Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Steroid myths

It’s unfortunate that the whole story on steroids is so rarely given out to anyone. Even though we know that doping happens on a massive scale in sports, which is better than were we were 20 years ago, there really hasn’t been a good summary about the situation. Nobody has come forward and given some basic facts about steroid use. So, I’m going to do that here, right now. I’m going to give some common myths surrounding steroid use and give you some of the information. Now, I’m not an expert but I know something about the subject and I’ll tell you what I know. Hopefully, you won’t suffer from any illusions about their use.

1. Sports like Soccer and Tennis don’t have a problem with steroids. This is just because nobody has thought to look yet. The simple fact about steroid use is that it is a snake wrapped around weight-based strength training. They’re that intertwined. So, wherever you find weight training, you’re going to find steroid use. It’s just that simple

2. Pro athletes are the only ones abusing steroids. Refer back to what I just said. Where you find weight lifting, you find steroid use. It’s not just pro athletes benefiting from steroid use. Their properties of building bulk, strength, and aiding recovery help a lot of people. Rap stars, actors, police officers, porn stars, and 40-something business executives have been known to indulge in steroid use for various reasons with a common goal: To be physically better. It’s a universal desire as old as physical culture itself and knows no demographic boundaries.

3. Well, Lance Armstrong didn’t use them, look how thin he was. Steroids don’t make everyone huge and bulky who take them. Certain steroids do certain things for the body. There are steroids good for bulking up, getting stronger without bulk, steroids for leaning out, and others excel at aiding in recovery time. These can also be taken in conjunction to get certain effect, call a stack. Lance didn’t want bulk but he no doubt would have been helped by being stronger. Just because he didn’t look like Barry Bonds doesn’t mean he wasn’t juicing. If you want to see the effects of different steroids, check out

4. NFL and the Olympics have good steroid testing programs and Baseball doesn’t. This is all an illusion. These organizations make a pile of money off from juiced athletes and they only want to catch enough dopers to satisfy the desire to look tough on doping. This is where the greed comes into sports. If you look at every sport where steroid use has become prominent, they are enjoying rabid popularity. From football in the 1970’s to Baseball in the late 1990’s to Lance Armstrong’s unprecedented Tour De France wins the message has been sent that steroid-using athletes are a gold mine.

5. The leagues have to something about this. It’s not just them, IT’S YOU TOO THAT HAS TO DO SOMETHING! I guarantee you that if you were so repulsed by all of the steroid use that you stopped watching baseball or football, the league owners would come down so hard on steroid use that it would disappear like a bad dream. The trouble is that we to want to see bigger muscles. We are statistic-driven to see records fall at all costs. We love to see 350 lbs men with superhuman strength. We marvel at 500’+ home runs. A man who can ride a bike at 30 mph for weeks on end awes us. We have to get past this wonder about raw statistical brilliance and focus more on the skill and heart that we see. We have to love the Derrick Jeters, the Hercshel Walkers, and the Bernard Hopkins of the sporting world more than the Barry Bonds’, Floyd Llandis’, and Justin Gatlins.

6. The Olympics are going to be a lot cleaner because now they’re going t have a blood test for Human Growth Hormone. Check out that steroid site link I just gave you. What you’ll find is not only are the effects of the steroids well-known, they know how long it takes to clear the body. They know what masking agents and diuretics to take to get them out of the body faster. If they really wanted to figure out who’s using and who isn’t, then what these leagues need to do is to submit all of their athletes to a scheduled test where they measure and document all of the athlete’s hormone and myostatin levels (get ahead of the inevitable gene therapy doping). Having a baseline for each athlete would make finding undetectable steroids and other doping procedures far easier. That way, if after, say, 3 years an athlete’s testosterone level jumps after being flat for 3 years, then you know something is wrong. Do I need to mention that this isn't a particularly popular idea?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kelly Pavlik and the Spirit of the Bodyweight Files

I recently read an article about boxing middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in Sports Illustrated. Among the many facets of his life written about in this very interesting article was about his strength training. He trains at the Ironworks Gym in his hometown of Youngstown. The faded, ex iron industry building converted into Pavlik’s dungeon has few, if any, of the normal trappings of a gym. He trains by doing pullups off an old fire hose, he lifts blocks of concrete and rail iron, and he flips 400 lbs tires.

Even though he’s using weights (unconventional ones, but weight just the same) to develop his strength I find it fascinating as well as inspirational. He’s working with what he has. He’s not laying around thinking that he needs machines and piles of free weights to get himself in shape. H works with what he has and makes the best of it. He’s adapting, improvising, and overcoming with what he has. More specifically, he’s succeeding at achieving his goals.

