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... http://thebodyweightfiles.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-im-gaining-some-weight.html) 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.