Monday, April 30, 2007

Jump Rope: The best cardio exercise?

If you ask me, yes it is, in my non-expert opinion that is. I love jumping rope for a number of reasons. The most obvious and important for me is the savings in time. They say that 10 minutes on the jump rope gives the heart the same workout that 30 minutes of running does. When I heard that, I thought it was bullshit. Then I tried it and I was a believer. It's a very intense 10 minutes, that's for sure.

I also like jumping rope because it is a far more complete workout for the body than most other forms of cardio training. I never really noticed this until I decided to take the famous Royal Court (Hindu Squats, Hindu Pushups, bridging) and insert a period of jumping rope before each exercise. The routine looked something like this:

2-3 Minutes Jumping Rope
100 Hindu Squats
1 Minute Jumping Rope
50 Hindu Pushups
1 Minute Jumping Rope
3 minute Back Bridge

By the time I got done with the second interval of jumping rope and proceeded to the pushups, my arms were so tired that I thought that they'd fall off at the shoulders. It didn't get any better when I got to the final minute of jumping rope. Even my abs could feel the workout. I didn't get this kind of intensity from the Royal Court alone. Plus, the rope builds timing, coordination and balance. I think only swimming could match or surpass the benefits of proper jump rope workouts.

The hold up in many cases is learning proper technique. Otherwise you're doomed to tripping over the rope endlessly. Once again, I'm not an expert at anything and least of all jumping rope but I do know that proper technique is seldom taught. The rope should only come up to your armpits when stepped on in the center. Any more should be knotted up at the handles. Your shoulders should be relaxed, elbows shoulder-width apart, and the rope should be held farther than that. Don't grip the handles too tightly. Feet should be together and up on the balls. When you jump, move the handles at the wrists, not at the elbows. Jump only about an inch off the ground. Any more is a waste that will fatigue and cause you to trip on the rope. Move at a pace that is comfortable for you.

Another issue that hinders progress with jumping rope is selecting the proper place to do it. In my experience, the best and most easy to find surface to jump on is a wooden surface. It is firm and hard yet has some give so it absorbs the shock of your weight hitting the floor. A densely-woven rug will work well too. Concrete is the least desirable of all. You will not do much more than 10 minutes on concrete, trust me! Asphalt is a little better but still tough to go for 10 minutes. Proper gym mats are great but expensive. Still, if you do a lot of jumping rope, they're worth the investment.

Overall, I believe that jumping rope is the most intelligent, efficient, and effective method of cardio training. It's time saving and multi-body benefits put it head and shoulders above everything in the cardio exercise universe.

So who are the best condtioned athletes?

Geeze, these kinds of articles sell a lot of magazines! They must since nearly every health or weight lifting magazine runs an article about a certain sport athlete being the best conditioned human beings out there. Pick one, they've been declared to be in the best condition at one time or another (probably right at the beginning of their prospective season). So, the question is, which one really IS?

Honestly, in my humble, non-expert opinion, it depends. Remember that little chat we had about slow twitch and fast twitch fiber in the muscles a while back (If you don't go back and read it)? If there was a lesson to be learned from our muscle make-up, it's that we were designed for maximum versatility. Contrast our muscle tissue to a chicken's muscle tissue. The wings and the breasts of a chicken are designed only for fast, intense but brief effort. That muscle is almost all fast twitch. The legs are only used for steady and continuous movement so that is almost all slow twitch muscle.

So, who are the best conditioned athletes? Well, it depends, if you ask me. Most athletes condition their bodies to do things specific to the sport that they're doing and little else. Their muscles are very specialized. Baseball and football player's sports involve quick and intense efforts that demand a high ratio of fast twitch fiber. Marathon runners have a much higher ratio of slow twitch fiber.

This doesn't mean that any of these athlete's method of physical conditioning is right for YOU. While they may be unsurpassed in their chosen activities they lack the versatility that their musles provides them. If you cannot use all of your muscles and if you are strong one way but weak another are you REALLY strong? Think about that when you read these articles in magazines.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Demystifying DVR's

I've said it in the past posts but I'm not a fitness expert. I am a knowledgeable person when it comes to exercising with BW. One thing that I'm seeing a lot of lately on the Internet is confusion, doubt and disbelief about Visualized Resistance exercise (they're commonly called, Dynamic Visualized Resistance, or DVR's). I've seen some at the Atlas forums doubt that they work. I've seen a bunch of disgruntled guys splinter off into their own forum and utterly trash them and their number one advocate, John Peterson. Even on my beloved transformetric Forums there have been some questions about their effectiveness.

