Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The 100th Post!

I read somewhere that over a year on the interenet, millions of blogs are created a year. In spite of this blog craze, less than 10% are maintained and subsequently are abandoned. Well, I've managed to keep mine active and I've attracted a following. I really appreciate all of the kind words and encouragement. I'm glad that I've given many of you some useful information. I appreciate even those who disagree and generally you've managed to do so politely. I appreciate that too.

I started the blog for two reasons. Two years ago, I was sitting at work reading a few of the fitness books that I own. While I was doing that I asked myself: If I wrote a book, what would it look like? So, just for the hell of it, I started writing. Eventually I became more serious about publishing it. To see if anyone would be interested in what I write, I decided to start blogging as a way of gauging interest.

So what I'm getting at is that somewhere in the near future, I plan on publishing a bodyweight-based book on exercise. I'm not sure when it will happen since I'm still slaving over my laptop but when details become more clear, I'll let you know.

Still, that wasn't reason enough to keep my punching a keyboard over the last year or so. I get labeled a fitness freak more than a few times but when I read George Jowett's enthusiasm for strength training, my reasons for exercise are very clear. We both share a deep appreciation and joy in owning a strong body. We also have a strong sense of duty to help others who want to have the same get there. While I wasn't as impaired as Jowett was at youth, I could see physical weakness in myself and I hated it. As much as anyone will try to deny it, being physically weak wears on a person in a most demeaning way. We may try to lie that it doesn't bother us but deep down inside there is something that tells us that this isn't the way we were supposed to be. The ability to reach for, achieve, and maintain physical health and power for as long as possible is both reward and a gift that is something to treasure.

I'm glad that with my writing and your reading that we've been able to do this together. I thank you all for reading and writing back. I'll keep writing if you keep reading.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How often should you train?

We all understand that in order to get into great shape, you have to exercise. Those who don't relish that thought almost alway ask how much do they have to exercise. I've written about this before and I've received comments that suggest that my everyday approach to fitness is wrong, unrealisitic, or unnecessary.

What kind of shape you get into and how fast you get there is directly related to your consistency. Ultimately, your habits will determine how far you get in improving your conditioning. You are the sum total of your habits. If you haven't established exercise as a habit, then you're not going to succeed in getting yourself into great shape. This is why I believe in exercising everyday: To establish exercise as a regular habit. If you allow being sedentary to become more habitual than exercise, then you'll set yourself back or fail outright.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't beleive in killing yourself everyday. While most won't even come close to exercising beyond their physical limitations, its still possible to overtrain. Besides, it's a known fact that the body needs some rest. This doesn't have to mean skipping a day. It can be as simple as scaling back the difficulty or exercising different parts of the body. This is the key to the "train, not strain" mentality that boxers follow since the early days.

So, we have days where we work moderately hard and days where we work hard. If you're in good shape and aching for progress, then you should select one day where you push yourself a little bit BEYOND what you think you're capable of doing. A mandatory easy day follows afterwards. In addition to making yourself more physically powerful, it'll make you mentally stronger. Training like this demands that your mind forces your body to obey and do the work that it's presented. It's as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one at this point.

When you get right down to it, exercising your body should be as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. It's about reformulating habits and establishing a strong mind-body relationship.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Medicinal Steroids?

I have ambivalent feelings about T-Nation. In my collection of downloaded articles off their web site, I find some very informative and helpful articles. Still, it’s a shame that they take this wonderful information that they harvest and use it as part of their embrace of the excesses of the bodybuilding world.

Actually, you could say this about the bodybuilding in general. If you look into the history of bodybuilding, you can see an early desire to elevate the human body to the level of importance that the human mind gets. When you read some of the early pioneers of the fitness world, such as Swoboda, Jowett, and Lalanne, these men were all as intelligent as they were powerful. Clearly they were onto something: That a human was better off when both the mind and the body were given equal stimulus and importance.

Somewhere along the line though, the wonderful effects of this balance was sacrificed. Desire took over and needs were neglected.

Such as the article that showed up several years ago on T-Nation. The article ridiculed the media’s depiction of steroids as an evil drug when anabolic steroids have some wonderful medical uses. I agree. Many diseases result in the same problem: degeneration of human tissue. Anything that can reverse that has obvious benefits when battling a disease.

