variations from one person to the next. Some have higher concentrations of fast twitch fiber which makes them capable of lifting heavier objects or running short distances with incredible speed, provided that they have the proper placement of the muscle's points of origin and insertion. Otherwise, their leverage may be dramatically different. Then to further complicates things, if the bones are different lengths, then the leverage could be different. I've just scratched the surface of the differences in one body to the next.

There is endless variations and these variations translate to different athletic capabilites. I can do Hindu Pushups with the ease that many would envy. The last time I tried, I got 150 hindu pushups out of my body and I could have still kept going. I've heard people who are about my size struggle to even get to 50. So, is the Hindu pushup a beginner or an advanced exercise? Well, DEPENDS, doesn't it? Obviously I have different athletic attributes that make it easy for me and hard for others. If you asked me which is harder, pullups or chinups, I'm going to respond chinups. Most say pullups. Whose right? NEITHER ONE OF US. I could easily eat ice cream several times a week and never gain a pound. Many aren't so lucky. It took me 8 months to gain 23 pounds of muscle. I've heard of some doing it in 3.

Organic, not mechanical. That's the lesson. Machines are consistent, organic beings aren't. The sooner we realize this, the easier it will be to understand why there are so many struggles, so much variation, and so few decisive answers. Life is so much easier to understand and accept if you just think about your body this way.

About Mindset

There is so much in the way of what you need to do to get your body in shape out there in the fitness world and a very sad amount of written word devoted to what it takes to get your mind in shape. No, I'm not suggesting that there are brain exercises. I'm talking about having the proper mindset in order to achieve your fitness goals. I started this year out weighing between 157 and 160 lbs. I wasn't satisfied with my body for various reasons which I'll discuss later. I wanted to get bigger and I set my sights on getting myself up to 180 lbs by the end of the year. I just recently accomplished that and looking back on it now, my mindset was probably more responsible for my success than my eating and exercising. Where the mind goes, the body follows and the mind needs to be set right before any success can be obtained.

Focus is needed. You need to develop a plan of attack in achieving your fitness goals but without focus, you'll never follow through. We live in a world that sorely lacks it in many places and especially in getting fit. We can taylor a diet and design an exercise plan but societies are becoming notriously unhealthy and it's far too easy to falter. We need focus to keep our minds on what we want to accomplish. You can't rely on restaraunts to show you what's healthy and what isn't. You can't rely on your friends to help you stay on track. What is going to make you healthy is ultimately re-establishing your lifestyle habits. Habits are are hard to change and focusing on your fitness goals is the catalyst that changes your habits.

Of course you can't get anywhere if you don't know where you're going and having a decent base of knowledge will get you to where you go on your fitness goals. It's a sad state of things when most people don't even know what a calorie is except to say that it makes you fat if you eat too many. The more you learn about your body, the more you understand how it works, the more you'll understand how to get to your goals. Read about nutrition, learn about what vitamins and minerals do for your body, get a basic understanding on how your body creates energy, learn about it's systems, and figure out what a calorie is! Don't necessarily rely on fitness books and magazines to give you these facts. Often times, they're subject to fads and trends (right or wrong). Look up medical reference books.

You're not going to do any of this if you're not determined though. You've got to be driven to do this. If you don't want to do it, you're not going to. You need to maintain your drive to do this, it won't happen. Changes in your body take weeks of consistent effort. I went one full month without gaining any weight at all but I still maintained my determination to gain mass. Patience also comes into play here. You have to understand that the body isn't a machine. It's an organic mass. It doesn't adhere to patterns, it doesn't follow rules, and it doesn't always move in a predictable manner. Therefore, you will have major successes, plateaus, setbacks, and steady progresss. It won't come in that order either and some of what I just listed may not even happen to you. Patience and determination is what is going to keep you moving foreward in your manipulations of your body.