I can say without a doubt that properly done, they will work and work splendidly. The reason why people doubt that they do work is probably due to their lack of understanding as to how they work. A little kinesiology lesson is in the order. Let's take the upper arm for example. The biceps is the muscle at the front of the arm (anterior) which flexes the arm. One thing you have to understand about muscles is that they can only pull the muscle's two ends together. They cannot push them apart. So, to extend the arm, the triceps, on the back (posterior) of the arm, does this. Depending on the movement that you're doing, the biceps could be the initiating the movement, making it the agonist muscle. In that case, the triceps muscle would be the antagonist, relaxing and allowing the movement to occur. The triceps will also act as a brake to the biceps and that's what VR exercise takes advantage of.

We can use the antagonist muscle to exercise the agonist by tensing it simultaneously and powerfully. We don't contract them so hard that no movement occurs. that's an isometric. What we do is let just enough tension off the antagonist muscle to move the arm in the direction of the muscle that we want to exercise. The tension of the antagonist muscle gives us the resistance to develop the agonist muscle.

A question came up on not too long ago about whether or not visualized resistance exercises could help with bone density. Many said no but this too is incorrect. Bone density is aided not by placing weight on the bone but from the muscular tension on the bone. Think of placing a gas can in the back of a pickup truck and using a ratchet strap to hold it in place. If you go too hard, you'll press the can so hard it will crush. Since both muscles of the particular bone are placing tension upon it rather than only one, the bone's density is greatly improved.

If this whole concept of antagonistic muscular tension building up strength in the muscles seems odd to you still, just remember this: Muscles get stronger by placing resistance upon them.
Muscle don't know and don't care how it got there. Anything that makes them tense powerfully will strengthen them be it your gravitational pull, a weight, or an antagonist muscle doing the job.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Invest in being Energetic

A while back, I threw up a post about how I believe that food should be looked at as an investment in your body. You should be getting more back from your food than what you put into digesting it. Well, that's not the only aspect of healthy living that should be looked at like an investment as well.

I hear from people in less-than-ideal shape that they would exercise more if they just had the energy to do it. Trouble is, they're stressed out from work, family, and/or just don't have the time to do it. Their lives make them too tired and stressful to exercise. They're just waiting for a time when they won't be so tired and strung out. Then, they'll exercise. Of course that day never comes, and it never will if they persist with this kind of attitude.

About two years ago, I received a boxed set documentary on Navy SEAL training. One of the things that they drilled into these poor bastards is the concept of "evolutions". They were expected to push their limits. One day's record chin ups or record time on the obstacle course was expected to be exceeded. It got me thinking: those guys, no matter how beat up always managed to find enough in the tank to get more out of themselves. I thought about my own training. How many times am I REALLY too tired to work out and push it a little? Realistically, not very often.

When the cards are on the table, you are only going to have energy if you force yourself to be energetic. That's the first step, no matter how tired you think that you are. Resolve that you've always got even just 15 minutes to train. Find it in yourself and DO IT! Don't tell me either that it's easy for me because I'm already in shape. I once flew a red eye flight to Phoenix, drove down to Tuscon, got two hours of sleep, worked 12 hours of hard labor, and exercised for 20 minutes after all of that. Are you THAT tired? I'm sure you had more in the tank now than I had in mine then!

As you get yourself mentally set to be energetic, you'll start making a surprising discovery: You FEEL more physically energetic. Like I said in the title, being energetic is an investment. You have to give a little bit of your energy to get more back. It's just making that initial investment that is difficult. That's why Matt Furey says that when you resolve to start exercising, 50% of the work is already done. If you ever expect to feel more lively and not half-dead, you've got to get over that mental block that people give themselves for not starting in the first place: I'm too tired.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

You know what I think when I see Ron Coleman?

