Friday, September 26, 2008

Healthy Booze?

In case you didn't know, Pierini, a regular around some fitness-oriented boards, started up an excellent blog about his efforts to stay in shape. One that I really like was his post entitled, "No Thanks, I'm an Athlete". This is his response to offers of alcohol that he subsequently refuses. I can relate to this situation. I can't recollect how many times in my short life that I've come across the odd look for refusing a drink.

I notice a trend occurring in many of the fitness magazines: Antioxidant cocktails. You know, using things like avocado, pomegranate, blueberry, etc to make booze more healthy. Then there's the health benefits of beer and wine. So, obviously this makes drinking healthy?

I don't think so. One of the most fascinating organs in your body has got to be your liver. It's the second largest organ in your body (after your skin), it can fulfill its functions at a third capacity (Maybe this is why we can drink like fish and still live?), if a section of it is removed, it is the only internal organ that will regenerate itself. We commonly think of it as a mere filter and sewage system for our blood (which it is). It has another key role that many don't know about: It squirts enzymes into the small intestine that begin the fat and carbohyrate metabolism process (yes, your gall bladder does some of this too but this is why you can survive without your gall bladder). It's also believed that it removes lactic acid build-up in your blood stream, giving you that, "second wind".

We all know that alcohol damages your liver. Now do you realize why drinking can make you gain weight or decrease your athletic performance? You're depleting your body's ability to use the food energy that you're taking in. If you can't use it, then you STORE IT... AS FAT! Hence the reason why even skinny people who drink a lot often have a roll of fat around their liver.

Now, there is a lot of junk advice out there about what you should or shouldn't eat or drink. If you ever suspect that you may have come across such advice but aren't sure, then try this:

1. Consume the suspect food or drink.
2. Wait 1-2 hours.

If you feel slow (like you ate cement) or held back from your normal performance, then it's bad for you. Don't let science tell you otherwise. You don't need science to tell you what is good or bad for your body. If you doubt what I say about that pomegranate mojito, then try this test and get back to me. Otherwise, listen to Pierini and I. Oh, and check out his blog when you get a chance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thoughts on BW-Based Strength training

I think that one of the reasons why some people don't understand why they can get strong with Bodyweight-based strength training is because they are familiar with only one way of getting strong: Adding weight to their body. This works by increasing the gravitational pull on their body and forcing the muscles to contract harder. Obviously, there isn't a strength training method proven build muscle than weight training. That doesn't mean that other ways don't work at all.

Calisthenics work by using a combination of your body's weight (and gravitational pull) and decreasing your leverage during the movement. Now, as you get better and do more reps, the solution to making the exercise doesn't have to be adding more weight. You could change the height of certain body parts and add weight. For example, if push-ups are getting too easy, simply put your feet on a chair. Plus, it changes the leverage. Now you'll have to use your serratus muscles more on the movement.

Then there's always adding instability to the movement. Instead of putting your feet on a chair, you could put them on a basketball. Or, if you had two balls, do push-ups with your hands on each ball. Dip down low between the balls too. That will complicate things.

Or, you could eliminate the movement all together and do an isometric hold. That isn't as easy as it sounds. If it is, refer back to the previous paragraph and do it on an unstable footing. You could hold this position for a minute or your could tense your muscles as hard as you can and hold the contraction for 10 seconds while exhaling.

Then you could add other moves to the push-up. You could do a plyometric clapping push-up. If that's too much then you could do an alligator push-up, bringing your knee to your elbow. Have you ever heard of 8 count bodybuilders or burpees?

Now, some of this information may be repetetive but just remember that there are more ways to get strong than just by weight lifting. Sure, gyms are great to go to but I've seen too many people's quest for fitness get screwed up because they were dependant on the gym in order to get in shape. Then I've seen people use not being able to get to a gym as an exuse for getting out of going.

This is why I think that BW training has its advantages over weight-based strength training. You're not dependant on much of anything or a specific place. You've always got the ability to work out, no matter what setting that you're in. You've got the means so you never have an exuse. It's the most verastile strength training methodology out there. That's why I'm such a big fan of it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Should we try to get bigger?

I believe that in the past that I’ve expressed my admiration for Richard Blackman and the good work that he does for people. I am in awe of his awesome discipline and his positive attitude that he displays as his amazing physicality in his youtube clips. Granted that I don’t agree with a lot of what he preaches, such has his fruitarian and liquidarian diets, but I still respect his ability to stick to his principles.

One of the things that I initially disagreed with was on his FAQ section of his website. The last question on the page was about a bulking diet for bodybuilding. He refused to do that kind of work because he believes that nature has a blueprint and that we shouldn’t stray from it.