This all has the air of the managing editor of High Times Magazine would have lobbying for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses. This isn’t coming from a concerned doctor. It’s coming from a bodybuilder. He’s obviously interested in removing the stigma from steroids for his personal gain.

Frankly, people like TC are really the ones to blame for the stigma, paranoia, and witch hunt that steroid use has descended to. Yes, steroids do have some legitimate medical use. Still, bodybuilders were all to eager to grab massive loads of steroids in any way possible in order to register some massive muscle gains. TC decries the negative side effects of steroids that make the news headlines. If it wasn’t for bodybuilders, we wouldn’t know that men could grow tits and shrink their testicles from heavy steroid use. We wouldn’t know that women would grow chest hair, lose it on their heads, and grow their clitoris’ into small penis’. We wouldn’t be fixating on the cancer, ‘roid rages (if you chose to believe that they don’t exist), and heart problems that heavy steroid use causes.

Ultimately, your head-first rush into excess is what brought this on. Your desire to continue doing so will keep these medicines in a state of taboo. Your lack of desire to lead a balanced, healthy life and to be an example of health and fitness has hurt the chances of using steroids to some great benefit. What you have done is similar to Prometheus becoming a pyromaniac.

Equipment that I Use For Exercise

Lately, my training has taken a turn towards using more equipment in my exercise. I’m not using weights or any kind of foreign resistance other than my body. I’ve been experimenting with different things that destabilize my body in order to add difficulty. I added a pull-up bar and have done many experiments with rings. Stability balls, bosu balls, and abdominal wheels have entered in my repertoire. It’s all a nice change of pace to what I’m used to. I even have a great little stereo and so I can listen to my favorite metal music. So, here's the things that I've been working with and what I'm doing with them:

1. Rings. I've been working a lot with these lately. I pull my body up to one ring, lower myself, and bring myself up to the opposite ring. I've done some rowing with them as well. My runaway favorite exercise with rings has got to be push-ups. When you do push-ups on the rings, the rings want move away from your body. So you have to pull them back towards your body. The intensity that this places on the chest is brutal!

2. Bosu Ball. These are expensive but they're an interesting device. I've done DVR squats and Romanian deadlifts with my feet (foot) on the ball. I also like doing a V-up aerobic isometric exercise with the Bosu. Hold the top position of the V-up for a minute or more. The higher the legs, the more difficult it is.

3. Stability Balls. I like doing wide-stance push-ups for the work it gives my shoulders. However, the wide stance makes the push-up easier for the abs since the width of my hands gives me more stability. So, I fixed this problem by doing these push-ups with my feet on the ball. I'll even throw the perfet push-up into this exercise.

Still, I won’t allow myself to get wrapped up in the stuff around me and become dependant upon it go get myself a good workout. That is the beauty of bodyweight exercising. You don’t need stuff to get into shape. Since I’m not tethered to stuff to get into shape, I can exercise anywhere at any time that I get. Then, there’s no excuse to skip. How many people have you heard say that they lost their groove because they were out of town and couldn’t get to the gym?

Well, if I allowed myself to get stuck on the toys and tools to get into great shape then I might as well have a gym membership and start using iron and machines. Fitness doesn’t come from stuff. It comes from you. It’s your mind and body forcing each other to work together towards the common purpose of getting yourself strong and healthy.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Why No Weights?

The fitness world tends to fractionalize into groups dedicated to a particular style of exercising, and bodyweight is no exception. Actually, it practically gets the same treatment of a religious cult (yes, I’ve heard comparisons to Jonesville in reference us). As far as most of the fitness industry is concerned, weight-based strength training is the best and only way to get strong. We violate that code. Still, there are many who don’t like to fit into any group and will accept that both weight training and bodyweight both build muscular strength. Some of them question us about our dedication to bodyweight training. Apparently, they see a double standard. Why exclude weights?

I can’t answer for the rest of the crowd but I can explain my position on the matter. My answer is twofold: I travel a lot and I’m a tad resentful. Weight-based training for me is impractical because of how much I travel. How am I supposed to exercise if I depend on weights and I travel? I’m a bit resentful because I’ve been bombarded, like many of you have, that if you want to get strong, you have to lift weights. There is no alternative. Keep in mind, this is uttered by people who have financial incentives for doing saying such things.