Does he have enough range of motion in his arms to wipe his own ass anymore? Seriously! What possible good does having that amount of bulk do other than look good? Well, I use the words, "look good," loosely here. The chemistry-experiment-gone-bad look to his arms is just grotesque.
As previously mentioned in another post, I greatly admire Mark Twight and the work he has done over at Gym Jones. His motto in training is to train like your life depended on it. His words struck me as a breath of fresh air when I first read them on his web site. Upon thinking about it, I had to ponder why they struck me as such a breath of fresh air. Doesn't your life depend on your physical fitness? Shouldn't ALL exercise be done like your life depends on it since it DOES?
That's why I deplore the fitness world and the bodybuilding world in particular. Most of our exercise world exists not for a functional body but one that is visually gratifying in some way. To be blunt, we want a nice looking body that will help us get laid. We don't pay attention to the other reasons for exercising. It's all about getting buff in time for swimsuit season with little concern for how well you can swim.
How about training so that you can perform difficult physical functions when you need to? I can't remember who said them or where they were said but it has been said that someone should be able to swim a mile, run 2 or 3, and be able to carry someone their own bodyweight for some prescribed distance without trouble in order to be functionally fit. Does your training enable you to do that? Are you training so that you could do that if you HAD to?
Being able to physically perform in order to bail yourself or someone else out of serious trouble isn't the only consideration when you exercise. Did you ever realize that movement isn't the only thing your muscles are responsible for? They are also there to provide structural integrity for your skeleton. One of the biggest reasons so many people have severe lower back pain is because their muscles in that region are weak. There isn't the bone and muscle structure in the lower back that there is in the upper back. Hence, the lower back's muscles play a vital role in keeping the spine aligned. When they are underdeveloped, the spine is susceptible to misalignment and PAIN.
Perhaps the best reason for exercising is one that is brought up even less than structural integrity is the stress-reduction qualities to exercise. Contrary to public opinion, life isn't as stressful now as it was 80 years ago (15 hour work days, losing at least one child, no welfare, dying from ordinary cuts, LESS STRESS MY ASS). The trouble is, we have become less capable of dealing with stress. It's no medical secret that an out of shape, overweight body doesn't handle stress as it's in-shape counterpart. One thing that most doctors will reluctantly admit that shortens lifespan and causes poor health as much as anything is... STRESS, or how you deal with it. If you can't deal with it, you're in trouble.
This has got to change. It's bad enough that 2/3 of the USA is overweight and unhealthy but the few that are follow exercise advice that leaves them with a functionally-deficient body incapable of anything else than being a pussy magnet or a cock-tease. Take a good look at "Big Ron" one more time. That guy's "sport" has been guiding physical fitness now for 45 years. If that looks like the picture of functional fitness to most Americans, then there is something seriously FUCKED UP that needs to change in hurry up time. Don't follow along. Check out my links post for some good exercise advice.

Mega-Dosing Bullshit!

You see this all the time in health food stores and in the Vitamin section of any grocery or drug store: The mega-dose supplements. If you follow this long enough, you'll see a very common pattern in the supplement industry. Some studies will come out and declare the benefits of ______(insert a vitamin or mineral here). These studies find that most people are not getting enough of______ in their diets either. So, they need to be taking it in pill form. Well, HERE COME THE PILLS! Before you know it, there are several dozen ______ supplements on the market, each of the promising the maximum payload of ______.

Years ago I bought one of those Navy SEAL workout books and in it, it gave some nutritional information. It devoted several pages to the essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs, it's use in the body, signs of deficiency, and signs of toxicity. That last one is one you don't hear about very much. What will _____ do in high levels to your body? Chances are, you won't like it much. It certainly isn't healthy for you, and there lies the problem.

Certain vitamins and minerals are absolutely essential for your body. You need them in certain amounts and too little of them causes problems. Still, too much is just as bad. Your body is a complex chemical balance that requires specific amounts of everything to function right. If you mega-dose with _____, then you screw this balance up. The body doesn't follow the, "if some is good, then a lot is better, " rule.