Now, my number one fitness goal last years was to bring myself from 157 lbs up to 180 lbs, which I succeeded at doing. I even got myself up to 187 lbs before dropping to my current 175 lbs. Subsequently, many have asked me about how I did it and I’ve written several blogs on the topic. So, on the surface it would appear that I would disagree with Mr. Blackman’s statement about increasing muscle mass.

Still, it got me thinking about my goals. Did I go beyond what I was natural for my body to carry? Is it right and healthy to bring my bodyweight up? Is it right for you to do so? What I arrived at was that at 187 lbs, I was still trim, muscular, and had a 30” six pack waist. The only problem was that I was a bit slow. My upper body was a bit unwieldy. That’s why I allowed my weight to drop.

I went all the way down to 168 lbs. Then, I noticed something: I had weakness in my lower back that disappeared when I got back up to 175 lbs. Even now, my weight will yo-yo a bit and when I get near that 170 lbs threshold, I notice lower back weakness that leads to pain. What I realize is that even though my body might drop down to the low 160’s if I don’t maintain a higher calorie diet. I feel that 175-180 lbs is probably ideal for me, even if nature may not say so.

Nature may not be perfect. It’s random and it allow in it flaws. Nothing is designed to last forever. Weakness is inherit in nature. It’s in human nature to manipulate to suit our needs. I feel that nature may have designed me to be thin and to have a weaker lower back. I don’t like that and I reject it.

What I think that I could take from this pondering of Mr Blackman’s opinion is a sense of MODERATION. I’m obviously not made to be over 185 lbs. Doing so serves no purpose other than to satisfy some carnal urge that doesn’t amount to anything useful in my pursuit of health and strength. You don’t need me to tell you that there is a so much of that in the fitness world. So, if muscle-making is your goal, then make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Improving My Ab Wheel Roll-outs

A few months ago, after I built my T's, I had this urge to try what some would (and have) called insane: I wanted to do handstand push-ups on my T's. I tried to do some but I quickly realized that I didn't have the core and glute strength yet to pull these off. You need quite bit of core tension to do handstand push-ups. The need for core stabilization goes way up when you do them on T's.

So, after some thinking, I concluded that the core exercise that would best train me for the handstand push-up on the T's would be ab wheel roll-outs. So, I resolved to throw more of these into my workout. While I was at it, I wanted to improve my ab wheel work. Easier to said than done. Ab wheels are bulky and don't travel well.

So, I found worked with some other exercises that didn't need more equipment and were good stepping stones up to the ab wheel roll-outs. Three exercises came to mind that worked really well:

1. The Inchworm. This looks a lot like the ab roll-outs without the wheel. You simply lean down, put your hands on the floor, and walk yourself outward as far as you can. When you get out as far as you can handle, hold the position for as long as you can. Afterwards, you can either walk your feet up to your hands or walk your hands back to the start position. I prefer the latter.

2. Superman push-ups. This one is pretty well known. In case you don't know it, lay on the floor with your arms outstretched. Push your hands and feet against the floor and lift your body off the ground and lower yourself back down. That's one rep.

3. Straight bridge. Find two chairs of equal height. Place them far enough apart so one chair can support your head and the other can support your feet. Lay between the chairs for as long as you can. Moving the chairs closer together makes the exercise easier.

Once I got home, I worked the ab wheel more. These supplemental exercises really helped out how low I could go with the ab wheel. Now, I'm getting my body parallel to the ground and about a foot off of it. What I've found is that you can't rush this exercise. You've just got to be content with what you can get. If you try to push it, you could hurt yourself.

It all worked out. I can crack out 4 handstand push-ups on the T's. I'm not advising you to try these out. If you're not careful and prepared, your neck could pay the price. The ab wheel work is worthwhile though, even if you have no intentions of trying these insane handstand push-ups.

"I'm not saying that you should do this,
It's just what I do.
I take responsibility for my actions,

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Favorite Grip Calisthenics

Sure, we love a well-conditioned body for the sake of impressing others but usually the only way that you have to impress others with your physicality by actual physical contact is your hands. When we shake someone’s hand and we receive a powerful pinch from their hands, then we get the message: This is a powerful person.

While I talk about many different manners of strength training without apparatus, by the title of my blog you can tell that I like calisthenics most of all. You’d be correct in that assumption. So, if you want to build a powerful grip, here are the calisthenics that I like the most for building powerful hands and grip:

1. Rope Climbing! I don’t do this one as much as I’d like to do since having a high spot to hang a rope is often a luxury. That may be the case with you too. I had a job site with a spot where I could hang my climbing rope. After just two weeks, the guys in my Brazilian Jui Jitsu class couldn’t help but notice the grip that I had. As far as I’m concerned, rope climbing is the best exercise to improve your grip strength. It’s the ultimate exercise to fuse mind and body and for good reason: If your grip slips, you’re in deep shit!