Above all, and most importantly, if you don't believe in yourself, FORGET IT ALL. It's was written a hundred years ago and science is proving it so just now that your body responds to postive stimulus and produces better results if you believe that you can accomplish something. This may sound unrealistic but trust me, it is so true. It's hard to believe though. Society rears it's ugly head again to try to crush belief in yourself. It's conventional wisdom that states the body is at it's physical peak in the 20's and 30's. After that, it's all a horrible downward slide towords weakness, sickness, and weight gain for the next 60 or so years until you drop dead. Then the genetics talk comes into play. If you're fat or skinny, it's because of genetics and nothing can change that either. Granted there's some kernels of truth in both but to buy into the notion that you're dead in the water with no chance of succeeding because natures laws just won't let you is ridiculous. Many peope have defied and thumbed mother nature in the eye for far longer than conventional wisdom claimed that it was possible to do so when it comes to physical fitness. Monohar Aich, Jack Lalanne, Paul Bragg, Berarr MacFadden, and Dan Depasquale are all great examples of this. Michelle Berger ( is a fitness model after having kids. None of this will ever be so if you don't stop listening to others and believe in yourself.

Now, these attributes of a proper mindset aren't the definitive list and they're not in any order of importance. They're simply what helped me get myself to where I wanted to go.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You Don't Like the Taste of Water?

I just can't comprehend how some people can complain about the taste of water. Granted I've tasted some funky water in my modest time on God's green Earth but I'm just stunned by how many people don't like to drink water in general because of the TASTE. It's a basic life necessity. Do these people not like the smell of air and stop breathing it? Besides, just about everything that you drink has water in it anyway.

I was thinking about this when I was listening to Nancy DeVille on the radio here in Vermont and something hit me. It's something that I've always said about proper exercise. Within reason, if you exercise properly you will automatically be able to figure out if what you're eating is good or bad for you within moments. Think about it: If you drank a soda and dropped for 40 pushups, you wouldn't make it to 20 before you realized that you should have never drank that soda. You'd probably be sick to your stomach. That wouldn't happen if you had drank water.

If your exercise is right, you'll crave what your body NEEDS and reject what will harm it. Your exercise should make you in tune to this. So, it stands to reason that these aquaphobics aren't in touch with their bodies. They don't do enough physical activity to stimulate this mind-body connnection (although I'm sure that their fingers are in great condition from all the Gaming and 'net time).

Furthermore, if you establish this connection through proper exercise, you won't have to wait to hear whether ____ (fill in the blank here with a suspect food) is good for you or not. For example, I once tried a soy protein shake. I HATED it. It made my stomach feel weird and it gave me some bizzare, fierce gas. I don't eat it anymore. There's some debate out there about soy but I don't need to let the dust settle to figure out if it's good for me. I already know for myself.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mixing tools up with techniques

I've enjoyed a├žai for several years but it's only in the past year that it's starting to gain some popularity. So, I figured that it might finally be available in my local organic food store. Now these stores usually go by the title of health food store as well as organic market or something of that nature. In other words, this is a place to go and get healthy, life nourishing foods. We would all agree that organic foods and herbal supplements are more probably more healthy than the generic counterparts. Therefore, the people who shop there should also be far healthier than their fellow citizens who shop at a grocery store for their foods and medicines.

I was so utterly, dead wrong. I was by far the healthiest person in that store. It was full of horribley overweight people, obviously sick, and otherwise unhealthy looking individuals. Even the people who worked there looked flushed, irritable, and gaunt. Put it this way, if they wanted to do an advrtisement for TV and shoot this place as it stood, nobody would shop there if they saw this clientele! I was left to ponder why as I left with my purchase.

After some thinking, I recalled something that I read at another web site. This horribley obese man was listing all of the products and books that he had bought in order to try to get himself into shape and was now asking for help (he had a lot of books that I own too). Then it hit me. Those shoppers at the health food store are just like this guy I read about. All of them presumed that the keys to their health (or aquiring health) was in what they bought.

That is probably the biggest mistake that people make when trying to get healthy and strong. Books, equipment and health food stores are not the way to get healthy. They are merely tools. What people don't realize is they lack the know-how to get healthy and strong. They lack technique. Shopping at an organic food market expecting to get healthy is no different than going to Home Depot, buying nails, a hammer and wood, and expecting to build to be able to build a house.

Now, I have nothing at all against a health food store. After all, I just shopped in one, didn't I? I'm just saying that it's merely a tool in which you can use to get yourself healthy. If you don't have the drive, motivation, and the know-how to get there, that store is not going to help you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Straight Bridge

I didn't think of this exercise although I will take credit for giving it a better name than it previously had. Matt Furey referenced it in his book "Combat Abs" with an unweildly title. It isn't a very catchy name if you ask me and since it is very similar to the bridges in the muscles that it works, I thought it ought to be elevated to the bridge category.

Anyway, it's a remarkable exercise. It's pretty simple to do.