Calcium and Vitamin C are two good examples. They both had their mega-dose-moments of fame. Your body needs both, former for strong bones and the latter for the immune system. Too much calcium though creates stones in the body. Too much Vitamin C causes ulcers. So, don't fall victim to some rigged studies and some slick marketing. Eat a balanced meal, study what these vitamins and minerals do for you, and steer clear of the supplements. Realize that your body requires balance, and many of these products don't deliver that.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

How I'm getting rid of back pain

Well, it's not like I had chronic back pain all the time. I'm not one of those guys. Still, every once in a while, my lower back would get stiff. Over time, I noticed that when my shoes would start to wear my shoes out on the outside more than the inside. George Jowett provided another piece in one of his books: if the calf muscles aren't evenly developed, a person will walk unevenly on their feet. The last piece of the puzzle came in this issue of Men's Health: The muscles on the sides of the thigh create stability for the whole leg while walking. Otherwise, the back absorbs the shock. So, I was getting on and off problems because my legs were weak and underdeveloped.

That didn't hurt my feelings much. I thought my legs were to skinny for a long time so this was another perfectly good reason to focus some attention on them. What has really kicked things into overdrive in terms of results were the leg isometrics I learned In Isometric Power Revolution (IPR). These leg exercises really produced some results fast. Several of my work pants are getting tight in the thigh area!

Another exercise that I learned which I started doing diligently was a lunge that I learned from George Jowett's book "Molding Mighty Legs". From ass to ankle, this one hits it all. Find it at Plus, I've thrown in liberal amounts of other lunging exercises as well as Hindu squats.

So far, the overall results have been very fulfilling. I'm not wearing my work boot's soles off to one side anymore (movement of the foot in which the arches point inward is known anatomically as inversion). This is a major thing since once they wear like that, they're uncomfortable and replacing my work boots is pricey. Like I said earlier, I'm adding size to my legs. That is nice. Most of all, getting rid of whatever back pain that I had is the big payoff. There is nothing that will make me feel old like back pain. I understand why it is such a drag. When your back isn't right, you're not right. I'm not going to suggest that all back pain is caused by weak legs but if you have some problems with your back and you seem to wear the soles of your shoes off to the outside, think about getting more serious about conditioning your legs.

There is another way that strengthening your legs will help with back pain. Have you ever heard that you should be lifting with your legs rather than your back? Well, if your legs are weak, then guess what you're going to try to use to lift instead? YOUR BACK. Think of regular leg training as preventative maintenance as well. The regular squatting and lunging will get you into the habit of keeping your back straight and lifting with your legs.

Now this is my kind of shoulder routine!

I thought up a routine a while back for exercsing my shoulders and I think it came out quite good, if I do say so. It satisfies a number of requirements that my routines have to address:

1. It shouldn't take to long to do but...
2. It should be intense.
3. It should develop strength in all directions and angles

Now, I've never been one to say, "okay, this exercise this number of reps then this exercise this number of reps blah blah blah blah.." Still, it has a basic structure. The foundation is the different pushups that you do in the exercise. It's important because they all work the shoulders a bit differently, not to mention hitting a lot of other important muscles at the same time. In between each set of pushups, I inserted a set of Visualized Resistance or Self Resistance exercises. Which ones and at what intensity is up to you but keep the overall theme of working in all angles and directions.

So, pick out some VR's and SR's that strike you and try this out:

Hindu Pushups
Handstand Pushups
Atlas Pushups
Reverse Pushups

If this is just too easy for you, throw in some isometrics. I've done this too. It hurts (in a good way). The number of reps and the intensity of the VR's/SR's is up to you. Do what you can. Just don't get too ambitious, this isn't as easy as it looks.

Have fun!

This is Why You Need Self Mastery

I like to pick up the Men's Health Magazine every once in a while when I'm grocery shopping. I did so just this morning and I was reading an article about the proper breakfast food choices. Apparently, many men have been making improper choices for breakfast. They tend to eat high carbohydrate meals that leave them hungry before long and they end up eating more calories throughout the day. The solution is to eat a breakfast with a better balance of proteins and fats. They even included some recipes of goofy food combinations that I'd never eat for breakfast (gotta have something new, don't you?).

It was interesting, it didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. I don't eat a high carb breakfast. I typically like to strike a balance between calorie content from carbs, fats, and proteins. I didn't need to read an expert's advice to figure this out. I learned by eating and recognizing what made me feel good and what didn't. It was barely a conscious decision. Apparently, it's not for others.