That’s the founding principle of the Bodyweight Files. I don’t want anyone to think that you need special stuff to get into shape (If you want stuff, that’s a different story). In fact, you don’t need stuff at all when you get down to brass tacks. All you really need is some knowledge, determination, and inspiration. If you gave me nothing but a 6’ long hallway, I’ll figure out a way to exercise effectively. I even have done decent workout sitting in an airplane seat! I can use a wall and get a good workout or I can workout without my back touching the floor. This kind of can-do, will do mindset combined with the knowledge of how to work and the desire to make it work can yield great results and accomplish any fitness goal that you look to achieve.


There aren't a lot of Bodyweight purists out there. Many of them lift weights to some degree. Yet it’s surprising how many claim to be BW only and embrace kettlebell training. I suppose that a lot of the BW guys out there are anti-gym establishment, like the crew that revived kettlebells as a legitimate training too are. Plus, Pavel is quick to point out the effectiveness of BW training even though he promotes kettlebells. The acceptance of BW training on behalf of the kettle krew along with the anti-establishment mentality has apparently made it acceptable to train with kettlebells.

I don’t and haven’t trained with kettlebells. I don’t train with them for much of the same reason that I don’t train with any other weights: They cost money and I can’t travel with them. Also, I think that some of the kettlebell exercise border too closely on dangerous. Swinging a massive piece of iron by a towel just doesn’t strike me as safe. I have said previously that I don’t like exercises that are so close to injurious that one flaw in execution can mean injury. Sure, if you have the proper form you won’t get hurt but we all know that form can slip a bit when you fatigue.

I also don’t see anything magical about them either. They are a cannonball with a handle. The kettlebell is the child of improvisation, not of magic. It is simply an awkward weight which requires more stabilizer muscles to lift properly. That may make them a better workout than barbells, dumb bells and machines but you could replicate this awkwardness with sandbags, rocks, logs, or any other heavy, awkward object without spending the money on the glorified cannonball.

I may be coming down negatively on kettlebell training but I see them as a lot of hype and even a bit gimmicky. If you like training with them then by all means indulge. You certainly don’t need my non-expert endorsement to do so. I’d rather see you do this than nothing at all. Still, I’m about getting away from equipment and not relying on anything outside of my own body and mind to get myself in shape and kettlebells don't fit into the equation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Science and Metaphysics of Exercising

I can see a sort of sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious differences in BW training. There are guys out there who would prefer to focus on the science that we know about our bodies and how to train them to guide ourselves when deciding how to train. Others prefer to be a bit more metaphysical, often drawing on things that we can't prove but understand just the same.

This can be troubling to some and I can relate. Some people are inexplicabley wacky and to talk to them it's hard to take them seriously. They also happen to be the more unimpressively built people as well. These are the people who need to listen to some hard facts and not trust themselves. They're not connected.

Still, there are limitations to science as well. there are things that we can understand without knowing. When we know something is right or wrong, do we really need the science to understand why? Science didnt' provide a tangible link between cancer and ciagrettes until the 1950's. George Hackenschmidt declared tobacco to be a worthless and dangerous weed in 1900's. This is what metaphysical thinking in physical culure at its best.

This isn't to say that science has no place in training. What I'm getting at is about knowing something without actually being able to explain why. If you know your body then you'll know right away whether what you just did is or isn't good for you. You may know be able to explain it but you your instincts are so well honed that you don't need to be told why. This is should be one of your main goals of training: self mastery. You will get to that point only when your mind and body work as a team rather than two seperate entities. This isn't whackiness. It's a heigthened state of self-awareness.

Core Training

When you stand up and feel are abdominal muscles, you'll find something interesting. Although you're not really trying, your abs (and much of your core muscles, both superficial and deep)are contracted lightly. There's a reason for this. They are all lightly contracted in order to provide structural stability to your lumbar spine. Unlike your upper back, there are no other bones to provide support (think: ribs). Granted the lumbar vertebrae are far bigger and thicker than the others but they still need a lot of support of the core muscles. This includes the spinal erectors, the abs, obliques, etc.

This light, gradual contraction gives us a direction to point our abdominal training. The majority of our core muscles are slow twitch muscles due to their light but constant effort.

So, most of the exercises that we do for the abdominals should be of a moderately difficult but sustained period of time. This is why exercises like the pushup and pulllup are so good for conditioning the abdominals: You have to contract them in order to keep the body in a proper position while performing the exercise. Also, aerobic isometrics are good too. Many of the higher volume calisthenics will work well as well.

