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.