That's a problem. Based on my experiences, when I'm physically active, I can tell what I should be and shouldn't be eating. When I backpacked the Grand Canyon, my staple snack was a combination of dates and nuts with lots of water. I figured out fast that the date's high sugar content would get me going quick (I later learned that they are high in fast-absorbed glucose) but wouldn't sustain me. The nut's high fat content would. Most people don't do much in the way of physical work, and they are incapable of figuring out that their food selection is bad.

If anything, they are suffering from a lack of a good mind-body connection. In a perfect world, your body should tell your mind what does and doesn't work for food. Your mind in turn, well, does or doesn't desire to eat it. If everything is clicking, then you'll feel energetic and youthful. Proper exercise does this.

Now, I said PROPER exercise. There's definitely exercise that won't promote a good mind-body connection. In that Same Men's Health Issue, they showed a man my age who used to lift weights and drink heavily on the weekend. He was 35 pounds overweight. Only when he went hiking in Brazil did he notice the error of his ways and adjusted his lifestyle accordingly.

This is the reason why good, knowledgeable men like John Peterson encourage you to become masters of yourself. If you don't establish this kind of self mastery, you'll be at the mercy of science to catch up with something that you could reason for yourself even if you don't know why. If your exercise routine doesn't build up your mind-body connection and make you the master of yourself, you're not getting the full benefits of what exercise can do for you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Training With an Open Mind

I don't have anything against weight lifting other than they cost money and I can't travel with them. I do, however, have a big problem with people who hock them these days. This could easily take up a post all it's own (and I might do that sooner or later) but if there's one thing that I want to zero in on right now it's that mentality that you can only exercise at a gym. I don't care if it's one that you have a membership to to or it's your own home gym, I do have a problem with that line of thinking. The basis for that complaint is simple: What if you can't make it to the gym? Are you screwed?

Not as far as I'm concerned. I operate on the, "don't give me problems, give me solutions," mentality. So, if I don't look at the problem thinking: I don't have a gym, I can't exercise. Instead, I think about how I can exercise even if I can't get to a gym. As I've previously stated, I travel a lot. So, I'm forced to exercise in places that aren't specifically set up to exercise.

Find a bare stretch of wall. What can you do with it to exercise? You could do some handstand pushups, a few wall walks, and some wall-chair isometrics. Maybe it doesn't hit specific groups of muscles but it works quite a few body parts. The arms, shoulders, back abs, glutes, hips, and thighs are worked with three exercises and just a wall.

Here's the ulitmate test of creative exercising: The airplane. Try some isometrics and self resistance exercises for the forearms and grip. Do some deep breathing exercises. Perhaps some powerflexes for the calves and the thighs. Turn the leiderman chest press into an isometric movement. Then, do some visualized resistance neck work. Just because you can barely move doesn't mean that you can't do anything.

Don't allow yourself to fall into the thinking that if you don't have a gym, weights, or machinery, you can't work out. You can't afford to. You need to develop a mindset that you can and will exercise, no matter what. This is what will keep you exercising long after others stop.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Can we buy these Cheese Puffs?

My wife asked me this a few weeks ago when we were grocery shopping. She's trying to make an effort to eat better. She pointed out these things and asked if they were good for her to eat. I looked over the nutrition label with her. They had little calories or fat, not a lot of salt, and they didn't have any of the ingredients that tipped me off as unhealthy (like MSG, corn syrup, or trans fats). Still, looking at the label further, they didn't really have anything to offer nutritionally. I said that they weren't the smartest choice for healthy eating and she declined to get them.

Granted they didn't have any truly bad ingredients in them, the also didn't have much nutrient content either. If you think that doesn't matter, think again. If I could make changes to people's way of thinking about diet, this is one of them. I'd have them thinking of eating as an investment.

It's not brought up in any diet or nutrition books and many don't realize it but your body has to make an investment in the food that you're eating. It has to give things up in order to digest them. The salivary glands must produce saliva to initiate the digestion process. The stomach has to produce pepsin and hydrochloric acid. The liver and the gall bladder secret bile to break down fat. The pancreas secretes insulin to break down sugar. The whole digestive track burns calories to keep the food moving. I've only scratched the surface here of the materials that the body has to give up to get that food digested. There's more, believe me.