1. Find two chairs (or something like that) of equal heigth. Lawn chairs work particularly well since they're softer.

2. Place them a comfortable distance apart. The closer they are, the easier it will be for you to bridge between them.

3. Place your neck on one of the chairs and place your feet and/or ankles on the other, bridging the chairs. Your body should be completely straight between the chairs. Breath naturally when doing this exercise.

This is an advanced exercise but it is well worth trying. It hammers everything from the neck down to the hamstrings. Unlike the other bridges, it hits the obliques more directly.

Have fun!

Switching up on the Abdominals

Generally, I don't like hype since I think most of it is bullshit and I'm not into that. I want hard facts and I don't really care if they're new or 100 years old. Still, I picked some different calisthenics for my abs that I don't normally do and combined them and I was stunned by the intensity of the workout and the results that I got. Here was the routine that I did:

1. Grasshoppers, 30-40 reps

2. Hanging leg raises, 8-10 reps

3. Mountain climbers, 30-40 reps.

4. McSweeney's ab contraction, 5 reps max tension

5. Powerflex Isos and/or classic isos

6. straight bridge, held for ten deep breaths

I repeated this whole set two or three times.

If you think about it, most of our abdominal exercises are variations of two calisthenics: The sit up and the leg raise. While there isn't anything really wrong with these exercises and their variants, they only work the abdominals in an up and down motion. You can vary them to get the obliques but still, it's an up and down movement. What I realized is that this misses one of the fundamental rules to exercising in the bodyweight world: working the muscles from all angles and directions. By confining myself to this one direction I wasn't training my muscles to their peak capability.

Plus, this side to side movement helps hit the troublesome obliques far better than trying to modify the leg raise and sit-up motion. Still, the side-side motion of the mountain climbers and the grasshoppers hits the abdominals in a new, and subsequently more difficult, manner. The straight bridge and the hanging leg raises demand much more out the obliques in order to stabilize the body during the workout.

Give this some thought and try seek out some ab exercises that have a side-side motion. You'll be surprised at the results.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How Fast Should You go on Calisthenics?

Everyone's run into this at some point: The guy who can do 100 pushups or 20 pullups. When you finally see this guy do them, he does them with such poor form that you just roll your eyes. He's sacrificing proper form and control (worst of all) to get the rep count. Every atheletic endevour loves statistical brilliance and doing the most of anything counts for so much. Trouble is, this fixation with getting the most reps out doesn't build strength and it often leads to pain.

I'll be the first to admit, I like having high calisthenic rep counts too. Still, the point of the exercise is to build strength and without proper form, that may not happen. Proper form ensures that the right muscles will get their due stimulation from the exercise. If your ass is in the air or if you're just lifting your chest and head rather than your entire abdomen just for the sake of getting to 100 reps, you're not getting the benefit. You're so focused on that rather than strengthening that the motion is a wasted effort.

Worse yet is the guy who'll sacrifice the control for the speed or ease. I see this a lot on pullups. The person will get their chin to the bar and then let themselves drop rather than control their weight downward. It's bad enough that they're loosing the stimulation on the lats from letting themselves drop but they're also risking INJURING themselves. One point of exercising is to injury-proof yourself, not to induce injury. Remember this because I'm getting tired of repeating it...


Thursday, June 21, 2007

More on Routines

I posted earlier on my routines and how I structure them. I also mentioned that I despise a lot of what I read about routines because I feel like they sound like directions for assembling a grill. They don't take into account that we are all built differently. We have different physical abilities and attributes. Take a biceps muscle and move the insertion and origion movements farther away from the joints and you have a person who is capable of great power but not precision. Some people are the opposite. This is just one example of the differences in body composition.

There's other considerations too. Let's say you take someone's routine that takes 45 minutes to do. What happens if you only have fifteen minutes? Are you better off to bag working out rather than figuring out a way to work out with some effectiveness? Let's throw in a weakness in the body, such as an injury. Let's say you can't do a pushup because your elbow is swollen. Should you skip or work around it, such as doing a hands-wide pushup? Well, that wasn't in the routine. Does it matter?