Now, I'm not saying that this is all that you should do. I certainly do some wheel rollouts, Farmer Burns Stomach Flatteners, and isometrics for the core. I'm just saying that exercises that require prolonged contractions are probably best for maintaining spine health. You get this from the above-mentioned exercises.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Attention all Disciples of the Fitness World...

So, you either joined a gym or a treadmill and a bowflex so you could get into shape. You saw the "beautifully" muscled, toned and ripped bodies of all those fitness models and decided that had to be you. So, you did what they told you in the fitness magazines. You joined the gym, you bought the equipment, you bought the sneakers and the apparel, you took the supplements, and you bought whatever they told you that you needed to buy.

What if I told you that you have become a pussywhipped bitch to them?

What if I said that you married a gold-digger?

Well, you did both, my friend! They have bled you dry and lied to you the whole time in order to get some money out of you. When they told you that you couldn't get strong without weights, they lied to you. When they told you that you only get muscular endurance and not strength from calisthenics, they lied again. Lied and collected their gym membership fees as well as the fees for that personal trainer that you hired.

Let me tell you about my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Class. I've been going there for almost 7 years. If there is one thing that I'm known (notorious?) for is being bullishly strong. When I was 154 lbs, I was confused for being 170. At 180 lbs, I can overpower men with 30 pounds on me. All of these years I have been strength training with my own bodyweight! I'm telling you right now, it's very doable to get strong without weights. Don't be fooled!

Oh, we need to chat about those supplements too! I did gain a significant amount of muscle mass over the past year. I didn't use any of those supplements. You don't need them. You need a sound eating plan. If you ever believe someone talking about getting big with weights without discussing how to eat more, you might as well bend over! You've just taken advice from a hack. If you don't eat more, then you won't gain more.

Let me tell you something else interesting about whey and casein, two favorite protein supplements. They BOTH come from milk. So, why are you spending $32 for both when you could just drink a $4.50 gallon of milk? You know, Vince Gironda drank milk to gain mass. So did a lot of bodybuilders before supplements were the standard. It worked for me. It will work for you too!

Oh and those bodies that sell the supplements are made with steriods, not with the supplement that you're buying. Keep that in mind too!

I could keep going but I think that I've shown something here: These people are more interesting in making money off of you then getting you into good shape. Some of them are narrow-minded and don't think objectively. Don't let yourself get into this rut. If you're in, GET OUT! You don't need stuff to get into shape. In fact, you need very few things and you probably have most of what you need already. If you like to lift weights, then God bless you. Do what you please. I'd rather you do that as opposed to nothing at all. If you don't want to spend that kind of money, you don't need to.

No Good Way to Exercise the Lower Back Without Weights?


Yeah, I read that on a Bodyweight Forum not too long ago. Apparenlty, Bodyweight is good but it just can't substitute for the back building abilities of the various deadlifts. It was uttered and repeated several times too. I didn't chose to respond to it at the time. I just didn't know where to start with a retort to that statement. Fortuately, I do now.

When I hear things like that, I have two reactions:

1. So, what if I can't get to a weight? Am I screwed?
2. You're full of shit.

I despise the notion that you need to be tethered to equipment to get yourself into shape. If you can't get to that equipment, then what? Do I let myself rot on the vine until I can get to it? The key to exercising for life is, in my opinion, to make it a habit (preferabley a daily one). The key to maintaining it is to not skip it for a prolonged period of time. So if you've made yourself totally dependant on stuff that you may not get to, then you break the habit! This is counterproductive. This goes for the lower back. You need to have a plan to get your lower back strong. Then you need alternatives. You may need alternatives to alternatives. Ultimately, it comes down to having a positive, can-do, WILL-DO attitude.

It also comes down to being truthful and knowledgable to some degree and the people who say that you can't exercise the lower back without a weighted deadlift exercise are full of shit and/or fucking liars. You could do wall walks, reverse pushups, leg lifts, torso lifts, leg AND torso lifts, and different bridging work to get your lower back into great shape.

If you're about to mention that you can't add extra weight and that calisthenics are good for muscular endurance and not for strength then you've got a massive hole in your arguement. You see, your lower back consists of muscles that are predominantly slow-twitch fibers. They need to be this way because the light but constant tension is what keeps your spine alligned properly. If you train heavy then you will make your lower back functionally WEAK.

So while you may like to impress the girls and the fragile-egoed men with your deadlift, you're not training your lower back muscles properly by hoisting 400 lbs off the ground with a dead lift. If you think that there is no other alternative, then you're lying and/or cheating yourself. You've just been enlightened here. It's up to you to re-evaluate what you're doing and make some healhty, sound choices about your health and strength.