So, looking at this from the investment standpoint, the body has to get MORE out of what it's digesting than its giving up in order to maintain good health. At the very least, it should break even. Going back to the baked cheese puffs, is the body going to get out of them what it put in? Doubtful as hell. Think about that when you choose what you eat. Get yourself a book that details the nutritional breakdown of foods. Choose nutrition-dense foods. Get more on your bodily investment.

How I made those Rings

I used the following:

3/4" Schedule 40 Pipe
3/4" Schedule 40 couplings (2)
3/4" cap
Pipe glue and primer
sand paper
A turkey fryer
Dutch oven
candy thermometer
metal funnel that fits in the pipe
wood ash
Something round to form the pipe around (a large coffee can would work)

Make sure that you wear all natural fiber clothing. Have some eye protection and some gloves that can take heat. Oh, get something that you can scoop hot sand with.

Start by measuring the circumference around the round object. Cut the pipes to this length. Next, glue one coupling onto each end of the pipe. Scuff the inside of the coupling and the outside of the pipe (make sure that the pipe is clean of all burrs from the cut) lightly, prime and glue. Hold the coupling to the pipe; some glues will push the pieces apart.

Once the pipe with the coupling is dry, cap the other end. DON'T GLUE IT. put a small amount of ash down the pipe. Place this gently in the vice and tighten around the coupling. Don't tighten it too much; just enough to hold the pipe.

Place some dry sand into the dutch oven and heat it over the turkey fryer. Monitor the temperature of the sand with the thermometer. When it gets to 375 deg, it's ready.

Make sure that your work area is organized so you can move quickly at this point without dropping shit.

Once the sand is ready, place the funnel into the coupling and scoop the sand into the pipe CAREFULLY. Once the pipe is full, wait a couple of minutes. The pipe will become malleable and should move as easily as a piece of rope. Don't keep it in too long though. Once you've gotten to this point, dump the sand, take the cap off, clean, prime and glue the end of the pipe, form it around the round object, and slip the other end of the pipe into the coupling. Hold it there for a few minutes. Repeat for the second pipe.

The pipe may buckle a little but it doesn't hurt anything. It just won't be pretty. The bigger diameter the object you form the pipe around, the less buckling will occur.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Playing with Pullups

I love doing pullups. They're probably my favorite exercises. They hit the back, the biceps, the forearms and even the core muscles are required to stabilize the movement. You'd be hard-pressed to find an exercise that works so much in a single move. That's probably why they're staple of any training worth mentioning. Unfortunately I see a lot of sloppiness out there when doing pullups.

I see people who try to use lower body momentum in order to get themselves above the bar. Even worse, I see people letting themselves drop back down to starting position. The first one doesn't help train the target muscles and the latter could lead to an injury. Burn this into your memory: EXERCISING WITHOUT CONTROL OF THE MOVEMENT IS AN INVITATION FOR INJURY.

I've been craving some rings to do pullups on for a while. When I saw the price, I decided I was going to make my own. So, after some research and chat with a friend, I came up with some homemade pullup rings (I'll tell you how next post). While I was sinking some hooks in my ceiling studs to hang the rings, I peered over at my towels and though to myself, "I bet that pullups off those would be a lot of fun.". So I tried both variations and I made some interesting finds.

Pullups off either the towels or the rings really helped me clean up my form when doing them. The reason is very simple: You can't use momentum either upwards or downwards while doing the pullups. These are both unstable and the momentum will cause you to swing around like an idiot. Proper form without cheating is mandatory exercising like this.

I learned this on the towel variation above too. When I pullup, Iwill actually pull harder with my dominant side (In my case, my left side). The reason I know this is because when doing the towel pullup, I started twisting in mid-air. The only way to stop this was to force my right side to exert more pulling force. As a result, these are harder than the ring or bar pullups and it develops equal strength on both sides.

Both of these pullup variations are far more difficult than working out on a standard bar. They require more forearm strength as well as shoulder strength in order to keep your body steady while chinning. I can do 18 pullups on the bar. I can manage 15 on the rings and 13 on the towel. I started experimenting with two towels the other day. I'll keep you all posted. I'll also let you know when I am chinning on kite string.