That is an outright lie. The fact is that you can and part of my point in being a BW guy is to prove that you can do it too. So, if I used weights, wouldn’t that be potent evidence to shoot down my whole point? After all, why use them if you don’t need them? Have I used weights before? Yeah, I did when I was a teenager. I’ve received weights from good intentioned people as gifts because they found out my love for fitness and exercise. I have used stones, tires and logs for conditioning from time to time. Honestly, if that got me my strength, then you really shouldn’t be reading what I have to say right now. I’ve used them so rarely and if I got these results from the few times that I weight trained then BW training would truly be a crock of shit (BTW, has anyone figured out how I can get a 300 lbs tire on an airplane yet?) .

I hate to bring up the subject matter that causes so much bickering. Frankly, I wish that it didn’t. If you like to lift and you want to lift, then you don’t need my permission to do so. I hope that you do it with care and caution. Just as long as you don’t go around mindlessly spreading a lie then do what you want. I’d rather you lift than not exercise at all, in spite of some of my concerns about it. In the end, I want to provoke thought and good choices.

Combination after Combination

Have you ever read my blog and wondered things like:

1. “how many pushups can Justin_P do? “
2. “How many pull-ups can Justin_P do? “
3. “How long can Justin_P hold a bridge?”

You might be surprised to learn that you’re not alone. I’m not certain either. I don’t usually do my maximum number of calisthenics in one set. I haven’t pushed myself to find out how long I can hold a bridge. It isn’t that I don’t want to test myself. It’s just that I have a different viewpoint on training.

I’m not unlike a lot of you who are cramped for exercise time. Making the most of the time that I have is paramount to me. Still, I want to be strong and in my quest for getting there, I often refrain from pushing myself to my max reps in exercise. Instead, I’ll do several exercises in lesser amounts rather than one huge set of max reps. I like to do this so that I can strengthen my muscles from several different angles. In between these smaller sets, I’ll do an exercise that works opposing muscles to what I’m working on. I’ve found that I can boost my overall strength better this way.

I do know the question to #2. I can do 21 pull-ups in one set. I didn’t get there by trying to do 21 each and every time I grab a bar. Instead, my arm routine looks something like this:

Close Grip Pull-up, 10-13 reps
Handstand Push-ups, 10-15 reps
Close Grip Chin-up, 10-13 reps
Triceps Pushups, feet elevated, 15-20 reps
Towel Pull-ups, 10-13 reps

Keep this in mind too: At the beginning of 2007, I could do 17 pull-ups at 157 lbs. Now, at 180 lbs, I’m doing 21! So, I’ve been able to gain on my pull-up count as I’ve added weight onto by body! My current best pull-up was 25 at 147 lbs! So, this approach has worked well for me. It might work well for you too. It combines the “Grease the Groove” approach to fitness with a multi-angle strengthening element.

Head Up!

In weeks past, I wrote an article about the necessity for deep breathing in exercising, especially in regards to weight loss. Deep breathing is a very important component in dropping weight and creating power within your body. It’s a universal rule in all exercises: if you don’t have powerful lungs, you won’t have strength. If you don’t deep breathe, you won’t have powerful lungs.

There is another universal rule in exercising that I feel bad for not bringing up. You have probably heard it in other exercises (I certainly have) but up until recently, I haven’t thought about it in terms of a general rule of thumb in exercise: KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!

One thing that I’ve learned in Brazilian Jui Jitsu is your head is one of the main levers of your body. If you can control your opponent’s head, you can control their entire body. If you think about it, you’re told to keep your head up when doing pushups. Otherwise, you won’t properly descend to the bottom of the movement. If you do pull-ups with your head up, you’ll always put your chin over the top of the bar like you’re supposed to. If you look down when doing squats, you’re likely to lose your balance. Hell, when you’re climbing, what’s the one thing that they always tell you not to do? To top it all off, head up is just good posture. Keeping your chin glued to your chest is a great way to set yourself up for neck problems.

Where the head goes, the body follows. This isn’t only limited to the physical. It is also a mental state. Hanging your head low is the universal body language of defeat, fatigue and general negativity. Did you ever see a picture of Charles Atlas with his head down? Training yourself to keep your head up at all times is a way of telling your mind to be energetic, magnetic and at all times positive. It’s even a powerful signal to everyone else mentally as well. A powerful person doesn’t walk around looking down at the ground. They keep their heads up, erect. Your body language tells everyone something, including yourself. So, do yourself a favor and walk around looking out and up at the world in exercise and in life.