You may think that you don’t have a high enough spot do rope climbing but in reality, if you have even 8 feet of height then you can do some rope work. Simply start out sitting on the ground and climb up and down. Where does it say that you have to climb from a high spot anyway? It may not look very impressive but you’ll still get the work that you’re looking for.

2. Push-ups on T’s! This is the best way to integrate grip work into push-ups. If you notice one thing about calisthenics that work the grip, they’re mostly pulling movements. The T’s add a lot of instability and you have to be able to contract your forearms powerfully in order to stabilize yourself while doing the push-ups. These push-ups will improve your pull-up and chin-up rep count as well.

3. Towel Pull-ups! For grip work, this is one of the hardest pull-ups on your forearms. My video blog covering the towel pull-up is one of the favorite entries on my blog. One thing that makes a huge difference in the ease or the difficulty of this exercise is what you grip and how thick it is. I’ve used towels, lifting straps, fire hoses, twisted manila rope, and braided nylon rope. An object that you can grip and have your thumb and fingers together is generally easier. Synthetic materials are usually more slippery and thus more difficult. Straps and hoses can be harder because you may have to fold them in half to get a decent grip on them. Their tendency to spring back to shape adds more challenge to your grip. This is my favorite pull-up and grip conditioning is a big reason why it is so.

4. Fingertip Push-ups! All of these calisthenics deal with griping. This exercise is an excellent push-up to superset with a girp workout. It strengthens the fingers and forearms. I love to superset these with rope climbing. This will make your forearms burn like you’d scarcely believe! If you have a hard time with these, you could always do them on your knees rather than your feet. Or, you could do them elevated and bring your body to your hands (not below them, that’s an Atlas push-up).

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Arm Workout For Nate

Nathan is a friend of mine who is working on putting some lean muscle mass onto his body. He started out as a 5'11" 15 year old with only 90 lbs of muscle on his body. Now, he's up 35 lbs and looking to go another 30 before he's done. His progress is remarkable frankly. He's cranking out pull-ups at a rate that is inspiring (and motivating). He talked to me last night and asked about a pull-up and push-up based arm workout plan.

Nate, here's what I've got for you...

Now, I've never been one for giving out specific routines. I feel that being your own trainer and taking your own wants and needs into consideration is paramount. Still, I'll give you a routines and I'll give you some ideas. Feel free to change based on your needs.

I like to divide my workouts into two sets: A calisthenics set and a self-resistance and isometric set. The former will work your muscles as a team and you use the latter to zoom in on specific muscle groups. Plus, you get the benefit of working at a higher intensity, low volume manner and a slightly higher volume, lower intensity all in one workout. So, not only are you working from many different angles but you're conditioning slow and fast twitch fibers in one workout.

Now, for the Calisthenics, I like to use several different push-ups and chin-ups/pull-ups, each set at 30-40 percent of my max reps (change the rep numbers at your leisure. I'm just guessing at what you might be able to do). While this may not seem like much, when you're doing 6 exercises back to back, it's very demanding. Take as little of a break as possible between each set. For zeroing in on your arms, Nate, I like this set:

Close Grip Chin-ups, 7 reps
Diamond/triceps push-ups, 15 reps
Close Grip Pull-ups, 7 reps
pike push-ups, 7 reps
towel pull-ups, 7 reps
T handle Push-ups, 20 reps

This will give you a very wide range of angles in a short, intense period of time. Rest, at most, 5 deep breaths between sets. If you don't need the rest, don't take it.

Now, onto the next set...

I like to start with either a DVR or DSR for the triceps or biceps. Do 5 movements at maximum tension. Now, it's time for isometrics. I've always liked the milo and I also like doing it with different hand positioning. You can do this with the fists as taught by John Peterson or you can do them with your hands clasped together as well. I do both. After doing the Milo, do another DVR or DSR for the part of the upper arm that you didn't do on the first set. So, this superset would look like this:

Wrist-Twist triceps DVR, 5 reps max tension
Milo w/fists, all 6 positions
One Arm Chin-ups DVR, 5 reps max tension

Now, follow this up with the calisthenics superset.

After the second set of Calisthenics, I like to do another set of DVR/DSR and Isometrics, switching it up again, to look like this:

Triceps Knife Hands, 5 reps max tension
Milo w/ hands clasped together, all 6 positions
Self resistance bicep curls, 5 reps max tension

Do the Calisthenics set a third time, if you can.

This workout should take you 35 minutes. If you want to increase the intensity of the workout, then work only the tricps in the first DSR/DVR/isometric set and only the biceps in the next set. You can do the milo still or you could do powerflexes. It's up to you. This is very hard though. I'd try it the way I laid it out to you for now.

Anyway, Nate, I hope this helps you out in getting where you need to go. If you ever have questions for me, I'm always here for you. That goes for everyone else out there reading this blog. Keep up the hard work, stay positive and think strong!