One last thing that I'd like to comment on is the thumb issue. I've heard and seen people doing pullups with an open grip, no thumb involved. The rationale is that they require less grip strength and they allow more reps. I personally use my thumb whenever possible because I believe it is important to strengthen the grip and I don't think that reps are the most important point of exercising. If your grip is weak, strengthen it! That being said, if your grip is weak and you still want to do pullups, then go ahead. It's still a good exercise. Or, if you can't get your hands around the bar (or roof rafter or tree limb) then use an open grip. Just my two cents. Do what works for you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Isometric Power Revolution: A review

I've said this to others previously about this book: It was a book that NEEDED to be written. It's odd but it seems like isometric contraction has been a part of exercise for a long, long time but so few have mentioned it by name, if they even knew the name of the exercise that they were doing. Most of those who did mention it by name didn't really give it a good name. Bob Hoffman gets a lot of credit for bringing isometrics into fashion in the 60's by teaching it to his guys... along with giving them steroids. Others who wrote books about isometrics wrote about it as if it were a lazy man's method of exercise. Besides, doesn't it seem strange that you can exercise with no movement whatsoever? It does seem like lazy man's exercise since most of our exercises involve movement. So, this book needed to get written just for the sake of clearing up the validity of isometrics as a method of training. If Isometric Power Revolution does anything (IPR), it accomplishes this with flying colors. It does much more though. It's a great way to learn about this known-yet-forgotten method of strength training.

The beginning of the book devotes a considerable amount of time detailing the long history of isometric exercise. I love to study the history of anything, including exercise so was a real treat for me. He includes previous scientific studies of isometrics as well as recommendations for proper breathing which so few have ever brought up while doing these exercises. I read these sections several times.

The exercises themselves are overall very good. He divides them up between what he called Classic isometric contractions (CIC) and Powerflexes. Overall, the exercises are very good. The descriptions are very clear and they correspond very well to the pictures, which are of good quality. I do have gripes though. I'm not very fond of some of the isometrics that he gives for the abdominals and there is one for the legs which involves using the upper body for resistance. I think it would work for someone who has as much upper body strength as lower body strength. I'm not one of those people. Still, this amounts to maybe four or five exercises in the whole book that has dozens. This isn't bad at all.

John also did a fantastic job by giving the reader isometrics that exercsie EVERY part of the body. He even hits the neck, a body part most forget to train. Plus, he puts it front and center at the beginning. Plus, every major body part has several exercises. He gives a sound method for proper breathing with isometrics which really makes a huge difference in the quality of the exercises.

John's honesty about the limitations of isometrics is also appreciated. Even he admits that they aren't enough for all-around functional strength and I agree. Still, they serve a valuable purpose and should be included in any serious BW strength trainer, just like this book belongs in any BW-oriented library.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Inspiration and Instruction

I would be a liar to declare myself some sort of expert. Truth is, I'm not. I'm certainly experienced and knowledgable. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this or finding what I have to say useful. I've scrounged around for information for BW strength training for a while now and I thought I'd use this opportunity to let you know where I go for information and why.

Http:// You're not going to find another place on the web that has so much information for FREE. They could charge $20 a month and not be ripping you off.

Http:// John Peterson's web site. Simple: He writes the best BW-only books out there. Great guy, great products, honest and fair. What more could you ask for?

Http:// This is a private gym that I wish I could train at. Read Mark Twights words, then re-read them. He has some great insight as to what training should be.

Http:// If you don't have Combat Conditioning, BUY IT. Matt got the world to notice BW in the past 6 or so years.

Http:// Do you have the Dynamic Tension Course? You don't? BUY IT! You can download it from here, english or espagnol.

Here's two great Characters who train like I do and are living proof of the effectiveness of our methods.


Have fun!

What Really Makes Muscle?

Okay, class, please open to this web page and begin studying:

Okay, class, now what did Bobby Pandour refuse to train with?

That's right, he didn't train with heavy weights. He used only light dumbbell's and he was constantly tensing and flexing his muscles. By modern standards, this is an impossibility. A build like this isn't supposed to be possible without heavy weight training and, ah-HEM, supplementation. Still, Bobby Pandour did it. The pictures are there for anyone to see.

Still, the question is, HOW????