Get Double Jointed in Your Routine!

In the December, 2007 issue of Men’s Health, I came across a very thought-provoking article written about Robert Dos Remedios and his now-released book “Men’s Health Power Training.” The director of Speed, Strength, and Conditioning at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, Dos Remedios is critical of workouts such as the leg extension press machine and dumbbell curls. “You never isolate muscles in the real world…” He’s absolutely right.

Whenever you do something physical, from playing a sport to shoveling to lifting an object off the ground, you’re going to use multiple muscle groups. You’re also moving several joints while you do it. So, why does it make any sense to craft a routine that will heavily isolate your muscles and work only one joint? Also think about this: there are two ways to create power in your body. One is by the potential energy stored in your muscles and the other is by knowing how to synergistically moving your muscles to create power. If you’re always working just one leg of a potential movement, how are you doing to train yourself to create power throughout your body?

The obvious answer to this problem is to focus your efforts on using exercises where more than one joint moves. While Dos Remedios obviously relies on weights for strength training in order to achieve this with his athletes, I obviously lean towards not using them and relying on calisthenics instead. I have a good reason for this though. Can you think of a calisthenic exercise that doesn’t move at least two joints? Can you think of a weighted exercise that only moves one? Fact is, weighted exercises often move only one joint while calisthenics will move two, even three at a time.

While they’re unlikely to build the bodybuilding competition-winning physique any time soon, calisthenics have an obvious advantage in the quest for the real world strength physique. They are naturally compound exercises and will help you build a body that is as strong as it is functional.

Does Ripped Mean Strong?

Here is a picture of me about two and a half years ago. This was a fun night/morning. I was partying with my wife’s childhood friends. We started at 8:00 in the evening. This picture was taken after a water fight at 5:30 in the morning. I kind of felt bad for her since her white tank top was soaked and her bra was starting to become, shall we say, transparent.

This is about as cut as I’ve ever been in my life. I was about 30 pounds lighter here than I am now and this was before I had any serious intentions of gaining muscle mass. So here I am, cut and shredded. The question is, was I healthy?

The answer is a resounding NO! We’re conditioned to believe that people who are strong display a lot of muscular definition these days. This does have some truth to it. When this picture was taken I was in Peru suffering from diarrhea for the second or third day. I was this ripped because I was struggling with dehydration. Dehydration is a trick that many bodybuilders use to appear more muscular. They’ll use diuretics and abstain from drinking fluids for shocking periods of time in order to get the skin shrink-wrapped around the skin. They often times mess up their electrolyte balance so badly that they’ll suffer from severe muscle cramps that temporarily paralyze a muscle. So, like me in that picture, when you see them in their routines, they’re actually at their weakest.

While I wasn’t doing them when this picture was taken, bodybuilders often use exercises that isolate muscle groups. Much of Bodyweight conditioning demands recruitment of at least two joints and multiple muscles. Bodybuilders do it to look more muscular. Bodyweight exercisers do it to be more functional.

I hope that I have thoroughly convinced you by now not to buy into the notion that being shredded means being strong. In some cases it might be a sign but most of the time it isn’t even close to being THE sign. There are other factors in the equation and chasing this “ideal” for the sake of itself contradicts the call for health and strength.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bacon, Eggs, and Self Mastery

Recently, at someone asked if they were going to screw themselves by eating bacon and eggs one Saturday a week (or every other week, depending) would be a detriment to his overall physical fitness picture. Another grouchy, orangutan-looking freak (yes, he is a friend of mine) responded by saying what so many miss when it comes to getting in shape and staying there: Experiment! Look for answers within yourself.

While all of our bodies are arranged in a similiar pattern, we're all very unique and different. Our bodies respond a little differently to stimulus, good or bad. For example, we all know that french fries aren't healthy. I could easily eat them for lunch or dinner for two days in a row and not gain an ounce. I have a friend who after two childern tried the same stunt and her jeans tightened up noticably on the third day.

This just demonstrates the need to look for the answers to such questions within yourself and not to someone else. You're built with subtle variations that others may not have. You will respond differently to stimulus differently than others. So, don't expect the same results. Don't wait for someone to tell you what you can already observe for yourself. This is why self-mastery is so important in your quest to become fit, healthy and strong.