You are not a cookie-cutter creation. Don't workout like you are. You can get something out of any routine that you chose to do if you apply hard work and mental focus on your efforts. I'll concede that routine A may be better than routine B but if B is all you can do or what you like to do and you are moving your body, who am I to say? I'd rather you do something than nothing. That's my mantra when I exercise. It should be yours too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jowett Lunge, A Forgotten Gem

If you dig into the Sandow Site, into George Jowett's pages, into Molding Mighty Legs, you'll find a set of exercises for the legs, among them is "exercise six". It's an odd lunge that I was intruiged with and I decided to try in November, 2005. Trouble was, it didn't work as well as I wanted it to. It was the bent knee starting position. Besides, my legs weren't strong enough to do it quite yet so I gave up on it for a while.

After a while, I wanted to make a more concerted effort to bulk up my legs so I gave it another look. I tried it again but this time it was too easy. So, I played with it a little bit and decided to start with my lead leg straight rather than bent. The results were intense and satisfying. Here's How I do this variation of "exercise six" that I'm now calling the Jowett Lunge:

1. Stand with your feet together,your hands on your wais, and take a comfortable step backwards with one foot.

2. Raise your heels off the floor. It doesn't have to be very much.

3. Keeping your back in line with your rear leg, lower your bodyweight onto your lead foot while inhaling. Don't bounce.

4. Go down as far as possible. Exhale and slowly come back up.

5. Repeat with the rear leg up front.

There are a few important points to remember while doing this exercise. Keep your weight over your front leg going both down and up while keeping your heels off the ground. If you fail to do either, you'll lose the benefit of the exercise. When you come back up, try to push your foot into the ground while pushing yourself back up. This will add more stimulation to the calf muscles. This is a more advanced exercise so proceed with care. You could also do this near a wall or a chair if you need balance. Properly done, this lunge will hammer every muscle in your legs. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Why is the Wrestler's Bridge is the So Great?

It's is probably the most controversal exercise in all of BW exercising methodology. It may also be the most feared as well. Most people see a picture of a person performing a bridge and they swear that that person is on the verge of breaking their neck. Some say that it is dangerous hyperextension of the spine. All of this is talk of the uninformed and ignorant. The truth is , there may not be an exercise better for strengthening the back, removing back pain, and improving posture all in one exercise.

To understand why the bridge is so great for you, we have to start out with the anatomical definition of Extension. This simply means moving away from the fetal position. The opposite would be flexion, or moving towords the fetal position. The deep back muscles are extension muscles. They pull the spine into correct posture by Extenstion. Obviously, the bridge directly hits these muscles exactly as they were designed to do.

It doesn't stop there though. The bridge is an aerobic isometric exercise since it requires the modest tension of the muscles for a moderately long period of time. This also conditions the deep back muscles since they are mostly built out of slow twitch fiber.

The third benefit of the bridge is that it also hits almost every muscle along the superficial back line. This line is responsible for extension of almost all of the posterior muscles. The bridge makes them all work while performing it. This is significant since even the fitness world will admit that exercises that hit multiple muscles are preferable to ones that isolate for all-around health and conditioning.

This is a lot of ground that is covered in only one exercise. This is why the bridge is so highly regarded in the BW world. If you don't know how to do the bridge or you're too weak, I strongly reccomend Matt Furey's Combat Conditioning if you want to learn how to build up to and execute the bridge properly. Nobody has devoted as much time to building the body up to the point of bridging.

Do yourself a favor if you don't have it yet... ORDER IT NOW!

Bernarr McFadden and Gaining Weight

I haven't read even an eigth of the massive amount of literature that Bernarr McFadden wrote in his lifetime but what I have read of his, I notice a common theme: Looking to nature to find the answers to physical culture. This footstep that he left has been somewhat obscured by the passing sands of time and erosion of ignorance but it wasn't lost on me when I was looking for some answers on how to gain some muscle mass.

Last year I bought a text book on nutrition from the University of California and proceeded to read it with great interest. I mentioned in my last post that I have been eating a large quantity of nuts, milk (and milk products), and eggs. There is a reason for that. I read about the nutritional content of all of these foods and I saw a common link.

Calories come from protein, carbohyrates, and fats. Most foods' calorie content is almost entirely one of the three. Rarely are they split even 90% of one and 5% of the other two. Milk, eggs, and most nuts are an exception. Their ratio varies amongst each but they are more evenly split than most foods.

Then, something dawned on me. These three foods are designed to support life until whatever is feeding on them are capable of getting its respective food for itself. So, these food sources must have all of the nutritional needs present in order to GROW until it gets to that point. It's no surprise that all three are dense sources of nutrients that promote growth. It's McFadden's theory of looking to nature for the answers that helped me get from 157 lbs to 175 pounds so far this year.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

No Wonder There's so much lower back pain!