The answer can be found in the writings of the great strongman George Jowett. According to Jowett in his book, "Unrevealed Secrets of Man", the weight was never supposed to be the source of the tension upon the muscles. It is merely supposed to be a tool to focus your CONCENTRATION upon the muscle. If anything, the development of the muscle was coming from the mental concentration upon powerfully flexing the muscle.

That's where so many get it wrong when they're exercising. To exercise without complete mental concentration upon the movement that you're doing will not get the results that you would get if you were devoting all of your mental powers to your workout. Take the ubiquitous pushup: We've all met that guy who said he could do 100 pushups. Then, when he drops down, he's not putting any real effort into them. He's letting his weight drop on the down movement rather than controlling it on the way down. He lets his back go crooked or has his ass in the air. He's not putting any mental focus into his movements and as a result he gets no benefit from them.

That lack of mental concentration is where so many miss out on when they're exercising. Sandow mused about why the more thought he puts into his muscles, the bigger that they get? Modern Science is beginning to realize that when the mind is thinking about a muscle in particular, it sends extra nerve signals to it. These stimuli actually make the muscle grow quicker than if there was no thought of the muscle being worked.

So, when you're working out, be conscious of which muscles are being worked. Once you have realized which muscles are doing the work, focus all of your mental energy on them. Make them work harder. This will make the difference between an effective pushup and a blowhard dumb-ass moving his arms in a pointless waste of motion. You will be doing the impossible: Making muscle without heavy weights.

How Muscles Make Energy and Why it Matters to the Structure of Your Workout

One reason that I've always loved George Jowett's books is because he would take the time in his writing to explain how the body works. It's surprising how much he knew about human anatomy and physiology. Knowing how the body works is absolutely critical to being effective with your exercising because if you don't know how it works, you won't know for sure if what you're doing in your exercise is even doing you any good.

Now, Jowett didn't know what caused our muscles contract and how they create the contractions (neither did anyone else for that matter). We now know and studying the chemical reactions that cause our muscles to move can teach us a great deal about how we should be exercising. I'll try to keep this as simple and underwhelming as possible.

The molecule that causes the muscles to move is known as as Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). As the name implies, the molecule contains three phosphorus atoms. When this molecule blows (converting it to Adenosine Diphosphate or ADP) off one phosphorus atom, we get muscular movement. The muscles have to make these ATP molecules and it does it two ways. The first way that the muscles create ATP is by Aerobic Respiration. This method is done in the muscle cell's mitochondria (look it up if you want to know), requires oxygen and either glycogen (a sugar) or fat to make ATP. It takes more time to make ATP like this but it also yields a lot of ATP. The other method is known as Anaerobic Respiration. As the name implies, it doesn't use oxygen to make ATP and it can only use glycogen. It is produced in the muscle cell's cytoplasm and it makes ATP much more quickly. Trouble is, it also makes lactic acid, which causes the muscles to cramp up so this method doesn't last long.

Now, each muscle cell specializes in one or the other forms of ATP production. Aerobic muscle fibers are known as slow twitch fiber and they are used when the muscles need long term physical activity, such as jumping rope or running, where the physical effort is modest. The Anaerobic muscles are known as fast twitch fiber and they are used for quick, powerful, or explosive efforts, such as wrestling, isometrics, or weight lifting. Now, these cells are laid out next to one another. They exist in varying ratios and there are hybrids of the two types of fibers. In some animals, such as chickens, the fibers are strictly divided. The breast and wing muscles (meat) are almost all fast twitch fiber used for quick flights as opposed to the thighs and legs which are used for walking and are slow twitch fibers.

We don't have that kind of separation between fast and slow twitch fibers so what we can learn from this is that our exercise should condition BOTH of these fibers in our muscles. When we see weight lifters and marathon runners, we are looking at two extremes of the athletic field who overdevelop their muscle's ability to do one kind of activity but are almost incapable of doing another. Since we have both types of fiber coexisting together in the same bunch of muscle, it's true strength lies in being able to run 3 miles as easily as we could lift a heavy object with equal ease. We are the animal version of the SUV or all-terrain vehicle. So, when you're doing your routine, make sure that you are doing exercises that work the muscles in both manners. Do some exercises that require modest efforts over a longer period of time as well as exercises that require intense but brief physical contraction.