There's a lot of reasons for lower back pain and I don't think that what I'm about to share is the biggest reason but it no doubt is a big one just the same. At the moment, I'm just stunned that after all of those posters covering the walls at just about any work place where you might have to lift something off the floor on a regular basis, people still don't use their legs to lift a heavy object. Always with the back. I was working at a construction site recently and I almost never saw anyone lift anything with their legs, including my co-worker.

I wrote recently about how I got rid of what modest amount of back pain that I had by leg exercising and in closing I mentioned that strengthening the legs would help with back pain since if your legs were strong, you wouldn't have to lift with your back. Now I see there is another angle to that: The more you exercise your legs with squats and lunges, the more likely you are to pick something off the ground with your legs rather than your back. It isn't just that your legs are stronger, it's also that after so much leg work, it becomes second nature to bend at the knees to pick up a load, rather than at the back. It's muscle memory that will save your back in the end.

I never mentioned in my last post WHAT I was doing as far as routine or exercises, so here's a taste of what I was doing.

1. Warm up, 100-300 hindu squats (depends on how much time I have to work out)

2. Jowett Lunges, 10 reps each leg

3. sissy squats, 20-30 reps

4. DVR/DSR for the Leg (Such as a DVR Squat)

5. Isometric set for the legs (wall chairs)

I would repeat this set for 3 sets, usually changing the DVR/DSR and the Iso set each rep, working around my thighs and hitting the calves properly. I try to make sure that I hit every muscle in the legs somewhat evenly. I'll often change and do some different squats and/or lunges.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ever thought that fat people are breaking health care?

It isn't nice these days to suggest that problems facing this nation are caused by individual's mistakes. After all, nothing really is anyone's fault anymore. Furthermore, if it isn't an individual's fault, then it's up to someone else (read: government) to fix it. For anyone who has an honest willingness to solve the problem and the desire to take a closer look, they'll notice this convoluted scam as to why our health care system is so broken.

Let's start with an undeniable fact: fat people spend need more health care. Being overweight causes so many health problems it's downright staggering. Just the sheer weight alone pushing down on the body can cause sleep apnea (pressure on the throat), hypertension (pressure on the arteries), and arthritis (pressure on the joints). Diabetes, a very common disease for the overweight, can cause a host of problems in and of itself. The extra sugar in the bloodstream not getting broken down in the muscless basically destroys the bloodstream. Blindness, amputations, and difficulty fighting infection, and impotency are a sample of the results. I could keep going. I've only gotten warmed up but you'd probably start reading before I'm finished.

Now, this all costs money to treat. Doctor visits, sugeries, medicines, procedures, medical equipment, etc. Let's lay down another undeniable fact: The cost of this just doesn't disappear, never to be seen again. It has to get paid for SOMEWHERE. Now, take any of the sampling of the disorders and diseases that obesity causes that I've listed and/or missed and add up how much it costs to treat.

Now multiply it by 198,000,000.

Bear in mind that the price that you put on treating a fat person may be too low. I know a person who is over 100 lbs overweight and I wouldn't be surprised if he costs his insurance over $40,000 a year. He's on at least six different drugs and goes to the doctors nearly every week. He's literally a ticking time bomb of medical maladaies. His son is the same way.

So, why's health care so expensive and why is it getting worse and worse? Simple: We as a nation are taxing it to the limits. Insurance operates a lot like a lottery. Everyone pays in, a few take out of it. It's a pool of money. Trouble is, what happens when everyone is constantly drawing out of it? Everyone has to pay in more or else the pool won't be sustainable. Well, that's what's happening. What's worse is everyone is trying to come up with a solution that tap dances around the problem without solving it.

A true solution to this problem is for America to change their lifestyles. We eat too much bad food in huge quantities and exercise too little. It's not only killing us but it's going to break us finanically. Any other solution (read: universal health care) won't solve the problem. It will just shift it from one part of our economy to another. Besides there is another flaw in this thinking that we need universal health care. Being overweight is a mistake that many people make. This mistake is like any other one: If you don't pay for it personally, you'll keep making it.

Something has got to give though. This obesity epidemic is going to crush us, if not physically then economically. It's not going to get solved by treating it as a problem caused by anyone else other than each and every overweight person in this country.